The Island of Dr. Moreau

Chihuahua (Canis familiaris) two puppies nuzzling

As I am writing this post, a Chihuahua is barking between my legs at a fly which is buzzing around the living room. My dog is far from the sharpest tool in the shed, and most would compare his intelligence with a goldfish; I swear he has selective memory – half the time I am Osama Bin Laden and the other half I am his best friend. For some reason Max loves to bark at my parent’s dog, Pebbles; Pebbles is a wiener dog who has the demeanor of Jack Nicholson after his lobotomy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. A typical scenario with these two dogs involves Max smelling Pebbles butt and barking while Pebbles goes in and out of sleep while standing up.

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I only mention the behavior of these two beasts because my most recent classic was The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. The Island of Dr. Moreau was one of the first science fiction books, and it details one man’s remarkable encounter with the mad-scientist Dr. Moreau. Dr. Moreau is a combination of Dr. Doolittle and Dr. Frankenstein – he turns animals into human-like beasts for the sake of scientific discovery. The island in this book is home to dozens of Moreau’s creatures, and like most mad-science stories, the experiments backfire. The creatures – which once behaved like humans- regress back to their animal instincts – eventually killing their creator. What makes this book a masterpiece is the “reason” behind these unfortunate metamorphoses.

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The creatures were able to speak, forage, and form their own society. This society was held together by certain laws which were created by Dr. Moreau. These laws aimed to prevent the hybrids from partaking in their worst animalistic urges: walking on all fours, tasting blood, and slopping water among many others. The group regularly chanted the “Law,” and everyone was reminded that punishments and blessings rained down from the almighty Dr. Moreau…

‘His is the House of Pain.’ ‘His is the Hand that makes.’ ‘His is the Hand that wounds.’ ‘His is the Hand that heals.’

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There was a main “Sayer of the Law” who organized the group and regularly reminded the members of their duties. As long as these creatures kept the law, their animal anatomy and behavior did not materialize. This system only worked because the beasts believed Moreau to be supernatural – all was destroyed when Dr. Moreau died. The animals lost the law and lost their rituals which prevented their primal desires. As soon as the law was gone, humanity was gone. In a sense, mankind is no different than these creatures; we have the capability to be animals, and we have the capability to be civilized. Morality is what makes us human, and God gives us the tools to practice “humanistic” behaviors. Religion is never perfect, but it is our society’s bedrock; experiments in pure secularism never end well; remember Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, and Social Darwinism? Wisdom needs to be anchored by a higher power…just don’t make it Dr. Moreau’s.

Don’t forget to check out my newest book Tackle the Library – The French Revolution 😉

Escaped Chihuahua!

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Of all the dogs that run away each year, the Chihuahua is the least likely. A Chihuahua by nature is a helpless creature that parasitically thrives off the heat and comfort of its owner. No Chihuahua ever enthusiastically runs to the door to go wee wee. Most Chihuahuas feign the outdoors unless it mirrors their natural desert habitat. Max, my Chihuahua of 8 months now, is almost always by my side. He lies on my lap and I pet him like Doctor Evil. If I have a book in my lap, he lays on my legs. If I have something on my legs he lays on my feet. The dog is always seeking human touch. In general, he has more ADHD than a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese. At any given moment he is alert to his surrounding environment-especially whenever the refrigerator door opens. I believe Max to be some kind of mix between a Chihuahua, a dingo, and Will Ferrell in Elf. I keep learning new things from Max that make me a better person. I would recommend to everyone that they own an animal. Animals teach responsibility, respect, compassion, unselfishness, and patience. So what has Max taught me on this glorious Sunday? Well, that Chihuahuas can run away.

