Thursday, May 30, 2013

Could "Small is Beautiful" have topped 1930s bestseller lists ?

He is a brilliant young economist, regarded as one of the best of his generation--- educated at Berlin and Bonn and at the London School of Economics, given a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford and Columbia University, where he is hired as a lecturer.

He also has real world experience as an international investment banker.

No wonder then that this wunderkind's  PhD, "Small is Beautiful", is quickly published in 1938 upon his graduation at age 27, and soon climbs the bestseller lists and is translated into many languages and is regarded as a timeless classic and an epoch-making book.

Because most historians credit it for ending the then real possibility of a world-wide European War.

But alas, it is not to be : E F Schumacher had to wait 30 years and his retirement to begin writing the essays that made his 1973 publication the Bible of our Green Age.

His book or any book* like it, simply won't have become a bestseller in the 1930s.

(* Scott Nearing's "Must We Starve?" written from a back-to-the-land farm in northern New England in 1932, might be an example of a similar book, published in the 1930s that was largely un-read in the 1930s.)

The ordinary middle class members of the world of the 1930s  (the grandparents and parents of the people who did eventually buy it) were simply opposed to the main ideas of "Small Is Beautiful".

Simply knew - in their heart of hearts - that while Schumacher's ideas were well intentioned, they were also quite simply, naturally wrong --- proven wrong by Nature.

Science had proved it so : sorry, end of story.

The origins of WWII come down, in the end, to the fact that the general public's belief in the "Progress is inevitably Bigger and Better" meta-ideology was just as strong as that of Stalin and FDR and Hitler.

Only the public's achingly slow post-war assessment of the sad lessons of WWII (when that meta-ideology was given its wings to fly) led them to the position where they could come to see the value of "Small Is Beautiful" .....

Must Progress inevitably get mightier and wiser ?

During the truly horrible and nasty 1930s and early 1940s, at the apogee of Reductionist Modernity, this idea was the overall global "meta-ideology".

So powerful a meta-ideology that it actually dominated all the ideologies we then took to be widely apart in their worldviews.

Minor variant ideologies we still call fascist/nazi style nationalism , communism, and mixed socialist/capitalist liberal democracy.

Hydro dams and buildings of all sorts, from all ideology zones, got bigger, wider, taller, heavier --- planes and ships and land vehicles got steadily bigger, faster, longer, more long-lunged : mightier.

Streamlined, smooth,sleek, aerodynamic : more athlete-like, more bullet-like.

Fit, very fit.

Business, government and military bureaucracies, from all ideology zones, got bigger and more complex with a lot more specialized and professional subsections : wiser.

During the Great Depression, the idea that Big is Good and Bigger is even Better temporarily replaced even the claim that Greed is Good.

Was this true ?

At least one prominent scientist didn't think so and wrote a popular-styled essay to demonstrate the limits to the idea that bigger was always and inevitably better.

Google "haldane" and "size" and there it pops up, as truly profound and as eye-opening as ever : a still-useful essay on science that was written more than 85 years ago !

This, despite the best possible definition of a professional scientist being 'someone who wouldn't be caught dead reading a science article in their field that is more than eight and half months old' .

Nevertheless, you and I are not science "pros" and we'll read anything useful : J B S Haldane , "On Being The Right Size".

If you are worried at all that our globe is hurling towards an environmental disaster that will make WWII look like pikers, then please, please read this essay.

You'll need it as you fight the DENIERS, who deny there are any limits on the size of a problem that Man's mental powers can beat.....

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Islands and WWII : did anything else important happen (yawn) ?

For hundreds of millions of avid newspaper readers during WWII, an atlas was essential to follow the conflict's global course.

Never more so because of the fact that most of the battles - yes, most of the battles - took place over, around and on islands - with some of the most heavily fought-over islands being almost incredibly tiny.

(The battle for Tarawa Atoll saw almost 10,000 casualties spread over its meagre 500 acres.)

An atlas (and a magnifying glass) was essential to make sense of it all.

Admittedly, the Eastern Front can be understood completely without once referencing a single island but no other major war front can say the same.

Consider, just for one example, why bombers were based in Yorkshire to bomb Hamburg.

It was because this maximized the amount of "Flak-free" water between the bomber base on the island of Britain  and its target on the coastline of the mainland.

So, a war decided by actions involving hundreds of strategic but tiny islands scattered all over the globe in the most unlikely of places.

That isn't something easy to blend with the popular view of WWII was holds it was all about the clash of a few Titans going at it, head to head.

Only a commensal history of 1939-1945 can blend the story of the Great Powers with the stories of the tiniest of powers, to make a truly coherent account of those years.....

a Commensal history of WWII includes the small and the great, the hubristic and the nimble

To render the sprawling activities of WWII palatable to digestion (because even the most devoted of readers have their limits) the tendency of authors is to show the war as seen through the eyes of the Great Powers and the Great Men.

And as seen through the eyes of those wisest of Wise Men, the scientists.

A commensal history of 1939-1945 should also start with a war between a handful of Great Men and Great Powers, because that is the way it all began.

But, to be fully accurate, it should also end in a confused co-mingling of the actions of the decisive small as well as those of the chastened great.

It should end, in other words, as a salient shock to the majority of the world who, in 1939 , were reluctantly convinced it was simple a natural fact that Bigger was always Better and that Might was always ultimately Right.

It should even shock at least some of the youngest of the scientists, those not yet set in their ways , to look again at the supposed science behind the claim Bigger is Better....

Monday, May 27, 2013

Coalitions, not Combat, lost and won WWII

England and pre-1937 Germany definitely started and then attempted to direct World War Two throughout , but they certainly didn't win or lose this truly world-wide war,  not all on their tiny , tiny own.

Instead, two vast world-sized coalitions under their nominal direction - one truly commensal and the other just national imperialism by another name - won and lost the war.

Germany and Japan built far, far, far better fighting machines but lost out totally to the Anglo-led nations, simply because of the Axis inability to form genuine working partnerships with all the people worldwide who were initially willing to back Fascism back in 1939-1940.

In the beginning Japan and Germany seemed to have had 'Science' on their side : most of the educated world resignedly believed that Nature and Darwin had revealed that in the long run, bigger was always better, always beating down the small and the weak.

In other words, they had a baldly naive and a highly hubris-inflated sense of what the Science of Size actually told us.

If you don't know that there actually is a well founded Science of Size, then you won't be prepared for the upcoming mega-sized re-match of WWII, when popular Hubris again collides with unpopular Reality, this time over the question of climate.

Back in the Science-obsessed Thirties, the age-old and realistically grounded moral sense that it was right and proper to come to the aid of the babies of perfect strangers melted away, melted away before this mistaken 'book' fact that "Bigger is Better".

The Japanese and Germans had seemingly appeared to be the next new 'coming thing' , a view their early surprisingly fast and cheap victories only enforced.

But 'scaling up' their early victories proved impossible, as the real Science of Size revealed that their earlier logistics were bound to fail over the vast new regions that they planned to conquer and then hold.

Small and weak peoples, already conquered and defeated, had proven to have more life in them than anyone expected.

They successfully logistically harassed the German and Japanese  until they reduced these over-extended Great Powers to the point where their eventual military collapse before the forces of the Allied coalition became relatively easy.

Meanwhile the Allied coalition had many members, either nominally still neutral or nominally actual co-belligerents, who gave only a few leases on a little of of their land for others to make into vital military bases or provided scarce strategic natural resources, both provided at very good prices to themselves.

But at least none of them needed to be occupied to keep them on side.

Occupied by hundreds of thousands of scarce combat troops to hold each of them and to keep their Resistance partisans at bay , as was the case for everyone of the nations inside the Axis 'coalition of the conquered and subjugated'.

Others in the Allied coalition - the 'Free' armed forces - were the small but very committed volunteers forces of the many governments-in-exile from countries under Axis rule, small forces who provided far more fighting energy than their mere numbers would indicate.

The UK, USA and USSR dominated the Allied coalition, but try to imagine how successfully they would have been if everything had been reversed.

Try to imagine if if the Axis coalition had been as successful as the Allied commensal coalition of the big and the small became, with even China teaming up with Japan in a war against the white powers.

And then try to imagine if the UK had to do without her empire and commonwealth, if the Americans had to do without their banana republics of the Americas, and the USSR had had all of the many nations on its non-western borders in hostile action against her.

Who would have won WWII then ?

Friday, May 24, 2013

WWII's the Mighty and the Wise "confounded" by bacteria and bazooka Resistance Movements

It is clear now that WWII's twin defeats of Sulfa drugs and Armoured tanks by the bacterial and bazooka "Resistance Movements" spelt the beginning of the end for prewar Reductionist cum Constructionist Modernity.

(Martin) Henry Dawson could publish endless articles on the commensality of reality till the end of time ,but they cut no ice with the Mighty and the Wise compared to the short sharp lessons they learned at the great university of real life that was WWII.

Sir Edward Mellanby , mentor of Dawson's rival  Sir Howard Florey and head of Britain's agenda-setting MRC (Medical Research Council) from 1933 to 1949, famously claimed in the late 1930s that the synthesis of the sulfa drugs meant we could soon close all our infectious hospitals and kiss infection deaths goodbye.

But by 1943, Bacterial Resistance rendered the sulfa drugs almost useless and allowed penicillin's vast family of antibiotics to become the first port of call for the never ending new strains of bacterial death , though we are still racing very hard to produce new antibiotics to match ever new bacterial resistance.

