The tragedy of MH17—What should we do? What can we do?

MH17 militiamanMany reviewers of Crossing Savage point to the similarities between the fictional plot and the conflict in Ukraine. I was discussing this question two days ago during an interview for KWCC (Wenatchee, WA)—three hours later I heard the news that flight MH17 had been downed over Eastern Ukraine. It is all but certain that the civilian airliner with 298 passengers was shot down by an advanced Russian radar-guided missile. What is less certain is whether the pro-Russian militia acted alone or if their deed was enabled by direct actions from the Russian military.Russian AA battery

Until now, the heavy fighting has been confined to the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Vladimir Putin argues that Russian is justified to defend ethnic Russians residing in Ukraine, using direct and indirect means. Putin has taken the extraordinary steps of annexing the Crimean Peninsula; Eastern Ukraine is likely next. With Europe receiving more than a third of its natural gas from Russia, the EU has little real leverage to stop Russian aggression. And the US has no appetite to enter a new conflict in Europe as we are winding down our wars in the Middle East.

Putin has read the tealeaves with skill. Nevertheless, there are significant actions the US and the EU should pursue.MH17 personal effects

  1. Europe should offer military support, especially ground troops, to Ukraine to bring an end to the militias and destroy their surface to air missiles. The UN must support this goal and means. Once done, the border crossings with Russia need to be secured and monitored by the UN to halt unchecked (and undocumented) transfer of weapons and soldiers.
  2. The US must accelerate export of LNG and, if necessary, oil to Europe in order to free Europe from dependence on Russian energy resources. This will require intense political support from both parties, but it is necessary.
  3. Washington needs to adopt a long-term energy plan (as in decades long) that speaks to the national interests of the US. How does this happen with the least productive Congress in decades? That responsibility falls on our shoulders, the voters. Until we hold our elected representatives responsible for conducting the business of the Nation, in the best interest of the Nation, nothing will change for the better.

MH17 memorialIt remains to be seen if European leaders have the resolve to stand up to Putin and the atrocities committed by the pro-Russian militias acting as proxy armies of the Russian Federation. If they do it will be painful, but the murdered crew and passengers on MH17 were mostly citizens of European countries.

The broader danger is the US has no functional, sustainable long-term energy policy. This leaves the US and our allies vulnerable to aggression as is evident in the Middle East and Ukraine. The solution is at hand—the technical knowledge and capability exists. The buck stops with us, the voters. If we do not insist our representatives conduct business in the interest of the US as a whole (not isolated regions and corporate special interests) then nothing will change.

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Enter to win FREE copy of Crossing Savage

DSCF3074Here’s what book blogger Valerie Mitchell says about Crossing Savage:

“Are you ready for an edge of the seat thriller? Crossing Savage is a wonderful read that is filled with intrigue, action and lots of smarts. This is one of those books that is hard to put down once you start, so would be great to take with you on vacation and read through it all the way to the end in just a few days. I’m not sure exactly where fact ends and his imagination takes over, but the result is a compelling story that draws you right in and keeps you reading.”

You can read her full review at Sweeps 4 Bloggers and while you are there enter to win a FREE autographed copy of Crossing Savage!

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How my journey to become an author began with a best-seller.

Jules Verne 1Here is a question I am often asked: “How did you go from a career in science and engineering to writing fiction?” It’s a good question, and I understand why fiction writing may appear to be so divergent from the rigors of science and engineering. My standard answer is that the two activities really share much in common–the process of creating something, invention.Jules Verne 2

Consider Jules Verne as the prototypical example of a fiction writer whose visions of technology were far ahead of his time, and yet many of those visions have been reduced to practice. Verne, through his writing, was creating much more than a story.

My love affair with action thrillers began about 35 years ago when I first read Raise the Titanic by Clive Cussler. That is when I started this journey that has lead me to write Crossing Savage and start the Peter Savage Novels series.

rtt-usfirst-pb“In about 1979 a good friend gave me a worn paperback copy of Raise the Titanic by Clive Cussler. Until that time, I seldom read for pleasure—there was plenty of reading required for my college studies and I felt that was sufficient. Still, I started reading one evening and soon met Dirk Pitt and the rest of the cast. From that moment, I was hooked on action thrillers. If only I could create these wonderful stories, I would often daydream when the rigors of university studies and work seemed to be tsra-sketch-02-1024x684endless.” You can read more of this interview at the blog of Chris the story-reading ape. In addition to discussing why I decided to eventually write action-thrillers, there is also a discussion about the process of publishing–my experiences with self-publishing and then working with a small imprint.

