Indonesia a development miracle?

November 18th, 2010 § 0

Harvard economist Dani Rodrik writes:

Which are the countries that have improved their human development indicators the most since 1970 relative to their peers? You’d be surprised, as I was, to find that the top 10 is dominated not by East Asian superstars, but by Moslem countries: Oman, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. This year’s Human Development Report is full of neat analysis and results, including this one.

Noting that not all of them have had high economic growth, he said that their success is due to expansion of educational opportunities and health access and creativity to come up with developmental approaches that fit their own conditions.

However, what’s interesting, and in contradiction of what U.S. President Barack Obama said about economic development and political freedom in his speech in University of Indonesia a while ago:

What is somewhat puzzling, as Rodriguez and Samman also note, is that these countries have not made nearly as much progress in democratization.

Is UNDP affiliated with the Chinese?

Croc on the roof

October 16th, 2010 § 0

Depletion of mangroves seems to have driven saltwater crocodiles in Bandung, West Java, to intrude into people’s homes with their usual preys such as birds and frogs virtually gone from estuaries along the coasts of South Java.

Or actually, a naughty male croc pet named “Koing” went loose from his cage and took a climb up to a nearby roof to enjoy his little moment of sunbathing. Koing’s owner is a longtime West Java councilman, Yoga Santosa, who had a little problem recently when his opponents alleged that his high school diploma was faked. The allegation was proven to be false, apparently.

Jakarta does not have floods, idiot!

October 9th, 2010 § 0

Flood in Muara Baru, Jakarta

Governor of Jakarta Mr. Fauzi Bowo has been very kind to point out to us that Jakarta does not have a flood problem. The excessive dampness you are seeing in the streets is a bit of water puddles here and there. Let’s not mix things up here folks. You know you’d be foolish to say the city is flooding when all that’s been happening is just some water that doesn’t drain quickly enough.

I guess when you ran on the platform of ‘Leave it to the experts’ for election, you have to constantly convince everyone that you are an expert. You really shouldn’t let the people judge you by what you’ve been doing. They are not smart enough to be able to differentiate between incremental improvements you have been making and a total mess of a city anyway.

Fokeexpert So here are some ideas. The people say you have failed them? Tell them there is difference between failing and not delivering. They are just not the same. Or they say you are not following through on your campaign promises? Tell them they are not looking hard enough!

Granted this may not make you look emphatic, especially when you’re quoted in the media. But so what? The media do not make people smarter anyway. They’re only good for sound bites right? They are no place for enlightened teachings on city planning jargons that you have to offer.

And of course saying these things may invite your opponents to say some foul things about you. But, pay no mind. If haters are not dissing you, who else will?

So please keep those inspiring words coming, Mr. Governor. Who knows, some of us idiots may end up learning enough from your wisdom that we can also be a governor like you!

Where does violence come from?

October 7th, 2010 § 0


The genius Isaac Asimov noted through his cunning character Salvor Hardin that “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent,” and maybe this is an accurate explanation for what is happening around the country lately.

Witness the rage of two ethnic communities in Tarakan, East Kalimantan, as they battle each other to seek what they seem to think to be justice. Or look at how some unverified hearsay provoked a community in Bogor, West Java, to attack their own neighbors and turn their houses and place of worship into rubble. Another example is the unfathomable scene of members of two ethnic gangs dueling in the street in front of the building where justice is supposed to be upheld, despite the presence of a significant number of policemen nearby.

Some scientists say that evolution has given us humans with a survival mechanism that tells us how to respond to a threatening situation. They say that our so-called limbic system dictates three modes of response of freeze, flight and fight when we are faced with danger. The first response, to freeze, is easily seen in animals who will suspend their motion, or even play dead when they see a predator. The flight response, on the other hand, comes into play when we sense that the freeze response does not eliminate the danger and tells us to flee for safety. When freezing and fleeing cannot save us from danger, then, the only alternative left is to turn our fear into rage as we switch to attack mode.

The evolutionary perspective seems to indicate that violence is really the product of desperation. We don’t usually resort to violence when less risky options are available, and really shouldn’t in the interest of our own survival.

But of course it would be wrong to say that violence is only a type of reaction to a perceived threat. After all there seems to be people who take pleasure in seeing others (and probably themselves) suffer. However, this is a type of pathology and doesn’t seem to fit the communal type of violence as we see here. The only way that this has anything to do with the recent string of violent clashes is if somehow there’s somebody behind the screen that is orchestrating the whole thing. Which is a really scary thought.

Naturally the question is then if what we’re seeing is a wave of desperation all over the country, or is it the work of some really sick individuals pulling all the strings in the shadows?

Democracy is ugly, but is all we have

March 22nd, 2009 § 0

logo-pemiluElection day is nigh, and this would be utterly obvious at least to anyone living in Jakarta for they have had to endure the horrid experience of playing hide and seek with rowdy campaign crowds and the traffic debacle that would almost certainly transpire since the hunting season officially kicked off last week.

