People just don’t know what they need

September 25th, 2013 § 0


We talked earlier about how the Jakarta Governor thought that cheap cars weren’t what the people need. Here’s a news report about how Honda is overwhelmed by record orders for their low-cost models, the Brio Satya, Brio 1.2 liter and the Mobilio, within less than a month after they were launch at the 2013 Indonesia International Motor Show.

Does this mean that the people who buy the cars don’t know that they don’t need those cars? There’s something about demonstrated preference that makes it a more reliable indicator of people’s preference than what a bureaucrat says.

Truth will always set you free

September 23rd, 2013 § 0

Our so-called money is a perpetual non-interest bearing liability of an insolvent central bank, whose balance sheet looks like a bad hedge fund. I don’t know why we couldn’t do without them.

You want me to eat fish for life?

September 23rd, 2013 § 0


Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day and before you know it he’ll come right back at your door.

Teach him to fish and you feed him for a longer time after which he’ll be bored eating fish and come right back at your door.

Leave him alone and you give him a valuable lesson: Nothing in life is free and only he is the master of his own destiny.

Let the tax go

September 23rd, 2013 § 0


"Jakarta gets ready for cheap car assault" says a news headline. The article talks about the ongoing spat between some central government officials and the Jakarta administration over the central govt’s tax incentive for so-called ‘low-cost green cars’.

Low cost car sounds good, right? Except Jakarta administration doesn’t think so. Governor Jokowi was quoted to say that it’s not what the people need, as if one person can determine what millions of others need. He believes that letting manufacturers offer cheap cars to consumers will make traffic congestions in Jakarta even worse.

One of Jokowi’s campaign promises was to fix the city’s aptly described traffic nightmares by setting up extensive public transport networks. People have yet to see this promise made good by the governor, which is reasonable given the complex problems relating to land acquisitions, financing schemes and overlapping government transportation policies.

However, the low cost car scheme is part of the central government’s tax incentive program that was put in place in the middle of this year with the intent of encouraging investment by car manufacturers here to produce high-volume products for the local and ASEAN markets. They do this by lowering the ‘luxury goods sales tax’ from 25 to 100 percent, depending on the fuel economy of the car.

Anything that results in less tax going to the government is always and everywhere a good thing, whatever the reason or intent. It leaves more money at the hands of private people who will make the best choice on how to use the money they have themselves made, instead of giving it to a bureaucrat to spend at his arbitrary discretion.

It’s wrong to support Jokowi’s cause by calling for the tax cut to be scrapped. What people should be calling for is for the government to get rid of tax for all kinds of cars, not just the ones they arbitrarily call ‘green’, remove all the complicated bureaucracy like price controls and licensing requirements for public transport that make it hard for private investors to invest in transportation profitably and let the market do what it does best: allocate resources effectively.

This is how professionals do it

March 27th, 2013 § 0


Is there criticism to your decision or program? No need to provide an explanation, let alone finding a solution. That’s for amateurs.

Yes, professionals deflect criticisms simply by stating what should be obvious to everyone: Conspiracy. See how it’s done right here.

Congratulations, Pak Joko! You’ve now fully become a true politician. Enjoy this accomplishment!

On homeland and history

December 23rd, 2010 § 0

East Indies

What is a homeland? How does one define the place where one belongs? Why does one feel to belong there in relation to others who share this homeland?

Existential questions are inevitable when you try to understand a country as geographically, culturally, linguistically and historically diverse as Indonesia. The diversity of the archipelago now commonly known as Indonesia is immense, even beyond belief. In fact, many of those who proudly claim to be Indonesian may not quite understand this diversity.

Right in the heartland of Java, there’s animosity between the Sultan of Yogyakarta, and his supporters, and the central government, stemming from a government-initiated bill that the Sultan’s side accuses would take away the ‘specialness’ of the Special Province of Yogyakarta that has been recognized since Indonesian independence.

The major media seem to have been firmly behind the Sultan in this case as headline stories appear daily to offer the comments of experts who accuse the government of forgetting history, by which they mean how Yogyakarta came to be special in the country’s formation.

Selective memory is nothing rare, really, and those who accuse others of this error may not even realize that they are guilty of the same.

When the experts tell the government to learn their history, for example, are they telling them to learn about how Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX declared his domain part of the Republic of Indonesia when the nationalists proclaimed independence, or how his predecessor Hamengkubuwono I sided with Dutch colonialist powers to double cross his rebellious fellow Mataram royalty Mangkunegara, more commonly known as Prince Sambernyawa, to claim the region today known as Yogyakarta as his own?

People have been conducting mass rallies recently in Yogyakarta to show their support for the infallibility of the Sultan the recognition of the special status of the region. Some have even suggested the idea of an independent Yogyakarta state.

There is irony in this, as in other regions of the country different groups of people have been struggling for the same idea of independence for a long time and have been forced to endure war and oppression because of this. In fact, in these regions simply uttering the idea of independence or exhibiting any separatist symbol has got people in jail and torture chambers.

So they are telling people to learn their history. How about the history of South Maluku, where Dutch-trained Moluccan soldiers consistently defied the ragtag Indonesian troops who tried to force the entire archipelago to conform to the idea of a unitary state, and in fact managed to proclaim an independent South Moluccas Republic in 1951?

Also, let’s learn about the history of the western part of Papua or Irian island in which preparations for an independent state had to give way to annexation/incorporation into another state because of Cold War politics?

To many people from core Indonesian regions such as Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan, the idea of Indonesia as an expansionist project may sound silly if not outrageous. They really can’t be blamed, though, since history is taught in schools strictly in keeping with the state-sanctioned narrative. The history of Indonesia, in the state’s narrative, is of separate peoples on separate islands in the archipelago that are bound and united by the shared history of rising up from being under the oppression of Dutch colonialism.

Prince Diponegoro, for example, is always an Indonesian nationalist hero against Dutch colonialism, despite the legitimate question on whether or not he would rise up to lead the mass revolt against the Dutch if he, instead of his younger brother who was favored by the Dutch, was allowed to succeed his father’s throne, or on whether or not the Javanese nobility would support his cause if the Dutch had allowed them to extract rent on their land. Another question worth reflecting is whether Diponegoro’s defeat was caused by Dutch military supremacy, or simply by the fact that the Javanese nobility and peasants that had supported Diponegoro were given a better offer by the Dutch?

“History is a pack of lies we play on the dead,” according to Voltaire. Little wonder then that historical events are omitted from history books if they do not conform with the official narrative.

Rumah kita

December 22nd, 2010 § 0

Rumah Kita (Our House)

Hanya bilik bambu tempat tinggal kita
Tanpa hiasan, tanpa lukisan
Beratap jerami, beralaskan tanah
Namun semua ini punya kita
Memang semua ini punya kita, sendiri

A bamboo hut is all we have for home
No ornament, no painting there
The roof is grass, the floor is soil
But they are all ours
Indeed they are all ours, our own

Hanya alang-alang pagar rumah kita
Tanya anyelir, tanpa melati
Hanya bunga bakung tumbuh di halaman
Namun semua itu milik kita
Memang semua itu milik kita, sendiri

Tall grasses are all that fence our home
No carnation, no jasmine there
Poison bulbs are all that grow in our yard
But they are all ours
Indeed they are all ours, our own

Haruskah kita beranjak ke kota
Yang penuh dengan tanya

Must we leave for the city
Where questions abound

Lebih baik disini, rumah kita sendiri
Segala nikmat dan anugerah yang kuasa
Semuanya ada disini
Rumah kita

It’s better to be here, our own house
All the bounties and blessings of the Almighty
All are here
At our house

Jam Karet

November 25th, 2010 § 1

Jam Karet

Interesting discovery. Apparently, among the things that we Indonesians surprisingly manage to export is the concept of jam karet. There is a progressive rock band based in California named Djam Karet; a soundtrack from the American TV series Ally McBeal is titled such; and probably most advisory manuals for traveling into Indonesia such as this one will warn foreigners against expecting Indonesians to be on time.

