Sunday, May 01, 2005
  Sunday Soapbox

Regular readers will know that Jakartass is ecumenical with the truth. If there is a God, then we humans should be free to worship Her as we feel appropriate. If you want to worship with the Charlie the Hamster Evangelistic Ministry, then it's up to you, lah.

Charlie is a Christ-loving, bible-believing hamster whom God has blessed abundantly with the gift of music and song.

Is Charlie the Hamster sacreligious (sic)?

No! While a cartoon hamster does not have free will and thus cannot be saved, nothing prevents the Holy Spirit from working through a rodent. There is nothing false or misleading in any of Charlie's music. The catchy tunes are consistently positive, providing a refreshing alternative to the rebellious and sexually suggestive music of today's secular rodent artists (e.g. the Chipmunks, the Spice Squirrels, Hampton Hampster, etc.).

Some religions are, however, more inflexible and proscribe fun. For example, the Catholic Church in East Timor is organising demonstrations against the democratically elected government's plans to make religious education optional.

Sounds as if they've taken a leaf out of the The Ayatollah's Book Of Etiquette.

Rule 2,622
Eating locusts caught with the hand or by some other means is lawful after they are dead. It is not necessary that the person who caught them be a Moslem or that he mentioned the name of God when he caught them. But if a dead locust is held by an infidel and it is not known whether it was caught alive, it is not lawful to eat it, even if the person who caught it says that he caught it alive.

Rule 2,631
It is loathsome to eat the meat of a horse, a mule, or a donkey if someone has had coitus with the animal.

We all know that eating ice cream makes you happy, so I suspect that the Ayatollah had a rule against its consumption.

Scientists have found that a spoonful of the cold stuff lights up the same pleasure centre in the brain as winning money or listening to your favourite music.

Neuroscientists at the Institute of Psychiatry in London scanned the brains of people eating vanilla ice cream. They found an immediate effect on parts of the brain known to activate when people enjoy themselves; these include the orbitofrontal cortex, the "processing" area at the front of the brain.

The research was carried out by Unilever, using ice cream made by Walls, which it owns.

Walls also say that their ice cream is a health food. I don't know about here in Indonesia as there doesn't seem to be an area of their website devoted to local products. What I do know however is that a Cornetto is called a Cornello and that the durian flavoured ones were not very popular. I did like the kacang hijau (mung bean) Paddle Pop, a truly Indonesian ice cream also seemingly withdrawn from the market.

Ho hum. They really did make me happy.

Happiness is, of course, relative. I was astonished the other day whilst visiting an upmarket mall with a colleague. We popped into an optician's where he asked if they had any sunglasses with a built-in MP3 player.

Why, I asked. He told me they're cool. Maybe, but wouldn't it make more sense to have a built-in camera?

Only $495

A matter of mentality

I make no apology for reprinting yesterday's editorial from the Jakarta Post in its entirety.

Every time I think of complaining about life's aggravations, I generally offer an ironic comment as a balance in case Jakartass is taken for a whining whinger. That has never been my intention. I like living here, but I am loathe to venture too far from familiar paths as I go about my daily affairs because inevitably, it seems, there is going to be some small incident which will raise my stress level. This editorial offers a familiar perspective on life in Jakarta.

Even as allegations of corruption by General Elections Committee (KPU) officials make the newspaper headlines, people rarely stop to think what the word actually means.

According to the Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, corruption means, among other things: a. impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle, b. inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means and c. a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct.

And while the first definition may not be what normally comes to mind when the word is mentioned, it is quite clear why impairment of moral principle is classified as corruption as well: it implies possessing or gaining something illegally, or violating others' rights for one's personal benefit. Viewed from this standpoint, corruption does have a wider and more subtle meaning than common thievery. If we accept Webster's definition, then we have to admit that what happens each day on the streets of Jakarta and in our neighborhoods are forms of corruption.

Motorists speeding though red lights are a common sight. We witness daily how motorcyclists nonchalantly drive against the traffic on one-way streets, ignoring the danger they cause to both themselves and to other road users. Jakarta's traffic police turn a blind eye to such misbehavior. Or, at best, the violating motorist gets fleeced by some unscrupulous traffic police officers and then set free.

Jakarta's innumerable roadside vendors customarily draw the sympathy of many citizens with a genuine concern for the lot of the poor, but in reality, most of them tend to behave quite mischievously. They unlawfully occupy the sidewalks, regularly resist the authorities' attempts to put some order along the roads and deny pedestrians' and motorists' their right to adequate space to walk or drive.

Does such misbehavior involve a loss of state funds? Of course they do not directly. Still, all those offenders - the law-defying motorists, the bribe-happy traffic cops and the disorderly roadside vendors - are causing an impairment of the generally accepted moral principles, and from that standpoint they could all be considered corrupt, according to the definition of the term.

To pursue Webster's line of thinking, then, in Jakarta, corruption is conducted not only by bankers, bureaucrats or officials at the various respected institutions of state such as the House of Representatives or the General Elections Committee, but nearly everyone. In this teeming metropolis, motorists, jaywalkers, roadside vendors are all corrupt people, all at their own respective levels. However, the story gets worse when roadside vendors claim to have paid officials to "legally" work in those spots. The predictable result is that raids against roadside vendors usually lead to resistance that often erupt in street brawls.

Among the bureaucracy, corruption usually includes the illegal fees for ID cards, passports and other official papers or permits. But many of us would probably agree that corruption does not only touch on legal matters. It is more a matter of morality - a concept that is quite consistent with the traditional principles of sound community life.

Unfortunately, many Indonesians prefer to regard corruption from the legal point of view. According to the Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia (the Great Dictionary of Bahasa Indonesia), the definition for corruption (korupsi) is misappropriation, embezzlement or mischievous deeds involving goods or money belonging to the state. It is, thus, understandable that some people argue that any misconduct that does not involve the embezzlement of state funds or state belongings should not be considered corruption.

Courts usually exonerate a defendant charged with corruption if there is no evidence that state money is involved. More surprisingly, there are times when courts drop all charges after the defendant returns the money. Preposterously, corruption, which is clearly a crime, is handled like a bank loan by the courts. Given such an understanding of corruption, it is not surprising to hear chief economics minister Aburizal Bakrie's statements that the "procedural irregularities" at state-owned Bank Mandiri could not be considered corruption. As he put it, the most important point is the end result of the case, which is - probably - that the money is returned.

Aburizal made his statement in response to reports of alleged corruption conducted by officials of the bank, which reportedly gave out US$1.26 billion in loans to private companies involving procedural irregularities - penyimpangan in Bahasa Indonesia, which led to bad debts.

Given such a simplistic interpretation of the law, it is quite probable that the misbehaving motorists, the defiant roadside vendors and the unscrupulous officials, are adopting the same perception that not a single rupiah of state funds is being stolen or lost whenever they violate the rules on a daily basis.

It seems that now is as good a time as any for Indonesians from all layers of society - our legal practitioners, officials, bureaucrats, businessmen, scholars and religious circles as well as roadside vendors - to change their whole idea of what constitutes corruption. Corruption is, in fact, not just a case of the misappropriation of state funds or belongings. Corruption is a situation where we defy our own sense of virtue and honesty.



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