Danny Thomas (born Amos Alphonsus Muzyad Yaqoob), Jan. 6, 1912-Feb. 6, 1991.

Success has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It’s what you do for others.

—Danny Thomas

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Many Americans today have probably never heard of Danny Thomas, as he belonged definitively to the twilight of the Golden Age of Cinema (starring in the 1952 remake of The Jazz Singer) and the dawn of the Golden Era of Television (starring in, what else, The Danny Thomas Show and producing such shows as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Mod Squad). And before all that, he was a stand-up comic touring the Midwest nightclub circuit under an anglicized form of his given name, Amos Jacobs.

In any event, it is not for Danny’s entertainment talent that we honor him today. Of all his long work in the studios, only a couple of his many shows are still shown frequently. But though most do not know him by name, nearly everyone knows him through his greatest legacy: The St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

At an early moment in his career, when the nightclub circuit was looking particularly grim (he was languishing in Detroit, no less), Danny knelt down in prayer and asked St. Jude Thaddeus (patron of hopless causes) to “show me my way in life.” Soon Danny found himself in Chicago and his career finally moving. When he next went to St. Jude in prayer at another turning point, he pledged to build a shrine if he ever had the means to do so.

His career took off, and Danny found himself wondering just how to fulfill his vow. Working with a group of businessmen in Memphis, he hit upon the idea to build a research hospital dedicated to curing the most catastrophic diseases afflicting children. A key point here: Danny Thomas didn’t just found a hospital—which after all can only treat the children that come through its doors—he founded a research institute dedicated to researching, applying, and publicizing cures for free.

And Danny did more than just found the place, he returned to the community of his birth, Lebanese Americans, to secure ongoing funding. From his efforts, the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC) was founded—with the sole purpose of supporting St. Jude. Today, ALSAC—still exclusively dedicated to St. Jude—is America’s third-largest health-care charity. Thus, the efforts of Danny Thomas and the Arab-American community produced a fundraising powerhouse that today transcends ethnicity, geography, and ideology to reach across America.

With an initial focus on pediatric cancer, St. Jude has helped increase the cure rate of acute lymphocytic leukemia from 4% to 80%, seen its budget grow from $1 million per year to $235 million, and branched out to study HIV-AIDS (devastating the children of Africa) and numerous cancers. Today it engages in cutting edge gene and stem cell therapies and is a highly rated scientific institution.

Leaving aside the 4900 patients seen each year, St. Jude has saved the lives of thousands upon thousands of children around the world through its contributions to basic and clinical research. Protocols developed at St. Jude have helped raise the survival rates for childhood cancers from under 20% to around 70%, with several key cancers having survival rates 90% or higher. And now it sets its sights on the diseases and therapies of the 21st Century. In the best American fashion it does not simply treat the symptoms of the ills it fights, it seeks to eliminate the root causes.

All from the vow of a stand-up comic, with help from a few Memphis businessmen and the unstinting assistance of the Arab-American community. Danny Thomas represents precisely what is right about America: he had opportunity, seized it, succeeded, and then stopped to consider how he could use his success to improve the world.

Of course, as with our other Great Americans Walt Disney and George Marshall, there are detractors. Some point to the sheer impossibility of curing childhood diseases and the tendency of charities to metastasize over time. To these folks the size and scope of St. Jude aren’t strengths but weaknesses—weaknesses that a group of smaller more focused institutions wouldn’t have. Others point out that as nasty as the diseases St. Jude fights are, they’re nothing compared to the childhood deaths from starvation, war, and exploitation. Wouldn’t all those millions be better spent fighting these more lethal, but far less scientifically “sexy” killers? Doesn’t St. Jude commit the classic American blunder of the Big Plan when less ambitious, more targeted efforts would work better?

There’s a point to all the carping, to be sure, but it still misses the point. Here, as always, the perfect is the greatest enemy of the good. Trying too hard to get the perfect solution is a great recipe for doing nothing. While others carp, hopeless cases still find hope at the place Danny built.

Still, I don’t think Danny would mind if those critics of his got busy building their competing visions. They might give ALSAC a run for the money, but I can’t help but think that Danny would just look down and urge them on.

