Web links related to the Back of the Book program of April 20, 2009

It's Saturday night, May 2, 2009 21:13, and this Web page is finished. I've updated it with some of what I was talking about in terms of piracy on this program. Oh life is interesting enough without pirates!

Did you know that I've got a brief synopsis of many of the WBAI LSB meetings? Well, I do.

There was a sudden Town Hall meeting held on Monday, April 13, 2009, at 7:00 PM at The Fortune Society, 630 Riverside Drive at 140th St. in Manhattan. Here's a flyer that was passed out at the event.

The next regular WBAI LSB meeting should be on Wednesday, May 20, 2009, at a location to be determined.

There was a meeting of the WBAI LSB held on Thursday, March 26, 2009, at the 6th Street Community Center, 638 East 6th St. between Aves. B & C, in Manhattan.

We wrangled about the agenda, and we then went on to have a decent, productive meeting.

The General Manager gave more than one report, much of it written, and those of us on the National Finance Committee drove home the fact that WBAI and Pacifica are in very serious financial straits.

We created a working group to set up the LSB's next mandated Town Hall meeting. and we got comprehensive reports from the new Programming Committee. Unfortunately, the news they brought is not good.

The meeting went on for quite a long time. Faction operatives objected, but the long meeting allowed us to get things done. The faction isn't pleased when the LSB gets things done.

The LSB has voted to hold the rest of its meetings for 2009, on the following dates:

All of these meetings are set to begin at 7:00 PM.

WBAI has a program schedule up on its Web site. The site has gotten many of the individual program pages together to provide links and such, so check it out.

WBAI has an official Web stream of what's on the air at any time! You can go here and pick which type of stream you want! If this stream isn't working let me know. The stream was working at 9:55 PM last night.

WBAI is archiving the programs! Just go here and you'll be able to listen to the program any time for the next couple of months. When you first go to the Web page you'll only see the WBAI programs for the past 7 days. If you want to see older programs you can click on one of the “See ALL Shows” buttons.

Back of the Book is now one of the programs that you can download, as well as listen to on line.

I'm glad to announce that with a new person doing the archives there have been some positive changes. In the table on that Web page Back of the Book and Carrier Wave are both in the Show column. The “Date and Category” column shows the date of the program. After the program I go in and write the details of the program and say which program it is. Of course I'd recommend that you just listen to both programs in this time slot!

Pickles of the North talked about Earth Day. Here's a link to some activities happening in New York City over several days.

Well, it seems as if almost everyone on WBAI has been talking about the current crisis at the station.

Some will say that it started with the General Manager's E-mail in the wee hours of April 2nd. I think it started when WBAI was no longer able to support itself.

There have been memos back and forth about all of this over the past couple of weeks (all available here), and the faction that's rapidly losing its status of being currently in charge is screaming about how Pacifica Foundation interim Executive Director Grace Aaron is a bad guy. However, that faction doesn't address its failure to raise enough money for the radio station to continue its existence.

If WBAI were a stand alone entity it would have become insolvent in 2006. The station has been getting carried, financially, by the rest of the Pacifica Foundation stations for several years. Current Pacifica interim Executive Director Grace Aaron says that WBAI is currently a net drain on the finances of the Pacifica Foundation to the tune of about $30,000 a month. All together WBAI owes Pacifica between $800,000 and $1,000,000 at this time. Some people dispute the $1,000,000 figure, and say it's merely $800,000. Either way it's more than WBAI and Pacifica can afford.

This inability of WBAI to support itself was grudgingly accepted while the rest of the Pacifica radio network was able to raise enough money, but after the economic crash of the Fall of 2008, all but one of the stations fell short of their on-air fund raising goals for their Winter 'thons. As a result the Pacifica Foundation can no longer carry WBAI financially.

If something isn't done to reverse the downturn at WBAI the Pacifica Foundation stands a very high likelihood of becoming insolvent before the end of this year. After insolvency would come bankruptcy.

