Friday, February 27, 2015

Rawl's Disease ("Chartitis") kills thousands of patients

Unfortunately, it simply isn't true that today's nurses and doctors ignore the personality of their patients to focus on high tech instrumentation instead.

Many more patients would still be alive if only that was so.

Chloe Atkins' Imaginary Illness

Instead - as Professor Chloe Atkins' chilling memoir "My Imaginary Illness" (Cornell University Press) reveals, one can witness senior specialists and head nurses standing around a hospital bed yelling at a patient dying from a respiratory crisis to 'start breathing or get out of the hospital and stop wasting taxpayers' money!'

Even when the patient  is visibly unable to breathe and her vital signs on the dials before them are crashing.

That is because they have all read (and re-read) her decade old charts and her old charts claimed she was simply faking her disease and presumably (for the senior doctors and nurses rarely say) controlling the bank of medical machines by, in her disabled state, by sheer telepathy.

We indeed have a serious medical problem here.

 But it involves those oh so expensive experts we civilians are forced to trust in times of crisis , not the harried patient.

Rawl's Disease : Chartitis

Rawl's Disease (rather better known as Chartitis) is named after famous liberal philosopher John Rawls - a rare and signal dishonor for his much ignored academic discipline.

Thanks in part to to the intellectual pair of Descartes and Freud , humanity still tend to separate the diseases of human beings into two kinds - organic (loosed based on the unconscious body) and functional (loosely based on the unconscious mind).

We could survive this splitting up the whole of being if only we didn't also have the long line of liberal thinkers like Rawl and Mills to contend with.

They push hard their claim that we should be self-controlling and freedom-loving individuals, as if it was an already established scientific fact.

Our whole world - starting in the West - increasingly tries to 'do life' by Mills and Rawl's precepts and this can't but help influence our nurses and doctors.

Intoxicated with the fumes of the hard liquor of scientism, nurses and doctors 'lose it' whenever they come across medical cases where the list of visible and technical signs can't be assembled into a diagnosis and hence a treatment plan.

One of the joys of their business is never having to say you're sorry .

Never to say 'I am sorry but I am as baffled as you the patient, your family and friends ---- only paid a great deal more to be so baffled'.

Bafflegab of DSM replaces Bible for medical solace

Telling the truth simply won't cut it - pocketbook wise - so you reach into your handy dandy DSM bible, a tool for mental health professionals that ensures no matter how vague, fleeting and inconsistent the complaints a patient presents the health community with, a scientism-sound diagnosis can be made.

In the case of a patient presenting an inconsistent collection of physical symptoms with no apparent physical "organic" cause (say a leg paralyzed without the usual physical clues for organic paralysis) the DSM suggests a functional disease : its a psychosomatic condition.

That is to say her ( and it usually is a her, unless he is a foreigner or gay) unconscious mind has frozen her leg - probably as the result of an unnatural childhood affection for her long legged Barbie doll etc , etc.

Male doctors used to be able to label any female patient they were baffled by and disliked as a 'hysteric' but today they have learned to guise their old contempt in new babble talk.

Last week the term was 'conversion reaction' --- I do not know what this week's term is.

We can't - and we shouldn't - blame patients for the unconscious reactions of their mind.

But thanks to Mills and Rawls and patient self help groups and made for chat TV
cancer recovery memoirs, we do.

Medical Consultant Leni Reifenstahl

Just as clinician Dr Leni Reifenstahl opined all those years ago at Nuremberg, (with Mills and Rawls in sotto voce agreement) any right-living, right-thinking, right-gened patient should be able to control and beat her cancer, by a sheer triumph of the will over mere physical or mental weakness.

Those unable to do so were labelled - by Bomber Harris and the DSM - as LMF (lacking in moral fibre) and malingerers.

Malingerers is the word modern nurses and doctors still call patients they morally judge this way - it is the verbal term they used to describe Chloe Atkins for a dozen years amongst themselves.

But in print, in formal documents, they couldn't use such five cent words known by everyone who has ever watched a war movie.

So they pull out the kind of convoluted terms that lets a body pull down the big bucks -- terms like "Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy".

Thanks to centralized digital chart keeping , the early unsupported claims of Chloe's mother, doctors and nurses were kept on the charts sent to each new hospital her MG crisis put her in, no matter what province or state.

She tells a much repeated tale : of arriving at emergency dying from a failure to breathe, the doctors and nurses correctly reading her visible signs and the values presented  by the hooked up machines and giving the right drastic actions to save her life by getting her breathing again.

A made-for-TV medical drama with two wildly different endings - separated only by the arrival of old charts

A stirring made for TV medical drama with a happy ending - a life saved by medical staff who like and care about this patient as an individual.

Three days later, her chart arrives and as the staff read and gossip about it and her, they start to act cold, distant and hostile towards her.

They soon withdraw her breathing equipment so she will go home and stop wasting hospital beds and money.

They dismiss the machine readings and visible signs from the emergency ward only days earlier as a long series of errors and mis-readings.

They simply refuse to explain how drastic measures designed to save a person unable to breath got her breathing again and didn't simply kill her as it would most people simply 'faking it'.

Chartitis : trust the original diagnosis, not the current disease --- this woman simply willed her lungs to stop breathing because she wanted to have sex with her father or smally furry animals, as a wee small child.

MG (Myastenia Gravis) , Martin Henry Dawson and wartime penicillin

Now I am writing a book about a doctor (Martin Henry Dawson) who was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Myastenia Gravis (MG) but who fought off his own body, his own colleagues and his own wartime government just long enough to bring us cheap available-to-all natural penicillin.

It struck me early on in Chloe Atkins' account that her drooping eyes and come and go symptoms of physical weakness should have alerted someone (in the literally hundreds of the world's smartest doctors and nurses who carefully examined or treated her) to the possibility she had an atypical case of MG.

In autoimmune disease, some unknown external stress causes the immune system of some of us to start attacking the body. Which part(s) that is attacked gives us the type of auto immune disease we have.

In MG, stress and over-activating our muscles attracts unneeded immunity agents to the chemical pathway that connects signals from our nerves to our muscles and they disrupt that pathway.

If we rest our muscles, relax (maybe even take counteracting medications) the immune system relaxes and stops sending out this agents (or likely, merely less of these agents) and we can more or less resume our carefully subdued activities.

This is not a degenerative autoimmune disase - one doesn't get worse and worse.

So many of us have had milder cases MG for years that we somehow cope with
 and never had it properly diagnosed.

But if the muscles most affected involve breathing and swallowing we will certainly get diagnosed if we survive long enough - because this can induce a minutes-count class 1 medical emergency - the patient breaths so poorly as to suffocate to death over a half hour period, if not given big hospital-level life-saving intervention right away.

I mention all this because I believe the MG crisis shares something in common today with the equally rare Meningitis crisis : yes today both are quite rare but both will cause certain death in minutes or hours if nurses and doctors have been well trained to respond instantly and correctly to a condition they might see only a handful of times in a career.

This is why I am so surprised and frankly scared to death , not that non specialists couldn't diagnose a complicated and atypical case of MG, but that they couldn't recognize a patent MG crisis when presented with one.

MG crisis kill two ways.

One is outright, in minutes.

The other is over a few years, because despite repeatedly surviving each MG crisis, the patient's lungs gets a little more permanently damaged each time.

I feel this is what finally killed Dr Dawson.

Now one might feel the arrival of Germ Theory might reduce the need for medical staff and society to blame the victim but it didn't - not anymore than blaming the Devil for illness reduced this near constant need to blame the patient for their illness.

Yes the Devil gave you this fever, but He wants to give all of us fevers - why then you not me ?

Because your wanton acts invited Him and His fever in.

Yes, tiny foreign germs gave you Strep Throat - but didn't you go out to an all night rave in early April, dressed in your short skimpy dress, talking too much and too long over the loud music - stressing your throat in the cold damp night air ?

Weren't you simply 'asking for it' ?

As a young male about Cloe's age when her disease first hit her, I did get Strep Throat that went to my kidneys, was barely able to walk, and then recovered from chemical imbalances so bad that they were literally feet off the machine-inked charts.

But I went on to suffer lifelong bladder cum prostate difficulties (basically a mildly painfully constant need to pee) that are always there but merely annoying and manageable .

This not something that happens when Strep germs lead the body to attack the kidneys (and this unlike MG is a relatively common disease) and I had no normal physical evidence to back my claim : no signs of bladder surface scarring etc.

A few doctors have suggested some form of mind relaxing pills but most say try not to try liquids after supper.

I have always been well treated by the medical system over my condition.

Perhaps because I was a male, and because unlike Chloe, my parents always warmly supported me.

I am a decade or so older than Chloe and moved around a bit as a child, so all my doctor's records and the hospital records seem to have been lost for the first 30 years of my life - including this key medical event.

So if any early doctor thought I was a malingerer, it failed to get conveyed to today's chart-trusting, instrumentation-distrusting 'evidence-based' medical personnel.

Back to Dawson to conclude our sorry tale : for Dawson shares his fame over two signal medical discoveries he championed.

He was the first in history to give injections of  penicillin-the-antibiotic, ushering in our Age of Antibiotics.

Dawson's HGT threatened profitable diagnoses into financial chaos

But a dozen years earlier he had been the first to promote  DNA HGT (he called it 'bacterial transformation') and Quorum Sensing and did much to promote attention to things like molecular mimicry and bacterial survival by variation.

He was cold shouldered by the medical and scientific establishment of the day - they feared even to raise his cause by denying it - it suggested to them a personal financial future dire beyond belief.

