Monthly Archives: October 2013

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Great War Fiction

The title is liable to be parsed both ways, but while the author of the site may be a fan of war fiction that’s great, his real focus is the fiction of the Great War. Fortunately for readers, he also has an interest in the war’s poetry, one of the most remarkable bodies of work in the English language: remarkable for its strength, quality, and range of emotions.

Yes, it’s plenty deep enough to keep a website going.

The site is:

The more you know about the Great War in image and on page, the more you will enjoy this site. The War, of course, slew a generation of Europeans and toppled thrones of centuries’ standing, with victors spared little of the anguish and misery visited on vanquished. The emotions and forces unleashed in World War I made its one-day receipt of a distinguishing numeral, unthinkable as late as the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, or even the Oxford Declaration of 1938, inevitable.

But there was the real war, and the psychological and artistic war, the memetic war. The delta between the two is explored at some length in Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory.  One gets a sense that the author of the Great War Fiction website would squabble testily with Fussell, yet he often treats similar themes.

The memetic war has always diverged from the real war, but the azimuth and range of its diversion has changed over the years.

Back Matinees: Cross of Iron and Night Bombers

Over the weekend, we put up two back Saturday Matinees, which we’d intended to publish and had not done. They’re both interesting films and we think you will like the reviews. The first is Cross of Iron, the 1978 Eastern Front bloodbath, directed by Sam Peckinpah and featuring a great cast including James Coburn, Max Schell, James Mason, David Warner and Senta Berger. This was meant to go up on September 14th (Week 37) but the review sat unfinished until we rescreened the movie with Kid (he gave it two thumbs up, himself).

The other was Night Bombers, a 1981 BBC TV documentary that uses rare color film to tell the story of 24 hours in the life of a bomber station, squadron, and crew.  This is the only color film of Lancaster operations, including combat footage over the target, planning footage at Number 1 Group HQ, and mission prep footage on the airfield. It’s hard to find, and watching a thready old VHS copy (which we recorded into a Mac so we could screencap some stills) made us realize we really need a multiregion DVD player for stuff like this — the DVD is Europe only (Region 2).

Both of these are worthwhile films and we’d like to think we’ve told the story with good reviews, which have been backdated to their original intended dates, but can be linked from this post:

As always, thank you for reading and for commenting. There is a chance that comments are already timed out for these reviews, in which case you can comment here. We’re also always eager to have recommendations of new films for us to review.

When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have parrots


Curious George. Oops, sorry, Luis Santana. You can see how we made the error.

Apparently Connecticut governor, red-diaper Dannell Malloy (his parents were too stoned to spell “Daniel”), may be on to something with his beloved gun bans. Why, the local criminals have had to resort to throwing parrots at the cops!

While being chased by a cop, a Connecticut man allegedly threw a parrot at his uniformed pursuer, who was bit on the hand when trying to shield himself from the feathered projectile.

Luis Santana, 32, was arrested Tuesday night on several charges, including assaulting a police officer, disorderly conduct, and animal cruelty.

A patrolman responding to a call about a fight encountered Santana on a Waterbury street around 10 PM. When Santana bolted, bird in hand, Officer Gary Kichar gave chase.

While fleeing, Santana turned and threw the white parrot at Kichar’s head. When the cop raised his hand to protect himself, the bird bit his finger.

Kichar was treated at the scene for the bird bite.

The parrot was initially turned over to animal control officials.

Santana was apprehended while hiding in a nearby building. Free on bond, he is scheduled for a November 18 court appearance.

via Birdbrain: Man Arrested For Throwing Parrot In Face Of Pursuing Police Officer | The Smoking Gun.

Malloy is reportedly planning to add the family aves to the ban list. However there seems to be some difficulty establishing the chain of custody of the bird. It seems that Santana — the Curious-George-looking clown in the mugshot — neither acquired it at a federally licensed bird dealer, nor in a private sale at a bird show. To the shock of Governor Malloy, thieves like Santana have a whole other way of getting their hands on lethal assault parrots.


He stole the bird in a burglary earlier that evening.

No word on wherher Malloy is having the bird owner charged for not storing the parrot properly, and dunning him for the cost of the bitten cop’s workmen’s comp.

