Archive for August, 2008

Will Ants Eat Your iPod? (The Empire of the Rasberry Ants)

Posted in Random Weirdness, Rotten with tags , , , , , , on August 24, 2008 by davehurwitz
The 1977 film "The Empire of the Ants"

The 1977 film

The answer is yes. Especially if you live in or around Houston Texas. Seems a new breed of ant has invaded the shores of Yellow Rose state. Authorities speculate that they may have hitched a ride on a freight ship from the Caribbean. Now these tech eating ants have bred in the billions and conquer more territory at a rate of half a mile a year (unless they thumb a ride, California will be safe for another 2000 years).

These tech munching critters have been dubbed the Crazy Rasberry Ants after the exterminator who first identified them, Tom Rasberry. They are crazy because of the seemingly random pattern they move in, as opposed to the regimented lines typical to ants. They swarm as though attacking, even when simply moving from place to place. They have not be identified to any specific ant species. Currently they have tentatively been labeled as Paratrenicha species near pubens.

The ants are attracted to electrical equipment, which they destroy by sheer weight of numbers. They have ruined pumps at a sewage facility and are marching toward NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “The Russians are concerned,” said Frank Michel, spokesman for Bill White, the mayor of Houston. “I got a call from Moscow wanting to know if NASA was safe.”

Crazy Raspberry Ants attacking your electrical outlet

Crazy Raspberry Ants attacking your electrical outlet

The ants may be attracted to electronics because they make great nests. Species like the Crazy Rasberry ant are constantly adapting to new environments, and will actively seek out new homes. In the wild, these ants might nest under a pile of fallen leaves or inside the branches of palm fronds. Electrical switch boxes, gas meters, or your computer make ideal homes because they are dry and have small, easily defendable entrances.

The ants can’t actually eat the wires inside electronics. Only leafcutter ants can do that, and they don’t care for electronics. Instead, the Crazy Rasberry ants chew on the softer insulation around the wires, causing electrical shorts. The live wire then electrocutes the ant. It releases a chemical alarm pheromone that attracts its nestmates, who further attack the wires. The buildup of dead worker ants continue to hinder the electronics.

These ants are extremely difficult to control. Conventional over-the-counter poisons will not kill the little buggers. The Rasberry Ants are similar to other invasive species and have multiple queens. This allows them to reproduce at an alarming rate. It also makes it nearly impossible to kill the whole colony. Even when attacked with powerful insecticides with fipronil and chlorfenapyr, the survivors turn their dead comrades into an escape route. They pile up the dead bodies to create a bridge over the poison-treated area.

Joan Collins mauled by a giant ant

Joan Collins mauled by a giant ant

The Crazy Rasberry ants kill more than your plasma screen T.V. They also devour fire ants, a long time pest in the Texas area. They outcompete fire ants for food and reproduce faster. However, these unstoppable pests also suck the moisture from plants, and feed on precious insects like ladybirds the Attwater prairie chicken grouse. Variants of the species found in Colombia have been known to asphyxiate chickens and even attack cattle. They swarm over the eyes, nasal passages, and hooves.
Two “ant invasion” movies come to mind when I consider the Crazy Rasberry ants. The first is the 1977, Joan Collins flick, The Empire of the Ants. This beauty has Joan, playing Marilyn Fryser, selling phony real estate in Florida. They soon discover that a species of giant, and quite intelligent, ants have invaded the area. They have already taken over a small town with a sugar refinery. The queen douses her human workers with pheromones to control them. This movie is based on the 1905 H. G. Wells short story by the same name. The film will be remade in 2010.

The Naked Jungle

The Naked Jungle

The second film is the 1954 Chalton Heston classic, The Naked Jungle. Here Heston plays a cocoa plantation owner, Christopher Leiningen. He knows of an upcoming attack by army ants, the Marabunta, in a few days’ time. Instead of evacuating, he resolves to make a stand against these unstoppable predators. He is joined by Joanna (Eleanor Parker), his New Orleans bride. The tagline for this flim is: He feared only two things on earth…the MARABUNTA…Nature’s deadliest force, and his fiery New Orleans bride!

