Monday, July 28, 2014

Messianic Times


I waited for months. I read up on it. I cleared my calendar. I talked to my friends about it. I was ready. I actually became quite religious about the whole thing. In fact, I turned into a fanatic, a true believer. I even bought a 46 inch TV for my exercise room, just to make sure I did not miss any of his appearances during my futile attempts to build muscle. Messi was about to deliver spiritual redemption during the last World Cup. For us, Argentinians, Messi was to bring salvation. We felt that we scored with Pope Francis. It was now time for Messi to score.  What could be better than the world talking about how great Argentinians are, instead of all the talk about defaulting on international obligations?

                I even thought of buying one of these ridiculously expensive Argentina shirts, which cost more than the 46 inch TV we impulsively acquired, but I resisted. Matan, our son, caved in. After the first match that Argentina won, he went to the closest Adidas store in New York City and dished out half of his teacher salary. Although Matan was born in Canada, and never lived in Argentina, he absorbed my irrational love of soccer. After leaving Argentina at the age of 16, encouraged by the fascist dictatorship, I renounced most Argentinian traditions, except soccer.

                My productivity during the 2014 World Cup plummeted. Thank God it was during the summer, when the university slows down. Otherwise I would have been fired. But truth be told, most of my colleagues did the same thing, running to meetings and finishing papers in between games. To make sure I did not miss any games I blocked my outlook calendar with all the relevant games and I set up my DVR – successfully I might add – to record all the games. My assistant knew not to schedule any meetings during the 84 games.

                During the final game against Germany I was a nervous wreck. It was good Matan was here in Miami to debrief. He gave up playing in chess tournaments to come home and watch the last week of games with us. We are both equally irrational about soccer. When Higuaín scored during that game, the two of us jumped up and down like kangaroos. When the referee disallowed the goal, we were crushed. I used Spanish vocabulary unbecoming of a Dean of Education. Ora, my wife, did her best to console us.

                My behavior during the last game was consistent with the overall regression I was experiencing. For the entire World Cup I went back to childhood, when my life revolved around soccer. During the tournament I woke up thinking about soccer, spent hours watching reruns, and -- something that did not exist when I was a kid -- wasted valuable time following blogs. Matan, who is an elitist, insisted that we follow The Guardian’s blog. But let’s be honest, he is right. No American commentator really understands soccer.

                On ESPN, we were served Alexi Lalas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lalas used to be a decent soccer player, but is highly irritating as a commentator. You see, we are not just any kind of soccer fans, we are soccer snobs. The only redeeming quality of Alexi Lalas is that he speaks English. To comment on the games, ESPN invited foreign players, mostly from Latin America, whose English did not bring much pride to their educational systems.

                Despite the terrible defeat in the final game, and the ensuing depression, which lasted several days, I benefited greatly from the World Cup. For once, I could speak authoritatively about sports in the United States. I could show off in front of colleagues. I could say things like “the 4-4-2 formation is working defensively” and “Sabella needs to bring Gago to reinforce the midfield.”

                In addition to these displays of sublimated testosterone, my mental health also benefited greatly. Not since I was nine did I take such complete leave of my senses. For four weeks I showed complete disregard for work, responsibilities, and anything resembling mature behavior. That proved to be very therapeutic for a workaholic like me. I also gained a lot of sympathy from friends and colleagues who wanted Argentina to win, just to make me happy. Bonding with Matan over soccer, that was priceless.  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Patriotism: Moldovan Style

Last year Moldova won the distinction of having the highest rate of alcohol consumption in the world by a huge margin, which makes it a favorite destination for college students. A few years earlier, it ranked last in the world in terms of life satisfaction, which makes it a preferred destination for suicidal people. It is also the poorest country in Europe, attracting many destitute people who want to feel in good company. In 2008, Eric Weiner documented in The Geography of Bliss the utter desperation most people experience there, which makes it a Mecca for existential writers. Finally, a couple of years ago Transparency International wrote a scathing report about the level of corruption in Moldova, which makes it an excellent training ground for Miami politicians.  

For the past 54 years I have managed to hide the fact that my ancestors were from Moldova. When people detect an accent I tell them that I was born in Argentina and lived in several places, like Nashville, which have influenced the inflection of my voice. My parents were already born in Argentina; so technically I’m not lying by hiding my Moldovan roots.

I managed to keep my Moldovan secret for years until I found myself in a restaurant with friends in Boca Raton a few weeks ago. My friend asked the cheerful waitress were she was from, and the next thing I know I’m telling her that my ancestors were also from Moldova.