As stated previously, Max is always by my side. So how the frick did a seven-pound-deer-headed-pea brained Chihuahua escape from the house? It all started with my desire to talk on the phone with my old roommate-while on the porch of my house. It being almost 70 degrees outside I wanted to bask in the glorious sun which has been absent for the past 4 months. I took my chair, my phone, and my Chihuahua outside. While talking with my roommate, Max sat peacefully on my lap while taking in the rare solar heat. All was well with the world until Max started to get comfortable. See, Chihuahuas are very timid up until a certain point. They have an action potential of meekness which is negated whenever they sit in one place for a period of time. By sitting on my lap on the porch, Max became the king of the porch-anyone who came close was in his territory. While chatting with Chris, his action potential was bathed in some sort of Chihuahua gusto, and Max began to bark at every single thing that came past his wooden domain. Adults. Dogs. Children. Grandmas. Leafs. Paper Bags. Nothing was safe from his wrath and I subsequently threw him inside because of the interruptions to my conversation. As earlier stated, Max must have human contact at all time. After constant whining, Christina opened the door and let him come to me; he quickly regained his state of superiority which subsequently forced me to throw him back inside. It was at this point that I must have not shut the door completely.

In about a half hour, Christina was heard through the window frantically calling for Max. I thought nothing of it because I figured he may be snuggled under a synthetic human substitute-his blanket. But there was no miniature deer to be found under the many blankets which are exclusively for his comfort. This sent a wave of panic through my spine and I thought he may actually have run away. The house was checked and now my wife was going all Filipino on me. I asked myself why would Max leave the porch? He has never left my side. Nevertheless he was gone and we were contemplating the worse – that a hawk swooped down and grabbed his rat-like body. Thinking that he couldn’t have gone very far, I scanned the neighborhood from my porch. I didn’t see anything at first but then my eyes caught a small figure in the far distance. It was Max, in the road, starring at a stop sign as if he could read it-with a car rapidly descending in the foreground. I called his name and as if nothing happened he ran back to me with haste. I embraced him with the utmost ferment as if this little dog was my own child. So why did Max leave the porch? I will never know the answer but it has taught me a lot about my relationship with this dog.

I actually care about him and would be extremely sad if he died. I actually appreciate that his brain and balls may be bigger than I had previously thought. I actually need to respect that he is a strong dog and not a mutated rat. The moral of the story is this: When life gives you a metaphorical Chihuahua, a situation that you don’t respect or appreciate, think twice before making judgments and discounting it. That Chihuahua may highlight your vulnerabilities, making you more emotionally sensitive and more appreciative of what you have. I know my Chihuahua did.

The Wet Belly Mystery

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“The” Wet Belly

It was the best of times and the worst of times. Last week Tuesday, I was having the best of days. The sun was out, the weather was pleasant, the leaves were colorful, my wife was looking sexy, and my pants were feeling loose. It was one of those Tuesdays when you almost think it’s a Friday. Feeling on top of the world, I decided to take Max, my single-minded Chihuahua, for his most favorite activity in the world – a walk in the park. Max was running through an open field full of grass, leaves, trees, sunshine, groundhogs, and the occasional cluster of white-dog poop. Being in a state of complete relaxation I didn’t notice when my pea-brain dog began to rub his neck in some putrid-smelling substance that was either a dead animal or a concentrated pocket of mud that had been overly exposed to Flint-river water. Whatever the source of the stench, I did not discover it until I came home and bent down to take off his leash. His neck smelled like a trashcan that had been sitting out in the hot sun after a pouring rain – wet, thick, and unbearable. I immediately took him to the shower and began to use the best treatment I had – Head and Shoulders Anti Dandruff Shampoo. Max was all about the shampoo and I think he may have done the stinky neck thing on purpose just to get the extra neck massage. He looked like a wet rat after the soak and I wrapped him tightly in a towel and rubbed his whole body until his fur was barley wet. He bolted out the bathroom door and jumped onto the couch like a crackhead during a bad trip –rubbing his body at random all over the cushions. This was approximately at 5:00 pm.

