DNA Does Not Lie

DNA is the code for all of life.  Francis Crick and James Watson, two molecular biologists, proposed the model of the double helix of polysaccharides (deoxyribose) that are interconnected by four types of nucleic acids that are always (almost always) in the same pairs: Adenine -Thymine, and Guanine-Cytosine. For that, they received the Nobel Prize in 1962.  Chromosomes contain most of the DNA which is transmitted to the offspring, half by the mother and half by the father.  There is DNA outside of the chromosomes in the mitochondria, the “powerhouse” of the cell.  This DNA comes entirely from the mother.

Crick’s pencil drawing of their concept of what DNA looks like

 

The patterned sequence in which these base pairs appear on the ladder of the spiral determines the code which directs the cells to make everything from whether you become a worm or a rocket scientist. A segment of code pertaining to a single characteristic is called a gene.  There are over three-billion base pairs spread over 23 chromosome pairs. A number of base pairs constitute one gene.  It is estimated that the number of genes for humans is around 20,000. 

Mapping our entire genetic makeup, the human genome, has become the gold standard in the study of a whole slew of science subdivisions.  In criminology, we can determine who the killer is from just a small sample of his or her body cells.  Paternity can be established without a doubt.  Clever ways of collecting specimens have included getting samples of saliva off stamps. The suspect was trapped by sending back a letter to collect supposed lottery winnings.  The various genealogy organizations that promise to help you find your ancestry are a veritable treasure trove for DNA evidence, and have already yielded a number of notorious convictions. 

In paleontology, we can determine who is related to whom and by what routes they populated the earth.   As yet, health insurance companies have not to date used genetic data to weed out those people that have a genetic predisposition for various diseases, but my guess is that it is just around the corner. 

Genes can now be spliced, removing a harmful segment and replacing it with a beneficial code. This can also be used to treat genetic diseases, but could be misused to change the fetus’s traits, designer babies with blue eyes and blond hair, smarter, better athletes, or even more sinister characteristics are now possible!  Wait until the Olympic Committee has to deal with GMA’s  (genetically modified athletes). 

Cancer is a disease of the cell’s DNA that directs the cell to multiply without a purpose that then invades and pushes out the healthy cells.  We are beginning to attack this dreaded disease by altering the DNA to make it behave, or make it more susceptible to our chemotherapy. 

GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) has a bad reputation.  People read package labeling and avoid anything that smacks of genetic alteration.  But contrary to popular opinion, just such manipulation has saved billions from starvation.  Norman Borlaug, an agronomist, crossbred wheat to increase the yield by at least 300% through making it more resistant to disease, creating a strain with a double wheat season, and making a shorter (dwarf) plant that is not damaged by heavy storms.  It is practically impossible to get non-GMO bread anymore. Norman Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 because he improved the world food supply, saving many lives. As Thomas Malthus, the economist, warned, the lack of food leads to wars.

97% of scientists believe that humans developed from earlier species of animals.  In the US, 40% believe that is the case, while 40% do not, and 20% are not sure.  The only country that has a higher percentage of “creationists” is Turkey, where 50% do not believe we evolved. 

Men are forced to pay child support, and people are sentenced to life imprisonment, while others have been exonerated based on genetic tests. DNA is accepted as a valid and proven means of certain identification. The odds that two people (not twins) have the same DNA is 1 in 70,000,000,000,000 (70 trillion).  Putting this in perspective, winning Powerball odds are roughly 1 in 300,000,000. Finding a genetically identical human would be 233,333 times less likely than winning at Powerball, or put another way it would take nearly 8,750 times our current world population of 8 billion to make it mathematically possible to find two (non-twin) identical human beings on earth, not impossible just very, very unlikely.

98.5% of the gene sequence of the chimpanzee is identical to ours, while we only share 44% of the genes of Drosophila melanogaster, the fruit fly.  I am just guessing, but I will bet we are more closely related to chimpanzees than fruit flies.  DNA does not lie!

We have sequenced the genome of Australopithecus, Denisovans, Neanderthals, and other hominids. Lo and behold, we have even more DNA in common with them.  Some of our population has a higher percentage of these early human genes than others.  You can occasionally see them in the throng of people at the mall, and even have to deal with them on a one on one basis. They are easily identifiable not only by appearance, but also by their tell-tale neolithic intellect.  It appears that there was a lot of crossbreeding going on in the last 100,000 years.  It is likely that much of it was consensual, but undoubtedly not all of it.  I suspect that paternity suits were not all that common then, and the “me too movement” was not yet well established.   

 

 

SKIING

This year marks the 55th  year anniversary of my trips to Mammoth Mountain, California to participate in the veritable religious experience for me of skiing.  It is an exhilarating occasion of liberation, almost like flying. All you hear is the wind whistling past your ears, the snow crunching beneath the skis, and the sensation of the trees speeding past you.  Your entire concerns are focused on getting down the mountain.  Your abilities control everything that really matters at that moment, and nothing else is important. It is an adrenalin rush, all the mundane business of life and your place in that life is secondary. It is freedom!

