Sunday, June 29, 2008
  Battling Bataks

'Er Indoors is a Batak, an in-yer-face no bullshitting Batak from North Sumatra. Many years ago, we took the Jakartass tribe, at that time with a fourteen-year old niece and Son No.1, to Carita, a then quiet resort on the north coast of Java looking across the strait to Krakatoa.

We travelled by bus from Kalideres bus station; I sat with Son No.1 behind 'Er Indoors and 'er niece. As we pulled out into the traffic, a burly bloke hopped on and stood at the front of the bus glaring at all the passengers. 'Er Indoors and niece immediately started chatting away in bahasa Batak, of which I only know one word - horas (hi).

The burly bloke wended his way up the aisle and then started a conversation with 'Er Indoors, eventually getting off the bus the some 15 kilometres up the road.

I asked 'Er Indoors what they'd been chatting about and she said that he was a highway robber. When he'd heard her speaking and confirmed her ethnic background he told her that he wouldn't be robbing anyone on our bus because he made it a rule to only steal from non-Bataks.

So is there really honour among thieves?

I have to ask that given certain events here in Jakarta in the past few days.

As in many other countries, there have been massive demonstrations following the removal of fuel oil subsidies and the dramatic rise in overall cost of living. Last Tuesday's demo saw traffic held up for hours in central Jakarta, with students trying to force their way into Parliament and many cars damaged both there and outside Atma Jaya University a five minute stroll away. Maftuh Fauzi, a 27 year old (eh?) National University (UNAS) student subsequently died.

As with any large demonstration or rally in Jakarta numbering in the thousands, one automatically assumes that there is an éminence grise involved. Parliamentarians have decided to debate the government's decisions regarding the 30% reduction in the oil subsidy, although there are insufficient numbers to summon SBY. That one of their number should have instigated the violence is not unsurprising.

As early as Wednesday, National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Syamsir Siregar had said someone whose initials were "FY" was the "mastermind" behind the protests against the fuel oil price hikes.

FY, who was in China at the time, is Ferry Yuliantono, secretary general of the Awaken Indonesia Committee (AWC). He is now under arrest and being held at police HQ. The chairman of AWC is Rizal Ramli, coordinating minister for the economy during President Abdurrahman Wahid's administration, and until last week, when he was fired, he was president commissioner of PT Semen Gresik, a 51% state-owned cement company.

At a meeting on Friday, shareholders concluded that Rizal was guilty of "ethical violations and unprofessional conduct", presumably related to his alleged masterminding of the student rallies..

A vocal opponent of the government's decision to increase fuel prices, Rizal said, as he would, "To have the shareholders say my leadership is in conflict with the commissioner code of ethics is just a ruse to cover up SBY's politically motivated intervention."

On his blog, Rizal says: "People are different, accept people for who or what they are, avoid clashes, constant arguments, and let go of all kinds of resentments. If arguments seem unavoidable still try and make an effort to understand the situation and you might just get along with well with."

Fine sentiments indeed; it's a pity then that not only does he resent his ousting from PT Semen Gresik but also use his resentment against SBY to justify the establishment of the AWC.

He said the idea behind the group was to open a new path for the country.

"Our leader's point of view
(presumably referring to SBY) is still influenced by the old regime and foreign countries. This is part of the reason why Indonesia's economic sector has been left behind by other countries."

The other part of the reason is because of rampant corruption and regard for what is good for the country rather than personal advancement and aggrandisement.

Among those attending the event were politicians with a past and the majority looking out for their futures - an asterisk indicates an intention to stand in next year's Presidential election.
Amien Rais: 'lead' the people's demonstrations in May 1998 against Suharto.
Gen.Wiranto*: Armed Forces Commander in May 1998
Akbar Tandjung*: former Suhartoist State Secretary, former Golkar Party leader
Try Sutrisno: former vice president
Taufik Kiemas: husband of former President Megawati*
'Yenny' Wahid: daughter of former President 'Gus' Dur*

So just who "is still influenced by the old regime"?

Let's be clear about one thing: the downfall of the old New Order régime of Suharto took place only ten years ago and it's going to take more than a generation, if ever, to remove its vestiges. All the presidents who have succeeded Suharto have connections with his power structure, and now we see their scions (e.g.Yenny Wahid) moving centre stage.

So, who is the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Syamsir Siregar who SBY appointed to replace Gen.(ret) AM Hendropriyono? Given SBY's military background, it is important to note that both SBY and Syamsir Siregar are retired generals having served in the same military unit, the élite Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad). The Army's other élite unit is the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) which Hendropriyono served in and was highlighted in my last post.

Siregar's last active post until his retirement in September 1996 was as chief of the Intelligence Agency (BIA) of the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI later renamed TNI). His seniority in military and intelligence circles gives him an authority of great value to SBY.

Reformasi has given parliament the power to curb the President if it is felt that s/he is exceeding his/her authority. Unfortunately, the public perception of parliamentarians is that they behave like spoilt children. Political parties jostle for positions, often enabling financial riches to accrue from lobbyists, and few of the public could name a single piece of legislation sponsored or approved by Parliament - other than the pornography law.

So we have a power struggle between those who currently hold the reins of power and those who wish to regain them.

And what's the connection with my title?

Apart from Syamsir Siregar and Ade Daud Nasution, a Reform Star Party (PBR) lawmaker who Siregar is suing for libel, other Bataks mentioned above include Akbar Tandjung and Rizal Ramli. Taufik Kiemas is from Palembang, South Sumatra and his late mother-in-law, one of Sukarno's wives and Megawati's mother came from Bengkulu, also in South Sumatra.

'Er Indoors tells me that all Sumatrans recognise a bond.

Oh, and she is a Nasution and her late mother was a Siregar but she's not taking sides in this particular battle, but regrets the price rises in household goods which seem disproportionate to the 30% rise in fuel oil prices.


10:00 pm |
Saturday, June 28, 2008
  Come Uppance Once

Having to prepare for one's comeuppance must be a big letdown for General (ret) Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, formerly head of the Badan Intelijen Negara (BIN), the State Intelligence Agency.

He's finally under serious investigation for ordering, in September 2004, the murder of Munir Said Thalib, "one of the country's boldest and most consistent defenders of human rights", .

The perpetrator, who put arsenic in Munir's drink at a stopover in Singapore, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, is behind bars for twenty years, but it has long been known that he was the patsy, the fall guy for the axis of evil who'd long been Suharto's lackeys.

