Category Archives: Uncategorized

Exotic Benellis on the Web

We’ve meant before to write up1 one of the most interesting guns in history, the Benelli B76. It turns out that the fairly rare, and incredibly high-quality, Benelli B76, a single-stack double-action 9mm that hit the market right when the market started demanding double-stackers, had a number of rare variants that we’d never even heard of. And a guy has put his collection2, and a full explanation, on Imgur for our benefit. (Take a good look at the one in the lower right corner — it’s not a B76, and it’s not the same frame size as the rare target pistols).

Bennelli collection

Many are unaware that Benelli made a series of high-quality centerfire pistols in the late 70s and early 80s. The most common by far is the standard B76 in 9mm, but there were other, rarer variants, outlined below. (I had a B76 but sold it since I was upgrading with the Sport model.)

I currently have a B76 Sport 9mm, MP3S 9mm, MP3S 32S&W, and B77 in 32acp. These are very nicely made, all-steel semi-autos. Accuracy is superb thanks to a fixed barrel and, in the case of the SAO MP3S models, excellent triggers. You can get a little slide bite in the 9mm variants, though. :-/

In addition to the Benellis pictured here, there was also a B80 (and B80 Sport) in .30 Luger and the B82 in 9mm Ultra.

Not everybody thinks Benelli handguns are beautiful, and their crisp angles appeal more to the guy who was into Bertone-styled 1970s Italian exotic cars (X1/9, Countach) than the one whose styling lodestar was 1960s Pininfarina (all those curvaceous Ferraris). But the quality of the firearms is palpably high. According to the collector, the target-model guns (including the B76 Sport, which retains the double-action of the service pistol) are better finished than the bluing-over-matt-sandblast slides of the B76.

The service pistols have a variant on the 70s-80s three-dot sight that involves lining up three vertical lines. It works but is less instinctive in elevation than the three dots. File it under, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Benelli MP3S

He calls the MP3S target pistol in 9mm “The Unicorniest Benelli,” and says this of his:

This is the single action-only MP3S in 9mm. I know of only one other in the United States in this caliber. I’ve seen a few other MP3Ses come up for sale, but they’re always in 32S&W Long Wadcutter. When I got this one, it was literally the first I could actually verify the existence of. Before I found it, I had only seen vague mentions of the MP3S existing in 9mm. I honestly thought they never made it to production.

The 32S&W version I also have is nearly identical to the 9mm, so I didn’t take another photo.

There are more photos at the link, and he truly proves that, as he puts it, you can’t tell the MP3S from the B76 Sport (double-action version of the 9mm) without reading the slide. You are well advised to Read The Whole Thing™.

To us the most interesting was the little .32 B77. It was a gun we were completely in the dark about. Never heard of it, never had a clue they made such a thing. That doesn’t happen to us as often as it once did, and it’s always kind of exciting when it does.

Benelli B77 32ACP

In this day and age of Internet Instawisdom, you’re unlikely to encounter an undervalued B76, let alone one of the rarer variants, in a pawn shop in Winnetka. But you never know. The B76 is no longer a first-choice carry option due to its 8-round mag and the unavailability of holsters, and most target shooters already have a centerfire solution they like better than the DA/SA B76 or the SA MP3S. But the gun is pleasant to shoot and points naturally with its steeply raked (Luger-angle) grip (B76) or comfortable target grips on the target versions. And they’re quite the conversation starters among gun guys, especially when opened up to show the unique toggle mechanism.

Notes

  1. We thought we had written up, but we can’t find it. Perhaps it was unfinished a published; we’ll check the draft queue and chivvy it along if need be.
  2. Bonus links: Same collector’s unusual Walthers and HK USPs. He clearly has a thing for accurate Europeans.

