Thursday, June 24, 2010

God's Mistakes: the Nazi Hornet

When it comes to religion, I subscribe to a savage mixture of agnostic/deist/Universalist/United Church of Christ ideas. That is, I believe spirituality can play an important role in one's life, and the questions of a grand Creator are quite compelling when it comes to how the Universe exploded out of nothingness and where we go when we die and such, and some of the lessons of Jesus Christ and other figures in the Bible can be quite relevant to the way someone leads their own life. It also means that I don't believe that an Almighty God would be terribly concerned with the sex lives of six billion inhabitants on one tiny planet in the vast cosmos, or that He wants you to burn any Harry Potter book you can get ahold of, or that he shot down the space shuttle Columbia for daring to brush up against his outer veranda.

Whether the creation of life on earth was by a deity or a chance meeting of elements and electricity, the idea of infallibility in such works seems unlikely. I think I remember a Bible chapter in which God was on the verge of destroying humanity out of annoyance, and then there was that whole story with the ark where he nearly did wipe the slate clean. Doesn't sound like the work of someone who made perfect decisions the first time around.

Per Gary Larson, "God as a kid tries to make a chicken in his room"

Humans have been something of a mixed bag. There have been great men and women who advance knowledge and art and are generally major boons to the species, and then there are the sociopaths who spend most of their lives hooked up to the penal system after gunning down innocent victims. Some species out there...well, they may be a part of the planet's delicate ecosystem somehow, but we've already lost the dodo and passenger pigeon and several other creatures, and the rest of us are all still cranking along. So here are some I'm theorizing may have been a mistake, and if you're a mad scientist who can make some sort of ray to get rid of them, be my guest.

This entry looks at the Vespa mandarinia, or Asian giant hornet.


Hornets are a subgroup of wasps, and though I've never been a fan of the lot of them I think I can safely say that the Asian giant hornet is the worst of the bunch. It's painful enough when a European hornet decides to jab a stinger into you, but these beasts apparently have the muscle and stinger length to put some real hurt on. The common description of the feeling, given by a Japanese entomologist, is that it's like a hot nail being driven into your body. As if that isn't enough, the hornet has a higher-than-normal concentration of the pain-stimulating neurotransmitter acetylcholine, other chemical weapons powerful enough to dissolve human flesh, and of course the lack of a barb for limitless stinging capability. This little jerk is concentrated in the western regions of Asia, where it apparently accounts for more human deaths by animal in Japan than any of the other fauna there. Unfortunately, it has also found Europe to its liking as well in recent years.

If it looks like you should be fighting it in a video game, that's generally not a good sign.

So far, it's a terrifying thing of hurt, but that can apply to a lot of creatures. If we leave it alone it will at least use those giant-looking mandibles to cut down on voracious farm pests or the mosquitoes that spread disease, right?


Yes it turns out that the Asian giant hornet has a liking for honeybees and like to swoop in and eradicate hives like they're the helicopter gunships in Avatar or something. It's pretty much a full-on genocide, an unfair fight where they brutally slaughter thousands of bees in minutes. All those nice bees that pollinate flowers and produce honey and the like, gone. The hornets then proceed to rob the hive of all of its valuable resources, including the larvae. They can't digest solid protein, so what happens next, according to Wikipedia, is that they "chew them into a paste and feed them to their larvae. The larvae produce a clear liquid, vespa amino acid mixture, which the adults consume." Which means the hornets gnash infant bees to death with mandibles still bearing the decapitated remains of the larva's parents. And then feed it to their own children only to steal from them as well.

There's that saying, "Karma is a bitch." And there may or may not be the saying, "Burning to death is not the way you want to go." Let's watch the next video.

Assuming there's a whole good vs. evil balance going on in the cosmos, this means that the proportional response for the hornets' crimes is that if they enter the beehive when it's not their day, they're going to get slowly and inexorably burned to death, and/or suffocated. How the bees figured out that this could work, hurting the hornet but not them, is another fascinating aspect of nature.

