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 PhD 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.

 

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. Fission 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 tines 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.

 

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.

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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