Saturday, April 26, 2014

Obama not in Beijing

On a Trip That Avoids Beijing, Obama’s Eye Remains on China - "So far, China’s reaction has been muted. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a perfunctory objection to Mr. Obama’s assertion that the American security treaty with Japan obligates the United States to protect a clump of islands in the East China Sea that are administered by Japan but claimed by both Japan and China."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Green River

As if holding a green glass bottle to my eye, the world had changed. I looked out the window of my office down at the banks of the Willamette River, at the trees growing on Hard Tack Island, and could not see the far side of the river. I could not see purple mountains, some days hazier than others. Bright green, green that is triumphant, green that’s mostly blue, a little yellow, a little brown. Before there had been only brown. And gray. And early evenings. A few trees bloomed pink and white on the west shore of the river below my office, fluffy, fat, and lazy, too dense to ascend heavenward, dense like clouds painted on ceilings, fat and lazy like the Baroque cherubs who lived in those clouds.

I love looking up through a tree blooming with soft pink flowers, the branches twisting darkly behind, the sky light gray and low but somehow light.

Now though, green. Bottle green. Thick and shiny. Green that chokes, as everything just grows and grows and grows. The river is no longer gray. It no longer reflects the blue of the sky. The sudden growth on the banks around the water, on Hard Tack Island, has oxidized the surface of the water, resulting in a deep verdigris. The river seems to move slower, too. Not like a wide, deep Pacific Northwest river. These rivers here are never quite flat, the winds from the Columbia River Gorge or from farther down the Willamette River Valley push against the surface of the water so that on some days the water seems to be flowing backward, up toward the mountains, running away from the sea. Even on the most empty day, not a gust, not a bluster, the strong current below marrs the surface of the water. The river always seems most deep and dangerous those days; I wonder how I never noticed the great currents before and how much of this is posturing.

Placid but not pellucid. That’s how the Willamette looks this week. More narrow, green and brown, more Southern I think. It reminds me of the Cahaba River back in Alabama. Like everything Southern, the Cahaba is in no rush. The water thick, brown with mud, green with algae, the water lazies south toward the Gulf. We swam there in the heat, on one of those hottest days, the water not even that much cooler. Deer lapped at the bank and water moccasins waited in puddy pockets near the shores for enough provocation.
June will come and the Willamette Valley will remain resplendent. It will not wither in the Southern heat. It will not fade yellow or crisp brown. The water will remain blue for months and when we bathe in the river, the current will still be cold with snow melt.

In the morning, the leaves light up white and bright green, shimmering as wind blows north up the Willamette. A portion of the river directly below the sun is gilded, patina of white gold leaf, lighting up in a hundred tiny bursts of reflection, like bulbs on an old Vegas sign. Everything is moving - the minute constant movement of static on a television, ants covering the sidewalk. Nothing on which to rest the eye.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The strong words of Chang Wanquan

China is not letting up on its big talk on sovereignty. This week U. S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with his Chinese counterpart Defense Minister Chang Wanquan. Wanquan did not have nice things to say about the Japanese, particularly Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Nor did Chang have anything particularly nice to say about the Philippines. He did say, ““We will not compromise, nor concede, nor trade on territory and sovereignty.”

A year ago the Chinese announced its “air defense identification zone” which extended to the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands and which China says provides it authorization to demand identification from and permission to upon any unidentified aircraft near the islands. Yet China has yet to enforce this air identification zone. And though it has made claims to the Senkakus in the East China Sea and other islands in the South China Sea which are currently held by the Philippines, China has yet to make any attempt to forcibly take the islands from either Japan or the Philippines.

However, it should be noted that this vocal stance is forging or strengthening alliances between other Asian nations. The Philippines recently took China’s territorial challenge in the South China Sea to the U.N. Permanent Court of Arbitration (which China subsequently declared did not have authority to hear the case), prompting Japan to applaud the move by the Philippines. And slowly, slowly, slowly relations between Japan and Korea may be softening. Maybe.

China’s main ally, Russia, has either become an international laughing stock or, due to its actions in Crimea, has become again the world’s greatest threat to international stability. Alarums have been raised. The world is not amused. And while I do not think the world has entered a new Cold War era, I do believe Russia has set itself in a bad position against the rest of the international community. China needs to dump Russia and move on.
In her recent trip to China, First Lady Michelle Obama was received cordially. Her political messages to China indulged. China knows it must work to some extent with Japan and the Philippines and Korea and the U.S. and the E.U. It must work with these other nations politcally to maintain its economic transcendence. But it order to become a greater political influence, it must be able to maintain an image of strength; in order to keep other nations from taking advantage of its weak borders, China sets itself to these little tiffs with strong nations, flexes its military muscle, and defense minister must frown down at defense secretary.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Inadequate Proposals

Sometimes some men have movie star grins. He said, “We see each other around a lot. My name is Brad.”

And he just grinned and grinned. White teeth grin. Clear skin. Tall. I had seen him at a coffeehouse the previous day and I had just watched him working out. Now we stood on the sidewalk outside the gym. I said, “Yes, I just saw you yesterday. My name is Christopher.” I grinned then looked at my bike then looked back and Brad and felt awkward. Then, distracted and awkward, I couldn’t think of anything else to say so I said, “Welp, have a good night!”

It’s hard to talk when you’re thinking about your bicycle, and the ride home, and dinner, and what to say next, and about how you have nothing interesting to say, and about your boyfriend, and about what your boyfriend would think about you standing with this stranger talking on the sidewalk.

Adam and I have been dating for about a year and a half. I wouldn’t say surely, but maybe, there is a possibility that another man has flirted with me during this year but I didn’t even notice. Which seems like it could be a waste, a waste of sexual energy. And who doesn’t like to be hit on, flattered. Honestly, I’ve probably just been caught up with this thing with Adam, maybe a little oblivious, but it seems like it has been a long time since another man has flirted with me.

I biked home from the gym and Adam met me at my apartment later. I made polenta with butternut squash, caramelized onions, and bourgignonne sausage. Red wine from Argentina. We watched tv. We got naked together and fell asleep. 

Embarrassingly, the house smelled like sausage for the next two days. The aroma turned into a stench which kept me awake at night.

If I had brought Brad home for dinner, I would have been even more embarrassed by the smell, by the dishes I left stacked in the sink, by the clothes piled in the closet, by all the chores that needed to be completed. I’m embarrassed when Adam comes over and finds me in this disarray. But Adam forgives. Adam overlooks. We watch tv, drink coffee, read comics, and decide where’ll we go out to later.

I’ve watched other men hit on Adam. I've been jealous of the attention men give Adam and the attention Adam gives other men. I like the days I have Adam all to myself.

First dates are difficult. Dating is difficult. Dinner and drinks and parties. Small talk. Conversation explorations, feeling out the terrain of the other person’s interests. I would ask tiny questions, nod munificently, act surprised or excited in encouragement. We would have sex or not. We would be happy or not.

On our first date, Adam and I met for coffee. Which moved to drinks. Which resulted in a kiss. Which developed into an invitation to accompany to a party later that night. On that first date together, Adam told me about his father’s interest in playing horseshoes, and Adam’s failure or disinterest in following in his father’s footsteps.  I nodded, and laughed, and thought about how much I would like to kiss him.