Friday, January 31, 2020

Justice Deferred

Now what's this I hear about the impeachment trial in the senate needing to be concluded before the Super Bowl?  Sorry folks, but due to a sporting event, justice must be deferred. 

What the hell? 

Oh well. From what I'm seeing and hearing, it has already been decided that justice will be deferred no matter what. Or, as they say, 'the fix is in'. 

I had been thinking that the Republican party will surely pay a dear price for this farce of a trial they have shoved down the throats of the American people--and yet, it occurred to me this morning that perhaps they are perfectly safe after all, because the public response may well be to simply shrug and disengage from the whole rotten process. Why bother? The fact is that 75 percent of the American people want to see a real trial, with witnesses and documents. Clearly, our representatives are not interested in representing the wishes of 75 percent of Americans. They are interested, in fact, in NOT representing the vast majority. 

So, yeah, again … why bother?

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Sharia in Aceh

There is an article in today's Jakarta Post--Aceh Unveils New Female Flogging Squad--that would be hilarious if it weren't so damn sad. 

The writer begins by describing the reticence of a masked woman flogger, one of a squad of 8 newly deputized sharia officers, as she approaches her baptismal target, an unmarried woman caught in a hotel room with a man (horrors!). Such behavior constitutes a 'morality crime' in Aceh.

Despite her reticence, the article continues, the new recruit persevered and successfully delivered her first formal flogging. It was not noted, though it may be safely assumed, that the victim was reticent as well.  

"I think she did a good job," Banda Aceh Sharia police chief investigator Zakwan commented. "Her technique was nice." 

Seriously? Is there a special technique for beating a defenseless woman with a rattan cane? 

Well, turns out there is. Imagine that. The floggers, who are outfitted in cloth masks and loose fitting brown uniforms--not only stylish, but utilitarian and good for hiding the identity--are trained to make sure they are physically fit (who needs a weak flogger, anyway?) and that they know how to administer a proper beating. 

The reader may be wondering at this point whether this is some kind of spoof or parody--something from The Onion. I know I was. But no, this is the straight news from the primeval side of the world. 

The job of whipping a victim--sorry, a criminal--has always been done by men, but now women have joined the ranks. Now that is equal opportunity at work! 

Of course, the women whip only women, never men. We have not progressed quite that far, yet. 

And to be fair, convincing women to participate as administrators of public beatings has been no easy task. It has "taken years to assemble the first female squad." The torture, you see, is very hard on the torturers.

What sort of transgressions have the victims--again, sorry, the criminals--committed? Well, they are far ranging and include gambling, adultery, drinking alcohol, premarital sex, shows of public affection. On a recent patrol, a group of men and women were spotted sitting at nearby tables in a coffee café at 3 am and were arrested for breaking strict codes about unmarried men and women interacting, or at least almost interacting. "This shows that we never sleep, looking for violations of sharia," an official said. 

Perhaps this lack of sleep has clouded minds?  Who knows? 

"We didn't even know the women," one of the arrested later said (from his jail cell). The two parties were sitting at totally separate tables. Moreover, the men were gay. 

Ah well, homosexuality is also a crime. Two beatings for you, buddy. 

Nonetheless, sharia in Aceh is still lenient, we are told (compared to Saudi Arabia, I guess). "We need harsher punishments," one expert on such things opined, "like stoning, not just whipping. Someone committing adultery should be stoned 100 times." 

Alllll riiiiighty then. 

In fact, floggings as they stand "can be so severe that people pass out or are hospitalized." 

Even so, "We are not aiming to hurt people by whipping them," a sharia advocate reported. 

Yeah. We all know that whipping, if done by trained professionals, doesn't hurt. Much.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The 81 Percent

You weaponized religion
and you wonder why
I'm leaving to find Jesus
on the wrong side of your walls

--From Hymn for the 81 percent

I see this morning an article from Daily Kos about a Christian worship leader in a South Bend, Indiana church, one Daniel Dietrich, who has written a song about the betrayal he feels from "evangelical" Trump support. Dietrich himself formed the church four years ago, described as "a Jesus centered community for believers and doubters and everyone in between." The title of the song is "Hymn for the 81 Percent", which refers to the percentage of evangelical Christians who have supported Trump. It is described as "a love song to the church and a call to repentance", and directly addresses the hypocrisy of the white evangelical church's support of Donald Trump in the face of Biblical teaching. The lyrics castigate the Trump administration for "putting kids in cages, ripping mothers from their babies," but blames the church for failing to rein them in. "I looked to you to speak on their behalf, but all I heard was silence, or worse you justify it." 

The song has gone viral. 

So I say Amen. 

I can't help but wonder, however, who these Trumpster evangelicals are. I have been to many churches since becoming a believer in 1994--Non-denominational churches, Pentacostal churches, Charismatic churches, Methodist churches, Presbyterian churches, Catholic churches--but I have never been to a church that dabbled in politics or proclaimed support for any political figure or ideology. The churches I have been to have proclaimed the gospel alone, tailored, of course, to their own theological outlooks.

So who are these people, these evangelicals? They are the people, I suppose, who are generally ignored by the true church and true Christians yet are loudly present on the internet and in the imagination of those who wish to make Christianity itself a culprit in the disaster that is Trump. They are the nutcases on podcasts and late night radio shows who drivel on about 'the Chosen One' and wacko prophesies and end-of-the-world scenarios. They are the scammers, the users, the parasites that feed on their host, and much to the detriment of the host at that. 

I know some of these people. They are not bad people. They are merely weak-minded people. They are people who have failed to receive the word in their inner parts. They are fearful people who seek assurance not in sacrifice and humility but in bluster and fantasy. They are people who have been led astray.

