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.

Friday, November 10, 2006


The state Legislature of Massachusetts is avoiding a divisive vote through every loophole they can find. In doing so they are hurting the democratic process in their state and in their country. Proponents of homosexual marriage rights have been relying on tactics like this in many parts of the country to allow their goals to be court ordered and deny the people in their districts the right to decide, much to their shame, in my opinion. I cannot accept that it would ever be better to bypass the democratic process to achieve the realization of a goal unless, perhaps, that bypass saves lives. I assume that they believe that once their desired interpretations of laws are on the books for awhile that people will just accept them. This seems unlikely to me. In the event that the general public does not simply start accepting these new rules, having them imposed without due democratic process only hurts your cause in the long run. This is a short-sighted tactic because although it realizes their goals quickly it cannot mean lasting results, nor can it foster any kind of acceptance by the public. If homosexual marriage proponents want homosexual marriage to be accepted by the country it has to be chosen by the country. It will not happen by force.

The Massachusetts legislators that voted for this recess most likely fall in to two camps: homosexual marriage proponents relying on the tactics I mention above, and politicians without the courage to follow the democratic process if it might hurt their political aspirations. Both positions are reprehensible. It is in the state constitution that the people deserve a vote on this issue since they have met the petition requirements. To deny them that vote for any reason is oppressive and wholly inappropriate for any legislative body.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Eliminating Moderate Representation

I think that Joe Lieberman's resounding victory over Ned Lamont further proves a thesis I have believed for some time now: moderates don't vote in primaries. As I have said before, I believe that the majority of the country is fairly moderate, either left or right. Most people classify themselves as Republicans or Democrats, but few people are far from the middle of the political spectrum. However, politics is shifting further and further from moderate over the last several years, perhaps even decades. The populace remains moderate, but the candidates are increasingly fringe and radical. The best logical explanation for this that I can think of is that the moderates do not take part in candidate selection. Instead the radicals in both parties choose the candidates, selecting like-minded politicians. Then when the time comes for the election most Americans vote straight party line, putting the hard right or left candidate in power because they represent the party the moderate voter has chosen to be part of.

Lieberman was almost an example of this -- one that would have been unprovable had he respected his party's nomination of Lamont. He is viewed by the general public as moderate -- whether he should be or not is irrelevant, that's how he's viewed. The hard left saw him as too far right, and quite a bit too far at that. And they overwhelmingly rejected him in the primary. Had he accepted this we might never have known whether this was representative of most of Democrats in the state. However, Lieberman spurned his party and set off on his own believing, apparently correctly, that the people of Connecticut would favor him over Lamont, even if his party's primary did not. He was right and won easily. The majority of the Democrats in Connecticut did not vote for Lamont, they voted for Lieberman. I believe this is because the majority of Democrats in Connecticut believe themselves to be moderate, and so chose the candidate branded as moderate rather than the one branded as liberal, correctly or not.

I believe that the same scenario would play out across the United States in both parties if moderate candidates had the luxury of a wealth of money and media attention needed to run as independents. Instead most moderates never see general election after a primary defeat. And the result is that the majority of Americans are not accurately or adequately represented by the government. As far as I can tell there is only one way to change this: more people have to vote in the primaries. I don't know how to generate more interest, but we all should do whatever we can to encourage everyone we can to vote in the primaries to promote better representation by our government. That is my wide sweeping and vague charge to everyone in the country. That's all for now, I'll let you know if there's anything else I need you to do later.


I'm afraid about my future after the election last night. Not because Democrats are probably going to control both houses of congress, but because Colorado voted to increase its minimum wage to $6.85. I agree that minimum wage needs to increase, but on a national level. Changing it only at the state level seems disastrous to me. I cannot imagine the rationale behind such a short-sighted decision. Now I have to wait and hope that either the Federal minimum wage requirement quickly is raised to or above $6.85, or that the profit margin is high enough in Colorado that companies feel like its worth sticking it out even though they could be paying their employees less if they moved to a different state. I really hope that this doesn't destroy Colorado's economy, but I really feel like it could. And I doubt there's any chance of the Amendment being repealed in some kind of emergency vote, if there is even a provision for such a thing, now that Democrats hold both state houses and we have a new Democrat governor.

