December 12-18, 2008

Dogs Collared in Bukit Job

THE rabies scare in the Bukit/Jimbaran area has had an interesting side effect. A lot more dogs these days are wearing collars. Some seem to do so proudly, as if proclaiming: “I’m a PET.” Others do it with very evident distaste, as you would expect of a hound hitherto free of any branding or restriction. And many others, whose owners apparently aren’t up for spending collar money, now appear wearing pretty little ribbons round their necks. These might look alright on poodles. On a pooch whose life is The Street, they look uncommonly comical. Some of the poor beribboned ones seem to carry an air of terminal embarrassment.

Much has been made of the fact that Bali is a “rabies-free” area. It’s a claim advanced much in the same way – and from the same delusional and self-serving direction – as the French like to pretend La Rage never makes it west of the Meuse. Rabies is a viral disease. It is impossible to conclusively test for it until it begins to affect a victim’s central nervous system. The only way anywhere is “rabies-free” is on the basis of no reported cases of the disease (in Bali until the present outbreak, no cases had been recorded in more than a decade). Islands with strict quarantine laws, significantly distant from other landmasses, may indeed be free of rabies. Britain and Ireland are; Australia and New Zealand are; some remote Pacific islands are. It is very doubtful that anywhere in Indonesia falls in reality into the “100 percent certainty of freedom from rabies” category.

But this is not necessarily a problem. A raft of diseases exists in the world that has been reduced – sometimes to virtual invisibility – by public health measures, preventive health infrastructure and above-slum-level sanitation and rubbish disposal. That’s certainly the case in Bali. But it can never mean that such diseases no longer exist as a threat or that outbreaks will not occur. The action taken in Bali to control the rabies outbreak and prevent cases occurring outside the areas already affected has been swift – Governor Made Pastika deserves great credit for that – and (despite criticism that culling wild dog populations is no solution) effective. A proper preventive program of vaccination for domestic dogs should be introduced on an ongoing basis and made compulsory, as should registration of animals. Public subsidies are needed to ensure local dog owners don’t face the prospect of spending a year’s salary on anti-rabies shots for their pets and working dogs (expatriates can bear the full cost and i
f necessary should be made to). Domestic pets should not be allowed to roam widely and any not required for licensed breeding should be sterilized so they do not add to the wild dog population. Wild dog packs should be regularly culled.

The rule must be: If you own a dog or care for it in any way – such as, say, using otherwise wild dogs to help you round up livestock and the like – then you are responsible for properly feeding it and, within your financial means, ensuring its health and welfare. This is expensive but within the mutual-responsibility culture of Balinese communities it would be manageable. All that is needed is the will to act – and education in why it is necessary. And it is necessary because no one, and no domestic animal, should die of rabies today. If the residual risk of contracting the disease is recognized by the authorities, if vaccine is readily available, if at-risk domestic animals are protected, if wild dog populations are minimized and if quarantine laws are effectively enforced to permit entry only of vaccinated animals, the disease is a minimal threat.

Oh To Be in Ubud, Now the Rains Are Here

THE Diary has a day job in the VFR industry. That’s as in the strong travel and tourism market sector that involves “Visiting Friends and Relatives.” That’s as in, they visit you, if you live in a lovely place like Bali and they don’t. The Diary, in day-job mode, has in consequence many friends who decide they would like to discover – or rediscover – the delights of Bali and that’s good. It means all sorts of opportunities to visit nice places like Ubud, Candi Dasa and others, that might not otherwise make it onto the everyday schedule.

A recent visit to Ubud brought a further benefit (and not only to the VFR party being shown around). A pleasant stay at Janet De Neefe’s Honeymoon Cottage and the opportunity to sample some of famed cuisine from Casa Luna was only part of this. OK, so it rained. You expect that in the rainy season. Indeed there are people to be found who would complain bitterly – not to mention wicker endlessly about climate change – if it didn’t. It makes everything lush and green, creates cleansing flows in some of the little streams and leads to some remarkably fresh post-downpour evenings and early mornings. What fun it is to have one’s visitors from chillier climes wondering why, when they decided to travel to the tropics, they left their woollies behind.

