March 2007

This is a bit of a stretch in hypotheticals, but what the hell. Actually, I think there’s a point in there somewhere, but it’s not very important. Anyhow.

Scenario: in 50 years scientists discover a way to extend the average life span to 500 years. That is, barring the usual causes of death such as falling off a cliff or confusing a “High Voltage” sign for “Men’s Room”. And I’m not sure how they can know that it’s 500 years, given that no one at this point has lived that long, but that little tid-bit is folded into the hypothetical nature of this exercise. So, people can live to be 500 years old, on average, if they go through some complicated procedure.

Of course, this will have an indescribable impact on our society. I can sit here all day imagining the effects of this miracle, but I just don’t have that kind of time. So, I’m going to focus on a very specific example: prison sentences.

Imagine a murderer who is sentenced today to 200 years in prison. He killed four people from three separate families. In 50 years, the scientists make the discovery of (relative) longevity. Here’s the tricky part: the man is in prison, still alive. If he can stay alive for 150 years, he’ll be free! Do we allow him to go through the life-extending procedure? On what grounds can we keep it away from him? Is it because the judge decided that while the murderer deserves to die in prison, to illustrate the sever nature of the crime he specified an obscenely long prison term? Do the families of the victims have a say in this? Since the murderer is serving out a specific number of years, to punish him they might try to block the procedure. What if he was serving a life term? Do the families have a valid case, for the same reason of “I meant he should die in prison”, to force the state’s hand in performing the scientific procedure despite the man’s wishes? What if some victims’ families want vengeance and others have learned forgiveness? How about if there are no living family members? Does the state pursue the “meaning” of law and not the specific wording? In the same example as above, what happens if the sentence isn’t 200 years but life? How about looking a bit further into the future: this breakthrough suggests that in future methods will be discovered to extend human life even further. Can the families of the victims legally keep a murderer alive for an infinite time? If today we can extend life span to 500 years, immortality is just around the corner.

This is the kind of thing I consider while doing laps in the pool. There’s not much else to do and I’ve noticed that I actually swim faster if I can focus on something external, be it the book I’m reading, a specific problem at work or an all-too-strange idea I’m kicking around.

Oh, and, almost as an afterthought, here’s the irrelevant point in all of this. Of course, the ultimate point is the intellectual exercise, but, as is often the case, I like to finish a blog entry by concluding that something about the world around us is just plain stupid.

It really puzzles when I hear a person being sentenced to 100 years in prison or four life sentences. What kind of logic went into that decision? If you’re contemplating a prison sentence longer than 50 to 70 years (depending on the person), simply give them life. Similarly, why bother with multiple life sentences? Unless you believe in reincarnation and are willing to imprison the worm or the pig that the criminal has become, multiple life sentences are idiotic.

For those who actually see something interesting in this exercise, you can read up on the following subjects:

  • The Singularity – the idea born out of science fiction, but now rearing its ugly or beautiful head into the world around us. The concept is that of exponentially accelerating technological innovations and the inconceivable future that follows.
  • Doomsday Argument – a lovely concept I stumbled upon while researching a paper in college, the Doomsday Argument uses the population statistics to determine the likely life-span of humanity.
  • Jonathan Pollard, link and link – this is a case of a spy who was sentenced to life for a crime that, in other cases, warranted a sentence of usually under 10 years. Take a look at the second link which compares sentences of US spies and whether the espionage was carried out for an Ally or an Enemy. Of the convicted spies only 3, other than Pollard, received life sentences, and each of them spied for an Enemy state, while Pollard was working with an American Ally.

“CSI” is great: a whodunit mystery, an almost-always satisfactory conclusion, lots of educational tid-bits about how to commit the perfect crime, etc. But there are enough downfalls in the shows to make me want to stop watching. If only it weren’t for the story arcs. Hmm.

