8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Month: September, 2016

Waiting for the Last Trump

U.S ELECTION

Sep. 29, 2016

 

Them good ol’ boys were drinking whiskey and rye and singing ‘this’ll be the day that I die’ 

– Don Maclean, ‘American Pie’

161010-donald-trump-is-a-vulgar-pig

Update 10 Oct. 2016: This election sign somewhere in America says it all.

THE 2016 American presidential election pits against each other two candidates for whom I am grateful, as a non-American, that I shan’t have to vote. The Republican-Democrat stranglehold on federal power, a function both of machine politics and the complexity of government, prevents any alternative emerging.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump is an inspiring figure. Both carry what is crudely called baggage. However, the American election is of interest, because the financial, political and military power of the US naturally impacts on the world at large, and which one of them becomes the next president of the USA is of critical importance.

So let’s briefly look at them both, from an outsider’s perspective.

Clinton has been part of the American political machine for more than two decades. She does know how it works (and probably that this is not very well) and she has standing on the world stage. She is a known factor in international diplomacy.

Things over which she may fairly be criticised are openly known; they are things with which other international leaders are familiar. She has fairly set out the international policy directions she would implement in office. They are mainstream positions. They won’t frighten the horses (or the Chinese, or the Iranians). They represent only modifications to the status quo.

She won’t set the world on fire. Most of us would probably say that this was a good thing.

Trump is a complete contrast. He has no public service experience. He says he’ll do deals with foreign nations, as if they were businesses that the Trump imperium either wanted to work with or to see in court – or to welsh on, another Trump SOP. That’s his record.

His pitch to American voters is that he’ll do things differently. And that’s fine, or it would be if Trump’s word were worth even a lawyer’s letter. His persona is vainglorious, his intellect (which is substantial) is focused on personal acquisition, his manners are appalling, his taste is execrable, his political direction is plainly scary, his social morals are questionable if not entirely absent, and his ethics are notional.

He is also risible, and it is on this last point that his real vulnerability exists. His supporters don’t care for policy, so arguing those is a zero sum game. He is more TV personality than leader in waiting (who would ever want to be Trump’s Apprentice?) He is loose with his language, crassly dismissive of all criticism, a sort of personal bonfire of the vanities.

Liberal democracies can deal with such personalities, if they wish, and if they have the energy and can find the courage. Trump is not actually a figure of fun – he is a clear and present danger – but he is vulnerable to ridicule. Most such people are.

And therein lies the beneficence of liberal democracy. We can slag off at our leaders, actual or putative, without risking police action on behalf of the rich and powerfully offended.

There was no tradition of liberal democracy in Germany when Adolf Hitler seized the public stage and later the nation. If a lot of people had laughed at him early in the piece, he might not have become quite the global problem that he later did. But it was left to the music halls of other western democracies and to Charlie Chaplin to make him a figure of fun, too late in the piece to head off disaster.

His fellow fascist, Benito Mussolini, was of course Italian, and Italy had (and still has) its own risible ways of conducting its politics.

Trump is no Hitler. But he might be a Mussolini, if left unchecked and un-laughed at. He probably does want to make the trains run on time. Mussolini managed that, but by means of adjusting the timetables to take account of time spent idle at train stations en route. He had some sensible ideas. Well, one sensible idea.

We haven’t heard a sensible idea from Trump in this election campaign.

We’ve heard that he’d like to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans and deport millions of illegal immigrants who are chiefly doing jobs Americans won’t do.

We’ve heard that he’d like to repatriate American money to create jobs, but no actual working plan that would achieve that.

He’d like to repudiate the architecture of global commerce and put European members of NATO on a pay-for-the-privilege program.

He thinks Russia’s Vladimir Putin is a good ol’ boy and that the irredentist Chinese, except for their success in stealing American jobs, are doing OK on a range of things, presumably including human rights, which anyway functionally fail to rate on the Trump scale of excellent ideas.

Lately, I’ve been criticised (by people I respect immensely) for making fun of Trump on social media and for playing the PC game. I don’t play the PC game. Economically I’m drier than Innaminka in a drought year. I make no apology for that. But neither do I apologise for publicly laughing at Trump, a living caricature, a man of other people’s means, a sociopath.

