Hepatitis C discovery wins Nobel Prize

ELLA BRIGHT
STAFF WRITER

Three scientists, one from Britian and two from the United States, have received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Psychology for their discovery of the Hepatitis C virus.

Michael Houghton, Harvey Alter and Charles Rice were announced the winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize at a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden last week. According to the news release, these three scientists “made a decisive contribution to the fight against blood-borne hepatitis, a major global health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer in people around the world.” Hepatitis C is typically transmitted through shared or reused needles and syringes, infected blood transfusions and sexual practices that lead to blood exposure. Many of those infected aren’t aware that they are infected with it; in most low-income countries, most can’t even afford to be tested for it. This unknown exposure can lead to further transmission of the virus, and liver cancer, later in life.

The discovery of this virus means that for the first time in history, it can be cured, which will save millions of lives, according to the Nobel Prize committee.

In the 1960s, Hepatitis C was an unknown killer, leaving many patients mysteriously infected with chronic hepatitis after blood transfusions that contained an unknown infecting agent. After decades of trial and error, Houghton, Alter and Rice made the discovery of Hepatitis C. Because of this discovery made by the three scientists, the Nobel committee has stated that blood tests for the virus are now available and have essentially eliminated the transmission of the virus through blood transfusions.

About 71 million people worldwide live with the virus, and the Nobel committee has stated that it has killed about as many or more people than the COVID-19 pandemic has, and it has been plaguing scientists and all people across the world for decades.

“For the longest time, we had nothing to treat this virus with,” said Dr. Guadalupe Garcia Tsao in an interview with the New York Times. “For most of my career, it was the bane of my existence. But from the moment they made these discoveries, the numbers of sick people went down dramatically.”

One of the recipients of the award, Dr. Alger from the United States, is hopeful for the future with this discovery of Hepatitis C. He believes that with increased testing, the world can “eradicate this disease over the next decades, even in the absence of a vaccine,” he said.

Students at Alma College also felt excited and hopeful about this discovery and the probability of how many people these scientists have helped and will help.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Racheal VanLoo (‘24). “I think they deserve the award for all their accomplishments. Discovering a virus is just as important as curing it because they have to know what they’re fighting off.”

“I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Rachael Dahl (‘24). “Hopefully a vaccine will come soon and help all these people that have been suffering for so long.”

The process in which the virus was recorded, and then many years later, discovered, seems to mirror the COVID-19 pandemic currently plaguing the U.S. “The nature of biological research doesn’t change much simply because the world is attaching much greater importance to it,” said biology researcher John Timmer in an article for ARS Technica. Timmer believes that a vaccine and eventual cure to the coronavirus is on its way but will also take lots of time to comprehend and understand what tools are needed to fight it, just as the Hepatitis C virus did.

“With the state of the world right now, I think all of us are looking for good news,” said Dahl. Knowing that millions of lives will be saved because of this is the exact kind of thing we need right now.”

Are we creating terrorists?

ATULYA DORA-LASKEY
STAFF WRITER

On June 20th, Adam Fox invited some friends he had met on Facebook to hang out. They met in a vacuum shop, where Fox pulled a rug up to reveal a secret trap door to a basement. Then Fox collected everyone’s phone before they went down to make sure they were not recorded. Fox and the other men vented their anger at the recent policies set in place by the state to (successfully) curb the pandemic. The conversation then took a sharp turn to an another subject: kidnapping Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

These would-be Michigan kidnappers also used an encrypted group chat to communicate, where the rhetoric began to get more misogynist and violent. Fox clarified his intentions by saying that the group should just “Grab the f**kin Governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude – it’s over.” These men discussed various strategies to target the Governor, and at one point Daniel Harris messaged “Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her…at this point. F**k it.”

How do we know this conversation happened? There was an undercover FBI agent who managed to record the conversation with a secret wire as well as log the encrypted group chat. As the plan progressed, more undercover law enforcement began to participate. Their involvement and testimony was integral to the arrest of these men on October 7th and stopping what could have been a deadly act.

