Sunday, March 30, 2008
  A polymath in his own mould

This past week has been potentially one of those life-changing periods which are, for me at least, quite rare. Keeping interested when everything seems to be the same old, same old, isn't that easy.

I've already chronicled the book launch, and I mentioned that among the friends 'Er Indoors and I reconnected with were Irfan Korstchak and his wife. What Irfan didn't tell us was that he has also written a book about Jakarta. Entitled Nineteen: That's life but not as we know it, and reviewed in today's Sunday Post, it is a series of interviews with "some of the people we see every day -- but don't notice. The book covers the lives of 19 street vendors, ranging from the ubiquitous warung and kaki lima vendors (meals on wheels), a blind masseuse and a young sex worker, among others. Each person's story is told in text and photographs across four to six pages".

Published by Mercy Corps-Indonesia, as yet I have no information about sales outlets or price. However, any book which demonstrates "a deep respect for the experiences of the subjects, without ever dissolving into pity or being patronizing" and which helps our understanding of the world around us is worthy of appreciation. I look forward to reading it.

As Jakartass, I was interviewed by Isyana Artharini, a journalist from the afternoon issue of Media Indonesia, because apparently this blog is "extremely rich in describing daily life in Jakarta." I hope to have advance notice of when the interview is published so you can all make a mad dash into the traffic jams around town and buy a copy. Then you can let me know what I actually said.

Among the points I do recall rambling on about is that I love rambling on about different things, and that this blog is therefore a reflection of my different interests and concerns. That the quality of life is paramount in my thoughts is because I'm a parent, which leads me to my next point.

Our Kid is about to take what, in the UK, used to be called the 11 Plus. Yesterday, I went to his school to have a good old chinwag with his class teacher and the Vice-Principal about his potential for passing and thus 'graduating'. What I hadn't realised is that he has to pass three subjects, Indonesian, maths and science, none of which I can help him with.

In my day back in the UK, the level of maths and science he, and every Grade 6 child throughout the country, has to master were not taught in primary school, but later. Other subjects were considered important and we were encouraged to explore. That all the tests here are multiple-choice only renders the subjects even more pre-determined. There is no room for interpretation or experimentation. Furthermore, there is an urgent need to re-educate the test-setters. Few indeed are the tests taken which do not have errors of fact, thus ensuring the correct quota of failures.

Is it any wonder that school is something to be endured? Thankfully, there is now a backlash among educationalists seeking an escape from the moralistic and uptight strictures of self-appointed arbiters of learning.

Can you tell which of the following two quotations refers to the English education system and which to the Indonesian?

"We teach students many subjects at school every day, yet we do not teach them how to learn. There is a missing link; we want them to be successful but abandon them when they ask how to do so. I suggest students be taught learning skills from an early age and learn how to think critically so they become independent and pure learners throughout their lives."

"Teachers want a return to a system which is liberal and flexible and not top-down [and] imposed by government. We want a return to a time when there was a potential for magic moments in the classroom."

Aah, and indeed, wow. Magic moments are those which surprise and invigorate. There aren't many of those to be found deciding which of the A,B,C or D circles on a computer answer sheet needs to be filled in with a 2B pencil.

Although there is always a need for specialists and experts, in order for humanity to develop we need explorers. Just as there is supposedly a thin line between genius and madness, there is probably a thin line between specialism, obsession and addiction.

It may be that for some who blog our writing is a sign that we have endured dysfunctional relationships, so readers can help with our recuperation. Simon Garfield, for example, found himself seeking professional help when his stamp collecting took second place to his marital relationship, so he wrote a book about it.

I don't think I'm obsessive to any great degree, so you don't find me chronicling, with notes and photos, food I've tried in various restaurants around town, unlike Jenz, who loves to eat around Jakarta, even when she's already "quite full". (I won't deny that there is a need within the blogosphere for specific interest niches. Perhaps I should set up a special site annotating the music I've listened to whilst typing this ~ Moondog, Emilié Simon, Delta Sax Quartet, Baaba Maal, anyone?)

An interview with Donald Sutherland, "a sperm-filled waxwork with the eyes of a masturbator" (according to Federico Fellini who cast Sutherland as Casanova), also describes him as a polymath - a person of great and diversified learning according to my Websters. Now that, I can identify with - the polymath bit, I mean.

As Isyana Artharini and I agreed, there are few blogs like Jakartass around. I know a little about a lot of things because I am curious. Through writing here, I've learned a lot and I generally provide several links which, because they serve as background and back-up for my musings, will also help you to explore further and, if you wish, to challenge my thinking..

That the majority of those posting their musings online generally stick to a fairly limited subject matter could well be a reflection of the paucity of the education system. If the curriculum states that black is black and white is white, where is the grey to exercise their grey matter?

This also probably accounts for the restricted thought patterns of those promoting sections of the Electronic Information and Transactions Law which outlaw the promotion of or access to NSFW sites.*

Sad, really. If these over-grown schoolboys, who are no doubt going through their mid-life crises, had looked beyond those pornography sites whose images they have been downloading in order to condemn them, they could discovered some recently published research. This has shown that male masturbators generally have a lowered risk of getting prostate cancer. Images which stimulate sexual desire therefore have a medical function. For once, science transcends art. Beauty is in the hands of the beholder, so to speak.

Get a life guys. Make a friend and go out and play, assuming you haven't built a shopping mall where a playground ought to be.
* It's important to recognise that the main focus of this law is on providing security for e-transactions, legalising e-documents and providing protection of personal data on the internet, for which we can give two cheers.

The third cheer will be awarded when the telecommunications providers ensure ready broadband access for all, and not just the rich folks in their enclaves.



4:00 pm |
Saturday, March 29, 2008
  Earth Hour

We're invited to "see the difference."

In 2008, 24 global cities will participate in Earth Hour at 8pm on March 29. Earth Hour is the highlight of a major campaign to encourage businesses, communities and individuals to take the simple steps needed to cut their emissions on an ongoing basis. It is about simple changes that will collectively make a difference - from businesses turning off their lights when their offices are empty, to households turning off appliances rather than leaving them on standby.

Jakarta is not one of those 24 cities, but then we're used to power cuts of more than an hour, so what would be the difference?

Besides, it's a Saturday, so most offices are already empty and dark. Restaurants and street stalls have candles and oil lamps to hand as a matter of course, as do most households.

Whether the City Hall thinks of switching off those annoying illuminated street hoardings is another matter. They serve as lighting on many roads, so maybe it would be unwise to dim them.


6:00 pm |
Friday, March 28, 2008
  I'm going to talk about pornography.

No, I don't need a boost in my circulation - I'm talking about this blog and not my medical condition. Both are fairly big and strong, but if you don't believe me, look at my stats or ask 'Er Indoors. Still, I must be very careful not to turn you on by using words like s*x or l*st or t*t, and I c*nt talk about b*easts or m*stication or even the chocolate factory owner W*lly W*nka because it's now against the law. And given that this is an English language site, what shall I call marquisa? P*ssion fruit is also about to be illegal. Mind you, I think there are three words I can use because I've never written about this particular topic. Just google 'Paul Scholes penis' and you'll end up here.

