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FLASH For October 2003

greg goebel ( / public domain

* FLASH is an informal monthly publication of events, commentary, and amusements. None of the materials are protected by copyright and this publication may be freely redistributed and reused.

[1] ALL THAT JAZZ: Farming For Fish
[2] ON THE TUBE: Race For The Super-Bomb
[3] ALL THAT JAZZ: Time Spammer

[1] ALL THAT JAZZ: Farming For Fish

* The world's fisheries, it has been said, are the last domain of the hunter-gatherer. On land, all significant food production has been taken over by the garden, the farm, the ranch. At sea, people are still hunting for their meals, with such improved technology that environmentalists fear the mass extermination of many fish populations. At the same time, people are eating more fish than ever. Prices for seafood have risen in general over the past few decades, while prices for land-based animal products have fallen.

The solution to this quandary would seem obvious: raise fish in farms instead of going to sea to catch them. In fact, fish farming is booming, production volumes growing at an average rate of 10% a year since 1990, with a production of 36 million tonnes of fish and shellfish in 2000, with China the world leader. Half the seafood now eaten by Americans is farmed. The dark side of this shiny picture, critics charge, is that it obscures the fact that fish farming is an environmental disaster and the products it produces are not healthy to eat.

* Advocates of fish farming point out that modern mass aquaculture is in its infancy and there is much room for solution of such problems as exist. To be sure, there is nothing absolutely new about aquaculture. China's had it for thousands of years. All that is required is a pond, stocked with species of fish like carp that can put up with fairly brackish water and live happily on scraps of rotten vegetables and fruits. Nobody objects to such schemes, as these fish provide a useful nutritional supplement in poor rural areas and provide a valuable resource to developing nations.

Modern industrial aquaculture is, if you'll excuse the expression, a different kettle of fish. It began about three decades ago with the cultivation of salmon, and then went on to sea bass, flounder, halibut, sole, hake, haddock and sea bream. These species are much harder to domesticate than carp. Raising them demands a thorough knowledge of their lifecycles and careful attention to their living conditions, involving such factors as stocking densities, water quality, breeding conditions, health monitoring and maintenance, and nutrition.

Domesticating a fish species takes years of work and a great deal of research. There is substantial interest in farming cod in Northern Europe, for example, but it is a tricky fish to domesticate, since unlike many other fish, cod fry don't hatch with any reserves of nutrients and have to be cared for from the start.

Of course, simply creating an environment where captive fish can thrive is only half the challenge. The other half is truly domesticating the fish to tailor them to desired specifications, such as increased growth rates and fertility; more efficient conversion of food into body meat; resistance to disease; and tolerance of cold or poor-quality water. Selective breeding of tilapia, a freshwater herbivorous fish popular in the US, has resulted in a domesticated strain that grows 60% faster and is hardier than its wild cousins. There is considerable interest in genetically modified (GM) fish, but this work is in its infancy and nobody is farming GM fish just yet.

Fish farming has a double commercial impact. Not only does it increase supplies of fish, it also allows fish to be supplied to consumers on a consistent basis, which has had a great positive effect on consumer demand.

* Fish farming, then, has a strong appeal to the consumer, but it is also an irritant to activists. Fish are usually farmed in pens connected to large open bodies of water, and waste from fish farms, such as body wastes, dead fish, and uneaten food, can pollute the sea. Shrimp farming has a particularly bad reputation for destroying wetlands and mangrove swamps.

There are concerns that overdosages of antibiotics can have subtle long-term health effects, not only on the fish but on the people who eat them. Diseases may travel rapidly through the confines of fish pens, and fish often escape due to storms and other accidents, where they can infect wild fish stocks. In addition, if the fish that have escaped have been selectively bred or, eventually, genetically modified, they may overwhelm wild populations or dilute their genetics with domesticated genes, with unpredictable effects.

The bad environmental reputation of fish farming does seem to have a basis in fact, but steps can be, and in many places have been, taken to improve matters. Fish farmers have been developing new feed formulas that are more digestible and produce less waste, and have been trying to emphasize vaccines over expensive and troublesome antibiotics. Work is under way to breed more environmentally-friendly fish. Finally, in much the same way that an experienced aquarium keeper knows how to balance different species to keep the aquarium bubbling along smoothly, different species can be raised at fish farms to keep things clean, for example using tilapia to tidy up after shrimp.

To the extent that the critics acknowledge that better management can make fish farming more environmentally friendly, they point out that the whole concept still has a fatal underlying flaw. To raise carnivorous fish like salmon requires fish feed based on fishmeal, and the fishmeal is obtained by catching "industrial" fish from the wild. These are fish that would otherwise not be regarded as commercially useful, and so, the critics conclude, fish farming is not slowing down the depletion of wild fish stocks -- it's accelerating it by literally expanding the dragnet. This depletion also has the effect of taking away fish regarded as valuable in undeveloped countries, where people are hungrier and less fussy about what they eat, to help provide high-value fish steaks for the tables of consumers in wealthier countries.

In fact, the catch of industrial fish has been stable for decades. The reason for this is because fishmeal used to be included in animal feed, but that use has been steadily cut back, while use by fish farms has increased. This is only relatively good news, since the catch is still substantial, and all other things being equal, an increase in aquaculture will result in a greater need for fishmeal.

