HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, May 16, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

What Rubbish!

When we heard that “the authorities” – the quotation marks are possibly essential – had suddenly demolished a number of rather well known and heavily patronised watering holes favoured by the Bling-and-Bolly and Boys-and-Girls-Behaving-Badly sets on the beach at Batu Belig, a wreck and rampage event held on May 7, an unkind thought crossed our mind. It was that “They” (the quote marks and capital T are definitely essential) had mistaken the real task upon which a modicum of concentration is required.

It occurred to us that a far-sighted official – Find that man! Give him a medal! – must somehow have become aware of the real problem on Bali’s beaches and directed the troops to clean up the rubbish, but that a critical wire or two had got crossed while the order was being passed down the line. There is a precedent for this, though sadly it too is a joke. An order “Pass the word forward, we’re going to advance,” given to British infantry on the Western Front in World War I was duly passed forward but got lost on the way. It became “Pass three-and-four-pence, we’re going to a dance.”

It is asserted that Karma Kandara, La Barca and other outré establishments were operating without the necessary permissions and permits. They may have been.  We don’t know. But that’s not unusual hereabouts, particularly when if you do pay up you’ve often no idea who is actually going to pocket the dosh.

Oh, THAT Target

Meanwhile – surely to no one’s surprise – environmental specialists are at loggerheads over how the Bali government’s commitment to a plastic free Bali in 2013 can be achieved. The short answer is it can’t be. The real political game is finding some smoke and mirrors with which to claim it has been, or very nearly so.  This little shadow play has now produced a statement – from provincial environment agency chief AA Gede Alit – to the effect that 2013 is just the target for the initial commitment.

Dr Wayan Arthana – of the Centre for Environmental Research (PPLH), which is hardly an impartial player but never mind in this instance – says there is no clear plan to achieve this. He is apparently shocked to learn this, which in turn is shocking. We’re on Planet Bali, where clear plans are never part of the picture. It’s true that Bali has a big waste problem. But even 10,000 cubic metres of waste a day is not insuperable. At the moment more than half is left untreated and scattered around the island. The 10 to 12 percent of it that is plastic could certainly be managed under the right programmes.

Arthana is pessimistic about the target date. “I think it will not be achieved,” he says. Gosh, if betting were legal here he’d make a brilliantly successful bookie.  It’s hard not to be pessimistic about the entire project, frankly. A study by graduates from Reading University in Britain found various impediments in the way, including the behaviour of people who it seems – in the comfortable do-nothing fictions that govern life here – “do not realise” that plastic is harmful to the environment.

Ooh, Yummy

Alila Villas Soori, on the Tabanan coast and somewhere we really must get one day, has a culinary treat in store for guests in June. Michelin chef Tom Kerridge, whose Hand and Flower public house, at Marlow on a picturesque Wind in the Willows-style stretch of the River Thames in England is Britain’s only two-star Michelin-rated pub, will be creating haute cuisine – some of it hot too, no doubt – in-house on his first ever Asian tour.

He is said by some to be the finest chef in Britain today. As far as we know, he’s not one of the rude ones, which is truly a blessing. Kerridge had a hard childhood, a time upon which he reminisced in February in the London Daily Telegraph newspaper. He recalled they were so poor – his divorced mum worked nine to five and then after hours on the till in a pub to make ends meet – that their usual Sunday Roast (a British tradition) was cheap sausage meat from a supermarket rather than prime beef or chicken from the butcher.

He said: “I look back on that meal with really fond memories because it shows my mum didn’t give up. She worked hard to help me get where I am. Now she comes to visit me at the pub, where we’ve just won our second Michelin star, and I get to treat her instead.”

What a lovely fellow.

And that’s not all that Alila Villas Soori has on its schedule next month. Its latest Artist in Residence is Raymond Wiger, a master sculptor in the art of wire mesh, who will show a collection there in June including some pieces inspired by and resulting from his residence at the resort.

Scat, Cat

We heard this story from Villa Kitty, the rapidly overcrowding refuge for deprived felines in Ubud. Apparently at Champlung Sari, a resort property in Monkey Forest Road, unwanted or nuisance kittens – the product of breeding age cats left unsterilized by unthinking owners or the ubiquitous stray animals – are cleared from the property by the cheapest method possible. Someone tosses them over the wall into a dirty little watercourse that fights its way through the garbage to get where gravity would otherwise like it to go.

Villa Kitty tells us a couple staying at the resort recently were upset at seeing a kitten thrown over the wall in this manner and one phoned them up in high distress. Further inquiry elicited the information from the management that the guests had evidently failed to see the kitten then climb back over the wall.