Chris Kalidor

For those of you searching for the Crazy Rasberry ants, you might have misspelled it the way I did: Raspberry. See Ingrid Kast Fuller’s comment below.

Can Sex with a Vampire Get You Pregnant? (Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Series — Breaking Dawn)

Posted in Rotten with tags , , , on August 16, 2008 by davehurwitz

Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan and Robert Pattinson as the vampire Edward Cullen in the December 12th film version of Twilight.

Shortly after midnight on August 2nd, 1.3 million readers, mostly young women, began reading Breaking Dawn, the fourth and final installment of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, a saga of romance and general sweatiness between the mortal Bella and the dreamily eternal Edward. Somewhere in the hours before dawn, a million women paused in shock and confusion. “Bella’s pregnant?” they asked in astonishment. “I thought sex with a vampire was… um… safe.”

Setting aside the obvious physical dangers of getting naked with vampires, sex with the dead seems like it shouldn’t require a condom. After all, if vampires are animated corpses, how can they have live seed? Bella’s pregnancy doesn’t feel logical. That said, is there any precedent for a human women finding herself in a family way after dallying with her dark prince? Believe it or not, there is.

The most infamous pregnancy in vampire literature (or perhaps I should say the most infamous up until now) occurred in Poppy Z. Brite’s 1992 novel Lost Souls. Side character Ann Bransby-Smith, tired of protagonist Steve Finn’s drinking, dumps him in favor of one of her college professors. Steve rapes Ann in drunken retaliation, a scene made all the more disturbing by Ann’s ambivalent reaction. She gets her own revenge through a one-night stand with Zillah, a green-eyed vampire with an axe to grind against Steve. Ann becomes pregnant. In desperation, she poisons her invalid father and flees to New Orleans. The remainder of the novel details the efforts of Steve and his childhood friend Ghost to find and save Ann. An attempt to induce a miscarriage finally kills her.

Critics and readers raked Brite over the coals, accusing her of hatred for her own sex. Few of them seemed to notice that Ann’s pregnancy is actually the second one in the book. The prologue tells the story of Jessy, who carries another of Zillah’s children. She dies giving birth, but her son survives. The child of a human mother and a vampire father is called a dhampir, a word and a concept that go all the way back to Slavic folklore. A dhampir has all the powers of a vampire with none of the disadvantages. Dhampir are the ultimate outcasts, reviled as monsters by humans and shunned as aberrations by vampires. Both traditionally and in literature, dhampir are vampire hunters.

Vampire Hunter D

Vampire Hunter D

While my favorite dhampir is the enigmatic Jen from Nancy Collins’ Sonja Blue novels, the most well known is surely Vampire Hunter D. Familiar to Americans as the central character in a pair of animated movies (thanks to poor translating, the word dhampir is consistently mispronounced in both films), the story of D began (and continues) in a series of novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi, ten of which are now available in English. D hunts vampires through the nightmare landscape of post-apocalyptic Earth. A heady mix of Lovecraft and Leone, D’s adventures bear more resemblance to early Clint Eastwood westerns than to traditional horror stories. Though convinced that his vampire kin deserve extermination, D often struggles against his own dark longings.

So, what can we take away from all this? One obvious conclusion would be that if you’re going to sleep with a vampire, you really should use birth control. Beyond that, what do the stories of Ann and Bella say about the women who read them? It’s a serious question, and I’m not at all sure I like the answer.

Lost Souls remains Brite’s most popular book, largely due to the ‘appeal’ of Steve Finn and the more compassionate Ghost. Despite their early outrage, fans still pester Brite (who has left horror and moved on to kitchen mysteries) for a sequel. I suspect alienated fans of Stephenie Meyer will do the same. Right now they feel hurt and betrayed, but like Bella herself they’ll stick around, despite the pain.

