Tag Archives: snakes

Clever Pun About Snakes Goes Here

I generally like Slate.com’s articles, but this piece today from David Fleshler really falls short of the mark. It’s full of scary quotes, terrifying comparisons, and still finds time to be completely wrong about the issue at hand.

In “What a bunch of snakes,” Fleshler makes the following assertions for your consideration:

  • The snake lobby uses the same tactics and rhetoric as the gun lobby.
  • The snake lobby pretends it is representing a really important industry.
  • Fatalities and injuries from dangerous snakes are “soaring.”
  • Even though cats are currently decimating bird and wildlife populations everywhere in the United States and dogs kill and harm far more people than snakes do, they are “our friends. They need us. Pythons don’t.”

The snake lobby uses the same tactics and rhetoric as the gun lobby.

Since Slate’s readers tend to skew leftward (hell, which is why I read it), it’s important to keep in mind that this is a scare tactic to short-circuit the reader’s rational thinking. How is the reptile lobby like the gun lobby? Well, Fleshler tells us that “like the gun lobby, which the reptile industry resembles in its rhetoric, the snake dealers quickly learned to play the Washington game.”

And the gun lobby is, of course, evil. Ergo, the reptile lobby is evil, too. If they weren’t evil, they wouldn’t be like the gun lobby.

The problem is that every lobby group does the same thing. They petition legislators. They cajole and fund raise and threaten and beg and plead and buy their way into getting their agendas passed. They protest and demonstrate and shout and do whatever it takes to get their particular issue heard. The gun lobby does this. The environmental lobby does this. The LGBT lobby does this.

The problem isn’t the rhetoric or the tactics used, because everyone does it and I guarantee if there’s a political issue you care about, there’s likely a lobby out there using those same tactics and rhetoric as all the lobbies you hate. It’s the way things are in Washington and everyone’s doing it.

The gun lobby isn’t evil because of how they’re doing things. They’re evil to liberals because a): they’re winning and b): winning means people continue to get shot in staggering numbers. The gun lobby is the bogeyman in the room because dollars = speech and so they have more dollars and more speech than everyone else opposing them.

The snake lobby pretends it is representing a really important industry.

Some snakes go for a lot of money and so banning them would cause the industry around them a big economic loss. Also, for some reason, it’s important to note that “Anyone concerned about the trade deficit will be glad to know that according to Issa’s report “the U.S. is a global leader in the reptile industry.”

Fleshler isn’t saying that being a global leader in the reptile industry isn’t causing trade deficits, but he also isn’t not saying it either, wink wink.

Fatalities and injuries from dangerous snakes are “soaring.”

There are no official statistics on injuries or deaths from snakes in the United States. But a commonly accepted figure states that 12 people have been killed by constricting snakes since 1990—most of them snake owners or their children. The Humane Society says the number of snake incidents—injuries, attempted constrictions—has soared in the past 10 years, with more than 60 in 2012.

I am here writing this in the Year of Our Lord 2015. Since 1990 (which was, if we do the math . . . 25 years ago), we have lost twelve souls to the terrible coils of constricting snakes. TWELVE LIVES.

And while the loss of any human life is always regrettable, here are a few things more dangerous than large constricting snakes and kill more people:

  1. Dogs: 364 since 2001.
  2. Collapsing sand holes: 16 since 1990.
  3. Guns (factoring only accidental discharges, which excludes suicides and homicides): 851 in 2011.

In fact, in 2014, Slate posted an article discussing in great detail whether snakes were more dangerous than guns. It’s worth a read. (tl;dr version: they’re not). The vast majority of snake-related injuries in the United States are due to wild snakes. Of those caused by kept snakes, most are inflicted by venomous snakes, which many keepers, including myself, steer clear of. Constrictors, even large constrictors, account for a very small percentage of the injury statistics. Which isn’t to say that large constrictors aren’t dangerous—they are powerfully strong animals—but so are rottweilers, German shepherd dogs, and other large breeds.

And despite the use of the scary word “soared,” 60 injuries in 2012 seems rather modest, especially since that’s including any injury, not just those that then led to a fatality.

