March 6-12, 2009

Our New Wizard of Oz

THE Diary bids a belated welcome to Australia’s new consul-general in Bali, Lex Bartlem, whose appointment was announced by the Australian minister for foreign affairs on Dec. 10, an item of noteworthy news that was entirely missed by The Dairy at the time. We have remedied this lapse – in the absence of any media distribution list from the minister that we can find – by subscribing to his RSS feed. Nothing that the minister wants to get out there will escape us now. Much that he would prefer didn’t get out will doubtless continue to elude discovery.

Bartlem – pictured here in his official mug shot – is a Queenslander (this is good news for desiccated parrots of consanguineous provenance) and, apparently, a fan of Jamie Cullum, who performed at the St. Regis grand opening last Saturday night. He’s also a fan of The Bali Times and is arranging a home subscription. We’re pleased he likes the concept of reading the best news he’ll get all week in one handy package.

He comes to us from a senior administration job in Canberra and speaks Spanish. This linguistic qualification may help him around the tapas bars that are beginning to dot the landscape in Bling and Bolly land. He was also once consul-general in Paris. The new man, who took up his post in January, succeeded former wizard Bruce Cowled, who had been in Bali since 2005 and oversaw the move of the consulate into new, purpose-built secure premises in Denpasar.

The consulate has a busy workload: It’s estimated that more than 300,000 Australians visited Bali in 2008 – they must all have read the official advice to reconsider their need to travel and rejected it – and has a key role in overseeing the substantial aid Australia provides to Bali (A$10.5 million to fund health and education initiatives alone as a living memorial to the 92 Australians who died in the 2002 and 2005 bombings) and to Lombok and the islands beyond. Bali itself is a key focus of Australia’s overall relationship with Indonesia.

The Australians here provide consular assistance to Canadians in Bali, under an agreement that sees Australian consular interests in the Caribbean and other places looked after by Canada. Informally, Bartlem’s responsibilities also include errant New Zealanders.

The Dog Ate Their Homework

WE hear a sorry tale of administrative incompetence in the national tourism area that will surely – even though it is still early in the year – win the 2009 Most Amazing Snafu award.

It seems a media expedition was arranged (we use the term advisedly) with Singapore Airlines to take an Australian press party to East Kalimantan on a promotional tour of the international traveler attractions of that naturally well-endowed part of Indonesia. Unfortunately the Indonesian part of the trip had to be cancelled the night before departure from Sydney because no one had actually done any work on it.

Instead, Singapore Airlines pleaded with the party to go to Singapore for the three days of intense exposure to the delights of the modern-day Most Serene Republic it had arranged as part of the deal (the city-state is one of the many “Venices of the East,” though in Singapore’s case this is more a tribute to its recreation of the ancient economic and political clout of Venice than because of canals). Then it was straight back home.

Music Man Gets the Point(s)

CROONER Jamie Cullum, who in February 2007 shaved off all his body hair (last week’s item), apparently wowed the crowd at the St. Regis show, though since The Diary wasn’t present we cannot make a judgment on whether regrowth is significant. But a spy who was there reports Cullum was a big hit with the exclusive (as in small) crowd. We understand he got Starwood points for the show, in lieu of a fee. Hotel points are always useful, we guess.

Among the guests was the perennially visible Jack Daniels of Bali Update fame. The St. Regis is a great property and deserves to prosper as a new star in Bali’s firmament. It’s a shame that like everyone else, it will spend its first year officially launched on a desperate and most likely unfulfilled quest for guests. No one in the five-star group is realistically looking at more than minimal bookings (20 percent occupancy is the new black) as the full horror of the global economic crisis takes centre stage.

Things will improve eventually. First prize for optimism on that front must go to Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik, who also attended the St. Regis bash and who apparently believes 2 million visitors will grace our shores in 2009. He claims Bali is unaffected by the global downturn.

Hopping Across the Strait

WE hear things are hopping on the other side of the strait, where Asmara restaurant is brightening up evenings in Lombok’s Senggigi for tourists and locals alike with regular music nights.

Sakinah Nauderer, of Asmara, tells us a recent night was especially tuneful, with a mix of guitar music, some great sax (surely no evening out can be judged a total success without that) and some French vocals. And it’s all local talent, too.

This week’s soul food was mellow jazz, by the way, served up on Wednesday. Opportunities for regular foot-tapping are yet another good reason for visitors to Bali to make the time to hop over to That Other Island, where on the west coast – facing Bali and with great views of Mt. Agung – there is a substantial Hindu community. Quite a bit like home really.