In case you don’t know, jam karet simply means rubber watch, originally referring to the cheap plastic watch that people usually buy for their little children as a toy. When somebody is late for something, people will say he has a jam karet (or ngaret to say it as a verb) as a way of mocking him.

Now, reading the way the Djam Karet band explains what their name means in their biography page, however, I’m suspicious that some of the foreigners who have only heard the phrase but never been to the country may think it is some exotic eastern philosophical concept about the elasticity of the space-time continuum, instead of a way of describing slackers.

What everyone who writes in Indonesian should know

November 23rd, 2010 § 0

But apparently doesn’t, which can be pretty frustrating for an Indonesian editor, is that di as a prefix is not the same as di as a particle.

Where it serves as a prefix to a verb it constructs the passive voice, meaning the grammatical subject of the verb is the recipient of the action. You do not introduce any space between di and the verb. Examples: dicari, dilakukan, disuruh, dikerjakan, dimarahi, diampuni, etc.

Di is also a particle that generally indicates place, in which case you insert a space between di and the noun that follows immediately after. For example: di kantor instead of dikantor, di rumah instead of dirumah, di luar instead of diluar, di atas instead of diatas, etc.

And yes, this is elementary school language class.

No amount of money is worth it

November 19th, 2010 § 0

liputan haji-penganiayaan-tkw-15

Kompas ran a heartbreaking story today about the plight of Indonesian women migrant workers in Arab Gulf states. The backdrop of this story is a recent case of torture of an Indonesian maid by her employer in Saudi Arabia, and another more recent case where another maid was not only tortured but also had her throat slit and her dead body dumped in the garbage.

The journalist who wrote the story met a group of about forty of them at Dubai international airport as they were about to board a flight back home.

Wati, Ngatmi, dan puluhan perempuan di ruang tunggu itu pantas merasa lega. Mereka telah bekerja sebagai PRT rata-rata tiga bulan sampai dua tahun lebih di Dubai, Arab Saudi, Kuwait, Lebanon, dan beberapa negara lain di sekitarnya. Rasa kangen terhadap kampung halaman sudah membuncah.

(Transl.) Wati, Ngatmi and tens of the women waiting in the departure terminal rightly feel glad. They have have been working as maids anywhere from three months to more than two years in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, and several other countries in the area. They deeply miss their homes.

And in my opinion they should just go home never to return. This is why:

”Saya sudah ganti enam kali majikan selama 2,5 tahun di Kuwait. Kadang karena tidak kerasan, terus minta ganti majikan. Penyebab tidak kerasan terbanyak ya soal kekerasan dari majikan,” kata Sa’diyah (38), warga Cimahi.

Ketika pembicaraan merembet ke masalah kekerasan, wajah-wajah para penyumbang devisa bagi Indonesia itu pun langsung mendung. Dari sekitar 40 tenaga kerja perempuan yang Kamis itu akan menuju Jakarta, hampir semuanya pernah merasakan kekerasan selama bekerja.

(Transl.) “I have switched employers six times during my 2.5 years in Kuwait. Sometimes it was because I did not feel comfortable with my employer. Why uncomfortable? Most of the time the reason was the violence of my employer,” said Sa’diyah (38) of Cimahi.

When the conversation switched to the topic of violence, the faces of these contributors to Indonesia’s foreign reserve turned dark. Of about forty women migrant workers who were leaving for Jakarta that Thursday, nearly all of them had been subjected to violence in their job. (emphasis mine)

I never realized that the violence problem was so widespread in these countries. I remembered after reading the piece that our new maid had also worked in one of the Arab countries before coming to work for us. I asked her about the violence, and she confirmed that the mother of her employer had once banged her head on the wall for some unclear mistake.

I’m not sure what this indicates. Is it possible for people in these different countries to have some overwhelming propensity for violence? I mean you can’t even consider this a crime. It’s pathological.

Here’s one worthy cause to pursue: STOP SENDING OUR WOMEN TO BECOME DOMESTIC WORKERS IN ARAB COUNTRIES. Any amount of riyal or dirham is just not worth it.