Monday, August 31, 2015

The course of WWII : from fungophobia to fungomania ?

Hitler's Nazis described all the Jews as being a fungoid growth, a poisoned mushroom, and said the next war would see either the death of all the Jews or the death of all human civilization.

And Zyklon B was to be their fungicide of choice.

The Nazi's use of metaphors about fungoid growths spreading their invisible threads through national bodies, of slimy smelly molds found only in dark dank decaying places, and evil and deadly 'devil's fruit' mushrooming up everywhere overnight was not at all unusual for that inter-war era.

HP Lovecraft, as well as a host of otherwise ordinary writers, easily outdid the Nazis in their vivid descriptions of the ultimate evil as being fungoid in character.

And in 1945, when atomic bomb explosion clouds first emerged looking at least as much like cauliflowers as mushrooms - guess what species got overwhelmingly picked to describe this horrible new weapon of war ?

There was no doubt that fungophobia was the in-house mental illness for of all western civilization, be it Allied, Axis or Neutral.

All the more paradoxical then --- in the full G K Chesterton sense of that term --- that WWII also ended with much of the world in the throes of fungomania.

All over a small, smelly, slimy, blue green smear, a common household pest, that gave suffering humanity its best ever lifesaver : penicillin.

Ironic, isn't it ?

The Age of Progress was inevitably also the Age of Big

Michael B Schiffer (The Portable Radio in America) is fighting an uphill battle and he knows it.

Schiffer is hoping to show the rich history of success by American engineers at making extremely small and portable radios (and hearing aids) before WWII and before the transistor and before the Japanese.

I think his book and all its documentation makes his case - in spades.

But Schiffer is frank is stating the postwar American customer generally wanted no part of anything small - not in cars and not in radios or TVs ----- or in hydro dams, bridges, aircraft, bombers or battleships.

In a an era of Progress and Manichean Modernity, the Bigger was very much the better.

Microbes were small and hopelessly primitive --- Man and his works were big and clever.

Ipso Facto.

The cult of the small and the miniature, seen most fully in our present world of electronics, only truly came to the fore when the phrase "this is the microbes' world and we humans are just visiting" became a commonplace.

It may be a coincidence but I don't think so.

Like the TV detective always says, "I don't believe in coincidences"....

Microbes can reproduce a million times as fast as humans - or a thousand times as slow

Wait, wait a minute - you ain't seen nothing yet folks - there's more, lots more !

They can live almost without water, live in salty brine or strong acid, resist radiation, survive extreme hot and cold, and the high pressures of the deep underground, live in the dark, live inside incredibly tiny holes in rock.

They can share all their billions of different genes through the process of horizontal gene transfer, HGT, a sort of loosey goosey world wide library system where everyone is both author and patron.

No globe wide catastrophe in four billion years has been able to kill them.

No wonder, if we recall they can remain in suspended animation for perhaps millions of years, without any food or water, inside extremely hot or extremely cold bare rock, just patiently waiting for Churchill's broad sunlit uplands to reemerge.

Of course, on October 15th 1940, almost no one would have believed any of this, even if it had been gathered in one popular account for all to read.

For "The Symmetry of Progress and Manichean Modernity", circa 1940, simply demanded that the brilliance of civilized Man is to be balanced and framed by the stupidity of the primitive Microbe.

Martin Henry Dawson's pioneering injections of mold-made penicillin into patients on October 16th 1940 began the slow drip drip drip that eventually ended that delusion.

Of course the many war time activities of Europe's biggest civilization also helped...

Sunday, August 30, 2015

What if penicillin was a Paradox, rather than a miracle ?

Google penicillin + miracle together and you get over a third of a million references, in English alone.

So wartime penicillin was clearly one of God's miracles, n'est c'est pas ?

But what if it was one of God's paradoxes instead ?

We all recall how much GK Chesterton loved to talk about God's paradoxes and how freely he added many of his own.

Adolf Hitler love to 'talk' too - rants usually.

All too often about how Jews were fungoid growths and fungus ferments.

Adolf and German right wing culture of his era generally all had a real mania for seeing Jews as literally being cultural fungus pathogens bent dissolving the German organic society.

During WWII, the Nazis saw the entire war as being about a fungoid growth taking the world by storm ---- with the Aryan race resisting it all the way, in a case of it being either them or us.

That proved to be the case, because in 1945, the Nazi Aryan vision was totally defeated and penicillin did indeed take the entire world by storm....

"Isn't it ironic," sings Alanis M.....

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Which would you rather have injected into your veins : fungus piss or piss from a guy with VD ?

Seemingly not an attractive choice is it but most people learned to take in all in stride as long as you weren't too blatant about it.

Most people during WWII had to make do with semi-purified fungus excrements (aka penicillin) injected into them.

An unlucky few got the penicillin extracted (sic) from the urine of men with VD at the Marine Hospital on Staten island who had just received penicillin.

From 40 to 60% of the original penicillin injected into us, leaves in our urine four hours later, completely unharmed.

The extraction was supposedly very simple, according to Dr LH Sophian, admittedly a very well regarded medical scientist.

(Basically making the urine even more acid by adding very strong HCL acid and then adding some acetone and chilling the mix in a fridge for 4 hours and then separating penicillin from acetone into water) and yielded up to 30% of the 40%-60% excreted.

That is 12% to 18% of the original penicillin.

But I doubt that the result could have been as pure as the original penicillin, itself already pretty impure.

Because if the result was at all pure, given such a supposedly easy extraction method, all the Allies' wartime drug industry would be busy extracting penicillin this way, on a commercial basis.

And very odd, when for 20 years the world's doctors and scientists were united in being repulsed by the mere thought of injecting natural fungus piss into humans, they said nothing about the idea of injecting VD filled "piss penicillin" into the same human veins...

The acorn becomes an oak : October 16th 1940

Adults of a certain age were all quite small when they first learned the acute difference between those two very similar sounding medical words that adults like to use : antiseptic and antibiotic.

For when we scratched our knee falling off our trike, Mom washed it, put an orange antiseptic that stung like heck and then gave us a kiss and a cookie.

We had long forgotten the spill before the orange washed off and the scratch healed.

But then one dread-filled summer's afternoon, the whole house was extremely tense as neighbours filed in. whispering low.

"Spinal Meningitis".

Suddenly old Dr Mattison, who never ever made housecalls, came speeding up the drive on two wheels and ran up the steps two at a time, dragging his black bag.

Without as much as even a curt hello, he drew a big needle out of his bag and plunged it deep into little sister and held his thumb full down until it emptied.

Then, after a profound release of pent up air, he casually tapped Mom on the shoulder and in an unnaturally loud voice said , "Marg, where's your manners, how about a cuppa ?"

No one but no one ever dared call Mom 'Marg' and she looked momentarily shocked,  but then she shook all over, gave off a relieved laugh and scurried off to the kitchen.

And for the first and only time in your life, you saw Dad burst into tears, balled like a baby, as Doctor Mattison patted baby sister's on the head repeatedly and said, "you'll be alright" until the ambulance arrived.

That is the difference an antibiotic makes.

But just as even a mighty oak started as a tiny acorn, so too the most famous of all antibiotics, penicillin, started out as a harmless antiseptic rather than a mighty life-saving antibiotic.

For the first twelve years of its existence as a medicine, its prolonged childhood of the soul, penicillin was only used occasionally, dabbed as an antiseptic on external infections, with usually modest results.

But seventy five years this Fall, on October 16th 1940, at NYC's famous Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Centre, Penicillin finally climbed out of short pants and into long pants as it was injected for the very first time in a dying patient with the intention of saving his life.

That patient, Charles Aronson, was a young man dying of then invariably fatal SBE, the form of heart valve disease caused by earlier bouts of Rheumatic Fever.

That pioneering dose of penicillin, ushering in our present Age of Antibiotics, must of helped because unexpectedly Charles lived and returned to a useful working life.

An in that instant, an acorn became an oak....

When both pigs and badly crippled birds fly, the only miracle we humans chose to notice involves the pigs

One definition of God's miracles is that they must defy gravity, as with pigs that fly, or involve defying some one or other of God's ten thousand or so commandments of science.

But what if God sometime choses to follow His own scientific commandments but merely gild their lilly a bit beyond normal expectations?

What we catholics like to call miracles in the third degree.

As in the crippled bird returning to nest, or when a crippled plane successfully returns to base.

Or when the penicillium arrived to usher in a kinder gentler post-modern era just at the very moment when Manichean Modernity was really going postal.

These unnoteworthy quiet 'miracles', in the human metaphorical sense, might turn out to have been God's miracles as well...

What if Penicillin really was a miracle ?

What if we never find the mis-laid personal account from Henry Dawson, finally explaining the reasons for the other Manhattan Project, because that document never actually existed.

Because perhaps Dawson could never explain, even to himself, just why he began the project.... and why he carried it through at the cost of his own life.

Because Dr Dawson perhaps sometimes felt propelled forward by forces beyond his ken, to do what he did, regardless of the cost.

I can and I will, give my best educated guesses as to why Dawson rationally and deliberately did what he did --- but I have no proof, no proof at all.

Another reason, a very celestial reason, makes just as much sense and has just as much proof.

Or maybe a bit more - because in 1943-1946, it was very common indeed, among the devout and among the atheists alike, to speak of the "miracle" of penicillin.

As a Roman Catholic doctor* once remarked to Margaret Jennings about the atheist Howard Florey and penicillin and miracles, wouldn't Florey have been surprised, if it really had been a miracle.

But won't we all have been surprised as well, the nominally devout at least as much as the militant doubter ?

What if God did choose to come back at the height of the horrible WWII, as a blob, like none of us, just a smear on a subway wall --- or on a tenement hall.

Once again, just to help Humanity find its way home....


*recalled in Trevor Williams' biography of Howard Florey

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Way out of his comfort zone

I was not truly 'surprised' that the normally highly diffident Dr Martin Henry Dawson broke his own team protocol and became the first person in history to inject an antibiotic (dirty natural penicillin) into a patient, 75 years ago this October 16th.

For the diffident Dawson had done something similar at least once before, pushing on with his equally pioneering research into the horizontal transfer of DNA between microbes, against the express orders of his boss at NYC's Rockefeller Institute.

That totally ruined his career prospects at the world's most attractive centre for doing medical research --- so this new decision to merely jump his own tiny team's protocol would have far less dire career consequences.

But what did surprise me - and did so for a very long time (years and years and years in fact) - was his twin decisions made the month earlier.

Fungus growing - and starving - on a massive scale

First was his decision to grow massive amounts of the fungus mold, penicillium n.

Massive as in obtaining 50 US gallons of penicillium liquid per run - the very size of a typical drug industry pilot plant project.

Like most ambitious bacteriologists, Dawson was extremely narrowly focused on learning all he could about just one tiny segment of the bacteria world and so he gave only a glance at all the other bacteria - and tried to ignore viruses and fungus, etc,etc completely.

In his case, he had focused on the then deadliest of all microbe families - the streps (which included the s. pneumococcus).

He had grown massive amounts of the various streps successfully and routinely but massive fungus growing for clinical not lab work would be much different.

Firstly, it would all have to be done with an eye to making penicillin economically on a long term basis, particularly when set against penicillin's cheap and abundant competitors, the sulfa drug family.

Occasionally growing small amounts of pathogens like pneumococcus for some personal science experiments is one thing - 'costs versus sale returns' don't really come into it.

It is far different when one grows de-natured pathogens to supply a huge public market demanding equal and cheap access to vaccines, as Alexander Fleming well knew, because he ran such a business in his London hospital.

His hard earned knowledge of costs versus profits may have lessened the willingness of Fleming and his huge drug company partner (Parke Davis) to grow large amounts of 'his' penicillium, considering how small the amounts of penicillin produced as a result.

Unlike his naturally made - and very profitable - vaccines, Fleming always insisted his penicillin would only come into clinical use when it was made artificially by chemists.

Secondly, Dawson would be growing massive amounts of penicillium fungus to an effort to scale up tiny amounts of an infrequently produced and highly fragile distinctly second rate secondary metabolite.

Why is that so noteworthy ?

Because all bacteriologists, like all farmers, work to make as much biomass as possible, as cheaply, quickly and easily as possible.

As many big viable bacteria/apples/pigs as quickly, cheaply and routinely as possible.

It was a piece of cake to get the penicillium n. to bulk up quickly and cheaply but when they did so, they produced no penicillin at all !

It seemed to everyone that penicillin was sort of like green poop in humans - a rare waste product produced when a body ate a food it didn't like and got very sick as a result .

Learning to grow penicillium n. so as to make lots of penicillin routinely and economically went on after the war as well as during it and it involved at least as much scientific manpower hours as did the entire nuclear Manhattan Project.

And - a distinct rarity - most scientists thought this might be the case, right from the start, and this is why Fleming and Howard Florey and almost all the others differed from Dawson and focused totally on man-made synthetic penicillin making efforts.

I can't really explain Dawson's decision to get involved in mass fungus making except to say that his career had been devoted to demonstrating how smart the supposedly stupid microbe really was.

He certainly thought the penicillium might be damed good at making penicillin, merely by dint of hundreds of millions of years of trying.

Perhaps then it was the overweening hubris of the 'synthetic penicillin' crowd that might have perversely pushed him much further into mass making of fungus than his own personal inclinations would have done.

SBE rather than septic arthritis

Dawson ran a day clinic for chronic arthritic patients, people who normally who returned to their home and daily work afterwards.

About as low on the totem pole in status at a world famous research-oriented teaching hospital as one can go.

SBE, sub-acute bacterial endocarditis, is today seen as a dire medical emergency disease, likely to be fatal even with the best and extremely extensive treatment, and something managed by the top heart specialists and heart surgeons.

A disease near the top of the status world of big hospitals.

Not to be handled by the guy in the basement running a day clinic for little old ladies with badly bent fingers.

If it was an impossibly long stretch for Dawson to focus on SBE we must ask why he did not focus on septic arthritis instead.

This (surgically oriented) disease of dangerously infected joints was still a bit of a stretch for a day clinic director but it was a form of arthritis, his speciality after all, and like SBE it also a disease likely to prove fatal and one that would only be cured by penicillin.

Now, Dawson certainly did deal with septic arthritis cases in his wartime penicillin work but he didn't really focus on them.

As a result of his wondering off his own arthritis estate onto the faraway property of the SBE experts, Dawson greatly aroused a lot of anger from his colleagues.

He may have intended just that.

I have found no indication that the efforts by medical conservatives to use "war preparation" as an excuse to roll back Social Medicine ever evoked septic arthritis as a disease and patient type to be abandoned and left to die.

But that definitely turned out to be the case with SBE - I suspect Dawson saw this plan coming early on and for this reason, and this reason alone, he focused on the SBE patient rather than the septic arthritic patients....

"Can you tell a rich guy's poo from a poor guy's poo -- or a civilized poop from a primitive's poop ?

Yeah, me neither.

And telling the difference between human poo and animal poo doesn't get any much easier.

We are all animals, all excrete, all age, all die, all decompose.

Yeah, we humans do think and dream (more accurately, we humans think and dream more than do other animals) but it doesn't seem to have increased our evolutionary luck.

No dumb critter ever came up with a way to mutually assure their species would all instantly die in a nuclear war.

Cleanliness and purity, elegance, beauty, symmetry, equilibrium are all just concepts the old religions and the new religion (Science) use to convince us that the religiously pure and the civilized don't really poop and don't stink, don't age, die and decompose.

The sight and smell of poop and fungoid growths always make that sort highly uneasy or even irrationally angry, because those sights and smells remind them that our mental defences are just that : mental --- totally unable to arrest the inevitable physical processes of our bodies.

And here is where our ability to think hurts and doesn't help : the animals simply poop and move on.

We humans agonize about it, deny it and even organize mass killings of "stinky" Jews, Gypsies, Blacks and Spics around it....

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"a Nazi's work is never done"

I know, I know, the phrase is usually "a woman's work is never done".

It refers to the repetitious nature of traditional women's work done in the home .

Woman know well its endless cycle of cleaning house, shopping, cooking, cleaning up dishes, washing clothes, washing children and ironing hubbie's clothes ---- on and on.

And then start it all over again the next day ---- and for all the days, weeks, months, years and decades after that.

Futile --- like trying to sweep back the ocean.

But the Nazi men self-selected for themselves the sort of work normally reserved for women in a very real sense when they took on the task of keeping both 'the home' of Germans and the German Volk 'family' 100% pure and 100% clean --- free from any sort of human 'germs'.

And it would have been a task that would never ever have stopped, even if Nazis had won the war and they had killed off all the world's Jews.

A new bogeyman would have been invented, to blame, to fear and to seek out and kill.

Meanwhile even if the Aktion T4 had killed all the defectives and even if the concentration camp system had killed off the 'politicals' and the 'asocials', each new generation would just breed some more, to be once again hunted down and killed.

And smelling out all the mixed babies created by illicit sex in dark corners, between Germans and forbidden races and ethnicities - between dark haired pure Germans and impure blonde Poles - oh don't get me started on that one says Himmler.

As G&S once sang, a compulsive obsessive mass murderer's lot is not a happy one.....

clean and pure are 100% or they are dirty and impure

The 'One Drop Rule' --- the American laws that if you had ever had any non-white fore bearers in your distant past, one drop of black* blood in you, then you were not 100% pure white and hence had to be completely black instead, are now seen by most as a great moral evil.

They were also very good examples of the dangers of relying upon logical thinking that avoids checking in on the real world.

Those laws were all based upon following up the consequences leading from their primary assumption, the seemingly unambiguous definition of the word "pure".

(*In Whites Only Australia and in Latin America, interestingly, the tendency was if the person had one drop of white blood then they were white --- equally real world absurd but in the other direction.)

The problem was that definitions like clean and pure are those Platonic words of absolute absolute - things can only be 100% pure or 100% clean or they are no longer pure or clean, by definition*.

(*Pure : not mixed with any other substance.)

And because avoiding having a few stray atoms of other matter cling to even the purest of scientific samples is impossible, nothing in the real world is really pure or really clean.

At best, it can only be relatively clean and relatively pure --- or equally convincingly, it can only be described as relatively dirty and relatively impure.

All matter, including us humans, is therefore really arranged on a long continuum made up of varying shades of grey --- not 100% clean white and 100% dirty black.

Unmodified words like clean and pure therefore are best understood as the external manifestations of an internal mental affliction.

They are also examples of a long history of thinkers seeking to impose unreal Platonic and universal definitions upon our shared real world, all in order to salve an internal and personal mental condition suffered by only themselves and their fellow afflicted.

Prozac relief by dictionary, as it were.

Thinkers who tend to see the world in broadly Platonic ways all suffer from a common mental condition shared by many others, that of having a marked intolerance for ambiguity.

We recognize this affliction also among people who are politically conservative, or rigid in personality, or among a common subset of scientists, philosophers and mathematical-oriented types.

And to these poor people, the fact that words like clean and pure have no real world equivalent is beyond cognitive acceptance.

And to some of these afflicted folk in our recent past, the mere fact that anyone competent in both logic and with a knowledge of history could demonstrate that if we humans all came 'out of Africa', then we must all have at least 'one drop of Negro blood' in our distant past, was totally without consequence.

They badly need mental relief and this law used to provide it --- for everyone was now back to being either fully black or fully white, neatly reflecting the way these afflicted folk viewed the entire world.

These 'one drop' laws has been abandoned (in theory) but interestingly the FBI (as you might have guessed !) still does not recognize mixed race as a self definition - one is either white, black or yellow etc.

The FBI is now in the 21st century and recognizes and accepts many things that it didn't in the past --- but along with its fellow afflicted sufferers in conservative parties and in branches of academia, accepting ambiguity is not one of them....

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Penicillium mold upends our notions of Science and Progress says 1952 medical editorial

Is there a stranger chapter than this in the
whole history of scientific progress?
Ten years ago, "mold" was a faintly repulsive fungoid growth which sometimes caused the spoilage of food products.
The very word "moldy” implies something “musty,
fusty, and stale.”
Today, the blue mold is recognized
as a synthetic chemist of the first order— a
friend and benefactor of the human race.
    — Editorial , American Journal of Public Health, March, 1952.

I just discovered this editorial in an old copy of a county medical society journal but it said then what I have always thought about the wartime penicillin drama....

Penicillin "J" : instead of the body and blood of a rural carpenter's helper

What if "Jew-Boy Jesus" came back during WWII & The Holocaust and no one even noticed ?

If instead of being a humble (but still very human) rural carpenter's helper offering the world's suffering His body and blood, this time He came back as a mere household pest.

Came back as that ever annoying blue green mold that ruins so much of our food and clothing.

Yes, as a 'fungoid growth', to paraphrase someone infamous.

And instead offering up His body and blood, this time the world's suffering and hurting got His poo and pee.

Because that is what the scientific consensus in that interwar period thought was the purpose of fungus secondary metabolites, like the life-saving penicillin - mere excretions of post-metabolic waste.

(Poo and pee, in words that even ankle-biters like Sam down at the daycare would understand.)

"J" as in Jewish or Jesus ?

The Double Miracle of penicillin "J".

In the face of Hitler's horror, a truly avenging Jewish Penicillin "J".

Saving lives and busting human hubris wherever it went.

Now of course many religious people think God is far too rational and level headed to do anything as hair-brained as that.

Myself, God is totally mysterious and free-spirited and loving and He just might.

For morally, for the most innocent of humanity-- its children, WWII was a truly desperate time, with the adult human ego and hubris on all sides of the conflict raging unchecked.

And desperate times do call for desperate (or at least inspired) measures....

Penicillin "J" , the OTHER Manhattan Project

What if Jesus came back during WWII, and no one even noticed ?

What if God was a blob like none of us, just a smear upon a subway wall...or tenement hall ?

WWII as "dirty" penicillin vs ethnic "cleansing" and racial "purity"

What if Jesus came back - during WWII - and no one even noticed ?

But no, not this time as a simple carpenter's helper, slouching into town as 'a dolt on a colt'.

Because humble as that act was, it didn't really curb human hubris for very long.

No, this time, to really rub some salt of humility into the open wound of overweening hubris, He comes back as a blob.

Just a smear on a subway wall, or tenement hall, HP Lovecraft's moldy smelly slimy smear relentlessly spreading all over your favourite pair of boots, in some dark dank closet.

Penicillin "J", only now, coming out of the closet, to offer hope in a time of horror.

Tiny hyssop, in a time of giant Cedars ...

WWII Europe : Ethnic Cleansing was next to Godliness, for small and big nations alike

Not all the world violently reduced their ethnic minorities at the point of a gun during and at the end of WWII : only its most civilized portion : Europe !

The whole ideology of Progress, with its claims that the most civilized nations at the top were also the most moral, took another fatal body blow as a result.

Even before WWII formally began, small nations like Poland licked their lips and seized tiny portions of the equally small Czechoslovakia that they claimed - horrors - had a few of their "fellow" ethnics who they discovered had been mistreated by the Slovaks.

(One wonders how many hundreds of nations could invade Canada using the same feeble excuse, seeking to recover their "fellow" ethnics who emigrated to Canada beginning almost 500 years earlier.)

When Poland itself was soon invaded by Germany in turn, using the excuse that it was merely rescuing mistreated ethnic Germans in Poland, the general moral case for humanity helping Poland was neatly undercut.

Poland ended the war kicking out millions of its German residents from the lands to the west of the old Poland while receiving millions of Poles forcibly kicked out of the lands to the east of the old Poland.

Perhaps as many as a million Germans died in this process, mostly the weaker and relatively innocent children and elderly.

Then the Ukraine murderously killed and chased their Poles out of their new nation - a process the new Polish nation did to their Ukrainians in reverse.

This sort of squalid behavior happened all over middle and eastern Europe.

Western Europe and their colonial allies, together with all the neutral nations, refused to stop all this ethnic cleansing and ethnic cleansed themselves in a sense by not taking in many refugees or DPs themselves.

And by knowingly returning the fleeing citizens of the Iron Curtains countries to the non-tender care of their erstwhile Ally, the USSR.

Almost nobody in 1945 protested all this murderous cleansing, because pure nations of one ethnicity only was a widely accepted goal of all civilized peoples - a Godly good.

Seventy five years later, with almost the adults of the civilized world of 1945 dead and buried , it will soon be possible for their children and grandchildren in the former civilized world to stop pretending that only the Nazi Germans practised ethnic cleansing during the time around WWII....

Monday, August 24, 2015

In a world that is finite, is bigger better or just fewer and hence more fragile to unexpected change ?

Are we safer with a small gene pool of only the most useful genes or with a big gene pool filled with genes we haven't yet seen any value in ?

The world we live in is indeed finite, and this allows us to imagine two extreme earthly biospheres, set along a continuum of numbers of beings from high to low.

One is a biosphere sustaining a trillion trillion trillion tiny microbes and one is a biosphere sustaining a hundred thousand big blue whales.

A tendency towards bigger entities, in a finite world, must always tend to fewer entities compared to a tendency, in a finite world, to see more of the smaller entity.

A single species populating the earth with hundred thousand blue whales represents a very small set of underused genes for a biosphere to meet the crisis of a pronounced trend to hotter climate, leading to the drying up the oceans.

But a trillion trillion trillion microbes probably represents a million distinct species and an enormous amount of underused genes to allow this biosphere to successfully adopt to a much hotter climate.

The 1940s complaint against preserving and even expanding the existing gene pool came down to the philosophic and scientific virtues of simplicity (aka overcoming personal ambiguity anxiety with a PhD) --- it was messy and untidy to have all these junk genes lying about the garage - simply 'pick the best and bin the rest'.

This implied that the future, like the present and the past, was simple, stable, predictable, controllable ---- a notion that you either accepted or rejected.

Most scientists in 1940, perhaps even today, accepted the future was simple and predictable.

Dr Martin Henry Dawson did not ---- his was a messy garage, just filled with junk genes that you never knew might come in handy some day....

October 1940 : purifying or preserving the Gene Pool of 'useless' penicillium & SBE genes

Is the world safer by minimizing or maximizing the Gene Pool ? 

In the Fall of 1940, American Science renewed its century long efforts at triaging and then discarding much of the world's gene pool; this time under the new guise of a sudden need for "American Military Medicine Preparedness".

It was a movement, ironically enough, that was mostly led by conservative Isolationists among the scientists, men who had long opposed military intervention to help the little peoples of Europe from the evil axis of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.

These conservative Isolationists had long opposed intervening to help the little peoples of America as well (opposing Social Medicine for example) so they could not be accused of inconsistency, merely of heartlessness.

That Fall, they gave off plenty of indications that the stripping down for military preparedness meant the final death of Social Medicine.

No good news for the young patients suffering from then invariably fatal SBE.

The conservative isolationists considered that even if the SBEs survived one bout, eventually another would certainly kill them.

Meanwhile the SBEs just consumed lots of scarce medical resources without any prospects they would recover enough to become useful servicemen or do productive work in war industries.

With many conservative doctors believing that SBE, along with most diseases afflicting the poor and minorities, were highly genetically based, it could even be asked why even bother keeping them alive long enough for them to breed and pass on their defective genes to another generation of the collective human gene pool ?

Weren't the SBEs' genes something rather to purify and discard out of the human gene pool ,by a strict policy of deliberate government neglect, and wasn't the excuse of a planning for a Total War the best time to start doing so ?

Even lower on the conservatives' scale of genes worth retaining than those of the SBEs were the genes of that common household pest, the blue green penicillium mold.

If obtaining adequate amounts of lifesaving penicillin meant keeping the genes alive of the slimey mold that originally made penicillin, many were against it.

Better that human chemists, the smartest in the universe, quickly bested the slimey little chemists and made better penicillin cheaper and faster and far more predictably.

Synthetic man-made penicillin in this war or no penicillin, said Howard Florey, while Alexander Fleming and the Allied medical establishment cheered assent.

Dr Martin Henry Dawson strongly disagreed.

He felt the world would be better off, enriched even, if SBE patients like Bobby Darin was allowed to live, perhaps even to sing, dance and act, rather than to squalidly die from deliberate government neglect.

And his entire scientific career had been devoted to proving up his belief that the small and the weak and the useless 'gene carriers' all had something to bring to the commensal table of global Life.

Dawson had demonstrated more than enough examples showing that the microbe chemists were far far smarter than anyone had ever imagined.

He was not at all sure that the penicillium chemists hadn't polished the production of penicillin to a fine velvet sheen over hundreds of millions of years of trying -- and that the smartest chemists in the universe mightn't be able to beat them in a few frantic months of trying.

No matter how much money and labs and bombast was thrown at the problem.

So on October 16th 1940, a day the nation specifically set aside to triage all the 1A young men in America, Dr Dawson injected natural, freshly squeezed, orange colored penicillium juice into two 4Fs of the 4Fs patients, SBE sufferers Negro Aaron Leroy Alston and Jew Charles Aronson.

A product from rejected microbe genes injected to save some rejected human genes, as Dawson sought (against the grain of 1940s thinking on the topic) to preserve and protest the existing gene pool, not purify it and shrink it.

So began our present Age of Antibiotics - in a wartime scientific dispute over whether it was better to reduce or preserve the world's gene pool.

Dawson and Florey certainly weren't the only ones to dispute this issue : on the wider stage, Hitler certainly had his own take, as did Europe's Jews.

But, as is well known, the Dawson-Florey dispute was the only one that ended happily for humanity ....

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Valuing biodiversity implies we think the Reality they must survive is also diversely dangerous ....

I have based my claim that the world of Science was totally upended during WWII by pointing out that Science circa 1940 valued purity above all else while today's science values diversity above all else and that these two values oppose each other in every possible way.

I am not limiting myself to shallow definitions either : not just to yesterday's eugenic notions of racial purity versus today's natural biodiversity and civil rights supported human social diversity.

I mean that the scientific theories that won near universal support before 1940, regardless of the often tiny amount of physical evidence supporting them, all tended to exalt the pure --- ie the simple, the linear, the stable, the symmetrical and systems in equilibrium in their visions of Reality.

So if Reality was really as simple, stable, consistent, understandable and predictable as these theories claimed, then we could indeed see into the Future and pick the one simple 'right' answer to solve all possible of today's and tomorrow's problems.

We could thus safely and sharply purify and reduce the world's gene pool - by picking the single best corn species and discarding all the second best, for example - confident that nothing could ever go wrong.

Simply pure and definite certitudes for a purely simple certain world.

But then, just for an example, in 1970 America's most important industrial material (their corn crop) was almost all wiped out by a fungus that was finely tuned into killing only this high yielding monoculture crop.

Panic !

Suddenly even the Koch Brothers of this world could see the virtues in gathering and protecting all the bio-diversity found in the many ancient and hitherto 'useless' variants of corn, just to cover all bets in what was suddenly looking to be a world of highly diverse dangers....

Upending Science after '45 : Purity into Diversity

They touted protecting the gene pool before WWII, yes they did, but they really meant just protecting and purifying the white European subset of the human subset of the overall global gene pool.

Purifying as in reducing, reducing human gene diversity down to the few genes they thought had rightly made white protestant middle class European males the top of the ladder of Life.

Putting all your eggs in one very small basket, because you know - you just know - that these few are all the right eggs needed to face and surmount all future crisis.

It displayed a confidence, an arrogance, a hubris that post 1945 humanity didn't have as much of.

Before WWII, Dr Martin Henry Dawson had researched and celebrated the neglected diversity that was the non-pathogenic bacteria world and the world of the shut-out-of-sight chronically ill physically handicapped.

So for him, in wartime, to suggest that the chemists that are the lowly penicillium slime could probably make penicillin better than all the smartest human chemists in the universe was probably no great leap.

Just as it was for him to say that the 4Fs of the 4Fs, the lowest of the low, young patients dying from invariably fatal SBE, were worthy of penicillin - even in wartime and should be be sentenced to dead from wilful neglect by Allied medical death panels.

In fact, they should be saved, particularly in wartime, if our claims of being morally different from the Nazis were to have any weight.

Small and weak he said, was bountiful and beautiful and worthy of respect and attention.

He saw protecting the gene pool meant leaving it as big as possible - because we all need each other's talents in a global Ministry of all the Talents, if we are to continue to survive all the human and natural menaces on this Earth...

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Late night war movies and little children : a cautionary tale

My parents always liked to put us small ones to bed at an ungodly early hour, right up into High School age.

One exception, for no reason I could ever discern, was when I was a small child (between the age of six to almost ten) when our family was living in 1950s Victoria and Vancouver and owning a reliable TV.

I was the eldest child, but obviously still not very old, when my parents made me sit up late with them and watch late night TV, ie the TV movies presented between 9pm and midnight.

(Made me , I repeat, because as a life long scaredy cat, I was not begging to watch scary war movies, believe you me.)

My takeaway lesson, as a wee child, was that WWII consisted mostly of armed uniformed men strafing civilian refugees on the road, bombing civilian homes, torturing civilians in POW concentration camps, torpedoing without warning civilian liners or blockading and starving civilian cities.

That is when they weren't putting hapless civilian hostages up against walls to shoot as reprisals for civilian resistance action.

I wasn't just a tiny child, I was tiny even for a six year old child and as a constant newcomer to my schools was often the bullies' target.

I saw WWII as a lot like elementary school, but with guns; big guys beating up little people.

Natural penicillin, made by the sort of tiny slimey no counts you might see on dank basement walls, was the only hero this tiny child could see in these war movies, saving kids like me here there and anywhere from deadly infections, be they from bombing injuries or simply brought on by hunger and fatigue.

If my book on WWII (Upending) sounds more than a little familiar to this tale from almost sixty years ago, blame it on my parents....

The OTHER Manhattan Project : Dawson's "Small is Bountiful"

In 1940, the scientific maxim on everyone's lips was hardly "small is bountiful" and "we must protect biodiversity and the gene pool at all costs".

Instead it was "bigger is better" --- who can forget the Thirties absolute mania for breaking records of all sorts and for seeking ever bigger dams, bridges, factories, tanks, battleships, bombers, science projects, what have you.

The Universe, as was known in 1940, was certainly doing its part --- it had started off very small and very hot and very active and would end up someday very big, very cold and very inactive.

A clearly negative example for the case that "bigger is better", for here bigger only meant deader.

But adherents to this dogma (ie 80 % of the world elite opinion) weren't about to accept any such evidence to the contrary.

"Bigger being better", circa 1940, meant that the small and the simple were seen as the losers in the race of progress - mere 'wastes of space' and 'useless mouths' and 'lives unworthy of life'.

Dr Martin Henry Dawson had disagreed with this scientific consensus for a long, long time and in October 1940, he finally saw a chance to throw down his gauntlet and challenge it full bore.

He suspected the small penicillium fungus could do a better job making lifesaving penicillin, through sheer dint of effort over hundreds of millions of years, than could a dozen of the world's biggest laboratories, filled with The Smartest Chemists in the Universe, with only a few months to work their magic.

And today most of us accept that this Earth is indeed really the microbes' world and we humans are "just visiting", and briefly at that.

The Small microbes definitely were Bountiful and decidedly clever.

Dawson further suspected that the world's 4Fs and the population generally at the bottom half of society had a lot to offer the world, even to a world at war and currently transfixed on only what the top drawer people and the 1As could do.

In 1940, 'cripples' like Stephen Hawking would have been gassed in a Mayfair moment, by the likes of George Bernard Shaw and Adolf Hitler.

But Dawson cherished all life, from the physically fit and mentally dim to the physically twisted and intellectually brilliant --- and all points in between.

The Small were Bountiful and Beautiful.

Who, after all, today votes to all-out drain the gene pool, kill most species to reduce biodiversity and forbids civil rights to non majority group minorities ?

(Besides Harper Conservatives and Trump Republicans, I mean.)

These ideas are commonplaces of ordinary conversation today, the bromides of electioneering politicians and the cliches of editorial writers well past their due date.

But they weren't in 1940 --- someone had to get the ball rolling and it was Henry Dawson who first started the job...

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Zyklon B and Penicillium C : as Auschwitz tries to eradicate one 'Fungoid Growth', Brooklyn's Pfizer bring another to worldwide prominence

Why 'Jewish Penicillin' in the world's largest Jewish city actually is penicillin !

Hitler fiercely believed the world's Jews were all evil agents bent on ceaseless cosmic dissolution, with their chief targets the world's most organic civilizations - above all the Aryan Race.

So when he hurtled the abusive term 'fungoid growths' at the Jews in one of the most famous passages from his autobiography, Mein Kampf, it had an almost literal rather than figurative meaning.

That is because it is indeed the fungus molds who are Nature's prime agents at dissolving organic material.

(Dissolving their tough chemical bonds and thus releasing their building blocks to rejoin the earth's greatest resource cycles involving elements like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur etc.)

The Nazis and their intellectual fellow travellers around the world were, above all, fixated on maintaining rigid social, ethnic, gender boundaries at a time of great social fluidity.

So it is not at all surprising that proto-Nazi HP Lovecraft saw the world's greatest evils as looking like shapeless, boundary-less, oozing fungal slime.

He (and the Nazis) all failed to see that their hoped-for world of total stability and non-decay/non-renewal would be lifeless in its lack of variety and so fragile that it would be likely to fail to surmount any sudden small change from outside.

So, in Nazi controlled Europe, synthetic Zyklon B gas was used to take the lives of over a million of the Jewish 'fungoid growths'.

But in the largest Jewish city of New York, in those same years, other nature-made fungoid growths were blessing the world with the life-giving gift of penicillin.

Now that's something that is almost poetic in this symmetry .....

Martin Henry Dawson : the "Roogy Batoon" of Antibiotics AND HGT Antibiotics Resistance

As a kid in the late 1950s I just loved the book entitled The Incompleat Pogo.

Particularly the chapter that involving a pelican called Roogy Batoon successfully peddling his cure for snake bites in a snake-free swamp ("Fortunately for you, I also brought some snakes").

That riposte, along with Harold Wilson's "a week's a long time --- in politics " appealed to the cynical side of my personality.

I didn't really expect to ever come across someone real with that much chutzpah but unexpectedly, I did.

And a nicer human being you could never meet.

Dr Martin Henry Dawson did not discover HGT, the genetic mechanism that spreads microbial resistance to antibiotics around the world like wildfire, nor did he discover Natural Penicillin, the first and the best ever antibiotic.

But unlike their discoverers, he didn't try to bury them - instead he devoted his whole life to promoting this forgotten pair to an extremely indifferent scientific community.

Dawson died tragically young, worn out by his efforts, but he lived just long to see patients' families (and eventually even the scientists !) take a shine to naturally-made penicillin.

Fifty years after his death, the world also began hearing about HGT.

HGT means horizontal gene transfer - the unique ability of the "stupidest" and "weakest"  lifeforms to mix and match useful genes from across the world's vast microbial gene pool, rather than being limited to what gene variants mom or dad might vertically throw down, as in the case of us humans.

This process does many many marvellous things for microbes.

But we humans only began to care about it when we realized that it causes all our expensive new antibiotics to become decidedly less useful, all around the world, in only a few years.

So aging and new Pogo fans everywhere :  think of (a) Natural Penicillin = snake bite cure and (b) HGT microbial resistance = snake bite ---- and try not to laugh at human hubris.

Because there is irony-on-steroids buried in this tale, somewhere....

Hitler's "Symmetry of Progress" : good Aryans at the top triumph only if evil Jews baccilli at bottom are defeated

One wonders if Hitler's Nazis had succeeded and had eliminated every last Jewish-communist-international banker on Earth, just who then would they blame for their problems ?

The Nazis would have kept on killing the 'unfit' until the end of time, but they never credited any of the 'unfit' with being the invisible and super-smart enemy that so hobbled the Aryan Race.

The defectives were just inept and so life unworthy of life --- the Jews were only life unworthy of life because they were so adept at exercising pure evil.

Like Man-oriented Progress in general, with its real life microbes at the bottom of life, Hitler's Hyped-up idea of Progress desperately needed something totally bad and useless at the bottom to contrast with (and hence confirm) the relative good and useless humans at the top.

This ultra high valuation of math-based concepts of symmetry over the joyous yet messy diversity of actual reality is yet another evil sin Hitler got from the theoretical physicists ---- the reason why he and Einstein had much more in common than either was willing to admit...

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Hitler's Dilemma : If we liquidate all the "Primitive" how can we tell that we are the "Advanced" ?

Until the advent of fossil fuel based energy slaves, the rich and powerful needed the poor and powerless to do all the hard unpleasant jobs.

In the1860s, (interestingly parallel with the growing popular elite acclaim for Darwin's and Spencer's theories of the survival of the fittest), elites began seeing that fossil-fuel 'energy slaves' were far cheaper, far more tractable and far more moral than employing human slaves.

Perhaps, said these early utilitarian proponents of the much later Aktion T4, Eastern Hunger Plan and the Holocaust, the poor need no longer be "aways with us".

But if the Nazis and their earlier ilk all around the world had succeeded in liquidating all the weak and the poor, the defective and the asocial, how then would one be able to tell - for certain - that the healthy and the wealthy were truly so ?

For, to give but one example, the idea of 'the wealthy' can be easily shown to be a relative term, not an absolute term.

A working class European family of this the early 21st century is far far wealthier, in terms of access to (energy) slaves, money and sheer comfort, than any of the top nobility families of the 13th century.

They only seem poor, only feel poor, when they compare themselves to the families of today's top 1%.

Similarly, the most advanced human civilizations circa 1940 had so many visible shortfalls from what their members hoped and thought they were capable of, that people at this imagined top could only console themselves by saying "at least we are more civilized than X, Y, or Z" down at the bottom tiers of Life.

X, Y and Z being perhaps Australian aboriginals, slime molds and the anthrax bacteria.

Civilized and advanced are relational concepts and only make sense when matched in opposing symmetry with the uncivilized and primitive.

Destroy the bottom and where then is the top ?

But as it happens, the Nazis and other Social Darwinists never got that far.

Instead Progress's symmetry of an advanced top and a backward bottom simply collapsed when assailed from top and bottom.

In WWII, the top proved to have so many moral failings (mass bombing and gassing of the innocent) at a time when the bottom proved to have so many technical advantages (natural penicillin from the penicillium slime) that the delicate balance of the symmetry of opposites couldn't hold anymore.

So, today, it is a commonplace to say that this planet was made and sustained for the tens of thousands of ancient species of microbe and the relatively recent and single human species is but a short term parasite "just visiting" planet Earth ---- a commonplace unlike to be uttered or believed in 1940 .....

Hard Science consists of men interrogating soft Mother Nature over and over : " Have you stopped beating your humanity ? Quick, answer yes or no !"

And they refuse to let Mother Nature answer that 'she has not yet started beating humanity' - for that is indeterminacy.

And indeterminacy is never ever a hard (elegant, beautiful, symmetrical) scientific option...

Monday, August 17, 2015

Hitler & Einstein Agreeing

Einstein, like most theoretical physicists throughout history, wanted everything in the Universe to 'fit in', their utopia being a simple unalterable Theory of Everything.

Much more modest, but inspired by the physicists, Hitler saw Germany - and perhaps eventually the world - as a sort of utopian High School where everybody 'fit in'.

Their shared world had no place for the uncool and awkward datum or being .....

Progress's ultimate goal was a sort of utopian High School

Small, of course : quite select.

Where all the kids would be 'popular', 'cool', would 'fit in' and all would be part of the 'in crowd' ....

Sunday, August 16, 2015

WWII : an old way of thinking busy dying, a new way of thinking busy being born

My WWII book isn't really about the big highly visible military conflict, a conflict that ended in a century old way of thinking tearing itself apart.

A zillion books have already been written (almost all by men) on that military conflict, with some giving a nod to an old way of life dying but almost none seeing a new way being born during the war.

My interest instead is in a tiny, almost invisible, new way of thinking that was busy being born upon the moral ruins of the old.

I fully expect my book to be far more popular among women than among men.

That's the male gender's loss.

Progress, Modernity, The Enlightenment - what ever ! - was hit during WWII by a moral double whammy - boxed in from both sides.

Civilization never acted so despicable, never was more fully devoted to life-taking among the innocent, as it did during WWII.

A huge world war, yet a war where most people who died, died non-combat deaths - either as civilians or as military personnel dying like civilians.

The millions of Soviet prisoners murdered by bullet or starvation in Nazi POW camps, alone, all by themselves outnumber the combat deaths of any combatant nation but the Russians themselves.

And the primitive and simple, supposedly only fit to kill and decay life, to do evil, never acted more admirably than when the penicillium naturally produced all the war's lifesaving penicillin (and is still naturally producing the base of almost all our antibiotics).

Its a dramatic story, a heart warming story, a three hankie story - a Good News Story.

From the truly awful Bad News War....

Koch Bros : Robert and Adolf

Dr Robert Koch became the famous Robert Koch of Medicine - the man who almost singlehandedly brought the field of bacteriology into existence by pledging to begin to rid the human body of fearsome diseases caused by microbial pathogens.

Adolf Hitler loved to claim he was the Robert Koch of Politics, determined, likewise, to rid the human societal body from the threat of fatal disease caused by the Jewish bacillus.

But these Koch Bros, from Berlin, are long since dead.

And we're not in Kansas anymore ....

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Modern Progress's symmetry of opposing binaries

The best way, it must have seemed at the time, to affirm that human civilization, circa 1940, was indeed 'civilized' as it claimed was to contrast it in every possible way with its polar opposite.

By setting up Progress itself as a sort of Janus-faced ladder.

For to the Modern mind, the very concept of a continuum was a dusty foreign country and the Moderns did so love their clearcut and opposing binaries & dualities.

So, at the top of the Ladder of Progress, human civilization was the newest, the biggest, the most complex, the swiftest, form of life.

And the kindest and the most civilized in behavior of all lifeforms.

Conversely, at the bottom, the germs were the oldest forms of life, the most simple, the smallest, the least mobile.

And they were all intent on killing all humans, all the time.

Pure evil.

The reason why the supposed archenemy of the Aryans, the Jews, were always described as 'bacillus'.

But not everyone back then agreed with this supposed dichotomy.

In particular, Dr Martin Henry Dawson set out to break this imaginary symmetry by attempting, late in that same year, to show that the germs and microbes were nowhere as simple or as evil as claimed.

And this being WWII, he hardly had to bolster his case by pointing to the current visible shortfalls of kindly complex Civilization....

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Philip Bardwell Hadley urges Henry Dawson to be more 'forward'

In 1933, just before he himself abruptly left a wonderful research job at the University of Michigan for a much more humdrum job as a bacteriologist at Pittsburgh's Western Pennsylvania Hospital, Professor Philip Hadley wrote a long letter to Dr Martin Henry Dawson.

We know about this letter (a very rare letter that we know about that involves Dr Dawson in any form) because it was published more or less in full by Dr Benjamin White in his authoritative 1937 book on The Pneumococcus.

(The book, ironically, despite being nominally written by White, is probably the fullest account of Dawson's thinking about his life long passion, bacterial variation !)

In it Hadley urged Dawson to be more 'forward', publicly, about Dawson's revolutionary new classification scheme for describing patterns of bacterial variation across many species of bacteria.

Hitherto, each species and their variants had been studied and labelled in isolation from one another.

But regardless of their many different labels, Dawson had shown that visually and by other key tests, dozens of these different terms could be usefully grouped into one of three general categories.

But pushing his new labelling scheme meant the re-labelling (and hence implicitly questioning) some of the original labels created by his past boss and his current boss.

Dawson happily made many intellectual waves in his short life - he wasn't afraid to follow his own results to their logical conclusion regardless of how new, unpopular and revolutionary it might seem.

But he had a lifelong aversion to making waves in his personal relationships.

That's a good tack to take if one realizes that one is best suited to remaining a sturdy, reliable but intellectually second rate member of a large department at a world class scientific institute.

Don't make waves, get tenure and do the best you are capable of and stay out of the way of the department's giants of science with egos even bigger than their ideas.

But the problem was, albeit in hindsight of seventy five years on, that intellectually, Dawson was clearly the smartest person to ever work at either the Rockefeller Institute in 1926-1930 or at Columbia Presbyterian Medical School from 1930-1945.

That he lacked a Nobel prize for his efforts is not the point - when the Nobel Committees ever get anything totally right about anything, do let me know.

Though in fairness, those committees are only allowed to grant their awards to the living and Dawson died young in his forties, and in the censored atmosphere of WWII, before his ideas could be seen to have their fullest impact.

But success in getting your ideas accepted by others in the masculine world that is science is not dependent simply on the unique brilliance of them - it also needs some very sharp elbows.

Alpha Males dominate the scientific landscape, particularly at the level of large impact scientific ideas.

The diffident and modest Dawson was never going to do well there.

Hadley was very 'forward' as a scientist - rapidly dominating his own department and eventually the world wide - and relatively new - field of bacterial variation.

Until he was found to be just as 'forward' with his many - young - female - lab assistants, who did all the hard physical work while he did all the hard thinking and reading and writing.

Result : Hadley was abruptly fired by his university president.

That fate, at least, never happened to his more polite correspondent Dr Dawson....

Space Porn : why no one has ever died from being on the wrong side of a debate in physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, mathematics

If a simply massive scientific paradigm shift happens and not one creature in the forest, other than scientists and science journalists, gives a frack  -----  did it actually really happen ?

Why is it that the Life Sciences are the only sciences throughout humanity's long long history where tens of millions have died from being from simply being on the wrong side of a scientific dispute ?

Why has the available evidence in the non Life Sciences been so consistently distorted so as to support just one position in the life science debates ?

Or is that to be the only useful thing these formal sciences ever do ?

For let us never forget that most of the useful things created under the name of chemistry and physics et al actually came from the much more low status applied practitioners of these dark arts rather than from the lab results of its most famous theorists.

I love reading about quantum mechanics - best seen acting among the tiniest sub particles of atoms - and the cosmic constant - best seen at the galaxy level.

But neither seems to have much direct bearing on improving and surviving day to day life on earth, so I tend to regard them as nothing but Space Porn - interesting stuff happening 'out there' , not down here on Earth.

Guy stuff that never changes diapers, makes supper or takes out the garbage.

Science that never lifts the toilet seat.

Science with flawless bodies, flawless skin, perky breasts and enormous penises - fantasyland stuff.

Only to the extend that they impact (as they all do, no matter how obliquely) upon the central science of Biology do they get my respectful, rather than merely lustful, attention.....

The horizontal six creation days of Genesis ?

A timeless problem for those who claim that the six creation days of Genesis all ascend relentlessly towards the creation of Man is the problem of premature human deaths from random acts of Nature.

Why does a caring God permit good innocent babies to die so young from pandemics, floods, wild animal attacks, starvation, volcanoes etc ?

And why was God so pleased when his imagined creations of stars and lights, night and day, earth and sea, plants and animals came forth ?

We might start by acknowledging that the Universe and everything in it will die someday - not just its living beings.

Even the seemingly elemental atoms 'die' (we call this "natural radioactivity").

Half Life estimates of just when half of the sodium atoms may break up are just averages - the individual atoms can die far later than their estimated past due date ----- or far earlier.

Rather like humans, really.

Ditto for estimates of just when earthquakes should shake or volcanoes should explode ----- versus when most actually do.

Or when Stars might collapse or when planets might get walloped by huge pieces of space debris.

Our whole Universe, whether created by a personal God or by forces of Nature was built from the start in an asymmetrical, hence dynamically active, way.

It has a birthing past and a dying future, not just an eternal present so as to act as a neutral, harmless, backdrop to the human drama played out at the front of the stage.

It decays, it cools, it heats up, it careens, it staggers, it bumps and bruises, it ricochets.

It acts rather Life-like indeed and it seems to exhibit something, that to untrained human minds at least, seems to be almost like Free Will.

Most of what makes us humans truly human is our need to survive on a stage where the scenery - quite literally - is intent on eating the actors.

If there is a personal God, perhaps God is enjoying all of this resulting kaleidoscope of reality and doesn't really place the creation of humanity on that much more of an exalted plane than the rest of the six days of creation.

So perhaps, just six horizontal days of joyous labour - not six days spent "Building a Stairway to Man" ....

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Theory explaining inexact weather predicting is salient : theory explaining dual slit particle-wave experiment is not

It is quite easy to spot the difference between "political scientists" and "scientists".

The Poli Sci types are always on about saliency or lack thereof --- the boffins never ever are.

Never never never never ever are.

Any theory that claims that the stock market or the economy or the weather is virtually impossible to predict accurately can be tested - for free - by the seven or eight billion of us.

The results affect all of us - daily - and we ourselves can conduct the experiment.

But most of the supposedly epoch breaking experiments, the type that scientists love to bang on about, we can only take on the word of well educated journalists making sense of long articles in journals like Nature or Science.

We can't even follow the logic of a written report on a written report of an experiment, let alone conduct the experiment ourselves and besides nothing it claims to report seems to make a bit of difference to our lives.

It totally lacks saliency.

It is really nothing but 'science porn' - fun for a few minutes to relieve the stress of our day to day lives, but nothing more.

We can respect the fact that without proven quantum theories, GPS systems won't be accurate enough to safely land the planes that billions of us have flown in.

But we still tend to more admire the applied technology of GPS than the basic science behind it.

Truly epoch breaking changes in the basic tenets of physics, chemistry, geology and astronomy all occurred in the first half of the 20th century without really changing the classical - Newtonian and Platonic - ways we ordinary people were taught to view reality.

My book argues that it rather took changes in the way we viewed (a) biology in general (b) human and social activities like consciousness and the economy in particular and (c) 'the weather' to really change us --- to really make us post-progress, post modern, post Newton, post Plato after 1945.

(I include with 'the weather' such events as earthquakes, volcanoes, asteroids, pandemics : ---- all of the globe's massive, sudden and unpredictable catastrophes.)

The three things these items all had in common is that they are close at hand, they envelope us daily and most importantly, they happen over relatively short (in terms of an typical human life) time periods.

Yes, tectonic plates move, but extremely slowly - yes, the universe is expanding and cooling, again seemingly slowly - yes, the Earth's radioactive atoms are decaying and diminishing in number, but oh so slowly.

WWII : inducing epoch-making changes in the way we view Biology, human/social behavior and catastrophes like The Weather 

WWII was a catastrophe by any measure, particularly to people who make confident predictions for a living, and served as the catalyst to put the fatal post into modernity and progress and the enlightenment project.

I won't spend much time in my book arguing that Auschwitz and Hiroshima played a key role in modernity's demise - gazillions have already trotted down that path before me.

I obviously want to add the unexpected success of penicillium slime poo (standing in as the very mental image of 1940's anti-civilization) to help account for WWII's upending of progress and civilization.

But I also want to give a fuller account of the hundreds of embarrassing failures in supremely confident prediction - that very hallmark of left brain science - that so marked that unexpectedly long six year war.

Like the drip drip drip of water torture, they too played a big role in the sense of fatigue against anymore Progress Talk that so marked post 1945 intellectual and artistic thought and eventually became the commonplace of many ordinary folks as well.

One prediction made about the coming war, made by most people in the years 1931-1939, certainly was proven true - millions of civilians did die and did die by gas.

But they certainly did not die, as was generally predicted, in the first few days of a sharp short war.

Because I know of no one notable who claimed the war would last six years because all such predictions of quick successes (and from all sides) would fail time and time and time again.

So parallel to Dawson and Meyer's daily work on penicillin-for-all, I will watch these two frontline veterans of WWI parse the news of the unexpectedly long course of WWII, as seen from by far the best served city in the world for abundant wartime media, New York ....

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bakhtin's Carnivalesque : 'Slime Piss' still saving more kiddies annually than Advanced Civilization ever killed

Without today's antibiotics, the dangerous bacterial infections that currently afflict only a child here and a child there would rage freely as epidemics or pandemics, killing millions upon millions of kids.

And when we say 'antibiotics' we basically mean the beta lactams antibiotics - the huge and highly effective family of the penicillin-like antibiotics.

The human use of penicillin (Penicillin G) to save lives is almost ninety years old and yet it is still in every hospital's pharmacy, albeit relatively rarely used.

However, as the starting base to make most all of our other antibiotics, penicillin g is still produced in the tens of thousands of tons.

And still made as it always was - made in incredibly tiny ---natural--- fungus factories invisible to the naked eye.

It is a mere 'secondary' metabolite of the penicillium slime - and for long time the secondary metabolites were considered to be just 'metabolic waste', a fancy grown-up's word for poo and pee.

Considering its liquid nature and its bright yellow color (leaving aside its strong acrid smell for a moment) , the scientists of yesteryear considered it to be nothing more than 'slime piss'.

It took a brave doctor indeed (Martin Henry Dawson) to first inject that foul stuff - raw - into a the bloodstream of a young male, in an attempt to save his life.

But the patient (Charles Aronson) lived and so our Age of Antibiotics began, on Ward G-East, at NYC's Columbia Presbyterian Medical Centre ----- seventy five years ago this October 16th 2015.

In WWII's brutal war of high tech science, this was low tech life saving at its very finest.

A stinging rebuke then, to Scientism at its very apogee of hubris, delivered by the lowest of the low, delivered by slime piss.

So be sure to tell Mikhail Bakhtin (wherever he might be) that it just can't get anymore carnivalesque than that...

Monday, August 10, 2015

Highest human activity (saving life of a child) married to the lowest of the low : poop from basement slime

One needn't be fans of Bakhtin and Rabelais, of Boy Bishops, Feasts of the Fools and Feasts of the Ass, of the time when fishes flew and forests walked, to see just how un-Progress-ive, how un-Civilized, how un-Modernity, how upside-down was the unlikely wartime success of primitive natural penicillin at a time when the chemists of advanced civilization and man-made synthetics were exalted above all else.

The foul smelling poo of basement slime saving the lives of innocent kiddies when the best of civilization (otherwise fully engaged in gassing or bombing kiddies) wasn't up to the task.

Let us recall, as well, the wirephoto images of precious penicillin ampules hiked up the mountains of Italy on the backs of balky mules and donkeys to save the lives of frontline soldiers and frontline civilians --- just to complete the picture.

Add the sight and smell of palm leaves, to taste, if required.....

Secondary metabolites : yesterday's microbial poo and pee, today's lifesaving antibiotics

We can't fairly  or accurately write a history of the earliest reception to the news that penicillium excrement might save human lives, if we credit the scientists of the 1920s and 1930s with all the hindsights that scientists and the public hold today about the best place to find new antibiotics.

Because in those heady early days of the discovery that metabolic activities can be usefully divided into essential-to-life primary metabolic activity and unknown-uses secondary metabolic activity, the metaphor most scientists reached for to explain the secondary metabolites of the lower fungus was of the well known plant and animal need to excrete unneeded and potentially deadly 'metabolic waste'.

Poo and pee and go-go and caca in daycare talk.

Would you, even today, instantly let your doctor to inject poo and pee into your blood stream when asked, without hesitation and discomfort ?

Let alone way back in the Era of (Man-centred) Progress, where it seemed impossible to believe anything a stupid simple little fungi cell could do might be superior to what advanced civilization's best chemical laboratories could invent.

Progress 1945 (upended) : primitive penicillium poo saving more kids than advanced civilization could bomb or gas.....

Sunday, August 9, 2015

HP Lovecraft's "helpful monsters" : how the Slime saved more kids than Civilization bombed or gassed

In 1937, the world's most honoured cultural hero was invariably some sort of a medical researcher.

Probably someone with a German accent, gained from years of study at the world's best research universities ---- someone who researched on children's illnesses, someone invariably photographed giving candy to kiddies.

Someone rather like Dr Josef Mengele in fact.

In that same year, the world's scariest monster was usually a foul smelling shapeless giant blob of slime, terror on the the classic HP Lovecraft model.

A blob that was always less than a real object than rather a metaphor representing the horrific dissolving of Progress's reassuring certitudes ("science's terrible simplicities").

Certitudes that a huge number of us need to daily get through a messy actual world of instability, uncertainty and change.

(Insert here links to research on the 'conservative brain'.)

Yet by 1946 and The Doctors' Trial, Dr Mengele's medical research on children had become the last word in evil and horror.

And the child-saving albeit foul smelly penicillium slime was the surprise medical hero of the hour, the only truly Good News Story to ever come out of WWII's Bad News War.

HP himself had died back in 1937 and so never got to live long enough to see his expectations confounded.

And upended...

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Eugenics' biggest failure

By the start of WWII, the Nazis, guided by the best eugenic advice in the world, had unerringly separated the great Germanic civilizations into the wheat and the chaff ---- and by then either forced the chaff into exile or had had them murdered.

And in the seventy five years since, what have these former great civilizations ever produced - besides the cuckoo clock ?

The human ability to accurately predict winners and determine the universally and eternally 'right' answers is very limited.

Be the predictors being yesterday's Himmler or today's hot new geneticist.

For untutored geniuses emerging from the ranks of oppressed minorities are pretty much as common as universities having to baby sit the untalented offspring of first rate geniuses.

What the Nazis had actually exiled or murdered were all the various sorts of Germans who had shown a willingness to stir up the pot, for good or bad.

What was left behind was not just that pot - it was also seventy five million people as inert as that pot.

Luckily their postwar children and grandchildren are all over the map - smart, dumb and everything in between .

Life can resume in the new Germany with the full breath of humanity's wide diversity of beings  and so we might once again see world culture and science enriched by contributions from the Germanic lands ...

Monday, August 3, 2015

October 16 1940 : upending the team's protocol

To put it bluntly, twice-wounded Lieutenant Dr Martin Henry Dawson (MC with citation for bravery) was very far from being given to routinely performing bold, brave and lonely gestures.

This despite the fact that he performed some very brave actions indeed on at least a half dozen times during his shortened life.

Beside his wartime actions, those brave acts include his June 1928 sacrificing of the start of a wonderful research career at the then citadel of medical research - the Rockefeller Institute.

All to stand up for what this very junior pro tem researcher believed in scientifically, against his all powerful and very senior lab chief (and fellow Nova Scotian) Oswald Avery on the matter of the importance of bacteria transformed with DNA.

Or consider his December 1940 decision to sacrifice his own life, if need be, (against the wishes of his wife and doctors) to try and save the lives of others (the world's patients with deadly SBE) with his pioneering penicillin.

And his well known November 1942 decision to 'steal' (according to his hostile opponents) scarce government penicillin - during wartime ! - all to further his success in finally saving SBEs with penicillin, set against deliberate government 'indifference' to their dire fate - success with penicillin or not.

But my vote for his bravest, his boldest, his most lonely gesture was that which occurred on October 16th 1940.

For his solo determination to inject 'dangerously primitive' penicillin - right now ! - into a young black man and a young Jewish man in an attempt to save them from an inevitable death from SBE (subacute bacterial endocarditis) was not like his usual conflicts with higher authorities.

The people opposing his sudden decision were his own friends, down at his own level, on his own tiny team of researchers.

The protocol he was suddenly abruptly 'upending' was one he himself had helped create and agreed to adhere to.

The plan was to allocate five months (September 11th 1940 - January 11th 1941) to 'safely' purifying primitive penicillin - if not to actually totally synthesis it - before it would be clinically tested with internal - systemic - injections.

Tested upon Dawson's SBEs, if he insisted - though SBE was universally seen as the very Mount Everest of infectious disease and thus hardly a first choice for a team intent on getting those vital convincing early successes out of an untried drug.

It was always clear that Dawson wanted very much to save the lives of SBE patients.

But if he felt a drug was more likely to kill than to save - as he had earlier worried about massive doses of some new sulfa drugs - he would have been characteristically cautious rather than uncharacteristically bold.

No doctor in the world (most much bolder than Dawson), in the twelve years since penicillin was discovered, had dared to risk injecting it into the human circulation system.

This despite the fact that there were very few drugs effective against any of the deadly infectious diseases back then.

And despite the fact that in repeated internal animal testing and in repeated external testing with human blood, the primitive penicillin was very effective against the worst of the deadly bacteria cells and yet didn't harm human or animal cells, even when given in far larger doses than needed to kill the bacteria.

And despite the fact that man-made drugs with far less effect against deadly bacteria and far far worse toxicity issues had been quickly injected into test patients and brought to market.

Collective Cognitive Dissonance

With hindsight, what was going on here was a worldwide, profession-wide and prolonged case of collective cognitive dissonance.

But not all nations and not all doctors back then did any bold research into the unknown and untried --- only a few pacemaking nations and institutions led the way, for all the others to follow.

So it was actually the collective unwillingness of a small subset of the world's doctors that we must really lay blame.

Upon a few thousand upper middle class white, mostly Protestant, males from the largest medical research facilities of the most civilized nations on earth.

The Big Dogs, the Alpha Dogs, of the human medical food chain.

(Dawson's own institution, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Complex in NYC, was in the top twenty five of such institutions world wide.)

They semi-consciously simply refused to accept that possibly the world's best and safest antibacterial agent could ever come from the sort of smelly fungal slime that covered their basement walls and not from the civilized world's best clinicians and chemists.

Even when the evidence lay in the published test results before their very eyes : classic cognitive dissonance.

(Feel free to substitute negro or gypsy traveller or New Guinea 'savage' for fungal slime to better understand the popular (semi-digested) social darwinism that lay behind their attitudes.)

For fifteen years, his entire career as a medical researcher, Dawson had been proving up his point that the small, tiny, weak, simple, primitive microbes were far far smarter than we give them credit for - sometimes capable of doing things we humans are not able to do, even badly.

If penicillin was as old as the intermittent competition between soil fungus and soil bacteria over dwindling foodstuffs (at least hundreds of millions of years old) then perhaps the slime chemists had polished penicillin's abilities --- and their skill at making it --- into a fine art.

Why not 'give them a fair go' ?

The injecting only took a New York Minute - but it changed everything

So, seventy five years ago this October 16th 2015, the Age of Antibiotics finally began - and with it - our current Postmodern Age as well.

For what all the variants of postmodernity (the word 'variants' itself being a characteristic postmodern concept !) have in common is a commitment to welcoming the mixing of High and low.

Not just in Art and Architecture either --- almost all of our antibiotics today, seventy five years later, are still based upon the lowest of medicines - based upon primitive penicillin made by the slime, not synthesized by Man - the same sort that Dawson injected that day.

And when sold to doctors by the slick ad efforts of some of the world's largest and most technically advanced corporations - those antibiotics can seem to be very High medicine indeed.

But penicillin is really penicillium excrement - fungus turds.

And no matter how much High science polishes it, a turd is still a turd - even if here a lifesaving turd .

Two hundred years of a smug world of linear and hierarchical progress leading up to Civilized European Man at the very top ------ permanently upended in a New York Minute.

The lowest of the low, the slime of the slime, medical missionaries daily saving the precious children of the uncivilized world, because The Smartest Chemists In The Civilized Universe couldn't ...

Hitler searched for "THE" human genome

Remember the delusion behind the search for the essence of the human genome ?

The delusion that there was in fact just ONE human genome ?

Allowing, of course, for a few deviants and defectives and deficients ---that advanced (eu) genetic engineering would quickly excise away, once and for all time.

(Another delusion by the way.)

The fact is, just as ancient religious texts always proclaimed and mothers have always noted, we are all different, all unique individuals.

Even in vastness of the three billion year old world of the bacteria, there has never been two exact clones.

We are all different - albeit often in too subtle ways to be noted by very important men (James Watson ?) cursively glancing at us from the Olympian heights of Vienna's Riesenrad Ferris Wheel, as if we were just a lot of similar 'dots' on the ground.

Even Dr Mengele's identical twins were different, unique, in spite of having the exact same genome in theory.

Now even James Watson easily accepts that highly civilized 'Man' makes many mistakes, down at the bank with his mortgage or at the government office with his new passport.

Why then is it so very hard to accept that 'primitive' Mother Nature makes mistakes too ?

That the supposedly "iron" laws of Nature frequently bend ?

Routinely Nature makes mistakes while copying both the protein-making genes and the turn-on-and-off-tap control genes from the original genome - too many of this, too little of that.

Not just a base here and there but also many, many huge chunks, each thousands of bases long, known as CNVs, copy number variants.

Experienced ward doctors would hardly be surprised to learn all of this as the scientific explanation for their routine experiences of every work day.

An explanation just why so often that two patients, of the same age and weight and at the same stage of the same disease, can react so differently to a drug dosage supposedly standardized to all these factors.

The answer just could be that one patient has three copies of a particular gene segment targeted by this drug and hence almost overdoses.

Meanwhile the other (because of an unusual 'tap' gene) has effectively less than one copy and so the course of their disease remains unchecked.

Because sub atomic particles, atoms and molecules spend all their time bouncing off of each other in an asymmetric fashion, everything in the Universe "jitters" all the time.

We average this out, over trillions of such objects, as a particular heat temperature --- think of it as the supposedly routine temperature for a given pheonomon.

But, in fact, that smoothly analog average that is a given temperature actually disguises huge variants in local energy levels from nanosecond to nanosecond - meaning 'heat' is better described in digital terms --- as 'thermal' zippering, noise and distortion.

All that wide variance in the energy of 'routine' particle jostling means that 'routine' chemical bond making and breaking don't always occur at all, or don't occur in the right order, or takes much more or less time that they 'routinely' should.

Mistakes and asymmetric results are a routine fact of the Universe and even the best error correcting system (itself subject to the same mistake-making environment) doesn't always fully correct them all.

Hard to think of Hitler going along with Einstein and millions of other intellectuals in eagerly advancing The Enlightenment Project's efforts to find all the right answers to all the questions of Reality.

But he did - in spades.

Because he and Einstein and most scientists and philosophers of his day believed, often unconsciously, in "Limited Essentialism".

That is the idea that everything (of substantial size) had a definable list of attributes that uniquely and permanently identified it.

'Close' was not good enough -  that was a defective deviant deficient copy.

But Reality is actually an example of "Unlimited Essentialism" - the fact that every single being and object in the Universe is unique and has an (ever changing) definable list of attributes that positively identify it, albeit from moment to moment.

Defined that way, Essentialism is emptied of all of its traditional restraining abilities.

The search for Reality's "right" answers left all lot of shot, gassed and burned wrong answers in its wake

The Enlightenment Project led inevitably up to the selection platform at Auschwitz in late 1944, where the incoming Hungarian Jews were separated into right answers and wrong answers.

While the whole world knew about it, by that date, (YES WE DID) - and still did nothing.

Only a world that had stopped believing in "right answers" would have moved to save them - move to save them all, as uniquely beautiful bits of the human kaleidoscope.

Now Hitler, Einstein and Watson have all been hoisted on their own petard - because their own search for the one right answer about the human genome has instead resulted in revealing billion and billions of unique human genomes.

Nothing that Momma and Jesus - and Martin Henry Dawson - didn't already know ....

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Ending the Enlightenment Project with deeds, not words

There are two academic puzzles in dating the ending of the Enlightenment Project precisely to 1945.

One was that 1945 was supposed to be year of the Enlightenment's greatest success, not failure --- you remember, beating back the Nazi forces of darkness and barbarism etc.

The other was that 1945 had no great book and no great thinker proclaiming the end of one intellectual age and the birth of another.

No opus from no new Hume, Kant, Hegel or Newton, Galileo and Darwin.

Instead we had doctors Mengele and Dawson, operating from the opposite ends of the moral spectrum, putting the post into modernity.

Both men of deeds, not of words.

Doers - not thinkers - doing in the thinkers' Enlightenment Project : I kinda like that....

Why was Marie Barker's actual death sentence praised while Harry Lime's fictional murders so condemned : a story of two Teddy Bears ...

The 1943 real life Allied decision to deny penicillin to Marie Barker (the only medicine that could save the life of this young teenager and SBE patient) on the (unstated) grounds that her disease was 'not a military priority', has generally been praised by historians of science - then and now.

It was also acquiesced in - at the very least - by most lay people back then.

Even when that public saw newspaper photos of still just a teenager Marie breaking into a smile of delight at the sight of one of her 'stuffies' (a teddy bear) that her Canadian-born mother Hermance had brought to her bedside.

By contrast the needless, painful but fictional deaths caused by Harry Lime denying penicillin to children in 1949 Vienna only six years later has been strongly condemned by most of those same academics and by the public generally.

Okay ---- perhaps the professors did not condemn it in actual peer reviewed articles, but almost certainly, like the public, they did so in casual water cooler talk and during post-movie-watching 'pillow talk' between spouses.

I can claim this with some certainty because it is known that countless audience members discussing the moral issues raised by Harry Lime's unspeakable actions around helpless children and penicillin was what helped lift THE THIRD MAN from being just another run of the mill B&W 'quota flick' to among the top films of all time.

How the casual upending of a child's teddy bear helped change us for good

In just six short years, we went from praising the decision to cold bloodedly and publicly kill Marie Barker & her teddy bear by baneful neglect ------- to blanching at the mere fleeting sight of a nurse silently putting the teddy bear of of one of Harry Lime's victims upside down on a waste basin.

I hold that to be a hugely momentous moral upending, as dramatic in its own way as was the totally unexpected upending of the best in civilized technology by primitive penicillin...