Justice Sotomayor: The Libertarian?

In December 2014, The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Heien v. North Carolina. You can click on the link to read the entirety of the case if interested, but I’ll give you fairly brief synopsis here.

In 2010, a man named Maynor Vasquez was pulled over by police for having one of his two brake lights inoperative. Police observed his friend, Nicholas Heien sleeping in the back seat of the car. Thinking this behavior seemed a little odd, police fairly asked if they could search the car, and were given permission to do so.

Official Portrait of United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Click for Biography
Official Portrait of United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Click for Biography

Upon the search, they discovered 54 grams of cocaine in the vehicle, then arrested and convicted Heien of two counts of trafficking, presumably due to the amount larger than one person’s normal usage.

Heien’s lawyer challenged the traffic stop as North Carolina law only requires you have a working brake light, not both of them. As such, council argued the police stopping Vasquez and Heien constituted an illegal stop, and the search was therefore the proverbial “fruit of the poisonous tree,” and should have been thrown out.

Eventually, certiorari was granted, and SCOTUS heard the case in 2014. The court ruled against Heien in an 8:1 decision—Sotomayor being the only dissenter.SCOTUS8-1

During oral arguments, Sotomayor asked the petitioner:

(You can click below for the entire oral arguments transcript)

“So how many citizens have been stopped for one brake light who are asked to have their car searched? And is that something that we as a society should be encouraging?”

It’s fairly common knowledge, that SCOTUS at that time was comprised of what most considered five right-leaning justices, and four left-leaning. Sotomayor being one of the left—as she was appointed by Obama.

The issue at hand was whether Heien’s Constitutional rights were violated by a search under the Fourth Amendment which reads:

“[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

While it is often believed that the left-leaning justices don’t often seem too concerned with the Constitution, if you listen to oral arguments long enough, you start to see both sides indeed heavily use the constitution for the basis of their arguments.

United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia 1960-2016
Justice Antonin Scalia 1960-2016

What’s often the case however, is that some are absolutists, and use the constitution strictly as it’s written.

The late Justice Antonin Scalia was among the most supportive of this notion. In an interview he stated that, “The only good Constitution is a dead Constitution. The problem with a living Constitution in a word is that somebody has to decide how it grows and when it is that new rights are – you know — come forth. And that’s an enormous responsibility in a democracy to place upon nine lawyers, or even 30 lawyers.”

However, other justices try to interpret what was intended when the Constitution or its amendments were written, instead of interpreting it solely by its verbiage—referring to the Constitution as a living document. Most notably, former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who wrote this piece explaining his ideals.

United States Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist 1924-2005
United States Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist 1924-2005

This “Living Document” idea also means that they often try to modernize the Constitution in such a way as to essentially say, “If the framers knew what we know today, this is what they’d have written or done.”

Scalia (and I agree wholeheartedly) would argue that it is for congress to rewrite the Constitution through the amendment process, and that the “Living Constitution” concept is nothing less than legislating from the bench—blurring the lines of the separation of powers intended by creating the Judicial, Legislative, and Executive branches.

But nonetheless, Justice Sotomayor’s lone dissent, was clearly the only decision made with the Constitution in mind as written, almost stunningly not echoed by the late Justice Scalia and other conservative justices.

The United States Constitution
The United States Constitution

In today’s highly politicized society, we often wish to assume that partisan’s, including justices, are always on the side of their party, but every once in a while, you will find an ally in the most unlikely places, and on this particular issue, the only ally to liberty was Justice Sotomayor, recognizing that you cannot allow police to search someone’s car under a false pretense, and then allow prosecution to proceed accordingly.

I’m often pretty outspoken in my disdain for any politician who is consistently on the wrong side of liberty, but I’ve always said I worship ideals, not people. I just give people credit where it’s due, and attack when I believe it’s warranted. On this day, Justice Sotomayor was right, and she should be commended for it.

 

How To Improve Relations Between Police and Citizens

Unless you avoid the news at all costs, you’re fully aware of the shootings by police, killing two black citizens, Alton Sterling and Philano Castile, both under highly questionable circumstances.

Alton Sterling (Left), and Philando Castile (right)
Alton Sterling (Left), and Philando Castile (right)

Then Army reservist/Afghan war veteran Micah Xavier Johnson, so enraged by such shootings, murdered several police officers in Dallas in retaliation.

There can be no doubt, that tensions between the governed and the government are at levels that are bordering the animosity that triggered us to war for independence against Great Britain 240 years ago. But how did we get here, and how do we get out?

Facts versus Headlines

It’s fair to say that the media push narratives that get ratings. But while according to the FBI in 2014, most black and white people are killed by people of their own race—89% for the black community, and 82% for the white, they often push a narrative that a young black man is more likely to be killed by a white cop.

There were a total of 444 police shootings deemed justifiable homicide, by police in 2014. Pointing out those deemed justifiable homicide is important to the story, because the concern is that police aren’t prosecuted for such shootings. So for police not to be prosecuted, it means the shooting was deemed justifiable.

The FBI didn’t break them down by race, but even if they were all white cops shooting black victims, which they certainly aren’t, that’s still four times less than the 2,205 black-on-black murders in the same year, or the 2,488 white-on-white murders.fbi-logo-404553[1]

Let’s be clear about that statistic, though. It has little to do with living in violent communities, a narrative that is often asserted. The first clue is that white-on-white murders are very similar.

It actually has to do with people being four times as likely to be killed by someone they simply knew.

See this table from the FBI, also in 2014, which shows that 43% of the time people were killed by an acquaintance or family, compared to 11.5% by strangers. The rest are unknown, but since the dataset is somewhat large, we should reasonably assume that nearly 4:1 ratio would be true for the unknowns as well.

The Attitude Adjustment

We need to change the way we interact with each other.

The police were hired to protect our rights. If one pulls you over or otherwise interacts with you, remember that this person is potentially willing to die for you—treat them accordingly. A little compassion for police who do such a dangerous job would go a long way to improve the exchange you have with that officer.

Credit: inhauscreative Vetta Getty Images
Credit: inhauscreative Vetta Getty Images

But as always, it takes two to tango.

Police are trained to fear the worst and prepare for it in each interaction they have with the public. The most innocent traffic stop could be their last.

But preparing for the worst doesn’t excuse assuming the worst, nor treating them as if they’re the worst. If police want people to respect them, they must first show citizens the same respect they expect from them. If an officer didn’t specifically witness a citizen harming someone, they are innocent until proven guilty—it’s an officer’s duty to act accordingly.

Blame Legislators Versus The Police Where Appropriate

Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat (libertarians already generally know this), when you try to socially engineer society by passing victimless crimes, you cause police to have to enforce those crimes—requiring more police.

This puts both police and citizens in harm’s way; increasing the odds of violent interactions between the two parties.SundayAlcohol[1]

Drugs, prostitution, blue laws, and other such victimless legislation which protect no one—yet risk many, are a huge part of the problem.

If you support passing a law, then you must be comfortable with the notion of putting a gun to the offender’s head and killing them yourself if they violate it. If you’re uncomfortable with this thought, then it’s pure hypocrisy to put police in the situation where they may have to do so in your name.

For instance, if your neighbor were smoking marijuana, would you walk next door, put a gun to their head and tell them to stop or you’ll kill them? Of course not. But if that same neighbor were raping a child, I suspect you’d feel quite differently. This is bad legislation versus good in a nutshell.

If we want to reduce senseless violence, we must first elect someone looking to undo all the senseless laws we’ve passed which trigger senseless violence. Then be sure they don’t pass new ones going forward.

