November 21-27, 2008

A Bad Call on Bad Law

A POLICEMAN’S lot is not a happy one. We should therefore feel some sympathy for the dilemma that Bali’s police chief, Inspector General Teuku Ashikin Husein, may find himself in if the central government actually ever does issue a regulation to enforce the badly thought out and frankly fundamentally embarrassing anti-pornography legislation recently passed by the legislature.

He says the police have no option but to enforce the new law in Bali. Logically and administratively, he’s correct. It is not after all the job of the police – or any other national agency – to join in public clamor over the foolish and short-sighted actions of either the legislature or the government. Better such matters are left to the constitutional court.

At the same time, it is surprising he chose to be drawn into the fractious political argument over the legislation, given that it has yet to be made subject to a regulation – and cannot be enforced until it is – and since he must know it is anathema to Bali’s Hindu culture and custom, as well as to other indigenous non-Muslim cultures elsewhere in Indonesia.

Like most bad law, the bill merely creates new – predominantly victimless – offences, turning into lawbreakers people who if not for the presence of the new law would have committed no offence at all. Further, it applies (one view of) Islamic requirements on behavior and dress that have no relevance to non-Muslims. It is, in short, in that regard at least, legislation that should only be promulgated as an enabling law to permit local authorities to mandate dress and behavior codes where these are deemed appropriate to those communities. Sadly, these and other benefits of regionalism and cultural diversity, let alone the immutable principles of Pancasila, apparently elude the national legislature.

In relation to true pornography, which is offensive to the majority of people, other laws provide a mechanism for limiting its exposure. The thought of “big brother” spying on the private activities of people is offensive and the result fundamentally dangerous to freedom. There are already arrangements already in place to counter pedophilia and other sexual crimes. The anti-pornography legislation is entirely peripheral to that.

What should properly concern the police – in relation to sensible advice they might think it useful to give the government – is the potential for social disturbance flowing from the unwillingness of the Balinese to give up important elements of their distinctive religion and culture to meet the increasingly restrictive demands of another. They might, too, usefully consider whether the licensing of vigilantism, as proposed in the legislation, is in fact conducive to public order.

A great many laws are actually not enforced, or are used when breached as a means of collecting “fines” that never find their way into national revenue collection. Just as one example, Bali Police could properly enforce the helmet rule on the island’s motorcyclists – that way they would not only be complying with their mandate but might also save lives. That would be really useful; it would also be a public service.

A Timely Warning

AMID all the international media frenzy that accompanied the recent official removal of the Bali bombers from the gene pool, we note that the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta felt it necessary to state publicly on Nov. 13 that no travel warning against Bali – or Indonesia – was in place.

In a statement, the embassy said:

“The U.S. Government cancelled its travel warning on May 23, 2008, and contrary to recent statements, this warning has not been reinstated. While the U.S. Embassy routinely issues warden messages to American Citizens who are registered with the Embassy, none of these supersede the lifting of the travel warning, nor should they be construed as restrictions on American citizens, or other nationals, from travelling to Indonesia.

“The travel warning was cancelled due to objective improvements made by the Government of Indonesia in its current security situation. Indonesia has not experienced a major terrorist attack since October 2005, and the Government of Indonesia has disrupted, arrested and prosecuted numerous terrorist groups and elements.

“For more information for U.S. citizens about travelling internationally, please visit”

It bears mentioning, of course, that the visible American presence in the high-profile tourist market in Bali, the primary focus of Australia’s official efforts to insist that its citizens remain alert if not actively alarmed, falls far short of that of other visitors. But at the same time, there is surely food for thought for Canberra in the decision of the Americans to reduce (as of last May – fully six months ago) their official anxiety level below Total Funk.

So That’s Why It’s the Yellow Press

IT’S only anecdotal, but it seems there is some evidence that the efforts of the Australian media to scare Aussies away from Bali are having some effect. We hear from sources in Perth – the West Australian capital, a mere 3 hr 40 min flight away from the delights of our holiday island – that it is becoming difficult to sell tickets on the recently increased air services to Denpasar.

This comment, this week, from a marketing agency in Perth, in regard to an airline client’s current business, is telling: “At the moment we could not give tickets away to Bali here in Perth. The local newspaper the West Australian in particular has been running an ongoing absolute scaremongering campaign every second day regarding terrorist revenge, etc, and then the Australian Government [has come] out strongly asking Aussies to avoid Indonesia and Bali at all costs. I can tell you the bottom has fallen out of this market at the moment.”

Among the bottom-feeders in the media, worldwide, the eggbeater is a favorite implement. Used shamelessly and without regard to facts, it beats up stories from nothing to epic in two seconds flat. It’s easy to use, requiring no real effort, no commitment to accuracy. It works best when the journalists concerned are as ignorant (or more so) of the facts as the readers and viewers they are supposedly informing.

Sadly, in recent days we have seen a distressing commitment to mass distortion by the Australia media over the true situation in Bali. This is not helped by Australia’s official reluctance to consider reducing the fear factor written into its long-standing travel advice in relation to Indonesia, but at least that is couched in sensible language and is based on rational assessment of the facts.

Much of the Australian media has no such commitment. The Diary knows of people in Australia who – planning to visit – were about to cancel because of the rioting and mayhem at the Bali bombers’ funerals (which as ephemeral views and readers they had been encouraged by Australian media coverage to believe were actually on Bali) and the allegations of super-high level of risk that now faced tourists here.

Once upon a time, the “yellow press” referred to the ethical lapses and low morals of some of the more colorful scandal sheets. Today, it seems, it applies to the product of the eggbeaters wielded by ignorant editors.

