The Best Intentions Are Not Justification For Intervention

One of the biggest false narratives coming from people on the right, are that those on the left are trying to ruin America. Whether it be political correctness, socialized health care (Single-payer) and/or retirement planning (Social Security), business regulations, social engineering, anti-discrimination laws…the list is a mile long of ways that these folks want to improve America in a very meaningful and altruistic way.

It’s easy to just attack their positions if you look at it from the view of the people they’re trying to change. Political correctness stifles free speech. Socialized health care and retirement planning takes money involuntarily and by force from the earner, and often gives to someone who didn’t earn it. Business regulations cost entrepreneurs money, making it difficult for small businesses to compete when their funds are diverted from inventory, research, and development to compliance attorneys who do absolutely zero, from a return-on-investment scenario.

I’ve always staunchly argued that for something to be fairly deemed moral, one person cannot be remedied by wronging another, especially through force. So while I applaud the left for wanting to help promote compassion, tolerance, and general well-being for all Americans, it is my firm opinion, they’re severely misguided in many of their arguments.

While I could speak about the issues above ad nauseam, I want to discuss the anti-discrimination efforts specifically in this post.

From a scientific perspective, diversity (specifically genetic diversity) is paramount to our ecosystem. Having organisms with different genetic makeup insures that natural selection will continue to evolve past challenges that face all life on Earth. So attacking our differences as if they’re a flaw, is quite the fallacious argument. As such, I would never argue that somehow discrimination is a good or productive thing.

But that being said, there are varying types of discrimination. Instinctive discrimination for instance, is where a person subconsciously puts one person over another without even thinking about it, and with no ill will meant towards the person being discriminated against.

There’s also conscious discrimination, where people purposefully segregate themselves or others, but not through hate, just through a desire to associate with others like themselves. For instance an exercise club that’s only for women, or a golf club that only allows men. While I think there’s no benefit that really comes from that, it’s wrong for someone else to impose upon you that you may not do it.

There’s altruistic discrimination, such as organizations that help a particular race, sex, religion, etc., like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), The National Organization for Women (NOW), or a myriad of different religious organizations. Such groups aim to help advance their own cause, while not working to degrade anyone else doing so. Typically, they argue that they’re not given the same opportunities as others, and therefore only want to level the playing field, not put themselves above anyone.

Then of course, there’s the ugly side—hateful discrimination like the KKK, Neo-Nazis, Westboro Baptist Church, and other groups whose intent is to advance their own kind at the expense of another. While all forms of discrimination can have unintended bad consequences, this one is by far the worst. Its negative consequences are precisely intended—being the only one specifically intended to denigrate others.

While there can be no doubt that hateful discrimination should be quashed in all it’s forms to the betterment of society, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

When you try to force someone out of that mindset, you may publicly suppress it, but you’re also quite likely to just make those folks even more hateful deep down inside. Occasionally, such oppression drives those with little self-control into a rage that leads to an act of violence. Such unintended consequences are the worst possible outcome, and the polar opposite of what helps the cause.

The other issue this often brings up, is that if it’s not your cross to bear, maybe those you’re trying to help don’t want your help. You have no right to dictate when someone else should be offended, nor to anoint yourself the arbiter of what is offensive to others.

For instance, several years ago, a movement to get the Washington Redskins NFL football team to change their name started brewing. Many people were altruistically trying to help end an example of what they saw as racism. But as it turned out, as shown in this poll published in the Washington Post, nearly 90% of the people these caring crusaders were fighting for felt it was much ado about nothing. If they aren’t bothered by it, then no one outside their community should be dictating that somehow they should be.

On a side note, I’d also like to argue that something meant as a compliment should not be considered an insult. The Redskins organization has never shown an ounce of ill will towards the Native American community. While those tribes certainly have a right to not like the name, and even speak out if they find it offensive, one should at least draw a distinction between something that might offend someone versus something that was meant to be an insult. It’s like the difference between manslaughter and murder.

While ending discrimination is a lofty goal to pursue, there are a couple of points people should keep in the back of their mind.

First: Are you the one being discriminated against? If not, feel free to support those who are. However, if they don’t ask you to fight alongside them, fighting for them anyway, is disrespectful instead of helpful. It effectively argues, “You don’t know what’s best for you, but I do.”

Most people neither appreciate, nor respect that. So you’re not helping anyone. Although your intentions are good, it’s discriminatory and disrespectful nonetheless to be a busybody fighting someone’s battle for them when they didn’t ask you to, nor want you to.

Second: Was the person doing the discriminating trying to harm someone else at the expense of helping themselves? If not, then it’s not worth starting a fight over. You can certainly engage in a conversation about why you think it might be a bad thing to do, but it’s important to remember that the reason we try to prevent discrimination is to prevent someone being harmed. So if no one is in fact harmed or feels like they were wronged, then there’s no reason to go on the attack.

Jungle Gym

Three: Gauge whether the person that said or did something you might find offensive actually meant offense. If you’re not sure, ask questions instead of assuming the worst. You might find that they just misspoke, meant well, or are just asking questions. Being easily offended isn’t helping anyone.

Decades ago, I remember reading a story about an older teacher in her sixties (light-skinned) who was supervising her elementary school class on recess. The playground had a jungle gym, and the kids were playing on it. The teacher, engaging with one of the kids who was dark-skinned, commented to that child that the child was “swinging on the jungle gym like a little monkey.”

Word of this got to the parent, and offense was taken. It was assumed the teacher was using a racial slur against the child. While we cannot know what was in the teacher’s heart, the fact is, swinging from trees is a pretty common practice for monkeys, and the comparison made by the teacher could have been 100% about what the kid was doing, and 0% about what the kid looked like. She may have said the same thing to a light-skinned child and this would have never been a story. If so, it wasn’t discriminatory in any way, and now the teacher being made to look bad, is the only victim in the above scenario.

