Friday, November 28, 2008


The Bali Times is at

The Jolly Roger Flies Again
PIRACY has a long history; though not, one concedes, an honourable one. And we don’t mean bootleg DVDs and CDs. We mean the real thing. It’s in the news at the moment because some enterprising chaps in Somalia who unsurprisingly find themselves bereft of other ways of earning a crust in the benighted bit of the Horn of Africa they have the misfortune to live in, have turned to stealing merchant ships in the hope of acquiring handsome ransoms. The biggest prize so far is a Saudi Arabian oil tanker, for whose safe and intact release they are asking a whole lot of dosh. Well, you’ve got to think big, especially in these dark days.

If piracy had been mentioned in that wonderful primer on English history, “1066 And All That” – by the Diary’s reckoning it beats Simon Schama’s precious paraphrasing by, oh, say at least a Battle of Hastings or two – it might have made some apt if unkind reference to the Vikings and their Longships. Later, revised editions could have referred to the principal place in English overseas adventurism played by such gentlemen as Henry Morgan. He was that Welshman who was such a good privateer in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, stealing gold and silver from the Spanish on behalf of his money-chest and his monarch, in that order of precedence, that by the early 17th century he had become the Privateer’s Privateer. Knighted, he became governor of British Jamaica, rewarded – along with certain other lucky buccaneers – for sterling service to the crown. (Buccaneer has a culinary root, by the way, from boucan, the original beach barbecue favoured by those on the run from navies and other buccaneers.)

Later on, piracy became such an issue in the Mediterranean, along the coast of North Africa where your pirate de jour was known as a Corsair, that the then newly-minted U.S. Marine Corps, deployed in defence of proto-private enterprise in the area, built a reference to it into their favourite ditty for ramping up esprit de corps. That’s the one that records their predilection for shooting up everything from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli. There is, incidentally, some historical justification for sheeting home the blame for the Corsairs on the North African coast to the robbery-with-violence practices of the self-same Vikings who earlier pillaged and pirated England. Still, we probably shouldn’t be too hard on them for starting that tradition. They came from Scandinavia and were probably just trying to escape those nasty winters.

Much closer to home, in our own climatically clement archipelago, a pirate is a bajak laut or perompak. Interestingly, and doubtless in pursuit of additional danger money, the luminaries of the Australian maritime unions have fingered Indonesian piracy as a threat to Aussie life and limb. Guys, try the Straits of Malacca or off the Philippines if you really want to work up a worry. That’s the regional focus of modern day piracy on a scale that might rate more than a brief mention in the press, or for that matter net more than the on-board petty cash and a can or two of Bintang. And that’s precisely the area in which regional naval and military efforts of long standing have concentrated as a deterrent to robbery on the high seas.

There’s little doubt the nest of pirates on the ungovernable coast of Somalia pose a real threat to world maritime trade and none that they must be stopped. So far this year they have seized 95 ships. Merchant vessels using the Suez Canal must pass within sling-shot of the area. That’s why the American, British, Russian and Indian navies, among others, are making an effort there to harass the Jolly Roger (the Skull & Crossbones) that again – even if only figuratively – flies from the masts of ships of evil intent.

Where Mythical Eagles Fly
WE HEAR that Garuda is going back to Brisbane, the third-largest Australian capital city. It dumped this sizeable Bali tourism catchment in 2005 (“after the second bombing” is its preferred corporate line), a decision that oddly coincided with the utterly foreseeable collapse of its let’s-not-pay-our-lease-instalments scam and the consequent rushed disappearance of its Airbus aircraft. A return to Brisbane is certainly long overdue. The Queensland capital is a rich resource of potential Bali travellers. Garuda once had the route – and its extension to Auckland – all to itself but will now be competing with Qantas low-cost offshoot Jetstar and Richard Branson’s flighty little Aussie Virgin spinoff Pacific Blue.

Vote for Me, Honey!
YES, we all know about the global economic crisis. Isn’t it a bore? All those silly numbers and even more silly people, it seems. Chaps called Hank and Ben, for starters, not to mention Alan, from the wings, who had shuffled offstage before the tempest hit; then all those Gordon Geckos in the derivatives (derisory more likely) industry; and finally all those politicians across the globe who apparently couldn’t even spot a speeding debt train, far less wake up to the fact that it was running them over. Still, it remains much more interesting to concern oneself with politics, where the golden rule is all care but no responsibility (if things go wrong). The receivers are never sent in if a bunch of political whackos messes up.

That’s where democracy comes in. We like to think – as a species that is – that politics, government and all that really complicated stuff is a human invention. Some critics might even suggest that this is why it never seems to work very well. But actually, bees do democracy best. They even vote. Now there’s a thought! They don’t bother with anything as trivial as electing a new president, or about the colour of their ruler’s stripes. They sure as hell don’t set up websites with catchy little populist names like www.BeePM. In the beehive there is no unnecessary argument about popular succession, no expensive lobbying, or (oh joy!) financial fuss.

Actually, all they do is dance. How cool is that for a political party? And when election season comes, the question they vote on is simply this: where on earth to site a new nest? And even then, they keep it simple. Those bees are not stupid. They don’t buzz too loudly (far too noisy). They don’t scribble on bits of paper (even though a sister species invented the world’s first paper – see, it wasn’t the Chinese after all, or even the Egyptians – because that’s wasteful of scarce wood resources). According to science (the bit of it that’s not off frying its brains over global warming) the system of range-voting used by bees is probably the most effective decision-making process ever devised. Finding the right location for a new colony is crucial. And it’s a lot more practical than humankind wondering if it can find a new planet to destroy when this one’s done for in several billion years or so. It concerns essentials like protection and resources: Too exposed a site and their nest becomes easy prey for predators such as birds. Too far from good sources of food and the colony will starve.

