8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Category: Politics

Let Him Eat Cake

RICHARD LAIDLAW

Book Review

 

IT must be very difficult being a political satirist these days. So many politicians, to a man and woman, get underfoot with plots that would outdo a Goon Show episode and leave their writers wringing their hands in frustration: Why couldn’t we think of that?

So we owe a deep debt of gratitude to Griffith University historian professor Ross Fitzgerald and ABC broadcaster Antony Funnell for giving us the latest chronicle, the sixth, of the fanciful world of Professor Dr Grafton Everest. In 2015, Everest found himself Going Out Backwards. Apparently this difficult manoeuvre, performed with co-writer Ian McFadyen and shortlisted for the 2017 Russell Prize for Humour Writing, must have worked. In 2018 Everest has reappeared with another misadventure. Somehow this prompts fond remembrance of the Irish scaffolder who plunged from the thirtieth floor and was heard to suggest as he passed the fifteenth that it was OK so far.

These days, in the symbiotic worlds of populist politics and instant twitterdom, serious writers of farcical fiction face significant difficulties. In Australia, where Everest in So Far, So Good builds on his already established presence as the man who briefly held the balance of power in Senate and was premier of the state of Mangoland for ten days, and in Britain, he becomes an instant celebrity via a series of tweets of unsurpassed vacuity. They’re good landscapes for political vacuity, the crowned republic and the septic isle, sitting as they do right on fault lines between sense and nonsense. The earth moves frequently, creating significant shocks on the open-ended Rictus scale.

Several unpublished amateurs are in the mix there, operating on the shifting lines that no longer fully divide intelligent satire from unbelievable farce. There’s Australia’s latest revolving door prime minister, whose campaign bus which he has vacuously labelled with his ScoMo pitch runs around without him on board, because he has a busy schedule, you see, and lots of important things to do (like upset the Indonesians and a valuable trade deal in pursuit of a few extra votes in the Wentworth by-election that his party didn’t win anyway). He can’t waste time on the ground. He has to fly. Still, there’s a giggle in the thought that he’s labelled the very bus that he’ll almost certainly be going under, metaphorically, on Election Day.

Meanwhile his opponent Shorten (or is it Curly?) keeps his head down and some contentious policies under wraps. No point in taking fire if leading members of the other mob are running around all over the place offering themselves as targets. Besides, his political friend in NSW, the just departed opposition leader Luke Foley, has recently acquired public notoriety and Very Silly Boy status by letting his hands do the walking at Christmas drinks in 2016 and trying to avoid the consequences until – as was inevitable – someone on the other side, corrections minister David Elliott in this instance, poured a bucket on him under parliamentary privilege.

In these circumstances, the chroniclers of Everest have done a sterling job. In So Far, So Good, the good professor-doctor even becomes president-presumptive of the forthcoming Republic of Australia, by virtue of his instant further celebrity, a venally vacuous PM, a series of farcical incidents in Australia and Britain, and acquaintance with a smart robot whose real task is to spy on him but who covers himself in virtual glory by also baking cakes. Everest has a strict wife who rations everything from sex to comfort food. Many will sympathise with him in this predicament.

Among the walk-on characters in the latest misadventures of Professor Dr Grafton Everest is a large, assertive woman who was once a leading politician and is now Australia’s ambassador to the U.S.A., the U.N., Italy and the Vatican. A good gig if you can get it and you like Fifth Avenue and Milanese millinery. There are other vignettes that strike a chord for anyone well versed in Mangoland’s history and culture – one senior female academic, for example – and the labyrinthine nature and Byzantine ways of Canberra. People sometimes ask themselves if they miss this suspect bouillabaisse. The sensible among them are apt to answer no.

So Far, So Good – the title sounds like a lift from The Compleat Optimist– takes the reader on a manic ride around the commercially focused universities of the Neocon Age, through the drivel-strewn gulches of Western politics (where are the Apaches when you really need them?) and the obsession with eyes down, two thumbs technology, fear of outsiders and distrust of elites that misinforms modern dialogue.