A government fact finding team was set up by SBY and reported back to him in June 2005. It became known, but not proven, that BIN was involved. As I posted then, it can't have helped that former State Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Hendropriyono and his former deputy Muchdi Purwopranjono ... both ... failed to comply with two summonses for questioning by the fact-finding team investigating the murder of human rights campaigner Munir.

That same day Hendropriyono denied that he was involved, so I posted an apology.

It was revealed at his trial that Pollycarpus called Muchdi 41 times around the time of the murder. Muchdi, successor to Lt. Gen. Prabowo, Suharto's son-ín-law, was fired from his position as commander of Kopassus (Army Special Forces), long feared for their 'tradition' of human rights violations. Muchdi was alleged by Munir to have been behind the disappearances of student activists in the immediate lead up to the end of the New Order régime in 1998, when

Munir alleged that both Prabowo and Muchdi had been behind the disappearances of student activists in the immediate lead up to the end of the New Order régime in 1998. The then Armed forces chief General Wiranto, who is one of many to have thrown his hat into next year's presidential electoral circus, later admitted that Kopassus was involved in the kidnappings. An internal probe showed that the Kopassus command had issued orders to "uncover several movements then considered radical and jeopardizing government programs and public security."

According to his minimalist résume I posted here, Hendropriyono's military background also hints at human rights abuses. It was in early 1989 on his watch as Military Commandant, Korem Garuda Hitam, Lampung, South Sumatra that the Warsidi incident took place.

Government troops attacked an alleged militant Islamic sect in Lampung, known by the name of its leader, Warsidi. In the aftermath of the assault, which may have left as many as 100 people dead, the government began a widespread crack-down against Muslims believed to be linked with the 'Warsidi Gang'. Scores of Muslim activists were arrested in subsequent months in Lampung, Nusa Tenggara Barat, West Java and Jakarta. Most were tried for subversion in 1989 and 1990. All were found guilty and sentenced to terms of up to life imprisonment.

There are mutterings that the current public exposure of formerly seemingly immune public servants is to show SBY in a good light. After all, there's a Presidential Election next year. But if he is that duplicitous, would he have allowed his brother-in-law, Brigadier General Pramono Edhie Wibowo, to become the latest Kopassus commander?

Some say that the promotion of Wibowo is "yet another example of the failure of Indonesia to deal with its military’s long and sordid history of human rights violations in East Timor and elsewhere.

In 1999, Wibowo headed Kopassus Group 5, which deployed to East Timor in 1999 at the time of the UN-organized referendum on independence.

In fact, there are very strong family ties and military traditions stretching back 40 years or so upheld in his appointment. SBY has also 'guaranteed' the army's loyalty for the length of his reign.

So, what are we to make of these developments in the Munir case? Does it signal a reform of the State Intelligence Agency? Or is it yet another cover up of a cover up?

Only time and eager whispers will tell, so keep tracking this hyperspace.


11:59 am |
Friday, June 27, 2008
  If I were American .......

...... like a good proportion of the visitors to Jakartass, I would vote for Obama in the Presidential Election. Not because he spent a few years in Jakarta, not because he is ethnically mixed, not because he is young and not for any reason other than that the more I read about McCain, the more I fear for the future of Humanity.
His firm represented some of the most unpleasant dictators in modern history, among them the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos and Zaire's kleptomaniac president Joseph Mobutu.Parsley, whom McCain called a 'spiritual guide', believes America was founded partly in order to destroy Islam. He has called Mohammed a 'mouthpiece of a conspiracy of spiritual evil' and has supported prosecuting people who commit adultery.
Much of the info above has come from the UK Observer and Women For John McCain.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
  Another Anti-Nuclear Rant?

I have burdened you with my anti-nuclear stance 33+ times in the life of this blog - just type 'anti-nuclear' or 'nuclear power' in the SEARCH box to the right for the multifarious reasons.

However, with only 2 mentions so far this year, it's time for another post, albeit not a rant because there's enough recent evidence around to demonstrate that for Indonesia to follow this route would be madness. This is a country whose electricity company, PLN, cannot get guaranteed supplies of fuel for its largest coal-fired power plant.

That other countries are considering the nuclear power option in the face of rising oil prices is not the focus of my stance, although it's worth bearing in mind that Vietnam, Burma and Malaysia, three of our neighbours in South East Asia, have recently expressed an interest.

Last week, according to the national news agency, Bernama, Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak explained the rationale by pointing out that the country needs to phase out the fuel subsidies, totalling $17 billion this year.

"The prospect of Malaysia opting for nuclear technology cannot be discounted, only we will look at other alternatives first."

He said the cost of setting up nuclear power plants would be high, while a power company official said infrastructure development would take years.

It's good to see at least one country taking a long-term view; however it's important to look even further ahead. Assuming that a power plant has been run efficiently at its maximum expected potential - which, to my knowledge, none anywhere have - then consider what happens when a nuclear power plant reaches the end of its productive life after, say, fifty years.

In 1956, the UK became the first country to open a nuclear power station, Calder Hall, now part of the Windscale/Sellafield complex in West Cumbria, north-west England. At the time, its main purpose was to use nuclear energy for "peaceful purposes" - to provide electricity, 196 megawatts, for the national grid. Although not explicitly stated, this was a reminder that Britain was involved in the Cold War arms race, as a useful by-product was weapons-grade plutonium for our nuclear arsenal.

The main focus of this post is the aftermath, with maths being important. None of the nine nuclear power stations in the UK have proved 'profitable' or efficient. None.

Furthermore, the costs of decommissioning nuclear power plants is astronomical, and no country has yet provided a permanent solution to the problem of storing the radioactive waste products - for up to 100,000 years.

One might have expected a major nuclear power such as the UK to provide a lead to other countries. But all we Brits can offer is a catalogue of disasters.

And there are lobbyists in Indonesia who seriously think that a nuclear power station will help solve this country's energy crisis? That a country which cannot satisfactorily dispose of its household waste can dispose of its radioactive waste?

Don't make me laugh, or cry, and don't just take my words for it either. Please click on the links.

Nuclear Power for Dummies
Is nuclear power the answer to the energy crisis? Ian Sample explains how it works - and how we get the awful side-effects of bombs and waste.

The many problems of Sellafield

Britain's nuclear complex at Sellafield is Europe's biggest single industrial site and home to what was meant to be a huge fuel reprocessing system that would produce power while reducing the legacy of radioactive waste. It was built amid enthusiasm that atomic power would be "too cheap to meter" and yet, 52 years on, its catalogue of failures has left it with one of the world's largest stockpiles of plutonium and a bill to the taxpayer of about £3bn a year, a new report says.

