Burden of Leadership – How to overcome COVID-19 in the United States of America

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“How the structure and habits of democratic states, unless they are welded into larger organisms, lack those elements of persistence and conviction which alone can give security to humble masses…”

Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm

The Apollo program which was the USA’s NASA program which was to take man to the moon wasn’t always popular. It was sold as the path to prove to the Soviets that capitalism and democracy triumph over communism. It was always going to be a guaranteed win. It was just a matter of time, money was no object. President Kennedy had given the nation a challenge which was a time constrained challenge, reaching the moon in less than a decade, that is by the end of 1969; time was the problem, not money. A year or two into his gauntlet throwing endeavor, he got skeptical. He was going to throw in the towel and contact the Soviets and propose a joint mission to the moon as a gesture of fostering peace between the two animosities superpowers. It wasn’t going to be a popular idea if and when he pitched it to the public. When President Kennedy was assassinated his Vice-President was sworn in as President. President Johnson was not going to put an end to the Apollo mission, the joint mission with the Soviets never came into fruition. He was going to honor President Kennedy even though the late President was going to put it to rest by following through with his original plan, one the public ate up with a spoon and had energized the American people to show their superior way of life to the communists. The Apollo program was fast tracked and public sentiment while not always supportive came through as it represented a peaceful way to wage war on the Soviets and honor President Kennedy at the same time. Man reached the moon in 1968 and within a year landed on it fulfilling Kennedy’s challenge and delivered a mortal blow to the Soviets. If we were to look at it today it was one of America’s crowning achieving moments when the rest of the world were coming out of the horrors of World War II. Despite the Apollo program almost going away soon after its inception by an apprehensive President, it eventually found success. The will and direction of the Federal government, who under their direction provided the means and desire and jobs to nearly every state of the Union. Their voice was unified in the desire to beat the Soviets, bankrupt their communist souls and their banks at the same time. A goal that came down from the top and managed by the top and given clear directions through its department NASA to all of its various departments and private contractors. Everyone were given clear goals that were to be followed to the letter and within specifications and timelines (let’s face it it was a race). The unification of the common national goal came through with the reinforcement of that message over and over, from the President, the head of NASA, the managers of NASA, the managers and leaders of private contractors. The message of governors in states where work for NASA was being done, down to the most local level of government understood what was asked of them and why. Through this unified message, the people delivered both in their work and pulling together in a unified manner despite the many political discord, strifes and varying opinions on war and racial tensions of the time. Despite all the difference in opinion in America in 1968 alone, man reached the moon in 1969. Lyndon Johnson had many reasons to continue the Apollo program but I don’t know if he realized that the message from the top of the political chain and the consistency of that message unified the country with a project that brought the whole country together.

As we face our generation’s greatest opportunity to deliver on a challenge synonymous with reaching the moon, ridding the world of COVID-19 we again find ourselves without time but again we have lots of money. Unlike the Apollo program we need to reach our challenge as soon as possible and if it possible in less than two years. We face challenges not unlike that of before, we face a world similar to that of 1968, political unrest, unpopular policies that are aiming at curbing the virus but is having a hard time from people quarantining and staying put. We are facing a situation similar to 1968 where the fight for COVID-19 is taking place amongst the midst of all other miseries of modern day life as well as political fighting all while trying to maintain the modern democracy from disappearing. The success that made the Apollo bring man all the to the moon is much needed here and now. A voice that needs to emanate from the top down has largely been missing. The states rights movements which exist for good reason, to prevent the Federal government from overpowering their way of life has now taken root as the sole defense in the absence of voice of reason from higher levels of government. A defense mechanism that exists to prevent the Federal government becoming too powerful, too large, too strict in their ability to tell how the 50 member states of the great union to live is now backfiring in the void of leadership. The states are not to blame, they are right in their stance, they don’t want to be told what to do, especially when the voice of the Federal government has faded given that there has been no plan for past year, when it was needed the most. Supporters of leaders that are responsible for the current situation view this as a way for the states to exert their rights and celebrate it but lack the drive and often make the situation worse, because they feel alone in this endeavor, there is no guidance, no unifying voice. The reality is that almost all 50 states have received some form of support whether be it through, funding, advice or a combination of the two since the beginning of our great country. However that process was happening so fluidly that one never stopped to wonder what would happen in its absence. What we are seeing now is the reality of that absence. The void of that leadership is trying to be filled in by the states, something they have never experienced to this level before. This combined with the lack of experience is making for a dangerous situation confused with their freedoms finding expression and space that they never had before. The subconscious synergistic relationship between the states and the feds being taken away is creating a void that is being filled with anger in the absence of understanding on how to move forward, something that the states never had to face in our long history.