As a certain British wartime ambassador to Moscow observed, in a report to the Foreign Office in London that he typed himself and which remained suppressed for fifty years – it noted the arrival of his new Turkish counterpart, Mustafa Kunt – in dark days one looks for little shafts of light from heaven. Fitzgerald and Funnell have provided one with Everest’s latest dispatches. Its cover is evocative too. It features a lovely illustration by Alan Moir, the Fairfax cartoonist, to whom the book is dedicated.

It’s now in my library. I’ve put it next to my volume of Collected Rants. It seems a very suitable prophylactic against the tsunamis of confected angst that otherwise threaten to submerge us.

So Far, So Good. By Ross Fitzgerald and Antony Funnell. Hybrid Books, Melbourne. Paperback and e-book. IBSN 978-1-925272-97-0 (p) | 978-1-925282-55-9 (e)

The Bludge Report

HECTOR’S DIARY

 

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

VASSE, Western Australia

Monday, Jul. 2, 2018

 

WE are, we’ve told friends, having a bit of a bludge. One of them very kindly said we deserved to do this. Many others, perhaps, just shrugged, Atlas-like or otherwise. Some others among them may have breathed a sigh of temporary relief. We’re aware that diarists can be a bit in your face sometimes.

But having a bit of a bludge is a very Australian thing to do. It’s one of the finest aspects of being a citizen of the land down under. Bludging has a long and honourable history in settler Australia. It may even trace its origins back to the day Captain Phillip got his boots muddy at Sydney Cove in 1788 and gave himself the next day off to recover.

It is fifty years since John Gorton, our personal favourite post-war Australian prime minister – Gorton was an honourable man who later voted himself out of office with his casting vote in a tied party room leadership challenge – bemused the British media when he arrived in London on an official visit. Someone among the small flock of hacks present asked him what he had come to Britain to do. Gorton cracked his engaging lopsided grin, a product of his war injuries, and said: “I’m here for a bit of a bludge.” This mystified the assemblage of Poms until it was translated for them. Then, we think, they not only understood, but also empathised. The true bonds of former empire were stronger then.

A little downtime helps to reduce the overburden of premium dross under which we have to live these days. And even if this is the depth of what passes for winter in the southwest of Western Australia, it works a treat. A change of climate is as good as a rest.

Black Hole

TELSTRA, Australia’s still formally protected telecoms utility, struggles to provide adequate IT service to many parts of the country. It’s a sizeable pebble, Australia, after all, though most of its 25 million people are huddled along the eastern seaboard. In the west, where people make an art form of feeling deprived by federation and policies designed (they claim) to advantage the big cities “over east”, it struggles even harder.

Vasse is a pleasant town near the major tourism centre of Busselton, on the edge of the Margaret River wine country. It is not remote, in any sense. But it is one of Telstra’s many black spots; a place where in IT terms service might sometimes be better spelled ecivres. Worse, it’s such a black spot that it’s really more of a black hole, like one of those intergalactic gravitational vortexes into which everything gets sucked and not even light can escape.

The Diary’s travelling modem, by which access may be obtained to the Internet without impacting on the data plans of one’s hosts, works brilliantly. Except in Vasse, where, not to be crude (hah!), an allegory comes to mind relating to the ephemeral habits of tarts’ couture. Still, we’re here for a bludge, as previously noted, so it really doesn’t matter terribly much. Except when it does. But then again, if that’s the case, there’s a measure of relief in just muttering, “Oh knickers!”

Batik On

WE chose to fly Bali-Perth this time with Batik Air, one of the local labels of the Malaysian-Indonesian Lion spinoff Malindo. It’s a good outfit and flies the latest Boeing 737 marques. It’s also dry, which might be a downer for some travellers, but who really needs to drink alcoholic beverages on a flight of less than four hours? Don’t bother answering. The question is rhetorical.

It’s cheap but full service, and with more legroom than you get in cattle class on other low cost carriers, who really should call themselves Packemin Airlines. It was our third time with Batik. And we’ll be back on board again.

