The Walking Dead

The striking thing that I noticed about The Walking Dead's first episode, 'Days Gone By' is the stark, minimal feel to a post-Zombie world. There's no music, just the footsteps, birdcalls and buzzing of flies that hang in the air as the action moves forward. The TV show, which has thus far broken all viewer records for the host channel AMC, seemed like an almost guaranteed hit for the channel. The reasons for the success extend beyond the inclusion of zombies, but because the show is something that resonates with a modern audience.

Zombies have been on the rise in recent years: major film productions have been popular, such as 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, (And of course, the George Romero films that have come out) in addition to books such as Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, World War Z (And The Zombie Survival Guide, both by Max Brooks) John Joseph Adam's Zombie anthologies, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith (and Jane Austin), with The Walking Dead remaining popular in print form, and now jumping mediums to the small screen, where it seems like it’s well suited for television.

As an adaptation goes, The Walking Dead is off to a decent start. Rather than giving into the impulse to make a show that was high on action and rapid pacing, the show’s creators have gone in the opposite direction: Days Gone By, much like the comic, is paced slowly, and the end result is a fairly slow episode: in any other context, I would have found the show fairly boring – there’s plenty of suspense, but one major element (the whereabouts and wellbeing of Grime’s family) is revealed fairly early on. The first major encounter with a mass of the undead doesn’t happen until the end of the episode, in a particularly frightening scene as Grimes and his horse are surrounded.

As it stands, The Walking Dead is possibly one of the better takes on the zombie genre thus far: the message and point of the show isn’t about the undead themselves, but the world around the survivors. Zombies stories have been rife with allegory, and both print and motion picture versions do exactly that.

A standout moment in Sunday’s episode saw some discussion as to how people hadn’t prepared for the events that transpired. Given the political climate present in the country at the moment, it’s not a hard leap to imagine. Zombie fiction tends to lend itself well to a libertarian dream of a more down to earth rule of law, without the worries of infrastructure and government, living on one’s own wits and instructs. Then there’s the guns.

The decline of the U.S. economy is something that has been at the forefront of political and economic news for almost two years, and I can’t help but wonder if shows such as Jericho (cancelled after a season and revived, only to be cancelled again) would have better succeeded if it had aired just a couple of years later. Other shows that have reflected the political feelings of the day have done well critically, such as SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica, HBO’s True Blood or Fox’s 24. While this isn’t a singular contributing factor, relevancy is something that a public audience will relate and respond to.

Here, amongst the shambling zombies, there’s a good set of themes that the series seems to have picked up on and incorporated into its storylines. In addition to the rise in popularity of the zombies themselves, The Walking Dead has an exceptionally bright future. Indeed, it’s already been renewed for a second season to follow up the first six episodes that compose the first season.

While the zombie bandwagon has been an easy thing to jump on - the popularity is only going to peak from this point on - The Walking Dead is a good example of both an adaptation and of the use of zombies. The original comic book seems to have translated very well, with creators understanding the overall picture and changes needed for the small screen. Like any bandwagon, there have been a number of stories, films and comics that have included zombies to some extent, with widely varying levels of quality. The focus, for some of the best stories, it seems, should be not on the zombies themselves, but on the people that they effect. While I've tried to avoid fanboying the craze, the show offers a quality story, rather than gimmicks to help it succeed.

Beyond the successes of a zombie show (the first that I’m aware of), the introduction of a well executed and received genre show is a very good thing, especially in the middle of a television season that has been lacking. The Walking Dead is looking to be a compelling and interesting drama. Thus far, it looks like it’s lining up to do just that.

Journey to the Surface of the Earth

Yesterday, the 33 miners trapped inside a mine for almost two months were rescued via a small tube that brought them up to the surface. It's a gratifying end to a story that could have been immensely tragic at a number of points over the past couple of months, and their rescue is a small shred of good news in the world today, and watching and reading some of the actions that went into saving the men seem to me born out of this strange future that we're living in.

To fully appreciate what had to be done to save the miners, one needs to take a look at a diagram that the BBC had put together for their coverage of the accident. The engineering and logistical efforts of attempting to save a group of men a half-mile below one's feet is astounding in and of itself, from their discovery to their rescue, but the efforts that have been made to ensure that they are alive and healthy in ways that remind me much of the efforts to recover the damaged Apollo 13 spacecraft.

Unlike major disasters that seem to have fallen lately, from the West Virginia Mine accident and the Deepwater Horizon explosion, this was an accident that has been made better by a coordinated effort of people and technology, rather than a recovery effort to stem off the worst case scenario as people have identified the problem, and sought to fix it straight away, making this seem like one of the instances where we don't have to see the worse happen.

Moreover, I'm reminded of some of the best, and worse elements of people in this accident. Such preparations have been taken for the men down in the mines: they had communications with their rescuers on the surface, while they likewise had the ability to speak with psychologists to keep them from going crazy; consultants from submarine experts and NASA were brought in to help cope with their isolation. Workers were outfitted with dark glasses to prevent their eyesight from damage upon reaching the surface.

Given the nature of the accident, and the plight of the men down below, I'm surprised that there hasn't been more media coverage of this until now. It's barely registered on my radar, except when there was something more newsworthy about it: the news sources have always been good at covering far more of an event than is generally necessary, and there's been some indications of that. But at the same time, I'm surprised, because there are entire segments of reality television devoted to things such as this: people trapped together in a single place, unable to get away from one another. Given that the psychologists never had to prescribe antidepressants to the miners, I'm sure that there would have been little drama (because honestly, real life isn't really that dramatic, no matter the nomenclature of 'reality' TV), but I can certainly see some satirical speculative fiction novel written about a disaster, with television cameras present, to capitalize on it. Hopefully, we'll never see anything like that.

At the same time, there's been little attention (that I've seen) on what will be done to prevent something like this happening again. Clearly, something went wrong somewhere, and instances like BP's oil spill, the Massey Energy explosion or the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company sludge release don't fill me with any sort of confidence that companies are looking out for the safety of their workers at the expense of major disasters happening that will adversely affect them in the long run.

There will be other disasters in the future, that much can be sure: accidents and corporate goals will likely guarantee that, but hopefully, the resources and dedication that have been demonstrated in Chile will be brought out the next time people need to be brought home from disaster.

Learning to Understand

Earlier today, the former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Gen. Gordon Sullivan, spoke at the museum at Norwich University's campus that bears his name for a brief talk to students. As he opened, he noted that he didn't have a plan for what he wanted to talk about, but pointed out objects in one of the rooms that related to his experience within the time that he had spent in the military. Over the course of his 36 year career, Sullivan has seen a lot: he volunteered to go to Vietnam and served for a couple of tours there, while his career culminated in his presiding over the transition of the U.S. Army after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the massive changes that came as a result of that. A number of points that Sullivan brought up stuck with me over the course of his talk.

General Sullivan is a person that I personally admire greatly, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times: the first was in 2007, shortly after I graduated from Norwich with a B.A. in History. Several short days after I walked, I boarded a plane for England, then France, and found myself in Normandy with a contingent from Norwich, with Generals Sullivan and Nelson leading the tour of the battlefield, providing a rich amount of historical context for the battlefield, but also an incredible amount of information on the value of good leaders. There is no better place to highlight that issue than on a battlefield, and over the years since, I’ve become fascinated in how this can be applied to everyday life.

One topic that he touched on has particular significance in the modern face of warfare. “It takes troops on the ground, not technology, to solve problems.” To illustrate this, he picked up a piece of metal, a tool that was used in gun, and pointed out that it took over a hundred people to make that part: it was a high tech piece of machinery, and is likely the cumulative result of thousands of hours of research and development, testing and deployment. He then took our attention to a wooden cowbell on the wall of the exhibit, noting that we (The U.S.) were operating in an area where this was a level of technology, and that the combatants on the battlefield could face the United States and come out victorious.

During his tenure of the U.S. Army Chief of Staff during the Clinton Administration, he was working to transition the military after the end of the Cold War, when the operation at Mogadishu resulted in a number of U.S. casualties. The point that he made seemed to wear on him, and he noted that every soldier that died represented a huge loss, losses that the rest of the army, and himself, as the top of the chain of command, were responsible for. And, he noted, this was in a time of peace. His attitude towards the current operations is fairly clear: “You can't kill your way to victory”, and through this, the U.S. has to work with people, get them to change their minds, in order to succeed in this new battlefield.

At one point in his talk, Sullivan noted that he was proud to be a Norwich graduate: "I am proud to say that I took an oath in 1955... I've been part of this for 50 years, and it started here." (paraphrased), and that Norwich was an important place in his life. This has gotten me thinking all afternoon about the value of the two educations that I’ve earned here. The world, and military affairs are incredibly complicated businesses, and a certain level of comprehension brings about a different understanding of the situation.

The military affairs that are going on now are not as cleanly cut as portrayed, and winning is simply not as it was fifty years ago. The military has an ongoing change as its mission shifts from one enemy to others, and with different styles of fighting. Leadership, of the highest caliber, is required to guide these transitions, and I believe that the education that I’ve gotten here, and since earning the official stamps of approval, have given me the mindset that is really required of understanding (at least in part) some of these elements, which I feel will become even more important to our lives. However, as it grows in importance, there needs to be a greater importance in comprehending said events.

I personally count my time in Normandy as one of the most formative educational experiences of my life. I hope that others will follow.