And always will : that is the way of Commensality Modernity , the way of real reality.

The armoured tank, immune to mere infantry weapons and the indirect fire of artillery, was widely proclaimed as the major reason why the Great Powers would always quickly and easily overrun small powers, particularly those small powers without natural barriers to easy tank passage.

But by 1943 the Bazooka Resistance, today represented by the soviet-era RPG 7 anti-tank rocket propelled grenade seen in every revolution and insurrection, transformed that certitude.

The light, man-carriable , easily concealed bazooka-style anti-tank weapons ensures that an invading Great Power would now have a very tough time invading and successfully occupying a small power.

Tanks would now have a tough time evading the lethal bazooka --- particularly in rocky hilly mountain valley roads, in muddy swamps and while making their way along narrow forests and jungle trails.

Above all the tank was now incredibly vulnerable to hand-held anti-tank weapons while threading their way through the built-up urban areas found in even the flattest, smallest and barest of small powers.

Reductionist/Constructionist Modernity held that effectively reality was binary, with Particle Physicists at one end and Plasma Particles at the other, and everything else in between being basically useless mouths or useless molecules.

But the medium sized stuff in between had proved unwilling to just go away and had gummed up the works of both the Axis and Allied great powers during WWII, again and again.

I rather doubt that commensal expert and infantry veteran Henry Dawson was truly surprised.....

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

WWII : Constructionists vs Commensalists

Reductionism, still the philosophy of today's Popular Science, has admittedly had a lot of glass-half-filled success in the last few centuries.

It has totally succeeded in burrowing down below the surface of reality to the tiny objects at the base of all energy and matter ; reducing big macro objects that we can directly see and touch down to zillions of incredibly tiny objects we can only assume exists by way of indirect evidence.

But while Reductionism can explain how these tiny objects interact, more or less, it has totally failed to fulfill the real purpose behind all of its efforts : to construct new , better-built, versions of macro reality based on what we have learned about the tiny building blocks that make it up.

It turns out, to use today's Net jargon, that the so called laws of physics do not actually 'scale up' ( or 'scale down') all that well.

What we know about tiny quarks does not help us at all to account for the unexpected behavior of slightly bigger objects like the atoms in various phases of condensed matter, such as in solids and liquids for example.

To use a life-sized example of another scientific failure to scale up, this one from WWII logistics, we need only to look at the total failure of the German fuel truck on the Russian Front, after doing so well in Poland and France.

A sturdy army truck like the famous American deuce and a half can go pretty well everywhere a railway can't and so is the best means to get fuel to a fast moving invading armoured army.

But it burns a whole lot of fuel itself to get its few tons of fuel to the front.

But over distances of about one hundred miles from end of rail, it still is the best single way to get fuel to tracked armoured vehicles well out ahead of the slower ,wider, line of rail-supported advance.

But move the distance required to be travelled up to 800 miles out (and remember 800 more miles back in to get more tank and truck fuel) and the truck is a flop and a disaster.

Any truck trying to move up behind an aggressively invading armoured army that has been fighting an equally determined enemy , one who leaves nothing but scorched earth behind, is sure to be travelling over miles of badly damaged, badly overcrowded, muddy or dusty potholed roads and bridges.

The truck's gas and oil consumption soars as its miles per hour slows to a crawl. It can expect major damages from bad roads at least a few times on its 800 mile trek out and back - requiring the services of equally gas-guzzling repair vehicles.

Effectively, the truck is soon consuming more petro products on its two way trek than it can deliver to the tanks. (Remember, it must haul all of its own fuel and oil on itself, for the trip out and back, leaving ever less room for tank fuel.)

This wouldn't happen in peacetime, where the roads between Berlin and Moscow would be in excellent, fuel efficient, shape and where fuel and oil can be picked up at filling stations on route as required.

Once the cargo was delivered to Moscow, a return cargo is picked up to take back, to cover costs.

But war trucks 'dead-head' back, unless they can be used to safely carry lightly wounded men back to rear base hospitals.

Hitler's gambit to take over the world failed in 1941 when his physics of truck transport failed to 'scale up' to the world of real life.

Similarly the fact that chemistry had constructed totally new molecules of dyes and plastics out of little atoms didn't mean human chemists could construct molecules of penicillin just because the fungi could do so naturally.

Penicillin's formula was not the formula for nylon, 'scaled up'.

In biology, the ham-fisted efforts of human-sized geneticists to construct genes they wanted by massive doses of x-rays failed to work as well as the elegant way the tiny bacteria transformed each other with tiny but efficient HGT (horizontal gene transfers).

I am not dismissing the value of human railways and human chemical plants nor do I expect to see skyscrapers made by bacteria : I just insist along with (Martin) Henry Dawson, that there is a niche for everyone and we all are best at activities scaled to our own size and niche.

Reality can not be reduced to tenured human particle physicists at the top and quarks at the bottom (Reality reduced to Professors and Plasma),  with all of the rest of the stuff in between just useless feeders, not wanted on the voyage, yesterday's booster stages, enroute in Man's journey to the stars.....

WWII Brooklyn to be home to war's biggest killing machine or war's smallest life-saver ?

In the end, the Borough of Brooklyn (NYC) became home to both : the Iowa class of battleships and the home of most of the war's penicillin.

But it had been a near run thing ; this battle over the moral soul of Brooklyn.

After all, from the beginning of the war, the leaders of the Great Powers (Churchill, FDR,Tojo,Stalin and Hitler) were determined to show the world what the greatest entities on Earth could do, if they set their mind to it.

WWII is proof that they succeeded in spades .

Opposing them, Dr (Martin) Henry Dawson was also determined to show the world something too.

In this case, just what the world's smallest,weakest entities (cells of penicillium fungi) were also capable of.

So, as part of that Great Power display of massive size and killing force, the USA had commissioned the last series of battleships it ever built : heavily gunned, heavily armoured and extremely fast.

No war machine has ever been built that was better at going in, taking huge punishment, and still delivering lethal blows in return.

If the editors of machine-porn publications like Popular Mechanics are capable of having wet dreams, the Iowa class battleships were what they (and their mostly male readers) had wet dreams over.

The Iowa class was an extremely potent blend of what a battleship needs to shine and the design (now 75 years old) must have worked because WWII-built ships of that class remain to this day , still in reserve, ready to go back in action.

The Brooklyn Naval Yard built the two most famous, the USS Iowa itself and the USS Missouri ("Big Mo") --- they took 70,000 people in the huge yard several years to do so, working around the clock.

It was the war-related work that the Borough of Brooklyn liked best to be remembered for.

But in a small discarded ice-making plant in another less well known part of the Borough, another item of war was made and shipped all over the world - spreading the  good word about Brooklyn in places the USS Iowa class couldn't even think of going.

On a corner of Marcy Avenue was a improvised plant that the then tiny Charles Pfizer Company cobbled together to make naturally-made penicillin (penicillin made by Dawson's little fungi cells) as fast as Pfizer could, as hard as Pfizer could, starting in March 1944.

By June 6th of that same year, natural penicillin underwent its first mass clinical trials : a baptism literally of fire.

Because 80% of the penicillin that came ashore on the Normandy beaches that day was made in the Pfizer Marcy Avenue ice plant.

And Pfizer's naturally-made penicillin continued to be the largest single source of that life saving medicine, around the world, for the remainder of the war.

It doesn't take much natural penicillin to save a life in 1944 - a gram will do nicely - and a tiny glass ampoule, the world's smallest lifesaver, will easily hold it.

By contrast, a full loaded USS Iowa weighed 25 billion grams.

From his luxury apartment high above the exclusive Prospect Slopes area of Brooklyn, the manufacturing head of Pfizer, John L Smith, could easily see the building of the USS Iowa and USS Missouri .

Perhaps as a result he felt that Brooklyn was pulling more than its weight in the effort to stop Hitler and Tojo.

A cautious, frugal man, he wasn't about to bet the shop against the best brains in the world drug industry by producing massive amounts of natural penicillin when the smart money said cheaper synthetic penicillin was only another test tube away.

Sure Henry Dawson was always on his case, urging him to mass produce natural penicillin now, because a ampoule in the doctor's hand was worth a million in the mind of some drug company chemist.

"People are dying needlessly, daily, all over the world because the sulfa drugs are meeting more and more bacterial resistance and there will never be anymore new sulfas in the pipeline."

But John L long resisted (even if his wife was perhaps more open to Dawson's appeal) .

Maybe Smith was feeling that Pfizer had already done enough for the boys overseas, because didn't the firm's exclusive citric acid fuel the cold soda pops that all the overseas GIs, wounded or healthy, craved so avidly?

Soda pops hit the spot for sure, but to a GI dying of blood poisoning, only penicillin could really save their lives.

What if Smith's sole surviving daughter shipped out as a nurse and got seriously ill ?

Would she be grateful to her dad for providing the cold soda pop that eased her dying moments or would she have preferred the penicillin that could have saved her life, if only her father had been more decisive?

But nothing Dawson said seemed to have cut much ice with Smith.

Not until the plight of a dying two year old , saved by penicillin, touched Smith's heart, along with the rest of the world, in mid-August 1943.

Perhaps the crisis for the two parents of young Patty Malone reminded Mr and Mrs Smith all too vividly of the similar agony they went through a dozen years earlier with their first daughter, who died from a disease that penicillin could have saved her from.

Something must have clicked in the soul of John L, because despite strong reports that synthetic penicillin actually was 'just around the corner' this time, Smith suddenly committed Pfizer to an all out effort to mass produce natural penicillin both for the boys overseas by D-Day and for those dying back home for lack of it.

Smith's beloved Dodgers went on to chokedlike never before, during that summer of 1944, but Brooklyn (the Borough) scored big in its own extended road trip.

'Knocked them alive' in fact, in places like Omaha, Utah,  Juno,  Silver and Gold ....

Thursday, May 16, 2013

BAZOOKA, not A-Bomb or V-2, most important new weapon of WWII

Because the Great Imperial Powers who began and fought WWII had done so under the mantra that "bigger is better", they were hardly shaken by the emergence (near the war's end) of the A-Bomb and the V-2, surely two of the biggest, most expensive and complex weapons systems ever built up to then.

For the emergence of these style of  weapons merely supported their post-1945 expectations of eternal dominance over other smaller nations and over their own colonies and subservient satellites.

With 20/20 hindsight, they should have been much more worried about other much smaller, much cheaper, much simpler weapons that emerged out of WWII : like the bazooka , above all.

Before discussing this counter-intuitive supposition, let us briefly mention some other "weapons" that surfaced during WWII.

Weapons like the art of successful low-tech microfilming, the development of inflatable rubber boats and of reliable parachutes, and the arrival of long distance radio transmitters of very small (concealable) sizes.

These all sound more like the art of spies and they are.

 All that and more, much more.

Spies, Saboteurs,Resistance, Fifth Columnists,Quislings, Partisans, Guerrillas, National Liberation Armies, Commandos, Coast Watchers, Assassins, Double Agents, Governments-In-Exile.

All words we grew to hear often in WWII, most of them creations encouraged (fools !) by the Great Imperial Powers.

And a concept much in use during WWII, but not described in these terms : Technicals.

 (The word means the use of essential hence widely available civilian technology to wage military combat --- such as using civilian trucks and cars to mount heavy infantry weapons.)

But it should also include, for example,  the use of cell phones to set off remote bombs, the use of common diesel fuel and farm fertilizer to make those bombs and much more besides.

For its use in WWII, I am thinking about our normally incredibly complex civilian telephone systems.

So in places like the Netherlands they were successfully used, right under the noses of the bewildered Germans, by the Resistance.

The miniaturization of civilian (and sometimes military) technology, promoted mostly by the Great Imperial Powers, came back to bite them in the rear during and after WWII.

Asymmetrical warfare has actually been around forever but had almost always been a top-down affair, with bigger imperial powers easily beating smaller colonial forces.

In the air and on the High Seas, the top still basically dominates the bottom.

But unlike birds and fishes, none of us humans actually lives in the air or on the High Seas.

On land, asymmetrical warfare now swings both ways and the smaller forces can often best - in the long run - a bigger more sophisticated force intent on occupying their land.

There are many reasons why but they all come down to the fact that the ordinary foot soldier - dismissed by all sides in 1940 in favour of the mechanized army - is back and he/she is as small, mobile and elusive as ever but is now armed to destroy the big and the mechanical.

WWII saw the development of 'heavy' machine guns that weren't actually that heavy or expensive or required large crews to move and operate but actually kicked an even bigger punch, despite all that.

The infamous MG 42 of Germany being the parent of them all.

The Stokes mortar, (today best know in the 81 mm mortar version) was invented in WWI by an complete amateur and eventually replaced a 1000 years of very heavy ,very useless mortars.

It gave the infantry an extremely lethal artillery piece that was well suited for untrained soldiers and infantry fighting conditions and was cheap and light enough to carry around by a crew of three.

 (Or less - the smallest 50 mm size - the forerunner of today's shotgun style grenade launcher, was easily carried about and operated by one person).

Improved optics, together with better bullets and propellant powders has made the bolt action/ single shot anti-personnel and anti-material rifle, together with the sniper pair operating it, about the best return on investment of any weapon known.

Nothing can appear to be more simple and crude and yet more effective.

But none of this cut any ice in 1940-1941 , not after the world's best military minds digested the response of the best regular (professional) infantry forces in the world to the tiny Panzer I and Japanese Ha-Go 95s, both regarded (even then) as light (ie small) tanks, yet the actual tanks that won the Blitzkrieg and the Japanese's early shock triumphs in places like Malaysia.

Put simply, over and over again the regular infantry panicked and ran at the mere sight of these tiny tanks (about the weight of a pick up truck and some not even as tall as an ordinary man) , with their ordinary machine gun as main gun and half inch cheap steel armour for protection.

If the infantry had had even the American Browning .50 cal machine guns, their half inch bullets would have torn through both tanks, but the infantry did not.

Like the Stokes mortar, the Browning 50 cal is about 100 years old in design and still the frontline weapon of choice in its class.

By the by , this type of situation common in infantry cum asymmetrical warfare, is unheard of in all other parts of military weaponry : proof that in this type of warfare, public domain designs and low tech weapons can still rule the day.

The awkward to use and move heavy anti-tank rifles of 1940 (the British Boys rifle is typical of all of them) could penetrate a light tank hull, if lucky, but generally couldn't do so fast enough to stop a major attack by more than a small handful of  tanks .

Let's switch to 1944-1945.

Now even amateur infantry (like the young teenagers and elderly men of the German volk troops) were unlikely to bolt on the sight of masses of Tiger II tanks, or Russian IS-2 tanks, advancing towards them, if they were occupying infantry-friendly ground.

Yet these 70 year old tank designs remain formidable main battle tanks even today, still  un-defeatable except by the very newest main tanks designs.

So what gives : why should professional soldiers run from tiny toy tanks, while amateur troops boldly faced top quality main battle tanks undaunted ?

The difference was the development of the Bazooka and its ilk, the forerunner of all of today's rocket propelled grenades (RPGs).

 That and the discovering that tanks are best fought by infantry in locations where the terrain greatly favours infantry and hurts tanks.

Ultimately these deadly RPG tank killers ( killers at least in infantry friendly places) can be as short as two foot long and very light (five pound),  easily carried on the back of even a child soldier, quickly put to the shoulder, fired once and the launcher tube thrown away.

In 1940, the thin, cheap armour on the Panzer I tanks could be defeated, usually, by a 25 pound Boys style anti-tank rifle but to do so the Boys needed an inordinately long heavy barrel and packed a terrific recoil, all to successfully fire a tiny but very fast and very dense bullet.

 But as tank armour went up and up in thickness and in improved shape and strength, it took a very big dense shell, together with a very long gun ( ie very heavy) barrel and a very large sturdy (ie very heavy) gun carriage to destroy it before the tank destroyed (or simply outran) the now effectively immobile anti-tank gun and crew.

Right to the end of the war and beyond, a top of the line anti-tank gun like the German 88mm or the British 17 pounder, in an entrenched (out of sight) position could destroy the world's best tanks coming side-on to it , in broad daylight and in an an open field.

Ie it could destroy tanks in the typical conditions found in a military proving grounds.

Oh, you wanna talk about real world war conditions ?

Not so good.

By 1943, a successful anti tank gun was way too big and way too heavy to hide or move about quickly. It was easy to see and hit and it couldn't handle being outflanked by fast moving tank columns.

Tank success meant breaking through and past dug-in anti-tank positions, not engaging them one to one.

But using the technology of very fast, very dense small shells to fly very quickly and accurately to a (rapidly moving) target a mile away with still enough energy left to punch its way through seven to ten inches of excellent armour is still the best way to destroy tanks in open field combat.

But to do so and survive, you need to take the anti-tank gun out of its gun carriage and to fit into a tank ( ie the combo becomes a tank) because only a big ,well armoured, fast main battle tank can take on other main battle tanks in open field combat without being out-manoevered.

But tank to tank fighting is not a slugfest, because the first shot to hit a tank is usually enough to destroy it and its crew : so a bigger, longer gun can destroy a tank from further away , which is the effective real world equivalent of hitting it first before it hits you.

Ever bigger anti tank guns, ever better anti-gun tank armour : main battle tank development never stops, with most tanks out of date by the time they go into production, so the cycle starts over again.

It is deadly serious, expensive, sophisticated game that only a very few Great Imperial Powers can play.

But in urban areas, in jungles, forests, mountains, hills and rivers, in soft mud or sand and in deep snow  (ie in infantry friendly areas) , masses of rapidly advancing tanks must slow to a crawl and  proceed single file.

Now small,light,cheap, low tech, close-up ,hand-held, anti-tank weapons of the infantry can destroy these tanks --- or at least hobble their tracks and render them immobile and then destroy them on the second or third shot.

The secret of this amazingly asymmetrical combat success was actually known for about 65 years before it was first put to work in the famous bazooka.

So the best method to destroy armoured vehicles was actually known well before the first tank was even invented and well before the Blitzkrieg.

If this weapon had been in common use in the 1930s, there might have been no quick tank-led victories for Hitler and WWII might have ended almost before it began - and 70 million lives saved.

The effect is called the Munroe Effect or shaped charge or hollow charge.

Like most science, it was discovered by accident.

If an explosive charge is shaped to implode inwards (ironically
somewhat the way nuclear weapons work) into a hollow cone shaped void it is more effective -- this was known even in the 18th century.

Munroe happened to line that cone shaped void with a thin metal liner which, it was discovered, did some very interesting things once it moved into the void pushed by the explosives behind it.

Now all the normally dispersed ( in a 360 degree sphere) energy of an explosion is highly concentrated into a thin linear jet of plasma - the liner had become a white hot bullet of molten metal moving right into whatever was straight ahead.

The plasma does not melt its way through the armour - but it is moving so fast, it is breaking through the armour just as the anti-tank shell does - by sheer bull force concentrated on a very near front.

So who cares, one might ask ? The tank is destroyed equally well by a dense small solid bullet or a small light liquid bullet.

One cares, because the first bullet needs a very large and very heavy gun to use low energy propellant powder to send a high speed bullet one mile to destroy a tank.

By contrast, the Munroe bullet can consist of a three pound hand grenade which can be tenderly laid on the tank armour by an eight year old kid : the explosive acts as an ultra high speed anti-tank gun, albeit over the distance of mere inches!

Attaching such a grenade (using an adhesive or by magnets)  did occasionally work, even in real combat in WWII, but it was really a suicide mission to get that close to a tank.

(The actual explosion wasn't necessarily dangerous.)

What was needed as some way to gently propel that three pound grenade towards the tank from a more practical infantry survival distance.

Gently because force wasn't need for this anti-tank weapon to be effective and because force came at far too heavy price : it meant a big (visible) heavy (immobile) artillery piece like the German 88mm that ultimately was only safe from itself being destroyed when encased in a big mobile, heavily armoured vehicle called "a tank".

Now a rocket, recoilless rifle or a special kind of spigot  mortar can easily and gently (slowly) propel a three pound grenade more than a half kilometre away without being too big (not exactly hand-held size but still under a fifty pound size for the launcher).

However to save size and weight, the propulsion method must be  gentle and the grenade travels slowly.

(Roughly 30 meters a second for the slowest Panzerfaust models versus roughly 1000 meters a second for the gun style 88 mm type anti-tank weapons .)

Even with a relatively slow moving tank (remember the infantry is best at destroying tanks when they have slowed to a single file crawl), the slow moving grenade is still likely to miss the target aimed at, by the time it arrives 600 metres away.

(Neither the infantry soldier-aimer nor the rocket itself are very accurate in any case.)

So while a conventional anti-tank gun is highly accurate out to one thousand metres, the time its shell travels in one second , the slowest anti tank grenade moving only 30 metres a second is highly accurate out to 30 metres, the distance it travels in one second.)

But at distances of say 100 metres, there is a nice balance between increased survivability for the infantry soldier, a smaller, lighter,cheaper grenade and launcher, and insufficient time between firing and hitting to make the aim inaccurate.

They can be incredibly low tech : WWII versions were made of wood and tin plate for launcher and used black powder for propellant : they have been successfully made by avid amateurs in small machine shops.

And by the world's biggest powers too , the best known one is still made of wood, tin plate and black powder.

The cheap, reliable, hand-held RPG 7 has been used all over the world by terrorists and national liberation forces : it still can destroy tanks, bunkers, helicopters and aircraft taking off or landing and wreck the command and control of warships if they hit the bridge.

A single untrained soldier with a cheap RPG 7 is not the easiest target for the high tech weapons to hit : too small, too mobile, too easily  blended back into the civilian population.

And in any case, hit the soldier and RPG and many more are still left to fight on.

This combo of foot soldier and RPG has become the biggest single reason why Great Imperial Powers can no longer be sure they can push their weight around in other people's countries.

One best sees this by looking at the most published WWII photos of cities being occupied or re-captured or liberated.

The incoming victorious column is always, always, led by a long line of tanks covered in troops.

The tanks make a thunderous mechanical, unearthly roar, cowing the watching civilian population, but are really merely there to provide a photo op for people not in the actual city.

If the city was actually being defended no one would send in a long line of closely spaced tanks into its main street : the defending forces would quickly hit the first and last tank and leisurely destroy all the rest trapped in between.

Photographs of mechanical tanks cowing humans in cities became essential mental eye candy for propagandists to convey the idea that the small are inevitably helpless before the steeled might of the Big.

The real truth is that it was tanks that lost WWII, not won it, and lost it in the big city streets of place like Stalingrad.

Truer , more accurate pictures would show burnt out tanks in wrecked city streets if they wanted to tell us what really happened over the course of WWII and the Big began falling before the small....

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

'A warm meal, a warm bed and a warm smile' : still the best medicine

"The hyssop and The Cedars" is a book about health during our past most recent man-made Apocalypse : occasionally it is about doctors and pharmaceuticals, but mostly it is not.

For the truth is that  *food* was the only medicine in really desperate short supply during WWII.

Truth is that 'a warm meal, a warm bed and a warm smile' is all most of us ever need to reach our three score and ten.

After that, we generally do need the help of hospital beds and the pharmaceutical firms.

But let us also never forget the warm smile.

I believe that any civilization that truly claims to be a civilization must first see to it that all its citizens have that warm meal, warm bed and warm smile - everyone, from grandmother to granddaughter.

After that our civilizations are free to build all the Castles in Spain that they wish.

But that warm meal must come first.

Now we are about to be engulfed in another man-made Apocalypse , only unlike the last time , this is one in which no nations will be able to remain Neutral, aloof and above the fray.

We still have time to learn the lessons - both good and bad - from the last Apocalypse, because 1939-1945 gave us a very full dress rehearsal.

As a very active , very political , Green Party member I feel I must explain my own reasons for appearing to have gone AWOL the last half dozen years - for myself appearing to remain Neutral, aloof and above the environmental fray.

It is because I believe this book (and the lessons for us today that it contains within) is the best possible contribution I could ever make towards slowing our death march forward into overwhelming hubris-induced disaster....

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

High School Science : 'Home of the Hubris' , STILL

Science (the resulting name for the 150 year old victory of Natural Philosophy over Natural History) is widely accepted to be primarily pedagogical in nature.

It exists as a subdivision of Philosophy and is designed primarily to do nothing more that to teach students (and the adult laity) formal and informal lessons in metaphysics and ethics, 'Drawn from Nature' as Science understands it.

Natural History has had to retreat to those vast areas of useful if messy , applied technology : areas like engineering, industrial processes and clinical medicine, where much 'trial and error' is required to align classroom theory to the reality at hand.

By contrast,  parents can rest assured that all real reality has been carefully airbrushed away from intro University undergraduate science courses, which together with their bigger and older brothers in the High School sciences,  continue to supply the world with most of its Popular Hubris.

High School Science continues to be the 'Home of the Half-Filled Glass Science', the place of Panglossian Science, where Mid Victorian Optimism burns as brightly as ever.

High School Science syllabus setters claim that setting real world problems for lessons and exams would be too tough for young people to answer correctly.

'Let them wait till they are adult engineers and doctors to have to struggle to figure out the actual solutions, out in a real world where Ceteris Paribus never applies'.

But of course the vast percentage of students never go on to be professional scientists or engineers and doctors and get a chance to learn to wrestle daily with the difference between idealized high school science theory and messy reality .

Instead they grow up to become voters and politicians, generals and soldiers, CEOs and machine operators.

All of them, as a result of formal education (together with the drip-drip media pronouncements from the High School's fellow travellers, the science journalists, sic ) remain as deluded as 16 year old High School kids.

Deluded into believing that because Newtonian science can more or less successfully predict the paths of a half dozen placid , near-by, large planets that this means it can also predict the paths of smaller and more dangerous objects.

Like darkly invisible, tiny, unpredictable asteroids, or ballistic shells fired off twenty miles away, or incoming raindrops.

My idea of an ideal High School science course would be one where the children know less, for absolutely certain, than they did before they came in, where they fail to correctly answer the exam questions but give it as good a first try as any working engineer might do.

Because out in the real Universe,out beyond Newton and Galileo, there is no real absolute vacuum for objects to move through, and so those objects are always affected by the arbitrarily accumulated (not cross-cancelling) effects of other forces and objects---- and kids today might as well know that from day one.

The real reason why High Schools continue to focus on teaching Newton,Dalton and Darwin, more than a century after they stopped being cutting edge science, is that they impart to the students a hugely self-confident scientific sense of imperialism ; that out there is a world and a universe just waiting to be easily and safely exploited by Man's Science.

In a world where mining company executives continue to hold far more sway than do their environmentally concerned critics, High School Science teachers are going to continue to be compelled to teach self-preening, self-esteem and 'uplift'.

And it won't stop until environmentalists back off attacking mining executives and focus instead on questioning Popular Scientific Hubris at its fount : High School....

Henry Dawson vs Newton, Dalton & Darwin...

During his brief life, (Martin) Henry Dawson managed to have three seemingly wildly different careers : in the Military during WWI, in Academic Science in the interwar years, and in Popular Science during WWII.

But these differences are only apparent , not real.

His career in the Infantry showed him the distinct limits to the uses of Newtonian physics, just as his academic research in Horizontal Gene Transfer suggested Darwin's Vertical Gene Transfer was by no means the whole picture.

And his support for the ultimately successful Naturally-produced Penicillin highlighted the spectacular failure of Daltonian Chemistry's claim to be able to synthesize anything and everything, including Penicillin.

Hubris is a terribly addictive drug and WWII turned out to be its largest, longest and most brutal clinical trial to date.

Only to date, because with Global Warming we appear headed to a rematch between Hubris and Reality, only with this time much worse than the last.

There are lessons - lessons unlearned - both good and bad - we can apply from WWII to the current rematch that might help us avoid the worst of it.

But only if we are prepared to listen.

Henry Dawson can certainly give us some of the good lessons , while his many opponents can provide us with all the bad lessons,  in spades.....

Friday, May 10, 2013

1945 : as apogee AND nadir of Modern Science

Hitler may have successfully convinced his most rabid followers that the murder of every last Jew in Europe was a fitting consolation prize for his failure to deliver up western Russia as the new frontier for the Aryan super race in 1941.

But the rest of humanity regarding Auschwitz as a particularly (and peculiarly)  modern and scientific crime made it particularly hard for modern scientists in the rest of the world to present their continuing support of eugenics as the public face of postwar biology.

Still Auschwitz in the end proved a godsend to Oswald Avery's 1944 reductionist claims that Free Will didn't really exist but was simply manipulated by the chemical workings of a simple molecule called DNA.

Thanks to DNA, the old science of eugenics, ( ie its old positive program, along with a reduced version of its old negative program (now to be limited to families agreeing, semi-voluntarily, to the abortions of genetically 'damaged' foetuses) could carry on as before, but as the new science of DNA genetics.

DNA thus joined Atom-busting and Penicillin as three of the biggest triumphs of Modern Science, the three big Plan As that had emerged during WWII, if not all  as actual products of that war.

But let us look at these claims more closely.

 Atom-busting and atomic re-arranging is a natural event, discovered, rather than invented, by Modern Scientists.

It is based upon the discovery in 1896 (the same year that Henry Dawson was born) of natural radioactivity.

This is an event that is totally random and totally anti-deterministic ; we still have no idea when and why an individual atom breaks into two or more pieces.

I would thus take natural radioactivity as anti-modern, post modern, science at its most characteristic because it refutes one of three cornerstones of  all Modern Science : strong determinism .

This holds not just that every thing has a cause as to by it happens, but also that humans can discern that cause and then manipulate it to our advantage.

Another cornerstone of modern science is reductionism.

In the weak version of genetic reductionism, the one that we virtually all hold, it was already known by everybody before 1944, that whatever a gene was, at the bottom it had to exist as some arrangement of atoms.

(By contrast, strong genetic reductionism (chemical eugenics), as held by Avery, holds that once we know how those atoms are arranged, we can predict whether or not a girl will agree to date a particular boy.)

Viewed in this light, we might do well to remember that DNA manipulation was not invented by humans, but rather was only discovered by them  ---- and discovered by medical doctors, not geneticists.

Those medical doctors, led , above all, by Henry Dawson, discovered that some bacteria (intellectually as far from the mind of the modern scientist as can be) easily manipulate DNA in ways directly contrary to the Central Dogma of Biology and Genetics that genetic inheritance in vertical forward only.

(This vertical inheritance is the view that all that we are or can ever be , came directly from our (past) parents and their parents, an inheritance that is always strictly limited to remaining within our own species.)

In fact, microbes ( bacteria, viruses,sub-viruses, together with the smallest plants and animals are happy to snip DNA from here and drop it there, willy nilly : horizontal inheritance, HGT, across species, genus and families.

This is the major source for most of the real interesting genetic variety, including why all the world's bacteria can become resistant to a new drug in just ten years.

HGT is another 'difficult-to-get-your-head-around-if-you-have-High-School-Science', postmodern scientific concept, but it was guised in 1945 as another Plan A from Modern Science.

Penicillin was not invented like the totally synthetic sulfa drugs that proceeded it but rather it is produced by incredibly tiny fungus factories smaller than the eye can see.

Henry Dawson - again - led the way in proposing and using natural penicillin today over obtaining synthetic penicillin - maybe - tomorrow.

 But the chuzpha-bound men of modern science, naturally, tried to "point-to-with-pride" to the large stainless steel human factories that (nominally) held the smaller fungus factories doing all the work, as the source of our penicillin : just another Plan A of Modern Science.

Cheek !

In fact Chemistry, the Queen of the Sciences until 1945, faded after the war as a direct result of the rise of postmodern science of microbiology ---- directly as a result of the failure of  wartime synthetic chemists to make penicillin and most other antibiotics.

So much of modern science's triumphs of 1945 can just as readily be shown to be the anti-modern triumphs of postmodern science....

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

WWII : From Manchuria Incident to Nagasaki, NEUTRALITY was majority position of world's sovereign nations

The idea that Hitler, Tojo, Stalin and Mussolini are among the most evil leaders of all time - and that people like them must be stopped at all costs - is a relatively recent idea.

It is an idea promoted by people like you and I, who statistically speaking,  weren't likely even alive when WWII ended.

Thus we never had to do the hard-lifting of deciding just what to actually do, or not do, about these obviously aggressive tyrants.

Our parents, grandparents, and great-great-great grandparents obviously felt - and above all acted  - quite differently than what we claimed we would do , in similar circumstances, today.

My book - The Hyssop and The Cedar - is an effort to explain why this was the case.

Because, starting in late 1931 and onto early 1942, ( ie roughly for one decade) the lands of China, Ethiopia, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Albania, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxenburg, France, Britain, Greece, Yugoslavia, the USSR, America , Australia were all attacked, one after another, by aggressive neighbours acting without cause.

As well, the lands of many of the colonies of Europe and America, from Newfoundland, through Africa to Asia and the Pacific, also came under land attack by aggressive neighbours.

In addition , the shipping of many neutral nations out on the High Seas were sunk without warning and their crews killed.

Throughout all these fourteen long years of violence, from September 1931 till September 1945, many nations still never did find any reason in morality to want to band together with other nations to bring these world-wide bandits to justice.

Other nations only declared war (or agreed to be called co-belligerents) in the battle against these tyrants in the last months of the war, just so they won't be left out of the trade agreements to be formulated by the post-war United Nations !

Generally, this latter group did not offer any actual combat support against the tyrants or merely offered a token number of warriors as late and as slow as possible.

An amazing number of countries we now honour for their war service actually only declared war on the tyrants , when they were themselves directly attacked by them.

Only the British and French Empires quickly declared war on another nation (Germany) simply because it attacked a smaller neighbour (Poland) , and even here France became neutral again less than a year later.

The Poles will also quickly tell you that the English and French, even then, did not come to the direct aid of the Polish nation.

If we take 1932 as the first year where Japanese aggression (involving China in this case)  could and should have been stopped, all nations on earth have a sorry 'war' record : the USSR, for example, only declared war on this aggressor in the very last days of the war.

In the case of Mussolini and Italy, 1935 was the first year it invaded a peaceful neighbour (Ethiopia) and again every nation on earth shows a sorry record in rushing to help this little kid against a stronger schoolyard bully.

In the case of Germany, early in 1938 it invaded its peaceful neighbour Austria and no one did anything.

(Yes, many Austrians wanted Hitler as their leader but probably most of them, if given a a free and fair vote, would have voted to remain an independent nation.)

America, as a prominent example of a sorry neutral, probably would never have declared war on Hitler, if he hadn't done the hard work for them by declaring war on the USA himself first.

One by one the weaker nations and colonies of the world were picked off by stronger schoolyard bullies while good grey people (our dear relatives) averted their eyes and dismissed it as just another squabble in the schoolyard.

Why ? Was their moral values that different than ours ?

I would argue not. But I also argue that their moral values had been gravely weakened by the scientific understanding they had gained at High School and university.

The middle aged adults who ran the world between late 1931 and  early 1942 had all completed their High School education before Queen Victoria died , and were the first generation on Earth to have had to pass standardized science exams to graduate.

A little book knowledge is a dangerous thing and never more so than the four years of Victorian Era Scientism they had to endure to graduate.

In retrospect, Victorian Scientism was as adolescent and as naive as the teens it tried to teach.

It saw the then new idea of  Evolution as demonstrating, beyond all doubt , that life forms and societies proceeded, inevitably, ever upward to bigger and more complex forms, with weaker beings and societies equally inevitably (and regrettably) dying away.

One has to only read all that period's laments for the inevitable falling away of Canada's aboriginals to see how people felt this sad process could hastened or perhaps slowed by much human effort - but never ever stopped, not in the long term.

Nature ruled !

And perhaps regrettably, Science had proven that the study of Nature revealed that (like it or not) Might is Right, Bigger is Better, God is on the Side of the Bigger Battalions, only the Strongest Survive : on and on with the Victoria platitudes permitting strong aggressors to pick off weaker neighbours.

So one can be sure that the picking off of the world's smaller and weaker nations did not go uncommented upon in that long ugly decade between late 1931 and early 1942.

It was accompanied, I am for sure, by a lots of long drawn out sighs and endless helplessly shrugged shoulders.

But in the end, WWII proved not to go the way expected by the Great Powers on all sides.

 As their Modern Science was seen to falter again and again and again, so too faltered the public faith in Modern Morality and in Modernity itself.

Slowly but surely, as the human world changed its scientific understanding, its moral actions also changed.

Slowly, starting around 1945, our (great) grandparents began the slide out of the Modern Era and into our present day Post Modern Era.....

Monday, May 6, 2013

Modern "Bigger is Better" vs Post-modern "Small is Beautiful"

Kiddies, don't agonize about the complex differences between modernity and postmodernity when your prof poses the question at your next final exam ( trust me on this one - they will).

Just remind yourself that great-grandpa back in the 1930s was as unlikely to say "small is beautiful" as today's intellectuals on public broadcasting would ever proclaim "bigger is better" ....

WWII as apogee AND nadir of Modern Science....

The night 'the music died' began when the young pilot of the small plane that Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens were in, misread an instrument and thought he was climbing above a storm when he was really going full blast down into the ground.

Various Modern scientists (and their shills the science 'journalists' , ie editors) might be considered to have done something very similar to that unfortunate pilot.

They mis-read the Atomic Energy fire-bombing of civilians, the mass production of cheap Natural Penicillin and Auschwitz's gas chambers and frugal use of the resulting dead humans as furnace fuel and for soap as triumphs - rather than failures - of Physics, Chemistry and Biology.

The Americans had thought the future of aerial bombing was the Norden bombsight's ability to accurately drop a bomb in a pickle barrel from 15,000 feet, not the ability of an atomic bomb to burn out an entire city, all in an effort to destroy that city's  single navy arsenal.

The British had thought the best, cheapest, quickest way to provide penicillin was to have chemists synthesize it in big chemical factories - but they ended up waiting upon tiny fungal factories (in far off America, to boot ) to do it all by hand.

The Germans had hoped for more positive eugenic activities east of Germany : the Master Plan East talked of settling happy, hard-working, clean, pure German peasants-soldiers on the new eastern agrarian frontier , producing huge wheat crops and guarding the border.

But few German peasants actually wanted to move into an area contested by partisans and Soviet troops.

 So as a result, Hitler quickly told his supporters that 'we actually went to war with Russia so we could totally eliminate (negative eugenics) all the Jews from Europe, once and for all'.

Plan Bs (nadir) glibly sold as Plan As (apogee) : I doubt if even used car salesmen could match the chutzpah of the scientists...

May 10 2013 POSTSCRIPT :

Re-reading this blog post, I realized that I hadn't specifically indicated that the A-Bombing of Hiroshima and the triumph of natural Penicillin occurred so close to the end of the war in 1945, that they share both a wartime and postwar time space.

The end of WWII also revealed another Plan B to to the Plan B (Auschwitz) of the wartime German genetic community.

 Oswald Avery's 1944 reductionist discovery that the chemical molecule DNA was the basis for all the genes (including the long reputed ones for  alcoholism and criminality, etc, etc) had been mostly ignored.

But it was suddenly taken up with particular renewed intensity with the revelations that Auschwitz was the end result of all the prewar German genetic efforts.

Particularly by the many active Jewish geneticists :  like all geneticists, they still held that Free Will barely existed, except among scientists, and that we were largely captives to our forebearers' genes.

But the word DNA seemed offer a way to carry on the good bits of the German prewar genetic program, but minus the gas chambers and under a new name.

WWII : began with "Bigger is Better - Inevitably" and ended up in "Global Commensality"

At the 1939 New York's World Fair , it seemed only common sense that life started out as tiny simple-minded microbes and inevitably ended up both bigger and smarter, with beings like us being the prime example.

After all, we all know that tiny embryos become babies then children before growing ever smarter and ever bigger as full grown adults.

True the big dinosaurs had disappeared while the tiny bacteria hadn't, but had not the dinosaurs been quickly replaced by mammals - not just as big as dinosaurs but also much smarter ?

Wasn't evolution, no matter how slowly and and how twistingly, inevitably progressing towards the reality that Bigger was not just Better (an idea that hardly needed proposing, it was so self evident to the 1930s mind) but Inevitable as well ?

These ideas were hardly the plot of conspiratory 1930s corporate elites, trying to hold down the working man , because everybody held these notions,  even if they only accepted them resignedly.

Bigger was Better and inevitable because Science had shown it to be natural and so man's efforts inevitably had to be but a mere echo of what was happening and had always had happened, everywhere, in Nature.

So instead every different ideology of the 1930s was content, or resigned, to merely contesting different 'Bigger Betters' : Big Fascism, Big Communism, Big Capitalism, Big Christianity and on and on.

But a few biologists in the Thirties - mostly microbiologists -  didn't find Bigger to be inevitably Better, at least in the natural interactions they were studying.

The brilliant if taciturn (Martin) Henry Dawson was in their forefront - certainly not as a verbal spokesman, but in his advanced concepts.

The 'little horse to big horse' dioramas beloved by every  local museum wall made it seem that small beings were just wayposts on the path to ever bigger-ness.

But instead of being just something to be eaten up or stomped on during the charge to Bigness , true natural reality, these handful of microbiologists claimed, showed small continuing to co-exist with the big, now as in the distant past.

And not just co-existing in widely separated niches either .

For trillions upon trillions of bacteria co-exist in and upon every one of us, along with endless numbers of viruses, fungi, protozoa, worms and mites.

With  all our medical science and with the best immune system in Life, it might see an easy task for us Biggies to dispose of such smallies but that hardly has proved the case .

As any infectious hospital ward in the Thirties would unhappily attest.

But Science, as always, had a ready answer whenever messy Reality clashed with the glib (Cartwright Machine) assumptions it shared with the non-scientific mind.

Science claimed that whenever a new small being invaded the human space, there was a tense period of ecological mismatch between the parasites' need for time to see to their continued survival versus their ability to make us (and thus them) instantly dead.

Dead human hosts meant dead microbe freeloaders.

So, gradually ,over time, the invading small beings reduced their virulency,the human host lived and reproduced and so did its parasites who also lived long enough reproduce their own kind.

Soon parasites became helpless and harmless commensals, merely tagging along with us for the ride.

Never again, once rendered a-virulent , would invading microbes bother the big and clever humans.

The 1930s Central Dogma of the Biology religion (one of many such Central Dogmas over the years) was that it was always a one way journey from high virulency to a-virtulency.

But Dawson , particularly in his studies between 1926 and 1940 ,
saw a much different picture.

To put it in modern day biological language, he was the first, or among the first, to explore Horizontal Gene Transfer, Quorum Sensing, Molecular Mimicry, L-forms, and Biofilms.

Just a few of the truly amazing and highly sophisticated ways bacteria survive in a hostile human body cum planet.

Because an individual bacteria is about the same size relationship to an adult human as a human individual is to the entire planet Earth.

Bacteria did not 'sense' they were invading and killing a fellow being when they land on and in us,  (as they might regard a competing fungi cell).

Instead each human body seemed an entire rich lush dangerous planet to them - one well worth learning to survive in , despite the risks.

because our human immune systems and human medicine are indeed big, rich and sophisticatedly complex.

But they proved to be, ironically, too big, too complex, too ponderous to beat back the microbes for very long.

Just too damned bureaucratical,  just like every big organization you and I have ever worked for.

The microbes' vast numbers (trillions) and short period between new generations (minutes), combined with their controllable ability to encourage new mutations to emerge and even travel from species to species,  ensured they could throw up a trillion new survival ideas in the time we got one new drug to stage three clinical trials.

Most of those new survival ideas would be harmful or useless, but with those numbers of ideas, it became like Monkeys typing Literature : something good was bound to come out eventually.

The small and nimble beat the big and ponderous often enough in our human corporate world to make Dawson's claim seem equally credible in the natural world.

Or so it might seem self evident , today, in our post-Modern world.

But that is getting well ahead of ourselves ---- because Dawson's 1930s notions of commensality are not just the object of our postwar post-modern gaze but one of the 1930s originating subject-creator of our postwar post-modernity.

Together with WWII itself.

Because until WWII came along and demonstrated over and over how often the very big fell before the very little , Dawson's notions gained no traction what so ever in the scientific or popular mind.

His scientific ideas did not change during WWII , but ours sure did .....

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Henry Dawson never changed his mind about the Overdogs, but the World did ...

The idea that Nature favours the ubermenschs and overdogs,  that 'Might is Right' , were pretty well universally accepted, albeit sometimes resignedly, in 1939.

Henry Dawson, drawing much different conclusions from his decade long study of the constantly varying battles of Human-Bacteria Commensality, certainly didn't agree.

He gave at least equal odds to all the untermenschs and the underdogs of our natural slash human world.

His ideas were pretty outre with his fellow scientists and his fellow human beings in 1929 ......or even in 1939.

And remained so until about 1943, when the repetitious failure to have 'The War' go anywhere near the direction the various overdogs would have it go, caused many people around the globe to look at the maxim 'Might is Right' in a more jaundiced light.

Dawson never changed his mind - but  eventually the World did, thanks to WWII's unexpected off-coursedness.

The War's end found the World feeling much less Modern and feeling much more post all that sort of stuff - a position that has only grown stronger in the world, in the seventy or so years since Dawson's premature death in 1945.

I can only hope the irony amuses Dawson, wherever he is right now ....

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Civilization, regarded as a "Cartwright Machine"

A "Cartwright Machine" is a powerful and unique way, created by famed philosopher of science Nancy Cartwright,  of looking again at all of Humanity's machines , mental as well as physical.

Cartwright's central insight is to realize that the real beauty of a machine is literally 'only skin deep'.

This is in very sharp contrast to received opinion on machines up until now.

The surface of machines, like all 'black box' marvels was always dismissed as a mere banal matte black nothingness, while the divine spark and mystery of the machine was felt to be buried deep inside.

Not so, said Cartwright and her followers, among them myself.

For example:

The number and condition of a nation's "machine tools" ( big machines that make other machines) , in peace or in wartime, is universally taken as the best single guide to the economic health and medium term potential of that nation.

Naturally as a result , during WWII , both Axis and Allied regarded the destruction of the other side's machine tools by aerial bombs as perhaps the quickest and most certain way to win the war without a too big a loss in human lives.

The factory buildings that house these machine tools were big but lightly built boxes of thin steel and wood.

Acting like big sails, they easily fell over when hit by the 'wind forces' generated by even a near miss by a high explosive bomb.

But unless the bomb actually fell right beside the rows of squat, very heavy and extremely dense, steel-built machine tools, even a very heavy blast force only caused them to rock briefly on their base and then settle back unharmed.

Round One to Civilization.

But unless a building was very quickly assembled back around the machine tools, they quickly became useless, rendered inert by the most banal forces imaginable : gently falling rain.

Gentle rain on machine tools (and even damp air generally)  quickly makes them rusty and useless, despite the fact that they could brush off the blast of a 500 pound high explosive bomb with casual aplomb.

Because machine tools are actually a bundle of diverse characteristics : mightly big (basically three metres cubed of steel) and yet also needing to operate within extremely small tolerances (measured in microns or millionths of one metre) to work as intended.

An apt metaphor for them might be a huge elephant rendered helpless by a tiny mouse !

The small tractor without an engine cover is a machine that seems to work well without appearing to be very shielded from the elements of Nature but that is because we forget it spends most of its life inside the sheltering roof and walls and floor of the farmer's barn.

A main battle tank is the war equivalent of the tractor, but it spends all of its combat time stuck in mud and dust and rain and snow and wind and mould ---- and as a result it tends to have a short service life, even if it doesn't first get hit by enemy fire.

More of WWII's tanks were 'put out of action' by mechanical
troubles than by their human foes.

(That is unless you choose, as I do, to regard Mother Nature as the general and admirals' real foes.)

But a Cartwright Machine was far more than an insight into just physical machines : it was also a way of looking at all of Mankind's much vaunted accomplishments.

Just as our tractors and machine tools (mechanical triumphs of Mankind's rational willpower) look far more fragile without their necessary shielding, so too do the intangible mental assets of Humanity's rationality.

A Great Power like Hitler's Germany seemed to be so truly mighty powerful in both industry and in science that it seemed obvious it could well make both guns and butter.

But in a real war, it quickly became apparent that peacetime Germany could only afford to survive off German-grown food (butter) because it didn't actually use  all the guns it made.

(And even this just barely : reduced rations for Germans came into effect even before the formal declaration of war in September 1939.)

Actually using guns in war quickly revealed the need to replace all the shells the guns fired, along with the guns themselves when they were worn out from use or destroyed by enemy fire.

Ditto for the need to replace the former farm hands converted to gunners , when they also were worn out or killed.

The same for all the former farm horses diverted to pull these guns.

The former farm tractor factories have been converted to make gun carriages, while the farm fertilizer and pesticide plants are on short shifts, with most of their raw materials diverted to make gun powder and high explosives.

Soon, the women and old men left behind on German farms are doing a very poor job of feeding civilian Germany and all of its idle but high daily calorie consuming military, holidaying abroad in the occupied lands.

Without fertilizers, pesticides, tractors, horses and muscular young farm hands, who can blame these women and old men ?

Now the normal cycle of good and bad weather/good and bad harvests, a cycle that Germany has always experienced,  kicks in on top.

A bad weather harvest now is truly a food disaster for civilization, as Adam Tooze has so brilliantly detailed.

Not a disaster for German civilization, except morally.

But a disaster for European civilization generally, because it means Germans ate well only by stealing food from their neighbours.

In the Western part of European Civilization, it means that the French and Dutch are at least left with just barely enough to get by.

But in the Eastern part of European Civilization , food was obtained by deliberately starving to death millions of Russians and Jews.

Ultimately, when starvation proved too slow a way to free up sufficient food, the Germans turned to mass killing of  Jews and anyone else they considered 'useless eaters'.

Lack of food in Germany drove the Holocaust along, which was speeded up with every bad harvest year back home in Germany.

Lack of food in Germany led Germany to alienate its potential allies in New Order Europe by stealing the food off their plates.

This in term ensured that these hungry and embittered potential allies ended up resisting Germany, not fighting along side of it, dooming it for certain in June 1944.

And all too soon cannibalism - usually considered the very anti-matter to Civilization's matter - was being engaged in by desperate Russian civilians and POWs.

German Civilization's much vaunted ability to produce butter as well as guns was really a Cartwright Machine, its universal and eternal "law-like" appearance actually hedged by all sorts of restrictive "ceteris paribus" clauses.

This is always the way with Modern Science, its 'dirty little secret'.

None - none - of the famous science experiments we all have been taught to admire in High School and as undergrads actually works as described, at least not out in the real world.

They are really mind experiments , so for example in physics we mentally remove from consideration all the various real world forces working on an object , so we can focus on the main force influencing its motion.

The ceteris paribus clauses explain all that we must remove to get our supposedly universal and eternal laws of nature to work.

It is indeed true, just as our High School Science teacher claimed,  that if the USA aims a truly ballastic missile at Tokyo to the west, it is very unlikely to hit Berlin in the east.

The main force at work, our rocket propellant, will  accurately ensure it ends up somewhere west of  Hawaii.

But lab-ignored factors like real world wind and air temperature and air density could very well work to move our ballistic missile slightly off course enough to hit Korea instead of Japan.

Diplomatically , even a High School Science teacher might realize that this could be very bad news indeed.

(The astute might notice that today's H-bombs are to be delivered by a very muddled, but also very real world, mixture of semi-ballistic and semi-guided techniques. But don't hold your breath waiting for any scientist to tell you that.)

The ceteris paribus clauses behind Nazi Germany's amazing ability to offer full employment, full food larders and full gun lockers was that it only worked if Germany didn't have too many guns and promised never to fire them .

In other words, it only really worked if Germany had a Cold War era military budget and not a Hot War era military budget.

WWII was a real disaster for Humanity and Civilization.

This is because, for the first time ever, the Civilization given us by Modern Science had all of its Cartwright Machines, minus their protective ceteris paribus shielding , left lying around in the wind and rain and mud and snow and heat and dust and mould of six long years of  Total War .....

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Divided Selves of Nova Scotia's Henrys ....

Thirty years ago, I started researching and writing about the divided mind (to use William James' famous term) of a man named Henry from Nova Scotia.

I still am.

my 1984 Henry Alline poster
But I started off writing and thinking about Henry Alline, a man from New England stock living in Falmouth Nova Scotia , who  very much considered himself a Christian.

Admittedly most see him professing a quite unorthodox variety of the Christian faith.

By contrast, for the last eight years I have been researching, writing and thinking (much, much thinking) about (Martin) Henry  Dawson.

(Martin) Henry Dawson
While this Henry had been raised in a very committed Presbyterian family in Truro Nova Scotia, (with one side of his family reflecting similar New England roots),  he always claimed in adulthood not to be a believer in the Christian God but rather in the new religion of Modern Science.

I believe, however, that while he had stopped believing in the existence of  Jesus, he still tried, perhaps unconsciously, to always practise the ethics of Jesus.

But he was constantly torn between his outer devotion to the stern tenets of Modern Science rationality and his warm compassionate inner nature.

He had joined-up during WWI,  but not in the first heady war-glory days of the summer of 1914, but rather like thousands of like minded people around the world, immediately after he had first heard of the execution of nurse Edith Cavell in October 1915.

Again, typically, he had first volunteered to join a medical unit.

But eventually he joined an infantry unit feeling he wasn't doing enough to end the suffering by merely being a hospital orderly.

He won a Military Cross with citation, for his bravery.  And for his altruism, in giving up his stretcher back to hospital to a man more seriously wounded. For twice he was seriously wounded in battle.

In 1939, these old wounds came back to haunt him.

Together with his now middle-agedness and the fact that he was married and main breadwinner for his wife and two (and eventually three) young children, it all made him an unattractive combat hospital recruit in WWII.

It hurt none the less not to go off to help. His job and home was now in New York City, but while America might still be neutral, he was anything but.

He was sure, with all his advanced medical research skills, he'd be warmly welcomed by the Canadian Army Medical Corps, but in fact he'd  just to end up safe behind a desk in Canada, dealing with medical paperwork in areas remotely connected to his current research efforts.

And if the German mistreatment (and Allied neglect) of Belgium  had fired his sense of outrage and compassion in WWI, in WWII  the equivalent of his poor bleeding Belgium had become poor bleeding Poland , torn apart by Russia and Germany while the Western Allies just said pious nothings.

Every time another small nation fell before the mighty and his adopted country America did nothing, Dawson's anguish only grew.

But what could he do, from a small lab deep in New York City, that would have a major and useful affect ?

I have written extensively on what he eventually did do.

Enough now to say that over the four years between October 1940 and April 1945 , he rebuked and finally reversed the Allies' early decision, at a muted level, to micmic the Nazis' decision to favour medical care for the powerful and the useful over providing basic medical care (like food) to the weak and 'not-so-useful' .

But I want to conclude this brief comparison by noting that for both Henrys, their moral crunch time came in war and that after they had found a moral solution to their divided selves, nothing but nothing would remove their inner calm.

Henry Alline did his most physically tiring work,  after he knew he was dying of TB, but his inner peace seemed to help him hold off this fatal disease until he had completed much of his ministry.

Similarly, Henry Dawson was told not long after he started his penicillin ministering that he had a very tiring and then-fatal disease (MG) and that, on average, people lived only four and half years after diagnosis.

Coincidentally, that is exactly as long as he survived, but he too had time enough on Earth to see success in his efforts.

I am writing this 'comparing and contrasting' sort of post,  after seeing two brief documentary films .
Paul Kimball Alline film

Both were made by Paul Kimball of Redstar Films about Henry Alline*.

I enjoyed them both, but I still think there is a drama movie that could be made of Henry Alline's brief but incident-packed life  that would appeal to even non-Christians.

Just as I see a movie eventually being made of Henry Dawson's similarly eventful last four years of life.....

* I know, I know.  Henry was always called Henry Allen when his name was spoken while he was alive, but today in this age of Googling, I always verbally refer to him as Henry A-lline , so that my listeners can quickly find him online.

Modernity dies in an Adorno Moment : 1939-1945

Between  April 30th 1939 (when the New York's World Fair opened) and the November 20th 1945 (when the Nuremberg Trials opened) a lot of water (together with a lot of blood and brains) flowed under one of Modern civilization's few remaining un-bombed bridges :  call it WWII.

If  to the bemused Theodor Adorno, New York's fair was Modernity's bizarre apogee , he also saw Nuremberg's trials as Modernity's appalling nadir.

But I doubt that even Adorno and his co-conspirator Max Horkheimer had really expected Modernity to soar , burn and crash just that quickly.

Yet it clearly happened. Few people doubt that our new Age of post-Modernity can not be precisely dated to very late in the year of 1945.

Just as very few people deny that the opening of New York's World Fair of 1939 captured the absolute peak of Modernist optimism and hubris.

Now WWI also resulted in dramatic change all around the world.

But I would argue that while the surface of Modernity in 1919 was readily and intensely cracked all over, the deep superstructure actually held stronger than ever.

People often see WWI's dramatic results as the results of long standing tensions, buried below the surface, suddenly precipitating in a crisis situation.

Perhaps : tensions buried under the surface, but not that deeply buried.

By contrast, the surface of immediately post WWII Modernity didn't crack at all but actually burnished all the brighter ("Better Science won the War"), but deep down inside , the moral core of Modernity had lost its appeal to the young.

Modernist elders simply didn't seen their own self-inflicted wounds and so did nothing to reduce its shock upon their young.

As a result, the assault on their children's and grandchildren's moral certitudes was all the more stunning due to their elders' failure to genuinely reflect upon the meaning of the events of 1945.

But demographically, the rot had truly set in and it was now only a matter of time ------ and of baby booms ----  and of funerals....

Militant atheists object not to Jesus's EXISTENCE, but to his ETHICS

Is God really dead...... or just really annoying ?

I think for most modern militant atheists (aka the ones without the gutteral accent and the thick mustache ) it is the ethics of Christianity that they find most offensive.

The shock troops of atheism, the sociobiologists, are still hard at their seek and destroy mission against the mutant genes causing altruism and compassion.

But as a lazy Christian, but christian none the less, I am perfectly willing to discover on Judgement Day a God who built a Universe like a clockworks, left behind the recovery manual for when we screw it up ( Jesus's 12 ethical steps) and then crawled behind a rock somewhere to contently die of old age.

However Christianity came across their insights, I think history better reflects their accurate assessment of the human inborn tendency to hubris than anything the collected wisdom of atheists have ever come up with....

Civilization can fire Guns OR eat Butter, but not both....

The Cold War is always pointed-to-with-pride as a time when Civilization had guns and butter.

Had guns, yes, but never fired them.

Its all quite different from actual war,( shout out to WWII) , when guns get fired and their shells destroy the butter factories and people are left too hungry to build another shell or churn more butter.

Civilizations like Germany, Japan and Russia then quickly end up with their citizens turning to cannibalism to survive : true they don't eat their guns, but they do definitely eat their leather gun straps before turning on each other as a food source.....

WWII : Science finds, Man applies, Nature confounds ...

Yes indeed, the Universe is just like some giant man-made clockworks, albeit one taken out of its 'shielding' case and left out in Nature's harsh elements, exposed years in years out to blazing sun, wind, rain, snow, dust and mould.

How much our vaunted Civilization rests upon the thin security provided by the shielding roofs over our man-made "Cartwright Machines" is made particularly clear during war.

Then those carefully hand-washed machines, the ones we normally baby and only take for a spin in good weather on a summer's afternoon , are worked to death in all times of year and in all kinds of weather.

As a result, they, their human operators and the civilizations behind them usually crack up pretty quickly.

We have all seen those terribly despondent photos of the soldiers of some Great Power or other, desperately trying to get all their vehicles out of the mud of Russia's winter or Guadalcanal's summer ; Civilization spinning its wheels hard and going nowhere fast.

The Aryan Man's Burden.... and others

At least six modernist Utopias (White Man's Burden , Aryan Man's Burden , Proletarian Man's Burden , Norden Precision , Synthetic Autarky and Eugenic Breeding) all quickly fell apart when taken out of their protective boxes and were left exposed to Nature's harsh elements between 1939 and 1945.

Just like clockwork......

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

WWII:began optimistically as Science, ended tragically as Engineering..

WWII, in other words, began in Modernism and ended in post-Modernism.

It should be understood at the onset that Science's task is strictly pedagogical and that it doesn't have to provide answers that are true, in any realistic sense, merely ones that are correct.

In other words, an excellent science experiment also is an excellent exam question.

I am speaking here of course only of the physical sciences, those sciences that form a subset of human psychology.

Their main function in life is to boost the students' self esteem and make them willing and - God Bless 'Em ! - even eager to take on the world outside the High School or University as a non-physical science grad.

These science experiments are meant to give non-scientists and non-engineers, and probably a lot of engineers and scientists as well , the confidence-building illusion that the world outside the lab is as controlled and predictable as it is inside the university's "sheltered workshop".

As I have said before, philosopher of science Nancy Cartwright's key insight (aka the "Cartwright machine")  is that the crucial component that Science, along with its machines, experiments and laboratories, requires to be a successful human activity is a metaphorical ROOF , to shelter those activities from messy Reality's wind, rain and dust.

And Frederick Christiansen argues that successful engineering often means adding yet more roofs to the designs-with-roofs coming out of the science labs, to make them robust enough to endure daily Reality.

So, for example, Newtonian ballistic equation solving (classical science at its purest) can take on a very different cast in actual battles of war.

Now our young university physics graduate is behind a gunnery rangefinder, high up on a heaving battleship in the dark of night, himself just barely awake.

 His battleship is making a desperate turn, in high wind and waves, and at top speed, to dodge a possible incoming torpedo.

Meanwhile our young officer is trying his absolute best to get his 12 inch gun turret to score at least on hit on an heavily armoured (and armed) enemy battleship.

The enemy is also is bobbing up and down and turning left and right at high speed in equally heavy seas a dozen or so miles away in the dark.

The enemy ship is trying just as hard to land one or two shots on the superstructure of his own battleship - which if it happens, will likely kill him and render moot any success at getting his battleship's guns to hit the enemy.

This, despite the fact that both his battleship's hull and its gun turrets, both heavily armoured, remain totally undamaged.

He has been taught to use Newtonian ballastics to hit and destroy 60,000 ton ships, only to discover that what he is really aiming for with his massive one ton armouring piercing shell is the 150 fragile pounds of his counterpart gunnery officer.

Neither officer will ever hit what they were aiming for, but both are likely to end up dead --- when their ships make the wrong turn and run into an enemy shell equally off target.

Ballastics has descended in to a good old fashioned low tech infantry fire fight: fire as many shots as quickly as you can in the general direction of the enemy and hope some by mischance actually hit him.

Forget even that it is nighttime and in heavy seas, with two ships very far apart, moving at top speed in irregular weaving patterns while bobbing up and down in the water irregularly.

And that the eye on the rangefinder is hindered by all the bright flashes and dense smoke of real battles.

Or that in the minute or two it takes to set range and elevation, the gun to be fired and for the shell to travels to its target, the other ship will have irregularly altered what ever semi-predictable course,speed and elevation it was following at the time of 'set'.

Think about the intermittent winds across the path of that dozen or so miles - winds with different temperatures and density of air - all which affect how a shell deviates from its Newtonian path.

The gun barrel, its wearing-out with repeated shooting and even its changing temperature from shot to shot, all effect the accuracy of our departing shell.

Each new shell is never been machined as true to its designed shape as one would like - just as the bags of propellant each display a random slightly difference in the amount of force they provide.

Many of these factors, but not all, can be accounted on the naval battleship range and after a number of shots, gunnery officers do hit a target and retire to the wardroom.

But even the most lifelike gunnery range practise, far more real-world than the university lab, does not prepare the gunnery crews for a real-world battle.

In a real battle, it is far more likely that three battleships and heavy cruisers on each side are all trying to hit each other at the same time : what fans of Newton like to call "many-bodied problems" , the kind they'd rather not talk about in the physics classroom.

Yet battleship gunnery crews in WWII were the best trained, best equipped, most scientifically up to date gunners of all the war effort : none of the six nations that had modern battleships spared any expense or scientific effort to make their gunners topnotch.

But equally, all the odds against the various gunners hitting their targets had been equally up-gunned.

Faster and more agile opposing ships, heavier armour, longer and bigger guns, extreme firing ranges, night fighting, heavy weather fighting, submarines and dive bombers coming at them as well as big shells : it just never stopped.

Most of the (hugely expensive, manned by thousands of highly trained men) aptly named "capital" ships that were sunk in WWII, did not fall before the big guns, but rather to much smaller,cheaper, simpler weapons : sea mines, torpedoes, dive bombers, kamikazes.

Ballastics and science hardly entered into most of those losses : instead very brave men got within pointblank range and then eyeballed their way to success.

Engineers can understand that 'can-do' attitude perfectly well....