Communion Of Dreams


Scotland 2018: 8) No stone circle is really complete without a nuclear bunker.

Being a photo-heavy travelog of our 2018 trip to Scotland.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Saturday, May 12.

We had a nice breakfast at the hotel, and considered our options for the day. Aberdeen and the surrounding area has a lot to offer — our preliminary list had about a dozen possibilities on it, and we had identified at least that many more in looking through “Vistor’s Guides” and such there in the hotel.

In the end we decided that we really wanted to see more of the Highlands, and figured that driving up into the Cairngorms was the best way to do that. It was probably the best decision that we made on the entire trip.

Why do I say that? Well, read on …

The Cairngorm Mountains are just incredibly beautiful on their own. Seriously, like the inter-mountain range of the Rockies in Colorado, though of course they’re not as tall.

And Martha had seen something promising on one of her research forays: Kildrummy Castle.

I admit, I was somewhat unimpressed with the number and quality of medieval castles in Scotland. That’s because for the most part, castles were repeatedly upgraded and renovated … or they were allowed to disappear completely. So you get those magnificent structures like Stirling, Dunvegan, and Edinburgh, or private fortresses such as Eilean Donan and Doune, all of which saw significant rebuilding and modernization through their history. But places like Urquhart and Old Inverlochy are pretty rare in Scotland, whereas in Wales they’re seemingly around every river bend.

But Kildrummy Castle is a magnificent ruin, substantial in structure and easy to understand in terms of layout and architecture. It would have been a formidable stronghold, and played an important part in Scottish history. We stopped in at the ticketing office, and had a chat with the caretaker — who was both enthusiastic about the castle, and a little surprised to find a couple of American tourists stopping in to check out the place. Then we walked up the path to the castle, which I hadn’t seen at all while driving.

But this is what we saw:

Promising …

 

Up the hill and across the dry moat.

 

Across the drawbridge, left …

 

… and right.

 

Elphinstone Tower.

 

Great Hall and Warden Tower.

 

Chapel.

 

Exterior of the Chapel and Warden Tower.

 

Martha in the inner ward.

 

More of the inner ward.

I want to note that we were the only people there, the entire hour or so we spent exploring the castle. On a beautiful Saturday, in the largest National Park in the U.K.

And this, I think, is important, and in itself changed the way I thought about the entire trip. Scotland has done a fair amount of work to promote tourism, and there were places we visited which were crowded with tourists from all over the world. But just a little work to get off the beaten path always took us away from the madness, into a part of the country which was just as beautiful, just as full of history, and a whole lot more enjoyable (at least for this introvert).

We stopped back by the ticketing office. I thanked the caretaker, and told him that I thought that Kildrummy was one of the best medieval ruins I had seen anywhere, in Scotland, Wales, the UK, or on the continent. I’m sure it made his day. Visiting Kildrummy made mine.

Spirits high, we headed further into the mountains. First we stopped at Glenbuchat castle, a nearby fortified home dating to the 16th century. It was well-sited, but closed for renovations. Then we went to Corgarff Castle, a medieval tower which had been expanded in the 18th century, but didn’t hold our interest. We had a nice lunch at a little cafe, then proceeded south across the moors on the Old Military Road:

Stairway to heaven.

We took the A93 back towards Aberdeen for a while, but then went north again towards the small village of Tarland, but stopped at the Tomnaverie Stone Circle. From another website about the circle:

The restored circle is a truly beautiful site to visit, the circle is now neatly grassed over, the quarried area to the south has been filled, and there is a small car parking space available below the hill. The raised location allows for panoramic views in all directions, and there is also an information plaque which gives details of the circle and its history. Those with an interest in prehistory or megalithic monuments will need no coaxing to visit Tomnaverie, and for the casual visitor it is wonderful place for a stroll or a picnic.

See for yourself:

Oh, say can you see?

One unusual feature of the Tomnaverie Stone Circle is noted on the information board:

Which is here:

The small structure just right of center is the bunker entrance.

Strange juxtaposition.

We decided to make one last stop before heading back to Aberdeen, which was just a short way away: Culsh Earth House. Description from that site:

Earth houses, or souterrains, can seem mysterious structures: stone-lined tunnels dug into the earth, usually leading to a dead end and with no obvious purpose. The reality is actually fairly mundane, and it seems that earth houses were simply built as underground storage for agricultural produce.

Culsh Earth House probably dates back to some time before AD100. At the time a timber roundhouse farmstead would have stood nearby, perhaps a direct predecessor of the farm which stands immediately to the south today. The entrance to the earth house might have been inside the roundhouse to next to it, and the earth house itself would probably have been used for the storage of grain or other produce.

Here ya go:

Wonder where that goes?

 

Cool!

 

Looking back.

 

Reemergence.