The opportunity here is still ripe for the taking, unifying the country is more than asking us to heal together and forgiving your neighbor for celebrating their differences. It is going to require finding a way to centralize and improve upon the vaccine distribution and winning back the normalcy of the status quo by persevering with the vaccine companies with a centralized guided approach, one that people ignore as if they never had it or were ever part of it. The return to normalcy is depended on the elimination of most of COVID-19 in 2021. This will be the starting point upon which the peace this country had largely relied on for its success. The leaders have to make the vaccine campaigns work with a centralized approach and giving the states guidance to the point where there should be no ambiguity on guidelines, what remains is execution. This is one of those times where we celebrate our unity of our many states through team work and that team work won’t take place unless there is a leader at the helm giving clear instructions, one that every state follows so that we may we win together and persevere together and realize together that what makes America great is strength through unity. The leadership in their unified stance should persevere through difficult criticism as the success will bring back the normalcy. Public projects win public support leading to confidence which leads to co-operation and it becomes an infinite positive feedback loop. One good thing leads to another good thing. Whatever we do we must persevere on a public plan that is outlined by Washington whether or not it has the support of people. Because it is through leadership and the outcome of that leadership will we see the other end of this pandemic. I wish all the leaders of the free world much luck and persevere through criticism and naysayers and the anti-intellgentsia and weather the storm for the inevitable betterment of our society.

How to buy a Leica M240 on eBay FOR $2400 or less!

How to buy a Leica M240 and other Leica M cameras on eBay!

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Buying a Leica M body and lens for $3400!

The best Leica M and lens combo available on the used camera market for around $3400.

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Which Leica camera should you buy first?

I walk you through the benefits of jumping right into buying a Leica M as your first Leica camera!

Attributions for images used in the video:

1. Rama, CC BY-SA 2.0 FR https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/be/Leica_M3_mg_3848.jpg)

(Modified to include text in the YouTube thumbnail)

2. Andrew Basterfield, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0f/Leica_M3_%26_Elmar_50mm_f-2.8_%285503366942%29.jpg)

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Things I love about Idiom Brewing!

Breweries have their own unique style, whether it comes to the bar chairs they chose or the color of the walls. We are often so wrapped up in enjoying the reason we are there in the first place (which is to drink beer) we forget the role of the environment in which we consume the beer on our ability to enjoy it that much more when we are on premises compared to when we partake in the same beer when we are at home. Sure we enjoy it just the same but at our subconscious if we enjoy the atmosphere especially if it is an environment where it is so different from the one we are used to (our homes). When I sit at the bar I often find the one point where I stare when I drink alone, a place that soothes me. A place I can meditate on without letting life’s issues interrupt me when I am trying to interrupt it. And in that beauty of trying to no to make sense of all the things that bother you, you start noticing the sense of order in things that you otherwise would not have. You all of a sudden start noticing the order in things that were not intended in the way most people think they were. The beauty of all of this is that, this observation exercise to get away from it all for the duration of one or two glasses of good beer is between you and what you see, no one will judge you as you don’t have to share these moments with anyone, it is between you and you. I see beauty in the following spaces in between the numbers of beers that I consume. The light alone in these spaces brings to life the positive energy that flows from the brewer’s hands to the ingredients to when I taste it. The exemplary beer flavors that is to be expected at Idiom Brewing is often enlightened by the bonus of the ambience and atmosphere that sets me up feeling better than I do at most places. I underestimated the impact of sights and sounds on the psyche of a beer drinker or is it the solitude? That’s between me and the brewery dammit!

