Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
~Søren Kierkegaard

Around 380 BCE, in a book of The Republic, Plato presciently wrote the myth of the Ring of Gyges, in which a noble shepherd pocketed a “magical” ring found on the hand of a corpse in an abandonned cave that rendered him invisible to suit his whims. Gyges (sometimes pronounced jahy-jeez and other times jee-jeez) used this newly found trinket to infiltrate the royal household, and was even invited by the King of Lydia to secretly view his queen in the buff. He then could not help but seduce her and abruptly assassinated the king, ultimately usurping the throne. The basic notion behind Plato’s fable is that anonymity and disinhibition can corrupt even the most virtuous folks. So, if social reputation and sanctions are removed (now e.g., cowering behind a screen) moral character with any sense of empathy or contrition simply disappears too.

The once ancient Gyges effect with its namelessness, facelessness and/or faux appellation worlds appertains today in the form of trolls, thoughtless naysayers, online ragers, discord sowers, cyber-harassers, ranting yelpers, yik yakkers, social media/app abusers, inflammatory commentators, aggressors, droners, truculent ones, hackers, cyberbullies, belligerents, hate mongers, disrupters, and keyboard antagonists (to name a few). They all tend to enter a universe without filters or open discourse, actually pretending that there is not a real human enduring their assaults. To them, these are merely raging words on a formerly blank screen where there is just a desire for impact, for contemptuousness or resentment without any shared humanity or sense of responsibility. Shameless, in so many ways. Whatever happened to compassion and empathy?

A kind suggestion. Instead of hiding behind a screen of whatever sorts, please look intently in a mirror — a cold, hard stare — and closely conceptualize your face before even thinking about ranting online or elsewhere. Then instead, perhaps gently make a bowl of rice or some dessert. Be cool, be calm and savor each scent, each bite. So, “feed” a troll contrary to common advice.

But then, ponder while munching — how do we see real faces again?

BASMATI RICE & CORN PILAF

2 C Basmati rice

4 T unsalted butter or ghee (divided)
2 t garlic, minced
1 T ginger, grated
1/2 t turmeric
Pinch saffron
1/2 t coriander seeds
1/2 t cumin seeds
8 whole cloves
1/2 t black peppercorns
2 cardamom pods

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 C corn kernels, freshly shaven off of ears

Sea salt
1 C golden raisins
2 C chicken or vegetable broth

2 T cilantro, chopped
2 T scallions, chopped
1/4 C roasted cashews

Put rice in a medium bowl and cover with cold water. Swish with fingers, then pour off water. Repeat 2-3 times, until water runs clear. Cover again with cold water and soak 20 minutes, then drain.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter or ghee in a heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Add garlic, ginger, turmeric, saffron, coriander, cumin, cloves, peppercorns and cardamom, and stir to coat. Let sizzle a bit, then add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter or ghee, the rice and the corn, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook for 1 minute. Add raisins and chicken or vegetable broth and bring to brisk simmer. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary.

Cover, reduce the heat to low and let cook 15 minutes. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes off heat. Fluff rice and transfer to serving bowl. Strew rice with cilantro, scallions and cashews. Consider serving with raita. (See the August 5, 2012, post for a raita recipe or just simply type raita into the search box on the right hand side of the screen).

Advertisements

Handle a book as a bee does a flower, extract its sweetness but do not damage it.
~John Muir

It has been been propounded by neuroscientists and philosophers that insects, like bees, have consciousnesses, but not much in the way of ethical consequences. But, that they are aware, feel.

This is a sad tale of nearly epic proportions – a saga about vanishing honeybees and what their errant plight means to our agriculture and dining tables; a story of science, politics, threatened livelihoods and jeopardized crops; and a legend about environmental research and chemical imprints. Finally, it bespeaks even more than a tragedy about our species which so rarely pays attention until some brink is reached.

Just imagine. During the balmy weather in summer, honeybees are quite active, foraging through local flora sources for nectar while meticulously maintaining their hives and producing honey. To survive the winter, bees usually cluster together inside their cubist apiaries for warmth, enduring the cold on their own surpluses and food furnished by keepers. All seems so soul soothing, almost serene, over the years.

