Sunday, June 16, 2013

Annette Baker Fox : the survival of the avirulent state in a Virile Age

Bacteriologist (Martin) Henry Dawson and Political Scientist Annette Baker Fox doubtlessly never met, but both of their life's work was not as dissimilar as it might seem at first blush.

Monday, June 10, 2013

It was the very ORTHODOXY of their economic theories that doomed Hitler,Tojo and Mussolini

Devotedly orthodox economist Robert Solow won the 1987 Nobel Prize basically for just one very famous 1974 quote, taken a bit out of context:

"If it is very easy to substitute other things for natural resources, then there is, in principle, no problem. The world, in effect, can get along without natural resources."

But since he was born in 1924 and was only nine when Hitler came to power, he can hardly be blamed for acting as Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo's unofficial economic advisor.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Dawson's commensality supplies Modernity's "Missing Middle"

Seventy five years on, WWII (conventionally 1939-1945 but actually lasting much longer) looks like nothing more than two great grist stones, Reification and Reductionism, relentlessly grinding up all humanity between them .

For example, the Axis reified a scientific claim that humanity could be accurately divided into being either members or non-members of a concretely actual Aryan Race --- and then set out to eliminate all the non members.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Between PROGRESS and PROTONS : "The Missing Middle" , where we actually live

Thirties Reductionism said that once scientists knew the behavior of one of the Protons that made up Winston Churchill's body (and multiplied it by a trillion trillion trillion identical protons), they could then predict Churchill's behavior over the 1936 Abdication Crisis.

Thirties Reification said that Human Progress is real and concrete and since it was so clearly evident that Human Progress 'wants to get ever bigger and bigger',then dividing Human Progress up into the two billion individual people that existed in the world in 1939, would allow us to predict that particular individual Scott Nearing would also approve of things getting ever bigger.

But in fact he became famous for disagreeing bigger is better.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Modernity : CONCRETE Dams vs ABSTRACT Delusions ...

When was Chopin born, when did he die, where did Chopin end and his brother begin ?

All concrete questions we can definitively answer.

That's the terrible thing about individuals, the thing that made modernists from all camps hate them so : if forces one to take the coke out of one's nose and actually deal with hard facts and numbers and dates.

But imagined communities - those hallucinations shared by tenured professors and certified lunatics in the 1930s , now that was their preferred cup of tea.

Not from our war : "Second Front in the Soviet Far East , NOW !"

Dream on.

Shamefully, there was no public Western pressure put on Stalin to open any sort of Second Front on Japan from the North, during the desperate days of mid 1942 or ever after.

Ever after,  as in : no major postwar historical school has ever focused on this baneful fact.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Could "Small is Beautiful" have topped 1930s bestseller lists ?

He is a brilliant young economist, regarded as one of the best of his generation--- educated at Berlin and Bonn and at the London School of Economics, given a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford and Columbia University, where he is hired as a lecturer.

He also has real world experience as an international investment banker.

No wonder then that this wunderkind's  PhD, "Small is Beautiful", is quickly published in 1938 upon his graduation at age 27, and soon climbs the bestseller lists and is translated into many languages and is regarded as a timeless classic and an epoch-making book.

Because most historians credit it for ending the then real possibility of a world-wide European War.

Must Progress inevitably get mightier and wiser ?

During the truly horrible and nasty 1930s and early 1940s, at the apogee of Reductionist Modernity, this idea was the overall global "meta-ideology".

So powerful a meta-ideology that it actually dominated all the ideologies we then took to be widely apart in their worldviews.

Minor variant ideologies we still call fascist/nazi style nationalism , communism, and mixed socialist/capitalist liberal democracy.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Islands and WWII : did anything else important happen (yawn) ?

For hundreds of millions of avid newspaper readers during WWII, an atlas was essential to follow the conflict's global course.

Never more so because of the fact that most of the battles - yes, most of the battles - took place over, around and on islands - with some of the most heavily fought-over islands being almost incredibly tiny.

a Commensal history of WWII includes the small and the great, the hubristic and the nimble

To render the sprawling activities of WWII palatable to digestion (because even the most devoted of readers have their limits) the tendency of authors is to show the war as seen through the eyes of the Great Powers and the Great Men.

And as seen through the eyes of those wisest of Wise Men, the scientists.

A commensal history of 1939-1945 should also start with a war between a handful of Great Men and Great Powers, because that is the way it all began.

But, to be fully accurate, it should also end in a confused co-mingling of the actions of the decisive small as well as those of the chastened great.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Coalitions, not Combat, lost and won WWII

England and pre-1937 Germany definitely started and then attempted to direct World War Two throughout , but they certainly didn't win or lose this truly world-wide war,  not all on their tiny , tiny own.

Instead, two vast world-sized coalitions under their nominal direction - one truly commensal and the other just national imperialism by another name - won and lost the war.

Germany and Japan built far, far, far better fighting machines but lost out totally to the Anglo-led nations, simply because of the Axis inability to form genuine working partnerships with all the people worldwide who were initially willing to back Fascism back in 1939-1940.

In the beginning Japan and Germany seemed to have had 'Science' on their side : most of the educated world resignedly believed that Nature and Darwin had revealed that in the long run, bigger was always better, always beating down the small and the weak.

In other words, they had a baldly naive and a highly hubris-inflated sense of what the Science of Size actually told us.

If you don't know that there actually is a well founded Science of Size, then you won't be prepared for the upcoming mega-sized re-match of WWII, when popular Hubris again collides with unpopular Reality, this time over the question of climate.

Friday, May 24, 2013

WWII's the Mighty and the Wise "confounded" by bacteria and bazooka Resistance Movements

It is clear now that WWII's twin defeats of Sulfa drugs and Armoured tanks by the bacterial and bazooka "Resistance Movements" spelt the beginning of the end for prewar Reductionist cum Constructionist Modernity.

(Martin) Henry Dawson could publish endless articles on the commensality of reality till the end of time ,but they cut no ice with the Mighty and the Wise compared to the short sharp lessons they learned at the great university of real life that was WWII.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

WWII : Constructionists vs Commensalists

Reductionism, still the philosophy of today's Popular Science, has admittedly had a lot of glass-half-filled success in the last few centuries.

It has totally succeeded in burrowing down below the surface of reality to the tiny objects at the base of all energy and matter ; reducing big macro objects that we can directly see and touch down to zillions of incredibly tiny objects we can only assume exists by way of indirect evidence.

But while Reductionism can explain how these tiny objects interact, more or less, it has totally failed to fulfill the real purpose behind all of its efforts : to construct new , better-built, versions of macro reality based on what we have learned about the tiny building blocks that make it up.

It turns out, to use today's Net jargon, that the so called laws of physics do not actually 'scale up' ( or 'scale down') all that well.

WWII Brooklyn to be home to war's biggest killing machine or war's smallest life-saver ?

In the end, the Borough of Brooklyn (NYC) became home to both : the Iowa class of battleships and the home of most of the war's penicillin.

But it had been a near run thing ; this battle over the moral soul of Brooklyn.

After all, from the beginning of the war, the leaders of the Great Powers (Churchill, FDR,Tojo,Stalin and Hitler) were determined to show the world what the greatest entities on Earth could do, if they set their mind to it.

WWII is proof that they succeeded in spades .

Thursday, May 16, 2013

BAZOOKA, not A-Bomb or V-2, most important new weapon of WWII

Because the Great Imperial Powers who began and fought WWII had done so under the mantra that "bigger is better", they were hardly shaken by the emergence (near the war's end) of the A-Bomb and the V-2, surely two of the biggest, most expensive and complex weapons systems ever built up to then.

For the emergence of these style of  weapons merely supported their post-1945 expectations of eternal dominance over other smaller nations and over their own colonies and subservient satellites.

With 20/20 hindsight, they should have been much more worried about other much smaller, much cheaper, much simpler weapons that emerged out of WWII : like the bazooka , above all.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

'A warm meal, a warm bed and a warm smile' : still the best medicine

"The hyssop and The Cedars" is a book about health during our past most recent man-made Apocalypse : occasionally it is about doctors and pharmaceuticals, but mostly it is not.

For the truth is that  *food* was the only medicine in really desperate short supply during WWII.

Truth is that 'a warm meal, a warm bed and a warm smile' is all most of us ever need to reach our three score and ten.

After that, we generally do need the help of hospital beds and the pharmaceutical firms.

But let us also never forget the warm smile.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

High School Science : 'Home of the Hubris' , STILL

Science (the resulting name for the 150 year old victory of Natural Philosophy over Natural History) is widely accepted to be primarily pedagogical in nature.

It exists as a subdivision of Philosophy and is designed primarily to do nothing more that to teach students (and the adult laity) formal and informal lessons in metaphysics and ethics, 'Drawn from Nature' as Science understands it.

Henry Dawson vs Newton, Dalton & Darwin...

During his brief life, (Martin) Henry Dawson managed to have three seemingly wildly different careers : in the Military during WWI, in Academic Science in the interwar years, and in Popular Science during WWII.

But these differences are only apparent , not real.

Friday, May 10, 2013

1945 : as apogee AND nadir of Modern Science

Hitler may have successfully convinced his most rabid followers that the murder of every last Jew in Europe was a fitting consolation prize for his failure to deliver up western Russia as the new frontier for the Aryan super race in 1941.

But the rest of humanity regarding Auschwitz as a particularly (and peculiarly)  modern and scientific crime made it particularly hard for modern scientists in the rest of the world to present their continuing support of eugenics as the public face of postwar biology.

Still Auschwitz in the end proved a godsend to Oswald Avery's 1944 reductionist claims that Free Will didn't really exist but was simply manipulated by the chemical workings of a simple molecule called DNA.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

WWII : From Manchuria Incident to Nagasaki, NEUTRALITY was majority position of world's sovereign nations

The idea that Hitler, Tojo, Stalin and Mussolini are among the most evil leaders of all time - and that people like them must be stopped at all costs - is a relatively recent idea.

It is an idea promoted by people like you and I, who statistically speaking,  weren't likely even alive when WWII ended.

Thus we never had to do the hard-lifting of deciding just what to actually do, or not do, about these obviously aggressive tyrants.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Modern "Bigger is Better" vs Post-modern "Small is Beautiful"

Kiddies, don't agonize about the complex differences between modernity and postmodernity when your prof poses the question at your next final exam ( trust me on this one - they will).

Just remind yourself that great-grandpa back in the 1930s was as unlikely to say "small is beautiful" as today's intellectuals on public broadcasting would ever proclaim "bigger is better" ....

WWII as apogee AND nadir of Modern Science....

The night 'the music died' began when the young pilot of the small plane that Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens were in, misread an instrument and thought he was climbing above a storm when he was really going full blast down into the ground.

Various Modern scientists (and their shills the science 'journalists' , ie editors) might be considered to have done something very similar to that unfortunate pilot.

They mis-read the Atomic Energy fire-bombing of civilians, the mass production of cheap Natural Penicillin and Auschwitz's gas chambers and frugal use of the resulting dead humans as furnace fuel and for soap as triumphs - rather than failures - of Physics, Chemistry and Biology.

WWII : began with "Bigger is Better - Inevitably" and ended up in "Global Commensality"

At the 1939 New York's World Fair , it seemed only common sense that life started out as tiny simple-minded microbes and inevitably ended up both bigger and smarter, with beings like us being the prime example.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Henry Dawson never changed his mind about the Overdogs, but the World did ...

The idea that Nature favours the ubermenschs and overdogs,  that 'Might is Right' , were pretty well universally accepted, albeit sometimes resignedly, in 1939.

Henry Dawson, drawing much different conclusions from his decade long study of the constantly varying battles of Human-Bacteria Commensality, certainly didn't agree.

He gave at least equal odds to all the untermenschs and the underdogs of our natural slash human world.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Civilization, regarded as a "Cartwright Machine"

A "Cartwright Machine" is a powerful and unique way, created by famed philosopher of science Nancy Cartwright,  of looking again at all of Humanity's machines , mental as well as physical.

Cartwright's central insight is to realize that the real beauty of a machine is literally 'only skin deep'.

This is in very sharp contrast to received opinion on machines up until now.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Divided Selves of Nova Scotia's Henrys ....

Thirty years ago, I started researching and writing about the divided mind (to use William James' famous term) of a man named Henry from Nova Scotia.

I still am.

my 1984 Henry Alline poster
But I started off writing and thinking about Henry Alline, a man from New England stock living in Falmouth Nova Scotia , who  very much considered himself a Christian.

Admittedly most see him professing a quite unorthodox variety of the Christian faith.

By contrast, for the last eight years I have been researching, writing and thinking (much, much thinking) about (Martin) Henry  Dawson.

(Martin) Henry Dawson
While this Henry had been raised in a very committed Presbyterian family in Truro Nova Scotia, (with one side of his family reflecting similar New England roots),  he always claimed in adulthood not to be a believer in the Christian God but rather in the new religion of Modern Science.

Modernity dies in an Adorno Moment : 1939-1945

Between  April 30th 1939 (when the New York's World Fair opened) and the November 20th 1945 (when the Nuremberg Trials opened) a lot of water (together with a lot of blood and brains) flowed under one of Modern civilization's few remaining un-bombed bridges :  call it WWII.

If  to the bemused Theodor Adorno, New York's fair was Modernity's bizarre apogee , he also saw Nuremberg's trials as Modernity's appalling nadir.

But I doubt that even Adorno and his co-conspirator Max Horkheimer had really expected Modernity to soar , burn and crash just that quickly.

Militant atheists object not to Jesus's EXISTENCE, but to his ETHICS

Is God really dead...... or just really annoying ?

I think for most modern militant atheists (aka the ones without the gutteral accent and the thick mustache ) it is the ethics of Christianity that they find most offensive.

Civilization can fire Guns OR eat Butter, but not both....

The Cold War is always pointed-to-with-pride as a time when Civilization had guns and butter.

Had guns, yes, but never fired them.

Its all quite different from actual war,( shout out to WWII) , when guns get fired and their shells destroy the butter factories and people are left too hungry to build another shell or churn more butter.

Civilizations like Germany, Japan and Russia then quickly end up with their citizens turning to cannibalism to survive : true they don't eat their guns, but they do definitely eat their leather gun straps before turning on each other as a food source.....

WWII : Science finds, Man applies, Nature confounds ...

Yes indeed, the Universe is just like some giant man-made clockworks, albeit one taken out of its 'shielding' case and left out in Nature's harsh elements, exposed years in years out to blazing sun, wind, rain, snow, dust and mould.

How much our vaunted Civilization rests upon the thin security provided by the shielding roofs over our man-made "Cartwright Machines" is made particularly clear during war.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

WWII:began optimistically as Science, ended tragically as Engineering..

WWII, in other words, began in Modernism and ended in post-Modernism.

It should be understood at the onset that Science's task is strictly pedagogical and that it doesn't have to provide answers that are true, in any realistic sense, merely ones that are correct.

In other words, an excellent science experiment also is an excellent exam question.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Allies gave penicillin only to 1A soldiers for same reason they gave Czechoslovakia only to Hitler

The Allies weaponizing penicillin was as morally wrong as appeasing Hitler by giving him Czechoslovakia on a platter , and for exactly the same reasons.

The Allies totally failed to see that giving everything to the mighty and nothing to the weak was exactly what caused the war in the first place: weaponizing penicillin was not going to win the war but rather cause Allies to lose the moral peace.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Frank Vertosick : the genius within even the smallest and weakest

I would like to highly recommend you read a book by the neuro-surgeon and author Frank Vertosick, The Genius Within, which makes it clear that while the mighty might indeed be wise, the weak are by no means always foolish.

A hybrid between a billiard ball and a bowl of jelly : Modernity's 'the horror, the horror'

Hard to imagine Modernity ever being really comfortable at the Seaside : hard to ever imagine it capable of being relaxed and comfortable that close to such an un-modernist miscegenation of land and water.

Modernity : "Might is Correct"

Modernity's claim that "Might was Right" (and correct) is a significant expansion from the Bible's mere temporary linking together of the two separate entities, the Mighty and the Wise, for the purpose of  warning of hubris.

Commensal thoughts were parents to the Humanitarian penicillin deed ...

Before 1945 and the rise of post-Modernity, it was rare for scientific doubts to turn into humanitarian actions, but Martin Henry Dawson's wartime efforts against the weaponizing of penicillin was an important exception.

WWII : was Nature REALLY on the side of the bigger battalions ?

The distinguishing claim of the Age of Modernity was that Nature was on the side of the bigger battalions : a claim that finally received a definitive physical (rather than verbal) response from Nature, in the years between 1939 and 1945.

This is why we mark 1945 as the start of the new Age of post-Modernity, because unlike Chesterton's Christianity, Modernity has been tried - and failed.....

Friday, April 26, 2013

"Failure to stop Famines invariably dooms Dynasties" say Chinese-influenced cultures

If so - and I happen to agree with the Chinese - than nothing doomed the British, French and Nationalist Chinese Empires like their failure to prevent or solve the man-made famines of 1943-1945 in Bengal, Tonkin and Honan.

The promise of Penicillin : the only good news to ever come out of The Bad News War

Six long years later and in a very different world from what they had so confidently predicted they'd be in, back in 1939, the Allied world celebrated that they had won.

(Those of the world - the majority - who had remained neutral during some or all of the moral battle against Hitler's evil chimed in that they had helped, too, by killing this latter day Kaiser with their mouths.)

More accurately, the Allies had survived : calling it 'winning' was going more than a bit too far.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Genes-o-cide only covers some of the crimes of Hitler,Stalin and Tojo : Triage-cide instead ?

It was Stalin who got the West to agree that the UN definition of genocide shouldn't including killing everyone belonging to a political, economic or social group.

(Clever - because that was exactly the sort of mass killing that Communists, rather than Fascists, much preferred ---- not that Communists didn't kill ethnic groups like the Poles as readily as Hitler killed economic groups like German trade unionists.)

Hitler and his strongest critics agree: Holocaust unique because it sought to kill an entire ethnic group

I don't agree.

 I believe Hitler and his killing crews sought to make it easy on themselves while killing ten million Jews in cold blood, by not regarding them as ten million different individuals but merely as one great big reified lump, an ethnicity.

WWII: the horrific medical 'Triaging' of New York Jews and Blacks

Here is a challenge I throw out to New York City's many amateur historians and genealogical detectives : find out more about the young New Yorker who was the first person ever in the world to be treated - successfully - with penicillin-the-antibiotic.

Particularly if you interested in uncovering more about the harsh wartime treatment afforded many first generation inner city New York Blacks and  Jews.

So, again, a challenge : find out more about PATIENT ONE , the young New Yorker(s)  who first introduced the Age of Antibiotics against fierce resistance from the medical establishment.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

1939-1945 : Nesvizh Jews fight for life, at home and abroad

While Jews in the democratic West during WWII were unwilling  to do something even as minor as chaining themselves to government fences ( a la the suffragettes) to protest the mass killing of their counterparts in Europe, this did not mean that other Jews were not fighting for their right to life in those years.

Consider the brave Jews of Nesvizh.

Ninety percent of the Jews of that small city, 60 miles south west of Minsk (today part of Belarus, then part of Poland), were killed by the Germans, in one day, in October 1941.

The remaining 600, locked in a tiny ghetto, resolved to try an armed breakout, rather than die quietly.

Friday, April 19, 2013

1943 : UK overheats the heavens.... while Bengal starves

Churchill always claimed that the UK just couldn't spare the shipping needed to help feed the starving millions in British Bengal in 1943.

But it turns out that what Bengal's would-be rescue ships were really needed for was to bring the millions and millions of gallons of overseas petroleum to the UK, to feed the FIDO systems set up around British airfields beginning in 1943.

Burning petroleum at a rate as high as one to two hundred thousand gallons of fuel per hour, per airfield, was used to create an artificial climate above the airfields - literally burning off the ever-present British fog so bombers could take off and land in all kinds of weather, night or day.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mass Extinctions : most of the mighty are crushed while most of the weak survive

The geological record certainly doesn't support the idea that Might is Right and that the mighty and the wise species will inevitably replace the weak and the foolish species : far from it.

Tortoise vs Hare : predicting our world in 1945....

On September 2nd 1939, when the British Empire declared war on the German Empire (thus ensuring we would have another world war), there were two main scientific theories predicting the shape of our world at the war's end.

The far more popular theory at the time was called Modernity, Social Darwinism or simply 'Might is Right'.

 It said Evolution was a vertical affair, with wiser and more mighty entities inevitably and naturally replacing entities that were weaker and more foolish.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Modernity: the 500 Year Reich

In retrospect, all of the promise of the New York's World Fair (1939-1940) turned out to be just the sad brief apogee of Late Modernity, indeed of all Modernity itself.

It hardly started out that way.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Atheistic Nature's inordinate fondness for beetles...

The genetically-minded Moderns of the 1930s felt they were facing a grave demographic crisis : why where there so few Ubermensch and so many undermensch: why so few Cedars and so much hyssop ?

In other words, why on earth were there so many beetles, defectives and useless mouths ?

Not believing in a Supreme Being,  at least not believing in any Being Superior to themselves, they had to blame the Iron Laws of Nature and Evolution for this un-natural natural fondness for things weak and foolish.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

a frank Polk in the eye of American media : award for truth-telling named after a serial liar...

There is no higher award for professional journalistic truth-telling than the annual GEORGE POLK AWARDS, named after an American reporter who was murdered under mysterious circumstances in civil war torn post-war Greece.

Awkward then that an amateur historian, Richard B Frank, has uncovered that George Polk totally faked his heroic war record as a pilot , created a long trail of mendacity that got him this prized overseas truth-telling job in the first place !

Monday, April 8, 2013

Evolution of tanks - like the Evolution of Life - is all about compromises and niches

Reality is so varied and changing (in ways we humans will never ever be able to totally control or predict) that Evolution continuously throws up many successful ("fittest") evolving life forms to fill its many and evolving niches.

I was reminded, again,  of this while reading of the terrifying battles around the Vistula River in the winter of 1945 between German Tiger II tanks and Soviet T-34 tanks.

"This key is fit". Bad grammar but good modernity.

This key is 'fit'.

One could, and probably should, write a long learned essay on the wrongs created over the last 150 years under the delusion this sentence makes grammatical and real world sense.

1945 : Triumph of the Weak ; Mite is Right

If the triumph of post-1945 postmodernity over pre-1945 modernity means anything , it means the unexpected triumph of the mite-y over the mighty and the triumph of the weak over the wise.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ironic convergent property of Modernity : collectivist thrust from reductionism !

Politically, Modernity (1873-1973 RIP) , had a strong collectivist thrust, exalting the collective nation, race and planet over the individual being.

At the same time, and in a typical reductionist fashion that at least had the virtue of consistency, this collectivist superstructure was fully explained as simply the consequence of many trillions of highly individual actions at the basement fundamental level of Reality.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Facile sloganeering begins all wars...