Isn’t democracy wonderful?  At least it should be to most of us who are too busy trying to make ends meet–or to pay off the loan on that glittering new SUV now perched peacefully in the garage–to be properly informed about our foremost civic duty.  If it hadn’t been for democracy, nothing would have forced our ignorant souls to pay any inkling of attention to whatever the legislators-to-be have to say about how a sprawling archipelago nation of 245 million is to be governed.  Nay, there is nowhere to escape the constant onslaught of political newspeak delivered right to our face; not the television as all the big networks are contemptuously coveting the title of “the election channel,” not any of the scandal sheets where all the most insidious perversions of our nation’s crème de la crème have been laid bare for all to see, and certainly not the internet where online political ads have turned up even on the most seemingly unassuming sites.

votingIf you think this is a prelude to a sarcastic rant about the failings of democracy in a  perennially developing nation such as our beloved Indonesia, you would be wrong.  I celebrate the fact that it took me 2 extra hours to get to a meeting with the most challenging client in the middle of an unforgiving tropical storm.  I’m grateful about seeing political talking heads rattling off the most unbelievably thoughtless analyses about the candidates’ chances of winning enough votes to secure a seat in the parliament, or their takes on what VP Jusuf Kalla’s run as a presidential candidate means to his cohabitation with President SBY.  And yes, I enjoy seeing haphazardly prepared candidates unbecomingly turning a TV debate show into an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway, even though they were not supposed to be funny.

I believe in the oft-repeated wisdom of the general election as the time to celebrate our newly found democracy.  Indeed, campaign seasons were almost certainly a big quinquennial bash with music shows–and political sermons–served to political constituents eagerly blessing any candidate who was willing to pony up the highest amount of rupiah.  If political rallies seem to have become more subdued nowadays, that doesn’t mean no celebration is taking place.  Don’t take my word for it; just look at the polychromatic exhibition of candidates’ banners persistently adorning our streets.

Yes, democracy is brute, noisy, traffic jam-inducing, and most certainly ugly as Plato would readily attest to.  But it is also the only way to let the politicos know that they don’t mean a penny without us.  At least once in every five years, the honorable parliamentarians whose utterances are law and incomes are far beyond what us mortals can dream of will be focusing hard, devising illegitimate trickeries, hiring the most attractive campaigners they could find, manipulatively scheming solely to get our valuable votes.

model-kampanyeYou may be lamenting that when campaigning, the candidates should be offering the most sophisticated sounding economic arcana to get us through the global credit crisis or peddling the most convincing ideological platform with which voters can identify, but these are all beside the point.  In fact, the whole point of democracy is neither to ensure that our nation becomes a land flowing with milk and honey and streets lined with gold, nor to cater for our ideological inclinations.  Rather, democracy means that nobody can have exclusive claim over the fate of our land, and specifically for us Indonesians, it is quite possibly the only thing in which we can say we are far ahead of our neighboring nations.  Sure, other nations in our neighborhood can boast better living standards, higher incomes and faster internet connection.  Yet as democracy continues to take roots in our land but falter in theirs, none of them can claim to be a nation of free and desperately optimistic people.

So shut your eyes, close your ears while the politicos bombard you with their nonsense, their operatives stubbornly surround you with their likenesses for the next month or so.  On April 9, go to the voting booth or don’t, and be glad that whatever you do you have the freedom to choose.

Don’t be in a crisis, be on top of it

December 3rd, 2008 § 0

Chairman of the Indonesian Entrepreneurs Association Anton Supit urged the nation’s leaders to declare that an economic crisis has taken place in Indonesia and be ready to make tough, though unpopular decisions.

I think asking an incumbent administration that’s going for reelection next year to be ready to lose popularity could be the ultimate Zen paradox.  Mr. Supit said:

We’re already in a crisis, but still unable to change our attitude.  We keep blaming others and working without a good plan.  Hundreds of thousands of people are being laid off, so don’t say that there’s nothing serious to be concerned about.  We need leaders who are ready to be unpopular by declaring that we’re in the middle of a crisis.

Here’s the definition of an economic crisis according to

A situation in which the economy of a country experiences a sudden downturn brought on by a financial crisis. An economy facing an economic crisis will most likely experience a falling GDP, a drying up of liquidity and rising/falling prices due to inflation/deflation. An economic crisis can take the form of a recession or a depression. Also called real economic crisis.

Yet, official statistics are indicating that the economy is still in a relatively good shape.  GDP is still growing 6.1% year on year, and it is spread across all sectors though not equally.  Sure, export industries such as textile, shoes manufacturers are taking hard beatings with order cancellations from global customers on the rise, but it’s hardly a cause to announce a nationwide crisis and risk losing consumer confidence as a result.

In fact, with consumer confidence index still creeping back to an optimistic level after three months, the most irresponsible thing to do for the government right now is to create panic in the market.

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.


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

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.