Web links related to the Back of the Book program of April 19, 2010

It's Sunday morning, May 2, 2010, 09:30, and this Web page is finished. I've put in more about what we talked about on the program. Previously I'd updated this page to show that the April 29, LSB meeting was cancelled, and I'd updated it with something about getting my hearing back, added information about the upcoming 'thon and an explanation of what a mysterious photograph was about, and I'd put in a direct link to the archive of this radio program. Yes, the archives are starting to work again. We've gotten the older programs posted again. The original top of this page follows the arrow. ⇒ So there's a lot of talk about nuclear weapons and nuclear materials these days. We'll join in on that. We'll also talk about my travails with time pieces, and we'll see if we can get some science stuff in there too.

Did you know that I've got a brief synopsis of many of the WBAI LSB meetings? Well, I do, and I've updated this stuff a bit pretty recently.

The next regular WBAI LSB meeting will be held on April 14, 2010, Thursday, April 29, 2010, Wednesday, May 12, 2010, at 7:00 PM at a location to be announced.

Here's a full report on the February 25, 2010, WBAI LSB meeting. It happened in the midst of a blizzard and the faction had a majority at it. There was another WBAI LSB meeting on March 10, 2010. The faction was better behaved than usual at this one.

At its January 21, 2009, meeting the LSB voted to hold its meetings on the second Wednesday of every month and/or the last Thursday of that month, subject to change by the LSB, which gives us the following schedule:

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 11:21 PM last night. They have switched the server from Virginia to Texas, so that may have something to do with various problems. They have a new Flash stream here, make sure you enable Javascript so it can work for you.

Please note that the archives had a problem on April 14, 2010. But the archive for this program was never affected, and the Back of the Book programs for the past 90 days have been restored.

WBAI is archiving the programs! Just go here and you'll be able to listen to this program any time for the next couple of months. You may need to scroll up one line to see the audio archive. Let me know if you find this feature useful.

If you want to listen to any part of the WBAI archive click here to go right to the archives. 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.

You can also go here to subscribe to the podcasts of Back of the Book and Carrier Wave.

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 the archives have seen 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!

The Pacifica National Board (PNB) met in New York City from Friday July 23, to Sunday July 26, 2009.

The meeting was held at the Beekman Towers Hotel, 3 Mitchell Place, in Manhattan, a couple of blocks north of the United Nations.

There was an election going on in Pacifica, so there were a few candidates attending and speaking during the public comment sessions. Some disrupted the meeting.

Here's the Web page I did about this PNB meeting and the amazing things that went on at it.

And the PNB has also met in Houston from Friday October 9th, through Sunday October 11th. The official audio archive of that meeting is here. It was not disrupted as the New York meeting was, although some of the same miscreants got out there to say stupid things.

The new Executive Director of Pacifica, Arlene Engleheart, has appointed a new interim General Manager of WBAI starting February 1, 2010.

On our May 17, program, Back of the Book will be participating in the WBAI 2010, Spring 'thon.

WBAI is in financial trouble and we hope that you'll help out. There is hope for WBAI now that some important changes have been made. The Spring 'thon needs to make money so we can stay afloat into the Summer.

We hope that you'll pledge to WBAI while Back of the Book is on the air in the wee hours of May 17.

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. If you want to send more than $25 that would be great. 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

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.

The ear, from Gray's Anatomy, 1918
The ear, with the Eustachian tube highlighted
photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

On some previous programs I went on about a problem I've had with my right ear. I'm glad to say that before this program that problem finally got resolved.

In the illustration on the left, from the out-of-copyright 1918, edition of Gray's Anatomy, I've highlighted the Eustachian tube, which the illustration labels the “Auditory tube.” The Eustachian tube doesn't hang open like that, it's really closed by a rather complicated bit of flesh, and that was probably where my problem started.

Last November I just woke up one day and my right ear felt clogged up and I couldn't really hear well at all out of it. I had about an 80% or more hearing loss in that ear. I've had this sort of thing happen before and it's usually gone away pretty soon. This time, however, I also had a very pronounced tinnitus to go along with the clogged feeling. I have since learned that if you experience a sudden hearing loss you should go to a doctor or hospital right away to see if they can do something about it. If you wait more than a few days the odds of the doctors being able to recover your hearing go way down.

