Jonas Salk

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The Book of the Week is “Jonas Salk, A Life” by Charlotte DeCroes Jacbos, published in 2015.

Born in October 1914 in East Harlem, Salk grew up in the New York City area. In 1942, he got a fellowship to study polio at the University of Michigan, that served as a draft deferment. The spread of influenza and pneumonia had caused ruined lives and a massive number of deaths in previous years, so health officials wanted to stem a similar kind of devastation in connection with polio. Unlike measles or mumps, the flu was found to have variants. Polio was also found to have variants, so making a vaccine for it was a complicated affair. Even so, in the 1940’s, medical researchers were permitted to experiment on human subjects in, say, mental institutions and prisons.

In 1945, Salk signed a contract with the drug company Parke, Davis that allowed him to collect royalties for the flu vaccine. In October 1947, he got to manage his own laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh. His goal to was to create a polio vaccine in order to eradicate the fear of illness and deaths that was then plaguing ordinary Americans.

Salk was one of the first scientists to describe the-then idea of herd effect: during an epidemic, when a population became effectively vaccinated, there were fewer people to whom to spread the virus– the rest of the population, or herd. Therefore, disease-spread was greatly reduced. In the absence of an effective vaccine, disease spread like wildfire.

At his new employer, Salk chafed under a bean-counter and inferior resources. But he sold his soul and became a workaholic bureaucrat. He got the dean’s permission to renovate the place, in exchange for teaching classes and delivering lectures in serving the Pittsburgh community.

Salk tested whether mineral oil was a good adjuvant in a flu vaccine. This was a non-toxic substance added to the syringe to stimulate the production of antibodies at the vaccination site on the arm. An effective adjuvant would allow the patient to better fight the flu and a variety of other germs. Besides, it would dilute the vaccine, cutting costs.

By 1948, Salk had developed a reputation for explaining his work to laypeople at press conferences, so he was able to get funding to study how many types of polio virus there were. His belief was that inactivated (dead), rather than live virus cells in the vaccine-syringe could still be effective. Other alpha-male scientists disagreed with him. Live virus was riskier, because there was a small chance that even a healthy patient could contract or spread the disease.

By 1953, Salk’s research on monkeys and children showed that his vaccine was effective. However, “The press continued to incite the public; exaggerated and inaccurate reports created unreasonable expectations.” The public began clamoring for the vaccine. The clashing egos of polio research-scientists resulted in power struggles over how to conduct vaccination field trials.

The mid-1950’s saw a successful nationwide study on Salk’s polio vaccine that made him a celebrity. His wife and three sons lost their privacy. The press slapped Salk’s name on the vaccine, even though a rival scientist named Sabin aggressively pushed the live-virus vaccine that became the standard one used for decades across the United States from the 1960’s onward.

Read the book to learn everything you ever wanted to know about the history of polio vaccines (including the 1955 vaccine-making drug-lab mishap that resulted in illness, deaths and lots of scapegoats)– how hard it was to make them safe and effective and convince the public of same (hint: The chief reason it was so hard was that it costs money and scientists can’t do research without money, and humans are corrupted by money; also, scientists tend to have big egos and want to win a Nobel Prize).

Dumb Ranting – BONUS POST

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All the time, Trump continues his dumb ranting about a “bloodbath” and about promising to “root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country.”

There needs to be a cautionary riches-to-rags sitcom starring Trump, called “Fallen Towers.” This could be its theme song.

Dumb Ranting

sung to the tune of “Come Dancing” with apologies to the Kinks.

Trump inherited a company that owned land,
where hospitality properties used to stand.
Before that, his father built an empire slowly,
on sites now notoriously lonely.
That’s where Trump’s cronies used to come and play.
His groupies follow HIS lead every day.

Dumb ranting.

All his girlfriends used to come and call.
Why not dumb ranting? It’s only natural.

Another ruling, another court date.
He delays, appeals and whines to make them wait.
Viewers drool IN anticipation.
His victims know the cases will end up in frustration.

He wasted all his money on legal fees.
A life of litigation, and crime sprees.

Dumb ranting.

Dysfunction started when he was just a kid.
And who listened to his ranting? His worshippers always did.

His ranting doesn’t bother the FAR Right. They will ignore it and wait.
To most, it’s gotten tiresome, big-time.
And Fox News helps him bloviate.

[Out in the cold, think of the leaders who have made comebacks:
Grover Cleveland, Jerry Brown, Juan Peron, Netanyahu…]

The DAY judges knock down his fallacies,
Trump will continue to whine, “This hoax is outrageous!”
His childhood will never die. My, my.

Now the grownups will take over the land.
Voices of rule of law will take a stand.
Trump was married and he lived on an estate.
He might be out. Now it’s his turn to wait.
Will he get away with things YOU never could?
He keeps repeating that he alone, should.

Dumb ranting.

C’mon Trump, have yourself a ball.
NOW, do all of your dumb ranting,
before the jailer comes to call.

Dumb ranting.

Just like Truth Social every single day.
Trump keeps on dumb ranting,
so for him, it’s Groundhog Day.


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Unsurprisingly, this is what Trump is singing now, and will be singing for the foreseeable future.


sung to the tune of “Signs” with apologies to Five Man Electrical Band.

And their law said, the greatest real estate leader lied.
So I ran for prez and got audited.
And I went in and asked them WHY.
They said your organization made too much money.
We’ll keep harassing YOU.
So I got elected prez and said,
Imagine that, huh, me LEADing you. Whoa.

