Everybody’s Going to the Moonbase

During a campaign stop in Florida in advance of the next Republican Primary, former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich promised the moon and the stars to Florida voters: "By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American."

It's one of the few things that I've heard from Gingrich that I've liked: returning to space with the full backing of the United States government. With a real perception that the United States has begun to fall behind other countries when it comes to programs in space and with NASA facing budget cut backs and the loss of its most visible program, the Space Shuttle, it’s a nice thing to hear, especially for those who focus on US efforts in space. However, it’s also an empty promise on Gingrich’s part, designed simply to gain traction against his rival, Mitt Romney in advance of the debates.

The Florida ‘Space Coast’ relies much on the infrastructure that's been built up around NASA's launch facilities: the demise of the Apollo Program in the 1970s led to massive layoffs, while the more recent Space Shuttle cancellation has led to further reductions of demand for the highly skilled work force that the industry requires. It's easy to see why Gingrich would propose such a program in Florida: it means hundreds of thousands of new, high paying jobs. At the same time however, it means a complete reversal of personal philosophy, because it would require a massive government program and spending to rebuild the space program to the point where not only reaching the moon, but also establishing a logistical system to support it, would be the first steps. Once established, it's an expensive, ongoing effort to build, maintain, supply and staff a permanent habitation on the lunar surface.

United States space programs have an odd effect on domestic politics: Republicans, traditionally the supporters of limited or restrained government, support such programs: it's heavily tied to defense and national pride, while Democrats typically see the money that's going off-planet as something that can be used to help solve the numerous problems back on the ground. Gingrich, attempting to fulfill his own fantasies, would never get far with a right-of-center government that is looking to bring down government spending (presumably), while the money that is left over would be fought over by those who's programs are being slashed.

The drive to go to the moon wasn't a whim of the U.S. public: it was the result of a carefully crafted argument made for its existence: national security. The development of rockets that could take people and equipment up to space were in place to support Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, as a check against Soviet power growing in Europe and elsewhere in the world. A highly public and dramatic example of the progression of U.S. technology, the existence of a space program capable of reaching the moon was a powerful indication of what the country could do. Certainly, if NASA could send people to walk around on the moon, the Soviet Union was well within reach of the U.S. Strategic Air Command and its nuclear arsenal.

NASA's budget began at a relatively small amount in 1958: $89 million, $488 million as of 2007. This would steadily grow from .1% of the US budget to 2.29% of the federal budget following President Kennedy's speech at Rice University in 1962. The budget for NASA would then double to 4.41% in 1966, during the height of the Gemini and Apollo programs, and would steadily decline. By the time we landed on the moon in 1969, it was back down to 2.31%, or $4.2 billion dollars. ($21.1 billion today). As of 2007, NASA's budget was around $17 billion dollars, but at the equivalent of .6% of the entire US budget. With the entire economic health of the United States in question, it's a program that's largely seen as non-essential and expendable when it comes time to tighten the belt. To reach the moon, NASA would likely have to return to spending levels seen in the 1960s: twice the budget that's been on the books, for sustained periods of time, and on top of that, maintain public engagement for the same amount of time.

Returning to the moon isn't something that can be picked up after forty years, requiring an entirely different mindset and mission stance than the low-earth orbit work that's been done since the early 1980s. New rockets would need to be constructed, and an entirely new logistical support system would need to exist to support such a mission.

This is all before one asks the next question: why return to the Moon and why set up a permanent base on its surface? The original lunar missions were exploratory in nature, and the first people over the finish line in an international race. The Cold War is long since over, the United States has proved that they could reach the moon, and the American public returned to their lives back on Earth. A self-sustaining moon program simply cannot exist for the sake of its own existence, and cannot exist as a show to the rest of the world. A graduated, strategic plan for going to the Moon and beyond, for a concrete, supportable purpose is the only way that the United States will work to go beyond Low Earth Orbit.

There are potential resources in the skies above Earth. Asteroids contain a number of metals, and there's quite a bit of scientific knowledge to be gained, but somehow, I don't think that Gingrich had anything in mind other than restoring the glory days of the United States.

Gingrich isn't going to go far with this plan: already, Romney has slammed him for his plan: "That's the kind of thing that's gotten this country into trouble in the first place." I disagree with Romney's assertion: going to the Moon brought about quite a lot of technology and a sense of security. As Craig Nelson noted in his 2009 book, Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men On The Moon, going to the moon was one of the great endeavors that makes the country worth defending. But, there's a lot of competition for that sort of thing, and I don't foresee a serious, government-backed program coming to fruition in the near future during the current economic climate.

Romney's words indicate that a space program under his administration would fare worse, and of the two, Gingrich's attitude is the best of the group - if he was serious about it. Of course, if he was serious about it, he'd have serious questions about his self-proclaimed description as a 'Reagan-style conservative'. Either way, the Obama administration's move to bring about a space industry using private enterprise seems to be to be the best way to foster the growth of a sustainable American presence in space, something that seems like it would be far more in line with what a Republican administration would back.

Returning to space should be a priority for the country: it’s a means to accomplish great things, from walking on another planet’s surface, to discover incredible things, and to advance the human race far beyond its imagination. At the same time, it’s a way to ensure an industry that is advanced and highly skilled, which is something that will keep us in space even longer. Because of that, I don't believe that it should be a political football, simply to score a couple of percentage points.

Relevant Events & Art


Over on his blog, Mark Charan Newton talked briefly about the link between the Occupy movement and the upcoming Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, which seems to tap into the 99% idea with its recent trailer. I've got my doubts that a film of this magnitude would be directly influenced at the core by something that's happened: the Occupy movement has been around for around three months, and the film's timeline would predate that by a considerable amount of time. The marketing department, however, could certainly use the sudden relevancy of the issue and angle quite a bit of marketing towards that theme.

This has me thinking about the creation of films and art in general. Certainly, science fiction has a tendancy to be very relevant. Avatar and Moon in 2009 really took a stab at the state of environmentalism and energy consumption in the world, while this year's film In Time landed at the right moment, right when the Occupy movement started up a couple of months ago. These are big, societal issues, and if someone has their head to the ground, listening for what might come next, it's certainly easy to see some of these things happening down the road: the genre is a good place to examine such issues. While The Dark Knight Rises is already written, it's far from in the can: the next steps would be the post-production stage, where the editing shapes the footage into a regular, finished product, and I would be not at all surprised if some of the events in the tale end of 2011 will help to shape the film that we'll see next July.

Science Fiction is a relative genre, and often, the films that really last the longest are the ones that seem to retain a certain amount of relevancy the longest: films like Soylant Green, Silent Running or Outland are perfectly watchable, interesting films that hold up considerably well in the present moment, because they really carry messages that resonate: environmentalism, corporations running amok, and bleak futures, all of which we're seeing in full force in the present day. Certainly, the fact that the film Moon has drawn upon some of these films and become a critical success in the last couple of years is testament to that.

