Tuesday, December 27, 2011

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Dec 28, 2011

A Beautiful Mind

Only the brightest get to Balliol, the cream of Oxford colleges. Christopher Hitchens, the British polemicist whose writing and advocacy put him at the forefront of political, social, religious and scientific debate, and who died in December (far too early at 62) was one of them and is a figure who will be sadly missed. His atheism angered many critics – one cannot imagine why, since if there is any existence after death Hitchens will now have proved himself wrong, though in common with all who have gone before he won’t be back to tell us about it – and his politics many others.
     Christopher Buckley, a friend and argument-foil of 30 years, wrote in a blog note on The Atlantic magazine site (Hitchens wrote for the magazine for years after moving to America in the late 1970s, saying later he jumped the pond because Britain was “like Weimar without the sex”) that Hitchens was “a feast of reason and a flow of soul, and, if the author of God Is Not Great did not himself believe in the concept of soul, he sure had one, and it was a great soul.”
     The television channel Al Jazeera posted some memorable quotes from Hitchens as part of its reportage of his death, including this one: “[George W. Bush] is lucky to be governor of Texas. He is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things.”
      Hitchens said this in 1999, a year before Bush became US President. In 2003 Hitchens was a staunch supporter of the US-led invasion of Iraq.  He later railed against waterboarding, a torture technique favoured – until rightly banned – by the US military.
      He wrote 17 books, including The Trial of Henry Kissinger, God is Not Great, and a memoir, Hitch-22 (he was Hitch to his friends). His final publication of a collection of his essays, Arguably, was released this year.          
     It was perhaps apt – it is certainly poignant – that in the month of Hitchens’ death astronomers confirmed the existence of an Earth-like planet in the “habitable zone” around a star not unlike our own. The planet, Kepler 22-b, lies about 600 light-years away, is about 2.4 times the size of Earth, and has a temperature of about 22C (despite global warmists’ alarms, Earth’s mean surface temperature is still around 15C,where it’s been during the whole galactic nanosecond since homo sapiens discovered how to measure it).
     Kepler 22-b – named for the space telescope that is busy spotting distant parts of the neighbourhood – is the closest confirmed planet yet to one like Earth: a planet on which it is conceivable that advanced intelligent life could occur; such as, say, a life of Hitch.

Sun Don’t Shine

We tweet on Twitter (@Scratchings if you’re interested) to a select few who have chosen to follow Hector’s ephemeral flight paths and were thus pleased to see the other day that something called the Bali Sun – though its website and Twitter page call it Bali The Sun – had elected to follow us. It’s nice to have followers. No former leader writer should be without them.
     That day, there were only two tweets on its Twitter page. Both said it was an on-line tourist papper (sic). It’s “about us” page on its website was similarly uninformative. The single entry there said its popularity was 5 percent. It didn’t say what it was 5 percent popular with, but we couldn’t ask because the website doesn’t say who’s in charge.
     It is said that if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all. But diarists couldn’t possibly survive under such restrictive rules of engagement. A far better rule is that if something pops its head up above the parapet, shoot at it.
     Perhaps the Bali Sun will shine one day. But it will need to put a few more additions (oops, silly, we must mean editions) up on its site before any illuminating flashes of light reach us from the heavens.
     Speaking of illuminating moments, the other day we inadvertently bought a week-old copy of another local newspaper, the Bali Times. We’d parked outside a Circle K so the Distaff could negotiate some laundry next door and thought we’d better drop in to buy something at the convenience store, just to show goodwill. It was two days after the new edition should have been on the shelves, but sadly we weren’t paying attention and forked out Rp10K for an old fish-and-chip wrapper instead of a new one.
     It wasn’t all wasted effort, though. The Times, which continues to assert that it reveals the real Bali all the way from distant Ireland, turns out to be still on its inexplicable vendetta against the British novelist Will Self, whom, granted, some regard as tendentious and tedious, not to mention far too far up himself. Some time ago it reported “Man Throws Self off Cliff,” which surprised us no end because we had no idea he was even on the island. In the edition of the paper we just inadvertently bought is a story with this headline:  “Man Sets Self Alight Outside State Palace.” (He must have recovered from his Uluwatu plunge and gone to Jakarta.)
     Clearly someone’s out to get poor Will. We didn’t think his densely fantastical piece de resistance, Great Apes, was that bad. But should he be planning further Indonesian trips, he might consider doing so under an assumed name. We’d considered proposing Safe, since that suggests a measure of surety against unfortunate incident. But no, that wouldn’t do. The Bali Times would just report that robbers had blown him up.

She’s Our Hero

Robin Lim, who operates the Bumi Sehat foundation that provides health care and maternity and prenatal care to women in Bali who might otherwise not get it, was deservedly named CNN Hero of the Year 2011 this month, selected from among 10 finalists. She got US$250,000 for her win, having already received $50,000 for making it onto the finalists’ list.
     Lim is truly a hero.  She said at the awards (in Los Angeles on December 11): “Every baby's first breath on Earth could be one of peace and love. Every mother should be healthy and strong. Every birth could be safe and loving. But our world is not there yet.”
     Hear! Hear!

Kindling Thought

We had a lovely dinner party recently. Two people we got to know from their business activities but who are now friends – he’s a real estate broker, she is manicurist to the Distaff – joined us at The Cage for a western meal with Asian flavours, judged sufficiently Halal for mild Muslims, with background music by iPod, Hector’s  latest toy. He’s very proud of the playlists he has managed to create from a mix of iTunes and burned CDs and is in danger of becoming quite boring about it all.
     Amid the evening ambience – The Cage sports a sort of deep crimson light-pool at night, courtesy of some table lamps that inevitably propel one’s thoughts towards the more classy among Parisian and Chinese brothels (Hector is not at all unhappy about this) – talk turned among other things to the developing world of ebooks and specifically to the Kindles now on the inventory at our house.
     It will be great when a far larger body of literature in Bahasa Indonesia is available in electronic books, especially since bookshops in Bali are seriously deficient at the sentient end of literature’s envelope.
     The Diary is at present rereading (though perhaps that should be e-reading) James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses, a long-time favourite as well as the spark for that grand old pub-crawl, Bloomsday. (It’s on June 16 every year, but you need to keep in training year round.)
     It is particularly memorable for Joyce’s use of some lines from William Butler Yeats’ 1892 poem Who Goes with Fergus? They include these two lines, sage advice in any vicissitude:

      And no more turn aside and brood
     Upon love’s bitter mystery

Santa in Seminyak

We expect Santa is now taking his customary well-earned rest after the oh-so-busy pre-Christmas period he and the reindeer, not to mention the elves, have to endure each year. One of the many spots he dropped in on in Bali in the lead-up to Present Day was The Cornerstore in Jl Oberoi at Seminyak.
     That was on Saturday, December 17. Informant Sean Cosgrove told us the red-suited gent would be there from 9am to noon. We do hope the sleigh didn’t get held up in the traditional traffic jam that gridlocks Kuta-Legian-Seminyak on a permanent basis.

Animal Capers

Someone kindly alerted us to a list of the most popular dog names this year – OK, it was in New York, which is one very self-absorbed apple – which lists Bella as No. 1. Presumably that’s for lady dogs. The Diary’s personal favourite was way down the list, at No. 49. We don’t have a dog, but we’re always calling “Oreo.”
     Guess there’ll be a new list next year.
     That’ll be 2012, which from January 23 is the Year of the Dragon.  We’re just leaving the Year of the Rabbit, in which some among us have found that we have been the bunnies. It can only get better.
     Happy New Year!

Hector's Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser and on the newspaper's website www.baliadvertiser.biz

On Twitter: @Scratchings. On Facebook: Hector McSquawky

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