Friday, October 31, 2008
  My Kind Of Politician

It may be said that as a Brit resident in Indonesia, I have no right to comment on the US presidential election. But I would argue that I do, you do and every single person on this planet does. I wouldn't argue that we've got even more right than the US electorate, but how they vote in the coming weeks will affect all the world's citizens for the foreseeable future.

For many of us, it's literally a matter of life and death. In Iraq, Afghanistan and other 'hotspots', local populations remain at risk thanks to the presence of 'the Great Satan' with its military might. Elsewhere, the collapse of the global financial system, triggered by the greed of American institutions, threatens livelihoods and the security of a basic human right - a roof over one's head.

The self-proclaimed 'Leaders of the Free World' have got us enslaved or at the very least co-opted, by their presumption that massive consumption and 'growth' is good for us. Try telling that to impoverished farmers living in drought and famine stricken areas of Africa who were forced to grow cash crops to feed the ever-fattening burger-munching burghers of the American shopping mall strips.

Come to think of it, try telling that to the millions of Americans living impoverished lives through the lack of employment opportunities and the paucity of public services, with discriminative policies denying them access to medicine whilst they can buy drugs from the gang on the corner.

I wouldn't vote for Barack Obama because of his policies. To be frank, I don't know what they are, but knowing what kind of man he is offers hope. Not to beat about the Bush(es), that he is not a member of the élitist oiligarchy (sic) is the first point in his favour. He has got where he is because of who he is rather than who his father was.

But one cannot really escape one's upbringing, one's personal growth - the best kind of advancement.

I support Barack Obama because these people have known him and do.

It's very sad if a great nation like America wants to persecute Obama just because he was born from a Muslim dad and had a Muslim stepfather. I'm sure one of the reasons for the flexibility he has today is his experiences in Indonesia. At the school, there were half-Chinese and half-Dutch Indonesians, Javanese people, Ambonese, and there were Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Catholics. Barry is used to a mix.
- 1969. Rully Dasaad, classmate at Basuki Primary School, Jakarta.

People looked at him and saw a black man, but his own identity was that he was raised by and living with his white mother and these white grandparents. And maybe because of his white half, white people were willing to let their racist side out in front of him. So he had a lot to wrestle with, especially as a teenager. He was questioning things and following them towards agony and resolution.

One of the things that Punahou instilled in us is that you're given much in order to give much - you're here to go out and help the world.
- 1975. Tony Peterson, friend at Punahou High School, Hawaii

Barry was a focused, dedicated student and an earnest, sincere person, but he wasn't too serious to talk about the fun stuff. We'd hang out and talk about what was happening in class and who was dating whom. He goofed around with the rest of us. He was engaging and perhaps even charismatic, but I wasn't aware of him being a playboy. He was friends with women who were impressive feminists as well as people who were more socially focused. He straddled groups: the arts/literary crowd, which tended to stick together, and the political activist crowd, likewise. He belonged to both.
- 1980. Margot Mifflin, friend of Obama at Occidental College, LA.

Barack had grown up as an outsider, without a father, as an American kid living abroad and separated from his mother at high school. Outsiders do one of two things: try to be like everyone else or identify with other outsiders. Barack did the latter. He was reflective and willing to identify with people in poverty, with people who faced discrimination.
- 1985. Gerald Kellman, employed Obama as a community organiser in Chicago

He had a combination of intellectual acumen, open-mindedness, resistance to stereotypical thinking and conventional presuppositions. He also had a willingness to change his mind when new evidence appeared, confidence in his own moral compass and a maturity that obviously came from some combination of his upbringing and earlier experience.
- 1989. Larry Tribe, Harvard professor of constitutional law

Like all inquisitive, curious and interesting politicians, he is someone who can scan the horizons of many different issues and can find politics in cultural situations - the sadness of death, the experience of living in a developing country and what that means, or economic hardship in rural middle America. He is someone who has a strong emotional intelligence as well as a strong cognitive intelligence.
- 2008. David Lammy, UK Minister of State for Higher Education

Americans, for all our sakes, vote wisely next Tuesday.


6:00 am |
Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Blog Has Moved

Link to the same post in the new blog: Jakartass down

Jakartass down The computer at Jakartass Towers has thrown a Windows wobbly - he'll be back online as soon as he's reinstalled the operating system. 


4:55 pm |
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
  Go Into Biology
One of the reasons he had gone into biology was that he felt that economics was too remote from the real world.
re: Bob Horvitz

Having apportioned blame for the mess and resulting stress, it's getting time to look beyond bandaid solutions in order to avoid yet another similar meltdown in the future.

It may well be that greed is inevitable, but I doubt that this is an underlying factor. Studs Terkel, the American chronicler of oral history, wrote in Hard Times, a compilation of interviews with people who lived through the Great Depression of 1929, that afterwards people were affected in two different ways. The great majority reacted by thinking money was the most important thing in the world.

Which was plain daft if you think about it.

It's all in the mind, isn't it? Money has always been a concept, a bunch of IOUs, promises "to pay the bearer" whatever. Whilst bartering is only effective if exchanged goods have an agreed equivalent value, money gives a value to goods which can be stored, and priced according to demand. Money thus obviates the need for communication through negotiation, and consequently mutual trust is no longer paramount.

The notion of paying, or being paid, for future goods and services came about with the invention of currencies. These have varied from salt, to shells and beads, to arrow heads to gold, silver and other precious metals (nickel?), to diamonds and other stuff you could hide under your mattress if you had one.

Hence the use of papyrus, paper and other writing surfaces of little intrinsic value apart from the words written thereon - "I promise to pay the bearer the sum of ..... Banks were invented to hold these IOUs, and in many cases actually issued them in the absence of anything of value, for which they charged fees, which turned into a percentage of the sums inscribed. The banks' income then allowed them to lend out their 'profit' in the form of loans and mortgages.

Insurance companies were established whose policies you had to buy in order to protect your borrowings. You could also invest in your funeral, although why these policies are categorised as 'life' insurance beats me, especially as, depending on the small print which you won't be able to read if you're dead, they might not be paid out anyway.

Get yours. And get it for your children. And get it now. Nothing else matters.

Ah, but it does. If the central core of one's being is to amass temporal yet, as we now see, ephemeral fortunes, then one is but an empty shell.

I wish I could sympathise with those who can't handle the consequences of having chosen the wrong career. It's certainly difficult making adjustments to lifestyles, especially for those who've been living off the fat of others. In Marylebone, London, an independent mental health hospital has experienced a 33% rise in the number of workers in banks and hedge funds seeking treatment for depression, anxiety and stress as a result of the current financial turmoil.

Studs also discovered that a small number of people felt the system was lousy and that it had to be changed. He didn't interview me, but I'm one of those who've been arguing for a more equitable society, an alternative future that looks beyond our immediate needs and those of our children and grandchildren.

Eighty years after the Great Depression, this lesson has yet to be learned. There have been, and still are, wasteful wars which have been paid for with vast borrowings of IOUs and the massive rape and pillage of our planet's resources. Humanity has placed itself apart from nature, often in the guise of doctrine. Rather than recognising that humanity is a part of nature, we have let God and Mammon, often in harness, set us apart from it, generally citing 'progress', 'development', and the great ideology 'growth'.

Self-labelled 'developed' countries have lead 'developing' countries to believe that, in exchange for their resources in the case of, say, Indonesia, or their agricultural land, in the case of swathes of Africa, populations could enjoy a similar affluent lifestyle to that 'enjoyed' in the west.

