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!

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!

Talk to the Ants

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

In the Bali Advertiser

May 24, 2017

 

JEWEL Topsfield, the Australian Fairfax newspaper group’s Indonesian correspondent, wrote a lovely piece recently after an extended interview she had with Prabowo Subianto, who probably likes to think of himself as president-in-waiting. We’ll have to wait until 2019 to find out, but in the meantime he’s an interesting subject.

Some people seem to think that he’s the fifth horseman of the apocalypse. He’s not, of course. He’s a former army general with some unanswered questions on his record and an Indonesian politician, ditto. He’s far from being in a class of his own on those scores. He possesses the same auto-response mechanism as exists in any Indonesian (and people of other countries too) where it is imagined that a slight has been offered. Foreigners are not meant to criticise, and will be glowered at or worse if they do. There are no surprises in that, locally, politically or otherwise. Nor is Indonesia a western liberal democracy. It never will be.

Prabowo doesn’t think Indonesia will ever become a fundamentalist Islamic state, either. Indonesians like music and dancing, he noted. He’s right. The archipelago is very much its own cultural petri dish, whatever the small local contingent of Arabian adherents might think and seek to promote via their hired nasi bungkus mobs. On that point, taking the argument a little further, it seems silly to get all het up about hijabs. My granny would never go out without a head covering, and she was as Christian and English as you could wish to meet. Times, fashions, and social and religious observances change. The human story is one of constant flux.

Prabowo, who has been criticised – largely outside Indonesia – for talking with the unfunny fundamentalists of the FPI, is more interesting still on quite another aspect of his character. He negotiates with ants, citing the example from Islamic texts of King Solomon. The ants in Solomon’s day did a deal with the palace, staying out of it so as not to be crushed by his soldiers’ boots.

Ants are a eusocial species: they form cooperative groups, often in very large numbers, and create caste systems and practise instinctive altruism in the interests of the community. Bees, wasps, termites and some other insect species do the same. Prabowo told Topsfield he wouldn’t have any living creatures harmed on his property – they were talking at his ranch in the hills of West Java – and that he always takes a special interest in the welfare of the ants there. We do the same at The Cage, especially around the infinity edge of our small swimming pool, where many of them live at risk of disruption or worse when it rains and the water level rises. Everything has its place. Human hubris has sadly sidelined this essential fact of life.

There’s Always a SNAG

SOME men just don’t get it. Well, most, probably. The masculine gender seems to have particular difficulty keeping pace with cultural and social advance. This is not just a western thing. It often seems that there are only two races on Planet Earth: Female and Male.

The Shirley Valentine holiday sector is quite large, therefore, as a result of many things, including but not limited to misogyny. Generally, and beneficially, most people keep their private affairs private. But the “holiday fling” has a long history and certainly predates the social liberation of the 1960s, now sadly under threat again from Those Who Think They Know Best.

It’s a mystery why the romantic affairs of others should be so prominently and pruriently a public interest. Surely, that’s what erotic fiction is for; or porn, which of course is illegal in Indonesia, like so many other things that nevertheless go on willy-nilly here?

So our eye was caught by an article in a recent online Seminyak Times post that drew on a story in an Australian newspaper relating to the activities of SNAGs in the more mannered portions of the companion trade here. That’s SNAGs as in Sensitive New Age Gigolos: Kuta cowboys who’ve worked out that it’s nice to shower, to have a capacity to communicate in more than grunts, and to look a little kempt. The Seminyak Times article quoted a SNAG called Steven, of mixed Balinese and Japanese heritage, who says he sees around four clients a month, from the Australian-Japanese-Korean-Russian cohorts of the female traveller market, and that only about half of them want sex as part of the deal.

Well, women have always been more sensible than men about such things. Dinner and a laugh, flirty or otherwise, is often much more fun than a clumsy grapple and some probably unsatisfactory rumpy-pumpy. For men as well, we note, those of the sentient variety, at least. It’s different at beer-goggles time, naturally, but who wants to go there?

Though we repeat: it’s a mystery why private arrangements outside the realms of fiction are of any interest to other people. Being nosey is nasty, and being proscriptively judgmental is a waste of time. So carry on girls – and boys.

