Saturday, January 18, 2014

World Nuclear Arsenals

From National Journal:

Now I thought the story was that Reagan came into office and engaged the Soviet Union in an arms race, which bankrupted the USSR and broke down the Iron Curtain?  I guess maybe that was truthy when it comes to conventional weapons, but that chart indicates that the arms race when it comes to nuclear weapons was pretty one-sided.  In that regard, Reagan may have been bluffing pretty well.  Then again, the chart displays total warheads, so if the U.S. was replacing older, smaller warheads with newer, more powerful ones, we would have been expanding capacity while not increasing total numbers.

Corporate Responsibility?

Why don't the tenets of "personal responsibility" apply to corporate "persons"?:
Bombarded by lawsuits and under federal investigation, the chemical company that spilled a dangerous solvent into a West Virginia river and fouled the drinking water of 300,000 people filed for federal bankruptcy protection Friday.
Freedom Industries Inc., owner of a storage tank that ruptured Jan. 9 and spilled 7,500 gallons of a coal-treatment foaming agent called MCHM into the Elk River, sought protection from creditors under a Chapter 11 filing by its parent company, Chemstream Holdings Inc. of Pennsylvania.
The filing will protect Freedom from creditors, temporarily halt lawsuits against it and allow the company to continue operating.
The spill prompted the governor to order residents of nine counties in the Charleston area not to use tap water for anything but flushing toilets. No baths, no washing dishes; even boiling the water could not make it safe.
In court documents, Freedom Industries says a water line break brought on by frigid temperatures may have caused "an object piercing upwards" to punch a hole in the 35,000-gallon storage tank, allowing the chemical to flow down an embankment into the river. The Freedom facility is just upstream from a major water treatment plant.
Freedom says in its filing that the water line scenario is "hypothesized" and intended for "explanatory purposes only." The hypothesis, it says, is not intended as a legally valid explanation in defense against any lawsuit.
Eight businesses and individuals filed a joint class action suit Monday in federal court in Charleston against Freedom, the local water company and the Tennessee chemical company that produced the MCHM, which is used to wash coal. The suit alleges that the companies either failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent the spill or concealed the true dangers of the chemical.
Hopefully, the bankruptcy filing will give the public a view into the corporate books, and how much money went into preventative maintenance and spill prevention, versus executive salaries and payouts to shareholders.  I'm betting the numbers won't be pretty.  It would seem like limited liability for corporations would lead to limited freedom of speech and other corporate "rights" as laid out by the Roberts Court.

More on the California Drought and Agriculture

One of the culprits has been a stubbornly persistent ridge of high pressure over the West Coast, which has diverted storms to the Pacific Northwest. Wildfires, usually unheard of at this time of year, have been breaking out, including a 125-acre blaze being battled this week near Los Angeles. The state's snowpack level, an indicator of future runoff to rivers and lakes, is at a paltry 17% of normal.
The economic fallout is beginning to spread. The U.S. Agriculture Department on Wednesday declared parts of 11 mostly Western states to be natural-disaster areas, making farmers in places including California, Arizona and Nevada eligible for low-interest assistance loans.
In California, with its huge economy, the financial impacts are likely to ripple beyond the farmers. Growers in the Central Valley's Westlands Water District, for instance, are expected to fallow 200,000 of their 600,000 acres this year, resulting in job losses in surrounding communities, according to a statement by the agency. Other businesses that stand to suffer include landscapers, nurseries and orchards.

Wow, 1/3 of the acres in that water district left fallow? That is stunning.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Into the Cave of Wonders

Into the Cave of Wonders [4k HDR short documentary] from LovetheFrame on Vimeo.

Largest U.S. Metro Areas, 1790-2010

The top 20 metro areas beginning with the first U.S. census:

That is pretty cool.  It is amazing to see Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit and others take off and then crash back down.

