By Don C. Reed

On a subway to the Eiffel Tower, I had my wallet lifted.

It was Gloria’s and my 40th anniversary, and we were celebrating it in Paris.

It was our last day of the 5-day trip, and we were exhausted, financially, physically and emotionally; our credit cards whimpered, knees ached, brains were overloaded with beauty.

We had seen so much. Monet’s gardens, lily ponds so lovely, I got lost and almost missed the tourbus; the Louvre museum, five football fields long of art treasure including Napoleon crowning his wife as the Pope sits by ignored and infuriated; the Musee du Branlee, with its amazing exhibit on Tarzan of the Apes; a sidewalk café by a gold-plated statue of Joan of Arc, the shimmering visual ecstasy of Hall of Mirrors.

But Gloria wanted one more present for the grandkids, and  I wanted one more look at that incredible Tower, built by Augustus Gustave Eiffel, in 1887.

The train was jammed. Gloria got the last seat. Standing, I somehow became surrounded by four beautiful dark-skinned women, who seemed to know each other, although they did not speak. The smallest one of them smiled shyly… The jolt of the train pushed her closer to me, so that we almost touched.

I studied the tourist booklet.

Both the Eiffel Tower and the California stem cell program had begun as temporary.

The Tower was built for the 1887 World’s Fair, after which it was to be destroyed. A condition in its contract was that it must be easily disassembled.

Some Parisians hated the tower. It was physically taller than the churches, and some called it anti-religion. Artists dubbed it a “tragically-designed lamp post”, or “an odious column, whose shadow blots our fair city.”

A campaign was launched to destroy it, backed by Alexandre Dumas, author of the Three Musketeers. Another great writer, Guy de Maupassant, hated the tower so much, he reportedly ate lunch there every day—because, he said, because it was the one place in Paris where he would not have to look at the eyesore.

The tower would have to come down– but the designer had looked ahead. Mr. Eiffel hunted continuously for ways to show the Tower’s practicality. The monument was saved because the new science of radio-telegraphy. What was then the tallest building in the world made a wonderful radio transmitter.

And then– World War I.

The Germans were closing in on Paris. Relief soldiers had to be gotten to the front, quickly—radio signals from the Tower coordinated a wave of taxi cabs. That single action prevented a quick victory for the enemy.

The war devastated France. Almost an entire generation of young men, was wiped out in a single horrific encounter, Verdun, called the most terrible single battle of all time.

And when the second World War arrived, it burst upon a still-weakened France.

Once more the Eiffel Tower became a symbol of defiance. Their country overrun by the Nazis, resistance fighters cut the cables to the elevators, denying Adolph Hitler his moment of triumph at the top of the tower. And when the Nazis did manage to hang their odious flag from the symbol of Paris, a brave resistance fighter climbed the tower, and tore that swastika down, replacing it with the French flag.

In 1944, frustrated Adolph Hitler ordered the Tower (and indeed all of Paris) to be destroyed, but a Nazi General, Dietrich von Choltitz, to his everlasting glory, refused…

I felt the strangest itch, a tingling at the front of my left thigh, where my wallet resided.

I pivoted, saw a small brown hand jerk back from my pocket, disappearing up a   voluminous sleeve, like a gopher returning to its hole. My billfold, luckily, had been jammed crosswise in the pocket, and was still there.

What to do? I bore them no ill will. How miserable a life must be, if the only way you could get by was to steal from other people.  Besides, I had seen on TV that if you did make a big fuss, the thieves were ready for that and would scream and yell right back, embarrassing me more than I would them.

So I called to my wife Gloria, waited till she was looking at me, then raised my hand above the crowd, pointing a finger toward each of the four.

“Remember their faces,” I said.

The women glanced at each other.

The doors hissed open; they were gone.

Suddenly, there it was, the Eiffel Tower, dark brown in color, earthtones, reaching upward, soaring to the sky.

And halfway up the side, a tiny bump which was a person, mountain-climbing the Tower. We took his/her picture, and Gloria shopped, while I just stared, up and up and up.

An architectural marvel. Nervous that the wind might bend it, the government had charged Eiffel with full responsibility. If a piece fell off… he would have to pay for it. But the Tower was designed, “to takes the shape of the wind itself”, its maker said, and it merely swayed, adjusting, not warping.

Superbly strong, but delicate, a lacework of metal; if you melted it, the entire 1000 foot high creation would make a puddle no wider than the base—and just three inches thick.

Six million people a year visit this most romantic structure.

I could not help thinking: what if the Eiffel Tower had been destroyed, according to the terms of the original contract?

What a loss that would have been. In financial terms alone, more than two hundred million paid admissions since then, all gone, and  the accompanying tourist dollars.

And its value in beauty, how it lifts the soul of humanity? That cannot be measured.

Like the Eiffel tower, the California stem cell program was originally built to be temporary, to last  only as long as its $3 billion dollars of its funding: its bond sales.  When the money ran out, so would the program.

At two hundred ninety-five million a year, the life of the program would be about fourteen years: with the addition of the loan program, maybe seventeen.

Or–? Is there to make this a legacy for California?

Bob Klein, chair of the program, recently said that our state might wish to fund another round of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the CIRM.

What do you think about that? Maybe ten years from now, go for another three billion?

Or is there a way to maintain or increase the funding we have right now?

Remember matching funds? When institutions wanted some of our money to make a stem cell building, they had to provide part of the money themselves.

We (California) got almost an extra billion dollars that way: $880 million.

Could we do something similar for all our grants from here on?  Set up some kind of  a matching grant requirement for anybody wanting money?

We would not want to make it too burdensome on the scientists. The idea of the CIRM is to help them, not to make their lives more difficult.

But if everybody wanting a grant from the CIRM had to dig up some money to contribute to (let’s call it) the “Longevity Pool”, matching grant funds might help keep the program going on a permanent basis, so it could benefit California forever.

Now I don’t pretend to understand money.

But I can recognize something wonderful, and the CIRM is that.

We know, for certain, that the problem it was built to fight has not gone away.

Chronic disease and disability is bankrupting America. The inability to pay health care costs is cited as the number one reason for home foreclosure. We spent more last year on medical costs than we brought in from all federal income taxes combined. ($2.3 trillion medical costs versus $1.8 trillion total collections from federal income taxes.)

One in three Americans suffer chronic illness or injury, the modern equivalent of the Black Plague, which devastated Europe in the Dark Ages.

In America alone, we lose four thousand citizens every day to chronic disease:  the quiet equivalent of the September eleven massacre—every day.

Our people are dying, or suffering permanent injury, as surely as if they were in war; should we not defend them?

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is our way to win: a focused defense against chronic ailments: to ease suffering, save lives, and re-invigorate the economy.

To let the CIRM end would be like disassembling the Eiffel Tower.

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