Friday, August 08, 2008

Where are you now my dum dum boys / are you alive or dead

There are all sorts of odd things happening in the dunia-politik.

Not least of those for me are the convolutions in New Zealand over the suggestions / disclosures that the National Party are perhaps trying to win a general election on not really telling the exact truth as to what they really plan to do if elected. As a died in the wool lefty that doesn’t really surprise me that much…you can’t trust ‘em at the best of times as we know from recent experience (as an aside, if National had been in power in 2003, I wonder if New Zealand’s troops would be back from Iraq yet…still at least they were relatively open with that agenda).

I’m not so sure though. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to work out if they have any agenda, let alone a dastardly hidden one.

Yesterday, with a free hour, however I spent some time scouring the web and the National Party web site trying to work out what the party’s Foreign Policy might be. These things affect me as a New Zealander abroad. Sadly it was fruitless and all I could come up with was this vacuous wishy washy speech from John Key earlier this year where he makes arguments for, uhh, integrating with Asia, playing our part in the Pacific, trying to be more like Ireland, and, ohh, improving the bilateral relationship with the US…(considering earlier National cowering to the US that last part remains a worry). These are hardly revolutionary, revealing or incisive policies of the sort of thing you’d reasonably expect from a party which wishes to be seen as a government in waiting.

But that speech aside, and an equally vacuous speech a year earlier from the odious Murray McCully, which he says does not represent policy, there is nothing. The only conclusion that I could reasonably come up with was that National have figured out that large parts of the NZ electorate are increasingly clueless, and simply don’t feel comfortable with things like policy and other challenges, and the key to winning an election is to treat them as if they are stupid. They don’t want to know so why tell them.

Either that, and the National Party website is correct, as are the protestations of National in Parliament that they have no hidden agenda, which means, since they have no public policy, they simply have none at all. Zip.

Which brings me to my real problem: two people, both Australian, have asked me in recent days what New Zealand’s foreign stance is likely to look like under a National Government. I have to answer that I don’t know. The party has no foreign policy. We all know and understand the policy positions of the current leadership, and that of Australia, both US candidates and just about every other country in the region..but in New Zealand’s case, come the end of the year we simply won’t have one. I can't answer.

As interesting and diverting as that is, I’m equally fascinated by the stuff going down under the radar in the USA.

The anthrax thing, being the suicide of the US defence scientist who may or may not have sent the anthrax that killed 5 people in 2003 is both dark and increasingly twisted. Whether he did it or not is one thing but the other question, just as important, is whether the anthrax arrivals were manipulated to suit the purposes of the US administration as Glen Greenwald suggests, using compliant media to link it to Iraq, an assertion which seemingly had no legs or basis in fact, but was picked up and touted publicly, despite the lack of evidence by the likes of ABC News and John McCain at the time. I want to see where this one heads, but wherever it goes it strips another strand away from the GOP candidate’s credibility.

Even more potentially explosive is the book from Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Suskind, which alleges in part that a document was forged under instruction from the Bush Whitehouse, indeed from Bush himself. And not just any document, but one which was supposed to show a senior Iraqi intelligence official writing to Saddam Hussein and tying Iraq into 9/11. The letter was slipped to a right wing UK journalist (for The Telegraph which, bless Conrad Black, has a history of running with these half baked stories) and briefly, despite the fact that it looked like a fake from day one, was touted as the new coming for those who found pleasure in the war and all it entailed.

Suskind’s book is bound to be attacked and he’s already being accused of gutter journalism and every other depraved and heinous crime against decent god fearing freedom lovin’ folk, despite his reputation as a serious journalist, his history as a Wall Street Journal editor, and his sources who are two high-level CIA operatives on who went the record.

And why are we surprised. The lead up to the war was a litany of lies and half baked deception; the US vice president has repeatedly gone on globally televised shows and uttered things as truth he knew to be completely untrue. As Louis Bayard says at Salon:

Suskind suggests that "the White House's knowingly misusing an arm of government" would be "the sort of thing generally taken up in impeachment proceedings." Whether or not the impeachment drums start beating in earnest, it's hard to imagine anyone saying, at this stage of the game, that the White House couldn't have done what Richer and Maguire say it did. This is an administration, after all, that lost all its moorings the moment it fixed its compass on Saddam. Since then, it has selectively misread evidence, imprisoned hundreds of innocent men, and tried to stifle opposition in every quarter. How great a leap is there, finally, between quashing dissent and manufacturing support?

But the difference is this time it’s a potential line straight to Bush himself, and the White House denials and those of the others quoted in the book, are, according to the WaPo, both weak and unconvincing, and written to deceive. This one has just begun.

And a hat tip to my friend Simon for putting me onto Robert E Bartos’s blog, Shrapnel, which has this sharp post about, amongst other things, the increasingly bizarre John McCain’s credentials as a commander in chief. His years in a North Vietnamese prison must have been less than pleasant but I’m not sure how those qualify him (and from an Asian perspective he did volunteer to go, twice, and drop bombs from an altitude on innocent people in a third world nation which somewhat tempers my sympathy, and any idea that he may be a ‘hero’)..yes General Clark was bang on, despite Obama backpedalling from the General's rather qualified opinion,  so, I guess, as not to offend that truly odd American thing they have about honouring the military.