It would be facinating to take some of the politically charged films from the 1970s, go to the raw footage and recut and re-edit the film with the current context of today in mind to help shape the story. In all likelihood, I'm guessing that the films wouldn't change that much: the points those films made then are the same or similar now. Similarly, it would be interesting to take the footage that's been shot from The Dark Knight Rises and have it cut back in June 2011, and to compare the final product next year. How different would it be?

Two Speeches, Two Messages

This week marks the 50th anniversary of two important speeches in recent United States history, President John F. Kennedy's Inauguration Speech on January 20th, 1961, and President Dwight Eisenhower's final farewell to the nation on January 17th. One reflects the honest assessment of a president unchained and free to speak, the other constrained by politics and optimism. In a large way, each speech speaks to one's supporters, but also to the base elements that helps define the right and the left in the United States, and in a very real way, provide an excellent primer on not only the environment of the Cold War, but also some of the roots of political speculative fiction and ideas that helped to define an generation and an art that they consumed.

Eisenhower's speech is best known as the one where he warns against the establishment of a 'Military-Industrial Complex', famously stating:

"American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations."

There are some dense concepts and history behind this statement. The role of the United States and its relationship around the world was drastically altered in the years following the First and Second World Wars. Untouched by direct war on its borders, the United States, through the intense demands of warfare found itself an industrial, political and social savior of the world, and it remained through to the Cold War, with a conflict just five years later in Korea. Warfare on the scale of the Second World War has not been seen since, despite the rise of a second superpower in the form of the Soviet Union, a power that would directly impact the stance of the United States.

It would be interesting to see some form of alternate timeline, one where the Soviet Union didn't rise as it did, to see if the arms industry in the United States would continue onwards. The rise of a permanent arms industry and the rise in perceived threats against the United States and its interests are interlinked. This is not to say that there aren't grave threats against the country at that point in time - there were - but the way in which those threats were addressed were impacted by hostilities.

Kennedy seems to understand this in his own speech three days later, and opens with the following:

"The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet, the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God."

This felt strange to me, and it feels off when compared to the more memorable point in Kennedy's speech: "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

The differences between Eisenhower and Kennedy's speech are markedly clear, and are completely at odds with one another, something not entirely surprising, considering the two men come from very different political backgrounds, and entered the executive branch with very different goals. Kennedy, a Democrat, sought to use the abilities of the government to help the people. Eisenhower sought to rein in what he saw as extensive governmental control over the country following the World Wars, feeling that government held back the country's abilities to grow and prosper. Put simply, both goals are exceedingly noble, good and helpful in different ways.

The roots of their political philosophies, however, spell some different futures and implications. Eisenhower presided over a point in time where the world faced a very real and credible threat from the Soviet Union, and ourselves during the Cold War. In a large way, his efforts to scale back the federal government and the spending that it incurred went towards efforts to scale back the conflict between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., and to let free market capitalism take the reins:

"Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partially because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. "

This is a republican idea, in its purest form, and one that has several strong points to make: without the help of the federal government, how much would be different in the scientific progress of the United States? Certainly the development of rockets and intercontinental ballistic missiles would be changed, but as such, so to would scientific wonders such what programs such as NASA accomplished over their own histories. Eisenhower also ignores, to an extent, the reach at which industry has a hand in directing such scientific research, and I'm not sure that there's any different at times between a country that's governed by an overarching Federal Government and a strong corporate society.

Kennedy, on the other hand, looked towards the future with a stronger government leading the way and helping those in need, the ideals of the Democratic side of the coin together. A stronger government would help protect the nation against those who sought to do it harm (and we're ignoring here the idea that part of the problem is ourselves and our actions) and at the same time, support those in need, around the world. This, in a large way, is a reversal of what Eisenhower sought to do with his presidency, by reducing the need for the United States to combat communism around the world in small engagements by creating an arms race set to deter the Soviet Union. Kennedy's speech is one that is full of optimism, promising to combat "the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself". Noble goals, but ones that, in unrestricted form under his beliefs, ultimately lead to fascism, where Eisenhower's, taken to extremes, lead to an absolute libertarian and anarchist state.

This is where both speeches feel as though they are prime grounds for speculative fiction: in the extremes. "Where Kennedy states: Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country," many took it as a call for well intentioned public service, and went on to do this, while others could very well interpret that as a call for the citizens to serve the state absolutely. After reading Brave New Worlds, it's the start of a thought that could potentially lead to a very dark place for the country, and the very opposite of what is intended. (Note, I don't believe that this is what Kennedy intended - we're speaking in hypothetical terms here.) At the same time, Eisenhower notes "The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations and the power of money is ever present and gravely to be regarded.", and is as far away from what Kennedy noted just days later as Eisenhower was interested in going to the Moon. At the same time, while warning against the union of Government, Military and Industry, it's clear that he felt that a stronger corporate culture would help to guide the country to a better place, both leaving the people themselves to be free on their own (a good thing) but at the same time, slaves to a consumer culture. (This is also not to suppose that this was Eisenhower's intentions either).

Both Presidents stood in 1961 at the edge, looking into a murky future that held no clear answers for either philosophy that guided them. Their speeches are ones of optimism, importance and of warnings for the future. Of the pair, I believe that Eisenhower's was by far the most honest, tempered with experience and the freedom of being released from the requirements to help his successor into office. Kennedy spoke to his constituents, noting the troubles ahead, and emphasizing that they were the ones who made up the future, and that they, as a whole, could help make the future a better place.

Defending Korea & Continual Conflict

Korea has been at the forefront of the news over the past couple of weeks as violence has begun to escalate between the North and the South following a North Korean shelling of the South Korean island Yeonpyeong in response to a series of planned military exercises. The escalation of violence seems to have been rising, when an attack on a South Korean warship left almost fifty sailors dead. Indeed, the two countries seem to be a rapidly drying powder keg with a new South Korean leader, and with the expected promotion of Kim-Jong Il's son, Kim Jong-un at some point in the near future. With almost 30,000 American soldiers just to the south of the 38th parallel, an outbreak of war in the country is something that will heavily impact the United States. With two major conflicts on their way out the door, the prospect of another confrontation abroad is a sobering one.

In 1952, Dwight Eisenhower became the 34rd President of the United States, where he had campaigned on countering Communism, Korea and Corruption. Despite leading the Allied military against Adolph Hitler and his allies in Europe, Eisenhower sought to bring down the national budget on a platform of fiscal conservatism, bringing about deep cuts in the military budget and recognizing a new philosophy and approach to the United State's presence in the world.

After visiting Korea, Eisenhower sought to bring the United States and its efforts to an end, and with a cease-fire (although no resolution) to the conflict, was able to fill a major campaign goal that aligned with his beliefs: the United States did not, and could not fight in every battle across the world with a massive standing army, able to engage in more conflicts such as the one just waged in Korea. Under his 'New Look' plan, approved in 1953, which allowed the U.S. to utilize technology and America's atomic stockpile as a means to deter open aggression from the Soviet Union from directly attacking the U.S.. The policy was designed to rein in defense budget spending on a massive conventional force, while spending less on a more technologically oriented one that wasn't necessarily required to do anything but exist.

