The Nobel Prize Curse

The Nobel Prize Curse

By J.R. Dunn

[An AT classic from 2007, very relevant today.]

Al Gore’s Nobel may very well turn out to be the beginning of the end for global warming.

How’s that, you say? Surely Al and the International Panel on Climate Control, armed as they now are with the great cachet of the Nobel, will sweep away all oil-company-inspired opposition and bring the Green revolution to completion. We’ll all be riding unicycles to work and recycling our nail clippings come next Tuesday, and be happy doing it, lest Al, watching from the big house in Nashville, be made unhappy and give orders to have us sent to Prudhoe Bay to feed moss to the caribou.

Isn’t that how the Nobel’s supposed to work? But in fact does it? A glance at how the causes of some recent prizewinners have fared may prove enlightening.

* In 2005, the prize went to Mohamed elBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, for his efforts in discouraging nuclear proliferation. Evidently, the word hasn’t reached Iran, North Korea, Syria, or Pakistan yet.

* In 2004, the winner was Wangari Maathai, for her efforts on behalf of “sustainable development, democracy, and peace”, which appears to amount to planting trees in Kenya. Last year Prof. Maathai began a campaign against the menace of plastic bags. Good for her, I say.

* The 2003 winner was Shirin Ebadi, “for her efforts for democracy and human rights”. Everywhere but her home country of Iran. She’ll get around to it eventually, though.

* For 2002, it was our own Jimmy Carter, for peace, democracy, human rights, and I don’t know what all. Two weeks ago, Jimmy was given the bum’s rush by a pack of Sudanese security thugs.  I guess they hadn’t heard about his Nobel.

* The 2001 prize went to Kofi Annan. Kofi has more or less dropped out of sight after leaving the UN. I wonder why?

* In 1997, it was Jody Williams of the International Campaign to ban Landmines. Haven’t heard of them recently either. Did they dig ‘em all up?

* And in 1988, the nod went to the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces. You didn’t know there was a Nobel for well-run whorehouses, did you?

But enough. It’s clear from this list that not a single cause — from nonproliferation to land mine clearance — has prospered recently  since the major figure involved won the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s true that some of these awards have been transparent efforts at PC (“We need an African woman. Any African woman.”), and some have been attempts at interfering with domestic politics that the Norwegians simply don’t understand and should keep out of (all four of the most recent awards can be interpreted as attacks on the Bush administration, which is four too many). But other, far more worthwhile efforts including Tibet (the Dalai Lama, 1989), and Burma (Aung San Suu Kyi, 1991) have suffered as well. 

We need to ask whether the prize itself could be a factor. Some of these campaigns, for instance, land mines, were going great guns right up until the prize was awarded. Then began a slow spiral into irrelevance, marked by neglect from the media, governments, and the public at large. Is the Noble committee unwittingly acting as undertakers to some of its favored causes?

Such a thing has long been recognized in light of the literature Nobels. Several years ago, a friend of mine set out to found a literary quarterly. He’d taken particular care with lining up contributors, and was very proud of receiving commitments from several writers who had been short-listed for the Nobel.

What he failed to grasp was the fact that, simply to qualify, a writer had to have been at work for a minimum of three decades, if not longer. By that time, all but the most exceptional writer has finished his major work. The great material — the stuff that qualified him in the first place — has long since been written. Now the writer is working on minor variations of a theme, filling in the spaces, so to speak. And so we get the “Nobel effect” – the widely recognized fact that virtually no writer has ever produced great work after receiving the prize. I can’t think of an exception – A Moveable Feast was a nasty, vindictive piece of work. Nobody will ever argue that The Paper Men is the equal of Lord of the Flies. Even V.S. Naipaul’s post-laureate work has to be graded as dull, hard as that is to believe. Little question exists that the lit Nobel kills careers (not to mention new literary quarterlies). 

The peace prize’s woes have slightly different roots. Over the years, the prize has evolved from an award for carrying out good works in the hope of encouraging others to an often barely-veiled effort at manipulating events, as if the committee saw itself as a multi-headed Wizard of Oz pulling international strings to assure the triumph of Good. But the difficulty here is one of lead times. In the millennial world, many problems appear, peak, and break within a matter of months or weeks, if not days. If any effect is to be achieved, it must be attempted within this time frame. The Nobel committee, with a lead time of years, simply lacks this capability.

Looking at the list of laureates, we see several occasions where the committee was a day late and a kroner short. One that leaps out is the 1985 award to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, a transparent attempt to promote the Nuclear Freeze, a protest movement seeking to freeze numbers of nuclear weapons at the current level prior to universal disarmament. Ignoring the fact that the Freeze was a completely synthetic effort by the KGB (the Soviets had a momentary predominance of weapons in Europe and wanted to keep it that way), the movement’s peak had occurred two years earlier, in 1983. Ronald Reagan’s speech of March that year, proposing a missile-defense system that would make nuclear weapons “impotent and obsolete”, cut the ground out from under Freeze advocates. Their sole argument was that no alternative existed between their program and universal doom. Reagan offered an alternative, and the entire campaign effectively guttered out by the end of the year.

Far from weighing in on a red-hot topic, the Nobel committee was in the position of trying to revive a corpse that was, well… cold.

Another factor involves the large number of awards handed out to unworthy recipients. The major example here is, of course, Yasir Arafat, but the list also includes Kofi Annan, Rigoberta Menchu, and the UN Peacekeepers. Reputation is a fragile thing, and once thrown away it is seldom recovered. The committee at times appears to be doing its level best to flush away the prize’s last shreds of prestige in favor of hustlers, frauds, and worse. (“Peacekeeper” is well on its way to meaning the same thing that “dragoon” did in the 18th century — a uniformed rapist and looter.)

So that’s the prize that Al Gore got. Not something to rally to masses, to say the least. At best, a mere oddity, at worst, a sign that a particular problem or crisis has received all the recognition that it deserves and can with good conscience be put on the shelf next to the land mines and the Kenyan trees.

Al may well have gotten his prize just under the wire. The global warming thesis received several body blows this year not yet adequately aired by the legacy media. The first is the NASA data glitch, a software failure that kicked all temperature records up several tenths of a degree. The second is the investigation of automated weather stations by meteorologist Anthony Watts, who discovered that a large fraction of the nation’s 1,200 stations have been mis-sited

“…on rooftops, at sewage treatment plants, over concrete, next to air conditioners, next to diesel generators, with nearby parking, excessive nighttime humidity, and at non-standard observing heights”

 — not to mention the one sinking into a swamp. Taken alone, either of these developments is damning. Taken together, they demolish the very basis of the warming argument. Warming was postulated from long-term changes in basic temperature data. What happens when that data has to be thrown out? Quite simply, the entire thesis must be reworked from the ground up. And until it is, all conclusions about warming, climate change, or anything comparable get put on hold.

As for the Peace Prize,  is there any way to salvage it? The possibility exists. The literature prize was for decades handed out to oddities, leftist apparatchiks, and friends of the management until, in the 90s, substantial figures such as Naipaul and Seamus Heaney began to make a reappearance. Missteps still occur (Harold Pinter, e.g.), but the literature prize is not quite the object of ridicule it was twenty years ago. The same could happen with the peace prize.  The committee must first drop its political pretensions. The anti-American campaign of the past four years, which culminated with the Gore award, is simply an embarrassment.

There are ways that the committee can be politically effective.

The 1975 award to Andrei Sakharov, coupled with the 1970 literature award to Solzhenitsyn, was a key element in the dissident campaign against the Soviet monolith. The KGB, which would have been delighted to dump the two of them in the camp farthest north of the Arctic Circle, had to keep their distance. The same is true of Aung San Suu Kyi, who would suffering far worse than a jail cell if it weren’t for the attention her award has drawn. Other such cases exist. The committee must learn to pick its battles wisely.

But I have my doubts. Harder than relinquishing power itself — power of course having its drawbacks — is relinquishing the illusion of power. Like many figures in entertainment, the media, and the academy, the Nobel committee has for years been able to posture as world-changers without the burden of responsibility. Odds are that the Norwegians will still be selecting hustlers for as long as they can get away with it.

Any bets on Barry Bonds for 2008?

hat tip: PT

J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.
Page Printed from: at October 09, 2009 – 10:05:39 PM EDT

Congress’ Secret Plan to Pass Obamacare – CONFIRMED

Congress’ Secret Plan to Pass Obamacare – CONFIRMED

Leaders in the House and Senate have a plan to pass President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care plan by Thanksgiving without any significant participation by the American public. CNS News has confirmed the details in our September 22nd titled “Passing a Shell of A Bill: Congress’ Secret Plan to Ram Through Health Care Reform.” Nicholas Ballasy reports “a senior aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told that it is ‘likely’ that Reid will use H.R. 1586—a bill passed by the House in March to impose a 90-percent tax on bonuses paid to employees of certain bailed-out financial institutions—as a ‘shell’ for enacting the final version of the Senate’s health care bill, which Reid is responsible for crafting.”

