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 short..at 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.