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"‘Charisma’ Not Always a Good Thing" - 2-27-08
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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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First, a reminder:
Attractive, hardbound copies of “Life With Marian”—a book which a good many readers have said they would be interested in owning—are still available for purchase (for $22.50) at The Bookworm in Countryside Village. If more convenient, you can now also send a check payable to Harold W. Andersen for $26.66 (includes tax and postage) and mail to me at P.O. Box 27347, Omaha, NE, 68127. A copy will be sent by return mail.
October 15, 2009
As the old saying puts it, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
So today I start the column with the cartoon from my good friend and superb cartoonist Jeff Koterba of The Omaha World-Herald.
Jeff, in his typical perceptive and clever way, has reflected a major share of the reaction to the surprising announcement that a committee of five Norwegians has awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama—not only for what he has actually accomplished in the matter of promoting peace (very little, in my opinion) but also as a way of recognizing his good intentions, encouraging him to actually deliver on the apparent promise of good results.
Predictably, reaction to honoring Obama was mixed, more negative than positive as I read the comments. For example:
A New York Times story said: “Abroad, it provides Mr. Obama additional stature to be lumped with the likes of Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa.” But another New York Times story quoted Walesa, the former Polish Solidarity leader and 1983 Nobel Peace Prize winner, as saying: “Too fast. He hasn’t had the time to do anything yet. For the time being, Obama’s just making proposals.”
And while The New York Times editorial page predictably praised the Nobel committee’s choice, again predictably interpreting it as partly “condemnation of George W. Bush’s presidency,” The Times Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Tom Friedman wrote:
“The Nobel committee did President Obama no favors by prematurely awarding him its peace prize. As he himself acknowledged, he has not done anything yet on the scale that would normally merit such an award—and it dismays me that the most important prize in the world has been devalued in this way.”
The award is “basically seen as a liberal award,” said Larry Sabata, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
“Among Obama opponents, the prize will be seen as more evidence that Obama is simply a celebrity and judged more on image than actual achievements. Republicans will correctly see this award as yet one more kick to the ribs of George W. Bush. But does it make any long-term difference? I doubt it.”
More than a few political observers saw the award as a political liability. Some were quick to contend that the award was another example that Obama exhibits more “star power” than substance. And The New York Times reported that “even some Democrats privately questioned whether he deserved it.”
As I read the numerous reaction stories, my mind went back to a column which I had written during last year’s presidential campaign.
I commented then on Obama’s decision—to make up for the fact that he had absolutely no experience in foreign affairs—to take an eight-day media-oriented dash through the Middle East and Western Europe. Whether a few trips abroad as president have closed the gap in his experience in international relations remains to be seen.
None of the news commentary which I have seen touched on the matter of Obama’s race. Yet I think it is fair to say that the fact that America had elected its first president of African descent has helped focus favorable attention on him around the world, where people of color far outnumber whites—an understandable contribution to the “star power” which has been of benefit to him on the international stage.
I said earlier that New York Times columnist Tom Friedman had deplored awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama as being premature and thus devaluing the most important prize in the world. But Friedman also praised Obama for accepting the prize not for himself but “as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people of all nations.”
Friedman then offered a very unusual—and compelling—suggestion; i.e., that Obama accept the award on behalf of “the most important peacekeepers in the world for the last century—the men and women of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.”
Friedman suggested that in his acceptance speech, Obama cite a list of peacekeeping achievements of American servicemen, including, for example, rescuing Europe from Nazi tyranny, freeing much of Asia and the islands of the Pacific from Japanese domination and, now, striving to assure that Iraq and Afghanistan have an opportunity for democratic government. Friedman would have Obama declare further that he will “never hesitate to call on American soldiers to take the field against the enemies of peace, tolerance and liberty,” then end his acceptance speech like this:
“I accept this peace prize on behalf of the men and women of the U.S. military: the world’s most important peacekeepers.”
