Plug ‘n Play Molecular Biology

It interests me that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines exploit the same molecular biology to fight the novel coronavirus as the virus itself does to make us sick. You may have heard by now that these two vaccines are mRNA vaccines. mRNA stands for messenger RNA, the intermediate molecule between DNA and protein – DNA->mRNA->Protein – aka the Central Dogma.

The”active ingredient” of the virus is mRNA. It carries the instructions required to make more copies of the virus. But the virus can’t replicate itself, it first needs to get inside a human cell, break apart, and release the mRNA. From there, the cell recognizes the viral mRNA and translates it to proteins, specifically proteins required (in part) to create another viral particle. In a separate (more complicated) step, more copies of the viral mRNA are also made inside the cell. With all the required parts copied, in a final step they are re-assembled into a new virus particle which is effectively spit out of the cell (Exocytosis) to enter the circulation. From there the particle will infect more cells, make even more copies of itself, and so on. The point is, all of the hard work of replication is done inside your normal cells because they don’t recognize the mRNA as foreign. Detail

Stay with me now, almost there. Recall from above that an mRNA carries the instruction to make a protein. Also, as you’ve probably heard, the protein that enables coronavirus to enter your cells is the so-called spike protein – those pin-like protuberances sticking out of the viral particle’s shell (membrane). The spike protein is crucial to the virus’s ability to get into your cells. Unfortunately, your immune system can’t recognize the spike protein because it’s “cloaked” in other molecules, so no antibodies against the spike protein are produced that would bind to it and interfere with the virus’s ability to enter your cells. Fortunately, there are small pieces (peptides) of the spike protein that are “visible” to the immune system.

Enter mRNA vaccines. You create a synthetic mRNA to code for the specific part of the spike protein that is visible – just that small part – and get that mRNA into the cell and have it translated. Synthetic mRNA is the easy part, readily doable in any modern lab. Then, just like the viral mRNA, the cell translates the synthetic mRNA into protein, presents it to the immune system, which in turn creates specific antibodies against it. This is what it means to “train” the immune system. With that, you’ve now got circulating antibodies that will bind to any peptide that looks like that, including those “visible” on the spike protein on the virus! Bind they do, and now the virus is prevented from getting into your cells. Game over, immunity achieved. Detail

The point is the “active ingredient” of both the virus and the vaccine is mRNA. Both leverage the normal molecular machinery of the cell to do all the hard work for free! This is a very different approach compared to how previous vaccines were developed. The most difficult part of getting this approach to work is getting the vaccine mRNA into the cell, which evidently Pfizer and Moderna scientists have figured out. mRNAs are also easily degraded which is why the vaccines need to be kept so cold during distribution.

Disquieting Times

So here we are, a little over two weeks after the election. In all my adult years I’ve never felt less certain about the near future of this country than I do now. It feels to me like a crisis in scope second only to the civil war. The circumstances are of course different, but the feeling of similarity in terms of a deeply divided country that presaged both crises is difficult to deny. We have a president refusing to concede the election because to do so would be the pin that pops his outsized ego. If you’re reluctant to believe that, if you think that’s merely “my opinion,” it really is not just an opinion. It’s an undeniable matter of fact as plain as the nose on your face.

For the past four years tRump has weaponized twitter spewing an orgy of noxious lies, baseless claims, and misleading statements, without equal, certainly for a president. All for a single purpose: to seed doubt and division in this country. And it worked. And it was deliberate, supported in no small part by his lackeys in the republican party, with disappointingly rare exception. The end goal of this division was to concentrate tRump’s supporters and weaponize them, figuratively and in some cases literally, to sew contempt for the Left and in turn keep tRump in the white house another four years. Make no mistake about the true nature of this pathologically egotistical goal. Winning the white house this time wasn’t about the furtherance of republican ideals for another four years – by most measures of what that means tRump is not really a republican anyway. Nor was it only to get more people to vote republican – this was never really about winning the game in the marketplace of ideas. No. That’s swamp talk. In the president’s mind, as in war, games have a sole winner and everyone else is a sucker and a loser. To avoid losing – all that tRump has ever cared about – the real strategy was to dupe voters into believing he, and he alone, would be their savior from the evil of the Left.

And it worked. Over seventy two million people voted for this Prevaricator in Chief. Surely though by now, two weeks after his loss, republicans in both houses of congress have begun to repudiate this man’s refusal to concede, right? Wrong, crickets.

