Murder Hornets expose the dark roots of our deepest fears

There’s a science to cute animals—Charismatic Mega Fauna—with their big eyes. They look like babies to us, even if they’re fully grown.

And there are reasons why we are irrationally afraid of the opposite, which I’m naming Scarymatic Mega Trauma.

The fear is there regardless of the actual threat.

Murder Hornets belong in this category. They look scary, even if the actual threat is low, and they have arrived in my square-shaped state on the Left Coast of ‘Murica.

Great White Sharks, crocodiles, and snakes all fall into this category. They have squinty little eyes and sharp teeth and a total lack of pettable fur.

Yet the numbers show we’re completely wrong to fear most Scarymatic Mega Trauma.

HERE COME THE MATHS.

Doesn’t matter.

Still scared of getting into the ocean with them. Thanks, Spielberg. I will never learn to surf because of you.

Sharks kill an average of six people per year. Worldwide. Moo-cows are far more dangerous at 20 per year.

Wolves (scary!) kill 10. Adorable dogs? 17,400.

There are some animals that do scare us for good reasons. Lions, tigers, and elephants are on that list, along with crocodiles, scorpions, and snakes. Do not mess with any of them, or try to have them as pets. Joe Exotic is not a role model.

Others creatures are deadly, but neither scary nor cute. Freshwater snails (4,400) do not inspire fear. They just murderize you.

Goats seem cute, despite their horns. You’re not afraid even if 200 of them take over your streets in California.

The biggest killer is the lowly mosquito, who we see as more of a tiny nuisance than the second coming of Ted Bundy. Mosquitos take out 830,000 people per year, which is insane.

I think our caveman brains explain the lack of fear of the mosquito. We don’t just divide animals into (a) Charismatic Mega Fauna and (b) Scarymatic Mega Trauma. There’s also (c) Can I Take This Wild Animal?

That’s the acid test: if we locked you in the Thunderdome with Animal X, would you come out alive and victorious? You see things like mosquitos as so small and easy to smoosh that it doesn’t register as any sort of threat. With a skeeter or freshwater snail, we’re overconfident. No problem, despite the deadly diseases of the blood sucker or the poisonous venom of the tiny snail. Who’s afraid of a snail? Come on.

So yes, there are Murder Hornets in my backyard, and they qualify as Scarymatic Mega Trauma, but I am not afraid. Keep your snakes and snails away from me, though.

Also: There’s a recent photo on the Series of Tubs of this man holding an adorable little octopus in his hand, except it’s a blue ringed octopus, which has enough venom to kill almost 30 humans. Don’t pick those up.

 

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A beautiful shot that almost wasn’t

Every week, I see amazing views, things that might be a great shot, and I usually don’t stop to shoot it because LIFE GETS IN THE WAY, and there are places to go, and deadlines to meet.

This time, we saw something amazing and actually stopped.

Here’s what we saw from the car, which didn’t match what our eyes saw.

No big deal, right? It’s a sunset. 

Instead of going to our destination, we flipped around, stopped the car and got out to actually shoot this. And no, I didn’t have the Nikon of Infinite Beauty, so this next photo came from my phone (Pixel 3).

That’s uncropped, unedited and untouched. It may not be the best shot of the dozen I took. I’ll have to check.

Doesn’t matter, because I’m thrilled to have shot it. So worth it. 

I’ll try to shoot more, wherever I go. Not just on vacations overseas or when there’s an event like a wedding. This photo happened on a normal day that just happened to be when the Sun God decided to go crazy and paint the sky.

Weird news you can’t improve: Feral hogs find and destroy cocaine worth $22,000 hidden in woods

As a former journalist, and a fan of weird news, it’s rare for a story to fully combine (a) dangerous wild animals, (b) stupid criminals and (c) illegal drugs.

Usually, those sorts of ingredients turn into a different sort of weird news story, a Florida Man-style escapade with the possibility of somebody winning a Darwin Award.