During the April 16, 2009, National Finance Committee meeting a member of the Pacifica National Board (PNB) said that the PNB meeting of April 24-26, 2009, would include a training period for the Directors that would educate them about what bankruptcy means and what the consequences of it would be for Pacifica.

One member of the National Finance Committee related an anecdote about a radio station in Fresno, California that had come upon hard times and had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. One of its creditors sued it and forced it into Chapter 7, involuntary bankruptcy, and had then bought all of its licenses to broadcast on all of its frequencies at what were described as “fire sale prices.”

There are serious vulnerabilities for the Pacifica Foundation if the situation with WBAI, at least, is not turned around.

You can probably hear some of the in person PNB meeting by listening here: Link to audio of the PNB meeting.

The bottom line is that, no matter what anyone says, no matter what anyone wants, things will be changing at WBAI this year. Whether the changes will happen because people within Pacifica make them happen or because a judge appoints a Receiver to reorganize and/or liquidate Pacifica's assets is an open question.

I'll report on what happens at this crucial PNB meeting on the next radio program, assuming that there is a next radio program.

We've been informed that we'll be pitching on the program of May 17/18. WBAI is in financial trouble and we hope that you'll help out. There is hope in general coming soon for WBAI, I think.

We hope that you'll pledge to WBAI while Back of the Book is on at that time.

If you listen to the radio program on tape or via the archives you probably won't be able to pledge during the program, but you can send us a check ahead of time. A regular one year membership is $25. So, if you can, please send a check made payable to “Pacifica/WBAI” and send it to:

R. Paul Martin
120 Wall St. 10th floor
New York, NY 10005

We are less than a month from the start of the next WBAI LSB election process. I hope that all of you will join WBAI as members and be not only eligible to vote in those elections but be able to run as candidates for the LSB. And I hope that none of you votes for any of the crumbbums who will run on the so called “Justice & Unity” slate.

And we hope that everyone who listens pledges or sends in a check.

I should also point out that we'll need help answering the phones. In order to answer the phones you'll have to get into the building. The building Management now requires that you get your name added to a list so you can enter 120 Wall St. So if you want to volunteer to answer phones for this 'thon you should call the WBAI switchboard at 1-212-209-2800 during business hours and let the folks in charge know you want to volunteer so they can put your name on the list. We always need more folks to answer the phones so if you want to volunteer to answer the phones for another program during this 'thon the above procedure is the way to do it.

Piracy on the High Seas

In the previous fortnight the attention of the world was focussed on the current crisis of piracy emanating from fragments of the failed state of Somalia.

I talked about the history of piracy on this program, as well as recent events.

Piracy is simply a form of theft, of banditry. We've probably had theft since before Homo Sapiens even existed. It has been observed that chimpanzees in the wild will steal from each other. They usually steal a piece of fruit or something from another chimpanzee, but sometimes a female will steal a baby from another female. Sometimes these thefts are accomplished by stealth, sometimes they're accomplished by force or the threat of force.

Some like to portray early Homo Sapiens as great hunters, boldly going forth and spearing wooly mammoths or something. In fact they were mostly scavengers. This appears to have been true of our homonid precursors too. Scavengers become adept at being able to notice where food, or something else they want, is and getting it. Scavengers that have evolved big brains, like Homo Sapiens, not only become good at noticing things, they can figure out ways of getting what they want even if there are significant difficulties involved in getting it. Ancient human beings inherited, and probably evolved further, an ability to acquire. This ability, so related to factors which aided in the survival of the species, causes problems once civilized societies rise and some people own things and other people want those things.

The ancient Greeks, Egyptians and other eastern Mediterranean civilizations were plagued by the “Sea People.” These were pirates, and probably the first group of pirates recorded in history. Later on the Roman Empire had to deal with all sorts of pirates after they had established the commercial part of their empire and needed to transport almost everything of value by ship.

For the past couple of millennia piracy has either flared up or been chronic in many places around the world. One of the main jobs of navies, when they're not waging war against other nation-states, has been to protect merchant shipping from pirates. Sometimes navies combined their power to wage what was effectively a war against pirates and their strongholds.