The parrot? He, she, or it, was not injured, is not pining for the fjords, and has been reunited with a happy owner. (The jewelry stolen in the burglary may take longer, but no one wanted Polly around the evidence room).

The real ‘Plasma Knife’ story

A real plasma blade and the phased pulse generator that makes it work. Courtesy Peak Medical.

A real plasma blade and the phased pulse generator that makes it work. Courtesy Peak Medical / Medtronic.

For reasons known but to God, a 2009 story has gone viral this month. It has to do with a ‘plasma knife’ that was tested in that fiscal year by USASOC medical personnel. The pictures are usually illustrated with a cutesy Star Wars light-sabre graphic. Not quite. The high-tech but highly nonmartial iteration of this medical tool is illustrated at left.

However, the story is not only stale, there’s a bigger story there, about what a priority combat casualty care is isn’t to the E Ring and DOD suits in general. And naturally, the “Danger Room” type of armchair experts missed the real story.

First, the plasma knife is not some kind of Jedi light sabre. What it is, is a portable version of plasma scalpels widely used in surgery; they’re especially popular in eye and plastic surgery. (They were first described in an academic paper in 1982). For a long time, this was not something you could take to the field… not unless you had a horse to carry it and a hell of a long extension cord. But it has been made man-portable, which any soldier will tell you doesn’t necessarily mean featherlight and pocket-size.

There’s a trade-off with the plasma scalpel vis-a-vis the old stainless steel one, that may make it more suitable for battlefield use, now that it can be miniatuarized. But the wounds tend to heal a little more slowly than metallic scalpel wounds (they’re only faster-healing than other electronic cutting technology, like lasers). The outcome of the test is unknown, but the plasma knife has not been generally fielded four years later, which may be a clue.

Generally, the combat medical utility of such a device is limited. Maybe in a cut-down to find an internal bleeder, you might use it. But in combat medicine, your problem is much less likely to be controlling the bleeding of any wound you feel the need to make, than controlling the bleeding of the wounds already in the patient.

What is known is that the test was not followed up, nor were any of the other SOF combat casualty care initiatives of FY 09, some of which were very promising. Why? Because delivering that 5th Obamaphone to every EBT card holder who’s too fat to get off the couch and go get the 4th Obamaphone from where she left it on the widescreen, and having an MV-22 Osprey on standby to fly the First Dog around, are higher priorities than combat med RDT&E. The administration zeroed not just the SOF Combat Casualty Care budget but the whole SOF Medical Technology budget out. And it’s stayed zeroed out ever since.

In 2010, Congress stepped in, but being Congress, it’s not like they helped. They inserted a $2.4 million earmark for unrelated DNA research that benefited somebody — Congressman’s nephew? Home-town firm? Who knows? Definitely not our combat wounded. They got zeroed out.

In 2011, the President proposed zero. Again.

In 2012, zero (this is the latest document on DTIC).

In 2013, projected to be zero. And ’14, ’15, and ’16, which is as far as they’ve gotten in zeroing out the SOF medical technology budget.

Priorities, you know.

You’re not going to read about that in Wired. 

One hopes that the recent departure of Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter from DOD may help. Carter was, typically for “defense intellectuals” going back at least as far as Macnamara’s “Whiz Kids” of 1961, innocent of any military experience (a rap that actually can’t be laid on the Macnamara guys, who were mostly World War II logistics or operations-analysis vets), and contemptuous of uniformed personnel of all ranks. We’re not sad to see him go, but he’ll probably be replaced by an even worse bozo.

An M1 Garand with a Japanese Accent (Galand?)

We’re so going to hell for that title. But we couldn’t resist.

Here’s a bare teaser of a video from the NRA’s National Firearms Museum. We’ve never been there, but a friend who often visits raves about it. Here’s a teaser they did of one of their guns:

People often ask why the US was unique in fielding semi-auto weapons nearly universally in World War II. The only other nation that had tried to go semi-auto, Russia, retreated to bolt-action simplicity until the war was won. (In 1945, they finally introduced a practical and reliable semi-auto, the SKS-45, only to replace it within a few years with the AK, which hit mass production in the early fifties). Germany supplemented its Mausers with semi-autos, just like they supplemented their equine transport with trucks, but in 1945 the Wehrmacht was still mostly horse-drawn and bolt-action.