"Weapons of Mass Destruction" ; "Light at the End of the Tunnel".

Who can forget the facile slogans that seem to start every war ?

"The Bomber Always gets Through" started WWII, quickly followed by "The Battleship Always gets Through" and "The Tank Always gets Through".

To the smart money of the Age of Modernity, these modern mechanical Goliaths seemed surely destined to kick the shit out of any puny David that chanced to stand in their way.

It would seem to be awfully hard to stop an armoured, multi-turretted 'fortress of the air' like the 65 ton B-29 bomber : but in 1945, 2 ton Zero fighters were still dropping them out of the skies like flies.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Modernists unite over fear of "the mob"

The authors and artists we think of as "The Modernists" did have their divisions.

Some exalted Modernity's materialism and rationalism while others opposed rationalism (so they said) and sought to go back to an golden age of myths and rituals, a sort of anti-Modernity.

But virtually all of them happily re-united around an abiding fear of democracy and of being ruled by a "mob" of the lower middle class, working class and the defectives.

And an astonishing number wrote of "exterminating" these "lesser" classes.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

WWII's sins of uncaring omission as War Crimes

Even animals would be discomforted at the audible and visual pain as millions of Indians starved to death during the Bengali Famine of 1943.

It is a pity that so many of us,supposedly more sophisticated, humans have been less discomforted about the event ever since.

Most of us - at least in the Allied West - would strongly reject the  idea that this totally unnecessary mass famine was a war crime and and a sin of uncaring omission.

Monday, March 25, 2013

1940 Penicillin : localized Gas Gangrene or systemic SBE ?

Within days of reading war-dodger Howard Florey's published conclusion that the as-yet-unproven penicillin was particularly suited to the military's most feared infection, gas gangrene, war-hero Henry Dawson defiantly decided - by pointed contrast - that penicillin was particularly well suited to defeat the ultimate in non-military infections, deadly subacute bacterial endocarditis, SBE.

The timing of Dawson's decision - during the most critical days of the expected Invasion of Britain - only heighten this highly unusual contrast between how we expect war-heroes and war-dodgers to behave and how these two examples actually did behave.

the last VICTORIAN war : 1939-1945

Looking over today's crop of leaders in politics, business and culture and comparing them with the world leaders of the 1940s, one is struck by today's leaders' comparative youth.

By contrast, the world of WWII was run by the white-haired teenagers of the Victorian Age.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The astonishing Nova Scotia connection to the end of TWO world wars

It is fairly well known that the death of Nova Scotian George Price is traditionally regarded as that of the last British Commonwealth soldier to die in WWI.

Much less well known is the fact that a ship built in Pictou Nova Scotia , the Avondale Park , was the last British Commonwealth ship to be sunk by a U-boat in WWII.

Monday, March 18, 2013

1939-1945 : Big MO goes Postal instead of going Monumental

Big MO is an appropriate nickname for The Age of Modernity because there was always something inhumanly massive about almost everything and anything that that age and the people within it turned their hands to.

Very hard indeed to imagine the people of the early 1940s not going Postal, and not going to deadly war with each other.

But if they hadn't been building bunkers and had been building monuments and buildings instead, this ponderous essence in their inner character might still be visible.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Darwin's VERTICAL commensality vs Dawson's HORIZONTAL commensality

Darwin and his intellectual kinfolk reluctantly accepted a world in constant "liquid" evolutionary change but then reduced that change to a practical nil by making the liquid to be glass.

Glass is a liquid, technically, and over centuries will flow downward ( a very little) if left as vertical glass window panes.

Friday, March 15, 2013

the "THEATRE" of war : 1939-1945

WWII started out on a note of uplift in 1939, with its three actors (Scientific Racism, Scientific Capitalism and Scientific Socialism) all united in eating the scenery but ended in farce in 1945, as the scenery proceeded to eat the three actors.

These actors can't be said to lack ambition.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

MO goes po : K goes r : thermo-setable Reality becomes eternally thermo-softenable

Modernity optimistically and fervently believed that all of Reality , the entire chemical, biological and physical world, was plastic of a definite sort : thermo-set-able.

Everything - even human beings - was malleable but once set  perfectly and 'cured'  would remain thus - perfect - forever.

It was, in a sense, a view of reality as all K-selectable ; round rods for every round hole : every niche perfectly matched to an activity or being - forever.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The "Not So Good" War : September 1931- December 1941

The Good War began December 11th 1941 when Adolf Hitler persuaded a reluctant American Congress to declare war against the evil of Nazism.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Anschluss began 75 years this minute ...the countdown to WWII had begun

At 5am on the morning of March 12th 1938, the infamous Anschluss began.

At that minute -exactly 75 years ago- leading elements of the German advance team crossed the Austrian-German border, the signal start to the countdown to World War Two , which itself began less than 18 months later.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

MODERNITY as just one vast marketing ploy

At its very base base, Modernity consists of convincing other people (call 'em customers or colonies, tis the same) that you are smart (progressive/a professional scientist) and they are stupid (backward/laypeople).

Modernity and Imperialism after all grew up together and declined together: post-modernity and de-colonization being pretty much one and the same thing.

The 1920s trend to replace mom's homemade bread with  industrialized white bread and Britain's attempt to create imperialized/militarized penicillin  during WWII are two shades of the same big lie.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Needed: a political - not Technological/Whig - history of wartime penicillin

Almost all histories of penicillin have but one plot : the dramatic, last minute come-from-behind victory of the little guy, HIGH TECH MAN, over the vast evil forces of Nature and fungi spores.

In pointed fact, the technical problems of producing life-saving penicillin was solved very quickly, basically done by one or two  individuals with remarkably low level technology, by the Fall of 1941.

But even the most affluent members of the world could not reliably access life-saving penicillin for another five years and it still remains important to discover why.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"The Blitz dog ate my homework" and other tired penicillin-related excuses from UK historians

David Edgerton excepted of course -- he hasn't really written on Britain's deliberately pathetic production of penicillin during the war years but he is unlikely to blame it on the Warfare State's "abject poverty" and "The Blitz".

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Henry Dawson : The biography of dull dishwater or of the first modernist to leave the reservation and go PoMo ?

I don't doubt that Henry Dawson's colleagues felt he made a 'perfectly competent associate professor' ( in the most damming sense of that ominous phrase) ---- but that as an individual he was a man extremely unremarkable and totally non memorable.

1939-1945 : the War of Scientism's modernist "Four Freedoms"

In the Spring of 1939, at the the New York World's Fair, Modernity or Scientism (the words are totally inter-changable) promised the deserving parts of the world a future of Four Freedoms: eventual freedom from material limitations, from catastrophes like the weather, from dependence upon lesser breeds and beings and, above all , from uncertainty.

Friday, March 1, 2013

"Triumph of the SCIENTIFIC Will" : WWII scientists as 'swimmers into technical sweetness leaping'..

Sure, sure: Hitler, Mussolini ,Tojo and Stalin and all that lot started the war, but it took the collective will of the world's best scientists and engineers to build their visions up into History's bloodiest, most heart-less war.

It was the scientists' war, the only truly Modernist war, the war of their big shiny machines . Scientism's big moment under the Klieg Lights.

A swimmer into technical sweetness leaping...

....Robert Oppenheimer was the Rupert Brooke of his War Generation : the War of Big Machines and the War of Modernist Science : World War Two.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On a day when most other youth got America's first peacetime draft card, Aaron & Charlie got History's first needle of antibiotics : Dies Mirabilis ,October 16 1940

When the possibility of  your nation joining a world wide war looms, getting your first ever draft registration card must feel just like getting the kiss of death, to a young man on the campus of Columbia University.

But when you are a young man on another part of Columbia's campus who has been written off  'as soon to die from an invariably fatal disease', getting instead History's first ever needle of antibiotics, must feel just like getting the kiss of life.

