December 11-17, 2009

They’re Filthy Rich; And We Should be Filthy About It…

THERE’S something obscene about vast wealth. It’s never earned – as in being a fair return for a fair day’s work – and it’s almost always offensive in terms of the excessive habits and lifestyles it makes possible for those upon whom the fates have smiled in that way.

It’s a global phenomenon. The gross wealth of some Arab oil sheikhs who by happenstance have dynastic control over otherwise worthless patches of sand cries out for correction. The excess of American capitalism and the pretentious vacuity of European “old money” are similarly nausea-inducing.

The defence of philanthropy is often advanced as an excuse for vast wealth: Look, I give away a lot of this. Many rich people do; they are the ones with consciences, and good for them. They might not have the camel’s difficulty in passing through the eye of a needle when their time comes and they find they can’t take it with them.

Indonesia is pretty small beer in the global greed list, even though corruption and illicit enrichment are ingrained elements of the social psyche. But the latest Forbes magazine rich list – it came out last week; an annual emetic – nonetheless presents reading that might enrage, were one disposed to rage, and which certainly disturbs.

In a country where nothing works (that’s right, nothing) and where the vast majority of people scratch by for a year on what the rich might spend on a cheap night out, we see that Indonesia’s 40 richest people have doubled their wealth in 2009. This has chiefly been fuelled by global demand for natural resources. More than a third of the top 40 make most of their money from coal, palm oil or oil and gas. Indonesia now has 12 US dollar billionaires, combined wealth $28 billion, up from seven in 2008.

It would be invidious in a polemic to run the list of the infamously rich. It’s in Forbes magazine if you can afford the cover price, or are sufficiently interested.

But we do note that Aburizal Bakrie, who recently bought himself the Golkar presidency, has benefited from leaving executive politics and returning to business and Bumi Resources as his principal focus. He has regained his billionaire status.

Who Flicked Up?

CALL us conspiracy theorists if you like, but there’s something strange about the fact that PLN was told one day, in no uncertain terms, to end the Jakarta blackouts, and the discovery virtually the next that Gilimanuk’s appalling maintenance mismanagement had ensured the plant could not be repaired before “tools” are acquired from overseas. Why? On all the evidence, PLN has enough tools of its own without flying in more from other places.

It would be interesting to get answers from PLN (we never will of course) on these questions:

(1) Why the Bali blackouts that started in October and were to end on December 6, but then were to “end early,” on November 26, because “everything was fixed,” then failed to end on either date; and why we were  told on December 3 that PLN was going to give Bali a very special Christmas gift of another month-plus of power cuts (up to January 15)? Do these people have any idea what they’re doing?

(2) How much additional power is required to keep all the lights on in Jakarta so that the leadership cadres in their plush accommodations are not inconvenienced by disquieting thoughts of public unrest?

(3) Where is this extra power coming from?

(4) How much power is currently being supplied to Gilimanuk via the allegedly lightning-prone (Mendacious Excuse No. 365) undersea cable?

(6) What are the qualifications for being appointed Bali spokesman for PLN? Is it a requirement that you must have graduated summa cum laude in post-modern fiction, majoring in farce?

There’s a seventh question. It’s to the national government: Fellas, do you have any actual interest in ending Bali’s immediate power problems?

To the Point

DANCE is such an important part of Balinese – and indeed Sundanese – culture, and of course also a draw for tourists. It is evocative, plainly erotic if not actually sexual and a distinct embellishment of any cultural experience to be had just north of the Austro-Eurasian fault line.

So much of it depends on the feet and specifically on pointed toes.

It was thus a disappointment – well, that and the “modern” interpretation of the traditional musical accompaniment – to see a performance at a Kuta restaurant recently where the dancers’ toes were securely out of sight, contained within little black leather – or possibly synthetic – shoe-socks.

They looked faintly ridiculous pointing their feet in this gear; as did the other dainty little performer who, wearing a rather sheer white dress which would have been significantly alluring, in a wholly cultural way, in other circumstances, was very clearly wearing sturdy black Lycra beneath.

The Lights Are On

BUT as usual, no one is home. How thoughtful of the traffic police to begin enforcing the daylight lights-on rule for motorbikes. It will make it so much easier to see riders behaving like lunatics.

The lights-on rule, which we believe began life in Sweden or one of those benighted Scandinavian places where it’s miserably dark for half the year, is being promoted as a safety measure. A far better safety measure, however, would be to enforce the licence rule (for more than corrupt personal revenue reasons) and to ensure that people can actually ride (or drive) before they are let out on the road.

It would be even better if the police could find a way to notice that, especially around school hours, a large proportion of motorbike riders appear to be people who are far too young to have a licence anyway.

And then there’s the farce of the helmet law. And the fact that many motorcyclists don’t bother with lights even when it’s dark.

Put a Sock in It

WE heard a sad tale the other day. An expatriate woman with a good knowledge of Bahasa Indonesia and a sensible interest in preventive health tried to persuade a group of young people at a bowling alley that, when hiring bowling shoes, they really should heed the requirement – well publicised – to wear socks with them. The general idea being you can really do without acquiring other people’s skin ailments and other complaints.

The answer, from the young crowd who apparently had forgotten that Indonesian culture emphasises politeness and respect for others, not to mention elders, was less than encouraging: You’re an Orang Bule, so f— off.

Christmas Treat

READERS who will be on the other side of the Wallace Line – in Lombok – over Christmas may want to sample the delicious roast duck traditionally served (by the equally delicious Sakinah Nauderer) at Senggigi’s Asmara Restaurant. It’s an annual treat that, sadly, The Diary will miss out on again this year.

The roast duck is on the menu on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Through to New Year’s Day, if you’re not there on the duck days or water fowl does not appeal, Asmara offers prawn pate, jumbo prawns thermidor and mango ice-cream.

Sakinah tells us Santa has scheduled a call into Asmara at 1.30pm on Christmas Day to astonish junior patrons; or at least those whose mums and dads have said will be there.

Lip Gloss

THE pretty woman, Julia Roberts, lately a comely feature of the landscape in Bali while location shooting for her latest movie, Eat, Pray, Love, has been named the new face of cosmetics firm Lancôme. She will hold this onerous and high profile position for 2010, according to Lancôme boss Youcef Nabi, who said last week, announcing the appointment:

“By her remarkable personality and career, Julia Roberts is an emblematic woman of her time. Her exceptional talent, her radiance and her strong commitments perfectly echo Lancôme’s values. We are convinced she will embody the brand in the most sublime way possible.”

Just thought you should know that.

Silly Farts

SOMETIMES you spot something worth reading in the Jakarta Post – though The Diary much prefers the Jakarta Globe as daily fare – and such was the case recently when we came across a story about two neighbours who ended up in court over a fart.

The men – identified only as OB and HS, perhaps under the privacy provisions of the flatulence suppression regulations, and from Cirebon in Java – had a fight after OB vacated his dwelling to pass wind in the open air, sadly failing to notice that his neighbour HS was seated outside, enjoying the evening’s mildness, only 12 metres away.

As a result of his exposure to this unwanted and noxious emission, it is said, HS attempted to strangle OB. HS’s wife, the apparently fearsome YS, ran to join the fray and is said to have bitten OB on the hand.

After this affray the men decided to sue each other for assault. Apparently they were immune to a suggestion from presiding judge Setiadi that they should instead be sensible and forget about the whole thing.

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