Saturday, December 19, 2009


On Board,
This is
Capt Gila

THE Yogyakarta air crash, in March 2007, was a shocking event. All air crashes are. But the circumstances of the disaster in Yogyakarta in 2007 made it more shocking than most, because of the expert evidence presented in the aftermath that the Garuda captain in command of the Boeing 737 flight from Jakarta that fateful morning had ignored 15 separate automated cockpit warnings that he was approaching too fast and that his landing speed – on the airport’s short runway – was far too high.
Captain Marwoto Komar landed well outside the operational limits set out in the manual – and outside the limits of common sense, another essential cockpit qualification. His aircraft ran off the end of the runway and immediately caught fire, killing 21 people. Scores were injured.
Even if he were utterly blameless, you’d think that the horror of what he had participated in as captain of the aircraft would have given him pause for thought. Not a bit of it. He took some time off; perhaps to get his captain’s uniform dry-cleaned. Later he was charged with manslaughter and was dismissed by Garuda. The charge was subsequently reduced to criminal negligence. He defended himself by appearing in court in his Garuda uniform – despite having been sacked – and by having his defence lawyers present the usual compendium of inventive excuses you tend to hear from the criminally negligent when their crimes catch up with them.
Marwoto’s instrument of death was not a machine-pistol, though it might just as well have been. His excuse for being the person in charge when 21 people met their untimely deaths in an aircraft he was flying and which he then crashed was tantamount to saying he didn’t know the gun was loaded and that no, he had no idea where the safety catch was.
His argument in the first court hearing was less than persuasive. The district court found him guilty as charged and imposed a two-year jail sentence. That appeared to many people to be little enough in the circumstances.
He immediately appealed and was released on bail. Last week a High Court appeal bench, sitting in Yogyakarta, quashed the charge against him and overturned the verdict and the sentence. The judges said criminal negligence could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt. The bench, in reaching this decision, rejected the expert testimony on which Marwoto had originally been convicted; or at least, seems to have decided that ignoring 15 audible cockpit warnings relating to approach speed did not constitute provable negligence.
Marwoto claimed the aircraft’s flaps – which control descent and airspeed – malfunctioned. No expert evidence has been presented that this was the case. But even if the flaps did fail, it is possible to land a Boeing 737 in most circumstances without them. Not at the sadly deficient and short-field Yogyakarta airport, granted, but diversion to somewhere with a longer runway would have been an option. How failure to apply common sense, as the captain of an aircraft, does not constitute criminal negligence is a mystery.
Never mind. Marwoto now has an obvious career opportunity ahead of him. (It probably won’t be flying; not even Garuda would contemplate letting him anywhere near a real cockpit again, surely?) But he could easily set up a consultancy and put together some useful course modules for would-be airline pilots (a three-part course under the topic heading Go Gila seems apt):
(1) How to Land Your Flying Machine Very, Very Fast Indeed. (2) Why Automated Cockpit Warning Signals Can Be Safely Ignored. (3) Wearing Your Uniform: Handy Tips to Fool People into Thinking That You Know What You’re Doing.
The Yogyakarta crash was the final straw for observers of Indonesian aviation practice overseas. The European Union banned all Indonesian carriers from its airspace. (That ban was recently lifted for four Indonesian carriers, one of them Garuda.)