Radioactive waste storage at Sellafield

Sellafield houses two state-owned reprocessing works and a plant for making mixed uranium and plutonium fuel called Mox. None of these facilities, which cost hundreds of millions of pounds, work as they were meant to do. Their problems are rebounding on the part-privatised British Energy (BE), which is wholly dependent on Sellafield to reprocess and store spent fuel from its 14 advanced gas-cooled reactors.

The difficulties have also hit the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which the government set up in 2004 to preside over the £72bn clean-up of all British atomic sites and which was meant to be partly funded by income from reprocessing spent fuel.

On-Site Safety
Work on Britain's Trident nuclear warhead programme was suspended for much of the last year due to wide-ranging safety fears, it has been disclosed. Following suspension of work at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Burghfield in Berkshire last July, when flooding increased the risk of fire at the plant, concerns about on-site safety became so acute that a decision was taken in the autumn to stop all live nuclear work on missile warheads.

AWE claims to be a 'centre of technological excellence, with some of the most advanced research, design and production facilities in the world'.

Two kilometres of beach outside one of Britain's biggest nuclear plants, Dounreay, have been closed since 1983, and fishing banned, when it was found old fuel rod fragments were being accidentally pumped into the sea. The cause was traced and corrected but particles - including plutonium specks, each capable of killing a person if swallowed - are still being washed on to this bleakly beautiful stretch of sand and cliff on mainland Britain's northern edge.

Robot submarines fitted with a Geiger counter are to be used to sweep the seabed in one of the most delicate clean-up operations ever in this country. Each submersible will crisscross the sea floor to pinpoint every deadly speck close to Dounreay before lifting each particle and returning it to land for safe storage.

Costs of Decommissioning 1
Although the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) kept no precise accounts (eh?) for building and running Dounreay on Scotland's north coast, it is known to have cost several billion pounds. Now a further £2.5 billion will be spent returning the site to its pre-nuclear condition, leaving only a vault, covered with grass, to hold low-level nuclear waste while high-level waste will probably (eh?) be shipped to a central UK nuclear store yet to be approved.

Costs of Decommissioning 2
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which is nursing a £300m budget overrun for 2006-07 alone, is attempting to raise cash to help pay for a £72bn clean-up bill. It plans to do this by selling off, to the private sector, everything from stockpiled uranium to atomic fuel manufacturing plants and land at 18 sites where they hope new nuclear plants will be built.

Waste Disposal
Scientists know that eventually they need to find a way of storing nuclear waste safely for thousands of years. Some countries, such as America and Finland, plan to store nuclear waste in deep underground bunkers. For this to be safe, scientists have to be sure the material could never leak out and contaminate water supplies or rise up to the surface. Other plans for disposing of nuclear waste have included dumping it at sea and blasting it into space

Apparently Britain already has more than 100,000 tonnes of radioactive waste that needs to be stored. It's worth repeating that no country has yet decided on a definitive method, or place, for the disposal of its radioactive waste.

Sellafield which was built to reprocess nuclear fuel, thus reducing the waste, has been a monumental failure. This February Malcolm Wicks, the energy minister, admitted in parliament that the plant had only produced 2.6 tonnes of reprocessed fuel in 2007 and a total of 5.2 tonnes since it opened in 2001, despite promises it would produce 120 tonnes a year.

A study, commissioned by the UK's Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, has shown that British buildings equipped with solar panels, mini wind turbines and other renewable energy sources could generate as much electricity a year as five nuclear power stations. Furthermore, the report has shown that a large-scale switch to micro renewable energy units could save 30m tonnes of CO2 - the equivalent of nearly 5% of all the emissions produced in generating UK electricity.

Tom Tuohy R.I.P.
An unsung hero, his bravery averted a possible British nuclear catastrophe.
Footnote with thanks, again, to J-Walk Blog.

About 100 years ago, the best known radioactive material was radium and folk weren't particularly aware of the damage radioactivity could cause to tissues and cells.

Would you have bought these?




8:00 am |
Monday, June 23, 2008
  An Examination of the Education System

Our Kid has passed his 11+. That is, of course, a cause for some celebration as it means that, following his 'graduation' six years ago from kindergarten, he's successfully navigated his second rite of passage into adulthood.

There will now be a three year slog until the next set of multi-choice questions is plonked in front of him. Apart from learning how to choose between A, B, C and D, I'm not certain that he'll have absorbed much essential knowledge from his schooling.

I've always hated mathematics; I may have basic arithmetical skills, such as counting (money), telling the time and measuring, but I really don't understand what he was taught, but didn't really grasp, in his final year in primary school.

Last night, over a bottle or two of Bintang (I have problems in counting more than three), three Brits discussed how we were taught to do long division, which is to carry the remainder below for the next step of division with the completed answer being 'built' from left to right at the top. I believe it's named the Fletcher method, but that's immaterial because that isn't the method taught in Indonesian schools.

A friend commented that his daughter did some long division homework but came home in tears because her teacher had marked her answers wrong even though she had got them all right. Apparently the lass had used the above method, one that the teacher didn't understand!

What makes this worse is that these same 'standardised' teaching methods and tests are used across the country. They are, as argued by Benedictus Widi Nugroho, a high school teacher from Yogya, counter-productive.

Although the vision statement articulated in the strategic plans of the Department of National Education maintains that education should be able to equip students with spiritual, emotional and cognitive intelligence; education, in practice, has been reduced to test-oriented school tasks.

This practice, of course, denies the vision statement itself because classroom activities are focused only on the cognitive domain. Future leaders should have not only intellectual capacity but also spiritual and emotional maturity and intelligence.

What makes it worse is, Iwan Gunawan says, that the exam system, being controlled by the government, is not transparent.

In a country where even prosecutors, judges and parliamentarians can be bribed, the national exam sounds like a nationwide early introduction to corrupt the mindset of our children. Before the exam dates, rumors circulate of offers of leaked test papers.

The major problem is that at the end of Grades 6, 9 and 12, each pupil - throughout the country - must pass a set of exams by attaining an average of the scores of all the tests. The standardisation does not allow for individual talents, aspirations or local conditions. Furthermore, high school students must achieve a pass mark in Indonesian, Mathematics and English. Why the latter I really don't understand.

Many students who have been accustomed to an active learning system find it difficult to switch from the independent research skills that they have been taught to the "beating-multiple-choice-test" skills that require more experience of as many tests as possible. The psychological costs of this to our younger generation have been very high varying from an apathetic attitude to developing an "all-is-fair to win" mindset.

Such is the obsession with 'passing' irrelevant exams that today's students have no more time to play and relax. Their days are overburdened with school assignments and homework.