Time to Mobilize the 3rd Amendment?

redcoats-at-old-north-bridgeThe 3rd Amendment to the US Constitution is the least-developed of the Bill of Rights: responding to the quaint Georgian custom of hijacking the most appealing Georgian homes for the comfort of King George III’s officers and men, it forbade that practice. (It has not always been so honored; consider what happened to Robert E. Lee’s plantation). But a group of law scholars met recently at the University of Tennessee for a symposium on the forgotten amendment, and it’s possible we may see 3rd Amendment claims raised in court as a check on various types of government intrusions soon. A fascinating column by Tennessee law professor (and Instapundit blogger) Glenn Reynolds describes some of this issues:

In the 18th century, when the Third Amendment was drafted, “troop quartering” meant literally having troops move into your house to live at your expense and sleep in your beds. It destroyed any semblance of domestic privacy, opening up conversations, affection, even spats to the observation and participation of outsiders. It converted a home into an arena.

Today we don’t have that, but we have numerous intrusions that didn’t exist in James Madison’s day: Government spying on phones, computers, and video — is spyware on your computer like having a tiny soldier quartered on your hard drive? — intrusive regulations on child-rearing and education, the threat of dangerous “no-knock” raids by soldierly SWAT teams that break down doors first and ask questions later.

The Third Amendment hasn’t been invoked in these cases — well, actually, it has, in the case of a SWAT team in Henderson, Nev., that took over a family home so that it could position itself against a neighbor’s house — but maybe it should be. At least, maybe we should go farther in recognizing a fundamental right of privacy in people’s homes.

At common law, the saying was that a man’s home is his castle, or, as William Pitt put itin 1763: “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storms may enter, the rain may enter — but the King of England cannot enter.”

In this post-drug war era of no-knock raids, SWAT teams, and governmental spying, it’s sad to think that we are, in fact, less secure in our homes than “the poorest man” in his own cottage was under the English kings we once revolted against. And if that’s the case, maybe the Third Amendment isn’t working as well as we think.

Reynolds is concise and clear and you would be well served to Read The Whole Thing™. He (and Tennessee Law) have also been involved in the constitutional law project of the last two or three decades, the exhumation and reanimation of the similarly “dead” 2nd Amendment. May they have similar success with the 3rd, until one day, once again, “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown.”

 

We’re Busy, Here’s a Ranger!

Hey, dear readers, we’re wrapped up in a few things. A long-delayed proposal seems to have finally sold to an allied armed force and today is “oh crap, now what” day. And of course, it’s today that College Pro Painters are doing an estimate on restoring the exterior of the Manor to her 20th Century glory, and we gotta see if one of the auto paint shops around here will primer our aircraft parts for us.

On the other hand, yesterday it was above freezing. For the first time since some time in December. We broke 40 degrees F, even. And spent it chipping ice dams off the roof, or trying to. (Do you ever wish you could have your 25-year-old body back?)

So, we may get more posts done, and we may not. Meanwhile, here’s a Ranger with the Carl Gustaf RCL that replaced the late, lamented 90mm RCL in Ranger service.

ranger_rcl

That’s a crop of a great US Army photo by PFC Rashene Mincy. Taken during 2/75 range training at Camp Roberts, CA about one year ago (26 Jan 14 to be precise). We love the way she captured the fire in the muzzle and the shadow of the speeding projectile!

The 90 was last used in combat in Grenada, and that use was its undoing. The Rangers, believers in the adage that “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing,” brought every round in the US inventory to the island and unboxed them. They fired a couple dozen rounds, if that, and killed a couple of armored vehicles (BRDM, BTR-60) that had already been killed a couple of times by AC-130s — or maybe the Spectres killed v’s that had already been killed by the Ragnars, it was over 30 years ago.

Then, they ran into a force even the Rangers can’t overcome: US Air Force bureaucracy. AFIs (the blue-suit version of Army Regs) forbid the carriage of ammunition not in its factory packaging. The Rangers pleaded, wheedled, begged, threatened (OK, so maybe they threatened first) and offered to repack the ammo, but nooooo. So every stick of 90mm ammunition owned by the US Army went up in a controlled detonation, as EOD blew tons and tons of ammo that the Air Force wouldn’t take away from the island.