Tiger Loses Stripes

THE world is an unkind place. Humans are naturally voyeuristic and of course the peccadilloes of others are the basic building blocks of the tabloid media and waiting room magazines. So it is that poor Tiger Woods, who plays really good golf, has unaccountably wrapped his nine-iron around his nether regions and given himself a frightful bruising.
Unsurprisingly, in this cruel, hypocritical and self-serving world, several corporations which have paid him handsomely to be their public face so that they can in turn make even more money, have told him to go away. There is very little that is more nauseating than money-making corporations masking their horror at losing some by taking the high moral ground.
Woods’ inability to manage his natural urges – or to distinguish between the felicity of scoring a birdie on the field of play and the infelicity of doing so elsewhere in the literal other sense – is pathetic (well, maybe) but it is surely not unusual or for that matter of more than merely venal demerit. After all, for many men – and though we’re not supposed to think so, a lot of women – sex is the most powerful driver in your kit. Tiger did what many men dream of doing and many women wish men would.
Woods’ skill as a golfer is beyond compare. His present difficulty, as a man, is sad, but sadly common. Most philanderers are not public figures. They can grub away as they wish without any fears other than of the saucepan that might collect their cranium if the wife finds out. Such is the human condition.
Sadly, too, hubris being what it is, the thought of becoming a bar-room joke is often the worst pain of all. Few of us wish to become the object of music-hall stand-up routines. We should let go of this Tiger’s tale – and allow him to reconstruct the silly mess he seems to have made of his life.

It’s a Saga

SOME people we know, who live in the otherwise peaceful surroundings of rural Ungasan, have a sorry tale to tell about the perils of renovation. It’s not their place that’s the problem – though their own renovasi after buying their modest villa two years ago had its own little difficulties – but the place next door.
It used to be a separate residence, except when the wind blew and the rotted alang-alang roof it sported migrated en masse to their swimming pool. But as part of its conversion into a dream residence – nightmare seems a better word – by some absent (and possibly absent minded) Jakarta people, it now conjoins.
The extensive rebuilding, which seems to be a project contracted out to two little fellows with one hammer, who take it in turns to tap away from time to time but on no discernable schedule, has co-opted their structure. Perhaps our friends’ villa, built to what is loosely described in Bali as “western standard,” is required as a load-bearing support.
For 16 months, while the interior has been gutted, three Jacuzzis installed (well, the new owners are Jakarta people; perhaps that’s why they aren’t bothering to replace the rotted alang-alang roof) and expensive glass erected, the tap-tap-tapping of whoever is the duty hammer man at the time has resonated – and reverberated, since there is now a “common wall” – at will. Siestas are rarely feasible. Having friends to stay is impossible.
But there is a silver lining. Our chums now have (one) brand new exterior sun blind for their trouble. This was provided, following extensive discussions, because the new wall of the now adjoining residence actually butts onto their own and made it impossible for the previous blind, custom made for the space, to fully deploy.
Maybe it will all be over sometime in 2010. Well ... maybe.

Thoughts on the Season

YOUR diarist is not devotional, having decided long ago to leave organised expressions of faith to those who have need of such things. But devotional music remains a passion, and this time of year is a great time to indulge a taste for such things. And it’s so easy nowadays. Last weekend, a pleasant hour was spent listing to ABC Classic FM on live stream on The Diary’s laptop – OK, it should have been diary-writing at the time, but even diarists have to relax now and then – and enjoying Medieval Christian music.
The meter, the timbre, the cadence and the inspirational message of intellectual faith from so long ago that one derives from listening to such music is a treat. Christmas comes but once a year, as the old saying has it. When it does, it is nice to remember times past; both personal – so short a timeframe: in your diarist’s case, one that started only 155 years after verifiable temperature recordings on which we are now supposed to base our fears for the future began – and historical. Antiquity, viewed as it should be, provides a corrective to one’s moral compass. It’s a shame there is such profound ignorance today of both the facts and the lessons of the past.
In the modern Western tradition, Christmas is a secular celebration – of the illusory benefits of the consumer society among other things – that owes very little to its religious origins. But it’s as well to remember that Christmas, celebrating Jesus’ birth, is the old pagan midwinter festival of Europe, rebranded; just as Easter, the most solemn of Christian festivals, occurs, entirely without coincidence, coincidentally with the old northern hemisphere festival of Eostre, marking the new life that Spring brings to cold places that have growing seasons. The Greek god Eostre is also the root of the English word oestrus. Except by traditional misunderstanding and mythology – and faith – it has nothing to do with Wafat Issa.
Happy Christmas anyway; see you in the New Year.