There are all sorts of sudden hearing loss, some of the causes are just medical mysteries. Again, getting to a doctor as soon as possible is important if you want to get your hearing back.

Of course this happened to me early last November. I thought the problem would just go away. It didn't. We didn't want to go to an emergency room because of the possible costs involved, so I made an appointment with the V.A Hospital and we got seen in mid-January. Oh, that wasn't as soon as it should have been.

So the doctor examined me with an endoscope and prescribed some nasal spray (Fluticasone Propionate) in case there was a Eustachian tube blockage. He also scheduled me for an audiology test where they test your hearing in various ways and measure any extra pressure on your ear drum, which can affect your hearing.

I could tell that the hearing test wasn't going well while it was happening. This got confirmed in February when we got to see a different doctor at the V.A. Hospital. This doctor confirmed that the audiology test showed serious hearing loss, but he said he couldn't see any fluid in the ear when he looked. He did confirm that this sudden deafness wasn't the result of the Ménière's disease that I've had since college, which was good news because that form of deafness is permanent and untreatable.

This doctor really just wanted us to go away. But Pickles of the North and I didn't relent and so he sent me for a CAT scan. We got that done and in early March we went back to see a third doctor.

This doctor said that the CAT scan showed fluid in the ear, she also said that I'd suffered irreversible neurological hearing loss. But she said that the hearing might get better if we got that fluid out of the middle ear. She, and the second doctor whom she'd called in to consult, recommended a myringotomy, where they poke a hole in your ear drum and put a tube in the hole in order to drain the Eustachian tube.

Well, I balked at getting a hole poked in my ear drum. They do it to kids a lot these days, but kids are able to heal a lot better than old men are.

So we said we'd think about the myringotomy.

About a month later I noticed that the nasal spray was still about half full, even though it had a metered spray and it was a one month supply. I figured that the spray mechanism wasn't putting out enough medication. So I sprayed more than I was supposed to. Maybe I got an overdose of the stuff, or maybe I got the right amount in the right place at last. In any event one day I got up and I was suddenly able to hear out of my right ear again!

I still have a huge tinnitus in the right ear, but at least I can hear pretty much as well as I could before all of this started. So I'm glad of that. If this happens again I'm sure as hell going to go see a doctor right away about it!

My wristwatch in pieces
My wristwatch in pieces that wouldn't go back together

Oh, this was a little project that took up a lot more of my time over the past fortnight than I'd planned! It was also pretty depressing as what should have taken maybe fifteen minutes took a week to get done.

What you're looking at on the right is my wristwatch, in several pieces, the batteries that should power it and some of the tools I was using to try and get the new battery installed.

Since I was a kid I'd wanted a digital wristwatch that would tell me the time in 24 hour mode, and tell me the day and date. Well, this old Casio Alarm Chronograph does exactly that.

I'd had a similar wristwatch from the early '80s. But one night in late 1986, while The Evil Morelab and I were in the midst of wrestling in the Reception area at the station the strap on that watch broke. Since the rubbery strap was integral to the rubbery case I couldn't wear that watch again. I did use it for some time as a sort of pocket watch, after I'd cut the useless remains of the strap off it.

So I bought my current wristwatch some time in the late '80s. Maybe it cost $20 or so. I've replaced its strap two or three times and I replaced its first 3 volt lithium battery once.

My casio watch
My watch 9/6/09

Having replaced the battery once I figured it'd be easy to do it again. Well, that didn't turn out to be the case.

When I'd previously changed batteries in this watch I'd puzzled over how to do it for a while. And then I just grabbed the dead battery with a pair of needle nose pliers and yanked it out from under the clip that was holding it in. Then I'd managed to slip the new battery into that same space. People charge handsome sums of money to change watch batteries, sometimes more than what I'd paid for this wristwatch. I was pleased that I'd saved some bucks.

