Wednesday, October 31, 2012

War as Entropy : its permanent costs

Pure - useless - ENTROPY
"Think about Germany and Japan : smashed to pieces in the last war, but look at them now." "So, no real - permanent - harm in a little war now and then is there ?" " Boys must be boys, etc."
(Sample conversations of conventional economists their cups.)

In my last SVE post "Artillery Shells : Entropy for Economists" , I tried to put a difficult term from physical science into the everyday language of voters and consumers, into language that even conventional economists should be able to understand.

I focussed on the purest and quickest form of entropy most of us will ever personally experience , when we learn that the very expensive, very well made 105 mm artillery shell our taxes just paid for, has been blown to the tiniest of bits.

In that post, I neglected the entropy inherent in the fates of the three victims of our 105 mm shell : the soldier, the civilian car and the civilian building , as all three were also blown to pieces.

They are blown into much bigger pieces, physically , than the shell and the explosives that propelled it and blew it up, so does the concept of entropy really apply to them ?

Let me argue why it does.

It costs a lot of money to feed, clothe, shelter and above all educate a 20 year old man : his parents and society pay it hopeful his 45 years of labour as an adult will pay it back --- in particular taxes on his employment will help pay the health costs of his parents when they are old.

Blown into four or five big chunks by the shell, he is not really recyclable : at best he is about 15 cents worth of plant fertilizer when he is buried.

All that money in raising him, all that future return via his employment income ----- gone, gone, gone, in an instant.

Ignore scientists' bafflegab : entropy is war, end of story

The car, used daily as a taxi, also is blown into a few big pieces, but is "recyclable" --- albeit as scrap steel. $15,000 car to $100 in scrap metal --- in an instant.

The building, home to a dentist's clinic is worth say $100,000, independent of the land it sits on, which we will claim ins undiminished in value, despite being used as a battlefield.

Badly damaged, it will cost another $5,000 just to tear it down, before we can even think of rebuilding on the same site. The value of the carted away rubble, minus cost of cartage and disposal/sale is a negative $1000 dollars.

Surprisingly perhaps, much of the heavily built and very valuable dentistry equipment inside the building is virtually undamaged and can be easily returned to a useful long life ----- but only if it is got to, before the elements rust it to bits. And that is iffy : depending on the state of the war raging around it - and the weather.

I call these real life examples, taken from WWII,  pure entropy (useful to useless) , won't you ?

Artillery Shells : Entropy for Economists

Politically and economically, entropy simply means that today's concentrated, useful, work-able, matter and energy invariably  becomes tomorrow's "useless-to-humans because too-finely dispersed" matter and energy. All we can hope to do, is slow the process as best we can.

(Note that microbes like bacteria can often make useful, work-able materials out of atoms and molecules too finely dispersed for humans to make economic use of them : in fact long dead bacteria  created many of the highly concentrated ore bodies we humans use to create our industrial world.)

Politically and economically, concentrated matter and energy is useful and dispersed matter and energy is not : despite the fact that neither total mass or energy has changed one iota in the process.

It takes much energy and matter to assemble an ordinary 105 mm High Explosive artillery shell, the kind that are fired off in the millions and millions in every war for the last century.

A chunk of high grade of steel is carefully bored to the microscopically exact dimensions before an artful blend of chemical explosives is poured into it. This is then attached to a carefully made brass cartridge also filled with a different blend of explosive chemicals.

Warfare is entropy at its purest....

Each shell and cartridge is made by highly skilled machinists with a careful inspection process weeding out any one a little imperfect.

Even with a hundred years of world wide experience in making these shells, and their mass production economy of scales, each shell costs at least a thousand dollars, when all the disguised development costs are factored in.

Now it is fired, hitting a human soldier , a civilian and a civilian building and destroying all three in the process of blowing itself to pieces.

(The brass cartridge is recyclable, by the army that fired it or by the other side, depending on how the course of the war goes.)

How does conventional economics (versus physical economics) explain the economics of this process int terms of equilibrium theory ?

Taxes, some of them from the people in the armament plant and the men firing the gun, will pay to make the shell  and pay the pensions of the soon-to-be veterans who fired it.

Since the shell was blown into tiny pieces, along with its explosive solids which were turned into heat and kinetic energy and lots of very rapidly expanding gases, none of this will ever be recycled, in fact can't be recycled.

For hundreds of metres around the shell blast, the earth will hold tiny rusting pieces of metal hardly visible to the eye.

Soon they will rust back into the soil around them.

 The winds will carry the rapidly expanding explosives' gases into the air for miles around.

On the other side, the side actually hit by the shell's force, economic activities will also be generated.