The Asian giant hornet, ladies and gentlemen. It commits mass murder against a more productive insect, painfully destroys infant versions of that insect, might kill you or me (or at least give one bastard of a sting), looks creepy as hell, and seems to contribute absolutely nothing to the planet. I think this one definitely slipped past the quality control department.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Top 5 Most (and Least) Hated States

It's not like there's a patriotism meter in the United States to track just how much the approximately 300 million citizens of this country love the homeland. If there was a meter, it probably got a little wonky when patriotism became equated with support for the President, and that definition seems to have fallen out of favor now that the nice Texan has left the White House. The U.S. has always had a federal vs. state thing going, though, and patriotism seems to break down along the same lines.

People might love their country, but they hate the state next door. Ohio and Michigan despise each other because of a football rivalry, and as a Maine resident I know there are plenty of people who think Massachusetts is a few steps shy of Stalin's Russia. Stephen King probably said it best in The Stand, when the residents of Ogunquit hold an emergency town meeting in the midst of a superflu decimating the planet. They vote not to expel the residents who are already sick, at which point someone suggests that the sick out-of-staters might be kicked out. And that's followed by angry vacationers saying how their business has helped to buoy up the Maine economy. Having been to countless town meetings here, I can fully believe that such arguments would happen here if such a pandemic happened.

Generalizing an entire state population isn't really the best thing to do. Still, plenty of people dislike their state or some other one enough to express their hatred online for all to see. I wanted to do a more comprehensive look at phrases, such as "[state] sucks," "fuck [state]," and "screw [state]," but that would take quite a bit of time and omits numerous phrases such as "[state] is displeasing to me," "I would rather hang from my earlobes than go to [state]," and "[state] has no redeeming qualities and we should tear it out of the country and throw it into the Gulf of Mexico to stop up the oil leak."

So I went with a simple tally of "I hate [state]" results on Google. And here are the states that have earned the most hate.

5. Arizona: 281,000 hits

"With this legislation, I shall make Arizona the fifth most hated state in the nation!"

Before Governor Jan Brewer signed a tough immigration bill into law in April, Arizona may have been in the comfortable middle range of hated states. Even with the bill, the home state of the Grand Canyon edges out Kansas, best known for conservative politics and their continued tolerance of super-bigot Fred Phelps and his clan. Now, with opponents charging that Arizona has given the thumbs-up to racial profiling, the second result for "I hate Arizona" is a Facebook group for "I hate Arizona's legalized profiling law." This only has 59 fans, but other sites reference the immigration law as well.

Other complaints: the heat, mostly, as well as other aspects of the weather, drivers, rattlesnakes, expensive candy, the Cardinals, and a lack of things to do.

4. New York: 334,000 hits

Not post-apocalyptic New York City

Some of this count no doubt comes from the inversion of the "I love New York" merchandise you can find in the Big Apple. And a lot of this hatred probably comes from bad experiences in the city rather than upstate New York. The city has a major cultural scene, it's a huge financial hub, and millions call it their home.

But there's quite a laundry list of reasons people don't like it, too. The pollution, street musicians, beggars, the number of people, the attitude of the people toward non-New Yorkers and other, rent prices and other expenses, crime, and the Yankees.

Not 3. Illinois: 564,000 hits

The reason Illinois has such a big count is this:

Everyone hates Nazis, so I did an advanced search removing them from the equation. Granted, this cuts down on any of the people who are actually complaining about any of the Nazi organizations in Illinois, or any of the whiners who have resorted to Godwin's Law in their issues with the state. But the adjusted result puts Illinois at 140,000 hits, or number 15 on the list of most hated states.

3. Kentucky: 751,000 hits

Even the dogs hate it.

It seems like the Bluegrass State is disproportionately high because of a sports rivalry. The Kentucky Wildcats of the University of Kentucky in Lexington have a major feud with the Louisville Cardinals of the University of Louisville in that city. Both are in Kentucky, which means the residents are quite the self-hating bunch. But it's easier to say "I hate Kentucky" or "Kentucky sucks" if you're a Louisville fan.

There are some complaints about the state rather than the university, though. They're the usual run of gripes: the attitude of the residents, deteriorating infrastructure, road rage, and the people who just plain don't like bluegrass music.

2. North Carolina: 882,000 hits

I would have thought South Carolina would be more hated. Considering the political divide, and the fact that South Carolina has pretty much been the headquarters of conservatism since the Civil War with the latest incident involving a jerkass senator calling both his Republican primary rival and the President "ragheads."