Respect the Constitutiongun-and-the-constitution[1]

I’m in a state where concealed carry requires a permit. So this means I open carry when walking my dog at night, because I haven’t taken the course and applied for that license. I carry in case I get accosted by a miscreant. In so doing, I often worry I might get accosted by the police.

The current scenario is that if a busy-body citizen calls police to report me walking down the street carrying a gun, the police must investigate. They do this because we’ve allowed a litigious culture where police can be held liable for not investigating.

What should happen however is that the police should respond to the caller with, “Carrying a gun is every American’s right. Does he/she appear to be committing a crime? If not, there’s nothing for us to investigate.”

This may seem wrong at first, but the police would do this if you reported someone just driving a car down the street. Driving a car and carrying a gun are both perfectly legal actions that have an intrinsic danger if done so irresponsibly or maliciously. So while at first it may seem like a horrid analogy, they are almost exactly the same.

The reason it feels wrong is simple conditioning by anti-gun people who deem gun carriers as a threat, despite the fact everyone is a threat in some way, and gun carriers aren’t any more likely to harm someone. Most are responsible citizens exercising their 2nd amendment rights just as all of us exercise our 1st.

We then need to pass serious tort reform to preventing civil action against police who don’t investigate someone carrying a gun, on the off chance that person actually harms someone.

Better Community Outreach via Police Training

This proposal is a bit novel and controversial, and I admit it may have unintended consequences. But I like blue skies thinking, so I’ll propose it anyway just to get some creative juices flowing.

Much like we have food stamps to help the needy eat, I think police could use confiscated weapons that are normally destroyed, and start a program with impoverished citizens in bad neighborhoods to protect themselves by donating these weapons and giving classes on how to use them properly.

Of course those citizens would be screened properly for criminal backgrounds like they would for a gun purchase. And yes, it is possible one of those guns may be used in a crime later. But it’s also highly possible that those guns may save many lives of people too poor to buy one themselves, yet absolutely may need one as a result of living in a high crime area.oc_zps62e1c21e[1]

If every good citizen were armed, and prepared to defend themselves against a would-be criminal, we’d have a lot less would-be criminals.

Criminal prey on the weak, but it’s hard to call anyone packing heat, weak. Guns are the greatest equalizer mankind has every invented, turning a feeble grandmother into a Chuck Norris level threat.

Police Need To Eschew The Brotherhood Mentality

Being a Corvette owner, we tend to recognize each other—so much so, that nearly all of us wave at another Corvette owner driving past. Motorcyclists do this too. If you were from Boston, visiting California, and overhear the person next to you say he just “Pahked the Cah,” you’ll almost certainly strike up a conversation with him.

This is because people are hard-wired to bond with those they share commonalities with—it strengthens societal bonds. The easiest way to do this, is to bond over a unique common interest or trait. I say “unique,” because if you were both in Boston, you’d pay the same person no attention whatsoever.

Police know that their work is dangerous, so they form strong bonds among one another so they can be confident they’d have the other’s back, even if they don’t personally know each other—it’s a very natural phenomenon.

But they should be taught that this is a natural emotion, and that they should avoid following it blindly. Much like the placebo effect, while it’s natural, it can do far more harm than good if all skepticism is eschewed.

Violent Crime Rate comparison between general population UCR data and law enforcement population NPMSRP data. Click image for the full article
Violent Crime Rate comparison between general population UCR data and law enforcement population NPMSRP data.
Click image for the full article

This data shows that police are just as likely to commit criminal acts as the general public.

At first, you might think this seems odd, but the police are regular people, not superheroes.

We often hear stories of good Samaritans doing wonderful things. So being a good person isn’t unique to police, nor is being a criminal unique to the general public either.

The reason I say they need to eschew the brotherhood mentality is that police often defend other police who have clearly done unconscionable things.

While at first, a police officer might think defending their “brothers” is the honorable thing to do, but it’s absolutely not in their best interests.

When an officer commits a crime, they violate their sworn oath to uphold the law of the land, dishonoring their noble profession. But it also creates animosity with the public who feel as though police can operate above the law without repercussion.

This hatred and distrust often leads enraged citizens to act violently towards the police, because they feel it the only way justice will be served—putting good cops needlessly at risk, as evidenced by the aforementioned Micah Johnson.

Instead, if an officer is arrested or put on probation for a potential felonious act, police should distance themselves from that person entirely, and make it clear that if the person is found guilty, that person is no “brother” of mine.

They should also be quick to report any criminal acts among their ranks, and clean their own house unmercifully. They will never get the trust and respect of disenfranchised citizens otherwise.

And let’s be honest, if you are a police officer, are you really OK with one of your own committing a murder or unprovoked assault?

Drew Peterson should serve as a shining example of the harm that can come from this blind loyalty. His fellow officers failed to properly address allegations of abuse against Drew when his then wife Stacy Peterson reported him a multitude of times for serious domestic abuse.

Stacy Peterson
Stacy Peterson

It is almost certain that had his fellow officers taken Stacy’s complaints seriously, and treated Drew like any other violently abusive husband—investigating Drew in earnest, Stacy could very well be alive today, with Drew safely in jail where he belonged.

By all means, police should have each other’s backs, but never at the expense of what is right. A criminal is a criminal, whether they wear a badge or a wife-beater, they should be treated with the same prosecutorial mindset.

I could write an entirely separate post on the tactics police unions use to protect police in ways that harm the general public, and destroy the public’s trust in them. They should merely assign the accused a lawyer, and refrain from professing the person’s innocence or any other public statements until that officer is cleared of any wrongdoing.

But once convicted, their sentences should be as harsh as what would be applied to the general public (in my opinion harsher, since they swore to uphold those laws). The slap on the wrist sentence for an offense that would land us regular citizens in jail is surely one of the largest factors in eroding the relationship between the governed and the government.

A Science Hack’s Guide To Black Holes

In the 1930s, physicist John Wheeler coined the term “Black Holes” to describe a particularly massive object in the cosmos. Yet curiously, I think Wheeler may also have been quite the practical joker, because a black hole is almost certainly comically misnamed, or at least misleading in its name.

First off, I say “almost certainly” because there’s a big problem with black holes. Science is essentially the way you answer questions about things you observe in the natural world, and this is where the first problem lies.

Artist's Rendering of what a Black Hole Might "Look" like. Click for full size image
Artist’s Rendering of what a Black Hole Might “Look” like.
Click for full size image

We can’t directly observe a black hole—at least, not currently.

To understand this, we must first understand how we use sight to observe anything.

When you observe something with your eyes, you’re seeing light (formally known as electromagnetic radiation) from an energy source such as the sun, or simple light bulbs and Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs) either directly hitting your eyes, or bouncing off an object. For instance, if you look at a green plant, it’s absorbing all light except green light, which it reflects, and that’s why it appears green to you.

Most people know there’s a speed of light, this speed is 299,792,458 meters per second, or approximately 671 million miles per hour. This is the speed at which all things move unless they have mass slowing them down.

Electricity, gravity waves, light, radio waves, and any other massless objects all move constantly at this breakneck pace. But what is often forgotten in that fact, is that this is only true in a vacuum like the emptiness of space—well, sort of.

When light enters Earth’s atmosphere, passes through water, or interacts with any other matter, it imparts a small force on whatever it strikes. This is the principle behind using solar sails like this one from LightSail™ as a means of propulsion.

Artist’s concept of LightSail backdropped by the Milky Way galaxy. Credit: The Planetary Society
Artist’s concept of LightSail backdropped by the Milky Way galaxy. Credit: The Planetary Society

If this is true, when you account for Isaac’s 3rd law of motion which states that for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction, this means that whatever force light photons impart, that bit of mass will impart an equal force back on the light photon.

At first you might think that because light photons have no mass, they can’t impart such a force, but they do have energy and momentum, as explained here.

This reactionary force is often said to slow down the light. But it’s not actually slowing down because massless things travel at the speed of light always, it’s just taking a longer jagged route on its way from Point A to Point B as it bounces off of all the matter in its way, instead of taking the shorter straight line it would in a vacuum.

You can observe the results of this phenomenon by sticking a straight object in water and wondering why the %$#& it appears to be bending.

Click image for a more detailed explanation of this refraction
Click image for a more detailed explanation of this refraction

Black holes are masses significantly larger than our sun, which as you know, is pretty damn big.

It was often believed that a mass about 25 times larger than our sun would have the gravity it takes to form a black hole, however this star was observed and believed to be nearly 40 times as large, yet didn’t form one. So we’ll leave that in the “unknown” column for the moment.

We often think of gravity as a force that pulls a mass towards a larger mass, but Einstein understood gravity as a  wave bending space-time which simply forces things together. Because a black hole has so much mass, it bends space-time in such a profound way that light cannot make it back out, instead it just keeps bouncing around inside it, never making its way to our telescopes or eyes.

blackhole_gravity[1]

So pretty much all we know (or think we know) is based on calculations, understanding of physics we do know, and observations of effects in space that we think are most likely attributed to black holes.

As a result, most of what everyone reports about black holes, especially this post, are largely conjecture. As always, I often simplify things a bit as well. Sometimes because try to appeal to a general audience, other times because it’s simply all the better I understand the subject.

Nonetheless, any physicists or otherwise knowledgeable people on the matter, your comments, clarifications, or corrections are most certainly welcome below, this post is called A Hack’s Guide after all, so expert opinion is welcome.

At the beginning of this, I mentioned that I feel it’s comically misnamed. The whole point of explaining the light issue is to explain that a black hole is almost certainly not black in a traditional sense. There’s a lot of energy there, as this article from John’s Hopkins points out, “light is nature’s way of transferring energy through space.” Look no further than our sun for evidence of this.

So it’s most certainly emitting some light, even if it’s not in our visible spectrum, which therefore means it wouldn’t technically be black. It’s only that the light can’t escape its gravity, so you cannot observe its color and thus see no light (black) in the place in space it exists.

Some might argue that all things that are pure black absorb all light. For better or worse, I draw a distinction because those things are merely absorbing light hitting them, not emitting light on their own which simply can’t escape.

Now that we’ve covered why I believe it shouldn’t necessarily be called black, I’m going to address why it shouldn’t be called a hole, either.

Asteroids, such as Itokawa, pictured here, are thought to be more like piles of rubble loosely clung together, than solid chunks of rock. Credit: ISAS/JAXA (Click for more info)
Asteroids, such as Itokawa, pictured here, are thought to be more like piles of rubble loosely clung together, than solid chunks of rock.
Credit: ISAS/JAXA
(Click for more info)

If you were to put groups of celestial matter into categories by size that are big enough to be seen from the ground, you would have smaller objects like asteroids (meteors if they’re fixin’ to smash into Earth), which can be any random sort of shape for the most part.

Once they get about 200 kilometers in diameter however, the gravity of their own mass will start to pull them into a spherical shape, because it wants to start equalizing, or making sure that everything is equidistant from the center. That 200 kilometer number is rather interestingly called the Potato Radius, because celestial bodies below that size, often look like a potato.

Such large celestial bodies aren’t just asteroids, they can be dwarf planets like Pluto or full-fledged planets like Earth if they revolve around a star like our sun in a solar system. They can also be moons that revolve around planets.

This synthetic perspective view of Pluto, based on the latest high-resolution images to be downlinked from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, shows what you would see if you were approximately 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) above Pluto’s equatorial area, looking northeast over the dark, cratered, informally named Cthulhu Regio toward the bright, smooth, expanse of icy plains informally called Sputnik Planum. The entire expanse of terrain seen in this image is 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) across. The images were taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers). Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
This synthetic perspective view of Pluto, based on the latest high-resolution images to be downlinked from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, shows what you would see if you were approximately 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) above Pluto’s equatorial area, looking northeast over the dark, cratered, informally named Cthulhu Regio toward the bright, smooth, expanse of icy plains informally called Sputnik Planum. The entire expanse of terrain seen in this image is 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) across. The images were taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers).
Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

As they grow and gain mass, the pressure created from their massive gravity can start to heat up their core, where the gravity’s pressure is greatest (like Earth’s core), but if they get enough mass, it can eventually trigger nuclear fusion at their core, which can then make them become a star.

Our own solar system would tell you that this size would be somewhere between our own sun, which is a constant fusion reaction, and Jupiter, our solar system’s largest planet. But it’s a little fuzzy as to how much more massive Jupiter would have to become for this to happen.

From there, if a star continues to gain significantly more mass, it can go supernova and essentially blow up, form a neutron star, or if it’s mass is even greater, form a black hole.

Gumby
Gumby

So a black hole is not a hole (a nothingness) at all, it’s a huge mass. Despite Hollywood conjecture, things wouldn’t travel through it like they would an actual hole, they’d be slammed into it and become part of it with a monumental splat. Imagine it would be something like falling to Earth from an airplane without a parachute, but you’d be travelling way WAY faster and be stretched out like a cosmic Gumby as the part of you closest to it gets pulled harder than the part of you furthest from it—a process called spaghettification, for reasons I hope I don’t have to explain. A prospect that sounds generally unpleasant.

A black hole is also almost assuredly not flat like you’d think of when you think of a hole. Instead, it would likely be a perfect sphere since it is far greater than the aforementioned Potato Radius and thus its gravity would pull on everything equally from all sides towards the center keeping it round.

So what do I think it should be called instead? Something like Supermass or Megamass would have been much more appropriate to me. But nearly a hundred years after the phrase was coined, just like the largely misnamed football (Specifically American football, which is rarely kicked; not to mention the other football already existed) I doubt this movement would gain much traction at this point. So black holes it is…dammit.

Why the “Evolution Is Just a Theory” Statement is both Insulting, Ignorant, and Wrong

Ever heard the expression, “Evolution is just a theory”?

It’s often used by creationists who deem the theory of evolution, an observation initially put forth by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species, as an insult to their religion because it isn’t consistent with the accounts of the Bible, Quran, etc.

The notion that all life evolved from a single-celled organism, affectionately known as LUCA (Last Common Universal Ancestor) simply doesn’t jive with being taught that a God created man shortly after the start of time.

Click for more info on LUCA from Georgia Tech Research
Click for more info on LUCA from Georgia Tech Research

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, I will explain, albeit quite simplified, why that is a profoundly wrong and insulting statement to make to discredit evolution.

There are generally accepted levels that answers to questions can be given or assigned, from a scientific perspective. Since science is what brought you the theory of evolution, that’s what should be referenced when discussing it.

Because this is a simple blog post and not a thesis, think of this as just a Cliff’s notes version to explain the basic concept. So please no attacks if you think I left something important out. But by all means, feel free to chime in below if you want to add anything.