And, ulp! Seems like the ammo was out of production and the line long since scrapped, and the idea of redeveloping a production line for three little light-infantry battalions (even though each Ranger bat burns a brigade’s worth of live ammo a year, maybe a division’s, in the early 1980s)  was a budgetary non-starter. Enter Plan B — the Carl Gustaf, used by many of our NATO allies for decades, with some pros and cons vis-a-vis the 90 but one big one, available ammo. (The disposable AT-4 is a scion of the original Carl Gustaf, also).

Surrendered Firearms? Eternal Legal Limbo

LAPD gun buyback pileThat varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but when the Federal Government requires a felon to surrender firearms rather than transfer them, they drop into a legal shadowland where the Fed possesses them but doesn’t own them — and neither does anyone else.

This was revealed by the hapless Assistant Solicitor General Ann O’Connell, in the course of having her legal reasoning and position savaged by most of the Supreme Court Justices, in a case, Henderson vs United States, that challenges a seemingly doomed 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.  It doesn’t appear to be a setup for a 5-4 ruling, as O’Connell’s slipshod and dishonest brief and oral arguments brought out judicial fangs from the span of the spectrum from Scalia to Sotomayor. SCOTUSblog:

Calling to mind Hangar 51 from the Indiana Jones movies, Chief Justice John Roberts asked what happened to all the surrendered firearms, including antiques and heirlooms, that the government has refused to transfer to third parties. Is it really the case that “[t]hey just sat around gathering dust?” The answer was yes, because the government never has title over the weapons and so does not own them.

The country’s in the very best of hands, eh? They don’t own them, but they won’t give them up.

However, it’s good news for Troy Henderson. He’s still a felon and this case was never going to change that, but it’s almost certain that the Supreme Court will direct the lower courts to stop obstructing his attempts to transfer the firearms he now can’t possess. (Henderson is, as is often the case with landmark-case figures, not an entirely admirable figure. He was a Border Patrol agent busted for involvement in drug smuggling).

This predicted, and deserved, loss for the ill-prepared Ann O’Connell, is also a loss for her allies in the case, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the only one of a clutch of amici who came in on the government side. (Henderson’s side has such strange bedfellows as the Institute for Justice, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the NRA).

Eh. From Jeh.

department-of-homeland-security-mrap-dhs-ndaa-hb347-totalita-politics-1334409716What kind of knucklehead names his or her kid “Jeh?” Must definitely be a knucklehead to reckon with, considering what a knucklehead Jeh himself is. Does he have kids? We hope it stops there, because, like Oliver Wendell Holmes’s 8-to-1 decision famously said, “Three generations of imbeciles is enough.”

Anyway, this came in over the transom from the Secretary of DHS, and we’ll post it unedited:

February 26, 2015

Dear Colleagues:

I write with the latest update on the efforts in Congress to pass an appropriations bill for our Department.

Yesterday the Senate agreed to proceed to debate on a clean appropriations bill, without any amendments to defund our executive actions.  This is good news.  We do not know when the Senate will actually vote on this bill and pass it over to the House.  Nor do we know what will happen to the bill once it reaches the House, but bipartisan support in the House for a clean appropriations bill seems to be building.  The timeline for these legislative actions is uncertain.

I remain optimistic that Congress will not let our funding lapse past midnight tomorrow night, though, as you know, we are planning and preparing for that possibility.

I continue to fight for our funding, and to inform the public and Congress about the consequences of a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.  Yesterday I spent much of the day on Capitol Hill.  Yesterday we were also honored that former Secretaries Ridge and Chertoff stood with me at a press conference to urge passage of a clean appropriations bill for the Department. Today we hold another press conference with representatives of law enforcement from across the Nation, to highlight the impact to public safety if we do not have funding.

Stay tuned for further updates. Again, I remain optimistic.

Jeh Charles Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security

So there’s the strategy: if they don’t get the money not to enforce the law, they’re gonna show us, by not enforcing the law.

It’s nice to see Michael Chertoff is joining him. Chertoff, the vainest DHS secretary to date, spent his entire term empire building and setting up corrupt deals to line his pockets. For example, he mandated full-body scanners from the British Rapescan company for American airports, and after “retiring” from DHS turned into a complete shill for Rapescan. Why? Well, it turns out, he was working for Rapescan. Cha-chingg.