And, hopefully, they are people who will listen to this song and be inspired to seek more of the truth. Hopefully, they are people who will learn to share his yolk and walk thereafter with him, for, as he says, I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 

Monday, January 27, 2020


On driving by my new apartment location this morning, I noted that the structure had actually begun to look like a house from the outside rather than a pile of grey stones. Wow, these things progress quickly once they begin to progress. 

I note as well that a problem with this location will be the road, which is in fact at least as narrow as the road where I am currently living--which itself must be among the narrowest roads on the island of Bali. I cannot see where two cars going in opposite directions would be a possibility. Which means they will have to make it a oneway road. Not that anyone here gives a damn about oneway roads. A bike and a car, sure. Two cars? No way. 

It is a bit sad, really, to see the fields being paved over and replaced by closely packed houses and apartments. But that's the march of progress, I guess, on an island with an ever increasing population and very little land to spare, within the city limits, anyway. (There's plenty of jungle up north). 

Sunday, January 26, 2020


Sometimes, rather often, actually, I get these vivid scent sensations. It's not, in fact, a scent as detected by the nose, but a mental scent, so strong, so present, that it transports me to another time and place. I smell the water of the lake we used to swim in, the rocks on the shore, the large, flat boulder we lie on to warm our skin on its sun-baked surface, the drops of water on our skin, dampness dripping from my brother's red hair to the pock marked stone, the lively breath of the forest all around, the clutch of roots to pungent earth and the bite of pine whispering and singing in the air. The faded green lichen clinging to the edge of the boulder. The contented breeze. I am both here and there. I am where I cannot be again. 

Saturday, January 25, 2020


Yesterday, I spotted Takut the dog eating a cheeseburger. Not just a bit of a cheeseburger, but the entire burger, bun and all, straight out of the wrapper. This came directly after eating some Indonesian food brought by Pak Aan, the groundskeeper. 

Ever since Takut's election victory over Peter the Complainer, people have been bringing food, as if offering to some sort of royalty. 

Takut likes this arrangement just fine, though I fear he will soon be the size of a hippo and therefore more problematic than ever in my little room. As it is, I am continually stepping on or falling over the poor dog, but he seems to consider this but a minor inconvenience, not really something worth moving out of the way for. 

I begin to wonder seriously whether the residents here will want Takut to leave with me when I move to my new place in April. 

As a nod of acknowledgement to his new found popularity, Takut tries to divide his time between apartment porches. Especially at dinnertime

Friday, January 24, 2020

Almost a Surprise

Well, I guess I misjudged people regarding birthday wishes. Turns out that many sent a note, and Louis, my third wife, even tried to spring a surprise party on me. Almost succeeded too! I hate surprise parties, and she knows that, but she likes parties so the latter cancels out the former, according to some sort of math. 

Her friend Betty, who often assists me in various tasks here, had called the day before to tell me that I was scheduled to see the eye doctor. This struck me as a bit strange, because I had just recently seen an eye doctor for what turned out to be dry eye syndrome, but Betty explained that the doctor just wanted a follow-up to make sure all was well. Dutifully, therefore, I met Betty on my birthday for a visit to Sanglah Hospital. 

What tipped me off, however, was a call that morning from my stepson in Arizona, who said that his mom told him it was my birthday and that he ought to send me a message. What struck me as odd about this was that Louis herself had not acknowledged my birthday. Had sent no message and made no call. Hmmm. How was it that she told Sasha to call and yet had not herself called? 

Something was up. 

So when Betty took the wrong road to the hospital (with the excuse that it as a 'shortcut'), things became clear. I was in for a surprise party, like it or not. 

Well, it wasn't so bad, despite the fact that it was held at a karaoke place (I also dislike karaoke, and she knows that; but she likes it). I was compelled to struggle through three Frank Sinatra songs with my 66 year old voice, but was rewarded in any case with a nice lunch and a chocolate cake (I do like chocolate cake, and she knows that too). 

This morning, which is actually yesterday in America, an old grade school friend sent a picture from the Washington High School yearbook of me appearing not to be me at all. Blast from the past. 

All in all, for someone who didn't want to be 66 to begin with, and who does not like to be the center of attention, the day was fairly palatable. 

Thursday, January 23, 2020

January 23rd

January 23rd 1954. My birthday. 1954? Really? Kok bisa, as folks here say. How can it be?

Yes, today is my birthday, and I'm seeing whether I can break a record--not only regarding just how old a young man like me can become, but also to see if I can go through the day without a soul wishing me a happy birthday. That is, without my mentioning it first. 

So far I have failed in this second goal, given that one Facebook friend has already sent greetings. But we will see what happens the rest of the day. Will my children remember? (After all, I always remember theirs). Will my ex-wives remember? (After all, I always remember theirs). Will the dog remember? (I have no idea when the dog was born). 

How odd it is to think that 66 years ago I came into existence in the world, and did not even know it--for I have no memory whatsoever of anything until I was about four, according to my hazy calculations. I remember chasing the dog, who had misbehaved, under the porch, and I remember my father stopping my pursuit to explain that the dog would not remember by this time what he had done wrong. Why this incident has engraved itself in my memory to the extent of being the first thing of all, I do not know. 

I tell people who happen to ask my age, at any time of the year, that I am 38, kurang-lebih, again, as the Indonesians say. More or less. Most don't believe me. Some conclude that I am simply senile. Because, you see, I say this in full confidence, without cracking a smile. 

On this 66th year of mine, I watch as the Senate of the United States runs a sham trial, or rather not a trial at all, regarding our president's clearly criminal activity, and it seems at this point not shocking, not outrageous, not infuriating, but simply normal, par for the course. I have lived too long. I have outlived my best years, just as the nation has outlived its best years. 

I commiserate with the dog, who knows something about the hollowness of human affairs. Eat, drink, and be merry, says he. Oh, and sleep. A lot. 

Another celebratory event on my birthday will be a visit to the eye doctor. I don't know why I'm going. I was only told that I must. So once I finish my coffee, I'll be off Sanglah Hospital and the doctor's office. Probably there will be no cake. Which is okay. Because there is no way in the world that I could blow out 66 candles. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Construction Site

Yesterday, I met up with Louis for a walk around the construction site of the place which will, in a few months, become my new home. It had been raining and the ground was muddy and the humidity was so heavy that I was dripping with sweat. As we viewed the site, I found it very difficult indeed in viewing these skeletal beginnings to picture a livable apartment. Louis, however, seemed to have the whole thing clearly in mind. Perhaps that is a woman's special gift--to see what could be. 

In any case, I post the photos below. 

False Doctrine

"A few years ago," Julia Suryakusuma writes in a Jakarta Post article, "a poster was put up by the Islamic Sharia Department in Banda, Aceh, reading as follows:

A woman whose strand of hair is seen deliberately by a man who is not her husband will be punished by 70,000 years in hell. One day in the afterlife is equivalent to 1000 years in this world. A woman who enters hell will draw in with her two of her menfolk: her father, her brothers, her husband, or her son. This is how terrible the punishment is!" 

Allll righty then! Terrible indeed! 

Happily, this is also recognized as terrible interpretation of the Koran through most of Indonesia. It is, as Bu Suryakusuma writes, "a mind crushingly asinine, idiotic and imbecilic fantasy based on nothing but an overly fertile, sick and twisted imagination." No surprise then that such non- and even anti-scriptural doctrines are embraced only by sick and twisted extremists. (In fact, the Koran itself says nothing whatsoever about women's hair). "The ongoing deliberate distortion and manipulation of Islam by a bunch of ignoramus radicals," Suryakusuma continues, "could be said to be Indonesia's Chernobyl. In fact, it's worse, because it's not an accident but deliberately engineered--not just by radicals but by mainstream politicians taking advantage of it to support their political agenda."

Sound familiar, America? 

This sort of violent extremism, politically motivated, with the goal of suppression and coercion, is typical the world wide, no matter which religion serves as its blunt force instrument. This is "the age of jahilliyah (the age of ignorance), which thrives on hypocrisy, greed and ego, and power-driven motives. Radicals so easily point their fingers at others, accusing them of blasphemy, when in fact it is they who are committing blasphemy--of the worst kind because it is done with evil intent." 

Does anyone really believe that Donald Trump and his gang of high level crooks are out to champion Christianity? Are they not merely using Christianity to champion themselves? Do the influential blowhards at the top of evangelical mega-churches really believe that embracing hypocrisy, hatred, exclusion, bigotry, walls rather than bridges, is faithful doctrine? 

Woe to those who have swallowed the lie.

No, the trouble is not in the woman's lock of hair. The trouble is not with sexual orientation or color of skin or choice of religion or country of origin. The trouble is with those who believe that this is the trouble. 


It occurred to me this morning as I trudged up to the mall for my usual morning coffee that my health always varies these days between generally unwell to seriously unwell. Wellness is but a dim memory. 

Just now, and for some time now, I have been in the 'generally unwell' category. My body temperature runs for some reason almost always a bit above normal--normal being 36.7 and the actual temperature usually between 37.1 and 37.3, while 37.5 would indicate an actual low grade fever. On top of this, there is the strange neurologic abnormality that causes me to feel feverish, without having an actual fever. Lately I have been having to take two pregabalin tablets a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, rather than just one a day.

Moreover, the inexplicable pain in my shoulder and neck, sometimes extending to my upper back or side, has reasserted itself, God knows why. For this, I take methylprednisolone, though I am aware now that I need to use this medication sparingly, given its negative effect on my stomach problem. 

Which leads us to the stomach problem. Sigh. While this has been much better in general, it is only kept so by adhering to a strict diet and using a proton pump inhibitor every day. I do get tired of the bland diet, and I do crave my favorite things, but allowing the latter consistently leads to problems with acid rising to my throat again, making it sore, making swallowing difficult, and so on and so forth. 

I think of this general state of ill health as being 'good', and I feel always that I am teetering just on the edge of the 'seriously ill' threshold. Approaching now the time a year ago when I entered what was to be a six month period of serious illness, I can't help but feel a bit nervous. Freaked out, actually. But I suppose I'm just being superstitious. 

After all, I have had assurance from above of a period of relative comfort before the end. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020


I do not know her, I've never met her, and yet I know her better than many of the people I know. 

One of those strange sides of life and experience. A connection without effort, without practice. More of a remembrance than a meeting. We say things at the same time. We finish one another's thoughts. We are equally silly, equally cerebral.

Our relationship is automatically meaningful, and yet the meaning is perfectly inscrutable. Why her? Why now? What purpose? 

Or is the purpose of magic the magic itself? 

Monday, January 20, 2020


Ahai!, as they say here in Indonesia instead of Aha. Peter the complaining Dutchman, having suffered a resounding defeat in the complex-wide vote to determine whether Takut the dog is a problem, has taken his toys and moved out. So long, sucker. 

It's a strange thing, really. It was I who originally brought Peter here. I guess that says something about my judge of character. I had only the same morning met him, and he seemed, at that time, a pleasant and kindly fellow. Little did I know that he would soon gain a reputation of complaining about EVERYTHING! OMG. Nor, moreover, that, behind my back, he would complain about me. 

Peter is an Iago sort--on the surface ingratiating, friendly, helpful, while underneath it all plotting and manipulating. Creepy.  

