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The Freewheeling Fun of Jazz Guitarist Wes Montgomery's Live Concerts

| Mon May 25, 2015 4:40 PM EDT

Wes Montgomery
In the Beginning
Resonance

Near the end of his life, jazz guitar virtuoso Wes Montgomery (1923-1968) caught the ear of pop audiences with a series of records that were slick and sophisticated, but a little dull. This vibrant two-disc set is far more satisfying. Spanning 1949 to 1958, In the Beginning is dominated by live performances from Montgomery's hometown of Indianapolis, in small-group settings that often featured brothers Monk (bass) and Buddy (piano), along with underrated tenor sax player Alonzo "Pookie" Johnson. The recordings aren't perfect technically, and the playing isn't always razor-sharp, but all concerned sound like they're having a great time, especially Wes, who swings and struts with a freewheeling joy missing from his later work. Also included are five polished studio tracks produced by none other than a 22-year-old Quincy Jones, although these pale next to the spontaneous sounds of Wes Montgomery onstage, finding himself and having fun.

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Holy Shit! Almonds Require a Ton of Bees

| Mon May 25, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Growing 80 percent of the globe's almonds in California doesn't just require massive amounts of water. It also takes a whole bunch of honeybees for pollination—roughly two hives' worth for every acre of almonds trees, around 1.7 million hives altogether. That's something like 85 percent of all available commercial hives in the United States, Gene Brandi, a California beekeeper who serves as vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation, recently told NPR.

Now, that vast army of bees—made up, all told, of more than 80 billion flying, buzzing soldiers—doesn't stay put in California's almond-happy Central Valley all year. The almond bloom typically lasts for just a few weeks (or less) in February. The modern honeybee operation is an itinerant business—beekeepers move hives throughout the year, in pursuit of paid pollination gigs—from tangerines in Florida to cherries in Washington state—as well as good forage for honey.

As US honeybees' health has flagged, California's almond industry has been drawing in a larger and and larger portion of the nation's available bee hives.

But California's almond bloom is the biggest gig of all—the "largest managed pollination event anywhere in the world," Scientific American reports. And as US honeybee populations' health has flagged in recent years—most famously epitomized by the mysterious winter die-offs that began around a decade ago, known as colony collapse disorder—the almond industry has been drawing in a larger and and larger portion of the nation's available bee hives.

One question that arises is: Why do the nation's beekeepers uproot themselves and their winged charges to travel to California each year? The state houses about 500,000 beehives, meaning that more then 1 million come in, from as far away as Maine. What's the incentive?

These days, US beekeepers typically make more money from renting out their bees for pollination than they do from producing honey. "Without pollination income, we'd be out of business," Brandi told me. Income from the two sources varies year to year, but pollination income has grown over the years even as honey revenues have fallen, depressed by competition from imported honey. In 2012, for example, US beekeepers brought in $283 million from honey, versus an estimated $656 million from pollination.

And California's almond growers have to shell out big money to draw in their pollinators—between $165 and $200 per hive, vs $45 to $75 a hive a decade ago, according to the Fresno Bee. That's around $309 million, if we assume as average price of $182 per hive, the midpoint of the Bee's range.

What's the impact on overall honeybee health, which has been under heavy pressure over the past decade? There are two potential downsides.

The first is from pesticides—insect growth regulators and fungicides—bees encounter in their travels around almond groves. During the 2014 California almond bloom, between 15 percent and 25 percent of beehives suffered "severe" damage, ranging from complete hive collapse to dead and deformed brood (the next generation of bees incubating in the hive), the Pollinator Stewardship Council estimated. The die-off caused an uproar, and many beekeepers pointed a finger at pesticides—and they probably had a point, as I showed here.

During the 2014 California almond bloom, between 15 and 25 percent of hives suffered severe damage.

This year, Brandi told me, some beekeepers reported losses, but they weren't nearly as severe or widespread as the ones in 2014. In the wake of the 2014 troubles, the Almond Board of California released a set of "best management practices" for protecting honeybees during the bloom that, Brandi said, may have influenced growers to avoid particularly harmful pesticide applications. Given that almond growers utterly rely on—and indeed, pay heavily for—honeybees for pollinating their crop, it seems logical that they'll avoid poisoning them when possible. There will also be tension, though, as long as almond trees are planted in geographically concentrated and vast groves. Large monocrops provide an ideal habitat for pests like fungi and insects, and thus a strong incentive to respond with chemicals. There's also the possibility that concentrating such a huge portion of the nation's bees in such a tight geographical area facilitates the spread of viruses and other pathogens.

