Adult Onset Atheist

Monday, October 17, 2016

Warren Miller's Brand Mangement

Last Friday was “Bald and Free” day, and so I surmise this rainy Monday starts “Stubbley and Itchy” week for some people. Having not shaved any part of my anatomy that might interfere with perching on a bicycle saddle I toy with the idea of heading off to southern Utah and a supported 100 mile ride. That is hours of saddle time, and it should be warm enough, highs in the 80s (almost 30C), that sweat irritating abraded skin might be a real concern for those who aggressively celebrated BandF day.

The rain today brings less liquid precipitation to the high slopes of the mountains hereabouts. Soon the talk of exertion and sweating will turn to winter sports. Gear discussions will devolve to poles and waxes and bindings; topics with a whole different meaning than when discussed in the heat of summer.

On the evening of BandF day I found myself at Abravenel hall in Salt Lake city. The venue’s capacity was strained beyond what the Utah Symphony can usually attract, and the crowd was younger, hipper, and louder than those I have seen at the symphony lately.

They all showed up to watch a film bearing the name of a 92-year-old director (he was only 91 on Friday as his birthday was on Saturday) about bumming about and playing in the snow. Hip young skiers waxed ad nauseam about the hardships Warren Miller endured when, in 1946, he and his buddy Ward Baker lived in a tiny teardrop trailer parked outside a Sun Valley Idaho ski resort for a season, and filmed each other on an 8mm camera in between acting as ski instructors.

A quick internet search of photos shows that Warren Miller is quite bald these days.

“WME owns the exclusive right, in perpetuity, in all media, to the name, the personal endorsement, use of voice and the likeness of Warren Miller, only when used with its existing business, and the fruits of its related efforts,” – From arbitration panel ruling 2010

The film did not discuss the branding case Warren was involved in back in 2010. Warren sold his name off to a group that calls itself “Warren Miller Entertainment group” (WME) and was doing some narration for a ski movie by a different group when WME decided that him just going about and using his name might dilute their brand. The ruling was considered “mixed”. Warren has not actually done any directing or narrating or anything really, with the company that bears his name, since 2004.

“I have not been involved with my old company’s films in any capacity for many years now, and I will not work with WME again.” – Warren Miller 2010

At one point in the evening’s debut showing of “Warren Miller's Here There and Everywhere” a happy sounding DJ who was emceeing the event asked the audience to all stand and sing “Happy Birthday” to Warren while he filmed it on a GoPro. I’m not sure if that was ironic or just insensitive.

Although…. When I think of that night’s movie and the idea of sensitivity to branding it is not images of courtrooms and suit-and-tied lawyers that comes to mind. One of the segments of snowy activity in the film was about the newish sport of FatBike snow riding. Here mountain bikes with huuuge tires are ridden about in the snow. It is slow and looks like a lot of fun, and I plan on engaging in some FatBike riding this winter. The film segment spastically followed a Fatbike competition, and ended with the winner being held down in the snow while his pants were pulled down and a red hot branding iron used to sear a logo onto one of the cheeks of his buttocks. It looked quite painful.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Bee vs. Bee

I have this desire to grow my hair out and wear it in long white braids.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given endangered status to seven species of bees from the genus Hylaeus (yellow-faced bees) native to the Hawaiian Islands. These species were not the first Species of bee proposed for listing as endangered; the patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) was proposed earlier than the 2009 petition for the Hawaiian Hylaeus species. This first listing of a bee has been widely, but erroneously, linked to the perceived decline of commercial honeybees (Apis melifora) in the US.

The factors putting pressure on honeybees are not the same as those endangering the Hawaiian yellow-faced bee species. In fact, honeybees themselves are considered to be a significant contributing factor in the decline of the native bees. This is in stark contrast to the perceived notion that neonicotinoid pesticides are to blame for most bee problems. I have written earlier about the lack of measurable decline in honeybee populations in the US; bee populations actually have been increasing, and are now the highest (2014 was a 20 year high) they have been in decades.

