biologe

Blog and online journal with editorial content about science, art and nature.

Tag: racism

They are well paid: Medical doctors do their jobs and are not automatically heroes;and toilet paper does not belong to the essentials

A feeling of spring is in the air, the two-leaf squill forms bright blue carpets at the roadsides and on the meadows of urban parks, there are clouds, but it’s 14 degrees, even in the late evening. Normal traffic on the walkways of Berlin, and the adjacent supermarket is well equipped, only the toilet paper is sold out, which became a quite common curiosity in times of the corona-pandemic.

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Two-leaf squill Scilla bifolia on a meadow in Berlin urban park Plötzensee, 20 March 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Racism

People are friendly, some couples and numerous single customers. Most of them discretely stay in an appropriate distance to each other, unfortunately only one cash desk was opened, making the forming of a waiting line inescapable. But the atmosphere was quiet, no scramble, enough space between the customers to keep their potential viruses with themselves. In front of me (at the end of this line) an old, slightly weighted woman, of a rather small height was waiting to pay for her purchases. As a Muslim, she wore a blackish grey headscarf, inconspicuously, modesty, visibly less mobile by foot, her hands like paws, undeniably a woman, who for her entire life was used to persistent and hard physical work, may be as her own housekeeper and educator of children. Her facial expression a bit grimly, she had a little bit to struggle to push her shopping cart forwards.

Suddenly a shrill scream, a nervous, but well articulated voice: “ For your own safety, stay in a distance!“. All people were startled by that noise, except of the older lady in front of me, who apparently was tired and since minutes sunk in thoughts. „Yes, I say it only, because I am concerned about your safety!“, the slim and tall woman in her mid-fifties, youthful short haircut, colored in violet and light blonde, flailed with her hands through the air, until she all of a sudden pointed her forefinger at the old lady, who finally, but still slowly, became aware that she was the stumbling block. Her lips quivered slightly, and it looked, as if she would need some power to mobilize her voice to express ber very reasonable defense.

The woman meanwhile had reached the cashier, and repeated an emotional: „I said it just for her own safety…“, while the cashier answered with a conversant voice, not avoiding a slightly disgusted sideways glance towards the old lady: „We will place a tag there to respect the distance rules tomorrow.“ She did not say: I didn’t see the old lady breaking any rules. She also did not mention: I will conduct everything that the other two cash desks will be opened immediately too in order to avoid such waiting lines. The cashier didn’t even think about performing any of such reasonable actions, she did not, because she was persuaded that accusations against old Muslim women are generally appropriate and true. The cashier was sure to know her candidates, while the permanently complaining woman with her upright standing violet tufts of hair was a hysteric racist, concerned only about her own safety and not for the one of others, considering people from a divergent cultural background generally not practising any nessesary hygienic routines and thus representing nothing else than a pure infectious potential on two legs.

Then the old lady found her voice, unexpected for everybody, and what a voice this was! Her „I did not….“ roared like a thunderclap through the store, and nobody figured out, how she would continue to express her innocence, because I interrupted her with an angry: „You didn’t do anything wrong.“, and again: „You really did not do anything wrong“.

I paid and found an empty storage area to bag my purchases into my knapsack. The old lady meanwhile had left the market, while the tall woman observed me, until she finally plucked up her courage to talk to me, saying something unexpected and never heard before: „It was just for her own safety!“.

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Lonely in a weird forest, isolation and waiting, oil on canvas, Berlin 20 March 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Chancellor Angela Merkel and our health care system

Yesterday, chancellor Angela Merkel talked to the nation via a television broadcast. She said things like: „Its serious, take it seriously…“ or „we all lack the encounters that are normally taken for granted (Uns allen fehlen die Begegngngn (sic!), die sonst selbstverständlich sind)“. And she expained: „I believe deeply that we are up to the task, when really all citizens understand it as their task (Ich glaube fest daran, dass wir diese Aufgabe bestehen, wenn wirklich alle Bürgerinnen und Bürger sie als ihre Aufgabe begreifen)“. It was meant as comfort, but also as a constant reminder, as there seem still too many people acting too thoughtless. She continued: „Since the German unity, no, since the Second World War there had been no challenge for our country any more that depended so much on our common solidary acting… (Seit der Deutschen Einheit, nein, seit dem Zweiten Weltkrieg, gab es keine Herausforderung an unser Land mehr, bei der es so sehr auf unser gemeinsames solidarisches Handeln ankommt… )“. She exaggerates, and my dead grandma, who was a Trümmerfrau (rubble woman, who physically helped to rebuilt her destroyed city), would not agree. But the purpose of chancellor Merkel’s speech is clear: Please respect the rules in order to avoid a total lockdown like in other European countries! Journalists discussed the speech later controversially, some criticized that she avoided the use of the term „Ausgangssperre (exit lock)“, others lauded her reliable belief in sanity, presumably based on her natural-scientific education. And I agree that her speech very obviously considered an imminent exit lock as an Ultima Ratio only.