The Diary is indebted to that fine English journal, The Spectator, for reminding its readers in a recent edition that bees really do approve of the KISS principle. As in Keep It Simple Stupid. When election time comes around at their hive, about 5 per cent of them scout out the best new locations, return to the nest and divulge the co-ordinates of their prospective sites to the rest of their community in an elaborate jig. The other bees buzz off to take a look, coming back to dance with the bee they think has chosen the best site. And after only about two weeks (short campaigns are so much better) the bee with the most dancers wins, whereupon the colony relocates. Apparently they make the best possible decision about 90 per cent of the time.

Democracy is a simple, highly efficient prehistoric decision-making process established in the insect kingdom more than 60 million years ago. It’s just that most modern humans aren’t close enough to nature to learn how best to do it.

Meanwhile, Back at Our Hive
WE’VE just got through the agonisingly slow business of the U.S. presidential selection process. And as is generally the case – leaving aside George W. Bush-era curiosities like Florida and hanging chads – the Americans have elected to boogie for the next four years with the candidate who best got them groovin’. But the party isn’t over. Here at home we have the presidential and legislative elections next year. By that time the whole of Bali – and most likely the rest of Indonesia – will be blotted out by the colourful banners of the rival political parties, at the rate they’re going up now. And long before then we will all be buried under the wholly notional results of pre-poll opinion polling, that inexact science that employs battalions of pollsters with really complicated minds and deploys them with volumes of very simple questions.

Pre-poll polling released by pollsters Lembaga Survei Indonesia (LSI) on Nov. 20 holds few surprises. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Partai Demokrat was leading the field on 16.8 per cent – sampling was conducted in late October-early November – with Golkar (the party of Vice President Jusuf Kalla) a shade behind on 15.9 per cent and Megawati Sukarnoputri’s PDIP third on 14.2 per cent. At this stage, then, the three major parties are wrapping up nearly half the vote.

It’s early days, of course, but there would be comfort for the incumbents in two key facts: first, that PD and Golkar between them have nearly a third of prospective vote; and second, the general rule in democratic systems that those in office – provided they are not grossly incompetent or total tossers – are best kept at their desks during times of crisis.

It’s Core Issues, Not Core Values
IN TIMES of plenty, when discretionary spending currency units are around by the shovelful, many people like to play with fun ideas, like saving whales or worrying about when their coal exports are going to end up frying them. In times of trouble, such social core values go to the wall. Some might see this as selfishness. We’re talking people like Greenpeace and those kooks from PETA, the people for ethical treatment of animals. Oddly however – and doubtless this is galling for activists who unlike Australia’s environment minister, former musical conscience Peter Garrett, didn’t win a seat on the gravy train for just the price of a principle – when times get tough, people tend to get personally focused.

So it is no surprise to see that the Morgan poll in Australia – favourite poll of Gary Morgan and, probably, some other political tragics – shows economic issues are seen by 37 per cent of people as the single most important problem facing the world today, well ahead of the environment at 26 per cent and “social issues” – however defined – languishing on 9 per cent. The former bĂȘte noir, “terrorism and security issues” – not without coincidence a primary focus of the former Howard government’s determination to concentrate the voters’ minds on unspecified, unquantifiable and frankly rather fanciful risks to the Land of the Fleece and the Home of the Sav – also rated only 9 per cent. The Aussies have come a long way from the heady days of the government-issue fridge magnet (“be alert, not alarmed”) and opportunities to get even with pesky neighbours by calling the hotline to report they overheard them planning a terrorist act.

We’ve Just Got to Mooove It
THE morning walk is great exercise. It’s something many people try to do, in the relative cool of the just-after-dawn gloaming. One long-term Bali-resident couple – they’re avid readers of The Diary of course – makes this a regular practice and, over many months, has made many friends of the wave-as-we-go-by kind in their quiet area of the Bukit.

As everywhere in Bali, if you go anywhere on foot, you see some fabulous sights. That’s not counting the morning ablutions at a neighbouring building site, often the cause of much embarrassed giggling and running for cover on the part of those caught sans culottes. Just keep your eye fixed on the road in front of you – that’s always a sound idea anyway, for other reasons – and you’ll be right.

But recently, trekking slowly along a rare flat section of their morning aerobics route, they came across something that, at least from their point of view, significantly caps the whole experience so far. At the side of the road, trying to get a feed among all the plastic bags discarded by passing locals – don’t you hate that – was a little brown cow they often see there. You’ll know the sort. About as big as a Great Dane, but if the Hound of the Baskervilles happened along it would be well in the shade. Or off at a fair clip to hide in the trees, which might be a more sensible response.

This day, however, they didn’t just get to chat with their little bovine friend. Its owner – well, they assume that it was its owner – appeared with an offer he evidently thought would be too good for random, perambulatory Bules to pass up. Would they like to buy his cow? Apparently, he just had to move it, in return for an unspecified consideration in rupiah. Sadly for this entrepreneurial gentleman, acquiring a cow was not on the passing strollers’ agenda.

Welcome back
CYNTHIA Banham, the Sydney Morning Herald journalist badly injured in the Yogyakarta air crash in March 2007, is back at her desk as diplomatic editor for the newspaper. Her many friends and acquaintances – The Diary among them – say a hearty welcome back.

Friday, November 21, 2008


The Bali Times is at

A Bad Call on Bad Law
A POLICEMAN’S lot is not a happy one. We should therefore feel some sympathy for the dilemma that Bali’s police chief, Inspector General Teuku Ashikin Husein, may find himself in if the central government actually ever does issue a regulation to enforce the badly thought out and frankly fundamentally embarrassing anti-pornography legislation recently passed by the legislature.

