Would Someone Please Send Captain Picard to Darfur

The situation in Darfur notably worsened yesterday. In response to the International Criminal Court issuing an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes, the Sudanese government quickly moved to expel thirteen humanitarian groups serving over a million displaced people in Darfur. While leaders at the UN and Secretary Clinton  have been vocal in condemning al-Bashir, most of the American left has been strangely silent.

After Obama’s victory in November, optimism flourished at the UN and in diplomatic circles that the United States would reclaim a leading role in multinational organizations. One of the chief criticisms of George W. Bush’s presidency was the United States' failure to work with international bodies like the UN and the ICC in shaping world policy. Even W’s old man took his son to task on this. With the ICC’s indictment of al-Bashir and recent developments in the ongoing tribunals to prosecute war crimes in the Balkans, the moment would seem to be ripe for a renewed debate on the United States' future involvement in international organizations and world governance.  

This discussion has yet to take place. While there has been some movement on Sudan, leading progressive and radical journals remain silent on the al-Bashir indictment and what the Obama administration can and should do in terms of the ICC and the UN. While celebrities have attempted to stir American opinion on Darfur, it is discouraging to see well-established periodicals miss the bigger question--what is the United States' role in the international community in the 21st century?

Support for a strong framework to craft and enforce international law has never been strong in the United States despite the occasional expansive politician, rousing bestseller and iconic intellectual supporting it. NGO's and activists push for a stronger American commitment to support cohesive global governance, but for the most part, they remain on the fringes of power with little real clout. One notable exception is Strobe Talbott, former Deputy Secretary of State under Clinton, and long-time advocate of world federalism. While, Talbott recently wrote a book on the history of international governance, he has not been particularly vocal on the Darfur issue or re-evaluating the American role in the world. Instead, he has focused on pontificating on relations with Russia and advising Secretary Clinton.

So supporters of a stronger American commitment to international law and global governance are left once again with a missed opportunity, just like at the end of World War I with the Senate’s rejection of the League of Nations; just like after World War II when the nascent Cold War shattered any possibility of a stronger UN; and just like after 9/11 when the need for international action against terrorists was never more apparent.

At least we have the celebrity-humanitarians. If American attitudes on global federalism are going to change, it will be the result of cultural factors, not political ones. Strobe Talbott was my commencement speaker when I graduated from college in 1996. I can’t remember a thing he said, but I can remember almost every single episode of the television series that introduced me to the concept of international cooperation. Where's Captain Picard when you need him?

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

  • 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.

How humans evolved to live in the cold

Humans evolved to live in the cold through a number of environmental and genetic factors.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Surprising Science
  • According to some relatively new research, many of our early human cousins preceded Homo sapien migrations north by hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.
  • Cross-breeding with other ancient hominids gave some subsets of human population the genes to contend and thrive in colder and harsher climates.
  • Behavioral and dietary changes also helped humans adapt to cold climates.
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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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