A yellow-faced bumblebee above an orange poppy, a clump of orange pollen stuck to its legs.

This is kind of hilarious.

Conservation groups asked California to protect four species of native bumblebees. The agriculture industry objected on the grounds that the state’s endangered species law doesn’t cover insects. But the state fish and game code, in trying to cover all its bases defining marine life, defines a fish as “a wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part, spawn, or ovum of any of those animals.”

So technically, bumblebees, being invertebrates, are eligible for protection as fish.

The state supreme court ruled in favor, because that’s technically what the law says. The judge pointed out that the legislature “is in a position to make whatever statutory amendments it may regard as necessary or useful” to resolve any ambiguities…and specifically stated that the ruling does not mean that the court actually believe bumblebees are fish!

Photo of a Yellow-Faced Bumblebee I saw at the South Coast Botanic Gardens a while back. It’s not one of the four species being petitioned for protection. But I wanted to use one of my own photos for illustration, rather than use the one from the newspaper. Though it’s amusing that of the four endangered species they went with a photo of — I kid you not — Bombus crotchii, a.k.a. Crotch’s Bumblebee. Named after George Robert Crotch.

Expanded from a post on Wandering.shop.

Also: Darwinian Honeybees

On a more serious note, hobbyist beekeepers are starting to use a strategy called Darwinian beekeeping to fend off colony collapse disorder.

Essentially you try to mimic how honeybees would live in the wild instead of trying to pack in as many monocultured hives as you can. Build smaller hives and spread them out, so if one gets infested the parasites or diseases don’t spread as easily to the next. Capture a wild swarm of honeybees, which, unlike mail-order bees bred to maximize honey production, have evolved defenses against the invasive mites that have been attacking developing bees. Keep the hives away from plants you’re going to be using pesticides on.

The causes of CCD are still unclear, but there seem to be multiple factors that contribute to it — and these strategies mitigate several of them. And a lower honey yield in exchange for colonies that survive longer seems like it would be worth the trade-off.

After last weekend’s trip to storage, I was planning to re-read Greg Keyes’ Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series, until I remembered that the new Wheel of Time novel, The Gathering Storm (why, oh why did they have to pick such a generic title?), comes out next week. Not the best time to start a four-book epic.

So I rummaged through the to-read box this morning, looking for something to bring along and read at lunch, and settled on The True Stella Awards. I picked it up when it was new, four years ago, but somehow never got around to reading it.

The nonfiction book is by Randy Cassingham, author of the long-running This is True newsletter, and is a collection of write-ups of frivolous lawsuits. It’s named after an email forward that used to go around with the title “The Stella Awards” (only that used made-up lawsuits like the one about the guy who supposedly put his Winnebago on cruise control and went into the back to make a sandwich). That list was named after Stella Liebeck, the woman famous for suing McDonalds after spilling scalding hot coffee on herself. Cassingham decided that using fake examples to illustrate a real problem was counterproductive, and started a newsletter featuring real cases of legal abuse, eventually making it into a book.

It’s been interesting to see which cases have been included. One of the first examples was a 2003 lawsuit against Nabisco for using trans-fats in Oreos (they’ve since been reformulated, IIRC)…which was dropped as soon as the filer had racked up enough publicity.

The gpl-violations.org project has scored another victory, this time against Fortinet, whom they accused of not only violating the GPL (by using GPL’ed source code without publicly releasing their changes) but actually trying to hide that usage with encryption.

Edit (I hit “publish” too soon!): They settled out of court, with Fortinet agreeing to make the source code available for their customized Linux kernel and other GPL’ed software they snurched from other projects, and to include the GPL in their licensing terms.

This is the latest in a string of victories for the gpl-violations.org project. Since starting the project in 2004, Welte has negotiated more than 30 out-of-court settlements.

But then, “the GPL has never been tested in court,” right?

Congress has passed passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, mandating the top 8 food allergens appear on labels in plain English! The voluntary labeling over the past few years has been very helpful. Well, some of it has — the “processed in a facility that also processes XYZ” labels mainly amount to a CYA statement, although I’m sure there are people sensitive enough that it does help.

The NPR story provided some examples of why this matters, including a story of a college student who had a very similar experience to one I had a few years ago: he bought a chocolate chip cookie from a vending machine — a brand he had been eating with no problems for several years — but they had added peanut flour to their mix without labeling the change. He died within 15 minutes. When it happened to me, I had enough medication to stop it. But I don’t eat anything from Famous Amos anymore.

Some other nice provisions include having the FDA do a study on cross-contamination [archive.org], and having the CDC track allergy-related deaths.

Further reading: The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, The Food Allergy Initiative. [Update: The organizations have since merged as FARE.]

I hear our President has signed legislation supporting the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance (search for bill S.2690 in THOMAS). It passed the Senate unanimously and the House with only 5 objections. It’s intended to be a response to this summer’s ruling by the 9th District Court of Appeals that the law that placed those words in the Pledge is unconstitutional on the grounds that it violates the separation of church and state.

Now regardless of whether you believe those words should be in there or not, you have to consider: If the original law is unconstitutional, isn’t this one too?

I’m sorry, but this decision isn’t up to the legislature or the executive office. It’s up to the judicial branch to determine whether the original law can stand under the Constitution. If Congress doesn’t like the decision, they don’t have the authority to overturn it. They can take it up with the Supreme Court or amend the Constitution. If the Supreme Court agrees with the appellate court, then this law is equally invalid. If it disagrees, or if the Constitution is amended, then this law says nothing new.

Can you believe they spent almost five months crafting and debating a law that has no effect one way or the other?