Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Leiningen Versus the Ants

Did anyone else ever read that Carl Stephenson short story? I read it quite young (though long after it was published--it dates back to 1938). It made a deep impression on me, although I failed to remember the title, and only found it again years later by asking around.

For those who don't know the story, it's about a determined fellow in the Amazon (the real one, not the dot-com one) who is foolish enough not to flee when the Army Ants come.

We're not dealing with Army Ants here. We're dealing with Argentinian Ants. Smaller. Not as vicious. But relentless.

It's been raining bucketloads here in California. Yeah, yeah, already. England's buried under snowdrifts. Well, bring out the violins. The whole crippled-children-begging-in-the-snow gig is traditional, scenic, and literary. Swell. Here in SoCal, it's swampy, and the ants are coming into our houses by the bazillions.

Argentinian Ants are everywhere these days. Unlike most ants, where one colony fights against another, these tiny little weasels recognize their brothers. Imagine for a moment that the Israelis and Palestinians formed a united front. Oh, sure, it sounds like a good idea at first. But think about it. If they weren't harrying one another, who would they be harassing?

Answer: Somebody else.

Similarly, the Argentinian Ants. They've decided to embrace the brotherhood of Argentinian Antdom, and look where it's left us. They don't have warring "anthills." One colony merges into another, not unlike suburbia in the USA. And it isn't just here. There is supposedly a supercolony of these little bastards that now stretches from somewhere in Spain to somewhere in the Netherlands, which ought to be a bit of a worry to to Dutch, who spent considerable blood and gold throwing off Spanish overlordship a few centuries back.

When I was young, one of the banes of my childhood existence was "Red Ants." These locals were bright orange (red being a misnomer) with ferocious jaws and a mildly venomous bite.

You don't see Red Ants much anymore. Why? As it turns out, they've been overrun by the tiny little Argentinian Ants, who overwhelm them by sheer numbers.

And the common lizard of my childhood, the California Horned Lizard, or "Horny Toad" (not to be confused with the bar of the same name in Bangkok), is now severely endangered in California. At first they blamed urbanization, and that hasn't helped...but what did Horned Lizards eat?

Yep. Red Ants.

Meanwhile, the Argentinians continue their march. They don't fall for the standard poisons or ant traps. Even boric acid doesn't work. New Zealand has been invaded by the little creeps, and has done the best research on the topic, and none of the standard tricks work.

We're about to go on vacation. We're hoping that the house is still here when we return.

There has to be a cure. Bolos? Pampas Grass? Screenings of Evita? Sanctuaries for Nazi leaders?

Maybe if you British types would give back the Falklands, these ants would all move there.

Leiningen had it easy. Those were big fat stupid Army Ants. These are devious, relentless, tiny, innumerable ants.

What kind of a name is "Leiningen" anyway?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Suitable for Kindling

I suppose I ought to note that Shock and Awe is now available on the Kindle. It can be picked up for $7.78 in the US, but costs a bit more (£5.45) in the UK.

But, then, doesn't everything?

Well, except healthcare.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Caution to Female Readers

A quote from O.S. Fowler's Sexual Science (1875):

Novel reading redoubles this nervous drain begun by excessive study. What is or can be as ruinous to the nerves as that silly girl, snivelling and laughing by turns over a 'love story'? Of course it awakens her Amativeness...It is doubtful whether fiction writers are public benefactors, or their publishers philanthropists. The amount of nervous excitement and consequent prostration, exhaustion, and disorder they cause is fearful. Girls already have ten times too much excitability for their strength. Yet every page of every novel redoubles both their nervousness and weakness...Love-stories, therefore, in common with all other forms of amatory exctiement, thrill. In this consists their chief fascination. Yet all amatory action with one's self induces sexual ailments. It should always be with the opposite sex only; yet novel reading girls exhaust their female magnetism without obtaining any compensating male magnetism, which of necessity deranges the entire sexual system. The whole world is challenged to invalidate either this premise or inference. Self-abuse is worse, because more animal; but those who really must have amatory excitement will find it 'better to marry,' and expend on real lovers those sexual feelings now worse than wasted on its 'solitary' form. Those perfectly happy in their affections never read novels.

I was unaware that girls have ten times too much excitability for their strength, but I am glad to have solidly based scientific data on that point. Alas, the author fails to reveal the amount of excitability boys have for their strength, but he seems to be suggesting that we have considerably less excitability relative to our strength. Assuming that girls have, say, four times as much excitabilility relative their strength, I guess that gives us boys an average excitability-to-strength ratio of 2.5 or so.

So, Girls, read if you like; but keep in mind the risks of exhausting your female magnetism without obtaining any compensating male magnetism...though I suspect the latter can be obtained by settling onto the couch with a case of beer and watching sports for a weekend or so. So if you must read a novel, set aside some beer-and-sports time to suck up some male magnetism.

The dangers of novel reading are made starkly clear by his statement that "every page of every novel redoubles both their nervousness and weakness." Redouble? Every page? Even in a Large-Print Edition?

My copy of Anna Karenina runs 961 pages. If in fact nervousness and weakness is increased by a factor of two (the meaning of redoubled) by every page, then by the end of that book, a Girl's nervousness and weakness would have been been increased by 2 to the 961st power, which is (rounding after five digits) an increase of 19,491,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000 times, which is a whole lot more nervous and weak.

If you are more sensible and avoid the Russians, selecting instead, say, Jane Eyre at 284 pages, a Girl will still end up 2 to the 284th power worse off--that is, 31,083,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times more nervous and weak. Still quite a bit, though.

It is good that the Creator in His wisdom made Girls weaker as they become more nervous. If a Girl could read a novel and become a million times more nervous but also a million times stronger, we would have a problem of horror-movie proportions on our hands.

As to his last assertion, I can easily believe that those perfectly happy in their affections never read novels, as I have never met anyone perfectly happy in anything. Perhaps I just run with the wrong crowd.

But I am sad he doubts I am a public benefactor.