Plagiarism is chiefly stupid, since it exposes the plagiarist as either indolent or lacking in original thought.

The Devil of History

On Sunday, had an essay on the recent Fareed Zakaria plagiarism case. For those of you who don’t follow American middlebrow news sources with a passion, the story is that Zakaria—a regular commentator and columnist for CNN and TIME magazine—lifted a paragraph about the book Gunfight almost wholesale from a New Yorker article by Jill Lepore to include in his column. (See the comparison at NewsBusters, here.) Zakaria’s been suspended from both jobs, and has published one of those “I shouldn’t have done this, though I make no attempt to explain why I did” apologies.

The authors of the Salon piece, two history professors from Louisiana State University, use Zakaria as the jumping-off point for an attack on big-budget popular history and the non-historians who do it. I’m happy to see them get in some punches on the genre’s recycling of what we already know as “Great New…

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HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Aug. 22, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Bloody Hell

Your diarist is a blood donor. Well, he’d like to be, although it seems a rather difficult function to perform in Bali. He possesses a blood type that is very rare in this part of the world, and so has registered with the Red Cross blood bank at Sanglah in case they ever need an emergency contribution. It seems only fair to share under such circumstances, after all.

Such an instance arose on a recent weekend and, when alerted to this by a handy Facebook post, a text message was immediately sent to the contact number provided. It said that if needed, an arm with the required type of blood in it could present itself at Sanglah within 90 minutes. A text came back immediately: Please come now.

This feat was duly performed, despite it being national ride around blindly day or something. We eventually found a doctor at the blood bank. He looked at your superannuated diarist in the way most Indonesians do – you can almost see them thinking “Mengapa tidak orang ini mati?” (“Why isn’t this man dead?”). Then he made a delicate inquiry as to the age of the near cadaver that had somehow managed to get itself up the stairs and into the blood room. A-ha! Too old! He seemed to think that this was a relief, despite the ultra-emergency that was being responded to. Sixty is the cut-off point for donors in Indonesia. So it is, but in Australia, where your diarist’s blood managed to healthily regenerate itself over several decades and is still perfectly fine, thank you, it’s 70.

He went off to consult his superior. He returned saying yes it was OK, provided all the vital signs were similarly in the green bit of the dial.  Oh dear. The stress of safely navigating to the middle of Denpasar from the faraway Bukit in the short timeframe required, amid the frenetic crowds of suicidal bods on bikes, dotty drivers of defective cars, and complete madmen at the wheels of smoky yellow trucks, had lifted the blood pressure a tad over the designated limit.

There is still a year or two between your diarist and the western-standard don’t be a donor barrier. But on this performance we must judge it unlikely, unless levitation can be achieved, that he will ever get to Sanglah in possession of a “normal” reading.

Of course, a nice quiet cuppa and a lie-down would probably have fixed the problem. But doctors don’t seem to go in for lateral thinking; and maybe they’d run out of teabags.


We were looking at our diary the other day and October is shaping up as a bumper month. Two lots of very old friends are due here on visits – one set for an extended stay – and of course there’s the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival as well, which as it happens is not unrelated.

Plus the Diary has promised Antony Loewenstein – Australian blogger, writer, activist and verbal partisan for something approaching common sense in Israel/Palestine: he can’t make it to HQ Navel Gazing this year – that drink shall be taken on his behalf on the terrace at Indus, Janet DeNeefe’s culinary-literary headquarters. The poor chap says he loves that terrace.  Well we all do, which is precisely why we shan’t mind, at all, dedicating one drink to an absent friend.

He will be in eminent company, albeit vicariously. Australian-born worrywart John Pilger, Timor-Leste’s former president Jose Ramos-Horta, and Australian musician, songwriter, author, screenwriter, composer and occasional film actor Nick Cave will be at the festival, along with (one hopes) a front-up-with-the-dosh naming sponsor.

Lowenstein is most recently in formal print with a chum, Palestinian-American Ahmed Moor, with After Zionism, a tome that argues for a one-state solution to The Question.  The Diary is reading the book – thanks to London publisher Saqi Books’ grasp of new technology and to Amazon Kindle – and may have a public view about it later.

At festival time we’re set to have a quartet of friends with us: Uli Schmetzer and his wife Tiziana (we mentioned them before; we gave them back their pushbikes in Beijing, remember) and Very Old Chum Bob Howarth and his wife Di.

Howarth, whose journalism career has taken him to lots of places including Papua New Guinea (another shared destination) and Timor Leste, is due here on an Australian aid project education programme. We were in touch recently, about this and that. He drily reported that he was on Moreton Island where, that evening, the westerly wind would blow a dog off a chain. This oversized and perennially windswept sand hill is just across Moreton Bay – though the Diary prefers its mellifluous Aboriginal name, Quandamook – from Brisbane, Queensland, where August is famously a blowy month.  Local lore has it that this is because that’s when the city, Australia’s third largest, stages its annual exhibition (the Ekka).

