Hot Rocks

by 8 Degrees of Latitude

HECTOR’S DIARY 

 

Tasty and distasteful morsels from his regular diet of worms

 

THE CAGE

Bali

Monday, Jan. 22, 2018

 

MT Agung staged a further demonstration of its volcanic power the other day, with a Strombolian eruption that showed the mountain’s capacity to pick and choose how it goes off. It suddenly blew rock into the atmosphere from its crater, causing ash and heavier particular matter to crash to earth again within a one-kilometre radius of the summit. It was an unexpected outburst. One does wonder what would have happened if stupid foreign tourists had been on the mountain at the time, in defiance of an exclusion zone order of which, of course, they had chosen not to hear.

Strombolian eruptions – named for the Italian island on which Monte Stromboli stands and regularly shoots rocks into the air – are generally fairly mild, though if you were hit by a two-kilo lump of rock plummeting from the heavens at terminal velocity, that moderation would be immaterial. The risk is present and should be avoided.

All the signs still point to a 1963-style major eruption. When that will be is anyone’s guess. In the meantime evacuees from villages in the declared danger zones need support. The government gives them second-grade rice but that’s all. There are several charitable organisations that arrange to donate essentials for a healthy life, and they’re all doing a great job.

Chic of Araby

THE King of Saudi Arabia is trying to liberalise his country. That term is relative: women will be allowed to drive this year – you do a sort of double take when you write those words – and cinemas are to reopen after a 35-year ban on them.

These efforts at modernisation are welcome, even if some of the driving force behind them relates to Saudi Arabia’s increasing fears about how to remain relevant to the rest of the world (where mostly it’s the 21st century) once the oil that brings in money runs out.

The misogynists are putting up a strong resistance to the process. One of the country’s leading religious figures, Sheik Salah al-Fozan, reiterated a common argument against women driving. On his website he said this: “If women are allowed to drive, they will be able to go and come as they please day and night, and will easily have access to temptation, because as we know, women are weak and easily tempted.”

It’s difficult to frame a response to such an idiotic statement in terms that would pass any test for publication. So we won’t. We’ll simply say that the silly sheik fails to see the fatal flaw in his argument. If indeed women are easily tempted (this has not been our experience anywhere) it’s men who are doing the tempting. It’s their problem, not women’s. What he and his cohorts are actually deeply afraid of is the chic of Araby.

Saudi and Gulf State religious influence is strong in Indonesia, where the veil is becoming more and more predominant and ever more veiling as money pours in for mosques that will preach a harder Islamic line than is customary in the diverse and historically easy-going archipelago. In Nusa Tenggara Barat – the province next door to Bali that includes Lombok and Sumbawa – the grandeur of the new Arab-funded mosques sits in odd contrast to the grinding poverty of the people. This poverty will eventually be lifted, according to the narratives preferred by local leaders, by the forthcoming growth of Islamic tourism. Well, we’ll see.

Stray Day

II’S Australia Day this coming Friday, Jan. 26, the date these days currently used in the special biosphere to celebrate the nation. It’s widely viewed, though quite erroneously, as the “birthday of Australia”, somewhat in the same manner as the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in North America in 1620 is seen: as the initial spark in the crucible, from which great things grew.

In fact, Jan. 26 in Australia denotes three things: First, the start of a century of theft of a continental island from its original inhabitants, who were in the imperial enlightenment of the times not regarded as its owners, or even as people; second, the plantation there of a penal colony for miscreants Britain wanted out of the way; and third, deliciously in the context of today’s official policy against such people, the first recorded instance of unauthorised arrivals on the sacred shore.

Of course, for most of today’s Australians, it’s just another excuse for a piss-up. Aussies do that so well. That’s fine. Having a party is good way to celebrate most things. And there’s a lot to celebrate – no, really, there is – about the Australia that was first known as such several decades after the penal colony that later became Sydney was established. Australians are easy-going, welcoming, generous folk, unless they chance to see a passing hijab or their name is Peter Dutton. With New Zealand (tiny in comparison) they are the only western democracy in this part of the world, and remain fundamentally liberal about it in the residual British tradition that still informs their polity and governs how they live.

In the polarised politics of Australian debate today, the date of Australia Day is an issue. To Australians of Aboriginal origin, it’s no surprise that it’s “Invasion Day”. To the great mass of Australians – including the 28 per cent born overseas – the original theft, now 230 years in the past, may indeed be beside the point. But to the 3 per cent of Australians who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, it isn’t.

A concession to this fact, and some lateral thinking, would help. Australia Day has always been a moveable feast. Jan. 26 merely marks the day Governor Phillip got his boots wet at Sydney Cove. It might make a lot of sense if the date were moved to May 9 (or the nearest Monday if they want to continue the tradition of Australia being the land of the long weekend). It could replace the Queen’s Birthday holiday in the calendar and would mark the day the first federal parliament met in 1901. Australia formally became a nation by act of the British parliament on Jan. 1, 1901, but by long tradition that’s already National Hangover Day.

Full Dress Dinner

IT’S been chilly on the Bukit in Bali lately – its position as a limestone blob sticking out into the ocean off the bottom of the island gives it cooler maritime air as a rule anyway, one of its many benefits – and when it’s wet and blowy, it can be quite bracing for tropical types.

The other night we had to dress formally for dinner. It was only 24C or something and a proper shirt needed to be worn over the t-shirt and sarong that is our customary evening attire. Or else shivers.

Chin-chin!