8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Month: November, 2013

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Nov. 27, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Get Smart! Get Agent 99

It may all have blown over by the time this edition of the Diary appears. (Well, no it won’t, even though it certainly should have.) The piquant sauce de jour these days is the spy scandal that has embroiled Indonesia and Australia. A quick point: It was Kevin wot dun it, the Nambour Kid, saviour of the universe and serial winner of the motor-mouth prize.

This is not to be unkind to the former Australian prime minister. It’s just that, well, he is the former Australian prime minister. He’s not even in parliament any longer. He decided since being re-elected on Sept. 7 as the member for Griffith – disclosure: the seat, in Brisbane, was once the Diary’s domicile for the purpose of scribbling gratuitous advice on ballot papers – that since the Australian people had belled him out it was all too much and he’d be better off saving the world from someplace else.

Nor is this to say that the present incumbent, Tony Abbott, wouldn’t have signed off on the same scam if he’d been in the big office at the time. But let’s not forget that 2009 was a particularly complex phrase in the long narrative of the world. The Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005, the Australian embassy bombing in Jakarta in 2004, the Marriott attack in 2003 and the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton bombings in 2009, created difficult circumstances. Indonesia was facing down – very creditably, it should be noted – a significant domestic terrorism threat.

Traditionally, governments don’t comment on intelligence matters. This isn’t because they haven’t got any – it just looks like that sometimes. It wasn’t very smart to eavesdrop on President SBY – heck, it wasn’t even Maxwell Smart (lady Agent 99 was so much smarter) – but, well, that’s why democracies nurture journalists: to keep the bastards honest. Though journalists don’t always write everything they know either, for all sorts of reasons; legal, chiefly, or corporate or political, or sometimes for self-preservation.

It would be invidious to speculate on the real reasons the Australians and Americans bugged the presidential hand phone. Suffice to say it probably wasn’t to find out what SBY says when the chauffeur turns up late; or that it was even about the president himself at all.

The real villain in this piece is Edward Snowden, the latest “heroic” leaker, a man who like so many others these days is without honour. Without his imbecilic cyber incontinence this silly situation would not have arisen. If he didn’t like what he was doing he should have resigned and gone away. The world only needs one Julian Assange. And even that’s debatable.

 

Watch Out

An incident in Seminyak the other day serves as a timely reminder that the crowded tourism-oriented parts of South Bali are not necessarily crime-free safe areas, despite claims to that effect by various figures in authority who would obviously like it to be thought that everything here on the Island of the Dogs is just hunky-dory. It’s not a bit like Dodge City, really it isn’t. No, really.

We hear that a knife-wielding bandit assaulted an expat man in broad daylight outside a convenience store in Jl Oberoi, plainly intent on robbery. His intended target did the sensible thing and ran away. What’s more, he ran straight to the local banjar and told them the story. Apparently they caught the miscreant.

We hope he was simply handed over to the police. There was a dreadful case reported in another area – not all that far away – some months ago when a man stole Rp800K from a local warung and ran. A mob caught him, stripped him naked to humiliate him, and then beat him to death. They threw his body into a ditch. It was said at the time that the police did not regard it as an incident worth investigating since the robber had been caught and the crime had therefore been solved.

Murder is apparently not murder in a wide range of circumstances.

 

Grub Alert

A Canadian woman who lives in Ubud reported on Facebook recently that an Indonesian man had molested her in the street as she was going home after dinner in the evening. He groped one of her breasts and then left the scene, doubtless to boast of his triumph to any of his friends who, similarly mentally defective, would utter the Balinese or Indonesian equivalents of “Phwaar!” and think him a good chap rather than the mental midget he plainly is.

There are, of course, badly behaved idiots and low-life grubs in every society. An overly large proportion of those who come to public attention are men. This is distinctly displeasing to many of us who are represented by the little arrow on the gender signs you see around nowadays, instead of that friendly plus. It is especially irritating to the majority of men who are tired of being implicated in what is apparently seen as a global rape collective.

