Saturday, March 9, 2013

MODERNITY as just one vast marketing ploy

At its very base base, Modernity consists of convincing other people (call 'em customers or colonies, tis the same) that you are smart (progressive/a professional scientist) and they are stupid (backward/laypeople).

Modernity and Imperialism after all grew up together and declined together: post-modernity and de-colonization being pretty much one and the same thing.

The 1920s trend to replace mom's homemade bread with  industrialized white bread and Britain's attempt to create imperialized/militarized penicillin  during WWII are two shades of the same big lie.

In most rural Nova Scotia farmhouses until recently, the biggest and cosiest room in the house was the kitchen where the big wood stove was the entire house's only form of heat.

There the kids would gather after school - by necessity in winter - to keep warm and watch mom prepare and then cook biscuits ,made from flour and water, that the kids immediately consumed. Artificial chemical preservatives need hardly enter such an immediate process.

But starting in the 1920s, bread manufacturers and their clever Goebbels of Madison Avenue successfully convince a new generation of Moms - and kids - that  mom's homemade bread was unsafe and unhygenic.

Scientists in white gowns in white factories could  put the right sort of chemicals in bread to kill all germs - and not so incidentially  - allow factory bread to be shipped a thousand miles across a nation, sit about for weeks and still not grow mold before being consumed.

Germs were destroyed - as were local bakeries.

Re-casting Mom as a lesser breed

All the moms in the Nova Scotia rural hinterland became an internal colony, as she no longer baked bread to compete with Ben's , the huge breadmaker in the imperial metropolitan centre of Halifax.

Instead she focused on cutting fish at the local fishplant and with her earnings now bought Ben's fluffy white stuff.

When I was a kid, the local children were embarrassed to have to bring delicious homemade bread and baked-beans sandwiches to school and would trade it for sandwiches of Ben's bread and Kraft sandwich spread.

Howard Florey was the son of an industrialist and knew all there was to know about how modernity cum industrialization cum imperialism worked.

 He was always most reluctant to ever give anyone some of his penicillium spores (usually sending rubbishy mutant spores unlikely to produce penicillin, if he was pushed to respond conventionally as one scientist to another scientist's request for some of the material mentioned in his published article.)

By contrast, he was almost willing to be seen forcing some of his Oxford Standard dried penicillin powder upon you , so as to prove he had made dry penicillin first and had set down the standard for others to follow.

He was actually doing nothing that Britain's political and industrial elite hadn't already worked out for themselves long before.

Give a colonist a vial of British-made penicillin and he could save a life for a day but then he'd need to trade cheap Indian cotton for expensive British  penicillin, forever, if he hoped to go on saving Indian lives.

"Give a man a fish" et al, in a new guise.

Enter Pulvertaft, Atkinson and Duhig 

By contrast, Robert Pulvertaft and Nancy Atkinson had different plans.

Howard Florey visited both and publicly - reluctantly - praised both, but was really was privately furious at both.

Pulvertaft in Cairo, Egypt had used Florey-made and British industry-made dry penicillin powder but they often arrived in pretty bad shape - unlike a fungi spore they didn't really survive travel well.

 But Pulvertaft had also secretly got a sample of Fleming's penicillium spores mailed to him from a pal at Wellcome Labs in London - and as spores do  - they traveled perfectly well indeed and started into making penicillin right away.

He was, like a rural Nova Scotian mom, making homemade penicillin in front of the patients to be consumed on the spot - and so like mom, didn't really need a whole lot of fancy high tech chemistry to render his penicillin safe.

His patients were wounded soldiers in his large base hospital and the liquid penicillin was barely produced by the penicillium spores in the hospital lab than it was coursing through the veins of the grateful soldiers : drying and chemical preservatives hardly entered into this cosy setup.

And he freely began to teach the local natives and other military units how to make their own penicillin with spores of his.

His efforts made Florey and Whitehall very angry indeed --- Britain hoped, once it had synthesized penicillin , to see a huge trade in penicillin in exchange for Egyptian cotton etc.

Nancy Atkinson because she was located in Adelaide Australia, Florey's home town, had his number and knew of his peculiar - grasping - personality.

 She avoided approaching Florey, got her penicillin from Fleming himself and soon got a local Adelaide firm to make local penicillin and gave some spores to Duhig in Brisbane so he too could goose up the tardy government approach to providing enough penicillin for civilian as well as soldier.

Florey was very angry that he - as the long time away "local boy" -  hadn't been invited in to help in Australia. Maybe his selfish and secretive attitude had something to do with it ?

I have said that the biggest reason for the long delay in providing wartime penicillin to those dying for lack of it was Florey, Flemings and AN Richards' obsession with weaponizing it.

By this I meant they rejected Pulvertaft and Duhig's implicit argument that penicillin was best used systemically (injected into the entire body) for life-threatening blood poisoning because - technically, as a drug - that is where it worked best.

 And that this being the case, life-threatening blood poisoning cases were almost always sent to the big hospitals with a big enough lab and staff  to make the penicillin,on the spot, for the steady stream of blood poisoning cases coming in.

There was no need to waste time making penicillin a stable enough material to send from a central factory to store in regional warehouses until traveling detail salesmen had sold it in small amounts to individual GPs.

Disagreeing strenuously,  Florey, Fleming, Richards et al felt the greatest war need was for a local antiseptic to be poured or sprinkled inside wounds on the battlefield , soon as a soldier was wounded.

Let me say that more careful research,after the war,( including some by Pulvertaft himself) concluded this was an artificial problem - and that into this square artificial hole both the round sulfa and round wartime penicillin were reluctantly pushed - both failing , but for different reasons.

But sulfa and penicillin did save many lives, but not on the battlefield, but rather back in the base hospital, doing what they did best - reach into every part of the body and killing bacteria out in the open.

Killing bacteria in hard to get to places remained (and remains) hard to do - but if these bacteria did not get into the blood stream, they were almost never fatal in and of themselves.

Weaponized penicillin was imperialized penicillin

But let us now combine weaponized penicillin with imperialized penicillin : because a dry , stable, complicatedly mass produced penicillin also suited the post war aims of Britain : to profitably sell high tech medicine to nations less advanced than European ones.

Convincing the lesser breeds that homemade (really made by skilled microbiologists in big hospital labs) penicillin, like homemade bread, was so un-civilizied , was at least half the battle.....

No comments:

Post a Comment