Tuesday, August 25, 2009

VEGEMITE also had its hour ; one far fierce hour and sweet

Yellow Snow Bad; Yellow Uisce Beatha Good

It is no secret that Irishmen like their drink, even ( or perhaps, particularly) in wartime.

For a real Irishman likes nothing better than defying straitlaced authorites who think sugar and alcohol has higher uses in wartime than to just use in beverages - such as using them to make more and stronger explosive materials.

So in November 1943, it probably won't seem that unusual to see a feisty Irish-Australian named Jim Duhig sprinkle some yeast-like material over a vat of water and molasses and put it in a cool dark place for ten days.

We say yeast-like because yeast extract was unavailable in wartime Brisbane (Queensland) Australia.

Jim did what any quick thinking Aussie would do - he reached for that all purpose substitute, Vegemite in .3% solution, because after all, he did come from the land down under, where beer flows and strong men chunder.

Also not unusual was his decision to strain the resulting golden colored liquid at the bottom of the vat through a piece of cheesecloth and put it into bottles.

But what he did next might surprise you : he drew some of that golden liquor out in a big needle and stuck it - again and again - into a dying woman.

He saved her life with this golden uisce beatha and saved four other dying patients' lives with it as well, in addition to successfully treating another two dozen less severe infections with his brew.

Duhig's technique, as crude as it seems, is about as high tech as antibiotic science & industry ever has to get, if its only interest is in saving lives.

But it isn't and Jim Duhig's heroic actions came 15 years after Penicillin's initial discovery.

Millions would have lived ( longer - for we all must die at some time) if Alexander Fleming had felt in 1928 as Dr Duhig felt in 1943.

But he didn't and neither would have Dr Duhig in 1928.

It took someone else, someone far bolder than Fleming or Dunhig or Florey, to kickstart the radical-at-the-time idea that injecting natural penicillin into a patient's bloodstream was the best possible treatment of most life-threatening systemic bacterial infections.

That bold idea was first enacted upon on a tiny island, not far off the American coast, a few years earlier.....

Jim Duhig was indeed very Irish - his uncle was the archbishop of Queensland - but in real life he didn't brew liquor - or even drink - he was the head of a prohibitionist society.

But he did brew penicillin---- rather than see some patients die needlessly while waiting for Big Pharma to get its act together to do in decades what Jim had done in weeks !

Life is much stranger than fiction.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

70th Anniversary of 'the little $6,000 that grew'

In February 2010, most of the world will not celebrate the 70th anniversary of the start of the Manhattan Project.

Nor should they.

But they should mark it, and pause to reflect on its continuing consequences for us here today.

For 1940 was truly an Annus Mirabillis , and only partly because it marked the start of the development of the world's biggest life-taker.

Because 1940 was also crucial in the development of the world's smallest life-saver .

And aren't these two things the Alpha and the Omega of a continuing human existence in this universe?

During that February almost seventy years ago, two lead investigators at Columbia University in Manhattan were given $6,000 in federal tax dollars to look into the possibility of developing an atomic 'boiler' - which is to say, given money to develop an engine, not a bomb.

But the money came from orders of the president himself and FDR knew the project, if fully successful, would lead to investigating the building of an atomic bomb, to be held in reserve against the possibility the Nazis were already trying to build - and use - one.

Seventy years on, the six thousand dollars has become, for the American taxpayers alone, six trillion dollars and counting.

Laying blame for the current American debt crisis ? February 1940 is as good a place as any to start - that six trillion dollars would sure erase a lot of America's public and private debt worries.

If the American nuclear bomb arsenal of today ever gets used in a shooting match, the cost in lives would be six billion plus - and probably no one left to do the counting.

The costs of this the best known of Manhattan's wartime projects, in terms of the tarnishing of America's image abroad, is impossible to calculate.

The desk of the president is famously thought of as the place where the sign reads "the buck stops here".

But this project was highly unusual, in that it can be more truly said of the Manhattan Project, that "the buck started here", right at the president's desk.

As its political and financial father, FDR 'knew' about the start of the building of the world's biggest life-taker long before almost anyone else on the planet.

Not so with the start of the other Manhattan-based project , the one to finally start saving lives with the world's smallest life-saver, twelve years after its initial discovery.

FDR first learned of this life-saving substance at the exact same time that the rest of the world did , by opening his paper and reading a highly dramatic news story, one morning in mid-August 1943, almost three years after the life-saving project's obscure beginnings.

Perhaps the delay in the president learning of this life-saver is best explained by the fact that this project's lead investigator, also at Columbia University, never asked for any federal government grant or presidential 'seal of approval' - and in fact never sought a grant from anyone.

