Monday, June 17, 2013

To No-Fly-Zone, or Not to No-Fly-Zone?

Today in the news, I was pleased to hear that President "I-Heard-Your-Last-Call-on-Verizon-and-You-Should-Be-Ashamed-of-Yourself" Obama had finally agreed that it was about time to help arm the Syrian rebels in their civil war, just so that the Russians, Hezbollah, Bashar al-Assad and some guy named Steve will think twice before totally killing and gassing (or was that gassing and raping? It's hard to keep up with the atrocities committed by that walking pile of camel diarrhea) completely innocent Syrian people.  The current debate is what kind of weaponry to give these rebels.  Do we give them rifles?  -machine guns?  -grenade launchers?  -mortars? -Patriot Missile Batteries?  -AAA batteries?  What happens if we give them something cool like Stinger shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, they win their civil war, they stop shaving, they start screaming about "Allah!" and my personal favorite, "Death to the Great Satan America!"  and then start using those Stingers to shoot down our drones that we send in to righteously kill them with?
I say we send them a bunch of these deadly firearms.
We used them in our Revolution and Civil War!
Another thing being batted around the foreign policy think-tanks (Think-Tanks: the best offensive weapon against Think-Trenches) is whether or not to establish a "No-Fly Zone" like the international community did in Iraq (the first time), Bosnia and Libya.  Since such questions are best left to people like Secretary of State John Kerry and his esteemed colleagues in the foreign ministries of our allies (yeah, BOTH of them!), Adjunct Prof will weigh-in his considerably massive intellect (and similarly large behind) on another kind of no-fly zone with a different weapon: pesticides!

I know you loyal readers are sick and tired of hearing this, but the Sumerians (geesh, isn't there anything those wacky Mesopotamians didn't do first?) used sulphur compounds as a way to keep insect populations down around their harvested grain (I guess those Sumerian Cats were great at mousing, but could do fuck-all about bugs).  Meanwhile, over in India, the Aryan Vedas (sacred writings of the Aryan peoples, not little dudes dressed up entirely in black, wielding light-sabers and breathing with the help of a respirator) mention that Indians used poisonous plants in order to stop bugs from getting into the basmati rice and shrimp vindaloo.  They didn't say which poisonous plants, nor did they mention anything about the effects of eating a papadam or samosa made with grain tainted by these unnamed poisonous plants, but since there are Indian people currently living in India and in Waltham, Massachusetts, I'm pretty sure it wasn't 100% fatal.

Ancient Greeks (as opposed to Greeks in their early 20's) were well known to use smoke to drive-off some pests such as caterpillars and aphids.  Another thing they did was to pray to the relevant god/goddess of agriculture to protect their crops.  They also used arsenic-laced powders.  I sincerely hope that ancient Greek (as opposed to Greek teenager) cooks washed their ingredients thoroughly before preparing a meal made with arsenic seasoning.
"That's one gyro with mint and diced olives, hold the arsenic."

In Rome, Pliny the Elder wrote that it was a good idea to use this junk called galbanum resin which you get from the fennel plant (whose seeds are inserted into sausages to give them a little kick) and add it to sulphur in order to discourage mosquitoes from snacking on you.  Leave it to those Romans --they even invented the first rat-proof granary!  This, of course, put thousands of cats and rat-chasing dog breeds out of work.  These disaffected animals gravitated towards radical politics and were  instrumental in the internal collapse of the Western Roman Empire.  Ok, maybe they weren't.  I forget.

But the best ever pesticidists (I know it isn't a real word, Microsoft Word --you don't have to underline it in red any more!) of the ancient world were the Chinese --first the Shang, who used chemicals to get rid of agriculture pests and bugs on people and animals, and later the Han who used the really hard-core stuff like mercury (not the Roman god Mercury --he was too busy delivering flowers) and arsenic to kill bugs dead.  No doubt these early chemical pesticides were discovered by philosopher-alchemists who were searching for the potion of eternal life, but hey, it killed cooties so good job.

After the ant on the left crushes the other ant with that cherry tomato,
it will be served-up in a tasty marinara sauce.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention our friends-behind-the-burka, the Arabs, in this decidedly minor treatise on pesticides.  The Arabs, observant little buggerers that they are, noticed that a certain species of mountain ant ate lots of other lesser species of ants for breakfast, lunch and supper.  They correctly figured out that a bunch of these mountain ants would munch-out on this other variety of ant that lived in oases and attacked date-palm trees, which produced dates, and since the Arabs went out on lots of dates, in order to protect their precious date-palm trees, they caught a bunch of mountain ants, transported them by camel-back to the oasis and let those hillbilly ants do their thing. Of course, once the mountain ants were out of oasis ants to eat, they starved to death, but so what, we're talking ants here.

