My grandson Brysen is fascinated with lip balm.
His passion within that narrow category is general, although he has a particular affinity for the tube of lip-softening magic I usually keep in my right front pocket, and for another that he discovered once on our kitchen counter.
Ever since, when he walks in he toddles straight for the spot where he can reach up and grab the latter tube in his chubby fist, his route as unerring as a deer trail pressed a foot deep in the forest duff.
That achieved he immediately confronts me, knowing in the way that only grandchildren can know, that I’ll hand over the balm.
Brysen is almost 2 ﬁ . If you’ve spent much time around a child of that age you’ll recognize that obsession is a key component of the developing personality.
Retirees are also renowned for their adherence to routine, of course — and not without reason.
But it seems to me that young children, once they have their sea legs under them, are prone to fixating on an object, or sometimes a sequence of activities, with a doggedness that disappears after a few years and then lies dormant for decades, only to be reawakened by the freedom afforded by retirement.
There is a certain logic in this, I suppose.
Toddlers and retirees share a carefree approach to life, after all, both groups unencumbered by the jobs that dictate so much of our time when we’re employed.
Brysen’s interests are not limited to moisturizing products.
Once he’s acquired the two tubes he moves invariably into the family room and trudges to the area behind our brown recliner. This treasure trove contains a basket filled with two types of toy train tracks — one of plastic, one of velvety smooth wood. The wood track comprises about a dozen sections that fit together with a sort of tongue-and-groove system. Brysen hasn’t quite the dexterity to master these pieces but he seems never to tire of trying to fit them together. He’s satisfied if two sections hold together — which is basically the attitude I have toward assembling pretty much anything.
I got to thinking the other day, as I watched Brysen tinker with these chunks of polished wood, that almost certainly he will never remember that he was entranced by this train set, or that he once thought it the height of fun to carry around a couple of tubes of lip balm.
What matters, of course, is that I remember.
And that some day, when Brysen is a young man who no longer needs my help to procure lip protection products, I’ll be able to tell him what he used to do, and we’ll laugh at the absurdity that he was ever so small, so satisfied with simple things.
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I watched President Trump step across the border and walk into North Korea with Kim Jong Un and I wondered what, exactly, I was seeing.
Was this a diplomatic milestone?
And if it was, what sort of history was being made?
Was this Chamberlain kowtowing to Hitler at Munich?
Or more akin to Reagan and Gorbachev at Reykjavik?
It is of course tempting to try to put current events into context with what amounts to a sort of mental Photoshopping process, swapping world leaders’ faces with a couple of key clicks and jabs with a mouse.
But the exercise, while intriguing, seems to me to be of little validity.
Kim certainly shares some of Hitler’s troubling traits. But the analogy quickly erodes. Trump, after all, isn’t bargaining with the East Asian equivalent of Czechoslovakia. And Kim, notwithstanding his nuclear ambitions, has demonstrated nothing comparable to the acquisition of lebensraum.
Critics, some from the left and some from the right, have chastised Trump for ostensibly giving Kim and his murderous regime legitimacy.
The New York Daily News in an editorial described Trump’s recent meeting with Kim at the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea as a “fantastic photo-op for Kim,” a “public relations coup” and an example of “one more acquiescence” by Trump.
I’d be interested in knowing why the Daily News’ editors think this was such a public relations boon for Kim — or, more precisely, where has his reputation been improved as a result of the meeting with Trump.
Surely he doesn’t need photo-ops, fantastic or otherwise, to solidify his dictatorial control over North Koreans. The Daily News concedes as much in the same editorial, noting, in a parenthetical, that following his summit with Trump earlier this year, “a frustrated Kim subsequently killed the head of his negotiating team, so there’s that.”
And I haven’t read anything that persuades me that Kim’s standing elsewhere in the world has been elevated, in any meaningful way, as a result of Trump’s overtures.
Reactions from some Democrats who would like to replace Trump in the White House in a couple of years were predictable in their hyperbole.
Joe Biden fretted about “President Trump’s coddling of dictators at the expense of American national security” and the “dangerous ways he’s diminishing us on the world stage.”
But the erstwhile vice president didn’t explain how Trump’s tactics pose a greater risk to our national security than the approaches of previous administrations, of both parties, none of which prevented Kim from acquiring his nuclear arsenal.
From another 2020 Democratic contender, Elizabeth Warren: “Our President shouldn’t be squandering American influence on photo ops and exchanging love letters with a ruthless dictator.”
Warren at least offered an alternative strategy: “We should be dealing with North Korea through principled diplomacy that promotes U.S. security, defends our allies, and upholds human rights.”
Presumably America’s diplomacy with regard to North Korea to this point has been, if nothing else, principled.
But I don’t believe any credible person would contend that this has either promoted our security — there are those nuclear missiles, after all — or upheld human rights. Certainly not the human rights of the late negotiator the Daily News mentioned in its editorial.
I certainly understand why many people are leery of Trump’s meetings with Kim. The combination of Trump’s unorthodox methods (indeed, unprecedented in modern American history) and his frequently juvenile tweets and other public comments, is ample reason to be anxious when the man is representing the U.S. in such vital matters.
Yet I’m inclined to lend considerably more credence in this case not to my own feelings, or to the blatantly partisan blatherings of candidates, but to South Koreans.
And two recent polls there showed a majority of South Koreans — 62.7% in one, 66.4% in the other — believed the recent meeting of Trump, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in was positive.
I trust the South Koreans are savvy enough to distinguish between meaningless photo ops and diplomacy that could redound to their country’s benefit.
J ayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.