Monthly Archives: May 2013

Sick, sick, sick. Crime comes from sick heads and hearts

Sure, there are people who think guns cause crimes. This one is attributed to a sick, sick individual, who, when a 15-year-old girl (!) rejected his sexual advances, cooked up a “genius” scheme to kidnap her wearing a mask, and then rescue her later. No gun was involved in this perfect crime.

Only the sick puppy botched his duct tape job, and she died, for reasons yet unknown (if we were betting men, we’d put our chips on the square labeled “asphyxiation.” We can’t bring ourselves to post the picture of the child this monster slew, a picture taken when she was full of life and promise; it seems to be exploitation and an imposition on her bereaved family. If you must see her, go to the link below. Needless to say, this jackass’s perfect crime had a lot of imperfections in it, and he’s going off to Cold Stone College for the long course, with all the other too-smart-for-us criminals.

BANGOR, Maine (AP) — A man indicted for the murder of a teenage girl used a fake Facebook account to lure her from her home so that he could stage her kidnapping and rescue and appear to be a hero, according to a state police affidavit.

Instead, the affidavit released Wednesday says Kyle Dube ended up killing 15-year-old Nichole Cable, whose body was found in a wooded area of Old Town this month a week after she went missing.

Detective Thomas Pickering outlined the scenario leading to the high school sophomore’s death. He wrote that Dube told his brother that he used Facebook to trick her into going out of her house in Glenburn, not far from Old Town, while he waited in the woods wearing a ski mask.

When Nichole came along, Dube jumped out and snatched her, duct-taped her and put her in the back of his father’s pickup truck, the affidavit said. The 20-year-old Dube later discovered that she was dead, so he dumped her body and covered it with branches, it said.

via Police: Man staged kidnap that killed Maine girl |

Of course, this version of the story assumes that the monster in question — who is himself only 20 — was telling the truth. His credibility is not a foundation to build upon.

Apparently this guy Dube is so scroungy he was immediately a suspect. He put another youth’s name on the Facebook account, and when questioned, the guy said “What?” Asked who would do something like that, he unhesitatingly suggested Dube. The IP address associated with the phony Facebook account independently traced back to Dube’s house. His old house. His new house is going to be the Big House. (Unfortunately, even though he’s in Maine, not Shawshank. That’s a fictional lockup).

No guns were used in the murder of the beautiful, innocent girl. The killer is judicially presumed innocent, but he left a trail of evidence that gave Maine’s cops a beautiful case to present to their DA, despite his pitiful attempts at redirection. The sad truth about murder is that the skills of a Columbo or Sherlock Holmes or whatever fictional detective you may like are seldom necessary. Most murderers are failures at every level, failures as human beings, so naturally they fail at their “perfect crimes.”

As another indicator of the sickness loose in this century: according to the police affidavit, the doer confessed to his girlfriend (!) and brother, and they didn’t tell anybody until after the cops grabbed him and hauled them in as witnesses. “Hey, it was just a murder, what’s the big deal?” What in the name of Niffelheim is wrong with these people? What kind of woman doesn’t dial the phone when her guy tells her he wanted to rape some child, but oops! he killed her instead? Do real brothers help you move bodies?

But that’s one undercurrent in our society today. If you think the crime problem is significantly driven by guns in noncriminal hands, you’re not paying attention.

And here’s a prediction for you: this blog may be long gone, but in five or eight or ten years, this killer will walk free. And he will kill again, or try to, regardless of what gun laws are in place in that future America. Two in the chest and one in the head is a more fitting end for him, but it’s not one of the options a Maine judge will have at the bench. Pity.

Bet you never heard of Walter Mess

Lt Walter L. MessAnd we only barely had done so, even though he was, by rights, a legend in our small world. Until he passed away at 100 Sunday, and a retired Special Forces officer who was an acquaintance of his spread the word in our small community. (Thanks, Tom). Walter was something very, very rare: a genuine honorary Green Beret, a man who earned his Special Forces Tab not only long before there was a Tab (1984 or so?) but long before there was Special Forces (1952). You see, he was an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) veteran.

The OSS is claimed as an ancestor by both the US Army Special Forces (Green Berets) and the Central Intelligence Agency. (The Maritime Unit of the OSS also was a forerunner of the SEALs and SBUs, but the Navy doesn’t claim the lineage as far as we know). Like the successor organizations, OSS conducted the entire range of special operations from guerilla warfare to personnel recovery, and also conducted espionage. It got around, and so did Walter Mess.