(Just listen and read how Wall Street sees an economic upside to Hurricane Sandy's death and destruction.)

 A pension will go to the soldier's family, government assistance will help pay carpenters to rebuild the building - the loss of the car will probably never be recovered by its owner from the government or the enemy, but another car will be built to replace it, employing people at a car plant.

The GDP on both sides sees an "upside" from the explosion of that 105 mm shell.

But physical economists say a shell is not like a tractor : the tractor consumes resources in being built but then helps harvest resources and at the end of its life is melted down and recycled in new metal products.

But a fired shell, like a ship filled with warplanes sunk by a sub in deep waters, is pure entropy : concentrated useful matter and energy is blown (dispersed) to the winds and the waters and is totally useless to mankind from then on.

 Rather like the valuable metals, from scarce concentrated ore bodies, that we build into thin food container foils and then wastefully disperse into huge landfills : the exact civilian equivalent of blowing up metal shells to the high winds....

Is Earth gaining or losing MASS and why this matters...

Herman Daly "GETS IT"
The vast majority of economists are in fact 'psychic' economists only, and they  greatly resent attempts of rebel economists like Herman Daly to re-establish their discipline on a physical basis.

 So they claim that thermodyamic physical restraints on human activity on earth are totally irrelevant, as we are not living in an "isolated system" planet where the limits of the second law of thermodynamics would apply, but on an "open system" planet that annually gets a great deal of new solar energy and a 100,000 tons of cosmic dust.

But is this true ?

( Is anything that mainstream economists ever say about physicality  true ? In my experience, not usually. Useful members of a sub branch of the psychology department yes, but truly brain-dead hopeless in the physical sciences.)

We also lose much matter and energy annually : in particular, we lose about as much light molecules of gases like hydrogen and helium outbound into space as we gain in cosmic dust. We also lose a small amount annually of mass from being converted into energy via natural radioactivity, which affects every atom eventually.

Yes, every atom in the universe will spontaneously break down, if the universe lasts long enough. Uranium does it quite fast, but all elements do so, at increasingly slower rates.

And energy - thankfully - escapes the Earth annually in huge amounts : or we'd be a molten chunk of dead rock otherwise.

Eventually all that inbound solar energy that helped make the huge ancient redwoods escapes back into space, slightly raising the temperature of the space vacuum ever so slightly ( if its continuing expansion doesn't lower it right back again !)

But I will argue, being first and foremost a practical politician, not some dreamy-eyed academic scientist, that what we really care about - as voters and consumers (aka the guys who actually put the groceries on economists' and scientists' breakfast tables),is neither mass or energy but work.

Engineers usually "get it" right away , but most academic scientists struggle to understand the political difference.

Politically, its all about WORK , not the scientists' mass or energy

On the way to becoming finely dispersed (useless to humans) friction-dust pollution and thermal-noise pollution, concentrated forms of  mass and energy ( commercially large bodies of iron ore  and coal ore) can do very useful work for us, as industrial humans.

But once these ore bodies are gone (over the next two centuries) they will not be replaced, at least not in any world that humans can survive in.

A world such where ocean bacteria were able to concentrate enough widely dispersed iron atoms to create the vast beds of iron ore that we run our world upon will not be one for humans --- nor would the hot swampy world that led giant ferns growths becoming vast beds of coal our electrified world relies on to run its lights and Internet.

We will have to learn to survive on the immediate biological conversion of solar energy into plants and animals.

 And upon the use of  daily solar energy to do such things as to bake abundant clay into bricks : once again in a human world of rock and wood , with metals treated as precious and only used for their most valuable applications :  such as high grade steel reserved for blade edges, as in the days of old.

What about uranium and atomic energy ? Uranium is only useful to humans if found in those rare highly concentrated ore bodies : dispersed into random atoms all over the planet, per the second law of thermodynamics, they are as useless in terms of work as they are (nearly) indestructible in terms of mass.

To misquote Brian Mulroney : "its all about work,work,work !"

Monday, October 29, 2012

99% of the world tacitly agrees with Italian "earthquake" court : no such thing as a natural disaster, only human negligence...

MODERNITY sentences scientists
It should be, by far, the biggest news story this year - in fact, one I feel sure historians will be referencing two centuries from now, when they try to assist citizens of the future to understand the 'spirit of the age' of this still very modernist early 21st century.

But in fact, almost unnoticed by most of the world's largest media, an Italian court has sent a half dozen scientists to jail for 6 years, for failing to warn citizens that an earthquake was going to happen.

Actually they had  publicly warned that a major earthquake might or might not happen fairly soon in this earthquake-prone part of the world : which is as vague or as precise as scientists can ever get about earthquakes' timing, severity and location.

The judge found them guilty and tacitly, so did the rest of the world by their approving silence.

In 99% of the educated world's eyes, unpredictable random natural disasters (Acts of God) do not and can not exist in a "just world" : only preventable human irrationality.

The ballot question on modernity versus post modernity (cum global commensality)

In a nutshell, as concise a statement of what it means to be Modernist as one can ever hope to find.

By contrast, I am a post-modernist and I believe that much of Nature and Reality will always be veiled from human understanding, controlling and predicting : natural disasters can and do happen and they are not the fault of an conspiracy of willfully negligent humans.

It is truly a ballot question as we Canadian political scientists are wont to say: the crux of every election that turns complicated voting decisions into a simple plebiscite choice.

November 6th 2012 : *FEMA : kill it (Romney) or keep it (Obama) ?

Anytime : NATURAL DISASTERS : real or result of human failure ?

Pick one or the other and then pull the lever......

*Romney promises to kill FEMA and hand its job over to for-profit corporations, if he was prez when another SANDY hits....

Globe and Mail : will the Commercial paywall become merely a Conservative echo chamber ?

Hoisted on his own Petard !
Ironic, ain't it ? Most of the world's loudest & most bombastic right wing newspapers have totally disappeared from public view --- behind a commercially-oriented paywall --- reducing their public influence to zero. This certainly wasn't their original intention (money,money,money was their intent) - but this situation is the totally unexpected results.

The right wingers who own and run Canada's leading newspaper, the GLOBE and MAIL and who are about to leap in the fire and erect a paywall should pay heed to the sad story of Rupert Murdoch's earlier experiments in this area.

Whatever inane right wing notions Rupert Murdoch's LONDON TIMES is touting this week, you and I (because we are not living in the UK) won't even hear of it, unless we pay to get behind its digital "all or nothing" total  paywall.

The TIMES, as you have probably noticed, as been marked "absent" from the worldwide digital news conversation the last few years - even search engines like Goggle carries nothing from them - because Rupert-Murdoch-the-Genius planned it that way.

As a result, even the influence of the once all-powerful print version of the paper has also been reduced to nearly zero.

Sure its subscribers read it faithfully - but they are die-hard right-wingers so there is no influencing the undecided at play here : you can't preach to the already-converted, you can merely confirm their faith.

The result is a tiny closed community of true believers, echoing each other in the echo chamber that is the LONDON TIMES : a mere 400,000 readers in a world of more seven billion citizens.

Murdoch bought the TIMES to serve as his bully-pulpit, to expand the influence of his inane right wing notions --- and to make him more money.

Paywalls around right wing newspapers reduces their influence to zero : become echo chamber for right wing subscribers only

The paywall didn't make him money, merely reduced his huge losses ---- but it also reduced the political-public impact of this once world opinion leader to echoing the certitudes of a few hundred thousand die-hard far righters.

So news that Murdoch has totally thrown in the towel and admitted this total paywall was an abject failure editorially, comes as no real surprise.

He will now admit defeat and allow Google and other search engines to index the headlines and opening paragraph "lede" of the TIMES' articles : hoping that if the unconverted will not buy a subscription , they will at least absorb some of his bile from the misleading headline and dishonest opening lede.

Public Influence or Profitable Paywall : pick one.

Lots of money and lots of influence, the age-old dream of lots of newspaper barons, is dead : you can have one but not the other.....

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Horse and Buggy Era political party "isms" vs today's new scientific reality : not up for the job ?

I am pro MULTIPLE choice !
Our electioneering rhetoric is, as always, as flexible as an Etch A Sketch ( big shout out to Mitt Romney !)

 But once in government, our party ideologies, those beloved "isms" of Liberalism, Conservatism and Socialism, are as rigid and unchanging today as at their birth 150 to 200 years ago - when the Horse and Buggy, not the Airbus A380, reigned supreme.

There you have our prolonged Global Climate crisis in a nutshell : Science has moved on in the 150 years since the exuberant Mid-Victorian Era and its naive optimism about Man's ability to control Reality, but our political "isms" remain locked in some dusty time warp.

By education, I am a political scientist, but my abiding interest is in physical science ---- but with the proviso that I view all science as political !

When I say Science has changed, I lie.

Oh yes, public (formally peer reviewed published) science has changed greatly since the 1860s : moving from an overwhelming emphasis on PRODUCTION science (science of the hubris-laden first law of thermodynamics) to a new emphasis on IMPACT science (science of the more-somber second law of thermodynamics).

But popular (aka public school science) science has not changed a pinch since the days of total Anglo Saxon Protestant dominance of science.

Newton, Dalton and Darwin still reign supreme and nothing of dour 20th century science, let alone that of the 21st century, dares stain the ever-optimistic laboratories and textbooks of your average high school science course.

Like Carthage, our current high school science boosterism 'must be destroyed' .

The writing and selecting of Public School textbooks ( physical and social science texts above all) are not really in the hands of teachers and scientists ---- they reveal instead the dead weight of the political-commercial elites who really run departments of education and district school boards.

All they ask of high school textbooks is that they are "uplifting" and "positive" (Service Club Boosterism science, as it were).

Ever more and more of that time-old Mid Victorian optimism that science can do almost anything and even if it (temporarily and locally) messes up ,science can also step in to fix the mess.

See it as a case of an ever more optimistic frantic whistling, past our current 'grave' climate graveyard.

If we truly want to save the planet and prevent global climate disaster, setting our sights and scopes on our truly God-awful high school science Babbitry would be an pretty good place to start......

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The GREAT DISCONNECT : our 200 year old party ideologies vs today's Science

Today's parties are as old as her !!
It might surprise many but all of our governing party ideologies - ALL of them - are as old as Queen Victoria.

Before the rise of mass democracy, there were no need for formally constituted political parties with a consistent political ideology to rally around --- all that began to change after the end of the Napoleonic wars.

Check out the formal birth date for any party of your own choosing : from the British Conservative party to the American Democrats to the German Social Democrats to the Russian Communists to the Spanish Anarchists and you will find the ghost of Queen Victoria hovering over them.

All of them born trying to deal with the new world, post Napoleon and post the American and French Revolutions.

(Note ye well , I said our governing parties: the Green Parties decidedly postdate the Queen's death in 1901 but have not yet been the sustained majority government in any country.)

So all our parties have moved along, more or less, with changing times --- but their ideologies have not - by definition.

(Any "ideology" that changes with the polls, like some Mormon weathervane or Etch a Sketch, is many things but it is not an ideology.)

We can not modify or update core ideologies anymore than we can modify or change our date of birth : we can only drop one and take up another, as many did in the decade of the 1910s , going from being Liberals to become Labour voters in Britain.

The problem with all our Victorian political ideologies, from Conservatism to Communism, is that they are - well - so bloody Victorian : so optimistic , so activist, so human-oriented.

They are all the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed children of the optimistic First law of Thermodynamics --- the governing meme of the physical and social sciences of their day.

Other philosophies of their day (based upon religious or on  science of the natural history kind) were more Nature-oriented and more skeptic of the possibility of humans successfully controlling reality.

But these philosophies failed to engender any really successful political ideologies, though they did sponsor some fairly successful political parties.

 Such as Germany's Christian Democrats , who despite their 'Christian' name are rather too easy to confuse with plain old Conservatives or Republicans.

The GREAT DISCONNECT : in the 200 years since our party ideologies were created, science has changed ---- but they haven't.

Roll the movie ahead 200 years : now the Second law of Thermodynamics is the governing meme of today's (21st century) science ----- and it is as mutually hostile with our creaking old 19th century party ideologies as can be imagined.

Unless we develop new - 21st century - political ideologies to go along with our better current understanding of natural reality than what we held in 1812, we will find our political Rhetoric will always fall short of our real world physical Reality - to great cost to us and our world....

As Brits reel from Jimmy Savile coverup scandal, Nova Scotians yawn : been there, done that, got the semen-stained T-shirt to prove it ....

Jimmy Savile "NOT GUILTY" ??
If you are a very powerful figure, someone who dines with the Queen and Prime Ministers, you can safely "interfere" with teenage girls for decades and decades and everyone in a position to do something about it will decide, on sober second thoughts ---- to do nothing at all about it.

They will do nothing, even though knowledge of your repeated sexual assaults are an "Open Secret",  known to tens of thousands of people in positions to stop it.

That includes the evil-doer's competitors and concerned friends , his/her family, the media, the police and the victims and their families.

All rendered scared shitless of  simply saying publicly what they gladly whisper at parties:  that the beloved emperor actually has no clothes when he's out sexually assaulting teenage girls.

All out of fear his/her lawyers will rip them apart in court or see to it that they 'never eat lunch in this town again'.

Nova Scotians have already seen a powerful figure sexually assault hundreds of girls and be ignored by media and police

In fact, unless Jimmy Savile had ordered endless numbers of "hits" to permanently seal all possible lips, bolder Brits would have found that that the all-powerful Jimmy was actually nothing but a hollow house of cards---- with a very low Gladwellesque "tipping point".

That is my personal experience anyway....

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"DENIER science" aims for the stars : but sometimes hits London instead...

To Stars..or LONDON
A whole lot of Denier-Watchers themselves deny that DENIERS even have have "a science" - mostly because they insist that deniers deny and disbelieve the basic tenets of "Science".

Well obviously I strongly disagree with my good pals or this blog would have no purpose!

Not C.P. Snow's "Two Cultures" but rather "Two Sciences"

Let me begin my friendly disagreement with them, by myself denying there is any one thing called "Science" .

Instead, I see ( per Canadian Allan Schnaiberg's famous distinction) two main types of science : Production science aka science of the first law of thermodynamics (wildly optimistic skygod science) versus Impact science of the second law of thermodynamics (cautiously grounded earthling science.)

Production science is very good at building rockets but is very indifferent as to the tragic consequences when they fall on London and Brussels rather than ascend to the stars ( to re-use an old, old gag about Nazi-American patriot Wernher Von Braun !)

Denier science is indeed "building" our human civilization but it is also killing our human civilization and our planet, in the process.

My job - as I see it it - is to stop them and I hope you will consider  starting up efforts to stop them as well.....

Monday, October 8, 2012

Extreme optimism leads , inevitably, to extreme Paranoia : it sounds counterintuitive but its true

Optimistic Paranoia
If you think reality and the Natural World is far too simple and far too benign to pose much of a threat to Modern Man and you have lost your belief in the possibility of Divine (or Devilish) Acts of Providential Intervention, how do you account for why even simple things can go wrong with no obvious signs of intervention ?

You are left to blame it on other humans, usually working in huge, well organized, highly invisible secular conspiracies --- which is why there are no signs of their intervention.

But if you claim you are very religious, as most "optimistic paranoids" do, why not credit this to God or the Devil and their minions : isn't doing invisible things in mysterious ways supposed to be in their very un-Earthly nature?

And don't most religions also teach us that Man is fallible and imperfect - not at all the sort of being capable of pulling off huge conspiracies -- or in keeping his mouth shut if he did ?

Those who are extreme optimists about controlling Nature, (aka DENIERS of any limits on Man's abilities), in practise also act as if they disbelieve God or the Devil can interfere in human activities.

As a result they are left in the position of those Victorians who lost their traditional explanation crediting God or Nature for their strong sense of the Sublime and had to find new explanations to account for it : most opting for the new Technological Sublime, in many scholars' view.

DENIERS all believe in the Technological Sublime in spades, in the technical fix for what ever small, temporary, local, problems Nature or Man can throw our way.

Extreme optimism about Man controlling Nature leads to extreme paranoia about Man controlled by other men - acting in secret conspiracies....

But that isn't enough : for mixed in with the "awe" of the traditional sense of the Sublime, is also a healthy dollop of "fear".

Free floating fear - nationalistic,ethnic, whatever - really grew up along with the new age of Scientism , being in fact a product of it.

For if we no longer find it easy to fear the dark, the tiger or the Devil, we now must fear being overrun by the Yellow Peril or the Socialist Hordes or the Jewish Banksters instead......

Romney, calling little children "takers not makers" and "part of the 47% , says NO to Nickelodeon

Kids are "TAKERS, not makers"
Taking an axe to Big Bird on live nationwide TV, saying no to the traditional presidential candidate visit to Nickelodeon TV's "Kids Pick the President" special ---- Mitt Romney sure knows how to erase that huge, crucial, gender deficit he has with young "waitress moms" and their children doesn't he ?

Picking on little kids - its a male Mormon thing, right ?

Are all Mormons this screwed up on women and children or is it just the LDS/LSD types with five wives in Kenya and Indonesia ?

Yes all little children - newborns especially - are "takers not makers" (even part of the 47%) - giving back nothing useful to society, unless you count the smiles on the faces of parents, grandparents and total strangers.

But Mitt treats kids like he does his dogs - strapping them to the hood of his election campaign bus and driving off madly in all directions.

Why doesn't he stop beating up the kids and starts into fleshing out more information on just exactly what tax loopholes he pledges to cut to get rid of the 16 trillion dollar deficit .......

Saturday, October 6, 2012

"7.8% unemployment figures work of Satan" says GOP, "Act of Providence" retort Dems

I lowered it to 7.8% !
We admit its not a headline you're ever likely to see soon in an American newspaper.

But SVE asks, "why not expect such headlines in what is supposedly the most religious nation on Earth?"

Yesterday the latest US unemployment figures came out.

For about 50 previous months, the figures had always been suitable for tin hatters (Republicans) in the US , even praiseworthy: because the figures confirmed the tin hat belief in "what a mess Obama was making of the economy".

But now yesterday's hint of better days led the tin hatter conspiracy -prone GOP to charge it was a top secret secular conspiracy to favour Obama, involving tens of thousands of civil servants and businesses - about half of them not even Democrats.

