February 20-26, 2009

A Great Gesture of Friendship

INDONESIA’S generous offer of US$1 million to rebuild schools in fire-hit areas of Australia’s southern state of Victoria has rightly drawn plaudits from our disaster-hit neighbor. Unfortunately for The Diary, which would otherwise have carried this item in last week’s paper, the news broke after that edition was printed.

The assistance is additional to the efforts of a forensic team sent to Australia to help local authorities cope with the unprecedented scale of the disaster, which at last count – they’re still finding bodies – had killed 200 people.

So let’s make this point straight away. The announcement by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the terms in which he couched his statement are a magnificent endorsement of Indonesia’s neighborliness. In a letter to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the President wrote: “Australia’s success is also Indonesia’s success and its misery is also Indonesia’s misery.” His spokesman added that the funds are “a token of Indonesia’s solidarity with Australia.”

In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami Australia committed $1 billion to Aceh’s reconstruction and has since made further commitments to assist with disaster management. This time, rightly, the help is flowing the other way.

Palestinian Primer

AUSTRALIAN journalist, blogger and anti-Zionist Jew Antony Loewenstein was the main event at the first 2009 literary dinner put on by Ubud Writers and Readers Festival founder Janet de Neefe, held at her Indus restaurant last Sunday. Loewenstein’s views on Israel and Palestine are controversial, especially in pro-Israel circles. He thinks the Palestinians deserve a life. So does The Diary. What he says – and writes – is guaranteed to stir the tea in the cup.

Interestingly, it turned out that Loewenstein (pictured at Sunday’s event; the photo is by Brami Jegan) was alerted to the Ubud festival by an article in The Australian newspaper written by Sydney journalist Deborah Cassrels – an old friend of The Diary’s – featuring de Neefe, a luminous presence in Ubud’s eclectic little galaxy.

This year’s festival, in October, will include Nobel Prize-winning author J.M. Coetzee, the Australian resident South African; the Indian author Vikas Swarup, whose book became the blockbuster movie Slum Dog Millionaire; and, we heard from de Neefe on Sunday, Loewenstein himself. It should be an interesting affray.

Festival manager this year is Sarah Tooth, who has forsaken the much-promoted delights of Adelaide in Australia in favor of Ubud’s pleasant tropical climes. The Diary played a small part in Sunday’s function, asking Loewenstein questions from the podium, via a fractious microphone, while the big crowd ate their dinner. The Bali Times, which is dedicated to bringing its readers the best news each week, is a keen fan and a media sponsor of the festival.

Selamat Makan!

TWO Diary spies tell us they bought lunch for three happy policemen the other day. It seems that the traffic signals at the Benoa Harbor turnoff on the bypass had miraculously turned red by the time they were nabbed by two polisi on motorbikes a little way up the highway last Sunday. They were to get a ticket for running the red light, happily translated as “traffic jam” by one of the helpful officers. A third policeman arrived, also on a motorbike. Gosh, more brass than when we tried to break into Buck House, our spies thought.

The ticket was to cost Rp150,000, payable at court in Denpasar. One of them started writing out the ticket – except it didn’t look as if his pen worked and the ticket book seemed curiously deficient in a key component, pages to write on. The ticket and the offence were swiftly disposed of. Rp100,000 in the pocket beats paperwork any day.

That’s the Spirit!

IF you’ve got any spare cash and can’t find any real spirits – and it is a little difficult at the moment, given the dog’s breakfast Jakarta’s curiously muddled way of organizing things has made of alcohol sales generally and imported liquor in particular – here’s a chance to party anyway.

The second Bali Spirit Festival (“An Annual Festival of Yoga, Dance + Music” – it sounds so wild we just can’t wait to miss it) is on from April 28-May 23 this year and is organized by the Yoga Barn people. Sponsors get a choice of spending from bronze (at US$10,000) to Diamond (at US$60,000). If you’re a Diamond sponsor you could be responsible for paying US$17,200 to bring 11 deejays to Bali from Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Chile and Malaysia; kissing off US$9,640 on flights; forking out US$12,800 on meals and accommodation; and plugging in US$10,400 on equipment and props. The organizers say that totals US$50,040 “before operational.”

To simple souls such as your Diarist, it just seems like an awful lot of junket.

Oh … Those Computers!

IT’S good to know that the Americans, since they are so concerned with other people’s nuclear security status, are still in the business of scoring spectacular own-goals. According to reports, 80 computers have been lost, stolen or gone “missing” at the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory.

The non-profit watchdog group Project On Government Oversight (POGO) posted online a copy of what they say is an internal letter outlining what appear to be worrisome losses at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the state of New Mexico. The letter says that 13 lab computers were lost or stolen during the past year, three of the machines taken from an employee’s home in January. Another 67 computers are deemed “missing.” It adds that the level of risk attached to this significant loss of equipment is “at best unclear as little data on these losses has been collected or pursued.”

Ah, Uncle Sam, you’re such a chump some times.

Villas on the Rise

WE hear from Asia Property Report that the villa rental market in Bali is holding up strongly. Property managers are said to be reporting an increase in the number of bookings, partly attributed to the Easter holidays. (Easter is in April this year.)

We made the point a little while ago – when reporting on five-star hotels’ stick-’em-up pricing policies for 2009 on the back of a good 2008 – that the villa option is increasingly attractive, particularly for family parties or groups of friends holidaying together. After all, if you’re going to have a weekend (or more) at Bernie’s, you want your own swimming pool.

Asia Property Report says the Istana, managed by BHM Villas, is already above 75 percent booked – as in deposits paid – for 2009. BHM Villas says it is taking twice the amount of deposits for rentals in 2009 as it did in the same period in 2008. And Paradise Property reports at 12 percent increase in bookings.

ET to Call Home

CELEBRITY jailbird Schapelle Corby will be making an extra-long phone call home in June. She will testify (in absentia, or perhaps that should be in carceration) in a court case in Queensland, Australia. She’ll be giving evidence against Robin Tampo – now a former solicitor – who tried to score her a get-out-of-jail card when she forgot about that ganja in her boogie-board bag.

Sister Mercedes – who we hear is now known as CLK63 since, like that fast little German number, she has appeared topless in a men’s magazine – will also testify. But she’ll do so in person, before Justice John Byrne of the Legal Practice Tribunal. Schapelle will join the party by phone from Kerobokan, or from some other secure location in Bali judged suitable for use by compulsory guests of the state.

Tampo is defending a charge of professional misconduct stemming from the Corby saga. S&M have alleged Tampo breached solicitor-client confidentiality during a television interview in June 2005, by disclosing confidential information provided by Mercedes on the past crimes and misdemeanors of the Corby clan.

Charlie Gets Hector’s Vote

AUSSIE fire victim Charlie (photo) got a message of support last week from your Diarist, after news of his predicament appeared on the ABC Online website run by Australia’s national broadcaster. The poor fellow – you can see he’s a close relative of your Diarist – had to be rescued from the flames with heat stroke and given emergency treatment.

The word is that he’s recovering well. His de-feathered state, by the way, is the result of a skin condition, not the killer fires. Hope he’s getting treatment for that, too.

Pay as We Say or You’re Cactus

EUROPEAN Medieval myth is full of tales of robbers with a social conscience – England’s Robin Hood is just one example of the fun guys who are said to have got off on robbing the rich to give to the poor – but, alas, it is largely myth. Mostly it was the robber barons who made the big bucks. Eight centuries on, the Hoods of the world are still at it, only this time the robber barons are called banks.

The Drudge Report’s fine TP Muckraker, available online for anyone who wants to keep up to date with the misdeeds of the terminally incorrigible, brought us a beauty the other day: It was a research memo sent out by a senior Deutsche Bank analyst that clearly and cogently set out the bank’s position, vis-à-vis its toxic portfolios, its consequent embarrassing lack of actual earning assets, and its desire still to net a full return. Stripped of the cant, what it says to the US government is this: We screwed up. But if you don’t rescue us on our terms, you’ll all be in trouble.

Deutsche Bank (and all the others) want governments – not only in America but everywhere – to pay them the full fictionalized value of the non-performing assets on their books or they’ll be ruined (the governments, not the banks). It’s the old stand-and-deliver ultimatum. Unfortunately, politics being what it is – and the stranglehold John Maynard Keynes’ curious view of economics has on government, ditto – we can be sure the big banks have got ’em by the pawnshop balls.

Hector blogs at http://wotthehec.blogspot.com

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One Response to “February 20-26, 2009”

  1. Mark Says:

    I’m a Victorian firefighter that helped fight these fires and have been to Bali 12 times so I have a special association with Indonesia. What a wonderful gesture from the Indonesian Government to help rebuild schools for Australian school children. Well done Indonesia.