I started skiing in Austria when I was four years old.  It was not just a sport but a necessity to get down the hill from our abode high in the Alps every winter.  Our villa was a beautiful home donated for the town doctor and his family during World War II by the Duke of Eulenburg.  To get anywhere, skiing was essential.  Later it was my only way to get to school that I started  in 1949.  My first-grade teacher, Maria Moser, was an excellent skier and my first ski instructor every afternoon in winter after school was out.  She was an earlier adapter of the sport.  Pictured here second from the right in 1910 when she was in her early twenties, she was already an enthusiast.   Skiing had come to the Alps only a quarter of a century before from Norway, where it originated hundreds of years before as a sport, but more importantly for hunting and military applications.  Skiing may actually be older than most sports.  Remnants of skis were found in Russia dating back 8000 years ago.  Stone-age cave drawings document this as a Neolithic activity. 

The word “Ski” is from an old Norse word meaning “sticks of wood.”  Skiing was first codified in Nordic law in 1274: “Skiers could not disturb moose on private land when hunting.”

The first skiing outside of the Scandinavian countries was in the Schwartzwald, Germany in 1866, but took several decades to get to Alpine slopes.  The first ski club was in the city of Steyr, Austro-Hungary and was named for the cross-country style the “Telemark Club” in 1898.

Austria added a variety of technology especially in the boards they called and still call “Bretter.” They were literally just a single layer of hand-carved hard-wood board of Birch or Hickory, but now are a technological wonder sandwich of fiberglass, carbon-Kevlar, steel , and aluminum. Bindings were the other advancement Austrian skiers contributed.  Initially, it was just leather straps holding sturdy leather hiking boots onto the boards, then a variety of cable and springs added sturdiness and safety.  More recently, the quick release bindings and the modern ski boot have made it high tech. 

Another addition that since has been relegated to the dustbin of obsolescence, is the art and science of ski waxing.  It was the study of what wax to place on the bottom of the skis to make them perform better, with higher speed and more control. What wax to use was a spiritual, and literally hereditary, secret knowledge passed on to the next generation in a rite of passage ritual, in which I participated through my cousin, Sergi, a ski demigod who was a mentor and also a member of the Austrian Olympic team.  It depends on the snow texture, dry, wet, hard, soft, etc.  Now the various plastics have made waxing unnecessary and obsolete, but nevertheless something I miss dearly. The first ski school was initiated by the Austrian, Mathias Zdarsky, who also originated “Torlauf,” Slalom racing.

From the Austrian Alps, Skiing spread like the proverbial avalanche around the world from Mount Fuji in Japan, to the New Zealand Southern Alps, to the Rockies, and even Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.  Skiing did not make it into the Olympics until 1936 at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany games. Needless to say, Austria has garnered more medals than any country to date at all levels, gold, silver, and bronze. 

In 1965 when Mammoth first opened, it allowed 65-year-old skiers to ski free when lift tickets cost $5.  Now the tickets cost $199, and the age when free tickets are issued is 80.  I will just have to wait them out for another three years.

 

 

What is the Point of Impeachment?

Seal of the United States Senate (slightly modified)

What has the impeachment cost us, the taxpayer?  We will likely never really know, but estimates range from $32,000,000 to $40,000,000 so far.  The word “impeachment” is derived from the Latin word “impetire” as in impede  (pedis)  to catch by the foot. It requires that the government official so accused has committed crimes.  These are restricted to very serious crimes, including “Treason or Bribery”, but also less defined so-called “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Keep in mind impeachment does not remove POTUS.  It means formally accusing him of wrongdoing, as only the House is empowered to do. If the House votes to impeach the president, it sends the whole matter to the Senate for a trial to be decided by that body with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding.  It requires a two-thirds vote by the Senate to find him guilty of the accusations.  As an aside… our Founding Fathers, knowing human foibles,  were indeed clever and brilliant to ensure the separation of powers. 

Andrew Johnson and William Jefferson Clinton are the only presidents that have undergone this process to date, and neither of them has been found guilty.  Johnson had removed Edwin Stanton and replaced him with Ulysses S. Grant as Secretary of War.  This was deemed “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” by the House because it violated the Tenure of Office Act which they passed over Johnson’s veto to protect Stanton from that very act of firing him.  The final conclusion of Congress was that the legislative branch did not have the right or authority to interfere with the executive branch’s power over the makeup of its own cabinet. 

Clinton’s impeachment was much more sanguine.  He was accused of High Crimes and Misdemeanors for lying under oath and obstruction of justice, over the Paula Jones sexual harassment trial and the testimony regarding Monica Lewinsky with his now-famous words, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman!”  and the other line, “It depends on what the definition of is, is!” Clinton received 45 votes to convict and 55 votes for acquittal on the lying charge and an even 50/ 50 split on the obstruction of justice charge.   Neither of which reached the two-thirds threshold. 

