Monday, December 31, 2012

The re-invention of a military-only antiseptic into "bedside penicillin for all" creates a global beacon of hope for a world at war

the tiny stone the builders rejected
Despite the self-centred claims of physicists, the greatest benefits to humanity have generally been ardently pursued (invented), not accidentally stumbled upon (discovered).

DNA was discovered in 1860s by an Swiss doctor, but for most of us, it was really only discovered 125 years later in the late 1980s.

That was when it began to first be successfully used to solve unsolved criminal cases, when British researcher Alec Jeffries re-invented 'DNA' as a means to definitely identify biological evidence left at the scene of a crime.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

1939-1945 : the modern Allies's real opponent was not Berlin anti-modernity but Manhattan ante-modernity ...

Conventionally , the Nazis were said to be anti-modern, though many of us feel they were the ultimate in hyper-modernity.

No, we think modernity in 1945 was defeated by ante- (or post-) modernity, of the Manhattan variety.

Henry Dawson, where ever you might be, take a bow .....

Even during Total War, its "who you know" not "what you know" : Richards, Queen and penicillin

Penicillin was not "reserved for military use only during WWII", as the cosy myth about wartime penicillin claims.

It was instead reserved as a plaything for medical researchers who would have quite happily have gone on polishing perfection until Judgement Day, if left to their own devices.

Consider how the American military finally got a look-see into penicillin, in early 1943 (remember the shooting war began back in the Fall of 1939).

Friday, December 28, 2012

Penicillin : from Modern to ante-Modern in six bloody years

The biggest battle of WWII was NOT Stalingrad ( physically huge but intellectually a mere bun fight between History's worst dictators) but rather the battle over wartime penicillin : who makes it and who receives it.

For WWII definitely had a 'war within a war' aspect to it .

Thursday, December 27, 2012

America sure loves its minutemen and riflemen - except during wartime

MOS 745 (circa 1780)
Do you accept - or do you deny - gun control and climate change?

Do you think that wartime penicillin should just be for healthy young  scallywags who cheat on their wives but are still fully combat-ready or do you think it should be "wasted" on the dying of all nations, races and creeds ?

Some things never change and the skygods and earthlings still mix it up to oppose each other as much today on gun control and climate change as they did back almost 75 years ago on the best uses for wartime penicillin.

Very last files UK National Archives plans to digitalize : FO 370/926, futile appeals from abroad for British penicillin

The very last files that the UK National Archives plans to digitalize and put on line won't be the ultra-secret Ultra files . Trust me : Ultra was a success.

No the very last files, if ever, to be digitalized and put on line will be the series FO (Foreign Office) 370/926 : requests from aboard , 1944-1945, for that wonderful British invention , penicillin.

That's because what should have been the greatest success for the UK in WWII turned out to be their worst total balls-up disaster.

Did Atlee - or PENICILLIN - defeat Churchill in July 1945 ?

In retrospective, the shock defeat of Winston Churchill's National Government in the General Election of July 1945 could have been foreseen in the Fall of 1944.

All that Fall, a long series of indignant Parliamentary questions were raised - and un-comforting answers were given - about the national government's refusal to find penicillin for UK civilians dying of endocarditis while Britain found the means to supply the same medicine to "Germans, Finnish Prime Ministers and Swiss footballers".

Germany and Finland were in the Axis and most Britons saw Switzerland as at least a fellow traveller.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

For a medicine Modernity reserved for the military, penicillin sure missed a lot of battles ...

The USSR had at least 3 million life-threatening cases of bacterial infection between August 1940 and August 1945 that penicillin could have successfully treated.

It is not well known that Russia did make it its own penicillin and did treat some serious infections with it and saved some lives as a result during those five war years.

Sort of.

Soviet doctors treated 300 cases with their penicillin over those five years : out of at least 3 million life-threatening cases.

Not surprisingly, the Miracle of Penicillin does not loom highly in Russian historical accounts of the Great Patriotic War.

This too might easily have been the fate of wartime penicillin in the Allied West as well.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The war began with Modern penicillin and ended with Postmodern penicillin

The war began with Modern penicillin and ended - quite unexpectedly - with Postmodern penicillin.