There is also the sad consequence of having one exam fit all: provinces at the outer extremes on Indonesia, Aceh, recovering from its civil war and the devastation caused by the tsunami, and East Nusa Tengarra, where last year 17,959 of 51,770 junior high students failed the test, both achieved 'poor' results. Jakarta's government officials, meanwhile, are crowing about the near 100% pass rate.

The head of Jakarta's primary education agency, Sukesti Martono said that from 116,254 junior high school students taking the exams, only 15 students, 0.01 percent, failed. The average grade this year was 7.35 out of 10. The minimum standard to pass the exam is 5.25.

Let me close with a comment by a Year 6 teacher: "There's something wrong with the amount of testing and assessment we're doing, the quality of testing and assessment we're doing, and the unseen consequences of that testing for the whole school culture.

"It is still a culture where the success of a child, of a teacher, of a school is linked to testing, testing, testing, that is the problem."

To be fair, the teacher is talking about English schools. That her comment mirrors those being made in Indonesia by her colleagues leads me to think that the forces of 'globalisation' are inherently evil.

Children are being trained to consume unthinkingly rather than to realise their potential as participants in the human race. Those who fail are unimportant anyway as they won't have the financial resources to participate except as androids in the machinery of the multinationals.

Students celebrate passing the national exams
For a detailed critique of Indonesia's standardised national exams, download this paper by Iwan Syahril at the Teachers College of Columbia University. He has published a condensed version on his excellent Education 21 blog, which, because I believe Iwan would make an enlightened Minister of Education, I'm giving a permanent link to.


3:00 pm |
Sunday, June 22, 2008
  Let's Have A Party

Yep, today is a special day. Jakarta is 481 years old and civic services are apparently taking place all over the city, but mainly out of sight. Except, of course, in the shopping malls .

In my 20+ plus years here I've never received an invite to a do and I can't say that I'm too eager to seek one out.

Jakarta Post readers agree with me.

- Actually, I see no special preparations to celebrate Jakarta's 481st anniversary. It may be because if you add up the constituent numbers you get the unlucky number 13. However, we can make the city a better place to live in by praying to the Lord, our Savior.

Getting anywhere is a pain, as readers of the Jakarta Post make plain.

- Please improve public transport. Bring in the monorail system to avoid traffic and improve transportation.

Transport is just one problem.

- There are many classical problems that Jakarta faces, including seasonal floods, traffic jams, illegal street vendors, slum areas along riversides and a lack of awareness and discipline among its residents etc.

In an effort to overcome these problems, the Jakarta administration must implement priority-based integrated programs for short-, medium- and long-term periods to be carried out systematically and consistently.

In encouraging public awareness and discipline, the city should consistently uphold the law. It will help the city become better organized.
Tangerang, Banten

According to the Post, Jakarta is home to some 8.5 million people at night and 12 million in the day time. The difference is due to the large number of commuters from neighboring cities, including Bogor, Bekasi, Depok and Tangerang. And it seems that more and more people are likely to come to the city.

Those who live in Jakarta or earn their living here typically blame the city authorities for nearly all of the problems they face.

But Governor Fuzzy Bodoh blames us, mainly because people have continued smoking. He pointed out that Bylaw No. 22/2005 on air pollution control -- which includes a ban on smoking in public places, including restaurants, offices and hospitals -- was toothless because Jakartans are very far from being law-abiding citizens. The governor criticized those who smoked in forbidden places in spite of the bylaw, which threatens up to Rp 50 million (US$5,500) or 3 months imprisonment.

So, those addicted to nicotine are to blame for everything.

I'd like to be fair to City Hall, so let me point out how strange we Brits can be.

Good Queen Bess has a 'real' birthday, 21st April, and an 'official' one. I think it's something to do with the British weather because April can be bloody cold. Maybe climate change will let her celebrate properly next year, when she'll be 83.

Every year I get an invitation from Our Man in Jakarta who, this year, is Martin Hatfull who, with his wife Phyllis,
request the pleasure of the company of
Mr. and Mrs. Jakartass
at a Reception
to celebrate the official birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
on Wednesday, 25 June 2008

My confusion is because according to Its Royal Highness, the Official Website, the date of the official 'official' birthday is June 14th, last Saturday.


1:30 pm |
Saturday, June 21, 2008
  Renewable News Paper

Next week the UK government will publish a "long awaited" renewable energy strategy.

According to the Guardian, it will say Britain needs to make a £100bn dash to build up its clean power supply if it is to reach its EU-imposed target of producing 15% of the country's energy from renewable sources by 2020.

The UK could cut its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 20% and reduce its dependency on oil by 7% within 12 years if it conducts the massive overhaul of energy production and consumption outlined in the strategy document.

The proposals include:
· New powers to force people to improve the energy efficiency of their homes when they renovate them.
· Forcing people to replace inefficient appliances (such as oil-fired boilers).
· A 30-fold increase in offshore wind power generation.
· New loans, grants and incentives for businesses and households.

Although belatedly welcome, as George Monbiot says, these proposals are not without problems and possibly do not go far enough.

Studies by people as diverse as the German government and the Centre for Alternative Technology have shown how, by diversifying the sources of green energy, by managing demand and using some cunning methods of storage, renewables could supply 80% or even 100% of our electricity without any loss in the continuity of power supplies.

Certainly it is vital that homes (and other buildings) minimise energy usage, but until such an ideal situation is reached, there will still be a dependence on ever-diminishing fossil fuels. Our recent power cut was, I discovered, because a major station in Central Java had insufficient coal supplies - and still does.

Suitably adapted, the UK energy strategy offers hope that much can be done in Indonesia. Three photographs in the Jakarta Post this week, none of which I can find online, sum up some of the efforts being made to conserve fuel. (The power cut wasn't illustrated.)

In today's edition SBY is seen heading up a parade of cyclists around the Presidential Palace and the National Monument "to draw attention to a healthier lifestyle and less air pollution" and "to save fuel". He was accompanied by several cabinet members, his wife and the Bike To Work group. There was no mention of Fuzzy Bodoh, Jakarta's Governor, or any of the seat warmers from City Hall responsible for maintaining, although they don't, the city's roads.

And there's no word forthcoming about the provision of bike lanes. Fuzzy made his excuses seven months ago so I wonder what he told SBY this time.

Meanwhile, Jakarta's traffic cops have taken to parking their motorbikes and donning inline skates to enable them to wend their way through Jakarta's traffic jams.

Earlier in the week, there was a photo of a footbridge, not one connected to the busway, over one of Jakarta's main roads. The bridge design incorporates a concrete ramp running up the centre, which I find is smoother and more energy efficient than the steps on either side. Pictured was a motorcyclist heading up and across to the other side of the highway.