Hence the spooky Janus-like nature of Dies Mirabilis , October 16th 1940.....

Majority of Americans remain silent as Woodrow Wilson's legacy is brutally destroyed : 1938-1941

Thank God Almighty that Adolf Hitler declared war on America, because without it, would America have ever gone to war against the greatest evil the world has ever known ?

The fact remains that between September 1938 and December 1941, the majority of Americans had stood silent as the legacy of their own president Woodrow Wilson was brutally dismembered by the twin 'evil empires' of Hitler and Stalin.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Resetting the Allied moral compass so that it diverged from the Nazis, not merely followed a muted parallel course

It remains unknown whether Henry Dawson expected his quixotic wartime efforts (to "waste" weaponized penicillin on 'useless' SBEs ) to go as far as they ultimately did.

He certainly was extremely unhappy that America was treating its wartime 'SBE lives unworthy of life' in almost as bad a fashion as Nazi Germany was known to be doing to its SBEs and others seen as "useless mouths".

But did he suspect his assault on weaponizing penicillin would extend beyond the Allies' horrific wartime neglect of the poorer chronically ill ?

The Cure for Auschwitz Disease : "Dawson's Crude" : .56% penicillin ...and 99 and 44/100ths pure love

Pray there comes a day when most premature deaths really are 'Acts of God', when even the best of money and the best of medical care could not result in a happy ending.

But until that happier day, most premature deaths in the world - in peace as in war - are 'Acts of Humanity' , or rather 'Acts of Lack of Humanity'.

Sins of Omission : premature death caused because the people dying are not judged (by others more fortunate) as worthy of devoting much money or effort towards saving.

"Pax Penicillia" : how Churchill's Britain won the war and lost the peace

The decision by Winston Churchill's (Tory) Minister of Supply (MoS) not to divert the money for one additional Lancaster squadron, used to bomb civilians in Europe, towards providing enough penicillin for British (and European) civilians resulted in Churchill's Tories winning the war for Britain --- but at the cost of losing the peace.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Penicillin's "Bengali Famine Years" : 1943-1944

It was not America and Britain, it was not even the British and American governments ,that made the momentous decision, between late 1942 and early 1943, not to divert tax money just a little away from bombs and towards penicillin production instead.

This decision led, over the period of 1943-1944,  to a Bengali Famine-like situation among the Allies over shortages of live-saving drugs for civilians.

Friday, February 15, 2013

"Weaponized" penicillin to be a frontline Army wound powder and hence the needs of the Navy, Air Force and Civilians are not relevant...

One of the most historic of meetings and dates in the whole extended penicillin saga occurred on September 25 1942 at Portland House in London England .

 In fact one key participant at the meeting sensed this so greatly that he even whispered that history was going to view it that way, into the ear of the chairman as the meeting broke up.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Patient ONE of the Antibiotics Era : how the saving of Charlie Aronson changed our world

During his lifetime, Dr Henry Dawson only gave penicillin to several dozen endocarditis patients, Charlie Aronson first among them ; only saved several dozen lives, Charlie among them.

Dawson's pioneering effort to inject Charlie with penicillin on October 16th and 17th 1940 (Dies Miribilis) certainly didn't directly save many lives.

But the moral fact that Dawson cared enough in the first place about Charlie-the-person, to pioneer in making and to giving him penicillin, has certainly saved tens and tens of millions of lives ever since Dawson's premature death in 1945.

If  only the greater cultural milieu surrounding Dawson and Charlie had been as willing - nay as eager - to save Charlie 'the 4F of the 4Fs' as Dawson was, it might also have been as willing - nay eager - to save the Jews of Europe as well.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Penicillin : biologic 1929-1939 , chemotherapeutic 1939-1949

In 1944, Frank M Berger ( later creator of the post-war drug Miltown but then just a worker in a local municipal public health lab in the remotes of northern England)  came up with an unique way of making and using penicillin.

On second thoughts, his method might well have been done first by Alexander Fleming's Wright-Fleming vaccine institute and their pharmaceutical distributor Parke-Davis about 15 years earlier : Penicillin the Biologic.

On further further reflection : should have been done first by Alec Fleming.

Howard Florey saw potential enemies everywhere, but with "friends" like A N Richards and Robert Coghill, he hardly need bother looking any further

Howard Florey's correspondence twice notes that he has just received a higher yielding strain of penicillium from America.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Re-setting the Allies' moral compass : the acid test of penicillin for wartime endocarditis

Please correct me : but in all my research I could find no indication that in his 15 years of medical research before October 16th 1940, (and he was a world-class expert in the area of strep bacteria) Henry Dawson had never written or spoken one peep - not one peep - on the subject of endocarditis, a very common and deadly disease, usually caused then by a variant of strep bacteria.

two is a coincidence, three is a pattern : the OSRD on the weak and the strong

It is a commonplace to note that Vannevar Bush's wartime agency the OSRD, the biggest of Washington's many wartime scientific bureaucracies, favoured the strongest companies and the strongest universities.

Coincidence, say many.

But the fact that the OSRD, the strongest companies and the strongest universities all ganged up together to deny penicillin to America's weakest of the weakest seems more than a long stream of coincidences : it betrays a pattern......

Henry Dawson puts the Allied treatment of the weak and the strong to the "Acid Test"

This was Henry Dawson's Acid Test : during World War Two, did the treatment of the weak and the strong by the nations that ultimately made up the Allies differ in kind or only in degree from that of the Axis nations?

Any single individual - let alone a single dying individual - could not pose that question across a broad spectrum of issues and expect to force a response.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

OSRD /1942: did Manhattan Project type thinking bleed over and obstruct the Penicillin Project as well ?

It is crystal clear that Merck's top scientific advisor A N Richards was never a strong advocate for fast-paced penicillin development within Merck, as that drug company casually messed about with penicillin, from November 1939 till August 1941.

That is, Merck had 18 months of some sort of commercial and scientific activity around penicillin , before Howard Florey actually arrived on the scene.

But Florey eventually made Richards a strong convert to the idea of having Richards' military medical weapon oriented agency , the famous OSRD , use penicillin for secret military advantage over the Axis.

Spores and Wartime Secrecy : can they actually co-exist ?

You might think I am going to talk about Anthrax spores and asymmetrical terrorist germ warfare.

But you are wrong, wrong, wrong.

I want to talk instead about wartime penicillin, and a part of it that is never ever discussed.

Its inherently asymmetrical medical nature.

Which appropriately enough, then  "drifts over" into its inherently asymmetrical military potential.

Penicillin in wartime: an alphabet soup of organizations passing the buck then hogging the credit

I am still not fully recovered from the disaster of my first public talk on wartime penicillin before Dalhousie University's  Medical History Society.

I was given a very generous amount of time by the Society's Jock Murray and Allan Marble to state my case but it didn't help : my choice for a title slide in my powerpoint presentation simply covered far too big a subject and left me no 'on the spot' wiggle room.

" Wartime Penicillin : from secret 'war weapon' to widely publicized 'beacon of hope' " is not a topic line easy to compress.

 (Though last night's blog entry on the Janus Month of March 1943 would have been a good attempt at compression.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Wartime Penicillin's coke-addled Janus Month : March 1943

In March 1943 (midway through the war) , for the very first time in WWII, a part of wartime penicillin research that had been hitherto public was finally and effectively put under official government censorship : anything involving the chemistry of penicillin.

At the very same time, other (hitherto effectively secret) parts of the penicillin story were about to become globally publicized in official government propaganda !

"I am not making this up", as Canada's Liberal Party is wont to say.

America LOSES WWII : because of quarrels between government agencies, such as over Penicillin

The above headline sounds bizarre to our ears, because we are  used to only hearing it being used as the standard explanation given as to why Japan and Germany lost the (largely technical and scientific) world war against the Allies.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

If wartime penicillin was a wah pedal ....