"End up"? Whoops, sorry, but at least I didn't say anything about "getting your end away". Nope, you won't get any dirty talk here. This reminds me of a blind date I didn't c*nsummate in spite of her offer of sharing a mud bath ~ in the n*de, naturally.

Seriously folks, what are we to make of the newly passed law banning online pornography? This "criminalizes the use, transmission and provision of pornographic websites." Apparently "the government has a one-year period to draft regulations to enforce the law and publicize it before it is implemented."

Yet first, of course, they must define pornography. For some, such as legislator Abdullah Azwar Anas of the National Awakening Party (PKB), nudity falls within this category. For National Commission for Child Protection chairman Seto Mulyadi, "It doesn't necessarily mean nudity" but basically "pictures or information that can arouse sexual desire."

(Presumably picture of animals and bicycles will be banned because there are enough instances of weird copulation to warrant their inclusion in the bill. Lampposts? Presumably the light of his life. Vacuum cleaner? "Ooh, s*ck me, baby, s*ck me.")

Pak Seto continued: "In many cases, nudity can serve as an educational object, let's say for example in biology class, or as an artistic object."

Does the portrait of French President's new wife, Mme. Starkers - in the nude, serve as an educational or artistic object? Or does its classification as an 'object' debase the essential humanity of the subject and is therefore pornography? Given that Mme. Starkers was presumably paid for the photographic session, the essential question is whether or not she prostituted herself.

We are being informed that the penetration (eh?) of the internet in Indonesia now stands at some 35% of the population. I suspect that the majority of those have, like me, a dial up connection dependent on landlines because those with broadband connections generally live and/or work in upmarket locations. Those with top-of-the-range handphones can download emails and websites, but they've no reason to download porn - all they need to do is switch their devices to vibrator mode.

Many companies very carefully control employees' access to the internet with monitoring programmes and firewalls which block certain sites. Anyone with a computer on a network will generally find that the IT administrator has already blocked NSFW sites. Would you believe that this site is blocked? Actually, it's a general fear of bloggers as Oigal points out today .

Also, ISPs are quite capable of banning the majority of spam and of screening out those viruses and trojans which could sneak through.

A perfectly legitimate question therefore is why legislators are bothering with all this. The public aren't fools and their perception of legislators is of a bunch of w*nkers, unwilling to work with SBY's government. Whether any one person or organisation should have the right to control the behaviour of others, presumably in the privacy of their homes or hotel rooms is debatable. People in glass houses shouldn't masturbate, and surely that's what this bill is - a masturbatory exercise to divert attention from the real issues they should be dealing with.

Human trafficking, child workers, poverty alleviation, jailing corruptors, environmental degradation, and education (etc.etc.) are all issues which surely take precedence over the rights of responsible adults to exercise their rights. I would argue that as sexual practices are legal between consenting adults, then visual images of that ilk should be permissible. Any images involving minors must, of course, be made illegal.

I do not trust folk who set themselves up as moral arbiters. Oigal, in quoting the Jakarta Post, names Roy Suryo. This is the gentleman who was paid $10,000 to set up SBY's site, not including maintenance and updating. Nor proofreading.

RS is also the man who reported Yogya blogger, Herman Saksono, to the police for publishing a photoshopped picture of SBY snogging with Bambang Suharto. I'm glad to see that Herman is still blogging. As he says: I regard that mind is meant to be free and moving mind to mass is a destiny. I can be geeky when it comes to movies, art and culinary, but really, I am simply a man with an irregularity, or many.

Surely responsible adults should be given the rights and the tools to exercise those rights as individuals. That is true democracy; it was the imposition of someone else's will which lead to reformasi. I would argue that as sexual practices are legal between consenting adults, then visual images of that ilk should be permissible. Any images involving minors must, of course, be made illegal.

Controlling access by youngsters to what adults deem to be pornographic is the job of educators, parents and, where appropriate, priests, but not a pride of politicians who can not be trusted to lead lives of probity.

Yes, I am bearing in mind that the Electronic Information and Transactions Law, will allow courts to accept electronic material as evidence in cases involving Internet abuse, and that under the law, anyone found guilty of transmitting pornographic material, false news or racial and religious hate messages on the Internet could face up to six years in prison or a fine of 1 billion rupiah (US$109,000). But in suggesting that (many) legislators are corrupt would be a simple matter of listing all those who have been investigated for extra fees for drafting legislation, or of checking with the Corruption Eradication Commission.

So, how fucking dare they suggest that they are morally superior to you or me!
In my everlasting* search for sites which will stimulate you, I came across a new blog by a lass about to come to Indonesia to teach at a National Plus school in Medan. She may have to change the name of her blog ~ Wanderlusting.
(*nothing to do with Viagra)



5:30 pm |
Thursday, March 27, 2008
  Glittering Literati

'Er Indoors and yours truly went out and upmarket last night. Yep, we splashed out on a tarif lama (cheapo) taxi and headed off to the Bellagio Boutique Hotel and Mall dressed up so we could celebrate a book launch. Not mine, which is waiting to be knocked off its perch as Jakarta's number one book about Jakarta, but another one entitled, ahem, Jakarta.

The book is subtitled Jayakarta, Batavia, so old Jakarta hands, if they weren't at the do, will probably be able to work out that the book is a general interest book about the metropolis. And very handsome it is too in its hardback binding. This is a quality production, which is probably as much due to the corporate contributions as the care and attention of its curator, Leonard Leuras of the Bali Purnati Center for the Arts. (It says something, though I'm not quite sure what, that a book about the capital city should emanate from the tourist centre of the country which is a couple of hours away by plane.)

The book features high quality photographs depicting the everyday scenes of the city as well as the culture of the indigenous groups still resident here. Some are the work of photographers, such as P.J. Leo and R. Berto Wedhatama, whose work regularly pops up in the Jakarta Post. All capture facets which could well be missed by those of us more concerned with not falling down the holes in the sidewalks or bumping into the vehicle in front.

This Salute To Jakarta can be viewed from the 1st to the 21st April in the Atrium of the Bellagio in Mega Kuningan (map).

These pictorial delights are accompanied by essays from a number of denizens of the oft-called dens of iniquity in Jalan Jaksa, including good friends such as Simon Pitchforth of Metro Mad , Dave Jardine and Irfan Kortschak whose writings can be read in such publications as the Post, Tempo magazine, Jakarta Java Kini and the Garuda Inflight Magazine.

This book would make a very good souvenir of one's visit to Jakarta. Those of us who live here are encouraged to recognise that as much as we may suffer the constant aggravations, the human spirit is indomitable.