SCRATCHINGS appears at The Bali Times Diary in the print edition of the weekly newspaper every Friday and on the newspaper’s website at The Bali Times is also available as a print product through Newspaper Direct.

Friday, December 11, 2009


They’re Filthy
Rich; And We
Should be
Filthy About

THERE’S something obscene about vast wealth. It’s never earned – as in being a fair return for a fair day’s work – and it’s almost always offensive in terms of the excessive habits and lifestyles it makes possible for those upon whom the fates have smiled in that way.
It’s a global phenomenon. The gross wealth of some Arab oil sheikhs who by happenstance have dynastic control over otherwise worthless patches of sand cries out for correction. The excess of American capitalism and the pretentious vacuity of European “old money” are similarly nausea-inducing.
The defence of philanthropy is often advanced as an excuse for vast wealth: Look, I give away a lot of this. Many rich people do; they are the ones with consciences, and good for them. They might not have the camel’s difficulty in passing through the eye of a needle when their time comes and they find they can’t take it with them.
Indonesia is pretty small beer in the global greed list, even though corruption and illicit enrichment are ingrained elements of the social psyche. But the latest Forbes magazine rich list - it came out last week; an annual emetic – nonetheless presents reading that might enrage, were one disposed to rage, and which certainly disturbs.
In a country where nothing works (that’s right, nothing) and where the vast majority of people scratch by for a year on what the rich might spend on a cheap night out, we see that Indonesia’s 40 richest people have doubled their wealth in 2009. This has chiefly been fuelled by global demand for natural resources. More than a third of the top 40 make most of their money from coal, palm oil or oil and gas. Indonesia now has 12 US dollar billionaires, combined wealth $28 billion, up from seven in 2008.
It would be invidious in a polemic to run the list of the infamously rich. It’s in Forbes magazine if you can afford the cover price, or are sufficiently interested.
But we do note that Aburizal Bakrie, who recently bought himself the Golkar presidency, has benefited from leaving executive politics and returning to business and Bumi Resources as his principal focus. He has regained his billionaire status.

Who Flicked Up?

CALL us conspiracy theorists if you like, but there’s something strange about the fact that PLN was told one day, in no uncertain terms, to end the Jakarta blackouts, and the discovery virtually the next that Gilimanuk’s appalling maintenance mismanagement had ensured the plant could not be repaired before “tools” are acquired from overseas. Why? On all the evidence, PLN has enough tools of its own without flying in more from other places.
It would be interesting to get answers from PLN (we never will of course) on these questions:
(1) Why the Bali blackouts that started in October and were to end on December 6, but then were to “end early,” on November 26, because “everything was fixed,” then failed to end on either date; and why we were told on December 3 that PLN was going to give Bali a very special Christmas gift of another month-plus of power cuts (up to January 15)? Do these people have any idea what they’re doing?
(2) How much additional power is required to keep all the lights on in Jakarta so that the leadership cadres in their plush accommodations are not inconvenienced by disquieting thoughts of public unrest?
(3) Where is this extra power coming from?
(4) How much power is currently being supplied to Gilimanuk via the allegedly lightning-prone (Mendacious Excuse No. 365) undersea cable?
(6) What are the qualifications for being appointed Bali spokesman for PLN? Is it a requirement that you must have graduated summa cum laude in post-modern fiction, majoring in farce?
There’s a seventh question. It’s to the national government: Fellas, do you have any actual interest in ending Bali’s immediate power problems?

