February 1, 2019

DAB What’s New Feb 1, 2019


Sands of time, transition, & short thoughts on rules
3996 words





February, the shortest month, begins today, this Friday, and its periodic extra day comes next year on a Saturday. Although 2019 is only a month old, the sands of time slipped away for one iteration of Michigan Urology, and the metaphorical hourglass reloads today for our Michigan Urology version 8 that will refresh our department. Regental privilege requires that the next urology chair requires formal action, although most of us know the party in question, who begins today as acting chair. Ganesh Palapattu will do an excellent job leading the faculty, residents, and staff – the parties who will actually do the refreshing. Our new chair will face challenges and, if history is any guide, our team will support him fully for the next chapter of the Michigan Urology journey. In that context, this is a good time to examine the past and re-articulate our history, as Richard Feynman (1918-1988), American theoretical physicist, once wrote:

“Why repeat all this? Because there are new generations born every day. Because there are great ideas developed in the history of man, and these ideas do not last unless they are passed purposefully and clearly from generation to generation.” [Feynman RP. The Meaning of it All. Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist. 1998.]

It may be a long stretch from the “great ideas in the history of man,” to a modest history of Michigan Urology but I hope you allow Matula Thoughts some slack and accept this belief in regularly rearticulating the past for each cohort of our successors.

screenshot 2019-01-29 14.12.14

I first met Ganesh when I was visiting professor at UCLA, my urology alma mater, and he was a resident under Jean deKernion, a wonderful urologist, leader, and friend. As a visiting professor at a number of places, I often tossed out ideas for papers, but Ganesh was perhaps the only one over the years who took the bait and completed a paper with me. His career took him to Johns Hopkins, The University of Rochester, and then Baylor in Houston at Tim Boone’s program. At great loss to Tim, but with his consent and blessing, Ganesh and his lab, with Alex Zaslavsky, came to Michigan at the start of my term as chair. Ganesh is well prepared. He is a terrific teacher, effective leader, excellent surgeon, and has led our largest urology section, uro-oncology, very well. When a need is identified he steps up – he was among the first to volunteer in Flint at the Hamilton Community Health Network clinic, when that opportunity materialized. His lab has done well with a recent 2% score on its latest grant submission. Ganesh will be thoughtful, consensus-building, and creative as he leads Michigan Urology in its mission (education, research, and clinical care), and our essential deliverable – kind and excellent patient-centered care. [Above: Ganesh with Anu. Below: with Kirtan and Elina.]




Anticipating the centennial of Michigan Urology, we’ve been working on a new volume of our story, previously written by the late John Konnak and urological scholar Dev Pardanani nearly 20 years ago. It is impossible to understand the urology story in Ann Arbor, without a larger sense of the story of our state, our specialty, and our university. It might be said that melodies of the past haunt the reveries of our stories, to tweak Hoagy Carmichael’s phrase. So, our story properly began around 11,000 years ago, well before Hippocrates and the known roots of medical practice, with the inhabitants of the Mound Builder and Woodland cultures who populated our geographical area after the last glacial period receded. The Holcombe beach site near Lake Saint Clair has evidence of Paleo-Indian settlement in that era and by the 17th century, Huron, Odawa, Potawatomi, and Iroquois people inhabited the region. Dates are difficult to ascertain, but legend, archeology, and solar eclipse history suggest that an Iroquois Confederacy of Five Nations around the Great Lakes formed by then. Those people surely suffered from urological problems and undoubtedly tried many remedies to ease their pains, although the ailments either dissipated or claimed the poor sufferers’ lives. [Above: Painting by Roy Lichtenstein, 1965. Below, Map of Five Nations, De Lisle, 1718. Darlington Collection, University of Pittsburgh.]


French explorers, beginning with Étienne Brûlé, around 1610, Samuel de Champlain, and later René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle, attempted to colonize the regional home of the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Seneca who comprised the Iroquois Five Nations. The Tuscarora joined the confederacy in 1722 to become the Six Nations that eventually were overwhelmed by Europeans.



Prelude to UM. Detroit, a settlement town in the western territory of a young United States, was initially referred to as the straights. Michigan became a distinct territory, carved from the Northwest Territory by congressional act, 30 June 1805. First governor William Hull and presiding judge Augustus B. Woodward described its history, in their first report, with the French penetration of Lake Michigan, the “Ouisconsin” River and the Mississippi down to its “mouth,” defaulting to the French feudal system of property ownership by aristocratic right (seigniorial), but offering no sensitivity to the Native American perspective:

“Prior to this era the settlements of the strait had commenced, and Detroit claims an antiquity of fifteen years superior to the city of Philadelphia. The few titles granted by the government of France were of three French acres in front, on the bank of the river, by forty feet in depth, subject to the feudal and seignoral conditions, which usually accompanied titles in France.” [Michigan Historical Collections. 36:107, 1908.]

The claim in the report refers obliquely to La Salle who buried an engraved plate and cross near what is now Venice, Louisiana, on April 9, 1682 to assert ownership of the territory by France. Hull and Woodward didn’t have all their facts in order regarding Philadelphia, also founded in 1682 but a month earlier on March 4 when William Penn made it the capital of Pennsylvania Colony. Great Britain assumed the French possessions after the 1763 Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Year’s War. Another Treaty of Paris, in 1783, ended the Revolutionary War, and the territory that would become Michigan was acquired from Canada by the United States. The Hull and Woodward Report tells of the sad circumstances of Detroit in June of 1805 just after it had burned to the ground:

“It was the unfortunate fate of the new government to commence its operations in a scene of the deepest public and private calamity. By the conflagration of Detroit, which took place on the morning of the 11th of June, all the buildings of that place, both public and private, were entirely consumed; and the most valuable part of the personal property of the inhabitants was lost. On the arrival of the new government [Woodward arrived Saturday June 29 and Hull on Monday July 1]. A part of the people were found encamped on the public grounds, in the vicinity of the town, and the remainder were dispersed through the neighboring settlements of the country; both on the British and the American side of the boundary… The place which bore the appellation of the town of Detroit was a spot of about 2 acres of ground, completely covered with buildings, and combustible material…” [Central Michigan University. Clarke Historical Library. 1805. Hull.]

Detroit rebounded from the fire and was on the upswing when The War of 1812 broke out and the town, indefensible, surrendered to the British on 6 August. An attempt to regain Detroit by General William Henry Harrison failed in January 1813, but on 10 September Commodore Perry’s fleet of nine small ships defeated six heavily armed Royal Navy ships on Lake Erie and returned the city to the United States. One quarter of the recruited American soldiers were African American. The British retreated up the Thames River in Canada, where the decisive Thames Battle on 5 October turned the tide against Great Britain and Tecumseh’s Confederacy (recounted here in Matula Thoughts last year). This story is a prelude to the University of Michigania, organized in Detroit in 1817.



New Year resolutions have faded into memory by now for all but the most resolute of us, although it’s worth reflecting that resolutions and intentions reflect the best versions of our imperfect selves. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an architect of some of the best of modern American society, was particularly good with his public words, few more noteworthy than in his First Inaugural Address on March 4, 1933 during the depth of the Great Depression: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Yet, no more or less imperfect than most of us today, FDR sometimes crumbled from fear himself, as early in WWII with Executive Order 9066 February 19, 1942, authorizing the Secretary of War to prescribe “Military Areas”:

“Whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded there from, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order. The designation of military areas in any region or locality shall supersede designations of prohibited and restricted areas by the Attorney General under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, and shall supersede the responsibility and authority of the Attorney General under the said Proclamations in respect of such prohibited and restricted areas.” [Below: FDR at Yalta. DG Chandor portrait at SAAM, Washington.]

chandor. fdr yalta

The Executive Order quickly became actual law on March 21, 1942 when Roosevelt signed Public Law 503, put forth by Congress after 30-minute discussion in the House and an hour in the Senate, thus evicting 122,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry (two thirds were American citizens) from their West Coast homes to incarceration camps. Americans of German and Italian ancestry were similarly targeted, but with much smaller numbers. Another Executive Order, number 9102 signed 18 March 1942, created the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to manage the forced relocation and internment. Milton Eisenhower was its first director, but only for a few months. His successor, Dillon Myer asked Eisenhower if he should take the job and was told:

“Dillon, if you can sleep and still carry on the job my answer would be yes. I can’t sleep and do this job. I had to get out of it.” [NYT 3 May 1965.] [Oral history interview with Dillon S. Myer. Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.]

Ultimately, 18 Civilian Assembly Centers, 10 Relocation Centers of the WRA, 9 Justice Department Centers (with German-American and Italian-American detainees), 3 Citizen Isolation centers (for “problem inmates”), 3 Federal Bureau of Prisons sites (mainly for draft resisters), 18 U.S. Army facilities, and 7 Immigration and Naturalization Services’ facilities were involved in detentions. The Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During WWII revisits this sad story with the Golden Crane sculpture of Nina Akamu showing two Japanese cranes caught in barbed wire. Semicircular granite walls name the ten main WRA internment camps and The Archipelago on the open perimeter along Louisiana Avenue near D Street in Washington, DC, symbolizes the Japanese Islands and the five generations of Japanese Americans affected by the war. [Below: Two Cranes. DAB January, 2018.]

