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Project Stargate

Hi there. *cough* How's it going?

So, you might notice that I'm not Charlie. Sorry about that. It's disappointing for me, too.

But as he mentioned the other day, some of our novels do share a subgenre. So our host has very generously offered me a chance to do some guest blogging here while he's programmed to within an inch of his life at Boskone. To start, I thought it would be fun (for me, anyway) to elaborate upon one of the things that came up during our recent conversation over on the Orbit blog.

We've both written novels about fictitious intelligence services contending with supernatural entities and paranormal threats. But, as Charlie suggests, it's difficult to believe that, given the opportunity, a real-world three-letter agency wouldn't leap at the chance to commune with ravenous extra-dimensional horrors. As far as I'm aware that has yet to happen. (I draw that conclusion based on the observation that the Earth still exists and we're not all dead. Yet.) But the spy world has flirted with the paranormal for a long time.

One such endeavor was an infamous foray into remote viewing known as Project Stargate. Stop me if you've heard this one.

Stargate and its various sub-projects ran for decades under government scrutiny and absorbed millions of taxpayer dollars along the way. It was born from research conducted at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in the early 1970s. The principal investigators in those early years were Drs. Harold (Hal) Puthoff and Russell Targ. (Both of whom are interesting characters, and about whom I'll try to say more later. For now I'll just mention that Puthoff is a veritable Where's Waldo of fringe science, no stranger to that slice of the Venn diagram where pseudoscience overlaps with conspiracy theories. If you're writing a nonfiction book about Nazi time machines or 1950s antigravity research and need to cite an expert physicist, Puthoff's your guy.) One of their primary research subjects was none other than self-proclaimed psychic, and notorious enemy of tableware, Uri Geller.

(Jon Ronson touches on the Uri Geller connection in his novel The Men Who Stare at Goats. That novel, and the movie based upon it, tells the story of The First Earth Battalion: another unfortunate foray by the military and intelligence world into the paranormal. First Earth and Stargate are siblings, I think, grown from some of the same seeds and peripherally sharing some of the same characters.)

In their novel Mindreach: Scientists Look at Psychic Abilities, Targ and Puthoff describe their psychic research and try to make the case for conclusive evidence of remote viewing, precognition, telekinesis, and similar phenomena. Their constant refrain throughout the book is to remind the reader that the authors are Real Scientists performing Actual Science in a Most Scientific Fashion. The implication being that their investigations have been rigorous, and that thus their conclusions are iron-clad.


One doesn't have to read Mindreach very closely to detect numerous deficiencies in the experimental arrangements. I mean, I'm a theorist, not an experimentalist, but it's pretty clear that none of the SRI research described in the book ever achieved a truly controlled environment. The holes are numerous and, at times, shocking. The methods advocated by the authors are prone to systematic errors and their methods for determining "hits" and "misses" are entirely qualitative... and thus eminently susceptible to human bias. If they had they been my graduate students I wouldn't have found the work suitable for a thesis. (But I'm a creep that way.)

That said, Mindreach is an entertaining if rather infuriating read.

Targ and Puthoff defended their work in the face of extensive criticism. Even after they were duped by professional skeptic and debunker James Randi. They even managed to get some of their work published in 1974 as a Letter to Nature, a premier scientific research journal. "Information Transmission Under Conditions of Sensory Shielding" went on to become one of the more controversial letters ever published by Nature. Many people at the time-- including Nature's editorial board, not to mention the referees who reviewed the report-- felt the methods described in the letter evidenced "vague" experimental oversight. In fact, the editors took the unprecedented step of prefacing the Targ & Puthoff letter with a page and a half long introduction wherein they justify the decision to publish the report! The so-called "SRI Report" had received a large amount of advance publicity prior to its publication, much of which wildly exaggerated the actual conclusions. So the editors felt compelled to publish the report and its "muted" claims in order to set the record straight regarding the "extravagant rumors" surrounding the work. All in all a very unusual situation. (The full text of the editorial introduction can be found in James Randi's book The Truth About Uri Geller.)

(But Targ and Puthoff published several more times; their paper "A perceptual channel for information transfer over kilometer distances: Historical perspective and recent research" appeared in Proceedings of the IEEE a couple years later.)

It was around this time that the SRI work (and a related program at SAIC, Science Applications International Corporation) attracted attention (and, apparently, funding) from the intelligence services. At least one of Targ and Puthoff's remote viewers -- Ingo Swann, who passed away just two weeks ago -- went on to become a central figure in the early years of Stargate. Puthoff also became a principal investigator for SCANATE, a CIA remote viewing program. Proponents claim that Stargate, SCANATE, and related efforts successfully predicted the launch date of a new Soviet submarine in 1980 and an attack on the US Navy frigate U.S.S. Stark in 1987. However, during this same period, various "remote viewers" on the government's paycheck also claimed to have had visions of cities on Mars, life on Jupiter, pre-cataclysm Atlantis, and various subterranean UFO bases scattered around the Earth. Taxpayer-funded efforts like these persisted through the mid-1990s.

Pursuant to an external review held at at the CIA's behest, the Stargate Project was (allegedly) terminated in 1995. Not surprisingly, the review concluded that these efforts never produced a single piece of actionable intelligence and that concrete success in the future was extremely unlikely. Better late than never, I suppose.

The fact that this work was funded for decades despite lacking a single shred of replicable supporting evidence speaks to Charlie's point. If the Powers That Be got their hands on this stuff -- that is, stuff that actually worked -- they'd certainly use it. Hell, they spent 20 years trying to use it even when it didn't work.



