Apr 122018

The announcement of the successful results of major testing of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was made on this date in 1955, leading to its approval as safe and effective, and dramatically reducing the incidence of polio worldwide. I was born a number of years before the vaccine was developed, but I was part of a massive effort to inoculate children after the vaccine had been refined and declared safe. I was part of a generation that was ravaged by polio, and I knew a number of children who were permanently crippled by the disease. The polio vaccine was created, starting in 1952, by Salk and a team at the University of Pittsburgh that included Julius Youngner, Byron Bennett, L. James Lewis, and Lorraine Friedman, and required years of subsequent testing. Salk went on CBS radio to report a successful test on a small group of adults and children on 26 March 1953; two days later the results were published in JAMA. Beginning 23 February 1954, the vaccine was tested at Arsenal Elementary School and the Watson Home for Children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Salk’s vaccine was then used in a test called the Francis Field Trial, led by Thomas Francis, the largest medical experiment in history at that time. The test began with approximately 4,000 children at Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia, and would eventually involve 1.8 million children, in 44 states from Maine to California. By the conclusion of the study, roughly 440,000 received one or more injections of the vaccine, about 210,000 children received a placebo, consisting of harmless culture media, and 1.2 million children received no vaccination and served as a control group, who would then be observed to see if any contracted polio.

The results of the field trial were announced 12th April 1955 (the tenth anniversary of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose paralytic illness was generally believed to have been caused by polio). The Salk vaccine had been 60–70% effective against PV1 (poliovirus type 1), over 90% effective against PV2 and PV3, and 94% effective against the development of bulbar polio. Soon after Salk’s vaccine was licensed in 1955, children’s vaccination campaigns were launched. In the U.S, following a mass immunization campaign promoted by the March of Dimes, the annual number of polio cases fell from 35,000 in 1953 to 5,600 by 1957. By 1961 only 161 cases were recorded in the United States.

Salk is not only a worthy scientist to celebrate on this blog for his achievements, his outlook on life, expressed in various aphorisms, is commendable:

The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.

Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.

Nothing happens quite by chance. It’s a question of accretion of information and experience.

I have dreams, and I have nightmares. I overcame the nightmares because of my dreams.

I couldn’t possibly have become a member of this institute [The Salk Institute for Biological Studies] if I hadn’t founded it myself.

There are three stages of truth. First is that it can’t be true, and that’s what they said. You couldn’t immunize against polio with a killed-virus vaccine. Second phase: they say, “Well, if it’s true, it’s not very important.” And the third stage is, “Well, we’ve known it all along.”

Now, some people might look at something and let it go by, because they don’t recognize the pattern and the significance. It’s the sensitivity to pattern recognition that seems to me to be of great importance. It’s a matter of being able to find meaning, whether it’s positive or negative, in whatever you encounter.

Reason alone will not serve. Intuition alone can be improved by reason, but reason alone without intuition can easily lead the wrong way. They both are necessary.

In the years that Salk was developing the vaccine, his favorite eating place right near the University of Pittsburgh was the Bamboo Garden, a Chinese restaurant on Forbes Avenue, operated by Roy Shew and Ken Yee. It is said that he used to think through problems over a bowl of wonton soup, egg roll, rice and chicken chow mein made with homegrown bean sprouts. I would find 1950s-style Westernized Cantonese cooking of this order pretty wretched these days, but back then I was probably as much of a fan as Salk.  The words chow mein mean ‘stir-fried noodles’, chow meaning ‘stir-fried’ and mein meaning ‘noodles’. The pronunciation chow mein is an English corruption of the Taishanese pronunciation chāu-mèing. The lightly pronounced Taishanese [ŋ], resembling the end of a Portuguese nasal vowel, was taken to be /n/ by English speakers. The Taishan dialect was spoken by migrants to North America from Taishan, a city in southwestern Guangdong.

There are as many variants of chow mein as there are countries where Chinese have opened restaurants, none of them being much like 炒面 (fried noodles), served in China. Indeed, “fried noodles” is about as generic in China as “pasta” is in Italy. Salk would have eaten one of two kinds of chow mein, probably the steamed kind, because his favorite mentions bean sprouts. There are two main kinds of chow meins available in the US:

  1. Steamed chow mein
  2. Crispy chow mein, also known as Hong Kong style chow mein

Steamed chow mein has a softer texture, while the latter is crisper and drier. Crispy chow mein uses fried, flat noodles, while soft chow mein uses long, rounded noodles. Crispy chow mein has either onions and celery in the finished dish or is served “strained” (without any vegetables). Steamed chow mein can have many different kinds of vegetables in the finished dish, most commonly including onions and celery but sometimes carrots, cabbage and mung bean sprouts as well. Crispy chow mein is usually topped with a thick brown sauce, while steamed chow mein is mixed with soy sauce before being served. Both are commonly served with chicken or pork (or even beef), but can also be vegetarian.

Finding a Chinese restaurant that will serve 1950s-style chow mein in Cambodia is not happening for me, and I can’t say that I relish the prospect either. If you live away from the east or west coast of the US, I expect you will have a better shot at it. I wish you luck if that is your thing: 很多运气.

Apr 222014


Today is the birthday (1724) of Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher who is widely considered to be a central figure in the development of certain branches of modern philosophy. He argued that human concepts and categories structure our view of the world and its laws, and that, therefore, reason is the source of morality. Kant’s major work, the Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft, 1781), aimed to bring reason together with experience and to move beyond what he believed to be failures of traditional philosophy and metaphysics. He hoped to end an age of speculation in which objects outside of experience were used to support what he saw as futile theories, while also resisting skepticism.

Kant proposed a “Copernican Revolution-in-reverse.” In simple terms, Kant argued that our experiences are structured by necessary features of our minds. The mind shapes and structures experience so that, on an abstract level, all human experience shares certain essential structural features. Among other things, Kant believed that the concepts of space and time are integral to all human experience, as are our concepts of cause and effect. We never have direct experience of things, the noumenal world, and what we do experience is the phenomenal world as conveyed by our senses.

Kant published other works on ethics, religion, law, aesthetics, astronomy, and history. These include the Critique of Practical Reason (Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, 1788), The Metaphysics of Morals (Die Metaphysik der Sitten, 1797), which dealt with ethics, and the Critique of Judgment (Kritik der Urteilskraft, 1790), which looks at aesthetics and teleology. He aimed to resolve disputes between empiricist and rationalist approaches. The former asserted that all knowledge comes through experience; the latter maintained that reason and innate ideas are prior. [There is a famous joke involving a rationalist and empiricist passing a flock of sheep.  The rationalist says, “those sheep are white,” to which the empiricist replies, “on this side.”] Kant argued that experience is purely subjective without first being processed by pure reason; using reason without applying it to experience only leads to theoretical illusions. The free and proper exercise of reason by the individual was a major theme both of the Age of Enlightenment, and of Kant’s approaches to the various problems of philosophy.

I’m not going to launch into a treatise on the technical aspects of Kant’s work. You can look them up for yourselves if you are interested. Instead I am going to give a few biographical details followed by some quotes, and then a little discourse on his views on aesthetics as a prelude to a recipe.

Immanuel Kant was born in 1724 in Königsberg then in Prussia (since 1946 the city of Kaliningrad in the Russian Federation). He was the fourth of nine children (four of them reached adulthood). He was baptized Emanuel but changed his name to Immanuel after learning Hebrew. In his entire life, he never traveled more than ten miles from Königsberg. His father, Johann Georg Kant (1682–1746), was a German harness maker from Memel, at the time Prussia’s most northeastern city (now Klaip?da in Lithuania). His mother, Anna Regina Reuter (1697–1737), was born in Nuremberg. Kant’s paternal grandfather, Hans Kant (in German), had emigrated from Scotland to East Prussia, and his father still spelled their family name “Cant.” In his youth, Kant was a solid, but undistinguished, student. He was brought up in a Pietist household that stressed intense religious devotion, personal humility, and complete faith in the authority of the Bible. Kant received a strict education that preferred Latin and religious instruction over mathematics and science. Despite his upbringing in a religious household and still maintaining a belief in God, he was skeptical of religion in later life. Thus he is often labeled as agnostic.

There are a great many stories about Kant’s personal mannerisms which are largely unfounded. It is often held, for example, that Kant lived such a strict and predictable life, that neighbors would set their clocks by his daily walks. He never married, but by all accounts had a rewarding social life. He was a popular teacher and a successful author even before starting on his major philosophical works.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes which give a small taste of the man:

Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another.

Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.

All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.

Happiness is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination.

Live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law.

Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end.

Kant trivialized gustatory experience as incapable of being truly aesthetic because it is driven by appetite and, therefore, cannot be separated from desire or utility (the need to satisfy hunger). Painting, by contrast, can be viewed in a “disinterested” way without reference to utility. I, and many others, have argued strongly against this narrow view of food as utilitarian – perhaps a product of his Puritanical upbringing? You only have to watch the judges’ table on Top Chef to see the gaping flaw in his reasoning.

Here is a recipe for Königsberger Klopse named for Kant’s home town, and one of the highlights of East Prussian cuisine. In the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the dish was officially renamed Kochklopse (“boiled meatballs”) to avoid any reference to its namesake city, which in the aftermath of World War II had been annexed by the Soviet Union. The city’s German inhabitants had been expelled, and the city had been repopulated with Russians and renamed after a close ally of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet leadership. The GDR forbade using the historic names of the annexed territories or cities. Königsberger Klopse were jokingly referred to as Revanchistenklopse (revanchist/revisionist meatballs).

The meatballs are made from very finely ground veal along with onions, eggs, and white pepper. The traditional recipe uses anchovy. If herring is substituted, the dish is called Rostocker Klopse. If both anchovy and herring are omitted, it is called Soßklopse. The meatballs are carefully simmered in veal stock, and the resulting broth is mixed with a roux, cream, and egg yolk to which capers are added. A simpler version of the recipe thickens the sauce with flour or starch only, omitting the egg yolk. A refined version uses only egg yolk as a thickener. Capers are an essential ingredient in all these versions. The dish is traditionally served with boiled potatoes.


Königsberger Klopse



1 day-old bread roll
1 tbsp lukewarm milk
1lb/500g ground veal
1 large egg, beaten
2-4 Anchovies, finely chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
1 tsp butter
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, ¾ of the bunch finely chopped
zest of 1 small lemon
1 ½ cups/400 ml light beef or veal stock
white pepper


1 oz/30g butter
1oz/30g flour
3 tablespoons capers
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsps cream
1 tbsp dry white wine
pinch of sugar
white pepper
2 egg yolks, beaten



Tear the bread roll into small pieces and soak them in the milk. Squeeze out any excess milk and mix the bread together with the ground veal and beaten egg. Add the chopped parsley and lemon zest.

Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat until transparent. Add them to the ground veal mixture together with the finely chopped anchovies. Season with salt and pepper to taste and form the veal mix into approximately 16 meatballs.

Bring the stock to a gentle simmer, add the meatballs and cook them, covered for about 10 minutes. Do not overcook.

Remove the meatballs and keep them warm. Strain the stock and reserve it for the sauce.

For the sauce melt the butter in a heavy skillet. Add the flour and stir continuously to form a golden roux. Add the stock slowly, whisking constantly to form a smooth sauce. Add the capers along with their liquid, the lemon juice, cream and the wine. Season to taste with salt, sugar, and white pepper.

In a small bowl temper the egg yolks by adding a few tablespoons of hot sauce to them and whisking vigorously. Then add the tempered egg yolks to the sauce, whisking constantly, and making sure it does not boil.

Add the meatballs to the sauce and let them to heat through gently.

Serve garnished with the rest of the parsley and lemon wedges, and with boiled potatoes, buttered.

Serves 4