Like an unlocked museum, national parks have been left largely defenseless during the most recent government shutdown, allowing scoundrels and cheats to tramp over unstaffed lands. While much of the federal government is funded during the longest-ever shutdown, the national parks aren't. Yet in late 2018, the Trump administration made the unusual — and possibly illegal — decision to keep many of the nation's crown jewels operating with skeleton crews. Destruction, mounds of litter, and vandalism have ensued. This unsavory form of recreation has been especially stark in Joshua Tree National Park, where people cut through locked gates, created roads on protected wild land, and may have committed a bona fide desert sin: chopping down a Joshua Tree. But why would anyone exploit such vulnerable national resources for selfish motives, faux perceptions of power, or bizarre satisfaction? "It's not only that they knew they wouldn’t get caught, but they take delight in the destruction of the place," says Aaron James, a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Irvine and author of the book Assholes: A Theory. James does note that it's unknown who exactly drove into Joshua Tree, chose to deface the park and plop their tents down on long-protected land. But there's potential, he says, that some of the culprits were younger. "Maybe they’re just teenagers going through an asshole phase," said James."You don’t know if they're proper assholes." Piles of broken sleds, smoldering fires left unattended, overflowing bathrooms. This is what I saw today at @USFSLassen's Eskimo Pass snow play area. Booze everywhere in spite of the many neon "alcohol prohibited" signs. Shameful disregard for our #publiclands. #ShutdownStories pic.twitter.com/5g7OzMCVrg — Public Land Lover (@publiclandlvr) December 31, 2018 What makes an asshole? From James' studies on the topic, they are rational adults who allow themselves to "enjoy special advantages in social relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes [them] against the complaints of other people." This stubborn subset of people may be resistant to changing their ingrained, entitled behavior. "If they really are a full-fledged asshole, there’s not too much hope," says James. "It's a fundamental split in the philosophy of people," says Christoph Adami, a professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at Michigan State University who conducted research illustrating that selfish behavior among humans is not evolutionarily sustainable, but rather a long-term detriment. Despite that, people act selfishly. This is because, in the short term, selfishness can be a valuable tactic. It could mean getting to off-road and camp in forbidden places or the visceral anti-regulation joy of "sticking it to rule government." Beyond parks, it could mean reaping big financial gain, at the expense of others. "The selfish strategy will win over the short-term," said Adami. "Absent certain forms of punishment, this is the rational and correct strategy." During the shutdown, with Joshua Tree National Park open but no staff on duty, visitors cut down Joshua trees so they could drive into sensitive areas where vehicles are banned."We had some pretty extensive four-wheel driving." https://t.co/EbSB4bF8hK pic.twitter.com/8kVFClVqxZ — John Upton (@johnupton) January 10, 2019 Selfish behavior eventually loses out to longer-term cooperation, emphasizes Adami. Yet, punishment is the only thing that will stop a certain subset of people who cheat the system. "If cheaters aren't being punished, they ruin it for everybody," says Adami. But in shutdown-vulnerable national parks with few rangers, people recognize that they either won't be punished for acting selfishly, or they won't be caught. And in today's polarized-America, this behavior is further stoked by political passions. "A larger political environment can encourage assholery," notes James. Take the anti-government sentiment that's wafting through the country. "The mistreating, exploiting, and vandalizing of national parks during the government shutdown is of a piece with the anti-government sentiment that helped propel the election of Donald Trump as president," says Richard Grusin, the director of the Center for 21st Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "It seems like they are attacking nature, but they are attacking an ideology of government," adds Grusin, the author of "Culture, Technology, and the Creation of America's National Parks." SEE ALSO: Antarctica’s once sleepy ice sheets have awoken. That's bad. National parks, places for all Americans, "grew out of an expression of socialism, or democratic socialism," explains Grusin. These were grand parks for everyone. "Public use and recreation was more important than private profit and development." But the Trump administration has successfully reversed course. They are actively promoting development at the expense of protected lands. And Grusin suspects Trump's base is feeding off the same anti-government, anti-regulation sentiments. He cites the Bundy ranchers armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge visitor center in 2016. "You have a kind of radical antigovernment individualism," says Grusin. Adami, who suspects that most of the national park vandals are Trump supporters, likens the issue to the public's perception of global