Monday, September 24, 2007

Thursday, April 19, 2007

If you consider how many hours they actually work -- for us -- how much do they make per hour?

This is priceless. But don't get me wrong, this isn't about Democrats or Republicans -- I am confident that most people on both sides of the aisle are the exact same. What this is about is how horrific our lawmakers are these days. This goes right alongside the "Series of Tubes" speech -- by a Republican -- for direct examples of politicians vehemently supporting legislation that potentially has a profound effect on our lives without understanding some of the basic concepts concerning what is to be regulated in said legislation. With all the money we pay our politicians to represent us, you think they could afford to spend at least a few minutes learning the basics of whatever legislation they're going to talk about. Which happens to be one of the most important parts of their job. This is especially appalling when they spend so much time working for their own interests -- like getting re-elected. What are we paying them for if not to even understand the laws they are making? I'm afraid that nothing will change until the average voter pays more attention to these sorts of things and votes accordingly. If politicians' chances of getting re-elected had more to do with their job performance than speaking engagements and television commercials then maybe they would accomplish something that would make them worthy of the dignitary status they enjoy at aforementioned engagements.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Stupid Polls

There is a headline on Google news today that states "Majority Expect US Will 'Lose' in Iraq." This seems like a fairly useless piece of information to me. The majority of Americans are not military strategists. Nor do they have any qualifications that would give their judgement on the situation in Iraq any merit. In fact, the majority of Americans are uninformed and apathetic and form their opinions only on what they hear on the morning/evening news or see in newspaper headlines. So, an equal but easier and cheaper to measure statistic would be, "Majority of News Stories Indicate US Will 'Lose' in Iraq."

The Iraq statistic has at least some meaning since public opinion actually matters in a country's decision and willingness to wage and continue war. I saw a laughable statistic the other day, I don't remember the exact headline but it said that the majority of Americans believed that politics played at least some role in the attorney firing "scandal." The majority of Americans have very little facts about said affair and even less knowledge about what is acceptable or scandalous therein. Again, the story may as well have read "Majority of News Stories Implicate Inappropriate Politics in Attorney Firings."

I've talked about this before, but it still baffles me. What is it about statistics that we, as a country, find so interesting? Is it that they're easily digested and have an air of legitimacy because they require some research and math to create? Or is it just the news agencies finding a cheap way to scare up a story when they don't have one? And do the news agencies not see the irony in polling people about opinions mostly formed based on the stories published by the very same news agencies? Or are they secretly mocking the American people? Or are they geniuses and killing two birds with one stone by polling to see how effective their stories are and then playing the findings off as a relevant statistic to make another story?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Lots of Money

Whoa, am I posting again? I guess so.

I just have a quick question: what would happen if a presidential candidate donated their tens of millions of dollars to feeding hungry children, or curing AIDS, or developing alternative fuel sources even, rather than spending it on campainging? Do you think that the American people, and probably more importantly the media, would laud such an act of generosity enough to make it anywhere near as powerful as traditional campaigning? Or would it just spell the end of their hopes in this whoever-spends-the-most-money-wins political system we have today? It just seems like a really poor way to spend so much money. If the American people could elect a president without so much hype it seems like we'd have a lot more money to spend on a lot better things.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Congressmen as Presidential Candidates

Get off my back, I'm busy these days.

In the history of the U.S. 15 senators have become president. Only two -- Harding and Truman -- moved straight from the senate to the White House. And JFK is the only other to do it with less than 2 years between. Here's the link. So, its unusual for a senator to become president and the odds of a sitting senator becoming president are extremely low. 1 in 24.5, to be exact. That's pretty bad odds. There have been 17 presidents who were members of the House of Representatives. Most of those were senators or governors after being representatives, before becoming president. Only one, Garfield, went straight from the House to the White House. So why do congressmen keep getting nominations in presidential elections? Kerry, of course, is still a senator. Dole was a senator when he was nominated. Kucinich was and still is a member of the House. In the upcoming elections some of the big names being mentioned are Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain -- all are sitting senators. In honor of google allowing me to do so, I've compiled a spreadsheet of presidents and offices they've held -- only considering senator, representative, governor, and mayor -- here. Here are some interesting facts:
  • No mayor has become president without being a governor -- this means odds are completely against Rudi, in this statistic, as much as I like him.
  • 4 presidents held only the office of representative
  • 6 presidents held none of these offices
  • 3 presidents have held only the office of senator
  • 9 presidents were only senators or were senator and representative
  • 20 presidents were governors -- counting governor of territories/possessions. 17 otherwise
  • 11 presidents only held the office of governor or governor and mayor
  • Andrew Johnson is the only president to hold all four offices
So, it would seem that the best way to be president is to be a governor. It is historically impossible to become president only holding the office of mayor (or not being a white man, but that's tangential, I suppose) (Rudi Giulianni). The least likely candidate that still has a shot is only a senator (John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama). It is only slightly more likely that someone who was only a representative can become a president (sorry, Dennis). It is more likely that someone who has held none of these offices would become president as someone who is just a representative or senator, and as likely as someone who was both (John McCain). It is almost impossible for a sitting congressman to become president (Hillary, Barack, McCain, Kucinich). So, given these facts why do parties continue to nominate sitting congressmen? I guess eventually you beat the odds. However, as I mentioned earlier no one who is not a white man has won the president. The big names right now on the Dem side besides Edwards are not only sitting senators, but one is not a man and one is not white (I'll let you sort out which is which), that ought to sound some alarms at Dem headquarters -- trying to beat the odds in one category is courageous, trying to beat several statistics is daunting, at best. History is, of course, in the making. However, if I'm trying to win an election for my party I would definitely take the past into account, not just popular opinion. Of course, this is a very limited scope statistic, but I feel it is a fairly relevant one.