With improvements in naval engineering large wooden ships were able to traverse oceans and largely supplant the camel caravans that had brought exotic, and mundane, good from and to distant places around the world. Of course piracy cropped up. The names of some pirates of the 17th and 18th Centuries are still famous to this day. Pirates such as Blackbeard are still known, and maybe the most famous pirate of all was one Captain Kidd, although there are those who say that Captain Kidd got a bum rap.

The events which resulted in one of the most famous of these coalitions of navies, and subsequent destruction of long term pirates, began when Thomas Jefferson became President of the United States in 1801, and stopped paying tribute to the piratical formation of the Ottoman Empire called the Barbary Pirates. From 1801, to 1805, the still new United States of America waged what has become known as “The First Barbary War” against the Mediterranean pirates in defense of American shipping. It's from this war that the Marine Hymn gets the phrase, “To the shores of Tripoli.” The United States Navy had been joined briefly by a Swedish squadron during this undeclared war against the Barbary Pirates.

The Barbary Pirates stopped bothering American ships for a while, but then Napoleon rose to power in France and Europe was at war. And then the United States and the British Empire got into what in American history books is called the War of 1812. The Barbary Pirates took advantage of the chaos and preoccupation of the various navies and resumed hijacking American ships and cargoes and either holding their crews for ransom or selling them into slavery. They also preyed upon the ships of other nations.

In 1815, all of the wars ended and first the United States Navy, in the “Second Barbary War,” and then the British, and Dutch navies largely destroyed the Barbary Pirates of the Mediterranean Sea. The pirates were finally put down by the French who simply took over their territories as colonies of France in 1830-31.

To complicate matters various nations at various times have even enlisted pirates into their navies or issued Letters of Marque to the owners of private vessels and termed them privateers in service to that nation-state. The Barbary Pirates mentioned above were a part of the Ottoman Empire. The Constitution of the United States of America has a provision that enables Congress to, “Grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.”

Then came World War I (1914-1918). In this war the German Empire of the Central Powers wanted to strangle the British Empire of the Entente Powers. Since Great Britain was a set of islands they had to rely on shipping in order to survive. And while the English channel provided them with a really good moat to keep the German Army away from them they were also vulnerable to that strategy used for thousands of years against walled and moated enemies, the siege, which in naval terms is called a blockade. The Royal Navy had initiated a traditional long range blockade of Germany as well.

The German Navy couldn't compete with the British Royal Navy in terms of big sea fights of surface ships, so they used the relatively new naval weapon the submarine, called Unterseeboots by the Germans and u-boats by English speakers, these vessels radically changed naval warfare.

The u-boats sank or captured a lot of shipping that was being sent to the British. No one knew how to deal with them for quite a while. They could sneak up on a merchant ship and then surface and either take the ship as a prize of war or sink the ship. At first the u-boat captains were chivalrous and would board the ships and be very courteous and would get everyone off the ship and just open up the kingston valves and let the ship sink. But if the u-boat was caught on the surface it was usually out gunned by the destroyer or other ship that it faced. The u-boat captains became more wary as time wore on because they were getting caught and sunk on occasion. After a while they'd surface and sink the ship by firing shells from their deck gun into the ship's hull at the water line and sink it that way. Torpedoes were expensive and the u-boat didn't carry very many of them. Torpedoes were reserved for prime targets or dangerous situations, not for crummy looking merchant ships that could be sunk with a few shells from a 75 mm gun. It took a while for the ship to sink that way but it was usually a lot faster than just opening the kingston valves. The less time that a u-boat spent on the surface near a ship it was sinking or capturing the less likely it was to be caught by the patrols that were out looking for it. There were no submarine detection devices like SONAR or RADAR in those days, so you hunted submarines by looking for evidence of them on the surface.

