Archive | March 2014

A Tuesday blues-day stream of consciousness

I’ve always sort-of hated Tuesdays.

Monday is alright. It’s a fresh start. And it always feels good to get through Wednesday and the Geico references. The other four days go without saying.

But it’s all just looking forward.  Every day towards the weekend and every season to the next. Childhood to adulthood, adulthood to retirement. Shouldn’t we instead seek contentedness with the present so that we can strive to make each day better than the last?

I suppose that’s all much more easily said than done.

Today I was inspired by a brief conversation with a colleague about our growing anticipation of spring.  Her perspective was unique.  She explained that she, in fact, can wait for the nice weather, because as it approaches, well, we are getting that much older.  I was taken back by the meaningfulness of a seemingly innocuous observation.

And on the seven minute drive home, I began to reflect.

And I realized that my intellectual superiority complex is at times insatiable and likely unsustainable. It’s a parasite that drains me of energy and morale when there isn’t enough of either to begin with.

People talk too much. People complain too much. People can’t drive.

Know what I mean?

You go to the grocery store and the lady in front of you on her cell phone refuses MOVE OUT OF THE WAY to allow you to get by. WHORE. Other people are crammed into this tiny aisle too, and we got SHIT TO DO.

You can’t be anywhere without being accosted by a beggar. I’m all for altruism toward the less fortunate, but upon these encounters I can’t help but reflect on the mistakes and sadness that must have lead them to such a fate. And then my mind wanders to the societal burden of poverty. And then I lament the fact that I just accidentally handed them a five.

And you sure as hell can’t drive anywhere without getting honked at over stupid shit like, say, MERGING. A polite beep? Fine. I’ll get over that by the end of the week. But the cacophony of passive-aggressive roadway fuck-yous that permeates the city is just further evidence of the inability of so many to control their emotions.

So what I’m trying to say is that I’m looking for a sign; a way to live my life irrespective of the annoyances that contaminate it.  All while maintaining my beliefs about humility, patience, respect and intellect.

And it all raises an important question. Am I no better than the twat in the grocery store, the bum on the street, or the jehu with anger issues?

Or do I just have a front row ticket to the freak show?

M

Snow Day, Part 2: Selling your body for science, five inches, and slutty first graders.

I’m just hanging out in a hotel in Bethesda waiting to see if the vaccine worked.

Wait, don’t go. Allow me to explain.

Malaria is terrible and it kills 500,000 – 1,000,000 people each year, mostly in the under-developed, warm-climate regions of the world.

There are measures to take to prevent and cure the disease, but parasites in the wild quickly develop resistance to these drugs which target the blood-stage of the infection, rendering both prophylactic and curative measures ineffective.

In addition to poverty, malaria education is significantly lacking in many of the endemic areas, and both of these factors greatly contribute to the inability of worldwide efforts to control it. A current focus of the global eradication initiative is the development of a vaccine that can completely prevent transmission of the disease by generating potent and long lasting immune responses against the parasite early-on in human infection. This is what I work on at my job when there isn’t any snow on the ground.

Currently, the most successful vaccine undergoing clinical trials is RTS,S, a protein subunit vaccine that protects about 50% of volunteers from malaria challenge. This challenge involves an inoculation of malaria parasites via bites from infected mosquitoes into vaccinated or unvaccinated (control) volunteers (if you can really call us that; we get paid nicely for our time). At about 8-9 days post-challenge, all subjects are checked into a local hotel to be monitored daily for the development of parasitemia in their blood. Once parasites are detected, volunteers are treated with chloroquine: a drug that is effective in eliminating the common laboratory strain of the malaria parasite from an infected individual’s red blood cells.

In the wild, resistance to chloroquine was discovered in the 1950’s and has since, along with the introduction of other antimalarial drugs, resulted in multiple drug-resistant strains of malaria. Notwithstanding, the laboratory strain of Plasmodium falciparum (the most dangerous strain of human malaria) remains susceptible to the neutralizing mechanism of most antimalarials and chloroquine is therefore perfectly capable of treating the volunteers in just a few doses, often before any malaria symptoms are experienced. Backup drugs are available if chloroquine is not well tolerated.

Me, I’m at day 12.5 post-challenge as of 7 pm Monday night, while the mean onset time of detectable parasitemia, as indicated in a recent study, is about 12.9 days post-challenge.  Hence, all will be revealed soon.  Not too long ago, I encountered a colleague in the hallway who had recently come down and is now being treated. Her assessment of the symptoms- not favorable. Fortunately she, along with the rest of us test subjects, is in good care owing to the fact that our clinical trials staff does such a great job of detecting infection early.

