Sunday, November 14, 2010

Of Bed Bugs, Wrinkles, And Men.

Do I offer my deepest apologies to John Steinbeck?
Apologies proffered.

One of the most effective English teachers I know used to stand by the blackboard at the front of the class and take a random list of ingredients for a story, which we would then, orally, make up. It was great fun. To this day, I remember the pig and the dustbin, but not the third element.

If you think that I mean to go somewhere romantic with bedbugs, wrinkles, and men.... you'd be sadly mistaken. Speculative, yes. Romantic, no.

But, I'll bet I could, if I wanted to do so.

Setting aside the wrinkly parts... my inspiration comes from Linda Marsh's article about "climate change" and diseases of the past and future (The Hot Zone) in DISCOVER Magazine, an AOL News piece on bed bugs, my own musings about whether or not to set out on road trips armed with very large plastic bags, and Avatar which I saw on cable tv this week.

Suppose aliens want to kill us. Suppose Gaia wants to kill us.

Pandora (the living moon in Avatar) was sentient but historically impartial. She promoted balance, but did not interfere in the affairs of the life forms on her surface, until the human alien invaders went too far in their quest for unobtainium.

In the interests of balance, Gaia ought to have eliminated more of us than she has. Are we as bad as cockroaches? Worse? How do we compare to dinosaurs... in terms of balance, and carbon footprints?

When we are sick, the purpose of a high fever is to make the body too hot for the germs to survive. From Linda Marsh's heat map, it looks like maybe Gaia might want to shake off some Texans. If one is inclined to think of our world as sentient, like Pandora's.

Deer ticks give us Lyme Disease. Mosquitoes give us West Nile Virus, Bird flu, malaria, dengue fever, encephalitis and more. Are mosquitoes better "agents" and "vectors" than bedbugs? One might think that a winged arthropod "vector" would be better, but one might be wrong.

The trouble with mosquitoes is twofold for a balance-loving planet. Humans fight back, usually with chemical sprays, and there is collateral damage. Mosquitoes expend too much life and energy per bite. They only live a couple of weeks, if that. Also, they're conspicuous in that they make noise, they're large enough to be seen while going about their business, and sooner or later, their bite draws attention to itself.

Quick tip. I find that when I am "bitten" by a mosquito, it's quite effective to slap on a Bioré strip. It draws the mosquito saliva out with the same action that gently eases blackheads and their "tails" out of clogged pores.

Actually, there's a lot more that is wrong with mosquitoes as agents of "change". Only the females bite, and only when they are about to lay eggs, and they don't bite everyone... just those who look dark (dark clothing), smell good, eat their leafy greens, and emit a lot of carbon dioxide. Fair, quiet, perfumed types get a free pass.

I wonder if anyone has ever studied how often politicians get bitten by mosquitoes.

Suppose the goal were simple behavior modification, instead of behavior modification through extermination. There are parasites that modify fish behavior, making the host fish act in such a way that it is far more likely to be caught and eaten by the higher host animal in the food chain into whose gut the parasite needs to travel for the next stage in its life cycle.

What kind of risky behavior might a bed bug bite stimulate in the traveling man? What gene, mania, bug-spit-borne hallucinogen, retrovirus or parasite could be passed?

By the way, this is purely speculative. I have not heard that bed bugs do anything other than suck blood, breed, and hitch rides on anything that moves.

Of course, if the plot were Us vs Our Planet, which side would we be on?


  1. And bed bug infestation is increasing. Hmmm...

  2. This reminds me of my favorite Scott Westerfeld novel,


    It's all about his scientific take on vampires. Great hero too. I often have trouble connecting with his characters, but the Peeps one got to me.

  3. Thanks! Now you've got me wondering about bed bugs.

  4. Oh, yes, PEEPS is fascinating. I especially like the interspersed chapters about different types of parasites. Not for the squeamish. :)