The Ecphorizer

Chairman of the Bug
Bill Harris

Issue #70 (September 1987)


Sam Glitch, a gentle soul not given to violence, sat one day in his living room contemplating a fly. "This really isn't your territory," said Sam to the fly. "It's mine. I wish you'd leave. Please leave."

"I don't know please," buzzed the fly throwing an Immelman and rubbing dog poop on Sam's ceiling.

[quoteright'/>"We could co-exist peacefully," said Sam. "As long as there are dogs, as long as there are digestive tracts, there'll always be plenty for you to eat, just stay out of our houses and don't land on our bodies. We have different standards of hygiene."

"It's my world," buzzed the fly. "Humans are a temporary aberration. I'll do what I want."

Sam's patience was exhausted. He grabbed his swatter and squished the fly against a Spode plate which fell off the wall and broke. That did it. The nuisance of bugs Sam attributed to the remarkable ineptitude of the companies charged with controlling them. Sam went to Union Catastrophe Chemical Co. which in addition to poisoning bugs also did the occasional Indian hamlet. Sam couldn't get in there so he went next door to Deadly or Worse which specialized in napalm bombs, defoliating southeast Asia, and lacing the asphalt with dioxin. Bug spray was a sideline.

A secretary goofed and Sam got into the chairman's office. The chairman was faced toward the window away from Sam in a high backed easy chair that appeared to have TV antennae coming out the top.

"Love those nuke protestors," said the chairman, observing half a million placard waving malcontents bearing down on Calamity Edison's reactor a mile down the road. "Takes the heat off us."

"I already figured that out," said Sam. "If there's a nuclear spill all you need is a $400 Geiger counter to find it. You guys put out 1000 new ag chemicals every year and to track 'em it takes a $200,000 mass spectrometer, a gas chromatograph, and a Ph.D in organic chemistry."

"We only make the stuff," said the chairman, still facing away from Sam. "Where it goes is up to somebody else."

"It goes to third world countries," said Sam, "'cause the EPA won't let you sell it here. Then it comes back in the bananas."

"See your doctor if you feel sick," said the chairman. He had a high raspy voice like a sex crazed cricket.

"My doctor told me the only pesticide screen he can run is serum cholinesterase and if you're sick enough to need it you don't need it 'cause he can tell from the symptoms that you've taken a load of organophosphates. "

"It's a free country," said the chairman. "You get your choice: bugs or bug sprays. We're free to make them, you're free not to use them."

"That's the whole point!" shouted Sam. "We're not free not to use them, once they're loose in the environment everybody's a user, like it or not. The whole shooting match is a Rube Goldberg. I was only five when the flit guns came out and I knew even then they'd never work. Spray a dozen cubic yards of what you're living in and kill one fly? Who'd ever think of such a thing?"

"They worked quite well," said the chairman. "They gave me a whole new cytochrome system."

"Any bloody fool," said Sam, oblivious to subtleties, "can see you'll never solve the bug problem with chemicals. You kill a few bugs so your crop yields and profits go up that year. Next year the farmer next door buys chemicals so he can keep up with you. Then the bugs come back so you escalate the chemicals and your neighbor does the same. The market drops back where it was, and all that's happened is the soil and food are more contaminated and the chemical companies are richer."

"Our experts tell us our chemicals are quite safe for humans," rasped the chairman.

"Chutzpah!" shouted Sam. "Drop stuff that was never in the three billion year evolutionary environment and if no two headed babies turn up in fifty years you call it safe!"

"Calm down," said the chairman. "Pesticides are here to stay. Without them the world's population couldn't be fed."

"If the population keeps breeding like rabbits there'll come a time when it can't be fed anyway," said Sam. "Meantime pesticides are like A bombs. You're no better off having one but if your neighbor has one you have to have one too."

"Give me an alternative," said the chairman.

"Biological controls," said Sam. "Conservation of predators, of course your marvelous pesticides kill them before the target insects. Or use sterile male release. The screw worm fly was wiped out in the 60's by radiating the polygamous males and turning them loose. Each one mated with 20 females who laid sterile eggs and the fly was gone in a decade. It was target specific bug control with no adverse side effects."

"It was genocide," said the chairman. His chair seemed to be shaking as if he were crying. "A whole species gone, no remorse, no pity."

"And no profits," said Sam. "An idea that worked, one shot, simple, and elegant. We should use that system on the jokers who run your flasks. Radiate all your male chemists and turn 'em loose in the academic community. In a generation no more fool chemists, and folks with the common sense to know bugs can't be wiped out with insecticides can take over. "

"Our experts," rasped the chairman, "tell us you're wrong. And your interview is over."

"An expert," shouted Sam as the Deadly or Worse security guards dragged him away, "is a guy who puts his foot in everybody else's mouth. When the side effects of your harmless pesticides show up, when the chromosomes and mitochondria start to shrivel in strategic places I hope your experts are the first to go."

Sam sat on his porch that night and contemplated his bug zapper. Each time an insect went through the electric grid it made a satisfying "Zzzzt" and dropped dead in the collector. Sam's memories drifted to his boyhood driving past the weird colored lights outside the University of Minnesota where some real scientists were building the prototypes, electrical traps with attractants that only brought bugs that went places they weren't invited. After that it had been the weird light boys versus the flit gun folks and the flit had been a better quick fix. Sam fell to suspicious musings. Cui bono?

"The bugs profit," thought Sam. "Pesticides are a Darwinian jackpot for bugs. Houseflies are 6000 times more resistant to pyrethroid insecticides than when flit guns started out. Furthermore 38% of 450 pesticide resistant insects are of medical or veterinary significance. Deadly or Worse profits, each time a tougher bug emerges they sell a tougher pesticide and the Rubes down on the farm never figure out it's a shell game."

"Who loses?" thought Sam. "Everybody else loses, the fish lose, the birds lose, wild animals lose, and man at the top of the food chain loses the most, 'cause the stuffs spread all over the landscape and it gets more concentrated every time somebody eats somebody else."

The existence of flies and mosquitoes was proof of the non-existence of God in Sam's opinion but they were useful in nature. The logical answer was to eliminate invasive bugs and nothing else and if the flit mentality hadn't dominated the field the problem would have been solved already, like the screw worm fly and the bug zapper. Toward morning Sam's paranoia level peaked out, there was a plot to poison him and he'd figured out who was really running Deadly or Worse.

Sam got out his old flit gun, a family heirloom, filled it with dieldrin, hid it under his overcoat, darted past the nuke protestors at Calamity Edison (giggling a bit as he went), up the elevator at Deadly or Worse, and into the chairman's office. There he was, facing the window again in his easy chair with the antennae sticking up. Sam took out the flit gun, whistled, aimed, and pushed the handle as the chair swung around.

"Yes?" said the chairman. 

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Bill Harris




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