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!

Mountain Views

HECTOR’S DIARY

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

His regular diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

THE CAGE

Bali

Jan. 8, 2018

 

IT was rather lovely, we thought, that Mt Agung should choose to see out the old year and bring in the new with another minor eruption. It placed immediately in perspective the claims of various luminaries in these parts, from all points, including the risible foreign guru-seer sector, that the mountain and its risks had been blown out of all proportion. It sort of said that you shouldn’t argue with the precise though (like all science) still imperfect discipline of volcanology, which is a very sensible position.

Two Australians helped bring in 2018 in Bali by re-proving the theory that there’s nothing much more stupid than dumb Aussies with a death wish. The gentlemen concerned had climbed Mt Agung and told the police, who then detained them for having done so, that they hadn’t heard of the exclusion zone. Perhaps it is time to introduce an IQ test for adolescent tourists (no upper age limit: adolescence seems to last a lifetime in some people). It should be noted that French and German idiots pulled the same stupid stunt, so it’s obviously not just a cerebral version of the Coriolis effect.

Noah, Goer

WE spent the weekend at Petulu, near Ubud, the village famous for the white herons that live in the area. It’s a favourite spot of ours, for the natural environment of course, but mostly because a lovely French friend lives there. She likes long conversations and coffee, which is always an unbeatable combination.

The drive up from the Bukit on Friday was as uneventful as you could wish, if in Bali; the FPM (frisson per minute) rate seemed marginally lower than usual, and much of the two-hour, fifty-kilometre, trip was not as slow as it sometimes can be. It was still the usual strain on the brain, of course, and a useful test of your driving reaction times. Beneficially for several motor-scooter riders, ours apparently remain within acceptable tolerances. A particular difficulty at one point – it was at Lodtunduh, if any of the relevant authorities are interested in enforcing the laws against underage and unlicensed riding and that which makes wearing helmets mandatory – was that a whole squadron of sky-larking schoolboys on the way home from their regular brush with basic education chose that day to play loony tunes. It would have been fun to shout at them, but they wouldn’t have taken any notice; and anyway, as foreigners who might get voluble here are frequently advised, it’s culturally undesirable to point out local idiocy. Apparently, voicing such perceptions demonstrates a colonial mind-set.

As we approached and prepared to skirt Guru Central – the new park-out /shuttle-bus-in / no parking arrangements there are going as well as anything organised by Gianyar regency’s department of bright ideas ever does, it seems – the sky darkened dramatically and a stiff breeze blew up. Shortly thereafter, the heavens opened. We mean, even worse than usual. Drainage and road engineering also being among the list of essential skills not applied in Bali, the road running up to Petulu swiftly became a raging torrent running down. We’re not sure, but we think we spotted Noah and his Ark trying to stay their course descending the rapids. Though it might have been just another Deadly Yellow truck aquaplaning with bald tyres and no brakes.

Fortunately we know the road and where its chief hidden hazards lie in wait for the unwary. The large forever uncovered drain opening in the road where we make our final turn to reach our destination was surprisingly easy to keep away from: a wave of surf-riding capacity made its position plainly visible. Nosing into the adjacent alleyway scarcely wider than our little car (we retract the wing mirrors to avoid causing neo-colonialist damage to the residential walls) was slightly more challenging than usual, owing to the possibility of unwanted floatation. But, hey, it was all good fun.

Chinese Chequers

TOURIST arrival figures for Jan.-Oct. 2017 show very clearly the impact of the new visitor demographics on Bali. Chinese tourists now account for nearly 26 per cent of foreign arrivals, a 57 per cent increase on the same period in 2016. Australians are now firmly in second place (just short of 19 per cent of total arrivals) and their numbers are continuing a slow decline, as are those for Singapore and Malaysia, albeit at far lower figures.

An interesting aspect of the latest official statistics is that “Other Nationalities” are running at nearly 13 per cent of tourist arrivals, totalling nearly 648,000, which makes this disparate group third in the order of magnitude. A breakdown of those figures by national source would reveal the extent of the so-called Islamic tourism sector’s impact on Bali. That impact is in no way a bad thing, since it reflects among other things the socio-economic facts of life with which Bali must live and from which it can choose to prosper.

Music Book

WE’RE reading The Memory of Music, the book by composer and broadcaster Andrew Ford, whose migration from Britain to Australia in the 1980s was certainly an Antipodean benefit. He writes well and in a chatty style – his broadcast experience shines through there – that makes the story he wishes to tell very readable indeed. The book contains some lovely anecdotes that may not please some, and which are therefore all the better.

Music has a capacity to wound the soul as much as balm it, but in a way that’s different from the written word, and arguably much more powerfully. Ford explains this phenomenon very well.

Several pieces of music bring wounding sensations to The Diary. Perhaps the chief among them is Samuel Barber’s Adagio For Strings, as we’ve noted before, and which he wrote in 1938 as the clouds of cataclysmic war gathered over Europe. It much later made an appearance as the musical score for the movie Platoon. It’s sad that many people probably only know it as that. It’s hard not to feel, sometimes, these days, now that the winds of change are blowing through the fraying relics of the American empire, that we’re headed for cataclysm again. One hopes not, and that cooler, more measured heads will win the day.

Last Trump

AMERICA’S internal politics, and the serial denouements that it is beginning to produce, are its own affair, mandated by the minority of the national popular vote that got Donald Trump into office via the dodgy business of the Electoral College. Its foreign policy, conversely, is directly everyone’s concern. It’s increasingly worrying, not less so, that this global outreach of American impact is being publicly conducted by kindergarten Tweetstorm from the White House.

It’s possible that Trump, whose grasp of diplomacy seems to flow from his experience shouting “You’re Fired!” at participants in his own TV reality show, is actually aware that tweeting is not the way to go. It’s just something he does, because he can’t help himself, and so that he becomes the news instead of the (hopefully positive) generator of it.

George W. Bush, the 43rd President (2001-2009), whose own grasp of the crucially cerebral nuances of policy and of the particular needs of foreign policy have been judged by some to be deficient, said after being present on the dais at Trump’s inaugural speech a year ago in Washington, “That’s some weird shit.” It was, indeed, whether or not you agreed with Trump’s campaign platform. It’s got weirder since.

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Chin-chin!

Born Free

 

HECTOR’S DIARY

The Cage, Bali

Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017

 

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

His regular diet of diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

THERE is a release, of sorts, in being relieved of the duty to write for a publication. You’re freer to write what you really think, in the patois of your choice, in the absence of a publisher’s preference for the Life Unmolested, and in a timeframe that suits your own elastic concept of deadlines. It’s a bit like being Truman Capote (though only in certain respects) except that he was famous and could deal with deadlines by simply ignoring them.

Those of us at the grafting end of the writer’s writ must obey those who pay. Or else the dosh does not materialise. So when there’s no dosh to be had, and you’re your own proprietor, publisher, editor and virtual printer, deadlines can take a back seat. Though not too far back: it’s sensible to remember Idi Amin’s advice that if you don’t want to vanish with a boot up the bum, you have to give the population something to hum.

As most of you know, Hector is a retired cockatoo. He squawks a lot (the habits of a lifetime are hard to retire and can’t be fobbed off with a gold watch) but only when he wants to, or can be bothered. A lot bothers him, of course. You’ll have noticed that too. He proposes to continue being bothered, because he can, and to do so on a malleable seven-day plan, from wherever his cage is situated. This is his first in that new milieu.

Cease and Desist

SUCH orders are given rather more frequently than might be understood in today’s media world, where genetically mixed American actresses becoming engaged to British princes fifth in line to the throne, and President Trump’s latest twittering insults to people outside the “native” white oligarchy he prefers to favour, are deemed more newsworthy than real events. Cease and desist sometimes has legal utility, though mostly it’s a waste of time (see Trump, above).

It would be nice if we could issue one against Nature, which is giving us a hard time in the central archipelago at present. It’s quite understandable that volcanoes should erupt from time to time – it’s what they do, after all – but it would really be much better if they could manage to stick to a schedule and advertise it. We’ve also had a cyclone, though it hit Central Java, the province of Yogyakarta, and East Java, where it killed 19 people, far harder than Bali and Lombok. It was unusual in forming inside the normal exclusion zone for cyclones (10S-10N, the equatorial belt) and was less powerful than those experienced in true cyclonic areas. They’re not unknown, but are rare. The climate change shamans did rain dances about it, of course.

UPDATE (Dec. 7): The Java cyclone death toll more than doubled to 41 in latest reports on the aftermath, including 25 people killed in a single landslide.

Notional Airline

WE try to love Garuda, which is up there with the high flyers for cabin service. We’ve even renewed our membership of its frequent flyer club, though we more frequently fly with other airlines that charge you less for the privilege of defying gravity.

Garuda is impossible to contact by phone. Its sales office in Kuta won’t even take calls. If you can’t book online – and that’s a mammoth struggle, mostly – you have to actually go to the office. It used to be at Nusa Dua, which is where we went two weeks ago when we needed to book flights to and from Lombok. It was there no longer, however, and the helpful security guard at the entrance to the Bali Collection shopping centre told us it had moved to Jimbaran Square. We worked out that this was actually Benoa Square and went there. There was an office but it was unoccupied. Other helpful security people at the scene told us the real one was at the Kuta Paradiso Hotel, in Kuta. We called Garuda’s customer service number (sic) and they gave us a number to call. It was the Kuta Paradiso Hotel. Um, thanks guys. So we went there and finally managed to buy tickets.

Our flight to Lombok was uneventful. The trolley dollies just managed to get round the packed cabin with the sweet buns and water bottles they were required to hand out. The pilot deserved credit for flying his Boeing 737-800 at what seemed to be just above stall speed, so that the flight time could stretch out to the required 30 minutes. (It’s 18 minutes Ngurah Rai to Lombok International at jet speed, at the most.)

Our flight back to Bali did not take place. Gunung Agung on Bali had spewed ash into the atmosphere in the interim. Lombok’s and Bali’s airports were open on the day we were due to fly – Dec. 1 – but Garuda had cancelled all its Lombok-Bali flights that day. You only found that out when you got to the airport. The melee inside – that is, past the melee of the security screening – was not to be borne, and we didn’t. We left the scene, got a taxi to Senggigi where we stayed overnight, and a boat to Bali next morning. Apparently Garuda’s interest in customer service does not extend to calling in extra staff to deal with reallocated flight requests in such situations. Our next task: to get a refund on our unused return tickets.

Scrofulous Scribbles

THE volcano drama has brought out the best – that’s as in, the worst – of the foreign scribblers who get paid for dramatizing events by interviewing people (or sometimes themselves) so they can gild the lily and get their names up in lights. This is especially so if they want to have a go at airlines that cancel flights not because volcanic ash is deadly to aircraft and possibly their crews and passengers, but because they’re on a mission to mess with the personal holiday plans of Mr or Ms Aggrieved. Fuckwits are a swiftly growing demographic (see – there’s one immediate benefit of blogging rather than writing for print). They’re ripe for satirising, and should be thus dealt with, as some brazen outlets have done. There was a lovely piece the other day, somewhere or other, which foretold shocking disaster for any Aussie tourists still stranded in Bali when the Bintang ran out.

The other side of that coin is seen in the sterling efforts of expatriates and locals alike in getting essentials such as food and water and basic medicines and health preservatives to the poor Balinese who have been shipped off to evacuation camps because their villages are in the volcano exclusion zone. There’s one camp in particular that we know of, at Kubu on the northeast slopes of Agung, where 110 people are living in appalling conditions. The charities I’m An Angel and Solemen Indonesia and others are helping out there, with donated funds. A food convoy the other day was met with smiles from people who in reality were close to tears of despair. That’s the human story. It’s not about poor Wozzer and Tosser, world travellers, yair, mate, whose sense of Anglosphere entitlement excludes consideration of anything beyond their own convenience.

Serial Affendi 

YES, we know. The shocking issue of dominant male versus submissive woman, the result of residual caveman genes and men’s stupidity, isn’t really something to laugh about. But nonetheless, we’ll keep trying. There really is humour in everything, if you look hard enough.

So we were pleased to see a report in The Straits Times on Nov. 28 about a chap in Singapore whose cerebral cognisance is so severely deficient that even though he was shouted at by his victim after he touched her thigh in a bar, he was not deterred from later touching her breast while her boyfriend had his arm around her.

Take a bow, Affendi Mohamed Noor, 54. You really are a prize chump. The annual Darwin Awards honour idiots who remove themselves from the gene pool by misadventure. There should be a Weinstein Award for those other idiots who apparently live by the motto, “I’ve Got a Prick, So I’ll Be One.”

 

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Chin-chin!

Red Sales in the Sunset

HECTOR’S DIARY

His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

HectorR

The Cage, Bali

Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017

 

WE had a little giggle this week when we read that the Minister for National Development Planning, Professor Bambang Brodjonegoro, had wondered why more Australian investment was directed to Mexico than to Indonesia. Mexico, as he pointed out on an invest-with-us road show in Australia, was a long way away. It is. They wear sombreros there too, at least in cartoons, but that’s also totally beside the point.

An interesting article in the Fairfax press reported the issue, and included some commentary from Australian superannuation funds, from which Indonesia would apparently like a hand with projects. We note of course that such investments are indeed part and parcel of the global money round. The key to such investments is their legal security and actuarially based rates of return (ROI). Indonesia is making progress towards some measure of transparency and certainty in these matters, but a cautious superannuation investment fund manager would probably wait a little while. It’s different with company-level investments. They only depend on directors’ confidence levels. Or Chinese investments, which despite the official outbreak of pretend capitalism that the mandarins in Beijing have permitted, are still effectively State (and therefore Party) subscriptions, and hence political. They are all about building the next Chinese empire.

Minister Bambang made a direct pitch for Australian investment in a “new Nusa Dua” in the “eastern islands”. To decode that for the uninitiated, the Nusa Dua development in Bali is the manicured tourism precinct at the southern tip of the island full of international hotels that these days struggle to compete against the low-cost appeal, to the new market, of cheaper products elsewhere; and “eastern islands” means Labuan Bajo in Flores. We’ll return to Flores in a moment.

