Thursday, April 30, 2009
  Don't Kiss Me, You Swine

As globalisation gives us its latest flu pandemic, panic sets in.

Firstly, 'swine flu' is a misnomer as no pigs have been found with swine flu (H1N1) - only humans

Government officials in Thailand, one of the world’s largest meat exporters, have started referring to the disease as 'Mexican flu' which is also probably incorrect given that the new virus has not yet been isolated in samples taken from pigs in Mexico or elsewhere.

Egypt has ordered that all 300,000 pigs in the country be slaughtered even though there hasn't been a single case of swine flu there.

Even though pigs aren't the carriers of swine fever, pig imports are now prohibited in many countries,

Britain, with only five cases, is trying to buy 32 million masks and elsewhere aptly named hawkers sell face masks, ineffective to stop minuscule microbes of the H1N1 virus getting into one's nasal passages, presumably to prevent spitting on sidewalks.

Kissing, even cheek rubbing, has been banned in Arabic countries where munching on pork is rare. (Note: well-cooked meat is safe, but if you're really worried, vegetarianism is safer*.)

Send in the clowns
An Israeli deputy health minister - an ultra-Orthodox Jew - said his country would use the term 'Mexican flu', to keep Jews from having to say the word 'swine.'

Here, the gaffe-prone Minister of Health, Siti Fadilah Supari, has downplayed the danger of a potential swine flu pandemic saying that the H5N1 type A influenza virus, better known as avian flu, has a fatality rate of 80 percent is more dangerous than the H1N1 type A influenza virus which has a fatality rate of about 6 percent (only?).

Pigs aren't as unclean as various religions seem to think they are and it's worth bearing in mind that humans are much better at spreading diseases through living in insanitary conditions, through adding umpteen pollutants to the environment, and through exchanging body fluids.

Remember, coughs, kisses and sneezes spread umpteen diseases.

However, one may wonder if charity organisers will continue to hold Kiss The Pig events.

Out of some creative mind, the Kiss the Pig fundraiser was born. We don’t know how or where, but we do know that lots of groups have adopted this crazy fundraiser.

Could it have been me? The following is a personal anecdote, one which may well have entered official Australian ethno-studies of alien cultures.

Back in 1992, Son No.1 and I underwent a jungle trek on Siberut Island. I published an account here. At the time, I elected to leave an incident which I was responsible for unsaid.

Our group were guests at the initiation of a shaman, an honour we respected. At the time, there were a number of other trek groups on the island, none of which had received an invitation. Whilst we were witnessing this rare event, we heard one of these groups approaching and could catch the glint of flashlights through the foliage as well as the group's loudness.

Suspended at each side of the portal were two slaughtered pigs, to be distributed later, cooked, to the visiting shamen from other villages.

I suggested to our guide, Tonik, that he should suggest to our village headman that these newcomers should undergo an initiation as a mark of respect - perhaps they could kiss the pigs as they entered.

This was greeted with glee by our Mentawai hosts, and so we all watched enraptured as the newcomers did as they were asked.

After their thankfully brief visit, I discovered that they were a group of school teachers, all members of the Australian Geographical Society.

I've often wondered if they ever published an account of their cultural visit. Of such occasions, myths are born.
Serious notes:
1. Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the Health Ministry's director general for disease control and environmental health, answers some FAQ here.
2. Bad science debunker Ben Goldacre on the boy who cried wolf.
3. Ben Goldacre, again, on oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) - they may work.
4. The true cost of eating meat
Like BSE, avian flu, foot and mouth disease, and a dioxin scandal that partly influenced the outcome of a Belgian general election in 1999, we're again witnessing a crisis that affects the meat industry.
5. In 1918/19, Spanish Flu claimed up to 70 million lives around the world until it finally, unexpectedly, disappeared in 1919. In this the virus claimed far more lives than World War 1.



2:00 pm |
Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In my last post, about luxuries and necessities, I did not include my computer.

This is a necessity as I use it for document production and storage. It is a tool. One doesn't need to know how a pencil is made in order to use it, and so it goes with a computer, although mine does seem to need cosseting beyond my technological nous.

Regarding the internet, and its social, rather than commercial, value, my (limited) access is also much needed as it enables me to stay in touch with what's going on in the world, internationally, nationally and socially. Some may think that blogging is a luxury but, hey, I need a creative outlet. I also recognise its power to open links to markets, especially for SMEs, and for the fast dissemination of information.

With the global economic downturn, the internet is partly responsible for the diminishing power of newspapers in their paper editions.

To celebrate 26 years of publication a recent editorial in the Jakarta Post stated:

Many people may still like to read a paper over breakfast - I do, and in the loo - but unfortunately, when it comes to running a newspaper, this is not the main determining factor in its survival. Newspapers are going out of business not because they are losing readers but because they are no longer commercially viable with the sharp decline in the advertisement revenue.

Many papers have fully migrated to the digital world. Online news has many advantages over print, such as the capacity to provide news in real time (as opposed to the next morning); it is interactive; and it has audio-visual capabilities. Online news also cuts a large chunk off the costs incurred by newspapers, from newsprint and printing, to delivery services. In short, online news runs on a completely different business model, and one where turnover is on a much smaller scale given the significantly lower costs.

The Jakarta Post is not in that position to migrate completely yet, although we believe a time will come when we will need to. We are preparing for that eventuality even as we continue to improve the quality of our newspaper. We are investing heavily in our news portal, investing money and man hours to run and develop what is essentially going to be the main medium for The Jakarta Post to deliver the news.

Whilst understanding their argument, I have two caveats.

Firstly, Indonesia is not ready. At the end of last year, internet penetration was at a lowly 11%, say 25 million. Mind you, the bureaucracy isn't interested in technological efficiency, as clearly demonstrated in the delay in the counting of votes from the recent-ish election. This delay is as much to do with antiquated equipment as it is with the 'commissions' taken from its procurement.

There is also the matter of education. Although the national exams are in a computer biased multi-choice format, thus virtually abolishing creative thinking in favour of schooling in test taking, there is a wider aspect to consider.

Collecting a book of faces and twittering inconsequentially is a passing fad, but also, given the widgets and wotsits littering locally produced websites, webmasters and internet users need to learn, or be taught, to keep things simple, stupid.