Again, this is not merely my opinion. There is simply no way any rational human being assessing the evidence of lies, contempt for his enemies, and baseless claims the past four years would reach any reasonable conclusion other than this man is a pathological liar and narcissist. I don’t come to this conclusion lightly. This is the president of the United States for God’s sake, how did this happen?

Well, maybe you’re right, but he did lower taxes, right?” Yes, with support from his lackeys in the senate your taxes were lowered. Check. But pardon me for saying this, that’s analogous to the conclusion, in judgement of a cheating husband’s love and commitment to you, “Well, he did recently buy me a new car.

My point in all this goes to motive. tRump didn’t lower your taxes because he wants to make America great again, he would just as well have raised taxes if he thought it would make him, personally, better off. No different than the cheating spouse who aims to buy your continued devotion. None of tRump’s policies, domestic or foreign, derive from a commitment to republican principles – again, quite a few people (some republican) have convincingly argued tRump is No true Scotsman. No, every single action the man takes is a swindle, calculated to keep the national focus on his smug, orange face in order to dupe voters into Keeping. Him. In. Office. No other conclusion of his true motive makes sense.

As was mentioned by Dan Harris during a recent episode of his podcast, every single dial of tRump’s ethical and moral constitution is tuned to the absolute worst possible setting. It’s true. There is zero evidence tRump has any courage, any conviction, any smidgen of caring, sympathy, or empathy for others. If it could be said he does anything well, it’s demagoguery. Again, it pains me to say this, it really does, but the (outgoing) president of the United States is a horrible human being. Although, and here again I agree with Harris, that does not mean tRump is the worst human being ever. He is not Hitler. He’s not Stalin, or Pol Pot, or Ceausescu, etc. Those men also had their dials set to the absolute worst possible settings, but they went further and murdered many of their own citizens. That flips them into the truly Evil category.

I fear what may come next. I fear, as some others do, in his retreat from failure tRump may lay ruin to many things. Things he knows are still within his power to ruin. If that were to happen, you would think it would prove to tRump supporters he never really cared about them, their way of life, their families, their healthcare, the horrors of a raging pandemic, protection from malevolent foreign operators. But I don’t think it’ll go down that way. Instead, I fear the Master Demagogue will too soon re-emerge, create a new social media platform, maybe allied with Q Anon, a new pulpit of his own design from which he can spew more lies. “All that ruin? Wasn’t my fault, it was the Left that did it. Sad!

Running With Scissors

Never yield to despair that which mirth can vanquish.

Leave it to SNL to bring the mirth

I fear, as others do, it won’t everywhere be all fun and games after tRump loses. Even up here we see the occasional caravan of 4×4 monster trucks loudly parading down the busiest roadways, ominously waving MAGA and tRump flags. Something tells me the spirit of this display isn’t merely to Get Out the Vote. It feels a lot more like, Or Else.

A couple days ago Happy Wife went to pick up litter on the pedestrian path near our home, mostly Bud and Truly cans. She hadn’t gotten far when she heard a loud horn go off. Startled, she looked up to see a speeding Honda with the person in the passenger seat, a complete stranger, angrily flipping her off. The only thing we can think of is that at the place where the insult occurred, she happened to be standing next to a neighbor’s fence with a large campaign sign nailed to it for the democratic candidate for State House in our district. Maybe the passengers thought she lived in that house? No other explanation makes sense.

Covid-19 cases are surging up here. Every day for the past few weeks two to five hundred new cases were reported statewide, usually one to two hundred are in Anchorage. The good news is the proportion of deaths among cases (CFR) is down, or at least leveling off, as is the rate of sick people requiring hospitalization. This according to Alaska’s chief medical officer, , someone who Happy Wife is suspicious I am a bit too fond of. Fair enough, I did pay an extra $5 on my last Grub Hub order to include an Anne Zink sticker (which I’ve prominently affixed to the breaker box in the garage). And yes, it’s true, every time she appears on TV I make this excitedly loud and quirky exclamation evidencing an exaggerated adulation for her. But excessive fondness? Come now dear.

To avoid the Covid blues and atrophy we walk the Anchorage beach at least once weekly with Black Dog. That’s the tallest mountain in North America (and on the North American continent) behind HW (right). And the third highest peak is further to the left- Mt. Foraker. Can you name the second highest peak in the United States? How about the 4th-10th highest peaks? Guess where they all are.