Awesome Storm Photos

Wired features tremendous photographs from storm chaser Mike Hollingshead.  One of my favorites:

A shelf cloud moves over a storm chaser producing something called a "whales mouth" in southeast Nebraska on August 9, 2009. Mike Hollingshead

California Drought Worsens, Wildfire Risk Very High

The year 2013 was California’s driest on record, featuring the least rainfall since the state started keeping track in 1849. And so far, 2014 is off to a bad start.
A full 63 percent of the state is in extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor — up from 23 percent just last week and extending into northwestern Nevada. Precipitation for the water year (which begins October 1) is less than 20 percent of normal levels in the areas of most extreme drought. Up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, snowpack — a major repository for the state’s water supply — is between 10 and 30 percent of normal, with many locations now in the bottom 5th percentile. Two of the state’s lakes are only 36 percent full; the San Luis Reservoir in Central Valley is down to 30 percent.
“It’s really serious,” Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday. “In many ways it’s a mega-drought; it’s been going on for a number of years.” Any day now, he’s expected to announce that California is officially in the midst of a drought.
Citing the dry conditions and gusty winds, a meteorologist warned Tuesday that the fire danger in many parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties is “about as high as it can be,” a prediction borne out Thursday when a massive wildfire ignited 40 miles east of downtown L.A. Three people were arrested in connection with the blaze, which scorched over 1,700 acres and destroyed at least two homes.
The drought could extremely limit irrigation water supply for California farms.  Since so many acres in California have gone to almond groves, and almonds need large amounts of water, the crop may put a tremendous strain on surface water and ground water supplies.  There is something about agriculture that highlights the tragedy of the commons (which is logical considering that grazing is the definitive example of it) and the conflict between rational self-interest and damage to society at large.  Almond cultivation in California may be a good example of that.

Dropping the F-Bomb

All the profanities used in The Wolf of Wall Street:

Wow, that makes me look like a pastor.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Engineering of Demolition Projects

Wired takes a look at the planning of some cool demolition projects:

Demolition began: 2013 | Duration of project: 3 years
California’s San Clemente Dam opened in 1921, and today its reservoir is choked with silt. That means an earthquake or flood could send a wall of mud sliming down the Carmel River and the valley below, damaging more than a thousand buildings. So dam owner California American Water and state and federal resource agencies decided to take it down. Dynamite isn’t an option because of the dirt and water that would spew forth, so engineers decided to move the river instead. —Eric Smillie
Cut a Notch
Crews are going to cut a 450-foot-long canyon through the ridge behind the dam and carve a new river channel around the sediment to neighboring San Clemente Creek. “I’m not aware of any other dam removal project that’s looked at that type of option,” says Richard Svindland, director of engineering for California American Water. “River rerouting is tough to do.” This Herculean task, the largest dam removal in state history, will involve building a diversion dike to direct the water along its new course.
Demolish the Dam
To make way for the water, workers will haul 380,000 cubic yards of sediment from San Clemente Creek (where the new river will run) and dump it on the main heap of silt, which will remain permanently. Then they’ll pick the dam apart with hoe rams. Eventually, the rerouted river will flow through the spot where the structure once stood.
There's some awesome stuff in the article.

The History of a Distiller of Cheap Liquor

McCormick's can claim the title of the nation's oldest continuously operated distillery:
A dozen buildings, including three for barrel storage and two large shipping warehouses, and separate offices for administrative, sales and point-of-sale employees, comprise a sprawling campus set on 145 bucolic acres outside Kansas City.
Welcome to McCormick Distilling Co., a major player in the competitive modern spirits industry.
Kentucky businessman Benjamin Holladay, originator of the Overland Stage route between Weston and San Francisco, founded the Weston operation with his brother Major David Holladay in 1856 as Holladay Distillery. It made bourbon from the waters of a natural limestone spring that had been discovered by Lewis and Clark.
Barrels of the amber-colored liquid were stored in a so-called “ancient cave” on the property before being shipped off by wagon train or stagecoach.
Unlike many distilleries around the country, McCormick operated through Prohibition, making spirits for medicinal purposes.
In 1976 the complex was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
Today McCormick, which employs 160 people, ships 4 million cases of spirits a year to all 50 states and 57 countries. That includes upwards of 2 million cases of McCormick Vodka — quadruple-distilled from American grain — plus Tequila Rose Liqueur, made with cream from the Netherlands and Mexican tequila.
I always associate McCormick's with underage college parties.

Read more here:

The Lanzarote Effect

The Lanzarote Effect from Lea et Nicolas Features on Vimeo.

A little explanation:
The Lanzarote Effect
by Lea Amiel and Nicolas Libersalle.
With 6 other filmmakers from all around the world, we were chosen to make a short film about the canary islands : 7 filmmakers, 7 stories. The Island which was assigned to us is Lanzarote: a small volcanic island. So we went there for a week and tried to show the beauty of this special island…here is the result. Hope you'll enjoy it! Thanks for watching ;)

Why Did Lightning Strike Deaths Decline So Dramatically?

