Monday, October 19, 2009

A Tale of Two Nobel Promises. Part I: Peace at Speeds faster than Light

For some reason the Nobel Prizes for Peace as well as Chemistry struck similar if different chords in my social awareness syndrome. Both instilled the feelings that arise when one is not prepared for the occasion simply because there was not a kind of déjà vu feeling that comes from experiencing an event that has been anticipated or a sort of “previous experience” satisfyingly fulfilled.

The Nobel Prize for peace has always been known as an award that serves a greater political purpose and has been distinguished by those who did not receive it (Gandhi, for example). Nevertheless, the recipient of the Nobel Peace prize has usually been prévenu even if many times sufficiently maladroit. (We sometimes use French to make sure we may not mean what we say).

I have written two blogs on the Nobel Prizes for Peace and Chemistry, to emphasize the way promises are made and problems in keeping them.

It seems to me that this is the general nature of appreciation of problems. There is the perception, looking at a seemingly vital part of complex machinery, that it holds the key to its functioning --- mal or dys ---simply from its looks.

I am reminded of the man whose pendulum clock had stopped. He took the most visible part of his clock, the pendulum, to have it repaired.

Peace as a Contrast.

One of my father’s constant refrains that has stuck in my mind is the lines from Rabindranath Tagore which goes something like
I asked for sadness in my life so that I could experience joy
You gave me joy, and now I can only experience sadness
In the final analysis, never mind Gandhi, or Tolstoy or Thoreau, our perception of peace is the way we perceive war as the absence of peace. In this thoroughly materialized world, peace is the absence of greed, even if it is sometimes a seemingly innocuous thing as, say, a lady love. Remember the legend of “the not terribly manly” Paris of Troy who wanted as his own the face of Helen of Sparta and launched a thousand ships. This is implied in Tagore’s words
I would ask for still more,
if I had the sky with all its star
and the world with all its endless riches;
But I would be content
with the smallest corner of the earth
if only she were mine
In the case of Obama we have no idea about what is small and innocuous for him. He and his wife have looked gracious and elegant and have caught the approving attention of the fashion industry. As columnist Walter Russell Mead wrote “He (Obama) is at least as smart as Carter, as good on a podium as Reagan, and as good at press wranglings as JFK. But all this and more would not bring him from an Illinois Senate seat to the White House in five years without lady luck.” What one means by “lady luck” is the ability to look convincing on the “idiot box”..

Obama did have considerable luck! Because of his limited public record, he had no negative political record that he could be dragged down with, unlike his main democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Nobody can understand why Hillary did not batter her husband and his cigar habits with White House interns.

Obama, the good looking unknown, did not have to do anything positive to have a positive record. He just had to look like one who could be given the benefit of doubt for a positive record. “Positive with respect to what?” George Bush? Easy! He had such a negative impression! It has been often said that the Nobel Peace Prize for Barrack Obama is because the Nobel Committee acted on the European wish that they could vote in the American election. A piece in our local Pune Mirror of Oct 11 2009 with the by line Veda, Yada! expresses it best perhaps.

All said and done, young Obama should have said no to the Peace Prize.

Obama has not given any inkling of being innocent of the Bush-like manipulation in the months he has been in office. He has worked for everything without working for anything. He has not got Burma’s pro-independence leader Aung San Suu Kyi released nor helped in establishing the identity of the American swimmer that put her back into confinement; the closure of Guantanomo Bay prison ordered on the second day of his presidential term is yet to close. The Gitmo issue is not politically important now for the voters in USA who are more worried about healthcare; Gitmo is surely a positive issue for the peace prize should some Arab influence matter. Nobel prizes require lobbying and an American President could require some Saudi lobbying.

One may even suspect that Obama chaired the 2009 UN nations sessions on global peace to enhance his credentials for the imminent decision on the Peace Prize. There are some who have joked that Obama used the money meant for lobbying for Chicago for the 2016 Olympics to lobby for the Nobel Peace Prize for himself.

It is clear that Obama’s performance as an individual would not have got him the Peace Prize or any other prize, if he did not have the power of an American President. It seems also plausible that it would not have happened with another committee or, at least, another chairman of the Nobel Peace Committee.

The Nobel Peace Committee is headed by one Thorbjørn Jagland, President of the Netherland Storting, an MP from the Labour Party, and, for a brief while, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands. He has been for the last ten years a Vice President of Socialist International advocating far-left policies, has been chairman of the Oslo Center that works with the (Jimmy) Carter Center which intervenes in conflicts and initiate peace talks. He is now elected as the 13th Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The Peace Committee has four other ladies with considerably less public import.

Jagland (Fig 2, top right) is born of working class parents and his family name was changed from Johansen (the same name as the boxer, Ingemar Johansson, Fig 2 bottom right, who knocked out my boxing hero of that time, Floyd Patterson) to hide his background. One of his pictures, seen frequently on the internet (Fig 2, top right) resembles that of a tough scrapper. He also looks like Johansson, the boxer, as well as Daniel Craig (Fig 2 top left) the current James Bond.

Daniel Craig is supposed to have said “The question I keep asking myself while playing the role is, ‘Am I the good guy or just a bad guy who works for the good side?’ Bond’s role, after all, is that of an assassin when you come down to it. …” This is the question all Presidents, US or not, must be asking themselves.

Jagland is also known for his gaffe involving the Norwegian TV Hostess Synnöve Svabö shown on Norwegian Television, NRK, in 1998. The picture was taken while Jagland was serving as Prime Minister. This picture would have knocked an American President out. In Scandinavia it is probably just laughed off. It is said that Svabö 'trapped' the Prime Minister. How unfair! Still we may be provoked to ask: How willingly was he trapped? What are the other kind of “traps” he may prefer?

One wonders what it would take for a Nobel Committee to be influenced the promise of power and of influence of an American President who is still in Office. The earlier American-President Nobel Laureate who got the Peace Prize for the work they did while in office, Theodore Roosevelt (President at 43 years of age, 1901-1909) and Woodrow Wilson (the only President with a Ph. D.), were the head of a country at a time when Europe was at the centre of Power and many countries were in direct conflict with another while jockeying for strategic geopolitical positioning and power.

Theodore Roosevelt, who was an early conservationist, took initiative in opening the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague, which helped in settling many international disputes by arbitration including that between USA and Mexico on California; he directly mediated between Russia and Japan.

It took Roosevelt only one year to get the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for his work on the Russian-Japanese peace treaty in 1905.

Woodrow Wilson’s Nobel Prize in 1919 took less than a year since forming in 1919 the League of Nations.

Ninety years later, Obama’s Nobel Prize seems to have come earlier than his Nobel work. In this sense his Nobel Prize may be thought to have come faster than the speed of light.

I remember Professor S. Ramaseshan of Bangalore, commenting on the rate of growth of journals in the library, saying that there would be no violation of laws of Physics if the rate exceeded the speed of light, as no information is being conveyed. The signal from Obama’s Peace Prize has the danger of dissipating into cacophonous noise.

Now that we are letting a Time Machine scenario of a future action determining the basis for a past Nobel Prize, we have an opportunity to suggest a recipe for the Nobel Prize to Obama. Actually we may make as many recipes and eventually hope that a collective wisdom will prevail. It is, of course, not clear, whether we require making it before the next Nobel Peace Prize.

What is the peace we seek? Theodore Roosevelt has written that “peace is generally good in itself … it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism and anarchy …

I have jotted down a few aspects that could contribute to a good thing by itself. These ideas are based on the distribution of the early Nobel Peace Prizes mopre than a hundred years ago. They were given to founders of societies with various peaceful aims. They were the Red Cross, or the French society for peace between nations, secretaries of International Peace Bureau, secretary of International Arbitration League, President of Permanent International Peace Bureau, President Lombard League of Peace, Founder of Swedish Peace and Arbitration League, and so on.

He could allow Holbrooke to stir up an India-Pakistan conflict (preferably nuclear) before bringing peace and Obama get a Peace Prize (á la Roosevelt) for bringing peace during a nuclear war between the remnant Indo-Pak populations.

Alternatively, Obama could start something, say, on the lines of Foundations for Elimination of International Terror or a Society for the Psychological Dissipation of Suicide Bombers and get his prize á la Wilson.

Times have, however, changed. The more visible threats are those from population increase, global warming and so on besides discounting a large continent splitting asteroid impact. The new, paradigm-shifting proposals could include the following:-

i) Forming a Society for the Banning of Exotic Goods. This will reduce the energy cost of wrappings and packaging and transportation and export-import of non-local food and consumer products born out of advertising.

ii) Forming a Society for Supporting the Predictions of Gaia hypothesis as proposed by James Eprahim Lovelock now 90 years old and looking 60. If he does it fast enough, Obama may have to share the Nobel Prize with Lovelock in Medicine or Chemistry? Lovelock had said “…natural world would welcome nuclear waste as the perfect guardian against greedy developers…” or “radiation … is far less a hazard than is the presence of people and their pets… nothing comparable to deal with that truly malign waste carbon dioxide”.

iii) Create a Society for Natural Living and Death. No mass entertainment, no recorded music, no virtual anything, no flying machines on land or air, no synthesized medicine, no cooking, no lung and heart machine, no ventilator.

From such a viewpoint, the promise (see Wikapaedia) of a future Nobel work for a past Nobel Laureate (who is the vital part of the prize) is that he “… undertakes in the future to render some service, gift or assurance to the others…”. Amen. ! ?

There is also the Jewish Asmachta, which is a conditional promise made with no actual intention of keeping it. It’s not that simple for Jews (see, May 19 2006).
“If the people who are meant to use the asmachtas
are already so well versed in halacha
as to be able to use the asmachtas,
why would they need the asmachtas
as reminders..”

Yes, indeed!

What it means is that once you have the Nobel Prize, do you need the actual Nobel work?