Category Archives: North Carolina Blog

Election signs

How Refreshing to have political choices!

After living in California, a state forced into a progressive political bubble by the populous coastal region, it is refreshing to now call North Carolina home. This state has strong voices in both progressive and conservative camps.

Even within camps, there are divergent voices. In the conservative camp there are the Trump-anointed vs. establishment. In the progressive camp there are reformers vs. centrists. The libertarian camp is not as visible, although several libertarians are on the upcoming elections ballot.

This mishmash of sides will thin out on May 17, when voters choose who will represent them in the General Election.

The stakes are not insignificant.

North Carolina has maintained a workable political balance with a Republican-majority state legislation and a Democrat governor. Although most voters seem content with such arrangement, activists are not.

At the more contentious Federal level is where swords are drawn. The U.S. Senate is divided 50-50, with the Vice President, a Democrat, being the tie breaker. U.S. Senator from North Carolina, Richard Burr, a Republican, is retiring. His successor, depending on affiliation, can help either maintain or upset the 50-50 balance.

Then there is the Trump Effect. Former President Donald Trump won in North Carolina in 2016 and in 2020. Some say Trump’s influence in North Carolina will be determined if his endorsed candidates do well in the May 17 primary. Others point that the leading contender in North Carolina’s important U.S. Senate race is Trump-endorsed Ted Budd.

On the other side of the coin is the Millennial Effect. Liberal states like California are emptying out, and the bulk of the out-migrants are young professionals. Wake County, N.C., for example, is full of them, since the burgeoning Research Triangle offers well-paying jobs and pleasant low-cost living. Wake County is politically blue, and locals say that Cary stands for “Concentrated Area of Relocated Yankees.”

Thus, battles between factions rage

In his speech marking the anniversary of the January 6 debacle President Joe Biden said,

“I have said it many times. It’s no more true or real than when we think about the events of January 6. We are in a battle for the soul of America.”

A bit melodramatic but apropos. Today’s battle is not over one or two issues, like The Vietnam War or the New Deal. The battle, daunting and relentless, is over a wide range of subjects that are sometimes lumped together in phrases like “our democracy” or “make America great.”

At its core, the fight is about preserving our Constitutional Republic or abandoning it in preference of a Marxist-based democracy. States like California or New York have already chosen Marxism, so there is no real battle there. Residents of swing states like North Caroline, Florida, and Texas are still waging war.

Good to be where political choices still exist.

Marcy Berry
Editor
Just Vote No Blog

Research Triangle

North Carolina’s Dr. Ralph Baric, Virologist

North Carolina’s Research Triangle is home to world-class institutions. The Triangle gets its name from Research Triangle Park and three Tier 1 research universities—Duke University, North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Thus, it is not surprising to find North Carolina scientists on the forefront of coronavirus research and pharmaceutical development.

One such person is Dr. Ralph Baric, distinguished researcher and professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Recognition for his contributions to coronavirus research and vaccine development abound. Among his accolades in 2021 are the O. Max Gardner Award which recognizes faculty within the UNC System that make “the greatest contribution to the welfare of the human race,” and the News & Observer Tar Heel of the Year award given to North Carolina residents who have made lasting contributions to their community and state.

Acknowledgement of individuals in any cutting-edge endeavor never comes without controversy. In today’s hyper reaction and response to the corona virus pandemic, Dr. Baric’s virus engineering is especially controversial. Dismissing concern about his work as conspiracy theory does not help, since it detracts from the immense complexity of such work. Some of the arguments are worth repeating.

The Lab-Leak Debate

In its September 2021 issue, the Atlantic carried an article about a proposal presented by Peter Daszak, President the EcoHealth Alliance, to DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in 2018, describing a $14.2 million project to defuse the threat of bat-borne coronaviruses. Here is an excerpt from The Lab-Leak Debate Just Got Even Messier, the Atlantic, 09/26/21.

The document seems almost tailor-made to buttress one specific theory of a laboratory origin: that SARS-CoV-2 wasn’t simply brought into a lab by scientists and then released by accident, but rather pieced together in a deliberate fashion. In fact, the work described in the proposal fits so well into that narrative of a “gain-of-function experiment gone wrong” that some wondered if it might be too good to be true.

