A Devil of a Misconception

Heat Doesn't Rise

Okay, ha ha.  This is kind of funny, but it merits discussion because of the Stupid phrase “heat rises”.  That’s utter nonsense, and we’re going to talk about why.

People often use heat as a synonym for hotness or temperature, but it’s not the same thing.  From a physics standpoint, temperature is a measure of the average kinetic energy of the molecules in a body.  When an object is hot, its molecules move around faster than they do when the object is cold.  Heat is the spontaneous transfer of thermal energy from a region with high temperature to a region with low temperature.  If you have a block of, say, iron, with a temperature of 400º Celsius, and you place it right next to an iron block with a temperature of 20º Celsius, heat will flow from the 400º block to the 20º block until their temperatures are the same.  (This example ignores heat lost to or gained from the surroundings, which will complicate the issue somewhat.)

Why does heat flow from the hot block to the cold block when they touch?  The hot block’s atoms are vibrating faster, with more energy.  When the atoms of the hot block vibrate against the atoms of the cold block, vibrational energy gets transferred primarily in one direction; from hot to cold.  The hot block loses energy while the cold block gains it.  The hot block’s atoms decrease their wiggling, while the cold block’s atoms increase.  The situation reaches equilibrium when both blocks’ atoms have the same average kinetic energy; i.e. when they have the same temperature.

So heat itself – as a transfer of thermal energy – does not have a natural tendency to move upward; it follows the temperature gradient, whatever direction that may be.

But perhaps you know from experience that the attic of a house is warmer than the lower levels, or that steam rises from the surface of boiling water to form droplets on the lid of a pot.  And of course hot air balloons soar above the countryside.  Aren’t these textbook examples of heat rising?

Well, they may be textbook examples; however, any textbook that parrots the phrase “heat rises” is contributing to a widespread misconception.  But now we’re no closer to understanding the problem:  If heat has no natural tendency to rise, why is it that, especially in gases, hot regions tend to rise up while cold regions tend to sink?

Slightly more sophisticated textbooks use density and buoyancy as a tool to explain why, say, a hot air balloon is capable of soaring above the countryside.  As a parcel of air is heated, its molecules move faster, they correctly point out.  As the molecules move faster, they tend to expand a bit, which lowers the overall density of the parcel.  The surrounding air, which is cooler and therefore more dense, buoys the hot air parcel skyward, in much the same way that dense seawater buoys up an ocean liner.

This explanation is better than the perfunctory “heat rises” account, and it would probably suffice for an introductory physical science class, but the sharp student will see through it.  Sure, it makes sense to claim that the air in a hot air balloon rises because it is more-or-less thermally isolated from the surrounding air, but that doesn’t explain why an unconstrained warm air mass tends to rise or why a similarly unconstrained cold air mass tends to sink, as in weather systems.  After all, there is no envelope or barrier between these two air masses.  Shouldn’t they interact and exchange heat, thereby equalizing their temperatures and preventing any net movement of the air?

In the absence of gravity, they might.  We have to dig deeper if we want to really understand why a warm air mass would rise above a cool air mass (or why the first level of Hell would be the hottest).  We have to get all the way down to the molecular level.

All molecules are subject to gravity, and they experience a downward force that is proportional to their mass.  But molecules – particularly gas molecules – also bounce around randomly and collide with other molecules.  Now this might sound bizarre, but in a body of colliding molecules, there is a net tendency to transfer momentum upwards – in other words, the bazillions of collisions that happen with a typical gas parcel tend to work against the pull of gravity.

When a parcel of air gets heated, its molecules speed up (on average) which means there are more frequent collisions within that parcel; ergo, there is an increase in the net upward momentum of the parcel’s molecules.  Heating a gas actually increases its parcels’ ability to bounce themselves away from the ground.  The molecules in a cold air parcel collide less frequently, ergo, the molecules tend to bounce around less vigorously.  When a cold air mass meets a warm air mass, the molecules in the warm air mass naturally tend to bounce off of and above the molecules in the cold air mass.

(On a related note, when powerful solar flares strike Earth, they dump lots of energy into Earth’s atmosphere, causing it to expand outward.  This can increase the drag on Earth-orbiting satellites and shorten their useful lives.)

So to sum up:

  • Heat has no inherent tendency to rise, even in Hell.
  • Heat is the transfer of thermal energy from regions of high temperature to regions of low temperature.
  • The molecules in a hot air mass move around faster, which means they collide more frequently than the molecules in an adjacent cold air mass.
  • The increased frequency of collisions in the hot air mass enhances the molecules’ upward momentum compared to molecules in a colder air mass, therefore:
  • A hot air mass tends to rise above a cold air mass.

I find it inexcusable that the devil is lecturing Joe about his lack of science knowledge, especially when he doesn’t quite get it himself.  According to some theologies, Old Scratch was present almost from the beginning of Creation (in fact, some sects hold that Satan is the author of the physical world.)  You’d expect him to be more well-versed in the physics of the atmosphere.  Then again, Satan has been called the Father of Lies; maybe he delights in spreading scientific misconceptions?

One more thing before I sign off…and this is really just a nitpick:  How is it that Satan did not know Joe’s name, but was able to determine that this was the same Joe that cheated on a test in 3rd grade?

Water We Fighting For?

Water Restrictions in California

While this meme aims at a real imbalance that needs to be addressed, it is Stupid and Bad enough to miss the mark.  Allow me to explain.

Recently California Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order to address dwindling water supplies across the state.  Governor Brown’s executive order includes a sweeping set of restrictions on water usage; sweeping, that is, to everybody except the two largest water-using industries in the state of California: agriculture and oil.

Agriculture alone uses 80% of California’s water and produces 69% of the nation’s commercially available fruits and nuts.  The oil industry uses about 2 million gallons of water a day, some of which is used in the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.  One can certainly appreciate why the average citizen, being part of the minority in terms of water usage, bristles at the thought of being asked to make the majority of the sacrifice.  It does smack of unfairness, which is why attention ought to be paid.

But this meme…this is no good.  The data in this meme are mismatched, and therefore incompatible without some number crunching.  Since I’m not a Californian, I’d like to review this meme with a somewhat more objective eye (if I can fairly use that word – objective – to describe what I do in this blog).

Let’s start by assuming the meme is correct in its assertion that it takes 1.6 gallons of water to flush the average Californian commode.  Let’s further assume that every Californian flushes only once per day (and to be honest, it’s probably more than that).  There are about 39 million people living in California, and if we multiply 39 million by 1.6 gallons, we get…carry the five…about 62.4 million gallons of water being used every day to flush toilets.  Over the course of a year, that’s…hang on, let me get out my slide rule…about 23 billion gallons of water!  That’s considerably more water than two of the examples the author picked for his meme.  And remember, I gave everybody in California only one flush per day.  Also, I didn’t account for any water that might be used for showering, cooking, brushing teeth, et cetera.

The author of this meme is trying to make a point, and as I said before, I think it’s a valuable point:  if John Q. Public is going to be restricted in terms of water use, then so should the largest water users in the state.  But the author is going about it the wrong way.  By bizarrely choosing to focus on some specific points in California’s water usage profile, the author has missed the big picture.  This is why memes seldom work for complex topics; in an effort to cram your opinions into a small, digestible meme, you have to gloss over a lot of complexity and thoughtful consideration.  When you do that, you lessen the impact of your arguments, and you make it easier for your critics to dismiss them.  I agree with the author’s implied statement that the water restrictions mandated by Governor Brown’s executive order are lop-sided, but if I didn’t agree, it would only take me 30 seconds with a calculator to determine that I could safely ignore the content of this meme…and its author.

Someone Needs a Debris-fing

Pentagon Debris

We’re going to be talking about plane crashes, obviously.  If you’re particularly saddened by news of the recent crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 into the French Alps (and I can’t blame you if you are), you may wish to scroll on by.

This crash was tragic, not only because of the loss of life but also because co-pilot Andreas Lubitz’s mental illness may have pushed him to intentionally drive the airplane down.  This meme claims that the debris from Flight 9525 was spread over 215,000 square feet, or roughly the same area as two city blocks.  I suspect the terrain surrounding the impact site may have constrained the spread of debris, but it’s hard to say for sure.

The second part of this meme is utter nonsense.  There were many pieces of airplane debris found in and around the Pentagon in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, crash of American Airlines Flight 77.  What this meme’s author means is “I can’t personally see any airplane debris in the pictures shared by the 9/11 ‘Truther’ websites I frequent; therefore, none was ever found.”

What kind of debris should one expect to see in the wake of a plane crash?  Of course it depends on many factors, not the least of which is the intent of the pilot.

When a pilot is trying to avoid a catastrophic crash, he focuses on reducing the plane’s speed (if possible).  With less speed, the plane has less kinetic energy.  It may break apart on impact, but the pieces will be larger.  Whole engines or sections of fuselage may survive the crash.  Since most airplane crashes are accidental, we’re accustomed to seeing debris fields featuring large, mostly-intact sections of the airplane – evidence that the pilot saw what was coming and did his or her best to mitigate the damage.

But when a pilot is intentionally trying to wreck the plane, he does not slow down.  The hijackers aboard Flight 77 intended to hit the Pentagon with full force; as a result, the destruction of the plane was total.  The plane’s body was ripped into tiny shreds by the crash and ensuing explosion.  If you can’t look at post-crash photos of the Pentagon and see huge chunks of airplane littering the lawn, it’s because the airplane was thoroughly reduced to small, twisted, scorched shards of metal.  At the risk of sounding insensitive, complaining that no wreckage is visible in the post-attack photographs of the Pentagon’s west lawn is similar to complaining that no pine cones are visible in the same photographs.

Furthermore, most of the wreckage would have been carried inside the building by the momentum of the airplane.  There’s a well-known law in physics (well-known to everybody but 9/11 “Truthers”, apparently) called the Law of Conservation of Momentum.  The Law of Conservation of Momentum states that the momentum of an object tends not to change, unless that object is acted upon by an outside force.  If the object splits into smaller parts, each part carries a fraction of the original object’s momentum proportional to its mass.  Furthermore, if that object collides with something else, the total momentum is spread out over all the bodies involved in the collision.  In any case, overall momentum is conserved.

When American Airlines Flight 77 struck the western face of the Pentagon, it had a lot of momentum.  That momentum was spread out to millions of tiny pieces, each of which tended to keep moving in the same direction as the original airplane.  Most of the airplane’s wreckage would be found inside the Pentagon building, because that’s the direction the plane was going.

Are there photographs of plane wreckage taken inside the Pentagon building?  Yes, but they’re not easy to come by.  Most of the early photographs are private or government property and are not open for public viewing.  By the time FEMA captured the first public domain images on September 14, much of the debris had already been cleared from inside the building.  The remaining debris was torn, twisted, and charred to the extent that it was virtually impossible to distinguish from the rubble of the Pentagon itself.  Sarah Roberts, writing for Rense.com, presents some of the publicly-available images.  They show the chaos that can only result from an airliner deliberately being flown into a building.  Debris is clearly visible; including a wheel hub characteristic of an airliner’s landing gear.  The website 911review.com offers another critical analysis about why “Truthers'” claims vis-à-vis the Pentagon are all wet.

The fact that the meme’s second statement can be so easily debunked by a moment of searching demonstrates “Truthers'” violent allergy to the actual truth.  When their claims are shown to be flagrant falsehoods, many “Truthers” respond that they are “just asking questions.”  What’s wrong with asking questions, man?  Nothing’s wrong with asking questions, if you’re honest enough to accept the answers.

Crazy Crackpot Claims

Smart Mofos edited

Yeah…you know who else sounds like crazy mother *#!@ers?  Crazy mother *#!@ers.

Besides the unnecessary profanity, here’s the problem with this meme: saying that dumb people think smart people sound like crazy people does not prove that you are smart, even if somebody has called you crazy, nor does it make your critics dumb.  Here’s an argument tactic favored by people with ideas that sound…well…crazy.

Person A: I say the Moon is inhabited by purple unicorns!

Person B: What?!?  There’s no evidence for purple lunar unicorns!  That’s crazy talk!

Person A: Of course it sounds crazy to somebody as uneducated as yourself.

If Person A’s claims hold any water, then they should stand on their own merit.  Person A should be able to convince Person B of the reality of purple Moonicorns™ without calling Person B’s intellect into question.  Person A is making an extraordinary claim.  He should be aware that the burden of extraordinary evidence is on his shoulders.

In 1992, mathematical physicist John Baez of the University of California, Riverside, devised the crackpot index – a guide to ranking the often-pseudoscientific claims made by people seeking to revolutionize science without the worrisome burdens of evidence or common sense.  Baez awards each claim (and its respective claimant) a -5 point starting credit, then adds points for each statement made by the claimant that comes straight from the Crackpot Playbook.  For example, a claimant might earn 10 points for comparing himself favorably to Einstein (or, say, using a picture of Einstein in his meme), or he might gain 20 points for bringing up ridicule – real or imagined – afforded to his previous “theories” by the scientific community.

I mention the crackpot index because the statement made in this meme is strikingly reminiscent of things crackpots say when attempting to deflect skeptical criticism of their ideas.  “If you think my ideas are crazy, it’s only because you’re too stupid to understand them.”  While many scientific revolutions have been started by ideas that initially sounded crazy (relativity and quantum mechanics, e.g.), the difference between these revolutions and crackpot claims is that the authors of the scientific revolutions came prepared with evidence.  They did not resort to attacking their critics, but instead sought to convert their critics by patiently explaining their position and supporting evidence, as many times as needed.  Their ideas eventually took hold because they (A) made sense on their own, and (B) fit in with the wider field of understood facts.  Einstein never complained that his earlier theories were ridiculed by the “established orthodoxy”.  Feynman never grumbled that Big Science was suppressing his ideas.  Heisenberg did not call his critics imbeciles.  The real revolutionaries won by persistence, not petulance.

Being called crazy does not immediately make you right, nor does it make your critics dumb.  That’s an intellectually dishonest way of looking at things.  As noted skeptic Michael Shermer puts it in his 1997 book, Why People Believe Weird Things:

They laughed at Copernicus. They laughed at the Wright brothers. Yes, well, they laughed at the Marx brothers. Being laughed at does not mean you are right.

Sometimes people call an idea crazy because it really is crazy.  If people constantly scoff at your ideas, you might take a moment to re-evaluate your beliefs.  Are you really the lone beacon of truth in a world clouded by wrong thinking?  Or are you the crackpot?  Only an honest evaluation of the evidence will tell you for sure.  The key word is “honest”.

Quick Memes, Part 2

Last August I wrote a post called “Quick Memes“, in which I discussed a few memes that didn’t merit an entire post.  It was a smashing success moderate success thing I did, so I’ve decided to do it again!  Here is another round of memes that are irritating, but not irritating enough to spend at least 500 words ranting about.

Pepper Bumps

This Internet myth has been debunked numerous times; nevertheless, I see this meme being passed around incautiously.  I figured I would add my voice to the dissenting mix.  All peppers – including the bell variety – belong to the Nightshade family, Solanaceae, a family that includes tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants.  One characteristic of all nightshades is that they produce perfect flowers.  A perfect flower has both male and female parts; in other words, it is hermaphroditic.  All nightshade family flowers contain both pistils and stamens.  Consequently, the fruits that arise from those flowers are neither male nor female.

Some plants do have distinct male and female flowers – sometimes on the same plant, sometimes on different plants.  It is possible for some plants to produce gendered fruits, but peppers do not.  The number of lobes on a pepper, its taste, and its seed content are due to environmental and genetic factors, but not to gender.

Verbal and Physical Abuse

A couple of things: there’s a distinct difference between cursing and verbal abuse.  If you drop an F-bomb after stubbing your toe, I doubt very many people would consider it abusive.  Also, you can be verbally abusive to somebody without ever uttering a single swear word.

The best advice is not to be abusive at all – verbally or physically.  If you’re not beating somebody up, good for you.  It still doesn’t excuse your physical abuse.

Conspiracy Theorist

Do you believe that they’e discovered a simple, cheap cure for cancer and/or AIDS, but Big Pharma is suppressing it so they can continue to make billions by pushing pills?  Do you think the Moon landings were faked on a sound stage so the United States could beat the Soviet Union in the space race?  Do you think that President John F. Kennedy was actually assassinated by the CIA, the FBI, Vice President Johnson, or anybody other than Lee Harvey Oswald?  Do you think the government is spraying poisonous chemicals as chemtrails for the purpose of population control?  Do you think that vaccines cause autism?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are probably a conspiracy theorist.  In that case, the rest of this section is going to make you angry.  Sorry.

The problem with conspiracy theorists is that their starting position – their baseline for evaluating the world – is cynical distrust of authority.  From there, they evaluate everything they see with a severe confirmation bias.  The only evidence they accept is that which can be contorted into supporting their viewpoint; they reject as “bullshit” anything that disproves their ideas.  They fancy themselves experts because they have read the slanted testimony of other conspiracy theorists, but what happens when somebody – perhaps a real expert – weighs in with contradictory evidence?  Conspiracy theorists view these experts are seen as being bought and paid for by the Forces of Darkness.

The mindset of many conspiracy theorists disallows contradictory viewpoints, which is a shame.  I’ve had a few discussions with conspiracy theorists, and I know that asking a conspiracy theorist to consider alternate viewpoints is like asking a river to flow up a steep incline.  Evidence is entirely useless; conspiracy theorists seem to be enamored with the idea that all evidence can be faked; yet they fail to apply that logic to the “evidence” that seemingly supports their own conclusions.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not some naive Pollyanna who thinks that the world is hunky-dory and everything the government says is true.  I like to think that before I put an authority figure or organization on blast for hideous crimes against humanity, I have honestly evaluated the evidence in my corner.

If you believe that conspiracy theories are pretty convincing, ask yourself why.  Then ask yourself if the evidence could be wrong.  Ask yourself if there’s any way your theories could be disproved.  If there isn’t, then your ideas do not fit the scientific definition of the word theory.  If you cannot be reasoned out of an idea…did you really use reason to get into it?

Also…I’m pretty sure the “chains” on the person’s wrists in this image are made of paper loops.

Lover or Lesbian

Here’s another nugget of wisdom from Justin “Master Chim” Garcia, that visionary who taught us how to avoid police brutality (while neglecting to admonish the police not to use brutality).  This time around, Master Chim deploys his world-famous sensitivity to determine whether you are a real man or a lesbian.  According to Master Chim, the Casanova of our age, real men shouldn’t do all that romantic girly stuff that women seem to like, such as spending time with them, or being helpful around the house, or, you know, thinking about them.  A real man, Master Chim might say, is neglectful to his female companion.  He goes out with his buddies when he wants to, regardless of her plans or wishes, and he never lifts a finger to help around the house.  Shared responsibility is for wusses, he might continue.  If you go all out to make your woman feel special, then you might as well be a woman yourself, right?

Now I’m not saying you have to do all the things on this list; that’s between you and your lady friend (and besides, flowers can get expensive!)  I’m just saying that if you do these things, you shouldn’t be cowed by men like Master Chim.  Justin “Master Chim” Garcia is not the authority on manliness that he purports to be.  Each man (and woman) must decide what is appropriate for him (or her) to do.  The last thing this world needs is more men trying to emulate Master Chim’s example.

ISIS Green Screen

I…really don’t know what to do with this.  What exactly is the meme saying – that ISIS doesn’t exist?  That ISIS has never executed prisoners on a beach?  That ISIS doesn’t execute prisoners at all?  If the meme’s author believes that ISIS fakes its executions in front of a green screen, why use this image as “evidence”?  There are no active executions being depicted, and the image doesn’t strike me as one that is clearly fake.

So yeah, there’s something vaguely conspiracy-theoristy about this meme, but it doesn’t do a good job of indicating what it’s real message is.  In failing to make its point clear, the meme fails at the only function a meme has: to express an opinion or idea in a pithy, easily digestible manner.  If I have to guess what claim the meme is making, then not only is the meme Stupid and Bad…but Pointless as well.


Who the hell thinks that a good woman doesn’t get angry?  Does anybody make that claim about men?  Seriously, this meme reeks of Stupidity.  Here’s another meme expressing the worn-out idea that a woman must be emotionally tough at all times, and she shouldn’t let anything upset her.  Seriously, I don’t know anybody, good or otherwise, who doesn’t get angry from time to time.

Dress vs Building

This meme gets one thing right: people should be very concerned about the alleged off-the-books “black sites” used by the Chicago Police Department to interrogate suspects without due process or public record.  Very concerned.

But that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t talk about anything else.  As one of my Facebook friends pointed out, memes like this assume that people cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.  That stupid dress may have caught the public’s attention, seeming drowning out any other discussions, but it will fade from memory soon enough.  In the meantime, if you want to draw attention to a troubling news story, there are ways to do it without painting your friends as out-of-touch shallow idiots.

On Hitlers, Rothschilds, and the Fed

Hitler's Heritage

This meme is full of outright lies, factual contortions, and unsupported speculation.  In other words, it’s perfect for Stupid Bad Memes.

Let’s start with the United States Federal Reserve System, also known as the Fed.  The U.S. Fed is the central bank of the United States.  It was created in 1913 as part of the Federal Reserve Act.  While the Fed’s responsibilities have evolved over time, its basic function has always been to provide a measure of stability to the United States economy. (Obviously it has been more successful at some times than at others.)  The Fed monitors and controls the supply of money, supervises and regulates the nation’s banks, and ostensibly keeps a thumb on interest rates and prices, all in the service of protecting the financial interests of Americans.

It should come as no surprise that an institution neck-deep in America’s finances has become the subject of numerous conspiracy theories.  Some of the most impressively bizarre and convoluted theories ever devised focus on the shadowy organizations allegedly controlling the United States Federal Reserve, including the Illuminati, the New World Order, and, of course, the Jews.  All of these conspiracy theories play on a common fear: that our wealth is not really under our control; instead, back-stage deals between (usually foreign) billionaires are subverting our hard-won paychecks to their nefarious purposes.  And what purposes might those be?  Why, nothing less grandiose than the control of the entire world’s financial system, and all the politics money can buy.

I’ll admit: these theories do have a certain paranoid appeal.  After all, how many of us really understand the intricate workings of upper-level finance management in the United States?  How many of us are privy to the goings-on that decide the value of our money, or who can and cannot control it?  Just as a dark room or a bump in the night inspire us to conjure images of ghosts, the apparent opacity and complexity of our nation’s highest tier of financial control cause us to dream of sinister puppeteers that run the entire show.  I understand the appeal of these theories, but the rational mind must not allow itself to be seduced by them.  At some point we must resort to critical thinking.  Our judgments must be based on evidence.

Before we examine that evidence, let’s take a look at the Rothschild family.  The Rothschilds (Rothschildren?) are the descendants of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, a German Jew who opened a bank in the 1760s in the Free City of Frankfurt.  He did quite well for himself and bequeathed his wealth to his fives sons, who spread the family business and established the seeds of a dynasty.  At the height of their influence, the Rothschilds were a formidable economic force.  During the 19th century, they possessed one of the world’s largest private fortunes, and several members of the Rothschild clan held positions of nobility in the governments of Europe.  Today, the Rothschilds’ fortune and influence have dwindled somewhat, the family’s wealth having been divided among hundreds of descendants; even so, they are not hurting for money.

The idea that the Rothschild family controls the United States Federal Reserve probably stems from the work of authors Gary Kah and Eustace Mullins.  According to Kah, the U.S. Fed is directly owned and operated by foreign interests, including the Rothschild Banks of London and Berlin.  Kah alleges that the Rothschild banks – and other Jewish-owned foreign financial institutions – are “Class A shareholders” of the New York branch of the U.S. Fed.  Never mind that the U.S. Fed does not have “Class A shareholders”; its stocks are classified as member stocks or public stocks.  Also, in order to believe this, you’d have to ignore legislation incorporated into the formation of the Fed which specifies that only American banks can be shareholders.

Mullins (who passed away in 2010) claimed that the New York branch was 63% owned by a cohort of eight American banks, which were in turn owned by foreign interests.  Chief among these foreign controllers, according to Mullins, is the London House of Rothschild.  Mullins’s claims are slightly more plausible than Kah’s, in that they do not require an overt violation of the laws that were created to govern the Fed, but they still lack evidential support.

Both men’s sources are elusive.  Mullins claimed that the Federal Reserve Bulletin listed the Rothschilds as share owners, but that simply isn’t true.  The Federal Reserve Bulletin has never published a list of shareholders for any of the Federal Reserve Banks (there are twelve altogether).  Gary Kah’s sources are unnamed Swiss and Saudi associates.

Mullins’s and Kah’s assertions both hinge on the idea that the entire U.S. Fed can be manipulated via its New York branch.  According to an article published by Policital Research Associates, that simply isn’t true.  Each branch of the Fed answers directly to the federal government, with no branch having more control than any of its siblings.  Also contrary to the claims of Mullins and Kah, any profit generated by the U.S. Fed devolves directly to the United States Government, and not to foreign organizations.

Whatever influence the Rothschild family has in the United States, they do not own or control the U.S. Fed; ergo, the second sentence of this meme is entirely false.  It should therefore be of no concern to the average American citizen (or to anybody else, really) whether Adolf Hitler was a Rothschild descendant.

