Archive for April, 2009

If aliens don’t exist, does God?

In the past couple of days, I’ve come across a couple of articles** about space and space exploration that got me asking the following, kinda random questions …

Why haven’t we found other forms life in space yet? More importantly, why haven’t other forms of life found us? And could the fact that we haven’t had any extraterrestrial encounters be at least somewhat supportive of the theory that humans are indeed a unique species, and that maybe there is a god or divine presence that approximates the concept as detailed by many of Earth’s practiced religions?

Now I kind of understand why we haven’t found life yet (by the way, this entire post presumes that Area 51 conspiracies and the like have no bearing in fact, that we have neither seen nor been seen by extraterrestrials, which admittedly is an awfully big presumption). Our space exploration attempts are still too immature, and we’ve barely begun to penetrate the infinite universe beyond our own galaxy, so our lack of success on the contact front shouldn’t be a surprise.

But given that the universe is infinite, wouldn’t one have to assume that there are also an infinite number of planets that DO harbor life and that at least on a few of those planets (if not an infinite number of them), that those life forms are so advanced that they’ve developed much better means of exploring the universe, including the means to contact us.

I know I’ve always thought that it seems almost incomprehensible to think that we’re alone in this universe, but doesn’t the fact that we haven’t been contacted yet by ETs mean that life may in fact not exist anywhere else? Ok, this is a bit of a stretch of an analogy, and a bit silly to boot, but this line of thought is kind of like how I have to assume that our species never develops the ability to time travel because if we ever did wouldn’t we somehow know about it (or perhaps the second we do develop it and test it out, we rip open the space-time continuum and destroy the universe just like Doc Brown always feared).

And if we are alone, what does that say if anything about the god question? I don’t think the answer to the question of whether life exists outside this planet would by itself prove or disprove god’s existence. However, I have always felt it would be very tough for most organized religions to square their beliefs and their written source materials with the existence of ETs. But isn’t the reverse also true – as long as we are unable to find life outside our little planet, doesn’t that support the mostly religious theory that Earth is a singularly unique place, and humans a special species whose purpose for being here is a divine mystery to be solved?

Or am I missing something very basic here?

** One article was actually a fascinating photo journal of some amazing pictures a NASA spacecraft recently took of Saturn. The other story talked about the fact that researchers have found a couple of planets outside our solar system that appear to be same size of Earth (but likely too hot to harbor life).

MOFT: Episode 13 (Scramble on Facebook)

My One Favorite Thing this week is Scramble, an anagram word game on Facebook that is basically the online equivalent of the old board game Boggle.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the basic idea is you are given a bunch of letter tiles laid out on a square board and you must string adjacent letters together to form words of at least three letters long, racking up more points for longer words.

It’s quite the simple premise … and also dangerously addictive.

To be honest, I don’t even know if Scramble is My One Favorite Thing. It could quite possibly be My One Least Favorite Thing. All I know is I’m playing it a lot. A LOT. In fact, I can’t stop playing it. I’m playing it now, actually, even as I write this, because one of the unfortunate side effects of playing the game for extended periods is you can’t stop seeing Scramble boards floating in front of your head and trying to form words off of them.

Yes, I am apparently hallucinating from overdosing on Scramble. Now I understand the true meaning of the game’s name – it totally scrambles your brain into mushy eggs.

I don’t quite know how it got to this point. A few months ago, I was playing a few games of Scramble a week – a rather innocuous amount – with one of my friends on Facebook. Unfortunately, she’s like an anagram idiot savant and always crushed me.

While I was getting a bit better, the bad losses continued to pile up and began to really bother me. I said as much to my friend and she suggested I get more practice by trying out the ‘Play Live’ version of the game where you can compete against hundreds of other people who are playing Scramble online at the same time.

So I tried it. And then I couldn’t stop. The beauty of the game is that it is short – each match is between 1 minute and 3 minutes, depending on the version you play – and after the time stops, you can see what words you missed (and also get their definitions if you’d like but learning useful stuff really has nothing to do with Scramble). You can also see your scoring rank updated realtime, and if you are in the top 25 by the end of the game, you can see your profile picture proudly displayed to the right. Each match sends a tiny little shot of endorphins rushing through your bloodstream.

