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August 29-September 4, 2007

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Technology News - Annalee Newitz

Technology News

Mouse Politics

By Annalee Newitz


MY APARTMENT has been invaded by mice, and my biggest worry is not that I will catch some strange disease but that they'll stage a revolution. I'm like some kind of Beatrix Potter Marxist, worried that the distribution of rice in my house is indeed unfair and that there is a kind of injustice in the fact that I won't share my stale caramel popcorn with the mice who want it.

This ridiculous philosophical and pestilential situation started when I heard really loud squeaking from behind my bookcase—the one full of books on leftist activism and Marxist critique. I discovered a family of five mice fighting over a stash of rice that they'd hidden behind the books. They had also been eating part of a book on leftist cultural studies and had left tiny mouse turds between the pages of another, by Greil Marcus, about punk rock.

They had stolen my rice in improbably large amounts, hauling it up from a bag in my cupboard to the top of my bookshelf for storage. I'm sure they figured that it wasn't stolen—they had liberated it.

At first, I didn't react to this situation with the brute animalistic feeling of "Kill the invader" that evolutionary biology would predict. I have been so well trained by blogs like I Can Has Cheezburger? and Cute Overload that at first all I could think, upon discovering this gang of mice in my bookshelf, was that they were adorable. One of them kept running up the wall and jumping down to the floor with an awkward splat. CUTE!

I also had a hard time adjusting to the idea these whiskery little guys might be spreading disease. Apparently, mice can spread hantavirus, a very rare and deadly virus that attacks the respiratory system. I'm not sure what else they spread, but all the "mouse control" websites I looked at had these paranoid instructions on how to dispose of mouse poop in double bags, and how anything touched by mice should be rigorously disinfected.

Despite this, my first reaction to the mouse party on my bookshelf was to block the mouse hole that I found near my stove, sweep up the rice and poop and go to bed. Two nights later, having gotten no sleep due to mouse-related shenanigans, I began to feel the interspecies hate. All the squeaking and scratching and pooping and sneaking in through teeny cracks had worked my last nerve. I'd put all my grains and sugar into sealed containers, and now I needed traps. But of course they should be humane traps. I kept worrying about what the most ethical way to deal with the mice would be. What would animal liberation ethicist Peter Singer do?

Actually, I'm pretty sure Singer would say, "Kill them." But I was still feeling the Cute Overload, so I bought these traps that lock the mouse in a tiny cage so you can release them. I'm not sure what I was thinking—that I would reintroduce them into the "wilds" of Golden Gate Park? That I would establish some sort of bilateral agreement with them to acknowledge their right to collective bargaining, then raise wages and offer health care so they would stop doing squeak-ins all night in my kitchen?

Dear reader, there is really nothing worse than a leftist with anthropomorphizing tendencies. This is exactly why people join PETA instead of unions and protest animal experimentation instead of how humans are treated in jail.

Even my scientific know-how somehow managed to enhance my magical thinking. I kept recalling how similar the human genome is to the mouse genome. Lisa Stubbs of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory has written that human and mouse genomes are, on average, about 85 percent similar to human. Doesn't that make mice my genetic cousins? Shouldn't I learn to share my house with them somehow?

No. On day four of the Mouse Invasion, I finally went into predator mode. I put out deadly traps that kill mice instantly—no torturing them in tiny boxes before releasing them into a park to be eaten by local cats. I know it sounds awful, but mice are not people. It's true that they have emotions and share many genetic traits with humans, but unfortunately I can't negotiate with them about living arrangements. I comfort myself by saying that I'm doing the only thing mice can understand: acting like the predator I am.


Annalee Newitz (annalee@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd whose geriatric cat is the only creature who can sleep through the nightly mousefest.


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