He says the police have no option but to enforce the new law in Bali. Logically and administratively, he’s correct. It is not after all the job of the police – or any other national agency – to join in public clamour over the foolish and short-sighted actions of either the legislature or the government. Better such matters are left to the constitutional court.

At the same time, it is surprising he chose to be drawn into the fractious political argument over the legislation, given that it has yet to be made subject to a regulation – and cannot be enforced until it is – and since he must know it is anathema to Bali’s Hindu culture and custom, as well as to other indigenous non-Muslim cultures elsewhere in Indonesia.

Like most bad law, the bill merely creates new – predominantly victimless – offences, turning into law-breakers people who if not for the presence of the new law would have committed no offence at all. Further, it applies (one view of) Islamic requirements on behaviour and dress that have no relevance to non-Muslims.

It is, in short, in that regard at least, legislation that should only be promulgated as an enabling law to permit local authorities to mandate dress and behaviour codes where these are deemed appropriate to those communities. Sadly, these and other benefits of regionalism and cultural diversity, let alone the immutable principles of Pancasila, apparently elude the national legislature.

In relation to true pornography, which is offensive to the majority of people, other laws provide a mechanism for limiting its exposure. The thought of “big brother” spying on the private activities of people is offensive and the result fundamentally dangerous to freedom. There are already arrangements already in place to counter paedophilia and other sexual crimes. The anti-pornography legislation is entirely peripheral to that.

What should properly concern the police – in relation to sensible advice they might think it useful to give the government – is the potential for social disturbance flowing from the unwillingness of the Balinese to give up important elements of their distinctive religion and culture to meet the increasingly restrictive demands of another. They might, too, usefully consider whether the licensing of vigilantism, as proposed in the legislation, is in fact conducive to public order.

A great many laws are actually not enforced, or are used when breached as a means of collecting “fines” that never find their way into national revenue collection. Just as one example, Bali police could properly enforce the helmet rule on the island’s motorcyclists – that way they would not only be complying with their mandate but might also save lives. That would be really useful; it would also be a public service.

A Timely Warning
AMID all the international media frenzy that accompanied the recent official removal of the Bali bombers from the gene pool, we note that the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta felt it necessary to state publicly on Nov. 13 that no travel warning against Bali – or Indonesia – was in place.

In a statement, the Embassy said:

The U.S. Government cancelled its travel warning on May 23, 2008, and contrary to recent statements, this warning has not been reinstated. While the U.S. Embassy routinely issues warden messages to American Citizens who are registered with the Embassy, none of these supersede the lifting of the travel warning, nor should they be construed as restrictions on American citizens, or other nationals, from travelling to Indonesia.

The travel warning was cancelled due to objective improvements made by the Government of Indonesia in its current security situation. Indonesia has not experienced a major terrorist attack since October 2005, and the Government of Indonesia has disrupted, arrested and prosecuted numerous terrorist groups and elements.

For more information for U.S. citizens about travelling internationally, please visit

It bears mentioning, of course, that the visible American presence in the high-profile tourist market in Bali, the primary focus of Australia’s official efforts to insist that its citizens remain alert if not actively alarmed, falls far short of that of other visitors. But at the same time, there is surely food for thought for Canberra in the decision of the Americans to reduce (as of last May – fully six months ago) their official anxiety level below Total Funk.

So That’s Why it’s the Yellow Press
IT’S only anecdotal, but it seems there is some evidence that the efforts of the Australian media to scare Aussies away from Bali are having some effect. We hear from sources in Perth – the West Australian capital, a mere 3 hr 40 min flight away from the delights of our holiday island – that it is becoming difficult to sell tickets on the recently increased air services to Denpasar.

This comment, this week, from a marketing agency in Perth, in regard to an airline client’s current business, is telling: “At the moment we could not give tickets away to Bali here in Perth. The local newspaper the West Australian in particular has been running a ongoing absolute scare mongering campaign every second day regarding terrorist revenge, etc, and then the Australian Government [has come] out strongly asking Aussies to avoid Indonesia and Bali at all costs. I can tell you the bottom has fallen out of this market at the moment.”

Among the bottom-feeders in the media, worldwide, the eggbeater is a favourite implement. Used shamelessly and without regard to facts, it beats up stories from nothing to epic in two seconds flat. It’s easy to use, requiring no real effort, no commitment to accuracy. It works best when the journalists concerned are as ignorant (or more so) of the facts as the readers and viewers they are supposedly informing.

Sadly, in recent days we have seen a distressing commitment to mass distortion by the Australia media over the true situation in Bali. This is not helped by Australia’s official reluctance to consider reducing the fear factor written into its long-standing travel advice in relation to Indonesia, but at least that is couched in sensible language and is based on rational assessment of the facts.

Much of the Australian media has no such commitment. The Diary knows of people in Australia who – planning to visit – were about to cancel because of the rioting and mayhem at the Bali bombers’ funerals (which as ephemeral views and readers they had been encouraged by Australian media coverage to believe were actually on Bali) and the allegations of super-high level of risk that now faced tourists here.

Once upon a time, the “yellow press” referred to the ethical lapses and low morals of some of the more colourful scandal sheets. Today, it seems, it applies to the product of the eggbeaters wielded by ignorant editors.

High-Flying Ideas
JAKARTA now sports two daily English-language newspapers. On Nov. 12 “The Jakarta Globe” joined the Jakarta Post on the streets – that’s as in “on sale”, not as in homeless and destitute – promising (surprise!) to provide readers with a fresh approach to news and other matters. It lived up to this promise immediately, with the aid of a two-legged Gallic arachnid. French “Spider Man” Alain Robert scaled a tower in central Jakarta to read the first edition of the new newspaper. Well, as Rupert Murdoch would tell you, many newspapers today are all about entertainment, mostly at the cerebrally challenged end of the market.

