The Bali Times Diary: Hector’s Scratchings

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 behaviors 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 behaviors (the Porn Laws) and the apparently limitless opportunities provided to convicted mass murderers (the Bali bombers) to continue publicizing 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 November 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 their 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-neutralizing 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.

Hector blogs at

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One Response to “The Bali Times Diary: Hector’s Scratchings”

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