The British were getting seriously low on supplies and they were losing ships at a rate that they couldn't sustain. Since there was no efficient way to hunt down the submarines on the open seas the Royal Navy came up with something they called the Q Ship. Basically, the Q Ship was an older merchant ship or something else that looked either tempting as a target or at least non-threatening to a u-boat that had been retrofitted with some serious naval artillery.

The basic idea was that the Q Ship would cruise through waters where it was suspected that u-boats were lurking and would tempt the u-boat to surface to either announce itself or start shooting. Immediately upon sighting the u-boat some members of the crew of the Q Ship would get into lifeboats appearing to abandon the ship. As the u-boat came closer the remainder of the crew would rush into action and the hidden naval guns would be uncovered as fake lifeboats were slid away or the sides of the ship opened up to reveal larger guns than the u-boat had. If the u-boat was close enough machine guns raked her open decks. The Q Ships would have cargoes of lumber of cork so that they would be hard to sink even if hulled at the waterline.

The British, French and American navies had Q Ships during world War I. Ironically, the Germans declared them to be pirate ships.

With the initiation of unrestricted submarine warfare by the German Empire in 1917, Q Ships were just torpedoed before they knew what hit them. So although they were somewhat effective for a while they were not a long term solution.

In the recent incident of the temporary pirating of the MV Maersk Alabama and the holding hostage of that ship's captain for five days the media were trumpeting this as the first United States flagged ship to be captured by pirates in 200 years. Well, that's not quite the case.

SS Mayaguez 1975
SS Mayagüez and two Khmer Rouge gunboats

Photograph courtesy of U.S. Air Force

In May 1975, the American flagged container ship SS Mayagüez was seized in international waters by elements of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge. Cambodia was suddenly claiming parts of the recognized international sea lanes as their own. The new Communist regime of Cambodia was not recognized by the United States, or many others, and so this was pretty definitely a piratical operation by the Khmer Rouge.

The crew of the SS Mayagüez was removed “for questioning” by the Khmer Rouge, formerly the Communist Party of Kampuchea. The Khmer Rouge had recently taken over Cambodia and had renamed it Democratic Kampuchea in one of those propaganda word reversals that authoritarian regimes enjoy so much, e.g. the so called Democratic People's Republic of Korea which also has no resemblance to anything democratic.

The Khmer Rouge was headed by the infamous Pol Pot who led his Stalinist ideologues into murdering about 20% of the population of Cambodia over the course of the Khmer Rouge's four year reign of terror.

So with these Americans being taken off an American ship in international waters President Jerry Ford authorized a military operation to get them back safely. Some of the Khmer Rouge gunboats were sunk by air attack when they refused to stop forcing the SS Mayagüez towards Koh Tang island, just south of Cambodia.

The Khmer Rouge had taken the crew off the ship and then had spirited them away from the island, but the United States intelligence services and military didn't know that. The ship was taken to Koh Tang island, just south of Cambodia.

The Marines and Air Force attacked the island which to their surprise turned out to be a Khmer Rouge military stronghold. There were fierce battles in which the greatly out numbered Americans had to face an enemy that was not only familiar with the jungle island but also had emplacements to operate from. After a while the crew members of the SS Mayagüez were found in a fishing boat where they had been taken. During the course of this rescue operation some American aircraft crashed and some were shot down. Fourteen Marines were killed or missing (three of whom were apparently left behind in the chaos of a night evacuation under fire), two Navy corpsmen were killed, and two Air Force crewmen killed. Thirty-five Marines and 6 airmen were wounded.

The United States Navy recovered the SS Mayagüez and towed it back out to sea.

And then we get to the 21st Century. The nation-state of Somalia disintegrated into a tribal mess some years ago. The coasts of that troubled land have become the most pirate infested waters in the world.

These Somali pirates have been operating for years now, but since they are getting multi-million dollar ransoms for people and ships they have become an investment option for some shady characters, possibly including Al Quaeda.