He also suggested that Australians might consider investing in tourism-related developments in the “new Nusa Dua” and instanced water sports and related fun things as examples of where they might choose to do so. How this might be done effectively and profitably is a conundrum. Indonesia’s restrictions on foreign workers, the country’s prevailing low productivity and skills levels, and the promiscuous practice of local and national regulators in deciding that their noses are out of joint and that they will therefore without notice inspect the paperwork and deport anyone found holding a spanner, is one among many other unresolved questions.

In the early booster stages of economic promotions directed at specific targets, in this case Labuan Bajo in western Flores, near where the real komodos roam on their eponymous island, the chief effect is to raise land values and pour cash into the pockets of title-holders. Often this is a relative thing, which can benefit siblings and more distant relations of those doing the boosting. As someone with whom we spoke recently on these matters noted, perhaps such people are looking to family connections for an opportunity to upgrade from a canoe to a cruiser.

We’ll All be Rooned (Well, No We Won’t)

ROONED is what that eternal Jeremiah, Hanrahan, said would happen, in the lovely poem published in 1921 and written by the Australian bush poet John O’Brien, the pen name of a Roman Catholic priest, Patrick Joseph Hartigan.  “We’ll all be rooned, said Hanrahan” – Hanrahan was a pessimistic man of Irish descent – now has an honoured place in the Australian English lexicon.

Pessimists and their jeremiads are fixed elements in any society, of course, though here in Bali, they are mostly of the imported variety. Foreigners who have lived here for a long time, or who have frequently visited for what to them probably feels like eons, fondly remember times past when the island was a pristine paradise. That is, except for the natives, who were poor and deprived of most of the benefits of modern life, and who, it is said by some, preferred it that way.

According to that primarily self-serving confected legend, Bali’s unique culture is now facing deadly risk. There’s an alternative view of this. This is that Bali’s culture and its unique religion is just as capable as any other of changing with the times. The island is not a Petrie dish and its culture is not an arcane scientific experiment managed by others. The archipelago survived the introduction of the chilli after all – by the Portuguese, who got them from someone else, naturally, centuries ago – and has made it its own. That’s just a small example of how change is welcomed and quietly managed by human societies.

There’s another aphorism that seems apt: The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

The British writer Tim Hannigan – who describes himself as a pop historian, just by the way – would probably share this view. He writes from a post-colonial perspective. This is sensible, since except for references to that sometimes beneficial but predominantly pernicious plague by politicians everywhere in former empires who want to display their nationalist credentials, the age of European empire has long gone.

Hannigan is in Indonesia at present on a book tour, which will now take him to Jakarta. He was in Bali this week and we caught up with him twice, once at the Periplus bookstore at Samasta in Jimbaran and again over one of Asri Kerthyasa’s fine high teas at Biku in Seminyak.

He wrote some finely tuned polemic in his brilliantly researched book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, and a very readable A Brief History of Indonesia, among others. He has also edited A Brief History of Bali which is now on the bookstore shelves and is a must read, a revision with additional chapters version of the American Willard Hanna’s original. Hanna’s ended in the 1970s, ancient history now; Hannigan’s mediates Hanna’s Cold War perspective and takes the story on to current time. 

Telephone Cheek

THE leaked transcript of the telephone call between American President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull shortly after Trump assumed office early this year is interesting. It confirms Trump as a president who doesn’t read his briefs, or perhaps doesn’t even ask for them, and underlines the worrying fact that he’s a real estate shyster whom American voters have elected to an office that is far beyond his moral, ethical and administrative capacities. It shows that a phone conversation with him, leader to leader, isn’t necessarily one that will produce an effective outcome or indeed connect with rational thought.

The call, which was terminated early, by Trump, turned on the Obama era plan proposed by the Australians that the U.S. take as many of Australia’s detainees on offshore foreign islands as its vetting processes would permit. There are (or were at the time) around 1,200 of these poor souls, held in limbo because they had attempted to reach Australia by boat from Indonesia. The call confirmed the depravity (in the correct sense of the word) of Australian policy towards foreign people who have committed no crime. There is no morality in denying human rights to others – whoever they are – and detaining them indefinitely in camps on islands in other countries.

It cannot be justified on the basis that it has “stopped the boats” and people drowning at sea. It is simply a profane political process whose effectiveness (undeniable in the short term) is determined by refusing to recognise the real problem: an unstoppable global population movement. It screams “Australia’s for Australians” and wins votes for doing so. That’s an Australian problem. It mirrors Trump America’s mad Mexican Wall idea.

Turnbull deserves some credit for talking to Trump in a mannered and diplomatic way: for not interjecting “WTF, Donald?” That’s the only creditable element in the event – well, that and the fact that someone had the moral fortitude to leak the transcripts (there were others) to the media. These are sorry days.

HectorR

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser newspaper. The next will appear on Aug. 16.

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Belt and Braces

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

The Cage, Bali

Wednesday, Jul. 12, 2017

 

DONALD Trump made a remarkable speech in Warsaw ahead of the economic summit he attended later in the historic Hanseatic League city of Hamburg, where he demonstrated exactly why the Group of 20 is now the G19 + 1. It was a good speech, too, well crafted, though redolent of former times or perhaps vainglorious hopes for the future. To his credit, he stuck to the script. A juvenile tweet-storm it was not.

The world has been asking Donald for some time where his trousers are. So it was fun in a way to see him turn out in Warsaw in both belt and braces. He is six months into the most profoundly dysfunctional American presidency since, well, we can’t think when, as the forty-fifth holder of that elected kingship. His office was created by the Founding Fathers of the American revolutionary union and it has been causing difficulties ever since. We should never say that America is in no position to teach the world anything. Its system of national government, formed as it is on the basis of rival electoral bases (for reasons that at the time were completely understandable) is a prime lesson in how not to run a country.

Predictably, the preserved-in-amber Western triumphalist cohort got a fit of the rah-rahs when it heard what Trump had said. It was helpful that Trump for once stuck to the script. We wonder who wrote it. But while a good speech can be good politics, it’s not necessarily good policy. And that’s where it comes unstuck.

These are difficult times, and that’s not just because No. 45 seems to be stuck in a time warp of his own fake making and to be determined to reintroduce both American isolationism and the Monroe doctrine. These are elements that are applauded by the American right-wing columnist Mark Steyn – who is still a Canadian citizen and really should know better – and the flagship of Little England’s Brexit misadventure, the London Daily Telegraph, among others.

Sense and Insensibility

NICK Cater is a thoroughly responsible journalist with whom we once toiled, which was nice, and with whom we share a fondness for North China cuisine, which is lovely. He’s now executive director of the Menzies Research Centre, named after the founder of the Australian Liberal Party, which as current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reminded everyone this week is not a conservative party. Turnbull was speaking in London where he had gone after not being a headline act at the G19+1 summit, for talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May, whose party is Conservative.

Cater had a piece in The Australian this week (Jul. 11) in which he had a go at the good-thinking folk who would like to rearrange Australia, its workplaces, its pastimes, its society and its culture, by means of ethnic and other quotas, whatever Australians think about that. It’s a mad idea, we agree.

So he made a good argument – the piece was headlined “Curing our country of whiteness” – though it seems to us “whiteness” (whatever that is: last time we looked we were a sort of mottled beige) is itself a matter of subjective perception. We guess it’s banal code for “We’re Aussies”. That said, Australia does need as a nation to return to common sense and an understanding of what (beyond self-interest) really drives human responses.