Is this a joke? Sadly it is not. But animal lovers and anyone with an elementary sense of decency might like to get their essential Ubud experience at some other accommodation.

A Ra’re Treat

Hector’s ghost-writer was browsing through his LinkedIn site recently when the ever-helpful People You Might Know feature popped out the name of Angus McCaskill. Well, we don’t know Angus and neither did we know his alter ego, the faux-Maori Willie Ra’re, when he was hanging around the party scene snorting cocaine. That is, we didn’t know him except vicariously as a result of the public notoriety he acquired on being arrested, charged, tried and sentenced to jail on a drug charge. We shared this condition – though ours was legitimate lack of knowledge – with a great many people who, after his sad denouement in a supermarket, suddenly seemed not to know him either.

McCaskill went home to Australia last August after serving a year in Kerobokan jail. He had originally been sentenced to seven years in one of those over-reactive challenges to common sense that the courts here seem to like so much.

He said at the time he was a changed man and that he had used his year in the slammer to reconnect with the non-narcotics-enhanced side of life. We wish him well.

LinkedIn tells us he is now business development manager at a Melbourne-based leisure, travel and tourism outfit called DealsOnDeals and also lists him as owner at the Wall Street Group of Companies. Now that might give us the Willies; not to mention the Gekkos.

Eat Up

Ubud, as befits its status as the centre of myriad universes, many of them very strange places indeed, has plenty of spots where, your head filled with pipedreams, you can also stuff your face. That’s as it should be, even if it’s only a mungbean you’re after. So one more won’t matter and it’s no surprise that Kuta fixture Dijon has wandered up the road to open a café. It’s in tastefully eclectic Jalan Raya Sanggingan, just across the road from a favourite Diary spot, the Beji resort.

Dijon Café officially commenced business on April 29, with all the pomp and circumstance people seem to view as de rigueur when opening a new emporium (of whatever variety) here. It was open – perhaps this was unofficially, or maybe it was just softly – when we were staying in the area last December.

It’s not very far from Mozaic, which keeps getting noticed – the Diary chiefly notices it for its prices – and Naughty Nuri’s, which being extremely tiny is always overflowing with the I-Must-Be-Seen crowd. So it will be good if Dijon cuts the mustard.

Vacant Lot

The April issue of the Bali Peace Park Association’s e-newsletter popped into our in-box right on deadline – ours, not theirs, it now being May – with some fascinating thoughts on fundraising, land acquisition, and building completion. It records that Man-With-the-Udeng Made Wijaya, whose landscaping firm did the drawings for the Sari site development, told them building the park facilities would take six months. Then it says they’re on schedule for October, the tenth anniversary of the first bombings. It’s May, so they now have five months. But they haven’t acquired the site – and there’s not a brick in sight.

We’ll read more. Watch this vacant space.

Hector’s Diary appears in the print edition of the Bali Advertiser, published every second Wednesday, and on his Blog at http://wotthehec.blogspot.com. Hector is on Twitter (@scratchings) and Facebook (Hector McSquawky).

By Jingo, It’s Time for Common Sense

BOAT PEOPLE

There’s a streak of jingoism in Australia that irritates many people, including, let it be said, large numbers of Australians. It gets in the way of common sense and stymies the requirement to deal with reality. It’s a political and social phenomenon born of residual colonial cringe, earlier isolation and boastful over-pride, all now overlaid with nationalist perceptions that the world’s largest inhabited island (or smallest continent: take your pick) is some sort of very special biosphere.

It is found broadly, in various forms, across the social and political spectrum. A constant refrain at all levels is that Australia is the best country in the world, but when this claim is tested – on the norms – it is at least arguable. This is reflected in schoolyard-style national pride that defines sporting teams and lots of other people who are just doing their jobs as heroes, another disastrously devalued term.  At that level, national life is frankly infantile.

In politics jingoism is a distressing commonplace. For all its proclamations that it is now a modern social-democratic outfit (excepting a few recent distractions that the Prime Minister would really prefer we didn’t talk about) the Australian Labor Party persists in worshipping totemic symbols whose utility is lost forever in a distant past. The Liberal Party often seems very far from liberal, as in sentient and open; though less so about economic issues, on which it is rational, than on social policy where sections of the party seem intent on reinventing the past. The Nationals remain a proto-rural rump, still looking for uneconomic handouts. The Australian Greens are condemned to the sidelines of politics unless they can cobble together an economic policy that wouldn’t simply ruin the country (perhaps senator-elect Peter Whish-Wilson, Tasmanian replacement for Bob Brown who will shortly be just an ordinary Earthian, can help lead them out of that thicket). None of the other minor parties effectively matter; not even the Cool Katters, who are anything but.