The pirate chiefs are not exactly distributing the wealth. They're building mansions among the cardboard shacks of their local cities. They're causing inflation that's hurting the honest Somalis who aren't engaged in high price piracy. And in one instance a pirate who was interviewed by the New York Times told about how he'd been arrested but his clan had broken him out of jail, killing two policemen who had been on guard duty at the time.

Something that doesn't seem to be so generally known is that there was already a fatality among those being held hostage by the pirates. The news stories tend to say that the hostages are treated well, but one Taiwanese sailor died under unclear circumstances while being held by the pirates.

french capture pirates
French Naval units capturing Somali pirates

Photograph courtesy of French Navy

The French Navy has mounted a number of rescue missions over the past several months, killing a few pirates in the course of those operations. Their most recent rescue operation unfortunately also resulted in the killing of one of the hostages.

The French are also capturing pirates on the high seas and taking them to France for trial. The French government has a policy of not allowing French citizens to be taken to the Somali mainland by the pirates, and they've moved to stop kidnappings where the intent is clearly to bring hostages ashore.

A couple of months ago a warship from the Indian Navy sank a pirate ship that had fired on it.

And then there was the pirate attack on the MV Maersk Alabama on April 8th, at about 7:30 AM, 280 miles east of the notorious pirate city of Eyl. The ship was carrying tons and tons of food to the starving people of Africa, as part of a United Nations mission. As we all know the crew managed to take back the ship. The captain of the ship was giving the pirates a powered lifeboat to leave in when they decided to take him hostage. The crew had seized one of the pirates. The crew reached an agreement with the pirates to exchange the pirate they had for the captain of the ship. But after the crew let the pirate go the pirates reneged on the deal. As one commentator on TV said, “Of course they didn't hold up their part of the bargain they're pirates!”

Luckily the fast thinking crew had given the pirates some adulterated fuel for the lifeboat and so the pirates didn't get very far before the little boat's engine seized up and it was just floating in the water. Thus began a five day standoff with the pirates threatening to kill Captain Richard Phillips if their demands weren't met.

The crew had called for help and the destroyer U.S.S. Bainbridge responded. Ironically, that destroyer is named after Captain William Bainbridge who had served in the two Barbary Wars and who had been held hostage by the Barbary Pirates for 2½ years during the first of those wars.

At one point the pirate leaders on land were saying that they had dispatched some of their “mother ships” to go rescue the pirates who were holding Captain Phillips from the Americans. Yeah, that would have been an interesting battle. More American warships had arrived and I don't think that the pirates were going to be able to get past them. Of course the “mother ships” were actually ships that had already been hijacked by the pirates and one had hostages aboard, so it could have been somewhat complicated had the pirates actually made a move to get their pals, and the American hostage, onto the “mother ships” and off to the pirate stronghold.

The F.B.I.'s negotiations with the pirate leaders on land broke down when the pirates were adamant that the only solution to the standoff that they would accept was the release of their fellow pirates who would then take Captain Phillips to a pirate city in Somalia where new negotiations could begin over the size of the ransom that would be paid for his release.

As it turned out President Obama followed in Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison's footsteps and ordered the pirates dealt with, not bought off.

Navy Seals were given the go ahead to use deadly force if the captain's life was in danger and if they could get a clear shot.

The result was three dead pirates, one captured pirate and one safe American captain.

The pirates have since announced that they will now “slaughter” all American or French crew members found on any ships they seize.

One problem that's shown up is that the NATO nations on patrol are adhering to the letter of some law that seems to either be ridiculous or badly misinterpreted. There have been a number of incidents where NATO ships have found pirates, sometimes even attacking ships, but have had to let them go because they lack legal authority to arrest them! In one case a naval vessel actually rescued and released some pirates when their boat sank. This is absurd.

Given these new threats, and given the increasing boldness and capabilities of the Somali pirate warlords something needs to be done.

One thing to try is Q Ships, as mentioned above. These wouldn't have to roll out lumbering naval artillery pieces. They could just have strategically placed mini-guns that could pop up to annihilate the approaching pirate speed boats and their crews. I don't think that an entire Phalanx system would be necessary. A serious complement of heavily armed Marines on board would help to deal with any pirates that might need mopping up.