He is a risible candidate for POTUS. He is 72. There’s nothing wrong with that. I shall shortly achieve that milestone myself. But I don’t possess the sort of questionable and worrying vanity that would persuade me to wear a ginger stoat on my head.

Sorry, but if Trump’s the answer, the question is stupid.

A Dog’s Life

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Bali

Sep. 28, 2016

 

THE criminal epidemic of dog-snatching and random killing that afflicts Bali shows no sign of ending; nor is there any indication that the authorities will do anything other than continue to silently applaud the cull and ignore the rest. Such are the vicissitudes of life here, if you’re a dog.

It is one of a number of things that stains Bali’s preferred image as a place where spirituality rules, karma is understood to be good as well as bad, and people by a huge majority are not the sort that steal, kill things, or dissemble.

The dog question comes home to you at intervals. There are street dogs in our own neighbourhood on the Bukit, where we walk of a morning, who know us and who like a cheery greeting and a gentle inquiry after their health, which sadly is generally pretty bad. They’ve worked out that we aren’t suddenly going to produce sticks and beat them to death. They are distant and wary but peaceable souls who mainly wait around in their chosen location for food scraps, some water, and a smile and a quiet, friendly word.

Two friends of ours in Denpasar enjoyed for many months the pleasurable company of one such creature, a feisty little fellow known at one of his adopted homes as Sparky and at the other, neighbouring, one as Lucky. He had vicariously become a friend of ours too. The tales of his way with what he evidently thought was carelessly left-around footwear, and other useful and chewable household contents, kept us endlessly amused. He would come and go as he pleased, and lived on the street, but never ventured far.

Now he has disappeared. Gone, to what fate is unknown. His two households are distraught. We say this with no surprise, but we say it with rancour: he undoubtedly fell victim to the Bastards, that class of soulless humans who have no thought for anything other than their own inhumanity or their personal profit.

Drink Up

There’s been a flurry of reignited interest in the potty proposal by certain hardline Muslim legislators in Jakarta to place a blanket ban on alcohol throughout their preferred vision of Indonesia Raya. The only thing new about the proposal is that it surfaced in a story in the UK Daily Telegraph in mid-September. The draft laws have been in the legislature for a while. It’s moot whether they will eventually emerge from that palace of nightmarish dreams with their working bits intact, or even attached. (Our guess is that they’ll quite properly get poured down the sink.)

It goes without saying that such a ban applied to Bali, which is largely Hindu and liberal, at least in archipelagic terms, would be disastrous. President Joko Widodo must know that there’s rather more to diversity than just turning up in locally traditional rig for a visiting fireman speech or some event or other. He must know too that making Bali officially dry would wreck the tourist trade.

To the extent that rationality governs politics – and that quantum is arguable everywhere; it’s not just in Indonesia that the doh factor dumbfounds – it would seem, even in the face of unconstitutional zealotry, that someone sensible should speak up. In this instance, alcohol and sex are certainly congruous. Neither drinking nor naughty nooky will ever be abolished by legislation. Each practice may offend some, be against the religious strictures of others, or may indeed be silly if taken to excess. But driving things underground has never done anything but make them worse, and turn whole populations into even more people whom the police can arrest as lawbreakers.

Even in Aceh, where autonomy has given the province Sharia law, people drink. Some of them are also said to add the rather nice locally grown pot to their coffee to give it extra pizazz. Here in Bali, locus of a definably non-Abrahamic religion, strictures that are the equivalents of haram in Islam are differently focused and decidedly more liberal. In other parts of the country there are substantial indigenous Christian communities. The archipelago is a rainbow nation.

The mullahs and other Muslim proselytisers need to understand that. That is, of course, unless their purpose is to wreck the joint.

Diversity Diva

Christina Iskandar, Bali Diva, has been a fixture in Bali since, well, a decade after the late Made Wijaya came ashore and found to no one’s surprise, least of all his own, that he became a sort of diva himself. So it’s a change of climate for us as well as for Iskandar now that she’s back in her old hometown, Sydney, for the foreseeable future, short visits to Bali aside. That is, she tells us, until her children no longer need her. Um, don’t think that’s ever going to happen. Mums are very special people.