For years, many of us have pointed out the hypocricy of this, that even in the Good 'Ol U.S. of A., the 'Leaders Of The Free World', a good percentage of its citizens have been denied access to the American Dream. Millions have lost their jobs as theirs have been shipped overseas where labour is cheaper (viz. Nike in Indonesia), the Medicare system excludes many in favour of privatised charlatans, urban centres have been turned over to gangs who've been turned over by drugs, and the country has been turned over to the motor car, at the behest of oil companies.

Ah, the power of self-delusion, believing that happiness can be bought. Surely that comes from within, from relationships and knowing one's place in the grand scheme of things and recognising one's mortality.

You can't take it with you - so why take it in the first place? Above all, why take what doesn't belong to you but belongs to each and all? After all, biologically speaking, isn't humanity a part of nature?


6:00 am |
Monday, October 27, 2008
  Now Is My Time

Except it might not be. Thanks to - or rather, no thanks to - the J-Walk Blog, I've discovered that my zodiac sign has changed, and maybe yours too, because they correspond to the position of the sun relative to constellations as they appeared over 2200 years ago! And the earth wobbles.

I was informed nearly 40 years ago that this was the dawning of my age and having lived this long as an Aquarian, which has meant having an artistic temperament, great intuition and intelligence, a social conscience, and a tolerance of others until they piss me off, then watch out, oh boy, so why should I change now?

There's no way I can be a Capricorn, "a sure-footed Mountain Goat", because I have weak ankles, an Aquarian trait mark.

What's more, as a typical Aquarian, I don't believe in astrology, so screw the universe, I'm going to give it continue giving astrology a myth.

Later - please

And the later the better. However, there will come a time when I'm raised on high to be greeted by the 72 virgins who, knowing my luck, will the same Catholic nuns waiting for the three Bali bombers due to meet their maker next week.

I digress, although death and how we deal with it is this topic. When my time comes, depending on the place, I don't want a grave in an urban cemetery, but would wish to return to the soil - dust to dust, or, if it's considered that I've been a bad boy-man, then consign me to the crematorium fires of hell - ashes to ashes.

The passing of a friend
, killed by a passing motorist when cycling home one night, is marked by a bench for hill walkers to rest on in the Lake District of northern England, a good place to wash one's brain and respect one's place in the greater scheme of things.

Compare that with Jakarta's latest family attraction, a 500ha park complete with basketball court, swimming pool, Italian restaurant and man-made lake with an unusual feature: it is actually a cemetery.

The developer of San Diego Hills park, an hour's drive from the city, claims this is the world's first graveyard with recreational facilities, the aim being to create a cemetery catering as much to the living as to the dead.

All in all, San Diego Hills seems to have hit on a winning formula, at least as far as Ms Hanna Angkasali, a career woman in her early 30s, is concerned.

"This is different: common cemeteries are dirty and full of beggars."

Beggars can't be choosers as they have bugger all.

Whereas there are buggers who beggar belief


7:00 am |
Sunday, October 26, 2008
  These are ten things about me ... honestly

There's a meme going around the Indonesian blogosphere whereby we get tagged and then expose ourselves. Jakartass was set up to keep family and friends in touch with me; I now have about 200 regular readers, including subscribers, so folk who can be bothered will already know a lot about me .

And all this is prevarication. As is this. Brandon, now Indonesia's top blogger in English, tagged Treespotter, who's rejoined the top ten, who tagged me.

1. I was adopted at the same time as my sister, who's not biologically related and fifteen months younger. I'm told that my hands and feet were tied to the sides of my cot in the kid's sanctuary, which may explain my height and my nail-biting habit. It is also the defining factor in my psychological make up.

2. Given my birthday, I think I was conceived on the night of Victory in Europe Day, so I was an accident waiting to happen.

3. (Sir) Richard Branson of Virgin fame was delivered by the same doctor as my sister and me. He may have been Dr. Pink who my mother worked for and who, ahead of his time, advocated Bircher Muesli which became our breakfast for too many years.

4. I was raised as a vegetarian, a legacy of food rationing in the post-war years, and my mother was an amazing cook. I still salivate at the thought of her nut roast, bean casseroles and, oh frabjous joy, her fruit cake. Above all, every afternoon when we got back from school my sister and I could have a wodge of bread pudding which used up the previous week's left over bread - and bread pudding.

5. We lived in Shooter's Hill Road, which now features in the early stages of the London Marathon. So every year I summon 'Er Indoors and Our Kid and say, look, there's my childhood home.

6. In 1970 I was secretary of our local (borough) union strike committee when teachers in London became the first to selectively withdraw labour. We wanted an interim pay award of £132 p.a. We got £125, and I nearly got sued for libel for quoting the leader of the London's Education Committee as saying that we were lucky to earn more than we would have got on the dole.

7. I've been arrested twice, once for 'obstruction of a footpath', which was already blocked off by the police. The other time our street of squats, described as a "hippy stronghold" on the front page of the Times, was raided by the bomb squad. Traffic violations, visa overstays and possession of a 'quid deal' were the charges brought as a result of the sledgehammers through our doors. Our houses now feature as the locale for a film due out around now called Somers Town.

8. I've known a lot of musicians, have built up three collections of LPs, then cassettes, and now CDs and MP3s, but I can't play a musical instrument.

9. I used to smoke a pipe. I carried a tobacco tin labelled Baby's Bottom (None Smoother than .... ). It probably contained substances from war zones, and I don't mean from Aranmore Island off the coast of Donegal, Ireland in 1969.

10. When I came to Indonesia, Son.No.1 was 11, I told him that I would be where he could find me until he was 18. I dreamed of then over going over the Andes and down the Amazon. He's now 32 and has been here a dozen (?) times whilst I've been back to the UK just once but generally not been further than Singapore.
Lovely Rima in Belgium has agreed to join this thread. She says she can find others within our mutual blog world who can follow suit.


7:00 am |
Friday, October 24, 2008
  Blogging For Society

The Indonesian government is inviting five foreign bloggers on a round trip to Yogyakarta and Bali as part of the Pesta Blogger 2008, to be held on November 22nd. The bloggers will be from the United States, China/Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and Malaysia and are expected to start their trip in Bali on November 17 before going to Yogyakarta and then heading into the Big Durian, Jakarta.

I take 'society' to mean the wider community. Much as I applaud anyone's efforts to 'expose' themselves through their writing, sticking to tales of kissing the cat, hitting the boyfriend and then going shopping is insular and hardly societal in its impact. Nor is commenting about the latest widget, gadget and thingamajib.

Few of our blogs are societal. The coalescence of bloggers earlier this month around the issue of the release of the names and addresses of every school child in the country by the Department of (not very good) Education was the first collective effort, campaign if you will, from the Indonesian blogosphere that I recall in the nearly 5 years of Jakartass.

The now moribund Indonesia Help was set up in the aftermath of the Aceh Tsunami by Enda Nasution, the blog pioneer in this country, and proved an effective network tool; it was revived following the Yogyakarta earthquake. However, although I was a minor contributor, there were few other folk seemingly prepared to contribute.

I set up Green Indonesia a couple of years ago to disseminate information on the issues which have ever increasing importance here, the repository of so much of Planet Earth's resources. I really hoped that writing on specific topics could be tackled by 'experts', but there have been no takers.

Until this month, we've all followed our separate noses.

Can we expect better things from Pesta Blogger? I doubt it somehow because the government is involved and they inevitably subvert issues and groups to their political ends. This is not a criticism of the Indonesian government, but merely a comment based on the experience of a lifetime of political activism. (Note the adoption of green issues by all shades of the political spectrum some thirty or so years after the first Green Parties were established.)