Decline in rural population and mechanization of agriculture?  Maybe:

I spoke with Ronald Holle, a meteorologist who studies lightning deaths, and he agreed that modernization played a significant role. "Absolutely," he said. Better infrastructure in rural areas—not just improvements to homes and buildings, but improvements to farming equipment too has—made rural regions safer today than they were in the past. Urbanization seems to explain some of the decline, but not all of it.
"Rural activities back then were primarily agriculture, and what we call labor-intensive manual agriculture. Back then, my family—my grandfather and his father before that in Indiana—had a team of horses, and it took them all day to do a 20-acre field." Today, a similar farmer would be inside a fully-enclosed metal-topped vehicle, which offers excellent lightning protection. Agriculture has declined as a percent of total lightning-death-related activities, as the graph below shows, but unfortunately it does not show the per capita lightning-death rate of people engaged in agriculture.
 The correlation on that first graph is awesome.  I don't know if the "not working outside all day means fewer lightning strikes" explanation is accurate, but it makes sense to me.  One other thing I didn't see mentioned in the story is better weather forecasts.  It is commonplace to see forecasts call for thunderstorms arriving around noon (for example), and they are fairly accurate.  If you were in the back forty back in the day and a fast moving storm came in, you might not be able to head for cover.  There wasn't a weather forecast saying, "Nasty weather around noon."  I'd figure that might make some difference.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Missouri State Senator Proposes Idiotic Anti-Obamacare Bill

St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Missouri would strike another blow against the federal Affordable Care Act under a bill filed by state Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue.
The bill would suspend insurance companies’ state licenses if they accepted subsidies offered by the federal government to help pay health insurance premiums for low- and middle-income Missourians.
Lamping contends the subsidies are illegal and eventually will be thrown out by a federal court. By rejecting them, he said, Missouri could remove the trigger in the federal law that, beginning in 2015, will assess penalties against large employers that don’t provide health insurance.
“This is a legislative way by which the state actually could push back” against the law, Lamping said.
Critics of Lamping’s plan say that the Affordable Care Act is helping people obtain health insurance and that it’s time to stop fighting it. The bill would “just throw a wrench in the whole situation, slow everything down,” said Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors.
The insurance industry is watching the bill closely.
“We’re kinda caught in the middle,” said Brent Butler, government affairs director for the Missouri Insurance Coalition. “We’ve spent three years since the adoption of the Affordable Care Act informing everybody of the changes that will happen in the marketplace. This might add more questions than answers.”
If you take federal subsidies we'll run you out of the state?  Seriously?  What a jackass.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day

January 6:

Three CubeSats Released
Image Credit: Expedition 38 Crew, NASA
Explanation: Cubes are orbiting the Earth. Measuring ten-centimeters on a side, CubeSats -- each roughly the size of a large coffee mug -- are designed to be inexpensive both to build and to launch. Pictured above, three CubeSats were released from the International Space Station (ISS) last November by the arm of the Japanese Kibo Laboratory module. CubeSats are frequently created by students as part of university science or engineering projects and include missions such as collecting wide angle imagery of the Earth, testing orbital radio communications, monitoring the Earth's magnetic field, and exploring the Earth's surrounding radiations. Depending on the exact height of their release, CubeSats will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere on the time scale of months to years.

A Chart of the War on Poverty

Via Dayton Daily News:

What is somewhat amazing is that the percentage didn't go higher after 2010.  That has to be mostly attributable to the counter-cyclical nature of the safety net programs, along with the increased spending in the stimulus.  It is notable that the introduction of the Great Society programs, along with booming economies can be credited with lowering the poverty rate, but recessions spike it back up every time it gets down to 11 or 12%.