japanese monument



Hourglasses turn the ephemeral notion of time into physical reality. The grains of sand are elementary chemicals assembling by physical rules into worthy objects, stardust like ourselves. Laws of chemistry and physics that created stardust are durable and universal. Human rules are fungible and we hope that representational government and good leaders bend them to fairness, allowing redress when rules are improper, archaic, wrong-headed, or harmful to the public good. All sorts of rules, federal, state, local, professional, organizational, sectarian, familial, and personal ones constrain us, and sometimes they seem to come out of the blue as with presidential directives. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, considered here last month, and FDR’s Executive Order 9066 raise the issue of these curious sidebars of American law. A report of the Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, by legislative attorney John Contrubis (updated March 9, 1999) explains the origin and usage of these two “Presidential instruments” (below).

pres proclam

The Constitution provides no explicit authority for executive orders and proclamations, although Article II states: “the executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States,” “the President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,” and “he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Dogmatic originalism, might then argue to exclude the Air Force from presidential authority, or stipulate that a president execute all laws faithfully to their letter (rather than broad interpretation of Constitutional intent), or that a president must be a “he.” Such pedantic exercises unnaturally infuse human rules with an immutability similar to natural laws of chemistry and physics.

emanc proc

As humans, we elevate some of our laws to higher truths, such as belief in human liberty, the sanctity of life, equality of opportunity, and the right to pursue happiness, recognizing that these “self-evident truths” are perhaps on a higher plane than laws of prohibition, zoning, speed limits, or executive orders. Executive orders are legally binding directives given by the president to federal agencies in the executive branch, while executive proclamations may be ceremonial, policy announcements celebrations (Mother’s Day), or statements of a condition (e.g. of national mourning for the death of George HW Bush). Clearly there is overlap between orders and proclamations; the Emancipation Proclamation was as much an order as a proclamation. [Above: Emancipation Proclamation, Clements Library, University of Michigan. Below: 1914 Proclamation of Woodrow Wilson designating Mother’s Day.]

mother's day proclamation copy



Lysekno. Civic laws can cast long shadows that undermine education and science, setting human laws and policies at odds with the natural world. The Trofim Lysekno (1898-1976) story is a cautionary tale. That Russian biologist rejected Mendelian genetics and proposed his own theory of environmentally-acquired inheritance, offering experimental results with improved crop yields by his methods (unverified by others) and convincing Joseph Stalin to embrace Lysenkoism nationally. Soviet scientists who opposed the idea were dismissed from their posts, if not killed as “enemies of the state.” [Fitzpatrick S. Stalin’s Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization. Oxford University Press. 1994. p. 4-5.] Forced collectivization and famine followed in the 1930’s, but Lysenko’s political power consolidated and in 1940 he became director of the Institute of Genetics of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In 1948, scientific dissent from Lysenko’s theory was outlawed.

After Stalin died in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev retained Lysenko in his post, but scientific opposition resurfaced and his agricultural influence declined. In 1964, Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989) physicist, architect for the Soviet thermonuclear bomb, but later Soviet dissident and Nobel Peace Prize Recipient (1975), denounced Lysenko to the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1964 saying:

“He is responsible for the shameful backwardness of Soviet biology and of genetics in particular, for the dissemination of pseudo-scientific views, for adventurism, for the degrading of learning, and for the defamation, firing, arrest, even death, of many genuine scientists.” [Norman L, Qing NL, Yuan JL. Biography of Andrei Sakharov, dissent period. The Seevak Website Competition.] [Cohen BM. The descent of Lysenko. The Journal of Heredity. 56:229-233, 1965.] [Cohen BM. The demise of Lysenko. The Journal of Heredity. 68:57, 1977.]

Lysenko died in Moscow in 1976 with only brief mention in the daily national newspaper. His politically enforced scientific pseudo-science had tragic consequences for millions of people in Soviet Russia. Lysenko wasn’t the first to consider the effects of environment on inheritance, Lamarck (1744-1829) had that thought much earlier. Open scientific give and take has since shown that Mendelian and other genetic processes are indeed influenced if not largely regulated by epigenetic factors. Science works well, but not when corrupted by ideology.




Too bad Gerrymanders aren’t mythical creatures. These Homo sapiens look-a-likes actually exist, grabbing and abusing transient authority to distort reality and fairness to gain political advantage. Democracy as expressed in our origin-document, The Declaration of Independence is built upon shared belief in fairness, but when fairness is seriously undermined, authoritarianism creeps back into public life – authority of a political party, authority of a leader, authority of a particular ideology, authority of a religion, or authority of a class of people. History shows this human propensity again and again with tribalism, kingdoms, monarchies, dictators, cults, single-party nations, etc. Gerrymander came from Elkanah Tisdale’s cartoon in the Boston Centinel, 1812, showing the district created by the Massachusetts Legislature to favor incumbent Democratic-Republican candidates over the Federalists. [Above: Tisdale’s creature in the Centinel, 1812. Below: Michigan districts.]