The Diary felt quite homesick, just for a moment.

We’re Unsurprised

BIMC tells us, in response to an item in the Diary last edition, that Sanglah Hospital’s precipitate ban on other hospitals using its under-performing medical waste incinerator came as a complete surprise. We’re very far from completely surprised to hear this, since the general rule here seems to be that you are told about upcoming disasters, emergencies, snafus and other discombobulations only after the event.

This particularly applies to questions of equipment maintenance, which in Bali is widely practised only after something ceases to function. Preventive is apparently not a word in the local maintenance lexicon, even though it exists in the Bahasa dictionary (it’s pencegah; look it up, guys).

Roland Staehler, marketing chief at BIMC, says that having your own medical waste incinerator is not cost-effective for a small operation and has nothing to do with international standards. We agree. We would merely observe that it’s probably not cost-effective, either, to have a generator at your house, or additional water tanks, or water purifiers, or a lot else. But in the absence – either total or to be expected on the basis of past non-performance – of adequate public infrastructure, the cautious might prefer to outlay a little extra to protect themselves from the promiscuous range of complete surprises you get here.

Staehler adds that BIMC put alternative medical waste disposal arrangements in place immediately. We would never have doubted that for a second. And just so we’re clear: BIMC is our household’s preferred place of quality medical and hospital treatment, should those needs arise.

Far Canal

A dear friend bobbed up in Amsterdam recently, not long after departing Bali. Spotting this (isn’t social media fantastic?) we sent a quick message: Mind the blue roads. Somewhat naturally, this from-left-field response mystified the recipient, especially as her first language is Spanish, not English. She asked: “What?” We replied: “Old story, tell you later.”

So here it is, Leticia. It’s one upon which we have allowed ourselves a quiet giggle over a number of years, though discreetly, since it involves the Distaff.  She it was, in Amsterdam on a business trip and contacted by mobile phone for the daily check-in, who said she wasn’t quite sure where she was (she knew she was in Amsterdam: that much at least was clear, which was a relief) and what were the blue roads on the street map.

From the distant antipodes, all it was possible to advise was that they were probably canals. We forbore to add – though we were sorely tempted – that she shouldn’t try to walk on them unless she first got herself deified.

We Won

No, not that Olympic Games thing, which we happily managed – mostly – to avoid; it was the flag up the pole race that we won. It’s an annual event in the neighbourhood of The Cage, on the breezy Bukit where flags, and lots of the other things, flap madly. Last year we weren’t in residence: we were in Scotland (equally breezy but considerably chillier) for a family occasion. So the Bendera Nasional didn’t get to flutter in honour of Independence Day 2011 atop the makeshift bamboo pole we stick in a piece of poly-pipe tacked onto the outer wall of the bale.

The Merah Putih is the only flag that ever flies at The Cage. We fly it there proudly, once a year, on and around August 17, because – despite everything – we’re proud of Indonesia and feel privileged to be part of its annually licensed contingent of temporary residents.

Usually the kampung across the gully gets its flag up first – it’s bigger and on a proper pole, too – but this year they were tardy. Well, perhaps we were bit ahead of ourselves. Ours went up on August 7: First in, best dressed.

See the Light

Bali-based photographer Yoga Raharja has an exhibition at Tom Hufnagel’s lively JP’s Warung, in Jl Dhyana Pura, Legian, which anyone interested in photography as art should certainly take the time to see. It’s on until September 3. Yoga is from Ungaran, Central Java, and lives in Sanur.

He tells us, inter alia, that his son is also taking photographs. We’ve seen some of them and they’re very good.

We recommend getting along to Yoga’s show. It includes a photograph, of a Hindu ceremony on a beach, that is not only thoroughly spiritual in its composition but effects an ambience in its toning of which J.M.W. Turner, the 18th and 19th century English painter whose stunningly colourful portrayal of skies owed something at least to an Indonesian connection – the eruption of Mt Tambora in Sumbawa in 1815 – might well have been very proud.

Hector’s Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser newspaper, published every second Wednesday. The newspaper’s website is Hector is on Twitter @scratchings and Facebook (Hector McSquawky).

JULIAN ASSANGE (Editorial in The Australian newspaper today)

This says it all …

Assange’s hypocritical homily

IN his political sermon, uttered from the open-air balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy to the adoring crowd below, Julian Assange confirmed what many have always suspected: his hypocrisy and cowardice is rivalled only by his self-aggrandisement and arrogance. In pleading his case for martyrdom, he was quick to berate US and British authorities, but conveniently ignored the serious allegations of sexual assault against him.

