February 6-12, 2009

That Yoga Ban: Get Knotted

IN India, ancestral home of yoga – the ancient symbiosis of meditative and manipulative practice that is said to keep you fit in both mind and body – Muslims are free to bend and chant at will. That’s according to the scholars at the Darul Uloom Deoband, the country’s chief Islamic academic religious council. Its deputy vice-chancellor, Maulana Abdul Khaliq Madrasi, said this of the problem that has arisen in Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as in Singapore and Egypt, over the un-Islamic nature of yoga: “[It] is a good form of exercise. If some words which are supposed to be chanted while performing it have religious connotations, then Muslims need not utter those. They can instead recite verses from the Koran or praise Allah or remain silent.”

Yoga guru Swami Ramdey had earlier made the same suggestion, saying yoga practitioners could use other devotional words in place of the Yogic chant “Om.” His organization had already asked its Muslim and Christian followers to begin yoga with a prolonged utterance of Allah or God. The Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind, meanwhile, says exercises similar to those in yoga are found in Sufi practices.

One of the benefits of meditation is that it stimulates the practice of lateral thinking, something else that has been lacking in organizational Islam’s response to beneficial influences from outside.

Davos Man in Mass Extinction

THAT annual look-in-the-mirror, aren’t-we-fabulous love-in for the masters of the universe, the Davos Summit, was a bit of a fizzer this year. This was evident as much from the list of the formerly great and powerful who couldn’t attend because they are no longer great and powerful as from the farcical irony in this year’s most Quotable Presence being one Vladimir Putin, former Soviet KGB enforcer and enemy of the capitalist world.

Vlad the New Impaler is no longer an enemy (well, we don’t think so) but at the same time, given he presides over the world’s greatest kleptocracy, it is somewhat odd that his views should be deemed the best available in the clear wintry air of the Swiss Alps. He did remark that planned economies didn’t work. And he does know all about that, of course. So perhaps there is some residual value in listening to him on that score.

The theme of this year’s summit – shaping the post-crisis world – might also have been a little ahead of itself. Don’t think we’ve seen the actual crisis yet. Not the real one. It was pleasing, though, that the list of miscreants scratched from the attendance list was so luminously apt:

No Dick Fuld, who ran Lehman Brothers until he ran it over a cliff last September, intensifying the crisis. No John Thain, who couldn’t be there as Merrill Lynch boss because his new bosses at Bank of America sacked him just days earlier. No Ramalinga Raju, founder of India’s formerly heralded Satyam Computer – he’s behind bars for some very creative accounting indeed.

The biggest no-show was the Barack Obama team, plus White House economist Larry Summers and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Even that globetrotting Aussie, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, cancelled, along with his treasurer (finance minister), Wayne Swan.

Jungle Treat

THE Diary hasn’t been along there itself – it’s in the must-do file, though – so we are happy just to report the positive words of a recent visitor to the hot springs in Tabanan regency. It’s a relaxing experience, he tells us. There is something quite magical about taking the waters deep in the jungle, surrounded by nature, and in an environment matchless elsewhere on planet Earth.

Too many visitors to Bali get stuck on the regular circuit. There’s nothing wrong with the regular circuit, of course. As regular circuits go, it’s pretty damn good. But those with a taste for the more Karmic experiences of life should get away from the well-beaten tracks. And there are few things more worthwhile than relaxing in nice, natural hot water, soaking away the cares of the workaday world.

It’s an easy drive. One thing, though: if you are a tourist, and not aware of the full variety of climates that our tropical paradise provides, remember that it can get a little cool – especially if it’s raining – at altitude. The springs aren’t all that lofty, but it’s best to be prepared. Makes that nice warm water even warmer, of course! Bali always finds a way to add value to a visitor’s experience.

Most tour drivers would know the way there. And back – always an advantage.

Now For the Hard Bit

THE plush St Regis property at Nusa Dua – nicely situated on Geger Beach, The Diary’s pick as Bali’s best stretch of sand – opened “softly” quite a while ago. Sort of like an engagingly compliant oyster. Now it’s time for the hard opening. The big bash is on Feb. 28, invitation only of course as befits somewhere catering for the rich and wannabe famous. We guess that means even more fireworks. There’s nothing like a good show of pyrotechnics to get the crowd stamping.

It’s a great property. It’s a worthy addition to the plush portfolio Bali presents as a lure to visitors. These are somewhat difficult times, but quality always wins out. And we’re sure the distinctive ambience that the St Regis label provides will stand it in very good stead.

The Diary has connections with the place. Not at the management level (that’s for much more exalted beings) but at the coalface. One of our best chums serves drinks there to the clients, resident or just passing through.

A Moral Lesson from the Deep

IT WAS interesting to read the item in last week’s paper that reported researchers of social mores had discovered – apparently to their surprise, which is actually a surprise because they can’t have much of a grip on the widespread presence of selflessness in humans or on the history of British social mores if they were surprised – that many British victims of the Titanic disaster in 1912 may have gone down with the ship because they were so well mannered. The selfish mores of today’s “It’s Me!” culture, which is as unfortunately evident in post-courtesy Britain as anywhere else, would result in a killer gallop for the few lifeboats willy-nilly, no doubt.