She wrote recently that Bali had her at banana japel as soon as she landed here in August 1983. Some of us are rather later arrivals, but anyone with any sort of grasp of Bali’s special charms has been instantly snaffled by the banana japel.

It’s very hard to leave the place of your choice after a long, long time, and we sympathise particularly since we’ve done that twice ourselves – though not from Bali, whose magic consistently outguns the witch’s brew of demerits that it also serves up.

Iskandar wrote what she called the ultimate love letter to her true home. It appeared on Facebook, as so much does these days. It’s a lovely read, straight from the heart.

The Bali Divas, which she started and whose élan is only exceeded by their economic impact in the fundraising market, are now only one of a number of diva collectives, in Australia (with one much further afield, in New York) that are all dedicated to fine fizzy drinks of a certain sort and fiscal improvement of a very beneficial Bali kind.

We’ll miss the Iskandar imprimatur on fun affrays, though she’ll be popping in now and then to check up on us. We look forward to that. The next Bali Diva lunch is in November.

Soap Opera

One of the Diary’s globetrotting collective, the engaging surfer-soap maker-social insurrectionist Mara Wolford who is at the moment in Homeland USA, tells a lovely story about her encounter with Customs at Los Angeles airport. (We’ve always loved its airport code, by the way. LAX seems so appropriate to southern California’s sunny climate and relaxed Latin American Spanish.)

Wolford tells it like this: “All my carry-on tested positive for a powdered substance US Customs didn’t feel like describing to me with much precision. They asked me what I do for a living. I said I dug in the dirt and scribbled. They asked me if I handled nitrate fertilizer. No, all organic fertilizers. They asked if I handled ethylene (think illegal drug manufacture – yikes, no). What were they finding? Swab after swab was run through the computer.

“Then it dawned on me: was what they had found highly alkaline? Yes, they said. When I explained I had shipped 15 kilos of 99 per cent pure NaOH in the Indonesian mail, from Bali to Sumatra, they looked at me as if I was mad as a hatter. I explained one of the kilo bags had exploded all over my stuff, but I had contained the ecological fallout under emergency circumstances and used the remainder of the lye to make soap. The officer immediately started to repack my gear. ‘That is so outrageous. You can’t make that shit up,’ he said.”

Here Comes Another One

We’ll spare you the marketing hyperbole, but we do want to note that the Bukit is about to have another example of late icon Made Wijaya’s pet hate, “New Asian” architecture, foisted upon its otherwise beautiful cliff faces. This time it’s two new venues planned for Alila Villas Uluwatu, where a partnership with something called the OMNIA Dayclub and Japanese restaurant Sake No Hana is scheduled to open in the third quarter of 2017.

We’ve seen the architectural impressions. We’ll stop right there. Still, it’s all not until the latter part of next year, is it? That’ll give everyone plenty of time to ramp up the road infrastructure and utility services to cope with burgeoning traffic and numbers. Won’t it?

Best Avoided

When you’re travelling, you need to be careful. We’ve seen a pizza menu from a restaurant in the fine republic of Croatia, where Bali fixture Diana Shearin has lately been, though she was not the informant. We alerted her, in case she should find other questionable things on menus. This is it: Quattro Stagioni – cheese, ham, mushrooms, tunfish (tuna), smallpox.

The same sort of dangers lurk here in Bali, such as the infamous craque monsieur the Diary once found on the room service menu in a hotel that really should have known better.

HectorR

Hector’s Diary appears in the on line and print editions of the Bali Advertiser

That Greens Walkout: No, Senator, it was a Stunt

AUSTRALIAN POLITICS 

Sep. 18, 2016

PAULINE Hanson is an idiot: I mean in the general conversational meaning of that term, not the clinical diagnosis of that unfortunate condition. Her views on all sorts of things are ignorantly laughable, some are just plain dangerous, and all of them attract support from small, irritably disaffected corners of the federation.

In the federal election on July 2 a total of 4.29 per cent of Australians who voted gave their support to her One Nation party.

Hanson therefore possesses a constituency whose views, while they do not need to be accepted (perish the thought) should certainly be understood.