Around 8:00 pm I was watching TV and heard Max enter the bathroom. This did not bring me much thought because being a Chihuahua, Max is always ADHD and running around the house. I had just used the bathroom and I thought it normal that he was smelling around to access the damage. I heard a faint noise in the bathroom but took it as him trying to get into the trash for some yummy Q-Tips – nothing out of the norm.  At about 8:10 I walked into the living room to give my sexy wife a big kiss and to tell her how amazing she was – again nothing out of the norm. But then, Christina looks over and there are water spots on the couch. At first we thought Max must have peed and we commence a frantic, grab-the-dog-and-throw-him-outside maneuver. Upon grabbing the spindly dog I felt his belly and it was completely wet. I lifted the animal to my nose and performed a thorough smelling – my sense of smell, being a sensitive-introvert, is above average. The liquid was not urine but rather water. I then noticed that the top of the couch, where Max usually sits, was completely soaked in water. I used five large paper towels to soak up the liquid and it again was odorless without any color. This was extremely odd, Max had a wet belly, he dripped water on the couch and his normal sitting area was drenched. We thought this was the extent of the wet-belly fiasco but then Christina, beginning to do her homework again, noticed water on the keyboard. As soon as she touched the keyboard the screen went black. This began a two hour ordeal of Christina going full-out Filipina and me trying to use my limited computer skills to perform a miracle. By 10:00 pm the computer was still not turning on, my Friday-like Tuesday was now a post vacation Monday, and I felt like returning Max back to the Humane Society. In the end we had to pay 400 dollars for a new laptop but thankfully Christina’s work was still safe in the hard drive.

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Signs of Guilt

To this day I have no idea how Max got his wet belly. Did he get into the water dish, the toilet, the post-shower tub? Did his bladder somehow expand to the size of a grown man? I have lost my mind trying to figure out the mystery of the wet belly. Max and I are on tenuous terms and I don’t know if I can ever again trust him around my laptop. What do you think is the riddle of the wet belly? What caused my Chihuahua to turn into a wet burrito? Why do I have a Chihuahua in the first place? All questions that need to be answered. Yet another life-lesson learned from Max – when you have a brain the size of pea you are apt to have a wet bellow at any moment.

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Post Makeup

 

The Sixth Extinction

Most people like animals. Whether those animals are pets, wild, or zoo dwellers we feel some sort of connection with them. I think we have this connection because, even though we may not want to admit it, we are also animals. Of course, we are unique in the sense that morals, thoughts of the future, and money engulf our everyday lives. Human beings have inhabited every corner of the earth and are the most invasive species in the history of this planet. No other animal has changed the landscape and physical world like humans. We can cross oceans in a few hours, treat infections with antibiotics, eat junk food, and stare into bright screens throughout the entire day. Sadly, our ability to master our environment has led many of our fellow animals to become extinct. So many animals have become extinct during the reign of humans that scientists are calling our presence “The Sixth Extinction.” The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert dives into this scary predicament.

The earth has experienced five major extinctions prior to us coming on the scene.  The earth is about 4.5 billion years old; plants and animals came into the picture about 500 million years ago. The last 500 million years can be divided into these geological periods: Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Palogene, Neogene, and Quaternary. You can remember these with this mnemonic-Camels Often Sit Down Carefully, Perhaps Their Joints Creak and the Pain Never Quits. The five extinctions occurred at the end of the Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic, and Cretaceous. These extinctions were caused by major changes in the environment. The most famous extinction was the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. For a long time, people didn’t even know animals could go extinct. This is because the average extinction rate of a species was only 1 every 1,000 years; meaning it would be rare to see an extinction in a human lifetime.

Fast forward to today. The Sixth Extinction. Just in one human lifetime it is estimated that “one-third of all reef building corals, a third of all fresh water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward extinction.” What is causing all of these extinctions? The answer is the big three: global warming, ocean acidification, and habitat loss. Global warming is caused by the release of carbon into the atmosphere which subsequently traps heat. This changes the amount of polar ice and the micro-climates that species live in throughout the planet. Carbon also is absorbed by the ocean which causes the water to become more acidic. This acidification creates pronounced problems for all sorts of marine species. Finally, habitat loss decreases specie diversity and destroys symbiotic relationships between small and large organisms alike. Using conservative estimates for global warming, it is estimated that by 2050 a unbelievable 24 percent of all species on earth will be headed towards extinction. That is 1 MILLION SPECIES that will be dead forever in our lifetime!!! 