But this time, it’s just comical.

I’ll post the link to the story below, but since we’re talking inverted pyramid journalism, you already get the key details.

Feral hogs find and destroy cocaine worth $22,000 hidden in woods

More importantly: What makes this story so good?

A total surprise

I’ve never heard of wild hogs finding and eating cocaine. Pretty sure you haven’t, either.

With so many sources of news online or in print, and the ability to search the Interwebs for old stories, truly new and unique stories like this rarer than a Kardashian born with an allergy to TV cameras.

Your typical weird news story about dangerous wild animals has them doing typical animal things. You know, a bear getting into your house to raid the fridge or swim in your pool. Stuff you can totally understand and predict. If you were a bear, wouldn’t you munch the nom-noms and then take a nice swim? Course you would.

Nobody, not even a crack team of screenwriters in Hollywood sitting in the desert after hitting a bong incredibly hard, would ever come up with feral hogs eating a stash of cocaine in the woods.

Karmic payback

We are wired to think of things in terms of stories, to root for heroes and hope bad guys fail.

This is a case were bad guys fail in a spectacular and funny way.

Oh, you thought hiding the cocaine in the woods was smart? GUESS WHO ATE IT ALL.

A growing problem

Feral hogs are no joke. Go ask farmers in Texas.

Over in Italy, where this happens, the population of wild pigs just doubled. Not from a few hundred roaming the woods like a four-legged Robin Hood and his band of merry, hairy buddies, sniffing around for truffles or Peruvian blow. We’re talking about TWO FREAKING MILLION feral pigs.

That’s not a little problem. That’s the first five minutes of the horror movie known as DAWN OF THE DEAD, CAUSE THE COKED UP WILD HOGS ATE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY.

Need to shorten that title, but you get the idea.

Here’s a crazy video compilation of when wild pigs attack hunters. I don’t blame the pigs for fighting back. It just shows you how quick and tough they are. Now imagine two million of them in the woods.

 

Zombie chicken breast wakes up, walks off restaurant table

Usually, a great weird news story takes a number of delicious ingredients that work together. 

  • First, you need a person, typically a man, often from Florida.
  • Second, there’s usually some substance abuse: alcohol, meth, cocaine, LSD, magic mushrooms–or, if you’re in West Virginia, wasp spray. Yeah, I’m not making that up. Vodka and crank? Old and busted. Wasp spray is the new hotness, though it might make you may curl up and die like a foamy yellowjacket.
  • Third, your average, intoxicated Florida Man has a hard time crafting his own weird news masterpiece without other actors on the stage. You need a dangerous wild animal, explosives, firearms, motor vehicles, illegal fireworks or a silly crime, like trailer park residents dressing up like ninjas to rob 7-Elevens. 
  • All this builds up to a crescendo of cray-crazy, with our anti-hero giving Mayhem a flirty look in a dive bar before buying her cheap tequila shots, making out in the parking lot and winding up half-naked in the dumpster, which happens to be on fire.
  • Finally, the typical weird news story ends with a 911 call with the police and paramedics arriving to (a) clean up the mess and (b) document the insanity. Mug shots!

Rarely do you get a great weird news story with a single ingredient so amazing that it stands alone, creating a supernova of stupidity and wonder, a blast of white-hot insanity so pure that it needs no help whatsoever from either the great state of Florida or the most powerful intoxicants on planet Earth.

This is one of those cases.

I’ve heard of headless chickens walking around after farmer’s lopped off their noggins. Seems half-mythical, half-believable, and I only believe because a family member saw it growing up and has refused to eat chicken ever since.

HOWEVER: here’s video proof that chickens have zombie powers. This freshly slaughtered chicken breast tries to fly off the restaurant table.

Here’s video proof. And yes, this is the best version of the video, with some decent science paired with silly muzak.

Undead tree stump

Here’s a bonus: there’s another zombie story in the news today, and this one is actually more important than entertaining.

Scientists in New Zealand found an undead tree stump.