But then dating back nearly a decade, swarms of bees begin almost suicidally fleeing some of their beehives, with many dropping dead, and the rest having almost disappeared. Bees inexplicably abandoned their colonies en masse, leaving behind brood, food and bewildered beekeepers. Apiculturalists were perplexed. These otherwise marvelous eusocial critters began to flee confusedly, aimlessly, at epidemic rates, devastating apiaries and both smaller independents and larger commercial bee operations. Bees and keepers soon sadly and suddenly have discovered that hives have very few adults left in a colony, and the bodies are often not found. Seemingly healthy bees were and are leaving, some forever gone in this death spiral. The widespread collapse of so many colonies of this otherwise resilient species is a particularly vexing problem for these darlings, beekeepers, farmers, honey aficionados, scientists, environmentalists, and politicians alike.

While such disappearances have occurred throughout apiculture, and were known by varying names (disappearing disease, spring dwindle, May disease, autumn collapse, fall dwindle disease), etymological researchers have dubbed this current global epidemic as Colony Collapse Disorder. This is a continuing, drastic trend of honeybee losses that should not be countenanced and regulatory agencies and often irrational politicians should take note.

The culprits offered up for the syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) have formed a sometimes bedraggled landscape:

1) Systemic and toxic neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides, with the compounding exposure applied to fields (even when non-fatal) such as clothianidin and imidachloprid, as well as pesticides applied directly into hives to control mites;

2) Fungal, bacterial and viral pests and diseases such as varroa and tracheal mites (parasites) and pathogenic infestation, such as nosema ceranae – a gut fungi;

3) Nutritional deficiencies such as a lessening of genetic biodiversity (monocultures) that lack flowering plants and native pollinators and encourage immune suppressive GMO species; and

4) In the United States, beekeeping practices which disrupt colonies by moving massive numbers of bees in trucks across the country to pollinate crops.

Until now, a direct link was not directly found between neonicointinoids and Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees and other pollinators. However, a recent study published in the Bulletin of Insectology in May, 2014, from Harvard’s School of Public Health has linked neonicointinoid pesticides with distressing Colony Collapse Disorder. Two widely used neonicotinoids appear to significantly harm honey bee colonies particularly during harsh winters, according to this study. There was a nexus made between low doses of imidacloprid and Colony Collapse Disorder, in which bees abandon their hives over the winter and perish. Researchers also found that low doses of clothianidin had the same negative effect.

Although other studies have suggested that die-offs in honeybee colonies may come from bees’ reduced resistance to mites or parasites as a result of exposure to pesticides, this Harvard study found that bees in the hives exhibiting Colony Collapse Disorder had almost identical levels of pathogen infestation as a group of control hives, most of which survived the winter. Stated otherwise, bee populations in the control colonies began to increase as expected, but populations in the neonicotinoid treated hives continued to diminish. These findings suggest that the neonicotinoids are causing an unhealthy biological mechanism in bees that in turn leads to Colony Collapse Disorder. While scientists rarely speak in absolutes, many across the world, including members of the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides have labeled neonicotinoids more toxic than DDT. The bottom of the food chain is disappearing. Now, there is some emerging evidence that neonics impact human health.

More recently, after a meta-analysis of systemic pesticides such as neonicotinoids which reviewed some 800 peer reviewed reports a scientific board found that there is clear evidence of harm from neonicotiods to trigger regulatory action. Now published in the journal Environment Science and Pollution Research, finds that neonicotinoids (neonics) pose a serious risk to honeybees and other pollinators such as butterflies and to a wide range of other invertebrates such as earthworms and vertebrates including birds.

