(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published April 18, 1999.)
I'll tell you when I start to worry. I start to worry when ''officials'' tell me not to worry. This is why I am very concerned about the following Associated Press report, which was sent to me by a number of alert readers:
'RICHLAND, WASH. -- Radioactive ants, flies and gnats have been found at the Hanford nuclear complex, bringing to mind those Cold-War-era `B' horror movies in which giant mutant insects are the awful price paid for mankind's entry into the Atomic Age. Officials at the nation's most contaminated nuclear site insist there is no danger of Hanford becoming the setting for a '90s version of `Them!' the 1954 movie starring James Arness and James Whitmore in which huge, marauding ants are spawned by nuclear experiments in the desert.''
Should we trust these ''officials''? I'll let you decide for yourself what the answer is (NO). But consider:
--For years, ''officials'' insisted that our cars needed air bags for safety; then, when we GOT air bags, ''officials'' started warning us how dangerous they are, the result being that many concerned parents now strap their children to the car roof.
--For years, ''officials'' told us that marijuana was an evil, criminal drug. Now, they tell us that it has, quote, ``important medical benefits warranting further investigation, but first let's order a pizza.''
--Every year, ''officials'' tell us to turn all our clocks ahead one hour, only to turn around a few months later and tell us to turn them BACK. Make up your minds, ``officials''!
My point is that we cannot trust ''officials'' any further than we can throw them by the leg. This is especially true when it comes to the Hanford nuclear complex. When this complex was built, ''officials'' said it was safe; now the area glows like a Budweiser sign. So when ''officials'' tell us that the radioactive Hanford insects are NOT going to mutate into giant monsters like the ants depicted in the 1954 movie ''Them!'' it clearly is time to study this movie and see what happened, because it is about to happen again.
I did not see ''Them!'' but I do have a plot summary from a book called ''Guide for the Film Fanatic.'' It states that after James Whitmore and James Arness discover the giant mutant ants marauding around the New Mexico desert, they kill most of them by burning their nest; however, some ants escape, and the heroes ''trace them to Los Angeles.'' The book doesn't say why the heroes would have to ''trace'' the ants; you'd think that if marauding insects the size of houses showed up in a heavily populated area, it would be mentioned prominently in the news media, but ''Guide for the Film Fanatic'' makes it sound as though Arness and Whitmore had to track the ants down via detective techniques:
JAMES ARNESS (showing a photograph to a storekeeper): Have you seen this ant? It's 23 feet tall.
STOREKEEPER (frowning at the photograph): Hmmm ... We did have a 40-foot praying mantis in here last week, but I don't recall any ... Wait a minute! Aren't you Marshal Dillon from ``Gunsmoke''?
JAMES ARNESS: Not until 1955.
Anyway, the heroes finally locate the giant ants in the Los Angeles sewer system, where, according to ''Guide for the Film Fanatic,'' there is ''a thrilling finale.'' The Guide gives no details on this finale, so we don't know whether the ants are killed, or mutate again and become agents, or what.
But the point is this: If, as now seems likely, the radioactive insects at the Hanford complex mutate and start marauding, they will almost certainly head for Los Angeles. This is a terrifying prospect. Imagine how you would feel if you tuned in to the evening news and learned that, for example, Fran Drescher had been sucked dry by a gnat the size of a water buffalo. You'd feel pretty excited. You'd hope there was video.
But innocent people could also be hurt, and that is why we need to take action NOW. We need to construct, in the desert outside of Los Angeles, a 100-foot-high, 500-foot-long, fully functional Hostess Twinkie. The giant insects would be attracted to the Twinkie, and while they were munching on it, an Earth-orbiting manned space station would launch a rocket-propelled, laser-guided, nine-story-high, 18,000-pound man's shoe, which would, by the time it reached the Twinkie, be traveling at over 6,000 miles per hour, resulting in a Stomp of Doom that would hurl globs of cream filling as far as St. Louis.
Of course, building a weapons system this size would not be easy. There would be political considerations: Powerful members of Congress would insist on having giant Twinkies built in their states, too. But that is a small price to pay for national security. We must proceed with this! We already have the technology! Which means, of course, that so does China.