Showing posts with label Nobel prize. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nobel prize. Show all posts

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Fete for Fulbrights and Friends


 My Turkish Breakfast
If someone were to ask me what I did this last weekend, I could only reply "have breakfast." Besides the uplifting breakfast I had at Olga's on Sunday, I also held a small 'Fete for Fulbright Scholars and Friends' on Saturday.
Three incredibly dynamic young women
who inspire me:
Dr. Öykü Üluçay (she is Turkish),
Caitlin Nettleson, an American
about to finish her Fulbright year,
and Cassandra Puhls,
a Fulbrighter interested in
international education policy.
When I was young, it was always older people who inspired me. Lately, I've been finding it's the twenty-somethings (including my own children) who are touching my heart and filling me with hope for the future.

In Istanbul, I realized I knew several young Fulbright Scholars. I wanted to celebrate their excellence and give them an opportunity to meet or see those who are from a different year than theirs, plus introduce them to a few other dynamic young people who also inspire me. Not all of them could come. For example, one of them was getting married that day. 
"The Fulbright Program, including the Fulbright-Hays Program, is a program of highly competitive, merit-based grants for international educational exchange for students, scholars, teachers, professionals, scientists and artists, founded by United States Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946. Under the Fulbright program, competitively selected U.S. citizens may become eligible for scholarships to study, conduct research, or exercise their talents abroad; and citizens of other countries may qualify to do the same in the United States. 
The Fulbright Program is one of the most prestigious awards programs worldwide, operating in over 155 countries. Fifty-three Fulbright alumni have won Nobel Prizes; seventy-eight have won Pulitzer Prizes. More Nobel laureates are former Fulbright recipients than any other award program. 
The program was established to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries through the exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills." ~ from Wikipedia, May 21, 2014 
I was grateful for a spectacular Spring Day
so we could enjoy the garden.
American Fulbrighter
Abigail Bowman,
and her Turkish friend
Mert Tuncer.
Fellow Iowan Abigail Bowman graduates this June with her M.A. in Ottoman History from Sabancı University here in Istanbul.

When Abby was in 7th grade, she had to write a paper on a revolutionary or a reformer. Her uncle suggested the founder of the Turkish Republic, Atatürk.

Abby's paper and presentation made it all the way to 8th place nationally in America's National History Day competition. The Atatürk Society of America was so thrilled that this young student honored their leader, they sent her to Turkey to experience the country when she was a 9th grader. A lifelong interest in Turkey began to grow.

Anybody who knows Turkey can imagine how Turkish people respond to Abby when she says she wrote a paper on Atatürk in 7th grade.
I was so happy Fulbrighter
Elizabeth Rocas could come.
She brought her visiting American
friend from the States, Jacqueline.
Fulbrighter Niko Dimitrioğlu
 and Elizabeth Rocas
discovering they both speak Greek.
What else does Niko speak?
English, French, Uyghur,
Afghan Persian (Dari),
and Manderin Chinese.
Visiting Texan Shane Largo
represented another
inspiring young American
living here in Istanbul
but unable to make it to breakfast:
her daughter
Katy Herrera.


These young Fulbrighters who are sent out into the world to contribute to, explore, research and develop expertise in different countries are such a wonderful investment in America's future. Frankly, it is such a strategic investment. What could save America more money on wrong moves internationally than subject experts who can advise policy makers on given countries and cultures?

You'd think that would be an easy sell in Washington D.C. You'd be wrong. America simply does not invest as much as other countries in its international experts, even much smaller countries like Russia! For example, the Russians have over 16 ambassadors with more than five years of experience, the Americans have none! (Political scientist Ian Bremmer, Twitter, May 2014).

Salon puts current funding for the Fulbright program at around $234.5 million a year. Next year, a $30 million cut is proposed.

There is no constituency to argue for increasing the funding, save the alumni. The Fulbright Program doesn't create any jobs at home. It doesn't result in hefty contracts for American corporations. 

So this blog post is a message in a bottle to my fellow Americans. When I read about how the Fulbright program funding is in trouble, and I know the quality of the people who go through the program, I want to share with my fellow Americans a wish to keep this program not just alive, but growing.

It seems like common sense to invest in folks who understand other countries and cultures deeply via a non-militarized way. Intercultural exchange is a way to promote a more peaceful and prosperous world. I ask Americans to support continued, and even increasing, funding of the Fulbright program from now until the future.


I invite you to follow the Empty Nest Expat blog on Facebook!

You might also be interested in reading:

Talking about "My People, Iowans," to the Travel Junkies

Why the Obama Presidential Library Should be Built in Springfield, Illinois

President Obama in Prague!