Neonicotinoids (neonics), a nerve poison, were first registered for use in the mid 90’s, are systemic chemicals absorbed vascularly into plant tissue and are often present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to pollinators, such as honeybees. These systemic pesticides are derived from nicotine and target insects’ nervous systems. There are some six types of neonictinoids with the most common one being imidachloprid. Neonicotinoids, which are the most widely used insecticides on the planet having been applied to vast swaths of farmland and home acreage. The residue often reaches lethal concentrations and persists in soil for months, even years, after just a single application. Honeybees exposed to sublethal doses of neonicotinoids can experience problems with flying and navigation, increased susceptibility to disease, diminished fertility, reduced taste sensitivity, and slower remembrance skills, which all impact their foraging abilities.

A honeybee colony often contains residue from nearly hundreds of human pesticides. Alone, each represents a benign dose. But, remember synergy: where the accumulating interaction of elements is greater than the sum of individual parts. Together, these chemicals form a toxic medley which can substantially afflict the bees’ immune systems, making the population more susceptible to diseases.

Honeybees are simply critical to the grub supply as some 1/3 of what humans consume benefits directly or indirectly from pollination. Crops that would not grow without honeybees include apples, cucumbers, broccoli, onions, pumpkins, carrots, avocados, almonds, and so on. Honeybees account for some 80% of all insect pollination. Some $15 billion of crops in this country alone depend upon these long heralded angels of agriculture. Some have even espoused that the honeybee may allay our world hunger crisis. Yet, honeybee populations are in steep decline as nearly one-third of colonies in the states have vanished with some percentages even much higher in some regions. To continue losing bees at such levels would prove catastrophic.

Seems demand should be made that regulatory authorities require studies on how exposure to low dosages of combined compounds may affect bee (and human) health before blithely approving toxic chemicals. As has been done in the European Union, the states should adopt a ban on some neonicotinoids on crops that attract bees and other pollinators. This prohibition could readily be revisited within a couple of years if there is a showing that bee health has not improved. This is at the core of the differing approaches to environmental regulation between Europe, Canada, Australia and others and the United States. While Europe, et al., is willing to remove products from the shelf until proven safe, the United States often allows industry to sell poisons until shown almost beyond a reasonable doubt they are harmful. The latter process can last years, even decades, while casualties mount and marketing/lobbying ploys run amok.

Colony Collapse Disorder is just another reminder that human society often threatens habitats and breeding patterns. Reducing exposure to pesticides and promoting the genetic diversity of honeybees, crops and expanding pollinators are critical steps toward sustainable agriculture and providing for posterity, not directed toward the short term profits of agribusiness. Reassessing the risk and curtailing the use of neonicotinoids should be promptly considered. Again, corporate “humanity’s” avaricious hand has sadly transformed our world.

Last but not least, ask more of your gardens. Promote and protect by cultivating varieties of pollinator plants that lure and encourage a diverse abundance of bee, butterfly, bat and bird species (et al). To create a more fecund life for critters, choose productive native species. The internet has numerous sources for local habitat and planting suggestions — for instance, http://www.pollinator.org.

The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.
~Henry David Thoreau

Honeybees likely evolved from hunting wasps which acquired a taste for nectar. Fossil evidence is sparse, but they probably appeared in tropical lands about the same time as flowering plants in the Cretaceous period, about 130 million years ago. Some opine that honeybees were domesticated some 4,500 years ago in Egypt.

Apis mellifera, our current honeybee, is a species native to the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa and but was later introduced by humans to North America shortly before the 17th century. Europeans fleeing wars, poverty, intolerant laws or religious persecution brought thorough beekeeping skills here. Before crossing the pond, Apis mellifera had to adapt to a broad array of habitats ranging from harsh winters, late springs and hot summers, through alpine, cool temperate, maritime, Mediterranean rim, desert and tropical environments.

Honeybees are segmented in most body parts: three segments of thorax, six visible segments of abdomen while the other three are modified into the sting, legs and antennae. Honeybees are invertebrates, having an exoskeleton, which is covered with layers of wax. The main component is chitin which is a polymer of glucose and can support a great deal of weight. The wax layers protect bees from losing water and the chitin prevents bees from growing continually. So, during larval stages, bees must necessarily shed their skins. Bees also have an open circulatory system, meaning that they do not have veins or arteries, but rather all their internal organs are bathed in a liquid called hemolymph which is a mix of blood and lymphatic fluid. Bees breathe through a complex structure of network of tracheas and air sacs. Oxygen is vacuumed into the body through openings on each segment by expansion of the air sacs, then the segments are closed and air sacs are compressed to force the air into smaller tracheas until individual tubules reach individual cells.