Does this have to be our future? Should we just throw our hands in the air and give up? I know it is an immense problem but we can make a difference.”Alfred Newton described the slaughter that was occurring along the British coast; the result was the Act for the Preservation of Sea Birds. John Muir wrote about the damage being done in the mountains of California, and this led to the creation of Yosemite National Park. Silent Spring exposed the dangers posed by synthetic pesticides, and within a decade, most uses of DDT had been prohibited.” These are only a few examples of what individual people did to help improve the environment. So what can you do to help the environment? There are multiple ways to protect our fellow creatures. Here are a few ways you can contribute:

  1. Recycle and reuse as much as you can
  2. Purchase a fuel efficient vehicle-Prius anyone?
  3. Become an Essentialist and stop being a Consumer.

We can make a difference by taking care of our environment right NOW. Humans may have conquered the confines of evolution but we are still dependent on the earth’s biological and geochemical systems. This puts our own species at risk for extinction because we all depend on the intricate partnerships of nature. If past extinctions teach us anything, it is that there is no discrimination when it comes to wiping out species. Don’t feel depressed, feel informed. Do your part to make this planet a better place.

 

Native Americans Conquer the English! Why History Wasn’t Reversed-Part 2

The saga continues. If you are not up to date on Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond then read last week’s post here. We now know that civilizations arose not from individual genetic differences but rather environmental conditions that encouraged agriculture: domesticable wild plants, domesticable mammals, and the orientation of a continent’s axis. Agriculture allowed groups of people to expand their social organization from nomadic bands all the way to advance states (common all over the world today). Larger populations required better communication between people-motivating the creation of the first alphabets. Two independently-derived alphabets were invented in areas of the world where agriculture had it’s longest history: the Sumerian cuneiform (Mesopotamia, 3000 B.C) and Chinese (1300 B.C)-most all other writing systems were derived from either of these. Along with the alphabet, large groups of specialized jobs, supported by a surplus of food (agriculture) allowed for a myriad of technological innovations. Technology was pushed through competition and the spread of knowledge between different societies; this spread of knowledge was faster among Eurasian societies compared to North American societies partly due to the axis orientation differences. Civilization not only promoted technology but also religion. Religion served a role in connecting large groups of people in one common higher purpose and rationalized living one’s life for the higher “state.” This is best seen in the Christian Crusades against Islam. It is important to note however that groups of people have been spiritual throughout all of history, organized religion is a whole different beast (Jesus denouncing the religious figures of His time).

As civilizations advanced, they many times spread to new areas and conquered other groups of people. Most everyone knows about the expansion of Europeans starting with Columbus’ exploratory trip in 1492. However, a much larger expansion took place several millennium before in South China. This is known as the Austronesian expansion and it was comprised of the more advanced agriculturists of South China spreading from Taiwan all the way through Polynesia and reaching as far as Madagascar off the coast of Africa. Humans first inhabited Southeast Asia and Polynesia by 33,000 B.C. Between 33,000 B.C. and 3,500 B.C. the people who inhabited these areas were mainly hunter gatherers with limited technological sophistication. However, beginning in 7500 B.C., China was growing their civilization and by the year 3,500 B.C. began migrating south. With agriculture, the Austronesians were able to spread from the Philippines to New Zealand and everywhere in between (except New Guinea and Australia); they eventually were the first people to reach the Hawaiian Islands. This mass human expansion was one of the first examples of how advanced civilizations with the aid of agriculture could take over less-advanced groups through germs and superior weaponry.

The book goes on to talk about the differences between Europeans and Chinese in respects to expansion in the last 500 years. Why didn’t China expand to the west coast of North America and colonize in similar fashion to Europeans? How did Europe pass China and the Middle East in technological advancement? These are complex questions with several possible answers but one hypothesis is that China’s united geography compared to Europe’s segmented geography created differences in competition. China had one united ruling government while Europe had several feuding states; the competition in Europe facilitated greater technological advancement and was less prone to idiosyncratic individuals. China did have times of imperialism but in 1492 the dynasty in place was not interested in expansion. On the other hand, Christoper Columbus had to ask several different European states for funding before finally catching a lucky break with Spain. As soon as Spain was raking in the cash in the New World, other autonomous European countries jumped on the bandwagon-unified China followed their emperor’s decision to stay put. This is only one part of the answer of how our modern world was shaped but it highlights geography’s role in shaping history. Understanding our past helps us understand our present. Today there are rich countries and poor countries, successful businesses and unsuccessful businesses, peaceful zealots and violent zealots. How different variables interact to mold groups of people is not only fascinating but can possibly tilt the scales for the “haves and have nots” of the future.

