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Who deserves credit for the vaccines?

I think I’ve mentioned this before but pharma will be right on any opportunity to make a buck. I’m going to bet that Pfizer had funded a Covid portfolio item before DJT even knew what coronavirus was.

(I’m using DJT or He Whose Name Shall be Muttered because I don’t want WordPress to be sent an invoice for name branding or a cease and desist letter. Works for me.)

Anyway, Pfizer is gigantic. It can afford to spend a few bucks on an mRNA vaccine. The fact that it has to be stored at -80C shows that they MacGyvered the formulation process. Git it done, git it out the door. Bask in the glory and the government contracts.

We know how the immune system works. It’s just making it work for us the way we want that takes work. But the biologists, virologists and structural biologists probably had a lot to do with the vaccine.

Same with Moderna, which is not so gigantic but has a thing going with Vertex. The technology is new but it’s built on a lot of basic research. So let’s take a moment to thank the principal investigators and graduate students and immunologists slaving over gene sequencing procedures for years and publishing many, many papers.

And the smoothly efficient researchers at J&J deserve some credit for rejiggering their adenovirus delivery system for coronavirus genes. Let’s applaud the cell culture specialists, the manufacturing technicians who keep the facilities up to tip-top FDA standards. Let’s celebrate Merck who dedicated some of its own facilities. Partnerships like this are not unusual in pharma. But I’ve never seen it done so quickly without the lawyers slowing things down.

Let’s celebrate the epidemiologists and Dr. Fauci who braved creamsicle’s wrath by staying true to their science. We couldn’t have gotten through this without them.

Let’s congratulate ourselves for following CDC guidelines, for wearing masks, washing hands, maintaining social distance, contributing money to food banks, for not losing our minds and melting down in Trader Joe’s over oppression by the nanny state and the loss of our precious freedom.

Thanks to the Biden Administration for buying more vaccine, approving more vaccines, and figuring out a way to distribute the vaccine even though it had to wait over a month to begin the transition process.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to the garbage collectors and grocery store clerks and the delivery services and the restaurant workers (omg, I can’t wait to go out to dinner again. I’m going to tip SO HARD.)

Thanks to state and city governments and other people who I haven’t mentioned like my governor and public health officials who braved a lot of public pressure to keep us bending the curve.

The healthcare industry deserves thanks for not losing their minds over the last year. We owe them so much.

Who doesn’t get credit?

I leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Guilt, Innocence, and the Popular Mind

I composed this a couple of weeks ago, but decided not to post it, because it might be seen as impliedly focusing on one or another person, or matter.. But it is more expansive than that, with each day’s stories. And it seems to me that the theme is now always relevant, no matter how one might come out for or against any person or any piece of art which is under attack. I rewrote it a bit. It is long, but I do think that it is valuable to have a sense of historical perspective to frame it. And it is something which has been important to me, at least as far back as reading a biography of Clarence Darrow at a young age.

In 1692-1693, the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, took place. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, these trials and executions came near the end of a cycle which began in 1330 in Europe, and ended in the late 18th Century. Britannica tells us that it is generally believed that around 110,000 people altogether were tried for witchcraft, and about 60,000 were executed.

The Salem saga is fascinating and horrifying. We know that many people believed in witches, in league with the devil, who flew on broomsticks, and put spells on people. And the witch trials were mostly actually searches to “determine” if people were witches. Three hundred and twenty years later, we may look back on Salem as a place of superstition and ignorance, but that is from our perspective. We know that greed, jealousy, and spite were very much part of the accusations, trials, and punishments. They always are.

People believed in witches, though. Most do not now, not the kind that the Puritans in New England, and the various people of Europe believed in. And yet all those people died, in those eras, by burning, or hanging, or having rocks piled on top of them. And all we can do is to lament that; say, “how awful,” and feel sympathy for the lives taken and families destroyed. But it happened, and none of those lives can be brought back. They were human lives, not put there and taken so that later generations could have an object lesson.

And who would be foolish enough to believe that this era is free from any of the superstitions and beliefs and spites and jealousies which were part of those stories. even if they take a different form across the centuries? The Inquisitions, where thousands were burned at the stake for heresy, had much of that. We know that Arthur Miller, trying to show people how wrong and evil the McCarthy era Communist hunting was, wrote “The Crucible,” set in 1690’s Salem, to show the comparison, that the people of the 1950’s were doing much the same thing, just looking for a different kind of believed-in evil to punish. In the McCarthy and HUAC eras, they did not literally execute their victims, they destroyed their careers and in many cases their lives, which is its own style of execution.

Most know now that there are no evil witches, but many still look for Communists, or in this era, the focus is on “people trying to destroy America.” Some have tried to lynch Black people, some to kill every Jewish person on earth. The people who do this, always have a rationale they have conceived to defend it. They say that they are doing good, ridding the world of evil or treacherous people. And they always draw followers. Things have not changed that much.

There is obviously a blood lust among far too many humans, to single out and punish people. There is a sense of righteousness that they have. There is a fury, and a determination to wreak justice as quickly as possible. “Burn their house!” “Kill them all!” We have seen plenty of movies which portray such scenes; and we would not even need to, we know that it is one of the worst parts of human nature. The “morality tale Westerns” of the ’50’s and ’60’s often had the theme of the out of control mob trying to get someone hanged without a trial, even wanting to kill the sheriff if he tried to stop them. Did you ever see “The Ox-Bow Incident,” where a bunch of otherwise fairly decent people goad themselves into hanging three innocent people for cattle rustling, because they are too inflamed with anger and blood lust to take them into town for a trial? It is unforgettable.

Over time, and arduously, Western Civilization developed a legal system of trial and punishment. The trials in medieval times were often simply rubber stamps for the monarchs, and little protection was afforded to defendants. This very slowly improved over the years. There was a very fine British TV series, “Garrow’s Law,” which is about the Late 18th Century lawyer William Garrow, who stood up for defendants’ rights, and introduced the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” The trials portrayed, often taken from actual records of the Old Bailey, revealed how most defendants, particularly non-aristocrats, had almost no rights, and how Garrow persuasively fought to change that.

At this point, we have our legal system, derived from British Common Law. We all know about trial by jury, and that you need all twelve jurors to convict in capital cases. The standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is known to all, even though it is hard to pin down exactly what the term means, it is not quantifiable. Some say that it is equivalent to about 97% probability of guilt, whatever that exactly means. The jurors are given instructions that they cannot convict in a major crime trial unless they are sure of guilt, at least beyond any reasonable doubt. And all must agree on guilt for the defendant to be found guilty and sentenced. Not eight, or ten, but all twelve.

The system is not perfect, of course. Some guilty people get off. A few innocent people are found guilty and perhaps executed. Sometimes a really good lawyer can convince a jury to have enough doubt to get his client off. Or a bad one does not give him the best defense. We have tried to protect against that by allowing for appeals charging your lawyer with malpractice in the defense case; or general appeals on the interpretations of the law, or jury instructions. The goal has developed of trying to give the accused as many rights as possible. Some have said, “It is better that a thousand guilty men go free, than that an innocent man is convicted.” Others would disagree with that, but I think that it is a noble statement of trying to protect the innocent.

Our legal system is obviously not perfect, but it is very good. I value it, and so I always tend to accept the results of trials, even if I might not agree with them. The other alternative is to simply nullify the court system, or if it is with regard to a public official, to nullify the investigation and impeachment system, which after all, does take time, and thus does not satisfy the impatience and fervor of the public

The “witches” were executed because the people running the trials believed in witches, and so did the towns; and so the defendants could never prove the negative, that they were not witches, to the satisfaction of those who handed out the verdicts it is difficult, if not impossible, to “prove the negative.”.The ‘Bloody Assizes’ of 1685 in England were presided over by “hanging judges’ who were certain to carry out the wishes of the Crown. And it has gone that way for far too long, but at least America’s current legal system has more protections for defendants. However, there are virtually no protections in the currently prevalent ‘trial by public opinion,” or ‘trial by media,’ whether written media, or broadcast media, or social media.

Why are so many people so eager to see someone convicted or resign without a legal process? We certainly like to think that we have advanced beyond the star chambers and kangaroo courts and mob justice of earlier centuries. But there are usually at least two sides to most stories; at least we should want to hear them, and to have our courts and tribunals consider them. Otherwise, what are they there for? Surely not just for appearances?

We could say in a given situation, “Yes, it looks as if this person is guilty,’ or, “This person should resign.” But is that how we want our system to work, where we substitute anger, no matter how righteous it feels, for the laying out of evidence, and a defendant being able to defend himself or herself? Many people in history were burned, or hanged, or lynched, or sent to Devil’s Island, because too many of the public believed the accusations, and wanted immediate justice. And so many great and historically memorable wrongs were committed, which of course usually did not do the accused people any good, though occasionally one was allowed to come back after a dozen years, and have his medals pinned back on.

Shall we change from courtroom trials to Twitter trials, where everyone pushes a button to vote, and a death ray machine zaps anyone who gets majority thumbs down? The crowds in the Roman Coliseum were there for entertainment and blood. Despite the trappings, the human race may not have changed too much from them. I wonder what the McMartins would think, or Richard Jewell, or Alfred Dreyfus, or Leo Frank, or all those people hung on tree limbs by incensed and self-righteous mobs. Today this is more metaphorical, but I do think that the principle is the same. And certainly we must at least give consideration to the possibility that some of the most vociferous accusers might have their own agendas; personal, political, or otherwise.

We may say, “This one or this thing is guilty! Let’s get ’em!” And then the fervor is temporarily assuaged, until the next accusations. Is it hard to imagine that the public becomes ever more eager for the next target, the thrill of the next public outcry, and demand for punishment? That is exactly what happened in the French Reign of Terror, where the appetite and need for guillotinings kept growing, until before too long, any heads would do. It’s never just a matter of looking at the current story, it is also about the trend, and what it might mean for all of us.