News: Nobel Prizes
[no longer rewarded for excellence but for liberal politics]
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Nobel Prizes increasingly go to either unsavory or unhinged characters. Yasser Arafat was a known killer and terrorist, not a global peacemaker. Wangari Maathai’s public statements about AIDS are puerile and ipso facto would have eliminated any Westerner from consideration for anything. Rigoberta Menchu Tum herself was a half-truth, her story mostly a creation of a westernized academic publishing elite. Jimmy Carter’s 2002 award was not predicated on his past work on housing for the poor, but his critically timed and calculated opposition to George W. Bush’s effort to topple Saddam Hussein — as was confirmed by the receptive Nobel Committee itself. Recent winners Kofi Annan and Kim Dae-jung are now better known for having their own sons involved in influence-peddling and bribery while they oversaw bureaucrats who trafficked in millions with unsavory murderers like Kim Jong-Il and Saddam Hussein. In short, such an august prize has come a long way from Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. — and precisely because it has privileged leftist rhetoric over real morality.
[Kwing Hung: see how liberal the Nobel Prize Prize Committee is!!]
OSLO — Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai yesterday claimed her Nobel Peace Prize to the beat of African drums, telling an audience of royalty, celebrities and diplomats that protecting the world’s resources is linked to halting violence.
“Today, we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system,” the first African woman and first environmental activist to win the peace prize said.
Mrs. Maathai, 64, warned that the world remained under attack from disease, deforestation and war.
“We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds, and in the process heal our own, indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder,” she told the crowd of dignitaries, including the Norwegian royal family as well as talk show host Oprah Winfrey and Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
Mrs. Maathai’s selection for the peace prize raised eyebrows because of earlier assertions that scientists had created the AIDS virus as a biological weapon.
“In fact [the HIV virus that causes AIDS] is created by a scientist for biological warfare,” she said told reporters at a press conference in Nairobi a day after the Nobel prize was announced in October.
“Why has there been so much secrecy about AIDS? When you ask where did the virus come from, it raises a lot of flags. That makes me suspicious,” she said at the time.
Yesterday, Mrs. Maathai said that her comments were misquoted and taken out of context.
“I have not said what I’m quoted as saying,” she insisted in remarks released by the Nobel committee. “I neither say nor believe that the virus was developed by white people or white powers in order to destroy the African people. Such views are wicked and destructive.”
In neighboring Sweden, the other Nobel prizes — for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics — were awarded.
Absent from Stockholm was the literature prize winner, Elfriede Jelinek of Austria, who cited a social phobia. Although she sent a video lecture, she did not send any prepared remarks for the banquet.
Americans Richard Axel and Linda B. Buck won the medicine prize for their work on the sense of smell. Americans David J. Gross, H. David Politzer and Frank Wilczek won the physics prize for their explanation of the force that binds particles inside the atomic nucleus.
The chemistry prize was awarded to Israelis Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko and American Irwin Rose for their work in discovering a process that lets cells destroy unwanted proteins.
Norwegian Finn E. Kydland and American Edward C. Prescott received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for shedding light on how government policies and actions affect economies worldwide.
The economics prize, introduced in 1968, is funded by Sweden’s central bank. The other awards are funded by the Nobel Foundation.
Ten years ago, a conservative writer asked a strange but pertinent question: Is the Nobel Peace Prize worth winning anymore? The occasion was the giving of the prize to Joseph Rotblat, a physicist who had spent his long life colluding with the Soviet Union in a bogus anti-nuclear movement. The conservative writer, I must confess, was . . . yours truly. And little has changed, in the ensuing decade.
The problem with writing off the Nobel Peace Prize altogether is that, occasionally, they give it to someone worthy: an Andrei Sakharov, a Lech Walesa, a Kim Dae-jung. But are they peace prizes, or, more accurately, freedom prizes? What do we mean by “peace”? Merely the absence of conflict, or the kind of peace that only freedom and dignity can bring? Prime Minister Thatcher put this well during the Cold War: “We speak of peace, yes, but whose peace? Poland’s? Bulgaria’s? The peace of the grave?”
Winner of this year’s prize is Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Or rather, he is co-winner, with the IAEA itself. In a similar manner, the Nobel committee gave the prize jointly to Kofi Annan and the United Nations. That was in 2001, a month after the 9/11 attacks. It seemed obvious that the committee wanted to send a message: “Don’t go it alone, George W., the United Nations and multilateralism are paramount.” They often do that, the Nobel committee.
