"Half Dome Ropes" by Daniel Schwen is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

This past year marked the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS). Created in 1916, the NPS has had a long standing tradition of stewardship that has preserved many of America’s most beautiful areas from the threats of manifest destiny and American exceptionalism. However, the NPS must now deal with a new threat presented through overcrowding and the environmentally degrading practices that come with it. Taken to the extreme through the example of Zion National Park, where rising crowds resulted in six million people visiting the six-mile-long stretch of canyon last year, can result in major infrastructure changes to mitigate the anthropogenic effects.

"Donald Trump" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

President Donald Trump’s foreign policy has been labeled everything from isolationist to realist and everything in between. In maneuvering through the clues of policy that Trump has left us throughout his campaign and his presidency, a common thread can be found. This metaphorical thread is in some ways revolutionary — not necessarily in its existence, but rather in its blatant acknowledgement in recent mainstream American politics. This overarching theme is as harrowing as it is simplistic: American nationalism. Trump has centered his interactions with the outside world around the idea that Americans are the best, must be respected, are superior, and deserve more than their foreign counterparts — solely because of the land they happened to be born on.

"Hollywood" by Shinya Suzuki is licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-ND 2.0 (via Flickr)

Recently, we have seen some upward changes to the Hollywood film industry. For example, six Black actors from four movies were nominated for this year’s Oscar awards, unlike the past two #OscarsSoWhite years. These nominated movies are about, directed by and/or starred by Black people. The 68th Emmy Awards nominees and winners are also a diverse group of actors and actresses. But has the industry really become more inclusive?

Screen Capture of "Arrival Trailer (2016) by Paramount Pictures (via Youtube)

Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for Arrival and Passengers.

If you were to see your life unfold ahead of you, with all of the triumphs but interspersed with the tragedies in all of their grittiness and grief, would you choose to experience it, in all of that detail? Not just in spite of the inconveniences and harms, not full of regrets, but could you wholeheartedly say “Yes!” to the life that will be, or has been, yours?

"Buddha" by Francis Chung via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In the beginning weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency, people of all faiths all over the world are asking the question, “How should our faith respond?” Buddhists are no exception to this. With important religious precepts centered on nonviolence and compassion, Buddhists are asking how they can apply their code of ethics to help those in need. Unique from other religions like Christianity and Islam, Buddhist texts and teachings make little reference to organized political or social activism. However, past historical figures like Mahatma Gandhi have used Buddhist precepts to dramatically change society. Gandhi used the profound principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence, to dismantle the British occupation of India. Once again, a turn to Buddhist principles is needed to encourage compassion in the unfolding months ahead.

"Kremlin" by Larry Koester is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)

Within every state, leaders strive to find a perfect equilibrium between individual liberty and the state’s responsibility to protect its people. The balance found, however, is often based on the ideals of the system of government in place. Finding this balance is complex enough on its own, and becomes far more complex when one considers the corruption of Russia’s government and the KGB officer-turned-president, Vladimir  PutinRussia’s recent decision to pass a bill to decriminalize domestic violence, then, has many wondering what the true motives of this bill are. Does the government believe it to be in the nation’s best interest, or was it passed to alleviate financial burdens and reinforce gender inequality and the old Russian proverb, “if he beats you it means he loves you?” It is also important to consider that even if the government believes it is in the state’s best interest, does it have a responsibility to protect and punish violent actions taken inside families, or is it acceptable to allow families individual liberty to make their own judgment calls?

"IMG_3897" by Andy Cook is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (via Flickr)

Last week, Democrats in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee sat out Scott Pruitt’s confirmation vote. Pruitt had been nominated by President Trump as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and was heavily criticized for his history of accepting money from anti-environmental interest groups. Though this was heralded as a virtuous political statement, the Republicans on the committee managed to approve the vote by changing the rules of Senate appointments. Though many environmentalists see this appointment as the end of the EPA as we know it, the appointment of Scott Pruitt is not the most serious threat to the EPA. Florida Representative Matt Gaetz recently introduced H.R. 861, which has the sole purpose “To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency.” Though many might consider nominating a man with no scientific background and conflicts of interest to head the EPA as unethical, what are the ethics of completely disbanding the Environmental Protection Agency as a whole?

"IBM Blue Gene P Supercomputer" by Argonne National Laboratory is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Twenty-one years ago (February 10, 1996), Deep Blue, an IBM Supercomputer, defeated Russian Grand Master Gary Kasparov in a game of chess. Kasparov ultimately won the overall match, but a rematch in May of 1997 went to Deep Blue. About six years ago (February 14-15, 2011), another IBM creation named Watson defeated Champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in televised Jeopardy! matches.

The capabilities of computers continue to expand dramatically and surpass human intelligence in certain specific tasks, and it is possible that computing power may develop in the next several decades to match human capacities in areas of emotional intelligence, autonomous decision making and artistic imagination. When machines achieve cognitive capacities that make them resemble humans as thinking, feeling beings, ought we to accord them legal rights? What about moral rights?

"US Secret Service" by Andre Gustavo Stumpf is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)

Though it is still early in President Donald Trump’s term, the Secret Service seems to be getting more media attention than usual lately. The Secret Service always works diligently to protect the President’s family, but the Trumps have provided an extra challenge. For starters, President Trump has a large family – five children – and some of his adult children already have their own children who also require Secret Service protection. According to NBC, President Trump’s intention to regularly visit the First Lady and their son, Barron, at their New York City home also requires additional staffers to travel and secure both locations. Even before taking office, taxpayers were paying more than $2 million per day to ensure the safety of the Trump family, and that number is only expected to rise throughout his term in office. This could be a major problem, because, although protective needs are rising, the Secret Service budget is not.

"Monumento a la Federacion Venezolana I" by Rjcastillo is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Last week, Venezuela’s government honored the 200th anniversary of Ezequiel Zamora’s birth, in national celebrations. According to the official leftist party line, Zamora was a national hero that led guerrilla warfare against Venezuela’s corrupt governments in the mid-nineteenth century. Hugo Chavez’s political ideology was founded on the so-called “tree of three roots” (árbol de las tres racíces): Simon Bolivar, Simon Rodriguez and Ezequiel Zamora.

Bolivar and Rodriguez are heroes universally admired and respected by Venezuelans throughout the political spectrum. Zamora, on the other hand, is a much more divisive figure. According to historical revisionists, Zamora is no hero.