Charles Darwin: Author of The Origin of Species and impetus for the Theory of Evolution
Charles Darwin: Author of The Origin of Species and impetus for the Theory of Evolution

Anyway, enough babbling, here goes…

GUESS:

The lowest level assigned to the answer to a question would be a guess. A guess is when you have no evidence you are basing your guess on, you’re just picking something that seems to make the most sense to you and going with it. We all do it, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s just not science.

EDUCATED GUESS:

With an educated guess, you still haven’t actually gathered evidence or done any work you could call science, but now you have some knowledge that leads you to your guess so it’s not just a garden variety random guess as above.

This might also be a situation where you might ask a physicist, for example, about a question that could be answered by physics. If they don’t know the answer, yet based on what they do know, they make a guess, that’s an educated guess.

HYPOTHESIS:

For the first time, we’re talking about actually doing some science. You’ve now gathered evidence, potentially by doing a study of some sort, and this is the conclusion the evidence has taken you to. This is better than a guess because you’ve actually done some work to come to this conclusion, observed the results first hand, and therefore your conclusion is evidence-based, not something conjured up in your imagination alone.

THEORY:

I’ll spend the most time on this one, since it’s the one in question.

Where a hypothesis is something that is based on you doing some science, it is usually on one specific question with one specific answer, like what are the atoms that make up a water molecule? Then you grab a microscope, and determine the answer to be two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen. A simple question—a simple answer.

Water Molecule
Water Molecule

A theory however, is typically related to a large collection of hypotheses that all come together to tell a big story, such as the case with evolution.

If I can use a simple analogy; I will compare scientific theory to a jigsaw puzzle depicting Albert Einstein. 

Think of a hypothesis as a single piece of the puzzle you’ve tested and confirmed it’s part Einstein’s likeness.

But a theory is what the puzzle itself depicts, composed of pieces that have all been determined to specifically fit in it. That puzzle still has a few pieces missing from it you haven’t found yet, so you don’t entirely understand what the complete puzzle looks like. For instance, if the pieces depicting Einstein’s hair are missing, you can still reasonably assume it’s a picture of Einstein by the face, you’re just not sure what his hair looked like at the time the picture was taken.

In science, it’s only accepted theory if no single piece has ever been proven wrong or falsified. If one piece turns out to be false, scientists must effectively scrap the whole theory, and remove any assumptions they might have made to that point.

If your goal is to entirely complete the jigsaw puzzle you think is a picture of Albert Einstein (and that is the goal), you get a box with a thousand pieces, and you find that one or more of them is clearly not a representation of Einstein, you know that puzzle can never represent what you thought it should and therefore it cannot be Einstein.

In the case of evolution, there are thousands of independent studies on different aspects of evolution, most of which have been peer-reviewed, never been proven wrong or falsified, and that all consistently support the theory of evolution—each one completing a larger and larger chunk of that particular puzzle.

The part we don’t understand is exactly how Earth went from a lifeless state to a with-life state, because no one has ever been able to create life from no-life in a lab yet. Nor can we go back in time and observe it to study it.

Although, there’s pretty decent understanding as to how it might have happened—that’s a story for another day, and someone much more knowledgeable than I.

LAW:

Something that has also never been falsified, but unlike a theory, leaves no questions to be answered, and is largely deemed to be factual by the entirety of the scientific community. Barring any fringe folks most scientists disavow, anyway.

It’s also more like a hypothesis in that it’s usually very specific in nature, as opposed to complex theory.

Think Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion or Universal Law of Gravitation, etc. as some of the most commonly understood examples.

Sir Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton

We understand them, we know them to be consistently true, and we’re readily able to replicate the results every single time we either test them, or use them to test something else.

ABSOLUTE:

An absolute is something that is indisputable fact. For the most part, science would say you can never know an absolute, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Quite the contrary. Technically, I’d argue everything is essentially an absolute—facts are all around us. Something either is or it isn’t.

But the problem for us unfortunately, is that you can’t know any of them absolutely, because you can never know what you don’t know.

On any subject, there may be something you’re unaware of that changes everything (like Einstein’s thoughts on gravitation waves which forced a rethink of Isaac Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation), so you always have to remain open to new information.

Now that we’ve covered those, the reason it’s both wrong and insulting to say the theory of evolution is “just a theory” is due to the fact that thousands of scientists have done hundreds of thousands hours of work over the centuries on thousands of different aspects of evolution.

Work which is really hard to do, requires vast knowledge, is reviewed by their peers, and consistent with what you’d observe in the natural world. And all of it supports the theory of evolution, and is drastically different from creation.

It should also be pointed out that DNA has largely confirmed evolution true via mapping out genealogies of all living things. It’s also interesting to note that DNA wasn’t discovered until long after evolution was theorized. Much like when people thought the Earth was round, but then we went out to space and proved it is round by observing it.

Actual Image of Human DNA through an Electron Microscope. (Click image for more information)
Actual Image of Human DNA through an Electron Microscope.
(Click image for more information)

So back to our “Evolution is JUST a theory” folks, most people who make this argument are people who are religious.

They’ve done no tests to confirm what their religion says is true, they’ve merely read a book that may or may not be true. They may accept it as faith, but this why it is called faith, not science.

While their belief might be right, demeaning thousands of brilliant minds who have done a lot of hard and painstaking work when they’ve done, is profoundly insulting and ignorant when we see all the things around us that science has answered, and answered correctly.

This could be the curing of a myriad of diseases, being able to put a man on the moon, splitting an atom, or simply making a working smart phone. Science has a pretty amazing track record of being right.

Even if you are religious, let me ask you this. If you were feeling chest pains, and afraid you might be about to have a heart attack, are you calling 9/11 to summon a doctor first (a scientist), or would you call your priest and ask them to say a prayer first?

If the answer is option one, you’re already instinctively putting your faith in science over religion, as I’d argue you should.

Misleading Stats, Bad Sources, and the Threat of Radical Islamic Terror

Recently, a friend of mine posted a meme from the Prepare to Take America Back Facebook page about a gun dealer who has bacon in his shop, and if a prospective gun buyer intends on buying a firearm from him, you have to eat the bacon. The purpose of course, is to prevent Muslims from buying guns.13432228_1052807718107590_6392247220183571472_n[1]

A lengthy discussion ensued, so I felt this was a good opportunity to promote skepticism over ideology and point out the flaws in the arguments by analyzing both sides.

The Actions of the Dedicated

If someone is so delusional as to want to murder a number of people at will for their god, it stands to reason they are not subscribing to a rational mindset. They are highly dedicated to an end result, and nothing other than a good person with a gun is likely to stop them. So I’m pretty sure if they’re motivated enough to murder, they could easily justify eating a piece of delicious bacon for the cause. It is likely only rational non-violent Muslims would be restricted from buying guns in this manner.

Remember, they’re not supposed to look at naked women either, but when Bin Laden was killed, he had quite the porn stash.

I should also point out that many gun owners have come out against No-Fly-List restrictions on gun purchases because a few innocent people end up on that list. So preventing law-abiding Muslims from buying a gun just because of the actions of a few violent ones seems rather hypocritical.

The Gun Rights Paradox

Gun rights advocates like myself point out that while it may be true that guns are the #1 tool used to murder people around the world, it’s a flawed argument if you’re using it to argue guns are likely to kill. There are nearly 80 million gun owners in America, but only approximately 32,000 violent incidents are performed by such people. Meaning that for every 100 gun owners, approximately 99.96 of them will harm no one who was of no threat to them.Armalite AR-15

While the numbers might be slightly different, you could replace the term “Gun Owners” with “Muslims” and make the exact same argument.

