8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Month: May, 2018

The Doolally Squad

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

The Cage, Bali

Sunday, May 20, 2018

 

 

IT’S hard to know what to write about the Surabaya bombings. Doubtless there are those who would advise against writing anything about them. But that won’t do. Perhaps we could start by saying that at least the suicide bombers did everyone a favour by exiting the gene pool. It’s a shame hell doesn’t exist except as a human notion. They’d look good rotting there forever.

There are, however, some practical things worth noting about the events of the past week in East Java and elsewhere. First, let’s consider this: it is all but impossible to live a secluded, unnoticed life in Indonesia, the more so within the majority Muslim community, where the mosque is not only the prayer room but also the community centre and the focal point of guidance. The archipelago is in any case communal by cultural history, social preference and force of habit. In Surabaya, someone must have worked out that the mad father and mother of the sacrificial children seemed a bit bent, if not actually murderously doolally. Perhaps they decided it would be better, or safer, not to have worked that out, and that if the local prayer leader wanted to do so, he would; there’s a sort of communal blindness too. The substantial cache of pipe bombs found after the church attacks would have been difficult to pass off as spare motorbike mufflers, even to the thickest of casual observers. Did anyone say anything, to anyone? If they did, to whom was it said?

The second thing to be said is that the police did a good job after the events, both in Surabaya and in Pekenbaru, though clearly more needs to be done in the intelligence gathering area by both the police and the national intelligence body. A good rule of engagement for any police is one that states that if you see a terrorist, shoot him dead instantly, or her, since it seems women are taking up the profession of mass murder. Going some way back to Densus 88’s previous tactics, as has now been authorised, is also a sensible protective measure. There’s an argument too for reviving the military’s tri-service special forces, also now under way, though they should stay out of it unless the situation is truly dire. Densus 88 is the best policing anti-terrorist tool in the kit.

The third, and most important, thing to say is that Indonesia should not allow itself to be spooked by terrorism into retreating from the democratic norms that it has courageously and progressively put in place since the Suharto era. It shouldn’t worry, either, about the longer-term effects on tourism of an uptick in terrorist activity ahead of next year’s presidential election. There may be short-term dip, primarily in western source markets. Leaders, especially in Bali, need to develop a responsive and responsible narrative on that front.

Taking Fire

AN old friend, Ross Eastgate, a former Australian army officer who now writes (in Australia) on military issues, got into trouble for a column he wrote after the Israeli army employed snipers to pick off selected targets on the “front line” between Israel and Gaza. As he noted, snipers are legitimate military assets when they are used to target enemy military personnel (or important insurrectionists or terrorists). Using them against a crowd of protesters chiefly armed with slingshots, whether or not they have been organised by Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist outfit, is not. It’s a war crime, plain and simple.

Hamas in Gaza took advantage of the Trump decision to shift the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to drum up more anti-Israeli action. Given the conditions that exist in Gaza under Hamas’s control, we can safely assume that the interests of the common people there are not its primary concern. But the modern State of Israel, originally the product of a European Jewish plantation in the Levant two millennia after the Romans threw them out, has a duty to abide by international law. It’s a legal state and it must behave lawfully, particularly if it proclaims its democratic credentials.

The trouble is, the global Israel lobby has turned into an art form the idea that anti-Zionism is the same as anti-Semitism. It isn’t.

A Lovely Man

WE left Queensland 13 years ago and headed to the west coast. Not in the Billy Joel sense. We’re not doing a stand-up routine in LA. Who’d bother in Perth anyway? And we retain east coast connections and lots of old friends, some of whom come to see us from time to time, though that’s in Bali, our Fat Controller-proof bolthole.

Sadly, we lost another of our old friends recently, former Queensland treasurer and Labor Party strongman Terry Mackenroth. He died, far too early, and unexpectedly, soon after the lung cancer that he’d beaten 20 years ago had been diagnosed again. They gave him a state funeral (in non-Toff Australia that’s without the trinkets and baubles). It would have been good to be there (it was in Brisbane on May 8) but like so many things these days that was not to be.

Mackenroth was a hard-fighting politician but straight as a die. If he said he’d do something, you knew he’d do it. If he said he wouldn’t, all you could do was shut your briefcase and go away. He was also a very lovely man.

When people leave us, we pause for thought. There are always anecdotes that spring to mind. They can be a comfort. After he saw off his first bout of the Big C two decades ago he got into the annual shave heads for cancer fundraising effort. At that time, for his sins, Hector’s amanuensis was working in politics, having given up on Rupert Murdoch. It was the opposite side of politics from Mackenroth’s.

The annual tribute visit to the minister’s parliamentary office, to deposit that year’s personal contribution to the razor gang, was always a treat. We’d stay for a brief chat and then return to our own quarters. The funny looks and pursed lips of our own little troupe of flacks when we got back from enemy territory were fun to observe.