After all, there’s still more than enough childhood misery to go around, sadly.

Regular readers will be familiar with our “Troll of the Week” category which we often award to worthy individuals. This week, its time for something completely different. We’ve found an individual which we wish to name Hero of the Week. This is not a title we will give out often, and will only be awarded to truly worthy individuals, who had the courage to stand up and fight one form of injustice or another, and who have championed the greater good.


Our current Hero of the Week is a would be Jedi Knight from North Carolina named Christopher Knight. The young Jedi made an ad for his campaign for the Rockingham County, North Carolina board of education. In his entertaining campaign video, which aired on local television stations, Christopher unveils his secondary career as a Jedi, and his commitment to protecting the local youth from evil while he quests for elected office. The ad is quite well done, creative, and an excellent bit of amateur movie making. His video was so popular, that Knight decided to post his video on YouTube to share with the internet community as a whole.

Viacom owned TV channel VH1 grabbed Knight’s video without permission and aired it during their series “Web Junk 2.0”, technically violating copyright law as they did not even ask for Knight’s permission to air his copyright work. Knight however, as a true student of the Light Side of the Force, didn’t mind. He accepted their action with good humor and enthusiasm saying:

I’m delighted that as a proud son of Rockingham County, I got worldwide exposure for this… How often does a local school board ad wind up on VH1?”

His response showed wisdom, patience, mercy, and benevolence, all traits true Jedi should possess. In fact, he so enjoyed their review of his video that he placed a copy of it with their commentary on YouTube so others could enjoy his work in this fashion. Viacom responded quickly by sending Imperial Stormtroopers with cease and desist letters to YouTube and our Jedi Hero, telling them that they were in violation of copyright law and if they did not comply immediately, they would “face the full firepower of this fully operational company”. Chris replied:

Viacom says that I can’t use their clip showing my commercial, claiming copy infringement? As we say in the South, that’s ass-backwards.”

Ever the brave hero, Christopher Knight risked life and lawsuit by filing a counter complaint against Viacom, noting that they had violated his copyright first. In an amazing win for the forces of good, Viacom surrendered to the Jedi Rebellion and YouTube restored his clip. His actions have not only saved his video, but all of the galaxy… I mean internet. Thanks to his bravery users everywhere know that they too can file counter DMCA claims should their rights be threatened.

For his heroism, valor, and courage, Christopher Knight is awarded Hero of the Week and will receive an honorary beer at the Man Lunch. Even though we know a Jedi craves not these things, we hope the Jedi Knight will accept our praise and know that today he is a hero to all of the Rebel Alliance. Mr. Knight, may the force be you, always.

Edit: Our Hero’s blog. Also, welcome to Fark.com, feel free to look around.

The shooting deaths of 32 faculty and students at Virginia Tech is an [insert your adjective here] case of societal chickens coming home to roost. This week, it is imposible to view any news not related to his incident. Poor Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson — their luscious feeding trough of a la Imus does in fact have a bottom. Al Qaeda and Hamas are grinding their teeth in impotency that their viewer share (or more importantly media share) is gone. (I’m sorry — what was the Iraq body count Monday?)

I am angry. I watched Fox News (and CNN for that matter) and hear about the 2 1/2 hour gap. This is as infuriating as the question proposed in Fahrenheit 911 by Michael Moore as to why Bush did nothing for 12 WHOLE MINUTES after hearing about the first plane into the trade towers. Why oh why (excessive handwringing) did the administration wait 2 1/2 hours and not shut down the campus?

Each network lines up its chartered experts: psychological profilers, ex-FBI experts, presidents of security consulting firms, a student from Columbine (actually he was pretty cool with his comment about inane media drivel and shallow continuing analysis, quickly cut to commercial). The ex-FBI agent commented on the statistical probability of the event and the difficulty in securing an open campus — not to the liking of the anchor who was flogging his agenda of the 2 1/2 hour gap and how or why could and did this happen (more verbal excessive handwringing).