Awash in Flames

The Dove World Outreach Center in Florida is planning on burning the Islamic Holy text on the anniversary of September 11th, despite statements from the White House, General David Petraeus and even Glenn Beck, of all people. The pastor of the church, Rev. Terry Jones, has claimed that he's taken the concerns into consideration, but all indications are that the church still intends to move along with their plans. I'm stunned (although sadly, not at all surprised) that people continue to spout such hate, regardless of the consequences.

General David Petraeus has since e-mailed a statement to the Associated Press, noting that such acts are already seeing some impact overseas, and has warned that the consequences will be immediately used by extremist factions as propaganda against the U.S. cause overseas. Acts against Muslim icons, such as Mohammad or the Koran have been seen to ignite public opinion against the west, with the Danish cartoon controversy a couple of years ago, as well as the news that a Koran might have been flushed down a toilet during the course of an interrogation at Guantanamo Bay.

While this is an act that is certainly a small one, the consequences of such actions are deliberatively provocative, and miss some of the major, underlying points when it comes to the motivations behind the war. The pastor, Jones, belongs to a group that believes that the return of Christ will happen in the modern day, and that they have a mission to combat evil: something that they see the Koran as falling under. When it comes to current events, it is a short leap to what it seems is a more common belief amongst Americans: the Islamic community of the world is fundamentalist and violent, because of their religion, which is a ridiculous argument.

The ongoing conflict in the Middle East is not strictly a religious confrontation, but a politically motivated battle that utilizes religion as a tool to organize its followers. Looking at the violence across Palestine, Iraq, Turkey, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, it helps to look at the incidents and attacks. Suicide bombers and other fanatics tend to be those who follow their leaders, carrying out orders, not the leaders of such movements themselves. The violence is also not religiously motivated: these are people who are not trying to convert followers by destroying them. Rather, the attacks are against those perceived as aggressors that are encroaching on one’s territory, and in a large way, on an established order that is highly resistant to change.

The strict, fundamentalist views of Islam are not things to be defended: they represent amongst some of the more horrifying elements of any organized religion, and like any larger religion, it is not a view that is shared by all. Fanning the flames (quite literally, in this instance) will do little but turn more people against the interests of peace in the world. In this instance, burning these books will undoubtedly turn people against U.S. interests in the Middle East, and will lead to soldier’s deaths that need not happen.

On the military side of the house, counter insurgency forces are seeking to remove insurgents from the general population by using the best means possible – in some cases through combat, in other cases, through patrols and creating an otherwise inhospitable environment for them, cutting off support or removing key people from influence. This job will ultimately be harder when more of the general population (who is already at or beyond the tipping point) has another reason to distrust U.S. troops. The interests of the United States overseas are not to push any sort of religious agenda: it is to secure U.S. interest overseas by eliminating the possibility of insurgent terrorism from happening again.

On the public relations side, this paints the country in an exceedingly poor light, because insurgency forces can point to instances such as this and use it as a sort of proof that the U.S. is intolerant and seeks to rid the world of people. That’s not the case, but hard facts don’t matter in these instances: the thought and idea does, just as any conspiracy theorist believes wholeheartedly in whatever they believe in, no matter what proof is presented. The country has its share of issues, but comparatively, the country hasn’t resorted to bombings or widespread attacks on its citizens at the bequest of the government that rules it.

In any case, what this church is doing is downright sad, and goes against everything that I know the bible to teach (granted, that is a bit limited) , and it is those lessons that look far more to peace and order that I would rather teach and leave an impression with.

Military Science Fiction is Soldier Science Fiction

Author Michael Williamson recently came across my article on io9, and posted up his own response. He makes some good points, but I wanted to address some of the areas where I disagree.

I have a couple of counterpoints to this that I'd like to address. I haven't had a change to read through all of the comments and address them individually, but I'll try and point out a couple of things that I think need corrected from the article above and my own on io9.

The first, major point is that no, I don't want Clausewitz to write science fiction. After reading his works for my Military Thought and Theory course (I've received an M.A. in Military History from Norwich University. For my own disclosure, I work for the school and that specific program as an administrator for the students, but the Masters degree really pushed me in terms of what I knew and how I understood the military), I think he's one of the more dry reads that I've yet to come across, and that while there is a lot of outdated information in the book, given the advances and changes in how militaries operate, there are some elements that I feel work well, conceptually.

The main point in the article wasn't written to say that military science fiction had to be more like a Warfare 101 course in how future wars should be fought - far from it - but that military science fiction could certainly benefit from a larger understanding of warfare. As you note, there's a lot of military themed SF stories about the people caught up in warfare, ones that examine how they perceive warfare, and how warfare impacts the individual in any number of ways. This comes in a couple of ways, one story related, the other more superficial.

There are very few  (I can't recall any that specifically look to this) military SF novels that look at warfare in the same context. While I agree that stories are about characters, it's also the challenges and the subsequent themes that embody their struggle that makes a story relevant and interesting to the reader. This, to me, as a reviewer and reader, is the element that will set up a book for success or for failure. Characters, the story/themes/plot, and the challenges that face him all work together to form the narrative. What the characters often learn from their challenges is what the reader should also be learning, and this, to me, is a missed opportunity for some elements of military science fiction. A majority of the Military SF/F stories out there have the characters impacted, but warfare is generally painted as a element of the narrative, not something in and of itself that can be learned from.

Superficially, wars are incredibly complicated events, and often, I don't feel that they're really given their due in fiction. There are a couple of points that I want to make in advance of this – this doesn’t mean that I want or require more detail on every element of warfare, from how the logistical setup for an interstellar war might be put into place, or how the X-35 Pulse rifle is put together to best minimize weight requirements in order to be effectively shipped through lightspeed. Those sorts of details aren’t important to the character’s journey in this, and they add up to extra fluff, in my opinion. Weapons and systems put into place for warfare are great, they sound great, and the same arguments are put into place in politics today. What makes the better story, in my opinion, is a better understanding of the mind behind the sights, from that individual soldier’s motivations to his commanding officer’s orders and training, and how war is understood on their terms. In a way, world-building for any story should firmly understand just what warfare is, or at least come to a consensus within the author’s mind as to how it will be approached.

Oftentimes, generals are accused of fighting the wars gone by. That’s certainly true in the ongoing conflict in Iraq/Afghanistan, and why there was quite a bit of resistance in shifting the military’s focus over to a counter-insurgency war, rather than one of armored columns and maneuvers: generals fight with what they have, and what they’ve trained for, and changes come afterwards. Starship Troopers, The Forever War and Old Man’s War all do the same thing, and that’s not really what I’m arguing against – the authors wrote what they knew – Heinlein, undoubtedly from his experience with the Second World War, Halderman from his own experiences in Vietnam, and Scalzi from observation and research. Science fiction looks to the future, but unless you’re a dedicated expert in a think tank, there’s really no expectation that these books will be predictors of the future, but also aren’t necessarily going to be good at the military thought and theory behind the battles on the pages. Will the individual soldier know anything about logistics and engineering solutions? Probably not, but those things certainly will influence how that soldier is operational on the battlefield, which will undoubtedly affect his view and outcome on the battlefield. While these elements might not surface in the text, they should be understood.

Art is formed within the context of its formation.  I don’t believe that a book written in the Post-WWII world should be really in depth on theoretical warfare on the character level, nor should it look beyond what the audience and writer really understands. However, as times change, context changes, and books are understood differently. There is no doubt in my mind that we will see science and speculative fiction stories in the next decade that are directly impacted by our understanding of the world since 9-11 and the warfare that has come as a result, because the current and budding writers are also changing their views on the world.

I see most military science fiction like I see some types of military non-fiction. Stories like Starship Troopers are like Band of Brothers. They’re fun and good character stories, but anything by Stephen Ambrose is certainly not serious military nonfiction, and isn’t something that I would use to better understand the nature of the Second World War. Looking at a similar book, The First Men In, by Ed Ruggereo, is a better example, (one that I recommend highly, as a counterpoint), but that tells a good character story AND looks at the strategic nature of Airborne operations during Operation Overlord.

Military Science Fiction can best be summed up as soldier science fiction, with the characters learning much about themselves and society – that’s never been in dispute from me. What I would like to see someday added to a field is a novel that better understands the nature of warfare, and extrapolates some of the lessons that can be learned from it.

Stargate Universe Joins the Stargate Universe

The shared groan that my girlfriend and I shared as the end title card for the last episode of Stargate Universe’s first season, Incursion (Part 2), has become a familiar reaction to the ending of each episode of the series that we've been watching, and reminds me of the reaction that I've generally had for the season enders for Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, as well as Battlestar Galactica. The ending to SGU's first season was shocking, frustrating, and ultimately, a fantastic end to a really strong season for the Stargate franchise's latest television entry.

The SyFy channel has a really annoying habit of leaving a viewer hanging, and it was something that largely characterized SG-1, with a small story arc that would be resolved within the first couple of episodes of the next season, and while it's annoying, it's a good way to make people really look forward to the upcoming season - already, I'm eagerly awaiting September, when new episodes return to the small screen. The finale demonstrated that the franchise, with its much darker nature, can continue to tell a good story, but also link back to the regular Stargate franchise and storylines that had been started earlier on, something that was a welcome surprise.

The start of Stargate Universe led me to believe that much of the storylines would be somewhat ignored, pushed to the side for some background context for the characters, but that was it. As the story has progressed since that first, fantastic pilot episode last October. The show has taken a couple of hits with its characters and some of the smaller elements, but overall, it has come out the other side in good form, telling some truly fantastic stories, and leaving the audience really wanting a bit more as the story of the crew of Destiny shows that there are some pretty cool things planned.