The caption stated that he was using a ramp designed for wheelchair users.

Jakartans: have you ever seen a wheelchair user, let alone one trying to navigate the sidewalk to get to the bridge, then attempting to use the ramp?


4:30 pm |
  Surfing The Brain Waves

Neuroscientists say that gay men have brains like straight women, with larger right hemispheres than straight men. Apparently this means that they are better navigators.

So, how do you explain that once I've been somewhere I can generally find it again whereas 'Er Indoors always gives wrong directions to taxi drivers?

And can we now argue that because religious conservatives are opposed to gay men and women having full participatory rights in their churches and mosques that these religions have lost direction?

(NB. Homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, but it is in 26 other countries with Muslim majorities, seven of which carry the death penalty for persons presumed guilty of homosexual acts. A reasoned article about this issue, with readers' comments, can be found here.)

Prescient, or what?

Take away our clothes, our food, our liquor, our quaint sexual pleasures, or fatiguing little conversations and our loathsome excitements about this and that: what's left? A hollow thing, like one of those silver Christmas-tree ornaments, with no more blood or warmth. Let the snow fall and we're cold as ice, let the wind rustle the branches and we drop and shatter once and for all.

Nothing's left, because we never really lived anything, we never rose above the world of objects, we never deep down within us were alive. It's the age of inversion, the negative age. We're changing into tremendous plants, and soon we'll be breathing carbon dioxide, at the rate we're going.
- Frederic Prokosch The Asiastics (first published 1935)

Language Matters

"I was surprised when I heard of the suspension. I just said some words which are usually heard in the Premier League."

China's Sun Jihai finds Asia's referees are tougher than British ones after being handed a five-game ban and fined £3,450 for verbally abusing Lebanese referee Talaat Najm in a World Cup qualifier.

While he was on the bench.

Careless or Carless?

A small ad in the Post:


8:00 am |
Thursday, June 19, 2008
  Muddled Morality

“Have you no morals, man?”
Can't afford them, Guvnor.”
- George Bernard Shaw - Pygmalion

One of the commentators on the thread about religion on Indonesian Matters quotes Julian of Norwich, a woman who in England in the 14th century, after falling ill, was subject to visions about God and eventually became an anchorite in the monastery of St Julian of Norwich. She was a very compassionate woman, and found it hard to reconcile a revelation she had in which God asserts that unbelievers and the like will be cast into hell. In her consternation she demands an explanation from God, but all he will say is "All will be well, All will be well, All manner of things will be well".

"And I wondered greatly at this revelation, and considered our faith, wondering as follows: our faith is grounded in God's word, and it is part of our faith that we should believe that God's word will be kept in all things; and one point of our faith is that many shall be damned. And given all this, I thought it impossible that all manner of things should be well, as our Lord revealed at this time."

This sounds like a ready made excuse for all kinds of malfeasance, evils and the like. Let me flout the laws of Man because God's laws ordain it?

I'm not sure that Max Hastings would agree. Writing in The Guardian, he argues that western countries, in particular the UK, must be transparent in its financial dealings with countries "with which we must trade for our livelihood."

Transparency is essential if we want to ensure that Britain does not go the way of corrupted societies around the world.

African (and Asian) nations will never be deflected from the path of chronic corruption until foreign companies - supposedly from societies with higher political standards - cease to pay them bribes. Our muddled morality causes us to seek to impose standards of probity in Britain that we are willing to abandon when a British company or institution is playing abroad. We say that we are perforce accepting the standards prevailing in societies with which we must trade for our livelihood. But we thus contribute to perpetuating those same base standards.

As much as I admire his assumption that "higher political standards" are synonymous with moral probity, I sense a whiff of colonialism in what he says. But then the imposition of cultural values is yet another form of proselytising. However, given the culture of corruption that is all-pervasive here, one which the UK was certainly party to with the connivance of the Cendana Clan, then the abandonment by anyone of the acceptance of what some term 'Asian Values' is to be applauded.

The forces of capitalism have determined and dictated the path of 'globalisation'. Yet far from spreading wealth globally, it has lead to exclusion.

In Indonesia, according to Unicef, from 1995-2004 the lowest 40% shared 20% of the overall household income whereas the highest 20% took home 43%. (GNI per capita in 2006: US$1420)

The BBC recently reported on a Unicef/SCF report on children giving up their children.

It found that about 500,000 Indonesian children are in care institutions, but only about 6% are orphans. Economic concerns, including rising food prices (blamed on rising oil prices and the worldwide demand for biofuels), are partly to blame,

One fact is clear: globalisation is not a moral force. Certain religions have bought into this particular credo and, as has been argued elsewhere this past week, religions with their sects are also exclusive.

Corruption, such as rust, is a weakening of an otherwise sound system. Moral corruption is the decay, or erosion, of accepted behavioural norms. The FPI, for example, follow a set of corrupt Islamic precepts.

In this morass of muddled morality, where the state has abrogated its responsibility to create and protect social cohesion, and businesses practice 'corporate social responsibility' as a boost to their bottom lines, Indonesia's major religious groupings, the Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, are not doing enough to create harmony, a precondition for a fair society, or, in the matter of the FPI, are reinforcing societal divisions through not condemning the havoc they are creating.

But this is nothing new. In his book The Asiatics, published in 1935, Frederic Prokosch caught, the ironies of a world in which a Muslim will chastise an American for coming from a country with “no god” and in the next breath will ask to be taken to America (growing angry when refused) …
Update - a day later

Muhammadiyah chairman, Din Syamsuddin, yesterday admitted that criticisms of mainstream organisations such as Muhammadiyah and NU for their failure to speak out against extremist and conservative elements were partly justified, but the attacks should not be linked to religion.

"Ä violent attack is a purely criminal act, and the state should take action against it. Violence has no root in Islam. It's a misuse or abuse of religion," he said.

"The reason we seem to be doing nothing is because we don't want to be provoked."


Rather than standing up for your beliefs, this is crouching behind the parapets.



10:30 pm |
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
  Thank God I'm An Atheist

This is a hot topic in the Indonesian blogosphere at the moment, thanks to Rima Fauzi's post Why Religion Doesn't Matter At All, which can also be found on Indonesian Matters.

Two weeks ago Rima emailed me with a set of questions "for an experienced blogger from a new blogger". I do have a lengthy post in response nearly ready which I was hoping to post today. However, thanks to what I'd like to call an Act of God* because it happened without warning, I haven't, apart from my title, managed to finish it.