To the Point

DANCE is such an important part of Balinese – and indeed Sundanese – culture, and of course also a draw for tourists. It is evocative, plainly erotic if not actually sexual and a distinct embellishment of any cultural experience to be had just north of the Austro-Eurasian fault line.
So much of it depends on the feet and specifically on pointed toes.
It was thus a disappointment – well, that and the “modern” interpretation of the traditional musical accompaniment – to see a performance at a Kuta restaurant recently where the dancers’ toes were securely out of sight, contained within little black leather – or possibly synthetic – shoe-socks.
They looked faintly ridiculous pointing their feet in this gear; as did the other dainty little performer who, wearing a rather sheer white dress which would have been significantly alluring, in a wholly cultural way, in other circumstances, was very clearly wearing sturdy black Lycra beneath.

The Lights Are On

BUT as usual, no one is home. How thoughtful of the traffic police to begin enforcing the daylight lights-on rule for motorbikes. It will make it so much easier to see riders behaving like lunatics.
The lights-on rule, which we believe began life in Sweden or one of those benighted Scandinavian places where it’s miserably dark for half the year, is being promoted as a safety measure. A far better safety measure, however, would be to enforce the licence rule (for more than corrupt personal revenue reasons) and to ensure that people can actually ride (or drive) before they are let out on the road.
It would be even better if the police could find a way to notice that, especially around school hours, a large proportion of motorbike riders appear to be people who are far too young to have a licence anyway.
And then there’s the farce of the helmet law. And the fact that many motorcyclists don’t bother with lights even when it’s dark.

Put a Sock in It

WE heard a sad tale the other day. An expatriate woman with a good knowledge of Bahasa Indonesia and a sensible interest in preventive health tried to persuade a group of young people at a bowling alley that, when hiring bowling shoes, they really should heed the requirement – well publicised – to wear socks with them. The general idea being you can really do without acquiring other people’s skin ailments and other complaints.
The answer, from the young crowd who apparently had forgotten that Indonesian culture emphasises politeness and respect for others, not to mention elders, was less than encouraging: You’re an Orang Bule, so f--- off.

Christmas Treat

READERS who will be on the other side of the Wallace Line – in Lombok – over Christmas may want to sample the delicious roast duck traditionally served (by the equally delicious Sakinah Nauderer) at Senggigi’s Asmara Restaurant. It’s an annual treat that, sadly, The Diary will miss out on again this year.
The roast duck is on the menu on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Through to New Year’s Day, if you’re not there on the duck days or water fowl does not appeal, Asmara offers prawn pate, jumbo prawns thermidor and mango ice-cream.
Sakinah tells us Santa has scheduled a call into Asmara at 1.30pm on Christmas Day to astonish junior patrons; or at least those whose mums and dads have said will be there.

Lip Gloss

THE pretty woman, Julia Roberts, lately a comely feature of the landscape in Bali while location shooting for her latest movie, Eat, Pray, Love, has been named the new face of cosmetics firm Lancôme. She will hold this onerous and high profile position for 2010, according to Lancôme boss Youcef Nabi, who said last week, announcing the appointment:
“By her remarkable personality and career, Julia Roberts is an emblematic woman of her time. Her exceptional talent, her radiance and her strong commitments perfectly echo Lancôme’s values. We are convinced she will embody the brand in the most sublime way possible.”
Just thought you should know that.

Silly Farts

SOMETIMES you spot something worth reading in the Jakarta Post – though The Diary much prefers the Jakarta Globe as daily fare – and such was the case recently when we came across a story about two neighbours who ended up in court over a fart.
The men – identified only as OB and HS, perhaps under the privacy provisions of the flatulence suppression regulations, and from Cirebon in Java – had a fight after OB vacated his dwelling to pass wind in the open air, sadly failing to notice that his neighbour HS was seated outside, enjoying the evening’s mildness, only 12 metres away.
As a result of his exposure to this unwanted and noxious emission, it is said, HS attempted to strangle OB. HS’s wife, the apparently fearsome YS, ran to join the fray and is said to have bitten OB on the hand.
After this affray the men decided to sue each other for assault. Apparently they were immune to a suggestion from presiding judge Setiadi that they should instead be sensible and forget about the whole thing.

