Honey, We’ve Shrunk the Bees

The Unbearable Silence of
Disappearing Pollinators

Be quiet for a moment. Can you hear it? Probably not, but it’s not all your fault. The sound that is missing is the buzzing of billions of bees, that have been disappearing at an alarming rate lately. And the deafening silence from most people, who remain aloof to all of it.
They’re up to a rude awakening, however. Managed care of honeybees, used to pollinate a third of U.S. foods, is on the verge of collapsing, in synch with the insects’ own collapse because of, you guessed it, our own doing. And the proposed solution won’t be enough to stop it.
Consider the Obama administration’s plan, announced this week, to counter a 42% loss of colonies reported last year by U.S. beekeepers. It’s been greeted with dismay by environmentalists because it doesn’t address the key factor that may be single-handedly causing their demise: a new class of pesticide.
Neonicotinoid insecticides were developed by Shell and Bayer as a milder alternative to other pesticides. Instead, soon enough they too became linked to even worse environment effects, top among them, the honeybee colony collapse disorder. That’s why their use is already restricted in European Union nations.
Thus, it’d be logical to expect that the EPA, underfunded as it is, would be charged with controlling and enforcing its phasing out, given the alarm sounded by apiaries. Not so fast, apparently; despite a year worth of petitions to ban neonicotinoids, the new proposal simply ignores it.
But it’s not all bad. Even critics cite the restoration of seven million acres of bee-friendly areas, lost to urbanization, as a positive step included in the plan. It’ll all depend on the bees, however, since as it happens, they seem now prone to get addicted to other sources of sweets. In that case, we’re all doomed.
Or not. Many doubt that the eventual disappearance of bees will bring about such an apocalyptical scenario. They think it’s too melodramatic. Then again, they don’t usually care for fruits. Or vegetables. Or, what the hell, nature. Neither they see a problem when dolphins die, so you do the math.
We could do without so much sweets (or repeats, for that matter) but we do value the fruits and veggies undocumented immigrants and their families work their asses off to bring to us. So if not for the birds and the bees, then at least for the humans who may be breathing neonicotinoids too, let’s say it’s time.
It’d be dumb to discard the stunning beauty by which pollinators and specially bees grace this world, on behalf of our pedestrian mores. Between them and us, it’s hard to say which is the clear favorite. And speaking of repeating ourselves, here’s a post we’ve published over a year ago on the subject.

Bee Friends Ask Lovers of Roses
& Chocolate to Help Save Colonies

A number of environmental groups have chosen Valentine’s Day week last year to remind everyone in general, and lovers in particular, that the massive disappearance of bees continues on but, as far as we now know, it can still be halted.
Their timing is appropriate. That mostly shopping holiday, treasured by precious few but still feverishly cheered by many, is a major sales day for roses and chocolate, and neither will be around for the taking for too long, if pollinators are to die off.
As a matter of fact, nor will human folk, if Albert Einstein was right in his grim prediction. Whether the quote is apocryphal or not, $30 billion worth of U.S. crops face the catastrophic threat of not surviving many more winters without enough bees to assure their pollination.
If that happens, it wouldn’t be for lack of warnings, just like climate change and the annual extinction of Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

AIDS Walks Are Big Steps, Colltalers

Some 34 million people around the world are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, including about 2.5 million children. But even as Africa leads the number of cases, many would be shocked to know that almost two million Americans have the disease.
That’s right, the world’s richest nation is also where AIDS remains a threat, specially among males ages 20 to 29. Prevention and treatment have made great strides, but it seems unlikely that an effective cure, or vaccine, will be developed by the decade’s end.
That’s why thousands of people march every year in New York, and all over the world, as a powerful reminder that, since the early 1980s, HIV infections have never completely gone away, despite growing awareness and billions of dollars thrown at it.
The AIDS Walk, now on its 30th year, has been a symbolic display of solidarity and proof that, at least thousands if not millions of people, won’t forget that the most lethal of the infectious diseases, will remain as relentless and ruthless as it’s been ever since.
Particularly insidious is the fact that, despite the enormous economic gap between the U.S. and African nations, there are at least two common factors at the root of the spread of AIDS on both sides of the Atlantic: extreme poverty and rising cultural intolerance.
In addition, many impoverished African nations began to spouse in recent years the same repulsive cultural prejudices that plague some American states. That can be traced to an increased number of U.S.-based messianic preachers and radical-right politicians, who have targeted Africa to disseminate their fiery brand of religious sanctimony and political hypocrisy.
Take Texas and Louisiana, for instance, two Continue reading

Off the Grid

Neither Missing Nor Vanished;
Some Simply Choose to Drop Out

Many healthy, mentally stable and highly functional people have thought of it at least once. The pressures of contemporary life, the longing to have a fresh start, the need to flee debtors, blah blah blah, the fact is, if there was guarantee that we could get away with it, we’d probably try it too. Many did and came back.
Technically, Daniel Suelo, Brendon Grimshaw and the people who Eric Valli has been photographing for years, have little in common besides having made a conscious decision not no longer be part of society. And to create one of their own, either alone, or with a bunch of like-minded strangers, in some secluded corner of the world.
We’re not talking about people who vanished from the face of the earth here. In fact, apart from the now proverbial Japanese soldier who hid in the jungle and didn’t know that the war had ended decades before, or the complicated world of Witness Protection Programs, it turns out that it’s very hard for anyone to voluntarily disappear. Foul play is usually involved, but not always proven.
That seems to have been the case with Cambridge evolutionary biologist Margie Profet, who disappeared in 2002. Or former Marine Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Power of One Act, Colltalers

The power and influence of the vote – that most explicitly of the democratic exercises of individual expression in the electoral process – continues to be eroded and depleted by its three main enemies: money in politics, misinformation, and manipulation.
Around the world, both consolidated and emerging democracies, once proud to promote ample and vigorous citizen participation in the construction of their future, have been under heavy artillery from that formidable triad and their influential sponsors.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. takes the lead on the money front, and as if it were just fine that elections would carry a price tag just like any commodity, the 2016 presidential one has been estimated to cost upwards of $10 billion. A record and a travesty.
The current two frontrunners of each party, Democratic Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Jeb Bush, are on their way to raise each some two billion, by conservative estimates, from donors who’ll certainly demand a lot in exchange from their checkbooks.
Going down the checklist of challenges to a truly representative democracy, there’s a new surprising entry: the U.K., which just held one of the most disheartening political public contests in recent memory (not unlike Israel), which put polling institutions to shame.
Despite predictions of a tight contest, and dire economic conditions under Prime Minister David Cameron’s leadership, which has alienated large swaths of an already despondent working class, his Tory Party soundly defeated Labour Party’s Ed Miliband.
And then there are the usual, well known ways – terror tactics, gerrymandering, manipulation of results, coups, assassinations, and a whole roster of strategies, devised to intimidate voters – used since time immemorial to undermine the will of the majority.
Such strategies, along with more subtle ways to reverse poll results and manipulate the electoral process, have always been part of the democratic process. But even as other aspects of the classic Greek concept of people’s representation have little resemblance to our contemporary regimes, election by voting has been the common foundation by which governments acquire, or not, legitimacy.
Back in the U.S., the coming elections may Continue reading

Partial Recall

Memories of the Future, or    
What We Forget to Recollect

Guess what? It may be a good thing that you can’t remember what they’ve told you about your memories. As it turns out, you don’t have to be a savant, or try to associate facts with objects, or colors, or smells. It won’t hurt if you do, but either way, it won’t make much of a difference to most, in the big scheme.
Some exercise their recalling skills like a muscle. Others picture things as if in a photograph. People either struggle to remember or choose to forget. And yes, there are those genius. But if you’re none of the above, no reason to despair; it’s been quite a while since we too gave up all hope of ever finding that extra set of keys anyway.
We could save some time and say that science has no clue, but that would be an over-simplification. The more researchers dig, the more distractions they find, affecting how we remember things, produce memories, and even adopt somebody else’s recollections. One thing is for sure: some people are really prodigies recalling details of the past.
How we deal with our memories is, of course, highly personal. We strive to portray our private history as an accurate and favorable reflection of who we think we are. But many things conspire against such a seamless narrative, the first thing being exactly that: the narrative.
To tell the story, we need to make sense and fill in the blanks, the details that reality not always provides. It’s also disturbing to come across someone who has a different take on the same events. But that’s exactly what siblings and spouses often do. Not to go overboard here, but that’s why we sometimes hate them so much.

THE WEATHER ON FEB. 23, 1975
How do you call someone who didn’t walk until he was four, couldn’t button up his own shirt, had trouble with even the most basic motor skills, had an average 87 I.Q. and, nevertheless, could recall every single weather report going back over 40 years? a Rain Man, or his Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

To Those Left Behind, Colltalers

The much-parroted myth of a growing demographics of aging workers who can’t get back to the labor market for lack of technological skills, continues to wreck havoc the global workplace, ruining millions of productive lives in the process.
It’s a prefab lore benefiting a well known set of players, while disenfranchising entire segments of the population, which despite formidable odds, remain defiant, well informed, and resilient. But what they lack always beat them at the end: a steady paycheck.
We’ll go back to those beneficiaries of such a configuration, but let’s first survey those thinking that they’ve got the better side of the deal, even though in reality, they’re also necessary cogs in the overall scheme devised by the masters of the new economy.
In a sub-set of that aforementioned myth, the under-40 crowd is the most desirable demographics, based on their current position in the evolutionary ladder, and of course, the disposable cash in their pockets, funneled from their mainly circumstantial resources.
But often they easily lose that enviable but fleeting status the moment they’re convinced it’s a permanent credential. Their natural arrogance being manipulated as it is, they’re easily convinced that they’re the new order of things until, well, they’re no longer.
To believe that one’s the vanguard has the awful side effect of blinding them to the reality that they may already be knee-deep into it, and it doesn’t look that promising. To appear hip and attractive to industries and consumer fads, the majority slaves in underpaid job duties that cater to an ever thirsty demand, which extends to personal time; just be on call 24/7, even while partying after hours.
Tastes and wardrobes are shaped to fulfill the implicit mandate for season-limited consumption, and for ‘uniforms’ that conform to the latest dictum of labels and stylists. These, from their part, are the least interested where their product is getting manufactured and assembled (mostly in impoverished nations’ slums) or who’s doing the sowing and stitching (underage preteens). Just don’t ask.
Standing to gain the most from ‘free-trade’ agreements, such as the recent one Congress granted the Obama administration fast track powers to move it along, corporations are happy to keep these new armies of pre-adulthood soldiers in their payroll, along with lobbyist and ideologues, even though both the latter are compensated with considerably more digits than the self-willing former.
Speaking of adulthood, one of its components that may be lost in this devilish bargain is exactly the one that used to be reflected in older generations’ material gains: housing, top education for the kids, prosperous retirement after 30 or so years of work.
Even though measuring human achievement by the scope of material possessions is one of those bourgeois traditions the post-war generation made sure to detonate from the list of worthy causes to pursue during a lifetime, at one point – possibly frozen and lost forever in time – they served as a paradigm to some sort of achievable ‘happiness’ on earth, i.e., stability and family legacy.
Since we’re in the same thematic neighborhood, Continue reading

May Daze

The McCormicks Riot, When the Police Opened Fired on Striking Workers, May 4, 1886

Three Quick Takes on May
(While You Run the Clock)

Eight-hour shift? Check. Overtime pay? Check. Banned child labor? Check that too. What started as a Dionisyan fête became an affirmation of humanity in post-Industrial Revolution years. Pity that First of May now is mostly an occasion to mourn the demise of unions and workers’ rights.
But don’t get discouraged; the original Labor Day is still big everywhere but in the U.S. It may still fulfill its original purpose, of reminding powers that be that employees are well, people too. Check for today’s rallies around the world. Meanwhile, though, we’re keeping the distress call, just in case.
May 1 marked a pagan celebration of the season’s first crop. Free from the religious guilt that singed human sense of joy for good, just consider how hard ancient people partied with moonlight bonfires, sensual dances, and songs of forward gratitude for a bountiful harvest.
Cut to 1886: U.S. workers held a strike demanding enforcement of an eight-hour workday resolution, established two years earlier by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions. When police fired at an unarmed crowd at the Chicago’s McCormick Reaper Works Factory, killing four, and arrested union leaders and anarchists, the modern organized labor movement was born.
Mayday, the distress call, on the other hand, has nothing to do with what’s stated above. It’s an anglicized version of the French word m’aidez which means help me. No wonder it’s a keeper. But let’s clear up once and for all an enduring, albeit, senseless query: no, mayonnaise has nothing to do with it. Neither it’s advisable listening to the Bee Gees‘ song at this time. Or ever, for that matter. Enjoy.

(Adapted from the original, published on May, 1, 2011.)
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