8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Month: December, 2012

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Mothers who say F**ck

This is serious fun. Though it comes with a language alert 🙂

No Place For Sheep

I recently engaged in a robust exchange of views with one of my sons. This particular adult child has long-held a reputation for forgetting to tell anybody things, unless we happen to be in the same room as him when something that might need to be told to us occurs.

On this most recent occasion, the stuff he forgot to tell me was totes important, and my lack of knowledge caused me untold aggravation, and the rest. So I rang him up and let him know where he currently stood with me. As he’s always thought of himself as “the good child,” this came a something of a shock.

First we had to deal with the “oh, it was just a misunderstanding” meme. No it wasn’t, I told him, I didn’t misunderstand anything how could I when you didn’t tell me anything I could misunderstand?

Then we negotiated the “Mum…

View original post 590 more words

If This Was a Joke, You’d Laugh

 

Bali is a destination of choice for a great many kooks, and we often read about them through such beneficial mediums as The Beat Daily, a nicely presented and very lively online publication.

    But one recent arrival is well out of the ordinary run of events. Self-styled Brazilian virgin Catarina  Migliorini, who is apparently 20 which should mean she’s had time to acquire a modicum of common sense,  if not some semblance of good taste, not to mention to choose like most young women to freely dispense with her virginity along the way, has been stranded here because the Australians wouldn’t give her a visa.

      Migliorini had to flee Brazil, it seems, because that country’s attorney-general said her action in auctioning her virginity – for charity as well as her own pocket, so it is said – was tantamount to people trafficking and was against the law. Like many misfits, she’s ended up on our island, where if she never manages to become a cause celebre she will at least attract a snigger or two.

      She has sold her body – or at least, a one-time special entry permit to a particular part of her anatomy – for US$780,000 to a Japanese man, known only as “Natsu”, who clearly has more money than sense. The overpriced deflowering was supposed to take place in November, with events surrounding this – though not, thankfully, the act itself – to be recorded on film.

      She came to Bali in the hope of getting a visa here to enter Australia but this was denied twice. Apparently a third application was successful. It is far from clear why, but doubtless Canberra’s paperclip shufflers have some sort of excuse that will just squeak onto the plausibility scale.

      Perhaps it’s the novelty value, though the loss of virginity is hardly novel, except for the participants, and that hopefully in private.

      There is a further, less than savoury, antipodean connection:  Australian documentary filmmaker Justin Sisely had planned to film the event on a plane from Bali to the United States to avoid any legal complications with either Indonesia or Australia but apparently the film will now be made Down Under.

     A spokesman for filmmaker Sisely, Frank Thorne, told the media: “Things changed a lot as the documentary progressed. Other things are still in the works. For now, the project is on hold, and we are in limbo until the New Year. Can’t say anything more at the moment, because there is nothing to report.”

     In the meantime Migliorini has posed nude for Playboy in a picture spread due to be published in Brazil in January.

     It used to be said, by the Ancients, that those whom the gods wished to destroy they first made mad. Certainly several people in this ridiculous and prurient saga are prime candidates for visas to enter Lala Land. And this proves to be the case: the Australians reportedly have come to the deflowering party.

     There’s a sad parallel story to the main event too. Apparently a man – in some separate transaction – auctioned his own virginity (an ethereal rather than physical construct in the male case) and had to sell himself for only US$3000. Some say the fact that he has carrot-coloured hair negatively impacted on his value.

     For my money Catarina and “Natsu” – along with poor Mr Carrot Top – have all done their dough.

 

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Dec. 26, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Way Not to Go

It was interesting to read recently in the Bali Daily, the local wraparound masthead of the Jakarta Post newspaper, that university students here are protesting over a national government plan to eliminate teaching of the Balinese language from the school curriculum.  It was worrying, too, because such a plan threatens the unique culture of Bali and undermines the diversity that makes Indonesia the vibrant nation it is. The students are worried – understandably and quite naturally – that committing such an act of cultural vandalism would place the future of the language at risk.

An alliance of students from the State Hindu Dharma Institute, Dwijendra and Udayana universities and IKIP PGRI teachers college made this point – in Balinese dress – at a demonstration in Denpasar earlier this month. The Bali Daily reported alliance leader I Nyoman Suka Ardiyasa as saying:

“We fear that one day the Balinese language will be forgotten because students will no longer learn the subject in school, and also an increasing number of people no longer use the language nowadays.”