But just for the sake of thoroughness…was Adolf Hitler a Rothschild descendant?

There’s no good evidence to suggest this.  Here’s what the meme does get right: Adolf was the son of Alois Hitler, né Schicklgruber, who was the illegitimate son of Maria Schicklgruber and…somebody.  The identity of Alois Hitler’s paternal father is not known, although speculations are rampant.  Among the more believable hypotheses is that Adolf’s paternal grandfather is Johann Georg Hiedler, the man who would later marry Maria Schicklgruber and raise Alois.  In an 1876 testimony before a notary and three witnesses, Alois claimed that Johann was his paternal father and officially claimed the surname Hiedler, which was probably regularized to Hitler by a clerk.

It’s also possible that Adolf Hitler’s paternal grandfather is Johann Nepomuk Hüttler, brother to Johann Georg Hiedler, and Adolf’s maternal great grandfather, was also Alois’s biological father.  Since Alois’s birth certificate is mute vis à vis his biological father, we may never know for certain.

It seems highly unlikely, however, that Alois’s father was one of Maria’s Jewish employers.  The legend of Maria’s employment in a Jewish household arises from the testimony of Hans Frank, Hitler’s private lawyer.  According to Frank, Hitler asked him to research Hitler’s genealogy in the 1930’s, following an alleged blackmail letter from one of Hitler’s relatives.  Frank claims to have turned up evidence that Maria Schicklgruber, Adolf’s paternal grandmother, was employed at the time of her pregnancy by Jewish household in Graz named Frankenberger.  Allegedly, the 19-year-old Leopold Frankengruber was the one who impregnated 42-year-old Maria Schicklgruber, and Alois was the result.

Historians largely discount Frank’s account of Hitler’s paternal heritage, largely because it doesn’t fit with historical facts.  Maria Schicklgruber never lived in Graz, and even if she had, the Jews had been expelled from Graz since the 15th century and would not be allowed to return until Alois was nearly 30 years old.  At no point did Hans Frank draw a connection between Maria Schicklgruber and the Rothschild family.  The Hitler-Rothschild connection is purported to have started with an Office of Strategic Services psychological evaluation of Adolf Hitler, one aimed to smear Hitler, if you believe the modern Hitler supporters.  (In general, I don’t, but I agree that the evidence for a Hitler-Rothschild connection is flimsy at best.)

So let’s summarize all the ways in which this meme goes wrong:

  1. There is no good evidence that Adolf Hitler is part of the Rothschild legacy.
  2. There is no good evidence that the Rothschild family controls or owns the U.S. Fed.
  3. In fact, the U.S. Fed was set up specifically to prevent dabbling by outside interests.
  4. There’s no good evidence that Alois Hitler was Lionel Rothschild’s son.
  5. And even if he was Lionel Rothschild’s son, he was never claimed by Rothschild.
  6. Hitler was not Alois’s mother-in-law’s maiden name; it was the surname of his adoptive (and possibly biological) father.
  7. Alois did not adopt the name Hiedler (or Hitler) until he was fully grown, and after his mother had already died.  By that point, his illegitimacy was no secret.
  8. Evelyn de Rothschild does not control the United States.
  9. I sincerely hope that none of our elected officials believe this tripe.  (Although considering some of the other things they seem to believe, it wouldn’t surprise me.)

It took a good deal of research to write this post, and that meant reading a lot of conflicting opinions.  The difficult part about researching a controversial topic is that you must always be mindful of an author’s agenda.  That’s hard work, I admit.  It’s much easier to just take the word of a meme, particularly when that meme sort of confirms something you already believe, but come on, conspiracy theorists…it’s time to wake up.

Further reading:

Struggling to Fly

If It Wasn't For Me

Really?  Personally, I would leap at the chance to live a life on Easy Street, even if it meant owing a debt of gratitude to somebody else.  Sure, it’s annoying when somebody trots out all the ways you should be grateful to them, but  you know what’s even more annoying?  Struggling to survive.

I’m going to paint you a metaphorical picture.  Your life…is an airplane.  An airplane’s purpose is to fly.  Your life’s purpose is to be successful in some way.  There are many ways to evaluate success, from the tangible (material wealth) to the abstract (self-actualization), but for now, let’s evaluate success strictly through a financial lens.  For our purpose, a person is successful when he is capable of providing for his own needs, and for the needs of his family, if he has one.  When a person can make himself and his family comfortable, without having to worry about the crucial details of survival, then that person is up and flying.

