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The Book of the Week is “Baseless, My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act” by Nicholson Baker, published in 2020.

From the 1940’s through the 1960’s, the CIA funded, and was supposed to supervise certain big-name American universities’ and the U.S. military services’ secret research; this, in biochemistry, pathology, mycology, entomology, etc. for the purpose of developing weapons of mass destruction. Such weapons would cause deaths of famine from crop failure or from fatal diseases, or spur regime changes. Government officials lost control of the experimenters’ spending and activities. The “researchers” were accountable to no one.

Pursuant to their actions, the researchers generated documents that they desired remain classified forever, or else redacted in large portions thereof, so as to become incomprehensible or prevent their readers from connecting the dots, because such secrecy allows them (to this day!) to hide their unethical, even evil behavior and shameful harm to society.

This book’s author repeatedly asked for said documents under the United States’ federal law called the “Freedom of Information Act” (or FOIA); he did hours and hours of reading to detect the truth about the wrongs committed by American officials. Those officials’ excuse for their coverups (during the Cold War– it was anti-Communist measures) is always “It’s a matter of national security.” The government keeps on violating FOIA by taking years (instead of weeks or months) to fulfill the author’s numerous requests.

Despite the government’s stonewalling, American society is changing in ways that offset the harm done by the lack of information on the government’s past evil actions; among them:

  • muckraking gadflies such as the author (who globally disseminate information on the shameful behavior of society’s leaders);
  • the increasing number of females (who are displacing alpha males in the shrinking “old boy network” and generally do not behave like alpha males) who are taking top leadership positions in America’s institutions;
  • propagandizing of celebrities, such as Bill Maher, (who, a number of years back, joked that “If your kid’s not learning in school, don’t blame the teacher– fire the parent!” which has perhaps influenced recent legal cases in which failures of parents have been perceived as a major factor in their kids’ shooting people– involving “parental responsibility statutes”);
  • the quantum leap in knowledge-sharing made quick and easy by the Internet (in spite of disinformation), through countless international, multi-media human-interest stories and videos that are raising awareness of the importance of voting and other actions Americans can take to help maintain their democracy;
  • the fact that the Internet has fostered a grass-roots communications revolution by allowing ordinary Americans to express themselves in a decentralized global network at the speed of light, absent the filtering of past societal influencers such as journalists, politicians and celebrities;
  • the fact that the body of knowledge of power-abusing American presidents in the past half-century has been amply globally publicized so as to significantly lessen the impact of their historical revisionists– and that Americans’ learning curve on them has run its course;
  • the COVID lockdown of 2020, which forced all different stakeholders to deal with education and childcare issues, and showed how the wisdom of life-experience has been imparted from the older generation to the younger one.

The author pointed out that every president to hold office since the 1930’s has committed evil of one kind or another– funding terrorists or authorizing the use of unethical practices in creating weapons of mass destruction (which were actually seldom used, and of course, were a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money) to supposedly keep America’s enemies at bay.

The author listed a number of online primary sources of governmental misdeeds and James-Bond wannabe activities; among them (in no particular order):

Internet Archive (

Brill ( — charges a fee for its services

MuckRock (

The Black Vault (

And, he listed the physical libraries that contain the said Swiss-cheese, needle-in-a-haystack, “smoking gun” information: the National Security Archive at George Washington University and the CREST database in the FOIA Reading Room at the CIA.

One of many specific studies the author mentioned, involved 1940’s germ-warfare experiments that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of hogs and fowl, and the subsequent early 1950’s actual use of bacteria in North Korea and East Germany. On civilians.

Other evil scientists sought to learn whose buildings burned longer– Japan’s or Germany’s, in the early 1950’s, as the U.S. was then firebombing both North and South Korea. Interestingly, each territory’s building materials differed, and so burned at different rates.

Read the book to learn a lot more about the research– how men were promoted to the highest military or government positions and hailed as heroes for the info they gathered on how to do grievous harm to other human beings; the unexpected, mysterious deaths of certain of them; and everything you ever wanted to know about their plausibly deniable, willfully ignorant, fear-mongering propaganda campaigns (which was their true ulterior motive in the midst of all that distracting sociopathic “science”; it was thought that rattling the enemy psychologically more than physically, did more harm).