Tom Ridge has, likewise, made himself filthy rich with rewards and backscratching from the backs he scratched when head of DHS. He literally invested in companies that were before him asking for contracts.

What’s Jeh Johnson doing, playing the token black guy with these two blackguards? That’s an easy answer: lining up the cha-chingg and bling for his own post-DHS life. It might not be as spectacular as, say, Chertoff’s self-dealing, but then nobody thinks Johnson is as bright or cunning as Chertoff.

As crooked? That, yeah.

Update

Since we (and Rasta Jeh-mon) penned these words, a Democrat-Republican food fight over amnesty funding was temporarily patched over with a one-week stopgap funding bill, letting Jeh and his army of Nebraska Avenue drones to still collect their $200k plus paychecks, and the TSA avoid interruption of their important duties: groping children and pilfering from luggage.

Update II

DHS has posted its “shutdown plan,” and it’s (inadvertent) comedy gold. For one thing, when it’s done “shutting down,” only 90% of its employees will still be working. Including almost all of those in the agencies that, under Johnson, have been largely forbidden to do their statutory jobs, like CBP and ICE. (The only LE org taking a big hit is the US Marshals Service, which has actually been allowed to arrest fugitives, as long as they’re not illegal aliens, up to now). While none of it is deliberate, there’s more entertainment value in this crap than anything we’re likely to write for the rest of the day:

http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/dhs-lapse-contingency-plan-02-27-2015_0.pdf

Friday Tour d’Horizon: Clearing the Spindle

PART 1: MOAR GUNZ

Check this Out: 80% 1911 frames

stealth_arms_80_1911_and_jigFrames and jigs in aluminum alloy from Stealth Arms. Interesting to us, the Phantom jig uses a sliding cutter that comes with it, rather than require a milling machine. We may write more about this anon.

These are available at a discount from Sportsman’s Guide if you’re a member of their Buyers’ Club racket.

Sub-firearm 1911 frame blanks have been hard to come by in the last couple of years. Stealth Arms represents themselves as having several styles of “80%” receiver. Note that “80%” is a term commonly accepted in the gun world, but not in law or by ATF. ATF rules (sometimes arbitrarily) whether a given product is a firearm or “not a firearm;” they never, ever, validate anybody’s percentage claim.

Recommended by a Commenter: Inventables.com

They have a new CNC mill coming, and meanwhile, have an interesting set of Shapeoko (CNC router) kits, and an interesting online application, Easel. Personally, we wouldn’t trust a cloud app for firearms parts data. We’ve played with Easel and it’s pretty cool, but we just can’t get over the trust hump here.

SIG-based Guns from Chile coming here

TFB is reporting that Chile’s FAMAE, which makes the SIG 540 under license, and has derived many of its own guns from that weapon (including blowback 9mms), is planning to bring them into the USA, with the compact carbines coming in as pistols, with separate stocks available for those who want to put them on Form 1. How they plan to work around 922(r) is not really clear to us; do Read The Whole Thing™ from the good guys over at TFB.

Humongous BAR Training Aid

A BAR training aid at 2:1 scale. Ian references some of the other versions in the video (link only, we haven’t figured out how to embed from Full30.com).

you_lookin__at_me_--_ian_and_bar

We’ve seen the M1 he mentions and an M1 carbine, and they used M16A1s along these lines in our basic training in the 1970s.

This one appears to have been modified… the metal “handguard” wasn’t always there.  It’s available at the RIA online auction on 28 March 15.

Shooting an AR to Death

We seem to recall citing or posting this video before, but in it, Iraq Veteran 8888 fires 830 rounds on full-auto, until his barrel bursts (he says it’s the gas tube but it isn’t. Seems to gibe with what we alredy lerned about ARs and long-term results of cyclic firing.