mich congressional

Eradication of the gerrymander is one of democracy’s existential necessities. This problem is exacerbated by the algorithmically-targeted misinformation made possible by personal data mining. This perversion of free speech is dramatized in the Netflix film, Brexit.



history hall

History Hall. Along the passages connecting University Hospital, Frankel Cardiovascular Center, Rogel Cancer Center, and Medical Sciences I buildings are pictures of most of the Medical School graduating classes. Even as faculty and staff walk briskly through them, discussing their work, the decorative walls and the light from the glass tunnel are pleasant and even refreshing. If you have a chance to linger briefly and look, the pictures take your walk through a history of paradigm changes, economic booms and busts, great discoveries, inspiring leaders, wars, bad actors, duds, and all the other stuff of 170 years. Each student and faculty member in the class pictures is an individual summation of countless personal dramas and stories. [Above: David Fox and Joe McCune.]

Maybe stepping aside as chair (I don’t think of it so much as “stepping down” or a loss, but I am truly pleased to have Ganesh Palapattu pick up the challenges, present and ahead) gives me too much time for lingering walks and gratuitous thoughts. Framed by all the larger problems of the world (geopolitical conflict, terrorism, poverty, widening inequality, economic unpredictability, environmental degradation, infectious diseases, and other existential threats) one must wonder: can we humans successfully control our own destiny? If so, some structure and rules are obviously necessary for 7 billion people on a small planet, but will the structures and rules revert to ancient painful models of authoritarian rule and pyramidal hierarchy, or could they tilt toward libertarian, laissez-faire, or anarchistic models although those have never proven successful at large scale?

The question is not merely rhetorical, it is existential and an answer needs to be found between those extremes, within some central range. How we find, set, and reset that optimal place in our laws is the ultimate political question. Representational democracy, even as terribly imperfect as it is, seems to offer the best framework to balance individual freedom and happiness with optimization of societal function, human destiny, and planetary sustainability. This same dilemma of governance, structure, and rule-setting is recapitulated in localities and large organizations, even that of Michigan Medicine. These may seem strange Matula Thoughts for the moment and solutions are beyond the wisdom of this writer, but with 7 billion points of wisdom, good answers should abound. Lingering walks through history halls can help.



Academic urology at Michigan effectively began in the autumn of 1919 when Hugh Cabot came to Ann Arbor, and for that reason we begin a year of centennial celebration with our Nesbit Alumni Reunion October 3-5, 2019. Cabot’s 11 years at Michigan were transformative, but disruptive and (yes) often authoritarian, leading the regents to dismiss him in February, 1930, “…in the interests of greater harmony.” His next phase of work was at the Mayo Clinic where he focused on large issues of health care, such as testifying to Congress in favor of multispecialty group practice against the position of the AMA. Cabot’s final book, The Patient’s Dilemma, written in 1940, concludes with reflections on the problems that democratic systems have in planning the future. “It may well be – if we preserve our sense of humor – that we may suspect that the phrases ‘long distance planning’ and the ‘democratic process’ are in fact contradictions of terms.” While allowing for individual freedoms of opinions and rights to change them and exercise them through voting, Cabot explains that a democratic society that cannot make long term plans and carry them out is reduced to an “absurdity.” Cabot ends the book thus:

“…we have an immense body of opinion, part of which is in this country, a handsome part of it elsewhere, which continues in spite of discouragements, to believe that there is in all human beings an inherent and irresistible desire for certain freedoms which can be obtained only under democracy. Such a view seems to me based upon irrefutable evidence going back to the beginnings of the world. Its validity I cannot doubt. Once we admit this premise, once we admit that we believe that there are in democracy certain inherent benefits essential to progressive civilization, then we are driven to the conclusion that though long distance planning under democracy is beset with many vicissitudes, nevertheless such plans must be made and, by dint of good temper and the laws of the cosmos, they may come to fruition.”  [Cabot H. The Patient’s Dilemma: The Quest for Medical Security in America. 1940.]



Stardust, Hoagy Carmichael’s popular song, came to his mind in 1927 when visiting his alma mater, Indiana University, where he had earned a bachelor’s degree in 1925 and law degree in 1926. Mitchell Parish added lyrics in 1929 and the song has been recorded by Bing Crosby (1931), Nat King Cole (1956), and Willie Nelson (1978) among many others. The music and the lyrics are equally compelling, with Parish linking “the purple dust of twilight time,” the stars, and memories of a lover: “And now my consolation is in the stardust of a song.”