You could say much the same about Senator Richard Di Natale and his Greens. Their 2016 national vote was 10.23 per cent, more than double that of the One Nation party but still a minority view in the Australian electorate.

Both parties sit in the Senate, the upper chamber of the Australian legislature. The Senate is a public place – it has to be, in a parliamentary democracy: we haven’t quite reached the point where some Caligula could canvass the prospect of appointing his favourite horse to oversee its deliberations – but it is not a public meeting.

If Hanson’s views are offensive, which on some issues they most certainly are as opposed to being merely risible, and if they are being expressed at a public meeting, the options are clear: you can excuse yourself from exposure to tiresome and tedious ennui and exclude yourself by failing to be present.

But the Senate’s job, and a senator’s, is to listen as well as talk. By convention, too, senators are supposed to listen without interjection or demonstration to a new senator’s first speech. Conventions, and form, are important, even though the vastly expanded commentariat empowered by social media doesn’t seem to think so.

If the views of a new senator giving her formal first speech in the chamber are judged likely to offend, there are ways to avoid being exposed to such things, or indeed anything you believe to be nonsense. The chamber is not required to be fully present on such occasions. It wasn’t when Senator Hanson stood up to speak.

A group with formal party status, however, should understand that it has duties to the parliament that extend beyond those of an individual member. The parties of government – those either in power or with the prospect of moving from opposition to the government benches – usually ensure that someone is in the chamber.

It’s polite, for one thing; it’s convention, for another; and it’s also sensible and inclusive and democratic. These factors should have informed Greens tactics on Sep. 10 when Hanson gave her first speech.

If Di Natale – the senator for Victoria who forgot to declare his interest in his $2.3 million family farm on the register of members’ assets and who would prefer we all forgot that he employed starvation-wage workers on it, for his profit – is so offended by Hanson’s views on behalf of his otherwise socially responsible party, there are other options he could have chosen short of a staged mid-speech take-bat-and-ball-and-go-home stunt.

He could have said no one should be present during the speech (though that would have been wrong). Or he could have had all but one Greens senator absent from the chamber. One unlucky senator could then have been awarded the short straw and been detailed to sit in and listen to the nonsense.

As leader, perhaps DiNatale should have awarded himself that short straw. A vital test of leadership is never to ask someone to do something you regard as unconscionably unpleasant. That’s why, in the argot of the age, you get the big bucks.

Di Natale claimed of his contingent’s walkout that they were standing up for decency. He says, quite rightly, that Hanson’s near-tears presentation of Muslims as a risk to Australia because if they’re not stopped they’ll overrun the place is offensive and wrong.

It’s also thoroughly risible: more worth a laugh than consideration. It’s the product of a one-eyed view that is uninformed by much that appears to connect with rationality or with anything else that would withstand objective scrutiny.

Like her mewling over the (non-existent) Asian migration tsunami during her previous lamentable incarnation as a federal politician from Queensland, it’s a view that comes with an unpleasant whiff of thrice-fried bile and soggy chips.

Muslims represent 2.2 per cent of the Australian population. On the numbers alone, the country is in more danger to being overrun by One Nation. Which would be far worse, in any case.

But while the Greens may have thought they were “standing up for decency” when they walked out on Hanson’s first speech, what they were actually doing was indulging in a schoolyard protest, a high-profile but fundamentally base political stunt.

The Senate, for all its faults, should not be used for such purposes.

The Greens have much to contribute to national debate and Australian governance. They should focus on that worthwhile effort.

No Nooky Nonsense, Please

HECTOR’S DIARY

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

HectorR

Bali

Sep. 14, 2016

 

THE view that the state should legislate morality and sexual conduct is hardly novel. Those who think they know better are ubiquitous. They appear in all societies, proselytising a prescriptive view of how their fellow citizens should behave. This is foolish or worse. You cannot mandate faith, or for that matter morality. Anyone is free to believe that their views carry the mandate of their deity. Anyone is free to declare that they do not believe this to be the case.

It is never sensible to place a religious or political preference in juxtaposition to moral issues. The point is that there is a wide expanse of blue water – it’s dangerously rough water too – between criminal law and elective conduct. The business of social legislation should be to free people to make their own decisions.