Yeah, the video’s longish. But several things are interesting. A full magazine before the ultimate failure at 830 rounds, you can see the muzzle brake unscrewing itself (on the next mag you can see it depart, but not where it goes — probably 6-10 feet downrange. This is a good reason to have a magnet like the ones roofing contractors use for cleanup in your range truck). The burst is in an interesting place, further forward than it comes on a GI barrel. (Lack of chrome plating may account for that). Note that long before the failure, the barrel is no good in terms of accuracy, and he observes that it’s completely shot out when he looks at the damaged barrel afterward. (Pity he didn’t borescope it).

Note also that he pauses between mags, sizes things up, looks around. In a fight you might not do that. And if he were not pausing (sometimes a minute or more) before locking a new mag in, the weapon would have failed sooner. Our guess is that it would be in the 400-500 range where Colt and US Army tests have shown the M4 vulnerable.

Note that, just as it took more rounds for this cyclic-rate experiment to fail tge barrel than the Colt and Army experiments, it would probably take more rounds for near-cyclic semi-auto fire to produce this kind of failure.

Still sure you want a Shrike or other beltfed AR?

Click “More” to continue to Part 2: Unconventional Warfare, Part 3: Cops and Robbers; and Part 4: Poly-Ticks. (Because this is looooong).

Continue reading

Fighting is Human. Everybody Does It.

And we’re not joking when we say everybody:

OK. Maybe we were joking. The fight’s a snowball fight; the fighters, Franciscan friars (monks) at a monastery in Jerusalem.

There’s been a lot of fights in Jerusalem, but this is one that could entertain anybody.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald is a Stolen Valor Phony and Must Resign.

VA-veterans-affairsWhy are we not really shocked that the Beltway drone that the Beltway dredged up to continue mismanaging the Veterans Administration is a Stolen Valor character, specifically, a Special Forces poseur?

McDonald graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1975 and completed Army Ranger training before being assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division until his retirement in 1980. According to the Huffington Post, while McDonald was formally recognized as a graduate of Ranger School, he never actually served in a Ranger battalion or other special operations unit.

“I have no excuse,” the website quoted McDonald as saying in its report. “I was not in special forces.”

Mac, “I have no excuse” worked when you were being braced by an upperclassman for violating some nit noy Point regulation or custom. What you have violated here is neither trivial nor excusable. It reveals a collossal lack of respect for those that you are ostensibly assisting. The only acceptable outcome is resignation or dismissal.

Funny thing: it almost certainly was a line he threw out in the direction of another phony.

In a statement released Monday by the VA, McDonald said: “While I was in Los Angeles, engaging a homeless individual to determine his veteran status, I asked the man where he had served in the military. He responded that he had served in special forces. I incorrectly stated that I had been in special forces.

Like most Special Forces vets, we run into so many phonies that we’re pleasantly surprised when the guy with the SF hat, shirt or claim turns out to be the real thing. We have never encountered a homeless bum whose claims of veteran status were entirely true, and never encountered one who actually served in any SOF capacity. This is not saying that there are none, just that most veteran claims among the homeless are bullshit.

Kind of like McDonald’s, actually.

“That was inaccurate and I apologize to anyone that was offended by my misstatement.”

“Inaccurate?” “Misstatement?” Bullshit, Mac. It was a lie. To put it in terms even a brainwashed Academy mind can understand, it was an Honor Code Violation. Remember that? It goes something like this:

“A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do.”

Let us explain how this works. You just blew it spectacularly on the first clause, and now the rest of us implement the second. You are lost. Your soul is forfeit. You are unfit for your position. You must resign. You may not believe it, serving as you do an Administration that had no qualms about a Secretary of State who also slung cross-border bullshit about his military career, another who “remembered” being under fire (but never was), and a Secretary of the Treasury who was a serial and decadelong tax chiseler.

You probably can’t understand this, in your monumental, towering self-regard, but you’ve blown it on this to a much greater level than if you simply were a greedy, crooked tax cheat like Timothy Geithner. This goes to your fitness for any job, but it goes doubly for your fitness for this job.

McDonald told the Huffington Post that he had “reacted spontaneously and … wrongly” in response to the homeless man’s claim.

What. The. Prevarication. “Reacted spontaneously?” Let’s throw some comparisons out there so you all can see what this really is.

When I met Richard Petty, I reacted spontaneously and told him I, too, was a NASCAR legend.