Maybe, since we don't appear to be needing to take out Soviet/Russian boomers as much as we used to, an attack submarine could follow the Q Ship in order to deal with any pirate “mother ships” that might show up.

Unfortunately, the real way to stop this piracy is quite costly and difficult. History has shown that you can temporarily eliminate the pirates on the water but after a while they'll show up again if the conditions that allowed them to flourish in the first place remain.

In the short term those pirate headquarters on shore need to be demolished. Targeting some of those mansions that the pirates have could be a start. Aerial bombardment of their headquarters would probably have a good effect if combined with assaults on their operations at sea. But after that there needs to be serious attention paid to creating a responsible nation-state in Somalia. And I don't mean some medieval, Sharia law atrocity that will become its own problem a few years down the line, either.

How to get the failed Somalian nation-state to reassemble itself is a question I don't have the answer to. Simply throwing money at the problem won't work. Neither can you shoot people into entering modern society and abandoning their tribal culture of thuggery. But if you essentially pay them to be pirates they will certainly keep on doing that and will not be motivated to explore other areas of endeavor.

are these dolphins defending this Chinese ship?
Are these anti-piratical dolphins?

Well, piracy is a serious issue, but even a serious issue will occasionally have something humorous associated with it.

Here we see what the official Chinese government press claims is a photograph of dolphins defending a Chinese merchant ship against pirates.

Well, it's just a bit bizarre. But there were reportedly also Chinese Navy warships defending the merchant ship, so could they have maybe played a role in driving away the pirates?

Presumably this photograph was taken by one of the Chinese Navy warships. The only other place it could have been taken from would be one of the pirates' boats and I don't think they'd be all this cooperative.

Some have wondered if maybe some computer graphics software was used to insert a photograph of dolphins into a photograph of the ship. I can't speak to that, but the whole thing, on the heels of the publicity attending the successful rescue of Captain Richard Phillips last week, is really an example of “me too-ism” on an international scale.

There are a lot of issues that are considered hazardous to talk about on the air at WBAI, even now that the gag rule has been lifted. However, there is the Internet! There are mailing lists which you can subscribe to and Web based message boards devoted to WBAI and Pacifica issues. Many controversial WBAI/Pacifica issues are discussed on these lists.

Probably the most popular list that's sprung up is the “NewPacifica” mailing list. This one is very lively and currently includes over 400 subscribers coast to coast.

Being lively, of course, it sometimes also gets a bit nasty. All sorts of things are happening on this list and official announcements are frequently posted there.

You can look at the NewPacifica list here, and you can join the list from that Web page too. If you subscribe to the “NewPacifica” mailing list you will receive, via E-mail, all of the messages which are sent to that list.

There is the option to receive a “digest” version of the list, which means that a bunch of messages are bundled into one E-mail and sent to you at regular intervals, this cuts down on the number of E-mails you get from the list. You will also be able to send messages to the list.

This list also has a Web based interface where you can read messages and from which you can post your own messages.

There is also the more WBAI specific “Goodlight” Web based message board. It is sometimes referred to on Back of the Book as “the bleepin' blue board,” owing to the blue background used on its Web pages. This one has many people posting anonymously and there's also an ancillary “WBAI people” board that's just totally out of hand. UPDATE: The bleepin' blue board has had to add a step for folks to get onto it because it's under attack by spambots. When you click on the above link you may be asked for a username and password. Type in Username: poster Password: enternow

When the computer in Master Control is working we sometimes have live interaction with people posting on the “Goodlight Board” during the program.

Our very own Uncle Sidney Smith, whose program Carrier Wave alternates with us, has a blog these days. You can reach his blog here.

My voice mail number at WBAI is 212-209-2996. Leave a message.

You can also send me E-mail.

WBAI related links

WBAI Listeners' Web page

WBAI Management's official Web site

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The contents of this Web page are copyright © 2009, R. Paul Martin.