The rest of the drive to the hotel was uneventful. We had a nice dinner in the pub, and crashed relatively early.

 

Jim Downey

 

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‘Watch the skies, everywhere!”

That’s from the 1951 classic The Thing from Another World, one of the first (and defining) science fiction movies which set the stage for much of what was to come even to the present day.

It was also very much a product of the early Cold War era, reflecting the fear* of the USSR and atomic weaponry. This is typical — science fiction usually is a reflection of (or commentary on) the technology and social conditions of the era when it was created.

So, what to make of two news items which showed up this week?

Here’s the first:

First State Legalizes Taser Drones for Cops

It is now legal for law enforcement in North Dakota to fly drones armed with everything from Tasers to tear gas thanks to a last-minute push by a pro-police lobbyist.

With all the concern over the militarization of police in the past year, no one noticed that the state became the first in the union to allow police to equip drones with “less than lethal” weapons. House Bill 1328 wasn’t drafted that way, but then a lobbyist representing law enforcement—tight with a booming drone industry—got his hands on it.

And here’s the second:

Welcome to the World, Drone-Killing Laser Cannon

Hang on to your drone. Boeing’s developed a laser cannon specifically designed to turn unmanned aircraft into flaming wreckage.

The aerospace company’s new weapon system, which it publicly tested this week in a New Mexico industrial park, isn’t quite as cool as what you see in Star Wars—there’s no flying beams of light, no “pew! pew!” sound effects. But it is nonetheless a working laser cannon, and it will take your drone down.

* * *

Instead of a massive laser mounted on a dedicated truck, the compact system is small enough to fit in four suitcase-sized boxes and can be set up by a pair of soldiers or technicians in just a few minutes. At the moment, it’s aimed primarily at driving drones away from sensitive areas.

 

I’m already seeing posts by friends on social media complaining about drones being operated by annoying neighbors, with discussion about what possible solutions there might be to deal with them (both by legal recourse and um, more informal approaches). There have been a number of news items already about people who have shot down drones, and there’s even a company advertising a specific kind of shotgun ammunition for just that.

“Watch the skies!”, indeed.

 

Jim Downey

*As good an explanation as any.



Thinking about the unthinkable.*

Next Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of the release of the classic film “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” It’s long been one of my favorite movies, even as a kid. Yeah, I was a strange kid. Don’t act like you’re surprised.

Anyway, Eric Schlosser has a good article in The New Yorker reflecting on how the movie, originally considered a farce, was actually frighteningly accurate. From the article:

A decade after the release of “Strangelove,” the Soviet Union began work on the Perimeter system—-a network of sensors and computers that could allow junior military officials to launch missiles without oversight from the Soviet leadership. Perhaps nobody at the Kremlin had seen the film. Completed in 1985, the system was known as the Dead Hand. Once it was activated, Perimeter would order the launch of long-range missiles at the United States if it detected nuclear detonations on Soviet soil and Soviet leaders couldn’t be reached. Like the Doomsday Machine in “Strangelove,” Perimeter was kept secret from the United States; its existence was not revealed until years after the Cold War ended.

 

“Detecting nuclear detonations” … hmm, where have I heard that phrase recently? Oh, yeah:

A Sound of Cosmic Thunder: Earth-Impacting Asteroid Heard by Nuke Detectors

On the second day of 2014, a small asteroid blew up high in Earth’s atmosphere. It was relatively harmless—the rock was only a couple of meters across, far too small to hit the ground or do any real damage—and it disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean anyway.

What’s cool is that now we know for sure this is the case: Infrasound detectors designed to listen for nuclear bomb detonations actually heard the explosion from the impact and were able to pinpoint the location of the event to a few hundred kilometers east off the coast of Venezuela.

NASA put together a nice informative video explaining it:

 

Gee, it sure is a good thing nothing like that has ever hit the territory of the old USSR … er, oops.

And now that I’ve given you a nice dose of fright, let me make it up to you with a reminder that you can download Communion of Dreams (which has it all … game theory, nuclear exchanges, and more than a little of my old strangeness) for free today and tomorrow!

 

Jim Downey

*The title of one of Herman Kahn‘s books about nuclear war/deterrence, and where I think I was first exposed to the concepts behind game theory.  I’ve got Schlosser’s book Command and Control on my to-read list when the Kindle price comes down a bit.



Trinity.

Did you know that the first atomic bomb test was called Trinity?

* * * * * * * *

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” they said
So you played for the winner takes all
And tossed the dice high up and craned your head
To see how the numbers would fall

Al Stewart, Midas Shadow

* * * * * * *

When we first see her …

… it’s clear that we’ve disappeared down the rabbit hole.

Trinity.

* * * * * * *

The old/young man smiled. “You have a glimpse of it.”

“Of?”