When I visited the Little Sisters of the Poor, I couldn’t resist telling my press retinue about my own formative period in a religious mendicant order. 

When I ran in to Clint Eastwood out the back gate of DLI, I reacted spontaneously and told him I had three Oscars.

On touring Studio Two at Abbey Road, I was pleased to see they still had my guitar in the corner.

When Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey came to town, I reacted spontaneously and told a press conference I was the Flying Wallendas.

Something’s flying here, and it’s not Wallendas. No doubt they’re flying in Sarasota, getting ready for the season, and not lying about what they did and didn’t do. Which makes any one of them a better choice for Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs than McDonald.

What this is, of course, is narcissism writ so large that it’s swallowed the guy’s actual accomplishments, which are not trivial — if we can trust anything else he’s uttered. And there you see the reason for the Honor Code: it sheaths the credibility of a cadet and graduate of the Academy in the armor of righteousness. But that armor is hard to the point of brittleness: one crack and the whole thing goes. Q.E.D.

(The SF Honor Code, by the way, is nothing formal, but is what sociologists call “in-group morality,” aligning well with the Rogers Rangers Standing Order — as given in the mid-20th-Century book and movie Northwest Passage: “You can tell other folks anything you want about the Rangers, but don’t never lie to a Ranger nor officer.”)

Returning to the subject, we have never seen longterm good come out of employing narcissists. (“Spotlight Rangers” is an in-group term for ‘em). In a way, they’re a leader’s delight: keep the spotlight on ‘em, they perform highly. Easy! But they’re corrosive to trust in the ranks and up and down the chain of command.

The Navy frequently reports that it has sacked some captain or admiral because they have lost confidence in his or her ability to command. It’s been a cold end to many storied careers. Recently, the flailing Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, went to the politically friendly Gannett newspapers with a story that says the Army has relieved 139 battalion and brigade commanders over the last 10 years of so. (These are lieutenant colonels and colonels. For civilians, “relieved” is like being dropped from a particular management job, but it usually carries with it a delayed-action end of service. Our guess is about 10% of these reliefs have been performance problems, 50% have been conduct problems — diddling the help, and drinking-and-driving, mostly — and 40% have been failures of political correctness). The Army uses a rationale much like the Sea Service does: a colonel who has stepped on his Johnson in a public way has a hard time maintaining the confidence of troops and/or political leaders, so it’s time for that officer to go.

Secretary McDonald, what time is it?

But wait, he’s not done making excuses for himself.

“As I thought about it later, I knew that this was wrong,” McDonald said of his false statement.

What. The. — Wait, we already said that. Lord love a duck! You need to think about it later to understand that lying about your attainments is wrong? What else is AFU in that guy’s values and morals? What else is he lying about?

In our experience, with Stolen Valor guys it’s never just one incident and it’s never the only thing they’re bent about. There’s a lot of comorbidity with other kinds of corruption and crime. The only possible answer is dismissal.

Well, at least an Administration that’s stayed in practice by sacking scores and hundreds of ship skippers and battalion COs for lapses of PC will have no trouble firing the guy, right?

Er… wrong.

The White House released a statement Monday evening saying that it had accepted McDonald’s explanation.

“Secretary McDonald has apologized for the misstatement and noted that he never intended to misrepresent his military service,” the statement said. “We take him at his word and expect that this will not impact the important work he’s doing to promote the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans.”

Hey, because Stolen Valor doesn’t matter to them, either.

McDonald is a fraud, a poser and a phony. He’s fundamentally dishonest at something that goes to the core of his character and his fitness for this position.

If there was a strand of the Military Academy Cadet left inside him, he’d already have killed himself. But since there isn’t, McDonald must resign.

via VA Secretary Robert McDonald admits lying about Special Forces service | Fox News.