The Trump impeachment which has been months of jockeying, is now history with the vote in and counted on the abuse of power charge, 230 voted yes and 197 voted no.  On the obstruction charge, it was 229 yes and 198 no.  This was right down the Republican Democratic party-line split, except for two democrats that voted against impeachment and one, the democratic representative from Hawaii (also a presidential candidate in 2020), who did not vote except to say she was present.  Trump’s High Crimes and Misdemeanors charges stem from his conversation with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky,  where Trump is charged with pressuring him to investigate Biden for corruption.  The ugly truth is Zelensky did not investigate Biden and furthermore denied being pressured.  Presidential conversations are deemed constitutionally protected by executive privilege and not subject to outside scrutiny.  This comes down to the same issue as the Andrew Johnson indictment.  Does the executive branch have the authority to execute its duties, such as deciding what the composition of its cabinet is or conferring with other heads of state under the protection of executive privilege and safeguarding national security?   It is a fight of the legislative branch vs. the executive branch powers, who trumps and who doesn’t (pun intended). 

The fact that not one Republican in the House voted for impeachment gives you a subtle clue as to how the Senate will vote.  There are two senators from each of our fifty states. The 116th United States Congress currently has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and 2 independents. I am willing to wager all my chips and go out on a limb that Trump will not be convicted of High Crimes and Misdemeanors by a two-thirds majority.  Jimmy the Greek would take my bet if he were not dead.

Looking at the question purely from a pragmatic point of view, why is our Congress wasting our money, our time, and not doing the people’s work instead?  Is it to make a point, a very expensive point? Or is there a deeper-seated motive like influencing the 2020 election, also costly and not exactly the way we usually decide, nor arguably should be influencing elections? Besides, it is not clear in which direction the voter will be influenced. The anti-Trump voter will remain anti-Trump.  The pro-Trump voter will still be pro.  The independent might get tired of the whole thing. The question that comes to mind is which is more repulsive to the democratic process: to discredit a candidate for office by questioning his integrity (did Biden or his son engage in corrupt acts – wouldn’t you like to know?) or conversely have it done for you by a partisan vote of Congress (did Trump abuse his powers – and like Clinton, obstruct justice?)  Logic would suggest that letting the 2020 election decide would be more democratic, egalitarian, and cheaper.

The American Revolution Revisited or Do We Owe It All To a Woman?

Two years after the War of the Austrian Succession starts, the satiric political cartoonists see Maria Theresa, Empress of the Austrian Empire, losing her clothing just like she lost her richest provinces: Silesia, Parma, and Piacenza to Frederick the Great.

It all started when Charles VI (Karl VI), Holy Roman Emperor, and the last of the male Habsburg line changed the rules.  With only two offspring surviving into adulthood, and both being female, Charles needed a change in the Salic laws going back to the first Frankish King, Clovis I (466- 511 CE), which forbad female inheritance.  Charles VI reformed this, and female succession became sanctioned. He now felt secure that a Habsburg would succeed him.  When he died (reported to be from mushroom poisoning by Voltaire), his eldest daughter, Maria Theresa, became the Empress of Austria at the ripe old age of 23 (much like Elizabeth II did in England). Maria Theresa had married for love, and proved it by having 16 children, with Duke Francis Stephen of Lorraine, France.  She and her husband ruled the Austrian Empire jointly until his death when she became the sole sovereign.

The Salic laws, however, continued to receive partial enforcement at various times in history, and it prevented  Queen Victoria from becoming the Empress of Germany in addition to Great Britain, as she was descendent from the Hause of Hanover. Had she been male, she could lay claim to the throne of Prussia, as Kaiser Wilhelm II did in 1888.  He was Queen Victoria’s eldest grandson.

Despite the fact that Maria Theresa’s education was, as most aristocratic girls, in frivolities of the wealthy and leisure class, which meant religion, music, and art, but not much current history, sciences, or mathematics, and especially not the fields of knowledge that would help her reign one of the great empires of the world.   Because she was intelligent and also handpicked competent advisers, she became a successful and enlightened ruler.  She had the reputation of being feisty, yet she ruled with wisdom and maternal instincts for the benefit of her subjects. She introduced reforms in economics, education, public health, taxation, and eliminated torture to extract confessions.  She made education mandatory for both genders, something very much against the tenure of the times. She introduced smallpox vaccinations for the population, and personally attended the children who lined up at Schönbrun Palace for immunization, the palace she converted from a small hunting lodge to a grandiose palace, the equal of Versailles. She added policies that allowed for population growth with economic and health reforms that improved life.  One of her advisers, her personal physician, was instrumental in improving infant mortality and in determining the cause of death in adults, thus preventing their premature demise.  Maria Theresa ordered all deaths in the city of Graz (which a couple of centuries later was the hometown of Arnold Schwarzenegger and also for the first few years of my father’s life) to undergo an autopsy to that effect.  She and her oldest son, whom she made co-regent after her husband’s death, streamlined the military to make it a much more powerful and effective strike force.  Another reform was to create a civil service of professionals that replaced the old guard aristocrats who ran the country by favoritism and nepotism.  She ruled as an absolute monarch but was greatly influenced by the Enlightenment and its reforms, even though she claimed to despise it, using the principle expressed by her son and co-regent Joseph II,  “Everything for the people, nothing from the people!”

The power brokers of Europe who had initially agreed to the Charles VI Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 that would allow women to succeed now reversed their position.  When Maria Theresa first ascended to the throne, they did not accept a woman monarch, especially Frederich the Great of Prussia.  He marched into Silesia, one of Austria’s most valuable lands, and with that, the War of the Austrian Succession started. It spilled over to North America. There the combatants were France and Great Britain over the mastery of the Ohio River Valley.

