Aliens and their consequences

April 25, 2010

Back in the 1970s, that great populizer of science, Carl Sagan, talked very seriously about alien life. He even helped arrange for Voyager 2 to carry images of Earth and a gold plated record with sounds of Earth with it, just in case it should ever encounter alien beings.

Sagan, ever the pessimist on the ground, and optimist above, thought that if we should ever make contact with an advanced race of beings, things would likely be OK …. that these beings would have solved the problems of our technological infancy, and that learned to live with each other. In other words, we could learn a lot from them.

Steven Hawking is taking a different approach.

Hawking is involved in a new television project that examines he possibility of alien life in the universe, but suggests that contact with even a benevolent species could have catastrophic consequences for us earthlings …. with Hawking drawing parallels between Native Americans and their contact with European explorers.

Hawking also takes a page from Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, suggesting that a possible scenario for encountering aliens would be a species that has exhausted the resources from their own world, and are no nomads wandering space seeking new resources.

It is interesting that both men of science seem to grasp upon the tone of the day to deliver their perceived message:

In the 1970s, while things were bad, in terms of the belief that the world would likely end in a nuclear apocalypse. It seemed that Sagan perceived any alien civilization would have had to survive through that to reach a more advanced level of technology.

Now in the 21st century, with resources dwindling faster than most people are aware of, the thought expressed by Dr. Hawking is that any advanced civilization must have exhausted its planet’s resources, and is on the hunt for more.

I wonder which of them would be right?


Calling in the national guard …

April 25, 2010,national-guard-gun-violence-chicago-042510.article

The murder rate is high in Chicago … not at an all-time high, but it is troubling. A little over three months into 2010, and there are 113 homicides in Chicago … better than one per day. Over 80% are African-Americans. (the article notes that the U.S. military has lost 113 people in Iraq and Afghanistan over that same time period).

Some state level lawmakers are preparing to ask the governor to deploy Illinois National Guard units onto the streets of Chicago to restore order.

One of the lawmakers is quoted as saying that if the murders were happening in predominantly white communities (the “north side” being his euphemism for that), the outcry would be greater.

I agree with the lawmaker, but not with his implication. I think the outcry would be greater because more residents on those parts of the cities would be more willing to turn in people for major crimes … there would be organized watch groups. In short: people would do what it takes to reclaim their community. This, for a variety of reasons does not seem to happen in communities where crimes like this are more common. I wonder: is silence like this the reason the crimes predominate here?

As for deploying the national guard. It is possible that it could lower crime …. but it would not come without a big price. Given that there is a sensitivity to police brutality, I can’t imagine what the reaction would be to squads of men involved in gun battles with M-16s in the neighborhood would be. There will be an increase in collateral damage (read: innocent deaths), and as gang crime takes a holiday, the communities will beg to have the guard removed.

I am reminded of a quote from Battlestar Galactica’s Commander Adama in response to the chief executive wanting to use the military as a police force:

There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.

Plate Tectonics: an alternative viewpoint

April 19, 2010

Earthquakes, for the most part, are explained scientifically as being caused by shifts in the relatively large plates that make up the Earth’s crust.

In Iran, there is now a competing theory.

Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, apparently one of the many high profile clerics with a voice in Iranian government, claims that:

Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes

So, what would prompt such a Oral Robertsonian proclamation? It seems it starts at the top of the Iranian civilian political ladder with none other than president and former engineer Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It seems that Ahmadinejad recently decided to jump on the psychic bandwagon …. taking advantage of some geological reports that Iran may be due for a major earthquake soon, he apparently claimed that some percentage of Tehran’s 12 million citizens may need to be relocated for their own safety.

It seems that Hojatoleslam decided that should such a catastrophic event occur, it would be a good idea to decide who to scapegoat for the deaths of millions. My guess: figuring that even the most ignorant people in Iran would figure that an American funded-Zionist plot to tunnel under Tehran to destroy it might come across as batshit, he decided to blame the women who flash a little too many locks of hair or (gasp!) show an occasional flash of ankle in public.

The concern is not without merit. In 2003, the city of (no, not making this up) Bam was pretty much leveled with 31,000 lives lost …. about a quarter of the population …. Tehran itself is on a fault line, but one that only goes off once in a great while (much like the New Madrid Fault in southeast Missouri/southern Illinois).

Ahmadinejad might be in on this, or is at least grateful, because if an earthquake does hit Tehran and kills hundreds of thousands, he will want the scantily clad women executed …. not the city’s engineers.

So, Hojatoleslam’s theory, extended beyond the Iranian borders, does explain the earthquake activity on southern California, but it doesn’t explain how places like Miami, Cancun, and Fort Lauderdale have avoided being reduced to piles of fine dust. Based on that, I cannot accept it as a scientific theory of any merit.

Big government: An American vs. European view

April 18, 2010

This is a link to a recent poll of U.S. adults regarding the government: only about 22% trust or usually trust the government. A similarly small number would feel better if the government reduced services and intervention into local matters.

An accompanying AP article quoted an academician that while some of this backlash is due to the current administration, as much of it is due to the bad economy inherited from the previous administration. That’s easy enough to buy.

