Saturday, December 29, 2007


Hector reports a discovery: he lives in the Silicon Zone.

This does not please him. It especially does not please him because The Cage, now nearly complete in terms of the renovations he and Mrs Hec required of their purchase to make it truly habitable, has revealed itself to be the constructional equivalent of a political office. It leaks like a sieve.

Hence, as a result of this (southern hemisphere) cyclone season, many unauthorised entry points for wind-driven rain have been identified over the past few days. They can all be fixed. Anywhere else and they would probably not exist, but The Cage is in Indonesia, where building standards are not, shall we say, quite what they could be.

Having recently spawned Cyclone Melanie, which at today’s date is briskly sailing the seasonal route to the north-west coast of Australia, the Bali area is again wet and blowy. It makes things nice and green and the annual wet monsoon is always welcome for that reason.

But at the same time, as Hec’s disreputably unbelieving Aussie mates are apt to say, “Enough, Huey!”

Thus far, since Christmas, he has discovered that every window – Ha! A notional term – lets in the wind-driven rain, and every door (ditto). The roof, “retiled” in 2006 according to the previous owner now safely repatriated to the Godzone, has a tendency to leak through the lining. The new bamboo blinds, while effective in keeping out the sun (Ha!) and deterring modest little mango showers of the sort the monsoon usually produces, get into a flap early in the piece in a real blow, and let everything in before flying away.

Hec’s always been a stiff-upper-beak sort of chap, but his patience is wearing a little thin. Especially since painting of the interior of The Cage has just been (nearly) completed and will now have to be redone in several significant areas because, well, paint and high-pressure water input do not really mix.

The solution is silicon, extruded from a tube into all the points through which Mr Huey can infiltrate his raindrops. According to Mr and Mrs Hec’s urgent audit (ongoing) that’ll take about a ton of goo.

Welcome to paradise! Bring your Sydney-to-Hobart wet weather gear with you – and your galoshes too.

Friday, December 28, 2007


News that the archly Australian conservative apparatchik Lynton Crosby is to assist the colourful British Tory MP Boris Johnson in his bid to unseat former communist Ken Livingstone as Lord Mayor of London piqued Hector’s interest in the dull days between Christmas and New Year.

Crosby is generally credited with engineering the John Howard ascendancy in Australia. He jumped ship, of course, long before Captain John pulled the bung on his own boat, moving into the lucrative business of privatised advising through his firm Crosby-Textor. He is already a veteran of British election campaigning.

Long before that, he was – for his sins which, given the serial dysfunctionality of the Queensland Liberals, must have been major – director of the Queensland state division of the Australian Liberal Party and an aficionado of fish, via the excellent menu at Aussie’s Fish Cafe at Red Hill in Brisbane. Hector shared a crumbed fillet or two with him in those distant days.

It is interesting that Crosby, who is nothing if not a primordial Tory, should be assisting the man known in British politics as Bonking Boris. Two people whose personal lifestyles are further apart would be hard to imagine.

Boris got his nickname from the fact that he is apparently unable to resist the temptation to invade every pair of knickers that sails into view. He himself – not only the dour British Tories’ most colourful MP, but also a former editor of the lively British weekly magazine The Spectator – puts his unquenchable interest in the sport of Romp n Bonk down to his Turkish ancestry. Blond and effervescently British he might be, a product of the playing fields of Eton and all that, but he is of Turkish descent on one side of his family.

This has often caused Hector to pause, claw poised in midair somewhat in the manner of Frank in that irritatingly entertaining British sitcom 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em', to ponder the question of whether there might be some undiscovered genetic link between Boris and the Turkish ambassador in Moscow whose arrival there in April 1943 produced a brilliant report to the Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Office in London from Britain’s own HE on the spot in the wartime Soviet capital, Sir Archibald Clerk Kerr.

Hector has a treasured facsimile of Sir Archie’s fine letter, dated 6 April 1943, to his pal Reggie (Lord Pembroke). It reads as follows:

My Dear Reggie,

In these dark days man tends to look for little shafts of light from Heaven. My days are probably darker than yours, and I need, my God I do, all the light I can get. But I am a decent fellow, and I do not want to be mean about what little brightness is shed upon me from time to time. So I propose to share with you a tiny flash that has illuminated my sombre life, and tell you that God has given me a new Turkish colleague whose card tells me he is called Mustapha Kunt.

