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Decarboxylation: What It Is, & Why You Should Decarb Your Weed

Decarboxylation: What It Is, & Why You Should Decarb Your Weed

decarbing

Have you ever wondered why you need to heat cannabis to feel the psychoactive effects? In order to get high from cannabis, you need to decarboxylate it first. But, what is decarboxylation and why should you decarb your weed? We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about getting the most out of your herb. 

What is decarboxylation?

Decarboxylation-Why-You-Should-1

Did you know that raw cannabis is non-psychoactive? The herb only becomes psychoactive when two things happen. First, when the bud dries and ages. Second, when the cannabis is heated. More psychoactive compounds are created by heating the plant than via ageing. In order to release the full potential of marijuana’s psychoactive effects, you must first go through a process called decarboxylation.

 

“Decarboxylation” is a long word for a simple process. To decarboxylate your herb, you just need to heat it. Applying a little heat to dried bud inspires some fascinating chemical reactions in the plant. Namely, you transform compounds called cannabinoid acids into a form that is readily usable by the body.

Cannabinoids are chemicals found in the cannabis plant that bind to cells in the body to produce effects. Sometimes decarboxylation is called “activating” or “decarbing”.

You probably have already heard that the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis is delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is what gets you high when you smoke a little flower or eat an edible. But, you won’t find much THC on a live, growing marijuana plant, if any at all. What you find instead is another compound called THCA, which is short for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid.

THCA is not psychoactive. That’s right, this acid compound won’t get you high. In order to feel the mind-altering effects of cannabis, you need to transform THCA into psychoactive THC. So, you apply a little heat.

Each time you take a lighter to a joint or place your cannabis in the oven, you are acting the part of an amateur chemist. You are converting one compound into another. You’re turning an otherwise non-psychoactive plant into a psychoactive one. To get specific, you are removing a “carboxyl group” from the acid form of THC. Hence the term “De-carboxylation“. Without that carboxyl group, THC is able to freely bind to cell receptors in your brain and body.

Are there benefits to raw cannabis?

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If you want a high, you need to decarb first. However, there are some benefits to leaving your cannabis raw. Keep in mind that “raw” does not mean dried and cured. When you dry and cure your cannabis, a little decarboxylation happens as the herb ages.

Raw, uncured cannabis has a variety of health benefits. Cannabinoid acids are potent anti-inflammatories. The herb is also packed full of vitamins and nutrients found in other healthy greens.

To use the herb raw, you’ll need to use freshly picked buds or fan leaves. You can also store raw cannabis in the refrigerator for a day or two like you would any other leafy green herb. Though, be mindful of mould and wilting. Densely packed cannabis flowers can become mouldy quite quickly when they’re exposed to moisture. You really want to use them as quickly as possible. They also begin to lose potency and denature the longer they sit.

Many medical cannabis patients have success by simply drinking raw cannabis juices or smoothies. You can find more information on raw, dietary cannabis here.

If you’re hoping for some psychoactive edibles, however, it’s best to decarboxylate your cannabis before you begin the cooking process.

Why do I decarb before cooking?

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If you’re cooking with cannabis, it is highly recommended you decarboxylate before you begin making your edible. If you ingest cannabis and want the full psychoactive effect, you need to first decarboxylate before cooking with the herb. Activating your cannabis prior to cooking ensures that THC’s psychoactive potential is not wasted.

If you don’t decarb before cooking, you risk losing potency and are not making the most out of your cannabis.

Do I need to decarb CBD strains?

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The short answer? Yes. CBD is short for cannabidiol, another common cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive. Just like THC, CBD is found in its acid form in raw cannabis. This raw form (CBDA) has health-promoting properties on its own. But, activating CBD makes it more readily available for the body to use.

To use the proper term, activated CBD is more bioavailable. This means that the compound can be put to use by your body right away. When left in its raw form, your body has to do some extra work to break down the molecule and it may use the acid form in a slightly different way.

The same goes for other cannabinoids as well. Their raw form is the acid from. To make them more bioavailable, you need to decarboxylate. Bioavailability is why you need to decarb your weed.

Temperature and terpenes

Decarboxylation-Why-You-Should-5

When it comes to decarboxylating, the lower the temperature you use, the longer the decarboxylation process is it’s going to take. However, this is not a bad thing! When using a lower temperature, you to lose fewer terpenes throughout the decarboxylation process.

Have you ever wondered why buds of even the same strain can have different tastes and smells? The answer is hidden in terpenes. Simply put, terpenes are the oils that give cannabis plants and flowers their unique smell such as berry, mint, citrus, and pine. There are many medicinal benefits to terpenes; some will successfully relieve your stress while others will promote focus and awareness.

Terpenes also work in tandem with THC and other cannabinoids to amplify the medical benefits of certain strains. For example, one common terpene is linalool. Linalool is the compound that gives lavender its unique scent. Strains like L.A. Confidential and Lavender tend to have high levels of linalool. Research suggests that this may amplify the sedative effects of THC.

The max temperature for terpene expression is 310 to 400°F (154 – 204.4°C). Anything above that will burn off the terpenes, altering flavor and lessening medical effects.

How to decarb before cooking

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Decarboxylation is a super simple process. Before you throw some cannabis into your pasta sauce or some “herbal seasoning” to your next pizza, make sure you follow these easy steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 240° F. / 115° C.
  2. Break up cannabis flowers and buds into smaller pieces with your hands. We use one ounce, but you can elect to do more or less.
  3. Put the pieces in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Make sure the pan is the correct size so there is not empty space on the pan.
  4. Bake the cannabis for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes so that it toasts evenly.
  5. When the cannabis is darker in color, a light to medium brown, and has dried out, remove the baking sheet and allow the cannabis to cool. It should be quite crumbly when handled.
  6. In a food processor, pulse the cannabis until it is coarsely ground (you don’t want a superfine powder). Store it in an airtight container and use as needed to make extractions

Watch the video

Fortunately, we’ve created this easy step-by-step video to walk you through the decarboxylation process. It really is not complicated, and taking a little time to properly activate your herb will produce amazing results. Watch the video below to see how it’s done:

 

 

Bill To Pre-Emptively Attack Iran Introduced In Congress

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) recently introduced a bill that would enable to US to invade Iran for the stated purpose of preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapons.

 

During the 2016 election, Donald Trump seemed to be the “anti-war” candidate compared to his then-opponent Hillary Clinton, especially when he spoke out against US interventionism and pledged to heal ties with Russia. Though ties with Russia have smoothed over since Trump took office, Trump has taken a more militaristic tone with some other foreign powers as evidenced by his recent statements and actions regarding both Iran and China. While the rise of antagonism between the US and these regional powers is troubling for a variety of reasons, just as troubling is the gusto with which some US congressmen are working to advance the “inevitability” of a military conflict between them.

Earlier this month, Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL) introduced H.J.Res. 10 or the “Authorization of Use of Force Against Iran Resolution.” Taken at face value, the bill appears to allow the President to authorize military force against Iran, which is bad enough. Yet, the text of the bill goes further – it authorizes the president to launch a “pre-emptive” war with the Middle Eastern nation without requiring Congressional approval and without the necessity of Iran having actually committed any action that would warrant a full-scale invasion. Specifically, the text of the bill states that: “The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines necessary and appropriate in order to achieve the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”

Considering Trump and his national security team’s hostility towards Iran, it seems likely that – if passed – the bill could be used as a “blank check” to realize many of the threats that have already been made. As soon as Trump was officially inaugurated, his administration announced its plans to develop a “state of the art” missile defense system intended to prevent attacks launched specifically from North Korea or Iran. While the inclusion of North Korea is more easily justified, the Iranian defense shield is a hawkish move given that Iran has not acted aggressively towards the U.S. In addition, both the CIA and Israeli intelligence have confirmed that Iran has no nuclear weapons program nor has it ever been interested in one.