After his wartime service in clandestine warfare (he actually started out volunteering for MI6, and they took him, before the US was in the war; when the US joined he transferred to the Coordinatror of Information, later the OSS). Here’s a bit from a bio, but you ought to Read The Whole Thing™:

Walter L. Mess, who established the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority and was a member of its Board for more than 45 years, passed away on Sunday, May 26, at the age of 100. During his more than four decades on the NVRPA Board, the agency preserved over 10,000 acres of land.

Mess's command, an Air Sea Rescue Launch, P-564.

Mess’s command off the Burma shores, an Air Sea Rescue Launch, P-564.

Mr. Mess grew up in Alexandria with a passion for outdoor adventures like hunting, fishing, hiking and boating, which he did throughout the region. In 1939, before the U.S. had entered World War II, he was recruited by a professor at Georgetown Law School to join the British Secret Service. His mission was to parachute into Nazi-controlled areas of Poland and Czechoslovakia to organize and train resistance fighters. When the U.S. entered the war, he joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS; predecessor to the CIA) and conducted commando missions into North Africa prior to the Allied invasion. He later was sent to Asia where he commanded a speed boat (similar to a PT Boat) in operations in and around Burma. Decades later, he was given an honorary Green Beret status for his bravery and innovation in special operations.

Interestingly, it was via his military service that Mr. Mess was inspired to create a future park agency in his home state. While stationed in San Diego, California, he visited Balboa Park, a 1,200-acre urban park that was used as a Navy base during the war. Seeing this great park influenced his actions for years to come.

Special ops pin - OSS-SOE

OSS jump wings (same as SOE). Mess took part in several jumps in Burma after the Japanese were driven from the coast and maritime insertions were no longer needed.

The OSS Maritime Unit in the CBI was one of the best-kept secrets of the war. (Note: there is more information on Walter L. Mess at that link). Unfortunately, a definitive series of articles about the OSS MU in Veritas: the Journal of Special Operations History can’t be made available online due to copyright law restrictions. 

After the war, Walter Mess did more than just start the regional parks in Virginia. He was a developer who built some one hundred buildings, including The Watergate and many other DC landmarks. All of the many Virginians who worked with him on his business and philanthropic projects over the next five decades were startled to hear about his World War II exploits when information about them was finally released in the 1990s: like so many of his generation, he’d put that behind him and never talked about it. He was married once, until death separated them in 2002. Along with his network of parks and his many developments, he left to posterity four children and 10 grandchildren.

Walter fell in February and broke his hip, which landed him in the hospital. He was lucid to the last, and frustrated by his body’s failure to keep pace with his ever-sharp mind.

Walter L. Mess, OSS Veteran, a life well lived in all its particulars. Rest in peace.

More Finnish Archive Rarities!

Finnish captured AVSes, DPs and 1910sA Simonov AVS-36 was rare everywhere except, it seems, in Finnish captivity. Many of the photos in the Finnish Army photo archive (which is the source of these) include captured AVS rifles, either being used by Finns, or, more often, in piles of captured stuff. That’s what this picture is, and it rewards an embiggening click with a relative close-up of four of the rare AVSes, along with one ringer (a relatively common DP light machine gun). Only one of the AVSes has its 15-round magazine in place, and they all show the bare-metal triggers of the type (the bolt and bolt carrier was also bare metal, same as a Tokarev or, for that matter, a Mosin). The AVS also had a unique flash hider or muzzle brake of a type not seen on any other Russian rifle.

The rare auto rifles are propped in front of an impromptu sculpture of “found objects,” specifically Mosin-Nagants and M1910 Maxim guns. Off to the right, you can see the wheels of a Sokolov mount for another Maxim; in the background, the logistic background of the Winter War, skis and poles. (All that’s missing is an ahkio, a Finnish human-drawn sled, or the shorter Norwegian version, the pulk). The Scandinavian armies rely on ski troops, and on mass-mobilizing reserves. Prior to World War II, they also relied on neutrality, which turned out to be a false hope; now most Scandinavian countries seek allies. It seems to be working. The last two invasions of Scandinavian countries were Russia’s successful but pyrrhic war against Finland, and Nazi Germany’s invasion of Norway and Denmark, which turned into a tar baby for the Germans. (True, there was fighting between the Germans in Norway and the Finns after the latter withdrew from their alliance with Germany in 1944, but that wasn’t really an invasion in the way the others were).