And it is in this context that Tony Abbott’s speech to the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne on April 27 needs to be viewed. John Howard was incontrovertibly correct when he stated in 2001 that Australians “will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.” Clearly any national state has that right. But Howard was wrong – morally, ethically and in the end politically – in what he intended that decision and those circumstances would be.

Boat people – it’s such a pejorative term, a weasel-word propaganda tool – are not criminals; they are protected under international agreements to which Australia is properly a signatory. They are entitled to lawful processing and treatment if they arrive (and that doesn’t mean being locked away in remote detention centres or being shipped to Nauru or Malaysia). And despite the “300 boats since Labor came to office” – five years ago: 60 boats a year, five boats a month, statistically one a week – that the opposition leader shouts about, they are very far from being a flood.

Many more people apparently intent on evading Australian migration law arrive by air, on scheduled airline flights.

Figures for 2010 indicate there are around 13 times more illegal immigrants than there are asylum seekers in detention who have arrived by boat.

The data, obtained by an Australian newspaper from the Immigration Department under the Freedom of Information Act, showed arrivals in 2010 by air from the United States (5,080) and Britain (3,610) were near the top of the list of those in the country without a valid visa. China (8,070) topped the list and Malaysia (4,200) came in third.

In 2010, on the official figures reluctantly released by the government, there were 4,446 detained boat people. The largest national grouping was people from Afghanistan (1,422).  Given that Afghanistan’s ethnic rivalries won’t cease any time soon (Who’d be a Hazara? Does Abbott even understand The Kite Runner?) and the country’s threatened non-political elites will continue to view migration as their best option, that figure is likely to increase.

In 2010, a total of 58,400 foreigners overstayed their Australian visas; they were people who had entered Australia on tourist or holiday-working visas. One in seven arrived as students and one in 15 was not heard from again after being granted temporary residency. But in 2010 only 6,720 people who overstayed their visas were sent home, most of them voluntarily, after applications to stay longer were rejected.

Abbott’s flood is in fact a trickle. The 4,446 detainees in the 2010 data are a minuscule 0.02 percent of the lawfully resident Australian population. The 58,400 people who overstayed their visas, about whom Australian political leaders are apparently not in any flux of distress, aren’t a flood either – they represent only 0.26 percent of the resident population – but they’re 10 times the problem “boat people” are.

We could presume on that basis that Abbott didn’t know what he was talking about in his IPA speech. It certainly sounded as if he had mistaken the Arafura and Timor seas for the Rio Grande and northern Australia for Texas. But that would be unfair. He’s a bright chap. So we must assume that when he promised prime ministerial fleet-footedness in defence of national interests under critical threat he actually knew what he was saying.

Did he know what he was doing, however? There, the answer is more elusive. On one hand, you’d hope that he did, since he’s running for prime minister. On the other, given what he’d said, you’d hope that he didn’t, because it was vote-seeking, jingoistic rubbish.

He was banging a political, if not a populist, drum; he was not enunciating sensible policy. Abbott said (among other things on his list of unlikely first-foot-under-the-desk achievements) that he would order the navy to turn boats around. (He had several caveats on that putative order, which at least indicates he may know he’d be grasping a very painful nettle.) He would visit Indonesia to make it plain that Australians viewed boat people whose port of embarkation was in Indonesia with as much distaste as Indonesians viewed Australians who peddled drugs in Bali. Peddling drugs is a crime, as is boarding an unauthorised boat in Indonesia. But trying to reach Australia in a leaky, unsafe boat is not a crime. It is too often – sickeningly often – a fatal misadventure.

In any case, Abbott would get at best a polite hearing on the issue in Jakarta where the political realities are somewhat different.  Indonesia’s interest lies in getting unauthorised arrivals to move on. So-called boat people matter very little to the government in Jakarta, since they have arrived in Indonesia planning to do so and to become Australia’s problem instead.

And at the administrative level, removing the impact of Indonesia’s money buys anything bribe culture, so far as it relates to facilitating the onward passage of unauthorised arrivals Indonesia doesn’t want and cannot accommodate, requires a rather longer term view than apparently suits Abbott.  Further, the Indonesians have already made clear their distinct ambivalence towards Abbott’s excursion into Flashman territory on the boat people.