So, will I vote for Rudi in the primary? Now I'm not sure... maybe I'll have to throw in with Romney. With this statistic, Edwards is the best candidate that I've mentioned on the Dem side -- do they have any governors talking about running? And I don't see Edwards beating Obama or Clinton. I guess it will be an interesting race, and its still early, so maybe we'll see a governor appear for the Dems later on, a-la Bill Clinton.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I Still Hate Large Media Outlets

I know we've been over this many times, but I haven't posted in awhile, so I figure this is as good as anything right now. Yesterday I saw a very large number of headlines that all said something like "Bush Defies Commanders, Orders Increase in Army Numbers." I watched the press conference with President Bush yesterday, and while stumbling painfully along as always, he explicitly says (paraphrased) "I'm not going to tell you today what my plan for Iraq is. I haven't made a decision about increased troop levels, but its something I am still considering." To turn that into headlines proclaiming that he has firmly made up his mind -- and "defied" his top commanders -- is silly and misleading. And I hate them for it. I just hate the way the news is distorted to make a more sensational story, as we have discussed before. And this is yet another blatant example. These are the people claiming to deliver the truth and facts to the American people.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I recently read an article in Spectrum magazine about the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life. The idea behind most SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) projects is we assume that if there is another intelligent civilization with technology at or beyond our level they might be trying to contact other life (us!) by sending out messages on electromagnetic waves. In the 60's until now these people assumed other civilizations would be using radio waves, and so have been searching radio frequencies with no real success. The article I read says the the search is now moving to optical light, another bandwidth of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is a more likely communications tool. I feel like I don't even need to mention the hubris involved in believing that other civilizations will be using the same technologies as us, but apparently I do since the SETI people are putting a lot of time and money into it.

So lets put that arrogance aside and assume that alien cultures are using lasers to contact us. These alien cultures don't know that there is life on earth, or they would be trying to contact us much more directly. So, these laser messages are not going to be sent out to the earth constantly. Again assuming the aliens have the same types of technology as us, these beams will be sent out in the direction of different star systems that these aliens think might have life on them, each star system getting a message at a different time. Now, let's assume that they're sending the messages towards earth at all, which is not a trivial assumption, otherwise the whole issue goes away. So, every once in awhile the laser message is pointed towards our star system. What are the odds that at that time we have a clear line of sight to the alien star system? That some other planet or piece of space junk or the moon isn't in the way? Or the sun, even? Then, assuming that the laser actually reaches the earth, what are the odds that it hits a point on the earth were we have a receiver listening? We're talking about light year distances here, so a change of a few fractions of a degree at the sender translates to huge differences in hit location on the earth. Unless we put receivers all over the earth its almost impossible to believe that we will intercept such a message, if you can even believe that a message will hit the earth at all.

But, lets be arrogant again and assume that we do receive a message. Then it will take us years, if not decades, to even recognize that it is a message. But lets assume that some day we receive a message, realize that it is a message, and even pinpoint where in the universe it came from. What now? What was all this about? I guess it proves that there is other intelligent life in the universe -- probably. But to really prove that, or do anything meaningful with it, we have to contact this life and communicate with it.

So, we need to start beaming messages back to them. This is much easier than their task of beaming them to the entire universe because we know exactly where they are. So we can built a laser-message space craft and put it somewhere in space always transmitting right to their planet. Now, this planet will be at least ten light years away. That means that when we received the message it was already ten years old. When we send our message to them it will take 10 years for them to receive it, assuming that they receive it right away. Then, assume that they recognize our message and send one back. That takes another 10 years. So now its been 20 years since we first detected the message, and we get something back.

Now what? What good is this? We have spent billions of dollars and who knows how many hours and we have proved that extra-terrestrial life exists. What does that matter? What can we do with that? We can communicate with this culture, you might say. Not likely any time soon. Assuming they even have the same concept of language as us, its very unlikely their language will be anything we can understand or decipher without a great deal of correspondence. And considering that it takes 20 years for a single round-trip message, its going to be a long while until we can actually have any sort of "meaningful" conversation with such a culture.

Of course, all this assumes that any other intelligent life is benevolent. You can easily imagine some uber-fascist alien race trying to detect intelligent life in the universe in order to subjugate it. So we spend billions of dollars to build a laser-messaging satellite that is really just a homing beacon for some oppressive overlords to find our little planet. Nice move guys. But, a lot of assumptions have been made to this point, so why not continue and assume these guys are nice?

All of this to say that SETI is one of the biggest wastes of time and money I can imagine. Thankfully, the government stopped funding SETI in 1993. It is a project that makes many, many arrogant assumptions to even make itself viable. Then, assuming all of the assumptions are correct all we get out of it, best case, is the knowledge that there is some other intelligent life out there. Worst case, we become enslaved by some much more powerful race. Nice. I say we wait until we have the technology to visit or communicate more quickly with and hopefully stand toe-to-toe militarily with any alien race before we spend the time and money to try to contact them.