A Nobel Gesture

Between Al Gore winning a Nobel Peace Prize and the Dalai Lama of Tibet winning a Congressional Gold Medal, it’s been a big couple weeks in the field of Largely Symbolic Awards Bestowed Upon People Only Tangentially Related to Them. I suspect next we’ll see the Pulitzer Prize for Drama given to an improv troupe.

Al Gore and the Dalai Lama of Tibet don’t have much in common, of course. There is some dispute over Gore’s worthiness for the Nobel Prize, but when it comes to the Dalai Lama, I think we can all agree that we don’t even know where Tibet is.

The Nobel Peace Prize is one of five awards given in the name of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who also invented dynamite. (It’s true!) His will said the Peace Prize should go to: “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

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Gore angry! Gore smash!

Even as someone who supports Al Gore’s campaign against global warming, I have to acknowledge that his efforts have nothing to do with Alfred Nobel’s criteria. Of course, previous recipients include warmongers Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat, in whose cases receiving the Nobel Peace Prize was not merely baffling, as with Gore, but actually ironic.

But hey, it’s the Nobel committee’s decision. If they want to reward Al Gore for work that’s important but has nothing to do with world peace, that’s their prerogative. Heck, give him a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for all I care. It’s no skin off my nose.

But some conservatives were very angry when Gore got the Nobel Peace Prize. This is because some conservatives are very angry whenever anything good happens to Al Gore. If his daughter gave him a “World’s Best Dad” coffee mug for Fathers Day, Rush Limbaugh would scream about it for weeks, in between fistfuls of narcotics and pie.

Many right-leaning editorialists made a point of listing other potential Nobel recipients who were surely more deserving of it than Gore was. And they may be right. I just think it’s funny that Al Gore wins, and all of a sudden people are really, really concerned about the integrity of the Nobel Peace Prize, which they’d never even thought about before. Did last year’s winner deserve it? Nobody knows, and nobody cares. As a matter of fact, it was Jay Leno, and he beat Nelson Mandela. WHERE WAS YOUR OUTRAGE THEN?!

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The Dalai Lama’s Congressional Gold Medal is much less controversial, although I’m still not sure I “get” it. This award, which must be introduced as legislation and voted on by Congress, is to recognize distinguished contributions or achievements. You don’t have to be an American to get it, though most of the recipients have been. Nelson Mandela got one; so did Frank Sinatra. Unlike the Nobel Peace Prize (which the Dalai Lama got in 1989, by the way) the requirements for the Congressional Gold Medal are pretty vague. It seems to be for general awesomeness in the field of being excellent.

Apparently the U.S. has been wanting to give the Dalai Lama this award for a while but didn’t want to upset China, which kind of hates His Holiness and is bitter about the whole Tibet thing, which is a very complicated and thorny issue that I don’t feel like going to Wikipedia to learn more about.

The way I found out that the Dalai Lama was receiving the Congressional Gold Medal is that a Tibetan woman in downtown Portland handed me a flier. This flier congratulated His Holiness on the award and thanked the United States for the honor. To celebrate, the Portland/Vancouver chapter of the Regional Tibetan Youth Conference was giving out free pizza and soda at Portland’s Pioneer Square. I’d like to think His Holiness is a fan of pizza and soda himself. Although he probably isn’t, considering he’s 72, and Tibetan.

I had a slice of free Dalai Lama pizza, even though I still didn’t really know what was going on or why I should be interested. It was from Pizza Hut, which meant it was really, really greasy, because the way they make their pizza is, they dip it in grease, and then they bake it in the pizza oven, and then they dip it in grease again, and then they put it in a box that’s been pre-coated with more grease. For this reason, I nominate Pizza Hut for the Nobel Grease Prize. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! But they’ll probably give it to Al Gore instead.

Of course, I interviewed the Dalai Lama once. Good times, good times.

The scandal involving Rush Limbaugh's addiction to prescription painkillers happened four years ago, but I never got around to making an easy and obvious joke about it. What's the statute of limitations on that?

It's ironic (or something) that the namesake of the Nobel Peace Prize was the inventor of dynamite, but Alfred Nobel's work in explosives was actually a major reason for starting the award, or so the story goes. In 1888, a French newspaper erroneously reported that Nobel had died and called him "the merchant of death" for having invented (and gotten rich from) dynamite. Having one's death falsely reported is bound to make anyone stop and think about their life's work, and Nobel, appalled to realize that dynamite was going to be his legacy, set up the Nobel Prizes so he'd be remembered for something better instead.

And it worked. Everyone today has heard of the Nobel Peace Prize, and what was once his defining attribute has been reduced to a bit of trivia. Nice going, Alfred Nobel!

The Nobel Prizes are in the categories of peace, literature, medicine, chemistry, and physics. A sixth award for economics was established in 1969, called the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, and it is not, strictly speaking, a "Nobel Prize." Also, Jay Leno didn't really win one.