Looking at the Layoffs at SIG-Sauer

sig_sauer_logoThey’ve been playing coy about the numbers, and calling it a “workforce adjustment” (hot tip for corporate PR dweebs: that kind of mealy-mouthed, nutless spin fools no one, and is why all productive workers hate you as much as Mauch-era HK hated its customers). But there’s no question there was a big layoff at SIG last week. This is in addition to a layoff announced just a week or so earlier, and another layoff just over a month ago. The most credible numbers we’ve got indicate that the total layoffs (circa 8 July and 15 July) are 240 workers out of 800 SIG Sauer workers in the USA. This may or may not include the unannounced layoff of 57 in May.  (A plan to grow headcount to 900 in 2013 was quietly scuttled last year). No class of worker, except senior management, has been spared (and we’re not sure about senior management). Manufacturing workers, engineers, warranty & rework gunsmiths, logistics and facilities workers; direct and overhead employees, salaried and hourly, all of the ranks have been thinned.

The Union Leader (New Hampshire’s largest paper) reported that high-tech manufacturing workers comprised a large portion of the latest layoff:

[Michael] Power [of the state unemployment office] said workers laid off at Sig Sauer in Newington could have new options for employment, citing New Hampshire’s growing aerospace and advanced composite industries.

“A lot of these workers are skilled, particularly in (computer numerical control) machines and advanced manufacturing,” Power said. “We have a good need for these people.”

As in any layoff, the ultimate cause is that the company does not expect these workers to make enough money for the company to justify paying them. One of the reasons given by company spox Allen Forkner was “to control costs.”

Forkner is not a company employee, but an outside PR consultant from Nebraska who works for many industry firms, including SIG. It’s not very likely he really knows what is going on; it is very likely that he’s the author of the timelessly brain-dead “workforce adjustment” spin.

We think we can offer a better analysis

Being a lot closer than Forkner to SIG-Sauer (both physically, and in contact with current and, now, former, employees) we think we can offer a better analysis.

There are two factors in this one: the first is an inventory glut (or, if you prefer, a sales holiday). It’s caused by easing off of the ban-threat-motivated sales spike as anti-gun Democrats lay low during an election year, and market saturation as everybody ramped up production at once. Now SIG is sitting on high inventories of some guns that were expected to be big sellers. Price cutting and sales incentives in recent months did not move the overstock guns, including SIG’s ARs and centerfire pistols, in the numbers SIG managers needed to sell.

The second factor is that some of SIG’s biggest R&D spending in the last few years has not turned into sales.

  • ITEM: The MPX carbine has been in lawsuit limbo due to an ATF ban, and the LE SMG version arrives in a market where DOD is trying to turn every Sheriff’s office into a Stryker Battalion — the appeal of a $2k-plus 9mm carbine pales compared to a “free” 5.56 from Uncle.

MPX-SD-Detail-L

  • ITEM: The very expensive SIG P250 modular program is in trouble, with one Federal agency that tried to adopt the ingenious 21st Century “Man from UNCLE” gun having quality control nightmares. The P250 isn’t new, but it was an important technology demonstrator and a harbinger of things to come.

Sig P250 modularity

  • ITEM: The P250 problems, and rumors of similar QC issues with the new gun, threaten the P320 modular striker-fired program, just as the Army has written a request for proposal that seems like it was written with the plastic SIG in mind.

P320-FS-Nitrondetail-L

A Deep Dive into P320 Sales. Or… no-sales

The P320 issue deserves a deeper look. The list price of the P320 is $719, but we doubt one has ever been sold at full retail. A glance at GunBroker shows 204 of the new guns listed, inviting initial bids to buy-it-now of $519.30 to $629; there’s one guy desperate for action with the initial bid at $100 (he has a higher reserve price). How many of these guns have drawn bids?

None. Not one. Not even the guy trolling for a $100 start bid. So that’s part of the math: 204 guns + 0 buyers = fewer jobs at SIG. But while none are selling right now, is it possibly true that none have sold? Of course not… since the gun’s introduction, we know some have sold, because we’ve run into a couple at the range. And for the record, no complaints from the owners of the new guns, no visible QC problems, no polymer chassis coming apart (cough *P250* cough). But how many of them have sold at GunBroker? It’s probably the main auction site used both by people who buy and cycle stuff through their local FFLs, and FFLs trying to lay hands on something their jobber or distributor has not got (no fear, there, on the P320. SIG even has rebates!)

This next search will only work if you are a GunBroker member, and will require you to log in. It finds closed or completed auctions or sales of P320s, and organizes them by price, high to low. There are 591 completed auctions. Of those:

Let’s add ‘em up: 1+1+1+… that’s 22 guns sold, on the first of 8 pages, and these are the highest priced ones. We’ll spare you a list of all the others, and spare ourselves checking to see if they sold or were no-sales for reserve, but add up the bid-on guns per page: Page 2, 14 guns bid on, all for $549. Page 3, 32 bid on, from $525-545. Page 4, 50 guns bid on, from $5 to $525.

Over time, the rate of sales seems to be declining. We’d have to pull more data manually from GB to confirm if that’s the case, but that’s how it looks — exactly what a manufacturer does not want to see, assuming the sell-through numbers that SIG is getting from its distributors show a similar slackening of demand.