So when my wristwatch had no display on its face last year, as can be seen by the photograph on the left, I decided that I'd go through the same slip out, slip in procedure as I'd done years ago and take digital photographs of the steps and post them on the Web site in case anyone wanted to change their own watch batteries. That had been something I'd thought about doing right after I'd managed to get the battery swapped out the last time, but I didn't have a digital camera then.

Well, last year procrastination entered the scene and I didn't get around to actually opening up the watch case until this past fortnight. And then I was in for several surprises.

One surprise was that my eyesight has deteriorated rather a bit since the last time I changed the batteries in that wristwatch. Even with reading glasses on I couldn't make out a lot of the details of what was where among the watch guts. My reading glasses, which are significantly stronger than they'd been the last time I'd changed the battery, just couldn't get me to the point where I could see well enough what I was doing, so magnifying glasses of various sorts got employed for this adventure.

The other surprise came when I tried to remove the dead battery and the entire inside of the watch came flying out of the watch case! Oh, what fun.

When I went to slip the new battery in it just wouldn't go. I tried getting it in a bunch of times, and was quite frustrated. And then I found that the attempts to slip the battery in had dislodged a metal piece that connects the negative pole of the battery to the watch. I had loads of fun getting that in, and it never really stayed put after that.

I had seen that a part of the watch that went over the top of the battery looked as if it was just held on by some prongs and I wondered if I could take that part off and get the battery in more easily. So I looked around all over the Web for anything that might suggest that this was the case. There are a lot of Casio wristwatch collectors out there. But they're collectors. They're not interested in low end wristwatches that were cheap decades ago. But I did manage to find one guy's video where he replaces the battery in a much more recent version of a Casio watch and in this video he shows that the piece I was wondering about, which is present on that newer watch as well, does indeed come off!

Casio watch guts
Together at last? Not really.

Well, I popped the clip off and still had loads of problems getting the battery to simply sit on the watch while I tried to put the clip back on. I spent days trying to get this to work. It looks like I'd bent some of the prongs that keep the battery aligned, so I bent them back. I was always finding that the little piece that connects the negative pole of the battery had dislodged again, and I was of course hampered by not being able to actually see a lot of the detail with any precision. Sometimes I'd seem to get the watch and battery all together properly but the watch display didn't turn on.

At one point I not only got the pieces all together but the watch display was on. I thought I'd gotten it all done at last. But upon closer inspection I found that one of two springy parts was trapped under the clip. I think that the two springy things help to keep the watch in line inside the case and also connect to a piezoelectric lining that constitutes the watch's alarm. So if the alarm went off I could have current flowing through the springy things and that would probably short something out if the springy thing remained trapped under the clip. That's the condition the watch is in in the photograph on the right. So I took it all apart and started over yet again.

And time and time again I had various parts slip out of my fingers, or springy clips went flying and then I had to search for small parts on the floor or wherever. Oh, for a while it seemed like I was never going to get this wristwatch back together again.

Eventually I decided that I'd just try cutting tiny pieces of cellophane tape to keep that one part that connected the battery's negative pole to the watch in place, which was risky because the tape might screw things up. But I figured that before I tried taping anything down I should give it one final try at reassembly without the tape. I made that final try, and it worked! I got the watch guts back together, with the battery in, and the display was on. So I put some silicone grease on the rubber gasket that helps the watch resist water and I put it all together and now I've got my watch back. I did leave out one part that went between the watch guts and the case, but that part was broken and was just not going back in. So far its absence doesn't appear to be causing any problems with the watch.

So I once again have my wristwatch back and at least that problem isn't depressing me anymore.

Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, 11:02 AM
The most recent use of an atomic bomb as a weapon

For quite a few years I have said that nuclear proliferation is the most important international issue. This was even obvious to me when I was still in high school back in the 20th Century.

So I was glad to see the issue being addressed by a collection of international leaders at the President's nuclear non-proliferation summit. I'm not sure that the President's announcement of a new policy that the United States will refrain from nuking just anyone, with exceptions, is the best idea. The ambiguity of previous American nuclear policy has a few things to recommend it, not least of which is that it would keep some leaders of nation states guessing about whether they might get away with some hostile act against the United States or whether they might get fried for it. Most idiots leading nation states at least have some sense of self preservation.

