Best known for inventing dynamite and creating and funding the Nobel Prizes, Alfred Nobel was also a playwright, though his work has (perhaps justifiably) gone unstaged—until today. In Stockholm, on the same day that Nobel's prizes are distributed, a small theater will stage his play Nemesis. The four-act anti-capitalist tragedy, suppressed as blasphemy in its time, features rape, incest, chemically induced visions of the Virgin Mary, and a forty-minute torture scene. Even the theater's director admits, "It's not Strindberg."
The World Trade Organization has what many call a final shot at realizing the ambitious Doha round of trade negotiations in Hong Kong this week. The plan, established in 2001, initially aimed to free up markets worldwide by the end of last year, but foot-dragging by the United States and the European Union over farm subsidies spurred a coalition of more than twenty developing countries to derail Doha in 2003. The prospects for success this year appear dim.
There has been talk for months about whether coalition forces will begin to withdraw after today's election, which under the most optimistic scenario will conclude the formal political rebuilding of Iraq. Poland's commitment is set to expire at year's end, and Japan has agreed to wait until later this month to decide whether it, too, will pull out. Senior military officials from the United States and Britain (by far the biggest contributors to the coalition) have hinted that political success could bring troop drawdowns as early as next spring, although the official line from both countries remains that no withdrawal timeline has been established.
Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish author of the best-selling novel Snow, whose work has gained a wide following in the West, could receive a sentence of up to three years in jail when he stands trial today for "insulting being a Turk, the Republic, or the Grand National Assembly" (article 301/1 of the Turkish Penal Code). Earlier this year Pamuk told a Swiss newspaper that Turkey had killed 30,000 Kurds in separatist struggles during recent decades and a million Armenians in a genocide during World War I. Discussion of either subject is highly controversial and stringently policed in Turkey. A free-speech group and the European Union, which is engaged in membership negotiations with Turkey, have condemned the charges.
In a macabre combination of empathy and self-promotion, Thailand will pay for the immediate families of foreign tsunami victims to attend two days of memorial ceremonies, supplying airfare and accommodations. The hope is "that they can see we are ready to welcome tourists again," according to the Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. The government reports that tourism has recovered, although independent surveys suggest that certain afflicted areas are still struggling to fill hotels. December 26 will be devoted to mourning, and the following day to parties and music on the beaches.
By today Kim Jong Il's regime will stop accepting the food shipments it has received from the United Nations and other international aid agencies since the mid-1990s, when North Korea was ravaged by famine. Instead the country, which says it no longer needs the food, will allow aid in the form of development money. The move will reduce the influence of the United States and other countries that have criticized the regime's human-rights record. According to UN data, North Korea's food situation has improved since the late nineties but remains ghastly: acute malnutrition affects seven percent of the population, down from 16 percent, and chronic malnutrition affects 37 percent, down from 62 percent. From 1995 to 1998 about two million citizens died of hunger.
In a rare concession to mortality, Dick Clark will be joined this New Year's Eve by his tousle-haired successor, American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, to watch the ball drop on Times Square. The eternally taut Clark, seventy-six, sat out last year's festivities after a minor stroke (Regis Philbin flew up from the Caribbean to cover). Seacrest will share host and executive-producer duties, and will eventually take over the thirty-four-year-old event.