Another Fine Farce from Stuff & Nonsense, Scriptwriters To Wallyworld

B y Hector

A sudden decision to slap an additional tax on foreign movies – by means of a “revision” of licensing and customs duties, apparently the latest effort from the febrile scriptwriters at Stuff & Nonsense, Jakarta’s world-beating comic production house that has the market in overbearingly large and completely ineffective bureaucracy sewn up – would like many things here be funny if it were not tragic.

Reality shows are not the favoured medium in Indonesia’s official theatre of the absurd. Instead, fairytales and farce dominate the bill of fare. There is a subtext in play, as the rent-a-fanatic FPI, the so-called Islamic Defenders Front, continually demonstrates. The actuality of Indonesia’s constitution, let alone the legal requirements it places on citizens, are forever ignored by those who only listen to whichever latest rant takes their fancy, usually after another demotic declaration at Friday prayers.

We see Punks – misguided individuals they may be, but human beings with rights they certainly are – pursued in Aceh for the same reasons and by the same one-eyed enforcers. Closer to home, there are early signs of Balinese Hindu activism beginning to surface in a belated response to the activities of other Balinese Hindus in enriching themselves by selling their heritage.

Shutting off access to foreign films may suit someone’s political agenda, but it flies in the face of the eclectic pluralism that makes Indonesia the fascinating (and in a very real sense inclusive) society it is. It is not a religious matter: those who wish their lives to be governed by someone else’s interpretation of prophesy are welcome to feel themselves to be thus guided. It is not even a social issue, except for the very real risk that if thickheads are not stopped early in their piece their numbskull activities too often result in actual blood on the streets. The game is the usual vain – and vainglorious – battle for political turf.

The extra movie tax (however it was explained when someone woke up to its idiocy) is a symptom of a debilitating disease of the political/bureaucratic system that stymies Indonesia at virtually every turn. There are formal policies but they are ignored; rules and regulations exist but either no one takes any notice or those who wish to circumvent them bribe their way through; and bright sparks with ridiculous and unworkable plans to gouge ever more money out of people’s pockets are given free rein to promote and promulgate their idiocies.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has a dilemma before him: he can either be a leader (which means telling idiots, some of whom may be his friends politically or otherwise, to go away) or a shambolic symbol of national dysfunction. He could start in a small way, by telling the film regulators to look for their scripts at the fine premises of Common Sense, because Indonesians have had enough of Wallyworld.
Sacred Plot

This year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (October 5-9) will pay special tribute to a formative force in world understanding of our unique island: Kawi-Wiku (poet priest) Ida Pedanda Made Sideman. Its theme – Nandurin Karang Awak, Cultivate the Land Within – is taken from an evocative line in his epic poem Gaguritan Salampah Laku and he will be given a special tribute at the festival.

Bali has many special features and points of uniqueness. Perhaps the head of the Indonesian entrepreneurs association, Panundiana Khun, might care on reflection to ponder that essential element before he next suggests an idiocy like sending Bali’s farmers to Sulawesi and other places because he and his mates want to build even more tourist edifices all over the island.

UWRF’s February newsletter – it hit the Diary’s inbox on February 21 by the way – notes that Ida Pedanda Made Sidemen is considered one of Bali’s greatest poet-priests and in a lifetime of priestly reflection created several important literary works. He was also a respected authority on traditional architecture. In that respect it is a particular sadness that he left us – allegedly aged 126 – on September 10, 1984. We could use his sage appreciation of what truly constitutes Bali and its unique society today.

In Bali’s Hindu tradition cultivating the land within – the mind – is an important philosophical concept which, as UWRF’s newsletter notes, is crucial to the spiritual landscape. He possessed nothing tangible in his life, by choice: no land, no personal riches, choosing poverty and exile from modernity in pursuit of an unwavering conviction that life is about one’s own potential, the land within.

Festival organisers say this year’s event will be devoted to redefining the boundaries of consciousness, surely a project in which the sentient would always wish to engage. They say “more than 80 established and emerging authors will convene on Ubud” (sic) – we think they either mean convene in or converge on, but never mind; it’s the thought that counts – in a celebration of literature.
Blow It

Reader Dave, who lives at Suwung (and incidentally has seen neither hide nor hair of any anti-rabies dog vaccination teams) and recalls our item on the Great Gas Regulator Scam last year, reports that it’s apparently alive and well and coming to a rumah near you – or possibly even your house – very soon.

He told us in an email note received this week: “My sister-in-law has just ushered out a couple supposedly checking the gas. We’ve already replaced our regulator with a good certified one, and a hose as well. The man asked to see our receipt. We refused.”

Dave also says he and wife Nyoman have just got to get a bigger dog. Apparently Nyoman’s dainty little five-kilo house pet specimen just doesn’t cut it in the seeing-off-the-fake-gasman stakes.

So be warned. These gas “inspectors” are anything but. They come from shops in Denpasar and they prey on the gullible.


There was an important series of meetings this weekend including one in Lombok in connection with the work the Australia-Indonesia Institute (AII) and its local counterpart, the Indonesia-Australia Institute, have been doing here for a quarter of a century. The AII board was visiting Jakarta and Lombok for calls on a range of calls on government, civic society, academic and cultural figures and in Lombok teachers and students at a school that is taking part in the AII BRIDGE programme which links schools in Indonesia and Australia. Its board meeting in Lombok will consider new initiatives to expand people-to-people links.

Australian ambassador Greg Moriarty said on Monday: “For more than two decades, the institute has fulfilled a unique and vital role in fostering friendship and understanding between our two nations. In this new era of Australia-Indonesia relations, with deeper and broader engagement across many sectors, the work of the Institute is more relevant and important than ever.”

The AII was established by the Australian government in 1989. Its present chairman, Professor Tim Lindsey, said: “It is a pleasure for the board to be back in Indonesia with our Indonesian friends and colleagues who have been working in partnership with us for more than two decades to build bridges of understanding between our two countries.”

Few would seek to argue with those sentiments.

Shift in the Wind

For a travel agent, Jack Daniels is amazingly directionally challenged. His little e-update this week advised people that cyclone Carlos – the latest in this extended La Ni?a season of excess weather – had shut down flights between Bali and “Darwin, Western Australia,” for two days. Um, Jack, try “Northern Territory.”

The Diary was in Perth this week. It didn’t look in the least like Darwin. It did have one moment of excitement of its own, however. An avant garde Argentine artist’s “aerial sculpture,” floating 12 metres above ground level for the Perth International Arts Festival, blew away in strong winds.

It was reported to have been destroyed. The artist was reported to be devastated. 

Back Home

It will be great to be back home this weekend, with SEB 1/2011 under our belt. SEBs – short for Short Essential Breaks – are essential, for all the reasons set out in a recent Diary item. But they must also be short. Travel’s fun, but being home again is best of all. Lengthy absences remove you from the sequence of action.

SEB 2/2011 will be held on a date to be fixed. That date depends on the performance of the benchmark Frustration Index.

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