The critical interface between common sense and painful farce in policy development is often difficult to detect. But it is always vital to detect it and preferable that this beneficence takes place before someone steps in the do-do, rather than afterwards.
Removing Balinese language teaching from the curriculum is in line with the Education and Culture Ministry’s most recent policy on a new teaching curriculum, which proposes to amalgamate several different subjects into one.  Unique local content subjects taught only in schools in specific regions will be integrated into “art and culture” classes.
It would mean that learning the Balinese language – at present this is compulsory in elementary, junior and high schools – would be merged with art and culture, seriously limiting the opportunities for young Balinese to learn their traditional language.
A 1992 Bali law on language, letters and literature clearly stipulates the need to teach, develop and preserve the Balinese language. The 2003 National Education System Law  provides that the curriculums of basic and higher education should contain both art and culture and local content subjects.
According to statistics the number of people who can speak Balinese drops by 1 percent each year on average. As the students say, removing the language’s study from the curriculum will only worsen this invidious decline.

Bahasa Indonesia, the national language, is universally taught throughout the archipelago – from Sabang to Merauke, to borrow the title of President Sukarno’s 1950 speech on Independence Day that year and that of a very good 1995 travelogue by the British writer John Keay – and is naturally the lingua franca.  But the bottom line is that no language should ever be lost, or put at risk of being so. There’s still time for the national authorities to change their mind. They should do so.

See the Light

Speaking of cultural matters, we had a nice little Christmas and New Year message from the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival which was cheering on two counts: it indicated that the festival is now effectively a 12-month operation – there should be no peace for the wicked, or for organisers of important annual events – and it gave news of what the 2013 festival is shaping up to be.

The 2013 festival will be the tenth (regrettably referred to by the festival scribbler as the 10-Year Anniversary: perhaps the UWRF should run a workshop on tautology avoidance) and this is of course an important milestone. The theme of the 2013 festival (from Oct. 2-6 – put it in your diaries) is Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang: Through Darkness to Light. This honours Kartini – Raden Ayu Kartini (1879-1904) – who is one of Indonesia’s designated national heroes. Since 1964, she has her own national day each year, on April 21.

Kartini’s concerns were not only in the area of the emancipation of women, but also other problems of her society. Kartini saw that the struggle for women to obtain their freedom, autonomy and legal equality was only a part of a wider movement.

She married the Regency Chief of Rembang (who already had three wives) against her wishes but to appease her ailing father; her new husband allowed her to establish a school for women in the Rembang Regency Office. Kartini’s only child, a boy, was born in September 1904 and she died of post-natal complications four days later, aged 25.

Inspired by her example the Dutch Van Deventer family established the R.A. Kartini Foundation which later built “Kartini’s Schools” for women in Semarang, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Malang, Madiun, Cirebon and other places.

The UWRF says the 2013 theme will “open the floor” – we thought it was rayap that did that but never mind – to many global issues concerning women, education, gender equity, children and the human condition. The sub theme addresses heroes in society: in the banal and ungrammatical language of these times, “people who have, or are, making a difference.”

The festival’s Indonesian programme has already begun receiving works from Indonesian writers from Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi vying to become one of the 15 designated emerging Indonesian writers to be sponsored participants in the 2013 event. In 2012, a total of 279 writers submitted their works to the selection committee.

One interesting and sensible provision of the selection process is an independent curatorial board – its members are appointed for one year only to avoid favouritism and bring in new blood.

Something else that might interest many is a competition to design a poster illustrating the 2013 theme. The winner, whose work will be seen on posters everywhere promoting the festival, and during the festival itself, will also receive more than Rp20 million in travel and prizes. Submissions close on Feb. 7 and details are available on the UWRF website.

A Bradman Knock

Veteran Australian journalist and notable Friend of Hector, Bob Howarth – Bob and Hector’s helper go back a long way in the media world – celebrated 50 years in journalism recently. He was fortunate to be able to do so at Gibson Saraji’s fine Gorgonzola restaurant and bar on Jl Raya Uluwatu, Bukit Jimbaran. Saraji is a great host and his menu is on the upside of great.