Speaking of high-profile PR, The Diary is reminded of that lovely little 1970s hit song featuring advice from then Ugandan strongman Idi Amin. It was probably around the time he proclaimed himself King of Scotland. It went like this: “If you don’t want to vanish with a boot up the bum, you’ve got to give the population something to hum.” Well, Idi didn’t actually sing it himself, of course. He was probably too busy trying on his new kilt and rounding up the ever-lengthening list of people he didn’t like.

Humming along is important: there’s nothing better than a nice tune to get you going. But here at The Bali Times, we think our readers deserve a rational score, not just a rap beat.

Good question!
YOU might have noticed that some of the world’s banks are in a spot of bother at present. Poor chaps. It must be playing merry hell with the office party – favourite group song: “Whoops, There Goes another Billion Trill ... ah ... What? DAMN!” – and that’s not even to mention the ruins of the executive golf schedule down at the Big Black Hole Banking Corp. But in such times, one does what one can to protect one’s assets, not to mention thinking to query all sorts of things in relation to funds in hand, or not.

To assist readers in dealing with the new reality in the banking sector, globally speaking, here’s a draft pro forma that could be used to set the required new parameters for dealing with entities of a banking nature:

[The Manager]

Dear Sir,

In view of current developments in the banking market, if one of my cheques is returned marked “insufficient funds”, does that refer to me or to you?

Yours Faithfully,

[Your name]

Give Kevin the Flickr
YOU might be forgiven for thinking that the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, is a master Mr Fixit, a multi-talented leader, multi-skilled politician and multi-lingual global facilitator, as well as that chap who rides the big white horse right into the middle of truly desperate situations to rescue lesser mortals from fates far worse than death. That’s if you read his press statements. Or if you bother grinding through the paeans of praise he gets from his cheer squads in his office and the Oz media; or that you know who he is; or that Australia has a Prime Minister. Or actually care about any of these things.

Mr Rudd, whose idea of good publicity seems to be anything with his name in it, campaigned for office last year as Kevin07. Now he’s got the full official apparatus of government to back his promotional efforts but even that’s not enough, it seems. He has set up his own, new, website at, a privately (or rather Labor Party) operated outfit where he wants Aussies to listen to him speaking frankly about the big challenges facing the country, the global economy, education, climate change, and the health of Australians, over-eaters or otherwise.

He’s not alone, of course. Leaders of besieged democracies everywhere are doing it. But it does seem strange that a national leader would want to be known as KevinPM. It sits oddly with those who still believe – however foolishly – that the serious business of government is, well, rather serious. The Diary, when KevinPM popped up unannounced in the in-box, thought it was a spoof. No such luck.

The new site, where one can apparently commune virtually in person with the First Entity, also offers video clips. Plus links to social network site such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter (that last one is apt). Oh yes, and the photo-sharing site Flickr. So, if you’ve got a nasty bout of PMT (that’s Prime Ministerial Tension), relief is at hand. Just give him the Flick ... er.

An Oldie But a Goodie
YOUR Diarist is one for classic jokes, the older the better in most cases. Be quiet, any of you who might be tempted to respond that Hector’s a bit of an old joke himself. And naturally, he’s fond of parrot jokes. Particularly, it must be said, he gets off on the parrot joke to end all parrot jokes – the “Dead Parrot” joke brought to life by the Monty Python team in 1969. Was it that long ago? Gosh, it seems like yesterday.

In fact, the venerable antecedent of John Cleese’s famously former Blue Norwegian had been deceased some considerable time when his modern descendent was dusted off 40 years ago. Some 1600 years. He was, in truth, a figure of very nearly classical stature, having figured in Athenian giggle-groups back in the time when Greeks had something to laugh about, having just seen off the Romans, who by then, with the collapse of the western empire, had turned not only into vandals but Vandals.

A comedy duo named Hierocles and Philagrius told the original joke – in which the dead subject was a slave, not a parrot – and has the seller saying to the buyer, who had complained that his slave had died: “When he was with me, he never did any such thing!”

The skit was discovered in a collection of 265 jokes called “Philogelos: The Laugh Addict”, which dates from the fourth century CE. Hierocles had gone to meet his maker, and Philagrius had certainly ceased to be, long before John Cleese and the incomparable Michael Palin reinvented the yarn in 1969.

The book, translated by William Berg, an American classics professor, also revealed that jokes about wives have always been fair game. One joke goes: “A man tells a well-known wit: ‘I had your wife, without paying a penny.’ The husband replies: ‘It's my duty as a husband to couple with such a monstrosity. What made you do it?’”

It’s In The Stars
THE Diary’s All-Time-Favourite Canadian, John Kenneth Galbraith, brought the practical common sense of his ancestors’ Scottish heritage to economics. Perhaps that’s why he was too soon ignored by those who in pursuit of wealth and personal benefit mistake caution for miserliness and move common sense off the balance sheet. Here’s what he had to say about the “science” that governments and others are now desperately applying to the business of charting a way out of the mess they’ve created: “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.”

Friday, November 14, 2008


The Bali Times is at

Time To Reset Our Moral Compass
WELL, it’s done. The three convicted 2002 Bali bombers have been executed. Indonesia has exacted the penalty prescribed by its law for their revolting act of terrorism: the indiscriminate mass-murder of 202 people. This has finally brought to an end the contemptible and raving renditions of hate from these three killers that were, for reasons unclear and certainly unexplained by the authorities, permitted to continue, and to be disseminated, virtually to the end.