A few weeks ago, and I wish I had a link, there was an article that interviewed several Europeans (both government officials and people on the street), applauding America’s willingness to join the 20th century regarding health care.

For a moment, let’s set aside the debate as to whether of not this is going to be a long term good thing for the economy or something that will leave America searching high and wide for doctors willing to work for far less pay while keeping malpractice premiums as high. I have seen both scenarios spelled out, and I am skeptical of both.

My studies of Europe and its relation to government (not so much from books, but in talking to people who either are from Europe, or who spend substantial time there) is something akin to a child and parent or little sibling to bigger sibling. Margaret Thatcher took an extreme view, describing this as something more like child and nanny. Historically, American citizens have looked at their relationship with government akin to the neighborhood pit bull: something that does occasional good by keeping the thieves at bay, but something that needs to be on a chain, watched carefully, and never trusted to act like a kindly puppy.

I suspect that as Western Europe bought more and more into socialism this drove a spike between societies on each side of the Atlantic (I strongly suspect that the level of distrust or lack of respect would have grown sooner had the Cold War not been going on). I suspect this helps to explain why Eastern European nations are more likely to at least understand Americans: most of them have recent memories of governments that were not working in the best interests of their citizens, and while these nations retain certain levels of socialism, there is a mutual understanding of not trusting government.

So … right now it is pretty clear that a lot of people are not impressed with the government … and as stated, that is not necessarily a complete reflection on the current president and his ideas, as some of it is a holdover from the previous dufus to helm the government. However, no matter why people distrust the government, this always bodes poorly for the current folks in power.  To be sure, John McCain was running uphill in the last election as the outgoing Republican had done a lot to run the nation into the ground at just about every level. Now, Mr. Obama could bear the brunt of this when some of his Democrats get voted out this autumn.  While I find it unlikely that the Republicans will gain control of congress, they could severely cut into that lead, and force the president and his followers to wheel and deal (read: water down many of his plans).  That might not be the worse thing to happen.

I think we may be at a crucial juncture in the nation’s history … will we see a broken government similar to the one we have had, a better government that acts like a big brother or sister …. or will it be the worst of both?

One day, I will get around to posting about a question I have been asking myself over the last few years: Who represents me? I would hear about people in communist nations having to vote for a slate of candidates hand selected by the party … not really democracy. Throughout virtually all of my adult life, I have never really found a political candidate for president, Senate, House, or locally that I feel represents my views. I have felt disenfranchised in my own country for a long time, and wonder if and when that will end.

An overreaction?

April 11, 2010

German city pays 100,000 euros to find dead cobra

Fri Apr 9, 12:14 pm ET

BERLIN (Reuters) – Authorities in the German city of Muelheim spent 100,000 euros on a three week mission to recover a missing snake — only to discover it had died.

“We had to do everything in our power to find this cobra,” said Volker Wiebels, spokesman for the city council.

After the highly poisonous monocled cobra escaped from its container in March, fire services cleared the entire apartment block, removed all the furniture and gutted the owner’s flat.

They then sealed all the doors and windows of the building, so the 30 cm (1 foot) long reptile couldn’t get out, and set large sticky traps to catch it, Wiebels said.

Officials finally found the snake lying dead in the rooftop apartment of its 19-year-old owner on Thursday. By that time the cost of the operation had ballooned to about 100,000 euros ($133,700). Taxpayers are likely on the hook for 40,000 euros, because an escaped snake is considered public hazard, Wiebels said.

The rest falls on the owner, who paid 70 euros for the snake at a local reptile trade fair. It was unclear if the city would get its money back, because the man is currently unemployed.

“The snake may have been cheap, but unfortunately what happened next wasn’t,” Wiebels said.

So in conclusion:

1. In Germany, it is possible to pay the equivalent of under US$250 to get what one source describes as “a highly venomous and aggressive snake, popular as a domestic pet”.

2. To stop an animal that very likely could have escaped from the building, and given the exterior temperatures of Germany around now (it is a tropical species) would likely have died, the local government spared no expense sacking the building to hunt it down.

You know what today is!!!

April 5, 2010

Readers will know that today is a special day …. in some ways the most special day of the year. The druids may have held the Spring equinox as a holy day, but they never had a day like today to celebrate once a year. We even have some hymns to sing. This one is my favorite:

Well, beat the drum and hold the phone – the sun came out today!
We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.
A-roundin’ third, and headed for home, it’s a brown-eyed handsome man;
Anyone can understand the way I feel.

Oh, put me in, coach – I’m ready to play today;
Put me in, coach – I’m ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be centerfield.

Well, I spent some time in the mudville nine, watchin’ it from the bench;
You know I took some lumps when the mighty Casey struck out.
So say hey Willie, tell Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio;
Don’t say “it ain’t so”, you know the time is now.


Yeah! I got it, I got it!

Got a beat-up glove, a homemade bat, and brand-new pair of shoes;
You know I think it’s time to give this game a ride.
Just to hit the ball and touch ’em all – a moment in the sun;
(pop) it’s gone and you can tell that one goodbye!

Thank you John Fogerty!

It IS Opening Day …. winter is officially banished, the tarp is off the field, the organ is tuned, the hot dogs are warm!!

And hope is restored* …

* even for Cubs fans.