However, Trump’s stance on Iran, as well as that of many other US politicians, is not influenced by Iran’s actions, but by Israel’s. Trump’s ties to Israel have become decidedly closer in the months since his election, likely owing to Trump’s chief strategist – Steve Bannon – being a “passionate Zionist” and Vice President Mike Pence’s strongly pro-Israel views. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said, the state of Israel’s “supreme goal” is the containment of Iran, suggesting that the US politicians who have aligned themselves with Israel also share this vision.

Though Iran’s disdain for Israel is clear, Israel has pursued its goal of “containment” in militaristic fashion, with over 200 Israeli nuclear weapons currently pointed at Iran’s capital Tehran. Israel’s government expects the same tactics from those U.S. politicians most sympathetic to its cause. It should also come as no surprise, then, that the same author of this “pre-emptive war” with Iran resolution, Congressman Alcee Hastings, received over $70,000 from the Pro-Israel lobby last election cycle. This bill and the militant posturing against Iran within US politics is a clear sign that Israel’s influence continues to overpower the national interest.

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11 Totally Normal Things That Science Can’t Explain

11 Totally Normal Things That Science Can't Explain

Science is amazing, is it not? It can tell us the size of planets light years away. It can explain the eating habits of giant dinosaurs that have been extinct for millions of years. Science can even tell us all about particles that are far too small to see with the human eye.

But there are a lot of things — many every day things, in fact — that science cannot explain.

How do magnets work? Why does watching someone yawn make you have to yawn? Why do dogs poop the way they do? These are the questions that scientists can’t quite answer…yet.

UP FIRST: Why does lightning happen?

11 Totally Normal Things That Science Can't Explain

Why Does Lightning Happen?

Some 44,000 thunderstorms rage worldwide each day, delivering as many as 100 lightning bolts to the ground every second. That’s a lot of lightning. So much, in fact, that one would be forgiven for assuming that scientists understand why lightning happens — but they don’t.

For all we know, lightning might as well come from Zeus. Counting Ben Franklin’s kite-and-key experiment as the starting point, 250 years of scientific investigation have yet to get to grips with how lightning works.

Atmospheric scientists have a basic sketch of the process. Positive electric charges build up at the tops of thunderclouds and negative charges build up at the bottoms (except for perplexing patches of positive charges often detected in the center-bottom). Electrical attraction between these opposite charges, and between the negative charges at the bottom of the cloud and positive charges that accumulate on the ground below, eventually grow strong enough to overcome the air’s resistance to electrical flow.

Like a herd of elephants wading across a river, negative charges venture down from the bottom of the cloud into the sky below and move haltingly toward the ground, forming an invisible, conductive path called a “step leader.” The charges’ path eventually connects to similar “streamers” of positive charges surging up from the ground, completing an electrical circuit and enabling negative charges to pour from the cloud to the ground along the circuit they have formed. This sudden, enormous electric discharge is the flash of lightning.

But as for how all that happens — well, it just doesn’t make much physical sense. There are three big questions needing answers, said Joe Dwyer, a leading lightning physicist based at the Florida Institute of Technology. “First, how do you actually charge up a thundercloud?” Dwyer said. A mix of water and ice is needed to provide atoms that can acquire charge, and updrafts are required to move the charged particles around. The rest of the details are hazy.

The second point of confusion is called the “lightning initiation problem.” So the question is, “How do you get a spark going inside a thunderstorm? The electric fields never seem to be big enough inside the storm to generate a spark. So how does that spark get going? This is a very active area of research,” Dwyer said.

And once the spark gets going, the final question is how it keeps going. “After you get it started, how does lightning propagate for tens of miles through clouds?” Dwyer said. “That’s an amazing thing — how do you turn air from being an insulator into a conductor?”

UP NEXT: How do magnets work?

11 Totally Normal Things That Science Can't Explain

How Do Magnets Work?

Sure, they’re run-of-the-mill household items, but that doesn’t mean magnets are easy to understand. While physicists have some understanding of how magnets function, the phenomena that underlie magnetism continue to elude scientific explanation.

Large-scale magnetism, like the kind observed in bar magnets, results from magnetic fields that naturally radiate from the electrically charged particles that make up atoms, said Jearl Walker, a physics professor at Cleveland State University and coauthor of “Fundamentals of Physics” (Wiley, 2007).The most common magnetic fields come from negatively charged particles called electrons.

Normally, in any sample of matter, the magnetic fields of electrons point in different directions, canceling each other out. But when the fields all align in the same direction, like in magnetic metals, an object generates a net magnetic field, Walker told Live Science in 2010.

Every electron generates a magnetic field, but they only generate a net magnetic field when they all line up. Otherwise, the electrons in the human body would cause everyone to stick to the refrigerator whenever they walked by, Walker said.

Currently, physics has two explanations for why magnetic fields align in the same direction: a large-scale theory from classical physics, and a small-scale theory called quantum mechanics.

According to the classical theory, magnetic fields are clouds of energy around magnetic particles that pull in or push away other magnetic objects. But in the quantum mechanics view, electrons emit undetectable, virtual particles that tell other objects to move away or come closer, Walker said.

Although these two theories help scientists understand how magnets behave in almost every circumstance, two important aspects of magnetism remain unexplained: why magnets always have a north and south pole, and why particles emit magnetic fields in the first place.

“We just observe that when you make a charged particle move, it creates a magnetic field and two poles. We don’t really know why. It’s just a feature of the universe, and the mathematical explanations are just attempts of getting through the ‘homework assignment’ of nature and getting the answers,” Walker said.

UP NEXT: Why do dogs face north or south to poop?

11 Totally Normal Things That Science Can't Explain

Why Do Dogs Face North or South to Poop?

Did you know that dogs prefer to poop while aligned with the north-south axis of the Earth’s magnetic field? Because they totally do, but scientists can’t really explain why.

Research conducted in 2014 found that dogs preferred to poop when their bodies were aligned in a north-south direction, as determined by the geomagnetic field. (True north, which is determined by the position of the poles, is slightly different from magnetic north.)

And while dogs of both sexes faced north or south while defecating, only females preferred to urinate in a north or south direction — males didn’t show much preference while urinating.

This odd finding joins a long and growing list of research showing that animals — both wild and domesticated — can sense the Earth’s geomagnetic field and coordinate their behavior with it.

A 2008 analysis of Google Earth satellite images revealed that herds of cattle worldwide tend to stand in the north-south direction of Earth’s magnetic lines when grazing, regardless of wind direction or time of day. The same behavior was seen in two different species of deer.

Birds also use magnetic fields to migrate thousands of miles, some research suggests. A 2013 report found that pigeons are equipped with microscopic balls of iron in their inner ears, which may account for the animals’ sensitivity to the geomagnetic field.

Humans, too, might possess a similar ability — a protein in the human retina may help people sense magnetic fields, though the research into this and many other related geomagnetic phenomena is preliminary and therefore remains inconclusive.

But why do animals of all shapes and sizes seem to be ruled by Earth’s geomagnetic field? The answer remains elusive, the scientists admitted.

“It is still enigmatic why the dogs do align at all, whether they do it ‘consciously’ (i.e., whether the magnetic field is sensorial[ly] perceived) … or whether its reception is controlled on the vegetative level (they ‘feel better/more comfortable or worse/less comfortable’ in a certain direction),” the study authors wrote.

The researchers also found that when the Earth’s magnetic field was in a state of flux — it changes during solar flares, geomagnetic storms and other events — the dogs’ north-south orientation was less predictable. Only when the magnetic field was calm did researchers reliably observe the north-south orientation.

Further research is needed to determine how and why dogs and other animals sense and use the planet’s magnetic field every single day.

UP NEXT

: What causes gravity?

11 Totally Normal Things That Science Can't Explain

What Causes Gravity? 

You know gravity? That invisible force holding you (and every person and object around you) to the Earth? Well, you might learn all about gravity in a science classroom, but scientists still aren’t sure what causes it.

In the deepest depths of space, gravity tugs on matter to form galaxies, stars, black holes and the like. In spite of its infinite reach, however, gravity is the wimpiest of all forces in the universe.

This weakness also makes it the most mysterious, as scientists can’t measure it in the laboratory as easily as they can detect its effects on planets and stars. The repulsion between two positively charged protons, for example, is 10^36 times stronger than gravity’s pull between them—that’s 1 followed by 36 zeros less macho.

Physicists want to squeeze little old gravity into the standard model—the crown-jewel theory of modern physics that explains three other fundamental forces in physics—but none has succeeded. Like a runt at a pool party, gravity just doesn’t fit in when using Einstein’s theory of relativity, which explains gravity only on large scales

“Gravity is completely different from the other forces described by the standard model,” said Mark Jackson, a theoretical physicist at Fermilab in Illinois. “When you do some calculations about small gravitational interactions, you get stupid answers. The math simply doesn’t work.”

The numbers may not jibe, but physicists have a hunch about gravity’s unseen gremlins: Tiny, massless particles called gravitons that emanate gravitational fields.

Each hypothetical bit tugs on every piece of matter in the universe, as fast as the speed of light permits. Yet if they are so common in the universe, why haven’t physicists found them?

“We can detect massless particles such as photons just fine, but gravitons elude us because they interact so weakly with matter,” said Michael Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago. “We simply don’t know how to detect one.”

Turner, however, isn’t despondent about humanity’s quest for gravitons. He thinks we’ll eventually ensnare a few of the pesky particles hiding in the shadows of more easily detected particles.

“What it really comes down to is technology,” Turner said.

UP NEXT: Why do cats purr?

11 Totally Normal Things That Science Can't Explain

Why Do Cats Purr?

From house cats to cheetahs, most felid species produce a “purr-like” vocalization, according to University of California, Davis, veterinary professor Leslie Lyons. Domestic cats purr in a range of situations — while they nurse their kittens, when they are pet by humans, and even when they’re stressed out. Yes, you read right: Cats purr both when they’re happy and when they’re miserable. That has made figuring out the function of purring an uphill struggle for scientists.

One possibility is that it promotes bone growth, Lyons explained in Scientific American. Purring contains sound frequencies within the 25- to 150-Hertz range, and sounds in this range have been shown to improve bone density and promote healing. Because cats conserve energy by sleeping for long periods of time, purring may be a low-energy mechanism to keep muscles and bones healthy without actually using them.

Of course, cats purr even when they aren’t injured. Many domestic cats purr to indicate hunger, for example. A recent study out of the U.K. shows that some cats have even developed a special purr to ask their owners for food. This “solicitous purr” incorporates cries with similar frequencies as those of human babies. These conniving kitties have tapped into their owners’ psyches — all for more kibble.

However, this study doesn’t explain why cats purr in all of the situations they do. And scientists aren’t likely to find out more answers until cats learn to speak human…

UP NEXT: How does the brain work?

11 Totally Normal Things That Science Can't Explain

How Does the Brain Work?

With billions of neurons, each with thousands of connections, the human brain is a complex, and yes congested, mental freeway. Neurologists and cognitive scientists nowadays are probing how the mind gives rise to thoughts, actions, emotions and ultimately consciousness, but they still don’t have all the answers.

The complex machine is difficult for even the brainiest of scientists to wrap their heads around. What makes the brain such a tough nut to crack?

According to Scott Huettel of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University, the standard answer to this question goes something like: “The human brain is the most complex object in the known universe … complexity makes simple models impractical and accurate models impossible to comprehend.”

While that stock answer is correct, Huettel said, it’s incomplete. The real snag in brain science is one of navel gazing. Huettel and other neuroscientists can’t step outside of their own brains (and experiences) when studying the brain itself.

“A more pernicious factor is that we all think we understand the brain—at least our own—through our experiences. But our own subjective experience is a very poor guide to how the brain works,” Huettel told Live Science in 2007.

Scientists have made some progress in taking an objective, direct “look” at the human brain.

In recent years, brain-imaging techniques, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have allowed scientists to observe the brain in action and determine how groups of neurons function.

They have pinpointed hubs in the brain that are responsible for certain tasks, such as fleeing a dangerous situation, processing visual information, making those sweet dreams and storing long-term memories. But understanding the mechanics of how neuronal networks collaborate to allow such tasks has remained more elusive.

The prized puzzle in brain research is arguably the idea of consciousness. When you look at a painting, for instance, you are aware of it and your mind processes its colors and shapes. At the same time, the visual impression could stir up emotions and thoughts. This subjective awareness and perception is consciousness.

Many scientists consider consciousness the delineation between humans and other animals.

So rather than cognitive processes directly leading to behaviors (unbeknownst to us), we are aware of the thinking. We even know that we know!

If this mind bender is ever solved, an equally perplexing question would arise, according to neuroscientists: Why? Why does awareness exist at all?

UP NEXT: How do bicycles work?

11 Totally Normal Things That Science Can't Explain

How Do Bicycles Work?

The brain is a super complicated organ, so it kind of makes sense that scientists haven’t yet learned all its secrets. But surely those same scientists have figured out something as simple as a bicycle, right? Wrong: The brainiacs of the world still aren’t sure how bicycles work.

Bikes can stay upright all by themselves, as long as they’re moving forward; it’s because any time a moving bike starts to lean, its steering axis (the pole attached to the handlebars) turns the other way, tilting the bike upright again. This restorative effect was long believed to result from a law of physics called the conservation of angular momentum: When the bike wobbles, the axis perpendicular to its wheels’ spinning direction threatens to change, and the bike self-corrects in order to “conserve” the direction of that axis. In other words, the bike is a gyroscope. Additionally, the “trail effect” was thought to help keep bikes stable: Because the steering axis hits the ground slightly in front of the ground contact point of the front wheel, the wheel is forced to trail the steering of the handlebars.

But recently, a group of engineers led by Andy Ruina of Cornell University upturned this theory of bicycle locomotion. Their investigation, detailed in a 2011 article in the journal Science, showed that neither gyroscopic nor trail effects were necessary for a bike to work. To prove it, the engineers built a custom bicycle, which could take advantage of neither effect. The bike was designed so that each of its wheels rotated a second wheel above it in the opposite direction. That way, the spinning of the wheels canceled out and the bike’s total angular momentum was zero, erasing the influence of gyroscopic effects on the bike’s stability. The custom bike’s ground contact point was also positioned in front of its steering axis, destroying the trail effect. And yet, the bike worked.

The engineers know why: they added masses to the bike in choice places to enable gravity to cause the bike to self-steer. But the work showed there are many effects that go into the stability of bicycles — including gyroscopic and trail effects in the case of bikes that have them — that interact in extremely complex ways.

“The complex interactions have not been worked out. My suspicion is that we will never come to grips with them, but I don’t know that for sure,” Ruina told Live Science.

UP NEXT: Why are moths drawn to light?

11 Totally Normal Things That Science Can't Explain

Why Are Moths Drawn to Light?

“Look! That moth just flew straight into that light bulb and died!” said no one ever. We see it happen so often that it’s more likely to invoke yawns than discussion. But, surprisingly, the reason for these insects’ suicidal nosedives remains a total mystery. Science’s best guesses about why they do it aren’t even very good.

Some entomologists believe moths zoom toward artificial light sources because the lights throw off their internal navigation systems. In a behavior called transverse orientation, some insects navigate by flying at a constant angle relative to a distant light source, such as the moon. But around man-made lights, such as a campfire or your porch light, the angle to the light source changes as a moth flies by. Jerry Powell, an entomologist at the University of California, Berkeley said the thinking is that moths “become dazzled by the light and are somehow attracted.”

But this theory runs into two major stumbling blocks, Powell explained: First, campfires have been around for about 400,000 years. Wouldn’t natural selection have killed off moths whose instinct tells them to go kamikaze every time they feel blinded by the light? Secondly, moths may not even use transverse navigation; more than half of the species don’t even migrate.

Alternate theories are riddled with holes, too. For example, one holds that male moths are attracted to infrared light because it contains a few of the same light frequencies given off by female moths’ pheromones, or sex hormones, which glow very faintly. In short, male moths could be drawn to candles under the false belief that the lights are females sending out sex signals.  However, Powell points out that moths are more attracted to ultraviolet light than infrared light, and UV doesn’t look a bit like glowing pheromones.

Moth deaths: not as yawn-inducing as you might think.

UP NEXT: Why are there lefties (and righties)?

11 Totally Normal Things That Science Can't Explain

Why Are There Lefties (& Righties)?

One-tenth of people have better motor dexterity using their left limbs than their right. No one knows why these lefties exist. And no one knows why righties exist either, for that matter. Why do people have just one hand with top-notch motor skills, instead of a double dose of dexterity?

One theory holds that handedness results from having more intricate wiring on the side of the brain involved in speech (which also requires fine motor skills). Because the speech center usually sits in the brain’s left hemisphere — the side wired to the right side of the body — the right hand ends up dominant in most people. As for why the speech center usually (but not always) ends up in the left side of the brain, that’s still an open question.

The theory about the speech center controlling handedness gets a big blow from the fact that not all right-handed people control speech in the left hemisphere, while only half of lefties do. So, what explains those lefties whose speech centers reside in the left sides of their brains? It’s all very perplexing.

Research published in 2013 suggests that genes that play a role in the orientation of internal organs may also affect whether someone is right- or left-handed.

The study, published today (Sept. 12) in the journal PLOS Genetics, suggest those genes may also play a role in the brain, thereby affecting people’s handedness.

Still, the findings can’t yet explain the mystery of why a minority of people are left-handed because each gene only plays a tiny role in people’s handedness.

UP NEXT: Is yawning contagious?

11 Totally Normal Things That Science Can't Explain

Are Yawns Contagious?

In 2012, Austrian researchers won an Ig Nobel Prize for their discovery that yawns are not contagious among red-footed tortoises.

We know so much about tortoises, but human yawning? Still an enigma. The sight of a person’s gaping jaws, squinting eyes and deep inhalation “hijacks your body and induces you to replicate the observed behavior,” writes the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, psychologist Robert Provine in his new book, “Curious Behavior” (Belknap Press, 2012). But why?

Preliminary brain-scan data indicate that regions of the brain associated with theory of mind (the ability to attribute mental states and feelings to oneself and others) and self-processing become active when people observe other people yawning. Many autistic and schizophrenic people do not exhibit this brain activity, and they do not “catch” yawns. These clues suggest contagious yawning reflects an ability to empathize and form normal emotional ties with others, Provine explained.

But why should our social connections with one another circulate through yawning, as opposed to hiccupping or passing gas? No one knows for sure, and that’s because no one knows quite why we yawn. Embryos do it to sculpt the hinge of their jaws. Fully formed people do it when we’re sleepy and bored. But how does yawning ameliorate these complaints?

UP NEXT: What causes static electricity?

11 Totally Normal Things That Science Can't Explain

What Causes Static Electricity?

Static shocks are as mysterious as they are unpleasant. What we know is this: They occur when an excess of either positive or negative charge builds up on the surface of your body, discharging when you touch something and leaving you neutralized. Alternatively, they can occur when static electricity builds up on something else — a doorknob, say — which you then touch. In that case, you are the excess charge’s exit route.

But why all the buildup? It’s unclear. The traditional explanation says that when two objects rub together, friction knocks the electrons off the atoms in one of the objects, and these then move onto the second, leaving the first object with an excess of positively charged atoms and giving the second an excess of negative electrons. Both objects (your hair and a wool hat, say) will then be statically charged. But why do electrons flow from one object to the other, instead of moving in both directions?

This has never been satisfactorily explained, and a study by Northwestern University researcher Bartosz Grzybowski found reason to doubt the whole story. As detailed last year in the journal Science, Grzybowski found that patches of both excess positive and excess negative charge exist on statically charged objects. He also found that entire molecules seemed to migrate between objects as they are rubbed together, not just electrons. What generates this mosaic of charges and migration of material has yet to be determined, but clearly, the explanation of static is changing.

Mathematicians shocked to find pattern in ‘random’ prime numbers

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Mathematicians are stunned by the discovery that prime numbers are pickier than previously thought. The find suggests number theorists need to be a little more careful when exploring the vast infinity of primes.

Primes, the numbers divisible only by themselves and 1, are the building blocks from which the rest of the number line is constructed, as all other numbers are created by multiplying primes together. That makes deciphering their mysteries key to understanding the fundamentals of arithmetic.

Although whether a number is prime or not is pre-determined, mathematicians don’t have a way to predict which numbers are prime, and so tend to treat them as if they occur randomly. Now Kannan Soundararajan and Robert Lemke Oliver of Stanford University in California have discovered that isn’t quite right.

“It was very weird,” says Soundararajan. “It’s like some painting you are very familiar with, and then suddenly you realise there is a figure in the painting you’ve never seen before.”

Surprising order

So just what has got mathematicians spooked? Apart from 2 and 5, all prime numbers end in 1, 3, 7 or 9 – they have to, else they would be divisible by 2 or 5 – and each of the four endings is equally likely. But while searching through the primes, the pair noticed that primes ending in 1 were less likely to be followed by another prime ending in 1. That shouldn’t happen if the primes were truly random –  consecutive primes shouldn’t care about their neighbour’s digits.

“In ignorance, we thought things would be roughly equal,” says Andrew Granville of the University of Montreal, Canada. “One certainly believed that in a question like this we had a very strong understanding of what was going on.”

The pair found that in the first hundred million primes, a prime ending in 1 is followed by another ending in 1 just 18.5 per cent of the time. If the primes were distributed randomly, you’d expect to see two 1s next to each other 25 per cent of the time. Primes ending in 3 and 7 take up the slack, each following a 1 in 30 per cent of primes, while a 9 follows a 1 in around 22 per cent of occurrences.

Similar patterns showed up for the other combinations of endings, all deviating from the expected random values. The pair also found them in other bases, where numbers are counted in units other than 10s. That means the patterns aren’t a result of our base-10 numbering system, but something inherent to the primes themselves. The patterns become more in line with randomness as you count higher – the pair have checked up to a few trillion – but still persists.

“I was very surprised,” says James Maynard of the University of Oxford, UK, who on hearing of the work immediately performed his own calculations to check the pattern was there. “I somehow needed to see it for myself to really believe it.”

Stretching to infinity

Thankfully, Soundararajan and Lemke Oliver think they have an explanation. Much of the modern research into primes is underpinned G H Hardy and John Littlewood, two mathematicians who worked together at the University of Cambridge in the early 20th century. They came up with a way to estimate how often pairs, triples and larger grouping of primes will appear, known as the k-tuple conjecture.

Just as Einstein’s theory of relativity is an advance on Newton’s theory of gravity, the Hardy-Littlewood conjecture is essentially a more complicated version of the assumption that primes are random – and this latest find demonstrates how the two assumptions differ. “Mathematicians go around assuming primes are random, and 99 per cent of the time this is correct, but you need to remember the 1 per cent of the time it isn’t,” says Maynard.

The pair used Hardy and Littlewood’s work to show that the groupings given by the conjecture are responsible for introducing this last-digit pattern, as they place restrictions on where the last digit of each prime can fall. What’s more, as the primes stretch to infinity, they do eventually shake off the pattern and give the random distribution mathematicians are used to expecting.

“Our initial thought was if there was an explanation to be found, we have to find it using the k-tuple conjecture,” says Soundararajan. “We felt that we would be able to understand it, but it was a real puzzle to figure out.”

The k-tuple conjecture is yet to be proven, but mathematicians strongly suspect it is correct because it is so useful in predicting the behaviour of the primes. “It is the most accurate conjecture we have, it passes every single test with flying colours,” says Maynard. “If anything I view this result as even more confirmation of the k-tuple conjecture.”

Although the new result won’t have any immediate applications to long-standing problems about primes like the twin-prime conjecture or the Riemann hypothesis, it has given the field a bit of a shake-up. “It gives us more of an understanding, every little bit helps,” says Granville. “If what you take for granted is wrong, that makes you rethink some other things you know.”

Journal reference: arxiv.org/abs/1603.03720

Mathematicians have discovered a strange pattern hiding in prime numbers

They’re not as random as we thought.

FIONA MACDONALD
15 MAR 2016

Mathematicians are pretty obsessed with prime numbers – those elusive integers that can only be divided by one and themselves. If they’re not creating cool artworks with them or finding them in nature, they’re using computers to discover increasingly larger primes.

But now a group of researchers has found a strange property of primes that’s never been seen before, and it violates one of the fundamental assumptions about how they behave – the idea that, for the most part, they occur totally randomly across integers.

The pattern isn’t actually found within the primes themselves, but rather the final digit of the prime number that comes directly after them – which the mathematicians have shown isn’t as random as you’d expect, and that’s a pretty big deal for mathematicians.

“We’ve been studying primes for a long time, and no one spotted this before,” Andrew Granville, a number theorist at the University of Montreal who wasn’t involved in the study, told Quanta magazine. “It’s crazy.”

So what are we talking about here? Our current understanding of primes suggests that, over a big enough sample, they should occur randomly, and shouldn’t be influenced by the prime number that comes before or after them.

But that’s not what Kannan Soundararajan and Robert Lemke Oliver from Stanford University in California found.

They performed a randomness check on the first 100 million primes and found that a prime ending in 1 was followed by another prime ending in 1 only 18.5 percent of the time – a far cry from the 25 percent you’d expect given that primes greater than five can only end in one of four digits: 1, 3, 7, or 9.

Furthermore, the chance of a prime ending in 1 being followed by a prime ending in 3 or 7 was roughly 30 percent, but for 9 it was only 22 percent.

In other words, the primes “really hate to repeat themselves”, said Lemke Oliver.

The obvious explanation for this is the fact that numbers have to cycle through all the other digits before they get back to the same ending. “For example, 43 is followed by 47, 49, and 51 before it hits 53, and one of those numbers, 47, is prime,” writes Jacob Aron for New Scientist.

But this doesn’t explain the magnitude of the bias the team found, or why primes ending in 3 seemed to like being followed by primes ending in 9 more than 1 or 7. Even when they expanded their sample and examined the first few trillion prime numbers, the mathematicians found that – even though the bias gradually falls more in line with randomness – it still persists.

“I was very surprised,” James Maynard from the University of Oxford told New Scientist. “I somehow needed to see it for myself to really believe it,” he says, admitting that he ran back to his office and performed the calculations himself after hearing about the work.

So what’s going on?

According to Soundararajan and Lemke Oliver, the pattern can be explained by something called the k-tuple conjecture – an old but unproven idea that describes how often pairs, triples, and larger sets of primes will make an appearance, and how close together these should occur.

Essentially, the k-tuple conjecture proposes that groups of primes don’t appear all that randomly, and Soundararajan and Lemke Oliver showed that this prediction could accurately explain the last-digit pattern they found.

Maynard agrees with this outcome, which has been published on pre-press site ArXiv.org, and hopes that it’ll be further evidence that primes do contain patterns, even if we can’t always see them.

“Mathematicians go around assuming primes are random, and 99 percent of the time this is correct, but you need to remember the 1 percent of the time it isn’t,” said Maynard. “If anything, I view this result as even more confirmation of the k-tuple conjecture.”

Despite the fact that it’s pretty exciting work, the newly spotted pattern doesn’t really provide many practical answers for number theorists – for example, there’s still the twin-prime conjecture and the Riemann hypothesis that need to be resolved.

The study also hasn’t been peer reviewed as yet, so we need to take it with a grain of salt, but it’s been placed on ArXiv so that other mathematicians can look over the work and add their own ideas and suggestions.

According to Granville, the discovery takes us one step closer to properly understanding the enigmatic primes. “Every little bit helps … I can’t believe anyone in the world would have guessed this,” he told New Scientist“You could wonder, what else have we missed about the primes?”

If You Change a Baby’s Diaper in Arizona, You Can Now Be Convicted of Child Molestation

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This could be a crime in Arizona.

iStock/Thinkstock

The Arizona Supreme Court issued a stunning and horrifying decision on Tuesday, interpreting a state law to criminalize any contact between an adult and a child’s genitals. According to the court, the law’s sweep encompasses wholly innocent conduct, such as changing a diaper or bathing a baby. As the stinging dissent notes, “parents and other caregivers” in the state are now considered to be “child molesters or sex abusers under Arizona law.” Those convicted under the statute may be imprisoned for five years.

How did this happen? A combination of bad legislating and terrible judging. Start with the
legislature, which passed laws forbidding any person from “intentionally or knowingly … touching
… any part of the genitals, anus or female breast” of a child “under fifteen years of age.” Notice
something odd about that? Although the laws call such contact “child molestation” or “sexual
abuse,” the statutes themselves do not require the “touching” to be sexual in nature. (No other
state’s law excludes this element of improper sexual intent.) Indeed, read literally, the statutes
would seem to prohibit parents from changing their child’s diaper. And the measures forbid both
“direct and indirect touching,” meaning parents cannot even bathe their child without becoming
sexual abusers under the law.

 

Arizona’s Supreme Court had an opportunity to remedy this glaring problem. A man convicted under these laws urged the justices to limit the statutes’ scope by interpreting the “touching” element to require some sexual intent. But by a 3-2 vote, the court refused and declared that the law criminalized the completely innocent touching of a child. The majority declined to “rewrite the statutes to require the state to prove sexual motivation, when the statutes clearly contain no such requirement.” Moreover, the court held that the laws posed no due process problem, because those prosecuted under the statute could still assert “lack of sexual motivation” as an “affirmative defense” at trial—one the defendant himself must prove to the jury “by a preponderance of the evidence.” As to the risk that the law criminalizes typical parental tasks, the majority shrugs that “prosecutors are unlikely to charge parents” engaged in innocent conduct. (This “just trust the prosecutors” dodge doesn’t always work out so well in Arizona.)

In a searing dissent, two justices pointed out the most obvious flaw of this logic: It renders the laws unconstitutional. “No one thinks that the legislature really intended to criminalize every knowing or intentional act of touching a child in the prohibited areas,” the dissent explains. “Reading the statutes as doing so creates a constitutional vagueness problem, as it would mean both that people do not have fair notice of what is actually prohibited and that the laws do not adequately constrain prosecutorial discretion”—a requirement under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The majority responds that any potential vagueness problem is remedied by the fact that defendants can attempt to prove their innocent state of mind as an affirmative defense. Not so, the dissent retorts: By requiring the defendant to prove his innocence (instead of requiring the state to prove his guilt), Arizona has “shifted to the accused the burden of proving the absence of the very fact—sexual motivation—that distinguishes criminal from innocent conduct.” That, too, runs afoul of due processby “criminalizing a broad swath of indisputably innocent conduct but assigning to defendants the burden of proving their conduct was not criminally motivated.”

Bizarrely, the majority insists that if prosecutors did charge parents for changing their child’s diaper, they could argue that they were exercising “their fundamental, constitutional right to manage and care for their children.” This alleged defense is cold comfort. As Matt Brown notes at Mimesis Law, Arizona’s sentencing laws are so stringent—and state courts are “so unwilling to dismiss sex charges based on as-applied constitutional challenges” before trial and conviction—that innocent parents will “sit in prison for quite some time” before a higher court vacates their sentence on constitutional grounds.

Equally puzzling is the majority’s assertion that parents can still present their innocence as an “affirmative defense” in court. Even if this strategy works, the Arizona laws will still have arguably intruded upon their fundamental right to “care for their children” without state interference. After all, as the dissent notes, such a defense “does not mean that a crime has not occurred, but instead that the miscreant may avoid ‘culpability’ by persuading the factfinder that the ‘criminal conduct’ should be excused.” And this relief would likely only come after a lengthy, expensive, and reputation-tarnishing trial.

As Fordham law professor John Pfaff explains, the majority’s logic has one final defect: It utterly ignores the reality of plea bargaining, which is how more than 90 percent of criminal cases in America are resolved. Given the immense expense and hassle of a trial, many defendants are pressured into striking a deal with a prosecutor, trading a lighter sentence for an admission of guilt. Arizona prosecutors can now dangle the threat of a probable child molestation conviction to coerce any parent of a young child into taking a plea deal on unrelated charges. With the state Supreme Court’s help, Arizona’s child molestation laws have been weaponized into a tool for prosecutorial harassment, allowing the state to target any parent or caregiver—out of spite or malice, or simply to boost their conviction rates. This terrible decision has gutted constitutional rights and turned many of the state’s residents into unknowing criminals. Barring intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court, due process has now been suspended for Arizona’s parents and caregivers.

This physicist says consciousness could be a new state of matter

‘Perceptronium’.

BEC CREW
16 SEP 2016

Consciousness isn’t something scientists like to talk about much. You can’t see it, you can’t touch it, and despite the best efforts of certain researchers, you can’t quantify it. And in science, if you can’t measure something, you’re going to have a tough time explaining it.

But consciousness exists, and it’s one of the most fundamental aspects of what makes us human. And just like dark matter and dark energy have been used to fill some otherwise gaping holes in the standard model of physics, researchers have also proposed that it’s possible to consider consciousness as a new state of matter.

To be clear, this is just a hypothesis, and one to be taken with a huge grain of salt, because we’re squarely in the realm of the hypothetical here, and there’s plenty of room for holes to be poked.

But it’s part of a quietly bubbling movement within theoretical physics and neuroscience to try and attach certain basic principles to consciousness in order to make it more observable.

The hypothesis was first put forward in 2014 by cosmologist and theoretical physicist Max Tegmark from MIT, who proposed that there’s a state of matter – just like a solid, liquid, or gas – in which atoms are arranged to process information and give rise to subjectivity, and ultimately, consciousness.

The name of this proposed state of matter? Perceptronium, of course.

As Tegmark explains in his pre-print paper:

“Generations of physicists and chemists have studied what happens when you group together vast numbers of atoms, finding that their collective behaviour depends on the pattern in which they are arranged: the key difference between a solid, a liquid, and a gas lies not in the types of atoms, but in their arrangement.

In this paper, I conjecture that consciousness can be understood as yet another state of matter. Just as there are many types of liquids, there are many types of consciousness.

However, this should not preclude us from identifying, quantifying, modelling, and ultimately understanding the characteristic properties that all liquid forms of matter (or all conscious forms of matter) share.”

In other words, Tegmark isn’t suggesting that there are physical clumps of perceptronium sitting somewhere in your brain and coursing through your veins to impart a sense of self-awareness.

Rather, he proposes that consciousness can be interpreted as a mathematical pattern – the result of a particular set of mathematical conditions.

Just as there are certain conditions under which various states of matter – such as steam, water, and ice – can arise, so too can various forms of consciousness, he argues.

Figuring out what it takes to produce these various states of consciousness according to observable and measurable conditions could help us get a grip on what it actually is, and what that means for a human, a monkey, a flea, or a supercomputer.

The idea was inspired by the work of neuroscientist Giulio Tononi from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who proposed in 2008 that if you wanted to prove that something had consciousness, you had to demonstrate two specific traits.

According to his integrated information theory (IIT), the first of these traits is that a conscious being must be capable of storing, processing, and recalling large amounts of information.

“And second,” explains the arXiv.org blog, “this information must be integrated in a unified whole, so that it is impossible to divide into independent parts.”

This means that consciousness has to be taken as a whole, and cannot be broken down into separate components. A conscious being or system has to not only be able to store and process information, but it must do so in a way that forms a complete, indivisible whole, Tononi argued.

If it occurred to you that a supercomputer could potentially have these traits, that’s sort of what Tononi was getting at.

As George Johnson writes for The New York Times, Tononi’s hypothesis predicted – with a whole lot of maths – that “devices as simple as a thermostat or a photoelectric diode might have glimmers of consciousness – a subjective self”.

In Tononi’s calculations, those “glimmers of consciousness” do not necessarily equal a conscious system, and he even came up with a unit, called phi or Φ, which he said could be used to measure how conscious a particular entity is.

Six years later, Tegmark proposed that there are two types of matter that could be considered according to the integrated information theory.

The first is ‘computronium’, which meets the requirements of the first trait of being able to store, process, and recall large amounts of information. And the second is ‘perceptronium’, which does all of the above, but in a way that forms the indivisible whole Tononi described.

In his 2014 paper, Tegmark explores what he identifies as the five basic principles that could be used to distinguish conscious matter from other physical systems such as solids, liquids, and gases – “the information, integration, independence, dynamics, and utility principles”.

He then spends 30 pages or so trying to explain how his new way of thinking about consciousness could explain the unique human perspective on the Universe.

As the arXiv.org blog explains, “When we look at a glass of iced water, we perceive the liquid and the solid ice cubes as independent things even though they are intimately linked as part of the same system. How does this happen? Out of all possible outcomes, why do we perceive this solution?”

It’s an incomplete thought, because Tegmark doesn’t have a solution. And as you might have guessed, it’s not something that his peers have been eager to take up and run with. Tegmark himself might have even hit a brick wall with it, because he’s never managed to take it beyond his pre-print, non-peer-reviewed paper.

That’s the problem with something like consciousness – if you can’t measure your attempts to measure it, how can you be sure you’ve measured it at all?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

More recently, scientists have attempted to explain how human consciousness could be transferred into an artificial body – seriously, there’s a start-up that wants to do this – and one group of Swiss physicists have suggested consciousness occurs in ‘time slices’ that are hundreds of milliseconds apart.

As Matthew Davidson, who studies the neuroscience of consciousness at Monash University in Australia, explains over at The Conversation, we still don’t know much about what consciousness actually is, but it’s looking more and more likely that it’s something we need to consider outside the realm of humans.

“If consciousness is indeed an emergent feature of a highly integrated network, as IIT suggests, then probably all complex systems – certainly all creatures with brains – have some minimal form of consciousness,” he says.

“By extension, if consciousness is defined by the amount of integrated information in a system, then we may also need to move away from any form of human exceptionalism that says consciousness is exclusive to us.”

Here’s Tegmark’s TED talk on consciousness as a mathematical pattern:

 

 

 

7 Things to Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East Conflict

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Are you “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine”? It isn’t even noon yet as I write this, and I’ve already been accused of being both.

These terms intrigue me because they directly speak to the doggedly tribal nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You don’t hear of too many other countries being universally spoken of this way. Why these two? Both Israelis and Palestinians are complex, with diverse histories and cultures, and two incredibly similar (if divisive) religions. To come down completely on the side of one or the other doesn’t seem rational to me.

It is telling that most Muslims around the world support Palestinians, and most Jews support Israel. This, of course, is natural — but it’s also problematic. It means that this is not about who’s right or wrong as much as which tribe or nation you are loyal to. It means that Palestinian supporters would be just as ardently pro-Israel if they were born in Israeli or Jewish families, and vice versa. It means that the principles that guide most people’s view of this conflict are largely accidents of birth — that however we intellectualize and analyze the components of the Middle East mess, it remains, at its core, a tribal conflict.

By definition, tribal conflicts thrive and survive when people take sides. Choosing sides in these kinds of conflicts fuels them further and deepens the polarization. And worst of all, you get blood on your hands.

So before picking a side in this latest Israeli-Palestine conflict, consider these 7 questions:

***

1. Why is everything so much worse when there are Jews involved?

Over 700 people have died in Gaza as of this writing. Muslims have woken up around the world. But is it really because of the numbers?

Bashar al-Assad has killed over 180,000 Syrians, mostly Muslim, in two years — more than the number killed in Palestine in two decades. Thousands of Muslims in Iraq and Syria have been killed by ISIS in the last two months. Tens of thousands have been killed by the Taliban. Half a million black Muslims were killed by Arab Muslims in Sudan. The list goes on.

But Gaza makes Muslims around the world, both Sunni and Shia, speak up in a way they never do otherwise. Up-to-date death counts and horrific pictures of the mangled corpses of Gazan children flood their social media timelines every day. If it was just about the numbers, wouldn’t the other conflicts take precedence? What is it about then?

If I were Assad or ISIS right now, I’d be thanking God I’m not Jewish.

Amazingly, many of the graphic images of dead children attributed to Israeli bombardment that are circulating online are from Syria, based on a BBC report. Many of the pictures you’re seeing are of children killed by Assad, who is supported by Iran, which also funds Hezbollah and Hamas. What could be more exploitative of dead children than attributing the pictures of innocents killed by your own supporters to your enemy simply because you weren’t paying enough attention when your own were killing your own?

This doesn’t, by any means, excuse the recklessness, negligence, and sometimesoutright cruelty of Israeli forces. But it clearly points to the likelihood that the Muslim world’s opposition to Israel isn’t just about the number of dead.

Here is a question for those who grew up in the Middle East and other Muslim-majority countries like I did: if Israel withdrew from the occupied territories tomorrow, all in one go — and went back to the 1967 borders — and gave the Palestinians East Jerusalem — do you honestly think Hamas wouldn’t find something else to pick a fight about? Do you honestly think that this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they are Jews? Do you recall what you watched and heard on public TV growing up in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt?

Yes, there’s an unfair and illegal occupation there, and yes, it’s a human rights disaster. But it is also true that much of the other side is deeply driven by anti-Semitism. Anyone who has lived in the Arab/Muslim world for more than a few years knows that. It isn’t always a clean, one-or-the-other blame split in these situations like your Chomskys and Greenwalds would have you believe. It’s both.

***

2. Why does everyone keep saying this is not a religious conflict?

There are three pervasive myths that are widely circulated about the “roots” of the Middle East conflict:

Myth 1: Judaism has nothing to do with Zionism.
Myth 2: Islam has nothing to do with Jihadism or anti-Semitism.
Myth 3: This conflict has nothing to do with religion.

To the “I oppose Zionism, not Judaism!” crowd, is it mere coincidence that this passage from the Old Testament (emphasis added) describes so accurately what’s happening today?

“I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you. Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods.” – Exodus 23:31-32

Or this one?

“See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers — to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — and to their descendants after them.” – Deuteronomy 1:8

There’s more: Genesis 15:18-21, and Numbers 34 for more detail on the borders. Zionism is not the “politicization” or “distortion” of Judaism. It is the revival of it.

And to the “This is not about Islam, it’s about politics!” crowd, is this verse from the Quran (emphasis added) meaningless?

“O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you—then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people.” – Quran, 5:51

What about the numerous verses and hadith quoted in Hamas’ charter? And the famous hadith of the Gharqad tree explicitly commanding Muslims to kill Jews?

Please tell me — in light of these passages written centuries and millennia before the creation of Israel or the occupation — how can anyone conclude that religion isn’t at the root of this, or at least a key driving factor? You may roll your eyes at these verses, but they are taken very seriously by many of the players in this conflict, on both sides. Shouldn’t they be acknowledged and addressed? When is the last time you heard a good rational, secular argument supporting settlement expansion in the West Bank?

Denying religion’s role seems to be a way to be able to criticize the politics while remaining apologetically “respectful” of people’s beliefs for fear of “offending” them. But is this apologism and “respect” for inhuman ideas worth the deaths of human beings?

People have all kinds of beliefs — from insisting the Earth is flat to denying the Holocaust. You may respect their right to hold these beliefs, but you’re not obligated to respect the beliefs themselves. It’s 2014, and religions don’t need to be “respected” any more than any other political ideology or philosophical thought system. Human beings have rights. Ideas don’t. The oft-cited politics/religion dichotomy in Abrahamic religions is false and misleading. All of the Abrahamic religions are inherently political.

***

3. Why would Israel deliberately want to kill civilians?

This is the single most important issue that gets everyone riled up, and rightfully so.

Again, there is no justification for innocent Gazans dying. And there’s no excuse for Israel’s negligence in incidents like the killing of four children on a Gazan beach. But let’s back up and think about this for a minute.

Why on Earth would Israel deliberately want to kill civilians?

When civilians die, Israel looks like a monster. It draws the ire of even its closest allies. Horrific images of injured and dead innocents flood the media. Ever-growing anti-Israel protests are held everywhere from Norway to New York. And the relatively low number of Israeli casualties (we’ll get to that in a bit) repeatedly draws allegations of a “disproportionate” response. Most importantly, civilian deaths help Hamas immensely.

How can any of this possibly ever be in Israel’s interest?

If Israel wanted to kill civilians, it is terrible at it. ISIS killed more civilians in two days (700 plus) than Israel has in two weeks. Imagine if ISIS or Hamas had Israel’s weapons, army, air force, US support, and nuclear arsenal. Their enemies would’ve been annihilated long ago. If Israel truly wanted to destroy Gaza, it could do so within a day, right from the air. Why carry out a more painful, expensive ground incursion that risks the lives of its soldiers?

***

4. Does Hamas really use its own civilians as human shields?

Ask Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas how he feels about Hamas’ tactics.

“What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?” he asks. “I don’t like trading in Palestinian blood.”

It isn’t just speculation anymore that Hamas puts its civilians in the line of fire.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri plainly admitted on Gazan national TV that thehuman shield strategy has proven “very effective.”

The UN relief organization UNRWA issued a furious condemnation of Hamas after discovering hidden rockets in not one, but two children’s schools in Gaza last week.

Hamas fires thousands of rockets into Israel, rarely killing any civilians or causing any serious damage. It launches them from densely populated areas, including hospitals and schools.

Why launch rockets without causing any real damage to the other side, inviting great damage to your own people, then putting your own civilians in the line of fire when the response comes? Even when the IDF warns civilians to evacuate their homes before a strike, why does Hamas tell them to stay put?

Because Hamas knows its cause is helped when Gazans die. If there is one thing that helps Hamas most — one thing that gives it any legitimacy — it is dead civilians. Rockets in schools. Hamas exploits the deaths of its children to gain the world’s sympathy. It uses them as a weapon.

You don’t have to like what Israel is doing to abhor Hamas. Arguably, Israel and Fatah are morally equivalent. Both have a lot of right on their side. Hamas, on the other hand, doesn’t have a shred of it.

***

5. Why are people asking for Israel to end the “occupation” in Gaza?

Because they have short memories.

In 2005, Israel ended the occupation in Gaza. It pulled out every last Israeli soldier. It dismantled every last settlement. Many Israeli settlers who refused to leave wereforcefully evicted from their homes, kicking and screaming.

This was a unilateral move by Israel, part of a disengagement plan intended toreduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians. It wasn’t perfect — Israel was still to control Gaza’s borders, coastline, and airspace — but considering the history of the region, it was a pretty significant first step.

After the evacuation, Israel opened up border crossings to facilitate commerce. The Palestinians were also given 3,000 greenhouses which had already been producing fruit and flowers for export for many years.

But Hamas chose not to invest in schools, trade, or infrastructure. Instead, it built an extensive network of tunnels to house thousands upon thousands of rockets and weapons, including newer, sophisticated ones from Iran and Syria. All the greenhouses were destroyed.

Hamas did not build any bomb shelters for its people. It did, however, build a fewfor its leaders to hide out in during airstrikes. Civilians are not given access to these shelters for precisely the same reason Hamas tells them to stay home when the bombs come.

Gaza was given a great opportunity in 2005 that Hamas squandered by transforming it into an anti-Israel weapons store instead of a thriving Palestinian state that, with time, may have served as a model for the future of the West Bank as well. If Fatah needed yet another reason to abhor Hamas, here it was.

***

6. Why are there so many more casualties in Gaza than in Israel?

The reason fewer Israeli civilians die is not because there are fewer rockets raining down on them. It’s because they are better protected by their government.

When Hamas’ missiles head towards Israel, sirens go off, the Iron Dome goes into effect, and civilians are rushed into bomb shelters. When Israeli missiles head towards Gaza, Hamas tells civilians to stay in their homes and face them.

While Israel’s government urges its civilians to get away from rockets targeted at them, Gaza’s government urges its civilians to get in front of missiles not targeted at them.

The popular explanation for this is that Hamas is poor and lacks the resources to protect its people like Israel does. The real reason, however, seems to have more to do with disordered priorities than deficient resources (see #5). This is about will, not ability. All those rockets, missiles, and tunnels aren’t cheap to build or acquire. But they are priorities. And it’s not like Palestinians don’t have a handful of oil-rich neighbors to help them the way Israel has the US.

The problem is, if civilian casualties in Gaza drop, Hamas loses the only weapon it has in its incredibly effective PR war. It is in Israel’s national interest to protect its civilians and minimize the deaths of those in Gaza. It is in Hamas’ interest to do exactly the opposite on both fronts.

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7. If Hamas is so bad, why isn’t everyone pro-Israel in this conflict?

Because Israel’s flaws, while smaller in number, are massive in impact.

Many Israelis seem to have the same tribal mentality that their Palestinian counterparts do. They celebrate the bombing of Gaza the same way many Arabs celebrated 9/11. A UN report recently found that Israeli forces tortured Palestinian children and used them as human shields. They beat up teenagers. They are oftenreckless with their airstrikes. They have academics who explain how rape may be the only truly effective weapon against their enemy. And many of them callously and publicly revel in the deaths of innocent Palestinian children.

To be fair, these kinds of things do happen on both sides. They are an inevitable consequence of multiple generations raised to hate the other over the course of 65 plus years. To hold Israel up to a higher standard would mean approaching the Palestinians with the racism of lowered expectations.

However, if Israel holds itself to a higher standard like it claims — it needs to do much more to show it isn’t the same as the worst of its neighbors.

Israel is leading itself towards increasing international isolation and national suicide because of two things: 1. The occupation; and 2. Settlement expansion.

Settlement expansion is simply incomprehensible. No one really understands the point of it. Virtually every US administration — from Nixon to Bush to Obama — hasunequivocally opposed it. There is no justification for it except a Biblical one (see #2), which makes it slightly more difficult to see Israel’s motives as purely secular.

The occupation is more complicated. The late Christopher Hitchens was right when he said this about Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories:

“In order for Israel to become part of the alliance against whatever we want to call it, religious barbarism, theocratic, possibly thermonuclear theocratic or nuclear theocratic aggression, it can’t, it’ll have to dispense with the occupation. It’s as simple as that.

It can be, you can think of it as a kind of European style, Western style country if you want, but it can’t govern other people against their will. It can’t continue to steal their land in the way that it does every day.And it’s unbelievably irresponsible of Israelis, knowing the position of the United States and its allies are in around the world, to continue to behave in this unconscionable way. And I’m afraid I know too much about the history of the conflict to think of Israel as just a tiny, little island surrounded by a sea of ravening wolves and so on. I mean, I know quite a lot about how that state was founded, and the amount of violence and dispossession that involved. And I’m a prisoner of that knowledge. I can’t un-know it.”

As seen with Gaza in 2005, unilateral disengagement is probably easier to talk about than actually carry out. But if it Israel doesn’t work harder towards a two-state (maybe three-state, thanks to Hamas) solution, it will eventually have to make that ugly choice between being a Jewish-majority state or a democracy.

It’s still too early to call Israel an apartheid state, but when John Kerry said Israelcould end up as one in the future, he wasn’t completely off the mark. It’s simple math. There are only a limited number of ways a bi-national Jewish state with a non-Jewish majority population can retain its Jewish identity. And none of them are pretty.

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Let’s face it, the land belongs to both of them now. Israel was carved out of Palestine for Jews with help from the British in the late 1940s just like my own birthplace of Pakistan was carved out of India for Muslims around the same time. The process was painful, and displaced millions in both instances. But it’s been almost 70 years. There are now at least two or three generations of Israelis who were born and raised in this land, to whom it really is a home, and who are often held accountable and made to pay for for historical atrocities that are no fault of their own. They are programmed to oppose “the other” just as Palestinian children are. At its very core, this is a tribal religious conflict that will never be resolved unless people stop choosing sides.

So you really don’t have to choose between being “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine.” If you support secularism, democracy, and a two-state solution — and you oppose Hamas, settlement expansion, and the occupation — you can be both.

If they keep asking you to pick a side after all of that, tell them you’re going with hummus.

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