on the State
of the Aid
IT is an axiom of a free press that nothing and no one is above scrutiny. Certain politicians and high-profile business people do not like this, here in Bali (and the rest of Indonesia) any more than anywhere else. But that’s just tough. However, in the post-modern era in which it is supposed we are living, the protection offered by prominence and supposed good works to certain organisations, political positions, scientific speculations, and even lifestyles, is ubiquitous and deemed to be beyond cavil. It is even permissible (at worst it seems to be seen as merely misguided, never criminal) to break the law, or to behave like an idiot, in pursuit of certain causes, such as the oxymoron of animal liberation (animal rights are not conferred by nature but by human artifice), or saving the forests or the whales.
Among the most protected sectors is the global aid industry, which collectively has been accorded secular sainthood, an unearned and certainly undeserved position that, sadly, is unquestioningly underscored by the global media. It is therefore pleasing to see that the leading British medical journal The Lancet has accused major aid organisations of corporate preening and self-interest that, in the current event of focus, the earthquake in Haiti, has contributed to what it calls bedlam in the effort to help that Caribbean nation.
The Lancet, which noted that exceptional work is done by many in the aid sector, says in an editorial: “International organisations, national governments and non-governmental organisations are rightly mobilising, but also jostling for position, each claiming that they are doing the best for earthquake survivors ... Some agencies even claim that they are ‘spearheading’ the relief effort. In fact, as we only too clearly see, the situation in Haiti is chaotic, devastating, and anything but coordinated.”
The journal goes on to note that large aid agencies can become so obsessed with raising money through their own appeal efforts that competition for funding often leads to truly heroic claims as to the benefits and achievements of themselves, versus, the audience is enjoined to infer, those of others.
Bedlam is an apt description for much of the clamour one hears today from the wildly self-promotional, who range from footballers who can’t string two words together (unless one is a sexual obscenity and the other if “off”) through the self-stars of various electronic media and vacuous little blonde heiresses (aptly classed together), to entertainers and “business leaders” and finally to scientists who are so besotted with their own importance that they believe they can explain why there is no God.
The word comes from the Bethlem (Bethlehem) hospice in England that took its first mental patients into care in the 14th century and became Britain’s first formal mental hospital in 1725.
Madness, though not always of the variety nowadays defined as demanding incarceration, is the collective vogue.
Back at the Chateau
THERE was once a great newspaper in Melbourne, Australia. It was called The Age. It was a newspaper of record (in that it published material as a matter of record whether or not it was publicly palatable or even of interest to more than a very few, thereby providing a public service).
There is still a Melbourne Age, but it is a shadow of its former self, reduced by corporate pressure to turn a profit into a vehicle for presenting flimflam and flummery and promotion of, or at least acquiescense in, populist causes however inconsequential or plain wrong.
Thus it is that in the pages of this no longer august journal we are told (yet again) that Schapelle Corby is gaga, that she is protected (from herself) in Kerobokan by Renae Lawrence of the Bali Nine – who is described as gay even though she looks decidedly grim in the accompanying photo – and that the reporter (Tom Allard, either because it was a non-story and there was nothing else to say or having fallen into the modern error of believing the reporter to be part of the story) can jolly things along by making little jokes.
There was nothing new in the story, not even from the garrulous Mercedes, sister of Schapelle, who generally will talk to anyone as long as they pay her enough.
Guys, give us a break.
Here’s Something Useful
BIKU Restaurant and Ganesha Bookstore at Kerobokan have a fundraising evening set for February 12 to benefit breast cancer care in Bali. Award-winning author Donna Conrad – who will read from her book on surviving and thriving through illness – and Prima Medika Hospital’s Dr I.B. Tjakra Manuaba who will lead a discussion on breast cancer are the stars of the show. Conrad will also sign copies of her book.
Live music is on hand, with vocalist Neli Yo and keyboardist Yuni, and entrance is free. Dinner is available at your own cost and donations will go to Bali women in need of care.
Your diarist cannot be there – he’ll be in Australia for, among other things, an effective prophylactic anti-rabies vaccination course – but you should be. The evening runs from 7pm-10pm, at Biku’s delightful premises in Jl Raya Petitenget, Kerobokan Kelod.
Warning: Travel Advisory
IT was interesting to read in last week’s edition of The Bali Times that the current chairman of the Bali Hotels Association – Frenchman Jean-Charles Le Coz, general manager of the Nikko at Nusa Dua – was driven to irritation by the portrayal in the Australian media of the latest revision of Australia’s official travel advisory for Indonesia, including Bali.
The Diary shares his irritation. Even in a holiday season – Australia basically doesn’t get back to work after Christmas until after Australia Day (January 26) – you would expect the short-straw teams on news desks (the guys who didn’t manage to jag their long break over the Aussie summer and, dammit, still have to turn up at work) to know a little about the background of stories they have to write. It’s not clear how anyone sentient could miss the note in the new advisory that said it was being reissued in relation to Bali’s arrangements for the annual Silent Day (Nyepi, on March 16 this year) or that the overall level of advice had not changed.
These advisories – defined by a helpful friend of The Diary’s as CMAs (cover-my-arses) issued by the authorities so they can say “We told you so” if something nasty emerges from the woodpile – are of course helpful and should certainly be read by any Australian planning to travel to Bali.
The problem nowadays is that no one actually reads anything. You send people simple emails and if they reply at all it is to tell you everything except the answer to the single question you asked. Today, if it’s not in movingly vibrant colours on your big wide screen, it either hasn’t happened or it doesn’t matter. More sadly still, the denizens of the media so often fall into the same trap. This prompts two questions: Who pays them? And why?
Le Coz makes another point which the Australian authorities and others could usefully take on board. It is that terror and administrative arrangements are very different things. If official Australia feel it is necessary to provide advice on Nyepi to travellers who have read and rejected their insistent jeremiads urging them to reconsider travel to Indonesia, it would be better to do so in a document that does not reignite the (statistically fanciful) fear that a psychopathic terrorist will be there to greet them on arrival at their destination.
Sing Us a Song
WHEN in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout. So goes the old advice to those faced with difficulties in extremis. We don’t think President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Vice President Boediono or Finance Minister Sri Mulyani are in dire straits at all, over the Bank Century bailout or anything much. There’s a politically contrived potage being brewed up by opponents of the administration (Hello Golkar? Hi there PDI. Still smarting?) This owes far more to opportunistic point-scoring than to matters of substance.
The President is thus well advised to tell his critics: Get a life. Apparently, however, he has decided to do this in song. He is a serial offender as a dangdut (song and dance) hopeful. They’ll make a television series about him one day, called The Singing President. His latest album of ditties, his third, carries the hopeful title Ku Yakai Sampai Di Sana (I’m Certain I’ll Get There).
We’re sure he will. In another album or two.
SCRATCHINGS appears, as The Diary in The Bali Times, in the newspaper's weekly print edition, out Fridays, and on the newspaper's website at www.thebalitimes.com. The Bali Times is also available worldwide through Newspaper Direct.