Central figures in the coronavirus-origins debate were involved. Among Daszak’s listed partners on the grant were Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an American virologist known for doing coronavirus gain-of-function studies in his lab, and Shi Zhengli, the renowned virus hunter from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Risks vs. Benefits of Virus Engineering

In June 2021, MIT Technology Review discussed the risks of bat-virus engineering that need to be weighed against the urgency of emerging pandemics. The article quoted Dr. Ralph Baric’s assessment of risk vs. benefit. Here is an excerpt from Inside the risky bat-virus engineering that links America to Wuhan, Technology Review, 06/29/21

His 2015 paper, “A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence,” was a tour de force, utilizing bleeding-edge genetic technology to alert the civilized world to a looming danger on its periphery. It also revived concerns about gain-of-function experiments, which Baric had known it would.

In the paper, he spelled out the extra precautions he’d taken and held up the research as a test case. “The potential to prepare for and mitigate future outbreaks must be weighed against the risk of creating more dangerous pathogens,” he wrote. “Scientific review panels may deem similar studies building chimeric viruses based on circulating strains too risky to pursue.”

The NIH decided the risk was worth it. In a potentially fateful decision, it funded work similar to Baric’s at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which soon used its own reverse-genetics technology to make numerous coronavirus chimeras.

Quest for the Universal Remedy

As arguments pro and con COVID-19 vaccines rage, scientists on the fore front of vaccine development will inevitably receive both accolades and criticism. Again, dismissing all con arguments as conspiracy, anti-science, or anti-vaxxer is unhelpful. More rational and helpful would be to acknowledge that, as human beings, none of us produces perfect solutions, free from human limitations and frailties. Picking a best balance between risk and rewards is perhaps the best any of us can do.

The MIT Technology Review article quoted earlier mentions Dr. Baric’s efforts to develop “universal drugs and vaccines against the full spectrum of SARS-like viruses.” A breakthrough came with his collaborative work in 2013 with Dr. Shi Zhengli, the virology at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Shi had detected the genome of a new virus, called SHC014, that was one of the two closest relatives to the original SARS virus, but her team had not been able to culture it in the lab.

Baric had developed a way around that problem—a technique for “reverse genetics” in coronaviruses. Not only did it allow him to bring an actual virus to life from its genetic code, but he could mix and match parts of multiple viruses. He wanted to take the “spike” gene from SHC014 and move it into a genetic copy of the SARS virus he already had in his lab. The spike molecule is what lets a coronavirus open a cell and get inside it.

The resulting chimera would demonstrate whether the spike of SHC014 would attach to human cells. If it could, then it could help him with his long-term project of developing universal drugs and vaccines against the full spectrum of SARS-like viruses that he increasingly considered sources of potential pandemics.

From Splicing to Vaccination

Dr. Baric holds Patent number 9884895 Methods and compositions for chimeric coronavirus spike proteins, among his many other scientific papents. As the inventor of this product (with Drs. Sudhakar Agnihothram and Boyd Yount), Dr. Baric can claim a major contribution to the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

Risks Necessitate Free and Informed Choices

Identification and manipulation of viral spike proteins entail serious risk. But so is being exposed to the coronavirus without the choice of protection via a vaccine.

Researchers in the life sciences are the primary line of defense against organisms that harms us. Polio and smallpox are no longer the scourges they once were. Hopefully, soon SARS-CoV-2 will also be tamed in a collaborative approach that allows for rational and free assessments of risks and benefits.

Skyline in Charlotte, North Carolina

Hello North Carolina

Greetings from North Carolina. The Just Vote No Blog just moved here. Therefore, the Blog now has a new page dedicated to the state. Here is an overview of JVN’s new home.

Population and Growth

North Carolina is one of the fastest-growing states, along with Texas and Florida. People are moving here seeking economic opportunities — especially in the expanding technology field — affordability, and open spaces. In 2020 there were 10.4 million people living in North Carolina, making it the ninth largest state in the nation, and one which gained an additional congressional seat in the 2020 census. Net migration in and around the state’s largest cities has been a key component of North Carolina’s growth.

The state’s most populous and best-known cities are,

  • Charlotte, population 912,096, is a business and financial center. Bank of America headquarters are in Charlotte, and Wells Fargo Bank has a large presence in the city.
  • Raleigh, population 483,579, is the state capital. The city is known for financial, educational and cultural facilities.
  • Durham, population 283,506, is the principal city in North Carolina’s famous Research Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill). Duke University and Duke University Health System are Durham’s largest employers.

Despite growth, North Carolina’s rural population remains significant. In 2019, 40% of the state’s population lived in rural areas, and 85% of North Carolina’s municipalities had less than 10,000 residents. Residents of the more suburban areas enjoy tree-lined streets, large leafy backyards, and lots of open space.