Still , his work never added a cent to the federal debt and his legacy continues to add lustre to the American image abroad.

Few people around the world, including those terrorists who harbor nothing but ill will towards Manhattan Island, do not have a family member or friend whose life was spared, thanks to the kick-starting efforts of this Manhattan Island life saver.

His project's 70th anniversary also comes up next year, in September 2010.

Perhaps this other Manhattan Project also needs a moment from us, to reflect on the changes it has brought into our world.

In this case, changes much for the better....

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

the Oxymoronic 'doomed' Megalopolis

It is always painful , here at the Arcadian Recorder anyway, to see authors writing of a 'doomed' Megalopolis.

This is akin to hearing people talk about the 'dumb version' of George W Bush.

Blame the Japanese - manga, anime and all.

Inherent in the history of, and hence in the connotations of , the original Megalopolis is the fact that the glorious future foreseen for it by its founders all came to not.

Once expected to be the biggest city on earth, it relatively quickly ended up as a deserted and unpopulated dot on a rural backroad.

It is hard to imagine a failure more total than that.

A 'Mega' flop in fact.

In the days when knowing Latin and Greek history was part of every educated person's upbringing, this fact was well known.

This perhaps is the reason we didn't see any past city fathers, even those with the most oversized egos, daring to call their large cities 'megacities' or speaking of the residents of their surrounding suburbs as living in 'megaland' .

The more modest, but more neutral, term 'metro' ( meaning 'mother' !) suits these 'fathers' just fine !

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

September 7th 1943: Madison Ave lays egg

In September 1943, Madison Avenue's advertising agencies (America's slavering class) were all talking about the newest addition to the wonder drug family, Sulfa-Thiazole Band-Aids.

Which was unfortunate; sad really.

Because all of their clients' customers were talking about another wonder drug, Penicillin.

No contest really.

On one hand, ads offering up band-aid solutions , on the other hand, the front pages of those same newspapers busy telling tales of a young girl being plucked back from the brink of death after a dramatic cross country flight by a heavy bomber.

The B-24 heavy bomber, aptly called a Liberator , ditched its normal wartime payload of 8000 pounds worth of bombs to fly in 8 grams of this 'pen-i-cil-lin' livesaver.

What a goldmine in 'earned media' for that lucky drug company !

But search as the Mad Men may, it seemed no New York agency, large or small, had that valuable account.


No major phenomenon , not Elvis not TV not VCRs, ever caught on worldwide as fast as Penicillin did.

This, despite a world tied up in the all enveloping censorship of Total War.

One looks to something minor like 1958's hula hoops craze but even this fad only penetrated to some of the people in some of the countries of the world.

Penicillin was virtually unknown worldwide on August 10th 1943 (more accurately: uninteresting to the few that had heard about it) .

But by September 10th 1943, much of the world had heard about it, wanted to know more about it and above all, wanted it - yesterday.

Meanwhile, that week Johnson and Johnson was rolling out full page full color ads in all the major consumer media touting its
new sulfa-saturated Band-Aids.

One of the versions of the ad campaign has remained a popular item on E Bay, and other 'collectable' sites, to this day.

It features a painting of five incredibly cute tow-headed children playing at 'war'.

It sounds like it should repulse most of its potential customers, the mothers of America, but it doesn't seem to - this is the power of Madison Avenue at its most seductive.

The only girl among the five is the focal point and the star; she is dressed up as a nurse, and is carefully applying a Band-Aid to the upper arm of a boy soldier with a wooden gun, complete with fixed, wooden, bayonet.

He is grimacing bravely as the Band-Aid approaches.

Another boy, in a formfitting leather and wool football helmet/ pilot's helmet (complete with goggles jauntily astride on top) is staring round eyed at the approaching Band-Aid.

Meanwhile a child with a saucepan for a helmet ( and as a result looking alarming 'Kraut-like' is coming through an obstacle course made up of open-ended rain barrels, armed with his gun and bayonet.

Thankfully, the final child looks and acts like a child, coming up along rapidly as possible so he doesn't miss whatever might be going on - but even he must scramble over a wooden barrier that looks exactly like the similar wooden wall/barrier seen in every photo essay on basic training since the First World War.

The cut line for the ad informs Moms everywhere that they can finally get some of the same Sulfa medication as used in Front Line Hospitals to save lives ( perhaps even their husband's life).

It has just been added to the Band-Aids they apply for their Home Front child's minor cuts and scrapes, to give the kids the same battlefront strength protection that Dad is getting.

A much lesser know version of this ad campaign lays out its theme in a much more heavy handed manner - probably why it hasn't survived in the folk memory.

A Mother (definitely not a 'Mom') Band-Aids her worried looking pre-teen son in the right frame.

In the left frame , grim-faced (and dirty-faced) GIs and medics apply Sulfa-Thiazole to a wounded soldier in a stretcher, not far from a Pacific War battle scene.

The posing and expressions of the wounded man, the onlooking soldiers and the medic makes it appear as if the medic is applying the Last Rites, rather than saving the man's life !

The cutline praise Thiazole as one of the famous Sulfas, 'the drugs everybody's talking about' .

If the ad had come out even a month earlier, this would be definitely true.

Most doctors hadn't even laid their eyes upon a sample of the original sulfa drug until about seven years earlier and each year had brought a major new addition to the sulfa family , curing more and more hitherto unreachable bacteria types.

All were synthetics, totally man-made and the chemists kept coming up with new creations - almost 5000 registered new variants in America alone between 1936 and 1944.

It seemed like an Oil Well that would never run dry.

And then in the space of a month, it was bang-bang, dead.


Because even behind the Nazi held lines, the occupied peoples were hearing about Penicillin in terms that made it sound like a literal, not just figurative, Miracle.

Madison Avenue's stock in trade is figurative Miracles but not even it was prepared for a real Miracle it seems...

Monday, August 17, 2009

On the May & Baker factory floor, the magic bullet of M&B 693 was decidedly low tech

Science journalism and Chemistry Industry advertising (often hard to tell apart in the 1930s) saw the new Sulfa Drugs as the latest and most glamorous product to roll out of the cornucopia of the synthetic arcadia.

But as John Lesch describes in his account of how the British drug firm May & Baker developed its famous M&B693 (the sulfa drug that saved Churchill's life at the height of World War II) the view from the factory floor was distinctly low tech.

A dusty bottle of a rarely used chemical compound, made up for an ex-employee who never used it, but retained by the research lab of a large drug firm because, well, its the Great Depression and money is too tight to lightly throw anything out.

Experimental Chemistry Theory insisted there is absolutely no point in wasting effort in trying the contents of that old
chemical bottle in synthesising a potentially useful analogue from the original German sulfa compound.

Fortunately, an older tradition (in medicine they call this the 'hands on' or clinical approach) said "try everything" .

Unexpectedly ,and thankfully, the unusual new compound showed some promise in the chemical lab.

But the next stage would be to try it on deliberately-infected mice in another type of lab.

But this lab had none of the usual mice (infected with strep bacteria) -- money was tight in the Depression remember ?---
so a harried assistant, trying to fill in for his boss while he was away, tested the compound instead on mice inflected with the bacteria that gives us the worst kinds of pneumonia.

Nothing had ever killed these bacteria reliably and almost everything possible had been tried on them since 1919 and the pandemic of Spanish Flu.

(Most of the Spanish Flu's 50 million deaths worldwide were actually caused by pneumonia -- reason enough to research it more thoroughly than any other virulent agent had been to date.)

Once again, trying the unexpected and the unscientific paid off - this new sulfa killed the most dangerous of the pneumonia types.

This would, if confirmed, be headline news worldwide and would push May & Baker into the front rank of world drug firms.

But for now, back to Depression realities.

A number of intermediate chemicals had to be made in quantity on the way to making the actual sulfa.

Various stratagems were employed as the factory hands struggled to break up recalcitrant chunks of an important intermediate into a coarse powder, without blowing up themselves and their building.

Their delicate lab-grade tools of high precision?

A hammer and chisel !

Then a lot of ordinary mortars and pestles were filled with the crude powder and it was slowly,painfully, hand-ground down to a sufficiently fineness.

May and Baker, despite being a large, diversified , long standing British drug house , had no vacuum still and so its first sulfa 693 had to be made up in one or two litre flasks, so to make that first batch of one kilogram took two months of hard unrelenting effort on behalf of the entire team.

Still,a little of that very first batch in early February 1938, saved the life of a Norfolk farm labourer who was given up for dead because of his seemingly non-responsive lobar pneumonia.

A decidedly better result that the much better known first British effort, in early February 1941, to use penicillin to save the life of a policeman !

Pneumonia - the dreaded 'Captain of the Forces of Death' - had a cure !

But Lesch's detailed account of the development of M&B693 bears only the most fleeting acquaintance with the usual starry-eyed account provided to the public by Thirties media accounts...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dawson & Fleming : Penicillin Pioneers Poles Apart

Sir Alexander Fleming did not discover 'penicillin'.

Not in the common sense meaning of that word that we have all held since the early 1940s.

He certainly did discover that excretions from a certain penicillium mold killed a wide variety of dangerous bacteria without harming human cells - the first known substance to do so.

But he quickly declared that these natural excretions, which he labelled as penicillin, were useless at curing even the mildest of infections, if injected into the body.


Fleming said that penicillin was only medically useful if dabbed on the surface of a wound (that is, when used as an antiseptic) and would only be viable as a conventional treatment if it was produced synthetically by chemists.

Martin Henry Dawson was another pioneer in penicillin research.

He did not discover penicillin and only became active with it eleven years after its discovery was announced in the scientific literature.


However, he not only believed that penicillin would cure if injected in the body, he believed it would cure the most incurable,intractable, infection that medicine ever faced : SBE, Subacute Bacterial Endocarditis.

Dawson was eventually proven right, reducing one of the most feared fatal diseases of young adults to a serious disease that was treatable and containable.

And Dawson's position on synthetic penicillin also was poles apart from that of Fleming (and of Fleming's rival Florey !) : it was 'synthetic if necessary but not necessary synthetic' .

In fact, he early on teamed up with the one penicillin manufacturer who put the production of natural penicillin in time to help the D Day invasion troops over mirages of synthetic penicillin some time after the war ended.

That company, Brooklyn's Pfizer, produced 80% of the penicillin that landed on the beaches of Normandy : natural not synthetic penicillin and intended for use by injection, not as an antiseptic .

Fleming certainly deserves some of the credit for penicillin.

But the fact that it took twelve years after his initial discovery of its healing powers before Dawson became the first person ever to give a dying patient a needle of antibiotics is a tragedy that must also be laid directly at Fleming's feet....

Friday, August 14, 2009

Brisance shatters misconceptions

High Explosives (HE) gets far less attention from historians, popular and learned, than its much older and much weaker cousin, gunpowder/blackpowder.

Perhaps much less attention that it deserves.

And what attention it does receive generally credits it too much for its impact on warfare and not enough for its impact on civil and economic life.

It could even be argued that its major impact on war was indirect, via its consequences for economic activities, including making materials for war.


Blackpowder is a Low Explosive (no one ever calls it LE though), it burns much more rapidly than an ordinary fire, thousands and thousands times faster than steel burns as "rust".

But it and its near cousins burn much slower than High explosives , somewhere between 10 to 10,000 times as slowly !

A pound or coal or petroleum will give off five times as much energy as even the most high tech of High explosives like RDX, but it will not explode, unless turned into a fine dust or vapor and mixed with lots of air.

Explosions are fast burnings, not necessarily efficient fast burnings.

Slow/low explosives are a form of rapid but controlled burning, propelling a human at the end of a rocket up into space without killing them with big G-forces.

They send a shell or bullet out of a relatively cheap, durable and low tech barrel without blowing up the barrel or the people near by.

In terms of power or work, they can adequately lift a pile of dirt up and away. (As can a crew of people with shovels, even before the days of blackpowder.)

But they have no brisance - they can not shatter or blast anything like hard rock.

For thousands of years, a segment of hard rock lying in the path of a canal or road had to be chipped away with tools generally much less strong than the rock they were hitting.

The best they could do was to chip at any little crack in the surface, fill it with fuel, light it till it burned white hot and then dash cold water on it and hope it shattered a big chunk away.

Then repeat, and repeat, and repeat.

Brisance, or the lack of it , is the major reason that long canal systems could take centuries to complete into early modern times - and the reason they were so narrow and shallow. The same could be said for early roads and early railways.

Brisance is the reason why so many potential mines couldn't be dug deep enough, cheaply and quickly enough, to reach potentially large rich ore bodies of iron ore and coal.

Without cheap plentiful iron and coal from distant places being married together at a mill, cheap, plentiful steel rail lines and cheap, strong steel excavating tools couldn't be made.

But without cheap rail transportation lines from those distant mine sites
and strong cheap steel tools to excavate the mine site, no iron or coal would reach the steel mill.


It was a form of Catch 22 and it ended only gradually.

High Explosives were invented early in the 19th century but took fifty years for them to be rendered safe enough to use routinely in construction and mining.

Perhaps for the reason of their non-dramatic entry into our life, we have overlooked their impact.....

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Manhattan Project: Hidden in Plain Sight

Mention the Manhattan Engineering District (MED) aka 'The Manhattan Project', along with the wartime Atomic Bombs, and for most of us, our first thought is a mushroom cloud rising from a dry desert bed somewhere in the dusty south west of America.

Perhaps we think of other,later, Atomic Tests from similarly dusty deserts in Nevada and Utah. And their assembly - wasn't that done in isolated big plants inevitably set on dusty plains or deserts somewhere in southern and western America ? Isn't it still being done out there, somewhere ?

We are certain of one thing - none of this is taking place - or ever took place - anywhere near the wet, green, heavily urbanized American north east - certainly not in the New York City area.


As is well known, the Atomic Bomb project was not just the most secret project in the Allied pipeline of new weapons, it was one of the few efforts rated 'Top Secret' that actually stayed truly top secret - even incoming President Truman knew nothing of it until he took office after FDR's death.

Many credit this to the mania for security to the Army Engineer Corps officer who really turned the faltering project around after he took charge in September 1942 - Colonel (and soon to be General) Leslie Groves.

Groves, born and raised in upstate New York, it is claimed, took a perverse delight in naming a project centered in rural wilderness in the South West after the biggest urban centre in the world - Manhattan - never the most popular part of New York State to its upstate residents.

Actually, it was a group decision to name the Top Secret project after Manhattan and that decision was even more brazen than any of us imagined.

The top secret project was hidden, in plain sight, in all of all places , Manhattan itself !

Most of the emotional high points of the wartime atomic project (and many of its technical solutions) happened on Manhattan or in the environs close around Manhattan and New York City.

Surprisingly, many of those warehouses,factories, office buildings and labs are still around.

Author Robert S Norris delights in reminding residents of the Big Apple that much of the world's atomic history lies all around them, unknown, as part of their daily work life environment.

It is easy to see how this confusion happened.

Most atomic authors, from 1945 till this day, have been voluntarily 'self-embedded' in the corps of the nuclear physicists, seeing the entire project through the physicists' eyes.

For the nuclear physicists, the world revolves around the Los Alamos weapons-development lab , set in the south west desert.

Without Los Alamos and its team of scientists, we won't have had the second , plutonium, (Nagasaki) bomb. But we would have had a bomb.

And it is worth noting that most of the deadly material in all of the world's Cold War nuclear arsenals was uranium, not plutonium - something you'd never gain from reading the average atomic author's breathless prose over the plutonium breakthrough.

(Uranium was a natural element, while until recently it was believed plutonium was man-made, artificial, synthetic - so it simply had to be the better and more exciting part of the atomic story.)

Actually, all of the physicists involved in the MED were, in a sense, mostly redundant after 1941 - if all had died in a plane crash in early 1942, the project would have still gone on to drop the Hiroshima bomb.

Chemists, engineers, metallurgists, factory artisans - all deserved more credit than the physicists for the first Bomb.

And in the early 1940s, most of the high tech firms and factories they worked for were headquartered or located in the greater New York City area....

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sulfa - the Commissar that Vanished

Until 2007 and Professor John E Lesch's "The First Miracle Drugs" , the most recent book on the sulfa drugs aimed at the general book-reading public dated from late 1943.

Of course, that was just before the story of Baby Patricia made natural penicillin the new 'miracle drug' sensation - a position it largely retains today.

In societies uncomfortable with the very idea of 'failure' , projects aren't allowed to fail and die - instead they merely disappear and become invisible, forgotten and denied.

In the case of Sulfa drugs, that means Germany, the UK and the US -all intent on forgetting their hopes and disappointments over Sulfa compounds.

One wonders how hard it was then for this American author to find a American publisher for his book ?

Sometimes it is societies more comfortable with failure ( or more uncomfortable with success) that deal better with 'failure tales' such as the fate of Sulfa drugs.

No current study exists of the successes, failures and hopes of synthetic drug-making in general, from 1895 to 1945, before biologically-based drugs like the antibiotics took (or was that re-took ?) centre stage.

Synthetic drugs were only a part - but a very emotionally powerful part - of the worldwide push, from 1850s till the 1950s, to synthesise and replace as much as possible of the natural world , in attempt to speed up Darwin's evolution.

This is because synthetic drugs intent on keeping us alive, seem themselves more 'alive' than did synthetic silk, aka nylon, for example.

As such, it was an exact counterpart to the contemporary Eugenics movement, attempting to do the same with human beings.

We need such a study because the obsession with replacing an 'imperfect' world with a manmade 'better' one has hardly died ...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What Falls under the Rubric of 'Arcadian Studies' ?

What doesn't?

When we look at Utopian Studies today, they seem to include not just utopias, but ur-topias, dystopias, counter-utopias and anti-utopias.

Maybe more; maybe lots more.

Its awfully hard to keep up.

The original Greek 'Arcadia' was almost nothing like the Arcadia that the Roman poet (and pastoralist farmer) Virgil dreamed up.

But his was the far, far more popular arcadia - until the recent rise in environmental concern and the re-reading of ancient history through that lens.

Frankly, Virgil invented a wholly Synthetic Arcadia and he was hardly the last to do so.

(It is only proper to give the French chemist Marcelin Berthelot full credit for coming up with that specific term, but hardly with the concept - that belongs to Virgil and his literary followers centuries later.)

ARCADIA and the FANTASY genre

Many young people associate 'Arcadia' today with the Fantasy Genre set in a Golden Age past and maybe even think it is a recently invented variant on Arcade, as in 'arcade video games'.

Megalopolis, by contrast, they perhaps associate with the future - a dark and dirty future set in a huge sprawl of a city with more inhabitants than most of today's nations, perhaps fueled by references in various Batman films and all the Blade Runner film, TV, video game and graphic novel knock-offs.

But Arcadia and Megalopolis are, in fact, real places, they had existed for thousands of years and still continue to exist.

In fact, and here is where the whole idea of 'Arcadian Studies' gets really interesting, Arcadia and Megalopolis existed in the one and same time and space !

They contested that space and its inhabitants by offering up alternative arcadias - one existing within the limits set by Nature and the other ---synthetic --- arcadia as an human attempt, without limits, to constantly 'improve' nature.

Let us explain.

To better contrast the modern (modern since Virgil in the time of Christ, that is) mythical sense of Arcadia with the ancient Greeks' more accurate sense, we need only remember that while our Arcadia is famous as the Peaceable Kingdom, their Arcadia was the one Greek province famous for not exporting anything edible but rather for exporting its population as mercenaries to fight others' wars - so tough was the climate and livestyle in their harsh and isolated Interior Mountain lair !

And the Greek Megalopolis was designed to be a very large city even by modern standards - but to be built 2500 years ago - yet quickly ended up being abandoned and deserted as its residents preferred to move back to tiny rustic villages.

This Old World, pre-Christ era contest ( round one to the rustics over the urbanites) got a second go-around in the New World.

In 1957, the Swiss geographer, Jean Gottmann, described the conurbation from Washington, DC to Boston (with New York City very much its heart) as Megalopolis, in his book of the same name.

The concept took off in both geographers' circles and in the media worldwide and many more similar conurbations were found in various leading nations.

But , again, Gottmann wasn't the first to use this term to describe Greater New York and, like Virgil, he altered the term's contemporary meaning to something much more positive.

Lewis Mumford, the radical urban planning advocate, in his 1938 book, The Culture of Cities, used the term Megalopolis in its more accurate historical sense - as a planned mega-city that failed to live up to its billing - as had the original Greek Megalopolis.

Gottmann's Megalopolis, instead, was seen as an artful mix of high intensity supercity centres, surburban areas and regions of naturally re-forested woodlands and functioning farms - all within easy automobile driving distances from each other.

All needed each other - Man and Nature in harmony - a synthetic arcadia - Virgil fullfilled.

Today, this conurbation is seen as extending from Richmond Virginia to Portland Maine.

Familiar territory to another Italian in love with what he supposed was the essence of the Greek Arcadia - one Giovanni de Verrazzano ( 1485-1528) from Florence.

Kitty Hawk - home to the fighter-bomber (and Arcadia)

In 1524, he landed at Kitty Hawk - yes that Kitty Hawk - and called it Arcadia.

He then travelled up the coast, marvelling at all the arcadian beauty, was the first European to go into New York Harbour and went all the way up into Nova Scotia, before returning home to his paymaster - the French king !

Since Virgil and Verrazzano and the rest of educated Europe's Arcadia was wherever urban existence was not, over time the New World Arcadia migrated steadily northward, as the more temperate southern places tended to be settled first.

Maps soon had it in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (!)

Later on it moved upward towards what became Nova Scotia,where it fruitfully mingled with the common local aboriginal place name ending of -acadie to produce Acadia.

Evangeline, the poem and the woman, she of the 'forest primeval', soon cemented the emotional connection of Nova Scotia as Virgil's Arcadia, when for centuries, it was more seen in terms that better fitted the harsher Greek sense of the word Arcadia.

Nova Scotia (Nova Scarcity) becomes Arcadia :History repeats itself.

Today, Gottmann's 1957 Megalopolis and Verrazzano's 1524 Arcadia occupy the same long, narrow, coastal strip of eastern America - and verdure and mortar still fight it out, as in old.

Currently, it is said that mortar is winning, but Peak Oil might ultimately decide otherwise....

Monday, August 10, 2009

Comstock Laws & Times Square Peep Shows : they are both NY

New York City's reputation for Time Square Peep Shows and big city sexuality is of a very recent duration.

Earlier in the last century - until the mid 1960s in fact - its reputation to the rest of the world was of a very different sort.

Anthony Comstock (1844-1915) moved to the Large Apple from Connecticut after serving in the Civil War.

Not unlike Adolf Hitler, he was mostly remembered by his fellow soldiers for his intense hostility to off-color stories from the other men.

He joined the YMCA, in the days when it was still a very respectable evangelical institution and no yet the subject of a ribald hit song.

Adroit in currying favour from powerful fellow evangelicals in the political and financial communities, he became an all-powerful Postal inspector - armed with a gun and sweeping powers.

His control over the mails and parcel post meant a lot , in the time before internet, phones and faxes and cheap fast travel - all ideas moved by mail - from books to newspapers to private letters.

He could and did destroy many individuals when he found their ideas distributing ;he went after sex in particular - from mild smut to pornography.

Often he simply censored any idea he felt threatened Victorian values - votes for women, for example.


Not even expensive medical textbooks intended only for doctors, and only affordable by doctors, were immune.

Soon his activities were known all throughout the civilized world - widely admired publicly by many but more privately derided as "comstockery" by others.

He proudly boasted he had driven 15 people to suicide and his entrapment tactics were later closely copied by a young admirer, Edgar Hoover of the FBI.

His main accomplishment, because he generally only drove illicit sexual activities underground rather than out of existence, was to make America - and New York in particular - a byword in Europe for being provincial and lacking sophistication.

Janus Manhattan.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Manhattan's OTHER Project - one of them anyway

The RAF deserved much of the odium that is still attached to the concept of 'area bombing' , the idea you can win a war by killing and de-housing most of the residents of your opponents' cities if only you sprinkle enough bombs willy nilly over them.

But the ultimate examples of "close is good enough in horseshoes and in area bombing" comes from the American Army Air Force planes flying over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


They were two of the best bombing crews in the entire Allied air forces - in particular, having two top notch bomb-aimers on board.

They had no fighters or ack-ack guns to contend with, were flying in daylight and in pretty good weather and yet still managed to miss their targets widely.

It didn't matter - the Manhattan Project planes still destroyed all of both cities with just one bomb falling well off the target area.

A week after those two bombs, the Japanese unexpectedly surrendered, so these 'far-off-the-targets' results still seemed a victory for the Project planners and for their namesake, Manhattan, where so much of the atomic bomb effort had taken place.


But September 1945 seemed a long way from September 1939, when Americans told themselves they would be immune from the new European general war - because of a project well underway in ....Manhattan.

Daylight flights by Army bombers flying well offshore of America itself and flying thousands of feet above the range of enemy warship ack-ack guns, would "drop a bomb into a pickle barrel at 20,000 feet", and sink the battleship or aircraft carrier below.

The enemy fleets destroyed in mid ocean, the land war would never even reach America's shores.

This project - the Norden bombsight - would be as big a secret as the atomic bomb and cost as many billions to produce and use.


But the Norden's total failure, embarrassingly (if still secretly) evident by mid war, was the real reason the hitherto reluctant American military-scientific leadership gradually ramped up the atomic bomb in time to be used in this, the second world war.

They needed a PR victory from the vast amount of money and lives spent on aerial bombing , no matter how that victory was achieved.

Area bombing, based on the ancient idea (5,000 years old in 1945) of starting fires in the enemies' cities and then letting the city's own materials provide most of the inflammable energy used to destroy it, was a low tech solution to the failure of Manhattan's first high tech 'project' - the Norden Bombsight and 'Precision Bombing' ....

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Janus Manhattan

It is no longer the world's biggest city
but it is still the world's most important

The most power-filled city on Earth but
the most hope-filled city as well.

Home to Wall Street and Ellis Island.

Organizational birthplace of Eugenics and
home to more Jews than any other city on the planet.

The world's biggest life-ender was birthed here, as was the world's smallest (and best) lifesaver -- at the exact same time in history, in the same small neighbourhood.

The little boy and baby patricia both were born here.

Epicenter of an inhumanly endless megalopolis stretching from Portland Maine to Richmond Virginia, it is also home to hundreds of tiny ,distinctive, fiercely independent neighbourhoods.

Janus Manhattan.

The rest of the world is forced to function as any illiterate must, to become very very good at reading the face of this inscrutable giant, because the continued existence of our planet might depend on our skill at reading it correctly.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sharp Elbows plentiful in Penicillin Fame Saga

Imagine our surprise when we consulted The Times over the(in) famous exchange in the Times' Letters section over who deserved the credit for penicillin, to discover that the whole affair had actually been started by a letter from TRC (probably Glaxo ) seeking to grab more than its fair share of the growing acclaim !

