January 9-15, 2009

Perhaps Not Tonight; I’ve Got a Headache

ACCORDING to the Bali AIDS Commission, the proliferation of “kafe” outlets (small, generally suburban and rural places that serve up gutrot alcohol, eardrum-destroying music and dangerous sex) is putting Bali at risk of an HIV epidemic. The commission says many of these places employ willing waitresses who will put out for a modest (perhaps that should read an immodest?) emolument and don’t bother with sensible things like condoms. But then their clients don’t bother thinking with their brains either, and therein lies the problem.

It beggars belief – well it would almost anywhere else than in Indonesia, perhaps, where turning a blind eye to illegality in return for corrupt considerations or payment in kind is a political and bureaucratic art form – that such places are permitted to exist unchecked. At the very least, it is a public health issue and – as the commission says – operators who propose to profit from prostitution should be made to provide condom vending machines.

Such machines are ubiquitously found in places of entertainment all over the world. In Britain, you can’t walk into the lavatory in a pub without running into Latex Lane. Some machines are apparently multi-role. A Diary spy in the UK reports sighting a vending machine at one alehouse where buttons one-to-three and five-to-eight give you – for a fee far deeper than the short pockets of most Indonesian sex-seekers – a range of products that promises protection as well as unlikely enhancement of your forthcoming experience. Button four gets you Nurofen tablets.

Days of Whine and Rosés

FRESHLY back from a brief trip to Britain where, according to Michael Burchett, general manager of the Conrad Hotel at Nusa Dua and chairman of the Bali Hotels Association, a glass of wine costs 20 to 30 per cent or even 50 per cent less than it does in Bali (it was nice, too!), The Diary returns to the topic of Indonesia’s Sick Joke de Jour, the ridiculous liquor situation.

We’re all in favor of stamping out corruption – goodness, The Diary even has that special anti-corruption hotline number on speed dial in the cellphone, just in case some nattily uniformed whistleblower tries to get heavy – but there’s more to the drink drought than a commendable (if shinily new and arguably tinny) focus on malfeasance.

Burchett, interviewed on the Australian ABC radio program AM back on December 19, had this to say about the situation: “The challenge we have now in Bali is that a glass of most wine will cost you, you know 20 to 30 percent, maybe even 50 percent more, than what you’ll pay in London or New York or Moscow, and that doesn’t make sense for Bali; so we need to fix that and fix it quickly.”

That’s it in a nutshell: It simply doesn’t make sense. And we need to fix it quickly. If the real issue is the immorality – Koranic or otherwise – of drinking alcohol, then those who think so should front up honestly, gird themselves with the courage of their considerable convictions and say so. But as Burchett says – and we’re sure responsible drinkers, resident and visitor alike, would agree – it just doesn’t make sense for Bali.

We need to put out an urgent all-points bulletin: Find common sense! Quickly!

Cursors! It’s Done it Again

THE lords of cyberspace, those irritatingly unreachable entities who govern matters such as whether your internet connection works or not, have a horrid way of blighting one’s life. You go away for a week, leaving your expensive wireless gizmo wotzit thingo at home for a rest. You come home and try to connect, only to discover that not only has your fair-weather friend Wi-Fi had a rest, but has apparently left the building.

Well, no. It’s physically there. It’s just that while the lights are on, there’s nobody’s home. They blink at you, just as they are supposed to do. But you find that in your absence you have become “local only.” That’s just fancy computer talk for “you’re cactus.” You interrogate the network setup. It tells you that you cannot communicate with your DNS. As any internet user can tell you, without access to your DNS, it’s as if you’ve never been born. You wonder why (well, briefly, because there’s no point – you know this from bitter experience – questioning the behavior or motivation of cyber-thingies). You do what your ISP always tells you to do: basically disconnect, count to 10 and reconnect before you blow your own fuse. You try this several times. And the little blighter still doesn’t work.

You’re paying a mint for this premium service. A whole circuit, let alone a fuse, is about to blow about that. You ring up the help line operated by your pricey provider – though clearly unwillingly, only 9-to-5 Mon-Fri, and strictly on the basis that anyone who calls must be a mental defective – and they tell you to disconnect, count to 10 and try again, because everything looks fine at their end. Been there, done that, you cry in exasperation. Why would I put myself through the agony of calling if I hadn’t already tried to fix it, you clowns, you feel like saying; but of course do not.

Your laptop computer has been away on your trip with you. It worked perfectly. You fiddled with nothing. You certainly did not change any “parameters” (whatever they are). Although you did use other wireless networks. Is this the problem? Is your Wi-Fi sulking because it thinks you’ve been seduced by some other comely little gizmo?

It’s Not on the Cards

WE HEAR that on one Pacific Blue flight from Bali to Perth – pre-Christmas, prior to the holiday rush, and on a fortunately less than full plane – someone forgot a crucial essential: the immigration cards you have to fill in on board before the fearful Aussies will even do you the honor of confiscating your peanuts. Not the sort of thing that the upfront Brit entrepreneur Richard Branson, chief of the Virgin Empire of which Pacific Blue is a small antipodean part, would like. At all.