In 1748 the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) ended all the hostilities, and Maria Teresa remained Empress of Austria.  But peace did not last more than eight years.  Frederick the Great just could not leave it alone and attacked Austria again.  France, Austria, Russia, Spain, and Sweden were now fighting Britain,  Prussia, and Portugal.  This was the Seven Years War. Churchill much later called it the First World War.  But in North America, they called it the French and Indian War.  This would eventually lead France to intervene in the American Revolution on the side of the  Revolutionaries, who sent Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to the court of Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, the daughter of Maria Theresa.  Without France’s military and diplomatic support, it is likely that we would still be paying a tax on tea to England.

Without Maria Theresa and her daughter Marie Antoinette, it is doubtful that an American Revolution would have gotten off the ground nor have had the results it achieved.  The revolution followed too soon after the War of the Austrian Succession and after the Seven Year War for George III to fully recover. Those wars sapped the strength of the British Empire.  Even with the help of the 29,875 Hessian auxiliary troops sent from Prussia to help, George III did not have his former manpower at his disposal to crush the revolution.  So we have much to be grateful for Maria Theresa, and should give her the credit she deserves.

The Making of a Surgeon

William A. Nolen wrote a book, The Making of a Surgeon, in 1986.  It was his story of becoming a surgeon, and is still a popular book read by many aspiring surgeons to be.   This is my brief take on the history of surgery and becoming a surgeon, (and a shameless ad for my book).

Surgery has been practiced by homo sapiens for at least 8,500 years, and maybe even longer as evidence can only be gathered from materials that do not decay, such as bone.  Carefully chiseled perfectly round trephination holes have been found in skulls that were buried 6500 BCE in northern France.  These skulls belonging to our species survived these “operations” as the edges of the openings showed signs of healing several years after they were drilled.   Surgery was practiced in ancient Egypt and India around 1500 BCE with complex procedures such as flap reconstructions of facial injuries, and sophisticated ways to stop hemorrhage and prevent infection. But then the first “Dark Ages” let down their curtains on surgical progress in 1200 BCE, probably related to climate change caused by unprecedented volcanic activity.  It was the Greek culture that resurrected medicine and surgery with Hippocrates shortly after 400 BCE.  He introduced the idea that illness was not caused by the gods but by our environment, and could be “cured” or at least tamed by environmental manipulations. The Romans copied from the Greeks and added their own wisdom and knowledge through physicians such as Galen and Celsus.  Galen, a consummate surgeon, learned from his experience taking care of the gladiators of the Pergamum Coliseum (now in Turkey). 

 

The second “Dark Ages” from the 5th to the 15th century CE brought down the curtains on surgery again.  The Middle Ages reverted to superstition and magic to care for the sick.   Illness was again seen as God’s punishment for man’s wickedness, and to help those unfortunates was going against God’s will.  Ambroise Paré and Andreas Vesalius were the standard-bearers that pushed back the walls of ignorance with observation, trial, and error.  Leonardo da Vinci secretly dissected human bodies and made detailed accurate drawings of how we are put together which advanced surgical knowledge dramatically.   The first appendectomy for appendicitis, a major killer of humans, was by a French surgeon, Claudius Amyand, in 1735, done in London at St. George’s Hospital. 

 

In the 19th century, surgical science exploded through the genius of people like Theodor Kocher with thyroid surgery, Berhard Langenbeck’s teachings, and Theodor Billroth’s innovations in abdominal surgery.  They, in turn, were aided by the basic science contributions of Joseph Lister – with surgical asepsis, and Robert Virchow – with pathology.  

It is those individuals, the giants of surgery, on whose shoulders we now stand, to see further into vistas that we could only dream of a hundred years ago.  Alexis Carrel gave us the knowledge of repairing and sewing arteries and veins.  He and his good friend, Charles Lindberg, of flying fame, teamed up to give us the first artificial heart pump. William Halsted, who went to Europe to glean the secrets of how to teach surgery, then came back to the US and started to produce great surgeons one after the other at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  Greats like Harvey Cushing, father of neurosurgery, and Hugh Young, father of urology, founded residency programs that perpetuated “Halstedian principles” for the ages.  Many more greats have given us surgery techniques, knowledge, and inspiration to do bigger and better surgical procedures. .  Michael DeBakey not only gave us coronary bypass and aortic surgery, but was the inspiration that created the TV series and movie “MASH.” C. Walton Lillehei, the King of Hearts, as his residents fondly called him, invented the repair of congenital heart defects, saving thousands of children that would not be alive today. Then came along Dr. Joseph Murray, with the first kidney transplant, and Dr. Thomas Starzl, with the first liver transplant, and  Dr, Christaan Barnard, with the first heart transplant that lived,  Human ingenuity and skill are not stoppable!