We all feel like that, Reggie, now and then, especially when Spring is upon us, but few of us would care to put it on our cards. It takes a Turk to do that.

Sir Archibald Clerk Kerr
H.M. Ambassador, Moscow

Perhaps Boris’ own business cards subliminally carry the same message.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


When Hector was a lad, a new scribe just learning to scratch a living with a quill, a chap called Enoch Powell was making a lot of noise about the long-term deleterious effects of immigrants to his country of residence, now known as the Disunited Kingdom.

Powell was an unlikely politician. He was a professor of classical Greek. He was a complex and driven man, someone who saw the benefit of deep and thoughtful argument, and the demerits of reducing every ‘issue’ – not then a term in wide currency, since English was straightforward in those distant days – to a mealy-mouthed but catchy sound-bite.

He didn’t understand, as that other famous demagogue Idi Amin of Uganda did and proved it by proclaiming himself King of Scotland, that if you don’t want to vanish with a kick up the bum, you’ve got to give the population something to hum.

Powell couldn’t set people a-humming to save himself. He was not cut out to be a populist. He preferred to create a low moan among the people with a dismal sermon from the mount. He liked to be a Jeremiah, to offer a dismal vision of ruin and damnation.

What set Hec’s mind thinking about Enoch and his Great Error of 1968 was a little item he read in the pre-Christmas British press, to the effect that Mohammed (or its variants) was set to become Britain’s most popular boy’s name within a year.

It seemed appropriate to consider this topic as Muslims marked the birthday of their prophet Isa al Mahdi, known to the Christian world as Jesus.

Hec knows lots of Mohammeds (and variants). They are remarkably well distributed in the Indonesian population, among whom he lives and finds great pleasure doing so, though not quite so ubiquitously in Hindu Bali, his actual location, where if you’re not Wayan, Made, Nyoman or Ketut (or their variants) you’re not on the roll.

Errant Enoch, in his famous political suicide note of four decades ago, warned Britain of disaster if immigration continued at the proposed pace. He said he foresaw the River Tiber flowing with blood, etc. His commentary on the state of the entrails that he had purportedly examined and assessed, went down with his peers in the political world like an oyster in a Halal restaurant.

It was never quite clear, especially to young Hec when he was given the job of making a 400-word prĂ©cis of Powell’s speech for the British newsagency for which he then toiled, why he had chosen a Roman allegory. As a Greek classicist, he would surely have been better to recall what happened to Socrates. When he wouldn’t stop banging on about things the Athenian elite preferred not to canvass, they poisoned him.

That’s not to say that Powell should have avoided the issue. If it worried him, he should have said so – and why. It’s just that he could never understand that he had got it so horribly wrong; that he had failed to comprehend that most people, of whatever provenance, only seek improved conditions for themselves – in this instance by migrating to Britain – within the unwritten rules of cooperation for mutual benefit that govern human interaction.

The Tiber has not run with blood, in Britain or elsewhere. The frictions in post-immigration Britain pale into insignificance compared with, for example, Wat Tyler’s rebellion or the Corn Law riots. Or very nearly the Jarrow March in the Depression years.

Most immigrants integrate – loosely or fully, according to taste, preference and, importantly, opportunity – and become functioning parts of their new communities. This is because they are people, another historical fact that somehow seemed to elude Powell.

In fact it is people like Powell - now dead of old age, not arsenic – who represent the dangerously Antediluvian rump of human society: them and people like spoiled little rich kids (Osama bin Laden comes to mind in that context) and scattered madmen or pathological self-victims.

Mohammed is a lovely name. It’s not a Christian name. But so what?

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Americans are homely, kind people; generous to a fault and always anxious to do the right thing. Only the churlish refuse to concede that an American’s heart is almost always in the right place, even if the foot is in the mouth or the bull in the china shop.

In the old days, before forensic examination of societies became possible, let alone fashionable, it was taken as a given that most people were dumb. Nowadays they’re not supposed to be; or if they are it’s not their fault.

The fact is, however, that most Americans are dumb. Like most other people. They’re certainly not smart in terms of standard statistical measures of national brain-power.

