Friday, June 05, 2009


PHOTO: Do you want friends with that?

Bingo! Or Perhaps That Should Be Doh!
PERHAPS at long last, finally having heard through the thickened glass and sound-proofing of its official limousines the howls of protest from the hospitality industry nationwide and particularly here in Bali – where there are tourists who want to spend money and boost the local economy (Doh!) – the central government is moving towards simplifying the complicated business of acquiring alcoholic beverages to sell.
It’s pretty simple, after all. It works like this: Alcoholic products attract duty (at a ruinous rate for imports but for the moment that’s another matter). Wholesalers and bulk purchases pay this. Bingo! The government makes money. The wholesale sector then on-sells to the retail sector, which in turn sells it to their customers at a mark-up. Double Bingo! The retailers make money. They pay tax on this money. Triple Bingo! The government makes more money. Over-the-counter and restaurant and bar customers then have access to products they would like to buy. If it’s available, they will buy it. If they buy it there will generally be a government and service tax applied to the sale. Quadruple Bingo! The government makes even more money.
Why this simple equation should have escaped the government’s attention thus far is strange. Some people hint at an Islamic conspiracy to deny unbelievers access to products legally obtainable (well, in theory) under the secular system of government enjoyed in Indonesia. That might be an immediate factor in this election season. But we think it has more to do with monopoly benefit – there is a single mandated importer – and bureaucratic turf wars (one department handles domestic alcohol, another imports). Then there is the Stumblebum Factor (SF, which should really be written into every economic equation). SF bamboozles bureaucracy everywhere; in Indonesia it is an art form.
The government is said to be considering a single (or at least a unified) set of rules for both domestic and imported alcohol. A turf war is expected between the director-general of foreign trade (who looks after imports) and his colleague the director-general of domestic trade. Any such foolishness could be pre-empted (should be!) by a short session of banging heads together. Whether that will happen, in a culture where massaging egos is the anodyne preference, is another matter.
Here at The Diary, we still think a better way to go would be to split the import licensing system so that Bali is able to directly import liquor. But anything would be better than the present shemozzle.

What a Downer
LAST week we published a commentary by former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer suggesting it was long past time Australians accepted that they are responsible for themselves when they choose to travel overseas, and did not just expect their government to get them out of trouble. He cited some memorable instances of this syndrome.
It is of course a pity – as some in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs undoubtedly think – that he did not say this when he was minister. Perhaps his successor, Stephen Smith, will step boldly and publicly up to the plate? Well, pigs might fly. Australian ministers are directly elected politicians. Mr Downer mentioned his email overload in office. Keeping a lid on that bumf – and the serial complainants who spam you – is actually a sound plan.
All this is pertinent – although peripherally – to the ongoing saga over Schapelle Corby, who until Wednesday night had been enjoying the well serviced surroundings of the international wing at Sanglah Hospital in Denpasar as a break from the more basic conditions of her usual digs at Kerobokan jail. Unfortunately for the lady, prison authorities insisted she return to her cell.
The Corby case, such as it is and whatever it is, will doubtless proceed according to whatever strange laws apply in Galaxy Schapelle. She and her loud family now want Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to answer their letters personally. They are well on the way to becoming serial nuisances at home as well as here. If Corby were to end up as a pioneer beneficiary of the forthcoming prisoner exchange treaty between Indonesia and Australia, or break even fresher ground by winning what looks like a bid for psychiatric repatriation, most Indonesians who know about her case or care (it’s a very exclusive club) would say good riddance.

Pirates Ahoy!
HERE’S a treat: The Bali School of Dramatic Arts is presenting the musical comedy Lady Pirates of the Caribbean at the Aston Denpasar Hotel and Convention Centre at four performances on June 12-14. In your Diarist’s younger days the only musical pirates available – CDs hadn’t been invented then – were the tuneful chappies performing Pirates of Penzance. Gilbert & Sullivan has never been a favourite.
Then many years later along came Catherine Zeta Jones, that comely Welsh lady, who invented lady pirates. (She also out-Zorroed Zorro, but that’s another story.)
Lady Pirates of the Caribbean, with music by Craig Sodaro and lyrics by Bill Francoeur, presents a cast of 13 women, eight men, a chorus, dancers and lots of extras. The storyline has the lady pirates outwitting and outfighting the chaps and recovering lost gold to feed needy orphans. Great: entertainment with a subliminal social message.
Details and timings by phone: (0361) 43 4701 or 0818 0435 2772.
ART LOVERS NOTE: This year’s Bali Arts Festival – the 31st – is from June 13 to July 11.