Advocates point out that all other things are not necessarily equal, and that the fishmeal content of fish food has been more than cut in half since 1972. It is now is only about 30% of the content. Other fishmeal substitutes, based on soya, rapeseed oil, corn gluten, and yeasts are under investigation. Furthermore, more fishmeal could be produced by further exploitation of "bycatch", the incidental but substantial unwanted fish picked up by the nets of marine fisheries.

Another side to the tug-of-war between critics and advocates of fish farming is that farming and ranching back on land have environmental impacts as well, and nobody challenges such activities, though there are those who try to see that they are better regulated and managed. Similarly, the question of whether fish farming can clean up its act boils down to, like it or not, effective government regulation. It is easier in concept to regulate fish farming, conducted in fixed pens, than marine fisheries, which do their business on the high seas. Of course, this also implies effective agreed-upon international standards in order to ensure that things are done according to the same rules everywhere. It's more bureaucracy, to be sure, but without it fish farming will never be able to achieve the potential that its advocates believe it is capable of.


[2] ON THE TUBE: Race For The Super-Bomb

* On 6 August 1945, three American Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers took off from Tinian Island in the Marianas chain. Some hours later the lead bomber, flown by Colonel Paul Tibbetts and named ENOLA GAY after his mother, led the three on a high-altitude pass over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. No great attention was paid on the ground to the intruders, since a serious attack on the city would have required a much larger force. The three bombers were judged likely to be on a reconnaissance mission.

At 9:15 AM, ENOLA GAY released its warload, one oversized bomb named "Little Boy". At a predetermined altitude the bomb detonated in a explosion orders of magnitude greater than that of any bomb ever used in war up to that time. A huge mushroom cloud swelled up over the city. Tens of thousands of Japanese were killed and the city center was levelled. Three days later, B-29s paid a similar visit to Nagasaki, with the B-29 BOCK'S CAR dropping a weapon named "Fat Man", of different design to Little Boy but with the same awesome explosive power. The atomic age had arrived. Japan surrendered a week later.

Back at the secret US atomic research establishment in the New Mexico deserts at Los Alamos, some of those who had worked on the "Bomb", as it would be presently known, were ecstatic. Dr. Edward Teller, a Hungarian expatriate to the United States, recollected later: "For some of us, on the whole, it was pure joy. We succeeded."

His colleague Hans Bethe, a German expatriate, was similarly delighted at first: "We have won the war, we have ended the war." Then the pictures came back of what the Bombs had done, and Bethe had second thoughts, finding the devastation "absolutely overwhelming" and concluding: "It must never happen again."

Many other physicists who had worked on the project agreed with Bethe, feeling that they had perverted their "beautiful physics". There was, however, another faction, Teller the most earnest among them, who now wanted to go on and develop a weapon whose destructive capability would dwarf that of the Bomb. They wanted to built a "Super-Bomb", which they nicknamed the "Super".

* For the moment, there seemed to be no need for such a monstrous weapon. The Axis powers had been crushed, American soldiers were coming home in floods and demobilizing, America was literally throwing weapons away, in some cases flying combat aircraft straight from the factory to the scrapyard. After the massive destruction of the Second World War it seemed hard to believe that anyone would want to start another round of fighting any time soon. Besides, though relations with the Soviet Union were getting steadily worse, America had the Bomb, nobody else did or seemed likely to in the near future, so what was the worry? The US held the ultimate power.

One of the men returning to the United States from the Far East was General Curtis LeMay of the US Army Air Forces, who had directed the B-29 offensive against Japan. He was reassured to drive down the tidy streets of the America Midwest, contrasting the peaceful order to the destruction that his bombers had wrought on every major Japanese city. Always a warrior, LeMay resolved that he would do everything in his power to prevent the disasters that had been suffered by Japan and Germany from happening to America.

Most of the physicists who had worked on the atomic bomb project were now going back to peacetime work. Edward Teller, however, felt that the job was not really done. He felt that the Soviet Union, under dictator Josef Stalin, was as big or bigger a threat as the Axis powers had ever been. The Bombs that the researchers had made at Los Alamos were "fission" weapons, powered by the breakdown of heavy atoms of uranium or plutonium, cascading in a chain reaction. What Teller wanted to do was build a "fusion" weapon, in which atoms of deuterium, or heavy hydrogen, were fused together by a fission explosion to release even greater amounts of energy. He was, in short, proposing a "hydrogen bomb".

In April 1946 Los Alamos conducted a conference on the Super. For the most part, the goal of the conference was just to document where the lab was on the issue before everyone departed. One of the lab's members in attendance was Klaus Fuchs, another German expatriate who was a British resident. Fuchs had been sent to New Mexico during the war, covered by assurances from British assurances that he was reliable. Fuchs found the idea of the Super interesting, and proposed ideas on how it might be made to work. All the ideas were discussed and documented, then the conference ended and people went their separate ways. Teller took an academic position in the US, Fuchs went back to Britain to continue weapons development work.

* Although the US was in retreat from its wartime posture as a military superpower, the Soviet Union was not. Josef Stalin had found the American development of the Bomb disturbing, particularly because they had actually used the thing. If they used it once, they would almost certainly use it again.

The Soviet Union had been conducting a nuclear weapons research program for the past several years. Given the need to crush Hitler's Germany, it was not and could not be a top-priority effort. Now that Hitler was dead and the Americans were arming themselves with nuclear weapons, the Soviet Bomb project went to the front of the priority queue, Stalin signing a degree to that effect in August 1945, only about two weeks after the American nuclear attacks on Japan.

