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13 Oct 2009

Nobel prize-winning sofa – So. Here we are, a week gone by since my last post here, and none of the grand posts I was planning have materialized (mainly due to me not writing them). I guess if I want to write these posts I am going to have to do so a little at a time. Rarely do I have enough time and/or energy left at the end of the day to dash off a lengthy, in-depth discussion of a particular topic. I’ll have to try that for next week: write a little bit each night (well except for Thursdays, when I get in at 11:00) and see what happens.

“...we finally had it delivered today. I present to you our new sofa.”

Fortunately(?) for you, dear reader, I still have something exciting and fascinating to write about today. As you may have guessed from the title of today’s post, we got a new sofa! Why is this so exciting? Well, if you had been acquainted with our old couch, you would understand. Our apartments here are new and fairly nice, but apparently the school blew their whole budget on the building itself and decided to cut corners when it came to the furnishings. That’s the only explanation that makes any sense, because the furnishings that came with the apartment had to have been the cheapest they could find.

My mother, who experienced our sofa last year, said that it was “not quite top-of-the line.” That’s like saying that China is “not quite democratic.” Back when we first moved in, I hung out with two professors from the GSIAS (both of them have since moved on to greener pastures), and we would often joke about our apartments and furnishings. My wife and I already had a lot of furniture that we used instead of what came with the apartment (the bed and the refrigerator were the first to be replaced), but my two GSIAS friends had just arrived in Korea and had nothing. The beds were rock hard, the refrigerators tiny, but it was the sofas that received the brunt of our scorn and derision. “Here,” they would say, “have a seat on the bench.” That’s what we called the sofas: benches.

Still, we figured that we would just live with the couch as long as we were here. That changed when we visited my sister-in-law’s place and saw their new couch. It was the same color as ours, but so much nicer. It was very cushiony, but still firm enough to provide the proper support. The armrests were angled so that you could lie down on the couch without a pillow. On top of all that, it wasn’t that much bigger than our sofa, and so would fit in more or less the same space, and it was pretty cheap, too. We decided then and there that we had to get one, and we finally had it delivered today. I present to you our new sofa.

We took turns sitting on it after it arrived, smiling like kids with a new toy. It is very nice, although I don’t know if I can really provide an objective opinion. Imagine that you survived on stale bread crusts and murky water, and suddenly someone presents you with a nine-course meal. Would you be able to tell how good the cooking was? That’s similar to how I feel about our new sofa. I’m not saying that it isn’t great, and that we aren’t enjoying it, but I can’t help wondering how much of that is simply relief at not having to sit on the bench anymore.

Now, you may be wondering why the sofa is Nobel prize caliber. Well, it’s not. Actually, that was a reference to President Obama’s recent winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s been quite the topic of conversation lately, so I thought I’d say a word or two on it. I remember when the CNN story popped up in my Twitter feed: “Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize.” I stared at it for a moment, and the first thought to pop into my head was: “For what?”

The list of Nobel Peace Prize laureates is populated with great men and women: Woodrow Wilson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela, to name a few (although former Korean president Kim Dae Jung is obviously the most famous laureate here). Most of them worked long and hard to achieve peace. The same really can’t be said of Obama. I’m not saying that he may not eventually be worthy, but he’s not worthy yet.

This is just my opinion, but I think he should have declined the prize. The 1973 Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho for the Paris Peace Accords, but Le Duc Tho declined the award because there was still no peace in Vietnam. Had Obama declined the award, he would have still gone on record as a laureate, but he also would have appeared humble and realistic, and he would have robbed his critics of yet more ammunition to use against him. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and if I could sum up in one word how I feel about Obama getting the Peace Prize, that word would be “embarrassed.”

It’s embarrassing that he was nominated before he even had a chance to do anything. It’s embarrassing that all of those great men, women, and organizations that won the Peace Prize over the years for their decades of work toward peace have basically just been slapped in the face. And it’s embarrassing that many people still seem to see Obama as some sort of superhuman Messiah figure. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Obama is a man. In addition, he is a politician. I do not expect him to suddenly change the world, or to change politics. Every president has the chance to make the world a little better or a little worse. I hope that Obama will make the world a little better, that’s all. I still think he can do that, but I’m not expecting him to make the lions lie down with the lambs, so to speak.

We can speculate as to the Nobel Committee’s motivations for awarding Obama the Peace Prize, but ultimately I think they have done him—and every past laureate—a disservice.

There, that’s my yearly comment on politics. I think I’ll go sit on my new sofa now and forget about the Nobel Peace Prize.

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