Began with micro-grams of Modern penicillin and ended, quite unexpectedly, with kilo-tonnes of Postmodern penicillin.

In fact we began WWII itself with Modernity at its very apogee and ended it - also quite unexpectedly - with the birth pangs of Postmodernity.

And penicillin was at the very heart of that fundamental change in world views.

Friday, December 21, 2012

During the Ultimate Battle against the Nazi Evil, most of the world spent it parked in NEUTRAL

Only one nation group ( the British Commonwealth) was an combatant during the entire six years of WWII (September 1939 to September 1945) : even the original aggressor, Germany, ceased to be a combatant with its surrender early in 1945.

Every other nation on Earth - bar none - was neutral in the battle against Hitler and the Nazi Evil : for some, most or all of World War Two.

The sad fact is that most of the world's independent nations 'dog-danced' around the greatest moral crisis Humanity has ever faced.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fleming vs Wright 1929: local surgeon vs general immunologist ?

It is not generally accepted that Alexander Fleming actually did fight hard with his nominal boss, Sir Almroth Wright, to ensure the inclusion of a brief paragraph in his 1929 article that introduced penicillin to the world - the one that said it might have antiseptic applications.

Many researchers are skeptical about the idea of an undocumented fight.

They fear Fleming and his supporters are merely using it as an excuse to shift the blame onto Wright for Fleming's 15 year failure to put the world's best ever germ killer to work saving lives.

I do think there was a fight and that the disagreement , in a sense, flatters Wright and diminishes a part of Fleming's current reputation (though I haste to add , Fleming himself never ever fostered this part of his reputation.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Alexander Fleming : surgeon manque ?

It is not well known that Alexander Fleming the bacteriologist actually trained to be a surgeon but never practised and apparently didn't mind the missed opportunity.

Or did he ?

I think he did, in fact, long to use a surgeon's lancet - albeit on a tiny/micro scale.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Penicillin, age 13, meets her first lover : Henry Dawson

Mad, is he ??
It was frequently said of Dr Henry Dawson (as it was of General James Wolfe) that he was quite mad.

But what can one say in response, that George II hasn't already said much better over two hundred and fifty years earlier ?

It is true that Henry Dawson was quite mad , mad on the subject of the "unlimited potential" of penicillin , at a time (1941) when almost all ignored it and even its own 'supporters' damned it with veiled praise.

Fleming's non-toxic antiseptic was useless (and was called penicillin)

Toxic - but effective - antiseptic
An extremely non-toxic ,wide-spectrum (for its time)  germ-killer that can be used as a huge-dose, long term, systemic (ie something we safely introduce into the bloodstream), is a very rare indeed.

And highly valuable, even priceless, whenever our body faces massive body-wide infections that can kill us.

By contrast, what Alexander Fleming claimed to offer between the Fall of 1928 and the Fall of 1942, was a slow acting, non-toxic, wide-spectrum antiseptic (externally applied) germ-killer that was in very short supply and very unstable.

Was there a Parran-Hearst Telegram ? (You provide the penicillin, I'll provide the pictures)

"Operator, get me Washington, tell 'em I'm from Hearst..."
There is no firm evidence that Citizen Hearst ever sent that infamous telegram to the famous war artist Frederic Remington in Cuba.

We all know which telegram:  the one where Remington is sent out to illustrate the ongoing civil war in Cuba, but finds all is quiet and begs to go home.

Hearst supposedly telegraphs him to stay : "(If) you furnish the pictures, I'll furnish the war."

Politics as the authoritative "prioritizing" of values

A Canadian (but not Canada) morally defines wartime penicillin
There is a broad academic consensus as to the best way to differentiate political bargaining from economic bargaining.

That consensus says that "prices" are used to come to an informal economic agreement as to the allocating of scarce resources between alternative uses.

But politics authoritatively allocates (rations/triages) scarce resources between alternative uses.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The FAILURE of fiat during Total War

I insist that the truism that all politics is about the authoritative allocation of scarce resources is never less true than during Total War.

My claim is that this paradox is true because the successful waging of Total War is not really about gathering enough scarce physical resources but rather more about rallying all the possible psychic resources that your nation's citizenry possesses.

