Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nobel and Rio

So, I have thoughts on two major headlines of the last week:

First, the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to President Barack Obama. Many people were annoyed, stumped or disgusted by the pick. If we are going on accomplishments, then I agree that Obama has not accomplished enough to merit the award. Nominations for this year's award were due in February, so Obama was only in office for less than three weeks. But I think it's more than that, which is why I think it is a beautiful thing.
Thinking outside our political attachments and putting ourselves in a more global mindset, here are some things to think about regarding selection of Barack Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize:

Contrary to what some believe, I think that the world is a fan of America. They love the ideals of America; they love what this country stands for. They do not like, however, the arrogance and entitlement that Americans often show abroad and that our nation often displays on the global stage. Like it or not, this award is at least partially an indictment of the Bush administration: unpopular war, unilateralism, "with us or against us". Obama represented a 'change' from the past and a new 'hope'.

Also, foreigners often have a unfair image of America. The way America is portrayed in minds of some Europeans is a place where we are constantly shooting one another and have serious race issues. To a degree, there is a bit a truth behind those portrayals. Racially, America is a scary place for many Europeans. Racially, America is a scary place for many Americans.

America always seemed behind in race relations. When slavery was banned in Britain in 1833, the United States was still 25 years away from fighting a war in which slavery was a crucial issue. While Europe has had multitudes of ethnic and racial issues over the past 200 years (anyone remember the Nazi party?), the view from across pond is that America is the place in the western world where racism festers. In Obama, we have history's first black leader of a country with a white majority. Never has this happened in England, France, Germany or other European country. In this context, I think the prize is more a salute to America for being bold, overcoming the past and setting new standards than it is for Obama the person or president.

I also agree with some of the detractors that say giving the President the prize before he establishes his legacy puts tremendous pressure on him. I can only hope that instead of declaring "Mission accomplished," the President will continue to strive to make America the beacon of hope and torch bearer of peace that other countries can admire.


So Rio de Janeiro is the host city for the 2016 Olympics. That was less shocking than Chicago, and their strong bid, being eliminated in the firsrt round of voting. Based on commentary, it seems the vote (by a heavily European panel) was not an indictment of Chicago as a city but rather the IOC's jab at the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and its arrogance and poor leadership. Unfortunately, Chicago was the victim of the squabble.

Here's my take on the 4 potential cities, in ascending order of preference:

4: Madrid- upside: it's Spain and Spain knows how to party, tapas, Barcelona hosted a fanastic Olympiad in 1992. Downside: Basque separatists using the Games for political means, can Spain raise enough money to stage an Olympics, nearby metropolis London is hosting the 2012 Games.

3: Rio de Janeiro- Upside: competing under the Christ the Redeemer (above), Copacabana and thongs, nice weather, first Olympics in South America and only third in southern hemisphere (Melbourne 1956 and Sydney 2000). Downside: Rio's notorious slums (so famous, they are tourist attractions) and crime (murder rate 7 times Chicago's), missing out on Carnival celebrations.

2: Tokyo- Upside: Japanese efficiency and friendliness, solid infrastructure, relatively safe compared to other places. Downside: nearby Beijing hosted in 2008, we might be out of tuna by 2016.

1: Chicago- Upside: Chicago is awesome (architecture, sports, Lake Michigan, food, nightlife, airports), Midwestern friendliness, many facilities in place, great history and a great American city to be showcased. Downside: Americans don't always play well with others, Chicago does have some crime issues, it can get dangerously hot and humid in summer.

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