Juvenile Borneo Orangutan Pongo pygmaeus swinging from tree branches Tanjung Puting National Park Kalimantan Indonesia

To be fair, it could also be true, the teacher was an incredibly racist person. I’ve met more than one sweet old lady, that felt comfortable saying some awful racist things because we shared a common skin tone. So I’m not arguing it wasn’t possible the teacher didn’t mean anything bad, I’m only arguing she could have meant nothing bad, and maybe asking questions about her intentions were more in order than assuming the worst of her.

(I tried to find a link to the story, but I think it’s too old, and not living on the internet. But as I recall, she was not noted as having any history of bigoted actions.)

We should all want to end discrimination, but it should be done through education, reasonable discussion, and sometimes, maybe even public shaming if combatting intentionally offensive behavior. But always remember that fighting for someone else must be done at the request of, or along side of the person being discriminated against. You may mean well for taking on the cause yourself, but you’re often being bigoted doing so, and don’t even know it.

Exploring the Hyperbole, Myths, and Inaccuracies of Gun Legislation Politics and Discourse

Gun laws are a pretty sensitive subject in America, regardless of which side of the issue you’re on. But it shouldn’t be.

Indeed they are our constitutional right, and I support that right whole-heartedly. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be fair, and debate respectfully on the subject with those who may hold a different view. After this last election, I hope we can all agree civility in political discourse has a lot of room for improvement.

People who argue with logic and reason, are far more likely to encourage more to side with them than people who insult, lie, yell, and behave anything but adult-like.

So with that being said, let’s break down a few of the common myths often bandied about regarding guns.

MYTH #1: They’re trying to take our guns

Any time Democrats propose new gun legislation, Republicans immediately go on the defensive and rile up the base by insinuating their opponents are trying to entirely disarm the populace.

Armalite AR-15
Armalite AR-15 Semi-Automatic Rifle

But the base is already on their side, there’s no need to get them riled up. Not to mention, it’s entirely dishonest, and most who do it already know that.

Not a single law was proposed in recent history to remove all guns from private citizens, nor did anyone propose repealing the second amendment. If you feel the need to lie about your opponent’s argument to defeat them, think about what that says about you. It says you’re incapable of winning your argument on its merits. When you do this, you’ve already lost the moral and logical high-ground.

The effort should be focused not on the straw man argument that “they’re trying to take our guns,” but instead on the specific regulation being proposed.

A large majority of Americans have a pretty shallow opinion of Congress. In April 2016, this Gallup poll shows that only 17% thought they were doing a good job, 79% however thought they were doing anything but.

President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

This less than favorable opinion is often due to the constant infighting between the two parties, that is largely full of myths, hyperbole, misdirection, and occasionally bold-faced lies. Neither come off looking like professionals, or even reasonable people.

So the party that strives to be amenable to finding common ground, and deemed as the most civil and honest will win this fight.

The Republicans owned Congress at the time, so a 17% approval rating should be a clear message they’re missing their mark.

Most Democrat-proposed ideas are around more stringent background checks, or limiting certain types of weapons, the latter of which, I think is misguided, but I’ll save that for another time.

Both parties agree that guns shouldn’t be in the hands of violent felons, or those with a diagnosed mental disorder.Firearm sale

But the problem for Republicans often arrives when Democrats propose what might be reasonable background checks, the bill is only one page of such reasonable checks Republicans might be open to agreeing to, but then a myriad of other pages of pork-like special favors for their district or other provisions that have nothing to do with the issue at hand.

Republicans are just as guilty of doing the same on other issues, so no one party is innocent of this. But if both just stuck to passing simple single-item bills on the issues where they agree, they’d be far more effective and win over the American people.

The best tactic for Republicans would be to first loudly proclaim that they’re willing to look at effective background check legislation and pass the background check attributes both agree on. Propose counter legislation that includes those, and only those, and let the Democrats justify why they won’t vote for it.

Show that you’re willing to find common ground publicly, and emphatically, leaving the Democrats looking like the only ones not willing to work towards progress. If Democrats argue, “these provisions don’t go far enough,” Republicans can simply put it back on them by saying, “This is what we already agree on. So let’s pass this first, and if it doesn’t help, we can discuss further measures later.”

Myth #2: The Gun Show Exemption for Background Checks

Democrats often cite the gun show exemption to background checks as a big problem, and frankly, they’re partly right, even if they’re disingenuous in their presentation of the issue.

The fact is that gun dealers at gun shows do in-fact do background checks. However, if you’re a private person who has a .22 caliber pistol for instance, and you’d like to upgrade to a 9mm pistol, you can take it to the show with you, and if some other private person like you who’s there (not a dealer or vendor) has a 9mm but wants a .22, then you can legally make a private citizen trade. This is just like you would do if your neighbor decided they wanted to sell or trade with you, it just happens on the premises of a gun show.Gun Show

Instead of just shooting down every idea Democrats have, Republicans could admit that maybe there are things that could be done, that aren’t an undue burden on law abiding citizens, to help clean up this “loophole.”

It could be something as simple as having people fill out a background check upon entering the show, if they’re considering buying or trading, and let them shop to their heart’s content from there. If they don’t pass the test, there’s really no reason for them to enter the premises of a gun show in the first place.

While I’m not saying that’s the answer, things like that can certainly be deemed a reasonable measure to prevent guns getting into the wrong hands, and are at least worth discussing in earnest.

Myth #3: Guns are the biggest problem

This well put together bit of data, and rather insightful graphic from the math geniuses at 538 points out that there are approximately 33,000 gun deaths in America each year, and this number is often used to denounce guns in general. But let’s put that in perspective as well as break those numbers down.

As this image from the CDC document found here shows, in 2014, there were 2,626,418 deaths in the United States that year, making 33,000 just above 1.2% of the reasons for death attributable to guns.CDC Cause of Death info from 2014

By comparison, more than double died from diabetes, nearly three times as many from Alzheimer’s (which took my father last month), and nearly twenty times more died from heart disease.

