Thursday, August 9, 2007

Abandon Ship!

Due to technorati not picking up posts here, and therefore being invisible to the blogosphere, I'm seeing if I can make it work at wordpress instead:

Sunday, August 5, 2007

This is a Test

Technorati isn't picking up my updates, and if they don't get picked up by Technorati or something like it, how is this blog to be connected to the blogosphere and read by anyone?

Anyway, this post is a test. In case the problem is with html in my posts, I'm keeping this one really simple and using the automatic htmler (usually I just write it all in myself) to make sure there are no errors.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Le Blog d'Arthur

   Everyone has heard of King Arthur, but very few people really have a conception of where he fits into history. Most people probably have a vague picture of a rennaissance knight on the throne of England between Henry XVIJ and Blehtahepdakor I Forkbeard in the fifteenth century. Well I am here to give you the suprisingly accurate real picture of how King Arthur fits into history (largely because I'm writing a paper on it at the moment).

   The legend as it is largely known today came about during 30 in 30 of the year 1485. At that time a blogger by the name of Thomas Malory wrote an entry titled Le Morte D'Arthur, about the life of Arthur. Due to the recent paid account feature of the printing press, this entry received many more comments than any previous version.
   As mentioned, in this version Arthur was very much as one knows him today: he had a magic Round Friends-List in which no one was ever on top; and the magic sword Excalibur, which had free text-messeging, 5,000 anytime minutes with monthly rollover, & got him into certain casinos for free. This entry, however, had been composed from others on Malory's friends-list, such as Geoffrey of Monmouth (The Historia Regum Britanniae, 1136 AD), Nennius (Historia Britonum, 820 AD), and Gildas (De Excidio Britanniae, 541 AD), and some others, some of whom are now lost to us because their entries were friends-only. Of particular note, Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia, which elaborated the story extensively and was built upon by later versions, has been hailed by many scholars as "a deliberate spoof" (!!). In fact, Geoffrey of Monmouth was such a saucy prankster he was made a bishop of a place he never visited (even after becoming bishop) -- truly he was a megablogger of our own heart.

   As to the actual historicity of Arthur, some people regard him as just an early Chuck Norris sockpuppet, but all the early accounts ascribe him to a very specific time and place, where there happens to be a big gap in the historical record.
   As you should know, Rome controlled most of Britain from 43 AD until 407 AD. At the end of that time Rome had been in England for 364 years -- to put that in perspective, try to think about 364 years ago today - 1642 - that was a long-ass time ago. So basically England had been Roman for as long as anyone could remember. In 407, however, things were falling apart, and the leader of the Romans in England declared himself the Roman Emperor Constantine III and headed off to Rome with every soldier he could take with him. He proceeded to get his butt kicked but the point is he took the Roman forces out of Britain and left a power vacuum there.

   There then appears to be a largely historical leader in Britain known as Vortigern, whose most notable action is that he invited the Saxons to hang out on the beaches in England (in 428), but they then got belligerent and turned on him and the locals. This and suspicion that he was a hipster caused many to lose faith in Vortigern's leadership and defriend him. One Aurelius Ambrosius rises up instead as leader of the British. Ambrosius (whose name means "Golden Snacks" -- Seriously, you can't make this shit up!) is regarded by scholars as also probably historical, but we're delving deeper into the mythological realm here as well. Ambrosius is the immediate predecessor to Uther Pendragon. Uther Pendragon as you should know, is by all accounts Arthur's father, and is largely legendary / barely more historical than Arthur (if not less).
   Finally, we have Arthur himself, circa 496-537. To give further context, Attila conducted his raging edit-wars across Europe 437-453; and in around 600 the epic saga of how Blogowolf defeated a freakish outcast who lived with his mother named Grendel takes place.
   Following Arthur we have another historical character, Constantine III (2) (Basically the previously mentioned Const. 3.0 was III to the Romans but II to the British, since the Roman Constantine II only posted memes and therefore wasn't very memorable to the British).
   And so I say, yes there are some wild claims about Arthur, but all claims put him at a specific time and place not occupied by anyone else, which is led up to by historic figures and followed by historic figures, so why dispute that there was in fact a dude named Arthur blogging at this time? It's Okham's Razor I believe that states that the simplest explanation is the most likely.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Birds and the Bees

   Alright ladies & gentlemen, it is time to have the talk. That's right, I've been meaning for awhile now to sit down and have a serious talk with you about the birds and the bees.