By the way, the story-reading ape’s blog is packed with interesting interviews. Check it out…

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New evidence in support of abiogenic oil formation–by Professor Ian Savage

earth638x250Recent reports from some of my colleagues at Northwestern University and the University of New Mexico lend even more support to the abiogenic theory of petroleum formation. If you’ve followed my earlier blogs on this web site, you know that my work at Oregon State University is aimed at studying theoretical chemical reactions between carbon and water deep within the Earth. My Japanese colleague, Professor Kenji Sato, and I suspect that water and carbonaceous materials buried within sediment in the sea floor are subducted beneath continental plates due to plate tectonics (more commonly called continental drift).

Over eons, this slow but steady process would have resulted in a tremendous amount of water, seashells (calcium carbonate), and other debris being pushed into the mantel—the layer of semi-molten and molten rock beneath the Earth’s crust. Indeed, my ill-fated subduction 9expedition to Chernabura Island in the Aleutian chain, along the northern subduction zone of the Pacific plate, was aimed at retrieving rock samples to investigate this hypothesis. If you’ve read Crossing Savage, you know that expedition went horribly wrong. But our research was given a huge boost by core samples from that area shipped to my lab by the National Science Foundation.

After careful examination of the cores by my students, we found a image_1806_2-Ringwooditeclass of iron minerals commonly called serpentine, that shows remarkable chemical activity for generating reactive hydrogen from water. However, we did not find evidence high concentrations of water, although we know from volcanic eruptions, in which large amounts of steam are vented, that water does enter the mantle. Still, the location of this water remained a mystery.

240px-BlueRingwooditeThat mystery seems to be solved. Vast amounts of water are stored in the deep blue mineral ringwoodite (named after the Australian geologist Ted Ringwood), a rare form of another iron-based mineral called peridot. Analysis shows that ringwoodite contains up to 1.5 weight percent water. This mineral releases its water as it melts at the transition boundary between the upper and lower mantle, a depth of about 400 km to 600 km. Ringwoodite has been found in meteors, but it is extremely rare on Earth. A minute crystal of ringwoodite was found as an inclusion in a diamond from an ancient volcano in Brazil. This evidence, along with seismic data, supports the theory that vast amounts of ringwoodite are distributed throughout the deep mantle and may account for more than three times to total water in all the oceans.

The fact that ringwoodite and diamond (elemental carbon) have been found together proves carbon and water are collocated at depths where there is sufficient heat and pressure to form hydrocarbons.

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What really defines human nature? Not what you may think.

hydrogen-bombAbout 200,000 years ago (plus or minus), Homo Sapiens, or modern humans, first appeared on the plains of Africa, having evolved from our primate ancestors. Since that time, modern humans have eclipsed all other species currently living or known to have lived. So, what makes humans so successful? And what characteristics are most “human”?

The answer to the first question is our mental capability. This is manifested in many forms—spoken and written language, tool making, abstract reasoning, etc. The second question is more difficult. You might answer that love, compassion, religion, self-awareness are characteristics that uniquely differentiate humans from all other animals.battleship broadside

I’d argue that it is our single-minded desire to kill each other that is the most unique of human characteristics.

Of course, rivalry among species is common in nature, typically driven by territorial or mating disputes, as well as food. Chimpanzees and other primates are known to wage orchestrated group conflict, and they are very vicious. Perhaps this is the closest behavior in the natural world to warfare as waged by humans. However, there is nothing about the natural fighting and killing exhibited by primates, canines, bears, large cats, etc. that comes even remotely close to the art and science that mankind has invented and refined. To say we, as a species, excel at killing would be a huge understatement.

AC130Centuries ago we developed weapons that kill by stabbing, slicing, bludgeoning… but that wasn’t sufficient. We used our superior intellect to invent new weapons that kill with bullets, shrapnel, explosives, fire, disease, chemicals, and radiation. If there is one thing that humankind does well, it is inventing and using complex tools to slaughter each other.

In the past 100 years alone, we have invented and used nuclear weapons, biological weapons, chemical weapons, intercontinental ballistic missiles, battleships, bombers, and a nearly endless variety of munitions and guns, including machine guns that fire 3,000 rounds per minute. In WWI, 17 million soldiers and civilians died in battle. During WWII, only 3 decades later, the death toll reached as high as 80 million by some estimates, the vast majority civilians.minigun

History is riddled with warfare. We have a pronounced tendency to glorify battle. Fighting and killing among humans is a constant; it seems to be as ingrained in our behavior as is reproduction. Indeed, the desired to become better at killing has driven the development of technology more than any other goal.