As the 538 article also shows, nearly two-thirds of those gun deaths were suicides, and a small percentage were self defense, or police shootings of criminal suspects.

While I think we all agree suicides are tragic, as a libertarian, I believe that you own your own body, and have the right to end it whenever you like.

My own grandfather was quite ill when he shot himself, and having already lost my grandmother years earlier, he didn’t want to burn through what little he had saved for his kids by chasing a terminal disease. While you may not agree with it, that was his choice and you should respect it.

But no matter what side of suicide you are on, it cannot be fairly called an act of violence, nor the fault of a gun. So those acts should not be considered when discussing gun violence, and I think those with an anti-gun position should be fair when presenting such arguments, no not cite 33,000 number, but instead, the 10,000 or so that were potential murders or manslaughter, versus suicides and justifiable homicides.

All that being said, 10,000 wrongful deaths is still a large number of people, and is incredibly tragic. It is a small percentage, but certainly statistically significant, and Democrats have fair cause to want to do something to lessen that number. Even if we disagree on their proposed methodology, their altruistic intentions should be evident and respected.

Conclusion

These are three of many arguments from both sides that are the first that came to mind to me. But I’m sure you can think of many more.

The bottom line is that Democrats should know most Republicans don’t want to put guns in the hands of bad people. They just don’t want law-abiding citizens to have their rights violated and disagree on how to go about preventing it.

Republicans should know that most Democrats don’t want to disarm America, they want to prevent wrongful deaths, and they think less guns will achieve said goal.

Until both parties in congress, and the party-faithful voters who make their voices heard on social media learn to understand, then be understood, these immature and dishonest tactics will continue to ensure that America doesn’t advance in any meaningful and constructive way.

We’re all smart enough to know better, it’s time we acted like it.

The Abuse and Misuse of Common Words in Politics

Etymology: an explanation of where a word came from : the history of a word

As we all know, words have meanings. Some words are pretty universally understood, but others start as meaning one thing, then become something entirely different in the common vernacular. This is often due to someone who knows the etymology behind the word, sharing it with those who don’t, then those people who don’t sharing it in ways it was not intended for because they didn’t really understand it.17141936-abstract-word-cloud-for-etymology-with-related-tags-and-terms-stock-photo1

So let’s look at a few.

Liberal:  of freedom, pertaining to or befitting a free man

At the root of liberal is liber (also at the root of libertarian, liberty, etc.), a latin word meaning free (man); unimpeded; void of; independent| outspoken/frank; licentious; idle.

These days, this word is often used to be a generic term to describe people who often vote Democrat. Yet Democrat policies often around increased government spending on social programs and wealth redistribution—policies quite contradictory to the “free man” aspect of liberal.

In other countries, “liberal” is often synonymous with libertarian. This is why you hear many liberty-minded people abroad refer to themselves as classic liberals.liberalism-definition-then-and-now1

It is fairly well understood that although Republicans were the party responsible for the civil rights of the black community, both in ending slavery and in the 50s and 60s during the civil rights movement, Republicans have had a shoddy reputation with the gay community, marijuana users, the sex-work industry, and other individuals who seemed to exhibit what Republicans refer to as “deviant” behavior.

Democrats, to their credit, have been quicker to show tolerance towards such people, and in those instances, accurately describe themselves as liberals—or at least more liberal than Republicans. From there, the name just stuck.

America has a pretty anti-socialist history, so when Democrats champion socialistic policies, calling themselves socialists would not typically help their cause, although Bernie Sanders may have disproven that theory. So picking “liberal” over “socialist,” if intentionally used to mislead, would have been pretty smart anyway.

Awareness: having or showing realization, perception, or knowledge

Often when people are championing a cause, they universally just say they want to raise awareness, when they really should be saying money for research or help.bigstock-awareness-level-conceptual-met-518681621

For instance, breast cancer, thanks to efforts by organizations like the Susan B. Komen foundation, is one of the most popular charitable enterprises dedicated to helping millions of women who are, or will be, affected by the disease.

As such, almost everyone is aware of breast cancer—what is needed is money for research.

The term AWAREness started being used correctly as a way to make people more AWARE of causes they may not know about. For instance, the current Zika virus issue, emanating from a foreign country, and just recently migrating to the United States, was largely an unknown in America until the media started raising awareness.

Once people are aware however, you have a better chance of raising money if needed, or if it’s more of a cause to change people’s behavior, such as a new improved health discovery that may be discovered, which is free to do, you just need to make people aware they should do it.

Establishment: a group of social, economic, and political leaders who form a ruling class (as of a nation)

President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

This word is almost entirely derogatory in nature, even though it shouldn’t be. It’s very rare you have a politician willfully claim to be “The Establishment,” due to the negative perception the term has. I’d argue they should claim it proudly, however.

Be proud that you were elected, and proud of the work you’ve done. Let people know that if they’re displeased with “The Establishment,” that maybe it’s not because of them, but instead, the people who didn’t vote with them.

Politicians who are currently elected and serving are the establishment, whether they like that term or not. Those who are not currently sitting, are not. It’s really that simple.

Theory: a coherent group of propositions formulated to explain a group of factsor phenomena in the natural world and repeatedly confirmed through experiment or observation

There are multiple versions of the word theory, and it’s important to distinguish them, and not intermix them wrongly.
Some equate the word theory to a simple guess—you have a question, conjure up an answer, and BAM!…theory.
However, a theory isn’t a guess. A theory, in science, is something that has been thoroughly tested, and through such testing, consistently confirmed.
Simply put, a theory has scientific work behind it, and has no conflicting evidence. A guess has zero work behind it, and could just as easily be false as it is true.
Mandate:  the power to act that voters give to their elected leaders
Once elected, when political talking heads start discussing the incoming president or congress, they often ask, “Do you think the incoming president has a mandate?
It’s asked as if mandate is clearly defined in some way, when it simply isn’t. If the elected person won, they have a vote (if in congress), or a veto pen if they’re an executive. If they got the most votes, that means the majority chose them to use those powers in a way that’s commensurate with the ideals. they proclaimed during the election.
There’s no situation, by definition, where one elected official has a mandate while another does not—it’s an entirely subjective term. So when asking the question, it shouldn’t be, “Does this elected official have a mandate?” Instead, it should be, “Do you feel the elected official has a mandate?”