As you might expect, the defense lawyers see it differently. The defense team for the Michigan men say that it remains to see what exactly the FBI agents contributed towards the “cause,” and whether or not these agents pushed the men into going forward with this plan. Unfortunately, the FBI has sketchy history when it comes to their undercover officers. And they can sometimes act less like informants and more like driving forces in creating a potentially deadly crime.

In 2012, Sami Osmakac filmed what the FBI would later call a “martyrdom video.” To the camera, Osmakac stated his intentions to avenge the deaths of Muslims being killed around the world while wearing something that looks remarkably close to a suicide vest, while an AK-47 sits propped up in the background. Osmakac was 25 years old, and had schizoaffective disorder according to the psychiatrists who examined him before trial. In this case, the FBI provided Osmakac with all of the weapons seen in the video, the car bomb that he planned to use, and even money for a taxi to he could get to his target. In files leaked to the Intercept, it is clear that Osmakac needed repeated prodding and persuasion by FBI agents in order to go through with the plan. The FBI agent who helped Osmakac make the video said that Osmakac “acted like he was nervous” and “kept backing away.” The FBI squad supervisor described Osmakac as a “retarded fool.”

The FBI radicalizing young Muslim Americans into terrorism and then arresting them for it was a staple of the post-9/11 era. It will have to be seen in the trial whether or not the FBI was a driving force with the would-be Michigan kidnappers the same way they were with Sami Osmakac. The Michigan men were obviously wrong for plotting what they did, they are the product of a society where the President has continued to call for Governor Whitmer to be “arrested” even after this story broke, despite the fact that it was this rhetoric that placed her in

danger in the first place. However, the core question is whether or not these Michigan men would have gone through with a kidnapping even without undercover law enforcement. Due to the FBI’s track record, Michiganders deserve proper transparency on how the Bureau operated in this case.

Cries to end teenage fatality

HADEN GROSS
STAFF WRITER

Tragedy Struck New York’s east side this past weekend as rapid gun fire left two dead and fourteen wounded. The teens were attending a house party when the firing began in the early hours of Sep. 19. Sources project there was around a hundred adolescents at the house party when gunshots began. When asking students how they would react to a shooting targeted towards young adults, the response was one of unimaginable fear.

“I would be scared and not know how to react,” said Megan Schreur (’24). “This especially worries me now because I am at college and even though there are not any parties right now, there are still lots of social events where a shooting could happen unexpectedly.”

The victim’s range in ages between 16 and 22. As the city grieves lives of a young man and woman who were killed due to senseless slaughter and the other children wounded. The type of gun used has not yet been identified; however, police report that several rounds of ammunition were fired. The blocks surrounding the crime scene were littered with caution tape as police officers’ attempt to make sense of the crime scene.

“What seems to make the situation more surreal is that kids my age were killed for going to a house party,” said Danielle Dumoulin (’24). “I couldn’t imagine the fear and panic that they must have felt when they heard gunshots ring out.”

When first arriving, NY police described the scene as chaotic, with hundreds of teenagers in varying levels of distress and many in need of immediate assistance due to gun shot wounds according to USA Today.

The victims were sent to Rochester General and Strong Memorial hospitals, in a varying condition. Both hospitals have released little information on the wounded; however, it was gleaned that none of the injuries sustained were fatal. This shooting is one of many that have terrorized Rochester NY in recent years. In 2015, the city fell victim to four shootings that left 6 dead and 18 wounded, making this shooting this year the largest in the city’s history.

“Because I come from a small town, I have never had the ingrained fear that myself or people I know will die and or be subject to a shooting,” said Dumoulin. “I feel so incredibly bad for the teens and young adults who will never have the opportunity to grow up in an environment that is safe.”

Adding to the exponential list of mass shootings that have taken place in America this year, Rochester will mark 455 according to the Gun Violence Archive.