DF-SC-84-05193So pervasive is Homo Sapien’s need to kill that it happens around us all the time. News reports of murder and mass murder are common. Civilians murder using guns, knives, cars, explosives, hammers (a favorite weapon in China). We kill adults, children, people we don’t know. Even when a motive is revealed, it defies logic.

I am left wondering, what evolutionary purpose is served by this instinctive need of modern humans to constantly kill. Indeed, it seems counterproductive to achieving a stable and healthy population. And perhaps that is the answer. Perhaps this is Nature working to control the population of humankind, since we seem to be unwilling to limit the growth of our species to a population that is sustainable.

When will humankind learn to use its extraordinary mental capacity to overcome this behaviorally flaw? Until we do, I’m afraid our future is bleak.


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Viable alternatives to oil–yes, they exist

Earth oilPreviously in this blog I’ve written about Russian aggression in Ukraine and the fact that Europe is impotent to retaliate since Russia supplies more than a third of the natural gas used by Europe. So, what can be done? Actually, a lot if governments and industry choose to act.

Unlike the oil embargoes of the 70s—a decade when there were few options to refining imported oil to make transportation fuels—we now have feasible options to imported oil and natural gas. Before I go further, let me break this challenge down into two parts. First, there is energy need for buildings, homes, and factories; so-called stationary applications. There are many solutions to this challenge including solar power, wind generators, geothermal, and conventional power plants (coal, natural gas, nuclear, oil, tidal and hydro).embargo 1

The bigger challenge is transportation fuels, which have historically been refined from oil. Thus, nations are most vulnerable when it comes to supply of transportation fuels like diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel. But there are alternatives to oil as the source of these necessary fuels.

Natural gas (NG) is the most obvious alternative to oil; yes even for transportation fuels. You are probably familiar with CNG-fueled buses, and this is a good option. With the abundance of natural gas in the US (we have about a 200-year supply, and more and more gas is found every day) the economic savings of burning CNG (compressed natural gas) in heavy engines that would otherwise burn diesel fuel is significant. One gallon of diesel fuel costs about $4, whereas an energy-equivalent amount of CNG costs less than $1.

CNG is attractive, but it is far from the only option. NG, biomass, coal, garbage, sewage can all be converted using known processes to make liquid transportation fuels. The generic chemical process was invented in Germany during the early 20th century and is called Fisher-Tropsch, or FT, synthesis. This chemical conversion process was used in large-scale refineries by Germany to fuel their military machine during WWII, and has been commercially used in South Africa for decades to make liquid fuels.German FT refinery WWII

FT synthesis is an extremely versatile process for making liquid fuels, and here’s why. The fuels we burn in engines are generically called hydrocarbons, molecules made from hydrogen and carbon atoms arranged in a nearly endless variety of configurations. What is important is that these hydrocarbon molecules burn readily and release a large amount of energy. Fortuitously, hydrogen and carbon are abundant on Earth, and these atoms make up NG, biomass, coal, garbage, sewage—really everything that is either derived from biological material or petroleum.

The FT process begins by breaking down these starting materials to syngas—a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. This first step, called gasification or reforming, is usually done with the addition of water, an excellent source of hydrogen. The syngas is then reconstituted, subjected to chemical reactions that yield hydrocarbons ranging from methane (CH4, the principal component of natural gas) to heavy hydrocarbon molecules containing 10 to 20 carbon atoms and twice that number of hydrogen atoms. These heavy hydrocarbons are useful as a substitute for diesel fuel and jet fuel.

The versatility of FT synthesis to use a variety of feedstocks—including renewables such as biomass, garbage, and sewage—is an additional bonus. However, the important point is that every country has access to this technology, which means there is no good reason to rely on imported oil.

Yes, economics should be considered, and it is often claimed that the cost of making synthetic gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel using the FT Russian navy Crimeaprocess is simply too expensive compared with refining these fuels from oil. However, the true and complete costs of energy should be tallied—including the cost of nearly 25 years of almost non-stop warfare in the Middle East.

In the 70s the OPEC countries drew our national attention to the perils of relying on imported energy. Now, Vladimir Putin is demonstrating European vulnerability by relying on imported energy (natural gas and oil).

