E.T., Phone the Three Stooges

The search for intelligent life has shifted into high gear. After quickly eliminating West Virginia, Congress, and whoever decided we need a half-hour re-edited version of Ally McBeal next year to air along with the full-length one, scientists set their sights on the one place they might actually have a fighting chance of discovering intelligence: outer space.Actually they've been looking for years, ever since Tycho Brahe, Copernicus, and Galileo stared into the heavens, each hoping to be the one immortalized in Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Just kidding. Actually they spent those long, thankless nights peering into the darkness hoping to catch a glimpse of that hot babe down the block wearing her bloomers as she got ready for bed.Nowadays, thanks to advances in modern technology, astronomers spend their time in huge domed observatories gazing through incredibly high-powered telescopes which give them the unprecedented opportunity of viewing heavenly bodies thousands of miles away, meaning now none of us are safe and if you were smart you'd draw the blinds and put some clothes on right this minute.But the days of only select scientists having this fun are over. No, this doesn't mean we can all go out and buy a telescope, crack a few jokes about Uranus, and stop on the way home to cash our cushy government grant checks. But it does mean we can help look for E.T.Ever alert to making their life easier, the astronomers at SETI, the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence, started a program which, after a lot of thought, they brilliantly named SETI@Home. What you get if you go to their website (www.setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu) and download some software is a computer screensaver which replaces the passé South Park one you've had for ages (the one where Kenny gets killed when Bart Simpson throws a Beavis and Butthead lunchbox at him) with, well, a bunch of graphs.Heh-heh-heh, now that's cool.This really isn't as geeky as it sounds. Okay, yes it is. But it's also popular. Since they kicked it off in May over 450,000 people have downloaded the screensavers, mostly because they saw Jodi Foster play a SETI scientist in "Contact" and figured there would be doctored photos of her head on Daisy Fuentes' body on their screen, not boring graphs. It works like this: When your computer's idle and the screensaver pops up it's actually analyzing little chunks of data which were collected by a 1,000-foot radio telescope in Puerto Rico. This telescope tirelessly scans the skies, recording everything it hears in the hopes that one day a pattern will emerge which will, of course, be aliens asking us to quit playing "Livin' La Vida Loca" because even they're sick of it. The idea is to harness our personal computer power to help the government. If this is successful you can look for them to expand the program by using our computers to balance a line in the federal budget, audit our neighbor's tax returns to make sure they declared the profits from selling counterfeit Beanie Babies on eBay, and sift through years worth of White House surveillance tapes looking for the shots of Bill and Monica in the Oval Office which no one seems to want to talk about.In short, the government is getting you and me to do their work. This wouldn't be such a bad idea if we were getting paid for it, or even got to deduct a couple of bucks on our tax return next year while we're laughing at the line that asks if we want to contribute $3 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund to help multi-millionaire candidates we wouldn't vote for in a million years waste a year and a half, well, spending the money the government gives them to run. Actually, the idea of the government conning us into doing their work is ingenious. It's this type of thinking that made our country great. Well, that and putting cheese in a spray can. But the truth is we wouldn't have to do things like this if the government took in all the money it could.Take stamps. The Postal Service (Official Motto: "What's your rush?") has been issuing stamps commemorating the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, and coming soon, the 90's. This is nice, but the truth is, who cares? While we're putting out stamps honoring (True Fact Alert!) disco, The Cosby Show, and Cabbage Patch Kids, Mongolia, a country with one-third as many people as North Carolina has hogs, has been busy issuing a series of Three Stooges stamps which are—hold onto your change of address form!—actually making money.According to an ad for The International Collectors Society of Owings Mill, Maryland, you can buy a commemorative set of nine Mongolian Three Stooges stamps for $9.95 (plus $3 postage and handling). There's a pretty good profit there when you figure the highest denomination stamp is 450 tughriks, which at the current exchange rate is worth, well, who knows? Face it, there's no market for Mongolian currency outside of Mongolia.Along with the stamps you get a numbered Certificate of Authenticity ("These are real stamps") and a booklet of "99 Little Known Facts About The Three Stooges". You know, things like the Beatles stole their haircuts from Moe without paying royalties. And Steven Wright is actually Larry reincarnated. Or at least his hair is. Best of all, the ad says the stamps are authorized by The Three Stooges! "Hey, Curly. If it's okay with you to release these stamps, dim the lights three times and make the table float." So how is it Mongolia gets to make money by putting out Three Stooges stamps while we have to support our government by staring at graphs on a computer screen when we could be using that time to search the ‘net for doctored photos of Jodie Foster's head on Daisy Fuentes' body? I guess it's just the price we pay for living in America.

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