Name Games

THERE’S another of those curious Facebook-focused phishing exercises going around at the moment. It purports to list the 20 people most important to you. That’s on Facebook, of course, which isn’t real life at all and your best friends (who are also your worst enemies) are actually those two chaps called Cursor and Autocorrect.

We’re very happy that we haven’t appeared on anyone’s virtual nearest and dearest list. At least, we hadn’t when we last checked. To appear on one would bring to mind Groucho Marx’s sensible injunction against joining any club that would see fit to invite him.

Big Wedding

SINCE we were in Bali, where big weddings are all the go, we felt no pain in missing out on that other sizeable celebration in Windsor, U.K. Well, we wouldn’t have anyway, but let’s not spoil a good story.

On Friday evening we were at the Nusa Dua nuptials of a couple whose connections, from our perspective, are some lovely friends we’ve known for years. Nyoman Sueta is a community leader in Nusa Dua and his wife Made Siri is too. She also makes fabulous pancakes.

We ran into other old friends there, Made Winarsa – who is now sommelier at the St Regis Bali – and his wife Ayu Trisna, whose hospitality records run right back to the Conrad Bali years ago and both of whom we’ve known since they were students. There were lots of speeches – it helped that they were all in Balinese and Indonesian of course – and between times, opportunities to chat.

The setting was Peninsula Island, which will be familiar to many Australian and other visitors. It didn’t rain (it’s the dry season now) and the south-easterly breeze from the ocean was pleasantly cool.

It was a great night all round, and it was an honour to be present. We had our photo taken with the bride and groom, an obligatory thing. Possibly we jumped the queue for that. But nobody seemed to mind.

MEOWvellous

IT’S without question the purrfect way to spend a Saturday evening in Ubud. There will be no yoga, for one thing. The occasion is the inaugural Villa Kitty ACATemy Awards, an invitation only soiree at Indus Restaurant. It’s on May 26.

Elizabeth Henzell, hostess with the mostest on the night and the inspiration for Villa Kitty, tells us we should be dressed up as much as we like and be prepared to dance the night away. Yes, um. Good. Make mine tonic water with ice so it looks like a G&T (an old trick from our flack days).

Villa Kitty does marvellous work for Bali’s feline community and is worth support every time. Its sponsors are great people.

Elizabeth recently lost Maya, the light of her life. She arrived six years ago as a hairless waif and became a silken black tortoiseshell with the love and proper food and care she found with Elizabeth, along with the 10 other cats who shared her domain. She had a good life and was loved. There’s nothing to beat that.

Chin-chin!

Off We Go

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

The Cage, Bali | Wednesday, May 10, 2018

 

IT’S been a while between scribbles here at the Diary’s desk, for all sorts of reasons that really don’t rate a mention. We have heard no complaints, but we’ll ignore that silence and the signals it might otherwise send, and bat on. It’s compulsory for writers to write, but not for readers to read.

We were back on the Outanback Track today, the Diary and the Companion, for the first time in eight months. It was a doddle, though the proof of the pudding, not to mention potential denouement, will come later, when the muscles react to the shock. It was nice to stride out (and largely up) our 2,400 metres of morning walk routine. From a walker’s viewpoint it didn’t look much different from how it looked the last time we did it, which was before last year’s two-month European adventure.

A brisk morning walk in these parts, of course, requires an early rise, or else the sun melts you; and this in turn demands both alarm calls and earlier nights. Still, that’s said to be better for you than reading – or, worse, scribbling – into the wee hours. It’s probably not quite as much fun, though we can set that off against the necessity for karmic equivalence.

Mount Up

GENERAL Prabowo Subianto, he who likes military-style parades with his politics and a fine horse from which to review them, and who envies ants their ordered eusocial societies, has secured the backing of the Prosperous Justice Party for his candidature, as leader of the Greater Indonesia Party, in next year’s presidential election.

This was expected. He ran against the current president, Joko Widodo, in 2014, and lost, which, predictably, he didn’t like very much. The Jokowi presidency is not to the taste of those who believe government is better in the hands of people who hold the Quran aloft and cite it in preference to the Constitution, or others who believe they have a field-marshal’s baton in their kitbag.

This week’s news from Malaysia may have emboldened their optimism. There, the 61-year stranglehold on power of the formerly ruling Barisan Nasional has been broken by the voters.  Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s informal collection of “others” won the popular vote and a sizeable majority of parliamentary seats. His venerable age – 92 – might give Bernie Sanders hope for 2020. The voters heard Mahathir’s message loud and clear. They were fed up with the institutionalised corruption of the ruling clique. But Indonesia is not Malaysia. This is not just because Indonesia was formerly Dutch and run as a dysfunctional mercantile empire while Malaysia was British and run as a much more efficient one.

