To Bee Or Not To Bee

Bee Keepers 01 Honeybee

When I was twelve, my grandparents had a tourist home on the main highway going into Milford, Delaware. My granddad fixed lawnmowers, wagons, whatever – there wasn’t much he couldn’t fix. The garage backed up to a block-long chicken house, where he raised 20,000 or more fryers for the fried chicken industry. I spent every summer helping to feed the chickens, pick tomatoes and strawberries, and shuck corn. Right next to the chicken house, granddad had four beehives.

The honey attracted two older kids who lived across the highway. One tilted the top of a hive and the other kid shoved me into it. Face, hair, shirt, mouth, pants, arms, legs – there were bees all over me! I learned about bees that day; I learned more than that, actually.

Honeybees  (Apis mellifera)

Honeybees are primarily known for the production and storage of honey, and the construction of nests made of beeswax. They are not native American bees. They were transported by Mormon pioneers to Utah in the late 1840s, and by ship to California in the 1850s.

Bees talk to each other. Honeybees are known to communicate through different chemicals and by using specific behaviours that convey information about the quality and type of resources and where the resources are located. The details of their signals vary among bee species; for example, some worker bees “dance” on the upper surface of their comb, orienting the dance in the actual compass direction of the resource they are collecting.

Drones

Males or drones are produced by the queen when she chooses not to fertilize an egg; or by an unfertilized worker. The drones have large eyes, which are used to locate queens during mating flights.

Workers

Worker bees of a certain age produce beeswax from glands on their abdomens. They use the wax to form the walls and caps of the comb. Workers are female and are produced from an egg that the queen has selectively fertilized from stored sperm. A typical colony may contain as many as 60,000 worker bees. Their work changes with the age of the bee: beginning with cleaning out their brood cell, receiving nectar, cleaning the hive, guard duty, and foraging. Some engage in “undertaking” – removing corpses of their nest mates from inside the hive.

Queens

Queen honeybees, like workers, are female. They are created at the decision of the worker bees by feeding a larva only royal jelly throughout its development, rather than switching from royal jelly to pollen once the larva grows past a certain size. Queens are produced in oversized cells and develop in only 16 days. Queens have a different morphology and behavior from worker bees. In addition to the greater size of the queen, she has a functional set of ovaries, and a spermatheca, which stores and maintains sperm after she has mated. The sting of queens is not barbed like a worker’s sting, and queens lack the glands that produce beeswax. Once mated, queens may lay up to 2,000 eggs per day. They produce a variety of pheromones that regulate behavior of workers, and helps swarms track the queen’s location during the migratory phase.

All honeybees live in colonies where the workers sting intruders as a form of defense, and alarmed bees release apheromone that stimulates the attack response in other bees. The different species of honeybees are distinguished from all other bee species by the possession of small barbs on the sting, but these barbs are found only in the worker bees. The sting and associated venom sac of honeybees are also modified so as to pull free of the body once lodged, and the sting apparatus has its own musculature and ganglion, which allow it to keep delivering venom once detached. The worker dies after the sting becomes lodged and is subsequently torn loose from the bee’s abdomen.

Defense against larger insects such as predatory wasps is usually performed by surrounding the intruder with a mass of defending worker bees, which vibrate their muscles vigorously to raise the temperature of the intruder, in combination with increased carbon dioxide levels within the ball that produce the lethal effect. This phenomenon is also used to kill a queen perceived as intruding or defective, an action known to beekeepers as “balling the queen,” named for the ball of bees formed.

Honeybees signify immortality and resurrection. They were royal emblems of the Merovingians, and the personal emblem of my favorite character in history – Napoleon.

I learned that Honeybees sting like hell! Their combined venom can be lethal. My Granddad suggested I explain that to the kids who pushed me into the hive. He was watching as I crossed the highway and knocked on their backdoor. It wasn’t a long explanation, but I got in the first punch!

I learned more than they did.

Gifts To Remember

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My mother reminded me, “You can open lots of presents; you can only keep the memories.”

