Ghost Gunner Shipments Blocked, by…. ?

We haven’t heard directly from GG or Defense Distributed or Cody Wilson, but he’s tweeting up a storm on the subject. (Not having heard is irritating, when he’s sitting on four figures of our money. But we’ve received only one of the updates supposedly sent to all hands since purchasing a GG).


Both FedEx and UPS have refused to ship the Ghost Gunner, and there is no convenient common carrier option apart from that shipping duopoly.

The funny thing is this: despite its name and its firearms application, the Ghost Gunner is really a general-purpose, open-source, CNC machine tool. We want it as much to see what ecosystem of fixtures and part files emerges, and to apply to airplane building, as we do as a way to do custom lowers (for which there are already other machines are on hand.

According to the shippers, any machine that might be used by a private party to ship guns is contraband, the law be damned. (It’s suggestive that both carriers reached this unique interpretation at the same moment in time). Does this mean that Sherline, Taig and Miniature Machine Shop will not be able to ship their goods in interstate commerce? (We probably shouldn’t give the Feds, whose threats are no doubt at the bottom of this debacle, any ideas).

Apparently, one part of  the “a pen and a phone” system of government that has replaced the obsolete Constitution in latter days is the ability to declare contraband not just things that some politicians don’t like, but machines that can make the things. 

the lives of othersOne is reminded of the old Communist system, which not only had a media monopoly and pervasive state surveillance, but went so far as the licensing and registration of deadly assault information technology, which in those days meant typewriters and mimeograph machines. Russian dissidents circulated manuscripts copied, sometimes one-at-a-time in the fashion of medieval monks defending knowledge from a new Dark ages, in a cultural phenomenon called samizdat – a term with the denotation of “self publishing” but a connotation of underground, forbidden, risky activity.

FedEx is particularly two-faced in this, as they offer NRA discounts, which is why Cody initially used them. But statements from FedEx spokesman Scott Fiedler to Wired and other online outlets make it clear that the company is fully on-board with the administration here. UPS spox Dan McMackin has confirmed that his firm, too, is firmly in the antigun camp and is pleased to collaborate in Administration anti-gun initiatives.

Wired Magazine’s Andy Greenberg goes all out to give the carriers the benefit of the doubt, but reaches (with the help of anti-gun UCLA professor Adam Winkler, who’s studied and written about gun control in America) an interesting conclusion (and one that Cody Wilson would recognize as suitably bleak for would-be regulators):

FedEx seems to be joining the same club of companies trying to avoid any part in digital DIY gunsmithing. But as more tools like 3-D printers and CNC mills find their way into Americans’ homes, they may have to face the reality that those devices can also create deadly weapons, says UCLA’s Winkler. “It’s going to be very hard to get people to stop using these same devices to make firearms,” he says. “To a certain extent, FedEx will have to get used to shipping gun-making machines.”

There is good news for buyers in this, perhaps: by refusing to deliver the product, FedEx and UPS are in effect insuring you against the project’s failure to deliver. If you never get the product you have paid for, you can add the carriers as defendants to your suit, and recover from their (and their reinsurers’) deep pockets. They want to take a partisan, political position? Let them pay for it.

For More Information:

Ostensible Cody Wilson letter (he did not send this to us, and we are fully-paid purchasers). If this is authentic, it looks like what began as a dispute over rates escalated into an outright ban on shipping, based on what FedEx was told by persons unknown but presumably aligned with the Administration:

That email was posted by Ars Technica writer Cyrus Farivar; Farivar’s article follows:

GunsAmerica story:

Wired story:

Reason Magazine’s Hit & Run Blog:

Numerous other sites have secondary stories derived from the above (like us, now), including TTAG and Infowars.

Since the initial statements of anti-gun and anti-manufacturing policy, both FedEx and UPS have clammed up.

When Guns are Outlawed, only Outlaws Will Have Flex Ties

Here’s a heartwarming story of a piece of human detritus who will be locked up for good… too late for the lives of at least five people, but you can’t expect efficiency out of the courts. They’re fully staffed by government workers, after all. The wire story from Wilkes-Barre, PA, reacting to the jury’s decision not to impose the death penalty:

Hugo Selenski, 41, was convicted last week on two counts of first-degree murder in the killings of Michael Kerkowski and Tammy Fassett during a robbery at the pharmacist’s home. He showed no reaction to the jury’s decision, which means he will serve life without parole. He will be formally sentenced next month.

One of Selenski’s lawyers, Bernard Brown, said he was pleased with the decision to spare him.

“We’re happy,” he said.

Yeah, that would make a lawyer happy. That and his paycheck, no doubt picked up by the chumps taxpayers. This morning, he’s trying to spring some other human pathogen loose on society, no doubt.

The outcome of the sentencing phase of the trial was always a bit academic. Had Selenski, a serial killer who had at least three other victims’ bodies on his property near the remains of the missing couple, actually been sentenced to death, it wouldn’t have mattered: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, an attorney himself, has issued a de facto commutation of all death penalties in his state.

Still, one doesn’t even risk the death penalty in most Northeastern states just for committing a murder or two. What else did Selenski do?

[H]e and a co-conspirator brutally beat Kerkowski to compel him to reveal the location of tens of thousands of dollars he kept in his house and then used plastic flex ties to strangle him and Fassett.

You know, when an interrogator does it to a terrorist, reporters say it’s torture. When a criminal does it to a victim, it’s just a beating. Nothing to see here.

Why did a pharmacist have tens of thousands in cash in his house? What made this crumb think he could cash in by torturing the guy?

The pharmacist had pleaded guilty to running an illegal prescription drug ring and was about to be sentenced when he and Fassett were reported missing in 2002. About a year later, authorities found their decomposing bodies and at least three other sets of human remains on Selenski’s property near Wilkes-Barre.

via Man with bodies buried in his yard gets life in prison | National & World News | Seattle News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News | KOMO News.

OK, so the pharmacist was a crook, too, and this is that good old standby, crooks whacking crooks. (Ask a homicide detective what percentage of his victims are purely innocent. The number may shock you).

Did Selenski face charges in the case of the other bodies? Well, yes and no:

In 2006, he beat two other homicide charges in the deaths of two suspected drug dealers whose charred remains also were found in his yard. The fifth body found on the property was never publicly identified.

What made Selenski turn?

Selenski has spent most of the last 20 years in prison, with convictions for a 1994 bank robbery, a 2003 home invasion and robbery and now murder. He escaped from a county lockup in 2003 using a rope fashioned from bed sheets but turned himself in days later.

Oh, that. He never “turned”; he always was a violent criminal, an utter waste of sperm and egg. Seems like it was a mistake letting him out in the first place. Note that he was arrested and imprisoned twice in 2003, after the pharmacist murders that he did in 2002. If they searched his grounds at the time they didn’t find his garden of deaders.


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.

Transferable History

We’ve featured an MP.18-II before, which is a later iteration of this exact same gun, with a magazine well reconfigured for straight magazines. (It led in turn to the MP.28, the Lanchester, and the Sten, by fairly direct process of derivation). But this gun, the MP.18-I, is the granddaddy of them all, and it could be yours.

MP.18-I 03It is certainly the first widely produced submachine gun, defined as a shoulder-fired infantry weapon firing a pistol cartridge with an automatic or select-fire mechanism. A blowback mechanism, it showed the way for many designs that would follow through three generations of submachine guns, until the rise of compact versions of intermediate-cartridge assault weapons would replace most of them.

Some would say it has a face only a mother could love:

MP.18-I 28


And it’s just as awkward looking from behind. MP.18-I 24

The drum magazine is so odd looking because it was already in production for the Lange P.08, the “Artillery” Luger. Rather than try to design a thirtyish-round magazine, the engineers at Theodor Bergmann in the weapons-manufacturing center Suhl, Germany, did what many later gun designers would do and borrowed a proven one.

MP.18-I Snail Drum 03


The gadget with the lever is the magazine loader, a must-have for these unique mags. Note the sleeve that fits on them for SMG use.

MP.18-I 06

Like all first-generation submachine guns the MP.18-I is made using the rifle processes of the early 20th Century. It is primarily made of steel parts machined from billet or forgings, richly blued; and the stock is solid walnut. If four years of relentless naval blockade had damaged the German Empire’s war production capabilities, this gun doesn’t show it.

The auction has a very reasonable opening bid, for what it is, but there is also a reserve. No, we don’t know what the reserve is.

As the catchy song goes, what does the ad say?

This is a really nice example of the early 9 mm German submachine gun used in WWI. MP18-1 was the first true Submachine Gun. This is not all matching, but is an excellent example with an excellent bore.

These are very rare and hard to find because most MP18’s were modified to accept the straight magazine instead of the drum magazine.

There was a show on the tube, the one with that perv guy, where they bubba’d up a later MP. 18-II to resemble this, so you might want to ensure that this is not the Bubba gun version.

It has a 1920 stamp on the receiver so it was used by the Weimar Police.

This comes with 2 drums with adapters and 1 drum loading tool. These drums are the same drums used with the Artillery Luger. This is C&R fully transferable and is currently on a form 3.

via German WWI MP18,I with 2 Drums & Loader : Machine Guns at

If you’re familiar with later German SMGs, the bolt and striker of the MP.18 look pretty familiar:

MP.18-I 25

The simplicity of this firearm was so elegantly perfect for its purpose that it spawned hundreds of work-alikes, few of which improved on its basic function (after replacing the overly complex magazine).

This may look like a lot of pictures, but there are way more at the auction link — something like 30 of them all told. You know you want to click over there anyway.

Sure, it’s more than our pickup cost, new, and it’s almost 100 years old. But on the other hand, our pickup will be worth approximately $0 in ten years, and an original MP.18-I is unlikely to lose much value. (If you buy it into a business you can even try depreciating it and see if the tax guys let you).

In case two drums aren’t enough for you, the same seller has a third, too. Without loader, but with dust cover. They’re all First Model snail drums. Annoy a totalitarian, buy a 32-round magazine.

third drum

One nice thing about this seller’s auctions is that they run for a good, long time. The MP.18 has eight days to go. (Serious bidders may not show up until close to the end. Don’t read too much into lack of bids on an auction when it still has weeks to run).

Another nice thing about these auctions? They give all of us the chance to see many rare collector pieces. We can’t own them all, but we can get eyes on them when they change hands. How cool is that?

Poly-Ticks: The Shape of Antigun Astroturf

Screenshot 2015-02-23 00.04.08

Excerpt from an earlier version of this chart. It embiggens with a click, but it’s just an excerpt.

Over the years, a lot of anti-gun groups have been created. Some have burned brightly — and burned out. Some have been millionaire’s (or billionaire’s) playthings. (This is actually getting more common with time). Many have been driven by celebrity, and like the celebrities themselves, inevitably plunge into the where-are-they-now category, like a particularly tough Jeopardy entry.

In recent years, as gun rights have ridden grassroots popularity to victory in one state capital after another, gun ban groups have increasingly masked their intentions behind benign or even misleading rhetoric. This has extended as far as actually producing “black” propaganda groups, groups that pretend to be pro-gun, but are actually working against gun freedom.

Attached to this post is a first rough draft of a map to some of these groups and their interconnections. It is pretty homely at this point; there has been no attempt to make it colorful or to clarify the types of connections between groups and individuals. It is set up to print as an 11 x 17″ .pdf (or maybe that’s 11 x 14).

We couldn’t have done it without the efforts of the pro-, anti-, and ostensibly neutral writers whose blog posts and news articles are cited in the Sources section of the document.

Corrections, extensions, revisions and discussion are all welcome in the comments.

White, Grey and Black Propaganda

Ministry-of-PropagandaClassical propaganda theory classifies propaganda as White,  Black and Grey propaganda. All of these are in play in the gun-politics field.

  • White Propaganda is material that openly and accurately represents its origin, and attempts to be accurate. For example, the Bloomberg groups are open (mostly) about their anti-gun orientation, and the NRA and NSSF operate openly in the pro-gun field.
  • Black Propaganda is material that misrepresents its orientation or source. As you might expect for such a clandestine effort, accuracy is generally not an aim. (In fact, inaccuracy may be an aim). For example, The American Hunters and Shooters Association, a false-flag operation created for the Obama campaigns that was intended to give 2nd Amendment cover to then-candidate Obama. They were not able to keep the black veil on tight (black prop seldom is); the head of the group, former football player Ray Schoenke, had a long anti-gun record as a Democratic politician manqué. 
  • Grey Propaganda does not reveal its orientation or source. Its information may or may not be accurate. The group is an antigun group that tried desperately to present itself as grey but is generally recognized as a black propaganda effort due to its tight ties to extant anti-gun White and Black Propaganda outlets.
It looks like one thing... but it's somethin' else.

