### Comments and Responses to Decolonizing Astronomy

Alex Sapchik writes:
I thought that from the natural science point of view, rectifying injustice done to past generations is simply impossible for thermodynamic reasons alone. You would basically be trying to force a complex, inherently unstable system back into its equilibrium. The cost would be prohibitive. Even now-disadvantaged groups of people would be WORSE off after that, not better.
And historic experience confirms this. Every attempt to redistribute wealth or power in order to correct past injustice (e.g. communism, expropriation of white land in Africa) ended up in a disaster. On the other side, in the post-MLK USA and in Nelson Mandela's South Africa a point was made NOT to introduce reverse discrimination - and these countries are doing relatively well.
And why are you only blaming whites for the plight of African-Americans? Slaves were captured by other BLACK people in Africa, then sold abroad to whites. The African nation of Gabon once prospered on slave trade, and is still one of the richest countries on the continent.
Maybe it's the other way round - the willingness of BLACK people to enslave their countrymen and sell for a profit resulted in the shameful period of slavery in the USA? After all, Chinese and Irish didn't sell their fellow citizens as slaves - and so there were no slaves of that origin.
In slave trade, the seller is as deplorable as the buyer. And the sellers were black.

Wow, where to start? I think I'll start by pointing out how Alex reaches for scientific explanations for the injustices of this country, as if to say, "It was inevitable. This is the way the world works." I'm going to set aside the problems of applying thermodynamic arguments to human behavior since it doesn't really warrant a response. Instead, I argue that Alex is defending the status quo by pointing out the cost is prohibitive.

Following this argument to it's logical end is rather scary for anyone who does not benefit from the system that Alex defends. This is especially true if were to rewind the clock 50 years and make the same argument. "These civil rights activists need to understand that trying to force a complex, inherently unstable system back into its equilibrium. The cost of allowing Black people to vote, receive an equal education, and not be lynched would be prohibitive." Rewind the clock 150 years and Alex again pops up to tell the slaves, "The cost of freeing you would be prohibitive. Because thermodynamics."

Your arguments about "reverse discrimination" are as silly as they are sad. You are like a CFO who takes over a company and presents their financial situation while ignoring their debts and losses. "It wouldn't be fair to pay back our debtors," your argument to the CEO goes, "because that would take money away from our shareholders."

Now, onto his argument that BLACK people are responsible for slavery. The people who sold my ancestors into slavery were Africans, from a broad range of countries and tribes. What they did was wrong, to be sure. But I do not live in their country. I am a descendant of Black slaves in this country. The people who hold power today in my country are the descendants of the people instituted a system of complete dehumanization, the deliberate destruction of families, the deaths of millions, and the torture and terrorizing of millions more. I am a Black American. I am subject to the systematic racism in this country

Finally, even a child can understand that someone else's wrongs do not make your sins forgiven. Go back and read your words out loud. Better yet, read your words to an auditorium in Baltimore filled with Black children. Listen to yourself, man! Your lack of basic empathy robs you of your humanity. What this system has done to you is ugly. My heart aches for you, and part of the reason I fight is to free people like you from the need to trade your humanity for privilege.

### On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on NBA.com, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

### The Force is strong with this one...

Last night we were reviewing multiplication tables with Owen. The family fired off doublets of numbers and Owen confidently multiplied away. In the middle of the review Owen stopped and said, "I noticed something. 2 times 2 is 4. If you subtract 1 it's 3. That's equal to taking 2 and adding 1, and then taking 2 and subtracting 1, and multiplying. So 1 times 3 is 2 times 2 minus 1."

I have to admit, that I didn't quite get it at first. I asked him to repeat with another number and he did with six: "6 times 6 is 36. 36 minus 1 is 35. That's the same as 6-1 times 6+1, which is 35."

Ummmmm....wait. Huh? Lemme see...oh. OH! WOW! Owen figured out

x^2 - 1 = (x - 1) (x +1)

So $6 \times 8 = 7 \times 7 - 1 = (7-1) (7+1) = 48$. That's actually pretty handy!

You can see it in the image above. Look at the elements perpendicular to the diagonal. There's 48 bracketing 49, 35 bracketing 36, etc... After a bit more thought we…

### The Long Con

Hiding in Plain Sight

ESPN has a series of sports documentaries called 30 For 30. One of my favorites is called Broke which is about how professional athletes often make tens of millions of dollars in their careers yet retire with nothing. One of the major "leaks" turns out to be con artists, who lure athletes into elaborate real estate schemes or business ventures. This naturally raises the question: In a tightly-knit social structure that is a sports team, how can con artists operate so effectively and extensively? The answer is quite simple: very few people taken in by con artists ever tell anyone what happened. Thus, con artists can operate out in the open with little fear of consequences because they are shielded by the collective silence of their victims.
I can empathize with this. I've lost money in two different con schemes. One was when I was in college, and I received a phone call that I had won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. All I needed to do was p…