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Thank You, South Carolina - The Race to Replace Disgrace
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

But no, South Carolina garners only 52,900 hits and comes in 31st overall. North Carolina is another self-hating state thanks to sports. The University of North Carolina has a rivalry going with Duke University, and both are in the state but one faction hates Duke while the other hates "North Carolina." It looks like unpredictable weather, the fact that you have to take a side in the basketball war, and drivers make up some of the other issues boosting this count.

1. Nevada: 1,670,000 hits

Really? I never would have expected this. That count is just about a million shy of the population of the state itself. As far as I know, all that's there is Las Vegas, Area 51, and a wide array of nuclear bomb craters. What, are people upset that Nevada gave the presidency to Matt Santos in the fictional election in The West Wing?

Ooh, that durn Mexifornian'll never be MY President!

It seems that relative lack of things to do is what has led people to put Nevada down on the Internet, though. Some commentators say that they despise the state even if they like the people and other aspects of their lives, since it's so hot and dusty and dry. Some of these phrases come from MySpace drama queens who probably hate carrots with as much furor, though. The police make a few appearances as well, and complaints about video games featuring Nevada levels also add to the count.

So what are the least hated locales in the United States?

5. Washington State: 20,700 hits

I expected that Washington might show a false result by the amount of people complaining about the nation's capital. Instead, it came up with this modest figure. I've never been to the state, but it seems like it's got quite a bit of natural beauty in the Cascade Mountains and other areas, plus a terrific city in Seattle.

The complaints that do emerge are the usual fare: drivers and the weather. There are also a few complaints about the state and local government, but doesn't that happen everywhere?

4. New Mexico: 18,600 hits

Awe-inspiring landscapes and UFO crash sites. What's not to love?

Well, the first result is a blogger mildly chastising the state for providing a new home for her best friend, since she wants to be closer to her. And a bit of weather and stuff-to-do complaints show up before Google says the results are pretty much spent.

3. New Hampshire: 17,600 hits

It's always amusing to drive through New Hampshire and see the signs beckoning visitors for cheap booze and cigarettes, plus legal fireworks. It's like all of the fun stuff concentrated in the not-quite-center of New England. The state has a couple of nice little cities, plus the natural splendor of the White Mountains.

One blogger hated it enough to start a seven-part series on his feelings, with the first part looking at winter and black flies. Other complaints generally fall along the same lines before Google runs out of results.

2. North Dakota: 16,200 hits

I'm starting to think North Dakota is something of a national secret. The last I saw, the unemployment rate was next to nothing, and of course you get this rather favorable feedback. It's like a clubhouse that tries to pass itself off as lame to keep outsiders out. Those who do have grievances with the state say there's never-ending winter and nothing to do. I'm sure if they moved to Nevada they'd be fine.

1. Rhode Island: 11,500 hits

Rhode Island is the smallest state, so you really shouldn't pick on it. Plus it's got a nice-looking city and a lot of culture crammed into that modest acreage. Those who don't like it have the same old song and dance: weather, drivers, and stuff to do.

Interested in where your state ranked? Here they are!

Nevada: 1,670,000
North Carolina: 882,000
Kentucky: 751,000
New York: 334,000
Arizona: 281,000
Kansas: 276,000
Alabama: 258,000
Tennessee: 219,000
Indiana: 188,000
Georgia: 176,000
Minnesota: 162,000
Oklahoma: 157,000
Virginia: 156,000
Iowa: 150,000
Illinois: 140,000 (adjusted)
Texas: 133,000
Florida: 130,000
Oregon: 125,000
New Jersey: 116,000
Wisconsin: 109,000
Colorado: 105,000
California: 97,600
Ohio: 97,200
Maryland: 94,600
Missouri: 91,900
Michigan: 86,500
Nebraska: 80,800
Connecticut: 60,500
Louisiana: 53,300
Alaska: 53,000
South Carolina: 52,900
Hawaii: 50,400
Arkansas: 48,600
West Virginia: 44,900
Massachusetts: 44,500
Pennsylvania: 43,300
Idaho: 42,000
Maine: 41,900
Vermont: 39,200
Mississippi: 39,100
Montana: 31,500
Utah: 26,800
South Dakota: 23,300
Delaware: 22,000
Wyoming: 21,600
Washington: 20,700
New Mexico: 18,600
New Hampshire: 17,600
North Dakota: 16,200
Rhode Island: 11,500

Coming eventually: A most/least loved list.