Howarth, who started as a cadet journalist on the Brisbane Courier-Mail on Dec. 8, 1962 and went on to run newspapers in Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong, has been in Bali for three months working with the Institute for Peace and Democracy at Udayana University’s Jimbaran campus. He’s  had to go away for a spell – something about Christmas on his beloved Moreton Island in Queensland, it seems – but is due back in February to do some more work with institute executive director I Ketut Putra Erawan, who is a very engaging academic indeed.

The Gorgonzola party, on Dec. 8, was made notable by the presence of several of Howarth’s Indonesian “granddaughters” – sweet (and formidably intelligent) young things he taught at Padjadjaran University in Bandung. It was a fun night.

Also there for the celebrations was Brit author Tim Hannigan, whose new book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java has caused a few riparian ripples in the otherwise fairly placid waters of British imperial hagiography. He’d been in Bali to do book launches at Biku in Kerobokan (thanks for the excellent afternoon tea, Asri – and we’ll be back to try that new locally made apple cider) and at Janet DeNeefe’s Bar Luna Lit Club in Ubud.

We know of no plans in this regard, but Hannigan would be a prize catch for this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Over to you, Janet.

Wedding Belles

We were honoured to receive an invitation to attend the nuptials arranged at a house just up the road for some connections of our redoubtable pembantu. We missed the tooth-filing – always such fun – but were compensated for this by the opportunity to view the activities of several beautifully and traditionally attired young Balinese women flitting about taking pictures on their iPads and sundry other items of cutting-edge technology.

Not for Prophet

In our Christmas message in the Diary published on Dec. 12 we recalled that Jesus is important to Muslims. We wrote that he was the third most important of Islam’s prophets. This was an error: we should have written fifth.

The point we were making is that while Muslims do not believe Jesus (Isa) was the son of God, he is revered as the 24th of Islam’s 25 prophets: Muhammad was the last. It is one of a number of interesting and powerful links between two of the great religions of The Book.

There is no formal hierarchy of prophets in Islam, but as the Holy Qur’an records, there are five who are most important as “prophets with resolution.” Here’s the relevant verse (33.7): “And remember We took from the prophets their covenant: As (We did) from thee (Muhammad): from Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus the son of Mary: We took from them a solemn covenant.”

Hear Hear, Kitty

Facebook sometimes gives you a giggle, especially when friends post little primers on how they think life should be lived. We got one such recently, which advised that real men love cats. Our immediate thought was, well yes, unless they’re New Zealanders, probably. But we scratched that as thoroughly unworthy.

Nonetheless, the advice is correct. Cats are wonderful animals and much smarter than humans. And anyway, these days it’s all about Meow! Meow! Meow!

Cheers

A Happy New Year to all and every good wish for 2013.

Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser and on the newspaper’s website http://www.baliadvertiser.biz. Hector tweets (@scratchings) and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky). 

How I discovered my feminine side

I’ve never understood why the fact that men like to have sex with women (sometimes the reverse applies, it seems…) should so colour gender bias in every other aspect of life.

The diversion of aid: Carr’s false comparisons

A fine argument indeed on the financial cost of moral bankruptcy

No Place For Sheep

The Gillard government yesterdaydeclared its intention to rob overseas aid of $375 million in order to help pay  the living expenses of asylum seekers who have arrived in Australia by boat.

The money will allegedly go towards supporting the resettlement of asylum seekers who have been released into the community on bridging visas. These asylum seekers need financial support because the government will not allow them to work while their claims are being processed.

They have been condemned to a marginal existence, receiving some 85% of the already meagre Newstart allowance, for some five years, the time it is estimated it will take authorities to process their asylum claims.

It’s not known if the money will also be used to fund off-shore detention centres, particularly the construction of new facilities on Nauru and Manus Island.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr claims this is no big deal, and cites the United…

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This is a fun piece. And nothing beats a baguette,,,

Raffles Revealed, in a Javanese context

Indonesians are apt to say they wish their former colonisers had been the British instead of the Dutch. It is a comment anyone who lives in the country, and who talks to ordinary people, hears at least once, if not repeatedly.

The argument goes that if the British had run what later became Indonesia there would be larger quantities of workable infrastructure, better education, less corruption, and a parliamentary system that at least holds out some hope for the future of enabling legislation.

Indonesians point to the success of India, Malaysia and Singapore which, since long before the post-imperialists in faraway London gave up the game, have gone ahead well. It’s an attractive argument, but it’s completely superficial one in the Indonesian political context.

