January 16-22, 2009

Barry’s Big Day Is an Indonesian Event

WHEN former Jakarta schoolboy Barack (Barry to his Indonesian school chums of yesteryear) Obama takes the oath of office as America’s President on Inauguration Day (Jan. 20), history will be made. He will become the first American president with a real live Indonesian connection. That makes the circus outside the Capitol Building a kind of step-Indonesian Event.

To some people, he’s the FAAP (First African American President). To others he’s the NAC! (Not Another Clinton!) and to most he’s the NTOG! (Not That Other Guy!). To himself, he is the First Mutt: a delightfully self-deprecating way of pointing out that he is of mixed race. Race seems to be so important to many people. Most sensible people – oh, OK, apparently that does seem to rule out around 99.9 percent of the world’s population – think character is much more vital statistic.

Never mind. In Washington this coming Tuesday the historic occasion will be observed firsthand by the husband and one of the cousins of Yana Trisulo, a niece of Obama’s stepfather-in-law, Lolo Soetoro. How close a connection is that? Yana was invited but cannot attend because her father is in poor health. Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, moved to Indonesia and married Lolo after Barack’s dad fled the nest in Hawaii and returned to Kenya. She and Lolo had a daughter, Maya Soetoro-Ng.

The Indonesian interest doesn’t stop there. Actress Ayu Azhari will also attend the big show. It seems her husband, Mike Tramp of the American musical group White Lion, has ties with the people organizing the Obama Occasion. Officially, Indonesia will be represented by Ambassador Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat. Teams of American protocol people have been working on that nametag, and pronunciation.

Meanwhile, the real interface of Indonesian-American relations is potentially facing some strain because of the newsworthy – if highly impractical, profoundly unhelpful and irredeemably stupid – desire of several thousand Indonesians to rush off to Gaza to fight the Israelis and the not unconnected political need, locally, for leaders heading into next year’s national elections to flourish their Islamist credentials.

The deadly complexities of post-1948 Middle Eastern politics have ever since bedeviled the world. That history, briefly, has consisted of the Arabs scoring own goals and the Israelis moving the goal posts: the faults are fatal and ubiquitous on both sides. It’s hard to see any reason to provide Hamas, which has been busily screwing the Palestinians who have the misfortune to live in Gaza, with even more self-detonating bombers or rocketeers. Or how presenting the Israelis with yet more targets to justify their policy of aggression as self-defense is in any way a good idea. The Palestinian people, as always the meat in the sandwich, need practical help. They won’t get that from lengthening the already exhaustive list of convenient excuses the Israelis have concocted to justify disproportionate military action or from adding to the roll-call of Jihadist martyrs.

Chazza the Grabber Shows How it’s Done

THERE will be a mind-boggling oversupply of visual imagery about in Washington next week when Barack Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States. It’s just so important these days to get that body language right when you’re making a point.

Ahead of the game – and that’s definitely where The Diary likes to be – here’s a photo that caught our eye. It might be a dodgy photo. That’s as in a doctored one: we didn’t ask; we didn’t want to; it’s just too good to miss. Visually speaking, it has it all: clear intent; inclusive motion; evident enthusiasm; and its message is right on the button (or very nearly!). Britain’s Prince Charles tends to get a terrible press. But Chazza is an old pro at the PR game even if – speaking only ornithologically of course – he’s apt to make a tit of himself from time to time.

Do Drop in for a Big Pitch

THE Ramachandra development on the Bukit – the hilltop site near Balangan now cleared of both bush and wild dogs where the company proposes to build dream homes with sweeping views for the foreign moneyed classes – put on a big show in Kuala Lumpur on Jan. 14 and 15. It sent round an e-circular to its list of contacts suggesting that those who still have the spare dosh should consider a New Year resolution to take more holidays in Bali, preferably in “an affordable luxury home in one of the best international destinations in the world.”

We wouldn’t argue with that assessment of Bali’s charms and place in the world. And despite the fact that marketing success for Ramachandra could mean car-loads of Malaysians will add to the round-the-clock chaos at the Nirmala crossroads on the road to Pecatu and Uluwatu, it’s a development to be welcomed. Maybe one day the nutheads who some months back destroyed the development’s expensive promotional signpost on the Balangan road will think so too.

They’re LOHFE-ing Again

CONVENIENCE stores are meant to be convenient, right? They’re there to provide the passing trade with the kind of things people tend to run out of at inconvenient times: milk, biscuits and chocolate; and even cigarettes, if you can bear the stares of the Smokeless Ones. That’s at a handy little mark-up of course. Sadly, as The Diary has noted before, these are the very items that one is likely to find oneself putting on the LOHFE list – the List of Hard to Find Essentials.

Thus it was that a visit to the Circle K store on Jl Raya Uluwatu near GWK on the hill at Jimbaran was such a disappointment for a Diary spy the other day. UHT milk and Dunhill Blue were required. So sorry, no have. Apa problem? Shrug. Great service, guys.