Why should we care, aside from the fact that this sounds like the first three minutes of a B horror movie?

The tree stump is only alive because its roots are interconnected with other trees, all to share water and nutrients. Scientists say if this is a common practice, they need to rethink how they see forests. Instead of individual plants and trees, they may be more like a community, helping each other out and protecting against drought and erosion.

With WATERWORLD becoming prophecy, this news is actually a big deal. I’m all for anything that protects against drought and erosion. 

Zombie chicken breast, you’re spectacularly weird and wonderful.

But undead tree stump, you’re important and might help save the only home we have. 

Amazingly weird headline–Man in underwear arrested at animal shelter after fighting invisible nemesis

Oh, you might think I’m embellishing that headline, that I’m gilding the weird news lilly. Nope. 

Here’s a direct link, which is only one word different, and it’s a word that only adds to the fun of the story.

Police: Man in underwear arrested at animal shelter after fighting invisible nemesis

See? The headline is completely accurate, sourced to the police, and the police report adds even more weird news goodness:

  • He was throwing things at passing motorists
  • He told police he hadn’t slept for a week
  • He also told police that his heart was not beating

If I made this all up, and put it in a short story or novel, you’d laugh me out of the room. 

But if I said this took place in Florida, you’d nod your head and add it to the long list of Florida Man headlines. So maybe the weirdest thing about this weird story is it happened in Kentucky, instead.

Here’s to you, Kentucky Man–you may be a pioneer, one of the first to truly challenge Florida Man, but I hope you’re not the last.

 

Ten ways to remove your shirt–and what they say about you

Funny, right? Let’s unpack why this works so well.

There are NOT ten different ways

That’s the heart of this joke. Yeah, there are probably three legit ways to remove a T-shirt–maybe four.

What’s funny is the creativity involved.

This man had to think hard to smash through that upper limit of truly different ways a normal human can take off a shirt.

The descriptions are spot on

Every different method gets a perfect description, matching the style of shirt removal and/or the type of person who uses it.

That’s tough to do with just a few words and a couple of seconds of video each time.

My favorites: one-arm lifehack method, psychopath and toddler.

Proper structure

I’m being silly here, right? Talking about structure for a little snippet of viral video like t his.

Nope. Completely serious.

Reverse the order of the ten ways to remove shirts. Go ahead and do that in your head and this thing doesn’t fly at all.

Because it would go from hilarious to funny to normal.

This works as comedy because it creates the biggest possible contrast between the beginning and the end. The first couple of methods are totally normal and the last ones are insane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 10 creepy sea creatures — and why creatures are a staple of our weird news diet

Odd creatures aren’t just a staple of weird news stories.

They’re a huge box-office draw. Name a blockbuster or billion-dollar movie and it’s almost a sure bet that they feature fantasy or alien creatures.

Think about it: AVATAR, STAR WARS, the Harry Potter series and the lame Harry Potter prequel series, STAR TREK, MEN IN BLACK, any of the 5,832 Marvel movies, LORD OF THE RINGS and the lame Hobbit prequel series that should have been one flipping movie.

Yeah, there are cute fluffy creatures sometimes. Yet just about every giant hit has a zoo’s worth of Ewok’s, orcs, space elves or cybernetic raccoons with a gun fetish.

So what gives a creepy sea creature, man-eating forest monster or elephant-sized wild hog such power to fascinate us?

Let’s break it down.

WILL THIS MONSTER SEE ME AS A SNACK?

That’s the most visceral attraction, a caveman instinct we can’t get rid of: paying close attention to obvious threats.

And yes, a healthy chunk of weird creatures–whether they live in the sea, the mountains or your local forest–tend to be predators with humans possibly on the menu.

IS IT FASCINATINGLY DISGUSTING?

There’s some crossover here. Many of the things that can totally go nom-nom-nom on us–like leeches, lampreys, giant squids and alligators–can’t be called cute.