It might be true – though the point is arguable and substantially untested beyond anecdotal evidence – that most Australians regard so-called queue-jumpers, “illegal” arrivals, and specifically “boat people” with unequivocal distaste. The cost of processing and supporting refugees who arrive outside the parameters of Australia’s formal immigration programme is substantial, particularly at a time when even the most inattentive Australian has worked out that money is after all a finite resource.  But it would probably cost substantially less if processing were done in Australia under rules that ensured people did not spend months locked up in quasi-prisons, rather than overseas, the preferred out-of-sight, out-of-mind option of both sides of politics.

The revived Nauru option, flagged by Abbott in his IPA speech as a live proposal if he were to become prime minister, effectively would bribe a foreign country (albeit a tiny Pacific Ocean outcrop with no economic future) to become a prison island. This is a sorry excuse for policy and immoral to boot, at a distressingly fundamental level. (The same can be said about Labor’s so-called Malaysia Solution.)

Australians need to take a reality check. Politicians beat up the issue of unauthorised arrivals in ways that encourage the quite erroneous view that the country is being swamped by illegal and politically suspect people. They are playing to the gallery. The overwhelming majority of Australians are not racist in the formal sense of the term. But many Australians take national pride to jingoistic levels encouraged by politicians in office and politicians seeking office – though this may not be their intent – and by discordant national cheerleaders who declare that the country is open only to the Chosen.


Save Us from Visiting Firepersons

Judith Sloan, contributing economics editor at The Australian, is someone who should be read regularly for her insights on matters within her portfolio. She generally makes very good sense. But in a piece in her newspaper on April 17, she breaks a fundamental rule of considered comment. On the basis of “travelling around Asia for the past three weeks,” she judges that the government should axe the ABC-run Australia Network and save taxpayers millions of dollars.

She’s making a political – or perhaps it’s a corporate – point. But it isn’t one that has any basis on a broader view. It panders to the assumption that Sky News, which had tendered to produce the service before Julia Gillard’s overly muddled government cancelled the process, would do a better job of presenting an Australian face to the region than the ABC. That’s a moot point. Sloan says Australia Network’s news coverage is below par. So it is – and ABC24, from which it draws some of its content, could certainly improve. But Sky News does not inspire one with confidence that what is being broadcast is necessarily the distilled essence of a better pile of dung.

Sloan bemoans being assailed (as an apparently infrequent viewer of Australia Network’s fare over three weeks – wow! – in the near abroad) by ancient programming drawn, as it must be on Australia Network’s deficient funding, from the bottom drawer. Watching four-year-old rebroadcasts of that advertising industry self- love-in The Gruen Transfer is neither edifying nor informative, agreed. Watching “reruns” of Sea Patrol isn’t either – except that for most of Australia Network’s audience they’re first-run shows. We’ve only just got to the series where the fine folk of HMAS Hammersley get to wear their “new” RAN-cam spotty uniforms. What’s old to Sloan, who presumably views television most of the time from safely within the  wall-to-wall reality show environment of the Special Biosphere, is not necessarily old to others.

In her gratuitous polemic promoting Sky News as a better alternative – it is part owned by the Murdoch empire which publishes the paper in which her words appear – she also says this:

“For anyone interested in Australian politics, the coverage is scant and unsatisfactory. It almost seems that the programmers regard it as unseemly to cover too much Australian politics. By contrast, the rescue of orang-utans in Kalimantan or melting ice sheets in the Antarctic – this opinion segment was carried in the news – are given lengthy coverage. I also stumbled on some sort of basic English-as-a-second-language teaching programme.”

In the utter vacuity of that comment, she exposes herself as a visiting fireman of the worst sort, the kind of blow-in to whom the lowest assessment is awarded: She doesn’t have a clue that she doesn’t have a clue.

Sloan might be good at economics (well, she is, and eminently readable about it too) but she’d be woeful as an editor or programmer, on her analysis of what might interest overseas neighbours. Australian politics are parochial, mundane and peripheral to the broadcast region, except in exceptional circumstances or when – as for example on the excellent news analysis shows broadcast by the network – some deeper coverage is warranted.

In her article in The Australian, Sloan also wrote this: “As far as the Australia Network is concerned, there is simply no case for its continued existence. The content of the network is second-rate and any notion that a contribution is being made to the soft diplomatic effort of Australia is simply laughable.

“It is very likely that Sky News would have produced a more interesting and vibrant range of programmes, which would have attracted a wider audience. But the bottom line is that we should be ditching this endeavour altogether and saving the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

There’s the rub.  Australia Network is not presented for an expatriate audience – though some of us watch it from time to time – or for wandering warblers, such as Sloan in this instance. And it’s very unlikely that news flashes about another traffic accident on the F3 (or whatever) would add anything to a foreign viewer’s perception of Australia.