Ah, age and the thought that life doesn't get any easier, or more understandable, as you get older.

And how can one answer age old questions to which there aren't any pat answers, without sounding glib or, worse, trite? That's been my difficulty. I may sometimes try to look at things from different angles, but only because what I want to say needs to be original in order to be read and responded to.

That Rima's writing has produced so many comments on both sites, several of which are scholarly and and most well-thought out, is an indication of the growing maturity and confidence among blog readers, particularly as few seek to proselytise. Also it's perhaps even more encouraging than the topic being discussed that Indonesians now feel able to express ideas and philosophies which run counter to established and accepted viewpoints.

However, in a country which expects citizens to have a religious label on their I.D. card, and as religion is the topic of choice, it is probably useful to clarify which religion suits you best.

For that, try Belief-O-Matic.
Answer 20 questions about your concept of God, the afterlife, human nature, and more, and Belief-O-Matic™ will tell you what religion (if any) you practice ... or ought to consider practicing.

I did, and this is the Jakartass Religious Profile.

--1. Liberal Quakers (100%)
--2. Secular Humanism (100%)
--3. Unitarian Universalism (95%)
--4. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (85%)
--5. Neo-Pagan (76%)
--6. Theravada Buddhism (74%)
--7. Orthodox Quaker (73%)
--8. Taoism (71%)
--9. Mahayana Buddhism (67%)
10. New Age (65%)
11. Nontheist (64%)
12. Bahá'í Faith (61%)
13. Jainism (56%)
14. Reform Judaism (53%)
15. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (43%)
16. Sikhism (41%)
17. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (40%)
18. Hinduism (40%)
19. Seventh Day Adventist (39%)
20. New Thought (39%)
21. Scientology (38%)
22. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (32%)
23. Jehovah's Witness (28%)
24. Eastern Orthodox (23%)
25. Islam (23%)
26. Orthodox Judaism (23%)
27. Roman Catholic (23%)

But no animism?
*We had a scheduled power cut in our part of town which lasted from 9 this morning until 5 this evening. When we contacted PLN, the state electricity company, to complain, they told us that they'd had many complaints because, although scheduled, they had failed to notify anyone!

At times like these, I wish I believed in a God who practised divine retribution



7:30 pm |
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
  Life Is A Gas

Every cloud supposedly has a silver lining. Scientists probably account for this by pointing out that actually it's an oily sheen caused by all the pollution being pumped into the atmosphere.

As an unashamed optimist I firmly believe that it's a good thing that lifestyle adjustments are finally not only necessary but feasible for the mainly emergent middle classes because fuel prices have risen out of their reach.

I've come across a few indicators of these lifestyle adjustments, but first, if you must guzzle gas read the following I got from a fellow Addick:

1. Only buy or fill up your car, truck or motorcycle in the early morning or at night when the ground temperature is still cool.
Remember that all service stations have their storage tanks buried below ground. The colder the ground the more dense the gasoline. When it gets warmer gasoline expands, so buying in the heat of the day your liter is not exactly a liter and a 1-degree rise in temperature is a big deal for this business.

2. Fill up when your gas tank is half full or half empty.
The reason for this is that the more gas you have in your tank the less air occupying its empty space and gasoline evaporates faster than you can imagine.

But why use private transport when you can go public? No, don't bother answering that if you live in Jakarta, but remember that optimists live in the future.

A newly met friend, André Vtlchek, is an analyst of the ills of Asiana, including Indonesia and Jakarta in particular, where he maintains a home. He says, Jakarta has fallen decades behind capitals in the neighboring countries - in aesthetics, housing, urban planning, standard of living, quality of life, health, education, culture, transportation, food quality and hygiene.

Comparative statistics have to be transparent and widely available. Citizens have to learn how to ask questions again, and how to demand answers and accountability. Only if they understand to what depths their city has sunk can there be any hope of change.

My good friend, The Rev, recently asked me if I could tell him how many motorcycles there are in Jakarta. I couldn't help him.

(He'd managed to wipe out an ojek, one of the motorcycle taxis which clog up the sidewalks and other supposedly public areas.)

However, I have managed to glean a few vehicle stats, mainly from the Post.

2% of transport carries 40% of the population.

I know I've recently quoted this one, but there are complexities in its seeming simplicity. For example, if the number of buses and trains were doubled, would nigh on 80% of the population be carried by 4% of the transport?

Reports from Tangerang
, a township to the south-east of Jakarta, show a 25 percent increase in sales of commuter train tickets to the capital since the government cut the fuel subsidy, suggesting many Tangerang residents who usually drive cars or ride motorcycles to Jakarta are taking the train.

Mind you, Kereta Api Indonesia (Indonesia Trains) "does not have any plans to increase the frequency of commuter trains despite the increase in passenger numbers."

Bloody typical, but a 25% increase in ticket sales may represent a low number of passengers.

Debnath Guharoy, of Roy Morgan Associates, has a regular column in the business section of the Post. He offers some statistics about holiday travel.

For example, sixty-five percent of travelers use buses, making it the most popular form of transportation, even during holidays. A further 20 percent hop on their family motorbike for vacation. Another 7 percent travel during holidays by cars owned within the family or by friends, while a mere 2 percent take the boat or ferry.

The numbers, updated every 90 days, are estimated to reflect almost 90 percent of the population over the age of 14, representing a total of 140 million people.

From that it's possible to deduce that approximately 70 million Indonesians are below the age of 14. Presumably they also use the same transport.

The key figure here is the mere 7 percent who use private cars. If there is an average of four people per car that's only c.250,000 cars, whereas 1,400,000 motorcycles are used, assuming two are carried.

Maybe the missing 6% don't take holidays, although I'd have thought the proportion would be much higher.

But there is the matter of what constitutes a holiday in this country. Phil King writes in Inside Indonesia about the multifarious local festivals in the country which, for most folk, are more important than the official red calendar days.

For example, consider the recent National Awakening Day.

You need to be an early riser to catch an Indonesian official public holiday ritual. 6:30am was not early enough to catch the brief Awakening ceremony held by the Pacitan Surf Club as the precursor to the third annual Hidden Point Surfing Competition in SBY’s hometown of Pacitan. The ceremony was clearly not as important as the serious business of surfing. To my mind, the surfing displayed all the essential elements of the Awakening message.

SBY had used the nation’s airwaves on Tuesday afternoon to tell us all that Indonesia was a ‘bangsa yang bisa!’ (a nation that can!). His local Pacitan surfing community was doing it.


