Friday, September 13, 2013

Just because they're ugly....

So lately I have seen a few articles and blog posts regarding bias in conservation efforts. Quick, think of an endangered species. It's a pretty safe bet that you thought of a popular animal - Polar Bears, Pandas, Tigers, etc. - and not something like a deepsea fish, snake, or spider - not to mention protists, fungi or plants.

I get it, though. A commercial featuring adorable and beloved animals threatened with extinction catches peoples attention, and is likely to get donations. If a commercial was made with strange, bizarre, and downright UGLY animals, it might not capture our hearts (and wallets) in quite the same way. That is unfortunate.

Every animal, plant and fungus is vital to the ecology of its environment. Removing any species has detrimental effects on the other species in its habitat, regardless of how adorable it is.

I doubt the situation will change anytime soon, unfortunately. Polar Bear cubs wrestling in the snow are irresistibly cute, and they attract donations. Images of decompressed Blobfish aren't going to be as effective. Showing an endangered fungus? Forget about it. It's a rare individual who thinks "OH NO! WE HAVE TO SAVE THE MUSHROOMS!", but "Save the Whales" is one we can get behind.

How can these neglected creatures get publicity and win people to their cause? Maybe if their importance was stressed. For example, an endangered spider species may not evoke our sympathy - but without spiders, we would be overrun with disease-spreading pests. An endangered fungus may maintain a symbiotic relationship with an important crop species, and without it, the plant may be weak, or even unable to grow. Right now, pollution is killing off coral, and as a result, entire ecosystems are failing. ENTIRE ECOSYSTEMS!!

So look at that blobfish. It's hideously ugly - and it needs our help.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


POGs were a fad in the 90's that I really got into. I had a HUGE collection of them. For those of you who didn't live through the craze, here are the basics. POGs are named for a Pineapple/Orange/Guava drink called P.O.G, made by Hawaiian Meadow Gold (they still make the drink, and you can apparently buy some and have it shipped to you - provided you are willing to pay $33 for a 6-pack).  Some sources state that POG "milkcaps" were a promotional item, and that P.O.G (the beverage) was never sold in glass bottles that included cardboard "milkcaps", and others say that they were sold that way at one time. Either way, the "milkcaps" that were called POGs were small cardboard discs, sometimes with a staple in the center, and frequently featuring characters, initially original characters (e.g. POGMAN) but later including popular cartoon and comic book characters, as well as original artwork/characters. POGs (the game) had its start either in Hawaii in the 1920's (probably influenced by a 17th century game from Japan) and eventually headed to the states from there. The game had several variations, but play was pretty simple. For the most part, every variation involved stacking up some POGs amd throwing a "slammer" (a thicker, heavier POG gamepiece, either homemade by gluing/stapling several POGs together, or purchased, often with set of POGs, and made of metal, rubber or plastic) at them. Honestly though, I spent a lot more time LOOKING for cool new POGs to buy than actually PLAYING the game. Pretty much every Newsroom, cornerstore, and minimart sold POGs, and most of them were cheap. The store I usually bought them at had a rate of one-for-ten-cents or three-for-a-quarter. Most Sundays, I would wander down to the store with a friend or two, and we would all buy whatever our fistful of change would allow. Our favorite series in the 3-for-25-cent bin featured skulls and psychedelic artwork, because, hey man, we were 12-year-old rebels, man. For a little more money, you could buy the Marvel and DC Comics series, one of my personal favorites. You could even find POGs made by the makers of the P.O.G. beverage line. For a solid two years, POGs were a serious THING. And then, like all fads, everyone lost interest. These little cardboard discs were serious business for me and my friends for a couple of years, and then -POOF- no one cared about them one day. We hit that age where we were much more interested in petty mischief, violent videogames, and stealing liquor and cigarettes from someone's parents than in playing...what were they called...Oh, that's right - POGs. I still have some of those POGs, though (Those are mine in the picture). And every now and then, I get them out and think "God, I wish my buddies were here to play a game of POG with me!"

This is not a dinosaur....

I can remember vividly the first time I opened a package of toys  labeled as "dinosaurs", and pulled out a figure that I knew was NOT a dinosaur. It was a Dimetrodon. My disappointment only grew larger as I got older, and found manufacturers mislabeling other creatures as dinosaurs. Pterosaurs, plesiosaurs, and other prehistoric reptiles often get tossed into a bin labeled "dinosaur." But the Dimetrodon upset me the most. See, Dimetrodon wasn't even CLOSE to being a dinosaur. First of all, the last Dimetrodon died 40 MILLION YEARS before the FIRST true dinosaurs existed. Secondly, dinosaurs, birds and modern lizards all share a common reptilian ancestor who was a Saurapsid. Dimetrodon was a Synapsid - the only living Synapsids are Mammals. Yes, Dimetrodon was a proto-Mammal. Maybe now you can see why its inclusion in a bucket labeled "Dinosaurs" upset me so much. The last shared ancestor that Dimetrodon and the first dinosaur lived about 70 million years before the dinosaurs. Sadly, you would not have difficulty finding a package of toy "dinosaurs" at a store near you that has a definite non-dinosaur contained inside. I wonder if paleobiologists ever write cease and desist letters?