“CSI”, and it’s spin-offs, are far from perfect. The original “CSI” is boring: it’s in Vegas, everything is about gambling, prostitution, blah blah blah. Give me something original. “CSI: Miami” does that, but the cast is horrific: Horatio is just plain strange and I think that they hired high school drop-outs for the rest because the acting is sophomoric, ranging wooden performances to over-the-top hotshot. “CSI: NY” is my favorite at the moment. New York is a wonderful place for a cop drama: the personality of the city gives the show all the strangeness of Vegas while keeping it grounded enough not to veer off to the classic “furry convention” of the original. But all is not perfect with “NY”: the characters aren’t as good as “CSI”. Oh, they’re more interesting and dimensional than Miami, but that’s not saying much. Gary Sinise is deliciously subtle as lead detective, but passionate about his job when the situation warrants it. I’m really surprised that “NY” is the only show of the three that hasn’t been nominated for an Emmy.

The rest of the shows’ more glaring faults aside, I have a problem with the science they present every week. Here are some curious mistakes I’ve noticed in the last two episodes of “CSI: NY”:

  • Gary Sinise’ character actually suggested that the victim got into a locked apartment by using a credit card. On a deadbolt.
  • A dead woman was shown to bleed. Dead people don’t bleed!
  • An actor shoots someone at point-blank range with a blank gun and is surprised at the outcome.

Of course, these are not the most glaring or the biggest mistakes “CSI” serves up on a weekly basis, just the recent ones, taken from two consecutive episodes of “CSI:NY”. All three shows are littered with “minor” inaccuracies, the most common of which are the length of time it takes to run a specific test and the magical all-encompassing police databases. They have a wig database, for crying out loud!

Well, Christians and a bunch of other religious goobers. Basically any group that has to make arbitrary rules like “no sex until marriage”, “no alcohol”, “no dancing”, or anything else that their deity has forbidden.

God doesn’t want you to do X. OK. He tells you not to do it. But that’s not enough: he says that if you do it, you’ll suffer damnation. That’s still not enough, so he makes his minions pound that concept into your head once a week, at least. Still, this is somehow not enough: people enforce laws that will punish you in this lifetime, in addition to God’s punishment in the next life.

I’m not sure if this approach says more about the religion or the people following the religion. You claim that people must prove their faith to God by abstaining from X, and then you go ahead and make it entirely too easy. And yet people still do it, they still commit the “sin” of X. Does that mean that the ideas you’re pushing are such garbage that no one in the right frame of mind would follow along without all of this intervention?

If you want people to really prove their faith in God, toss a Christian teenager into the Playboy mansion: if he manages to stay “pure” and convert more than half the guests to Christianity, he gets into Heaven. That should be fun. And it will really test his faith.

This is related to my previous blog entry, specifically, the part where I say:

If the thought of eternal damnation isn’t keeping young Romeo and Juliet from knocking boots, the threat of cancer in 40 years is a very weak scare-tactic.

Seriously, if after all the prodding and lecturing, day in and day out, a person is still willing to be damned for all eternity, maybe you’re trying to pound a square peg into a triangular hole. It’ll go in, sure, but is that what you really want?

This applies to a vast variety of religions, but goes double for those groups that have taken it to the next level: we’re really up the creek when the idea moves away from Sunday-morning preaching into nation-wide law. Is your religion so illogical and completely against human nature that you have to put your arbitrary rules into law? I consider this final move the ultimate failure of religion: when God depends on laws of man to uphold His rules, what kind of followers are you left with? Man’s reason for following the path set by God is no longer faith, but fear of earthly punishment.

Do you really need millions upon millions of brainwashed “individuals” to be a part of your religion? Does that make your life seem less-wasted? Does it vindicate your choice in religion?

PS: Was it really a choice? Or was it the fact that your parents/family/friends subscribe to the same delusions?

Far Side – Feb 23
Originally uploaded by FuzzyGamer.

Far Side – Feb 28
Originally uploaded by FuzzyGamer.

Originally uploaded by FuzzyGamer.

She’s not snarling, just an awkward angle. On the left is a bit of snack that Brian keeps in his office, specifically for Maggie.

Originally uploaded by FuzzyGamer.

He doesn’t usually laugh like this, this is his picture-face.

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