Which is yet another reason I still think McCain will romp in…

Thursday, August 07, 2008

I got no car and it's breaking my heart / But I found a driver and that's a start

Read any guide to this tropical island of Bali and it will tell you that, here, we have two seasons. We have Musim Hujan (the wet season) and Muism Panas (the dry season). This is nonsense. Uniquely in South East Asia we have a third season.

It’s Musim Mayhem and it runs from mid July to early September. It comes like clockwork every year and leaves a trail (mostly of body parts) when it leaves.

It’s the season when tourists turn up and rent motor cars or motor bikes on their summer holiday.

It begins when a couple of visitors decide that the best way to tour or get around Bali is to hire and drive a vehicle. It has several perceived advantages. Firstly you are come and go as you wish; secondly there is no dependence on a driver and all that entails; and thirdly, and this is the biggie, you are doownnnn with the locals…you look cool as you spin along the Jalans, often shirt off, or brief bikini top on, weaving between the cars and bikes.

But you don’t.

a-dickhead You look like a dickhead, and chances are you are likely to look even worse. The local folks, Balinese and expat both, look on you as a menace.

It often ends at the SOS or BIMC. A friend who works at one of these tells horror stories of beautiful skinless girls or buffed surfies with only one foot left. And a few lifeless bodies too.

Yesterday I drove across the golden lower triangle and encountered multitudes of them. They come in all sorts of varieties:

· There are the surfers..usually on a motor bikes (although sometimes in overloaded old Kijangs with (illegal) roof racks covered in boards like cop magnets). They can be found all over the island but especially on the roads heading to the beaches of the Bukit Peninsula. These are the folks with their shirts off and they look oh so body beautiful. Unfortunately the shots taken after skin hits tarseal , as it inevitably does, are not quite so attractive. There is a reason most Balinese are well covered on the open road, outside the back roads.

· We have the families from Australia, mostly Perth, who hire a bunch of bikes, one for every two people, buy a bunch of those wacky helmets (the pink Nazi styled ones with big rubber horns on them are popular) and meander all over the by-pass, looking for Kuta Beach. They are, apart from their random road blocking moves, both the most harmless and the most, sadly, gormless. But the cops love them.

· The couples, with and without kids, who hire a cheap Avanza or Jimmy (called Jimny elsewhere but the M has mutated here) are often from the UK and can be found on the various roads up to Ubud and around Seminyak. Or, too, at police checkpoints where the officer will tell them their international licence is no good in Bali (it's fine) unless they pay a fee on the spot of Rp100,000. They are more often than not completely lost and miles from where they want. You can find them stopped in the fast lane of the by-pass or northern roads with a map out wondering why the road they've just driven down is not on it.

· The guys who think they are in Ibiza….lads from Manchester or South London or the like. In a Bintang T shirt, with a proper (ie lightweight plastic..retails for about $7) helmet. They often drive with beer in hand and girlfriend on the back. The girlfriend usually doesn’t get a helmet. Also notable for the pinkness of their sunburned skin. They tend to hire the bikes with the fake registrations, so the cops can pull them over (they then split the cash with the rental company). Dangerous only after 5pm when the swerve factor hits and they tend to pull in front of anything that moves without warning (being almost Balinese in that way).

· We have the Sydney Ku De Ta girls in Avanzas, who only go between the Bintang Supermarket in Jalan Seminyak, Bodyworks, The Corner Store (where they talk very loudly about how much they paid for their fabulous villa..always far too much) and Ku De Ta or Sarong (which is the current venue de choice for the loud and agingly fab).

· Then we have the gorgeous Euro kids. They can often be picked by the placement of their helmet..they sling it over the handle bars as the parade their gorgeousness in the sun. They are often found around Kerebokan or Canggu (most often in Jl Laksmana) where they have recently paid about five times the going rate to a local smiling Balinese guy for a villa for three months. Daddy is paying. This lot may be the most dangerous, often leaving a trail of urban destruction in their wake. But, damn, they are beautiful…or at least they think so.

There are of course other sub groups, but the two things they all have in common are the fact they look silly and they should not be there as they’re a danger to themselves and everybody else.

a_dickhead2And why bother (apart from the I’m so beautiful and so down with the Balinese factor)…for about $10 a day you can hire a driver. That driver will know his way around. He will know which unmarked one way roads are one way (and when, unmarked and without warning,they turn two way again!). He will know which roundabouts are roundabouts and which are religious icons (The first you go around like a normal, everywhere else in the world, roundabout (apart from the giving way to other cars bit), the second you go around any way you wish without looking first). He will know where the big sewer holes in the road, most of which have been there for years, are. He will know which traffic light is red and which is green when every bulb has been blown for months. He will not act as a police magnet which you most certainly will if you drive yourself..this one pays for the $10 rather quickly. He will act as a buffer between you and the various conmen who will target you if you drive your own vehicle. He will prevent most other drivers on the road from looking at you with a mix of disdain and horror. He will know the quick back road so you don’t get stuck in the endless traffic jams mostly caused by people like you. He will know how to drive and navigate the rental car that, even if brand new, would be dragged of the road in just about every other country on the planet, and trashed (Toyota, Suzuki and the rest only add the barest safety items that the law requires them to..which in Indonesia is none).