“I think that it is honestly inevitable to prevent people from having access to guns, but I do think that there are measures that could be taken to further prevent incidents like this to happen,” said Schreur.

The community has been in a state of unrest since the death of Daniel Prude, a young African American man who was suffocated to death by police restraint. Police officials ask that the

community joins to bring peace, and put an end to the suffering in Rochester, according to USA Today.

Coupled with the state of unrest in the nation, tragedies are still taking place in small communities. The shooting in Rochester has caught the eye of national and local news, and even students here at Alma. The shooter, motive and victim’s names are still unknown, and as local police work to uncover the truth the city remains in unrest. The loss of two young adults and other wounded children has sparked an even larger cry for peace across America.

Political organizations pop up on campus

WADE FULLERTON
STAFF WRITER

Graphic by Weston Hirvela

As campus adapts to the changes of hybrid student life, many of the former – and some new – political organizations have begun to meet and plan for future events.

Despite many of the recent restrictions, the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) and Students of Liberty have made an effort to make an impact on campus politics.

YSDA has come into the new semester after a string of successful events following the campus shutdown. Although most are virtual, they have seen a great amount of success with their latest endeavors.

“We have to be more flexible to the changing rules on campus due to social distancing, but having virtual events can be effective,” said Tanvi Sharma (’21), YDSA Co-Chair.

YSDA holds their meetings at 7:30 every Thursday on the Chapel Lawn. Their meetings are welcome to all students interested in the political process, and ideas of socialism. The YDSA is among the most active clubs on campus and hosted a fruitful fundraising event over the summer.

“We had a successful conspiracy themed event that was entirely virtual. It was incredible to see the effort our members put into their presentations, and we were able to raise so much money over Zoom!” said Sharma.

The Conspiracy Night event was conducted entirely online, and members were able to raise over $500 for R.I.S.E. Advocacy. The YDSA has worked with R.I.S.E. in previous semesters, and intends to hold further Conspiracy Night fundraisers in the future.

As prior established groups make plans, a recent political student club has formed to hold open discussions.

A new student political organization – Students for Liberty – has been approved by Student Congress to move forward in the process of becoming a permanent campus group. Students for Liberty is a local political organization organized by students of multiple political positions, and has plans to establish themselves in the campus community in the near future.

The organizations aim to welcome students of all backgrounds to their discussions. Students of Liberty meet Monday nights at 9:45 in DOW Science Center.

Students for Liberty was organized by several students over the summer to provide an outlet for third party ideas on campus.

“When you come to college, it’s the time to explore who you are as a person. Understanding who you are before you get involved in the election process is important,” said Austin Popp (’21), Students of Liberty Co-Founder.

“The aim of our group is to not force libertarian values on campus. It’s to help students find their beliefs,” said Popp.

“We are not exclusive to libertarians. We want to accept people of all creeds and have them feel welcome. The goal of our group is to have conversations about modern issues,” said Ethan Zalac (’22), Students for Liberty Co-Founder.

Students for Liberty plans to set up tables for voter registration on campus before the 2020 election in November. The Students for Liberty also plan to work closely with YDSA to open voter registration tables to encourage the voting process.

As November draws closer, YDSA and Students for Liberty will plan on hosting regular meetings and encouraging students to venture forth and continue developing their political philosophies.

American Nightmare

ATULYA DORA-LASKEY
STAFF WRITER

Last Tuesday, the first debate of the 2020 Election got underway, and it went just as poorly as most Americans expected. Interruptions, yelling, and personal attacks dominated the stage. Yet, one moment seemed particularly horrific. The President refused to directly condemn white supremacist, and called for a group called the Proud Boys to “Stand back and stand by.”