The recent troubles in Korea bring to mind some of the issues that have been ongoing in the political and military scenes recently. As the country begins to move in the direction of less spending (at least the attitude is there, somewhat), reducing the fiscal situation of the United States will require something along the lines of what Eisenhower had envisioned for the country half a century ago: reductions on all fronts, including military spending. The policies that were put into place were engineered with the fear that the country's financial footing had a corresponding impact on the nation's national security standing in the world. America, with a growing economy, population and budget, could face major problems as it was, and potentially, with the added need of continual fighting abroad in conflicts that were similar to Korea, the country’s stability could be at risk.

In a large way, the series of conflicts that followed September 11th fall right into what Eisenhower feared for the country: exceedingly high defense budgets for an expensive war where the United States has gotten its hands dirty in areas perceived to threaten the country’s security. Eisenhower had pushed against full American engagement in Vietnam, and it wasn’t until after his term in office that the conflict escalated for several Administrations, from which point the U.S. was able to stay out of major engagements until 1991, for Operations Desert Shield and Storm. Here, the theory of technological warfare as a superior form of conventional warfare was validated: for the 372 coalition soldiers killed as a result of the conflict, around 30,000 enemy soldiers were killed.

The fight in Afghanistan and Iraq are different: the U.S. has been slow to adapt to the new environment of warfare, plunging in with certain assumptions and coming out with an entirely different experience than was expected. Continual fighting in small conflicts will cause further problems for the country, especially if such conflicts are not properly understood and the ways in which to fight them are imperfectly realized.

The Eisenhower administration’s plans to deter fighting against the country worked, in part. The threat of massive retaliation faced its biggest test in October of 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and demonstrated that the threat of assured destruction of both countries (not to mention everyone else caught in the crossfire and were downwind) was enough to force both players back down. At the same time, it hasn’t been able to prevent warfare outright: Vietnam was a war in which the nuclear issue was largely side-stepped, and would cause problems years down the road, while American involvement in areas such as Haiti, Panama, Somalia and other smaller countries and conflicts have not been decreased, although their significance doesn’t approach the scale of something like the current fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are both abnormal conflicts, and two fights that signal some frightening precedents for the future. Already into its 9th year, the combined conflicts have cost an estimated $1.1 trillion, for a conflict that seems to run counter to the vision that Eisenhower had hoped for and seems to have done precisely what Eisenhower feared such battles would do to the country’s financial status. In the future, what conflicts does the United States have in store, if it can enter into a war-like state whenever it sees reason to do so?

The prospect of renewed war in Korea only adds to the fears of a continued lack of restraint when it comes to spending. Political elements in the United States have called for fiscal restraint, but the exception seems to be the money that pours in for the military. While the front-line soldiers need the financial support in order to accomplish the mission in front of them, the country needs to adopt a mindset of reducing the need for the soldiers to be requiring that money in the first place: avoiding costly confrontation across the world by recognizing which conflicts should be fought. The practice of deterrence will likely not work in this new environment of war: multinational political groups are harder to deter. Deterrence in Eisenhower’s day was the best means to contain spending and effectively protect the country from those who wished harm against the country. In the present day, we need to do much the same: figure out the best way to defend the country without oversight and restraint.

Should the tensions between North and South Korea break, the United States will likely have some hand in the issue, and we could find outselves in a third major conflict at a time when we can't afford to become entangled.


I'm not voting for Brian Dubie today. I can't say that I'm terribly enthused for voting for his opponent, Peter Shumlin, because the prospect of a unified House, Senate and Governor in the state also isn't all that terribly appealing to me. However, that fear isn't outweighed by the fear of not a Republican in the office again, but by an incompetent one.

When I graduated from Norwich, our speaker was Mr. Dubie, a life-long Vermonter and member of the Vermont Air National Guard (where he's earned the Meritorious Service Medal with an Oak Leaf Clusters for his actions during September 11th and Hurricane Katrina), and serves as a pilot for American Airlines and is a co-owner of the Dubie Family Maple Orchard here in Vermont. In addition, he has been Vermont's Lt. Governor for four terms. He first won his office against Peter Shumlin in 2002. I'm a little surprised that we haven't seen this come up yet in the campaign.

The gubernatorial race for Vermont has been an exceedingly negative one, and highlights the worst in both parties. The Democratic side ran five candidates for governor, and engaged in recount that cost them two weeks against Dubie, who ran unopposed. I didn't bother voting for any of the candidates, because they were all essentially shilling the same message: Expanded healthcare, close down Vermont Yankee, and revitalize jobs in the state. Dubie has firmly remained behind building jobs, and has stubbornly refused to move off of that message. As soon as Shumlin entered the race, the gloves came off, and both sides have attacked one another mercilessly. I'm very, very glad that I don't watch TV or listen to radio with commercials very much.

My impressions of Dubie, however, don't come from his service, but from how he seems to work, it was from the speech that he gave at my graduation last year. Clearly already thinking of running for Governor, the talk was a bloated, incoherent talk about Dubie, and how he was someone who shot from the hip and talked down Cuban diplomats. Coming out of a program that emphasized writing and organization as a way to convey a clear and concise message to your audience, it was disheartening, at best, to see someone talk for an extended amount of time with absolutely no point or moral to what he was saying. If someone can't organize (or make the point to organize) what they are saying to a group of people, how can they be expected to run a state with the same level of organization?

Fundamentally, I disagree with some of what Dubie says and on what he has been campaigning for. I dislike him as a person, his approach to doing things, and his attitude towards his responsibilities. I don't disagree on how jobs are important to the state, but they're not the only thing that occupies the public's attention or interest. As such, I see anyone who wants to focus only on one issue as being narrow minded, and I do question their ability to react to changes in the script. Jobs in the state will change, and demand attention, but at the same time, other issues are important to Vermonters. Similarly, I don't believe that wielding a knife and making extensive cuts to the state will Vermonters; a more nuanced approach to the issue (a series of cuts and strategic spending choices) is required, and Dubie's already shown that he's not a nuanced person. (Of course, neither is Shumlin, but I see him as recognizing the spending and cutting issue a bit better than Dubie).

When it comes to the political spectrum as a whole, I'm at a loss. I don't believe that either party has my interests at heart, beyond their own interests in beating back the other side. I want to vote as a Republican, because I believe that spending needs to be reined in to a more appropriate level, and that the level of national government needs to be scaled back. Over the course of my studies, I became a big fan of President Eisenhower and his policies in the 1950s. I'd like to see that again. I want to vote Democratic, because I believe that the Federal government has a duty to protect the people under it, from outside sources and from one another.

I won't vote for the Republican side of the house in general because their calls for lowered spending sounds hollow to me: they are the people who took a surplus and turned it into a major deficit. They're the ones who have denied people equal status in the law, and have frequently sought to vilify those who don't deserve it, while engaging in a massive war that seemingly has no end (to combat operations AND finances).

I don't want to vote for the Democrats because they can't seem to understand that we can't continue to place out future on a credit card, that they characterize the right as a group of racist, warmongering and homophobic bigots who will turn the country into a wasteland, and that they can't seem to get a cohesive message and agenda together that they can communicate.

I for one believe that the social messages come first and foremost, with finances as a close second. For this reason, Shumlin's getting my vote - I hope that he can fulfill his image of being socially liberal and financially conservative and working to make a balance between party line and the real needs of the state. I hope that he can keep spending under a bit of control in these troubled times, that he can effectively manage and replace Vermont Yankee, ensure that no more jobs are lost in the state, that we don't take a step back in the rights for individuals and so much more. I hope, because I have no way of trusting my elected officials any more. I hope that changes.

The Green Mountain Parkway and Vermont's Future

I heard a ridiculous commentary on the radio on the drive in this morning. As I cut through the hills between Montpelier and Northfield on Route 12, I listened to a comparison between the Green Mountain Parkway and a road that has been proposed in Tanzania, which would cut across the Serengeti.

In 1931, a highway was proposed the length of the state, similarly to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina, and had the backing from various federal and state officials, while it was opposed by groups such as the Green Mountain Club. With a couple years of intense debate, the state voted in 1935, with the proposal failing in the House of Representatives, and going down again on town meeting date in 1936. Since then, the state has remained with two segments of highway: I-89, which cuts across West Lebanon and winds its way up towards Canada, travelling through Montpelier and Burlington on the way, while I-91 comes up from Massachusetts and shoots to the north. The Green Mountain parkway would have begun at the bottom of the state at Massachusetts and worked its way up through the middle of the state, connecting the western part of Vermont a bit more efficiently to New York and its namesake city.

I for one, would like to imagine what the state might have been like had the road been built. The 260 mile highway would have likely brought a number of needed jobs to the state during the Great Depression, and would have provided a massive infrastructure base for the future of the state. As the road never progressed beyond the planning state, we'll never know for sure, but after seeing the state have its own issues over the last couple of years, I would have imagined that such a project would have been heplful in the present day. The major population center, Burlington, is serviced by a small international airport (it goes to Canada), but is otherwise difficult to reach because of the lack of direct flights beyond some of the hubs, while reaching Burlington from somewhere like New York City by car means that someone has to drive up through Connecticut, Massachusetts and across the state in order to reach or, or up through New York and over some of the slower state highways. The short version is, it's not a quick trip.

Currently, the state has a difficult time retaining businesses. Companies such as Ben & Jerry's has remained in the state, but with most of its operations outsourced to other states or countries where regulations are a bit more lax. Burton Snowboards has relocated to Switzerland, and years ago, Mad River Canoe relocated away from its namesake Mad River Valley years ago. IBM has downsized some positions, and there have been rumblings that the company might leave at some point in the future, while a major startup, Dealer.com might put its expanding workforce in another state. It's difficult to grow a business here in the state, because of the location (NeW England is somewhat remote anyway), climate and terrain (Cold and mountainous) and its regulatory nature (fairly strict, geared towards preserving the state's image - Not a bad thing). One less avenue for transit is just one more thing against the state's own economy growing.

The reason, Dennis Delaney notes, is that the state would have destroyed a key part of the state's environment and natural beauty in order to make life easier for people. It's an easy enough reason to understand, and something that I support. I love how rural the state is, that its resisted the growth and population that New Hampshire (a state of similar proportions) boasts and that I can look up into the sky to see the stars without an incredible amount of light pollution. That being said, all of those benefits are able to be enjoyed because I'm employed and can enjoy Vermont for what it is, as well as the major source of income that comes from tourist dollars to see the state as it is.

What really gets me annoyed is Delaney's assertion that while infrastructure in Africa would likely help poverty (my understanding is that roads are bad, and much needed) in the continent, this major road project is something that should be shot down because it will harm the beauty of Africa, and the Serengeti. I can understand that to a point, but I would have to ask: how much does beauty compare to the human cost of poverty in the continent, and does the cost of keeping the African wilderness absolutely and completely pristine balance that? I'm not suggesting that the entire region be bulldozed and paved over, nor do I think that Western values will solve all of the problems overseas as a concerned liberal. Natural surroundings are important, should be preserved and protected, intensely. But at the same time, I believe that if there is something that can be done that will positively benefit the lives of people who have very little, it should be done, but it should be done intelligently. Create a roadway that will minimize the impact on the environment, put together protections for the herds that will travel across the road, create an engineering and technical marvel that will leave the road suspended tens of feet in the air.

I have heard the same arguments recently in the state (and out of state) when it comes to wind power farms that could reduce, in part, our dependence on energy technologies that are truly destructive, such as the failing Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant or coal plants that leaves us with acid rain in the hills. People place the intrinsic beauty of their surroundings over projects that are likely essential to the growth of the state and that support the well-being of its citizens. The alternative could very well be something that would be far worse to see: a coal fired plant in Vermont? The expanding slums of a city? How about a state that is forced into further economic problems because it cannot retain a profitable base that would ultimately help the state and its people?

I, for one, do care about the environment of the state, as contrary as it seems to what I just said. However, one needs to be fairly realistic as how we interact with our surroundings, and realize in just what state we can enjoy Vermont's natural beauty. I for one don't believe that the state has to be abandoned and undeveloped to retain the mountains and forests of the state. We just need to be mindful of how everything fits together. Personally, I would have been interested to see a Green Mountain Parkway weaving its way up through the mountains: I-89 is already a gorgeous drive, and that doesn’t really take away from the beauty of the state as a whole. It certainly allows me access to the beauty of the state.

Banned Books Week

Today marks the start of Banned Book Week, a campaign to bring about awareness of works of literature that have been suppressed or authors who have been persecuted for their works. According to the American Library Association, the week celebrates the importance of the First Amendment, while "drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States." Coming from a family that does a lot of reading, and from working within a couple of libraries, I detest the notion of banning a book for its content, especially in school systems, and I am continually worried when I hear of various books being banned by overprotective parents, school boards of bigoted, ignorant people who misunderstand the reasons behind education.

The ALA published a list of frequently challenged books from across the country. Looking down the list, I see a number of books that I read in high school, and on my own, that I both greatly enjoyed and/or read on my own: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell (the irony of this book being banned is almost comical), Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, The Call of the Wild by Jack London and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I know other books, such as Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series have also been burned or have been pushed to be banned, and I'm reasonably sure that numerous other science fiction, fantasy and other speculative fictions have been banned because of their content.

Education, I believe, is not strictly about the content that students are fed, but a way to understand the world around them. In subjects such as English, this is a paramount lesson to be learned, as books and stories pull specific themes and instances out for characters, and allows students to synthesize problems and see how characters are changed based on their experiences within the story. Within any story, conflict that challenges the characters should likewise challenge the readers, by looking at commonly held assumptions and continually questioning how they go about the world. This is where the greatest learning occurs for anyone.