"We are here because enough people ignored the voices who told them the world could not change" 




Saturday, November 10, 2012

Talking About "My People," Iowans, to the Travel Junkies

"American Gothic"
by Iowa artist Grant Wood 
If you live away from where you grew up, have you ever received an invitation to talk about "your people," those that raised you and the culture you grew up in? I can't say I had before. But one of the pleasures of living in Istanbul and having so many expat friends is that I interact with a variety of international people everyday.
My Internations travel group, the Travel Junkies (who I will write more about in future posts), began hosting evenings where individual members shared about the place they came from. The woman who spoke immediately before me spoke about her homeland of Iran. I joked it was just a little intimidating to follow an 8,000-year-old culture to tell about my home state of Iowa, which became a state a mere 166 years ago! 
 
 Repeat three times please: Iowa = corn!
The first things I wanted to teach my friends was to never mix up Iowa, Idaho, and Ohio ever again. Americans always confuse the three and ask Iowans about potatoes and Idahoans about corn.
The President of Iowa State University
at the National Archives in Washington D.C.
celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act.

The Morrill Act gave every state in America
that wanted to participate
30,000 acres of federal land to use for a university to
uplift the population.

My hometown of Ames, Iowa, was the first
place in the nation to accept this land grant.
The result today: Iowa State University,
one of the world's most successful
agriculture and technical research universities
in the world supported by a mere 3,000,000 Iowans!
I then was deeply proud to share about Iowa's educational legacy. One of the best things I've ever read on just how good Iowa public education was in Tom Wolfe's book "Hooking Up," a series of essays about American culture. In it he wrote an inspiring essay detailing the impact Iowa public education had on Robert Noyce, a founding chairman of Intel, and a man frequently described as "the father of Silicon Valley."
 Besides describing Noyce's educational experiences growing up in Iowa and at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa specifically, Tom Wolfe made the case that the business casual dress popularized the IT industry was just Noyce's Midwestern lack of fashion pretense institutionalized into Silicon Valley culture.
I love that story, as one would never imagine Iowans having an impact on fashion. We are not a fashion forward people. But we are a deeply democratic people. There is no "us and them" in Iowa, when I grew up there, we viewed ourselves as "us."
Iowa has the highest per capita number of high school graduates of any state in the nation (as well it should since it was the first state in the nation to insitutionalize high school), the highest literacy rate of any state in the nation, we have two cities out of the top three with the most number of PhDs per capita (Ames, Iowa and Iowa City, Iowa share that distinction with Boulder, Colorado).
The beautiful law library
at the Iowa State Capitol building -
frequently used as a television backdrop
for Iowa caucus reporting by national news organizations
Indeed, literacy is so darn important in Iowa, that our recent first lady, Christie Vilsack, visited every single public library in the State because she considered public libraries the most important provider of culture in each town. Some of those libraries were probably one room! She still visited them because those libraries brought their citizens the greater outside world.