Still, that's not just restricted to Indonesia.

The following email exchange was generated by a relative in internet wealthy mainland Europe who forwarded it to me at Easter. Incidentally, I've yet to receive a reply.

----- Original Message 1 -----

Hello Everyone,

Ericsson is distributing free laptops for their brand promotion. They are hoping to increase their popularity and sales by this campaign. All you need to do is send an email about this promotion to 8 people and you will receive an Ericsson T18 Laptop. However, if you send an email to 20 or more people, you will receive an Ericsson R320 Laptop.

Kindly ensure you copy Anna at Ericsson so that she knows you have sent the e-mail.

----- Original Reply -----

Greetings from Jakarta F.

There is no proof that Ericsson is distributing free laptops. Why should they? After all, they're now part of the Sony empire. This email does not originate with Ericsson either.

What it does appear to be is a 'fishing' trip by criminals seeking to control our computers through 'malware'. In exposing everyone by using the Cc option ~ 160 addresses are on this one email ! ~ rather than Bcc, it only takes one of the 'named' recipients to be infected for the virus to spread to others. Note that I've removed the 'hyperlinks' by sending this in 'plain text', another safety measure.

It's mindboggling to know that there are still internet users out there who do not have a regularly updated firewall and virus detection programme installed.

So if you do make future mass mailings, please use Bcc. Oh, and don't include large (i.e. more than 100kbs.) of attachments. With my dial up connection I feel lucky to occasionally have a speed of 2kbs per second.)

Have fun..



2:30 pm |
Sunday, April 26, 2009
  Luxury or Necessity?

A survey by the Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends shows that Americans have come to realise that many of their appliances are not so necessary and are now deemed to be luxuries. These include a microwave oven, a television set, home air conditioning, a dishwasher and a clothes dryer.

Changing perceptions about what's a luxury and what's a necessity ... have occurred across-the-board, among adults in all income groups and economic circumstances - perhaps suggesting that consumer reaction to the recession is being driven by specific personal economic hardships as well as by a more pervasive new creed of thrift that has taken hold both among those who've been personally affected and those who haven't.

The survey finds that the recession has touched the lives of most Americans in one way or another: job losses, the diminishing in value of retirement accounts or other investments, or problems making mortgage or rent payments.

Taken together, about two-in-three American families have faced at least one of these problems in the past year - with young adults, women and the less affluent more likely than others in the population to have been affected.

Politicians and economists would have us believe that Indonesia is ‘the most confident country’ in facing the 'great depression' because consumer spending has remained high. Mind you, the Nielsen Consumer Confidence survey involved interviews with 25,140 regular Internet respondents from 50 countries.

In other words, the middle classes. Yet the Jakarta Post reports that, from invoice-sorting secretaries to guitar-strumming musicians, the country's burgeoning middle class is bracing the coming of the crisis.

Iqbal, a computer programmer, said, "If it wasn't for my freelance designing jobs, I would be in a very tough situation right now."

Despite the extra income, he has had to tone down on life's pleasures, such as playing pool or getting a massage.

"Previously, I'd go get a massage twice a week, but that's no longer feasible," he said, adding the ritual was reduced to once a week now.

The working class aren't included in either survey. However, last December, it was estimated that production cuts amid weakened demand hurting company revenue (this) year could lead to far more than 1.5 million layoffs.

I doubt that workers laid off from construction projects and export oriented manufacturing comapnies have that many luxuries anyway, and a TV set is the one necessity enabling them to escape the drudgery of increased poverty.

The practicing of thrift is, in my humble opinion, a sensible way to live. Most of us have loads of inessentials and can make do. I anticipate increased revenue for shoe repairers, local tailors and even those guys who refill disposable lighters. Strangely or not, I haven't seen a tinker, a pot repairer, passing by for quite a while.

So, what is a luxury? In Jakartass Towers, I reckon we could do without the rice cooker, the microwave oven, the water dispenser.

Rice stored in the electric cooker doesn't have the fluffy texture of that boiled and steamed in the traditional way. A microwave oven doesn't offer the variety of textures and tastes of the boiling, baking, braising, basting and innumerable other cooking methods. A water dispenser consumes too much electricity. We boil our as yet unpolluted well water daily in order to fill thermos flasks for our teas and coffees, and store in bottles in our fridge for cold beverages.

Thanks to the traditional design of our house, which allows through breezes, we have no need for air conditioning, preferring fans for exceptionally hot days and nights. We don't have any form of private transport, making do with whatever transport best meets our travel needs, paying as we go wherever. I think there is a hairdryer somewhere, but in this climate, who needs one? Similarly, we don't have a clothes dryer, although it would be useful in the rainy season when socks suddenly appear to be in short supply. And we don't have a dishwasher, not even a pembantu (maid).

We could be even more thrifty I suppose, and I'm not including my beer budget in this appraisal. I think that 'Er Indoors and Our Kid could do with downsizing their handphones. These have seemingly every gadget available, except for one essential - a universal remote control for the TV and DVD machine.

However, apart from here, I'm thrifty with my words, and there are some things that I must leave unsaid.

What about you?
Once again, thanks to one of my favourite blogs, J-Walk, for suggesting this post.


8:00 am |
Friday, April 24, 2009
  Pinpointing Pinot

My ratings have gone through the roof this week and all because last June I sharply criticised the Jakarta Social Blog which concerned itself with the goings on of a group of powder puff heads, of the dozens of girls within the society (who) are dying to look gorgeous; if it takes awful pain to get there, they’ll take it. Yet, that is not the end of the quest, the circle goes; if they want to be respected, stick to the proper manner, if they want to be sought-after by the fashion people, wear the latest trend, if they always want to be invited, mingle with the right clique, if you want to be envied, spend like a madwoman, yet living it is much more torturing than just reading it.

And it is that last line of theirs which is proving true - literally.

One of their number, Manohara Pinot has disappeared, seemingly 'kidnapped' by her husband, 31-year-old Muhammad Fakhry, the son of the ruler of the Malaysian state of Kelantan.

For the full story, or at least up to now, check the thread on JakChat with links, which, the administrator tells me, is being viewed by up to 100 visitors at a time, mainly from Kelantan.