The demands of Total War are never ending and even the relatively simple task of commanding by fiat of 110% of all possible physical resources is never enough.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Raymond Chandler biographers' alert : his entire war records posted online

Sgt Ray Chandler, SIR !!
Perhaps a fan of Raymond Chandler at the Public Archives of Canada, exasperated beyond measure by all the bosh written by Chandler biographers about his war record in the Canadian Army in WWI, has decided to set the record straight by posting all his military records online, free for the downloading.

Since "1940s Chivalry" (what an oxymoron !) is the most important meme in my book de-bunking the current myth of wartime penicillin, I am deeply interested myself in Chandler's WWI experiences in the Canadian infantry.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Well-intentioned PhD supervisors are the death of good History writing : particularly in writing about wartime penicillin

Many a well-intentioned PhD supervisor, hoping to help their student across the mine-field of a PhD thesis which casts its net too widely, steers the student to a subject that has an existing treasure trove of unexamined (or under-examined) archival material.

But taken too far, this attitude kills good history stone dead.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Illinois credits CORN liquor, Wisconsin DAIRY sugar for success of wartime penicillin

Call me cynical, but if Florey had been steered to the University of  Wisconsin in Madison in 1941 instead of to the USDA lab in Peoria , we might have gotten wartime penicillin in serious production a whole lot quicker.

Albeit with only one (ahem) drawback: we'd all be deaf hearing  how it was the addition of lactose than finally made penicillin production commercially viable - and hear virtually nothing about the addition of corn steep liquor to the happy mix !

ROP on this penicillin milch cow is beyond astounding : and it is all down to lactose intolerance !

Ironic isn't it ? Hundreds of millions of people have enjoyed longer lives thanks to the lactose intolerance of some slimy little mold.

Between Wartime Penicillin's initial failure ( Chemistry) and its final success (Biology) stood a third party : the humanitarians

When I call Henry Dawson "Penicillin's Third Man", I am being more than ordinarily facetious.

Penicilin's problem was chemistry-besotted biologists, the solution was  biologically-pragmatic chemists and the connecting threat were a tiny group of humanitarian-minded clinicians.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

For the middle class of the Modernist Age, being double-dipped for their daily bread was a honor not a curse : hence their horror of hospital-made penicillin

Hard to believe that our grandparents were glad to be first soaked by milling corporations for the firms' processing away of life-giving vitamins from their flour and bread and then soaked a second time when the millers' added expensive man-made processed vitamins back in again.

It was called "Progress" and it was good.

To a hammer, everything is a nail - to a thermometer everything is fever: but was penicillin fever BAD ??

Fever is closely associated with virtually any and every kind of illness - but does it make the disease worse or is it one of its cures ?

Dawson,Humphrey & Chisholm : the three Canadians who helped formulate the final Allied 'war aims'

Dawson, Humphrey & Chisholm sounds like - to Atlantic Canadians of a certain age - more like a small town firm of accountants or insurance agents than a trio of 1940s Canadians who changed the world as we know it very much for the better.

George Redmayne Murray : moral predecessor to Dawson,Duhig & Pulvertaft's penicillin efforts

moral predecessor to Henry Dawson
Dr George Redmayne Murray is no longer a name that trips off the lips of scientists and doctors, but he still has moral lessons to teach us today.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

WWII : penicillin as punishment for self-inflicted wounds - or for saving lives ?

In WWII, they used PENICILLIN , instead....
Dr Howard Florey's deep and sharp (fundamental) differences with Dr Henry Dawson on the appropriate application of wartime penicillin were not over matters narrowly "scientific" or "medical" but rather were differences in philosophy and ethics.

Friday, December 7, 2012

HMS Birkenhead & HMS Nova Scotia: connecting the highs & lows of human behaviour to Star Wars

frequent visitor to Halifax Nova Scotia ends up the victim of Allied brutality
Two British troopships, sunk a century apart, on opposite sides of South Africa, probe the very heights and depths of human morality.

The battle over wartime penicillin, EUGENICALLY speaking : who makes it and who gets it ?

Eugenics dominated ALLIED war aims
Wartime America was consumed by "popular-eugenic" emotions, (as was the rest of the world of the early 1940s.)

These emotions lay just below conscious thought, but were often behind conscious deed.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dawson jumps the gun on Meyer's penicillin project

Henry Dawson does not deserve the credit he always gets for starting the wartime penicillin project at Columbia University.

