As they Pulled Me Out of the Oxygen Tent

This is real­ly a post with­out a home, a series of, to quote myself, unre­lat­ed thoughts about noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar.

I’ve spent the past two days crawl­ing around unven­ti­lat­ed saw­dust and grime filled fac­to­ries in cen­tral Java, in tem­per­a­tures about the mid-for­ties, chalk in hand, inspect­ing fur­ni­ture.

And my won­der­ful Brigid is still there.

And I miss her tonight.

Last night I was in a bar in Jog­ja, about ten feet from the Pres­i­dent of Sin­ga­pore, a Mr Nathan, who was on his way to meet the Sul­tan, I’m told. Most taxi dri­vers in Sin­ga­pore will tell you he is lit­tle more than a pup­pet, a façade for the real king boss, the omnipresent Mr Lee, who now has “retired” but rules through his son, the Prime Min­is­ter. Taxi dri­vers alleged­ly reflect the pulse of pub­lic opin­ion glob­al­ly but, real­ly, tend, I think, to talk rather more than lis­ten and are a lit­tle less reli­able than their rep­u­ta­tions would have you believe.

Still, scratch the sur­face in Sin­ga­pore and the demo­c­ra­t­ic glean is replaced by a good old fash­ioned self-pre­serv­ing and auto­crat­ic first fam­i­ly, of immense and grow­ing wealth. All the talk in Sin­ga­pore seems to be what hap­pens when the old man and Mrs Lee pass on, and it can’t be long. All bets, it seems, are off – apart from the cer­tain­ty that Lee Jr. will be look­ing for employ­ment fair­ly quick­ly as he gets jos­tled out by the next gen­er­a­tion of real play­ers. Spend any time in Sin­ga­pore and you’ll know there are plen­ty of those.

Friend­ly, pol­ished dic­ta­tors have always been pop­u­lar with Amer­i­can politi­cians of all shades. I stood rea­son­ably close to anoth­er a few weeks back as he exit­ed, with help from a selec­tion of una­mused goons, from his car. I rushed into the hotel, say­ing loud­ly to Brigid, ”Suhar­to is here”, then, after a glare from the concierge, thought bet­ter of it.

It’s not every day you stand next to a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor, a man alleged­ly respon­si­ble, direct­ly or indi­rect­ly, for the deaths of half a mil­lion or more. We didn’t get to chat …

He was quite least age had shrunk him. Impres­sive he was not.

I had a quick squizz today around the edi­to­ri­als in the US media. Not the big stuff, but the lit­tle news­pa­pers, which I always find a lit­tle more fas­ci­nat­ing and less pre­ten­tious­ly clever than many of the NYT or WaPo’s rather self-impor­tant colum­nists. I swing through these from time to time and the drift of opin­ion is always inter­est­ing. Post the dam­age con­trol speech­es this week from the obscene buf­foon in the White House two things are evi­dent. First­ly, right now, Bush is fucked, about as fucked as a politi­cian can be, although I don’t under­es­ti­mate the inane abil­i­ty of the US pub­lic to swing back; sec­ond­ly, it’s for the wrong rea­sons. There is no guilt over the need­less deaths of unnamed and uncount­ed tens, per­haps over a hun­dred, thou­sand Iraqis. No sense of com­mu­nal respon­si­bil­i­ty for rush­ing gung-ho, with over­whelm­ing joy into this, for re-elect­ing the man who, by the time of the 2004 elec­tion had so obvi­ous­ly manip­u­lat­ed and know­ing­ly cre­at­ed a war with a lie. Instead, they don’t like him because he doesn’t have an “exit plan” to save the ass­es of the good old boys out there fight­ing for “free­dom”. Until they find it in them­selves to admit the fault I doubt they will ever find it pos­si­ble to work towards an “exit plan” which pro­vides jus­tice for those they have wronged, not mere­ly a safe return for “our troops”. The Unit­ed States owes Iraq that and they are a long long way from it right now. The edi­to­ri­als still muse about “vic­to­ry” and there is a delu­sion that such a thing is pos­si­ble, a fail­ure to realise that even if Iraq mutates overnight into a grand and peace­ful democ­ra­cy, the Unit­ed States has long lost this war in so many ways.

Per­haps I need to light­en up a lit­tle. My cur­rent read­ing doesn’t help. Hav­ing fin­ished Mar­tin Short’s biog­ra­phy of Mao, feel­ing so com­plete­ly insignif­i­cant and strug­gling to bal­ance his evil with his genius, I’ve now plunged into William Taub­man’s intrigu­ing biog­ra­phy of Niki­ta Khrushchev, a man, whom all rea­son tells me, should nev­er have been more than a syco­phan­tic cog in the Sovi­et machine but end­ed up bring­ing the plan­et clos­er to Armaged­don than any man before or after; and, the mas­sive tome from one of the hard right’s great bogey men, Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civ­i­liza­tion. I looked at this for weeks, fon­dled it in Sin­ga­pore but resist­ed due to size and price.

How­ev­er, I need to read this. My respect for Fisk is immense. Of all the com­men­ta­tors he was and is there and has been for a very long time. His detrac­tors sit, most­ly, in East­ern US cities sport­ing forth bile, and I can’t for a moment imag­ine the likes of Kris­tol and Novak actu­al­ly remov­ing them­selves from their com­fort­able worlds, and fat col­umn fees, long enough to expe­ri­ence what gives Fisk the sub­stance and cred­i­bil­i­ty they lack. That cou­pled with the fact that vir­tu­al­ly every pre­dic­tion he made before and after March 2003 has come to be. And he has as lit­tle time for brutes like Sad­dam and he has for Bush who is no bet­ter. So, when Ama­zon offered a deal on it … It may take me weeks to come up for air, but I’m hop­ing to be all the bet­ter for the com­mit­ment.

I’ve been lis­ten­ing to Elvis Costel­lo’s live My Flame Burns Blue and I don’t know what to make of it, whether I like it or feel it’s anoth­er string to those who decry the man’s decline. The ego of Costel­lo irks me some­what these days, his opin­ion of him­self is clear­ly increas­ing­ly inflat­ed and I think – per­haps – he should leave the jazz-lite to his wife, although his take here of his Almost Blue is vast­ly supe­ri­or to Diana’s. It’s all in the voice and Costel­lo has that over her. I hate Diana Krall’s voice.

Maybe because I’m such a big fan and a com­pletist (I buy, or con from record com­pa­nies, every­thing, although not in every for­mat as I used to) I’ve lis­tened to this quite a bit in recent days and there are moments. It grows here and there, but only just. And to be hon­est, with the pos­si­ble excep­tion of God Gives Me Strength, the orig­i­nals of all his own tracks here­in are vast­ly supe­ri­or. I guess he has every right to make this record, I’ll give him that, and I’m not demand­ing a return to 1980, but it feels most­ly like point­less bar, albeit a big bar with an Orches­tra, fluff sad­ly. I’m far more excit­ed by the prospect of the forth­com­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion with Allen Tou­s­saint, due in the next cou­ple of months they say.

Share your thoughts