Like gun owners, most Muslims are indeed non-violent. So for gun owners fighting for gun rights by pointing to the above statistics to be ideologically consistent, they shouldn’t be promoting anti-Muslim views either.

The Constitutional Argument

The bacon scheme, while clever, many argue is a violation of the 1st amendment that seeks to prevent religious discrimination. But if we look at the verbiage of the first Amendment, it should be obvious it’s not an issue.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The 1st Amendment
The 1st Amendment

The first five words are, “Congress shall make no law.” As this is a private business owner, he’s not congress. The first amendment restricts government and protects him, not the other way around.

Aside from the Constitutional issue, the government may not discriminate because we all pay our taxes to it and it governs all of us equally, therefore we deserve equal protection under the law.

But whether it be the KKK, Black Panthers, Westboro Baptist Church, a Christian bakery owner not wanting to make a cake for a gay wedding, or this gun shop proprietor, in a free country, while government may never discriminate, they should never have the power to dictate who you are kind to or do business with. Let the free market sort it out.

Credibility Issues

The conversation that ensued on this meme was after a mutual friend commented “94% of terrorist attacks in America are committed by non-Muslims, look it up.”

I, of course, pointed out that since he was the one making the claim, the burden of proof was on him to cite his source, it was not our burden to look it up. So he cited this information from Global Research.

Global research sounds mighty official, but then they cited a graph they stated came from Princeton University’s Loonwatch. Princeton university, being a prestigious institution, should lend some credibility as well. But there’s only one problem—Loonwatch’s “About” page only cites Princeton as the source of the definition of the word Loon from Princeton’s WordNet® 3.0.  They may have attended Princeton (they don’t say), but there’s no indication this info is from Princeton University in any official capacity.Princeton-University[1]

Since Loonwatch didn’t compile the data, this makes Global Research’s citation of Loonwatch irrelevant.

As you read the about page, it becomes clear, Loonwatch are opinion bloggers just like me, with no intrinsic credibility that comes from being a well-respected institution or peer-reviewed publication.

Opinion writers only get credibility by citing credible sources, as we don’t compile any of the data ourselves, we merely interpret it. But the genetic logical fallacy requires that we not dismiss their opinion, even if they’re not necessarily a credible source, so we’ll soldier on.

Loonwatch made a graph based on this FBI.gov data, which is a credible citation and to be commended. The thing that differentiates me from Loonwatch is that I won’t be pushing a particular narrative. I will present multiple ways to construe the data so no context is missing. Loonwatch failed to do this, and thus why I’d argue my post is more fair in its analysis.

Graph Prepared By Loonwatch of Terrorist Attacks On US Soil from 1980 - 2015
Graph Prepared By Loonwatch of Terrorist Attacks On US Soil from 1980 – 2015

Loonwatch did little to show how they came to their conclusion. The FBI study, cites individual attacks and who was deemed responsible for them, but did not in any way segregate them into the convenient categories Loonwatch used on their graph, so I can only guess that maybe Loonwatch researched each group deemed responsible individually, and categorized them by categories of Loonwatch’s choosing. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s important that Loonwatch at least explain their methodology, which they didn’t.

So don’t take anything Loonwatch or I say to the bank. Look at the FBI Data provided, and come to your own conclusions. I just hope to promote critical thinking.

Misleading Statistics

The problems with the 94% statistic are numerous.

The first flaw is that it breaks the groups up into categories that aren’t mutually exclusive. For instance, you could have Latino Communists, so what group do they fall in on the above chart, Latinos or Communists? And wouldn’t Communists be considered an Extreme Left-Wing Group as well?

Second, the caption they have for the graph reads as follows:

Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Soil by Group, From 1980 to 2005, According to FBI Database

But Loonwatch’s groups are not how the FBI classified them. The FBI classified them by name, such as Al Qaeda, versus grouping them as Muslims like Loonwatch did, making the caption dishonest as they aren’t the groups “according to” the FBI as the caption states. That doesn’t mean Loonwatch’s interpretation of the data is inaccurate, but when people make false assertions like that, it talks negatively to their credibility, as they’re either being dishonest or sloppy in their work.

Thirdly: It counts each attack as one incident out of 316, no matter how many were killed or injured in that incident including many that resulted in no death or injury at all.

This means that they count the 9/11 attacks which officially killed 2972 people and injured an estimated 12,000 others as if they’re somehow one unit equal to the November 11th 2005 Hagerstown, MD arson which killed no one.Terrorism11[1]

Loonwatch headed their post by saying, “Terrorism Is a Real Threat … But the Threat to the U.S. from Muslim Terrorists Has Been Exaggerated.” As such, including incidents which resulted in no human harm, is certainly a bit misleading. The FBI was simply tracking terror attack numbers, but Loonwatch used that data to argue threats to the U.S., which aren’t quite the same thing. The non-injurious attacks may or may not have been intended to harm anyone (a threat), but only scare people into compliance (terrorism). It’s entirely possible those attackers purposefully sought to avoid being a threat to life and limb by bombing unoccupied property, effectively making them non-threats.

Analyzing the data myself

First, let’s eliminate the aforementioned incidents that resulted in no harm to anyone and we’re left with 44 attacks versus 316 to analyze. I’m eliminating these because the narrative is about who is a threat to Americans, so incidents which resulted in no harm should be irrelevant. I researched every group responsible individually to categorize them myself and determine which were Muslim and not.

Muslims committed 6 of those 44 attacks, or 14%. This is more than double the 6% Loonwatch presented, using their same metric. But, it still supports their underlying argument that non-Muslims committed more attacks than Muslims, by far.

After I had done that, instead of treating each incident as if they’re the same, I’m going to categorize them by how many were killed at the hands of terrorists, which is more relevant to the narrative of the threats to Americans.Terrorism10[1]

Of 3,178 terrorist murders, Muslims committed 2,982 of them (94%), which is ironically (and completely coincidentally) the same percentage, yet polar opposite, of the narrative Loonwatch portrayed. There were approximately 13,048 Muslim-committed injuries out of a 14,017, (93%) as well.

Now that may seem like I’ve refuted Loonwatch’s argument since that’s a 188% swing, but I haven’t. I’ve merely presented the same data in a different light.

To be fair, I will also point out that almost all of them are from the September 11th attacks. So one incident of 44 is severely skewing the data. But nonetheless, while Muslims don’t account for most of the incidents, by a landslide they account for the most deaths.

Using the same data Loonwatch did, I could make that argument, leave out the context I gave you, and give a conversely biased opinion to Loonwatch. It’s a lesson in how people leave out info without lying to lead you into a false impression.

What’s This Puerto Rico Stuff?

While we’re on the subject of skewing the data, I could eliminate the events in Puerto Rico as well.

While Puerto Rico is a U.S. Property, I think if you asked both Americans and/or Puerto Ricans whether they consider Puerto Ricans to be Americans, most would say no. They’re not a state, plus they’re not even allowed to vote in U.S. general elections. Again, the narrative was whether Americans are mostly under threat from Muslims, so adding Puerto Ricans to the list is a bit misleading to that narrative for most Americans

Eliminating non-injurious and now Puerto Rico attacks, I have 35 remaining incidents, of which Muslims were responsible for 6, or 17%, which still supports Loonwatch’s claim that non-muslims are responsible for more attacks.

Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico

We can agree to disagree on whether Puerto Rico should be excluded from this list or not, but at least I’m telling you I’m doing it, so you can make up your own mind.

Where’s the Current Data?