A surgeon is a doctor first.  He or she must understand the anatomy and physiology of the human being before knowing what the scalpel can add to the patient’s wellbeing. Four years of pre-med college give the foundations of chemistry, biology, and the humanities that allow an individual to communicate in a cultured and educated manner.  Then comes medical school, the first year the basics: anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, histology.  The second-year starts with the study of diseases and how to diagnose them, fondly called P-dog (physical diagnosis) by the sophomoric sophomores.  The third-year and fourth-year are the clinical years, medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics, and gynecology.  Graduation comes too quickly, not nearly enough time to learn all there is to know.  In fact, learning never stops!  Almost everything I learned in medical school has changed.  It requires a life-long dedication to keep up, until the day you stop taking care of patients, and even then if you teach you must still keep up, lest you transmit outdated information. 

Every state has different requirements for post-graduate clinical experience. The first year used to be called the Internship, but the ACGME (Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education) has removed that moniker.  It is now called the first year of post-graduate training, the residency.  Nevertheless, every state requires anywhere from one to three years clinical experience before you may apply for state licensure that allows you to write prescriptions and exercise independent medical decisions on real patients.  Surgical Residency at this time is five years, including the first year of what was once called “the Internship.”  Although, because of a new restriction on duty hours of a resident, the person in training has less time to acquire all the necessary skills and knowledge to fulfill their mission.  When I finished my residency program in the early 1980s, my average time spent a week was 100 hours, and sometimes 120 hours.  The current ACGME rules allow an average of 80 hours maximum a week when spread over 4 weeks, at least 20% less time than the previous generation.  If a resident complains to the ACGME about working more than 80 hours, a surgical program could be shut down. This came about through the sad case of Libby Zion.   Libby was a college student that died at a Cornell affiliated Hospital in New York, the cause of which was blamed on tired residents making wrong therapeutic decisions.  This was actually not the entire or even accurate story, but it nevertheless changed the rules for all of the US from then on. The traditional work hours of the past (don’t quit till the job gets done – quoted from the song by Jason Aldean “The only way I know”) from the old days of Halsted were thrown on the heap of history, despite that it had served us well, producing surgeons that were competent and multi-talented.  80% of residents now take an additional one to three-year fellowship training, usually in a surgical subspecialty, vascular, oncology, pediatric, cardiac, colorectal,  minimally invasive, critical care, or transplant surgery.  All of which makes the general surgeon more and more obsolete.

If this little vignette piques your interest and you want to know more, read my book:  We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants  – A Brief History of Surgery, available through Amazon.com.

 

 

 

Entanglement

MOON
EARTH

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a concept so strange that Albert Einstein called it “Spukhafte Fernwirkung” in a letter to Max Born, one of the founders of Quantum Mechanics. This is roughly translated to “spooky action at a distance.”  He wasn’t sure if he really believed it, but all his calculations said that he should.  There was no proof of its existence, until now.  Einstein felt that this observation was evidence that the theory of Quantum Mechanics was incomplete. If you don’t understand it don’t feel bad, Einstein didn’t either.

 

So, what is entanglement, and why is it important?  Much modern technology depends on entanglement’s reality and existence. It allows for ultra-precise measurements. Sensors of various items such as chemicals or time intervals utilize entanglement technology, as does GPS, Television, atomic clocks, quantum computers, more accurate MRI machines, detectors of stealth aircraft, and many more technologies. Quantum computers use qubits as a unit of information instead of bits.  A bit is either a 1 or a 0.  It is either on or off, while a qubit is not 1 or 0; it is anywhere between those two numbers, in other words, an infinite number.  Secure communications, and thwarting hackers, will be another one of entanglement’s benefits, as an attempt to interfere with systems that use entanglement disrupts it immediately.

Entanglement on its surface seems impossible.  Two particles that are entangled can exchange information even though they are separated by a distance, even if they are at opposite ends of the universe!  If that seems impossible, wait until I tell you that this happens instantly.  This exchange of information happens faster than the speed of light, which, according to Einstein is the fastest anything can travel in the universe.  It breaks the speed limit of light! Another impossibility. 

The simplest explanation I have found that helps in partially understanding entanglement, is the spinning wheel that has two colors, for example, red and yellow.  As it spins, you do not know what color it will land on (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle 1).  When it stops it is either red or yellow without a doubt (Schrödinger’s dead cat 2).  Now you happen to have another identical wheel on the moon that is entangled with your wheel on earth, which is also spinning.  If your wheel on earth comes up yellow the one on the moon will always come up red and vice versa.  There are no wires or radio waves or any connection between the wheels.  The potential uses of this method of instant transmission of information are enormous.  If we should find other intelligent life millions of light-years away, and we had entangled communicators, we could talk.

The trick is to get two particles to entangle. That, as it turns out, is not all that difficult. There are four ways:

  1.  Find particles that are already entangled.
  2.  Take two photons that are already entangled and shoot them into two separate atoms.  Now the atoms are also entangled.
  3.  Take atoms that emit photons and have beam splitters that separate them into two beams, horizontal and vertical polarized light.  If one is horizontal the other is vertical (anti-correlated), and that makes them entangled.
  4.  By exciting atoms into higher energy state (Rydberg state), you can create two atoms that are anti-correlated with each other, i.e. they are entangled.

The researchers have shown that they can shoot a particle by laser beam into outer space and keep a paired entangled particle in the lab.  The two particles exchange information with each other instantly.  As if that were not enough, the same experiment was done with two quasars 600 light-years away, and they were able to demonstrate communication between entangled particles from each quasar billions of miles apart.  Things are more connected than we realize.  Spukhaft indeed! And at quite a distance!

  1. Werner Heisenberg was a German theoretical physicist and Nobel Laureate, one of the pioneers of Quantum Mechanics.  His uncertainty principle states that it is not possible to know both pairs of complementary properties of an object at the same time.
  2. Erwin Schrödinger, also a Nobel Laureate, was an Austrian physicist who developed a thought experiment in which a cat is theoretically both dead and alive inside a box, but it requires an actual measurement to determine the outcome. In this case, the measurement is looking inside the box to see if the cat is dead or alive.

Doppelgänger

My last essay was on German compound words.  I forgot one of the better ones until my own Doppelgänger showed up to haunt me.  You may ask what a Doppelgänger is. It literally means “double goer,” in essence, one’s twin or double. It goes back to ancient Egypt.  Ka is a spirit double of you.  There are a series of apparitions in other cultures that are similar.  Euripides conjured up a look-alike Helen of Troy in his play Helen.  The look-alike manages to mislead Paris, Helen’s abductor, to end the Trojan war.  Göthe, the German poet and author, describes meeting himself on horseback on a dark and stormy night, riding in the opposite direction, in his work Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth). Izaak Walton writes what he swears is the truth that his contemporary author and friend, John Donne, met his wife’s double on the streets of Paris the night that she delivered their stillborn daughter.

The concept that we all have a Doppelgänger has been used often in literature.  George Gordon, Lord Byron used the idea to show the good and evil duality of our own personality.  The Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote a whole novel, The Double, about a man whose Doppelgänger exploits the man’s character flaws to take over his life.  Steven King in The Outsider has his protagonist copy individuals’ DNA to become near perfect copies of them.  Even Disney films use the motif.  Donald Duck is imitated in “Donald’s Double Trouble” by a duck that has no “duck accent,” speaking perfect English and acting the perfect gentleman.  And even Madonna used the Doppelgänger theme in her music video “Die Another Day” where she battles her evil self in a duel.

I am not much of a believer in the occult phenomenon, but recently I experienced something that makes me wonder if I need to re-assess.

To comprehend the situation, you should know how I came by my first name, Gösta.  For reasons that are totally unknown to me, my mother gave me a Swedish first name.  I am not Swedish; no one in my family is or was Swedish.  The name originates with a Swedish author who wrote a novel, The Saga of Gösta Berling. It was made into a Hollywood blockbuster silent movie in 1924, starring Greta Garbo and Lars Hanson. My mother saw the film at the height of World War II right before I was born, in Hinterstoder, the town my father was assigned by the Nazi High Command to replace the doctor who was drafted into the Wehrmacht (but that is another story).  In the movie, Gösta was a defrocked vicar because of his alcoholism and womanizing, but eventually was redeemed by a woman’s love, played by Greta Garbo.  Why on earth, my dear mother would name me after an alcoholic skirt-chasing priest is above my paygrade to comprehend much less explain.

Back to my Doppelgänger. Two decades ago, I opened a brokerage account with Vanguard.  I signed up for the account with my full name, Gösta Iwasiuk, but Vanguard, for some reason, decided I should be G. Iwasiuk.  Perhaps the clerk that created the document thought the name was complicated enough, so he just put down the first initial and last name, thinking that would be adequate. They have faithfully sent me monthly statements for twenty years with that name.  (I might add that S&P 500 stocks have done quite well for me.)  I recently changed banks and needed to delete my old bank account and link my new bank account to Vanguard.  My new bank account was under my full name, Gösta Iwasiuk.  This is where my Doppelgänger, G. Iwasiuk, comes in.  Vanguard assumed that “Gösta” Iwasiuk, despite being the good twin, was attempting to usurp my evil twin, “George” Iwasiuk’s account and steal all his assets.   Another factor that made Vanguard doubt my identity was that I failed the secret identification question Vanguard had set up to positively identify me twenty years ago.  The secret question was, “What is your favorite hobby?”  I recounted my top five favorites, but none of them were the correct ones. In twenty years favorite hobbies do change.  But George would have known.  It became quite clear to me that George was a real person in their records, who happened to live at the same address as I, with the last four numbers of our social security card being the same.  They wanted a notarized statement that G. Iwasiuk and Gösta Iwasiuk were the same person.  I needed to find a document that showed G. Iwasiuk’s social security number was the same as Gösta Iwasiuk.  Of course, George had cleverly destroyed that document, and I was unable to prove my identity.  No notary would vouch for me.  My own bank also balked because I could not produce the proof that George was not a real person.  After a week of debate and exchange of various documents, I finally convinced them that George did not exist.

I almost blew it, though.  The Vanguard agent that had seen me through all this, as a parting gesture, asked me the obligatory question,  “Is there anything else I can do for you?”   I could not resist,  I said yes.  He said, “What?” I said, “I will need help in burying George’s body, because I had to murder him, to get rid of him!”  Silence at the other end of the line.  I broke the silence by saying, “ I am kidding!!
After a perfunctory faked laugh, he hung up.