It Won’t Go Away

WE’RE used to traffic congestion in Bali. There often seems no reason for the giant tailback in which you find yourself before you have an opportunity to consult the map app in your phone and plot an escape route, if you can. But Slow Motion Melee is a fact of life here.

Some traffic jams are for a good cause, though, such as the one that gridlocked much of Sanur on Sunday, May 7, when there was another mass protest over the plutocratic plan to turn Benoa Bay into Port Excrescence in hot pursuit (surprise!) of capitalist profit. The top-down nature of politics here reflects the culture of the island – as it does throughout Indonesia – but the guys at the top seem to have forgotten the grassroots democracy that has always informed local life. You can be the Big Panjandrum, if you’re in the now modified governing elite, and it’s your turn, or something. But ultimately you must do what the people want, or that they can be persuaded to desire. If you don’t do that, eventually you’ll be out of a job.

There’s no sign that the mass of Balinese want Tomy Winata’s desecration of Benoa Bay to proceed. The demonstrators, their organisations (including ForBALI whose flags are everywhere) and the local communities aren’t going to shut up. They shouldn’t, and more power to them for insisting that they won’t, and for continuing to point out that Bali’s provincial government is on the wrong tram.

On Your Bike

THINGS must be a bit flat at the wink and nod end of the massage trade here. The Diary, while defiantly young at heart and – to the astonishment of many lovely local people – still perfectly capable of standing up and moving around, even at a fast trot if necessary, is nevertheless in no way a spry youth, and has never been a middle-aged lair. We would not, we’d have thought, be in that cohort of temporarily present foreign gentlemen on whom the rub-and-tug ladies would want to waste their marketing time.

So it was a surprise the other day when, strolling down Jl. Danau Tamblingan in Sanur, we were accosted by a man on a motorbike, who executed a perfect stop-on-a-Rp1000 coin manoeuvre and asked if we’d like a massage. “Not on your bike,” was our first, unuttered, response. “Not on your life” was the second, also unexpressed. It doesn’t do to be rude. Neither would we want to obstruct anyone’s business of the day. There’s a market for that sort of thing. We’re just not in it.

We smiled instead and said, “No thank you.” He looked disappointed, poor fellow, but he smiled back and waved – it’s that sort of thing that makes living in Bali such a joy – and rode off in search of more likely quarry.

We reported the incident to the Distaff. She likes a giggle. We’d been on our way to Chic salon to collect her after a coif and had only minutes before left Randy’s, the nice little place on the bendy bit towards the northern end of Tamblingan that we often visit when we’re in Sanur. There, we’d had an individual apple pie and ice cream (Canadian individual size: we’d struggled as always, but it was worth it) and several short espressos. “Where is your wife?” the lovely waitperson had inquired as we sat down. “Hair salon,” was our response. “Ah,” said the waitperson, with a little smile. She knew there’d be orders for several espressos.

HectorR

Hector’s Bali Advertiser Diary is published monthly. He writes a blog diary between times.

A Ridiculous Travesty

Bali, May 9, 2017

THERE are several things that can be said about the two-year jail sentence meted out to Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaya Purnama (Ahok) for his astoundingly correct but politically incautious observation that matters of religion are often subject to varying interpretations.

One is that no one sentient would argue with his point. But he knew, or he should have known, that he was dealing with the wall-eyed crowd from the Islamic Defenders Front, the FPI, which apparently believes rational thought is a pernicious disease found only in kafirs who ignorantly and unwisely follow other, haram, religions.

Another is that Ahok, who is not a good politician (that’s not necessarily a bad thing) and who has a habit of tripping over wires more cautious beings would see in plain sight, was setting himself for a fall. He is a Christian of Indonesian Chinese ethnicity and Jakarta, like most places in the crowded bits of Indonesia, is predominantly a Muslim city.

Anywhere else his faith and ethnicity would be at most a talking point. In Indonesia, where the full sunlight of daytime still has to fall on many things, including good governance and a true sense of participatory national feeling (beyond regional and often obtuse pejoratives) Ahok was foolish to disturb the mediaeval shadows that still inform much Indonesian discourse and significant elements of its culture.

That said, it passes belief that a court would sentence a leading public official to two years in jail for making a general statement with which even a scholarly Islamic cleric would have difficulty arguing. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is literally the word of God. The supporting liturgy with which Islam has equipped itself over the 1,400 years since Mohammad received the word explains and (arguably) sets in context the revelations of the Qur’an. The Hadiths can be interpreted. The Qur’an cannot: It simply is.

Non-Muslims – and even Muslims themselves if they wish to stick a toe into headstrong waters – are equally entitled to suggest that rationality deserves a place in Islamic thinking. But these are things for scholarly debate, not for political argument. That much is common sense, for one thing, as well as polite.

That such politeness is generally not reciprocated, sent in the other direction – from those who repeat the unarguable word of God from the minarets and then apply this deist fiat to political dispatch boxes now found in many a mosque – is by the way. The nuance of the Christian New Testament, where an eye for an eye is sensibly replaced by two wrongs not making a right, is absent from the Qur’an. That is, unless you read it with an eye that suggests things may have changed, not to mention word usage, over nearly a millennium and a half.

Perhaps other, less hide-bound, jurists than the panel that sat on the bench at Ahok’s trial will amend the judgement of that court on appeal. They certainly should. It is for expert jurists to determine whether Indonesia’s blasphemy laws were broken by the otherwise inoffensive comment the governor of Jakarta made to lower economic status electors whose votes were being sought by his opponents. The fact that Indonesia has blasphemy laws – it’s not unique in this: such laws exist, for example, in the overwhelmingly Catholic Republic of Ireland among other places – is beside the point, though it sits rather oddly with the Pancasila principles and rather a lot of modern life.

So those who would like to see Indonesia become Raya (Greater Indonesia) should today be considering the appalling damage that has been done to their cause by the judges of the Jakarta court who decided to jail Ahok on a trumped up political charge of blasphemy.

Among those who should be worrying about great things, as opposed to banal political manoeuvres, however useful these may be to themselves, is former army general Prabowo Subianto. His political pal beat Ahok in last month’s gubernatorial election with the significant assistance of the blasphemy charge, and will become governor in October.

It worked as a political tactic. For that, it required neither moral judgement nor an ethical base. In fact, the absence of these benefits was a decided plus.

But it has seriously dented Indonesia’s claim to be a leading light in Southeast Asia on the basis of its moral authority and its economy. If Prabowo’s vision for Indonesia Raya includes dressing up political manoeuvres in mediaeval misapprehensions, then his vision won’t be seen as great by many people at all, except for a bunch of fundamentalists who insist that Islam is Indonesia’s only way, and who happily blaspheme other religious beliefs (free of penalty) to maintain this flat-footed, fat-headed proposition and their place near the centre of power.

It may well be true that the real target of these shenanigans is President Joko Widodo and that Ahok is simply collateral damage on the way to Prabowo’s great Indonesia, which he will almost certainly campaign on for the next presidential elections.

But that makes it even more dangerous, as well as worse, more venal, and thoroughly banal. In a word: It’s the Trump card.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, May 13, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

The Full Farce of the Law

Sometimes a diarist in the Pancasila Archipelago finds himself wishing he were Archie Clark-Kerr, the British ambassador in wartime Moscow famous for finding himself grateful for any little shafts of light that came his way from heaven. He memorialized one such rarity in 1943 in a rather outré note he typed himself. It reported to the Foreign Office in London the arrival in the beleaguered Soviet capital of a new Turkish envoy called Mustapha Kunt.

There are precious few shafts of light from heaven or anywhere else around here at the moment. Instead, clouds of judicial and political imprudence (readers may wish to regard the ‘r’ as silent) darken the scene.

Susi Johnston, the long-time American resident of Bali whose home was serially invaded by thugs plainly connected with a bid by a woman who was not the nominee to acquire the property at Johnston’s expense, has had many days in court. None of them have been productive of anything except unintelligible bumf and rulings more suited to fictional Ruritania than to factional Indonesia, which aspires to leadership in South-East Asia.

