One of my favorite classic sci-fi novels is HG Wells’s First Men in the Moon. Written in 1900 and published as a novel in 1901, it tells the story of a businessman and a scientist who take a trip to the moon, thanks to the invention of a new substance that acts as an anti-gravity shield. Not only do I find the premise of an anti-gravity shield delightful, the reactions of the two characters, stereotyped although they may be, rings true, especially now as we see the pandemic play out. The pair encounters a new civilization on the moon and while the scientist promotes cautious study, the businessman can think of nothing but exploitation. As I contemplate coerced returning to work, as a teacher, even though scientists warn against it, I am struck by the lack of moral leadership in education these days. The reason for this is simple: schools are expected to be run as businesses. And some of that push, from the outgoing secretary of education, who never went to a public school in her life, is that they must remain open, pandemic be damned.
The trouble with education as a business is that education is not a business. It’s meant to be a form of philanthropy for the good of society. As we move away from that ideal, into perversions such as public-private partnerships, we burden our education system with private agendas. Some of these agendas are simple things such as workforce development and career academies teaching things like welding, culinary arts, and nursing assistant skills. My college even got a grant for some of this, called Talent Pipeline, meant to aid coronavirus relief. Ironically, you can click the link and see our “only business matters” governor smiling at young people. There is nothing wrong with any of the aforementioned careers. The problem comes when college and universities are hamstrung by them to the point where they cannot afford to provide any moral leadership. The money could have been used to improve ventilation in classrooms or help those with no access to the technology needed for remote learning. Instead, we teach welding because local companies want welders. Your tax dollars will do this for them.
At its heart, it was made from Designer antibodies from humans who have recovered from Covid and from mice who have been designed to have a human immune system.
What are antibodies? To understand them we need to review how viruses work.
Viruses are bits of genetic material that come in coatings that are covered with protein bits with a unique shape. These protein bits are called antigens. Antigens are how scientists identify viruses. They are like the calling card of a virus. Each one is unique to that type of virus. Technically anything that produces an immune response is an antigen. In COVID-19, the “spike protein” sticking out all over like a crown is considered the antigen. Proteins elicit an immune response, unlike the fatty lipid blob that contains the rest of the virus. The spike protein allows the virus to interact with our cells, penetrate them, and inject the viral material into our cells where it uses our cell mechanisms to reproduce itself. Yes, the viral infection is a lot like our cells getting raped and impregnated with a virus.
Antibodies may also be able to treat cancer. Image from cancer.gov
White blood cells recognize a virus as dangerous and cover the anitigens with antibodies to neutralize them. Other white blood cells can then eat the virus. Antibodies have to be tailored for each virus. Vaccines work by teaching white cells how to make the right antibody so they can leap into action without the learning curve. Keeping away from the virus and wearing a mask is like an abstinence only class while a vaccine is more like sex education with a pregnancy prevention compoenent.
In general, antibodies look like Ys under a microscope and you can buy antibody pins, lanyards, phone grips and facemasks. In the latter, the antibodies are shown with weapons–an axe, an arrow, and magic.
The president got a dose of these antibodies equal to three to four times the amount a human needs. Should the rest of us expect such treatment to be available soon? In a word, NO.
Supplies are limited because, in part, because Operation Warp Speed is more show than go when it comes to investment. Yes, it is a cheaply funded program which means most of us won’t able to afford this treatment.
A deadly virus which may cause sterility in males and a cure only available to some. Doctors are stuck saving the very person who got us into this mess, a man they condemn. I guess for most of us, it’s going to be abstinence only.
I was surprised that a friend recently didn’t know what the UAW sticker on my car meant. Sadly, there are many people who probably don’t appreciate what organized labor has done for us. The UAW, or United Auto Workers, has been around since 1915. Its president had this to say in a recent statement :
“Labor Day is the day that we celebrate and recognize the spirit, strength and life-changing contributions of working men and women across this nation. It is the voice, the sacrifice and the unwillingness to give up that defines our labor movement and our union.