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Growing hope, oil on canvas, Berlin 2009, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

But I became skeptical, when Merkel stated: „Germany has an excellent health care system, may be one of the best in the world. That can give us confidence … (Deutschland hat ein exzellentes Gesundheitssystem, vielleicht eines der besten der Welt. Das kann uns Zuversicht geben…)“. She then continued by explaining that even our hospitals would be overstrained with too many acute patients the same time. And that she is grateful to all medical staff dealing with this crisis situation. Many journalists even go as far as praising our physicians as if all of them only worked unsalaried.

When our chancellor visits her physician, she will experience the highest standards in both, technical equipment with corresponding competence of the staff and the health care service itself. But this does not apply to everyone. Because not everyone automatically has access to these highest standards. Our health care system is an inequitable system. Patients with a private insurance get a better support than statutory health insurance patients. Means: patients are asked to present their insurance cards at the registration desks. Private patients are forwarded to the highest medical competence in the hospital or a doctor’s practice, the others need to wait longer and are forwarded to the assistant physicians. Homeless people have generally very limited or even up to no rights. And as we here in Germany have a compulsory health insurance system, many freelancers with a low income need to be insured with a high deductible. That means for healthy people under fifty years a monthly payment of about 200 to 350 Euro to their private insurances for a deductible of about 1500 Euro. It is more or less the cheapest option, one can find over here. Poor and diligent freelancers pay about 300 Euro per month from their low salaries and nevertheless need to pay almost every visit to their medical doctor by themselves. Thus, some of them are forced to rarer visit their physicians than other people.

I expect (and did not closer research about the current health management rules) that in times of a pandemic, all these differences are eliminated and that everybody is treated equally. Because: „…since the Second World War there had been no challenge for our country any more that depended so much on our common solidary acting.“ By the way I do not see any reason for any adulation of the performance of German physicians at this point in the midst of a pandemic situation. They are not automatically heroes, but instead simply well paid to do their jobs as good as possible. And whether they managed a good or bad performance, whether they respected an equality of corona patients and whether there were indeed some heroes, who performed even much more than they were originally paid for, will only come out, when the acute situation is over. I unfortunately met since I live in Berlin too many physicians, who seemed to think that main purpose of their career is to become able regularly buying new and expensive prestigious cars. Are such people now able to perform their jobs focussed to an aim to heal and without other ulterior motives? Generally, our health care system is a highly capitalistic system. But what we need now is a „solidary acting“, and not an opposing situation to the disadvantage of the poorer people. I hope for equality at least in times of such a disaster, actually represented by the global corona pandemic.

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A pandemic covering the world, digital photo artwork, Berlin 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Toilet paper

Although supermarkets are unlike other facilities announced to stay opened and although there are generally no bottlenecks for goods, one specific good is more and more difficult available: toilet paper. Panic buying people obviously think that the most important thing for a survival is toilet paper. What a ridiculous misconception!

I understand that people in the emergency of no toilet paper at all would not want to go into the forests and use the fallen leaves – as our prehistoric ancestors presumably did -, because they know, based on our successful modern educational system, that they might become infested by the fox tapeworm (Echinococcus multilocularis) that way, or even worse: that their human excrements, left somewhere on the forest ground, might infest the innocent foxes with our unpleasant pathogens or intestine parasites. In times of vegan and gluten-free lifestyles unthinkable! I was once told that they often used newsprint paper to replace toilet paper in times of the Second World War. But there would be problems with a hygienic disposal under nowadays conditions. So what to do in the emergency case of a toilet paper impoverishment? Let’s say generally in case of survival conditions, for example as extreme hiker somewhere outdoors in the Canadian wilderness. First we would need a self-burrowed deeper hole in the ground, additionally soap and water.

One specific character of the great apes, to which we humans systematically belong, is represented by very complex hand motor skills. They enable us to perform all kinds of things with these hands, as our finger tips are excellently innervated and the corresponding somatosensory cortex in our brain is incredibly well developed, thus well developed that we often do not need any additional tools at all in our daily routine, because our bare hands represent very flexible tools themselves.

See how she leans her cheek upon her hand. O, that I were a glove upon that hand that I might touch that cheek“ (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)

For aesthetic and hygienic reasons we should not go such far, wishing to be a glove in between, but we theoretically could easily lean our cheeks upon our bare hands, and even more we are enabled to actively use our hand motor skills. Important would be only that they are afterwards very properly cleaned, at least with soap. Especially the tiny spaces between finger tips and finger nails would then deserve our very careful hygienic attention.

There are emergency cases imaginable, where our blank hands wouldn’t support us as they easily can in case of a toilet paper impoverishment. Take care that you are equipped with enough to drink and to eat and forget the toilet paper.

Berlin, 20 March 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

The mite Histiostoma blomquisti and creationism in Louisiana/ USA

New Orleans is a dynamic and a very lively city, a city full of freedom and tolerance, a city of life style and of a unique cuisine. A mix-up of ethic groups and cultures, New Orleans, the modern city, a world metropolis.