So…

At the University of Illinois, in a similar situation, the only thing limiting the body count would be the amount of ammunition the gunman could carry. It wouldn’t be lack of targets. With a little machining, a silencer on any weapon would quadruple the body count. The university has multiple emergency response plans — this isn’t in any of them. Each of the plans has a line of comunication established which includes various police and emergency response agencies, but they have to be activated. That takes a decision. Decisions at the University of Illinois tend to be consensus affairs, and I doubt that Virginia Tech is any different. But let’s be generous and assume that some authoritative hierachical type calls down the troops. CNN anchors suggested that it was criminal not to inform all the students. Further, let’s overlook the difficulty of contacting all these thousands of students and suppose that the University has a magical means of doing so instantly and flawlessly. Virginia Tech has 26,000 students. The University of Illinois has about 10,000 more.

Now that we have a magical means of communications, tell them what? — to go back to their dorms? Where the original two were shot? How about a collection point — like the Assembly Hall. Hmmm more targets in a restricted space. Tell them to stay in the classroom — Hmm that didn’t work out too well. And assuming that you got them all together what about toilet facilities, congested cellular channels (yes parents would be calling), food. It would make the SuperDome in New Orleans after Katerina look positively inviting. So you can’t “shut down the college” because there is no place for the students to go. And lockdown to classrooms isn’t much better. The reasonable action, which Virginia Tech took, was to try and ascertain the facts of the first shooting and locate and detain the perp. Investigations don’t resolve themselves in 50 minutes as in CSI (even with commercials). So the bottom line is “we’re screwed”; much the same as when the tornado tears the house apart around you. There is nothing to do to get unscrewed — no quick little Planned Parenthood abortions, no mulligans, no do-overs, no ‘saved by the bell’ last minute reprieves. No dodges around real pain and problems that the Hollywood types love to write into scripts.

How about preventative measures – courtesy Fox News. Prevent this from happening. Metal detectors probably won’t work. They don’t work at airports (except for assuring Granny that “no – guns can’t pass through”) where you have an hour before (two for international) instead of 10 minutes between classes, and there aren’t 5,000 students entering one building carrying laptops and iPods and cameras. (Those that don’t have enough piercings to set off a magnetometer in the next state). Gun control — oh wait, Virginia Tech was a “Gun-Free Zone”. And racial profiling is out (what race is goth wearing ankle length dusters with an affility for guns and the on-line Columbine role playing game (RPG) where you get to shoot your friends?) Anyway racial profiling would affect about half the campus.

No, to keep this from happening you have to address the root causes:

1. The media rehashing what little fact there is with sensationalism, attributing superlatives to the event: “the worst shooting EVER; the largest body count”. Basicially inviting any disturbed person to try and top this to get his 15 minutes of glory (infamy);

2. The treatment of students as non-persons not worthy of respect, to be recognized only for their tuition contributions to the welfare of the ruling faculty. The view of the person as consumer and of no intrinsic value save as an instrument of purchase of goods and services. The belief that everyone should be manipulated by advertising and media in such as way as to make them susceptible to all manipulation.

3. The fact that most students don’t really belong in or are cut out to be in an academic environment. Let’s face it — you can’t get a decent job without a sheepskin. It’s a checkbox on an employment application. There is no love of learning, no questioning of how or why things work, no wonder of the mechanism, except in a few students — those who belong in the system. To the others, the system is a provider of stress, and the more the mismatch, the higher the levels of stress.

4. The loss of civility in discourse. Look to our leaders as shining examples of this. A political discussion of divergent philosophies is impossible without character assassination, inuendos and rabid attacks on the person, not the ideals. Why argue logically and resolve a conflict when you can assassinate?

5. Lack of respect for the person. The same phenomemon which led Imus to make his comment about the Rutgers team. The constant barrage of Rap music and Gangsta reducing all women to “nappy headed hos”. If it’s in the national lexicon, its usage is pre-ordained.

To fix this requires all of us to step back from the abyss of our society and ask what are our essential values? What is the foundation of this society and what must we do to preserve it? Ethical relativism is the rooster, and a mean-spirited, narcissistic, alienating member of a consumer henhouse it is; and it’s laying some nasty nappy headed little eggs.