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The Nobel game: what is the score?

Webdiarist Sol Salbe was born in Israel, lives in Melbourne and runs a small Middle East news service relying predominately on Israeli sources which he often translates himself from the Hebrew. Sol's last pieces for Webdiary were Julia Irwin and the scriptwriter and Danby MP vs Melbourne University Press. Sol is a member of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, the Greens, Hamerkaz HaIsraeli and even a few cooking groups however the views expressed are his personal views and are not necessarily those of any these organisations. Info: ssalbe@westnet.com.au

The Nobel game: what is the score?

by Sol Salbe

It is a well-worn phrase that politics are invariably intertwined with most Nobel prizes. This year has been no exception but at least the politics came in style - a patchwork of Left and Right for the eyes and ears to behold.

Chronologically the first of the three "social" announcements came for the Peace Prize. Mohammed El Baradei prize was not welcomed by the glass-is-half-empty crowd. Many of these would have preferred someone like Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu. Others again, mainly on the Left pointed out that the International Atomic Energy Association was actually involved in increasing the use of nuclear energy. That, they contended, was something to be discouraged - not to be rewarded.

Of course receiving the Nobel Peace Prize is no proof of being commendable or, for that matter, making a great contribution for peace. Think of Henry Kissinger, described by Christopher Hitchens as a war criminal. My favourite anecdote relates to another such "worthy" recipient, Menachem Begin who was Prime Minister when Ariel Sharon orchestrated the 1982 Lebanon War in which ten of thousands of innocent Lebanese and Palestinians (and quite a few Israeli soldiers) died. The anecdote concerns the head of Physics in Israel's Technion who nominated Begin for the Nobel Prize in physics on the ground that his contribution to physics… was about the same as his contribution to peace! [The Norwegians wrote back saying that they were glad that the Jewish sense of humour was alive and well.]

But in El Baradei's case most people saw it as the finger being given to the Bush administration. Bush and Co hated El Baradei for arguing that there were no WMDs in Iraq. They disliked his stance on Iran and were even desperate enough to try to have him replaced by Alexander Downer no less. [Only Israel's Shimon Peres, himself a Nobel Laureate, thought that giving the prize to El Baradei was a warning to Iran!]

The Peace Prize was followed by a reward to the forces of the Right for economics. The two winners were the American Thomas Schelling and Robert (Yisrael) Aumann who holds both Israeli and US citizenships.

If you've never heard of Schelling or Aumann right-wing politics then the Australian media wasn't much help. The nearest thing to a hint was Tanya Nolan on the World Today: "Schelling, successfully applied Game Theory during the Cold War, explaining that the ability to fight back is sometimes more useful than defending oneself from an attack."

US based left-wing Israeli academic Daniel Breslau was more forthcoming: "[Thomas Schelling] was the most important figure in the application of game theoretical thinking to geopolitical strategy, with books like The Strategy of Conflict in 1960. His work is taught in military colleges around the world, and is frequently cited in articles on military strategy. "

Schelling is the theorist of the coercive use of military force, ie force used to induce desired behaviour in an adversary, rather than simply to destroy the enemy's military capacity. His ideas were the direct inspiration for US strategy in Vietnam, of indiscriminately bombing the North in order to persuade Ho Chi Minh to stop supporting the Vietcong in the South. This strategy resulted in two million civilian deaths and was a complete failure in realising its objectives. Schelling's ideas are no doubt read in Israeli officer courses, and inform the IDF approach in suppressing Palestinian resistance.  The IDF approach of pressuring the civilian population, which shades into state terror, is consistent with some of Schelling's recommendations, as discussed here by Fred Kaplan in Slate (http://www.slate.com/id/2127862/)

Aumann's politics are no better. Writing is Israel's main liberal daily, Haaretz Tamara Traubman profiled him: "A religious man identified with right-wing politics - some of his colleagues label him "extreme right" - Aumann has an explanation from game theory for the failure of the Oslo agreements, and the same tools serve him to explain why Israel must continue the arms race and hold on to nuclear weapons."

And further: "Aumann is a veteran member of Professors for a Strong Israel, a right-wing think tank, and he opposed the disengagement. At the Center for the Study of Rationality at the Hebrew University, they said he arrived daily with an orange ribbon, and kept doing so after the plan was implemented. He insists on calling the disengagement "the expulsion." [The orange ribbon was the symbol of the Gaza settlers and their supporters.]