The surprising element that I've found over the course of the show was the connections to Earth, and the recent reintroduction of older storylines that had begun to creep in at the end of SG-1's run, namely, with the Lucian Alliance. While it's pretty clear that the show is going to remain on Destiny for now, and that much of what we've seen thus far will continue, the introduction of other storylines gives this show something a bit different than what we've seen in other shows, like Star Trek: Voyager and to a lesser extent, Stargate: Atlantis. The ongoing storylines that we've seen show that some of the groundwork that was set up in SG-1 will still apply, and unlike in Atlantis, where a whole new story arc had been put into place, with some of the prior story elements coming in only occasionally. Hopefully, this new approach will work better, resulting in a series that lasts for longer than Atlantis fared. SG-1 demonstrated the lasting appeal of the show, and thus far, nothing has been able to replicate that.

Universe also shows that the franchise can move beyond SG-1 by incorporating more mature and darker elements to it. SG-1 was a fairly lighthearted affair most of the time, but Universe can be downright grim, but it maintains much of the fantastic storytelling and characters that the Stargate franchise is known for. This makes quite a bit of sense, given the prior successes of Battlestar Galactica, and that as the surrounding times change, the context for the show changes as well. The original Stargate came out in 1997, preceded by a movie, with the United States facing off against an evil empire that wanted to enslave humanity, just seven or so years after the fall of the Soviet Union, where the United States faced off against a singular power that threatened its influence in the world.

Universe seems to mirror that change in politics, with the crew of the Destiny moving into an ambiguous world where the enemy is not clearly known. While I doubt that it is an example of the show's creators explicitly going out and looking at political science and social theory to help construct the show, it is a good example of how the show, and the entertainment arts are generally influenced by the world around them. I think that this is the key element that allows for something to become relevant, notable and ultimately successful, because an audience will respond to something that they themselves can understand and perceive.

The good thing in all of this is that the show has come around full circle, leaving a lot of the familiar elements of the prior shows, where it finds itself in the middle of larger storylines that had been in progress. Universe, which had tried to largely escape from the rest of the franchise's image, has come back, serious, determined and ready to take them on. The Goa'uld ships look better than they ever have, and the villians are just as evil and ready to kill people, but without the costumes and things that made the show a little more difficult to take seriously. In short, Universe is the grown up Stargate SG-1.

The good thing in all of this is that the show has come around full circle, leaving a lot of the familiar elements of the prior shows, where it finds itself in the middle of larger storylines that had been in progress. Universe, which had tried to largely escape from the rest of the franchise's image, has come back, serious, determined and ready to take them on. The Goa'uld ships look better than they ever have, and the villians are just as evil and ready to kill people, but without the costumes and things that made the show a little more difficult to take seriously. In short, Universe is the grown up Stargate SG-1.

As such, this was one of the strongest points of Battlestar Galactica, and with the follow up show, Caprica, and it remains a strong, if somewhat subdued element with the new show. As such, it is a good thing for the franchise, giving the show relevancy and some new ground to cover for the characters in the show. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind: I’ll be tuning in for Season 2.

Vermont is a Border State Too

The state of Vermont resides between New York to the West, and New Hampshire to the East, with Massachusetts to the South and Canada lying along its northern border. Often, I forget that Vermont is just one state that borders a foreign country, save for the occasional trip to Montreal every year or two, or an irregular security check point set up along I-91 that runs the length of the state. Quite simply, immigration and issues with the border rarely become an issue here. The recent events that have transpired in Arizona brings an acute reminder that other states have problems with their borders, with illegal immigrants coming across the border and all of the issues that comes along with an influx of foreign individuals. While I am largely horrified by the law that has just been passed in the state, I am forced to see, understand and accept the reasons for which it was implemented.

Arizona and a number of the states that border Mexico have legitimate issues with illegal immigration. I've always felt that the United States should have the right to determine who enters the country, and with a porous border, there will always be a level of uncertainty as to who, and what is moving across the border. This transcends race and nationality as an issue, and relates directly to national security issues. This event demonstrates the level of frustration that a state has with the lack of responsibility and action that the federal government has taken when it comes to securing the border, taking actions into their own hands. In all likelihood, the state's right to supersede the federal government's will be slapped down by the courts, which makes me wonder if a law such as this is just something designed to get a lot of attention to a particular issue.

The issues here is that given the demographics of the region, with a wide mix of legal and illegal immigrants as well as naturalized and natural-born citizens, determining who is supposed to be in the country is difficult, and the state has granted unprecedented powers to detain and deport people without papers. In all likelihood, the massive amounts of national attention on the law will be sufficient to hold the police and other state officials in Arizona in line. The first person who is wrongly accused, detained and deported will cause further public relations and legal issues for governmental officials. What scares me is not so much the law, but the potential for its abuse by state officials, and for local citizens, who can prompt action from their local police forces. A collective effort to govern is not necessarily the best method of government, but collective action to enforce potential laws seems worse. The argument that people should trust their police is something that I have a very hard time accepting.

The solution won't rely on the enforcement and vilification of the illegal immigrants by deporting them. The reasons for the problem in the first place need to be dealt with at the source - on both sides of the border. Vermont has not enacted this law for very good reasons: we don't have the problem with immigration that the southern states seem to. My one encounter with a random Border Patrol team is a unique event, and if the problem was worse, I'm sure that I would see a heightened presence from them. But, Canada is a fairly stable country, with a large scale economy, and with a population that isn't desperate for a new life here in the United States. Issues across the border become our issues, and any plan that Congress will most likely soon be looking into should include ways to help Mexico mobilize its own economy and work on retaining their workers, while working out our own policies towards immigration in this country.

I don't see immigration as a bad thing for the country. After all, we all have our roots as newcomers here to the country, but more importantly, new people, diversity and change to our demographic makeup gives the country a unique perspective, with numerous viewpoints, ways to approach issues and to look at the world. We're stronger for it, and I hope that Arizona's law, and crucially, its mindset leading up to it, will never come to the Green Mountain State.

Thar She Blows

The recent eruptions from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano this past week has caused havoc with European air carriers, bringing everything to a virtual stop. Something along the lines of 60,000 to 80,000 flights have been disrupted, stranding passengers and cargo in place, having a huge effect on the economies of numerous countries. And to think, this is a pretty minor eruption, with a historic record of followup eruptions that have taken place after the first ones in surrounding Volcanoes.

Volcanoes are one of the world's most powerful forces of nature, literally fire from the Earth itself, a force that has proved to be incredible devastating throughout planetary history. During my college years, I minored in geology (a trait that I seem to have inherited from my father, who is a professional geologist), and it remains a field that I continue to find fascinating, beautiful and awe-inspiring. In 2005 and 2006, I travelled to the American Southwest with the geology department for two separate trips to study the regional characteristics in the beds of rock below the surface of the Earth.

While most of my geologic interests centered around sedimentology and stratigraphy (studying sedimentary rocks, and interpreting the conditions in which they were laid down, respectively), there are some parallels with studying igneous rocks and the larger structures that are formed in the presence of volcanoes. Walking in and around volcanoes is an awe-inspiring thing to do, and it's an experience that I would really like to repeat sometime in the future.

Volcanic activity occurs when molten rock from the Earth's mantle pushes its way up into the crust and onto the surface. There are three general methods in which this is presented: shield volcanoes, cinder cones and stratovolcanos. There are a couple of other out there, but those are the general types. The formation of each respective volcano depends greatly on the surrounding environment in the crust in which it is formed. There is a key element that helps to dictate the type of volcano that erupting magma forms: Silica.

The explosive nature of a volcano depends greatly on the viscosity of the magma, which in turn determines the gas content within the magma. From Princeton University: [Viscosity is the] resistance of a liquid to shear forces (and hence to flow). In a nutshell, this means that something with a high level of viscosity will have a higher resistance to flow: it's thicker. Something with a low viscosity will have less resistance. The move viscous something is, the better it is at releasing gases trapped within the magma. The more gas within magma, the more explosive potential within a volcano.

This is why features such as the ones that created Hawaii constantly erupt with little disruption to anyone outside of the lava flows: the gasses within the magma allow for it to escape, and as a result, there are a number of very smooth flows of molten rock that spreads out from the origin, resulting in what is called a shield volcano, because of the shape that it forms. Here, the magma is classified as Mafic, which has a lower silicone content within the minerals that compose the flow - the resulting rocks tend to be rich in pyroxenes and olivines, and are darker in color. The other major class of volcanoes is the Stratovolcano, which form over major subduction zones, such as what you would find ringing the Pacific rim. The magma here tends to be classified as felsic, with a much higher silicone content, which is more viscous in nature and allows for more gas to be trapped within. These volcanoes tend to be very tall, with high peaks composed of alternating flows and debris from prior eruptions. Cinder cones tend to be found on both types of volcano, and are usually one-time events that build mounds of basalt to some impressive heights.

File:Krakatoa eruption lithograph.jpg

The Stratovolcanos are the ones that are problematic, because they have effects that stretch far beyond their immediate vicinity, as we've been seeing with Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, and more notably, with the Krakatoa eruption of 1883. This was one of the most violent eruption (About 13,000 times the strength of the Hiroshima atomic bomb) in human-recorded history, and had profound, long term effects on global climate. Following that eruption was a marked drop in global temperature (1.2 degrees C, according to Wikipedia). Eruptions of this nature do far more than throw out lava from the vents: pent up energy within the magma builds, then explodes, vaporizing rock and throwing up a massive plume of ash, debris and dust. Larger particles come down the quickest, given their mass, and the further from the volcano you go, the smaller the debris. The dust thrown up in an event such as this rises and moves to the Stratosphere, where it can be carried around the globe. This pumps other gasses into the atmosphere, which in turn helps to deflect sunlight from the planet, allowing for a cooling event to occur. The dust and gasses in the atmosphere has the added effect of filtering out sunlight, leading to some spectacular sunsets.