It looks like one thing… but it’s somethin’ else.

These major labels are something different from the kind of rebranding a bad or failing message as something slightly dishonest, like selling gun bans or registration as “gun safety.” There is a continuum between honest advocacy (“We want to ban..”) through slippery double-dealing (Candidate Kerry: “Is these where I can get me a hunting license?”) to outright misrepresentation (“The American Rifle + Pistol Association is…” just about anything those crapweasels said).

You can have an argument as endless as medieval monks’ or Talmudic scholars’ on whether, for instance, newspapers that slant their coverage anti-gun have crossed the line into propaganda; if they have, because they misrepresent their coverage as not being propaganda, it’s probably black propaganda. But that battle is not worth the fighting; the newspapers are dying themselves, in part of their bias and monoculture. So rather than fight the newspapers, let’s just assume that they’re all the enemy, and concentrate for now on classifying the weeds in the antigun astroturf jungle.

Some Historical Background

The gun control movement started in the United States as a movement to ban handguns and other guns that offended modern, urban, progressive thinkers. Anti-gun sentiment was contained within Congress and the coastal elites until the 1960s, when it spread through liberal society. That was a different time, and while our political parties had the same names they do now, both parties had both liberal and conservative wings, and the party a person, or a politician, was with was more a matter of history and heredity than political proclivity. It has been a 60-year process that has seen the gradual death of the liberal Republican and conservative Democrat, and that has made gun control, with a few exceptions, a partisan political issue.

The politicians who pushed gun bans in the 1960s, people like WWII draft dodger Howard Metzenbaum and corrupt pol and Thomas Dodd, at first did it alone. But during the 1960s, non-profits sprang up to promote bans. Their names were usually indicative of their intent at this time: The National Coalition to Ban Handguns was one example.

As they began to rack up more Ls than Ws beginning in the 1980s (especially at the State level),  they began to moderate, not their aims, but their messaging. By the 1990s they were not saying “ban” or even “registration,” but talking about “common sense gun laws…” which all seem, when reduced to practice, to amount to bans and registration.

By the new century, we had groups that were created by checkbook and that were not shy about misrepresenting themselves as pro-gun, while they actually work hand in glove with our enemies.

Some of them show up in this chart. Once again, we need to thank the many whose research has gone before and enabled us to present this chart. Enjoy.

The Shape of Antigun Astroturf 20150223.pdf

In the morning, we’ll be back with technical stuff again and take a break from politics. Even researching these rats makes us feel unclean.

Today Only Book Deal – Free

SF A TeamsLadies and Gents, here’s a freebie for you if you act fast, thanks to author (and retired Colonel) Tom Davis. Special Forces A Teams is a carve-out from Tom’s longer autobiography, The Most Fun I Ever Had with My Clothes On: A March from Private to Colonel. It includes his memories of service as a junior officer on a Special Forces ODA in the United States and Europe (Tom’s Vietnam service was in conventional forces, IIRC).

In the book, Tom Davis tells stories of SF Combat Diver (SCUBA) school; walking the Appalachian Trail with an ODA whose leader he was sent to relieve, but wasn’t just taking a relief lying down; of being trained as a Green Light team; and of the lieutenant who had to learn for himself that what the teams did with cryptographic material wasn’t what doctrine said to do with it:

On one such Flintlock we deployed from RAF Greenham Common, England, into Germany. My new, XO, LT Tuffs, decided that he would do as he was taught in the SF Course and maintain control of the one-time pads (OTP). One-time pads were crypto pads about the size of a small notebook. They consisted of pages and pages of letters in five groups each. Once they were filled out , they were destroyed.

An officer on the Team was supposed to maintain control of them and write and encrypt each message then give it to the commo guy who would send out the encrypted five-letter groups via Morse code over the radio. In reality, the senior commo guy, in this case SFC Taylor, would carry the pads and encrypt the message that I gave him. I didn’t feel good about it, but I couldn’t tell Tuffs that he couldn’t do it as he was taught. Anyway, what could go wrong?

