We have wet season, dry season, and what season?

November 26th, 2008 § 0

I didn’t realize we were on a banning season.

I wrote about the website ban, but it turns out we might also have a book ban, did have a film shooting ban and a religious near-ban.

Bummer.

While we’re at it, we might as well summon Suharto, Ali Moertopo and Benny Moerdani back from the dead and go back to 1984 so we can ban non-Pancasila organizations, re-annex East Timor, revoke Islamic law in Aceh and reenact martial law there, and most importantly we also need to get the entire media back in the whitewash mode.

And lest we forget, we should also reinstate Petrus, the notorious covert sniper operation that aimed at criminals, and we need to extend the target to cover overly creative people who make even the slightest mention of the “c” word, non-majority groups, and authors-who-wrote-that-a-former-vice-president-might-be-a-local-CIA-operative.

Indonesia, wake up.

I realize we’ve only had time for democratic baby steps after the Reformasi–what with the big tasks of reversing the course of the ‘98 financial crises, revamping the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and now tackling the imported crisis, we’ve barely had time to do anything major. But the ban-now-and-let’s-get-on-with-life mentality you’re showing is really disturbing.

This mentality doesn’t always mean you abhor the truth, but it’s pretty close. And it’s absolutely indicative that you do not like differing perspectives.

And why do we need to have different perspectives when only one will do?

Because the other perspective might work, if not for you then for others. If no one benefits from the other perspective, then let it die a natural death so it pleases no one else.

Take lesson from some of the responses to the Bali bombers’ execution. You kill someone by force, some others will sympathize.

What happens then when you kill an idea? You are giving it more exposure, more fuel to the flame, and you end up getting even worse aftertaste.

But then again, if banning season is indeed on and will be so for many years to come, everyone might as well lay low and resist any penchant for intellectual vigor. After all, we probably could use some more idle time in our hands to beef up our skills for real street fighting, which is probably our national pastime, instead of the wordy ones, which are not.

tawuran YAI-UKI
tawuran unhas
tawuranYAI-UKI2

Public smoking raid? This could turn nasty

November 18th, 2008 § 0

Smokers beware. There could be some scary stuff going your way if you forget about this:

Public is free to conduct anti-smoking raids

The 2008 No Smoking Area campaign to begin on Wednesday (19 Nov) will be conducted jointly by staff members of a number of Jakarta city agencies. However, this will only be so during the roll out, as oversight for this municipality regulation will be depended on the public.

“We are not going to put officers specifically for this job every day in every public place in Jakarta. For this roll out campaign, yes, but afterward it will all be up to the public to watch these places,” said the Head of the Jakarta Environmental Management Agency, Budirama Natakusumah, during a press conference at the agency’s office in Jakarta on Monday (17 Nov).

Mr. Natakusumah is basically admitting his hands are tied. Understandably. He’s been under the pressure of tobacco control groups, now armed with Bloomberg money, who have been clamoring for the government to enforce the anti-smoking regulation proposed by former governor Sutiyoso in 2005. But there you go, the enforcing agency admits it is not going to commit itself to do the job.

The problem is, the former governor is someone with grand, noble ambitions but isn’t really one that delivers much. If you don’t believe me, look at how the Busway is doing right now. He said the bus will arrive at each stop in every 1.5-5 minutes, but now you would be lucky to get on an empty one before waiting for 15 minutes, particularly on one of the stops outside the Blok M – Kota route.

And how about the monorail project? Let’s talk about that one. Like the website, the project is eternally ‘under construction,’ but unlike the website, the abandoned pillars that were supposed to hold the tracks are making the obnoxious Jakarta traffic worse.

The public smoking ban is not so much different from the monorail and the busway, in that they were all conceived immaculately (or illegitimately) because no father was willing to own them. The only difference now is that the anti-smoking gangs, flush withBloomberg’s money (and even more so now with contribution from Bill Gates), are stepping up to own this one.

Now I’m not arguing that public places shouldn’t be rid of the toxic tobacco smoke. Many smokers here are pugnacious and seem to lack the incentive to put out their cigarette when they stroll about public places. However, I have several objections about this anti-smoking campaign.

First of all, the regulation actually blurs the line between public places and private places. It defines “public places” as:

Any facility established by the government, private entities or individuals that is used by members of the public, including places owned by the regional government, central government, office buildings, public service facilities such as terminals and busway terminals, airports, train stations, malls, shopping centers, department stores, hotels, restaurantsand so forth.

The underlined items above are clearly private properties. If anyone is wondering whether there is such thing as respect for private property in this country, this regulation probably says it all. Now, you could argue that the private properties above forego their privacy by inviting members of the public to enter their premises. But as business owners competing with each other, I’d argue that they are best placed to make the most optimal decision in terms of how much smoking they should allow within their premises. The proof of this is that there had been never been any regulation to require businesses to set up smoking and non-smoking areas prior to 1999 (PP 81/1999), but places like restaurants, cafes, malls and even offices had actually set up smoking restrictions on their own.

My other objection to the campaign is that by having these activists conduct anti-smoking raids, the government is inviting the most rabidly anti-smoking elements of the fight against tobacco in a vigilante crusade against smokers. My view, it wouldn’t be so much different from calling on the FPI to enforce the porn law.

Now, does that scare you? I tell you it should.

Cool Cat for president!

November 16th, 2008 § 0

Mr. Endy Bayuni over at The Jak Post has an interesting piece that lays out the differences between US presidential election and that of Indonesia. He argues that the American election produces better presidents as the result of lengthy public vetting processes that bring all the questions–the good, the bad and the ugly–out in the open.

He says:

Voting for a president in Indonesia is an exercise of “buying a cat in the sack”, to borrow the popular Indonesian expression. We know they move and meow, but not much else about them. There remains the big risk of picking the wrong cat.

By contrast, the U.S. election is like a cat beauty contest, where the candidates are paraded before voters who scrutinize them right down to the smallest of details. The risk of picking the wrong cat is virtually eliminated.

Americans get the Cool Cat, while Indonesians will likely end up with the Smelly Cat.

I’m guessing that he’s referring to this cat (it’s the one making the cool finger while holding the dog–not the dog):

I’m kidding. He’s probably talking about this cool looking cat:

Mind you, the cooler cat would be the taller guy on the right, not the other one, who is too cool for Arab janitors, but not too cool for Arab former US congresswoman, and obviously not as cool as the guy on the right.

According to Mr. Bayuni, Americans are able to pick cool cats for president because of their unusually long campaign processes. He writes:

Obama underwent close public scrutiny for more than 18 months before he won the contest. He took part in grueling public debates, initially with competing Democratic presidential hopefuls including Hillary Clinton, and then with Republican candidate John McCain a number of times.

Sure. I can’t wait for the day when Indonesian political nominees dominate the airwaves with their glorious sound bites for almost two years, rousing voters with catchy rhetoric and ear-splitting dangdut rhythms from the latest booty-shaking act on the stage.

Boy, I sure hope the new porn law doesn’t ban this stuff. This is probably the only language of democracy understood by the Indonesian grassroots. And with long political campaigning, you will get months and months of ass-shaking treat by each political party, the non-Islamist ones anyway, from east to west.

Okay seriously, extensive public vetting of political nominees is a good idea, because we do need to know about our representatives at the executive and even at the legislative branches. But the problem is, the type of exposure you see in the American election requires a lot of money for any candidate. Here in Indonesia, requiring costly campaigning for political candidates is risky. Number one, it skews the playing field toward the incumbent candidates and major parties. Number two, it is not fair. With big parties continuing to tweak regulations in their favor–such as the 20% votes requirement for nominating a presidential candidate recently enacted–I, for one, am for more diversity as opposed to less.

In terms of allowing voters as much information as possible about a given candidate, the American campaign model could be a good idea. I actually wouldn’t mind being able to know more about what our presidential candidates stand for, their character, temper and likeliness to follow through on campaign promises. It is arguable, though, whether voters will actually use the available opportunity to examine their candidates and make an informed decision accordingly. Some people have also argued that the unusually long campaign in America is responsible for voter apathy as indicated by low turnout at the ballot boxes.

So what is our option? I think the best option to learn about candidates is to rely on the so-called fourth pillar of democracy, or journalists like Mr. Bayuni. As he reminds us, the presidential election is only eight months away. With people like Megawati, Gus Dur, the two Rizals (Ramli and Mallarangeng) etc. announcing their candidacy–even though most of them wouldn’t have enough party backing–I am looking forward to reading more about these people in the Jak Post, Kompas, Tempo and so forth. I mean, they do realize that the presidential election is eight months away, right?

Proud, strong and good: Obama victory sets an example

November 6th, 2008 § 0

It looks like it’s really morning again in America.

With a historic landslide presidential election victory that puts him at the driver’s seat of the world’s superpower, Barack Hussein Obama II has proven that sometimes, dreams do come true, if only to those who work hard enough.

No, an Obama presidency does not mean the world will be more just tomorrow. It doesn’t mean violence in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere around the world will immediately be brought to a just, peaceful end. It doesn’t mean grim economic outlooks will suddenly be reversed. It doesn’t mean racial tensions, ethnic clashes and religious strife everywhere will hasten to subside.

But it does mean that there is truth in merit. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whatever circumstances you find yourselves in, hard work will always give you a better chance of succeeding.

This is a great example, and minorities or people everywhere who feel their future is somehow handicapped for whatever reason should be inspired and take heed. With hard work and luck, their battle can actually be won.

Porn law will not work

November 3rd, 2008 § 0

Here below is the definition of pornography according to the latest version of the notoriously divisive anti-pornography bill that was recently made into a law (the so-called UU Pornografi):

Pornografi adalah gambar, sketsa, ilustrasi, foto, tulisan, suara, bunyi, gambar bergerak, animasi, kartun, percakapan, gerak tubuh, atau bentuk pesan lainnya melalui berbagai bentuk media komunikasi dan/atau pertunjukan di muka umum, yang memuat kecabulan atau eksploitasi seksual yang melanggar norma kesusilaan dalam masyarakat.

Pornography comprises any drawing, sketching, illustration, photography, writing, sound, audio, motion picture, animation, cartoon, conversation, gesture, or any other form of message delivered through any communication medium and/or public demonstration that contains obscenity or sexual exploitation that violates the society’s moral standards.

Whether or not you believe that there is actually dire urgency for banning porn in the country (I don’t), there are obviously legitimate reasons to doubt that this legislation would actually help to solve the problem it portends to attack. One just needs to see the appalling lack of clarity in the way the law defines pornography above.

I’m serious. “Obscenity,” for example, occurs only once throughout the text, and no definition is offered to clarify what it means for the purpose of this law. To those robe-wearing, beard-taunting urban islamists, I don’t doubt, the sight of a woman walking around topless would be obscene. But believe it or not, that’s actually how many rural women in Papua dress even to this day. Those godmongering types probably never even heard that the Korowai tribe women there would often nurse their babies along with their pigs.

This is porn, believe it or not

Sure, there is the so-called exception to allow cultural, artistic and traditional forms of expression, which due to its lack of comprehensiveness is actually problematic, but what do you make of a national law that basically says that whole cultures lie at the fringe of accepted morality?

Obviously I’m against this moral posturing of the so-called majority against the minority for the simple reason that the law dehumanizes peoples outside the dominant majority, but there are also more practical reasons to be against it.

For one, it is superfluous, and the whole public attention to the issue unnecessarily diverts scarce resources away from really important problems plaguing the country. Take corruption, for example, one of the country’s most significant obstacles toward good governance, and quite possibly toward lasting economic prosperity. Yes, there are good signs that progress has been made with the KPK cracking down on high-profile corruption cases—though news from the Senayan building has it that some parliamentarians are agitated enough to be flirting with the idea of cutting down some of the KPK’s prosecutorial powers (wiretaps anyone?). But with the deadline given by the Constitutional Court nearing, this is hardly the time for house members to be hastening the porn bill while procrastinate with the unarguably more important anti-corruption bill.

Pornography has never been legal in the country anyway. The fact that you could go to any of the places that sell pirated CDs to get porn doesn’t mean that it is legal—nor does it mean that pirated CDs are legal by the way. It’s not. And so all this nonsense, with the bill’s proponents and opponents endlessly rallying back and forth, as it were, was actually about putting stuff out that should never have been there in the first place.

To be realistic, enacting this law—or any law in this country for that matter—will not necessarily change anything much. Much was said about the impact of the intellectual property law, for example, when the government said they were ready to implement it in 2003. Four years afterward, software piracy is still rampant, with up to 84% pirated PC software sold in the country.

But that brings another issue, which legislators should be a lot more concerned about, and that is the problem of enforcing the law. Rule of law in Indonesia looks a lot like the Jakarta traffic: lawlessness is the norm, and when the law is obeyed, it is most likely on the rare occasion where a policeman in full gear is present.

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