Japanese Type 5

Japanese Type 5 semi-auto rifle in 7.7 x 58mm. This one is worth embiggening.

In Japan, they had good bolt-action rifles and decent light and heavy machine guns. One wonders how the decision to copy the American M1 Rifle was taken, and suspects it was something like Smith & Wesson’s then-CEO’s ill-starred response to Glock: “Copy the mother******!”

The Japanese Type 5 (sometimes called the Type 4) was made in small numbers. Unlike most late-war Japanese guns, surviving examples like the minty one in the Museum seem to be well-machined and carefully-finished. As you can see, the Japanese didn’t just reverse-engineer the Garand, they adapted it to Japanese training and logistics.

Dig that crazy tangent sight. And note the foreign contours of the receiver.

Dig that crazy tangent sight. And note the foreign contours of the receiver, and the stripper clip guide.

The most obvious adaptation is the 10-round, Mauser-style magazine which is loaded by two ordinary 7.7mm five-round stripper clips, a standard item in Imperial Japanese Army and Navy logistics. The receiver looks very similar, but its contours and dimensions are changed to accommodate the magazine of 10 7.7 x 58 rounds, the stripper clip guide, and Japanese machining methods. The stock shows some Japanese style, constructed of two pieces of wood joined below the beltline of the butt, and showing finger grooves in the forearm. And the rear sight’s classically Japanese, a Mauser-style tangent sight coupled with a small, high-accuracy-potential peep-type aperture. Japan’s other sighting feature was a ladder sight with an aperture of its own that coexisted with the tangent sight, and sometimes included folding lead-estimation bars for estimating lead on aircraft; we’ve never seen this on a Type 5. Few Type 5s were made (estimates range from 100 to 250), and still fewer survive (single digits). The weapon shown here is in the National Firearms Museum and is the most commonly-photographed survivor.

The NFM has a page on the Japanese long arms of World War II, which includes more photographs of this elegant gun.

Black-powder substitute blast leads to charges

Kennett and Kendall

Jesse Kennett (l) and Don Kendall (r), the two explosion victims.

So, apparently black powder, or at least its substitute, can indeed kB the whole building. And then it can burn. For quite a while, if you have a whole plant full of it.

Craig Sanborn had a plant full of it, in Colebrook, NH on the Canadian border. He was away at the NRA annual convention in Charlotte, NC, when his plant blew up on 14 May 2010. Two workers were killed, and a third, David Oldham, seriously injured. Now Sanborn is on trial for their deaths, charged with manslaughter and negligent homicide. Prosecutors says he operated the plant in a reckless manner.

The two victims, 56-year-old Donald Kendall, of Colebrook, and 49-year-old Jesse Kennett, of Stratford, were hired just a month before the blast on May 14, 2010, at Sanborn’s Black Mag gunpowder plant in Colebrook.

Scene of the explosion. Investigators have been unable to determine a probable cause.

Scene of the explosion. Investigators have been unable to determine a probable cause.

The force of the explosion shook nearby buildings and sent plumes of black smoke into the air. Dozens of homes were evacuated and firefighters couldn’t get near the blaze for several hours because ammunition was exploding.

Coos County Attorney John McCormick plans to present dozens of witnesses who say Sanborn was reckless in manufacturing, testing and storing black powder and failed to adequately train and protect workers….

McCormick will argue that Sanborn was attempting to fill an “unattainable” order that involved production of more than 2,000 pounds of gunpowder a week at the fledgling plant.

The 2,000 pounds a week contract was for Alliant, which planned to market Black Mag under its own trade name.

A number of instances and allegations of negligence have been excluded by the judge, as prejudicial and not directly relevant to the May explosion. These include a flash fire that injured Oldham in January. Returning to the trial story:

Sanborn owned several ammunition manufacturing plants in Maine dating back to 1999. He closed one in 2009 and later that year moved the operation to Colebrook, near the Canadian border.