It is time, then, to say this: The death penalty is wrong. It denies our most precious attribute, our humanity. It is not punishment; it does not deter; and it certainly is not correctional. It is vengeance. Judicial murder – for that is what it is – cannot morally or ethically be the answer to anything. Cold-blooded execution is a situation far removed from and completely different to, say, shooting dead a murderous offender to foreclose on or forestall his offence. One is reminded of the author George Orwell’s apt summation of capital punishment – drawn from the days when he was Eric Arthur Blair, British colonial policeman, in Burma – in his comment on the moral dilemma caused by sharing with a condemned man an instinctive step around a puddle on the path to the gallows and the fact of his planned, scheduled and minutely organised violent death at human hands only minutes later.

These are not things that the lunatic Imam Samudra, Mukhlas or Amrozi – or even their chief cheer-leader, terrorist incentivizer and Muslim cleric Abu Bakir Bashir, co-founder of Jemaah Islamiyah – would necessarily comprehend. Perhaps they did not know that what they did flies in the face of the great moral strength and zest for learning historically found in Islam, or that it defames the heritage of the great Caliphate they say they seek to restore.

We do not know either, thank God, whether the Bali bombers found puddles they instinctively stepped around on their final walk. The truly moral, if they are also believers in a supreme being, will say a prayer for the souls of the departed bombers; and if unbelievers, will pause for quiet reflection. What Imam Samudra, Mukhlas and Amrozi did was heinous, but nonetheless they were men. It is strange that there is more charity in the hearts of some of the bereaved than in those of others not so closely involved in the frightful tragedy of indiscriminate terrorism. We all might usefully reflect on the words of John Donne, the 16th century English Jacobean poet, mystic and Christian cleric, who wrote, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

Yet morality is a universal principle (the many who claim to be that ultimate oxymoron, a moral relativist, would disagree, but they are a leading cause of many of today’s world’s moral problems). By definition, the fundamentalist cliques in any religion deny universalism. Sadly, no more so is this the case than in politicized Islam, which at its most fevered outer edges has made a religious rite of terrorism and regards as collateral damage only Muslims (and then of the right stripe) who are unlucky enough to get in the way. All the others are Infidels, worthless, expendable, legitimate targets: surely the greatest denial of humanity one could find.

Unfortunately, the soap opera the authorities made of their incarceration and ultimate executions was tailor-made for exploitation by sensationalised media reporting, primarily in Australia. A demonstration against the executions (before the event) that drew 100 protestors in Jakarta was shamelessly portrayed as a major incident – in a city so large that more than that number customarily stop to gawk at a traffic bingle. The communal grief naturally seen in Indonesian village society – demonstrated at the funerals of the bombers, albeit with the vocal assistance of imported hotheads – is another opportunity to the ill-informed to promote the “mass protests” line that sells newspapers or draws people to watch TV. This sort of reporting draws an inaccurate picture for people far away and unversed in local realities. What is essential is that events are understood, in context, for what they are – and for what they actually represent. A lot of moral compasses need to be reset at this time.

A Hearty Red, Not a Low-Pitched Whine
INTERESTING to see the article by Laurane Marchive in last week’s paper, headlined “Many Whine for Want of Wine”. It’s so true! It’s true too that, though many Indonesians now quaff the product of the grape, it is not a mass-market commodity. Primarily, as Marchive writes, it is drunk by expats. Oh, and tourists, whom Indonesia is apparently interested in attracting to visit.

The ins and outs of why wine supply – like supply of many products in Indonesia – mostly qualify for a “Nice Try. Fail” are beyond the scope of The Diary to examine, far less explain. Suffice to say that if the government organization Sarinah has a monopoly on the handling of alcohol in Indonesia (that is to say, the legal handling of alcohol), it is small wonder that it rates a consistent “F”. There’s more to setting rules and tax levels than endlessly debating them and then writing into regulations. They need to be applied consistently, fairly, openly, and free of the customary under-the-table dealing that is so much a feature of Indonesian business-government relationships. A supply system also needs to be in place that will fill orders as and when they are placed. Damn it, that devil is in the detail again!

A Fillip in Tourism Figures
A RISE of nearly 13 per cent in tourist arrivals in Indonesia in the January to August period is great news, especially for Bali (and apparently Jakarta, which recorded a rise of nearly 30 per cent). The figures were reported by the National Statistics Bureau and show that nationally, up to August, a total of 4,069,474 international tourists dropped by to say hello.

Bali – of course; need you ask? – got the biggest share at 1,353,683 arrivals, up 20.15 per cent. Wonder what percentage of these people would have liked to drink wine on their visit? Just asking. Interestingly, Singapore (15.69 per cent) and Malaysia (10.85 per cent) were the top sources of incoming tourists, followed by Japan with 8.28 per cent. Australia was fourth with 5.99 per cent, followed by Korea (4.67 per cent), China (4.52 per cent) and Taiwan (3.45 per cent).

This is of course Visit Indonesia Year on the international tourism calendar. Our target (oops!) was 7 million. They’re saying the full-year total on figures so far should be 6.5 million. We hear Tourism Minister Jero Wacik is unfazed by this apparent shortfall. He’s busy putting the hard word on Japan, Russia and other countries to find the missing half million visitors quick time.

Don’t You Just Hate That!
THE happy chappies at the Oxford Dictionary – custodians of English as it should be written and spoken, surely the most thankless of tasks these days – have come up with a new Top 10 list. That’s the list of the 10 most irritating phrases. The Diary is glad to see that heading the list is “at the end of the day”, a phrase made doubly annoying by its ubiquitous use by motor-mouth politicians who can never stop talking until their little clock winds down. In second place is “fairly unique”, which is not only annoying but also ignorant, since something is either unique or it’s not.