In 2002, they gave the prize to Jimmy Carter, as a way of giving President Bush and the United States “a kick in the leg.” (Strange Norwegian expression.) That was the acknowledgement of the chairman of the committee, Mr. Gunnar Berge. Carter did not demur, but accepted his long-sought honor with grinning pleasure. When they gave the prize to Joseph Rotblat, the committee was sending a message to the French, believe it or not — who were testing nuclear weapons in the South Pacific. Chirac et al. proceeded undaunted.
This year, the committee went out of its way to deny that they were tweaking anybody: “This is not a kick in the leg to any country,” said the current chairman, Ole Danbolt Mjoes. But it would be hard to interpret otherwise. In giving their prize for literature to Harold Pinter, the Nobel people were honoring just about the most anti-American writer around, and one whose literary gifts are not towering. And in giving their peace prize to Mohamed ElBaradei, they have honored a man who has opposed and sought to thwart the United States at nearly every turn.
The committee has always been naïve or offensive in nuclear matters. In 1962, they gave their prize to Linus Pauling, a brilliant chemist who believed and peddled every anti-nuke shibboleth. And then in 1985 they gave their prize to International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, whose chairman was a member of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party (not known as a peace organization to human beings behind the Iron Curtain). This man — Yevgeny Chazov — signed the document that launched the official campaign against Andrei Sakharov, winner of the peace prize in 1975. Such is the screwy world of the Nobel committee.
Joseph Rotblat was almost too egregious for words. Rather than recapitulate my 1995 piece, I will relate just one fact: Rotblat and his band were decorated, not only by the Nobel committee, but by the Czechoslovakian dictator Husak and the Polish dictator Jaruzelski. These awards were not given idly.
But try a second fact: Rotblat & Co. derided Israel’s fear of the nuclear facility built by Saddam Hussein. Israel blew that to smithereens; they were not awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their deed; after the Gulf War, however, the U.S. secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, thanked them for it.
It is reasonable to assume that the Nobel committee was saying, among other things, “Ha, ha,” when it gave the prize to ElBaradei and the IAEA: “Ha, ha, George W., this agency swore that Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction, and they were right, and you were wrong.”
But what had the IAEA’s record in this area been? On the eve of the Gulf War, the agency gave every assurance that Iraq was in full compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. (Incidentally, Saddam Hussein’s government served on the IAEA’s board of governors from 1980 to 1991.) After the war, the then–director general, Hans Blix, admitted, “It’s correct to say that the IAEA was fooled by the Iraqis.” It is also correct to say that, in 2003, a second President Bush was not prepared to accept the word of the IAEA, or of the Hussein regime itself.
Mohamed ElBaradei succeeded Blix in 1997, having worked for the agency since 1984. He is an Egyptian, a diplomat-lawyer, and the classic international-organization man. He is not dissimilar to his fellow Nobelist, Kofi Annan, in this respect. And he has a peculiar view of nuclear weaponry: believing that an established nuclear power (such as the United States) has no real right to block others from acquiring the same destructiveness. Here’s ElBaradei in the New York Times, last year: “We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for security.” That is a staggering statement for the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency to make.
ElBaradei had long been a candidate to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He was not informed in advance by the committee, but learned of his victory from television. He was watching the announcement, live: “I was about to start grumbling about the choice,” he later said, but then he heard his name, amid the Norwegian talk. “It was just a delightful surprise.” No doubt. ElBaradei understandably basked in this affirmation of his work, saying that the prize meant “the international community has full confidence in the IAEA.” Furthermore, “the prize recognizes the role of multilateralism in resolving all of the challenges we are facing today.”
And what has the IAEA done? This is something of a rude question, because the idea of the IAEA — like the idea of the U.N. — is more beautiful than the IAEA as a reality. Joshua Muravchik, in his new book The Future of the United Nations, puts it nicely: “For many of those who value [the U.N] most highly, its performance is not the issue.” Rather, what matters is some collectivist ideal, and no boat-rocking or moral kvetching by the United States. When the Nobel committee gives its peace prize to Kofi Annan, or Mohamed ElBaradei, they are saying, “We are for what ought to be, instead of what is” — a world dependent for peace on American strength.
Back in January, I watched ElBaradei at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland. He was on a panel with the Iranian foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi. They gave the appearance of being chums and allies, and spoke as though Washington’s concern about Iranian nukes were terribly silly. After all, Bush and his team had been wrong about Saddam, yes? And yet Iran succeeded in fooling the IAEA about its program for 18 years. It took an Iranian dissident group to blow the whistle on the nuclearizing mullahs. Even now, the IAEA is refusing to refer the Iran case to the Security Council, despite what appears its statutory obligation to do so.