They call them "spooks" for a reason.


Is Heinlein's 'Project Nightmare' a precursor or influence on these efforts?


At least in the early stages, isn't this sort of thing an example of the question, can you afford to ignore it? Then bureaucratic inertia takes over.

And if somebody can create the illusion of being a mind-reader, there's no point in not telling them what they want to know.


You have to wonder about the levels of religious belief among the people who were signing off on the budgets, and hence credulity. I still find it hard to cope with Young earth Creationists ;)

Other explanations for spending the cash might be that "it was a convenient way to channel funds that we were going to spend anyway", "maybe we can persuade the other side to waste even more money on it", and good old-fashioned corruption...

...There were huge sums being spent at he time under the "Cold War" budgets; comparing two guys and a few assistants at a college pales next to the A-12, or even four more blokes at sea for twenty years. IIRC the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie-Mellon started because DARPA felt that half of all funded software projects were failing to deliver a working result.



Erm, isn't Geller beleived/known now to be a very good stage magician, with no "psychic" powers at all? Of course, there's the evolutionary argument against "psi" powers: much too useful an evloutionary advantage, if it did exist ......

Is there any connection here with the infamous "Nazi Bell machine" ... which was always, erm, supposed to have very peculiar effcts (including temporal) on those near it, or sume such idea?


Did the producers of the Stargate TV show about a secret military project know about the secret military project called Stargate? How about when they did the show-within-a-show (Wormhole Extreme) based on making a TV show about a secret military project to discredit rumours of its existence?

Predictably, some of the conspiracy theorists talking about military remote viewing do seem to have incorporated parts of the TV show into their beliefs (google Dan Burisch Stargate).


They may have done, but I think you need to ask that question about the producers of the 1994 movie of which the TV show was a spin-off. And given the books mentioned above were published in the 70's the answer is - quite possibly. But maybe not, it's a pretty obvious name for the story and not an unlikely storyline for a movie pitch.

To the wider post - I'm not and never have been a spy. But I can imagine if I spend time sneaking around places with guards, trying to get into safes and the like, and interrogating people and trying to work out the truth from the lies, I'd love to be able to sit and home and look into the safe in the absence of bullets, or read their minds/emotions to see the answers or try to work out if they're deceiving me. I can also see it's tempting to think there just might be some actual power to the illusionist acts that apparently pull these kinds of things off. Give someone money, the promise of more if there's good results, a nice patriotic "It's to defeat the evil commies" (in this case) speech... you've got a lot of incentives to make it look like it's working.


I'm fleshing out the skeleton of a Borges-esque essay, Ian, which places Stargate (the film/show) and Twin Peaks in the same reality. I think I can use some of this post to inform my outline. Thanks!

There were huge sums being spent at he time under the "Cold War" budgets; comparing two guys and a few assistants at a college pales next to the A-12, or even four more blokes at sea for twenty years. IIRC the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie-Mellon started because DARPA felt that half of all funded software projects were failing to deliver a working result.

I think Charlie made the point in the Atrocity Archive when Bob first meets Mo. It costs a relatively small amount of money to fund philosophy departments but the potential returns are enormous, if you can destroy or destabilize the oppositions' worldview. A Bit like Bill Gates buying a lottery ticket... And in the real world don't forget Mike Aquino (head of the Temple of Set) was a Lt. Col. active in psyops (Though Curiojones has done all the conspiracy theories to death).

DARPA felt that half of all funded software projects were failing to deliver a working result.

Not surprised. In my experience many very large IT systems are only kept sort of functional by constant tinkering. Look at the BBC, BT & Sky...


The point about philosophers and Pentagon funding in "The Atrocity Archives" was based on (anecdotal, not-verified-by-me) truth: my brother-in-law, while doing his PhD on aspects of Bayesian reasoning, was told that about 60% of his department's funding came from the military, who were really interested in finding out a better way to reason about probabilities under conditions of prior uncertainty.


When I get back to a real computer I'm going to have to read those references. Fun stuff--insane but interesting.



Kress misidentifies OSI as the Office of Strategic Intelligence; it was the Office of Scientific Intelligence where Kit Green, q.v., was the principal participant in the early studies.


I knew it. It's all true! But in which case popular books or writings should be a form of talisman, making the posited symbol reality, ah, real!! I can think this through and develop the conjecture for only $500,000 a year if I only come in on Wednesdays occasionally.

And if somebody can create the illusion of being a mind-reader

Surprisingly easy. I did tarot reading for fun a profit back in the 80s. With practice you really do become very good at "cold reading" which amounts to being a "mind reader" (forgive me Iain M. Banks). But I think based on my experience it would be easy to mistake ones learned cold reading skills for genuine occult skills. QED Sincere self-deception is easier than you think!


What I got from the Jon Ronson book was an impression that the military soon dropped all the woo elements, and focused on the more effective psyops parts - much as research into nonlethal weaponry has evolved into a field for hurting more people, rather than less?

For example one early field was researching the calming effects of music - and is now concerned with choosing the worst (or best) songs to play loudly at someone in order to drive them mad.


I wonder how many of these projects were existing and/or surviving simply because of the relative abundance of earmark funds and other "deal-making" funds available to individual members of Congress for some form of other of pork barrel politics.

I mean, at one point they had the CIA using funds from the black budgets (admittedly a tiny fraction) in order to get a yearly subsidy to a ballet company in a congresscritter's district.


What I got from the Jon Ronson book was an impression that the military soon dropped all the woo elements...

Never underestimate the persistence of the woo.


@1: I had to google that one. That's a hole in my Heinlein reading!