Law, law everywhere a law.
Witch Hunting me.
I did nothing wrong.
You said I DID this, I did that.
You misread the law.

The law said,
allow all the migrants in.
DON’T shoot on sight.

So I questioned this,
and said to our people,
Hey, we have a RIGHT
to build a wall to keep them out
and keep Americans safe.

They keep coming here.
We’re losing the race.
THEY will be the winners.

Law, law everywhere a law.
Witch Hunting me.
I did nothing wrong.
You said I DID this, I did that.
You misread the law.

Now hey, judges can’t you read?
I don’t understand how you got your seats.
You should watch.
I’m in the lead.
How can you say I can’t BE here?

The law says I have the First Amendment, it’s my RIGHT. Uh.

And the law said
I should be immune to prosecution today.
But the rulings came down from some Witch Hunts.
Those are fines I shouldn’t have to pay.

So I got me an interview on Hannity.
No need to read between the lines.

I say thank you GOP for thinking about me.
I’m alive and doing fine. Woo.

Law, law everywhere a law.
Witch Hunting me.
I did nothing wrong.
You said I DID this, I did that.
You misread the law.

Law, law everywhere a law.

A World of Ideas

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The Book of the Week is “A World of Ideas, Conversations With Thoughtful Men and Women About American Life Today and the Ideas Shaping Our Future” by Bill Moyers, edited by Betty Sue Flowers, published in 1989. This compilation of interviews was done at the end of the Reagan Era–prior to the historical revisionism and 20 / 20 hindsight of the Clinton Era and thereafter.

David Gergen was one of the few political workers who has explicitly stated that the job elected officers should be doing is governing. This means serving one’s constituents in public service– rather than wooing voters with fantastic promises that will likely be broken– effecting wily public relations that includes propagandizing and standing on ceremony, also called populism.

Forrest McDonald, one of Bill Moyers’ interviewees, commented that America’s one president fills the roles of both government officer and populist, while England has two separate people doing those jobs, respectively: the prime minister, and the king or queen. A recent American president whose populism instilled fond memories in the minds of Americans that made them forget his wrongheaded governing, was Ronald Reagan. Around the time of the interview, the Iran-Contra hearings were all the rage, yet Reagan’s charisma was on display, as much as his amnesia.

McDonald correctly prophesied that more Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals would break in future decades, due to the conflicts the president faced in executing laws while worrying about protecting his reputation. Hardly any political issues have changed at least since the late 1980’s when McDonald rightly declared, “We’re living beyond our means. Congress is for sale to the highest bidder from one election to the next, the Pentagon belongs to the fixers, the President’s out to lunch, and the media are drowning us in violence, nonsense, and trivia.”

In his interview, Noam Chomsky pointed out that the United States government is comprised of two parties (Republican and Democrat) whose main policies are based on business and economics; in other words, donor-determined. All other major, developed countries of the world have a Labor Party– comprised of politicians who lobby on behalf of the poor or working class. It appeared that Chomsky was making a value judgment that the United States was wrong for allowing money to elect its public servants.

There are pros and cons to this, which are too numerous and controversial to discuss here. Suffice to say, the American government’s leadership-and-management culture is a completely different animal from that on other continents. It allows its people the freedom to practice capitalism on a much more extensive scale. Its foreign policy, shaped by globalization of course, has played a major role.

Speaking of foreign policy, Sissela Bok wished that the United States would behave in a more humanitarian manner in international conflicts. She wanted to see more Americans value all humans equally– “… so that it becomes just as awful for us to take an innocent life in some other country as it is in our own.”

Read the book to learn the opinions of mostly university professors, on American political, economics, cultural, and social issues from the 1980’s; that show the areas in which the country has regressed or progressed.

ENDNOTE: Since the book’s writing, arguably, the U.S. is slowly but slowly, progressing in terms of maintaining a democracy, more or less. One bit of evidence of this, is that the country suffered roughly ten years in a row during which a wartime president behaved like a dictator– under LBJ and then Nixon. The next occasion of that, which was seven years in a row, occurred under George W. Bush. It took four years in a row and one day (Jan. 6) for the U.S. to get tired of the next president who behaved like a dictator (Trump), and there wasn’t a war on.

Crisis-generation has always been a cliched way for leaders to keep their power, but hyper-awareness and politicization of crises has been generated in recent decades, due to the speed and reach of modern, global communications. In this way, the traumas of recent natural disasters, financial crashes, wars and celebrity anguish stay fresh in the minds of every culturally-labeled American generation, from Depression-Era babies to Generation Z.

The institutional memory of the older generation especially, allows them to detect and minimize the impact of crises sooner than otherwise. For instance, the Baby Boomers personally experienced— how LBJ and Nixon stubbornly refused to withdraw American troops from Vietnam– a war that involved unspeakable horrors in the region, causing adverse decades-long consequences there and in this country. The Boomers saw that Trump’s megalomania, secrecy and vengeance are akin to those exhibited by LBJ and Nixon. However, Trump refuses to ever give in; whereas, Nixon was shamed into resigning.

Leaders who have harnessed ways to brainwash the masses into believing they are saviors, are the ones who keep their power, at least until their enemies out their crimes in court.

There are many more indicators that our nation won’t devolve into anarchy anytime soon, that are beyond the scope of this post.