So far, as noted here, Barack Obama has faced mounting expectations through a sequence of high-stakes speeches, from the "race" speech that saved his campaign 18 months ago to the Joint Session address on health care that appears to have changed momentum for his proposal. So far he has met or beaten expectations just about every time, most recently here.
I confidently predict that this string will end with his address in Oslo on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. My argument is probabilistic: of the hundreds of addresses that have been given by Nobel laureates (last year's here), exactly one is frequently quoted or referred to. That is William Faulkner's address on receiving the literature prize 60 years ago. The transcript is here, including the best known line: "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail." It's only three minutes long, and you can hear him delivering it below:
Will Obama give the second-ever memorable speech? That would be impressive but seems unlikely. For context: Martin Luther King's quite long speech here; T.S. Eliot's here; Winston Churchill's here, which includes the Onion-esque line, "The world looks with admiration and indeed with comfort to
Also, to follow up on the WaPo Nobel editorial gaffe from yesterday: I mentioned soon after moving back from China that the New York Times looked like the same newspaper I remembered, while the Washington Post sadly did not. This is the kind of thing I had in mind. The NYT has its lapses and embarrassing errors (as do we all). But for this lengthy, lead editorial to have appeared in the Post yesterday, it had to have passed through at least three people's hands -- and probably many more. Those three would be: the editorial board member who wrote it; the editor of that section; and the copy editor who was on duty for the page as a whole. In reality, other people almost certainly saw it before publication.
The editorial as published -- with its recommendation that the Peace Prize should instead have been given posthumously to the martyred young woman Neda from the Iranian uprising -- required that none of those three people was aware that Nobel prizes are not given posthumously. That's surprising for people in those positions, on general-education principles, but in no sense negligent. We're all ignorant, just of different things. Before the current flap, I had never heard that Peace Prize nominations had to be filed by February, which would have ruled out figures from the Iranian uprising this summer.
But it also required that none of the three people was curious enough or worried enough to check, before publishing not a blog post or a real-time update but a major paper's main editorial. That is a surprise. I don't think we can imagine a similar gaffe in a NYT lead editorial -- other problems, sure, but not a general-knowledge fact-check howler. More to the point, I can't imagine a comparable error in the WaPo's own sports section, which has been outstanding for years and still is now. (The counterpart might be a column about the World Series noting that the NL pitchers looked better when at bat than AL pitchers did, and wondering why that might be.) FWIW the Neda editorial is still online, with no correction note or update.
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