We were three days into the operation. I was sitting by the fire when Tuffs walked over, his face colorless. I knew instantly something had really gotten screwed up. “What?” I said expecting the worse.

“Sir, I can’t find the one-time pads.” He looked down and shook his head.

This was a BIG deal. Not only had we lost a sensitive real world crypto document, we had lost it in a foreign country! “Are you sure?” I said, seeing my career, what little there was of it, flash before my eyes. All he could do was nod his head and gulp shallow breaths.

We went over to his field gear, and I emptied his rucksack and turned his sleeping bag inside out. No pads. If we couldn’t find them within the next hour, I would send a flash message, in the clear no less, back to our battalion headquarters (called a FOB or Forward Operations Base) to let them know we had really screwed up. There was no question the commander would have administratively yanked us all out of the field and started a 15-6 investigation into the matter. I stomped back over to my gear and was about to call [team sergeant Thompson over to tell him to get everybody together so we could backtrack where we had come from. Just then Thompson and Taylor walked up. Taylor was smiling. Thompson wasn’t.

“Taylor has something to show you.” Thompson motioned Taylor forward. “Look what I found on the ground back at our last stop.” Taylor produced the pads.

“You found these back at our RON (Rest Over Night) and are just now telling me?” I knew exactly what he was doing. He was making the point that the commo guy should be the one to control the pads as we, and every other Team, had always done.

Tuffs was right and Taylor was wrong but also right. I called Tuffs over and showed him the pads. His reaction was just like when you’ve lost your billfold then find it, but multiplied by ten! I allowed as how even though doctrine dictated that an officer control the pads, we’d let SFC Taylor control ours from then on. Tuffs was good with that.

Most every team, during the days of 2LT team Executive Officers, had a story like that, and frankly, most of the former XOs can tell one, too. It was part of learning the tribal knowledge of how to lead SF soldiers, things that weren’t in the book, and that sometimes, like in this case, conflicted with doctrine.

There are a number of reasons team leaders shouldn’t have been the ones encrypting messages, but the biggest ones are 1. the TL’s time is precious, and 2. anyone who encrypts a lot of messages, as every communicator (SFC Taylor would have been a 05B4S, today he’d be an 18E4) has done in his MOS phase of SFQC and subsequent service, is going to be much, much faster than anyone who has little experience of it. The one-time pads still exist as a backup, and have the signal (no pun intended) advantage of being proven unbreakable, so long as the keystream or key generation is truly random.

Anyway, the stories are entertaining. This sub-book ends with an offer of a discount on Tom’s full-length book in trade paperback format, something that fixes one real problem with the Kindle format, the tiny fixed-size pictures.

You want real SF stories from a real SF guy, Davis has got ‘em. Get ‘em yourself here. After today, the price goes up to $3!


This post has been corrected. The commo man’s MOS has been repaired, per the note in the comments from Mike Hill (himself a former commo man! He would know).

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.

Latest Printed AR Lower Test Fire

This is a more recent AR lower design, called the Alimanu Phobos. Here’s an image of it:


And here’s the source of that image, a video showing the lower and showing it being test-fired.

Here’s what the video post says:

A test-fire video of the Aliamanu-Phobos AR-15 Lower Receiver designed and printed by ArmaDelite. Printed with ABS plastic on a XYZPrinting da Vinci 1.0 printer, this design is derived from previous designs like the FOSSCAD Phobos, Vanguard and vanguard JT lower receivers. MOAR test fire videos coming soon!

We suspect that the feeding problems may be due to the reduced rigidity of the lower compared to a standard 7075 machined forging. If the positioning of the magazine with reference to the bolt carrier is not consistent, you might get results like this.

The files can be found here:

Don’t click any of the big Download buttons. This is what the actual link will look like.

Screenshot 2015-02-22 01.12.36

Annoy a totalitarian. Share gun design files.


Sunday, Still Snowing

Global Warming my @$!#^!!

OK, we get that it’s winter in New England, and that means it snows some, but this is ridiculous. We’ve spent hours removing drifts that are, in places, 4 and 5 feet thick, from our roof. Lest it collapse.

