The New Yorker Nails It on President Obama's Nobel
If President Obama really had to get a gift postmarked Scandinavia this month, he would probably, on the whole, have preferred the Olympics. At least at the Olympics the judges wait till after the race to give you the gold medal. They don't force it on you while you're still waiting for the bus to take you in anticipation of possible future feats of glory, like a signing bonus or an athletic scholarship. They don't award it as a form of gentle encouragement, like a parent calling "Good job!" to a toddler who's made it to the top rung of the monkey bars.
Ha ha ha! Isn't it the truth? After watching the defensive response of Thorbjørn Jagland to questions about this choice, I began to suspect that this was really the "Congratulations for not being George W. Bush" award - which means, for pity's sakes, that any of the rest of us could have won the thing.
It's not a plastic, made-in-China "participation" trophy handed out to everyone in the class as part of a program to boost self-esteem. It's not a door prize or a goody bag or a bowl of V.I.P. fruit courtesy of the hotel management. It's not a gold star. It's a gold medal.
I'm hip to that. However, we must remember that even the gold medal itself is not always the Seal of Good Sportsmanship that it is meant to be. Let's not forget that ridiculous spectacle at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City:
Or a pensive Nancy Kerrigan pouting and stomping her foot after losing the gold - which she deserved to lose - to Oksana Bayul. (On second thought, let's forget that whole Tonya-Nancy-Oksana thing. Yes, please!)
Of course, in response to the awarding of another gold to Sale and Pelletier, the scoring and judging of figure skating was changed to make it more "fair" - so fair, in fact, that I cannot make heads or tails of it, and judging from the comments of others who watch this sport on YouTube, neither can they.
So fair, in fact, that we find ourselves looking up the good old days by watching old performances by Kristi Yamaguchi and Midori Ito*, and even the pre-1993 performances of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan (but man, did Kerrigan choke a lot - it's painful to see) rather than watch many of the skaters today, what with their "flutzes" (failed lutz - either falling off the takeoff edge, which makes it a flip, or under-rotating the jump so that the skater completes the last revolution on the ice) and "slips" (under-rotated flips). The new scoring system is supposed to award attempts at jumps but deduct for an incorrect takeoff edge, incomplete jump, and any landing that is not clean, and yet it seems to me that women's figure skating in particular went downhill after 2002.
(A few exceptions: the fiery Irina Slutskaya, who eats triple jumps for breakfast, and the lovely Shizuka Arakawa, the 2006 gold medalist, who I think could work on building more speed in her spins but completes her jumps with a confident back edge and a beautiful line. And despite her strong jumps I was never a fan of Michelle Kwan.)
Well, there it is. The award was not given, as I had hoped, to the Iranian student protestors. For better or for worse, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to President Barack Obama, who looked "abashed, even a little uncomfortable" according to Hertzberg, who adds, "the prize is won, but the peace, as always, is elusive." So it is. I don't think this honor has done much to help the current President step out of the He's-not-W shadow - that achievement, too, remains to be seen. But step out of that shadow, I believe, he will.
In other news, John McCain has requested that President Obama pardon Jake Johnson. I hope that he will.
*Both Kristi and Midori fell; Kristi won the gold. Uncharacteristically struggling to complete her jumps in the 1992 Olympics, Midori rallied, fought for the silver, and made skating history by throwing into her program a second triple axel. I love them both.