January 23-29, 2009

Top of the Pops

THERE was a British television drama series once called The Singing Policeman. It was quite good, even if the plot was a little stretchy. Later the Australians produced a drama called Changi (about the WW2 prison camp, not the airport), in which a similarly cerebral flashback singing format was used. The script muddled the history, but the series was entertaining and occasionally tuneful.

Closer to home, we have the Singing President. SBY has done this before, of course. Perhaps our first directly elected president didn’t really want to be a general and would have preferred to strut about the boards at entertainment centers, amid all those dangdut stars. No matter. What is important is that he has decided to become a serial offender, musically speaking. He has launched his third music album featuring 10 original songs.

Of course, politics is all about making a song and dance of things. We quite like the concept of one of the songs SBY has created this time, titled Selamat Berjuang. That’s Good Luck with Your Struggle. Maybe he sings it to himself in front of the bathroom mirror in the morning. He does have that presidential election coming up in July.

Flagging a Problem

SPEAKING of elections, it’s good to hear that the Bali chapter of the Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agents has called on the provincial government to beat back the littering of the island by the flood of posters, flags and billboards associated with the national legislative elections due in April. According to chapter chairman Al Purwa, these things are polluting Bali’s famed and tourist-attracting vistas with scant regard for their aesthetic impact.

He asks (good on you, Al!): “How is it that one person can place thousands of photographs all over the place? What for? If someone wants to campaign, let them do so by sharing their opinion on how to repair Bali, not by putting up pictures that are unfriendly to the environment.” It seems tourists have made some sour comments about this uncontrolled blocking of the views they’ve come to see. Fair point.

Points for Frequent Flights of Fancy

YOU’VE got to hand it to the notional flag-carrier, Garuda. It says it expects a 30-percent increase in profits this year with the launch of new domestic and international routes (not including its trumpeted return to Brisbane which it announced and then forgot about when it found its seats were unsellable because everyone was already flying Jetstar and Pacific Blue.)

Its forecast is on the basis that the 18 new domestic and four new international routes it is starting up this year will help it towards a net profit of US$70 million (Rp765 billion, up from Rp589 billion last year). Garuda is also introducing 14 extra Boeing 737-800 aircraft to its fleet in 2009.

Obviously their notional planners aren’t taking the same market reading as other airlines around the globe, which are preparing for empty seats throughout their flying metal tubes and a virtual collapse of the high-end, high-price, business travel sector.

By the Lord Harry!

ASSORTED Bules of a liberal bent everywhere (Bule is a not-terribly polite Indonesian word for someone of a naturally paler hue than is normally seen within the kampung) are said to be outraged over allegedly racist remarks by Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne.

Britain’s prime minister, Gordon Brown, says he thinks Prince Harry knows the comments – made in a private video recording three years ago when the prince, then a cadet at Britain’s Sandhurst military college, was in post-training wind-down mode in Cyprus – are unacceptable. There’s an element of the mealymouth in that assessment, but after all, Gordon’s a pollie under some personal pressure at present. And he did add that the prince’s apology when his lapse of judgment came to light was genuine and that in view of this and his service in Afghanistan (where your enemies use bullets, not words) he should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Harry, now an officer in the Household Cavalry, was shown in the video asking “Where’s our little Paki?” of a fellow cadet – now an officer in the Pakistani army and a popular high-flier while at Sandhurst – and telling another cadet that the camouflage scarf he was wearing made him look like a Raghead, a derogatory term for Arabs in modern Britain’s ugly patois, but a word British troops customarily apply to the Taliban who shoot at them in Afghanistan. Even worse, it seems, he was videoed making a spoof telephone call to his gran back at Buckingham Palace in London. Now that really is too much. Everyone knows it’s impossible to get past the switchboard operators there, especially if you ring up pretending to be Prince Harry.

There’s no doubt the young Lieutenant Windsor was in grave error. The chump clean forgot that nowadays you cannot joke at all, lest someone (it’s rarely the person who is the subject of the jest) becomes offended. Perhaps he was reminded of this significant fact when he fronted his commanding officer, which he had to do recently because of the silly row that erupted when the video found its way to the yellow press and got the egg-beater treatment.

Incidentally, one of Prince Harry’s fiercest critics was a gentleman called Keith Vaz, chairman of the British parliament’s home affairs committee and frequently described – doubtless to his entire satisfaction – as one of the country’s most prominent Asian MPs. He attacked as out of touch those people who had defended the prince. “You cannot use language like that even in jest,” he said. “[The prince] is third in line to the throne of England; he is a role model.”

Mr Vaz, by definition and residual hue, is not an ignorant Bule. But he is nonetheless apparently deficient in the knowledge department. Being a prominent parliamentarian, he should know that the monarch he serves (we hope loyally) is queen of the United Kingdom. England is one part of that historic union. Perhaps, though, we should give him the benefit of the doubt, too. It may be that in an emollient effusion of limelight-induced enthusiasm he quite forgot himself. It happens.