A minor medical issue for one of the party on the trip in question – involving those strangely redundant and oddly named things, wisdom teeth – also demonstrated the efficiency of local medical services. The town has every reason to be the tourist drawcard it is. And those smiles on the street – ubiquitous everywhere in Bali – are a pleasant reminder indeed that the world is really a beautiful place.

No Hg Up Ovr Txtsm

U CN RLX: Mobile phone texting is not killing the English language. We hear this encouraging intelligence from an Australian researcher, Dr Nenagh Kemp (though should that, we wonder, be Nngh Kmp?), who presented her findings at the Research Network in Human Communication Science conference in Sydney. (It’s amazing what people will go to in Sydney when it’s not Mardi Gras season.) Dr Kemp apparently found 55 undergraduates with nothing better to do than read and write text messages using normal English and abbreviated text language (she calls this “textism”) and turned them into lab rats.

Surprise! She discovered that proficient texters are usually better at reading and using traditional spelling and grammar. It probably helps if you’re in a position to guess what the excised vowels might be in a sequence of consonantal gobbledegook. The prize for the bleeding obvious from this research, however, goes to the finding that while it is quicker to write in “textism” (txtsm, surely?), it can take twice as long to work out what the message says.

For many people in Bali, this difficulty is compounded. When your grasp of even the fully spelt-out version of Bahasa Indonesia is less than perfect, it’s a real bother trying to work out what on earth all those mobile telephone providers are trying to tell you or sell you in their annoying text messages that clog up your phone on Friday nights and weekends.

They Really Are a Weird Mob

AUNTY, as Australia’s national broadcaster the ABC is known, has been spreading her wings with audience participation. In collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra (the notional capital) the ABC has commissioned 30 video portraits on the theme My Favourite Australian. A public vote last year produced a Top Ten list. Olivia Newton John, the 1970s pop singer, won top billing. John Farnham, another singer (he was Johnny Farnham, he of Sadie (The Cleaning Lady) fame, before he got all serious, message-wise), made it in at No. 3. Tasmanian tree-hugger Bob Brown, head of the Australian Greens, took No 4 spot. George Bush’s former Aussie Man of Steel John Howard (the ex-PM) scored No 5. Oddly, his GWB-anointed and self-proclaimed non-rusting successor, now known to the world as www.KevinPM, didn’t rate a mention. But the vote was last year, after all, when the unusual concept of Kevin the Great was still just a twinkle in a latte lapper’s eye.

This year the ABC ran a poll for Most Inspiring Unsung Heroes. Terry Hicks, father of Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks, got an honorable mention in such a lengthy list of the unsung that most seem to have difficulty even popping up on Google. But you have to hand it to Terry Hicks for his cast-iron faith in the fact that his son, formerly a soldier of misfortune with Al Qaida’s feared strike force of formerly Infidel irregulars (he won’t say, but we think he served in the 1st Battalion The Regiment of Royally Useful Fools – “Osama’s Own”), would instantly revert to being just a regular guy if returned to Australia for a light slap on the wrist and a crash course in how to spread Vegemite.

Incidentally, 2008 has been the ABC’s most successful ratings year yet. It won a primetime free-to-air share of TV viewing of 17 percent. Your Diarist declares an interest: is interested to note that one of the top programs on ABC1 TV was Australia: Land of Parrots. Don’t think we’ve seen that on the ABC’s Australia Network satellite system yet. There’s been plenty about galahs though.

The ‘Bam’s Pointe Man: From Door Opener to Gatekeeper

RAHM Emanuel, named by President-elect Barack Obama as White House chief of staff, is a fellow for fancy footwork. Well, he did train for ballet before deciding he could make a better Pointe in the financial world. He got his big start on the road to the political big-time when, leaving the Clinton White House as a senior political adviser at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998, he was picked up by major Wall Street operator Bruce Wasserstein, a key Democrat Party donor. It was a move that netted him a place in the then sunny world of hedge funds, earned him an US$18-million-plus fortune in two and a half years and then – in the tried and true manner of welding political connections to the megabucks world of influence – facilitated a pirouette into national politics.