There are several other alternatives.

The figures are actually correct.

There is a conspiracy, all right - of aliens.

There is a conspiracy of Satan and his band of devils. Or a conspiracy by God and His angels.

Even the GOP would dismiss the idea that aliens are to blame.

But equally quickly, even the most evangelical among the Tin Hats would also dismiss the idea that God or the Devil influenced the latest unemployment figures.

Even as recently as WWII, most of the governments of the Allied nations could direct that a national day of prayer or thanks be held after a disaster or a victory and expect it would be a widely attended and be an uncontroversial event.

Enough voters - even if only the elderly voters of 75 years ago, ie those raised in times of mid-Victorian piety - still believed strongly in Acts of Providence for the rest of society to think it wise to go along with the gag.

But not anymore.

Is America actually the LEAST religious nation on earth ?

Now for half of the population - they call themselves conservative, I call them blue sky optimists - Nature/Reality is too simple to really hurt Man and the God/Satan doesn't exist and so that only leaves other humans to hurt them.

Dismiss the possibility of your own error and imperfections, dismiss  the existence (or Free Will) of God/Satan, dismiss the complexity of Nature/Reality, who or what else is there to blame when things don't go the way you ordain them to be ?

Conspiracy theories are not irrational, if your underlying assumption is that neither Nature/Reality nor God/Satan can seriously harm you.

It is is your underlying assumption that is brain-dead - not the reasoning thereafter.

The unemployment figure truthers of 2012 are the fallout of the loss of faith in God and loss of fear of Nature that accompanied the rise in the belief in "reified-science" in 1812 : 200 years ago....

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Roof and Rhetoric share a word sense

Stalingrad's bubble
Just as a roof shields us from the reality of the external world - allowing us to live in our own physical bubble, so rhetoric can convince us that the facts of physical reality don't exist - even outside our physical bubble.

Mental bubbles sometimes burst : see Stalingrad, the Battle of

It can help create a mental bubble seemingly more powerful than any physical shelter - until we run out of fuel, food and ammo , as at Stalingrad.....

Are the supposedly eternal and universal laws of nature nothing but Reified Rhetoric ?

Of course they are - can't you tell by the way I posed the question ?
I was using rhetoric --- we all do - particularly scientists.
I emphasize that point because so many scientists claim they do not.
This, in itself, is a highly effective bit of rhetoric.
But when you start deluding yourself thinking that if you and enough of your colleagues say something often enough it must be true (rather like Hitler and his General Staff after the Fall of France) you are in danger of reifying your rhetoric into something that is no longer an airy claim but now a solid fact.
We can't ever know if the laws of the universe are in fact eternal and universal and it needn't matter.
No matter unless you treat science as a theology - in which case you reify limited human suppositions into unlimited universal laws.....

"Sending in the Shovels" : June 6th 1944

How Omaha got its "P"
It was never supposed to have to come to this: the smart money - and Big Science - had long promised that (a) high tech strategic bombing would force the Germans out of the war without any need of an invasion and that (b) the Allies would have lots of cheap, pure, high tech synthetic penicillin.

But as usual Bullshit talks and Reality walks as the two "S"s both failed spectacularly to deliver.

 So it was then that early in the morning of June 6th 1944, a hundred thousand shivering infantry with low-tech rifles and a hundred thousand doses of  low tech natural penicillin were bobbing about off the beaches of Normandy, about to do the job right.

Once again at the last minute , to snatch low tech victory from the jaws of high tech defeat, the wise and the mighty were reduced to "sending in the shovels".

Shades of the supposed "high tech" led victory of Vimy Ridge...

This may not the history of WWII that you are used to hearing - because it is not really true that only the victors write history : in reality it is often powerful victors with something to hide, with something to spin, that end up writing the big histories: Whig History.

 A special kind of Whig History, history re-written with an unique type of hindsight, so that it appears that all events on the victor's side of the war worked together to bring the war to the conclusion that actually happened.

D-Day then not just happened (hard to deny something as big as that anyway !) but was always planned to have happened, and happen when it did and as it did.

But while WWII was Modernity's very own war , at last, it turned out to be the Nadir of Modernity as well.

Because D-Day and the infantry-led conquest of Hitler's Germany, like the mass production of cheap natural penicillin , like the "non-precision" bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki , weren't supposed to happen.

 They were , all three , low tech "Plan B"s ,to cover-up the failure of three of the Allies' high tech "Plan A"s.......

1850: Claude Bernard, Homeostasis and the birth of "Optimistic" Modernity

Hubris of the Skygods...
It is probably no coincidence at all that Modernity is conventionally dated to 1850, the same year that french doctor Claude Bernard first speculated publicly that all advanced life forms - like modern mankind - excel because of complex internal systems to keep them shielded from drastic changes in the external world.

This became the founding tenet of the medical research area called Physiology, which dominated medical research in terms of its elite status and output of publications - until after WWII.

In 1929, leading (American) physiologist Walter B Cannon named that tenet "homeostasis" - the ability to maintain their internal bio-chemical functions at equilibrium becoming the essence of all advanced beings.

Unwisely the metaphor was later extended to (or did it come from ?) economics (the self-correcting market etc) and to geology, chemistry, you name it.

Because an equilibrium of regular rhythms ever returning to a central norm was indeed the central tenet of "optimistic" Modernity.

But Cannon and Bernard,being very "optimistic" modern and hence, by definition, being very human-oriented ,had all their work focussed on stand-in humans : cats, dogs, rats killed in the cause of defining homeostasis.

Mammals in other words : and indeed all mammals do keep their internal system at a constant temperature, for example, compared to the temperature changes of the greater world outside their bodies.

But most other beings do not : fish,frogs, snakes, trees, bacteria all let their internal temperatures align with that of the outer world ---- frugally saving immense amounts of energy in the process.

And there you have it : Bernard and Cannon were really - you knew it all along didn't you ? - doing the work of the energy corporations, by making the vast amounts of (fossil) energy consumed by modern humans seem to be the natural and indeed the preferred natural way of the world: industrial homeostasis.

For the modern factory came along about the same time as Claude Bernard's key insight did : in the 1850s.

Imagine it is 1850 and it is winter and midnight, so not surprisingly, it is dark, cold, wet and windy outside.

But inside the factory, the back shift is humming right along : there are the lights and heat of a midday in Spring and the roof and walls are keeping the wind and rain out.

In earlier times, such weather would force humans into inactivity - as it still does frogs and many others.

But now, thanks to non-renewable fossil energy, human employees ( rather like individual cells within a mammal body) can hum along productively 24/7/365 inside the "skin" of a modern factory.

Man's niche now seems to be everywhere, when viewed from such a building (particularly if this "building" is given wheels or propellers and can fly through the deepest sky or water, crawl across sandy deserts and wet jungles or climb up snowy mountain tops and down deep underground mines.

(Or even fly into deep Space.)

But is it ?

Industrial homeostasis is really spelt Hubris.....

Extremophiles - usually bacteria but including many other microbes and very tiny plants and animals - occupy the most extreme niches imaginable as well.

But they have done so for hundreds of millions of years - even billions of years.

Man will cease to do so the minute the fossil fuel needed to maintain the artificially climate inside the building and inside his body runs out.

But these tiny beings survive at the eternal temperatures, PHs, etc of their very hostile niche and yet find enough food energy to survive and reproduce.

Homeostasis seems to tell Man we can ignore the reality of the external world and live in our own bubble, but it is a bubble that is buoyed aloft on a puff of strictly temporary hot air.

In World War Two, two great scientific nations, Germany and Japan saw their troops starve freeze and fry to death when food and fossil fuel ran out at the ends of their lines of conquest.

While these Supermen died, invisible bacteria all about them  exalted as, once again, The Meek inherited that little bit of the Earth....

Hitler was all about "The Triumph of the WORD" , not of the WILL : rhetoric = results

Triumph of mere WORDS ?
Add Churchill, FDR and Tojo to that sorry mess. All of the leaders of the biggest combatants of WWII felt that the war would be won when their opponents' morale and will was broken - not by good (bad ?) old-fashioned occupation of the opponents' home territory.

By talk, words, spin, PR, propaganda, censorship : psych warfare, not bullet-firing weapons.

But it all didn't work, did it?

FDR and Churchill invested the plurality of their war spending on the bombing of cities but failed to break the will of the Germans as much as Hitler's Blitz failed to break Britain.

Tojo and crew dreamed one decisive naval victory at sea would break the American will and force them to agree to letting Japan have its rightful place in the South East Asian sun.

No such defeat came, but even if it had, it don't have done anything but toughened the American will to defeat Japan - and as that will could have used quite a bit of toughening up, such a victory for Japan would have been very Pyrrhic in the end.

Hitler and the Germany Army assumed a few smashing victories in encircling Russian armies would break the will of the Russians, leading to the overthrow of the government and Russia would fall like a ripe plum into German hands.

Who knows what might have happened had Germany captured Moscow in 1941 ---- but the Panzers never really got there : Russian mud and Russian snow don't have ears or eyes and so ignored all the Nazi news of imminent Russian defeat.

WWII proves physical Reality Bites mere rhetoric

People do respond to bad news (and so morale can be broken) but physical reality does not.

Ultimately it was long distances and bad weather (leading to equipment failure and shortages of everything from food to shells to fuel) that frustrated and defeated most armies and navies in WWII --- not their human opponents.

The WORLD defeated the WORD......

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Duhig's Penicillin saved lives where Alexander Fleming failed - because of - not in spite of - "poorer" technology !

GLAXO's moral lowpoint: April '43
Briefly - very briefly - in April 1943, at the height of all the suffering and the dying of WWII, Glaxo the drug company had a tremendous technological success and an enormous moral failure.

Briefly , Glaxo was the world's largest producer of what little penicillin the world produced, 15 long years after its first discovery. But none of that penicillin - zero - went to directly helping World War Two's sick and the dying.

Instead it was all destroyed by Glaxo chemists, as part of in the war-long futile contest to see what drug company would be the first to see MAN make penicillin, instead of some slimey slime.

Much of the story of wartime penicillin was that sordid story.

The dark dirty story of an contest between alpha male chemists and CEOs and chemists manques (in particular), to see who could get the Nobel prize and the glory and the profit for the patentable total synthesis of penicillin --- rather than submerging all that testosterone in an all out attempt to aid the sick and dying now and fuss over the glory later.

95 % of the wartime penicillin story was shabby beyond belief, but 5% was truly heroic medicine at its best

It is a truly shabby tale ---- as shabby as the war itself.

Alexander Fleming was part of that shabby tale : he never deflected from his 14 year old belief that penicillin might be a good antiseptic ( ie not to be taken internally, as life-saving drugs must be), if and only the chemists learned to synthesize it.

Jim Duhig --- once he had learned how people like Henry Dawson had grown their own clinical penicillin and injected it in a semi-purified state into their patients without killing them - went a further step.

He "downmarketed" his technological requirements and didn't bother to even semi-purify his home-owned penicillin.

The penicillin he injected into dying patients in 1943-1944 was cruder than even the semi-purified penicillin that Fleming dabbed around the open wounds of patients in 1928-1929, 15 years earlier.

Fleming reported mostly failures with his semi-purified penicillin while Duhig's totally unpurified penicillin saved the lives of patients all doctors had placed 'beyond hope' !

How on Earth ?!

All attempts at purifying, concentrating or crystallizing penicillin came at great costs: the harsh chemical techniques destroyed most of the delicate penicillin, the efforts wore out the overworked wartime staff and introduced deadly chemicals into the penicillin (when removing deadly chemicals was the original point of the whole exercise ! )

Duhig focussed his tiny overworked crew into merely making more and more raw penicillin - ie in upping raw production - and then in carefully preserving that delicate lifesaver, until it could be quickly poured into the bodies of dying patients.

Per person-hour of effort, I suspect that Duhig got 10 to100 times as much clinical penicillin as Dawson, Fleming , Glaxo, Merck, Florey et all got for all their hard work.

(Dawson being at the 10x end and Florey at the 100x end.)

Only Robert Pulvertaft, despite working in the desert heat (!) of wartime Egypt, probably did as well in turning raw penicillin juice into saved lives , with the minimum of human effort.

The unconscious, untested, assumption had always been that the other materials in raw penicillin juice would cause a deadly allergic reaction in patients unless purified away.

Never considered - except by Henry Dawson's team - was the idea that raw penicillin's other unknown materials might actually help penicillin work - as they certainly rarely seemed to harm the patient.

The jury is still out on that idea --- but un-purified penicillin did in fact rarely, if ever, harm the patients.

But converting penicillin from a weak acid to a salt ( to stabilize it for longterm commercial storage and sales)  does bring the well known dangers of introducing too much salts into the delicate balance of salts in the heart-blood system.

(Since Duhig's totally un-purified penicillin remained a weak acid and not a salt, he could pump simply tremendous amounts of penicillin liquid into patients' blood without killing them.)

And it was only once penicillin was totally purified and given in high doses did some people - a very few people - start dying from an allergic reaction to ------- to PURE penicillin !

Call it groupthink or tunnel vision, but *eugenics' powers over mid century doctors and scientists was so strong, they never asked the most basic of all science questions.

They never asked themselves, " if a mixture of penicillin and impurities sometimes causes a sharp spike in temperature in some patients, is it caused by (a) those particular patients's body chemistry (b) the impurities (c) or the penicillin itself ?"

If only they had, millions of people might have lived out their full lives, starting in 1928.....

* Eugenics was merely the leading edge of a middle class culture obsessed with purity and a hatred of dirt that went beyond all bounds of rationality : only a Mary Douglas could begin to assess what was really going on in the middle class mind in the mid 20th century.