A Whole in One?

GOLF has always been a mystery to The Diary. It is a mystery deepened by the fact that whenever – and this has been very rarely – a golf club has been wielded (always in jest, never in anger), the ball flies straight and true off the tee: that is, for 50 meters before it turns sharp left and disappears forever in the thickets that line the fairways.

So it was interesting to hear from an old friend recently who told us a delightful little tale about the game the Scots claim to have invented (their weather being so foul you have to lash out madly at it with sticks). He says he was asked to play in a golf tournament and at first said “Naaahhh!” But then, he says, the organizers got on to him and told him: “Come on, it’s for handicapped and blind kids.” He adds: “Then I thought: I could win this.”

The Lady Had Bite

NEARLY 50 years ago, when apartheid (“separate development”) was at its most horrid heights in white-misruled South Africa, the quiet courage of Helen Suzman became a beacon, an emblem of decency and hope, for all those who opposed the concept that one race should lord it over another and who were horrified that this pernicious denial of human rights was being meted out by the closed (and small) minds of the Afrikaner community.

She was one of a small number of white South Africans who publicly criticized the apartheid dreamed up by the Afrikaner community, Africa’s only “white” tribe, to protect themselves from economic and political domination by black South Africans. Sadly and sourly, it was a dispossession too many English-speaking South African whites happily acquiesced in as a means of securing their own short-term advantage. Apartheid was and remains the direst taint upon the whole 500-year history of Europe’s global diaspora.

For 13 years (1961-1974) Suzman was the only Progressive Party member in South Africa’s whites-only parliament. Through this time she never failed, as far as possible, to investigate the often tragic consequences of apartheid legislation. Although she represented an affluent white constituency, she saw herself as an “honorary ombudsman for all those people who have no vote and no Member of Parliament.” Within months of her retirement in 1989, she had the pleasure of witnessing the collapse of apartheid and the introduction four years later of parliamentary democracy.

So it was sad to learn she had died on New Year’s Day, aged 91. A light has passed from the world. But Suzman’s legacy, one shared with the gallant band of white South Africans who stayed to confront the Apartheid regime at home rather than running for the safety and comfort of overseas exile, exists in the free South Africa of today. The country is governed by the African National Congress – though perhaps not for long, since true democratic freedoms have now generated new and competing political dynamics – in a deliciously enlightening riposte to the Afrikaner dinosaurs who ruled their own particular bit of Earth for far too long.

Suzman was a liberal in a South Africa that, in those days, routinely punished and even terrorized such soft thinking. She was a parliamentarian whose uniqueness was not just that of her own strength of character, but also of her friendless singularity in what should have been the people’s parliament. It was the Jewish Suzman in parliament, as it was the Anglophile Donald Woods in the media and the Jewish activist Joe Slovo in the “terrorist” African National Congress, who kept alight the flame of decency and who gave the lie to hardline Afrikaner myopia. There were many others – preeminently ANC leader Nelson Mandela from his Robben Island prison but, let it always be noted, Afrikaners among them – who similarly worked to ensure that the “Afrikaner putsch” finally ended.

It’s not just today’s South Africans but the world that owes each of them thanks for courage, conviction and commitment to humanity far beyond the call. They all bit the Afrikaner dog. And Suzman, paradoxically perhaps because of the essential gentleness of her nature, bit it hardest of all.

Our Macaques are Little Sweeties

RESEARCHERS say studies indicate female macaques utter 13 times more friendly communications (with other macaques) than males, in a further advancement of the cause of feminism (primate branch). That’s good to know. The Diary will be sure to let Angelo Sanfillipo and his little friend Lulu at Dream Village on Lombok’s lively Gili Trawangan in on the secret. Especially Lulu, whose friendly macaque habits include rapid-reaction raids on lady’s handbags. Cigarettes and lighters are a favorite target. We think she thinks she’s Marlene Dietrich.

Incidentally, we’re indebted to that earnest English journal for worry-wort chatterers, Prospect, for this essential update on dinner-table conversation topics.

What a Blast

NOW here’s something that helps put the global financial crisis in proper perspective. A team of astronomers in Western Australia is cock ‘a hoop because they’ve just captured an image of the explosion of a star 11 billion years ago. That’s how long it took the flash of light from the event to reach us here on the third rock from the Sun. At that rate, Earth’s problems seem infinitesimal indeed. There’s an interesting sidelight to the story, too. The team’s expensive computer-controlled digital camera system, integrated with the telescope, went on the blink at precisely the wrong instant in intergalactic time – so they had to record the show on a video camera.

A further thought occurs: This event would doubtless completely mystify the one in five students who took the basic science British GCSE exam this year who believes the Sun orbits the Earth (and who cannot even have heard of Galileo). Not to mention the similarly challenged one in 10, sitting the same senior school exam, who did not know that a rechargeable battery could be used more than once.

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