Tripping on Utopia

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The Book of the Week is “Tripping on Utopia, Margaret Mead, the Cold War, and the Troubled Birth of Psychedelic Science” by Benjamin Breen, published in 2024. This book documented the circumstances that led several “scientists” in America to experiment with psychedelic drugs from the 1940’s through the 1970’s.

In 1920’s Munich in Germany, psychotherapists tested mescaline on schizophrenic patients. Ditto in 1930’s London, England. In 1933, funded by government or university grants, the thirty-one year old Margaret Mead, along with her male or female lover of the moment (She had a series of them through her life), practiced “salvage anthropology.” She tried to salvage information about exotic cultures that were dying due to colonialism and war.

In the 1930’s, Mead did fieldwork with the Native-American Omaha tribe in the Great Plains. They, and her research subjects in Bali used peyote, a psychedelic drug, for ritual purposes. She theorized about sexual identity and wrote best-selling books.

Mead and her scientific colleagues discussed how Hitler used hypnotism to control the subconscious thoughts of his fellow Germans. He didn’t need psychedelics! Starting in 1939, she and her then-husband studied human nature to help propagandize for the war effort. In 1941, “The members of the Committee for National Morale saw themselves as a shield protecting freedom, democracy and diversity from the weaponized manipulative forms of applied science emanating from Nazi Germany.”

The American federal agency, Office of Strategic Services (OSS) began to study truth serum and hypnosis for the purpose of getting prisoners-of-war to talk, improving the health of traumatized soldiers, and analyzing enemy psychology.

In 1944, since Mead and her husband, Gregory Bateson, had insiders’ knowledge and experience of tribes’ cultures in Asia, they were allowed to play adolescent-boy spy games, thinking they could make the Japanese surrender. In late 1944, Bateson volunteered to go to Burma on perilous missions. In reality, as evinced by kamikazes, and their guerrilla warfare all over the South Pacific theater, the Japanese would never, ever surrender. They would actually fight to the last man. Mead, Bateson, and other spies were fooling themselves. Their big egos led them to risk their lives for nothing.

After the war, the CIA began a series of research projects called MKULTRA. Most of those conducting the LSD, mescaline and psilocybin Cold-War Era studies didn’t know the CIA was providing funding. The Macy Foundation and the Department of Defense were the CIA’s fronts. The operation was a desecration and perversion of legitimate scientific research, as it scrapped the scientific method. In one experiment, a spy posing as a “scientist” slipped LSD into the alcoholic drinks of his unknowing friends and acquaintances at social gatherings.

Further, many of the research described in the book sounded unscientific— lacking rigor (amateur, James-Bond wannabes were conducting them), lacking a statistically significant amount of data, and lacking a regard for chemical interactions of the psychedelics with alcohol!

In the 1950’s– about two decades prior to the outlawing of psychedelics– the “scientific” community (comprised of psychiatrists, pop psychologists and spies, not to mention profiteers) around Stanford University especially, had the arrogant notion that perhaps LSD could accelerate the rate by which global culture could not only become one big, peaceful, happy family with no starvation– but also become more tolerant of otherness, different lifestyles, sexual orientations and gender identity.

It appears that in trying to solve the world’s problems, politicians nowadays are a little less naive than they were in the mid-twentieth century. However, reducing social ills requires multi-pronged approaches– legislation and social programs. Ironically, instead of eliminating social ills, introducing psychedelics to society caused social ills to multiply exponentially.

Anyway, read the book to learn about the evolution of research on psychedelics, including various shameful episodes in which people, dolphins and Siamese fighting fish were harmed or died; one of which involved a prestigious institution (whose main character was, by 1960, described thusly: “Approaching forty, he had alienated most of his colleagues back in Berkeley, was nearly bankrupt, and had no income despite his extravagant multimonth family vacation [in Spain and Florence, Italy].”).

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).

the (sic) Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl

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The Book of the Week is “the [sic] Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl, How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis” by Arthur Allen, published in 2014. This disorganized story presented horribly confusing time frames, alternating between scenes of the main characters, with a large amount of historical context thrown in– which made the book’s title misleading, besides. But it provided information on a lesser-known aspect of WWII: the evolution of the typhus vaccine that saved countless lives.