Kaksi ryssien lentokoneesta otettua kk:ta.Our next photo is a pair of pairs of weapons. These DA (Degtyaryev Aviatsiya) machine guns were used as defensive weapons on Russian bomber and liaison planes; that’s why they have the cartridge bags. Stray brass bound up in airplane control cables could lead to a bad day. It’s the same basic machine gun as the DP used in rifle units and the DT used in armored vehicles; the aviation and tank versions usually used a double-depth pan magazine instead of the slim 47-rounder of the ground forces’ version.

Once again, click on the picture to see it at full size, or go to the Finns’ excellent archive yourself. Many of the SA-Tuva archive are bleached, or desaturated like this second picture, or flecked with dust like the first one. That doesn’t really matter; the original photos were generally professionally composed and shot with quality equipment onto glass negatives, we think, or at least with view cameras (like a Speed Graphic). So they are clear enough; these aren’t soldiers’ snapshots, but professional photogs’ work. They also are a priceless historical archive, bringing to us today primary documentation about a war that is now all but a legend.

We have still not examined all of the archival photos, but they do seem to be primarily ground forces’ photos. The Finnish air forces had a similar qualitative superiority to the vastly more numerous Russians, and the quality seems to have come entirely from personnel. The Finns had a variety of foreign-built, hand-me-down equipment, some of which (Gladiator, Buffalo) had horrible records in their native air arms.

Ah, the “tripwire vet = criminal” crock of crap again

This one is a bit long in the tooth — it dates from late March — but we’ve got so many balls in the air right now, that our AO is going to look like the dark side of the moon when they all crater down. So we’re trolling the drafts folder to entertain all y’all. -Ed.

Inspired by a paper in the British medical journal The Lancet — the same Lancet. a commenter points out, that published a laughably inflated Iraq casualty count as a political jab at the US — there’s apparently a paper that says soldiers aren’t made more criminal by combat zone service, except, of course, that they are. Dr. Theodore Dalrymple weighs in:

No one thought in those [Napoleonic -Ed.] days of the psychological effect upon the soldiers of witnessing so much violence — more than 30,000 were killed during the battle [Waterloo – Ed.], about one in six of those who took part in it: nor could anyone have done so if he had thought of it. But it is now accepted wisdom that active military service leads men subsequently to commit crimes of violence, though the reasons for this are unknown.

It might be “Accepted Wisdom™” among the chattering classes, but objective and factual evidence is lacking. Always has been, and when the anecdotes are examined they often don’t hold up. All of the “Vietnam Vets,” for example, in the original “Tripwire Vet” segment on CBS’s 60 Minutes turned out to be phonies. The Boston Globe threw its prestige and power behind a “Vietnam Vet,” Joseph Yandle, and never pulled his actual military record even as they excused his record of drug abuse, bank robbery, and murder. Pardoned thanks to the Globe’s publicity offensive, Yandle murdered again. He was never anywhere near Vietnam, but modern reporters don’t let facts impinge on the storytelling. Neither, it seems, does The Lancet:

A recent paper in The Lancet examined the association of military service and subsequent crimes of violence, which turned out to be much weaker than suspected. The authors examined the criminal records of 8280 British soldiers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan with that of 4080 of those who had not. When controlled for such factors as age, level of education, pre-service record of violent offences, rank and length of service there was no significant difference in the criminal records of those who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and those who had not.

via PJ Lifestyle » Does Military Service Cause Men to Become Criminals?.

That’s barely comprehensible, but basically it says, soldiers who served in combat zones are not materially different, in terms of whether they commit crimes, than soldiers who did not. (For some reason, The Lancet shrank from comparing the vets to their non-veteran cohort. I think we know why).

Since Dalrymple’s explanation of the study was clear as mud, we pulled the actual study [.pdf] and found  that his unclarity was a fair reflection of the study itself. There are, to put it charitably, some big conclusions resting on questionable interpretations of data, and on numbers that stand on a quickstand of self-selected reporting.  But from this thin gruel, the authors draw the conclusions that  “deployment or aspects of deployment act to increase offending and violent offending in the military” and “serving in a combat role and exposure to an increased number of traumatic events on deployment conferred an additional risk of subsequent violent offending.”

Only in passing do they mention that the veteran population was vastly more law-abiding than British males in general. We thought the numbers, particularly the notation that 17% of service veterans have a criminal record, were alarmingly high, until we saw the really alarming number: 28.3% of men in the UK have a criminal conviction of some kind!

We guess they come by their football hooliganism honestly.