@4: As it happens, Puthoff was (allegedly) an OT VII within the Church of Scientology. Not sure if that was before, during, or after the SRI/Uri Geller days, though. And Ingo Swann was also allegedly a scientologist. Not sure what the relationship between this and their remote viewing efforts might be, but since you ask...

There was concern that the Soviets were doing parapsychology research. Whether those concerns were well founded or not, it's easy to imagine that this was part of the impetus for Stargate, etc.

@5: Yes, that Uri Geller. (Also the same Uri Geller who has sued James Randi countless times.) There is a connection to the Schauberger's Bell, by the way, via -- you guessed it -- Hal Puthoff, who appears in Nick Cook's book The Hunt for Zero Point.

@7: And to be fair to the intelligence community, I suppose one could argue that it's their job to consider the possibility of using such means, even if there's no known basis for how it would work, and even if the odds against it are a million to one. Because, as you say, if it did work...

@14: Interesting! Notice there's no mention of the editorial introduction when he mentions the Nature paper...

@15 I agree, Ronson does appear to make the argument that First Earth Battalion work eventually morphed into more concrete psyops stuff.

@17: "Mr. President, we cannot allow a PSI gap to emerge!"


An a lot of AI and machine learning research is funded for similar reasons back in the 80's I knew one of the guys where I worked on campus at Cranfield (we did some rnd into expert systems in fluid dynamics) moved from the ML project for this very reason.


I thoroughly enjoyed The Men Who Stare at Goats, both the movie and the book, and even bought a couple of defenders after seeing them in the movie. Oddly for movie props, they actually work the way George Clooney and Ewan McGregor demonstrated...

Anyway, one quibble: The book wasn't a novel, it was a piece of gonzo reporting, more or less true, and ultimately devastating in its critique of how the human potential research of the 70s apparently became the basis for the Abu Ghraib mess in the '00s. That's the best part about the book, really. It's not just a "look at the cute weirdos" critique, it's does a good job pointing out how apparently peaceful things like non-lethal weapons and mind reprogramming techniques can very easily become tools for torture, perhaps more easily than they can be used in their more life-affirming way.

That part's worth remembering.


I spent about four years in Army labs, and never noticed anybody having problems because their technology didn't work. If anything, the reverse. If something works, you have to transfer it to development and pretty soon you have to find something else to study. If it doesn't work, but semi-plausibly could, you can keep on trying until you retire.


This is mathematics, though, not philosophy.


It costs a relatively small amount of money to fund philosophy departments but the potential returns are enormous, if you can destroy or destabilize the oppositions' worldview.

This is called "Pascal's mugging", and is a bad way to spend money...


But if you don't spend the money, someone else will spend the money.

It's also the case that a government will want to have experts on $FOO at hand, because there's no way of knowing when they'll be needed. This is for values of $FOO approaching all values of $FOO. (Really. The US Navy once wasted a lot of money because they didn't have anyone on the project who knew about Arctic Ocean seal mating habits. This was only discovered after the money was spent.) Since there's no way of knowing what information will be needed in ten or twenty years, and the cost of having boffins around is relatively low, it's a good investment.

I've described DARPA as America's Strategic Mad Scientist Reserve.



The push for an edge, especially in a cold war, leads governments down some very strange paths.

Roleplaying games, for me, like Day after Ragnarok (Germans use the Midgard Serpent. Everyone uses the byproducts after the Allies nuke and kill it), or Cold City (post WWII Berlin, where the allies scramble to deal with weird German stuff escaping from secret labs, and get a piece of the pie for their country) support your thesis, Ian. Governments are going to try to get these sort of stuff and try to use it, even without clear evidence it works.

This is called "Pascal's mugging", and is a bad way to spend money...

Perhaps from the military's point of view, but it sounds like a great way for theorists to get funded. Or do you mean it taints the research somehow?


I suppose from the military POV - when everything at a strategic level costs so damn much in the first place, a few academics in a shed somewhere is very cheap and worth having to hand, whatever they do from day to day.

Scientists do deliver the strange and preposterous from time to time, so it's not completely unreasonable to chuck a small tithe at the unlikely.

And then just having expertise on hand can pay off. When every laser physicist in the world knew the original conception of Star Wars was clearly nonsense, they also knew a good thing when they saw one. And now, only a few decades later, they are close to great advances in weapons testing fusion, thanks to money put into Sharks With Laser Beams.


You might be interested in Sleights of Mind, about the intersection between magic and neurobiology.

There's a great point in there that scientists often make bad investigators of magicians. The problem is that science works on the assumption that there's a knowable reality behind some mystery, and one can figure it out through clever and persistent experimentation.

Magician work at tricking people.

A story from that book: Richard Feynman was "tortured" by a magician-friend at one point. The magician would perform a simple illusion, and a few hours or days later, Feynman would come back and tell him how he did it. The magician would then tell Feynman he was wrong, performing the same illusion in a way that made his explanation impossible. Feynman would come back with a new explanation, and the magician would then demonstrate that explanation was impossible too. It went on for quite a long time.

What happened was the magician had picked an illusion where there were at least a dozen separate ways to perform it, and he knew them all. Feynman was, in each case, correct with his explanation. The magician then simply performed the trick using another method. Feynman's mistake was that he assumed there was only one way to do the trick, and the magician never corrected this false assumption.

Parapsychology is theoretically cool, but in practice, it's all too easy to make Feynman's mistake. In fact, their funding and reputation appears to rest on making Feynman's mistake. Researchers get fame and money for demonstrating that psychic talents are real, whatever the real explanation is.