Stop Thief! It’s Prayer Time

GENERALLY speaking, in Indonesia as elsewhere, one’s religion is one’s own affair. But in East Java, it has become a police matter. The provincial police chief, Brigadier-General Anton Bachrul Alam, has announced that he requires his Muslim officers to improve their image by being seen as religiously observant.

To this end he has given an instruction that they should perform five daily prayers while on duty. Upon hearing the call to prayer, policemen are instructed to leave their desks and head to the nearest mosque or musholla (prayer room).

If they are dealing with a male member of the public at the time and that person is a Muslim, then he is to be invited along; if he is non-Muslim, he is to be asked to wait.

East Java Police are also expected to learn to read the Koran in off-duty time, so that they able to recite the 30 juz, or parts, which Muslims normally do during Ramadhan. Those who are already proficient at this are asked to read aloud the 30 juz in their offices after morning prayers.

If there is no mosque attached to a police station, policemen are asked to go the nearest public mosque. The general says this would be a good way of mixing with the people and building trust, and also that those who pray in a jamaah, or group, get 27 times more bonus points from God than those who pray alone.

Non-Muslim police have been told to gather together and pray for 10 minutes (presumably five times a day, like their Muslim colleagues) or to do whatever it is that non-Muslims do on such occasions.

Why the Media’s All A-Twitter

LAST week’s crash of a Turkish airliner at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport in Holland brought into sharp focus the new dynamics of news reporting and the catch-up role the established media has to play in this new environment. It is something close to the heart pills of editors everywhere (and the occasional ex-editor diarist).

The story was broken by one Jonathan Nip, who lives near the airport and was one of the first to tweet about it (why isn’t it twit, we wonder?). After dealing with the immediate scene, he noted: “Still no more info. Can’t find any info on the net.”

As a writer at the London Daily Telegraph observed, it is the last part of that tweet that’s interesting, because it underlines the shifting dynamic of breaking news. Here was an eyewitness to an event who was able to broadcast the latest information far quicker than traditional broadcasters could. The internet, which Nip usually relies on for news and facts, was being outpaced by his own direct experiences, which he in turn was sharing with the world via the medium of Twitter.

Come On, Be a Square

KEEN observers of the esoteric will doubtless have recorded that Tuesday this week was Square Root Day. Thought you might! The Diary certainly did. Yahoo has its uses.

This special day for mathematical buffs is fairly rare. It occurs only nine times each century. Tuesday was Square Root Day because the date – in the American month-first form 3/3/09 and for normal people (day first, silly) also 3/3/09 – produces the square root of nine (that’s three for the mathematically challenged).

Naturally, this event was most significantly celebrated in California, the American state that produces the world’s largest crop of nuts. A teacher there, Ron Gordon of Redwood City, got so excited about that he started a contest to spread his infection to other people. “These days are like calendar comets, you wait and wait and wait for them, then they brighten up your day – and poof – they’re gone,” he said. He started a contest designed to get people excited about the event.

He infected his daughter. She set up a Facebook page – one of six or so dedicated to the holiday – to encourage celebrations. Hundreds of people signed up and revealed their party plans: cutting root vegetables into squares, making food in the shape of a square root symbol, that sort of thing. The winner got US$339. Duh!

The next opportunity to party is seven years away – April 4, 2016. The last one was five years ago, Feb. 2, 2004. Significantly, this coincided with Groundhog Day.

Brian Gets a Life

THE Welsh town of Aberystwyth – a quiet little place that generally eludes notice because it does not have the longest placename in that vowel-challenged British principality and it is far from being the least pronounceable – made a name for itself 30 years ago when local church leaders banned the Monty Python film Life of Brian because it was sacrilegious. Well, it was. It was also very funny.

Now Aberystwyth is back in the news – for finally overturning the ban that made it a laughing stock. It will screen the film on March 28 with two of the cast in attendance. Well three really, since in a curious twist of sacrilegious fate Aberystwyth’s mayor, Susan Jones-Davies, played Brian’s girlfriend in the movie.

Comic turns Michael Palin and Terry Jones are expected to attend the screening. Sadly, veteran Python Graham Chapman, who played Brian, cannot be present. He ceased to be in 1989.

The 1979 comedy (see photo) tells the story of a Jewish man who is mistaken for Jesus and crucified. It is now viewed as a classic of English satirical film and includes oft-quoted lines such as Brian’s mother’s quip about her son: “He’s not the messiah – he’s a very naughty boy.”

It also features the jaunty song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, sung by Eric Idle as he and Brian are nailed to crosses at the end.

Hector blogs at

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