A Report From Appalachia

Kevin Williamson takes a trip to Eastern Kentucky, and reports on the poverty he finds there:
There is not much novelty in Booneville, Ky., the seat of Owsley County, but it does receive a steady trickle of visitors: Its public figures suffer politely through a perverse brand of tourism from journalists and do-gooders every time the U.S. Census data are recalculated and it defends its dubious title as poorest county in these United States.
He finds a black market economy focused on cases of pop:
It works like this: Once a month, the debit-card accounts of those receiving what we still call food stamps are credited with a few hundred dollars — about $500 for a family of four, on average — which are immediately converted into a unit of exchange, in this case cases of soda. On the day when accounts are credited, local establishments accepting EBT cards — and all across the Big White Ghetto, “We Accept Food Stamps” is the new E pluribus unum – are swamped with locals using their public benefits to buy cases and cases — reports put the number at 30 to 40 cases for some buyers — of soda. Those cases of soda then either go on to another retailer, who buys them at 50 cents on the dollar, in effect laundering those $500 in monthly benefits into $250 in cash — a considerably worse rate than your typical organized-crime money launderer offers — or else they go into the local black-market economy, where they can be used as currency in such ventures as the dealing of unauthorized prescription painkillers — by “pillbillies,” as they are known at the sympathetic establishments in Florida that do so much business with Kentucky and West Virginia that the relevant interstate bus service is nicknamed the “OxyContin Express.”
Not surprisingly, since he is writing for National Review, he blames social safety net programs for causing the problems he finds. This has been a common (self-serving)  theme for conservatives this week as the media has focused on LBJ's declaration of War on Poverty 50 years ago. Despite that, the article is interesting, yet painful to read.  One thing that struck me as I read it was that I figured that region strongly supported Romney in the 2012 election, despite his claims that the 47% who received government support (including almost all elderly people and grain farmers) voted for Democrats to get their free stuff.  So I looked up the election results in some of the counties mentioned:

Owsley County:
Romney   80.9%
Obama     17.9%

Harlan County:
Romney   81.2%
Obama     17.2%

Whitley County:
Romney   78.3%
Obama     20.5%

Now maybe most of those voters are the citizens who aren't on government programs, but see them abused first-hand.  However, I am interested in whether a large percentage of the population in these areas are voting for politicians who will slash spending on programs which they depend on.  It seems odd to me that Romney won by such a huge percentage, considering his 47% remarks.

Another thing I found interesting was the anomalous result from Elliott County in eastern Kentucky, the only county in Kentucky other than Jefferson (Louisville), Fayette (Lexington) or Franklin (Frankfort) to vote for Barack Obama.  Here's what I found:

Elliott County has voted for the Democratic Party's nominee in every presidential election since it incorporated in 1869. This is the longest ongoing streak of any county voting Democratic in the United States. It is also the last Southern rural county never to vote for a Republican in any Presidential election.
Elliott County was the second-whitest county in the country, at 99.04%, to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election, the whitest being Mitchell County, Iowa. Obama garnered 61% of the vote, while John McCain received 36% In 2008, Elliott County provided Obama with the highest winning percentage of the vote out of all Kentucky counties. This made it the most Democratic county in the state for the second election in a row, since it had also been John Kerry's strongest county in Kentucky in 2004. While Obama would again win the county in 2012, he would eke out a 49% plurality over Mitt Romney's 47%, a margin of 60 votes.
As of 2013, Elliott County had the fewest number of registered Republicans, 238, out of all counties in Kentucky.
Presidential election results
Year Democratic Republican
2012 49.4% 1,186 46.9% 1,126
2008 61.0% 1,535 35.9% 902
2004 69.8% 2,064 29.5% 871
2000 64.1% 1,527 34.7% 827
1996 64.4% 1,298 20.9% 421
1992 71.1% 1,796 17.6% 444
1988 76.2% 1,797 23.3% 550
1984 73.4% 1,683 26.2% 601
1980 74.4% 1,668 24.6% 551
1976 80.7% 1,987 18.5% 455
1972 65.3% 1,499 34.0% 782
1968 63.4% 1,387 23.6% 515
1964 86.2% 2,026 13.7% 323
1960 68.7% 1,734 31.3% 789
 Now that is a strong political identity, considering that white Democrats in the rest of the south are an endangered species.  It will be interesting to see what happens in Elliott County in 2016.