The Math of Homeopathy and Why It Almost Assuredly Can’t Work

A recent story from Calgary, Alberta has surfaced about mother Tamara Lovett, whose son was diagnosed with a strep infection in 2013, then sadly, subsequently died. The reason this case has made news, is because Tamara opted to treat her son with homeopathic remedies instead of the treatments doctors suggested. As a result, she’s facing prosecution for child endangerment.

The legal implications are a little difficult in their own right, because it’s not that Tamara didn’t try to get treatment for her son, it’s that she chose an option that has never passed scientific scrutiny for the treatment of strep infections. But I’ll leave the legal ramifications for another time, this writing is only about the science.

Tamara and Ryan Lovett
Tamara and Ryan Lovett

A CDC study shows that a severe strep infection has an 80% survival rate, which isn’t great—one out of every five people die. Early detection and treatment are imperative if it is to be easily treatable and survivable. So to be fair, her son may not have survived even if she had chosen the treatment recommended by doctors.

If you’re not completely familiar with homeopathy, click here for an in-depth article from Science Based Medicine (SBM), it’s a great detailed explanation from highly qualified people to assess the treatment. I’m particularly interested in elaborating on the math and physics that are somewhat touched on in the article, because I believe it explains why it not only doesn’t work, it almost assuredly can’t.

I say most assuredly, because in science, there are simply no absolutes—it is possible. I also leave myself this out, because my claim is not falsifiable, leaving the burden of proof with the people claiming it does work, not those of us who are skeptical of it.

Image showing strep throat infection

Before I go into homeopathy, I first want to address some confusion regarding what it is. In a handful of social media discussions, people equated homeopathy with natural remedies like oils, herbs, and plant extracts, or alternative treatments like acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage. Those are not homeopathy, so let’s address the others so you can compare them somewhat knowledgeably.

Oils, herbs, and plant extracts are used in medicine all the time, and are often quite helpful—such as putting aloe vera on a sunburn for instance. They’ve been tested, their effectiveness is often well understood.

Doctors may even recommend them from time to time to patients, but it’s important to understand that these are usually for things you would not necessarily see a doctor for in the first place, like a simple stomach ache, or other minor ailments.

Treatments like acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage, are also known to have some benefits, but not quite in the way you might imagine. What they do, is provide immediate pain relief, largely due to human contact, a premise explained here and/or via the placebo effect.

What they haven’t been shown to accomplish however, is improving any underlying medical conditions like an infectious disease, arthritis, or other physical abnormalities—something some of these practitioners claim can be done, despite almost every reputable controlled study showing otherwise.

If you have a genuine life-or-death condition, I cannot stress enough to consult a doctor with an actual doctorate degree in medicine, not an alternative treatment “doctor” who is just a practitioner wrongfully using the term doctor, to fool you into a belief of credibility.

Image result for acupuncture
Acupuncture – Click picture for link to NIH In-Depth Analysis on Acupuncture © BananaStock

On a personal note; you’ll notice that I say “alternative treatments” versus “alternative medicine.” This is because to me, there is no such thing, in a literary sense, as “alternative medicine.” There is only medicine—things that actually improve someone’s condition, and there’s everything else that doesn’t. If such an alternative treatment actually passes the rigors of controlled clinical trials with successful results, then they’re not alternative medicine, they’re just medicine.

The important premise I want to elaborate on from the SBM article cited above is where they explain the dilutions used to make a homeopathic medicine. They cited that it’s between 1:1006 at its strongest dilution, and 1:10030 at its weakest. This doesn’t appear that significant at first, but the math behind this dosage will hopefully illustrate why it ultimately has no mechanism to work, unless everything we know about chemistry is wrong. So let’s dig right in.

Imagine you have a regular strength Tylenol, which contains 325 mg of acetaminophen. That pill will have some other fillers in it for various reasons, as explained here. But according to a source in the pharmaceutical community, 35% drug to 65% filler is a pretty fair ratio you might expect on any given drug. I don’t have a scale to weigh the whole pill, but if you do, you can easily do the math and find out for yourself by subtracting 325 mg from the total weight of the pill. I reached out to Tylenol to get an exact number, they were kind enough to respond, but advised it was proprietary information. At 35% to 65%, that is a 1:1.86 ratio of active ingredient to non active fillers.tylenol1 tylenol2 tylenol3 tylenol4

Homeopathy however, starts as a 1:100 solution which is then cut between 6 to 30 times, depending on their particular diagnoses.

Like a typical doctor, they would ask a series of questions to help diagnose the condition, but unlike a typical doctor, many of the questions they ask seem entirely medically irrelevant, such as:

Let’s first address what 1:1006 or 1:10030 even means. For every 1 mg of the active ingredient, they mix it with 100 mg of filler (the inactive ingredient), which results in a 1:100 ratio. From there, they then take that 1:100 solution, extract 1 mg of that, mix it with another 100 mg of filler, which is now a 1:10,000 solution (100 x 100 = 10,000). This can also be written as 1:1002. Their formula calls for at least 1:1006, so that means the above procedure is repeated four more times, or up to 28 more times for the 1:10030 dosage.

Since you saw the first cut took 1:100 from 1:10,000 (basically added two more zeros), if it’s done four more times, eight more zeros are added, for a ratio of 1:1,000,000,000,000. Yes, 1 in 1 trillion. And that’s the most concentrated or strongest dilution. We all know one trillion is a pretty big number, but let me put that into perspective.