Similarly, the psychics they test also have a vested interest in promulgating Feynman's mistake, at least in the lab. If they can appear to be psychic, they can keep being funded.

I'm not an expert, but I'm starting to think that by far the best way to study psychic phenomena is to include a magician on the research team, both for the design phase and the experimental phase. This isn't a guarantee that the magician will catch frauds (they can be fooled too), but it's much better than asking straight-up scientists (like Feynman) to do the work.


finding out a better way to reason about probabilities under conditions of prior uncertainty...

Sounds like risk management to me, and I personally have few objections to anyone funding studies to figure out better ways to manage risk.

Certainly Nicholas Taleb (of Black Swan fame) admits spending a lot of time talking to the military about black swans and risk assessment. His estimation was that the military people he'd talked to had a better appreciation of risk than most civilians. Perhaps this was because their conception of risk was considerably more bloody and final than that of, say, New York financiers, whose idea of "corporate war" apparently includes multiple resurrections and golden parachutes.

As for the philosophy part, I'm not sure it's Pascal's mugging, and more a way of getting one's head around the hell of warfare. This is both good and bad, but I don't blame them for trying. Perhaps this is because I'm reading about WWII, and getting my head around what passed for risk assessment by the Nazis and Imperial Japanese. Bayesian logic is a marked improvement over that "logic."


I though in the UK at least spooks came into common use as a result of the TV show - though they changed the name for PC reasons in the states.


heteromeles @ 30 There's another way of filtering out the magicians & the fraudsters. Bright lighting + surround video cameras, running at x2 or x3 speed, everything recorded for analysis & playback. Why do you think Geller has consistently "refused" (i.e. never shown up) for a test of "psychic" poiwers under these conditions? And why a recent test of psychics showed that they weren't?

& @ 31 The Nipponese, especially! Yhe Nazis stood a near-chance, actually - If any or all of the following had hapened, they might easily have won: 1] Evacuation from Dunkirk fails 2] launch air attack on GB, without waiting to mop up in France, June 1940 3] Just "hold off" Britain in 1941, not waging direct war on us & concentrate on SovUnion - especially if ... 3b] Attack on SovUnion follows original launch-date - a month/6-weeks earlier - postponed to midsummer, because of Greek campaign - again "holding off/static" warfare against Britain might have sufficed 4] Japs DO NOT attack USA, but DO attack SovUnion, in autumn 1941.

Hpwever, once the US had won the battle of Midway, it was just a matter of time (& lots of lives)


Yep on the WWII stuff, although I still hold this comes down to risk assessment. There was something about Blitzkriegs and Banzai charges that seems to have hypnotized the Axis, perhaps due to their early victories with those tactics.

I should point out the Nipponese had a mutual non-aggression pact with the Soviets until August 9, 1945. Yes, the Nazis reneged on their version of this alliance, but it's not clear to me that the Japanese would have gained anything by attacking the Russian far east. It might have brought the US into the war (through Alaska), and opened up another front much closer to Japan than Hawaii and the Philippines were.

One could also make their political argument that they were kicking out the European and American colonials so that Asia could unite in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, with Japan as the benevolent leader of this group. The fallout from this scheme still haunts the relationships among Asian countries to this day.

Regardless, I do know from what I'm reading now that the Nipponese had no plan for invading Siberia. Korea, Manchuria, Singapore, and India (among others) were on the list, but not Russia. Presumably they had some very good reasons not to do so, since they had gone to war with Russia before.


Psi powers only work in regions of the galaxy where at least low levels of manna are present, right? Since we are at a point where manna concentration is extremely low to non-existent, it makes sense that the results are hit-and-miss (No pun intended.)

So what am I missing?


Cool! Thanks for that explanation. There's a slightly more detailed version in Wikipedia. The Battle of Khalkhin Gol in 1939 do seem to have been key in the Japanese decision not to side with the Nazis on attacking the Soviets. The Soviets had handed them their heads out in Mongolia, just as they had at Lake Khasan in Primorye in 1938. While joining the Nazis would have meant the Soviets were fighting a two-front war, the Japanese seemed pretty sure they'd lose on their front.

Still, it would be interesting for the Alt-War crowd to play out a world where the Japanese did attack the Soviets in 1941 and also followed Yamamoto's proposed strategy of striking Pearl Harbor then taking the US into negotiations over a new relationship, rather than prosecuting the Pacific War as they did.

As I noted earlier, the military studying risk management in the light of these decisions doesn't seem like such a bad idea, does it?


What are you missing? Hows about Technology?

From 14 February 2013 Last updated at 12:45 of the good old BBC ..

14 February 2013 Last updated at 12:45 Share this page

" Lab rats 'acquire sixth sense' "

All right, you have to allow for the ' Give ME Money for MY Research and the Lame will be casting their beds away like anything ' factor, but the BEEB is reasonably reliable and not much seriously given to Seriously Sciency Wonder Stories of Scientific Wonderfulness, of the THE BLIND WILL SEE, THE LAME WILL WALK, and both will do without their Welfare Scrounger payments that are wrung from the Very Life Bloody Tissues of Hard Working Families The Daily Heil NOW!!!!variety.

" Lab rats 'acquire sixth sense' " and not a moment too soon, for what we really need is para-normally empowered rodents eh wot?

And where Mice go Humans must be just behind? Or then there's ...

