The Burned and the Bees

A story last week brought a lot of objection from readers. Well, actually, the tagline did. Let’s start with the story, from the 25 September 2011 issue, by Alexander Cohen:

Learning About the Burns and the Bees

When a Lynden, Wash., man’s friend was stung by a bee, he decided to get revenge on a mass scale. He went to the beehive in a tree, doused it with gasoline, and ignited it. The resulting fireball was visible for hundreds of feet, and was reported by a waitress at a local country club, Fire Chief Gary Baar said. “No damage, except for a bunch of dead bees,” he said. “The correct way to do that is to call a beekeeper.” (AC/Bellingham Herald) …The bees are dead and no one was hurt, which is “correct” if you’re not a bureaucrat.

The very first of the reader letters on the story was particularly thoughtful and non-venomous, so I’m using it as the representative:

I’m all for your goal of making people think. And I laugh when people grump about your taglines, especially when they pick fights with you for not being THEIR version of politically correct. But here’s what I think about this item — a fire chief isn’t what the term “bureaucrat” brings to mind. And with all the items you publish about loons creatively/idiotically causing damage, you should be able to imagine what an unintended fireball might accomplish. One reason to call a beekeeper is to perhaps preserve the bees — necessary for agriculture and already threatened by colony collapse disorder — bees aren’t pests. Another reason is that the bees might have swarmed, stinging the loon trying to burn them, plus others. You’d usually be — more appropriately — mocking the person taking revenge on the bees. Finally, taking “revenge” on bees — or birds, or flowers, or mammals, or fish, or snowflakes — shows a pretty primitive mindset, much more mock-worthy than a Fire Chief suggesting that uncontrolled fires might be a bad idea. Bottom line — potentially funny item but misguided tagline. –Gabe, Virginia

I am aware of colony collapse issues with bees, but I’m sympathetic to Alexander’s tag — and I haven’t discussed it with him. He’ll learn about this page for the first time after it’s published.

When a huge hive in our back yard in Boulder decided it was time to split up (into several swarms, each following its own queen), we brought out a beekeeper several times to come get the new hive. He was grateful to have some “fresh” bees, and (after the third or fourth one!) we were grateful to be given some honey.

But to the story. First, the very definition of “bureaucrat” is “an official in a bureaucracy” (and a “bureaucracy” is “Administration of a government chiefly through bureaus or departments staffed with nonelected officials.”) Or, in the more idiomatic sense, “a rule-bound government official who can make your life miserable.” A fire chief certainly applies!

Both Are True

The 'Bumble Bee Man' from 'The Simpsons'And certainly the guy’s mindset was primitive! Yet he pulled it off without injury to himself or bystanders, and he met his goal. Stupid? Sure. Bees are terribly beneficial, but you can’t really argue that they’re not “pests” in some instances: “An injurious plant or animal, especially one harmful to humans” for another definition (all from my fave, American Heritage). Because beyond the benefit, stings are arguably “harmful” (especially to those who happen to be allergic).

Yeah, you can say the guy in the story is a jerk, but you can also say the fire chief is an officious, rule-laden bureaucrat — and that’s the take Alexander had for the story. It was contrarian (sure it would have gone a different way if the buffoon had been engulfed by his own fireball!), and thus an unexpected take on the story.

What bothered me the most was that several readers added a comment about this story to the previous entry in the blog — a page of feel-good feedback. All such comments were deleted without reply: I only accept comments about what’s on the page, not unrelated rants that would leave blog readers confused as to what the heck the commenter is talking about.

If you’d like to comment on something in the newsletter that’s not posted to the blog, then send the comment to me, and I’ll decide whether I want to take space in the blog for it (as here) or not. But don’t waste your time or mine by trying to create a discussion on an unrelated page, please. Thanks.

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14 Comments on “The Burned and the Bees

  1. While I can see where Alexander was coming from with the tag line, I also thought it was a bit odd. Maybe that’s because I don’t believe in exterminating wildlife because it annoys or irritates us? 🙂

    My personal inclination for a tagline would have been more along the lines of “…but the ‘usual’ way involves missing eyebrows and visits to the burn unit.”

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  2. “but you can also say the fire chief is an officious, rule-laden bureaucrat”

    Say what???? someone ignites a fireball that’s visible for hundreds of feet and from the local country club and the FIRE CHIEF is an officious, rule-laden bureaucrat? 3 years ago we had a fire that burned 50 sq miles of area, 30 houses, 100 outbuildings (including one of my sheds) – from someone who was target shooting in dry conditions. The fire chief should have been all over this guy about this one. Even in rainy season, our burn piles aren’t allowed to put up flames as high as described here, and they’re supposed to be no more than 4 feet in diameter (although most of them do go bigger). This guy could have caused a serious problem. The fire chief is not the one to blame here. This is why we have laws and taxes to pay the fire dept – to keep jerks like this guy from burning us out of our houses.

    No one said the fire chief is “the one to blame.” I did say that pointing out the fact that the fire chief is a “bureaucrat” is a legitimate point of view. We’re not talking tinder-dry Arizona or Texas here, we’re talking about coastal Washington, almost to the Canadian border. Please read all of this page to look at the big picture — including “the guy in the story is a jerk”! -rc

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  3. To be honest, I am against the tagline, one should complain about a bureaucracy when the process is only formalism without reason or only a obstacle. In this case we’re talking about doing things in a more secure way, to do an impulsive act of burning a hive can go wrong in many ways, and saying “well, but nothing wrong happened now” is not really comforting here.

    As has been pointed out already, it’s typical to see stories like this in TRUE where things went wrong: the fireball hurt someone, or burned down a house. It didn’t this time. So of course the point of view of the tagline is different! -rc

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  4. Calling the firefighter a bureaucrat is fine; saying you could call him a officious, rule-laden bureaucrat is what I objected to. Which wasn’t in the original story but was in the fuller explanation above.

    And yes, I read the complete story and stand by my comment that the guy was a jerk — burning out bees is a bad idea for very many reasons, including fire danger and including punishing a hive for one bee sting and including bees are getting scarcer and many other reasons. Alexander is free to have his view of the story. Readers such as me are free to disagree. Perhaps Alexander may reconsider his viewpoint after reading some of the comments. Perhaps not.

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  5. I liked the tagline. My perspective on life is informed by a anarcho-capitalist/voluntaryist philosophy. The fire chief is, of course, a bureaucrat. As such, his “perspective” is likely informed by a life spent adhering to rules, and getting paid to make sure others do the same.

    Good story, good tag, and plenty of shenanigans to spare. 🙂

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  6. I like home grown pyrotechnics as much as the next guy, but I don’t think you are treating the Fire Chief fairly. His only actions referred to in the story are to say no harm done, and suggest a slightly safer alternative. He really doesn’t sound that “officious” to me.

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  7. Still not getting the “problem,” here. A bureaucrat (fire chief, who IS a bureaucrat, regardless what one may think of the term) said, “No damage.” A fireball created no damage? “NO one was hurt?” I mean, I realize bees aren’t people, but a “bunch of dead bees” sounds like some “one” got hurt. Seems to me the fire chief was acting a bit officious. A very small bit; it was just a statement, after all. I don’t think the tagline was all that profound, either, but you try to churn these out week after week. Still, it didn’t incite offense to me, either. Geez, they’re not going to be all gems.

    While I have to (reluctantly!) agree, I do still think it works in the sense of being unconventional and unexpected, aka “contrarian”. It wasn’t a guffaw, but then, it wasn’t meant to be. -rc

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  8. After the drought induced wildfires we’ve had here for months destroying more than a thousand homes, I know that my reaction is a little skewed, but I think I would have gone with a tag line a little more anti stupid fire starting and sympathetic to the bees. Although having had a nest of “aggressive” bees in my backyard a few years back I have to agree that they can be pests. Just ask the kid who was mowing my lawn when the bees decided the kid was dangerous. We had to take him to the ER for multiple bee stings from the top of his head all the way down to his ankles (the nest was in a dead tree stump that had been sawed off level with the ground).

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  9. I am picturing another bureaucrat demanding he restore the bees to their previous condition (lack of common sense is also a characteristic of some bureaucrats, see your PC stories :-))

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  10. I reacted poorly to the tagline when I read it, but I’ll allow that it’s probably my personal bias showing. This past summer, my 89-year-old grandmother had to fight a grass fire with a garden hose after her anti-government neighbors decided fire bans didn’t apply to them — and the sentiment of the tagline is something they would applaud.

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  11. Several points: what the chief said was absolutely correct! Why is he getting slammed? Note that the Lynden FD is a volunteer department, and the chief may or may not even be paid – his only perk may be the chief’s car. As one whose grandfather and father-in-law were long-time volunteer firefighters I can say that while the chief certainly has administrative responsibilities he’s no “bureuacrat” the the sense used here.

    As for relocating colonies, that isn’t always possible, at least in Florida and probably most of the South. When I had to have some bees removed this summer, I couldn’t find a beekeeper willing to relocate the colony because “we don’t know who the queen has bred with”.

    I don’t think noting the fire chief is a “bureaucrat” is a “slam.” I provided the literal definition of the word right here on this page. It would help your understanding if you read it. -rc

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  12. I think Alexander’s tagline was very funny and appropriate. A lot of people would have thought the easiest solution would be to set fire to the hive. I personally would have considered a can of Raid, or maybe calling an exterminator. Considering the cost of the exterminator, I would have opted for the Raid, although I would questioned how effectively the Raid would penetrate the nest. The fire certainly seem like a better solution. I think a lot of people would have considered the fire to be the ideal solution, and the fire chief’s response to be bureaucratic.

    And to the people who seem to think that the bees are “someone”, give me a break, they are just bugs. If you don’t like killing bugs, I’ll stop putting Frontline on my cat; I’ll just send you the fleas, so you can make sure that nobody gets hurt!

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  13. I wonder if the burned “Bees” were Honey Bees as most seem to have assumed or Yellow Jackets or Wasps or some other variety of stinging flying insects that don’t necessarily have the same “value” to mankind as Honey Bees.

    Oh, by the way, just because Lynden is close to Canada and in coastal Washington does not make it impervious to fire. Summertime in the Great Pacific Northwet (spelling intentional, have lived here all my life) can get very dry, get some east winds and low humidity and all the sudden all that green stuff dries out and burns real well. Happens fairly routinely around hunting season.

    It IS a good question as to what kind of “bee” it was, as that label is often put on insects other than actual honey bees. But I don’t think it’s too likely we’ll get an answer to the question. -rc

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  14. Here is what I don’t get: there is no indication that the fire chief hounded the guy or fined him or in any way made his life difficult. All he did was offer a bit of good advice on a better way to handle it. Why would anyone have any objection to that? Why does that seem officious? It isn’t clear here whether the advice was directed to the fire bug or to the press, aimed at anyone else who might hear about it and think “what a great way to get rid of bees!” but either way, the fire chief is offering good advice regarding fire. Given he is the fire chief, does anyone think it would have been better for his reaction to be something like “Wow, cool fireball! Let’s find another hive and do it again!”

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