Of course Australia Network could do a better job. Some lateral thinking is certainly required. An effective merging of the cerebral efforts of the ABC and SBS, for example, and creation of an international broadcasting division formally including both Radio Australia and Australia Network, could do the trick.

But that would need more funding, not less. It’s unlikely to get it while ever Australians – including, apparently, the otherwise cerebral Sloan herself – take the view that it’s not worth presenting a measured face to the world.

A Green Tinge is Common Sense

Bob Brown is the Australian Greens. Whether the present tense can convert smoothly to past, and the statement become “Bob Brown was the Australian Greens”, is a question Christine Milne and others will have to answer in due course.

More importantly for the moment, Brown is the most underrated politician in Australia. Others have noted that he fatally undermined Julia Gillard’s Labor government by suborning the Prime Minister into an alliance with the Greens she didn’t need after the August 2010 federal election. Labor and Gillard will pay a political price for that; its quantum is as yet unknown.

But the mainstream federal political parties cannot dismiss the impact of the Green vote. It is not just an environmental vote and far from being one simply for the tree huggers. The Australian Greens are just as dangerous for the Coalition as they are for Labor. This is not necessarily a bad thing: politics requires continuous renewal and Australia’s history is replete with examples of non-performing monopolies, duopolies, cosy little cartels, and idiotic, largely self-serving designs to take us back to the past.

It is far too early to say, and it is disingenuous to do so anyway, that the Green vote has peaked and that, with or without Brown, the party had already begun at least a cyclical decline. The Queensland and New South Wales state elections, which tossed out appallingly atrophied Labor governments, cannot safely be cited in support of that argument. Voters in both those states were on a mission to eliminate Labor as a state government party – these things are cyclical too and not confined to Labor – and not many of them wanted to bother stopping by the Greens on their way to punishing Labor.

At federal level, the parameters are different. Gillard and her government – in part quite unfairly – are the objects of opprobrium. Gillard’s broken carbon tax promise – Brown’s greatest poisoned chalice bequest – is fatal. The disgraceful refusal of the Prime Minister to deal as she should with NSW federal Labor MP Craig Thompson is yet another example of her fatal unwillingness to recognise unpalatable political fact.

But while Tony Abbott’s Coalition is riding high in the opinion polls, that doesn’t necessarily indicate they are a certain bet on Election Day, whenever that is.  It doesn’t matter of course that Labor characterises Abbott as “Mr No”. Public politics is all about scoring quick points – many of them vacuous – in pursuit of a catchy tabloid headline.  He does that well, chiefly, though he needs to keep himself in check.

Voters know that on the preponderance of legislation (which is after all the principal business of government – it’s not the morning news call) the government and the opposition are cooperative and mutually supportive. As Christopher Pyne said on Sunday (Insiders on ABC on April 15), the opposition has supported 87 percent of Labor’s legislation in the federal parliament.  The mortal combat is not on process and implementation; it is on winning the vote, on securing power.

Most people understand this. Many more Liberal-inclined voters than might be imagined do not in fact see the Greens as a fatal threat to themselves or to the nation. The same applies to many natural Labor voters. Mainstream politicians still cling to the theory that there’s a substantial rusted-on vote base. The clear signs of today’s politics indicate that this is not the case.

Under Bob Brown the Greens became a national force in Australian politics. It’s true they were assisted in this process by Cheryl Kernot’s treachery while leader of the other potential third force, the now defunct Australian Democrats. But it would wrong – and very foolish – to see the Greens as an aberration, an irritant that the combined electoral appeal of the major parties will eventually vitiate.

The argument over the carbon tax is an instance. It’s a foolish tax on many scores – not least in being just another tax imposed by government (any government, the point is not political) on its own fundamentally rapacious Peter and Paul programme that institutionalises a sleight of hand revenue versus spending regime.

Yet the related argument – that the world (which includes Australia, despite the efforts of some other fringe politicians to pretend otherwise) must move sensibly and as quickly as possible to fully renewable and non-polluting technologies – is one that resonates with almost everyone.

Brown’s political achievement swung off the back of this popular movement. He capitalised very skilfully on the innate common sense of the electorate. Voters don’t want a carbon tax (who would?) but they do want their government to move forward with emerging technologies.  Climate change cannot be denied (climate is a dynamic process that’s been with us ever since we cooled off a bit following the Big Bang) though you can argue over its direct cause and whether human activity has had any measurably deleterious effect. The policy imperative is clear, however: just as the climate changes, so must we adapt. Pollution is the greater threat, since it is immediate and – albeit on a relatively small scale in Australia itself – locally sited. Anything that reduces atmospheric emissions is to be welcomed, whether or not the underlying issue is seen by some as the threat of Armageddon-style climate change if nothing is done.

This is the genius of the political green movement, captured in spades by the former doctor from Tasmania who parlayed opposition to invidious development in his isolated island state into a national platform. His achievement deserves recognition, even if you do not think it deserves applause.

Bob Brown’s legacy, if new leader Christine Milne and deputy leader Adam Bandt prove to have the ticker to maintain it, is to have entrenched the Greens in Australia’s political landscape. For all sorts of reasons, however one chooses to vote, that is a good thing.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, April 4, 2012

Off With the Pixels

Australia Network, the officially funded Asia-Pacific TV satellite channel run by the ABC, is always strapped for cash. It gets its money from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and is tasked with presenting an Australian image to the near abroad, so to speak.

It does a lot of good things with the modest stipend it gets from the government in Canberra (note to Bob Carr, new Foreign Minister: do something really useful and get it some more money so it doesn’t have to show us ancient examples of blinding self-abuse such as of The Gruen Transfer circa 2008) but its total annual budget would barely fund one of those awful reality TV shows everyone seems to like to watch nowadays.

(It is difficult to think why they do, except from madness or possibly ennui. Oscar Wilde once described foxhunting as the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable, and of course he was dead right, as he so often was.  A similarly fatal rapier thrust is urgently required to dismiss the relevance and taste of the disreputable modern sport of figjamming, especially as seen on reality shows.)

Australia Network is not targeted at Aussies who live beyond the boundaries of the Special Biosphere, even if they do tend to watch it for news from home and, occasionally, TV drama shows in a language they can understand (this rules out most Kiwi programmes).  We know this, having once asked that precise question. So given that the Diary is in that underclass – of Australia Network viewers about whom the operators affect a Rhett Butler air, frankly not giving a damn – the following complaint may well fall on deaf ears.

A new drama on air is Rake, starring the insouciant Richard Roxburgh playing yet another reprehensible but occasionally insightful roué, this time a barrister. It’s a good show, but it’s made for audiences accustomed to naked butts and bosoms on screen and these are pixellated out on Australia Network. Since the ubiquitous naughty words are bleeped out as well, watching the drama itself is difficult. You tend to watch for the pixels and listen for the bleeps and lose the plot completely, even in the brief interludes during which it is remotely visible.

The thought occurs that if nudity and foul language are judged unacceptable for Australia Network’s target audiences – and the censorious proclivities of their governments – the programming is wrong.

Of course, how you then effectively reflect popular Australian culture – given its preference for bad language, near-nakedness and self-centred disrespect for almost everything – is another matter.

Welcome to Purgatory

Legian resident Vyt Karazija – a good friend and eminently readable blogger – recently posted a cri de coeur that really should be read by anyone who still thinks Bali is a paradise populated exclusively by caring, sensitive, sentient souls in touch with their inner Muse. And then they should weep. It concerns a young Balinese woman whose life is being ruined by her grasping family, who wrench from her all the money she makes an enormous effort to earn.

It would not be an unusual story either; which makes it worse. You can – and you should – read it at http://www.borborigmus.wordpress.com. Look for the post headlined Suffering in Silence Behind the Smile.

Hello, Kitty

Villa Kitty, the cat refuge at Ubud that is celebrating its first birthday, had a fundraising night at Indus restaurant on March 27. We’re sure it all went well. Villa Kitty founder and Chief Meow, Elizabeth Grant Suttie, who in her other hat is personal assistant to Ubud identity Janet DeNeefe, is a fine organiser and a dedicated animal lover.

She tells us the fundraiser was brought forward from its original planning date due to the generosity of Edwina Blush, the sexy, sassy Australian jazz vocalist, songwriter, poet and (as Blush’s website self-describes) provocateuse. Someone once wrote of Blush that “she must have a tail under that gown”; and maybe that’s why she’s singing for the kitties, as it were. Or perhaps it is just that some people are cat people (the Diary is such) and it’s all in a good cause.

Villa Kitty needs to expand, we’re told, because it’s proving such a popular place with felines seeking accommodation.  We wish the establishment the very best of good fortune and we’ll keep up to date with its developing story.