Unfortunately, one aspect of last night's party had many of us scurrying for cover.


It wasn't the dances of these Betawi puppets so much as the accompanying 'music'. Even the lass operating the sound-desk was observed covering her ears. As a group of 5th grade students have written: Ondel-ondel is huge human effigies that are usually parades during festive occasions. Presumably, the effigies were in former times used to scare evil spirits and chase them out the village.

After half an hour of this, we appreciated a few short speeches from a couple of TV faces and then the more soothing tones of keroncong, one of the original sounds of Jakarta.

Strictly speaking, keroncong is strings-only music, a reminder of the earliest Portuguese merchants who presumably packed violins, mandolins and guitars on board with them all those years ago. Add further influence from China and Holland, give it to Indonesians to play, dub a Betawi dialect on top and you have keroncong. When it’s good, keroncong is very good; rolling, floating, moving music.
- Culture Shock-Jakarta

As we were leaving, a fine little jazz group was playing, a reflection perhaps that life moves on. Or perhaps they were the Bellagio's house band. Whatever, meeting old friends, some now very old, and gossiping about times gone by and the hopes that we would meet again soon seemed to be an apt reflection of the evening and its purpose.
If you live in the Jakarta area and you want a copy of the book, call 0817 683 7777 or email Andre Ang and for Rp.250,000 they will deliver the book for free.
"Prompt deliveries (of this book) are guaranteed."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008
  Once upon a time

Let me take you back to the good ol' days. I'm talking about a particular time in London, but much would be familiar to Jakartans. In those days computers with less storage than your MP3 player would occupy a city block, books were books and not .pdf files, telephones were not mobile fashion accessories and City Hall generally understood its responsibilities towards its citizens.

There weren't online auctions in those days, nor spam emails taunting you about your lack of virility or mental acumen. If you wanted to buy something, you went to your local shops or department store and hunted for bargains. You were generally welcome; indeed, the carefully handwritten sign Browsers Welcome were ubiquitous. Advertising was generally restricted to newspapers and magazines, although street hoardings were increasingly common, but nowhere near as ugly and offensiveness in their domination as is becoming the norm here in Jakarta. (Do we really need advertisements for instant noodles five storeys high?)

One day, in a moment of underemployment, I responded to a newspaper ad and went into Central London to check out a potential earner. There were lots of us in a hall and we were addressed by a smartly dressed man, probably in his early thirties. The line of work he was touting was door-to-door selling and the product he had in mind was a set of encyclopaedias to be bought on a a monthly subscriptions plan. There were maybe as many as fifty in a set, nicely faux-leather bound, with lots of inessential information to be absorbed. Probably all of it would now fit onto a couple of CDs or a flash drive. Anyway, the clinching sales point for any muggins who was getting sucked into the sales spiel was that the customer would get a FREE bookcase.

Wow, I thought, but then this dapper dude came out with his sales spiel to we potential recruits.

"We want ambitious people to join us. And by ambitious, I mean people who want to make lots and lots of MONEY."

We were then interviewed in twos and threes, and when it was my turn, I asked him a question.

"Has it ever crossed your mind that what you are doing is grossly immoral?" I asked. "You're asking us to force folk on low incomes to get into debt through buying inessential goods."

"This is the first time I've ever had to throw someone out of my office," he spluttered.

"And I hope it won't be the last," I replied.

I was reminded about this by a post on Melly's blog .

In it she recounts the recruitment of a new member for her accounting staff. Although she bemoans the lack of loyalty demonstrated by the new appointee, she also raises an issue which may account for this when she writes:

From 10 persons, out of 9 persons did not even write down their expected salary on the column I prepared for them. So, I asked them on the interview and they all seem to be grateful enough to be able to work in new company, new environment, new challenge, and all kinds of others reasons. It makes me wonder, what is going on in here? Anyone can give me some clues?

Sure, Melly. There are many, many of us who have an intense dislike for a Dutch (i.e. blind) auction. How many potential interviewees were put off because they feared that their stated expected salary would be too high or too low? It is akin to prostitution in that it debases oneself.

This system could well account for the prevalence of corruption in this country because it is the distinct lack of transparency which leads to the prevalent dog-eat-dog syndrome and a 'f*ck you' attitude between management and staff.

Act No.13, 2006 (.pdf download) governs employment conditions in this country and Article 92 (1) states: Entrepreneurs shall formulate the structure and scales of wages by taking into account the functional and structural positions and ranks, the occupation, years of work, education and competence of the worker.

This seems eminently fair and sensible to me. Why can't employers be open with employees? If loyalty, experience and abilities were recognised through increments, entitlements and bonuses, there need not be any bitterness. The involvement of employees in any enterprise is paramount and without their commitment, demonstrated through their contributions according to aptitude, any organisation will become stagnant.

This issue is at the heart of my industrial relations dispute, one which has directly lead to my only experience anywhere of a group of workers intimidated into not communicating openly with each other.

They have been prostituted.


11:30 am |
Sunday, March 23, 2008
  Thou Shalt Conform?

In Jakarta, if you ride your motorcycle along footpaths, get on lifts before folk are able to get off, plonk your three-year old on the bus seat next to you rather than allowing the pregnant woman in front of you to occupy it, and are a queue jumper, then you are a conformist.

A conformist is someone who has a herd mentality who blindly copies everyone else. Unfortunately, in Jakarta, conformists follow rules of egocentricity with little regard for the common good. This is because rules are rarely 'socialised' and the rule makers are also the rule breakers.

And who sets these rules?

The politicians and civil servants are supposed to safeguard the welfare of taxpayers and electorate within a legal framework. But few politicians have regard for the long-term because they have an election to win with false promises every four or five years, and the the bureaucrats have their pensions (and brown envelopes) to safeguard. Both lack minimal moral rectitude or a sense of civic responsibility.

Successive governors fail to map a recognisable vision for the future so we are all encouraged to think for the present. The last governor demonstrated this when he inaugurated the monthly car-free day by rolling up in his official limo with an escort. (The resultant gridlock in the surrounding streets made many motorists very angry.)

So, what do we want?

There is a dichotomy between organised chaos and benevolent dictatorship. In city terms, we can see this played out in the current mayoral election campaign in London.

I wholeheartedly agree with incumbent Ken Livingstone when he says, "If I were running the country, tomorrow I'd ban plastic bags, I'd ban incandescent light bulbs. I'm quite prepared to have a nanny state if it means we survive. I'd rather have a nanny state and live than we all burn in some catastrophic climate change disaster."

Maybe once Red, now Green, Ken has his vision of a green city based on Freiberg, a utopian metropolis run with teutonic efficiency.

But in Ken's London Big Brother is watching you and that scares the hell of of me.