The lessons are clear. The penalties are obvious. The solutions are in hand.

It’s time to act.

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What we owe to our veterans

Toomb of the Unkown 2Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day dates back to the end of the Civil War as a date in late May to remember our fallen service men and women, “lest we forget”. It is a time to pause and reflect on friends, family, and strangers who have served our country in the military.

Having a grandfather, father, brother, and nephew who all served, I am frequently reminded of the darkest and most destructive side of military service—the necessity to wage war. Humans are alone in the natural world in our ability to destroy each other with extreme violence and efficiency. Humankind has glorified warfare since the Toomb of the Unkown 3beginning of recorded history. And yet, in the same breath, we proclaim our devotion to peace, harmony, and coexistence. We seem to accept this logical contradiction without question—again and again we kill in the name of peace, in order to secure peace.

My nephew, a sergeant in the Army, recently brought to my attention an opinion published in The New York Times by Phil Klay, a Marine veteran who completed tours in Iraq. Mr. Klay writes about his wish that civilians would invest time and emotional energy to understand what it is like for our young men and women to be at war. And he’s right. The overused phrase “I could never imagine what it was like” is a copout, a free pass to relieve ourselves from the emotional and moral burden of war—a burden which our politicians (supported by us voters) submit our military men and women to, sometimes too eagerly. Don’t we owe every veteran the effort to try to understand what they have endured? The months and years away from family and friends, threat of death and injury, the need to kill others. Is it too much to ask that we, who have not served in conflict, should try to empathize with our veterans?Toomb of the Unkown 1

I submit this is our obligation. And just perhaps, by becoming a tiny bit more aware of the brutality of battle, the frequent physical and mental scars, we will pause just a moment longer before committing our sons and daughters to the next conflict. I’m not an idealist, and with certainty there will be more conflicts, other wars. It is, after all, human nature. As my nephew reminded me, just as there are vile people who need to be killed, there are also people who need to be saved. How unfortunate that the path to salvation is so often through death.

Photos of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier courtesy of Sergeant Seth Lombardy, US Army

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Radio interview of Dave Edlund on May 22

On Thursday, May 22nd @ 9:30 PM ET, I’ll be on a live edition of It Matters Radio. Just follow the link to the web site. If you want to participate, the call in number is 213-769-0952. it matters

No doubt we will be discussing Crossing Savage, geopolitics, and energy. It would really be great to hear from you, so write down those questions you want answered and call in! If you miss the show, it will be accessed the next day when the pod cast is available to download in I-Tunes or Show Page.

I am looking forward to hearing from you! Cheers

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President Putin’s victory lap in Crimea—a dangerous sign

Putin and Crimea. It is more than a little ironic that President Vladimir Putin chose to make a public appearance in Crimea to celebrate both the allied victory over Germany in WWII and the annexation of Crimea, a strategic peninsula and territory of the Ukraine, a sovereign country formerly part of the USSR. One justification for the annexation of Crimea is that Putin believes it is the right of Russia to protect ethnic Russians anywhere they live. We’ve heard this rhetoric before—it never loses its power to inflame nationalist attitudes. This trend seems to be especially strong in Ethnic cleansingEastern Europe. The logical extension of this argument makes no sense as it would justify any action in any country, sovereignty be damned. It is an argument that suggest anarchy is the ultimate goal, or if not anarchy then domination by a single government for the protection of that ethnic group favored by the government.

To a degree, we’ve seen the later possibility many times over in the Middle East and Africa, where a ruling government favors its tribe or religious group. And we’ve seen the carnage that results when the oppressed rebel.

Unfortunately, Putin’s aggression is obvious to all, and to be fair Putin is not really trying to hide his agenda. He is fomenting civil unrest and rebellion, it is not a true grass-roots movement. Why would the well-armed and uniformed civilian Russian sympathizers wear masks covering their faces? After all, they are loved and adored by their neighbors and fellow sympathizers, right?black masked men

Putin and his supportive government and nationalistic citizens want to retake territories that were formerly part of a larger Russia. Vladimir Putin must believe he is entitled to think and act differently from other presidents and rulers, for he most certainly would not accept this archaic argument as justification for Poland to reclaim Belarus, for example (the list of examples one could cite is long). What Putin has not said, is that he believes might makes right.

Russia has won the first round with the annexation of Crimea, and is soon to take Eastern Ukraine as well. If Ukraine does not dissolve into civil war and become completely absorbed into Russia, it will be a minor miracle.