   You see, while I spend my time killing countless small furry animals, I've learned a few things about a secret order some of us like to call Hymenoptera. What I mean to say is I'm going to tell you about the bees and the other bees now.

this would have been so much better if I'd had the foresight to give a thumbs upHoney Bees - Are actually more like orange & black than yellow and black if you think about it ... and believe me I had more than enough time to think about that. If they live in a man-made box its a "hive," if they've made their own nest somewhere its a feral "colony." Colonies are much more prone to diseases than hive boxes (as boxes allow them nice evenly spaced straight corridors for cleaning), and so bees thoroughly benefit from their interaction with man. And yet some fascist vegans refuse to consume honey for god knows what reason.
   In what sounds like a classic science fiction story (only, its true) some mad scientist brought 26 Tanzanian queen bees to Brazil in 1957. They subsequently escaped and have created the entire "killer bee" population that has since spread up from there to the southern reaches of the United States. They really are not at all as scary as people make them out to be, just a little more defensive than more common Italian or Hawaiian bees (who spend their time riding vespas or hula dancing, respectively).
   Incidently, the difference between these bees was caused by natural selection. In Europe bees were primarily cultivated by beekeepers, so the more "user-friendly" docile ones were selectively bred. In Africa, however, sustainable apiculture (beekeeping) never constituted a significant portion of the bee population -- rather, honey was harvested by destroying hives (both by humans and animals), so the colonies that survived were the "meaner" ones. So... creationists can suck it.

Hornets - Some people, especially the elderly, like to refer to any wasp-like insect from a yellow-jacket to a humming-bird as a "hornet." I really don't know where they got this idea. Hornets are an endangered species in Europe, and have never been established on the American West Coast. So seriously shut up about them. Also, I found an amazing cinematic quality video of an epic battle between hornets & honey bees, I can't believe its for reals.

Wasps - There are two main types of wasps one finds here in California (and a number of rarer types). Unfortunately the wikipedia article on them sucks so I'm going to have to go entirely from memory here. First off, if you don't know the difference between wasps and honeybees (and I've found an alarming number of people don't), you are in my opinion an idiot and I'm not going to take the time to explain. The two main types of wasps here though are the Golden Umbrella Wasp (Polistes Aurelius) (which is yellow and orange), and the European Paper Wasp (Polistes Dominus), which is slightly smaller and more common than the Umbrellas. P Dominus wasps have sharp construction-vehicle yellow-and-black markings. The two species act essentially the same so I'll talk about them together henceforth.
   Now wasps look fricken scary, and whereas in elementry school I used to freak out my classmates by holding honeybees in my hands, I always gave wasps a very wide birth. Well it turns out they are actually the most pacifistic of the Hymenopterids I've had experience with, and will only sting you if you assault them personally. It could see you looting its nest and killing its children and if its not on the nest it'll just say "make love not war" and go be emo.
   Funny story time: once we got this call and the lady told our fearless leader David Marder (the owner of Bee Busters) that every time someone rang her doorbell a wasp would come sting them in the face. Knowing that wasps are not aggressive like that, David dismissed this claim as clearly the product of hyperbolic wasp hysteria. He took the call, and arriving at the house proceeded to the door and rang the doorbell. A wasp came out of nowhere and stung him him the face.
   Turns out the wasp nest was actually in the doorbell.
   Actually getting stung by a wasp is so rare that despite being employed killing them for years, my coworker Jeremy has never been stung by one. He once expressed an interest in actually trying to get stung by one to know how it compared to other stings (he's been stung by everything else already). What a nut.

Bumblebees: Now bumblebees, on the other hand, are like flying battlestations. Fortunately one only rarely comes across their secret lairs, and I've mever had a bumblebee call as long as I've worked in bee control (three seasons). Bumblebees live in colonies of a few dozen up to maybe a hundred. To quote wikipedia "Often, mature bumblebee nests will hold fewer than 50 individuals, and may be within tunnels in the ground made by other animals, or in tussocky grass." I want to say they're closely related to Carpenter Bees, but Wikipedia is telling me they're no closer related than both are to honeybees -- whatever they look the same except Carpenter's are all black.
   Jeremy once got a bumblebee call. It was on a hillside with small bushes. At first he couldn't find it, but then he stepped on a particular shrub and heard an angry buzzing sound that rapidly got louder. Suddenly a few dozen of these angry little deathstars launched out of the ground under the bush and set upon him. Bumblebees, you see, can and will both bite and sting (and not die from stinging you), and are also capable of a certain degree of burrowing/tearing, so they'll land on your protective bee suit and start trying to burrow/tear a hole to jam their stinger in. Also I'd imagine they must have been somewhat resistent to our +3 nerve gas attack that kills other things immediately, because otherwise Jeremy would have made quick work of them. Jeremy sustained at least one sting in this encounter and he said it hurt and swelled up in a manner exponentially worse than the other stings he'd received.
   Incidently, while we don't "rescue" feral bee colonies, Boss Dave has informed me if we ever did get another bumblebee call, he WOULD be interested in trying to do a live removal of the bumblebee. Unlike honeybees, there IS a severe shortage of bumblebees, with several subspecies already recently extinct or on the verge of such.