So, I would like to remind all of us that it is labor that built America and America’s middle class. It is labor that has brought us fair wages, health care benefits, retirement, health and safety standards, a voice in the workplace and so much more. It is labor that stands up to social and civil injustice and it was the working men and women of this nation that stepped up when our country was in need of critical life-saving Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Our brothers and sisters were among the first to go to work to make PPE, to make ventilators, to staff food banks and help out in countless ways in communities from coast to coast. But then, that is what we do — and what we have always done.”
Organized labor has always been there for the working class.
The UAW has lobbied for a Civil Rights Law, formation of OSHA, an Election Day paid holiday for auto workers, and to protect workers in numerous industries.
Before the labor movement gained steam in the 1800s, workers were overworked, underpaid, and not protected from workplace dangers. Children labored beside adults and were often victims of workplace safety lapses.
Strikes, protests, and riots were effective in getting organized labor some concessions from the rich overlords. Wealthy women such as Jane Addams supported the labor movement in its infancy. Child labor was ended in 1881, although not for farm workers. In 1938, the work week was dropped from 100 hours to 40 and a minimum wage was established.
Labor Unions and workers have been significantly beaten up by politicians as of late. Even if, like most of us, you aren’t in a labor union, it’s time to give them, and workers, respect and to pay attention to the damaging policies enacted over the past few years by politicans who claim to represent the working class but favor the wealthy instead. President Trump even indicted Ronald Reagan into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Fame. We workers have paid the price for one bad president long ago. Let’s hope there isn’t more price to be paid.
Meanwhile, we can thank the UAW for providing protective equipment such as masks and gowns and equipment such as ventillators for healthcare professionals and workers during the pandemic when our elected officals couldn’t seem to get it done because, they didn’t want to.
The Crown Act, which prevents discrimination against naturally Black hair, or more accurately, against hairstyle and texture, is one year old. The social implications of being able to wear your hair as you please are enormous but from a scientific standpoint, there’s even more reason to support going all natural. Some hair products, especially black dye and hair straightener, have recently been linked to breast cancer.
Eighty per cent of all women dye their hair. Dyes can be permeant or semi-permeant (last for 6 washes or so). Semipermanent dyes coat the hair and most are harmless. However, a few such as Grecian Formula, may contain lead based products and should be avoided.
Permanent dyeing opens and swells the cuticle, knocks out any color, and adds a large dye molecule. The first permanent dyes were made from coal tar in 1907. Hair dye has been around for a while and studied extensively. It’s known that only 1% of the dye gets into your scalp and if you get highlights or low lights, it’s even less since the dyes are applied away from the scalp in most cases. The dyes are not thought to be toxic or cancer causing, and yet, epidemiological studies have associated their use with breast cancer –a 7% rise in white women and 45% to 50% rise in black women who used dark hair dye. The risk was greater for those who dyed their hair at home. A chemical abbreviated PPD is found in greater amount in black hair dye. Dyes marketed to black women contain more endocrine disrupting chemicals as well.
Hair straighteners, used by 80% of black women to get a “European” look, are associated with an 18% rise in breast cancer by women of all colors.
Adana Llanos, a pioneer in this study, points out that the correlation does not prove that any type of hair dye or straighter causes cancer, only that there was previously no data looking at black women.
Researchers at Northwestern University have been looking at ways to make hair products safer, including developing dyes using pigments from black currents. In any case, hair style should not be one more arena where people have to fight for their lives. Celebrate natural hair!
Recently, the act of grinding coffee beans for the days’s cup struck me as pleasantly normal. Back when I was rushing off to an office and classroom, even something as small as grinding coffee was just one more obstacle to getting out the door. Whole bean coffee was in the “not worth it ” category, along with, at times, ironing. The semester from hell was over. Now, suddenly, I had a moment to appreciate the freshness and aroma of newly ground coffee. But what helps make coffee fresh? What keeps it fresh? And why does ground coffee smell so good?
Coffee beans undergo chemical reactions when roasted. This process creates hundreds of new chemicals.
Many of these chemicals are are good for you and and a few are bad. The good ones can “protect against gout (by lowering uric acid levels), tooth decay and gallstones… there is mounting and strong evidence for coffee providing some protection against type 2 diabetes.” Coffee might even prevent Alzheimers disease. Acrylamide is one of the few bad chemicals and more is found in in light roasts.