One night, I decided I was not going to go to bed until I got every 3-letter word on one of the boards, so after each game I would write down a three-letter word I missed and had never heard of before and commit it to memory. I spent the next six hours – writing down almost 100 words in the process (file attached) – trying to accomplish my goal. I never did it, getting only as close as one missed 3-letter word before I realized I was perhaps a game away from completely losing it and going on a Scramble-induced murderous rampage.

Part of me wants to go on and on about all the nuances of the game – how I wish they would get rid of the ability to use gameplay credits to get word hints because it’s F-in cheating and I know people use it all the time just so they can push me out of the top 10 at the last second, how I wish I knew how the game calculates one’s Word IQ because it seems almost totally arbitrary, how I wish people in the chat board would say something – ANYTHING – other than ‘gga’ or ‘wd’ after every friggin game, etc.

But there’s this other part of me – oh, call it every last tingling, jangling nerve in my body – that needs another Scramble hit right now, so you’ll have to excuse me while I get my next fix.

The buzz for 3/17/09: Ashton, Oprah and Generation Twitter

I AM DEADMAN. HEAR ME TWEET! (Partial Video Blog Transctript)

Big news today. Ashton Kutcher just attracted his one millionth follower on the microblogging service Twitter, a milestone which has generated a fair amount of fanfare, but it’s only the beginning as cult leader Oprah is going to feature Twitter on her talk show today and send her first tweet over the air.

Oh, how wonderful.

Excuse me if I don’t join in the celebration – if I’m not all, ahem, atwitter with the news – but I have very mixed feelings here …

Now I am obviously no Luddite and as you can tell from the mere fact I am video blogging, I am not immune to the allure of banal self-expression and interactive communication, I enjoy reading status updates from my friends on Facebook – which at its core is all Twitter really is – and even occasionally provide my own update, but somehow Twitter crossed a line that offended my delicate sensibilities …

I realized quickly that what infuriated me the most about Twitter is how beautifully it fits with our time. What a perfect metaphor for our society. Our unquenchable thirst for fame and recognition, our almost pathological need to reveal private, mostly unimportant details of our lives to anyone who will listen, not to mention our rapidly dwindling attention span and deteriorating communication skills.

Twitter is inevitable. Few people bother with books anymore. Newspapers are an endangered species. The letter is a lost art. Real-life contact is an inconvenience. Communities and neighborhoods where we physically look out for one another are artifacts of a distant past.

It’s time to face it.  Whether I use the service or not, I am still a twit who tweets. We are all Generation Twitter. So why not follow Ashton and Oprah and twit boldly into our glorious 21st century. Resistance is futile. I have seen the future, and it has 140 characters or fewer ….

Image: Kutcher wins duel with CNN

Kutcher wins duel with CNN

Baby Boom Goes the Dynamite: The Lasting Legacy

The Baby Boomers have blown it in spectacular fashion.

For much of the past 20 years, they have been the ones in charge of this country. During that time, they have…

… ignored the looming Social Security crisis, which has been simmering for decades and is now apparently coming to a boiling point much quicker than originally estimated.

… ignored the looming health care crisis, fighting alongside the dangerously powerful AARP lobby for small benefits like cheaper drugs while letting the larger issues of increasing system-wide costs and underfunded Medicare obligations spiral out of control.

… ignored the looming global warming crisis, choosing to go to war to maintain their reliance on cheap foreign oil rather than seriously pursue alternative energy sources.

… ignored the looming credit crisis, living further and further beyond their means, indulging in unbridled consumerism and rampant asset speculation.

So is it any surprise, really, that their solution to our country’s current economic crisis has been to saddle future generations of Americans with even more crippling debt, making it even harder for us to solve the numerous other looming disasters we face because of their neglect??

I had strong hopes that the election of Barack Obama – one of the last of the Baby Boomers – would lead to a change in Washington, to a recognition that there was too much at stake to play the same silly political games and to keep ignoring the spreading cracks in the foundation of the American empire. But mostly, it’s been more of the same.

Instead of trying to repent for their profligate and selfish ways, the Baby Boomers have decided to cement their legacy by throwing one last Hail Mary of Irresponsibility, in the form of trillions of dollars of tax cuts and stimulus plans and bailout packages, in hopes of putting off the ultimate day of reckoning a little bit longer.

Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that said ‘The Buck Stops Here.’ Unfortunately, I think the Baby Boom generation took that to mean it should then pocket the buck.

It wasn’t always that way. For a while, the Baby Boomers bettered our world. They fought for progress, for peace, for women’s rights, for civil rights. In business and in culture, they created and innovated, producing a tremendous amount of national wealth and prosperity. To be honest, the past 40 years have in many ways been an exciting and fruitful period for America. But somewhere along the way, the Baby Boom generation stopped thinking about the future of the country and started looking out only for its own best interests (Was it a cynicism and selfishness borne out of Watergate and other historical events or just out of normal human nature?)

It’s easy to overgeneralize about a generation, of course, and probably somewhat unfair. These are our moms and dads, after all, and individually it’s tough to fault them for the damage they’ve wrought.

It is in fact quite painful to watch as our parents finally reach the tantalizing edge of retirement only to find that their IRAs and 401Ks have been decimated and that idyllic, restful ride off into the sunset postponed, perhaps indefinitely.

Painful and tragic, perhaps, but also in some ways justified. Collectively, the Baby Boom generation is merely reaping what it has sown.

Unfortunately, for the rest of us, the prospects are even dimmer. The field now lies fallow.

Playing God and Taking Shortcuts…

This financial crisis is more than what it appears.

It is symptomatic of a society that sometime over the last 30 years lost its way by seeking not the road less traveled, but instead the quickest route.

It is the culmination of a mindset that increasingly became interested in pursuing immediate gratification at any cost.

Look around you. In every area of modern life, the shortcut has become the rule, not the exception.

In sports, we substituted medicine for athleticism as steroids offered the quickest path to success (And I cheered as Mark McGwire belted homer after homer chasing down Maris’ record).

In entertainment, we substituted notoriety for talent as reality television offered the quickest path to fame (And I lapped it up as Richard Hatch ‘survived’ an island and dozens of out-of-control women wooed Flavor Flav).

In war, we substituted power for strategy as shock and awe offered the quickest path to victory (And I couldn’t pull my eyes away as CNN aired its little war video game, the pinball-like sights and sounds of buildings being destroyed and people getting killed).

In friendship, we substituted technology for intimacy as tweets and status updates offered the quickest path to communication (And I blog away, making facile analogies as dreams of writing the Great American Novel slip away).

It goes on and on and on.

We wanted it big, we wanted it all, we wanted it now.

Cheating, if not encouraged, was at least ignored. Just pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

So is it really any surprise that in business, too, we fell prey to the same phenomenon? In hindsight, it almost seems inevitable that we indulged in this financial alchemy, pursuing policies and practices to make the quick buck while conveniently ignoring the potential long-term negative consequences of our actions.  The no-doc loans, the credit default swaps, the collateralized debt obligations belong in the same metaphorical bucket as the anabolic steroid, Omarosa and gastric bypass surgery.

The funny thing is, the issue isn’t due to a loss of work ethic. Most of the bankers who concocted these weapons of mass destruction worked insanely hard at their jobs, just as our medically enhanced athletes put in long hours at the gym, just as our most vacuous reality stars went to incredible lengths to promote themselves (and just as I am spending way too much time trying to fine-tune this post).

And I’m not about to suggest that this eagerness to seek the shortcut is an entirely new development. People have of course always found ways to cheat or exploit the system – it’s just that in the past, the tools were more rudimentary and thus less dangerous (e.g. the spitball and the corked bat just can’t wreak the same havoc as the human growth hormone).

We became too smart and too powerful for our own good. We acquired knowledge and technology, but not the wisdom to use them productively, or to realize that sometimes we should refrain from using them at all.

And unfortunately, our primary solutions to this crisis so far – the stimulus plans, the bailouts, the monetary injections – offer more of the same. We are still seeking the quick, easy way out. Wanting it all, and wanting it now. Not willing to deal with the consequences of our actions.

Which of course makes perfect sense. In a world where man ultimately controls so little, including the time and manner in which he will depart it, how can we be surprised when he believes he has figured out a better way of accomplishing a goal and overplays his hand.

We have gotten what we deserved.

We have somehow lost our way.

We better find it back.

April 2009
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