OK, we can’t resist, let’s go back and spot check the guns that were no-sales due to reserves. Here’s an alarming little clue to the P320 zeitgeist: on Page 3, all the guns that had reserves (8 of them) were no-sales. So only 24 guns sold, not 32. Page 2 had no reserves. Page 4 had almost all guns under reserve.  The guns that sold were exclusively no-reserve guns; the reserve guns, even when bid up higher than some sellers’ buy-it-now prices, did not sell. The lowest-priced gun that seems to have actually sold was $499. It seems many sellers placed the reserves in the $600 neighborhood, which is just more than the current SIG market can bear. As a result, only 12 guns out of the 50 that drew bids actually sold.

Since prices lower than the $5 at the bottom of Page 4 could only be low-ball bids on reserve guns, we didn’t bother to look at the other four pages of futile auctions.

To sum it up: Of 591 auctions found in a search of GunBroker, this highly promoted new pistol accounts for 56 sales over a period of more than 90 days (April through July). The prices the sellers, all dealers selling new guns, want are about $100 below list; the market is only interested in paying about $200 below list.

SIG was Counting on these guns (MPX, P250, P320) to Sell Well

One reason for SIG’s expansion into a new (to them) facility on the former Pease AFB was the expectation of higher sales, driven by new product introductions. At least three of the company’s new product introductions are not driving those sales.

Even lobbying won’t help much: the small NH delegation (2 Representatives, 2 Senators) has only one pro-defense member and three anti-gun defense cutters who would just as soon let the Air Force hold a bake sale for its next bomber.

It’s an Industry Problem, not just a SIG Problem

They’re not the only ones downsizing in the industry, or suffering with failed product launches. Covering the latter first, Remington is dealing with the failure of its R51 pistol, a marketing plan that shipped without a working gun attached. But Remington seems to have cut its losses, at least for now; Guns Save Lives reported that the R51 had been given the Leon Trotsky treatment on the Remington Central Committee website. So they stopped the bad press, but they did it by strangling the baby. Only time will tell if that’s temporary, while the R51 is fixed, or if all the R&D, manufacturing, and marketing time and money will have to be marked off as sunk costs.

In New Hampshire alone, two other firms have also struggled with declining firearms demand: Green Mountain Barrels in Conway, NH, has shed half its headcount (roughly 100 of 200 pre-layoff jobs), and the behind-the-scenes Latva Machine Co., a supplier of precision-machined parts to Ruger and other firearms manufacturers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection two weeks ago. Latva, which is over $3 million in the hole, will try to reorganize and stay in business, at the expense of its owners and creditors (which is how bankruptcy works).

Ron Cohen’s merry men must be looking at Remington’s silent assassination of the R51 with envy. They probably don’t have the luxury of being able to do that: they have a warehouse full of plastic SIGs, and a dealer network that has to be getting vocal about the sell-through of these arms. (Would you want to be the guy who reports 159 P320s in inventory right now? What if he borrowed money to buy them?)

Yet, we’re not aware — yet — of problems with these SIGs. So why are customers staying away? Two possibilities, both of which could be operating to some extent. First, it could simply be sales exhaustion. We know people who bought dumb stuff during the panic. Heck, we bought dumb stuff. (Glock drum magazines? They work, but they’re still dumb). Second, reputation is what we MBA dweebs call a “trailing indicator.” That means that Ron and the guys could start cranking out the best pistols ever made with the remaining crew in Newington, and it would still be years before their reputation recovers from some of the turkeys they shipped from Exeter.

Is that fair? Not really, but it’s the way human minds, and the reputations of humans and their organizations, work.

Kyle Trial — a Lawyer’s View

Law-ScaleAndHammerSince American courts are not particularly about justice or law, but are places where Random Stuff Happens depending on the influence of personalities, the best clue to a legal outcome is usually an inside track to the judge’s character, beliefs and personality. About the next best thing to hearing from associates of the judge, is hearing from associates of the attorneys arguing one side or the other, especially when the fellows reporting are attorneys themselves.

Two of the attorneys at the group legal blog Power Line were or are associated with the firm handling Chris Kyle’s widow’s defense in Jesse Ventura’s defamation trial. While Scott Johnson has been out of the firm for 17 years, he knows some of the attorneys. It is obvious that he has not asked them for inside information in the case, and his judgment is based on a lawyer’s reading of the press and a visit to the courtroom during defense testimony and cross-examination, but his opinion carries weight. In a very cautiously worded piece – he actually says we should discount his opinions because of his closeness to the players – he concludes:

Ventura may come away with some measure of vindication. Nevertheless, as he pursues his case against the estate of Chris Kyle, I can’t help but think this is the most misguided defamation claim since Alger Hiss sued Whittaker Chamber in 1948 for saying on Meet the Press that Hiss had been a Communist (and might still be).

Do go Read The Whole Thing™. Hiss, of course, was a Communist, and was actually a code-named and tasked agent of Soviet espionage (a charge that Chambers did not make, but that was proven true by the release of KGB/MGB/MVD/NKVD archives).

Ventura’s certainly not a Communist, although what ideas actually nest under that broad forehead are any guess, given his wooly pronouncements over the years. But we don’t think there are many people of whom Chris Kyle would say, “I hate that guy.” And the PowerLine post describes when, and probably why, he said it about a fellow SEAL.*

 

*Yeah,we know, the guy was UDT. They’re all officially part of the frog brotherhood, right?