Iowa's appreciation of reading and literature is so profound it's even been recognized by UNESCO. Iowa City, Iowa was named a "City of Literature" by UNESCO along with Dublin, Reykjavik, Melbourne, and Edinburgh.
After all, the University of Iowa (where I received my M.A. in Library and Information Science) is home to the Iowa Writer's Workshop, the very first creative writing program in the nation. It draws not only nationally-famous writers, but internationally-known writers. For example, Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's Nobel laureate for literature, has spent time at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. UNESCO speculated Iowa City may be the most literary spot in the world for its size.  It has a mere 67,000 people and was recognized with those large world-famous cities!
"Spring in Town"
painted by Iowa artist
Grant Wood, 1941
In addition to our educational values, I thought our next most important deeply-held value was in feeding the world. Iowa is first in the nation in corn production, first in the nation in soybean production, 1st in the nation in hog production (the most searched for recipe on the Internet in America is for pork chops) 1st in the nation in egg production, and 2nd in the nation in beef production. Indeed, 90% of all Iowa's land is used in farming which resulted in Iowa contributing $4.5 billion in exports to help America's balance of trade in 2005.
Notice the precise geometry
of Iowa farming.
It's a sublter beauty than mountains and oceans,
but it is beauty, nonetheless.
My friends were fascinated by the combination of a highly agricultural state combined with a high level of education in the general population. Most Iowans live in cities. It's hard for folks who come from countries where agriculture is all about peasant traditions to imagine a place where high education levels and ag can be combined.
Dr. Borlaug
Iowans care about feeding the world so much there is now a prize coming out of Iowa started by one of our own, Dr. Norman Borlaug, the ag scientist who is credited with saving more human life than anyone else who has ever lived in the history of the world. Coming from a small farm in Cresco, Iowa, born of Norwegian heritage, Dr. Borlag helped farmers globally increase their yields. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
The Iowa-generated World Food Prize is a mere 22 years old, but hopes to be recognized as the "Nobel Prize of Food," honoring those innovators in politics and science who find new ways to feed humanity. The Secretary of State announces the winner every year and the Secretary General of the United Nations comes to the awards ceremony each year. I hope, gentle reader, that you will care as much about who wins this award, as any other. I think it is that important, don't you?
A talk about Iowa wouldn't be complete without an explanation of the whole Iowa presidential primary caucus system. I think Iowa maintains its first in the nation status for selecting the president through a primary caucus for a very important reason. The first place to get a crack at judging future presidents should not only be highly educated but small enough for retail politics. Iowa is both. Candidates have to interact personally with Iowans, instead of selling themselves in paid media campaigns.
There is even a joke about it. A presidential candidate asks an Iowan for his vote in the upcoming caucus and the Iowan says, "I can't vote for you yet. I've only interacted with you three times." When I was a county chair for Bob Dole when he was running for President, it was fun to host Elizabeth Dole in my mom's living room where she preceded to tell us why Bob would make a great President.
Iowa (97% white), literally made Obama a star, when in 2008, chose him above everyone else as the winner of the Democratic caucus. He finished his 2012 campaign in Iowa too, combining sentimentality and swing-state saavy.
I described three Iowa companies I thought would impact the entire world culturally: Pioneer Hybrid for genetically-modified foods, Pinterest, a social media company for sharing visual media, and Dwolla, a brand new financial services company that makes money transfers inexpensive between people and companies.
The Iowa butter cow,
and her current sculptor, Sarah Pratt
Since my friends were travel junkies, I wanted to make sure they knew the four most important tourist things to do in Iowa. First is riding on RAGBRAI, the 10,000-strong annual bike ride across Iowa that occurs every July. The second is driving the Iowa River Road along the Mississippi, what National Geographic Magazine calls as on of the "500 Drives for a lifetime," third is spending a day at the Iowa State Fair with a special look at the sculpted "butter cow," and my last suggestion was renting a houseboat to float down the Mississippi.
You don't have to be in Istanbul, or even an expat, to carry out this idea of rotating travelogues from natives to friends. I've loved attending each one (usually presented with a meal that matches the country) and so far I have learned about Trinidad and Tobago, Lebanon, Sudan, and Iran.
Just gather a bunch of international friends and put on evenings for each other. I felt deeply honored that my friends cared enough about me to learn about "my people." I had great fun and renewed passion for my birthplace putting my presentation together. Yea Iowa! That's where the tall corn grows.

Here are four other Iowa-related posts I wrote you might enjoy:

You're My Al Bell!

Enjoying Hometown Friends in Istanbul

Dvorak Embraced Spillville, Iowa; Spillville, Iowa Embraced Dvorak

UNESCO Names Iowa City, Iowa a "City of Literature"

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

My 7 Links Blog Project

Thanks to Miss Footloose (aka Karen van der Zee) I've been invited to participate in the My 7 Links project organized by Tripbase, the wonderful organization that has recognized both our blogs with Expat Blog of the Year awards.

In this post, I am sharing 7 of my old posts you might not have discovered yet, at the end I list five other bloggers I've nominated to do the same.

My Most Beautiful Post - This is from one spectacular afternoon overlooking the Vltava River in Prague with my friend Sher. If you know nothing about Prague, this will help you understand why people fall in love with it. A Springtime Stroll Around Letna Park

My Most Popular Post - I'm deeply committed to doing what I can as an individual consumer and citizen to prevent climate change.  So I decided to sell my car and live without it.  Then one day I realized I had survived just fine without it for quite awhile. Starting My Third Year Without A Car

My Most Controversial Post -Looking back, I can't say I write very controversial posts. This one might not be the kindest one I've ever written, and I did try to put the behavior I was describing into historical  context. Little Corruptions

My Most Helpful Post - The American lifestyle has a cost structure that feels unsustainable to me. In this post, I try to help Americas imagine a lower cost structure. The Czech Republic is the same size as South Carolina.  Imagine if you were able to travel around a state the size of South Carolina for $400 a year.  How the Czech Government Delighted Me As A Consumer

The Post Whose Success Surprised Me The Most - Who knew a visit to a gift shop would generate such discussion? My post The Swedish Tourist Attraction That Did Not Attract Me ended up featured on the Displaced Nation Blog where ABC News Royal Correspondent Jane Green and I debated the idea of monarchy. 