The political structure of the Earth since August 1945, has been in large part determined by the existence of nuclear weapons. I know that some people don't like to hear that, and that some are still locked into the slogan “Ban The Bomb,” but I do not think that “The Bomb” can be banned.

After World War II America and its western allies rapidly demobilized. The Soviet Union kept an enormous land army and was in a position to take over all of Europe, much as their former ally Nazi Germany had done. In fact Joseph Stalin tried to force America, Great Britain and France out of Berlin in 1948, after that failed he and his successor dictators kept up the pressure to push the Allies out of Berlin through the '60s.

Without nuclear weapons would World War III have followed on the heels of World War II? It's entirely possible. The Soviet Union had more soldiers, more tanks and more combat aircraft in Europe or on its eastern periphery than anyone else, and most of Europe was in really bad shape after World War II. No European country could have successfully resisted invasion by the Soviet Union at that time. But Stalin and his successors had to factor in the possibility that the United States of America might use atomic bombs against their huge infantry/armor juggernaut, and maybe even their cities, if they started a new war.

So instead of World War III the world ended up with the Cold War, where the nuclear armed superpowers maneuvered for position but never unleashed full scale war on each other, settling instead for proxy wars and the occasional armed conflict with the other side's lesser allies.

Atoms for Peace postage stamp
Eisenhower's Naive Hope

Even back in the Cold War days there were problems regarding nuclear proliferation. In the '40s and '50s making atomic bombs was just technologically unfeasible for any but the largest nation states. But after a while the genie started oozing out of the bottle.

President Eisenhower announced the “Atoms for Peace” program in December 1953. It was supposed to provide research facilities and nuclear reactors to various “friendly” countries so they could produce what was then viewed as cheap electricity. Of course some countries regarded the Atoms for Peace program as an opportunity to jumpstart their own acquisition of nuclear weapons. In 1974, India, using knowledge and material obtained from its participation in the Atoms for Peace program, exploded its first atomic bomb. Other nation states that can't feed their own populations have been following suit ever since.

Of course in the Cold War the superpowers used their nuclear arsenals to get their way. At one point in the '50s, Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev installed medium range ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads in East Germany, and he used threats of launching these weapons against the capitals of Europe to bully his way around for a while.

Some had realized that nuclear weapons in the hands of people even less stable than the leaders of the superpowers would be dangerous for the entire world. In 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was signed. It was a nice idea, but it certainly didn't prevent nuclear proliferation.

North Korea seems to have gotten help in developing its atomic weapon from Pakistan's Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan who had honed his skills in getting around international safety measures and nuclear non-proliferation agreements during his drive to develop Pakistan's own atomic arsenal. Dr. Khan had set up what amounted to a black market of nuclear weapons technology, a sort of kit that required some assembly. He seems to have sold the technology, and some materials, to Iran, North Korea and Libya. Libya decided to opt out of this dangerous game in 2003, North Korea and Iran continue to play it.

India and Pakistan share a common border, have nuclear weapons and have ballistic missiles which can deliver those nuclear weapons. They have also fought a number of wars against each other and still have simmering disputes that result in periodic bloodshed.

Early in the Cold War, after the Soviet Union was able to make deliverable atomic bombs, a decision by one superpower to attack the other would have been followed by the launching of manned bombers that would have taken hours to reach their destinations, giving the superpower that was being attacked plenty of time to decide what to do, and those bombers could be called back.

Eventually both superpowers deployed ICBMs and this reduced the window between the launch of a weapon and its impact to about 38 minutes. This still gave each side some time to decide if they were in fact being attacked and decide what to do next. We know from various anecdotes that there were times during the Cold War when flocks of geese or the rising Moon showed up on radar screens and caused alarm among those who were tasked with defending against nuclear attacks. With the 38 minute window they had enough time to figure out that there was no attack in progress and that there was no need to launch retaliatory counter strikes.

With India and Pakistan there would only be an interval of a minute or two between the detection of a missile launch and the detonation of a nuclear weapon over its target. That is not enough time to assess a situation. One side mistakenly thinking the other had launched a nuclear attack would have almost no time to double check before they had to either launch a counter attack or risk having their ability to retaliate destroyed.