But if you look at those numbers again, you’ll see the interesting fact that British men who’ve taken the Queen’s shilling are almost twice as law-abiding as the population as a whole. (The non-veteran population, then, must have a rate of criminal convictions higher than 28.3%, because the relatively more-law-abiding vets are included in those totals and their 17% rate would bring the average down). The difference between offenders in the non-combat-deployed and combat-deployed soldiers, the only place where these so-called scientists could tease out a (barely) statistically significant difference, has a laughably low n (number of individuals in the sample) and indicates far lower rates of offending than British civilian samples, for both the combat-deployed and the merely deployed. Bear in mind, too, that soldiers are drawn, necessarily, from the cohort of the population most prone to offending: young, single males. There’s also no attempt that we saw to control for psychometric or socioeconomic status differences between the deployed, noncombat group (which would be heavy with technical specialists) and the deployed, combat group (which would be heavy with knuckle-draggin’ riflemen like your hosts here). But with all that, even the knuckle-draggers come in less law-breaking than the median Briton.

However, “British veterans better citizens than average” is a headline Fleet Street would not write. So instead, they make a splash about the news that a methodologically shaky survey finds a nearly invisible difference in the conviction rates of combat vs. noncombat vets — never mind that both groups are more law-abiding than the average British subject.

Social science is to science as rap music is to music. Yo.

Missed the DEFCAD files?

worlds-first-3d-printed-gunThere are places to go to get them.

  • Torrents work (the Pirate Bay, for instance) and are out of the reach of the US State Department, the IRS, and the various other agencies that are being used as hammers to drive political nails. If you know how to work BitTorrent files, you didn’t need us to tell you this.
  • They are easily found in the underweb. Google only takes you so far, but if you get off-google in the numeric realms (where we strongly advise you to only go with TOR or another anonymizing system), everything is available, including trouble. It’s the internet equivalent of the Mos Eisley cantina. On this subject: Michael Kassner at Tech Republic and Neal Ungerleider at Fast Company and again (differently edited version of same article) at NBC News.  In addition to the Underweb, there’s the deep web or invisible web, and there are darknets. The first rule of darknets is… you do not talk about darknets.
  • The DEFCAD forums are still alive and people often point to file locations, which may be transient in nature. If you see it there and want it, hit it then. 
  • A DEFCAD release clone is being maintained and updated by a fan here. This system’s got a learning curve if you want to do anything useful with it, but it’s comprehensive, complete, and free. Reading the Read Me file will make the learning curve easier to ascend (don’t ask how we know that).

As a tragic figure in a science-fiction movie said, “You can’t stop the signal.” That doesn’t stop certain characters from giving it their best shot.

Ah, the wages of loose gun laws!

wusthof knives lgBecause all right-thinking people know, as received wisdom from the bien-pensants of the press, that crime proceeds always and everywhere from guns; that criminals would not exist if it were not for “root social causes” that can be cured with liberal (no pun intended) application of public “investment”; and that a gun in the home is always more hazardous than simply trusting in the warm heart of your fellow man, and the ever-ready forces of The State.

And criminals, Hollywood teaches us, are always high-functioning businessmen, scientists and military officers, driven by grade-school morality-play greed and lust for power. TV criminals, unlike the 3D flesh-blood-and-attitude variety tend to be white guys, rich guys, and usually well-connected WASPs who just want to be whiter, richer, and even better-connected. Cops watch these films, and wonder why they can’t spend their days arresting those guys in their nice clean labs and boardrooms, instead of, you know, the actual criminals they see every day. Real-world crims tend to be sketchy, marginal, disproportionately minority, low-IQ and often mentally-ill individuals, who tend to be found in dysfunctional and filthy places. Real criminals often have no more reason behind their crime or ability to explain it, than a shark with its similarly primitive nervous system has.

And then we get this. Hollywood detectives would be closing in on the wealthiest inhabitant of the mid-sized (by NH standards: pop about 7k) town, or on the nearest particle physicist or genome sequencing guru. WeaponsMan suggests they’re going to find it’s someone bug-house crazy, whom everyone would have locked up in 1990 if not for the Glories of Deinstitutionalization which have left us with no place to lock him up. Here’s what he did:

Authorities say a man and a woman whose bodies were discovered in a central New Hampshire home were those of a 39-year-old man and his mother, who were chopped to death.

The victims were identified as 59-year-old Priscilla Carter and her son, Timothy. Their deaths were ruled homicides.

Homicides! No $#!+, Sherlock?

Obviously this was caused by the loose gun laws in the Granite State, where a Boston-values prosecutor can’t even convict a guy for shooting a criminal on his own property, no matter how histrionic the closing arguments. A sure sign they’re clingin’ to their God and guns, although in this tragic tale, somebody didn’t cling to the latter and got sent to the former prematurely:

Autopsies were performed Saturday. The medical examiner’s office determined Priscilla Carter’s cause of death was multiple chop wounds and blunt force injuries, while Timothy Carter’s cause of death was multiple chop wounds. The office did not say what kind of weapon was used.

via Medical examiner: Woman, son were chopped to death |

If you’re a writer for, say, the Associated (with terrorists) Press or the Boston Globe, the official lack of definition of the weapon is a great excuse to pencil in “assault weapon” or the old newsroom standbys, “AR-47” or “AK-15”.

Exercises for the reader:

Exercise 1

Reenvision this scene, but with Timothy or Priscilla Carter as a gun owner. To steal a subtitle from Laurence Gonzales,  “who lives, who dies, and why?”

Exercise 2

You live in this town. Here’s the authorities’ position: “Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin said no one has been arrested in the case and that authorities continue to investigate.”  Translation: “Beats us with a stick.” And the guy’s still out there. Pick from one of the following options: 

        • Move out. Preferably to somewhere which has no bad naughty evil people, or the guns that inspire them to violence, like Chicongo (well, we’ll think of a place. The Emerald City?).
        • Put your faith in your fellow man and 911, like the Carters did.
        • Get a Brady Campaign/Bloomberg approved rape whistle and be prepared to blow it vigorously.
        • Sign up for tae kwon do at the local dojo.
        • Get a double-barreled shotgun and be prepared to fire it into the air, out the window.
        • Get a handgun or carbine and some instruction on how to use it.

Nothing much hangs on your decision. Just life or death. (After some creep kills you, the mutilation adds a bit of horror for your survivors, but you won’t feel a thing).

The Carters, poor, doomed wretches that they were, didn’t even know they were playing this game. You do. What’s your move?

Liberator-tje – Neutered Netherlands Liberator

Netherlands-capgun-Liberator-tjeThe Dutchman behind this project, Dave Borghuis, wants us to know he’s not a wacko bird like those “scary and crazy” US-ians.

I am not a gun nut, i find it scary things and crazy how the USA handle the gun laws.
Check your own local laws BEFORE printing any part of the Liberator-tje.

Just to make it clear that he’s an enlightened European from a nation that stood against the Nazi menace for over half a week (four days from invasion to capitulation in May 1940, followed instantly by more collaboration than resistance), he makes it clear that his Liberator is an enlightened, European, non-combatant Liberator.

In the Netherlands any gun is strictly forbidden unless you have a licence. To prevent any problems with dutch law I (zeno4ever/Dave Borghuis) modified the files so its impossible to shoot any bullet with the printed gun. I checked this with someone that has some insight in Dutch law regarding gun laws and the modifications I made should make it legal to print the gun in Netherlands. Be sure to check your own local laws if you want to print this Liberator-tje.

via Liberator-tje – TkkrLab.

Netherlands-capgun-Liberator-on-printerIn fact, his version is a cap gun. (That’s what the little ring in the top photo is — toy-gun caps, Euro style). But we’re probably being too hard on Dave. As he says elsewhere, he’s not interested in guns, he’s interested in printing 3D objects, and so he should be welcomed as another part and branch of the revolution. He did, indeed, print a locally adapted Liberator, even if it is a gelding, and he promises to make his revised (spayed and neutered) files available to the public, probably on his blog given the fact that the State Department has sent its Panzers to occupy DefCad for the time being. (Interesting if nonpertinent factoid: SecState John F. Kerry is, like the last Panzer-emitter, of Austrian descent).

After all, the Dutch may not have materially slowed the entire German war machine down, but one individual Dutchman fired a shot that took German paratroop general Kurt Student off the board for some very critical months of the war. A small nation in a tough continent has to live within the bounds of possibility.

Dave is also the first one we know of to have printed the Liberator on his particular machine, the common (well, to the extent any 3DP is common) RepRap Prusa i3. True, his is a cap gun, but it’s — you’ve been hearing these words from us a lot — a proof of concept.

Dave also made (we think; please correct us if we’re mistaken) this excellent animation of Liberator assembly. So we’re grateful for that, even if he thinks we’re “roondweg idioot” over here, which you can probably figure out even if you can’t grok Nederlands.