It was an age where the top medical people - then as now - get the big bucks and the prestige not from curing your disease but by telling junior doctors what your disease was.

The juniors were then left with the minor mopping up work - actually curing you.

Dawson threatens the Type-Casting of pneumonia

The new sub-science of immunology suggested that that the human body - somehow - could find a way to defeat everyone of a hundred slightly different strep pneumonia bacteria strains, if only given enough time.

But if a consultant could quickly 'type' the germ causing this or that patient to be dying of pneumonia as being of Type 56 (and typing simply couldn't be rushed) ,  the serum from the blood of a healthy horse previously given a mild case of Type 56 pneumonia could be injected into the bloodstream of the patient, to fight off the Type 56 until the human body learned to do so itself.

Dawson dared to say that while a disease might start off with Type 56 in the lungs , the process of HGT (bacteria exchanging bits of their unique DNA) could quickly mean (quickly as in 24 hours) that the new bug killing the patient was Type 11 !

Serum 56 would be useless, the patient would die before Type 11 was slowly re-typed and the high repute of the medical fraternity in the 1930s would sink to the patient's grave.

Best ignore Dawson - ignore his instrumentation values and trust the chart of the old familiar theories.

Better to blame instead the pneumonia victim, if he died, for being a middle aged crazy fifty year old who drank too much one weekend away from home and then shouted himself silly at his old college's football match in the cold harsh Fall air.

(True, it often did happen precisely that way, at least among the few middle class patients able to afford expensive serum treatment but I'd hardly call what they did a mortal sin justifying an early death.)

Balance and Complexity

We need to better balance our acceptance of complexity and that we are always  treating anew highly individual sick patients (a la John Rawls) not just monolithic diseases.

We must accept that their illness is the unique sum of their conscious mind, unconscious mind, their unique phenotype and only then expect to see them confronted by a hopefully somewhat standard external inducer* .

*But even here, mind always Dawson's HGT lesson  : that predictably nasty bacterial bug might be quite different today than it was last season....

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Synthesize anything, perfectly

The goal of modern scientism era synthesists was not to synthesize everything : in their minds 'everything' already existed : way too much of 'everything' ---- and none of it perfect.

They hoped instead, for example, to synthesize just one - perfect - species of the beetle and then plenticide all of God's 150,000 (imperfect) beetle species, now rendered totally redundant.

The 1940s era synthesists simply could not conceive of a universe so physically diverse, so dynamic and so suddenly changeable that only a great variety of species and life forms would be ensure that the Earth's life-sustaining nutrient cycles could keep going.

For an atmosphere of a sort might survive if every single life form on Earth perished -- but it would eventually not contain enough oxygen to keep humans alive, assuming we suddenly decided to drift back here from our wonderful new underground homes on Mars.

Modern scientism's synthetic autarky was really a form of unconscious and collective human suicide.

We humans can only survive if we accept - like it or not - that we are bound together in involuntary but open commensality with all other lifeforms on Lifeboat Earth ...

The superhero World's Fair, 1939-1940 : the American monomyth personified

New York City has held only two World's Fairs, both very famous, one in 1939-1940 and one in 1964-1965.

Naturally both have been much dissected.

However I have never seen them exposed for displaying America's deeply ingrained 'go-it-alone' and 'we're above communal law and democracy' superhero-superpower attitude to a T.

After a convention signed in 1928, the world's states all agreed that a bureau based in Paris would ensure there weren't costly and competitive nationalistic train-wrecks in the planning and timing of highly expensive international World's Fairs.

All the world's nations belong to the bureau with a few exceptions : currently, for example, the Caliphate of ISIS and the Caliphates of Canada and the US are not members.

Among the rules all nations - or almost all - have agreed to adhere to : a maximum of one World's Fair per nation per ten years, fairs only to be held for six months, no rents to be charged to the exhibiters.

These rules are designed to protect smaller nations and smaller cities from the world class cities of the biggest nations dominating world fairs, thereby gaining all the hegemonic publicity and tourist dollars resulting .

New York City, America is the biggest world city in the biggest superpower nation.

And its behavior with world fairs shows the value and the limits to such world wide agreements : for NYC's elites didn't feel bound by any such petty rules, even if reached after a globally communal and democratic discussion.

Scholars Jewett and Lawrence have long suggested that American has refined itself a variant on Joseph Campbell's supposedly universal myth of the Hero with a Thousand Faces ; one they call the American Monomyth.

This hero does not, a la Campbell's thesis, venture out from our normal world into a supernatural world, win his spurs and return with a 'boon' for his community.

You've already seen their variant a billion or so times on American TV, in movies and in western novels and comic books etc.

In it, the formerly harmonious community is itself in grave danger - as much (in the superhero's mind) from its democratically minded willingness to publicly discuss and debate solutions while a crisis looms, as from the crisis itself.

Sometimes, he reasons, you must break the law to save the law - so he singlehandedly breaks the law and defeats the foe.

Then he quietly leaves the community to fight another loner's extralegal battle for truth and justice.

Superman fits this bill - as does George W Bush.

But so too, do the two NYC World's Fairs.

They rejected the Bureau rule that because America had just held a World's Fair in a one of its smaller cities that New York and America would have to wait its turn ten years away.

They rejected the limit of six month fairs designed to avoid the biggest cities sucking up all the tourist dollars - the two NYC fairs were each two years affairs.

They rejected the Bureau rule that no exhibiter was to be charged rent - designed to ensure the smallest nations could afford to send an exhibit.

They charged rent and this resulted in the most noted exhibits being not those of the big nations - let alone those of the tiny nations - but rather those of rich and powerful corporations.

The 1940 fair is often remembered because of the recent debut of Superman and of the first fan-driven Sci Fi convention, one held in the same place and time.

Ironic that the Fair itself was, in its own confidently arrogant way, as much a 'superhero', in the negative sense of the term, as anything the comicbook boys could dream up ...

Salon des Refuses, NYC 1940 : Columbia Presbyterian Medical provides home for fungal slime, unwanted inside the World's Fair's synthetic autarky

Mother Nature was not wanted, more accurately, not needed , inside the 'World of the Future' so rhapsodized by the infamous 1939-1940 New York World's Fair.

The Fair planners had seen the future and the future , in 'just one word', was plastics : "get into nylon, Ben."

Nylon- through the alchemy of modern scientism - was made solely out of air, water and a carbon source.

Almost as in in response, a few kind souls (Dawson, Meyer, Hobby & Chaffee) arranged for M. Nature to have a sort of Salon des Refuses.

It happened - very sotto voce - in two small labs on Floor G of the Columbia Presbyterian Medical, about eleven mile to the north west of the Fair site at Flushing Meadows , Queens.

There trillions of tiny, primitive, ancient penicillium cells were set to work at the bottom of two litre Erlenmeyer flasks , happily spinning out the life-saving molecules of penicillin (penicillin G) from nothing more than ...air, water and a carbon source !

It was a pioneering example of postmodern commensal science at its best - and it all happened 75 years ago this Fall....

1945: 380 years of the Synthetic Autarky Project vs 3.8 billion years of the microbial synthesis project...

In 1945, Modern Scientism (1875-1965 , long may it rest in peace) was always convinced it was the smartest bunch of guys in the universe : it could do anything and everything Mother Nature could do, only better, faster, cheaper, cleaner.

After all, it had 380 years of experience behind it in the science of chemical synthesis - and almost 50 years experience in atomic synthesis.

It was certain it could make wartime penicillin purer, cheaper, quicker, above all cleaner than the tiny, primitive, slimy basement molds making it now.

But it couldn't----- and it still hasn't.

It has only had 380 years at the task ---- but the tiny, primitive and above all ancient microbes had had 3.8 billion years at their craft.

If my hasty arithmetic is accurate (I'm being called to stop blogging and take baby Samantha to daycare) that's a billion percent longer...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

At Columbia-Cornell Medicial, pre-war modernity ain't dead yet

The website for New York City's Columbia-Cornell medical centre is finally touting the two famous universities' involvement in the triumph of wartime's natural penicillin.

So of course, the collective minds at C-C Medical choose to emphasize the project that quietly failed at their institute, not the one that succeeded beyond all measure.

For what they are really marking is wartime Cornell's failure to produce synthetic penicillin at commercial prices and in commercial grade purity.

Oh yes, they did produce incredibly small amounts of real penicillin but the yield was so tiny one might almost think it was an unexpected impurity in another process altogether.

Which in a sense it was : in chemical terms their synthesis did indeed produce a molecule, but it was not the beta lactam molecule fragment that gives penicillin and all subsequent beta lactams (still 75 years on, our major antibiotics) their ability to destroy bacteria without harming humans.

A very mixed result then for this attempt at fulfilling prewar modernity's dream of synthetic autarky.

What Columbia-Cornell has not yet honoured and will never yet honour (not until we can proclaim for sure that modernity is fully dead and buried) is that at Columbia, a small team led by Martin Henry Dawson worked in commensality with the tiny penicillium spores to create the world's first natural penicillin pilot plant.

And that on October 16th 1940, they gave the very first needlefuls of penicillin-the-antibiotic   to a black lad and a Jewish lad dying from then invariably fatal SBE.

Eventually their penicillin cured SBE and prevented the disease that caused it : Rheumatic heart Disease : the leading killer of school age minority, poor and immigrant kids until the 1960s.

(Clearly not a triumph any rich donor-seeking medical centre wants to tout, obviously.)