The group granted this Presidential endorsement are a far-right, neo-fascist organization. The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center designate the Proud Boys as a hate group, citing their numerous ties to white supremacy. The organization has made a name for themselves by assaulting leftists. Yet, the Proud Boys are not alone in their beliefs about violence. Recently, the amount of Americans open to committing political violence has increased drastically. In 2017, only 8% of Democrats and 8% of Republicans were open to using political violence to achieve their goals. In a Politico poll published this October, they found that the number had risen to 33% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans. These are symptoms of a sick and poorly functioning democracy, and it appears as though the fabric of American society is quickly unraveling.

No one can capture this moment in history better than filmmaker (and Michigan-native) Paul Schrader. Writing films such as Raging Bull (1980) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Schrader has a well-deserved reputation as “one of the crucial creators of the modern cinema.” If you want to viscerally grasp why this country is teetering so closely to the edge, both Schrader’s Taxi Driver (1976) and First Reformed (2017) are required viewing.

At first, the protagonists at the heart of both these films appear starkly different. In Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a cabbie in New York City taking night shifts to cope with his insomnia. In First Reformed, Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a pastor who is struggling with his faith, preaching at the 250-year old First Reformed church that has now turned into a glorified tourist attraction.

As both films progress, you find that the two characters are united in their belief in an American dream that ultimately betrays them. Travis Bickle is a Vietnam veteran, who believes that working hard at an honest job will lead him to some kind of satisfaction. Ernst Toller is a veteran as well, and because his family considered military enlistment to be patriotic tradition he encouraged his son to sign-up. Bickle gets no fulfillment from his life as a taxi driver, and his isolation from others only grows in the process as Bickle finds that his job is “…like you’re not even there…like a taxi driver doesn’t even exist.” Toller’s life falls apart after his son is killed in Iraq during a war that Toller believes “…had no moral justification.”

The two men have their betrayals compounded as they are submerged repeatedly into a societal sickness, and they turn to uniquely American outlets in order to cope. Bickle, surrounded by poverty, violent misogyny, and child trafficking, decides to buy an assortment of guns and frequent a shooting range. Toller, surrounded by environmental destruction, the undeniable proof of climate change, and the refusal of world leaders to do anything about it, incorporates environmental activism into his preaching. Again these two are betrayed by their understandings of America. Even after shooting a man robbing a local store, Bickle can not satisfy his

increasingly violent urges. Toller is forced to stop his environmental activism as the megachurch that owns First Reformed is financed heavily by a wealthy polluter. Toller’s helpless torment watching the world light itself on fire is deeply relatable. During an argument with the director of the megachurch, he screams “Well, somebody has to do something!”

In the third acts of both their films, both men decide to fully embrace political violence. Bickle plans to assassinate a progressive senator running for President while Toller prepares to blow himself up in an act of eco-terrorism. Bickle’s plan is the result of untreated paranoia and isolation, while Toller’s believes his plan to be the only logical conclusion for a world that refuses to properly face an existential crisis.

These men are obviously not blameless for their actions, but it is undeniable that these men would not emerge in a society that was functioning properly. Throughout this country we have isolated Americans with no sense of support or community, stuck in jobs that do nothing for them and a political system that does even less. There are hundreds of Bickles and Tollers being created across the nation. If we don’t fix these issues, we can expect America’s third act to be just as violent.

E-Sports and intramural sports have a new look

ALYSSA GALL
SPORTS WRITER

With some sport seasons on hold and others up in the air, the few sports that are currently happening at Alma College are taking on a new and safe look. Fall sports, such as football, soccer, cross country and volleyball, may be getting pushed into the spring season, but one lucky sport, Esports, is gearing to start their fall season.

With their sport predominantly taking place online, Esports players are in the clear when it comes to Covid-19 restrictions and are set to have a smooth sailing season.

“Last year many of the Esports teams were forced to end their seasons early and we were forced to cut off the tail end of our season because of Covid,” said senior Esports player, Nolan Rowland (’21). “This year we are planning on going ahead with the full season and are, thankfully, able to practice together while still abiding by the rules set by the college,” said Rowland.

With their 2020 season coming to an abrupt end, the Esports team looks to cherish every moment of their upcoming season, which escaped the postponement many other fall sports fell victim to.

