A letter to E.T.

NEWS ITEM: A Rutgers University study concludes that extraterrestrials are more likely to contact us through some physical means, such as a written message, than through radio signals, which fade and scatter as they travel through space.

Which raises the question of our reply:

Dear Sir or Madam (or Other):

Greetings from Earth! Hope this letter finds you doing well in the four trillion years it will take to reach your galaxy.

Boy, were we surprised to hear from you! Sure, we've been thinking about you for centuries, but most of us never really expected this first contact. Many didn't even believe you existed! Ha-ha. Are our faces red now, or what?

We've thought long and hard about how to respond, and it took a while to reach a consensus. (After all, there are six billion of us here, voting on it. How big is your neighborhood?)

The main message we settled upon is this: We Mean You No Harm.

Yes, we tend to be a warlike species, as you've no doubt noted from afar. But we only kill each other (if you don't count all those extinct Earth species, such as dodos, but let's not go there). We've never hurt any creatures from beyond our planet, as far as we know. So you have nothing to fear from us, particularly if you're sitting on advanced weapons such as Death Rays that could vaporize our planet.

Whew, glad we got that out of the way! Now to tell you a little about ourselves. We are bipedal creatures with (and we're trying not to brag here) large brains. We are symmetrical, but come in many sizes and shapes, mostly ovoid.

We live on land masses, which we've divided into "countries," to give us a reason to hate each other. Good borders make good neighbors, we always say.

Different countries have different political systems, but most work like this: The people give their wealth to a government, which in turn spends it. This is known as "taxation," and is one of the many forms of torture our species has devised.

Our wealth, usually in the form of "money," comes from producing goods and services, or as we call it, "work." Do you have "work" on your planet? If so, how many weeks of vacation do you get each year? If not, can we come live there?

The "money" that isn't sucked up by the government goes to "buy" goods and services for our family units. These include shelter, fuel, clothing, college tuition and beer. Our food comes from many sources -- plants, animals, sugar, and an assortment of chemicals. (But we don't dine on other humans. Well, hardly ever. And you shouldn't either! Ha-ha.)

When not working, we amuse ourselves in ways that probably seem primitive to you, such as television and sex. We also enjoy "sports," which are various forms of simulated war in which nobody gets hurt. Much.

Most Earthlings believe in some sort of Supreme Being who created the universe. Have you encountered such a being in your travels? Sorry to say, He never mentioned you all to us. That's partly why we were so surprised to get your message. Of all the things our prophets might've mentioned, you'd think this encounter would've been right up there.

Ah, well, surprise is good for us. At least we've stopped warring long enough to look skyward in wonder. We're no longer aiming missiles at each other; we're pointing them at the heavens.

Let us reiterate: We Mean You No Harm. Really. Feel free to stop by anytime. We're the blue planet, third from the Sun. Our atmosphere is always open!

But you might want to call first.

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