Dairy Program May Be Farm Bill Sticking Point

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas conceded Thursday that final action on a farm bill conference report is now likely to slip into late January — a major blow to himself and an ominous turn for the bill itself.
The draft package combines a landmark rewrite of commodity programs together with cuts from food stamps to generate in the range of $25 billion in 10-year savings, according to preliminary estimates. These accomplishments remain a strong argument for saving the bill. but the persistent in-fighting and delays are taking their toll and a worry for supporters.
“It needs to be done as soon as possible but the issues are of such magnitude I can’t go until I get the issues addressed,” Lucas said. The Oklahoma Republican admitted to immense frustration — and some surprise — at the full dimensions of the standoff now between Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Lucas’s own ranking Democrat, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, over dairy policy.....
At issue is a new margin insurance initiative for dairy farmers which would include supply management tools to guard against over production. Peterson has argued that the supply controls are vital to keep down the cost of the insurance program. But Boehner believes the increased government role amounts to a bridge-too-far in a world of dairy policy which the speaker is already fond of comparing to the former Soviet Union.
Indeed Boehner sounded this theme again in his weekly press conference on Thursday. “The Soviet-style dairy program we have will continue, but let’s not make it any worse by including supply and management tools,” the speaker said. “I’ve fought off the supply and management ideas for 23 years that I have been in Congress, and my position hasn’t changed, and Mr. Peterson and others are well aware of it.”
Asked directly if he would block the farm bill conference report from coming back to the House floor if it did include the Peterson supply management language, Boehner suggested Lucas would protect him from having to make that decision.
“I am confident that the conference report will not include supply and management provisions for the dairy program,” the speaker said.
Lucas said that in his own conversations with Boehner, the speaker had warned him explicitly. “His statement to me was that if supply management is in it, it’s not coming to the floor. Flat out,” Lucas said.
Peterson lost to Boehner on the supply management issue during the House farm bill debate last summer. But his language has the support of the Senate in its version of the farm bill. And the Minnesota Democrat believes he has the votes in the House-Senate talks now to ultimately prevail.
An important swing vote here is Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.). Rogers is counted as loyal to Lucas but under pressure from dairymen at home to back Peterson if possible. “I get the feel that Rogers’s dairymen want Peterson’s language,” Lucas said, when asked about his own conversation with Rogers this week. “I get the feeling that Rogers wants to be reflective of his dairymen.”
I'm not going to claim to understand the dairy program, or what this fight is really about, but i find the politics interesting.  It appears that Frank Lucas and Mike Rogers are Republicans who really want to pass a Farm Bill, and in the case of Rogers, he's hearing from the dairy farmers in his district that they support the supply management portion of the bill.  However, that portion offends John Boehner's ideology, so he will not allow it to reach the floor.  I find that to be interesting. 

Also, as the article mentions, the bill looks to heavily overhaul the commodity programs.  With commodity prices way down from the trend the last few years, it will be interesting to see what gets cut and what stays.  If prices stay low all year, crop insurance won't be much help to protect farmers' income, and while direct payments aren't very significant, it will be interesting to see what the politicians come up with to assist farmers.  LDP?  SURE payments?  I'm not sure how they'll do it, but come October, they'll be doing something if prices are still where they are now, or if they are even lower.  They don't want farmers going to the polls without some kind of support.

As Global Warming Takes Hold, Cold Snaps Become Rarer

I was looking for this AP story I saw in the local paper, and the amazing thing is that I found it at Fox News:
We've become weather wimps. As the world warms, the United States is getting fewer bitter cold spells like the one that gripped much of the nation this week. So when a deep freeze strikes, scientists say, it seems more unprecedented than it really is. An Associated Press analysis of the daily national winter temperature shows that cold extremes have happened about once every four years since 1900.
Until recently.
When computer models estimated that the national average daily temperature for the Lower 48 states dropped to 17.9 degrees on Monday, it was the first deep freeze of that magnitude in 17 years, according to Greg Carbin, warning meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
That stretch - from Jan. 13, 1997 to Monday - is by far the longest the U.S. has gone without the national average plunging below 18 degrees, according to a database of daytime winter temperatures starting in January 1900.
In the past 115 years, there have been 58 days when the national average temperature dropped below 18. Carbin said those occurrences often happen in periods that last several days so it makes more sense to talk about cold outbreaks instead of cold days. There have been 27 distinct cold snaps.
Between 1970 and 1989, a dozen such events occurred, but there were only two in the 1990s and then none until Monday.
"These types of events have actually become more infrequent than they were in the past," said Carbin, who works at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. "This is why there was such a big buzz because people have such short memories."
Said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private firm Weather Underground: "It's become a lot harder to get these extreme (cold) outbreaks in a planet that's warming."
And Monday's breathtaking chill? It was merely the 55th coldest day - averaged for the continental United States - since 1900.
The coldest day for the Lower 48 since 1900 - as calculated by the computer models - was 12 degrees on Christmas Eve 1983, nearly 6 degrees chillier than Monday.
I remember extreme cold in the early '80s, 1989 and 1994, and those events were longer than a day and a half long.  This week's cold plunge sucked, but what was worst about it was the damned wind, which stole the heat from my house like nobody's business.  The fact that it only lasted about 36 or 48 hours made it pretty mild, but it didn't prevent all the climate change deniers to come out of the woodwork and say, "It's really cold.  Global warming isn't real."  As this article lays out, these cold spells are becoming much more rare, when they used to be pretty common.  That doesn't seem to support the deniers' case, but they've never been noted for their basis in fact.  It does surprise me that Fox News actually ran this story.  The only reason I can guess Fox News ran this story is because the story opens by saying Americans are becoming weather wimps, and that feeds into their attacks on Democrats making America soft.