The second threat to bee health from pollinating California's massive almond bloom comes from long-distance travel. This one lies at the heart of the beekeeping industry's itinerant business model. Does it compromise bee health to pack hundreds of hives onto a flatbed truck for cross-country trips? The stresses go well beyond the occasional truck wreck. Scientific American explains the rigors of apiary highway travel like this:

The migration…continually boomerangs honeybees between times of plenty and borderline starvation. Once a particular bloom is over, the bees have nothing to eat, because there is only that one pollen-depleted crop as far as the eye can see. When on the road, bees cannot forage or defecate. And the sugar syrup and pollen patties beekeepers offer as compensation are not nearly as nutritious as pollen and nectar from wild plants. Scientists have a good understanding of the macronutrients in pollen such as protein, fat and carbohydrate, but know very little about its many micronutrients such as vitamins, metals and minerals—so replicating pollen is difficult.

A 2012 paper, coauthored by USDA bee researcher Jeff Pettis, found that long-distance travel may indeed have ill health effects—the researchers found that "bees experiencing transportation have trouble fully developing their food glands and this might affect their ability to nurse the next generation of workers."

Brandi, for his part, dismisses travel as a factor in the overall decline in bee health. "Bees have been traveling back and forth across he country for years," he said—since long before the colony collapse disorder and other health troubles began to emerge a decade ago, he said. He said bee travel has actually gotten less stressful over the years as beekeepers have upgraded to smoother-riding flatbed trucks. He said other factors, including pesticides, declining biodiversity, and mites (a bee pest) are likely more important drivers of declining bee health.

Meanwhile, California almond country's massive appetite for pollination isn't likely to dissipate anytime soon. According to the latest USDA numbers, acreage devoted to almonds expanded by 5 percent in 2014, and growers continue laying in yet more groves this year, Western Farm Press reports. Land devoted to almonds has grown 50 percent since 2005—and every time farmers add another acre of trees, they need access to two additional bee hives for pollination. 

So why don't more beekeepers simply move to California and stay put, to take advantage of the world's biggest—and growing—pollination gig? I put that question to longtime bee expert Eric Mussen of the University of California-Davis. He said the state is already home to 500,000 of the nation's 2.7 million hives. The almond bloom is great for a few weeks, but in terms of year-round foraging, "California is already at or near its carrying capacity for honeybees," he said—the areas with the best-quality forage are already well stocked with bees.So satisfying the world's ever-growing appetite for almonds will continue to require an annual armada of beehive-laden trucks.

Chart: America Is More Liberal Than Politicians Think

| Sun May 24, 2015 11:28 AM EDT

Here's a fascinating tidbit of research. A pair of grad students surveyed 2,000 state legislators and asked them what they thought their constituents believed on several hot button issues. They then compared the results to actual estimates from each district derived from national surveys.

The chart on the right is typical of what they found: Everyone—both liberal and conservative legislators—thought their districts were more conservative than they really were. For example, in districts where 60 percent of the constituents supported universal health care, liberal legislators estimated the number at about 50 percent. Conservative legislators were even further off: They estimated the number at about 35 percent.

Why is this so? The authors don't really try to guess, though they do note that legislators don't seem to learn anything from elections. The original survey had been conducted in August, and a follow-up survey conducted after elections in November produced the same result.

My own guess would be that conservatives and conservatism simply have a higher profile these days. Between Fox News and the rise of the tea party and (in the case of universal health care) the relentless jihad of Washington conservatives, it's only natural to think that America—as well as one's own district—is more conservative than it really is. But that's just a guess. What's yours?

Michael B. Jordan Just Slammed People Who Can’t Deal With One of the Fantastic 4 Being Black—And It’s Great

| Sat May 23, 2015 8:25 PM EDT

These days, when the fate of the world hangs in the balance, the superheroes that end up saving the day are normally straight, white men—at least on the big screen. 

While Marvel's comics have become increasingly more diverse over the years with a half-black, half-Hispanic Spiderman and a female version of Thor, its cinematic universe remains largely male and whitewashed. This is why the backlash to Michael B. Jordan being cast in the highly-anticipated reboot of Fantastic Fouris so disheartening. When the actor was originally confirmed to play Johnny Storm a.k.a the Human Torch, naysayers took to social media to complain about the black actor would be playing a traditionally white character. (When TMZ asked what he thought of the criticism, Jordan quipped: "They're still going to see [the movie] anyway.")

Attention, trolls and comic book purists: The idea that Jordan shouldn't be Johnny Storm because he's black is misguided, because, you know, comic books are fictional and so are the movies. Anyone can fill these roles and do a great job (see Idris Elba as a Norse god in Thor).