Luckily for him, our spy wasn’t in there for anything else that might once have been on the nearly empty shelves.

Ooh La Laarrgghh!

HERE’S American commentator David Rothkopf on the frighteningly unknown kinetic qualities of the American economic collapse: “This is a particularly worrisome scenario because whereas a friendly downturn, like a friendly can-can dancer, shows its bottom early, this has been a very unfriendly downturn. No one can honestly say they know where the bottom is. The problem is made worse by the fact that in one key respect, an unfriendly downturn is also like a can-can show, because before it is over it may show a lot of bottoms.”

Speaking of Bums

WELL if it’s OK for carmakers, why not the porn industry? America’s princes of prurience, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and Girls Gone Wild video series creator Joe Francis, have asked the new U.S. Congress for a bailout – to “rejuvenate the sexual appetite of America,” which they claim has been sagging of late. Francis said in a statement: “Congress seems willing to help shore up our nation’s most important businesses, and we feel we deserve the same consideration. In difficult economic times, Americans turn to entertainment for relief. More and more, the kind of entertainment they turn to is adult entertainment.” Flynt and Francis, who admit the US$13 billion a year filthy pictures and video industry is not totally pointing south, sought a $5 billion bailout from lawmakers.

Yes, well. No need to guess what two-word response was going to meet that pitch. We’ve all heard of the Continental Congress that set the United States on the road to independence from Britain in the 18th century. But a Sexual Congress is unlikely. Libidinous lawmakers everywhere invariably assert, when caught in indelicate circumstances, that sex is a private business.

The Blair Which Project

ALL has been revealed. The reason Barack and Michelle couldn’t get rooms at Blair House, the official government guesthouse in Washington, until Jan. 15 – only five days out from that big bash where Barack gets to say the pro-forma words required of a president at his inauguration, the crowd gets to go wild, and then everyone gets down and grooves, was that the former Man of Steel, ex-Australian PM John Howard, was in town to collect a gong from Dubya. Apparently he had lost his notes, and thought he was the Man of Steal. It seems the White House, for some reason similarly forgetful of other priorities, invited the ex-Australian PM to check in at Blair House instead of at any one of the over-supply of super-plush hotels somewhere else in town. Howard did so of course, overlooking the inclement fact that in western democracies former leaders pack about as much throw-weight as kitty litter while being of marginally less utility.

The fatuous little row that then erupted, chiefly in Australia where all sorts of summer-season commentators leapt at the chance to aim another kick at the country’s No Longer Dear Leader, but also among the more rabid of America’s media mouths-for-hire, has been entertaining in a mindless way. Although this New Age habit of giving out gongs just for turning up for work is itself a little tiresome. The Diary proudly bears the post-nominal NG (No Gong).

Howard was one of three dear leaders (two former, one current) who lined up this week to get the Medal of Freedom from soon-to-be kitty-litter George W. Bush. His companions were that other forgotten war-gamer, Britain’s ex-PM Tony Blair – no prizes for guessing why he opted for a Washington hotel instead of the official guesthouse: it’s never a good idea to confuse the doorman – and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez.

A Plague on Unromantic Scientists

LOVERS the world over will be saddened to hear that the veteran British rocker Bryan Ferry was right on the money when he sang that love is a drug. So much for Shakespeare, you might say. Or maybe not: the rejected Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream does suggest in her soliloquy – so OK, self-servingly – that “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.”

Scientists, of course, are not romantics. They find out all sorts of terrible facts and then blab out the horrid details, regardless of our feelings, or whether or not we would rather dream on. Now one of them, an unromantic fellow called Dr Larry Young, a neurobiologist at Emory University in the United States, has worked out – and told us (damn him!) – that love is simply a chemical reaction, a combination of circuitry and neurochemicals. How boring is that?

It was much better when it was the mysterious subject of most music and art; when it was left unfettered to consume people’s narcotic-free waking moments; and when it created a gapingly inexplicable hole upon its precipitous departure. Where is the magic in learning that love is not a many splendored thing at all, but just an evolutionary event, something chemically induced to keep pairs together? Dr Young has a lot to answer for. He says – wet blanket that he obviously is – that what we know as love is really just something that comes about “through a series of chemical reactions that happen in the brain, so a certain number of chemicals reacting in certain parts of the brain.”

And the news gets worse. He made this entirely regrettable – and thoroughly forgettable – discovery while working with North American prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster), which habitually cohabit in volishly loving pairs. Prairie voles? For goodness sake! The good doc should get a life. And he might even keep it for a while if he stays away from his little mates. The chief impact of prairie voles, cross-species speaking, is that they are a leading reservoir in North America of pasteurella pestis, the unpleasant microorganism that causes plague in all its several nasty forms.

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