All photographs were taken with the Leica M240 and 50mm F2.0 Summicron Version III

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Interview with the Mayor of Frederick on COVID-19 and its impacts on the city

This is an interview with the Mayor of the city of Frederick (Maryland), Michael O’Connor. We discuss the challenges of COVID-19 and its effects Frederick, MD


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Regeneron’s new antibody cocktail therapy for high risk category patients proves effective

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Regeneron has released their antibody cocktail for treating mild to severe cases of COVID-19. Their antibody cocktail consists of casirivimab and imdevimab both of which are monoclonal antibodies which when given together have been shown to have significant anti-viral activity against COVID-19 for patients who are in the high risk category (defined extensively here) for having deleterious effects. Some of the high risk category patients are those who are immunocompromised, older adults (>65) or older adults above 55 years of age who have certain ailments such as respiratory diseases such as COPD, heart disease or hypertension to name a few. Youngsters are part of their high risk category too, anyone from 12-17 who may have chronic heart issues or other serious chronic diseases. The idea here is simple, anyone with a serious disease that puts their immune system at risk is a good candidate for these cocktail drugs.

How do these drugs work? If you look at the ending of the names of the two drugs in the cocktail you can see that they end with vimab. This tells us that they are virus specific (VImab) monoclonal antibodies (viMAB). Antibodies are part of your immune system. When your body gets presented with anything that shouldn’t be there like say a common cold virus, the circulating B cells in your body will come into contact with the offending virus (antigen). This contact stimulates the B cell to turn into a plasma cell which produces specific antibodies against the specific antigen, in this case a common cold virus. The contact of the B cell with the antigen also triggers an event that causes T helper cells (also part of the immune system) to come and attach to the B cell further stimulating the B cell to divide itself and make more plasma cells. More plasma cells means more antibodies will be produced. So in essence the B cell is a military recruiter/drafter/boot camp that helps make soldiers (antibodies) against the offending antigen (the enemy). The antibodies that are made your body are very specific against the antigen that it is trying to overcome. Once antibodies are made towards a certain antigen, it is memorized by a type of B cell called memory B cells, which remember what a specific antigen looks like should you be exposed to it again. People who are immunocompromised cannot count on their immune system to provide the protection I just outlined. This is where the cocktail of antibodies come into play, they help provide the support your body needs to mount the attack necessary against COVID-19.

For this particular antibody cocktail to work the way it is supposed to, you need to give it to the patient before the disease has progressed too far. The idea is to give it to these high risk patients as soon as they come up positive for virus hopefully before disease progresses too far. The idea is to mobilize an army before the enemy hits, makes sense right? As Regeneron puts it, if you are already on high flow oxygen or some sort of ventilation then this drug is not the best for you (whether they established this through their study or don’t have enough data to know this is still unknown to me at this time).

The antibody cocktail are very highly specific to COVID-19 and are produced in cells that are highly characterized. The cells being used to make the antibodies were made using one single isolated clone cell, therefore we know that each and every subsequent cell made from it will be an exact clone and the fore we can be sure of the quality of the products it makes. The antibodies made in these type of cells are known as monoclonal antibodies. The cocktail of antibodies attach to a part of the virus that prevents its ability to attach and therefore not be able to enter human cells.

Antibody therapy is not new, it’s been been around for quite sometime. Look for those TV ads that advertise them, they end with the letters MAB indicating they are monoclonal antibodies As the drugs have been released under the FDA emergency use provision more data will come in as we use the drug as to whom the drugs have the most positive impact on. President Trump was administered this drug when he was diagnosed as having the virus a month ago. The timeliness of the administration of this cocktail of antibodies indicates even more the importance of testing for COVID-19 especially if you are in the high risk category. The impacts on COVID-19 positive patients who are otherwise healthy and are not in the high risk category is something that needs to be evaluated but in the meanwhile, these drugs are available to those who are most highly likely impacted to a greater degree than the average healthy individual.

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Ear Piercing in the Time of Pandemic

My younger daughter got her ear pierced at the local mall, check out the YouTube video detailing that event.