Before the recent surge in cases we daringly stepped outside our protected bubble to visit our friends at their home on the Kenai River. By night from their deck

Some of the largest salmon runs in the world move up this river. Mostly gone by the time of this photo, but they’ll be back next year. As will our friends, they winter in Florida now.

At least three days a week HW asks me what I’d like for breakfast. My go-to has been a three minute egg with toast and a side of fruit. This latest preparation included a sprinkle of fennel pollen. It’s a tad off putting to think of sperm cells as a flavor enhancer, but dang if they aren’t

So Long Friend

For the past eight years we’ve loved and cared for her as you would a cherished dog. Hardly a detail in that home was untouched by us. We made it what it is and trust the new owners companions will cherish her as we did. You can do all the rationalization you want, what a good deal we got, how it was the right time, blah blah, but like putting a dog down for “the right reasons” all that rationalization does nothing to relieve the profound feelings of loss and sadness. We loved being there, without exception. Eight years. Alas, our show must go on.

Science Says…

I see. So if I got the math right, knocking back an entire bottle would free me from having to walk the dog pretty much all week! I mean really, just look at those three hotties, once they make the wine disappear they can avoid that one hour spin class. On the other hand, those are pretty puny pours. Here at Casa de Nibbe we operate under a very different definition of what constitutes a “glass” of wine. I don’t care what Science has to say about it.

Current favorite Covid-19 mask

Runner up

Ingenious, no? I’m not sure if wearing a mask is recommended to keep one safe during online meetings, though we do know viruses infect computers, so it’s certainly not impossible that SARS-COV-2 may as well. We’ll have to wait to see what Science says.

All social intercourse is online now it seems. It amuses me that many individuals, in the course of an interview on the evening news, appear to place their face less than one half inch from the camera, such that unsightly nose hairs almost leap out of the TV screen at you like some man-eating tendrils in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

That, and have you noticed what’s behind most people being interviewed? Books, shelves upon shelves of books. I suppose it’s one way the person signals she’s smart. I was interviewed online recently and thought to do the same thing. Though I didn’t feel entirely comfortable sharing which books may (or may not) have influenced my character, not with strangers anyway. Spotting a couple titles by Nietzsche on my shelf shouldn’t lead one to conclude I’m a nihilist. Seeing Franzen’s The Corrections (a book I greatly enjoyed) isn’t evidence I’m a political liberal. Books in this sense are like guideposts, clues to where a person has been, not a detailed map of the path taken.

Recent Most Annoying Words, Turns of Phrase

Issue – Apparently, there are no problems anymore, only issues. My inbox is replete with sentences such as, “If you have any issues with the new release, please feel free to reach out to me.” So now if your child misbehaves she’s not a problem child, no no, she’s a child with issues. In the new world things no longer break, no sir, they merely have issues.

Reach Out Happy Wife especially despises this one. Even in professional contexts she too frequently hears, “We will reach out to the patient to… blah blah.” Oh, you mean you will contact the patient (to blah blah)? “Yeah, whatever, that’s what I said.” No, you said…never mind.

As I point out in my book – Number two on Happy Wife’s most-annoying phrases list. Prefacing the point you’re about to make with self-promotion is annoying. I agree. Stop that authors, whoever you are.

Like – I should’ve listed this one first. Listen closely (if you’re able) to a conversation between two modern millennials, and you’ll hear something similar to this – “So like, we were at my car, and he was like, what’s up with your face? And I was like, whatever. And then he like starts walking away and I’m like, screw you. And then, like, he turns around and says, ok, like, I didn’t mean that, and I’m like, ok, whatever, just get in the car. And then, like, for the rest of the day he’s like it never happened.”

No Parking

It was near midnight when HW and I heard the crash. I leapt out of bed, lowered the shade, peered out the window. “Damn, would you look at that, there’s a car in our backyard!” It’s July, midnight, so not totally dark. Even through our bedroom window (closed) I hear loud voices, sounds like people arguing. I lower the shade some more, get a better look. Shit, an eight foot section of wood fence (one of four destroyed) is jacked up in the air, over the hood of the car. The Mountain Ash tree is down (sorry Mom & Dad).