Speaking of packing them in, we hear from travellers who have endured the new seventeen-hour Perth-London nonstop flights with Qantas – part of the grand plan to link bits of the Anglosphere without the distressing necessity to land even briefly in other bits of Gaia that so worry the tremblers – that if you’re down the back in QF’s sardine-tin 787s, it’s a very long time to spend with your knees up round your ears.

It’s a Con, All Right

NOT many people read Quarterly Essay. It’s published every three months, as perhaps its title might suggest to the mathematically astute, and it features writing that goes rather beyond the hundred words with pictures format that seems to attract the text generation. It’s a shining example of what Australian intellectual thought can actually offer, if anyone wants to bother.

In its latest issue, just out, the headline article is a brilliant deconstruction of Neoliberalism. Even if you don’t believe Neoliberalism is a con job by the oligarchs and others whose policy is to keep the proletariat under the heel, it’s a damn good read.

Foreign Affairs

MANY years ago, an editor of practical erudition for whom Hector had the privilege of working gave him a weekly foreign affairs column in his newspaper, and announced this at the daily news conference with a smile and a line that we’ve always remembered: “He has many of them,” he said. It wasn’t quite true, not unless you’re the sort of person who thinks many is any number above zero, that is. But never mind. Hector’s cachet was temporarily given extra glister. Of such things are undeserved reputations built and unlikely legends made.

Foreign affairs have always been our interest. We began that exercise long ago, in the country of our birth and in a pan-European fashion, though with a pre-EU (and certainly pre-Brexit) British cast, even if was not the then authorised one. It was better than trying to gauge the density of the fog and worrying about the fish and chips. Later, we thought at the time to the mutual interest of both parties, we transferred our spyglass to the antipodes and engaged the world with an Australian perspective. That was back in the days when the Anglosphere was a clubby sort of thing, a bit like the Freemasons without the goats, instead of a network of fear-filled foxholes in an alien world. Even these days, it’s still better, as well as more fun, than staring blindly at the back fence muttering about the perfidy of the government in forever failing to buy you the most expensive beer on the bar list.

So the advent late last year of Australian Foreign Affairs, a journal to be published three times a year by Schwartz Publishing Pty Ltd, was a welcome shaft of light from the heavens. Allan Gyngell, honorary professor at the ANU in Canberra, wrote in the inaugural issue an article headlined The Company We Keep. In it, he said this of Australia’s foreign affairs interests: “Australians need to see themselves as the actors, not the audience, in the drama of the changing world; to shake off that nagging fear of abandonment and replace it with confidence in our capacity to set our own goals and to understand the path we have to make, with others or alone, to get there. No one else can do it for us.”

Amen to that, we said silently to ourselves as we nestled in the warmth of early afternoon lamplight and the space heating mandated by the wintry weather in our present location.

Bali Bind

WE’LL be back in Bali on Jul. 12, if the schedule is adhered to and unless Mt Agung chooses that day to make yet another effusive demonstration of its power. A date with the limpid ripples of our favourite Bukit beach soon thereafter would be welcome. That will follow the adventure of switching on the hot water system at The Cage, a task that involves fiddling around in the midnight dark outside, so that pre-slumber showers can be taken without the bad language that accompanies cold ones.

Thereafter, Hector will be back to his regular regime of scribbling on local issues of note. We’ve kept his to-read folder up to date throughout, but we’re not entirely sure he’s actually read much of it. Still, he can catch up with all that on the evening flight back. It’s a dry one, after all.

Chin-chin

 

Barely Aware

 

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

THE CAGE

Bali, Monday, Jun. 4, 2018

 

THE practice among some western tourists here of going around in their beachwear well away from the beach has caused comment before, among the Balinese themselves though they are polite people and chiefly keep silent, and among some of the more sensitively inclined resident foreigners.

Contrary to the exhibitionist argument, it is not prudish to suggest that riding around clad only in a little string bikini is rude. It is not an elective option that anyone would choose who is not either dotty or self-obsessed or both. The Diary is not a prude, or exempted from the proclivity of that half of the human population in possession of an extra chromosome, to look at the sights. We do understand that this can alarm persons who are not thus genetically equipped, especially these days when you’re not really supposed to notice something lissom and very nearly naked.

