Tuesday, November 16, 2010

the very SUI GENERIS Dr Dawson

  About 1926, very suddenly, (roughly two thirds of the way along Modernity's century long heyday) there came a cluster of scientific discoveries and theories that questioned the fundamental (and unexamined) assumptions that lay at the very base of the Modernity Project.

  The implications of Paul Dirac's Vacuum Sea were
probably the most devastating of these assaults upon the certainties behind 19th Century physics, chemistry, biology, economics etc, but there were many others.

  These new ways at looking at the ultimates of reality, however, were mostly a case of scientists making their case to other scientists.

  When mainstream science gave most of these new ideas short shrift , few of these new ideas even made it into the discussions of the mainstream media at all.

  Beginning at the end of the Second World War, the Modernity Project got buffeted at the other end.

  Social scientists/philosophers like Horkheimer
and Adorno examined the moral implications of Modernity's assumptions about the differing worthiness of varying types of Life, showing how it lead to firebombing of civilians and worse, on all sides of the recent conflict.

  But I could find no one who was in the forefront of assailing Modernity's scientific AND moral assumptions - I would it seems have to write two - very separate - books on the subject of the slide from Modernity to Postmodernity, with no connection between the two books.

  But that was not my thesis.

  Not at all.

  I believed that these handful of scientists had put paid to Modernity's presumptions in the 1920s.

  But until the evidence in their articles were more or less believed by other scientists, judged to be important and was acted upon (by others doing lots of new research), they would have no impact scientifically or in the greater world outside Science.

  And in fact it was not until after the war and extending into the 1990s, before some of these pioneers of the 1920s were finally accepted as being basically right all along.

  Why then did today's scientists decide to look into their 'crackpot' ideas, after their elders had dismissed them for half a century?

  My thesis is that "Science follows the Election Returns and that the Election Returns follow Science" , to paraphrase Mr Dooley.

  Growing private doubts about the course of Modernity and the first Modernity War, evident (in Film Noir films and books if no where else) from about 1943 onwards in the general world population, was starting to slowly (very slowly) feedback into the world of science.

  A new generation of babyboomer scientists gradually got tenure and department chairmanships and grant committee memberships etc as the Modernity generation ( which never refuted its views) died.

  They were a generation less self confident that Modernity had done and could do, no harm.

  Then I fell upon Dawson's story.

  In Henry Dawson I saw someone who appeared , on one hand, as bone-dull ordinary, someone who almost seemed to give off negative charisma  because he was so unremarkable in so many ways.

  Yet this bog-ordinary ward doctor,this arthritis/aspirin doctor, also seemed to be truly sui generis.

  He had challenged Modernity both scientifically and morally - and then he died and was mostly forgotten.

  Both the rumbles from his efforts still shake our world 70 and 80 years later.

  Here was a scientist who was the first to challenge the Darwinian view of genes as solely Reproductive DNA, by suggesting there was also Transformative DNA.

  The glory and be-all of DNA to Darwin's coterie of believers was its fidelity - it amazingly reproduced the complexity of Life without almost any mistakes, generation after generation.

  By contrast, Dawson's Transformative DNA was amazing for the ability of DNA to transform one being instantly into a new being, different from anything that existed before - thus being a major source for evolutionary variety of the most rapid kind.

  This was not 'Transmutation' - the idea that some bacteria could change into another existing species.

  This is exactly like the alchemists' dream of changing (transmuting) lead into gold - with gold as abundant as lead it be worth as much as lead too.

  No cares if a strep bacteria could become a staph bacteria - with a trillion times a trillion staph bacteria already on the planet, who'd notice one more, no matter how amazing the process?

  No, Dawson's Transformative DNA would transform a penicillium fungi cell into a being now able to produce something ordinarily only made by some bacteria - that something being a beta lactam antibiotic, to be fully specific, penicillin.

  Penicillin is like, and also not like, the older bacterial beta lactam antibiotics - it is a metis, a hydrid, a half breed, something new - wonderfully new.

  Dawson's claim that beings at the very bottom of the Darwinian Food Chain could perform genetic miracles that the beings at the very top of Darwin's Ladder of Progress (upper middle class western male scientists) could not even dream of doing, was not very popular in the 1920s (or even today) among Darwinists.

  In the 1940s, Dawson challenged Modernity's view that in war, the 4F exists to protect the 1A.

  He argued for an older view, that the strong's job is to defend and protect the weak - particularly in war.

