April 10-16, 2009

Relax, This Train’s Not
Going to Armageddon

PERHAPS it was inevitable, though it is nonetheless dispiriting, that the Back to Ground Zero nuts came out in force while the G20 meeting was being held in London. This fractious and informal TWT collective – of Thinkers, Winkers and Twinkers – has been emboldened by fantasies of a world without finance and proclaims the end of capitalism and a whole lot more besides.

They need to get a grip on themselves (no, not like that!) and consider the facts. These are not clement. The dereliction of duty by governments everywhere – and, memo TWT, it really is everywhere and not just in the financial driving seats of the west – has been astonishing. The failure of American regulation and the criminal conduct of leading financiers on Wall Street and elsewhere is a rich indictment of the practice of politics and abandonment of social responsibility in the Land of the Free – let alone the principles of governance – and will result in pain for everyone. The supine nature of the much vaunted European Union (a “political” entity without political clout; an “economic” entity without a definably cohesive economy but with a defective common currency) is a warning to all who espouse the alleged benefits of enmeshed collaboration. Equal blame accrues to leading Asian economies which kept producing ever increasing quantities of consumer goods that could be sold only if credit kept expanding willy-nilly.

But this is not the end of the world. What went wrong with the development of credit markets was not that doing so would never work (the theory put forward by some who like to pretend that lending money should not be viewed as being advanced at an interest rate against an actuarial risk), but that its development was largely left unchecked in America and government there left a regulatory vacuum which the stupid and the criminal were only too happy to fill. Of course we need better regulation (that is the sensible position put forward consistently by Australia, for example, the “western” outpost in this part of the world). Of course we need careful coordination of necessarily disparate national policies to achieve this. Of course the Americans must understand that if they propose to remain the world’s chief financial clearing house, then they actually need to make it work, or at least help to do so. (There are hopeful signs that the Obama administration does understand this.)

Governor Kevin M. Warsh of the U.S. Federal Reserve, in a speech on April 5, set out the history of financial panics rather well, and offered lengthy advice as to where we go from here. In essence he said the panic would end before the recession did. Well, it will need to. But what he’s saying is that the next boom is rather a long way off.

That there will be pain for us all, for an extended period, as we all work through the wreckage and rebuild, is inevitable. But we are not seeing the end of capitalism – any more than we saw the “end of history” when the Soviet empire collapsed 20 years ago – and the sooner we start being sensible about this, the better. The bubble that has now deconstructed leaving such a nasty mess is but the latest in a lengthy list of financial implosions. It may be the most complex, but that’s less a function of its stature than of the necessary complexities of modern existence. Time out, people!

A Rose by Any Other Name

ROSES – lovely blooms – have been in the news lately. Michelle Obama was presented with a bouquet of Hillary roses in the Netherlands on her recent visit with Barack in tow. They were named after Hillary Clinton, of course – when she was first lady. We await the Michelle with keen anticipation. But The Diary’s favorite rose quote of all time comes from Eleanor Roosevelt (there’s another name in the news at the moment, courtesy of FDR, who it is claimed drove a stake through the Dracula heart of an earlier result of excess). Mrs. Roosevelt once memorably stated: “I had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalog: “No good in a bed, but fine against a wall.”

Stephen’s Really Cunning Plan

STEPHEN Fry, who surprised us all the other week by turning up at Ngurah Rai International Airport, was here with a BBC film crew (he left again on Sunday, by the way, and, we hear, had not a wink of sleep on his 14-hour Singapore-London flight thereafter, poor chap). He did all sorts of things. He talked to the turtles at Serangan Island, went to Temple (a Hindu temple as he pointed out to his friends on Twitter, some of whom apparently thought he was off to the synagogue), saw a puppet show (he Tweeted to his friends: “Wayang Kulit – sounds like a Geordie trying to break up a fight”); got dressed up in Balinese gear for a lark; and then disappeared eastward for more fun and jollity around Komodo.

The Diary, being a Black Adder addict, has a theory. Fry may officially have been here to film Komodo dragons for the BBC series “Last Chance to See”, on endangered animals, but we conclude that what was really under way was the visible portion of a Really Cunning Plan. Of course, Baldrick didn’t come along – well, not that we know of, but he would never travel with Lord Melchett anyway – and that puts a bit of a dampener on cunning plans, but nonetheless, we suspect plots were afoot.

So Here’s The Diary’s take: Black Adder fans will recall the Elizabethan episode in which Edmund Blackadder, the craven coward who nevertheless sometimes comes to the party in moments of stress, sailed off with Lord Percy (and Baldrick of course; someone had to do the thinking) and a legless sea captain, having been directed by Queenie to do something amazing, or else.

Eventually, they returned, not knowing where they had been (or where they had arrived, until someone looked out of a window and saw Southampton docks). They were minus the sea captain, who had gone into the pot somewhere on a cannibal island. They went post-haste to London to see the Queen, where Percy demonstrated the funny angular stick they had picked up from somewhere along their route. Edmund explained that it came back if you threw it away. Percy threw it away. Much later in the episode it returned and knocked him flat. It was Europe’s first experience of the boomerang (though not, we fancy, one of those now made on Lombok for the export trade – wonder if they ever come back?).