The effort took priority over rebuilding the USSR's shattered cities. Soviet citizens might go homeless, but the Soviet Union would have their own Bomb as soon as possible, regardless of the expense or environmental damage. The effort was to be directed, appropriately enough, by Lavrenti Beria, head of the state security apparatus and one of the most unpleasant people in a regime not noted for its pleasantness. The massive project was pushed ruthlessly along, on the backs of forced labor obtained in mass from the state's network of prison camps, the Gulag.

The USSR had one major ace in the hole. They had the plans for the American atomic bomb, and so Soviet researchers would not have to go down blind alleys, wasting effort as the American researchers had. There had been at least three Soviet agents at Los Alamos, operating independently. Two were Americans, a machinist named David Greenglass and what amounted to a summer student, a teenager named Ted Hall. The most important of the trio was, however, Klaus Fuchs. British security had been negligent in recommending him to the Americans. Fuchs was bright crimson Red, having fled Germany in the first place because the Nazis were efficiently crushing the Communists. His family had been helping Jews escape. His sister committed suicide by throwing herself under a train while she was being pursued by the Gestapo.

Fuchs was a very valuable agent as he had been in the inner circle of operations at Los Alamos. Intelligence obtained by Greenglass and Hall was mostly used as a crosscheck to ensure that Fuchs wasn't providing false data. Fuchs was by no means finished with his service to the USSR, either. In 1948, he met with a Soviet handler in a London pub and passed on what he knew about the Super. He was out of the loop with the Americans, though, and did not know if the US had committed to build such a weapon.

That was not reassuring to Stalin. Back in the USSR, Igor Kurchatov, the bomb program's technical director, was alarmed by the notion of the Super. Kurchatov brought in more expertise, including the prominent physicist Igor Tam, to give the Super concept a good looking over. Tam assembled a group of his best students, prominent among them a handsome, bright, and earnest young man named Andrei Sakharov, to work on the problem. Sakharov had been asked to work on nuclear weapons twice before, and turned down the request both times. This time nobody asked him.

Despite his reluctance to work on a weapons project, Sakharov found the concept of a fusion bomb fascinating. Not only did he believe it was practical, in six months he came up with a new design of his own to do the job, called the "sloika (layer cake)". It consisted of concentric alternating spherical layers of deuterium and uranium. Conventional high explosives would implode the sloika, forcing the alternating layers of heavy and light elements together, resulting in a fusion explosion. In the meantime, off the Ural Mountains, Soviet researchers were bringing up the nation's first nuclear reactor, to breed plutonium for atomic weapons.

* In early 1948, the US was served notice that hopes for a peaceful postwar world order were unrealistic. Stalin ordered a blockade of Berlin, cutting off power and ground access to the city. The US and Britain organized an airlift to resupply Berlin by air, with transport aircraft arriving in precisely-planned schedules every few minutes over a period of eight months. Stalin had been outmaneuvered, given a taste of the material power of the Americans. He chose not to escalate the confrontation by interfering with the airlift.

That was gratifying back in Washington DC, but now government officials and politicians were beginning to wonder if the massive disarmament conducted after the end of the war had been wise. There was some comfort in the knowledge that the Soviet Union didn't have the technical capability to build an atomic bomb in the near future, or so many government officials believed.

Curtis LeMay didn't believe in sitting idly until the Soviets developed the Bomb. In the fall of 1948, he was assigned to take charge of the US Air Force's (as the Army Air Forces had become in 1947) Strategic Air Command (SAC). LeMay was determined to build up SAC into an unstoppable nuclear strike arm that could completely destroy any nation that dared attack the United States. LeMay started out with an organization characterized by bombers in a poor state of maintenance, crews with little or no training, and a generally wretched state of preparation.

He changed that as soon as possible. SAC personnel would work long hours, be on call around the clock, and LeMay would draw on enormous resources of money, effort, and expertise. If it came down to a great-power confrontation, SAC would win the war, and all the rest of the US military would serve a supporting role at best. In the nuclear age, SAC came first. SAC would be so intimidating that nobody would dare challenge the US. LeMay was creating America's first nuclear deterrent force.

If the unthinkable did happen, if somebody was crazy to attack the United States, then everything had to be in place on day one. There would be no time to build up forces, as America had in the first years of World War II. A nuclear war would be decided on the first day. There might not even be a second day.

The first SAC war plan was in place in 1949. LeMay's bombers would target 70 Soviet cities, military bases, and other sites with 133 nuclear weapons. US President Harry Truman was not enthusiastic about such plans, saying of the Bomb: "We will never use it again if we can possibly help it ... " -- and then went on to the unavoidable conclusion: "... but I know the Russians would use if they had it."

* That summer of 1949, Kurchatov and his researchers went to the steppes of Kazakhstan to complete preparations for the first Soviet atomic bomb test. It took place in August. The blast was kept a secret, but not long before the shot some American researchers had been prudent enough to suggest that Soviet nuclear activities needed to be monitored, even though the conventional wisdom was that the USSR wasn't close to developing a bomb. An organization was set up to do the monitoring.