The original title was two words, Star Dust. Astronomers have learned much about the topic since Hoagy’s day: the elements of stardust larger than hydrogen and helium up to the size of iron required solar furnaces for their creation, but larger elements required the greater manufacturing complexity of supernovae. The fact that life is literally made of stardust is not just a figure of speech, the stardust of a song is a lyrical metaphor of a higher order of magnitude. Lying somewhere between cosmic stardust and its human incarnation is the daily work and politics of humanity, and these have been the focus of matulathoughts.org.

I came to Ann Arbor in 1984 from Walter Reed and the U.S. Army at the invitation of Section Head Ed McGuire, who very positively impacted the world of urology and myself. I inherited the stewardship of Michigan Urology from another great urologist and our inaugural chair, Jim Montie. Previous leaders of urology at Michigan educated superb urologists from Nobel Prize winner Charles Huggins and Reed Nesbit, the first section head, through Jack Lapides who trained another splendid cohort, including Hugh Solomon whom we often see at Grand Rounds. [Below, Hugh and Jim.] Following Jack, we had Ed, Joe Oesterling, Bart Grossman, and then Jim. They all brought things to the table, so to speak.

screen shot 2019-01-16 at 7.47.03 am

My appreciation is profound to our faculty, staff, Nesbit alumni, and friends of the department. You have made my time as chair a joy. Sandy Heskett has been with me from the start of my administrative duties in Allen Lichter’s dean’s office and she has somehow dissolved the problems of each day and kept our department as well as your old chair on track. Jack Cichon and Malissa Eversole have been incomparable in their work and loyalty to our team. Thanks, too, to my colleagues and friends on the faculty, in the Dean’s office, and on central campus. It has been a great run for me, but it isn’t over yet.

We appreciate your interest and will be back here on the first Friday of March at this website: matulathoughts.org. and meanwhile encourage any comments from you.

David A. Bloom
University of Michigan, Department of Urology, Ann Arbor


Matula Thoughts January 2, 2015

Matula Thoughts January 2, 2015

Michigan Urology Family

Watersheds, leadership, & 2015 again

3676 words



1.     Happy New Year. Its hard to believe 2015 is already here, but this fact reminds us once again that the forward march of time is relentless and time runs backward only in our imagination. History, nevertheless, still defines us with each new minute, new day, and new year serving as a watershed framing the past and future. This new year of 2015 is a significant watershed for everyone who will reach a milestone age in it, whether 40, 50, 60, 70, or even more years having enjoyed the contingencies of genetics, circumstance, modern health care, physical safety, and luck. As I begin the year at a significant personal watershed Gary Faerber is already in place as Acting Chair, following the previous turns of John Wei and Stu Wolf, who then returned to their roles as Associate Chairs with quantum leaps in knowledge, talent and leadership for the department. When Dean Jim Woolliscroft and I set up this experiment in leadership succession a few years back, I had no doubt it would be successful, but hardly imagined the great degree of success. Leadership is something everyone provides at one level or another in our organization, as well as within their families and communities. Leadership is a focus for us in our department, and certainly no less in the rest of the university from our valiant football team among the other athletic programs, throughout the 19 schools and colleges, in the Musical Society and a myriad other parts of the UM as it approaches its bicentennial. No one, even among the overpraised CEOs who write best-selling memoirs, is a perfect leader at every challenge in their life and career. Published perspectives, naturally tend to be self-congratulatory vignettes of successes, usually with sparse mention of the shoulders of giants on whom such leaders have stood. Plenty of more general leadership books are available, a few of them worthwhile, and you can always discover more about the topic if you are intent on developing your skills. The best way to learn, I believe, is to take the initiative yourself and try to lead wisely, be self-critical and learn from your mistakes, as well as to learn from the examples (successes and failures) of other leaders. We have some fine role models among us in the Medical School and Health System as well as within our professional peers elsewhere. Flawed examples of leadership (sometimes found in our own mistakes) offer equally valuable lessons. On the national and international political scenes noteworthy leadership seems  sparser. Looking back to the 20th century only rare great examples come to mind.



2.     WSC 1874-1965. It was 50 years ago that Winston Churchill died having reached 99 years of age in spite of innumerable bullets, cigars, prodigious quantities of food and drink, to say nothing of his determined political adversaries. His death in 1965 was a significant watershed – few people have so completely and uniquely altered the course of human events as did Churchill,  on a number of fronts including 2 World Wars. Admittedly a Churchillphile, I nonetheless recognize his many imperfections, yet he was the perfect man to rescue the course of history from catastrophe. You can expect a number of new books published about him this year and one of the first of these is by Boris Johnson, the mayor of London. Many biographies and studies of Churchill have been written (and at least a dozen fill my shelves), but Johnson’s The Churchill Factor occupies a unique niche offering a timely analysis of Churchill’s  impact on civilization. The world would be very different today had it not been for Winston Churchill. Someone other than Gutenberg would have figured out the printing press, and the same goes for the contributions of Columbus, Watt, Darwin, Lister (eventually!), Ford, Gates, and most other innovators. Only a rare few individuals have turned the tide of world events so positively and against such great odds. Without Churchill the second half of the 20th century and probably these past 15 years into the 21st would have been very dark times. Amazingly he was around 70 years of age when his greatest tests presented themselves. It is inconceivable that World War II would have turned out as it did without Churchill.      


