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Tom takes on animal rights, zombies and misplaced commas

There is a creature that lives in the waters of the Amazon River Basin called a candiru. Also known as the vampire fish of Brazil, the translucent candiru is shaped like, and is about the size of, a toothpick. It is one of the few creatures in the world that survives on a diet consisting of nothing but blood. The candiru generally burrows into the gills of a fish and lodges there, using retractable spines to hold it in place as it drains the fish of all of its blood before moving on to its next host/victim.

The candiru is not picky about blood, and when presented with the possibility of a long-lasting human meal, it will enter through an ear, anus or vagina and go to work, causing excruciating pain and often driving its victim mad as it goes about its business. (Since humans regenerate blood at a pretty decent rate, the candiru could live there for a long, long time.)

The worst-case scenario involving the candiru was first chronicled by intrepid British explorer Percy Fawcett, on whom George Lucas at least partially based his Indiana Jones character. While exploring and mapping the border between Bolivia and Brazil for the Royal Geographic Society, Fawcett wrote in one of his journals about how the candiru was known to lodge inside a man's penis, from which it was virtually impossible to dislodge. A modern surgeon might be able to do the trick in a hospital operating room, but in the middle of the Amazon jungle in the 1910s, Fawcett reported, the only course of action to possibly save the man's life was removal of the invaded appendage, often with a machete.

I thought about this the other day when I drove by a car parked in my neighborhood with a bumper sticker that read, "Equal Rights for All Species." What does that mean, exactly?

Does a candiru have a right to exist? Sure it does, as long as it stays where it belongs and does what it does. That's part of nature. But what if it somehow got transported to the Colorado River? Should humans just stay out of the water, or should we eradicate the little bloodsucker?

Bumper stickers are limited by size, and people have to get their message across in as few words as possible, but does that person really believe that all species should have the same rights? Should a raccoon have the right to vote? Can a seahorse go to college? And does a candiru have the right to move into a gated community?

It's reasonable to assume that the person with the bumper sticker just wants animals to be treated better. Maybe she doesn't like the concept of pets. Or maybe she's one of those People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals nutbirds who doesn't want us to swat a mosquito when it lands on our neck and wants us to wear shoes made out of beans. (I'm not assuming that it's a woman; I saw her get out of the SUV.)

I'll probably never know, but the sticker makes me tend to think she's in the latter case. The idea of according equal rights to all species is just dumb, because that would mean that a cod could eat a Filet-o-Human on Fridays during Lent.

• While I have you here, please allow me to recommend yet another TV show. This one is called Better Off Ted, an ABC sitcom about a relatively normal guy who is an executive at a huge corporation that makes everything from body armor to imitation meat-like food products. The corporate types, including the excruciatingly tight-bunned (I'm talking about her hairdo) Portia de Rossi, are always trying to cut financial (and ethical) corners, and genuine zaniness ensues.

In a recent episode, Corporate installed a system in the headquarters that would scan and then turn off all the power in rooms that were unoccupied to save on energy costs. One small problem: The system couldn't read black people, so whenever a black person was left alone in a room, the lights would go out. A committee of black people got together and decided to head up to the top floor to complain to the big bosses, but when they got in the elevator, the lights went out, and it wouldn't move. One guy mutters, "This is not a joke. Eight black guys get into an elevator ..."

Corporate's solution: Hire minimum-wage white people to follow the black people around so that doors will open, and lights will stay on. It's very funny.

• Somebody just sent me a book. It's called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. Apparently, the hyphen guy went back and used about 85 percent of the original novel and just added stuff. So, while Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are doing their pas de deux, zombies are wandering the English countryside. I don't usually read fiction, but I might have to give this a try.

• Finally, during the recently completed NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, there were several commercials about an online NCAA store where people can buy jerseys and sweatshirts from their favorite colleges. For much of the commercial, it said, "NCAA.com. Over 25,0000 items."

I understand that Southeastern Conference schools are part of the NCAA, but most of the rest of us are probably annoyed by that comma.

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