He sought and gained asylum at the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where authorities want to question him over the allegations of two women that he sexually abused them. Instead of addressing the reason why he is hiding behind the walls of the embassy, Assange instead chose to deliver a homily on “the freedom of expression and the health of all our societies”, which he argues are under threat. He urged the US to end its “witch-hunt” against his WikiLeaks organisation, which leaks highly classified government documents to selected media organisations. The irony of Assange’s self-righteousness and his paean to “freedom of expression” is that it confirms his status as a false prophet, given Ecuador is hardly a bastion of the values that he supposedly fights for.

The hypocrisy of Assange’s homily is laid bare by the lack of press freedom, human rights and democratic and accountable government in Ecuador, which accepted his plea for asylum at its London embassy. As we have noted, Ecuador often aligns itself at the UN with monstrous regimes in North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe, which are regularly found to support other equally appalling regimes such as that of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, whom Assange generously praised in his address, has been accused by human rights organisations of using courts to punish journalists critical of his government. Leaving aside the obvious irony of Assange’s comments in the grounds of an embassy representing a country that does not share his apparent commitment to press freedom, human rights or democracy, his real focus should be on seeking to clear his name by placing himself before the Swedish authorities, where his strident denials of wrongdoing can be properly tested. It should be noted that, unlike Ecuador, Sweden is a country that does uphold the principles of freedom, human rights and democratic government that he, and WikiLeaks, so ardently defend.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Aug. 8, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Oh Rats! Another problem

All of a sudden, The Cage has rats.  We are taking steps to eliminate the problem (and the rats) but the incident has prompted further intemperate thought about the vagaries, and difficulties, of life on Pulau Rusak. The rats in question appear to be brown (Norway) rats rather than ratus ratus – that’s the genealogical name, not pidgin Indonesian for hundreds of the beggars; our infestation fortunately seems to be in rather smaller numbers – and as well as trying to eradicate them within the household and its surroundings, we are trying to establish their provenance.

Their initial appearance, unidentified by type at that time, caused some moments of mirth. Having lived in places where plague is endemic – it’s a zoonotic disease that generally affects humans in large numbers only when its animal vector is overstressed, exactly as rabies periodically breaks out and bites people – your diarist’s instant response, aside from acquiring poison, was to fly around madly spraying the whole house against fleas.

This is not a deadly necessity in Bali, or at least it is not known to be. There are two listed foci of wild plague in Indonesia and both are in Central Java, said to be (though this may also be questionable) remnants of the great 1894-1925 China-India pandemic – which actually began in Burma – that spread around the world, fortunately for the most part in controllable outbreaks. A note on that: the last World Health Organization-recorded plague outbreak in Indonesia – it was only minor – was in 1997 and not in Central Java at all. It was at Pasuruan near Surabaya in East Java.

As with rabies, of which Bali was “free” until the current (150 deaths and counting) outbreak surprised everyone by appearing in 2008, it perhaps pays not to be fooled into thinking that absence of reports of a disease equates with actual absence of the pathogen responsible.

But guarding against itinerant rat fleas is still desirable, as well as necessary.  In Bali they can carry murine typhus, a much less deadly but still highly unpleasant disease. Rats are also vectors for a range of other unnecessary distempers. They thrive in filthy environments. We have redoubled our local efforts to get people to deal properly with their household rubbish. A tip: it won’t do to just toss it away in the bushes, or over the wall, and forget about it. The rats won’t.

Burning Question

Speaking of rubbish, readers may remember a story that surfaced in the Bahasa press a little while ago and was duly reported in précis in some of the local English-language media, concerning the problem of medical waste. The official incinerator at Sanglah, something else that’s apparently on the Rusak List, was no longer able to cope with the quantum of contributions from other hospitals, which had therefore been denied access to the facility and presumably were told to dispose of their medical waste as best they could.

One of the hospitals named on the no-more-access list was BIMC at Simpang Siur. Since this establishment – it now has a sister hospital at Nusa Dua, opened in May – promotes itself as an international-standard health facility, it was surprising to learn that it had not hitherto been incinerating its own medical waste in infrastructure furnished at its own expense.

We wanted to do the right thing by them, however, and asked for comment, hoping that we’d hear something positive. We’ve heard nothing yet.

Greener Pastures

Leticia Balacek, architect and artist (and The Diary’s Most Favoured Argentine) has flown the coop. She’s gone to Europe on a new venture – which we sincerely hope will be properly remunerative, since people here go ooh and aah about art and much else but are Scrooge-like when it comes to parting with their money (which despite appearances and assertions to the contrary many of them don’t have, unless it’s someone else’s) – and has left with strict instructions to keep in touch.  It’s not often you meet someone whose vibrancy level consistently exceeds the safe limit; it is tremendous fun when you do; and it’s not a good thing to let friends go.

Balacek’s art, as we’ve noted before, has an attractively naïf quality and would look good in a collection, or even just on a wall. For her exhibition in 2011 that helped promote the then newly opened El Kabron, the fine watering hole on the cliffs at Bingin on the Bukit, she presented among other works Yellow Dog, a delightful ink and wash sketch that precisely captures the ambience of Bali.

Yellow Dog is but one among many, but it’s our pick of the season.

More on Annie

Robert Epstone of Rotary Seminyak and – more importantly in this instance – the charity group Sole Men has given us a cheering update on little Annie, of Sideman in Karangasem regency. We reported in the last edition on this poor little mite, aged eight and at that time weighing 8kg, who was found living distressed, disastrously malnourished and at serious health risk and was immediately assisted by Jimbaran resident Sarah Chapman and her Balinese friend Yuni Putu.

Epstone’s group took on responsibility for raising funds to help Annie as an individual case and got her into Semarapura Hospital for full assessment, which indicates she’ll need long-term rehabilitation – the works, in fact – since her family lives in abject poverty and Annie herself has significant medical and developmental problems.

Epstone told Seminyak Rotarians in an update after his own visit to Annie:  “I have to say that yesterday was one of the most distressing days I have experienced – I have never seen a human being as close to being an animal as Annie who is the very sweetest little person totally damaged by her situation caused by poverty, ignorance and superstition in the community up where she lives. Thankfully due to veritable Angels like Sarah Chapman and her friend Yuni, little Annie may now stand a possible chance of rehabilitation but only with a great deal of time, work, therapy and no doubt ongoing costs involved as well as a HUGE amount of TLC.”

Anyone who would like to help Annie or her family is welcome to drop Hector an email at and we’ll put you in touch with Chapman and Epstone. If you’re on Facebook, you may want to friend Indonesia Sole Men.

By the way, Sole Men have their fourth Barefoot Walk coming up in September, a major element of their fundraising and awareness-raising effort. They’re looking for sponsors. In July they distributed copies of their Child Protection and Safety book – partly sponsored by Rotary Seminyak – to children, parents and teachers at schools, orphanages and villages around Bali during medical checks and health presentations.

A Sad Loss

Jack Daniels, of Bali Discovery Tours and Bali Update, lost a very good friend recently and has The Diary’s deepest sympathy. He wrote a lovely piece about him, so touchingly that it made us sad we hadn’t known him too. Bobby was a Labrador, but according to Daniels, was probably the best editorial assistant he’ll ever have. Among his many self-selected office jobs was to ensure that piles of newspapers did not fly away in the breeze. He was very good at lying on them, Daniels writes – and even under them, if the leaf-through-and-discard process was under way.

Apparently Bobby was a dog of several significant other talents too. He was often to be seen following the gardener around with a bucket or some other implement he deemed essential to the task at hand.

No pets reside at The Cage. One of us is a cat person, the other is a dog person, and this domestic political schism – now of three decades’ standing – has never been resolved and indeed may never be so. But we have neighbour pets whose days, we hope, are enlivened by our visits.

Here’s Cheers

We hear some good news from Voyager Estate, the winery in Western Australia’s Margaret River region that offers attractive Cape Dutch architecture and magnificent roses along with a wide range of very superior plonk.

After extensive planning and renovations, they have opened their new Wine Room, saying it offers a completely different wine experience in Margaret River. Their email magazine e.magnum (neat!) tells us it’s all about the discovery and celebration of wine, whether you’re a wine aficionado,  are keen to learn more, or just enjoy tasting and comparing wines.

We must make a date with sommelier Claire Tonon on our next visit to the wine country, scheduled for October when – we hope – the chills of southern WA’s unusually cold winter will be long gone.

And Jeers

The wicked price of alcohol in Bali has always had a capacity to astonish anyone who comprehends that tourism is an essential element of the island’s economy. There are the mark-ups, of course, which tend to rise in concert with the level of class drink-serving establishments award themselves. But then there’s the availability, licensing and excise and other duties components to be put in the mix.

It’s a hefty cocktail, and one that periodically gives everyone a headache. At the latest industry grumblefest about it, Rizki Handayani, director of MICE and special interest promotion at the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, promised to follow up on the input with related agencies at the ministry and other institutions, including the Trade Ministry. “This is valuable information to be shared with the minister,” Handayani said.

Is anyone holding their breath on an outcome?

Hector’s Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser newspaper, out fortnightly (and online at and also on his blog Hector is on Twitter @scratchings and Facebook (Hector McSquawky)