Following the explosion, a B-29 carrying air filter systems picked up the airborne radioactive fallout from the test. After checking the samples carefully, on 24 September 1949, the Americans announced that the Soviet Union had detonated an atomic weapon. The announcement caught Stalin completely off guard. He had believed the secret could be kept, and the detection of the blast was another unsettling bit of evidence of the technical lead of the West, though in fact the Americans would have missed it if it had occurred much earlier. Very well, the cat was out of the bag, denials wouldn't have been believed, and so the Soviets admitted that they had tested a nuclear weapon.

If the Berlin blockade had been a wakeup call, the Soviet Bomb was a fire alarm. America had to mobilize to deal with the threat by all means short of an all-out shooting match. This state of belligerent armed peace would acquire a name: the Cold War.

In the fallout of the Soviet blast, Edward Teller decided it was time to put his Super on the table again. He worked through his contacts, spoke to the right people, and presently President Truman was being briefed on the matter. Of course Truman had no way to evaluate the credibility of the proposal by himself, and so in late October a committee was formed under the umbrella of the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to analyze the issue in detail and provide recommendations.

The committee was led by Robert Oppenheimer, who had been the technical director of the American Bomb project. The consensus that came out of the discussion was that committing to the hydrogen bomb was premature. It might not be technically feasible, and the US should focus on building up a stockpile of fission weapons instead. Two of the committee members, the prominent physicists Enrico Fermi and I.I. Rabi, went further and condemned the whole concept of the Super: "It is clear that the use of such a weapon cannot be justified on any ethical ground."

They summed it up simply as an "evil thing". Teller was furious. Many politicians and generals weren't happy with the recommendations, either. What if Stalin got the Super before the US did? Would not such a monstrous weapon render America all but defenseless? Truman was persuaded. In January 1950 he committed the US to development of the Super. Congress stood up and cheered when they got the news.

There was no cheering in the Kremlin. Beria promptly gave the go-ahead on full development of Sakharov's sloika weapon. Sakharov was transferred to a secret research city, named Arzamas-16, built on the grounds of a former monastery 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the east of Moscow. Arzamas-16 didn't appear on any map, nobody mentioned it, in fact the name itself was a postal drop. The researchers there had plenty of opportunity to focus on their work, in fact they didn't have any opportunity to do much else. They were not allowed to leave. Arzamas-16 was comfortable by Soviet standards, at the top of the queue for comforts, but it was essentially a prison. In the meantime, Los Alamos researchers were moving onto a wartime schedule, working six days a week. The race was on.

* Two days after Truman announced the commitment to development of the Super, newspaper headlines delivered another shock: Klaus Fuchs had confessed to being a spy and passing on nuclear secrets to the Soviets. His colleagues from his Los Alamos days were shocked, since they had been very impressed with Fuchs. Since Fuchs had kept up with developments since that time, everyone was even more shocked to realize that the Soviets had a very good idea of the state of nuclear weapons development in the West. The perceived Soviet threat underwent an immediate growth spurt.

The Los Alamos work on the Super was spinning its wheels, and finally in the summer of 1950 the net was thrown out to bring in the big guns. Hans Bethe refused to work on the Super, but Enrico Fermi did come back to Los Alamos to contribute his expertise. However, Fermi was actually hoping that he could prove that the Super was an impossibility. Teller later recollected: "When a man like Fermi told me: 'I hope you won't succeed.' -- that made me feel, to say the least, uncomfortable."

However, a Polish-born mathematician named Stanislaus Ulam made a significant step forward when he came up with schemes to simplify the complicated calculations needed to mathematically model a fusion bomb. Ulam and Fermi began to construct a series of models based on different assumptions, with the calculations performed by a roomful of female workers who crunched out tables of figures with mechanical calculators by hand. No doubt to Fermi's satisfaction, all the design concepts for the Super that had been considered up to that time turned out to be duds.

Teller, in his usual unambiguous way, remained optimistic, and suspected that Ulam was subtly sabotaging the models. However, Teller soon got a second blow. His old friend John von Neumann, another Hungarian expatriate, working at Princeton University, was using the latest vacuum-tube digital computer to do the same calculations in parallel with the Los Alamos effort. Von Neumann's work showed the Super concepts were duds, too. Teller didn't give up then either, but Hans Bethe, observing from afar, described Teller as being "very desperate" at that time. Teller was determined to come up with a Super concept that worked.

Teller would have felt at least partly vindicated, as well as highly alarmed, if he had known what was going on at Arzamas-16. The researchers there were working over Sakharov's sloika design, and it seemed to be looking better and better all the time. Confined to the research city, the scientists became totally involved in their work, and the fact that the project was on the top of the USSR's priority queue only increased enthusiasm.

Although the work at Arzamas-16 remained hidden from the West, at the beginning of that summer another incident further increased the fears of Westerners. On 25 June 1950, with obvious approval from Stalin, North Korea invaded South Korea. The United States was poorly prepared for the war and was forced back to a perimeter around Pusan, in the southeast corner of the country. An amphibious landing at Inchon in the northwest, commanded by General Douglas MacArthur, turned the tables on the North Koreans, who were badly bloodied and chased back to the northern border of their own country.

General LeMay's B-29s supported the conflict. He originally proposed fire-bombing all of North Korea's cities into ashes, a proposal that was greeted with "screams of horror" by his superiors. The B-29s were put to more limited use, pounding the perimeter around Pusan, then hitting industrial sites and bridges in the north.