In brief, the girl is just 17. Reputedly she was the girlfriend of a Bakrie scion when, in December 2006, she, along with her sister Daisy, was invited to dinner by the then Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Abdul Razak. This was where she met her future husband, who reputedly raped her a year later.

Presumably he took her virginity because they married in August last year. And he is seemingly a right shit because she fled back to Indonesia a couple of months later alleging domestic abuse - he slashed her breasts with a razor and treated her "as a statue" to be brought out at royal functions.

She was last seen in Saudi Arabia, where, last month, the family had gone to perform the umrah (minor pilgrimage) in order to reconcile with the royal in-laws whose private jet took off leaving the girl's mother and sister behind.

What adds extra spice to this story, if any is needed, is that the mother has since been turned back by the Malaysian immigration authorities, presumably at the behest of the Kelantan royal household and possibly Najib Abdul Razak, who is now Malaysia's prime minister and on a state visit to Indonesia. Yesterday he met SBY and discussed mutual ties between the two countries.

Whether they discussed this case is unknown. Perhaps it is felt that lower echelons in the diplomatic corps should deal with it, but the Indonesian embassy has waited three weeks for a response from their counterparts.

This story will run and run, as will the seemingly irretrievable breakdown of relations between SBY and his VP, Jusuf Kalla, who also met Razak, his "old friend", for lunch yesterday. It would appear that my prediction that we'd have five more years of the same is wrong as Kalla, by far the least popular choice to be the next president, is now cozying up to Megashopper, not that they would make a good team.

The biggest worry now is that SBY will be 'forced' to form a coalition with the Islamic group of parties, with their own agenda. We have yet to hear what they have to say about the kidnapping - which took place following a minor pilgrimage to Mecca.
Rima adds her own inimitable viewpoint here.


10:00 am |
Thursday, April 23, 2009
  A Ballad For Ballard

I do like 'poetic' titles, ones that are easy on the eye and carry a sense of what is to follow, yet I have searched for a better title since the weekend.

JG Ballard, who died last Saturday aged 78, maybe deserves a 'love song', if only because, as the many tributes that have since poured out demonstrate, his bleak dystopian writing has affected so many creative people.

The author of over 25 books, it wasn't until Steven Spielberg filmed the autobiographical Empire Of The Sun in 1982 that he moved beyond being a 'cult' writer. Until then, words such as sardonic, absurdist, comically satiric, bizarre mixture of fact and fiction, coupled with his relentless intelligence - words from the back cover of the only Ballard novel I have to hand, Rushing To Paradise, restricted his readership.

His visionary and consistent contemplation of humanity's rush to be at one with technological advances lead him to be compared to HG Wells. Indeed, where writers have often been described as Wellsian, they may now be considered to be Ballardian, a word to be found in certain dictionaries.

Until I fairly recently found my secondhand copy of his 2001 novel Rushing To Paradise, I had more or less forgotten that many years ago I had been disturbed by his account of a London community marooned on a concrete island by the building of inner city ring roads. I think the book, in my long lost archives, was in fact Concrete Island, but may have been Crash, filmed by David Cronenberg.

I didn't like that particular movie, but then other movies I have enjoyed, Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, David Lynch's Blue Velvet, and TV series, Twin Peaks, and early Quentin Tarantino movies, do owe a lot to their perceptions of Ballard's take on contemporary urban life.

To quote the great man, he was interested in "the evolving world, the world of hidden persuaders, of the communications landscape developing, of mass tourism, of the vast conformist suburbs dominated by television - a form of science fiction, and it was already here".

In many senses, I too have these interests, worrying about how humanity seeks dominion over everything, yet manifestly fails. Much of my writing, an externalisation of these concerns, owes much to Ballard.

And just yesterday, I discovered that maybe, just maybe, there are others out there and maybe they've given me an alternative and probably better title.

On a bridge above the toll road that almost encircles Jakarta there is a hoarding for yet another dormitory suburb. The sales pitch is that it offers A Touch Of Reality, as if to acknowledge that what has been on offer until now has been mere fantasy.

As Ballard has said, "In a sense, fakes are the only authenticity remaining to us."

Jakarta is ringed with dormitory towns which tart up their commercial estates with turrets, cupolas, statuary and other ornamentation, in multifarious pastel shades as if to disguise the paucity of architectural imagination. These aren't the grand mansions with Doric (Ironic?) pillars which line busy roads so that passers by can ogle the occupants' ostentatious display of their accumulated wealth.

These are nothing but functional boxes designed to house functionaries.

The shopping malls offering 'recreational facilities' in place of the parks and green spaces they've been built upon, the immense growth in private transport forced to navigate along roads in an appalling state of repair, the élitist apartment blocks safeguarded against the underemployed hoi polloi housed in the clusters of shacks just below, the zoo-like behaviour of electoral candidates - surely these are all present day manifestations of Ballard's perception.

(Incidentally, are there any Brits who are surprised that a local bank, Bank Ifi, has failed? Who among us would contemplate entrusting their savings to a bank which actually admitted to dodgy dealings? On second thought, it's the iffy banks which have caused the current economic malaise.)

Just as in Disneyland, much of humanity can only handle reality in small doses. JG, I salute you and thank you for allowing us to see.
You can download JG's last short story - The Dying Fall - here.


4:00 pm |
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
  Forests for the Future: Climate change lessons from Indonesia

Press release by AMAN and DTE

April 22nd - Earth Day - 2009 – Today

The forest management practices of indigenous peoples in Indonesia provides important lessons for world governments about to make crucial decisions on how to deal with climate change.

A new book launched today - Forests for the Future - is written by indigenous communities across Indonesia and describes the skills and knowledge used for generations to manage forest ecosystems without destroying them.

CO2 emissions from runaway deforestation and peatland destruction in Indonesia are making a substantial contribution to climate change worldwide.

Forests for the Future avoids romanticising the indigenous way of life. Instead it presents lessons learned from communities striving to meet today's economic and political challenges. It is a testament to the willingness of indigenous peoples to engage with an international audience so that their ways of forest management may be better known and get the recognition and respect they deserve.

Traditional knowledge has enabled indigenous communities to benefit from the wealth of forest resources such as food crops, rubber, medicines, materials for building and household goods.

Many governments are keen to include forests in mechanisms that permit industrial polluters to buy carbon credits from forest schemes in countries like Indonesia. But there are huge risks involved. For indigenous communities, these risks include the loss of livelihoods and the violation of their right to manage their forests. Powerful business and political elites in Indonesia have pushed indigenous communities aside for decades in Indonesia: now they may rush to grab more forests so they can profit from the carbon trade.

Forests for the Future is published by Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance, AMAN, and Down to Earth. It marks AMAN’s tenth anniversary and aims to assist efforts to develop community-based models which present a more achievable, viable and just way of addressing the challenges of sustainability, poverty reduction and upholding the rights of indigenous peoples.

The book can be downloaded from DTE's website.


5:00 pm |
Monday, April 20, 2009
  Horse Trading

The more I use the analogy of horse racing, the more I like it. Much of life is a gamble and there's no such thing as a sure bet, so any assumption that you're certain to win is false. Whatever your beliefs, it's all ultimately in the laps - or lapse - of the gods.

That's why I'm puzzled by the leading Democratic Party (PD) of SBY which is putting together a 'golden bridge' coalition in order to govern effectively. Given that his current administration has been hamstrung by a corrupt, incompetent and divisive legislature, it is inevitable that the party's governing board wants a majority of the new legislature on their side.

However, it appears from preliminary results that only nine of the 38 parties which contested the election will have sufficient votes (2.5%) to place their most popular candidates, votewise, in the hot seats.

As I predicted, it looks as though the Golkar Party will continue to cling to the coattails of power, even going as far as to allow Jusuf Kalla to continue as Vice President, even though many of the party's cadres think he should run for the presidency himself. To be fair, central board is going through the notions of decentralised democracy in offering a slate of familiar party figures to the regional boards to choose from. These include media mogul Suryo Paloh, former party chairman Akbar Tanjung and the Sultan of Yogyakarta.

Add Golkar's c.14.5% to the Democrat's c.20.5% and SBY will have a considerable base to operate from, especially as the National Awakening Party (PKB), with c.5.10% has agreed to join forces.

However, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) is threatening to opt out of joining the government if Kalla is named VP again and that is a possible c.8.25% lost, although this does not mean that the PKS, which reserves the right to nominate its own vice presidential candidate, would join the opposition.

This will be lead by Megashopper's PDI-P, with c.14.25%, which has been joined by the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerinda), with c.4.40%, of born-again people's champion and their former arch-enemy Gen. Prabowo (ret), and the People's Conscience Party (Hanura), with c.3.60%, of former army chief Gen. Wiranto (ret) who fired Prabowo in 1998 following an attempted palace coup in the aftermath of Suharto's 'abdication'.

This rump, with the added bonus of former President Gus Dur, who lost his power base of the National Awakening Party (PKB) in a family tiff, is challenging the election results due to, they say, the disenfranchising of millions of potential voters left off the electoral rolls. That all parties were asked to check the rolls for such discrepancies seems to elude their thinking, although it must be admitted that the General Elections Commission (KPU) has displayed a measurable degree of incompetence in spite of the massive complexities of organising an election in this vast country.

None of this surprises or puzzles me.

What does, however, is that the Democratic Party is seeking to form their coalition with a number of parties which are unlikely to reach the threshold enabling them to place members in the National Assembly, although they may well have gained seats in regional and local governments.

So far these parties include the Concern for the Nation Functional Party (PKPB) set up by Tutut Rukmana, Suharto's eldest daughter, the Crescent Star Party ((PBB), the Democratic Reform Party (PDP), the National Sun Party (PMB), the Indonesian Justice and Unity Party (PKP), the Prosperous Peace Party (PDS), the Indonesian Workers and Employers Party (PPPI), and the Pioneers' Party.

I presume that all this is designed to ensure that SBY will get re-elected as President, but that is an almost foregone conclusion as there are no credible alternatives.

There is one encouraging possibility to consider. For once, politicos may be taking a long term position. Five years can be a long time in politics and the next election will see a drastic pruning of the number of parties eligible to nominate candidates. These will be those which have members taking their places in the next House of Representatives, presumably just the nine currently predicted.


8:00 am |
Sunday, April 19, 2009
  I'm Still Addickted

Yesterday, my home team of Charlton Athletic were relegated to tier 3, otherwise League One, of the English football leagues.

We've been there before and I was at The Valley 28 years ago on the evening they last won promotion out of it. Through good times and bad, they've had my support. I have been unable to watch a match in person since I set off on my worldly travels nigh on 23 years ago, but I have noted our performances, both euphoric and atrocious, through whatever media I've had access to.

In very recent years, thanks to ESPN and the internet, Charlton were everyone's second favourite club as we took on the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea - and once in a while actually beat them. What's more, these matches were viewed on TV here in Indonesia.

But a tiredness set in. It had taken a massive commitment from local fans to rebuild the club from the wilderness days of 1985-92 when financial mismanagement had seen us lose our ground. If I had still been living in the area, I'm sure I'd have been part of that effort, if only through readying The Valley for our return.

Just over two years ago, long time manager Alan Curbishley, who had been in charge from those days, decided to take a year off. This happened on a day we were to lose, once again, to Manchester United. Not that this was a catastrophe. After all, is there a team which hasn't lost to them?

And so we have slipped. Three managers, such as Alan Pardew to the left, have been tried - and failed - to stop the lethargic rot. Committed players have got old or injured. Others brought in have seemingly lacked the willingness to be part of what made us lovable: big hearts willing to give 100% have long been valued above intemittent flair. We are family and it's the Charlie Wrights, Chris Powells and Matt Hollands we love because they support(ed) the supporters - us.

As we contemplate visits to towns which are relatively unknown, there is hope. Charlton will be the only club outside the top two divisions with a youth academy. Not many have actually become members of the first team squad, but a cursory read of the weekend's results shows that several have made the grade elsewhere.

But we do have Jonjo Shelvey who, at 17, is Charlton's youngest ever scorer, including one yesterday when we almost beat Blackpool.

The club is relatively secure financially, owning The Valley, the purpose built 26,500-seater stadium, with manageable debts. Some of the highest earners will be released at the end of the season and all supporters look forward to a squad of players who show the commitment we do.

That commitment extends to the Charlton Community Trust which not only runs training sessions for local schools, but also in deprived townships in South Africa. Charlton has also initiated a Street Violence Ruins Lives campaign. (This is a sad syndrome in British cities. Son No.1 sent me this link to a local news article about a shooting round the corner from his home.)

This groundbreaking work has been recognised at the 2009 Football League Awards with the award of Community Club of the Year.

As I remain an unashamed idealist, I look forward to a speedy return to the higher echelons of the beautiful game.
If you want to know more about my Addickshun, click the links in my blogroll to the right, type Charlton in the search box or read this Guardian obit.


12:00 pm |
Friday, April 17, 2009
  Spare A Thought

For each of the next few weeks, national school students in years 6, 9 and 12 are sitting examinations set by the government, 400,000 in Jakarta alone. Next week, from the 20th to 24th, Senior High School (SMA) are assessed to see if their grades are sufficient to enter a local university. Then, from the 27th to the 30th, it's the turn of Junior High School students to find out if they're fit to enter an SMA. Finally, a couple of weeks later, it's the turn of elementary school students to discover if they can graduate to an SMP.

They have to reach an overall grade in as many as four exams: mathematics, science, Indonesian and English. These are all multi-choice, formatted so that the tests can be marked by computers, of which it has been said, garbage in, garbage out. One answer only is required.

Students have been drilled for weeks, with little time for more meaningful education: passing the tests has become of greater importance than learning about life according to interests and experience. A knowledge-based curriculum, full of so-called facts, depends on who provides them. When the providers* are seemingly not as smart as a fifth grader, you have to spare a thought for all these students who will be unable to achieve the required pass mark.

As with legislative candidates
in the recent election, there will be a few suicides, and failed attempts.

Jakarta's Governor, Fuddy Bozo, is claiming that his administration raised educational standards in 2008. Well, I give no credence to this based on a Practice English Test from the Jakarta Education Department administered a couple of weeks ago. It is riddled with errors, and here are two of them.

Read the text and answer questions 5 (and 6)

5. Which is correct based on the text?
----a. The party was to honor a baby birth.
----b. Shannon Miller was the name of the new baby.
----c. People who came to the party had to bring their own baby.
----d. The invitee could call Janis whether they would come or not.

Read the text and answer questions (35 to) 37

The text is about Tasikmalaya. This is a sentence from it:

Like most of West Java, Muslim, ethnically Sundanese people, mostly populates it with a small Indonesian minority.

37. Based on the text the number of Chinese people in Tasikmalaya is much ... than Sundanese.
----a. fewer
----b. higher
----c. longer
----d. weaker

If you can't spot the errors, don't worry but read my comments below.
*I recommend My First Dictionary to the providers. Oh, and you.


1:30 pm |
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
  Body Language 3

Maybe I should make clear that this series is based on my observations and interactions with Jakartans who, apart from guys who sit with legs di-splayed, appear to need less space. Perhaps this is because in this over-crowded city there is less of it available.

Whatever, having noted just the one motorcyclist looking over his shoulder as he changed lanes, it is worth commenting that pedestrians also don't bother to check whether they are on a collision course with others.

Wherever you are, on a sidewalk, in a mall or at a wedding reception, folk make a beeline to their destination. When you want to get out of a lift, expect to get trampled by folk trying to get on. They'll emerge from doorways or narrow gangs straight into the main corridor or thoroughfare without appearing to think that others might be steaming ahead.

They don't look left or right but just keep going where they think they are going, even if it's nowhere. Other folk are so unimportant that we are invisible.

In this city one really needs steelcapped boots to protect one's toes (and to kick a few shins if so inclined).

I could argue that knowledge-based schooling and cultural upbringing have provided the training necessary for this blinkered approach to life. It would also account for the disregard for the environment and the national propensity to dispose of litter in all the inappropriate places. It would also account for the excessive noise pollution.

However, this is obviously an inbred state of mind. I say obviously as it would appear that peripheral vision is not a physical attribute as it is with with race horses. .

They shoot horses, don't they?
I've just realised that I first commented on this topic five years ago yesterday.

Plus ça change, c’est toujours la même chose.
Stop Press
I came home to find that our new-ish neighbours from hell have decided that we should lack peripheral views.
I dedicate this post to long-time acquaintance and fellow blogger Rob Baiton, his wife Dyah and their very young son Will as they settle into their new lives in the wide open spaces of Australia, which is only a little bit down under.


3:00 pm |
Monday, April 13, 2009
  Body Language 2

Something that bothers me is the way most Indonesian guys occupying a seat on a bus or mikrolet sit with their legs apart. The seats are narrow enough, with legroom only suitable for primary school children, so having a guy's thigh nudging my heterosexual leg bothers me somewhat. I like my personal space, and it's very rarely a female leg that nudges mine, however matronly the thigh.

I'd love to ask these guys if they'd had a troublesome circumcision, but I figure that that could lead to the kind of trouble I don't want.

I emailed Mbak Rima in Belgium as I seemed to recall that either her blog, or that of one on her petticoterie of gal bloggers, may have, ahem, touched on this topic.

Hey J, she replied.

No, it wasn't me.. :)

I don't get disgusted easily, and the last time I was in a bus in Jakarta was probably 1996, I don't remember guys sitting that way at all.

If they are perverts, I guess they do that so that people might get a peek of how big their wieners are; if they are not perverts then as long as I can remember, Indonesian men regard sitting with legs wide apart - this is not a generalisation but i know some men like this - as masculine, and sitting with crossed legs or legs together as a bit feminine. Maybe that's it?

Yep, maybe that's it, but I'm still not sure if I should ask.


6:00 am |
Sunday, April 12, 2009
  Body Language 1

It might seem strange to comment on this, but I generally remark on the unusual.

Jakarta police say that in 2008 they recorded 5,898 accidents involving motorcycles, with 1,169 fatalities, 2,597 severe injuries and 4,317 minor injuries. They also ticketed 272,494 motorcyclists.

Given that infringements of prevailing traffic regulations by motorcyclists are commonplace, especially overloading or not wearing a crash helmet, and that there's no way the police can catch all transgressors, one can understand why venturing out is such a risky venture, especially for pedestrians attempting to cross a road using a pedestrian crossing or sidewalk - if there is one.

The other morning, I actually observed a motorcyclist looking over his right shoulder before switching lanes across our path. He had also switched on his right indicator so both he and my driver were well aware, in plenty of time, of his intentions. (Note: Indonesians drive on the left. Or, that's the supposed rule of the road.)

I never solely relied on my mirrors when biking in the UK and always checked the traffic behind me before changing lanes or turning. I also never attempted to squeeze between four-wheeled vehicles and the kerb. The only accident I had in 20 years of driving was when a motorist cut across me at a roundabout. Her insurance company treated me to a new bike - and I got a good price for my old one.

So I've lived to write this, and I trust that the first motorcyclist I have ever seen here using common road sense will have a similar lifespan.
Halfway on our way back to Jakartass Towers from Ya 'Udah yesterday evening, I mentioned to Our Kid that there were a lot of stupid motorcyclists around. Look, I said, that one isn't wearing a crash helmet. From then on we kept count for a period of 15 minutes on relatively empty roads. We totalled 91 drivers, of all ages, and pillion passengers either alone or carrying infants all helmetless.

Go figure.



6:00 am |
Friday, April 10, 2009
  That Wasn't So Bad

It took 'Er Indoors nigh on an hour to make her choices yesterday. First she had queue for ages, then she had to find the party she'd already chosen, and then she had to find some Bataks to represent her interests.

I'm not sure what her interests are, apart from the usual ones connected with piece peace of mind. I suggested that in the corruption and self-interest stakes, Bataks (from North Sumatra) are up there with the other venal politicos. However, she pointed out that her ethnic kin know they are bandits - and admit it. She doesn't like the deviousness of other politicians and prefers them to be 'in yer face'.

So, that's ok then.

The exit polls are a mirror of the pre-election opinion polls in that her party choice, SBY's Democratic Party, is the only party with a sufficient percentage, c.20%, to nominate its own presidential candidate without resorting to a coalition. However, in order to have an effective government as well as a supportive legislature, alliances will have to be made.

My guess is that, as before, Jusuf Kalla, whose Golkar Party is stuck with c.14.1%, will continue as SBY's Vice President, and that Megashopper's PDI-P, with c.14.5%, will form the bulk of the opposition.

In order for candidates to actually be elected, the parties they 'represent' have to achieve a minimum of 2.5% of the votes cast nationally. It would appear, therefore, that only nine parties will be represented. These include Gerinda (the Great Indonesia Movement Party, a remarkably unfortunate name for those with a scatological frame of mind), of the non-human rights activist Gen. (ret) Prabowo with c.4.4%. He may well be Mega's chosen VP partner.

Hanura (the People's Conscience Party of former army chief Gen.(ret) Wiranto) has crept over the threshold with c.3.6%. Given the bad blood between them, I can't see a coalition between Wiranto and Prabowo, and I suspect that Wiranto will creep back into an alliance with Golkar as he was their presidential candidate five years ago.

Then there is a group of Islamic parties. The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) will probably continue in SBY's government. What could be a worry is the potential for the other parties, which have garnered c.16% of the popular vote to form an alliance, although as they range from 'moderate' to strict' in their interpretations of Islamic law I think it unlikely. The parties are PAN, the National Mandate Party set up by Amien Rais in the early days of reformasi, PKB, the National Awakening Party set up by former president Gus Dur (although he quit in a fit of familial petulance), and PPP, the United Development Party which was allowed to be established as one of three political groupings by Suharto.

Overall, some 30% of the electorate did not vote. Many of them were confused by the seeming complexity of the process and the lack of manifestos.

This is a photo of the polling station at the end of my street. However, as it was intended for the folk who live on the other side of the road to Jakartass Towers, 'Er Indoors had to tramp a lot further than previously but at least she made the effort. The instant count locally indicated that SBY's Democrats were well ahead of all, with PKS and PPP in second and third places. With a high concentration of Jakarta's indigenous population, the Betawi, PP have traditionally done well here.

To sum up, it would appear that we are in for more of the same for the next five years. This can't be a bad thing as we are seeing a gradual erosion of the endemic corruption among legislators. If those who receive salaries from the state, the police, armed forces and bureaucrats can be made aware that they have their positions in order to be public servants and that they are there to serve us rather than the other way round, then Indonesia has a brighter future.


12:00 pm |
Thursday, April 09, 2009
  So It's Today

Supposedly, today sees the first truly democratic general election in Indonesia.

Except .....
- some areas have yet to receive a complete set of voting papers in an undamaged state.
- many expectant electors will find that they have been excluded because their names aren't on the electoral register, which is based on a three year old national census.
- those that are registered are unfamiliar with the new system of ticking the box of their chosen candidates, rather than punching a hole in the ballot paper.
- those that have been taught the new system will have the devil's own job of finding worthy candidates because electoral campaigns have been party based, and candidates have to be elected on an individual basis.
- in Jakarta, the complete list of candidates for the various legislatures was only published by the Jakarta Elections Supervisory Committee (Panwaslu) yesterday.
- there are 38 parties to choose from, and an extra six in the autonomous province of Aceh.
- there are almost certainly going to be allegations of vote buying and campaign infringements which will result in legal cases which will delay the final result.

Although individual candidates will be elected, thus indicating a better form of democracy - meaning that the general populace have expectations of a greater control over who represents them, few candidates have endeared themselves to the electors.

To be honest, if I had the vote here, I'd not vote for anyone who'd stuck a banner, poster or sticker anywhere on my property, although I haven't gone as far as Oigal in Kalimantan in denying advertising space to the wannabes. I'm just thankful that in this so-called cooling off period, granted so that the electorate can calmly contemplate its confusion, the vast majority of the recent visual pollution has been removed from our streets.

I seem to have missed all the election rallies in town, probably because I was in the wrong places at the right times - or should that be the other way round? Those who did attend were treated to entertainment from sensual dangdut singers, various pop groups and, thankfully, very little in the way of political posturing. The other reason for going was to be paid a nice lump sum of Rp.20,000 ($2) or even more, a T-shirt and a nutritious meal. For three weeks or so, the impoverished and underemployed have experienced some good times. Scavengers too have benefitted through clearing up the detritus of discarded water bottles.

Out of town, some farmers have been given sacks of supposedly high yield rice seed.

Megawati Sukarnoputri's PDI-P party has launched its own variety of "MSP" rice: that stands for "Mari Sejahterakan Petani" or "let's improve the welfare of farmers," but it's no coincidence those are the initials of the former president.

Not that this is going to help her.

"Whether the new rice varieties turn out to be a success or not, it will not increase electability of a party," said Sunny Tanuwidjaja, political analyst of Jakarta-based think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Despite having a good harvest with MSP rice, 55-year-old Jali, a rice farmer in Blitar, said he was not sure whether he would choose PDI-P party in this election.

"I don't really care about it. Politicians will forget us when they win the election," Jali said.

Another farmer, Maslikah, 45, said she would vote for PDI-P but probably would give MSP a miss after half her harvest failed.

(Note: Megawati's millionaire husband, Taufik Kiemas, has a vested interest in this gimmick.)

The good news is that so far there have been no serious civil disturbances among the competing campaigners. This is a hopeful sign of an increased political awareness among the electorate.
Instant polls are being allowed for the first time so we should have early indications of which parties will have the right to nominate candidates for the presidential election to be held in July.

I look forward to seeing loads of blue-tinged fingers, the mark of someone who has made the effort to vote. Judging by the traffic jams yesterday on the main routes out of Jakarta, many have made the effort to pulang kampung in order to do so. Or are they taking advantage of the long weekend for a break from everything including the election?

With tomorrow being Good Friday, I wish all in Indonesia a pleasant and stress-free break.
Thanks to Thomas Belfield for some of the links and both the illustrations.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
  A Plague On All Our Houses

An article in the inside pages of the Post caught my eye as it awakened notions of an angry god. In this case, it's Mother Nature who's wreaking a little vengeance.

For the past week a housing complex in Bandung, West Java, has been under siege from an attack of caterpillars, locally known as grayak.

Tedy Setiadi, coordinator of the Bird Conservation Society (BICONS), said the bird population had decreased significantly in Bandung due to the massive conversion of open green fields into housing areas so birds lack places to nest.

A Cute Caterpillar

Other recurrent insect attacks are blamed on global warming.

Analyzing more than 5,000 fossilized leaves dating from the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a period of intense global warming some 55 million years ago, researchers of Pennsylvania State University and the Smithsonian Institution found that insect damage increased with rising temperature.

"With more carbon dioxide available to plants, photosynthesis is easier and plants can make the same amount of food for themselves without having to put so much protein in their leaves.

"Consequently, when carbon dioxide increases, leaves have less protein and insects need to eat more to acquire the nutrients they need," explained a news release from Penn State. "While increased carbon dioxide is good for the plants in that they can increase growth, plants also suffer from increased feeding by insects because they need to eat more to achieve their dietary requirements."

But that doesn't necessarily follow here in Indonesia, a country which is already hot. So I dug a little deeper because although I'm an urbanite I like to understand what's bugging me.

Last November, dozens of residents of Terong village in Central Java were attacked by thousands of bees while working in their fields. Five had to be hospitalized with severe shock and unconsciousness.

It is believed that the bee attack was due to the disappearance of the forest where the bees built their nests.

Mind you, destruction of the environment isn't the only cause of insect infestation, as the late and relatively unlamented President Suharto knew. .

In the mid-1980s. Indonesia's rice crop was devastated by brown plant hopper insects. No pesticides were effective so, after trying all kinds of permutations and combinations, President Suharto sent an SOS to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) at Manila in the Philippines which suggested an immediate ban on spraying of chemicals on rice.

Under a presidential decree, 57 pesticides were banned. The chemical industry, led by the American Embassy in Jakarta, said that the decision would be suicidal and Indonesia would be pushed into the throes of hunger and starvation. President Suharto refused to accept the industry's prescription. Instead, he launched a countrywide integrated pest management programme.

In the next two years, contrary to all projections, rice production increased by 18 per cent. Pesticides consumption was drastically reduced by 65 per cent.

I've already written extensively on this topic and noted that the current crop of heavyweight politcos are in thrall to GM agri-business conglomerates.

One may hope, probably forlornly, that the soon-to-be elected legislators will have a sense of impending doom and actually respond to the challenges posed by Gaia, who surely only asks that we live in harmony with our environment. Otherwise there can only be one winner in the war we're waging against the planet, and it isn't us.


5:30 am |
Sunday, April 05, 2009
  Election - Going Nuts

Losing male candidates will not only face possible mental breakdown as they face the loss of face and bankruptcy, but according to Dr. Anthony T., chairman of the East Kalimantan Sports Committee medical team, they will also suffer "impotency and other extreme physical and psychological pressure."

Severe depression and stress could increase tension that could eventually leave legislative candidates struggling to have an erection, he said, as reported by Antara, the former state press agency.

I'm not sure that getting elected is much of an advantage either: the current legislators have proven to be impotent as well.

This week, Indonesia Corruption Watch deputy coordinator Emerson Yuntho told a news conference that by the end of 2008, the House of Representatives had only finished deliberating 162 of the scheduled 290 bills. Three of the unfinished bills were related to fighting corruption.

Leader of the Golkar Party Vice President Jusuf Kalla might have hoped his second visit to the Situ Gintung flash flood site would have endeared him to the masses, but he lost his temper (again) when he visited the site this week.

Student Harun Nur Iksan of the damaged Muhammadiyah University of Jakarta grabbed a bullhorn and shouted, “Don’t come here if you just want to see and use the opportunity for a political campaign! Prove that you really care!”

Kalla stopped short, looked back and shouted to Harun, “Hey, stop talking! We’ll finish this first!”

Loads of election titbits can be found at the Indo Election 2009 blog.


7:00 am |
Friday, April 03, 2009
  iPseuds Corner

I've nicked my title from UK's premier satirical magazine, Private Eye, which is also noted for exposés of corruption and nepotism, issues dear to the heart of Jakartass.

To start with, partly because it's relevant here in Indonesia, the following is a recent contribution to their column.

Organised religion developed some of the first truly great global brands. They created powerful, globally recognisable symbols such as the cross, told great brand stories, used the mass media of churches, used brand ambassadors (clerics, missionaries), created a sense of identity by attacking rivals through various holy wars and created a sense of awe and spectacle through grand cathedrals and major festivities.
Marketing Week

And the following are taken from the recent Weekender magazine published monthly by the Jakarta Post.

Raise your glass and feel the new dimension of lifestyle with the wine.
I Christianto
Jakarta Post
resident plonker

Everything in life can be replaced but certainly not the finest one. Wismilak Premium offers an irreplaceable satisfaction that comes from a unique combination of Connecticut shade, bound with exotic Java binders to go along with an easy and smooth draw.
If you come across any similar manglings of English published in Indonesia or, better yet, in Jakarta, please email me with the source, or URL if online, and I'll award you your prize - 15 seconds of fame in the next iPseuds Corner.



6:00 am |
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
  Unbelievable customer service.

In case you think that this is going to be a paeon of praise, well I wish it were.

Some of you will recall a recent post of mine entitled As Speedy As Snail Mail in which I recounted six months of constant calls from
tele-salesfolk asking if I'd like to subscribe to Telkom Speedy, a so-called broadband service offering an occasional 50kbs.

I said yes, but still suffered umpteen more calls checking my registered details. I regularly pointed out that having paid phone bills for nigh on 20 years from the same number and the same address and that they'd rung me, rather than me ringing them, they obviously had my number so for eff's sake, could they possibly get their act together and connect me.

We half expected them to do this three days after all this had been sorted out because that's what they said they'd do. Also I could then take advantage of the 'free' connection fee, a special offer which expired yesterday.

Meanwhile, the following letter appeared in the Jakarta Post from Ridwan in Cianjur, a small town nestling in the hills surrounding Jakarta.

Since moving to Cianjur, West Java in January, we have had various ongoing problems with our Speedy internet connection.

The connection is exceedingly slow and often down or intermittent. The general manager told us the problem was our modem. He lent us one to try but the problems have continued.

Despite our repeated calls, it is difficult to get a Speedy technician to come out. When they do, they do not know what the problem is and they are often not polite.

And not unexpectedly, it pains me to say, we heard nothing further from Telkom..

Until today that is.

"Would we be interested in subscribing to Telkom Speedy?"

Can you hear me screaming?


5:30 pm |
  Taking Time Out for Time Out

Six months ago, I wondered if the comprehensive listings magazine Time Out would provide added value for those of us wanting to know about events here before they happen rather than reading reviews of gigs and exhibitions we'd love to have been to.

I was one of the first readers of the original London magazine first published in 1968 by Tony Elliott. I then gravitated for a while to City Limits which was set up as a rival by disenchanted Time Out employees after Elliott abandoned the worker's co-operative and the equal pay structure. The latter magazine finally ceased publication in 1993 due to falling sales and advertising.

Time Out remains, and is now the major listings magazine throughout the world with editions for Amsterdam, Beijing, Chicago, Dublin, Florence, Hong Kong, Istanbul ...erm, where's Jakarta? .... Kuala Lumpur and on to V for Venice.

But, hey, listen up, I've got a copy of the March issue, a complimentary copy as it happens which saves me Rp.33,000 (c.$3). Not that I'm a tightwad, which I am, but I doubt that I'll be subscribing as this isn't the magazine for me.

A look at their website told me that.

Let me nitpick.

Get ready to rock the Big Durian... The newest issue of Time Out Jakarta has hit the newsstands and it's full of March! Music! Madness! Jakarta's known for having one of the best music scenes in all of Asia, and we have an in-depth look at the city's hippest music scenes and scenesters.
I'm not, and never have been, a "scenester".

Wanna know where to catch the best blues or electronica performances? Wanna know how to blend into the headbanging crowd at a punk rock show, or dress up like a dangdut demigoddess?
Nope, I don't wanna know, not even how to be a dangdut demigod.

But maybe you don't want to blend in; you'd rather stand out and be a rock star in your own right! Our feature on 'How to be a rock star' will give you all the tips you need to break in and stay on top of the cutthroat world of music.
I probably do want to blend in, so if I were to be a musician I'd want to be a bass player in a jazz group.

We also bring you all the latest info on the hottest happenings around Jakarta. See who our critics chose as the must see acts at this year's Java Jazz Festival.
What? No mention of Mike Stern, or Tohpati and Dewa Budjana together - possibly the only acts who played anything other than 'lounge' music.

Find out where to hear the best live music in bars around the city. Learn who serves the best coffee in Jakarta.
Not bad, but geared to the cocktail lounge set except for Cocktail and Friends in Jalan Jaksa where the Bintang Beer is recommended...

Check out our interview with sexy siren Anggun with pics to justify the tags here.
The Jakarta Post had a very similar interview a couple of months back.

You'll find all of that, plus our comprehensive up-to-date listings of the best events, activities, and venues in Jakarta.
'Best' is, of course, subjective. However, I'd rate the bookshops section mainly for its mention of Gudang Buku in Pasar Festival with "100,000 rare and antique books to choose from."

There are a couple of interesting but slim feature articles about Jakarta, including the underground secrets of Kota, already extensively covered in the Post.

Otherwise, the magazine is a consumer's delight - the section Consume has the new Blackberry, but no info on where to buy a jar of blackberry jam. There's also a full page ad for Panasonic fridges - eh?

So, to sum up, if you're single and fancy free with disposable income, then this is the glossy listings magazine for you - unless you strenuously object to being called a bule.

What might tempt me to subscribe would be fewer reviews of western books, music and films lifted/licensed from other publications and more of local interest. And why is there nothing about the election?

For those of us who like the occasional outing as a treat rather than a lifestyle, I'd suggest something along the lines of these ideas lifted from the London edition:

# 101 things to do before you leave London
# London's best unsung museums
# London on a budget
# Free London
Freebie food, gratis gigs, cost-free culture and nights out for nowt - Time Out delivers.

Well not for me here, but I do hope the local edition is able to survive the economic crunch. Perhaps they could widen their circulation if they heed some of my suggestions, and yours too if you'd care to leave a comment.


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