Irina (not her real name, her real name was Ioana) told us that she came to the US from Moldova a few years ago. She was ecstatic to hear that my grandparents were from her country and proceeded to share with us The Encyclopedia Britannica version of Moldova’s history. For 24 minutes she stood next to us and gushed about the many atrocities that were bestowed upon her countrymen and women since the establishment of the Principality of Moldavia in 1359. As a former history teacher in Moldova she was obviously starved for an audience, while I was starved for lunch. While she was getting hotter and hotter with the telling of every invasion by Crimean Tatars, my entrée was getting colder and colder. When she got to the Treaty of Bucharest in 1812 I decided to start eating between calamities. Unless I started eating I was going to become the next victim of the Russian Empire, which annexed Moldova and gave it the name Oblast of Moldavia and Bessarabia. When Oblast was converted to the Bessarabia Governorate in 1871 I decided the hell with it and attacked my food with the same vigor that Romania went after Bukovina and Transylvania.

When she got to the beginning of last century Irina went back to get us deserts. I used the opportunity to finish my plate and recover from the carnage. After serving desert Irina went straight to Bessarabia’s proclamation of Independence from Russia on February 6th 1918, conveniently skipping the first 18 years of the century, at which point I asked her about the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 in which dozens of Jews were murdered and hundreds wounded. It turned out that our adorable hostess was never taught the incident that prompted the exile of my ancestors. When she started squirming I asked her about the second pogrom that took place between October 19th and 20th of 1905. At that point she told us that she needed to serve other customers, to which I said if she knew of the Jewish community in Kalarash, just outside Kishinev, which is where my ancestors were from. While I was relishing my revenge, unbeknownst to me I gave her more ammunition. Kalarash, she told us, is where the best cognac in the world is distilled. She went on and on about the cognac, and like many of her compatriots, she completely forgot that Jews were massacred there by her Cossack ancestors.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Purging


 


         The reason I move continents every few years is to get rid of junk in our house. It’s the only way I can manage to dispose of shoes, unfashionable clothes, linen, work documents, pot and pans, and matzo meal for Passover. If we just make a domestic move, my adorable wife Ora wouldn’t let me get rid of anything; but a transcontinental move, that’s another story. Still under these circumstances I have to make sure that I have at least one day of packing when Ora is out of the house. That is my opportunity to throw away things Ora would never let me touch, such as matzo meal.


 
My approach to clutter extermination is to open a big garbage bag and empty most drawers into it for quick disposal. This is the reckless approach. Ora’s melancholic approach is to examine old pictures, our son’s report card from grade 2, mother’s day cards, and immigration applications going back four countries. She peruses everything very slowly and methodically, only to proclaim after hours of careful review that she will make up her mind tomorrow! This attitude is especially problematic in our house, where we have a number of drawers where a lot of procreation takes place. I have proof that if we put in our drawers old paper clips with Mexican coins, they will have sex and produce “Triple A” batteries. This is in the Kitchen. In our bedroom, my night table is a site of heresy. In its top drawer, nail clippers have regular intercourse with old socks to produce Bic pencils.  
        




Friday, July 11, 2014

LeBron is gone, but it's OK Miami, I'm still here


 
Earlier in the week rumors spread about Beckham leaving Miami and going to Broward County to find a location for his soccer stadium. Today, LeBron James announced that he is going back to the Cleveland Cavaliers. I know you are all thinking that I’m next, that Miami does not measure up to the likes of Beckham, James, and Prilleltensky, the great three; but I want to reassure you that I have rejected offers to return to Argentina to head a paramilitary group to hunt down international creditors.

This is an opportunity for Miami to turn inwards, to resist the limelight, to become a more down to earth place; a place of contemplation and introspection. It’s time to look at our inner beauty. I know that deep down, below several inches of silicon, augmented breasts, and Brazilian butt lifts, we all want to lead a simple life, devoid of capricious celebrities without loyalty.

But it’s no time to be judgmental Miami. It’s time to be compassionate. After all, most of us came here from somewhere else. Many of us have experienced separations before, from a nasty divorce, bankruptcy, communism, death squads, or tax collectors up north. Of all people, Miamians should understand LeBron wanting to go home.  After all, we have here hundreds of thousands of people who want to return to their home.  