The outrage here is that limiting the books that students can read traps them within a preset outlook on the world, where books that fall outside of the realm of political correctness, are 'indecent' or overly challenge assumptions are unable to do what they are intended to do. What bothers me even more is that a number of the locations where books are banned within the US come from traditionally right-wing regions of the country, regions where people claim to want to uphold the constitution, to ensure that freedoms aren't limited by their government, while turning around and insisting that they do the very same thing within their communities. The hypocrisy of the situation is stunning, and I can't help but wonder if our insistence on protecting our youth from things that we disagree with is hurting the country as a whole.

The argument against banning books is something that’s been out there for a long time, and there’s very little beyond my own experience and resulting conclusions that I can add to the situation. Looking over my own high school English experience (with some fantastic teachers in the humanities) I am shocked at how many of the books that I read are amongst the most banned list, and for fairly trivial reasons, such as language and content. Moreover, reading some of those books are incredibly valuable experiences for me. Some of the books, such as Of Mice and Men, The Lord of the Flies and For Whom The Bell Tolls, were ones that imparted a number of revelations and provided specific learning experiences that I was then able to build upon. These books are not easy to replace, and students do not read these simply for pleasure: the challenge is the object here.

Nor do I believe that reasons such as language and ‘obscene’ situations hold much water in this day and age, when students have access to the wider internet, where whatever is banned is conceivably right at their fingertips, where there is no guidance or supervision. Instead, parents should take the moral reins and instruction for their children, and teach them right from wrong.

Banning books isn’t the answer, or a good thing for any sort of quality education. Actually educating, challenging and extracting a reaction from students will bring about the proper understanding from students.

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.

Politics and Speculative Fiction

Michael A. Burstein (via io9) highlights an interesting point when it comes to genre fiction in a post that looks at the politics of a writer and looking to the point where a reader is alienated. It's an interesting read, and I recommend checking out both his review, and the other review that he's referencing. The question arose though, that wasn't really addressed on a larger picture: When has science fiction been free from politics?

The very nature of the genre is one that can lend itself to political elements, on both the right and left sides of the house. Science Fiction is about the changing nature of humanity and people's work to understand the world around them, either in the future, past or present, but most of all, science fiction is influenced by the culture that helps to shepherd its creation. Looking over a couple of books that I've read and am somewhat more familiar with, there's a good selection of books that cover any number of larger political issues, either explicitly, or referentially.

The story in question in the original review is Fossil Figures, by Joyce Carol Oats in the anthology Stories, where a pair of brothers are made distinct: one is labeled a Demon Brother, and through the course of the story, it's fairly clear that he's a conservative politician, and by extension, it can be interpreted that Oats is deliberately labeling the Republican party as one of demons. (At times, I can't say that I disagree) Clearly, there is a political statement to be made here, and I felt that the distinction didn't feel out of place, but helped set the story in a modern, relatable setting that the reader will identify. This tends to fall along one of the more explicit references to modern politics, but other stories that have come out recently delve into some other hot-topic issues.

Karen Traviss's Wess'Har Wars deals heavily into environmental policy, from the first book, City of Pearl, where her main character, Shan Frankland, is set off on a mission to Cavanagh's Star, several hundred light years away, to locate a missing colony. As the story transpires, a weighty, pro-environmental message comes out, as Frankland comes across the Wess'har, an alien race that has very set opinions and beliefs on the sanctity of nature, and have gone through great lengths to protect Cavanagh's Star, to the point where they are willing to destroy entire races and species. This ties in closely with the futuristic world, and it is possibly one of the earlier books to be influenced on the modern attitudes of global climate change. Another author, Paolo Bacigalupi, has penned two novels (The often mentioned The Windup Girl and Ship Breaker), both of which deal with a closer time of climate change, and the influences that is has upon human society: there are major consequences. In Traviss's take, these consequences take the form of an alien race that's very dedicated towards rolling back some of humanity's mistakes with the climate: at our expense. Bacigalupi paints a very bleak picture of humanity as a sort of post-human individual, where people have adapted to literally eat rocks in The People of Sand and Slag.

Global Climate change is a major political issue at the moment, and I personally believe that this is the next major movement when it comes to science fiction themes and content, much as the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union sparked its own set of science fiction influences. Politically, Climate Change is one major issue, especially as its full effects aren't going to be instantaneous, but played out over a larger stretch of time. The future elements and implications associated with this have sparked the political world as people begin to think about how to plan ahead: the impacts on business and society are immense, and clearly, this is good trawling grounds for the near future. At the same time, a large number of people still harbor doubts about the concept, and in Bacigalupi's works, there's clearly a political message that will turn some people off, if a couple of the lower amazon.com ratings are anything to go by.

Going back a couple more years, a read through Philip Pullman's fantastic novel The Amber Spyglass, which took the story that had been set up by the two prior books in the series, and dropped an extremely thoughtful and controversial story within that addressed the nature of the fall of mankind and original sin. This largely anti-established religion story had been building throughout the His Dark Materials Trilogy since it the first book, but The Amber Spyglass was the fulfillment of most of those thoughts. Around the same time, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series was aggressively attacked by people who fervently believed that the story was aimed towards converting children towards the occult, something I've always been puzzled by, especially with the release of Pullman's series, which could do a lot more serious damage to the Church itself with some of the ideas that were within it. Pullman's recent book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, where Pullman himself noted that there was a deliberate attempt to rouse people in the name of free speech. (His comments are here.) The American political right and the much of the religious community seem to work very well together, and when it comes to fiction, religious is likewise ripe for speculative fiction, given the similarities between searching for meaning and context in one's life, or in the future. Pullman's words have certainly put off readers, given the content, but at the same time, there's quite a story behind those words, which readers would do well to think about.

One of the most notable examples of science fiction and politics merging is through Robert Heinlein, and his numerous books. Two of my favorites are Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, both of which touch upon libertarian and the overall relationship towards government. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress struck me as being far more libertarian when I read it years ago (it's currently awaiting a re-read), with echoes of the American revolution within it, as the colonists on the moon sought to free themselves from a distant government, while Starship Troopers is notable for its anti-communist feelings, but also the responsibilities of people to be active in their society, contributing towards the good of the whole, rather than a government enforcing such values from the top down. These books came at a time when science fiction was heavily influenced by surrounding cultural occurrences, from the possibility of war to competing political ideologies.

The political elements of science fiction are generally shaped by the culture around it. I'll go back to the argument that I've generally made before, that art is created within a certain context, and that people will gain different appreciations for things at different points in time. Politics represent a major opportunity for authors because of the variety of underlying philosophies and outlooks that they tend to promote: conservative values look towards a smaller, less intrusive government, while liberal politics look to a more well structured and powerful central government, and the conflict between these two viewpoints has existed for as long as the country has been around. Doubtlessly, it will continue to rage on in the pages of science fiction novels as well.

The Ground Zero Mosque

There has been controversy over the Islamic community center and mosque that has been approved in downtown Manhattan, near where the World Trade Centers once stood. Given the events that have transpired there almost a decade ago, it's certainly a project that was expected to gain a bit of attention. However, the conduct of elected, or otherwise public officials has been inexcusable, intolerant and misinformed as to the very nature of the war that the United States is currently engaged in.