Major Industries

North Carolina is home to 13 Fortune 500 companies. Major industries with headquarters or business presence in the state are:

Aerospace and defense: Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, GE Aviation and Spirit AeroSystems.
Automotive and heavy machinery: Bridgestone, Caterpillar, Borg Warner, Freightliner, and Thomas Built Buses.
Food processing and manufacturing: Campbell’s, Butterball, Smithfield, Sierra Nevada, Texas Pete (known for its Louisiana-style hot sauce) and Mt. Olive (known for its pickles).
Information Technology: Google, IBM, Cisco.
Biotechnology and pharmaceutical: Bayer, BASF, LabCorp and Novo Nordisk.
Furniture: Ethan Allen, Ashley Furniture, Lexington Home Brands and Sealy.

Income, Housing and Employment

Real median household income is $60,266 (U.S. $67,521; California $77,358).
Average listing price of homes is $513,120 (U.S. $710,321; California $1,554,478).
Unemployment rate is 4.1 (U.S. 4.6; California 7.3)

Note: When we speak of homes in North Carolina, especially in southern counties such as Holly Springs or Apex, we are talking about relatively large residences. Neighborhoods with few, if any, homes smaller than 3-bedrooms 3-baths are not uncommon.

Politics

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state’s General Assembly, but do not have veto-proof majorities. Thus, Governor Roy Cooper, Democrat, uses his veto power prolifically. This arrangement satisfies the majority Democrat voters for now. Libertarians and Greens do not comprise a share of the voting public significant enough to affect political outcomes.

History and Culture

North Carolina was one of the original 13 British colonies. Despite hardships and disease, the colonies grew and prospered along the Atlantic coast during the 17th and 18th centuries. Growth was mostly the result of migration of free and indentured people fleeing war, persecution, or lack of opportunities in Europe; convicts sent to America by the European courts; and Africans sold to slave traders.

Climate, soil, natural resources, and proximity to the sea determined how the colonies developed. New England Colonies — New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut — flourished with fish, whale products, ships, timber products, and furs. The Middle Colonies — Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, and New Jersey — with vast fertile ground, were the “breadbasket” of the colonies, where farmers produced corn, wheat, beef, and pork. The Southern Colonies — Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia – had hilly coastal plains with good soil to grow large tracks of cash crops like tobacco, rice, cotton, sugar cane and indigo.

The large, labor-intensive cash crop plantations of the Southern Colonies encouraged the adoption of cheap labor. Slavery was the cheapest form of labor. After the initial outlay for the purchase of a slave, a plantation owner spent little more in food and shelter, and garnered the benefit of subsequent generation of slaves. Slavery did exist in the Northeast and Middle Colonies, but not to the same extent, since the economies of those colonies did not depend on sizeable manual labor.

Slogan and Motto

On April 12, 1776, North Carolina’s Provincial Congress met in Halifax and passed a resolution calling for independence from Great Britain. The Halifax Resolves made North Carolina the first state to call for independence.

By that time, the colonies had developed some form of self-government. They also had developed sustaining trade both with one another and with Great Britain. So the time was ripe for independence, which formally came with the 1784 Treaty of Paris.

Today, North Carolina motorists can choose to have the official slogan “First in Freedom” on their license plates to commemorate the Halifax Resolves.

Obviously, that slogan did not come about without controversy, since antebellum North Carolina was heavily dependent on slave labor and joined the Confederacy in 1861. The state was not readmitted to the Union until 1868, after it agreed to ratify the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Given North Carolina’s slogan, the state’s motto seems almost chiding: Esse quam videri, “To be rather than to seem.” The phrase is from Cicero’s essay On Friendship chapter 98: Virtute enim ipsa non tam multi praediti sse quam videri volunt, “Few are those who wish to be endowed with virtue rather than to seem so.”

Pictured Above

Skyline of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Pictured Below

Fuquay-Varina is one of the fastest-growing towns in Wake County, North Carolina, but visiting Fuquay is like stepping into a quiet past. Fuquay’s Christmas Parade was on Sunday, December 5. It was a pretty relaxed, fun event, with lots of cheering for the marching local groups. Pictured is the enthusiastic brass band.

A parade always shows what is important to residents. This parade was led by police and firefighters in uniform. North Carolina is host to several military bases; thus, unsurprisingly the state National Guard and other military contingents rode their military vehicles or marched. The Fuquay Cruisers showed off their pre-1970s classic cars. High schoolers, home schoolers, ROTC, and Scouts were all there.

One had to wonder how many of the happy people lining up the parade route were transplants from California and other states.

Brass band in parade