An airplane needs two things to fly: thrust and lift.  Thrust is the force that pushes the airplane forward, and lift is the upward force of the onrushing wind against the airplane’s wings.  If the airplane is incapable of producing thrust, it will not fly.  If the air is not dense enough to provide sufficient lift, the airplane will not fly.  That’s why a single-engine Cessna cannot fly into outer space; above a certain altitude, the air simply becomes too thin to provide the lift needed for the little airplane to go any higher.

In this metaphor, thrust is represented by determination and hard work.  In order for one to take wing, one must be willing and able to apply a sleeves-up nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic.  But that’s not all one needs to be successful.

Lift is represented by the support of the society in which you live.  Without social support, all your hard work and determination will be fruitless.  A man can work his fingers to the bone in pursuit of the American dream, but if there’s no social support for his advancement, he cannot rise.  A man’s success depends not only on his determination, but also on the willingness of the society in which he lives to allow it.

In the United States we tend to heroify the “self-made man” – that rugged individual who takes his fate into his own hands and claws his way up from humble beginnings to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  But the self-made man is a myth.  He is invented, like Uncle Sam, to represent what we want to be instead of what we are.  There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to the mythical icon of the self-made man, but we should be cautious not to start believing the myth.  Believing in a self-made man is like believing in an airplane that can fly on the Moon.

The self-made man exists in a vacuum, independent from social forces, but we do not.  We depend on the footholds, opportunities, and yes, handouts from our fellow humans to get where we want to be.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  Part of being successful is learning to take advantage of the opportunities that are provided to you.  And, if I may say so, it wouldn’t hurt for you to express your gratitude to the people who gave you those opportunities.  It doesn’t make you weaker or less important; it shows that you are a social creature, like us, and therefore worthy of the trust that has been given to you.

I almost hate to change tones so abruptly, but this is a perfect opportunity to discuss another social aspect that helps or hinders somebody’s prospects for success: privilege.  I know that word causes many peoples’ sphincters to tighten, and perhaps we’d like to pretend that privilege doesn’t exist.  But privilege does exist, and it’s a key determining factor in what kind of air your airplane gets to soar in.

For those of you who don’t know what privilege is all about, John Scalzi constructed an excellent role-playing video game metaphor for privilege (specifically, white heterosexual male privilege).  In Scalzi’s explanation, being a straight white male is like playing a video game on the lowest difficulty setting; it doesn’t mean you’ll win, but you will level up faster and have more opportunities opened to you with less work than somebody playing on a harder setting.

To port Scalzi’s analogy into my own, being a person of privilege (more on that in a moment) means that your airplane has nice, broad wings and that you’re flying in a dense, supportive atmosphere.  You can still crash through incautious piloting or simple bad luck, but it’s altogether less likely.  A person flying without privilege is trying to succeed in a rarefied atmosphere, like that of Mars.  He’ll have to thrust much harder just to generate the same lift.  In Scalzi’s metaphor and in mine, you don’t get to choose which airplane and in which atmosphere you fly; these variables are assigned to you at birth.

I’ve been working on a concept I call the American Star of Privilege; a tool for determining how much privilege you can expect to wield in American society.  First: simply being American gives you a slight advantage, but there are five other attributes that will give you, the citizen, a leg up on your path to success.  In no particular order, the five points of the American Star of Privilege are:

  1. Being white.
  2. Being a cis-gendered male.
  3. Being heterosexual.
  4. Being Christian.
  5. Being relatively wealthy.

If all of these points apply directly to you, then congratulations!  You occupy the pinnacle of American privilege.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing – especially not for you.  It means you won’t have to work as hard to achieve the bare minimum standard for success, and that your efforts to surpass that baseline will find more traction.

Now let’s be clear: you can still be successful even if you start out as a poor trans-gendered homosexual person of color who doesn’t believe in God, but it won’t be easy for you.  Society’s cards are already stacked against you.  You’ll have a much steeper climb to reach a place of financial comfort.  It will be harder to procure people’s trust – to get that all-important chance that is granted freely to others.  Strangely enough, if you are one of the above-described under-privileged people, and you do make it to the top, you will have come much closer to achieving the mythical status of “self-made [insert preferred gender identifier]” than the person who made this meme could ever hope to.