We had a laugh on the way through a serious subject. Cater cited American academic Joan C. Williams’ belief – she makes a point of it in her somewhat dense book White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America – that cultured homosexuality began as transgressions among 19th-century European artists.

Sappho and a few other prominently ancient Greeks, not to mention Persians of equal antiquity, would be surprised to hear that.

Java’s Great

Well, drink up. Apparently two new international studies have found that coffee may prolong life. That’s good news for Java (coffee) as well as for people who apparently want to live forever. It may not be so beneficial for Bali’s oppressed luwaks, but that’s another matter. Two or more cups of coffee a day are said to reduce the risk of death by 18 per cent, if you’re male. At the rate The Diary drinks coffee, we’ll win the Methuselah Cup.

We quote from a rather breathless Sky News Australia item on the topic: “But the latest research bodes better for men than women with one study of more than half a million people across 10 European countries finding men who consumed at least three cups a day were 18 per cent less likely to die from any cause than non-coffee drinkers…Women, on the other hand, drinking the same amount benefited less but still experienced an 8 per cent reduction in mortality.”

Grammar Police Note: Bode is an English verb, of Germanic origin. It can bode well or badly. It’s unclear whether it can legitimately do so “better”, at least grammatically (although in that sense it may be “very unique”). But never mind, it was on Sky News after all, which so frequently proves its worth as a risible source of misinterpreted information and mangled language.

HectorR

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser newspaper. The next appears on Jul. 19.

It’s a Scream

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

 His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

The Cage, Bali

Wednesday, Jul. 5, 2017

 

THERE are many ways to judge a man’s character. The gender is specific in this case, and the point is pertinent to the activities of the current president of the United States and, in this instance, his Indonesian associates. These people are of course his corporate or commercial associates, not political, although given that the two polities engaged are America and Indonesia, the distinction is moot. Read on.

Donald Trump’s corporate mate in the archipelago, Hary Tanoe, was recently banned from travelling outside Indonesia pending inquiries into aspects of his business and financial affairs. Tanoe is engaged with Trump’s business empire, which isn’t in escrow while he’s in office, as you might expect of anyone with an appropriate view of public service, but is being managed for profit by his family. The Trump empire has two major projects on the go in Indonesia.

One is a theme park near Bogor in West Java – we’ve seen the concept drawings and done a Munch – and the other is the takeover of the property at Tanah Lot in Tabanan previously managed by Pan Pacific and now to be demolished in favour of some Trumpist excrescence.

The Bogor project is now back on track because the government has taken over the stalled project to build a toll road to the area, without which Trump said he wouldn’t proceed. The land value of his holdings has thus increased by extortionate proportions.

At Tanah Lot, where the Nirwana property has members with purchased rights to holiday accommodation whose entitlements are now under question because of the buyout, the issue is different. Trump’s proposed redevelopment requires more land, but local landowners are apparently holding out for better prices. The workforce at the property has been paid out – by what quantum is unknown – and the entire superstructure is to be demolished.

It is also unknown how Trump and Tanoe will deal with the issue of compensation for strata title owners. The precedent set by Trump in a similar instance, with his golf resort in Florida, doesn’t bode well. Basically, there, the members were screwed. That’s how Trump does business.

Which brings us back to the cautionary point: character. A quote attributed in 1972 to the magazine founder Malcolm S. Forbes is apposite. He said, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” An aphorism published in 1948 by the novelist Paul Eldridge goes along the same lines: “A man’s character is most evident by how he treats those who are not in a position either to retaliate or reciprocate.”

Trump’s known business practices fail the “nice” test, and his personal behaviour breaches many of those implicit in the two quotations above. In Indonesia, some in the national business elite (and here in Bali in both the local and the expatriate business community) have a very well developed grasp of how to benefit themselves at the expense, if necessary, of anyone who gets between them and a buck (or a rupiah).

The Four Corners program on Australia’s national broadcaster the ABC this week screened an exposé of Trump and Tanoe’s business connections here. It didn’t say anything much that’s new, but it did collate the available material rather well and it was certainly compelling viewing. More character studies are indicated. 

Feisty Gal

MARA Wolford, who makes organic soaps and surfs a lot – she’s in the Mentawais at the moment – posted on her Facebook this week an item reprising the incident a year ago in a Bali bar that fortunately ended as well as it could have, but which could so easily have not.

Her drink was spiked. She’s sure it was Rohypnol, nowadays the spiking agent of choice of low-life men who can’t get consciously consensual sex from a woman their poisonously defective little minds have told them they fancy, or can’t be bothered trying to;  or whom, as she notes, have marked her as a robbery target. If it’s sex, it’s chiefly a power thing, not lust, and it’s a disgraceful element of male stupidity, sexual power, and arrogance. Those who do that sort of thing richly deserve a session with a sjambok. We do wish we’d never given ours away.

Wolford puts it this way:

“One year ago today, people I didn’t even know tried to kill me. They either wanted my diamond earrings or they wanted to gang rape me for several days, it’s up in the air. Two drinks double-dosed with Rohypnol nearly did me in. Dear friends, a strong constitution and a bit of divine intervention saved me. I made this event public, with 21,000 shares on FB. Mostly, I got called a dumb bitch for not knowing better. One thing I do know is that the last thing I am is a dumb bitch. Trusting, perhaps. Willing to believe in best intentions, certainly.

“I was absolutely furious that a man would feel the need to render me physically helpless in order to take from me what he couldn’t allow me to decide to offer, or not. I don’t know what kind spineless cretin would do that, and I don’t know what kind of world we live in when that is considered normal behaviour that I am expected to know to protect myself from.”

The bar in question was subsequently shut down by the police and – Wolford notes – another upside is that drink spiking has dropped off in Bali since the publicity about her case in Canggu last year. That’s great.

Dumb bitch, she isn’t. Feisty gal, she certainly is.

It’s such a shame that Rohypnol became the “date rape drug” in the hands of low-life losers. We used to use it back in the day as a travel pill, when it was legally obtainable. The Distaff, who did a lot more solo international business travel than the Diary, swore by it as her tailored sleeping pill. Quartered, a pill gave her two hours of sleep; halved, four hours; and the full monty, eight. It was just the job, she always said, if you had to leap off your plane at your destination fresh as a daisy and ready for work. Or, occasionally, play. 

Oh, Come On!

THE annual Walkley Awards may mean very little to anyone outside Australia – or even outside the Australia media – but they are locally valuable as recognition of excellence in journalism. Until now they have included an award for foreign reporting.

Given that global distempers now visit everyone’s lounge room via the gigantic flat-screen TV, when the footy’s not on, that’s good. Those who inform from dangerous places (or even just interesting ones) deserve recognition. And we know, by many means ranging from pub talk to blogs and even official government advice, that according to Australians the outside world is an alien and unquiet space.

