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Science Fiction
Paul Corrigan

I was astonished to learn that astronomers using the Hubble Telescope have detected the atmosphere of a planet 150 million light years away. How far is that? Let's calculate the distance in miles.

Speed of light per second186,000
Seconds in a minutex 60
Minutes in an hourx 60
Hours in a dayx 24
Days in a yearx 365
Light years to new planetx 150,000,000
Miles to new planet879,584,400,000,000,000,000

That number is too large for me to comprehend. I do not even know how to put a number that large into words. Perhaps it would help to put it in relative terms and compare the distance to the new planet to something comprehensible, such as trips around the world. There is a simple way to calculate the circumference of the earth. A flight from New York to Los Angeles is approximately 3,000 miles and passes through three time zones. That equates to 1,000 miles a time zone. There are 24 hours in a day or 24 time zones. Based on that simple calculation a trip around the world would equate to 24,000 miles (thank Enrico Fermi for that calculation, not me). Now let's divide the miles to the new planet by the circumference of the earth:

879,584,400,000,000,000,000 / 24,000 = 36,660,600,000,000,000

The distance to the new planet astronomers discovered is equivalent to approximately 37 quadrillion trips around the world. Wow! Scientists are discovering planets at distances that are far beyond our comprehension. The learning curve in astronomy is one of the great wonders of the modern world. I can not even imagine what these scientists will know 10 years from now. We are a speck in time and a speck in the universe but that realization makes life more astonishing, not less. Scientists have yet to find environmental conditions in space that could sustain life, as we know life to exist. Life is indeed precious.

Our appreciation for life should grow with the frontiers of science. Alas, our leaders take us back to a future where hypocrisy reigns supreme. Despite these scientific and spiritual discoveries, leaders on the world stage are destroying life in the name of their own monotheistic gods. Our president plays God while curbing science's ability to preserve life through stem cell research. Men who do not trust the government with their money empower the government to kill. They do this while denying the terminally ill the option to end their own suffering. Our president speaks in metaphors from the Wild West while miring our country in the tribal feuds of one of the world's most socially undeveloped countries. Our president should act with vision, not merely be a cowboy in search of an unfair fight. Our president should believe life is precious, not just mouth platitudes about the sanctity of life.

How can it be that astronomers can detect the atmosphere of a planet 150 million light years away and the Bush administration cannot budget less than a year in advance? The Bush administration announced, just five months after telling voters that surpluses would pay for the Bush $1.35 trillion tax cut, that federal deficits were likely through 2005, a date beyond the 2004 presidential election. It is clear that the Bush administration did not tell the truth. Only the most naïve observers would believe this was unintentional. According to Bush, if America has a large surplus it needs a tax cut and if it has large deficits it need a tax cut. During the campaign, I kept waiting for the media to ask Bush under what circumstances his tax cut would be inappropriate. That question never came. It would have stumped him. The Bush tax was, is, and forever will be about redistributing the wealth of America from the middle class to the upper class.

The Bush presidency is science fiction come to life. Alas, it relies very little on science and a lot on fiction.

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