For example, when Peter first came here, he pretended to like the dog, or at least to have no problem with the dog. But behind the scenes, he began to leaves hints. He would tell a resident, for instance, that the dog threatened to bite him. I noted for some time that the dog's water dish kept ending up outside in the parking bay. 'Oh, I brought it out there so that he wouldn't be thirsty,' Peter cooed, regardless of the fact that the dog is 'in here' and not 'out there'. 

I can't help but be reminded of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas ...

But do you know, that old Grinch was so smart and so slick, that he thought up a lie and thought it up quick.

" ... there's a light on this tree that won't light on one side. So I'm taking it home to my workshop, my dear. I'll fix it up there, then I'll bring it back here."

Or of Dickens' oh so 'umble Uriah Heep.

"But oh, what a clammy hand his was! as ghostly to the touch as to the sight! I rubbed mine afterwards, to warm it, AND TO RUB HIS OFF."

How does it happen that a man grows to be 68 years of age and still acts like a conniving child? Has this worked for him in life? I think not. I am aware, for instance, that he left his last apartment complex as well because nothing was right with it or with the people there (according to Peter). I noted, as he moved, that he has one small suitcase, a propane gas container, and a bicycle. Clearly, he lives ever ready to move.

I wonder if it will ever occur to Peter that there may be a problem not with places, not with people, not with dogs--but with him

Free Sites

A reader recently commented on one of my Oscar movie reviews, wondering how it is that I am able to watch first run movies here when in America one must go to the theater or pay the high price of a movie streaming site. I had actually never thought about it before, but the question made me curious. As far as I knew, this is how everyone watches movies nowadays. So I consulted a couple of people in America. 

My second wife had no idea what I was talking about. And didn't seem to be interested in the question in any case. 

My stepson, who is majoring in internet security at college, commented that such sites are "strictly illegal" in America, although people still use them if they are willing to tinker with the internet to find one that works and so on. He told me as well that "although the sites are illegal in the US, they are based in third world countries."

Well, there ya go. One of the rare benefits of living in a third world country, I guess.

Here there is no indication whatsoever that these sites are illegal or that there is anything extraordinary about them. We can very easily go to any number of sites and stream thousands of movies, both old and new. Occasionally, if the movie is very new, the online version will be labeled "cam", which means that someone has gone to a theater with a handheld camera and filmed the film from his seat, featuring, in addition to the movie itself, the sound of popcorn being chewed, ice rattling in paper cups, people coughing loudly or walking in front of the screen when they get up to go to the restroom, and so on. Best just to wait for the non-cam version.

One could pay, as well, for a dedicated site, such as Netflix, but the problem with that would be the generally slow, generally quirky internet services here in this third world country. One would feel pretty silly for paying for a dedicated site while he sat in his chair watching the revolving 'circle of death' rather than the movie he had hoped to watch. So, yeah, I'm not about to pay for something that's not about to work.  

Is Hollywood suffering from the use of free streaming sites? I doubt it. But we will see on the Oscars broadcast whether actors and actresses seem to be trying to save money this year on their exotic outfits and glimmering jewels. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Dark Waters

Do you have a health problem? Does your wife, your children, your neighbors? Turns out that the culprit could very well be a complex lab created molecular string known as PFOA, or C8, which is now found in the blood of every living creature on earth, including 99 percent of human beings. What is CFOA? It's Teflon. That's right, the miraculous non-stick cooking surface, made by Dupont. Since its creation, countless thousands have developed illnesses in six deadly disease categories--intestinal, stomach, throat, kidney, liver; neurologic disorders, tumors, brain disease, birth defects, cancer, death. It is in the livestock, the food, the water. It is in every product using Teflon--carpets, clothing, blankets, toys. And here is the truly chilling part: Dupont knew. From their own studies, they knew, and yet they hid the findings and continued to expand and increase, using their untold wealth to buy their way forward, despite litigation, despite government agencies. In fact, they bought the government. At last, Dupont settled for some 600 million dollars, having already succeeded in infecting most of the human race.
See it for yourself in the sobering, maddening movie, Dark Waters.

The Complaining Dutchman Strikes Again

Well, Peter the complaining Dutchman is up to it again. The man lives to complain. A day is not complete without a complaint. 

This time around, his complaint is about Takut the dog. He contacted the villa owner and claimed that the dog is a problem, and said that other people think so too. 

So the owner got on the villa community WhatsApp and took a survey of residents, asking for their feelings about the dog. Every one of the residents answered that the dog is no problem for them, most adding that they liked him or that they thought him cute or that he made them feel safe at night, knowing that he will be on the lookout for strangers. 

Seems that Peter's fellow complainers are a figment of Peter's imagination. 

Moreover, those who speak Indonesian, which is pretty much everyone other than Peter, went on to argue that Peter himself is the problem, and that perhaps he, not the dog, should find another place to live. 

I tend to agree. Takut himself does not. He likes Peter. 

Anyway, I told the owner that I would be leaving in about three months' time, and that we should discuss the fate of Takut beforehand. I have never claimed ownership of the dog. On the other hand, it is the owner who paid for Takut's recent doctor visit and medicine. I'm happy to take the dog with me, I told her, while on the other hand, I would understand if the villa owner and residents felt he belonged here. Takut also feels that he belongs here, and would need to adjust to a whole new environment, new people, and new dogs were he to come with me. This could be difficult, as the villa here at Kampung Kumpul is enclosed, separated from the outside world, whereas the new place will be more of an open neighborhood community.

Then again, I suppose that Takut has adjusted all his life long. What he did or where he was before I found him living under the patio floor, I do not know. Whatever it was, he got through it, and he got through his period of hermitage under the floor, and he'll get through whatever comes next. That's Takut. That's his life. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

Ford v Ferrari

About Ford v Ferrari, the final Oscar nominee on my watch list, I have little to say. Frankly, I don't even know why this would be among the Best Picture nominees. I suppose for one who is fascinated with race cars, or even with cars in general, it would be interesting, but for most viewers, I have to suppose that this film is pretty tedious, about as thrilling as a sleeping pill. It's not that sports movies cannot be appealing beyond a particular affection for the sport. For instance, I have never had any interest in horse racing, and yet the movie Sea Biscuit was enthralling. But Ford v Ferrari does not make that transition beyond cars and car racing. Nor does there seem to be anything particularly striking about the cinematography, story, acting, or directing. In short, it does not stand out as a motion picture. For me, anyway. 

Jojo Rabbit

Another Oscar nominee for Best Picture, and the second to last on my watch list, is Jojo Rabbit. This will be simple. The film, which is, I suppose, intended to be a comedy about Hitler, Fascism, anti-semetism, and the holocaust--good luck with that--is consistently not funny in the least, even in the most rudimentary way. The failure at humor is actually painful. And at those points when it is not being simply not funny, it is simply boring. Moreover, it didn't even get history right! An embarrassing mess of a movie. Don't bother. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020


Parasite, among those films nominated for the Academy Award for best picture, is a South Korean black comedy that manages to be both hilarious and tragic. Be prepared (spoiler alert) for a sudden profound mood shift as this film modulates from light situation comedy to the minor key of freakin' dead serious (rather like the sudden transition in the Clint Eastwood film, Million Dollar Baby). Parasite reminds me as well of the novels of Chinese writer Yu Hua--both side-splitting funny and gut-wrenching sad. And like another film also up for the Oscar, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite slyly tells a story of a fallen, dis-ease ridden mindset and society and how we got here. Both are masterful works of filmmaking, and, so far, my top picks for the Oscar (although no one is asking me).  


I was standing in line behind a man this morning--30s, I suppose, maybe pushing 40--who turned and greeted me with a passing pleasantry, and I noted what seemed to be quite clearly an American accent, West Coast to be precise. So I asked where he was from, thinking that I'd get some locale in the US in answer. 

"I'm from The Netherlands," he answered. 

"Good Lord, your English is perfect!" I exclaimed. "And you have no accent." 

"Well," he said, doubtfully.

Stepping up to the counter to order his coffee, he then proceeded to speak to the barista in fluent Indonesian, slang and all! 

Wow! That is the sort of thing I really admire (and envy, to be honest). How has this man acquired at least three languages (three that I know of) before reaching middle age? It's incredible. 

We chatted then about rednecks in Wisconsin (where he had recently been), Trump voters, the rise of similar types that is currently infecting the world, and so on. To him, this was all very interesting--which is a good outlook, I reckon. It beats depressing and dispiriting, that's for sure. 

The world needs more like this bright young man. What better attribute than a talent for communicating in a world that has largely stopped conversing? 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Marriage Story

As the Academy Awards approach, nominations having been announced, I make the usual effort to see the Best Picture contenders, which this year include Ford v. Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Marriage Story, 1917 and Parasite. 

Of these, I have already seen The Irishman, Joker, Little Women, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Marriage Story, and 1917. By far the best were Little Women and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and both were excellent indeed. I do not see where either Joker or 1917 deserve to be on the list.

Last Night I watched Marriage Story. For starters, this falls into a category of films that generally irritate me--films about actors playing actors occasionally overplaying their characters while glorifying the business of being actors. That said, this is indeed a well acted film which features in its costarring role Scarlett Johansson, whom I have been in love with ever since her role in the old Bill Murray film Lost in Translation. Regrettably, her appearance and, in part, her character in Marriage Story reminds me of a particularly toxic woman I had known in my past, thus undermining my sympathy. There is, as I have said, in my opinion anyway, some fairly cringeworthy overacting here (though not on Johansson's part), but that can be overlooked given the type of venue the film lies in to begin with. 

Overall, however--no matter how well-acted--I found the film keenly depressing in its all-too-real presentation of the pain of divorce, and how even those who love one another at the outset end up getting churned by the gears of the process, the detached maliciousness of lawyers, the dredging up of negatives theretofore tolerated for the greater good so that those negatives may be elevated to preeminence in the interest of a positive--that is, victory in the legal sense. 

I dunno. Having personally gone through these dramas three times and experienced first hand their varying degrees of unpleasantness, there seemed nothing informative or redeeming about Marriage Story--unless it was impartation of relief at having avoided a divorce quite so ugly as the one depicted here. In a certain sense, we (my wives and I) simply didn't have the money to purchase such painful contentiousness. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


A young man whom I had never seen before strode straight up to me outside Starbucks this morning, extended his hand, and happily greeted me. 

"Hi, Pak Will. How are you? Still living at Kampung Kumpul?"

Well, clearly I had seen the man before. I just have no idea where or how or under what circumstances. And I certainly have no idea what his name might be, despite his knowledge of mine. 

Indonesians have this unusual talent for remembering names and faces. Astounding, especially for one who, like me, has no talent nor ability whatsoever in this area. And this is not a rare experience. It is a common experience, and happens with surprising regularity.

Even on my motorbike, head wrapped in helmet, eyes wrapped in sunglasses, I am recognized. A horn honks, I see a wild hand waving. Hello! And they pass by, leaving not a clue of who they might be. 

I have many friends here in Bali. I have just never seen, to my knowledge, the lion's share of them! 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Three Christs

I had bypassed a movie called Three Christs several times when scanning through my free site to find things to watch. I saw, by a glance at the description, that the movie had something to do with a psychiatrist treating three men who think they are Jesus Christ, and I just assumed that this would be some sort of lame, and likely insulting comedy at the expense of religious sorts, but I found upon clicking on it last night that it is instead a thoughtful little piece, based, moreover, on a true story. 

A Wisconsin psychiatrist, played by a suddenly old and rather strange looking Richard Gere, finds himself treating three patients at an asylum, each of whom believes himself to be Christ. The time is the 1960s, when the common forms of treatment for schizophrenia were electroshock therapy and frontal lobectomy. Gere, a forward-looking, compassionate sort, insists on treating the three men without these brutal interventions.

The first step is to bring the three deluded men, each tending toward antisocial and sometimes aggressive behavior, into a group with just Gere and his female assistant supervising and guiding. There, they are encouraged to interact, cooperate, even form relationships with one another and with the doctors. The experiment starts out rocky, but, to the amazement of the skeptical asylum staff, soon begins to bear the fruit of progress in each patient, a smoothing of the rough edges, a greater willingness to relate and even to befriend. 

All this love, compassion, and human kindness seems distinctly threatening to the psychiatric establishment at the asylum, which remains sold on the more immediately effective, not to mention barbaric measures already in practice, and so Gere and his patients run into trouble.

The point in the end is that three Christs are not nearly so much a problem as is a dogmatic, pharisaical, unfeeling system--a system which tends toward crucifixions in the interest of maintaining its own supremacy. 

Nonetheless, Christs have a way of rising, thriving, and bringing about change, and so the message conveyed in Three Christs is ultimately an uplifting one.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

How Shall We Live?

I have become aware, to my great surprise, that I must die soon. It seems that I have a terminal disease called life. Who knew? 

Oh, I'm not about to die tomorrow, or the next day, barring some sort of unavoidable accident, but the day is definitely set for sooner than it was ten years ago, or twenty years ago. Something that should have been a no-brainer. But as I approach my 66th birthday, I suddenly think, 'Gee, I may have only five to ten years left on earth!' 

Man did that go fast or what! 

Knowing this then, how should I live? 

Peter the Disciple asked the same question in his second epistle. After describing the end of all things, he asked 'How then shall we live? What kind of people ought we to be?' Moreover, he gave the answer. 

Nonetheless, the flesh most tirelessly asserts itself. Time is short, and I need to be filled. I hunger still. I have seen so little, done so little. Nothing has ever been sufficient, nothing enough. I want to make love to a woman again. I want to see the high mountains once more. I want to catch the fish that got away. I want to have a child. I want to start new. I want to do all the things I should have done and many of the things I should not do. I want to fall like a comet, burn like a meteor. Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

How very insatiable we are. What span of years would satisfy? No, not even Methuseleh's. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020


I happened to run into an old acquaintance last week, a man named Bhaskara. Bhaskara, otherwise known as Bas, used to work with Louis at ANZ Bank out in Denpasar. He is an easygoing, laid back sort of guy, which irritated Louis no end, for she tends to be more … well, let's say 'high strung'. Bas did not really need to work at the bank at all, for he did not really need to worry about money at all, coming as he does from one of the wealthiest families in Bali. Nonetheless, his father wanted him to get various forms of practical training in the world, and so Bas landed at the bank for a starter. The family owns one of the oldest hotel/resort properties on the Sanur waterfront, the oldest bakery in Bali, wide swaths of land here and there, and so on. 

Since leaving the bank, Bhaskara has gone into the coffee café business and now has several cafes around the Sanur/Renon area. The cafes, like Bhaskara, are low key, laid back, friendly little places serving, until now, mainly local customers. I discovered, however, in our meeting that he had opened a new beachfront café in Sanur, up near the Bali Hyatt Hotel, which would, of course, be serving mostly tourists on a beach crowded with popular hotels. 

Naturally, I made a point straightaway of going up there to check it out. Nine years ago, I often went to this particular beach to swim and soak up the sun, but that place has now disappeared. I really can't even see the beach I used to go to, as it has been paved over with endless restaurants, cafes, shops, and whatnot. 

The place is called Oomba and offers mostly coffee, along with some simple foods such as pastries and sandwiches. The grounds extend straight up to the surf and there is a short stairway leading down to the sand for those who care to swim. As the oceanfront in Sanur is really one big, calm bay, there is little chance of the surf coming over the wall and into the café even in rough weather. 

While sipping my coffee--cheaper than Starbucks, for sure, but no decaf available--I noted a pleasant looking spot right out front, directly facing the sea--a rustic table and a two-person bench--and hatched the plan to soon return of a morning and maybe enjoy a book and a sunrise. The trouble is that morning is no longer my time of day, for the mornings of late find me very stiff and painful, weak-legged, decidedly nonenergetic. I meant to go down there this morning actually, but it just wasn't happening. My body said No way, man. So much easier to take the short drive to Renon and the airconditioned environs of Starbucks. Afternoons/evenings, however, are not good either in this deadly hot season of the year, so it might be a while before I get back down to Oomba. For now, here are a couple of photos. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Third World Wifi

A friend of mine in Borneo is having trouble with her wifi and has called the repairman several times. 

On a visit to the house this morning, the repairman, nonplussed by the cause of the dysfunction, nonetheless offered the following sage observation: 

"Mbak sih terlalu sering pakai wifi, makanya mati." (You have used it too much). 

To which my friend replied, "Iya dong saya kan bayar". (Yeah, I pay for the service).

Lol. This is Indonesia. Not quite ready for prime time. But they're trying. 

The repairman then observed that it would be best for her to watch YouTube on her cellphone rather than on the TV, such that she might avoid, I suppose, overtaxing the wifi.

Apparently the thing needs oiling, or coolant, or something. 


Ah Indonesia. I love it. As long as it's not happening to me.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Last Appointent Addendum

I find through my own research (far be it from the doctor to share pertinent information) that dry eye is common after cataract surgery. In fact, approximately 20 percent of patients undergoing cataract surgery had dry eye disease to begin with. Dry eye is also much more prevalent in older age. In my case, this fits--for I already had some dry eye bouts and … yeah, I am of an older age. 

Dry eye continually stings, especially in the morning or in bright sunlight. The treatment for this is artificial tears (which I was given yesterday). It may be of limited duration, or it may be a chronic condition. It is important to use the artificial tears every two hours, as the condition may mitigate the positive effects of cataract surgery. 

Just an interesting tidbit among the other interesting tidbits that the doctor did not share.


To dream of willingly getting a haircut represents a fresh start or change in your thinking style. Shedding unwanted thoughts, emotions, or life situations. Alternatively, you may have gone to far with something and are cutting back. Being set straight by someone else on an issue.

--From the Dream Bible

Had a rather long, though redundant dream last night about cutting my hair (rather than having a haircut). I shave my own head, and have done so for quite a long while. I do this for several reasons: 1) though I can grow hair on the sides and back of my head, the top is fairly bald and I've been told that the shaved head looks better than the partially bald head; 2) given the consistently hot weather in Bali, no hair is cooler than hair; 3) no need to go to the barber if you don't have hair; 4) the hair that I am able to grow is drab and thin and sticks up in the front like a clump of uprooted dry grass. 

The strange thing, in keeping with the apparent rule that all of my dreams must be strange, was that the more hair I shave off, the more hair I had. I was just not getting to the bottom of the task! I would shave and shave, only to find that more hair had appeared. 

Now what can this mean? If the message involves a fresh start or a change in my thinking style, it must also involve an unwillingness at some deeper level to actually make that start or change, given that the hair stubbornly reappears despite the efforts of the razor. Or an inability to do so. 

Could be. I dunno. I do know that I have always resisted change. I dislike change even though I might be desiring change at the same time. It just shakes things up so. It interrupts the permanence I habitually seek. Change is scary, and yet change is activated beyond one's control and pursues its own course, sweeping one up as in a rushing flood. 

What changes am I facing? I really don't even want to talk about it. I would rather shave them away and be left in peace.

How's that sound? 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Last Appointment

Went to the eye doctor today for the last (hopefully) cataract follow-up. Also because my eyes were stinging every morning and very sensitive to sunlight. Turns out that there's no big problem, just need drops for dry eyes. No infection, no inflammation. I was given also a prescription for new eyeglass lenses. Although my vision now without glasses seems quite sharp to me, it is sharper yet with the adjustment, and I also need glasses for reading, so I suppose I'll get the new lenses. Already have the frames. 

After cataract surgery, there is a period of adjustment. At first the vision seems so sharp as to be almost unworldly. The eyes then calm down, and also calibrate with each other once surgery has been done in both eyes. The vision in my right eye, even after the cataract surgery, is inferior to the left, so the left seeks to adjust and compensate. Anyway, it's all 100 percent better than trying to see through two grey clouds, as was the situation before surgery. 

So, this has all been a bit costly, especially considering that I had just purchased eyeglasses before realizing that I needed cataract surgery, but it is well worth it. No exaggeration to say that it is a life changing experience! One is so much more ready to interact in society when he can actually see the society around him. Poor vision, like poor hearing, is an alienating condition. Of course, I still have poor hearing, but at least I can see those whom I cannot hear! 

Tuesday, January 7, 2020


Someone, I have forgotten who, once observed that it is better to go through life believing that there is an ultimate point and purpose to than to not believe; for, even if there is not a point, the belief that there is, and the guidance and assurance that belief provides throughout, will be just as valuable either way. If there was not an ultimate purpose, one lived, at least, as if there were. He had a stone to hold onto in the current. He, on the other hand, who pursues life with the conviction that nothing really matters, that nothing really has any meaning beyond its own narrow frame, will necessarily sail a confused and rudderless voyage, a prisoner at all times of simple urges and self-interested schemes, and in the end there will truly seem to have been no point, for he has failed to do the very least of things, which is to believe.

Monday, January 6, 2020

The Irishman

The best thing, in my mind anyway, about the movie The Irishman, which I watched last night, was the scene stealing performance of Al Pacino. Incredible, and such a pleasure to watch him at work again. And this is in the context of excellent performances from Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci! 

This film offers a stark, somewhat discouraging, though quite real picture of the shady and distasteful goings-on behind our national life and political scene, and of the power and expansive influence of those forces, and is an appropriate reminder that all things are much more complicated than they seem. The full picture is not just that which hangs on the wall, but the shadow and the grime behind the frame as well. 

Saturday, January 4, 2020

A Meeting

Synchronicity between people is as immediately noticeable as lightning. We say the same things at the same time. We supply the punchlines for each other's jokes. We are linked like twin electrons, each mirroring the nature and attitude of the other, completely separate, completely different, and yet the same, always complimentary. No matter how distant we are from one another, we cannot put any distance between us. What is this? How does it happen? How has such vitality arisen of its own accord, only waiting to be activated by language or by a meeting of the eyes? And in this link, are we finding a love for another or a love for ourselves? Or both?

I do believe in an everyday sort of magic--the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we're alone. 
--Charles de Lint

Friday, January 3, 2020

All's Well that Ends Well

"All's well that ends well," quoth the bard, and that seems to be the case with Takut the dog, who has gone from a generally fearful life of hiding under the back patio floor, creeping out only when he felt he'd be unnoticed, to basically owning Villa Kampung Kumpul, making himself comfortable on whichever porch or veranda he chooses and receiving food from door to door. 

After asking me, some short time ago, whether I couldn't just stop feeding the dog, or whether I couldn't just lock him out of the villa, and being rather curtly upbraided for such a request, the villa owners made a 180 degree turn and actually took it upon themselves to seek medical evaluation and treatment for the unwanted dog, such that he is now, as a result of a bit of medicine provided by them and a generous dose of love (not to to mention food) provided by me, in much better shape. His sores have healed, he is not itching all the time, his fur has grown back, and he is generally bright-eyed and bushy tailed--for an old dog, anyway. As far as Takut is now concerned, he is a resident of the villa, and has, moreover, elevated himself to the position of guard dog.

Oh, there are those who do not like Takut--and by 'those', I mean Peter the Dutchman--but objection has been overruled by compassion. Or is it merely acquiescence? As in, 'the dog is not going away, so we may as well get used to him.' In fact, it was Peter all along, and not the Indonesian family at the back of the villa as I had previously suspected, who objected to Takut and complained to the villa owners. But what they discovered over the course of time is that Peter is far more troublesome than Takut. The man complains about something nearly every day and continually expects management to provide services and accommodations that are simply not part of the deal--a stove, a refrigerator, extra bedsheets, extra furniture, and so on. These are things that every one else has bought or brought with them. Ah, but not Peter. So it happens that when Peter last complained about the dog, asking that he not be allowed in his area of the villa, management, having invested in the critter, replied that the dog had the run of the villa and would not be barred from any area, period. 

So Takut has proven himself to be a rather cozy, non-troublesome tenant. He likes everyone (even Peter), he is always there to greet people when they come home from wherever they have been, he is polite in his door-to-door requests for leftovers, and does not enter any room he is not invited into, and he provides a sense of safety at night or when the villa is vacant. And all at the cost of just of bit of tolerance and human kindness. 

In fact, I begin to wonder whether, when I leave some months from now, it will be best to take Takut with me or leave him in this place he has become accostumed to. I have never considered myself the dog's 'owner', but merely his friend; and, indeed, it is the villa management that has invested actual money in the dog. So I will leave the decision up to them when the time comes. If they want him to stay, that's fine. If not, I am happy to take him with me.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Hart Quote

There was a time, in the early centuries of the church, and especially in the Eastern half of the imperial world, when it was still generally assumed that there were mysteries of the faith that should be reserved for only the very few, the Christian intellectual elite or pnevmatikoi, “spiritual persons” (a term used even by Paul), while the faith of the more common variety of believers should be nourished only with simpler, coarser, more infantile versions of doctrine.
—David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved

Indeed, love one another, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, is, should be, and needs to be sufficient for most in order that we may avoid imbecilic mass heresies such as fundamentalism, fantastic end time prophesies, prosperity teaching and a hundred other departures from the gospel of Christ.

I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still  not ready.
--1 Corinthians 3:2

Traffic Notes

Just a couple traffic notes: 

As I headed out Jalan Hangtua toward Renon this morning, a woman on a motorbike to my left moved into the lane to her own left, not noticing that there was an SUV coming up fast in that lane, though still a fair distance away. Instead of slowing down, the driver of the SUV honked his horn several times--the familiar warning here in Bali generally translated as "You're about to be run over if you don't move fast." Clearly, the woman was still unaware of the SUV. So did the driver slow down? No, of course not. He blasted on through, clipping the side of the poor woman's bike as he did so. Happily, she was able to maintain control as the bike wobbled and swerved. So typical of drivers here--especially those driving cars. It seems that the way to avoid an accident is by using the horn--or rather, hearing the horn and recognizing that it is speaking to you. Brakes are largely under-appreciated and unused.

After that incident, I pulled into the gas station to fill up my tank. Three of the four available pumps had a long line of motorbikes waiting, the fourth was servicing a single car. A car, however, requires far more time to fill than a motorbike, so when a second car pulled into the lot, the driver simply squeezed in between the lanes of motorbikes, expecting that people should pause in their progress toward the pump so that his tank could be filled. Strangely, the attendant decided that this was quite all right, ignoring the next in line and stretching the hose instead across the front of the lead bike in order to gas up the car. 

Now, in America, I just don't think this would fly. In fact, I can guarantee that it wouldn't. Certainly somewhere between one and a dozen people would pipe up and shout "Hey, get in line, Asshole!" Right? But no, not here in Bali. Not only is the trespass tolerated, it is not even, for all appearances, noticed. 

Am I missing some unwritten law? Cars go first? 

A similar sort of thing will often happen in the Circle K or Minit Mart. A man will come in, wanting cigarettes or a lighter or pulsa, and walk straight up to the counter regardless of the presence of people waiting in line. And no one objects! 

Go figure. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The First

Well I'll be damned if I didn't make it to midnight last night, and even a few ticks after. How? Well, partly by obsessively trying to watch movies that would not run (apparently there were far too many people trying to use the server) and partly by chatting with my friend in Borneo through WhatsApp. Every time my eyes grew heavy, Ding the phone would go and we would resume our chat. I see this morning that she sent a final message at one am saying goodnight. I had apparently fallen asleep the instant my head hit the pillow, and have no recollection of anything further until I woke in the morning. Ah the breathtaking lifestyles of the ill and elderly. 

I am this morning burning up with the old familiar bane of the last half-year plus--no fever, just a scorching heat radiating from the inside from my shoulders to my head. I have medication for this (pregabalin), but it does seem less effective lately. Apparently, this is a condition suffered by 20 percent of those with multiple sclerosis (or any autoimmune disorder) and is the product of a whacko central nervous system rather than an actual rise in body temperature. The long and short of the thing is that it is distinctly annoying and exhausting.  

Learned a new word this morning: Decennium, referring to a ten year period of time. 2020 is a decennium.