A Post I feel Didn't Get the Attention It Deserved - Is it my idea? Or my blog post? What do I need, pictures? I only received two commented on this post, and I still like my idea.  Why not give the opposite of a Nobel Prize to countries that could use, well, an intervention?
Does the World Need the Opposite of a Nobel Peace Prize?

A Post I am Most Proud Of - In 2009, I was struck how my Czech friends felt their opinions were ignored on a proposed American missile system that was slated for installation in their country.  I wrote a blog post asking President Obama to come to the Czech Republic and either sell them on it or announce it would end.

He came, gave an amazing speech, and won the Nobel Prize. And the anti-missile system moved away from the Czech Republic. What a win/win.  All because of my blog post!

I hope you're smiling here. I don't actually believe President Obama came to Prague because of my blog post. But I was contacted by the BBC to provide commentary about his speech (didn't happen due to logistics) because their producers had been reading my blog.

I do feel I showed my Czech friends, feeling their way through their new democracy, that taking action makes you feel better rather than being paralyzed.  They marveled that I felt I could effect positive change.  They didn't (which is exactly what politicians want you to think cause then you'll leave everything to them).
Dear President Obama, Please Come to the Czech Republic

I live for comments so tell me what you think!

Here are the links to five blogs I've nominated to join the project:

Adventures in the Czech Republic

Black Girl in Prague

Blogging Gelle

Ricky Yates

Senior Dogs Abroad

Monday, January 31, 2011

Visiting the Nobel Museum

Freezing yet Cheerful
I'm in Stockholm!

A scientist friend told me once that a Nobel Prize in Sciences was a dated concept.  He said most breakthroughs require an ensemble, a team, and the idea of one guy toiling passionately for years in his lab until one day he says, "Eureka!" is overly dramatic.  He felt it was not the likely way big discoveries will happen in the 21st century.  

That may be, but I found, like most tourists, that visiting the Nobel Museum was #1 on my list of things to do in Stockholm.  To me, the Nobel Prize represents goodness over evil, enlightenment over superstition, knowledge over anti-intellectualism, and excellence over mediocrity. 

I respond to the innovation and thought leadership I see from the Scandinavian countries. Having figured out what works for their countries and developed themselves to the highest degree, as societies they seem free to operate as aristocrats who no longer have to worry about earning a living and can move on to higher, more noble concerns such as how to advance the human race. The Nobel Prize is just the most prominent example.

A beautiful reclining Buddha
displayed as part of an art exhibit
at the Nobel Museum
celebrating the philosophy
of the Dalia Lama

Beautiful and inspiring sentiments
on a garden bench
also part of the art exhibit
Sculpture formed out of
discarded Manhattan phone books

I loved not only seeing the art exhibit but the short movies about each Nobel Prize winner and the other movie about creative environments that breed innovation and excellence without apology.  There wasn't an exhibit on how to raise a Nobel Prize winner. I suppose by the time people win, their parents aren't alive to celebrate with them and to be asked how they did it.  That's probably not so important.  I don't know about you, but I've always observed there is no shortage of worthy scientists, instead there's a shortage of funding for all their great work.

The Nobel Museum is in a stately old building set amidst Old Town Stockholm.  I had to tease the front desk clerk that the big clock in the middle of the exhibit space was dead and not working in a building devoted to celebrating excellence. "I know, she grinned, we've tried for three years to get it to run properly. No luck."  The irony made me smile. Maybe they should offer a prize.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Daydreaming at Stockholm City Hall

 Stockholm City Hall
photo by Yanlin Li
 I can't think of anything in the world more prestigious than a Nobel Prize, can you? One of the great pleasures of being in Stockholm was to see the sites associated with the yearly Nobel Prize event.  One of  the places used to celebrate humanity's most illustrious achievements is Stockholm's City Hall.
The Blue Hall
at Stockholm City Hall
Photo by Yanlin Li
I don't know why I find everything associated with the Nobel Prize deeply romantic, but I do.  Probably because while the Prize goes to one person, you know that someone doesn't achieve something like that without incredible help and support. I found myself reacting to all of Stockholm's Nobel glory with schoolgirl wonder.

One night in Stockholm, I watched new members who were going to be inducted into the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences arrive at City Hall in their white tie and evening gowns. It was such a beautiful moment to see, knowing that this had to be one of the happiest moments of their lives.  Bravo! Brava!

Now that I think about it, it wasn't just seeing Swedish scientists arrive for dinner and dancing that made it all seem so fanciful.  I do know why I find it all so dreamily romantic.