11:00 am |
Monday, June 16, 2008
  Come Hithers

Well Come
Steve Bowen, a newcomer to Jakarta, has already hit his stride.

Jakarta looks like somebody dropped it. It’s one of those delightfully unplanned cities that just seems to keep growing and growing and not really going anywhere. Like my old home in Seoul, though, the city centre has nice wide avenues built to let the Powers drive through in their air-conditioned limousines without having to toil through the grubby masses who pay their salaries.

It's good to see Oigal back in fine angry form, having been "fighting the evil doers" (and thus protecting the livelihoods of his Indonesian staff).

Another Comeback
In defiance of world opinion, common sense and, above all, sheer public opposition YaUdah Bistro has come back for more.

Our favourite Jalan Jaksa haunt has reopened in Kelapa Gading Boulevard. Regular readers will recognise the lead story on their website.

Not Coming
I was looking forward to continued thoughts from Maya as she prepared to come and teach in Medan or Jakarta. Unfortunately (?) life has taken a different turn for her so she’s now off to Japan - probably. I think that even without actually being here she experienced an Indonesian WTF moment.

Come Again?
North Korea beat Jordan 2-0 on Saturday to qualify for the next and final qualifying round of the Asia Group of World Cup 2010. Both goals were scored by Serbian-born Hong Yong-jo.

This leads me to ponder what's wrong with Serbia.


2:00 pm |
Saturday, June 14, 2008
  An Article of Faith

There's a Canadian sitcom called Little Mosque on the Prairie, a show about a Muslim community living among their indigenous neighbours in a small Canadian prairie town.

It's a populist, non-tub-thumping attempt to shift the tabloid misconception of Islam as the hysterical extremism of numerous newspaper headlines.

And apparently it's going to be remade by Fox TV for American audiences.

Ah, but could it be adapted here? How about a cinetron (sitcom/soap opera) about a religious sect - let's call it Ahmadiyah - which wishes to live in peace with neighbours, some of whom want to evict them because they look different and don't go to parties.

Founded exactly 100 years ago, it has been in Indonesia since 1929, with few problems until recently.

Much like the adherents of every other "Mystical Belief", which is what the Indonesian government labels every religion, they believe in one true God and follow the precepts of their Holy Book, in this case the Koran.

They basically differ from mainstream Muslims in Indonesia in one respect. According to Ahmadis, there are two types of prophet: first, prophet who preach the syariah (Islamic laws), such as Prophet Mohammed, the second are prophets who are not preaching the syariah. Mirza Gulam Ahmad, the founder of Ahmadiyah community is regarded as the prophet who did not bring the syariah.

They are also in thrall to the Sufis, who include among their number that well-known tourist attraction, the Whirling Dervishes.

Indonesian cinetrons have a wide cast of characters and regularly feature mystical happenings. Is Ahmadiyah Adventures so far-fetched?

Consider the cast of characters:
A number of smaller Islamic organizations cover a broad range of Islamic doctrinal orientations.
Fox may well be interested in producing such a show, especially given the internationalist aspect. Set in a community with some practicing of polygamy and others violence, with beautiful scenery, colourful costumes, court cases, demonstrations and media interest, I think this is a show that will run and run.


12:00 pm |
Thursday, June 12, 2008
  Did You Know ..... ?

Whilst wending my way by Busway on Sunday with Our Kid, I found myself standing next to an Air Force cadet training to be a pilot and wearing a rather smart chronometer. I checked the time on my watch and noticed that my fellow straphanger had a different time. I know that my watch, unlike me, is always on time because I regularly synchronise it with my Atomic Clock Sync. So I mentioned to the cadet that he was either very early or very late.

He then told me this little known fact - the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) keep Greenwich Mean Time.

I was born and raised along the Greenwich Meridian*, give or take a mile, so I am inordinately pleased with this new bit of information. But can anyone answer the key question - why?
* Read Diamond Geezer for loads of info about the line where East meets West. Or separates, depending on where you're standing.


9:00 am |
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
  In the News
.......... and the Post

Lapindo Brantas has finally agreed with an international team of geologists that the data first published in January last year regarding the Sidorajo mudflow is substantially correct.

A follow up report by American, British, Indonesian and Australian scientists published this week in the academic journal "Earth and Planetary Science Letters", which outlines and analyzes a detailed record of operational incidents on the drilling of a gas exploration well, Banjar-Panji-1, by Lapindo Brantas, clearly states that it was not possible for the mudflow to have been caused by the Yogya earthquake two days previously.

The new report concludes the effect of the earthquake was minimal because the change in pressure underground due to the earthquake would have been tiny. Instead, scientists say they are "99 percent" certain drilling operations were to blame.

Another article in the Post today reports that many children in Sidoarjo, especially girls, are going to miss out on secondary education because of the extreme tardiness of Lapindo in paying their parents the mandated compensation. Food takes precedence over school fees.

(It's a shame that Lapindo ceased paying a food allowance a month or so ago, isn't it?)

Surely it's time for Abdurizal Bakrie to take it on the chin, be a big man, swallow his pride, admit that his company got it wrong and now do what is right for for the victims of Lapindo's negligence.

Hey! Look at me when I'm castigating you!



3:00 pm |
Monday, June 09, 2008

Ah, what can be said about Sabrina which isn't said here?

Actually a lot, but read this first because I'm only going to link to the Jakarta Social Blog the once. As an example of the 'fuck you' mentality which pervades Jakarta I don't think I'll ever find a better example. (Indcoup suggests that "Harpers Indonesia magazine is incredible too - it's a fucking different world to the one we know.... "

Quite, but to be fair, JSB do affect to have a social conscience. Of sorts.

Make a difference for the better - starting with yourself.
Show your care to the victims of Sidoarjo Mudflow.

Thankfully, the Bakrie niece's birthday bash was only attended by her closest friends and relatives.

There might be disappointments from those who had expected sumptuous and lavish celebration because despite the immensely increasing wealth of her uncle - Aburizal Bakrie, Adinda only threw a modest celebration attended by her closest friends and relatives.

Birthday girl’s dearest friend, the uber-talented young designer Didit Hediprasetyo was among the fabulous guests that include Indra, Gaby, Intania, and Andra Bakrie, Seng-Hoo Ong, Manohara Pinot, the Soekasah twins, Indah Saugi, Elsa Kurniawan, Vashty Soegomo, Wulan Guritno, Dian Sastrowardoyo, Renny Sutiyoso, Kiki Utara, Ronald Liem, Rachmat Harsono, Livia Prananto, and Fitria Yusuf.

The birthday girl was looking effortlessly chic in a dress by Emilio Pucci (yes, that print du jour) with a quirky yet sweet hairdo. What else can I say other than “Wow!”