This is not to downplay the serious nature of assault and especially that by random men on passing women. We often wish we had not disposed of our lovely riding crop, once used as a friendly guide to various mounts upon which we have cantered. In circumstances such as that just reported in Ubud it would have been good to have been in the area and to have had it to hand. Pak Groper would still be in a very sorry state if that had been the case.

But that said, it’s a pity that what is primarily a male sickness from elsewhere – lack of respect for the persons of women (as opposed to their social and economic status, which remains a burdensome problem in many places) and of their absolute right not to be molested – is gaining a foothold in other cultures that really should know better. Perhaps the man involved in this incident has some sensible friends or family who have pointed out the demerits of being a grub. We can but hope.

It would be a shame if incidents like this – to say nothing of the one reported in the first item – caused further damage to Bali’s reputation as a place to have a holiday. Such things can no longer be safely ignored because they can be made to disappear.

Nowadays there is nowhere to hide. Everywhere is in the international spotlight, even Bali.

 

Where There’s a Will…

Now on to happier things: This gave us a lovely giggle when we saw it on the Ubud Community page on Facebook – a conversation between a man and a land buyer. Thank you to Ani Somia for posting it and her Dad for, well, sending at least one acquisitive land-grabber off with a flea in his ear.  

Ani’s post put it this way (it’s verbatim here for the full flavour): 

Some conversation between my father n the broker who requested our land to be rented due to a huge hotel is being building nearby our house in Ubud.

Buyer: Excusme bapak we are interested to rent out or buy your land. We hv some cash for you n we giving good price.

My dad: Oh ampura. Aka excusme sir. The land is not belong to me but it’s inherited. Could u please ask my father first?

Buyer: Yes bapak for sure we will. Where is your father now?

 My dad: He is in the grave yard died 50 years ago!

Me go inside my room n giggling then I cant help laughing hahahahaha proud of you dad!!

Way to go!

 

Wheel of Fortune

Rotary clubs are always a hive of action and Rotary Club of Bali Seminyak is no exception. Coffee drinker Barb Mackenzie tells us – via the RCBS Facebook page – of one seasonally worthy cause that surely deserves support. Rotarian John Glass told the club’s Nov. 13 meeting (held as always at Warisan, a fine watering place) that the Seeds of Hope Children’s Home in Dalung, between Denpasar and Canggu, is looking for Christmas presents for the live-in orphans at the home.

Sixty-seven children aged from 10 months to 18 years live at the home, which has a special Christmas party planned for Dec. 22. It’s suggested that appropriate gifts valued at around Rp200K (US$20) could be given to a specific child on the day. The kids like music, board games, CDs, arts and crafts, sports equipment and toiletries.

The home is also looking for a volunteer Santa on Dec. 22 if anyone fancies wearing a hot white beard. We’d do it ourselves except that our frequently preferred stubble – a Jimmy Barnes-style three-day growth – is probably not quite what Santa’s helpers are looking for. It’s the right colour, but perhaps that’s not enough.

Guest speaker at the RCBS meeting on Nov.13 was India’s consul-general in Bali, Amarejeet Singh Takhi. He’s India’s first consul-general here and took up his post in January 2012. He reminded his many listeners – the lunch was well attended – that Indonesia and India have trade and cultural links that go back two millennia.

Hector tweets @scratchings

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Nov. 13, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Skulduggery and Other Local Habits

The benefits that accompany living in Bali – or anywhere in Indonesia – far outweigh the demerits of doing so. The culture is inclusive, at least on a superficial level that satisfies most tastes; the people readily return a smile to anyone who doesn’t look as if they’re about to get up them for the rent; and unless you’re a real bonehead it’s generally difficult to spark outright anger.

That’s in the sub-stratospheric zone where most foreigners live. Anyone will be your friend if you put money in their pocket; a little money, and your own. That’s how the system works and it can work for anyone.