Third place on the dishonour roll went to “I personally”, a tautological statement which, The Diary is pleased to record, BBC Radio 4 presenter John Humphreys describes as “the linguistic equivalent of having chips with rice”. Quite right. It’s either kentang goreng or nasi. And there’s no prize for guessing what your Indonesian dinner companion will choose. Also making the top 10 list is “shouldn’t of”, used by the ignorant in place of “shouldn’t have”. Others in the list are: “At this moment in time”; “With all due respect”; “Absolutely”; “It's a nightmare”; “24/7”; and “It’s not rocket science.”

They appear, along with many others, in a book called Damp Squid, named after the mistake of confusing a squid with a squib, a type of firework. Sounds like a good Christmas present for the linguistically challenged.

Time for a Tear-Jerker
AMERICANS love a pageant. They go all gooey. Come Jan. 20 next year, when Barack Hussein Obama takes the oath of office as America’s 44th President, they’ll have an opportunity to get even more lachrymose than ever. The inauguration – that quadrennial festival held in wintry Washington at which the citizens crown their uncrowned king, and the few who want to brave the risk of contracting pneumonia can actually get along to see the show – falls in the year that marks the bicentenary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.

The 2009 Inauguration will be themed around “A New Birth of Freedom”, tying together one president from Illinois who freed the slaves and another who broke the ultimate racial barrier in American politics.

It Should All Be Plain Sailing
AFTER this year’s Sail Indonesia snafu (a lovely acronym, the polite version of which reads “situation normal all fouled up), it’s good to hear that those responsible may be looking at organizing things a little better next time. Sail Indonesia 2008 was remarkable not only for the fabulous scenery and amazing cultures viewable en route from Darwin to Belitung, but also for the fact that 105 of the 121 participating private yachts were threatened with seizure by customs demanding duty bonds of between 5-10 per cent of the yacht’s value.

Organizers want the government to back the establishment of a national committee to coordinate the event. This coordination may avoid a repeat of the significantly depressing public relations outcome in 2008. Perhaps the coordinators can help advise customs that the yachts taking part spend only three months in Indonesian waters and thus are not liable to pay duty.

The visiting yachties spend a lot of money in Indonesia on their odyssey, in all sorts of out of the way places that otherwise wouldn’t see the income. They should be able to feel confident that they will avoid the “front with the dough now or we’ll lock you up” predilections of officials in far-away places.

We hear 230 yachts are registered to take part in the 2009 float-by.

They’re Putting the Bite on Again
FIRST they won’t let you have a drink with your dinner. Then they tell you that you can’t have dinner either. The National Food and Drug Monitoring Agency – its Indonesian acronym is BPOM, which, Limerick-style, goes nicely with “it’s gone” – has introduced complicated requirements for the certification and registration of imported products. They say this is motivated by a desire to protect local manufacturers (does anyone produce sultanas in Indonesia?), safeguard the health of Indonesian consumers, and (of course) increase tax revenues.

BPOM is said to be refusing to accept testing and certification from the product’s country of origin – don’t touch that foie gras, it may be liver! – and to be insisting that all imported products get a detailed Indonesian-based evaluation. The Diary, along with most sensible and price-conscious consumers, prefers to buy local product when available, and to taste. But at the same time – and for the same reason that the authorities should get their heads around the principle that French wines come from France, Australian wines from Australia, Jack Daniel’s from Tennessee, and so on – there are some food products that are necessarily absent from the Indonesian domestic inventory.

It’s sensible to insist – as BPOM apparently is – that food labels and ingredients be listed in Bahasa Indonesia. It’s even sensible to have a regulatory regime in place to do all the things the BPOM says it wants to do. But there’s a catch. If you’re going to have a regulatory regime in place, you need to work out first what the rules are going to be, and have the means of conducting the required tests.

Unless of course their real aim is to have a lot of empty warehouses around the place. That might be their policy. Or it might be a secret foreign exchange saving scheme. Perhaps they thought that no one would notice the sudden, unexplained, erection of yet another impenetrable trade barrier.

Tell it like it is, Phil
IT’S interesting to see that Britain’s chief wag, Prince Philip, has again got up the noses of a lot of people who can’t understand wry wit, or appreciate the comedic fact that the 87-year-old gent, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, has a lifelong habit of opening his mouth and putting his foot in it.

So he’s a silly old duffer? So what? At least he’s a one-man Comedy Central who doesn’t need the essential prop of four-letter words most of today’s “wits” can’t do without, to get his audience giggling. His offence this time was to tell his hosts in Slovenia – like much of Europe’s new patchwork of mini-states it was once part of the late and lamentable Yugoslavia – that tourism was prostitution. Well, the sex trade does well anywhere, but that’s not what HRH meant. He meant it ruined countries by bringing in lots of unwashed, vacant-minded voyeurs who got underfoot.

He’s wrong, of course. But that’s never stopped him before. The Diary remembers an incident from long ago when Prince Phil arrived in the bleak, windswept and ubiquitously rainy Scottish islands on yet another of the interminable meet-and-greets that are inflicted on the royals as part of their job description, to be met by yet another obsequious local official with a banal inquiry.

It went like this: Pipsqueak: “How was your flight, Your Highness?” HRH: “Have you ever been on a plane?” Pipsqueak: “Oh yes, Your Highness, many times.” HRH: “Well, it was just like that.”

Be Quiet Down There at the Back
FORGET about the pox. Dottiness was always the real English disease. And even though Old England is no longer a place you can pretend has any connection with a recognisable past or even, officially, a sense of humour, apparently dottiness persists as an endemic ailment among the busybodies who nowadays are paid to regulate everyone’s lives for them.