A Truer Turing

AlanTuringAlan Turing is one of the most interesting and memorable characters in the cast of players that presented the wartime drama known as Bletchley Park. And last night, a movie about him won, or didn’t win, an Oscar (we had to endure the first half-hour of the telecast last night as a social obligation, and then happily came home and plunged into the workshop, where things happen in three real dimensions in metal, wood and plastics). We haven’t seen the movie any more than we watched the Oscar telecast, so we’ll reserve personal judgment on it, but we’ve read widely on Bletchley ever since the first revelations were published (which we seem to recall was The Ultra Secret by Higginbotham, circa 1974 or 75). We have read numerous accounts published since then in everything from in-house NSA and GCHQ publications to popular magazines. We have read two biographies of Turing, both of which slightly overstate his contribution to computer science and perhaps to codebreaking, but which also display his true complexity and challenge as a human being.

Comes one Christian Caryl in the New York Review of Books with a nuanced and intelligent critique of the movie, in which he perceives errors great (“film does its best to ladle in extra doses of intrigue where none existed”) and small (the natty presentation of star Benedict Cumberbatch is at odds with Turing’s inattention to personal hygiene). His conclusions include this:

The movie version, in short, represents a bizarre departure from the historical record.

He goes on to mention in a few lines why this is so, and why Hollywood has fallen so short of the real Turing and his — and others’ — accomplishments, in their Hollywood attempt to turn every story into a Western with a bad guy in a black hat. Despite the fact that they had one of the best stories ever, and the best villain ever (really: Adolf Freaking Hitler his ownself), right at hand, they had to force-fit Turing’s story into Save the Cat! format, and they did so at the price of understanding the real Turing. The villain? Not an actual enemy, he has to be an in-house homophobe, so they put the devil’s horns on Commander Alastair Dennison, the (in the real world) even-tempered and brilliant Royal Navy officer who led the effort.

In reality, Turing was an entirely willing participant in a collective enterprise that featured a host of other outstanding intellects who happily coexisted to extraordinary effect. The actual Denniston, for example, was an experienced cryptanalyst and was among those who, in 1939, debriefed the three Polish experts who had already spent years figuring out how to attack the Enigma, the state-of-the-art cipher machine the German military used for virtually all of their communications. It was their work that provided the template for the machines Turing would later create to revolutionize the British signals intelligence effort. So Turing and his colleagues were encouraged in their work by a military leadership that actually had a pretty sound understanding of cryptological principles and operational security. As Copeland notes, the Nazis would have never allowed a bunch of frivolous eggheads to engage in such highly sensitive work, and they suffered the consequences. The film misses this entirely.

bomba_fullThe Polish story is told in a book by Józef Gárlinski, and in this article (.pdf) from the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing by Marian Rejewski, one of the Polish codebreakers. Highly recommended. Even Caryl misses that the bombe, a key machine for Enigma decoding, was originally a Polish invention (as the “bomba”), although Turing thoroughly reinvented and improved it. The two biographers of Turing are Andrew Hodges and Jack Copeland; the movie drew more on Hodges’s 1983 bio, but didn’t do either justice.

These errors are not random; there is a method to the muddle. The filmmakers see their hero above all as a martyr of a homophobic Establishment, and they are determined to lay emphasis on his victimhood. The Imitation Game ends with the following title: “After a year of government-mandated hormonal therapy, Alan Turing committed suicide in 1954.” This is in itself something of a distortion. Turing was convicted on homosexuality charges in 1952, and chose the “therapy” involving female hormones—aimed, in the twisted thinking of the times, at suppressing his “unnatural” desires—as an alternative to jail time. It was barbarous treatment, and Turing complained that the pills gave him breasts. But the whole miserable episode ended in 1953—a full year before his death, something not made clear to the filmgoer.

In the Hollywood version the only thing important about Turing is that he was queer. (They didn’t call it “gay” in his lifetime). Perhaps because the filmmakers can’t understand mathematics, or physics, or cryptography, they make their complex and individual protagonist channel Spock, himself an impossible, fictional character.

Caryl’s denunciation of the film’s many errors is absolutely worth reading in depth, so do Read The Whole Thing™. As he puts it,

[I]f you want to see the real Alan Turing, you’re better off reading the books.

The sad thing is that most people won’t. And the desaturated, dull, helpless Turing of the movie will become the one preserved in cultural memory.