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Some people make getting up in the morning worthwhile

Saturday, December 27, 2003

As the sun dips into the west, afraid to linger for fear of what further earthbound disgraces it might witness, we pause to honor those who managed to do honor to our planet.

Presenting the annual Noble Prizes. I noted last year that these are not to be confused with the Nobel Prizes, given annually by a consortium of Swedes and Norwegians. I attempted at that time a joke about vodka consumption and received a frothing reply from an academic at the University of Pittsburgh who didn't get the joke and spitefully added that the Swedes drink aquavit. I advise her to pour a noggin of aquavit and brace herself, because I'm at it again.

As for those who were at it in 2003, let us begin:

Medicine: I confess a conflict of interest in honoring Leo McCafferty, plastic surgeon. Mairead Anna Roddy has caught enough sidewalk and furniture with her face that he probably has her photograph in his waiting room. But in the days after I ran a column about Aqila Khan, who lost a husband, a daughter, an arm and much of her face in her native Afghanistan, McCafferty telephoned for her address. With the generosity of a volunteer anesthesiologist and space contributed by UPMC Shadyside, he has since begun repairing the damage. Mrs. Khan will someday walk through a grocery store without facing stares. McCafferty did this with the proviso I not draw undue attention to his good work and relented in accepting today's honor because I assured him I would mention the equal generosity, patience and good will of his staff, who have handled and will continue to handle the long schedule of surgeries yet ahead for Mrs. Khan. They are duly acknowledged, as is their leader -- a man worthy of leading us into a new year.

Media: A kind word here, if I may, for an enterprise that, at this writing, could well be in its death throes although its dying words will probably be curses on men such as I. The Independent Media Center, which opened this year, has become a parking place for left-of-center views and dialogue that, say what you will about them, add to the political debate. Right-wingers have long had places to go, notably the local pages of Free Republic or Jim Quinn's, but with the emergence of, views from the other end of the spectrum at last have a place to air, largely unedited. A tip of the black beret to Andy Mulkerin and his neo-anarchist pals for keeping the thing alive. Now get off my corporate media back.

Academia: I note with particular sadness the passing of Ted Windt. In an era in which advertising and coded rhetoric were making political discourse incomprehensible, Windt pioneered the teaching of political rhetoric to students who crowded his classroom at the University of Pittsburgh. He was from Texas and, even after decades north, he would speak with a small twang, and that bit of spice in his voice held audiences. They listened to Ted because he had a new model for interpreting the words and meaning of candidates, and because they listened, this model took hold. With the secret code broken, democracy might yet be saved.

Religion: Sister Michele O'Leary is, of this writing, in a fight with cancer. She has, in her years among us, fought indifference, greed, resentment, distrust, hatred and bigotry, so cancer should be no big deal. O'Leary is one of the co-creators of the Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh, an agency that has become close to the hearts of many and, thanks to the persistence of Sister Michele, close to their checking accounts as well. Her premise is simple: Catholic and Protestant kids from the grimmest neighborhoods in Ireland will get along well with each other if they meet on American soil and, if trained to work, will continue to thrive when they return home. The institute celebrated its 50th graduating class this year past. Sister Michele was absent from the event due to illness. I have spoken with her about her struggles, and she is at once unafraid of death and not about to go quietly. I am betting on the nun in this one. She is too necessary to this world.

Dennis Roddy can be reached at or 412-263-1965.

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