HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Mar. 18, 2015

by 8 Degrees of Latitude

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Gone to the Dogs

The resurgence of rabies in Bali is yet another of those avoidable things that the chaps in charge of the asylum could have avoided if they could have been bothered, or if they hadn’t blown the budget on lots of other things. Yet it’s in an emergency such as this – brought about by seven years of feeble official failure to address a dire public health risk in a consistent, planned, properly administered way – that leadership is required.

Instead, in the time-honoured fashion, our leaders are being proper little dukes of Plaza-Toro about rabies. They’re leading from the back. Governor Pastika, who has no trouble ignoring the weight of popular opinion when it comes to things like filling in Benoa Bay because the environment is far less important than plutocrats making even more money, has called on people to kill stray dogs because, he says, that’s what the people tell him they’d like to do.

No matter, then, that all the literature – and global experience – shows very plainly that suppressing rabies is achieved through vaccination programs that create herd immunity in the canine population (70 per cent is the benchmark figure) and humane reduction of numbers by sterilization. No matter that the scientific record shows indiscriminate killing of dogs helps to spread the disease, because dogs in the vaccinated screen population are eliminated. No matter that it is the government’s job to educate people about effective rabies control and eliminate it as a threat to the broad community. (That 70 per cent screen again.)

Pogroms such as that recently visited upon the small band of dogs that customarily inhabited Kuta beach are certainly not unusual. The Kuta killing spree was noticed only because of where it took place and because it followed an Australian tourist child being bitten, though not by a rabid dog. It horrified tourists (some of whom were not effete, do-gooder westerners, by the way) and painted a picture of Bali that certainly does not conform to the requirements of Tumpek Kandang, a Hindu rite observed every 210 days (the latest was on Mar. 7) that is a symbolic offering for all animals living in the world. The non-symbolic pre-Tumpek Kandang offering to the dogs of Kuta beach consisted of bashings and then, in the dead of night, some other inhuman final solution.

The issue will not go away, however much Bali’s administrators would like it to and in spite of the impenetrable thickets of incomplete (or completely erroneous) data that hide the facts. It recently got an airing in the Asia edition of The International New York Times, in a piece by its Jakarta-based correspondent Joe Cochrane. It might be true that Bali has run out of money for vaccine, as the Governor says. The immediate questions then should be: Why? And what are you doing to get more money for vaccine? These questions are unlikely to be asked by anyone who would be listened to; and, if they were, the truthful answers (if forthcoming, which would require a miracle) would be Don’t Know and Nothing.

A man died of rabies in Bangli recently. Last year, according to official figures, either one or several people died of the disease elsewhere in Bali. Anecdotally, the real 2014 figure would seem to be rather higher.

Do It! Do It!

Among the many voluntary organizations here doing great fundraising work to assist the social advance of the Balinese people is one that regularly does lunch. Its members are the Divas, which must be an acronym for some obscure phrasal noun relating to Ladies Who Dress Up. Because dress up they do and we’re glad that this is so. It is tedious to gaze forever at designer-torn denim, long or short (often very short) and with incautious little garments above that would surely flutter away in a half-decent breeze and which are of a size that would completely fail to shame a doily into thinking that it was the runt of the litter.

But we digress. The Divas’ next do, at Slippery Stone in Jl. Batu Belig, Kerobokan, on Mar. 27, is an event at which, so chief Diva Christina Iskandar and the tickets tell us, we are promised that they will do it Greek style. If we can lasso a loose Diva – that is, ahem, for clarity and decorum, one not already spoken for in terms of a lunchtime handbag, if indeed they allow handbags – we might even go along ourselves. It would be worth spending Rp350K (in a good cause and in pursuit of fine comestibles) to see the show.

From memory, doing it Greek style involves throwing lots of plates and breaking them. Staging such an affray might not please Slippery Stone. It’s an up-market establishment, but it possibly has a prudential budget for crockery. And anyway, now we think of it, plate-breaking seems to be a wedding ritual, like that other dangerous pursuit, this one Italian, of pinning money to the bride while taking great care not to eyeball – or worse, inadvertently brush against – anything remotely adjacent to an erogenous zone.

The March event, aside from collecting lots of money as per their standard practice, will reward the Divas with an appearance by songstress Eva Scolaro, from Perth, who also emcees and hosts and does photographic modelling. She’s no stranger to Bali and has also performed in Jakarta.

Junk It!

It’s good to see that Bali’s provincial government will be working with the villages to manage and hopefully reduce the mountain of waste that threatens to overwhelm the island (and that’s not only in the tourist areas; plastic is a problem everywhere). Some might say they’re a bit late off the starting block, but never mind. There’s evidence of a spring in the step and that’s really pleasing.

The principal message at the start of this program might usefully be: If you throw it away, it’s still your responsibility. That recognition is something best instilled in children, so that by the time they’re adults they will know instinctively that dumping evil-smelling waste containing material that won’t disappear for up to a quarter of a million years and will poison the planet in the meantime is a really stupid thing to do.

The charity organization ROLE Foundation has a great Eco Kids Program, which kicked off for 2015 this month with an awareness visit to the Sanur Independent School and a hosted visit by 40 students from a private school in Bogor, West Java.

ROLE asks a very good question. Will our children inherit a world of grey skies, brown oceans full of junk with no marine life left, and land with no trees or wildlife? It has a very good answer: Not if our Eco Kids Program has anything to do with it.

On Not Giving a Toss, Etc

Elizabeth Pisani, whose lengthy time and travels in Indonesia produced both the readable travelogue Indonesia Etc and a book promoting safe sex that caused a frisson when it was released because it was called The Wisdom of Whores – a commodity, incidentally, that should never be ignored – has popped her cork again, this time in an Australian online magazine, The Starfish.

In relation to Australia’s immediate interest in the apparent presidential policy of preferring to shoot convicted drug criminals now because later the law might change to prevent this obscenity, she said:

“Jokowi really doesn’t give a toss about Australia. He does care about restoring his badly-bruised image as a decisive leader in the eyes of the Indonesian electorate. And it turns out that killing foreign drug dealers is quite a good way of doing that, at least among the 97 per cent of Indonesians who live outside Bali and profit very little from their southern neighbour.”

In the matter of bruising politics, British Indonesia-watcher and author Tim Hannigan (his book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java is a fine antidote to the obsequious tomes of some post-imperial hagiographers) presciently wrote in a piece for Asia House, the London think-tank, just before the presidential election in July 2014:

“Ultimately, Indonesia’s chronic tendency towards coalitions and political marriages of convenience, first manifested way back in 1955 and repeated the moment the country was allowed full electoral freedom in 1999, means that its democracy, in a strange way, guides itself – away from either destructive extremes or from meaningful progress, depending on your perspective and level of cynicism. This is why neither worst fears nor greatest hopes ever seem really to come to pass, and in the end it may not really make much difference who wins.”

Hannigan has a new book due out later this year, titled A Brief History of Indonesia (Tuttle). He promises to visit Bali thereafter, which will be fun.

Lights Out

Nyepi, Bali’s annual Silent Day, is on Saturday (Mar. 21). Mark it as you will. With a discreetly small torch is one way.

Hector is on Twitter @scratchings. His diary appears in the print and online editions of the Bali Advertiser http://www.baliadvertiser.biz