Speaking of the Democrats taking both houses last night, is it just me or were the Republicans of the last six years the worst majority ever? It seems like they still never got anything done, even with a solid majority. Plus the alienated a large chunk of their base, like me, by deciding that they didn't have to appeal to people anymore and sold out to the Evangelical right. Which backfired, since a lot of evangelical groups were talking about not voting to try to teach the Republicans some lesson. I don't know, I feel like they deserved to lose. I didn't vote for any Democrats, but I'm not that upset at their winning. To them I say congratulations, I hope you don't live up to your critics expectations. And please don't make Nancy Pelosi the Speaker of the House. Please.

Monday, November 06, 2006

MS Linux?

Oh good, now Linux is going to be full of security holes and get viruses.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Israel's Current Dilemma

The dilemma currently facing Israel that's all over the news is Palestinian gunmen using women, and sometimes children, as human shields. This as been an alleged tactic of such militants for years, but this is the first time, to my knowledge, that they have used this tactic so blatantly. According to this story, women formed a ring around a mosque to protect gunmen inside, believing that Israeli troops would not fire on women (unlike Palestinian suicide bombers who indiscriminately kill women and children). For once these women were wrong and the troops did fire and killed two of them and wounded several others.

This brings up an important ethical question. What is the right thing to do in such a situation? We have women serving in our armed forces, although never as active combatants at this point. But they are members of the military and legal combatants under international law, none the less. At what point do these Palestinian women cease to be civilians and start to be part of the opposing force? When do they become combatants? If "civilian" men were actively seeking to aid opposing troops in this way would they be valid targets? Is it right or good to treat women differently? What is the right way to respond to stop things like this from happening in the future? This is clearly a violation of the Geneva convention, but that doesn't really mean much to unnamed Palestinian guerrilla fighters. I don't think there is an easy answer to this question. It seems to me a moral dilemma, so I'm looking for input. If women, of their own free will, participate in activities to put themselves between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen -- not "suspected terrorists" or something like that, but men who are shooting at Israeli troops -- should they be valid targets for the troops? Is there some middle ground, where in this situation shooting the women should be avoided but if some get hit while aiming for the gunmen its okay? Or should they be treated as true civilians and be allowed to create no fire zones for militants to escape through? If so, why? Why should they be allowed to actively participate in paramilitary action without being seen as combatants? Where do we draw the line and what guidelines do we follow in such a situation? What should be the standards for our ethics in this situation?

That Pastor with the Homosexual Scandal

Yeah, you've seen the headlines, "Pastor Resigns Amid Homosexual Sex Scandal" and the like. You know what I'm talking about. This is yet another example of media sensationalism that we've become so disgustedly accustomed to these days. To read the headlines you would think that he had been found out as a closet homosexual and resigned in shame. That may be the case in the end, but at this point you have one man making allegations and the pastor denying them, and the stepped down during the investigation by his church. That hardly matches the timbre of the headlines. I was just struck by headline after headline misleading people about this story, and felt it worth mention.

However, this version of the story offers some details that I find laughable. In it they report that the pastor "admitted today that he had purchased the illegal drug methamphetamine from a gay escort in Denver, but denied that he ever had sex with the man." They go on, "said he met with Mr. Jones and bought the drug. “I was tempted, I bought it, but I did not use it,” he said today. He said he threw the drug out shortly after buying it. “I never kept it very long because it was wrong,” he said." But in the end of the article is this, "Mr. Haggard said in a lengthy interview with KUSA that he had never used drugs of any kind and that he did not smoke or drink alcohol."

So... who do you know who has never used drugs, doesn't drink, and doesn't even smoke who would be "tempted" by an illegal drug offer enough to buy from some guy he doesn't know? That seems absolutely ridiculous. So, he may or may not have had sex with this man. I wouldn't be surprised either way. But he is clearly lying here. Well, maybe not. Sometimes people commit absolutely uncharacteristic felonies for no reason, I suppose. But it sure seems like there's a lot more to this story. Not that its any of our business or that it really matters to the vast majority of us. I just thought it was completely hilarious that he would admit to buying illegal drugs from a stranger but then try to play it off like it was just some freak accident and he threw them away and never looked back. Seriously, it made me laugh.

Now Haggard, the pastor in question, apparently now is admitting that he paid for a message from a homosexual prostitute from whom he bought meth. Follow the logic from above with drugs, but instead apply it to messages from a prostitute -- who pays a prostitute for a message, anyway? I don't know why I find this whole situation so entertaining... I guess I'm becoming a typical American.