Archive for May, 2018

A Nobel for Trump?

May 3, 2018

Some credit Trump’s bluster with getting Kim Jong Un to negotiate (hence the Nobel Prize chatter). Or did Kim, instead, see Trump’s behavior as creating an opportunity, to be exploited?

He is not crazy. He sees how hungry Trump is to claim some supposed triumph. Kim is canny enough to do what will achieve his own aims without actually paying a price.

So far, he isn’t paying any. Smiles and hugs are nice but don’t cost anything and don’t really mean anything. He’s decommissioned (he says) a testing facility that was no longer functional, or needed. He’s already got working nuclear weapons and missiles.

And won’t give them up. Qadafy gave up his, and Kim saw Qadafy’s fate — killed by a mob.

Trump says he won’t be played. But he’s already been played. A photogenic meeting with America’s president is a huge propaganda coup, boosting Kim’s status and legitimacy. Price paid: zero.

The two will emerge from their meeting all smiles and hugs. North Korea will be our new BFF — just the kind of country and leader (a cold-blooded murderer) the dotard dotes on.

Kim will agree to disarm. But agreeing, and disarming, are different things. North Korea had previously agreed to disarm, in exchange for goodies and concessions, which they pocketed, and then reneged on their promises. (Our negotiating stance should be to insist on the disarmament they already owe us.) What else will Trump give Kim in exchange for more worthless promises?

A deal worth having cannot come from one meeting. It would require a complex web of safeguards to ensure that disarmament commitments are honored. Will Trump have the preparation, patience, depth of knowledge and understanding, and deference to expert assistance, to negotiate such nitty-gritty? Don’t make me laugh.

In fact, that very kind of nuke deal was what we had with Iran — painstakingly negotiated over years — which Trump is now set to blow up.

He calls it a bad deal. Throwing around such words is his shtick. He’s said the same about NAFTA, the TPP, and Paris Accords. Those too were painstakingly negotiated by people knowing what they were doing — not with irresponsible rhetoric like Trump’s. NAFTA did hurt some Americans — as the TPP would have — but the benefits vastly dwarf the harm. But in Trumpland such facts and realities don’t matter. Just repeat “bad deal, bad deal, bad deal,” everybody but Trump was stupid. And his fans lap up these lies. (While his North Korea deal will be a bad one. Because he is stupid.)

Of course, the Iran deal mainly suffers from having Obama’s fingerprints. A guiding animus of Trump’s presidency is shitting on Obama’s.

Killing the Iran deal will be one of the stupidest things ever. “Bad deal,” Trump says, but can he replace it with a better one? No chance (just like “repeal and replace” re Obamacare). The problem with the Iran deal is that it still enables Iran to get nuclear weapons — eventually. But absent the deal, Iran can get them sooner.* Hastening the very thing Trump says he won’t allow.

If the Iranians were really smart they’d play Trump like Kim Jong Un is doing — renegotiate something Trump can claim is better, even if it’s actually not. But Iran’s leadership (unlike North Korea’s) is too disorganized for that.

And if we cannot get a better deal, what is the alternative? Bombing? It would literally blow up the region, in massive conflict, without damaging Iran’s nuclear program much (but maybe the real aim would be to distract from the Mueller investigation).

Meantime, shredding the Iran deal will also shred America’s credibility as a negotiating partner whose commitments can be relied upon, and our relationships with our chief allies, who are heavily invested in the deal. Further reducing America’s international standing and ability to shape the global landscape, making a more dangerous world.

Sorry, Donald, no Nobel Peace Prize for you. Maybe they can create a Nobel Booby Prize.

*Israel’s intelligence “coup” proving Iran lied in denying nuclear ambitions changes nothing. We knew Iran was going for a bomb. Why else the agreement?

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi — not the best book I ever read

May 1, 2018

The blurbs: “powerful,” “blazing,” “devastating,” “spellbinding,” dazzling,” “epic,” “luminous,” “spectacular,” “hypnotic.” This debut novel by Ghana-born Gyasi, raised in Alabama, had provoked a publishers’ bidding war.

“Hypnotic?” More like “sleep inducing.” Ninety pages in, I said to myself, “This is a bore.”

It begins in what is now Ghana, in the 1700s, tracing two lines of descendants of one woman, through eight generations (thus sixteen in all). Maybe it could have been a good thousand-pager. Yet Gyasi does it in 300. I admire conciseness. But here, one hardly meets a character before they’re gone.

The result is not a story so much as a series of barely linked snapshots. And not only are the characters fleeting, none is a flesh-and-blood human being. Instead they’re all idealized stereotypes, each existing to make a point. They often speak, too, in stilted, tendentious declamations.

This is what makes Homegoing a bore. Even though the episodes it chronicles might seem highly dramatic. This is, after all, mainly the story of slavery, including the horrors of African slave capture, trade, and transport, and American slavery and its aftermath. In the hands of a Toni Morrison, this stuff grabs your gut. But Gyasi sounds like she’s just phoning it in.

Part of it is the writing style. Or lack thereof. Contrast again Toni Morrison, a writer with a distinctive voice. Gyasi has none. Occasional flashes of interesting prose are only occasional. Mostly it’s simply matter-of-fact. Maybe that itself was the style Gyasi was deliberately aiming for. I just found it dull.

I said the characters are idealized. Indeed, they’re almost olympian. The most beautiful; most handsome; most muscular; strongest, bravest, most virtuous. Their stories also unfold in extremes. Ness, for example, has such extreme whipping scars that the slaveowner’s wife faints upon seeing them.

And how about H (his name), arrested and sent to a coal mine in the 1880s South. Making the daily quota (and avoiding punishment) is just barely possible for the strongest. One day, a white newbie is paired with H, complaining loudly about being cast among “n—–s.” But he falls apart, unable even to pick up his shovel. H heroically saves his sorry ass by taking a shovel in each hand and filling both their quotas.

Magical realism, you say? I’ve read magical realism, I get magical realism, but this is no magical realism. It’s just overblown and silly, another way in which Gyasi’s characters have no reality, and so her book lacks impact.

The story of slavery, and of the black experience of American racism, has been told a lot. Overtold? No. I used to think we’d pretty largely moved beyond all that, but lately it’s back with a vengeance. This is a story that needs to continue being told. Gyasi’s book doesn’t live up to its blurbs, but if you don’t already know the story, you’d benefit from it. Unfortunately, that’s not her likely readership; she’s preaching to the choir.