Events in Fallujah Raise Questions Among Vets

Washington Post:
The Iraq war may have never been declared lost. But the stunning surge in violence over the past year — and the return of al-Qaeda in the western province of Anbar this month — is forcing Americans who invested personally in the war’s success to grapple with haunting questions.
“Could someone smart convince me that the black flag of al-Qaeda flying over Fallujah isn’t analogous to the fall of Saigon?” former Army captain Matt Gallagher asked on Twitter. “Because. Well.”....
Gallagher, who was part of the troop surge ordered by the George W. Bush administration, felt his stomach churn a couple of months ago when an alert prompted him to click on a video of a suicide bombing in his old battleground. He had the same reaction watching grainy footage of masked al-Qaeda militants raising the black flag of jihad in Fallujah.
He said he has gradually come to accept that the sustained peace he and fellow soldiers had fought for has not lasted.
“It’s a very disconcerting and ugly thing to reconcile as an individual,” said Gallagher, who kept a vivid and popular blog during his deployment.
This week, muddled accounts of fighting between al-Qaeda militants, tribesmen and Iraqi troops thrust Iraq back into the headlines. At Camp Lejeune, N.C., a 30-year-old Marine staff sergeant who served tours in Fallujah and Ramadi found himself seething. He thought about his mind-set on his first deployment, when he was fresh out of basic training.
“I was terrified half the time,” said Paul, who asked to be quoted only by his first name because he now serves in a Special Operations regiment. “The way my 20-year-old self envisioned it, I was fighting evil in the world, in a place where people are being treated terrible and getting murdered and have zero rights.”
In hindsight, that idealism seems absurd, and the memories painful.
“It brings back a lot of anger,” Paul said. “I feel like it’s been a big waste of time. It’s kind of like, why the hell did all my buddies die there for? There’s no purpose to it.”
It has to really hurt to come to grips with the idea that all your sacrifice, and all the suffering of your injured and dead colleagues may have been a total waste.  Unfortunately, I am afraid our wars in Afghanistan and especially Iraq, were almost completely for naught. 

I remember talking to an acquaintance from grade school back in 2006.  He had already served one or two tours in Iraq as part of the National Guard (Tikrit, maybe?).  He told me about how many friends he lost, and how tough it was over there, and how people here just didn't understand.  I said that I thought we needed to pull out, because we weren't ever going to get to a point of permanently stabilizing the place.  He just about lost it.  He told me how we couldn't give up, because that would mean that all the people he knew who had died would have died in vain.  I got quiet and just tried to let him talk it through a bit.  He ended up going back over on another tour, and I ran into him a couple of years later.  We never really talked about the war after that one night, but I always remembered what he said. 

I think that the release of Robert Gates' book, along with the events this week in Fallujah, will raise those questions about the purpose and value of their sacrifice with a lot of veterans.  Gates says that Obama went through with the surge in Afghanistan even though he had little or no faith that it would succeed, leading to thousands of unnecessary casualties.  I can't disagree with Gates.  I thought the surge in Iraq was a ploy to give us some breathing room to calm things down so we could get the Hell out before things melted down again, and if that was the plan, I would have to say, the plan worked.  I thought at the time that Obama's Afghan surge looked to do the same thing, and while I thought it would lead to unnecessary casualties in a doomed mission, I figured it was the most likely way for us to decide to wrap up that war, as we could try to avoid admitting defeat while leaving without establishing a stable nation.  Yes, the more honorable strategy would have been to admit our mistakes and get out without those additional losses, but that is against our nature as a nation.  I hope that the nation finds a way to support all of the veterans of these wars, but especially the ones who come to feel that their sacrifices were for nothing.  They will be amongst the most at risk of self-harm.  However, I'm not confident that we will be able to support them.  I remember how I felt ill-equipped and unable to help the guy from grade school as he looked into that abyss almost eight years ago.