High-Flying Ideas

JAKARTA now sports two daily English-language newspapers. On Nov. 12 the Jakarta Globe joined The Jakarta Post on the streets – that’s as in “on sale,” not as in homeless and destitute – promising (surprise!) to provide readers with a fresh approach to news and other matters. It lived up to this promise immediately, with the aid of a two-legged Gallic arachnid. French “Spider Man” Alain Robert scaled a tower in central Jakarta to read the first edition of the new newspaper. Well, as Rupert Murdoch would tell you, many newspapers today are all about entertainment, mostly at the cerebrally challenged end of the market.

Speaking of high-profile PR, The Diary is reminded of that lovely little 1970s hit song featuring advice from then Ugandan strongman Idi Amin. It was probably around the time he proclaimed himself King of Scotland. It went like this: “If you don’t want to vanish with a boot up the bum, you’ve got to give the population something to hum.” Well, Idi didn’t actually sing it himself, of course. He was probably too busy trying on his new kilt and rounding up the ever-lengthening list of people he didn’t like.

Humming along is important: there’s nothing better than a nice tune to get you going. But here at The Bali Times, we think our readers deserve a rational score, not just a rap beat.

Good Question!

YOU might have noticed that some of the world’s banks are in a spot of bother at present. Poor chaps. It must be playing merry hell with the office party – favorite group song: “Whoops, There Goes another Billion Trill … ah … What? DAMN!” – and that’s not even to mention the ruins of the executive golf schedule down at the Big Black Hole Banking Corp. But in such times, one does what one can to protect one’s assets, not to mention thinking to query all sorts of things in relation to funds in hand, or not.

To assist readers in dealing with the new reality in the banking sector, globally speaking, here’s a draft pro forma that could be used to set the required new parameters for dealing with entities of a banking nature:

[The Manager]
Dear Sir,

In view of current developments in the banking market, if one of my checks is returned marked “insufficient funds,” does that refer to me or to you?

Yours faithfully,
[Your name]

Give Kevin the Flickr

YOU might be forgiven for thinking that the Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, is a master Mr. Fixit, a multitalented leader, multiskilled politician and multilingual global facilitator, as well as that chap who rides the big white horse right into the middle of truly desperate situations to rescue lesser mortals from fates far worse than death. That’s if you read his press statements. Or if you bother grinding through the paeans of praise he gets from his cheer squads in his office and the Oz media; or that you know who he is; or that Australia has a prime minister. Or actually care about any of these things.

Mr. Rudd, whose idea of good publicity seems to be anything with his name in it, campaigned for office last year as Kevin07. Now he’s got the full official apparatus of government to back his promotional efforts but even that’s not enough, it seems. He has set up his own, new website at, a privately (or rather Labor Party) operated outfit where he wants Aussies to listen to him speaking frankly about the big challenges facing the country, the global economy, education, climate change and the health of Australians, overeaters or otherwise.

He’s not alone, of course. Leaders of besieged democracies everywhere are doing it. But it does seem strange that a national leader would want to be known as KevinPM. It sits oddly with those who still believe – however foolishly – that the serious business of government is, well, rather serious. The Diary, when KevinPM popped up unannounced in the in-box, thought it was a spoof. No such luck.

The new site, where one can apparently commune virtually in person with the First Entity, also offers video clips. Plus links to social network site such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter (that last one is apt). Oh yes, and the photo-sharing site Flickr. So if you’ve got a nasty bout of PMT (that’s Prime Ministerial Tension), relief is at hand. Just give him the Flick … er.

An Oldie But a Goodie

YOUR Diarist is one for classic jokes, the older the better in most cases. Be quiet, any of you who might be tempted to respond that Hector’s a bit of an old joke himself. And naturally, he’s fond of parrot jokes. Particularly, it must be said, he gets off on the parrot joke to end all parrot jokes – the “Dead Parrot” joke brought to life by the Monty Python team in 1969. Was it that long ago? Gosh, it seems like yesterday.

In fact, the venerable antecedent of John Cleese’s famously former Blue Norwegian had been deceased some considerable time when his modern descendent was dusted off 40 years ago. Some 1600 years. He was, in truth, a figure of very nearly classical stature, having figured in Athenian giggle-groups back in the time when Greeks had something to laugh about, having just seen off the Romans, who by then, with the collapse of the western empire, had turned not only into vandals but Vandals.

A comedy duo named Hierocles and Philagrius told the original joke – in which the dead subject was a slave, not a parrot – and has the seller saying to the buyer, who had complained that his slave had died: “When he was with me, he never did any such thing!”

The skit was discovered in a collection of 265 jokes called Philogelos: The Laugh Addict, which dates from the fourth century CE. Hierocles had gone to meet his maker, and Philagrius had certainly ceased to be, long before John Cleese and the incomparable Michael Palin reinvented the yarn in 1969.

The book, translated by William Berg, an American classics professor, also revealed that jokes about wives have always been fair game. One joke goes: “A man tells a well-known wit: ‘I had your wife, without paying a penny.’ The husband replies: ‘It’s my duty as a husband to couple with such a monstrosity. What made you do it?’”

It’s in the Stars

THE Diary’s All-Time-Favorite Canadian, John Kenneth Galbraith, brought the practical commonsense of his ancestors’ Scottish heritage to economics. Perhaps that’s why he was too soon ignored by those who in pursuit of wealth and personal benefit mistake caution for miserliness and move commonsense off the balance sheet. Here’s what he had to say about the “science” that governments and others are now desperately applying to the business of charting a way out of the self-created mess they’ve created: “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.”

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