I've always had a serious crush on CalTech scientist Richard Feynman who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965. Feynman would now be over 90 but he died in 1988. I think back to his wonderful essay "The Value of Science" which is so breathtakingly beautiful, it has the ability to make every humanities major question their choices.

I went through a period where I read every single book Richard Feynman wrote for a general audience.  While I had never taken physics in school, his enthusiasm for the subject always made me realize "I am missing out somehow!" He had such a flair for showmanship when explaining physics.  Most people remember him not for his Nobel Prize, but for explaining very simply, using only a glass of water on the table, how the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up.

 The Swedish Flag
Hanging in the Blue Hall
More Swedish Pride
The Blue Hall is the largest room in Stockholm City Hall and it is most famous for being used every year for the Nobel banquet every December 10th. Every year 1,300 people squeeze themselves into this beautiful space with just 40 inches of space between them.  So what if you have to eat with your elbows close to your sides, this is one of the most exclusive invitations on Earth, no?
Table service for the Nobel Dinner


Two beautiful bas relief sculptures
in the Prince's Hall
within Stockholm City Hall
where receptions are held year round.
These window sculptures
overlook the harbor and a
terrace about as European and romantic
as terraces can get.

The Golden Hall
at Stockholm City Hall
where laureates go to dance.
Isn't it fabulous?
Photo by Yanlin Li
 The Golden Hall at Stockholm City Hall is done with a beautiful golden mosaic that could best be described as Picasso's Byzantine Period. Picasso didn't have a Byzantine period, you say?  I know.  But if he did, this is what it would look like.
 What? You say your City Hall
back home isn't quite this cool?
Yeah, same here.
The architect gave the artist a mere two years to finish the entire job, something the mosaic master felt would take at least 6 or 7 to do properly.  One of the very fun stories the tour guide relates is pointing out a headless Swedish patriot at the top of one mosaic, surrounded by equally headless friends.

"Why Mr. Artist, did your patriot get put up there on the wall minus his head?"

The artist said, "well, that's due to him having lost his head to the enemy in battle.  I didn't portray him with his entire body and head, but left the head off as he lost it in service to his country."

"Yes, but Mr. Artist, why then are there a couple other characters without their heads at exactly the point where the wall meets the ceiling?  Could it be you forgot that there would be 4 to 5 feet of benches at the base of the wall and the entire mosaic was raised 5 feet?" Ouch.

One would never pick these mistakes out on one's own - or even want to, actually.  It's the Swedish strength and ability to laugh at themselves, that makes these very human tours possible.

Oh, and look what I found.  Richard Feynman dancing in white tie during his Nobel weekend.  That is one lucky girl.
Richard Feynman and his wife Gweneth Howarth
1965
Photo from the CalTech Archives

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Does the World Need the Opposite of a Nobel Peace Prize?

Do you remember when Ronald Reagan first declared the totalitarian Soviet Union an "evil empire?" Many citizens in the Soviet Union cite that moment as the one that caused them to really think about and question their own system.

"How could that be?" I wondered,  "Everyone could see it was evil, why couldn't the people who actually live there? Why would it take an American President to make them stop and question something that was so obviously not working for participants and outsiders alike?"

Reagan said:
...I urge you to beware the temptation of pride, the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.
President Bush tried to create the same effect of waking foreign citizens out of their denial by demanding Iran, Iraq, and North Korea end their "axis of evil."  Unfortunately, President Bush seemed to be in his own self-delusion regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq at the time so it didn't quite have the intended effect. And it also didn't accurately reflect those three nations diplomatic actions.  They weren't in a tri-part pact.

If people get delusional, it makes sense that countries and societies can get delusional too. They are just a giant collection of individual people.  Indeed, there are delightful books written about economic self-delusion such as Tulipmania:  The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused. Another well-known form of personal delusion is addiction as described in the fiction bestseller A Million Little Pieces.

What could some national delusions be?  How about:
Colonization?
Debt loads?
Empire?
Ethnic cleansing (World War II Germany and the Balkans and Rwanda more recently)?
Environmental degradation?
Hatred? (Middle Eastern attitudes toward Jewish People and European attitudes toward Roma)?
Extreme Paranoia and Societal Militarization (North Korea)?
Extreme Paranoia and Thugocracy? (Iran)
Nationalization of Property? (Soviet Union)
Non-Acceptance of Election Results? (Ivory Coast)
Extraordinary Corruption? (Afghanistan)
Extraordinary Use of Resources (United Arab Emirates and the United States)
Censorship and Lack of Free Expression (China)

What if someone with more credibility and less baggage than President Bush, a disinterested organization with a track record of caring, credibility, and leadership toward uplifting humanity gave the national equivalent of a 12-step intervention to a nation?  A diplomatic call to "snap out of it!"