We believe that Fry/Melchett was actually here at Queenie’s command – she probably told him in one of her fits of pique that if he didn’t do something useful instead of just mooching around being boringly bombastic she’d cut off his head – with the job of filling in some of those appalling gaps on the Europeans’ dreadfully deficient Medieval maps. You know, the ones with “Here Be Dragons” inscribed on inconveniently vacant space.

We reckon there’s a secret new Black Adder episode in the works. In this, Melchett will return from his own voyage of discovery with a map carrying additional detail, including from the mysterious islands east of Java. This portion of the map will carry an amended advisory: “Here Be Dragons … REALLY!”

Remember: You read it here first.

It’s So Important to Spell

HORSES need spelling (as presidential contender for the Greater Indonesia Movement – Gerindra – and patrician horse and goat farmer, ex-general and ex-Suharto son-in-law Prabowo Subianto can tell us). People need to be able to spell too, even in junior school. Here’s a classic effort by a young fellow – sent to us by an avid reader of The Bali Times in Australia by the way – that shows exactly why.

The Media and Cannonball Kev

AUSTRALIA’S Prime Minister Kevin Rudd makes many rods for his own back. He’s not alone there of course. Being rude to an air force cabin attendant on his VIP plane – will prime ministerial flights henceforth be call-signed Air Rage One? – is one thing. Doing so petulantly because his preferred meal wasn’t available (out of Port Moresby, where a lot isn’t available) was just plain thick.

Similarly, throwing taxpayers’ money back at them as a recession corrective may be good politics (though the point is moot and the economics of it are plainly stupid). And being granted space on the outer edge of great events such as the G20 Save the World conference in London must be galling for a chap whose intellect and argument got the whole thing rolling in the first place.

However, it is hard to disagree with veteran Australian pundit Mungo MacCallum, who in the online scandal sheet Crikey this week observed rather tartly that the travails of St Kevin are now being written up by the country’s media with the same zeal that they showed in creating his secular sainthood in the first place.

Just Answer the Question

PREDICTABLY for such anarchic occasions, quiz nights have an Irish origin. We think they preceded Guinness, so that can’t be the reason. They owe their existence, and indeed the word quiz owes its existence, to James Daley and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, some warming drinks, and a Dublin pub called The Bleeding Horse, more than 200 years ago. We assume the pub’s name describes the situation of the unfortunate animal and is not just a blindingly obvious pejorative.

On Saturday (April 18) you have a chance to engage in this fine old Irish tradition at the inaugural 2009 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival Quiz Night. There are some really great raffle prizes, some surprise guests (we suspect they will probably read things, it being that sort of ambience), a tapas menu – no need to speak Spanish, though – and a chance to shine if your team of up to six can run the literary race faster than the others in the field. These will be fairly mainstream question, we gather: for literary buffs, not literary profs.

Entry to the affray, at Indus Restaurant in Ubud (6:30 for 7pm start), is free. Raffle tickets cost Rp50,000 and since the main prize is two nights at a plush resort, and others involve food, spas and books, it could be a good investment. Details are available from UWRF at info@ubudwritersfestival.com or phone (0361) 7808932.

Stella Is Just Beside Herself

STELLA is beside herself. (Well, she just thought she was until someone told her she’d walked past a mirror. Now that’s not something a girl would normally do, she tells us, with a giggle.) Her little galaxy is in ferment. An opportunity to drink lots and lots of lovely wines, including bubbly, is about to come upon her. And there’s a chance to be disgusting. Oh no, sorry, that’s degustation. It’s something to do with it not being finger food, she thinks. It’s all courtesy of a three-day course (Hector thinks three-day benders are much more fun) being held at the St Regis Resort and Spa at Nusa Dua from April 16-18.

From Stella’s breathless reporting of this upcoming opportunity to flash the bling and bat the eyelids at passing prospects, it should be such fun. There are two and half hours for lunch each day, for starters. And you get to find out all about what it takes to be a sommelier. That’s a long French word for someone who really knows their wine. Stella thinks she could be a sommelier – she has a soft spot for French, after all – especially since you get to taste all that lovely wine and then pretend to spit it out. How good is that!

What’s more, the whole bash ends up with a fabulous party. That’s the disgusting, sorry, degustation thingy, where you get to eat all sorts of lovely nibbles and show off even more of your bling and bat your eyelids at even more talent. Plus it’s a snip at only Rp4,950,000. Goodness, even if you do grossly overpay your housemaid, that’s still only about seven months’ salary for the poor dear thing.

Stella is slightly concerned at one of the premium wines listed on the invitation, however. It’s described as a Devil’s Liar chardonnay from that smart little Margaret River wine growing area in Western Australia. Stella doesn’t like people who tell fibbies; well, not unless they’re teeny-weeny fibbies, or unless it’s herself.

It’s a shame it would never occur to her that the Devil, although of course he’s such a big liar, might actually be making his wine in his lair. Hector’s personally preferred fermentation of the grape isn’t listed, by the way, surely a significant oversight. The Misprint red is nicely robust, comes in a handy cardboard cask that doesn’t dribble away to nothing – bar residue – after a couple of quaffs, and goes well with any disgusting menu.

By the way, the Laguna Resort and Spa – St Regis’ partner in the Jamie Cullum Starwood reward points program – has also gone into the wine business. It had a Chilean experience scheduled for Saturday (April 11) complete with gourmet food (what else?) and just a snip at Rp990,000 a pop.

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