HECTOR'S DIARY appears in The Bali Times, out ever Friday, and on the newspaper's website at The Bali Times is also available via Newspaper Direct.

Friday, December 04, 2009


How to Swan Around and be Disappointed

THERE’S a British lass around – or there was recently – who says she got to Bali on her way to Australia and was underwhelmed, silly girl; she blogged about it on an English newspaper’s website. And so it is that The Diary is apprised both of her disappointment and of her naive and dismissive assumption that you serve your travelling interests best by not bothering to do any pre-arrival research.
From her we hear that Kuta is an unpleasant surprise; that its pavements are not all they might be; that fast food is everywhere; and that KuDeTa – in which Bali’s prominent business coup d’état man, Kadek Wiranatha, has an interest and a Jaguar-sized parking spot – is not worth the whacking great bill you get at the end of an otherwise thoroughly forgettable experience. The girl was apparently expecting to be immersed in traditional Balinese culture in the midst of the predominantly tawdry sun-sand-and-sin cycle for which KLS (Kuta-Legian-Seminyak) is globally renowned.
The real Bali is easily accessible to anyone with the time to explore and an interest in finding out a few of the crucial details first. It is a wholly absorbing and wonderful place. It is not to be missed: unless, that is, your name is Jo Thompson, you’re on something called the Oz Bus, you’re out of sorts and you’ve got a blog at the London Daily Telegraph that needs to be fed.

Oh, Not Again!

AUSTRALIA Network, the satellite television service run with government money to present an Australian face to the region, serves up some reasonable fare to its viewers. Its news coverage is good. Well, it is if you want to get up really early to catch the breakfast stuff, because its flagship show, News Hour, struggles sometimes at 10pm.
Insiders - or those who may once have been and occasionally wish they still were - like to watch Insiders: it provides a pleasantly political Sunday morning interlude. Some of Australia Network’s drama is a bit gritty. The occasional Kiwi stuff needs subtitles. And as a general rule, you’d think that if much of the dialogue needs to be bleeped out, it might be better not to screen the thing at all.
But these are mere quibbles. There is one irritant of exceptional virulence: the number and frequency of repeats of little cameo spots. These might have been interesting the first time (although often the point is moot) but by the tenth or so rendition they have lost any redeeming qualities they might once have possessed.
If The Diary sees Tobias making his ridiculous matchstick models in Kuala Lumpur on some incomprehensible art scholarship one more time, or Willow, who buys sticky buns and plays the saxophone in Shanghai (and buys and buys; and plays and plays) there is likely to be an explosion.
Similarly, although Maggie Beer’s a dear and Simon Bryant a mild amusement, one more visit by the cook part of The Cook & The Chef to the lustily ersatz Germans of the Adelaide Hills or that truffle farm in Western Australia may bring on sudden, involuntary projectile vomiting.
In the same vein, Simon's asinine astonishment that the climate and vegetation of tropical North Queensland are a teensy bit different from those of Adelaide, where he chefs, is entirely enervating when repeatedly replayed.
Then there’s Global Treasures, a European buy-in by the ABC, which presents politically correct travelogues. The Diary has been to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. It’s beautiful and should be on everyone’s bucket list. It’s nice to see it again on television; if you can ignore the unctuous voiceover. But even the astonishing limestone formations that produce its exquisite vistas get a bit passé when served up in surfeit.
Guys, buy some new material ... please.