But, thank goodness, boys are still boys even these days, or are for the most part, and those with good manners don’t make a nuisance of themselves.

There’s a general acceptance that in tourist areas, practically anything passes muster. Bars and nightclubs are where people misbehave, after all. That’s their purpose. A beachside bar is fine if you want to be cheeky and to let it all hang out. But the “tourist areas” are fairly closely defined, or should be. Sitting on a scooter on a traffic-jammed road wearing less than most Balinese would consider decent for underwear is simply rude. It’s also very stupid, because if you’re in an accident your two tiny little scraps of fabric won’t protect you from anything.

The same principle applies to men. Riding around bare-chested or in budgie-smugglers isn’t a good look anywhere, unless you’re a narcissist or are being paid to do a photo shoot. Despite the claims of some westerners that Bali’s unique culture is licentious and sexually explicit, an argument that is banally bolstered by references to bare-breasted village grannies, it’s not like that all. The culture does embrace a measure of eroticism and is the richer for this. But it is stylised in public performances and otherwise kept for the village or the home.

It has nothing to do with westerners who like to think Bali is just the place to come and get your gear off.

PHOTO: Snapped in a By-Pass traffic jam last week.

Er, Yer

IT was amusing to read recently that Bali’s legislators have turned their querulous collective minds to the matter of culturally appropriate architecture. Well, it would have been amusing, if, as usual and in the way of politicians everywhere, they hadn’t mistaken their target and fired a fusillade in the wrong direction.

They called on the state-owned operator of Ngurah Rai airport to ensure that infrastructure to be built largely on reclaimed land at the seaward end of the airport was culturally appropriate. Stuff with Balinese touches, they mean. It’s a utility area and moreover an airport, so architectural flourishes are probably unnecessary anyway. And they haven’t said a word about local opposition to further interfering with the tide line, which those with any acquired memories will remember was fairly disastrous in the area in the 1960s.

More to the point, if the legislators wish to ensure the future of Balinese glimpses in local architecture, they should turn their attention to the built environment outside the airport. It may be too late, which would be a pity, but for our money it would be really good if visitors exiting the airport on arrival were not encouraged to assume, by the vistas that confront them in the vast unplanned metropolis that is South Bali, that they’ve just landed in Jakarta; or back in it.

Read, Weep, Smile

AT the other end of Bali’s demographic, where real people live, or try to, and which sadly is a slide-rule and not a spirit level, the peripheral details that bother politicians and those who advise them are of little importance. This is something of which the writer and private spiritualist Jade Richardson reminds us in the latest post on her blog.

It’s about Made, who lives at Amed and whose commercial life is collapsing around him because his little beach hut hire point is ignored by the sort of tourists who chiefly come to Bali today. You should read it and weep. Then you should smile. Made would like that.

A thought reoccurs: It’s such a shame that theoretical Marxism and original Christianity long before it never really got off their starting blocks.

Island Life

THE former muse of Mengwi, the remarkable Susi Johnston, has resurfaced.  Remarkable is one adjective, ours; another is marvellous, a third indomitable and a fourth fabulous, for all of which references we are indebted to our spotter of ephemera, Philly Frisson, currently in Sydney. Johnston is living on another island. It’s smaller than Bali (and cooler) but it’s one where the right to occupy or dispose of property for which you have paid is a legal certainty. It also has properly engineered roads, effective policing, a functioning local government, and a few other benefits. It’s called Vashon Island and it’s in Puget Sound just off Seattle, on the northwest coast of the continental USA. It’s virtually within hailing distance of Canada, that pleasant country that is home to unarmed North Americans with health insurance.

Johnston is opening a gallery, Aspidistra, on Vashon Island, where her skills in interior design development and details, custom masterpiece furniture, furniture design, as an art advisor, and in art acquisition and specialist sourcing will surely be much sought. What a great outlet for quality Indonesian art and other cultural elements.

The grand opening is tentatively set for Jun. 16. We wish we could be there.

A Little Seasoning

THE Mulia, the concrete hotel and resort complex at the southern end of Geger Beach at Nusa Dua with occupancy rates that would make a confirmed recluse feel lonely, seems not to know in which hemisphere it is situated. It’s planning a huge adults-only party on Sep. 1, apparently to be called Rapture (will partygoers get beamed up?) and says it is destined to be an annual “end of summer” signature event.