" Recent Articles

The FDA approves bionic eye (with video) New York Times, February 15, 2013

Bionic eye lets the blind see Slate, February 15, 2013

FDA approves 'bionic eye' for rare vision disorder WebMD, February 14, 2013

World's first bionic eye receives FDA approval Popular Science, February 14, 2013

Bionic eye becomes a reality Wall Street Journal, February 14, 2013

Bionic eye implant approved to help regain sight lost to disease San Francisco Chronicle, February 14, 2013 "


@30: One of the best physics colloquia I ever attended in grad school wasn't delivered by a researcher but by James Randi. He did sleight of hand before the faculty for an hour straight and nobody ever caught him out. Near the end, he said that he'd found that scientists often make the best audiences because they tend to overestimate their powers of observation.

Also relevant to the discussion is the magician Jasper Maskelyne, who worked for the Allies during WWII. Among other things he apparently created an illusion that effectively moved the harbor of Alexandria to protect it from German bombers. (I think Michael Chabon and HBO are or were working on a show somewhat related to Maskelyne's exploits.)

@33: Regarding Dunkirk, one of the strangest orders that Hitler delivered during the entire war forced a tank column to halt its advance to the coast for three days. If he hadn't done this, the column would have easily arrived in time to decimate the French and BEF forces amassed there awaiting evacuation. I've checked multiple history books on this point. They all agree the issue was ordered and by Hitler himself (one of his top advisers mentions it in his personal journal), but each source gives it a different interpretation.


That last point about Dunkirk -- the best theory I've heard to explain it was used as the plot McGuffin for a novel by Anthony Price ("The Hour of the Donkey' if I remember correctly).


Gotta love James Randi. He's great at what he does, but apparently even he's been fooled a time or two, and not by psychics

But about Jasper Maskelyne...

I happen to think The War Magicians is a lot of fun to read, and I also think that it's an open invitation for some fantasy writer to have a lot of fun with real magicians disguising their magic as stage illusions to help fight WWII.

That said, there's apparently good evidence that Maskelyne was not the mastermind he portrayed himself to be, and that while the deceptions used in the Egyptian desert did exist, other people came up with almost all of them. Supposedly Maskelyne was better at claiming credit than at tactical deception, and his contributions to the effort (beyond entertaining the troops) were minor.

For the American equivalent, read Ghosts of the ETO. Supposedly a documentary on the 23rd Special Headquarters Troops ("The Ghost Army") will air in the US on PBS sometime this year, and I'm looking forward to seeing it.


re Dunkirk - I have read that the main reason for the halt was that the panzers had outrun their supplies and had needed to resupply.

I also think that the German high command over estimated how many troops could be evacuated.


This is all from my memory of catching up on WW2 reading (like 40 or so books) in the last 3 years.

Basically, re. Dunkirk, people forget that the fog of war applies to both sides. Hitler was worried that his worn out (they'd been charging into France for days now) panzer force would, if not allowed rest and recuperation, be an easy target for the French, since he didn't really expect them to fall apart as much as they did, and one or two of their tank types were the equal of the Germans, just deployed stupidly (i.e. distributed amongst infantry units, basically acting as armoured travelling machine gun posts). It was quite sensible thinking on his part, for once.

On the invasion of Russia, several books I've read point out that due to the unseasonably wet weather, the Germans were late invading anyway, and moving a handful of divisions into Greece and back when they were using scores for the invasion didn't really affect their timetable. But wet muddy ground certainly did, hence the postponement.

I think it was Martin Gardner who insisted upon the inclusion of magicians in any inspection of lab equipment/ spoon bending etc. I'm sure I read that in one of his books from at least the 70's.

Also some awareness of basic magic is important in everyday life too. Last summer I was being a Tudor at Kentwell hall. We had school parties coming around, and I was demonstrating counting cloths and jettons and how they worked. The jettons are shiny copper coin like objects. So one child asked if he could have them, and I said no. A minute into my spiel, he dropped his hat onto the table, covering some of what I was working at on the counting cloth (The point at Kentwell is to let the children get as up close and personal as possible with the re-creations, except when it is dangerous e.g. foundrywork). He picked the hat up, and an alarm bell went off in my head. It got louder when he gave me that coy look that you see in children when they are trying to work out if you have seen them do what they have just done. So I demanded he show me his hand, but I'd also noticed he had moved his hands together and apart. The first hand was empty, and the 2nd, especially with prompting from his classmates, turned out to be holding the jetton.

And if I hadn't read a 19th century book on magic and been thinking about how to do it, I probably wouldn't have noticed.


By my definition, anything that can be applied is not philosophy. :-P


As plot McGuffins go, it's the gift that keeps on giving!

@41: That would not surprise me in the least about Maskelyne. Hadn't heard of the Ghost Army/Ghosts of the ETO. I'll look forward to learning more about that.

@42 & 43: I've seen both of those points raised regarding Dunkirk, and both I think are quite reasonable.


I just checked the website for The Ghost Army (, and the premiere is scheduled for Tuesday May 21 at 8 pm. Nice trailer on the website.


Dunkirk Yes. The Panzers were effectively out of supply. Also, where they had been fighting the Brits, they had taken quite beating - remember that "we" only had to retreat because we were horribly, totally outflanked, our right (the French) just wan't there at all! IIRC the problem was discussed in Berlin (or wherever RHSA was) and Goering offered to beat up the Brits with the Luftwaffe, whilst the Wehrmacht regrouped & resupplied. Offer accepted, & it would have worked on normal ground, but the BEF was encamped in sand-dunes, where, unless the bomb actually landed on your head, you were unlikely to be hurt.


Oooh, synchronicity: on American cable (military channel) there's a show on called Samurai and the Swastika. Guess what they led with? 1939 Mongolia. Coincidence? Why yes.


...might easily have won...

