Sunday, November 29, 2009
  An Alien Thought

Most of what I post here is a reflection of the duality I feel as a Brit Abroad. However, comparisons between London, my hometown, and Jakarta, my adopted home, are generally unfair in that, apart from a brief inter-regnum during the Thatcher era, London has had an elected government for much longer.

The citizenry has expectations of their representatives, unlike here where as yet there is little access to the corridors of power, and those in power appear to ignore suggestions coming from the street.

For example, I wonder if Jakarta Fauzi Bowo will ever to chase off a bunch of muggers as Boris Johnson, the cycling Mayor of London, has done recently.

It takes a certain kind of balls to be seen on a regular basis by a public which may not have voted for you. After all, if you're aloof from the public then attempts to ingratiate yourself could well backfire, as David Cameron, leader of Britain's current opposition party, the Tories, may now know having travelled on the Tube, London's underground mass transit system. Once.

It's possible, of course, that our not-very-esteemed Guv'ner is shy. Well, so am I, yet I do use public transport several times a week. I also attempt to navigate the city's streets on foot - attempt being the operative word.

If he's willing, I'd gladly accompany him one day on a mini-tour through the streets which surround City Hall. It would have to be on foot or bicycle and a public bus or two, mind you, as I get claustrophobia in one of those luxury limousines he has at his disposal.

There are just two caveats. First, I get to choose the route so that the sidewalks aren't repaired beforehand and that none of his security goons get to 'sweep' the area free of sidewalk vendors.

And, most importantly, the day chosen is not one of those cosmetic car-free days.


6:30 am |
Saturday, November 28, 2009

About a year ago I wrote that it was only a matter of time before Dubai sank into the sands of time and that Jakarta would disappear beneath the swamp on which it is built.

Two news items this week clearly demonstrate that Jakartass brings you the unblemished truth before anyone else.

The only industry of Dubai for the past decade or so has been building Dubai as a haven for the rich. All work has halted because it is bankrupt, owing $80 billion.

40% of West Jakarta lies below sea level yet the municipality doesn't have enough pumps.

Dubai owes money to the banks and West Jakarta, presumably, has no budget sense - or, if it has, the pump priming fund has found its way elsewhere.

Who was it who first said that money slips through fingers like sand?


8:00 am |
Thursday, November 26, 2009
  Sacrificial Lambs

Tomorrow is the Islamic festival of Idul Adha, what some call a red letter day because it's a public holiday and its appearance on our desk calendars.

This brief explanation comes from What's New Jakarta.

The increasing appearance of goats and cattle along the roadsides, and even the regular sightings of goats being transported precariously slung over the seats of motorbikes! This is a yearly sight in the lead up to the Muslim celebration of Idul Adha, also known as the ‘day of sacrifice’.

Practiced throughout the Muslim world, it commemorates Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice everything for God, including the life of his son Ishmael. God apparently intervened though, and substituted Ishmael with a sheep instead. Muslims therefore commemorate this by sacrificing an animal and distributing its meat amongst family, friends and as an act of charity, to those underprivileged. This allows many poor Indonesians the opportunity, once a year, to eat meat, a commodity they can rarely afford.

Many expatriates in Jakarta also participate by buying a goat or a cow and donating it to their local mosque to be sacrificed and distributed in the local community. Goats typically are sold for between Rp 800,000 to Rp.3 million (c.$350) and cows Rp.6-16 million.

'Er Indoors has prepared loads of food for our expected visitors, many of whom have suffered bereavements in the past year. As a vegetarian, I won't be partaking of the meat but will be giving some thought to others who have made sacrifices of their own.

I'm not thinking of the disgraced National Police Chief of Detectives Susno Duadji who was identified in the recorded wiretaps framing two deputy commissioners of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and has now been removed from his position yet remains a member of the police force. Nor am I thinking of the assistant Attorney General Abdul Hakim Ritonga who was similarly identified so has taken early retirement. They have justifiably been sacrificed on the altar of public opinion for their roles in perverting justice on behalf of major corruptors.

I am thinking of the two suspended commissioners, Bibit Samad Rianto and Chandra M. Hamzah who may yet lose their jobs even though SBY has said that their cases should not go to court. They are subject to a rule, annulled this week by the Constitutional Court, which says that commissioners must be dismissed after being inactive for longer than three months. For them it falls on December 21st nd the Attorney General's Office is is no hurry to follow SBY's advice.

Junior attorney general for special crimes Marwan Effendi said, “It’s our business to slow down or speed up the order,” meaning, no one else’s.

So, ya boo sucks to us all. Still, I assume that Bibit and Chandra can afford meat.

There are many more sacrifices on the altar of impaired justice, too many to enumerate here.

However, do spare a few thoughts for the following who have lacked the largesse, let alone justice, that one may expect on humanitarian grounds.

There are still 'refugees' from the Sidoarjo mudflow taking shelter at the Pasar Baru market in Porong, East Java. As of last weekend weekend the Norway-sponsored humanitarian organization Dina Foundation, in cooperation with the Yayasan Obor Berkat Indonesia foundation, is providing free medication and medical treatment.

The government has supposedly taken charge of dealing with the mudflow through the Sidoarjo Mudflow Handling Agency (BPLS).

BPLS spokesperson, Achmad Zulkarnain, said that the government would not stop foreign humanitarian organizations from helping the mudflow victims.

"But BPLS will not manage any foreign aid," he said. "Previously, Lapindo Brantas was fully in charge of dealing with the mudflow spew while BPLS was just assisting. Now it's all in BPLS' hands. This makes it easier for us to deal with the problem more quickly and efficiently."

He added his agency had been urging the company to finish the payment of the 20 percent promised compensation to the people affected by the mudflow.

And there are lots more instances of justice being dispensed which smack of victimisation rather than a commonsense approach.

For example, two farmers have been detained since Idul Fitri for stealing one watermelon.

"Because they have no lawyers, no one could file a request for the suspension of their detention," state prosecutor Agus Eko said on Thursday.

It is the responsibility of the prosecutors' office to provide free lawyers.

Someone else who has faced the full might of the law without a lawyer is 55 year old grandmother Minah from Banyumas, Central Java.

The Purwokerto District Court handed down a suspended sentence of 45 days in prison. The mother of seven and grandmother of more was ordered to serve her jail term should she commit a similar crime within three months of her conviction.

Her crime? Stealing three cacao pods worth Rp.1,500 (c.15c) from the plantation next to her smallholding.

She got off comparatively lightly. The case of Manise, 39, her two young sons, Jowono, 16, and Rustono, 14, and her 25 year old cousin, Sri Suratmi - all residents of Kenconorejo village in Tulis, Central Java, almost beggars belief. I say 'almost', but this is Indonesia after all.

The family have been in police detention since November 2nd for stealing kapok (cotton pods) worth around Rp 4,000. The family say that they were gleaning harvest leftovers. They have been charged with 'aggravated theft' under Article 363 of the Criminal Code on theft, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail.

As the Jakarta Post puts it, Indonesians are good at observing religious rites, but not in living up to the teachings and the values these rites impart.

Selamat Iduh Adha everyone and especially those who are deserving of our sacrifices!


6:00 pm |
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
  News Is Flooding In

It's the rainy season again and this is my annual rant because as per usual there are leaks in our roof, residents of North Jakarta sink or swim, trees topple, and traffic grinds to a sodden halt.

Yep, we're underwater again

As usual, much of the blame is accorded to folk who dump garbage wherever they can't be seen. It's certainly a major factor but excuses are made. Folk know no better because they are poor, but never mind. Our beloved leader, Gov. Fuzzy Bodoh, isn't about to make their lives worse by enforcing the 2007 city bylaw on public order [which] stipulates that people who throw or pile garbage on roads, sidewalks, rivers, green strips, parks or other public places face fines of between Rp,100,000 (c.$10) and Rp.2 million or between 10 and 60 days’ imprisonment.

He said that it doesn't solve the problem [because it] is not effective to fine people whose economic standing is so low.

How come the poor get blamed when rich folk know no better - and can afford to pay?

So what does solve the problem?

True, there are major works underway to dredge rivers, raise embankments and build the East and West Flood canals. However, one of his solutions has been to send off a fleet of 400 fishermen(pic), in a Herculean effort to remove 14,000 cubic squares of garbage polluting Jakarta Bay every day.

That was a week or so ago. Daft question, but are they giving up their main livelihood, fishing, every day?

This is all getting boring as it's been said by me for the BBC* and others so many times, but how about calling a complete halt to the building of yet more malls and office towers? A mere 9.8% of Jakarta's land area given over to green spaces, rather than the 30% 'mandated' in the city's spatial plan. The myopic and rapacious private sector with their handsomely rewarded city bureaucrats gobbled up parks, playgrounds and sports fields and now have to build their "soulless modern and post-modern buildings" in graveyards.

Jakarta is doomed as a viable city. I posited this scenario a couple of years ago, but I now think I was being unduly optimistic.

Some 40% of the city lies below sea level and it is sinking at a rate of up to 20 centimetres a year thanks to the uncontrolled extraction of groundwater and the weight of new buildings. Coupled with this is the rising sea level, which the talkfest in Copenhagen next month won't do a thing to 'solve' - King Canute couldn't.

Unless the lowlanders of Holland were to return and govern the city I can't see any other solution but to abandon it to Mother Nature.

Perhaps the Guv'ner has intuited this. He's now initiated an urban transmigration programme whereby 100-200 families are sent to less-populated areas of Indonesia.

We'll have to wait and see how these families settle in, especially the 28 families sent this year to earthquake-prone Bengkulu in West Sumatra.

At least, this time, he's not thinking short-term. If Jakarta's population is about 15 million, at this rate it will take 18,750 years to move everyone out.

If there hasn't been yet another power cut, will the last one to leave please switch the lights off.
*Quicktime 5 required.


4:30 pm |
Monday, November 23, 2009
  Blogspot Banned ????

A few Indonesian ISPs - namely Fastnet, CBN and Smart - blocked Blogger yesterday, albeit temporarily. Why these three, and not the major ISPs such as Telkom and Indosat, interpreted a letter issued by the Ministry of Information and Communication (Menkominfo No 598/M.Kominfo/11/2009 tertanggal 19 November 2009) to mean a total ban on the world's largest blog host server, I cannot say, or even conjecture.

As far as I can make out - all my info comes from Indonesian language sites - one blogger, Nabi Muhammad SAW upset someone somewhere, possibly by expressing 'blasphemous' thoughts.

Read VivaNews for the thoughts of "blogger senior" Enda Nasution.

The new Minister of Information and Communication is Tifatul Sembiring who has his own blog, tweets on Twitter where he has 17,000 followers and has 15,000 “friends” on his Facebook site.

The worry for many of us is that his staunch Islamic faith - he founded and chaired PKS the major party in SBY's coalition - may lead him down the path of unctuous righteousness.

He was quoted in the Globe last month as saying he would make the idea of “a connected Indonesia” a reality, with hassle-free communications and correct information accessible to anyone, anywhere.

The notion of "correct information" should remind us all of Suharto's infamous Ministry of Information, his tool to silence dissent and shut down media that questioned his rule.

Sorry Pak Tifatul, but we will not be silenced so easily.


7:00 pm |
Saturday, November 21, 2009
  Jakartass - Asian Correspondent?

I've been invited to join Asian Correspondent (AC), a new online news portal, as their Jakarta stringer. I'm flattered but ....

First up, I think AC is an admirable idea. The Online Journalism blog, from which I've lifted a few bits, gives much of the background .

- CEO James Craven believes that instructive blogging should be paid.
- AC is a news site intended to report and aggregate news and information from the continent.
- Craven hopes to capitalize on the inarguable talent that lies in the blogosphere, and also tap into the mobilizing power of the Internet that is so exclusive to blogs and citizen media.
- To achieve this, Craven and his team hand picked thirty-five bloggers spanning thirteen different Asian countries after a careful survey of the region’s blogosphere, based on quality of reporting, relevance and popularity.

As I said, I'm flattered and the pay would cover Our Kid's school fees, which are a considerable proportion of my monthly expenditure.

However, several bloggers, although supportive of AC, have decided to remain independent.

Absolutely Bangkok is one of them.

- Writing for Asian Correspondent wouldn’t be subject to direct editorial control or restrictions. Any blogger on board keeps on writing what he or she has been writing all along.
- The initial agreement is good for one year (or a trial period of three months - J). I would have lost any control over layout and comments for one year. So what, you say. Why say no to many thousands of more hits. Call me a romantic and the design of aB.com (and Jakartass) boring and content so-so, but somehow this unimportant little site grew from nothing into something and, seriously, hidden somewhere behind AC’s main portal I’d fear to descend into oblivion among dozens of outstanding fellow bloggers chasing headlines and a front mention on AC.

For the sake of independence, what’s it worth?

My dilemma is that I fear I would have to write for a whole new readership and strive for greater consistency.

To some, I'm an "opinionated old fart", I suffer from ADD but yet I earn respect .... from entire communities for the understanding of the foreign culture you live in, indeed your long established reputation on the internet allows you to further your credentials and qualifications via other mediums. Obviously, from your years of being here, we could all learn something - we're not demanding an anthropology title.

And therein all that lies my worry. I was invited to rewrite Culture Shock! Jakarta because of Jakartass. My blog is essentially the diary of a life of a long-term resident in the Big Durian, yet I write from the perspective of my British upbringing. I rarely write about other Asian countries or consider how Jakarta/Indonesia fits in geopolitically, so Jakartass serves a relatively small community.

I have written to AC to ask if they'd consider a Letter From Jakarta, perhaps bi-weekly, whereby I could continue Jakartass basically as it's always been with its references to my London interests such as Charlton Athletic and all those other titbits which take my fancy or are strictly personal.

Meanwhile, I'm perhaps leaning towards signing up but would like the input of regular readers.

What say you?

Please leave a comment or, if you prefer, email me.


9:00 am |
Thursday, November 19, 2009
  Peace Is Restored.

Or is it?

A meeting was held on our terrace for an hour or so following the fracas. Our first echelon RT, an old friend, and second-echelon RW who'd encouraged the yobbos to congregate outside his house, "Er Indoors and her youngest sister who lives with us were in attendance. I think (hope) Our Kid slept through it all. One of the street hooligans was also there. His name is Angga, pronounced 'anger', which I did think apt except that he seemed prepared to listen.

Throughout the meeting, I didn't clean up my wounds: the most noticeable was the blood that had streamed from the small cut below my eye. ('Er Indoors took a photo for future reference.) Of major concern to our local 'authorities' was that I might call the police. Certainly it was a tempting thought, but I figured that if we pressed charges then we'd make permanent enemies for however long we continued to live here.

What I had confirmed was that all those guys sitting around every night are local, mainly of Betawi stock, and all unemployed.

The Betawi (orang Betawi, or "people of Batavia") are the descendants of the people living around Batavia (the colonial name for Jakarta) from around the 17th century. The Betawis are mostly descended from various Southeast Asian ethnic groups, plus Arab, Chinese, and Indian brought to or attracted to Batavia to meet labour needs, including people from various parts of Indonesia. They have a culture and language distinct from the surrounding Sundanese and Javanese. The Betawis are known for their piety towards Islam, as well as their short temper and their openness to others.

Ah, yes, their "short temper". It's too late for regrets, but I really should have stopped to reflect rather than charging into their den and upturning their carrom board. But when you see your wife surrounded by a bunch of jeering layabouts, what's a real man to do, eh?

Having sorted out the non-appearance of the police - this time only, I asserted - Pak RW proposed a compromise: the playing of carrom would cease at 10pm. But, we asked, who would enforce that? Besides, even if there wasn't someone's parlour available, why didn't they play in the daytime? They're all unemployed, many relying on their wives' earnings as cleaners, laundry maids or through running a small food stall, and need some 'entertainment' to occupy themselves. Two nights ago, I was it..

Yes, unemployment is a major factor in Indonesia, with over a million contract workers being laid off in the past year or so. That's why we pay over the going rate to the various ojek (motorcycle taxis) drivers we use, feed our street crazy, and slip the occasional note to those who give us help, however small.

For a few months we provided the capital for the lad who pushed his cart of vegetables around our streets. He paid us back with the choicest veggies. (The last we heard, he'd buggered off to Bogor to become an illegal gold miner.)

So it's not as if we live aloof from our locale.

All that aside, I decided to offer a possible solution, one that could both rebuild the lost community spirit and get the yobbos off the street with some money in their pockets.

All those years ago when I first moved in, there was a system of having our electricity bills paid by the street secretary. Instead of each householder forking out for transport to the local electricity board office, but now at a bank branch, just the one person went and paid the bills of each household who added a 'fee' of, say, half the regular transport costs. A win-win system which generated a considerable sum per month. Our street built up a stock of chairs and tables for the wedding receptions and occasional funereal lie-ins when all and sundry arrive from near and far to pay their respects.

I suggested that this could be revived. Furthermore, perhaps something could be done about our rubbish collection. There isn't a system in Jakarta of sorting organic and non-organic waste, yet there are a few kampungs in Jakarta which have developed profitable composting enterprises.

Ours is a fairly densely occupied area so there is surely scope for a non-profit community run organisation which could operate these and other projects. Our RT certainly liked the notion, particularly as it could be operated on quite a large scale involving the other communities roundabout, from an elite complex to our neighbouring kampung where the street lads all live.

'Er Indoors is not so sure, however.

Orang Betawi have an inclusiveness, much of it based on landgrabs which have seen them marginalised by rich folk as Jakarta has expanded. Unfortunately, they are also seen as being non-entrepreneurial, lazy and shiftless. We can certainly name a few individuals from around here who fit that stereotype.

At the end of our lengthy pow-pow I proposed that we exchanged mutual apologies. The RT and RW put this to the gang, who were still gathered opposite, and they trooped in a line through our front yard and we shook hands. A few seemed sincere.

Engineering a change of mindset which embraces all our differences would be hard work. I believe it is possible - I have to - but can others be convinced?

Only time will tell, long after my wounds have healed.


11:00 am |
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I've lived in Jakartass Towers for nigh on 22 years and seen many changes. Empty plots which once were play areas or parking spaces have been built on, and our back streets have turned into daytime speedway tracks for our local hell's cherubs on their souped up mopeds or nighttime parking lots for local residents. There are no communal meeting places other than our front parlours.

Security has been a constant, with streets barred after 10 or 11 pm and manned by locally paid security guards known as hansip, who patrol the surrounding streets at regular intervals much like London's night watchmen who were replaced in 1829 by a police force established by Sir Robert Peel (His name accounts for 'bobbies', the word used by most Londoners in preference to 'pigs'.).

I've written elsewhere about the Indonesian system of community control - although monitoring might be a better word - operating literally from the ground up to the highest echelons of the nation's bureaucracies. We've known our area heads for as long as we've been here and generally maintained good relationships with them, not so much because we've had to but because we're willing participants in community affairs and want a quiet life..

A year ago, the second-echelon community leader, who lives opposite us had a new security post built outside his house. We wondered then about the need and figured that as he was newly elected - and, yes, we've had an electoral system for such positions since long before reformasi took hold in 1998 - he was somewhat arrogantly displaying his 'power'. There was certainly no need for a new post, not with through traffic barred from the street at night. (What robberies there have been have always taken place in daylight.)

The two hansips he installed quickly incurred our wrath by watching, with the volume turned up to 11, broadcasts of dangdut music, a fusion of Arabic, Indian, Malay, rock and other stuff accompanied by what certain religious leaders term 'pornographic' singers. It's a genre that is incredibly popular within the urban kampungs, the cramped areas of cheap housing occupied by the poorer, generally underemployed, citizens.

In the past few months, our nights been plagued by noisy street parties of as many as twenty presumably unemployed youths playing carrom, a table top game with similarities to billiards, but played with small discs rather than balls and cues. It's a fine skillful game for two or four players - but not at one in the morning. The raucous cheers have disturbed us many times. Given that we have to get up before 5 so that Our Kid is ready for the school bus and I am awake enough to set off on my daily rounds, we have been royally pissed off many times and lodged complaints.

Last night, I awoke to hear 'Er Indoors outdoors berating the gathered gang. She's been quite sick for a week or two so we're all a bit more stressed out than usual and her language was unsurprisingly angry and direct. I got up and went to the front gate and spotted her surrounded by the tribe who were laughing, jeering almost.

Without thinking, I went up to them and angrily declared that we pay for security guards and not a bunch of premen (hoodlums). I then - big mistake this - upturned the carrom board. Next thing I knew, I'd been sent flying forwards, smashing my head on the corner of their TV and losing my glasses in the process. The latter seemed to be my biggest problem, but I hadn't taken into account the propensity for Asians to run amok.

The horde had turned very violent and along with their punches and kicks were wielding broken bricks, bottles and bamboo sticks. I have a cut beneath my good eye, grazes down my arms and what might be a cracked elbow. It could be worse - my glasses, thankfully, are still intact.

But I have to lose a rare day's income as I've spent the rest of the night typing, one-handed, this post and also tomorrow's: Peace Is Restored.


4:30 am |
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
  Girding Our Loincloths

It's not just the middle classes which are revolting, although their fight against the alliance between the court mafia, businessfolk and their political chums for the country's all-pervading corruption is what must worry SBY the most.

Elsewhere, such as in Riau, Sumatra, (part of which is currently submerged following heavy rains), villagers are rallying in support of an environmental camp established two years ago to protect the forests against their rapacious destruction by PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper, one of Indonesia's largest paper companies. 11 foreign Greenpeace activists have been deported, ostensibly for violating their tourist visas by joining the protest against forest destruction. They had packed ready to leave last week but had stayed at the request of the local villagers.

It has been alleged that PT. RAPP had paid up to Rp.200,000 to a group which had tried to forcibly remove them, so the police acted "for security reasons".

The camp remains, now run by the Forest Rescue Network Riau (Jikalahari), an alliance that includes the Indonesia Forum for the Environment (Walhi), Transparency International Indonesia and local tribal groups.

Elsewhere in Sumatra forests have been destroyed in order to create palm oil plantations, but 'suitable' land is just about exhausted, as it is in Kalimantan. The largest remaining forests are in West Papua, a province under military rule.

News is scarce from there as few can get the necessary permits to visit. However, what does leak throgh makes disturbing reading.

A new report released by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Telapak entitled “Up for Grabs” exposes how five million hectares of land, most of it forested, is being targeted in Papua by powerful companies seeking to cash in on projected demand for biofuels, derived from crops such as oil palm, and other commodities. This land grab is provoking conflicts with local communities and threatens the third largest area of remaining tropical forests on Earth.

Field investigations carried out by EIA/Telapak at seven locations in Papua and West Papua Provinces during 2009 reveal a stark picture of government condoned exploitation of traditional landowners, many of whom are being enticed, tricked and sometimes coerced into releasing large swathes of forested land for plantations on the basis of unfulfilled promises of development benefits such as improved transport, schooling, and housing.

In one case EIA/Telapak encountered a four year old boy, son of a local landowner, who had to sign a contract so that the plantation company could ensure control of the land for decades.

This does not fit well with the closing remarks at the weekend of the Papuan Biodiversity Conference from the Papua Governor Barnabas Suebu. He said that the residents of Papua and the central government must work together to encourage the international society to preserve the environment for the future.

"I challenge all parties to better conserve Papua's natural environment," Barnabas said. "Hopefully we can be an example for other countries.

"Let us save Papua, Indonesia and the planet."

Methinks that this is yet another cause that the 'street parliament' should examine.


7:30 pm |
Sunday, November 15, 2009
  Is SBY A Genius?

I only ask because he's currently attending the APEC conference in Singapore and next month he's off to Copenhagen "to give a boost to global negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emission".

He's facing a lot of criticism back home for not interceding in the four ring circus that is the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) v the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and the newly elected national legislature.

He talks of allowing the due process of law in the case and of eradicating the 'court mafia'. The first is eminently sensible, yet there is no news of an action, any action, which will achieve the latter. Because corruption is now endemic throughout the country, perhaps he is calmly developing a long-term strategy. Perhaps too he is going to act on the recommendations from the Team of 8 he set up to question all the circus performers.

That witnesses and players have withdrawn testimonies and now say that the senior police and AGO prosecutors were the instigators of a frame up of the head of the KK, Antasari, in a murder case and that there is no evidence that Bibit And Chandra took bribes is 'proof' of what the public has long suspected.

And it is the public, essentially the middle classes, which is now driving matters through what the Post has labelled a street parliament.

As it hasn't taken long for the newly elected national legislators to face public scorn, the street and online support for the victims of framed corruption fighters offers a strong counter-balance against the entrenched Suhartoists.

Perhaps this is what SBY is seeking. Although he has the popular electoral mandate, he must know that he cannot depend on his parliamentary coalition, not least because they will be continually manoevering ahead of the next round of elections in order to best capitalise on the rewards (in financial terms!) that political power confers.

The only problem is that the electorate is, by and large, complaisant. If one were to use the schooling analogy, the electorate is still in compulsory education: the Sukarno presidential era was the kindergarden, the Suharto era was grades one to six, and we're now in the high school, rebellious teenage years. This is when taking responsibility is a major part of growing up, yet parental guidance is generally available when sought.

If the net result of the SBY era is entrance into the university of life with the understanding that personal freedom and enterprise depends on mutual respect rather than the playground bullying of earlier years, then he will be recognised as a great man, if not exactly a genius.

And the education of our children and grandchildren will be that much more effective.


2:30 pm |
Thursday, November 12, 2009
  I've Got The Write To Sing The Blues

I've got a right to sing the blues,
got the right to moan and sigh
I've got a right to sit and cry
down along the river

Sam Cooke

Thankfully for you all, I don't sing in public. I don't often sing in my bathroom either, but that's because its acoustics aren't as good as others I've splashed around in.

As to whether I consider myself qualified to sing the blues, the answer is an unequivocal no. I’ve been done wrong, and had my fair share of setbacks, but my life has been a bed of roses compared to people who could really do justice to the blues. I could even sing a blues song if I had drunk enough gin, or you held a gun to my head, but it would convince no one, and believe me, I’m not complaining.
© John Merchant

However, and only relatively recently here in Indonesia, I do have the right to write, and moan and sigh, and sit and cry. I'd like to say that we all do, but as elsewhere, there are always those who are denied that right because they don't have the tools.

Income disparity is obviously the key. Those with 'surplus' income have access to the media, albeit with a few controlling what we are expected to believe and how we are expected to conform. Education costs, so many poverty stricken families are forced to send their children out to earn income, thus restricting knowledge to the haves. (This is not the place to examine the fundamental faults of a knowledge-based schooling system.)

Some of us are 'lucky' to have access to the internet, a technology which empowers those of us willing to challenge the entrenched elite. Again, though, for all the fine words emanating from the latest Minister of Education about connecting all schools to the internet, some don't have electricity, let alone the bandwidth.

So, I'm lucky. I can, therefore I do.

And my main moan today refers back to last weekend's Jakarta International Blues Festival.

The original blues were sung by the children and grandchildren of former slaves who were indentured sharecroppers working those cotton plantations in the southern states of the USA on which their recent ancestors had worked.

The blues were created at a time when those in the Delta realised that they had not been truly emancipated. From 1890 onwards, blacks recognised that religion spiritually, but not necessarily physically, rescued them from their brutal situation. This manifested itself through the blues, where individuals could express their resentment and lack of faith in America and white society.*

The white man could get education and he could learn to read a note, and the Negro couldn’t. All he had to get for his music what God give him in his heart. And that’s the only thing he got. And he didn’t get that from the white man; God give it to him.
Willie Thomas interviewed by Paul Oliver August 7th 1960

Eventually, with industrialisation and the outbreak of World War 1, there was a mass migration from the plantations, by now ravaged by the boll weevil, to the factories of cities such as Chicago. Although the pay and conditions were poor, at least the work opportunities offered hope. And electricity, thus giving rise to urban blues, as opposed to the acoustic rural blues of the Mississippi Delta, which continued to 'document' life's travails.

Strangely, it was in Britain, rather than the USA**, which embraced this music.

Almost in passing, in the late-1950s and early-1960s, Chris Barber was mainly responsible for arranging the first UK tours of seminal blues artists such as Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and Muddy Waters. This, along with encouragement from local enthusiasts such as Alexis Korner and John Mayall, sparked the interest of young local prospective musicians such as Peter Green, Eric Clapton and the members of the Rolling Stones in the blues and caused the British blues explosion that in turn resulted in the British invasion exported back to the US in the middle to late sixties.

And this took place during my teenage years and, along with my father's jazz record collection - jazz itself being a branch of the blues tree, formed and continues to inform my musical education.

Music has the power to move us.

It can make me cry. Check out the second movement (Adagio) from Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio), or On The Way Home by one of Indonesia's master guitarists, Dewa Budjana.

Or laugh.

Oh Lord, wish my bed wasn't silken sheets so tight
I got to keep my strength up got to do a show tonight
I'll have a cup of coffee while I'm taking in the news
No need to have a shave 'cause I'm gonna sing the blues
Bonzo Dog Band - Can A Blue Man Sing The Whites

Referring back to my previous post, it is part of Sue Bonnington's musical heritage, and Jan Akkerman's too, and presumably Mike Wilger, who I chatted with but whose set I missed, mainly due to the lack of accurate scheduling information. I therefore also missed the set by Gigi with Dewa Budjana. Would they have moved me?

Apart from SP and me during Sue's set, I saw no-one dancing on Saturday night. Where was the display of rapport, of recognition? Maybe Slank who have performed in support of the KPK or Iwan Fals in his anti-Suharto heyday would have captured the essence of the blues, an essentially 'honest' music as it's all about soul, humanity's inner core.

I do applaud any effort to promote live music here, but I wish it wasn't so 'commercialised', presented as a 'gift' from Gov. Fuzzy Bodoh or a promotion for cigarettes (or Heineken, or Pond's Whitening Cream).
*Asterisks denote passages taken from Blues Culture in the Mississippi Delta 1890 - 1920, the unpublished dissertation by Son.No.1 (1999)

**Respectable white citizens criticised the lack of cultivated black music forms and the savagery of their dancing whilst themselves performing the Charleston - which bore a remarkable resemblance to a West African Ashanti ancestor dance.


2:00 pm |
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
  Have fun, get angry

Civil disobedience has an honourable history, and when the urgency and moral clarity cross a certain threshold, then I think that civil disobedience is quite understandable, and it has a role to play. And I expect that it will increase, no question about it.
Al Gore

Although he's referring to climate change, Gore could well be referring to any number of causes, from global to local. Righting the wrongs of authoritarianism is a constant battle and democracy gives us the freedom to voice our opinions.

Mobilising the masses needs a spark, something that captures the imagination. Indonesia is lucky to have had the National Police chief detective Comr. Gen. Susno Duadji. Under investigation by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for his role in freeing up the $18 million deposit of oligarch Boedi Sampoerna frozen in the failed Bank Century, a wiretap recorded him mocking the KPK, likening it to a small lizard (cicak) fighting a crocodile (buana) - the police.

Hence the 'logo' to the left. Millions have sided with the KPK; one million alone have signed on to a Facebook group supporting the two deputy chairmen of the KPK, Chandra M. Hamzah and Bibit Samad Rianto, who are generally believed to be the victims of a frame up organised with the connivance of the police and court mafia with rich corrupt businessmen.

So the rakyat is at long last finding its voice siding with the underdogs. Prita Mulyasari who exercised her right to send friends an email outlining the maltreatment she received from Omni Hospital is still on trial for defamation, yet has support from most sectors of society.

There are many such cases. From the assassination of Munir to the refugees of the Sidorajo mudflow, victims have the implicit support of the public, yet until now righteous anger has done little to assuage their suffering. Perhaps now, thanks to we little lizards, their relief is on the horizon, and that must frighten the 'guilty' parties, even if they feel no shame. For far too long Indonesia's political and business classes have not cared to listen, hiding behind their pompous self-regard and wilful disregard for others beyond their circles.

It's not as if there hasn't always been widespread awareness of societal ills. However the fear of taking on the might of the monied classes has prevented previous mass social movements. Approaching the police, for example, can be both brutal and expensive, as an Amnesty report issued in June this year made clear. Hopefully now they will realise that they are but the guardians of all sectors of society rather than those few who could afford to supplement their admittedly low incomes.

To be fair, it's not just the Indonesian police who appear to have operated within a "culture of impunity", immune to public criticism and complaints.

In the past four years, London's Metropolitan riot squad has received more than 5,000 complaint allegations, mostly for "oppressive behaviour". However, only nine – less than 0.18% – were "substantiated" after an investigation by the force's complaints department.

In exposing these abuses and institutionalising reforms, there are hopes of equality before the law. Here in Indonesia, there are still expectations that SBY will exercise his presidential prerogative in this regard, but as yet we only have word of his intentions. Commissions of inquiry and committees are established to make further investigations, the results of which are rarely aired.

The public has a right to answers and must continue to seek them. How they (we) do so from now on has vital implications for the future of demokrasi. The danger of repression remains, not least if SBY should fear for his position which is perhaps not as secure as his popular mandate and government coalition might indicate. For example, a major coalition partner, the Golkar Party, has already begun criticising SBY over his handling of the Bank Century affair in the hopes that the public will side with it in the next round of elections just over four years hence.

The public is already wise to the fact that that legislators have been proven to be as corrupt percentage-wise as the police and court mafia. Tactically, therefore, it is important that civil protests remain not only peaceful but also politically non-partisan.

Humour is a wonderful weapon especially when your foes have little sense. I hope to see satire, street theatre, more murals, cartoons and comic strips used in the fight for an equitable society.

Fair enough?


7:30 am |
Monday, November 09, 2009
  A Night On The Tiles

I would have preferred green grass but this being Jakarta and not, say, Curitiba, it wasn't to be. It wasn't really a Blues night either, though that was why we were in the vast open space of Senayan on Saturday night.

Having met up in Ya 'Usual and had a long pleasant chat over a couple of Bintangs, we, DQ and I set off for central Jakarta's sports and posh hotel Senayan complex. in the new vintage Merc of the Globe's Mad Man about the Metro. Having a vehicle a bit further upmarket than the common and garden variety of people carrier, meant that we were accorded due preference by the civilian traffic controllers when we needed to make U-turns, a frequent occurrence in the maze. We soon found a parking space and slowly wended our way in, apart from Simon that is as he had to find his press credentials in order to save Rp.100,000 (c.$10).

I'm not familiar with the layout in Senayan and, besides it was night. We wandered around a few stalls and stages but neither saw nor heard anything that took our fancy. Besides, we discovered that Jan Akkerman who was our prime listening target wasn't due to play until 9. Or was it 10?

No band called us as we wandered through the cacophony hammering us from all sides and front so we entered the building ahead. Having strolled through empty corridors which reminded us of hospitals in their antisepticness - an alien thought in Jakarta - we found ourselves at the back of the building facing an empty parking lot. And beyond we could see colourful lights and hear some vaguely enticing music.

Like Pied Piper's children, having informed security guards of our intention of returning, we drifted off and, lo, discovered that another event was being held - a promotional evening for Pond's Whitening Cream. as samples were being handed out in return for Rp.13,000 and an entrance ticket we sallied past a few of the 'thousand faces' smiling at us and entered. And what an entrance we made as we had to part seven sets of heavy curtains separating air conditioned spaces.

And that was really the best part for us, although for some reason there were four tourist police there in their really attractive uniforms. Having said as much to them, they all told me that they could only speak a "liddle" English. I suggested that as foreign tourists, not that there are many at any time in Jakarta, generally used English as their lingua franca, perhaps it would help if tourist police were to take a course. I didn't volunteer my services.

After a very pleasant chill in one of the curtained anterooms, we went in search of Heineken where JH with his teenage daughters linked up with us. The Heineken girls didn't agree that the noise of their generator which was pumping air into an inflated advert drowned out any hope of focussing our eras on any of the music emanating from the surrounding stages.

Come 9, the time for JA according to the media centre, we made our way back into the corridors and came across a packed area around a stage where we heard some of the best music of the night - Sue Bonnington, Jakarta's very own British 'Queen of the Blues'. Sue's a former colleague of SP and myself and we all exchanged air kisses before she and her very tight band launched into what proved to be their final number. And they were good, very good with their organ driven rhythm and blues, the funky version as played by the likes of the Blues Brothers rather than the bland muzak which carries that label today.

We managed to find our way up into the uppermost reaches of the hall, one in which JH and I thought we may have seen Pat Metheny back in 95. We hadn't: that was the tennis centre rather than the Istora Senayan, but now as then there was space a-plenty.

The wiki page dedicated to Jan Akkerman includes him in the rock and jazz fusion guitarist categories, but no mention of 'blues'. To give him his due, this interview conducted following a gig earlier this year in Syria says that Akkerman is known for having no boundaries or limitations; a true free soul, he is also known for exploring new musical flavors by combining elements of rock, jazz, blues, classical or modern dance music and give those his own signature.

And that is what he played. There was possibly an element of blues in there but his playing didn't touch us emotionally which is surely the function of blues music. And I've never been a great fan of drum solos.

I was primarily there because I'd arranged to meet Leonardo Pavkovic, proprietor of MoonJune Records, and JA's tour manager for this gig.

It took some time to navigate my way through more tiled corridors backstage, but meet up we did and spent the next few hours into the early morning gossiping about this, that and t'other in the now impersonal foyer of the Sultan (né Hilton) Hotel quaffing cans of Bintang.

Indonesian jazz fans may like to know that L. is hoping to release the next album by Agam Hamzah, a veteran jazz guitarist. Canterbury music fans will certainly want to know that Beppo Crovella's "personal vision of the music of Mike Ratledge" (the original keyboard player of Soft Machine) is all we wanted and possibly more.

And L. kindly introduced me to the music of Boris Savoldelli - of whom I know little, but any album (in this case 'Insanology' with guitarist Marc Ribot and vocalese à la Bobby McFerrin) is worth a sing-a-long to.

So the evening did produce some good music other than Sue B's.

But, oh, those tiles!
I look forward to reading the next MetroMad column in the Globe for Simon's take on the evening.

And DQ has asked me to give an initial plug for his Gunung Bagging website, a comprehensive, encyclopaedic even, guide to all Indonesia's mountains, for which read volcanoes, over 1,000 metres in height. As it's a work in progress, contributions are more than welcome.

Anyone interested is welcome to contact Dan from the site and will be invited to a Bintang-fuelled site launch, provisionally set for 3pm-ish on Saturday December 12th, "but god knows where, not the Blok and preferably not swanky and dull Kemang."



5:30 pm |
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
  A False Dawn?

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.
Albert Einstein

Last Saturday was one of those non lie-in days when you get to pity the teachers who have to impart the sad tidings to parents about the non-achievements of their offspring.

Thankfully, the report on Our Kid wasn't as bad as I feared. Out of the 28 in his grade 8 class, only 5 achieved the passing grade of 65% in Maths and Physics. So he's in the bottom 82% in those two subjects. That he's more or less top in English and Computer is to be expected. After all, his dad is renowned for the splendour of his native tongue and his presence in hyperspace. Our Kid is also pretty good in Art and Music, so I'm pleased at that.

His class teacher is also the Physics teacher and I emphasised in our discussion that I don't blame her for his low scores. After all, teachers are duty bound to teach the national syllabus, which is then tested with standard multi-choice questions set by the Department of Education. There is no time available for creativity and experiment.

However, I have no intention of reiterating what I wrote a year ago here other than to say that national exams (ujian nasional) are held for years 6, 9, and 12. After the final school exam (year 12), students wishing to enter an Indonesian state university have to take the State Universities Entrance Tests (known as SNMPTN), as well, possibly, as Interest and Talent-based tests for individual universities.

In spite of the ongoing social upheaval, which lead me to put this post on hold, there may be some encouraging news emanating from SBY's new cabinet. Several ministers are trying to impress all and sundry, and probably SBY in particular, by embarking on 100 Day Programmes. Although these generally smack of the endemic myopic short-termism, the new Education Minister, Muhammed Nuh, has declared that he intended to do away with the SNMPTN.

His reason is blindingly obvious to all but those who actually set the tests. If students can only 'graduate' from elementary school (SD) (year 6) into junior high (SMP), and from there at the end of year 9 into senior high (SMA) by 'passing' each ujian nasional with a predetermined average score in a limited number of subjects, why add the pressure of an extra exam at the end of year 12? Surely 'passing' the final exam with sufficiently high scores in the relevant subjects should be sufficient.

There is, however; a significant problem with this. Such is the competitive nature of the exams, with dire consequences for schools with a significant 'failure rate' and even worse problems for those students who are irredeemably marked as failures for the rest of their lives, that answers to the exams are regularly leaked beforehand, for a fee naturally.

So I hereby offer Pak Nuh half-hearted congratulations. They'll be wholehearted when he drastically overhauls the national curriculum so that it reflects individual talents and interests of students rather than the mentality of bureaucrats in thrall to prestige and competition.


5:30 pm |
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
The Revolusi Is Being Televised

I came home to find all my tribe clustered around their TV listening to the recordings of the nigh on 70 wiretaps which SBY has ordered the Costitutional Court to investigate as to their veracity. These are recordings of conversations between Anggoro and his brother Anggodo with high-ranking prosecutors and police officers discussing in July a plot to frame KPK leaders, recording leaked to the media in the past week. We listened along with their Courtships and, presumably, almost the entire population of Indonesia as the proceedings were relayed by the majority of the terrestrial channels.

The recordings appear to demonstrate a conspiracy to implicate the two deputy chairmen of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Chandra M. Hamzah and Bibit Samad Rianto, who were detained on Thursday on allegations of abuse of power, bribery and extortion involving businessman Anggoro Widjojo. He is alleged to have bribed Chandra and Bibit through middlemen Ari Muladi and Edi Soemarsono. Ari has since retracted his statement concerning the accusation.

There is a suggestion that SBY wrote a letter to Anggoro Widjojo, who, as I type this is chainsmoking and prevaricating live on TVone.

The chief of detectives, Comr. Susno Duadji, met Anggoro in Singapore whilst he was being sought by the KPK which was investigating his company, PT Masaro Radiokom, which is the regular telecommunications contractor for the police, the military and the intelligence agencies - rent seekers all.

The KPK has been outstandingly successful in prosecuting politicians, senior bureaucrats, including prosecutors and bankers such as the father-in-law of SBY's son and businessmen. No less than 152 politicians have been implicated in graft.

Another, frightening, suggestion is that Chandra would be killed if he were sent to prison - he is currently held in the Police HQ. SBY has instructed the National Police Chief to ensure his safety and that of Bibit.

The rakyat (public) are angry, very angry, with demonstrations throughout the country and expressions of support coming from many legislators, both past and present, media folk, celebrities, students and every twitterer and blogger with an opinion about the just society they (we) want to be part of.

Yep, this is a veritable shitstorm

Hopefully this is the lancing of a massive boil, the release of all those poisons which have put reformasi in jeopardy. The notion of impunity because of societal rank can no longer be allowed. The people have voted and now they are ready to articulate what they want their representatives to do, and how they want it done.

Personally, I do hope that this affair isn't going to be SBY's Watergate. That, like Nixon, he has just won re-election by a landslide should not be taken as an omen.

I leave the daily details of what the left and right hands are doing to the Post and Globe.

UPDATE - later that same evening

Hurrah for People Power?

Following the hours of broadcast, Bibit and Chandra have been released and Anggodo Widjojo, brother of corruption suspect Anggoro Widjojo, has been arrested.

Next day
Read Yosef Ardi for more background and what the next steps should be.


8:30 pm |
Monday, November 02, 2009
  SBY & KPK - It's All Too Much

For a long time, I've wanted to write about the engrossing story of skullduggery in high places - perjury, money laundering and absconding business men, bribery, wiretaps, sex and murder, it's all there - but trying to reduce it into a blog post is nigh on impossible.

However, I've just come across an idea which might work.

I could Tweet. After all, attention spans nowadays barely last longer than the time it takes to rd 140 k'ters. WTF, a?. Others have tried it, successfully, albeit in snack-sized bytes, and possibly unsuccessfully. However, this luddite needs to get up to speed on the various acronyms and slackerisms and social-networking slang that (would) litter the text. And frankly if you have to look these things up you might prefer a real book.

Pause for thought: The above is 138 words long, but tweeting is all about characters and there are 794 with spaces, so that won’t do.

I think this might though.

SBY & KPK - a tale of skullduggery, corruption, sex and murder in high places

That's 79 characters with spaces.

Gud, a?

But if you want proper posts, ones I wish I'd written but like fellow blogger Treespotter - "the whole thing is taking an airport novel proportion in their big made up mess. It reads worse than fiction" - couldn't, then check out Rob Baiton. He has followed the story from the beginning, a story that has now lead to an avalanche of public support for the deputy chairmen of the Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi / KPK) imprisoned for expressing their opinions. This affaire d'état pits the national police against those of us who wonder about their motivation in attempting to sabotage the KPK, the most successful law enforcement agency in Indonesia.

SBY has become embroiled for both exceeding his presidential authority in directly appointing replacement deputy chairmen yet saying that that he can't interfere in due legal process.

Agreeing with Tree, I commented on Rob's most recent post, there's a massive tome to written on this real life scandal, one that is threatening to diminish SBY's popularity and his avowed intent to see the eradication of the culture of corruption.

The public at large, of which I am but one voice, wants a speedy, transparent and just resolution to the matter. Without it, distrust of all authority can only grow.

I'm with the cicak (KPK supporters) v the crocodiles (the police etc)



7:30 am |
Sunday, November 01, 2009
  I Am Lead To Believe

I have recently learned that Facebook members are urged to give 25 Random Facts or perhaps that should be 25 Random Facts That Might Not Be.

The following are random in that it's a list of not totally original thoughts jotted down as they've floated across the blank screen of my mind.

1. Son No.1 tells me that in spite of my ranting I do have a Facebook account.

2. I joined Friends Reunited several years ago. I haven't contacted anyone and no-one has contacted me.

3. I'd like to hear the world's first mobile phone orchestra. Perhaps someone can lend me an iPhone.

4. The local Carrefour hypermarket has little economic nous. Why else sell 6 disposable Gillette razors which have handles, swivelling heads, soap strips, double blades - the complete works, at two-thirds of the price of a pack of five heads without the complete works?

5. Those who can - do.
----Those who can't - teach.
----Those who can't teach - manage schools.

6. Television is the opium of the masses.

7. Most folk can't see beyond their noses.

8. Pinocchio was long-sighted.

9. The kids who are growing up surrounded by (cyber) technology will have better hand-eye co-ordination than their parents, but shorter attention spans. They will be better at holding many things in their heads at once, but worse at remembering them afterwards.
fr. Review of Cyburbia - The Dangerous Idea That's Changing How We Live And Who We Are
by James Harkin. pub. Little, Brown 2009.

10. As a vegetarian I instinctively flinch when offered a meal with 'artificial' - looks like, tastes like - meat.

11. There's nowt wrong with alternative protein sources, such as tempeh, a miracle food.

12. You don't need to understand how a pencil is made in order to use it.

13. I wish I knew more about how to 'tweak' the template of this blog.

14. Most religions have tolerance at their core and are inherently good for us.

15. Most religions have hard-core followers who are inherently bad for us.

16. Hard-core followers are not radical, in the sense of seeking positive change. The word is an oxymoron and they are morons.

17. Keeping a diary makes you happier, it says here.
I'm not sure about that, but putting Jakartass together is somewhat fulfilling.

18. The rain in Spain Jakarta stays mainly on the plain.

19. I'm not so much put off cycling as I'm put off drivers.

20. Few films are as rewarding as the books on which they're based. Atonement is a notable exception. (Watch Vanessa Redgrave's face as she closes the account - an astonishing performance.)

21. Dolores Hart's claim to fame was that she gave Elvis Presley his first screen kiss. And then, on the brink of a dazzling film career, she gave it all up to become a Benedictine nun. She still prays for Elvis who's now living on the dark side of the moon..

22. Indonesia has 1,087 endangered species, second only in number to the USA.

23. In the matter of broadband provision, Indonesia ranks 63rd out of 66 countries surveyed and out of 242 cities 'tested', Jakarta is ranked at 230 and Surabaya at 233.

24. Like Our Kid doesn't now, I didn't, and still don't, understand the mathematics I was taught at school. I've used very little of it since.

25. There are times when I can't think of anything to write. Hence no.25.



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