Another notable event was the 1816 'Year without a summer', which had in turn been caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora the year before, which is likewise one of the most powerful eruptions in known history, at roughly four times the Krakatowa eruption. In this instance, a massive global cooling occurred, affecting the Northern Hemisphere by destroying crops and precipitating a famine. Here in Vermont, snow fell each month of the year, and the eruption would have an affect on the planet's climate for years to come.

Most of the major eruptions in recorded history have been relatively minor, with explosions of Krakatoa and Mount Tambora occurring long before the advent of modern society and globalization. The dust that is thrown up into the air by the explosion is very fine, and has the ability to completely ruin mechanical engines, resulting in the grounding of air traffic around Europe, and soon, most likely Canada. Keeping in mind that this was a relatively small and localized eruption, imagine what will happen when there is another eruption on the scale of one of those eruptions. In that instance, we will have quite a lot more to worry about than stranded passengers.

Obama's Space Plan: Astronauts to Asteroids

Yesterday afternoon, President Obama spoke at the Kennedy Space Center, addressing the critics of his Administration's plans for the future of NASA, indicating that there will be quite a lot to expect from the space administration in the coming years and decades.

Amongst the leading concerns, even some voiced by noted astronauts Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11), Gene Cernan (Apollo 10/17) and Jim Lovell (Apollo 8/13), charging the Obama administration with formulating a plan that would restrict NASA in the near future, and potentially allowing the U.S. to slip behind other nations in space supremacy. Much of the controversy has been around the massive Constellation program and its cancellation. With it went the first elements of a future moon program that would have utilized the new Ares 1 rocket and the Orion capsule.

President Obama noted at the speech that he was 100% behind the program, noting that the achievements that the Administration have provided much inspiration for the entire nation, noting that a space program was an essential element of the American character. The speech was mainly centered around what was to come: a six billion dollar increase in NASA's budget over the next six years, which would be used to fund new programs, research and development for new means to reach space.

A major element of the speech was noting the issues with the Constellation program as a whole, and that the changes put into place would be more effective, faster and cheaper. The Constellation program was already behind schedule and over budget, according to an independent study, something that NASA itself really didn't want. However, the President noted that a couple of elements from the program would be salvaged: the Orion capsule, to become an escape vehicle for the International Space Station, and alluded that a new, heavy-lift rocket would be developed by 2015, using older models - most likely, coming out of the Ares rocket design.

This mention of a new, heavy-lift rocket is a critical component of the President's speech, because it signals a very different style of spaceflight in the future. A heavy-lift rocket will allow astronauts to travel away from a low earth orbit, for the first time since Apollo 17 (1975). Plans to land astronauts on an asteroid, and eventually, by the mid-2030s, to Mars, with a series of ever-increasing challenges to reach that goal, much like the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions were geared towards reaching the Moon.

Additionally, private industry will be a major component of this plan, with SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket getting named in the beginning of the speech. The President made a vital point in the middle of his speech, noting that Private industry has always been a major part of NASA's plans, and that that relationship would continue. Personally, I find this to be an exciting proposition, with a number of companies starting up and well on their way towards reaching space. SpaceX is a company that I've personally followed for a couple of years now, and I'm very excited to see what they come up with next. Bringing in private industry makes sense to me, because it helps to shift some of the costs away from taxpayers, and it would seem that the President hopes that a major industry that will attract industry and highly skilled workers will spring up in the Florida region. To that end, they've promised $40 million towards an area redevelopment plan to further this along.

This seems to fit with a larger element of the Administration's plans, especially bringing more people to college and by extension, creating a highly knowledgeable and skilled workforce. The main issue there is that this work force needs a place to exist after college, and it would be a positive thing for the country to grow and maintain a major industry that is geared towards space exploration.

There were some issues with President Obama's speech. His address did not cover what the short term ramifications of creating a new program would be, and with the Space Shuttle program ending this year, it is likely that NASA will be left no choice but to travel to space with the Russians, at least until a replacement can be found. SpaceX is working towards this goal, but that is something that is a little ways out at this point. To his credit, Obama noted that the decision to cancel the Space Shuttle program did not come from his administration, but from the Bush administration, who rightly saw that the Shuttle was an aging piece of technology that would need to be replaced.

Furthermore, the President noted that he was not interested in returning to the Moon, setting his sights on the Red Planet instead. I can't see a Martian mission being put into place without further exploration of the moon happening: The U.S. has been away from the Moon for 35 years at this point, and additional training and practice. Considering the distances involved for a Mars landing mission, it would make sense to perfect technology and crews close to home, where problems can be solved far more easily, and in the event that something goes wrong, solutions are far more achievable.

One thing is for sure, this plan, to me, sounds very ambitious, exciting and most of all, provides a rough point for NASA to work towards in the next twenty years: Mars. While the speech did not resonate with me as Kennedy's speech in 1961 did, I hope that we will see much of the same results, and that the change in plans will pay off for the United States. What is most exciting is that there is a plan beyond simply going to space as a sort of placeholder, as the Shuttle program seems to really be. The first age of space was marked with a goal and time: land on the moon by the end of the decade, and is something that should have been followed upon with a larger project that would have taken the lessons learned from Apollo and applied them to new ventures in space. In short, Obama's plan is long overdue, something that should have been put into place twenty years ago, and that should have yielded results by this point.

High Speed (or, I Want To Read On The Way To Work)

Recently, the problem of drivers texting while in a vehicle has been brought to the forefront of the news, shedding light on a vital issue that illustrates that driving is inherently a very dangerous activity. Road safety is something that should never be far from our minds, either in the car, or out of it, and every day on my drive to work, I see examples of poor training and practice amongst my fellow drivers. Two years ago, the issue was on the roads themselves, where cuts and transfers of funds to the roads took place, resulting in roads with plenty of hazards. Both issues taken separately are worrisome, but taken together, they're both downright scary.

Thinking about this has brought to mind another initiative that has been making a bit of news over the course of the past year: high speed rail service. Currently, the nation lags far behind other industrialized nations, such as the United Kingdom, much of Europe and Japan, for large-scale access to a fast train system. In part, I suspect, that's due to the sheer size of the United States, as well as competing for space with freight transportation across the country. Because of the size, a high speed rail system is going to be an expensive proposition, upgrading the current one to something far better.

However, despite the expense, I want to see a high speed rail system come to the United States. On my way to work, I cross a set of rail road tracks that have since been abandoned, and over a hill, follow alongside the major railroad track that runs from the Burlington area all the way down to Boston and down the East Coast. A friend once visited from New York City, and it took her just as long to get up as it would have been to drive. Driving alongside the railroad tracks this morning, I couldn't help but think how much I would prefer to have the ability to make a short walk to a train station, get on a train and simply ride in to work. While I lived in England, in 2006, this was a common occurrence for me, and I found that I really enjoyed riding in to work and class via the underground and regular London transit system.

Maintaining a high speed rail system in the State of Vermont would be a good thing for Vermonters. Our long winters bring about hundreds of accidents each year on the highways that commuters use between Montpelier and Burlington, and hopefully, a rapid system would help to cut transit time for people who live a bit further away, and would help reduce the load on the roadways. With an increasing number of people texting and driving, deteriorating roads, moving more people off the roads into a mass transit system will help reduce some of the risks while on the road, and will help with the wear and tear on the roads. It's an alternative that should be available, and as public transportation has increased as fuel prices have done the same, hopefully there will be the the perfect storm of dangerous drivers and accidents, federal spending and infrastructure and availability to Vermonters.

A system such as this would be good for the state as well, linking Vermont to the southern states and cities, allowing for the state to market itself as it has long done for weekend excursions during changing of the fall leaves to the ski season, as well as all of the other attractive reasons to visit our state. It's easy to do that by car, but I've always seen taking a train ride somewhere as a sort of adventure, and have many fond memories of doing so while in London, travelling to Edinburg, Cambridge, Oxford, Eastbourne, Stratford-Upon-Avon and many other places. It was quick, allowed me to plow through fourteen books in four months and allowed me to see the rest of the country without requiring a personal vehicle.

Plus, mass transportation is a good, sustainable sort of practice. Thousands of people driving separately to their destinations is a woefully inefficient activity in the grander scheme of things, only going to highlight some of the issues that the country has when it comes to dependence on oil. It would be good to get used to the idea of having to limit ourselves and what we use before we're forced to in the future by high price by becoming a more efficient society. Don't get me wrong, I like driving my Mini very much - it's one of the reasons why I bought a car in the first place. But I while I enjoy driving, I get very little joy out of my morning commute. I would much rather be reading a book and not having to worry about the other drivers around me.

The Healthcare Debate

The healthcare legislation that has been working its way through Congress over the past year has finally been passed in the House, and will likely be signed into law later on this week by President Obama, mandating Healthcare for the general public and generating some of the most intense debate that I've ever seen when it comes to politics. I have mixed feelings about the bill. On one hand, people will be mandated to carry private health insurance, and will require health insurance companies to carry people, restricting how they can drop people from insurance (no more people dropped due to preexisting conditions, etc) and allows the states to set up markets for people. It'll provide some subsidies for people at a certain income bracket, and will help to pay for itself through fees and a couple additional taxes.