The seasons don’t really matter in the tropical zone, especially to tourists, except insofar as to whether they’re wet or dry, but Bali is south of the equator. If anything, Sep. 1 would be the calendar start of spring and hence the end of winter.

Maybe we should pass the hat around and buy the Mulia a big globe as a decorative presence and educational tool. Perhaps they don’t care, but that big line round the middle of it is a dead giveaway.

So There!

A LITTLE game was going around Facebook recently, in which it was claimed the No. 1 song on the charts on your fourteenth birthday describes your life to come. We think it works.

The Diary’s song was It’s Only Make Believe. We’ve always believed that.

 

Chin-chin!

The Doolally Squad

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

The Cage, Bali

Sunday, May 20, 2018

 

 

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

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

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

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

Taking Fire

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

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

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

A Lovely Man

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

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

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

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

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

Name Games

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

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

Big Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

MEOWvellous

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

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

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

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

Chin-chin!

Off We Go

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

The Cage, Bali | Wednesday, May 10, 2018

 

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

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

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

Mount Up

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

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

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

Phoney Argument

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

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

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

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

The Germane German

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

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

Past Imperfect

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

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

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

Neanderthalistan

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

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

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

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

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

Heads Up

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

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

A Little Bit Rudy

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

 

Chin-chin!

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!

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!

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!

Goodbye and Thanks for All the Words

HECTOR’S DIARY

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Tasty and distasteful morsels from his regular diet of worms

 

THE CAGE

Bali

Monday, Jan. 15, 2018

 

WE’VE had to say goodbye to Jewel Topsfield, who has been the Fairfax media correspondent in Indonesia for three years. It’s one of those rotational things: people get posted in, and then they get posted out. Topsfield has returned to Melbourne, from whence she came, and will be replaced in some weeks’ time by her colleague James Massola. His brief will be wider: South East Asia, but Jakarta-based.

Those of us left behind, post-Jewel, might like to recall the old aphorism from the days of the (British) Indian Army: the soldiers never minded what their officers were like; they just wanted them to stay a long time. In that context, Topsfield is a very good “officer”. She was often in Bali – and is a delightful dinner companion, by the way – and reported far more widely than the shit-and-disaster round preferred by the tabloids and TV, providing her readers with a picture of Indonesia as it actually is.

Our personal favourite is the long interview she did with hard-line 2014 presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, at his hill country ranch in West Java, from which she elicited the information that he looks after the ants there, talks to them, and honours and seeks to protect their highly organised eusocial communities. It was a window into the soul of the real man.

She wrote at the weekend, in her farewell piece, that she had fallen in love with Indonesia, but didn’t really know when, except that it was early in the day. We all feel like that, those of us in the foreign community here for whom the value of humanity in all its rich kaleidoscopic intensity stands far above the business of making a buck. We don’t know, either, when our own cathartic moment was, but it was a very long time ago.

Topsfield relates one anecdote, about her taxi getting caught in floods in Jakarta and her taxi driver getting the giggles as the water crept higher and higher up the car. She said she couldn’t imagine an Australian taxi driver showing such comedic insouciance in such circumstances. We’ll have to pick her up on that, though otherwise her point is insightful. It was a long time ago, so she’s excused, but in floods in Brisbane in 1969 a Yellow Cab got washed into a fast-flowing creek. When rescuers reached it, the driver and his passengers were happily singing the Beatles’ latest hit song, Yellow Submarine.

Thanks for spending some time with us, Jewel.

Wholly Smoke and Mirrors

STATISTICIANS are very useful people. They tell us all sorts of things that would otherwise escape our attention. From the latest data delve by Bappenas, the office of national statistics, we see that cigarette consumption is the second largest contributor to poverty in Indonesia. Tobacco products are relatively cheap here, in contrast to many countries where governments have created huge revenue streams from horrific excise levels on cigarettes.