The nominee system is of course outside the law. Lots of lawyers are driving expensively shiny black motor cars on the back of this winked-at illegality. The new Minister of Land Law (who is also director-general of the department) is conducting an audit of foreign-owned residential property to ensure that none continues to be held under this acquisitive fiction, on pain of confiscation to the financial detriment of any foreigners who haven’t regularized their titles prior to seizure. Possibly a lot more lawyers are planning to acquire expensively shiny black motor cars given this latest opportunity to charge outrageous fees to achieve nil result.

That aside, Johnston’s experience with home invasions and ex-nominees is highly instructive. A panel of judges in Denpasar District Court recently heard a criminal case brought by the police against three miscreants alleged to have thrice smashed up Johnston’s home at Mengwi, removed its contents to a handily waiting truck, and terrorized her for two years in the home she and her late husband built.

The judges – two of whom then immediately departed Denpasar for judicial posts elsewhere in Indonesia – found all three not guilty of any crime. They are, therefore, innocent, at least in the judicial meaning of that word. Most of us would be happy, granted, if we were in fact innocent of the charges on which we had been arraigned in court. Some of us might even celebrate that fact, judiciously, a little later, outside the precincts of the court in question.

Not these three however, who attended on the day the judges’ decision was to be handed down and sentences (if any) were to be meted out. They were supported by a group of male persons whom some have described as thugs. We were not in court and can make no assessment ourselves of their thuggish nature. They did however engage in scenes of fist-pumping and shouted approbation when their three friends were cleared, took group selfies, and threatened a female journalist covering the case.  Anywhere else this disgraceful display would have been seen as contempt of court worthy of reprimand if not penalty.

If all this leaves a foul taste in your mouth, then while it may not take the taste away, be assured it is a sensation that is fully shared by your diarist – and by anyone else, anywhere, who would prefer not to have to regard the law as a complete farce.

Bright Ideas Department

Perhaps President Joko Widodo is under even more pressure to perform to someone else’s prescription than has been evident thus far. He has now appeared publicly in populist mode promoting a threat to revoke the licences of private hospitals that refuse to treat people on their government issued health cards.

He’s missing the point. No hospital worthy of licensing would turn away an emergency case, but private hospitals are not bits of the health infrastructure that government doesn’t have to bother funding. “Socialisme” is, well, rather passé. Just ask China.

A more reasonable view is that private hospitals should participate in and support government programs to provide health care for the poor. The President would most likely find the private hospital sector keen to play a role in raising the standard of health of the population.

This would necessarily come at a price. The government could (and arguably it should) support private hospital programs for health card holders by allowing them to access the affordable medication, consumables and other incentives that are afforded to public hospitals.

Shot in the Dark

A lot of people have said quite a lot about the executions of six convicted drug traffickers at Nusa Kambangan Island in Central Java on Apr. 29. More will be said in coming months as the law of unintended consequences catches up with President Widodo. The executions – and those which preceded them as well as any that may follow – will not stop trafficking.

The drug problem that the President says he will stop by ignoring his commitment to human rights and instead having people routinely shot dead just after midnight is a modern phenomenon of cities and tourist centres found around the globe. And while international trafficking is a serious problem, the real problem and the real criminal organizers of it are home-grown.

It will not be countered by risible circuses demonstrating state power, such as the deployment of Sukhoi fighters to Bali to fly cover for the chartered aircraft transporting Bali Nine prisoners Myuran Sukumaran, who became an artist in jail, and Andrew Chan, who took holy orders while incarcerated, to their place of death. Or by the contingents of armed police that were also, astonishingly, deemed necessary.

Transporting two convicts can be done, with the assistance of handcuffs if necessary, by police and prison officers. Barnum & Bailey three-ring circuses are superfluous. Both men had become model prisoners who had contributed to rehabilitation programs at Kerobokan that are a tribute both to them and to the prison authorities.

We’re aware of certain darker elements in Sukumaran’s post-conviction behaviour that are not to his credit, but that’s rather beside the point now and in any case predated his obvious rehabilitation. Neither he nor Chan was going to attempt to escape. The Australian SAS was not going to swoop from the sky and snatch them away.

The President’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and members of the new government from the vice-president down seem to have understood this very well. They offered advice that it was possible to look at things on a case by case basis – and at the execution orders when these were slipped across the presidential desk for signature. They advised that Indonesia’s real interests would be better served by pulling back from the “kill everyone” formula. Even Prabowo Subianto, Jokowi’s strongman rival last year when the President was running on a human rights ticket, said so.

There is now a revitalized push among Indonesians to abolish capital punishment. It’s unlikely to go anywhere fast; but things are moving – and that’s forward, not backwards.

Ah, Daylight!

And now for some light relief: the Bali program of the 2015 Europe on Screen festival in Indonesia. This was at Pan Pacific Nirwana at Tanah Lot on May 2-3. It’s a great location to watch a movie. The waves rolling into the beach almost seem part of the film set.

The film on May 3 was Daglicht (Daylight) made by Eyeworks in the Netherlands in 2013 and directed by Diederik van Rooijen. It was adapted from the 2008 book by Marion Pauw that won the Golden Noose Dutch Crime award. The film stars Angela Schijf and is a little noir (it also has a different ending). But it deals in a compelling way with autism and the plot keeps you on your toes. The English subtitling was very good. Perhaps for Indonesian screenings subtitling should also be in Bahasa.

We had a chat with producer Judith Hees about films in the works. That was another highlight of the evening. Eyeworks, whose main work is in TV, made the series What Really Happens in Bali. We didn’t chat about that.

The film on May 2 was the British production Rush (2013) portraying the merciless 1970s rivalry between Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda. The Europe on Screen Bali program was supported by the charity SoleMen, whose best foot forward Robert Epstone was present. He was shoeless but in fine form as always.

Hector tweets @ scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the print and online editions of the Bali Advertiser http://www.baliadvertiser.biz

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Oct. 15, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Probability Prabowo

People seem to be somewhat exercised over the coalition that failed presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto has fashioned in the national legislature. Why this should be so is an interesting question. Indonesia is far from alone in being a democratic entity in which rival political constituencies vie for supremacy between the executive head of state and the popular assembly, sometimes with questionable people at one or the other helm. It has been a function of republican governance from ancient Rome to modern Washington.

Prabowo seeks to undermine and effectively sideline the power of the incoming president, who to his apparently still extant surprise is not himself. It’s certain that Joko Widodo will have his work cut out to lead from the Istana Negara while the Prabowo faction holds sway in the legislature.

This is not entirely novel anywhere, including in Indonesia. What makes the situation unique here is that party politics is fluid, and fully dysfunctional, rather than fully formed and in working order. Political parties have labels and compete for attention in the public space, but on the basis of their leading members’ personalities and personal desires rather than hard-worked policy. They all sing the same song, but it is a discordant one, sung in a thousand self absorbed voices. Everyone’s heard it countless times, the useless anthem Saya Pertama.

In this fractious melange, bit players come to the fore. Such as the Islamic Defenders Front, or PKI; it’s an outfit that specializes in being beside itself with rage and which literally gets away with murder. The PKI isn’t lawfully registered but no one will confront it. It doesn’t represent mainstream Indonesian opinion, but all it has to do – figuratively speaking – is drop its pants in public and everyone swoons. It parades its goon squads wherever it wants and thumbs its nose at the constitution, the law, public order and common sense, and has never heard of human rights. In this it has been aided and abetted by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (who leaves office on Oct. 20), who can only be a closet sympathizer or else feel compelled to push the funk button every time a thick-headed fundamentalist mouths his way into view.

Its latest campaign is to unseat the Indonesian Chinese Christian governor-designate of Jakarta – Jokowi’s former deputy, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known by his diminutive, Pak Ahok – because it says Muslims shouldn’t be governed by an infidel. Never mind Pancasila, then. Forget about the plurality that was the foundation stone of Indonesia’s independence and the recognized religions enshrined in the constitution. Overlook the fact that people need services, good governance and incorruptibility rather more than episodic repertory performances by Rent-a-Mob. The FPI seems to want to shift Indonesia two or three time zones to the west, where its mind-set, preferred dress codes, misogyny and bully-boy tactics are all the rage. It doesn’t matter to them that Indonesians, overwhelmingly and very sensibly, have no such desire.