Imagine the Nobel prize winner for medicine , Baron Howard Florey, being pulled off his efforts to discover new antibiotics in the late 1940s by an impatient Leo Fender.

Leo pleads, "Howard,make me a wah pedal, and make it quick ; I need something unique for my new guitar and amp line".

Howard takes his time, and delivers the pedal years late. But it is beautiful finished and has a high fidelity electronic circuit that is so pure that it delivers vanishingly small amounts of harmonic distortion (albeit at the cost of an anemic output).

I can already hear guitar players going "Oh, goody !"

Luckily for humanity, Leo has also telepathed the spirit of penicillin pioneer Henry Dawson back to earth and given him the same assignment.

Early next morning, Henry has the job all done : a crude but workable bread-board design, with screamingly high distortion impurities, but with a low battery drain design and the effect level preset on 11 on a scale of one to ten (aka ("stun").

It is very basic looking , with just one big button, set in the very middle of the sturdy front panel of the wah pedal.

Henry's genius is that this button simply says one word : MORE !

And that my friends, is the essential kernel of the conflict between these two giants of wartime penicillin....

First person to ever read Fleming's 1929 penicillin article, REALLY READ IT, was Henry Dawson, in October 1940...

Very early in his investigation of  the antibacterial qualities of the liquid beneath a penicillium mold , probably by October 1928, Alexander Fleming came to a truly startling conclusion.

And it is not what you - or he - or any other doctor or scientist might have expected.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wartime penicillin was "A Genie of Universal Healing", trapped by Florey in a military bottle...

... a Genie intended to remain secret, military and patented for the duration of the war, until others --- led by Henry Dawson --- fought to set it free to benefit all humanity.

Like the war itself, wartime penicillin was not a single event, as we tend to treat it today, but a six year long, world-wide process - a conflict in fact.

A conflict between the much more powerful and much more numerous Hares, led by Florey, who sought to seal off penicillin in many different senses of that phrase.

The small band of Tortoises , led by Dawson, sought to make penicillin free to mix , again in many different senses of that phrase.

The Hares had all the early running from 1939 till 1944, when the Tortoises suddenly appeared out of the dust , like the US Seventh Cavalry, to save the medical establishment's bacon just moments before the D-Day beaches became red with blood .....

Fleming never saved Churchill, but Gladys Hobby saved Florey's sister when his own penicillin couldn't !

Howard Florey was never more sleazy than in his dealings with Henry Dawson's team, as he desperately fought to restore the family name that his father dis-honored, by trying to remain the sole "hero" of wartime penicillin.

Just try to imagine what an university ethics committee today might say about a professor using his main rival's unpublished paper, sent to him in secret by his close friend (the same government official who censored his rival's paper and forbade its release) to improve his own work that is about to be allowed to be freely published !

That is what full Professor Howard Florey and university vice president and full Professor A N Richards actually did to associate professor chemist Professor Karl Meyer of Dawson's team , in mid 1942.

(As they say, tenure is 'red in tooth and claw'.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

How wartime penicillin's American miracle cures were censored - and why

From early in 1942, American medical journal editors and authors joined scientific journal editors and authors already being "self censored".

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Florey delays penicillin for three more years : powdering the sick mice, May 1940

Just imagine for a moment if Howard Florey had actually done in May 1940 what he claimed he did for the rest of his life.

Alexander Fleming shares 1934 Nobel prize with Whipple, Minot and Murphy !

Waaaaaait a minute !!

Fleming didn't share the Nobel prize (for discovering penicillin) for  another dozen years.

True --- but he could have got the prize a lot earlier and saved a whole lot of millions of lives in the process , if he had only been a little bit bolder.

Fleming's seminal 1929 article on penicillin is missing two words : impurities and crude

Fleming, in this extremely famous article, defines his "penicillin" as consisting of  one or more soluble solid active ingredients in a liquid nutritional  broth, no more and no less.

He makes it clear that "penicillin" is merely a useful shorthand for that cumbersome longer phrase.

He never once uses the word impurities or impure or crude: to him his active ingredient is perhaps ALL  of the soluble solids left behind when the water is evaporated .

Thursday, January 24, 2013

January 1943 : that penicillin cured the incurable SBE is a military secret, but penicillin's chemical formula is not !

The American scientific journal "The Journal of Bacteriology" is a top journal in its field, read - at least in peacetime - by workers in that field the world over.

Yet in January 1943, it is revealing that one of the earliest and most persistent researchers as to the chemical structure of penicillin , Karl Meyer, is still free to publish his informed opinion on the formula for penicillin : C14H19NO6 or C14H17NO5 + H2O.

His co-author, clinician Henry Dawson, by way of contrast, is NOT free to reveal that he has achieved a truly spectacular medical event : curing the incurable, invariably fatal SBE with penicillin , still the acid test of all infectious diseases.

Nobel prize merely for concentrating penicillin into a SOLID for therapeutic use ?

Gloria T Sanders (in her 1986 book on amputations of the lower limbs) mentions in passing that Howard Florey was the first to concentrate penicillin into a solid, so it could finally be used in human therapy.

This has become a commonplace in recent years, as a Google search on "Florey" and "concentrated" will quickly reveal, replacing earlier claims that he was the first to "purify" penicillin.

But since the solid penicillin was in fact not a whit more stable than Fleming's original liquid penicillin, if  both were properly stored, it offered no advantages to Fleming's wet stuff and a whole lot of disadvantages.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

James Baxter's Pulitzer Prize winning nonsense about wartime penicillin

As part of OSRD's campaign to spin its considerable successes and many failures, William College president and historian  James Phinney Baxter III was hired in mid war (1943) to assemble a bewitching mixture of hitherto-secret facts and sheer blarney, called "Scientists Against Time".

It sure fooled the 1947 Pulitzer Committee, but it shouldn't continue to fool us.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Science's faith-based belief in the non-toxicity of pure natural Penicillin

For an entire generation of scientists, doctors and science reporters (those working between 1929 and 1949), it was an article of absolute faith that pure penicillin was non-toxic.

But how did they know? How in the hell did they know ?

For during most of those years they had never seen anything like pure penicillin , let alone given it an extensive work-out down in the hospital wards.

Who am I ? asks a very famous bright yellow powder from WWII

OK, Manhattan : Who am I ????
(a) In the popular imagination, I am often thought of as being a bright yellow powder (though if fact I might often be dark red or brown or even some other color).

(b) Oddly enough, it is exactly the same for me.

(a)  Some of my most important developments happened on Manhattan island, with strong Canadian involvement --- I think that was all about the word "Hope".

(b) Wow ! Me ditto,ditto,ditto !

Thanks to SAMJ (the SOUTH AFRICAN MEDICAL JOURNAL), we can learn of first published guess as to penicillin's chemical structure

SAMJ : the South African Medical Journal
So much has been written about the earliest days of trying to determine the chemical structure of pure penicillin, in such truly massive tomes like "THE CHEMISTRY OF PENICILLIN" and "ANTIBIOTICS,VOLUME II", and much more delightfully in John Sheehan's lucid-but-learned "THE ENCHANTED RING" , that there seems little more to add.

But that is not so, thanks to the South African medical journal SAMJ and its enterprise at putting all of its over 100 years of back issues online and free to access.

Vitamin C pills vs oranges: a metaphor for the dueling penicillin of Aussie docs, Florey and Duhig

A nice big fresh juicy orange and a tiny white pill can both have the exact same amount of vitamin c in them : about 100 mg ,  just above the recommended daily intake of the vitamin for a adult.

The synthetic vitamin c pill (first invented in the 1930s) is of course  supposedly pure, but actually consists mostly of "harmless" filler . It is usually taken with a small glass of water.