The Magic of German Compound Words

                                                     SCHWEINEHUND

I was born in Linz Ober Donau, which was at that time of my birth annexed to Germany by the “Anschluss,” but now is Austria.  For you to understand the landscape, I need to go back over 100 years to 1918, the end of World War I.  Austro-Hungary was a kind of United States of Europe, sort of what the European Union is now, but much more organized and effectively one country.  Both my parents were proud citizens of Austro-Hungary from birth. In 1918 that ceased to be. Woodrow Wilson would not accept the reconstitution of the empire as part of his 14-point plan, and Austria became a minuscule shadow of its former self. Austro-Hungary was a mega-nation of 239,977 square miles and a population of 52,800,000.  The Versailles Treaty reduced it to 32,386 square miles, with a population of 6,478,000. To give you a comparison, New York City has a population of 8,622,698.   Austria, a once-proud world power, became a miserable dwarf country.  The Versailles Treaty did many other things that turned out to be colossal errors of historic proportions.  One of these allowed the emergence of a German leader (Führer) who got many things wrong, but he knew that the Versailles Treaty was a boneheaded mistake for Europe that would have devastating consequences.  His annexation (Anschluss) of Austria was one of those efforts to reverse Versailles. Woodrow Wilson, with the historic retrospect scope, was a dwarf thinker, not the brilliant peace-maker status he still is accorded by history today, despite his Johns Hopkins’ credentials and the Nobel Prize.  Were it not for him and the Versailles Treaty, Germany, its culture and language would have been much more influential in the current Weltanschauung, and would have made a much different world than we have now.

Speaking of Weltanschauung brings me back to my discussion of the German language.  German culture and language have many unusual aspects.  German has great literary giants, Wolfgang Göthe, Friedrich Schiller, Reiner Maria Rilke (not only a great poet but also friend and secretary to Auguste Rodin), Heinrich Heine, and Bertolt Brecht among many others who could match Shakespeare’s gift of gab. 

Because German is my first language, I am familiar with many exceptionally descriptive words, yet they cannot be adequately translated into English, which leaves a palpable void in my ability to express myself at times.  Weltanschauung is one of those words.  In one word, it conveys a comprehensive concept of the view an individual has of the world philosophy, culture, universe, and humanities relation to it. It takes at least one sentence to explain it in English, and it still is just an approximation of the full meaning.

Tor-Schluss-Panik is one of those words that, with one word, conveys a whole chapter of a gynecology textbook diagnosis.  When a  childless woman nears the age when she can no longer conceive, she often is overcome with a deep-seated fear that we would call “the biologic clock is ticking,” nothing as elegant as Tor-Schluss-Panic. If she does not conceive now, she will miss the chance to have a baby, the only opportunity to fulfill the universal human desire to multiply, and leave something of herself for the next generation.  Translated word for word it means “gate closing fear.”  You must admit “Tor-Schluss-Panik” even if you don’t speak German is so much more descriptive.

Fahrfergnügen is another one of those words that have no English equivalent.  It was used very effectively in a VW commercial that sold a lot of VW’s.  It means “the joy of driving.” 

Schlimbeßerung is a word that needs a paragraph to explain.  Schlim means worsening, and beßer means to make better.   If you are in a situation where things are good enough, but you want to make it better, but in the process of attempting to improve a situation you actually make it worse, that is schlimbeßerung.  Incidentally, the ß is an old German designated letter that stands for double s (ss).

  Handschuh is a hand shoe, thus “a glove.”  “Wanderlust” the enjoyment you get from wandering.  If you want to describe a sad or pitiful person, you would call him “ein Häufchen-Unglück” a “little heap of disaster.”

The absolutely worst insulting name you can call someone is “Ein Schweinehund” “a pigdog” ( see above picture). Zeitgeist is literally “time spirit” but means the general intellectual, moral and cultural climate of an era.  “Weltschmerz” –“the pain of the world” has been used by many authors such as Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, Heinrich Heine, and the Marquis de Sade, which connotes deep sadness about the imperfection or inadequacy of the world.  A Fledermaus is a fluttering mouse, a bat.

But one of the better compound words is “Schadenfreude,”  “Schaden” is misfortune or damage, “Freude” is joy or glee.  It  is that feeling when you experience happiness at other’s misfortune, not exactly an uplifting or noble sentiment, except sometimes when you follow it with “I told you so!”

It was Richard Wagner who gave us the “Gesamt-Kunst-Werk.”  The word and concept that a musical composition in order to be complete must satisfy all the human senses (“a total work of art”). The sound has to be heroic and melodic, but the orchestra being on stage, as it used to be, is distracting.  It needs to be heard but not seen. The orchestra pit is his invention, which he incorporated at his Opera House in Bayreuth, and is now the standard.  Also, the house lights need to be turned off during the performance to focus on the action on the stage, something quite simple, but no one else had thought of before.  The drama has to be a literary work of emotional significance dealing with profound human challenges, and the stage scenery and costumes should be spectacular.  It is Wagner who added the horns to the Viking helmets, something he just made up.  The real Viking helmets never had horns.  It is now the symbol of German Opera. 