But – and as usual it’s a big but – there are one-way rules that apply to foreigner-local interaction. Bule is the colloquial word for foreigners. It is analogous with foreigners calling the natives “natives”, which is not done these days and of course should never have been done. No matter. Only a foolishly thick-headed Bule would cavil. It’s what the natives do and because it’s their country they can do as they choose. Foreigners who object to being objectified in this way can always go home.

It is in this general ambience that one considers several matters of current interest. The irritation over media reports that Australia (and the USA) “spy” on Indonesia is one instance. It’s a pejorative term, spy, and conjures up all sorts of cloak-and-dagger scenarios. The reality in this instance is rather more prosaic. It is alleged that electronic eavesdropping has yielded secure telephone numbers and other information that might be useful in an emergency. In retaliation for this, it is further reported, Indonesia may reconsider its cooperation with Australia regarding efforts to stamp out criminal people-smuggling that Jakarta has winked at for years and in which it is now showing an interest only because of significant inducements, political and otherwise, to do so.

Everyone “spies” in the overblown context in which that term is being bandied about. Indonesia certainly does, though to what effect one wouldn’t know. The ersatz confrontation that has been fuelled by headlines and sound bites is an embarrassment. It is a chance for the media and others to disinter several shibboleths that have long since passed their use-by date. It’s a pity that it emerged just ahead of the annual democracy forum, this year held in Nusa Dua on Nov. 7 and 8 and attended by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop among others.

Here in Bali, at the provincial and district level, other departures from common sense are observed. Rampant overdevelopment and threats to precious natural environments continue, in the process lining lots of official pockets. The new southern Bukit road linking the Uluwatu area with Nusa Dua – a prime tourism asset if it is used with appropriate regulation – is complete except for a short section of “jalan liar” (liar means wild but some may prefer to read the word in English) that unaccountably curbs transiting traffic. A pocket or two, quite possibly official, remain to be lined, it seems.

At Ubud, BAWA, the expat-funded animal welfare organization that fired up and then ran the island’s vital initial response to the rabies outbreak in 2008 that is ongoing and has killed at least 150 people, has had its veterinary clinic closed and its other operations severely curtailed by government diktat. That it is carrying on business – and that its professional services are well regarded and sought elsewhere in the neighbourhood – testifies to its public spirited determination.

It’s not yet clear what brought about this particularly egregious example of why Bali really shouldn’t bite off its nose to spite its face. Except that we can say without fear of contradiction that bull-headed self-interest and latent avarice undoubtedly played a part.

A Handy Volume

It was nice to see Tim Hannigan’s book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java win critical notice in the Bali Advertiser’s Toko Buku column (Oct. 30). The Hannigan tome is nicely revisionist – as all history should be when reassessed with the benefit of analysis, research and other cerebral effort rather than just a nostalgic after-glow – and places Raffles in what seems to be the proper context now that the British Empire has joined the dodo, and Monty Python’s parrot, in the shades of past existence and is no more.

The book is especially valuable for its colonic effect on the rump residual of imperial hagiographers, who seem to believe the sun should never have been allowed to set upon the global realms of the Queen Empress and her brief successors. Well, history is a narrative and so is much fiction, so perhaps we should not be overly churlish. The problem always is that, like Hyacinth Bucket’s riparian delights, imperial adventures are nearly always Not Quite as Planned.

Lottie Nevin, who recently relocated from Indonesia to Spain – to Andalucía no less, where even after half a millennium a movingly Moorish ambience hangs heavily over the landscape – tells us of an incident in which a copy of a rival Raffles volume nearly ended up in her Jakarta living room. It remained in the carrier’s bag, it seems, when upon the question of whether she had yet obtained a copy of The Fine Tome she said that she had read Hannigan’s book and it was good.

Diarists love to hear such titbits of gossip, particularly when they present the bonus of an opportunity to chuckle. Nevin, who is no stranger to Bali, has a delightfully readable blog at http://lottienevin.com/.