I throw on a pair of shorts and run downstairs, cell phone in hand. HW follows, frantic and pissed, with Black Dog in tow, visibly unsettled. At the base of the stairs, through the frosted glass on the front door I make out what I think is a human form turning to retreat down the porch steps. I find APD (Anchorage Police Department) in my contacts and touch “Call.” (Wait, maybe instead I should phone a community sympathizer expert in conflict resolution? Nah). Then I’m out the back door into the yard. The grass is chilly on my bare feet. I’m bare chested. The lawn is strewn with pieces of fence and car parts (a Chevy Cruze it turns out). I step carefully to avoid the debris, especially rusted wood screws. A Pacific Asian man (as I described him to the APD officer who eventually showed up an hour later ) appears. He sees I’m on the phone, appears to panic, gets in the car, starts it, puts it in reverse and tries to back away. The rear tires spin and squeal on the pedestrian path. No go, ain’t happening, the car is dead stuck, high-centered on the Mountain Ash, the right A-arm is bent, the hood is taco’d, windshield smashed. Suddenly, an overweight woman appears on the path, frantically waving a cellphone and shouting, “There was a dog…in the street… I didn’t want to hit it!” Granted, I was a bit groggy, but that pegged my bullshit meter.

I look at them both, they’re standing together on the path, maybe six feet from me. (And no masks – what’s wrong with these people!). I ask the man, “Can you tell me the license plate number, it’s bent, I can’t make it out, I have APD on the phone.” This last seems to alarm them. Poof, off they go, west, hurriedly down the path. That was last I saw of them. Our neighbor also heard the crash. He later told me he briefly spoke with the woman as she and the man walked staggered past his house. “Rod,” he said, “She was drunk, slurring her words.”

It was later, around 3:30 am, nearly dawn, HW and I are back in bed, Black Dog is resettled on the floor, when we hear the tow truck arrive – Beep Beep Beep – and then the twisting, crunching, moaning of the fence as it collapses around the car being dragged away. A half hour passes, there’s a knock at the front door. I jump up from bed again, HW restless next to to me. I throw on shorts and a sweatshirt, hobble downstairs. It’s the APD officer, she hands me a card with a case number printed on it, we exchange questions and answers. She asks me to reconfirm the description of the perps. I do. She confirms they haven’t been found (yet), but if/when they are, there will be criminal charges for fleeing the scene of an accident. She shares the name of the car owner, tells me he lives on the Kenai peninsula, 150+ miles from Anchorage.

Took all day Friday to clean up the mess and erect a temporary solution to keep Black Dog in – and the moose out of – the backyard. HW spotted a Mountain Ash she liked at the nursery. Estimates on fence repair are a week out at the two contractors I called. Summer’s a busy time for them. I’d repair it myself but figure the party liable for the damage will pay (Ha!), so may as well have it done quickly by the pros. What a fiasco.

Sanctity of the Nose

He prefers Food over electrons – in his bowl, on the floor, in the couch, on the beach, in his dreams – anywhere there is food, there is he, focused. Never have we had a food-centric beast quite like this one. And we’ve had many. But even he needs to recharge from time to time

Cases are surging again all over the country. Some people say it’s because of increased testing. Ya think? So what is the right course of action then. Put our heads in the sand and stop testing? If we did that we couldn’t conclude the number of cases was rising or falling, it would only mean nobody would know for sure. “Even if cases really are increasing, whatever, big deal, I catch the virus, I get a raspy cough, a mild fever, shortness of breath, big whoop, right? I’ve had hangovers with worse symptoms.” I understand people who say this. I understand the rationale of self-interest. But what these people don’t seem to understand, or care about, is the unaligned self-interest of others who do not want to get this disease and die – alone. I, personally, am determined not to get infected with this coronavirus. Respiratory infections I’ve had in the past (bronchitis, pneumonia) have run a very hard course through me. I remember the symptoms were awful and persistent. Being relatively young at the time probably saved me from hospitalization. Now, being over sixty, it might very well be another story.

Your rights end where my nose begins. Libertarianism 101. I don’t see then how your fist is any different from your viral-loaded breath. You are free to twirl in a public space with arms extended all you want, so long as your fist doesn’t intersect my nose (or anyone else’s). You’re likewise free to get sick and spew virus all you want, so long as it doesn’t intersect my nose (or anyone else’s). So keep your distance and wear an effin mask until a vaccine is ready, at the very least until an effective treatment is found.

You see, being I am unabashedly self-interested, I very much look forward to enjoying another anniversary with Happy Wife, like this past one (6/2020), duly celebrated with a vibrant flourish of eye-catching orchids (with Norman for the photo bomb)

Moral of the story: Take care of yourselves, loved ones, friends, co-workers, even strangers in need. In that order.