Wednesday, December 29, 2010

1895-1945: the new forms of En-LIGHT-enment

We often fail to take the scientists at their word.

They meant for their "En-LIGHT-enment" project to be taken literally.

 They had a determination to turn the full light of scientific curiosity upon that childhood darkness that lies at the top of all of Humanity's stairs, because they were certain to the point of certitude -They Had Faith - that it would turn out to be more simple, more regular and more benign than our dirty,cluttered day-to-day visible world.

Our fears of these dark unknown areas they dismissed as superstitions promoted by priests.

So between 1895-1945, we got ever more powerful searchlights that probed the skies above us or the seabed deep beneath submersibles.

In wartime, they served to coned Allied bombers high in the air or to Leigh-ted up U-boats lying low on the surface of the sea.

Bigger and bigger telescope lens or mirrors gathered up more light and concentrated it, letting us see further and further in Space and further and further back in Time.

With newer microscopes, we added ever sharper lights to ever more powerful lens, to clearly see Brownian motions and thus see the motion of molecules.

But ultimately there is a limit to the sharpness of visible light, so we expanded into X-Rays (circa 1895) to peer into bodies, metals and crystals and molecules and then Radar (circa 1945) to see into clouds and darkness and finally to bounce off of the Moon itself.

We developed flash photography, in ever shorter, sharper bursts so we could clearly photograph a speeding bullet stopped in mid-flight.

The electron microscope uses a sharper (a shorter wavelength) form of illumination to reveal a lot more of the hidden details of bacteria
and to show us viruses and even atoms for the first time.

If an atom buster ray can be thought of as a form of light, it too revealed much that was new - in particular the world of sub-atomic particles, indirectly visible as con tails in cloud chambers or revealed on exposed film.

New radio telescopes (circa 1931) listened to waves of information coming into us from the darkness of the universe - as did cosmic ray detectors.

All of this before 1945, Auschwitz, Hiroshima, et al.

The Enlightenment didn't die or fail - it succeeded only too well in revealing what lies in those areas of Reality beyond our normal ken - but it was totally wrong in assuming that they would be simple,regular and benign.

Perhaps Adorno and Horkheimer wrote their famous little mimeographed book a little too early.

 Because they failed  to understand that the deliberate 'return to darkness' of post 1945 Film NOIR might have been a reaction against all the bright enlightenment that the previous half century had produced...

Be careful what you wish for...

During the Last War ,
the Enlightenment revealed a flair
-Brighter Than A Thousand Suns-
and saw physic sausages being made...

Coned its new searchlights upon,
that childhood darkness at the top of the stairs,
revealed that there are no ghostly goblins there,
-only a molester-
or Two...

Thanks to their Leigh's rocket-red glare / could stare,
 At our abandoned Lascars,passing,
skeletally entwined,
 -still bobbing-
and proclaim, "Snorkers, Good Oh !"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Martin Henry Dawson med orderly 1915

Martin Henry Dawson 1915 Cdn Medical Orderly

Taken from a photo of all the  167 original members of the No 7 Canadian Stationary Hospital (Dalhousie University) taken in front of the original Dal building (aka The Forrest Building) ,now Dal Dental School, in December 1916 before heading overseas.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

the very SUI GENERIS Dr Dawson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  But that was not my thesis.

  Not at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Then I fell upon Dawson's story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  He was right it could.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 5, 2010

"Confounding the Mighty, 1939-1945" Part One

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

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

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

No so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

This is the home of my NON-DEATHLESS prose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call it my creative side coming to the fore.

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

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

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

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

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

Dead trees falling needlessly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her arthritis got worse and worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His face and head had a faintly simian cast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POst-MOnism : MO goes PO

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

why WELFARE ISLAND hospital mattered more to me than CUMC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I had to make choices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Penicillin, from EROS to AGAPE : synthetic crystals to the natural mold

Anders Nygren,1890-1978, Swedish theologian and pharmacologist ?!

Why not ?

His seminal text of 1932, "Eros and Agape", does offer an unique way to compress the long wartime penicillin saga into something vividly digestible.

On one side, we have Professor Florey.

He basically ignores that:

 (a) there is a war on and people are dying daily from infected wounds from the Blitz
 (b) that natural impure penicillin had no toxic effects from its impurities and is available - now - to help those Blitz victims.

Despite this,Florey and his wartime coterie of Platonists and New Alchemists wasted their time and ours seeking after the chimera of a 100% pure --- all white---- crystalline penicillin for their Scientific monstrance, to hold aloft before the adoring Faithful.

Its just the sort of New Age nonsense we've come to expect from the hardheaded science departments of Oxford University.

And I really do think that its a 'guy thing' ,this growing of crystals.

Women prefer to grow living things: plants, pets and above all their own children.

But crystals are about the only non-living object that grows before your very eyes.

They don't lay you up for nine or more months,change your shape, never wake you at night, never have to have their diapers changed.

What is there not for men to like ?

And if your vision of BEAUTY sees it as a pure, austere, hard-edged sort of mechanical regularity, you will find it best displayed in crystals.

In Nygren's definition of human EROS love, EROS is found whenever humans seek to ascend to a 'god-like' status , by demonstrating their love for (and ability to grow) beautiful (literally beauty-filled) objects - in this case crystals.

They take in/ draw down some of that beauty
and by loving beauty,add some of its value to their own worthfulness.

But Nygren contrasts this to AGAPE love - a spontaneous, undignified, excessively operatic, self-denying,heart-on-our-sleeve love of the unloveable - with our enemies being the best possible objects of our agape out-flowing.

We don't draw down some of BEAUTY's perfection and purity to give us additional value and to help us ascend upwards.

Instead we give away love -and our life if necessary - down to the 'ugly' and the evil and they gain BEAUTY by our doing so.

We become "like God" by descending to the level of the ugly, flawed and evil and giving them all our love nevertheless -- just as Jesus did.

In 1940 ( as it is in 2010) people tended to see that gooey smelly mold ruining their basement walls and fixtures as something almost evil and definitely ugly and unloveable.

It took a special sort of person to see the worthfulness of the penicillium mold - that person being Doctor Dawson.

His co-worker Gladys Hobby writes of his tiny band of followers creating their own Monstrance of the furry, blue-green, smelly, mold with its clear urine-like drops of yellow penicillin, holding it aloft daily before the unlovable SBE patients, to give them courage and comfort in this world - and in the Next.

And because of Dawson's AGAPE love of this humble mold, millions of other beings - human beings - had their chance to live out their three score and ten.....

Saturday, October 30, 2010

1945: how the Official Histories of wartime MODERNITY fabricated victory from the wreckage of defeat

  ABSTRACT: When WWII Modernity's PLAN A failed in 1944, a totally different (and postmodernist) PLAN B stepped in at the last minute to save the day.
   After the war, (modernist) Official Histories from organizations like the OSRD recast the methods and motivations of PLAN B organizers to make them appear to have been part of PLAN A all along.
  Meanwhile, the original PLAN A ( and PLAN B for that matter ) were relegated to mere footnotes.
  It is time overdue for a more accurate retelling, keeping PLAN A and PLAN B to their original separate (but parallel) paths.


If I had to paraphrase all the Official Histories of World War Two Big Science organizations to a terse Hollywoodian 'High Concept Moment', it would sound like this:
 "Thanks to Allied Big Science (cue 'Hands Across the Water'), a Norden bombsight could flawlessly drop an A-Bomb into the centre of a deep barrel of fermenting - but very pure - penicillin from 15,000 feet ." 

Friday, October 29, 2010

AGAPE penicillin: Nature Won; Modernity Zero

Sixty five years later is Einstein's famous formula still the one that best describes 1945 ?

ie  E=MC

Or was the most lasting impact of  1939-1945's MODERN-WORLD war the fact that yesterday's Big MO (Modernity) lost.

And that Nature won.

And that in 1945, out of the resulting wreckage crawled PostModernity, aka us PO folk (the baby boom generation and our children and children's children ) ?

(Sadly resigned godparents: Adorno and Horkheimer.)

IE, is  "WWII=MOgoesPO"   today's best short, short,
short but correct formulaic answer to the exam request to sum up mankind's biggest, bloodiest war ever ?

who lost the last MODERN--WORLD war, 1939-1945 ?

You mean the one where Modernity (Big MO) warred with the World?

Big MO lost and lost badly.

 'Nature Bats Last' (and Nature bats long and deep) .

 And in 1945, out of the resulting wreckage crawled PostModernity, aka POMO or simply PO.

All of us alive today - all of us - have spent the majority of our lives  as 'PO folks' in the 65 years since 1945.

Our godparents ?

Some folks called Adorno and Horkheimer.

Forget the claim that modernist claim that 1945 means E=MC2.

Time has revealed that 1945's actual formula to be this:


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tentative titles and dates for my 16 novellas

As always, I think of the novella 'as a container, not its contents'.

Similar to Edgar Allan Poe, I like best a text (cum book) that you can read in one sitting and which results in one overall impression upon the reader.

So I have stolen the term 'novella' from the literary types, who use it most consistently for fictional work of between roughly 12,500 words and 25,000 words.

In practice, a novella today is usually around 19,000 words long.

(I think most of us regard fiction between 7500 words to about 15,000 words as either a novelette or a long short story, just as we tend to regard fiction over 30,000 words in length as a short novel.)

In terms of work that isn't fully or overtly fictional, like my work, this results a book of between 50 and 120 pages, depending on illustrations and formatting.

I think most of us can read a book like this, if it is clearly written and attractively laid out, in between 75 and 150 minutes - the same  range of length as most movies/plays/ musicals and concerts.

My 'book' ,  "MO goes PO, 1939-1945" , is actually a series of 16 separate but connected essays easy of novella length.

Hopefully each will average around 12,500 words, giving an overall length for the entire series of 200,000 words.

I have had to condense the story greatly.

 This meant I had to pick just sixteen key days, over a war that lasted six years and raged over 2000 separate days.

As a result, I have gone back 'n' forth/ forth 'n' back over the specific sixteen dates, so I can still tell the story succinctly but accurately and dramatically.

So here are my tentative dates and titles - always subject to further change, of course:

January 1st 1941 : "We Are The Dead".

March 15th 1941 : "Synthetic Hope".

May 20th 1941: "Life Unworthy" .

September 30th 1941 : "Thank You - And GOODBYE" .

January 30th 1942 : "Kristall Lust" .

March 12th 1942 : "Patient Betrayal" .

June 30th 1942 : "Censored" .

November 6th 1942 : "Going Native" .

January 29th 1943 : "Hill Of Beans" .

June 14th 1943 : "When Doctors Gossip" .

August 11th 1943 : "Fire This Time" .

October 30th 1943 : "Patricia, Harriet and Mae" .

January 25th 1944 : "Saved By Face" .

March 19th 1944 : "The Great White Hope" .

June 23rd 1944 :  "Lazarus, Too" .

August 15th 1944 : "Blanket Harbour" .

Some will also have explanatory subtitles ...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

'AGAPE penicillin' project was ALL about smallness and simplicity

Manhattan's other Project was one of World War Two's smallest projects in what turned out to be History's biggest ever human effort; our biggest effort - if one of our least moral - by what ever measure is taken.

Smallest is rarely an indicator of importance, and never less so than when set against the world's largest ever war.

In addition, this small project happened seventy years ago, and great distance back in time tends to render small projects even less of importance to us.

Everything about World War Two was gigantic.

Armed military occupied the deeps of the middle of the oceans, the heights of the skies and the tops of mountain ranges. They were found in the high Arctic and the deep Antarctica - in fact for the first time ever war touched every continent on earth simultaneously.

Fighting occurred year around, night and day, in all kinds of weather, for six long years - fighting in the dry heat of desert sands,  in the cold of ice and snow, in the wet heat of dark jungles.

Geographic spread was matched by the number of people pulled in directly as soldiers, war workers, in occupied nations and as refugee peoples. 

Indirectly, almost everyone on Earth suffered restrictions on where they could travel or what they could buy and at what price.

Globally, about 100 million people either died during the war, or not long after the war, because of wartime conditions.

In terms of non-renewable resources consumed - literally - blown up, burnt up or sunk deep in the ocean, our share of the world's bounty took a hit we will never ever recover from.

We are still paying the debt of fighting the war and for repairing the structures and bodies affected.

The opportunities lost for what we might have achieved, as a human race ,without WWII, can never be known - only regretted.

Set against all these Big Battalions of facts and figures, why should historians, anymore than God, care about a truly tiny project ?

Well, I happen to believe, with all my heart and soul, Napoleon to the contrary, that God is actually totally on the side of the small battalions.

AGAPE penicillin was not just a small project, it was a project  about smallness, all about smallness.

 In fact, it seemed almost designed to defend the worthiness of smallness and simplicity and to rebuke Modernity and WWII's bigness obsession, doing so by both its ends and its means.

The smallness of its ends --- the people it was intended to help -- is blindingly clear.

RHD was the leading killer of working class school kids and the resulting invariably fatal SBE, the leading killer of slightly older working class RHD victims.

 However, the upper middle class medical and scientific leadership of the Allies had determined that the working class SBEs were unworthy of a share of the small amount of natural penicillin the scientific establishment had half-heartedly produced in the 15 years after its discovery.

Dawson and his AGAPE team resolved to make their own semi-concentrated impure natural penicillin to treat these '4Fs of the 4Fs' , these 'lives unworthy of penicillin' - and hence - of life.

But what is my  point in exalting the smallness of the  AGAPE team, the small means to that small end ?

Again, the physical - or surface - smallness of Dawson's project is clearly self evident.

The team consisted of between two and six individuals - but most of the time consisted of just three or four individuals  - people who already had busy jobs in the rest of their work day.

In terms of treating SBE patients - its main emphasis - it treated about 35 patients during World War Two - set that against the seventy million war who died during and because of World War Two.

NONE of those war dead died of SBE - it is doubtful that any sort of war action made an individual's chances of getting SBE any more likely.

In direct terms, the AGAPE project contributed nothing to the direct war effort - and many argued, then and since, that it actually hurt the war effort, albeit in a small way.

The project occupied a small lab or two, the wall of part of a corridor and a typical hospital ward of the smaller sort. (And whatever space they could temporarily scrounge for their equipment - including an outside fire escape.)

AGAPE penicillin consumed a small amount of resources that weren't particularly scarce.

It doesn't seem to have won more than lukewarm support from Dawson's hospital and university colleagues.

 And I have found no evidence of any government agency or large foundation voting to earmark funds specifically for the AGAPE project - so it had not been formally peer-financed/peer-approved by any of the scientific establishment.

Its cost in terms of dollars couldn't have been much - seemingly absorbed out of normal department and clinic budgets.

An impressive catalogue of 'smallness' , but this is not at all what I mean by saying that its means were as small as its ends.

I mean that literally: many of the team members, the biological agent they employed, even their bacterial adversary were all about as 4F as the 4F patients they treated or afflicted.

Henry Dawson - because of his weak lungs - had Terminal-MG-just-waiting-to-happen. He frequently was stuck in an oxygen tent and could only be permitted to get away to work, if he agreed to be tethered to an oxygen tank and mask, probably in a wheelchair.

His soul mate and writing/editing assistant, his wive Marjorie, had a congenital hip problem that was never successfully treated and she needed a cane at times.

His leading clinical aide, intern and then resident Dr Tom Hunter, had had polio and needed two crutches to get about.

His friend when he really needed him,the big industrialist Floyd Odlum had contracted an extremely severe case of Rheumatoid Arthritis --- while employed to worry about the fate of ( irony !) of tiny businesses under a war economy that favoured only the biggest firms.

As a result, he frequently needed to get about with  crutches or a wheelchair.

When 4F patient Charlie Aronson got his SBE-induced stroke, he too got a wheelchair  and his oxygen tank- but among this 4F medical bunch, he'd scarcely stick out !

During most of the war, informed medical opinion rejected the idea that NATURAL impure (but totally safe) penicillin could have any war role.

NATURAL penicillin, not to put too fine point on it, is produced when penicillium molds 'pee'  a yellow liquid  into their own bathwater.

No 'pee water' of dirty, smelly basement molds and fungi
was going to sully the veins of the White Races - anymore than black Negro blood was going to go into those veins, even if needed to save a life.

Artificially made (chemically synthesized like the existing Sulfa drugs) all-white ,crystal pure, 1A penicillin had to be created in mass amounts before the medical and scientific establishment was even going to tell the wartime laity about the wondrous life-saving qualities of natural penicillin.

In a war all about 1A men and 1A chemicals, the penicillium mold was smalltime and 4F.

In fact, it was suspected that very soon, there wouldn't even be an adversary for natural or artificial penicillin to test its mettle against.

Edward Mellanby, the head of Britain's all-powerful MRC and the chief financial backer of Howard Florey, had said in 1937, that in fifty years there wouldn't be any hospitals about devoted to infectious diseases, because they would all such diseases would have been conquered, permanently, by chemical medicines like the thousands of sulfa variants.

So, too, the Strep and other pathogenic bacteria were assigned to the 4F, loser, section of Life.

All penicillin books to date - even that written by AGAPE team member Gladys Hobby's, at least to some extent - devote almost all their length to Howard Florey's effort to create chemically pure penicillin.

But midway through their 300 pages and 120,000 words, they break long enough to devote a paragraph or page to the AGAPE team.

One can accurately summarize all their writing thusly:
"Actually, and unknown to them, the Florey team was not the first to treat a patient with systemic (antibiotic) penicillin. That happened a few months earlier at New York's Columbia University when Dr Martin Henry Dawson gave a small amount of weak penicillin to a patient, Aaron Alston, with incurable SBE.
The amount was far too small to have an affect but was judged to be non-toxic. 
 Alston died and Dawson, already suffering from incurably MG, was too weak to do any further work and also died. His brief report, read before a medical conference, was never published and while noted in the New York Times, had no impact on the further course of wartime penicillin and he necessarily passes out of our story."
None of this was true.

Aaron was treated on that first day back in October 16th 1940, and he did seems to have died, perhaps by February 1941.

 But the first patient ever treated with penicillin was almost certainly Charles Aronson, also treated that same day, with an amount of penicillin that also was far too small to have any effect on his heart bacteria.

But Charlie was made of the stuff God usually assigned to cats with nine lives and the fact that he knew he was getting not the back of medicine's hand but rather receiving the first ever systemic dose of a new wonder drug may have affected his heart - his emotional heart.

In any case, he survived this bout of SBE - a very rare but very real possibility with any case of a supposedly 'incurable' disease - perhaps because this 'boost to his morale' was converted into a 'boost to his immune system'.

This was no temporary event - he remained free of SBE for three years and was cured a second time by Dawson - again with penicillin - and was still alive at the war's end.

In 1945, Charlie could say "I'm still here !", despite being written off years earlier by all the doctors.

Worse, he has been written out of history by stupid,dumb,lazy,f-king brain-dead writers ever since.

(His history, the best recorded of any of Dawson's three dozen SBE patients, can be found in two frequently cited landmark medical articles, easily available to any writer seriously researching Dawson's part in penicillin's story.)

Dawson did get terminal MG a few months after beginning the AGAPE project, but he hung on for four and half years, the normal time patients with serious MG hung on in the early 1940s.

He worked steadily until a month before he died, and the long list of published articles and recorded appearances before public scientific meetings, demonstrates that fact to even today's stupidest,laziest writers - if they hadn't a semi-conscious agenda to bury him even deeper in the ground than any grave digger could arrange.

In early 1945, he also could say "I'm still here !" and point to the fact that not only was he still alive and active, but that even the AMA had accepted his claim that systemic natural penicillin could cure the incurable SBE.

Further, his close medical companion, the penicillium mold, if it could only speak, could also claim that it too was "still here !"

Florey's seven year effort to find chemically pure penicillin to inject into patients had failed - synthetic penicillin was a disaster in terms of yield and even in terms of its chemical rationality.

Naturally produced penicillin was the only penicillin used to save lives during World War Two--- and in the seventy years ever since.

And Dawson's first time use of systemic (internal) penicillin to treat human disease had not only ended up near the business pages of the New York Times - it had influenced at least some of those all important men-with-money.

A then small 'fine chemical' company with only a toe hold in the outskirts of the drug business (Pfizer) answered his clarion call for help.

 Eventually, moved emotionally ( just like Charlie) by the AGAPE project, they betted their house on the unpopular NATURAL penicillin and won big - they ended up producing most of the penicillin of World War Two.

Today they are not just one of the biggest drug companies in the world , they are one of the biggest companies in the world, period.

Dismissed by Florey, in preference for 1A chemically-oriented MERCK , Florey never even visited Pfizer in 1941.

But in 1944 he simply HAD to go to Pfizer driven there by the dictates of the PR battle touting the hope of penicillin as the best single reason for everyone to hang on until the war's end.

So there he was, standing beside the AGAPE project's Gladys Hobby, and pretend to be moved by all the vials of natural penicillin tumbling off their production line while his own baby, synthetic penicillin, lay stillborn.

Pfizer too could say in 1945, "we may have been judged 4F by Howard Florey, but we too 'are still here' !"

Even Dawson's adversaries, the bacteria, could prove Edward Mellanby's proud boast wrong by 1945.

 Even in 1945, sulfa and penicillin-resistant bacteria were abundant -- and the situation is even more serious today -  so the small bacteria too could say "I'm still here !"

And of course ( because there always is a 'of course' in my blog entries) of course PostModernity is all about smallness, localness, variety, diversity, alternative modes of existence --- just as Modernity is all about 'bigger always being better'.

AGAPE penicillin - in all its dimensions - was the first successful postmodernist rebuke of the life-hostile ethics of Modernity and the Modernist war that was WWII.....

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

1A strong chemical purity versus dirty weak 4F 'fungus water'

Why was NATURAL (impure but totally safe*) penicillin unacceptable as a frontline live-saving medicine throughout most of the war?

Why was it treated like a 4F or a 'useless mouth' - or like a Roma or  Jew ?

Why the obsession with 'All White'  Penicillin, (the so called A1 or Aryan Penicillin) ; why the obsession with it having to be 100% pure and 100% artificially made by Man, before it was safe enough to inject into the average WASP's veins?

Why the American Red Cross obsession that no black blood be mixed with white blood before a blood transfusion was acceptable ?

Were our great great grandparents nuts or Nazis or both or what ?

Why did these High Modernists think the way they did - and why do we Partial Post Modernists find them so hard to understand or to stomach ?

And when it all begin to change from them to us, anyway ?

* Nobody ever died of impure penicillin - the rare penicillin allergy deaths only began when patients began receiving massive doses of pure penicillin----- before being tested first for a possible allergy reaction.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

God Knows What Dr Dawson Did With Penicillin...

.... and HE doesn't need a book to remind HIM.

But perhaps our new health science grads could still use a little inspiration....

God Knows What Henry Dawson,Robert Pulvertaft,Rudy Schullinger,Frank Queen And Jim Duhig Did With Penicillin...

... and now you are about to find out as well.

There have been many,many books written about PHASE I Penicillin : about the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming.

( And not enough books written as to why it then lay about unused for 12 years...)

Similarly there have been many books and articles written about PHASE II penicillin : the scientific research and development of penicillin by Howard Florey.

Supporters of both men have spent the 75 years ever since, fighting in print over which one deserves the most glory.

Very little - or nothing - has been written of  PHASE III penicillin.

('Agape penicillin').

'Agape penicillin' occurred when a few isolated individuals gave their arm and heart and brain - and sometime even their life - not to discovering or researching penicillin, but simply to using penicillin to save lives.

Saving lives with penicillin as fast and as hard as they could, with whatever penicillin they could make or take, regardless of its 'purity' or lack there of.

Since no one else is writing their story, I am.

My qualifications are not that I am a doctor or scientist or even a published author.

It is simply that I am a former 'penicillin patient' (and aren't we all ?).

As such I care greatly about the stories of the first all-out efforts to take penicillin out of the science lab, to put it to work, inside patients, saving lives.

This is a book oriented towards readers who are or were patients receiving antibiotics, written by a former patient, rather than a book written by a scientist, academic or professional author.

If 'amateur author' means a book written out of love and gratitude , then I am an amateur for sure.

I started thinking about writing this book in 2005, in reaction to the aftermath to the events of 9/11. A lot of people - not just Moslems - seemed down on Manhattan, mostly for its global financial influence and partly for its part in the development of nuclear weapons during World War Two.

I decided the world needed to be reminded that not everything Manhattan did between 1941 and 1945 led to more killing and suffering.


The Manhattan Project had many connections to Manhattan Island and the surrounding Greater New York City area - as did the 'agape penicillin' project.

But the Manhattan Project leading to nuclear warfare was one of the biggest projects (in terms of money and manpower) - and certainly the best known, of all the projects of World War Two.

By contrast, the 'agape penicillin' project was one of the smallest and least known projects during the war.

Think of it, perhaps, as Manhattan's other Project.

If size matters to you above all else, this isn't likely to interest you.

But the 'agape penicillin' story is a truly epic story of courage arising above adversity to change our world forever, for better.....

God Knows What Henry Dawson Did With Penicillin...

...and HE doesn't need a gaggle of academics - or me - to remind HIM.

Monday, October 18, 2010

*In ferrum pro libertate rueban

It is thin comfort when you lose your dad or husband at an young age to note that his death had its poetic dimensions to it.

But just as Dr Martin Henry Dawson began his independent career with his work on the dagger shaped S pneumococcus, so those bacteria also brought his career to an end.

 These sword-shaped bacteria - 'the old man's friend' - hastened his end when a final Myasthenia Gravis Crisis, two and a half years after his initial diagnosis, led to aspiration pneumonia which developed into full blown bacterial pneumonia.

This was the usual time period - and manner - in which people with severe MG died , before changes in emergency crisis treatment in the late 1950s greatly reduced fatal outcomes from 80% to 5%  (and that 5% usually from the severely ill elderly with MG.)

A further poetic dimension to Dawson's life and death is that the man spent his whole scientific career focused on mucus -  strep bacterial mucus to be exact.

(From the lifetime he spent plowing this narrow, boring-seeming furrow, Dawson nevertheless spun off HGT and Recombinant DNA, Q-sensing, Molecular Mimicry induced Autoimmune disease, and Biofilm colonies destroyed by Systemic Natural penicillin - basically the entire field of  current bio medicine.)

Not bad !

But in the end, it was his own thickened mucus that his MG crisis produced but that his weak gag reflex could not expectorate that led to the aspiration pneumonia that resulted in his death.

Dawson lived for his (bacterial) mucus and he died by his (own) mucus...

* "For Freedom, They Rushed the Sword" : Virgil's AENEID

Laconia: DELIBERATE friendly fire is modernist utilitarianism

I do not find it at all impossible to comprend why so many Germans found it easy to cold-bloodedly murder millions of 'useless' outsiders, whom they hated and feared, after learning that they first killed hundreds of thousands of their 'own kind of people', kinfolk that they regarded as 'useless mouths' impeding an all-out total war effort.

While these numbers killed dwarf any other killings during the last War, they do not seem to me to plump the depths of the evil that modernist utilitarianism proved capable of during Modernism's big war.

As just one example,German soldiers east of Berlin, near the end of the war, followed orders to blow up a river bridge to stop the Russians coming over it, despite the fact that the bridge was loaded with hundreds of German civilians.

I call this 'deliberate friendly fire' (and I do not consider fragging as friendly fire at all).

My definition of deliberate friendly fire : "you know there are people from your side - soldiers or civilians - in the very small area you are accurately aiming your weapons at, and you fire away anyway and kill many of your own side while attempting to kill the enemy".

It is fairly well known that naval escorts were routinely under orders to never stop to pick up convoy survivors in the freezing North Atlantic waters but rather to abandon them (to likely die), while they chased subs instead.

Sometimes they had to be even more brutal - dropping depth charges in among survivors ,knowing many would die from the blast.

In September 1942, the converted Cunard liner LACONIA, which had frequently docked in Halifax during the war,
was sunk by a U-boat off Africa.

She was an armed warship, so this was fully allowed under the rules of war, though the U boat thought she was a troop carrier, not an  armed naval vessel.

The U boat captain got a shock when he heard the survivors in the water speak Italian and learned that there were 1500 Italian POWs on board, along with Allied women and children.

He told Berlin he was going to signal his position in clear language and try and arrange a rescue trip, under the flag of the Red Cross, to a neutral (Vichy) port.

The British ,suspecting a trap, didn't fully inform a near by
American fighter bomber base, who decided to bomb the U-boat, even though it would mean the death of many near-by allied sailors and families - as it did.

The ultimate decision was apparently made by one plane's bomb sighter's adamant eagerness to drop bombs on civilians, if needed to record a u-boat kill.

His personal decision led first the Germans and then the US to create a formal and public "sink everything without warning or rescue"  submarine policy worldwide - leading to hundreds of thousands of extra civilian deaths - many of them being innocent people 'from their own side'.

My partner Rebecca, without giving it much thought, said things like this happen - 'sometimes you must kill a few to save the many' .

I told her I rejected utilitarianism absolutely and decided to write this blog entry to try and explain why to her.

World War Two was many kinds of war.

After all, it was the same war that saw Americans unwilling to send healthy young fathers off to fight till forced to in late 1943.

They also rejected using the one in ten Americans who were black in combat roles and they rejected a wider use of women to replace men to go off and fight.

They objected to almost every rationing rule with real bite.

This unwillingness to fully engage their national resources, if doing so led to inconveniencing civilian lifestyles and upsetting prewar civilian norms, meant that America couldn't put up enough military resources to stop the relatively small number of U boats wrecking havoc all over the Atlantic.

This, in turn, led to these brutal 'kill our own side if need be to kill the enemy' orders as Allied commanders tried everything to try and keep the U boats from winning the war on their own.

Everything? Did I say that ?

I didn't mean that Allied commanders were willing to put a serious number of their longest range bombers on U-boat patrol - the one thing needed to stop the U boats cold.

No, those were saved for the glamorous (but mostly useless) high tech bomber war against Germany itself - not the boring but useful patrols over the Atlantic.

I say that utilitarianism is never moral - even if we ( literally all of we - from child to grandmom) all agreed to draw straws.

Straws to see who goes off to die in the infantry and who gets to stay home.

This total utilitarianism without limits would end up consuming itself until we, on all sides, would literally fight to the last person.

But we haven't seen - Thank God ! - this kind of utilitarianism - yet.

What we got in World War Two was selective use of total utilitarianism, almost always invoked by the higher-ups and almost always inflicted upon those lower down.

In 1942-1943,during the same time as the Laconia Incident, thsat same US government also decided to deny penicillin to the SBEs that Dawson championed.

The small supply of penicillin would go instead to quickly cure GIs in Italy who had deliberately incurred cases of VD to get out of the constant killing zone that was the American front line.

Once quickly cured in a day or two by penicillin, (the old protocol took months to get a full cure), they could be ordered back to fight - to fight until they died thanks to the American 'no rotation' rule'.

This was all decided so that American civilians back home won't have to be called up to fill out their depleted ranks.

This penicillin decision likely meant death for both SBE and GI.

A selective, lethal, slice of 'total war' was applied there, on these few people, so that a less lethal slice of total war did not have to be applied here, among many people.

I find it a horrifically cynical policy but it has its defenders, even today.

The right policy would have been to issue the threat of a government factory to supply this miracle drug, if the private drug companies proved too slow.

The fear that a Democrat government factory would have ended up getting the credit for "supplying the miracle", rather than private enterprise, would have lit a fire under the backside of Republicans like George W Merck as nothing else could.....

Saturday, October 16, 2010

First ANTIBIOTIC use 70 years ago today lifted youth off his deathbed

Forget the famous February 1941 story of a poor policeman dying from the scratch of a rose.

Its bull - bullfeathers.

Totally bogus - at least as a founding legend of penicillin.

You know the one, where our policeman dies, despite the desperate attempts to save his life with the 'first ever' needles of penicillin by an Australian born doctor named Florey.

Dig deeper and there is lots about that story to question - but that's for another day.

Today we are to celebrate , not to criticize.

The "first ever" use of an antibiotic by needle to save a human life actually happened months earlier and an ocean away and that needle was given by a Canadian-born doctor named Martin Henry Dawson.

Most importantly, that first ever patient, a 27 year old youth named Charles Aronson, walked away from his deathbed !

 (Charlie was suffering from an invariably fatal disease called SBE, the final stage of Rheumatic Fever).

The amount of penicillin given to him was far far far too small to kill his biofilmic bacteria around his heart valves ---- but it might have affected his heart greatly nevertheless : his emotional heart.

It lifted his morale and that way enough for this boy with a cat-like nine lives when it came to Strep bacteria attacks.

When last contacted in early 1946, Charlie was still alive, still here !

Truro, Nova Scotia ( Dawson's hometown) take a bow .....your boy did us all proud....

Friday, October 15, 2010

the epic triumph of DEMAND SIDE penicillin

All penicillin histories - to date - have been about what I call "SUPPLY SIDE" penicillin.

"Brilliant scientists, working day and night in the 15 years since September 1928, once again totally surprised humble but ever grateful lay people all over the world."

"They did so by dropping the new miracle cure penicillin  upon them, out of the blue, in September 1943."

This version of the saga says penicillin is best told in two competing stories or parts.

 But both parts are united in being all about active scientists --- with no role what so ever for us, the totally passive and inert citizenry, or in our roles as patients and patients' families.

Part One ,(1928-1937), features Dr Fleming - discoverer of penicillin - with far too many pages devoted to the mysteries of that discovery and with too few of the rest devoted to his efforts to bring his penicillin juice forward to the point of actually saving lives -----when used as an antiseptic.

Part Two, (1937-1940), features Dr Florey of Oxford University (all bow) and his years of wartime work on the chemistry of penicillin - all about his troubles extracting and purifying and synthesizing penicillin.

My book will be about Part Three, (1940-1943), the era of "DEMAND SIDE" penicillin. It will be all about the life-saving done by early penicillin doctors (not scientists), on the rare occasions when penicillin was diverted to the ward bedside and away from the synthetic chemists.

 It will focus on Dr Dawson - the patient. Yes, the patient.

Dawson was not unique in deciding to become a doctor after months spent in a hospital - Dr Colitti ( of Patty-Malone-and-penicillin fame) resolved to become a doctor after his own childhood bouts in hospital dealing with his spinal TB that left him a permanent hunchback.

For Dawson, his insights as a doctor dealing with chronically and terminally ill SBE patients could only have deepened when he himself became a chronically and terminally ill MG patient at about the same time.

Actually I will focus on Dawson, on his first penicillin cure Charlie Aronson, on Baby Patricia Malone's family and on the mother of a dead child he never got to save - Mae Smith, wife of Pfizer chief John L Smith.

In August 1943,Dr  Dante Colitti - inspired by Dawson's illegal SBE successes (an early example of ACTING UP) at another hospital a mile away, got Mr and Mrs Malone to also 'ACT UP' and publicly demand penicillin for their dying child.

Soon hundreds of families were doing the same all over North America and when enough Doctor Moms kicked up a fuss, even the stupidest men in Washington or Brooklyn listened - penicillin production really got moving, after 15 years of male excuses for 'not taking out the trash'.


Med Schools in that era - and perhaps even today - hated the chronically ill because they refused to die or get better, within the only school term that could be devoted to that particular form of illness.

The chronically ills' failure to get better 'put paid' to the notion that Science was always successful.

And Society in general packed the chronically ill of low income families away in large impersonal institutions with too many patients and too little money.

It got worse in wartime - a lot worse. A lot of people feel free to unleash their inner evilness in wartime and the helpless are a safe target.

In Hitler's Germany, the chronically ill were actively gassed - particularly those 'useless mouths' type patients like the SBEs (Charlie) and MGs (Dawson) who needed lots of repeated interventions of  high tech medical care without any hope they would eventually recover and start back at productive war work.

In Vichy France or in the US, it was more subtle - the eugenics of benign neglect.

Budgets were cut for the chronically ills day to day living expenses so more money could go to the war, or simply back to the well to do taxpayer when no one was able to complain.

Many chronically ill in institutions died of hunger-induced  infections while the budget-cutters' consciences could remain unsullied.

 Chronic illness research efforts were re-directed away from these useless mouths 4Fs towards the 1As and war medicine.

 Many patients were conscripted,without their informed consent, in some very dangerous experiments for the war - humans being as badly and baldly treated and cast off as laboratory white mice usually are.

Dawson and his supporters rejected the artificial divide between Social Medicine and War medicine, between social penicillin and war penicillin.

They said , against Hitler and Tojo, social medicine was war medicine,in fact the best kind of war medicine.

They said are we fighting Hitler simply because he took raw materials and markets we once regarded as ours or rather because we detest his values with all our hearts?

If it truly was the latter - FDR's Four Freedoms -  we should contrast how we treat our old and weak against how Hitler treated his.

For we will all become old and weak someday.

By 1943-1944, a lot of people saw that Dawson was right - and penicillin's promise was held out to people in the occupied ,enemy, allied and neutral nations as a symbol of the rightness of the Allied Cause.

Until then it had been treated as one of the Allies' best war weapons - a strange term for a life-saver .

 Yes, Dr Dawson probably did 'go a little native' when he got MG and became a perpetually ill patient as well as life-saving doctor -----but Thank God for that !

In January 1945, when AMA boss Morris Fishbein, the American medical censor, finally let Dawson tell American GPs about his five years of successfully curing SBE with penicillin, Dawson could reflect he hadn't done too badly for a chronically ill 4F.

Most histories of penicillin - to date - act like Dawson withdrew to a shadow world of chronic illness and inactivity after he got his MG diagnosis around May 1941, so the authors can return to focus on his rival Florey.

But in the Spring of 1945, Dawson could say, like a lot of chronically ill people who kept on being highly productive despite the pain, "*I'm Still Here - and so is my penicillin !"

Partially because of Dawson and Colitti's ACTING UP, patients today are much more likely to demand quick relief rather than simply waiting for the desultory scientists to get it all perfect and pure before dropping it into our grateful little hands - and Thank God for that, too....

* "I'm Still Here !" is a copyrighted expression and used with the kind permission of the late copyright holder, Margo Takacs Marshall, 1928-2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Florey,Dawson's clashing business models

Florey and his many scientific supporters have always said that his interest in penicillin, beginning in early 1938, was the fact that it killed staph bacteria while the sulfa drugs did not.

Staph was not a big killer back then - not like strep bacteria - at least not in peacetime.

It tended to do its worst when it settled deep into big bones that weren't well supplied with blood - making it hard for white blood cells and sulfa molecules to get at the bacteria.

This condition is called acute or chronic osteomyelitis and it was rampant among the young children of the poor - in peacetime.

In wartime, surviving victims of war wounds - or the surviving wounded from the Blitz - often had huge deep wounds that involved their leg bones - a hard-to-get-at location that was ideal for staph bacteria to settle in for a long stay.

Patients affected went back and forth from convalescence bed to hospital bed while doctors and nurses strived to prevent the patient from getting worse in the hope the body would eventually seal off the infection without crippling the patient in the process.

Often they survived but were left crippled - other times the patient's resistance weakened and the staph spread widely till the patient died of general blood poisoning.

In war time, deep bone wounds infected by staph represented a massive cost to the military medical system - consuming resources for years while the affected soldier was unlikely to ever to return to full service. Blitz victims similarly taxed the overworked civilian medical system.

So Florey's business model for "war penicillin" - penicillin as a mere supplement for the sulfas, its wartime use to be strictly limited to healing military patients with deeply set staph infections of the bones and limbs - how did it sell ?

It didn't.

There is no record in all his biographies that any military medical types ever visited him until 1943 - nor is it recorded anywhere that he visited military doctors and was turned down.

Curious - the Navy, Air Force, 8th Army in North Africa, the Blitz victims - they had no end of deep staph infections of the bones to treat from September 2nd 1939 to September 2nd 1942 (three years - half of the entire war) but they avoided penicillin like it was plagued.

Florey was set up to supply an non-existent market.

By contrast,from 1940 to 1942, Dawson's main market had more customers than he could hope to fill.

Florey,Fleming, Heatley, Merck, Dawson of course, they all got requests (from around the world) for penicillin to treat SBE after Dawson announced that he had hopes to cure SBE with the new drug.

Dawson's business model for penicillin could not have been more different from Florey's.His Social Penicillinhe wanted to be made by a government factory and made available to all ( civilians and soldiers) in quantity and at a reasonable price - and made available like yesterday.

He thought penicillin could replace sulfa, not just supplement it, and used to kill all bacteria that was sensitive to it - not just staph.

Florey didn't directly treat any cases - he had no hospital rights unlike Dawson.

But the twenty serious systemic cases he
indirectly treated were almost all staph infected - so he kept to his business model in his own practise.

Similarly, Dawson had about 125 serious systemic cases that he directly dealt with and he too kept to his business model.

Those cases included all the types of bacteria that penicillin could kill---with about a third of them SBE cases.

Penicillin was promised to the military in mid-1943 after they finally decided that they wanted it ,by seeing it work well in military staph wounds in early 1943.

Score one for Florey.

But it only actually got delivered to the military and to the civilians when Dawson's
SBE success produced a patients' revolt across America and Canada ----inspiring Pfizer to go for broke.

Credit that to Dawson's business model--- and lets recall that by 1950 penicillin had completely replaced ,not supplemented, the mighty sulfas.....

Recombinant DNA and HGT's contribution to the penicillin saga

Where does one begin?

The beta-lactam molecular 'core' was originally created by bacteria and was only later was moved by HGT/ recombinant DNA into some fungi .

Those fungi then created the penicillin-variants of that very special fused beta-lactam ring .

But while this HGT operation was obviously fundamental to there being a penicillin saga to begin with, it had little direct impact on how the 1929-1944 penicillin saga actually unfolded.

But the four years of hard work and disappointments that Martin Henry Dawson endured between the Fall of 1926 and the Fall of 1930  working on HGT and recombinant DNA exchanges did make him the best qualified researcher in the world to put up with the temperamental penicillium between the Fall of 1940 and the Fall of 1944.

 His pioneering work with R to S type  (and S to S type) HGT exchanges between Strep pneumococcus bacteria made him eminently qualified to stand up to all the difficulties in growing penicillium to produce penicillin.

Dawson was the first in the world, together with Richard Sia, to successfully induce R to S pneumococcus HGT DNA exchanges in a test tube after most other researchers threw up their hands in despair and moved onto other research.

But he was no quitter and he pulled it off after years of failure.

Dawson then went on, with Agnes Warbasse, to do the same with S to S HGT DNA exchanges and this remains extremely difficult to do naturally, as Dawson did it.

He then went on to successfully grow colonies of M and L types of bacteria, all part of his effort over the roughly 15 years between 1926 and 1941 to establish that R,M,L were fully co-equal equivalents or alternatives to S types of bacteria - not defective or deficient versions of it.

This postmodernist notion naturally was seen as bizarre or worse in the strongly modernist atmosphere of medical research between the wars.

I see it as the bacterial equivalent of Dawson treating 4F civilians as the exact moral equivalent of 1A soldiers, not as defective 'useless mouth' variants,  despite the reign of Total War Utilitarianism ruling western medicine between 1940 and 1945.

Dawson's pioneering HGT DNA/ Q-sensing work taught him ethics and it taught him technical skills - both which he called upon to get penicillin successfully launched......

Leonard Colebrook is CENTRAL CASTING's penicillin hero

Time to wake up.

This isn't Hollywood.

"This Reality talking: Put your hands in the air and move slowly away from the World of Fiction".

In the World of Reality, Leonard Colebrook actually did bugger-all to advance the development of penicillin.

But Hollywood isn't totally wrong - he should have been the one to make penicillin a world wide success by 1932 or so.

He actually did do so in 1936 with a later - and lesser - 'miracle drug' : the sulfa family of drugs.

He did it by using some of the first commercially available sulfa to reduce childbed fever deaths to a very low figure - a feat that alone should have earned him immortality from grateful young mothers and families.

Childbed fever - actually commensal GAS strep bacteria (long term residents of the throats of the many attending doctors and nurses) settling in on the huge wound that is every new mother's uterus - is a particularly dreaded form of infectious death.

The death itself is often very painful. By definition the patient is relatively young (ie in her child-bearing years) . The death leaves a new born baby to be raised alone by a grieving young father and his young family.

Next Colebrook went on to pioneer new techniques to combat other forms of cross-infections that frequently develop in hospitals - starting with World War Two burn victims.

Even in retirement he led yet another crusade to modify the ubiquitous space heater so they all had clothing guards installed by law. Until this law was in place, thousands of people a year - in the UK alone - got severely burned or died, when their night clothing got set alight when it got entangled on the bare heating element.

His parents had raised him to be a Non Conformist missionary and reformer. In the event,Colebrook did as many would-be missionaries did at the turn of the last century - he channelled his missionary impulses into the field of medicine.

His highly moral impulse remained as intense as ever in everything he did.

He joined the Territorial (Reserve) Army and when he was called up in 1914, was prepared to go to the front as an infantry officer, not as a doctor.

But he was judged too valuable as a medical researcher to remain on the front lines - he spent the rest of the war in the rear echelons, with Fleming and Wright.

But at least- and unlike Fleming or Florey - he was willing to go to the Front.

In World War Two, he was again at the front, in a medical military capacity - teaching medical teams how to use sulfa powder in new war wounds ( he knew little more they did !) - and as the Front Line dissolved and became meaningless in the Battle for France he had a number of very close escapes.

He was 57 years old - and still at the front,  still in the thick of it, trying to save lives 'right here, right now'.

Colebrook was the near-perfect example of  the type of doctor I call the ward-doctor type.

This type of doctor may suffer from EED (Empathy Excess Disorder), in that they care too much for the patient, feel too much of their pain.

When they see patients dying needlessly around them, they are inclined to throw themselves even deeper into the battle at the bedside level - trying to use any or all of the best available techniques as best they can, as hard as they can.

What they can not see themselves doing, is beating what they'd call 'a cowardly retreat' to the quiet of a laboratory to 'study' the disease at its most fundamental level, hoping to find a cure - 'sure ,in about 6 years time'.

JV Duhig, Robert Pulvertaft, RH Boots, Perrin Long, Frank C Queen and even Karl Meyer are all doctors in the penicillin saga that fit this type.

There is a totally different type of doctor I will call a lab doctor. They probably suffer, to some extent, from EDD (Empathy Deficiency Disorder).

 They too find it very hard to see patients dying needlessly, but they reject 'simply'  providing 'band aid' palliative care for those who are dying without a cure in sight.

They spend their careers in the laboratory seeking the fundamentals of a disease and its cure in the universalities of chemistry and physics - as far as possible away from living, breathing, capricious individual human beings.

They may serve - if they must - in the military but they contrive that it is done in the rear echelons.

 However, once over draftable age, they frequently display a newly bellicose attitude to war service that one rarely find among the ex-veterans who actually faced death on the front lines.

I am thinking of Fleming, Florey, Keefer, Richards, and their ilk.

Now they may have something to offer society as scientists, despite the negative picture I paint of them.

They are no more quitters in the lab than the clinician doctors are on the ward.

They might have the skills to grow something as difficult as penicillium and the strength to hang in there when their first ten months of efforts are marked by nothing but failure.

One could see Florey and Colebrook as the perfect combination of two men who are incomplete as individuals, when it comes to successfully developing penicillin.

Colebrook would be too focused on 'saving this patient - today'  to ever set aside the months of time needed for the effort in the lab to learn how to grow penicillin.

 Florey ,on his own, would be too focused on purifying penicillin to 100% pure to remember that there is a war on and patients dying while he fiddles.

But Florey and Colebrook had nothing in common, in terms of their personalities---- I couldn't see it ever happening.

Colebrook, by contrast, had worked successfully for years with Fleming at St Mary's but the relationship had soured when Fleming moved to displace Colebrook in Wright's affections.

Colebrook regarded Wright as his second father and could never forgive Fleming for this.

Besides, Fleming clearly lacked the drive to do hard work for months on end, needed if a hospital lab was to produce enough penicillin for human trials.

Colebrook succeeded with sulfa where he failed with penicillin because sulfa was abundantly and cheaply available in a stable form, ready to have any nurse give the patient as a pill as scheduled.

Penicillin had to be grown by the doctor determined to use it - as no drug company was really that willing to help.

He or she would have to concentrate and purify it and then preserved this highly labile drug long enough for it to make it to the patient's arm. It had to be given IV, and hence by doctor,likely themselves in fact ,a needle every three hours around the clock for weeks at a time.

Few doctors - even of the heroic cast like Colebrook or his American counterpart Perrin Long - were up for this.

Only Martin Henry Dawson combined the rare strengths of Fleming/Florey and Colebrook /Long in just one person.

That is why 70 years ago this week ,it was he - and him alone - that gave that long awaited first ever needle of penicillin, that sent a young boy named Charles Aronson home from his expected deathbed.....

The Mystery of Penicillin's 18 missing years

I believe that all of the penicillin books up to now - and there have been hundreds of them - have basically been a series of 100,000 word excuses - "the dog ate my penicillin homework".

Excuses to us - the lay public - on behalf of Science in general or on behalf of one or other early penicillin researchers in particular.

But eighty years later, we lay people still want to know why it was that the best life saving medicine this world will ever see took an eighteen year vacation (from September 1928 till about September 1946) before local doctors around the world could routinely prescribe it to save a life.

Whether they are from the pen of a medical historian  seeking to defend all of Science/a particular team effort or the effort of a lay author defending an individual scientist they particularly admire, all those apologies basically come down to this:
The 18 year delay was due to technical difficulties, not moral failings - at least not the moral failings of my hero.
My book, by contrast, is not going to be a technical book - at least in its intentions.

(It will actually highly technical and highly accurate at times---- but only when needed to refute technical excuses and bromides.)


Mine will be a Moral History of penicillin - it will lay out a thesis that it was moral failings, not technical difficulties, that delayed penicillin becoming popularly know and commonly prescribed during all those years of death and suffering that we now call The Great Depression and World War Two.

The two events caused an excess of 100 million premature deaths over what might have been expected in that 16 year period.

Even if we content to 'merely' reduce those excessive deaths and not seek to prevent many of the so-called normal infectious deaths, how millions might penicillin have saved if it was readily available by 1929-1930?

Or consider this: despite the new global threat from nuclear weapons, the Cold War period from 1945 till 1985 was actually an incredibly optimist period in world human history.

The promise of 1945's penicillin was sufficient, all by itself, to overcome the fear induced by 1945's A-Bomb.

For a generation, penicillin kept most of us buoyed up about ourselves and the world around us.

Could those good vibes - induced in 1928-1929 instead of twenty years later - have been enough, by themselves, to prevent the worst of the Great Depression and World War Two from even happening ?

We will never know.

 But I believe these questions are still big enough,eighty years on, for it to be worthwhile to re-examine the early penicillin saga to see if there is another explanation for the delay. One that will finally convince most lay people - and hopefully - even convince a few of the scientists.


In the Fall of 1943, in Brisbane Australia, 15 years after Fleming discovered penicillin, Dr J V Duhig saved the lives of a dozen seriously ill people using a form of penicillin juice no more sophisticated than what Fleming had on hand in November 1928.

This the single hard, hard, hard, hard ,hard, historical stone against which I am going to grind every author and every account that claims that there were 'technical complications' why the world had to wait 15 or more years to put the life-saving effects of penicillin to work.

Until and unless they can explain to everyone's satisfaction why Duhig could do this - but why Fleming/Florey and Dawson et all couldn't - I will not relent.....