So the judicial review of the criminal code as it relates to sexual conduct now under way in the Constitutional Court, while it has some benefits in the broad sense, is treading on dangerous ground when it canvasses laws to prevent sexual relations outside marriage. These things are better left to individual decisions. If not, they simply turn more people into criminals (under flawed and fundamentally unworkable sanctions).

It is perfectly possible to argue that Indonesia’s legal system is too liberal and that it represents responses to moral and ethical behavioural questions that do not accord with the country’s cultural traditions and practices. It’s also easy to do that, since it invites the gullible to bang the nationalist drum on account of the often-misstated view that Indonesia’s social problems and others date back to and are caused by the Dutch era.

That is a cop-out mechanism, a variant of the my-friend-did-it response. It is a facile and popular political pursuit, a banal one that should be in most instances ignored (and chiefly is, by the people those mandated by visionary affliction or self-importance seek to control).

We’ve just celebrated the 71st anniversary of independence. Indonesia’s problems, which are also often misstated or exaggerated, date not from colonial oppression but from two (arguably three) generations of domestic inattention to national codification, reform and progress. Morality and ethics should not be co-opted into law by religious cohorts in a country where the constitution affords recognition to five religions.

The overwhelming majority of Indonesians are Muslim, but there are substantial minorities of Christians and others, and in Bali – uniquely – of Hindus, who may well be socially conservative but whose views on sexuality are often different to those required of adherents to the Quran.

There is a general concept of morality and ethical behaviour in Indonesia that ignores religious boundaries and yet is – understandably and, again arguably, beneficially – out of whack with the views that prevail in what is increasingly understood to be the decadent West. But inculcating appropriate values is the job of parental leadership and education, not the state or (outside the faithful flock of adherents) the religious community.

Justice Patrialis Akbar said this during the Constitutional Court hearings: “Our freedom is limited by moralistic values as well as religious values. This is what the declaration of human rights doesn’t have. It’s totally different (from Indonesia’s concept of human rights) because we’re not a secular country; this country acknowledges religion.” He said the Constitutional Court was an institution “guided by the light of God.”

His judicial colleague Justice Aswanto said this: “I was a bit annoyed with what the government said, [that we should] let people commit zinah (adultery or casual sex) and not regard them as criminals. It’s a little bit annoying. I believe casual sex is a crime.”

Stand by for invidiously expanded operations by the No Nooky Patrol.

(For more on prescriptive proscription, see the Sep. 12 post below, headlined Drink Up.) 

On the Other Hand

There’s been a welcome resurgence of Australian student interest in Indonesia, courtesy of the New Colombo Plan that has been assiduously cultivated by Canberra. Indonesian language studies have basically disappeared from Australian schools, displaced by a newly defined need to learn Mandarin because China is viewed as critical to Australia’s trade future.

Misconceptions about Indonesia are rife, something to which many Australians living here can personally attest from their own interactions at home. It’s about much more than trade, which in 2015 (in $A terms) ran out at $5,537 million in Australian exports to Indonesia and $5,619 million in imports, primarily in commodities. Australian exports to Indonesia represented 2.2 per cent of total Australian exports (Indonesia is the country’s 10th ranked export destination). Imports from Indonesia were 2 per cent of the national total and the country is Australia’s 12th ranked source of imports.

Cultural understanding and people to people links are critical to any relationship. It’s heartening to see that these facets of the two-way link have received a boost from the New Colombo Plan. This is not headline stuff: it’s basic building. The results may always be intangible. But it is unarguable that Australians need to know more about Indonesia. It’s telling, perhaps, that Indonesians seem to be more informed about Australia than vice versa.

There’s an interesting article by journalist Latika Bourke in The Sydney Morning Herald that’s really worth reading. It’s not on her usual beat, but she was last year’s Elizabeth O’Neill Journalism Award winner and she’s interviewed Australian students who have chosen to study at Indonesian institutions rather than the traditional Anglosphere icons. That these young people will eventually return home with a deep understanding of the cultural and social mores of Indonesia is immensely valuable.

Much more needs to be done, and many more Australians need to equip themselves with knowledge of their big neighbour, but this is a start.

If nothing else, it underpins the point that Australian defence writer Ross Eastgate (a former army officer) made recently: that Australia is the last European colony in Asia. Intellectual decolonisation of Anglo / European Australia might be a difficult social concept, but it is an outcome that must be achieved.

A Sad Farewell

Made Wijaya’s sad unscheduled departure on Aug. 28 missed the print edition of the Diary last edition, a function of that publishing imperative the deadline, a sadly apt term in these circumstances.

His friends – and they are rightly legion – have said many nice things about him. Rio Helmi, photographer and many other things and a fixture in the Bali firmament, wrote a lovely tribute, and then later another well deserved paean.

Wijaya made the Australian press. He also got notice in the engaging Garden Drum, an eclectic Sydney based on line magazine devoted to horticultural culture that (disclosure) is run by Catherine Stewart, cousin of Hector’s amanuensis.

It is probably at best an open secret that Wijaya, Michael White, was not a fan of Hector or his Diary. That may well be understandable, but we shall miss him and his indelible contributions to Bali.

We’re sure he will have swiftly settled into his new paradise and that he has already rearranged the pot plants.

Glittering Afternoon

We had lunch in Ubud the other day with writer and yoga exponent Jade Richardson, at Le Moulin crêperie, the local provider of Parisian ambience with éclat. For once we were there before the talent and this, by clumsy coincidence, provided its own reverse éclat. When we stood up to welcome our guest, in the cool greenery of the back deck, our chair departed noisily over the edge.

Déjeuner à deux is always fun, especially in decorative and discursive company. Though we might wish we hadn’t made quite such an impression. Never mind. The jambon beurre was very good. Our companion had a crêpe. It would have seemed improper not to order at least one for the party.

Richardson this week is in the midst of the latest of her Write of Passage series for aspiring writers in Ubud, and shortly will be overseeing another, multi-faceted, immersion course for writers here.

Widow’s Mite

When we last checked, on newspaper deadline for this edition, the appeal for funds to support the widow and family of slain police officer Wayan Sudarsa had reached US$7,900 (Rp100 million).

The objective is to reach US$20,000. This is not an issue of the criminal law. That case will reach the courts in the fullness of time and be adjudicated there. It is one of assisting a widow and mother who otherwise will face financial hardship because of a tragic event in which she was not involved and over which she had no influence.

So let’s do it, people. Dig deep.

HectorR

Hector’s Diary also appears in the print and on line editions of the Bali Advertiser

Drink Up

HectorR

Bali, Sep. 12, 2016

There’s been a flurry of reignited interest in the potty proposal of certain hardline Muslim legislators in Jakarta to place a blanket ban on alcohol throughout their prospective Indonesia Raya. The only thing new about the proposal is that it has just surfaced in a story in the UK Daily Telegraph. The draft laws have been in the legislature for a while. It’s moot whether they will eventually emerge from that palace of frequently nightmarish dreams with their working bits intact, or even attached.

It goes without saying that such a ban applied to Bali, which is largely Hindu and liberal, at least in archipelagic terms, would be disastrous. President Joko Widodo must know that there’s rather more to diversity than just turning up in locally traditional rig for a visiting fireman speech or some event or other. He must know too that turning Bali officially dry would wreck the tourist trade.

To the extent that rationality governs politics – and that quantum is arguable everywhere; it’s not just in Indonesia that the doh factor dumbfounds – it would seem, even in the face of unconstitutional zealotry, that someone sensible should speak up. In this instance, alcohol and sex are certainly congruous. Neither drinking nor naughty nooky will ever be abolished by legislation. Each practice may offend some, be against the religious strictures of others, or may indeed be bloody silly especially if taken to excess. But driving things underground has never done anything but make them worse, and turn whole populations into even more people whom the police can arrest as lawbreakers.

Even in Aceh, whose autonomy has given it Sharia law, people drink. Some of them are said to add the rather nice locally grown pot to their coffee to give it extra pizazz. Here in Bali, locus of a definably non-Arabian religion, strictures that are the equivalents of haram in Islam are differently focused and decidedly more liberal. In other parts of the country there are substantial indigenous Christian communities. The archipelago is a rainbow nation.

The mullahs and other Muslim proselytisers need to understand that. That is, of course, unless their purpose is to wreck the joint.