So it is that we learn a local council in London has told a group of chatty old age pensioners – including a 96-year-old and her friend who worked in the health service for 40 years – to shut it: they’re making far too much noise over their communal afternoon cuppas. If they don’t keep the noise down, they’ve been told, the four benches they sit on to have a natter will be removed. Apparently their chirruping disturbs local residents. Perhaps it drowns out all that (c)rap coming from those ghetto-blasters.

Said one of the potential evictees: “When I told my doctor that we might be having our benches taken away, he asked me if I had been drinking. We don't drink and sit on walls throwing cans of lager around the place. We don't sing in the middle of the night. It's unbelievable.”

One suspects the complainants might drink and sit on walls throwing cans of lager around the place – and sing (out of tune and something truly banal) in the middle of the night.

Friday, November 07, 2008


The Bali Times is at

Try The Corn Laws For A Better Laugh
IT IS such a shame that Indonesia’s legislators, if they really wanted, figuratively speaking, to fiddle while Rome burned instead of bothering to finance the fire brigade, were not last week debating reinvention of the Corn Laws. That venerable suite of truly bad British legislation, designed two centuries ago to protect the very fabric of society (i.e. subsidize the farmers, the landed gentry and the tycoons of the day who had a headlock on parliament and government), finally collapsed in the 19th century when the people who had to pay for the artificially expensive staple dietary products thus produced, the ordinary British public, finally rioted and caused them to be abolished.

Unfortunately, Indonesia’s legislators are not setting out to give everyone a good laugh. They appear to be deadly serious. They were debating the Porn Laws – specifically the long-delayed, socially divisive and ultimately unenforceable anti-pornography bill – and, in a late rush of blood to the collective cerebral cavity, passed it into law on Thursday night last week.

It will now officially be a crime, punishable by a lengthy prison term, to be a sad little tosser who gets off on downloaded porn – ubiquitously available on the worldwide web, sure, but eminently avoidable by anyone with better things to do, or a brain – or to move the body, in public, in a way that might suggest to someone that one is being sexually suggestive. The bill rights no wrongs. It simply creates new victimless offences for which a whole new class of criminals who can be persecuted (ah, so sorry, prosecuted). Worse, it mandates vigilante action by self-proclaimed moral busybodies who are now officially encouraged to discourage dissenters.

Granted, there seems to be dispensation for the bikini, in “resort areas”, whatever they are. Plainly, most of those who want to rush Indonesia back into Purdah via the Porn Laws – or rather, deliver it there, since in much the same way as western practices and behaviours have been absorbed into Indonesian society, veiling women is a habit acquired from other parts of the Islamic world – do nevertheless see the common sense of not killing off the tourism industry.

The bill takes no account of the central fact of Indonesia’s existence: that the nation is a vibrant emulsion of many cultures, some of which, for example Bali’s rich Hindu religion and society, have an entirely different view of what might constitute lewdness or depravity.

As has been noted outside Indonesia over the past few days, there seems to be a fundamentally unpleasant dichotomy between the rush to shut down people’s freedom to choose their behaviours (the Porn Laws) and the apparently limitless opportunities provided to convicted mass murderers (the Bali bombers) to continue publicising their pernicious – and un-Islamic – code of violence and promote further crimes right up to the moment the firing squads cut off their yapping. Shame that event seemingly had to wait, apparently, until after Britain’s monarchical heir, Prince Proper Charlie, had had time to talk to all those Indonesian trees on his ecologically correct visit. How is his Bahasa, we wonder?

For Whom The Bell Tolls
THE Diary had been looking forward to getting along to the Sector Bar and Restaurant at Sanur for the big Election Day party there on Nov. 5. In the event, this date with destiny was removed from the diary – as opposed to The Diary – by a wedding invitation.

So, sorry to be absent from your big day, President-elect Obama. A late invitation to an Aussie wedding in Bali – at a nice hotel, the Bali Mandira on the beach at Legian – and free food and drink, plus revelry, beat that show by a huge margin; say a Wall St collapse or two. Besides, the American denouement was all over television. The wedding was great, but, OK, not quite CNN material.

Fat Boys For Green Cards
THE Diary has some very well-placed American connections. One of them, someone within the extended family even, actually writes manuals for Harley-Davidson. How good is that! So interest was piqued recently when, trawling through the media material on the U.S. Embassy site in Jakarta – as one must since Uncle Sam doesn’t do mailing lists, apparently – we spied an item on the Consul-General riding one of the favoured Fat Boys.

William Howe, the highly versatile consular gent in question, and other Harley-Davidson enthusiasts took part in the Mabua Harley-Davidson Jakarta “Thunder Ride” to promote both the company’s 2009 product line – The Diary would quite like one of their big fat tricycles, extended family please note – and the 2010 Diversity Visa (the “Green Card Lottery”). Consul General Howe and U.S. Embassy consular staff, decked out in custom jackets emblazoned with the words “Follow Me to a Green Card” and the website address, helped register people for a chance to win a green card.

Here’s Why Obama Is A Winner
ONE of the delights of the U.S. election campaign has been the reporting and commentary of Aussie pundit Guy Rundle for the e-zine Crikey. His work has been masterly, cutting through the cant, carving up the Clintons (while Hills was getting hoist: sorry, Aussie joke), and ripping the topping off poor John McCain’s messy pizzas.

