Saturday, September 16, 2006


Ten Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Three thousand unbearably sanctimonious teenagers. They've come from all over the world to the University of Denver this weekend for, as the AP story frontpaged by the Post hard-hittingly puts it, "an extraordinary gathering . . . a three-day event dedicated to helping thousands of young people promote peace around the world."

The reporter, a gink going under the name "Chase Squires," practically wets his pants:
Archbishop Desmond Tutu waved to the crowd as he arrived and Mairead Maguire, the 1976 laureate for her work against violence in Northern Ireland, shook hands. The Dalai Lama, honored in 1989 for his work on behalf of Tibet, was greeted by 50 costumed dancers from the Tibetan Association of Colorado and other supporters.

The Dalai Lama, in a maroon robe and gold sash, stopped to cradle the face of Dawa Dorjee in his hands as she wept with joy.
The Rocky's Jean Torkelson also approves:
The co-founders of PeaceJam, which opens today for its tenth anniversary in Denver, have sketched out an ambitious ten-year program involving thousands of young people, a book, ongoing BBC programs and United Nations-style peace initiatives but with "a lot less bureaucracy."

In other words, "A lean, mean, peace-making machine," said Ivan Suvanjieff, who co-founded PeaceJam with his wife, Dawn Engle, in a north Denver loft in 1996.
Survanjieff (né Mark J. Norton) is a rocker from Detroit (the Ramrods); he and his wife met at the heavily Buddhist Naropa Institute in Boulder, and either he (PeaceJam's own FAQ page) or both of them (most newspaper accounts) came up with the idea for PeaceJam in that North Denver loft in 1993 (not 1996), during Denver's hugely over-hyped "Summer of [gang] Violence."

Really lousy writing

The Post's Lisa Kennedy, writing in the "Style" section of all places, got the anniversary celebration off to a soppy start Tuesday:

"GIVE PEACE A CHANCE," the bumper sticker read. Was that a bleat? Or a whimper? Chances are it was anything but a demand.

Give peace a chance? All we are saying is it feels like peace squandered its opportunity in the 1970s. In the wake of the civil rights movement and after the Vietnam War ended, peace lost its cachet. . . .

"Peace, man. Let's hug a tree," [Survanjieff] adds with hipster intonations. "And clichés lose the power of the message they were created for. It has no weight." . . .

As throughout, Kennedy adds her two cents:

[T]he constant striving, even praying for peace, seldom makes news. Giving peace a chance already had fallen out of fashion when John Lennon, the man who penned the lyrics to that song, was killed. That's not ironic. That's tragic. . . .

But Kennedy (remember, she's the reporter) finds hope, sort of:

Today, many activists do the work of transforming people's lives from ones brutalized by violence (organized, chaotic, both) to ones where respect is the rule of law. But they could use the help of visionary language making its way into the mainstream once again.

Read the whole thing, for it is very bad. The real problem, though, is that every journalist writing about PeaceJam sounds almost as bad: respectful to the point of obsequiousness, uncritically supportive, nearly awestruck at this amazing event. The Post, the News, even hip 'n' cynical Westword, all shitcan any pretence to skepticsm or distance.

The amount of coverage is also way over the top. The Rocky story linked above, for example, has links to several others, including the must-reads "Laureates begin arriving" and "PeaceJammers break ice over lunch."

More complaining

Here's another thing: even with all the garbage stories I've read, I can't figure out what the hell PeaceJam (and the Nobelians) actually teach the kids, or what they actually do. The "initiatives" mentioned are vague, dumb and menacing, all at once. The Rocky:
The global initiative involves recruiting kids as young as kindergarten age — called PeaceJam Juniors — to carry out individual peace initiatives . . . .

The laureates want to launch a 10-year "global action plan" for peace, including one billion individual acts of peace which would be conceived and carried out by young people around the world.
"PeaceJam is about youth learning to do a better job than we did -- you have the opportunity to show us up and get it right," says Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who married Suvanjieff and Engle six years ago.

"One of the things I most admire about PeaceJam is that it does not seek to teach young people about peace, so much as it encourages them to become actors for peace themselves. PeaceJam takes the struggle for peace out of the virtually inaccessible realm of international politics and law and places it back in the hands and minds of people," says Oscar Arias, the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who invited Engle and Suvanjieff to his inauguration as president of Costa Rica a few months ago.
The Post again:
"PeaceJam is about action," Suvanjieff said. "I want the youth to be armed with knowledge, wisdom ... Peace means something to me. I want to share it. I want to spread it. Peace is what we need, and it's hard work."
Yes, but, what do you do, Ivan? Actually, the Rocky's Torkelson does mention one concrete peace-type (well, health-type, anyway) PeaceJam proposal, which she divulges to readers absolutely uncritically:

[T]he laureates hope to tackle global disease, especially crucial in a worldwide economy where viruses can sweep the world in a matter of days.

On that score, Suvanjieff said one practical improvement would be to cut down on the use of plastic bags in Africa where pools of stagnant water collect and breed disease-laden mosquitos. A simple change to absorbent canvas bags would prevent millions of cases of malaria.

Absorbent canvas bags will prevent millions of cases of malaria? And all the idiots were talkin' about using DDT again.

Update: The Post has the most ludicrous poll of the year on its front page right now:
Can the efforts of Nobel laureates and teens in Denver make a difference?

Yes - Never underestimate the power of teens, guided by great leaders.

No - War zones aren't tuned in to what's happening in Denver this week.

Don't know - PeaceJam's mission is crucial to our future, and could deliver results now.
Current score: Yes: 131. No: 145. Don't know: 21.

Update II: The Post is also frontpaging East High School student and repeat Peacejammer Rose Green's blog. It's pretty much what you'd expect.

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