It’s interesting that the little-known portion of his life before he was elected to a House of Representatives seat from Illinois has now attracted the attention of the American media, ever anxious to spot a mote in the eye of anyone but themselves. “I had this idea that this could work and that it had upside,” The New York Times reports Wasserstein, now chairman and chief executive of Lazard, the investment bank, as saying of Emanuel’s recruitment to the Gordon Gecko world of Wall Street. “It worked out better than I could have hoped.” And better than Emanuel could have imagined as well. It turned his White House contact book into paying clients and his renowned negotiating skills and famous intensity into a super-plus for lucrative mergers and acquisitions.

Since entering politics, however, he would seem Emanuel has been his own man on business and financial regulation. While friends of Emanuel’s from his private-sector days say he still keeps in touch to stay on top of business insights on economic issues, he voted with other Democrats last year on a bill that significantly increased the tax rate on profits earned by private equity firms and sponsored a bill to curb the ability of hedge fund managers to defer paying taxes on earnings held in offshore tax havens. He supported another measure that imposed new reporting requirements on financial firms for what investors pay on stocks and mutual funds. Emanuel gave The Times his side of the story: “I would say I’ve been as tough on my friends as others. I call it like I see it.”

Eye Contact? You Were Lucky!

YOUR Diarist’s rheumy old eye was caught by the item last week on a curious aspect of baby care. It was on the Health page of course, an area of journalism which is nowadays essential because everyone is afflicted by that horrific modern condition MIA. No, we don’t mean “missing in action”: we’re not talking bureaucrats out to lunch or policemen on excused bribes duty. It’s much more serious. It’s Medically Induced Angst.

The item was about how putting your baby in a forward-facing “buggy” is bad for it. Apparently it can cause those infant entities so abused to become stressed by the lack of eye contact they then have with the person pushing them along. In your Diarist’s younger days – when he not yet even a fledgling, merely a hatchling – this was the least of his worries. It was generally his Mum or his Gran pushing him along and the street scene, although hardly colorful, was at least interesting. At the time (read on) it must have been like trying to negotiate a Kuta walkway. Of course, he was in a pram – proper name perambulator, sometimes even more grandly known as a “baby carriage.” This was before buggies or strollers and certainly those ridiculous papoose-sling things had been invented.

But he cast his mind back, as he is wont to do when nothing current is attracting the cognitive processes, and he does remember being told the story of one traumatic event from his pram days. It was in early 1945, in London – which the fortunes of war had dictated would be his hatching place – and at the time when that murderous little curiosity Adolf Hitler was having his last rabid quiver and aiming his fire-and-forget V1 and V2 rockets at Winston Churchill. And missing him, of course, instead clobbering people whose only offence was a rather fierce belief that Winston was a better sort of chap than Adolf. These circumstances were just one of those things: In adversity, curse and carry on. That’s the spirit. None of that namby-pamby, touchy-feely stuff then.

Anyway, the incident is definitely an act of parental abandonment that today would not only cause recurrent episodes of MIA throughout one’s whole life, but also have whole squadrons of social workers descending upon one (most sensible people would favor the remote risk of a V1 or V2 over that outcome). In those stoic days, it simply became just another family tale.

It seems Mum had sauntered down to the post office – as you would with a three-month-old baby in a pram and a likely misguided missile threat in the air – and having done whatever it was she was doing there (it may have had something to do with posting a letter; or perhaps she was getting more ration coupons), the poor dear, so recently blessed by motherhood, completely forgot about the pram, the baby, and indeed her proud new status, and sauntered back home.

Enter granny, never one to miss a beat, or a baby. Where is the baby, she inquired sweetly, doubtless thinking the pram and its infant contents had been parked in the weak English spring sunshine under the apple tree in the back garden. Oh, um, well… [The rest is deleted on grounds of taste. Mums NEVER say things like that.]

Never mind. After the double sprint back to the post office, pram and contents were retrieved unharmed. Babies didn’t talk to strangers in those days either. Well, other than to coo, boo and gurgle of course – and wonder where the hell Mum is.

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