COVID fix, professors, writing fiction

DNA/RNA

Diamonds and RustDan, the albanyweblog man, decided to confound me:

A Pharma Corporation called Inovid is trying to speed up production of COVID-19 vaccine. They take virus DNA, convert it to RNA, pick out the right bits of the RNA according to a computer program, then inject it into bacteria, which makes lots of virus DNA that can be used to stimulate antibodies in the human, thus making an effective vaccine. What I want to know is how do they convert the virus DNA to RNA on cue? They talk about this like it’s NBD.

As I understand it – and I REALLY DON’T –

So what’s COVID-19’s story? Is a hint in what normally binds the receptor?

Perhaps sometime in the past, a virus formed, or came to include, human DNA or RNA instructions for making an integrin, which is a protein that binds to ACE2. Integrins glue our cells to surrounding connective tissue. The viral spike masquerades as the integrin, grabbing our cells.
In other words, a viral epidemic may arise as an accident, of sorts, of biochemistry and evolution.

Vaccine!

One of the things I learned as a librarian is that sometimes I don’t understand what I’m passing along. It’s just beyond my comprehension. Check out this article, which may, or may not be useful.

Fiction

Carla, an old colleague of my wife’s, wants to know:

Roger, Have you ever thought of writing fiction; or do you write fiction?

I’ve thought to do it. But a long piece seems too hard. You have to have a consistent universe. See, e.g., this post by Jaquandor. And I haven’t loved the short pieces I’ve written.

But if I live long enough, I’ll probably write a roman a clef. Or two.

Kevin, from my home county and the Wind Sun News, wants to know:

Who was your favorite Professor at New Paltz?

Of the ones I had class with, probably Glenn McNitt in the political science department. He was very smart but easy going. I remember listening to Stevie Wonder at his house more than once. I also recall specifically hearing Simple Twist of Fate by Joan Baez from her Diamonds and Rust album. She did a wicked Dylan impression and I cracked up.

Of the ones I did not have, probably Pam Tate, the head of Innovative Studies. I knew her in part because I was on the Financial Council and some of our budget went to her program. I was the Education chair so her program was in my jurisdiction.

Mercy, Humanity, Making a Difference

Bryan Stevenson

Bryan StevensonRecently, folks at my church had a chance to hear a recording from Bryan Stevenson. He is a lawyer who is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. The organization has challenged bias against the poor and minorities in the criminal justice system.

He spoke at a medical conference in 2019 with a message of hope. In his address, American Injustice: Mercy, Humanity, and Making a Difference, he briefly discussed his concerns. There is too much unfairness in a system where over two million people are incarcerated, compared with about 300,000 a half century ago. This leads to a sense of hopelessness, especially in many black and Latinx communities.

Yet Stevenson put forth four principles of positivity:

There is power in being proximate

We need to commit ourselves to get proximate to those in need. There is a tendency to avoid those “bad parts of town.” He submits that we need to get closer to the communities of the marginalized.

He spoke of his beloved grandmother. She was a daughter of people who were enslaved. She would hug him so tightly that he thought she would hurt him. But she’d ask when she’d see him again, “Do you still feel me hugging you?”

He tells a story, which is shown in the Just Mercy movie how he, as a mere law intern, gave hope to a death row inmate. The law firm dispatched Bryan to tell the prisoner that he was not at risk of being executed in the next year. The grateful prisoner could then invite huis family to visit him.

There is power in being proximate.

Change the narrative

The misguided war on drugs should have been dealt with as a health problem, not a legal issue. Too often government traffics in the politics of fear and anger. This allows people to accept things we should not accept. This leads to mandatory sentencing, children treated as adults. Who’s responsible for this? WE are.

Stevenson believes the true evil of slavery is not the enforced incarceration or even dreadful conditions of servitude. The true evil was/is the narrative of slavery. Racial differences were made up to create an ideology of a people who are not aren’t fully human. This is the basis of white supremacy.

