Real Wealth Society

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thinking about “the Prize By Fred Cederholm

Column for on/after October 14th, 2007

I’ve been thinking about “the Prize.” Actually I’ve been thinking about Alfred Nobel, dynamite, selections, global warming, and controversy. Last Friday we learned that “former next President” Al Gore was sharing the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the tax free $1.5 MILLION honoria of this prize was to be split 50/50. Al Gore’s half would be donated to further the work of his think-tank foundation, Alliance for Climate Protection, of Palo Alto, California. International debate regarding this 2007 selection began almost immediately.

You see Alfred Bernhard Nobel (1833 – 1896) was a Swedish chemist, engineer, and innovator. While Nobel was ultimately the holder of over 350 patents, he is most widely known for his fascination with explosives as the “inventor” of dynamite. He discovered how the highly volatile compound of nitroglycerine could be stabilized by combining it with diatomaceous earth (and sawdust). He patented dynamite in 1867. In a later invention, he combined nitroglycerine with gun cotton and created the even more explosive gelignite – blasting gelatin - which was patented in 1876. Whether these explosive creations were invented solely for the peaceful uses of road, bridge, tunnel construction, or quarrying is open to some question as Nobel also bought the Borfors Iron Works in 1894 and was instrumental in transforming it into the major cannon maker of its day.

Nobel’s inventions made him both very wealthy and highly controversial. An erroneous obituary in 1888 (8 years before his actual death) dubbed him as “the merchant of death who enriched himself by finding more ways to kill more people faster than ever before.” This apparently had a devastatingly psychological impact on him because he re-wrote his will in 1895, setting aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Prizes which were to be awarded annually without distinction of nationality. Three prizes were designated for achievement in the physical sciences, chemistry, and medicine/ physiology; a fourth was designated for literary work “in an ideal direction,” and the fifth was designated for the person (or society) that renders the greatest service to the cause of international fraternity – the Peace Prize.

The method of selection was laid down in the will of this then millionaire inventor of dynamite. While the other Nobel Prize winners are selected by committees of experts in the respective/ various fields, and are announced in Stockholm; the recipient of the Peace Prize is picked by a five member committee chosen by the Norwegian parliament and is announced in Oslo. Prizes awarded to leading scientists, and literary figures are generally given to recipients being honored for an entire career (or a signal achievement) which have stood the test of time. Choosing the recipient of the Peace Prize, however, has become a major political event. All the selections clearly reflect a European frame of reference (and point of view) of what is currently important in the broader scheme of things. Who should be singled out for acknowledgement and the high honor reflects a Scandinavian/ European bias.

We Americans should be content that one of our own countrymen was singled out for honor and recognition this year. Whether one personally subscribes to the theories that “global warming” is the basis for our devolving climate changes is not the issue – THAT the ecosystems of this lush little “blue planet” are delicate, and are in danger of being forever damaged by our current behaviors, IS the issue!

Controversy is nothing new to the Nobel Prizes, it happens every year when the awards are announced in Stockholm and in Oslo. There are political implications anytime someone is selected for global acknowledgement of their work and achievements. The same can also be said for all (or any) significant awards and prizes which are given out across the planet. Jealousy is a human characteristic. While hosting the Oscar Awards one year, comedian Bob Hope surveyed the audience and said: “I know what is going through your heads; Please God, if it can’t be me, don’t let it be …” Mumblings and grumblings begin as soon as we hear: “May I have the envelope, please.” It’s the same way with the Nobel Prizes. I’m Fred Cederholm and I’ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.

Copyright 2007 Questions, Inc. All rights reserved.


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