(Honoured for taking control of it and making it into something to be universally and eternally admired, is a different story.)

Karl Meyer started it up - pure and simple. And as it happens, purity and simplicity were also the goals of his penicillin project.

Did Phillips Thygeson fumble Penicillin in 1940?

Of course he did - but he was hardly alone.

Between 1930 and 1940 a series of unbroken successes with semi-purified penicillin in the treatment of very serious eye infections were unreported by the eye doctors who performed them.

If these striking successes with serious eye infections had been reported, penicillin would have gone into commercial production before the war and saved millions of lives world wide.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Penicillin : both its mold and its morals seem to hang out in basements and sewers

Rollo Martins the Canadian naif to Harry Lime's evil...
When I started looking into wartime penicillin, back in late 2004, I quickly felt like that other Canadian , Rollo Martins, learning far more about the immoral underbelly of  the official - and sunny - penicillin story than either of us wanted to know.

Was Alexander Fleming a coward ?

FLEMING avoided this ....
Hard to say --  but he definitely didn't have a chivalrous bone in his body.  And twice - while still a young man - when given a chance to be brave,  he fearlessly declined.

Scots wha hae wartime penicillin : chase Fleming's synthetic chimera or save lives with Dawson's shovel-ready ?

Dawson vs Fleming decided wartime PENICILLIN 
The battle over the direction of wartime penicillin can be presented, semi-accurately, as a showdown between two Scots with widely different concepts of the continuing value of chivalry in a Modernist Age.

1942's key question : not can penicillin save lives but can SULFA still save lives ...

wartime PENICILLIN's unlikely saviour
Popular and academic historians alike continue to treat the histories of wartime penicillin and wartime sulfa as if they existed on separate universes, when, in fact , they were fierce, close competitors.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Were Stalin's COMMIES the best at making crude penicillin ? Say it ain't so, Joe !

Here is what Howard Florey, normally the most hostile critic of crude penicillin, found in his analysis of the crude Russian penicillin liquids in early 1944: 30 to 40 Oxford units per cc/ml.

Amazing !

The Allied governments and Henry Dawson had a serious disagreement on the Allied war aims : but I happen to think that Dawson won the argument...

Superficially ,WWII came down to a physical battle between a democracy that lynched Negroes in Georgia (America) and a dictatorship that hoped to lynch Jews in Georgia ( USSR).

 But really it was much more than that.

The bigger, more permanent, conflict was the battle for the hearts and minds of the whole world, fought between the eugenic forces of modernity and the commensality forces of an emerging post-modernity.

Like Germany, Howard Florey effortlessly won all the tactical battles, losing only the strategic war to Henry Dawson

Eugenics was on the side of the Big Battalions...
Howard Florey was a WWII chicken-hawk, so it little surprises that his chosen hobby-horse, Allied war medicine, was vigorously and publicly 'On the Side of the Big Battalions'.

That meant making a virtue of denying aid to dying 4Fs, to give it instead to healthy 1As.

 But as Hitler had earlier found out to his cost, this was not a position designed to win over the small battalions of the world's hearts and minds.

The Allied battle for the world's 'hearts and minds' : NS-born Henry Dawson's patient-penicillin vs OSRD war-penicillin

Army is - wrongly - blamed for her SBE death
The idea that successful American governments need first to win over the 'hearts and minds' of people, before they rush to impose their objectives by legal and military fiat is an old, old , old one.

Presidents John Adams used the phrase "hearts and mind" in this sense early in the 19th century, long before Presidents FDR, Kennedy and Johnson made it famous in the 20th century - and before recent presidents George W Bush and Obama dragged it out of the archives to use in this century.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Florey vs Dawson : penicillin to be perfect & a war medicine OR an imperfect but universal medicine ?

patricia (Patty) Malone penicillin breakthrough september 1943
Baby Patty Malone helped the whole world discover penicillin 
As should be well known, penicillin-the-molecule and penicillin-the-lifesaver were discovered September 1943 by the whole world, (not in September 1928 by Alexander Fleming) while natural-penicillin-the-universal-livesaver was invented on October 16th 1940 by Henry Dawson.