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!

Peak Effort

HECTOR’S DIARY

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

The Cage, Bali | Saturday, Apr. 28, 2018

 

DIAN Cahyadi, with whom we had the pleasure of working in Lombok more than decade ago, on a little and now extinct monthly newspaper called the Lombok Times, has achieved a new personal best for 2018. Actually, it’s a double triumph.

He scaled Mt. Rinjani, a feat in itself. We’ve seen photographic evidence. It wasn’t photo-shopped. It did look a tad chilly up there at 3,726m, where if the air is dry – and it is at the moment, now the dry season has properly kicked in – the lapse rate can easily take 25 degrees Celsius off the sea-level equivalent temperature.

Lombok’s Sasak people are not necessarily built for chill. This is a property they share with most Indonesians whose good fortune it is to live in an equatorial archipelago. His wife Barbara, who with Dian produces the useful Lombok Guide monthly, tells us the air temperature was zero Celsius when hubby and party left their long-way-up-the-mountain base camp at 2am to trek to the summit for sunrise. Brr-risk.

He’s a glutton for punishment, too. He’s done the climb four times now, an annual treat at the start of the climbing season. He and his mates clean up rubbish left on the mountain and take time out to educate porters and local communities about the importance of the environment.

(This item has been edited subsequent to its original publication, to reflect information later made available.)

Plumb Line

THE Governor of Jakarta says he’d like to see all the boats that service the Thousand Islands off the city operate safely. That’s an eminently reasonable position to take. It follows a report by the national maritime transportation safety agency to the effect that most of the boats are unsafe and poorly crewed.

There’s an easy solution. It is to ensure that boats are well built, adequately maintained and their crews competent, that navigation is conducted by the rules and not by whim, that boats are not overloaded, that weather conditions are taken into account, that harbourmasters work as harbourmasters instead of collectors of additional fees, and that the waters are effectively and not just ephemerally patrolled by enforcement agencies.

In short, the trick is to run things as they should be run and not as an informal and frequently manic circus. We made that point publicly. Someone came back immediately and said, well, that’s where the grand plan fails, then.

It’s hard to argue to the contrary, though we wish this were not so.

What Refugees?

THERE’s an interesting article in the Jakarta Post today – the newspaper is celebrating 35 years of telling it like is, give or take a line or two, by the way – that points out the refugee problem Indonesia faces. There are 14,000 such people, that we know of, who have arrived in Indonesia for a variety of reasons. One of these is that Australia remains a preferred destination for people seeking a new life, or any sort of life at all.

The Australian drawbridge was pulled up sharply some years ago, of course, assisted by a policy of employing the country’s navy to turn back unauthorised vessels. Australian policy is to deny entry to anyone claiming refugee status and specifically to keep such people out of Australian waters where, should they reach them, the courts might take a less political and more humane view of the country’s responsibilities.

It’s a policy that has worked, in terms of reducing basically to zero the number of people who are able to place their lives in the hands of rapacious people smugglers and get on leaky boats that might sink and drown them. Stop the boats was the Australian government’s mantra. It was a constant refrain.

It has left Indonesia with a problem, however, though that’s not Australia’s fault. These people – refugees, economic migrants, potential pogrom victims, whatever – are in Indonesia after unauthorised arrival and are therefore Indonesia’s responsibility. None will be going on to Australia, short of a change of conceivable government and a Damascene conversion among the electors. That won’t happen. So they’re stuck.

Kuta Crawl

WE’VE just had the considerable pleasure of a visit from an old friend of the Companion, and of the Diary’s by natural association. She’s a journalist who lives on the Gold Coast in Queensland – and who had a lengthy spell in Hong Kong too, long before its reacquisition by China – and whom we had been trying for ages to get to come and see us.

She and the Companion go back a long way, more than three decades, in fact, via various adventures and misadventures, and she’s a lively sort. So we all had fun. Ubud and Candi Dasa were on the expeditionary schedule, in pleasant accommodations (Tegal Sari in Ubud and Bayshore Villas in Candi Dasa) and plenty of activity (Venezia Day Spa in Ubud and Vincent’s – for the Thursday evening live jazz – in Candi Dasa) plus time at The Cage with its cooling Bukit breezes, ocean glimpses and chance of chainsaws. On the latter, it did seem that the gods had smiled upon us and declared a moratorium on borrowed buzzing for the duration. Or perhaps it all took place while we were away.

On her last evening we went into Kuta, toured the shops, bought some things, and dined at Un’s, a favourite spot of ours. Their frozen margaritas were declared a thing. The traffic afterwards, in contrast, was declared an unimaginable thing. And so it was, but then it almost always is. The more bucolic lifestyle of the western Bukit is much better, especially if you want to take photos of pretty little cows.

Handbag Parade

THE Kuta outing provided another chance for the Diary to prove his credentials as Handbag to the Companion. This is something we’ve done, in various places and forms, over rather more years than it is now comfortable to recall.

These days, it’s not corporate hand bagging. We are no longer required to stand around, consort-like, and engage with small talk persons who are unknown to us and whom we might otherwise wish to keep in that state of dimensional offset. It’s actual, physical, handbag carrying that’s now all the go. This is a duty we perform with serious intent, since a woman’s handbag is like one of those black holes in space. Things go in them that are apt never to be seen again, but it wouldn’t do to be the duty handbag holder if something were to be required from within and could not be found. Not finding things in her handbag is a job reserved for the lady who owns it.

In Jl. Legian in Kuta this week, while the distaff detail was in a shop looking for things with bling on them, we stood sentry outside, toting the handbag and trying to ignore the importuning of the massage ladies across the street. Sometimes it’s good to have reached an age where, like other things among life’s former functions, blushing is no longer feasible.

Whine o’Clock

180428 HECTOR'S DIARY CARTOON

This is a very good point. More information please.

 

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Chin-chin!