That is very seldom required around here. In fact, this is the year we finally unboxed and assembled a snow rake we bought in 2012. Or maybe it was 2011. We haven’t had enough snow to use it since them.

Snow! We are damned sick of the damnable stuff.

At least the Germans at Stalingrad had the flimsy excuse that someone had ordered them to go there. At least the Russians were at home, so they were used to it.

We have dealt with this much snow in February before. But that was in Harstad, Norway, at 68º 48′ N.  We are at 43º 00′ N. Why, that’s even south of Stalingrad!

Lord Love a Duck.

Saturday Matinee 2015 08: Field of Lost Shoes (2013)

Field of Lost ShoesThis was recommended to us by a commenter months, maybe years ago. But we finally got around to watching it. And you should, too. It’s a serious attempt to tell a true story of the Civil War, a remarkable human interest story. The story is that of the Battle of Newmarket in Virginia in 1864, and one of the most unusual units to as ever turn the tide of the battle: the Corps of Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute . These were young men and boys from about age 15 to about age 21.

While this story has risen to the level of legend among the graduates of the Institute, it’s a story of the Civil War worth learning, whether you have any connection at all to either side of that conflict.

Acting and Production


The young unknowns who play the cadets do perfectly well, and they’re supported by a cast that includes a wide range of talents: Civil War reenactors, actual VMI cadets, two seasoned professionals. In the latter category , Keith David has the institute’s slave baker, “Old Judge”; Tom Skerritt, as US Grant; and Jason Isaacs, as Confederate Gen. Breckenridge, stand out. Isaacs gets the line of the movie: “Send in the boys… and may God have mercy on my soul.”

They apparently extended their budget by a trick that we’ve seen war-film makers use in several other independent films, using reenactors. That said, the film seldom feels budget-cramped; perhaps when very similar locations and sets are used for various Confederate and Union field camps (indeed, it feels like one location and set, superficially re-dressed for each scene). Where a lot of money needs to be put on the screen for the viewer to see, it has been done.


The command position’s difficulty of observation during a Civil War battle was made quite clear.

Any costume, period drama is a hard thing for filmmakers to plan and shoot, the Civil War being a particular bear. There is some anachronistic language and mores, but not overwhelmingly so; by and large they hold to the language and attitudes you would expect from martial caste Americans of the mid-19th Century.

One prelude scene shows a young son of a privileged gentleman getting himself a bit of an education about slavery, by watching a slave auction. He had just been telling his father that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was clearly nonsense, because he didn’t know anyone that

The scene rings true, despite the unlikelihood of the situation they try to sell later, in which a group of young Virginians of 1863-4 are all morally opposed to slavery. If a character in a modern movie were to express the attitude of the average denizen of the 1860s towards black men, viewers would be outraged. On the other hand, the simple faith of many of the rank and file as well as the leaders does get a fair showing.


The DVD includes a making-of featurette and one on the way the Institute and its Cadets memorialize the heroes of New Market.  The sound levels on the featurettes are much higher than that on the movie itself.

Accuracy and Weapons

The use of weapons seems about right, and the weapons used by both the Union and Rebel troops seem about right. They do not downplay the smoke of the field much, compared to other Civil War films.

In one incredible scene that we’re guessing was CGI or superimposition, you can see the cannonball exit a Union cannon. Amazing! The actual assault is done, as you might expect in an era of slow-loading rifle-muskets, with empty rifles merely serving as handles for cold steel.


The bottom line

The Field of Lost Shoes is a must for former VMI grads and Civil War buffs, the best-informed of whom can probably find nits to pick with it. We enjoyed it, and thought it a good balance of realism and plot. The stories of cadets like Thomas G. Jefferson, John Wise, Moses Ezekiel and their friends deserve wider respect, beyond the VMI alum network. This movie tells the story with art and without artifice; it is endearing in its earnestness.


We respect heroism around here, whether it’s in service of a good cause or ill, it deserves recognition of its own right. History would write that the Rebel cause was both wrong, and doomed; let history also record that the Rebels (and the Yanks) fought their hearts out, in a cause that they believed was right, and that they wouldn’t admit was doomed, even to themselves. Ave atque vale. 

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • DVD page:

Also available in Instant Video:

  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page: (none)
  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (40%, rotten):

  • Wikipedia  page: