Who Exactly Can the President Pardon?

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In early 2016, shortly after the docuseries Making a Murderer premiered on Netflix, more than 100,000 signed a WhiteHouse.gov petition urging then-President Obama to pardon the series' subjects, Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, who were convicted in 2007 for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. The hit series raised serious questions not just about how the police department handled the case—Avery, who had spent 18 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, was suing Wisconsin's Manitowoc County for $36 million at the time of his arrest for Halbach's murder and insisted he had been framed—but also about how our justice system works. 

Avery received a life sentence without the possibility of parole; Dassey, who was 17 at the time of his conviction, was also given a life sentence. (That sentence was overturned in August 2016, but his case is now with the Supreme Court.)

“There is clear evidence that the Manitowoc County sheriff's department used improper methods to convict both Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey,” the body of the petition stated, adding, “the justice system embarrassingly failed both men, completely ruining their entire lives.”

As the White House is required to respond to any petition with more than 100,000 signatures, they issued a statement, explaining that the Constitution does not grant the President power to pardon men and women convicted under state law:

“Under the Constitution, only federal criminal convictions, such as those adjudicated in the United States District Courts, may be pardoned by the President … However, the President cannot pardon a state criminal offense.

Since Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are both state prisoners, the President cannot pardon them. A pardon in this case would need to be issued at the state level by the appropriate authorities.”

The full language of the Constitution (Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1) reads:

"The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment."

Tens of thousands of federal prisoners have been pardoned, granted clemency, or had their sentences commuted. George Washington pardoned the instigators of the Whiskey Rebellion. Andrew Johnson pardoned a slew of Confederate soldiers after the Civil War, as did Ulysses S. Grant (who gave amnesty to Confederate leaders). Gerald Ford granted a full, unconditional pardon to Richard Nixon just one month after Nixon resigned in 1974, saving the former president from any and all imminent indictments. Only two presidents failed to give a single pardon: William Henry Harrison and James Garfield, who both died early in their first terms and didn’t get the chance.

In 1830, convicted robber George Wilson was pardoned by President Andrew Jackson. Wilson refused the pardon, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. He was permitted refusal, and eventually hanged for his crimes. However, a Supreme Court decision in 1927 reversed that original decision, ruling that a pardon is "not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power,” but rather “the determination of the ultimate authority that the public welfare will be better served by inflicting less than what the judgment fixed." Therefore, no take-backs.

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What Would Happen If a Plane Flew Too High?

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Tom Farrier:

People have done this, and they have died doing it. For example, in October 2004, the crew of Pinnacle Airlines 3701 [PDF]  was taking their aircraft from one airport to another without passengers—a so-called "repositioning" flight.

They were supposed to fly at 33,000 feet, but instead requested and climbed to 41,000 feet, which was the maximum altitude at which the aircraft was supposed to be able to be flown. Both engines failed, the crew couldn't get them restarted, and the aircraft crashed and was destroyed.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable causes of this accident were: (1) the pilots’ unprofessional behavior, deviation from standard operating procedures, and poor airmanship, which resulted in an in-flight emergency from which they were unable to recover, in part because of the pilots’ inadequate training; (2) the pilots’ failure to prepare for an emergency landing in a timely manner, including communicating with air traffic controllers immediately after the emergency about the loss of both engines and the availability of landing sites; and (3) the pilots’ improper management of the double engine failure checklist, which allowed the engine cores to stop rotating and resulted in the core lock engine condition.

Contributing to this accident were: (1) the core lock engine condition, which prevented at least one engine from being restarted, and (2) the airplane flight manuals that did not communicate to pilots the importance of maintaining a minimum airspeed to keep the engine cores rotating.

Accidents also happen when the "density altitude"—a combination of the temperature and atmospheric pressure at a given location—is too high. At high altitude on a hot day, some types of aircraft simply can't climb. They might get off the ground after attempting a takeoff, but then they can't gain altitude and they crash because they run out of room in front of them or because they try to turn back to the airport and stall the aircraft in doing so. An example of this scenario is described in WPR12LA283.

There's a helicopter version of this problem as well. Helicopter crews calculate the "power available" at a given pressure altitude and temperature, and then compare that to the "power required" under those same conditions. The latter are different for hovering "in ground effect" (IGE, with the benefit of a level surface against which their rotor system can push) and "out of ground effect" (OGE, where the rotor system supports the full weight of the aircraft).

It's kind of unnerving to take off from, say, a helipad on top of a building and go from hovering in ground effect and moving forward to suddenly find yourself in an OGE situation, not having enough power to keep hovering as you slide out over the edge of the roof. This is why helicopter pilots always will establish a positive rate of climb from such environments as quickly as possible—when you get moving forward at around 15 to 20 knots, the movement of air through the rotor system provides some extra ("translational") lift.

It also feels ugly to drop below that translational lift airspeed too high above the surface and abruptly be in a power deficit situation—maybe you have IGE power, but you don't have OGE power. In such cases, you may not have enough power to cushion your landing as you don't so much fly as plummet. (Any Monty Python fans?)

Finally, for some insight into the pure aerodynamics at play when airplanes fly too high, I'd recommend reading the responses to "What happens to aircraft that depart controlled flight at the coffin corner?"

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Why Are Some Men's Beards a Different Color Than Their Hair?

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Throughout civilization, beards have acted as a silent communicator. For some, it's a symbol of virility and power. For others, being hirsute is mandated by religion, marital status, or both. (Amish single men are clean-shaven; husbands are not.) Seeing an unkempt, scraggly beard could be an indication of a person's economic status or their lack of vanity. One man, Hans Langseth, sprouted a 17-foot-long chin warmer for the unique identity it afforded him. (He kept it neatly rolled over a corn cob when he wasn't busy showing it off.)

Langseth's whiskers, which wound up in the Smithsonian, present a curious timeline of his life. The furthest end of the beard was a vibrant brown, grown out when he was younger. The ends closer to his face—and to the end of his life in 1927—were yellowed.

While age can certainly influence hair and beard color, it doesn't explain why a younger man can sport a decidedly different beard tone than what's on the rest of his head. Other follicular forces are at work.

By default, scalp hair is white. It gets its color from melanin, turning it everything from jet black to dirty blonde. Pheomelanin infuses hair with red and yellow pigmentation; eumelanin influences brown and black. Like shades of paint, the two can mix within the same hair shaft. (Melanin production decreases as we age, which is why hairs start to appear gray.) But not all follicles get the same dose in the same combination. While you might sport a light brown top, your beard could be predominantly dark brown, or sport patches of lighter hairs in spots. Eyebrow hair will probably appear darker because those follicles tend to produce more eumelanin.

If you're wondering why these two-toned heads often have a red beard but not red hair, there's an answer for that, too. While all hair color is genetic, one gene in particular, MC1R, is responsible for a red hue. If you inherit a mutated version of the gene from both parents, you're likely to have red hair from head to toe. (Hopefully not too much toe hair.) But if you inherit MC1R from just one parent, it might only affect a portion of your follicles. If that swatch of color annoys you for whatever reason? There’s always beard dye.

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