Further : that this then led a small soda pop supplier in Brooklyn to make most of the war's penicillin by natural means - the means we still use to start the production of all the beta lactams that still dominate the world we call antibiotics.

In fact, very first signal triumph for what was to become today's huge and  postmodern microbiology and microtechnology !

Shameful really...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

First antibiotic penicillin patient : when did we learn his name?

How do we know what we know ?

I am very confident that the very first patient of the Antibiotic Era was a young black man named Aaron (Leroy) Alston and that he lived on St Nicholas Avenue in Harlem, New York City.

But when I was asked recently by one of Aaron's relatives (journalist Claude Jay) to demonstrate my proof, I was momentarily nonplussed.

That was when because I initially came across the statement that Aaron was the first systemic penicillin (penicillin-the-antibiotic) patient in history in early 2005, it was in about a dozen different books, all read at the exactly the same time.

(People who know what a bookworm I am, will not find that last statement at all incredible !)

I gradually assembled more information about that historic event and on Aaron himself , from scattered bits of evidence here and there - material I realized had never been assembled into a coherent and self-confirming whole.

My biggest breakthrough - discovering Aaron's death certificate - was quickly followed by my second biggest breakthrough , discovering Claude Jay himself.

That is because, outside of his medical records, Aaron was generally known to the world as Leroy, or more formally, as A. Leroy Alston.

Aaron Leroy Alston was a superb athlete  -- not just someone who died to furnish a footnote to someone else's story

I had held a strong clue that could have led me/ should have led me to Leroy years earlier.

But I discounted the evidence : that an A. Alston had won some very big amateur races in the NYC area.

I mistakingly assumed that anyone who had had acute rheumatic fever leading to severe heart valve damage, as Leroy/Aaron had to have had, couldn't possibly go on to be a top runner.

Now that I knew Aaron was also a Leroy Alston or an A. Leroy Alston and a great athlete to boot, I quickly found a good deal more about Leroy from newspapers of the day.

So I spent last week trolling through my files and the books on penicillin and rheumatic heart disease at Dalhousie University's medical library, trying to establish a timeline as to when the world first knew that Aaron was Patient One of the penicillin-the-antibiotic era.

I found nothing that named Aaron in the books and medical reports and newspapers of the war years.

NY World-Telegram first to get it (partially) right

But on the premature death of Aaron's penicillin doctor Martin Henry Dawson in April 1945, one New York newspaper, the World-Telegram, did correctly mention that his first penicillin patient was a Negro, as well as claiming that Dawson was the first to treat a patient with penicillin in the USA.

But the story not only does not name that patient, it confuses his story with that of the other first penicillin patient of Dawson's, Charles Aronson !

(Yes, Aaron was the first patient selected to receive systemic penicillin, but as the fates would have it, on the day he first received it, a new fellow sufferer (Charles) also got it at the very same time.)

The story describes Aaron as being 27 and being cured - that age and fate correctly belongs to Charles because sadly Aaron died despite the penicillin.

Now Dawson and his closest fellow worker, his lab chief Dr Gladys Hobby, were modest to the point of giving me a stroke.

The pair knew, when they initially read Howard Florey's August 1941 article on his team's first clinical use of systemic penicillin in February 1941, that Dawson's team had beat him by four months in first using penicillin systemically.

But maddeningly, they still modestly claimed only to be the first to do so in North America , in any newspaper interviews or medical articles published during the war years.

Hobby, I sense, had no great memory.

This is because already by 1949 (only 8 years later) and after consulting her own personal records (!), Hobby writing in a report for her then employer, Pfizer, says the first injection only happened on January 11th in 1941 !

Reading her later - more accurate - accounting, I can only suggest that in 1949 she meant to say that January 11th marked the first day of intravenous injections.

This after a series, in the months earlier, of first intracutaneous injections, then sub -cutaneous and then intramuscular injections.

(As doctors will know, there are actually dozens of different forms of medical injections - varying by both site and method.)

Hobby went to her grave also convinced that Dawson gave the first penicillin shots on October 15th 1940 - a statement she repeatedly gave to fellow penicillin historians who dutifully spread it far and wide.

I don't believe it --- and neither should you.

For nowhere in her ultimately relatively detailed chronological account of the first days of penicillin-the-antibiotic does she indicate when the totally new drug was first tested on a healthy volunteer before being injected into the two severely ill patients for real.

Even in the relatively relaxed medical research atmosphere of the 1940s, that would never have happened.

Durack and Bentley provide more clues

Let us turn first to a little known medical paper by Dr David T Durack, who based his article in part on a personal conversation with the biochemist of Dawson's tiny four person team, a person moreover who started Columbia's pioneering penicillin effort even before Dawson joined it.

Around 1980, Durack contacted that biochemist Karl Meyer, a distinguished scientist then in his early fifties and in full control of his faculties and memory.

(Durack's article was published before Hobby published her definitive 1986 book on penicillin but was never mentioned by Hobby - signalling to me that Hobby and Meyer were hardly close after Dawson's death.)

Durack's article, "Review of Early Experience in treatment of bacterial Endocarditis, 1940-1955", I found in the book "Treatment of Infectious Endocarditis", edited by Alan L Bisno.

Meyer's story at first seemed incredible to me, but as I gathered up more information here and there, it was confirmed by an article by Ronald Bentley at various key points.

Meyer had gone to a Berlin medical school with his fellow (German) (Jewish) student Ernst Chain and I believe had taken a mild dislike to him, something very easy to do with the mercurial Chain.

Now in September 1940 he had learned (directly via Chain's former graduate student, Jewish American Leslie Epstein*) that Chain was taking credit for important work first done by Meyer on Lysozyme and that he was now trying to synthesize penicillin.

*Read Bentley's fascinating account of Leslie Epstein Falk struggling with Chain to grow a little penicillin in the Fall and Spring of 1939-1940 and when Epstein is ordered out of Oxford only months before finishing his PhD, how he completes it partly thanks to a stay with Meyer at Columbia.

For both Chain and Meyer, I believe an elbows- out attitude, even against fellow German Jewish emigre scientists, was morally right in 1940.

Both knew that if they didn't prove themselves quickly to be top scientists in some way, they would end up interned by the German-and-Jew-distrusting Anglo-Saxon government elites, stuck in miserable prison camps along side Nazi Germans.

Meyer and Chain both thought synthesizing a small (350 Dalton weight) molecule like penicillin would be a breeze.

Meyer simply involved Dawson to do the early biological activity tests and then to do the much later clinical trials, after the drug had been synthesized.

Dawson jumped Meyer's gun, insisting on testing the drug's efficacy inside the human body long before it was synthesized.


Partly to save the lives of two young men before him who he thought were being discarded by a medical establishment using the excuse that they were gearing up for total war.

Partly to secure Meyer's flank, because the biochemist was working after all in a hospital, a workplace oriented strongly to instantly applied science, not in a more leisurely basic research lab.

So Meyer tells Durack, on October 15th 1940, penicillin was indeed injected for the very first time, as Hobby (and all those after her) claimed.

But not injected into a patient.

Injected instead by Dawson into Dawson acting as the human guinea pig to test it for human toxicity - Dawson believing it was better that he the doctor died than the patient doing so.

(Entirely typical of the decorated war hero Dawson, as was entirely typical the decision of war shirker Sir Howard Florey not to risk his 'valuable' life testing his penicillin on himself !)

But Durack reports (indirectly - no names are used) that Dawson only injected Charles Alston, not on Charles and Aaron.

This could be because he also interviewed Dr Thomas T Hunter.

Hunter was a later member of Dawson's team, who never met Aaron but who did meet Charles many, many times.

He first met him in the Spring of 1944 when he came back with a second attack of endocarditis and was cured by Dawson yet again, this time by penicillin alone instead of with a little penicillin and a lot of sulfa drugs.

Hunter did further checkups on the health of Charles until early 1946 at least - so his story naturally stuck in Hunter's mind years later.

Hobby was not on the team - but still in close touch - when Charles returned in the Spring of 1944 - maybe why she remembered him much less.

This raises a significant point - why do almost all writers choose to mention just Aaron or just Charles instead mentioning both ?

Penicillin writers and their hidden agendas

Because most writers have a not so hidden agenda.

(Mine is that I think Dawson got a raw deal from history for his pioneering HGT and Penicillin work.)

To date, most others writing about wartime penicillin have sought, above all else, to exalt Howard Florey over the man who they feel wrongly gets the credit for penicillin-the-antibiotic, Sir Alexander Fleming.

They are equally worried that the real credit should not slip off of Fleming's mantle only to fall onto that of the colonial Henry Dawson.

Like Florey, and unlike Dawson and Hobby , they realize Dawson was the first to ever give a needle of penicillin-the-antibiotic and hence it was he who ushered in our Age of Antibiotics.

Further they know that Dawson championed natural penicillin (and it is worth noting that most of our current antibiotics are still based on the original natural penicillin), to be made by Pfizer and others.

Florey and Fleming, by pointed contrast, strongly championed synthetic penicillin, to be made by ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) and others.

ICI never made a single commercial drop of the synthetic stuff - no one ever has - and 80% of all the penicillin landed on D-Day and there after came from Pfizer alone.

Seemingly hard then not give Dawson the lion's share of the wartime penicillin glory - but it can be done, if you work at it.

So these agenda-driven writers dutifully note, in almost footnote fashion, that Dawson indeed gave history' first (very small) penicillin injection.

They then decide to focus on just one of the two initial patients (Aaron), the one that died.

Next they note that Dawson quickly got Myasthenia Gravis and that he also died.

All half truths, but enough truth in them so they feel they needn't cover his four further years* of clinical penicillin activities between April 1941 and April 1945.

*Dawson had much, much longer period of clinical involvement with wartime penicillin than did either Florey or Fleming.

Hunter and Durack, by contrast, want to see Dawson's first medical glass as half full.

So they focus on Charles (the other one of the original pair, the one who lived) as the first patient to ever receive penicillin.

Someone, they imply, as a result went on to survive a hitherto invariably fatal disease.

The truth is that two low status young men - one a black and another a Jew - got history's first penicillin shots basically out of the agape concern of a doctor who wasn't even their lead doctor or a specialist in their disease.

One patient, Aaron, was extensively treated with penicillin but still died, while the other patient Charles was responsive to sulfa (unlike Aaron) and lived.

The little penicillin Charles got had almost no effect clinically but it sure boosted his morale and that might have helped save him as much as the massive sulfa doses.

Bickel to the rescue

Now we move ahead in time to about 1970, when Australian write Lennard Bickel decides to write a biography* of Australian born penicillin pioneer Sir Howard Florey, who had just died in 1968.

"Rise up to Life", first published in 1972.

He interviews anyone who he can find who was there at the time to talk about wartime penicillin, tracking down people in America, Britain and Australia.

Many buried names and stories only survive today because of his fine journalistic efforts.

Bickel wanted to exalt his fellow countryman of that there is no doubt, but he did not wish to bury Dawson - in fact he exhumed him from the grave of human forgetfulness.

I do not believe that Hobby would have even written her seminal account of wartime penicillin without Bickel .

His book and the reaction to it, finally convinced her, almost 25 years after the fact, that Dawson had indeed been the first in the world to inject systemic penicillin and hence held a story worth recalling.

Because we know she told Bickel in circa 1970 interviews for his book that she was still convinced that Dawson was merely the first to treat patients in the USA alone with penicillin.

And she - citing her notes - claimed he had treated only one patient on that historic day, which she said was October 15th 1940 - and that the patient died.

But at least and finally, she brought forth his name : Aaron Alston.

And she talks forthrightly about Dawson's fatal Myasthenia Gravis.

But she - and Bickel - make it clear that if he worked less as a result of this crippling disease, he still worked full out on penicillin till his death in the spring of 1945.

Since Bickel became the key - almost primary source level - "go to source" for most of the academic accounts of wartime penicillin, it is remarkable how this clear statement of his four more years of penicillin activities could be so twisted and ignored.

Flash forward to 1985, Hobby has retired after a modestly successful paid career working at at Pfizer on new antibiotics and a Veterans' hospital working on TB and a more successful volunteer career as a editor of various scientific society journals.

She has gotten to know everybody who was anybody in early penicillin in both North America and in Britain.

Yale University* Press, her publisher was admirably demanding and so Hobby trolled deep to firm up her claims - even consulting a Miss Louise Good for her lab records of the early use of Dawson's penicillin.

If only Yale was as demanding upon its own staff, who persist in claiming that their University was the first place to use penicillin in America.

Dawson was their first and was also the first to see cures with local (topical) use of penicillin to treat staph eye infections.

But Yale can rightfully claim a first, for inn March-April 1942, they successfully treated a case and saved a life with the systemic use of penicillin alone.

Charles Aronson's life was saved too, and much earlier - in December 1940 - but by lots of sulfa and perhaps a little contribution from pioneering penicillin.

Good's work

Good seems to be the sole source in Hobby's 1985 book "Penicillin : Meeting the Challenge" of Hobby's new information on Aaron and on who she calls Charles Aronson, his fellow needle pioneer on October 16th and 17th 1940.

Now I could reliably confirm the relatively detailed information on patient C.A. found in Dawson and Hunter's 1945 JAMA article on their clinically successful use of systemic penicillin in curing subacute bacterial endocarditis.

Dawson and Hunter's C.A. had to be Good and Hobby's Charles Aronson, born in 1913 and thus highly likely to be a young Jewish-American man with that name from the Bronx found in the 1940 US Census.

Similarly, it seemed clear from Good's information that Aaron had died in the Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, in the Borough of Manhattan, in the days around January 18th 1941.

So I could then overcome a problem unique to the New York City death certificate of that era.

They are easy to obtain and quite detailed - but do not give the cause of death, unlike those of most other jurisdictions - that information is given to the city government alone in another document.

So in a city that big, and when one seeks someone with an ethnically common name, one needs the borough the death was registered in and the exact day of death to safely match death certificate of a particular Aaron Alston with the unique penicillin/endocarditis Aaron Alston.

Thanks to Claude, I could now find newspaper accounts of Aaron Leroy Alston getting sick and then dying in the time periods that Hobby and Good address - both sets of data confirming each other.

So there you have it - Aaron Alston , the very first to receive penicillin-the-antibiotic is never directly named in any of a dozen or so clinical medical articles published during or just after the war years at the time that do reference him but indirectly.

His name and his connection to the first ever use of penicillin-the-antibiotic is mentioned in dozens of more recent medical history oriented academic articles, all dating after Bickel's pioneering book of 1972.

In addition, Aaron's story is mentioned in least one wire service story from Warren Leary, the AP science reporter.

 In early October 1978, Leary reported that the longstanding belief that the British had been the first to inject penicillin into a patient was wrong.

Leary based his claim on a recent report in the Journal Chemistry from Dr George Kauffman that talked of Dawson's pioneering work.

One suspects Kauffman in turn had recently read Bickel's new book !

Aaron's story is still distorted

Gladys Hobby's penicillin book is probably found in every first class medical research library in the world and she gives the most detail about Aaron Alston - my blog aside.

Problems persist : author and wartime penicillin pioneer John C Sheehan, in a MIT Press* published book, "The Enchanted Ring" , confusingly thinks Aaron Alston is the doctor giving that very first needle to some unnamed patient.

He even regards Dawson's team, operating in the same hospital, as totally separate from 'Dr Alston' and his team !

*New Yorker magazine stories are throughly fact-checked, scientific journal articles a little, university press books by distinguished scholars from the same university as is publishing their book ? Not so much.

Okay, now for the biggest and serious problem : the near universal inclination for all sorts of researchers, even historians who really should know better, to read into Dawson's 1941 claim that he treated four SBE patients with penicillin all unsuccessfully, as meaning they all died.

Yes, SBE was then 99% fatal on its first presentation, but Charles Aronson was in that 1%, cured by sulfa, a little penicillin, God's grace and his own documented ability to survive more lives than a cat.

I know for certain the names of three of Dawson's first five SBE patients, that they were all five clinical failures re treatment with penicillin, that two Aaron Leroy Alston and George M Conant) died for sure, one lived for sure (Charles Aronson).

The other two I know nothing about, except that they were likely young men from the greater NYC area and that their likely months of admission were April 1941 and October 1941.

All the team members that treated them are dead and the hospital records from that time destroyed - we will likely never know more unless some family member remembers a relative dying of SBE around those dates at Columbia Presbyterian.

We have good information on the two dozen later SBEs that Dawson subsequently treated - but only have three full names provided by Hobby's book all which have so far produced dead ends.

What we need most for Aaaron is a picture of him.

I recall much of the fifty year mystery of blue singer Robert Johnson wasn't lack of reliable data about his life, but rather a lack of an ability to put a human face on a terribly interesting individual.

I feel the same about the fascinating Aaron Leroy Alston 1910-1941...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Bombs Away : Steinbeck's paean to the Norden Bombsight

For all of us who know of William L Laurence's famous paean to the first atomic bombs (Dawn over Zero), how many of us also know of Nobel winner John Steinbeck and his similar paean to the Norden Bombsight (Bombs Away) ?

None ? 

It was never supposed to be that way.

1945's atomic bomb was classically a weapon of total imprecision .

Drop it somewhere over a city (anywhere) and it can be guaranteed to destroy all the city's war factories, whether they were targeted or not on that raid, along with a few hundred thousand people.

But at the celebratory and futuristic 1940 New York World's Fair, there was seemed to be no need for such a terribly crude weapon; one so certain to unnecessarily kill and destroy much else beyond a few deliberately targeted war factories.

Instead what was called for were daylight raids by small teams of high level B-17 bombers, equipped with the top secret Norden Bombsight, raids which would see them drop their bombs right on target : 'into a pickle barrel from 15,000 feet'.

America's war future was in precision aerial bombing that would win the war quickly, cleanly and cheaply -- and with the minimum of civilian casualties.

Air Force boss Hap Arnold picked famous novelist Steinbeck to pen his praise to precision bombing in light of these expectations.

But when precision bombing proved an abject failure by late 1942, the atomic meatgrinder simply moved up in priorities as Plan B and another book was prepared for the postwar presses.

Why not, because as long as there was a war on, the military totally controlled access and information and also had plenty of money to ease the work of any favoured author, editor and publisher.

Spin, spin, spin.

One way or the other, the post 1945 'war of words' would be won by Washington's military and scientific bureaucrats - regardless of the sorry realities on the ground overseas...

Friday, February 20, 2015

Aristocracy loses link with Nature in move from land capital to intellectual capital

It's past well known that until the passage of the Reform Acts and the Corn Bills, all of Aristocracy's power was firmly based on its near exclusive ownership of land but how did the decline in such land-based power effect how the rest of us viewed Mother Nature versus Man ?

It is worth remembering that under this old system, only the younger sons of land-rich aristocracy got a nearly free pass into even such minor elites as the military, medicine, public service or the university-based church ministry.