“The truth. Or what your mind can grasp of it.” The figure was standing beside the glowing burl. He reached down and seemed to scoop up a handful of the tholin, then lifting it, allowed it to flow from one hand to the other, a gloopy, glowing blue mass.

“You have a glimpse of it. Now, what will you do?”

Instinctively, Jon reached out and put his hand under the flowing tholin, felt its warmth pour into his palm, and settle there, waiting. “You said before that there wasn’t much time. What is going to happen?”

“I cannot see the future. But I can see more deeply into the present than others. Things are . . . changing.”

Chapter 15 of Communion of Dreams.

* * * * * * *

Did you know that the first atomic bomb test was called Trinity?

On Monday morning July 16, 1945, the world was changed forever when the first atomic bomb was tested in an isolated area of the New Mexico desert. Conducted in the final month of World War II by the top-secret Manhattan Engineer District, this test was code named Trinity. The Trinity test took place on the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range, about 230 miles south of the Manhattan Project’s headquarters at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Today this 3,200 square mile range, partly located in the desolate Jornada del Muerto Valley, is named the White Sands Missile Range and is actively used for non-nuclear weapons testing.

And did you know that there was more than a little debate among the scientists working on the Manhattan Project about what would happen with the test?  Yeah, seriously — they weren’t sure:

The observers set up betting pools on the results of the test.[28][29] Predictions ranged from zero (a complete dud) to 45 kilotons of TNT, to destruction of the state of New Mexico, to ignition of the atmosphere and incineration of the entire planet. This last result had been calculated to be almost impossible,[17][18] although for a while it caused some of the scientists some anxiety. Physicist I. I. Rabi won the pool with a prediction of 18 kilotons.[30]

It worked:

Three days remaining on the Kickstarter. Will it work?

I’m still craning my head to see how the numbers will fall.

Jim Downey



What it was like.

My wife and I decided to revisit the Cosmos series recently. It holds up surprisingly well for a pop-science program from 30 years ago.

Tonight’s episode was the finale. And I was struck by what it was like back then, to contemplate the possibility of nuclear war. I think a lot of people today who weren’t aware during that time have difficulty in understanding just how palpable that threat was. Here’s a good bit from the episode that explains it better than I could:

Is it any wonder that a post-apocalyptic world was the setting for so much science fiction generated during that time? Any wonder at all?

We may or may not have threaded the needle and survived the time of peak technological vulnerability. Not only are there other threats out there to our long term survival, but even the threat of nuclear war is not passed – not hardly. I still fully expect that there will be another war in which nuclear weapons will be a factor, and such use could easily spin out of control and engulf the entire planet.

But the hair trigger we lived with for some 30 years is no more. Things certainly are not perfect now, but they *are* better. We did indeed decide to survive, at least through that time. And that was an important step.

Jim Downey



“I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed.”*

About a year before I was born, the Strategic Air Command had a little movie made for training purposes. Here’s a nice clip from it:

And here’s a bit explaining the story behind the movie:

Washington, D.C., February 19, 2011 – “The Power of Decision” may be the first (and perhaps the only) U.S. government film depicting the Cold War nightmare of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear conflict. The U.S. Air Force produced it during 1956-1957 at the request of the Strategic Air Command. Unseen for years and made public for the first time by the National Security Archive, the film depicts the U.S. Air Force’s implementation of war plan “Quick Strike” in response to a Soviet surprise attack against the United States and European and East Asian allies. By the end of the film, after the Air Force launches a massive bomber-missile “double-punch,” millions of Americans, Russians, Europeans, and Japanese are dead.

60 million American casualties, actually, when all was said and done. And that was the “winning” scenario.

Is it any wonder that much of the popular culture (and the science fiction) of the time was concerned with dystopian futures, frequently involving apocalyptic nuclear war? It truly was a form of MADness.

And we came a lot closer to that actually happening on several occasions that most people realize. I’m not going to bother to dig up all the references, but in addition to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Yom Kippur War there were multiple instances of false alerts due to mechanical and communications failures which came to light following the end of the Cold War.

Is it any wonder that I have a hard time getting too worked up about the threat of ‘terrorism’? When you grew up expecting a nuclear holocaust, the prospect of random bombings doesn’t seem that big a deal.

Jim Downey

*Of course.



How many?
July 22, 2010, 4:49 pm
Filed under: Art, Bad Astronomy, Nuclear weapons, Phil Plait, Science

So, how many nuclear tests do you think there have been, since the Trinity test 65 years ago?

Go on, take a guess.

A few dozen?

A hundred?

A couple hundred?

Try over two thousand.

And via Phil Plait, here’s an absolutely stunning presentation of that number, as a video showing each individual test, by each individual nation, each one with a specific musical tone as it was done. Call it a music video of the nuclear age. It is really quite captivating.

And more than a little sobering.

Jim Downey