As the war seemed to be drawing to a victorious close, the Chinese Communist regime of Mao Tse-Tung then sent large numbers of "volunteers" in to North Korea, turning the tables back on the Americans and their allies, sending them in rapid retreat. There were calls to use the Bomb and the matter was investigated. Even LeMay, always willing to use the biggest hammer he could get his hands on, didn't think it was a good idea. Smashing a country's infrastructure with nuclear weapons was one thing, trying destroy an enemy military force in the field, one which was well distributed and hidden, was another, like trying to use a sledgehammer against a cloud of gnats. Using nuclear weapons in such a scenario might very well fail, and if it did it would undermine the credibility of the nuclear deterrent. Performing an atomic campaign against all of Red China would make sense from a military point of view, he added, but Truman wanted no wider war.

The Bomb proved unnecessary. The Americans and their allies finally managed to dig in and hold on the original demarcation line between North and South Korea, slaughtering the overconfident Chinese counter-counteroffensive with massed artillery and air strikes. By the end of 1950, the war had settled into a nasty stalemate that would drag on well into 1953.

The Korean War brought the Cold War to the full depths of its frigidity. It seemed that once more a totalitarian power meant to dominate the Earth, and America had been caught off-guard. It wouldn't happen again.

* By early 1951, about a year had passed since Truman had given the green light on development of the Super, and Los Alamos was still spinning its wheels. A limited nuclear test, codenamed GEORGE, was being organized, if simply to provide some raw data to get the program moving in the right direction. It was also a way to show Washington that the researchers at Los Alamos weren't simply sitting around and making a pleasant living at taxpayers' expense.

In fact, GEORGE paid off even before the test was conducted. Design of GEORGE finally gave Teller more substantial ideas on how to build the Super. Ironically, he got his inspiration from an idea provided by Klaus Fuchs.

Teller's original Super concept was simple: A can of deuterium would be stuck on to an atomic bomb, with the simple heat of the atomic blast causing fusion reactions in the deuterium. This simplistic idea had proven unworkable. Fuchs had suggested a modified design, including a relatively small amount of deuterium along with the core of a fission bomb inside a sealed container. When the fission bomb went off, the radiation it released would be confined inside the container for an instant before it vaporized. During this time, the intense radiation would set up fusion reactions in the deuterium, which would ignite the rest of the bomb.

This was a step in the right direction, but it wasn't enough in itself. Stanislaus Ulam considered the issue, and then one day his wife found him staring out the living-room window with a strange expression on his face: "I've found a way to make it work."

"What work?"

"The Super. It's a totally different scheme, and it will change the course of history." Ulam modified Fuchs' idea by enclosing the deuterium charge in a shell of materials that would respond to intense neutron bombardment by the atomic blast to confine and implode the deuterium. Teller liked the idea, but wondered if neutron bombardment was the answer. He tinkered with the idea of driving the implosion with radiation instead, and after some tinkerings with the idea excitedly realized that he had the solution he had been looking for.

In fact, almost every physicist who heard the Ulam-Teller scheme thought it was the way to go. Even Bethe, the Super skeptic, thought it was a good idea. Teller wanted to be put in charge of the project, but none of the powers-that-be thought that was a good idea. He didn't have the managerial skills, he absolutely did not have the people skills, and he was regarded as too easily diverted by new ideas as they arose.

The wheels began to turn for an initial test of the Ulam-Teller design, codenamed MIKE, to be conducted in the fall of 1952. Teller thought that Los Alamos was dragging their feet, argued with the management, failed to convince them, and then walked out of Los Alamos. He used his political connections to set up a rival weapons lab at Livermore, California, which would soon become the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. There, he could make sure that things were done as he wanted them done, and besides, the competition would help keep Los Alamos on track.

However, Teller was basically out of the loop for the MIKE test. MIKE was set up on a Pacific Atoll. It was a tall tower with a weight of 73 tonnes (80 tons) and was emphatically a test, not a weapon -- there was no good way to delivery a Super that big. The test was heavily instrumented. MIKE was detonated and it wasn't a fizzle. It was the biggest man-made explosion the world had ever seen by far, about ten megatonnes, roughly 800 times more powerful than the atomic bombs that had destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Edward Teller was watching, if indirectly. He was watching a seismograph in a basement at the University of California at Berkeley. When he saw the seismograph trace jump, he knew that his brainchild had worked. He jubilantly sent a coded message to a friend: IT'S A BOY!

Those witnessing the test more directly, even those who were enthusiastic about the program, were shocked. The atoll on which the test had been conducted simply disappeared under the waves. President Harry Truman, who had authorized the nuclear strikes on Japan, was ambivalent as well. Such weapons could slaughter a major portion of the world's population, or destroy civilization, or even possibly sterilize the planet. A policy based on their development, production, stockpiling, and prospective use was a hard pill to swallow. The ugly question remained of what the Soviet Union planned to do.

* In March 1953, that question became somewhat trickier to consider. Josef Stalin died. Obviously that changed things, but in what way? Of course, as could be expected, there was a struggle for power. Lavrenti Beria was in the driver's seat early on, and despite his nasty reputation he promptly began to implement reforms and was in favor of improving relations with the West. Beria had been in charge of the intelligence apparatus, after all, and he had the hard data he needed to understand that the USSR was not going to win a confrontation with the substantially more powerful West over the long run.

Beria's leadership was then successfully challenged by Nikita Kruschev. Beria was arrested, tried, and shot. While Kruschev's new regime ended the rule of arbitrary terror that had characterized Stalin's era, it still remained authoritarian and organized along the lines established by Stalin. Furthermore, Kruschev remained fearful of the West, too distrustful to expect anything but confrontation, and prone to inflame such confrontations by making boastful claims to exaggerate Soviet strength. His approach was later described as "defending his nation with his mouth."

The new regime promptly announced that the Soviet Union had the H-bomb, though the first test shot was scheduled to take place in Kazakhstan four days later. The test was set up in such haste that it wasn't until the last moment that somebody realized it might pose a threat to the local citizenry well beyond that of the atomic bomb tests, leading to hasty evacuations.

The test was successful, the sloika worked as advertised. It was not anywhere near as powerful as MIKE, but it had a major advantage: it was essentially a real weapon that could be fielded and dropped from a bomber. The test was a major source of pride for the Soviets, all the more so because their H-bomb was a purely Soviet invention, not a copy of an American design.

American aircraft sampled the debris from the test drifting about in the atmosphere, and Los Alamos immediately assembled a team to analyze the data. Hans Bethe was able to quickly reverse-engineer the basic design concept of the sloika, describing it as alternating layers of uranium and lithium deuteride, compressed by high explosives. Bethe believed that the sloika's opportunities for growth were limited, and that as a weapon it was not in a league with a true Super along the lines of MIKE.

* In August 1953, about two weeks after the test of the sloika, new US President Dwight Eisenhower decided to respond to the Soviet show of force with one of his own. Following the death of Stalin, there seemed to be definite movement towards a cease-fire in Korea, and Eisenhower felt that the process might be helped along by hinting that American patience was not endless.

He ordered LeMay to send 20 SAC bombers, carrying nuclear weapons, to Kadena AFB on Okinawa. The bombers were big Convair B-36s, monster aircraft that had been designed during World War II, featuring six huge piston engines that drove propellers at the back of the wing, assisted by four jet engines that had been added almost as an afterthought. It was so huge that pilots described it as like sitting on your front porch and flying your house around the sky. The B-36 was slow by the standards of the time and its ability to successfully penetrate Soviet airspace arguable, but it had long range and could carry a heavy warload.

The exercise was called OPERATION BIG STICK. It was not a secret, in fact keeping it secret would have been counterproductive, and reporters were on hand at Kadena to document the arrival of the bombers. The bombers remained there on alert while the cease-fire negotiations continued, and ultimately led to an agreement. Washington concluded, rightly or wrongly, that nuclear intimidation had been successful. American defense policy now shifted to even greater weight on the nuclear deterrent.

The US government also ramped up efforts to educate the public on how to respond to a nuclear attack. Test shots were conducted with shells of houses and other buildings, populated by storefront dummies, within the blast radius, to determine how best to survive the blast, with the results filmed and distributed. Such film would be a great source of sarcastic humor for a later generation, but they were also shocking with their images of houses blown away as if by a sweep of a giant hand. Soon, regular alert exercises would be conducted in American cities.

There was a faction among American physicists who continued to oppose the Super. In a secret report, Robert Oppenheimer criticised the Super and the strategic doctrine of targeting enemy cities and their populations. Teller and his political patrons found Oppenheimer's persistent lobbying against the Super irritating. In the summer of 1953, the new commissioner of the AEC, Lewis Strauss, moved against Oppenheimer. Strauss wanted to get Oppenheimer's security clearance revoked, which would effectively wall him out of the atomic-weapons development community.

Oppenheimer was vulnerable. During the war, he had made friends with a number of people who became known as leftists and were suspected as Red agents, and as it would come out he had lied to protect his brother, who was closer to the Left than he was. In April 1954, the AEC conducted secret hearings on the status of Oppenheimer's security clearance. Bethe, Rabi, and Teller testified. Teller, never inclined to much shade his opinions, flatly described Oppenheimer as untrustworthy.

Oppenheimer's security clearance was revoked. Crushed, he went back to the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton, where he was director. The story was leaked to the press and made headlines. Teller did not escape unscathed. Very few of his peers in the physics community would speak to him again, probably as much because they feared he might turn on them next as because of anger over his collusion in Oppenheimer's persecution. Bethe said later: "I thought that Teller would lose a lot of his friends. I didn't expect it would go this far. I am sorry for Edward Teller, and he made in this case a bad decision." Outcast from the physics community, Teller focused on improving his connections with the Washington power elite.

* While this little political circus was underway, work continued on building an operational Super. A second test, codenamed BRAVO, was to detonate a Super small enough to be carried on a B-36, though it was still the size of a truck. The test took place in March 1954 on Bikini Atoll. The results exceeded expectations. It was twice as powerful as expected, 40 times as powerful as the Soviet sloika. In minutes, the mushroom cloud reached an altitude of 24 kilometers (15 miles). Nobody had expected such a thing, nor had there been preparations to deal with the plume of radioactive fallout that fell across a number of inhabited islands. It took two days to evacuate a few hundred civilians from the affected area. Some suffered relatively mild bouts of radiation sickness, suffering from nausea, some hair loss, and skin lesions.