On September 17, the Esports team kicked off their season against Davenport university with their League of Legends team. This was their first match of the regular season as they strive towards becoming GG League Champions again.

“The type of Esport depends on the game being played, but for League of Legends, the matches consist of two teams of five players, with each player choosing a unique champion,” said Rowland. “The goal is to destroy the opposing team’s Nexus, a structure that lies at the heart of their base, which is protected by defensive structures.” In this match, Rowland led the team with six assists and deaths as well as twelve eliminations.

Although the team fell to Davenport 2-0, the team remains optimistic and looks hopeful towards the rest of their season and upcoming match against Western Illinois University on October 1.

“While we were not able to beat Davenport this time, we learned very valuable lessons from those matches, and we are not necessarily expecting immediate results at the beginning of the season,” said Rowland. “While we have some veterans on the team, we are still quite new and I believe once we develop more chemistry, we should have no problem finding success for the rest of the season.”

As Esports continues to make its way through their season, many other athletes have found themselves with more free time than usual in the wake of many sports being put on hold. With campus looking quieter these days, Alma’s Recreational Center is finding ways to keep students active and safe through the use of intramural (IM) sports.

While IM sports occur throughout the school year, the need for activity and student interaction has placed high interest on the need for fall season IM sports.

“Covid has really put a strain on all activities,” said IM Student Assistant, Jarod Arendsen (’22). “We have implemented a number of regulations and policies to safely play IM sports. Before students can play, they must show their green check marks for their daily health screening. If they don’t have them, we have a temperature gun so they can get their temperature. We also are enforcing that everyone wears a mask while participating in IM sports along with adhering to social distancing.”

Along with these new regulations, new changes have also been made to the set-up of the competitions. Although the games may be running differently, the typical sports of basketball, volleyball, softball, kickball, pickle ball and soccer as well as some other smaller sports will still be offered.

“Before Covid, many IM sports would be a week or two long,” said Arendsen. “Each team would play in pool play for the first week and then go into a single elimination tournament. With Covid, we have had to make many changes. Since many sports you cannot socially distance, we have been limited to outdoor sports. We have been doing weekend tournaments. The number of participants depends on the sport. At each game, we have 1-2 referees to regulate the games and make sure they go smoothly.”

With the new adaptable competitions to current safety regulations, this enables not only the same sports students love and know to be offered, but it provides all students with the opportunity to participate. Even if students have never tried the sport before, it enables them to break out of their comfort zone and try something new—especially during a pandemic.

“I participate in the sports because of the social aspects,” said senior wrestler, Joseph Vondrasek (’21). “I do not fancy myself as competitive outside of wrestling, so I take the time to just enjoy the experience. Sometime the best part is making team jerseys and laughing when things go wrong!”

Although sports and many other on-campus activities may be postponed because of the pandemic, IM sports offer students the ability to not only stay active, but to stay connected and socialize in a time when social interaction is limited. It is something students can do safely and for fun.

“Alma students seem to be longing to have those casual social interactions that we know and love,” said Vondrasek. “Intramural sports create opportunities to socialize and be safe.”

Belarus – the last European Dictatorship

ARYAAN MISRA
STAFF WRITER

100,000 people on the streets, 12,000 arrested, 450 injured, and 50 missing.

These seemingly plain numbers carry on their shoulders the largest protest that Belarus has ever seen. A small landlocked country in Eastern Europe, Belarus emerged an independent state in 1991 after the Soviet Union collapsed. The country first held elections in 1994 which saw Alexander Lukashenko rise to power. Almost 25 years later, in 2020, the sixth Presidential elections were held, and Lukashenko won, again, for the sixth time. Belarusians took to the streets fearing five more years of the same leader that a majority of young Belarusians view as tyrannical. The protests were instigated when the election results gave Lukashenko an 80% majority of votes, which the opposition as well as some poll workers declared to be fraudulent.