The criteria for the five international bloggers is that throughout the trip, (they’ll) be expected to blog about Indonesia as a travel destination and the cultural heritage of the country as well as the interaction (they’ll) be having with local bloggers’ communities in Denpasar, Jogjakarta, and Jakarta.

I've passed on the invite to a blogger who specialises in travel writing about south-east Asia. He regularly bemoans the fact that there isn't such a thing as a bloggers' community. (We're all hiding behind our computer screens.) But if Friskodude does receive one of the invites, I do look forward to meeting up with him for a few beers.

Whatever, assuming I get an open invite this year, I look forward to putting a few faces to pen names. Perhaps too, we'll see bloggers finally becoming a force for the good of all, stimulating debate and, finally, kickstarting the stalled reformasi.


5:30 pm |
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
  Another Bakrie Bash.

Why not kick a rich man when he's down, eh? He's maybe going to be out of pocket by about $4 billion dollars, half his fortune before the stock markets and banks went tits up. In order to finance massive expansion so that the Minister of (His Family's) Welfare could become Indonesia's richest man, various banks lent him loads of money which, in many senses, wasn't really theirs to lend.

As collateral, the Bakrie boys had pledged shares, then valued at $6 billion, primarily in PT Bumi Resources, which was their milch cow for a while as they exported Indonesia's coal, ahem, resources, whilst the price was at record highs. The crash, and panic-stricken investors in the Jakarta Stock Exchange, brought the value of those shares down to $1.35 billion. That J.P Morgan wanted its loans paid off seems fair enough; Bakrie, on behalf of their shareholders, gambled and didn't win.

The sentiment among all-right thinking people, and socialists too, is that there should be buy ups and not bail outs. Public money should not be used to line private pockets, and in the case of Bumi Resources, having the State take back an interest, preferably a controlling interest, in State resources, makes absolute moral sense.

Whatever happens, as this Post editorial states quite clearly, there must be absolute transparency in any deal reached between state owned companies and the Bakrie empire - or should that now be called a fiefdom?

However,there are mutterings, conspiracy theories even, circulating about the Minister of Welfare's powerful friends. For example, in today's Jakarta Post, there is a story that the Minister of Finance, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, is facing a "covert attempt" to force her out "following her stern moves to guard the state budget from abuse and clamp down on violators".

Efforts to topple the "iron lady" intensified after she turned down requests from a major conglomerate for government assistance in saving its business empire in the wake of the global financial meltdown, sources said.

Interestingly, the "major conglomerate" is not named in this story. Why?

Ministry sources say businessmen involved in violations in the mining sector, the customs and excise business, and the tax sector were among those teaming up with businessmen who recently got burned in the stock market and could not recover their losses.

Mulyani has been praised for her efforts in reforming the once corruption-infested customs and tax offices, including refusing to allow 10 helicopters belonging to a firm linked to Vice President Jusuf Kalla to pass through customs before paying duties.

Her courage was on show again when she ordered state-run Bank Mandiri to transfer disputed funds worth Rp 1.23 trillion (US$ 126 million) from Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, son of the late former president Soeharto, to the state account for development use.

However, her latest move in refusing to help a politically wired business group has ignited a backlash of rage which may cost her her job unless Yudhoyono ensures Mulyani remains in her post until his administration ends.

The public is aware that in Sri Mulyana there is at least (at last?) one government minister of clear probity and with the courage to do what is necessary to root out corrupt practices. As SBY clearly wants another term, in not removing Mulyani he will conversely be demonstrating a decisiveness he has rarely shown.

I have absolutely no sympathy with the losers. They haven't lost livelihoods, houses, business, unlike the refugees from the mud volcano in Sidoarjo, East Java.

The general consensus is that a Bakrie company, Lapindo Brantas, drilling in the area was responsible. The company has been charged by SBY with compensating those who've see everything disappear under a sea of mud. Lapindo Brantas denies responsibility claiming that it was all the fault of an earthquake a couple of hundred miles away in Yogya a week previously. So there are some 40,000* displaced folk still waiting for the presidential directive to be carried out by a government minister ...

Taking place in London today is an international conference of noted geologists and academics convened to "professionally discuss" Subsurface Sediment Remobilization and Fluid Flow in Sedimentary Basins as it relates to the Sidoarjo mudflow phenomenon so as to find an explanation as to the causes and origin of the mudflow.

The seminar is sponsored by oil companies BP, Chevron, ConocoPhilips, DONG Energy.

A comment added to a post on a specialist geology blog has me confused.

It relates to some in-fighting within PT Energi Mega Persada, or EMP, which is not wholly owned by the Bakries. I am informed that at the time of the blowout, PT Lapindo-Brantas was a subsidiary of EMP, part of the Bakrie Group and the holding company of PT Lapindo-Brantas. EMP owns a 50 percent share, Medco Energi International has 32 percent, and Santos has 18 percent.

So basically the oil field has three partners - including Australia’s Santos - which has agreed to pay up even though it did not actually drill the well.

Medco use the words “Gross Negligence”, which means, if proven, they would be off the hook it terms of liability. An investigation found that the founders of Medco were securing funding to buy back shares in the company. They had lost control of Medco during the Asian Economic Crisis a few years earlier, and so couldn’t afford another financial disaster.

If the drilling didn't cause the mudflow, then Lapindo Brantas, Medco and Santos would presumably all be off the financial hook, and the Indonesian government would have to pay compensation.
Yet Santos have agreed to pay their share, MEDCO blames the majority stakeholders, the Bakrie Boys, who are the only ones claiming force majeure, or geological and seismic.

I look forward to hearing what the conclusions of the London conference will be. I suspect that the Bakrie Boys will be in even deeper mire. Then, finally, they may have a taste of the sufferings of the Sidoarjo souls awaiting some welfare from the Minister.
Update 23 Oct. 11am
As might be expected,
the government has brushed aside claims there is a conflict among Cabinet members that has placed the position Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati in jeopardy.

So, presumably her position is secure until next July, the month of the next presidential election.

However, a consortium of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and the Bakrie family are still negotiating the sale of shares in their flagship PT Bumi Resources.

*Lapindo Brantas has a site about LUSI, with loads of newsletters in Indonesian.


5:00 pm |
Monday, October 20, 2008
  Catch Up

Treespotter has the latest on the Diknas cock up I reported last week. It's also worth reading the comments.

I still await a similar storm of protest about the Diknas plan to bring forward next year's national exams.

Caught Out

This story demonstrates that not thinking things through is not confined to Diknas.

These guys thought they would be getting important jobs.

"Those employed as intelligence officers are required to shield their true identities .... which would happen if the candidates camouflaged their facial features."


5:30 pm
Sunday, October 19, 2008
  Simak Dialog in Concert

Following up on the invite which arrived as a comment, four of us went to the Goethe Institute to see (and obviously hear) Simak Dialog (SD) in concert on Friday. 'Er Indoors and I discussed the last gig we'd been to and realised that it must have been over 12 years ago, before Our Kid came along, and Our Kid was twelve on Thursday, so it was his first gig.