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mRNA vaccines: Concept of the future to reality in 8 months

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mRNA vaccines were always a promise of the future. They would be easy to produce and can be made rather quickly. Not that long ago, the promise of an RNA vaccine coming into fruition was still a few years away, progress wasn’t slow but there was no urgency, we would take our time to study this innovative concept and roll it out eventually. We would study this concept out of science fiction and explore every avenue of its benefits and potential issues before going into humans. All that has changed with COVID-19 being introduced to the world which as we all know has resulted in a pandemic. Suddenly no stone was left unturned, in the vaccine space all techniques to shorten this burden on our lives were at play, including convalescent sera therapy (simply put, taking the plasma from a person who has had COVID-19 and has developed antibodies against it and putting it into someone who’s at high risk for it but hasn’t contracted the virus yet) which from an innovation stand was not that progressive, but it works. Pfizer and Moderna have both within days of each other have announced that their clinical trials of their respective mRNA vaccines produced safe responses in their participants. As the world waits to breathe a collective sigh of relief, the infection numbers surge out of control for a second time in the Western world with pockets of resurgence in the East. As we wait for FDA approval for these two miracle drugs, I wondered how did a concept that was moving at turtle pace suddenly beat the hare at the finish line?

To answer this you must understand how mRNA vaccines work. A traditional vaccine (one that most of you are afraid to take, including medical professionals (shame on them)) like the flu vaccine or shingles vaccines is designed to introduce to you a piece of the offending disease whether it is an inactivated virus or an antigen (a protein or fragment that resembles part of the virus). The idea is to get your body to elicit an immune response to the vaccine such that your body will create a memorable defensive response should you be exposed to the disease post-vaccine. Different vaccines have different durations of its ability to retain that memory in the body.

mRNA vaccines work by introducing mRNA (which is nothing more than a photocopy of the offending virus’s RNA (they don’t have DNA like humans, they work with RNA) into cells in the human body. When foreign mRNA is introduced to the body thanks to the vaccine, your body’s immune defenses wake up, while the mRNA is translated in the cell it produces an antigen (similar to the ones contained in traditional vaccines). In effect it’s using your body’s cells (a small amount) to turn them into factories to make the vaccine within you.

The safest part of all this is that your DNA is never touched. Because we are introducing a photocopy of the virus RNA into your cells it never touches your DNA, it already has all the instructions to tell the cells in your body to make the antigen without touching your natural DNA. The bad part? It’s not easy to store, that’s the part of the story where the progress of mRNA vaccines comes in, we have not gotten so far in the development of such vaccines to the point we thought about making it easy to get into humans (since until COVID-19 we were no where close to having one for clinical trials in humans and no approved mRNA vaccines exist at this point) and we never expected to deploy it at such an accelerated pace or require such high quantities at once. The Pfizer vaccine requires you to take two doses three weeks apart, not to mention it needs to be stored at -70C in -80C freezers (something your local CVS doesn’t necessarily have and found typically in labs). The Moderna vaccine also needs to be administered over two doses, four weeks apart, but can be stored at -20C, which gives it a slight advantage as these freezers are more typically around making it easier for circulation in areas where specialized freezers are hard to come by.

So how did a vaccine concept go from baby steps to being the contender for the first line of COVID-19 vaccines that will reach the American public in 8 months (closest record before this was four year)? It’s easy to make, all you need is a map of the virus’s RNA (the viral genome of the disease in question) and you can put together the basic subunits of your mRNA vaccine with ease. It is what probably motivated Pfizer and Moderna in the first place, it was a risk worth taking. With data from both their clinical trails showing positive news, it is expected that they will wrap up with FDA regulators within weeks to deploy this to the American public.

The novelty of the technology (which was nowhere close to being a real player anytime soon) juxtaposed against the need for a stopping block against the pandemic no doubt weighs on the conscience of the FDA and the CDC in their decision making process on the safety and the potential of the vaccine to prevent COVID-19 over time (efficacy). Necessity is the mother of all invention, and two pharma companies have delivered the calling. While we wait for other vaccines to deploy (and they will soon enough) we have no choice but to take a leap of faith with the confidence of safety from their clinical trails combined with their expertise of delivering safe drugs and products to their customers in the past. As the COVID-19 crisis goes into it’s second act, mRNA vaccines are poised to leapfrog into their first, hopefully transforming the way we prevent diseases.

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