Court documents detail numerous allegations of negligence by Sanborn. They include having the gunpowder-making machines too close together and failing to “bunker” them to minimize damage from a possible explosion. The prosecution also says the plant did not have remote operation devices to distance workers from an explosion. McCormick says Sanborn also misrepresented to employees that there was no risk of explosion if the gunpowder ignited.

via Trial set for owner of N.H. gunpowder plant |

The product being made was not actually black powder (in fact, it was yellow). It was a black powder substitute called Black Mag’Xp. Chuck Hawks noted that it has quality control, consistency and manufacturing problems (before the factory blew itself out of business). It was based on ascorbic acid and used potassium perchlorate as an oxidizer, so was able to get black powder velocities on reduced loads. Its principal advantage over black powder and other substitutes was reported to be easier post-shooting clean up (we never shot it). However, it’s permanently out of production as Sanborn surrendered his explosives license and signed a consent agreement to never resume explosives or propellant manufacture a few months after the blast.  In fact, under the terms of the agreement, he can’t even aet up shop near an explosives manufacturing facility:

In the resolution papers, Sanborn agrees that he will not conduct, establish, own, or manage by himself, with, or through others, any current or future business that is covered anywhere under OSHA’s explosives or process safety management standards if that business employs workers or independent contractors. Additionally, he will have no involvement in any enterprise that has employees if it is located within 1,000 yards of another business that is covered under OSHA’s explosives or process management safety standards.

NH Public Radio has been following the case, although they had nothing from Monday’s opening day of the trial.

Civil suits are also pending against the company that operated the plant, Black Mag; an unrelated company owned by Sanborn, Millennium Designed Muzzleloaders; and Sanborn himself. The attorneys pursuing the civil suits have delayed them until after the criminal trial.

Update I, 3 Oct: none of the NH papers has a Monday update yet, but the San Diego Union Tribune does. And the Colorado Springs Gazette. How weird is that?

Update II, 20 Oct: All the news sources that covered the opening of the trial have dropped it, but it is still going on after three weeks of prosecution testimony. The local Colebrook Sentinel continues to cover the story in depth, but their online presence only includes current-week stories. According to the Sentinel, the trial is expected to go to the jury on Wednesday, the 24th.

When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have crappers

crapperWho knew that Thomas Crapper’s eponymous invention could turn on mankind? But one of them, in New York, turned on a meek and mild IT guy who now has a phobia about flushing — at least, according to his attorney Saul Goodman Sanford Rubenstein, who’s helping him cash in \ \ \ cope with the trauma \ \ \ sue for damages:

[The] toilet exploded in his face after he pulled the handle to test the water pressure in his Brooklyn apartment.

Michel Pierre sustained shrapnel wounds from flying shards of porcelain that pierced his face, arms and legs, and required 30 stitches, his lawyer told AFP.

The 58-year-old information technology specialist is now so fearful that he uses a rope to flush the toilet from behind the bathroom door at a safe distance.

“Those fears are part of his damages,” said his lawyer Sanford Rubenstein. “Clearly toilets are supposed to flush, not explode.”

Turns out Pierre’s was one of four commodes that went grenade that day in that building:

The water had been turned off that day to allow for maintenance work in the 16-story building, which was built in 1964 and contains 275 apartments.

Theresa Racht, a lawyer for the co-op board, told AFP that it appeared to have been a freak accident.

“This is a horrific incident. Everybody feels terrible that such a thing could have happened,” she said.

“It certainly makes me think twice about flushing the toilet when the water’s been turned off.”

She said four toilets in the building exploded but that no particular evidence of wrongdoing had yet been found.

“It has never happened before and certainly nothing has happened since,” she said.

“The only conclusion anybody has reached — and they’re still investigating — is that there was a buildup of air pressure in the pipes so that when it came back on, the pressure was just pushed through the pipe and caused the explosion.”

The fiendish IET bideted its time, until it sent porcelain potsherds flying radially about the bathroom. Thomas Crapper would not be amused.

The fiendish IET bideted its time, until it sent porcelain potsherds flying radially about the bathroom. Thomas Crapper would not be amused.