A bunch of non-threatening weird animals are only interesting because they’re so bizarre and repellent, like the blob fish.

THIS CAN’T BE REAL

Other strange creatures get our attention because we can’t believe they’re not CGI.

How do Christmas Tree Worms really eat? Do lampreys have eyes or are they just a wormy eel thing with giant teeth?

THE FLORIDA MAN TEST

Weird news stories typically involve people in groups (usually men) late at night plus alcohol or drugs and the following optional ingredients: firearms, dangerous wild animals, explosives, 7-Elevens, the police. Oh, and the state of Florida, a state that generates so many weird news stories that headlines starting with “Florida Man” and ending with bizarre mayhem are truly a thing.

So whether or not an odd creature gets featured in a weird news story may hinge upon it passing the Florida Man Test, as in: can a Florida Man use this creature to generate a headline?

Two great examples: alligators, pythons and sharks.

Florida Man has robbed a 7-Eleven late at night, hid from the cops in a pond and been eaten by a gator. An entirely different Florida Man carried a live gator into a gas station and used it to steal beer or money, or beer and money (I forget, wasn’t there, sorry).

Pythons have overtaken the Everglades, and may be impossible to eradicate. They’re devouring local animals and even trying to eat the gators.

Sharks are another common element in weird news, with Florida Man getting arrested for dragging a shark behind a boat.

One unlucky Florida Man has hit the weird news lottery, getting bit by a shark, punched by a monkey, bitten by a snake and struck by lighting. No joke.

VERDICT

I salute you, weird sea creatures that should not exist, and I hope global warming doesn’t bring too many of you within range of Florida.

 

The Exploding Whale and the explosion of weird news

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy called Oregon, the local Empire decided to used tons of explosives to blow up a whale on their beach. It did not go well. But it was a prophecy, foretelling the explosion of weird news we see today.

Why is the exploding whale footage such a harbinger of things to come?

Maybe I just like to use the words harbinger and prophecy in nearby sentences.

Maybe I’m a trained journalist who loves to collect, analyze and dissect weird news stories.

And maybe, just maybe, I have a theory that explains the whole glorious Florida Man-style mess.

A Grand Unified Theory of Weird News

First: Weird news is omnipresent.

You’ll find it on an Oregon beach, in the middle of Alaska or on every acre of this land I call Florida.

There are strange people and bizarre bits of mayhem anyplace you look.

While my wife was in law school, I worked in this small-town paper in a place you can’t pronounce.

And listen, you would not believe the amount of mayhem I witnessed and wrote about, and not because the little town was a war zone.

Massive floods, with houses floating down the river. At least two serial killers. Political scandals. A man who died when a mobile home fell on him as he installed it. A sniper who shot at me (and everybody in sight) until the county sheriff deputies rolled up in a tank.

Here’s a little taste: The killer beside you

But if you look, there are always crazy stories happening locally.

Second: Weird news is not related to the crime rate.

This seems counter-intuitive. Criminals and criminally idiotic people make up the majority of weird news. 

Take away petty crime and Florida Man stories would wither and die.

Yet the numbers are nuts, when you look at them. Crime is down and has been going down for years.

Things were actually wilder and crazier before today’s explosion of weird news. I mean, the late ’70s and early ’80s were Animal House.

You just didn’t know about every single thing that happens like you do today. Why is that?

Third: Weird news lives on the interwebs

Without the speed and reach of the Series of Tubes, you’d never hear about 99.9 percent of weird news.

Before, the only real way crazy news would spread was by newspapers, so feeding your need for Florida Man stories would require serious resources. Because your local paper would not devote a full page to random wire stories about crazytown happening far away.

There are entire sites devoted to the daily collection and curation of funny and bizarre stories. 

Fourth: Weird news is intensely visual

This is the most essential ingredient. As a writer, it’s hard to fully describe the insanity of what you see.

Photos help.

Video is better. There is no substitute.