We’re also grateful to Dave for pointing us to this classically hand-wringing article by Cory Doctorow in the Grauniad. Doctorow argues that because Guns are Bad we need to find a way to ban 3D printing of them without, you know, banning 3D printing. It’s typical Doctorow, a tech lover losing out to his inner fascist, and as good an explanation as any as to why we haven’t been back to his site in about four years.

In the home-manufacture revolution, it’s From Each According to his Ability, and To Each According   to his Liberties.

Are you Finnish with Russian weapons?

If you’re not, the guys in these pictures are. The pictures are courtesy of SA-Kuva, which is Finnish for Finnish Army Photo — the army archives there have just released a large quantity of wartime photos. (If you have a Russian-spec Mosin or other ex-Russian bangstick with the stamp “SA” in a rectangle, you have an artifact of a Finnish tactical victory over their would-be slavemasters from the USSR). The captions are, alas, in Finnish, a language little spoken this side of the Gulf of Bothnia.

These pictures are reprinted here with permission. Don’t forget that you can click to enlarge them even further. First up we have MG gunners training(?) with what looks like some kind of training rig. The Finnish caption is: “IT-tykki lossin luona. Vuosalmi. 1939.12.18.” OK, so our translation is: AA-gun alongside cable, at Vuosalmi (a town on the coast), 18 Dec 39. Note for general use that an IT-tykki is an AA gun, and a TT-tykki is an AT gun.

IT-tykki lossin luona.

Here’s another picture, this one showing a Russian BT-5 tank that has fallen into the clutches of the Finns. Can’t make heads nor tails of the caption, though: “Hovista 0,5 km etelään kenttäkanuunan yhdellä laukauksella suoralla suuntauksella tuhottu hyökkäysvaunu. Syskyjärvi 1940.01.10.” Out of that, we get the date (10 Jan 40), the place Syskyjärvi, and a reference to 0.5 kilometers. It may be in the caption, but in English we can’t tell whether the tank was knocked out, or just abandoned by bugging-out Russians.

BT-5 Tank come a cropper in Finland

And next up, we have two truly classic weapons: the Russian knock-off of the Krupp anti-tank gun, here in 45mm, and the Finnish soldier standing over it armed with an ex-Russian semiauto rifle. Original caption: “Ryssiltä vallattu hv-tykki etulinjassa suomalaisten käytössä. Kollaanjoki. 1940.01.01.”

Ryssiltä vallattu hv-tykki etulinjassa suomalaisten käytössä.

The rifle is a very rare one, a Simonov AVS-36. It was a select-fire rifle chambered for the 7.62 x 54R cartridge, and fed from a 15-round magazine. Soon after its adoption, it was supplanted by the Tokarev SVT-38 and -40 rifles, which were made in both semiauto (SVT) and select fire (AVT) versions. Tokarev rifles are noteworthy when encountered, but compared to AVS-36s they are as commonplace as Mausers. Interesting note about these Russian interwar rifles — when you do find one that is not a post-’68 import, it will probably have an SA stamp, as Finland sold off their stocks before the GCA of 1968 required imported milsurps to be marked with the importer’s name and city. They are, at least the semiauto Tokarevs are, a rare GI bringback, as they were used occasionally as captured weapons by the Germans, and occasionally by ragtag Chinese formations in the first year of the Korean War.

The Russian units that hit Finland, and got creamed, are widely reported, based on contemporary Soviet propaganda, to have been second-string units. But their heavy armament with state-of-the-Red-art semi-auto rifles — most of which wound up in Finnish custody, as did the surviving Ivans — argues to the contrary. These were first-line units with first-line equipment. What benefited the Finns was the recently concluded military purges, which eliminated almost everyone in the Red Army at the rank of Colonel or higher — and intimidated the living Lenin out of the survivors. The new, high-tech arms pushed into surface by the brilliant Tukhachevskiy before his murder were too much for an army purged of its best and brightest to maintain, and the Russians reverted to WWI weapons, supplemented by hastily adopted submachine guns. (Which had been part of Tukhachevskiy’s reforms, but were simple enough for a dumbed-down service to grasp).

The Finns fought not one, but two wars against the Russians (1930-40 and 1942-44), and they beat the Russians in battle after battle. Man for man, they were by far the better army, but in Stalin’s pungent phrase, “quantity has a quality all its own.” In both wars, the Finns were overwhelmed and agreed to humiliating concessions.