Native Americans Conquer the English! Why History Wasn’t Reversed-Part 1

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Why didn’t 16th century Native Americans sail to England, claim land for their queen, and nearly decimate the English race? Why did Francisco Pizarro conquer the entire Incan Empire instead of Atahuallpa sailing over to Spain and exerting his dominance? We all know the immediate answers to these questions: Europeans had guns, germs, and steel that made it easy to overcome their “savage” opponents. But the real question is why did Europeans develop guns, germs, and steel while so many other civilizations did not? What forces caused different groups of people to develop technology and innovations at different rates? Did civilizations advance differently because of superior genetics or environmental variables? Honestly, I never thought about these questions until I borrowed my friend’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. This is a must read and it actually won the Pulitzer Prize-the exorbitant detail in this book makes it an eye-opener that will change your perspective of the modern world. A common thought is that Europeans were more advanced then Africans/Indians/Insert Non-White Person because they worked harder and were generally smarter. This was the primary logic for most of history and is partly responsible for the mental foundation of slavery, racism, segregation, and general exploitation of non-white races.Today, scientists are trying to objectively answer the question of why societies advanced differently early on in history? The short answer to this big question is that genetics played no role in the differences, what mattered most was environmental luck.

So what is environmental luck? Environmental luck, in respects to civilization formation, entails three key components: available wild plants for domestication, available large mammals for domestication, and continent-axis orientations. 10,500 years ago agriculture began in the fertile crescent (modern day Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt); China would soon follow 1,000 years afterwards. Agriculture in Mesoamerica, the Andes, and Amazonia independently began in 3500 B.C-the Eastern United States coming in last at 2500 B.C. Why was there such a big time disparity between these groups and plant domestication? One of the key reasons was that the Fertile Crescent and China were home to 33 large grass species: wheat, rice, barley, millet, etc. These wild grass species were abundant due to the vast land areas of Eurasia, numerous Mediterranean climates and large elevation changes. Early domestication was advantageous over hunter gathering in these two areas because these grass species provided easy nutrition (today the world gets 50% of its calories from grass plants). This cornucopia of seed plants in Eurasia is contrasted by the meek number available in the Americas-only 4 species in North America, 5 in Mesoamerica, and 2 in South America. Agriculture in Eurasia was further assisted by large mammals which were domesticated. Of all large mammals, Eurasia had 13 species (think cows, pigs, goats, sheep, camels, and horses) which were good candidates for domestication; a good domestication candidate needs to have a certain diet, growth rate, breeding behavior, disposition, and social structure. The Americas, Australia, and Africa only had 1 mammal that was suitable for domestication-dogs. These domesticated animals increased agricultural yield, provided food, and transferred germs to humans. Domesticated animals are the source of some of mankind’s most deadly diseases: Measles (cattle), Tuberculosis (cattle), Smallpox (cattle), Flu (pigs and ducks), Pertussis (pigs, dogs), Falciparum malaria (chickens and ducks), etc. This exposure to germs would eventually wipe out the majority of New World inhabitants and make it possible for Europeans to conquer native people throughout the world. The last key factor of environmental luck was the axis orientation of the continents. Eurasia’s axis stretches east to west with large spans of land on similar latitudes (Think England and China). The Americas and Africa axis’ stretch North to South with huge changes in latitudes (think Canada vs Chili). Similar latitudes meant similar day lengths and weather patterns which allowed for the rapid spread of agriculture across Eurasia. The wide range of latitudes in the Americas/Africa made the spread of agriculture difficult because of drastically different weather and seasons going north to south.