At the formal political level, however, Indonesians should not yet be too alarmed by Prabowo’s indistinct grasp of democratic principle or the astonishing luminosity that he seems to believe attaches to his self-proclaimed stellar position. All politics are compromise. The precipitate decision to de-legislate direct elections at local level, a bill SBY supinely signed into law on Oct. 7, is a foolish step too far. Even generals have to keep the troops happy.

A Fine Send-Off

This year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival has come and gone – the first in seven years that the Diary has had to miss – and it was sent on its way in fine style on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 4 and 5, by some great Australian music.

The Oct. 5 closing extravaganza featured musicians ALPHAMAMA (Anita Meiruntu) and Ben Walsh. We’re really sad to have missed that. Meiruntu’s original music and passion constantly pushes the boundaries of creative expression. She’s popular in Indonesia, where she has recently toured.

Walsh is one of Australia’s most accomplished percussionists, performers and composers. He has been touring professionally since he was 18 and has made music for dance performances, the circus and film. At the UWRF closing show he performed with a number of local percussionists. By all accounts it was an explosion of creativity.

The Saturday and Sunday performances at Ubud’s ARMA Museum were supported by the Australian Embassy Jakarta as part of its Arts and Cultural Program 2014. Ambassador Greg Moriarty said of Sunday’s finale: “The talent and musical depths of both artists showcase the best of what contemporary Australia can offer and I hope the musical collaborations created during this festival will further strengthen the cultural understanding and creative connections between our two countries.”

On the Saturday there was a performance of Ontosoroh by Australian dancer and choreographer Ade Suharto and Indonesian vocalist and composer Peni Candra Rini. Suharto and Rini have been working closely over the past two years to create Ontosoroh, which tells the story of the heroic female lead Nyai Ontosoroh in the Indonesian literary classic, This Earth of Mankind, by Pramoedyah Ananta Toer.

This Australian-Indonesian collaboration explores feminine strength and the struggle for freedom.

The embassy’s Arts and Cultural Program 2014, which began in March and ends next month, includes music, visual art exhibitions, dance, literature, textiles, sport and a science and innovation seminar series. The program also includes arts residencies and exchanges involving artists from both countries.

Cliff-Top Fantasia

The lovely people at AYANA and RIMBA, whose fireworks displays so often entertain us gratis at The Cage where they light up our horizon and shortly thereafter set the local dogs barking when the sound waves hit, have introduced a new cliff-top venue, SKY.

It opened on Oct. 10 with the sort of swell party we’ve come to expect from those in charge of the plush acres on the Jimbaran end of the Bukit. Opening night was themed Kahyangan, White Beauty at Sky. The venue caters for up to 80 people on the cliff-edge deck, up to 2,000 on the lawn, offers an amphitheatre seating up to 80, and was designed by St. Legere International. It is being marketed as a great spot for weddings and special events – and comes complete with a special panoramic seat on which you can get yourself photographed with the cliff-top vista in the background.

The opening featured the full repertoire of son et lumiere – yes, including fireworks – for which the property is renowned and was MC’d by Denada, the well-known former rapper and Dangdut singer.

Sinking Fund

Celia Gregory, the British underwater sculptor and the Diary’s favourite mermaid, tells us of an interesting crowd-funding scheme for her Marine Foundation’s living sculptures in the sea program. They’re chasing GBP 4,000 (that’s around Rp 78.5 million) to pay for a film being made on Aspara, their most recent sculpture.

Apsara will be sunk into her underwater home in Jemaluk Bay at Amed, East Bali, on Oct. 22 where three village communities with the help of Reef Check Indonesia and CORAL are working to establish effective marine management and become guardians to their coral garden and fish nursery preserving its well-being for future generations.