Time Goes By

The delightful publicist Hellen Sjuhada, who among other things helps keep that haven of Catalan cuisine, El Kabron at Bingin Beach, in the public eye, tweeted the other day that she was old enough to remember when MTV played music videos. We sent a little tweet in response, noting that we were old enough to remember when there was no MTV. She replied in turn, saying she took her hat off to us. We said we were trying to age gracefully and that perhaps her hat might help.

But that’s the trick, when at the more mature end of whatever is one’s unknown allotment of Essential Vivacity: to age gracefully, which among other things surely means keeping abreast of technology. Well OK, disgracefully is all right too, and it’s a lot more fun.  But the real time-saver is to keep up with the pack. That’s why here at The Cage we’re right into gizmos. They cannot be allowed to bamboozle and must be conquered. We’re working on that.

It might be all downhill from here … but hey, as any former snow-skier can attest, it can all go so well until, finally, that unavoidable magnetic tree collects you.

Silly Clod

Why anyone would seek to break out of their villa at Nyepi defies belief. Why anyone would seek to do so merely to go in search of milk elevates the level of stupidity to stratospheric height. Yet this is apparently what an American villa owner in Seririt, Buleleng, chose to do on Friday, March 23, in an area where Nyepi rules are strictly enforced and where as a result his villa was blockaded by angry villagers.

His name, according to reports, is Claude. Perhaps he should be known as Clod. Nyepi might be an onerous imposition to people in Bali who are not Hindu, but there are ways round that. If it’s all too much, decamp to a designated tourism entity, where by convenient fiat some services continue and the lights remain more or less on. Or if you really want to make a noise, go to the Gilis off Lombok.

Or you could do what we did here at The Cage. We stayed home (having made sure we had sufficient milk for the duration) and stayed quiet. We didn’t observe the full requirements of Nyepi.  But we kept lighting to an absolute minimum and made sure none escaped our villa; that no noise got past the gate; and that the holy customs and practices of our Hindu neighbours were entirely undisturbed. That’s not only common sense; it’s also good manners.

Mea Culpa: In the Diary of March 21 we wrote that since Muslims would be allowed to go to mosque on Silent Day, it being a Friday, the authorities should provide the same privilege to Christians when Nyepi fell on a Sunday. An Indonesian friend who is a practising Christian tells us this is already the case.

True to Herself

Some of us live on Facebook – not literally you understand, it’s more of a virtual vitality – and some of us pay a price for this devotion. Some of us, for example, have Dear Spouses who wouldn’t touch Facebook with the grottier end of a used toe-rag, and say so quite often. But there you go.

Those among us who do use Facebook for rational reasons – those in other words who do not use it as their personal diary or for marginal notes on their day – generally get good results. Hector’s helper, for example, has many virtual friends, some of whom are actual people known to him. He says it’s great to be able to keep in contact in real time rather than waiting for the time-worn stuff that used to be stuffed into real mailboxes.

Then there are the others, collected as Friends rather in the manner that one might acquire buddies at a bar. These come and go. Hec’s helper recently lost a Dear Friend who rejoiced in the name of Ivana Logov.

Apparently, she finally worked out how to do that.

Bitter Glitter

We love a pun, as countless people have come to learn, some of them, poor things, believing this to be at their cost. And we’ve just been reminded of this little gem:

King Ozymandias of Assyria was running low on cash after years of war with the Hittites. His last great possession was the Star of the Euphrates, the most valuable diamond in the ancient world. So, desperate, he went to Croesus the pawnbroker to ask for a loan.

Croesus said: “I’ll give you 100,000 dinars for it.” The king protested: “But I paid a million dinars for it. Don’t you know who I am? I am the king!”

Said Croesus: “When you wish to pawn a star, it makes no difference who you are.”

Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser, out every second Wednesday, and at http://www.baliadvertiser.biz. Hector is on Twitter (@scratchings) and Facebook (Hector McSquawky).

It Might Work in Upper Gumtree

From the Australian Greens’ media team today, Feb. 9, 2012

Libs, Nats and Labor fail on supermarket duopolyThursday 9 February 2012

The Liberal, National and Labor parties today failed to act on their own words in voting down a motion that calls on the government to direct the ACCC and Productivity Commission to take the first steps in reining in the Coles Woolworths supermarket duopoly.

“This motion, to implement the findings of a unanimous 2010 Senate Committee report, would have been an important step in reining in the Coles Woolworths duopoly, which is unfair to both consumers and producers, and the Greens will make it a major campaign,” Australian Greens Deputy Leader, Senator Christine Milne, said.