The story, as reported by Yahoo News, makes little sense. Yahoo credits but does not link the New York Daily News. But the Daily News has proof, including photos of the wreckage of the “terlet” (as Archie Bunker would have called it) and what it calls Pierre’s “sharpnel” wound on the face, which took 30 stitches to close and left him with a nasty zipper on his face. (It’s ok, Pierre: chicks dig scars).

No truth to the rumor that the plumbers only work in this building with beryllium pipewrenches.

No truth to the rumor that the plumbers only work in this building with beryllium pipewrenches.

Meanwhile, as the News documents, poor Pierre has had to resort to a lanyard to process the waste in his WC. He may never again flush with confidence. (Remarkably, he doesn’t appear to have considered a return to Haiti, which would solve his indoor-plumbing phobia for good. Consider, too, the terrible risks the News photographer took to get this picture. Where would we be without the selfless courage of the news media?

It turns out that exploding toilets are something of a recurring focus at the New York Daily News, as a google search attests. Indeed, where would we be without the media to tell us what’s important?

Syria… beware extreme claims

War crime? Probably. Result of a 'sniping competition'? Maybe not.

War crime? Probably. Result of a ‘sniping competition’? Maybe not.

Here’s an example of the sort of extreme claim we mean, coming from a British doctor with ties to the Establishment:

As women and children cross through the unnamed city where he [Dr David Nott] was stationed, they would be shot by snipers – and their wounds followed disturbing patterns,

‘From the first patients that came in in the morning, you could almost tell what you would see for the rest of the day. It was a game,’ he told The Times.

‘One day it would be shots to the groin. The next, it would only be the left chest. The day after, we would see no chest wounds; they were all neck [wounds].’

Dr Nott told the newspaper that in his 20 years volunteering in war zones, this is the first time he had witnessed pregnant women being targeted.

Nott further alleges that the Syrian Assad loyalists are doing this as part of a game, and they’re “playing” for prizes of cigarettes — a claim that’s very repulsive, if true.

He described the day two consecutive patients arrived at his clinic, heavily pregnant with their babies shot to death in their stomachs.

‘The women were all shot through the uterus, so that must have been where they were aiming for. I can’t even begin to tell you how awful it was.

‘Usually, civilians are caught in the crossfire. This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this. This was deliberate. It was hell beyond hell.’

Dr Nott seems like a very good man, but does he understand the improbability of what he says is happening?

Dr Nott appears to be a very good man, but does he understand the improbability of what he says is happening?

Now, we are not alleging that Dr Nott’s claims are false or propaganda; we can’t prove that any more than we could prove the opposite, that the Syrian government forces are doing what he says for the reasons he suggests. But the claims struck us as very similar in their hysterical tone to the World War I atrocity claims about the German occupation of Belgium, which featured snarling Huns lining up nuns and running them through with sawtoothed bayonets — claims that turned out to have been propaganda aimed  at getting the US to join the war.

We just urge people to think about this. While it is possible that the Syrian snipers are so depraved as to make a sport of sniping at particular targets, most of the readers of this blog understand the difficulty of hitting a moving target at all, let alone in a specific part of the anatomy. Every hunter understands how hard the heart shot on a bounding deer or elk is; the idea that an average sniper would be able to call a shot at sniper ranges on a particular part of a (presumably moving) human anatomy greatly overstates and overrates the capability of snipers.

It is possible, but not probable, that Syria’s snipers have world class skills accompanied by a level of moral development as bestial and barbaric as the story suggests.

It’s quite bad enough that Assad’s goons are shooting civilians in the first place (as are, of course, the Islamist Syrian rebels that US and UK policy supports). It’s bad enough that they’re hitting pregnant women and killing their babies in utero. But the fact that there have been a couple of hits like that does not prove in itself that that’s where Assad’s guys are aiming. And it’s a fool’s errand to try to tease out intent from the gory evidence of the operating room.