CCTV may catch terrorists, robbers and vandals - after the events, but the fear of being caught will only discourage creativity. On the way up to Pasar Ular (Snake Market), near the dock area of Tanjung Priok) on Friday - we wanted to buy a backpack which had fallen off the back of a ship - we noted that graffiti artists has been commissioned to decorate the pillars supporting the elevated toll road above us. Their work appeared to have been designed by a committee or Bill Posters: each pillar showed a car in a street scene.

Three years ago I commented that my favourite word was BUTTERCUP, which, in the late sixties, was painted in metre-high letters on the garden wall of a corner house in Tufnel Park, London. I passed here on my way to work and always thought that it was a pleasant word to greet the day.

Today, Alex Clark ponders the meaning of MESSY MAGNOLIA.

It took me aback, I must say. I stood and contemplated it further. Of course, it seemed at first like a complaint, and it might be: somebody just driven into a rage by all those damn petals cluttering up the thoroughfare, far more unsightly than the drifts of greasy chicken-boxes and errant free-sheets and fag packets; somebody who wanted to make it clear that those flowers had better be cleaned up by the time I get home or there'll be trouble - we all have to live here.

Then I wondered whether it was a communication from the magnolia owners themselves - a sort of hands in the air, it's a fair cop, we know, we're sorry, what can we do about it, glue them on? If so, it seemed an unnecessarily self-flagellating apology.

Five years ago a website was developed offering citizens a choice:

If you think that capitalism works as a system, but tends to bring out the worst in people if left unchecked, then choose humanity.

The Humanity vs. Anarchy Project - which word will you choose?

If you think that capitalism and globalisation has led to the almost total decay of democracy and that a solid kick up the Khyber Pass, then choose anarchy.

The Humanity vs. Anarchy Project - which word will you choose?

Aah - decisions, decisions.

I certainly don't choose conformity, so why is this blog rated Suitable For General Audiences?

What am I doing wrong?

Spare a thought for the Tibetans who don't want Chinese conformity.

Spare a thought for the lady stuck on a toilet for two years.

Should moral turpitude be grounds for being barred from the USA?

Does every banana conform?
(Or are you just pleased to see me?)


3:00 pm |
Saturday, March 22, 2008
  Have You Washed Your Car Today?

The availability of clean water is the key to the improvement of health and the quality of life of the population and the environment. Only with the participation of all parties can this Herculean task be eventually completed.
- Nila Ardhianie in Jakarta Post 22nd March 2007

Today is the United Nations sanctioned World Water Day and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this:

This year, World Water Day coincides with the International Year of Sanitation, challenging us to spur action on a crisis affecting more than one out of three people on the planet.

Every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of the abysmal sanitation conditions endured by some 2.6 billion people globally. That adds up to an unconscionable 1.5 million young lives cut short by a cause we know well how to prevent.

Poor sanitation combines with a lack of safe drinking water and inadequate hygiene to contribute to the terrible global death toll. Those who survive face diminished chances of living a healthy and productive existence. Children, especially girls, are forced to stay out of school, while hygiene-related diseases keep adults from engaging in productive work.

Leaders who adopted the Millennium Development Goals in 2000 envisioned halving the proportion of people living without access to basic sanitation by the year 2015 -- but we are nowhere near on pace to achieve that Goal. While there have been advances, progress is hampered by population growth, widespread poverty, insufficient investments to address the problem and the biggest culprit: a lack of political will.

In the past I have written about how the world's water companies profit while the world faces increased desertification and how here in Jakarta these same mutli-national water companies evade their responsibilities. They would, of course, blame political interference, or lack of political will, for their incompetence.

And they would be right. Except that as private companies monopolising public resources, if they can make a financial profit from their relatively short-term contracts (25 years), then why should they bother with providing a public service?

Just over a year ago, Muli argued for self/collective management, "as we have in the villages". He was supporting the approach advocated by the Transnational Institute, "a worldwide fellowship of scholar-activists", one of whom, Nila Ardhianie, is director of Amrta Institute for Water Literacy.

At the 4th World Water Forum held in Mexico City two years ago, she said, "I live in Surakarta, so I know the water company is efficient and serving us well."

And how?

Abimanyu, the president director of Surakarta's public water company, also at the Forum, said that since his appointment as head of the water company (PDAM) four years previously, he had been approached by seven private companies, some of them multinationals.

"I told them, no. The municipality (of Surakarta) supports me; they also don't want privatization."

Abimanyu said he had proven that public companies are not necessarily inefficient and corrupt.

"Last year (2005), we made Rp.2 billion (US$215,000) in profit. We hope to increase that to Rp.4 billion in 2007," he said, adding that if the company could maintain its healthy financial position, it would be able to repay in full its World Bank debt of Rp.30 billion by 2018.

Read more:
Waspola - Indonesia Water Supply and Sanitation Policy Formulation and Action Planning Project
Water Justice - resource center on alternatives to privatisation


2:00 pm |
Friday, March 21, 2008
  Four Years Ago Today

I started Jakartass with some of the following words.

Some of you may wonder what kind of egomaniac I am to put my thoughts out there for all and sundry to read.

Like many expat bloggers in Indonesia, I've a local family to support. I also have an interest in the Internet and its power to communicate and it's potential to educate. Potential ~ ah. Now that's the one positive word we all use to describe the country we call home?

Above all, I hope this diary gives a flavour of life here in Indonesia. There are some good online information resources for intending expats and for those who are what my mother termed lotus eaters. (There are also a few links which indicate my recreational interests.)

I can only be an observer; there’s little scope for involvement but there’s certainly potential to initiate ideas. We’d be arrogant, even colonial, to impose change.

So, there’s my theme.

This post is the 1,143rd which means that I've written and posted something every 26 hours or so. A look at my stats does not give the full picture because there are over 80 subscribers through Bloglines or Feedblitz. Therefore my readership runs at about 200 a day. The following figures, however, do not take into account those of you who are accessing this from your inbox.

45% of you have bookmarked this site, for which I thank you. Some 54% of the rest of you are referred here from links on other websites, whose owners, again, I thank.

Asia accounts for 50% of the visits, with a third in Indonesia. The UK and the USA account for 20% each, which leaves the likes of Kyrgyzstan, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Cayman Islands, Iraq, Equatorial Guinea, Tajikistan, Aruba and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to supply a visitor or two (literally). You, or they, may have arrived via a search engine, Google being the most popular with 75% of the enquiries and 25% of the visitors to the site.

However, 'Jakartass' has accounted for 4.5% of those enquiries, presumably because this site isn't bookmarked. But I have no idea why seekers of 'Paul Scholes penis' should end up here, nor the relevance of '3A'.

The referrer with the mostest remains Indcoup, alas no longer with us online. Thankfully, I now have another sparring partner in Oigal who has crept into my Top Thirteen.

My most popular post concerned Adam Air, with 3,264 referrals from other sites, and 1689 on one day alone, January 2nd 2007 - the day after an AdamAir flight disappeared off the coast of Sulawesi. This week it is reported that the airline has been grounded, naturally with thousands of passengers stranded for the long weekend of Waisak and Good Friday. Their corporate investors have pulled out their minority stake citing financial malfeasance, so there isn't sufficient funding available to insure any flights.

I didn't start this site to win any popularity polls. However, back in 2004, the Asia Blog Awards - Indonesia category were run by Simon's World. After a voting period of, I think, a month, Jakartass emerged the winner with a grand total of (only) 188 votes. Of the other blogs in the running, only Isman's The Fool Has Landed and Expiration Date are still updated. Deliciously Disgusting is now NSFW and Indo Ian and Batik Baby have returned to the States, with their young family.

Their former colleague, Brandon, continues to develop his photography prowess at Java Jive which, although it predates Jakartass by over a year, was then only an also-ran in the Photoblog category. Fabian, whose Macam Macam ran Jakartass close, now also has a photography site.

The Indonesian blogosphere has certainly 'exploded' in the intervening years, with perhaps as many as 100,000 regularly posting, but it has yet to develop as a cohesive force for change as elsewhere in the region. For example, at least two prominent bloggers, including Jeff Ooi, were candidates in the recent Malaysian general election.

Here the bloggers who last year gained official government approval for their Pesta Blogger, from which Jakartass and other expatriate bloggers were provocatively excluded, seem to be more pre-occupied with monetarising their musings than defending the emergent democracy, or campaigning for basic human rights and the environment.

As it is only ten years since the 'abdication' of President-Dictator Suharto, we have a ready-made excuse for the immaturity of the Indonesian blogosphere. There are few Indonesian literary figures to emulate and reading as an activity for idle moments has yet to become a habit. Those who do write are by and large pre-occupied with family matters and gossiping about the lives of others. This is, at least, a start.

That there are few opinion makers is a topic I intend to explore in a few weeks, when some will commemorate but most will celebrate May 98. Until then, once again, thanks for sticking with Jakartass.
A footnote.

Two of my main reasons for starting to blog were a. to keep in touch with my family back home in Blighty and b. to improve my writing.

Because of Jakartass I was invited to rewrite Culture Shock-Jakarta. Given that neither my father nor sister have regular internet access so don't actually read this page, I'm happy that they gave each other copies of the book for Xmas.



6:00 pm |
Thursday, March 20, 2008
  This is not a plea for tolerance

At regular intervals, the English-language section of the Indonesian blogosphere erupts in pompous outrage and insults start flying. The latest palaver has arisen because Unspun, a Chinese-Malaysian living in Jakarta, carefully snipped part of a post on the Bali Blog which suggests that if you have a holiday romance with a Javanese lass, you'd woo her better by taking her to Warung Batavia, an Indonesian restaurant, rather than a fancy sushi dive.

Unspun, as is his wont, figured that the original post was an implied insult to Javanese girls and was a further example of post-colonial attitudes. Or perhaps he figured that he needed a boost to his derivative blog's circulation because he carefully avoided the culturally sensitive conclusion to the original post.

"If your girlfriend is Muslim, try to respect and support her in her religious commitments especially during the month of Ramadan. Dating a Javanese girl can be an interesting experience if both parties are open and relaxed."

They can also 'heal' your homosexuality

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner, but I can't really get to grips with the need for any particular cultural group to feel a sense of superiority. This country's motto is Bhinneka Tunggal Ika from Old Javanese. (Scroll down the page for an interesting historical perspective.) This loosely translates as 'Unity In Diversity' and is essentially a recognition that collectiveness rather than divisiveness offers the best chance for the survival of humanity.

It is through our belief systems - essentially ethnically based, although generally manifested in politics and religions - that conflict arises. Can anyone state with any certainty which does not stem from arrogance, itself a manifestation of personal insecurity, that their belief system is the only true one?

None of us live in isolation and all of us can trace our DNA back 100,000 years or so to a common ancestor. Globalisation is not a new phenomenon. Migrations of homo sapiens and other humanoids have occurred through the millennia as the climate and geology of Planet Earth has changed. Our myths and legends and our more recent written and pictorial histories record the changing patterns and inter-mingling of humanity. Few groups of humanoids have survived in isolation and it is this very mixing which has lead us to become the dominant species.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line our species has forgotten that we are all part of Mother Nature. None of us are aliens from other star systems, although I do recognise the rights of those who may so believe.

What I do not recognise is the need for slurs based on ethnicity.

There are greater issues at stake in the world, as is recognised by outside observers of the Indonesian blogosphere.

Friskodude has written to me as follows:

Enjoyed your post today. Indonesian needs more good expat bloggers. You, Oigal, Tree, and a few others (see my blogroll and, in particular, Rob Paiton) are doing your best job, but it's nothing compared to the expat blogger scene coming from Thailand. I wonder why.

I'll offer a part answer to that question tomorrow.


12:00 pm |
Monday, March 17, 2008
  My caustic chum

Oigal has yet to contribute directly to Thoughts Outside The Indonesian Box but that hasn't stopped me from plagiarising some of his mental meanderings.

Early, very early, this morning I was heading for Grogol up the toll road when with the sound of sirens from behind, our procession into town slowed down as the convoy of big wigs (orang tinggi) swept by on the inside lane, the one where you're supposed to breakdown.

Two Harley-Davidson motorbikes (or were they Hondas?) with blue flashing lights headed up the parade. They were followed by a sedan with military plates and then what appeared to be a Toyota Land Cruiser, a regular rich people carrier, except this one was special. Its licence plate read B1.

Ah, said my taxi driver, that's SBY, and I agreed whilst marvelling at the President's lack of pretensions where his motor fleet is concerned. I waved, and we all motored on.

Except, I later realised, SBY is not in the country at present. A week ago he left for Iran "to foster bilateral ties" with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and to foster the idea that nuclear power would be good for Indonesia.

While the Indonesian government is struggling with public opinion concerning plans to build a dozen (eh?) nuclear power stations on the foot of a volcano in Java, the support lent to Iran hopes to placate the Muslim majority in parliament - while also helping to promote the idea that nuclear energy is safe and that individual countries should have the right to engage in this field if they so choose.

Then he went on to the 11th Summit of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) held in Dakar, Senegal. At both places he spoke for the need for all good Muslims to be good Muslims, like the majority of Indonesians, and he also hoped that Indonesia could be a force for world peace.

(Of course, until Indonesia is forced to recognise that as the major contributor to climate change, it can only be a force for global conflict.)

But where is SBY now? Pre-planning suggested that after the Dakar conference, he would pay a visit to a third country, most likely Mozambique.

We can't begrudge SBY a couple of days off, but that does lead to the question about the motorcade I was held up by this morning. If he wasn't in his car, who was? And if no-one was in the car, why did it have a military escort?

Which eventually leads me to Oigal's thoughts. These are definitely outside the current Indonesian box.

