Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bees and Me

I received a solicitation yesterday from an organization called Friends of the Earth.  While such solicitations are not unusual and the organization checks out with high marks on Charity Navigator, the thing that kept this one from ending up immediately in the trash was its focus on saving Bees.

I had just had an experience with bees.  In fact I had a recurring experience with bees choosing to live around my house.

Probably three years ago bees began to swarm around the railing of my deck.  At first I was delighted, since I have four fruit trees, several herbs, and some flowering plants meant to attract the several hummingbirds we have in the trees surrounding my house.

Later, I was less enamored as their rectangular home grew several inches in width and height in a few days.  As it reached about 3’ x 2’, I began to seriously consider how to move them to a more remote location.  I called around and was finally given the name of a bee catcher who, supposedly would relocate them for me.  I was given to understand there would be no charge.

At the time I was chairman of the local Chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food and was deeply concerned about the dwindling supply of bees, both locally and internationally.  Studies in 2009 and later seem to indicate there are a variety of causative factors, including a mite, chemicals (which is the focus of the Friends of the Earth), changes in beekeeping, a virus, and urbanization.  The condition has been termed Colony Collapse Disorder and progress to reverse the trend has not been promising.

The Queen
So, you can imagine my frustration when the pest control Bee Man came out, looked at my hive, told me the bees could not be relocated because local restrictions prohibited moving bees, and he would get rid of them for $175.  Eventually we agreed on $50 and in ten minutes he had swept all the bees in a plastic bag and gassed them with some aerosol poison.

Fast-forward to about 2 months ago, when my son, who lives across the street in an identical house, said he had bees swarming on his deck.  I asked if he wanted me to do something, but he said he would take care of it.  After several weeks, his ex-wife, concerned about the children, took it upon herself to find a solution.  She too, was hopeful the bees could be relocated but was unable to find anyone who would do that.

Wiser from my previous experience I contacted one of the managers of a local Farmers Market, which has among other things a stand for Noah’s Honey.  He put me in touch with a Bee Company called GuerillaBeekeepers, Ltd.  When I contacted Bill Walter, the owner he was very upfront about the process and the need to charge for his time.  When he arrived in his bee outfit I could readily see he was going to earn every bit of the $218 he had quoted.

My Bees
It took him more than an hour to harvest the bees from under the steps and put them in two large containers.  He was proud that he had captured the Queen (twice the size of the other bees), which would make relocation smooth and easy.

Off he went in his truck, with no head protection and at least half a dozen bees flying around his head, seemingly unconcerned, as he said they were remarkably calm about the change in location.  He did say that if you found yourself with a bee in your car, the best strategy is to roll down a window about two inches so the bee could escape.  Wide open and they can’t fly against the wind.

When asked about what is causing the decline in the bee population, he cited what I mentioned above, but added that locally the bees are overworked, being moved from one almond orchard to another. This was the only argument other than my SAG membership for unionizing, if a colony that has a Queen can unionize.

He texted me that the bees were almost immediately relocated at an apiary in Silverado and would soon be at work for local farmers.  He also sent me two pictures of my bees and an offer to speak, both at the elementary school where my son teaches and at the MOAA group where I am Program Chair.

If you have an inclination to plant a bee-friendly garden check out this site.

In my next Post I’ll share why I think of Franz Liszt when I hear Jelly Roll Morton. Go figure!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Favored Child

This year as last, I was able to see many of the Oscar contenders because of my SAG membership.  While there were many films that were outstanding, I found one of particular interest August: Osage County. My interest was not in the acting, as I agreed with the Academy that Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years a Slave, and even American Hustle scored higher in that category.

The thing that caught my attention was that even in such a dysfunctional family, the fact is that if there are more than one child, there is a favored one. That favor is bestowed by a parent is a given.  That it may vary from parent to parent and from time through time is also true.

I was one of two children; the younger and the sole male sibling. Growing up, my sister was favored by both my parents, but that didn’t bother me too much, as the differences in how we were raised were small, and we both received love, nourishment and favors beyond expectations.