[Churchill  at 10 Downing St. 1940, by Cecil Beaton]



3.     Impact. None of us is likely to have impact of Churchillian proportions, but that’s not to say that as individuals we are not serious about making a difference. At any watershed moment each of us is likely to question “the meaning of life.” I recently listened to the audiobook autobiography of the controversial evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins wherein he said something to the effect that “Intelligent life only comes of age when it works out the reasons for its own existence.”  [Had I read the actual book I could be more precise and reference a specific page; whether you agree or disagree with his theological viewpoint, his evolutionary biology contributions have been significant.] All life forms struggle for their survival searching for a difference, whether a favorable environmental differential, a nutritional differential, or a reproductive differential. We humans share this biologic imperative of curiosity to discover favorable niches, but our drive goes further into the superorganism of our civilizations in that we want to “make a difference” in the social sense. For many people this drive is satisfied by a sense of being taken seriously, wanting our opinions to matter to others. For other people this drive is expressed in intense ambition to invent, create, build, or help others. The individual need to make a difference is part of the rich fabric of sociobiology, allowing brilliant flashes of greatness such as Churchill in his day and Pope Francis now in our time. The Pope’s extraordinary Christmas message last week to the cardinals and bishops who make up the Roman Curia, could apply equally well to any large organization. Francis warned against endemic “spiritual diseases” of bureaucracy including the pathology of power, the temptation of narcissism, cowardly gossip, and the building of personal empires. His courageous and unprecedented speech hinted at the darker side of sociobiology, namely the innate tendency of any social group (political, religious, ethnic, or national) to be manipulated by a single autocratic leader or inner circle of leaders toward ends inimical to the larger shared values of not just the particular social group but to humanity at large. Pope Francis is one of the rare leaders with the credibility and force of character to bridge disparate factionalisms within his organization or in the larger geopolitical world by appealing to a human commonality. With all the problems in the world, you might think we are overdue for a few more extraordinary leaders like Churchill and Francis.


[Front left to right: Israel’s President Shimon Peres, Eucumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Pope Francis, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – June, 2014 during peace prayers at Vatican gardens]  



4.     Sociobiology and mission. The idea of sociobiology, initially postulated and named by E. O. Wilson, recognized that a very few species – humans among them – have achieved a superorganism structure wherein individuals spend their lives to support the objectives of larger social structures of teams and societies. He called these eusocial species. Humanity alone, however, has been able to articulate social objectives, create principles and working rules for their deployment, and produce functional models of government. Our work in the Department of Urology of the Medical School within the University of Michigan, while minute in the grand scheme of things, fits in perfectly within the sociobiology framework. Like any individual, any team, or any large eusocial unit we are subject to the same evolutionary pressures of maintaining relevancy and preparing for the changing environments of tomorrow. We spend significant time in our Department of Urology considering and reconsidering our mission. While I dont believe a leader should tell any organization its mission, I do believe that a leader should help the organization articulate its mission as well as keeping it lively in the work, plans, and lives of its stakeholders. Our mission of Michigan Urology is centered on health care: teaching it, doing it, and making it better. It boils down to this essential deliverable: KIND AND EXCELLENT PATIENT-CENTERED CARE THOROUGHLY INTEGRATED WITH INNOVATION AND EDUCATION AT ALL LEVELS. We mean it and we believe in it. Our mission here goes deeper than those specific words. We are a great public university with a medical school influential in the story of modern medicine. Our urology unit has provided many of the best ideas, techniques, and leaders of our field for the past century. I can point to strong evidence of our successes in the weekly Whats New electronic communication that John Wei coordinates for our department that you can find on our website. When you really consider our mission, you might recognize that our mission is to provide for tomorrow the tomorrow of our patients, our students, our residents, our department, our faculty and staff, our community, our field, our children, and our species. We thus fit very neatly in the milieu of a university – universities exist to make tomorrow better. No organization in human civilization aside from universities has carried out this specific responsibility of preparing for tomorrow, year after year, decade after decade, and century after century.  In the daily struggles of finances, politics, governance, and crises most universities plod ahead it is their nature to be conservative – doing their work well enough although below their potential to build that better tomorrow.