This is why Russian dash cam footage goes so viral. It’s raw, it’s real and the cameras are on all the time, so they capture all kinds of crashes and cray-cray.

Fifth: Smart phones, smart phones and more smart phones

Now that everybody has iPhones or Samsungs in their pockets, weird news is constantly being not only captured, but shared with the world.

All day and night. Everywhere.

You don’t need to have a TV crew on site, or watch the broadcast at 11 p.m.

So get out there and keep your phone handy. Florida Man doesn’t just hang out in Florida–he’s everywhere you look.

Hot tub crime machine

No, I did not make up that headline. That’s the real deal, word for word.

Shockingly, this did not happen in Florida.

Let’s break it down, journalism-style.

WHO: A female inmate, 34 years old.

WHAT: An escape from custody while she was getting booked on a drug possession charge.

She was later found hiding in the hot tub of a senior center, still wearing her orange jumpsuit from the jail.

WHEN: December 19, 2018. It took police hours to find her after the escape.

WHERE: Waverly, Ohio.

WHY: That’s the mystery.

Hiding in a senior center could make sense. It’s not like the cops have to show up there every Friday night to break up bar fights. But to make that plan work, you’d have to change your clothes and pretend to be a visitor, or a janitor, that sort of thing. You don’t hang out in the hot tub, where you’ll (a) get spotted by all kinds of people who (b) maybe want to use that hot tub and (c) will definitely call the cops when they see your orange jail gear.

And for those who don’t get it, the headline is a great riff on the movie HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, brought to you by the same geniuses now doing COBRA KAI.

However, this story is only the latest entry into the proud historical record of Criminals Who Stink at Hiding.

Florida Man takes the top spot in my book, with a man running from the police late at night getting the bright idea that he’ll hide in a pond. True, the 5-0 didn’t find him. That’s only because an alligator did first.

There are hundreds of other stories of criminals hiding in stupid places: in a dumpster, a manure lagoon, the lion cage at a zoo–you name it, some idiot has done it.

So I salute you, Hot Tub Crime Machine Woman–you get an F for achieving your goal but an A+ for style.

Why the Hot Duck of Central Park went so viral

There’s nothing unusual about seeing a duck paddling around the ponds of Central Park–or any pond, lake or stream. But one duck has caught the attention of Gotham and the world.

Check out the video:

OK, that is one spectacular duck, and it’s nice to see a weird news story that doesn’t involve Darwin Award winners or Florida Man.

So why did this story spread so far and wide?

Amazing images drive coverage 

The shots are amazing. It’s far, far easier to get media coverage when the visuals rock–and a lot tougher when you have zero visuals.

TV stations live and die on good visuals. And this duck makes for great shots. 

Once you get TV coverage, that drives newspaper, radio and web stories, too.

Plus it’s a lot easier to share a story that has all kinds of videos on YouTube already, whether shot by an NYC station or amateurs using their iPhones.

Mysteries make people curious and give a story legs

Nobody knows how the Hot Duck got to Central Park in the first place. This species of duck isn’t native. It should be halfway around the world in Japan, where these ducks are common.

Was it a pet somebody let go or an escapee from a zoo?

How far could a duck fly, if it wanted to?

Another mystery happened when the Hot Duck disappeared. Did it get eaten, trapped, run over by a car or sucked into the engine of a Boeing 787? People care about this duck now, and they got worried.

Turns out the duck took a side trip. Maybe he went on vacation.

Then when he returned, that was a big happy story, too.

Unlikely animal friendships are always a good story

The Hot Duck has good manners, making friends with the local ducks and some of his biggest human fans.

If he was a loner, or a jerk, this story wouldn’t have legs. People would root for the evil show-off duck to beat it.

His good manners make you root for the Hot Duck, to hope he keeps on making friends and thriving.

It’s just a sweet little story that makes people smile. Kind of like red pandas, genetically engineered by mad scientists to be the most heart-melting animals ever.

P.S. If you’re interested, here are 21 facts about Mandarin Ducks.