The FBI Crime Data table cited was 1980-2005. This is data that ended early in Bush’s second term. Click here for what the FBI gives for data after 2005. It’s vague at best, and not in a nice table like the 1980-2005 report, making it difficult to compile any data from it. Maybe the FBI has this info hidden away somewhere convenient for some reason, maybe they’re just lazy. But nonetheless, the data used for the argument is 11 years old.

But scrubbing through this less-than-helpful timeline from the FBI, while there were several terror attacks thwarted two were successful which killed thirteen people and injured thirty more, all committed by Muslim extremists. Add in the recent Orlando attack that happened after the Loonwatch study, there are 49 more deaths on that list, and you realize for the last decade, the only terror threat to Americans, if we’re going by recorded incidents, has been from Muslims.

Conclusion

I’m atheist, and thus against all religion, because I think religious extremists of any faith are capable of doing heinous things. But in the modern era, I do not think anyone could reasonably argue that most ideological unprovoked violent acts in the modern era are not committed by people who claim to be doing those acts in the name of Allah.

But it is important to understand that just because they are responsible for such violence, it does not in any way mean that a majority or even a disproportionate amount of Muslims are violent. Arguing the converse is pure bigotry. But the evidence is clear that for every one American killed or injured in a terrorist attack by non-Muslims, there have been approximately 93-94 who were harmed or killed by Muslims. A narrative that is rather different from the one made by Loonwatch, yet also entirely true.

I have no animosity towards Muslims that I don’t equally have against all religion, my only issue is with misleading stats to push a particular narrative. Whether someone is killed by a religious extremist, or killed by a gang member robbing a store, the end result is identical. As with anything in life, I believe it is important to remain skeptical and question everything, because data can always be presented in a quite misleading manner to serve someone’s agenda. I hold myself to a higher standard, but you can’t possibly know that. And you can’t know it about any other op-ed write either.

Analysis: Organic, All Natural, Chemical-Free, and Genetically Modified Organisms

One of the biggest fads of the current decade must be the rise of people promoting all-natural, organic, chemical-free, non genetically modified foods. The argument sounds quite romantic, healthy, and wholesome, for sure. There’s only one problem—scientifically speaking, it’s largely bunk…all of it. Let’s jump right in and address them one by one.

Organic

This word is often used to describe non-genetically altered foods that use natural fertilizers, like animal dung, as opposed to man-made fertilizers containing what people fear are harmful chemicals.fda_sign_web_14_0_0[1]

In 2002, the FDA passed the National Organics Program (NOP). Which sought to regulate the use of the word “Organic” on foods, defining four labeling category standards:

  1. 100% Organic – No man-made substances contained or used
  2. Organic – 95% or more “organic” content
  3. Made with Organic – 70-95%
  4. Specific Organic Ingredients – Food cannot be labeled organic, but if it contains any organic ingredients, they can be called out.

Everything else: not allowed to use the term organic.

Here’s the problem with the “organic” moniker, the word ORGANic simply indicates that item is an, or was once harvested from an ORGANism—a carbon based life form. All fruits, vegetables, and meats are organic by the true definition of the word.

Calling unaltered foods “organic” is deceptive language used to mischaracterize and stigmatize man-altered foods because some are skeptical about the safety. It serves to give the impression that, biologically-speaking, they are not “real” foods, which they certainly are. If such foods weren’t organic, they wouldn’t have genes to modify in the first place. So by no scientific metric could you accurately label such foods, “non-organic.”

The FDA, being in the business of protecting us through science, should be bound to the scientific method in their decision-making process and use scientifically accurate terms. They’re appointed, not elected officials. Appointed officials are supposed to ignore public opinion, instead making decisions based on facts, because they are shielded from the pressures of getting voter support to get elected—a premise they violate using these improper terms.

The FDA should simply classify them with accurate terms, like maybe “non-synthetically fertilized,” and leave the politics to the politicians.

All-Natural

Have you ever eaten all-natural corn? If your answer is yes, you’re already entering into a falsehood. Corn cannot, nor does not grow in the wild. It is entirely a man-made crop that is believed to have been started about 7,000 years ago in central Mexico by farmers planting a similar plant called teosinte.

Teosinte vs Maize
Teosinte vs Maize

But the fact is that most everything you eat from the fruit and vegetable aisle has been modified by people through cross-pollination for millennia in order to grow higher crop yields or achieve other desirable traits. Almost nothing we consume today exists in its all-natural state—unaltered by humans.

This is also true of meats, whether it be through cross-breeding, or genetic modification, man has found ways to keep them healthier and safer—both to themselves and mankind, such as hornless cattle. The horns aren’t needed as there are no predators to ward off, and they often end up hurting other cows and people with them.

Almost no one wanders the forest looking for wild fruits and vegetables, picks them, then brings them straight to market. Even if people had a jungle in their back yard, which most don’t, it would be a highly inefficient way to do it; you’d spend most of your time looking for food versus picking it. (Ever watch a Bear Grylls episode? He spends hours just to find a cockroach to eat.) This would lead to both ridiculously high food costs and increased starvation by virtue of the extreme low crop yields it would produce.

Bear Grylls eating "who knows what."
Bear Grylls eating “who knows what.”

On a side note, I’d like to point out that almost every disease known to mankind is all natural. So even if you did genuinely find all your food in a jungle somewhere and lead an all-natural lifestyle like primitive man, you’d probably never live past 30 or 40 (also like our primitive ancestors) because something else all-natural would kill you. Ironically for you, something entirely man-made, like many modern-day pharmaceuticals, would easily save your life.

Chemical-Free

Thanks to the efforts of people like Vani Hari, aka The Food Babe, who frequently criticizes food for containing too many “chemicals” in them, people have become chemophobic.

On Vani’s website, she does at least have a disclaimer that effectively admits she doesn’t have any qualifications on her blog’s subject, her education is in computer science, not biology or medicine.

Vani Hari aka The Food Babe
Vani Hari aka The Food Babe

Yet despite the fact that she admits her ignorance, (which is forgivable if she cited credible sources to back up her opinions) people follow her so vehemently, that she has a Food Babe Army!

Why is this? Aside from the fact that she’s visibly attractive, and many studies have shown attractive people tend to garner higher perceived credibility, Vani speaks in a language that people who have little knowledge in science easily understand. Among other things, she often argues that all those chemical names you don’t recognize sound scary. (Hint: Anything you don’t understand would sound scary)

Thankfully, there are people like Yvette d’Entremont aka The SciBabe, who holds a B.S. in chemistry, and an MSc in forensic science, and thus is significantly more qualified in the field. She vigorously debunks people like Vani, hopefully educating those willing to listen, as to why people like Vani are misguided. As Patricia C. Hodgell once wrote, “That which can be destroyed by the truth, should be.” A mantra Yvette epitomizes with her website.

Yvette d'Entremont aka The SciBabe
Yvette d’Entremont aka The SciBabe

So where does Vani go wrong? When she lashes out at chemicals, and their scary-sounding names, the obvious and simple answer is that EVERYTHING is a chemical. The only thing that isn’t a chemical is a vacuum, and no I don’t mean a vacuum cleaner, I mean the absence of something.

Does dihydrogen-monoxide sound scary? Because it’s water. (Di meaning two, mono meaning one, it’s two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen, aka H2O). Does sodium chloride sound bad? It’s just table salt.

An accurate list of all the naturally occurring chemicals in an apple.
An accurate list of all the naturally occurring chemicals in an apple.

See this pic here showing the list of naturally-occurring chemicals that exist in a simple apple. These are not fertilizers added later, nor genetically added traits by man, they’re just what makes up what the FDA would call an organic apple.