In an essay published Friday in Entertainment Weekly, Jordan slammed  people who are having a hard time accepting that in the new movie only three  of the fantastic four are white.

This is a family movie about four friends—two of whom are myself and Kate Mara as my adopted sister—who are brought together by a series of unfortunate events to create unity and a team. That’s the message of the movie, if people can just allow themselves to see it.

Sometimes you have to be the person who stands up and says, "I’ll be the one to shoulder all this hate. I’ll take the brunt for the next couple of generations." I put that responsibility on myself. People are always going to see each other in terms of race, but maybe in the future we won’t talk about it as much. Maybe, if I set an example, Hollywood will start considering more people of color in other prominent roles, and maybe we can reach the people who are stuck in the mindset that "it has to be true to the comic book." Or maybe we have to reach past them.

To the trolls on the Internet, I want to say: Get your head out of the computer. Go outside and walk around. Look at the people walking next to you. Look at your friends’ friends and who they’re interacting with. And just understand this is the world we live in. It’s okay to like it.

Let's sum up Jordan's smackdown in one line: The Human Torch is whatever Marvel says it is. You can see how Jordan does in theaters on August 7. 

Obama's Plan to Save the Monarch Butterflies' Epic Migration

| Sat May 23, 2015 3:52 PM EDT
A monarch butterfly.

Earlier this week, amid negotiating major trade deals and joining Twitter, Obama put forth a major infrastructure project: a highway for monarch butterflies.

That's right, monarch butterflies. The pollinators are crucial to the health of our ecosystems but, like bees, their populations have seen startling drops. Some groups are even calling for their protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Obama administration wants to do something about it as part of its strategy to protect pollinating insects, but that turns out to be a tricky task given the monarch's complex life cycle.

Each year, millions of monarch butterflies complete a 2,000-mile migration circuit from Mexico to the border of the United States and Canada that is so epic it has inspired poetry, a novel and documentary after documentary.

The whole process revolves around the butterflies' favorite plant, milkweed, on whose leaves they lay eggs. Milkweed grows in the northern United States and southern Canada, so each spring they migrate north from Mexico (a process that requires multiple generations), resting along the way on trees like this.

Monarch butterflies in trees
Rebecca Blackwell/AP
Monarch butterflies on branch
Rebecca Blackwell/AP

The generation that arrives up north has just enough energy to lay eggs on milkweed leaves before dying themselves. The new generation, bolstered by the milkweed, then grows up with the strength to make make the autumn trip back to Mexico before the cold, continuing the cycle.

Monarch butterflies
Noradoa/Shutterstock

But a mixture of climate change, development, and herbicide use has wiped out> the milkweed-hungry monarchs. The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that nearly one billion butterflies have died since 1990, a 90 percent population decline.

Enter Obama. As part of his "National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators," his administration has introduced a plan to restore the monarch butterflies' habitat and increase their population by 225 million. The centerpiece of the plan is a "flyway" along Interstate 35, which stretches from Texas to Minnesota. The plan calls for turning federally owned land along the interstate corridor into milkweed refuges for the butterflies.

Will it work? Many don't think it's enough, including Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The goal the strategy sets for the monarch butterfly migration is far too low for the population to be resilient," she said in an email adding more protection and a ban of harmful pesticides are needed to save them.

One source of hope for the insect is its beauty. No one wants to see these iconic butterflies go away.

monarch butterfly
Jean-Edouard Rozey/Shutterstock
monarch butterfly
Rebecca Blackwell/AP

 

So How Did My Experiment Turn Out?

| Sat May 23, 2015 1:42 PM EDT

On Monday I announced that this was Experiment Week. Today is Saturday, and Science™ has spoken.

It turns out that I'm kinda sorta OK for about four or five hours in the morning. As long as I rest every hour or so, I can indeed write a couple of light blog posts, take a walk around the block, and shower and shave. That's the good news.

However, the deadline for my second walk of the day is about 2 pm. On Monday I walked at 5 pm, and when I was done I felt like I'd just run a marathon. It took me all evening to recover. On Tuesday I walked at 4 pm. This time it felt like I'd run a mile, and I recovered in about an hour. Basically, I've learned that my body wants to crash at about 2 pm every day. Maybe I doze for a couple of hours, maybe I actually sleep a bit, but either way I'm good for nothing. By 5 pm I'm back up, but all my chemo side effects have started to get worse. The neuropathy is worse, the nausea is worse, and the fatigue is worse. This continues until bedtime, getting steadily worse the entire time.