Traubman was a bit coy about Professors for a Strong Israel. Its political positions are on the far right. For example, the organisation is opposed to Israel's infamous fence/wall. No, it does not care about the impact on the Palestinians. It is concerned that the fence may undermine Israel's claim for the whole of the OccupiedTerritories. A current comment by the group chairperson Ron Breiman in Israel's largest circulating daily is telling. While in English the heading is circumspect Give Hamas a chance, there is no such compunction in Hebrew where it's Let the Hamas win. His logic is simple - all the Palestinians are terrorists so if the Hamas were to win then "the tired Jews" (and by implication the rest of the world) "will understand that peace and a Palestinian state west of the Jordan are a contradiction in terms."

So with one win to the very mild left and one to the hard right the decider was to be the Nobel Prize for literature. Attention was centred on the Swedish Academy like the camera focussing on Simon Taufel standing in the middle of the SCG. But when the wait was over and the finger went up it didn't signify a batter being given out but the rudest gesture Bush and Blair could imagine. The Swedes award the Noble Prize for literature to Harold Pinter.

The Guardian initial report gave an idea why the Coalition of the Willing wasn't happy: "An outspoken critic of the war in Iraq (he famously called President Bush a "mass murderer" and dubbed Tony Blair a "deluded idiot"), in 2003 he turned to poetry to castigate the leaders of the US and the UK for their decision to go to war."

Murdoch's London Times editorialised: "there are two possibilities. First, the Nobel committee may have ruled that 2005 was the ideal moment to honour a man who wrote his signature works in the late 1950s…"

Then there is another possibility: that Pinter is just about the biggest and sharpest stick with which the Nobel committee can poke America in the eye. His recent output has consisted almost entirely of rabid antiwar, anti-American and expletive-filled rants against the Iraq conflict. He did not like those in Afghanistan or Kosovo either. In his anger, which only occasionally verges on the coherent, Pinter is as spare with logic as he once was with language.

Pinter's Noble was announced in the late evening on Thursday 13 October (AEST.) It must have taken everyone by surprise for on the next morning the same Associated Press story was run in the country's three leading broadsheets and as a bonus in the Hebrew Haaretz and even Al Jazeera. All alluded to his humble background as a son of a Jewish dressmaker. However his Opposition to the  Iraq war somehow wasn't deemed worthy of being mentioned in the Australian. The Age at least mentioned the war and the Sydney Morning Herald even quoted the first line of his poem on the war "Here they go again, /The Yanks in their armoured parade"

Here is the full poem:

God Bless America

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.

The gutters are clogged with the dead
The ones who couldn't join in
The others refusing to sing
The ones who are losing their voice
The ones who've forgotten the tune.

The riders have whips which cut.
Your head rolls onto the sand
Your head is a pool in the dirt
Your head is a stain in the dust
Your eyes have gone out and your nose
Sniffs only the pong of the dead
And all the dead air is alive
With the smell of America's God.

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re: The Nobel game: what is the score?

I don't really see anything different from most other years with this year's Nobel prizes. They stopped by and large being the ultimate prize in achievement in the various fields, and rather became tools of political judgement. Think Yasser Arafat winning the Peace Prize in 2001 and you will get my point.

re: The Nobel game: what is the score?

Stuart Lord you're correct of course. It has become just another political award and not much more. It wont be around in twenty years let alone fifty.

It has had little meaning for some time now. Although the awards in science and economics are always of interest.

re: The Nobel game: what is the score?

I'm not sure how Kissinger getting the Nobel Peace Prize is any more bizarre than it being simultaneously offered to Le Duc Tho, who, with Vo Nguyen Giap, continued to direct military operations against the South during the Vietnam War.

At least Tho had the decency to turn it down, I suppose.

re: The Nobel game: what is the score?

Stuart Lord: "I don't really see anything different from most other years with this year's Nobel prizes."

Jay White: "Stuart Lord you're correct of course. It has become just another political award and not much more."

Wonderfully perceptive stuff given the article begins:

"It is a well-worn phrase that politics are invariably intertwined with most Nobel prizes. This year has been no exception but at least the politics came in style - a patchwork of Left and Right for the eyes and ears to behold."

The article was an interesting view of past strange awards and an analysis of this year's awards. THe IAEA decision is interesting in its perceived snub of the US and other reactions but countered by the politic complexions of other winners.

The Kissinger issue was a classic and marked by the purported answer Tom Lehrer gave to the question as to why he retired from writing and performing his songs:

"They gave Henry Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize. You can't beat satire like that."

On Lehrer, I found this 2003 interview:

"Tom Lehrer is still feisty and funny, but the king of sophisticated satire tells Tony Davis there's no place for his style of humour now: the world just wouldn't get it.

'I'm not tempted to write a song about George W Bush. I couldn't figure out what sort of song I would write. That's the problem: I don't want to satirise George Bush and his puppeteers, I want to vaporise them.'"

I guess he's right, after all Bush can say things like, "Iran and Syria must learn that there is nothing to gain by interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq" with a straight face.

The cricket analogy was apt as well, one must look to the scoreboard to see the political affiliations and the score for each.

re: The Nobel game: what is the score?

I am baffled at Parsons sometimes.

In my post I adressed the problems facing this country as per free speech, noting AUSTRALIA'S heading towards totalitarianism; a la Germany 1935, with the example of what happened to Vanunu as an example of what will now probably happen to whistleblowers HERE.

Yet Parsons heads off on a tangent about me comparing Israel with Nazi Germany.

I am comparing what may happen to us, to what happened in Germany.
But as we are on the subject, Vanunu is a valid example because his example demonstrates how authoritarian tendencies surface when governments become underhand, hence fearful of scrutiny.

Thus, THEN we are on the inevitable downward slide that reached its most extreme manifestation in the total nihilism and institutionalised sadism that was Nazi Germany.

For Christ's sake fellow, try to read what people say in context, instead of just looking for excuses to bad mouth them.

re: The Nobel game: what is the score?

Sid Walker: "Hitler and Nazi Germany are dead and gone. Sharon and Israel are not."

And we're supposed to believe this sort of provocative parallel is not meant to offend Jews, but is merely the dispassionate consideration of a human rights activist?

I should point out that this is the same Sid Walker who only a few days ago linked us to a Ba'athist web site to support his claim that Saddam Hussein didn't gas the Kurds at Halabja.

His claim there was, "It debunks the (official) Halabja Conspiracy Theory."

re: The Nobel game: what is the score?

C Parsons wrote: "Paul Walter: 'Welcome to Germany, 1935!'

Never a day goes by without some 'anti-Zionist' forcing a parallel between Israel and Nazi Germany."

Not much of a comparison in the mind of this anti-Zionist, C.

Sharon has an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction at his disposal that Hitler could only have imagined in 1935 or 1945 for that matter.

Hitler and Nazi Germany are dead and gone. Sharon and Israel are not.

The next Olympic Games will not be held in Tel Aviv.

Berlin was unified in 1935 (still is).

Contrast Jerusalem today, where wall-builders are at work, entombing a supremacist State within one large ghetto and its opponents inside strangulated and impoverished ghettoes on the outer side.

re: The Nobel game: what is the score?

Paul Walter: "Welcome to Germany, 1935!"

Never a day goes by without some "anti-Zionist" forcing a parallel between Israel and Nazi Germany.

In this case, because El Baradei has upset Iran, presumably.

re: The Nobel game: what is the score?

Mordechai Vanunu
Yes. A man who spent twenty years in gaol for blowing the whistle on a sinister and arrogant lie. It would be an acknowledgement and victory for principled whistleblowers everywhere, including the likes of Wilkie and co here in Australia, who have sacrificed so much trying to tell the truth about slyness in government here. Latest example- Jon Stanhope.

How long before we get a home-grown Vanunu if the Falangists get their way with their rotten anti-democratic security/"sedition" nonsense and IR legislation up, next month?

Welcome to Germany, 1935!

re: The Nobel game: what is the score?

El Baradei deserves a prize for diligently playing the role of servile twit while promoting the official agenda: that the main threat of nuclear proliferation and WMD agression comes from Arab and Moslem States.

No dong more fitting than the Nobel Peace Prize, already the world's most devalued moral currency.

re: The Nobel game: what is the score?

Harold Pinter: "The gutters are clogged with the dead..."


The number of armed conflicts has declined by more than 40 per cent since the early 1990s, while casualties have declined dramatically.

The average battle deaths per conflict per year dropped from 38,000 in 1950 to 600 in 2002.

Last year there were 25 armed secessionist conflicts, the lowest number since 1976.

The value of the arms trade fell by a third between 1990 and 2003, and the number of refugees fell by 30 per cent between 1993 and 2003.

So, clearly, George Dubbya Bush, his dad and Bill Clinton should get the Nobel Peace Prize.

It may be a coincidence that this has largely proceeded along with the collapse of Communism.

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