  In September 1940, Dawson said he believed that systemic natural (impure) pencillin could cure the worst manifestation of the then leading killer of young people - Rheumatic Fever, the Polio of the Poor.

  This was SBE, invariably fatal endocarditis of the heart valves caused by Rheumatic Fever.

  He was right it could.

  But the government said the SBEs were useless to the war effort and any extensive efforts to save them could wait till the war's end - IA soldiers with self-inflicted (non-fatal) VD were the priority for penicillin.

  By the war's end many of the SBE would be needlessly dead and nothing post that fact could bring them back - so Dawson deliberately stole government penicillin to keep them alive - and perhaps to bring the matter to a boil.

  That it did and eventually the government gave in to Dawson on two fronts -providing penicillin for SBEs during the war AND accepting Dawson's view that natural impure penicillin could do the job with no need to chase the chimera of synthetic penicillin.

  His penicillin was what was used for the rest of the war.

  (That is the penicillin we still use to this day.)

  I believe that Dawson's boyhood moral inclinations pushed him into areas of scientific research where he would find evidence that the weak are by no means as stupid  (and hence useless) as Modernity believed.

  I think his scientific research confirmed this view, in spades, and this only heightened his sense he had a moral obligation to defend the weak against Modernity's assault - which in turn led to his penicillin crusade during World War Two.

  This coupling (and two way feedback) between Dawson's science and his moral standpoint makes him a very intriguing example of
my thesis of 'election returns and science' .....

Friday, November 5, 2010

"Confounding the Mighty, 1939-1945" Part One

When History's biggest bloodiest war is won by a deaf mute (aka Mother Nature) the story of the war is almost bound to be told by its biggest losers, the four nations who have the most reason to defend their losing roles.

 It doesn't hurt that these four (America,Britain,Germany and Japan) also have the financial and demographic clout to have their version (of just how the war panned out) become the dominant one.

Nominally, two of these four (America and Britain) were the human winners and two (Germany and Japan) were the human losers, so it seems hard to imagine the four having much to say - collectively - about the results of World War Two.

No so.

The Germans and the Japanese were among the world's biggest industrial, scientific and modernist powers in 1939.

They got there not by the wealth of their material resources but on sheer intellectual willpower.

They respect intellectual willpower - in fact, believe as no others do that it is the most important element in the rise of a superstate - not the size of a state's original resource base.

Britain holds this view too, though a little less strongly - willing to grant much to the role of its resource rich empire in its rise to world power status. But it also places much credit for its rise upon the unique character of the British character, formed in its unique schools.

America holds this view strongly as Britain - it freely admits it has somewhat more natural resources than do Russia, China, India,Brazil, Canada and Australia - but says that wasn't enough to make the USA the world power it is : grant much, they plead, to the exceptionalist American character.

So American and Britain freely admit that they were not as good in  military willpower as were the Germans or the Japanese - but that the superior scientific willpower of the Allies won through.

Few Germans or Japanese disagree : 'we had the best best military, but they had the best Big Science.'

All four say, in effect, that this was a war between humans, between clashing human wills .

The natural resource imbalance between Axis and Allied weighted for little.

In fact they claim WWII (accurately) as the first war where the majority of deaths were caused directly by (K-selected) humans and not indirectly by Mother Nature's invisible minions... the invisible living beings that are the (r-selected) causes of malnutrition and disease that usually rule other wars.

Seems then that I have my work to cut out, to prove that Nature won WWII and that human willpower lost it, doesn't it ??

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

This is the home of my NON-DEATHLESS prose

(I originally wrote this on October 31st 2009 on AR but I deleted it somehow when I bulk transferred all my ARCADIAN RECORDER entries over to MO goes PO)

Arcadian-Recorder-the-blog ( and my Twitter and Facebook offerings) represents just one side of my divided personality: call it my pamphleteer side.

I sit down in front of my laptop and quickly write out whatever grabs my mind at that moment.

Write it, post it and get over it - deathless prose it is not.

I have no intentions of collecting it, revising it and putting it out in a book-of-essays format : ugh !

Its on the net, its worldwide and its free --- which probably accurately describes its current literary market value.

But when I hope to write a novella length narrative that will still be readable, long after I am gone, I turn to a good old fashioned analog paper book that I publish myself.

Call it a mook or a heftroman if you wish (a hybrid magazine-book), to me it is simply an issue of the Arcadian Recorder journal that looks and feels like a small book.

