Allow me to be the last person to wish you a happy new year. Now that the revelry of the holiday season is behind us, it is time to resign ourselves to the realities of the year ahead. Though cynics may discount the importance of the start of a new year, I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t look to make their new year better than their last. I think, for many in the U.S., 2008 was a tough year to categorize. Economic hardship affected many people here and abroad; however, the election of a popular, energetic new president in Barack Obama seemed to give Americans—and many citizens across the globe—something to look forward to (though no one seems really sure what that something is). Whether there are blue skies ahead remains to be seen, but unfortunately, 2009 is off to an inauspicious start.

Hope and change are both big buzz words heading into this year. And while we may be heading toward a brave new world, it’s good to know that there are some things we can always count on, such as Israel and Palestine launching rockets at one another. While many of us in the U.S. were returning the poorly fitting pants and ugly sweaters we received for the holidays, the Israeli government launched an offensive on the Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip. As of this writing, the campaign is just about 13 days old, and it seems to be getting worse by the minute. On Tuesday, Jan. 6, 42 men, women and children were killed when a United Nations-run school was in the unfortunate path of Israeli fire. The incident did make way for a brief pause in the fighting to allow humanitarian aid to enter embattled Gaza.

However, that aid was probably soon blown to bits as rockets were launched immediately after the truce ended. According to an article on the BBC, Israel launched “60 air strikes on the Gaza Strip in a single night after the first daily truce to allow in humanitarian aid expired.” That number has no doubt risen by press time. Fighting escalated further on Thursday, Jan. 8, as, according to Reuters, at least four rockets launched from the direction of Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon impacted northern Israel. The rocket fire raised fears that Lebanon and Israel would pick up where they left off after their 2006 war. Luckily—if that’s even the right term—it turned out that the rockets were probably fired by a small Palestinian militant group. If you’re a numbers person, as of this writing, close to 700 Palestinians have died in the bombings and over 3,000 have been injured; 11 Israeli soldiers have also lost their lives in the conflict.

It’s grim news indeed. A difficult story to digest if, like me, you’re looking to keep upbeat about the coming year. It seems, however, that humans are doomed to keep making the same mistakes, no matter what year it is. Recently, I’d heard a discussion on NPR where the parties involved mentioned the rise in sales of trucks and SUVs now that gas prices have plummeted. I suppose those people miss the camaraderie we all shared in complaining about forking over $4.50-plus per gallon.

As a species, I guess we’ll never learn. But I’m not ready to mark off 2009 as a total loss just yet. Worst case scenario: Obama fails miserably; the global economy plunges into deep depression, sparking numerous small conflicts throughout the world as hungry people become desperate, leading to larger wars that pit neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother; society as we know it jumps the shark. Then, those of us who survive will be able to huddle together in our bomb shelters and reminisce about those innocent, carefree days of 2008.