But the Russians didn’t get what they wanted — a return of Finland to Russian suzerainty, as it had been prior to the collapse of the Empire.

Hat tip: Alan Taylor’s In Focus blog at The Atlantic.

Exercise Caution with Veterans’ Charities

Say hello to WeaponsMan’s First Law of Veteran’s Charities: the more you’ve heard of it, the more likely it’s a racket. That thought came to us yesterday — Memorial Day — when a local talk show had an unusual sponsorship — the Paralyzed Veterans of America. This charity is one of the largest in America, but it’s a legendary ripoff, and has not only been savaged by charity evaluators like Charity Watch (formerly the American Institute of Philanthropy) and Charity Navigator, but even drew a 2010 Page 1 smackdown from the Washington Post (article, chart of charities, and PVA’s pushback).

Just because something is a “non-profit” doesn’t mean it’s any damn good, it just means it doesn’t have stockholders or private owners who profit from its activities. Some charities have founders and managers whose actions make it clear their objective is more to enrich themselves than to enrich society: to do well by appearing to do good. Many soi-disant charities have a symbiosis with for-profit fundraisers who use the charity’s name to raise hundreds of thousands or even millions — and then pocket nearly all of it. And some of the biggest names in military and veterans’ charities are these kinds of operations.

Here’s an excerpt from an eye-opening CNN report on the Disabled Veterans National Foundation, which raised $50 million plus, and spent essentially zero on disabled vets, instead using the hoary old “goods in kind scam” to accept and overvalue worthless goods, creating phony tax writeoffs for donors, then overvalue them even higher as “donations in kind” to other, actually working, charities, that are then stuck with the expense of disposing of this trash.

The Disabled Veterans National Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., and founded in 2007, received about $55.9 million in donations since it began operations in 2007, according to publicly available IRS 990 forms.

Yet according to the DVNF’s tax filings with the IRS, almost none of that money has wound up in the hands of American veterans.

Instead, the charity made significant payments to Quadriga Art LLC… nearly $61 million from 2008 until 2010, which was the last year public records were available.

The independent group CharityWatch gave the DVNF an “F” grade. More than 30 veterans charities were rated by the independent group by the amount they spend on fundraising compared to actual donations, and two-thirds were given either a D or F grade, according to CharityWatch president Daniel Borochoff.

Emphasis ours.

Charity Watch, Charity Navigator and other evaluators (which sometimes, to be sure, squabble as hard among themselves as they do with bogus charities) rather charitably, no pun intended, refer to these operations as underperforming charities. 

We’re a little less charitable around here, after having been conned into giving money to uncharitable charities before, including the Combined Federal Campaign, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Foundation, and the Wounded Warrior Project. Each of these has a different problem. But we call them rackets. 

Click “more” to see:

  • our specific beefs with those charities
  • a list of charities recommended by one watchdog
  • our personal preferences (we recommend you vet them against the watchdogs, too), and
  • some rules of thumb for evaluating a charity’s pitch to you.

(Sorry for the break, but this would be a very long post).

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Dolphins bring steampunk torpedo home

The grinning grey guy in the photo is one of the Navy’s marine mammals, from the Space and Naval systems Center, Pacific, and the hero of this piece. This marine mammal or one of its cohorts at the center turned a mine-hunting exercise into an archaeological expedition this March.

Deep in the cold Pacific, the dolphin found a manmade object. Unlike recent marine weapons, like the dummy mines the critter was seeking, the 11-foot long torpedo was made of brass and had a certain steampunk sensibility. It was quickly identified as a Howell torpedo, one of fifty experimental torps made, and expended, before Robert Whitehead made the weapon truly practical. The Howell was one of the first self-propelled torpedoes, or as the terminology of the gaslight age called them, “automobile torpedoes,” of the 19th Century. It and its followers would revolutionize Naval warfare in the next century, making it possible for an invisible threat to blockade a warring nation. (Submarine warfare fell short of cutting off England, twice, but it crippled the defense industries and economy of Japan, and starved out more Japanese garrisons than ever ended on the point of Marine bayonets). But most of the 50 Howells have slept with the fishes for over a century. Including one that interposed itself into a marine mammal minehunting exercise in March.

A Navy dolphin training to look for mines off the coast of San Diego found a museum-worthy 19th-century torpedo on the seafloor, military officials said.