We Say ‘Lord Love a Duck’ all the time, but really…

WoodDuck2011We don’t usually mean it quite so literally. A vet (veteran type, not veterinarian) says his flock of ducks are “therapy animals.” The bedroom community he lives in says they’re unauthorized livestock. He’s playing the I-was-traumatized card.

We have a kind of cruel opinion about that. You can be traumatized by an event — once. If it continues to traumatize you after that, it’s not the event that is to blame.

Well, here’s how the Marion (OH) Star reports this case:

Darin Welker is facing a citation and a hearing in Coshocton Municipal Court for owning 14 ducks, as they are in violation of a village ordinance.

Welker, who lives on Grandview Street in West Lafayette, was cited June 23 with a minor misdemeanor. He said he uses the ducks for therapy after being wounded in 2005 in Iraq and should be allowed to keep them.

Welker said he has a letter from the Mental Health Department of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs recommending he keep the ducks.

“I came back (from Iraq) with a major back injury, and between the back injury and the (post-traumatic stress disorder) that I also brought home, there were numerous problems,” Welker said.

In 2012, the VA paid for a surgery to Welker’s back but did not approve the physical therapy recommended by his surgeon, nor did it provide mental therapy, Welker said.

Frankly, if you need mental therapy for a back injury… you probably need mental therapy, period. Oh, wait.

Welker acquired his ducks in March when they were just days old. He had first heard the idea of using ducks as therapy weeks before and thought it wouldn’t hurt to try, he said.

via Ohio village says veteran’s therapy ducks aren’t allowed | The Marion Star | marionstar.com.

We’ve seen some guys play the vet card pretty hard for stuff, but this is the first time we’ve seen a vet self-medicating with freakin’ ducks. Well, given what might have happened to him if he’d left it all up to the VA, maybe he has a point. But still….

It’s kind of a sore subject that guys just fence around. But a lot of people are really riding the disability train. This guy hasn’t worked since 2000 because his back hurts, and he’s so traumatized by what appears to have been a back injury. Really?

There are blind and head-shot and legless guys out there going to work every day. What makes any one of us special?

And don’t even get us started on the “therapy animal” dodge that Unique And Special Snowflakes™ use to drag their pets around with them. Yes, we’re on to you, and that’s why we give you The Look™. Now, there’s no question that pets are good for a person’s soul. Unless he’s an incipient serial killer, or something, in which pets are a good way to tease him out. (Hard on the pet, though).

But it’s like the book now being hyped that says being near, or in, the water is psychologically good for you — it’s someone trying to hype something glaringly obvious to astronomical levels. People do better near the water. Duh, no kidding, Dick Tracy. That’s why you pay more for the same house with a water view in Santa Monica than you pay for the same floor plan in freakin’ Bakersfield. That’s why the poor beggars in Bakersfield want swimming pools.

If the real estate marketers, the mighty quant geniuses who gave us the Bubble of 2007, have figured this out, then the university professors can only be a decade or two behind.

Of course, I read enough into the “water is good for you” book to get to where the guy who’s going all science-y describes how environmental exposure to water can change your brain and then your offspring can inherit those changes. 

Konstantin Lysenko, call your office….

Back to this particular guy with his “therapy” ducks. By now he has convinced himself he needs them — all “therapy critter” folks seem to arrive at this point sooner or later. Our guess is that he plays the Vet Grievance Card™ and they let him keep his quacking menagerie.

I we ever throw the Vet Grievance Card™, please slap us back to reality. Do it for a real vet who walks a little funny these days.

Update 22 July 14

Speaking of ducks, back on 7th July 14 we posted “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have ducklings,” about a lady who locked up her brakes in the fast lane to save baby ducks and killed three people. In New Hampshire, a lady stopped in the median strip (not legal, but safer than stopping in the lane) to help orphaned ducklings on Friday, and got a $44 ticket for her trouble. No humans were hurt, but she saw two ducklings get nailed, and left four behind when the cops wrote her up and sent her on her way. She did save two ducklings, one of which perished at an animal shelter; the ducklings left behind are unlikely to have survived.

Chill out, it’s only ionizing radiation

radioactive_symbolRecommended from the Comments — straight talk about soi-disant Dirty Bombs.

Recently we read a novel that climaxed as the heroes tried to stop a hostile force from using a radioactive weapon in an American City (think it was NYFC). And the radiation from this thing… had flesh falling off their bones in minutes as they tried to set it up, and then it set the building on fire.

With its radiation, you see.

There are novelists who do research, and then… there was that guy.

Anyway, Larry Grimm, who comments here from time to time, is a health physicist. We think it’s fair to say he’s learned more about the physiology of ionizing radiation than we have, and we know we know it better than that novelist fellow. Here’s a repost of a Q&A with Larry from seven years ago.

Q: What is the biggest concern from a radiological dispersion device?
A: Two things: the irrational fear it can induce and the expense of cleanup. The possibility of the radiation actually hurting anyone is quite small. We fear what we do not understand, sometimes irrationally. The concepts of radiation are poorly taught in high school, and the only other radiation information we get has been sensationalized by Hollywood, politicians, and those looking to make a buck off of our lack of education. You can beat the fear by learning how radiation works and how to manage it safely (protection techniques). Fear and panic kill people, as any good Marine knows. Radioactive materials are chemicals. Sometimes it is easy to clean them up, sometimes hard. For example, cleaning oil off concrete is hard, but picking up chunks of metal is easy. Fortunately, it only takes a radiation detector to find the radioactive material, so it is easier to find and clean up than a non-radioactive chemical. Likely, the biggest problem will be economic disruption while cleanup takes place. Radiation dispersion devices are really disruption, not destruction, weapons.

