Friday, September 22, 2006

Center of the Universe

How many Licks?

Ocassionally I'll go on Wikipedia and enlighten myself about a random topic. Since the whole Pluto demotion thing, I've been reading up more and more about the cosmos. As we all know, the universe started with a big bang. Whether you believe this was God's work or the inevitable result of a hot, super dense matzoh ball soup of matter makes no difference-- scientists have found conclusive proof that the universe is expanding in all directions away from us equally and increasing in speed. So, rewinding backwards, it makes sense that, at some point, the universe was all together in one spot.

Now, what struck me was... "the universe is expanding in all directions away from us equally." If this is true, then Earth must be the center of the universe-- right? If in fact that was the case... well, the God must have been in charge--right?

I believe in God. And coming up on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I certainly don't want to say or do anything to upset him. But I found myself a little bit skeptical at this whole "earth is the center of the universe" conclusion I'd arrived at. It seemed to me that such a discovery, if true, would have certainly been made by now, and probably would have made news headlines on the front page right below special eyewitness reports of Suri Cruise's first shit.

So I looked up "Earth's location in the universe" on google. Every answer was "The Milky Way." Uh... duh. So I looked up "Where is the Milky Way?" "A band of light across the night sky," was the answer. Google. Master of the obvious. I did find one answer, which was that nobody knows. Helpful. So finally, I looked up "Center of the Universe." With that, I found two articles which were exceptionally enlightening.

The first was Exploratorium, a scientific website. They have an article entitled, "Where is the Center of the Universe?". "Here, There, and Everywhere" was the subtitle, and I prepared to click the back button on my browser... but instead, I read on. And my mind got ROCKED.

It turns out that every point in the universe sees itself as the center!
I tried to wrap my brain around this. And I imagine, I probably would have given up thinking after a while and shouted out, "Those damn heretical hippie scientists and their crazy ideas!" But they provide a neat little toy on the bottom, where you can clearly see how it works. How did I never learn this in school?? Or maybe I did and just forgot it. NYU admitted and graduated me anyway.

Ironically, the second link provided to me by Google demonstrates the problem with people who take the bible a bit too literally.

Whereas the Exploratorium site actually made me smarter, I could feel my brain cells becoming indoctrinated with stupidity as I read Answers In Genesis:

Our galaxy—at the center of the universe after all!

Recently, new evidence has surfaced that restores man to a central place in God's universe...
Now, why is it that we have to be at the center of the universe for God to exist? That doesn't make any sense to me. If we were to the left of center in the universe would it mean that God doesn't exist? It wouldn't disprove anything. The article seems to be celebrating a return to a Ptolmeic way of thinking. It completely ignores the very valid, sensical explanation found on Exploritorium's page, in favor of analysis from a guy who's biography begins with the line: "Dr Humphreys was awarded his Ph.D. in physics from Louisiana State University in 1972, by which time he was a fully convinced creationist."

Picture taken with the Hubble Space Telescope

Thanks to Wikipedia.. and this site, I learned the age of the universe, 14.7 billion years or so, was determined by studying background radiation and galaxies most distant from earth. Since the view is the same from every point in the universe (Thanks Exploratorium!) from the way their light appears to us (light changes colors the further away it is), we can tell how far away they are. And since the universe expanded outward from a single point, the most distant galaxies divided by the speed... ah, this is why I didn't study physics. This stuff is way confusing.

One thing I realized is, the further away science gets from earth, the more it becomes a question of faith rather than science. Same thing happens the closer we get to the smallest of objects. Beyond the sight of the furthest-reaching telescopes is a darkness we can only imagine. Beyond the magnification of the strongest microscope is a mysterious world that exists inside of all of us but is as unviewable as that most distant sky. As our technologies improve, we'll be able to see further and further, but, as even science admits, we'll never be able to see the edge.

So will we ever know where exactly in the universe we are? Maybe the better question is, "Does it matter?" Knowing our place in the cosmos is not relevant to proving God exists or that the bible's accurate or not. It's the constant search for knowledge itself that gives our lives a place, lends meaning to our endeavors, and reminds us, with each new discovery, the possibilities that exist for us in this universe are limitless.

Only you

PS. Of course, tonight I will be celebrating the 5767th birthday of the universe, despite what the scientists and their "facts and figures" say. Happy Rosh Hashanah everybody!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

No Compromise On Torture

The Bush administration is currently seeking to "redefine" the definition of torture as prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. Great, unbiased, analytical minds such as Bill O'Reilly have assailed opponents of Bush's "pro-torture" law, painting anybody who would stand in the way of torturing suspected Al Queda members as a freedom-hating, devil worshipper. As Bill put it earlier this week, all the CIA did was play one detainee a Red Hot Chili Peppers album, and they got vital information. Too bad Bill's analysis was... er... deceptive at best.

But even worse than Bush and Bill are those in congress seeking a "compromise." These people include noted POW John McCain. It boggles the mind that anyone subjected to torture techniques would even be willing to think about compromising the Geneva Conventions. But I guess running for President does something to one's morals.

First off, and most importantly, is the fact that TORTURE DOESN'T WORK. Numerous experts... and victims... have stated that when subjected to torture, the detainee will often say anything to get the pain to stop. Especially what he thinks his captors want to hear. Such gems extracted from 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed included an alleged plot to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blow torches. Now, its obvious how ridiculous and implausible that is, but to a detainee who's been brought to the brink of drowning several times over a 24 hour period, with no sleep and more than a few beatings in-between, that story sounds like exactly the type of revelation that may earn you a few moments respite.

Secondly, torture is morally repugnant. Bush, who claims to be a born-again Christian, and O'Reilly, the man who saved Christmas, seem to have no problem with sexual abuse, mutilation, and general degradation of another human being. "These people are terrorists," they shout. But are they? Just this week, we heard the story of a Canadian man accused of terrorism that was sent to Syria to be tortured.

SO, torture, a) doesn't work, and b) is an affront to morality, and c) is being used on innocent people. Why do we have to reach a compromise on something that is clearly wrong?

Remember when we had a sane President?

"The president says he's just trying to get the rules clear about how far the CIA can go when they're when they whacking these people around in these secret prisons," Clinton said in NPR's "Morning Edition" interview, recorded on Wednesday.

"If you go around passing laws that legitimize a violation of the Geneva Convention and institutionalize what happened at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, we're going to be in real trouble," he said.

Like other critics, he said information obtained with harsh treatment may be unreliable and adopting abusive practices could lead to captured U.S. troops being subjected to the same.

Even if there were circumstances where such treatment is necessary to prevent an imminent attacks, Clinton said: "You don't make laws based on that. You don't sit there and say in general torture's fine if you're a terrorist suspect. For one thing, we know we have erred in who was a real suspect."
Amen to that.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Diebold: Making It Easy To Steal Your Vote Since 2002

Ok, ok. Republicans. Maybe you didn't steal the election in 2004. Maybe there isn't some huge conspiracy, desite Diebold's CEO saying he'd make sure Bush won. But can't you admit that... well.. the fact that a hotel minibar key can open up a voting machine is a bit disturbing?

[brought to my attention by clicked]

PS. Clicked's roundup on the whole Ann Althouse's ridiculous "women shouldn't have boobs" argument is great.

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