On the other hand, this is a system that is most likely unprepared for the sudden influx of 32 million people, on the part of the hospitals to insurance companies. It's most likely going to cost a bit of money in unexpected places (even though it's supposed to reduce the deficit by quite a bit) and is causing a lot of worry from some people about how it will affect small businesses and gives something for the paranoid anti-governmental cranks to yell at.

With that in mind, I think that this is most likely going to be a largely positive move for the country to go to. Numerous other developed worlds have put into place such a system, and while it's been longstanding desire on the part of many a politician, it's never been enacted until now. This is major, for the public, and its being hailed as the next step of civil rights. To be very honest, I don't know if it is or not, or what will happen next, but I am happy that the entire mess is over for now.

Moreover, it's huge win for the Democratic Party. Despite enormous and united efforts on the part of the Republican Party, the bill was still passed. The President's major legislative goal, promised in his campaign, has since been fulfilled, and represents a concrete example of what the party has done. Interestingly, the bill has been designed to be put into place gradually - some things, such as the more popular ban on dropping for pre-existing conditions, allowing college students to remain on their parent's insurance, and so forth, allowing people to see the changes in action, which will likely help to stem a lot of the negative publicity on this bill.

Still, the Democrats really screwed up parts of this. Much of the angst and issues came from language relating to some of the more controversial elements of the bill, but also because congressmen were too concerned about their futures in the House. While this is a legitimate concern, when a party becomes more important than the immediate good of the nation, problems arise. In particular, this fight over the past eight months has weakened President Obama's presidency, if only because of his inability to keep his party in line and to hold them to specific legislative strategy. One can hope that this will become a lesson for what not to do with the Democrats, and demonstrate the need for a clear and unified party strategy. Similarly, simply saying that people would come around once they see the bill in action, while probably true, simply isn't good enough. As a party, the democrats needed to sell their vision to the American people, and that was something that they largely failed to do.

At the same time, the Republicans have dug themselves into a major hole with their actions. Despite their complaints that they were shut out of the process with the bills that were proposed, I've always thought that the cries to start again, this time with more conservative ideas, was just a thing to buy time and delay the actions that just happened, which was genuinely hurting the Democratic party. Rather than providing a unified front against the Democratic ideas, the gamble was that they could derail the bill, rather than incorporating ideas from within and using their leverage there to get their way - it was a gamble that failed, and most likely, there will be some Republicans that will be in hot water with their own constituents over the bill’s passage.

Still, for all of their arguments, it largely came down to one point: it would be too expensive, and would land the country into even more debt. While that’s an entirely reasonable argument, I wonder where these people were when the Iraq War was pushed through congress, which will no doubt do far more damage in that department than this bill. The Democrats should have done far more to attack them on this point, and explained just how this bill will not do what the Republicans think it will.

What worried me the most was the tactics used on the part of right-wing elements in the country to bring out voters, utilizing mis-information about the bill, general hatred towards our President and resorting to some pretty nasty stuff, especially right before the bill - racial slurs, death threats and so on. I'm all for galvanizing a population and encouraging them to get involved, but not in ways that are fundamentally detrimental, and in the end, just stirred tempers and drove the image of the Republican Party further to the right. In the end, that's probably not going to help the Republican Party - the Democrats, through this whole experience, can show that they're a party that's somewhat flexible, if somewhat hard to pull into line, but one that has far more moderate policies amongst its members as a whole. What hampered some of the movement on this bill may in fact be something that can be exploited.

What needs to happen next is for the Democrats to sell this victory - they need to get out and about to their bases, talk about what they've done, and make people realize what they've done, and how it is good. They need to use this victory to push forward to other positive accomplishments that they can work with, and use this to their advantage to move forward what they want to do in the next two and a half years.

(A bit of a disclaimer – given the heated nature of this political argument, I’m closing comments. These are my own views on this, and I’m not in the mood to deal with a whole lot of confrontation over them. If you don’t like it, go write your own angry blog post.)

Counter Insurgency and the Iraq War

Two presentations on the last day of the Colby Military Writers Symposium at Norwich University examined the ongoing counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, with Dr. Conrad Crane, of the U.S. Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, PA, and Col. (Retired) Peter Mansoor of Ohio State University, and former Executive Officer to General David Petraeus, leading the presentations. Dr. Crane largely looked at the history of counterinsurgency warfare, and what lessons were learned with the introduction of the COIN Doctrine and manual on the part of the U.S. Military, while Col. Mansoor largely looked at the issues with the Iraq War, and the lessons that were learned during the fighting.

The United States has a long history with counterinsurgency operations. The War for Independence, the Civil War, and some of the surrounding conflicts, the Indian Wars, the Philippines, the Second World War, and Vietnam all had elements of asymmetrical warfare, but after the Vietnam War, records and documents about how to fight a counterinsurgency force were destroyed, because it was determined at the time that the United States wouldn't fight a war like that again. At the time of the Iraq War, the only counterinsurgency manual was one from Guadalcanal, for a small 50 man force that had been deployed there as advisors. From the 1980s onwards, a rise on counterinsurgency-based conflicts arose. As the United States entered Iraq, it found that the approaches to how the war would be fought would have to be rethought-out, and as a result, theorists with the Army and Marines began to work on a new Counter Insurgency manual, known as COIN.

According to Peter Mansoor, a number of assumptions were made on the part of the United States as to how the war would be fought, with certain reactions to the U.S. forces. Counterinsurgency was not planned for by U.S. planners, and as a result, the invading force was not prepared for that style of warfare. Furthermore, he charged, once U.S. forces had entered the country, and begun reconstruction work, the political groundwork for an insurgency campaign against U.S. forces was aided by the mistakes that were made from U.S. administrators, particularly Paul Bremer.

Amongst some of the elements that helped was the debathification of the country that occurred, removing the dominant party under Saddam Hussein from power. While this was an essential task, the removal of numerous civil servants extended too far, removing people who had only joined the party to advance, but also hampered recovery plans that were contingent upon people remaining at their posts after the U.S. entered the country. To keep the government functioning, roles were filled with people who were not qualified, and corrupt, which allowed for widespread disillusionment with the recovery efforts and left thousands out of work. They turned their frustrations into violence, turning the war in a different direction. Additional issues cropped up, as the changes in the war did not meet with the Bush Administration's plans, and as a result, this led to a lack of critical thinking and planning on the part of war planners. Rising levels of violence between 2004 and 2006 indicated that there was a need for a new approach to the war. At the height of the violence, President Bush allowed for a change in the war with the lauded troop surge.

The surge was not just an increase in the number of soldiers sent to Iraq; it coincided with the introduction of the new Counterinsurgency Manual that had been put together. The manual, authored by General Petraeus and a number of military and historical experts. The surge itself did not improve security: it worked as a catalyst to allow for improvements. The manual focused on a set number of objectives that redefined the war: It was population oriented, noted that a specific force was needed, rather than overwhelming force, military forces were not the only elements of the battlefield, required that the host nation would need to step up its own efforts to regulate its internal security, utilized new methods and sources of intelligence. Furthermore, the doctrine saw the need to change how the military perceived problems prior to engaging in combat, separate out insurgents from the rest of the population, manage information on the battlefield and utilizing perceptions, and utilized a clear/hold/rebuild approach to the battlefield.

Crane noted that there are a number of discrete styles of insurgency: conspiratorial, military, urban, popular, identity and subversive, and that these motivations for violence had both different background and contributing factors, but that these factors were not static: they could manifest at the same time, or the styles could change. In general, each style also requires a different response. The result is that counterinsurgency forces must be prepared and ready to meet a number of different threats at any given time, but also must anticipate and if possible, try to head off problems before they happen. One example cited was the efforts of a unit in a community that worked to pick up trash along the streets. In addition to denying a ready hiding place for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), it demonstrated to the community that there was an effort on the part of the Unit to help improve the community, and won over support of local leaders.

The COIN doctrine was started in Iraq, but was created with the intent that it would be continued to use in the future, for potential conflicts after the U.S. leaves Iraq and Afghanistan. The thinking behind the doctrine and manual is to emphasize good leadership from the top, while also preserving the message and intent of the orders with the greater picture down to the front lines. Modern, flexible leaders will be required along with better schooling and training of soldiers, as well as learning from the lessons of the current wars, with better preparation and implementation of the new doctrine where needed.

The U.S. had problems with Iraq because a number of the lessons that were learned from Vietnam were not remembered. War planners tried to fight a war that the country was very good at, and had experience with: a high tech, conventional war. In the end, the conflict in Iraq turned out to be a very different sort of war, one where technology and sensors were not strategy. The successes of Gulf Storm certainly led to misconceptions about how this war would be fought. Counterinsurgency warfare represents a very large departure from conventional thinking and combat: it is fluid, requires very different roles for the soldiers on the ground and a different attitude in leadership from all levels.

The Weather Outside

It's finally snowing again in Vermont, and we're expected to get up to a foot in some places. Not necessarily central Vermont, which has lost a lot of its snow and taken on a spring-like atmosphere, something that will hopefully be changing. Meanwhile the rest of the country has gotten all of the snow that should rightfully be Vermont's, with feet of snow at a time, exhausting the budgets of state highway departments two months into the year.

With the snow came, from conservative pundits, a quick outcry as to how the storms invalidated the theory of global climate change, on the grounds that if there is snow on the ground, clearly, there can't be any sort of warming in the atmosphere, and that the liberal lies concerning man's impact on the planet have been unraveled by the white stuff on the ground. Just as quickly, liberal commentators slammed, and rightly so, the thinking behind these fairly short sighted arguments.