WATER

An old saying goes like this:  “Whiskey is for drinking, and water is something to fight over.”  In 1913 the Los Angeles Aqueduct started to divert the Owens River water to Los Angeles, and the Owens Valley that used to be called “The Switzerland of California” began to be transformed into a desert.  The man most responsible for this transition was William Mulholland.

In 1877 when Mulholland arrived, Los Angeles was all of 9000 inhabitants.  He was born in Belfast, Ireland, and ran away from home to join the British Merchant Navy at age 15.  He became a civil engineer, by mostly self-education, and worked for the LACWC (Los Angeles City Water Company, eventually to become the LADWP) of which he became superintendent.  Mulholland’s vision was to see a “megalopolis” in the desert climate of the Los Angeles basin.  What prevented LA’s growth was lack of water!

His famous line was, “If you don’t get the water, you will not need it!” He tried to get water from the Colorado River but was denied.  He then looked to the Sierra Nevada, and realized that he could get all the water he needed, by gravity feed, from the Owens Valley.  He promised the farmers that he would only take the excess water they would not use anyway, and then built the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a 233-mile system to move water from the Owns Valley to San Fernando just north of Los Angeles.  He deceived the farmers and actually took all of the runoff from the Sierra Nevada!  The Owens Valley dried up. 

The farmers took up arms and explosives and fought back violently, which became known as the “California Water Wars.”  The aqueduct was blown up with dynamite in several locations, and people went to prison.  But Mulholland prevailed, and commented it was too bad that all the trees in the Owen’s Valley died because there were not enough trees left to hang all the malcontents that opposed his grand design!

With more water, Los Angeles grew.  By 1920 the population was 576,673.  Another large reservoir was needed to store the water.  Mulholland picked a narrow canyon north of Los Angeles. The San Francisquito Canyon was ideal as it narrowed at a spot that would not require a very large dam.  What was not known then was that there was an ancient landslide that was the likely cause of the narrowing and contained rock, called Pelona Schist, that was soft, at the eastern abutment of the dam. This did not serve as a strong enough foothold and later would have devastating consequences. 

It took two years to build, and the  St. Francis Dam started taking water on March 12, 1926.  It took nearly two years to fill.  Almost immediately, cracks and leaks were noted.  On the morning of March 12, 1928, Tony Harnischfeger, the dam keeper, telephoned Mulholland that he noted a larger leak on the west abutment of the dam that was discharging dirty water.  This would indicate that the leak was eroding foundation cement.  Mulholland came out himself to inspect the dam by 10:30 AM.  For two hours he walked around and by 12:30 PM declared the dam was safe. Two minutes before midnight a brief flickering of the lights in Los Angeles marked the dam’s failure in a dramatic collapse of the right and left parts of the dam, leaving the center stand, later called the “tombstone” by the steady stream of spectators that came to see what was left of the dam.  A 10,000-ton piece of the dam was found a mile downstream,   and 12.4 billion gallons of water surged down the San Francisquito Canyon and then through the Santa Clara Valley on its 54-mile path to the Pacific Ocean that started as a 135-foot high water wall. The communities of Castaic, Piru, Fillmore, and Santa Paula were devastated. It barely took 70 minutes to empty the reservoir.  

Harnischfeger, who had misgivings for some time, had built a set of stairs to higher ground to give him and his six-year-old son an escape route should the dam break, which he never got to use.  He, along with his son, were the first victims.  Their bodies were never found.  Fourteen months after the tragedy, the dam claimed its last life.  An eighteen-year-old man climbed the remaining central monolith, by now, called the “tombstone” and fell to his death.  After that, the City of Los Angeles decided to demolish the remaining pieces to prevent any more accidents. Only the 1906 San Francisco earthquake caused more destruction and deaths in California.  The dam disaster cost at least 431 lives, bodies having been found as late as 1994! 1200 houses and 10 bridges were washed away.  An unknown toll of animals drowned.

We are always fascinated by the worst, the best, the first, etc. This was “the worst disaster” ever that was due to the failure of a human-built structure.  There is a sculpture near the Santa Paula train station memorializing the heroism of two motorcycle police officers, Stanley Baker and Thornton Edward, that at the risk of their own lives, rode ahead of the wall of water to wake people up and warn them to get to higher ground, saving hundreds of lives.

Mulholland took full responsibility for the dam’s failure.  His statement to the board of inquiry was telling, “The only ones that I envy about this whole thing are the ones that are dead!” He resigned as Supervisor of the LACWC in November 1928, and lived in relative seclusion, devastated by the disaster. He died in 1935. 

 The financial cost of the St. Francis Dam collapse was estimated at 13.5 million dollars ($196,281,000 in today’s money).  The coroner’s inquest declined to prosecute Mulholland criminally, but blamed him for poor construction.  His home was in Acton about 35 miles from the dam.  It was entirely constructed with massive amounts of concrete that, some say, was diverted from the dam. 

To demonstrate the difference between then and now, all the claims were settled out of court and not one lawsuit was filed.  Los Angeles became the second-largest city in the US by population (4,000,000), but the largest by square area (502.7 square miles). 

I owe a debt of thanks to John Nichols’ book,  St. Francis Dam Disaster, that served as a source for this essay.