It does not withstand scrutiny. India is a contiguous whole with (for the most part) geography and a landscape that accommodates things like roads and railways. In much of India, right up to independence in 1947 British rule was indirect through local rulers heading minor dynasties of very great longevity. There was a sense of collective “Indianness” that predated British (and other European) colonialism and which thrived throughout lengthy imperial times. Malaysia is a multiethnic nation comprising Malays, Indians and Chinese. It has far fewer people than Indonesia and different problems that are home-grown and in no way analogous to those of Indonesia. Singapore is an artificial construct, a Chinese city, best seen as a highly successful, but fundamentally anachronistic city-state on the Venetian model.

Indonesia, by contrast, has no significant archipelago-wide national history beyond the liturgy of its independence struggle. It is still developing that narrative and the mythology to go with it. Dutch settlement – except in Java and parts of Sumatra – was not extensive and grew from little trading posts into a late-start imperial administration. Indonesia is a nation of thousands of islands and hugely diverse populations. It might suit the governing class (primarily from Java) to propose the concept of Indonesia as some sort of modern day reincarnation of Majapahit but Indonesians from elsewhere than Java – where most Indonesians live – see that as a problem, not as a solution.

All of which is a long and circuitous route into a discussion of a new book about Stamford Raffles, memorialised (ad nauseam) as the founder of Singapore. Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, by British writer Tim Hannigan brings Raffles to life in an engaging – though hardly attractive – way by focusing on another of his adventures.

There is a large body of literature on the British Empire. The imperial song is sung in many diverse ways and is heavily scored by paeanists, who like to hammer away at their keyboards, now fortissimo, now andante, occasionally adagio (the Imperial British were strong but gentle, you see) . Hannigan is not among those who believe the British Empire deserves a paean of praise. He prefers a different narrative, a more reflective – and reflexive – nuance.

This came to light in his eminently readable first book Murder in the Hindu Kush: George Hayward and the Great Game. Hayward was a casualty of the long-running standoff between Britain and Russia in Central Asia in the 19th century – known then and now as the Great Game, for thus it was.

Hannigan’s book captures something of the spirit of the novels by John Masters – notably in The Lotus and the Wind, a work of fiction that would bring a tear to the eye of the most resolute anti-imperialist – as to the almost cosmic appeal of the wild lands between the Indus and the Oxus. Afghanistan is in there, right in the middle. So is Kashmir. And for that matter, so is Ladakh, the Himalayan focus of intense Indian-Chinese rivalry.

In his new book about Raffles, Hannigan develops a narrative markedly sharper than that preferred by many imperial hagiographers. Raffles, he finds, was not a Nice Chap. Arguably too, excusing Singapore’s interest in him as a sort of transnational hero, he was not even a success.  His invasion of Java was performed while he was working for John Company, the British East India Company. The territory on which he landed, near Batavia (now Jakarta) was nominally Dutch but was controlled by the Netherlands East Indies Company, confusingly also known as John Company.

Both commercial companies – in Britain and Holland – had grown into quasi-corporate state administrations, proving the political theory that the most applicable natural law in any endeavour is that of unintended consequences. The British company was by far the greater success, but it was well on the road to eventual ruin by the time Raffles landed troops in Java in 1811.

(Its final denouement was to come 46 years later, with the so-called Indian Mutiny of 1857, when the Bengal Presidency erupted in an orgy of violence finally suppressed by the British months later with the assistance of Company troops from the Madras and Bombay presidencies. The Mutiny ushered in 90 years of imperial British rule.)

As Hannigan notes in his book, Raffles had his own plans for Java that were not those of either his commercial employers in Calcutta or of the British government in London. He was a maverick, then; less a man of vision than one of impetuous disorder.

The Java landing was a by-product of the Napoleonic Wars. The French had subsumed the Netherlands and Java was thus notionally enemy territory. British policy – such as it was, and filtered via the East India Company to boot – did not envisage occupation of Java. The idea was to seize the centres of indigenous government and hand the island over to the natives. Raffles had other ideas. He apparently wished primarily to become famous. He achieved this objective in part by becoming his own plagiaristic hagiographer.

Hannigan’s book provides a perspective on Raffles that is magnificently different from that served up by other popular writers on the theme, such as Victoria Glendinning, who is surely the Hyacinth Bouquet of the genre. She seems to prefer riparian delights to dealing with real life.

Glendinning has also just produced a book about Raffles. It’s called Raffles and The Golden Opportunity. It misses one: Raffles’ politicking with the sultan of Palembang (in Sumatra) who he wished to have murder the Dutch community there. There was a lovely stand-off at the Singapore Writers Festival in November over that omission and other missing links. Hannigan’s book was the best seller at the festival. Enough said.

Hannigan has been criticised – most notably in an unfavourable review by New Zealand journalist Duncan Graham published in the Jakarta Post newspaper – for some lapses. He wasn’t writing a formal history and did not intend therefore to fully footnote the book, but he had planned “notes on chapters” giving explanations and suggested further reading and this did not eventuate.

Graham, an old Asia hand, writes of Raffles’ failure in Java:

     “There have to be explanations beyond ability, leadership, foresight and intellect — so said the curmudgeons trampled or ignored by this high achiever — and Hannigan has helped give these belittlers the chance to hack away at the image in the provocatively titled Raffles and the British Invasion of Java.

     “However, the man, like his imposing statue in Singapore, is not easily toppled. Not because some evidence against Raffles lacks substance, but because the author strains to hate when he should have let the facts do their work.”

Yet that analysis is itself self-serving and flawed. Graham characterises Hannigan as an ex-Cornish chef and one-time Surabaya chalkie and says dismissively of him that felling tall timbers requires more than a blunt blade. He questions whether Hannigan actually did the research he says he did on the Raffles papers in the archives of the India Office in London. He would like people to think, apparently, that he (Hannigan) is some sort of untutored ring-in amateur whose assumptions cannot be trusted.

This is unworthy. Hannigan is not a history scholar and makes no pretence that he is. But he writes a good yarn and he reads William Dalrymple (everyone should). He understands that while some Brits now living in reduced circumstances may find comfort in the warm glow of recovered memories (miss-memories) of their imperial past, that’s no reason to gild any lilies.

Raffles was probably not a scoundrel. But he is not an idol, either… unless one with feet of clay.

Raffles and the British Invasion of Java is published by Monsoon Books, Singapore – www.monsoonbooks.com.sg. ISBN (paperback) 978-981-4358-85-9 (ebook) 978-981-4358-86-6.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Dec. 12, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

What a Stinker

Sir Stamford Raffles is a footnote in history for having identified a swampy and malarial island at the bottom of the Malay Peninsula as the site of the future New Serenissima (Venice) nowadays known as Singapore. He is due that credit. He’s also a footnote in the bibliography of flora, having had his name attached to perhaps the most unpleasantly pungent plant on earth, the Rafflesia, characterised by Swedish scientist Eric Mjoberg in 1928 as possessing “a penetrating smell more repulsive than any buffalo carcass in an advanced stage of decomposition.”  It’s also known as the corpse flower, and is thus nicely emblematic of a dead empire.

There was a bit of a stink about Raffles at the recent Singapore Literary Festival, where British authors Tim Hannigan (Raffles and the Invasion of Java) and Victoria Glendinning (Raffles and the Golden Opportunity) faced off in a firmly feisty manner.

Hannigan was in Bali this month to promote his new book, which had its official Indonesian launch earlier in Jakarta – the Big Durian, a competitor for pungency perhaps – and then its Bali introduction at Periplus at Mal Bali Galeria, Kuta, on Dec. 1. Apparently the Periplus function was conducted entirely in Indonesian and Hannigan’s fine Java-accented Bahasa attracted good reviews.

He conducted later speaking engagements, first at Biku in Kerobokan’s well-heeled Jl Petitinget and then at Bar Luna in Ubud, in a mix of languages. We were at Biku – no one should miss an opportunity for afternoon tea at Asri Kerthyasa’s bijou establishment – on Dec. 4 to catch up. Hannigan and your diarist formerly laboured together on Another Publication hereabouts, on a proprietor’s promise of possibly being favoured with a quick smell of a notionally oily rag.

Hannigan’s secular hagiographies are worth reading. We enjoyed his first book (George Hayward and the Great Game). Hayward came a cropper while the Brits and the Russians were chest-thumping in Central Asia in the 19th century. Raffles, whose origins were relatively humble in the snooty (not to say snotty) Britain of his day, ended up ruined financially, perhaps because he was from the wrong side of the tracks.