For a fictional treatment of what could happen when nuclear weapons are deployed by antagonists in close proximity to each other I recommend the movie The Bedford Incident (1965).

So Iran's leaders make speeches about wiping Israel off the map and destroying United States Navy fleets in international waters, and then they set about making bomb grade Uranium using knowledge and materials from Dr. Khan's black market bomb kits. Israel was also in the Atoms for Peace program. Although Israel has never demonstrated an atomic bomb it is widely acknowledged that they do have a nuclear arsenal. Israel has in the past bombed the containment building of what would have been an Iraqi nuclear reactor and has also bombed a nascent Syrian nuclear facility, which was probably constructed with help from North Korea and Dr. Khan's black market.

What if Iran nukes Israel? The Israelis would most certainly nuke Iran, but what would the scale of the retaliation be? Would Israel settle for a counterforce strike, against Iranian nuclear and military facilities, or would Iranian cities also perish under mushroom clouds? And what would follow after this? A whole lot of the world could get engaged in nuclear conflict precipitated by a nuclear attack in the Middle East.

Container ship in upper New York Harbor
How many containers is this ship carrying? What might be in them?

And then there's the possibility of groups like Al Quaeda, getting their hands on an atomic bomb. They wouldn't need to miniaturize the components, as has to be done in order to get an atomic bomb to fit into a missile warhead. They could get just get an aircraft, or a ship or even a packing container to carry the bomb, along with a suicide bomber, and they could blow up any number of places, including New York City. And that would be the ultimate chaotic consequence of nuclear proliferation. Unlike nation states, groups that attack with nuclear weapons would not have a definite center at which retaliation could be directed, and there would be no way to guarantee that the surviving leaders of the groups wouldn't do it again if they were successful. When any bunch of fanatics can obliterate a city at will the world as we've known it will cease to exist. Either civilization will implode, and the resulting breakdown of social order will plunge us into a dark age, or else truly draconian measures will be implemented by various governments to prevent any more such attacks.

The world changed after 9/11, and it can change even more profoundly if atomic war is waged by either nation states or fanatics or criminal gangs. Oh, this is going to be one interesting century.

On the last Back of the Book program we talked about a new species of pre-human being discovered in Siberia. On this program we talked about the fossil remains of another new hominid species being found, this time in South Africa.

This discovery was of the fossilized skeletal remains of a young boy about 4'2" tall, and a couple of other individuals, who lived between 1.78 million and 1.95 million years ago. Named Australopithecus sediba these pre-humans were possibly descendants of the older Australopithecus afarensis, the species made famous by the discovery of the famous skeletal remains named Lucy by paleoanthropologists.

This new species seems to fill in yet another piece of the pre-human puzzle, combining some features that are a lot like ours and other, more primitive, features that are ape like. Maybe some day scientists will be able to figure out the actual lineage of humanity, and of all of those pre-human species that proliferated for millions of years before our relatively recent arrival.

Some Brooklyn daffodils

Since we're still in early Spring with this program, mid-Spring starts tomorrow, I thought I'd post this photograph of some daffodils growing on someone's front yard in Brooklyn.

Pickles of the North and I were out walking the in the lovely April Spring weather during the past fortnight and I spotted these flowers. The main one was actually starting to go a little around its edges even as I snapped the photograph.

Of course the Middle Third begins on May 1. I'll be talking about that again on the next program, I'm sure. I think that the Middle Third, consisting of the months May, June, July and August, is the best time of the year. There's more sunlight, it's warmer, which I like, and the Sun sets after 7:00 PM. April as a prelude to the Middle Third is also fine, as long as it's not cold out.

So not all flowers are May ones, and April isn't only a month of showers.

Pickles of the North will insist on my getting out of the house a lot more this Middle Third, I'm sure. She tries to get my fat ass out the door for some light exercise every Spring and Summer. I really should listen to her on that score.

I posted a bunch of flower photographs on the Web pages for the programs last year and I'll probably do the same this year. What the hell, they're colorful, right?

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.

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