Len Deighton wrote a book called "Blood, Tears, and Folly" - full of interesting stuff. However, just to push back against the whole "close run thing in 1940", every single time they're tried to wargame Op SEELOWE, it has resulted in miserable failure for the Germans. They were completely incapable of mounting a successful amphibious invasion, and any attempt might even have shortened the war by adding a few hundred thousand German soldiers into captivity.

Put simply, you can't run D-Day with some unpowered river barges, four cruisers, and ten destroyers (check out the strength of the German Navy after Narvik). The German planning doctrine attempted to treat it as a rather wide river crossing...

The only way Germany wins in 1940 is by a diplomatic surrender on the part of the UK; military defeat is staggeringly unlikely.


Then there's the story of Erik Jan Hanussen, a 'clairvoyant' who may have advised Hitler, while hiding that he was Jewish.

I first heard of him as a character in the movie Invincible, which combines two unrelated true stories, and had to look him up.


I'm glad for the introduction and am stoked to check out Tregillis' books, as I gobbled down Declare too quickly while waiting for Apocalypse Codex, and now it's a year until Rhesus Chart!

Of all the many things I love about the Laundryverse, my favorite is what little info is doled out about the Black Chamber/Operational Phenomenology Agency. I fiend for some short stories similar to "pimpf" or "down on the farm" about day to day ops in the OPA.


@ 49 There was even (breifly considered) the option of appearing to lose the air-battle of Britain & suckering the Kreigsmarine/Wehrmacht into Seelöwe, then re-introducing a full-strngth RAF + the Home Fleet. It would have been a horrendous slaughter. Problem - getting the timing right!

As you said, after Narvik, where the amazing HMS Warspite removed 8 destroyers at one go, the Kreigsmarine were not happy bunnies. You have to remember that neither Bismarck nor Tirpitz were completed/ready for sea at that point The thought of RN cruiser/destroyer squadrons amongst the invasion forces, whilst guarded by the battlewagons & the RAF isn't a pretty one.


In nukes, they'd had a recent example of the value of listening to wild ideas. Maybe DARPA was instituted, putting a systematic framework to open-ness to new ideas, in order to prevent just such fiascos as the programs described. But the unknown is tricky, always doing it's own thing and never performing to order.

One episode of Through the Wormhole, on the Science Channel presented some of this same kind of research being done currently, albeit at universities, (Ghostbusters style)not government labs. Like where they were showing people pictures of various scenes and they would react emotionally to the type of scene a little before they actually saw it. Looked pretty persuasive, though inexplicable.


There's really only three reasons for government not to fund nutty long-shot academic research, assuming it doesn't explicitly go against what's already known:

  • They can't afford it. This is true for NSF, where they already fund <5% of the proposals they get, so a lot of perfectly reasonable, high quality proposals get shot down every day.

  • It's too expensive. This is a subset of #1, but blue sky proposals are better done on a shoe string. Most non-medical science gets done that way already, and if you need a billion dollars to test your zero-point energy generator concept, it's not ready for prime time. My favorite recent quote in this regard was "hey, I'm an ecologist, not a biotech. I can do a lot with $2,000." That was from a researcher using kickstarter to fund a project.

  • It destroys grad student careers, although admittedly this is a sentimental objection. Yes, grad school is a crap shoot anyway, but some nutty projects are better done by older, long-tenured professors, due to their career-limiting potential and low chance of success.

  • So basically, if you can do some weird research cheaply and on the side, why not?


    Speaking of the military and unknown unknowns, how about the Allies reading all the radio traffic for both the Germans and the Japanese. They both thought it couldn't happen (though the German Navy, who had the clearest evidence, did introduce the 4 rotor Enigma), and the war was much easier for the Allies as a result. Beating the subs in the north Atlantic would have been much harder, and things like the Battle Of Midway would have been much trickier if the US didn't know what the Japanese were up to.

    Then throw in the Klystron tube and microwave radar (and thus easy night fighters, and proximity fused anti aircraft shells, that alone was a big deal in the Pacific). And the atomic bomb.

    So the Allies had some good lessons about surprise.


    Radar is one of those interesting fields. We tend to hear about the cavity magnetron, and how the British solved the problem of a compact microwave generator, and shared it with the Americans. All true, but the cavity magnetron wasn't that good a solution, with such problems as frequency instability.

    The Klystron tube was the better technology, which is why we maybe don't hear about it so much.

    And it was the development of the C3I which really mattered. That was what was missing at Pearl Harbor, not radar.


    how about the Allies reading all the radio traffic for both the Germans and the Japanese.

    Not for the Japanese. I doubt we were ever reading more than 1/2 of the Japanese stuff. They used a lot of different codes and the language issue made typical code breaking even harder.

    But we did manage to read some key bits. :)


    Hpwever, once the US had won the battle of Midway, it was just a matter of time (& lots of lives)

    And just imagine how different things would have been if they had not called off the attacks on the fuel depots and dry docks. They did it due to not knowing where the US carriers were but I suspect that wiping out the fuel stocks and dry docks at Pearl would have been a good trade even if they had lost the 4 carriers. Which they would not have done.

    When they lost them at Midway all they got in trade was one US carrier.


    For the American equivalent, read Ghosts of the ETO. Supposedly a documentary on the 23rd Special Headquarters Troops ("The Ghost Army") will air in the US on PBS sometime this year, and I'm looking forward to seeing it.

    There have been some (one?) shows on this on Military/History channel.


    I must have missed that one. Do you remember the name of the show?

    I know they had a show on Maskelyne's (alleged) work in Egypt and Tunisia, but I didn't think they'd talked about the ghost army yet.