* * *
Here we go again. Encouraged by the election of a new board member who is Catholic and is presumed to be supportive of their cause, anti-abortion groups plan to increase pressure on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents to forbid researchers to expand embryonic stem cell research.
Nebraska Right to Life, in its October newsletter, announced an “action alert” asking abortion opponents to demonstrate outside Varner Hall while the Board of Regents are meeting there October 23.
The anti-abortion group is also urging members to testify during the meeting, urging a majority of the eight-member board to support a resolution banning the expansion of embryonic stem cell research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
(To his credit, the newest regent, Tim Clare of Lincoln, said the issue needs more study. He also told me that there is expanded-research pressure from the other side in the form of resolutions by faculty senates on the Lincoln and Omaha campuses.)
Currently, university policy is to use for research only an older line of cells, approved by President Bush for research with federal funding.
There are other, newer lines of research on embryonic stem cells harvested from embryos which sit in cold storage in fertility clinics around the country. President Obama has indicated he will approve federal funding for research on these new cell lines, which medical experts say are considerably more promising in terms of finding ways to prevent or cure medical ailments.
In the first place, research for these embryonic stem cells does not involve abortion of a viable fetus. In the second place, the embryos are simply sitting unused in fertility clinics. They are excess embryos produced in the process of making possible pregnancies for couples who cannot otherwise achieve a pregnancy.
Opponents of expanding the research have offered no viable option—none—for the use or disposal of these cold-storage embryos. (One Catholic activist suggested that they be used to produce babies for adoptions by childless couples. But Catholic doctrine does not recognize any birth as legitimate unless the child is conceived as the result of intercourse between a married man and woman.)
Isn’t it time that somebody challenged the anti-abortion activists to come up with something other than demonstrations and political pressure in a case where abortion of a viable fetus is simply not involved?
The opponents carry their religious-based arguments to the point of contending that each of those fetuses in cold storage in fertility clinics represents a person with a soul. I would suggest that a majority of Nebraskans would not buy this argument, especially when it is used to prevent valuable medical research.
The anti-abortionists should be challenged to provide a sensible answer as to what should be done with the thousands of fertility-clinic fetuses.
In any case, the regents would be well advised to avoid bowing to the anti-abortion forces when it comes to banning or restricting potentially valuable medical research. A university’s reputation as an important research institution can be seriously adversely affected if governing bodies yield to pressure which is based primarily on emotion rather than reason.
The University of Iowa learned this the hard way a few years ago when it lost a research team to another university as a result of pressure from those seeking to limit certain medical research at the University of Iowa.
* * *
Those three Florence kids who turned over $29.31 in profits from their lemonade stand to help pay for keeping the Florence Branch Library open actually raised a lot more money than they realized—something like $75,029.31, it could be said.
A former Florence resident, now living elsewhere in Omaha, saw The World-Herald story and accompanying picture telling of that $29.31 contribution. He recalled how important the Florence Branch Library had been to him as he grew up in Florence and decided that if the library meant that much to the three lemonade stand operators he ought to provide some financial help too.
The former Florence resident decided to contribute $25,000 to help keep the library open for at least another year and asked another Omahan who had been brought up in Florence for a contribution of $50,000. The result was, as I have indicated, that you might say that the lemonade stand contribution and the accompanying publicity resulted in total contributions of $75,029.31.
(Two larger contributions, $100,000 from each of two anonymous sources, were, of course, of even greater help in keeping Florence and all the other city libraries operating without any cutbacks in services and with assurance that they would be fully funded in the city budget for the next year.)
So a tip of my columnist’s cap to three fine young civic-minded citizens for their inspirational $29.31 gift from their lemonade stand profits to help keep the Florence Branch Library open. Their names are Paige and Blake Terry, children of Allison Terry, and Garrett Potts, son of Karen and Shane Potts.
They deserve a toast in their honor—in lemonade, of course.
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