Gregory says the art work is inspired by the Apsaras, ancient Hindu spirits who are very beautiful and wonderful dancers that in many ways have qualities similar to the Greek fables of the sirens and mermaids. The sculpture has been designed to provide a hiding place for fish and a solid surface for corals and sea creatures to settle. The Sinking of the Apsara into the underwater coral and fish garden is seen as a unique creative opportunity to make an inspirational and uplifting short film.

It would also help promote Amed and Bali, which is a worthwhile project in itself.

When we checked on Oct. 7, our deadline day, the funding site was saying they’d raised GBP1,128, which is 28 per cent of their target. The campaign closes on Oct. 30.

Go here if you’d like to help: indiegogo.com/projects/apsara-spirits-of-the-sea

Get Walking

Just a reminder that this year’s Bali Pink Ribbon Walk against breast cancer is on Oct. 25. It’s in the walk-friendly environment of the Nusa Dua tourism precinct, the manicured bit behind the security gates. It’s a great cause and the Diary’s one day of the year for wearing pink. Full details are on the web at balipinkribbon.com. The Bali Advertiser is a sponsor.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Aug. 20, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Trash Can be Beautiful

A month or so back we dropped in on a Green Drinks meeting in Ubud organized by organic food guru and long-time Ubud luminary Darsih Gede. It was an interesting and inspiring occasion. The presentation was on the then forthcoming Bali Creative Reuse Centre and its plans to engage children, their parents and their communities in finding innovative ways to recycle trash.

The centre opened in late July (it’s at Jl Bisma 53). Its goal is to collect waste from local businesses, schools and families and package these in activity kits or sold in bulk to teachers and families. The message is that trash is a valuable resource to reuse for art and as learning materials.

That message is being delivered by Eka, a local teacher who is running the centre, and American volunteer Renee. The centre supports local Indonesian artists and organizations with workshops on the artistic and practical value of recycled trash and acts as a resource centre. It supports local schools and community programs offering arts programs reusing their trash and helping them find resources to support environmentally safer ways to dispose of their waste.

A website is being developed. They have also just finished their first teacher workshop at Dyatmika and are designing a recycled materials space for them.  The aim is for this to become a model to replicate in other schools and villages to promote creativity and inspiration to use trash as a medium to produce useful products and eye-catching art.

Eka has augmented her teacher qualifications by training at the Bali Environmental Training Centre (PPLH) in Denpasar and is teaching children in villages to use plastic for weaving and crocheting to make bags and other functional products they can sell.  She has also met Bali Recycling to inform local villagers about ways they can recycle and get money for their trash.

An open day is planned for Sep. 7. This would be a great opportunity for all segments of the community to have a look at the innovative programs the centre offers. Trash is everyone’s business, after all.

It would be good to see other not-for-profit organizations in Ubud getting aboard this great civic and educational initiative. There’s nothing to beat cooperative engagement.

 

In General, Not a Good Idea

Former General Prabowo Subianto has made a bit of a mess of losing the presidential election. It seems that everyone other than himself is to blame for the fact that he failed to win the support of more Indonesians than his opponent, president-elect Joko Widodo.

Perhaps on Aug. 17, Independence Day, he might have found time to reflect on reality. In a democratic election the candidate who wins most votes is elected. Prabowo either can’t add up or doesn’t want to. It’s not as if he was beaten narrowly. The margin was wide enough to make a declaration of a result beyond the reach of anything other than a most inventive challenge.

Independence Day celebrates Indonesia’s nationhood and the 69 years of history that now stands on the record. Prabowo played a small part in some of that history, as a military man. He’s entitled to run for civil office. He’s not entitled to claim he was robbed of a victory that he plainly didn’t win. Civil society and democratic elections do not run on a military command basis.

He can try again next time, if he wants. A sensible appreciation of Indonesian politics and the voting figures this time shows clearly that Joko Widodo will have to accommodate a spectrum of views and policy positions, including those espoused by Prabowo’s party, which says it seeks a greater Indonesia.

That’s practical democracy. It is also the Indonesian way. It’s just not a good idea to ignore facts, even if (actually, especially if) you’re a retired general who was drummed out of the army under a cloud.