No, the EU and US will not forcefully oppose Putin, nor will serious sanctions be levied against Russia for the simple reason that Russia has control over energy (natural gas and oil) supplies to Europe. The EU simply cannot afford to oppose Putin’s will. The US won’t go it alone, not after 25 years of warfare in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan.

I’d like to believe that’s the end of it. That Putin will absorb Crimea and Ukraine, maybe pick up another former Soviet bloc country, or two—and it will end there. But there is this nagging concern in my mind that has nothing to do with geopolitics and egotistical leaders—but has everything to do with human nature.

It boils down to this. Human population is increasing at an exponential rate; we are rapidly running out of resources to support the population. Given the increasing demand for limited resources, what will people—governments—do? As the mathematician Ian Malcolm stated in Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park, “Nature will always find a way.” That is my fear, Nature will find a way to control human overpopulation.

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An interview with YA author Brad LaMar

BradLaMar01I wanted to do something different this week, so I’ll introduce you to a fellow author from the Light Messages Publishing family. Brad LaMar is best-selling author of the Celtic Mythos series–“The Obsidian Dagger” and “The Megalith Union”. Both are available through major retailers. My son is a big fan of the Percy Jackson series, and he just started reading “The Obsidian Dagger”

Q) Can you please share with us a little about yourself?

BL–I am from Indianapolis, IN and have lived here my entire life.  I have just started my 15th year in education.  I taught science for 12 years and for the last 2 years I have been in charge of professional development and evaluation in my school.  I have two kids (Evan, 12 and Paige 10).  I am married to a high school science teacher who is wonderful and the most organized person I know.

Q) Have you always wanted to be an author?

BL–I never considered being an author because it always felt likMegalith Unionbeing on TV or in movies to me.  It looked like something that a Midwestern kid wouldn’t ever be able to do.  Once I reached my mid-twenties and had a lot of encouragement from my students and parents, I began trying to get an agent and find a way to get published.

Q) Can you share with us your typical writing day.  Is there anything you have to have while writing?

BL–The thing I have to have when writing is time.  I work a full-time job and have an active family, so putting together a productive hour of writing is what I try to do on a daily basis.  I sit at the kitchen table with my laptop, something to drink, and my notepad and try to develop my stories the best way that I can.

Q)  What inspired you to write this book?

BL–I used to write stories for my kids when they were younger.  I Obsidian Daggerwould put them into the stories and they would love to hear and imagine themselves on these great adventures.  I wrote one story where I took them to Ireland and they convinced me to try and find leprechauns.  After I thought about for awhile I felt like I could turn this simple story into an adventure for young adult readers and above.

Q)  What is your favorite thing about writing?

BL–My favorite thing about writing is telling a story that I can see playing out in my head.  It’s a challenge to convey my imagination, but that’s also what makes it fun.

Q)  What is your favorite candy?

BL–I think that my favorite candy is Mr. Goodbar.  A person can’t go wrong with chocolate-covered peanuts.

Q)  What is your favorite cartoon?

BL–There are many good cartoons that have been made over the years but I probably have the best memories of the old G.I. Joe and Transformer cartoons from the 80s.  Although, if I had to choose a more recent one, I think the Justice League (Unlimited) series was written, drawn, and presented in a very smart way.

Q)  When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

BL–I have always been told by teachers throughout my education that I was creative and filled with good ideas, but I never even considered the possibility that I could become a published author until I became a teacher myself.  I wrote an example story for a project that I assigned and the students were really impressed, so I submitted it via snail-mail to some agents and got some advice that changed how I perceived myself as a writer.  She told me that my writing is good and creative, but if I wanted to become published then I needed to write a novel.  That changed my focus and presented a challenge unlike anything that I had every tried before.  I wrote my first novel and got a agent.  That was a real boost in my confidence.  Even though that book has not been published yet, I was energized to keep going, to keep writing, and eventually I signed a contract to have my Celtic Mythos series published by Light Messages.

Q)  What can readers expect from you in the future?

BL–Readers can expect a variety of stories that will hopefully entertain them.  I love to write adventure, science fiction, and fantasy, or to take stories into the future or back in time in a historical fiction tale.  I plan on having children’s stories published and I am even working on a couple of nonfiction works.  My wife is the most organized person I know and she has some great ideas that I’m working on with her, so I would expect a book like that will be in our future as well.

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