Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Mysteries of Flypaper

I've seen a bunch of references to the "Flypaper" theory of fighting terrorism. It allegedly works this way--Instead of having US troops guarding the US, we send them to Iraq. The "flies" or terrorists are drawn to Iraq to sting the US troops. Our military then catches them and kills them in far greater numbers than they kill us. In the meantime, instead of flying around the United States, the terrorists are being killed in Iraq instead. The administration has not advanced this theory as explicit strategy, it's largely been an after the fact justification for the occupation as a way to make the US safer from terrorists.

I have nothing against pest control metaphors. Tom Delay fwiw was a very successful pest control guy

and I'm sure he knows a lot about the effectiveness of actual fly paper. That's why I decided to look at some pest control literature. The first thing I learned was that no pest control specialists think of flypaper as a major weapon in any serious strategy to eliminate flies from any environment over the long term. The pest companies and the researchers appear to be unanimous. The most effective strategy for getting rid of flies is to eliminate the things that attract them in the first place. You should dispose of garbage, clean up feces, don't leave food in the open for extended periods of time.

Descriptions of flypaper itself mention that it's useful for possibly diverting flies and trapping some. The consensus is clear however, it's not a substitute for actually addressing the conditions that attract flies to begin with.
They also mention that flypaper is basically disgusting and you don't want to leave it near where people congregate regularly. As in we're either in Iraq to help the Iraqis or were there to leave them covered in dead flies that spread all manner of diseases.

Dave Davis was a Baltimore -based researcher who studied rats and rat control just after World War 2. He is also apparently the father of modern understandings of how to eliminate or at least minimize pests. Basically, Davis found that killing rats doesn't actually eliminate them and in fact might stimulate a growth in the rat population. Rats and most other pests breed at most any pace they need to. As long as there is a food source, the rat population simply grows to the size of the food source. If you kill three quarters of the rats, they simply breed faster. It might be fun to kill rats or flies in this fashion, but in reality killing them has very little to do with eliminating them or reducing their total numbers It really is just an exercise in taking pleasure in killing things you don't like. It's a self-replenishing form of hunting. In fact, the most effective way to deal with rats or flies is to understand where they come from and address it which sounds amazingly liberal. Wow, who knew? :}

Flypaper only works if you're going to have a picnic somwhere and you want to distract some of the flies for a bit. If you do nothing about your garbage, you'll have a much bigger fly problem than you ever imagined. The flypaper approach to terrorism is one issue where maybe it would have helped to ask Tom Delay how it works in real life.

Al Qaeda Spreads and Changes



At 8/08/2005 10:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you are in a sticky situation, you think about flypapers. But, unfortunately, it didn't work in London.
It also shows the callous minds of those who see soldiers as a throw-away piece of a cheap sticky merchandise.

At 8/08/2005 06:14:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Welcome Nicodemus and thanks for your comments.
As George Lakoff insists, language is ultimately political and much can be revealed by just following the imagery. In this one, the terrorists are flies (I don't necessarily object to that when it applies to people killing innocent individuals just to make a point whether it be with a bomb in a backpack or by executive order). As you mention are own soldiers are cheap, sticky, and disposable. And Iraq and its people are a place to leave garbage and feces.


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