People have been urged to protest and resist the introduction of the mosque and center because it represents an unnecessary provocation, and an insult to the survivors and families of those who have perished there, which is utter nonsense, and only highlights the ignorance of said officials and those willing to blindly follow them. The war abroad was most certainly begun by radical Islamic militants, acting in the interests of a foreign organization, which does elevate this conflict to a war, when two parties attempt to seek out some sort of political and practical gains by entering into hostilities. At the same time, such sentiments lump together the entirety of a global religion, of which these radical elements are only a small part.

As of 2009, it was believed that almost 23% of the global population identified themselves as Muslims, or about 1.57 billion people, across the globe, with a fifth living in countries where the religion is not a dominant one. Given the fairly localized nature of the fighting, with occasional strikes towards the western societies and the nature of the fighting, it's fairly clear that there is far more that characterizes this war than simply a lot of religious people getting really angry. The global war on terror is an incredibly complicated act against a specific number of political groups, who use their faith to guide them and provide some set of misguided reasoning to support their political beliefs.

Depending on which wartime theorist that you subscribe to, warfare is generally a political act on the behalf of one group against another, and from everything that I have seen over the past couple of years, that is exactly what some of the larger and more well known groups are doing, from Al Qaeda to the Taliban to Hezbollah. Even more worrisome is their ability to convince young Muslims, who come from a poorer, disenfranchised area of the world, to blow themselves up. It's a hell of a way to vent some misguided frustration and anger. It demonstrates incredibly poor government and leadership in those areas, where problems are directed elsewhere, and not addressed at their source.

The source of the World Trade Center destruction was Al Qaeda, not the people who want to build a community. I suspect that Palin's words are deliberately inflammatory, designed to gain as much attention as possible, for the political beliefs of her own personal self, and that of her party, seeking to gain approval from the anger of those who don't comprehend the differences between political terrorism and a religious community. To be sure, this religious community does harbor some very bad people, some angry people, and people looking for direction, which makes it prime for recruiting for overseas terrorist groups. But, one must also take into account the real anger and violence that boils up elsewhere, either singularly or in larger groups. There have been several attacks against federal authorities over the past year from angry people, but there is a discrepancy between the reactions taken in each case.

The real anger and action for the 9-11 attacks must be taken against those responsible, while we must all take the time to fully understand the nature of the conflict that is brewing around us, rather than blindly following misguided chatter from those who seek power, on both sides.

The Fourth of July

Fireworks and cookouts, along with the Red White and Blue that symbolizes our country, characterize July 4th of every year. At the same point, it serves as a good time for reflection on the creation of the country in which we live. The founding of the country is one that is becoming shrouded in myth, with its own set of misconceptions and happenings that are relatively unknown, which makes the constant 'Happy Birthday America' status and twitter updates that I've seen all along be somewhat of humorous statement.

When looking at the founding of the country, the 4th is an obvious holiday to look at, for it was the signing of the Declaration of Independence that formally succeeded the United States from the United Kingdom, and represented the first time that the colonies became a country that stood on their own. However, the founding of the country is something that has happened numerous times throughout our history, and at points, I wonder if the 4th is really a celebration of the beginnings of America, or something else entirely.

If looking at the founding of the country, it is also best to remember that the Europeans who came to the country weren't the first here. The numerous tribes of native Americans have been on this landmass for thousands of years, presumably since the end of the last ice age, when the glacier sheets receded and isolated the continent. They came down through North America and into Central and South Americas, creating their own vast civilizations. The Vikings landed in Newfoundland, Canada around 985-1008 by Lief Eriksson, but later abandoned the settlement. It was not until 1492, on October the 12th that Christopher Columbus, with the three ships under his command, the Santa Maria, the Nina and the Piñta, discovered the Bahamas, believing that he reached the Indies, before continuing down towards Cuba and Haiti. Return trips were planned in the years following his expedition, and soon, Europe was traveling to the newly discovered landmass in larger expeditions. In 1499, the new world was named 'America', after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who discovered that the new world was not Asia, but a large landmass in between the two. The first European to reach North America was commissioned by Henry VII of England, John Cabot, while others discovered more and more of this new world.

Looking forward three hundred years, the secession of the United States was preceded by decades of events and mismanagement by their British overlords, who taxed the colonies to help offset the massive expenditures of war and government abroad. Various taxes, such as the Stamp Act, Molasses Act Quartering Act and the Tea Tax fanned the flames of irritation against the British government, inciting riots and protests. The famous Boston Tea Party occurred in 1773, as the British government aided the failing East India Tea Company, bringing about the Tea Act, prompting a riot and protest on the part of the Boston merchants. War began a couple of years later in 1775, but clearly, the seeds of discontent had been laid far earlier, bringing about the declaration of independence from the colonies. On August 22nd 1775, the colonies were declared to be in rebellion, and by October of 1781, the British surrendered, and opted to not continue the war by March of the following year, and in November, the United Kingdom recognized the independence of the United States.

In March of 1781, the Continental Congress, began to work on a permanent form of government to lead the country, with plans stretching as far back as 1776, and by the time the war ended in 1781, the Articles of Confederation became effective, setting up a government that granted responsibilities, but almost no authority to maintain those responsibilities. There was a current of distrust in a stronger central government that ultimately crippled the Congress, for it could not regulate commerce, negotiate treaties, declare war or raise an army, create a currency, maintain a judicial branch, and no head of government that was separate from the Congress. While there were upsides to the government, it was unable to effectively govern, and a series of crises arose that threatened the stability of the nation. Shay's Rebellion provides a good example of this, when western Massachusetts went into open revolt in 1786 when the legislature failed to provide debt relief. This was but a singular example of the times, and there were more advocates of a stronger centralized government, where a revision to the Articles of Confederation were demanded, for a government that could regulate interstate and international commerce, raise revenue for the country and raise a single army to confront threats. The Constitutional Convention that arose sparked numerous debates over the rights of the state vs. the federal government (antifederalists vs. federalists, respectively). Despite the intense debate, the Continental Congress closed down on October 10th, 1788, and on March 4th, 1789, the new congress elected George Washington (who believed that the Constitution would only last about 20 years), and a new federal government was born. In a every way, this was the date in which the United States that we know today was formed.

This story of the birth of the United States and 'America', the concept, are important ones to remember, for not only the sequence of events that built upon the last, but their significance in relation to one another. Current ideology amongst popular culture nowadays seems to contort many of the lessons that can be learned from this period of formation within the U.S.. The United Kingdom was thrown off because of an apathetic and overbearing monarchy that failed to represent the interests of the colonies, rather than simply because of the taxes that were levied upon them. To hear senators and public representatives speak that the colonists rebelled simply because of a tax upon tea belies the complicated nature of American independence, and the lessons that were learned in the years afterwards of the failure of a weak centralized government, but also the simple fact that the Constitution of the nation was not the direct product of the American Revolution, but that it was a work in progress, of sorts. America itself, however, has had a series of births and rebirths, and the Declaration of Independence was but one such moment in the history of the nation, concept and location. Still, July 4th is a good of a time as any to celebrate the process, and the existence of the nation itself.

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.

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.

Fighting in the Future

Earlier this week, the Russian metro system was hit with two suicide bombers, who detonated their explosives in the midst of rush hour, killing 39 people. It is a tragedy, and a reminder that it is not just the United States that is under threat from fundamental forces, but any large organization that has displeased factions around them. It also helps to underscore the ridiculous nature of any sort of 'War on Terror', the American brand or otherwise, because this is a type of warfare that will remain with people for a long time to come. In the future, there will be war, conflict and any number of atrocities committed against people.

Terrorism is an act of warfare, and as such, is a calculated political statement that is designed to attract the maximum amount of attention as a way to promote their cause, and to show that they feel that they have had no other way to legitimately protest their actions against whomever they are fighting against. I was surprised when the Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov took over a day to announce his participation in the bombings, to either preempt any sort of group attempting to take advantage of the atrocity, and to establish their anger against the Russian government.

The science fiction world pushes into the future, often using warfare as a backdrop for a number of different stories. Very rarely, however, is the nature of warfare really discussed within these definitions, where war is a political entity. Terrorist-centric warfare, with attacks against civilians (who in turn, represent a larger organization or government), is something that has not really taken to the speculative fiction genre, but it will undoubtedly influence future works, as World War II influenced classic books during the Golden Age of Science Fiction. The major battles fought in the Pacific Ocean, mainland Europe or in the sands of the Sahara Desert provided fantastical and dramatic backdrops in which larger stories could be told or adapted for what might come for the future. Certainly the Second World War provided a number of elements that were almost unthought-of of by the average person on the streets. Massive bombing forces to lay waste to a country, soldiers dropped in by aircraft, submarines that could paralyze an entire navy, unstoppable bombs that could reach countries in a very short amount of time and the splitting of the atom. Still, with all technology aside, World War II proved to be an advanced war in how these technologies were implemented into the major strategy and tactics of the day, a departure from the prior major war.

Reading over the first couple of chapters in Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars recently, I was struck at how similar the opening was to some elements of real life, where one of the main characters, astronaut and colonist John Boone was assassinated by fundamentalist agents under another character, Frank Chalmers. In a way, this is an exceptionally similar event, with a number of parallels to the modern day: a political entity, frustrated by the actions of a legitimate government, acted out using violence as a way to demonstrate a political point. The innocence of those targeted does not matter, in events like this: they become an object, and that's what has happened in this regard.

Frank Herbert's Dune is another book in which militant fighting is demonstrated as a way for groups to illustrate their issues with a larger established authority. Following the Arakis takeover by House Harkonnen, the survivors of the family ally themselves with the Fremen, a nomadic group in the desert. As they regard him as a prophesied messiah, he uses their power as a fighting force to take on the Harkonnens. This aspect of the Dune story has a number of other connections to modern day events, where religious extremism and political philosophy blend together to the point where they are inseparable. In this modern day, the global Jihadist movement isn't so much of a religious statement; it's a political statement on the part of a radical/religious government, which uses the beliefs of its followers to enact terrible acts. The suicide bombings in Moscow or Iraq aren't religiously motivated: they are conducted on the behalf of people seeking to institute some sort of political change, using religious rhetoric to get their base fired up. In a way, these are the tactics of any major political party, even here in the United States, especially during campaign season, when there is a lot of misinformation and statements. Fortunately, people don't go and blow themselves up in support of any candidates.

Fundamentalist warfare is not at the heart of military thought and theory, but the tactics and motivations are generally the same as any larger authority going to war with another nation, and in rare occasions, this sort of mentality and plotting is really looked at and used by a speculative fiction novel or other project. Red Mars and Dune exemplify the issues surrounding war-like conflicts and actions, where a number of other books really look at other, elements of warfare - the effects of combat on soldiers, morals, and so on, as well as the technology that is used as the main point of these sorts of novels.

The clear lesson of military science fiction of this sort shouldn't be what types of technology we should be looking for. There are no good inherent lessons in that realm of thinking. Technology and tactics are dependent upon the environment in which they are created and subsequently used against an enemy. The tactics of airborne soldiers during the Second World War would have been elements of science fiction to ancient Roman generals, but it represents not only the technology but the tactical and strategic thinking behind it. No, the lessons that should be learned (if one is looking for lessons) are the fundamental underpinnings of what brings two political entities against one another in violence. It's not the technology; it's the people behind it.

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.)

Changes in Tactics

Tom Clancy has an interesting quote: "Why do people have a fixation with the German Military when they haven't won a war since 1871?". The question is a valid one, when one looks at just how the US military has studied and implemented a number of tactics and doctrine that the Germans used in the Second World War. Two articles that were published recently look at this very issue, essentially summing up to one question: why hasn't the US military shifted its focus and strategy out of World War Two? This is an especially interesting issue when one takes into consideration the troubles that US forces have in the Middle East conflict, as enemy soldiers have changed how they meet the enemy, while the United States has not reacted to change in the same way.

Currently, US forces are working their way into Marja, with a new push to rid the region of insurgents, but also to demonstrate to local Afghans that the US can be effective in their nation's security by training their own soldiers. In the past eight years that we have gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rules of warfare have drastically changed from what war planners anticipated, and from most wars of the past. In a recent article for Foreign Policy magazine, John Arquilla has an interesting observation: "Flanking also formed a basis for the march up Mesopotamia by U.S. Forces in 2003. But something odd happened this time. In the words of military historian John Keegan, the large Iraqi army of more than 400,000 troops just 'melted away'. There were no great battles of encirclement and only a handful of firefights along the way to Baghdad. Instead, Iraqis largely waited until their country was overrun and then mounted an insurgency based on tip-and-run attacks and bombings." (John Arquilla, The New Rules of War, Foreign Policy, March/April, 7) The lead up to the first Gulf War in 1991 followed a number of similar principles, with a massive military force, ready to move with an incredible amount of speed, utilized technology and new unit tactics borne out of changes in the military in the fallout from Vietnam. The Iraqi military was destroyed, but with little follow up, the country and its organization remained.

What the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have demonstrated is that there is an increasing use, and success against U.S. forces, in irregular or asymmetric warfare that runs counter to the current thinking and training within the U.S. Army and within military study. As the playing field has begun to change, the thinking behind how the military conducts its operations must to change to effectively meet enemy forces on the battlefield. Already, there have been incredible successes in how changes in tactics have been implemented in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with the troop surge in 2008-2009. The surge wasn't just more soldiers committed to the battlefield, it represented an entirely new method in which soldiers were organized against an enemy force. In this instance, a large force broken up in to just a couple larger units just didn't work. Breaking the forces into smaller units, and reexamining the mission and objectives, US forces were able to undertake missions with a higher success rate.

However, this line of thinking needs to continue, suggests Arquilla, in the form of better understanding how not only enemy forces are arrayed, but how the U.S. utilizes its military. In a large way, the military needs to be far more flexible with how it goes up against enemy combatants, in in that change, the overall objective for the purpose of the military needs to be sought out. In the mid-1950s, President Eisenhower was elected in part due to his commitment to bring U.S troops out of Korea. In doing so, he redefined how the military operated, as part of how he viewed the role of the Federal Government: smaller and less intrusive. In this, the United States military shifted from a large scale conventional military to one who's force largely rested on the threat of force: a deterrent based military, one which did not rely on the need for the United States to send soldiers overseas for numerous engagements. Now, sixty years in the future, the same thing needs to occur: the military (and the political system that organizes and oversees it) needs to determine exactly what the purpose of the armed forces will be, and what their mandate is. Then, the military can begin to utilize its forces to the best of its abilities, working to merge technology and tactics into something that will help to protect the country in the future.

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 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.

Driving Like Crazy

Last Week, VPR's Vermont Edition hosted a program devoted to recent legislative efforts designed to combat cell phone usage in cars. Why there is any sort of debate over this issue is beyond me, but apparently there is quite a bit of discussion over whether or not this sort of thing is necessary or right for government to do to individual citizens.

A while ago, I read and reviewed Tom Vanderbilt's book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), which is, as the title suggests, about driving and how we drive. Prior to reading the book, I was not thrilled with the idea of a cell phone law in Vermont - it's intrusive, it's problematic and above all, it is possible to drive, talk, text or so forth while driving. That's not the case, far from it, and recent deaths in the state suggest that this is only the start to a larger issue in the state.

Vanderbilt notes that studies show several things: it doesn't take long for a driver to be distracted, and that even small amounts of time without one's eyes on the road could mean the difference between continuing home and ending up in a hospital. While on the road, Vanderbilt explains, the driver is constantly taking in information about their surroundings - what's in front of them, to the sides and the road conditions. Modern conveniences such as radios, CD players, and connections for phones only add to the things that drivers have to contend with. Furthermore, the human brain is fundamentally incapable of processing everything that comes in, and mental awareness of one's surroundings drops. There have been occasions while driving that I've spoken on the phone or peaked at a text message and find myself further down the road, automatically steering around well known corners, but with little recollection exactly to what I just did. The same is true with any task that involves thinking. In today's culture, drivers have far more to distract them on the road, and that's what is getting scary.

The rise in texting (I remember reading something recently that noted that the average teenager sends around 40,000 words a month in text form) makes this all the more scary, because as drivers are increasingly spending some of their time looking at their phone, reading a message and then thinking about and typing a response out, their eyes are not where they are supposed to be: on the road. Normally, I would advocate personal responsibility for the driver and say that if they crash because they weren't looking, well, it's their own fault. However, the roadways are populated by everyone else on the road, in all directions, and the actions of one driver not paying attention can mean dire consequences for someone else on the roadway.

So what is the solution? Well, as pro-life people naively state: abstinence works. Well, yes, it does, but holding people to that sort of thing doesn't necessarily work as well. Keeping teenagers away from cell phones (and adults, for that matter), is a huge problem, and merely telling people to turn off the phone and keep their eyes on the road isn't necessarily going to work, even with a stiff fine from police officers. A law needs to be put into place, no doubt about that, with stiff penalties for any driver caught doing this sort of thing. But, in addition to that, money needs to be spent on educating drivers, young and old alike on one simple fact: driving is the most dangerous thing that you can do on a regular basis. Taken out of a normal, everyday context, you are climbing into a rolling collection of metal parts, fueled by a highly combustible fluid and set off along roadways with more people doing the same thing, at high speeds. If that isn't enough to freak you out, now imagine that nobody is looking where they're going.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi & the Dawn of a Nuclear Era

On Monday, the only survivor of both atomic blasts over Japan during the Second World War, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, passed away at the age of 93, according to an obituary by the New York Times this morning. Together, the two bombs are thought to have killed an estimated 150,000 people, with millions more in the years after due to the effects of the blasts.

The bombs that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the end of the war were the product of a massive scientific and military research project known as the Manhattan Project, which completely altered the way that the military would operate strategically over the coming decades. Much debate still rages on about the background motivations of the bombing. As I've been working with the Norwich University Military History degree, I've read numerous entry essays from prospective students on a number of topics, and the motivations behind the atomic bombs is by far the one that I see the most.

The decision to bomb the Japanese at the end of the war, was not a singular issue, but rather a very complicated one, where Truman had to weigh both the immediate effects that the bombs would have, as well as the repercussions of such an attack. There are many arguments that argue for one side or the other, that the bombs were dropped as a last resort to end the war and prevent a mainland invasion by US forces, which would have been incredibly costly to both the Japanese and the Americans. On the other hand, it has been argued that the bombs were a political demonstration to a rising Soviet Union by a growing United States, to show the extents of US power. Again, this has quite a bit of merit to it. So, why not both? In this instance, Truman had the option to not only demonstrate the extent of US power to a potential rival, but also showed that the nation would use it if needed, and by doing so, helped to end the Second World War. The arguments about whose lives were more important, US soldiers or Japanese civilians and military, is one for another time, but a nation will act in its own interests - in this instance, it was in the United States’ interest to end the war and establish itself as a dominant global military power.

Atomic warfare is by its very nature very different than so called conventional warfare. A very good example can be found in the early days of the Cold War, with the Soviet Union's problems in the years following the Second World War. Faced with massive infrastructure damage and tens of millions of people killed in the war, the country was burdened by a massive conventional army - an expensive investment that was rendered largely useless by the advances that the United States Air Force enjoyed. In several demonstrations over the years, General Curtis Lemay flew bombers over Moscow and other Soviet cities in a demonstration that the United States could easily wipe out the country. As a result, the Soviet Union began to research missile technology, as well as nuclear technology, as a way to counteract US power. The military theorist Carl von Clausewitz has noted that with any new advance in offensive force, there tends to be a defense constructed to counteract it. During his time, this was seen in advancements in artillery and fortifications. In the nuclear era, this translated from bomber and air superiority to missile counter defenses and the threat of mutually assured destruction, commonly known as MAD.

As such, warfare of the Cold War was different from the Second World War, because neither country was ready to commit to the literal destruction of the world. Nuclear weapons, because of their awesome, destructive power, held both nations in check. Smaller conflicts around the world didn't involve the two nations actively fighting each other, at least officially, but through proxies, in a delicate game of power. There were close calls, to be sure, but the greatest measure of success was that the remaining major conflicts, such as Korea and Vietnam, were carried out by larger conventional forces, rather than nuclear ones.

Mr. Yamaguchi had a fairly unique view of the dawn of this new era of warfare. While he most likely wasn't the only survivor of both blasts, he is the only one that is officially acknowledged to have been a survivor of both. His story is an interesting one, and shows not only the power of these weapons, but also the consequences that come with their usage. Fortunately, their use has only been demonstrated once during wartime, and hopefully, Mr. Yamaguchi's vantage point will never again be witnessed. However, however horrible the deployment of these weapons were, one needs to keep in mind that the dropping of the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was far more than an isolated event - they ushered in a new era of the world, fundamentally changing the balance of power for the rest of the century, and in all likelihood, helped, in part, to avoid even worse conflict.