It’s no time to be angry Miami; it’s time to celebrate what we do have:

1.      We still have the most drivers with a disability tag who get out of their cars miraculously cured, with no apparent sign of physical handicaps. All you have to do in Miami to overcome a physical handicap is get one of those handicap tags from your uncle’s deceased neighbor in Little Havana. As soon as you put it into your car, you are cured. Try it. I have seen thousands of people in Miami park their cars in a handicapped spot and get out of the car walking like they’ve never had a disability in their lives.  

2.      We are still the most bureaucracy-free health care delivery system in the nation, otherwise known as America’s Medicare fraud capital.

3.      We are still the only major city in America without a prefrontal cortex. People here are devoid of inhibitions and accompanying neuroses. We are the least repressed city in the world, saving us millions of dollars in costly psychiatric and psychological treatments. Only here people continue to build near the shoreline as if climate change happens just in English-speaking parts of the country. Only a cortex free city does that.

4.      We still have the most creative drivers in America who stop their cars in the middle of the road for no apparent reason other than contemplate the beautiful surroundings or text their abuelita. To optimize brain flexibility, drivers here never signal, keeping you guessing and forcing you to perform maneuvers you only see in commercials displaying the disclaimer “professional driver featured.”

5.      We still have the most inflated real estate market in the universe, where the only people able to afford a condo live 7,500 miles away and pay with cash obtained under dubious circumstances.

6.      We still offer commuters an opportunity to get to know each other, otherwise known as the most inefficient public transportation system in the world.

7.      We are still the only major city where people are allowed to text and drive. Here you don’t have to pay attention to traffic rules. Here you are free of government intervention into your personal affairs. Only here you can decide when you want to seal a deal via text. Try texting and driving in other major cities in America and the police will get between you and your hard fought liberties.

8.      We are still the only city where taxpayers subsidy millionaire sport club owners. Beckham will still come back once the mayor and city commissioners return to their senses.

9.      We are still the only city in the world where 93% of the population says “pero” instead of “but”, enriching the cultural experience of visitors and residents alike.

10.   We are still the city with the most implanted silicon per anatomical square inch in the world. Try that Cleveland!

Keep your head up Miami. We have nothing to fear. I’m still here.

Travel Optimization


I recently flew from Manchester, England, to Philadelphia. As it was the port of entry into the US, all passengers had to go through customs. There were two lines, one for visitors and another one for US citizens and green card holders. The lines went from Philadelphia to Kansas City and back. It took me 78 minutes to get to the customs officer. There were 60 border patrol booths, 56 of which were totally empty, leaving just 4 officers to contend with tons of smelly, cranky, unkempt, constipated passengers. Thousands of people had to wait for over an hour while the entire process could have been done, seamlessly, ON THE PLANE, while passengers usually waste time, snore, fart, and make a total mess of the aircraft.

The flight from Manchester took approximately 7 hours. If we would have had 2 customs officers checking passports of 200 passengers at a rate of 2 minutes per passenger, in little over 3 hours we would have been done, giving customs officials enough time to enjoy re-runs of Parks and Recreation, not to mention the free pretzels and the opportunity to know some of the countries from which they incarcerate illegal aliens.  

If you assign a monetary value to the time wasted by thousands of people in the Philadelphia airport -- who could have been stimulating the economy by gorging on big Macs and buying laxatives -- plus the cost of Febreze to eliminate unwanted passenger odors, sending two officers on every plane coming from overseas more than pays for itself. I got the inspiration for this brilliant idea from none other than American Airlines, which is trying to be a model of efficiency and recycling.

Flying to New York with my wife to visit our son, I discovered, and this is true, that the airline uses coffee bags as air fresheners in toilets. At first I thought I was mistaken, so I went to a second toilet, and sure enough, there it was, sitting on the counter, next to the tiny lavatory, another coffee bag, the kind you put in airplane percolators. If you don’t believe me, have a look below at the picture I took. That was American Airlines.

I flew back from England with US Airways, now part of the “new American Airlines,” and what do you know, there it was, the coffee bag in the toilet. Thank God I don’t drink coffee, but I could not help thinking who was going to drink the half urinated coffee after the flight attendant recycled the coffee bag from the toilet. I’m sure flight attendants keep a list of difficult passengers. We need more companies like American Airlines that know how to recycle, how to be efficient, and how to punish difficult clients.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Unsubscribe


Big, it must be big, very big, and red, and round, like the “easy” button from Staples, and I want it on my desktop, flashing, with a big inscription, in neon letters: UNSUBSCRIBE. With all the latest technology and what not, I’m surprised that nobody has invented yet the UNSUBSCRIBE app. I want to be able to click on that icon and unsubscribe in one fell swoop from all the intrusive and irritating email lists that are making my life miserable. Until such invention comes along -- and I do want a commission for giving you all hackers the idea – I must go over thousands of emails manually to find the annoyingly small print where it says “unsubscribe,” which is usually buried deep in the body of the email, among a pile of legal junk.  

Not only is it difficult to find the stupid link, but once you click on it, you land on a page asking you three times to reconsider. This is especially true of political causes, where the politician in question, all the way from the President to the obscurest democratic candidate for school board in North Dakota, begs you to stay. For some reason, I never get emails from the Republican Party asking me for money, or from the National Rifle Association. They respect my privacy. I value that. The Democratic Party, in contrast, is way too promiscuous with emails. That’s it. I’m switching parties.   

I fantasize about having this big red icon on my desktop and being able to press it and all of sudden reduce the number of daily emails from unwanted sources from about 16,000 to 2. In fact, I will pay a handsome reward for the computer programmer able to devise the object of my fantasy. It must be big, and red, and require just one click. No questions asked, no options to reconsider, no text boxes explaining why you are leaving. Zero, zilch, good bye. That will constitute my liberation.

Until such time, I have to contend with emails from the likes of Cyagen Biosciences, which can’t distinguish between a Doctor in Psychology and one in Ratology. Word for word, here’s their latest email dated July 2nd, 2014, 10:49am:

Dear researcher,

Outsource your transgenic or knockout mouse projects to Cyagen this summer and pile on the savings! Invite your friends or colleagues to take advantage of our group buy on transgenic, knockout & knockin mice - get up to 20% off of multiple mouse lines when you or anyone in your group places an order:

                      10% off 1 mouse line

                      15% off 2 mouse lines

                      20% off 3 or more mouse lines

Cyagen’s animal model generation service gets you the knockout, knockin, or transgenic mice you need guaranteed, at the industry’s lowest price.

Hyperlink: >>>Learn about our animal model expertise

Hyperlink: >>>View our transgenics & gene targeting mouse offerings

Were you referred by one of our existing customers? Let us know through our Mouse Service Referral Program and enjoy an additional $500 discount or 5% off (whichever is greater)!

Cyagen’s mouse service team provides technical support throughout your project and was rated “very technically capable” by 9 out of 10 recent clients. Use our service to boost the impact of your basic research: Cyagen animal models have been published in top journals such as Nature and Cell. It’s easy to get started: just reply to this email or tell us about your research goals in the comments field of the groupbuy webform. You may also call us at 800-921-8930. Our mouse experts will be happy to discuss your research goals.

*All customer inquiries are strictly confidential.

Best regards,

Cyagen Client Relations Team

2255 Martin Avenue, Suite E

Santa Clara, CA 95050

Tel.: 800-921-8930

Transgenic? Knockin? Knockout? That sounds like a boxing match between sexually diverse genes.

I do have a PhD, and some psychologists do experiment with mice, but the only time I see rats is in nightmares, which have only increased since the Cyagen offers.  

Apparently somebody really wants me to switch careers. The following email, received from Dr. Sam Wang, on the same day, reads as follows:

Dear Dr. Isaac Prilleltensky,
Have you ever spent much time and energy to generate an antibody, which unfortunately fails to perform in your experiments? We understand your struggles very well, and would like to offer you a working alternative.
We believe for most proteins, there are a certain number of regions could be used as promising antigens to produce high-quality antibodies. To maximize the chance of success, we usually apply a number of antigens (up to 20 protein fragments and/or peptides) instead of just one or two; the diverse antigens could map all the best possible regions of the target protein.
Ordering is simple, just email me the target protein (accession number or sequence).We will provide a detailed evaluation and quote in two business days. If you have any question, please feel free to contact me.
Hundreds of scientists have published papers which cite the use of our custom monoclonal antibodies. Below are a few

Journal
Antigen
Description of the antigen
Application
SEAL service package
PLOS genetics
6,11
TnI
troponin I
IF
4 epitopes+1 protein
15 antibodies
Blood
117,7014-20
C/ebp Alpha
CCAAT/Enhancer Binding Protein Alpha
WB; IP
6 epitopes
15 antibodies
Nature
464,601-5
zf Raldh2
zebrafish Retinaldehyde dehydrogenase 2
IF
3 epitopes+ 1 protein
11 antibodies
Nature Genetics
41,228-33
U2HR
an inhibitory upstream open reading frame (ORF) in the human hairless gene (HR)
WB
8 epitopes
22 antibodies
PNAS
105,19211-6
Barkor;
Beclin 1
Barkor:Beclin 1-associated autophagy-related key regulator;
Beclin 1:Coiled-coil myosin-like BCL2-interacting protein
WB
5 epitopes
13 antibodies

You know what you can do with your monoclonal antibodies Dr. Wang? You can shove them up your epitopes, past your coiled-coil myosin, all the way to your autophagy. And if that doesn’t work, use the Enhancer Binding Protein Alpha and the related key regulator to push it upstream to the open reading frame. I can only hope that the Retinaldehyde of your eyes will look like zebrafish. If you get dehydrogenase in the process, make sure the human hairless gene does not fall off your head. For further instructions refer to table above, which you sent me.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Gossip - Miami Style


Working at a university, I have great access to unique resources. Using the latest software from our Center for Computational Time Wasting, I came to the conclusion that the average human being spends on average 7 million hours gossiping. This amounts to 8 hours a day. The average goes up considerably when the Miami Herald publishes speculations about Castro’s death, but using a smoothing function that controls for rumors about the premature death of Latin American dictators, we are pretty sure that 8 hours per day is about right.

Given that most people sleep for about 8 hours, watch TV for about 6 hours, and struggle with constipation in the toilet for about 2 hours, it is abundantly clear that ALL of their gossip is done at work, which explains why our economy is in such abysmal state and why GM had to recall 2.6 million cars.

Gossiping is such an epidemic that I decided to do some research on it. I, of course, never gossip, so I lacked any personal experience with the phenomenon. As a result, I had to rely on validated tools to collect data: random eavesdropping. I chose a representative sample of visitors to the broadwalk in Hollywood Beach, Florida (don’t even try to call it a boardwalk). The two and a half mile stretch by the ocean invites populations from all over the world to congregate for daily gossip conventions. I can detect what passersby are saying only in a few languages, but using the latest google glasses I surreptitiously record and translate what I do not get, which is usually in Russian and involves the words Absolut, Smirnoff, and vomit. 

The following is a list of the ten most frequent gossip statements emitted by broadwalk visitors:

1.       Pepe (not his real name, his real name is José) never pays child support

2.       Sofia’s plastic surgery came out awful (her real name, used with permission)

3.       Castro, Castro, Castro, Castro (real name, used without permission)

4.       Dovid is a putz

5.       Faigel (real name) is such an Alte Makhsheyfe (old witch, in Yiddish) (reproduced with permission from Faigel’s daughter in law)

6.       They don’t know how to make beer here (Quebecois visitor)

7.       They don’t know how to make vodka here (Russian couple)

8.       Victoria/Gabriela/Yolanda/Amanda cheats on him

9.       Dovid is going out with Victoria / Gabriela/ Yolanda / Amanda, and none of them are Jewish

10.   Faigel has no idea that Dovid (the putz), paid for Sofia’s plastic surgery, before going out with Victoria / Gabriela / Yolanda / Amanda, who now want him to pay for their plastic surgery too

Gossip serves many evolutionary functions such as self-protection. Talking garbage about someone else fills the air and prevents people from contemplating their own foibles. This is a well-known psychological defense mechanism characteristic of 3 year olds, Kim Kardashian, Silvio Berlusconi, Vladimir Putin, Dovid the putz, and mayoral candidates in Hialeah. Gossip is essential for procreation too. If people ever stopped gossiping and realized who they were procreating with, it would be the end of the human species, causing the demise of the diaper industry.

Gossip comes in several forms and levels of sophistication, from the pedestrian (Dovid is a putz) to the refined (Something has been on my mind lately. I wonder if you happen to know the whereabouts of the famous banker, Faigel’s former husband, Dovid the putz?).

My observations also revealed that Gossipers come in different personality types:

·  The diarrheic gossiper: Cannot contain herself. Gossip is a force of nature that needs to come out no matter what. Gossips without regard for personal credibility. Procreates a lot

·  The constipated gossiper: Really wants to gossip but cannot come out. Early trauma involved. Victorian upbringing. Sexually repressed. Has problems procreating

·  The closeted gossiper: “I’m going to tell you something that you cannot repeat to anybody.” Gossip usually involves self-aggrandizement and false humility

·  The obsessed gossiper: Focuses on a single subject: Kardashians (half of the US population), Obamacare (John Boehner), missing flights (CNN), catastrophes (Anderson Cooper), Castro (El Nuevo Herald)

·  The benign gossiper: Harmless. Gossips mostly about people you don’t know.

·  The toxic gossiper: You know who you are.