But an environmentally 'green' book with no wasted dead trees allocated to useless padding.

With nice book paper and a nice cover stock paper - and bound so it stays open and easy to read.

And I want to illustrate it, and have the fun of printing it and binding it myself.

Call it my creative side coming to the fore.

No, novella doesn't mean it is fictional - and don't call it non-fictional either.

Italians will remind you that novella - or novel for that matter - is just what it sounds like - novel,novelty,news - which sounds pretty 'fact-oriented' to me.

Today, novella should just mean a prose work that is too long for a newspaper, magazine or journal, but is too short to stand alone in a conventional book publishing offering.

I would say anything that is from 17,500 to 35,000 words in total, (unpadded).

Conventional book publishers may need at least 190 pages to get bookstores and readers to warm to it --- that can be less than 35,000 words --- but it must still be padded out some how to that length in pages to get a fair hearing.

Dead trees falling needlessly.

Myself, and a lot of others, think that these short-read/low weight/low priced books (80 pages in an A-6 size) have a lot of legs in the new book economy.

And a handful of them can be bundled and themed into a big fat book ,if the conventional book publishers and book sellers think they can sell big numbers in a few months - the route that they regard as the only viable book business model today.

Instead, my books will be printed on my home computer and home laser printer and be available forever, but only on "demand", as customer cash-in-hand orders come in.

No more pulping tons of unsold/returned for full credit books - sorry - I just don't think its the green thing to do to a green-oriented book series.

My Chebucto Community Net website, marshall.chebucto.net , will have paypal options on it, for customers world wide.

I can mail them world wide at the low cost 50 gram letter post rate - and make money - not much money, but I will make some on each and every sale.

Their price, before their very reasonable mailing costs, will be competitive with other serious literary factual narratives : at about 10 cents per 300 words.

Frugally, I plan to sell the originals of their full color cover art painting (as well as the originals of the black & white paintings that go on the pages inside) on the same website and shipped out the same way.

"It is always a BIG mistake - to underestimate the sickly and the weak."

Maude Lewis was born in 1903 into a rural household in South Ohio, deep in back country Yarmouth County Nova Scotia.

Her family might be considered poor - but no poorer than tens of thousands of other rural Nova Scotia families around that time.

Her difference was that she had a great number of  disabilities from birth.

She was always much smaller than other children. She seemed to have no chin and her head sunk deep onto her chest.

Her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis left one arm immobile by her side and both hands were crippled  into twisted claws.

Naturally the kids at her school teased her mercilessly - particularly as she  reached puberty and she failed to grow adult-like and shapely but remained a small child-like sparse figure.

Because of this, she dropped out of school to live with her two loving parents but she retained her sweet nature and her warm smile.

She could play a piano and entertain well enough - despite her limited hand mobility - to be welcome at the keyboard any time.

And she could draw and paint - taught by her mother - her greeting cards and Christmas cards sold well with neighbours.

Then her beloved father and then beloved mother died, when she was in her early thirties.

Her older brother got the house and made her unwelcome in it till she moved to an aunt, 150 kilometers away in Marshalltown, Digby.

(My family does NOT come from there --- but Thomas Edison's people did !)

She hoped to marry to have someone to support her - but her first attempt ended in a child that she had to give up when the suitor refused to marry her.

Her next suitor actually first hired her to be his housekeeper.

Everett Lewis was very stingy by all accounts, but in his favour, he first hired her and then married her--- even when it became clear he would have to do all the housework for her !

He was even poorer than her family - his home was no bigger than mine and Rebecca's little Hobbit Houses -ie about four metres square.

It had no electricity or  water - basically a one room 'closet' with a ceiling far too low for the average adult - because the attic space was used as the sleep loft.

Still Maud made it cheerful by painting every surface with her colorful memories of her happier life as a child down in South Ohio.

The paint was picked out of the tossed-out tins of fisherman's boat paint that Everett scrounged for her.

He made his meager living selling door to door fish that he got at the seaside to the few people too far inland, too old and too poor to get fish more directly and more cheaply themselves.

Soon Maud moved from helping him sell fish to selling her cards and then paintings - painted with house oil paints on scrap paper or wallpaper - anything and everything.

These paintings with their skillful blend of simple-looking but evocative scenes and the bright colors soon got a steady stream of American customers between the 1930s to the 1960s, motoring up to Cape Breton from New York via Digby.

(Probably some of Dawson's colleagues got all they knew of Dawson's home from these paintings (usually winter scenes) brought back from a one time summer trip to the province.)

But the paintings still sold for only two or three dollars even into the 1960s---- Maud was popular but dead poor all her days after her parents died.

It didn't seem to matter - she painted/recollected her happier childhood memories for the sheer joy of it - and the chance to bring in customers to break her solitude at the one window with enough light to permit her to paint.

Her arthritis got worse and worse.

So did her lungs - from stove smoke and oil paint fumes --- but her images never lost the color and the joy.

She is now one of Canada's most widely loved and admired artists - with a fanbase among non-art lovers AND famous visual artists of the sort that successful graduates of art colleges can only dream about.

I never knew her - except through the evocative photos of Bob Brooks, whom I did  get to know.

I believe the reason why his (very few) photos of Maud herself have been reproduced so often, is not simply due to Maud.

Bob Brooks knew the sort of shoes Maud walked in her whole life.

Bob wasn't particularly big, was hunch- shouldered rather like Maud though much less so.

 (Perhaps from carrying 30 ponds of heavy cameras and lenses over a lifetime? - I don't know - I never asked.)

His face and head had a faintly simian cast.

People referred to his 'monkey-like' look, though not to his face and nor - as far as I could tell - as an insult, but rather as a simple fact.

Bob Brooks was widely admired as the best photographer that the Province of Nova Scotia had in its employ at the time - and just as admired for his mordant tongue about his employers' habits.

I liked him a lot - him and his wife and daughter.

I often wondered how he had managed with his appearance as a child and as a courting young man - before his talent as a photographer made people cut him a lot of slack.

I didn't know then that he had taken the loving pictures of Maud Lewis that made her instantly famous in 1965, 50 years after she sold her first artwork.

 Seeing them again today makes me more sure than ever that Bob's love and admiration of his subject - someone much worse off than himself who had yet risen above her troubles with an always ready smile -  helped 'make' Maud.

Another photographer wouldn't have poured his love into what was supposed to be a routine photo journalism assignment to the extent that Bob Brooks did.

And I am sure glad he did.....

until 1939-1945, MOdernity hadn't been tried and failed - it hadn't been tried

MOdernity might have lasted forever as a kind of boastful,idle, rhetoric ---- useful as a cover for what ever misdeed you wanted to defend.

If only, if only, if only it hadn't overreached itself - between 1939 and 1945 - by actually trying to do in practice what it had long claimed it could do in theory.

The MOdernist elites of the four leading MOdernist nations-cum-empires  (Germany, Japan, Britain and America) all promised far more to their more ordinary citizens than they proved able to deliver.

As a result, MOdernity took quite a kicking by September 2, 1945 .

Over what seems a very long period of time, that discontent over the methods and results of MOdernity during WWII has led to a widespread loss of faith in its tenets around the world.

All of us alive today have spent the majority of our lives in the era post 1945 ---- like it or not, we are all  'PO folk'....

POst-MOnism : MO goes PO

I dislike the term Postmodernism because we tend to regard modern as an alternative term for contemporary, rendering post-modern a term almost empty of meaning.

When we look more closely at what postmodernism is actually post- or against , we see that monism is closer to (but is not exactly)  the concept that postmodernist oppose.

1950s style American mono-culturalism versus 1990s multi-culturalism.

1950s Normal families and Deviants versus today's Alternative life-styles.

I use monism as a stand-in for meta narrative , in my understanding of Lyotard's sense of that word:
that there is only one truth on any matter, that it is easily knowable ( and easily known to be the one and only truth) --- and that all other claims to be part of that truth are in fact inverts, deviants, unfits, weaks, simples, degenerates, deficients, defectives and either have to be corrected or destroyed.
For one example,think of the 1880s-1980s orthodoxy that medical scientists should only study free floating "P"lanktonic "S" or "M" virile S. pneumococcus bacteria--- not their harmless (and hence useless) kissing cousins, the "R","L" and "B"iofilmic"  S. pneumococcus bacteria.

Dawson bucked this orthodoxy his whole career ---- and we have DNA and penicillin as a result....

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

why WELFARE ISLAND hospital mattered more to me than CUMC

I'm not rich - in fact I am poor.

I might not have made my first ever trip to New York City to 'walk the ground' that my Dawson book is set in, if it hadn't been an urgent need to help my brother dealing with stomach cancer in Belfast North Ireland in the fall of 2006.

You can't stop over in a city, before resuming your trip, if you fly.

You can if you take a bus - thank you bus companies !

International rules make you buy two very expensive air tickets instead.

But I found if I went to London via New York, I could get one cheap through ticket that put me in Newark at 8am and let me fly back out to London at 8pm.

I had basically 12 full hours to see  the Big Apple.

Travelling by bus and subway and foot on a Sunday can only move you about so fast and so far.

So I had to make choices.

I figured I could see the area of Merck's New Jersey plant and Mahoney's Staten Island hospital from the air and from the bus into Manhattan.

I did a full side trip to Brooklyn, saw the area of Pfizer's Marcy Avenue penicillin plant from the subway but spent some serious time in John L's upper class Brooklyn neighbourhood - even talked to the doorman at his old home !

I and Rebecca had arranged to meet Dawson's daughter and husband at 84th Street (in her mom's old apartment) on the Upper East Side for a quick first-ever meeting and lunch around 1 PM.

That left no time to get there and back, with certainty, to Dawson's old home in Riverdale in the uppermost Bronx, or his second last place of employment, the Columbia University Medical Centre, (CUMC) across from Riverdale in upper Manhattan, basically at the top of Harlem in Washington Heights.

I decided, instead, to go to the streets just below Shirley Dawson's home at 84th Street and work my way up to her house, staying as close as I could to the East River.

This way I could visit Dawson's first hospital that he worked at, along with Oswald Avery, on initially coming to New York.

This was the Rockefeller Institute Hospital, now part of Rockefeller University.

And I could visit the original home of  CUMC - the old Presbyterian Hospital - a place I am sure Dawson visited frequently in the late 1920s, before being hired by them to work at the new Presbyterian hospital site up at 165th Street in Washington Heights.

But these were sideshows --- what I really wanted to see, and to savour, was Roosevelt Island and the Goldwater Hospital --- which I sensed was Dawson's real spiritual home.

Yes the Goldwater Hospital for the long term care of the chronically ill, not CUMC with its strong emphasis on quick cures of acute diseases.

This despite the fact that both of Dawson's key pioneering efforts, in DNA and Penicillin ,were all done at CUMC - not at Goldwater.

But Dawson was a lifelong sort of 'patron saint' to those beings judged to be chronically unfit, chronically 4F, in a Streamlined Moderne Age that valued only the 1A ,the virile and the sleek.

(And by 'beings' judged chronically unfit, I also include creatures such as the R and L form Strep bacteria and the penicillium notatum mold.)

Curiously his wife (and now his daughter) chose to live right across from that hospital, located at the very top tip of the Island, across from from the end of 84th Street .

Roosevelt Island used to be known as Welfare Island in Dawson's day, before that it was called Blackwell's Island.

Yes, that Blackwell's Island (cue the epynomously named movie  starring John Garfield as a crusader gone undercover to expose a corrupt prison system ).

Sorta like today's Rikker's Island , but not as warm and cuddly.

Since 1832, the island has been home to New York City's less valued citizens : criminals, the indigent, the chronically ill (and of course, sometimes they are one and the same.)

Prisons for the hardened criminals, almhouses for the poor, Smallpox/TB/VD hospitals - what ever NYC didn't want to look at , the island took in.

But Dawson and an enlightened Commissioner of Hospitals under Mayor La Guardia (SS Goldwater) saw the island differently.

Robert Moses and La Guardia wanted the prison razed - as did everyone in the city - after the last and biggest scandal associated with it.

But these two politicos saw it becoming a park ---effectively a local park for the (already extremely rich) Upper East Side.

Dawson and Goldwater agreed the site was park-like , but asked 'why not make a park-like multi-hospital for the chronically ill there instead - let them enjoy the view and it will only help heal their woes'.

Dawson would be in charge of the new hospital's serious research efforts to reduce chronic illness's pain and suffering - something medical science had greatly neglected.

Amazingly, the two won their case - and the work was started.

The war stopped it and after the war, with both dead, it was never resumed.

Still the AGAPE Penicillin Project filled the hours (and the intent) that Dawson had hoped to pour into this never-to-be-finished home for the chronically ill and for the doctors who love them, despite their handicaps.

This local, New York, loss was to prove to be the world's gain.

I am very glad I went to see it - it made me feel at one with Dawson, if only briefly....