“The Greens intend to make the Year of the Farmer mean something for farmers and we will use it to help keep farmers on the land by getting them fairer farm gate prices.

“Labor, Liberal and Nationals MPs regularly talk about how the Coles Woolworths duopoly is unfair to both consumers and producers, but they find every excuse to vote against doing anything about it.

“The government votes down reform on the basis that the duopoly hasn’t been tested in the courts, but won’t encourage or fund the ACCC to test it. The Coalition votes down reform on the basis that they’ll do something about it when, they assume, they take government.

“Meanwhile the impact on farmers continues.

“The duopoly works directly against the interests of rural and regional Australia, and it doesn’t well serve the interests of consumers of small business competitors either.

“Next time any govt or opposition MP gets up and talks about the Coles Woolworths duopoly, they should be asked why they won’t put their vote where their mouth is.”

The motion, supported by the Greens and Senator Xenophon, reads:

That the Senate;

Notes:
a)      the failure of the Government to adopt the recommendations of the Senate Economics References Committee, which were supported by members of four political parties and Senator Xenophon, for reinstating specific legislative provisions on price discrimination, tightening legislation to inhibit firms achieving market power through takeovers and calling on the ACCC to conduct further study into the increasing shares of the grocery market being taken by the generic products of the major supermarket chains;

b)      the Government’s refusal to contemplate improvements to the current competition laws on the basis that these laws have not been adequately tested in the courts;

c)      that Coles have announced large cuts in the prices of some fruit and vegetables; and

d)      that bodies such as Ausveg, the National Farmers Federation, the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, and the Council of Small Business of Australia have expressed concern about the impact on farmers and small retailers if these price cuts are sustained.

Calls on the Government to:
a)      direct the Productivity Commission to report on the effectiveness of competition policy in the grocery retailing sector;

b)      direct the ACCC to update its 2008 report on competition in the grocery industry, with particular reference to the market power of the two largest retail chains, the impact of their increasing use of generic product lines, and the impact of large cuts in the price of specific food items on the viability of Australian farmers;

c)      direct the ACCC to examine and report on the extent to which the cuts in fruit and vegetable prices initiated by Coles in early 2012 are affecting the prices of other goods sold by the major supermarket chains, their profits, the prices they pay their suppliers and the farmgate prices received by Australian farmers; and

d)      ensure that the ACCC is encouraged and adequately funded to bring matters before the courts that would lead to the current competition laws being adequately tested.

Something in the Air


They’re always at it at Ubud, or so it seems; thinking about navel engagements, that is. A delightful piece by Marie Bee in the latest edition of La Gazette de Bali – the great French language monthly journal for the Francophone community – discusses what one can do when it is the saison des pluies and going out invariably involves getting wet.
Bee, who is La Gazette’s Ubud scribbler, suggests that the answer is to study the Indonesian language rather than get out your poncho and rubber boots. And that seems fair enough to a dilettante like your diarist. Mlle Bee’s busy little voyage of discovery this time relates to the invisibility of the penis in the Indonesian-French dictionary of 1980 and its discovery (as an item of lexicographical interest at least) by 2001.
These days, of course, they are ubiquitous in Bali. You can even open bottles with them, though why you’d want to is quite another thing.
Anyone who reads French should definitely catch up with Mlle Bee’s engaging discourse in La Gazette. It piques several of the senses. Among other observations, she notes that elements of the search for the lost penis would certainly have interested Proust. It’s on page 30 of the current edition and is headed En Quête du Pénis Perdu (it sounds much better in French, doesn’t it?).
These are literary matters. And on that topic there’s a couple of interesting writers’ workshops on the books in Ubud. The first is a course, Write for Your Life, being held from February 5-11 with the participation of American penman Jeremiah Abrams. Details are available at www.writeforyourlife.posterous.com.
The second is the work of Australian Jade Richardson, who should by now be well known to Diary readers, since she keeps popping up with revealing ideas.
She’s offering four short courses for aspiring scribblers in February and March, under the broad subject heading Write Like an Angel: Creative Turbo-Boost is designed to inspire and energise beginners, blocked writers, stuck novelists, lazy poets and cathartic free-writers who want to learn finesse; Advanced Creative Writing in which participants will explore their own work for signs of genius; Travel Writing, for people who want to turn their notes, insights and adventures into travel stories fit for publication; and Erotica, where we assume the cerebral side of sex will get an outing.
If you’re interested, contact Jade at passionfruitcowgirl@rocketmail.com or by phone on 0958 5727 0858.
– from Hector’s Diary in the Bali Advertiser, Jan. 25, 2012