There are a number of different theories when it comes to how the climate of the world has interacted with humanity in the past ten thousand years of our existence. Scholarly evidence points to irrefutable evidence that the planet has indeed been heating up - both the atmosphere and the oceans (which are a major component to the Earth's atmosphere), and that this trend largely fits with the rise of industrialization around the world. By and large, there is an assumption that these two figures are inextricably linked together. This may or not be the case, but it does present a compelling notion that humanity is indeed responsible, at least in part, for some of the changes in the atmosphere. Numerous scientific groups from around the world look to general circulation models (which attempt to mathematically link the atmosphere, the oceans and life of the planet into a representation of the world) to help see what is happening in the world. While their methods differ, there is a general consensus that humanity has contributed to CO2 in the atmosphere in a way that is likely to raise global temperatures between .05 and 1.5 degrees Celsius. (Brian Skinner, Stephen C. Porter and Jeffrey Park, Dynamic Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology, 5th Edition, 518) While a single degree doesn't seem like a lot, and is even welcomed by some (I can't begin to say how many people I've heard say that they'll welcome Global Warming with each new snowfall each year) that sort of rise in temperature does more than just heat up the planet. With increases in temperatures, minute changes within atmospheric patterns occur - increased evaporation from water sources in turn leads to more precipitation elsewhere, which in turn has an effect on other areas, which in turn has its own effects in other areas. This is why the term Global Warming has been shifted in recent years to the more politically correct sounding Climate Change - not necessarily for politically correct reasons, but simply because Global Warming does not cover the entire story. Global Warming, in a way, is a component of Global Climate Change.

While wide-scale reporting of the weather did not really exist for much of the world prior to the Second World War, leading to only recent accurate data, other sources of information can be found within the geologic record. Global Warming and Climate Changing events are nothing new within the Earth's history, and numerous locations around the world help to pinpoint what happened in the past. On each continent, large formations of Limestone, topped with glacial deposits, point to long periods of warming periods, followed by global cooling events. Ancient ocean bed deposits littered with drop stones provide concrete and tangible evidence that these sorts of events happened time and time again, over the courses of thousands of years. With the most recent indications pointing to new elements of climate change, and with the possibility of humans speeding up what might be a natural process, the real question becomes, not what we can do about it, but what can we do next?

When looking through the geologic column, it becomes readily apparent that these sorts of changes occur often, and that the planet's climate has changed drastically throughout the billions of years of its existence. On both sides of the liberal and conservative arguments, there exists a certain stupidity and simplification to the issue at hand. I don't necessarily think that human society should be vilified for essentially doing what life generally does when left to its own devices: expand and make it easier to reproduce, or that we should blindly close our eyes to the changes that are clearly happening in the world. Where there is snowfall in Washington DC - In the middle of winter, I might add, there are countless other problems around the world as global weather patterns shift. Our atmosphere has a fickle attitude, and our memory only extends so far, but we have become comfortable with what we remember and what we are used to.

What I dislike the most is the timing of much of the arguments against Global Climate Change, with allegations towards respected scientific bodies, resignations and the recent row with the sudden weather, and the entire theory of climate change has been thrown into question, with TV pundits talking back and forth, and instant polls from viewers being broadcast as real news. The notion that human-made climate change is certainly open to debate, but there is irrefutable evidence that the planet’s temperature is rising. The idea that the polling data taken from average Americans is put toe to toe with decades of scholarly, peer reviewed evidence is just ridiculous. I would hardly expect any sort of average person to understand the science and workings behind how our climate works, not to mention the analysis of such a study, and when said viewers are fed information and doubt from the media, the comparison is even more ridiculous. I, as someone educated in geology and scientific method, can hardly understand the implications and vast nature of such science.

What scares me the most is that the television pundits who go on screen and doubt the existence of such a phenomenon or before a wide scale audience at a convention to dispute such claims most likely know that what they are doing is playing to the fears and uncertainty of the public to fulfill some larger agenda that they might have: whether it’s demonstrating climate change legislation as a sort of over-reach of the Federal Government or of elite liberalism gone wrong. And in reaction, the left overreacts, making fun or coming across as arrogant in their rebuttals, rather than explaining the background of the science involved with such a concept. In the end, it just helps to fulfill the images of both sides of political thought, all the while just adding to the hot air around the world.

The problem with all of this is the dismissal of scientific method, and it demonstrates that much of the mentality and feeling that existed under the Bush administration still exists within a large segment of the United States. There seems to be an irrational fear of academics, of learning and of knowledge, in favor of someone’s gut instincts and what they can see. The principles behind science are sound: any sort of phenomenon can be replicated and tested, but the thinking behind sciences seems to elude much of the population, something that is then exploited when something out of the ordinary occurs, such as the storms that have blanketed the United States recently.

In the meantime, I wouldn't mind if the weather patterns would shift back to normal, so I can get a proper winter back to the places where it can be appreciated.

(In the time that I wrote this last night and the time that I posted this, we got a foot of snow.)

The Afghanistan Push

This afternoon, on the way home from work, I listened to a report from Afghanistan, and the current ongoing push on the part of coalition forces to begin removing the Taliban and other militant forces from power. As I've studied military history, I've read much when it comes to the analysis, and firsthand accounts from other wars: other Afghanistan wars, The Civil War, the First and Second World Wars, the Falklands, and others, but I don't know if anything that I've read struck me as much as what the reporter on National Public Radio revealed earlier today. Nothing from our first entry into the country, and the entire invasion of Iraq seemed to go over so smoothly, it barely registered as war for me. It wasn't until after that the situation began to sink in. This report struck me, hard, as to the nature of the fighting over there, on all aspects. The war has always been extremely real throughout my recollection of it, but for the first time, I realized just how those long lost wittnesses to events since past felt as they watched.

It's a startling revelation, and I have to wonder if the continual coverage of the fighting, from the news on the Internet to the television to the newspaper is really such a good thing. I feel jaded, cynical to world events, where I was far more optimistic.

The Future of American Space

A friend of mine from work forwarded me an editorial from conservative writer Charles Krauthammer that went up a couple of days ago. It's an article that is both misinformed and contradictory between a number of different points, attacking the Obama administration by likening the recent cancellation of the Constellation program to shutting the United States out of space for good. Nothing could be further from the truth in this when it comes to the future of the American Space industry.

It is noted that Russia will hold a monopoly on spaceflight for the first couple of years following the shutdown of the space shuttle. True, but as a recent Wall Street Journal editorial by Peter Diamandis (one of the founders of the X-Prize) notes, this will come to significantly lower costs for the US, as the operational cost will be borne by the Russians, as the United States sends up hardware and personnel. Considering that the US currently spends billions on going to space with the shuttle, it's a good move for a democratic administration trying to cut spending. Cooperation with the former Soviet Union makes sense, especially as we're not enemies with the nation anymore, but competitors, as we both have mutually accessible goals with the International Space Station. Indeed, space technology, while in the hands of the Americans, has long been a way of surpassing diplomatic closed doors: the Apollo 11 astronauts toured Russia, while the Apollo/Soyuz test project helped to bring the two countries closer together over time.

In the meantime, getting to space is not too expensive for private industries: it's been done before, and a number of other companies are well on their way. Last year, SpaceX became the first company to launch and deploy a satellite into space, and over the past year, has been testing their own equipment on launches - one of the recent shuttle launches contained a new navigational unit, designed for SpaceX's proprietary technology, as well as other instruments so that their own ships would be able to locate and lock onto the International Space Station. NASA has already awarded a contract to this company, starting in 2010, to run through 2012, for launch capabilities, most likely to get supplies and materials up into orbit with their Falcon 9 rocket. A manned spacecraft, the Dragon, is to be used with the Falcon 9, and will no doubt be playing a large role in the near future. In this regard, Krauthammer is misinformed as to the capabilities of the US Space Industry.

This is one of the more puzzling elements of the space industry, especially when it comes to the political table. Numerous presidents, from Kennedy to Regan to Nixon to Bush have all played the space card, often suggesting lofty goals for what the United States can achieve. In a way, the ability to reach space is a marker for the progress of the technology and science, and the United States has proven, and continued to prove its resilience and dedication to these goals. However, in how these goals are carried out is telling, especially when one considers the background motivations behind why these men have suggested that we go to space. President Kennedy, in his famous Rice Stadium speech on May 25th, 1961, came just after the April failure of an invasion of Cuba. Faced with a desire to help scrub the administration's image clean, Kennedy focused on some of his campaign priorities, including the space gap issue, and announced that the United States would go to the moon - a move that wasn't supported by everyone in his administration, and even the President himself had his doubts about it. The recent Constellation program was announced by President George W. Bush during a period of sagging rating from a war that was going sour, suggesting that there was much of the same rational going on behind the scenes. Space is an inspirational goal, and none of the presidents really deserve any criticism for their intentions, but they do for their own personal lack of support. Constellation was most likely doable, but at enormous cost that just doesn't make sense in the current economic climate.

Indeed, when it comes to conservative support, the condemnation of the cancellation of Constellation runs contrary to both parties internal philosophies: conservatives, who seek to reduce the federal budget, taxes and overall governmental footprint, are eager to continue this expensive and limited program, while it is the liberals, who advocate larger government spending and influence who are asking for the program to be cut away. Space has a very strange influence on governmental politics, because of the moral and popular boost that only going to the moon can reveal. In this instance, cancelling one program for another one that has the potential to better cement America's hold on space seems like the better option, especially if the incentives for private business enterprises are there as well, another puzzling aspect of Krauthammer's argument, which likewise runs counter to typical conservative thinking: there is something that American ingenuity and hard work can't accomplish? I honestly find this incredibly difficult to believe, and think that an American space industry will help bring the US to orbit and keep us there, long-term.

