Archive for the Random Weirdness Category

Do people really put razor blades in apples on Halloween?

Posted in Random Weirdness, Rotten with tags , on October 26, 2008 by davehurwitz
Want an apple?

Want an apple?

All Hallows Eve is coming.  In less than a week, I’ll be sitting on the floor watching my boys dump out the contents of their trick or treat bags.  Like any conscientious father, I will sift through their loot (stealing only the occasional Lemonhead) on the lookout for questionable items.  Fresh fruit?  Someone might have pushed a needle or razor blade in there.  Into the compost.  Homemade cookies or popcorn balls?  No telling what could be in those.  Rat poison.  Heroine.  Anything at all.  Into the trash.  I do this because my father did it (though he was more partial to Baby Ruths), and I want my children to be safe.  But is it really necessary?  Has anyone ever actually been killed by Halloween candy?

After reading Michael Largo’s book Final Exits, I certainly thought the answer might be yes.  Largo reports three fatal poisonings of Halloween candy and implies many more.  However, I’d found errors elsewhere in Largo’s book.  Perhaps he was wrong about these poisonings as well

For real answers, I went to the all-knowing debunkers of urban myth at Snopes.  A 2005 post by Barbara Mikkelson digs deep into the cases mentioned by Largo, using arrest records, court documents, and other firsthand sources.  Admittedly, Mikkleson’s research indicates that two out of the three children cited by Largo were in fact fatally poisoned on Halloween.  But don’t forbid your children from going door to door just yet.  As it turns out, none of the incidents that Mikkelson documents were the random acts of a homicidal stranger.  Most were perpetrated by relatives using the idea of random poisonings to disguise deliberate murder or to cover up evidence of other crimes.

By way of illustration, consider the the 1974 murder of Timothy O’Bryan by his father, who gave the child Pixie Stix filled with cyanide.  While little Timmy was killed for insurance money, other sources falsely attribute his death to a random poisoning.  In Final Exits , Largo incorrectly claims that the older O’Bryan was trying to do in his neighbor’s obnoxious children and that his own son’s poisoning was an accident.

A comparable iincident occurred in 1970, when five year old Kevin Toston lapsed into a coma and died of a heroine overdose.  It was later found that some of his Halloween candy had been sprinkled with the drug.  While Kevin’s death is reported as a random poisoning in Final Exits and elsewhere, the truth is more prosaic.  That Halloween, Kevin became fatally curious about his Uncle’s heroine stash, and the drug was put in has candy afterward to divert suspicion.  In short, scary relatives are a greater danger on Halloween than scary neighbors.

Finally, there is the strange case of Helen Pfeil.  Annoyed by teenage trick-or-treaters, Pfeil greeted anyone she felt was too old with bags of inedible “treats.”  These included dog biscuits, steel wool, and ant pellets.  These were clearly labeled as poison in both print and the traditional skull and crossbones.  No teens were stupid enough to eat them, and no one was hurt.  Regardless, Pfeil was convicted of child endangerment and received a suspended sentence.  This somewhat unexciting chain of events has been livened up by subsequent reporters.  Final Exits asserts that Pfeil covered her fake treats with chocolate and that a small child died from eating an ant pellet.  According to Snopes, neither is true.

So much for poisoned candy.

Sadly, apple tampering does actually occur, though less frequently than is generally believed.  Additionally, Mikkelson attests that not a single child has been grievously injured by sharp objects in hidden in fruit.  Most tampering of this sort was discovered by parents, or by the children themselves, before injury could occur.  The majority of children who bit into booby-trapped apples came away more frightened than hurt.  Only a few required ER visits.  No one has ever been killed by a razor blade in an apple.

So what are the real dangers of All Hallows Eve?  The number one killer is traffic.  Nationally, there are more than two-hundred pedestrian fatalities every Halloween, four times as many as an average night.  So go ahead and eat that apple, boys and girls.  Chances are it won’t hurt you.  Just be sure to look both ways before you cross the street.

And save some Lemonheads for me.

Dave Hurwitz

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.