The Walkley organisers have announced that they’re dropping the international category from the awards. It’s one of four categories cut as part of a review of the awards. It’s an odd decision, because while it’s certainly true that journalism is rapidly changing, so too is the impact of international affairs on Australia. These certainly need to be covered with an Australian perspective, and (reasonably) to be recognised in the country’s premier media awards. Doubtless, as the organisers say, international coverage can still be nominated within other categories. But given the parochialism that thrives in Australia, to its detriment, it might be hard for carnage in Aleppo to beat best pumpkin at the Bega Show for a gong.

We’ve added our voice to the chorus suggesting that the Walkley people should change their mind.

Training Runs

WELL, not runs, really. We mean our morning walks on the Outanback Track, the rudimentary road that notionally links The Cage with the rest of the limestone Bukit. It’s a rough trot, our “road”, and steep in parts. There are two nasty inclines on the outbound leg, which we’ve pinned on our smart phone map as Little Dragarse and Big Dragarse. After a glass or three of premium Aga Red the evening before, as is our custom, they’re … difficult.

We’re trying to get walking-fit for a forthcoming European sojourn that will take us on footpaths and other public utilities of the sort that are rare in Bali, and at rather more length than the modest 2400 metres that form our usual morning gasp.

Never mind. It’s worth it. We think.

HectorR

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser. The next appears on Jul. 19.

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Beggaring Belief

 

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His regular diet of worms and other (usually) non-religious fare

The Cage, Bali

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

 

FAITH is a personal compact between a person and his or her deity. The faithful, of any ilk, should be honoured for their commitment to a life beyond secular concerns and for the higher calling that this condition imposes. Those who study their religious texts and who seek to live within the strictures these impose, are honourable people.

In the secular west – fundamentally these days a godless society – these things, and the various deities in whom a great many people believe, are often scoffed at or made the topic of comedic intervention. That is wrong, when the objective is only to get a cheap laugh. It’s possible – or it should be so in a rational society – to debate the existence of God. It’s plain rude just to slag off at people who believe, if you yourself don’t.

The three Abrahamic religions, each of which sprang from the Levant or its contiguous desert interior without any intervention from Europeans until after their invention (a seminal fact that Europeans should note and really should try very hard to comprehend) share syncretic theologies, a melange of mythologies, and, in the Old Testament, a common liturgical origin. Yet each has historically been at war with the others (and often with themselves) forever, philosophically if not actually.

That’s a rather cursive way to get into a matter of current concern in Indonesia, but it’s necessary to set the parameters of debate and to avoid stepping unnecessarily on possibly angry toes. Of course, the problem is far wider than just the archipelago. Islam’s sectarian schism leaves the former fatal fractures within Christianity for dead, so to speak.

In Indonesia, where, except for Aceh, Islam has traditionally adopted a Southeast Asian rather than an Arabian face over the half a millennium of its establishment here, a more fundamentalist mind-set is taking root. That cannot be denied. Neither can its future risk to the integrity of Indonesia if it flourishes.

The proselytes of Indonesian Islamic fundamentalism assert that theology is the driver of their intentions. It’s perfectly possible to encourage deeper religiosity in the faithful, and to prescribe firmer and more restrictive patterns of social behaviour for them, from a philosophical standpoint. It’s when the boys with the bother boots take to the streets that problems emerge. There’s very little that’s philosophical about a mob armed with sharpened sticks and intent on enforcing their own interpretations of Ramadan rules, after all. These actions may be clothed in Islamic cloth, but their purpose is political – it is to manoeuvre government policy – and thus is plainly secular.

There’s an interesting article in The Diplomat, written by Benedict Rodgers – for context: he’s East Asia team leader for the human rights organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide – that illustrates the point. He instances a broken long-term friendship between two fifteen-tear-old girls at a Jakarta high school, one Christian, the other Muslim. Rodgers reports that the Christian girl got a phone call from her Muslim friend telling her: “We can no longer be friends. My God does not allow me to be friends with people like you.” It sounds almost apocryphal, or would if the messages that are coming out of the mosques weren’t couched in similarly simplistic and fundamentally threatening terms.

There’s much more than this to Rodgers’ article, which is very readable. He cites the conviction and imprisonment of now former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), a Christian Chinese-Indonesian, for blasphemy; and Aceh, church burning, death threats and other signals of restrictive intent. He warns that Indonesia could become Pakistan.

That’s a bit dire, and Rodgers says so himself in the article. Indonesian culture is very far from those of the sub-continent and (like anywhere else) Pakistan is what it is because of its own cultural mix, not someone else’s. But it’s understandable that other Islamic sects, moderate Sunnis (the great majority) and other religious communities should feel deep concern.

The real risk, and the real warning that needs to echo through the rainbow archipelago, is that doltish insistence on Islamic exclusivity will ultimately risk fracturing Indonesia. Political figures whose vision fails to extend beyond the next convenient deal and endless machinations to buy votes should consider that. Seriously.

That said, there is some brighter news. Rizieq Shihab, head of the Islamic Defenders Front (the FPI), faces arrest when he returns from Saudi Arabia if he fails to answer his third summons from police – he ignored the first two, of course – to answer questions about alleged breaches of the anti-pornography law. He wanted the porn laws and he influenced their scope. What an interesting case this will be.

It’s That Man Again

THE unedifying spectacle of Donald Trump shoving through the throng and shouldering lesser leaders out of the way to get to the front of the photo opportunity at the NATO summit last week, and then posing, Mussolini-like, complete with superior grin, is further evidence that real-estate shysters and reality TV hosts do not necessarily make good leaders.

They said of No. 45 that he probably needed time to become presidential. Time was not the only thing he needed, as events and growing awareness that they’ve been duped among many who voted for him last November now show. Some character would have helped. H.L. Mencken, who in the 1920s predicted that profane and populist politics meant that America would one day have an imbecile for its president, would be rolling his eyes if he were not rolling in his grave.

Trump still has a cheer squad, of course, not all of it confined to America where he’s making things grate again. We saw an Asia-based Australian observer’s view this week that suggested his hard line on NATO funding and self-reliance had paid off, because German Chancellor Angela Merkel had said publicly that America’s allies needed to do more.

They do. You get what you pay for. But the obverse of that coin, for “the leader of the free world” (whatever that is) and his country, is a proportionate reduction in America’s clout within NATO. That mightn’t be quite what the master of the universe is looking for, but it would be no bad thing, since the Custer gene remains ascendant.

Sent Home 

SCHAPELLE Corby, 39, the Australian woman who was convicted of drug trafficking in Bali in 2005 and spent nine years behind bars before being paroled three years ago, was deported from Indonesia on May 27. Immigration authorities put her on a plane to Australia. That is all.

HectorR

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser. It appears monthly. The current diary was published on May 24 and the next will appear on Jun. 21.

Law v Lore

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His diet of worms and other delicacies

Bali, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017

 

THERE’S a great deal of misinformation about on the issue of Sharia law, particularly in western countries. So when Ubud identity Darsih Gede passed along a handy brief from a long-time friend, an American woman married to an Indonesian Muslim, we thought it would be good to share.

Here it is:

“If you are anyone who feels fear when you hear the words ‘Sharia law,’ or interpret it to mean that something is coming to get you, or will be imposed upon you, I really hope you’re listening.

“Time for a little ‘Sharia Law 101’:

” 1. All Muslims believe in Sharia law.