A major factor in the more rapid listing of the seven Hylaeus species as endangered is the biology linked to two unique aspects of evolution. Foster’s rule (or “Island effect”) where perturbations in competitive pressures leads to unique evolutionary outcomes for isolated species. The other are the unique evolutionary outcomes caused by plant-pollinator mutualism. These mechanisms synergistically resulted in an evolutionary démarche that shaped the newly listed Hylaeus species into unique cogs of a wonderful tropical ecology

Another factor is the well written petition(s) prepared by members (Lisa Schonberg, Sarina Jepsen, and Scott Hoffman Black) of the Hawaiian Xerces society. Lisa plays drums in the “Secret Drum Band” which performs rather spacey music that probably went over very well in Portland where they recently toured.

“On the infrequent occasions when I have been called upon in a formal place to play the bongo drums, the introducer never seems to find it necessary to mention that I also do theoretical physics.” --statement by Richard Feynman after an introduction mentioning that he played bongo drums; Messenger Lectures at Cornell University

The petition(s) drove home the potential impact of extinction of these particular bee species on the overall ecology of a specific area. Extinction of a particular bee species can mean extinction of the plant it is mutualistically tied to. Lose the specialized pollinator and you lose the plant which requires a specialized pollinator in order to reproduce.

Solitary bees need to do all of the tasks required for survival of their nest with limited resources, and so they cannot afford many failures when attempting to perform those tasks. Eusocial bees, like the honeybee, can have a significant failure rate since there are many members of the hive attempting the same task. If a bee goes out in search of nectar or pollen it can search large areas that might not be productive if it is a honeybee, but the solitary bee must confine its search to areas with a higher potential for success; if the solitary bee fails at finding nectar it has spent valuable food resources and this might negatively impact its reproduction success.

Honeybees have the added selective advantage of learning as a hive; the worker that successfully finds nectar or pollen communicates the location of that find to the hive using a dance. So a single honeybee finding a flowering plant might result in hundreds of honeybees draining all the nectar from all the flowers on that plant; while the discovery of a flowering plant by a solitary bee would not bring additional bees to the plant.

Honeybees go after any source of food they can find, and have been observed feeding at plants that are also fed at by the yellow-faced bees. They therefore compete directly with them for sustenance.

“This study reports the results of an experiment run over two years on the impact of commercial honey bees on the fecundity of a solitary native bee, Hylaeus alcyoneus. Registered apiary sites were used as treatment sites (with honey bees) while control sites (without honey bees) were interspersed between. The fecundity of H. alcyoneus was measured using trap nests. We compared the number of nests produced, number of eggs per nest and emerging progeny mass of H. alcyoneus in sites with and without commercial bee hives. The number of nests produced by H. alcyoneus was 23% less (Wilcoxon’s T) at treatment sites than control sites.” -- Paini, Dean R. and Roberts, J. Dale. (2005) Commercial honey bees (Apis mellifera) reduce the fecundity of an Australian native bee (Hylaeus alcyoneus). Biological Conservation Volume 123, Issue 1, May 2005, Pages 103–112

The species of the genus Hylaeus look a lot like wasps, and use a specialized crop for carrying pollen. The seven Hawaiian species of Hylaeus that were listed as endangered also display some of characteristics of mutualism-induced phonotypic specialization. Hylaeus mana, for instance, has evolved into a very tiny bee capable of dropping into the specialized flowers of the parasitic forest sandalwood plant (Santalum freycinetianum).

Hylaeus mana is so small, and the flowers it feeds at so limited, that it was not described until 2002. It had just avoided notice.  Only four specimens have been collected.

The mutualistic evolution of plant-pollinator pairs provides benefits to both. The specialized pollinator –often a solitary bee- almost exclusively feeds at the specialized flower, and it therefore would most likely be carrying pollen from that species of flower to another of the same species. A general pollinator –like the honeybee- would most likely be carrying pollen from whatever was the most abundant flower at the time, and for rare flowers this is most likely not pollen from other flowers of that rare species. The plant in a plant-pollinator pair often evolves the ability to display specific attractants (like the wonderful smells and colors many flowers have) that improve the chances of a specialized pollinator being successful in finding food by finding it.

The specializations and attractants from these mutualistic pairings have created some of the most beautiful things on our planet.

Honeybee competition can result in a vicious feedback loop. They over-graze a specialized plant, and that reduces the reproductive success of the specialized pollinator. This causes a reduction in the specialized pollinator, which reduces the reproductive success of the specialized plant. Less of the specialized food source increases the effect of honeybee competition, and this can cause both the plant and specialized pollinator to spiral into extinction.

The Xerces society petition(s) also describe predation by ants and parasitism by wasps. The prioritization of ecological factors appear heavily weighted towards actions by members of the order Hymenoptera. This may be due in part to the shadow cast by Roy Snelling who died just months before the petition(s) was delivered.

Roy Snelling was a curmudgeonly self-taught entomologist and loud outspoken Atheist who wore his hair in long gray braids and would talk to anyone about the insects that captured his focus for most of the 73 years of his life. He studied all things Hymenoptera, and, though he was employed in Los Angeles at the Natural History Museum there, had a fondness for the bees and ants of the Hawaiian Islands. He described the competition between honeybees and solitary bees. He had also discovered new species of bees and ants. On April 23rd of 2008 he died in his sleep of a heart attack while on safari in Kenya looking for more Hymenoptera.

The problem with this story. This story that is literally about the bees doing the things that make for the better part of the “birds and bees” idiom. This story where long-haired thinkers dance crazily to spacey drum accompaniment through sandalwood scented forests of a tropical paradise. This story where a reasoned petition wins the glacial support of government conservation rules. The problem with this story is that the bees are killing bees; there is no Monsatan or cardboard villain who simplistically decimates the universe in an accelerating bid to increase its evil. We cannot easily partisanize this story in the way an election year requires of everything.

But come November we will again be living in the beautiful complex world of scents and buzzing that makes the study of ecological-evolutionary biology resonate within that thin film that supports life as we know it on this blue sphere of a planet we call Earth. Recognizing how those interactions get out of whack and doing something about the more fragile margins will make future Novembers a little more beautiful.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Conference Avenue

This past weekend was the semi-annual conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS or Mormon). This takes place in a large conference center on the North side of Temple square. On the South side of Temple square is the church developed City Creek shopping center. Pedestrian traffic and orange cones slowed traffic on North and South Temple (The roads that border temple square to the North and South) to a crawl. A few blocks north of North temple traffic was halted by a logjam of spastically jerking minivans all seeking free on-street parking.

I was driving East along 2nd avenue, just a little east of Temple square where it changes name from North Temple at the margin of the Salt Lake City neighborhood called the avenues, while the conference was nearing a close this last Sunday. 2nd avenue is a steep one way road from the church office building at the corner of State and North Temple to where it levels out at the intersection with B avenue. I was driving a large pickup truck and turning left onto B avenue when a woman with a cellphone to her ear while driving an older sedan North on B avenue ignored the “WRONG WAY” and “ONE WAY” signs and turned left onto 1st street. I honked to draw her attention to the fact that she was now traveling, in the rather inadequate space left between my truck and the curb, the wrong way on a one way street.

The day was warm, and windows were rolled down. It looked like the interior of the woman’s car was festooned with a couple more child seats than it should really support. I yelled at her to emphasize the message I had hoped my horn had gotten across:

“You are going the WRONG WAY on a ONE WAY STREET.” I yelled.

Without taking the phone from her ear she yelled back even louder:

“I know YOU IDIOT!!

She also said something less audible that could have been:

“I need to park”
“The videos must stop”
Or something about the marital status of my parents at the time of my conception. I did not really catch it. I was a little amused to have just been called an IDIOT –in all caps I assure you- by a woman bouncing her wheels off the curb so she could shoehorn her sputtering short baby bus the wrong way down a one way avenue.

I wonder what kind of moron I would be if she hit a parked car or poked herself in the eye with a stick?

If I had thought about it more at the time I would have focused on the strangely paranoid “The videos must stop” she may have added in at the end. What comes to mind when you picture a complete stranger saying that to you? How about a complete stranger driving frantically the wrong way down a moderately busy street? I wonder what the person talking to her on the cell phone thought.

Strangely enough the video statement would make more sense by the time I really thought about it. Shortly before the creative traffic event an anonymous leaker had released a dozen or so secret videos shot on behalf of the highest council of the Mormon Church. The so-called “Quorum of the Twelve Apostles” rules on all church policy that does not come unencumbered from the Prophet himself (The First President of the First Presidency). At the time of the videos (those I’ve seen) Boyd K. Packer was the president of “The Twelve”. Boyd K. Packer was made famous by his interest in encouraging little boys to stop masturbating.

I’ve watched the video entitled “In Which They Fret About Religious Freedom With Some Classic Bednar in the Last Five Minutes”. In this video a former Governor of Utah (1993-2003. Mike Okerlund Leavitt, who was also Administrator of EPA, 2003-2005, and Secretary of HHS, 2005-2009) spoke in conjunction with Robert Peter George who was founder and Herbert W. Vaughan senior fellow of the Witherspoon Institute about religious freedom. By Religious Freedom they apparently meant preventing gay marriage and safe abortions, and by preventing gay marriage and safe abortions they mostly meant preventing gay marriage.

Mike presented a power point presentation on the plan to prevent religious freedoms by being eroded by “rights” and other anti-freedom evils. There was to be a grass roots organization of listening posts strategically placed around the US, and lawyers and lobbyists would swoop in whenever problems arose. He is a bit vague on problems. But a big one was allowing people to gay marry or not having religious exemptions written into all sorts of laws. The video was filmed in May of 2012; about two weeks after North Carolina voters passed their “Amendment 1” to their state constitution. President Obama famously came out and supported same sex unions the day after North Carolina passed their “Amendment 1”.

“Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” From “Amendment 1” aka ARTICLE XIV, Section 6 of the Constitution of North Carolina

“[North Carolina passed] a constitutional amendment in a very positive and affirmative way protecting marriage” – Mike Leavitt from the Religious freedom video (May 22? 2012)

Bob George was representing the AFPC of the EPPC and also NOM, but I’m sure he had a bunch of other acronyms to throw around to make his point clear. Bob wanted to tell the Twelve that they were nice people even if they were Mormon, and that that religious liberties were under attack by people that thought it was ok to gay marry.

“I want to pay tribute especially to the church for its heroic leadership in Prop 8” – Robert P. George from the Religious freedom video (May 22? 2012)

“[Without the LDS Church] we would be in no position to win it on either front; whether on the marriage front or the religious liberty front.” – Robert P. George from the Religious freedom video (May 22? 2012)

Bob and Mike found a receptive audience for their tender message of hate. Boyd was raised from whatever he was doing to grumble in support of Mike and Bob’s message; saying that:

"If they think we will move on these issues, they do not know us," – Boyd K. Packer from the Religious freedom video (May 22? 2012)

I am sure there are tons of illuminating statements by crusty old paranoid hate mongers in all the other videos.

The Deseret News (Both Bob and Mike are members of the Deseret News Editorial Board) said that the release of the videos was a good thing. The DezNews headlined their editorial page with a piece titled: “In our opinion: LDS Church leaks reveal an engaged and informed leadership”. The editorial goes after fellow blogger Hermant Mehta’s (The Friendly Atheist) post revealing the leaks; it does not identify the apparent conflict of interest suggested by the fact that several members of the same editorial board who wrote the piece were featured speakers in the videos.