In a few weeks, project researchers got a nasty surprise when they learned that a Japanese fishing boat, ironically named the LUCKY DRAGON, returned to Japan with 23 crew, all of whom were suffering from severe radiation sickness. One died. At first, the US government remained silent about the BRAVO test, continuing to maintain the blanket of security that covered the US atomic program, but it was impossible. AEC Chairman Strauss addressed the public, trying to reassure everyone that the MIKE test had not gone "out of control."

Even some of the researchers involved with MIKE found the government's statements hard to swallow. One of them, Herbert York, said later: "I thought some of the stuff coming out of Washington was pretty silly. They began to talk about radiation exposure in terms of 'sunshine units' ... [laughs] ... which I thought was one of the dumbest phrases to come down the pike in a long time -- y'know, designed somehow to put a happy face on it, on the impossible."

Back in the USSR, Soviet nuclear researchers were impressed, to put it mildly, with the American Super test. Igor Kurchatov, who had been enthusiastic about developing the Red Bomb, and several of his people wrote a short document for the Soviet leadership warning that a war fought with about a hundred hydrogen bombs might exterminate all life on Earth. The report was ignored.

In fact, in 1954 the USSR conducted a test in which an atomic bomb was dropped near a village in the Urals, with troops entering the contaminated area a half hour after the blast, wearing some degree of protective gear. Similarly, the US conducted tests using atomic weapons at the Nevada test site to see how troops and equipment fared in atomic blasts. Both the Soviet and American militaries concluded that soldiers could fight effectively on a nuclear battlefield.

* Andrei Sakharov's work on the sloika brought him to the top of the Soviet social hierarchy. He was awarded a medal, "Hero of Socialist Labor", and was treated generously by the state. At age 33, he was head of the theoretical department at Arzamas-16. He and his people had their work cut out for them at the time, since reverse-engineering the technology used in the BRAVO test was top priority. In a few weeks, they had come up with the Ulam-Teller radiation implosion scheme, and then charged forward on implementing it themselves.

The Soviet Super was ready by November 1955, a year and a half after the BRAVO test. Witnesses watched the bomber flying to the test site and covered their faces with their hands as instructed when the weapon was dropped. It detonated, with the heat as intense as being in an oven. Moments later they opened their eyes and saw a huge fireball rising into the sky in total silence. They fell to the ground as the shockwave approached, with the blast throwing around large stones and shaking the ground. Due to freak atmospheric conditions, the shockwave reached towns 80 kilometers (50 miles) away, blowing out windows and even knocking down doors.

The researchers were overjoyed at the success of their efforts and threw a party, but soon they had second thoughts. Falling debris had killed a soldier and a two-year-old girl. Sakharov went in towards Ground Zero and found the destruction, the litter of burned dead birds, the wreckage of buildings and equipment, sobering. Kurchatov was becoming more uneasy as well.

* If SAC's Curtis LeMay had any ambiguities about the H-bomb, he kept them well hidden. His bomber fleets, now increasingly dominated by the sleek, fast jet-propelled Boeing B-47, were on constant alert status, in principle ready to attack the USSR whenever the president gave the word. LeMay put it clearly, saying that he wanted to convince everyone in his command that they were not preparing for war: "We're at war now". His bombers probed at Soviet frontiers, sometimes even penetrating Soviet airspace to get a reaction. It was like stirring up a wasps' nest.

Up to World War II, the United States had never maintained a powerful military in peacetime. After every conflict, the military was scaled back dramatically. Now, for the first time in history that US had a huge peacetime military force, armed with the most modern and powerful weapons, weapons far more powerful than any ever built before.

The US continued to push for civil-defense measures. The Eisenhower Administration sensibly concluded that there was no way shelters would be effective against the H-bomb, and plans were made for mass evacuations instead. Exercises and simulations were conducted in which US cities were "attacked" and the results of preparations were evaluated. The results, even on paper, were grim, but the administration believed that the civil-defense preparations were valuable anyway, to help prevent the civilian population from panicking under attack. Panic would lead to a breakdown in social order and make life even more difficult for the survivors. Despite the corny propaganda films of the time, the leadership had few illusions about the severity of a nuclear exchange.

Not all of the public bought the corny propaganda films, either. Protests began to arise over the pointlessness of the civil-defense exercises. To no real surprise, New Yorkers were among the first to defy the exercises. One woman, Janice Harrison, heard the sirens go off, but didn't bother to leave the park where she was enjoying the day with her children. Civil defense personnel told her to take shelter. She replied: "No, I'm not going anywhere. This is my pahk, I'm sitting here with my children. No."

People were arrested, but that only helped publicize their defiance and spread doubts. A year later, the same park was crammed with women and their children in a mass protest over the silly alert exercises. The exercises went on, and even President Eisenhower was filmed participating in one, with the apparatus of government retreating to a tent camp. Eisenhower, a commonsense person, admitted in private that the exercise was futile.

Eisenhower owed everything to his rise to the military, but his experience had taught him to distrust the military. He knew the nuclear arms race was not really improving America's security, in fact it was creating a situation in which the US and the USSR were heading towards mutual suicide. Kruschev had his worries about it as well. But what could they do about it? Each side feared the other, each side worried about falling behind, each side continued their nuclear arms buildup.