Quick Fix

One of those car park exchanges that might excite a police stakeout team on Willie Ra’re alert recently took place at Dijon, the Simpang Siur emporium-complex that is the resort of many who seek the finer victuals of life, or a decent iced tea or chummy latte, or who perhaps are simply transiting the area on their way to the offices behind.

These days, if you wander down the lane past the café and the shop, you’ll find The Yak and its stable-mates in close proximity to the premises from which publicity diva Sarah-Jane Scrase and the mega-laundry man, Kian Liung, are now producing another glossy, The Source Quarterly. We see from Facebook that it is among the latest products to grace the shelves at Gramedia. It’s always good to see publications in print, especially new ones, even if most of us these days read things on line.

The car park exchange of which we speak was perfectly legit. If bringing in coffee capsules otherwise unobtainable here in Fun Central is legit, that is. We think it is. Well arguably. But then we use a similar product that owing to inexplicable local absence requires regular courier resupply, the better to ingest our overdoses of caffeine.

On this occasion Hector was meeting someone, a lovely lady, to hand over a supply of capsules newly arrived from Australia that would temporarily at least make it possible for her friends to avoid saying disturbing things such as, “you’ve only got five left”.

Don’t you hate that! Here at The Cage we attempt a regime of at least triple redundancy. Running out of essentials like wine, whisky, cigarettes or coffee in the dead of night is truly brow-furrowing. It can quite take the shine off life.

Our exchange this time went unnoticed. We had a yak and a giggle, a tea and a coffee, and then did the car-boot to car-boot bag switch without difficulties intervening.

Free Flow

Janet DeNeefe’s Indus restaurant at Jl Raya Sanggingan in Ubud was 15 years old on Nov. 3. While this is not a cosmic event on the scale of, say, Earth colliding with Mars next July, nonetheless it is worth noting in the local firmament.

Indus is a popular restaurant name. There is any number of eponymous dining opportunities around the globe. It is also a major and still predominantly free-flowing river that is checked only by over-use of its resources and the Mandala dam, an impoundment with whose design and construction your diarist had a passing technical connection far too many years ago.

In the old days of the Raj (see above) it marked the boundary between the incomprehensible cultures of the Indian sub-continent and the frankly murderous ones of Central Asia. In his evocative 1953 novel The Lotus and the Wind – it has been on the Diary’s five-year re-read list for half a century – John Masters illuminates that divide in a way that, once read, is never forgotten. It is a geopolitical and cultural rift the western world still fails to comprehend.

All of which is by the by. Happy Birthday, Indus.

Hector tweets @scratchings

Rough waters and rocky boats, but we’ll get there

This side of the stretch of water over which Australian tourists fly in droves to exotic holiday destinations and considerably smaller numbers of asylum seekers travel in rickety boats in the opposite direction, frequently drowning in the process, it was never clear how the new Abbott government was going to get the Indonesians to stamp out people smuggling.

There was little reason for optimism that the Indonesians would suddenly grasp the point of ethics or convert en masse to international political morality; and far less that the supine government in Jakarta would energize itself sufficiently to stamp out official corruption and local criminality in the boat trade.

Presumably these points were made in Department of Foreign Affairs and other departmental briefings presented to the incoming government. But Abbott and crew had let their rhetoric trap them between the flames on the burning deck and any escape route over the side. They couldn’t listen to that advice since they had spent so long decrying it as profoundly inadvisable.

The result, short term, is the sort of embarrassment now being suffered by Abbott and his minister for beating off the boaters, Scott Morrison. Mr Morrison’s complaint on November 11 will fall on very deaf ears in Jakarta. He said of the Indonesians’ refusal to accept back a boat that had left Java but was still in Indonesian waters when it got into trouble (in other words an Indonesian responsibility) and had therefore to be taken to Christmas Island that “there’s no real rhyme or reason to it”.