 

We Are Not Amused

American Bali muse Susi Johnston, who lives at Mengwi in a villa someone else has been trying to seize for their own enrichment, is in more trouble. This time someone has poisoned her pet dog and beloved cat in – on the evidence she presents – a carefully planned and deliberate manner. It might just be a case of VBS – Vindictive Bastard Syndrome, which like dengue and a lot of other avoidable endemic disorders is widespread in Bali – but given the history of her case that seems unlikely.

There are several aspects of her situation that are profoundly disturbing. They are worrisome for other long-term expatriate residents who contribute to the wider life of the island and whose presence directly benefits the Balinese and other Indonesians they pay or otherwise support.

Johnston has endured a lengthy campaign to remove her from the villa she shared with her Italian husband Bruno Piazza, who died in 2011 and whose name was on the nominee agreement. It has involved threats, break-ins and raids by thugs on the premises; detention by police pending “investigations”; a court process that has been stymied at every turn; and sundry other molestations that only the truly mean-spirited or graspingly acquisitive would visit on a widow. She assumes, with what seems to be good reason, that the pet poisoning is the latest incident in this lengthy round of bastardry.

In such circumstances the fainter of heart might simply mutter “this is not to be borne” and move someplace else where the rule of law, the principles of basic justice and common sense apply. But Johnston’s not a quitter. Bali is where she has made her life. The “system”, such as it is, should recognize that.

 

Revealing Fatwa

The roving eye was caught the other day by news that the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has issued a fatwa against women teaming the jilbab with “tight” clothing below the neck. Apparently its fatwa proscribing pornography (as defined by Islamic leaders) also means Muslim women should not show the shape of the body.

It’s true – as we’ve noted before – that some of the more excessive revelations made possible by modern western fashions are over the top. It’s not quite clear how or why painted-on jeans and bust-enhancing tops are pornographic, though we concede they must be dreadfully uncomfortable to wear.

Modern Islamic fashion for women is in its own way highly decorative, and that’s good. Seeing women primarily as sexual objects is a male disease, a genetic disposition that should have dropped off the scope very shortly after Urk, Gurk and the crew vacated their cave dwellings and got a bit civilized. It’s a shame that it hasn’t.

We agree with the vice-chairman of the MUI, Ma’ruf Amin, that women already choosing to wear the jilbab should not do so in a vulgar way. Vulgarity of any kind is offensive, after all; including the vulgarity of presuming rights to proscribe the elective and legal behaviour of others.

 

Blush Highlights

Sydney jazz singer and Villa Kitty ambassador Edwina Blush is back in Bali for her annual season of swingalongs. Through to September she’s playing the Three Monkeys Restaurant at Sanur between 6pm and 9pm every Tuesday and Sunday with her cool Blush Sextet (Yuri Mahatma on guitar,  Astrid Sulaiman on keys, Helmi Augustrian on bass, Pramono Abdi and sax and newcomer Wisnu Priambodo on drums; and Thursdays at Il Giardino in Ubud with the trio (7.30pm to 10pm).

Blush arrived in July with a program including four different combos and three different variations on a Jazz theme Classic Jazz, 20’s Swing and SkaJazz. Good stuff!

In her Villa Kitty hat she’ll have been pleased to see that Elizabeth Henzell’s Ubud establishment featured on the Australian TV series What Really Happens in Bali.

 

New Deal, Old System

The new management at Ngurah Rai International Airport has put a stop to the “VIP arrival services” that permit those unwilling to mix with the masses in the Visa on Arrival melee to pay to be fast-tracked around the bottleneck. Experience and an understanding of how things really work here suggest that normal service will be resumed shortly, if it hasn’t already.

If the new management is really interested in improving customer service at the airport it might like to look at a system that rosters porters (and provides luggage trolleys) when they’re needed and not simply at the porters’ convenience. We’re told by a traveller that mid-afternoon on Saturday, Aug. 9, neither porters nor trolleys were available in the arrivals hall.

Then there’s the piratical taxi monopoly. That warrants managerial examination too.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter