Are You Smarter Than a Bed Bug?

State Capitol of Illinois in Springfield, ID’d by Bruce Niemi

The short answer is that I am smarter than a bed bug and the Limited Thinkers at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and their echo tank, the 1889 Institute, are not.  It is the confluence of recent occurrences that have led to this post.  First, we are in San Diego where a little over a year ago I posted my first blog while we were enjoying respite from our first month of battling bed bugs in our house.  Second, Roger Federer just won his ninth Wimbledon title.  And third, the Tulsa World reported recently that, as we do for reductions in state funding for K-12 education, Oklahoma now leads the nation in reductions in state funding for higher education.  These three seemingly unconnected happenings I will now connect.

Around 2004 I developed a fascination with tennis pro Roger Federer that I think remained within the bounds of normalcy, but will let you judge.  In addition to subscribing to more channels than the number of used tennis balls in my garage to get The Tennis Channel, I learned the time zone differences for each major, i.e. add 7 or subtract 17 for the Australian Open, subtract 6 for Wimbledon and 7 for the French Open, so I could faithfully watch as many of his matches as possible in real time.  In 2006 spring vacation timing allowed us watch him win the title at Indian Wells, defeating James Blake who, the night before, we cheered on to defeat Rafael Nadal.  We returned in 2007 but he had been knocked out in the first round so settled for a Nadal/Djokovic final.  In 2008 we traveled to the US Open and saw him defeat Gilles Muller in the quarterfinals en route to winning the title.  We were fortunate to again see him play, this time in the 2009 Montreal quarterfinals being his first tournament after the birth of his twin girls, but he was defeated by Jo Wilfred Tsonga.  In 2010 we traveled to Cincinnati and witnessed two victories, though the first was an early walkover due to injury by Isotomin and the second an outright default before the match began, also due to injury, by Kohlschreiber.  We returned to Indian Wells seeing him defeat both Nadal and John Isner for the title in 2012 and win a match in 2015.  He was there but not in action for our sessions at Wimbledon in 2006 and at Miami in 2013; we even held tickets to the men’s championship final at Wimbledon in 2005 when he defeated Andy Roddick, but could not make the trip.

The Cincinnati tournament was our only road trip and I remember hearing on National Public Radio while driving there that August that the United States was experiencing an explosion of bed bugs and Cincinnati was the epicenter of the infestation.  When we checked into our tournament motel and saw bugs climbing the walls inexplicably I did not think “bed bugs”, only that we were moving first thing the next morning, which we did and enjoyed sleeping without bugs and another day of tennis, though no more Federer due to the default.  We drove back home and gave no thought to bed bugs for almost six years till discovering that our bedroom was very infested.  With hindsight I realize I had seen one from time to time but disposed of each and thought each was just a small bug that had come in from the cold, until in May, 2016 I killed one close to our bed, saw the resulting bloodstain, and made a tentative internet identification.

After a thorough search of our room we found they were nesting in our mattresses and in multiple crevices near our bed, particularly those created by a built-in wardrobe (the bane of older homes is limited closet space).  I read all I could find until I thought I understood the critters with whom we had been sharing our bedroom.   The best information was a brochure Bed Bugs by the Illinois Department of Health.  Bed bugs, unlike other parasitic critters, thrive by keeping their hosts alive, near and unaware.  They operate in the dead of night; they inject an anesthetic when biting to avoid detection; many humans, including us, do not exhibit bite marks; and they do not transmit disease.   All of those characteristics made it possible that our bugs came from Cincinnati almost six years earlier, though I suspect they were more recent travelers from some other destination.  It’s just that the Cincinnati room was the only one where I’m sure we had bugs.

There are two main methods of extermination, one is to hire a professional exterminator and the other is a do it yourself “mechanical disruption” which involves intense cleaning, repeated vacuuming and removing the hosts.  I decided on the latter because we could easily relocate to a different bedroom in our house and we have hardwood floors which makes the cleaning and disruption much easier than with carpets.  Of course we disposed of the mattresses and bedding, and purchased mattress covers for all others in our house.  I taped off the many crevices and removed all items from areas where I knew they hid out.  I sprayed the known areas with a retail product and vacuumed daily for several days and then only when a bug was detected. 

Working against me was the fact that bed bugs have been known to survive up to six months without feeding; working for me was the fact that they generally will not travel more than twenty feet in search of a host, being more inclined to stay put for a host to return.  We never found evidence of bugs spreading outside our bedroom so we remained secure in the bedroom where we relocated.  At two months I decided to try sleeping on an air mattress, easy to vacuum, in our infested bedroom.  Unfortunately, I detected a presence.  At about five months we purchased a new bed and mattress that could be placed on bug traps (they’re like a round plastic maze) and away from previously infested areas.  We successfully slept in our own bedroom, with the bed backwards, for three months with no sign of bugs.  We then were able to restore and use our bedroom as we had seven months earlier, sans bugs, our battle ending in total victory for the humans, proving I am smarter than a bed bug.

Now enter the limited thinkers at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and their echo tank the 1889 Institute.  They have mindlessly argued for cutting Oklahoma’s public education expenditures for twenty-five years and it looks like their advocacy has succeeded as described in these posts from the Oklahoma Policy Institute:  OK Policy K12 Cuts  and  OK Policy Higher Ed Cuts.  The OCPA has never met a tax cut or service reduction they don’t like.  Their mission, based on the whims of their donors, is to always advocate for less government spending and taxation regardless of the facts, sound policy or common sense.  One has to wonder if they have ever pondered the economic success stories of places that have little in natural resources to extract and sell, like Silicon Valley, the Boston/Cambridge metro area, Hong Kong, London and the list can go on.  What distinguishes these economic engines is not low taxes and skimpy public services, but rather a coming together of a highly educated workforce coupled with access to world-class research institutions and smart public services, like public transportation, airports, harbors, schools, etc., that facilitate their economic success. 

Like bed bugs, leaders of these successful economic engines understand that for them to thrive their hosts, i.e. public education and infrastructure, must maintain vitality.  Unfortunately, the Limited Thinkers at the OCPA and 1889 Institute are not as smart as bed bugs.  They view taxes and government spending as a zero sum game and prefer to starve their host communities of essential collective services failing to recognize that smart investments can be made by public, as well as private, entities.  If they had their way there would be no Cal Berkley, no interstate highway system, no public health research (like that produced by Illinois that I used to defeat bed bugs), and no “Greatest Generation” educated through the G. I. Bill.  Where they do want to direct public funds is to their private donor companies promoting virtual charter schools without accountability and individualized retirement savings for public employees with higher fees and lower returns.

Enough of that; you get the point.  It’s my birthday (I’m a 70 year old Geezer, Not An Old Geezer Yet) and I’m taking a break from doing real research to brag about my success conquering bed bugs and vent a little–like the OCPA/1889 limited thinkers regularly do.  As always lunch on me to the first to ID the photo location.   




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