Q: What steps should I take if a radiological dirty bomb goes off in the area?

A: There are four simple protection techniques: Contamination control, distance, shielding and time. Contamination control and distance are the most useful techniques in a bomb situation.

Remember to help others first. Radioactive materials are rarely immediately life threatening. The worst-case terrorism scenarios indicate that there would not be enough radioactive material to cause immediate harm. Did you ever feel anything or see an effect from getting an X-ray? In 99.999% of radiation exposures, no effect is felt or seen. If I went towards the blast area to help someone, I would not fear the radiation. However, I would be cautious and respectful of the radiation. Therefore, I would use the following techniques no matter if I was escaping the area, trapped in the area, or going in to help.

Contamination control: Keep the radioactive chemical off and out of your body. Button up clothing and wear a mask (or anything to cover nose and mouth.) A radioactive material is always a chemical, which behaves like the chemical wants to behave. The distance technique is the best protector in a dirty bomb scenario. However, if I need to be near the source, or if I am downwind of the blast, I will first practice contamination control. If I suspect that I swallowed or inhaled the chemical, but do not feel ill, I would later seek professional help. Radiation effects take a long time to show up, and I wouldn’t want to add to the congestion at the hospital. However, there could be a nasty chemical associated with a radioactive bomb, so if I felt even slightly ill, I would seek medical help in a hurry.

Distance: In even the worst bomb scenario, you would be safe from the radiation if you get just a couple blocks away and get upwind of potential airborne material. Think of it as standing next to a campfire – get too close to the heat radiation, and it could burn you, but if far enough away, you do not get any heat. Exactly like a campfire, you do not want to be in the smoke, so get upwind. The most likely radioactive material in a dirty bomb would be Cobalt or Cesium. If the terrorist could somehow manage to get 10,000 Curies in the bomb, you only need to be about 300 yards (three football fields) away to be safe from the radiation. If you are not downwind or near the dispersion area, you are safe. Do not “head for the hills”. Leave the roadways open so emergency responders can get through.

Shielding: Anything acts as a shield – a building, a car, a hill, et cetera. Your major concern is gamma radiation. Imagine the gamma as a radio wave. When don’t you get a radio signal? When you are in the middle of a building, in a basement, behind a hill, et cetera. Whatever shielding decreases a radio signal will decrease gamma rays. I handled 12 million curies of Cesium (a 1000 times more than a possible bomb) with a mere 20 feet of water for shielding, and I got no dose!

Time: The less you are around the radiation, the less dose you will get. As most people would use distance, and get away in a hurry, they already used the time technique by not hanging around the radiation. Emergency responders may need to use this technique, and all across the US, they are receiving training on how to use it.

“LEARN ABOUT RADIATION, AND THE FEAR OF IT WILL MELT AWAY. TERRORISTS FEED ON FEAR. FEAR IS BONDAGE, KNOWLEDGE IS FREEDOM.”

Emphasis was Larry’s, but we concur about 10 thousand percent. Do Read The Whole Thing™, as there’s a lot more sense in there, and it’s a bugle in a wilderness of nonsense.

For what it’s worth, we’re not ready to die, but we live about six or seven miles from a known nuclear target. We understand that Risk = Probability X Severity. Assuming a hit on the target, and a typical strat warhead, Severity is less than you’d think; and Probability is one of those things that really rounds to zero, especially when you figure the CEP of the bomb and the fact that it has only perhaps a 1 in 4 chance of its error from baseline bringing it closer to the Manor.

We used to live just about in the shadow of a coastal nuclear power plant. (Actually, we’ve lived near a few of them over the years). But you know, decades after the nuclear age was rung in, there are still more deaders from riding with Senator Kennedy, or falling off the high-wire, or being hit by a falling Concorde, than from nuclear power plants.

Does radiation need respect? Yes. Does it need fear? No. More of the people reading this are going to die from bad choices with respect to diet and exercise than just about anything else. We take a lot bigger risk when saddling up the bicycle (with or without a helmet, latest stats seem to say it’s about a wash) than we do living near strat nuke targets, or nuclear power plants.

Can you die from radiation? Hell, yes. Rare but it happens, like when uneducated people go fooling with abandoned radiomedical equipment, in this case in Brazil (.pdf) in 1985. But even most of the exposed people in that case lived. Unfortunately, an awful lot of people were subjected to nuclear war terror propaganda back in the 50s through the 80s, and now have a completely unrealistic idea of what radiation does.

Like make your skin fall straight off, and set you on fire.

 

It’s time to show Jerry Miculek being cool

Now, our usual reaction to Hollywood dual-wielding gunplay is the same kind of sneering that Simon Pegg’s character gets to early in Hot Fuzz, when he’s still a responsible police officer who takes firearms seriously, not influenced by Hollywood tropes, unlike the character asking him.

