Sunday, December 26, 2010

Charity: Lots of Poor White Folks. What are We Doing for Them? Those who live near heavily forested towns or vacation homes should read Tim Egan's Bi

Tags: Poor White Folks Big Burn Something the Lord Made Charities Cardiac Surgery Pioneers Alfred Blalock Vivian

Charity: Lots of Poor White Folks. What are We Doing for Them?

Those who live near heavily forested towns or vacation homes should read Tim Egan's Big Burn. He got the National Book Award for a previous book and is a superb reviewer of books. He writes mostly about public policies.

The Opinionator Blogs in the NY Times does have some interesting blogs by good thinkers which unfortunately is normally missing from the National Media.

When I read this blog, what came to mind is how misplaced our charitable goals can sometimes be when we really do not know whether our giving has the intended effect. The variety of charities all aggressively looked for donations in times of disasters such as in the Haiti earthquake and Cholera epidemic. In Haiti I looked for charitable medical work already organized and established so they can put the money to work immediately. Partners in Health is the one I chose among many. Physicians are already in place to treat Haitians and they are very cost efficient.

Sometimes a change in leadership can have a very bad effect such as putting politically connected people in charge such was done in the Red Cross run by former Senator Elizabeth Dole.

Last night I saw a movie called Something the Lord Made starring Alan Rickman, a superb actor, who was the first cardiac surgeon, Alfred Blalock, who operated on Blue Babies to save their lives by doing a bypass heart surgery to bypass a blocked artery. During the Great Depression, the cardiac surgeon did research on animals to learn how to treat humans. His progress was very slow and uneventful until Mos Def who played an intelligent Negro high school graduate, Vivian Thomas, and by reading the medical books on the shelf, he was able to quickly help the doctor become famous and accepted by John Hopkins Medical School to continue his work.

One thing often done in ground breaking research by an underling at an institution is that the director gets the credit and even the Nobel Prize. The credit for multiple drug use to combat AIDS came from a Korean post doctorate at Harvard who was soundly criticized by the establishment. Nuclear transplant of cells work also came from a Korean researcher who was also roundly criticized for unrelated stuff. Now both these techniques are used widely in the world, but we never hear who really developed these procedures.

One unfair result of our heavily hierarchical society. The boss almost always gets the credit whether at corporations or in academics or research labs. The good news is that this is gradually changing as the inventors are complaining more often.

In the first baby operation after Mos Def developed a viable operation on the dogs by suggesting ideas that the great doctor agreed with, the great White surgeon decided try it on a live baby. Everyone was against it, but he went ahead anyway. Of course the Mos Def could not operate, but at the last moment Blalock knew that he could not operate without the help of Vivian Thomas, so had to use the PA system for physicians only to call him back. He scrubbed and stood on a block so he could see the operation and whispered into the doctor's ear about what to do next. Once the doctor rejected his instruction, but decided to follow Thomas anyway and they succeeded in the first operation. If he failed and the baby died, it may have held back cardiac surgery for another generation.

A note in passing. Dr. Blalock had a very hard time finding physicians to assist him in the operation. Finally he got three young physicians. One was the famous Denton Cooley from Texas who became a superb cardiac surgeon. After the operation the doctors at Hopkins were whispering in their office that the Nigger did the operation, not Blalock!

After Martin Luther King's Civil Rights revolution and Lyndon Johnson's Civil Rights Act, the climate gradually changed to allow John Hopkins to give an honorary doctorate to Vivian Thomas, and place his photo in the Hall of Fame at John Hopkins adjacent to Dr Blalock.

Senator Jim Web in Newsweek about a month ago said that we are ignoring the poor Whites of this country especially in Appalachian states such as Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the South where Americans have been poor for many generations, if not centuries. He said this is where affirmative action is needed. I agree.

Jim Kawakami, Dec 26, 2010,

December 22, 2010, 8:30 PM

Christmas in the West

Timothy Egan on American politics and life, as seen from the West. When I was old enough to drive I loaded up the little car that my dad got for the price of a lawn mower with some of the most durable of food staples and took them to my high school so I could feel good about the holidays. This was the annual Christmas Food Drive, our chance to give something back to the community, or as the more liberal Jesuits put it, “to commit an act of social justice.”

Most everything about the food drive was a mystery. Where was the food going? Indians, we were told. What kind of Indians? Poor Indians, who lived along the Columbia River, north near the Canadian border. How does the food get to them? Never mind. Will they really eat this stuff? Sure. Should we gift-wrap the Twinkies and Ho-Hos, dessert with a shelf life of John McCain? Maybe a Christmas bow, nothing more.

It wasn’t until years later that I found out something magical, even miraculous, in the unintended charitable symmetry of the food drive.

The rule was: no fresh food was accepted, with the exception of potatoes, because spuds could last through the long winter in the interior Pacific Northwest. Other than that, nothing that looked like it came from a farm, or a cow, or the sea. The more unrecognizable as an actual product of nature, the better.

From our part of town, this meant a surfeit of a certain kind. Powdered split-pea soup. Powdered mac ‘n’ cheese. Powdered white cheese. Powdered milk. Sloppy Joe mix. Hamburger Helper. Refried beans. Dinty Moore beef stew. Spam, of course, which Dwight Eisenhower said helped the Allies win the war. AndSpaghettiOs — “the round spaghetti you can eat with a spoon!” Indeed, we were heavy on the Franco-American product line, which even then raised a question about why something of nominally French origin was selling a nominally Italian standby.

I’ve since learned that the inventor of SpaghettiOs, after a year-long study of the appropriate shape for a kid-friendly pasta, considered producing noodles that looked like cowboys and Indians. That would have complicated one of our major contributions.

Heavy on sodium and nitrates they may have been, but these foods filled many a winter pantry, and left us with a warm feeling, for multiple reasons, as they left the house. I loaded up my dad’s SIMCA, a Flintstones-era foreign car with less power than it takes to run a toaster, and headed off through deep snow drifts to school.

I parked on a residential side street, in a neighborhood where rusted appliances would often appear on front lawns when the snow melted in the spring. My plan had been to unload the food at the end of the school day, when I had more time. But a teacher told me I could be excused to bring everything in now. Why the hurry?

“Your food might get stolen, Tim.” Stolen? The problem was the neighborhood, I was told, in a hushed voice. Our school was in a poor part of town — called Hillyard, named for the railroad baron. Truth be told, we feared the kids of Hillyard, and made it a point to avoid them except when we had to crush them in sports.

With help, I dutifully carried my donation into the school, where it was stored in the football team’s weight room. From there, it would be delivered to poor Indians on Christmas Eve. Mystery intact, and a better Christmas for some people up north.

About 20 years later, I ran into a man who was raised on the Colville Indian Reservation, home to 12 bands of native people who have lived for centuries along the Columbia River. Growing up, it was rare to spend time with an Indian. Our minor league baseball team was called the Indians, and I raced against a kid from another school who was a full-blood Flathead, but Indians were abstractions for the most part, summoned into rosy view during the food drive.

It was Christmas time, in a social setting, and the man from Indian country started talking about the donated food that would arrive on the rez every year in late December. He said they welcomed the Dinty Moore beef stew and the Spam, but couldn’t stomach some of the other donations. I was amazed — that was our food drive!

“That powdered cheese — it’ll make your guts blow up if you take it with milk,” he said. “Man, that stuff was nasty.”

Well then, I asked, what did you do with it?

“We had our own food drive,” he said. “We took all the things we didn’t like and gave it to the poor white kids. In Hillyard. Made us all feel better.”

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