Anticipating traffic jams, we arrived at 7 for the 8 o'clock start, which wasn't in fact until 8.30. But no matter, having paid for our tickets and bought a copy of the new album, Demimasa, we got some refreshments and grabbed empty chairs at a table occupied by a handsome young couple, and got talking. Three of us had been to the Pat Metheny concert in the tennis arena at Senayan in central Jakarta on October 22nd 1995, thirteen years ago, and this was mentioned because at the time the leader/composer of Simak Dialog, Riza Arshad and I had a student in common named Rima (?). He taught her piano and I taught her English, and she gave me a copy of SD's demo cassette, and we met at the Metheny gig.

JH and I commented on the distinct lack of publicity for Metheny, then already a major sell out artist throughout the world, and wondered why the tennis arena was only about a quarter full with about 500 in the audience. The young man then told us about a flourishing scene in Indonesia of bands who try to replicate Metheny numbers - note for note? - at gigs. I didn't know that, and if I hadn't been sent the invite, I wouldn't have known about the SD gig either. So we discussed how annoying it is that rather than having had notice in the Jakarta Post of forthcoming gigs, we are only able to read reviews after the event of those we wish we'd been at.

By the way, we asked the young man, what do you do?
"I write reviews of gigs for the Jakarta Post," he told us.

Ho hum, ha ha.

The gig was advertised through an internet forum; in other words, by invite to those in the know through Riza Arshad's Facebook site, which is further evidence of the slow decline of the established media.

"archipelago rhythm and life"

The Goethe Institute holds about 300 folk and the seats were just about comfortable, but I had to take care to sit behind another tall guy, so Our Kid could have at least a partial view of the stage on which were a baby grand piano, a Fender electric piano, a few monitors and, to our right, three sets of assorted drums and gamelan pans.

The sound quality for the first two or three numbers was adequate for a church hall, but seemed to have been sorted out after half an hour. Either that, or our ears had attuned, because what we were hearing was different; although I rarely wish to pigeonhole my musical tastes, it is usual to trace echoes of familiarity.

And this is my attempt.

Riza Arshad, the leader and composer, played the keyboards, but mainly the Rhodes, as he allowed the others to be at the forefront, particularly guitarist Tohpati. He filled out the overall sound and sometimes sat back and enjoyed the interplay of the others. Apart from when he was soloing, head down totally within himself, his body language was one of relaxed confidence, highlighted by his bare feet.

Tohpati Aryo Hutomo rarely smiled and I'm not sure he even looked at the audience. Unusually for a 'lead' guitarist', he sat throughout. Much of his playing was as a rhythm guitarist adding to the grooves set up by the percussionists, but when counterpointing I could detect echoes, but not necessarily influences, of Phil Miller (In Cahoots), Terje Rypdal, Bill Frisell, and Pat Metheny, his original influence. For me, at times he was sublimely, gorblimey gobsmacking and I want to hear him as leader of his own group.

Adhitya Pratama on bass, stood unsmiling, virtually immobile, and proved an immaculate timekeeper, providing a solid unobtrusive underpinning throughout.

The three crosslegged percussionists with their tabla-like percussion offered a quite thrilling alternative to the more 'traditional' drummer. Endang Ramdan played a large Sundanese kendang (bass drum from west Java) as did Erlan Swardana, who also played a smaller kethuk. Dressed in white, they sandwiched Emy Tata, dressed in black, who played a kanrang, a kendang from the Bugis capital, Makassar, ceng ceng, which I think was a set of gamelan gongs hit with a muffled hammer. Many of their sequences of grooves were interspersed with rhythmic sequences of hand clappings.

They were totally in sync, especially when they interplayed with each other and Tohpati. That much of the music was riffs and grooves allowed a great variation and a less devotional audience might well have whooped and hollered along with them. Strangely but happily, the most effective and charming audience response came from a babe in arms behind us who, as the first piece ended and before the eager clappers let rip, let out a beautiful sigh of 'yeah'.

Dave Lumenta offered 'soundscapes' which I often found intrusive, except on the occasions that he sent waves of wind between the left and right speakers.

Riza opened one number on the acoustic baby grand, and I could then appreciate the comment Leonardo Pavkovic, CEO of MoonJune Records, made when I interviewed him about Indonesian music for Culture Shock-Jakarta: Riza Arshad is an amazing pianist with great touch and ECM sensibility.

I must now hunt out his CD Riza Trioscapes to see if his "subtle jazz-funk" has that sensibility.

Leonardo is thanked for his support and for sharing musical opinions on the new album, Demimasa.

I am talking to Riza to liberate himself and challenge his artistic ego with evolutionary and free music spirit, without being afraid to say musically what he wants to say.

I have noticed that Indonesian jazz and prog musicians tend to have smooth jazz affinities, maybe they believe it is a safe way to do the music, while I am asking Riza to abandon the safe way of expressing himself and to experiment more, which he will do.

And that's what we heard on Friday, a challenging 'west meet southeast' mixture. Riza and his colleagues have not yet produced the classic fusion of Indonesia 'ethnic' music with western instrumentation, but listeners unafraid to explore this path with them will be well rewarded with their latest album.

The gig was too long at two and a half hours and there was little need for the Pat Metheny themed pieces to close the show. Furthermore, the hall was so cold from the airconditioning and we were so stiff from the barely padded seats that we could barely stir ourselves at the end, let alone talk to each other.

And Our Kid, who'd applauded enthusiastically, wanted to know why there were no singers of the 'songs', something I was actually grateful for.
A correction - Riza has emailed me to say that Emy Tata didn't play that day. He moved and now resides in Makassar - back to his nature. Cucu Kurnia helped us that night in filling Emy's place. He's a Sundanese kendang-ist as well, and also a drummer. He will be our 3rd permanent percussionist I hope.
SD's first 3 albums, Lukisan (2002), Baur and Trance/Mission (both 2005), are available locally or through their MySpace site which lists 840 'friends'. I find it disturbing that among those listed are Jaco Pasorius and Thelonius Monk, both long dead. Folk outside Indonesia can order their most recent albums, Patahan (2007) and Demimasa, whose CD launch I have attempted to describe above, from MoonJune Records.


2:00 pm |
Saturday, October 18, 2008
  Trolling For Truth

The Indonesian blogosphere is a strange beast. As Treespotter lucidly points out, expressing one's opinions is a good thing, and disagreeing with those opinions is also good.

There are a number of us who use this relatively new medium to ponder situations, ideas and events. It's not so much a matter of pontificating, but asking 'why' or 'why not'. Through our blogging we are trying to understand the environment we live in. There are others who offer a diary of social occasions or family life which offer a limited 'value' or perspective, and have a readership limited to those in the know. Then there are other bloggers who use this opportunity to showcase a particular talent or area of expertise. Photoblogs are but one example. Foodies, and even non-foodies such as myself, are also well-catered for - try the Jakartass Sausage.

We all have a set readership, our 'fans' for want of a better word, although 'audience' may be more appropriate. As we've got used to expressing ourselves through writing, rather than speaking or gesturing, we generally write for them. We can't predict what will strike a particular chord so we generally avoid a deliberate attempt to boost the number of visitors we get.

My 'greatest hit' has been my prescient post about Adam Air which has taken about three years to achieve c.6,000 hits. However, it look as if Treespotter's post, linked to above, is going to outstrip this in a matter of days.

Unfortunately this is largely due to a troll who has plagued a number of sites around town over the years. He either takes delight in deliberately not understanding the main message of a particular post, is genuinely educationally backward and lacks basic reading comprehension skills or suffers from a lack of social skills and basic courtesy. But Polar Bear is not my problem.