But most importantly he will keep you, hopefully in one piece.

The thing is, the Balinese are some of this planet’s worst drivers, the injury toll on the roads is about 6 times higher than, say Australia. You simply buy a drivers licence and then you are able to put anything with any number of wheels on the often interestingly constructed and maintained roads without question. You then drive however you want and as randomly and irrationally as possible. The police only care when they can make a profit out of it.

But for all that is some sort of logic in the insanity but no-one can expect to get out of an aircraft and into or onto a vehicle and make any sense of it all, no matter how cocky and fabulous they may be.

Only a few weeks to go……

Possum in the Headlights

This was banned by TVNZ, and I'm not sure why. Either they don't get the irony / parody value, or it's too close to home.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Oh! Mama, Mama look there! / Your children are playing in that street again

Ok, lets go a little bit, but not too far, out on a limb here and say that I think that John McCain is going to win in November.

And not just win, but win by a margin.

Out here in the outerlands..i.e. anywhere that is not the USA there seems to be some sort of complacent belief that Obama is going to stroll in come November 4th and the world will be a better place, we’ll all learn to love America again and America will once again become a responsible global citizen..the dangerous nutters who have held it to ransom for the last decade will be sidelined.

Hell, you can even go here and toss money at it. The odds look pretty good

The world largely thought that in 2004 of course too, but its worth reminding what The Daily Mirror rather famously said the day after W. was re-elected:


Yep, dumb..and the comment still stands. Bush has been a disaster anyway you want to judge it. But how has America changed? Not much I’d say. The same people that ticked (or diebolded) GWB in 2004 are still voting, the same mentality that gung-hoed the guy that most of the rest of us were confusedly shaking our head at back in 2004 for another 4 years is still there.

The economy may be a mess, but let’s be real, for large parts of America the economy has been pretty fucked up for a long time..the 47 million without proper health care, or the 40% who hover around or below the poverty line. So gas is just under $4 a gallon…uhhh, in the rest of the developed world you can multiply that several times.

Americans are now being told they won in Iraq…hell, a million plus are dead but they are ragheads anyway, right? So yep, we won because those good ol’ boys ain’t coming back in boxes in the same numbers now…forget that at least 400 Iraqis died last month; there ain’t no power or sewage (there were both before 2003); and the teachers have all fled…we all know it was all about the oil anyway, even if the profits mostly flow through to George’s mates (and they call Indonesia corrupt? It’s a matter of scale and perception I guess).

GWB’s ratings are in the toilet of course, and historically he is one of the most unpopular presidents ever (he was also once the most popular, let’s not forget that).

And the current GOP candidate is a turkey of the first order: he’s about as ignorant of the world beyond the US borders as any candidate since, well, the current POTUS; he’s both increasingly doddery and looks increasingly unwell as the months go on; his grasp of international affairs and relationships is tenuous at best, and he seems unable to figure out exactly what he stands for beyond ‘getting tough’ and ‘staying the course’.

Reasonably he should be a goner.

But the scary thing is that despite all that he’s still polling about even with, or just behind, Obama, and there are those who are getting increasingly edgy.

So you have to ask why? It’s a no-no, you get a slap from both left and right, to say that race is an issue in the election but only a foolish person would say that it’s not a the American I sat next on the plane said "America’s not ready for a Woman or a damned Black man" and he wasn’t saying it with a concerned social voice. He wasn’t ready for or willing to entertain such, and he had a University degree and had travelled.

So, yep, race does play a huge part, as does the whole murmuring, fostered ignorance about ‘muslims’ and the ‘flag pin’. You would, you’d think, have to be resolutely stupid to buy into that crap, and one could say the same of the Swift Boating of John Kerry, but Americans bought into that in bucketloads.

The biggest union in the US recently had to tell it’s members that Obama was not a Muslim…carefully avoiding the question of so what if he was?

So that all plays a part in keeping those McCain figures high.

As does that good old fear that Bush and co used so effectively in recent years. America feels besieged, not only terror wise, but by all those threatening countries like Iran. Why are they threatening? Well no-one actually knows that bit but all the folks in DC keep on about the Iranian threat so they must be an enemy and need taking out at some stage. And China is too…reasonable people talk of the threat from China, of containing that threat, and of future wars with China. It’s the new evil empire and America needs an evil empire to tilt at.

McCain is the perfect siege president..ex-military, white, talks big, is one of us (unlike Obama) and will romp in to defend the barricades of freedom against the Soviets, Iraqis, Old Europe, North Koreans, North Vietnamese, Libyans, Iranians, Russians (they're back), Muslims, Chinese….

I hope I’m wrong but let’s not forget that Bush still has 1 in 3 who think he’s doing a heckava job. They are still dumb.


McCain seems to have figured out his real audience. These folks ain't gonna take any shit from libruhl appeasers, right? And not only will he defend them from the barbarians at the gate of freedom, but also from The Antichrist.

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