While the sentiment to be cognizant of what you put in your mouth is a good thing, Vani’s logic is pure fear-mongering from a point of ignorance, not based on any scientifically-accurate knowledge on her part. Nothing is more dangerous than a charismatic, yet ignorant person on a mission.

The SciBabe has done such a great job debunking Vani’s false claims, I highly recommend checking out her work if you want to learn more.

Genetically-Modified Organisms

This one is by far the most complicated of the four, but I will attempt to lay it out in a way that makes sense without getting too jargony, although it may be a bit oversimplified for brevity’s sake.

“Genetically” refers to an organism’s genes or DNA. The easiest way to explain this, would be to start with the Theory of Evolution.

A human’s DNA has approximately 3-billion base pairs, or variables, in its makeup. But mankind is a fairly new species on Earth. If we go back to the beginning, there would have been a single-celled organism called LUCA (Last Common Universal Ancestor). As the name insinuates, much like you share most of your parent’s DNA and can use that information to trace a family’s genealogy, every living thing on Earth shares some DNA with one another. All the DNA that all living things share would eventually lead you back to LUCA.

Click for more info on LUCA from Georgia Tech Research
Click for more info on LUCA from Georgia Tech Research

So how did life go from LUCA to your humble correspondent? By accident—that’s how.

In my previous post about cancer myths, we discussed how cancer is simply your own cell’s DNA mutating to a new, “non-you” DNA, which then becomes its own organism. That doesn’t happen on purpose. Your body is constantly replacing most of the cells within it that die off (with a few exceptions).

But occasionally, rebuilding a 3-billion piece jigsaw puzzle leads to an error here and there. The likelihood of such errors can be increased by things like UV light from the sun causing skin cancer. Those things that increase the odds of cancer-causing mutations are called carcinogens.

Some of those mutation errors are small and have little if any real effect, or produce something that cannot sustain life and dies quickly because it’s bad code. But some however are viable life forms, and they become a new organism.

While cancer is an example of the negative impacts DNA writing errors can do, all the life on Earth today, including humans, are great examples of mutations having a mostly good outcome. I say “mostly” because it also brought us things like mosquitoes and viruses.

But if LUCA never mutated, LUCA would be one lonely organism—remaining today, the only life on Earth, it’s DNA faithfully replicated over and over again, producing an endless stream of LUCA identical twins.

So what does this have to do with genetically modified organisms?

As was discussed, DNA is mutated or modified, quite randomly and by accident, via natural processes. If these processes lead to a life form that is poorly adapted to its environment, it likely dies an early death. Makes sense, right?

2000px-Mutation_and_selection_diagram.svg[1]
Click to go to Wikipedia page on Evolution
But if nature “selects” a mutated life form that is highly suited to its environment, that life form will thrive. This is called natural selection; the process that made a single-celled organism eventually turn into us.

But those changes take thousands of years, and us humans being somewhat impatient, would like some of those changes now.

As an example, let’s imagine a fictional batch of tomatoes. You plant ten of them, and as they ripen, one seems to stand out as more plump and tastier than the others. There are two reasons why this might be.

Environmental factors affected one more than the other, such as bugs nesting in nine of them, but through dumb luck, avoiding one. As you can imagine though, if they are planted next to one another, it’s unlikely environmental factors would not affect them all equally.

Instead, the more logical reason is that one had a mutation in its genes that simply made it a “better” tomato. I say better, but it’s not better for the tomato, as that tomato is more likely to be eaten. It’s just better for the farmer growing it and the consumer eating it.

Now if you were a farmer 10,000+ years ago, you’d wisely select seeds from that one tomato plant in an effort to make sure all your future tomatoes are more like that one.tomato-plant[1]

Notice I sneaked the word “select” in there? We went from natural selection, to human selection. Where nature did something by accident, your prehistoric farmer would have done that on purpose. No one knows when this may have started, but it’s certain that the earliest farmers would have soon understood this process.

Now imagine in our tomato example, that two tomatoes of our ten were good but in different ways. One was bigger, but the other was tastier. Now our farmer has a problem—which one to pick? The solution is cross-pollination. The plant kingdom’s version of a blue-eyed blond marrying a brown-eyed brunette mating and producing a blue-eyed brunette child.

Here we’ve went from human selection of organisms to the primitive version of genetically modified organisms, because you now have a product that solely exists because mankind wanted it to. This process is believed to be nearly 10,000 years old, and for millennia, has been the extent of man’s knowledge on how best to alter his foods to suit him.

Cross-pollination, while effective, is still dependent on nature and reproduction writing that billion-plus line of DNA code. And as discussed, nature makes mistakes. But the other factor that makes cross-pollination less than ideal is that if we go back to our tomato analogy again, let’s imagine those two good tomatoes also have poor traits we don’t want. Maybe they’re bigger and tastier, but aren’t as easy to grow. Or have a trait that while meaningless to humans, attracts bugs that destroy them. With cross-pollination, you take what nature gives you by mating the two and hope for the best.

Now fast forward to the modern era (sort of). In comes Friedrich Miescher, who on 1869 discovered “nuclein,” what we now know as “deoxyribonucleic acid,” or “DNA.” Then nearly 100 years later, American biologist James Watson and English physicist Francis Crick finally observed the double-helix nature of DNA, and the understanding of life’s building blocks began.

Actual Image of Human DNA through an Electron Microscope. (Click image for more information)
Actual Image of Human DNA through an Electron Microscope.
(Click image for more information)

These tiny puzzle pieces in the makeup of organisms are basically binary code—on and off switches for traits of every living thing. So going back to our tomatoes yet again, we finally understood that we could map our two good tomatoes’ DNA to understand what each line of code does, turn on or off the traits we did and didn’t want, leaving exactly the tomato we desired.  Just as importantly, adding the ability to make that exact tomato over and over again. We no longer had to hope that nature would write the code we wanted though cross-pollination.

Is that tomato something other than a tomato? No, it’s a tomato with the same basic genetic makeup as any other tomato, just precisely the tomato the farmer wanted. It’s important to understand also that it’s entirely possible that evolution would have created such a tomato on its own through random mutations, we just have the technology to bring it to market now.

Many fear the unintended consequences, which is fair. But there are a couple important things to understand as to why this needn’t be the case.

  • In most instances, nothing has been added to the tomato that makes it dangerous like a synthetic fertilizer might be. A tomato’s DNA was modified (Switches that are already there are turned on or off), not supplemented. Even when code is added, it’s added because scientists understand exactly what that code does, and have every reason to be confident they know what the result will be.
  • The process used to modify the organism’s code, usually a tool called CRISPR-Cas9, modifies only the lines of code the modifier intended. It is incredibly precise, and therefore is far less likely to lead to unintended consequences compared to cross-pollination.g-CRISPR_web[1]
  • There is a rigorous process used to test the modified food before they’re approved for human consumption. Not just by the maker, but then by the FDA. This approval process is far more rigorous than most other things you regularly put in your mouth, whereas cross-pollinated foods we’ve been eating for years, are rarely tested at all.
  • While I’m just a blogger, and shouldn’t be trusted as an authority, the American Association for the Advancement of  Science (The most sterling science organization you could ask for) is quite the authority on all things science. And they said in a 2012 report, “Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.” I’d trust them before someone like Vani Hari, myself, or the myriad of less famous Facebook experts you might see on your timeline.

The Moral Of The Story

I was listening to the Talking Biotech podcast the other day, and something struck me. Dr. James Dale from the Queensland University of Technology was speaking to a group of people in Uganda about genetically modified foods. And one of the attendees from Uganda stated that he couldn’t understand the argument that people in America are arguing over one good food versus another when in his country, they just desperately want food.

