Tuesday, January 31, 2006
  Jakartass is a Lexiphanicist

Following some recent posts of mine, I've been accused of chrematophobia and divitiphobia. That's just not true, although I'm not too keen on living in a chrysocracy, nor do I like gigmaniacs. You should know by now that I am an infracaninophile who detests malversation.

Without provoking a collieshangie, because I am doctiloquent, allow me to expound.

I am for the following: deipnosophy, dendrophillia, eunomy and eupsychics.

I am against defalcation and ipsedixitism.

I occasionally suffer from diamerismapygianitis and dysania, although a little exercise and a few cups of coffee set me to rights. I certainly do not suffer from kalopsia.

If, like me, you are a logastellus, then you can translate the above with the Grandiloquent Dictionary (.pdf)


4:00 am |
Monday, January 30, 2006
  Never mind the quality ....
........... feel the length.

There are times when I do think that Jakartass would be better named Boggle Blog. There's a nice alliterative symmetry and synergy in that title.

Two articles in the Guardian today have nothing to do with Indonesia, the UK or Charlton Athletic yet cannot be left uncommented upon. I am truly boggled.

First off, I read that such are the 'advances' in neuroscience, biotechnology such as genetics, computing and nanoscience - that many envisage dramatic breakthroughs in how we can modify ourselves, our physical and mental capabilities. We could live much longer and be much stronger and cleverer - even be much happier. A whole new meaning to "Be all you can be".

To the real enthusiasts - they call themselves transhumanists - humanity is on the point of being liberated from its biology. In their advocacy of our "technological rights", they believe that human beings are on the brink of a huge leap in development, leaving behind the sick, quarrelsome, weak, fallible creatures we have been up to now. We will be, as their slogan goes, "better than well".

For example, if you can have Viagra for an enhanced sexual life, why not a Viagra for the mind? Is there a meaningful difference? If we show such enthusiasm for "improving" our noses and breasts with cosmetic surgery, why not also improve our brains? As computers continue to increase in power and shrink in size, why shouldn't we come to use them as prostheses, a kind of artificial limb for the brain? If we have successfully lengthened life expectancy with good sanitation and diet, why can't we lengthen it with new drugs?

The mere thought is scary. Read the first part of that last sentence again. Is that reality for the majority of the world's citizens? What is being proposed here is not a sci-fi fantasy. The technology is being developed and pharmaceutical industries are already well down the path which could lead to super-consumers of their products.

This is the prospect that horrifies the so-called "bio-conservatives" such as Francis Fukuyama, who argues that transhumanism is the most dangerous ideology of our time. There are plenty who share his concerns.

Count Jakartass among their number, but not because I'm a conservative. Change is to be encouraged, but such that all can live in a sharing, caring world which values differences rather than competing for ever scarcer resources, thereby denying others their share. More than enough is too much.

The other, related, story I found disturbing, but not, I must emphasis, from a sense of prurience or inadequacy, concerns penis envy. This apparently is a male phenomenon.

In today's "supersize-me" consumer society, here is the paradox. Men need bigger cocks, and a penis of any size is now physically possible. Consequently, no size is ever going to be big enough.

Apparently, penis enlargement is big business, if you'll excuse the expression.

And Mike Salvini should know for he is an evangelist for natural penis enlargement, a weird and scientifically unproven way of upsizing the male member. And thousands of men are going to great lengths to follow him.

But not Jakartass. You know where I stand. I support the under-sized dogs, and the have-nots.


6:00 pm |
Sunday, January 29, 2006
  Gong Xi Fa Cai

I wish all my Chinese readers a pleasant Year of the Dog which starts today.

I am a Dog myself, so I do appreciate the significance.

The year of the Yang (+) Dog teaches the lessons of watchfulness, defense of the weak and fair play. International justice will be the order of the year. Causes, protests and the righting of wrongs define Dog years.

Right on. Let's see some fair play and a few meaningful protests.

And I'll start with the fact that Tuesday is the start of another new year, the Islamic year 1427, and another holiday. What I want to know is why tomorrow isn't a day off in lieu of today, a Sunday. I suspect that tomorrow half the workers and school children in Jakarta will be at home with their families. Our Kid will be here and I'll be in another deep and meaningless discussion with my boss, who is Chinese.

Is that fair? In the good old days of the Megawati presidency, we would have had a long weekend. SBY seems to prefer work.

I also wish to protest on behalf of our former pembantu (maid) who, with her family, is now sheltering in our house, leaks and all, because she has been flooded out of hers. Again.

Every culture has its rituals, which are often called superstitions by non-members of that particular group. Of course, this merely demonstrates that there isn't a Universal Truth.

So I won't pour scorn on what goes on in preparation for Chinese New Year which is indeed a series of celebrations that involve a number of rituals. The first ritual observed in the celebration is spring-cleaning, which is giving a refreshing change to the home by making it clean. This is accompanied by worshipping the kitchen god, paying homage to the ancestors and merrymaking with the near and dear ones.

Another ritual, perhaps only here in Indonesia, is to pray that it rains on New Year's Eve, presumably to wash away the previous year's sins. It's fortunate, therefore, that here Chinese New Year occurs in the rainy season, every year.

And it really bucketed down last night.

So, have a good year my Chinese friends.

But do spare a thought for our pembantu, and others like her who are less fortunate. Remember that the Dog year and those under its influence are protectors of morals and defenders of the weak.


11:30 am |
Saturday, January 28, 2006
  I'm in the Union, Jack

I am occasionally asked if I would take out Indonesian citizenship. I would like a more permanent residence visa, but my usual reply is 'no' because I'll never lose my Britishness. After all, my father fought the war for the likes of me.

I will, I hope, retain my fondness for real ale, Marmite, decent cheese and Charlton Athletic. Apart from the beer, these are the cultural icons I grew up with.

Here in Jakarta, I do my (little) bit to fly the Union Jack, and I'm not just referring to Jakartass. As a warden for the British Embassy, I'm supposed to assist British residents in my area if there are civil disturbances threatening our well-being. Of course, there isn't anything happening here which isn't happening much, much worse elsewhere.

I'm not a high living expat in an exclusive expat enclave or fancy apartment. With an Indonesian family to support, I dont live apart. In other words, Jakartass is as multi-cultural as they come, presumably as Tony Blair would wish me to be.

I'm a bit boggled, therefore, by the withdrawal of the official Brits from face-to-face dialogue with Indonesians.

Today's Jakarta Post has a box ad from the British Consulate General stating that from Wednesday 01 February 2006 their Visa section assigns responsibilty for the administration of visa application collection and distribution to PT. VHS Indonesia who will offer a personalised service and perform a number of routine administrative tasks on behalf of the British Consulate General in Jakarta. For a fee of Rp.175,000 per application.

Presumably a few salaries have been saved, including that of a proofreader for their website.

The other, once major, British presence here is the British Council. In November 2004, they officially hand-overed (sic) their library to the Ministry of Education.

As the library is hope to be one of the best learning centres, the ministry will conduct a number of interactive and learning activities such as discussions and seminars in the near future.

I haven't visited the library since it was moved from the previous HQ of the Council in the S. Widjojo Centre in Jl. Sudirman, but my spies inform me that certain books and videos seem to have disappeared, and we're talking prime artefacts such as the complete series of Fawlty Towers.

Another much valued service formerly offered by the British Council was its English Language Teaching Centre. The last teacher moved on in July last year, thus enabling the Council to focus its efforts on facilitating the commissioning of teacher training programmes in some English Language Teaching methodologies.

As George Bernard Shaw reputedly said, "Those who can do, those who can't teach, and those who can't teach, teach teachers."

Regular readers will be aware of the poor access to the internet here. The Council believes that its clients will be better served by online services. That may be the case back in the UK, although those who used computers at school several times a week performed "sizeably and statistically significantly worse" in both maths and reading. There is no study I can find that states categorically that computers and the internet are a worthwhile substitute for face-to-face teaching.

Many of these changes were supposedly made due to security concerns, and a highly paid consultant was brought from Blighty for a year to effect the move into the Bursa Efek (Stock Exchange) building up the road. It's a plush open plan office suite which is protected by sophisticated electronic devices ~ much like the old premises. There's a nice view over the police HQ, so I expect that was a consideration too.

According to my highly-placed local intelligence sources, the S. Widjojo was never targetted by J.I. or other terrorist groups, and why should it have been? It was mainly used by Indonesians seeking further education.

This is a service they are now denied, not least because the Council, in its wisdom, chose to move to the site of one of the first bomb outrages in Jakarta.

Go figure.

The consultant did very nicely, thank you. He married one of the local staff and took her back to the sunny climes of Leigh in Lancashire.



8:56 am |
Thursday, January 26, 2006
  Elevator Rules OK

We expats often comment that however long we live here, we can always find something in the Indonesian mindset to grumble about. This leads others to ask why we don't go 'back home'.

I'm not going to bother answering that, but would like to point out that we aren't alone in thinking that here in Jakarta it appears to be every man for themselves. And women too.

Indonesia Anonymus have returned to hyperspace ~ welcome back, gang ~ to have a moan about traffic 'honkers'.

Goodness. We never thought Jakarta is that noisy!
No wonder we are grumpy when we arrive at work.

... here's what we decided to do. We came up with a pact among us. We will not use our car horn unless it is absolutely necessary. We will try to keep it quiet. We'll consider it our contribution to a quieter Jakarta. To a more livable Jakarta. A more civilized Jakarta.

So no matter how annoying the other motorists are, we will not honk. We will be very quiet about it.

That, however, does not mean we won't give a finger.

Ah, the proverbial finger.

Actually, traffic noise doesn't bother me when I'm travelling because I've usually got my nose in a book. My hassles generally start when I'm on foot.

There are folk who simply love to block footpaths and corridors to have a chat. They seem most put out having to make way; how dare we take their 'parking space'!

Then there's the lack of elevator etiquette. It isn't confined to Indonesia, of course, as coarse people exist everywhere. In fact, it's got so bad that a special website, Elevator Rules, has been set up.

It's a me first mentality. Go ahead, barge right in as the doors open and fall over the person in the wheelchair or the senior with the walker. Knock those packages right out of the exiting passengers' arms.

I wonder if the good folk at Indonesia Anonymus would care to translate some of the sensible advice offered.

We hope that this site will open your eyes to the behavior you have obviously displayed and that you will see the error in your ways. In fact, it is because of people like you that this site exists. Whether you are interested in the content found here or not, by all means, read on. The people that find themselves in an elevator with you will no doubt be much obliged.

Rule 1 - Get Out of the Way

When standing between someone trying to exit and the door, do your best to move out of the way for them. If necessary, exit the elevator, allow them to leave and re-board.

It shouldn't be too difficult to think up other rules. You're welcome to leave them in my comments.

Thank you.


6:00 pm |
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
  The News That Fits

The new Broadcast Law seemingly doesn't differentiate between radio and television broadcasts.

"Private Broadcasting Institutions are forbidden to relay regular broadcast programs originating from foreign broadcasting institutions, which include program types: a. news; b. music programs with improper performances; and c. sports broadcasts which show sadistic acts."

I've always considered Kenny G as an improper musical performer. What is more, and even worse, is that his muzak can be heard whenever you telephone a state organisation's customer service.and they put you on hold. Furthermore, I don't recall listening to a radio broadcast of the World Wrestling Foundation or to a verbatim account of a particularly nasty tackle in a foorball match.

No, it's news that is dangerous.
If you've got a decent radio you can pick up these broadcasts directly, assuming the government doesn't decide to follow the practices of former communist regimes which used to jam foreign broadcasts, but now block 'reformist websites'.

A key word seems to be 'relay'. My assumption is that means direct broadcasts, rather than pre-recorded snippets of news. One of the major news stories of the past week has been the sighting and attempted rescue of a whale in London's river Thames. That was carried by local TV channels, albeit with Indonesian commentary. More tragic, yet regular, news is brought from Iraq and elsewhere.

It is a Jakartass contention that all news is biased. This blog is my individual perception of what makes the world tick. News media have their own agendas, generally profit driven and therefore concentrated in fewer hands. Bear in mind that CNN is now part of the Time-Warner conglomerate and that it is nigh on impossible to escape a Rupert Murdoch publication or broadcast.

The 'free press' is an oxymoron, generally with the emphasis on the last two syllables, the market of the lowest common denominators. There are, of course, notable exceptions. As a Brit, I trust both the BBC and, in particular, the Guardian to treat me as an educated consumer of news, one capable of accepting or rejected the spin they impart. The Guardian has opened up various blogs with commenting facilities and links to other sources of information and/or opinion.

The public is now part of a wide community of news gatherers, of 'citizen journalists'. Witness last year's reports of the London bombs, initial images of which were sent to the outside world with cellphones and digital camerasby those directly involved. Jakartass was also on the 'frontline' following the Bali bombs last year when both the BBC and the Observer contacted me before their own correspondents were available.

The media has three choices: to accept that the public it purports to serve is a stakeholder, that the public are a consumer society to be 'given what it wants', or are mere cogs in a society to be made to fit into the schemes of that society.

There is now no way that any government, apart from those in isolation from the outside world such as North Korea and Myanmar, can completely control either the inflow or output of news. China does not allow dissent and with the connivance of major corporations such as Microsoft and now Google, it does manage to clamp down on bloggers who use particular technologies and fancy words like d*m*cracy.

Google faces a backlash from free speech advocates, internet activists and politicians, some of whom are already asking how the company's policy in China accords with its mission statement: to make all possible information available to everyone who has a computer or mobile phone.

But Indonesia is not isolationist: it cannot afford to be. Insecure and immature, yes, but that is all part of growing up as a democratic nation a mere eight years after emerging from an authoritarian regime which couldn't afford an educated citizenry.

The major effect of the ban that I can see is a diminishing of foreign language broadcasts, which has to be a concern, not least because bahasa Indonesia is an inadequate language. There is no one 'correct' and accepted version for everyday use or for conducting international business. English, in particular, is accepted here and will continue to be.

Exposure to foreign languages and different cultural norms can only benefit a country as multi-cultural as Indonesia. Vive les differences, says I. It's when our differences are judged as being unacceptable for religious, ethnic or political reasons that conflict arises.

I cannot determine the reasoning behind the new Broadcast Law, although I suspect that it may be an attempt by the Suhartoist élite to hang on to their ill-gotten gains.

If so, we must guard against any attempts to censor points of view which challenge those vested interests. The laws of libel, as used against Tempo, and restrictive practices denying access to dissemination tools are to be deplored.

*Reporters Without Borders
*Jakarta Independent Media Centre


6:30 pm |
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
  No News is Old News

Incoming emails and Indcoup have alerted Jakartass to a piece of news I should have noted when it first surfaced, around the beginning of December last year.

I am posting the article, originally in the Jakarta Post and also in Asia Media, in its near entirety as it certainly raises important issues and merits further consideration.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued regulations that prohibit private broadcasting stations from relaying regular news broadcasts transmitted by foreign media, depriving the public the right to immediate and direct access to information. Millions of Indonesians throughout this vast archipelago will soon be unable to get alternative sources of information.

Voice of America's Indonesian language service is relayed by some 160 private radio stations, the BBC has 86 partners; It is not clear how many private radio stations relay Radio Australia, Germany's Deutsche Welle and the Netherlands' Radio Hilversum.

It will be interesting to see the reactions of taxpayers from Indonesia's donor countries when they realize that this government is imposing a blanket censorship on news and current affairs broadcast by their respective radio and television stations.

The local private radio stations are merely trying to meet their audiences continuous demand for more international news and news about Indonesia as seen from a non-Indonesian perspective. The vast majority of Indonesians are hungry for information -- a commodity they were deprived of for 32 years during the Soeharto's era and further during parts of the Sukarno era.

They want to know more about sports, especially reports on international soccer, and they want the program English on Radio, which usually follows the news and current affairs broadcasts by the western radio stations. They also want to listen to the Science and Technology program, one of the most popular after the news.

Soon, there will be no more relays of regular news programs for local radio stations when the regulation is implemented. It may also deprive viewers of Kabelvision and Indovision, which broadcast ABC, BBC, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, and many other international television stations.

Article 17 (5.a.) of the Government Regulation No. 50/05 on Private Broadcast Institutions, signed by President Susilo on Nov. 16, stipulates that: "Private Broadcasting Institutions are forbidden to relay regular broadcast programs originating from foreign broadcasting institutions, which include program types: a. news; b. music programs with improper performances; and c. sports broadcasts which show sadistic acts."

Those who violate this ruling will be given administrative sanctions in the form of a temporary ban, article 51 of the Regulation states.

It is not clear why the government took such a repressive act in this age of press freedom and the public outcry for freedom of information. What is clear, though, is that in its dictum on consideration, the regulation only mentioned Article 5 (2) of the 1945 Constitution, which empowers the government to issue regulations. It did not, however make any reference whatsoever to Article 28 and 28-F of the Constitution, which acknowledge the right of every person to communicate and to seek information. Article 28-F is more or less adopted from Article 19 of the UN Charter on Human Rights.

The regulation also fails to include in its consideration Article 28-I of the Constitution, which deals with human rights. The article stipulates: "(1) The right to live, the right not to be tortured, the right to a free mind and conscience ... are human rights that can not be taken away regardless of the situation."

Back in the 2001-2002 period, during the deliberation of the Broadcast Bill (now Law No. 32/2002 on Broadcasting), the Coalition for the Public's Right to Information, which includes the Indonesian Press and Broadcast Society (MPPI), Komunikasi Universitas Indonesia, Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), the Institute of Free Flow of Information Studies (ISAI) and many more NGOs, strongly rejected the inclusion of an article in the Bill which limits news relays. But the coalition was defeated and that became Article 40 of Law No. 32/2002.

Point (2) of the article stipulates that, "Broadcast relays used as regular programs, be they domestic or foreign products, shall be limited." Point (3) states: "Broadcast relays as regular programs from foreign broadcasting institutions, should be limited in duration, type and number."

The new regulation does not limit news programs regularly relayed by local radio stations, it bans them entirely. One then may ask, how repressive can this government get?

The enactment of the four Regulations (Concerning: Guidelines for Foreign Broadcasting Coverage; Private Broadcasting; Community Broadcasting; and Pay TV), has boosted the power of the Department of Communication and Information (Kominfo), and usurps some of the power of the Independent Broadcasting Commission (KPI), making it a mere messenger boy. Many media observers say that Kominfo has now become the reincarnation of the repressive Department of Information (Deppen) under former President Soeharto.

The KPI, when first established by the Broadcast Law of 2002, was originally to be become an independent regulatory body, similar to that of the FCC in the U.S., or the Office of Communication (formerly Independent Television Communication and Radio Authority) in UK, or the Australian Broadcasting Authority, or the Canadian Radio and Television Commission. But KPI's power and authority have now been stripped away by the latest government regulation on broadcasting, to be mere a body to receive application documents for radio spectrum frequency allocations, make recommendations to the Kominfo Minister and pass on the minister's reply to the applicants.

Media observers here also believe that legally, Kominfo cannot deprive KPI of its power because under the Indonesian legal system, the position of the Broadcast Law is higher than the Government Regulation. Its rulings must not supercede a higher law. However, many will recall that Article 28 of the 1945 Constitution, which respects press freedom, was also highly regarded during the Soeharto era, but at the same time it was still violated. Many newspapers and magazines were closed down during his 32-year reign. So, since President Susilo has turned the clock back more than 40 years, will history repeat itself?

The writer is a lecturer at the Dr. Soetomo Press Institute, Jakarta, and member of the Press and Broadcast Society of Indonesia (MPPI). He can be emailed here.

According to the Straits Times (paid subscription only) yesterday, the rules will take effect on Feb 6.

I'll leave it at that today whilst I attempt to frame a suitable riposte for tomorrow. Any comments will be gratefully incorporated.

Meantimes, it's worth noting that there are serious attempts afoot to control access to the internet.


4:39 pm |
Monday, January 23, 2006
  Chelsea 1 - 1 Charlton

This was a game I had to watch late last night, even though it was a very early start this morning. But it doesn't matter. I've been smiling all day because we didn't lose!

Football fans worldwide (and soccer fans Stateside) will know of the many millions of dollars ~ or is that roubles? ~ invested in Chelsea by Roman Abramovich. Fewer of you are interested in 'plucky' little Charlton, and why should you be when their entire squad has been assembled for less than the so-called value of just one of Chelsea's millionaire stars?

The preamble to the game was all about how many goals Chelsea would score and, to be honest, this seemed justified watching the first half. It was poetry in motion, with inch perfect passes, scintillating positional play and quite astonishing, almost showboating, skills. Yes, money can buy a Premiership title or two.

Chelsea hadn't dropped any points at home since last season and had only lost at home once, to Charlton it must be said, in something which used to be the League Cup or the Milk Cup or, as now, the Carling Cup. I prefer Bintang and that's what I stayed with to drown my sorrows, especially after we had fallen behind after our goalkeeper fumbled and they were one up.

Mind you, Charlton didn't exactly sit back and admire their better paid opponents like those of us glued to our TV screens. But it did seem as if Charlton were only trying to keep the score down to respectable proportions, something like 7 - 0.

Come the second half, it was a different matter. Bent scored. It wasn't Darren, whose prolificacy has caught the eye of Sven Goran Erikson, the England manager noted for the good things in life. Nope, it was our new signing Marcus who, after a good through ball from Darren, Ambrose that is, headed the ball over Peter Cheque (spelling?) into the Chelsea goal. And all without actually looking, which was either a demonstration of sublime skill or sheer luck.

No matter. We were level and there was only half an hour to go. Only? It was edge of the seat of the pants stuff from then on. They could have and should have scored and we could have and should have scored. But didn't. Charlton demonstrated the sheer guts and solid team work that the fans expect and Chelsea, their manager and owner included, began to look increasingly frazzled.

Four minutes of added time ~ why so much? ~ and with loud whoops it was time for me to slumber happily in dreamland.

We got what we deserved. And so did Chelsea.


6:00 pm |
Sunday, January 22, 2006
  Making Money From Indonesia's Internet

There's a review in today's Jakarta Post, not online, of The Internet in Indonesia's New Democracy (by David Hill and Krishna Sen, pub. Routledge. London 2005. £65)

This is a detailed study of legal, economic, political and cultural practices surrounding the provision and consumption of the Internet in Indonesia at the turn of the twenty-first century. Hill and Sen detail the emergence of the Internet into Indonesia in the mid-1990s, and cover its growth through the dramatic economic and political crises of 1997 and the subsequent transition to democracy.

Conceptually the Internet is seen as a global phenomenon, with global implications, however this book develops a way of thinking about the Internet within the limits of geo-political categories of nations and provinces. The political turmoil in Indonesia provides a unique context in which to understand the specific local and national consequences of a global, universal technology.

Dr. Merlyna Lim is also mining a similar research field: The Internet and identity politics in Indonesia, Civic Space in Indonesia, the Internet and civil society in Southeast Asia.

According to the Indonesian Internet Service Provider Association, the Internet has grown at a remarkable rate since 1998 when there were 134,000 subscribers and 512,000 users. By the end of last year they estimate that there were 1,500,000 subscribers and 16,000,000 users.

A 1100% growth rate does not, however, disguise the fact that only 1 person in 150 of the population is a subscriber nor that just 1 in 14 uses the net. I can't find an analysis of why Indonesians use the net, and I don't intend to splash out £65 (= c. Rp.1.2 million) to find out, so you'll have to make do with my educated guesses.

Most of the users will have a Hotmail or Yahoo email account which they access at weekends or in idle moments at work. They may well belong to chatrooms and forums for those moments when they're not busy developing repetitive thumb strain SMS-ing on their cellphones.

Others will be secretively seeking pictures of nubile young ladies such as Indonesia's own playmate, Tiara Lestari, when they're not using work or school sites.

Very few are seeking news and views such as these. Only 25% of my visitors emanate from Indonesia and I suspect that a good half of these are expats. Mind you, my stats are significantly lower than many Indonesian bloggers.

So, do any sites here actually generate a significant income? Possibly detik.com, a valued news portal, but not those sites, such as The Reveller's, which carry GoogleAds. As he told me this morning, his income barely covers the cost of cat food, let alone his research costs.

The main reasons for the relatively low usage of the net here are firstly that most of the population are struggling to survive and do not, therefore, actually need what the internet purports to provide. More critically perhaps, the main providers of access to hyperspace, Telkom and Indosat, are not particularly interested in improving the telecommunications infrastructure, the classic chicken and egg syndrome.

So, good luck to Messrs. Hill, Sen and Lim. You at least stand to profit from Indonesia's internet.

May your publications sell well, but why are they only available on paper?


1:00 pm |
Saturday, January 21, 2006

I'm working today, for the money of course, so you'll have to make do with tales of greed related by other local expats.

Check out Avi for his take on the massive ripoffs being perpetuated by the Tax Office in collusion with business men.

These businesses obtain fake documents for exported shipments that do not actually exist or for containers that have been exported containing no cargo at all. Somehow they hold the actual Bills of Lading and export invoices valued as high as $100,000 or more. With this in hand they are able to process the documents through the tax offices to receive a VAT (Value Added Tax) rebate.

The process is made even easier when you have corrupt officials who approve your rebates without any hassle. How much could they possibly be making with such a simple hustle? The current audit is for Rp.19 Trillion or US$2.02 Billion paid out in 2005 alone!!! US$ 2,020,000,000.00 that's a shit load of zeros mate.

Fellow blogger, who usually says Blame It On The Traffic, has a more personal tale of woe.

Recently I bought a (one, single, satu) used golf club online to complete a set of clubs I've been putting together. Given that the price of the very same item new in Jakarta golf shops is $300, I did my sums and decided that buying used for $80, adding $20 for shipping and taking into account the 50% import duty on golf equipment, for around $150 all up I'd be doing ok.

Imagine my surprise and consternation (actually, I was rather pissed off) when the customs invoice I received was for $430. Yes, import duty and taxes on a used item that cost $80 were calculated at $430. WTF?

Read on for how the customs officer got his comeuppance, and not his 'tuppence'.


9:00 am |
Friday, January 20, 2006

There's not much to relate about my visa run to Singapore yesterday, nothing that I didn't say last year, that is.

I did a lot of walking, a little shopping, had a couple of pints of IPA and a big veggie burger at Brewerkz for lunch ~ a truly excellent way of spending a couple of hours, and got my visa, thanks to our agent and S$200, with no fuss at all.

I noted that they'd pulled down a shopping centre in Orchard Road and built a bigger one in its place but didn't bother to compare the prices at Carrefour. The construction sites, streets and public transport were all spotless; perhaps the highlight was getting a Mercedes Benz taxi, although that was a little cramped.

Every third person walked and talked into handphones. Every second person was shopping or had been and I noted an underclass of newspaper and ice cream vendors, buskers and neatly turned out beggars. The expat wives with young children didn't look very happy and nor did the tourists.

Every shopkeeper I paid a visit to ..... let me rephrase that ... every shopkeeper I paid, said "Have a nice day" when the transaction was complete.

What I really liked was to be able to experience the smell of a tropical rainforest. There are little patches in the medians between the expressways and close to some upmarket apartment blocks. There are also birds chirruping away.

And now I'm back in the anarchic chaos of Jakarta which can be most infuriating at times, but, hey, it's never boring.


5:00 pm |
Thursday, January 19, 2006
  A High Building In Singapore

It's a high building in Singapore that holds the only beauty for this San Francisco day where I am walking down the street, feeling terrible and watching my mind function with the efficiency of a liquid pencil.

A young mother passes by talking to her little girl who is really too small to be able to talk, but she's talking anyway and very excitedly to her mother about something. I can't quite make out what she is saying because she's so little.

I mean, this is a tiny kid.

Then her mother answers her to explode my day with a goofy illumination. "It was a high building in Singapore," she says to the little girl who enthusiastically replies like a bright sound-coloured penny, "Yes, it was a high building in Singapore!"
fr. Richard Brautigan - Revenge of the Lawn

I'm walking down a street in Singapore thinking of Jakarta.
I wish I was in San Francisco.


11:00 am |
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
  Cruel and unusual punishment

I could be referring to Indosat who have sent me yet another bill for phone calls I have not made on a handphone I have not got.

But I'm not.

I could be referring to the repairs done to the wall of the house next door which have left my roof drainage system clogged with debris. The result is a massive new leak onto my book shelves.

But I'm not.

I could be referring to the new busway routes which have caused some almighty traffic jams, but I'm not because I'm optimistic that they will eventually reduce the number of motorists in town once the full system is operational.

I could be referring to my visa trip to Singapore on Thursday on a flight which leaves at 6.30 am. But I'm not, even though leaving home at 4am is certainly cruel.

This is mainly because I'll have sufficient time to do some shopping and still be able to have a ploughman's lunch at Brewerkz at Clarke Quay. (If there are any Singapore bloggers who want to swap blogging tales, why not join me around 1pm? As I don't have a handphone, perhaps you could email me before 8pm on Wednesday to say you expect to be there.)

No, my life's vicissitudes pale into significance with the news that the Terminator, currently strutting his pectorals as Governor of California, has lived up to his role in rejecting calls for a stay of execution of a 76-year-old blind wheelchair-user who was also almost deaf.

Clarence Ray Allen was sentenced to death in 1982 for ordering the murder of a witness to his murder of his son's 17-year-old girlfriend, who he had killed to stop her telling police about his robbery of a grocery store.

Allen was in jail for her murder when the subsequent killings took place. The hit-man killed the witness and two bystanders.

Okay. Allen was a monster, yet he was sentenced to death for a murder he did not actually commit.

Allen's lawyers argued that execution in his frail state violated the US constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, as did the 23 years he spent on death row for the killings.

What is more, Annette Carnegie, one of Allen's lawyers, argued that his frail state was the result of his imprisonment. "These infirmities are not simply the result of the passage of time or of old age, as some would suggest, but result from prison authorities' deliberate neglect of his medical needs while in the state's custody," she said.

23 years on death row. Blind, almost deaf and frail because of a lack of medical treatment. If that wasn't enough, Allen's heart stopped in September, but doctors revived him and returned him to death row.

I live in a country which still seeks the death penalty for certain crimes, such as drug smuggling, and regularly carries out extra-judicial killings to protect the big fish, as Indcoup reports today.

Singapore offers a more transparent system of justice than here, yet Jakartass will always be implacably opposed to state sanctioned killings, everywhere.

The punishment meted out to Clarence Allen today demonstrated just how callous states can be.

Just? I don't think so.


6:00 pm |
Sunday, January 15, 2006
  Fatalism and Mysticism 3

Don't underestimate the spirits, I had to get a new car after everyone refused to use it. Was involved in an accident and thereafter was haunted .. apparently.

So commented Oigal following the post below. I'm not sure if his accident was in the new or old car, but I won't deny that the mind can lead us down some interesting paths.

For example, was it significant that I should write about 'white magic' on Friday 13th? I think not, but I do know some folk who would have touched wood or a four-leaved clover, crossed their fingers or performed another ritual to ward off the evil eye on such a supposedly inauspicious day.

Jakartass Towers is predominantly a Batak household but 'Er Indoors is my source of information, with the help of some careful googling, for much of my new-found knowledge about the wherefores (if not the whys) of Javanese mysticism.

Firstly, there is the all-important Javanese calendar which is combined with the western calendar for modern life, all types of commerce, intra-national and international communications and the Islamic Hijriah calendar, whose 12 months of 29 or 30 days are based on a lunar cycle and used to mark days of religious importance for Javanese and other Muslims in this overwhelmingly Islamic nation.

There are various cycles in the Javanese calendar, starting with Pasaran. This comes from a time when most of the Javanese population lived in tightly knit village clusters which converged at a market center (pasar) where the cluster's inhabitants gathered once every five days to buy and sell. Itinerant merchants linked groups of five village clusters together into marketing networks, moving to a different market on each day of the five-day cycle

Remnants of a rotating market system can be found throughout Indonesia, including Jakarta with its districts Pasar Senen, Pasar Rebo, Pasar Jumat and Pasar Minggu.

The Pasaran calendar is combined with the 7-day Western/Arabic week to form the single most widespread divinatory tool in Javanese culture, as well as the most common method of determining the proper time for the holding of important rituals: the Wetonan cycle.

This produces a 35 day cycle which is repeated ad infinitum although successive groups of thirty-five days are neither assigned names nor grouped into a Javanese "year". If you were born, say, on Kemis Wagé (Javanese Thursday + Pasaran day 4), then every thirty-five days the wheels of the 5- and 7-day weeks click together again on Kemis Wagé and it is your Javanese "birthday" (your weton).

This cycle figures prominently in a great number of traditional divinitory systems, from predicting human character, fate, and vocational talents, to determining compatible partners in marriage, gambling strategies, and auspicious days for practically any activity you can think of. It also figures in the timing of many ritual meals (slametan). Even spirits and devils are said to have their favorite days for carousing, the eve of Jumat Kliwon (Javanese Friday + Pasaran day 5) being the most popular!

So Friday 13th isn't auspicious here, but Friday Kliwon is. The site I've quoted from goes on to give details of seasons and years, but what may be of greater interest to western readers could be that it was last updated two years ago on Friday February 13.

Shall we put that down to serendipity or happenstance? Or maybe it's a coincidence which (as in the literal meaning, "to coincide") is one of the central pillars of Javanese aesthetics. Javanese gamelan music, wherein individual instrumental melodies diverge from each other and then converge again upon important structural tones, is an obvious example.

Similarly in the wetonan calendar cycle, the periodic coincidence of two independent time-keeping systems has a significance whose source is far deeper within the spiritual fabric of the culture than mere surface intellectualization.

Incidentally/coincidentally ~ take your pick, February 13th is my birthday. According to this calculator, my weton is Rebo Legi (Javanese Wednesday+ Pasaran day 1). However, this year February 13th falls on a Monday, which is also a Legi, but not actually my Javanese birthday.

I've yet to understand how the above relates to Jakartass. Perhaps I should stick to the little I do know which is that I'm an Aquarian and a Fire Dog.

Fire Dogs are popular, charismatic people, always surrounded by a group of admirers. Not only admired for their vibrant personalities, these Dogs also possess a sexual attractiveness that makes them irresistible.

Need I say more?


1:00 pm |
Friday, January 13, 2006
  Fatalism and Mysticism 2

Dotted around Jakartass Towers, on door and window lintels, are liitle packages generally wrapped in red paper with Chinese characters. Inside are what appear to dried herbs and roots. Every bag and drawer also a similar package inside; I've never removed the one in my briefcase.

Now I do know that they've been placed in these strategic positions by 'Er Indoors as a form of 'security blanket' for our affairs.

When Our Kid was still a toddler he'd regularly have a very high temperature and, to our dread, these would cause a paralytic seizure. Ibu Cillitan was there to help with her (Christian) prayers, a massage and little packages to ward off recurrences.

Ibu Cillitan is a very wise old woman who has long been a source of reassurance to us at times of trouble and strife.

We always come away from her kampung, near Cililitan bus station in South Jakarta ~ hence my name for her, with some oleh-oleh, those gifts of regional snacks which Indonesians give to friends and colleagues after a journey away from the metropolis. And more packages with Chinese characters are placed in strategic places in our house.

When in Jakarta, Ibu lives with her extended family in a modest house situated in an alley. I've never seen her with make up or 'dressed up'. She looks like everyone's grandmother and a housewife and, in essence, that is what she is.

We are not the only ones to avail ourselves of Ibu's help. There are always queues of supplicants, if that's the right word, although such is the bond between 'Er Indoors and Ibu that we always seem to the ones who are invited into the inner sanctum which is dominated by the latest megascreen TV.

There are no fees, but folk contribute according to their means and gratitude. We know that Ibu has a large house 'in Java' to which we've been invited but have yet to visit.

We also know that Ibu Tien Suharto consulted her. I don't know whether Suharto's wife ever went to the kampung or whether Ibu went to the Presidential palace by 'royal appointment'. The point is, I suppose, that all levels of Indonesian society trust the powers of mere mortals.

And, to a certain extent, so does Jakartass because she has been on hand when I've suffered physical ailments such as a trapped nerve or a crocked knee. She has also given comfort, and little packages, when 'Er Indoors has consulted her about, for example, my occasional periods of underemployment. I presume that Ibu's powers are long-term because, apart from those physical ailments, she has never supplied a quick fix.

In Part 3 I will supply further anecdotes of how belief in non-religious powers are there to be witnessed by those of us with embedded lives here.

Meantimes, through, presumably, mutual telepathic powers, Yosef Ardi today offers further insights into the role of Javanese mysticism in the functioning of the Indonesian government.

Apparently, SBY has a "bad aura", so all the bad things he has had to deal with since he came to power, like the tsunami, earthquakes, floods, avian flu, bombings, plane crashes etc., are all to do with what he inherited right from his early life.

So today a Javanese cleric conducted the second cleaning up of the president's bad luck in a ritual called ruwatan.

Javanese rituals are so varied and distinctive. Amidst this ethnic diversity, one that is known by most people to eliminate the ill-fated destiny of someone's future is Ruwatan sukerta, or more simply Ruwatan. The word Ruwatan comes from word ruwat meaning free, the suffix -an changes the word into a noun, so Ruwatan means the action of making someone free or clean from dirt, unluckiness, impurity, and filth.

If you want to know more about this ritual, Yosef links us to a website which could well be of greater value than the efforts of SBY's own team's efforts to clean up his image.



6:00 pm |
Thursday, January 12, 2006
  Normal service will not be resumed ....
.... because it hasn't even started here.

All three letters in today's Jakarta Post, not online, have legitimate grouses about appalling lack of service.

One details how Bank Negara Indonesia (BNI) have decided that every customer must have an ATM card, thus giving them the excuse to charge an additional 140% in administration charges. This is, of course, a bit steep for all those youngsters ~ in the case of the correspondent, his two year old ~ and remote villagers who do not have access to a BNI ATM

Enough is enough. In a free society no company can force us to buy a product we do not want, do not need and cannot even use.

It could be that BNI are trying to recapitalise following the massive frauds at the bank.

The Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) said yesterday it pinpointed 97 cases of suspected irregularities in credit management and procurement projects at Bank Negara Indonesia (BNI) between 2003 and 2004, with potential losses of at least Rp 1.1 trillion (US$110 million).

BNI president Sigit Pramono termed the report about the state-owned lender "a misunderstanding".

Presumably the arrest of the top policeman involved in the investigation, on corruption charges naturally, is also a misunderstanding.

Another correspondent details how she signed up for a Citibank credit card. On Dec 23rd, Citibank called her (again) asking for a minimum payment but, as she said, how could she be expected to pay if she had no card or bill.

She has still not received the card but since Dec 24th Citibank debt collectors have been contacting (her) at least three times a day. On Jan 2nd she called Citibank who said that they had already sent the card, but as (she) was not at home it had been destroyed..

Another reason given was that Citibank had the wrong address, even though they had a copy of her ID card and two phone numbers.

She signs off: This is my first and last experience with Citibank.

The final letter offers insights into the complete lack of service at QB Books Plaza Semanggi compared with a branch in Jl. Sunda. It involves a recent offer of discounts of varying amounts on books purchased. There are no conditions on the flyers or posters announcing the offer.

When I thanked the staff at QB Books Plaza Semanggi when they returned my credit card, I didn't even get a smile in return.

This seems to be a mite pernickety compared to the other complaints.

And mine.

I have an email account with Indosat, which is so profitable that the Indonesian government want to buy back shares they sold a few years back shortly after the IMF came to the rescue of this bankrupt country.

Indosat profits do not come from their email service which cannot guarantee a stable connection or to cut out the spam. No, their profits come from their cellular phone business, including a newish service called Matrix.

At the Indosat HQ there is a cashier for cell phone customers while we luddites who have not got a handphone, do not want a handphone and, even if I did, would not want an Indosat account, have to pay at a Bank Mandiri branch next door in order to rejoin the original queue.

So, how come I keep getting bills for phone calls I have not made on a phone I have not got? It doesn't bother me that the total is now way over Rp.500,000 because I won't pay it. However, I did, eventually, get through to the 24 hour customer service department to inform them of their cock up. After nigh on thirty minutes of explaining the situation, I got an agreement that they would sort things out and ring me back.

This was just before Xmas and I'm still awaiting their call. Meantimes, a courier has delivered yet another bill. This one I refused to accept. I scrawled, in my best bahasa, words to the effect that Indosat are a bunch of incompetent w**kers I wouldn't trust with running a coffee stall and if they couldn't get their act together I would write about their attempts at extortion in my blog.

This I have now done.


4:10 pm |
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
  Judge Not lest ye be judged
Matthew 7:1

There was much rending of cloaks in the South Jakarta District Court this week as Herman Alossitandi became the first judge to be arrested since the 1950s. He was taken into custody by investigators from a joint team of the Attorney General's Office and the National Police.

The arrest was made based on information from a court clerk, Djemy Andrian Lumanouw, who was arrested last week after allegedly attempting to extort Rp.200 million from Walter Sigalingging, a key witness in a Rp.311 billion graft case involving a former head of the state social security agency, Jamsostek.

Hendarman Supandji, who leads the joint team, said yesterday that investigators also obtained evidence against Herman during telephone conversations between the judge and Djemy.

"He asked the court clerk to demand money from the witness. So far, the case does not involve any other judges," he said.

A spokesman for the South Jakarta District Court, which has earned the reputation as the "dirtiest" district court in the capital, raised concern over the incident.

"This incident is shocking," Judge Johanes Suhadi said. He also said that if Herman was brought to trial, the case would not be heard at the South Jakarta District Court for the sake of impartiality.

This court has long been associated with the high and mighty and has a well-earned reputation, but not for 'impartiality'. This has never been a word which could be associated with a bunch of judges who've found every excuse to not try Suharto and his cronies.

Other good news, for skeptics anyway, is that the black magic powers I mentioned yesterday are obviously waning.


6:00 pm |
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
  Fatalism and Mysticism* 1

Today is Hari Raya Idul Ahda, the day when the streets run with blood as cows and goats are silenced in a ritual slaughter. I was going to blog about it but my fellow Expat in Jakarta beat me to it.

Another blogger, Yosef Ardi, has set off a train of thought which I'd like to share with you. Being Indonesian, with a particular interest in the goings on among the élite, he offers insights into the realms of psyche which an expat cannot hope to fully understand. One particular post of his touches on the psychic.

On July 4, 2001, Indonesia's Attorney General Baharuddin Lopa died of a heart ailment in a hospital in Saudi Arabia. That was the formal statement from the State Palace. But the then-minister of defense, Mahfud MD, said that time, Lopa and his predecessor realized that their positions were vulnerable to possible poisoning or black-magic practices. This was a reference to Indonesians' belief in the mystical powers, for good or evil, possessed by dukun (witch doctors). The evil witch doctors are called 'dukun santet'.

The corruption charges against former president Soeharto were to be Lopa's priorities.

Lopa was one of Indonesia's good guys and an early 'martyr' to the reformasi movement.

More recently, on Thursday, January 4, 2006, Special Prosecutor heading the Anti-Corruption Team Hendarman Supandji, claimed that he was the target of black magic campaign.

"My bed was full of death maggots (belatung in Indonesian language)," Hendarman told the press after reporting the progress in anti-corruption efforts to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Attorney General Abdul Rahman Saleh responded the black magic campaign saying he was ready to challenge those witch doctors. "We're not afraid of santet. We will move on with our drives to eradicate corruption," he said.

Javanese mysticism became embedded in the Indonesian state ideology, Pancasila, which was used by Suharto to enslave the masses and by his cronies to enrich themselves and their families. Reviews of scholarly accounts of this intermeshing can be read here.

Most Javanese are Muslims, but there is a also a distinctive kejawen, "Javaneseness", incorporating elements of mysticism or kebatinan. In Mysticism in Java, Mulder describes both this and the ways in which it has influenced broader Indonesian ideologies.

While kebatinan draws on earlier strands (Hindu-Buddhist and Islamic), it is a product of the colonial encounter, and in particular of the courts in south-central Java in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The resurgence of Javanese mysticism has seen it given formal status by the state, but not accepted as full partner to the official religions. Accompanying this has been an increasing emphasis in kebatinan on monotheism and differentiation from klenik or black magic.

The spirit world and mysticism is not, of course, confined to the Javanese here, nor indeed to Indonesia. Every religion has at its core a belief in a 'world beyond', one that is unseen yet knowable through a seeming tangibility.

In Part 2 I'll give you an insight into how there are manifestations of the unknowable in Jakartass Towers, even though 'Er Indoors isn't a Javanese lass.

*Perhaps 'metaphysics' would have been a better word to use as it deals with first principles and seeks to explain the nature of being, whereas mysticism relates to matters beyond human comprehension. (Websters)


1:00 pm |
Monday, January 09, 2006
  SBY to polish up his image

There is a lot of doom and gloom in Indonesia today, and I don't mean the storm that is about to test our roof.

There is the acknowledgement that disasters are a result of 'disregard' for land use allocations as the search for for more victims of the recent survivors is called off, teaching is seen as a last resort job option and mothers abusing their children. Hardly signs of a positive future.

The gloom is about the hundreds of hectares of marijuana ... allegedly being grown in North Sumatra province by a drug syndicate (while) the police appear to be unable or unwilling to take action.

I'm not an advocate for drug use, which is why I intend to give up smoking ~ soon. But I do wonder why the police should be bothered about a drug which offers a measure of relatively risk-free social pleasure. Besides, as the UK has discovered, there are many more organic highs which are not classified as illegal. Here too, as Indcoup relates, there is a substance, tongkat ali, which is better for you than viagra, or so it is claimed.

Anyway, I digress.

The most positive news today is that SBY is having a website set up to highlight his daily activities.

Aside from presenting information on the presidential institution, the website will also be filled with realtime news articles from journalists who would be specifically employed by the presidential spokesmen.

The website will function as a means to diversify information related to the activities of President Susilo and First Lady Ani Yudhoyono to the public, one of the website's consultants, Roy Suryo, said.

The website, which is expected to be launched in the middle of January, will also present private pictures of the President and family, public announcements and greetings, as well as a facility for the public to file complaints and input for the President.

It's worth noting that it was Roy Suryo who reported Yogya blogger, Herman Saksono, to the police for publishing this picture.

I doubt that it will pop up on SBY's website which is yet to have a URL but could be president-ri.com, president-ri.go.id, presidentindonesia.go.id, istananegara.go.id, istana-presiden.go.id or presidensby.go.id.

I'd suggest an SBY blog as this would allow "complaints and input". I would, but there's a budget of just under Rp 100 million (around US$10,100), excluding costs for monthly maintenance. This seems excessive for a blog, even one as sophisticated as Jakartass.

With that budget, which works out at about a dollar for each of us in Indonesia with internet access, they can splash out on flash graphics, loads of popup banners, lurid graphics and the national anthem, Indonesia Raya, tinkling in the background.

All the web designers need to do is to gain access to some of those hectares in North Sumatra and they can create yet another one of those psychedelic websites so beloved by the government.

But, as Marek relates, it will still be bloody difficult to access the site!!


6:30 pm |
Sunday, January 08, 2006
  A New Leaf

Later this year, on a day I've already determined for reasons of my own, I will drastically change my lifestyle.

It's got nothing to do with the new bylaw on air pollution and the regulation on smoke-free zones issued by the City Hall. After all, few bother with obeyance to any official decrees in this country.

Way back in the 1980s, Jakarta had a regulation against littering. The enforcement action against litter-bugs in Jakarta included a jail term and a Rp 50,000 fine. Dumbfounded passengers read the stickers plastered on bus seats and at stations, wondering whether the command, "no littering", was for real. In the years that followed it was clear how few of us had changed our ways.

Now in the 21st century that regulation must be buried under the mounds of trash that have become mountains over the years.

I was disturbed to read in today's Observer about an ex-smoker who stubbed out his last cigarette two years ago but is finding that even the slightest exercise leaves him puffed out. But that's not my reason.

Neither is my music soundtrack as I type this out. It's a wonderful album of Malinese music, Baro by Habib Koite & Bamada which is hypnotic, with haunting melodies and virtuoso guitar playing. It contains a new, Latin-style version of Koite's first hit 'Cigarette A Bana', which has the repeated refrain of "No more cigarettes".

No, hypnotic or not, that's not going to stop me.

And I won't stop smoking because a colleague has: he's got a housemate to help him and I'm not sure that 'Er Indoors will be with me on this one.

No, as I wrote above, I've got my own reasons.

World Music Discoveries

Music is an international language so I'm a magpie where it is concerned. I'll give a listen to anything which moves me without being bombastic, which is not 'fashionable' or made with a consumer market in mind and bend an ear to any musician who demonstrates integrity, a personal voice so to speak (sing?).

Son No.1 kindly sent me loads of new stuff for Xmas ~ new to me that is.

Harry Manx has been called an "essential link" between the music of East and West, creating musical short stories that wed the tradition of the Blues with the depth of classical Indian ragas. He has created a unique sound that is hard to forget and deliciously addictive to listen to.

Indeed. His Road Ragas gets played every day in Jakartass Towers. I asked Son No.1 how come he'd heard of Harry.

Very bizarre story. A good friend of mine, Lotte, was hitchiking through Canada with her husband when she got a lift with this happy guy who was a cheerful soul and very stoned. They got chatting, and apparently he played a bit etc etc. Anyway, when they got out at a nearby town, they said their goodbyes, and upon entering a cafe found it was daubed with all these posters of a local musician - Harry Manx, who they recognised as the guy that had given them a lift.... Intrigued they brought a cd, and then one for me as they knew I liked obscure blues.

It's probably my most copied CD.

Leon Redbone is what most people would describe as an eccentric. In another day and age, Leon Redbone would be a wandering troubadour carrying the songs of a distant age to new and wanting ears and we would learn an important lesson about friendship and the power of music to salve the human condition..

He is a musical archaeologist, culling in our unconscious a memory of forgotten songs from an era half-remembered even by those still living who experienced it. His gentle, genuine appreciation for both the material and the listener resonates with an authenticity lacking in even the best-costumed revivalists.

Fritz Richmond, who has died of cancer aged 66, was the premier jug and washtub bass player of the psychedelic era. An odd distinction, to be certain, but his work with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band was instrumental in preserving and popularizing the roots music of the pre-World War II era. Jugbands - groups of African-American musicians playing popular songs on string and percussion instruments - were fashionable in the 1920s. The role of the bass was taken by a player who blew across the mouth of an oil can or fruit-jar to create what has been described, accurately, as a musical fart.

In his mid-teens he began playing washtub bass with friends. After the US Army he returned to Boston's rich folk scene, playing his tub bass at Club 47 in Cambridge and working with artists such as Tom Rush. Another friend was John Sebastian, to whom he gave a name for his band, the Lovin' Spoonful. Richmond also started the fashion for "granny" glasses with coloured lenses. He said that he wore them to hide the fact that jug-blowing made him crosseyed - "especially", he would add, "if I was stoned".

His washtub bass is preserved at the Smithsonian Institution.

Try these soundbytes:


3:00 pm |
Saturday, January 07, 2006
  Fast Follow ups

1. Immigration Matters

First Secretary Information Affairs of the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore, Widya Rahmanto has written to clarify that the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Singapore does not issue extensions of visas as stated in the letter I quoted on Wednesday. Instead, the Embassy only issues the types of visa and the fees as follows:
Transit Visa S$30
Tourist Visa S$70
Single Business/Social & Cultural Visa S$70
Multiple Business Visa S$140
Semi-permanent Visa S$110.

The Embassy does not charge extra to any visa applicants and all the fees are publicly shown at the immigration counter. In this case, if (the correspondent) had paid extra charges for applying for one of the above mentioned visas, I hope he could kindly provide the Embassy with the date of application, type of visa he applied for and name of person (if any) whom he had paid the extra charges to. The Embassy is very concerned about this matter because we do not and will not tolerate any illegal practices by our officials.

If (he) was complaining about how he extends his stay in Indonesia, it means he was referring to the formal procedure that he as a foreigner has to respect.

I'm off to Singapore on Thursday to obtain a "Semi-permanent Visa". I've budgetted S$200 for it.

2. Yesterday I suggested that allowing the rural poor to build flimsy dwellings on land which is known to be prone to slippage is criminally negligent.

I'm glad that SBY agrees.

Yesterday, the government urged people living in disaster-prone areas across Java to move to safer places to minimize loss of human life, as flooding and landslides would strike again in the near future.

Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie said the government would also update the map of disaster-prone areas and distribute them to regional administrations down to the village level on a monthly basis to help them prepare for evacuation and thus prevent fatalities.

"We expect that these people would move voluntarily or be willing to be relocated to safer places for the sake of their own lives," he said, after accepting a 13 million Yen (US$112,069) donation from the Japanese government, handed over by Japanese Embassy Minister Masafumi Kuroki.

The Jakarta Post does not report what the Japanese donation is intended for.


3:00 pm |
Friday, January 06, 2006
  Disaster Planning

SBY urges local govts to plan for disasters

That seems to be hell of a fatalistic approach, but a closer reading of the front page article in today's Jakarta Post indicates a more than cursory approach to the recent deaths from landslides and flooding in Java.

SBY yesterday instructed regional government heads to prepare contingency plans to prevent more fatalities.

In Jakarta, Coordinating Minister for the People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie said the government would create a detail map of areas prone to flooding and landslides to help regional governments create civil defense strategies.

The government has blamed persistent torrential rain for the landslide. However, environmentalists say deforestation caused by illegal logging and land clearing was the root cause.

I would have thought that both were to blame, but not according to a recent report issued by the UN's food and agriculture organisation (FAO) and the Centre for International Forestry Research (Cifor).

Massive flooding is not usually caused by extensive deforestation, contrary to popular belief. A ban on logging and other government responses to widespread flooding are misplaced and potentially harmful, it says.

"The frequency of major flooding events has remained the same over the last 120 years going back to the days when lush forests were abundant," the director-general of Cifor, David Kaimowitz, said.

Patrick Durst of the FAO said that governments were at risk of making knee-jerk reactions. "Politicians want to be seen to be doing something but it can cost many people their livelihoods," he said.

Obviously, what needs changing is the laissez-faire attitude of bureaucrats who are supposedly responsible for the welfare of citizens within their purview.

In Bandung, the state geological office said warning letters had been sent out to regions prone to disasters, including Jember and Banjarnegara (scenes of the recent landslides) but had apparently fallen on deaf ears.

"The letters were sent but we have had no response," Yousana Siagian, of the Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Directorate, said.

Disasters will happen; that's a given. But allowing the rural poor to build flimsy dwellings on land which is known to be prone to slippage is criminally negligent.

The Indonesian village of Cijeruk, 230 miles east of Jakarta, after Tuesday's landslide
. Photograph: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images

What, to my mind, is possibly worse, is the voyeurism which accompanies these regular and preventable events.

The relief effort (in Jember) was impeded by the throngs of curious bystanders whose cars and motorcycles jammed the narrow road leading to the area, causing congestion for about six kilometers.

"It's insane. Too many onlookers have hampered evacuation efforts. It should not happen," Minister of Social Affairs Bachtiar Chamsyah said. Several ministers, including Bachtiar and Aburizal, had to walk several kilometers to reach the site.

As did the rescue teams.


5:30 pm |
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
  Rip Offs

1. A friend writes.

On our last trip to Indonesia, on 28th November last year, our credit card got f**ked over by an over the counter transaction according to Bankwest in Australia. This took place at BII (Bank Indonesia Internasional).in Bukittingi, West Sumatra.

(Yesterday) someone from China tried to draw $4,000.00; lucky the card only had a $2,000.00 limit, which is why they contacted me. Also they were suss because the same card had been used in Australia just 2 hours prior to the China transaction.

Apparently this has happened twice this week in Bali BII outlets. Card holders beware!

Today the Jakarta Post reports that Bank Indonesia has issued a number of regulations for credit card holders.

a. One, which took effect on Dec. 28, 2005, requires credit card holders to have a minimum salary of three times the minimum wage set by their local administration, in addition to limiting the maximum number of loans that can be given to holders to twice their monthly salary.

b. This came on top of another ruling, effective early in December, obliging credit card issuers to ensure their cardholders pay a minimum monthly payment of 10 percent of their outstanding debt.

These rulings come at a time when critics are on the rise over the lack of supervision of the credit card business, which may well lead to rising number of bad debts, as people could easily be a multiple cardholder without a sound financial situation.

Of course, these rulings are designed to protect the card issuing banks and financial institutions.

As of last August, non-performing loans through credit cards amounted to Rp 1.08 trillion, or 7.17 percent of total credit card debt.

Now we eagerly await new rules protecting cardholders from being ripped off by the self same cash rich banks.

2. A correspondent in today's Jakarta Post writes about the corrupt immigration department.

As foreigners, we are required to drop by to the immigration office with great frequency.

We have never once managed to get our papers processed without some kind of extra charge, and these charges are rising quicker than the inflation rate. Every extension for a family of four costs at least Rp 3 million, and applying for an exit permit costs another Rp 1 million.

Once a year you might renew your visa, for example, in Singapore, and a few million rupiah will be asked at the embassy there. Not to mention all the hassles of renewing documents every year at different offices. Corrupt immigration officers are just everywhere; it is impossible to avoid them and they cost us a fortune.

It's good that SBY has prioritised reform.

"Irregularities at immigration offices are getting more serious, which is worrisome. It's time for us to reform the offices' management and supervision," he said after a limited Cabinet meeting on the performance of immigration offices.

Meanwhile, back in Blighty, there's a different scam being operated by the UK Immigration Department.

The Home Office yesterday opened an investigation into allegations that officials had operated a "sex for passports" scam at the Lunar House immigration centre in Croydon, south London.

Jakartass is due a Singapore trip this month for a visa renewal. I look forward to experiencing the reformasi of the immigration department at first hand.

It's a long time since someone asked me for sex.


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