What else? "What a pile of doodah" would be a good start. What is a "quirky yet sweet hairdo"? And where does it fit in the cuteness scale of 1 - 10?

If you think I'm digressing, you're right, but that's because Adinda is, in Indcoup's immaculate phrase, a real cracker of a looker.

And now back to my purpose in writing this.

Many Indonesians have been saddled with names which, to many westerners are rather unfortunate. Take the certain TV pundit, questioner of presidents and politicians, who's been saddled with the forenames Adolf Caesar - because his parents admired Hitler and Julius.

Some folk saddle themselves. There was a lass I taught many years ago who had a string of names like pearls - maybe they were Dewi Sari Putri Sinta. I said that they were beautiful, but please tell us which we should use.

To which she replied, "It's up to you, lah, but I prefer Mavis." I kept a straight face and continued to call her 'You'.

Which nicely brings me to the social climber in Jakartan circles who is known as Sabrina.

Dozens of girls within the society are dying to look gorgeous, if it takes awful pain to get there, they’ll take it. Yet, that is not the end of the quest, the circle goes; if they want to be respected, stick to the proper manner, if they want to be sought-after by the fashion people, wear the latest trend, if they always want to be invited, mingle with the right clique, if you want to be envied, spend like a madwoman, yet living it is much more torturing than just reading it.

But such wicked and relentless social rules do not apply to this vivacious young lady with extreme fondness for fun. Blessed with naturally tantalizing physique (do I need to mention why?), perfectly sun-kissed tan, lively personality, and well-connected parents, this champagne-swelling (sic) daughter of Putra and Imelda Joseph has everything a girl needs for her social entrance – climbing is one absolutely unnecessary action.

Unfortunately for young Sabrina, she is likely to be famous only among her social clique and I don't suppose there'll be a website in forty years time devoted to her, even if she does have a "naturally tantalizing physique". Even now, pictures of her seem to have been removed from the site.

However, the original British Sabrina, 72 last month and living in Hollywood, can still be celebrated thanks to the wonders of the internet, and this is the site which does have pictures of her.

Norma Sykes D.Litt (Hon) is the voluptuous British lass who became Sabrina and accomplished above the hips what Elvis accomplished below.

She was a cheese-cake pinup model, TV hostess, actor, singer, stage performer and sex-queen who didn't like to be touched - and had no talent. Even she admitted that. Why then, was the Western world and the bearded president of Cuba so keen to see her that - at one time -10,000 people in Perth caused an airport terminal to collapse?

A victim of polio, mocked for her lack of talent and excess of bosom, she became an international phenomenon who charmed both the public and the cynical reporters, and generated more myths, lies, legends and throbbing memories* than anyone else of her era.

Maybe she is remembered because she was "The Average Englishman's Goddess of Glamour" and not closeted away from we proles.
*As a kid I couldn't escape her impact on our black & white TV nor in gossip-ridden tabloids such as Tit-Bits. My mammaries memories started throbbing a few years after her heyday.


7:00 am |
Sunday, June 08, 2008
  Job Vacancies

Down to Earth, the International Campaign for Ecological Justice in Indonesia, is looking to recruit two part-time Coordinators, one to be based in the UK and one in Bogor, Indonesia.

The Coordinators will coordinate and support DTE personnel working in the UK and Indonesia and be responsible for enhancing the internal management of the organisation.

The successful candidates will be expected to contribute to the strategic leadership of the organisation as well as managing DTE’s finances, coordinating its relations with external stakeholders including funders, and overseeing staff development and training.

Salary at competitive local rates.
Part time: Two days/week

Further details, including key skills required, can be obtained from the job descriptions for the UK-based position - here and for the Indonesia-based position here.

How to apply

Please send your CV and a covering letter explaining your suitability for the post (both in English) to Paul Barber.

Friday 4 July, 17:00, UK time.

(Feel free to mention you saw the ad here.)

Work Wanted

If you, or anyone you know, needs copy editing or proofreading done, please pass on my email address.


11:00 am
Saturday, June 07, 2008
  A Letter to The Grauniad

Dear Sirs,

Please note that your article about three British divers missing "off the coast of Bali", is misleading in that you diminish the importance of the Swedish woman and French man who are also missing.*

Secondly, as the article notes, they're not actually anywhere near the coast of Bali.

"Komodo national park is a popular diving destination, well known for its spectacular coral and fishlife. It is situated more than 200 miles east of the nearest city, Denpasar, the capital of Bali."

That's a bit like saying that three divers are missing off the coast of Cornwall, 200 miles west of London.

Komodo was first made famous for we Brits by David Attenborough's 'Zoo Quest for a Dragon', so it's not as if Indonesia's geography is unfamiliar to British readers. And Bali is not a separate country.

Do please amend the story to show the internationalist aspect which most readers of Guardian Online have come to expect. I really don't wish to refer to you by your previous name - The Grauniad.


*Since found alive and seemingly well, having drifted for more than 12 hours before arriving at Rinca island, where they spent the night, about 20 miles south of their dive site.

Zoo Quest for a Dragon established Attenborough as an intuitive performer, so prepossessed by his fascination with the subject at hand and unconcerned for his own dignity in front of the camera that he seemed to sweat integrity.

A sense of daring has always surrounded him with a glamorous aura: even in this early outing, the massive Komodo Dragon, object of the quest through Borneo
(sic), at least looked as ferocious as its name portends, and Attenborough's presence seemed to prove not only the reality and size of his specimens, but a kind of guarantee that we too were part of this far-flung scientific endeavour, the last credible adventure in the period which witnessed the demise of the British Empire.

This was an amazing programme for pre-teens such as myself growing up in the austerity of post-war London, our heads filled with tales of our parents life in the recent past facing perils with heroism, there were few opportunities for my generation to emulate them. National service had been abolished, for which I was exceedingly glad, but I was a wolf cub, a junior Boy Scout, and I learnt about fundraising through Bob-a-Job week and how to wear a woggle. I also learnt basic camping techniques such as tying reef knots and clove hitches and my shoe laces, skills I still use today.

The Zoo Quest programmes, even in black and white - there wasn't colour TV in 1957* - offered a Boy's Own adventure ethos, an outlet for our imaginations. It also showed us worlds far beyond our horizons, much as he's continued to do for half a century.

Attenborough's combination of charm and amazement has been profoundly influential on a generation of ecologically-aware viewers.

*David Attenborough became Controller of BBC2, which was BBC's more 'highbrow' TV channel, and introduced colour to British screens on 1 July 1967.


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