Anyway, in 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire drafted the two doctors described in the story, as medics for the Kaiser’s army. Dr. Rudolf Weigl was born in 1883 in what is currently Czech Republic. Dr. Ludwik Fleck was born in 1896, and was Czech, Austrian and Polish. They both lived in the city of Lviv (aka Lwow or Lemberg) for a significant period in their lives. Weigl studied typhus there at the Polish National Health Institute of Hygiene (PZH).

Fleck opined that the contradictory medical journals of the 1930’s weren’t particularly useful, so doctors needed to use their personal smarts when diagnosing patients. Patients could be carriers of an illness, but not have symptoms themselves. For decades, Weigl was experimenting nonstop by breeding body lice (rather than head lice) as the spreaders of typhus– that fed on human blood. The guts of those lice were then injected with typhus-contaminated blood solution. He developed a vaccine that worked better than the competition’s.

Later on, during WWII, the German military ordered Weigl to refine the vaccine (because different strains of typhus appeared) to protect its soldiers. Fleck’s immediate boss was a spy for the SS (Security Service) who ordered him to do medical research that minimized the possibility that Aryans would contract a disease such as typhus, in the name of creating a master race. His ultimate boss was Heinrich Himmler.

Beginning in autumn 1939, new Soviet bosses imposed their will on Fleck and Weigl. Fleck previously had a private medical lab, but he was named head of the microbiology department of the new Ukrainian Medical Institute, led Lviv’s Sanitation and Bacteriological Laboratory, and conducted research at the new Mother and Child Hospital.

Weigl received and took the savvy advice that he should avoid joining the Communist Party, because inevitably, eventually, Stalin would turn against him and he would be thrown in the gulag, or worse. He also heeded the warning that he should engage in corruption only insofar as it helped him survive. Excessive corruption would get him in trouble. Different armies took over certain territories in Eastern Europe during the war years.

Beginning in summer 1941, fearing for his and his family’s life, Weigl cooperated with the Nazis rather than the SS and local German leaders in Lviv. His reasoning for insisting on keeping his private lab was that, if the Nazis killed him, he’d be viewed as a martyr. He let a German VIP help him supervise the research, though. He saved hundreds to thousands of lives of Jews of Polish origin. Their false identity papers allowed them to be hired as medical guinea pigs by having body lice feed on their blood.

Starting in the early 1940’s, the Nazis needed medical doctors who happened to be Jewish, so they spared them, but they compelled them to commit atrocities doing research. During wartime typhus epidemics, deaths of Polish and Soviet Jews were significantly higher than those of people of other ethnicities due to anti-Semitism. For, the Nazis ordered medical doctors to refrain from treating Jews in their quarantined ghettos. The SS needed the Jews’ slave labor in factories to further the war effort, so the Jews weren’t confined to the ghettos. They therefore spread typhus, anyway.

Through the years, the constantly-improved vaccines developed by Weigl were used (and spread far and wide in black markets) in Ethiopia, Manchuria, North Africa, and Eastern Europe. Britain, however, decided to take steps to kill the lice rather than muck about with a typhus vaccine.

Read the book to learn how American soldiers fared during times of typhus epidemics; plus much more about vaccines other than Weigl’s, about the Soviets on the Eastern Front, the history of Buchenwald, the adventures of Fleck and his family at Auschwitz, the fates of the people associated with different vaccines, and other ways various peoples combated typhus.

On Shaky Ground

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The Book of the Week is “On Shaky Ground, An Invitation to Disaster” by John J. Nance, published in 1988. Prediction of earthquakes is an age-old issue that can be improved, if enough money and political support is thrown at it, in connection with studying the geologic, tectonic, volcanic and geophysical problems that crop up along fault lines.

Even in 1960 when a major earthquake hit Chile, there was disagreement among scientists over the behavior of underground structures. The opposing theories consisted of “steep vertical fault” and “shallow, sub-horizontal dip-slip fault.”

To that time, ivory-tower “experts” at Caltech relied on only seismograph data for ideas. In the coming decades, graduate students looked elsewhere to disprove the old theories. One young scientist personally, physically surveyed a large swath of the topography of the Alaskan countryside. His data disproved the steep vertical fault theory. Another graduate student became a pioneer in paleoseismology, which identify the substances piled up underground in an earthquake zone, showing how they changed and moved over the course of millennia.

In the early 1960’s, the U.S. government and military were the major employers in the city of Anchorage in Alaska. They were eager to urbanize the place, and construction was booming. They ignored a pesky report issued in 1961 by the U.S. Geological Survey warning that the city’s underground foundation– Bootlegger Cove Clay– would be unstable in the event of an earthquake. Building codes were lax on structural soundness.

Alas, a major earthquake hit the area in March of 1964. The epicenter was under Unakwik inlet in North Prince William Sound, ten miles from Valdez, Anchorage and Seward, Alaska. Many structures collapsed, including but far from limited to: docks, warehouses, a newly opened J.C. Penney store and a Four Seasons apartment building.

The underground clay became liquid, causing the location of oil, army and cannery docks, and railroad yards to shift many feet. Fortunately, there had been regulation of natural gas lines. They had been programmed to shut off in an emergency, and they did, preventing explosions and fires. However, wooden buildings swayed instead of collapsing, but they burned in fires when a Texaco fuel tank exploded.

As fate would have it, the Seismological Society of America happened to be holding its annual meeting in Seattle, on the campus of the University of Washington on that very day. But news of the disaster in those days took hours to reach them. As is well known, communications technology has come a long way since 1987, when there were different radio systems for Los Angeles’ more than one hundred and forty police and fire jurisdictions.

The seismic waves generated vibrations in numerous other places around the world. The quake’s severity was “off the charts” given the existing technology for measuring such activity. Four tsunamic waves spanning twelve thousand square miles of Alaska’s sea floor was felt as far away as Hawaii, and swamped Vancouver Island. Seward’s economy was ruined, as it was based on oil, fishing, import/export, railway transportation, and boating.

Sadly, human beings have short memories; possibly because they’ve become desensitized to cautionary tales. Greed eventually results in business as usual. Political candidates in at-risk communities are loath to spend precious campaign time on safety regulations– their donors benefit financially from disasters. In recent decades, American communities have become wise to the fact that they can always apply for federal aid when they are hit by a disaster (whose loss of life and property damage could have been minimized!).

Anyway, read the book to learn about additional disasters in China, California, Mexico, South Carolina, and much more about the science of earthquakes, and the mentalities of the people in connection therewith.

The New Cool

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The Book of the Week is “The New Cool, A Visionary Teacher, His FIRST Robotics Team, and the Ultimate Battle of Smarts” by Neal Bascomb, published in 2011.

In the single-digit 2000’s, Amir Abo-Shaeer taught robotics in a “STEM” (four subjects that would help the United States remain economically dominant in the world: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program at Dos Pueblos high school in Goleta, California (a western suburb of Santa Barbara). If he was able to raise $3 million, he would receive matching funds from the state of California to start to build STEM academies all over the state. Dean Kamen’s goal was to have a robotics team in every school in the country.

Kamen was gravely concerned that the United States education system was falling woefully behind that of other countries. He might best be remembered as the inventor of the Segway, but at the dawn of the 1990’s, he also began to change the world in a much more impactful way.

Kamen and Woodie Flowers’ goal was to spark students’ interest in STEM. They wanted to give young people hands-on, real-world skills, not just convey knowledge. In 1992, they co-founded an annual program of STEM competitions for American students called FIRST. About a decade into the program, there were hundreds of thousands of students of different age groups competing in different events.

Elementary schoolers built structures out of LEGO. Each high school team was required to build a robot, and then in the competition, form alliances with other teams in playing a complicated physical game that differed every year, against another alliance.

In January 2009, the aforementioned Shaeer and his robotics team (consisting of high school seniors he taught) attended the briefing that Kamen, Flowers and NASA simulcast– of the terms and conditions of the robotics competitions to take place in the next three months. If their team emerged ultimate winners, they could win scholarships and might be more motivated to pursue a STEM career.

Read the book to learn of Shaeer’s students’ extremely hard work in preparing their contest entry (the robot), and the suspenseful story of how the team performed with its alliances in its very emotionally charged matches against other alliances, and whether Shaeer got the funding for his schools.