My father believed that his obligation was to give us education commensurate with our ambition and talent and I ended up a dentist, like him and Joan an architect, one of four in a five-year program.  My father passed away seven years after I graduated, and my mother and sister got closer and closer, geographically, emotionally, and in dependency, to a point where they spoke on the phone every day. I wrote and received a letter from my mother once a week.

Our family was too small for a real reunion, but maybe that was all for the best as some reunions go terribly wrong.

In the film, the oldest daughter returns home to an ungrateful mother, who is drug dependent, and almost pathologically bitter.  Each of the children has almost crippling weaknesses that severely limit their ability to help their mother, who wheedles and berates them for those very weaknesses.  The tragic conclusion of the film comes when the mother has driven all of them away, including the older, favorite child.

I finished watching and reflected on how the years have caused my feelings to vacillate what favor I bestowed on my two sons, as one would have greater needs than the other.  The favor does not actually have much to do with love as much as it does attention. There probably is no difference at all in love, but only in the manifestation of the love, and maybe the amount of time the child is in your thoughts or daily deeds.

When Mary’s mother was moving from the family house and home to an assisted living facility near to where one of her middle daughters lived in Florida, the six children met for two days in Janesville, Wisconsin, to decide what items to send with her and which to divide and/or place in consignment. No spouses were allowed, so I can only depend on Mary’s recollection of events as to what transpired.

There were three events that she passed on to me:  first, the oldest son was so off-put by the bickering that he threatened to leave after day one.  Second, a bowl, which was supposed to go to one child disappeared and was not found until several years later, when, at a reunion of sorts, it mysteriously found its way into the back seat of the original claimant’s car.

The third was when the youngest child left the group with the comment, “I can’t help it if mother liked me best!”

And perhaps she did…at one time.

Mary’s family survived that event and remain very close to this day.  My sister has died, as has my mother, so Mary’s family has increasingly become my family.  We are fortunate to have the opportunity to entertain some of them at our home in California and my extending family, including grandchildren, see their brothers, sisters, in-laws and cousins in Wisconsin almost every summer.

I can truthfully say that I have no favorites in that group.  But the thought of who they might be is intriguing.

We had an interesting event recently involving bees.  In my next post I’ll share a few things I learned from the occasion.  You might find it interesting.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lethal Injection

Execution room - California prison
A week ago or so, I found myself in conversation with a couple attending a Pharma meeting in Chicago.  It wasn’t hard to find subject matter as at least three Pharma issues were in current news: Lethal Injection, changes in copayment for seniors as a result of the ACA, and CVS stopping cigarette sales.

My knowledge base for at least one of these was improved: Lethal Injection.

I had assumed that the decision to cease import of two of the drugs in the “cocktail” used for execution was political; based on the fact that the United States is one of only two developed countries that still allow Capital Punishment.  Not so!  The decision was, as most business ones are, financial.  There are increasing legal challenges that the drug combination was not working properly: the desired effects of the barbiturate, paralytic, and heart stopper, in that order, should put the prisoner to sleep, stop all evidence of pain, and stop the heart. When the process took too long, or when there was evidence of pain response, lawsuits ensued.

The profit margin for a limited sales model was too small to justify continued production.

The states turned to U.S. compounding pharmacies who, working without a prescription, have had very mixed results, with stayed executions and further lawsuits.  Now the compounding pharmacies are reconsidering whether they want in the game.

As for the controversy over the value of death as a deterrent over the value of life in general, Saint Augustin sided with the deterrent people.  As for me, I’m ambivalent about the morality of executions, but I feel the “cruel and unusual punishment” argument is overblown.  I say, bring back the guillotine; it was quick and effective.

More and more states are abolishing capital punishment with the main arguments centering around wrongful deaths, deaths of children and the mentally challenged, and the long appeals process with its ensuing costs.

So much for that topic!