Smoking rates are declining globally – tobacco is credited with a range of health demerits that would put to shame all four horsemen of the apocalypse, and that oversold message is getting through – but in Indonesia, the smoking demographic is different.

It was interesting that the chief contributor to poverty in Indonesia, according to the statisticians, is rice consumption. Taken together, these two statistics point to costly policy failure by government, as much as anything else. Statisticians rarely measure such meaningful data.

’Tis the Season for Galoshes

THE monsoon is particularly strong in the archipelago this year, and it’s been very wet, as we noted last week. This has given us opportunities for laughter – on the old “if you know a better shell-hole, go to it” line from the Western Front in World War I – as well as a lot of practice at mopping. The Cage never leaks unless it’s raining.

One day recently we felt compelled to pen a little ditty offering advice to the Companion ahead of another maritime excursion to the shops. It went like this:

Get your galoshes, I said to my Squeeze,

It might be as well.

For this rain is heaven,

But we’re going to hell.

Grand Old Oprah

THERE’S something about celebrities. We have one as President of the United States at the moment, though in his case we should place celebrity in inverted commas and add a parenthetical notation (self-proclaimed). Now there’s another one apparently waiting to wait in the wings, in the person of television star Oprah, buoyed by her acquisition of a Golden Goose award.

It’s true that American politics is broken. It shares this condition with other Western democracies – including Australia’s – where the principles that have long underpinned representative legislatures are being stripped away by political chicanery, creeping official controls on people’s lives, and the perversion of democratic freedoms.

The answer in the American context wasn’t Hillary – the Democratic Party must take the rap for that miscalculation – but it most certainly wasn’t Trump, and it wouldn’t be Oprah. It will be found – eventually – in a revival of popular (not populist) principle. Perhaps we need Trump to show us the danger and rank incivility of political incontinence writ large. He may yet be there for two terms, kept in office by those he continues to dupe and others whose interests, some secret, that he really serves even if he doesn’t know it; though there seems to be a rising risk that he will tweet us all off in the interim. We’ll have to see.

In this context, it’s interesting that American governance seems to be on the cusp of beneficial reform – or at least be brought back into the paddock where Old Rationality used to prosper on true public service – by an observable upswing in female interest in politics. The neo-cons and the oligarchs and patriarchs won’t like this, since women are consultative and consensual, definitely not into dick contests, and can generally spot a shyster or a nutcase very quickly. Neither will the so-called heartland of Middle America, where the “No chicks” demographic rules, the one that helped undermine Hillary Clinton’s appallingly bad 2016 campaign. So it may be a long haul. But – Wagons roll!

Fingerprints? Check!

ONE of the delights of being a temporary resident of Indonesia, for Indonesian purposes, is the annual check on your fingerprints as part of your twelve-month visa extension. This requirement is not because the immigration authorities believe that fingerprints change. Well, we don’t think this is the reason, but you never know. It’s because their data storage capacity is too small to store all the data they need. And they need lots of it, several times over.

Well, that and the bureaucratic impossibility of anyone actually finding out how to access data to check. It’s that sort of place. Recordkeeping is high on the list of essentials, but finding records afterwards is apparently a problem.

Still, at least it’s now an electronic digit on the pad affair. There’s no more nasty ink that won’t come off for absolutely ever.

Distaff Dystopia

THE delectable science of sentient flirting has been under siege ever since information technology gave us the human equivalent of the infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of keyboards that might by chance recreate all the works of Shakespeare. At least in the old days you could ignore the locker room louts. Now they take selfies and tweet about their self-proclaimed prowess. But hey, we’re not talking about the President of the United States here.

Instead, we’re referencing French actor Catherine Deneuve and the 99 other French women who have caused a storm by suggesting that the #metoo campaign – the offspring of Harvey Weinstein, the disgusting (and now unloved, since the open secret is no longer even secret) Hollywood mogul, and others who abuse women as if by right – could result in the rise of a New Puritanism. It’s a complex debate that we’ve blogged about here, wearing our other hat.

It’s an issue in Indonesia too, and very broadly so, though in a different setting and context. The winked-at debasement and marginalisation of women must stop, everywhere. Now would be good.

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Chin-chin!