February 13-19,2009

Among Friends in the Real Bali

THE Diary had a delightful outing the other day – a marriage ceremony in rural Karangasem that precisely demonstrated the magic of Bali and why it is so much better to live here than just visit. The happy couple – already married in the Balinese custom by virtue of an initial ceremony in 2005 – was completing the process at the bride’s home village. Their two-year-daughter was along for the ride (as well as 20-plus partygoers who travelled by bus from Tabanan for the occasion).

What made the occasion so special for The Diary (and Mrs. Diary) was that the bride was their former housekeeper, a young woman who is a friend as well as a former employee. It is these personal links that add so much to life in Bali.

The Diary’s thoughts on this occasion turned to the sterile and dismissive advice (immediately rejected) of a former short-term associate, also an expatriate who lives in Bali and does some business here, who a long time ago, observing that the young couple were friends with “visiting privileges” at their home, said he never got that close.

What a parched existence such “disengaged” expats must live. They refuse see the real value of Balinese life, will not share in the joys and sadness of it, and as a result deny themselves everything that makes the island what it is. You wonder why they’re here, really, other than to enjoy the cut-price benefits of their ersatz bling and bolly scene and to gouge some money.

Ask Not For Whom the Bell Tolls

IT TOLLS for them, apparently. Australia’s fiery tragedy in the southern state of Victoria has drawn condolences from around the world – from Queen Elizabeth (still incongruously monarch of that southern realm), from President Barack Obama, from the leaders of Germany, Singapore, Timor Leste and many other nations. And Indonesia? Well, the consul-general in Melbourne delivered a letter of condolence to Victoria’s state premier (and that’s great) and says Indonesia is preparing to send a forensic team to help with victim identification. But from Jakarta itself? Nothing heard: Not from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono; not from Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda.

Australia’s population is 22 million. The fire toll will certainly exceed 200 lives (it may yet be many more). That’s the equivalent per capita of 2,000 people if the disaster had happened in Indonesia – a measure of the relative impact of the disaster on Australia. Even on the actual numbers, it exceeds the frightful toll from the first Bali bombing. Ding!

Incidentally, The Diary heard from a mate in Canberra the other day, a chap who runs a very successful public relations outfit in Australia’s centre of government. He was asking people to donate blood to assist hospitals cope with the large number of burns victims – noting that he used to donate blood regularly but hadn’t, for all sorts of reasons, done so in recent years. The tragedy had brought him back to the realization that everyone needs to help. The Diary would help if possible, but distance makes that difficult. But top marks, Mark Croxford, for civic thinking.

They’ll be Banning Apples Next

FRESH from their triumphant banning of yoga and not-quite-banning smoking – good luck there, guys – the luminaries who seek to remove from modern Indonesia all sorts of things (some beneficial, some not, but all elective human behavior) that offend their reading of Islam’s requirements have now set their sights on service clubs.

Specifically, they assert that Rotary and Lions – the voluntary associations that do so much charity work not only in Indonesia but around the world – are Zionist fronts associated with Freemasonry. The focus at the moment is on Bandung, the pleasant hill town in Java which, among other achievements, held the 1955 conference that started the Non-Aligned Movement as a force in world affairs. According to Athian Ali Muhammad Da’i of the Forum Ulama Ummat Indonesia, there are two Freemason-Zionist clubs in Bandung, West Java, they being the Rotary Club and the Lions Club.

He says that in 2001 the Attorney General’s Office told him these Zionist entities operating in the city raised money that was sent to America and thence to Israel. He has asked President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to reinstate presidential edict No. 264 of 1962, which outlawed the Rotary Club in Indonesia.

He adds that fatwas issued by clerics in Mecca and the Egyptian Al-Azhar Fatwa Commission stated that any Muslim who joined either the Rotary Club or Lions Club thereby became a kafir, or infidel. Here is yet another case of Indonesian Muslims being encouraged by mistaken assumptions among the more fundamentalist-minded of their leaders to adopt views from very far away that have little to do with Indonesia and nothing at all to do with common sense.

Both Rotary and Lions in Indonesia run valuable health and social improvement programs that directly benefit poor Indonesians who would otherwise not get – for example – cranio-facial surgery to correct disfiguring conditions, clean water or dental care. What next? Perhaps the Forum Ulama Ummat Indonesia will seek ban the infidel practice of growing apples for commercial profit, something else that was brought to Indonesia to the healthful benefit of the people.

Weak End at Bernie’s

BERNIE Madoff, whose headline-grabbing US$50 billion Wall Street fraud starkly demonstrates the fundamental moral collapse of American financial ethics, lists among the (unquestionably stupid) victims of his multibillion-dollar fraud top Hollywood stars (Kevin Bacon, who clearly won’t be bringing any home, and John Malkovich, who can’t be very pleased with being himself); Larry Silverstein, the man rebuilding the World Trade Center; veteran CNN talk show host Larry King; and baseball luminary Fred Wilpon, who owns the New York Mets.

The list at the US Bankruptcy Court in New York shows thousands of people invested with Madoff before his arrest in December and the collapse of his alleged multi-billion dollar sucker scheme. Other prominent victims include some of the world’s leading financial institutions: UBS, HSBC, J.P. Morgan Chase, BNP Paribas and Citigroup. A string of museums, charities and pension funds are also listed.