With immediate effect the following regulations are to be implemented:

1. All politicians who wish to partake in a government (taxpayer) funded overseas trips are required to take Public Transport to and from the Airport. (Express Customs walk-throughs and traffic clearance is expressly forbidden).

2. All government vehicles are to be affixed with a large toll free number requesting the registration of the vehicle be reported to a Central Authority should the vehicle be sighted at any shopping mall, golf course or other facility of public entertainment. (Central Authority is to request details of such approvals from regional managers; any use deemed frivolous will mean immediate open auction of said vehicle for the public good).

3. All government vehicles are to have designated and recorded drivers. Any driver who is not designated as such will be subject to immediate criminal action for theft of public property.

4. All public officials currently in receipt of a taxpayer funded vehicle will be required to submit a justification to the Central Authority on why they cannot use “pool vehicles and drivers”. Failure to do so within seven days will result in the withdrawal of the vehicle.

5. All government vehicles are to carry large signs stating “These vehicles are paid for by the people of Indonesia. Please report misuse to 021.XXX XXXX”

6. All companies and individuals in receipt of public funds, grants and allowances are required by law to make a public declaration of their audited taxation payments.
Does anyone disagree?
Mea culpa.
SBY was in South Africa yesterday, although why the media should make a mystery of it is a mystery. Anyway, his transport is a posh Mercs, and an SUV, one of which is RI 1.

B is the designated letter of Jakarta vehicles, so B1 has to be the transport of Governor Fuzzy Bodoh who continues to demonstrate the trappings of his power rather than an affinity with his electors. He is unlikely to apologise for his lateness with the stock excuse here ~ don't blame me, it's the traffic.



5:30 pm |
Sunday, March 16, 2008
  (Padded) Cell Phones

This story is hardly worth padding out, but I will anyway because, surely, this way madness lies.

Regular readers will know that I'm no great fan of cell phones, believing them to be essentially trivial and anti-social. I really don't want to be distracted by someone else's side of a conversation, nor do I want my discourse to be interrupted by my rapt listener having to switch off a detestable Kenny G ringtone.

Back in Blighty things are really bad on this front because loads of folk have been injured whilst texting. It's not repetitive thumb syndrome they suffer from but something far worse - concussion. I have long suggested that the public display of the latest Nokia is the manifestation of a brain illness, but concussion?

Yep. These brain injuries are caused by blows to the head. A study conducted by 118 118, a phone directory service, has found that one in 10 people has been hurt while focusing on their cell phone instead of where they were walking.

Almost two thirds of respondents lost peripheral vision while texting, and more than a quarter wanted lines on the pavement to create routes for texters to walk while using their phones.

Lines on the pavement so they can text and walk? They must be kidding, right?

Nope, they aren't and luckily for them 118 118 is around to help them: 118 118 is going to wrap padding around lampposts in return for the newly devised advertising space.

This illustration shows a lovely piece of street furniture, a 70 year old lamppost defaced with a sponge wrapping. Wouldn't a bench make better sense, somewhere to text in comfort, or to have a face-to-face conversation?

Of course, here in Jakarta any accidents caused through texting and walking are not a matter of above ground obstructions.

Watch Your Step
© Indcoup



7:00 am |
Saturday, March 15, 2008
  My Weekly Rant

Actually, I can't really be bothered to rant. So much of life is ho-hum, been there - seen that, that it hardly seems worth pointing out the lack of get up and go in this country.

Going Potty

It's easy to complain about the lack of toilet paper at Soekarno-Hatta airport but this pales into insignificance when today's Jakarta Post carries the following headlines:
1. Goals set for sanitation could take RI 200 years
2. Lead by example, SBY tells summit*

That the Switzerland-based World Economic Forum (WEF), cited Indonesia's poor health and hygiene conditions and inadequate infrastructure as key disadvantages in attracting foreign visitors does not bode well for Visit Indonesia Year. The country has lost ground in the past year. Last year the WEF, in its Travel and Competitiveness Index, ranked Indonesia 60th among 124 countries studied. This year Indonesia is ranked 80th among 130 countries.

But apparently it's all our fault. Or rather, it's got very little to do with the bosses.

The Indonesia Consumers Organisation (YKLI) has released a report (not online?) showing that of eight airports surveyed, the Soekarno-Hatta airport received the most complaints. The head of the airport, Haryanto, acknowledged that operator Angkasa Pura II had received complaints about toilet facilities.

"Since we began operating the toilets in 1985, we have never renovated them due to the lack of budget."
He's kidding - right?

"But this year we will renovate about 100 toilets and improve their maintenance and cleaning. We will also build some toilets in the parking area. We promise."
What, scout's honour and all that?

However.... he added that the operator would also try to raise awareness among airport users.

"Many toilet users do not know how to use the toilets correctly we need to educate them."

Yep, those footmarks on the toilet seat really are yours.

Thinking of toilet paper, there is a university in Jakarta which has stopped supplying it because students use too much. This is the same cheapskate university which promises its students expatriate lecturers, but uses Indonesians with foreign qualifications. This is not to belittle those lecturers but to point out the false promises which are used to justify high fees from the parents of the students. This education institute also fails to fulfil manpower regulations and is facing legal judgments - note the pluralisation - against it.

But, as I said, today I can't be bothered to rant about UPI-Curtin. Besides, Curtin University is pulling out of its commitment, presumably to protect its good name. This is a factor that MacQuarie University would do well to consider if, as it is rumoured, they are being asked to replace Curtin. .

Power to the people

I haven't blogged much recently, but this has nothing to do with a vow of silence, which will probably disappoint my many fans and admirers. Apart from the perpetual and time-consuming grubbing around for work, an encyclical matter, we've suffered from power cuts and, assuming we've got electricity, an internet connection which is slower than snail mail.

Last Wednesday I got back to Jakartass Towers around 5pm, to be told that the electricity had been off since midday. It stayed off until 8 and was caused by ... "a fire" ... "a flood" ... and two "don't knows". We ate takeaways and I moaned at the domestic staff for not filling the bak mandis after, or while, taking a bath. I was stinking mad. What's more, I missed American Idol.

Our power cut was not a rotational one apparently, but a problem with the infrastructure. It is well-known that Indonesia does not generate enough electricity wattage to suit everyone's wastage, so various initiatives are dreamt up.

One I'd love to tell you more about is the proposal by state electricity company PLN to implement a new "incentive-disincentive" program starting on April 1st.

Apparently customers whose use exceeds national benchmarks will have to pay 60 percent more for every extra kilowatt they use. But those who consume less will get a 20 percent discount. The benchmarks are calculated on the basis of average 2007 consumption shaved down by 20 percent.

Any effort to reduce power consumption is to be applauded, but a carrot and stick policy can only be effective if consumers know what the rewards and punishments will be.

Tulus Abadi from the Indonesian Consumer Foundation said PLN has yet to recognize the rights of customers to clear, accurate information. "Most of public isn't well-informed on the technical issues, like how they're going to make the calculations on this new program, because it was introduced so recently."