Absolute Rubbish

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his diet of worms

 

THE CAGE

Ubud, Bali

Wednesday, Apr. 18, 2018

 

THE perennial problem of rubbish has yet again raised its head as a topic de jour. The trash that litters Bali’s beaches – it’s not only in the tourist-overburdened south – is something that won’t go away. At least, it won’t without concerted government-led action to set up efficient, sustainable and sufficiently funded waste management programs island-wide.

Getting troupes of anti-litter activists out onto the beaches to pick up trash isn’t the answer. It is merely a necessary immediate response (and very welcome and public spirited) to the universal practice of despoiling the island’s environment, from the tourist beaches where it’s blindingly and revoltingly evident to the piles of discarded garbage thrown away everywhere. The way to deal with the overall crisis – for that is what it is – is to reduce the amount of trash that gets dumped in the drains (ha!) and little streams and creeks, and the one or two watercourses that actually qualify as rivers. This is a local problem, not a tourist one, though of course the authorities point out that without tourism there wouldn’t be the level of waste with which they choose not to deal because official indolence is easier than effort. That way, in the methodology of Indonesian excuse making, it’s the tourists’ fault anyway.

There was an irate outburst on Facebook recently, from someone who lives in a family compound. She reported that she went off – there’s no better way of expressing what she did – when she saw one of her family neighbours littering the collective home environment. There’s no excuse for doing that. It’s not a matter of education. The only explanation is that the perpetrator doesn’t give a shit.

Yet as Yoda might say, “A shit is what we must give.” Until that happens, the criminal littering of Bali will simply continue.

Rubbish on a beach in the Sanur area recently.

Photo: Ton de Bruyn |Facebook

Plain Sailing

IT’S abundantly clear that Australia won’t be joining ASEAN in its present format, not least – as Aussie-Kiwi Indonesian hand Duncan Graham recently noted in a post on an Australian site for more conservative chatterers, On Line Opinion – because every member state has an effective veto on such matters.

Nonetheless, it’s a theoretical question that should be raised now and then, for example in the context of Australia hosting an ASEAN summit, as it did in Sydney recently. Such navel-gazing is in the interests of all parties to any such future arrangement, and James Massola, the new South-east Asian correspondent for the Fairfax media group, was right, not naïve as Graham implies, to do so. He had asked that question of President Joko Widodo and had received a Javanese answer. We’re sure Massola understood that this is what it was. But it was an answer that should be placed on the record.

Australian membership of South-east Asia’s leading geopolitical architecture would make more sense, in the future, and in the regional political circumstances that might well arise on the coattails of Chinese instead of American hegemony, than metaphorically sailing Australia round the world and anchoring it in the Atlantic in the middle of the New Anglosphere, as some Australians apparently would like.

Der Dummkopf

THE Commonwealth Games, a quadrennial sporting festival held among the countries that in long-ago days were jewels in the British imperial crown, and which have recently finished at the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, provided the country’s leading former fish and chip shop proprietor with yet another opportunity to embarrass herself.

Two Indians won shooting medals at the games. According to Senator Pauline Hanson, she of the burka ban farce in the Australian parliament’s upper house in August last year, this was unsurprising since Indians were Muslim and Muslims do this sort of thing (shooting) for a living. She said this on Sky News television, the station of choice for those with towering intellects.

There are many Indian Muslims, but they constitute 14.2 per cent of the population. Hindus are the majority, totalling 74.3 per cent. It was possible, and indeed would be unremarkable if this had been so, that both Indian medallists were Muslim. But they weren’t, as their names would make abundantly clear to anyone even lightly briefed on the sub-continent, such as (even) an Australian fringe politician. The male winner was a chap called Jitu Rai. The female – she’s only 16 – was Manu Bhaker. For the record the men’s silver medallist was Australian Kerry Bell. He’s also neither a Muslim nor a terrorist in training.

Expeditionary Notes

WE’RE in Ubud again, as we write, with a visiting Australian friend who was last in Bali shortly after that dove got back to the Ark with a twig. She notes that things have changed. She enjoyed our drive up to Ubud from the Bukit the other day. It didn’t quite teach her any new words, but the form and expression of them was something of a novelty.

We’ve dined – again – at Kagemusha, the little Japanese garden restaurant at Nyuh Kuning, and the girls went shopping and dropped into the Diary’s favourite Monkey Forest Road café, The Three Monkeys, for a cooling drink. It’s hot work toting the totes.

Tomorrow we’re off to Candi Dasa. That’s a 57-kilometre drive which Google Maps told us today would take an hour and forty minutes. We’ll see tomorrow how long it actually takes to shift by road from Tegal Sari in Ubud to Bayshore Villas at Candi Dasa.

Tomorrow night it’s live jazz at Vincent’s. Pianist Nita Aartsen and her trio are on the bill. They’ve just performed at the closing night of the Ubud Food Festival.

Get It On

WE had a little note from Clare Srdarov the other day, telling us that An Evening on the Green is on again. This one’s on Apr. 28, at Hatten Wines in Sanur, with lots of wine, beer, games, raffles, auctions, and of course food trucks and bars. There’s music too, from four bands: Kim Patra, Muara Senja (from Ceningan), Eastern Soul and Linga Longa. Entry is by pre-purchased tickets only (Rp.200K a pop) and funds raised will go to BIWA, Solemen, Rumah Sehat and Trash Hero Sanur. Hatten’s technical adviser Jim K’alleskè, who also goes by the moniker Blue Cat Jimmy, was at last year’s show in his party hat as well as his Hatten one. This one should be a good gig too.

Chin-chin!

Fair Sets You Off

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

The Cage, Bali

Saturday, Mar. 31, 2018

 

 

LAND of the fair go, mate! That’s what they say. Hector’s amanuensis got into trouble during the week, because he’d dared to write about a friendly little warning he got not to diss the Aussies, over this and that (and in Barnaby Joyce’s case, possibly the other, though this wasn’t directly canvassed). He’s an immigrant to Australia, you see, Hector’s helper.

We’re a precious little mob, sometimes, we Aussies. The Bushwhacked Brigade has its moments. Anyway, never mind. It’s all water under the bridge, or would be if they hadn’t sold already off all the water in the Darling River to people to profit from and then avoid paying tax.

There are far more important things to talk about where Australia’s reputation is concerned. Two Australian friends of ours who were on holiday in India when the news of the Cape Town Test match ball tampering came out told a little story that puts some redeeming points on the scoreboard. When a party of Brits in the hotel restaurant wished them a cheery good morning at breakfast, they replied: “We’re Australian. We cheat at cricket.”

We don’t know how it went from there – they didn’t say – but we expect the omelette was scrambled. No one would have tampered with it, of course, even though India is a cricketing country. Most people have better manners and the ethics and morality to go with them. But it’s not nice being a laughing stock.

The fair-go Aussies have done it before. That infamous underarm bowling incident in the 1981 one-day international against New Zealand was puke-worthy. This week, after the ball-tampering affair in the Cape Town Test match against South Africa – they were either mad or stupid, take your pick – three Australian players including the captain were sent home in disgrace. They have since been seeing weeping in public. Sheesh! Breaker Morant (the Australian officer executed by a British firing squad for killing Boer prisoners during the South African war) did it better, at least in the Australian movie about him. “Shoot straight you bastards. Don’t make a mess of it.”

Part of the problem with modern international level sport, as others have pointed out, is that it has become big business, a competition for audience and advertising, a process that prefers the pecuniary benefits of colour and movement ahead of sporting spirit that risks being boring. It was always going to end in tears. The people like bread and circuses. The Roman emperors understood that very well. They always got sell-out crowds to the annual Coliseum Challenge Cup even though everyone knew the result would be rigged: invariably it was Lions 10, Christians 0.

But here’s the bottom line: If you can’t play the game to win fairly, then don’t play at all: cede that honour to those who will.

Easter Message

THE Diary was out getting the messages on Friday – a note for our Aussie friends who think everyone from Britain is English: that’s Scottish for shopping – and felt in need of refreshment, so we dropped in at Tempoe Doeloe on Sunset Road in Kuta for a nice es campur.

There was an eclectic crowd within, seriously eating lunch. It was after Friday prayers for Muslims, who would have been reminded during these that the day was Wafat Isa al-Mahdi. That’s Good Friday for Christians, for whom the day marks the same death: that of Jesus Christ, the foundational figure of Christianity, Isa ibn Maryam, in Islam the precursor to Mohammad, the Mahdi (Messiah) and the most mentioned person in the Quran.

The tables were mixed, in some cases not just by placement but also by diners. The white caps of Hajis – those who have made the Haj to Mecca – and Hijabs of the women mingled with the interpretative Western attire of Christian Indonesians, along with loud chatter and lots of smiles and laughter. This is a picture of Indonesia that many in the West don’t get, either literally or figuratively.

The es campur was delicious, by the way.

Chat Time

JEWEL Topsfield, who is settling back into four-seasons-a-day Melbourne after her three-year stint as the Fairfax media group correspondent in nicely tropical Indonesia, was in Perth this week to give a talk at an event organised by the Australia Indonesia Business Council. We couldn’t be there, though we should have liked to go along. It’s always fun to catch up with Topsfield.

Direct interpretation of events – it’s a crucial function of journalism, and the most likely to cause argument – provides essential intelligence for those who are engaged in any enterprise. The relationship between Australia and Indonesia is far more important south of the Timor Gap than it is north or east or west of it. This is something too few people understand.

Sure as Eggs

A LOVELY Dutch friend who was recently our houseguest left some welcome Easter gifts for us. We’ve done the right thing and kept them for tomorrow, Easter Sunday. They comprise stroepwafel and wickedly rich Belgian chocolate eggs.

Since we are Notas (None Of The Above in terms of religion) it might seem strange that we mark Easter in any way. Of course it’s a Christian festival, and we honour that at one remove. But like many such rites, its timing was borrowed – long ago so it’s no longer a live issue – and in the case of Easter, it was borrowed from the ancient pagan Spring rites of what is now known as Europe.

It’s a fertility thing, really, so it’s fun. It has to do with budding plants and blossoms, the promise of summer fruit, and the return to practicality, with warmer weather, of the chance of rumpy-pumpy.

There’s a Thought

JADE Richardson, who is by way of being The Diary’s favourite facilitator of writing talent – she is also a fine lunch companion – and who has just run the latest in her series of classes in Ubud, posted a little note today which was a much needed antidote to the inchoate quibbles that have otherwise intruded into our week. Here it is:

“Ah… the way it works… so exquisite! Creation, maintenance and transformation laid out before me in the art of fallen flowers. A parting gift from the nest from which I taught this week… and there, rebirth, tucked away at the heart of things. Life is eloquent.”

It certainly is.

And here’s what she was talking about:

PHOTO: Jade Richardson | Facebook

 

Chin-chin!

 

We Have Been Warned

Sunday, Mar. 25, 2018

 

 

SOMETHING happened the other day that caused me to think deeply about the political direction Australia is taking. It was a disturbing incident; it was nothing to worry about personally, but it gave me pause. It did so especially because it came in the course of an exchange of views – by email – with someone I’ve known for a long time.

It was this: I should be careful in my criticism of Australian domestic security issues, since I was an immigrant, and it didn’t matter how long I’d been a citizen.

It’s true that I am an immigrant. I arrived in Australia early in 1971. I was fully formed by that stage – I had just turned 27 – and was thus not fit for moulding to the local matrix except by consent and (I have to confess) peripherally. I was, and still am, British, though I acquired Australian citizenship by declaration in 1972. There was no hoopla involved in such a decision then, neither pledges of allegiance nor hands on hearts; nor flag-waving. It was just a bit of paper: just as I wanted; nationalistic hyperbole has always alarmed me. It’s perfectly possible to be patriotic without turning out with the mob.