Bernie didn’t just sting strangers. The 162-page list contains many of those closest to the 70-year-old Madoff. His wife Ruth appears, as do their sons and Madoff’s brother. Following his arrest, Madoff was able to enlist only his wife and brother to back his $10 million bail, which was subsequently tightened to full house arrest in Manhattan. His lawyer, Ira Sorkin, also appears on the list.

He has not yet been indicted In America these things can take a very long time. Although maybe not as long if your lawyer is smarting.

Apa Kabar, Ibu Hillary?

THE world spotlight will be on Indonesia next week when new US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits us on her first overseas trip. Her spokesman says she wants to “reach out” to the Muslim world and Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, is “an important country for the United States.”

President Barack Obama himself, who as everyone now knows spent some of his childhood in Indonesia and has been hanging for a really nice nasi goreng ever since, has tagged Indonesia as a great place to visit. Hey, Mr. President, Visit Indonesia Year was last year! But he’ll be along shortly, count on it.

Secretary Clinton (seen in our photo practicing her Hi and Bye Wave) will meet senior officials in Jakarta on Feb. 18-19, immediately after a stop in Japan, to discuss “the close and growing partnership with Indonesia and developing matters of common interest in South-East Asia.” From here she will go on to South Korea and China.

Fancy a Sheikh-down Cruise?

WE’RE not sure whether it’s just fate making bad timing of an otherwise great idea, or if the oil-rich Gulf States really are recession-proof. But Abu Dhabi’s first international yacht show – as in, one for the mega-mega super-yachts – gets under way next month and by all accounts will a global showstopper. The promoters even ask: “Tired of the Mediterranean?” And answer their own question: “Abu Dhabi is the new hotspot for super-yacht enthusiasts.”

The show – it’s on from March 12-14 – capitalizes on massive infrastructure investment in the Gulf, of the sort that accommodates the floating gin palaces of the super rich and really famous, and spins off the area’s reputation as a place that combines history and the future. It’s a big pitch, certainly at the moment when the market in super yachts may be down just a tad as the suddenly not quite so mega rich count their pennies. But the organizers, themselves apparently refugees from the suddenly poorer Med where they also organize the regular Monaco shindig, seem happy enough to be spruiking the new show.

We hope the Abu Dhabi show is a huge success – and that the flow of investment funds from the Gulf in the general direction of Indonesia will not dry up in a rush. It would be even better if this funding fully focused on building a productive future instead of re-inventing history.

Just a thought: If things do eventually go belly-up, and the world’s super-yacht fleet is reduced to a responsible number (one or two seems appropriate), our very own Benoa Harbor might just manage to squeeze them in.

Flustered Feathers

SINCE your Diarist takes a close interest in birds – well, he would, wouldn’t he; ones of the avian variety, of course – it is disturbing to hear news that the Java hawk-eagle may be in trouble because of its well publicized endangered status and its high-profile role, courtesy of former President Suharto, who in 1993 named it Indonesia’s  national rare animal. This seems to have attracted the attention not only of conservationists and legitimate collectors, but also of illegal bird traders.

Chris Shepherd, of the Malaysian based wildlife body TRAFFIC, says that over the last 20 years 70 Java hawk-eagles have been recorded in trade, most of them in recent times. It is regarded as one of the world’s rarest birds and is highly sought after for zoos and private collections. But it has never been bred in captivity.

Nisaetus bartelsi – the scientific name commemorates Hans Bartels – is clearly in need of greater protection. As Shepherd notes, raising the profile and awareness of threatened wildlife needs to go hand in hand with effective laws to protect the species concerned. In other words, the Java hawk-eagle doesn’t need a PR campaign as much as it needs real interest in its fate, coupled with official determination to ensure its survival.

Yes, Well, Just Don’t Drown

DOMINQUE Strauss-Kahn, the euphoniously named French head of the International Monetary Fund, apparently likes to be frank. Perhaps he finds it a bit of light relief, given that in his homeland the euro long since replaced that other franc.

Conceding that most nations would inevitably see an increase in public debt from measures to avert catastrophe and that the world had to deal with the crisis before addressing the recovery, he added this little bon-mot: “When you have a fire in the house, you first need to put out the fire and then you see how you evacuate the excess water.”

DSK, as he is sometimes known, is one for hot water himself, being French. Last year he narrowly escaped the otherwise likely consequences of being sprung on a one-night-stand with an IMF employee, a lady who – as that delightful old phrase puts it – was not his wife. His wife, apparently culturally attuned to la vie amoureuse francais, said she understood.

Departing Soon: Rumor Airlines

OUR eye was caught this week by a curious item in the regular Bali Update put out by Bali Discovery Tours. It said Australian aviation sources reported Brisbane-based airline SkyAirWorld was planning 14 flights a week between Darwin and Bali. We assume they meant return seven services a week. Even so, the schedule seemed, shall we say, somewhat brave, given you could just about squeeze Darwin’s entire population into Kuta on a Saturday night.

SkyAirWorld operates company charter and limited scheduled services with Embraer jets in Queensland and also flies Brisbane-Solomon Islands. The Bali Update report suggested the airline was also about to start services from Darwin to Dili in Timor Leste. Well, in relation to Bali, we shall see. Given Garuda couldn’t sell a seat out of Brisbane (city and surrounding population 2 million-plus) and had to cancel its proposed service before it started, plus Pacific Blue’s and JetStar’s  existing services, it looks a little like a flight of fancy. SkyAirWorld tells us no announcements have been made.

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