Diamondis's article points out some very good reasons to go to space: asteroids contain a wealth of minerals and metals that can be used here at home, as well as on the Moon. The space program has long been argued as being a great public relations program, but one without practical gain. A space program and industry that pays for itself is the only way forward for anyone to remain in space, and the United States needs to continue that momentum by building up an industry and a space program that can work with it in the future. Other countries are still reasonably far behind, but while there is no reason to allow them to catch up, the United States needs to be intelligent about its decisions in how it remains in the lead.

Finally, the argument that Mars is too far away makes sense to a limited extent, but if going into space is only for limited goals, then what is the point of the United States remaining in orbit if there is little payback for our efforts? The Space Shuttle was a remarkable achievement in its time, and there will be others in the future: humanity will make its way to Mars, if anything because it is in our nature to do so: we are a curious people, and will always be looking ahead to the next challenge to overcome, and the next place where we can stick our feet.

eBooks & Value

Last week, and publishers started going head to head with the business model that has set up for their Kindle eBook store. With the recent release of the Apple iPad, new alternatives have been opened for publishers. With it, there has been a flood of problems and statements from all edges of public opinion about not just the power that seems to be able to field, but also to the very nature of the place of e-books.

The background of the story lies with Amazon's preference for a lower price for an e-book on their Kindle device. Typically starting at $9.99, one of the major publishers, Macmillan, went to Amazon with new proposals for how to sell their books. From how I understand it, it would introduce a graduated pricing system, starting their new books at $15.99 and gradually dropping the price as demand falls away. This is something that's already pretty well established in the book industry, with hardcovers of the really big books starting off at $25 to $30, before dropping down to trade paperbacks (Around $15 each) going to or going directly to mass market paperbacks, generally around $7.99 each. There's a new, taller book (I'm not sure what it is called) that typically runs around $9.99 per copy.

A big part of the issue is that profits that go to the publisher, and eventually, the author, have been cut into, as it is a cheaper way to distribute the book. This made a lot of sense for, because after purchasing a multiple hundred dollar device, because it helps the more economically minded consumers actually use the device. While it's just a little more than the mass-market paperback, buying a new release book that would normally be $30, for something between $9.99 and $15.99, makes a lot of sense, especially for the consumers who really matter - the ones who buy hundreds of books a year.

This makes good for the consumer, for sure, but it does impact other elements down the publishing line, and indeed, the bookselling line. Pundits, for years, have been predicting the demise of brick and mortar bookstores with the introduction of online bookstores such as, and with the slowly growing rise of e-books and the Kindle, it's coming back, and for good reason: bookstores are getting hurt by this new competition. I recently was laid off from Borders when they closed down 200 of their smaller stores in order to consolidate to their larger ones. While there are other issues at stake there, it is clear that people buy far more off of the internet than from in a store. When given a chance, I'll do the same thing - I can pick up other books cheaper from Amazon's used bookstore, but also from used bookstores around the area.

This is all part of a larger consumer culture that seems to be pushed along by giants such as, Walmart, Home Depot and other stores: consumers want to pay the lowest possible price for what they want. Bigger stores can make that happen, and we've been conditioned to respond to that sort of thing. One of the problems, however, is in how the consumer values the product that they're intending on buying, and how much the creator, whether it's a publisher or manufacturer, and there's a growing gap that's pushed forward by these larger stores. It's good for the consumer and good for these stores in particular, but it's not good for the manufacturer of whatever good you're trying to buy.

I'm not sure that that is a good thing, because eventually, the manufacturer's ability to produce will have to be decreased due to lack of profits. In the publishing industry, forcing a publisher to take a smaller cut for their books means that less money could make it to the author, who will either need to sell more books or negotiate a better deal with their publisher. This is even more of a problem when stores, such as sell a majority of your books, and where your entire publishing company has been taken off, as is the case with Macmillan.

I think part of the issue is addressing just how much a publisher should value their e-books, and making customer expectations meet that. Books have a lot that go into them, from editing, layout, marketing and so on, and in a consumer culture where expectations towards lower and lower prices are pushed as well, that particular detail is going to be lost. It would seem that the publishing industry has reached a level where they don't want to move any further.

How exactly does one value an e-book? I can say with certainty, that I will typically go with the price on the back of the book for a majority of the books that I purchase in a year. I try to find something with a discount, and made use of my employee discount, but once purchased, I know that the book was mine. When it comes to e-books, there are a whole lot of other options, especially with, which essentially sells you a license for the book, which can be revoked at any point. (This happened, somewhat ironically, with the book 1984, recently). This is the same with music and software, and has been around for a while, so I'm not sure why everyone is raising a fuss about it now. Thus, people purchase a product that they cannot transfer or resell as they could the physical product. Even if it is cheaper, I think that even $9.99 isn't a good value for the consumer, as opposed to my feeling that $25 is a very good value for a physical book in some instances.

Who's at fault for this? Well, everybody has blamed everybody. The publishers have been blamed for distrupting Amazon's plans, the consumers have been blamed for wanting low prices, the publishers for demanding too much, and the authors have been blamed for whining and complaining about this. This has always been an issue with business, because there are numerous people who get different cuts, and everybody wants a larger piece of the pie. Personally, I think that the publishers are well within their rights to set the books at whatever price they want - how they value their product - because they are primarily in charge of the creation. Amazon has just enough leverage to force their own prices on the publishers because they account for large portions of the sales. Authors, I think are largely blameless in this, because they simply have no control over how these books are sold, marketed and edited. Consumers, I think, need to have a more realistic value in their heads for what they buy.

The bottom line that I see here is that this row isn't the end, but in this instance, it's not unreasonable for a graduated pricing system, as publishers want. While is looking to entice people to their Kindle, I think that there is sufficient momentum on their part for moving people to digital formats. People aren't necessarily going to be scared away by higher ebook prices, because these higher prices will still be better than the alternatives. Just as casual readers will wait for a year for their favorite author's book to come out in paperback, the buyers who really matters, the repeat customers who buy a larger volume of books will buy the books as they come out, generally at the regular price, or at the sales price that drops that just a bit. Unfortunately, as has moved to punish a publisher, the authors have been caught as collateral damage.

This, more than ever, just reinforces my desire for a hardcopy book, rather than an e-book. The tactile crap that a lot of people go on about just doesn't figure into it. When I buy a book at a bookstore, that is my property, not just a piece of data that can be revoked by a company as it sees fit, and I can sell it and return my losses as I need. Plus, I don't need to worry about a battery for any of the books that I own.

It's The End Of The World As... They Live It

The 7.0 magnitude Earthquake that hit Haiti last week has brought about a justifiably horrified reaction from the rest of the world. New reporters have been frantically covering the event, from the first reactions to the rising violence that is beginning to sweep Port du Prince. As I drove down my driveway this morning and on to Rt. 12 on my way to work, the reporter for the BBC explained that the situation was getting worse. People were living in the streets, and aid was having a difficult time reaching the million-plus refugees. I turned the radio off.

The images and descriptions that I've been seeing and hearing have been lingering in my thoughts in the meantime, and I can't help but think that there are some people out there who have wished for this moment to come, prepared for it, even.

I'm not talking about people who were dismissing the tragedy for their own benefit, but hoped for some sort of post-apocalyptic event that brought down the mass of organized society and government and allowed for a quiet solitude in the middle of nowhere with a stockpile of food and a gun to fend off intruders. Thus is the backbone of most post-apocalyptic fiction that seems to enthrall the nation.

Looking at the pictures that have streamed across the internet and the television, I see a window into a true apocalypse. And what I see is horrifying, disturbing and something that I would never, ever want to experience for myself. For all of the appeal that living alone, fending for one's self against the world, has, the true cost has been revealed in recent days.

The events that I have been listening to, watching and donating towards are something out of fiction, in a surreal way. First came the numbers of the dying - there was confusion from everyone who talked there. I listened as former US President Bill Clinton spoke from the country just a day after the horrific events, pleading for the public to help donate supplies to help the wounded and dying. Doctors and rescue workers were flying in from all corners of the globe, while hope faded from the rubble.

The past couple of days have taken an even darker turn. With little food and supplies from the rest of the world actually reaching the people, violence has broken out as desperation overtakes civility. Here is where we see the true nature of humanity, and with the virtual collapse of government, law and justice in Port du Prince, we are witness to a troubling situation that would undoubtedly occur with the fall of a massive nation, such as the United States. Gangs have begun to rise, and over the next six months, there will be problems in restoring order, and that's with the likely onetime assistance of the American public, and the deployment of the Marines and Army to the country.

Fortunately, as of this morning, a US hospital ship has arrived at Haiti and has begun to take on the wounded, while the 82nd Airborne has set up a distribution system for food and water that will hopefully help people. Haiti will be saved, by a concentrated US and International effort to save its people and help it to rebuild - a process that might take years. If this is the reaction within days of a crisis and within days of almost certain rescue, what would happen in the event that there is no aid coming in from others? I suspect that while Haiti shows us much, it would barely tip the scales.

If the fantasy of the true libertarian comes true, the same thing will happen here. Cities would fall into lawlessness, looting and rioting days after any sort of event, when the first pangs of hunger set in. How soon, in Port du Prince, before neighbors will begin to murder for water, food and other essential supplies, if it hasn't begun already? As I sit at home, surrounded by the trappings of a modern society, I see just how much I can lose, but also how terrifying life would become with the lost of control of modern society. I certainly cannot imagine how the Haitians are coping with this drastic change, and while watching, I'm glad that I'm in some small position to help, and hope that my meager contribution will make it to the country.