Actually there is. The significant problem for Australia and its new government – which seeks to look tough and actually to be tough on unauthorized boats – is that from the Indonesian perspective it’s a problem for Canberra, not Jakarta. They reason that since the people on the boats want to get to Australia and Indonesia doesn’t want them in Indonesia, both their national interest (moving them on) and the asylum seekers’ interest (trying to get a better life) are best met by ignoring the problem.

It fits the standard matrix of Indonesian policy: do nothing unless someone else pays for it: Indonesia does not have police or customs vessels capable of effectively operating in the Indian Ocean south of Java and its navy has other priorities. Some materiel support would not go amiss.

But even if such equipment were suddenly to be gifted to the Indonesians there is very little hope that their approach – immoral, unethical and supine though it may be – will change any time soon.

The row over “spying” from the Australian embassy in Jakarta (spying is a pejorative term that guarantees a headline but is frequently misplaced) hasn’t helped. The Indonesians know as well as anyone else that everyone does what it is alleged the Australians have done, or would if they could. Embassies have always collected information that might, once sifted, analyzed and triple-checked, then become formal intelligence or, possibly, administrative action.

The dense, confusing multifaceted interfaces between what the media imagines is some cyber-capable James Bond doing what he (or she) does and later assessment that the information has actual value, are not the stuff of breathless media reporting. The whole affair is better illustrative of Australia’s record of becoming collateral damage in American imbroglios – in this case of the debris flying around from Edward Snowden’s national security leaks – than of what really matters, which is managing the Australia-Indonesia relationship.

Nonetheless, the allegations have further muddied the water in the Indonesian-Australian relationship. It is immaterial – certainly to the Indonesians, who are playing the harp and fiddle on this with remarkably energetic verve – that the activities chiefly complained about happened on Labor’s chaotic watch between 2007 and 2013. Abbott’s government is newly in power (parliament sat for the first time only this week) and the Indonesians are testing the water, in a manner of speaking.

There is no constituency in Indonesia for a truly humane response to asylum seekers. And there is merely a rump constituency in Australia that favours recasting policy in that direction. The election on Sept. 7 settled that. The coalition was elected with a thumping majority on a policy platform that included – stripping it to its offensive basics – keeping the bastards out. That’s the uncomfortable reality; it’s as uncomfortable for many coalition voters as for those who believe Abbott is the reincarnation of something truly terrible, or is possibly himself the creature from the black lagoon.

Both Australia and Indonesia face a pressing dilemma. It is not in either country’s interest to have a fractious argument over refugees (or anything else). But it is more difficult for Australia in the context of asylum seekers, because not only does a western liberal condition exist that properly insists that people shouldn’t be left to drown, but its government operates in conditions which make it actually as opposed to notionally subject to  parliamentary control. Someone might want to mention that to Mr Morrison some time.

Indonesia, in contrast, despite its significant democratic advance since the Suharto dictatorship ended in 1998, has a different system of government. Its system facilitates the president ignoring the assembly and the assembly ignoring the president. Further, it has values that – while perfectly genuine, culturally validated and actually remarkably responsive – are not those of a Westminster-derived parliamentary democracy.

There are many sides to the Australia-Indonesian relationship. They go far beyond the irritant of asylum seekers and the criminals who prey on them in Indonesia and elsewhere. For the most part they are positive: Queensland’s revitalized trade and investment profile and presence in Jakarta is just one example.

The Abbott government is still newly in office. It’s a fairly safe bet that it will work out a way to keep every element of Australia’s relationship with Indonesia on an even keel, consistent with its need for a differently nuanced political narrative.

A stream of Australian ministers have been in Indonesia since the change of government, including Prime Minister Abbott and (multiple times) Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Defence Minister David Johnson has also been here.

The really interesting time will be next year, when Indonesians elect their next president and national assembly. Several bets could be off then.

This commentary originally appeared on the Australian online journal On Line Opinion http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/.

Asian Nations Angry Over U.S. Embassy Spy Reports

China and Southeast Asian governments would never dream of collecting information for intelligence assessment, of course…