He contends, and I would agree, that slavery of did not end in 1865. It morphed into Jim Crow and ,mass incarceration. Some friend of a friend suggested that we’ve been living with terrorism since 9/11. au contraire: many black people grew up with terrorism. The refugees of racial terror in the South ended up in the refugee camps that are the ghettos of the mostly northern cities.

Amen

Black people often live with the presumptuousness of dangerousness and guilt. And IT IS EXHAUSTING. (Amen.) Stevenson told of being in a Midwest courtroom, well-dressed and middle-aged. The judge chastised him for being there, assuming he was a prisoner. When the judge was corrected, he laughed. The district attorney laughed. Bryan forced himself to laugh, so as not to disadvantage his client, who was on that day, a young white man.

Stevenson believes – and he is SO right – that there is too much of a simplistic celebratory narrative about the “civil rights era.” Day 1, Rosa Park refused to stand on the bus. Day 2, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a rousing speech. Day 3, racism was over. Ha!

But he has no interest in punishment. He wants liberation. He wants a process of truth and justice, truth and reconciliation. There is no justice, no reconciliation without truth. You see that in Rwanda, in South Africa, in Germany. There are no Hitler statues in Berlin.

Stay hopeful

Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. Hope is our superpower. It takes bravery be hopeful.

Do the things that are uncomfortable and inconvenient

We must do those actions that are witness to inequality. The vaunted Civil Rights era is filled with those examples, and those opportunities exist regularly today.

People are more than the worst thing they’ve done. The opposite of poverty is justice.

Kenny Rogers and the First Edition

You better count your money

The first time I knew the name Kenny Rogers was as a member of a group called The First Edition. Several people, including Thelma Camacho, Mike Settle, and Terry Williams, split off from a folk-music troupe, The New Christy Minstrels.

They had a big hit, Just Dropped In (To See What My Condition My Condition Was In), which got all the way to #5 pop in March of 1968. It was a quasi-psychedelic track later covered by Tom Jones.

After a couple flops, they released But You Know I Love You. They performed it on some variety shows, because I remember the applause at the dead-stop false ending. It went to #19 in early 1969.

Their next hit was Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town. By now, Kenny Rogers was receiving top billing. Read about the Mel Tillis song, which was not about the aftermath of the Vietnam war. It went to #6 pop and #39 country in mid-1969.

The follow-up, Reuben James, went to #26 pop, #46 country. The group had a few more hits, notably Something’s Burning (#11 pop). They even had their own syndicated show called Rollin’ in 1972. Kenny went solo in 1973. It took a while, but the hits eventually came.

His first country #1 was Lucille in 1977, which also went to #5 pop and went gold.

When the dealin’s done

If one knows only one Kenny Rogers song, it might be The Gambler. While it only went to #16 pop in 1979, it went to #1 for three weeks country. Moreover, there were at least three TV movies about it, starring Rogers. And it’s the only one of his songs ever quoted in this blog.

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run

In 1980, Kenny Rogers was the #1 pop artist, with massive crossover hits. Lady, written by Lionel Richie, for instance, was #1 for six weeks pop, #1 country, and #42 soul.

You probably have your own favorites, including duets with female artists. I count 20 #1 country hits among the 53 songs charting. His other #1 pop song was Islands in the Stream with Dolly Parton for two weeks in 1983.

He was a ubiquitous popular culture presence for decades, and I’m sorry about his passing.

Coverville 1302: The Kenny Rogers Tribute Cover Story.

Money in the time of COVID

Death knell for comic book stores?

Sure I was appalled by the suggestion of Texas’ lieutenant governor that grandparents are willing to sacrifice themselves at the altar of capitalism.

Also, someone wants the country to be “opened up and raring to go by Easter”; this defies logic. So does him touting an untested drug as a cure.

It shows just how times have changed. A dozen years ago, people were shocked by the false rumor that Obamacare mandated that no one over 75 be given major medical procedures unless approved by an ethics panel. “You can’t kill Grandma!” they cried. (Yes, it was a political lie, but some were genuinely fooled by it.)