But if you’re Jerry Miculek, you can pull it off. And actually hit stuff:

Frankly, we wish we shot like this guy back when we shot as much as this guy.  (Of course, we had never heard of Jerry then, and just wished we could shoot like Paul Poole. Whose reaction was: “Bwah-haw-HAW! Boy, you ain’t gonna ever shoot like me. Instead, we gonna make you a 79 gunner — you need an AREA FIRE WEAPON! Bwah-haw-HAW!” RIP, Paul; YSMFDYND, ‘cept you did).

Anyway, can you do what Jerry does here? Don’t think we can. Pretty sure we’re not gonna try.

True, he didn’t do it “whilst leaping through the air,” as Nick Frost’s character asked Pegg, but we’d hate to call Jerry on that, ’cause he might pull it off, too.

Best supporting role: the SIG arm brace (or equivalent), which turns any AR pistol into an effective cousin of the innovative but commercially unsuccessful Gwinn/Bushmaster Arm Pistol.

So, these are the Navy’s priorities

Screenshot 2014-07-19 22.13.16The Navy, like traitor, felon and jailbird Bradley Manning, has a thing called a Transition Plan, and it may be proceeding towards the same end. We’ll provide the document as a .pdf for you, but we thought we’d highlight a couple of the lowlights.

First, get a load of the cover of this thing! Decide whether they wanted to publish the annual report of some Silicon Valley high-tech, or a brochure for some overpriced college. So they split the difference. It has the college brochure One Cool Looking Brother, the obligatory Action Shots, and the Meaningless Slogan some marketing department MBAs agonized and argued over, in this case, “MOVING FORWARD… MOVING FORWARD…

Given that ships generally suck at backing up, that’s probably not a completely bad choice, but you have to wonder whether it was an attempt to suck up to the Administration’s E Ring suits, or hosts of sparsely-watched MSNBC shows, two practically interchangeable demographics.

The plan begins with a grinning picture (we’ll spare you) Ray Mabus, who’s getting antsy now that he’s only got two years left to name DDGs for Sacco and Vanzetti, an LHA USS Jane Fonda, and maybe an SSBN USS Benedict Arnold. And the plan is a very curious thing. Maybe it’s that we don’t have a Distinguished Naval Personage around the Manor, although we have thrown the dog in the fountain on a slow day, for comic relief. But the plan makes no sense to us… we can’t tell what they’re transitioning from or to, it’s almost as if in Ray Mabus World “transition” is an intransitive verb.

Anyway, the document includes an absolutely shocking set of goals. These are the Navy’s priorities:

  1. Take care of our people The DON is committed to attracting, developing and retaining a diverse total workforce trained and equipped to meet our strategic readiness objectives.
  2. Maximize warfighter readiness and avoid hollowness The DON will effectively size our force to meet strategic demands, maintain a credible, capable and combat ready military force.
  3. Lead the nation in sustainable energy The DON continues to support alternative energy efforts, realizing that energy independence is vital to our national security and the safety of our Sailors and Marines.
  4. Promote acquisition excellence and integrity

The DON is improving the execution of every program and increasing anti-fraud efforts, and leveraging strategic sourcing to take advantage of economies of scale.

5. Proliferate unmanned systems

The DON will integrate unmanned systems across the entire department ensuring that we can operate in any environment. Our global presence will be sustained and enhanced with our continued investment in unmanned systems.

6. Drive innovative enterprise transformation

The DON will continue to transform our business enterprise, ensuring that available resources are directed to our Sailors and Marines. 

Screenshot 2014-07-19 22.12.59Apologies for any brain-dead formatting. (WordPress ^$^&#^I#$!! But we digress). Apart from the fact that those are a politician’s anodyne and empty statements, worthy of a game of Buzzword Bingo except that everyone has a winning card, the priorities they reflect are remarkable. (Mabus is an anodyne and empty politician; a former one-term governor who was defeated for a second term, he got rich as a revolving-door crony capitalist, and has served in several political appointments). Indeed, those statements look so stupid we’re putting a screen-cap of the document here for those of you disinclined to download the whole anodyne and empty Buzzword Bingo thing.

Of course, Mabus’s lodestone, “diversity,” gets mentioned in Goal 1. And “sustainable energy” gets mentioned a couple further on. Those terms come up a few times in the document. But the mention of “combat ready military force” in Goal 2 is the only place the word “combat” appears in the whole thing. That’s not what this Secretary is transitioning this Navy towards, apparently. Some things a Navy might do don’t show up, either: “battle?” “Superiority?” “Dominance?” Those all get “No Results Found.” There is, however, a mention of the Navy’s element, the sea. Exactly one mention, on Page 11 (which is page 13 of the .pdf, thanks to the cover letter). Here’s the only context in which Ray Mabus’s Navy is concerned about the freakin’ sea:

Institutionalize environmental sustainability on land and sea

Well, we guess we can’t say that the Navy has no priorities. It has priorities, all right. But we think we can be forgiven for the thought that they are all the wrong priorities.

Here’s the document, if these samples haven’t already glazed your glazzies: Navy Transition Plan-Fy14-16-Final.pdf

You want sustainable energy, Ray Mabus? Go to the Naval Academy where, in a tomb reminiscent of Napoleon’s, John Paul Jones’s remains lie in honored repose, returned to the US after a century in a restless foreign interment. Wrap the old Admiral in a winding of varnish-insulated copper magnetic wire and call him an armature. Add a pair of magnets and brushes to take off the power , and zowie! Sustainable energy, as he spins.

The Brief Moment of the Revolving Carbine

This past weekend, the 200th anniversary of Samuel Colt’s birth (19 July 1814) was celebrated by a bunch of Connecticut arts types, in nearly gun-free Connecticut fashion. If any of these professional irony enjoyers noted the irony, they didn’t say anything about it. But that’s got us looking at some of Sam’s accomplishments, and that brought us around to one of Colt’s least successful products: revolving carbines.

In the middle of the 19th Century, the best and greatest means of rapid fire was the revolving pistol. It seems like a natural idea to extend that to a revolving rifle or carbine; and this, Sam Colt did, as early as 1839. This brief (minute and a half!) video shows an extremely rare 1839 .52 caliber Colt that actually was one of a mere 360 acquired by the US Navy, and is now in the possession of the National Firearms Museum:

This Paterson Colt carbine was made from 1838 until 1841, and apart from the Naval guns, which may have been used by the Marines at the Siege of Veracruz in the Mexican War, too late to do that version of Colt’s company any good: the Paterson firm went bankrupt, and Colt had to start over. He retained his patents, so that whatever happened to his companies, the crown jewels were safe with him and his family. (This was prescient of him, for he was to die young).

The Mexican War not only gave the Marines a new direction (the landing at Veracruz was the first of what would become a standing Leatherneck specialty, amphibious landings on defended shores), but it resuscitated Colt, due to a military order for 1,000 revolvers, which were delivered before war’s end and are known as the Colt Walker revolvers.

The refreshed Colt Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company had a new, improved carbine by 1855, incorporating all of Colt’s new patents, and was producing it, and the more popular revolving pistols, in a new Armory building that was the marvel of Hartford, in a planned industrial community on an area of reclaimed land (note the berms or dikes in the image below). The area that encompassed all of the Colt factory, its workers’ housing, and Colt’s own grande manse was officially called the “South Meadow Improvements” but came to be known as Coltsville.

colt-armory-color-retouch-H

 

The carbine had two problems, both insurmountable from the military point of view. It was very expensive (the 1855 carbines cost the military $44 each, $1,189 in 2014 dollars), and, while it was safe if loaded and fired with care, a flash-over that was not usually that big a disaster with a revolving pistol had the potential for shredding a rifleman’s support hand. If there is a right way and a wrong way to load a weapon, no organization made of humans will ever be able to train 100% of its people to do it right 100% of the time.

When the Armory burned down in 1864, a $2 million plus ($54M plus 2014) loss of inventory, machinery and jigs to Colt, of which about $1.4 million ($38M) was excess to insurance carried, the remaining plant was used to manufacture pistols exclusively; the demand for Colt revolvers was inelastic, and repeating cartridge firearms on the horizon rendered the revolving rifle or carbine obsolete. The total production of the Colt carbines was very low; the 1855 was scarcely more produced than the 1839 version.

After the Civil War, Remington produced a version of its revolver as a carbine, also finding it disappointing in sales, although not as much so as the Colt version had been.

Since the 1960s, several versions of replica Colt and Remington carbines have been made. These are more frequently collected, from what we’ve seen, than fired; used ones usually have far more handling marks than they do indicia of firing.

The great Cap and Ball Channel from Hungary has posted three great videos on two carbines, an original Colt and an Uberti copy of a Remington.

Part 1, about the Colt (~6 minutes). The music is pretty awful, especially when it isn’t ducked under the voice, but the analysis of the unique mechanics of the gun makes it well worthwhile:

Some of the unique features of this .44 caliber Colt 1855 include progressive depth rifling, and a cylinder that is rotated by a ratchet on the rear end of the cylinder pin. This gun may be a bit off the military norm, as it appears to have been a sporting gun originally sold in Europe (it bears English proofs).

Part 2, about the Uberti clone of the Remington (~3 minutes):

Part 3, both are taken to the range (yes, even the very valuable original Colt) and shot for accuracy. If you’re only going to watch one video, this is the one. It also shows loading with loose powder and conical bullets, but also with period-style paper cartridges, which is how the real Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs would have done it. (Not to mention everyone else who went to war with percussion, like the British, French and Russians in the Crimean War, all manner of 19th Century naval riflemen, and the British in the Afghan Wars). This one’s about six and a half minutes.

The Capandball.eu site and associated YouTube channel is a real find, but we didn’t want to wait for a TW3 to show it to you.  If we have any beef with the chance to watch the two percussion revolver carbines on the range, it’s that he didn’t quantify their accuracy. But they look like fun, and one’s a sample of a moment in time that will never be repeated — the other shows us that the artifacts can be repeated, even if the times can’t be.

These firearms were an interesting evolutionary dead end (sure, there are cartridge versions, even a Taurus Judge carbine, but these are dead ends, too — curiosities). They came about because they were the logical progression combining proven examples of a known technology (the percussion rifle and the percussion revolver) into a hybrid that seemed like it had a bright future. (After all, if you were a cavalryman, or a Pony Express rider, another customer for the Colt ’55, wouldn’t you rather have six shots before facing the difficulty of reloading on horseback than one?). But unbeknownst to Sam Colt, and to his designer and right-hand-man Root, a technological disruption was on its way: new cartridge repeaters were coming that would eliminate all the disadvantages of the revolver carbine.

Root kept Colt relevant with cartridge revolvers, and even before the Colt family sold the company in 1901 new managers were embracing the novelty of the automatic pistol. Like Apple 100 years later, the company had a knack for grabbing hold of a technology that was about to take off in time, before its customers even knew that that was what they would want. But you don’t get to that kind of position without tripping down a few blind alleys. And thus, we have the Colt Revolver Carbine and its clones and imitators, a novelty for collectors and curiosity seekers.

Sunday Scouring, Scrubbing, Scrapping, and Simplifying

Yep, it’s That Time at stately Hog Manor, where the pile of unread mail (and undeposited checks, and maybe an unpaid tree-service bill they’ve been kind enough not to call about) gets dealt with, the chaos in a closet or three gets wrought into order,

Then, there’s the grounds, in just the state of Midsummer Overgrown that requires attention of the lord and master of this place, unless he wants to hire more lawn minions, which seems inadvisable. (We’d have to pay their health insurance and social security, right?)

Free advice: fountains are beautiful. Leave them in public places where others can maintain them. In one’s garden, they are a pain in the glutei.

On the plus side, they do draw hummingbirds, so there is that. If we don’t accomplish all objectives today, we were probably watching a hummingbird. Or the wild turkeys. Or just playing with the dog. Or talking to a cattery.

Or we fell down the stairs into the gunsmithing side of the basement.

That is to say, expect little from the blog today. Maybe a bit of comment replying and maybe not. We have queued up a few Interesting posts — revolving rifles, the first nuclear cruise missile, and we want to do one on early SMGs. Plus, we have a hairy eye on developments worldwide, some of which affect us directly.

But today, your humble blogger is getting dirty in the service of making his abode less so. And goofing off, the rest of the time. May you also be enjoying a good weekend with simple and quantifiable tasks.

Oh, and since it is the Lord’s Day, pray for the soul of Vladimir Vladimirovich — that whoever has got it returns it to him. He clearly hasn’t consulted it in a while.

That Was the Week That Was: 2014 Week 29

That was the week that was TW3Good heavens, a timely TW3. What will we think of next? As usual, the links may not be live when the post goes live, and until they are, you’ll have to scroll back to see the posts — the usual is four posts a day except Sunday. We hope that the links will be live by Sunday midnight, if not sooner. We conduct these weekly post-mortems, time permitting, to keep track of our own performance on the blog, but we hope they’re useful to you. Especially, take a look at the list of articles — you may have missed something that interests you. All past TW3s can be found in the Administrivia category. Enjoy!

The Boring Statistics

With the year well over half over, we have posted about 750 posts, and we’ve been fairly consistent. This week was slightly heavier than usual, thanks to the Ukraine shootdown. Our article count was 29, at the high end of “normal.” Last  week’s was 25.  Word count was about 20,000 words, up from 17,000. Seven to nine posts (we haven’t got the word counts on this and the Matinee yet) were over 1,000 words, but none of them over 2,000. The mean and median post sizes were 669 and 653, compared to last week’s 740 and 585. Having those two measures of central tendency converge suggests a fairly strong consistency in post sizes. There was only one sub-100-word post, and 10 total sub-500-word posts. We exceeded our self-imposed minimum of 19 posts by 10. So far this year we’ve had roughly a half-million hits, 750 blog posts, and over 4,200 comments.   Comments were 172 as of press time; as of this time last week we’d noted 130 on last week’s posts, so this was a more conversational week with you guys. On the other hand, the long tail of comments has brought last week’s total up over 150 by now. Thanks for commenting!

Most Commented Post of the Week

Our most commented post was, by a mile, Breaking: Civil Airliner Downed by Russian Missile, with 29 comments and On this Day in 1962: Infantry Nuke Test tied with Three Reasons Not to Use the Blackhawk Serpa Holster with 129 each. Together, these are nearly 40% of the week’s comments.

Referrers

I’d like to thank our top referrers, at least according to the meatball statistics our plug-in gives us. Apart from the big search engines (we got a lot of hits on Crazy Lady Shannon Richardson this week) we’re grateful to Western Rifle Shooters, Ace of Spades, James Wesley, Rawles’s Survival Blog, and the aggregators The Gun Wire and The Gun Feed. We thank them all for linking us and sending their much larger readerships our way. All of them sent us 1,000 or more readers, and Western Rifle Shooters actually edged Google out. And we’re only Western compared to Europe around here. (Well, technically, there are some islands a few miles east of here. That’s it till Ireland, though).

These are all informative and entertaining sites, and very different in their subject matter, so please repay them with a visit and you will probably find one or more of them indispensable to you.

The Week in Posts

Here’s the recap of our posts for this week:

We hope you enjoyed this week’s content. We enjoyed bringing it to you!

Here’s how we did on last week’s promises:

The overdue and the underdelivered:

  1. X A major post on Gerald Bull’s awesome space-capable artillery that seems to have entrenched itself on the back burner.
  2.  To post 3 x day x 6 days. Exceeded.
  3. One gun-tech or -industry post and one SOF/UW post per day x 6 days. Depending on how one classifies posts, we did this.
  4.  To post a   X WWWW, a √ TW3, and a √ Saturday Matinee, before COB Saturday. Everything but the Matinee.
  5. One back Saturday Matinee. No, sorry ’bout that.
  6. Our never-finished series on the Greek Civil Wars.

This is pretty much going to be a standing set of promises until we have a reason to improve them.

For Next Week

Our goals are unchanged:

  1. to catch up the long-festering back posts mentioned above, now back up to just two features (Gerald Bull, and the Greek Insurgencies). We also have some other stuff that has sat way too long in the draft queue.
  2. to post three times a day, six days a week, of which:
  3. one gun-tech or -industry post and one SOF, UW, or war-related post up daily.
  4. a WWWW, on Wednesday.
  5. a Saturday Matinee, and a TW3 before the week ends at midnight Saturday.

The draft queue is 258, down from last week’s record level. See you with a TW3 on Saturday, if all goes well!

Saturday Matinee 2014 29: Straight Into Darkness (2004)

Straight Into Darkness DVDWe probably should have bailed when we learned this movie was directed by a guy who makes horror B-Movies: you know, the ones named after some cutting implement with a rather large roman numeral, like Coping Saw VIII, Jackhammer XVI and that sort of thing.

If we missed that cue, we should have bailed with the corny minefield scene. (The minefield, mirabile dictu, eliminates everyone not further useful to the plot: Deus ex Tellermine). Or we should have grabbed the eject handle when we met the cannibal priest. Or the hanging villagers in the woods.

If we’d done that, we’d never have gotten to the partisan group of deformed and retarded children. This plot twist has the benefit of a certain novelty, but sometimes the reason a certain idea hasn’t been implemented before is that it’s a deformed and retarded idea. 

The movie centers on a pair of deserters, the sensitive, gentle paratrooper (?) Losey who has just seen more war than he can handle, and the crude, self-centered Demming, who considers his hide too precious to be penetrated by German metal products. At show’s opening, they’re stuck in a jeep with two gloating MPs, who are taking them to have a fair trial and an execution. (This is a slight historical departure: of all the thousands of WWII deserters, only one was executed; but if only they’d done these two also, we’d have been spared most of this movie. It will make you a death penalty supporter).

There’s really nothing comparable to this in the world of film, so far as we know. And if there is, please God may we not watch it.

Acting and Production

Ryan Francis as Losey. Note the weird costume and weapon.

Ryan Francis as Losey. Note the weird costume and weapon. Where did that barrel band come from? The prop room?

The actors are, with one exception, steadily-working TV actors. The exception is David Warner, fallen low from his stint as Captain Kiesel in 1978′s Cross of Iron. Losey and Demming aren’t badly cast; Ryan Francis and Scott McDonald respectively. The female lead is Linda Thorson, who isn’t remembered for succeeding Diana Rigg as the distaff side of The Avengers in its last season (1969) opposite Patrick Macnee. She does a great crazy lady.

It isn’t the acting that undoes this movie.

The production does what it can with a jock fraternity’s beer-run budget and a disjointed script.

The script is the real purveyor of chaos here. Nothing makes sense or is remotely believable.  As the intro above makes clear, soon we were watching it out of sheer morbid curiosity.

The motivations of the characters are unclear when they’re not inexplicable or outright irrational. The German bad guys, of course, include one leader who radiates evil and an endless cornucopia of incompetent mooks, who get wasted in windrows by the two Worst Soldiers in the ETO and a gang of children with various deformities of body and mind.

Accuracy and Weapons

"Germans" in Romanian Army coats.

“Germans” in Romanian Army coats.

The movie was filmed in Romania, and the production company seems to have used the “whatever’s handy” approach to firearms. They seem to have used non-firing replicas in every scene where the weapon didn’t have to fire, which is great for a safety standpoint, but the nonfiring and firing guns are not always the same make and model. Therefore a character’s gun may change from Colt to Walther and back again within a single scene.

The Tiger tank follows the lead of many other movies and grafts a Tiger superstructure onto a T-55 or other Russian armored vehicle. But in other movies, they try to make a proportionate Tiger top. This one has a turret with elephantiasis.

"German" stunt man launched feet in the air by a mix of explodiumite and a hidden trampoline.

“German” stunt man launched feet in the air by a mix of explodiumite and a hidden trampoline, but mostly the trampoline.

The weapons act somewhat bizarre, and in true Hollywood fashion, every explosive is packed with fireworks and gasoline — Hollywood’s patented ingredient, explodiumite.

A few words should be said about the tactics. Or lack of them. The Germans have neither the skills nor the desire for self-preservation, and come in, MP40s blazing from the hip. And like a Soviet battalion of tank riders, they’re heavily equipped with MP40s. The German leader sits in his tank turret and orders one attack at a time to go forward and die. Meanwhile, the script has him insisting mawkishly that he’s doing it for the good of his men. (Yes, the same men he’s throwing away in frontal assaults as if the Germans hadn’t given that up as a policy by late 1918). Our Dad used to say stuff like that: “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” It never did.

The bottom line

We like to find obscure movies; sometimes they turn out to be hidden gems Straight into Darkness is the other kind: the stuff the gems are buried in. There are two possibilities here: one, that someone (director? Writer?) was doggin’ it. The other, more frightening possibility, is that this is really the best that they can do.

We hope it’s not, but any further films from these guys will be approached cautiously, from upwind.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • Movie’s official page

http://www.straightintodarkness.com/

  • Amazon.com DVD page:

http://www.amazon.com/Straight-Into-Darkness-Jeff-Burr/dp/B000EWBKLM

  • IMDB page:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0287733/

  • IMFDB page:

none.

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page:

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1161005-straight_into_darkness//

  • Wikipedia  page:

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straight_into_Darkness