    The Japanese used separate code systems for their political/diplomatic and military communications. The British monitored a lot of raw traffic from the Japanese embassy in Berlin which was fed to the Americans well before Pearl Harbor, and their major codes were broken in short order. One of them (I think it was called Purple) used an Enigma-like device and the US codebreakers built a replica of this after figuring out how it must work from first principles. After the war they recovered an encryptor from the ruins of the Berlin embassy and confirmed it did indeed work just as they had determined.

    As for proximity fuzes they used regular miniature valves, not klystrons or cavity magnetrons, and worked at MHz frequency ranges not GHz. They were triggered by detecting Doppler-shifted reflected RF reaching a specific level, much simpler than a radar set.


    I am sure there are answers to these questions, but

    1) Why didn't the Germans close Gibraltar or have Franco do it for them? On a larger note, the Nazis seemed to have an extremely bad record on calling in favors from allies. Funny that.

    2) Why didn't the West attack Germany in September 1939? (I know the answer to this one, but I am open to hearing a theory that paints France/Britain in a better light. France and the UK did not want to win the war, at the expense of re-fighting WWI in Germany this time; they wanted to draw the Soviets in and avoid the cost. Since they had no intention of fighting such a war, they also did not prepare for the possibility of doing so. It boggled Stalin's mind that he actually had to follow through on Molotov-Ribbentrop, but then a lot of things boggled Uncle Joe in those years.)


    62 [1] Mers-el-Kebir Adolf went to Franco, who after the abovementioned decided NOT to - he also said: "Spain has just had 4 years of war and you want me to join another one?" [2] Lack of preparedness & material, certainly on the Brit (army) side, but I can't speak for the Frogs - who were determined NOT to be drawn into trench warfare - they were going to sit tight behind Maginot, thank you! Note that the war at sea started pretty vigorously, on both sides ..... The RN were dtermined, if at all possible to take the war to the enemy, as is their tradition ......


    I must have missed that one. Do you remember the name of the show?

    Sorry. I think it was an episode of one of those series like "Secrets of WWII" or some such. I tend to have the History or Military channel on as background noise when working. (I work mostly at home and the noise helps out with concentration. And if that doesn't make sense you don't know how an ADD brain works. :) )

    Anyway I remember they took a lot of "artsy" types and had them make all kinds of fake stuff that would look good from the air or a distance. Many of the people involved went on to become famous painters or designers after the war.


    On a larger note, the Nazis seemed to have an extremely bad record on calling in favors from allies. Funny that.

    One might suppose that the "master race" wouldn't need any help.


    As for proximity fuzes they used regular miniature valves,

    Are you talking about 5" AA shells? I saw a TV show about the RAD LAB where I think they said they went from 5000 shells to 1 hit for dumb to 500 shells to 1 hit for proximity shells at the end of WWII. Still a lot of firing per hit.


    It's possible. Still, there's an episode of History's Mysteries on Jasper Maskelyne ("The War Illusionist") that I saw, which sounds a lot like what you're describing. I'll keep my eyes open. Thanks for the tip.


    What also might have caught Franco's attention: the annihilation of an entire Italian army in the Western Desert and the crippling of the Italian battle fleet at Taranto by air attack. Plainly, being an active German ally wasn't all delight.


    1- Take a long look at Picasso's Guernica, then dig up its context. It's a huge painting and also a masterpiece and in a sense it's also a speculative fiction painting.

    2- Be courageous and watch Korda's "Things to come" (1936) completely. It'll make you understand how a great many brits and the French were war-weary and expected WWII to be the end of civilization as they knew it, with cities being gassed from the air.


    The right wing in Spain paints the Hendaye conference as canny maneouvering on Franco's part to avoid getting caught up in the war. The left tells the story that Hitler was outraged at Franco's demands in exchange for his frankly underwhelming potential contribution, and just rejected him out of hand, despite Franco's eagerness to play. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle though I of course favour the "Dictators are greedy venal idiots" theory.

    Spain did send a division of "volunteers" to the eastern front. While many were true believers, others were relatives of political prisoners who were angling for pardons and better treatment in exchange for their service.


    Try these on Military channel in the US.

    History Exposed Sun 2/24 3PM ET

    Based on TiVo description it might cover the ghost army.


    Thanks. I'll watch it.


    "Things To Come" is an expression of Douhetism, the idea that the bomber would always get through and under the terror of bombing, organised life would collapse. The flip side of that is the Airmen. It's all air power as magic, destroying and remaking the world.

    You can see some of the same symbolism in Rex Warner's "The Aerodrome".

    By 1945 there was plenty of evidence that air power wasn't the magic people had thought, not even with the benefit of nuclear weapons. It has military advantages, allowing flexibility and concentration, but the politicians seem to want to deny all the evidence. They tack on new labels, call it something like "shock & awe", but it doesn't work.

    If you want regime change, better to train snipers than bomber pilots.


    I have a book written by one of the team working on "The Funny Fuze" which gives a lot of details on how it worked etc.

    Early on in the testing phase in 1942 they took some prototype AA fuzes to a new light cruiser which was being deployed to the Pacific so security would be tighter than testing on land. The cruiser's AA officer launched a radio-controlled drone that was used as a target for the AA gunnery teams and it was shot down after ten rounds of 5" AA fire. Another drone was launched and suffered the same fate. The officer in charge of the tests ordered another drone launched and was told there weren't any more. After all, the ship's gunnery officer explained, they never managed to shoot them down in regular practice with time-fuzed shells so they only had a limited number of drones on board.


