January 2010

So I’m now working for MKI as an idea bouncer on their Health Passport program. Also, I’m back doing literacy tutoring and so have four new best buddies on Fridays. It feels good to be doing something useful again, but whenever I meet a middleschooler who has difficulty reading three and four-letter words, I’m overcome with the desire to be more fundamentally helpful by having it out with the with the nuts running our schools. Of course, there are intervention points even further upstream of those suckers, but the citizens of this fine country would rather vote against those and wall their neighborhoods instead. It brings to mind a Paul O’Neill quote I ran across when reading the script to TSO’s new rock opera, of all places:

“…In truth there are only two types of humans: those of good will, who care about others and those who care only about themselves. The latter like to divide the world into us and them. But in the truly great battles of humanity, you fight for everyone or you fight for no-one.

…And most importantly, like Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie or George Orwell, if you do make a mistake in your life, announce it as loudly as your triumphs, so that others do not have to make the same errors.”

After three weeks of technology-free bliss (initially mandatory, but ultimately voluntary), I broke the mold today with, of all things, doing a bit of light thinking and googling for the Medical Knowledge Institute, which has know been added to my list of fundamentally excellent institutions. Founded on the “reverence for life” philosophy of Dr. Albert Schweitzer (who was unforgivably omitted from my education), MKI is one of the few institutions out there that seeks to create enduring change throughout the third world. Unlike for so many (Merck, Pfizer, GSK, missions, etc.), there is no ulterior motive for MKI’s work. They simply believe that a basic medical education is a fundamental human right, and so they seek to provide that through self-perpetuating clinics. It does what we have spent the better part of the century saying that we need to do.

Though wet research owns my heart and soul, dry work hasn’t been this cathartic since those first tentative calculations that led to that paper on classic Mayan agriculture for Dr. Freidel (despite what you may be thinking, crop rotation in the Yucatan was badass. Before the Spanish mucked it up, at least). Of all things, this was prompted by my unerringly lemming-ish inclination to ask questions at conferences. After Japan, you may recall, I held an unhealthy approach towards attempting to speak with older researchers. However, both today’s speaker, Dr. Harold Robles, and the Virginia Tech faculty I encountered at his presentation have provided a powerful antidote to that view. What is more inspiring to a student than to have someone of great skill and passion and experience not only take the time to explain their work, but ask the student their opinion and listen as an equal?

Forgive me for waiting to post about what the exchange was all about, but I do want to see what comes of it first. Come what may, tonight entirely made up for committing the next six months of my life to the MCAT.