The argument then was that good Christian people must protect the right to life of octogenarians. One could understand that premise, even if it were based on a false premise. This new twist boggles the mind.

Moreover, the “call to reopen the economy would put a premature end to the nationwide social isolation efforts underway to quell the spread of the coronavirus, and could cause the entire health care system — and in turn the economy — to collapse under the weight of a crush of critically ill people.”

Incidentally, some folks I came across online are convinced that the medical establishment in Italy is sacrificing old people because of socialized medicine. The Italians are using triage because there are too many sick and dying at the same time. Seeing page after page of obituaries in their newspapers is awful to see.

And that could be California or Washington state or New York State soon. Or Louisiana or West Virginia, which was the last state with a confirmed COVID-19 case, not much later. Or somewhere not yet on the radar a month from now.

Tanking

Of course, I know the stock market is mostly sinking. I’ve been studiously avoiding taking a look. My position is that assiduously tracking the Dow Jones will change nothing.

Earlier in the week, my wife called across the room that the stock market was down again. I yelled back, “DON’T CARE!” It’s not that I’m unconcerned. But worrying about it will just give me agita.

I will get a quarterly statement in early April. I will open it, look at the bottom line, scream, throw it in a drawer, and forget about it until early July, when I will likely repeat the process if necessary. Mentally, the pessimist in me had always budgeted for a drop; I will survive.

Stimulating the economy

That said, I’ve gotten in the past two weeks at least six books, a DVD set, a couple of compact discs and some other items online. While some were purchased on a gift card, the rest was my money. I have this desire to do my part to buy what I can from small to medium-sized businesses.

I purchased three Marvel Masterworks from Mile High Comics just before it was announced that Diamond Comic Distributors is no longer taking in new comics for a time. This could be the death knell of the vast majority of comic book stores, especially those reliant on sales of the latest issue of the four-color publications.

TP

I went to the store last week, during the old people’s early hours. And though I didn’t really NEED toilet paper, I bought some, a four-roll pack.

That afternoon, one of our young neighbors, who actually talks with us, sighed that they only had one roll of TP in the house. I went inside, got the 4-back, and tossed a perfect spiral to the young person. (Social distancing, don’t you know?) Obviously, I DID need to purchase it. I just didn’t know why before then.

What You Can Do Right Now.

Lydster: Chocolate mousse

Seldom

chocolate mousseOn Election Day, my daughter was babysitting for much of the day. She texted me and said that she wanted to make chocolate mousse that evening for a contest the next day. It could help improve her French grade. Could I pick up some ingredients at the store before she got back?

What did she need? The recipe she found, which she wanted to double, required:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter – we have some, but maybe not enough
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, best quality – need
3 large eggs, yolks and whites separated – have
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar – ?
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar – have
1/2 cup heavy cream, cold – need
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract – thought we had, but can’t find
FOR SERVING
1/2 cup heavy cream, cold – need
2 teaspoons sugar – have
Chocolate shavings – need

Potassium Bitartrate?

What the heck is cream of tartar? I discovered one can substitute one teaspoon of lemon juice or white vinegar for a 1/2 teaspoon of whatever it is. We had lemon juice. I wrote, “I didn’t want to buy the cream of tartar, which we would seldom use.”

She wrote back: “You sound like a nerd. ‘Seldom’ – c’mon, mate.” While I think it’s a fine word, her peers would say, “we won’t use it much.” I think that’s too wordy. She says that we nerds have “expectations of themselves that are too high.” Not the worst curse, especially for someone she says is cool, “for a boomer.”

Most of the work she did herself. She asked for help separating the eggs, yet her ultimate solution was far more efficient than my manual method. Emptying a water bottle, she squeezed it, creating a vacuum that sucked up the yolks.

The chocolate mousse turned out to be quite tasty, according to both of her parents. Because she had even MORE homework to do on a supposed day off from school, her father ended doing a lot of dishes the next day. He’s better at that task than cooking anyway.

late summer 2007
late summer 2007