COVID’s Cold Warriors
A conversation with Jeffrey Sachs and Chas Freeman about worsening US-China relations. Listen today at 2 pm or anytime at our website.
On this week’s show, Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, reminds us that Trump has “blamed China for just about every one of America’s ills.” It’s a tendency with echoes of the Cold War, and Republicans and Democrats alike are susceptible to it. Sachs says,
it was the sport of the administration for several years to prod, provoke, and taunt China, and the idea growing certainly in the foreign policy establishment (I would say in a bipartisan way in Washington) to somehow contain China. Containment, of course, was the model of the US from 1947 until 1991 for the Soviet Union. It was viewed as the great success story of American foreign policy, to see down the adversary in the Cold War. And as China has gained economic and technological and military strength in the last twenty years, the idea that the US should contain China in the way that it contained the Soviet Union became a meme of foreign policy discourse and chit chat.
Chas Freeman, American diplomat who was Nixon’s interpreter during his 1972 visit to China, also describes on this week’s show how the U.S. has taken deliberate actions to worsen the relationship with China:
As for what has been driving the current very sharp deterioration in the relationship, you have to remember that it was the United States that initiated a trade war, shut down the flow of investment, attempted to suppress technology exports and scientific exchanges, campaigned globally against Chinese telecommunications companies like Huawei as well as against the Belt and Road Initiative, tried to close Confucius Institutes at universities, escalated naval patrols of a provocative nature, in Chinese eyes, in the South China Sea . . .
Things have gone abysmally in recent years. And it seems they’re about to get worse. Freeman says:
One of the problems I foresaw with the trade war was a false assumption that somehow its effects could be compartmentalized and that it was an economic issue, not a political one. Or that it wouldn’t spill over into military contention. In fact, if you have a relationship like an intimate as in a marriage, the various aspects of it are inseparable. It’s a whole it’s not a sum of the parts and you can’t separate the parts. And we have now begun to engage not just in economic warfare, but in political warfare. And we run a fair risk of military warfare. This is not a propitious set of circumstances. So I’m afraid this may be irreparable.
Support us on Patreon and Listen to “Tom’s Diner”
As we get used to this new stage of being alone together (transforming into a collective of socially distanced people) consider that we’ve been preparing for this condition forever. Melville wrote of isolatoes federated along one keel, Edward Hopper set the moody, brooding scene in his Nighthawks, and Suzanne Vega wrote the anthem for alone-togetherness, “Tom’s Diner,” back in the eighties.
You can hear our producer Adam Colman speak with Suzanne Vega about this beloved song, which was also the first mp3 (the format for being alone together, for listening on your headphones by yourself to something widely shared and modified by other isolatoes). She describes how her classic song of solitude, with perfectly simple, solitary vocals, has resonated so powerfully with so many people. We’ve long been alone together, and there’s always been something kind of cool about that, as “Tom’s Diner” reminds us. You can hear the conversation over on our Patreon, and you can probably hear “Tom’s Diner” in your own mind if you pause to think about it.
Watch, maybe: In a Lonely Place
You might look to In a Lonely Place (1950) (streaming now on the Criterion Channel) if you’re seeking to explore further solitude and loneliness, but be aware that this movie will not cheer you up. It’s not that kind of movie about loneliness. It’s a story of anger, male narcissism, violence, show business, and self-destruction. Humphrey Bogart plays a smug, insulting screenwriter whose violent outbursts contribute to suspicions that he might have committed a murder. The whole thing is a grim and unpleasant experience from Nicholas Ray, director of Rebel Without a Cause and Bigger than Life, and it dramatizes multiply emanating/mirroring kinds of guilt and crime. It’s psycho-noir, in which the systemic awfulness exists in the mind as well as in the Los Angeles surrounding the main character.
If the situation calls for escape rather than reflection upon the kind of trapped circumstances of Humphrey Bogart in that Nicholas Ray movie, consider science fiction. In Nova, a psychedelic novel by Samuel Delaney, there’s an instrument that produces multiple kinds of sense experience at once. It’s called a syrynx, and when played well, it can have the following effect:
Colors sluiced the air with fugal patterns as a shape subsumed the breeze and fell, to form further on, a brighter emerald, a duller amethyst. Odors flushed the wind with vinegar, snow, can, ginger, poppies, rum. Autumn, ocean, ginger, ocean, autumn; ocean, ocean, the surge of ocean again, while light foamed in the dimming blue . . .
Nova tells the story of a mission to a star going nova in order to extract some sort of mysterious energy, and that mission itself is a mind-bending, physics-bending one. Read this to activate parts of the mind we’ve all been neglecting.
The lockdown has done some strange things to folks; one book snoop we know has been browsing the bookshelves of the of the rich, the powerful, and the literary. Boston book nerds, any guesses who this might be? Shhhhhh.
Turns out Beto O’Rourke has an interest in the historical novels of Patrick O’Brian, the stories of Borges, and the life of explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton. The Lockdown Book Detective also found a “known known” in Donald Rumsfeld’s home office, a 1980 British coffee table photo book of Iraq’s past beauty titled Iraq: Land of Two Rivers and reports that snooping on Stacy Abrams’ books is quite inspiring.
If you’re in need of a curated bookshelf for your next zoom-a-thon, our friend Ken Gloss is at your service.
This Week’s Ephemeral Library
Naomi Klein on the coronavirus shock doctrine. Remembering the romance of train travel. Tamar Avishai on art in isolation. A jobless youthquake. David Quammen on Why We Weren’t Ready for the Coronavirus? Andrew Cuomo’s plan to rebuild New York into a high tech dystopia. Masha Gessen on the loneliness of a pandemic. Don’t Listen to David Brooks. The Plan is to Have No Plan. For Boston sports fans: Fifty years ago time stopped on 5/10 at 5:10. Congrats to all the Pulitzer winners this year: specially OS guests Nikole Hannah- Jones, Greg Grandin, finalist Ben Lerner and specially our friends at This American Life who were awarded the inaugural prize for audio reporting for their show about the Trump immigration policy called the Migrant Protection Protocols, The Out Crowd.
That’s it for this week, friends. Be nice to your moms and hit the links!