Heroes of the Underground Railroad

April 26, 2008

How much do you really know about the Underground Railroad, how it worked, and what it meant to slaves in the Americas?

Do you know who Thornton and Ruthie Blackburn were?  Did you know Canada played a key role in the life of the Underground Railroad?

The book is a year old now, and well worth a look: I’VE GOT A HOME IN GLORY LAND, A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad; Karolyn Smardz Frost, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007).

Clear review from the New York Times, and the first chapter of the book so you can test drive it before you buy.

Two-fer:  The author is both an archaeologist (the one who did the dig at the Thorntons’ home in Toronto) and a historian.

This book would be a good one for an honors history course or AP history course for which students are required to read a book.


World malaria politics, every day

April 26, 2008

World Malaria Day passed yesterday (see immediately previous post).  News articles and blog articles educating people about malaria and how to fight it increased modestly.

Now it’s back to the grind.  Malaria is killing hundreds of thousands.  Some people are interested in using those deaths for political gain, to get economic gain, at the expense of the dead and others whose deaths could be prevented.

In order to fight malaria, the world has come around to the tactics of fighting the mosquitoes that transmit it from human to human that were advocated by naturalist and author Rachel Carson, in her book on pesticides and other hydrocarbon chemicals, Silent Spring.

Carson realized that poisoning the air, water and soil could not work to stop disease, ultimately.  She sounded the alarm with her book in 1962.   In the 1950s DDT became ineffective against bedbugs.  By the middle 1960s, resistance and immunity to DDT by malaria-carrying mosquitoes was almost world wide.  The attempt to “eradicate malaria” collapsed when mosquitoes became resistant, coupled with the failure of too many nations to get an anti-malaria program up and running — and the disease came roaring back when the malaria parasites themselves became resistant to the pharmaceuticals used to treat the disease in humans.

New strides against malaria have been made with the creation of new pharmaceutical regimens to kill the parasites in humans, and the adoption of the rigorous, Rachel Carson-advocated programs of integrated pest management to control insects that are a necessary part of the malaria parasites’ life cycle.

Unfortunately, about 6 out of every ten stories done on mosquitoes and malaria in the past year have scoriated Carson as wrong on the science (she was not), and as a “killer of children” despite the millions her work is saving.  There is a big business in spreading false tales about DDT, about malaria, and about Rachel Carson.

Who would do such a thing?  I call your attention to Uganda, where modest use of DDT in Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) was started earlier this month despite lots of loud protests — from businesses.  Tobacco and other big business agriculture interests opposed spraying DDT in homes.  Why?

It’s silly.  But tobacco interests are mad at the World Health Organization for campaigning against cigarette smoking.  To frustrate WHO’s pro-health, anti-tobacco campaign, tobacco companies started attacking WHO for being “soft on malaria” about a decade ago.  The idea was that, if the case could be made that WHO was lacking in credibility, no one would listen to WHO about tobacco.

Tim Lambert and Deltoid have the story summarized, “Taking Aim at Rachel Carson.” Go read it.

In the fight against malaria, the bad guy, the villain, is malaria; malaria’s unwitting henchmen are mosquitoes.  Good science and good information, coupled with consistent governmental action to improve health care, are the good guys.  Rachel Carson is one of the good guys.

When you see a piece that says Rachel Carson is part of the problem, you’ve found a piece written by a tempter, or a dupe, or maybe just someone who isn’t thinking about the issues.  Don’t give money to that person’s organization to promote junk science and political calumny.  Don’t waiver in your resolve against malaria — find another, good charity, to give your money, time and effort to.  The Global Fund is a good group for contributing.  Africa Fighting Malaria spends a lot of time asking bloggers and reporters to write dubious stories against Rachel Carson and environmentalists, and not enough time or effort against malaria.  I do not recommend Africa Fighting Malaria as a recipient of your money.

Information, science, action:  Fighting malaria requires we keep our wits and reason about us, and act.

A Few Resources:


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