5.     The future. Imagining the future is also a task of art and fiction. The Time Machine of H.G. Wells, the stories of Jules Verne, Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds, and for our present generation the Back to the Future film trilogy are stories that resonated with me on the back end of my present watershed. The first of the trilogy was set in 1985 and it imagined a future set in 2015. In that future the gimmick that made time travel possible was a plutonium-fueled flux capacitor (which needed a jolt of lightning to start it when Marty went “back to the past” in 1955 and he couldn’t find plutonium). Going forward to the future, however, the flux capacitor’s energy required only household waste in a commonplace “Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor” in 2015.  We aren’t at that point yet in terms of energy production, but since we can imagine a Mr. Fusion Reactor, it seems likely someone or some team will eventually solve this existential problem. Back to the Future excited the public imagination to the extent that it was the largest grossing film of 1985. I loved it, my kids loved it, and my grandkids love it. What are the counterparts of the Mr. Fusion Reactor for urology, or for health care in general? Perhaps the best insights for this will come from people writing imaginative short stories.



6.      Predictions. Yogi Berra allegedly said: “Its tough to make predictions, especially about tomorrow.” Each New Year is full of promise and challenges, some expected and others unexpected. If we could spot the specific key threats and opportunities right now at the start of the year and plan around them we could take those plans to the bank, as they say. While we don’t have the gift of foresight or the mythical “Gray’s Sports Almanac” that was central to Back to the Future Part II, we still could make some good guesses. If, for example, we knew a large asteroid was headed our way (another theme explored in the cinema) we might take steps to ameliorate it. Or if we knew an Ebola-like disease were likely to become epidemic we might create a vaccine and public health measures to manage it. (Remarkably we’ve known about Ebola since 1976, but somehow were unprepared for it last year.) It’s not always as tough as Yogi thought. Even without Grays Almanac we can make serious bets and useful decisions. We actually have figured out some forms of time travel of which astronomical sciences and space probes are outstanding examples. You might consider literary science fiction a form of hypothetical time travel to the future.

 Sports Almanac

[The pivotal sports almanac, stolen by Biff in 2015 and taken back to November 12, 1955 when he made some lucrative bets.]


7.     Challenges 2015. What will be the immediate challenges for Michigan’s Department of Urology in 2015? At the top of my list is the matter of struggling to stay afloat economically in a punishing economic milieu. We have around 30 clinical faculty doing the actual clinical work that 16-17 full-time clinicians could perform, and doing that work at the top of the game. Why is this? The answer is that, as faculty members in a university, our non clinical moments are spent in educating the next generation, expanding the conceptual basis of urology through investigation, supplying a large amount of administrative expertise and effort to run our heath system, and leading regional, national, and international organizations relevant to urology. The fiscal problem is that even at best these other tasks that are so essential to our missions have zero to only fractional revenue streams to support them. Clinical dollars have made the academic missions possible, but those dollars are shrinking under ruthless pressure. Our aggregate faculty carries a phenomenal portfolio. As the person tasked with paying the bills I am challenged in recruitment and retention by more generous compensation schemes at most of my peer institutions. Like most of my fellow chairs, I face inimical wealth redistribution from the heath system to our greater university, the inefficiencies of our own hospital (as a patient here myself while I had great care from individuals and teams, I also experienced a number of disconnects that Ritz-Carlton might consider rookie errors in the hospitality business), and severe facility constraints  based on 20 years of inadequate strategic planning and execution. Maybe with a new university president and EVPMA in addition to a restructuring of our health system governance and management we might finally get things right. Do the new leaders recognize that the key to success for a great academic health care enterprise is (first and foremost) great clinical care? On the forward side of this immediate watershed the winners in health care (the best of class survivors in the Darwinian sense) will be the few places that offer unsurpassed state-of-the art clinical care with the best outcomes, safety, patient experience, employee experiences, lean processes, educational outcomes, research productivity, and successful fiscal spreadsheets. If the new leaders are not evangelically wed to this belief and fail to elicit the wisdom of crowds and the opportunities of lean processes, success will slip further and further away. The single large success I believe we can claim over the past decade here at Michigan has been the Faculty Group Practice, led by David Spahlinger. We are now poised to re-structure and expand it into the University of Michigan Medical Group. Will this new format embolden us to find opportunities to reinvent and optimize healthcare in 2015 or will we continue to struggle to stay in the game? I for one favor the former scenario – after all we call ourselves leaders and best? I believe 2015 is now or never for us.


