And they come with no warning,
nature loves her little surprises.
Continual crisis!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Doomed to commit the same mistakes

Watching Prohibition by Ken Burns on PBS. A few points:

1) They kind of quickly glossed over he fact that at the time of early America, you could not trust the water. This was a time before the germ-theory of disease had been formed. Water purification was unknown (except for mixing it with alcohol). John Chapman (Johny Appleseed) planted the groves of apple trees not for the apples, but so the pioneers could have cider (and he could sell it to them as well).

2) If you aren't seeing the ties into modern politics and events, I don't believe you're paying attention. It's not so much an echo of the past as a deliberate snitching of the template and a resurgence of certain religious and political movements.


Random Michelle K said...


This was a time before the germ-theory of disease had been formed.

John Snow. Broad Street pump. 1854.

Hell, Joseph Amy. 1746. First patent for a water filter.

Steve Buchheit said...

Hey Random Michelle, I stand corrected on the water filtration. However, the story of Prohibition begins in 1826. Johny Appleseed was active in the 1790s. It was 1865 when Pasteur did his work, and 1890 when Koch published his papers. So I'm standing on the other date.

Random Michelle K said...

John Snow is pretty much the father of modern public health, and the incident of the Broad Street Pump and water contamination pretty much started the field of public health.

Snow had determined the path of water contamination soon after the pump handle incident. So it was definitely known before 1865 that disease could be transmitted through water.

And hand washing to halt the transmission of disease from doctor to patient was discovered and began being implemented in 1847.

Pasteur wasn't the originator of germ theory, he simply built upon centuries of previous work. And came up with a way to make food safer (for which we should all be thankful, since I am not a fan of throwing up).

Steve Buchheit said...

Well, yes, most discoveries build upon other people's work. Few people are working in a vacuum. However the connection of bacteria and microbes didn't occur until later. IIRC, Snow knew it had something to do with the pump, but didn't know what it was. His work disproved "miasma" and tied the contagion to one well and pump. He didn't, as I remember, tie it to microbes. That really didn't happen until the discovery of endospores and the ability of microbes to create them (well, 3 domains can create them). That was Pasteur and then Tyndall (who explained why Pasteur's experiment wasn't working for everyone) who did that work (although there was an Italian who also discovered sporification at the same time).

While Redi published his work in the 17th century, it really wasn't until after 1850s and Pasteur that "spontaneous generation" was finally disproven (and by his proof, Pasteur convincingly linked microbes to disease).

It was also well known from before Roman times that the addition of wine (or any spirits, like beer in Egypt) to water would make it potable. They didn't exactly know why, but they knew the effect, which was the important part. So people knew before Snow that "bad" water could make them sick, so he also wasn't being very original. He was the first, IIRC, that did a "patient zero" analysis to find the source of the disease.