Not Big Enough
THE lovely promotion for San Miguel beer (our photo this week) is seen by some simple folk as just another spelling error. They are ubiquitous in Indonesia after all. But there may be another explanation. It could be saying “One Beer. One World of Fried Onions.”
We alert you to this possibility because of our experience of an establishment in Senggigi, Lombok – it caters for the passing tourist trade so it needs to point the way to its facilities rather than just have people follow their noses – that prominently displays a sign with an arrow pointing to “Ladies and Gent”.
The affable expat who used to run the place when The Diary was a regular drop-in – either for a nibble from the menu and a drink or, more often since the facilities at the office across the street were ├╝ber-primitive, to follow the directions on the sign – explained it thus:
“I asked the sign-writer about that. I asked ‘why didn’t you paint Ladies and Gents?’ He said he didn’t have room for the ‘s’ at the end and if I had wanted an ‘s’ there I should have given him a longer bit of wood.”
It’s a bit like Indonesian stairs. There always seems to be a rush at one end (or the other) to cope with the unexpected complications of gradient.

All About Spiders
THE theatre of the absurd is a fine comedic principle. Today it is sustained not only by the trained misfits of the thespian world who deal in farce, but also by parliaments, or at least those in which some facsimile of ministerial responsibility continues to exist. In many places, ministers are beyond questioning. In those where they are within reach, they have created (and continually refine) the dark art of obfuscation.
Today’s instant access, our proximity to the Special Biosphere, the sheer laugh-a-minute vacuity of Australian politics, and the remote chance that something of direct interest to Indonesia might arise, makes keeping an ear and a eye on question time in Canberra worthwhile. Unless you’ve got something better to do, like plucking your nasal hair.
There is one welcome flash of light newly on the scene. Melbourne Age journalist Annabel Crabb – who could surely have been a trained misfit of the thespian world if she had not chosen instead to pursue farce through the printed word – is blogging question time for the Fairfax group. It’s called Twitsard (after Hansard). It’s worth a look. You can find it via
A highlight of Monday’s blog was a new hand sign apparently being employed by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd when he’s in animated automaton mode. Crabb calls it the “live spider” to distinguish it from a previous favourite of the PM, the “dead spider”. The dead spider, by the way, looked rather more like the scrotum-twist-and-pull manoeuvre favoured by the heavy squad in Labor Party factional politics. But Our Kev’s above all that. Perhaps he’s hoping for a spider-led recovery.

Great Feedback!
AS he does from time to time, Hector was browsing websites of businesses of interest this week and looked in briefly on Villa Kubu, one of the establishments in the Seminyak stellar cluster where they charge overindulged sybarites an arm and a plush leg – but all in such good taste, daahling – for the privilege of being allowed into the precocious artifice of their created environment.
There was a feedback area he thought looked promising. Someone was bound to saying something, probably nice or else it wouldn’t be there. The page asserts: “We would like to share with you just some of the comments of our guests who have found Villa Kubu to be Bali’s most charming villas.”
A fond hope, apparently. It lacked any feedback at all.

Ding Dong!
BIG Ben was 150 on May 31. The world’s most famous clock first chimed over London in the British spring of 1859, the signature of an empire that ironically had suffered the first of its long series of irreversible reverses – the Indian Mutiny – only two years before. Big Ben had been chiming for half a century before the Dutch finally succeeded in bringing Bali under direct colonial control (and only 83 years before the Japanese – with heinous motivation – effectively ended that ambiguous experience).
People with iPhones – this growing army of cyber-warriors does not include your diarist, who has a very nice four-year-old Motorola thank you very much – were offered the chance, on Big Ben’s birthday, to download his chimes free of charge.

A Fly-Buy with Real Value
HEC’S interest was piqued by a report recently that an enterprising New Zealand parrot – a kea, the world’s only alpine parrot, surely cousins of the McSquawky clan – had pinched a Scottish tourist’s passport while the fellow was transfixed by the glorious vista of Milford Sound in the South Island. Apparently the enterprising avian (clearly a credit to the parrot community, Hec notes with pride) swooped on the man’s British passport in a courier bag in the luggage compartment of the bus he and others had taken to the famous scenic spot.
The gent, who claimed that as a Scotsman he had a sense of humour, said he didn’t expect to see his passport again. No doubt, being a Scotsman, he’ll want his replacement at no cost to himself.
We hope the unknown parrot with wanderlust enjoys his travels.

The Diary is also at Current editions are online from Mondays.


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