A Swiss economist, Professor Bruno Frey at the University of Zurich, and an Australian colleague, Queensland University of Technology behavioral economist David Savage, found that Britons on board the fated and supposedly unsinkable super-liner were 10 percent less likely to have survived than all other nationalities. Americans had a higher survival rate than others. Maybe that’s not surprising. The “It’s Me!” culture originated in the US and perhaps the iceberg that the Titanic steamed into at high speed – it was on its maiden voyage and its captain was trying to break the record for the fastest Atlantic crossing – illustrates the prototype of this future bad behavior.

The principle of looking after people for whom you are responsible (your children and their mother, e.g.), or less fortunate than you are, or even more defenseless, is a good one. The conscious awareness that someone else’s life might actually be more valuable than your own is surely what makes humanity humane.

There were 2,200 passengers and crew aboard the Titanic. Some 1,500 of them drowned. They didn’t drown solely – or even chiefly – because they were selfless individuals, or just because they were polite. They drowned because the criminal clowns who built and owned the ship did not provide enough lifeboats.

Statue of Limitations

IRAQ’S most famous journalist, Muntazer al-Zaidi, has briefly had his feat of valor in throwing his shoes at former US President George W. Bush honored in a statue erected in Tikrit, the hometown of that old dictator, Saddam Hussein. As in, the statue was created and erected – someone even wrote a poem for the occasion – and then was un-erected on the orders of the Iraqi authorities.

Al-Zaidi (pictured here performing his heroic act of defiance on Bush’s last visit to Iraq as President, last Dec. 14) was worthy of the honor, according to a foundation that cares for children whose parents have died in the violence in Iraq since the 2003 invasion led by the US. The foundation’s president, Shaha al-Juburi, said the statue – it’s a sculpture really, a big shoe on a plinth – was not backed by any political party or organization. Maybe not; but it was certainly making a political statement.

Wonky Wonkettes

THAT treasure-trove of American leftist good thinking, the glorious and always good-for-a-laugh Wonkette website, had a little spit the other day about the Washington Times – the other paper in the US capital that, for reasons unfathomable to Wonkettes, fails to comprehend that the ultra-liberal Washington Post is the only authorized script around town – and its marketing of George W. Bush commemorative items.

The Diary has enough clutter around the place to make a decision not to acquire a President Bush Commemorative Cigar or a copy of the W. Commemorative Book very easy. We agree with Wonkette’s assessment, on that basis, that such items unquestionably deserve classifying as unwanted crap.

But isn’t it time wonky American liberals moved on? They’ve had their victory. The evil regime of King George has been swept away by the sainted regiments of Good King Barack. And how the Washington Times chooses to spend its time is up to it and its fate is up to its readers. That’s the real force of the market.

Mama Mia!

THE Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is well known for dropping clangers. It was he no less who committed the unpardonable sin when Barack Obama was anointed last year as the next president of the United States, of publicly envying his natural suntan. Italians, all hedonists in some way or other, are into the body beautiful.

Berlusconi is from the country’s north – that bit where the fun-loving populace likes to quip that Africa begins at Rome (funny, it used to be Naples) – and also an unreconstructed political rightist. Since he is a billionaire (still, it seems, even in the winter of our global economic discontent) and doesn’t have a disappeared future to worry about, this may be explainable, if not understandable. He’s prime minister principally because of the revolving-door nature of Italian politics. Well, we think so. He shows no other aptitudes for the job. And he’s a foot-in-the-mouth man from way back.

His latest crime is to suggest – following a decision to deploy troops to combat an epidemic of street crime – that rapes will not stop until there are “as many soldiers on the streets as there are pretty girls.” He says he meant it as a compliment to the self-expressed sex appeal of Italian women and their semi-dressed way of showing it. Female liberators the length and breadth of Italy have taken offence. They’ll seize any opportunity for a catfight, after all. But here at The Diary, we much prefer the riposte from Alessandra Mussolini, the right-winger who is the granddaughter of the mid-20th century fascist dictator and who campaigns for tougher penalties for rapists. She said: “The fact is we need so many soldiers because there are so many ugly men.”

Where’s My Change?

BRACE yourself for Japanese tourists – the ones still travelling, that is – who all sound like Barack Obama. His speeches are thought so appealing in the Land of the Rising Sun that they are now providing English lessons for many Japanese. The English-language textbook The Speeches of Barack Obama – no, there are no prizes for having guessed the title – has become a bestseller in the country, topping the list at Amazon’s Japanese website, where it’s apparently a snip at the equivalent of just Rp118,100. Translator Yuzo Yamamoto of Asahi Press, the publishers, says: “His speeches are so moving, and he also uses words such as ‘yes, we can,’ ‘change’ and ‘hope’ that even Japanese people can memorize.”

There’s no doubt about it. The Bam is just so audacious. He’d have no trouble at all asking for his change.

Virtual Airline

GARUDA is showcasing a pretty little corporate advertisement promoting the brand at its 60th birthday on the Drudge Report, the US web-based news-and-biting-comment site. It’s in Indonesian, which may mystify most viewers (unless The Bam is looking in from the Oval Office – Apa kabar, Bapak Presiden?). But since it’s getting all those lovely new Boeings, perhaps the notional airline is planning an extensive transpacific network.

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