One of Hector’s favourite American fun facts is the survey – now of some vintage: perhaps today more of Uncle Sam’s finest know the answer – that revealed 58 per cent of American high school graduates were unaware of where Canada was. (Al Capone, who made a mint as a Chicago mobster but was clearly as thick as a Calzone pizza, is said to have asked, when told an out-of-sorts affiliate had gone to Canada, if that was that new place on Main Street.)

Americans are also god-fearing, or so they keep telling us, ad nauseam. That’s why it’s a surprise to learn – from a new Gallup survey – that that while they buy more than 20 million new Bibles every year (to add to the four that the average American already has at home), less than half can name the first book of the Bible. (It’s Genesis.)

Only one third know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. (Apparently Billy Graham is a popular answer.) One in four cannot state what is celebrated at Easter. (Ah, guys, try the Resurrection, the founding element of Christianity.) Sixty per cent cannot name half the Ten Commandments. And 12 per cent think Noah was married to Joan of Arc. (They probably think she was burned at the stake just downstream from that place in Louisiana, for that matter.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Hector was under a cloud today (the annual rains have arrived in his current Balinese location) and so, confined to cage, he had little to do other than waste time browsing the Internet. Well, that’s Mrs Hec’s view.

As a result, he came across some prime intelligence: a lot of people believe politicians behave unethically and that some are dishonest.

He did so as a consequence of polling by that energetic Australian-based global sampler of people’s considered opinions, Roy Morgan. The survey related to Australia and New Zealand – not exactly a prime market for political skulduggery but interesting nonetheless. It forms part of a global study of the phenomenon of political ambiguity to be released early next year.

Hec’s view of politics and politicians is that both are necessary evils. Someone has to run the country. The public services do that, of course, but in most polities they need politicians to give them their instructions. Only in some countries are the public servants the de jure as well as the de facto governments.

He has a couple of friends in the Australian capital, Canberra, more than usually raucous members of the black cockatoo population of the area, whose favourite trick when a new parliament is convened is to fly over the gathering and lose their own deposits in carefully aimed directions. Several galahs have complained bitterly in the past about their activities.

Come to think of it, Hec knows of a couple or three galahs in the political arena himself. But he insists they are not venal, just vexatious; not unethical, just incapable.

Morgan’s sampling, released just weeks after an Australian election that the only fellow who didn’t think he should lose lost in a landslide, shows that 44 per cent of Australians believe political leaders behave unethically.

It was presumably a standard sample poll, so it would probably represent the views of the 50 per cent of Australians who, not to mince words, couldn’t give a rodent’s rear end what political leaders do provided they keep out of their way.

And most likely the views of the self-proclaimed elite (at last count 98 per cent of people elected themselves to this category) who think they could do a better job of running the country than anyone who first has to run for office.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Hector is a fan of old-time songs. His favourite is that old Noel Coward number about his canary, the one who has circles under his eyes. Hec says he can relate to that.

But when we heard him humming along today it was an adaptation of another old favourite from the dilettante days of yore, ‘Let’s Fall in Love’. It went like this:

Cockatoos in droves do it
Wedge-tailed Eagles, regally, do it
Budgies, in or out of smugglers, do it
Even effete parakeets do it
Let’s do it
Let’s trot along ...

Now Hec’s far from being a fitness fanatic. But he does flit around everywhere with tremendous energy and fits in at least 20 press-ups a day (when nobody’s looking).

And today’s little ditty, he tells us, was inspired by something he read about the latest fitness report on Aussies.

Not to put too fine a point on it, it seems they’re an idle shower. Nearly half of them are not even active enough to maintain good health.

A study found that one in five of those fortunate enough to live in the well-serviced and specially protected biosphere known as Australia don't even manage one 10-minute walk a week.
It reported that 16 per cent of those interviewed were ‘completely sedentary’. In Hector talk, that means they do three fifths of five eighths of a quarter of one sixteenth of bugger all to help themselves maintain fitness. The remaining nanojoule of energy is probably reserved for lifting the beer glass to the lips.

And two-thirds did not meet recommended guidelines for moderate intensity physical activity in the previous week.

A total of 47 per cent were not sufficiently active for good health, according to the survey of almost 1500 adults. (Hector wonders how they managed to dredge up the energy to participate in the survey.)