I propose that such a yearly intervention exist. Coming from the Nobel Committee, this yearly-awarded challenge could go to the country most needing a loving intervention and reminder that your fellow humans wish the best for you and think you can and should do better.

In order to let a nation know it needs to change, this intervention could be labeled not the Nobel Prize, but the Nobel Challenge. The Nobel Challenge would be the very classy national equivalent of friends and family sending an addict to rehab. Detox, please!

 Even if countries go behind "an iron curtain," if the citizens have known about the prize beforehand and find out that their country has won the award, it becomes a kind of shorthand meaning "look long and hard at the direction your nation is headed.  We, orignators of the award, "challenge" you because we think your nation is the one potentially endangering the peace of the world. It forces debate among citizens that can't be so easily dismissed and ignored.

The Nobel Challenge could be the sort of thing that seeps change into a country at the grassroots level.  How can any one story in the media reach the North Korean people and give them the message "the entire world thinks you need a change."  For all I know, the North Korean people know that better than we do.  But do all the people of Iran? What seeps into the minds of the oppressed at the grass roots level? One big call to action might not only bring people to discuss change, but be empowered to create change.

Here's another example from my own culture where a society fails to recognize its own delusion.  There were recently stories in the news that America and the United Arab Emirates consume electricity and water in huge quantities.  The United Arab Emirates used four times as much water as Europe and four times as much electricity as the United States. These stories may have been noted for about 24 hours when they came out but most citizens of those countries would just yawn in indifference.What if the world, in the form of the Nobel Committee, said through the Nobel Challenge, "your use of resources is unsustainable, please change, your behaviour could create potential conflicts." First, my country would have a hissy fit, then we would get down to business and exceed whatever benchmark was given for change. 

So how can humanity create change rather than yawning indifference to a long-term story? Think instead how the announcement of a Nobel Prize is treated.  The tradition is institutionalized so journalists are prepared for the announcement and make sure to cover it in a significant way.  It's a tradition that is highly anticipated around the world.  It has a track record that people can discuss and debate.  It has a meaning deeper than one particular year or person or organization. Instantly, when a Nobel Prize is announced, book clubs around the world read the works written by the author cited in the literature prize, for example, and think about the author's ideas and discuss what has been held up to the light by the prize.

Why even a totalitarian nation might have a hard time keeping that news from it's people no matter how hard it tried.  It would be the equivalent of when an addict is confronted by all their family and all of their coworkers and the ability to "excuse" is stripped away. I recognize that defiance (one of the central hallmarks of an addict), may be the outcome of a dictator being challenged in this way, but the world has to shut him down sometime.

 In George Orwell's "Animal Farm," it's when the pigs take the milk and apples from the other animals and the other animals notice and don't say anything that the abuse of power continues and increases. Orwell calls it the turning point of the story.  When Chamberlain appeased Hitler with Czechoslovakia, same thing.  Indeed, an  ignored Nobel Challenge to someone like Saddam for the way he treated his citizens might have given George Bush some legitimacy for later intervention (I can't believe I just said that, I didn't believe in that military intervention one whit).

As the history of the Nobel Challenge built up, it might begin to have a preemptive performance effect before it is even given.  Jack Welch, the CEO of GE chosen by Fortune Magazine as the "Manager of the Century", was famous for the performance he got out of his company (when he took over as CEO, revenues were $26.8 billion - when he left they were $130 billion). He had a rule that he would eliminate the bottom 10% of nonperforming staff every year.  Can you imagine how extremely motivating it must have been to people to not be in that bottom 10%?  Can you imagine how motivating it would be to not have your country ever receive a Nobel Challenge?  It sounds cruel, but actual conflicts are crueler.  Just read my previous blog post for a reminder.

All managers of any sort of human enterprise know that there is an entire emotional cycle to implementing change with all kinds of foot-dragging and noise by those who hate changing.  The Nobel Challenge could be helpful in prodding those who love the status quo because it's the "devil they know." The world may have to absorb change at an even faster pace in the future.

If our species doesn't find a way to challenge the ever-expanding global abuses of power in a cost-effective, non-military way, could it be the turning point in our story?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Celebrating Those Who Celebrate the Best In Humanity

2010 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo (right)
 and his wife Liu Xia (left)

Last week about this time I was watching the live coverage of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.  Did you happen to catch it?  It was moving.  Apparently CNN International does a live interview with the recipient immediately after they receive their prize.  China did not allow this year's recipient, a Chinese citizen, to travel to Oslo to receive his prize (note to Communist Central Committees - anytime your decision puts you and Adolf Hitler in the same historical footnote, you might want to consider alternative viewpoints before making the final call).

CNN International was left to use their entire Nobel Peace Prize interview hour to discuss with various people what human rights are like in China.  If you were watching, like me, did you come to the same conclusion that all of us really know nothing of what is going on in China?

CNN International mentioned that the People's Republic employs 50,000 people just to keep the Internet censored at all times.  It made me think about how many goods I purchase from China (especially since every country's manufacturing seems to have been farmed out there) and how little these purchases reflect my values if they are being manufactured in a tolitarian state. The first step in addressing a problem is awareness.

It impressed me that despite all of its economic power, the majority of the world would not be bullied into ignoring the ceremony based on China's demands.  It impressed me that Norway is charged with administering the Nobel Peace Prize because Alfred Nobel admired that Norway had never declared war on another country (check out their wealth indicators - peace pays).  It impressed me that such a tiny, little country has found a way to capture the world's imagination, to get people like me to slow down for an afternoon, and to consider where we as a species are going.  Norway, there is nothing small about your ideas.

To honor the Norweigan people for their ability to be the thought leaders of the world on the subject of peace, I want to do my small part today and share something I never heard of or read until I moved to Europe.  It is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights created by the United Nations 61 years ago.

Get a cup of coffee, take a few moments, and ask yourself if your country measures up on every article.  Did you even know this Declaration existed? Did you even know that some of these items were your rights as a human being as decided by the peoples of the Earth? Were you surprised by any of the human rights declared?  I was surprised by Article 16, the whole section on marriage and family. 

How can we as individuals move our global leaders closer to honoring these rights rather than ignoring them? Do you feel your own country is delivering on these globally universal human rights?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Czech People Overlooked Yet Again for the Nobel Peace Prize

I am sure that 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo of China is a brave and amazing person who puts mere mortals to shame. However, it made me sad this year to hear that yet another year passed without Vaclav Havel receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.  It would have been so moving for him to receive the most prestigious decoration humanity offers  - last year - when the Czech Republic was celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.  It could have been one giant festival of appreciation between President Havel and the Czech people who helped him transform their nation.

Instead of using the prize as a carrot and a capstone for a statesman's career, it seems the Nobel committee wants to use the prize as an accelerator of change, demanding almost through recognition that winners and their governments conform to what the Nobel Committee thinks should happen.  This cheapens the prize in my opinion because it switches it from honoring the noblest and bravest among us to having a political motivation.

Last year, when Barack Obama won, I was offended, because I felt that as President he would need to make decisions that could be at odds with the Peace Prize goals.  It felt manipulative to me, as an American, that the Committee would try and influence the course of his Presidency while it happened.

My emotions conflicted, though, because I recognized that anyone who voted for Barack Obama could feel a bit of pride in the Nobel Committee's contention that no one of that particular year had done more to change the landscape than Barack Obama.  Since he had been in office such a short time, the American people could be proud that we had changed the landscape with new leadership.

I remember when I got on my half-full bus at 6 a.m.on that bleary day, I shouted out to the whole bus "how about that Peace Prize?" I was living in Madison, Wisconsin at the time where there was close to a 100% certainty that anyone on a bus in that town had voted for the President.

The Peace Prize selection glory reflects to those who followed.  No one can be a prophet without followers. Vaclav Havel was the statesman he was because the Czechs chose to follow him.  Barack Obama was elected President because the people of America chose to follow him.

Vaclav Havel's moral authority transitioned the country from Communism to freedom without violence and retribution in the Velvet Revolution and again to the stand-alone Czech Republic during the Velvet Divorce with Slovakia.  How fraught those giant changes were and how much worse they could have been!

Even in retirement, Havel's moral authority can slice through rationalizations made in the name of strategic interests. Once, meeting with an American reporter for an interview, he asked,  "Is it true Barack Obama cancelled his meeting with the Dali Lama?" (presumably to pacify China's leadership).  Havel demonstrates the courage it takes to speak truth to power when your own country's is less.

America is comng to the age where our power will be eclipsed in size by China.  Havel's success in keeping true to his values while navigating this size differential between the Czech Republic and the former Soviet Union is an example the whole world can learn from as the globe copes with China's rising, and frequently bullying, power.

One measure of a leader is how institutionalized the changes he embodied becomes;  yearly, the citizens of the Czech Republic set new attendance records at the internationally-famous "Jeden Svet (One World) Film Festival in Prague, devoted to human rights around the globe.  Czech people, having lived through totalitarianism, have a sophisticated understanding of oppression that is rarely found anywhere in the Free World. Havel, and the citizens of the Czech Republic, have something to teach all global citizens about what it is to speak truth to the larger power.

As I understand it, Liu Xiaobo and his fellow Chinese dissidents who created Charter 08, were inspired by Vaclav Havel and the Czech people who were signatories to Charter 77.  Would a science Nobel go to a scientist whose work was derivative of another's theory? Wouldn't the committee honor the original thinker of the idea? Shouldn't Vaclav Havel receive a Nobel for inspiring freedom in the Czech Republic but now also China? It seems he is becoming worthier and worthier.  Is there not time to honor that young man and not much time to honor Vaclav Havel?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Peter Eigen: How to expose the corrupt | Video on TED.com

Here's an NGO (non-governmental organization) you should know about.  It's called Transparency International. I never heard of it until I came to the Czech Republic and I saw it advertised on buses, trams, and on T-shirts. I knew it fought corruption but I didn't know how. What a wonderful vision this man has of the difference he can make in improving governance throughout the world! Nobel peace prize people, are you listening?

Take 16 minutes by clicking on my title or the link below to listen to his TED talk describing his work organizing suppliers to create a corruption-free business culture. Just by listening to his arguments, you help create a less-corrupt environment that honors great products rather than corruption culture in developing markets. Think of the cynicism this man is helping to prevent! And is there anything that keeps more people from political action than cynicism? I think not.

Can you share his ideas with one other person, especially someone who works at a global company? You, as a member of civil society, can help reform cultures across borders by developing beliefs and expectations that this can change. It can change, you know. Believe.

Peter Eigen: How to expose the corrupt | Video on TED.com

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Celebrating My Accountable President Returning Once Again to Prague

One year ago today, my President was in Prague, giving a speech calling for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.  That speech contributed greatly to his Nobel Peace Prize.

Exactly one year and three days after that speech, he will return to Prague to sign a treaty with the Russians lessening the number of nuclear weapons in their respective arsenals. It probably helps that both of them need to find ways to save money.

In addition to the treaty, President Obama has eliminated the vagueness from America's policy of exactly when it would use nuclear weapons and when it wouldn't through a process called the Nuclear Posture Review.  He has taken a more measured, deliberate and probably honest approach to exactly what circumstances would merit a nuclear response.  To those who decry eliminating the vagueness and instead that we should keep our enemies guessing, I would ask them to look where bluffing got Saddam Hussein.

If that were not enough progress toward the goals outlined in his speech, this month my President is hosting the largest gathering of world leaders since the founding of the United Nations 65 years ago to discuss how to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of rogue states and terrorists.

I don't see how lowering the number of nuclear weapons in the world could be a bad thing.  I have no opinion on whether lowering the temperature on nuclear response is good or bad.  I am not an expert although I am a big fan of clarity.

What I celebrate today, is the sheer joy of having a President who feels accountable and reports progress.  He did it by returning to Iowa City, Iowa where he had first called for health care reform on the campaign trail to report that he had done it.  One year later, he returns to Prague to report the steps he has taken to make the world safer from nuclear weapons. I like many others who heard the speech, have closely followed what has or hasn't happened on the issue.  My President feels and acts accountable to the people and reports back to the initial audience who heard his goals.

To have a President of the United States that I both respect and love is just a completely joyous, wonderful thing.  And I agree with his politics.  It's a political trifecta! I and many other Americans, are the beneficiary. Godspeed, Mr. President. Congratulations on your achievements. Thank you for "ignoring the voices who said the world could not change."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Present at the Creation of a Nobel Peace Prize

"Wow." I totally understand Robert Gibbs initial reaction to the news that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. I am proud of my President and pleased I may have been present at the creation of a Nobel Peace Prize when I went to hear him speak about the elimination of nuclear weapons at Prague Castle. Click on my title to read about the speech that day.

That's the hopeful part of my reaction to the news that my President won the award. The more skeptical part of me (yes, Czech people, you rub off on others!) says 1) this award is for 'not being George Bush', 2) this is a European attempt to influence American policy in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and 3) this is European desire to help with the President's legitimacy because they probably see American birthers and other wackos attacking him all the time (don't worry, we know they're nuts) and 4) the Nobel Committee could have done more for world peace by holding the award out like a carrot for eight years. But hey, it's not my award to give. And I"m damn proud of my President.
 
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