Last week marked the 50th day of these protests, with protestors amassing support instead of diminishing in numbers. Belarusians between the ages of 18-40 seek change in a country fettered between unemployment and inflation. The real frustration of the protestors however doesn’t stem from economic issues, which are very real, but from the dictatorial style of governance adopted by the Lukashenko administration. Early 2020 saw the rise of a popular political commentator and blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky. His internet streams against President Lukashenko gained mass popularity, and he was seen by many as an alternative; an alternative with a real chance of victory. The popular will however was quashed before it bloomed into democratic participation as the present administration arrested Sergei under charges of treason.

This did not stop the movement, which was absorbed by Sergei’s wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, an English school teacher. The unprecedented presidential candidate rose to popularity, contrary to what most pundits speculated, including Lukashenko who claimed that a woman isn’t capable of the Office. Belarusians thought otherwise, and soon Svetlana became the face of the opposition movement—‘Stop the Coakroach’— alluding to the current President.

But popular support and democratic participation can go only so far while operating in a corrupt and dictatorial system. There is a reason Western scholars and journalists argue that Belarus is Europe’s last dictatorship, and this was exemplified once the results were out. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was forced to seek political asylum in Lithuania as she faced threats from the current administration.

In the aftermath of the results several other female leaders disappeared from Minsk, capital of Belarus. One of them was Maria Kolesnikova. She was kidnapped by masked assailants and dragged into a van that drove up to the Ukraine border. There, she was forced to exile in Ukraine so as to limit her political influence. Political suppression isn’t new in this country, and this fact is driving the largest protests in the history of independent Belarus.

From BLM protests in US, to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, this year has been characterized by mass protests engulfing nations. But the impact of each protest has varied, and to understand this better we approached Dr. Hulme, professor of political science at Alma College. “The repression of post-election protests in Belarus continues a longstanding pattern of authoritarian rule in the country”, said Dr. Hulme. We also asked him about the future of the protests, and whether the international community can help. “While the international community, including the European Union and the United Nations, have urged authorities to refrain from violence, such key figures as China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have expressed support for the government and opposition to any external interference in the internal affairs of Belarus, making meaningful change unlikely in the foreseeable future.”

Pollution damages the Pine River

AISHWARYA SINGH
STAFF WRITER

“It’s startling to watch birds drop from the air, flop around and die”, were the words of a St. Louis, MI, resident who was one of the many that came forward to report dystopian consequences in a town where a former industrial site once stood. Fifty years after The Velsicol Chemical Company, also known as Michigan Chemicals, was simply knocked to the ground and buried under a slab of concrete the people living around the former chemical plant are raising alarm.

The reason for birds falling to the ground, sky rocketing cancer rates and the need for an alternate water source all have a single reason behind them—the insecticide DDT. This pesticide is one of the best-known examples of how synthetic chemicals can harm an ecosystem, threaten human health and endanger the very existence of important species.

Banned in the United States in 1972, the chemical is infamous for persisting in the environment for abnormally long periods of time. It’s pollution of the Pine River is so colossal that it has led to the largest and one of the most expensive pollution cleanup projects in the state’s history. Ironically, the presence of DDT may have made it harder to deal with the original target pests.

For the 2020 worldwide synthetic biology competition, iGem (International Genetically Engineered Machine), The Alma College iGem team has proposed a way to help solve this perennial problem that plagues the perennial river.

“The iGEM Foundation is an non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology, education and competition, and the development of an open community and collaboration,” said Conner Arens (’23), a member of this year’s iGem team. “This is done by fostering an open, cooperative community and friendly competition. The goal of the jamboree, or competitions are not pitting teams against one another.”

The team that has competed with universities like the University of Michigan was ranked the highest of all midwestern universities participating in the 2019 competition and bagged the silver medal.

This project by the college team could be the be a new hope for a tale of pollution, destruction and environmental degradation that is bound to have everlasting impacts for many more generations to come.

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