And while Fleming, finally, got to work doing something useful with penicillin in the latter part of the war, Florey devoted much energy in that same period to giving a similar-sounding historically oriented lecture, over and over, to various professional meetings.

Its sole intent seemed to have been to undercut Fleming's claim to be the first to discover and use penicillin, but to do so by means of an oblique attack so Florey couldn't be publicly seen as 'reaching' for fame - something too undignified for a FRS...

That whole period from August '42 till the naming of the Nobel winners turned out to have witnessed quite an organized effort by the Oxford group to grab the bulk of the credit - albeit doing so by avoiding public and the general media.

Its almost worth a book on its own - a prime example of how scientific and public acclaim is organized and manipulated.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Fleming's Son loathes BBC4 portrayal of his Father

Alexander Fleming's only child, Robert, has protested to the BBC over their portrayal of his father in the BBC4 docudrama "Breaking the Mould".

Similarly, the curator of the Alexander Museum at St Mary's Hospital in London,Kevin Brown, who has written the
most detailed biography of Fleming's career, "Penicillin Man", has protested to both the BBC and The Times of London ( in this case for its review of the TV drama).

The fuss is not unexpected --- that nasty combo of clashing words "docudrama" never fails to explode in its users' face.

'Docu' means we're telling the truth , 'drama' is our excuse (artistic license) if we are caught out in a lie.

As a 'drama', one suspects the show was fine - one team of writers and directors' personal take on a historical event.

But as a factual documentary ?


High-toney BBC rubbish, as annoying in its own way as Ian Curteis's equally BBC rubbishy take on a saintly Fleming 40 years ago.

Only one reviewer,Tom Sutcliffe, seems to have gone outside the drama itself in his assessment of how well it portrayed its hero, Howard Florey.

Wasn't it C S Lewis, or someone who looks a lot like him or Day-Lewis, who once said "Good Lord, I asked for some facts and they gave me a British upmarket broadsheet instead !"

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wartime Manhattan's PROJECTS

Wartime Manhattan's natural penicillin project and natural uranium bomb project were not high tech triumphs as they are usually portrayed to this day.

Instead they were both last minute/low tech/wide brush solutions to the failures of two of Manhattan's earlier High Tech /High Precision projects.

Those being man-made precision 'magic bullet' Sulfa drugs and man-made precision 'pickle barrel' Norden bomb sights.

Thus AR thinks that to continue to speak exclusively of 'The Manhattan Project' is a bit of a misnomer --- it would be much more accurate to speak of "Manhattan's Projects" and admit that their fascinating and interwoven story has never been properly told....

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fleming & Florey exchange roles; now its Florey who is the modest one

"Breaking the Mould", BBC4's docudrama on the role Howard Florey's Oxford University team played in the
Public discovery of Penicillin , does the impossible.

Publicly at least, Alexander Fleming was a the very model of a modern modest man.

Howard Florey, was always described, by his oldest and closest friends, as witheringly blunt and relentlessly ambitious.

Yet this take on Florey successfully convinced the vast majority of the many British journalists viewing the film that their parents' hero Fleming had feet of giant clay and that somehow generations of earlier Britons had overlooked the sterling modesty of Dr Florey.

If any of these journalists had consulted any one of the many biographies of either Fleming or Florey they would have seen a more complex and much more interesting story.

Simply put, there is much to strongly dislike and much to greatly admire in the character and actions of both men.

In terms that fiction writers and readers will understand, they would both be very much three dimensional characters, well rounded; always capable of surprising the reader.

Cardboard - even when well acted - is no substitute for the
multi layered complexity of real life...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Breaking The Mould over Fleming

The reviews of BBC4's docudrama, "Breaking the Mould" are in.

The verdict from the UK's scribbling classes is this : Alexander Fleming was lucky, lazy and undeserving of his past fame.

But these paid scribblers are usually sixty years old and younger - too young to remember 'The War' or even the Festival of Britain, and inclined to think that the Beatle-led Pop Explosion was their country's greatest ever export.

Why not - the events of 1962 to 1966 was probably the seminal event of their youth.

But Brits old enough to remember the collective British response to their displacement at the end of World War II by the USA and Russia and the loss of their Empire are all retired now and their response will come later, in letters to the editor.

Worshipful, unquestioning admiration for Alexander Fleming's role in Penicillin and similar admiration of his counterparts in
the fields of Radar and Jets was the key part of that collective response.

As these people retire from the work world and the oldest among them die off, is Fleming about to undergo a honest re-assessment by Britons of his role in the greatest medical discovery ever ?

AR hopes so - but we will wait till the letters from those readers come in.....