The environmental factors of Eurasia provided it with a lucky head start in respects to efficient agriculture. This head start wasn’t because of the people’s innovation but rather a host of key factors which included climate, plant availability, animal availability, and overall geography. Eurasia’s efficient agriculture (large seed plants and domesticated animals) would eventually lead to the first civilizations (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus Valley, China). Agriculture and domestication allowed individuals to specialize in jobs unrelated to food production: government officials, laborers, craftsmen, scribes, religious figures. The ability to have specialized positions provided groups of people to innovate and advance in technology. This progression of civilization in Eurasia was already full force before the America’s first signs of agriculture. The civilizations of the Fertile Crescent and Asia would soon spread through the continent and bring about metallurgy, alphabets, and organized warfare. The prerequisites of guns, germs, and steel were all based on the ability to efficiently grow food. And the prerequisites for growing food were a host of environmental factors that led to some lucky people being in the right place at the right time. To be continued.

Plastic: Birds, Beaches, and Bodies

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The obese albatross was having quite a hard time sailing through the air. Obese being the wrong descriptor, the bird had all its weight centered around the stomach like a varsity-jacket-wearing 45-year-old male. It was a quite odd site and it seemed like the bird was designed for heavy bomb drops and not quick-swirling noise dives like his counterparts. All of a sudden the heavyset bird hit a patch of hard wind and the belly was lifted up as if composed of a material that was not dense but quite light. Although there was a strange lightness to the protrusion, the bird continued to sink further and further towards the mating lands of his ancestors. Below him were thousands of little baby chicks just hatching to start a life filled with majestic days of flying through the skies as he had done so many times before. Sadly though, this bird’s last experience of flying would end quite soon. The bird suddenly began coughing, choking, and hacking, making his flight look like a shot-down-black-hawk helicopter. The crash was eminent and I wonder in those last seconds whether his life passed before his eyes: making love to his seagull woman, regurgitating food for his chicks, pooping on cars, squawking with his friends. Mothers quickly moved their chicks out of the way, elder birds looked on in horror and finally the sickened leviathan hit the ground with a force that lifted a mushroom cloud of feathers. No average bird could survive that fall and the other birds began to collect decorative seashells for the funeral. But wait! The bird was still moving! The bird was still alive, the large stomach must have cushioned the load. Would he survive this unbelievable ordeal? Sadly, his movement was short lived with one last violent coughing fit. The bird lay still as his counterparts went on their way coughing in an eerily similar manner to their now dead friend. A few weeks later the bird was still in his death spot, but now that large gut of his had spilled open. The contents looked like one of those stores that sells cheap party supplies: a toy ring, reusable lighter, a disposable fork, and a whole host of worthless plastic junk. The plastic in the bird was tangled and knotted, looking as if it was in a continual loop of digestion for quite some time. What kind of bird would eat plastic? Maybe he thought it was a new tasty food like a fat  kid salivating over candy at the checkout counter. The answer became clearer when the mating territory was combed over. Trash as far as the eye could see. The gulls were surrounded by a cornucopia of junk that engrossed their entire food system. Worse than the trash, was the litter of bird carcasses that lay among the waste-the natural birds’ bodies composting while the unnatural plastic eternally waited for its next victim.

This story is fake but the premise stands in the fact that our plastic trash has a real effect on the health of our world. Plastic is ubiquitous and we use it everyday without much thought to where it goes after we throw it away. I wanted to know more about plastic so I read Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel. The book made me analyze how I use plastic and what impact it has on my life. Plastic became quite popular after World War II and inundated the market with the promise of convenience, functionality, affordability, and durability. We became a throw-away culture and began using many plastic products one time before tossing them in the trash. Plastic lasts a very long time and our land fills, oceans, and beaches are now suffocating from its “durability.” The role plastic plays in our life is complex and there is no easy answer to what we should do about the plastic that is already in our environment. What we can do is take personal responsibility with our everyday use of plastic and try to reduce, reuse, and recycle. First, reduce the amount of trash you create by buying less single-serve food items and less material crap in general. Second, buy reusable-tote bags instead of using single use plastic bags at the grocery store. Thirdly, take a minute to throw the plastic that you do have in the proper recycling containers. These are easy steps to do your part in making the world a better place. Less plastic means less litter, less plastic chemicals getting in your food, less plastic getting in our bodies, and less depressing pictures posted on this blog.