Earth’s diameter is approximately 7,917.5 miles or 501,652,800 inches. So that means, that if the pill were the size of Earth, the active ingredient would be the size of slightly under 1/3 of a golf ball, which is 1.68 inches in diameter (1.68 x 1 trillion = 1.68 trillion compared to 500 billion. 3 x 500 billion is 1.5 trillion). And again, that’s the strongest dose.

Now, if we address the 1:10030 dosage, the dilution jumps to 1:100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. I double checked those zeros—60 of them to be exact. I don’t even know if there’s a word for that number, to be honest—it’s almost literally incomprehensible.

If we think of Pluto as a planet (which it isn’t) at the edge of our solar system (also not true), the orbit it makes around the sun (an orbit so big, it hasn’t even completed it once since we discovered Pluto in 1930) would make our solar system approximately 465,631,747,504,000 inches in diameter.

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

Hopefully, the astute of you are starting to realize that our solar system as described above, still isn’t nearly big enough to be used as a metric for the size of a pill that would have 1 inch diameter of active ingredient. Our solar system would have to be 214,761,988,494,225,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times bigger for that.

While some may be skeptical of “western medicine,” we must accept that people go to the doctor for surgeries and other medical treatments and come out healed every day. To know that, then somehow believe everything they know is wrong, would be unparalleled in ignorance, or an unimaginable string of lucky doctors.

The problem I assume many of you have already come to, is that with a dilution this drastic, the likelihood you’d even get one molecule of the active ingredient is pretty slim. The human body only has about 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms in it (27 zeros), as a point of reference.

Practitioners overcome this problem by claiming that the fillers simply having come in contact with the active ingredient creates some sympathetic imitation, called the law of similars. They’re arguing that the molecules of the filler would somehow take on qualities from the active ingredient. But how is that supposed to work?

The active ingredients are molecules. If you break it down to anything smaller, it is no longer that ingredient. For instance, water is a molecule of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom. Remove any one of those atoms, and what remains are two gasses that are nothing like water.

So this notion that somehow the filler changes because it comes in contact with the active ingredient, is the portion that defies everything we know about physics, because if one molecule changes another, that is typically because it gave up an electron to it. But if there’s only 1 molecule of active ingredient to 1 trillion filler molecules, where exactly do those trillions of electrons come from?

It’s also important to understand how medicine works. A molecule of the active ingredient usually binds to a molecule of the virus, bacteria, etc., destroying them in the process, and thus negating their ability to divide and grow.

A pain reliever similarly binds to pain receptors in your body to stop them from sending pain signals to your brain. I’m oversimplifying of course, but how is one molecule of medicine supposed to fight several billion molecules of whatever ails you, or bond to millions of pain receptors? Nevertheless molecules of filler that may or may not have once come in contact of the active ingredient.ecc7d1d27275a4b9cb29cf31ea08780d[1]

If a patients blood work, biopsies, or other tests show improvement, it’s because they either took other medications that do work along with the homeopathic treatment, or their immune system simply did its job with no help from the homeopathic treatment. But it almost assuredly cannot be due to any physical effects homeopathy would have done, because there’s simply no mechanism for the drug to actually do that work.

So I implore everyone; don’t EVER listen to anyone giving you medical advice that involves using homeopathy. It’s immoral and reprehensible advice from those who know better, and from those who don’t, it’s simply woefully misguided ignorance.

No one lacking the credentials the multitude of MD doctors and researchers who’ve tested homeopathy with no positive result have, should be given an ounce of credence with your health—especially when the results can be fatal if the wrong choice is made.

 

Insanity, Pennies, Fusion, and Air Conditioners. Common Myths, Fun Facts, and Misguided Clichés

Definition of insanity

Ever heard the expression that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result? It is often falsely attributed to Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin, and others.

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein

Insanity is often thought of as a psychological term, and in some ways, is exactly that.

However, recognized psychological conditions are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; also referred to as the DSM-5, and the DSM-5 does not recognize “insanity” as a psychological condition.

The term is actually used in legal settings to describe any number of mental conditions which cause a defendant to be unable to distinguish right from wrong or assist in their defense.

Also, it’s important to understand that doing the same thing can in fact yield different results if you haven’t controlled for all the variables related to the action.

Throw a baseball in an open field, it lands safely on the ground. Throw a baseball in  greenhouse, a window is likely to be broken.

Ultimately, it’s a stupid and ignorant cliché, and should be banished from the lexicon of colloquial sayings.

The United States Penny

One British Penny
One British Penny

 

One United States Cent
One United States Cent

The word penny, is a slang term for a British pence. A coin similar in size and stature to the United States one cent coin. So in America, we do not have pennies, we have cents…as in one perCENT of a dollar.

 

Do we use all of our brains?

We’ve all heard the claim that we only use about 10% of our brain. It’s the underlying basis for the belief that some of us can predict the future, do telekinesis, and other brain-powered myths.

The brain, like any other body part, uses energy to do what it does, and if it doesn’t do so, it will atrophy and die. Yet our brains stay relatively intact most of our lives. So it stands to reason that all components of it are doing something, and neurological scans have confirmed this is true, even with such mundane tasks as pouring coffee.

We humans have one of the most energy hungry, and largest brains for our size. Natural selection would not have built such a wasteful use of energy if they didn’t do something.sobo_1909_6241

So as interesting as this saying may be, it seems that while people who share this cliché may only use 10% of their brains, the rest of use 100%.

Feed a cold, starve a fever?

As most of you know, your body is pretty good at fighting off diseases, viruses, bacteria, and other things that could kill you if you didn’t have an immune system and the regenerational capacity to replace dead cells.

What seems to be lost in this cliché is that physics would dictate that to perform any action requires energy. We humans get energy from the sun as well as the food we eat.holding-thermometer1

So while colds and fevers might be different, the fact remains that you need energy to combat either one of them.

Eating isn’t optional, it’s required.

So no matter what ails you, unless your doctor specifically tells you not to eat for some reason, such as a gastrointestinal problem, or prepping for something like a colonoscopy, you should ALWAYS feed yourself a normal and healthy diet.

The fact that you’re often tired and weak when sick is evidence that your body is hogging energy resources to fight whatever it is that ails you, so how could depriving it of energy possibly make sense?

Shouldn’t the sun have burned out by now?

There are a multitude of ways matter can be turned into energy. One is a chemical reaction, such as burning fuel. There’s nuclear fission,  also known as splitting atoms, such as that which was used in the atomic bombs dropped in World War II. And there’s nuclear fusion, joining lighter atoms to form heavier ones—it’s the most powerful of the three. Fusion is what the sun constantly does.the-sun-12-6381

Let’s hit  you with some numbers to hammer this point home.

We burn gasoline to power our cars, and that chemical reaction, per atom of carbon, produces 1.4 electron volts per atom. For fission, we use uranium atoms, which when split produce 210,000,000 electron volts per atom.

I know what you’re thinking, that seems like a typo. But indeed, nuclear fission of uranium is 150,000,000 more powerful than burning a similar amount of gasoline (largely carbon).

It should be noted that uranium has far more mass than carbon, so atom to atom, the difference would actually be about 60 million times greater. The additional 90 million above is due to the increased mass of uranium, giving it more potential energy.

So what about fusion? Duke University points out here, fusion “is several times the amount produced from fission” approximately 3-4 times greater as it turns out.

The astute of you may have just realized that I’ve already clued you in to why the sun hasn’t burned up yet. Because it’s not burning, it’s fusing. (<–Click the link for a detailed explanation and here for a greater detailed explanation of nuclear fusion.)

While the sun is approximately 109 times larger in size than the Earth, it has 330,000 times the mass. So if the entire Earth were burning, however long it would take to “burn out”, multiply that by 330,000, then 60,000,000, then by 3 to 4, and that’s how long the sun will take to stop fusing versus if it were burning like a campfire.

THAT my friends is why it hasn’t burned out yet.

On a side note, the reason we can’t do fusion efficiently on Earth, is because the sun is 330,000 times Earth’s mass, that additional mass adds gravitational energy to the sun that Earth simply doesn’t have. So to produce fusion on Earth, we have to add in energy from a man-made source to make fusion occur. That excess energy required to trigger fusion means that the output isn’t greater than what we put in, and therefore isn’t useful, since so far, it’s always been a net loss of energy.

Why aren’t there indoor AC Units?

Ever notice that unlike heaters, your AC unit must reside outside? Even if you put one in your window, half of it is still not indoors.2188603_orig1

This is an interesting lesson in the physics of what occurs between heating and cooling—it’s pretty damn interesting.

When we create heat, we’re turning matter into energy as mentioned in the above points, such as combustion, fission, fusion, etc. So your heater simply burns kerosene, or gets electrical energy out of the wall and vents that energy into the area you’re heating.

Cooling is the opposite of that and WAY more complicated to do. You’re not technically cooling something; you’re removing energy from it.

In a perfect world, cooling would simply be converting energy back to matter, but we frankly don’t know how to do this very well or efficiently, nor even see it occurring in nature too often. So we have to find another way.

In admittedly oversimplified terms, an air conditioner works by putting energy into the unit, then as it vents that energy out one end of the unit, the other end is cooled commensurately.

If you’ve ever used one of those compressed air cans to clean your computer, you’ve experience the heat loss when something goes from a compressed to uncompressed state.650x488ximg_4316-jpg-pagespeed-gpjpjwpjjsrjrprwricpmd-ic-frodjdzksb1

The energy was put into the can at the factory that made it. The heat generated doing this stayed there at that factory.

Now it’s shipped full of potential energy, and when you release that energy out of the nozzle, the rest of the can essentially moves towards 0 zero kelvin (the coldest anything can be if it had zero energy which is about -459.67° Fahrenheit).

In a nutshell, your AC unit takes energy out of the wall, vents the heat outside from one end, making the other end cold. If AC units didn’t have a place to vent that heat outside of the area they’re trying to cool, the hot and cold would balance each other out for zero change in temperature of the affected area. It’s why the back of your refrigerator is warm despite the inside being cold, too.

 

Analysis of Race and Perspectives of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

As police shootings of black men under dubious circumstances continue to make headlines, along with peaceful protests among several professional athletes, opinions on racism and the  #BlackLivesMatter movement abound.

Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem prior to the 49ers' season opener.(Photo: Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images)
Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem prior to the 49ers’ season opener.(Photo: Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images)

I do not have any affiliation with the group, and being Caucasian, cannot genuinely identify with their specific plight.

But I can apply some pretty basic critical thinking to understand their message, instead of dismissing it outright as divisive.

But before we get into the opinion portion, let’s take a look at the science and psychology of race and racism in general.

Genetics

First we must understand that there is no black or white gene. I think we all understand we’re not literally black and white. But moving past that, the term “black and white” supposes there is a binary system with only two options. But with the multitude of skin colors around the globe, this clearly isn’t the case.

As the Anthropology Department from the University of Alabama explains here, skin gets its color from three different molecules referred to as pigments.

  • Carotene: which is rather uncommon, and is typically only a factor if people overeat things with carotene in it—like carrots. It causes the skin to take on a yellowish shade.

    Carotene
    Carotene
  • Hemoglobin: This molecule is contained in our blood for facilitation of oxygenation of the blood. It takes on a reddish hue, unless you’re oxygen-deficient, in which case it will be purplish.

    hemoglobin
    Hemoglobin
  • Melanin: The component responsible for the “black” and “white” we refer to, is a severely dark brown color typically. The higher the concentration of this molecule in your skin, the darker your skin tone will be.

    Melanin
    Melanin

These three variables to one’s skin color have a default value they would inherit from their parents. But as you might expect, there are environmental factors that can change them such as the aforementioned carrot eating or tanning which increases melanin production. Since we’re talking about genetics, we’ll ignore the environmental factors for this post.

How the differences came about

As with most genetic traits, nature has selected for different skin tones too. This natural selection is almost entirely based on geographical location of our recent ancestors. And I say recent, because we’re all African in decent if we go back far enough.

Because of the tilt of the Earth’s axis, seasons are reversed depending on which side of the equator you’re on. For instance, winter in the northern hemisphere coincides with summer in the southern.motionsofsunandmoon2-axistilt1

But also, Earth’s path around the sun is elliptical—not a perfect circle. Therefore, those of us in the northern hemisphere are actually closest to the sun (perihelion) in January, and furthest from the sun (aphelion) in July—the difference being about 3%.

As a result, the Southern hemisphere being tilted towards the sun when they’re closer to it means the southern hemisphere’s summers will receive slightly more solar radiation than their northern counterparts.

In theory, this would mean the climate variation in the northern hemisphere would be less severe than in the southern hemisphere, but the increased water-surface to land-surface ratio of the southern hemisphere mitigates the variance for them, as explained in the video below.

These variances in solar radiation are the reason that skin tones lighten “about 8% per 10° of latitude in the Northern Hemisphere, and about 4% per 10° of latitude in the Southern Hemisphere” as you move further from the equator, because until quite recently in the history of mankind, thanks to the invention of boats, cars, and airplanes, traveling from one climate to another was quite the monumental task, and therefore rarely occurred.

Why nature selected for different skin tones

The excess melanin in one’s skin helps absorb ultraviolet (UV) radiation, protecting the skin from potential harm such as skin cancer. So people living closer to the equator, being exposed to more solar radiation, have better survived due to the protection melanin provides their skin.

However, solar radiation is the only natural way your body gets the vitamin D it needs, and that UV blocking melanin inhibits vitamin D’s production in the process. So those further from the equator would naturally select for lighter skin to maximize the vitamin D production from the lesser amount of solar radiation they receive.

This is why darker skinned people who live further from the equator can have an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency, and lighter skinned people located closer to the equator may suffer increased risk of skin cancer.

The reason this is important when discussing race, is to make the simple point that variances in our skin color, through natural selection from our ancestor’s environments, have dictated how dark our skin tone is based on how far our recent ancestors were from the equator. And any other reasoning one might attribute to our different skin tones is largely ignorant and false.

Mislabeling

While race is identified by skin color, it’s typically understood to be more about someone’s ancestry, than the actual color of their skin. But our desire to stick to a binary system of black and white, is entirely unfair to a large group of people who have mixed ancestry.

For instance, someone with a medium skin tone of mixed heritage is often just as closely related to someone referred to as black as they are to someone who is thought of as white, or any other different race. Therefore, referring to them as a light-skinned black person, wrongly puts them in one racial bucket when they really belong to both; or more correctly, a third bucket in between.

ANAHEIM, CA - JANUARY 21: Kultida Woods and Tiger Woods at the dedication of the statue honoring his father Earl Woods at the Tiger Woods Learning Center on January 21, 2008 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
ANAHEIM, CA – JANUARY 21: Kultida Woods and Tiger Woods at the dedication of the statue honoring his father Earl Woods at the Tiger Woods Learning Center on January 21, 2008 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)

Tiger Woods for instance, is often referred to as being black, when his mother Kutilda Woods is actually Asian.

President Obama, also often referred to as black, has a Caucasian mother, Ann Dunham.

Ann Dunham - Barack Obama's mother
Ann Dunham – Barack Obama’s mother

The whole concept of race in general is simply a man-made construct held over from our ignorant past. We used it to differentiate ourselves from one another, long before we understood genetics or biological species.

As this Nature.com report shows, “approximately 85−90% of genetic variation is found within these continental groups,” referring to Africa, Asia, and Europe, “and only an additional 10−15% of variation is found between them.” This illustrates that our fundamental differences lie in things other than our skin color.

The Psychology

As you hopefully already know, humans are typically social in nature, sociopaths, also known as people with Antisocial Personality Disorder, make up a mere 4% of the population. This means the desire to bond with other people is ingrained in about 96% of us as a result.

One way people bond is by finding commonalities with each other.

Imagine the person next to you, talking to a friend, says they just “pahked the kah.” If you’re a Bostonian in Boston, this won’t even get your attention. But if you were a Bostonian in the UK for instance, you’ll almost assuredly at least say, “Hey, I’m from Boston too.”

This is because the two of you have something unique for the location you’re in, that you share, and therefore can bond over.

In that example, you had to overhear the person say it though. With race, you can plainly see that you share that trait with another from across the room, and therefore immediately make an instinctive connection with that person. This is fairly natural, and not an inherently hateful form of racism.

The Good, the Bad, and the UglyNAACP-Logo[1]

Racism can be good if it’s simply a way to bond with others as illustrated above. But also with cases like the NAACP, where segregating by race is simply a way to focus your efforts on helping those who are discriminated against, such as “colored” people (the C in NAACP) certainly were at the time the NAACP was founded.

But while individuals use racism to create strong bonds, it sadly has a more heinous side that’s often rooted in hate. Because just as we bond over our commonalities, an us-against-them mentality can kick in when two or more people are like each other and another party in the area is not.

The heinousness of hateful racism is so well-known and understood, that I really don’t care to go into that any further here. It’s an unpleasant topic, and there’s probably little I can say that would add anything new to the conversation anyway.

But it’s important to understand that some level of racism is instinctual and what an instinct actually is in the first place.ailmentangermanagement1

Instincts are things we do subconsciously and uncontrollably without thinking about them. For instance, imagine someone were yelling hateful and vile insults at you—you will have no control over your instinct to punch them. But because you’re a responsible adult,  and know violence should be avoided if possible, many of you will suppress that instinct.

Racism is not that different, and can only be suppressed through knowledge and understand of why we do it, and then a genuine desire to avoid acting on it maliciously.

Who’s A Racist?