One thing that happens during roasting is the beans get lighter and more porous. The pores hold both carbon dioxide and the chemicals which give coffee its aroma. Of the many chemicals in coffee only a few are responsible for the aroma. Of these, a furan-2- methanethiol gets the most attention. Its odor has been described as a combination of nutty and burnt match. Clearly, the full range of aromas combine to give coffee its good smell. Medium roasts are most aromatic.
The good smell is created by less than 1% of the gases in coffee beans. Most of the gas trapped in the pores of a roasted bean is carbon dioxide. It makes up 1-2% of the weight of the roasted coffee.
Fresh coffee when brewed will have a delightful white foam called crema. This is made from carbon dioxide.
The way the coffee is roasted has a large effect on the gases trapped in the beans. Dark and medium coffees are highly impacted by roasting temperature and high temperatures release more gas–which you do not want. In the case of coffee, we want gas. Darker roasts are more porous and hold more gases to begin with. But the pores break down quickly when ground.
Keeping oxygen away is an important part of keeping coffee fresh. Carbon dioxide is found in highest concentrations in freshly roasted coffee. In a bag of coffee, carbon dioxide forms a protective atmosphere to keep oxygen away. Always close up your bag or canister of coffee to keep out oxygen and keep in carbon dioxide.
Grinding coffee will release up to half of the carbon dioxide within a few minutes and the grind will slowly lose the carbon dioxide over the course of days. Course ground coffee will lose the least carbon dioxide and fine ground the most. Keeping the bag closed will help prevent further loss.
This company will let you select country of origin, are Fair Trade, and send you a clip to keep the coffee closed. They also advocate putting coffee in the freezer and I agree. The gases will be lost from the coffee pores much more slowly when cold.
There are plenty more to choose from should you do a search. Like grinding my coffee, paying attention to Fair Trade has not been a priority of mine. However, it will be in the future.
Thanks to this article for information on carbon dioxide in coffee:
Time-Resolved Gravimetric Method To Assess Degassing of Roasted Coffee, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2018, 5293-5300. Corresponding author is Chahan Yeretzian
I’m lucky I can work from home, very lucky. As I finish the semester, I wonder how student learning changed once courses went on-line.
Grading on-line papers is difficult for me. Reading from a screen is neurologically different than from a page. We read faster and with less depth on a screen. This is fine for an exciting novel, but when grading, I wonder how much I let slide. Add in the extra key-board steps it takes to correct or comment and it makes on-line paper grading slow going.
Sadly, I will no doubt rely on screen submitted assignments more next semester because of health concerns. During my last week of in-person labs, as covid-19 crept up and all of us were either sick or scared or both, I had each general chemistry student show me their notebook as I graded the hand-written labs on the spot and gave each notebook back to its owner. I didn’t want a stack of them smoldering in my office, even though paper isn’t a huge source of transmission.
As we face an era of typed answers, we need to be aware of what we are giving up. Despite it being easier to type than hand write, answers are becoming shorter and less detailed, as if we are developing a universal impatience that may be here to stay. There is a pushback against learning cursive and many people don’t know it and can’t read it. However, it can’t be beat for efficient note-taking which helps you to remember. I compose on a keyboard and thank goodness for editors who then push me to expand. And as courses and compositions have moved on-line, I find a need to push my students to expand as well.
Teaching is only part of my job. This is the excuse given for paying adjuncts so terribly. However, if I attend one more Zoom meeting, it might toss me over the edge and I’ll run screaming outside without a mask. Yes, Zoom fatigue is the latest digital plague. Zoom brings us together in impossible times. It also makes us sadly realize what we’ve lost and can provide irritating distraction. Watching my hair grow ever longer is one of those distractions. Like most of us, I mute myself and block the screen.
Some educators blame the ubiquitous cell phones for creating a generation which is poor scholastically because they can no longer focus. People who once loved to read can no longer read books. Former voracious reader Josephine Tovey of The Guardian writes of her struggle to read. “Almost every night it was pitched in battle against powerful forces – my phone, my post-work bleariness and my internet-enfeebled attention span – and the book was losing…as I get older and spend more of my life online, reading books has become harder.”
Computer addiction has been defined as “A disorder in which the individual turns to the Internet or plays computer games in an attempt to change moods, overcome anxiety, deal with depression, reduce isolation or loneliness, or distract themselves from overwhelming problems. The elderly, as well as children and adolescents, are particularly vulnerable.” As we turn to on-line schooling, will we increase this, or will computers be used less during out of class hours because they are associated with work?
After the invention of the printing press, unscrupulous folks churned out books filled with misinformation. The populace, who had mostly associated a book with the Bible, fell prey. No doubt, in the 1450s, people probably wondered if books were making us stupider. Now days, memes are the spreader of bad info and have created a “new world disorder.” The saying with a picture has been called a form of psychological infection and a source of prejudice.Older people are particularly vulnerable.
Here in Iowa, we are one of the few states without a shelter-in-place order. The governor’s guidelines are reactive, not proactive, and she is waiting until her metrics are reached to rein us in. These metrics include
Percentage of population greater than 65 years of age
Percent of identified cases requiring hospitalization
Infection rate per 100,000 population in the past 14 days
People in Iowa are NOT doing a great job of social distancing. Many of us see or hear of groups out and about, parties, and even trips to the church for coffee, And a friend recently had his/her business broken into by unsavory types roaming about. It’s like the wild west here. I’m lucky I can shelter in place at home, despite the 60 + assignments coming in each week. Going out is pretty terrifying. To this end, I decided to wear a dust mask when I walk my puppy. I have allergies anyway and the mask can also scare people away from me. Lord knows, they are not getting the message otherwise.
It’s terrifying here and I have to ask: How helpful are non-medical masks? A study from several years back noted that they are half as effective as medical grade masks. Which in my opinion, is twice as good as nothing!
Being a chemist, I like protective equipment anyway. It makes me feel at home. Not to mention, I have always had ample saliva–I might as well keep it to myself.
My local hospital has distributed this pattern and are asking people to donate masks, making sure they have a tissue pocket to give one more layer of protection. This site recommends putting a vacuum cleaner filter in the tissue pocket.
Wearing a mask is polite–it keeps your germs from the outside. Just don’t let it make you feel invincible. The efficacy of masks has not been proven. And I for one, plan to shelter, no matter what my governor says.
With warmer weather ahead, some models predict, unlike the flu, that the virus will spread more. Remember, the only way to stop it is to remove the host. That’s me and you.
Last week was the beginning of spring break. I was planning to go on a trip but cancelled it (it remains to be seen if I get a refund from the airline) and instead, have begun putting my lectures on line. Yes, I’m a teacher and like all teachers, I’m doing my best to keep learning going. I can’t imagine what will happen if education halts and future health care professionals and scientists can’t get proper training. Oh wait, yes I can imagine it and it is a part of Lost in Waste, where a self-trained medic takes on a variety of roles in society.
In fact, you can read all about it for free this week. My publisher is hosting a give away and Lost in Waste is free as an e-book from 3-25 to 3-27.
I’ve been busy giving my lectures a voice over. Fortunately, I was a DJ back in the good old days of radio, before it was swallowed up by huge corporations like I Heart Radio. However easy it is for me to record my lessons, accessing courses remotely is not easy for every student.
These are weird times. The people who once warned of Killing Granny now say go out and stimulate the economy. Are they hypocrites?
This is why we need to be cautious of politicians dictating our health decisions. Many cannot be trusted. And when it comes to going out, listen to those who say “DON’T” if you can. There are several reasons
Your doctor might get it. Your local paramedic or firefighter might get it. Many states, including lots of rural ones, have doctor shortages. States with plenty of doctors are currently overwhelmed. Doing procedures such as inserting breathing tubes makes healthcare providers more vulnerable than the average person. What will happen if this disease spreads across rural America? You won’t be seeing a doctor, or there won’t be anyone to take you to the hospital, that’s what will happen.
I admit, sheltering in place is boring. My hair is starting to look like that insider trading chick from Georgia’s. And it’s only the beginning. Sob! In the mean time, these books are free on Amazon for a short time. Please, click away!
Just for fun, here’s the mail I got from candidates this past week, in no particular order. I think Warren has sent the most and apparently Bernie hasn’t sent a thing. See any you like? They’re coming your way soon, no doubt.