March 13-19, 2009

The War of Hector’s Sultanas

HISTORY buffs among the Diary’s readership will know all about the War of Jenkins’ Ear. It was an unnecessary little 18th century spat between the British and the Spanish with the ostensible cause being the barbarous fate of the aural equipment of a British sea captain whose ship was boarded by Spanish coastguards and whose ear was then sliced off.
A far greater threat to peace exists in the continued inexplicable absence of sultanas on Bali, at least anywhere Hector can find them. The poor fellow has been reduced to putting dried raisins in his morning oatmeal. It’s just not the same.
We know, of course, that the world is about to fall in a screaming heap. Or at least, that’s what we’re being told by all those guys who were on road traffic duty and claim they didn’t see or hear the bus until it ran them over. Should we, necessarily, feel that it is safe to believe them now they claim they can both see and hear and make elementary deductions?
We know that the laws of Indonesian supply and demand are not really laws at all, but simply a theory (though even that is questionable, since a theory must possess some form and result from cerebral activity). But exactly what is so difficult about organizing a regular resupply, in line with retail demand, of sultanas for the few of us here who actually eat the things? It’s not as if Lotus and all those other importers have to charter fleets of supersized freighters to bring them in. It’s just a few packets, guys, on a regular basis, in accordance with your stock-ordering processes.
You do have a stock-ordering process? It does work on an inventory basis? It factors in supply time? Someone notices when the pile’s getting a bit low?
No, didn’t think so.

The Bam’s Cookies Crumble

AT the risk of turning this week’s Diary into a solely culinary feast, we must mention one more consumable that’s under fire. It’s a gimmicky snack bearing a caricature of President Barack Obama making a peace sign (always good to remember to get the fingers the right way round). The Indonesian Consumer Foundation wants them banned because they are defamatory (do they taste any good?) and because they come with a small plastic object loosely labeled a toy that children might incautiously eat.

“Obamas” first hit the streets in Bandung. They sell for Rp500 a pack.

Beam Me Up, Scotto!

SCOTLAND, ancestral home of the ancient McSquawky clan of which your Diarist is a proud member, has always been left off the map when it comes to its central role in world affairs. And rugby, but we won’t go there.

It was thus with great interest that we spotted, the other day, a report citing a Spanish historian’s view that Christopher Columbus was not who we think he was. He was in fact Pedro Scotto, scion of a family of Genovese shopkeepers whose ancestral roots were in Scotland.

According to Alfonso Ensenat de Villalonga (who, poor fellow, clearly does not have Scottish antecedents, at least on the paternal side), Scotto wished to hide his origins and stole his now popularized name from a pirate when he sailed off into the sunset in 1492 to find Cipango (Japan) and ran into America instead. He was apparently blond with blue eyes. Nothing is said about whether he wore a kilt, but then that’s somewhere else you wouldn’t want to go.

It may all just be stale porridge, of course, and we should not forget that the single solo effort at colonizing that the Scots made was their spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to take the benefits of an oatmeal diet to the Spanish and Amerindians at Darien in modern-day Panama. Those of the colonists who didn’t die of the pox (or the porridge) quickly breathed their last from Spanish antipathy or yellow fever.

But there are numerous rivers and other geographical entities, several cities, one Canadian province and even one country in the Americas which could find themselves seriously embarrassed if as a result of historical revisionism they need to change their names.

Scotto, Ohio, doesn’t have quite the same ring – or the literary or cinematic appeal for that matter – as Columbus. Would you rush out to buy a book titled Goodbye Scotto? Or bother seeing the movie? And what about Washington, seat of Good King Barack? It would look a little odd as Washington DS. Some unkind souls might even want to make that D a B.

Trying to Beat a Raw Deal

LION Air, the Indonesian budget carrier, is selling a one-way trip from Singapore to Bali for only US$5.80 for travel between Jun. 1 and Sept. 30, according to its website. What they don’t tell you is that a whole host of “fees” is added to your transaction that rather dramatically increases the price.

But that’s not the point. What is the point is that Asian low-cost airlines are offering dirt-cheap tickets to boost travel during the northern hemisphere summer holidays amid the global economic downturn. In short, it is desperation time.

They’re all at it. Singapore-based Tiger Airways, which flies to destinations in Southeast Asia, Australia and China, announced summer fares starting at about $16 including taxes. The carrier, which is 49-percent owned by Singapore Airlines, said it would offer its “biggest ever network of seats” and was adding new destinations for its summer schedule from Mar. 29 to Oct. 24. Jetstar Asia, the Qantas even-less-service affiliate that also flies out of Singapore, has extended to Aug. 16 a promotion to beat the cheapest price offered by rivals. Malaysian budget airline AirAsia’s “take me away” promotion offers among other deals a one-way flight from Singapore to Bangkok from $43, inclusive of taxes, for travel from Mar. 23 to Sept. 11. (A return flight to Bangkok on Singapore Airlines costs $337.) AirAsia is also offering a number of tickets starting from 26 cents for travel within Malaysia.

Good deals, of course, for anyone who can spare the time. But however you dress them up, they’re desperation deals.

It Could Be Worse

THE Diary likes to read David Rothkopf, who blogs at He is always good for a giggle. In a lengthy post at the weekend on the list of woes facing the world and the uncoordinated response to them currently in vogue, and specifically the amazing capacity of the American media to miss the point of the stories it is covering, he added this little gem:

“Similarly, Britney Spears relaunches her career with her Circus tour, opening in Louisiana. The press focuses on the fact that the entire extravaganza is lip-synced. But it could be worse. It might not have been lip-synced. And it could have been in a town closer to where you live.”

What Twit had THAT Bright Idea?

WHILE on the subject of twittery, we were interested to see the other day that Twitter cofounder and CEO Ev Williams was part of the group-think gabfest by “young business leaders” on the economic crisis gathered at the White House at the request of President Obama.

Williams – Ev, as he likes to be known in the chummy first-name world of young bizwizardry – noted on his Twitter: “[This] must mean they’re really out of ideas.” His advice on how to turn a profit in America would have been invaluable. With six million members and 700-percent-plus growth, Twitter makes no money in the US.

Come On! Get Offended!

IT SEEMS the trend towards being gratuitously offended by others who do not share your beliefs or moral or social precepts – something at which Islamic activists have become very good in recent years – has spread to the normally quiescent world of Buddhism.

Surely it’s calmer to think of Karma? But apparently not, since Buddhists in Jakarta have demonstrated against the Buddha Bar there (photo). It’s one of a number worldwide: The Diary vaguely remembers a riotous night at the original one in Paris many, many hangovers ago. They want the Jakarta outlet closed.

It’s quite crass, of course, like a lot of places where wannabes gather to primp and preen and deconstruct decorum. Like all its copies around the world it has a statue of The Buddha that hovers over its big-spending customers. It may be that this presence exerts some moral force on them not to duck out the back door when they get the bill. That is surely a good thing.

But crass or not, it’s harmless. It’s also elective. If you don’t like the concept (or the prices) you can decide not to go there. The Jakarta outfit, which apparently is owned by daughters of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and former Jakarta governor Sutiyoso, attracts clientele from the city’s Muslim majority. Not unreasonably, since they are reasonable people, these customers seem to have no particular problem partying in their jilbabs under the watchful eye of an image of someone else’s god.

We’ll just have to hope the self-appointed Battlers for Buddha in Jakarta don’t hear about Bali, where the image of The Buddha is widely used for commercial purposes by, among many others, the pricey Bali Buddha health-food stores at Ubud and Kerobokan and Buddha’s Belly restaurant on Sunset Road at Kuta.

Happy Birthday to Us

THE Bali Times is four years old today. So we’ll forget all about how Friday the 13th is supposed to be unlucky because that’s the day a more seriously conflicted than usual Medieval Pope rounded up and tortured the crusading Knights Templar, who had deeply offended the Church by making all the money, and we’ll have a party instead. The Diary is much younger, having been with you only since the middle of last year. But it plans to be around for a little while, too. Unless the sultana drought turns out to be permanent, that is.

Hector blogs at

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