While my co-worker is in the control group and was guaranteed to get malaria at least to some extent, I received a vaccine expected to protect about half of those immunized, and I have been dutifully keeping up on my vitamins and exercise in hopes that it will help keep me protected. But in truth, it is all futile as my fate was determined within an hour after being bitten by those god damned mosquitoes. Now that the time has arrived, it’s a weird feeling knowing that I can become stricken with P. falciparum at any moment.

But it’s totally safe.

Surely safer than being anywhere near the roads when there is any snow in this damned inept and useless part of the country.

I’m speaking of the D.C. Metropolitan region.

A place that REGULARLY experiences snow, yet somehow never seems prepared.

This locale, where once again, the government was shut down due to winter weather. Not only that, but 4/5 of businesses nearby my hotel are closed for the day. It stopped snowing at noon. The fucking BANK was closed. We got five inches.

In the big picture, maybe it’s not a big deal. I mean it’s one day and nobody around here does much anyway. But to use inclement weather as an excuse to stay home just seems so lame, especially when, by now, this city should know how to handle it. Some claim that it’s all in fear of the other “stupid people on the roads”, but stupidity is ubiquitous and certainly not exclusive to one’s bubble of existence. But when a bank is closed because of five inches of snow: that is just unsatisfactory.

I had the misfortune of meeting a few people today in the hotel lobby, many of which were delighted about this so-called winter weather emergency. To tell the truth, it was embarrassing trying to explain the tradition. Some folks that I met from Michigan were quite amused with a certain rear-wheel drive Cutlass that wasn’t performing so well on the slopes of Bethesda. Another family was unhappy about not being able to find food whilst their three year-old daughter was angrily shouting “I DO NOT WANT TO GO POOPOO, I DO NOT WANT TO GO POOPOO.”  I too, was in no mood for a poopoo as I had yet to find somewhere to get lunch.

Later, from another corridor I overheard a brother and sister, probably around 8 and 6 respectively, playing an imagination game, when the little girl began repeating a phrase I never thought I’d hear a 6 year-old deliver: “I wanna be slutty, I wanna be SLUT-TAY!” she cried out in her best attempt to mimic Nicki Minaj or who-the-fuck-ever she got that from. Dear parents, children are like parrots. They will repeat in public what they hear at home. Come to think of it, I don’t know where the parents were while these kids were playing porno.  Perhaps doing the same?

I don’t think I knew the word slutty, or anything that wasn’t related to dinosaurs, when I was that age. But alas, the times change so quickly. What will our grandchildren think that we are overly curmudgeonly about? Children expressing their pornographic fantasies?

Adults whoring their immune systems to pay for their next meth fix?

Or the capital of one of the most powerful countries in the world shutting down over five god damn inches of snow.

M

A fleeting thought on free will

What I’m about to say could be considered emotionally R-rated, as the subject matter may be a bit depressing to those unfamiliar with deductive reasoning.

One who is a true scientist may be obligated to tell you that the only evidence that we have on the origin of life (e.g. the similarities in DNA across species, geological indications of an ever changing climate, the fundamental laws of physics and chemistry, etc) suggests nothing about the existence of a higher power or true meaning to life (or anything for that matter).

This is what someone would be compelled to agree with if they truly believed that assumptions can only be based off of repeated observations.

And furthermore, if this is the case, it must then be assumed that, through the eyes of the scientist, our individual actions and emotions are merely chemical reactions that serve no other purpose but to enhance our fitness as a species by helping us to reproduce early and often.

The prevailing theory is that life originated with a self-replicating molecule (such as RNA) spontaneously forming within the primordial stew of the early Earth, with cells and larger organisms eventually serving as compartments to “protect” this replicating material.  This is called abiogenesis.  Now, further statistical analyses on the complexities of nucleic acids suggest that life may have begun even before the solar system formed, up to 10 billion years ago.  Considering the vastness of the universe and the likelihood of other celestial bodies with capabilities of producing life-generating biochemical reactions similar to those presumed to have occurred early in Earth’s development, it may truly be arrogant of us to think that life even formed on our planet in the first place.

But then, to subscribe to all of these notions, the scientist must also then admit that true evil and benevolence exist only as a result of a lineage of chemical reactions that may extend as far back as those aforementioned 10 billion years ago.

So all of the bullshit that we hear about and deal with on a daily basis.  The crimes, corruption, greed and traffic jams.  It’s all due to a bunch of skin-sacks of meat and bones just trying to protect their replicating material in the only way that they know how to.

It all makes me wonder if perhaps a greater acknowledgement of these sentiments could make the world a better place.

M