Not unless he's also postmaster, who either fancies himself as e.e. cummings or k.d. lang or has yet to learn the value of CAPITAL LETTERS. Whoever he is, and that's a matter of conjecture given that his email address appears to be connected to a non-trading company - PT. Seta Sentral Sejahtera, he's beginning to be a pain in the butt with his comments .

Commenting on yesterday's post, he writes (in lower case) "your entire post reeks of conspiracy, like there is something sinister going on, some kind of vote manipulation. i guess you are not just delusional, but in denial too."

I clearly state that my post is not about the election, let alone "vote manipulation". I also assume from his personal comments about me that, a. in so doing he clearly demonstrate his lack of competence to make such comments and b. has issues and feelings of social inadequacy. Why else bother to waste to read a blog that he patently doesn't like? Given his general naivety and lack of local awareness, I'm guessing that he is a relative newcomer to Indonesia and is still blinkered about goings on here.

Regular readers know that I rarely make statements without giving links to the source or to further reading. If I write about the goings on in Jakarta, I do so from the perspective of living for nearly 21 years in the same house, at street level, with my Indonesian family, and working in Indonesian companies with Indonesian colleagues. When I write, in English, about issues that effect groups of the population I generally try to articulate their thoughts and utterances.

My last post, about the proposal to bring forward the dates of the national school exams, is an attempt to bring out into the public sphere an issue that is still being aired sub voce. It has been suggested that when/if it becomes official policy there will be a national outcry, demonstrations even, from students, their parents and teachers.

What postmaster intimates is a figment of his own imagination. I am NOT writing about a conspiracy, but an issue that is being talked about in school staff rooms the length and breadth of the country - note the initial comment from Dr. Bruce - in north Bali.

As for postmaster's conjecture about a passing 'curve', do read Iwan Syahril's "insightful analysis" of the standardised tests (Ujian Nasional). Incidentally, English is one of the statutory exams, although I don't understand why this should be so.

This is Iwan's conclusion

The national exit examination has caused some seriously damaging impacts to the secondary education in Indonesia. Students, even the brightest ones, feel fearful that they will jeopardize their future plans by scoring one point less than the required minimum threshold in any given exams. Teachers are forced to sacrifice their creative, innovative, meaningful, and engaging lessons to allow time for students to practice the test drills. School administrators have to reallocate resources to meet the test-driven demands, even by partnering with external tutoring institutions to help the students obtain the skills needed to pass the test.

In addition, the huge gap between the needed capacity and the actual capability of schools to meet the demands of the national exit examination has resulted in serious psychological distress. There have been a high frequency of reports from the data that students are very worried and stressed. Some of them expressed their frustration through destructive acts, such as burning school buildings and committing suicides. A number of teachers and school administrators have to give up their professional ethics, by facilitating cheating during the exams, which in some cases involved the officials of the local Ministry of Education.

Suicides? And here you are, postmaster, suggesting that there would be little problem in bringing the exams forward by three months because the passing (and presumably failing) grade can be manipulated? You're the one with delusions. Once you get real, you're welcome to leave another comment. Otherwise, go back to your tabloids and keep taking those tablets.
Examples of practice test material can be downloaded here. But be warned that judging from this paragraph they cannot be considered to be a validation of the exam.

English language is are one of major problems in UAN for Senior High School in Indonesia, like the others major, more you take exercise by try to answers various type of English language problems. you will more ready to get and pass the UAN.



11:30 am |
Thursday, October 16, 2008
  Leading the Human Development Paradigm

Can anyone tell me what my title means? That awful expression 'human development' - which thankfully in this case doesn't include the totally dehumanising word 'resources' - I take to mean 'training' or education.

But 'paradigm'?

According to my Websters, it can mean example, pattern or model, but as you can't lead any of those, perhaps the following brain bruising definition is what is meant.

An overall concept accepted by most people in an intellectual community, as those in one of the natural sciences, because of its effectiveness in explaining a complex process, idea or set of data.

My title is copied from a large sign high up on a private, fairly expensive, school fronting the south section of the toll road around Jakarta. I mention this partly as an indication of what is wrong with schooling nowadays and partly because it's probably the kind of language enjoyed by the officials in the Department of Education.

Before you think I'm going to have another go at the Diknas dickheads, you're right, but another issue has surfaced, one which parents are not yet aware of because it's not yet official policy, but if it does become 'mandatory', will cause an outcry and another battle between the public and the bureaucrats.

There is an election next year, something no resident or visitor to Indonesia can be unaware of thanks to the number and range of flags and banners on display. On April 9th, electors will be choosing political parties they wish to see represented in the House of Representatives. At the local level, there will be direct elections for regents and other. Three months later, some time in July, there will be a direct election for a new, or returning, President and Vice President.

This post is not a critique of this process, but rather a brief examination of another ill-thought out ramification.

For the past few years, school students in Years 6 (Elementary), 9 (Junior High) and 12 (Senior High) have sat a number of subject tests in order to graduate to the next level of formal education. The tests are generally multi-choice, which makes marking a matter of computer scanning.

In some ways, the Department of Education is to be applauded for mastering the technology which simplifies the process. However, it is widely known that although students are expected to have a mastery of prescribed theories and facts, the tests themselves are regularly riddled with errors.

These exams are of course a matter of intense pressure, not only on the students who have to absorb much that is questionable, but also on teachers who have to train the students in test taking techniques as well as following the rigid curricula through a controlled schedule.

The exams are generally sat in May, and plans are made accordingly. the school year is based around the specific needs of these students, who are subjected to practice tests and extra-curricular 'remedial' classes if needed. Many teachers have 'private' courses as an additional aid to students - and to their meagre monthly income.

News has been leaked to schools this week that the national 'graduation' exams are to be brought forward to, probably, mid-February "because of the elections". Parents and students are not yet aware of this, so let me anticipate their general response.

A school year has c.200 days. Three months of classroom learning, say 50 days, could be lopped off the school schedule, which would mean that students may be expected to cram in the 50 days-worth of 'facts' in the next four months. How could that be done? And remember that not attaining a government-set 'pass rate', particularly for grade 12 students, could be really damaging for their futures.

So, what is the real reason for this suggested change of national exam schedule? Does the Department of Education have a statutory role to play in administering the electoral process? And if it does, one must question their mandate.

Administering the national exams is certainly a logistical headache, but considering in the scale of such an undertaking, there are few reported complaints about loss of papers, cheating etc. Generally the news is about school buildings collapsing and pictures are shown of students making do in tents or mosques.

That the exams are generally held in May, between the two rounds of elections I would suggest is quite convenient. Or maybe the elections were originally scheduled that way. So why the change?
In his Suharto's final years as dictator, all civil servants, and other employees in government institutions, including schools, were expected to cast their vote for Golkar, which was established primarily to keep him in power. Voting for PDI or PPP, the other two permitted parties, could, if found out, have resulted in the loss of one's job.

It could be that certain higher-ups in Diknas are remnants of Suharto's old New Order, not that I'm suggesting that they would now vote for Golkar, still a major force on the political landscape, because there are now nearly 40 parties to choose from.

Backing the right horse through offering one's services in a political party's cause (meaning influential person) may be a good career move. Being seen to contribute to a campaign, whether it be financially or through good deeds such as canvassing, printing T-shirts and banners and doing whatever party hacks do, could well secure a favourable position, or a favour to be returned.

And if you've gained the freedom of time to do this, because you've rescheduled your mandatory obligation, so much the better. That the time is gained at the expense of a million or two school students and their stressed out parents is, no doubt, merely an unfortunate consequence.


5:00 pm |
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
  A broken radio?