“2. No. 1 is true because Sharia law is the religious law governing the members of the Islamic faith; it is formed by what it written in the Quran (Muslim holy book) and in the Hadiths (reports describing the words, actions, or habits of the Islamic prophet Muhammad).

“3. Do not confuse Sharia law with the laws that exist in countries that call themselves ‘Islamic’ or happen to have a Muslim majority: Absolutely not the same thing. For example: the fact that women in Saudi Arabia aren’t allowed to drive has nothing to do with Sharia law or Islam; it has to with men trying to control women under the guise of religion just like they try to do in various ways in the United States.

“4. Part of Sharia law (Al-Baqarah 256, from the Quran) states that ‘There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion.’

“So, to summarise: Sharia law is something that Muslims follow willingly, and no one can force you to become Muslim (aka: someone who believes in Sharia law).

“It would be great if people from other religions wouldn’t attempt to force people to follow their religious leanings by attempting to legislate their views into civil laws that are applied to the masses, especially in a country like the United States, wherein religious freedom is supposed to exist.

“Thanks for listening. ~ A Muslim (aka: someone who believes in Sharia law)

“Note: Please, find a Muslim and ask them questions instead reading articles from Fox News and/or listening to what uninformed people like Newt Gingrich have to say about Islam. They have no idea what they are talking about, ever.”

That’s a message that needs to be heard far more widely than only in the USA, where a tidal surge of untreated dyspepsia has just been converted into bother boots under the big desk in the Oval Office.

Trumped

THERE is something seriously wrong with the newly inaugurated 45th President of the United States. It’s not his policies that worry me in this instance, though many of them seem to be based on a Locker Room-Neocon-Robber Baron belief that the clocks can be turned back to earlier imagined eras of American capitalist supremacy and gross private wealth and some are frankly execrable.

It’s his behaviour. Half a million invisible people were at his inauguration. He lost the popular election by 2.5 million ballots because undocumented aliens and other illegals didn’t vote for him. The CIA loves him to death and he took along his own cheer squad to demonstrate this when he visited Langley. All three of these things are plainly delusional. He has senior people on his staff whose fortitude doesn’t extend to being able to tell him so, and who, moreover, will tell lies for him. That’s a real worry.

Perhaps it wouldn’t matter if he were just another Idi Amin intent on gazumping some poor little country somewhere that no one really cares about, even if they should. And we all understand the political imperative to deliver something that will make the people hum, since, as a lovely old ditty puts it, the alternative is to vanish with a boot up the bum.

But it’s America we’re talking about: the place some people still think of as the leader of the free world.

At this point in the Trump presidency the best policy is still to laugh. It’s his Beer Hall Moment, even though his oratory gets nowhere near the exclamatory splendour achieved by a certain murderous malcontent of Central European origin and late gross notoriety.

A beer hall rant is something the duplicitous Trump might manage. He’d be a sorry failure at a Nuremberg rally.

His trade policy, which during the election campaign was taken by the duped masses to mean he’d bring factories and jobs back from China where successive American governments and multinational corporations had sent them, risks a trade war with China.

This in turn creates risk for other nations rather closer to the locus of China’s acquisitive predispositions than the USA, and, in turn, may prompt political responses that (to take up the point a late Japanese emperor made in his surrender broadcast at the end of World War II) may not develop to our advantage.

His Mexican wall policy is risible, though it’s of less concern globally than other aspects of his Bonfire of the Vanities platform.

We could go on. But we’re not quite ready for Seppuku, our hara-kiri moment, just yet, so we won’t.

Except to have a lovely laugh at a report that a Native American nation in Arizona whose traditional lands include 120 kilometres of Mexican border won’t be allowing the POTUS to erect his ridiculous wall along it.

Mexico is known for Montezuma’s Revenge (think Bali Belly). Perhaps Mr Trump is about to experience Geronimo’s Revenge as well. That thought, at least, gives us a smile.

Not So Bad

WHEN sometimes it may seem that one’s life is a mess, or at the very least, is conflicted, it is useful to have friends in far more interesting places.

An acquaintance who works in West Africa and who seems to spend a deal of time in Burkina Faso advised yesterday that he had just checked in (again) at the Hotel Splendid in Ouagadougou, the country’s capital city.

“Bullet holes have been removed now,” was his laconic situation report. We shot back a note: “Splendid!”

Rice Field View

WE made a brief foray to Ubud this week, to stay with an amusingly lovely French friend who – we discovered – has a fondness for North African music, which is right up our alley. Her house, in the rice fields and just completed, is up an alley too. The Diary’s trusty mini-SUV just made it through, in L for go really slowly, exterior mirrors retracted.

It’s lucky we were staying the night. The little thoroughfare back to the main road might have been a challenge on a rainy evening after a glass or two of red. It was eminently negotiable the next afternoon, by which time enough restorative coffee had been taken. Though we did take the precaution of switching on the iPod’s drive-time playlist to drown out the Distaff’s exclamatory outbreaks.

On the way home through the mayhem of pre-Gong Xi Fa Chai traffic we decided to extend our French experience. We stopped at La Tartine on the bypass at Sanur for refreshments dans le style français. The scrambled feta salad was wonderful (the Distaff had quiche Lorraine) and we were quite unable to resist trying the Unicorn Poop afterwards, as a shared desert. You really can’t beat the French for chocolate cake.

Back to Work

WELL, that’s in the notional sense, since we are retired gentlefolk who live quietly and whose singular mission is to fail to ripple anyone’s pond. But being of Australian provenance, one of us fully and the other by long adoption, we’ve always found it difficult to get back into harness until Australia Day has come and gone, which it now has.

It is celebrated on the same date that India celebrates its Republic Day. Perhaps this secretly inspires Australian non-monarchists, those chaps who are always looking for an excuse to fast-forward a forthcoming inevitability. Patience is not a public virtue in these days of instant crowd-funded issues.

Anyway, this weekend has been set aside for quill sharpening and post-it noting. Focused scribbling has recommenced.

Flaming Feathers

WELCOME to the year of the Red Rooster, aka Fire Rooster. If flaming roosters of our acquaintance – these include the Distaff – can get through it without setting their tail feathers on fire, good luck to them.

The other occupant of The Cage has just managed to survive his Year of the Monkey. It is surely a cruel joke that our zodiacal challenges should be consecutive. Thank goodness there are 12 years between run-ons. Or run-ins.

HectorR

Hector writes a monthly diary in the Bali Advertiser. His next appears on Feb. 1.

Little Ripples

 

HectorR

HECTOR’S DIARY

His regular diet of worms and other tasty morsels

Bali, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017

 

WHERE Indonesia and Australia are concerned, you can always count on something unexpected to suddenly ripple the waters. It’s a bit the same as an Indonesian volcano: it’s quiet until it goes boom.

In Australia, it’s mostly a careless minor politician or some media “celebrity” who clumsily drops a pebble in the pond, or very occasionally a former prime minister. In Indonesia, it’s just as likely to be a military personage drawing himself to attention by banging a big nationalist drum.

That these little interruptions flow chiefly from ignorance is no comfort. The reverse, in fact, since Indonesia has been functionally independent for 72 years and formally for 68, and was politically and materially supported by Australia in its resistance to post-World War II Dutch efforts to resuscitate their dead colonial dreams.

