Oprah on trial

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About year and a half ago, Passport blogged about the opening of the $40 million Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, funded by -- you guessed it -- Oprah. The project was launched in celebrity fanfare, highlighting Oprah for the cultural and economic world power she has truly become.

Much to Ms. Winfrey's dismay, however, extravagant spending has been followed by spectacular scandal. A former head mistress from the school is suing the famous talk-show host for $250,000.

About this time last year, allegations of sexual abuse in the school surfaced (Oprah weeped when she heard). Virginia "Tiny" Makopo -- then a school employee -- was arrested for counts of abuse to which she pleaded not guilty. But Oprah was not quite done cleaning house. Nomvuyo Mzamane, the former head mistress, was accused of covering up the scandal. Now jobless and "depressed," Mzamane is sueing Oprah for defamation. She says she never knew the abuses were going on.

The price tag on the lawsuit is barely a drop in the bucket for the $2.5 billion celebrity, but Oprah should worry a lot more about that the tougher-to-quantify damage to her brand.


Nobel intentions

Four of the six Nobel Prizes for 2008 have been announced, while the nominees for the Peace Prize and the Prize in Chemistry are waiting in the wings. For more on the selection process, click here. But to get up to speed on this week's awardees and for a preview of the winners yet to come, read on...

Medicine (announced Oct. 6)

It was a well earned draw for winners of the first announced prize, half going to Harald zur Hausen (Germany), "for his discovery of human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer"; and one-fourth each to Françoise Barré-Sinoussi (France) and Luc Montagnier (France) "for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus."

Zur Hausen didn't waste any time leveraging his, er, prized status. On Wednesday, the German scientist denounced the high price of the HPV vaccine that guards against the virus he helped discover.

Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier likewise jumped into activism, voicing fears that the financial crisis would cut deep into AIDS-fighting budgets.

Physics (Oct. 7)

Half of this prize went to Yoichiri Nambu (USA) "for the discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics"; while one-fourth each went to Makoto Kobayashi (Japan) and Toshihide Maskawa (Japan) "for the discovery of the origin of the broken symmetry which predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature."

Nambu's story is a good read, having come from Japan to the United States after WWII to work with Robert Oppenheimer and chat with Albert Einstein. The two Japanese scientists expanded on Nambu's theories, and made their own sub-atomic discoveries which have proven all but minute in application.

Chemistry (Oct. 8)

The honors were split equally three ways between Osamu Shimomura (USA), Martin Chalfie (USA), and Roger Y. Tsien (USA) "for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP."

These guys get the award for the cool factor. Their discovery of GFP has helped scientists to do all sorts of wacky and useful things (my favorite is changing the color of cloned pigs' noses and creating florescent cats...) More, uh, consequentially, the protein has many uses in the medical field, including in fighting malaria and cancer.

Literature (today)

French novelist Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio was named the victor, an "author of new departures, poetic adventure, and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization."

Peace (tomorrow)

Some 164 individuals and 33 organizations were been nominated for the Peace Prize, the most popularly anticipated of all the awards. Among the "big names" confirmed for nomination are singer-turned activist Bob Geldof, Chinese dissident Hu Jia, former Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt, and Russian Prime Minister Vladamir Putin. Other interesting, but unconfirmed nominees include Kenya's president and prime minister and the European Union (for its role in brokering the ceasefire in Georgia, the International Peace Research Institute (IPRI) in Oslo speculates).

IPRI also rates the five most likely candidates as Hu Jia, Thich Quang Do of Vietnam, Lidia Yusupova of Chechnya, the Cluster Munitions Coalition, and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Hu, an imprisoned dissident who fights for the environment, democracy, and awareness about HIV/AIDS, has already provoked China's ire. The government called him a criminal today and suggested he is unfit for the prize.

Economics (Monday, Oct. 13)

Finally, the world will learn the name of the person we should all be asking for financial advice. Reuters has a few guesses, among which I would say Harvard's Martin Feldstein gets the timeliness award for his work on "public economics, including taxation, social security, health economics and many other topics."

According to this prediction market, Feldstein is also the crowd favorite. I hope he wins: We could use a little Nobel-caliber advice on public economics right about now.

UPDATE: Finland's former President Martti Ahtisaari wins the Peace Prize.