Check out Monsoon Books for Hannigan’s work. It’s worth it.

Pull the Other Plug

PLN, which makes congenital dysfunction seem like a desirable improvement to aim for, has hit new heights with its unannounced introduction of an innovative Bule Billing Plan. Last month’s bill – which failed to take account, as they always do, of serial blackouts and frequent delivery of 80V instead of the standard 220V – was away being paid, by your diarist, two days after it reached The Cage.

Not long after the chariot had departed on this happy mission, two chirpy little chaps from the world’s worst public utility turned up at the gate to disconnect the power for non-payment. Fortunately our redoubtable pembantu was on the ball and sent them on their way with whatever is the local equivalent of a flea in the ear. That might be “sebuah loak di telinga,” but we’re not really sure.

But it is good news, in a way, we suppose. It does seem that PLN has stumbled upon an accounting system that actually tells them whose bill is whose. Maybe, though, they should rework the bit about cutting people off before they’ve had a chance to pay.

And while they’re at it, they might look at methods of delivering secure power, consistently, at the right voltage.  Repeatedly stubbing your toe while blundering around in the half-dark, courtesy of PLN’s brown-out policy, is not a desirable thing. It prompts intemperate thought and it’s not something that will be fixed by changing the wallpaper.  On that score, proposals to set up a Bali “subsidiary” of PLN on the Batam model should be viewed with caution.

Apple of Her Eye

The intriguing Marie Bee, who writes for the French monthly journal La Gazette de Bali (avec brio) from the deep recesses of the Ubud environment, was much excited in her latest published dispatch at having seen a reticulated python with two penises. She clearly didn’t major in ophiology at her university in Aix en Provence. These curious tandem arrangements are not altogether unusual among the descendants of the poor creature divinely sentenced to slither on his belly forever for getting Eve to bite that apple.

Be that as it may, the Bee piece is a nice buzz, especially since it prompts agreeable speculation that a snake might possibly be able to comply with a pejorative suggestion that it go away and perform what would otherwise be an anatomical impracticality.

Scrummy

Once upon a time, your diarist played rugby. That’s the original Rugby Union version, not Rugby League which was invented to keep English labourers out of the ale houses of a weekend and then migrated to that working class haven, Australia. We played fly-half (No 10) until one too many “forget the scrum-half, get the next bloke” tactical plays by opposing sides encouraged the view that squash might be a safer sport.

But love of the game lingers (you never really lose it) so we browse a number of rugby sites – the Wallabies, the Queensland Reds and Scotland are favourites, along with an historical affinity with the Springboks – including a Facebook page maintained by the Bali Rugby Club.

There, the other day, we noticed a post by BRC president Nick Mesritz, who shapes surfboards for a living and is from the land of the magical Haka. It quoted All Black prop Owen Franks on his upcoming pre-season training: “The training programmes are brutal and lonely – the onus is on the individual to be responsible for their fitness and follow an aerobic and strength programme that will include sprint repeats, hill work, gym work and agility sessions.”

We could suggest that’s not unlike the daily fitness regime here at The Cage. But we’d be straying a little too far from the literal truth.

All Abuzz

Brisbane in Queensland is a fine place to formerly call home. It’s Australia’s third largest capital city (population 2 million-plus) so it comes with all mod cons, and since it sits happily on 27 S its winters, while locally remarkable, barely pass even the fringe chill test. It’s a great place for Garuda to fly to from Bali – again, after its five-year bottom-line disappearing act – and those additional services from later next year will widen opportunities to stage brief returns, something The Diary has missed.

But we’ve kept in touch, among other things by way of the vibrant Brisbane Institute, a body that commenced operations some years ago under the benevolent editorial gaze of your diarist. Thus we learned recently that with the appointment of its first Chief Digital Officer, the city joined New York as one of the few conurbations in the world to have its own local government digital champion. It’s part of the Brisbane City Council’s ambition to position Brisbane as Australia’s new world city.

The Queensland capital, while still the butt of jealous jokes from effete southerners, has always been in the lead on technology. It had the first computer in the southern hemisphere, in 1962. In those pre-nano days, the monster had to arrive by ship.