He said actual notice of the new policy should be given to each customer rather than merely announcing it via the mass media.

However, Deputy Manager of Communication of PLN in Jakarta and Tangerang Azwar Lubis said that "We have been publicizing this program for quite a while now with our "20 percent electricity conservation" campaign on the radio and in newspapers, magazines, banners, and leaflets."

As of the evening of March 12th, the
Jakarta Post could find no information at the PLN website, on the "incentive-disincentive" program. There was no list of the benchmarks, for example.

As I said, I can't tell you much about it.

In 2006, PLN announced a crash program to construct coal-fired power plants (PLTUs) with a total capacity of 10,000 megawatts. 10 PLTU units, with a capacity of 300 MW to 660 MW - a total of 7,140 MW - would be built on Java and in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi PLN planned to build 14 units of PLTU, each with a capacity from 7 MW to 100 MW, and a total capacity of 1,052 MW.

We can ignore the fact coal is the most carbon-intensive of all fossil fuels as, being nearly pure carbon, it releases nearly pure carbon dioxide when burned. Our concern here must be that with the price of coal soaring, in line with oil and palm oil prices, PLN can no longer afford to build those generating plants.

Indonesia is home to Bumi Resources, Asia's Fastest and the World's Second Fastest Growing Coal Company. Wow, one might exclaim. However, one should also be reminded that Bumi Resources is owned by the Bakrie family, and while the patriarch, Abdurizal is the country's richest man he is also the cheapskate responsible for the plight of the refugees from the Sidoarjo volcanic mudflow, not only as a co-owner of Lapindo Brantas whose drilling resulted in the disaster, but also as Minister for the People's Welfare.

There has been no news suggesting that 2 or 3 of those billions of dollars he is 'worth' could be used to subsidise the operation of a few generating plants. No siree, he is too busy exporting the coal, one of Indonesia's natural resources, and increasing his wealth.

*SBY was attending the 11th Summit of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) held in Dakar, Senegal, and he was actually referring to Islamophobia and the need "to strive for good governance and attend to our democratic deficit." I'm sure we all agree, but let's start with home issues, eh?


1:00 pm |
Thursday, March 13, 2008
  Biofuels - the scam

I make no apologies for publishing another email. It's not laziness. Far from it; I'm just way to busy at present to put my brain around some original thoughts ~ roll on the weekend, eh?

And I think I would have posted the following email anyway as it could well lead to some definite action. The issue has been raised by my good friend Dilligaf in a Jakartass-sponsored blog ~ Thoughts Outside The Indonesian Box ~ in his essay When the oil runs out and the plantations run dry …

But action generally speaks louder than words, and that is what Avaaz.org is calling for. Send a message to SBY, or his delegate, attending this weekend's global summit on climate change in Chiba, Japan. After, it's the Indonesian forests which are being plundered.

Read on.

----- Original Message -----
From: Ben Wikler - Avaaz.org
To: Jakartass
Sent: Thursday, March 13, 2008 3:06 AM
Subject: Biofuels: the fake climate change solution

Dear Friends,

EU and US demand for biofuels is pushing up world food prices and increasing climate emissions. We should feed people, not cars - so join the call for global standards to clean up the biofuels industry.

Click here now.

Each day, 820 million people in the developing world do not have enough food to eat [1]. Food prices around the world are shooting up, sparking food riots from Mexico [2] to Morocco [3]. And the World Food Program warned last week that rapidly rising costs are endangering emergency food supplies for the world's worst-off [4].

How are the wealthiest countries responding? They're burning food.

Specifically, they're using more and more biofuels - alcohol made from plant products, used in place of petrol to fuel cars. Biofuels are billed as a way to slow down climate change. But in reality, because so much land is being cleared to grow them, most biofuels today are causing more global warming emissions than they prevent [5], even as they push the price of corn, wheat, and other foods out of reach for millions of people [6].

Not all biofuels are bad - but without tough global standards, the biofuels boom will further undermine food security and worsen global warming. Click here to use our simple tool to send a message to your head of state before this weekend's global summit on climate change in Chiba, Japan, and help build a global call for biofuels regulation:

Sometimes the trade-off is stark: filling the tank of an SUV with ethanol requires enough corn to feed a person for a year [7]. But not all biofuels are bad; making ethanol from Brazilian sugar cane is vastly more efficient than US-grown corn, for example, and green technology for making fuel from waste is improving rapidly.

The problem is that the EU and the US have set targets for increasing the use of biofuels without sorting the good from the bad. As a result, rainforests are being cleared in Indonesia to grow palm oil for European biodiesel refineries, and global grain reserves are running dangerously low. Meanwhile, rich-country politicians can look 'green' without asking their citizens to conserve energy, and agribusiness giants are cashing in. And if nothing changes, the situation will only get worse.

What's needed are strong global standards that encourage better biofuels and shut down the trade in bad ones. Such standards are under development by a number of coalitions [8], but they will only become mandatory if there's a big enough public outcry. It's time to move: this Friday through Saturday, the twenty countries with the biggest economies, responsible for more than 75% of the world's carbon emissions [9], will meet in Chiba, Japan to begin the G8's climate change discussions. Before the summit, let's raise a global cry for change on biofuels:

A call for change before this week's summit won't end the food crisis, or stop global warming. But it's a critical first step. By confronting false solutions and demanding real ones, we can show our leaders that we want to do the right thing, not the easy thing.

As Kate, an Avaaz member in Colorado, wrote about biofuels, "Turning food into oil when people are already starving? My car isn't more important than someone's hungry child."

It's time to put the life of our fellow people, and our planet, above the politics and profits that too often drive international decision-making. This will be a long fight. But it's one that we join eagerly - because the stakes are too high to do anything else.

With hope,

Ben and the Avaaz.org team
[1] World Food Programme: "Hunger Facts." Accessed 10 March 2008.
[2] The Sunday Herald (Scotland). "2008: The year of global food crisis." 9 March 2008.
[3] The Australian: "Biofuels threaten 'billions of lives" 28 February, 2008.
[4] AFP: "WFP chief warns EU about biofuels." 7 March 2008.
[5] New York Times: "Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat." 8 February 2008.
[6] The Times: "Rush for biofuels threatens starvation on a global scale." 7 March 2008. ... also see BBC: "In graphics: World warned on food price spiral." 10 March 2008.
[7] The Economist: "The end of cheap food." 6 December 2007.
[8] See Global Bioenergy,
Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, and Times Online .
[9] Government of Japan. "Percentage of global carbon dioxide emissions (FY 2003) contributed by G20 nations."

Avaaz.org is an independent, not-for-profit global campaigning organization that works to ensure that the views and values of the world's people inform global decision-making. (Avaaz means "voice" in many languages.) Avaaz receives no money from governments or corporations, and is staffed by a global team based in London, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Paris, Washington DC, and Geneva.