But what would the Security Council do anyway? Russia and China sit on it, and they are friends and suppliers of Iran — just as they are friends and suppliers of genocidal Sudan, another arena of U.N. failure.
And what of North Korea? It seems certain that Pyongyang developed its nukes after signing the nonproliferation treaty, and while “dancing around the IAEA,” as Muravchik puts it.
Perhaps most galling in ElBaradei’s post-victory remarks was his taking credit for Libya — for bringing Moammar Qaddafi to heel. It strains credulity to suggest that the IAEA had anything at all to do with that. As Jed Babbin explains in his own recent book on the U.N. — Inside the Asylum — President Bush started the Proliferation Security Initiative in 2003, basically to do the work of the IAEA. Eleven nations operate under the PSI, blessedly free of the U.N. framework. One of these nations, Italy, interdicted damning materials going to Libya. That, coupled with America’s performance in Iraq, prompted Qaddafi to fess up and give in.
It may be argued that there is only so much the IAEA can do, and that its relative impotence is not its fault. That may be. As Muravchik writes, “Just as U.N. peacekeeping can work well where the parties all want peace, so the IAEA provides mutual reassurance among states of good faith.” That’s why the agency spends the bulk of its “safeguards” budget monitoring — get ready — Canada, Japan, and Germany! “But for ‘rogue’ regimes, the IAEA has presented few barriers.”
For which, again, the IAEA is not necessarily to be condemned. But give it the Nobel Peace Prize, the world’s most sanctified award?
Last year, the committee honored a Kenyan woman who plants trees and claims that AIDS is a Western plot to wipe out black Africans. The chairman of the committee remarked, “We have added a new dimension to the concept of peace.” In their choice of ElBaradei and the IAEA, they have added nothing new — but it has precious little to do with peace.
The award of the Nobel Prize for Literature is one of the year’s more amusing moments, in its way a little gloss on the age. A committee of 18 Swedes is responsible for it, and they all have membership in perpetuity. Publishers, translators, and other lobbyists swarm around them, and their final choice almost invariably depends on politicking rather than literary appreciation. Plucked from obscurity, recent winners like Elfriede Jelinek, José Saramago, and Dario Fo reveal the anxiety of those 18 Swedes to be in what they think is the fashionable swim. And this year they have extended the entertainment by picking Harold Pinter.
Some fifty years ago, he began writing plays whose point is that they have no point. Characters exchange inarticulate snippets at cross-purposes while nothing happens, culminating in nothing. The threadbare dialogue, and the banality of its context, are said to generate an atmosphere of menace and silence, as though that were the sum total of the human condition. Chaim Bermant, a genuine literary wit, once cut unforgettably through the tiresome mystification, writing, “Harold Pinter is a man of few words, most of them silly.” Mark Steyn, another genuine wit, has summed up Pinter’s dramatic technique as “a pause, followed by a non sequitur.”
The opening page of the Pinter website carries a dictum of his from 1958: “There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal.” So major a confusion explains how Pinter has become to the stage what John Cage is to music. It’s all derived from Joyce and Beckett, and Pinter has paid his respects to the latter with the impoliteness he likes to cultivate towards others: “The more he grinds my nose in the sh**, the more I am grateful to him.” Portmanteau expressions like “the theater of the absurd” are the attempts of modernist academics and critics to find meaning and art where neither exists.
Pinter’s plays, especially the more recent ones, are mostly short, some of them lasting only a matter of minutes, as befits the absence of content. Back in the 1960s, Pinter was already publishing poems, and has continued to do so. The poems are shorter still, haiku-like. He is a fan of cricket, for instance, and one poem concerns a once-famous cricket player by the name of Len Hutton. It extends over three lines without punctuation: “I saw Len Hutton in his prime / Another time / another time.”
Here is another example of his special triteness:
Everyone is as beautiful
as they can possibly be
Particularly at lunch
in a laughing restaurant.
He tends to mail these efforts to friends and then expect applause. Asked after a week what he thought of the latest four-liner, Simon Gray — a more traditional playwright and a wit as well — is supposed to have answered that he hadn’t yet had time to read to the end. In another famous story, Pinter is said to have told Tom Stoppard that he wanted the Comedy Theatre to change its name to the Pinter Theatre. Stoppard replied that Pinter should then call himself Harold Comedy.
Pinter has only himself to blame that he has become a comic figure in the small village of literary London. He is married to Lady Antonia Fraser, who keeps the name of the former husband she left, a Scottish aristocrat and Tory politician. She has written biographies of Mary Queen of Scots, Cromwell, and Marie Antoinette. They live in a beautiful house in fashionable Kensington (where I too live). In the days of Mrs. Thatcher, they assembled a literary salon there as though they were dissidents in danger. The self-indulgence was grotesque since all present had money and reputations — and in some cases titles — heaped upon them in reward for their left-wing opinions. When Blair was elected prime minister, Pinter declared himself in his habitual idiom “chuffed to our bollocks” (tickled pink). Without apparent irony, Lady Antonia refers to Pinter as “the Shakespeare of our time.” The pretensions of these radical-chic grandees have earned them the nickname “Goethe and Schiller.”
In person, Pinter appears to be always in a bad mood, his face set in a scowl as he searches for someone around whom to stage another little play of rudeness and disapproval. Christopher Logue, the poet, one day said to him that, all things considered, he and Pinter had had a pretty good run, whereupon Pinter grabbed him by the throat, snarling, “What are you trying to say, you little sh**?” At a dinner party once, the lady sitting between him and me criticized the Sandinistas, so he ranted at her, “Pretty women like you think that they can say anything and get away with it because of their looks — well, you can’t.”
He was not always so. I first met him after my return from covering the Six-Day War of 1967, and he was then an eager Zionist, emphasizing his Jewish background, open and modest. For unknown and perhaps unknowable reasons, at some point in the 1980s Pinter underwent a change, and ever since has been sticking out his tongue with the political attitudinizing of a 14-year-old.
Perhaps nobody else in Britain has been so unremittingly and childishly hostile to the United States. Every anti-American cause is now his. Pacifist though he claims to be, he resorts to language and imagery extolling violence. Absorbed in his own ego, he has abandoned himself to bully-boy invective in which intellect, argument, debate, knowledge, have no part to play. On one occasion, also at a dinner party, he was praising Ayatollah Khomeini for his stand against the United States. When I took him up, I discovered that Sunni and Shia were terms new to him. Ignorance only reinforces his passion.
Participating in the Cuban Solidarity Campaign and the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic, he supports two of the most brutal tyrants in the world. Turning his former Zionism inside out, he now advocates boycotting Israel. No longer chuffed by the prime minister, he told the BBC that Blair “loves to drop a few bombs. It gives him, I think, great excitement.” As luck would have it, on the day before 9/11, in a speech accepting an honorary doctorate in Florence, he described the United States as “arrogant, indifferent, contemptuous of international law . . . the most dangerous power the world has ever known.” The murderers of 9/11, he also said, were engaged in “retaliation.” (That same summer, Lincoln Center in New York was putting on a festival of his plays, and hatred of America did not oblige him to reject his royalties.) During the last three years, he has been spouting about the iniquity of the Iraq War and Saddam’s overthrow, thus helping to align the Left behind another monstrous dictator.
“American Football” is a poem that opens:
We blew the sh** out of them.
“God Bless America” is no less typical.
Here they go again,
The Yanks in their armoured parade
Chanting their ballads of joy
As they gallop across the big world
Praising America’s God . . .
And all the dead air is alive
With the smell of America’s God.
Lines like these are graffiti, rather than poetry. Which is more striking, the feebleness of the diction, or its incompetence? How are Yanks supposed to be chanting ballads in armoured parades, and how are armoured parades supposed to gallop? The final two lines of a recent poem are, “All we have left are the bombs / Which polish the skulls of the dead.” But how can bombs conceivably polish anything, let alone skulls?
Here is one of his numerous outbursts against the twin bêtes noires currently obsessing him, in a letter to the Guardian in November 2003 when Blair was being received in the White House: “Dear President Bush, I’m sure you’ll be having a nice little tea party with your fellow war criminal, Tony Blair. Please wash the cucumber sandwiches down with a glass of blood, with my compliments.” Speaking in Trafalgar Square at a demonstration against the Iraq War earlier this year, Pinter could hardly utter any except four-letter words. This inspired Craig Brown, a satirist of natural brilliance, to rewrite famous poems in Pinter’s voice. It’s irresistible to quote at least Byron duly Pinterized: “We’ll go no more a-roving / So late into the night, / Certainly not if the Blair fascists / Have their f***ing way / And gag myself and Lady Antonia / And leave us head-first in a f***ing gutter.”
Those 18 Swedes know all this. They are opportunists. The manipulation of an anti-American demonstration that will echo around the world, they hope, will confirm their leadership and prestige. Pinter has to make a 45-minute speech of acceptance in Stockholm this December. This promises to offer the comedy of a pompous white-tie-and-tails affair completely overwhelmed by crude political invective, altogether such a coronation of radical chic that the real and the unreal at last may truly be indistinguishable.