We don’t doubt that Assad is a bad guy, who employs a retinue of bad guys. But many of his opponents are worse guys yet (all the terrorism, plus sectarian massacres). And the US has an extremely bad record of picking sides in the Arab Spring and subsequent chaos — it seems like the default position of striped-pants State Department weenies is to pick whoever’s most militantly anti-American. And the State Department’s quivering quota of canapé crunchers are only hald the problem: having weak, inexperienced, academicians in UN Ambassador and National Security Advisor positions has served us ill indeed

Bottom line, if someone is making claims that are pretty farfetched, even if they are based on what he has seen himself, as in Dr Nott’s case, exercise extreme caution. When you unpack Nott’s statement, it’s a mix of hunches, anecdotes and hearsay apocrypha. We credit only that part of it that he has seen with his own eyes.

The idea of overthrowing Assad has merit in a airless vacuum of Harvard or Georgetown. But out here, in the real air-breathing world, you have to ask: in favor of what? 

Goodbye Gun Valley, hello Gun County

“Gun County?” That could be Horry County, South Carolina, as gun manufacturers driven out of the Northeast by hostile politicians are convinced by the county’s package: country living with Myrtle Beach’s great recreation nearby, two technical schools producing able workers, pro-gun politicians statewide and, not least,  financial incentives.

The losing states tend to think it’s all about the financial incentives, but states like New York and Connecticut can match and exceed South Carolina’s incentives. It’s just that up north, having the state’s Governor and Senators vilify you and slander your management and workers is part of the whole package. And people don’t like being vilified — imagine that.

The latest new entrant in Horry County is Ithaca Gun Company, which operated in New York from 1880 to 2006, through several ownerships and overhauls, and then relocated to Ohio, where all Ithaca guns (and new models) were re-engineered for modern CNC production methods. The second Ohio owner is expanding the company to Horry County.

Ithaca proudly announced on its website that it expects to invest $6.7 million in capital, construct a 20,000 square foot plant, and create 120 jobs in Horry County’s Cool Spring Business Park (near Aynor, SC). Why? Ithaca pulled no punches:

Factors that contributed to the company’s site selection included the quantity and quality of the Myrtle Beach regional labor force, proximity to technical colleges in Conway and Florence, plus South Carolina’s pro 2nd Amendment culture and the world-class quality of life in the Myrtle Beach area.

Previous gun firms moving to Horry include formerly-Connecticut-based PTR Industries, which announced in June that it is relocating manufacturing and 145 jobs to Aynor. In addition, Stag Arms is in advanced discussions with the local development authority. The Cool Springs Business Park is on a two-location shortlist for Stag (the other location is in Houston, Texas).

PTR, Stag, and Ithaca all make guns that are now banned in their original home states.

In addition to those moving to or considering Horry County, Colt is expanding in Florida, instead of its pre-Civil-War home in Connecticut; Remington is expanding in Nashville rather than its native New York; Kahr Arms also bailed out of Cuomostan; Ruger is expanding in North Carolina. Of course, Winchester, now owned along with FN and Browning by a Belgian provincial government, shuttered its ancient New Haven, CT, plant in 2006 already, and now makes guns at an FN plant in South Carolina (Model 70s) and Miroku’s plant in Japan (lever actions).

We have called this, in the past, the “assortative relocation” of the gun industry. It was underway before the governments of Connecticut and New York accelerated their attack on the industry in 2012, but it shows no signs of stopping; indeed, it is almost certainly speeding up.

In video shot by the NSSF, all of the Connecticut firms expressed great unhappiness at the idea of moving, and deep family ties to the area, but most of them seem to understand they’re not wanted any more. One company, Ammunition Storage Components of New Britain, CT, which makes anned-in-CT rifle magazines, opted to stay in New Britain after a generous offer of subsidies — or, perhaps, because of some kind of commercial Battered Wife Syndrome.

Burning Sunday

So, tonight we celebrate Kid’s birfday, and he has requested a fire in the firepit. So we’ve secured our seasonal burn permit, and will dig out some of the ash and throw it in the sink holes we’ve been filling on the north side, and get rid of a lot of the ancient firewood — and the carpenter ants that dwell within.

Somewhere, a sensitive PETA-type person will feel a great disturbance in the Force, to wit, the anguish and terror of ten-thousand six-legged pests expiring at once in a small-h holocaust, and be saddened.

We’ll just try not to let the marshmallows melt off the sticks.

Back at you with more gun content tomorrow morning.