By the end of the Japanese war Australia had become the least imperially minded member of the Anglosphere. Except for isolated attempts at ridiculous recidivism on the right of Australian national politics, this welcome and natural process has continued.

The latest little political difficulties involve an invidious inscription allegedly seen by a Kopassus officer who was attending a language course in Perth and the raising of the West Papuan flag at a protest in Melbourne.

Neither incident is really worth wasting time on further discussion. Posturing is painful and counterproductive, especially when it becomes fodder for insensate commentary in the blinkered depths of the social media pool.

Tiger Tales

THE sudden imposition of new regulations on the Australian low-cost airline Tiger, which is owned by Virgin Australia, seems to have come straight from the Because We Can clause officialdom likes to cite now and then.

If this were a place where you could have confidence in regulatory policy even if a particular set of regulations disadvantaged you or others, then it would be easy to accept changes. They shouldn’t be sudden, they should be discussed – socialised is the term they use here – and they should of course be facilitative rather than the reverse.

Someone must have had an “oh, doh!” moment, because the Indonesians later gave Tiger permission to fly 2000 passengers out of Bali back to Australia over the weekend.

Tiger was forced to cancel Australia-Bali flights virtually at a moment’s notice. They seem to have been told their scheduled operations here had been transferred from the office that handles scheduled airline services to the one that regulates charter operations and requires much more complex, flight by flight, arrangements. Go figure.

The airline’s scheduled services will resume, we assume, at some point. That’s if Tigerair Australia and its parent airline company can be bothered continuing to scratch for profit when local low-cost players want the lion’s, or in this case the tiger’s, share of the market.

That might be the ultimate twist in the tail, so to speak.

Goon Show

THE shocking events at a Seminyak glitter strip venue the other day, when security guards restrained a protesting Russian partygoer by bashing him so severely that he has lost an eye, demonstrate very clearly how far down the road to perdition Bali has gone in its quest for the tourist dollar.

There is still time to retreat from the precipice, and to regain some of the island’s past reputation as a place where you can have fun – and even be a little naughty – without risking life and limb. But swift action is needed.

Properly trained security personnel can deal with such events easily. A quick knee in the groin and a half-Nelson arm twist will effectively and temporarily disable anyone who has had the temerity to query their bill.

Of course, proprietors of such venues need to possess a socially balanced brain themselves, or be forced to act as if they have, and must spend money on actually doing things properly. That’s another side of Bali’s tourism and regulatory environments. It applies (or should do) to entertainment venues everywhere, especially in the Kuta-Legian-Seminyak-Canggu riot quarter.

The authorities and the police must be proactive. That’s a polite way of saying they really should get off their bums and do something. We know; that’s a difficulty. Goon squads, empowered quasi-official thugs, mobs amok, and fire-and-forget non-thinking is the usual form here.

The latest event was the second publicised one at the venue recently. In the first incident, two Indonesian customers were criminally bashed by security.

For the record, the venue is La Favela, in the thoroughfare colloquially known as Oberoi Street. A favela is a Brazilian slum. Just saying.

Prodigal Return

WE hadn’t been to North Bali for the best part of a decade until last weekend, when we spent two lovely days at Villa Patria on the slopes behind Lovina.

It really is a magic place, set 355 metres above sea level but only some six kilometres from the coast. There’s only one guest villa, plus a lumbung, and the owners live on site with first-class staff running the show.

The food is rather on the yummy side, so if you don’t want to venture out to sample that of others, dinner at home is a good idea. The tariff includes breakfast.

The little resort is set in lovely gardens, with a swimming pool, and high quality massage is available on call. Think of it as a home away from home. We’ll be back.

It’s a bit of a trek from the south of Bali. But if your travel plans can accommodate a 3.5-hour car trip each way – and the magnificent lakes and mountains and plenty of places to stop for a coffee in cool Baturiti or Bedugul – it’s an easy ride.

More Sad Farewells

RIO Helmi, the Ubud-based photographer and writer, wrote a wonderful obituary for Linda Garland, the bamboo lady, who has died in Australia after a long battle with cancer, at the age of only 68. It’s definitely worth reading.

There are many adornments to the expat scene here – there are many others in the resident foreign community who adorn only their preferred views of themselves, in the manner of the self-promotional everywhere, but that’s for another time – and Garland was several dozen laurel wreaths more worthy than most.

Her work here over many decades was immensely practical in terms of the inspirational and income earning opportunities it gave to the Balinese. Helmi’s piece describes all that, at length and much better than we can here.

Another old Bali hand has left us, too. Quirky photographer Pierre Poretti died at home in Switzerland, of a stroke. His art was magnificent and it, and he, will be sorely missed.

What a Shower

THE Australian feminist fulminator Helen Razer is always good. She’s exactly the Diary’s kind of social Marxist. Her summation in a piece she published this week about the greed-and-envy-fuelled collapse of the selfish capitalist dream helped our morning coffee go down with an extra zing on Friday.

It’s the sort of argument that fuels real discussion about things that actually matter. In such a setting, over a table, say, with prime Arabica to hand, we’d probably say this:

Have you read A Short History of Stupid? We found it a wonderful to-and-fro on many issues. Razer wrote it in counterpoint with Bernard Keene, who is exactly not the Diary’s kind of social libertarian.

The argument she puts in her piece is basically sound about the revolting Trump and his neocon mates and Bonfire of the Vanities cheer squads. They can all forever get golden showers from infinite numbers of Russian hookers before anyone should care about the moral and ethical depravity of their private personalities and behaviour.

It’s the moral and ethical depravity of their policies (if discernible) and politics that sicken us.

But the Diary has enough of old journeyman journalist in the veins (Razer does not) to get a good giggle out of the risible idiocy of populist celebrity “leaders” who think debate is about massaging their own egos, or having others do that for them; who apparently think the serial indiscretions that litter their private lives can possibly escape scrutiny in the global porn shop they’ve created and from which they grossly profit; who wouldn’t know a decent social (or economic or health or national security) policy if any of these happened by chance to tickle their coccyx while some fake-bosomed slag was teasing their private parts with perfumed tissues; and who are so functionally useless except in their own interest that they couldn’t boil an egg.

Today (Jan. 14) is T -6, by the way.

Great Going

ONE of the Diary’s favourite R&R places, the Novotel Lombok Resort and Villas at Mandalika beach in the island’s south, has another deserved gong in its collection of awards.

The resort, part of the Accor chain, was named The World’s Best Halal Beach Resort 2016 at the World Halal Tourism Awards during International Travel Week in Abu Dhabi late last year.

WHTA estimates that about 1.9 million votes from 116 countries were lodged in the 2016 awards, over 16 categories and among 383 candidate properties. You can see all winners in all categories here.

Lombok is carving out a niche for itself in tourist and travel opportunities for Muslims, part of which naturally includes Halal food and a rather less raunchy entertainment picture. Even the sexy dancers aren’t, really.

Except in the northern Gilis – Trawangan, Meno and Air – which these days most visitors access direct from Bali by fast boat – the sun-sand-and-sin western tourist demographic is conspicuously absent, at least in large, noisy numbers.

Some people think that’s a good thing.