By 1960, the SAC warplan envisioned attacking the USSR and Soviet allies with 3,000 nuclear weapons, obliterating a total of 1,000 targets. SAC was now fielding the new Boeing B-52 bomber, and both sides were rapidly developing long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that would cut the warning time of an attack from hours to minutes. The name of the game was "deterrence": to make certain the Soviets understood that if they attacked the US, they would all die as well. Of course, it worked the other way as well. The policy acquired a name, "mutual assured destruction", with an acronym whose irony was obvious to all: MAD.

* Edward Teller was a strong proponent of the nuclear buildup. He developed a new, compact Super that could be carried on a missile of moderate size, even on a missile that could be launched from a nuclear submarine. His nuclear advocacy and familiarity with the government elite did not go unnoticed by the public, either. Stanley Kubrick's 1964 movie DOCTOR STRANGELOVE, OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB, a classic satire of the Cold War, featured British actor Peter Sellers in the title role as a parody of Teller, decked out with Teller's trademark bushy eyebrows. Teller never stopped smoldering over it. Decades later, the first thing he told a reporter who came to interview him was: "If you mention Strangelove one time, I will throw you out!"

In the 1970s, the Nixon and Carter Administrations would take steps to scale back the arms race, but a hardening of positions between the superpowers led to the rise of Ronald Reagan, the idol of the conservative Right. Mr. Reagan was impressed when Teller and his disciples proposed that the United States develop a missile defense system that would protect America from nuclear attack and end the cycle of MAD. The effort became known as "Star Wars".

Andrei Sakharov continued his work on nuclear weapons as well, but gradually his protests grew until he transformed himself into the most prominent of Soviet human-rights advocates, challenging the state's authoritarian policies. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, which only further irritated Soviet authorities. By the time he died in 1989, however, the old Soviet system was falling apart and human rights were coming to the surface. He did not live to see the ultimate collapse of the USSR a few years later and the emergence of the uncertain order that followed it, though he did see the first steps in a gradual reduction of the nuclear arsenals of the superpowers and end to the military confrontation.

Edward Teller did live to see all of this, to claim in satisfaction that his promotion of the nuclear option had succeeded after all, helping push the Soviet Union into oblivion. It is difficult to argue with real certainty whether Teller was wrong or right.


[3] ALL THAT JAZZ: Time Spammer

* One of the things about spam that makes it annoying, along with its quantity and intrusiveness, is its subject matter. Spam rarely offers anything anyone would really want to buy, and many of the things it does try to sell aren't mentionable in proper company, as well as obvious scams.

According to WIRED NEWS, in an article titled "Turn Back The Spam Of Time" by Brian McWilliams, certain spam has broken the mold and then some. In the summer of 2003, a programmer from Iowa named Dave Hill got an message from the address "" titled "Time Travelers PLEASE HELP". The message asked anyone who was a "time traveler or alien disguised as human" and offered $5,000 USD for anyone who could provide such items as an "Acme 5X24 series time transducing capacitor with built-in temporal displacement" and an "AMD Dimensional Warp Generator module containing the GRC79 induction motor". It went said that the sender's life had been "severely tampered with" and he needed "temporal reversion" to go back in time and make things right.

Hill assumed this was an off-the-wall joke. He decided to play along and answered, saying he could provide such items. He managed to get in touch with a fellow who called himself "Bob White". Other netizens were also fascinated by what they thought was a gag and got in touch with Bob White, or "Tim Jones" as he referred to himself sometimes. Nobody was sure just what was going on. Many, like Hill, thought it was a gag. Some thought the mysterious "time spammer", as they called him, was trying to get materials for a science fiction novel, while others thought it was some kind of oblique scam, possibly to collect validated email addresses for spam lists.

Hill got so much into the joke that he created a fake online store to sell items out of science-fiction stories, and shipped the mysterious Bob White a "warp generator", which was actually an old hard disk drive. Then things got more bizarre. White responded, thanking Hill and asking for more gear. Hill thought the joke was being taken a little too far and began to wonder if White was actually "a person challenged by reality and as such deserves our sympathy and support."

Hill's suspicion was correct. Bob White was traced down and turned out to be 22-year-old Robert "Robby" Todino of Woburn, Massachusetts, who on being queried about the matter admitted that he had sent out 100 million inquiries about time-travel technology since November 2001. Todino understands that the messages he sends out aren't always taken seriously, but he insists that he is of perfectly clear mind and adds: "A lot of people will say the stuff I talk about is crazy and out of this world. But I know for a fact that it is true and does exist. Untrained minds may disagree with me, but they don't have access to the sources that I do."

He does feel frustrated with the progress of his campaign, however: "It almost feels worthless now because the people who are monitoring my every move always seem to win. But it's the only form of communication I have right now." He believes that there is a conspiracy to block his efforts, for example interfering with attempts by helpful netizens to teleport a time machine to Woburn.

His father, Robert Todino SR, has some concerns over his son: "What bothers me is that some people are trying to sell him equipment and take advantage of him. He's invested a lot of money into it and has been hurt by it."

The state of Massachusetts also has some concerns with Robby Todino, since his time-travel-tech spam is just a sideline. Todino is a full-time spammer, and the authorities have not been happy with his mass mailings of fraudulent ads for "free government grants" and "detective software". In 2001, Todino was hit with a $5,000 USD fine and agreed to cease and desist in sending out bogus email ads.

Todino started churning out the time-travel spams shortly after that. The state of Massachusetts has been monitoring his activities, but has no comment on the time-travel spams.



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