Dave Hurwitz

Huang Chuncai recovers after surgery – visits home

Posted in Rotten with tags , on August 9, 2008 by davehurwitz

After first writing about Huang Chuncai (April 20 and June 27) I had no idea how little information there was on this man. His first surgery is well documented. However, the information following this is scarce. My previous attempt at an update led me to glom onto two photos that were not accurate. A comment by “racliu” gave me a website in Chinese. This was what I needed. i used Google to translate this into English. Then I grabbed a bit of text that had Huang Chuncai’s name (in the original Chinese) and searched it using Google. I was able to uncover several photos for when Huang visited his home town between the first and second surgery. Also, I’ve done my best to transcribe/translate the Chinese text into a coherent story of the man.

Huang Chuncai was born in 1976 in the village of Yulan, in China’s southern province of Hunan. He has four brothers and sisters, and is the second oldest. Even at a month old, his father, Huang Bao, noticed that the head was distorted. Otherwise the boy was no different form other people.

He first developed his sarcoma, or malignant tumor, when he was four. The physical deformity taxed his spirit, and the other villagers became shy around him. He attended elementary school up to the age of seven, third grade. As time went on, the other students alienated him, calling him a monster.

By ten-years-old, he was abandoned by the people of the villiage and ridiculed. Huang left home less and less often. He recalls being terribly bored at home. Sometimes he sould take a stroll around the village or go fishing at the river. However most of his time was spent locked inside his home. By 21, he had spent most of his life indoors.

By 31-years-old, Huang’s tumor drooped almost to his navel. The weight of the 15 kg sarcoma curved the spine in his back, causing a hunch. His left eye was lost as the tissue surrounding it sagged down his face. His left ear hung down near his shoulder. The upper and lower jaw cannot bite together. Huang kept his teeth up to 20-years old. But by age 25, they had been stripped. Today, the 31-year-old Huang has almost lost all hearing and capability of speech.

A reporter brought a tape measure and found the tumor to be 57-centimeters long (97 cm in circumference). Take into consideration that Huang was only 135 cm tall.
Finally the Fuda Hospital, in Guangzhou, agreed to do several operations for free. Huang’s first surgery was in July 2007. After removing 15 kg of tissue, Huang was released and allowed to return to his home.

After and eight hour journey, Huang was exhausted. Family members were excited to see his return. The villagers said that the tumor appeared smaller and that he looked much better. Huang was concerned with the next step of the surgery, which had greater risk. This was to remove the roots of the tumor with abundant blood vessels.

Even though the operation was free, Huang was concerned over the cost. The hospital and the contributions of the staff covered the 140,000 yuan (about $20,000) operation. The second surgery would be more complex and cost even more.

Huang arriving home after his first surgery

Huang arriving home after his first surgery

 

Huang Chancai with his father, Huang Bao

Huang Chancai with his father, Huang Bao

Huang with one of the doctors who performed the operation

Huang with one of the doctors who performed the operation

Huang sitting with a child

Huang sitting with a child

Huang did go back for a second surgery in January. On February 28, the Guangzhou-Cancer Hospital announced that it was a success. The doctors were able to remove about 4.5 kg of the tumor. British BBC television, the Philippines television, “The Vietnamese Times”, and The Associated Press reported the news to the world.

Dr. Niu said the success of this operation means that their treatment has been a complete success. Huang only gradually recovered from the operation. He is considering a third operation. After recovering, Huang Chuncai returned to his village.

Judging by the size of the tumor, I believe this photo was taken after his second surgery.

Judging by the size of the tumor, I believe this photo was taken after his second surgery.

Chris Kalidor

Poppy Z. Brite, Iain Banks, and the Lovecraft Flu (Can Reading Make You Sick?)