Phoney Argument

THE pre-paid mobile phone shemozzle continues. It was a joke to begin with. Now it is well past that point. Under regulations that took effect this year, people who buy pre-paid SIM cards with which to operate their phones have to provide official identity documents and register. This is sensible in an era where otherwise any phone can be a covert command post.

But there’s some glitch in the system – apart from the shambolic nature of the phone companies’ own administrations – that means even if you have registered, they’ll still cut you off. If the phone companies were running a kids’ party, there’d have been a riot by now.

Since rectifying the continuing idiocy requires further queuing up – take a number and wait to be called – and that this frequently means many wasted hours, it’s easy to see why people are fed up with the whole thing. Many Indonesians use pre-paid SIM cards and top them up. The telephone companies profit from this. With the acquisition of profit comes a duty of care, along with – one would have thought – some interest in keeping customers happy. These benefits of consumer capitalism are often invisible here. Indonesia might be a little more raya if its privileged private sector could get its act together. Well over 200 million Indonesians must dearly wish it would.

The phone registration funfest only affects pre-paid numbers. A better way is to have a post-paid plan.

The Germane German

IT was Karl Marx’s birthday on May 5, so happy 200th birthday to him. It’s probably just possible to mention the name in Indonesia without getting into trouble for expressing communist sympathies. We certainly have none that stem from the subsequent perversion of Marxist theory by the later crop of despots, tyrants, various leaders dear or great, or helmsmen or mass murderers, who purloined essentially sensible social ideas and buggered them up, or ignored them, in single-minded pursuit of their own misanthropic interests.

Though we do like good theories and to consider these objectively, as an otherwise unreconstructed Tory of our past acquaintance, economic theorist Henry Ergas, did recently in an engaging commentary in The Weekend Australian. His conclusion was basically that communism didn’t work because political practitioners bent its theoretical basis out of recognition, and anyway that the theory itself contained fatal flaws, especially those concerning the morality and ethical standards of the sort of people who historically end up dancing privileged mazurkas on the froth on top of the great beer of human affairs. Agreed. You could say exactly the same about capitalism.

Past Imperfect

WELL, it always is. It makes everyone a little tense. Just ask any historian. But in this instance we refer not to that which passed before, as in the entity that is a foreign land where they did things differently, but to the novel of that name by writer, film director and actor Julian Fellowes. It’s the Diary’s current reading for siesta time. It’s pretty good in 10-page tranches.

We should have read it long ago – it was published in 2008, following his first novel, Snobs– but didn’t. Most of our reading is not fiction. There’s enough farce and incredulity in real life to fill our regular reading list. What makes Fellowes’ Past Imperfect perfect for our relaxation is that it is set in two eras – the (now decade old) present, and fifty (then forty) years ago – and, moreover, in Britain, our domicile before we flew the coop, um, nearly fifty years ago now.

The narrative has some lovely vignettes – the fictionalised Season of 1968 provides many and seems to have been somewhat more outré than that of 1965 – and some devastating put-downs. There’s one that particularly caught our attention. The narrator, confronted by someone who unwisely asserts in conversation that something wouldn’t happen where he came from, responds:  “Where was that? I forget.”

Neanderthalistan

CHRISTINE Retschlag, the Global Goddess whose travel writing has made her a familiar face in Bali, reported a sour incident the other day, from Yeppoon, a little place on the central coast of Queensland, Australia.

She was in the area doing some scribbling, as you do if you’re a global goddess, and would be dining alone. Women have been doing that for ages, after all. It’s actually a pleasant pastime, too, even for men. There are no embarrassing pauses in the conversation, and you can quaff the wine of your first choice.

Retschlag had called in at a restaurant in the afternoon and said she’d like a table – that table in the corner, she pointed out – and duly returned at reservation time. The establishment had given the table to a couple.

She protested, as you would. She’d reserved it and they’d taken the reservation. They told her she could have another table, slap bang in the middle of the room. There was a row.  We’re sure it was decorous, if steely-eyed. And she finally got the table.

But sheesh! It’s 2018, fellas. Even in provincial Queensland. The restaurant’s name is Vue.  We mention this so others in town with less prehistoric attitudes are not unfairly thought to have been responsible.

Heads Up

TODAY is Ascension Day, in Indonesia Kenaikan Yesus Kristus, a red day in the national calendar, a public holiday. It’s a Christian festival. It is also relevant to Muslims, since Yesus, aka Isa, is their Messiah and a very important Nabi, being the last prophet before Mohammad.

The day is marked by Indonesia’s millions of Christians, those whom the loudly Arabian-desert robed lot, who’d like Arabian mores to swamp ancient archipelagic customs, would rather ignore. Indonesia’s Christians officially come in two constitutional brands:  Kristen and Katolik. We’ve often wondered what the Pope makes of that.

A Little Bit Rudy

FORMER mayor of New York City and now Trump legal flack Rudy Giuliani got off to a flying start in his new day job. Avi Steinberg | The New Yorker

 

Chin-chin!