Yellow Jackets: These guys are actually pretty under-rated. I would have thought they were no worse than honeybees .. wrong. We get a call for yellow jackets, we call for backup. They're smaller than honeybees, so they are better able to get into any orifice they can find in your trusty bee-suit. They bite rather than sting, which just means a single one can get you about a million times more than a single bee could. Seriously, killer bee infestation: no problem -- yellow jackets: call for backup and break out the most potent chemical weapons.
   Yellowjackets are actually a type of wasp, but they look more like skinny honeybees (that are yellow and black). Interestingly, they are carnivorous. I once saw one carting away a disembodied bee head from a destroyed honeybee colony. Morbid bastards.

Mud Daubers: Are another type of wasp. They build mud nests on the underside of eaves. Apartment complexes would pay us a 100 bucks to get rid of them, we'd show up and bat them down with our hands or a broom if out of reach. These things will not sting you, and actually, like the paper wasps discussed above, are beneficial to have around, since they eat less pleasant things like spiders, and pests that are harmful to your gardens. So we've actually talked potential customers out of having us kill wasps before (since our boss Dave actually loves insects, and the rest of us, we get paid whether or not we kill things so no need to be malicious / waste time & chemicals).

   So yeah, now you know. I actually find wasps strangely fascinating. I had two pet dead wasps named Romulus (a Dominus) & Vortigern (an Aurelius). Hey, people have butterfly collections, and no one says thats weird. I was going to try to collect a specimen of all the rarer types of wasp, but I only came up with this plan late in the season and didn't get a chance. Also I found a dead queen bee from a kill and placed it prominently in our office with a sign identifying it as "Queen Amidala."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Colony Collapse Disorder

   All day, every day, people tell me "Isn't there a huge shortage of bees?" or ask me "you know there is supposed to be a big bee shortage?" or otherwise bring up the subject as if I, a professional bee handler, have somehow managed to remain oblivious and have just been waiting around for someone to repeat to me what they overheard on Fox while flipping through channels the night before. So I'm assuming you have heard about it as well: Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
   If you've heard about it at all, what you have probably heard is "some U.S. honeybee hives have lost 90% of their bees to Colony Collapse Disorder." When researching the subject the other day this was practically the only statistic I could find in media. As I pointed out yesterday, "some US hives," have also lost "90% of their bees" due to bears, vandalism, and freak automobile accidents. And more seriously, "some US hives" have certainly lost 90% of their bees to varroa & trachael mites, wax moths, or the Small Hive Beetle (I have some pictures of the destruction these pests have wrought on some local colonies, it is not pretty).
   Yesterday I was researching the subject in search of material for the press releases. I called several commercial beekeepers and entomologists who specialize in honeybees, as well as trawling the open sources of the internet. I found the most concise and dependably accurate source to be a Congressional Research Service report thats only a month old.
   The Bee shortage everyone is talking about turns out is actually a loss of 38% of hives on average over winter as opposed to the normal average of 16%. Only a quarter of surveyed beekeepers reported symptoms of CCD, though these beekeepers lost an average of 45% of their hives.
   Basically, no, 90% of the bees are not gone. Yes, there is an unknown ailment effecting bees and the beekeeping industry is concerned. Its a matter of lost profits and increased costs though, not of the pending extinction of bees.

   But what IS CCD really? I find its symptoms to be rather strange. Basically, the bees just disappear. There is no corresponding evidence of dead bees. Affected hives are found to still be stocked with honey, and have a healthy queen who is still laying eggs (and a few recently hatched bees are still around) -- but 95% of the bees from that hive are simply not to be found!! Its a bit Bermuda-triangle esque if you ask me.
   The hive basically appears healthy except for the fact that for some reason all the worker bees have left. Wax Moths which usually are quick to invade any weak colony avoid the colonies completely for a few weeks after they've been thus abandoned. If one takes the hive box and places it on top of another healthy hive (hives usually consist of stacked boxes ("supers"), see picture to the right), the healthy hive dies. These facts would make you think there is something toxic about the hive, but I don't believe anything has been detected yet.
   Leading theories for cause are either a new or newly more virulent bee disease, or pesticides. Reports on "" report that from over a thousand organic beekeepers surveyed, not one reported CCD symptoms -- this might mean the cause is somehow linked to either pesticides or the rigours of commercial bee life (which often include a lot of being shipped around in flatbed trucks and other stressful activities), but I'm rather distrustful of information from pro-organic sources -- they're often way too enthusiastic to proclaim "organic" is the answer to everything. Anyway, also there are no reports of Colony Collapse in feral colonies ... not that anyone necessarily would report that though.
   Also, some media sources have apparently mentioned that "some people" think cell phone tours may be causing this. This is not a theory which is being seriously considered by any of the experts I've talked to or any of the professional reports I've read. This is just another technology-hating-hippie-theory. (=

   In other news, at least in Southern California, the extremely low levels of rain we have gotten this year is certainly having a greater effect on the number of bees in the area than CCD is.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Countering the Hype

   This is the letter-to-the-editor I wrote and submitted today, on behalf of my boss:

Dear Editors,

   Recent news reports have hyped up some mild hysteria regarding Honeybee Colony collapse Disorder (CCD) by mentioning that “some U.S. hives” have lost “as much as ninety percent of their bees last winter” (“Mystery bee disease may destroy hives worldwide,” OC Register 06/25/07). While this may be true, “some U.S. hives” have also lost 90 percent of their bees due to bears, skunks, or freak accidents.
   A recent congressional report (“Recent Honey Bee Colony Declines,” Congressional Research Service, 06/20/07) puts more reliable numbers to the problem.
   Compared to an average normal loss of 16% of colonies over winter, beekeepers on average lost 38% last winter. While this increase is alarming, it is by no means the mass extinction that the citation of extreme cases has lead the public to believe.

   The OC Register has encouraged people who find themselves hosting unwelcome feral bee swarms or colonies to have them removed live by Orange County Beekeepers Association volunteers, in order to mitigate this perceived bee decimation (“The Secret Lives of Beekeepers,” 05/19/07; “More Buzz on Bees” 07/21/07). This advice is problematic for several reasons.
   Firstly, it is far more cost effective for a commercial beekeeper to recoup their bee stocks by breeding from their existing colonies or commercial
scale bee breeders than it is for random feral colonies to be shipped and integrated.
   Secondly, feral colonies are unhygienic. Honeybees suffer from a variety of ailments which can be controlled in clean commercial hives but run rampant in feral colonies: varroa and tracheal mites are serious causes of bee mortality, for example [And certainly DO cause the "loss of 90%" of the bees in "some US hives!"]. And in fact, as the causes of CCD are currently not known, and may very well be some form of communicable pathogen, beekeepers are more reluctant than ever to introduce bees of dubious hygiene into their apiaries.
   Thirdly, on a related note, Africanized Honeybees are known to have colonized Orange County. Commercial beekeepers do not want Africanized Honeybees, and it requires extensive DNA testing to determine if a colony or swarm is Africanized or not.
   In conclusion, commercial beekeepers do not want Orange County’s feral bees.

   The May 19th OC Register article also noted that the OC Beekeepers Association volunteers will "tame" Africanized colonies by introducing a European queen. What actually occurs is that the European queen produces European offspring who gradually replace the Africanized bees when they die at the end of their 40
day lifespan [Actually what ACTUALLY happens frequently is the African bees create an African queen, kill the European queen, and go about their African business]. In short, one is not actually saving a colony, but merely replacing it. The existing bees will die in 40 days regardless, and the new queen could just as easily be used to regenerate a commercial hive rather than replacing a colony no one will want.
   The OC Register’s continuing encouragement of live removals is misleading and unwarranted. Overhype of CCD by reporting extreme cases as if they are the norm actually does the Register’s readers a disservice and leaves them less informed than they started.