Naturally, in these days when nothing is every your fault or your responsibility, but always someone else’s and preferably that of the amorphous entity known as ‘government’, getting Aussies off their butts is seen as a job for the government. Memo Prime Minister Rudd: Have you got a vision thingy for this dire crisis?

It seems that most of those questioned blamed their lack of attention to serious detail (maintaining a capacity to walk more than two steps without a Bex and lie-down, for example) on long working hours, increasingly lengthy travelling times to and from work, and the fact that their workplace didn’t provide a gym facility and showers.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Hector has always been a ‘what if?’ fan. Not in this instance the excellent travel website that in these days of serial misspelling calls itself Wotif – although as an inveterate seeker of the sybaritic life, he studies that with interest and envy too.

The ‘what if’ that currently fixates his beady eye is the Australian election, held on November 24 and from which at the date of writing counting is still not complete (although the outcome is clear).

He understands too that the detail and detritus of something as peripheral to the world as an Australian election is not of much interest to many. But then, as he reasonably says, this is his blog, so there!

So, he muses, what if Australia used the first past the post voting method instead of the complex multi-preference system it invented in the late 19th century to mute the mewling of minority interests and begin the grand tradition of Aussies making things far more complicated than they need to be?

Well, for a start we’d have known the outcome of the election on election night, and saved everyone a lot of unnecessary angst. An election’s a race, right? And in a race, it’s the first past the post that wins. As in the Melbourne Cup, where the Neighs always win; as in the Stawell Gift, started as an annual dash for practitioners of the arcane arts of Aussie Rules football, a code in which today’s players run around very quickly wearing very small, tight shorts. The Stawell Gift is often won by the narrowest of squeaks.

Ahem, back to the point. Hec’s done some crunching – of numbers, as well as his extra seed ration for being nice and quiet and keeping out of the way of Mrs Hec for many hours – and says that on a first-past-the-post basis, the 11-year-old government would have been narrowly returned (for a historic fifth term) and the veteran prime minister, John Howard, would have been spared the ignominy of becoming only the second sitting Australian PM to be de-bagged by his own electors.

Howard and his Liberal-National coalition government would have had a near-death experience. That’s never a bad thing in a democracy. It’s like hanging the occasional admiral. It reinvigorates one’s leaders so.

But they would have hung on, with their previously comfortable majority in the 150-seat House of Representatives cut to two seats.

Of course, that would have meant Labor would have failed (again) to interest the electors in voting them into office.

It would have a deprived the world of the opportunity to deal with a new administration in Canberra celebrated for having a former pop star as its (apparently newly gelded) environment minister and a prime minister and a treasurer who not only represent adjoining electorates but who actually hail from the same hamlet in regional Australia, in this instance Queensland, a part of Australia rather far removed from the cultured domain of those who are accustomed to acquiring executive power.

But it might have been appropriate. It was after all a recently retired and inveterately self-promoting Labor premier of Queensland, Peter Beattie, who showed his commitment to the historic balance allegedly offered by his country’s preferential voting system by telling electors in successive state elections to ‘just vote one’.

It worked for him. It eliminated the influence of minor parties and nuisance candidates: and Speedy Pete was the first nag past the post.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Hec was reading something recently – he thinks it was a promotional e-flier from some purveyor of sanitised tap water gizmos – that prompted him to muse about the benefits of ginger.

It has an ancient history. The first ginger group was probably formed shortly after Urk began proto-voicing dark proto-thoughts about that awful Irk over in the neighbouring tract of hunter-gatherer forest that he coveted and drove his pals to drink with his whingeing.

But Hec digresses (he does that). The important thing is that ginger has long been used as a culinary and medicinal herb. Hec notes that like much else of modern benefit it arrived in Australia with the First Fleet or shortly thereafter. Of course, it’s also a major component of cuisine in Bali, yet another good reason for shifting The Cage to the Island of the Gods.

Ginger gets a gong from that renowned creator of aphorisms, Confucius, who was around more than half a millennium before there was any reason for Christmas and absolutely yonks before gingerbread men made an appearance on the festive table; and in the Qur’an.