But fairly quickly after the passage of these Acts, great and not-so-great families were giving their children their inheritance while they were young - and it wasn't a piece of Pa's farm.

Instead they got 25 years of highly expensive education : tutors, educational toys, books and Grand Tours, prep schools, the best in university education paid for right into post-doc status if need be.

Only the very smartest of the untutored geniuses among the poorer sorts could push their way against this phalanx of the tutored un-genius children of the older aristocracies who came to dominate all the new as well as old professions - particularly in the sciences and amongst the university teachers.

Paralleling this, I argue , we saw a massive lowering of the cultural and political worth of Natural Science , science done by amateurs delving in and living close to Nature.

Instead the professional tenured lab scientist cum Natural Philosopher became the esteemed one : doing mind experiments on a chalkboard or with a few flasks and beakers in a laboratory.

Once cut free of the initimate connection to the land, this aristocracy of the mind lapsed quickly into synthetic autarky, convinced that modern civilized Man no longer needed Mother Nature's bounty.

The atom smashers could make anything and everything out of bog-ordinary atoms of useless rock.

Plenticide the Plentitude of Nature and we'd all be better off.

We've already done the Dodo and the Passenger Pidgeon - why not start work on the Slav, the Roma and the Jew ....

Pushing NATURE out of World's Fairs

Many excellent historical surveys exist about the century long* rise, apogee and decline of the concept of World's Fairs around the globe - more than enough to give proof to my claim.

(*Matching almost in lock step - by no mere coincidence - the century long rise, apogee and decline of the Era of Modernity, also roughly running between the late 1860s to the late 1960s.)

If you are at all green-minded, you will come away from reading such accounts - from it no matters which author or their mode of attack - with a strong sense of the gradual, persistent pushing out of Mother Nature and her wondrous products from these exhibitions.

Pushed far out to the dark Pale beyond the Fair's artificially illuminated gates - to be replaced by the ever more wondrous synthetic inventions of Man.

Who on earth ever let her (M. Nature) in ???

Sometimes in fact the wonders of Nature were still  found inside the Fair gates, on full display, but the culture of the day (and future historians) totally ignored their presence.

The only reason any of us (under the age of eighty) even knows that Australia's pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair features the highly traditional natural fabric "wool" is because, by way of pointed contrast, the building itself was a latest word in 1930s Streamlined Moderne architecture .

That was a much commented upon first for the highly, highly, conservative official culture of Australia of 1939.

Wool or Nylon, ma'am ?

The 'fabric of the day 'at this Fair is very well known - well remembered ever since by even those of who were never there : totally Man-made synthetic nylon - nylons.

Rather like the ersatz tires and petro that the Nazi war machine literally ran upon, it was made - as DuPont ads were ever wont to say - entirely from bog-common air, water and coal.

No more American - and soon no more human - abject dependency on the Japanese and their tiny primitive (but oh so clever) silk worms.

Soon no more dependency on the Aussies, their sheep and their wool either.

For tasty, cheap, year around fresh artificial lamb chops were - as always, in what we touching like to call scientific journalism - on their way.

Green amidst the concrete

But Mother Nature is herself a bit like her weeds - if she is banished in one place, she just springs up anew in another.

Banished from the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, she turns up in northern Manhattan's concrete upon primeval bedrock of the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Centre.

There in 700 two litre flasks, Dr Martin Henry Dawson and his tiny four person team nurtured the blue green penicillium to offer up some of its precious yellow drops of the life-granting penicillin juice , all to save the lives of two boys judged ( by other doctors) as 'lives unworthy of much medical care', as medical America prepared itself for Total War.

It was as if Gordon Gekko and Emma Lazarus had exchanged their normal roles.

For history celebrates only the artificial and the synthetic at 1940's Flushing Meadows' green acres while noting only the green growing at 1940's Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Centre's mass of concrete and stone.

Limpet prose

Oh, what a difference a mere 75 years (and perhaps the success of Dawson's natural penicillin and all the other natural antibiotics ?) can make upon the eternally tabula rasa of the scientific mind.

My amused eye caught a story yesterday out of the University of Portsmouth published in one of the Royal Societies journals : it announced the strongest material known was probably not the silk of the humble little spider but rather the teeth of limpet, the ones they use to scrap their microbial food off ocean rocks.

Study lead author, professor Asa Barber, found Nature is an endless source of inspiration for (human) mechanical structures that are strong and enduring because Nature's structures have evolved through century upon countless centuries of ceaseless trial and error advance.

So if World's Fairs still mattered - and currently they don't - perhaps limpet teeth might be the hot exhibit instead of the latest iteration of still tasteless Tang and the never-yet-seen artificial lamb chop ...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

3-D Printing... a Book

I have long been promising that (someday !) my blog site will offer up some of my extended narratives (originally issued as a series of shorter blog posts) as 'books'.

Books indeed - both in the now-traditional e-book but also in my 21st Century 'downloadable' take on the old 19th Century (printed) 'story paper'.

Basically the nineteenth century 'story paper' was a long story issued not as an expensive hardcover book, but instead rather like a newspaper.

A newspaper-like object in that it was printed, seemingly from cover to cover, in small type in multiple narrow columns on cheap paper and then simply folded like a newspaper rather than stapled like a magazine or bound between hard covers like a book.

It provided a lot of reading for the poorer in society in a lightweight, ultra cheap package.

My sometimes worldclass university, Dalhousie, owes its very existence to two forms of theft.

It was first founded on monies obtained by imposing British custom duties on American New Englanders at Castine Maine during the 1812-1814 War.

Later it was saved from going belly up by generous donations received from benefactor George Munro, who first made his fortune pirating American 'story paper' versions of copyrighted British bestsellers.

(The two events seemingly balancing each other, morally, I have often thought. But my university - being Scottish Presbyterian in origin - totally fails to see the humour in all of this !)

I have a rather soft spot for George, who helped bring needed democracy to the rarified aristocracy of books.

My version will have a Readers Digest sized page printed in two columns (like the later and much more famous dime novel) but will be folded rather than stapled, like Munro's earlier story paper.

But I will not print it and ship it out.

(And by the bye, this model can work just as well with books that are to be sold for profit but as it happens my books are going to be totally free - open commensal, I call it.)

So anyone can freely download my pre-imposed PDF files and simply print them out on any ordinary home computer printer, fold them and they have some 'books'.

True, the e-books are equally free, looks much better on the screen than does the print version does in person and cost nothing in time, ink and paper - so why bother ?

I think it is because to many people an e-book is too intangible while a print book is a very physical object in three dimensions ( ie 3-D) - something solid and heavy to hold in their hands.

So in an unusual sense, my 21st century downloadable story paper is really part of the sustained move to 3-D printing...

Synthetic Autarky : Patenting the Bomb

For centuries, nominal democracies like America and Britain have yearned to control a war-stopping super-weapon that will give them a patent monopoly against others' aggression.

A super-weapon that they alone control because they have (a) kept it top secret and (b) hold all the patents on it.

Gosh, we might just as well be talking about the actual A-Bomb !

Now the 'top secret' bit we get - totally.

But why then also seek patents over the atomic bomb's components and production as well ?

One might argue that as capitalistically minded people, the American elites knew that even in free market economies, patent holders were totally free to deny licenses to some firms or nations while offering them to others.

This would allow the iron fist of the new American totalitarian political cum military monopoly on this world-destroying atomic bomb to appear softened by the velvet glove of the traditional free market patent monopoly process.

This is part of the picture - true - but only part of it.

We might ask ourselves why were entrepreneurs, businesses and governments around the world so interested in all three forms of synthesis (chemical, physical and biological) in the heyday of the Modernity period ?

Philosophically, I might argue that we can't really invent anything physical that isn't also fully natural - we can only copyright ideas inside our heads that defy natural laws.

So if everything we synthesis is really a variant on already existing natural materials or processes - why bother ?

The publicly stated reason is that the newly synthesized variant has been made better, cheaper, faster.

The real - private - reason is that Mother Nature, is by definition, all PD (Public Domain).

Anyone and all nations can turn rubber tree sap into some sort of tire.

There is no way to create a cartel or monopoly on rubber plants for very long, because someone always ends up slipping out a few seeds or stems out past the national border guards and then starts growing rubber plants a continent away.

But Man-made synthesis allows firms (and above all nations) to erect patentable synthetic autarkical monopolies against other firms and nations and even against Mother Nature herself.

So, on the chemical front, German chemists avoided having to rely on overseas suppliers' natural guano to make fertilizer or explosives during WWI - inventing a synthetic way to fix nitrogen instead.

During the interwar years, these same chemists hoped to perfect methods to turn abundant German coal, water and air into synthetic rubber, petroleum, wood and steel substituting plastics, fabrics and medicines - the list of possibilities went on and on.

Equally hard at work on the biological front, German eugenic experts (and murderous dysgenic experts) were trying to convert the raw natural population of Germany into a synthetic Aryan race - pure, perfect, tough, resistant, resilient.

In the area of physics, German atom-smashers hoped to bust atoms of raw natural elements common in Germany into the atoms of scarce and precious elements not common in Germany.

If we forget the traditional view of a man-made patent as something that is invariantly made public when confirmed, and drill down deeper, we see it is just an inherent monopoly that needn't be made public at all.

Because when Mother Nature made rubber tree sap strong enough to work as tires, she did so world-wide : no monopoly is possible in her world as long as seeds exist along with the winds to blow them hither and yon.

But man-made objects can be synthesized inside tightly guarded buildings and kept under wraps far longer than wild rubber plants springing up here there and everywhere in tropical forests.

Man-made synthetics needn't make all the natural variants of natural materials : why bother to synthesize the body excretions of 149,999 species of beetles when only one beetle species actually produces a life-saving drug in those excretions ?

In fact, why bother keeping any of the 150,000 species of beetle alive, period, when they are only a competitor for raw materials human chemists need to synthesis some more scientific wonders ?

Why bother to live in open commensality with all the messy plentitude of Mother Nature's beings as they compete with us human synthesizers over the earth's scarce natural raw elements ?

Patentable synthetic autarkic monopoly (Modernity in a long phrase) is thus inherently plenticidal : it sees no real need for keeping anything around in the natural world beyond a few raw basic elements.

Above all, it will seek the single simple raw element required for atom-smashing-together nuclear fusion synthesis to work : basically just hydrogen.

Easy then to imagine some future modernity-oriented new human colony on some vast hydrogen gas planet.

Outside is nothing but this vast ball of natural hydrogen gas but inside the plastic bubble is a world of gaudy artificially coloured materials recreating a simulacrum of whatever the human mind and the human chemist can invent.

Too bad about the pesky gravity three times as strong as on Earth - but the DNA boffins are onto it - soon they will perfect a synthetic new body for all these former earthlings....

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

October 1940 closing of the New York World's Fair & 'The World of Yesterday'

One can only imagine that after reading about or witnessing the exuberant optimism still omnipresent at the October 27th 1940 closing of the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair, many mommies and daddies apparently went straight to bed ... and made babies.

Lots and lots of babies.

How else to account for the world's near simultaneous Boom in Baby births a few months later in 1941---- this,  after a decade of steady decline ?

All the men in their fifties and sixties designing the Fair had billed it as predicting and revealing the leading aspects of "The World of Tomorrow", the near future of the 1960s decade - a world a generation away that they didn't expect to be taking an active part in  - maybe not even be alive to witness.

But, as usual in America, they did it 'all for the kiddies' .

Did it for kiddies already born and (as it turned out) zillions upon zillions of little kiddies about to be born, thanks in no small part to these planners' uplifting display of faith in the world-bending wonders of Modern Scientism.

Today we (we outside of the late night warm bathwater of all-man Fox TV) no longer display such a wide-eyed naive faith in the mind and matter altering powers of science-off-its-leash.

We see the Fair instead as the last gasp of Modernity, Modernity at its peacetime Apogee, just moments before Modernity finally got a war all of its own to play with.

The Fair displayed fully the sense that the human Will could triumph over anything the World could offer - that civilized Man could best primitive Mother Nature at anything and everything --- do it better, faster, cheaper.

But today we see lurking behind the 1940 New York Fair's massive ceramic Fountain of the Atom, promising future energy from the "atom-smashers" at NY's Columbia University that would be 'too cheap to meter', the Manhattan nuclear Project and Hiroshima and the Cuban Crisis.

Behind the synthetic autarky of Du Pont's fabulous new 'nylon' stockings and its boast that it could make anything and everything out of water air and coal ,today  we see the synthetic autarky of the Nazi war machine revving up, fueled by hopes they could fight forever thanks to their synthetic petroleum made out of the same three bog-common ingredients.

And yes 1940 did also reveal yet more variants of the amazing life-saving synthetic sulfa medicines --- one of the most cherished fruits of 'living better through chemistry'.

The Nazi synthetic autarky went much further : they even saw chemistry's energy powering machines  could replace  the need to keep alive millions with human energy and skills.

That faith motivated their Hunger Plan East, to starve thirty million 'useless mouths' to death in western Russia, so all of her mechanized farm product could go to feed Germany and her armies instead.

 (And it was the reason they felt comfortable diverting military resources to kill all nine million European Jews,  even as that same war machine was starved for lack of extra civilian manpower.)

Behind the Fair's infamous rocketgun propelling passengers non-stop from New York to Europe, today we see WWII's V-2 rockets and their postwar kin, propelling nuclear mega-death 'too cheap to meter' half way around the world.


But yes, we also see some of the Fair's actual predictions carried out in the 1960s.

Plastic and synthetic fabrics everywhere, near-artificial food like Wonder Bread and Tang, mechanized farms, rockets to the moon, super-highways and cars everywhere.

But that wasn't all of the Sixties - not by a long shot.

For every baby boomer enthralled with a high tech trip to the moon, another boomer was taking a low tech trek 'back to the land' , to cotton shirts, brown bread, organic farming and renewable non-polluting energy.

Could October 1940 New York  have seen this - did October 1940 New York foresee this ?

I argue yes - yes it did.

For Columbia University is 'A House of Many Mansions' and on its uptown medical campus, a medical scientist was becoming less and less convinced that civilized Man had all the answers and that primitive Mother Nature had only the blank stares.

Martin Henry Dawson had first developed this idea in the 1920s and 1930s, while seeing how defensively the entire scientific world had instinctively rejected the very idea that tiny ancient primitive strep pneumonia bacteria could unerringly slice and dice genes to create new variants of itself - something that modern civilized Man could not dream of doing back then (and even now can't do unaided by bacteria).

Dawson took up the cause of what he called "bacteria transformation" and what we more generally today call HGT (horizontal gene transfer), becoming the first ever to set DNA to work in a test tube and to observe quorum sensing.

If biology rather than chemistry is the central science of the sciences today, much of the credit has to go to Dawson, because without his pioneering cheerleading efforts, HGT and DNA, along with the massive microbiology and microtechnology industries they spawned, might have died stillborn.

But now,  in October 1940, Dawson sensed that some of the tiny and primitive beings of Mother Nature had more new - all natural - tricks up their sleeve that even the smartest synthetic scientist couldn't best.

He sensed that raw crude un-purified (natural) penicillin might cure diseases as well as or even better than human synthetic penicillin whenever or if ever (it never has) came along.

The analogy is how a glass of impure natural orange juice delivers a dose of vitamin C as well (and much tastier) than Tang (or a little white pill of the pure stuff) ever does.

He had a young black and a young Jewish patient before him , dying needlessly because their rheumatic heart disease (the polio of the poor) was judged unworthy of much medical research while American medicine prepared for war.

He was convinced that only penicillin and penicillin alone could save their lives (he was right).

So on October 16th 1940, just days before the Fair of the World of Tomorrow closed, Dawson opened our Age of Antibiotics, by being the first ever to inject penicillin-the-antibiotic, injected into the arms of his two patients, Aaron (Leroy) Alston and Charles Aronson.

I remember much more about my school yard bullying than about my school work as a young school kid.

But naturally, as a small kid much bullied by the big and the powerful, I remember well the takeaway lesson about small children's lives saved by antibiotics .

That lesson was that antibiotics were not made by scientific Man in some vast chemical lab, but came from tiny primitive creatures living in Mother Nature's dirtiest and most overlooked spots : basement wall slime fungus, jungle dirt and sewage outflows.

If future historians wish to look for the headwaters of postmodernity's belief in the value of the diversity of life, I suggest they look at naturally made antibiotics as a good place to start.

And that postmodern opening to the diversity of life began in October 1940, just as the prewar World of Yesterday, Modernity's Last Hurrah , was closing ..

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Scientism wins (and loses) WWII's victory legacy

Despite the many, many high tech weapons of death first used (and first perfected) in WWI, we still tend to recall it as a war of "elan" and of long lines of terribly brave doomed men charging machine gun posts with only their bayonets or horses.

By contrast, one can almost forget that there were any foot soldiers involved in the various famous victories of WWII, particularly among the victories of the western Allies and the Axis.

Instead, according to the omnipresent newsreels, their WWII seemingly only featured  white middle class men driving (or designing) modern day mechanical steeds such as aircraft, tanks, battleships, aircraft carriers, submarines or firing (and designing) ever-longer range guns, torpedoes and rockets.

Now a quick look at the demographic data of 1940 confirms that the British empire had by far the world's biggest pool of manpower .

Far greater than the empires of Germany, Japan, America, Russia or any of the three contesting chunks of the Chinese empire, let alone the French, Italian and Dutch empires.

But instead the British left and right elites melted together as one in claiming they ('they' in their mind seemingly reduced to the Home Counties of England) simply didn't have the manpower to have a foot soldier army anywhere near the size of Poland or France let alone match those of Russia, Japan, Germany and America.

By contrast, the Great Russians ruling the Russian empire, faced by the prospect of losing to Germany and then being put to the sword en masse by murderous Nazis, swallowed their racial prejudice and conscripted endless numbers of soldiers from all of the dozens and dozens of sub ethnicities in their vast empire.

They also embraced the idea - albeit reluctantly - of women in combat roles.

True, Stalin and his generals then needlessly killed millions of their resulting vast armies of ordinary soldiers in crude frontal attacks against the Germans but they did redeem themselves by their unwillingness to invent new high tech weapons during the war.

Instead they selected the cheapest and most reliable of their existing conventional weapons and then set about making them even more cheaply, more quickly and in truly mountainous numbers.

All the other empires very reluctantly recruited from minorities (aka 'coloreds') within their existing empires and newly conquered territories (in some cases such as British India, the 'minorities' vastly outnumbered the majority !)

They tended to mistrust these colonial troops even more than the enemy, to give them second rate weapons and third rate leadership and then denied them meaningful combat roles.

The clearest example is the unspeakable French, who would rather delay the liberation of metropolitan France and the defeat of Germany than let their own well tested colonial (aka 'colored') troops lead the attack.

Letting the coloreds lead the final attack would recall all too vividly how quickly their abject white European masters had surrendered France and the Empire in 1940 and 1941.

Churchill felt likewise about letting his six million man volunteer Indian army ( still the biggest volunteer army in history) anywhere near North Western Europe.

He'd rather Russia swallowed up half of Europe and the Americans the other half than left Indians led the British empire to victory over his fellow white Europeans.

Colored minorities weren't the only groups that the various upper middle class imperial elites were reluctant to see granted the entry card into full citizenship : being a veteran of combat.

They denied it to women as well of course.

But this is all relatively well known : the Americans, for example, being desperately short of ground troops during the critical Battle of the Bulge in late 1944 , all because they had resisted letting women do war factory jobs and resisted letting black, latino and native men serve in combat.

Not so accepted is the claim that the elites of the Democracies (so called) grew tired of the idea of mass national armies marching as one being a symbol and creator of mass united nationalities.

Conscripting vast numbers of working class soldiers turned them into vast armies of of 'our noble veterans' all demanding redress and entitlements , to be paid mostly by the older richer part of the tax paying body, the part that generally got to stay home and had only full bank accounts instead of full chests of medals to show for it.

Substituting middle class driven war machines for working class foot soldiers would ensure that veterans' pensions and veterans' moral power would at least remain among the well off taxpayers' children and keep the bolshie workers out beyond the Pale.

So, at various times, military America had more aircraft in its Tables or Organization than it had MOS 475s (bog ordinary riflemen) in its combat frontlines.

We all know the resulting war-ending victory scripts.

For WWI , it is of images of infantry assault troops during the famous Hundred Days, breaking the German lines and ensuring Germany's defeat a few months later.

For WWII, it is of the backroom boffins and scientists who designed the war-winning radars, aircraft, rockets, proximity fuses and A-Bombs that alone enabled the hard pressed Allies to defeat the top quality German and Japanese infantry forces.

A famous victory for modernity, the enlightenment project and for science - but it soon proved to be a famous pyhrric victory.

True, it was bog ordinary infantrymen who bayonetted all the innocent at Nanking and all through South East Asia or shot hundreds of thousands of Jews in cold blood at close range.

But strangely we barely remember such horrors - we choose to recall the high tech scientific deaths of Coventry, Hamburg, Dresden, Auschwitz, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Putting entire cities to the sword was old news in Jesus's time but a single bomb killing an entire city in a single instance seemed new (which it was) and extraordinarily barbaric (which it was not - morally, murder is murder).

Growing up as a boomer or transitional generation kid I heard  both takes on WWII and Science.

It left me well and truly conflicted - did science try to keep humanity alive or did it try its darndest to kill it --- or both ??

Scientism's victory in WWII gave Modernity's thirty years of glory - but it also sunk a postmodernist-promoting shaft in its chest nothing could pull out..

BOOMERS : too young to have had nightmares about daddy, brother, uncle, grampa dying in the invasion of Japan

The postwar's first (transitional) generation of very young children, all grown up now, may feel an intellectual ambivalence about whether to decision to drop the A-Bomb on Hiroshima was indeed the only way to save lives by ending the war.

But they don't feel the searing emotional ambivalence that their older siblings, parents and grandparents had to feel, all their lives, about that same decision.

We never had to reconcile the joy in knowing that a close relative didn't have to die in the invasion of main islands Japan with the thoughts of all those Japanese grandparents and grandchildren fried and boiled alive at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

My own father might would have been on a Canadian warship off Japan if Operation Olympic had happened, as planned, in October 1945 - been there almost for sure, if Operation Coronet had gone ahead in March-April 1946.

I know this, know the extreme risk for small (all Canadian warships were small) vessels under a Japanese Kamikaze attack - but I don't feel it in my gut - I don't recollect any searing childhood fear - because I wasn't even born until six years after the war's end.

I am in fact in a similar situation about the Korean War - my father re-joined up to serve in Korea but was never assigned there - I do not recall the Korean War at all, let alone as the source of the possible death of a parent.

So, although as a Canadian I always knew my father, uncle or I would never have to fight there, Vietnam ended up becoming my first real war...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Four years difference really matter : when you're four and eight

On August 15th 1945, the two children (ages four and eight) of a young American serviceman in the Pacific preparing to invade Japan probably responded quite differently from the united way their two grandmothers (aged 59 and 63) reacted to the news that the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had caused the Japanese to sue for peace.

The two grandmothers were both united in giving comparatively little thought to all the grandmothers and grandchildren killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki , so glad were they that their son/son-in-law wasn't going to be killed during the Allied invasion effort.

The eight year old child agreed - very glad that Daddy wasn't going to die overseas and would be coming home soon unharmed.

But the four year old child probably hadn't even been told that Daddy was facing imminent death overseas or that two bombs that killed thousands of children would now bring Daddy home safe.

This child's reaction was no reaction.

Because when you are very young, even only being four years apart in age makes a huge difference - though four years difference means nothing when you are two grandparents nearing retirement.

Flash forward to the Spring of 1956 and the news that deadly nuclear fallout from an American Bravo Castle Test of an hydrogen bomb had gone around the world in the atmosphere strong enough to kill a Japanese fisherman thousands of miles from the test site.

The grandmothers are now in their seventies and the eight year old is now 19 and drafted into the Army.

Their fear over American nuclear fallout worries and their regret for the loss of a human life is undoubtedly tempered by the thought that the American A-Bombs had saved thousands of American lives and that the wartime Japanese had been particularly cruel to other ethnicities on many well documented occasions.

By contrast, the four year old is now 15 and this child is distinctly uncomfortable with possible death or genetic damage from fallout radiation - possibly because of her viewing of many youth-oriented movies on the subject.

The child knows - from schoolbooks - that the A-Bombs killed hundreds of thousands but also shortened the war , saving the lives of starving millions in Japan and in her overseas occupied territories, as well as tens of thousands of American servicemen.

But that child doesn't feel it - in her bones - as her older brother does.

She, being four, wasn't literally there, at the time on the dropping of the Bomb.

In body yes - but not in heart, mind and soul.

Four years difference among the young  really matter --- this is the starting thesis of this blog.

My postwar transitional generation, by definition a little too young to remember WWII first hand, only learned of WWII (and how supposedly Big Science won the war) second hand,  learned it in the mind but not experienced it in the heart.

During its key plastic formative years, my generation held both this second hand kernel of support for prewar modernity's Big Science and first hand support for the beginnings of post-modern/postwar human rights protests of the Sixties.

The key characteristic of this transitional generation was not Sixties street conflict but internal mental conflict - knowing both modernity and postmodernity but not being totally in either camp, unlike their parents or children...

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Writin' 'bout my generation - This is my generation baby !

Janus Manhattan's Children : writin' 'bout my generation baby !

Truth be told, I don't actually know when my generation , the postwar's first (transitional) generation of children, really ended.

But I am certain it all began in 1941.

That is because I define this key transitional generation as those too young to remember WWII as WWII but old enough to remember the rebellious 'turn to postmodernity' of the late sixties first hand - so around 1961 should marks its ending.

( I really should love this definition - it places me, born in 1951, conveniently plunk (Janus-like) in the middle of this generation !)

But, as a writer, my difficulty revolves around this question : is some vague personal memory of 1950s (modernity-oriented) public schooling also required as well ?

Many people think it so.

If so, my generation runs from 1941 to around 1956.

Now in Canada, for example, the Baby Boom began in 1941 and ended in 1966 .

However, I feel we must re-define this transitional generation away from the question of whether its members were baby boom members or not .

We should focus instead on a worldwide set of kids who grew up within my original definition --- even in countries that experienced no visible baby boom.

That is those kids who were old enough to feel the postwar glow of WWII scientism second hand, but also young enough to share the 'rock 'n' roll' rebellion of the mid to late 1960s.

Even if that only meant wildly dancing, as elementary school kids, to a noisy Rolling Stone record because they knew their parents clearly disapproved ....

Dying Boomers, of WWII : Rosemary Clarke of Chiswick for example

Wernher Von Braun : I aim for the Stars - but sometimes I just hit little kiddies

Poor little Boomer Rosemary Clarke was only three years old when the very first V2 to kill its targeted victims fell on Staveley Street, Chiswick London.

It happened precisely at 6:44 pm on September 8th 1944 - marking the tragic start to today's much celebrated Space Age.

(Chiswick in my old stomping ground of West London and so I must have passed by this street a half dozen times.

But in 1970-1972 when I lived in the area for a total of almost a year, exploring most of it on foot, there were no signs of wartime damage left and seemingly no plaques up marking the spots of the worst tragedies.)

Rosemary was born in 1941, thus she is definitely part of the millions of baby boomers born during WWII  but because she and hundreds of thousands like her died during the war or in its immediate aftermath, she is not part of my postwar transitional generation of youngsters.

Boomer kid first victim of the Space Age

Her slightly older brother saw her lifeless body totally unmarked, for she had died from loss of oxygen from the direct effects of the massive rocket blast.

She probably didn't suffer - but many other little boomers-to-be did .

They starved and froze to death slowly as 1944 -1947 Europe had far too little food or fuel or good housing to go around and vulnerable young ones and the elderly were, as always, the worst hit.

Historical accuracy demands we bring these sad facts forward to temper the widespread view of boomer kids all having it free and easy.

If only that was so - if only that will ever be so ....

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Cheney family : draft dodging in two generations more than enough

It is well known that Dick Cheney* - an elderly extremely hawkish Boomer - dodged actually serving in 'Nam by conceiving his daughter Elizabeth within minutes of President Johnson promising to deny anymore draft deferrals for childless husbands.

But old tricky slicky dickie Dicky himself was a draft-dodging baby himself of a sort.

He was spawned in mid 1940 by his Pa when Congress was debating the first ever peacetime draft - part of a sudden  national leap upwards in both marriage rates and the birthrate among those young enough to realistic face possible war service.

(His father Herbert later did join the US Navy in 1944.)

As Supreme Court Justice OliverWendell Holmes Jr once opined : "ain't two generations of draft-dodging Cheneys three generations more than enough ?"

* Born Jan 30 1941, spawned in May 1940.

Desert Island Discs only of musicians born in 1941 equals happiness !

The first of the postwar Transitional Generation (often - erroneously - called 'the boomers'), those who were born in 1941 and thus too young to be part of modernity's congratulatory group-think at the end of WWII, are all about 75 years old now.

Their careers are mostly behind them  now - they are either famous or they are not - the time for late bloomers amongst these boomers has passed. So let us then assess their trajectories of fame.

Now every year's new births throws up people who eventually become famous for their careers in every possible field of endeavour.

It is only the portions of each year's new births that become famous in each career field that varies over time.

Those born in 1941 are particularly notable for the extraordinary number that became world famous in popular music (rock, pop, folk, country) rather than in other art forms, academia, science, politics, business, the military etc.

I was a teenager in the mid-1960s and most of these musicians born in 1941 became famous in that era - they wrote, produced, sang and played the sort of music on Discs I won't mind at all being marooned on a Desert Island with.

In earlier or later eras these clearly talented and charming musicians might have chose to become athletes, software entrepreneurs, academic scientists, poets, novelists or war heroes instead.

Popular music focuses more on feelings, emotions, the heart and the body rather than on the intellect of the mind : it is passionately hot and unrestrained not cold, calculating and buttoned down.

Soul = Postmodernity

White or black : these people sang, wrote and played SOUL - with soul, with passion, with gusto.

Jean-Francis Lyotard merely contrasted unbuttoned postmodernity with grey-suited buttoned down modernity : but Otis Redding, Richie Valens, Percy Sledge, Bob Dylan, Joan Boaz, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Animals  et al personified it....

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Boomers transitioning from pre-war socialism to post-war greenism

I do not know if the comfortable (conservative) boomer mind, in its innermost heart of hearts, actually changed at all between 1941 and 2015.

I mean most conservatives of all ages have learned not to describe the world's various 'colored'* people as inferior -at least not in public .

But I do not know how they actually feel about them in private.

(*Colored people as in 'not-pink colored' people presumably.)

But the uncomfortably minded boomer does seemed to have gone through quite a sea change between 1941 and 2015.

In 1895 future King Edward II was reported to have said "we are all socialists nowadays" and it seemed that all of the uncomfortable , at least while young and unsettled in good jobs, were a bit bolshie in the Era of Modernity.

But somewhere along the line as Modernity faded out, the young stopped being socialist - either of the bolshie red kind  or of the barely pink democratic socialist kind.

I know this was my personal trajectory - being a strong democratic socialist from age of 18 until my late thirties (coincidentally when a whole lot of young people in the bolshie east of Europe declared they felt the same way).

Socialists like pie , being merely unhappy that it isn't divided fairly, with a much bigger slice going to the ordinary worker.

And an absolutely bigger pie to them was always better - even if their relative slice size failed to reach what they deemed fair.

To use Schnaiberg/Dunlap/McCright's term,  they were pro 'production science' --- bigger was always better.

But green minded people began to feel that it was the constant chasing after the ever bigger pie (and even the pie itself) that was making them unhappy - sick and unhappy.

Industrial pie making was making their families and the environment sick and now it appeared that it would certainly kill off the planet in a way that the pre-1989 capitalist versus socialist nuclear arms race had merely threatened to do.

Greens dislike uncontrolled production science and want to see its excesses tempered by more 'impact science' - again to use Schnaiberg/Dunlap and McCright's term.

That is, they wanted scientists to monitor the ratio of all the bad outputs of industrial production against all the good things it gave us.

And that is what happened to me --- I gradually saw more and more clearly how socialists could ruin the Earth just as quickly as capitalists could.

The sin they held in common - I saw - was Modernity.

I was becoming post or anti Modernity without becoming what the textbooks called postmodernist.

 I prefer to think of my new faith as being more an 'involuntary open commensality' with all of the planet's beings .

Not exactly lambs lying down with lions, but there you have it....

Monday, February 9, 2015

Environmentalism : HOPE, as well as fear ...

It is easy - too too easy - to credit fear, fear of Fifties nuclear war and fallout in particular, as the main reason for the Early Seventies worldwide rise of the Environmental Movement.

As one of those young 1950s Boomers who did join the formally organized environmental movement early in the 1970s and who now has a great interest in the history of the early days of the Environmental Movement,  may I beg to differ?

Not seeking tenure, I offer up only my memories as the primary archival source for my historical thesis.

I was an unusually small and skinny kid, very nearsighted, hated formal sports and loved books.

This might have been alright - I boldly loved to physically explore my neighbourhood and was a bit of a wiseapple in class,  but for the fact that we moved frequently, or so it seemed.

( I attended three different schools in both Grade Three and Grade Eight.)

I got bullied as a result.

My dislike of the big and the strong and my sympathy for the weak and the small developed right there on the playground.

I enjoyed the stories my teachers told of how the antibiotic medicines that had saved the lives of kids like me that had come (could only come) from small and primitive weak microbes living in sewer water, basement slime and the jungle mud of primitive lands.

microbial davids vs Chemist Goliaths

I really enjoyed this unlikely triumph of these microbial davids over the Chemist Goliaths of smug modern science.

For while the salad days of the Chemist and Chemical Synthesis had faded by time I first went to school, their unaltered hubris has merely transferred out to another school - that of the physicist.

So while our Fifties collective motivation was rather shallow and utilitarian (we valued Mother Nature's other beings only from the fear that their extinction might rob us of our rightful access to something useful and profitable) I joined in to the general view that we must treasure - not destroy - even the smallest and most slimy of beings.

I hope I went beyond that .

Beyond that to a belief that the smart aren't always as smart as they seem nor the dumb as dumb as they seem and that all life has a form of high intelligence merely by being able to survive and flourish so long and had a right to exist on its own terms.

WWII as a study in the smart humbled and the humble exalted 

 I know for a fact this was the reason I so enjoyed all the franker, more revisionist, books about WWII that had been coming out in a flood by the mid 1960s - books I dearly loved as a pre-teen.

Mostly by accident, they were much less 'rah rah' than the first wave of postwar military histories.

They still thought they were celebrating bravery but , unconsciously, by providing many new details, they tended to reveal the unflattering sides of military operations the propaganda  ministries had earlier successfully concealed.

I saw WWII revealed as six long years of the supposedly smart nations and leaders humbled and the supposedly dumb nations and leaders exalted.

In 2004, I stumbled upon the little known WWII tale of the supposedly smart chemists' synthesized penicillin humbled and the supposedly dumb natural penicillium exalted ---so given my history,  how could I resist making it much better known ??

1945's Natural Penicillin - and 1945's synthetic Nuclear Weapons - birthed 1960s Environmental Movement

No one who studies the matter doubts that mid-1950s fears about global fallout was the spur to today's environmental movements (and related human rights movements) that question the value of unbridled white European technology and science.

But you will have to be very,very old indeed to accept that 1945's unexpected triumph of natural penicillin from tiny primitive basement slime over the best chemical minds and laboratories in the world hit as hard a death blow to western scientism and hubris as the fallout from 1956's Castle Bravo nuclear test ever did.

In fact, you'd have to be born in 1920 - or older - to really remember when the whole world was convinced (circa 1933 or so) that male chemists (and male physicists soon too) could and would make anything Mother Nature could make - but better, cheaper, easier.

Womb envy would disappear and Penis envy would reign erect - but only if males found any further need to keep women around.

In 1930, for example, the much honored Dr Willis Whitney, a chemist who ran one of the world's first and biggest research labs for General Electric said chemists can probably make anything they can conceive of and many things they do not yet conceive of.

Soon, for example, milk - which he described it as buggy and dirty - would be gone ---  made from clean chemical elements in modern clean factories - not in dirty inefficient milk glands.

Milk - that ultimate symbol of female-only-ness - Whitney just happens to pick on it and not any of millions of other potential compounds and mixtures to focus upon.

Sheer coincidence, say most of today's male historians - still.

Now basement slime hardly seems particularly female or male or anything much to do with us humans.

But look again at the images of wartime penicillin.

Almost all the images of those tending the naturally grown penicillium fungus are women - in fact young nubile fertile working class 'girls' .

But the more chemical side of wartime penicillin shows stainless steel containers and lots of knobs and dials tended by stern faced middled aged middle class men in suits and white lab coats.

Nobel winner Peter Medawar remembers chemists semi-privately describing the idea of making live-saving penicillin naturally (with women gently nurturing the tender young fungi) as being like a return to the Middle Ages and Witches' Brews.

But human attempts to cheaply synthesis the relatively small (so thought relatively 'simple') penicillin molecule all failed during the war - and ever since.

So boomers like me grew up in the 1950s hearing that the antibiotics that had saved the lives of us children had all came from tiny bugs in jungle dirt, from sewage water or from basement slimes.

It planted a seed - I had no illusions about the wonders of chemistry growing up, the way I still did about safe cheap nuclear power for peace.

Natural penicillin helped turned this child into a young adult environmental activist.....