This story confirms the four part scenario that would railroad the bill through the Senate using a very unusual closed door procedure to craft the bill with no input from the American people.

The four stage plan to pass Obamacare has been publicly confirmed and is ready to be implemented. The following is a comprehensive update:

Step One: “The Senate Finance Committee will finish work on the marking up of Senator Max Baucus’ (D-MT) conceptual framework for legislation by this Friday.” Progress on this had been stalled and the bill was not passed by the end of last week. is reporting that the Congressional Budget Office score of the bill will be released later today and a high score may further stall progress on the Committee’s Vapor Bill.  Senate Finance Committee’s progress on passing something out of committee – INCOMPLETE.

Step Two: Next, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will take the final product of the Senate Finance Committee and merge it with the product of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee. has confirmed that “the actual final text of the legislation will be determined by Reid himself, who will consolidate the legislation approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the still-unapproved legislation from the Senate Finance Committee. Reid will be able to draft and insert textual language that was not expressly approved by either committee.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will write the final version of Obamacare to be considered in the Senate with no input from the American people. This is an extremely complex procedure that will not be done in public, or in the form of a hearing, or a public conference committee, and only Senator Harry Reid, some other Senators chosen by Reid and Obama Administration officials will be allowed to read the bill before the Senate debate starts. Merger of the bills – IN PROGRESS.

Step Three: Senator Reid will then move to proceed to H.R. 1586, a bill to impose a tax on bonuses received by certain TARP recipients. A senior aid to Senate Majority Leader Ried has confirmed that he will move to proceed to Senate Calendar Number 36, H.R. 1586, or another House passed tax measure, so the Senate can avoid the Constitutional mandate that tax bills originate in the House. Proceed to tax shell of a bill – CONFIRMED.

Step Four: This scenario would most likely be implemented after the Massachusetts state legislature gives Governor Deval Patrick the power to appoint a new Senator and that Senator is seated by the Senate. The Senate swore in new Massachusetts Senator Paul Kirk on September 25th. Change Law of Massachusetts to allow for interim Senator – COMPLETE.

The final step in this plan is for the House to take up Obama care, without amending the legislation, and then sending that bill directly to the President for his signature. Matt Cover at reports “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) won’t rule out having the House vote on the Senate health-care bill without making any changes in it, which would allow the bill to go directly to President Barack Obama without having to pass through a House-Senate conference committee and another round of votes in the House and Senate–and a longer period of public scrutiny of what the text of the proposed law actually says.” This scenario is in the process of being implemented and, if successful, it will result in Obamacare being on the President’s desk in time for Thansgiving with minimal participation of the American public.

The San Francisco Examiner published an editorial today that exposed the fact that the American people can’t see the bill. “When then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama promised not to sign major legislation until it had been posted on the Internet for public reading at least five days, trusting voters took him at his word. Now they know better. Not only is the actual language of what is likely to become the main legislative vehicle for Obama’s signature health care reform not available on the Internet, it hasn’t been given to members of the key Senate committees or the Congressional Budget Office.” The procedure being used, in addition to the exclusion of the American people from the process, should be of grave concern to all who want to participate in democracy and have a say in Congress’ health care reforms that will touch 1/6th of the American economy.

Here It Comes: The Second Stimulus

Here It Comes: The Second Stimulus

October 8th, 2009 Posted By Erik Wong.


“This time, the stimulus really will create jobs. No, really.”

WASHINGTON – Confronted with big job losses and no sign the U.S. economy is ready to stand on its own, Democrats are working on a growing list of relief efforts, leaving for later how to pay for them, or whether even to bother.

Proposals include extending and perhaps expanding a popular tax credit for first-time home buyers, and creating a new credit for companies that add jobs. Taken together, the proposals look a lot like another economic stimulus package, though congressional leaders don’t want to call it that.

Democratic leaders in Congress and the White House say they have no appetite for another big spending package that adds to the federal budget deficit, which hit a record $1.4 trillion for the budget year that ended last week.

But with unemployment reaching nearly 10 percent, many lawmakers are feeling pressure to act. Some of the proposals come from the Republicans’ playbook and focus on tax cuts, even though they, too, would swell the deficit.

“We have to do something for the unemployed, politically and economically,” said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

The House already has voted to extend unemployment benefits an additional 13 weeks for laid off workers in the 27 states where the jobless rate is 8.5 percent or above. Senate Democrats reached a deal Thursday to extend the benefits an additional 14 weeks in every state. Both proposals are paid for by extending a federal unemployment tax.

Also on the table: extending subsidies for laid-off workers to help them keep the health insurance their former employers provided, known as COBRA. The current program, which covers workers laid off through the end of the year, costs nearly $25 billion.

Congressional leaders haven’t settled on the length of an extension, or how to pay for it.

Several bills would issue extra payments to the more than 50 million Social Security recipients, to make up for the lack of a cost-of-living increase next year. One bill would set the one-time payments at $250, matching the amount paid to Social Security recipients and railroad retirees as part of the stimulus package enacted in February.

The payments would cost about $14 billion and would be paid for by applying the Social Security payroll tax to incomes between $250,000 and $359,000 in 2010. Currently, payroll taxes apply only to the first $106,800 of a worker’s income.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she is also considering a Republican proposal to allow money-losing companies to use their losses to get refunds of taxes paid in the previous five years. Under current law, most companies can only use current losses to get refunds from the previous two years.

“The issue of a net operating loss carryback to five years rather than two is an idea that has some currency,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi didn’t offer specifics, but a similar proposal that was dropped from the first stimulus package had a cost of $19.5 billion.

Pelosi said she is also looking into extending and expanding a popular tax credit for first-time homebuyers. The credit, set to expire Dec. 1, allows first-time homebuyers to reduce their federal income taxes by 10 percent of the price of a home, up to a maximum of $8,000.

Pelosi said the credit could be expanded to people who already own homes, though she offered no details. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has announced his support for extending the existing credit an additional six months.

“The question is, would that be just first-time homeowners or would you open it up to other purchasers of homes?” Pelosi said.

The program is scheduled to run for 11 months this year and cost a projected $6.6 billion. Extending or expanding the program would add to the costs.

Lawmakers are also working on proposals to award tax credits to companies that add jobs. Obama’s economic team proposed a similar incentive during negotiations over the stimulus package enacted in February but the idea was abandoned amid questions over its implementation.

A proposal by Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., would provide a $4,000 tax credit, to be paid out over two years, for each new employee. His office could not provide a cost estimate.

Pelosi said lawmakers need to hear from economists before settling on a package to create jobs. “What is it that we can afford? What works the fastest?” Pelosi said.

Rep. Dave Camp, D-Mich., the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said: “The fact that they’re putting forward all of these things is really an indication that the stimulus was a failure. It didn’t work.”

Congress passed a $787 billion economic stimulus package in February, providing tax cuts for individuals and businesses, relief for the unemployed, spending on infrastructure and aid to the states.

President Barack Obama and other Democrats are adamant the package has lessened the effects of the recession, saving jobs that would have otherwise been cut. Nevertheless, the unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent in September, the highest since 1983. A total of 15.1 million people are unemployed, and 7.2 million jobs have been eliminated since the recession began in December 2007.

Is it time to whisper the word ‘impeachment’?

Is it time to whisper the word ‘impeachment’?

October 9th, 2009

By Floyd and Mary Beth Brown, World Net Daily


The Impeach Obama Campaign is gaining steam

At the tea party in Washington, D.C., a popular sign read simply, “Impeach Obama.”

As a moderator of discussion on the blog, Floyd has observed the discussion of impeachment is mushrooming amongst conservative activists.

Radio personality Tammy Bruce may have captured these activists’ beliefs about Obama best: “Uultimately, it comes down to … the fact that he seems to have, it seems to me, some malevolence toward this country, which is unabated.”

But has Barack Obama committed an impeachable offense? What exactly constitutes an impeachable offense? Former President Gerald Ford, while serving in the House of Representatives, said an impeachable offense was “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution reads: “The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Here’s a passage from that succinctly summarizes the historical significance surrounding the inclusion of the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the Constitution: “’High crimes and misdemeanors’ entered the text of the Constitution due to George Mason and James Madison. Mason had argued that the reasons given for impeachment – treason and bribery – were not enough. He worried that other “great and dangerous offenses” might not be covered … so Mason then proposed ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ a phrase well-known in English common law. In 18th-century language, a ‘misdemeanor’ meant ‘mis-demeanor,’ or bad behavior.”

In other words, “high crimes and misdemeanors” does not refer to a criminal act. Our Founding Fathers fully intended to allow for the removal of the president for actions which include: gross incompetence, negligence and distasteful behavior.

For those who mistakenly hold the illusion that impeaching Barack Hussein Obama would be a simple matter of “playing politics,” the founders fully intended that the impeachment of a sitting president be a political act.

As notes: “The Congress decides the definition [of impeachable offenses]: by majority vote in the House for impeachment, and by two-thirds vote in the Senate for conviction. The Framers of the Constitution deliberately put impeachment into the hands of the legislative branch rather than the judicial branch, thus transforming it from strictly a matter of legal definition to a matter of political judgment.”

Impeachment is no more or less than the recall of an elected official who isn’t up to the job. Obama deserves recall much more than Gov. Gray Davis, and he was replaced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a special recall election Oct. 7, 2003, in California.

America is a monument to the triumph of freedom. When Barack Obama thinks about freedom, he sees a world in which some people, due to personal initiative and good fortune, will do better than others. In that regard, he is right. But Barack Obama sees that as unfair. Where you see freedom, liberty and the opportunity for any American to be all that he or she can be, Obama sees greed and bigotry.

Like so many on the far-left before him, going all the way back to Karl Marx, he believes that it’s his mission to promote “equality of outcome” over “equality of opportunity.” This worldview makes Barack Hussein Obama a very dangerous man, and a threat to your personal liberty.

Worldview explains why he has gobbled-up major banks and why the government now controls more and more of our money. And if you wake up one day to discover you’re broke, don’t be surprised. Barack Hussein Obama is Bernie Madoff with the political power of the presidency at his disposal.

Worldview explains why Obama intends to take away your freedom to choose your own doctor and your own treatment. Wherever government controls health care, bureaucrats decide who gets treatments, transplants, dialysis and costly medication.

The groundswell of calls for the impeachment of Barack Hussein Obama is growing.

Story of Obama’s life: “Rather than recognizing concrete achievement…”

Michelle Malkin 

Story of Obama’s life: “Rather than recognizing concrete achievement…”

By Michelle Malkin  •  October 9, 2009 08:58 AM

Isn’t it so fitting?

From community organizer to Illinois state senator (present!) to U.S. Senator for 143 days before moving into the White House…and now, the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize — not for anything he’s actually done, but for the symbolism of what he might possibly accomplish sometime way off in the future:

President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said, citing his outreach to the Muslim world and attempts to curb nuclear proliferation.

The stunning choice made Obama the third sitting U.S. president to win the Nobel Peace Prize and shocked Nobel observers because Obama took office less than two weeks before the Feb. 1 nomination deadline. Obama’s name had been mentioned in speculation before the award but many Nobel watchers believed it was too early to award the president.

It’s the final nail in the Nobel Peace Prize Committee’s coffin.

A Chinese dissident and an Afghan women’s rights activist lost out to this:

The Nobel committee praised Obama’s creation of “a new climate in international politics” and said he had returned multilateral diplomacy and institutions like the U.N. to the center of the world stage. The plaudit appeared to be a slap at President George W. Bush from a committee that harshly criticized Obama’s predecessor for resorting to largely unilateral military action in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Rather than recognizing concrete achievement, the 2009 prize appeared intended to support initiatives that have yet to bear fruit: reducing the world stock of nuclear arms, easing American conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthening the U.S. role in combating climate change.

I can’t capture the incredulity this morning any better than Allahpundit has: “Am I awake?”

Erik Erickson at RedState quips: He’s Becoming Jimmy Carter Faster Than Jimmy Carter Did.

Michael P. Leahy asks: Where’s Kanye West when you need him?


Obama’s press secretary woke him with the news before dawn and the president felt “humbled” by the award, a senior administration official said.

When told in an email from Reuters that many people around the world were stunned by the announcement, Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, responded: “As are we.”

The World Apology Tour yields dividends.

White House tells McChrystal to cool his heels

White House tells McChrystal to cool his heels

Rick Moran
Still not in any great rush to decide what to do about Afghanistan, the Ditherer in Chief has told his commanding general in the war zone not to come to Washington quite yet to brief the president on what he needs to get the job done.

Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post:

The White House has told the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan to delay a planned trip here Friday to brief President Obama and his senior advisers on his recommendation for a major troop increase.

Officials had hoped to have Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and what national security adviser James L. Jones called “all the key players” speak to Obama in person by the end of this week, leading to final deliberations over a forward strategy.But “we’re not finished,” Jones said Thursday, and meetings may extend beyond next week. When the White House is ready, he said, McChrystal — along with the U.S. ambassadors to Afghanistan and Pakistan — will fly to Washington so that the three “can meet with the president before a decision is made.”

McChrystal’s distance from this month’s high-level discussions illustrates both the determination of the new commander in chief to reshape the White House’s relationship with the military and the complexity of the decision Obama must make.

Unlike the Bush administration, which repeatedly emphasized that the new direction it took in the unpopular Iraq war in 2007 was blessed and orchestrated by its commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, Obama has solicited a broader range of views. White House officials have emphasized that McChrystal’s assessment that tens of thousands additional troops are needed to resist Taliban advances is just one of a number of positions being considered.

Who is included in this “broader range of view?” No doubt George Soros will put his two cents in and I wouldn’t put it past Obama to seek out the ideas of Code Pink in trying to decide the matter.

For a guy who railed against Bush for not listening to his generals on Iraq, he certainly has an interesting way of weighing the advice of the guy who knows best what is happening in theater.

Page Printed from: at October 09, 2009 – 09:32:16 AM EDT

Rigoberta Menchu Won The Nobel Peace Prize Too

Rigoberta Menchu Won The Nobel Peace Prize Too

By Jack Cashill

The left’s attraction to the obviously false is nothing new. For well nigh a century, in fact, the world’s intellectual elite has been crafting and enabling fraud on a wide range of critical subjects and, when the mood strikes, awarding intellectual deceit with Nobel Peace Prizes. 

When the Nobel Peace Prize committee met to award its 1992 prize, the choices were many and good. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the fall of the Berlin Wall two years prior, committee members might have chosen any of the architects of that empire’s demise-Ronald Reagan, for instance, or Margaret Thatcher or Pope John Paul II or the Soviet dissidents. They did not and never would. The committee passed as well on the heroes of Tiananmen Square.


No, this being 1992, the five-hundredth anniversary of Colombus’s “discovery” of the Americas, the committee members took the opportunity to rub its thumb in America’s eye. They awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1992 to a Guatemalan woman, an “indigena” by the name of Rigoberta Menchu.


Her autobiography, I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, had already become well known and well established in academe. The Chronicle of Higher Education accurately described the book “as a cornerstone of the multicultural canon.”  Does one sense a pattern developing?  Menchu received fourteen honorary doctorates after winning the Nobel and received some 7,000 international speaking invitations. 


At this same time, a young Stanford scholar named David Stoll was researching the anthropology of civil war in the Latin American context for his Ph.D. dissertation. He had read Menchu’s book and was unapologetically sympathetic with her people and her cause.  It was hard not to be. 


Menchu describes in heartbreaking detail how the light-skinned, Europeanized  ladino ruling class used the government to steal the land of her father and other native peoples. And when the indigenas protested, that same ruling class called in the army to suppress even peaceful dissent with unspeakable brutality. Persecuted beyond endurance, Rigoberta’s heroic father goes underground in 1977 and helps form the “legendary” Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC), which allies itself with the guerilla movement. Now about eighteen, Rigoberta gets involved in the struggle. Among other tasks, she teaches villagers how to make Molotov cocktails, dig stake pits, and capture vulnerable soldiers to defend themselves from army attacks.


In the book’s most dramatic scene, the army hauls a crew of suspected dissidents to the square of the Maya town of Chajul in the western highlands of Guatemala. Among the twenty-three beaten and tortured prisoners is Rigoberta’s sixteen year-old brother, Petrocinio.


There, the army forces the townspeople to watch in horror as the soldiers pour gasoline on each of the prisoners and set them ablaze one by one. While the prisoners burn, the soldiers laugh and celebrate. Outraged by this ghastly spectacle, the townspeople, Rigoberta among them, rush at the soldiers, but they draw back for fear of being massacred. “I didn’t think I might die,” remembers Rigoberta, “I just wanted to do something, even kill a soldier. At that moment I wanted to show my aggression.”


The following year, in January 1980, her father is among those protestors who occupy the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City to call attention to their increasingly desperate cause. In defiance of protocol and international law, riot police storm the embassy, and thirty-six people die in the fire that ensues, Vicente Menchu among them.


Soon after, the army kidnaps her mother, raping her and torturing her to death. Now about twenty-one, the unschooled Rigoberta becomes a community organizer with the CUC. “My job was to organize people,” she recalls. “I had to learn Spanish and to read and write.” As her leadership role grows, the authorities zero in on her, and she flees the country. In 1982, while in Paris, she tells her story to feminist Elisabeth Burgos-Debray, the ex-wife of international revolutionary and friend of Che Guevara, Regis Debray-the Bill Ayers of France.  The pattern develops.


When Stoll first came to Rigoberta’s region in 1987 to interview peasants about the cycle of violence, he learned that they feared the guerillas nearly as much as the army.  They wished that both would go away.  In 1989, he found himself in the infamous town of Chajul. He was interviewing an elderly gentleman named Domingo, when one of his questions left Domingo puzzled. “The army burned prisoners alive?” Domingo asked Stoll rhetorically. “Not here.” Intrigued, Stoll interviewed six more townspeople, and they all told him the same thing. There had been no burning of prisoners in the town, and the public burning of a whole parcel of people is something they might have remembered.  This was the first of many discrepancies that Stoll discovered.


In 1993, Stoll published a book based on his dissertation, Between Two Armies in the Ixil Towns of Guatemala. Stoll’s “peers in the overlapping solidarity movement” did not take kindly to the book.  They objected to the notion that the peasants were wary of the guerillas.  Besides, as more than one person told him, “That’s not what we read in I, Rigoberta Menchu.”


Then too, the postmodern, post-colonialist era was in full flower. A white, North American male judged a native woman’s “narrative” at his own risk. For the very act of judging, any number of academics stood ready to denounce such a person for cultural imperialism, if not racism. Knowing this, Stoll was careful in choosing whom he talked to about Menchu and what he told them. At small academic gatherings as early as 1990 and 1991, he had begun to share his findings, and the response was, as he expected, often hostile.


Says Stoll, “We have an unfortunate tendency to idolize native voices that serve our own political and moral needs, as opposed to others that do not.” By constructing what Stoll calls “mythologies of purity,” academics were able to isolate themselves from the reality of a situation often at the expense of the people they were mythologizing. And this is exactly what he thought was happening in Guatemala and why, despite the risks, Stoll felt the moral imperative to “deconstruct” Rigoberta’s story.


It was not all that hard to do.  Other than her age, twenty-three at the time of the narrative, just about every other contention in the book is conspicuously false.   The most problematic deceit involved her father. “My father fought for twenty-two years,” recalls Rigoberta, “waging a heroic struggle against the landowners who wanted to take our land and our neighbors land.” The reality was a bit different. In fact, Vicente Menchu was an army veteran and a relatively prosperous landowner, who shared in a community grant of about ten square miles of property. The rapacious ladino plantation owners were not his problem. His own in-laws were. For years, much to his wife’s consternation, Vicente and her relatives carried on a kind of Hatfield-McCoy dispute that occasionally spilled into violence and often spilled into court.


Stoll then raises the indelicate question of what the army was doing in this remote village in the first place. What he discovers is that a radical group called the Guerilla Army of the Poor (EGP in Spanish) showed up in the Ixil region in the spring of 1979. Few among them were indigenous.  Most of the guerillas, in fact, spoke only Spanish and waved the heroic image of Che Guevara on their flag. They then proceeded to raise holy hell, beginning with vandalism and sabotage and ending with the harassment of missionaries and the murder of certain large landowners.


Understandably outraged by the murders, the families of these landowners cooperated with the army in hunting down suspects. To be sure, the army responded harshly and murdered Rigoberta’s brother. One explanation Stoll heard is that the Menchus’ feuding in-laws fingered Rigoberta’s brother as a terrorist. His kidnapping helped spur her father to join the group that occupied the Spanish embassy.  The lethal fire was likely started by a Molotov cocktail misthrown by one of the protestors. The reign of terror from both sides had been swift. Vicente Menchu died in that fire only nine months after the EGP first showed up in his region.


I, Rigoberta Menchu Stoll argues, “protected revolutionary sympathizers from the knowledge that the revolutionary movement was a bloody failure.” In fact, Stoll believes that the book firmed up international support for the insurgency and helped keep the revolution alive after it had lost most of its internal political support.


Appealing as it was to feminists, Marxists, multiculturalists, and supporters of indigenous rights — in other words, just about everyone in academia — I, Rigoberta Menchu had quickly become a sacred text. “Rigoberta’s story of oppression is analogous to a preacher reminding listeners that they are sinners,” observes Stoll. “Then her story of joining the left and learning that not all outsiders are evil makes it possible for the audience to be on her side, providing a sense of absolution.”


The book and subsequent articles whipped up a firestorm in the academic community. That community’s Bible, The Chronicle of Higher Education, interviewed numerous academics across the country and came to a bizarrely predictable conclusion about most of those who teach the book: “They say it doesn’t matter if the facts in the book are wrong, because they believe Ms. Menchu’s story speaks to a greater truth about the oppression of poor people in Central America.”


The Nobel Prize committee was not about to reconsider either. “All autobiographies embellish to a greater or lesser extent,” Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, told the New York Times


It would seem that our president is in good company.

Page Printed from: at October 09, 2009 – 09:29:53 AM EDT

Obama Nobel Peace Prize–Analysis: He won, but for what?

Analysis: He won, but for what?

By JENNIFER LOVEN, AP White House Correspondent Jennifer Loven, Ap White House Correspondent 1 hr 34 mins ago

WASHINGTON – The awarding of the Nobel Peace Price to President Barack Obama landed with a shock on darkened, still-asleep Washington. He won! For what?

For one of America’s youngest presidents, in office less than nine months — and only for 12 days before the Nobel nomination deadline last February — it was an enormous honor.

The prize seems to be more for Obama’s promise than for his performance. Work on the president’s ambitious agenda, both at home and abroad, is barely underway, much less finished. He has no standout moment of victory that would seem to warrant a verdict as sweeping as that issued by the Nobel committee.

And what about peace? Obama is running two wars in the Muslim world — in Iraq and Afghanistan — and can’t get a climate change bill through his own Congress.

His scorecard for the year is largely an “incomplete,” if he’s being graded.

He banned torture and other extreme interrogation techniques for terrorists. But he also promised to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a source of much distaste for the U.S. around the world, a difficult task that now seems headed to miss his own January 2010 deadline.

He said he would end the Iraq war. But he has been slow to bring the troops home and the real end of the U.S. military presence there won’t come until at least 2012, and that’s only if both the U.S. and Iraq stick to their current agreement about American troop withdrawals.

He has pushed for new efforts to make peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. But he’s received little cooperation from the two sides.

He said he wants a nuclear-free world. But it’s one thing to telegraph the desire, in a speech in Prague in April, and quite another to unite other nations and U.S. lawmakers behind the web of treaties and agreements needed to make that reality.

He has said that battling climate change is a priority. But the U.S. seems likely to head into crucial international negotiations set for Copenhagen in December with legislation still stalled in Congress.

And what about Obama’s global prestige? It seemed to take a big hit last week when he jetted across the Atlantic to lobby for Chicago to get the 2016 Olympics — and was rejected with a last-place finish.

Perhaps for the Nobel committee, merely altering the tone out of Washington toward the rest of the world is enough. Obama got much attention for his speech from Cairo reaching out a U.S. hand to the world’s Muslims. His remarks at the U.N. General Assembly last month set down new markers for the way the U.S. works with the world.

But still … ?

Obama aides seemed as surprised at the news as everyone else, not even aware he had been nominated along with a record 204 others. Awoken by press secretary Robert Gibbs about an hour after the vote was announced, the White House says the president responded that he was humbled to be only the third sitting U.S. president to win.

The award could be as much about issuing a slap at Obama’s predecessor, former President George W. Bush, as about lauding Obama. Bush was reviled by the world for his cowboy diplomacy, Iraq war and snubbing of European priorities like global warming. Remember that the Nobel prize has a long history of being awarded more for the committee’s aspirations than for others’ accomplishments — for Mideast peace or a better South Africa, for instance.

In those cases, the prize is awarded to encourage those who receive it to see the effort through, sometimes at critical moments.

Obama likely understands that his challenges are too steep to resolve — much less honor — after just a few months. “It’s not going to be easy,” the president often says of the tasks ahead for the United States and the world.

The Nobel committee, it seems, had the audacity to hope that he’ll eventually produce a record worthy of its prize.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Jennifer Loven is the AP’s chief White House corespondent.