Like packages we opened ages ago, people we once knew, places we’ve been – nothing stays the same. Things get lost, wear out, the colors fade. Our memories stay bright; maybe not brand new, but priceless nonetheless. Sitting beside the tree, brightly decorated for the holidays, I unwrap my memories; I go back …

To Philadelphia, to Mayfair, where I was born; to the Mayfair pool where I learned to swim; to the graves in Pennypack Park that memorialize my mom’s family …

To the farm my father moved us to in Virginia – from peg pants and row houses, to bib overalls and milking cows: culture shock and awe …

To Glen Allen High School – it’s a museum now! – holding hands with Nancy Owens on the school bus home from a Junior Varsity basketball game; to Catherine Stewart’s mother encouraging me to write stories; to my history teacher, Mr. Johnson, directing me to a “Best Actor” performance at a University of Virginia festival of one-act plays; and to the many fights I survived with bigoted teenagers who didn’t like Damn Yankees …

To three years in the Air Force during the Korean War, and an honorable discharge – authorized by President Harry Truman, who mistakenly thought the war was over …

To three years at the University of Richmond, earning a B.A. with the help of the G.I. Bill, going to school full time, and working full time for The Richmond News Leader – I joined Phi Delta Theta fraternity, but had little time for socializing …

I did meet Grace Edith Burton and spent two turbulent years that ended in a stormy cruise to Bermuda – we were too young to make the voyage …

And, two years as a technical writer for the Airborne Department of the Army in Ft. Lee, Virginia, where I also learned to pack parachutes …

In Detroit, I wrote ads for Pontiac Motor Division, and created advertising campaigns for Hush Puppies Shoes – I no longer wear pigskin shoes, and Pontiacs are history …

I loved Cuba and thought I might move there to teach skin diving, until my diving mentor, President of the Pan American Skin Diving Association, Arnando Piedra, was killed during the Revolution – I left Cuba when a bomb went off in the street outside the Habana Hilton …

In Bloomfield Hills, my best friend, Bill Claire shared his religious skepticism, his love of fine art, and his new found interest in jumping out of airplanes; we purchased a war surplus T-10 and an emergency chute and went looking for a pilot, a plane, and a place to land – at least, I knew how to repack the chute.

In Novi, almost on the approach path to Detroit Metro Airport, we made our first few jumps – and I accidentally fell 3,000 feet out of an airplane without a parachute! Which landed me out of a job, with severe fractures and a useless right arm for a year – that story comes wrapped with amazingly colorful explanations …

Thankfully, BBDO was willing to hire a right-handed copywriter who could only use his left hand … 

Then, on to living solo at Pine Lake, with a ski boat at the dock, and a Cessna in a hanger at Pontiac Airport …

Another move – this time to writing for an ad agency at 555 Madison Avenue in Manhattan – before Ad Man became a television show …

Heading for Hollywood, to west L.A. at least, to co-star with Gayle Hunnicutt – in Great Britain, Lady Jenkins – in the Equity-waver production of “Hotel Babel” …

To doing voices at Hanna Barbara with the great Gerald Mohr, in the “Fantastic Four” animated TV cartoon series – he was Mr. Fantastic, I was the Human Torch …

To filming the World Aerobatic Championships at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and coming in 7th in the aerobatic competition …

To five fabulous years touring the world with my closest friend, the legendary, Jerry Lewis …

To Marylou! Home at last! For 42 years and the gifts are still coming! To the miracle of Teddy – now Ted and Elayna! And, someday, maybe a new generation of presents under the tree …

To anchoring “The Adventures of Jac Flanders,” entertainment news on KTXL-TV40 in the Bay Area …

To wining Emmy and Christopher Awards for writing about kids in prison and their dreams for the future, in the documentary series, “Desperate Passage” …

To having a book of essays, “What I Learned On The Way Down,” – some double entendre there – introduced at Book Expo America in New York City …

To living in Cardiff By The Sea, discovering the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, and cautiously accepting having reached 80 – on my way to the final destination. Ted gave me a pin that says, “I’ve Survived Damn Near Everything,” but I’m not quite ready to pin it on!

The gifts have been spectacular.

“You’re just bragging,” I heard someone say. Damn right!

Have a merry Christmas opening and sharing your memories, and enjoy a fantastic 2014!

What You Don’t Know About Ladybugs

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I’ll admit it; this was all a surprise to me.

I have had a life-long interest in lions and tigers and bears, oh my. But I never gave a thought to Ladybugs, much less to the billions and billions of bugs, as Carl Sagan might have pointed out, that live right under our feet.

I’m not picking on any particular political party here, but the place is buzzing with nasty stories that just aren’t true. Bugs aren’t nasty – not all of therm. A few of them are downright cute. The Ladybug is about the cutest bug I’ve ever seen. And she never hurt a fly!

What first sparked my interest, a few weeks ago, my daughter-in-law pointed out a really attractive red and black-spotted insect – it was not at all a creepy crawler – we just missed stepping on as we were leaving San Elijo Lagoon in Cardiff. She picked it up and we watched, fascinated, for a few minutes as it toured her palm, before she placed it on a nearby leaf, out of harm’s way.

“What do they do for a living,” I asked? Her answer changed my life – it’s true!

They do quite a lot, actually. They dine on aphids; they help farmers protect their crops; they keep pests out of your garden. They produce thousands of eggs. Like bears, they hibernate in winter. They have the most interesting, almost unbelievable, life story of anybody or any bug I’ve ever heard about – outside of a Ray Bradbury novel.

To me, it sounded like science fiction. Shape-shifting. Lon Chaney, Jr. changing into wolf man! That dates me, I know, but werewolves in films and television have nothing on Ladybugs. Ladybugs change shape three times, including once that’s pretty scary looking.

What an eye-opening concept. What a “pupa”-opening concept – if you know about the pupa, larvae, and adult stages of the Ladybug life cycle.

I didn’t want to bug her, but I wanted to know more. So, my daughter-in-law, Elayna, who happens to be Education Coordinator at the Conservancy, gave me a tour, and told me a bit about the birds, the plants, the geology – and the bugs. As a photographer, I fell in love with the place. I fell in love with the Ladybug.

San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy is one of the very few wild life sanctuaries and wetlands in California – and it’s free! Take a tour. It might change your life.

The Mysterious Lagoon

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While we’re all wondering what some nutcase in Congress will come up with next, the real mysteries are right under our noses. For more than 30 years, I’ve lived within walking distance of a mysterious, fascinating, historically significant, unbelievably important, natural resource – and I hardly noticed.

It seemed so innocuous, so ordinary, until my daughter-in-law invited me to take a closer look. She is obviously much brighter than I, and she’s studied nature, while I paid too much attention to politics and making money.

Well, I’ve taken a closer look, and I am amazed by the things I have seen and learned at San Elijo Lagoon. The things I didn’t know…

Plants – All I knew was most of them are green. You can cook and eat a Prickly Pear cactus (the most dangerous looking plant I’ve ever seen). Ask Alex, one of the Park Rangers at the Lagoon – he might invite you to dinner. 

Animals – Mule deer actually live in San Elijo Lagoon – along with a few thousand other vertebrates! (I’ve never used that word before.)

Birds – You can tell their occupations by their beaks, and some, by their feet! Egrets are my favorite models – they just stand and wait for you to take their picture!

Insects and spiders – You wouldn’t believe what I learned about Ladybugs! (Those ladies change more than just their minds.)

American Indians – Kumeyaay artifacts are all over the lagoon! (There was a Kumeyaay burial ground in back of my house in Olivenhain.)

Geology – If you live in a house overlooking Cardiff Reef (as I do, now), ask a docent at the Conservancy where your house might have been a thousand years ago, and where it might be a thousand years from now – or, after the next big storm!

If you are a photographer – professional or not – and you have not taken a walking tour of San Elijo Lagoon, your camera is actually crying right now.

The San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy – “Preserving, protecting and enhancing the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve and watershed” – is one of the most enlightening, educational and entertaining places – and group of knowledgeable, interesting people – I have been introduced to in years. And there is so much more to learn and enjoy. I’ll be at it for quite a while!

Costs nothing, the guided tours are fantastic (you’ll love the stories), open every day (bring your camera), and if we meet on the trail, I promise not to discuss politics.

For information or to schedule a tour, call Tara Fuad, Educational Director at 858.414.6187.

Killer TV Shows

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Did you watch “Blackfish” on CNN last Thursday? If not, you missed a doozy! Not for the first time, we learned that dolphins and whales are intelligent animals that are self-aware, have close family and community ties, and, in the case of so-called “killer whales” (Orcinus orca), have larger, more complex brains than we humans.

The captivity and mistreatment of killer whales was the subject of the Blackfish special, as well as the weekly “Crossfire” TV show that preceded it. (Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was actually conciliatory!) The culprit, in this case, was SeaWorld, the multi-million dollar entertainment company with franchise aquariums around the world, including San Diego.

Prisoners in our maximum-security penitentiaries receive better treatment!

In nature, there has never been a recorded case of a killer whale attacking and killing a human. There have been numerous attacks and six deaths in captivity. That’s not surprising, given the conditions of the whales’ confinement, unnatural environment, dependence on humans for food, and separation of family members. In nature, killer whales remain with their mothers for life.

In  2010, a 12,000-pound orca named Tilikum tore apart (“killed” is too tame a word for it) SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau. She was Kilikum’s third victim, over a period of years in which SeaWorld persisted in calling the deaths regrettable accidents caused by the trainers. Kilikum had been held captive in not much more than a large bathtub for decades, since his capture and separation from his mother when he was three years old.

Like all marine mammals, killer whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). SeaWorld hasn’t heard.

Killer whales are the most widely distributed marine mammals in the world. Depending on their resident, transient, and offshore locations, some feed on fish, others prefer seals, porpoise, even sharks. They depend heavily on underwater sound for orientation, feeding, and communication. Different populations have their own vocalizations. Even within the same population, dialects are known to exist.

In Biology 101, the teacher suggested that we aren’t the brightest species on the planet. If intelligence is based on how well a species adapts to its environment, we may be the dullest bulb in the building. We harm our environment, kill members of our own species, and claim our superiority over every other creature on earth. Au contraire, mon frère.

Myths of the Middle Class

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For too many Americans, the “middle class” is an invention, an aspiration, a carrot held out to the poor, promising a life they can never afford. The best they can hope for is $7.50 an hour – not enough to feed their families, and nowhere close to helping them out of poverty.

Most people who think they are “middle class” are only two or three paychecks away from living in a tent. Given an unforeseen medial emergency, that tent can easily turn into a cardboard box – or a wooden one.

There are really only two kinds of people in the U.S. There are entrepreneurs, the bosses, and there are workers, as long as the entrepreneurs are providing jobs. Without jobs, workers become frustrated, angry, and dangerous.

The rich need protection. They don’t worry about a disappearing “middle class,” or people looking for work. They are afraid of Muslims in the Middle East. They need a powerful army and disenfranchised kids to fill the ranks. Children of the rich need not apply.

They want a small-to-non-existent government that doesn’t use their taxes to re-build infrastructure or provide medical care to the poor.

They keep the poor in check with enticing promises of the “American Dream” – the myth about living better than their parents, owning a home, and sending their kids to college. Poor kids who actually make it to college are unlikely to pay off their student loans.

People who want to be rich live in hope, until their jobs go south, their mortgages are under water, their kids take jobs at McDonalds or WalMart – it pays a bit better – and they have to move to Kansas. The problem is nobody wants to live in Kansas!

I enjoy watching the surfers at Swami’s. They all expect to be rich by next week. Some hate it that their taxes pay for food stamps – thanks to one of the truly bi-partisan acts of Congress. You can hear the uproar, even with the waves crashing, when someone mentions ObamaCare!

The rich get richer, the poor lose hope, and the myths persist.

Stuff Happens!

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Jesus Christ in the morning! Obama sending arms to Syrian “terrorists” – claims Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann – was a sign “we are in God’s end times.” She swears biblically, “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, his day is at hand.”

When she uses that word, “Maranatha,” it almost brings tears to my eyes.

This was a record-breaking week for Americans. We came in 13th in an international test of math, reading, and problem-solving skills. The only countries with better scores were Canada, Australia, Sweden, Slovakia, and a few others. But there was obviously some cheating going on.

We may be below the international average in some things. But we have the Tea Party – and they don’t!

But, wait – that’s not all. The Russians, those un-Godly swine, finally admitted they could not repel all possible invasions. Boasting about his country’s air defense system, Sergey Berezhnoy told reporters, “We are, unfortunately, not ready to fight extraterrestrial civilizations.”

Hell, we can at least do that! How do they think we wound up with Michele Bachmann and Ted Cruz?

At last, Antonin Scalia and his team of social conservatives are opening up the gates to allow money to really influence our elections. Corporations – er, um, ah, “persons,” excuse me – have as much right as any billionaire to influence who gets elected and which laws are passed in this country.

We are doing our best – no one can deny it – to keep poor people from having to go to the polls and vote. They have much better things to do, like looking for jobs.

And look what’s happening: the South is about to rise again! It’s a new Civil War. Maybe they’ll get to secede this time. It’s only fair. They lost last time – I think. The red states are red hot, and they’re right, Obama is not Lincoln. He’s not going to start a war. I wish the rednecks luck …  as long as we get to keep Miami and South Beach.

We’ll just have to clean up the mess.

Several sources: including The Week magazine, October 18, 2013.

We Are All Recycled

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In spite of information accepted as facts for thousands of years, we have recently received a few updates. The news is essential to our understanding of how life works:

Recently, we learned that every species, including ours, is limited by the availability of sunlight, food and water – plus the physical environment that supports us. (We learned this as recently as the second grade, at least.)

We learned that life in the sea begins with one-celled organisms fueled by the sun. And that they, in turn, are fuel for shrimplike creatures, that are fuel for small fish, that are fuel for – etc., etc. – all the way up the food chain. (Personally, I enjoy blackened tilapia … it reminds me of Friday nights and fish-frys at the farm … but, I digress.)

In similar fashion, add all the other plants and animals, and the recycling of nutrients – as we are all recycled – and we have an ecosystem that seems to work pretty well. There are even members of different species that work well together. (It was probably fourth grade when we learned about bees and flowers; pollen spreading and such. They left out really interesting stuff about the birds and bees until Sr. High.)

Competition is an important aspect of evolution. The winners live. The losers die, and sometimes die out. The predator-prey relationship acts as a population stabilizer. This all works to the benefit of continued plant and animal life on the planet. Climate, naturally, also plays a part.

It all worked very well for literally a couple of billion years – until we arrived, the human animal that developed the capacity for logical thought. We eliminate the forces of natural selection; we produce our own ecosystems of domestic plants and animals; we keep everything as un-natural as possible. Tragically, we have not given nature enough time to cope with our craziness, or to develop solutions to the problems we create.

We try. We invented chemical pesticides, insect poisons that are not metabolized as rapidly as they are consumed. They are stored in animal tissues and passed along to other members of the food chain, including the inventors.

Overpopulation may be the end of our problems, quite literally! More people mean more houses, more roads, more air pollution, less pure oxygen for plants and animals, less green land. If we overplant or overgraze, the land becomes barren. When we pollute the air and water, we cause sickness and death. When we kill masses of insects, we destroy the natural pollinators of plants, and indirectly kill birds and animals that are natural predators of the insects.

Controlling the human population is probably the key to solving most of the ecological problems that face us.

Source: L. Howton and J. Victoria, San Diego Natural History Museum

We Interrupt This Commercial For Some Important News

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LateNightTV_1731633Last night I made the horrible mistake of watching a movie on late night television. It took less than half an hour to realize the sun would be coming up before I’d see the final credits – late night shows are nearly half commercials! But I stuck it out, muting the constantly interruptive, unbelievably annoying commercials, until the credits rolled, and I could turn out the lights and blindly feel my way to bed.

It’s a fatal flaw, I admit, but once started, I feel “duty bound” to watch every frame of an even bad movie – I keep hoping it will turn out well. But last night’s movie sucked!

I woke up this morning still bugged by the insane number of commercials we have to watch on television – especially on news shows. It seems to me, in the old days, we could watch Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow without hearing about erectile dysfunction, feminine napkins, and all manner of stuff we had no wish to hear about, much less watch!

A fat lady dancing crazily to demonstrate there are no leaks – is the last commercial on earth I want to watch instead of learning the latest world news.

According to TNS Media Intelligence, the average hour-long prime-time TV show is 36 percent commercials. Reality programs have an average of 13:52 per hour of commercial messages. An average prime-time hour features 21:51 of marketing. Frankly, I thought it was more – I still think it’s more – it feels like more!

Put another way, by the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), an average of 35 percent of prime-time (7 p.m. to 11p.m.) news is devoted to advertisements – against the per hour limit of 20 percent prescribed by so-called current rules.

Commercials eat up an average of 18-20 minutes every hour. You gotta love em.

Er … Um… Ah … It’s In The News … Like …Ya Know?

ImageWell … look … if getting a job on television depended on the ability to speak correctly, without annoying verbal tics, sounds and phrases at the end of sentences, there would be no talking heads on television!

Ya know … is a sign the speaker doesn’t know his subject well enough to say it right out, and needs a second to think what he wants to say. Or, maybe he figures you already know what he is about to say – ya know – and then goes ahead and tells you anyway!  It’s hard to say.

Um … clear, to the point, unambiguous facts are hard to find coming out of the mouths of todays’ “news readers,” pundits, and reporters. Or, from the people on the street who reporters tend to interview – because it’s easier and cheaper than having to find informed experts!

Actual reporters, who do real reporting, are now called “investigative reporters,” which used to be, like, redundant.

Some time ago, my Aunt Alice – she’s in her 90s and doesn’t look well  – saw a television crew on Encinitas Boulevard filming a fire that was raging in a multi-billion dollar high-rise, with traffic backed up all the way to 101, with ambulances coming from all directions, police and firemen holding back the crowds – as people jumped to their deaths from windows that were beyond the firefighter’s reach. A reporter asked Aunt Alice for her reaction to the horror.

“It’s, like, horrible,” she reported. And she was, like, quoted on Fox and CNN that night.

So, um … ah … that fire really didn’t happen. I, like, made it up, ya know, just to make a point. But, the next time you watch a “news” program on television, you’ll understand – as soon as the talking head starts talking.

Also notice, when a TV news broadcaster asks anyone, even an expert, to describe something, nine out of ten times the expert being interviewed will begin the explanation with “Well …” or, “Look …”

Jac Flanders was entertainment news anchor at KTXL-TV40 in Sacramento. The News Director was adamant about eliminating verbal tics and phrases.

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