8.     A watershed molecule. Eleven years ago on this day (the leap year 2004) the spacecraft, Stardust a 300 kg robotic space probe launched by NASA in 1999, successfully flew past Comet Wild 2, collecting cosmic dust samples from the coma of the comet. Wild-2 is as old as the Earth and was discovered in 1978 by Swiss astronomer Paul Wild. For most of its time the comet orbited the Sun in the far reaches of the Solar System until 1974 when its orbit was changed by the gravitational pull of Jupiter bringing it just inside the orbit of Mars on its closest approach to the Sun. Its orbital period has thus gone from from 43 years to six years. Wild-2 has a 5 km diameter that wouldn’t do us much good if it came much closer to Earth’s celestial path. Stardust fulfilled its mission and returned to Earth in January 15, 2006 with its samples. Initial findings of the analysis were published in papers in Science in December, 2006. Analysis of the comet’s dust by a mass spectrometer on board revealed, among other things, glycine – an amino acid of great importance. Among the 23 proteinogenic amino acids, glycine is not only the smallest, but an organic chemist might consider that it is the smallest one structurally possible (it has a molecular weight of only 75 and its codons are GGT, GGC, GGA, and GGG). This is also the only non-chiral amino acid. Most proteins have only small amounts of glycine, although collagen consists of about 35% glycine.


A science fiction writer might conjecture that this was a watershed molecule between simple cosmic elemental combinations and the complex organic structures that comprise the building blocks of life. What glycine was doing in interstellar space boggles the imagination, but it fuels the belief of many that building blocks of life came to Earth. Water was also discovered among the comet’s bits of dust, although that was expected. To analyze the interstellar dust further, one million photographs will ultimately image the entirety of the sampled grains. The images will be distributed to home computer users so they can aid in the study of the data using a program titled, Stardust@home.

[Wikepedia: Top left – fuzzy blur of Wild-2 in space, top right – 

the comet close up , Bottom- Stardust] 

250px-Comet_81P_Wild_2010-01-17  120px-Wild2_3 




9.     What’s New – reprise. Early in Y2K when I was working in Allen Lichter’s Dean’s Office, we began a monthly email to all the medical school faculty that we called What’s New. The belief was that some occasional, constrained, predictable, and enumerated communication to the entire faculty might be useful, interesting to some, and preferable to a constant stream of regurgitated and often random messages of deemed importance. When I became chair of urology we produced a weekly What’s New for faculty and residents, with only very rare other communications. This went out every Friday. In time I began to distribute the first of these editions on the first Friday of each month to our entire staff, Nesbit alumni, and friends of the department. As the email chain got a little tricky to manage I learned to set the first Friday What’s New up as a blog that we call Matula Thoughts. It has been a learning process and it still is a work in process. John Wei, as Associate Chair for Communications, manages the 3-4 other What’s New columns every month and usually has someone or some unit within our department “guest edit” each of these. He has innovatively added a little query to each issue to test the waters of opinions within our department.  If you ever want to roll back the pages of time for Michigan Urology since 2007, you can find old editions kindly archived by Rick Saur.



10.    Screen shot 2014-12-28 at 10.10.09 AMMatula Thoughts – going forward. You may fairly view What’s New and Matula Thoughts as displays of vanity. On the other hand, don’t we all want to believe that our thoughts matter to others, and in setting them down and presenting them in the public marketplace of opinions we shape them, we refine them, and we test their value (and by their proxy, our own individual value). For me to some extent, these columns have become forums to comment on phenomena, questions, papers, books, or events that I think are worth your consideration. Equal rights to thought-sharing is a fundamental basis of any democratic society, or indeed the basis of any highly-performing team. We set up these little forums of What’s New and Matula Thoughts not just as our departmental soap-boxes, but as a venue for others such as you in which to participate. What’s New is sent out by email to around 550 people, whereas Matula Thoughts, the blog version that we have been struggling to master, is picked up by a much smaller but more diverse band of readers. Even though the blog version has only a small readership at this point in time, we can track it and have found a surprisingly wide international reach as the screen shot above shows. [I took this December 28 from the WordPress statistics page for Matula Thoughts] The Canadian readership may be huge in terms of geography, but I doubt we actually have many Inuit readers. We invite (indeed, we often cajole or nudge) others onto these electronic soap boxes each week.  It is has been said that some professions attract people with extreme forms of narcissism, politics and professional sports being notable examples. Surgeons probably belong closer to one end of the spectrum than the middle. Yet we humans are all necessarily narcissistic to some extent, and the need for the interest of others, if not their admiration, is perhaps a surrogate for our very basic desire for personal relevance and meaning. Of course extreme narcissism, in its sense as a personality disorder (an interesting term in itself, for what is it, after all, that constitutes an ordered personality?) is the overwhelming need for admiration paired with a severe lack of empathy toward others – the antithesis of a good clinician. As physicians and surgeons, as faculty and staff, as nurses or PAs or MAs, as colleagues and friends we all reverberate to the belief that our thoughts matter and therefore, of necessity, the thoughts of others must be heard and considered with the same relish that we offer our own. So with that last thought at this watershed moment, Happy New Year, and good luck to us all now that we are back to the future in 2015.



Best wishes, and thanks for spending time on Matula Thoughts.

David A. Bloom

Department of Urology

University of Michigan Medical School.


University of Michigan




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