The brass-coated, retro wonder of technology was one of the first self-propelled torpedoes used by the U.S. Navy. Just 50 of these so-called Howell torpedoes were made and only one other example has been recovered; it sits in the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Wash., outside of Seattle.

Here’s the picture of the lovingly over-restored example from the Undersea Museum. Beautiful, isn’t it? (The museum site says it has the only Howell in existence, but it wasn’t correct even before the dolphins’ find off Coronado this spring. We think this is the only post that will show you three extant examples of the Howell, and we hesitate to say all three because the USN might have another one ratholed in some museum… or a warehouse where some Chief parked it in 1890 rather than be caught short). Here’s the real Undersea Museum example:


The news stories all have the count wrong, but there’s apparently a third example at the Navy War College museum. Some of the stories misidentify this photo as the Undersea Museum example, but WeaponsMan has it right. We think, we link, you decide:

Howell torpedo-1-0520

via Navy dolphin finds 130-year-old torpedo | Fox News.

In shape, it resembles a modern torpedo, although with more learned about hydrodynamics in the last 130 years, the pointy nose isn’t used any more (it’s counterintuitive, but has more drag than a blunt one). The Howell pointed the way to the future but its numbers were pretty limited: range of less than 1/4 mile (although some sites say 700 yards), speed a mere 25 knots, and warhead 100 lbs of guncotton. The propeller on the nose (visible only on the Undersea Museum’s Howell) was a safety device that armed the fuze. The Howell seems archaic today, and it is. But in 1870 it was a harbinger of what was to come. This photo of the recovered torp shows its propulsion end:

Howell torpedo2

See what we mean about steampunk sensibility? Shortly after this photo was taken, the torp was reimmersed in water to prevent corrosion, at least until it can be properly treated by preservation specialists. Its bronze structure is in surprisingly good shape for over a century in salt water, but that’s bronze for you. Durable stuff. Torpedoes today have amazing capabilities in terms of speed, stealth, autonomy, and/or operator guidance from the launch ship/sub/aircraft (two of which platforms did not exist when this torpedo was invented), but they all descend from primitive 19th Century torpedos like this one.

USS Stiletto fires HowellThe limited range and speed stemmed from the Howell’s mechanism: it had no on-board motor per se, simply a flywheel that was spun up to 10,000 RPM by shipboard equipment. The flywheel (F in the blueprint at this article’s end) weighed 132 lbs. — more than the torp’s warhead.  It was, practically, a clockwork torpedo.

One vessel that carried the torpedoes was the torpedo boat Stiletto, here discharging a Howell circa 1890 (sorry, this image is only available in this little size). Remember: archaic now, but it was the high-tech of its day.

There were many competitive designs flowering at the same time. The Whitehead (1868, Austria) was powered by compressed air. The Fish (1871, USA) was armed with 100 pounds of explosive (dynamite) and powered by compressed air, but was the first driven by screws. (The sole survivor Fish is in the Navy War College museum in Newport, RI, which also hosts a surviving Howell). The Howell was made from 1870 or 1871 to 1889 in Rhode Island, and was designed by a Naval officer, Lt. Cmdr. John A. Howell.

Before this flowing of invention “torpedoes” were what we’d now call surface mines, floating explosive charges. (that’s what the torpedoes that Farragut famously damned were). After the US Civil War, the 19th Century’s flowering of metallurgy, power, and power transmission made the set-it-and-forget-it torpedo a real possibility, and inventors worldwide flocked to it. The US finally replaced the Howell with an improved Whitehead design. (Whitehead was American, but first succeeded in the Hapsburg Empire, in part because he’d married into the nobility there).

More news stories at the New York Daily News (describing how one dolphin found the target, another confirmed it, and human EOD techs classified it as the Howell), and the Los Angeles Times (with great background on the find and the Navy marine mammal program, which trains dozens of bottlenose dolphins and sea lions). .

The Howell torpedo has been recovered and is undergoing preservation. The dolphins have a more uncertain future: the Navy program is threatened by budget cuts and the advancing capabilities of underwater remote operated vehicles.

Howell blueprint - plate01


The Navy Press Release, upon which the various news articles must have drawn, did properly identify the found Howell as one of three survivors (and listed the museums the others were in correctly, when when the museums themselves didn’t know about each other’s torpedoes). The press release has many fascinating details on the marine mammal program, and also notes that the Howell was marked “No. 24” and is bound for the Washington DC Navy Yard, where Navy preservation experts will preserve and analyze it.

Bravo Zulu to all involved,including the dolphins. Somebody throw them a fish!