Among the gems Rundle has scattered along the road to hope – and they are legion – is this summation, as the bitter campaign ground to an end among the ruins of industrial America, about the Obama phenomenon:

That temptation [not to try, to take it easy] runs deep in American liberalism, for the simple reason that people on the left tend to be more interested in the full variety of the world than professional right-wing operatives. They're interested in what Marx called ‘the sensuous particularity’ of existence, the endless possibilities of life. That often makes them silly – your average urban left-liberal is a (non-Arab) keffiyah-wearing Szechuan-cuisine cooking yoga attendee, busy carbon-neutralising their retro-styled Altona brick veneer, ahead of that big Latin American hiking trip – but they tend to have better lives than the Right, who eat steak and go home to bare walls and have no alternative to victory but gut cancer.

That however is the problem, or has been for the past dozen years or so – politics in this era, was, for left-liberals, a sort of add-on. What has given the Obama campaign an edge is its almost limitless command to get people out, to get couch potato voters out of the house, to get people who got out of the house to donate, to get donors to volunteer, to get volunteers to take five years accumulated vacation (i.e. four and a half days in the U.S.) and spend it on campaigning.

Meanwhile, More Oz Chat
THE Aussies, these days, don’t make a lot. Except a lot of noise, some mean-minded observers claim. And it is true they’re good at chattering, though it is mostly in a good cause. Thus it was that recently Australian and Indonesian academics held a seminar at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta on the increasing popularity of international education and the challenges of incorporating intercultural education within the university sector. It was one of a series organized by Australian Education International.

The idea is that we should all become better global citizens. There’s nothing wrong with that idea. For Australian universities, too, the idea of positive linkage – let’s get together for a latte and a laugh or, in more serious vein, a nice cuppa and a comfy chat – can have a very positive spin-off. This is particularly so in the case of regional campuses such as the University of Central Queensland, which in pursuit of greater market share and bigger education funding have broadened their horizons very widely indeed from their provincial roots.

The key speaker at the seminar was Dr. Alison Owens – who’s actually based at CQU’s Sydney International campus, about as far away from cattle country (well, Rockhampton with its famously frequently de-balled bull sculptures and its grid-pattern roads whose streetlights, seen at night from the overlooking hills, spell out H-E-L-L) as it’s possible to get, socially speaking – who we are told shared experiences in internationalizing CQ University and the research at the Intercultural Education Research Institute to meet the teaching and learning needs of culturally diverse students.

We’re not sure how far she got with her pocket explanation of the imperatives that face today’s internationally focused campuses: “Universities must take adept improvements in their curricula and pedagogy to enhance the students’ international exposure and intercultural sensitivity,” she said. We’ll have another latte and think about that one.

Perhaps one of her Indonesian interloculators, Dr. Tjahjaning Tingastuti Surjosuseno from Widya Mandala University, got a little closer to the crucible. “Intercultural education is education which goes beyond passive co-existence to achieve a developing and sustainable way of living together in multicultural societies,” he said.

Here’s An Idea That Might Fly
YOUR Diarist, an avian of too many summers to decently remember, is always on the lookout for good news about his feathered friends, especially if it comes along with a giggle or two. This week, the gods have smiled upon him, with news that the deeply lateral thinkers in the Royal Australian Air Force have employed the principle of superior throw-weight to the problem caused by little corellas at Edinburgh Air Base near Adelaide.

The little corellas – that’s the moniker by which they’re known, principally because they’re little and are corellas – are being seen off the premises, lest they crap on the base commander’s car, damage things or, worse, cause an aviation event, by flying patrols of peregrine falcons. The falcons operate under strict Rules of Engagement (any military force uses Rules of Engagement, shorthanded as RoE, which are documents of political and bureaucratic provenance often proved wanting in practice) that state the little corellas are play, not prey.

The program, officially the “Flying the Falcons: an Alternative Approach to Bird Management on a RAAF Base” initiative, won recognition at the 2008 Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (SRCC) Safety Awards. We’re not sure what the flying falcons think about the RoE that says they can chase but not catch.

Now That’s One Angry Croc
ACTOR – a word nowadays so misused that one no longer balks at applying it to a former maintenance painter of the Sydney Harbour Bridge – Paul Hogan is hopping mad, and as is also usual nowadays, he wants someone else to pay for it. He does have a point poor chap. Australia’s Federal Court has ruled he is not a tax dodger (of the sort that crosses into criminal territory to avoid paying it, that is). The Australian Crime Commission – a body that owes some of its origin to the long-ago bottom-of-the-harbour (yes, Hoges’ harbour) tax-dodge schemes of the rich and infamous down under – has spent a lot of time besmirching his name.

Hogan, the affable rogue star of the “Crocodile Dundee” movies and other Antipodean divertissements, was in Australia to promote his new movie “Charlie And Boots”, and to flash his big knife at the ACC, which had been busily promoting its own moving feast, the notion that Hoges – Everyman’s Hero – used overseas trusts to avoid paying tax and misrepresented his residency status in Australia.

His lawyers are now seeking costs from those – the ACC among them – for whom the Federal Court decision is a definite misadventure.

Need Some TLC For Your TCE?
GOT a traditional cultural expression you think is in need of protection or a little TLC (tender loving care)? Well, you’ve got a friend. He’s Simon Legrand of the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization – WIPO to the in crowd – and Simon says the world urgently needs an international protection instrument for its traditional cultural expressions (TCE) of folklore, given the numerous disputes among countries over the matter. You know, like the Malaysians using an Indonesian song to promote Visit Malaysia Year a while back.

Speaking at the World Heritage Cities (WHC) conference in Jakarta, he said his office had for eight years discussed and developed possible instruments for the protection of TCEs of folklore. That’s some gabfest, Simon! But we do sympathize. It’s really very difficult to get politicians to actually do anything practical (see above, Item One) and then there’s the thorny matter of who’s going to front with the money.

For the record: Of course traditional cultural expression needs protection – and more than that, real promotion. We live in a wonderful world. We should make maximum use of it.