David Marder
Former president,
Orange County Beekeepers Association

   Additionally, I wrote the followed press release:

CONTACT: Dave Marder – (949) 497-6264


   Recent news reports have hyped up some hysteria regarding Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) by mentioning that “some U.S. hives” have lost “as much as ninety percent of their bees” (“Mystery bee disease
may destroy hives worldwide,” OC Register 06/25/07). The OC Register has recently been encouraging people to have feral swarms and colonies removed from their property live to mitigate this problem. David Marder, of Bee Busters Incorporated, a Laguna Hills based company specializing in bee control, disagrees.
   David Marder has been involved in beekeeping and bee control for over 25 years. He was on the Governor’s Steering Committee on Africanized Honeybees and is certified by Dr Steven Theones as an Africanized Honeybee expert. Marder was the president of the Orange County Beekeepers Association for two years, has been featured on CNN, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and Wallstreet Journal, and has guest spoken at countless venues. Marder is licensed by the state of California to perform structural pest control.
Picture not actually included in press release   “Live removal of feral swarms and colonies from Orange County poses a serious risk to public health and domestic animals,” says Marder. Feral bees in Orange County are likely to be Africanized, and only DNA testing on a given specimen can tell for certain. Africanized bees are not always readily identifiable by their behaviour, and hosting them in close proximity to dense human habitation is an accident waiting to happen. Shipping them elsewhere may actually exacerbate the spread of Africanized honeybees.
   Additionally, as the causes of CCD is currently unknown and may well be caused by a communicable bee pathogen, mixing clean domestic bees with unhygienic feral bees is likely to make the situation worse.
   “I used to do live removals,” says Marder, “but when Africanized Honeybees were discovered in Orange County, Dr Eric Mussen (notable bee researcher at UC Davis) said to me during a ride-along, ‘there are two things I don’t want you doing, one is keeping feral bees, and two is giving those bees to beekeepers.’”
   Recently, a swarm rescued by Orange County Beekeepers Association members and given to a hobbyist beekeeper has resulted in the death of a pet dog.
   Additionally, the volunteers who perform live removals often lack the technical or legal qualifications to perform the work. Bee Busters technicians have had a number of calls to clean up removal attempts that had been botched by volunteers. Many, if not all, the volunteers also do not meet the State Pest Control Act requirement that anyone performing live removals have $25,000 of insurance posted to cover the potential liabilities (§ 8555g).
   “You should never allow someone to work with bees on your property who is not properly licensed and insured” urges Marder, “its just too much of a liability.”


   So there you have it. You may think "of COURSE you as a pest control company are biased against saving the bees" -- BUT keep in mind we DID do live removals but stopped for the exact reasons outlined above: no one wanted them and experts told us it was unsafe. Suprisingly, if we ever did have another bumblebee call (which I'm not sure we've gotten in literally years), we WOULD try to save the bumblebees, because they ARE nearly extinct in this area -- but you don't hear about that because no one cares about bumblebees.

   Next post I believe I will write about the actual Colony Collapse Disorder

Ex Genesis et Introductio

   Welcome to the Ex Cathedrian, AKA The Echidna Ex Cathedra, but you can call us "Ex-Cat" for the sake of something catchy. Main Echidnian activities will continue at Echidna Media Organization S.N.A.I. Livejournal (Over the years we've forgotten what the SNAI stands for, but the whole thing spells out "emosnail" and thats what counts), but the plan is to repost our best entries here. If after reading all the blog-gold you find here you hunger for more, or your curious about the day to day adventures of our humble protagonist, Emosnail is the place to go.

   This blog follows in the footsteps of the Chosen Echidna (August 2001 -- September 2003) and Emosnail (January 2003 -- ...)

   Anyway, I am the author of this blog. My name is Kris Fricke, and I recently graduated from the University of California, Davis, with a degree in International Relations (emphasis on Peace & Security and Russia / Eastern Europe), and minors in Political Science, History, & Communications. I am currently taking a year off before law school.
   Throughout college I was involved in student government, spending a full four years as Chief Justice before being termed out. This was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life, as a lot of complicated and seriously contended issues arose, and I was in a position to put a stop to a lot of ridiculous attempts at unethical governance -- which was rewarding despite the fact that its of course only student government.
   My past employment has invariably been in only positions with a high level of irony: I was a lifeguard for six years despite the fact that I really don't like swimming; I was a cook at IHOP though I really can't cook; and most recently a bee exterminator though I like bee a lot more than most people. Currently I am back at Bee Busters while I conduct the eternal search for a real job.

   Anyway, the "official" information page on me can be found here (though its currently out of date and in need of a major overhaul). On to the blogging!