Thursday, April 30, 2015

The first postwar generation : the High School kids of 1957-1959

Born in 1951 in Victoria BC, between 1957 and 1959 I returned to my birthplace and lived at the corner of Cranmore and Hampshire in Oak Bay, a wealthy suburb of the greater Victoria BC.

My tiny Catholic primary school was over on Trent and I had a long, long twice daily walk (at age 5 !) along the street that was fronted by the city's big High School and Junior High School.

So while I clearly remember the nuns and lay teachers at my own school, you will excuse me when I say I don't remember the kids of my own boring age at my school but much preferred to constantly examine close up the glamorous seeming "Big Kids" at the High School.

These were mostly kids born between 1941 and 1947 , the first wave of my own postwar generation - now incorrectly called the Boomers.

To put it in context, if the Dylan, Baez and the Grateful Dead had lived in Victoria, they'd all be attending High School in these years - so you known the sort of generation I'm talking about.

Years later, I learned that 1950s Victoria was supposedly locked into a British Victorian time warp.

Perhaps - for those over the age of 30 .

But my sense then (and now) was that the young people there acted as if this was just California North Extended right down to our fair share of classic beatnik types.

After all it was far cheaper and quicker to fly to exciting San Francisco than to go to staid Toronto.

I knew then from my TV how teens in California of the 1950s acted and this well-to-do , urban High School in my provincial capitol was clearly no different - the Hot Rods were exactly the same, the clothes too and even the lingo.

Not living at this street corner till late 1957, I obviously never knew any of the earlier postwar high school kids.

I mean this group's older brothers and sisters - born in the mid to late 1930s, who had shared their parents' wartime patriotism first hand.

As a result, I can't say for certain that the two groups of siblings were clearly very different in outlook.

But we know for a fact that this generation I saw before me twice daily never thrilled to the stoic British endurance of the Blitz years - only knew of bombing as seen at Hiroshima and Dresden.

They never got uplifting accounts of prewar BC's eugenic successes in Hygiene class - knew only of Auschwitz's better known example of applied eugenics.

If the Staten Island born Baez was any example, they did indeed think and act differently than their slightly older siblings.

(Some people even date the birth of the entire folk protest age to the moment when Baez became the classic 'overnight star'.

She had appeared on stage, unannounced, as a last minute addition to the first annual Newport Folk Festival in July 1959 and was an immediate nation-wide media sensation.

I was still living at Cranmore and Hampshire at the time, but knew nothing of her until 1961.)

And the war years truly were "The Great Divide" that made these 18 year olds' thinking closer to that of eight year me than to their slightly older siblings.

My first book will go back to the wartime years these high schoolers were born into, to understand what effects it had upon them and upon me ....

"The Last sometimes are First" : confounding Modernity's 'terrible simplifiers'

Unfortunately for the rest of us, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Tojo all had a first rate science education at their gymnasiums (the advanced sort of high school common outside of North America) .

One that in their generation was reserved only for the elites destined to run the world in all fields of endeavour.

If these four became Jacob Burkhardt's much feared 'terrible simplifiers', we should lay much of the blame at the feet of their gymnasium science teachers who taught them everything there was to know about seeing reality through the terrible scientific lenses of simplicity.

But the steps from this sort of scientific education to becoming 'mass murderers in the name of science' is not inevitable.

Because Canadian Dr Martin Henry Dawson had a similar science education.

However, during in the lead up to WWII, he chose instead to become one of science's first complexifiers.

He announced over and over to a collective scientific yawn, that when it comes to modifying genetics, sometimes (and totally unexpectedly) the Last (the bacteria) came First, besting the efforts of science's smartest men in the universe....

COMPLEXITY based science from SIMPLICITY based science : the post 1945 shift

Eugenics, the central science of Modernity, was a form of Reductionism and Plenticide.

Eugenics was all about reducing the existing 'impurities' it felt were present in the gene pool : like all of Modernity's sciences, it thought reality - in this case represented by the gene pool - would work much better if only it was much simpler.

But today's scientists generally seek to increase, enlarge, deepen, diversify the gene pool : they fear keeping all of our survival eggs in one small, shallow, inbreed, genetic basket.

Today's scientists have come to see that reality is inherently and permanently complex rather than being something that seems (temporarily) to be complex but really is fundamentally simple and simplifiable.

Now they see that human and planetary survival depends on having many, many possible solutions readily available to meet many, many possible problems.

So plentitude - 'the more the merrier' is their cry - not reductionist plenticide, genocide and euthanasia.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

'Riding the Tiger of Progress' - not Liberalism - was key meme of Modernity

For liberals to state that all people are born equal and that this is a condition that can neither be gained or lost, is to describe a static -  even tranquil - condition.

By contrast, the same liberals' idea of Progress sees all humanity as being born 'involuntary participants' in a series of life-or-death gladiator competitions ; Progress merely being Social Darwinism in its political correct dress-coat.

Life or death competitions where even the 'happy' winners are always looking back over their shoulders and where the losers believe they will lose their lives, in the long term if not in the short term.

So in the 1930s let's say, it was currently felt that the White race was winning over the Yellow race but that could change, if the Whites ever let down their guard for even a minute.

And within the White race of the 1930s, the Anglo Saxons were winning but the Jews were gaining, and so the Anglo Saxons must ever keep up their guard and even consider new counter measures.

While within the Jews, physically and mentally defectives were losing the intellectual race but winning the demographic race.

The idea of Progress is what allowed - is what allows - liberals to have their cake and eat it too : talk of equality but encourage a tigers' den of winners and losers.

But 'riding the tiger of progress' was uneasy work - and hence the Era of Modernity was noteworthy for its frequent communal pogroms of violence, fear and hatred against other 'gladiators' --WWII being merely the worst and best known....

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"The Last are sometimes First" : confounding Modernity's Terrible Simplifiers

Reduced (one of its characteristic terms) to an aphorism, Modernity is basically about believing that, in terms of intelligence and progress ,"the First (largest,newest, most complex) were always and inevitably First ".

And as the First, destined to succeed and endure.

(Also implying that the last are always and inevitably last and doomed to fail).

A simple - and terrible - and terribly wrong - scientific thesis.

Seeing under his microscope that some of the supposed last (bacteria) were in some ways the First (in abilities to do genetic manipulation) led scientist Martin Henry Dawson to conclude the results of this sort of backwater microbial research would have a profound effect on the whole wide science of biology.

And as the key intellect memes in the Era of Modernity were all really just 'applied biology' , the impact could, in theory, go much, much wider.

It didn't, not then at least : for Dawson wasn't the one to lead any sort revolution of words and ideas - only perform a quiet revolution of deeds.

But today the idea that a deep wide genetic pool, well stocked with the intelligence from all possible sizes, complexity and types of beings, is Humanity and the Earth's best insurance against destruction is a commonplace.

It is the meme that holds up the entire intellectual structure that we call postmodernity ...

The JEWISH Great Migration

While millions of southern black Americans famously went 'up north' or 'out west' between 1895 and 1925, most stayed and had children within the broadly defined South.

They still moved about alright, many of them - but moved from state to state along the horizontally-lying Black Belt where Cotton had been King and the black population was the densest.

Similarly, while two million Jews left The Pale of the Russian Empire in the same period to flee the deadly anti-Jewish pogroms , most stayed and with a similarly high birthrates, maintained their same percentage of the - growing - Russian population.

It took first WWII's Holocaust and perhaps more importantly, decades of postwar communist-sanctioned anti-semitic abuse, to reduce the Jewish population of Russia from being a majority of the world's Jewish population at the end of the 19th century to today where Russian Jews are barely 1% of the world's Jews.

Contrast this to America's blacks, many of whom today are moving back to the same Deep South their parents and grandparents once fled to avoid government-sanctioned anti-black pogroms ...

Monday, April 27, 2015

Their revolutions WERE rhetoricized : Jacob Burckhardt's "terrible simplifiers"

Just as the famous Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt had earlier predicted, the Age of Modernity (1865-1965) was a time when 'terrible simplifiers' made that century the most violent and horrific on record.

A time of Grand - simple - Narratives, of soaring rhetoric , when all of life's problems and solutions seemed 'clearcut' , to use a word greatly overused by Sir Howard Florey, a much honored doyen of Modernity.

To his great penicillin rival, Martin Henry Dawson, nothing was ever simple or clearcut - a viewpoint that naturally won him no honours at all during the Era of Modernity.

And Dawson died in 1945, years away from being honoured under the very different value system of our current post-modern Era of Global Commensality....

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Dr Dawson vs Dr Luke : "The postmodern revolution will not be rhetoricized"

What a powerful rhetorical slogan, clearly evoking separation and dualities, that the Bible's Dr Luke unfurled for Christians to march behind on the way to their revolutionary barricades : "the Last shall be First".

By contrast Dr Henry (Dawson), who seemed not to have a single rhetoric-producing gene in his entire body, would only ferment his revolution by cautiously mumbling in the pages of scientific articles that "the Last may be First, or Last, or indeed Anything In Between --- it all depends."

This revolution, at least, would be quintessentially postmodern in that it definitely won't be rhetoricized ...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

1945's PROGRESS report : the newest and the biggest had produced atomic bombs and Auschwitz --- the oldest and the smallest had produced penicillin

The newest and biggest (dare we also say the brightest?) human civilizations at the top of the ever upward and outward arrow of progress had given the 1945 world nuclear and genocidal horror - but the tiny weak stupid fugal slime cells at the oldest bottom of that arrow of progress had given us life-saving penicillin.

Not a good year, then, for the whole idea of Progress itself....

The three verities of Modernity : the separate simple solidities of the Man's Will, Nature and the Atom

The pre WWI Freud put paid to the first verity pretty quickly - suggesting that inside an individual's solid and stable 'will' was actually a seething sea of competing components - not all 'visible' to that individual's ken.

The 1920s-1930s fundamental physicists did the same for the verity of the solid and stable atom, with sub atomic science quickly being revealed as only slightly less complicated that the science of the human mind.

But I think it took the physicists' mutating subatomic particles from all those fallout clouds drifting around the world from mid 1950s nuclear testing , falling to the earth and into the Freudian minds of boomer teenagers in the form of the science fiction cum horror movies that really destroyed the third verity.

Man's split mind had in turn split the atom and the fallout drifting down worldwide indiscriminately over plant, animal and human alike had finally re-united humanity and all other lifeforms on an increasingly fragile seeming planet ...

Conservationists' Cartesian Dualism fiercest opponent of Environmentalists' Commensality

Mix together conservationists and environmentalists if you must and if you can : but first, please, take the baby steps of mixing together oil and water or chalk and cheese or matter and anti-matter.

Because Rene Descartes' biggest duality was opposing Man and Mother Nature - a motif adopted without reservation by the Conservation Movement in its unstinting efforts to keep bits of the 'unspoiled' natural world away from the 'destructive' human world.

But that was all bright & shiny prewar, Modernity, stuff.

Because in our dark and murky, postwar, Postmodern, world we quickly realized that human-made fallout clouds dropped their poison over Big City and Nature Conservatory indiscriminately - no 1950s style 'separate but equal' nonsense here .

Bread or Bombs : all was (unwilling) open commensality now, on lifeboat earth ....

NYC World's Fair 1939-1940 : in a world facing an an apocalyptic war, a synthetic wonderland that presumed never an apocalyptic war

In the Spring and Summer of 1945 , the few people still left alive in war-seared Belarus,Ukraine and Poland could easily spot the difference between the new-fashioned synthetic food promised at New York's 1939-1940 World's Fair and good old-fashioned natural food.

If one looked hard enough, one could still natural food growing all by itself close by - without aid of any human effort - shoots, roots, fruits and berries  growing in the hidden nooks and crannies of forests and fields.

At least something to fill the aching tummies of small children until the first peacetime harvest came in.

But all those factory-made synthetic foods were nowhere to be seen.

Because their nations' factories, power poles, power plants, streetcars, roads, bridges, railways were also nowhere to be seen.

For what a high tech and globally interconnected synthetic food system unconsciously presumes is a world at peace, with open trade for all.

It sees petroleum from the Near East shipped worldwide and then turned into Japanese seafood and American burgers and British fish 'n' chips.

To give a more important and more current example of our refusal to embrace the natural as a lifeline backup : America produces no lifesaving natural penicillin, from which it then makes almost all our semi-natural antibiotics.

The natural stuff all comes from a few big brewing factories in China and India.

In the event of a war, America might once again be reduced to following wartime's Dr Martin Henry Dawson and produce the natural stuff in any available room with any old bunch of used but clean food bottles.

In a perfect world, national depositories would carefully husband ultra high yielding surface grown strains of the penicillium to guard against such an event.

But I don't have to remind you, this is no perfect world - it is a mad, profit-driven, shortsighted, greedy world ...

Manhattan natural penicillin Project a psychological antidote to the mental horrors unleashed by the Manhattan synthetic nuclear Project

In 1945 and 1946, many thoughtful people began realizing that human ingenuity had produced a nuclear bomb system powerful enough to kill an entire planet - a green (rather than merely a mineral-containing) planet that they had never really regarded as alive enough and fragile enough to be killed , until now.

For they began realizing that what Manhattan's Bomb's explosive force, searing heat and mutation-causing radiation could do to humans it could also do to all other living things.
They began to realize that meant that the few humans lucky enough to survive both the nuclear blasts and the following radiation clouds would still slowly starve to death .

The instantly blast & heat-killed would end up being the truly lucky ones.

Because if  all the plants and animals were totally dependent on our good sense not to be burned and boiled to death in a human nuclear holocaust, we were still as equally dependent upon them, for our basic survival needs.

For all that bold talk of replacing natural foods, water and biologically-produced materials with synthetic substitutes was just windy talk : it was all highly dependent on there remaining a civilized, industrial, scientific, technological, world left to produce those chemical synthetics.

Fortunately, Mother Nature still had a lot of low tech surprises of her own to offer us : one had only to look at Manhattan's natural penicillin and all those  other powerful life-saving antibiotics emerging from jungle dirt and spoiled market fruit.

These thoughtful people began to relax - at least a little : there was hope  and there was an alternative to the modern science's madness.

Janus Manhattan : home to the modern and  to the postmodern science Projects ....

Monday, April 13, 2015

Of all the Charles Aronsons in America in 1940...

Regardless of their age or residence, the 1940 American national census only shows about 38 Charles Aronsons and a half dozen spelled with close variants ---- making the task of finding history's missing Patient Zero of the Age of Antibiotics much easier.

So if mystery patient "CA"*, aged 31 in April 1944 and around 27 in late 1940, was indeed Charles Aronson as Gladys Hobby and Louise Good affirmed in the 1980s, after re-examining contemporary hospital lab records, then he was born close upon either side of 1913.

And the evidence from the medical article mentioning his various experiences at that hospital, suggests he lived quite close to Manhattan's Columbia Presbyterian hospital between late 1940 and early 1946.

That suggests only one person - Charles Aronson of Vyse Avenue , a lifelong resident of New York, most all of it in the South Bronx area two miles from the hospital, born in mid June 1912.

True ,Charles N aronson was also born in the right time period, in March 1913, but in 1940 he was in the car centre of the world in Pontiac City Michigan.

Charles N Aronson's children told me he was healthy as a horse all his long life and that in late 1944 he was not in a home for chronic care with a paralyzing stroke as stated in the medical article on "CA" but rather was up and about busy inventing and patenting various bits of car parts.

A few other Charles Aronsons were born in years like 1906 or 1917 but were living in states hundreds of miles from NYC in 1940.

Hopefully in a few weeks or months, theNational Archives will be able to provide the draft registration card of CA - showing his ++++BRONX++++ home address......

* First that is together with Aaron Leroy Alston - both injected with penicillin, one right after the other on October 16th 1940 by Dr Martin Henry Dawson

"The Banality of Indifference" in WWII

Worldwide, for every individual WWII mass-murderer, 99 people were willing to fight to oppose to their behavior while 900 people were simply regretfully indifferent to the suffering they were causing others.

The article is about that vast majority - the nine hundred out of a thousand who all sighed for a moment on first hearing news of yet more brutalities but then did precisely nothing when it came to converting sighs into actions.

Pace Hannah Arendt, this is all about 'the banality of indifference'.

Almost 2.5 billion people lived or were conceived throughout the six years of WWII, of whom 75 million died as the direct or indirect result of the war :  .3% of the world population.

But 750 million suffered terrible privations in occupied or invaded/bombed territories -- many led shorter postwar lives as a result.

Beyond rationing and regulations, most of those in the better off countries also suffered --- particularly from worrying about relatives and friends in combat zones or upon learning of their deaths.

Of those 2.5 billion people, relatively few wanted to mass-murder people in the name of war and enjoyed it and fearlessly publicly justified it.

Let us suggest they might be as few as one person in a thousand - 2.5 million proud wartime mass-murderers world wide.

Most of the millions of others who mass-murdered in the name of war simply followed orders to shot hostages, fire up barns filled with children or bomb residential areas from the air because they feared harsh official punishment or social abuse from their male comrades if they failed to 'act tough' and be 'patriotic'.

To be specific - a mere handful actually and actively gassed or shot 6 million Jews but most of the educated world - in Germany and in the Allied and neutral worlds knew it was happening at the time and still did nothing, as once again the big brutalized the weak and the small.

Which is also what they had done as Manchuria, Ethiopia,Austria, Czechoslovakia, Albania, Poland, Finland,Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania , Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Greece, Yugoslavia all fell one after another, before their bigger neighbours.

A few individuals can hold their heads up for consistently urging military action to stop this onslaught of the big upon the small as early as the beginning of the1930s, but no single nation can do so.

Even the governments of France and Britain in September 1939 first sought a negotiated way out of actually having to go to war upon the invasion of Poland as they had earlier publicly promised.

The facts are harsh : almost no nation ever went into armed combat against the evil Hitler unless and until their landmass or sea vessels were directly attacked by the Nazis.

Until then, most remained agnostic as to the evils of Hitler.

In 1940, most of the world's population thought, in the abstract, that the invasion of the small by the big was morally very wrong ---- but that sadly it was also evolutionarily inevitable.

The inevitable 'wave of the future', in the words of that year's bestselling author, Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

The most successful evolutionary response, she and most of the educated people in the world believed, was to work to protect their 'own kind' and to reduce their morality urges to sending a few food bundles to the afflicted.

They failed to see that all of humanity was their 'own kind' and were light years away from present day thinking that all life on earth is also our 'own kind' and that we are all essential to each other's long term survival on lifeboat earth.

Using Anne's husband's Charles Lindbergh's diaries and verbal utterances in 1939-1941 as an example, protecting all life or protecting all humanity had literally narrowed down to protecting once's fellow white middle class protestant native born Republican Americans from the Mid West.

For Lindbergh's internal enemies list was even longer than that of Richard Nixon, but nowhere as as long as Lindbergh's 'mere indifference to their fate list' : for that spanned the world...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

October 1940's Waves of the Future : Henry Dawson's vs Anne Lindbergh's

No book - not even Hitler's Mein Kampf or Stalin's Foundations of Leninism - so outraged Dr Martin Henry Dawson as early October 1940's The Wave of the Future by the quasi Christian author Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Perhaps even enraged him enough to advance his team's planned first injections of  penicillin into human patients by three months - so his own 'wave of the future' would compete with her 'wave of the future'.

And in the end, he won.

To the extent that any of us know of Dawson's wartime efforts or recall Lindbergh's horrible book, we would all universally applaud him and disdain her.

That is because 'we are all Dawsonites nowadays', to adapt future King Edward VIII's famous 1895 quip.

Anne Lindbergh writes off the small and the weak

Lindbergh argued that the entire 1940 world was at truly 'at war' , but intellectually, not militarily.

 At war intellectually but not in the expected sense of capitalism versus nazism and communism.

No, it was a war between the ancient (small) staid past and a bold dynamic new (big) future ---- with the future to inevitably win.

Overlook, Lindbergh urged readers, overlook the small temporary horrors currently being inflicted on small countries like Belgium, Denmark and Latvia as they were overrun by their giant neighbours while neutrals like America just watched.

See the big picture, instead, as from Laplacian heights.

All this mere temporary pain and horror was but the inevitable consequence of rigid jaw flesh was being broken through for the first time by emerging baby teeth.

WWII reduced to a baby's temporary teething problem.

The bigger and the newer was always better - evolutionary progress was on the side of the ever bigger battalions : the dogma of Lindbergh's Edwardian era high school science teachers.

In the long run, more accurate science chases out less accurate science

But Dawson had uncovered evidence that reality didn't always work that way.

Yes, on some measures, the last were last - but on others they were first - and everything in between, depending on the attribute being measured.

Dawson's compassion having been given wings by his new science, he resolved to use the wisdom of the microbial last to give history's first life-saving injections of penicillin - to save some members of the last in human society.

A gentle, but firm, rebuke to the Anne Morrow Lindberghs of his world.

Originally, Allied wartime penicillin intended only for the first, not the last

The unofficial Allied plan had been to first synthesize penicillin 100% pure and then patent it, to make it so expensive that only the peacetime rich could afford it.

 But meanwhile, during wartime, to underproduce it and thus justify the giving of it to only the moderately infected among the Allied frontline troops - so as they may more quickly return to battle, instead of their stay-at-home neighbours.

Dawson thought that naturally grown, semi-purified, penicillin would cure just as well and was available much quicker and much much cheaper --- available for all in need of it.

He wanted all in that heartless unforgiving wartime world - the last as well as the first, the 'unfit' as well as the 'fit', enemy as well as friend - to have cheap abundant penicillin, if it alone could save them from needless death from the infections it could stop.

And so it was thus - his small wave of the future, rather than Lindbergh's big wave, became our present : Obamacare is hardly what the President and medicine-for-all advocates wanted, but it is a good start ...

Friday, April 10, 2015

sincere compassion, hobbled by an equally sincere belief in non-accurate science, led to the horrors of WWII

There is no real evidence that people in 1940 were any less compassionate than people in 2015 --- forget that belief if you seek to account for history's most cruel and heartless war , cruel and heartless on all sides -- neutral, allied and axis.

Morality follows the Science

But ever since Darwin's 1859 "Origin of the Species", the world has increasingly tempered its innate compassion with what it thinks current science tells us about the way the world works and must work.

Science, today, has repeatedly demonstrated that a healthy planet needs plenty of biodiversity and a bigger, deeper, more varied gene pool.

Has demonstrated that we humans will never be able to predict the future, be it in terms of the stock market or the weather , well enough to risk putting all our money on just one or two nags in a gene pool.

But Science 75 years ago taught us precisely the opposite .

Putting all its faith in hard reductionism, the science of the Modernity era argued evolutionary progress led to the ancient and the small to be gradually and inevitably replaced as individual entities and instead to end up being bundled together in ever newer, bigger, stronger and smarter beings.

Thus : the first shall always be first and the last always shall be last and the small and the ancient are but road kill - regrettable - beneath the steam rollers of progress. Bigger is better and the Laws of Nature are on the side of the ever bigger battalions.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh : Christian advocate of do-nothing bystanding ; silently watching as the bully beats up a small child

The most eloquent advocate of this iron law of progressive determinism was perky Christian (sic!) housewife and mother Anne Morrow Lindbergh, author of October 1940's Wave of the Future.

"Relax, be happy America : Nazis and Communists are the inevitable wave of the future."

"Denmark and Belgium were but the regrettably inevitable small road kill in the pathway of progress - watch the bully but don't intervene America - stay neutral - relax, be happy."

When I was working in bookstores, I sold tons of her books to very sincere Christian women and I learned to curb my tongue on her pro-totalitarian views from years before.

Can a leopard ever change her spots ?

I don't think so - I think Mrs Lindbergh was as confident of her Edwardian era  high school science dogma (social darwinism and eugenics) on the day she died as she was when she learned it 80 years earlier.

Dawson's more accurate science gave wings to his compassion

There were a few exceptions of course - because even Dr Martin Henry Dawson learned the same inaccurate science as Mrs Lindbergh.

But in his published articles --- and in his hands-on work from the late 1920s to the early 1940s --- he provided the sort of evidence that helped write the rules of a new (kinder, gentler) science, today's science.

He has a reputation for being extraordinarily compassionate but I don't think this was so.

He had merely ordinary innate compassion --- but his science put wings beneath that compassion and didn't hobble it.

The very same month (October 1940) that Lindbergh published her pean to accepting the inevitability of totalitarianism and the thesis that the first have a right to always be first, Dawson gave history's first injections of life-saving penicillin to the last in society ; two poor young men , one black and one Jewish.

And his science proved more accurate than that of his opponents - not simply that his wide compassion overwhelmed their narrow intolerance.

This is why WWII, much to its own great surprise, ended with his Nature-produced penicillin being made freely available to all  --- the last as well as the first...

Bickel penicillin book vivid -- at cost in accuracy

Lennard Bickel's 1972 book, "Rise Up To Life", was the first book that covered the wartime saga of penicillin as it occurred around the entire world.

But it was also one of the first written by someone who was not an eyewitness to the actual events.

But Bickel, an Englishman who emigrated to Australia in mid life, was a very good journalist and interviewed all and everyone he could find from the wartime era and got lively quotes from all.

Unfortunately, as a journalist rather than a historian, he sometimes chose to sacrifice all the facts in order to keep things lively and vivid.

I believe that as a result, he chose to detail almost no pioneering penicillin patient -- unless they could be fully named in his account --- regardless how important they actually were in historical terms.

But even back in the more innocent era of the 1940s, peer reviewed medical articles tended to simply describe but not name patients -- or just given them unique numbers or initials.

Revealing full names was simply no indication of relative historic or scientific importance.

How this historical travesty all began :

Bickel, probably in 1971, interviewed American Gladys Hobby, who as a PhD in microbiology had personally witnessed many pioneering wartime penicillin events from late 1940 through to late 1945.

But she recalled them mostly from memory and a few personal papers.

In the early 1970s, she surely knew the birthdate, medical history and the initials (CA) for one patient from wartime's pioneering Patients Zero.

Because she had surely read - many times -  the medical article her friend and co-worker, the late Dr Martin Henry Dawson, had written in late 1944.

The Patients Zero were the first people ever in history to get injections of life saving antibiotics - doing so on October 16th 1940 from Doctor Dawson at New York's famous Columbia Presbyterian hospital.

But she had forgotten what name lay behind those initials CA.

Fatal SBE was their fate

For the first half of the 20th century, Rheumatic Fever was the leading killer of young people.

Most actually died a few years later, when their heart valves earlier damaged due to Rheumatic Fever, failed because of an attack by common and usually harmless mouth bacteria.

The dreaded SBE - then an invariably fatal form of endocarditis - was what was due to shortly kill this historic duo of patients.

Hobby remembered the other Patient Zero well enough.

Aaron Alston, a young black man from Harlem, had received quite extensive penicillin treatment from Hobby's teammates while Hobby was employed at the hospital but had still died in late January 1941, despite all her's and their best personal efforts.

Louise Good to the rescue

It wasn't till the 1980s, while writing her own book on wartime penicillin, that Hobby contacted a Columbia Presbyterian Hospital employee named Louise Good, who did have access to more detailed contemporary records.

Good revealed that CA was Charles Aronson and confirmed that Hobby was correct in believing that the other was Aaron Alston.

Charles Aronson was actually treated far more extensively with penicillin than Alston - but treated in 1944, when Hobby was then employed elsewhere.

Employed at Pfizer, which had earlier worked very closely with her and Dawson.

Still, she stayed in very close touch with Dawson's team and had certainly read the medical article describing CA's extensive second penicillin treatment.

But that wasn't the same as actually being there at his bedside, daily for months, to burn his real name permanently into her memory.

Bickel lays his thumb on the history balance

This was unfortunate, because Bickel - for reasons perhaps not altogether honourable - chose to focus only on Hobby's fully named patient, the one who died.

By not also including the patient with only initials, the one who survived his invariably fatal disease twice thanks to Dawson's penicillin, he tilted his account of Dawson's work to the side of failure.

Failure, rather than the actual facts - which was that five years of life-costing hard work by Dawson - and Dawson alone - had made an once common and then invariably fatal heart disease the most curable heart condition known.

Bickel's brief account of Alston's early death - followed by Dawson's 'early' death, became the gospel on the whole fascinating penicillin story at Columbia-Presbyterian and Pfizer to generations of writers.

I will satisfy the natural curiosity

I fully and truly understand the curiosity that drives people to inquire as to who is the real person behind mysterious initials .

That is why I have worked so hard to recover the lost story of CA - and of Alston and the handful of other patients of Dawson who were given full names names in Hobby's 1985 book, "Penicillin : Meeting the Challenge" ...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Postmodern Science came from postwar kids : the question is WHY ?

Postmodern science began in the 1980s as postwar kids got tenure and became journal editors, society presidents, lab chiefs and department heads - replacing all those who were young adults during the heady war years of Big Science, Reductionism, Determinism and who were educated in the classical science of Newton, Dalton, Darwin and Lyell.

But why didn't these kids - call them Boomer kids if you wish - simply carry on the tradition as their scientific fathers and grandfathers had done for centuries before them ?

Why such an abrupt shift in a scientific worldview ?

What had these postwar children learned about the real - actual - world that led them to so disbelieve the explanations provided by the classical models of science being taught within the cloistered walls of their High School.

( And still are being so taught ! )

From acorns, oaks ...

I can't speak confidently about the impact upon the adult population of the 1950s of the startling news that all the world's best lifesaving medicines were being made by tiny, weak, slimy beings.

The tiny and the despised besting the smartest chemists in the universe

Natural products made by the despised residents of dank basements, rotting bread, jungle dirt and sewage water - not synthetic chemicals made by middle class university men in big labs in the biggest and most civilized nations of the world.

But I can say confidently how this seemingly little detail affected one particular small child from that era : me.

Big time !

And when I grew up, it still affected me as a young adult.

And still affected me , inspired me in fact, years later when I worked - at first all alone and with very few resources - to help create Nova Scotia's first political party for environmentalists....

"All Quiet on the Home Front, WWII" --- Why?

Historians, as a group, are beginning to reverse themselves over their earlier contention that the postwar civil rights, feminism, gay rights movements (et al) were born during the social protests and social advances of WWII.

They did so because a closer look at the hard evidence for this earlier claim reveals the actual reverse : the war period, as a time for civil protest, was as deathly quiet as the early Cold War period of roughly 1946-1956  ----- and far quieter than the activist years of the Great Depression and of course during the civil rights era of 1956 -1966.

Why this Wartime Quietism ?

One doesn't need only to think of the many, many protests that occurred in parallel to the Vietnam War.

For in 1917-1918, Alice Pal and her tiny band of determined supporters successfully kept the issue of votes for women alive - she and her followers willingly enduring repeated jail time, for daring to continue civil protests during a war crisis, to forward that cause.

Alice Paul proclaimed, in a sense, a need for a Double V victory over Kaiserism - at home as well as abroad.

Fumbling the Shoah response

A pity then that no single individual with a handful of dedicated followers like Alice Paul emerged among American Jewry to lead as prolonged and as determined a protest on behalf of Europe's Jews.

The efforts of Peter Bergson come closest - including a mass march on the White House.

But no arrests for Bergson and his band for repeatedly silently picketing the White House as Paul did in another war situation - certainly no chaining for self to the fence to awake America to six million Jews being killed.

Black organized protests : where ?

Similarly, the famous plan to march on Washington on behalf of fair job opportunities for black Americans never went ahead as much because there were no sign the promised numbers were actually going to come as because of the sop FDR promised if the march was stopped.

And the only civil protests I could find over women's rights and black rights during WWII that I could find were made by white men, desperate that if women and blacks got jobs in factories they would lose their occupational deferment and actually have to fight Hitler with their bodies --- and not just win their mouths.

For once, no need to 'round up the usual suspects'

Peaceful civil protests are usually led by people on the left or progressive side.

And they were decidedly cross-pressured during the war against Hitler.

Yes, they saw that the unfairnesses they had protested during peacetime only worsened in WWII, but they knew if Hitler's Germany won, they and the people they hoped to help would be the first on his list to face the bullet or the gas.

It is too hard for us young ones today to understand the exalted amounts of faith in Germany's technological superiority held by the middle-aged  to old people of the 1940s.

For seventy five years, Germany had seemed to be on a roll - though in fact it was being increasingly challenged, from the 1920s onwards, by America, Russia, Japan and even Britain.

Many people during WWII - right up to the bitter end, thought Germany could actually pull off a belated victory, based solely upon some fabulous war-winning weapon.

'Nazis ruling the Americas' did not seem far fetched to them --- though it always was so, based on the current actual facts, not upon half remembered news stories from the past half century about Germany's technological triumphs.

So they met this apparently serious existential challenge to their own lives, by putting domestic inequality on the back burner to become hyper loyal to the Allied war cause : Jews, blacks and other visible minorities, feminists, gays, socialists and communists, unionists -- even the handicapped, knowing their eugenic fate if Hitler won.

Dr Dawson bucks the trend to Quietism

A bit of a low keyed Alice Paul himself, Dr Martin Henry Dawson led a rare individual wartime protest on behalf of those handicapped.

In that process, he successfully gave us a rare bit of good news from WWII's bad news war :  for his desire to see wartime penicillin available to all in need actually became a reality - just months before he died in April 1945.

Himself dying throughout the war, Dawson was much too sick to once again pick up a gun to help defeat the Kaiser  abroad,  so he sought to defeat Hitler's American eugenic mentors at home instead - and succeeded, at least on this issue.

An early and crucial, if quiet, victory for post-modernity's science.

But we all know : from acorns, oaks grow....

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Nothing can stop an idea that even tiny children can understand : sometimes, the Last May Be First

I argue that nobody really understood (or understands) the world of sub-atomic particles as it emerged, in ever growing complexity, from the 1890s to the 1940s and that as a result, it failed to change the childlike faith people still held in Hard Reductionism and Determinism.

But even as a tiny kid, I got the point of the story of microbe-made antibiotics - particularly as a tiny , powerless, kid.

Postmodern science was born in early postwar childhoods

Tiny weak beings, just like me, found in the ordinary and despised basement slime, in jungle dirt and in the filthy sewer water of Sardinia all were besting the smartest chemists in the universe ("big people" in kidspeak) and producing all the medicines that were saving the lives of tiny kids like me.

It was a grownups' science story that even I could rock and roll !

Otherwise we only learned in science of the effort of thousands of important big people, working in vast clean white labs  with billions of times our weekly allowance, making atomic energy for us - and for world-ending bombs....

"The Last May be First." Or Last. Or anything in between. It all depends.

Unparalleled horrific cruelties befell the world immediately before, during and after WWII .

That cruelty may best be explained as the result of educated, powerful humanity everywhere sincerely regretting all the small people being squashed by the big people, but also regarding it as the result of an inevitable "Law of Nature" --- just a regrettable part of Progress's ever upward march.

In other words, Scientism made them do it : 'it' being "being a bystander to schoolyard bullying and yet doing little or nothing".

Scientism made them do it

Scientism can be best defined as science, at least as half remembered by middle aged, educated, powerful people ---- based on memories of their High School science education decades earlier.

High School science, unfortunately has always been and will always be a simplified, glorified, triumphantist, Whig account of Science with all of its real world complexities and unsolved issues swept under the carpet.

And the governing axiom of that pre-war scientism, and to some extent the entire science of Modernity, was "Hard Reductionism".

Hard Reductionism

This was the faith - as yet unsupported by sufficient evidence - that all of reality can be explained, predicted and altered/improved by understanding the few simple universal and eternal laws that explained the physical motion of the smallest basic units of reality : atoms.

They (and their biological equivalent, the basic cell) occupied the lower left hand corner of the upward arrow of progress : being small, unchangingly simple and incredibly ancient.

By contrast, at the top right hand corner of that arrow of progress, everything was very new, very big and and incredibly and dynamically complex.

A complex bigness, but based simply upon being assembled from modules made up of multiple modules from the level of complexity just below them. And so on and so on back down to the original basic atoms.

So Life began when a few atoms attached around a single carbon atom becoming the small basic molecules of organic chemistry which then became, in turn, parts of much bigger biological molecules which became part of cells which became ever bigger multi-celled beings.

If re-defined as Soft Reductionism, the belief that much in reality can be explained this way, most of us still hold this view.

But in humanity's postwar view of science  and in the scientists' Post-Modernity Science, we have decidedly rejected Hard Reductionism, explicitly or implicitly.

Post-modernity Science

Scientists explicitly no longer see reality as a linear arrow ever upwards , but talk instead of non linear systems, non equilibrium physics, complexity science, chaos theory.

Basically they mean that after creating a modules of say 1000 atoms, it simply fails to display the known behavior of one atom multiplied 1000 times over - its actions are novel but unpredicted.

Further, even a handful of tiny different modules interact in extremely unpredictable fashion (unpredictable given the limited amount of world resources we can devote to computing) - let alone much bigger systems of interacting modules - such as the weather or the stock market.

Scientists say such things explicitly - we mere civilians tend to to more feel this sort of reasoning in our bones - believing less and less big things will turn out anything like the way experts, professionals and the powerful say they will.

So, back to WWII and its cruelties.

In a world believed to be totally predictable, things can be said to happen totally inevitably,  with us unable to change them, even if we wanted to.


This belief is called Determinism, a higher level axiom in educated humanity's thought system, circa WWII.

It followed upon Reductionism, and it meant that while we might want to (our moral sentiment) save the Indian tribes in Canada, science had proven that the laws of nature had determined that these small ancient and simple societies would inevitably be replaced by the bigger and more modern structures of western civilization.

Regrettable to be sure, but one simply can't stand in the way of the bulldozers of progress : the 1940s Mosaic law of Robert Moses.

The arrow of progress is noticeably titled at a 45 degree angle - hard to square, at first glance, with another axiom of modernity : Darwin's claim of vertical only inheritance .

Darwin - wrongly - claimed we only inherit genes from our parents and they from their parents - vertically and linearly right on down to the tiny cells that first began life on Earth (this being the biological version of Reductionism).

Darwin claimed that we never get genes from our uncles or from total strangers - total strangers like viruses etc.

What he never claimed ,but that people assumed he claimed, was that each smaller module of life was, in the medium term, gradually replaced entirely by a slightly larger module and so on and so.

So horses started out small and then over time mutated slowly into ever bigger horses while the smaller older horse versions all died away.

This is the way that the world's best natural museums (I am not making thus up - God Help us !) illustrated the arrow of progress in the world of horses.

But it wasn't true and Darwin had never said it would be - success for any species, new or old, was in seeing its offspring survive because they were well suited to the niche they lived in.

So, in fact, in cold climates, horses are small, stout and well covered in fur - in deserts they are tall and thin.

What the arrow of progress really measured

Humanity's prewar arrow of 'evolutionary' progress, unwittingly I believed, was really based on a scale that measured only the progress of human type book learning and record keeping.

On this scale, yes, it seemed the first (the biggest, newest) were always first and the last (the smallest,oldest) were always last.

But evolution should really be measured by survival success, full stop.

Here the record is more clouded for big creatures like humans.

Microbes, thanks to the ability to exchange genes between themselves operate more as a single super organism, somewhat the way we humans are made up of trillions of co-operating cells.

Yet, on the surface, they seem so weak : a usually immobile tiny sac of mostly water : the smallest, oldest and weakest form of life.

But in terms of survival, they are the champions bar none.

Post 1945 : we realize this world is really made for microbes, not humans

The microbes as a collectivity have existed for 4 billion years when most single species, like humanity, survive for a million years at best.

They live everywhere imaginable on Earth - extremities of cold, heat, drought, acidity, starvation, radiation they toss off with ease.

In numbers of different individuals (because yes, like all forms of life and contrary to the tenets of reductionism, each individual of life ever born has always been uniquely different in subtle but important ways), they far outnumber all the rest of life put together.

They may represent the largest mass/weight of life in terms of biomass, though the term biomass is very hard to define (do dead tree trunks count ?)

These small and the last, may survive when the first and the big die, precisely because they are small - when niches get small and thin - only the small and thin get enough to eat to survive and reproduce.

And because, again contrary to Hard Reductionism, they are small but dynamically complex .

(Just as modernity's scientists soon discovered of the not-indivisible after all atoms. For each  is made up instead of a complex seething soup of matters dark and anti, of spin and top and color. So much so that if anyone claims they truly understands the sub-atomic world, they're lying.)

Simply put, if mutations are needed if a species is to survive rapidly changing conditions, a small being that produces a new generation every twenty minutes instead of every twenty years that big beings need to reproduce, works its evolutionary magic more than 500,000 times faster.

Particularly when microbes are not biological racists like humanity circa 1940, instead being perfectly willing to take genes, horizontally, from anyone and anything.

Open commensality versus closed racism

The openness of commensality rather than the exclusivity of racism so that their gene pool gets ever deeper and they don't try to constantly drain it via eugenic murder.

In terms of reading a newspaper, yes the first (educated humans) are first and the last (bacteria) are last.

But in terms of making penicillin, WWII discovered - to its horror and surprise - the last ( the tiny slimy penicillium fungi) shall be first and the first (the world's best chemists) shall be last.

In terms of speed, neither the last (rare bacteria with limbs) nor the first ( obese urban university employed humans) are particularly fast in terms of body lengths travelled per second - that goes to the medium (cheetah and such).

Today instead of a single simple scale of worthiness with the new big and complex at the top inevitably, we accept that all forms of life excel at some things and do poorly in others.

We no longer believe that some life - inevitably, by laws of nature - must be life unworthy of life and so can be legitimately burned up in smoke at Auschwitz....

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Antibiotics' Patients Zero, part 2

In the end, finding out about the Patient Zero I knew the least about, Aaron Alston, turned out to be by far the easiest.

But first I had to make all sorts of naive mistakes.

I knew that if an acute case of Rheumatic Fever attacks a young child's heart, they can quickly die, without prompt and appropriate medical intervention.

But if they don't die, most of the attacked heart tissue will more or less heal - unless the area attacked is the very delicate and extremely vital heart valves.

You can literally hear damaged heart valves.

Many people have harmless heart murmurs but these particular stethoscope sounds tell a doctor that the valves are damaged and the entire heart is straining in overtime, to pump blood through these only partially closed/open doors.

So doctors will then strongly advise the parents to not tax this particular child's heart.

So no strenuous sports - later on, no vigorous dancing, no passionate sex acts, pregnancies are very dangerous, chasing after toddlers is too stressful, etc.

While my brother Bruce had childhood Rheumatic Fever and was left with a heart murmur and damaged valves, ironically enough he was the only athletic member of our extended family !

Though small, he was eager to try out for high school football and was a city level long distance running champion.

So you'd think I would have known better about Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) and young athletes.

In my defence, I had just assumed that the heart valves of Rheumatic Fever patients who go on to develop life-ending subacute bacterial endocarditis (SBE) were far more damaged than most RHD patients - so obviously far less capable of championship level athletics.

But this simply isn't so - SBE, like cancer, has a pronounced stochastic (for PhDs) or random (for ordinary folk) nature to it : sheer bad luck as well as bad valves plays a part.

Dawson treated patients who got SBE fifty or more years after their childhood heart valves were first damaged and some who got SBE only a year or two after first getting Rheumatic Fever.

But most patients get SBE ten or twenty years after their valves are first attacked.

Still, when I did find an Aaron Alston finishing in the top level in NYC wide races in 1930, ten years before my Aaron Alston first got SBE, I dismissed that it might be him.

I also got search results for A. Alston too : an A. Leroy Alston also winning athletic events.

I just felt I had got nowhere with Alston - the lack of his birthdate was so crippling.

As I described in an earlier blog, knowing first and last name, residence in greater NYC area in 1940, and birthdate, usually means that 140 million possible American patients is reduced down to one or two.

Without a birthdate, it goes up to at least a hundred possible names.

But in 2014, I suddenly realized I probably did have a death date on him as well.

For his brief medical history made it clear he was going to get all the penicillin Dr Dawson's team had (they were making themselves) but suddenly all the penicillin was switched to another patient.

Alston had obviously died, died in mid January 1941, and almost certainly while undergoing treatment in Dawson's hospital, ie in the borough of Manhattan.

Now a search for an index of NYC death certificates seemed easier.

Well, thanks to many tireless volunteers, it certainly was.

I din't really need a specific borough or specific day or month - a volunteer-run online death index for NYC in the first half of the twentith century, didn't show tons of deceased Aaron Alstons in all of 1941 in all boroughs - just him !

With his death certificate number in hand and because he had died before 1948, I a white stranger from Canada could order up the death certificate of someone who was probably a black man from Harlem.

When the certificate copy arrived, it wasn't as detailed as many death certificates I had seen - but his mother's maiden last name Glaze was one I had never seen - rare maybe enough to find her on on Google Search ?

I kept typing in Louise Glaze Harlem or variations thereof and presto one evening, a website came up of her nephew talking about her - i had found one of Aaron's living cousins !

I phoned him (Claude Jay of Harlem My Love) and first I astounded him and then he astounded me --- because he knew of Aaron as Leroy - or more formally as A. Leroy Alston.

He said he was a big athlete.

A person who used his middle name and not his first name - well who would have thought ?!

Well, my wife's huge family has many who do just that - and Dr Martin Henry Dawson was alway Henry - from birth.

Armed with this unexpected information, I soon found tons of material on Aaron Leroy Alston - some in his own voice.

And Claude made it clear Aaron had hundreds of living relatives all over the US.

I astounded Claude again - discovering Aaron Leroy wasn't widowed as his mom said on the death certificate - Claude thought he was always single.

Instead Leroy and Charlotte Lee had been married in the good times of 1930 but the couple were living back with their separate mothers in 1940 when Leroy was too sick to provide an income.

(Both families, once doing okay, were unbelievably poor in 1940 thanks to the Great Depression, racism and early deaths/severe illness of breadwinners.)

I gave all my information to Claude and tried not to research too much further.

I don't feel, as a white Canadian, that I should tell the story of a black man from Harlem - Claude is a relative, journalist, activist and author - he'll tell the full story well I am sure.

Now I turned my hand to another named SBE patient of Dawson - known only as Mr Conant.

(I came to assume that the highly unusual use of that word Mr meant he probably wasn't a young black or Jewish charity case but that he was a private patient, middle class,middle aged and white, from outside NYC)and treated in January 1941.

I searched for a middle aged dead Mr Conant, Manhattan, early 1941, in the NYC death index and up came George M Conant.

Google gave me him in spades - his small town daily describing his SBE illness and his treatment at Columbia Presbyterian at the right dates.

I found Dawson's death certificate and that of little Patty Malone as well - but no Charles Aronson.

That was because he had survived into 1949 at least and NYC death certificates after that date were hard to locate and even harder to gain a legal right to access...

Now read Antibiotics' Patients zero, part 3

Antibiotics' Patients Zero , part 1

When I began the search for Antibiotics' Patients Zero ten years ago, I very naively thought like a historian, not a genealogist, and as a result, I got precisely nowhere for ten wasted years.

Professional historians are taught to distrust family oral histories and to put all their faith in official paper documents.

Professional genealogists tell their clients to do exactly the opposite: don't quickly dismiss old family tales as myths and legends and never simply take the evidence of official documents at face value.

I also made a fundamental error in math which I suspect you and 99% of the world would do at first try.

If about all you knew about a missing antibiotics' patient zero was that they were 31 in 1944, quickly, what year do you think they were born ?

1913, of course.

And if they were born on January 1st 1913, that fact is always true, no matter when in 1944 the question is raised.

But what if, like my sister Margo, they were born on December 27th ?

Strictly speaking, wouldn't she also be 31 for 99% of 1944, though born in 1912 ?

I had also assumed wrongly, for ten years, that the doctor (Martin Henry Dawson) making this statement about his patient's age was calculating it from late 1944, as he was finalizing the submission of an very important scientific article on this man and others.

But doctors are very busy people and the only time they tend to ask you your age is on admission.

This man (Charles Aronson) was admitted in April 1944 but his birthday was in June 1912, as it turns out.

Further mistake : I took on faith the claim made by many (without any backing evidence - whatsoever) that this patient's doctor long had an overwhelming interest in curing patients with invariably fatal SBE (a form of endocarditis brought about by Rheumatic Fever.)

The strongest claim about this was made by his closest colleague, a colleague for almost all of his scientific career : so a claim hard to dismiss.

But as Google Search got better and as I gathered up all of this doctor's public utterances in articles, at conferences, in textbooks etc, in 2014 I was suddenly struck by the fact that he never once talked about endocarditis -- despite having considerable freedom to do so.

I also now knew that his first antibiotics efforts with patients came just after he had finally moved up from assistant attending physician at a huge research and teaching hospital (aka dogsbody) to associate attending physician, in charge (more or less) of one public charity ward.

Admitting patients to world class teaching hospitals is never easy for 99.9% of doctors - patients themselves are never the priority, to put it bluntly but truthfully.

In a 24 hours a day, seven days a week teaching hospital, most patients are considered for admission when any particular doctor is at home or busy working in another part of the hospital.

The priority for the admitting doctor - a medical student of a sort themselves - is always, 'do my teachers need a patient with this condition - right now - to fit in with the teaching schedule for us medical students' ?

Followed by, 'or would this sort of patient and illness fit in with the research work of the more senior and powerful teacher-researchers here', people who can make or break my future career?

The known wishes of the thus usually absent Dr Dawson, being in charge of a world class outpatient clinic for people with arthritis - would have had considerable sway in the admission process of (private or charity) patients with rare forms of arthritis but that is all.

The only SBE cases he would have any say over occurred whereever seriously ill people simply arrive at the hospital doorstep and basically had to be admitted right away,regardless, for humanitarian reasons.

If they arrived at the one charity ward Dawson was mostly in command of, he not their lowly GP, would have the most say of their medical care.

After all, the patient and their GP were not paying the medical piper.

And I now knew that Depression Era patients seeking admission to Manhattan hospital charity wards almost always came from just a few convenient miles away by bus, subway or even foot - their families were too poor to own a car and worked at tiring physical jobs.

Their frequent, easy, presence at the hospital was a key emotional asset in the patients' speedy recovery --- or in their last days on earth.

Only when a poor person, with an unique set of medical conditions, in a distant community came to the attention of a powerful doctor with good personal and professional connections with the top doctors at a big teaching hospital in Manhattan, could they secure admission on that hospital's charity ward, regardless of the opinion of the ward's attending physician in charge.

And then, be assured, that attending physician would have little say in their treatment : the various Drs Big from outside and inside the hospital would take over !

I now sensed that unless the available evidence suggested otherwise , as it did with history's third antibiotics' patient, the first two patients zero probably came from about a three mile radius around Dawson's hospital (the world famous Columbia Presbyterian Medical Centre in upper Manhattan.)

His hospital had no shortage of very poor people near by in 1940 - blacks in Harlem and Jews in South Bronx.

Research and teaching hospitals can really only thrive if large supplies of poor patients are near by.

These poor, in return for advanced medical care for free, agree to be constantly examined and probed by huge numbers of strangers and agree to submit to new, scary and painful treatments.

Almost all I knew about Dawson's Patient Zeros was their names : Aaron Alston and Charles Aronson.

Alston was/is a common black name in Harlem New York, ditto Aronson was then a common Jewish name in South Bronx --- both places just two or three miles from Dawson's hospital.

But Google provided too many Aaron Alstons (I had no birthdate on him) to narrow my search easily and only one Charles Aronson born in 1913 in the whole USA.

Dawson's Aronson had spent so much of his young life in hospitals fighting off death so many times that I doubted he could have lived too many years past 1945.

(In his last known illness known to me, he had such a severe stroke that he was left paralyzed on one side and speechless as well.)

But when I tracked down the sons of one American Charles Aronson born in 1913 and they said he had been healthy as a horse, all his very long life, and was not in a hospital in NYC in 1940 or 1944.

By this time, some American census results came up in Google search : a Charles Aronson in the Bronx in 1940, but with a birthdate of 1915 not 1913.

But it was close enough for me - because it soon became clear that in all of 1940 USA and searching very generously for birthdates between 1908 and 1918 ,there was only three Charles Aronsons, period - two far from NYC and one in the Bronx.

But the historian in me soon drew a blank .....

See part two

Thursday, April 2, 2015

October 16th 2015 'Red Letter Day' for Selective Service System AND Medicine !

Two extraordinary anniversaries -----connected by two extraordinary individuals

On October 16th 1940, 75 years ago this year, America's system of registering for selective service began - a process that continues to this very day.

On that very same day, 75 years ago, the Age of Antibiotics began.

Unlikely as it may seem, both events are intimately united in the persons of patients Aaron Alston and Charles Aronson.

For these two received history's first ever injections of penicillin at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York on October 16 1940 ---- and then were immediately registered for selective service by a special team of hospital visiting registrars on that same day.

Both young men were suffering from subacute bacterial endocarditis.

The much dreaded "SBE" was then regarded as invariably fatal  --- the terminal disease that made Rheumatic Fever - not Polio - the leading killer of school age children throughout the western world.

Regardless of their likely fate in a few weeks or months, the selective service law was firm : both men must be registered ---- and so they were.

Born in 1910, Alston had been an almost Olympics class boxer and a winning track coach - he would have made an excellent leader of soldiers.

But neither he or the penicillin could fight off these strep bacteria and so he died in January 1941.

In his own quiet way, Aronson was also quite a fighter.

Born in 1912, he had already survived three frequently fatal childhood illnesses. He grew up to join the National Guard and hold down a full time job as a teletype operator at a newspaper.

And with the help of penicillin, he went on to survive not just one, but two bouts, of SBE. He then suffered a severe stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak.

But he bravely battled on for seven more years and then died in October 1951.

No important anniversaries should go un-noted, as these two anniversaries appear about to be, least of all when both anniversaries are united in the most extraordinary and unlikely of circumstances....

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

Earlier I had incorrectly assumed that the Alex Aronson from Bronx found on lists of members of an "immigrants from Nesvizh mutual assistance society" (a landsmanshaften) was the Alex Aronson from Vyse Ave Bronx.

The Vyse Ave Aronson family also consisted of Olga the mother and children Charles, Lillian and Samuel.

Charles was one of a pair of America's "last", whose life was saved by becoming the "first" ever in history to receive an antibiotics injection (Penicillin), 75 years ago this October 16th 2015.

To mark this august anniversary, of both the birth of our Age of Antibiotics and the re-birth of some sense of compassion for others, I am trying to retrace Charles' life.


But while the Nesvizh area Alex may share a very close birthdate with the Vyse Ave Alex, he is a different individual.

Lisa Beth Liel over at GENI lays out his family connections --- including his uncle Jeremiah Arenssen.

It just so happens that out of the ten trillion different ways to spell Aaron's son, a New York Jewish family spelled Arenssen is totally unique.

Usefully so.

Because this uncle from Nesvizh, Jeremiah Arenssen, was the witness for Alex of Vyse Avenue's naturalization process.

And these witnesses were very, very often relatives from home who had arrived in America years earlier.

So the connection, if any, between these two Alex Aronson from the Bronx still remains unresolved.

Vyse Avenue's Alex , before the old Russian Empire broke up, always said he was born in Kieff (Kiev) Russia , today the capital of Ukraine --- a great distance from either Nesvizh or Disna, which are today part of Belarus and between 1919-1939 were part of Poland.


But he is buried, along with the rest of his family, in a section of New York's New Montefiore cemetery that is set aside for members of the Disna benevolent society - of which a Sam and Lillian Aronson from the Bronx were members in 1967.

And we know these two family members were still living in the Bronx at that time and were the only family members still alive in 1967.

The wartime fate of the Jews of Disna is as dismal as that of the Jews of Nesvizh - virtually all were mass murdered in short order, with only a very few escaping to share the partisans' short and brutish lives and even fewer surviving the entire war.

The Allies could be little better : refusing to give Charles Aronson penicillin to save his life from death from endocarditis because endocarditis was deemed 'not important to the military conduct of the war'.

But one Gentile named Dr Martin Henry Dawson would not stand for that sort of downmarket Nazism.

Rescuing America's Jews, during WWII

He gave up his own life to see that that America's unwanted, blacks like Aaron Leroy Alston and Jews like Charles Aronson (and many more like them) were given a chance at life.

Dawson died tragically young (48) on April 27 1945 but he had finally succeeded in his efforts to see that the Allies' wartime penicillin was freely given to all those dying for lack of it.

Charles Aronson, after twice being cured of then invariably fatal endocarditis by Dawson, lived on six more years after his doctor died - then dying himself on October 16th 1951.

He was almost 40.

A beautiful monument is in that Disna area of the cemetery, raised up in 1964 to honor all those Jews from Disna lost during WWII.

But no monument is there to honor this young man from a family of Disna Jews who was saved during WWII ...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The less you knew of The Bomb and Penicillin the better you understood them

Call it "The Chris Mooney Effect".

Remember when he reported that well informed and well educated Republicans were less, not more, likely to believe the scientific consensus about coming dire climate change ?

I see a similar result among people in 1945 who had too much media-mediated knowledge about WWII's Atomic Bomb and Penicillin.

By contrast, those with little information accurately saw the Bomb as a very horrific weapon, produced by a very big organization in a far off and secret desert location, intuitively connecting the concept 'horrific' with the concepts of 'big' and 'secret'.

And they saw Penicillin as a dramatic new big lifesaver produced by the same hitherto useless and hated but very ordinary & common moldy slime they were always cleaning off the food, clothing and basement walls in their homes.

They intuited that it was a very big and the very badly wanted medical breakthrough produced by the very small and the very unwanted.

Even a kid could get a kick out of such a rebuff to the big and powerful !

We all know how much effort was put into making atomic bombs and atomic energy seem friendly and cuddly - an argument, in the end, most bought by the highly educated.

But we forget about all the effort to hide the fact that most of WWII's penicillin was actually made by women using small bottles of the moldly slime - an operation as low tech and domestic in scale as the Atom Bomb effort was massive mean and secretive.

Instead we saw that the visual imagery released to (and used by) the mass media on wartime penicillin production showed only the high tech deep tank method, done in buildings that looked exactly like ultra modern moderate sized oil refineries circa 1944.

Again, the highly educated bought this hook line and sinker even as they grew exasperated every time an ordinary Joe and Josephine opined 'isn't it marvelous that penicillin could be made in your own kitchen using ordinary bread mold ?!'

For indeed the modern science of the Bomb and the postmodern science of natural penicillin were as un alike as chalk and cheese - and the uneducated instantly sensed that fact --- only the well read were fooled ...

Sentiment follows the Science : the world as a bystander, as Bullies Hitler & Stalin beat up the small

We can't hope to explain the moral inactions of the modern world during WWII by simply referring to the postmodern sentiments of  seventy five years later or the premodern sentiments of seventy five years earlier.

That Hitler, Stalin and Tojo invaded small country after small country after small country while the world's peoples did basically nothing, unless and until their own nation was under direct attack, is a fact.

A fact as known to the people of 1940 as it is to us in 2015.

But a fact must first fit into a generally accepted system of explanation to be fully 'understood' : call that system of explanation a global worldview, hegemony, ideology, ethos, sentiment --- what have you.

Modern sentiment (or lack thereof) followed upon Modern Science

I believe most of the educated middle class during the Modern Era did greatly 'regret' that the small and the weak were nothing but road kill beneath the advancing wheels of the biggest civilizations.

But they regretted the small and the weak's demise with a faint shrug of their shoulders --- they firmly believed that the 'Laws of Nature', as demonstrated by modern Science, simply meant the demise of the small was inevitable and could, at best, be only delayed but never stopped.

Their demonstrated lack of 'sentiment' towards WWII's weak and the small was at least consistent with their existing scientific beliefs.

Postmodern sentiment followed postmodern science

By contrast, in the Fall of 1940, Dr Martin Henry Dawson felt his own scientific research indicated precisely the reverse view of the 'Laws of Nature'.

He felt that in History's long run, the small and the weak tended to vanquish the big and the complex.

The tiny bacteria, for instance, surviving all over the world for four billion years and counting versus the huge dinosaurs : where are they today ?

Dawson's willingness to give up his own life, that Fall of 1940, to see that wartime penicillin was extended to all those dying for lack of it, is usually explained as the result of his great sentiment towards 'the plight' of the weak and the small.

But it could also be argued - it is so argued, at least by me - that his sentiment towards the weak and the small followed precisely his growing (postmodern) scientific understanding of the resilience of the weak and the small ...