But this is not Louisiana, it is an island, an exception, New Orleans is not even the capital of this Southern Federal State. The rest of Louisiana is landscape, swamps, wetlands, pine woods, red sand, even a Red River, harmless snakes and a touch of music, not any kind of music, Louisiana is the birthplace of Jazz.

LA is unfortunately also home land of a strict two class society, with the white race in a top position and the native Americans and the blacks on a level much further below. The latter inhabit usually the so called „no go-areas“. That’s where poverty lives, where a permanent existential emergency dominates the daily routine, and yes, where based on all this distress also criminality finds a new home again and again.

It’s a land, where racism is still alive, where colored people take over the minor jobs, while the whites reign over in high positions. A land of injustice, of inconsistency, a land of religious fanaticism.

Nevertheless, beauty can be found everywhere. When the setting sun illuminates the colorful water of the Red river or shines on lying around rusty metal scrap, then a  spectacle of glowing colors blinds the eyes of the audience. When I walked across the fields and forests, then I found an inspiring silence, a flood of harmonic nature impressions, giant millipedes of Polydesmida hiding under freely lying stone chunks, butterflies colonizing rotting fruits and fluttering with a gentle noise in the air, colorful water turtles taking their sun baths around ponds, and under suitable weather conditions I witnessed wedding celebrations of a very special kind: winged ants rose in the air to mate for their first and only time.

The most common ant species is the Red Imported fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta, a fascinating social insect, but far away from being native to Louisiana. It is a so called invasive species, which was transferred to the Southern US via ballast substrate of ships coming from Southern America. The high frequency of ant colonies in Louisiana makes that species to a worthwhile research object, and even especially being an unwelcome invader, which needs to be better understood to successfully be fought.

As most known ant species, also S. invicta is characterized by hosting a remarkable number of non-ant-inhabitants in their nests, for example mites. One mite species attracted a special attention due to its habit to appear in great numbers on winged ant females and rarely also on their males. Nobody was competent to describe it taxonomically, but I was, that’s why I travelled in 2009 to the Southern Research Station of the USDA Forest Service in Pineville, funded by the German DFG (German Research Foundation). I was very friendly and courteously hosted by the 80 years old colleague John C. Moser, who supported my research by providing access to a microscope and preparation equipment. Although he did not participate directly in my taxonomic work, I honored his contributions of ideas and his interest in my work by offering him a co-authorship.

After the species description was already almost finished and the discussion was about the species‘ name, he unexpectedly insisted in the epitheton „blomquisti“, to honor his assistant Stacy Blomquist. Although he surely was depending on her young dynamic power, I was certainly not amused about this choice. Mrs. Blomquist appeared me being too much involved into the kind of spiritual devoutness, which seemed me to be typical for the whole land. But there was no way out, the species was finally named Histiostoma blomquisti Wirth & Moser, 2010. As a consequence, my name would be forever  connected with hers, an immutable fact. But I still have the freedom to emphasize that I until today think that a biological assistant without a high and internationally well known scientific reputation never deserves a species being named after her. I additionally insist in the fact that I unsolicited would never honor somebody I consider a religious activist with my scientific work. Thus I announce herwith my strict distance to Mrs. Blomquist, who accidentally became namesake of my species.

As all Southern US-States, Louisiana is a land dominated by the creationism, being part of the so called bible belt. I was told that the separation between blacks and whites even goes thus far that there exist black and white churches, but I experienced for sure that Chinese inhabitants are priviledged to be considered white, thus visiting the white churches.

Once I was invited to a private video evening. It was organized by a Chinese assistant of the research institute and a white colleague of him, a hobby marathon runner. They presented the 2003 US/ German/ British co-production „Luther“ with Joseph Fiennes in the main role. Directed by the British Eric Till, this very average movie with a Martin Luther, attractive, slim, completely unlike the historical original, fat with a strong penchant for alcohol, was a strange choice for me as a cineaste, but I expected an entertaining popcorn evening with discussions about good and bad movies. But what I then witnessed was very unexpected.

It was so silent that I could hear the air breath, the flies buzzing around, a mysterious expectation filled the room, while my two hosts stared to the screen, awaiting the first appearance of „Martin Luther“ with religious reverence and deistic adoration. I landed in a private divine service, and when Joseph Fiennes appeared for the first time, both raised their arms ecstatically into the air, praising Luther as the great only one. It kept going on like this, no popcorn for me, but very frequent cigarette breaks instead, I fled outside as often as I could.

It is a well known phenomenon that in areas of unjustice worldwide natives tend to protect their own conscience with an unfounded belief to stand under a special supervision by a god. Only a god of immorality and misanthropy claimes to have created the planet and all life on it within six days, only such a god supports the inequality of races and the discrimination of minorities.

Berlin, November 2017

Histiostoma blomquisti on fire ant queens

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth