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A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
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July 8, 2010
When a political figure is facing an image problem, as is certainly the case with President Obama as a result of a good many Americans feeling he has done too little and too late in reacting to the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, some diversionary tactics are to be expected, even if they stretch the truth.
So it was hardly surprising that Obama has called the oil pollution in the Gulf “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.” Some other top federal government officials have echoed that appraisal of the disaster.
The New York Times said that the motive seems clear: If this is indeed the worst environmental disaster in American history, “maybe people need to cut the government some slack for failing to get it under control right away.”
But then The Times asked: “But is that description accurate?”
The story went on to mention other disasters, including floods and “the near extermination of the American bison.” (But since the bison weren’t exterminated, you can buy buffalo burgers at some restaurants, courtesy of the eccentric billionaire Ted Turner, does “near extinction” qualify as a disaster?)
The Times story said that for sheer disruption of human life, several environmental experts “think of no environmental problem in American history quite equaling the calamity known as the Dust Bowl.”
That appraisal hits home with Nebraskans, because a part of our state was included in the area which in the 1930’s became known as the Dust Bowl. An historian at Case Western Reserve University described the Dust Bowl as “arguably one of the worst ecological blunders in world history.”
The Dust Bowl was described as a “blunder” because it resulted from poor farming practices in the early part of the 20th Century, practices which stripped away the native grass that held moisture and soil in place. “A drought that began in 1930 exposed the folly,” the university historian wrote.
The Times story continued: “Rolling clouds of dust whipped up by harsh winds buried homes and cars, destroyed crops, choked farm animals to death and sent children to the hospital with pneumonia…by the mid-30’s people started to give up on the region in droves.”
Cited also as a disaster arguably greater than the Gulf oil pollution was the Johnstown flood in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1889. A poorly maintained dam burst and about 2,200 people lost their lives.
Is the Gulf oil pollution an environmental disaster? Unquestionably. But the worst in American history? The experts and a great many Americans aren’t going to buy that description, Mr. President.
* * *
I applaud the Catholic Church’s custom of honoring Catholics who have given remarkable service to their church and to humanity in various noteworthy ways. The process is known as canonization, or conferring the status of “saint” on deceased Catholics who have done extraordinary good works.
I read recently of an effort to seek sainthood for a priest, the late Msgr. Bernard J. Quinn, who had served in the Brooklyn diocese as a courageous foe of bigotry in the 1920s and 1930s.
This thought came to mind: Why not end the requirement that the church must have evidence of two miracles attributed to the person proposed for sainthood? One of the miracles must have occurred before the person’s death, the other after his or her death.
This seems to a friendly observer as setting the bar incredibly high. How can you find conclusive evidence that a deceased person who did good work on this earth somehow intervened in earthly matters in a miraculous way after his or her death?
* * *
A tip of my columnist’s cap to the Douglas County officials who are proposing a property tax increase to help the county avoid a budget deficit projected for the next fiscal year.
It is encouraging to learn of public officials who are willing to face up to reality rather than figuratively run and hide when somebody suggests a tax increase to meet legitimate public needs.
The proposed increase is certainly modest—a 1-cent increase in the country property tax which would amount to an extra $10 a year for the owner of a home valued for tax purposes at $100,000.
A question for officials in Omaha city government as well as Governor Heineman and the legislators who will convene in Lincoln in January:
Are you favorably impressed by this example of public officials willing to face political reality when the issue is the necessity of a modest tax increase?
I’m afraid I know the answer.
* * *
It was a grand final act for the last College World Series game to be played in a grand old stadium—a 2-1 victory for a South Carolina team that went on to the championship after a first-round loss.
A heartwarming finale for Rosenblatt, but most heartwarming of all was the evidence that so many of the fans and coaches and players are looking forward with pleasant anticipation to the continuation of the CWS in Omaha at the new downtown TD Ameritrade Park Omaha—a ballpark whose construction persuaded the National Collegiate Athletic Association to pledge that the CWS will be played in Omaha for another 25 years.
There were proper expressions of appreciation and respect for the Rosenblatt site which had seen so many CWS games in the past 60 years. As one CNN commentator put it, there are lots of great memories of Rosenblatt but the College World Series “will continue to be about Omaha and Omahans.” The CNN commentator said also:
“I don’t think the College World Series would have survived, especially in one place, unless it had been here in Omaha.”
The new downtown stadium will surely include a prominently displayed tribute to Johnny Rosenblatt, The Omaha mayor for whom Rosenblatt Stadium was named. But as a CNN commentator observed as last year’s CWS was winding down: “No matter what location, it’s Omaha that makes the College World Series so special.”
Implying no disrespect to the grand old stadium which is to be demolished to make room to provide space needed for Omaha’s world-class Henry Doorly Zoo, the goal of every college baseball team is to travel “the road to Omaha,” and that road next year will lead to Omaha’s new downtown ballpark rather than to Rosenblatt.
* * *
Those who think the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will be welcomed into the Big 10 conference—and I think there will be a strong-majority welcome—should be prepared for some dissents. For example, the strong reaction of Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press. Marian ran across a reprinted version of Albom’s column carried on the front page of the sports section of the Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer.
The headline: “It’s all about money.” Some of the Detroit columnist’s views:
“Nebraska in the Big Ten? Nebraska playing Northwestern, Wisconsin or Purdue? It sounds about as right as ketchup on ice cream.
“Nebraska should be playing Okahoma, every season, as it used to do for 71 uninterrupted years, from Calvin Coolidge to Bill Clinton, until its conference, the Big Eight, got greedy and became the Big 12, and the storied Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry…was only scheduled twice every four years.
“Now it could go bye-bye, altogether. Instead, the Cornhuskers can meet the Golden Gophers. And tradition can go to you know where…We could call it what it is. Money, money, money, money. Instead, we get double-talk and blathering about opportunities, enhancements, advancement.”
* * *
Mayor Jim Suttle
City of Omaha
1819 Farnam Street, Suite 300
Omaha NE 68183
I’m writing to tell you the story of an aged pothole, pictured below. (I commissioned Pat Drickey, owner of Stonehouse Publishing Company of Omaha, a world-class photographer who is known for his striking photographs of golf holes, not potholes. Pat took this picture as a favor to a friend.)
For the first two months that the orange and white saw-horse stood in place on North Elmwood Road, I was more than a little irritated. But I realized that there were bigger potholes to be filled, so I didn’t call this to the attention of anyone at City Hall.
But for the past two months, I’ve become quite comfortable with the situation. It’s not that I’m so attracted to the pothole, but the saw-horse has become sort of an old friend. I actually think I’ll miss the colorful saw-horse if a city crew ever gets around to filling the pothole.
I know that with all the other business that’s on your agenda—building a multi-million-dollar streetcar system with federal funds, for example—an aging pothole isn’t a very high priority. So I’m not pushing for the pothole to be filled. So take your time—more time that is. But you probably ought to get it filled before winter, don’t you think?
With best wishes to you in your tough job.
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