On Feb. 6 the New York Times ran a feature story by Mark Landler entitled “Germany Agonizes Over a Brain Drain.” It explained that many doctors (and engineers and architects) are leaving Deutschland for the U.S., Switzerland, and other countries where they can make more money. The expats quoted are blunt: “I make more money. I’ve got more opportunity,” says a surgeon named Friedrich Boettner, who, Landler tells us “studied orthopedics in Munster and got a taste of New York when he trained for a year in arthroplasty, or joint replacement, at the Hospital of Special Surgery. Back home in 2001, Dr. Boettner found that Germany did not appreciate that specialty.” So he decided to take a position in the land of opportunity, where no oppressive priorities are imposed on the medical profession and he can perform all the elective and not-really-necessary surgeries his hospital administrators can peddle.
Also on Feb. 6 the Oakland Tribune reported that a beloved Berkeley woman named Denise Brown had died of a pulmonary embolism, the result of complications from knee replacement surgery. Brown started teaching when her two children were attending LeConte Elementary School. She saw that the school’s stage was being used as a storage space, reclaimed it, and began teaching drama to the kids -writing plays of her own to get them involved.
Brown went back to school to get a teaching credential and then taught at LeConte for 10 years -kindergarden, first and fourth grades- while getting an administrator’s credential. She was then hired as the “dean of discipline” at Berkeley High School, where she effectively restored order. “These were kids that she already knew and loved and helped raise,” a colleague of Brown’s observed to Doug Oakley of the Oakland Tribune. “She loved every kid she eve came across and considered them a part of her community. She never treated anyone differently. She did it in such a loving and big-spirited way.”
Oakley also quoted school district spokesman Mark Coplan: “One of the first kids brought in to her was this really big kid. He was so big and angry that the security guards were not going to leave her alone with him. It turns out she was his kindergarden teacher and when he saw her, he started to cry.” Coplan added that he himself “went to Denise many times to ask her how to deal with curfew and parties and parenting and how to deal with my teenager.”
Brown was survived by a son, 22, and a daughter, 18. “She was the coolest mom,” her son told Oakley. “She was always there. You could always talk to her. This whole thing is totally unexpected. She died really young.”
Die, communist bees!
Back in the 20th century I interviewed a beekeeper named Noah in Glen Ellen, California. At the time it seemed like the relationship between mankind and beekind was equitable. We give them housing and supplies and they give us honey and pollination service. “Nobody’s getting wiped out,” I naively commented. Noah said:
“Their whole culture is fascinating. The hive is sort of a democracy. The middle-aged bees seem to have a choice about what happens. The queen is the egg-laying machine of the colony, not a political ruler. She’s the part of the colony that lays all the eggs. The democracy kind of makes a decision on what the course of policy’s going to be. If they feel, for example, that it’s springtime and they need more males for fertilization and possible re-colonization, then they encourage her to lay more male eggs. And if they have a crowded situation and have to look for a new colony, that’s one of the main reasons they swarm. At that time the hive itself will produce new queen cells.
“The egg of a worker bee is the same as the egg from a queen cell. The difference is royal jelly. The potential queens are fed more royal jelly. What the bee is fed determines the nature of what the bee will become. If you take an ordinary egg that would become a worker and give it more royal jelly, it becomes a queen. A strong hive can produce 10 or 15 queen cells. The normal worker cells are horizontal; but the queen cell stretches out and hangs down vertically; it kind of looks like a peanut.
“Eleven days after the queen is removed, an egg will have started to look like that. And on the 12th day the new queen will be born. The first one to be born goes around and kills all the others, because she doesn’t want any competition. I’ve read that they also make a sound with their legs, like a cricket, to warn the old queen to take off –which she does with about 50 to 60 percent of the population. Because technically you can’t have more than one queen in a hive.
“I say technically because once I found one in Costa Rica that had two queens. Very curious. The old queen was crippled. She had a bad leg. So the new queen apparently allowed the old queen to continue living. But under normal conditions, the old queen takes off with about 50 to 60 percent of the hive.”
The Fires on I-880
The fire in the wee small hours of April 29 that melted a section of elevated freeway in the East Bay was caused, as all the world knows, by an overturned tanker truck full of gasoline. First to be blamed in the media was the driver, who had a criminal record. Next to be blamed was the trucking company, which had failed to properly maintain the vehicle. CalTrans -the state’s inept Department of Transportation- was not held to blame at all, except by a few locals who know the magnitude of a fire that occurred in that same spot four hours before the inferno that brought down the pillars upholding I-580. The first fire has not been widely reported. We heard an eye-witness’s account on a local TV station. A car was on fire from underneath. The apparently oblivious driver was standing nearby talking on a cellphone. The eyewitness, a very good Samaritan, stopped and pulled the driver, who was extremely drunk, away from the car, which then blew up. Was one of those pillars smoldering between 11:55 p.m. (time of the first fire) and 3:51 a.m. (time of the catastrophe)? Did CalTrans clean up the spilled fuel? Should the road have been closed?