On the issue of who should bear the cost of Pharmaceutical R&D and the shareholder profit, I was surprised to find that four of the top ten manufacturers are still in the US: Pfizer, Bayer, J&J, and Abbott.  I was not surprised to see that 80% of legal drugs taken to control chronic health problems are consumed in the United States, and seniors take most of those.  I am not unusual in taking five prescribed pills a day to control blood pressure, cholesterol, and gout. While the Federal government has used its might, to ratchet down the cost of these, many, particularly new and non-generic drugs are very expensive.  With the increase in population receiving support from the ACA, patients will have to bear more of the cost burden.  So, I think we consuming Americans should rightfully pay for our consumption.

The ACA can also be blamed, if that is an appropriate word, for the CVS decision to stop cigarette sales. Wellness is all over the law and those insurance companies who are participating in the Exchange all have Wellness programs in their design.  Prevention is cheaper than treatment, especially when you cannot adjust rates for previously existing conditions.  Also, since physicians are limited, health plans are forced to contract other healthcare providers who can legally perform services.  Pharmacies are not only dispensing drugs, they are also providing vaccinations and immunizations.

It gives the wrong image when they are also dispensing unhealthy product.  Cigarettes today; perhaps soda and alcohol tomorrow.
In my next post I will share how watching August, Osage County made me think of Mary’s family and other related and relative issues.  Come check that out!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Matilda and Mary

When we were in New York after Thanksgiving we saw two plays, one of which was Matilda.  While we were aware that it was an adaptation of a children’s book written by one of our favorite authors, Roald Dahl, we were unprepared for the play and more importantly for its following.

NPR did a feature on Roald Dahl, or more accurately on Matilda and the background of the book, as an interview with his daughter by Patricia Neal, Lucy. The interview is a nice companion piece to another NPR story: a review of the Play Matilda by Bob Mondello.  Mondello compares Matilda to Oliver and Annie in a very interesting fashion.

For me, the experience of watching Matilda’s story unfold reminded me of my wife, Mary.

While Mary had none of the kinesthetic powers Matilda demonstrates in the book, the movie (with fantastic performances by Danny DeVito and Rhea Perelman), and the musical, she was similarly precocious with knowledge gained by an early passion for reading books.  At a similar age to Matilda, she would also walk independently to the local library, first to read, and then when she knew she could get a library card if she knew her name, address and telephone number, bring them home in batches.

Mary (and I) grew up in a much safer environment that allowed a higher level of independence earlier than my grandchildren have today.  On the way to the library Mary passed her grandmother’s house in Janesville, Wisconsin and would sometimes stop and chat.  She recalls several occasions where she met and talked to strangers, and a few when friends of the family were concerned that she was travelling alone.

When we met and through our courtship, books were a constant source of conversation; me sharing my passion for philosophy and she grounding me with English literature and poetry.  To this day we both continue to be readers or, in the technological age when we spend time in our cars, listeners.  She will have at least two audio books going and at least one in print, while I listen to one, read parts of several simultaneously and try to make our deadlines for library returns.

When I was little older than Mary, my parents did a very wise thing.  They put me on their account at the book store and encouraged me to set goals of buying and reading a book a week.  What books, were my decision and what resulted was an eclectic pattern of reading that persists to this day.  I repeated that decision when I helped raise our two boys and have a one for two result as prolific readers. The other one is a teacher who has to read to maintain his skills, and has little time for pleasure reading.

None of the book stuff was in my mind as we were in some very nice seats at the Broadway show.  What impressed me about the show was the music and how good it was.  Good and clever with a double-entendre theme in at least one of the songs: Revolting Children

And then I looked around and saw that about half the audience were tweenies or younger, and they were totally absorbed.  It was encouraging to think that there were that many parents who thought the experience was worth the cost. And I was reminded that my mother used to take me to Chicago to see the travelling company productions of great Broadway shows: the first being Alfred Drake in Kismet in 1953.

I hope the generational investment in theater for children is alive and well.  While I don’t notice it in Southern California, maybe parents save it for travelling.

In my next post, I’ll share some insight I had recently on the drugs used in lethal injections and what applications that might have for the broader world of drugs in general.  Please join me.