In medieval Europe, where chaps were not quite as bright as they believed themselves to be (has anything changed?), they thought it came from the Garden of Eden. Slightly later, Jamaicans and early American settlers made beer from it. It gave them something to hop into when the regular product had been drunk en route from the Old Dart.

Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine have relied on ginger for at least 3000 years for its anti-inflammatory properties and both use it as a “carrier” herb, one that helps other herbs to be more effective in the body.

As an inveterate observer of human amusements, Hec was also interested recently to read of a study in the British medical journal ‘Lancet’ – you can get a laugh almost anywhere these days – that involved 36 people highly susceptible to motion sickness. Honestly, some people will do anything for a cup of tea and a lie-down.

Apparently the researchers had the subjects take either two capsules of powdered ginger, an anti-nausea medication or a placebo, and then, 20 minutes later, spin on a motorised chair for up to six minutes. Taking ginger delayed the onset of sickness about twice as long as taking the medication. The study also found that half the subjects who took ginger lasted the full six minutes, compared with none of those given the placebo or the medication.

When not being used in vomitous medical experiments, ginger is very popular in stir-fry cooking as well as baked treats such as ginger cake, ginger biscuits, ginger chocolates (yum!) and in drinks like ginger ale.

One of Hec’s personal favourite pick-me-ups is carrot and ginger juice. And Mrs Hec swears by ginger tea.

Friday, December 07, 2007


Hec and Mrs Hec are having a great time renovating The Cage. Well, it was something they said they'd never do back home in Aussie. But the new digs come with a view - right up to the Banyaks, as Hec is wont to observe from time to time (and he promises an explanation of 'Banyaks' in this context later) - and that view must be accompanied by a measure of comfort not currently offered.

Thus The Cage, which is situated high on the hill at Ungasan on Bali's fabulous southern Bukit with fabulous sea outlooks to match and pleasantly cooling breezes all year round and which enables Hec to indulge in his second most favourite occupation, watching aircraft, is in a mess at the moment.

There are tradespeople everywhere, and a lot of really sticky red dust: the latter because the terracotta pavers had to be refurbished, didn't they? That involves employing a small Indonesian and a large - and very noisy - gizmo wotzit thingo that blows the resulting mess everywhere. And that's just after the expensive new venetians have been installed on Level Three of The Cage and equally pricey anti-solar screens on Level Two. Not to mention the new boudoir fittings in the bedroom suites. Hec thinks they call this planning. He vaguely remembers majoring in murphyism when he was but a fledgling student, many, many seed bags ago.

To finish the project by Christmas - ha! ha! ha!, but perchance no ho! ho! ho! - now involves, Hec is informed, an arrangement under which the work crew will live in the garage so they can start work early and finish late. And get it finished before the Christmas crib gets its extra occupant. Well, that's the plan. It's a good one, as long as Hec remembers not to run over any of the workers sleeping on the job when he and Mrs Hec get back from one of their renowned arak nights at De's Bar down in neighbouring Nusa Dua. It might even work (the plan, that is).

Not that there'll be much flitting over to Nusa Dua for a little while, anyway. It's been taken over by regiments of climate change experts for the big gabfest about how we're all going to die in thousands of years because it's got a little warmer of late. Hec's planning Christmas Drinks anyway (at De's Bar). His formula for beating global warming is to put another ice cube in his medicinal Jack's.


One of the things that really annoys Hec, he tells us, is stupidly simplified questions on public issues.

A case in point: Australia's Nine Network today asked whether Telstra (the still part-government-owned telecommunications utility in Australia) should do what the government told it to do.

The issue was the new federal government's proposition that Telstra should acquiesce in losing an undetermined but potentially sizeable portion of its market in the interests of providing Australians with the 'super-broadband' access promised by the new government elected on November 24.

So how do you answer that question?

You can say Yes (and indeed you probably should), but that affirmative must be conditioned. Government should have no role in ordering business entities around, other than by necessary and essentially limited regulation. In the case in point, Telstra has shareholders (including Australian governments) whose investor rights would be infringed by placing the corporation in circumstances that might well destroy a large part of its business.

If you say No (Hector did, just to be contrary), then you're just as guilty of supporting official disingenuousness.

It might be difficult to build a little necessary complexity into 'fire and forget' web polls, but it should be done. Otherwise we'll just all get dumber and dumber and turn missing the point into policy practice.