Adult bees are divided into a single queen, female workers and male drones. The queen will leave the hive only once to mate with several drones, storing sperm in her spermatheca to last her lifetime. In order to rear and defend the eggs lain by the queen, worker bees develop stinging mechanisms, pollen baskets, dance languages and labor divisions. Tasks are divided according to age and colony needs. Younger worker bees tend to the queen, and older worker bees forage, construct wax cells, convert nectar into honey, clean cells and guard the hive. Ideally, a healthy hive is a collection of overlapping generations.

Honeybees provide essential pollination for crops, orchards and flowers as well as honey and wax for food, sweeteners and cosmetics. Nectar is a clear substance with about 80% water and complex sugars, produced by some plants to attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Bees amass nectar to produce honey and while collecting the nectar, they inadvertently yet scrupulously transfer pollen from male to female flowers. Pollen is a fine powder of microscopic particles from the male flower that can fertilize the female flower to produce seed. It is produced by anthers, the male reproductive organs found in pollinators.

Since last year marked the hundred year anniversary of the abundant and cherished passenger pigeon dying in the largest scale human extinction of a species seems eerily paradoxical.

Now, on to a recipe for lamb, honey & herbs, among others. I am an unabashed honeyholic, so this is not only a natural, but often honey is used as a sugar substitute in these pages. Honey truly is the bee’s knees — it has a sublimely long shelf life, comes in varied infusions, has seasonal varieties and even unprocessed forms. Divine like fine wine (or better yet…).

HONEYED HERBED LEG OF LAMB

One 7 to 8 lb. bone-in leg of lamb, room temperature

1/4 C rosemary leaves, minced
1/4 C thyme leaves
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 C+ Dijon mustard
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C unprocessed honey
1/4 C lavender honey

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Herbes de provence or ras al hanout

1 C chicken or vegetable stock

Sauce (optional)
1/2 bottle red wine

2 shallots, chopped
1/2 T unprocessed honey

2 C chicken stock/broth
2 T all purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Put roasting pan with drippings back on the stove at medium-high heat. Add wine and reduce by half, scraping up any bits from bottom of pan.

Strain with a fine mesh strainer and put back in pot. Add shallots and honey, then simmer until the shallots are soft.

In a small bowl, whisk together stock/broth and flour. Add to reduction and simmer about 10 minutes, or until thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Leg of lamb
Preheat oven to 500 F, then reduce to 375 F just before placing the leg on the rack.

Pulse the rosemary, thyme and garlic until minced. Then, add the mustard, olive oil and both honeys to blend, forming a paste. Slightly season the honeyed herbed mustard with salt and pepper, making sure that both are well mixed into the paste.

Season the leg of lamb generously with salt, pepper and herbes de provence (for a French lean) or ras al hanout (for a North African slant), massaging all into the meat, and then rub, cover the lamb roast with the honeyed herbed mustard paste.

Set the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan. Add the stock to the outside of the pan. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 F and roast the lamb for about 1 1/2 hours, until an internal thermometer inserted in the center of the meat (not bone) registers 135-140 F or so, depending on your likes. In a lamb leg, the deep meat is the most efficient heat conductor, and using the bone to measure temperature is a “no-no” as the meat closest to the bone can end up significantly more rare than the rest of the meat. Remember, the lamb’s internal temperature will continue to rise by about 5 F as it rests.

Make the sauce while the leg of lamb reposes after transferring to a cutting board or platter. Let the meat rest for about 20 minutes, slice carefully and serve on dinner plates, ladling with sauce.

Pourboire: You may also wish to brine the leg in advance for about 6-7 hours. Afterward removing the meat from the brine and before apply the seasonings and paste, carefully wipe off excess seasoning and brine from the lamb. Simply use the brine solution outlined here in the roasted pork loin recipe dated November 24, 2010.