Columnist busted by book police
Dead to rights

Tuesday, July 28, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Enlightenment comes from an unexpected quarter this week.

Marty, my most enthusiastic critic, made an early-morning telephone call on Sunday. He said he "accidentally" read my column about the book list compiled by the Modern Library's editorial board.

"You haven't heard from me in a while," he explained on my voice mail, "because I decided you are hopeless after I read your last ignorant column about guns. Which was, as usual, stupid, stupid."

Dead to rights

He decided, however, that my latest transgression merits one last effort to straighten me out. Plus, he has me dead to rights, which put a semicharming lilt in his voice.

"That list you were blabbing about is supposed to be writers from the 20th century. Dickens and Mark Twain were dead by then," he crowed.

Complaining about lists in general and this one in particular, I wrote with righteous indignation that "Charles Dickens didn't make the list. Salman Rushdie did. Jack Kerouac did. Maya Angelou didn't." Later, I quoted Mark Twain, and griped that he'd been overlooked as well.

Feverishly, I pawed though my notes, hoping for a miracle. Or at least an excuse. Failing that, I had the unworthy and fleeting (I swear) thoughts of a cover-up. But while I was eating a piece of toast and wondering whether anybody else would notice, I got 27 more voice mail messages.


Dickens died in 1870, and Mark Twain, although he lived until 1910, wrote Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in the latter part of the last century. Letters from the Earth was published posthumously in 1962, but probably I would look even sillier than I already have if I tried to shove that one onto the list.

As I say, this time, enlightenment came from an unexpected source, but I rarely open my mail or listen to my messages from readers without learning something. After a July 16 column about the demise of the tiny Albert Sabin Park on Third Street, Bruce Cook, a member of Rotary Club of Cincinnati, called to tell me about the club's Polio Plus Program.

"Dr. Sabin was a Rotarian," Mr. Cook said. "and spoke to our group, asking us to help. He wanted every single child in the world to be inoculated." He supplied his vaccine to Russia during the Cold War because he said "we love their children, too."

Inspired by the pleas of the physician, Rotary International raised $240 million to buy vaccine. During one day in 1997, more than 127 million people were vaccinated in India.

Rotary not only bought the medicine, but "our members go door-to-door letting parents know about the program," he said. "Our goal has been to eradicate polio from the face of the earth by 2005."

Winning the war

The disease has been throttled in Europe and across the Mediterranean to just two remote parts of Turkey and Iran, the World Health Organization (WHO) said last week. The toughest remaining areas are in Africa and in regions of Asia, including India and Afghanistan.

The disease was declared officially vanquished in the Western Hemisphere in 1991.

You can see one of the last remaining iron lungs in the world at the University of Cincinnati's Cincinnati Medical Heritage Center on Pill Hill. Besides old braces and the iron lung, they've got tons of information about Dr. Sabin. A collection of his awards will be in the lobby of the spectacular new UC Medical Center building, the Vontz Center for Molecular Studies, to open in fall 1999.

So, despite the disappearance of the pocket park with his name, we will remember this doctor who put the health of the world's children ahead of politics. In the words of my most ardent critic, to forget would be stupid, stupid, stupid.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at