warming: One in three Americans don't accept government scientists' repeated warnings about the detrimental societal consequences of a globally disrupted climate. "They don't really care," Adami says, noting that they take a purposefully contrarian attitude. "This type of 'I don’t care about others' attitude is the type being promulgated by this [Trumpian] politics." "Leaving the parks open without these essential staff is equivalent to leaving the Smithsonian museums open without any staff to protect the priceless artifacts," Jon Jarvis, former director of the National Park Service. https://t.co/A3sW0g8FiN — Grand Canyon News (@GCanyonNews) January 11, 2019 It's unknown what percentage of the U.S. population fits James' "asshole" designation, or Adami's natural born "cheater" classification. Regardless, the largely unwatched national parks have enabled them. "This opens the floodgates for a small percentage of people," says Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham's School of Public Health. This selfish or destructive behavior is a release from their primal instincts, the "Id" or impulsive, biological parts of our personality, as Freud described it, notes Klapow. In the case of national parks, it's allowed this unpleasant, illegal behavior to emerge even though the perpetrators know it's wrong. It's animalistic. "It's our less civilized selves," says Klapow. To guard against uncivil behavior or persons, the future of the parks is heavily dependent upon the the continued watchful eyes the people who are invested in conservation, like park rangers and staff. Jon Jarvis, the former chief of the Park Service, has emphasized that the parks shouldn't be open at all during a shutdown — in part because of bad actors. "The existence of a punishing body is absolutely essential," says Adami. But there hasn't been enough park staff around to stop them. "They feel licensed to do it," says James. WATCH: Ever wonder how the universe might end?
Relativity Space, the California-based rocket startup that got its start in Seattle, has won Air Force clearance to build its Florida launch facility on a site that saw service during NASA's Apollo and Gemini programs in the 1960s. The lease agreement gives Relativity Space exclusive use of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 16 — which was first used for Titan missile launches, and then for Gemini crew processing and static firing tests of the Apollo service module's propulsion engine under NASA's supervision. After Apollo, the site was returned to the Air Force and used for test-firing Pershing ballistic missiles.… Read More
Amazon’s annual invitation-only event on machine learning, automation, robotics and space — known as Mars — has become a high-tech highlight for insiders, featuring billionaire founder and CEO Jeff Bezos riding a giant robot or walking a robot dog. Now a wider circle of tech leaders can get in on a spin-off experience called re:MARS, which is due to make its debut June 4-7 at the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The event will shine a spotlight on the leading lights and cutting-edge advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning, Amazon said today in a blog posting. “We’re at the… Read More
On Sunday night, there's set to be a rare "super blood wolf moon " from 9:36 p.m. EST to 12:31 a.m. EST. Despite the werewolf undertones of its name, a "super blood wolf moon" is not as spooky as it sounds. Really, a "super blood wolf moon" is just a lunar eclipse that occurs on the first full moon of the year — but it's still a powerful, transformative time.
President Donald Trump will unveil a review of US missile defense capabilities Thursday that aims to counter threats from North Korea and Iran while adapting to ever more sophisticated weapon systems being developed by Russia and China. Top among the concerns highlighted by the Missile Defense Review is the speed at which rivals, particularly Beijing and Moscow, are pushing ahead with new technologies such as hypersonic missiles that can thwart traditional defense systems. As a result, the Pentagon is urgently looking at ways to enhance its ability to track hypersonic missiles, primarily by using existing sensors that are deployed in space.
Both the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement which controls Hodeidah, and the Saudi-led coalition that has massed troops on its outskirts, accused one another of opening fire on the convoy of retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert. "Patrick Cammaert and team are safe in Hodeidah following reported shooting incident. More information to come later," the office of the spokesperson for the U.N. chief tweeted.
The Brazilian model replied to criticism from Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias by arguing that despite the existence of preserved areas, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is on the rise. The letter, seen by Reuters on Thursday, challenged Dias to show progress toward sustainability, saying, "I will be very happy to announce positive actions that are taken in this direction." Dias had criticized Bundchen on a radio program on Monday for "saying bad things about Brazil without knowledge of the facts," and calling the country a deforester. Dias said the model should instead be highlighting achievements in preservation.
Gabon President Ali Bongo returned to medical leave in Morocco on Tuesday, a government source said, after a brief visit to Libreville where he appeared in a wheelchair on state TV following his stroke last year. Since Bongo fell ill in Saudi Arabia on Oct. 24, contradictory information on the state of his health and an extended convalescence in Morocco has fueled instability back in Gabon, where his family has ruled for over 50 years. In an apparent effort to shore up his political base after a failed coup attempt, Bongo flew back to Gabon on Monday to swear in a new government.
New US research has found a link between dichlorophenols (DCPs), chemicals commonly found in a variety of common everyday products, and a higher risk of cancer and heart disease. Carried out by researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, the new study looked at 3,617 participants who had taken part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a program of the National Center for Health Statistics at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The participants self-reported their history of illness and provided urine samples for analysis so the researchers could estimate their exposure to two types of DCPs, 2,5-DCP and 2,4-DCP.
When Mike Poben, an opal buyer and and fossil fanatic, bought a bucket of opal from an Australian mine, he was surprised to find to find what looked like an ancient tooth in the pile. Later, he also found a fossilized jaw piece -- one that was shiny and glistening with opal. After showing the two opalized specimens to paleontologists in 2014, Poben learned that they were part of a previously unknown dog-size dinosaur species, a new study finds. This dino lived about 100 million years ago in Australia, back when the landscape was lush and dotted with lakes. [Photos: Meet Wade, the Long-Necked Dinosaur from Down Under] The fossils originally came from a mine in Wee Warra, near the town of Lightning Ridge in New South Wales. The mine's amazing name gave the paleontologists an opportunity that was too good to pass up, so they named the newfound Cretaceous-age dinosaur Weewarrasaurus pobeni. "Weewarrasaurus was a gentle herbivore about the size of a kelpie dog [a type of Australian herding dog]," said study lead researcher Phil Bell, a senior lecturer of paleontology at the University of New England in Australia. "They got around on two legs and had a long tail used for balance. Because they were small and didn't have horns or particularly sharp claws for defense, they were probably quite timid and would have traveled in small herds or family units for protection." In that sense, these dinosaurs were likely the kangaroos of Cretaceous Australia, Bell told Live Science. "I think I would have liked one as a pet." Opals glisten on the jaw fossils of Weewarrasaurus pobeni. Robert A. Smith, courtesy of the Australian Opal Centre The finding is remarkable, and not just because Poben happened across the fossils in an opal-filled bucket. It's extremely rare to find opalized fossils in general, though "Lightning Ridge is the only place in the world where you find opalized dinosaurs," Bell said. During the Cretaceous, Lightning Ridge was a flood plain where dinosaurs lived, Bell said. Most of the opalized fossils found there came from marine creatures that lived in a nearby ancient sea. These iridescent fossils include shells, cephalopods known as belemnites and marine reptiles called plesiosaurs. But sometimes, an opalized dinosaur is also uncovered. "Occasionally, a bone from a land animal, like a dinosaur, would wash out to sea" and fossilize, Bell said. There, they may encounter silica minerals in the water, the solution that makes opal. Sometimes when these bones fossilized into rock, these minerals would accumulate in in the fossils' cavities, laying down opal. Other times, if the organic bone was still present, these silica minerals could take its shape, preserving its internal structure as opal, according to Geology In, a news site focused on Earth sciences. Unfortunately, the rest of W. pobeni, at least this particular specimen, is likely lost and gone forever. "Because these things are exhumed by opal miners, lots of other information is often lost, like their exact position in the mine and any other fossils that were found around it," Bell said. "We know of plenty of cases where a miner has brought up a handful of bones from a single animal. The rest of the thing might have been destroyed in the mining process or sitting in a waste pile at the bottom of the mine." Poben has since donated the fossils to the Australian Opal Centre, a museum that holds the world's largest collection of opalized fossils, according to National Geographic. The study was published online in December in the journal PeerJ. * Images: Denali National Park's Amazing Dinosaur Tracks * Photos: New Triceratops Cousin Unearthed * Photos of Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs Originally published on Live Science.