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Social Security wasn't always popular

Do you have a question about the news? Then send a letter to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Q&A on the News, Box 4689, Atlanta, GA 30302. It will try to find the answer for publication in this weekly column.

Q: Did President Franklin D. Roosevelt have to storm the country trying to sell the idea of Social Security, or were his ideas pretty well accepted?

A: Social Security _ or "old-age insurance," as it was called during the legislative process _ was far from an easy sell. Were it not for FDR's persistence, it would have died in committee, according to a historical report put out by the Social Security Administration.

Before the Depression, FDR and the New Deal, the federal government's role in the country's economic affairs was minimal, with the prevailing consensus being that a powerful central government should be avoided. Except in times of war, federal spending essentially matched income. That changed when Roosevelt launched massive federal programs to pull the U.S. economy out of its worst slump ever. The constitutionality of this fundamental shift away from government's theretofore limited role was gravely questioned, and it had little support in Congress _ or with labor, private business or private insurers.

Q: What is meant by the phrase "knee-jerk reaction," and why is it generally applied to liberals?

A: According to the book Plain Words, it's one of the least pedantic medical terms. It was coined by the neurologist who discovered that, if you tap a person's knee in a certain spot, it will jerk reflexively. The technical term is "patellar reflex." Journalist William Safire defines a knee-jerk liberal as one who automatically, without thinking it through, supports causes favored by the political left. There also is the "flaming" liberal, who is the most militant, and the "professional" liberal, who is the least committed of the breed. Similar terms applied to conservatives include "hidebound," "rock-ribbed" and "mossback."

Q: Can you explain how the trend of having professional athletes in the Olympics got started, when it was strictly for amateurs for so many years?

A: The Olympics have been moving toward including professional athletes ever since former International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage, a staunch believer in allowing only amateurs, died in 1975. In 1990, it was made official: The word "amateur" was deleted from the Olympic Charter. IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch explains that Olympic athletes from many countries were really professionals anyway, and that the goal of the Olympics is to have the world's best athletes, professional or not. The IOC permits each of the international federations to determine whether professionals compete.

Q: When President Clinton appointed Gen. John Shalikashvili to replace Gen. Colin Powell, it was revealed that Shalikashvili's father fought with the Waffen SS. How was his father admitted into this country, since former Nazis were not routinely admitted?

A: Family papers, researched by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, reveal that when Dimitri Shalikashvili entered the United States with his wife and three children in 1952, his Nazi ties were disguised with the help of American relatives. It was an emotional shock to Gen. Shalikashvili, who learned only after his nomination to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that his father was in the Waffen SS. He was one of a few ethnic Georgians who served in the German ranks as part of a Georgian Legion, composed of fervent anti-Communists who hoped the Germans would defeat the Soviets and thus free Georgia.

Q: How many nuclear reactors are there in Southern California, and what happened to them during the earthquake?

A: There are five in Southern California, all built to withstand umpteen zillions on the Richter scale. A spokesman at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said none of the California reactors filed an incident report of anything unusual occurring after the quake.

Q: I've heard that, years ago, a black doctor named Charles Drew, who invented the way blood plasma is collected, was in a car wreck in the South and died because the hospital wouldn't give blood to a black man. Is this true?

A: No. But it's not surprising that you heard that story, which has been published as fact numerous times over the past 40 years. In fact, in an episode of MASH, Hawkeye admonishes a patient to behave or the same thing that happened to Charles Drew would happen to him. The accident that killed Drew took place in 1950 in North Carolina, while he was on his way to a medical seminar with two colleagues.

Recently in the Washington Post, Drew's daughter, Charlene Drew Jarvis, who has been working with the National Marrow Donor Program, addressed the myth: "On that fateful day in North Carolina, my father was treated promptly by a compassionate team of physician brothers, and he received at least one blood transfusion," she wrote. "Sadly, his injuries were of such severity he died." Of the myth of Drew's death, she wrote, "Despite 40 years of efforts to dispel this myth . . . it remains pervasive," even with witness accounts to the contrary. "The tragic result is the reluctance of many African-Americans to participate in donor programs because they believe their donation would be used to help others at the expense of black patients."

Q: Was David Koresh buried?

A: Yes, on May 27 last year in an unmarked grave in Tyler, Texas. Only four relatives were present.

_ Cox News Service