Life’s a Beach

THE delectable Devina Hindom, a fixture in the marketing communications efforts of the Ritz-Carlton-now-Ayana at Jimbaran for seven years, has changed her sea-view perspective. At Ayana, unless you’re at the Rock Bar – yum – or the Spa or that jetty thing where your food must surely come with real sea salt, the ocean perspective from atop its substantial cliff is rather lofty.
Hindom, who latterly has been number two to communications director Marian Hinchliffe, has moved on to the new Alila Soori, near Tanah Lot in Tabanan, where the sea view tends to be the surf and not Madagascar. She started there, we understand, on December 1, as a new part of the small but perfectly formed executive team. And we wish her all the best.
Her new property is much smaller, more intimate in a very svelte way, and, we’re sure, a lot of fun for people whose shoes are not scuffed, down at the heel or not worn at all.
Alila does not advertise its wares to the common herd. But it does Tweet them nowadays – The Diary had an item on that a little while ago – by employing contracted marketing twits to do so. It’s a growing thing. Whole swathes of expensive rooming houses have adopted the practice. They still expect the media to swoon over the glossy puffery they occasionally send out in lieu of advertising, of course.

And So to Bed

NEWS that a South Korean court has revoked a law under which men could be jailed for tricking women into bed with false promises of marriage is certainly cheering. Jurists and the law should stay well away from the bedchamber.
That’s not to say the firm belief of many women that all men are bastards is necessarily over-cautious as an approach to life. Trickery is ubiquitous where that thing we all think about but if sensible never write about is concerned.
The South Korean constitutional court was responding to petitions from two men imprisoned for the offence. It passes understanding that in any free society anyone should be in jail for breach of promise or, more accurately, for successfully pressing a case for unmarried sexual congress.
The court ruled that the 56-year-old law placed unnecessary restrictions on individual rights and ignored a woman's right to make her own decisions about who to have sex with.
It also said it forced “traditional, male-chauvinistic morals” on women by protecting only those of that gender the law deemed had “no penchant for debauchery” and that the law had also been exploited by women who used it to blackmail men - threatening to sue after sex, claiming they had only gone to bed with the men after they had proposed.
There you go. No matter whose slippers are hotly kicked under the bed, life is not only a cabaret: it’s also a two-way street.

Well-Deserved Honour

INDONESIAN jurist and Islamic scholar Siti Musdah Mulia has been named Woman of the Year in the annual award made by the Aosta region of Italy since 1998. It recognises recipients as women who have really made a difference in their own communities and hence to the world.
Mulia is no stranger to controversy – though she advocates a moderate view of Islam than is far more cerebral and much less newsworthy than others that attract the attention of the west and, sadly, some of its politicians – but this makes her more worthy of recognition.
In 2007 she said of the Malaysian style headscarf she chooses to wear that she wore it because she was comfortable doing so and not because it was mandated by Sharia rules or anything else. Mulia views Islam as a faith and a way of life that embraces diversity and encompasses pluralism. So it does, of course, as the truly sentient have always understood.
The 2009 award was made in Italy last Friday night. There were 36 candidates for the honour.

Thanks, Guys

THE Australian Consulate-General, which does these things very well, organised a get-together on Thursday night for 60-70 guests, most of them the 20 AusAID volunteers currently working around Bali and representatives of the community organisations with which they work. It was to mark International Volunteers Day, which is on Saturday.
The volunteers work in a range of fields, including education, environmental management and health services. The event was to support and show appreciation of the work done by volunteers in the community and to underline their importance in the close Indonesia-Australia relationship.
Hear, hear. Unsung heroes are almost always the best.

Charity Work

IN most mythology and tradition, angels are charity workers. So it is unsurprising that a jewellery exhibition at Celuk, organised by designer Irwan of California, opened last Friday and proposing to share some of its proceeds with charity, should have been titled Paintings by Angels.
Among the many works on show and for sale at the exhibition – which runs until January 14 – is a necklace, named Blessings Upon the World, formed from chrysacolla and 24 carat gold plate on sterling silver.
To mark the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, proceeds from the exhibition will support the continued advocacy on children’s rights by UNICEF Indonesia.
You can see it all at Jl Jagaraga 66, Celuk, Sukawati, daily from 9am-5pm.

SCRATCHINGS appears, as THE DIARY, in The Bali Times every Friday and on the newspaper's website at The Bali Times is also available through Newspaper Direct.