“Beware of ‘Snakes,’ ‘Invaders,’ and Other Fighting Words” warns a recent NYTimes.com article about the power of rhetoric and how it subconsciously influences all who listen to them, even those who disagree. In fact, “asking people even purely hypothetical questions unconsciously shifts their subsequent preferences and behavior in often dramatic ways.”
The article cited the 2000 presidential primary between George W. Bush and John McCain wherein Bush’s campaign sent prospective Republican primary voters in South Carolina a hypothetical question: “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” Mr. Bush subsequently won South Carolina.
When asked “How important is it to you to vote?” you’re more likely to actually vote than if asked, “How important is it to vote?” because “the first makes you reflect on your inherent characteristics regarding voting; the second merely questions your plans. Rhetoric has power; it affects attitudes, behavior, and perceived obligations.” A chilling example occurred in Rwanda when, in the years leading up to the genocide, the Hutu majority dehumanized their Tutsi neighbors by referring to them as “snakes” and “cockroaches,” particularly despicable terms in that culture.
Nonetheless, a spurious article from bigcountryhomepage.com, out of my hometown Abilene, lists both Abilene and — god help us — Odessa, Texas, as two of the “Top Five Cities for Living the American Dream.” Growing up in Abilene, home of tornadoes, droughts, deluges, not to mention plentiful snakes, cockroaches, ticks and chiggers, still left us feeling fortunate not residing in Odessa which has well-earned nicknames like Slowdeatha and Odessolate. Consider a 2017 Texas Monthly headine “Odessa Stinks! (Literally.) … in one resident’s words, like ‘a dog’s anal gland.’ And no one is 100 percent sure why.” It later rated Odessa the state’s “most dangerous city to live in.” Even the public library there was corrupt (as I discovered working there nine, long months), buying books only from remainder dealers and paying full price for nearly worthless books, while renting new releases. Remainders are books “that remains with a publisher after sales have fallen off, usually sold at a reduced price,” normally around 25 cents on the dollar. Kickbacks ensued, and I retain copies of the proof I submitted to the county attorney that was never acted upon.
The aforementioned “American Dream” list was based only on economic factors, like home ownership and values, and unemployment, but there’s more to life. Alaska’s creepy-crawly critters, like carpenter ants, are preferable to Texas’ fire ants. Some ionized boric acid powder around the outside of the house does the job on ours, and boric acid’s made from boron: a fungicide, insecticide and herbicide, that’s not a human- or pet-icide. The ionization makes it cling to the carpenter ants’ exoskeletons and carried home for ingesting by friends and family during grooming. But it won’t stop fire ants.
We have wasps, too, so “Why We Should Appreciate Wasps,” a BBC.com article, is notable for extolling wasps’ importance as predators of other pests. John Crompton’s 1948 book “The Hunting Wasp” left me with an indelible appreciation for wasps. Crompton’s the penname for John Battersby Crompton Lamburn, born in 1893 and a rascal growing up. Instead of becoming a minister, as his father hoped, he dropped out of college and joined the British South African Police in Rhodesia and later worked for a shipping firm in China before retiring to England and writing about the creatures he’d encountered in fascinating detail in a delightfully forthright, anecdotal manner. Kirkus Reviews states, “Crompton makes no case for the wasp’s likeability but does underscore, in precise and adroit manner, a lot of curious and enticing information,” and it’s recommended for “all those who like their nature lore in urbane style.”
“As John Crompton,” Wikipedia states, “he made no claim to scientific expertise but wrote explicitly as a ‘layman writing for a layman.’” While certainly opinionated, Crompton’s books are marbled throughout with strange, exotic adventures, from awaking to find his toenail being gnawed by giant cockroaches to observing a Chinese merchant trying to eat oatmeal with chopsticks. Our library’s copy of “The Hunting Wasp” is missing, but they’ll borrow it from another library for you. It‘s worth the effort, even answering Dylan Thomas’ complaint about “books which told me everything about the wasp, except why.”
Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.