The problem with the “scary snakes are dangerous” rhetoric is that so many people are afraid of snakes, so it’s easy to fixate on a single gruesome story when it does happen. But in terms of actual danger, more people are killed or harmed by falling out of bed or end up crushed to death under vending machines. And if we want to talk about an injury rate that really is soaring, how about the 350,000 people sent to emergency rooms from dog bite injuries each year?

Ultimately, the problem with the “there should be restrictions on dangerous reptiles” has most to do with the fact that very few people seem willing to draw distinctions between venomous snakes and constrictors of any size. Fleshler’s article is all over the place in this regard. Is he pushing for venomous breed restrictions? Does he want bans on a single large constrictor breed, like the Burmese python? He singles out the boa constrictor as one breed that was dropped from the ban, but fails to talk about the numerous different kinds of boa constrictors there are in all different shapes and sizes.

And this is the part that gets snake keepers up in arms (heh). Proposed restrictions often have this kind of weaselly language written in, and thus a bill introduced to restrict, say, the large and potentially dangerous Burmese python can also restrict the small and innocuous Ball Python, which is tiny in comparison and thoroughly harmless.

Dogs and cats have been bred over millennia to be our friends. Pythons have not, as several surprised snake owners realized in their final moments. Dogs need us. Pythons don’t.

I’m sure the people who were killed by dogs were also surprised to realize that dogs bred to be their friends turned out to be strong, power animals capable of inflicting injury. For me, this quote is the worst of the entire article and indicative that Fleshler’s argument is basically rot. It’s anthropomorphism of the worst sort.

To breezily gloss over the fact that cats, both feral and pet, are causing far more ecological destruction is overwhelming naive and indicative of bias. Pointing out that cats have been bred to be our friends is also basically wrong, and this is from the perspective of a cat fan, but cats domesticated themselves. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that actually owns a cat; as the saying goes, dogs have owners, but cats have staff.

It’s true that reptiles aren’t social animals and they don’t form bonds the way pack-oriented mammals like dogs do. On the other hand, why does that matter? There is a tremendous amount of joy to be had in caring for reptiles of all kinds, if they happen to be the type of animal that most inspires and amazes you. My pets bring me joy every time I look at them or handle them. The fact that they don’t sit by the door wagging their tails waiting for me should not reduce my status to that of a second-class citizen.

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A Moving Diary, Moving Day

The long-awaited (maybe?) conclusion to my move from Tucson, Arizona, to Issaquah, Washington. For those who don’t know where Issaquah is, just substitute “Seattle” instead. It’ll give you the basic idea.

My original intention was to blog daily during each step of the journey. That was wonderfully naive. Long distance moving is like backpacking; when you’re doing it, your entire focus shrinks until there is absolutely nothing in existence other than the road (or trail) ahead of you. During the journey, I didn’t care about anything except for how many miles a day I was clearing and whether I’d make it to the end before I exhausted my music collection.

Emotional fatigue kept me from writing the first few days after I arrived. There was a lot to get done, including settling two houses and carrying many, many heavy things. Even though we arrived on Wednesday, we didn’t return the moving truck until Friday. Then there was a weekend of unpacking and then two days of pure sloth on my part and then . . . holy shit, it’s already Wednesday and I realize that I have to bang this out before we pass the point in which anyone will care. So, without further preamble, let’s wind back the clock and I’ll take you through the process of packing up four lives and all relevant belongings and transporting them to the great Pacific Northwest.

Our cast includes your humble author, my girlfriend Jenn, and my good friends James and Ashley. The final member of our team was Bob, James’ father, who came along for the ride and to help out with getting his son and daughter-in-law moved. Which also extended to his helping carry many of my ridiculously heavy boxes when the time came, which was supremely cool of him to do.

Jenn was the trailblazer and pathfinder of our team, having moved to Issaquah a month before me to take a great job with the local library system. We decided that she would travel fast and light and rent an SUV to tow her motorcycle and carry enough boxes so she’d be able to live for a month until I could bring the rest of her stuff. This plan hit its first snag when we learned that no rental place ever in the world would allow us to put a trailer on the back of their precious rentals and threatened to execute us if we did. My assumption is that there is a rental policy book somewhere that states that people who don’t own tow-capable vehicles are too stupid to know how to tow things. So that meant that both motorcycles (hers and mine) were now in my care when the time came.

This brought us to snag number two. I was desperate to avoid working with a Uhaul truck and really wanted to go with Penske or Budget or one of the other options out there. Unfortunately, only Uhaul would rent out the kind of trailer that I needed to tow two motorcycles. It was briefly discussed putting the bikes in the back of the truck but I vetoed that idea, believing (correctly) that we’d need every foot of space for stuff. So we rented a 26 foot Uhaul and an open-air trailer, and I confidently assured everyone that I knew exactly what was doing and that I had “tons of experience” towing stuff.

Let it be said that I have towed a trailer. Once. It was when I still had an SUV and I borrowed a jet ski from a family member. I towed the jet ski to the lake for the day and succeeded in launching it without driving my car into the lake. This, then, made me the only qualified person to wrangle roughly fifty feet of moving truck and trailer through cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Seattle! Fifty feet is also the length of an adult spinosaurus. I pointed out this fact several times during the trip.

Why did I need such a monstrous rig? Well, when Jenn took the job in Issaquah, there was a different plan at the time, but of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy. At the time, we decided that she would move first because she had to start her job and I would move in June with the truck and the stuff because my brother’s wedding is in May and it would be silly to move all of our stuff and then get back on a plane to fly back to the city I just left. Right?

That lasted until I priced the cost of a truck, trailer, and fuel. Ouch. Suddenly, I was very eager to consider any possible alternative. I saw an opportunity when I learned that my friend James had decided to do his move at the end of April to be with his wife Ashley, who’d been in Seattle since January (if you’re confused, just realize that no couples in our generation move simultaneously these days. It’s very passe to do such a thing; staggered relocations are much more in vogue.)

“Hey, James,” I said on the phone immediately after learning about his move and not bothering to congratulate him on his new future or anything decent like that. “I would desperately like to share the cost and burden of moving with you, so let us intertwine our fates and move together and ignore the fact that this now doubles the workload for both of us and focus on the sweet, sweet fact that we can each save $2,000.”

“Goddamnit!” he cried, but only because he was playing League of Legends at the time and had just gotten ganked by an enemy jungler. (I think all those terms are correct, but I don’t really know).

“Oh, yeah, sure,” he said after a pause. “Sounds great.”

And that was my solution! I would move up my own plans a month, share the move with my good friends, be reunited with my lady a month early, and make everything beautiful and wonderful along the way. And even though I will now be flying back to Tucson literally two weeks after I moved away from Tucson, I still saved money since plane tickets cost considerably less than $2,000.

The other weird thing was that my farewells to friends and family became a little odd. “Goodbye, my beloved family,” I said during my farewell dinner with my mom, my brother, and my sister-in-law to be. “I will never forget you. You will be in my heart always. I will see you in . . . two weeks. Which is actually less time than if I was still living here, because we usually only do this about once a month.”

Then there was just the packing, which I’ve already detailed. And then came the big day.

Sunday, April 26

We got an early start and picked up the truck and trailer. I learned how to attach the trailer, which I already knew how to do but I made an effort to pay attention anyway. I had my first experience driving the monster vehicle and quickly learned that a 26 foot Uhaul truck and a Kawasaki Z1000 are very different driving experiences. But on the plus side, my motorcycle riding experience has made me an intensely paranoid driver and that served me very well over the next few days.

I drove the truck over to James and Ashley’s house first. Ashley had flown back from Seattle to help with the move; Jenn wanted very much to do the same but she was already taking time off to come back for the wedding in May and couldn’t get so much time off so close to starting her new position.

We loaded their boxes and furniture first, since my stuff would have to be unloaded first. Oh, yes, that was another little wrinkle: we would be arriving in Seattle on Wednesday, but they weren’t able to get the keys to their place until Friday. So we’d be roommates for a few days! But all of that meant my stuff was going to be last in, first out.

I went back to my house after James’ parents and brother arrived and I realized that I still wasn’t quite ready. Whenever you’re packing, there are always the easy boxes first: all the books go here, all the electronics go here, etc. But eventually, you run out of stuff that goes together and you get the “fuck it” boxes that include things like two screwdrivers, a thing of Pinesol, and the Brita Filter you forgot about until the last moment.

The loading of the truck progressed well, except that very quickly, we realized that even with the largest truck available, we weren’t going to have enough room for everything. Cuts would have to be made. This wasn’t an unforeseen outcome, but it still meant a few bookshelves had to be left behind. Worst of all, though, I had to choose between my recliner and my couch. The recliner was my gaming throne and although it was worn, torn, shredded by zealous kitties, falling apart, and really just the ugliest thing ever, it was comfy. Although I think it was the right decision to leave the recliner behind because when I told my mom I was keeping the couch instead of the recliner, she said, “oh, thank God.” So there’s that.

Monday, April 25

Jenn had already bought a new bed in Issaquah, so I hadn’t packed the old one, which gave me a place to sleep for my last night in Tucson. It’s a very surreal experience, sleeping in your mostly packed up house. But surreal or not, suddenly it was time to go. Farewells were said. Tears were shed (but really, it was just dust in my contact lenses. It was very dusty, you know.) And we were off! James would be riding with me in the truck, while Ashley and Bob were driving their Prius. We would rotate drivers between the two groups the next few days, although I did solemnly and sincerely promise Ashley that I would not ask her to driving the monster truck at any point. As an infinitely more reasonable and sensible person than me, she was not keen on driving the spinosaurus-truck.

So it was me and James in the truck cabin. Well, actually, it was me, James, Maize, and Morrigan. Maize and Morrigan are my two snakes and they were along with me for the entire ride. I’d bought little plastic carrying cages for them a few days before and I set them up in the middle seat of the truck. They were my constant companions for the entire journey.

And if you’re wondering how much snakes love to be in a loud, vibrating truck, the answer is that they do not love it. They were rather miserable the entire time. Poor babies. But it had to be done and I did the best that I could taking care of them. That was Team Truck. We were ready to go!

Except maybe not. Almost immediately after firing up the truck, the Check Engine Oil light was on. We called Uhaul Customer Service and they told us, after some discussion, that “yeaaaaah, that truck was already overdue for servicing.” Which, you know, no big deal. It’s not like they knew we were going to be driving it 1,500 miles based on the reservation I’d made a month in advance, a reservation which required all relevant destination information.

I really didn’t want to switch trucks after it had taken us an entire day to load this one, so we popped the hood, checked the oil, saw that it was low, and added oil in ourselves. The light went off which was good enough for me. As long as the truck survived all the way to Seattle, it could implode on itself afterward for all I cared.

And then we were off! Except once again, not really, because we had to get gas since the tank was only half full.

Here’s the thing about driving a motorcycle daily. You get really, really used to the fact that a week’s worth of gas is $10. But in a monster Uhaul? $10 doesn’t even get you a tick mark on the gauge. Filling up that thing caused me actual, physical pain every time we had to stop and that was with the knowledge that I was splitting all fuel costs 50/50. Had I done this on my own, I’m sure that fueling the truck would have given me a brain aneurysm.

And then, finally, we were off! We hit the road, ready to roll out for new adventures and new lands. Except that the first part of the drive was Tucson to Phoenix up I-10, a trek that every southern Arizonan has made so many times you can do it in your sleep. And based on the driving skills of my fellow travelers that day, I think at least a few were attempting to do exactly that.

Once you get past the Phoenix and Tucson corridor, though, you break into the long, uninterrupted stretches of wild desert and mountains that make the Southwest what it is. Outside of Alaska, the Southwest is the least densely populated region, particularly Nevada, and believe me, you feel that isolation when you’re out on the road.

There wasn’t much to report from this leg of the journey. We stopped and ate lunch in a town called Wikiup. Which isn’t to say that we bought lunch there; there didn’t seem to be any actual restaurants in Wikiup. Instead, we ate food I’d brought along myself: cold pizza and sandwiches. We parked the truck at a pull-off for a “historical marker” monument that earned my vote for the most bullshit metal plaque ever. Here’s a tip: if you’re going to enshrine a historical event forever, don’t write on your bronze metal plaque that “Spanish explorers were probably the first people to settle this area.” You’re writing this down in metal, people. Don’t say “probably.” You really should know.

Our destination was Las Vegas and our route took us past Lake Mead and over the Hoover Dam. All I have to say is holy shit and not for the reasons you’re thinking. The dam was fine. Easy, even. It’s the lake that had me freaking out. Everyone in the Southwest has been hearing about the catastrophic drought for years but to actually see how low the water is and to realize that shrinking lake is the majority of Tucson’s water . . . it’s freaky. I’m honestly surprised that more people aren’t freaking out about this the way they are in California. I guess it’s because Arizona is still more than a year away from complete water catastrophe. Regardless, it chilled my bones. I’d advise stocking up on water. You know, just in case.

Onward to Las Vegas.

Las Vegas sucks.

The roads are nightmarish, the drivers are ferocious, and everywhere, you see the kind of excess that makes you wonder, “wait, you guys know this is a desert, right? And the lake over there that supplies all of your water is dangerously low?”

We stayed with James’ friend’s sister and her husband for the night, which was interesting. Their house was lovely with plenty of space for everyone to crash. The reason it was a little less pleasant (and why I’m not mentioning their names nor planning on sharing this post with them) is because she was absolutely terrified of snakes. I didn’t want to leave the snakes in the truck overnight and I was too tired to consider other options, so while James provided a distraction, I brought the snakes in under a blanket and quietly set them up in the corner of one of the guest rooms and kept the door shut. It worked out fine, but all evening and throughout the night, I kept having nightmares that they would escape and end up killed by our well-intentioned but uninformed hosts.

This post is running far, far longer than I expected, so I think this is where I’ll pause for a bit. I suppose this is the downside of saving the entire story for the end rather than posting as I go. Ah well. We’ll continue our tale tomorrow! Thanks for reading!

Countdown To NaNoWriMo

We’re just over a week away from November 1, which means we’re a week away from another National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is one of those things people either seem to love or hate; you either drink the kool-aid (as I have) and are a believer that it’s a great antidote for procrastination or you scoff at the idea that writing a novel is something that can be distilled down to a 30 day flurry.

I’m torn about what to do this year. I have two ideas for novels, one titled The Snake Detective about a herpetologist recruited by the police to help solve a bizarre snake-related murder. Now, murder mysteries are certainly not my forte, aside from my love of the TV show Castle, and I can safely say I’ve never written a murder mystery of any kind in my life. So while the murder mystery might be a genre as over saturated as any other, for me, it’s uncharted water. Also, I’m pretty sure very few people have written murder mysteries about herpetologists, so there’s my hook. Yes, this idea was inspired by my reaction to the rock python strangulation in August.

My second idea is one called Dreamshift. This one is more nebulous in my mind, but the basic idea is that each time you fall asleep, your mind shifts into a different world. This worlds exist concurrently, so each world you shift into moves on without you even after you wake up. The main character would then be living out fragments of his or her life in several different storylines. I’m sure this idea is already the basis for an anime somewhere, because that’s what always happens when I have a high concept idea like this. “Oh, that sounds just like Neon Galaxy Ghost Dream Warriors.”

The last idea is to try something different, which is to break one of the cardinal rules of NaNo. One of the rules is that you shouldn’t work with a story you’ve already been working on. There’s too much investment and time which can interfere with the ability to just write like crazy. There’s always the chance you’ll get bogged down. Also, you can’t use a word count from last year as a starting point, since that would be cheating.

Regardless, you’re still free to do what you want and since I’ve “won” the last few NaNo’s, it might be time for a change. My idea is to take the novel I wrote last year, Bleed, and finish it. I stopped at about 50,000 words, which wasn’t the end of the story. The goal then would be to create another 50,000 words. Bleed, Part Two, maybe. Bleed was my first venture into the cyberpunk genre; basically, a near future where everybody had their smartphone equivalents implanted directly into the brain which led to problems as the distinctions between the virtual world and the physical world began to bleed into one another. Hence the name.