There’s a Local Whine Too

IT’S interesting to see that local wines – as in table wines bottled and partly grown in Bali – are not immune to the spiraling price of alcoholic beverages in pre-election Indonesia. Hatten wines, produced here, used to retail for just over Rp60,000 a bottle. Now you can pay up to Rp160,000 (although the Diary found some in a Sanur wine shop the other day for Rp81,000).

Some of what goes into these wines – they are quite decent really, especially on a cost-comparative basis – has to be imported and paid for in US dollars. But we hadn’t noticed a 100-percent rise in the dollar against the rupiah in recent times. There’s inflation to take into account, to be fair. And the ruinous duty on alcoholic products, now seemingly being paid rather than evaded. But at the same time, when we uncork this little bottle, we catch a whiff of an opportunistic nose.

Smile Along with Dubya

FORMER U.S. President George W. Bush, now quietly back at home in Crawford, Texas – where we assume that, as promised, he is relearning the art of making coffee for former first lady Laura – had to put up with a lot during his eight years in office that ended on Jan. 20. He particularly enraged the commentariat – worldwide – by his steadfast refusal to accept that terrorists (of any stripe, but particularly Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 crowd) are, like Brian in that delightfully sacrilegious Monty Python film, just very naughty boys. Instead he held firmly to the antediluvian view that they are maniacal mass murderers.  He was further condemned for consistently failing to accept that the West alone is responsible for all the world’s ills.

As he left office, the Israelis and Hamas were again proving that politics in the Middle East are just a little bit difficult. Very few of the world’s problems can be immediately solved by accepting the advice of the Ernests and Ernestines who fell whole forests to fill the pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post and sundry other newspapers and journals in other liberal places with fulsome and often fatuous opinion. Or for that matter by Bono, who knew Frank Sinatra, as he told us in his New Year debut guest op-ed piece in the NYT.

The former president, however, while he made horrendous mistakes in office (and publicly accepts this, which alone is a breath of fresh air in modern politics), is saved as a man – and on balance as a historical figure, despite his hysterical record – by his ability to laugh at himself. Would that some of his perennially brow-furrowed critics could do the same.

Take his last media conference at the White House – it was on Jan. 12 – just for example. He told the assembled press corps that he proposed to find something quickly to get busy with when he left office (aside from making the coffee). “I just can’t envision myself, you know, with a big straw hat and Hawaiian shirt, sitting on some beach … particularly since I quit drinking.”

The better points about GWB are consistently missed by his critics. Also absent is any real recognition that – whatever the rhetoric – 9/11 really did change the world. It was rather sad to see Boris Johnson, one of Britain’s more enterprising Tories, joining the “Dubya was Dumb” brigade for the poisoned valedictories. Boris, now lord mayor of London, is best known for his incautious habit of celebrity bonking and his deep appreciation of the tart – in all the senses of the word. It is always as well to examine the mote in one’s own eye before pointing out those in others’.

Hard-wired on Instant

COFFEE freaks (like The Diary) have been warned. Consuming the caffeine in seven cups of instant coffee a day leaves you more likely to see, hear and smell things that aren’t there. This is according to British researchers who, as part of a study designed to examine nutrition as a factor in hallucinations, found that people who drink at least 330 milligrams of caffeine (a stimulant) a day are three times more likely to have see things than those on less than 10 milligrams a day. Disembodied voices – perhaps it’s the Editor, asking himself why he hasn’t got the column yet? – are said to be a feature of caffeine-induced hallucination, as well as seeing things that aren’t there and sensing the presence of dead people.

Points for Originality

IN the Wall Street crash of 1929, failed or malfeasant tycoons jumped out of windows (well, very few did in fact, but like many Hollywood-inspired fictions it’s now accepted as fact). In 2009 they do it differently – or at least, one of them has tried to. A fellow called Marcus Schrenker, some sort of junior Bernie Madoff according to the American press, attempted a particularly spectacular getaway as his life of scheming and defrauding crumbled around him. He hatched the idea of faking his own death in a plane crash.

Flying from Indiana to Florida – that’s about the same as from Bali to Jakarta, just incidentally – he radioed a distress call from his single-engine plane, telling air traffic controllers a cockpit window had imploded leaving him bleeding profusely. He then put on a parachute and jumped from the plane at 750 meters. Waiting for him not far from where he landed in a desolate area was a prepositioned motor cycle.

Sadly for him, this scam – like his other ones – turned sour. Military jets scrambled to intercept his plane in the hope of providing assistance to the injured pilot reported it empty with the cabin door open. The man without the golden parachute was nabbed by a local sheriff a day or so later.

It’s a Bugger, Isn’t It?

LEADING independent Australian economic analyst Chris Richardson, director of Access Economics, speaking on ABC National Radio on Monday on Australia’s immediate fate as a result of the global economic crisis, brought some typically forthright and coarse Aussie lingo to the debate when he said the Australian budget was “buggered.” He explained: “A lot of things are buggered because the global economy is in real trouble. Four years of boom has collapsed in four months of chaos.” We note Australian Treasurer (finance minister) Wayne Swan immediately disagreed with this assessment. He said while it was true the budget was headed for deficit, it wasn’t buggered. We’ll see. Perhaps it’s just upside down in the swamp with its wheels in the air?

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