Ties That Bind

Hector’s helper – the chap who’s not just a virtual cockatoo – spends a little time on Facebook, as some of his closer acquaintances have been known to note, on occasion testily. One of these, the Distaff, was recently further underwhelmed at finding herself newly in his profile picture. She won’t have a bar of Facebook, Herself.

It’s a nice photo, one from the files from 1994, and it was placed there because while Facebook allows one to proclaim a marital state, it won’t allow any visual or verbal reference to the name of that propinquity unless they are also an FB user. When dealing with the many unknowns of cyberspace, there are sensible reasons to provide concrete evidence of the presence of a Significant Other.

What’s really interesting, however, is that while selecting files for a series of down the years photos for possible profile use, the eye fell upon another, from 1996, only two years later. The Distaff had completely changed: she’d been to the gym or something, was clad in an outfit of a very outré hue, and had changed her hairstyle. But Hector’s helper, non-fashion statement that he remains, was still carrying the same old kilos and wearing the same blazer and tie.

Feasting Note

On Dec. 25, as every year, we mark the Christian anniversary of the birth of  one of Islam’s important prophets, Isa al Mahdi, the Messiah. The birthday is notional, naturally, since the early Christians merely co-opted existing pagan feasts. Easter (from the Greek pagan god Oestre) was the old Northern Hemisphere Spring fertility celebration.  The midwinter stave-off-starvation feast became Christmas, marking the birth of Jesus. But myths and the complex liturgies that religious scholars spin from them are what make the world and its belief systems go round, after all.

So Merry Christmas! We’ll save the “Happy New Year!” for the next edition.

Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser. Hector tweets @Scratchings and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky).

There’s No Defence of Rank Idiocy

 

The central point in the royal prank saga caused by two vacuous little Sydney radio presenters is clear. Perhaps that’s why it has been almost universally ignored. It is that the two initiators had no thought other than for their own promotion in perpetrating a hoax on the other side of the world.

It is for that lapse of judgement that the two radio presenters should be sanctioned. They would have had no idea that their stupidity would lead – or so it would clearly seem – to the suicide of the British nurse they duped into believing they were the Queen and Prince Charles. But that’s the problem: they had no idea. They are selfish denizens, apparently, of the sickeningly smelly depths of pop radio.

According to Michael Mullins, editor of the Eureka Street on-line newspaper, we are all to blame for the tragedy. Well no, Michael, we’re not. Modern mass media might be a pot of steaming pap, in which news has been subsumed into something misguidedly called entertainment and comment ceded to barely sentient shock-jocks, but there’s something called individual responsibility. It still exists. It is still exercised by many people; hopefully by most people.

Unfortunately it appears to be concept totally absent in what passes for the minds of presenters Mel Grieg and Michael Christian, of the disgraceful Sydney radio station 2DAY FM. They were described a couple of days ago as feeling “fragile” following their indiscretion and its horrific outcome. One would hope so. A 46-year-old mother of two, British nurse Jacintha Saldanha, was feeling dead about it.

Mullins, in a piece in Eureka Street today, asserts that the hospital – King Edward VII in London, which treats military and VIP patients – is to blame for not ensuring its nurses are equipped to handle the media. He has the kernel of a point there: nurses everywhere should be trained to tell the media to bugger off and call the hospital’s press office.

But the now dead Saldanha, whose co-opted role in the scheme to promote Greig and Christian was to put their call through to the room in which Prince William’s wife was apparently suffering morning sickness, didn’t believe she was talking to the media. Why she thought the Queen and Prince Charles would personally call the hospital at 5am is another matter. But it not germane; the point is that she was duped by two little idiots who (if judged suitable to be employed at all) should have had more sense than to try a prank like that.

It is churlish to cavil at the social media – which Mullins does, making the point that in the past the professional media generally had time to abort brainless ideas before giving birth to them (we should ask Rupert Murdoch what he thinks about that) – on the grounds that some comment on this case has been over the top. We live in an age where technology makes instant reaction in social media the norm, not the exception: that’s something else idiots with access to microphones should consider.

Jeff Kennett of Beyond Blue, the Australian organisation that seeks to fight depression and suicide, says we should understand how the two Sydney radio “stars” would now be feeling. Most people would, and would sympathise at the human level with their distress.

But that doesn’t mean excusing it, or suggesting that it was just a prank that went horribly wrong.  It was not a “prank”. It was rank idiocy. That’s the perpetrators’ cross, and they have to bear it.