Professor James Dale
Professor James Dale

His point was pretty powerful, that people like Dr. Dale are helping to grow healthy foods in places that couldn’t grow them otherwise, effectively doing something that few charities have ever been able to do efficiently—feed the hungry. Sending people food has never, nor will ever be, the best method to end starvation—it’s far too costly and inefficient. It’s also not a sustainable and renewable source of food since it depends on people to send it.

Designing food that can grow where the needy live, in a land that has otherwise been barren of real food choice previously, saves lives in a far more meaningful way for all future generations that live there.

As someone who values life over willful ignorance, I cannot stand idly by and watch the scientifically illiterate bemoan this most noble of sciences, endangering the lives of those they may help, without calling them out on their erroneous claims. It’s heinous ignorance at best, and willful, dangerous, depraved, and nearly sociopathic misdirection at worst. People’s lives are at stake every day via starvation, modified foods are the best way to save them.

 

The Path to the White House for Libertarians

The votes have been tallied, and Former governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld are officially the Libertarian Party’s (LP) nominees for President and Vice President respectively.

Bill Weld - LP VP Nominee (Left) and Gary Johnson LP POTUS Nominee (Right)
Bill Weld – LP VP Nominee (Left) and Gary Johnson LP POTUS Nominee (Right)

Gary Johnson was the LP nominee last election cycle as well, where he garnered a mere 0.99% (1,275,923 votes). While that may not sound like much, as it turns out, it was the highest number ever attained by a Libertarian candidate in its 45 year history.

So how do we take this momentum to the house? I’d like to outline a few simple points.

Take the High Road and Act Like You Belong Here

Sadly, we libertarians are used to being a fringe group, and our party being a fringe party. As such, often what we say or do garners little attention from the media because we simply aren’t deemed viable by most of them yet. So there’s little repercussions for behaving badly as a result.

One way to get attention when you aren’t getting it through normal means, is to behave abnormally. But I caution libertarians not to fall into this trap. Thanks to the poor choices from the DNC and RNC faithful, the attention has shifted to us organically. Behaving abnormally garnered those two party’s a lot of attention, but it isn’t good and people are looking for alternatives.

So if we’re to be deemed the party of reason, we have to distance ourselves from people like James Weeks, who serve as a pure embarrassment, and will surely set our movement back. We must be on our best behavior 24/7 if we want to win, because our detractors are just waiting for us to behave inappropriately and pounce on it.

Our message of liberty and freedom is exactly what our founding fathers envisioned when they declared independence and subsequently drafted a constitution to limit the government’s power over the people. Everyone inherently wants to be free—we don’t have to sell people on that. We simply have to explain to them that they’ve slowly and deceptively been robbed of their liberty through the years, and we want to give it back.

Now that we’re getting attention, the best thing we can do is be the adults in the room. While Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton sling insults like a monkey in a cage slings poo, we must to be the party of reason and critical thinking. We know our ideas aren’t radical, and I think most of us agree that the majority of people are already libertarians and just don’t know it. But behaving radically will make independents question those ideals, because they won’t want to be associated with “whack jobs.”

Avoid The Anarchy Trap

Another important group we have to distance ourselves from are anarchists. Especially those wearing the Guy Fawkes masks.

Person wearing a Guy Fawkes Mask
Person wearing a Guy Fawkes Mask

Aside from the fact that Guy Fawkes wasn’t a libertarian, he was simply someone who wanted to trade one theocracy for another, and murder people to do it, it’s creepy to outsiders. If you come off like someone who wants to “burn it all down,” no reasonable person will side with you. So for the love of the movement, lose the mask and be that person which supports a government to protect our rights, but ONLY protect our rights.

On a personal note, I’d also like to point out that wearing a mask reeks of being too cowardly to promote your ideas openly and honestly. If you believe in what we’re doing, use your real name, and show your face. Let people know you’re a real person who’s really a libertarian, and your proud of it.

Lose The Conspiracy Theories

I get it, you hate government, and therefore want to believe any story about government doing evil things. But the fact remains that conspiracy theories are almost entirely fictional. There have been conspiracies that were uncovered like Watergate or the Lewinsky affair, but try to think of a conspiracy theory that was put out into the world, then evidence came to light about it afterwards—it simply never happens.

From the faked moon landing, to the idea that 9/11 was orchestrated by anyone other than Al Qaeda, if you believe that, you’re being supremely ignorant. All of these have been thoroughly debunked by a myriad of well-respected independent science universities and publications to the point that only the willfully ignorant, or the vehemently unscientific still believe them. But if you insist on believing such things, at least know most don’t, and promoting those ideas will hurt our cause. (See video above regarding the 9/11 myth)

Give Real Examples

It’s important when promoting liberty, that you give examples that people can relate to. For instance, we libertarians often talk about people dying to enforce irrational laws, and most just roll their eyes thinking we’re making stuff up. But there are real examples, like Eric Garner, who was killed because police were enforcing the sale of untaxed cigarettes.

Some may blame the police, but the fact remains that if New York respected it’s citizen’s rights to engage in dangerous behavior (smoking), and thus didn’t have ridiculous additional taxes on cigarettes in the first place, this would never have happened.

Police rarely kill citizens for no reason, they kill because they were called to enforce laws. So it’s important to push the idea that if we’re going to pass a law, it should be a law we’re comfortable with the police killing someone who fails to comply; such as rape, theft, murder, child molestation, etc.

How To Explain The Legalization of Vices

When promoting legalization of vices like drugs, prostitution, gambling, etc., be sure to point out that doesn’t mean you’re advocating them. Maybe even go a step further and argue that people probably shouldn’t do them. But instead, promote that idea that you’re just not comfortable killing people who do them, or throwing them in jail and ruining their lives for such actions.1427760478737[1]

I know there are a lot of new medicinal uses for marijuana being discovered, but there’s no recreational use that’s healthy. It’s important you do not promote these things as if they’re things we should all do. Acknowledge that you understand such things are unhealthy or risky, but that because there is no victim in such things, we shouldn’t pass laws to prevent people from doing them.

Instead, we should pass laws that prosecute people who violate the rights of others while doing them. For instance, we don’t make alcohol illegal, but drunk driving is. That same logic can be applied to all vices, and it’s a far safer and more reasonable alternative than outright banning vices, as evidenced by prohibition.

Many crimes and deaths that result from such vices are because of the laws preventing them, not the usage itself. It’s imperative that this be our reason for promoting legalization, because it shows we’re concerned about others versus simply wanting them legalized for selfish reason that we want to engage in such behavior without penalty ourselves.

Be Reasonable

The last point I wish to make is to be reasonable with your ideas. People don’t typically like change, they’re often scared of it. If you propose radical change right away, the voters we need to win, will run away in droves.

This is why Governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld might be the best candidates we’ve ever had. Not because they’re the perfect libertarians, but they’re the perfect bridge from Republicans to Libertarians. If they win, and do what they’ve done as governors, it will turn our country away from oppression, and back towards liberty in a very meaningful way. Then in 2020 or 2024, maybe we can elect a more libertarian Libertarian (small “L” is someone who is libertarian, capital “L” is someone who is part of the Libertarian Party) once people realize liberty is something worth fighting for again.

log·i·cal: capable of reasoning or of using reason in an orderly cogent fashion lib·er·tar·i·an: an advocate of the doctrine of free will; a person who upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action

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