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Between andthousands of African American men, women and children were victims of lynchings: public torture and killings carried out by white mobs.

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Between andthousands of African American men, women and children were victims of cybef public torture and killings carried out by white mobs. Lynchings were used to terrorize and control black people, notably in the South following the end of slavery. Until now. In December of the same year, the U.

Senate unanimously passed a bill that defined lynching as a federal crime. More recently, in Aprilthe state of Maryland established a truth commission to investigate the lynchings of at least 40 African Americans between and The commission has the potential to educate the public about dozens of lynchings — some of which occurred with the knowledge or direct involvement of local, county and state government entities.

The commission can also provide the opportunity for reconciliation between the families of those who were responsible and the families of those who were killed. Can it live up to its promise?

Truth commissions around the worldI study human rights, with a particular interest in institutions that hold individuals, organizations and governments able for human rights abuses. My current research focuses on truth commissions and how they can be deed to be effective. A truth commission is a temporary body that investigates different forms and systems of violence that happened in the past.

Examples include the commissions that investigated apartheid in South Africa, the civil war in Timor-Leste and the dictatorship in Chile. Generally, governments establish commissions to examine documents and collect witness testimony. A key goal of commissions is preparing a report that details the facts and traces the legacies of violence and abuse.

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A second, related goal is reconciliation. Based on my research and analyses of truth commissions in Chile, South Africa and Timor-Leste, I believe that the commission in Maryland has the potential to succeed. But it faces some big obstacles. In addition, there have been commissions at the local level — for example, the commission in North Carolina that examined the killing of five anti-Ku Klux Klan demonstrators in Greensboro in There have also been commissions at the state level — for example the commission in Maine that springss the separation of indigenous Wabanaki children from their communities since However, the commission in Maryland will be the first to research lynchings, which investigative journalist Ida B.

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Wells in called the U. I have found in my research that a commission needs support from politicians, access to information, slrings community knowledge and involvement. It appears that the commission in Maryland has — or will have — each of these characteristics. In this regard, it is similar to successful commissions.

First, similar to South Africa, the commission has support from politicians on both sides of the aisle — in this case, Democrats and Republicans. Bipartisan support affords the commission public legitimacy as it seeks access to court records, historical archives, and local and statewide newspapers. Second, as in Timor-Leste, where the commission held hearings in the villages where violence occurred, the commission in Maryland will hold hearings across the state, including in communities where lynchings occurred.

Collecting information from as many sources as possible is important to ascertaining the truth. In addition, the commission will be well positioned to broadly share its work and findings, through the hearings themselves, local news reporting and more. This is key to both truth and reconciliation.

Getting families and the wider community involved in this aspect can help provide healing and closure. For more than a century, the pain and trauma they experienced went unacknowledged. Now, not only does Maryland have the potential to address this pain and trauma, it has the opportunity to memorialize the lynchings so others, too, can know what happened. Obstacles to truth and reconciliationThere are, I believe, obstacles that may prevent the commission from accomplishing all of its goals.

Lynchings represent just one form — the most extreme form — of race-based discrimination sfates violence. Other forms — which persist today — include the over-policing, over-criminalization, and mass incarceration of African Americans. Finally, the commission has been created in a fraught social and political environment.

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sptings Hate crimes have increased in recent years throughout the U. Some elected officials have trivialized racial violence — including lynchings. And some race-focused policies, such as reparations, are widely unpopular among Americans. So, while the commission benefits from broad support from government leaders in Maryland, it may not enjoy similar support from the public. Whether the obstacles I describe will overcome the strengths of the commission remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the commission represents an important first step, and offers a guide for similar efforts in other states.

Bright stars top Christmas trees in Christian homes around much of the world. Puzzles for astronomyTo understand the Star of Bethlehem, we need to think like the three wise men. We also need to think like King Herod, who asked the wise men when the star had appeared, because he and his court, apparently, were unaware of any such star in the sky. The astronomer in me knows that no star can do these things, nor can a comet, or Jupiter, or a supernova, or a conjunction of planets or any other actual bright object in the nighttime sky.

The answer, amazingly, is yes.

It described, very specifically, a planet that would rise above the eastern horizon just before the sun would appear. Then, just moments after the planet rises, it disappears in the bright glare of the sun in the morning sky. In a human lifetime, virtually all the stars remain fixed in their places; the stars rise and set every night, but they do not move relative to each other.

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The stars in the Big Dipper appear year after year always in the same place. Though the planets, sun and moon move along approximately the same path through the background stars, they travel at different speeds, so they often lap each other. And now we need a little bit of astrology background. A heliacal rising, that special first reappearance of a planet, is what en te anatole referred to in ancient Greek astrology. In particular, the reappearance of a planet like Jupiter was thought by Greek astrologers to be symbolically ificant for anyone born on that day.

It refers to a particular moment when a planet stops moving and changes apparent direction from westward to eastward motion.

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This occurs when the Earth, which orbits the sun more quickly than Mars or Jupiter or Saturn, catches up with, or laps, the other planet. Together, a rare combination of astrological events the right planet rising before the sun; the sun being in the right constellation of the zodiac; cybed a of other combinations of planetary positions considered important by astrologers would have suggested to ancient Greek astrologers a regal horoscope unitec a royal birth.

Wise men looking to the skiesMolnar believes that the wise men were, in fact, very wise and mathematically adept astrologers.

They also knew about the Old Testament prophecy that a new king would be statea of the family of David. Most likely, they had been watching the heavens for years, waiting for lrotz that would foretell the birth of this king. When they identified a powerful set of astrological portents, they decided the time was right to set out to find the prophesied leader. After all, the baby was already eight months old by the time they decoded the astrological message they believed predicted the birth of a future king.

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The portent began on April 17 of 6 BC with the heliacal rising of Jupiter that morning, followed, at noon, by its lunar occultation in the constellation Aries and lasted until December 19 of 6 BC when Jupiter stopped moving to the west, stood still briefly, and began moving to the east, as compared with the fixed background stars. By the cber time the men could have arrived in Bethlehem, the baby Jesus would likely have sptings at least a toddler. Matthew wrote to convince his readers that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah.

Given the astrological clues embedded in his gospel, he must have believed the story cyer the Star of Bethlehem would be convincing evidence for many in his audience. This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts.