Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Forties Era 'Science Man' : anything Mother Nature can do, I can do better

Mechanical and Synthetic autarky

With extensions of his limbs and mind, with machines and beaker flasks, 1940's Civilized Man could top any physical feat that nature's most noblest creatures could ever hope to do.

And he had a fist full of recent new world records to prove it.

For in this new era of unending progress, man could now fly higher than an eagle, deeper than a whale, move faster than a cheetah.

Dig deeper than any mole, live higher up a mountain than any polar bush.

Sure a penguin lived at the edge of Antarctica, but had any penguin gone to the South Pole - or the North ?

Had he, had he ??

Smelter fires hotter than any volcano, electrical sparks bigger than any lightning strike.

On and on it went : even man-made silk finer than any mere worm could weave.

Designer meals (and soon, designer babies) better than mother could ever make.

Who needs Mother Nature consuming calories when her jobs could be done better by engines and beakers ?

So, about those plans to "kill off all the smallpox virus on the Earth, as 'life unworthy of life' "?

Just a start, buddy, just a start ....

Planet-wide planned genocide of Jews superlatively unique

Every every recent Summer Olympics about seven billion unique individuals lend at least half an ear to its ongoing results.

But about ten seconds after the starter's gun goes off during the 100 metre sprint for men, we with television sets learn about someone who is superlatively unique : the fastest human on the entire planet (at least for a few weeks).

Were the Nazis' WWII efforts to kill the Jews 'unique' ?

Of course - all genocides are unique - all events, like all individuals, are unique.

But the overall tenor of the secretive Nazi intentions, never carried out fully, suggested that they eventually intended to kill every last Jew on the entire Earth, just as if they were smallpox viruses.

Unlike say Rwanda's Tutsis, huddled together handily in a relatively small area, Jews were to be found in practically every country on Earth, so an effort to kill all of them required an extremely ambitious plan to conquer the whole Earth first.

The geographic sweep of this genocide marks it as unique in human history to date.....

Era of Progress mental blinkers refused to recognize very early pre-modern-human Art,hidden in plain sight

This is the story of a possibly missed opportunity to prevent the 1940s Holocaust , a story that began way back in 1891-1892.

Dutchman Eugene Dubois was the first scientist to deliberately look for the beings that existed between 'the apes and modern humans' .

He and many other scientists were convinced there was only one intermediate species and that it must exist only in the tropics because they felt that humanity was most closely related to Orangutans and Gibbons and these species are found only there.

Gibbons walk upright far more often and far more easily than do chimps for example.

But Darwin stuck to his counter intuitive conviction that humanity was closest to the knuckle-walking chimps and since the chimps live only in Africa, humanity must have emerged there first. (Again Darwin was eventually proven right !)

So determined was Dubois that he shifted careers and got himself posted to remote Dutch Indonesia.

In 1891, at Trinil on the island of Java, he did indeed discover very early humanity - the famous "Java Man", now known to be an (estimated 500,000 year old) example of Homo Erectus.

Homo Erectus lived throughout Africa and the warmer parts of Eurasia between 2 million years and 70,000 years ago.

By contrast our own species, the Homo Sapiens species, are seen as becoming modern (in anatomy and in behavior) only about 50,000 years ago.

The first claim is based on comparing the shape and heft of ancient and recent human skeletons from before, during and after that important 50,000 year divide.

Since the presence of ancient human skeletons "fossils" is absolutely key to claiming that a site once held humans, this is not a controversial argument - human bones are one of the most preserved and undisputed artifacts of early human life.

But human artifacts of cloth and leather, even paint on rock walls are rarely found intact from hundreds of thousands of years back.

So that means that one of the key problems about also claiming that people dead hundreds of thousands of years ago could hold abstract thoughts like we do today is that few abstractly thought out objects survive that long a period of time.

But artwork carved into stone, bone or ceramics is a rare form of abstract thought made visible as art that can survive the ages.

Seeking such art marks was thus - or rather it should have been thus - Job One for everyone seeking Early Man.

But that presumes that in the Age of Progress that anyone was eager to find out just how far back modern-human-like behavior had existed and that simply wasn't so.

Metaphor of Progress as abrupt ladder steps rather than gradual ramp

Humanity in the Age of Progress created the metaphor of a long ladder, rather than a long ramp, to describe how they imagined 'Progress' had proceeded upwards, throughout time, from the ancient simple stupid bacteria to the big complex smart civilized European male.

Ladders presume wide distinct ('clearcut' - to use a term much favoured by Howard Florey) gaps between each ladder step - rather than the infinitely gradual continuum of a ramp.

This allowed human elites in the Era of Progress to see what they wanted to see : wide yawning gaps between men and women, educated and uneducated, white and black, man and animals, man and ape, man and the stone age men.

Seeing a common humanity between Stone Age Man and modern Man might have forced Aryans to also see a common humanity with their Jewish neighbours.

So despite Dubois's specimen of extremely early man being an unique find for a very long time, it wasn't studied as intently as one might think.

In fact, most scientists dismissed it outright, sight unseen -- tending to feel it was a late model of ape or an early model of modern homo sapiens - not an intermediate stage human at all.

But if they had looked at all seriously at the relatively few mollusc shells left by these extremely rare early human remains, they would have seen clear and unusual marks that couldn't have been done by Nature or ape-like beings.

Very sophisticated tools and reasoning were used to open the shellfish without ruining the meat inside.

And abstract art marks were scratched on one shell.

Both of these were hidden ----- in plain view.

But it isn't ever enough for science to merely discover things - what unconscious preconceptions scientists bring to bear upon their discoveries hampers what they will see.

A hundred and twenty years later, a new generation of scientists looked at the same shellfish and finally saw the clearly visible tool marks and art marks.

Because they were open to the possibility that modern humans weren't in fact as unique as human hubris had long thought.

Because they were willing to at least ask if ancient humans might have had abstract thoughts.

One can at least wonder if the Holocaust would ever had happened if the Age of Progress had been open - 50 years before the Holocaust - to seeking to see if early Intermediate Man could possibly share a common humanity of abstract thought with such exalted Aryan philosophers like Hegel and Kant....

Monday, June 29, 2015

Progressive plenticide : the Poor will no longer always be with us, just like the Smallpox Virus, Newfoundland Beothuks, Tasmanian Blacks, the Unfit and the Jewish Bacillus ...

Eugenicists around the world, in every country, once planned to do to the physically and mentally 'unfit', the 'work-shy' poor and the entire Jew and the Roma populations what civilized society had already done to many small aboriginal populations and would later do to the smallpox virus - eliminate them for all time.

And not necessarily by gas and bullet : just ensuring there was not enough food, medicine, housing, jobs and land worked wonders on what was left of the world's dwindling aboriginals in 1940....

almost capital Free Enterprise vs capital-heavy Franchise Enterprise

One of the biggest bilge streams feeding into Era of Progress's emphasis on plenticide and synthetic autarky was 'capitalism' -- which I define as making money off of your rare access to large lumps of capital in an economic culture that really needs large lumps of capital to function.

Capitalism needs two things to really flourish : scarce physical/scarcity bottlenecks controlled by 'franchises' and the necessity for capital-intensive factory processes to successfully operate those franchises.

It is not enough that that there are only a few potential sites to produce sizeable amounts of hydroelectricity in any given nation and that governments get to give them away as exclusive "franchises" --- to the people who bribe them best.

It is also necessary that these few hydro sites require billions in capital before they can deliver a single amp of energy.

One of the best forms of an exclusive franchise is a 'patent' , hopefully one that also requires licensors to pony up a billion or two to put their license to work - for then the patent practically polices itself.

(After all few potential competitors will bother to evade patent royalties if doing so still requires coming up with tons of money to get the pirated process to produce output.)

Let us see how my claims work out in a specific example.

Wool was once manufactured, cleaned and carded in hundreds of millions of tiny almost capital free enterprises quaintly called "farms".

The wool itself was actually manufactured in even smaller factories called "sheep" (or lamas etc) --- factories dirt cheap to buy and that replicated themselves so you hardly ever needed to buy another.

But if synthetic wool was ever even semi perfected, only a few people would own the right (the patent) to make it and only a few factories would actually make it worldwide, partly because of the high cost of patent royalties but even more importantly because of the inability to pony up the billion dollar cost of the huge lumbering clumsy factory set to make the synthetic wool.

I almost said "and don't forget the additional billion dollars in ad dollars needed to fool people into thinking inferior synthetic wool was better than natural wool", but I didn't.

Because that job was done, totally for free, by thousands of deluded scientists and science 'journalists' (cheerleaders), drunk on their own synthetic Kool-Aid.

Over all, this shift from millions of tiny efficient factories to a few huge inefficient factories was called "Progress".

You gotta love it !!!!!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

1940 : majority of world opposed Progress but resigned to it as inevitable

In 1940, energetic elites, at every social level and in every nation and colony on Earth, tended to automatically see themselves as 'advanced' and 'progressive' - though they divided sharply over the details of what constituted 'advances' in 'Progress'.

For too long a time after 1940, we have focused on these vocal minorities' rhetorical differences, rather than what unconscious assumptions that they all held in common.

So we know all about the rhetorical differences between those claiming to seek liberal democratic mixed economies in each nation and those seeking scientific socialism (in one nation !) or those seeking scientific national socialism/fascism for one nation.

We fail to notice their actions differed only in degree not kind.

Meanwhile the majority of the world's population were more frightened than glad about the prospects of yet more Progress, but they weren't about to fight it.

(True, other sizeable traditional elites (the Catholic church for one) had lots of tested older intellectual tools to bring to their opposition to Progress thus defined .

But in practise they had no convincing or current intellectual tools to defeat this anthropocentric definition of Progress.)

The silent cowed majority had long ago become convinced by a generation of intellectual heavyweights, and by the intellectuals' journalistic popularizers, that the continued panzer-like Progress of the new/fit/mighty over the bodies of ancient/unfit/weak was an inevitable fact of Nature, proven beyond a doubt by Science.

So the continuous slow starvation and TB-hastened deaths of the America's original ancient native populations was regrettable --- but also inevitable.

I believe you can divide up the entire wartime world into Axis and Allied camps, even if only in their lean towards one or the other camp, country by country, year by year.

And that all of those countries, among their energetic young elites anyway, the belief in the inevitable Progress of the big over the small did not differ at all between the Allied and Axis, except in degree....

battling penicillins : ancient & modern / battling medicines : social & warlike

Whom would make wartime penicillin ?

Henry Dawson's tiny ancient "natural" fungi factories with a few hundred million of years of experience under their belt ?

Or Howard Florey's big clumsy lumbering "synthetic" chemists' factories, built along lines more familiar to Heath Robinson or Rube Goldberg fans than to fans of the ever graceful Nijinski ?

To whom would wartime penicillin go to ?

Just to lightly injured front line Allied troops, but only after D-Day, with penicillin used for a secret weapon of war, as Florey and the American OSRD planned ?

Or to everyone in a war-shattered world who was dying for lack of it, as Dawson wanted ? Penicillin to be used both as a medical lifesaver and as tardy but tangible proof of the long claimed moral difference between Allies and Axis ?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

WWII's battling Penicillins, Ancient and Modern : Who makes it ? Who receives it ?

Initially the Allied medical-scientific elite had planned that penicillin was to made the modern way, man-made by synthetic chemists in huge factories.

And then it was to only be distributed, during wartime, to lightly wounded frontline Allied troops, after the surprise D-Day landings had been successful.

In the end, thankfully nothing of this horrific scheme came to pass.

For a start, no commercial synthetic penicillin was ever made during WWII (and still hasn't happened yet).

Instead ancient, tiny but highly efficient penicillium factories made penicillin production seem effortless and easy, rather like Nijinsky dancing ballet.

Manhattan doctor Martin Henry Dawson had introduced the penicillin-making fungus to Brooklyn soda pop industry supplier Charles Pfizer & Co and Pfizer alone made 85% of the penicillin landed on the D-Day beaches.

Pfizer made so much penicillin in 1944 that it could - all by itself - supply enough penicillin to treat all those in the world dying for lack of it.

And it found governments suddenly willing to buy all that naturally-made penicillin and to distribute to all in need, without fear or favour.

Because Dr Dawson had also introduced the lifesaving capabilities of penicillin to WPB heavyweight Floyd Odlum.

And it was the WPB's OPRD that overruled Vannevar Bush's ORSD, together with Sir Howard Florey & Sir Alexander Fleming, in their desire to only use wartime penicillin as a secret weapon of war.

Instead the OPRD picked up on Dawson's efforts to see that wartime penicillin was distributed to all in need of it.

The terminally-ill Dawson had started his penicillin-for-all crusade in October 1940, given history's first ever antibiotic injections to two minority patients he knew would be denied real medical care under the guise of 'we need all resources to go to front line troops'.

He lived just long enough to see his efforts come to full fruition ...

Was Galileo Mussolini's favourite scientist ? A review of Falkowski's "Life's Engines"

Together with Darwin and Newton, Galileo forms a trio of the biggest heroes among scientists and as a result the high points of his life story have been inflicted upon the rest of us, over and over, since grade school.

But just like Darwin and Newton, the most exciting, er embarrassing, parts of his life always seem to get left out - edited out of the re-telling.

Like the Royal Society quickly collecting all of Newton's private papers and then keeping the most embarrassing (the arcane religious purposes behind his major discoveries) basically secret for centuries.

Or Darwin's distinctly nasty personal character as revealed himself, in his personal writing.

Like stealing (not figuratively but literally) valuable documents from poor widows.

All fascinating stuff air-brushed out of the much-told tale.

Atheists and their devotion to hagiography of the most shameless kind - you gotta love 'em !

I certainly never knew until now that Galileo had experimented with microscopes at the same time he first turned his telescope on the planets and upset the belief in an Earth-centred Universe.

With his genius, he might even have used his microscope observations to suggest a cause of the plague then ravaging Italy - three centuries early.

Alas - not to be so.

Now since the amazing abilities of the micro universe is the focus of this blog, I naturally read a lot of books about the amazing survival record and chemical abilities of the microbes.

So forgive me if my big takeaway from Paul G Falkowski's first popularly written effort on the wonders of the micro-world that he has explored since early childhood was his throwaway paragraph or two on Galileo's microscope.

Falkowski offers up an explanation for Galileo's failure to take the microscope any further : telescopes extended our knowledge of what we already saw with our naked eye, while microscopes required an imaginary leap into the unknown and unexpected.

This explanation is not likely to offend the scientific establishment - but it should. For if genius is all about imaginary leaps into the unknown, does this not diminish Galileo reputation greatly ?

I believe it does --- and that it should.

But it also got me wondering if Galileo could be accurately described as a proto-Futurist.

The early 20th century Futurists were a scientifically-minded bunch of artists who shared an obsession with speed and machines and war with Mussolini and Hitler.

Because Galileo was clearly unimpressed by the micro universe of tiny objects just barely moving that he saw when he peered down upon them , preferring muchly the macro universe of fast motion and big objects he gazed up at.

MacLean's magazine's Brian Bethune says that humans tend to confound bigger lifeforms with 'more complex' and 'more important' despite clear evidence to the contrary.

I dislike the ambiguity in this type of writing - for Bethune strongly implies that humans have always done thus, without saying so - and that isn't totally true.

Yes the hubris about exalting the big and dissing the small is timeless - and Galileo's behavior is just another proof of that fact.

But we non-microbiologists have really only begun to discover the importance of the smallest lifeforms to our planet in the last twenty five years - thanks to the efforts of people like Falkowski and Bethune.

Even now, every day, the microbiologists are discovering more and more the extent of the microbes' earthly dominance - a process that began for that branch of science only about 150 years ago.

We could have begun to discover this all-important fact way back in Galileo's time ------ but for his - and our - human hubris...

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hitler's most reliable Axis ally overall : Stalin

First, let us never forget that the words 'Allies' and the 'Axis' really only consisted of Britain and Germany, throughout the entire war.

All of the other allies for each chief opponent came and went throughout the war --- even changing sides or effectively going and remaining offside.

So both coalitions were actually more like fluid blobs than a solid blocks.

Prominent among the many, many reasons why Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini lost was that they were not very effective allies with each other ---- and the other minor members of the Axis were even worse, albeit often for reasons beyond their own control.

In terms of direct military, territorial and economic contributions alone, all these allies certainly aided the main Axis power, Germany.

But they also cost Germany a very great deal in terms of direct military and economic aid to sustain them as allies.

Diplomatically - in terms of co-ordinating an overall war-winning grand strategy with Germany - they almost all were a disaster.

To take but one crucial example, Japan's decision to remain neutral when Germany attacked the USSR ensured that the USSR would survive to fight on in some muted form, even without aid from Britain and America.

And the number of times when Mussolini's madcap freelance military adventures dragged in Hitler against his will, and against his overall grand strategy, is legendary.

But one Axis ally was totally reliable and extremely effective - in fact crucial to WWII even starting : Stalin's USSR.

For two crucial years (June 1939 till June 1941) Hitler could plan and execute extremely risky military ventures because he felt assured that he wouldn't be fighting a war on two full fronts.

All he could expect from the USSR (aside from the USSR stabbing Poland's highly effective army in the back by its unexpected invasion of Eastern Poland in September 1939) was massive amounts of badly needed natural resources for his overall war effort.

WWII might have even ended that way, if not for Britain's unexpected unwillingness to come to term with or surrender to Hitler.

Hitler could have - should have - digested what he had got for a few years, languidly bombing British cities at random while building enough small landing craft to successfully launch a short distant sea invasion of the island nation.

But he choose, instead, to attack the USSR full-out with tanks and to continue to attack Britain, seemingly full-out, with bombers.

This one decision, deliberately opening up an Eurasian war on two major fronts, ensured that Hitler overall became the Axis's most unreliable and most costly ally, as measured over the entire length of this coalition.

I am always miffed when examinations of the Axis coalition fails to fully examine active intermittent allies like the USSR as well as friendly (nominally Neutral) quasi members like Spain .

Too many writers prefer to renew the traditionally shopworn and limited examination of the behavior of the three main partners.

Because no similar study of the Allies ever fails to account for Neutral America's semi official but crucial help to Britain between 1939 and 1941.

Surely, we should fully include the USSR's help to Germany in the same period.

We can't continue to let abject apologists for the evils of communism and marxism continue to rule the academic roost, ensuring that Stalin's role in the early Axis is downplayed in tenure-seeking PhDs.

For during that crucial two year period, any fair observer would admit that Stalin gave far more assistance to Hitler than FDR ever gave to Churchill......

Thursday, June 25, 2015

WWII's civilized Penicillin bat first, but natural bat last....

Rather like the war itself, actually.

In the beginning, German armoured battle groups, Japanese naval task forces and Allied heavy bomber raids were all supposed to speedily defeat time and space (& weather, etc).

Stride the globe effortlessly with mechanical feet, night and day, the year around --- modern middle class men commanding modern middle class (killing) machines.

No more need for millions of old fashioned cannon fodder recruits from the peasant and working class, limping about on shank's mare, dragging along bolt action rifles.

Didn't work out though, did it ?

(Insert here : Schweinfurt, Stalingrad, Guadalcanal.)

Far too much land and water to hold and re-supply, too much weather, too much snow and cold, too much heat and thirst.

Never enough food.

Logistics - the big bugbear of modern progressive advanced war - is just a complicated way to say "Mother Nature always bats last"....

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How ever could three nations, with only 1% of earth's land territory and 10% of world population, hold the rest of us at bay, for six long years ?


The neutrality of the schoolyard bystander - the Nordic disease - which by 1939 had infected almost the whole world.

Accept as a given fact that a Grade Six bully (Hitler) can't really beat the crap out of dozens of primary school kids (Poland et al), not all by themselves, not unless the rest of the schoolyard stands around with their hands in their pockets, agnostic as the results of the 'fight'.

Because in the Age of Human-Only Progress, it was seen as inevitable that the biggest and toughest humans would beat up the smallest of humanity, as it was that they beat up insects and bacteria.

Might was just bound to be right, in the struggle of the survival of the fittest.

Regrettable but true.

Our great great grandparents sighed for a moment, just a moment, over the very sad fate of the Belgians or the Canadian Indians, and then got on with life.....

October 16 1940 : ending the era of human-only progress and ushering in our era of bio-diverse cleverness

Purifying and then synthesizing such a comparatively small molecule like penicillin (produced after all by the primitive and simple basement slime) couldn't take very long, said an entire generation of chemists.

And then, and only then, with plenty of pure man-made penicillin at hand, would it finally be safe for clinicians to inject the blessed stuff into a dying patient's bloodstream.

But by mid October 1940, one clinician (Dr Martin Henry Dawson) had had more than enough of waiting for human chemists to put their synthetic money where their hubristic mouth was.

for even his highly talented co-worker, biochemist Dr Karl Meyer, had also failed to make much initial progress on determining the structure of the penicillin molecule.

And Meyer was miles and miles away from attempting to synthesize the stuff.

Dawson had two dying patients before him, for whom he sincerely believed penicillin was their only possible lifeline.

He knew they would need a great deal of clinical penicillin to be saved, but only a little penicillin was at hand.

But a little was better than nothing --- and even a token injection might raise their morale higher even if it did little to lower the microbe count inside their damaged heart valves.

The relatively small amounts of native penicillin that the tiny team at NYC's Columbia Presbyterian medical complex had grown so far had all been divided between Dawson's co-worker Gladys Hobby's microbiological tests and Meyer's (and his assistant Eleanor Chaffee's) chemical tests.

But in 1940, Henry Dawson had a much greater faith in the ability of (raw - impure - natural - native - crude) fungus-made penicillin to cure patients than any other doctor in the world.

Like many other infection experts around the world, he had read of Howard Florey's Oxford team's success with raw penicillin injections in safely curing many experimental infections in many different animals.

But all the other infection experts had read and remained unmoved .

Unmoved to to attempt injecting raw penicillin into humans, whether healthy volunteers or dying patients.

Not so Dawson - he had already had over a dozen years experience confirming that the supposedly simple and primitive microbes had at least as much native chemical ability under their tiny belts as had enormous conference halls filled with chemical PhDs.

His own colleagues had long grown weary of his endless informal lectures on the ability of tiny microbes to practise genetic/chemical engineering (bacterial transformation - HGT) at a skill level that the best human geneticists could only dream of.

The man was not just a bore, he was also 'letting down the side', at least as the Era of Human-Only Progress saw it.

For he had long claimed that the tiny, ancient and simple microbes were much, much cleverer than they were ever given credit for - cleverer than the most civilized of humanity, in many ways.

But he was harmless enough - for all this had only been talk so far.

But on this day - October 16th 1940 - Dawson decidedly 'went off the reservation' and crossed a deep cultural Rubicon.

For on this day, Dr Dawson finally gave his tiny chemists 'a fair go' when he injected SBE patients Aaron Alston and Charles Aronson with fungus-made penicillin.

Thus ending The Era of Human-Only Progress ---- and ushering in our present Era of Bio-Diverse Cleverness...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Who wants to write something tiny - like the military history of WWII ?

Not when the wartime battle over penicillin offers up a macrocosm of the circumstances that led to the war and made it uniquely brutal...

Penicillin synthesis : ancient & simply elegant , modern and crudely complicated

The fungus chemists have had 500 million years to get penicillin making down to an art and a science but to human chemists in the 1940s, it all was very new and puzzling.

No wonder then that the penicillium could make penicillin out of useless farm trash, with no expensive high-pressure-withstanding reactors, no expensive energy costs, no long lists of expensive chemical reagents, --- all done at normal temperatures and normal pressures in invisibly small microbe factories.

And that chemists in the 1940s needed huge factories with tons of high tech equipment, lots of carbon energy to heat up and cool down the process, dozens of highly refined chemical reagents - and lots of skill engineers  --- to make even the simplest of biologically active substances.

In human activities we expect the most experienced chemical firms to do things the economically and the most accurately - and companies new to any particular chemical trade to do everything the hard way and to get there by taking the longest route to the result.

Why then do we reverse these expectations when we compare experienced senior fungus chemists to inexperienced junior human chemists ?

Anthropocentrism - impure and unsimple

(Synthetic) Penicillin - (NOT) meeting the Challenge : by Gladys Hobby (co-worker Karl Meyer)

It is a real pity that biochemist Karl Meyer left the writing of a real insider's account of wartime penicillin to his microbiologist co-worker Gladys Hobby.

Because Hobby's book "Penicillin : Meeting the Challenge", one or two gentle digs aside, is decidedly all moral uplift and hands across the water, marking her as "The Pollyanna of Penicillin".

Hobby's book sometimes is more fascinating for what she chooses to leave out than what she puts in it --- and yet she added a great deal of rare, even unique, information.

Meyer only really made one "for publication" comment about his part in wartime penicillin but it was frank and astringent.

It makes a reader wish he had said more : much, much more.

The major reason he didn't was because Meyer knew his role in saving the lives of thousands of SBEs and jumpstarting the fabulous success of native penicillin was all very well, but he was a biochemist damn it and his original goal was to synthesize native penicillin and replace it - not guide it up to the winner's podium.

Meyer had failed, partly because all chemists in the world also failed at this synthesis task --- and partly because he was treated very unfairly by his more powerful scientific competitors - and who wants to research and write a long book about your successful life's one big failure ?

By the time Meyer felt free to make even those few comments, for a book published in 1981, he was over eighty and the key penicillin players had almost all died.

In particular, Ernst Chain had just died a few months earlier.

Inspired by the death of Chain's boss, Howard Florey, in 1968, the first truly multi-continent account of wartime penicillin had come out in 1973, researched and written by Australian journalist and author Leonard Bickel.

Bickel did enough interviewing of minor front line participants still alive to uncover many fascinating, important but unreported/un-Pollyanna aspects of the saga.

His "Rise up to Life" included information from Gladys Hobby that first brought to those interested in the history of penicillin the forgotten efforts of Dr Martin Henry Dawson.

She said Dawson had pushed the North American development of early penicillin in an ultimately successful attempt to cure then invariably fatal SBE , the endocarditis that made Rheumatic Fever the leading killer of school age kids for half a century, a disease she said he had long made his personal crusade.

None of this was true - and she half knew that to be so.

I have found no evidence what so ever that Dawson ever mentioned SBE at any of the many scientific meetings he attended or that he wrote articles on it or did research into it.

And Hobby was his closest co-worker for ten years : she too had said, written and done nothing on SBE.

So Dawson had done nothing on SBE --- least not before October 1940, when the penicillin project at his hospital had already been underway for 5 weeks.

Hobby freely admits that she herself was away on vacation when the project began and she returned after several hectic weeks into the effort - so she could only know of the project's origins from what Meyer, Chaffee and Dawson told her.

The agreed plan, by the time she arrived, was that the native penicillin would be grown mostly by Hobby.

Then after being purified and its chemical structure figured out, it would be synthesized artificially, all this mostly done by Meyer and Chaffee, tasks expected to be completed sometime early in the New Year.

Then, and only then, would clinician Henry Dawson reach centre stage - injecting the synthetic penicillin into patients whose care he controlled as the sole attending physician among the small four person team.

A few days before Draft Registration Day, October 16th 1940, Dawson suddenly decided to put a very little of the very weak and very impure native penicillin into two patients with SBE, a disease whose cure, virtually all doctors agreed, would require lots of medication every day for weeks and weeks on end.

Dawson's tiny injections might raise the dying pair's morale but could have had no direct physical impact on their disease.

And it rather upended the team's agreed upon project protocol.

As that chemically-oriented protocol suggests, Meyer the biochemist had actually started the project.

But he waited a half century, till just after the death of Ernst Chain, to say exactly why he had.

In 1980, Meyer was interviewed by a young endocarditis researcher, Australian born Dr David T Durack, who was writing an article on the early history of the conquest of endocarditis by antibiotics for a book, edited by Allan Bisno, on infective endocarditis.

Meyer told Durack that in the late summer of 1940 he was incensed by the assignment of priority given to Meyer's own pioneering work on lysozyme in articles by Ernst Chain.

(Meyer probably didn't mention it but he was possibly even more incensed by Chain jumping his priority on Meyer's much more exclusive pioneering work on hyaluronan.)

Chain had been a fellow biochemistry student with Meyer in Berlin and even more importantly, both were not-yet-established-German-Jewish-emigre-scientists in the wartime Anglo-American medical research world.

For either, scoring a significant scientific discovery might keep them out of an internment camp, while a rival stealing their credit might mean a hard bed in that same internment camp.

I think most biochemistry experts agree that Karl Meyer was a far, far better biochemist all his life than Chain.

So for whatever reason(s) , Meyer's pioneering work was always closely followed up by Chain.

Only this time, Meyer would turn the tables --- follow up on Chain's pioneering work for once.

Try to beat Chain to the goal of purifying native penicillin to the point when its structure could be determined and then it could made by artificial synthesis.

A great story --- but how true ?

Because Chain didn't even submit his co-authored articles on hyaluronan and lysozyme until late September 1940 and late October 1940 and they weren't even published in the UK till December 1940 and no one in America could have read them before January 1941.

Was Meyer clairvoyant then ?

No - and Professor Ronald Bentley provides the solution.

He got to know Professor Leslie (Epstein) Falk late in both their careers and learned that Epstein had not just done his PhD thesis on lysozyme under Chain's close supervision but had also informally helped Chain in the early Oxford work on penicillin.

The Fall of France had prompted the US & UK governments to agree to return all the American Rhode scholars posthaste, because America was still neutral.

So Epstein couldn't even stay long enough to dot the last "i"s on his thesis, but he was in Oxford when Florey first injected penicillin into mice and cured their fatal disease without harming the mice with side effects.

Epstein felt the sudden uprise of excitement in Florey's entire institute and the move to keep it all hush hush until it had secured a commercial sponsor and had been published.

Epstein was Jewish and a leftist - Florey didn't much like either.

Epstein probably felt he owed Florey no particular loyalty as a result.

So he spilt the beans on the penicillin project, including Chain's expected role, to Meyer while using Meyer's expertise in lysozyme together with Meyer's reagents and lab space to finish his PhD - sometime between June 10th and September 7th 1940.

Like Epstein (and Chain for that matter), Meyer was also Jewish and left-leaning.

I personally feel that Epstein really liked Chain and only inadvertently let slip Chain's 'off the cuff' dismissive comments about Meyer's work.

Probably while recounting some of the endless 'colourful stories' that Chain's very mercurial personality tended to throw up.

Because I see nothing too offensive in either of Chain's relatively cautious articles (on Lysozyme and Hyaluronan) and in any case, they came out months after Meyer began his penicillin project.

No, Meyer, forewarned by Epstein in person what journal would get the Florey,Chain et al penicillin article and what month it might come out, lay in wait for whatever tidbits of new information on penicillin's curative effects the article might have.

He needed that information to be good because he needed microbiologists (Hobby) and clinicians (Dawson) on side, if he was to pull off the synthesis of penicillin.

Because there was no chemical test to tell you that you have actually synthesized penicillin - that could only be established biologically by skilled workers.

Now Durack also interviewed Hobby and Dawson's last co-worker Thomas T Hunter for his article and told them they'd be in it and when and where it would come out.

Hobby read Durack's article when it came out in 1981, that I am sure , including Meyer's bombshell revelation, and went on to publish her own account of wartime penicillin in 1986.

But she choose not to alter in any way her earlier claim to Bickel that their pioneering penicillin effort was led from the start by Dawson and was set up to defeat SBE with penicillin.

Meyer's account rang true, but Hobby wanted nothing in her book to upset its thesis that good will and a lot of hard work among united allies gave us the miracle of wartime penicillin.

If her work sold far less copies than Watson's 1968 "The Double Helix" one need not search hard to find why.

Her account of the 'drama' of wartime penicillin left out all the drama .....

Monday, June 22, 2015

VHS 1978 - primitive by definition, but definitively not simple

VHS machines first went on sale in most of the world at the end of the 1970s - by the dictionary, that makes those first machines primitive by definition.

Because all that primitive actually means is "first", not "crude" or "simple".

Those early VHS machines certainly weren't simple - but rather were big, heavy, very expensive and filled with tons of complexly machined moving parts.

By the time research on consumer video shifted to DVDs in the early 1990s, VHS machines were small, light, cheap, reliable and had the minimum of moving parts.

Parasites, like the viruses that attack bacteria and all other life, are indeed simple in a complex, pared down sort of way but arrived relatively late in Life after being greatly pared down, in terms of genome, from the bacteria which had arrive much earlier and which had lots of molecular machinery.

Early doesn't always mean simple and later doesn't always mean complex.

Factory floor engineers instinctively know this - a pity they haven't yet convinced most scientists/journalists/citizens of that fact.....

Why do the stupid fungus use 'inefficient' fermentation in preference to efficient respiration ?

Let us be clear - virtually all common lifeforms can provide energy for themselves by both respiration and fermentation.

Respiration uses oxygen to efficiently extract all the energy from the chemical bonds found in sugar like substances.

Fermentation does not use oxygen and hence can only extract some of the energy from some of those chemical bonds.

Many bigger beings, like us humans, only use low efficiency fermentation when we can't get sufficient oxygen for high efficiency respiration - the classic case for humans is during long, hard, fast physical activity like running in the Boston Marathon.

But why then do a whole lot of 'primitive' microbes perversely continue to use low efficiency fermentation --- even when lots of oxygen is available ?

This is the so called Crabtree Effect - first widely noted by university scientists post 1929.

(And first noticed by brewing types back in 10,000 BC !)

The discovery of this fact by chemists during the Age of Progress was the key reason why my parents and I were duly taught in school that beings like the fungus were but primitive relics of simpler, stupider times --- living fossils.

Today the scientific consensus is that at the very beginnings of Life, simple respiration came first and complex fermentation came later !

Admittedly, this news hasn't reached most scientists not involved in this specialized area of research and the bulk of them still think of fermentation as simple and stupidly inefficient.

We humans greatly profit from this 'stupidity', of course.

Because instead of the sugars being reduced to low energy CO2 and water 'waste', it goes out as relatively high energy ethanol 'waste' --- beer, wine and spirits. And the secret that makes bread rise.

But of course chemists are not really evolution experts.

Because real evolution experts must explain why such stupid behavior has been so well rewarded by the natural selection gods.

After all, fungus having been on earth for hundreds of millions of highly successful years versus the human chemists' very brief sojourn on Earth.

We can start by noting fungus only move to fermentation mode when the amount of available sugar to eat is high, regardless of the amount of oxygen about.

Going at that mountain of sugar with oxygen yields the most energy per unit of sugar, but it takes a lot of time and needs a lot of cellular machinery and cellular surface space.

Fungus can't really increase their factory size* endlessly, unlike our human companies.

Instead they shift to using their existing limited cellular surface space and machinery so as to increase their energy-gaining throughput,in terms of units of time, even if it results in a low yield per unit of sugar.

So they certainly do waste the sugar, but after all there is lots and lots of it about ---- and in doing so, they gain more energy per minute for themselves than by the slow, bulky but efficient respiration route.

As the lucky individuals closest to the mountain of sugar, they bulk up quickly all set to reproduce lots of spore children when the time comes --- even if their reproductive success comes at the cost of denying useful sugar to their fungal distant cousins.

(During the process of bulking up, the fungus does use some of the readily available oxygen all right - but as a structural material rather than as part of an energy extracting process.)

As is usual, once scientists (and economists) move beyond a reductionist way of viewing reality - looking instead at the whole picture at the top level of an ecosystem, the benefit of behavior that seems stupid and 'inefficient' at the level of the reductionist chemists' atoms and molecules, becomes much clearer...

* It is known that microbes do change the shape of their cells to a limited extent, to alter their surface to volume ratio to economically maximize food intake in times of extreme starvation or extreme abundance : long and thin, small and round, large but flat & shallow , etc.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Was WWII's battle over Penicillin a microcosm or a macrocosm of that horrific war ?

WWII was far too big for one mind to encompass and far too horrific for one stomach to handle.

The even longer but much smaller battle over penicillin production and delivery seems easier to handle and to stomach.

But just like the war itself, many, many people died because of decisions taken over the course of the twenty year long battle over just how penicillin should be made and to whom it should be given to.

True : all these people were deadly ill, by definition.

So possibly many would died anyway, with or without penicillin, though probability suggests that in fact most would have lived, if given enough penicillin early enough.

Unfair premature death is still unfair premature death, but their slow deaths from disease, caused by not so benign neglect, lacks the visceral horror of thinking about mothers and babies being murdered in a field with a bullet to the face, Einsatzgruppen style.

Preventable death due to lack of should-have-been-readily-available penicillin was still death on a massive scale.

But it remains deniable because it is only viewable, faintly and through the softest of gauze*.


So yes, I plead guilty - I want to have it both ways.

I want to discuss the biggest, most horrific, issues of the war but also to sugar coat them.

To reduce them to closeups of the lives of a mere handful of individuals, most who don't die and even of those few who did die, didn't die violently.

But I also want readers to think back, back behind these few representatives.

To think of the literally tens of millions of people, unnamed and un-described, who died needlessly throughout the world because cheap abundant penicillin-for-all was delayed so long.

(Delayed for up to fifteen years for a few lucky ones and up to twenty five years for many, depending on your class, race, gender and where you lived.)

That is a death toll that approaches that of WWII itself.

So it really should never have been so casually dismissed, as it has been, all these years....

* I know of only one death among those tens of millions - that of Marie Barker of Chicago in September 1943 - that happened with enough detail provided day by relentless day to the reading public as to still bruise our collective conscience.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

To understand WWII penicillin is to understand WWII

We thought we knew the history of WWII, even as it was happening - a world neatly divided up into either very good guys or very bad guys.

But as the years go by and the silently guilty die off, more and more revelations emerge that make the whole thing much murkier than we expected.

I think telling the full story, the actual story, of  wartime penicillin is about the gentlest way to tell the true story of WWII.

Done by closely examining a small but representative fragment of it.

It is true that wartime penicillin had its own horrors, but I don't think recalling them will make readers toss the book aside in anger, shame and disgust, as is bound to happen when we use the various holocausts of WWII as a way into that war.

But I think the original Allied intentions for penicillin sprang from the same deep impulses as did Aktion T4 and the Final Solution.

But penicillin's death-by-denial effort emerged in a very muted fashion (without those programs' direct violence) ----  openly condemning unknown numbers of people to death by benign neglect as regretful but necessary.

All because they said that the penicillium itself was being so uncooperative towards the war effort.

This was all hooey - they knew it and God knows it.

After my book is done, I hope we all know it....

Columbia-Presbyterian was midway between Rahway on one side of the Hudson River and Pearl River on the other

In 1940, it was generally thought that Merck at Rahway, NJ (firms on the New Jersey side were considered leaders in the chemical synthesis of medical substances) represented the most advanced, most progressive part of the North American drug industry.

By contrast, Lederle at Pearl River, NY on the other side of the Hudson, was considered a prime example* of the dwindling, old fashioned biological side of North American pharmaceuticals.

Columbia Presbyterian Medical Complex was in the very middle of this, lying as it was astride the Washington Bridge connecting both sides of this Hudson River internecine conflict within the drug industry.....

* A role taken up during WWII by Pfizer.

Modern penicillin made by the powerful, for the powerful - Ancient penicillin, made by the humble, for the humble

Sometimes I am at one with all those TV detectives whose constant riposte is "I don't believe in coincidences".

Perhaps it all was a big coincidence that the same people who were so insistent that penicillin had first to be made in the big companies' chemical plants before it could begin saving lives, were equally insistent that wartime penicillin be preserved solely for saving the lives of the fittest 1A troops.

But I don't think so.

Just as I don't think it is a coincidence that the people who were perfectly content to use penicillin as made by the humble microbes were equally determined to see that wartime penicillin was distributed to all - particularly to the humble and to Life's 4Fs, the weak and vulnerable.

But don't you dare call these differing opinions on how to make and distribute wartime penicillin just a 'moral' battle for the soul of WWII .

Because it was much scientific as it was moral : almost all these people based their moral beliefs upon their scientific beliefs.

So that being unwilling to go to the aid of small countries unable to fight off the bigger, stronger German military was as much an erroneous science based decision ("Progress sees the bigger best the smaller") as it was an erroneous moral decision....

Two billion penicillin molecules equal weight of one bacteria

Bacteria, individually, are incredibly tiny, (about 1 picogram - one trillionth of a gram) (or 600 billion daltons in molecule talk).

Tiny, even when compared to a typical human red blood cell (which are about 30 times heavier).

Just as penicillin molecules are tiny compared to average large biological molecules like human blood hemoglobin
(it would take about 200 penicillin molecules to weigh as much as one hemoglobin molecule.)

(And human titin molecules can weigh almost 4 million daltons !)

But perhaps the most useful index is to compare the size of the tiny penicillin (300 daltons) or sulfa molecule (250 daltons) to the tiny bacteria organism it is trying to kill.

At least a billion times smaller.

That makes them highly diffusible, in theory.

Because the danger is always that once inside a living body, they will be more attracted to other molecules than to their designated target molecule. A very common situation that remains one of the great uncertainties of drug discovery.

Still they are pretty diffusible, all in all - approaching the real tiny and hence very highly diffusible molecules like water (18 daltons).

And to chemists, trying in the interwar years to determine the molecular structure of big biological molecules like hemoglobin, the tiny sized penicillin seemed as easy to synthesize as the similarly sized synthetic sulfa drugs.

(Or their most recent biological synthesis success - man-made Vitamin C, weighing in at about 200 daltons.)

But quinine also weighs about the same as penicillin and the best chemists throughout history had failed to synthesize it commercially.

Size, it turned out was not the best indicator of the complexity of making penicillin molecules synthetically....

Victoria Oats Blight, 1940s : don't ever say Dawson didn't warn ya

To the sound of loud yawns, in 1930 Dr Henry Dawson dared publicly suggest that a phenomenon he called 'bacterial transformation' (the name was general from the 1930s till the 1980s when it was replaced by today's horizontal gene transfer or HGT), could explain the mysterious and sudden rise of epidemics of new highly virulent diseases.

Sometimes, he thought, a previously mildly virulent pathogen suddenly acquires, from other species of organisms, a new gene or three that made this former 97 pound pathogenic weakling suddenly highly virulent against its traditional victims.

And we now also know that the human breeding of plants and animals for commercial exploitation can also instantly flood the world with an entire population of long domesticated beings with an 'improvement'---- that in fact suddenly makes them very vulnerable to a long existing, mild pathogen.

Dawson died in 1945, before he could point to a clear case of a new epidemic thrown up by HGT like behavior from the victim or the pathogen --- or both.

Victoria oats blight fell upon the world very suddenly in the late 1940s - the result of two genetic events colliding.

Man had introduced an new gene into commercial oat species that made them better resist the much feared crown rust fungus disease.

Great --- except that a mild pathogen of oats had also gained a new gene cluster from HGT.

One that normally would have been quickly lost by evolutionary pressure  --- due to its added energy cost of making this new gene cluster versus null gain for the blight producer.


That now there were millions of acres of oats, all over the world, all bearing the a new gene that turned this pathogen's new virulency factor a decided advantage for it surviving and flourishing on oats.

Presto - all the world's oat crops, all with the same commercially-added gene, were suddenly under attack.

Science mucky--mucks investigated and reluctantly reversed one of their century old central dogmas --- that biodiversity was a bad bad bad thing (cue here, eugenics et al).

Amazing that anyone could make a million bucks (or get a PhD and do a post doctoral term of servitude) without ever hearing that old old folk saying about never putting all your eggs (or oat seed) in one basket, but there you are.

Commercial greed meet scientific hubris - you two suckers were born for each other ...

Synthetic penicillin could heal WWII's bodies, but only natural penicillin could heal its soul as well

Determined not to 'lose face' and let down their side by being upstaged by native life-saving penicillin, for twenty long years (1928-1948) imperial Anglo-European medical science chased the mirage of synthetic (civilized-man-made) penicillin.

In fact, put this quest well above their real task - of saving lives.

Even during WWII.

A fracking disgrace.

But they never could make commercial synthetic penicillin (we still can't) and so almost all our antibiotics still begin with fungus-grown native penicillin.

Imagine that : the smallest and stupidest beings could make a miraculous lifesaving balm, when the smartest beings in the universe couldn't.

This surprising turn of events helped upend all our long cherished delusions about the natural order of progress and intelligence.

This held that intelligence, however defined, rose inevitably from virtually none at all among the oldest, smallest and stupidest right up to the newest, biggest and smartest beings in the universe : the civilized scientists who gave us Napalm, Plutonium and Zyklon-B.

And speaking of Zyklon-B, these same globally held views on a vertical ladder of intelligence and worthiness rising from the small to the great, is what justified (in their minds) the killings of all those with 'lives unworthy of life' by the Nazis.

No wonder then that ours, today, is a post-Modern, post-Progress age ...

1940 : native penicillin, Deus Ex Machina, arrives to 'smite the arrogant' as much as to 'succour the humble'

If the only earthly job for native penicillin, ancient beyond time, was to succour the humble and to comfort the weak and afflicted, it could have crossed the human consciousness at any time throughout human history.

But if  native - natural - humbly made - penicillin's main purpose here  was really to smite the arrogant, its arrival in 1940, at the very height of a war to the finish between the world's most 'modern', most 'progressive' civilizations, it couldn't have come at a more appropriate time.

For it's defeat of modern synthetic penicillin confounded the  whole notion of 'biological evolutionary progress' so decisively that the Era of Progress came to an abrupt end in 1945 ---- and our current post-Modern, post-Progress era began .

That Dr Henry Dawson fully intended to use penicillin to succour the humble and save the lives of young people dying from SBE endocarditis caused by Rheumatic Fever there can be no doubt.

Still one can ask, why then did he jump the gun in that effort, and start the process three months early (on October 16th 1940) with clearly inadequate amounts of very crude 'native' penicillin, if saving lives was his only aim ?

Could it just be that his history-making injections to two '4Fs of the 4Fs', on a day otherwise devoted to honouring the worth of America's 1As and dismissing the worth of her 4Fs, was designed as much to smite the arrogant, as it was to succour the humble ?

Friday, June 19, 2015

To residents and nurses,yesterday's 'space-wasters' are today's 'frequent fliers"

They are chronically ill, frequently even ER admission level seriously ill, are not going to ever get better, but yet are damn slow about dying and getting it done and over with.

Even worse, they are often much older, much poorer and much more foreign than the medical staff treating them.

They are the bane of hospitals administrators everywhere who seek a great cure rate to impress donors and government bureaucrats.

A bane to senior attending physicians seeking a constant quick turnover in ward patients - ever hopeful the new ward patients will come with many different, new, rare, acute diseases.

All to better train up residents, in a few brief hectic years, about all the possible diseases they might face alone as full MDs.

Residents and nurses in 1940s teaching hospitals tended to informally call them bed-wasters or space-wasters.

1940s Nazis tended to call them useless eaters or lives unworthy of life.

Today's current medical slang for this sort of patient calls them frequent fliers.

Dr Henry Dawson's SBEs, particularly in wartime - were the space-wasters par excellent.

They were usually poor and ethnic, too weak to get drafted or even to do hard work in war factories.

Everyone knew they weren't ever going to survive --- the disease was 99% fatal in the short term , 100% fatal in the medium term.

Yet they took their good old time dying.

Meanwhile, they uselessly 'wasted' valuable beds.

And above all, absorbed much scarce medical and auxiliary staff time, because during WWII, most peacetime doctors were either drafted or left as volunteers while the auxiliaries were leaving hospitals wholesale for much better paid war work.

And Dawson - despite being a decorated war hero of a previous war - was doing no real war medicine work but choosing instead to devote himself to saving the lives of these hopeless cases and even 'stealing' invaluable scarce penicillin to give to these bottom feeders.

All he would say in his defence was that 'we'd never beat the Nazis by emulating their practises'.

The nerve of him....

Bottom feeders versus the Chemist in the Age of Progress

When we humans really want to verbally wound another human being, we call them 'bottom feeders' or 'slime' but it is not at all clear, at least at first glance, why these should be so abusive a term.

It is true that some lifeforms, much like the esteemed chemists who practise total synthesis, are greatly admired for making food out of the most basic of small molecules.

Others - like humans - are mere parasites who kill other animals and plants to obtain food (in the case of oysters scooped off the shell, we even eat our prey alive !)

We say we admire this behavior, but only, I suspect, because we feel compelled to publicly love everything about our species.

In fact, most of us would dearly love one day to make all of our food out of rocks, water and air --- and then eat it in the form of little white synthetic pills.

But still other lifeforms, the subject of today's post, are the bottom feeders of life.

They are Nature's bone and rag men, the garbage collectors of the ecosystem, cleaning up our collective mess by consuming dead beings and their excrement.

This feeding activity - saprotrophic nutrition - is absolutely vital to the re-cycling of the strictly limited resources of this Earth and thus the continuation of Life.

(Only daily sunshine and a light dusting of space dust is ever added to this world's resource base. Against this, every day lots of matter and energy successfully leaves this planet's gravity hold.)

It is dirty work but someone has to do, if we are all to go on living in our shiny clean suburban homes.

Nevertheless, because these detritus-eating creatures are often slimy in form and tend to live on dark, dank basement walls or in the dark dank soil, we hold them in particularly low regard : bottom feeders - slime.

Why ?

Go ask the writers of Gothic novels why - I really don't know why for certain.

Perhaps it is partly nothing more than the fact that some adults retain a childhood fear of the dark unknown.

That fear, and another dislike/fear, among those of a conservative mind,anyway, for the 'indecisive in-between liquidness and solidness and uncertainty' of things like mud and slime.

Perhaps though, in all of us, the unpleasant truth that the lifework of fungus slime presents an all too visible indication of the fact that all life ultimately dies.

And that all beauty does not just fade away and dies away but then also rots away.

We seen this Lovecraftian vum Gothic horror on the faces of the film and TV detective and the victim's families every time the loved one's body is exhumed from their grave.

The coffin top opened, the once beautiful child is nothing but an oozing mess of bones and slimy mold.

Maybe that film and TV image alone accounts why most of us so hate the fungus ---- for simply reminding us thus.

Small, weak, stupid, simple and despised ---- why in God's Name, did He allow them - and not the chemist made in His Image - to bring for the divine boon of penicillin ?

Why would He ever make the last first and the first last ????

Jesus Christ Almighty and Matthew 20 --- who knows ?

Native penicillin versus Modern penicillin in the run up to Indian Independence

The mere thought of putting native penicillin (basically mold slime excrement) into the human bloodstream just to save a life was anathema to most European and North American doctors in the years between 1928 and 1943.

They preferred to wait, wait until (or ifmodern synthetic European-made penicillin was available.

Too bad about your mother, though.

And any European or American doctor that dared to inject native penicillin into white veins, was seen as letting down the side ------ going native.

Losing face.

They couldn't be publicly seen as de facto admitting that the smartest, whitest, most European chemists in the universe can't do what the simple little fungus tossed off so nonchalantly - make this new miracle life saver, penicillin.

Not in front of the women, or the darkies, or the dock labourers.

Won't do, old boy, just won't do.

You'd be blackballed down at the Club.

So native penicillin was not allowed to be made in 1944 era India, from its abundant agricultural waste and very cheap hand labour.

Perhaps that is why today native penicillin is mostly made by the darkies, in places like newly independent India - and then sold at a good profit to the white European and American chemists, all who make none of their own.

Native revenge is sweet - or if not sweet, at least a slightly off-white, slightly bitter, naturally-grown powder....

No one who ever sold VCRs believes scientists who insist complexity equals progress

Confession time : for ten years (1980-1990), the early pioneering years, I hand sold thousands of consumer VCRs.

Our little camera shop (Reid Sweet) also repaired them as well- I never actually did so but I sometimes watched.

A very painful experience is was then, looking inside the guts of early VCRs -- rather like watching sausages being made.

Early VCRs were fabulously big and fabulously heavy and fabulously expensive and filled with many (just barely) moving mechanical parts - a right some pain to operation successfully or repair quickly and economically.

By the end - just before electronic companies switched their efforts to the new DVD players - the VCR was small, light, dirt cheap, almost trouble free --- and had very few moving mechanical parts.

In mid twentieth century comics, incredibly complex machines to do the simplest of things, dreamed up by artists Heath Robinson and Rube Goldberg, mercilessly satirized the Age of Progress's inane belief that greater complexity always spelt greater progress.

Living through the VCR evolution from big complex and stupid backwards to small simple and smart just confirmed for me that while zoologists may have big degrees based on complex research, in their Ladd-ite belief that biologically size matters, they are just as dumb as a sack of bricks.

Maybe dumber.....

"last of Polio & Arsenic under lock and key in Atlanta" - headline

A headline we will never see is some news release from the science folks in Atlanta proudly announcing that some dangerous element (arsenic and plutonium come to mind) have been newly almost totally eliminated.

(Or liquidated with extreme prejudice, in double speak.)

Because actually other life forms are the only possible competitors to humanity.

Even the smallest and weakest are possible 'competitors' in ways that no deadliest element ever could be.

Everything outside of life (reductionist scientists in the Era of Progress believed) could be easily reduced down to the basic slave-like atoms of the hundred of so elements and then turned to what ever task civilized humanity had at hand.

So even the deadly elements could be safely left alone.

Instead, by means of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides,germicides, genocides we have sought to eliminate any and all living rivals, no matter how small or how weak.

Polio is one example of a near total 'success' in this effort.

The Nazis obviously hoped that they could also totally eliminate the 'bacillum' of the Jew, as they bizarrely (but probably genuinely) regarded this religious and ethnic grouping of their fellow human beings.

The moral underpinnings of this wholesale plenticide of all other lifeforms were two fold.

The first was the scientific delusion called Chemical Reductionism - the warped belief that thanks to progress in chemical synthesis we no longer need the valuable-to-humanity products produced by other beings ( with synthetic chemical food pills replacing bread from wheat plants for example.)

The second was another scientific delusion called Biological Progress.

This was the idea that we could phase out all other rival lifeforms (including the unfit versions of humanity itself) in a logical yet humane manner - by speeding the gradual elimination of the least useful-to-humanity first, as obviously being more 'unfit' in the eternal struggle for life.

(So if Germany could successfully invade and conquer Poland, then ipso facto, the Poles were manifestly unfit.)

This was the moral background then to a battle royal at the height of another war (WWII), between proponents for two possible forms of penicillin : Ancient natural or Modern synthetic ...

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Confounded Progress : a book about "Penicillins, Ancient and Modern"

A book about WWII's warring penicillins, Ancient and Modern

The genes that make penicillin reside today inside members of the comparatively recent fungus family, but these genes actually began their existence inside bacteria, those tiny creatures ancient beyond all time.

Ancient they might well be and simple too, but these microbes somehow do a very, very, very efficient job as chemists.

Again and again they are found to be very rapidly making complicated molecules, in the correct stereo image, and without impurities, at normal temperatures and pressures, without need for heavily built reactor vessels or expensive reagents.

All this not unnaturally makes human chemists jealous and resentful - never more than in the late unlamented Era of Progress, when human chemists were at the very top of the food chain and small stupid microbes were supposed to foot the very bottom.

Together, top chemists and bottom microbes were to support the whole Progressive Era 'scientific/natural' hierarchy that allowed whites to repress blacks, adults children, men women, the healthy the cripples.

All predicated on the claim that Life formed one seamless and vertical 'Great Ladder of Progress'.

A ladder stretching from the stupidest,oldest and smallest to the newest, biggest, smartest white human civilizations at the very top.

So the news that such a very great boon to humanity like penicillin could only be made by the stupidest and couldn't be made at all by the very smartest, threatened this whole tissue of lies.

Which is why that for twenty years (1928-1948) the 'smartest chemists in the universe' sought, in war as in peace, to make an improved modern version of the fungus's ancient penicillin.

They even placed their psychological need to shore up the idea of Progress before the medical needs of millions of dying patients, crying out in vain for any sort of penicillin --- be it ancient or modern .

So much so that when the last projects to try and produce man-made synthetic penicillin finally failed, so, to a large extent, did the very idea of Progress...

Penicillin, as from the Old Testament : capricious to the greedy and the hubristic ; malleable to the righteous

Psalm 51:7 -----  Purge me with Hyssop

To the large (government and industry supported) research teams privately committed to turning natural penicillin into a highly profitable patented MAN-MADE drug with a long shelf life, crude penicillin was a capricious, labile substance with a habit of disappearing as soon as it was produced.

As both their contemporary scientific articles and their later memoirs and biographies made abundantly clear.
Alexander Fleming and Howard Florey, for example, were for once fully in agreement on this accord.

But to the small unofficial clinically-oriented teams solely concerned with saving lives in the here and now, penicillin's reputation for instability was vastly overrated .

One even gets hints that they wondered if this well-publicized reputation of instability was a deliberate lie fostered by people like Florey, Fleming, Merck and the OSRD to keep later competing teams from seriously investigating the wonder drug.

The clinically-oriented teams' contemporary articles found first that the varying PH requirements of the rapidly growing and then hard starving penicillium fungus had to be well regulated, if the penicillin was not to be accidentally destroyed by the fungus itself, as fast as it was produced.

And then if the resulting crude penicillin liquid was kept very cold in a refrigerator, at the appropriate PH for penicillin, it would easily last the few days or weeks needed for it to be used externally or injected via IV/IM drip, on site at their hospital.

Any competent lab tech could handle the whole affair, is how one Australian team described what they felt was the largely routine growing, extraction and storing process.

Amazingly, both accounts of crude penicillin behavior are actually fully correct.

For example, by at least keeping their impure penicillin free of any external chemical reagents, the clinically oriented teams ensured their patients didn't suffer from the many man-made chemical impurities so commonly found in the supposedly purer commercial penicillin !

And they certainly didn't routinely lose most of the crude penicillin - and consume much scarce people-power - trying to extracting all of the harmless water in crude penicillin, merely to later add it all back in again as part of the injection process.

Because one can't inject dry penicillin ----- or dry anything.

Injections need plenty of fluids - basically water dressed up in a fancy name.

And in particular, penicillin works best if very very slowly dripped into a person's blood stream --- that means that crude penicillin is itself already at the right proportions of medicine and water to work well as a slow drip IV or IM.

Impure penicillin is a lot like the impure orange juice that traditionally supplied us with our Vitamin C needs - that tasty fruit juice works at least as well as today's little white synthetic Vitamin C pills do --- and has done so for millions of years.

So what was the reason for the endless mantra (cum lame excuse) of the Allied medical world needing pure penicillin and needing dry penicillin before it could begin to save the dying ?

G R E E D  &  H U B R I S   ---- impure and un-simple.

The only reason why 'pure' penicillin was needed was that pure penicillin is the only form of penicillin that can then be successfully broken down into its constituent parts - and only its constituent parts.

With all - and only all - of its parts known, chemists then thought they could quickly make a patented highly profitable analogue of natural penicillin, much much cheaper than the fungus could.

Americans and the English would hold those patents and then hold the rest of the world to ransom after the war.

But vast amounts of crude penicillin were accidentally destroyed in the processing along the way to yield up a gram or two of nearly 100% pure penicillin.

Then the chemists deliberately destroyed all that pure penicillin, to then look at the resulting constituent sub-parts.

Every one of their many experiments, from start in processing to finishing in destruction, wasted much clinically useful penicillin that could have saved many many precious lives.

Again, for example, briefly in the Spring of 1943 Glaxo was the world's leading penicillin producer - but almost all of that penicillin was then deliberately destroyed in the chemists' fruitless efforts to do something better than stupid little fungus.

Because, yes, old men in white lab coats and sporting PhDs from the best universities, in the middle of a deadly war, are just as capable of indulging in a useless pissing contest as a bunch of teenage louts.

All because they were determined not to let 'stupid' 'simple' fungus (their words) best 'the smartest chemists in the universe'.

Rather than simply buckling down to work with the fungus, as chemists, in an all out effort to make as much natural penicillin as possible - right now ! - to save all the war's dying.

For twenty long wasted years (1928-1948) the world of chemists tried to do something better that the tiny penicillium was already doing perfectly well, before finally publicly admitting defeat.

And the obsession with dry penicillin ?

Well, perfectly dry and hence perfectly stable penicillin was essential if a few huge drug factories were to supply all the vast world's continuing penicillin needs.

Most of the world's penicillin would have to remain viable for months or even years, as it waited to be transported around the world and then sit on warehouse shelfs until needed.

The same reason why most of our food is stuffed with preservative chemicals and shipped in, using much fossil
fuel, from warehouses a world away ----- the greed for seeing all the profits of the food business sit in fewer and fewer hands.

As a Christian, I like to think God took an early private revenge on all these greedy and hubris souls, before a second and more final round at Judgement Day.

Because Man has never been able to commercially best the humble fungus in making penicillin and crude penicillin is still the substrate for 90% of all of today's antibiotics .....

"Stopping the Panzers" - a review of Marc Milner's thesis

As gathered together in large groups called 'nations', none of us humans would win any medals in the eyes of future historians and ethicists for our moral behavior during WWII.

But as WWII individuals and small groups, some of us would definitely win their approval -- but that is a post for another day.

I tend to think of 'bad faith', as opposed to outright bad and evil behavior (bullies like Hitler, Mussolina, Tojo and Stalin spring to mind), as something not done.

Above all, not done by bystanders, as they witness these bullies descending upon the hapless small and the weak.

To take but one example, the whole Allied world generally approved of their forces merely starving and bombing the women, children and elderly of Germany and all its occupied nations.

They clung to the faint hope that this would make the well fed male troops/leaders of Germany quietly give up and surrender without a fight.

About the only Allied civilians fervently demanding that the Allies open up a Second Front in occupied Europe (Right Now ! ) were post June 1941 communist sympathizers.

And morally, they were more concerned about helping the Russian communists than in stopping the long slow bleeding death of most of the urban civilian population of western Europe.

I personally believe a Second Front landing in France in the Summer of 1942 would have been at the French-German border by the end of the Fall of 1942.

But that would have required a wholesale Allied shift in military spending and in conscription practises.

Away from slowly killing Europe's civilians from the air and by sea blockade with a few large expensive machines and relatively few men in uniform, turning instead to a much larger infantry-and-artillery-oriented army, with lots of the best anti-tank guns and shells that money and science could arrange.

A landing in Europe in strength, with plenty of artillery pieces clearly the superior of the German 88mm as antitank weapons (the British 17 pounder instantly springs to mind) and occupying a relatively tight perimeter, would be the anvil to destroy all of Germany's mobile panzer divisions.

One only has to look at the role assigned to Canada's 'gunned-up' Third Division at Normandy, as Canadian military Marc Milner did in his recent book "Stopping the Panzers" to see how this works so successfully two years later.

This obscure Canadian division was given all the American's new self propelled artillery while the Americans were left with slower, less mobile towed guns. And the Third was given far more corp and army level artillery support than normal, together with plenty of big navy gun support as well.

All this long gun power was designed to form an artillery anvil against which the well known propensity of the Germans to launch instant, constant but piecemeal counterattacks by mobile forces was to be the hammer.

It worked like a charm --- the piecemeal Panzers counterattacks totally fail to break open the invasion perimeter.

And when the Allies did break out, there were no longer any big enough German armoured forces left to stop them - the way to the Rhine was wide open !

A war ending in early 1943 in Europe would have greatly reduced the total death WWII count - among Allied as much as Axis and Occupied - and perhaps saved half of Europe's Jews from the gas chambers.

An early invasion was the proper world moral response when it was clear that Germany was killing Jews and Slavs about as fast as it could.

Milner deserves much credit for showing how such an early invasion would have worked in practise : showing that destroying the enemy's capacity to fight, not merely in gaining miles of empty territory, is always and only, Job One in War.....

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

My current blog is "Upending Progress"

There are 1500 older posts on this blog ("Janus Manhattan's Children") detailing my earlier research discoveries in the dramatic story of WWII's Social Penicillin, aka "Penicillin-for-All".

I am not discounting any of them - they all reflect useful stops along a ten year journey for a researcher and author.

But my current blog on Social Penicillin is now "Upending Progress" .

That is merely because I feel that this new title better sums up my current thinking on the continuing postwar importance of Martin Henry Dawson's efforts.

Yes, he did give up his life during WWII in his efforts to see non-patented inexpensive natural Penicillin made in quantity and made available to all, regardless of the lack of charity that total war produces on all sides.

But in doing so, he perhaps inadvertently helped deal the global hubris of the Age of Progress a truly mortal blow ...

So please feel free to join the discussion about Social Penicillin over at Upending Progress .

Dawson: I've treated pneumonia in the richest AND the poorest

Nothing made Dr Henry Dawson more angry than hearing his more 'progressive' colleagues pontificate on about how the poor were only kept alive because a misguidedly kindly society persisted in giving them the best possible medical care for their bloody pneumonias.

"Out there in Nature, the poor would all be dead".

The famed medical science research centre known as the Rockefeller Institute had a very tiny hospital attached and most of its patients were friends of the Rockefeller family, the equivalent of today's New York City billionaires.

It was Henry Dawson's job for his two years at the Rockefeller Institute hospital to treat the pneumonias of the city's rich and famous with the world's best medical care.

Now he was a clinical researcher at Columbia Presbyterian teaching hospital where many of the patients were among the city's poorest and he treated their pneumonias as well.

So Dawson well knew - contrary to Social Darwinism theories from the medical progressives - that the survival of the people regarded as humanity's 'fittest' was just as dependent on good medical care as were the lives of the poor.

"Out there in Nature, the rich would all be dead as well..."

Social Penicillin : the story of 'Penicillin-For-All'

Was October 16th 1940 the date of the world's first ever injections of social penicillin ?

Well, first, let us consider this question :

Can a hospital system actually make citizens feel sick or feel well, even if they never ever visit in their entire lives ?

On the surface, that seems a very ridiculous question - what earthly good are hospitals if they don't actively try to make sick people better?

But I argue to the contrary.

That, perhaps, over all people and over all their lifetimes, a hospital's greatest value or damage is the sort of moral values it radiates forth, on behalf of the society around it.

If it has a great reputation for serving all equally, regardless of their income, ethnicity, gender or age, if it says 'everyone is valued' - it raises everyone's self esteem.

And it is medical fact that high self esteem, all by itself, is a powerful, cheap and non-toxic preventive and curative medicine.

Or perhaps the hospital is best known for first testing your financial worth before it even tests your blood pressure and is also well known for ill-treating patients, even if they have sufficient income, if they are of the wrong ethnicity, gender or age group.

That sentiment is damaging to the self esteem of the people in those unfortunate groups.

Again, it is a medical fact that the stress of lifelong low self esteem acts to lower our immune response --- indirectly making us, if not actually 'sick', a whole lot 'sicker' whenever we do fall ill.

I believe that History's first ever injections of penicillin, ushering in the Age of Antibiotics, offered no drug-induced clinical value whatsoever to the patients receiving them and that the doctor giving those injections (Henry Dawson) well knew that.

These injections then were not of penicillin-the-chemical-drug but rather shots of 'social penicillin', a phrase I have coined in homage to 'social medicine' .

The very real clinical value these injections represented was in the uplift in spirits it gave to these two young patients and to all others suffering from their disease.

For SBE (heart valve endocarditis caused by Rheumatic Fever) - was a disease their families were always being told was invariably fatal.

And totally resistant to all known treatments, in fact the very Mount Everest or Gold Standard of resistant infectious disease.

Abandon hope, all ye that enter here.

But Dr Dawson believed that three combined characteristics of penicillin ( with only the last being totally unique) would beat the unique set of difficulties presented by this dreaded disease and finally conquer infection's Mount Everest.

That is he knew that (a) penicillin killed strep bacteria readily(b) was small & highly diffusible and (c) was totally non-toxic, even if given in enormous amounts.

Only a recently acquired medical community revulsion against injected crude fungus slime into the human bloodstream had denied this lifesaver to tens of millions of dying patients over the previous twelve years.

Dawson resolved to break that medical taboo, a taboo perhaps even held by the other members in the tiny four person team working with penicillin at his hospital.

Dawson, as a busy ward clinician, was actually the junior member of the team, at least in the beginning.

Karl Meyer, gifted biochemist, together with his chemist assistant Evelyn Chaffee, would destructively analyze the fungus penicillin grown mostly by microbiologist Gladys Hobby and then chemically synthesize artificial penicillin.

Hobby would confirm that both the natural and artificial penicillin indeed had biological activity - testing it on killing microbes.

In the beginning, Dawson would mostly run interference with the hospital authorities, above all in securing rare permission to deliberately grow gallons of fungus, with all their highly mobile spores, in a normally highly antiseptic hospital setting.

Only a planned four months after the beginnings of the project would Dawson take centre stage, when he injected synthetic penicillin into actual patients assigned to 'his' ward.

Now Dawson knew that chemically either natural or synthetic penicillin were equally good at defeating SBE.

But defeating SBE required more than just an effective bug-killing medication ---- SBE uniquely needed simply enormous amounts of medicine, particularly to kill such relatively small amounts of a very fragile bacteria.

SBE bacteria live on the heart's Rheumatic Fever damaged valves, sheltered behind a tough but semi-porous barrier of biofilm (then known as vegetation).

Normally medications diffuse gently and slowly into and around the individual cells of an organ via the incredibly tiny blood capillaries.

And like a lobster trap, once in around the cells it is not that easy for the medication to leave, and the molecules of the drug have a long time to work their magic.

But like ear lobes, the valves of the heart have virtually no capillaries. Yes, they are literally bathed in blood all the time, but the blood surges by them at an incredibly fast pace, as measured in terms of the motion of molecules.

The chances of a molecule successfully diffusing (aka moving via random thermal motion) its way over to the biofilm and finding its way in by the rare small opening in the biofilm, in the millisecond it pulses over the valve surfaces, is near zero.

About as likely as U235 separating from U238 simply by their varying rate of diffusion through tiny holes.

And we all know the trillions it has cost the world to make that diffusion technology work !

But in both cases, brute force technology will indeed slowly win through.

For penicillin, that meant about a thousand steady hours of the constant pulsings of trillions of tiny penicillin molecules a second bouncing their way past the biofilm surface.

The laws of probability would eventually ensure enough made their way into the biofilm's rare tiny holes to kill the bacteria within and end the infection.

In plain english, while a single unit of penicillin might cure an infant from lifelong blindness caused by a meningitis eye infection, easily over a billion units of penicillin today might be needed to cure a particularly stubborn case of SBE.

That a seriously ill patient can receive that much of any medication without any ill effects is why doctors still call penicillin magic.

In October 1940, Dawson could only guess at the ultimate amount of the SBE medication needed for a permanent cure.

But he did know the small amount of penicillin the team had grown in the five weeks since they started the project and its relative strength, by weight, against number of bacteria per a unit of mouse body weight.

He could even compare his figures against similar calculations performed by Howard Florey's team in Oxford a few months earlier.

And as a very experienced bacteriologist and clinician, Dawson was particularly good at converting lab mouse cures rates per weight of medicine into their effective impact on adult sick humans weighing two thousand times as much.

But that was actually for infections by highly virulent bacteria, but in readily accessible organs.

SBE involved very weak bacteria but in very inaccessible locations - perhaps the two conditions could thus be crudely equated.

Still no matter how he sliced it, the penicillin at hand was far far too small an amount and far too weak in strength to really combat SBE.

But on this day, it wasn't really the SBE bugs that Dawson was seeking to combat - but rather it was the moral values of the society around him.

He didn't like the values his hospital and his society was radiating to a world at war - and he sought to change it.....

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Dr Henry Dawson goes 'off the reservation' --- and Thank God too !

About ten billion of us, in the seventy years since October 16th 1940, have had good reason to be undyingly grateful for their decision, but there can be little doubt that some of Henry Dawson's senior colleagues went to their graves regretting the day they let this particular Indian off the reservation.

For ten years they had delayed - no 'fast track' for our Henry - content to let him paddle about in the gentle hospital backwaters of studying avirulent bacteria and running a day clinic for people with arthritis.

But finally judging him as harmless as the obscure bacteria he choose to study, they made Dawson an associate attending physician - the equivalent in the biggest elite teaching hospitals of being granted tenure in a university.

They all knew there was still some risk.

No one ever died from mistakes made by physicians studying harmless bugs or dealing with the aches and pains of the elderly arthritic - but now Dawson was to be ultimately responsible for all the fast-paced decisions made on a busy acute care ward.

However the intellectually stubborn but personally very diffident Dr Dawson was not really expected to do anything out of character.

Unfortunately 'character', like so many things in life and pace Stephen Jay Gould, is something best studied as a totality.

Because his oldest acquaintances could have warned them that while indeed Henry Dawson was usually a quiet study, it was also equally true that about once every decade, he tended to quietly throw off the traces and just go for it.

'Sneaky' some said - and he was sneaky on these rare occasions, but sneaky in a cautious, lawyerly sort of way - doing nothing so obviously wrong that you could pin him down for it.

Take today as an example.

To better facilitate America's first ever peacetime draft registration, Columbia University and its allied teaching institutions, among them its flagship Presbyterian Hospital, had declared a day off for teaching and all non-essential medical procedures.

Very few of Dawson's senior bosses were even in the hospital this morning, let alone roaming the wards, performing their normal overseeing of the mid-level associate and assistant physicians, along with the bottom feeding residents and interns.

Later, he insisted to his seniors with the straightest of faces, that the only reason he initiated this undiscussed injection of an untested drug on this day was because it was a very rare day off from teaching and the arthritis clinic and so he could spend a little more time on 'his' ward.

Dawson's mask-like stolid face was always frustratingly hard to read but few of his colleagues doubted that inside, he was secretly grinning from ear to ear.

But in truth, Dawson had even told his three colleagues on this drug project why his sudden decision to break their agreed upon protocol to only inject the new drug four months hence when it undoubtedly would be synthetic, pure and abundant.

For to Henry, October 16th was a date so heavily freighted in personal emotion, he couldn't begin to break his austere Scottish Presbyterian reticence, even to open up to these three close friends and colleagues.

For on that date in 1915, the world's newspaper readers in the overseas world beyond Europe all learned about the execution by the Germans of yet another Belgian, Phillippe Baucq - one of hundreds of hundreds since the dastardly Germans invaded the neutrality of poor bleeding little Belgium.

It was the Germans' betrayal of their own signed agreement not to invade neutral Belgium that had led the British Empire into war against Germany and her allies.

That and the horrors - endless murders, rapes, burnings and sackings - that Germany had dealt tiny Belgium but hadn't dared to do on the much larger French nation it also invaded.

A bully and a coward.

Now Baucq had been executed --- and along with him a gentle middle aged British nurse.

In the context of its time, Edith Cavell's execution is best understood then as the final straw in a long litany for many in the world - particularly throughout the English speaking world.

Hard recruiting statistics confirm that tens of thousands around the world decided moments after they first opened their newspapers that October morning to join up to fight the Germans - many (like Henry) joining the medical corp in open emulation of Miss Cavell.

October 16th 1940 thus marked the twenty fifth anniversary of Dr Dawson's medical career, the day a promising law student threw it all in to become a buck private and medical orderly in a frontline military hospital.

He signed up to help the helpless - originally the poor bleeding little Belgians.

And all through his medical career, he had sought to help the small, helpless and overlooked - in between the wars this was the chronically ill poor, always a very low priority on the big elite teaching hospitals.

The largely right wing American medical community had been generally opposed to America going to war to help the bleeding poor little nations of Europe.

That had been painful enough for Henry Dawson.

But now these chicken hawk hypocrites had suddenly discovered new virtues in the cause of "War Medicine".

This was medicine designed to keeping American's frontline fighting men healthy and 1A, just in case American ever had to go to war to defend itself.

In reality, the conservative medical elites were just barefacedly using the need to divert resources towards war medicine preparation as an excuse to kill the left wing medical community's ongoing efforts to promote "Social Medicine".

These were claims that morally all medical efforts should be directed at everyone, even to the poor and sick (Life's 4Fs), even if they couldn't pay for all of it.

Think of it as what Obamacare should have been, but arriving seventy five years earlier.

October 16th back in 1915 was a date devoted to defending Life's 4Fs - in this case the poor Belgians.

But this October 16th in 1940 was to be a day devoted to registering and honoring all of Life's 1As ---- and towards throwing aside Life's 4Fs.

(Let us not forget that the Nazis only began their killing of the unfit on the very day they declared war in September 1939 - being neither the first nor the last nation to use 'the war' as a feeble excuse to kick the poor and the weak to the curb.)

That registration would even include Dawson's two injection-receiving patients, living under a sentence of almost certain death from invariably fatal SBE endocarditis caused by Rheumatic Fever.

Despite this , the government figured they might just recover - that one chance in one hundred faint hope clause - and hence become suitable cannon fodder.

Dawson knew from his WWI military hospital experience that no army would ever willingly accept a recruit who had had SBE.

These were Life's 4Fs of the 4Fs and extensive care for them, in an atmosphere of preparing for war, was discounted by most of the medical world - they'd be too weak to do useful war factory work even if they did survive.

More likely these SBEs would just consume enormous amounts of scarce medical care and then die anyway --- best then a policy of benign neglect and let Nature take her course.

This was America's variant on the Aktion T4.

Which is why that Dawson so deliberately picked these two 4Fs of the 4Fs - two poor, working class youths, one Black, one Jewish, to usher in the Age of Antibiotics - the two he choose to give history's very first penicillin injections to.

And why he so deliberately choose a day devoted to honoring the 1A to honor the 4F as well.

For twelve long years, doctors around the world had agreed not to inject live-saving but fungi-made yellow slime into human veins, at least not until it was man-made, patented, pure, synthetic.

Now Dawson had let the genie out of the bottle and there was no putting it back - to this very day, penicillin antibiotics are still Dawson's fungi-made sort, not man-made.

With two quiet small injections, mere 'noises off' in a day of high drama centred around America's first ever peacetime draft registration, Dawson fired a moral shot across the bow of a world hellbent on attending to the whims of the mighty and ignoring the cries of the weak.

His shot is still echoing ...