Department Of Justice Will Investigate Trayvon Martin Killing

Trayvon Martin, from the evidence we can see so far, was not guilty of anything more than being an aimless child on his way home. His death at the hands of George Zimmerman, neighborhood watch captain for a Stanford Florida subdivision was tragic, but the resulting investigation of the shooting by local police would be considered a criminal offense but for the Florida “stand your ground” law. For U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to greenlight federal intervention by his agency, the Department of Justice, to perform an independent  investigation of the Stanford police department's actions in an election year environment as contentious as this one has become in and of itself an act of bravery.  

But in a case where the shooter, George Zimmerman, has fallen into a new category of American citizen, this special new class of self-deputized lethal assailant who is not processed afterwards as a civilian shooter nor is required to undergo the kind of post shooting procedures that are standard protocol for law enforcement officers who discharge their weapons, any effort to properly investigate this incident begins at a serious disadvantage.

Numerous cases have set the precedent in Florida, with the courts arguing that the law "does not require defendant to prove self-defense to any standard measuring assurance of truth, exigency, near certainty, or even mere probability; defendant's only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable." When a defendant claims self-defense, "the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense." In other words the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt never shifts from the prosecution, so it's surprisingly easy to evade prosecution by claiming self-defense.

The Trayvon Martin Killing, Explained

The likelihood of the Department of Justice or the FBI uncovering enough new evidence to get George Zimmerman to stand trial for this shooting is very slim. From a political calculus standpoint, this is a no-win situation for Holder, and by extension, the Obama Administration.

“It is the right thing to do”,however, as President Obama is fond of saying, and will no doubt be acknowledging about this particular investigation at some future press conference. 

The Trayvon Martin story has been percolating at full boil among the African American end of the blogosphere for the last two weeks, an intraracial protest over the killing of an unarmed African American teenaged boy that has been every bit as prominent among my Twitter timeline as the never ending “Stop Kony” tweets. And until I remembered the real-life incident I experienced a few years ago in the next paragraph, I didn’t know if I had anything worthwhile to say about it.

I’ll never forget the time back in 2008, when I was a mortgage loan officer, when a black male co-worker of mine and I were in the office late. One of our co-workers, a middle aged white woman, stuck her head around the corner of my cubicle, and asked us if anyone else was still in the office. My black co-worker, who had grown up in Alabama, immediately scooted over to his desk, picked up his portfolio and said he was leaving. I followed him out into the lobby. “Hey man” I said, “I thought you had a couple more calls to make tonight.”

He looked at me, his eyes large and serious. “They can wait until tomorrow.”

“I thought you were trying to get those loans closed this month?”

It was his answer that flabbergasted me.

“Man, I’m not going to be in no office alone with no white women.”

“Dude, this is 2008. Are you serious?”

“My momma told me don’t put myself in no situation like that.”

Right off the bat, I was angry that a thirty five year old black man with two college degrees could even begin to believe that two black guys working late with white women co-workers in a business that traditionally kept late hours was problematic. But as I thought about it longer, I had to admit to myself that whether our tutelage was overt or subtle, practically all of us African American males over a certain age had been taught by our parents to beware of getting involved in interracial situations that put us at risk of being considered criminals.

After recalling this incident, a few questions came to mind.

At what point does the responsibility of African American parents to protect their children from the dangers of being stereotyped end and the rest of American society’s duty to see them as human beings who are as precious as their own children begin?    

If the incarceration rate among young African American males were to drop by 50%, would the average American’s perception of young black men become more positive? 

Are gun cultures the psychosomatic response of societies in which a sense of psychological impotence is rampant?

If the racial frame could be removed from this incident, would our news media have been willing to make the death of Trayvon Martin as much of a national story as the death of Caylee Anthony?

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we mine on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

Surprising Science
  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.

Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

Harvard scientists suggest 'Oumuamua is an alien device

It's an asteroid, it's a comet, it's actually a spacecraft?

(ESO/M. Kornmesser)
Surprising Science
  • 'Oumuamua is an oddly shaped, puzzling celestial object because it doesn't act like anything naturally occurring.
  • The issue? The unexpected way it accelerated near the Sun. Is this our first sign of extraterrestrials?
  • It's pronounced: oh MOO-uh MOO-uh.
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Study: The effects of online trolling on authors, publications

A study started out trying to see the effect of sexist attacks on women authors, but it found something deeper.

Surprising Science
  • It's well known that abusive comments online happen to women more than men
  • Such comments caused a "significant effect for the abusive comment on author credibility and intention to seek news from the author and outlet in the future"
  • Some news organizations already heavily moderate or even ban comments entirely; this should underscore that effort
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