So that's that. I have the energy for light activity from about 7 am to 2 pm. Then I collapse, and when I get up I spend the next five or six hours enduring crappy side effects of the chemo. Oh, and this includes a terrible taste in my mouth that never goes away. Ugh.

But it could be worse! In fact, it's been worse before. Still, it's frustrating that recovery seems to come so slowly. I don't know if I'll be spending another week like this or another couple of months. All I can do is wait and see.

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Ireland Is Latest Country to Approve Gay Marriage

| Sat May 23, 2015 11:38 AM EDT

I don't have anything profound to say about this, but it's just a nice piece of good news. And I could use some good news these days:

Irish voters have resoundingly backed amending the constitution to legalize gay marriage, leaders on both sides of the Irish referendum declared Saturday after the world’s first national vote on the issue.

As the official ballot counting continued, the only question appeared to be how large the “yes” margin of victory from Friday’s vote would be. Analysts said the “yes” support was likely to exceed 60 percent nationally when official results are announced later Saturday.

Congratulations to Ireland. This is both a human and humane gesture in a world that could use more of them.

This GoPro Video From Inside An F-18 Fighter Jet Is Absolutely Bonkers

| Fri May 22, 2015 11:28 PM EDT
ABC News

GoPro videos are cool. Fighter jets (that aren't the F-35) are cool. GoPro videos from fighter jets are unsurprisingly cool.

This one was featured on ABC News last year but I only discovered it just now courtesy of Nightline producer Meredith Frost on Twitter. (Follow her.)

You should watch it! Or not. I mean, you don't have to. It takes all sorts to make a world. Maybe you want to leave a comment asking incredulously "why is this news?" Either way, have a great night!

 


ABC News Videos | ABC Entertainment News

Holy Shit. This Is How the Duggars' Homeschooling Curriculum Allegedly Dealt With Sexual Abuse.

| Fri May 22, 2015 6:11 PM EDT

All I can tell you about this tweet is that the Duggars are/were fans of Bill Gothard and that this sexual abuse "lesson" does appear to have been a part of his curriculum at one time.

Gothard himself has been the subject of sordid allegations.

Update: "This is what purity culture does. More than anything else, it silences victims." —Samantha Field, whose thoughtful post "how Josh Duggar is getting away with it" served as Sarah Galo's source for Gothard's insane sexual abuse counseling sheet. Go read the whole thing.

For the First Time Ever, Social Conservatives No Longer Outnumber Social Liberals in America

| Fri May 22, 2015 12:40 PM EDT

Via Ed Kilgore, here's an interesting chart from the good folks at Gallup:

What's interesting about this is that the change is due almost entirely to Democrats and Democratic leaners. Since 1999, that group has gone from 35 percent socially liberal to 53 percent, and from 20 percent socially conservative to 14 percent conservative.

Republicans and Republican leaners, by contrast, have barely budged. In the 2015 polling there's a slight dip in conservative ID and a slight spike in moderate ID, but it's probably just noise. Generally speaking, the lines are pretty flat over the past couple of decades.

So why have Democrats changed so much? Perhaps it's the impact of Millennials. Perhaps it's the impact of gay marriage, which Democrats have been far more willing to accept than Republicans. Maybe MSNBC and liberal blogs have had a bigger impact than I would have guessed. I'm not sure. But the increase has been steady enough that it can't be blamed on any specific event, like the Bush presidency or the financial crisis.

In any case, this really is a milestone. For a long time, one of the rocks of political analysis in America has been the simple fact that conservatives outnumber liberals. That's been true since at least the 60s, and probably for the entire postwar period—and it's been a perpetual millstone around Democratic necks. They couldn't win national elections just by getting the liberal vote and a little bit of the center-right vote. They had to get a lot of the center-right vote.

But it now looks like that era is coming to an end. With social issues increasingly defining politics, a social liberal is, for all practical purposes, just a plain old liberal—and the trend of increasing liberal ID is already underway. It's still got a ways to go, but the liberal-conservative gap is definitely closing. This probably goes a long way toward explaining why Hillary Clinton and other Democrats seem much more willing to move left than in the past. It's because they no longer think they have to capture a huge chunk of the moderate vote to win. They still need some moderates in their camp, but they no longer need to capture two-thirds or more of them. Like Republicans, they can make do with half or even a bit less.

UPDATE: The headline initially just said "liberal" and "conservative" without mentioning that it was about social liberals and conservatives. Too much shorthand. Sorry about that. I've changed the headline and a few words of the text to make everything clear.