I’m not going to crowd source this particular decision, of course. I’ll start working on whatever I feel the most inspired by come November 1. But some feedback would still be interesting. What do you think?

Animals Boning Each Other And What That Says About God’s Will

You should be aware that this post is largely about hardcore snake-on-snake action. If that offends your sensibilities, you may wish to read something else. Ye be warned.

“It’s against God’s will! It’s unnatural! It goes against the natural order of things!”

Ah, the clarion call of the religious argument against homosexuality. Rarely has there been a more succinct and more thoroughly reasoned argument made against an entire group of people than this; the fact that it’s also the same argument that was made against interracial marriage, for example, is something we aren’t supposed to think about.

But is it really unnatural? Is it even a good idea to live our lives according to what is natural? I’m not so sure. We have to assume that animals incapable of thought that obey their God-given instincts are acting perfectly natural, right? It’s only we thinking humans that are capable of perverting the natural order with our perverse perversions.

But if that’s the case, consider this:

When North American garter snakes mate, both sexes emit pheromones that enable other snakes to smell whether they are males or females to help them home in on a partner. But the coolest snakes, so to speak, are the warmest males – these always win the females. Up to 25 randy males may cluster around a single female, forming an orgiastic ball of writhing, copulating snakes.

Sometimes male garter snakes will emit female-like pheromones to fool other males into an attempt to mate with the ‘she-male’ snakes; scientists think this behavior tactic is designed to help them get warm quickly after their winter hibernation. The warmed-up ‘she-males’ then have a more successful time mating with the female snakes than their decidedly cooler competition.

In order to test this hypothesis, a team led by Dr. Rich Shine from the University of Sydney fixed miniature thermal data loggers to snakes to accurately measure their heat transfers, and also used dead snakes as courtship targets. They proved their point and published the result in Nature magazine. And yes, some randy snakes did try to mate with the dead snakes – even necrophilia is not out of bounds in the animal kingdom . . . (Source)

First thought: wow, these are some freaky snakes. In three paragraphs, we have snake orgies, snake drag queens that try to trick unsuspecting snake boys, and snake necrophilia. These snakes are hardcore, they are on a mission and that mission is to fuck other snakes and make more snakes. And they will stop at nothing to accomplish this goal.

Suddenly, two dudes or two ladies who fancy each other doesn’t seem so weird, does it? Compared to these snakes, humans are basically prudes: straight, gay, bi, trans, it doesn’t matter, we’re all basically celibate compared to the lengths these snakes will go to for some hot snake-on-snake action.

And this is all perfectly natural. They’re just following their instincts. Their natural, presumably God-given instincts.

If we’re to infer that “what’s natural” is a good indicator for how God wants us to live our lives, I think it’s reasonable to assume that God is perfectly okay with some incredibly freaky shit.

Zerglings Have Feelings, Too

I love this parody campaign from PETA reminding us to treat all living things with compassion, even the zerglings. For the record, yes, Zerg is my favorite race to play as in StarCraft,

Seriously, though, who can resist this adorable little guy?

Image

Although PETA tends to go off its meds, so to speak, overall, I consider their mission of opposing animal cruelty to be a worthy one. The horrors of factory farm were one of the primary motivations that encouraged me to become a vegetarian seven years ago. I particularly like this quote, explaining the motivation for a fictional campaign against fictional cruelty against a fictional being:

So remember, while Zerglings are not real, there are many equally “strange” and exotic animals we share this planet with who deserve our empathy. Just because crocodiles and snakes look alien to us, that doesn’t make it OK to skin them alive for a handbag, shoes, or a belt.

It’s something to keep in mind. Maize and Morrigan are my two pet snakes and they are every bit as dear to me as your dog or cat is to you. I can tell you that it’s just as upsetting to see your handbag made out of the skin of one of my favorite animals as it would be for you to see me in a coat made from puppy-fur.

Just something to keep in mind. Also, in case it’s not obvious, I don’t own a coat made from puppies. That would be wrong. Also, it would be impractical since I live in the desert.