The past couple of days have been a sobering, dark look at everything we have to lose; not just our material possessions, but our sanity as a culture. I hope that I never live through something like what the people of Port du Prince is going through right now. Moreover, I hope that those with the video game consoles will look closely at what the true face of their fantasy is.

Technology & Pirates

Last night, on my way home from work, I ended up listening to a couple commentators discussing the recent rise in piracy off the coast of Somalia. This has been of particular interest here in Vermont, as Captain Richard Phillips is from Underhill, and recently was returned home safely after a 5 day standoff with the pirates who took him hostage.  The article in general was examing a number of high tech ways that vessels, which generally don't like to arm their crews (for safety reasons), are adopting to fend off pirates. These items range from types of foam that can prevent someone from climbing up on a ship, water cannons, directed sound and light emitters that deafen or blind combatants, all of which have had some use in the seas already. Most of these things I remember being developed by the military for non-lethal warfare, and they seem to be pretty effective at repelling boarders, which is hoped will help to stop piracy in that region. 

I don't think that it's going to work, however. 

A short while ago, I did several reviews and an interview with Wired for War author Peter Singer, and I think that there are several parallels between this high-tech approach to taking on 21st century pirates, and our new, high tech ways to taking on insurgents in a 21st century world that Singer has outlined. Additionally, there were several points in my own studies on methods of warfare that give me some pause when it comes to new and high-tech gadgets being put into combat situations. 

On the more obvious side, technology seems to be the silver bullet for warfare. Soldiers nowadays have enormous capabilities compared to their historical predecessors. Our soldiers can fight in the dark, can shoot a person from over a mile away, can fly over a hostile combat zone from thousands of miles away, and talk to one another while fighting in a way to coordinate their movements. These advances have allowed our military personnel to be far more effective in combat, and as a result, more people come back alive than before. There is very little downside to this. 

What I fear, however, is that our military, and indeed, our society, has come to expect far more from fighting forces, and are more willing to utilize technology as a method of warfare. While covering the 2009 Colby Military Writer's symposium here at Norwich University a month ago, the panel discussion brought up the point that President Eisenhower noted in his fairwell address in 1961, warning against the rise of a military industrial complex, noting that going to war nowadays is far easier, because the personnel required is smaller, with technology being percieved as making up the difference far better than humans can. 

This has certainly been a big issue for Iraq, and numerous talks and people I've spoken with have noted that the human element to warfare is something that cannot be underestimated or eliminated. Author Alan R. King, noted that many of the problems that we had in Iraq was a failure to understand the human element within the country, with in turn cause the situation to worsen. Peter Singer also noted that a number of human rights groups have looked into the idea of utilizing unmanned drones in genocide areas, such as Sudan's Darfur, in an effort to stop the violence, and former CIA operative and author Robert Baer has noted that for all the satellites in orbit, having an operative in a room with someone is the best way to gather intelligence, because they can see, hear and feel everything that it going on, things that robotic solutions cannot do at the present moment. These 'solutions' are really not solutions. 

So, when it comes to the rise in Piracy in Somalia, technology is certainly going to deter some pirates. But, what happens when they aquire a water cannon of their own, or use goggles and ear plugs to counter the countermeasures? The same thing is happening in Iraq at the present moment with children armed with spray paint - an expensive robot is taken out of commission by a far cheaper solution. The other issue that I see with extensive countermeasures against pirates is that this could up the ante when it comes to the pirates themselves, and they have already threatened to do so following the deaths of the three pirates who took Richard Phillips the other day. Simply killing and deterring pirates at this point is a short-term solution, as we have found killing insurgents. Where there are people who have taken up arms, there will be people to follow, and the situation will escalate. 

President Obama has recently said that they will be putting a stop to the rise in piracy over there, but what exactly does that mean? Will we send in a carrier group to cover a large amount of ocean, while not addressing the underlying problem? Or will he go the route that will be unpopular and attackable by working with the remains of the Somali Government to try and control the problem through economics, which will ultimately solve the problem? The pirates are the symptom of a country in dire need of help, and working to alleviate that symptom will not bring about any sort of long term solution.

Transportation of the Future

London Heathrow and Masdar City are both set to become the modern test for a very interesting transportation system called Personal Rapid Transit, or PRT. This system is one right out of science fiction, and really seems to make a lot of sense. According to Wikipedia's entry on the subject, this sort of transit system is one that carries passengers from point to point, but in a way that is far more effective than a regular bus or light rail line. While it's not as mobile as a network of automobiles, in that it runs on a track, it brings passengers directly form point to point in individual vehicles.

This isn't a concept that is new, even if it sounds and looks like something from the future. In 1975, Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit of West Virginia University, has been operational since 1975. This system was designed to link together West Virginia University, and was built as a demonstration of the system. Linked together with five seperate stations, MPRT covers almost nine miles, and transports almost 16,000 riders per day, who largely fund the system through a cheap fare. This system is apparently not a true Personal Rapid Transit system because it does have set stations and a schedule during peak hours, while it can take people directly to destinations on off-peak hours.

The systems that London and Masdar City are planning are true systems, guided by automated systems that will carry passengers directly to their destinations. In London, the system will connect a parking lot to one of the terminals, while in Abu Dhabi, cars will be banned from the city, leaving this to be the only transportation system, along with light rail service. There are apparently other systems planned in Europe, as well as one in Santa Cruz, California.

I really like this idea, and I think that it can be successful, and a good alternative to mass transit in large urban areas. The system helps to undercut some of the main problems with mass transit, such as delays, busy schedules and breakdowns that affect whole lines by creating a very versatile network that can cut down on transit time for commuters. There are obvious problems with this system, especially in highly developed cities. It would be a massive undertaking for most places to establish an additional transportation system in pre-existing routes that are already likely in heavy use. Projects such as London Heathrow make sense because there won't be a dependency on preexisting roads and rails, and there is a bit of space in which to build this. I have a very hard time seeing a city such as New York or London proper adopting something like this simply because of the infrastructure costs associated with it.

But there are major benefits as well. These systems are environmentally friendly, essentially pay for themselves through commuter costs, and would be much more comfortable and direct as opposed to subway and bus systems in cities. Plus, it looks like a very cool system. The London cars that are being put into service look sleek and exciting, almost as if they have jumped from the pages of a science fiction novel or film. Furthermore, they are run on a computer network, which could likely locate a destination and origin, and plot the most effective route. With other cars in the system under the same control, it seems likely that there would be little problems with traffic or congestion as a computer would likely be able to control everything in the system. They would even be able to keep the cars apart, and this would go a long way towards preventing accidents that are inevitable in the roadways now.

The Gaza Conflict

I don't normally talk a whole lot of international issues, but this is something that I've been following via the news fairly closely.

According to wikipedia, on December 27th, Operation Cast Lead was initiated by the Israeli Defense forces, a massive bombing and ground assault against the leading party Hamas, in retaliation for years of bombing against Israeli civilians. Since then, there have been well over 3,000 casualties (537 dead, 2,700 injured as of January 4th). That number has most certainly risen in the past couple of days, and is marked by a rise in civilian casualties, which will likely rise as the conflict drags on. The international community has called for an end to the violence, and a return to the cease-fire, which both sides have rejected.

Admittedly, this is an incredibly hard thing to judge, being thousands of miles away, safe at home and work. For me, it's completely impossible to judge exactly what the people are going through. Of course, bombings, civilian casualties and conflict in general is a bad thing. It's incredibly painful to read about children being killed when they're accidentally fired upon, or how families are killed in their home.

Both the Israelis and Palestinians have lived with this for a long time now, and both sides need to be held accountable for what they have done. Unfortunately, with the images of the war fixed in our heads right now, it's incredibly easy to side with the Palestinians with this one, especially when you consider that what the Israelis are essentially bombing are refugee camps, filled with people who are likely to get in the way of gunfire.

But on the other side, it's difficult for me to sympathize with the Palestinians, who have been attacking Israel for a very long time, shooting rockets into civilian sectors, sending out suicide bombers, all the while utilizing hospitals and schools, thereby putting the people who shouldn't be involved in a conflict right in the middle of it.

I think what bothers me the most is the absolute simplicity and naivete that I've seen from some people, either in person, via the internet or television. Stop the bombing, stop the violence, etc. It's not that simple. Hypothetically, should Israel stop the ongoing military operations, what would they have accomplished, aside from giving the people of Palestine even more reasons to be angry and essentially creating a new generation of impoverished, poor and angry people.

The problems there is only going to continue, and I don't see any major changes coming, aside from a cease-fire that will likely only last for months or a year, at the most. Hamas, the dominant political party in Palestine because the people felt they best represented their beliefs, that Israel should not exist, among other things. This feeling is unlikely to go away with the crippling of the party during this attack. People are still going to dislike the existence of Israel, and will continue to cause problems.

Israel is not likely go to anywhere either, not with the dominant support of the United States and other members of the international community who view the nation. However, they will continue to stir up problems as they continue these justified conflict, because of the David and Goliath effect that their warfare takes on.

The problems will continue so long as there is poverty and a general lack of education on the part of the Palestinians that serves to continue the problems between both parties. Unfortunately, this currently conflict is the end result of years of pent-up frustrations and grievences on the part of the Israelis. Should the ongoing military operations cripple the Hamas party, this would be a good, but ultimately futile step towards peace in the region, as the anger of the people will shift to another group and new people who will only continue to personify their beliefs. Unfortunately, neither side seems willing to take the steps, to follow their religious beliefs to the point where we can have a real, lasting peace.