Posted in Rotten with tags , , on August 2, 2008 by davehurwitz

For their 100th podcast, the editors of Pseudopod have set aside their usual practice of employing living writers and have chosen one who is very much deceased. Last week they presented an excellent reading of “The Music of Erich Zann” written by the pervert from Providence himself, Howard Philips Lovecraft. To me, this was especially welcome news, as audio files are the only way I can enjoy the work of this seminal writer. You see, whenever I attempt to read the work of H. P. Lovecraft, read it from a book, that is, I get terribly ill.

Now let’s be clear. This is not the sensation that occurs when I see, smell, or in this case read something that induces a temporary nausea. I have read exactly two books that made me ill in this way, and neither of them was written by Lovecraft. One was The Wasp Factory, the first novel by popular Scottish author Iain Banks. A deliberate exercise in sensationalism and controversy, The Wasp Factor details the homicidal adventures of Frank and his older brother Eric, a former medical student who sets fire to, and occasionally eats, stray dogs. Gross as that may be, it was the origin of Eric’s insanity that sent me running to the toilet. Suffice it to say that the scene involves a poorly attended infant with an incomplete skull. Read it at your own risk.

The second book to make me vomit was Exquisite Corpse, by Poppy Z. Brite. There is a lot here the stomach could object to. Indeed, the book was rejected by a number of publishers before finding a home. There are many characters and subplots, but the main story revolves around what happens when serial killer Andrew Compton and cannibal Jay Byrne meet and join forces. Brite avoids the obvious homicidal rampage, choosing instead to let this dangerous relationship culminate in the death of the more submissive Byrne. But it is the fate of Tran Vinh, their perfect victim, that made my stomach heave. I will confine myself to saying that he is alive when Compton and Byrne begin to play with him. Exquisite Corpse is perhaps the most elegantly constructed horror novel I’ve ever seen, but I will never read it again.

Lovecraft does not make me ill in this way. There is nothing specific in his subject matter, no particular passage or turn of phrase, that trips my gag reflex. It’s just that every time I start a Lovecraft story, I get sick. It began with the novella “At the Mountains of Madness.” I remember very little of the prose, as I never got very deep into the story. I recall a description of penguins that managed to make those terminally cute birds seem grotesque and menacing. And I remember the cold. The frigid winds of the Antarctic setting seemed to chill my skin and settle into my bones as I read. Before long, I began to shiver despite the summer heat. In short, I soon came down with a bad case of the flu. I narrowly avoided a trip to the hospital, staying hydrated with frequent sips of flat ginger ale, but I ate nothing solid for a week.

A couple years later, I decided to try Mountains of Madness once more. After all, I’m always reading something, so I’ve gotten sick in the middle of plenty of other books. Again, I got a few pages in only to feel that familiar chill sink into my body, like a frozen sun radiating cold from the center of my chest. It was food poisoning this time. I spent a sleepless night on the bathroom floor, spasms twisting my gut. It took a month of acidophilus supplements to rebuild my digestion, and I have been unable to eat dairy products ever since.

Like one of Lovecraft’s protagonists, I attempted to apply reason to my superstitions the third time around. Determined to avoid Mountains of Madness, I selected “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” instead, largely because I’d recently read about the efforts of author Caitlín R. Kiernan to discover the real life inspiration for this fictional locale. To make an obvious story short, I caught the flu again, and swore off Lovecraft forevermore.

I can thank Tim Kane for convincing me to try Lovecraft on audio book. He loaned me a CD of “Herbert West—Reanimator” read by none other than Jeffrey Combs, star of the Re-Animator movies. Combs’ presence is not just a marketing gimmick, either. Anyone who hears him deliver the oddly emphasized phrase “Miskatonic University at Arkham” will never pronounce it normally again. I must confess to a moment of fear when I first popped the disk into my player. It felt as though I was deliberately eating raw beef, or maybe licking the scum beneath the trap in my sink. There were bound to be consequences. Then the story began, and I stopped worrying about my stomach and began to fear for my mind.

Dave Hurwitz