Now moving on to the op-ed portion of this post. While I explained above why we are not in fact black or white, I will use the terms “black” and “white” going forward since the word black is in #BlackLivesMatter, and the terms are for the most part the social norm. It will help make this next part a little easier to read than using “light-skinned” or “dark-skinned.”

Let’s first state unequivocally, that racism isn’t exclusive to any one race. So while the discussion of people being racist is often assumed to be white-on-black, it can just as easily be black-on-white. It can oddly even be white-on-white (when white people attack others like them for their “white privilege” for instance), or black-on-black (when black people assume the worst from other black people but tend to be more trusting of whites).

I should also point out that it’s not just skin tone. I’ve met Japanese people who don’t like the Chinese, Brits who hate the French, Colombians who don’t like Mexicans…the list of racial animosity goes on endlessly.

So this problem isn’t uniquely black and white, and it certainly isn’t even uniquely American. It existed long before America did and will likely endure for as long as vastly different skin tones exist.

So when I talk about racism, I’m referring to all of it, not just white-on-black.

#BlackLivesMatter

Now  let’s get back to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Once the #BLM movement started, it launched a lot of counter movements like #PoliceLivesMatter or the more generic #AllLivesMatter. At first, you can understand the opposition’s concern that #BlackLivesMatter seems to be segregating in nature, but I believe that entirely overlooks their underlying point.blm

As troubling as it is, when a news story airs about a police shooting of a suspect, there seems to be an improperly common sentiment among the media and the people. That if the victim is a black man, it is more likely to be justifiable homicide by the police than if the person who was shot were white. They are assuming the black man must have been engaged in criminal activity, where a white shooting victim more often gets the benefit of doubt.

While all people officially have equal rights under the law; these days, this perceptive double-standard on the presumed innocent of two people, solely based on the color of their skin, is the darker side of racism that still remains in the hearts and minds of far too many, despite many of them feeling they’re not racist in any way.

(Credit - Blavity.com)
(Credit – Blavity.com)

While I don’t believe most people, black or white, make a conscious effort to be racist, almost everyone will have some instinctual racial bias based on the psychology aspect mentioned above, and their own life experiences with people of a different race. The better those experience were, the less likely they are to be hatefully racist.

Honest Assessment

The next few times you see a police shooting of black and white civilians, see if your initial reactions to those shootings are the same; regardless of skin color.

Also, do the media portray both incidents equally? Do the public seem to have the same concerns or outrage on social media or around the office? Sadly, if I’m truly being honest with myself, I have to say they’re often not.

Where the #BLM Opposition Goes Wrong

So why do I think people are misguided when they think the #BLM movement are arguing other lives don’t matter? Because they didn’t specifically say that. It’s a straw man argument—one of the most common logical fallacies.

The opposition’s argument is that by saying #BlackLivesMatter, the #BLM people are arguing that white lives, police lives, et al., do not. But the #BLM movement is made up of three simple words and a hashtag. It says nothing about anyone else. So if you assume they’re saying non-black lives don’t matter, that’s a assumption you added yourself.

The predominance of people supporting the #BLM movement acknowledge wholeheartedly that all lives matter. Their argument is that the rest of the public don’t seem to value black lives. If the #BLM movement has any fundamental flaw, it’s poor phrasing. The simple addition of the word “Too” at the end of #BlackLivesMatter could have went a long way.

The Protests

While I don’t like the tactic of lashing out at our country, our flag, or our military as some professional athletes have chosen to do (I think community outreach programs, focusing on positive interaction, would better achieve their goal), we should also recognize that a peaceful and non-violent protest is exactly what most of us encouraged people to do when riots, vandalism, and looting by outraged people have broken out, and this is genuinely what those athlete’s are doing.

It’s easy to be mad at each other, but it’s better to be empathetic, and honest with ourselves that their concerns are often legitimate. Instead of getting angry, and pushing back, it’s not too much to ask to be skeptical of police who shoot someone.

Be A Skeptic, Even Of The Police

While the police by and large do a great job, and should always be given the utmost respect, on some occasions they exercise bad judgement, and in incredibly rare incidents, are would-be-felons willingly committing crimes.

If this weren’t true, there would be no Internal Affairs Bureau. So it is important to remember they’re not perfect, and may actually be the person in the wrong when they use their firearm against a civilian.

Pastor Terence Crutcher
Pastor Terence Crutcher

The shooting of pastor Terence Crutcher is one example of several, where many in the media and on social media initially assumed he had potentially done something to cause the officer to shoot him. That officer has since however been charged with first degree manslaughter, and Pastor Crutcher deserved the respect and outrage he sadly didn’t get from far too many people.

At the same time, it’s also important that the #BLM supporters wait for all the facts to come out when a black person is shot by police, because he may have indeed been engaged in a crime and was endangering others.

We should all let the facts come out, let the court system do it’s job, and if we’re not on the jury ourselves, try to accept the idea that the jury was given more evidence that’s credible and scientific, and therefore made a more educated decision than we could have.

Where the media often purposefully distort the facts for ratings, our legal system has safeguards to prevent such unfair biases in a court of law by excluding prejudicial evidence, and ensuring all witnesses can be cross-examined.

Synopsis

While you may not agree with the tactics of the #BLM movement and the peaceful protests of several black athletes, no fair person can argue there isn’t occasionally a double standard in TV and print media, social media, and public opinion as to how tragic the death of a black person is compared to anyone else.

If we want this racial divide to stop, we have to understand it, make an effort to change it, and more important than anything, exercise a little empathy and understanding for those on the other side of the issue.

Embrace that which makes us different—it makes us interesting to one another, it helps provide alternate perspectives, and most importantly from a science perspective, our diversity actually preserves our species (think of purebred animals which have much higher incidents of disease and genetic defect).

But know that the difference between any two of us, is basically the same, no matter what color we are, and therefore we should all have equal rights under the law, and equal rights to the presumption of innocence.

 

 

 

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.

 

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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