6:00 pm |
Monday, March 10, 2008
  Need your help

----- Original Message -----
From: Scott Deckman
To: Jakartass
Sent: Monday, March 10, 2008 4:27 AM
Subject: Need your help

Hello Jakartass,

I’m a novelist in the United States and I need some help with a small portion of the novel which involves a half-Indonesian girl living in the United States. I need to do some background research and need someone to help me with the language, either Javan or Bahasa Indonesian. I’ve had some help from other people but they either flaked out at inopportune times or I can’t find them at all anymore.

I read your blog. Can you help me?
This won’t be much work, just us talking on IM a few times. I’d really appreciate this.


Scott Deckman

I received the above email this morning. Unfortunately it could be a lot of work for me because a) I don't have IM and b) I have minimal bhs. Indonesia and zilch bhs. Java.

If you have an awareness of the mindset of such a lass as Scott describes, please email (click on links above) and I'll put you in touch with him.


6:00 am |
Sunday, March 09, 2008
  Are we all mad?

I only ask because of a few articles I've read recently which are resonating through my synapses. Not that I'm crazy, you understand. But if you don't, then maybe I'm the only one in step.

I was researching a post about how affluenza, "the virus of superficial values", is causing mental illnesses in the capitalist English-speaking countries ~ the 'money can't buy you happiness' theory. (It probably would in this household, but that's another story !)

Oliver James, a British clinical psychologist, author and broadcaster, contends that Selfish Capitalism stokes up relative materialism: unrealistic aspirations and the expectation that they can be fulfilled. It does so to stimulate consumerism in order to increase profits and promote short-term economic growth.

However, high levels of mental illness are essential to Selfish Capitalism, because needy, miserable people make greedy consumers and can be more easily suckered into perfectionist, competitive workaholism.

We desperately need a passionate and leader who advocates ... Unselfish Capitalism. The pitch is simple. Not only would reduced consumerism and greater equality make us more ecologically sustainable, it would halve the prevalence of mental illness within a generation.

I wanted to examine this thesis in relation to the prevalence of mental illnesses here in Indonesia and the mushrooming of shopping malls and the flaunting of Ferraris, but I haven't found anything seemingly relevant to the ten years post-krismon and the abdication of Suharto, and what I have found doesn't make encouraging reading.

In 2006, when this research was done, there were 34 government mental hospitals in 24 provinces (out of the then 30 Indonesian provinces), and less than 30 small private mental hospitals. Out of 806 general hospitals, 50% or 403 had mental health professionals working there and out of nearly 20,000 community health centers across the archipelago, only about 10% had any kind of mental health professional available to consult with them on a regular basis, or associated with them.

Obviously, analysing the prevalence of what is defined as mental illness in Indonesia is not an easy task, as this summary demonstrates.

Social capital and health in Indonesia

This paper empirically examines the role of community social capital in the individual’s health production function. We focus on health measures relating to physical as well as mental health. In addition to exploring the relationship between social capital and health, we test for interrelationships between social and human capital in the production of health. Data come from more than 10,000 adults surveyed in the Indonesian Family Life Surveys of 1993 and 1997. We identify a robust positive empirical association between community-level social capital and good health.

We find weak evidence for an interrelationship between human and social capital and mental health.

So, that's all right then. Mind you, it took the researchers nigh on 10 years, an era of reformasi and drastic change in this country, to reach the inadequate and inane conclusion of the last sentence which seems to be a contradiction of the preceding sentence. If well-adjusted individuals have good health, it surely follows that the opposite conditions will lead to poor health, both physical and mental.

Have any wealthy NGOs conducted similar research among the refugee communities of Sidoarjo? Or among the squatters and others who have been 'cleared' in the past ten years to make way for changes to Jakarta, a city on the edge of chaos?

Politicians love cranes; they need solutions within the time frames of elections and cranes deliver them. But there are only a limited number of problems that are susceptible to this kind of time scale. The result is a constant cycle of demolition and reconstruction that is seen as the substitute for thinking about how to address the deeper issues of the city. Cities are made by an extraordinary mixture of do-gooders and bloody-minded obsessives, of cynical political operators and speculators. They are shaped by the unintended consequences of the greedy and the self-interested, the dedicated and the occasional visionary.

A city that has been trapped by too much gentrification, or too many shopping malls, will have trouble generating the spark that is essential to making a city that works.

- Deyan Sudjic, co-editor of Endless City, pub. Phaidon

So, are we all mad?

My answer to that fundamental question is a simplistic 'no'. After all, I'm not.

Am I?


12:30 pm |
Friday, March 07, 2008
  What's a picture worth?

Scientists have developed a computerised mind-reading technique which lets them accurately predict the images that people are looking at by using scanners to study brain activity. Apparently, the technique relies on functional magnetic resonance imaging, whatever that is.

Prof Marcel Just, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh said, "It's much more exciting than mind reading and police interrogation ... These [scientists] are finding how the brain codes naturalistic scenes. They understand what the brain is saying."

Worth a thousand words?

Today, the Balinese are celebrating the Hindu "Day of Silence", Nyepi, a day of silence, fasting, and meditation. Perhaps the time will come when reading a brain scan will be an aid to contemplation, much as than-kas are visual aids used by Tibetan Buddhists.

Not many of you will know that my original university qualification was as an art teacher, and that for my first ten years here I struggled to capture on canvas my impressions of Indonesia. When Our Kid arrived and started crawling, I put away my oils because I didn't want him emulating Affandi (1907-1990) who from the simple art made by his own hands over the canvas, he had made the whole world amazed.

Although my creativity is now channeled through my writing, I remain visually-orientated, even though I am visually impaired. I have long admired the photographic prowess of fellow Jakarta blogger, Brandon at Java Jive, who has achieved international approval for his work over the more than five years he's been here. Many of his images could serve as stimuli for when (if?) I resume my painting. Indeed, I regularly use them as desktop backgrounds for my computer.

Another photoblog that newcomers should regularly visit is the Jakarta Daily Photo - here (old site) and/or here (new site). Santi seems to get around more of Jakarta than the rest of us.

Now there's a new kid on the blog who's doing something really original. Dekisugi's new site which he calls No Comment is a comic blog - as in a comic strip. I believe it's the first in Indonesia.

He says, "The idea of this blog is that I don’t write in each post. The pictures will say everything about something, well something about Indonesia."

His cast of characters includes Mr. John, a native British speaker, who "can also speak in English ... an idealistic person who opposes any pecuniary corruptions when he deals with official matters."

There's Tarsan, an Indonesian boy who lives in a jungle and doesn't like Encik Wan (a Malaysian?) who runs many palm oil plantations in Sumatera. Another recurring character is Koh Liam, a Singapore businessman expanding his business in Indonesia.

Given that his picture stories are worth many of their words, I wonder how long it will be before Tempo offers Dekisugi a regular slot.


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