Hector also writes a monthly diary in the Bali Advertiser newspaper. The next appears on Feb. 1

Messing About in Boats

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His diet of worms and other non-religious fare

Bali, Jan. 4, 2017

 

WE have a lovely friend, a former media colleague who goes by the pen name of The Global Goddess. She has a tough life, poor thing. She’s forever flitting off from Brisbane, her home city, to go to distant places and write about them. Well, someone has to do it, we suppose.

Her most recent gambol was a cruise to Komodo aboard the Al-Iikai, a 37-metre Bugis pinisi fitted out for maximum comfort and operated from Serangan in Benoa Bay. It was, she tells us, a program that gave her plenty of stories about messing about in boats.

The goddess, real name Christine Retschlag, apparently didn’t read Kenneth Grahame’s marvellous fantasy tale Wind in the Willows as a child. But we’re sure that Ratty will forgive her, given her later experiences. Hector, who is one of Ratty’s firmest friends, will pay close attention to her trip reports on her blog and in the travel media.

We’re sure that Ratty – whose ancestral lineage, we remember, traced back to a seafaring rat who had sailed to England from Constantinople long before (though possibly not as early as the Black Death fleets of 1348-49) – will fully understand that the Bali Sea and beyond is a different kettle of fish to the somewhat placid Thames in the golden age of Edwardian England more than a century ago.

The goddess finished her archipelagic sojourn with some lovely down-days at Palms Ceningan, where we hear she adopted surfer-chick hair because she had lost her comb. She’ll have found it eventually in the designer Black Void handbag that she, like all the girls, simply has to tote around.

Before Indonesia, she had been in Canada chatting up polar bears. As a result of this earlier adventure, and when we caught up with her aboard the Al-Iikai at Benoa before she sailed away to joust with dragons, courtesy of Indonesia Island Sail’s Amanda Zsebik, we dubbed her Nanook of the Near North.

That’s no igloo, just the smile.

What a Blast

It’s over now, for another year, thank goodness. But Christmas is worth discussion. It marks the requisitioned and wholly notional birthdate of Jesus the Nazarene, who in the Christian rite is the Messiah, the prince of peace, Son of God, prophet and prince of life, among other things. Nothing in his story seems to mandate explosive exclamation, except perhaps the feeding of the five thousand, which must have been a blast.

So it is curious that in Indonesia it’s apparently an occasion for letting off fireworks. From the noise these infernal objects generate, they must be rather bigger than the two inches (five centimetres) maximum allowed by official order. Never mind, no one here takes any notice of official orders.

There’s a serious point in this. Christmas is a Christian religious feast. For Muslims, it is the birthday of the Messiah (Mahdi), Isa – Jesus – who ranks behind only Muhammad as a prophet of Allah.

It is the secular West that has turned Christmas into an occasion for consumer excess. But even there, and in the little pockets of bad behaviour its acolytes occupy around the globe, pyrotechnics don’t figure in the events of the season.

A Sari Tale

The other day we came across a delightful Jakarta-based blog (www.eatlivetravel.com) that had somehow previously escaped our notice. We really should get out more. It comes with an emailed newsletter, to which we have now subscribed. Interesting takes on current events are always good value, whether they are serious or of the ROFL class. Hereabouts they’re often of the ROFLMAO variant.

What caught our eye particularly in the newsletter we saw on Dec. 17 was a spin-off from the awful Ahok saga. It involved Sari Roti, a bread maker, whose products were seen in apparently invidious proximity to the governor of Jakarta in the context of his legal difficulties with the FMP (the Fanatical Muslim Push). Sari Roti’s stock value had fallen as a result (no, we’re not kidding).

No one can have missed the fact that Governor Ahok is on trial for blasphemy on the grounds that he misquoted the Qur’an and is therefore a kafir of the worst order. He’s a Christian, of course, and an Indonesian of Chinese ethnicity. Neither of these qualities is favoured as a political option by the chaps with the placards and the turban fetish.

It’s a sorry tale all round, and not one to laugh about. Except that sometimes if you don’t laugh, you cry.

It Just Piles Up

Photos that surfaced on Facebook just before Christmas, of the disgraceful piles of garbage washed up on Double Six beach at Legian, after seasonal rains flushed out the poisonous detritus that clogs every watercourse you can think of, are an object lesson in the poverty of public policy in Bali.

They show how fiddling around at the edges, or hoping someone else will front up with the money and the means to do something for you while funding your latest vehicle fetish, is a cop-out, a disease risk and a PR disaster all rolled into one.

They were taken by surfing identity Tim Hain on Dec. 24. He noted that he was feeling a little delicate as a result of the ASC Tour awards party held at Canggu the previous evening, but what really made him feel sick was the sight that greeted him on Double Six beach on his morning walk.

It’s true that there are some good waste management initiatives in an increasing number of localities in Bali, organised at local community level. Craig Glenister of the Alasari resort in Tabanan mentioned the one that’s up and running in his area. Fair enough.

But it’s not enough. Just for example, in the Bukit area that houses The Cage (from whence Hector scribbles) a local contractor is paid by some residents to properly dispose of their rubbish. Others couldn’t care less – it’s not the money – and continue with the sorry custom of just tossing garbage away. Sometimes they set fire to it and the noxious plastic it contains. But mostly they just forget about it. Everywhere you go there’s a smelly bag of diseased rubbish lying in the scrub or by the road.

The local free-range dogs, a pariah class created by public apathy and indolence, the rats and the dengue mosquitoes, are guaranteed a continuous feast as a result.

A Sound Point

Helen Mirren is a great actor. And anyone who has seen the long-ago guest spot she did as a much younger one on a British TV talk show – when interviewer Michael Parkinson asked her with a particularly gauche grin if her “attributes” got in the way of her winning offers of serious roles – will understand also that she is a highly intelligent woman with whom one should not trifle.

So when she observed that by general agreement 2016 was a shit of a year, as she did recently, it was very hard to argue. You don’t even have to have read the library-load of end-of-year reviews to work that out. She wasn’t making a partisan political point. That’s a tiresome practice of some actors, who seem to believe that a good publicist, a photogenic presence and an ability to take direction on a film set invests them with special knowledge, but it’s not hers.

Neither was she speaking in personal terms. She has a broader mind than that. She can see that things happen that aren’t good, even if they don’t directly affect you; and she is not so consumed with Self in the modern fashion that nothing else seems to matter. In short, she’s a breath of fresh air

See below for Hector’s view on The Year It Would Be Nice to Rewind.

Monkey of a Year

The Monkey is most likely exhausted, or near as, since his year is nearly over. The Diary, a Monkey of the class of 1944, certainly is. In the Chinese Zodiac, everyone’s once-in-a-dozen years mazurka is not a treat but a challenge. And 2016 was not a good year for anyone.

The year of the Fire Rooster starts on Jan. 28. We look forward to it. The next Monkey year is in 2028. Perhaps we’ll see you for that party.

President-elect Donald Trump’s next celestial challenge is in 2018, by the way. He’s a Fire Dog. But he gets his box of matches a year early, on Jan. 20, when he is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. He’ll probably tweet about that.

This column appears in the Bali Advertiser, out Jan. 4. The newspaper publishes Hector’s Diary in every second edition. It is a fortnightly print and on line publication.