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.

 

How To Improve Relations Between Police and Citizens

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

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

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

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

Facts versus Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Attitude Adjustment

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

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

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

But as always, it takes two to tango.

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

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

Blame Legislators Versus The Police Where Appropriate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better Community Outreach via Police Training

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

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

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

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

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

Police Need To Eschew The Brotherhood Mentality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stacy Peterson
Stacy Peterson

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

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

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

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

A Science Hack’s Guide To Black Holes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blackhole_gravity[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gumby
Gumby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, enough babbling, here goes…

GUESS:

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

EDUCATED GUESS:

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

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

HYPOTHESIS:

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

THEORY:

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

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

Water Molecule
Water Molecule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAW:

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

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

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

Sir Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton

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

ABSOLUTE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Actions of the Dedicated

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

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

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

The Gun Rights Paradox

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

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

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

The Constitutional Argument

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

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

The 1st Amendment
The 1st Amendment

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

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

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

Credibility Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misleading Statistics

The problems with the 94% statistic are numerous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Analyzing the data myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s This Puerto Rico Stuff?

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

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

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

Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico

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

Where’s the Current Data?

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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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