Tookie and the prize

Talk about tainted—as it turns out, hundreds of thousands of people can nominate anyone they wish for a Nobel Prize

With all the histrionics over Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s refusal to spare the life of murderer Stanley “Tookie” Williams, the least-told part of this tale has been nagging at me like an unpleasant chore best put off until later.

As we were told multiple times about this multiple murderer by multiple media outlets in multiple articles, Williams was nominated on multiple occasions—by multiple people—for the Nobel Prizes both for peace and for literature.

Those nominations accorded Williams an enormous amount of gravitas. A few weeks ago, for example, Williams spoke (remotely, of course) to hundreds of kids attending the Junior State of America convention in Santa Clara. Williams was followed a couple of days later by a talk to the same kids by Rebecca Owen.

Owen’s dad was viciously cut down by Williams when she was just 4 years old. If news coverage of the junior convention is accurate, Owen was treated with respect as she discussed her struggle to cope and declined to state what should happen to Williams. Williams, in his “appearance,” was treated with equal respect.

Isn’t that as it should be? If anything is proof of reformation, it’s showing up on an elite list like the Nobel nominations. Such a nomination gets you onto the same podium circuit as the victims.

The fact that Williams wrote children’s books and spoke out against the gang culture he helped to fashion from the bleak darkness of his own mind is nothing compared with the shining reality that he’s been nominated. The list grows each year of thugs in prison who really do attempt to improve themselves. They jump into positive, cautionary-tale projects like books, biopics and poetry. They produce oil paintings and the like. They get written up in the local paper.

Now they know better. Angle instead to be nominated for Nobel Prizes.

Williams has forever altered my view of that award, whose nominations are clearly now used as a crass promotional device. The ease with which anyone’s name can suddenly appear on the list casts a pall over the entire Nobel process.

Leave it to California politics to reveal the tainted side of the things that, in our desire for halcyon days, we hope are above tainted self-interest.

I certainly got duped by breathless media accounts of the “Nobel Prize nominee.” I didn’t figure it out until I saw something in the online blog of attorney Eugene Volokh (at Volokh, a friend of mine, is the Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law at UCLA Law School—an honor that actually means something.

As he wrote, “Any social science, history, philosophy, law, and theology professor, judge, or legislator in any country (plus a few others) can nominate anyone for a Nobel Peace Prize (past nominees, just in 1901-1951, included Hitler, Stalin, and Molotov).”

Everybody catch that?

Hundreds of thousands of people are permitted to nominate anyone they wish for the Nobel Peace Prize, and any professor of literature or linguistics, ill-informed or well-informed, can nominate anyone for a Nobel Prize in literature. No criteria. Williams was nominated by people who liked and tried to help him.

To alert the public to all this misdirection by the media, blogger Patrick Frey ( has launched a campaign to get himself nominated for a Nobel Prize—also for no good reason.

On November 21, Frey beseeched readers: “If you are a professor, judge, or legislator, then I want to hear from you. I want you to nominate Patterico for a Nobel Peace Prize. I’m dead serious.” In a similar campaign, KFI talk-radio host Bill Handel recently got himself nominated for a Nobel Prize for no good reason.

The underlying message, of course, is that the governor was on target when he stated that Stanley Williams had not shown remorse for his murdering and was more showboat with fakey titles than peacemaker.

While we in California launch wacky Nobel Prize campaigns, they don’t find it funny in Europe. There, folks are so upset with Arnold that some people in Graz, Austria, near where the governor grew up, are talking about stripping his name off the local stadium.

One European journalist attracted Frey’s notice after she wrote glowingly, for the Associated Press, that Williams “never wavered from his claim of innocence and refused to confess to crimes he did not commit.”

It’s nice to see the AP absolving a multiple murderer of crimes he “did not” commit. It’d make the cumbersome California judicial system so much easier if the media could simply let us know who is not guilty.

It’s not such a big step from where things stand today, as the media continue to spout inanities about our society’s loss of a much-vaunted, much-deserving, multiply-nominated Nobel Prize contender.