So, to set out the scene more fully: I’ve been an Australian citizen for longer than the half of today’s population aged under 45. Half of them wouldn’t pass the apparently nascent, unpleasant Australian Birther test, since they were either born overseas or one or both of their parents were.

Peter Dutton, the Home Affairs minister who is leading the charge towards making Australia even less relevant to the world than it already is, was two months old when I arrived in Australia, and he was two years old – just off rusks – when I became a citizen.

But I’m an immigrant. And because of this I should modulate any comments I make about my adopted homeland.

When I arrived in Australia its population was 12,507,349, less than the number of Australians today aged 45 or under who have therefore been Australian for less time than me. (This year Australia’s population is estimated to be 25 million.) I found a country that was still identifiably British in many of its ways. This wasn’t a requirement of mine. It was just that it was pleasant and comfortable to be in a place where, while the Old World shadows might be getting longer and changing hue, certain principles remained in place with which I had grown up and was thoroughly familiar. You could call these liberal values, the distilled product of two centuries of social advance.

I first voted in Australia in 1972, the Whitlam election. I voted for Gough Whitlam, less for political motivation than because poor Billy McMahon was plainly a joke. I was living in Tasmania then. I shared a lunchtime giggle with Margaret Whitlam during the campaign. It was an unusually hot day in the Apple Isle and I remarked to her that it really felt quite like Australia. After voting in Launceston on Dec. 2, 1972, I went trout fishing in the central highlands with friends. It snowed on us. Ah, Tasmania! Beautiful one day, English the next.

In 1973, I moved to Queensland. I lived there, except for three years in Papua New Guinea, for 32 years until 2005 when we moved for family reasons to Western Australia (and part-time in Indonesia). I served in the Army Reserve, perhaps poorly according to some, though I’d be entitled to a medal for turning up if I wanted one. I don’t. I worked in the national media and in state and federal politics. Nothing I did ever indicated to me that I was anything other than “an Australian” – just one of the growing number of Girts on the Big Gibber, surrounded by warm seas and buoyed by membership of an inclusive and caring community.

But I’m an immigrant, and should therefore be careful about what I say and write. Perhaps the warning was intended kindly – it came from an old mate, after all – but it was a sickening shock. And I’ve thought about it for a day or so and now I’m writing this.

I should be careful? After 46 years of being as dinky-di as I’ll ever be, because some flat-footed politicians mightn’t like what I say about policies of being beastly to Foreigners Not From The Anglosphere or Certain Other Currently Favoured Places? It might be “noticed” – by the Stasi perhaps, oh no, that police state’s gone now; by the Gestapo maybe, no, same difference; by ASIO or ASIS then, or the Border Farce, though surely they’ve got better things to waste their time on – that as an immigrant I’m not entitled to full free speech because I’m not a real Aussie. Geddoutofit!

Australia might have doubled its population in 46 years, but at 25 million it’s only 2 million people larger than the city of Shanghai. It’s smaller than California and Texas in the U.S.A. Even Madagascar’s got more people.

On these figures an “Australian Birther” movement is a risible exercise (demographically I mean: it might play to parochially perverse local politics) and socially it’s an excrescence. Or to put it even more plainly, it’s a sick joke.

If you don’t like it here, go home, is a favourite line among exclusivists and (occasionally) of politicians and political activists under pressure. But I am home. I vote in the federal electorate of Curtin. And I won’t be shutting up.

Drawing the Line 1

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

The Cage, Bali

Saturday, Mar. 24, 2018

 

A PHOTO appeared yesterday – we saw it in the social media, which is a thing these days – of a packed crowd, said to be more than 3,000, though numbers are always difficult to estimate, of incoming passengers waiting to get through customs at Ngurah Rai International Airport. Someone noted that it indicated Bali was returning to normal.

Sadly that’s the case if it wasn’t just a one-off snafu (though come to think of it, those are pretty normal events too). The defence that airport arrivals holdups are standard everywhere these days, when as one airline puts it as a pitch, everyone can fly, is an easy cop-out. Los Angeles is a horror story, though that has more to do with the funk and wrangle of American security requirements than raw numbers. LA is not alone. Amsterdam has far queues too, and other places; and closer to home, Sydney and even Perth can be a pest if the boyos are working that day.

However, Bali’s numbers are not on the gross side of the ledger, and most of the arrivals are starting their holidays. Pissing people off before they’ve even got out of the airport is not good PR. There are peak arrival and departure times for airlines everywhere too, naturally and understandably.

Someone needs to do some homework.

Drawing the Line 2

ADRIAN Vickers, the Sydney-based Australian academic who is so far from being a stranger to Asia that he’s almost part of the furniture in Indonesia, has had a little gripe about yet another reference to “spring” in relation this time to an upcoming art exhibition in Jakarta. We shall entertain no suggestions that he is a pedant on this score, since we share his partisan belief in accuracy. The southern hemisphere autumnal equinox was this week, on Mar. 21, Wednesday.

Vickers says this reference indicates that geography is not a strong suit in the Indonesian education curriculum. No contest. It isn’t anywhere, of course, but let’s not spoil a good story.

It might just be possible (if you forget that the equatorial zones don’t actually have any seasons other than hot and dry or hot and wet) to stage an event in the spring at this time of the year in, say, Medan or Manado. They’re north of the Line (that equator thingy) and therefore in the Northern Hemisphere.

Jakarta is not. Neither is Bali, for that matter, where some of the more challenged touristic and retail entrepreneurs insist that at this time of year we’re heading into “summer”. As someone else noted: This isn’t Euramerica, despite what the media and assorted other ignoramuses seem to think.

Back to the Future

THE tribulations of white South African farmers are unfortunate, though they were probably inevitable in the long process of change that had to follow the historic end of whites-only rule in the country nearly 30 years ago now, and the dismantling of the horror of its internal repression under apartheid.