A comment: Stop going on and on like a broken radio. All govts f**k up, just look at the US financial meltdown. The important thing is realising the mistake.

First thing, broken radios don't make a noise: I do. Secondly, ignore the financial meltdown: that's all a fantasy. Money is nothing but an IOU and living on credit is running on empty.

This isn't a government f**k up per se except in the need for someone to be held responsible. In terms of the ramifications, that's 32,858,277 - an increase of 15,492 since yesterday - Indonesian school students put at potential risk. Although parents and teachers quickly came to recognise what an almighty cock up this is, judging by the extremely slow and inept response, we're not sure that those responsible for it understand what they have done.

The friend who found his children's details online has written to me.

You wonder how I found the URL? All I did was put my child's complete name in quotation marks into Google and the URL popped up at the top of the list in less than a second. I asked a colleague to do the same kind of search with her son's name and had the same results. A third colleague has her child in a private International school and her search came up empty.

Why the difference?

Because international schools are not Indonesian schools, and quite wisely in educational terms don't register their students for Indonesian exams.

I have called my son's school and asked why my son's name and other private data were posted on the site. They were unaware of the situation. They will contact me later after they poke around a bit. I alerted the Jakarta Post and suggested that they run a story but I checked The Post quickly a while ago but found nothing.

I've spoken to a few school principals this week and none of them, or their teachers were aware that their students enrolment details were online.

One of the best summations on the issue I have read so far is by Henzter who left a comment on the post Privacy and Children on Rob Baiton's blog.

I've been trying to follow this closely too, if only to keep several of my friends abreast with the news because their children's names are on the list.

Anyway, I've read that the data are not supposed to be widely available and that it was designed to have "sistem keamanan sesuai tingkatannya"(security system). Unfortunately, a blunder somewhere in the pipeline caused it to be made available to the public to such extent. This is where things go south.

It took them four days (at least) from the day bloggers started to create some noise up until the time when "some data" were taken off the xls spreadsheets. And it seems that they did this reluctantly. See here and here (in Indonesian on Detik.com, the main internet news portal in the country).

These two newsbytes can be summed up as those "higher-ups" asking: "what's the big deal about privacy?"

In other words,
1. making student data available to the public is comparable to making civil servants & government official data public.
2. privacy is a relative thing.
3. there's no proof (of potential danger?) and all this is considered fearmongering (kekhawatiran [tak berdasar], tidak ada bukti).

And they have conveniently forgotten the fact that these are children we're talking about here - those we need to take extra measure to protect.

So what if businessmen put their numbers and address as their email signatures?
So what if government official personal data are made publicly available?

But we're not talking about businessmen or government officials: we're talking about children.

Compare this to a similar case happening in the UK where details of junior student doctors were unwittingly leaked.

Schooling is about passing or failing set tests. The schools system is a basically a conveyor belt which runs efficiently because there's no-one interfering, so the publication of an immenses amount of data presumably satisfies an ordained productivity quota. Given that the bureaucrats responsible are graduates of this system, it could be argued that they have done well.

Education is about thinking. The seeming insouciance among the officials concerned indicates an almost total lack of comprehension of the ramifications of their action. It also demonstrates quite clearly that the Indonesian education system is poorly managed and in need of a thorough overhaul. After all, the bureaucrats responsible are graduates of the system.

Another link on Detik records how this issue has been taken up by bloggers. This is one of the first communal actions we've taken across the spectrum of political and religious differences.

BTW. The data is still there but inaccessible:
Mohon maaf fasilitas download data siswa secara online real time telah ditutup. Selanjutnya mohon menghubungi Kantor Dinas Pendidikan Kota/Kabupaten setempat untuk melakukan verifikasi dan validasi data siswa dimaksud. Mohon maaf atas ketidaknyamanan layanan online ini.

Admin Dapodik



2:30 pm |
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
  Staggeringly Stupid.

Not me for suggesting in an update this morning that the Department of Education (Diknas) had taken down the link giving access to the names of 32,842,785 Indonesian school students. Although, come to think of it, perhaps I should have been less trusting in an email I opened which read "diknas has already removed the addresses it seems."

Wrong! I opened the page at "14/10/2008 pk.16:05:53" when I got home.

And look at the staggering number of students enumerated. That's 22,656,748 in elementary school, 6,213618 in junior high and 2,384,021 in senior high, plus 1,582,478 in vocational schools, generally senior high. There are a further 5,920 etceteras, which could be a variety of schools, although judging from the distribution of the schools, I don't think are International.

A friend has commented that he has found his children listed, but I won't ask him how he got hold of the URL. I could pass it on to those who I trust, but I'm not even sure about the wisdom of that.

Once something like this escapes, then who knows what damage this might cause? I only suggested the risk of kidnapping. Others now suggest that paedophiles would be interested.

The following is an email from the International Schools Review, based in Canada.

In Canada this would be illegal. All individuals, and particularly children, are protected under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act. It is illegal to publish children's names, photos, contact information etc. without explicit parental permission.

Is it possible to contact a children's international organization to inform them of this situation? This is a terrible invasion of child privacy and a certain way to invite pedophiles into the homes of the named Indonesian children.

How can we be of assistance at ISR? We can certainly post a warning but I wonder how we can whistle blow without alerting deviants as to the whereabouts of the Dipnas site?

And therein lies the dilemma. We need to publicise the fact that nigh on 33 million school children are at potential risk because of the crass stupidity of the Indonesian government's Department of Education.

Action needs to be taken also to ensure that something like this never happens again. To my knowledge, there is no "Freedom of Information and Privacy Act" in Indonesia. If there is, then obviously there are grounds for legal action.

If there isn't, then there are solid grounds for a campaign to get one.

The picture above is from the Dipshit's site.



5:00 pm |
Monday, October 13, 2008

Friend Treespotter has uncovered a really shocking misuse of private information. This link provides "some links backgrounder and a rudimentary legal framework on the matter".

If, like Jakartass, you have a child in the Indonesian school system, whether state, private or a mixture of the two, the Department of Education has had the wisdom, though I would call it crass stupidity, to post online the names, gender, date and place of birth, and addresses of nearly all school students in Indonesia.

What's the problem? some might ask.

There have been several cases recently when students have been kidnapped for ransom. The Jakarta Post, among other media, dutifully report these cases and what is usually a 'successful' outcome, i.e. the capture of the callous and greedy bastards who commit such dastardly deeds.

Now those of us with children with expat names, or those born in, say, California, are particularly at risk of being targetted because there could well be an assumption of great wealth, whether true or not.

Then there's the issue of the fundamental right to privacy, and its protection. It doesn't matter who you are, but the giving of such information should only be to those with a statutory right to collect it. To allow it into the public domain without permission from the schools, let alone parents, is quite simply beyond comprehension.

(Although it wouldn't take much effort to discover my 'real' name, I still prefer to keep Jakartass as my public persona, not so much to protect Our Kid, but to prevent my family and friends from the rancour and occasional invective that my rants may attract.)

I'm not going to publish the URL, but if any of my Indonesia-based readers are also sufficiently concerned to raise this issue, I'll post an online petition to the dickheads of Diknas. Please email me if you think this would be an appropriate action or can think of something better.

Update Tues. 5.30am
The lists have been taken offline, although it will obviously take time for the Google caches to clear.

Given that we have yet to read about this issue in the media, can we claim that the Indonesian blogosphere can claim a victory of sorts?


7:00 pm |
  Monday blues, and all that jazz

Yesterday, I was lucky to get .5kbs out of either Telkom or Indosat. Yesterday was a Sunday. Today is the first day back at work for many folk after their holidays back home for Idul Fitri. It's also the first day back at school for many, including Our Kid.

That means that there will be much additional usage of the appalling internet infrastructure here. So if you're reading this, feel lucky.


1. If you got to read yesterday's Sunday Express, a UK tabloid, you may be interested to know that, much like Jakartass, the paper has standards, standards of 'good' writing that is. A week or so ago, senior editors were so appalled with the many errors of syntax, spelling, vacuity etc. that writers and sub editors, responsible for tidying up the English, received a lengthy memo detailing each mistake.

I've lifted three out of the many.

P2 - We are told 'fewer than one in five voters were happy with Brown's premiership'. That means none. The GCSE's story said 'almost six in 10 pupils'. So is that five or four? Voters and pupils don't come in fractions.

P5 - Someone is described as an 'ex-pat'. At the very least that's amateurish. Look, let's make it really simple; if you don't know what a word means or how it's spelt, don't f***ing use it.

P46 - The standfirst (what's that?) says: 'When a teenage concert hall worker snapped pictures of visiting bands, he had no idea that, 40 years on, his dusty collection would provide a valuable insight into Britain's musical golden age…'

No sh*t, Sherlock. That will be because, like the rest of us, he couldn't tell the sodding future.

2. "A thirtysomething Malaysian bloke who is currently working and living in a megacity called Jakarta. ... and loving every moment of it" has several WTF pictures of how ordinary Jakartans live and work.

And shop.

The style sheet of his blog is blue.

.... and all that Jazz

I've received the following via a comment.

Hi Jakartass,

Feel free to come to this simak Dialog concert:

Kelompok ethno-jazz simak Dialog akan menggelar konser tunggal di Goethe Haus, Jl.Sam Ratulangi 9-15,Jakarta Pusat.

Hari/Tanggal : Jumat (Friday) 17 Oktober
Jam : 20.00 - 22.00 WIB
Host : Denny Sakrie
Ticket : Rp.50.000

simak Dialog are Riza Arshad (keys),Tohpati Ario Hutomo (gitar), Adhitya Pratama (bass), Erlan Suwardana (tradisional perkusi), Endang Ramdan (tradisional perkusi) plus guest star : Dave Lumenta (soundscapes)

Their last album, Patahan, was recorded in concert at Goethe Haus in April 2005, and released by my friend Leonardo who runs MoonJune Records in NY. I interviewed Leonardo for the music section of Culture Shock-Jakarta and he said that "Riza Arshad of simak Dialog is definitely the greatest musician I have discovered in Indonesia and I know the best of him is still to come. He's an amazing pianist with a great touch and an ECM sensibility."

I was given a copy of the group's demo recordings fifteen years ago by one of Riza's students. Both he and she were obviously enamoured with the sound of the Pat Metheny Group, as I was and still am. In fact, we later met at the PMG concert in 1995 in Jakarta.

Riza tells me that seekers of tickets should ring his assistant, Devi, on 0815 881 1760. You'll probably be able to pay for them at the door.

I wonder if we'll meet again on Friday.

See you there?


6:00 am |
Sunday, October 12, 2008
  My Desert Islands Discs 8

There have been many occasions when I've been obsessed by a music track, either because it's something I've overheard on the radio or it's been part of a compilation. It's then been imperative to hear more, to hunt down the source.

In my DID 7, I mentioned the Songlines subscription with a compilation CD. it was on one of these that a year or so ago I first heard a track, a heartbreakingly haunting lament that not only gave me goosebumps but made me cry. A voice wails in a register that comes from above beyond, with an accompaniment of an oud (Arabic guitar), a muted trumpet and guitar. The tune is familiar, from ancient times perhaps.

The magazine reviewed Divine Shadows by Dhafer Youssef, a Tunisian oud player and vocalist based in Europe: they said he had "a voice that could stop wars". The track included on the CD was Un Soupir Eternal, "dedicated to a Norwegian girl, Karen Steen Aarset*, 1931 - 2004".

Living in Indonesia, I don't have ready access to gigs and shared listening sessions, but I knew I wanted this album. Dhafer Youssef played with his group of Norwegian musicians at JakJazz last year, an unaffordable gig at the time, but reading about it I discovered that the CD was released in Indonesia at the Indonesian price of Rp.75,000 (c.$8.50).

I ordered it in two or three major music stores in town, leaving my phone number, with few expectations. A fortnight ago, at the start of the Idul Fitri holiday, Our Kid and I had some business in town, connected with a new website - to be launched this week - and wandered over to Duta Suara in Jl. Sabang.

I asked the lass at the till, and yes, Dhafer Youssef was in stock, in the 'male' singer section. It wasn't in 'Pop', nor in 'Jazz'. A shop assistant came back from other racks empty handed; eventually the lass walked to a section marked .... actually I don't know .... and the CD was mine, paid for. I asked the lass if she'd listened to the album and she said that she had and she liked it because it's different, unik was the word she used.

I'll let other reviewers also speak for me.

Guardian : Youssef can be deep, light-hearted, complex, funky and achingly romantic, sometimes all within one song. The album's pace is leisurely, full of atmosphere, groove and great playing, but rarely self-indulgent; you never forget whose album it is.

All About Jazz : He keeps searching for new sounds, and develops his fusion of the Sufi trance music tradition with mesmerizing, electronic, heavily sampled soundscapes.

Divine Shadows is the most crystallized statement by Youssef so far. He's not shy of venturing into new sonic regions, still respects the ancient tradition of the oud, and offers a captivating vision integrating both the past and the future.

Observer : The desire for instant gratification has become ingrained into our culture. Does it mean we're all doomed to remain in our comfort zones, never to be troubled with new or unusual sounds?

For some, perhaps, that may be the case, but thankfully there are people who want new experiences, and Dhafer Youssef's music is a good place to start. Youssef opens his soul and projects a thousand aching meanings inspired by the wisdom and spiritualism of the centuries-old Sufic tradition, resulting in music of such timeless beauty you can imagine it happening at any point over the last thousand years.

It's the sound of humanity that resonates within us all, a universality that stirs something deep within that we never knew was there. And what Youssef does is imbue this sound with contemporary relevance by seizing the liberating potential of technology.

This album is all that and more. I know that I'll never grow tired of listening to it. This music is in no way élitist because there are many levels, many sounds, both ancient and modern, being communicated.

It is also a political statement.

This album is dedicated to all those who fight for free speech in today's world.

It’s one of the many reasons why this is has to be my ultimate choice.

On my desert island I'd indeed need Divine Shadows.
*She was, I believe, the mother of guitarist Eivind Aarset, who produced the album and features in a number of groups who've recorded for ECM (cf My DID 5). That some of the tracks on Divine Shadows were engineered by Jan Erik Kongshaug, the engineer of note on so many ECM albums, is yet another connection. However, this album was released in 2006 on Jazzland Recordings.




6:30 am |
Saturday, October 11, 2008
  Another Indonesian WTF Moment

Consider this.

PT. Telkom and PT Indosat are the two main portals to the WWW (and I don't mean the wrestling organisation) in Indonesia. The majority of ISPs in this country rent bandwidth from these two monopolies.

I've had an Indosat account since I first signed up for access to the WWW and I know they're crap ~ this screen grab is a not unusual situation, as loads of folk will testify.

But you've really got to pity the poor folk who subscribe to PT Telkom and maybe depend on internet access for business or, indeed, urgent family reasons, because this is the message they get when they can't access their webmail .