The orange was - in the eyes of the Modernist 1930s - an impure source of vitamin c. The orange consisted mostly of harmless filler (pulp fibre and a great taste) and about the same amount of water as needed to fill a small glass.

Dawson's DIY penicillin a postmodernist "shot across the bow" of Modernist Big Pharma

Two hundred years from now, only the first of the Dawson team's many articles on wartime penicillin will still be cited and still considered seminal.

This, despite the fact that Nova Scotia-born Henry Dawson's last penicillin article told a surprised world that invariable fatal subacute bacterial endocarditis (the much dreaded SBE) had finally been cured - by his penicillin method that he had pioneered 5 years earlier.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Henry Dawson "jump-started" The Age of Antibiotics because, almost alone in the medical world, he wasn't obsessed with 'purity' but rather with 'charity'

We have the records of only a few contemporary reactions to Henry Dawson's surprise decision to dramatically kick-start The Age of Antibiotics, 12 years after it should have begun but three months before it was scheduled to begin , but they are suggestive.

Pure Sulfa or Salvarsan drugs were far more toxic than impure crude penicillin : so what was the fuss REALLY about then ?

Before 1945, an entire generation of doctors world wide (except for perhaps a half dozen of them) were more willing to put pure but toxic sulfa or salvarsan drugs into their patients than put impure but non toxic penicillin into them.

I will go further:  an entire generation of doctors were willing to seen letting their patients DIE, rather than be seen by other doctors as putting an impure substance into those dying patients.

Wartime penicillin's biggest secret was "hidden in plain sight", on the pages of the very first article on penicillin

The real reason why the tortoise Henry Dawson, despite starting almost three years late, beat the hare Howard Florey to become the first ever to put an injection of an antibiotic into a human patient, is to be found inside wartime penicillin's biggest secret.

Unexpectedly, wartime penicillin's biggest secret was not stamped "TOP SECRET" and was not buried under lock and key in some government cabinet in Washington or London.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Life-saving penicillin can be a little bit fermented but not a little bit synthetic

If a medicine will save lives when nothing else will do so - in war as in peace - then Henry Dawson's example reminds us that our first moral requirement is to make it as much as we can, anyway we can, save lives anyway we can..... and only then try to perfect it.

A full two years after Florey arrives at Peoria, the NRRL starts looking for new sources of penicillin strains..."Soon" ?

Penicillin: II. Natural Variation
and Penicillin Production in
Penicillium notatum and
Allied Species

If pollyanna historians says two years - in the middle of a war - is "soon" , then I guess it must be so.

Part of "The Penicillin Holocaust" : Allied POWs dying needlessly of infection because the Allies decided they didn't deserve penicillin...

A whole lot of people died needlessly of infections that wartime penicillin could have/ should have cured --- all because the Allies decided to treat it as a military weapon of war --- only to be used to cure lightly wounded Allied combat troops, to get them back under enemy fire as soon as possible.

Eliding chemical synthesis from the Pollyanna histories of Wartime penicillin

Every Pollyanna account of wartime penicillin has much blather on how (Florey) (Fleming) (you add a name) went to this or that firm asking it to grow some biological penicillin only to find much tea and sympathy but no eagerness to help.

Florey quickly flees the biology of NRRL Peoria for the chemical comforts of Merck

Howard Florey probably spent no more than a few hours of his whole life in the labs of the NRRL at Peoria, Illinois where most of the fruitful work that gave us the antibiotics revolution was actually done.

Did Merck consultant A N Richards diss penicillin during the first two years of the war?

Read any "Pollyanna" history of wartime penicillin and you quickly garner the impression that wartime Washington's top medical research bureaucrat, AN Richards of the famous OSRD organization, first learned of penicillin when his former student Howard Florey dropped by in the Fall of 1941.

In my opinion : "Bullfeathers" !

Friday, January 18, 2013

The morality of good - temporary - military secrets and bad - semipermanent - military secrets

There is little morally to fear for all of us agreeing to keep  traditional (and temporary) military secrets such as all troop movement before the planned big invasion.

Wartime penicillin's six year odyssey : from secret war weapon to widely publicized beacon of hope

Without really meaning to, we tend to reify World War Two from a six year long process into a single event ("the war"), when we say things like "millions of women went to work in factories for the first time in their lives in WWII".

Merck has credible excuses for being beaten on D-Day penicillin by Pfizer - but none whatsoever for being crushed by Commercial Solvent

Merck, the OSRD, Florey's Oxford team (all part of the synthetic penicillin obsession) continue to have many defenders among academia.

Like Admiral Byng, but in reverse, AlexanderFleming was given a Nobel prize "pour encourager les autres"

Alexander Fleming pursued, preserved and publicized a foolish observation that turned out to be.... not so foolish after all.

That 'ever-climbing' Aussie Howard Florey: year by year his listed degrees got longer and longer

While we all know the differences between a BA, MA and PhD , few of us can fathom the distinctions between a BM/MB, and DM/M.D. in the field of medicine --- even when our life literally depends on it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Howard Florey, Henry Dawson,Penicillin and the NEW YORK TIMES : how then-tiny Pfizer became the biggest drug company in the world

"Giant Germicide" article changed history ...
Myth much to the contrary, Howard Florey went to America in 1941 not looking for a way to save lives, but for a way to save Allied military lives without having to save Axis, Neutral or Allied civilian lives : he was looking for a top secret medical bomb, a weapon of war.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Roy S Koch "shows me the money" on wartime penicillin

In December 1944, a very youthful looking economist named Roy S Koch was heading up The Biologicals and Parenteral Solutions Unit, hitherto an unimportant sub-section of a sub-section of a sub-section, buried deep somewhere in the bowels of the powerful War Production Board in wartime Washington.

Then , overnight in August 1943, penicillin became one of those parenterally delivered biologicals and nothing was ever quite the same.

Wartime Penicillin was a race between a Tortoise and a Hare,unexpectedly the Tortoise won but the Hare got to phone-in the results...

People invariably find the story of wartime penicillin fascinating because 75 years after the earliest events, it still remains a real puzzler with lots of inexplicables and unanswered questions.

The story of wartime penicillin is actually quite clear.... but it is its history that seems so full of holes and silences.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Penicillin's four most famous patients shouldn't have been PATIENTS... according to the research protocol

When anal-retentive children grow up, if indeed they ever grow up, they either became clients of Madame X the Dominatrix... or they become medical research scientists devoted to extremely strict and rigid clinical trials with firm protocols and hard-fast deadlines.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A forgotten meme from "The Golden Age of Mysteries" held sway over wartime penicillin : to the detriment of the dying

The grey-haired teenagers of the 1870s to 1890s, the guys who actually ran World War Two, grew up on the stories of the Golden Age of Mysteries and Detectives, starting with Sherlock Holmes' Study in Scarlet in 1887.

And one thing you quickly learned in all those thousands of books in dozens of languages was that the formula that the spy had stolen from the safe - the formula upon which the fate of the Empire ( or perhaps even the world) hung - was never a formula in physics or biology or geology or astronomy.

It was always a formula in Chemistry : always a formula for the synthesis of some extremely powerful explosive or fuel or drug.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

"I sail by stubborn stars, let rocks take heed.."

"... and should I sink... then sinking be my creed".

And that poetry stanza  was  in fact very much the bold personal credo of Kenneth Leslie , poet and anti-fascist activist (1892-1974).

Most of the penicillin grown in its first 15 years, was wasted on useless attempts at synthesis, not used to save the dying

If my claim be wrong : show me the money !

The elevator pitch for "By stubborn, Stars we steer"

Some people call it the takeaway sentence while others call it the elevator pitch : that line that tags a movie's every radio/TV spot and poster, the same line that got the movie green-lighted (financed) in the first place.

"A Rare Breed Indeed" : US wartime Int'l treaties on the A-Bomb, Lend-Lease, Bases for Destroyers ... and synthetic penicillin

Most of the antibiotics we use today (beta-lactams) are still the close relatives of the first and best-ever antibiotic, Penicillin G.

They are all still produced, by mold slime, ie naturally : and this will probably always be so.

They are produced almost as bulk chemicals, thousands of tons worth annually, a multi-billion dollar industry that lies at the very foundations of the multi-trillion dollar health industry.

But there is (and was) no international treaty, closely negotiated at the very top level (Lord Halifax and Dean Acheson) , at the height of total war and over an extended period of two years, on the patents and scientific information involved in this crucial production of natural penicillin.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

For female pioneers of wartime penicillin, 1910 was a very good year ...

Dorothy Crowfoot , Gladys Hobby and Nancy Atkinson were about the only women who played an independent role in the development of wartime penicillin.

The A-Bomb and synthetic penicillin were attractive war weapons, not because they were easy - but because they were hard

Shades of President Kennedy explaining his decision to push for an all-out effort to land men on the Moon before the end of the decade, "not because it was easy but because it was hard" !

The 20 year effort to synthesize Penicillin : "technically sweet" but morally purposeless

The Chemistry of Penicillin (1949)  has more words in it than the Bible and is so heavy that if dropped from a plane, it would kill more people than penicillin has saved.

My review of it could consist of just three words : "why?" and "technically sweet" .

Friday, January 11, 2013

Medical ethics - not medical techniques - are probably the leading way to decrease or increase deaths due to war

How doctors and nurses morally regard all of their fellow human beings, rather than how they medically treat their actual, relatively few, patients, is probably the number one determinate in whether wars are relatively bloodless or particularly bloody.

The entire culture takes many of its moral cues from the medical professionals and when they (as in WWII Germany and America )  sanction or even advocate neglecting or killing those judged lesser than others, this attitude bleeds across the whole country and into the actions of its troops --with horrendous consequences.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

By stubborn, Stars we steer : sometimes charisma can be over-rated ...

"Be careful how you walk, so you won't step into the charisma" warns one cartoon character to the other : ie, don't mistake apparent charisma for actual bullshit.

Henry Dawson oozed non-charisma in spades but what he did have by the buckets full was mere ordinary stubbornness.

By stubborn , Stars we steer...

Considering all that this dying man did achieve with just his extra-ordinary stubbornness and his penicillin-of-hope, it is safe to say that charisma can sometimes be over-rated....

Like synthetic penicillin, the harder the A-Bomb was to make, the more attractive it was to the OSRD

Late in 1942, Britain's highest political, military and Intelligence leadership decided that the Atomic Bomb was almost certainly too difficult and too expensive for Hitler's Germany to produce during World War II ---- if only because it would take too many resources from more pressing necessities for the Nazi war machine.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Howard Florey sole hero of 1944 American national radio play on Penicillin

Here, Howard Florey rules !
Du Pont's Cavalcade of America  on NBC was a very well financed American national radio and later tv show, popular before and after WWII (1935-1957), that as Marcel Lafollette points out , often featured heroes from medicine and science.

Not surprising then that the series featured an half hour show on "The Story of Penicillin" as soon as the censors would let it : which interestingly enough was April 24th 1944  --- starring Howard Florey as the one-and-only who brought us the miracle of penicillin !

Friday, January 4, 2013

Penicillin : a bunch of biologists who put all their faith in chemistry vs two chemists who put all their faith in biology

In the Alice Through the Looking Glass world of wartime penicillin it should hardly be surprising that about the only strong supporters of natural ,biological, penicillin in the upper echelons of the overall enterprise were two professional chemists : Larry Elder of the American Office for Production Research and Development (the OPRD) and Harry Jephcott of the British drug company, Glaxo.

Or that the group most strongly bewitched by the thought of synthetic penicillin were a bunch of medical doctors with Howard Florey and Alexander Fleming leading the charge (with the OSRD and MRC close behind): the sort of scientists who might have been thought would normally occupy a place at the biological end of  hard science.....

OPRD and Dawson vs OSRD and Florey : social or war penicillin ?

If America was to win the war for the Allies by being becoming a ponderous and relentlessly-slow grinding mill of the gods ( a veritable "Arsenal of Democracy" as President Roosevelt proclaimed) than sometimes Vannevar Bush's OSRD (Office of Scientific Research and Development) worked hard against that objective, never more so than with Penicillin (and DDT).

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Was it me who said Peer Review is too often "Lions reviewed by Donkeys" ?

I guess it was.

I mean that all too often 'cutting edge' research  - paradigm-shifting research - will be rejected by normal science reviewers.

Instead, a scholar's work should be posted online and judged, over time, by a jury of all of their peers the whole world around, not just by six anonymous ( and usually over-worked) colleagues.

If it stands up, then, and only then, should it be considered for formal review by a senior journal in their field....

Gradually mass produce natural penicillin, starting in 1940, but ban all mention of the word in newspapers : half way moral approach ?

Producing enough penicillin for all Allied civilians and all Allied soldiers but keeping all word of it out of the newspapers and scientific journals might have been the best possible moral approach on its wartime use.

Chloroquine : hiding one of WWII's most valuable secrets in 'plain sight' : in the scientific literature

To understand how OSRD fumbled the ball on synthetic penicillin but neatly hid the fact with lot of the taxpayers' money, consider the similar case of chloroquine, the best anti-malarial drug of WWII (aside from natural quinine) and a truly horrific example of the stupidity that can result from the excessive secrecy of war science.

Keep something out of the newspapers and it can remain a secret forever - even when it is not : the case of wartime DDT

Hard to explain why both the Germans and the Japanese of WWII failed to make use of DDT to reduce their truly immense manpower losses due to endemic insect borne diseases : its use alone, could have prolonged the war a year or two more.

After all, knowledge of how to make the stuff was in the public domain, and in the open scientific literature, having been synthesized more than seventy(70) years earlier.

Penicillin an excellent war weapon because it was so hard to synth, not in spite of that

An excellent antiseptic like synthetic gramicidin was cheap to make, fast acting, stable and a very effective bacterial killer.

But as a weapon of war, it lacked the ability to remain secret for very long .

Henry Dawson's war aims : "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar..."

The Allies, convinced their troops lacked the Nazi and Japanese killer instinct, spent most of the war trying to prove Dawson wrong by demonstrating that they could be tougher than tough.

But given their overwhelming advantage in men and material over the Axis, it didn't seemed to be working very fast.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The 180 degree flip of wartime penicillin : from secret weapon of war to public weapon of propaganda

War is not at all like the playing fields of Eton , many reports to the contrary.

Both sides get advance notice of the time, place and nature of the activity in sports - and there is a strictly enforced set of rules.

By contrast, a successful military offensive operation is far more than half won if it is kept secret to the last moment and beyond.

Like Penicillin, DDT was a slow killer, so naturally biologists used to the hitherto rapid biological killers, promptly ignored both

Put a bunch of scientists in a room and get them to bet on a race between a tortoise and a hare and they'll plunk their money on the rabbit every time.

That is one big reason why 'we almost lost DDT and penicillin' , to paraphrase a famous wartime ad from the Ayer agency : a bactericide or insecticide that was slow but steady has no great appeal to your average alpha male scientist......

DDT and the myth of "a product of WWII science"

There is no more tired (or dishonest) a journalistic bromide than the claim that this or that boon to humanity was discovered, invented, developed and produced by WWII scientists.

What actually happened, ninety nine times out of a hundred, is that belatedly some senior military or scientific bureaucrat reluctantly agreed to let some underlings spend money on a 'half-baked' idea that had been discovered or invented years earlier but had seen little commercial success up to now.