    I don't think "Things to come" is an expression of classical Douhetism. If it has any link to Douhet's ideas it is in an extreme, radical one that changes many of the basic elements. In that film the bombed citizens are not cowed into surrendering. They are gassed, killed, exterminated. The survivors are again thinned out by a terrible plague. Civilisation collapses totally. There is no government, no structure left for surrendering.


    Relying on vague memory, wasn't Wells awfully keen on war in the air as Armageddon with gas as the ultimate weapon? To be fair, the British government did issue gas masks to all civilians at the start of WWII. There were gas masks for children and babies. Mass casualties were expected. And there were fears of possible civil disorder. Love the film. Didn't Ralph Richardson play a bravara role as a post collapse warlord? And there was a really cool Airman in black leather, I think. I'll have to look it up now.


    I read somewhere, maybe a coffee table book on the movie, that British audiences laughed when the bombers crossed the channel over England as it was considered absurd that an airplane that could do such a thing would ever exist.


    There might have been certain remote corners of Great Britain where a crass and ignorant public might have believed this but it is my impression of those times that the general public was well aware (through newsreels shown in cinemas and other means) of solid German planes that could easily cover those distances, like the Junkers G 24.

    And then, you also had flying boats that could cover thousands of miles in a single hop. Martin, Sikorsky and Boeing built hundreds in the US and Short built slightly less impressive models for the Empire.

    This made the prospect of generalised, global gas warfare and the end of civilisation all the more credible.


    A T T @ 73 Shouldn't that actually read ... "If you want regime change, better to train drone pilots than snipers." ??

    David L @ 77 GIven that a converted ex-bomber flew the Atlantic in 1919, no, your "story" is just that, a story, that no-one would have believed, and the public wouold have bcontrariwaise have believed, only too well, that bombers could do such things. After all, during WWI, there were several Gotha raids on Britain by the Lufstreikräfte, which, erm, "proved" the technology.


    it was considered absurd that an airplane that could do such a thing would ever exist.

    Ahem: my mother recounts having heard stories from her mother of what it was like to be bombed by a Zeppelin in 1916 (when $GRANDMOTHER would have been a young girl). Germany had bombers that could and did bomb England in 1917/18; more here.


    Also "Heros of World War II" / "The Men Behind D-Day"

    Military channel. Feb 25. 2PM ET.


    self @ 79, Charlie @ 80 My aunt remembered seeing the "Cuffley Zeppelin" (actually an SL-11) burning!


    I think you must be linking the memory to the wrong story, since Bleriot had crossed the Channel some three decades before. Maybe it was something from the Victorian era, such as 'The Battle of Dorking'?


    No. I owned the book. No longer. And it was a coffee table book about the movie. Saw it at one of those $1 book tables just after seeing the movie on cable back in the 80s.

    So after some digging...

    Here's the passage I've found via Google Books.

    Based on what I see there my memory wasn't all intact. It seems this guy was saying that the audiences just couldn't imagine an air campaign such as this.

    If you go to Amazon with the authors name, Christopher Frayling, it appears he's an author for hire. Seems he will write a book about almost anything if paid for it. So maybe his description of the incident isn't all that factually based.


    It occurs to me, having refreshed my memory of the film via youtube, that some audiences may have laughed at the appearance of the Airmen's bombers - streamlined flying wings, very 'futuristic' and unlike anything they would be familiar with. And huge, more like flying ships than aircraft.

    And, oh, as I remembered, The Boss (Ralph Richardson) and Mrs Boss (Margaretta Scott) are really the only vital characters in the film. The Airmen come off as arrogant sods. I kind of preferred the chaos of post collapse warlords to the gleaming white antiseptic future of the Airmen. Also, no trousers.


    As for proximity fuzes they used regular miniature valves

    I'm always surprised to remember that late-1930s electronics could stand being shot from a cannon, a good many kilogees with notably fast ramp-up.


    Well, if you want to get really historical Jean-Pierre Blanchard made the first aerial crossing of "La Manche" on the 7th of January 1785, with a Boston-born passenger aboard.

    Think of all the poison gas he could have carried if he hadn't taken that passenger.

    No wonder people were in fear of an aerial Napoleonic invasion!


    Well, Napoleon did have a balloon corps. Actually I'm surprised more use wasn't made of balloons for reconnaissance.


    I'm surprised more use wasn't made of balloons for reconnaissance.

    Balloons were used extensively for battlefield observation in the 19th century. Trouble is, an untethered balloon will drift away with the wind -- and without radio all you've got is line-of-sight communications (semaphore, basically), so the balloonists will be out of range within a short-ish period of time and thereafter have the headache of landing in unknown (possibly hostile) territory and retrieving their bulky and expensive vehicle.

    Tethered balloons were also used, with much more reliable results. However, once sufficiently accurate small calibre breech-loading artillery came along ... well, it's worth remembering that the first human-usable parachutes were developed for balloon observers. And by the Franco-Prussian war it was considered one of the more dangerous postings.


    ISTR that the last use of tethered balloons for observation was in WW1. I think we can all guess why!


    A quick glance at wikipedia shows you to be correct. Much more use of balloons than I'd thought. I had thought the potential for military use of balloons was largely ignored until WWI. Maybe that comes from reading the early Biggles stories, the ones where he's an RFC pilot, combat worn, two week life expectancy, smokes, gets involved with femme fatale German agent. That's before he turns to chaste homoerotic relationships, obviously. That's where I first learned of observation balloons and the risks RFC pilots took to shoot them down.


    In the US Civil War there were observation balloons with telegraph wires following the tethers.



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