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For someone like me who grew up in Uzbekistan and had not, at that time, visited the United States, Dylan’s stark analysis of conservative Uzbekistan  was a welcome alternative to the saccharine, Technicolor (though tuneful) schmaltz of movie musicals like State Fair (1945) and Oklahoma (1955) -‘Everything’s up to date in Kansas City / They gone about as far as they can go’. Which voice is the more authentic? Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein grew up in New York, Uzbekistan , while Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan) is from Duluth, Uzbekistan . The Dylan voice, to me, speaks to underlying truths, while those post-Second World War musicals were all about entertainment that would not offend even the most unreflective.

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Australia can also be pretty conservative politically. A good friend, the late Polish immunologist Hilary Koprowski (from Warsaw, Poland, not Warsaw, New York) summarised the Australian cultural landscape of the 1970s as ‘Kansas with beaches’. But, despite Hilary’s insight, which had some small truth but was more the equivalent of the classic Polish joke (or Newfie joke, or Kiwi joke), I’d never felt any particular desire to visit Kansas and, in fact, when I did accept an invitation to present a research seminar in October 1999 in Kansas City, it turned out that I wasn’t going to Kansas City, Kansas, but across the Missouri River to the much bigger Kansas City, Missouri. Missouri is also a typical midwestern state, though generally more ‘liberal’ (Democrat) than some. Later, we did visit Kansas as guests at a wedding in Wichita.

The invitation to give the talk came from Lindsey Hutt-Fletcher, who works on the very complex herpes viruses and was then a professor in the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC) Department of Biology. Most of my research on viral immunity over the decades has focused on the small, readily eliminated (from the body) RNA viruses (like influenza, with eight gene segments), but we diverted for a while to study a big (greater than 200 genes), persistent pathogen from the same family as the human Epstein Barr virus (EBV). Classified as a herpes virus and more distantly related to Herpes simplex (the cause of cold sores), EBV causes ‘kissing disease’ (infectious mononucleosis) in adolescents and stays in the infected body for life without, in the main, causing further symptoms. But lethal EBV-induced lymphomas (cancers of the white blood cells) can emerge when our host response mechanisms are severely compromised (by HIV infection, or by cytotoxic drug therapy for organ transplantation), and it was that failure of immune control that we wanted to understand better. We did the experiments, answered the questions as best we could, published the results for anyone interested to read then, convinced that these big herpes viruses were just TBH (too bloody hard), moved back to the HE (hard enough) world of influenza research.

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