Saturday, May 31, 2014

Chinese games

China is playing the world, particularly the United States and Russia. Old players from the Cold War, China is finally ascendant, quickly rising above the stagnant economies and gummed ideologies of the US and Russia. But it’s not the game with Russia that Americans need to worry about – we need to keep our eye on our own relations with China.

China’s recent gas deal with Russia basically takes advantage of Russia’s limited economy and fast growing desperation. The New York Times reported, “The chief executive of Gazprom, Alexey Miller, said the contract called for Russia to supply 38 billion cubic meters of gas annually over 30 years, making the price about $350 per thousand cubic meters. In 2013, the average price of Gazprom’s gas in Europe was about $380 per thousand cubic meters.” Though Putin wanted a price closer to what European nations pay, with the Russian economy close to recession he seemed desperate to move forward with the agreement. The Russian economy is propped up mostly by exports of natural resources, particularly gas, which explains why the Russians reached for Crimea but also why world leaders did not become more aggressive about the annexation – it does not do much to broaden Russian exports and strengthen their economy.

China, on the other hand, will in the short term increase its governmental spending to create pipelines and other infrastructure to accommodate the gas supply from Russia. This will inject money into the Chinese economy, creating jobs. The Chinese get a great deal on the resources it must import and will continue to rely on their expanding economy to pay for these resources as that economy continues to grow and diversify past an agricultural and manufacturing base.

When it comes to America, the US continues to embarrass itself, further weakening its stance in opposition to China. Attorney General Eric Holder’s indictment of 5 hackers working for the Chinese military out of Shanghai was a bold move. Aggressive, the US should make the world aware that the Chinese can play dirty, that they steal industry secrets, and that cyberattacks strike closer to home, affecting the nation more than the average American understands currently.

That said, the US government cannot hypocritically being doing the same thing of which it is accusing another country. In a piece concerning American surveillance of foreign companies and negotiations, the New York Times notes that American “officials say, while the N.S.A. cannot spy on Airbus and give the results to Boeing, it is free to spy on European or Asian trade negotiators and use the results to help American trade officials — and, by extension, the American industries and workers they are trying to bolster.” China knows the US is doing the same thing it is, and the US is trying to defend its actions while denouncing China.

This hypocritical stance by the United States wounds its world standing. What other nations will aid in the indictment of China and the resolution of this government led corporate espionage when the world knows the US takes advantage of these very same weaknesses? This week Republican lawmakers and pundits called Obama's foreign policy address at West Point weak. But it is not the caution that Obama advocates that makes US foreign policy weak - it is our continued hypocrisy. We must learn to lead by example and not just by indictment.

Friday, May 30, 2014

excerpt from "Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"Ifemelu imagined the writers, Nigerians in bleak houses in America, their lives deadened by work, nursing their careful savings throughout the year so that they could visit home in December for a week, when they would arrive bearing suitcases of shoes and clothes and cheap watches, and see, in the eyes of their relatives, brightly burnished images of themselves. Afterwards they would return to America to fight on the Internet over their mythologies of home, because home was now a blurred place between here and there, and at least online they could ignore the awareness of how inconsequential they had become."

I think so many of those who move away for whatever reason and return "home" experience something like this.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Lowland

I remembered being appalled when I first read Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. I remember finding her character to be selfish and irresponsible, that sometimes we find ourselves in places we do not necessarily like but that does not excuse us from our responsibilities, from caring for those who depend on us. The character’s affair is one thing - who cares who she has sex with - but her repudiation of her family, her suicide in the end, is completely another matter. I could not fathom how a woman, or a man, could turn her or his back on children.
I am spoiled. My parents loved me and gave me everything I needed and more. I was raised to believe that when I should I ever have children, I would give him everything of myself to them in return. And the dog can’t just be returned when it misbehaves or gets sick or grows old. Grandma still has to be visited even if it isn’t always very fun to be at her house. There are things we do for our family, a obligation due to circumstance.
I had the same immediate reaction to Jhumpa Lahiri’s newest novel, The Lowland, as I did to The Awakening. Lahiri’s novel centers around a family from Calcutta: two talented brothers, Subhash who grows up to become an American scientist, Udayan who becomes involved in the Naxalite rebellion that terrorized India in the late sixties; Gauri, the woman who falls in love with Udayan, but moves to America with Subhash; and finally their daughter, born from Gauri’s love for Udayan, but who grows up with Subhash for a father. The book spins together the loneliness of duty to one’s family, the political assassination of a loved one, and finally the betrayal of a child by her unwilling mother.
Even if Gauri’s betrayal of her daughter at first seemed like the betrayal Kate Chopin’s protagonist at the end of The Awakening, there’s a lot more to Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel. The story is all there and just because Gauri’s character leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I didn’t want to put down the novel. I wanted to know where this family ended; I wanted to know if they could heal themselves, find a way to make amends with the tragedies that unfolded decades before in restive India.
The Lowland is a quick read, and while that was helpful because the story kept my interest, Lahiri doesn’t make reading the pleasure it could be. While Lahiri occasionally captures a brilliant expression, a well written description, much of the prose follows a “and then, and then, and then” pattern. The writing is driven by narrative, one thing follows the other, and there seems to be an inevitability to everything that happens, both in the larger narrative but also generally in the flatness of every subsequent sentence.

Maybe that’s the thing about this novel: as a reader I wanted to know how it ended, and enjoyed learning a lot about the Naxalite movement and a part of Indian history with which I was not familiar, but nothing surprised me. Each event seems predictable as it unfolds, the characters don’t change, they don’t come to any awakening, they act for themselves, unaffected by the events around them, and Lahiri’s storytelling matches, each sentences marching straight toward its mark, straightforward.