The government of the republic – under its new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who took over in February from Jacob Zuma, who is now facing criminal charges for exemplary personal wealth acquisition – proposes to expropriate white-owned farms, saying that a sin was committed when the country was colonised. Many sins have been committed, throughout history, by strangers who suddenly turn up at your door (metaphorically speaking) and steal your land. The peoples of eastern, central and western Europe had similar problems in the past with successive waves of Vandals, Huns and Tartars – and then the Ottomans – and so should feel some sympathy for the Xhosa, Zulu and other peoples of South Africa.

It’s for South Africa to devise and implement national policies, though the rest of us are free to assess these for what they are, and say so. The cause of the white farmers, however, is damaged by the history of Boer expansion and settlement. They were originally Dutch-speaking, though the modern language is Afrikaans, a highly modified derivative of Dutch. White supremacist practices were looked at askance even in the colonial era, though until very late in the piece only on a tut-tut basis by the British who had become the colonial masters.

It’s perhaps not widely known that racial exclusion policies in (British, English-speaking) Natal were modelled on those of the Australian colony of Queensland before federation and that, later, apartheid itself drew inspiration and some of its repressive mechanisms from Australia’s appalling treatment of its Aboriginal peoples. So when Australia’s home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, calls for white South African farmers to be rescued by “other civilised countries” (code for “white”) he is committing an egregious offence.

South Africa is in many respects a lawless country, a place where the competing requirements of its distinct population groups often create trouble. The immigrant Nigerian gangs of Johannesburg are a later case in point. The national murder rate is very high, and some of the victims of this epidemic are, naturally enough, white farmers. It is beyond doubt that there is a racial motive behind some black killings of whites. There are reasonable arguments to suggest that any white South African farmer, who wishes to leave, should be given that opportunity, and go to Australia in some instances, along with the many other people elsewhere whose claims the Australian government knows very well are much more dire and far more urgent. (Though we should note that the English-speaking South African white community is much reduced these days. Many among it had British citizenship or access to it. Boer farmers whose ancestors lived in South Africa for 400 years have no other country of automatic refuge.)

The Dutton proposal for special visas, however, needs to be seen in the context of domestic political arguments within the ruling Liberal Party. There is a move in Australia to harden the “right” of politics – a ridiculous term these days but we’re probably stuck with it – and it is almost inevitable that this will split the Liberal Party. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is very far from being “right”. The proposal also insults South Africa – at least diplomatically – and runs the risk of turning Australia back into the anachronism it once was and for which some of its politicians apparently pine.

Perhaps they should too should look at an atlas, as equatorially and seasonally challenged Indonesians should. If any among Australia’s irredentists on the right are able to multi-task, they could examine their consciences at the same time.

And Now, a Giggle

Some of the foregoing is rather heavy, so here’s a lighter moment to finish up with.

With thanks to our inveterate collector of engaging ephemera, Philly Frisson.

Chin-chin!

Straight to the Point

HECTOR’S DIARY

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

The Cage, Bali

Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018

 

IT’S magic what you can do these days with a talking smart phone. The other day we had to drive into Denpasar – a strange bit of it with which we are unfamiliar – and it was a dream. All we had to do was follow the dulcet directions of the lovely lady map-reader who apparently inhabits The Diary’s Huawei and speaks to you with perfect diction and in very sound English. Possibly her name is not Joy, but nonetheless a joy she is.

It’s good too that as you inch along in south Bali’s dense traffic, threatened on all sides by even denser drivers, you can also see from your handy interactive map where your next major tailback is going to be. There’s no escaping it, generally, but at least you know it’s there. It’s a bit like how Lieutenant Colonel Custer might have found himself unhappily pre-advised if he’d bothered to send scouts out ahead of his cavalry column as it trotted up the Rosebud. He could have sworn pre-emptively himself, too, then.

Encore du Vin

HAVING a French friend has always been lovely, as we’ve noted before. The French are often much more interesting than Anglos, and that’s not just because the expressive nature of the language and French culture adds to the joie de vivre.

We’re fortunate, as we’ve also noted previously, to have a good friend who lives in the French style at Petulu near Ubud, in a villa in which astonishingly we are welcome visitors. Even her cats speak French, with a meow of course, and in fact they appear to be trilingual. They understand “Non,” “No,” and “Tidak,” though of course, being cats, they pretend they don’t, or that they haven’t heard you, or that plainly you have directed your latest vocalised imperative to someone else. If pressed upon a particular point, each affects insouciance in the face of unwanted instruction that is both typical of the feline community and a joy to watch: “Moi? Sûrement pas!”

Another benefit of long weekends in a French ambience is the availability of wine and cheese and the cultural necessity to consume these victuals in more than micro-measurable quantities well into the evening and in fact well past the time when your calèche has turned into a citrouille (and you’ve given up worrying about that silly glass slipper anyway).

Lost Their Tackle

THE Indonesian agriculture ministry and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have designated four areas in Indonesia for pilot projects to tackle the spread of zoonotic diseases such as rabies, anthrax and avian influenza, and emergent ones, that normally have animal hosts but can infect humans. There’s another zoonotic disease of deep concern, plague, which is endemic in parts of Central Java, including Boyolali, one of the areas nominated for study, and in East Java, but that’s long been under strict control measures – including effective rubbish control and disposal – and fieldwork to keep an eye on infection levels in rodents.

The four areas in the new study are Bengkalis in Riau, Ketapang in West Kalimantan, Boyolali in Central Java and Minahasa in North Sulawesi. “We select areas based on the risks and the state of medical infrastructure and the commitment of regional administrations,” says the FAO’s Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) Indonesia’s Andri Jatikusumah.

Bali isn’t on the list. It lost its tackle over rabies when, after international efforts following the 2008 outbreak gave it a great start, it all became too hard for the provincial and local governments. It’s not only in Bali where foolish politics, conflicting priorities (all those Kijiangs and Fortuners) and administrative ennui combine to derail all sorts of things. Bureaucracies everywhere have dreadful trouble with dogs that eat their homework.

Cina Bali

WE’VE just read a really interesting feature in The South China Morning Post, about the symbiosis between Chinese and Balinese cultures. We’d recommend it as reading for anyone who is interested in anthropology, as well as the many who fear that Balinese culture will ultimately be swamped by the tsunami of profane banality that is modern day Indonesian money power.

Among other things, it makes the point that Agama Hindu Dharma – Bali’s unique religion and culture – is an accretion of Hindu, Buddhist and animist beliefs. It is a naturally accepting belief system, not a religion that is hidebound by a book. The point in this instance is that the Chinese Indonesian writer who is the subject of the interview felt no sense of being an outsider when she was growing up in Bali. That ridiculous predisposition in the minds of others only came to her notice when she went to Jakarta to study. At home in Bali she was Cina Bali, properly just part of the human landscape. Off the island, she was “Cina!” or worse, “Amoy”, presumptive and frankly threatening accusations of difference. She was not pribumi: she was an outsider.

The Chinese have a very long history in Bali, as do Chinese communities in other parts of Indonesia. But, here, where for all the set nature of Hindu Dharma religious observance and cultural practice, there is a long tradition of accretion, of incorporating symbolism and articles of faith from elsewhere, a formal veneration of ancestors, and wide acceptance of the benefits of otherness. The Chinese presence – around 14,000 people identify as Cina Bali – has become integral to the island’s culture, rather than something temporarily attached to it.

There’s a book in all of that, and one’s apparently in the works. It should be an anthropological feast.

As We Were Saying

AMID some hoopla, the authorities some days ago downgraded the alert status for Mt Agung, noting that while volcanic eruption was still occurring, there was less pressure within the mountain’s core and therefore less risk of a powerful eruption. The mountain answered that, partly in the affirmative, within a matter of hours. It staged an eruption that sent ash 1,500 metres into the air above the 3,000-metre summit. There was light ash fall from Amlapura to Tulamben on Bali’s eastern coast.

On figures from Feb. 13 from 103 evacuation posts – down 43 from the previous day – there are still 10,890 evacuees registered. More than 6,000 people had left the evacuation camps since the alert status was lowered from IV to III and the exclusion zone was reduced to a four-kilometre radius. Residential numbers high on the volcano show 602 people live within the four-kilometre radius, 986 within five kilometres, and about 17,000 within six kilometres.

But the emergency is not over. This is not the time for anyone to drop any balls.

Festivities

WE had an opportunity while in Ubud to chat with Janet DeNeefe, over sparkling water served at Honeymoon Cottages in Jl. Bisma, about this year’s writers and readers’ festival – it’s in October and is the fifteenth – and the 2018 Ubud Food Festival, which is in April. It was an interesting chat. We’ll come back to the UWRF, at some length, in another forum in a little while. Meanwhile the food festival program is now online. Mouths may now officially water in anticipation.

It’s the Ethics, Stupid!

AS a rule, we avoid too closely associating with the political news that filters out of Australia. It’s generally banal and – unless it’s about something that directly affects you – rather pointless. Scoring political points is for others, trolls and the like, and those for whom partisanship is a way of life.

There are exceptions to this rule, and one such is upon us now, concerning the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, who is leader of the junior (but essential) branch of the coalition, the National Party. Joyce has made a sad, sorry, and farcical nonsense of his personal life, bedding and impregnating his staff media adviser and leaving his quarter-century-old marriage as a result. That, essentially, is a private matter. If it requires condign and clamorous judgment from outside the home he’s wrecked, this should come from those whose deepest wish seems to be to force their way into the private lives of others.

What actually matters is the ethical question as it relates to public office and expenditure of public funds. As Simon Longstaff of the Ethics Centre (in Sydney) has noted, it is here that Joyce has disastrously failed. For those offences, which are not those upon which one could litigate, he should go. He probably knows this but (another ethical lapse) has been resisting the concept of leaping off the gravy train.

The barnyard farce of Joyce’s personal life has brought forth an amendment to the ministerial code of conduct, which specifically bans sexual relationships with staff. The real scandal is that a ministerial code of conduct is deemed necessary in the first place. It’s clumsy and dangerous anyway, since it encourages those to whom demerit is a notional concept to take the view that something dodgy is OK if it’s not precisely disallowed in the code.

But the real bottom line is this: If you’re incapable of defining what’s right and what’s wrong, or worse, are unwilling to bother doing so, you’re not fit for any senior office, political or otherwise.

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Chin-chin!

Excrescences, Etc.

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his diet of worms

The Cage, Bali

Monday, Feb. 5, 2018

 

MANY foreigners come to Bali for its unique culture and some choose to live here. The people with whom one wishes to associate are in that cohort. Some may be misguided, but that’s OK. The flowers of Eastern mysticism are as open to misinterpretation as any shamanistic bloom. Bali is a great place to have your chakras fiddled with by itinerant foreign gurus with malleable morals. It’s a sort of “Eat, Love, Prey” thing. The preying is usually mutual, or at any rate consensual.

There are others, of a different class, who are here to gouge a buck and to take advantage of the brown envelope culture. Perhaps some among them occasionally reflect that they are fortunate to be in a place where they can practise their predilections, not all of them necessarily commercial, in an environment in which with the right connections you are rarely caught out. A few are possibly here because they couldn’t behave in their own societies as they can generally manage to here, or because they’d be in jail if they did.

It is this latter cohort that sometimes gets up one’s nose, especially when it involves public assertions (which have no basis in fact) of the selfishly acquisitive practices of others. One particular recent incident has got up ours. Normally you’d just ignore such dog-droppings, and the dogs that drop them. But sometimes you feel that you can’t. So, Terry Brockhall, formerly of Brisbane, Queensland, and presently of Dalung, Bali, this one’s for you, mate.

Perhaps he was drunk or otherwise intellectually incapacitated when last week he posted (on the Bali Expats Facebook group) his intemperate, litigious and profoundly incorrect assessment of what someone who has been at the forefront of obtaining funds to assist the thousands of Balinese volcano evacuees had actually done with the money. A good rule of thumb for civilised existence is to subject your own subjectivity to rigorous analysis before you mouth off.

If Mr Brockhall would like to discuss this with us, he’s welcome to do so. Privately would be best, to avoid further embarrassing himself and his former business associates in Australia, who are surprised that he still lists on LinkedIn a company he left five years ago as his current place of employment. (The Diary hasn’t named the target of his misplaced ire. Her friends and associates know whom it is, and we’ll make sure they see this item.)

The Affliction

IT’S no surprise, though one might wish it were, that the Sharia authorities in Aceh have taken to publicly stripping and whipping transsexual people whom they are sure have angered Allah. It is a surprise, in contrast, and yet another sour one, that Indonesia Air Asia announced last week that its cabin crews on services to the autonomous Neolithic province would in future be all male.

There was another incident, last week, far away and in a different milieu, which was even more alarming. The Manchester Art Museum in Britain removed from display

Hylas and the Nymphs, the widely known painting , by John William Waterhouse. It is one of the most recognisable of the pre-Raphaelite paintings. Postcards of the painting were taken off sale in the shop.

In the painting’s place, a notice went up explaining that a temporary space had been left “to prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection”. Members of the public have stuck Post-it notes around the notice giving their reaction. Most of them are entirely predictable. They were a lot more polite than the Post-it note The Diary would be tempted to stick in the “temporary space.”

According to the gallery’s curator of contemporary art, Clare Gannaway, the aim of the removal was not to censor but to provoke debate. Tell that to the nymphs and wait for the derisive laughter in response. The work usually hangs in a room titled In Pursuit of Beauty, which contains late 19th century paintings showing lots of female flesh.

Perhaps the key to the whole horror of this act of non-censorship lies in Gannaway’s explanation – no doubt it is “feminist” by some empty-headed definition or other – that the room’s title was a bad one, as it was male artists pursuing women’s bodies, and paintings that presented the female body as a passive decorative art form or a femme fatale.

Still, it’s a device that would easily fix the hefty financial call on galleries to acquire, care for, insure and display works of art. They could just put post-it notes around the walls instead. That would be much cheaper and surely would offend no one except those who like to look at paintings and who in such circumstances would naturally no longer visit museums and galleries. The great unwashed, who do not do so anyway, would neither care nor notice: Planet Doh again.

The curiously disingenuous argument from the museum flows from the supposed pandemic of sexual mistreatment of minors. A mob has been raised on this matter and in the manner of such swarms is now out of control. There are perverts in any society. If those who fiddled with little boys and girls had been privately horsewhipped on discovery of their first offence, most would probably not have done it again. Madness is an illness. Perversion is an elective practice.

A friend who saw the report asked: “Has everyone gone quite mad? Is it something in the water?” To which we could only reply: “We have long suspected something of the sort; or random radons.”

Peak Piquancy

THE Ubud Food Festival, Janet DeNeefe’s highly successful annual spin-off from the well established Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, has won star billing from ABC, the Indonesian food company that produces Indonesia’s essential condiments, kecap manis and sambal. Without these, no one’s food from his or her island home would be as piquant as it should be.

According to Dhiren Amin, who is head of marketing, Southeast Asia, at Kraft Heinz ABC, popularising Indonesian cooking and the archipelago’s diverse culinary traditions is a vision ABC shares with UFF, and this was a primary motive in the company becoming a presenting partner at the 2018 festival. And DeNeefe notes: “It’s a brand we all know and love, so it’s a perfect fit for our festival.” We agree. The Diary’s finely tuned taste buds are already in full anticipatory mode.

Corporate sponsorship is essential for any style of festival these days, so ABC’s move is as welcome as its spicy little bottles at the UFF table. The festival is from Apr. 13-15 this year – themed Generasi Inovasi – and will feature nearly 100 speakers, and their culinary delights.

There’s much more here 

Lying Doggo

THE volcano was quiet on Sunday. Literally. For the first time in a long while, no volcanic or resultant seismic activity was noted. Inevitably, this will result in those who believe their economic and political interests lie in assumptions that all is well seeing an opportunity to promote the idea that there is no emergency. To these people, we simply say this: Study the records, such as they are, of the lengthy and occasionally quiescent eruption of Mt Agung in 1963, and do not assume anything. Go with the volcano science, not political science.

Farewell, Friend

SOME who read The Diary will know the name: John McKenzie Keir. He was a fine gentleman, well known in the Australian commercial aviation sector. He was also our friend of more than two decades, and we were greatly saddened to learn, today, that he had left us. He died last Tuesday, the victim, finally, of the leukaemia with which he was diagnosed twenty-two years ago. Latterly other opportunistic agents of fatality had joined the assault upon him, and he succumbed.

Our association came about because his wife and our Companion worked together in the now distant past, and hit it off rather well. They were often rowdy, in a ladylike way, and maintained that practice throughout the years following, during which they occasionally saw each other and misbehaved. Mr Keir and The Diary were sometimes peripheral to these celebrations, as Significant Others are supposed to be.

We last saw him on a flying visit to Brisbane in 2016 – the trip was to attend someone’s political birthday party – and saw a Lions v Swans match at the Gabba by benefit of his ALF fixation and his Lions’ membership. It was a good game on a mild Brisbane autumn afternoon and we all dined pleasantly together afterwards.

We’ll miss the enigmatic smile with which he handled cross-table repartee and his sommelier-standard handling of wine bottles with recalcitrant corks. His funeral is in Brisbane tomorrow. We shall toast him at dinner tonight – we hope in the style and with the panache on which he would surely insist – with warm thoughts for his lovely family.

Chin-chin!

Janet’s World

HECTOR’S DIARY

 

 

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

THE CAGE

Bali

Monday, Jan. 29, 2018

 

 

THAT’S Bali, of course, Janet DeNeefe’s home for more than thirty years. But like most Australians who live overseas or spend a great deal of time beyond the moat, she retains an umbilical link to her original homeland. So it was pleasing, though no surprise, to see her featured recently in Australia Unlimited, a web-based Austrade (i.e., official) site where good-thinking Aussies are given exposure.

DeNeefe, who trained as an art teacher before first coming to Bali in 1975 and returning forever the next year, runs restaurants and a guesthouse in Ubud, the little hill town now known as guru central, and started the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival after the 2002 Bali bombings to contribute to the healing process. She’s written two books about Bali cuisine. This year’s UWRF, from Oct. 24-28, will be the fifteenth, though, sadly, we need to note that this may be volcano permitting. The fat lady has yet to sing. More recently DeNeefe added the standalone Ubud Food Festival to her stable. It’s from Apr. 13-15 this year and the full program will be out in mid-February.

In the nine-item Q&A on Australia Unlimited, she says Bali’s a magical place and she’s lucky to have made a life here. It’s hard to argue with the theory that Bali is magic. DeNeefe has some very sensible advice for foreigners who come here to live and work: get with the culture.

Trumpet Voluntary

DONALD Trump made a good speech at the annual Davos gabfest, just over for another year. It was rational, it had a theme and held to it (his speechwriter must have been pleased) and it was not delivered as if he were addressing a campaign crowd in, say, Allentown, PA. That is not to say it was a good speech in the other sense. He proclaimed that America First did not mean America Alone, and then laid out linked economic and security proposals that functionally ensured the U.S. voice will be a singular one, especially where China is concerned.

Economically, it was an unreconstructed capitalist speech. The bulk of the world – sensibly – has long ago shifted focus back towards some sort of planned economy, having finally realised that uncontrolled capitalists and egregious oligarchs don’t actually give a toss about anyone except themselves and their offshore untaxed wealth. Creating more billionaires isn’t economic progress; it’s a function of social failure.

In terms of global security, everyone from the Chinese down thinks that the nutbar in Pyongyang should be corralled into something resembling common sense. How to do that without having a nuclear war is the central issue. America’s sheriff-exceptionalist predilections won’t help there. They won’t help with Iran either, where the regime (while unpleasant) is principally concerned with regional issues – the Gulf, primarily – and not with the sort of global power play that so worries certain Americans with leader of the free world syndrome.

The full text of the speech is here. It’s worth reading.

All A-Flutter

THE happy folk at Ausflag, the outfit that keeps coming up with alternatives to the national flag that Australia has had since 1901, chose Australia Day (Jan. 26) to produce yet another. If you’re on a hiding to nothing, as executive director Harold Scruby surely knows by now, another biff around the ears doesn’t matter. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who in his republican days was a director of Ausflag, knows that too.

Australia is a monarchy, or more accurately is a crowned republic. Its head of state is the governor-general but its sovereign is the Queen of the United Kingdom (as well as concurrently Queen of Australia and other places; the poor woman wears many crowns). The Australian flag is perfectly sound. Its origin as a defaced British blue ensign is immaterial a century later, when the empire of which Australia was part is no more. Just to note: defaced is not an insult; it describes its heraldic status.

Canada, also a crowned republic, has a striking and simple flag that does not carry a reference in its upper left quarter to the country’s long ago British colonial birth. It also avoids in any way looking as if it might be some sort of corporate banner. This is the way forward for Australia, when eventually it is more widely understood that the British flag in the corner of its own is arcane and misplaced. For that reason the latest Ausflag offering is worthy of consideration: it retains the essential identifying elements of the existing flag – the Southern Cross and the seven-point Star representing the six (still sovereign) states plus the federal and territory elements – while dispensing with the Union Flag.

We’ve probably told this story before – it’s a good one and always worth a giggle – about an occasion many years ago in the U.K. on family matters, when The Diary was driving a party of British relatives to a funeral in England. They were Scottish relatives so humour was present. For some ecclesiastical or other reason the churches that day were flying the Union Flag. The Diary mentioned, on passing one that was more prominently fluttering in the breeze than most, that there before us was a large corner of the Australian flag. There was a moment’s silence. And then there were loud guffaws.

That wouldn’t happen with this one:

Look Mum … No bars

Volcano Casualty

THE drone that the excellent Indonesian volcanology boffins had been using to provide essential photography of the crater of Mt. Agung in eruption, and to collect gas emissions from it for analysis, crashed on operations last week. That’s a great pity, since its missions provided opportunities for real-time analysis of the eruptive state of the mountain.

The accident demonstrates the dangerous conditions that exist around the summit, which isn’t a place for people to hang around, or even to fleetingly visit. The Stromboli-type eruption on Jan. 19 showed that very plainly.

Well Deserved

MARGARET Barry, the Australian philanthropist who is the public expat face of the Bali Children Foundation, was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the Australia Day Honours List published last Friday. It’s well deserved recognition of her work over 15 years to educate Balinese children so that they can prosper in their lives and help others by doing so. Barry notes that the BCF is a venture in which many people help, unsung.

Veteran scribbler Mungo MacCallum wrote this week that he wondered whether an Australian honours system was appropriate. He’s always been a contrarian. He did make a good point that the OAM is widely, if unfairly, viewed as the also-rans list. An additional grade within the ranks might help fix that problem.

But the answer to his question of course is yes. As a scribbler, though, he most likely takes The Diary’s view of gongs, which is similar to that of Groucho Marx about clubs that might invite him to become a member. Writers are best when they adopt the obverse of the old argument that it’s better to be inside the tent, pissing out, rather than outside, pissing in. An establishment writer is a walking oxymoron.

Chin-chin!

Hot Rocks

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!