Note the date.

telkom.net expired on 09/18/2008 and is pending renewal or deletion.

According to Bloomberg, Telkom posted 2007 profit of 12.8 trillion rupiah ($1.4 billion), up 16 percent from a year earlier as it added new users.

Now, of course, they're going to lose users. They have been warned:

If you are the current registrant for this domain name and wish to continue the registration on the domain, you must immediately contact the domain name provider and renew the domain name to ensure the name is not deleted.

Yesterday's picture says it all really.

Doesn't it?


7:00 am |
Friday, October 10, 2008
  Invective and Profanity

That's what I've received following my last post, and I was going to keep it in the semi-closed world of my comments, ah but what the flibbertigibbet?

First off, I'm not vengeful, yet. Vengeance is mine saith the Lord, and I'm only Jakartass, one of his mouthpieces. However, I do get to make recommendations, some of which come to pass. At such moments, like now, I tend to say "I told you so."

There are too many w bankers still around who cannot accept that their system of enticing investors with false promises by appealing to their baser instinct of greed is over. They are hoping that their institution will not need government help because one of the clauses in the US bail out bill now passed by the House of Representatives would limit their share option 'compensation' and cap their salaries.

True vengefulness would be the sequestration of their goods - stocks, shares, second (third and fourth) homes, fleets of vehicles and whatever else truly empowered regulators could seize. The funds raised would then be invested in government bonds which would be jointly owned by all those mortgagees who have been put at risk of losing their homes.

Such funds could also be used to subsidise unemployment benefits, because the banks' phantom lending has put many businesses at risk.

The sums payable should be equitable according to size and ages of the families entitled to a share. Why shouldn't a former CEO be asked to live on an average wage? That isn't vengeance or righteous retribution. That's (re)education.

My erstwhile protagonist, 'Mr. Jakartasshole' ~ and he's going to have to change his moniker, not that his voice is one of reasonableness like mine ~ states bluntly that "the current global situation is the fault of EVERYONE, because we are all consumers, and we are all greedy, and if you deny it, then you're not fooling anyone but yourself!"

Well, I'm no fool, not even to myself. Fools are generally in the eyes of beholders anyway. And greedy?

Ask any one of my friends and acquaintances ~ several of who comment here ~ whether I eat to live or eat to live. On very rare occasions, they've known me have a couple more Bintangs than I should, but is a social gathering and a chance for a bevy a matter of greed?

I would suggest that I'm quite a generous fellow, Mr.J. Hole, as I've given you space in my blog, freedom of speech and all that. I'm free with my ideas, advice and help and I've rarely worked in an organisation which was profit-centred.

I'd also suggest that I'm by no means unique. Some of us are lucky to earn a living and support our families through using our talents. One such is my co-author who is now better renowned as a graphic artist. He has designed several covers for the Economist magazine and although this isn't his usual style, I do wonder if he is benefitting from the financial meltdown.

Derek has written thus:
Not mine!
Funny though, I reckon they should run with something like that.
This was the last one I did.



4:30 pm |
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
  One Can't Help But Gloat 3

For me, a non-academic imbued with what I hope is common sense rather than an -ism, I discover that what I want to say, that rant which is boiling over, is said better by others.

Polly Toynbee
It is the extremes of inequality in the west's most unequal countries that set off this nuclear explosion. Gargantuan bonuses in Wall Street and the City (in London) were earned from creating fairy money, imagined to be owned by people too poor to pay anything at all. If the poor had more money, it wouldn't have happened. If mega-bonuses had not inflated share prices and borrowing beyond reason, fantasy capitalism would have been avoided.

But this is a crisis that's been building for some time. As I've already said, I blame grocer's daughter Margaret Thatcher for adopting the 'neo-liberalism' of a free market. Except, of course, it wasn't free for those who couldn't participate; they could only be exploited.

Madeline Bunting
We are now learning what countries across the developing world have experienced over three decades: unstable and inequitable neoliberal economics leads to unacceptable levels of social disruption and hardship that can only be contained by brutal repression.
vide Suharto's Indonesia?

Add that to the two other central charges against deregulated capitalism: first, it may create wealth but it does not distribute it effectively; and second, that it takes no account of what it cannot commodify - neither the social relationships of family and community nor the environment, which are vital to human wellbeing, and indeed to the functioning of the market itself. Ultimately, neoliberal capitalism is self-destructive.

Corruption, burgeoning consumerism, deforestation, climate change are all "self-destructive".
.....vide Suharto's Indonesia?

International politician Chris Patten says1 that what created mayhem in the financial markets was not the inherent weakness of globalisation but the greedy incompetence of the banks and other credit institutions, whose precise level of exposure to bad debts seemed sometimes to be obfuscated by the technology they employed.

“Technology’? I think he means ‘terminology’.

I remember a banker once trying to explain to me how the mortgage of, say, an unemployed single parent in St Louis could be morphed into a triple-A rated financial investment in London, New York or Paris. Magically, impoverishment became a "special investment vehicle". Try as hard as the banker did to get me to comprehend the beautiful simplicities of the whole process, I remained baffled. It was, I suppose, some sort of relief later on to discover that it was not me who was stupid.

Now that blame has been neatly apportioned, there lies the fundamental question of what needs to be done. Unfortunately, Chris Patten does not believe that there's an "inherent weakness of globalisation".

But I do.

Inevitably, those of us raised in the (UK) post war years of penury, darkness and cold, when things that had never been in short supply before - bread, unswerving respect for those in authority - were suddenly on the ration as we struggled to feed a starving Europe retain much of the 'make do and mend' mentality of those years2.

I don't have much nostalgia for the circumstances of my early years, but I do think that approach is more desirable than the grasping consumerist attitude that has replaced it in countries which aim for economic growth..

Local choices condition us. No more do we play on waste ground because that has been built upon and our local mom and pop general store is now a franchise of Indomaret, albeit with local lads and lasses working for a salary and in better conditions. But we remain on familiar terms with Pak Haji who sells electrical goods and the street’s ojek drivers. We have little need for globalised products or services.

Or do we?

‘Er Indoors goes to the Carrefour hypermarket at least once a month. A quick rummage though cupboards in Jakartass Towers produces a range of products from Unilever3 and Proctor & Gamble, Johnson “home hygiene products“, milk from Nestlé, sambal from Heinz, who now number ABC products among their 57 varieties, water from Danone and cigarettes from Philip Morris. Outside, I can see a Toyota and a couple of Hondas, but they're not ours.

That all these products are produced or assembled here is for the good, but I do wonder if it’s really necessary for Indonesia to be so beholden to foreign conglomerates. Is this truly what globalization has been about - the amassing of profit centres around the globe?

Indonesia is the repository of more 'natural resources' than most countries. As an independent and supposedly democratic country, Indonesia should act responsibly in safeguarding these resources for future generations rather than allowing foreign companies and local oligarchs to exploit them for short-term profits.

But what can Indonesia do about it?

That's something I'll be mulling over this week.
1 Extracted from an extract of What Next?: Surviving the Twenty-first Century by Chris Patten, pub. Allen Lane on 2nd October
2 From a review of
Austerity Britain: 1945-1951 by David Kynaston, pub. Bloomsbury, London
3 Unilever is backing moves to scrap mandatory biofuel targets and subsidies because it is concerned that subsidies for biofuels are driving up food prices and the cost of its products.
Nothing to do with the destruction of rainforests and their replacement with plantations, and the displacement of people in favour of 'bonded labour' then.


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