Rants and Raves

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

All eyes on the prize

Note: A slightly different version of this was the weekend op-ed in my newspaper.

"The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows:...and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
--Last Will and Testament of Alfred Nobel

Norway, with less than five million inhabitants and a military smaller than many states' National Guard, has managed to do what Russian might, terrorist ruthlessness, and Latin American tyranny could not.

They've made the president of the United States a laughingstock.

In 2009, a record 205 nominations were received for the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize was awarded to President Barack Obama, nine months into his term. Worse, nominations closed on Feb. 1, which was less than two weeks after Obama took office.

Of course the Nobel Peace Prize Committee did not mean it that way. They obviously chose Obama because he's the anti-Bush, and to influence U.S. foreign policy in a direction more to their liking.

But Obama supporters and detractors alike realize there is no upside to this. They only difference is whether they're reacting with delight, or dismay.

Obama said he was, “surprised and humbled.” I suggest a better adjective is “humiliated.”

If you doubt this, imagine yourself in large public gathering introduced by a speaker who heaped the most fulsome and effusive praise on you, which you knew for a fact you did not deserve.

Heck, it's embarrassing enough for any man with self-respect to listen to when you do deserve it.

If someone is heaping abuse on you, you can ignore it and look above it all. So how do you deal with sickeningly sycophantic praise without looking rude and graceless?

So why would the awards committee make such a gaff? And one at such odds with their intended purpose?

Well, to begin with the Peace Prize is awarded by an entirely different set of people than the other Nobel prizes. The Nobels for Physics, Chemistry, and economics are awarded by a committee from the Swedish Academy of Science, the literature prize from the Swedish Academy.

The Peace Prize is awarded by a committee of five people elected by the Norwegian Parliament, roughly representing the political makeup of that body. This year that's three from left to far-left parties and two from conservative parties. The chairman of the committee is the notoriously gaff-prone Thorbjorn Jagland, a former prime minister of Norway. (A.k.a. "The Joe Biden of Norway.")

For another, the prize has always been inconsistently awarded.

Teddy Roosevelt won the prize for brokering the peace treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese war. And both sides agreed he deserved it.

On the other hand, both Hitler and Stalin have been nominated, Yasser Arafat actually won it, and Jimmy Carter only won his twenty years after he negotiated the peace between Israel and Egypt.

Mahatma Gandhi (nominated 5 times!), Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Václav Havel, and Corazon Aquino never won.

In 2007 the committee nominated Irena Sendler, a Polish woman who saved 2,500 Jewish children during the Second World War. She was tortured and left for dead by the Gestapo, and later imprisoned by the Communist government.

That year Al Gore won it for his Power Point presentation on Global Warming.

The fact is, the Peace Prize has always been a poor relation coasting on the reputation of the other Nobel prizes given for real, substantial accomplishments in literature, science, medicine, and economics. (With a curious exception. There is no prize for Mathematics.) So I wouldn't take this prize too seriously.

Still, though I have my differences with Barack Obama, that's the President of the United States you're patronizing you lutefisk-eating Euro-weenies!


  • At 10:42 AM, Blogger Schmedlap said…

    "Still, though I have my differences with Barack Obama, that's the President of the United States you're patronizing you lutefisk-eating Euro-weenies!"

    I guess that's one way to look at it. My reaction was, "okay, you got us fair and square on that one."

  • At 5:50 AM, Blogger Steve said…

    Actually that was sort of mine too.

    I had second thoughts about that last line almost immediately. Among other things it's a private joke intended for my local audience, which is largely Norwegian-descended.

    They actually have a joke about lutefisk (dried fish prepared with caustic lye soda.)

    "During the struggle for Norwegian independence, the Swedes got fed up and decided to get rid of the Norwegians once and for all. So they poisoned their supply of fish. A week later the Norwegians sent them a message asking for the recipe."

    When I moved up here with my family, we substantially increased t

  • At 5:51 AM, Blogger Steve said…

    the the Irish, Scottish, and Polish demographic percentages all by ourselves.

  • At 7:35 PM, Blogger Ken S said…

    Don't know if you happened to see this; http://online.wsj.com/article/SB30001424052748704429304574467080047317314.html

    The WSJ does a pretty good job of explaining why Obama fit the Nobel peace Prize. "...most of the prize winners draw from the obscure ranks of the sorts of people the late Oriana Fallaci liked to call 'the Goodists.'"

    I think they hurt themselves with this one. Even some of the Obama supporters I know have now had to admit that some things are more about preening than actual accomplishments. Unfortunately that lesson probably wont stick.


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