When Western Civilization all but collapsed during the Middle (as opposed to the slightly-left-of-center) Ages, people couldn't have cared less about bugs in the granary, in the fields, or in the various cracks and crevices of their houses and skin (ewwwww!) Rumor has it that the Bishop of Orleans in France once tried to excommunicate the German Hessian Fly that had infested the wheat fields around Orleans in the 1270's.  The same rumor has it that he was entirely successful: no Hessian Flies were given communion at all during the entire decade of 1270.  Of course, the wheat fields went to crap anyway, but good for the ol' Bish for rolling-up his clerical sleeves and trying to do something.
And while I'm at it, all you fleas had
just better watch your asses 'cause you're next!

So, the Renaissance, Reformation and First Scientific Revolution all happened with nary a one bothering about bugs in the bed or bread-box.  It wasn't until the Age of Enlightenment (you know, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Monty Python?) that a Swedish taxonomist (no, not the guy who mounts your championship bass on a board;  that's a taxidermist!) named Carolus Linnaeus, a.k.a. Carl von Linne after he was knighted, took it upon himself to study, describe, classify and attempt to draw every single miserable pest that infested crops, livestock, pets and people.  What a breakthrough!  Now that we know what they look like, we can figure out a way to kill the little fuckers!

All through the 1700's and 1800's, farmers everywhere tried one thing and another on their crops to kill worms, weevils, leaf-cutters and such.  They wrote of their successes in publications like almanacs and popular magazines so that other farmers could benefit from their success.  In the 1840's, fungi were added to the list of pests that needed to be eradicated, when potato blight just about killed the entire rural population of Ireland and drove most of the survivors to anywhere else in the world that had food.
You bugs are SO screwed!

As the 20th century rolled around, some bright-bulb on the Christmas tree figured you could spray an entire field in short-order with that newfangled invention, the airplane.  Great, people now have air-support in their fight against bugs!  Then World War II happened, and the United States' agricultural industry ended up feeding the entire world for a couple of years, so all and every pest that ate food just had to go.  Enter DDT!!!  As pesticides go, this one was the bomb!  It killed every friggin' bug within miles of its application.  It looked like humanity was on the cusp of a pest-less utopian future.  Then along came Rachel Carson.

The time was 1962; the place was New York City; the publisher was Houghton Mifflin; the book they just published was Silent Spring.  This was one of the first and certainly one of the most influential books of the new environmentalist movement.  In it, Rachel Carson described how DDT was not only killing bugs, but it was also killing birds, snakes, fisher cats, cows, pigs, sheep, and even endangering humans.  You see, DDT apparently made birds' eggshells thinner than --well, eggshells, so when the mother bird sat on them to keep them warm, they cracked, thus killing her babies before they were even born (awwwww!)  Carson then asked her readers what would spring sound like if there was no birdsong because there were no birds because they had all been killed in the egg.
No tweets for you, bird-killers!
Since Silent Spring (nice alliteration there, eh cute English Adjunct Prof?), people have somewhat backed-off from chemicals in order to control pests.  A lot of pesticides are based on natural things, like chrysanthemum flowers and other flowers that bugs hate.  Some have even gotten wicked creative, especially in the fight against mosquitoes.  You see, mossies are attracted to warm-blooded animals because they give off heat and a lot of carbon dioxide.  Knowing this, some genius invented this gadget that looks like a big, fat, blood-filled animal to mosquitos.  It gives off a ton of heat and CO2, so much that mosquitos stampede over themselves to fly over and bite it.  When they get close to it, they are instantly vacuumed out of the sky and stuck in a bag where they eventually die of starvation.  The whole thing costs about $349.99, is powered by a barbecue propane tank and is available at the closest Walmart, Home Depot or Lowes.  Neat, eh? 
This li'l sucker will clear a
whole acre's worth of mosquitos

But if you don't want pesticides or machines killing your bugs, why not build a breeding-bat-box?  Bats eat way more bugs than birds do, are mammals just like us, and turn all those bugs into lovely guano, a.k.a. bat-poop, a.k.a the best fertilizer ever known.  Besides, wild bats are in trouble (at least the little brown bats in North America) because of this fungus that grows on their noses in the wintertime when they are hibernating.  They could use a leg-up from their fellow mammals on this one.

Aren't we lucky to live in a day and age where we can create a no-fly zone inside our kitchens with just a roll of Shell No-Pest Strip flypaper?  Some bugs can even spread nasty diseases --think Bubonic Plague and Eastern Equine Encephalitis --and almost all of them have untidy eating habits and distressing reproductive practices.  So the next time you swat a bug, just think of how far we have come in managing the pests that infest our little patch of ground.  But don't get rid of all of them --what would the birds and bats eat?
I vant to suck your blood!

1 comment:

  1. And yes, although spiders eat a lot of bugs, they are still bugs as far as I am concerned. I mean really, did you read any of J.R.R.Tolkien's books? He didn't like spiders either :-P