Backyard Beekeeping, Cell Phones & Honey Bees

by Lana Lynne on 5.24.11

In the face of the troubling Colony Collapse Disorder plaguing the world's honey bee population, it is comforting to learn that the number of beekeepers in the U.S. is evidently increasing -- up 10 to 15% over the last few years to 100,000 beekeepers, mostly in urban areas. Because of this increase, cities around the country are repealing previous bans on urban beekeeping, and backyard beekeeping in general is garnering more mainstream attention (see this Forbes blog post, this ABC article, and this Nokia promotional video featuring a beekeeper in Hong Kong).

The increase in backyard beekeeping is being attributed to the popularity of the local food movement and the growing concern over globally diminishing hives. Yet, one has to wonder about another piece of news that popped up recently (which was already characterized as a "popular myth," like many human-influence reasons proposed for CCD): A study conducted in Switzerland found that electromagnetic waves from active cell phone impact hives by "inducing the worker piping signal," which, under normal conditions, "announces the swarming process...or is a signal of a disturbed bee colony." (The swarming process is when the Queen bee leaves the hive with a group of worker bees to find a new hive.)

Questions are being raised about the study, such as the proximity of the mobile phones to the hives in the study and whether this is ever replicated in the real world, and if there is a demonstrated link to CCD. Skepticism aside, if mobile phone signals are another piece of the Colony Collapse puzzle, how will this affect the efforts of urban and suburban backyard beekeepers, tending hives in areas saturated with electromagnetic waves?

Photo Credit: Björn Appel

Are you Maladjusted?

by douglas reeser on 5.16.11 
"There are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence."

A snippet of a speech given by Dr Martin Luther King at Western Michigan University on Dec 18th, 1963.

Nicaragua Moves to Preserve and Promote Traditional Medicines

by douglas reeser on 5.14.11

Some interesting news concerning traditional medicine came out of Nicaragua recently. In late March, the National Assembly approved the Traditional and Ancient Medicine Law. According to a translation provided by Indigenous Peoples Issues and Resources:

It aims to recognize, respect, protect and promote the practices and expressions of traditional medicine in all specialties, the purposes of this law are noted for promoting the use of traditional medicines based on derivatives of plants, animals and minerals or any combination thereof, in terms of quality, safety, accessibility and accountability.

This law will also ensure alignment and articulation of knowledge and practices of traditional health systems among themselves and with the national health system, establishing the Ministry of Health to certify people who practice traditional medicine to provide care to population.
This legislation will charge the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health with incorporating traditional medical practices into the National Public Health system, which may serve to legitimate such practices in the eyes of the general population, and strengthen those practices among those to whom they belong.

As an anthropologist about to head to the field to investigate the state of traditional medicine in Belize, I find this move exciting and promising. While I'm not as familiar with the situation in Nicaragua, for many people in Belize and other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, traditional medicine is the only form of health care widely available. Where doctors, clinics and hospitals do exist, they are often out of the reach of many, whether for geographic or economic reasons. Yet, despite reliance on such traditional practices, fewer and fewer people are sufficiently trained to practice effectively. This is largely due to the fact that many of the younger generations are turning to wage employment and moving to urban centers, which typically leaves little time for learning traditions. Further, as traditional medical practitioners have historically served their communities whether payment was available or not, in today's economy, traditional healing does not necessarily represent a way to generate income.

Efforts such as those in Nicaragua have the chance to alter this trajectory. This is not a call to return exclusively to traditional forms of medicine, but instead to incorporate traditional medicine into the national health care system. Doing so has the potential to identify the strengths of traditional medicine, and bring to the forefront the value of such practices. It can fill gaps that the national system can not. By legitimizing traditional practices on a national level, the potential is created such that a larger amount of people may seek those services, especially as its strengths become better understood and more widely known. As greater numbers of people seek such services (demand goes up), it may serve to generate greater interest in learning and preserving the practices among the younger generations.

Certainly it remains to be seen if legislation like this will result in such positive developments. Still, it is refreshing to see efforts to preserve and promote traditional practices on the national level. A completely integrated health system in which people have multiple options for various health problems scarcely exists in the world, yet people from all walks of life and in all nations continue to use a plurality of medical approaches. It may be that formalizing such a plural system can serve to improve not only health services, but also the health of all people.

Prisons, Profits and Immigrants

by douglas reeser on 5.11.11

We've written on and shared information on the prison system in the US a few times over the years (for instance, check out "School to Prison Pipeline" by Lana Lynne from March of this year). As the industry continues a move toward privatization and a corporate model, generating profit becomes a primary goal. This video from Cuentame, a Latino activist website, begins to explain how the prison industry aims to increase its profits through the imprisonment of immigrants. Through massive lobbying efforts in Washington and state capitals around the country, lobbyists are pressuring legislators to craft and pass anti-immigrant bills similar to the infamous Arizona SB1070. By passing laws that make it easy to arrest and detain immigrants - whether they are in the US legally or not - there is a resulting increase in prison populations. Private prisons are then payed by the state to house the new prisoners. Sounds simple, but is it acceptable? Do we want to live in a country in which private business is profiting - to the tune of billions of dollars per year - on the arbitrary detention of human beings?

The video from Cuentame, titled "Immigrants for Sale" raises more questions than it answers, but it provides a good starting point for discussion on the topic, and for further investigation.

GMO Collusion

by lana lynne on 5.4.11

Just a heads up for any "studies" you may come across in the near future that downplay the negative environmental impact of Monsanto's GMO crops. According to Tom Philpott at Grist, the USDA has taken Federal Judge Jeffrey White's criticism of the agency to heart. Last year, Judge White rebuked the USDA for violating the National Environmental Policy Act by deregulating new seeds before checking their environmental impact. Philpott explains why the USDA's Monsanto-friendly rulings would not stand up to close scrutiny:
A rigorous environmental impact assessment would not likely be kind to Roundup Ready sugar beets. First, sugar-beet seeds are cultivated mainly in Oregon's Willamette Valley, also an important seed-production area for crops closely related to sugar beets, such as organic chard and table beets. The engineered beets could easily cross-pollinate with the other varieties, causing severe damage to a key resource for organic and other non-GMO farmers. Second, Monsanto's already-unregulated Roundup Ready crops -- corn, soy, and cotton -- have unleashed a plague of Roundup-resistant "superweeds," forcing farmers to apply ever-higher doses of Roundup and other weed-killing poisons. Finally, the Roundup herbicide itself is proving much less ecologically benign than advertised...
But, thankfully, the USDA caved under pressure. In early April, the agency announced it will demand environmental impact tests of new GM crops...tests conducted by the GMO industry. Who said anything about objectivity?

Image:, a great source for learning the history and impact of Monsanto