Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Clip joint

That last post was awfully heavy on sentiment, wasn't it? If you -- like me -- tend to be of a more cynical bent, here's a palate-cleanser and/or warm-up for your New Year's celebrations.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Christmas

As of 45 minutes ago, it is officially Christmas here at HNWT Towers. Hope you and yours are enjoying the holiday season to the fullest. Following in the footsteps of Christmases past, here are two of the most popular tunes to meld pop and the holiday.

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl singing "Fairytale of New York" -- according to the YouTube page, it's "arguably the greatest Christmas song of all time!" Big shout, that.

Fans of more domestic fare might suggest The Boss has a leg up on Mr. MacGowan, especially with his rendition of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town."

Whether you prefer your tunes from the Emerald Isle or the Jersey Turnpike, I hope you have a great holiday and many more in the future. Remember, I'm pulling for you -- we're all in this together.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why didn't I think of that?

The past week has been a blur. I've finished two of the three college classes I'm taking this semester, wrapping up macroeconomics and psychology with As -- that's five As in five courses in the second go-around, if you're scoring at home. Not too bad considering the utter shambles that was the start of the semester.

English is proving a bit hairier, what with a 6- to 10-page persuasive paper due in, oh, 26 hours or so. No doubt I'm overthinking this, as I do with most things, but it'll be a great relief when I send this paper away. I've spent the past week poring over sources on vaccination and reading some of the most infuriating, anti-science malarkey I've ever come across on the Interwebs, all for this report. Now I find out that Dara O'Briain neatly summed up in six and a half minutes what it's taking me thousands of words to say. I guess that's why he's a comical wordsmith and I'm an unemployed hack.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

This is 2012, right?

Given what I've just read, I feel the need to check. The latest update by Ashley Miller, one of the growing horde of excellent bloggers over at FreeThought Blogs, has left me literally slack-jawed in amazement. She has lost her father -- to bigotry. That man will no longer have anything to do with his only child, and all for the heinous sin of her dating a black man.
Your father wants you to know that he still loves you.  But you’ve gone too far.
She won’t say the reason.  She won’t acknowledge that it is a race thing.  Like not saying “because he’s black” makes it not racist.
Your lifestyle is just not OK with him, he has bent as much as he will bend.  He has bent so much and you haven’t bent at all.
I insist on clarification, “My lifestyle?”
Yes.  Your father is an old Southern man, he was raised like that, he was raised to believe that races just don’t mix.  It was the final straw.  He loves you, he just doesn’t like you.
The italics are the words of Ashley's stepmother, whom the father has forbidden from seeing her stepdaughter in person. So not only is Dear Old Dad a racist, he's a misogynist to boot. Wonderful.

I'm struggling to find the words. Disowning your daughter for loving the wrong person, let alone the wrong color of person? How small of a man must you be to value your hatred of those who don't look like you over your own flesh and blood? In fairness, I would be remiss if I did not concede that I, too, have a close relative from whose lips I would not be surprised to hear such hateful filth. He does have previous in that area, if you catch my drift.

Of course, this being the Internet, the kind of openness and bravery Ashley showed in revealing this personal strife cannot be allowed to pass without someone unmasking themselves as a Flaming Asshole.
Sounds like you’ve been a rebellious PITA and watching you commit social suicide was too much for him. It’s hard to watch a loved one ruin their life. He wanted white grand kids to carry on his name and now you’ve broken his heart….you have to live with that. Sorry but all these liberal idiots commenting blowing smoke up your butt isn’t helping you deal with the reality of your actions….but it gives one a false fluffy warm reassurance. I guess you have to be an older white male to understand it. Liberalism is a disease.
Compassionate Conservatism at its finest.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Scary stuff

Brace yourselves, folks. Something came through the area on Monday and gave me a right royal fright. I managed to keep my sanity long enough to snap a picture, but it's so disturbing I dare not post it above the fold.

Be warned: Scariness lurks below.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Leave my childhood alone!

The Goonies. Thundercats. Red Dawn. Transformers. GI Joe. With every remake, reboot and rehash of an '80s property, a little bit of my childhood dies. It's only a matter of time before Bravestarr gets dragged into this vortex of meh.

Now I see MacGyver is over in Europe, shilling for Mercedes-Benz. Really, Mac? Next you'll tell me Michael Jackson wasn't a clean-cut, all-American pop star and David Hasselhoff didn't bring down the Berlin Wall.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

It's a Manly Man's world

File this one under "Makes Me Embarrassed to Carry a Y Chromosome." According to the guy who used to review movies for the Niagara Falls Reporter, the publisher of said weekly only wants to run reviews of movies that portray men in their correct, God-given dominant roles. The publisher's e-mail to the aforementioned reviewer, Michael Calleri:
Michael; I know you are committed to writing your reviews, and put a lot of effort into them. it is important for you to have the right publisher. i may not be it. i have a deep moral objection to publishing reviews of films that offend me. snow white and the huntsman is such a film. when my boys were young i would never have allowed them to go to such a film for i believe it would injure their developing manhood. if i would not let my own sons see it, why would i want to publish anything about it?
snow white and the huntsman is trash. moral garbage. a lot of fuzzy feminist thinking and pandering to creepy hollywood mores produced by metrosexual imbeciles.

I don't want to publish reviews of films where women are alpha and men are beta.
where women are heroes and villains and men are just lesser versions or shadows of females.

i believe in manliness.

not even on the web would i want to attach my name to snow white and the huntsman except to deconstruct its moral rot and its appeal to unmanly perfidious creeps.

i'm not sure what headhunter has to offer either but of what I read about it it sounds kind of creepy and morally repugnant.

with all the publications in the world who glorify what i find offensive, it should not be hard for you to publish your reviews with any number of these.

they seem to like critiques from an artistic standpoint without a word about the moral turpitude seeping into the consciousness of young people who go to watch such things as snow white and get indoctrinated to the hollywood agenda of glorifying degenerate power women and promoting as natural the weakling, hyena -like men, cum eunuchs.

the male as lesser in courage strength and power than the female.

it may be ok for some but it is not my kind of manliness.

If you care to write reviews where men act like good strong men and have a heroic inspiring influence on young people to build up their character (if there are such movies being made) i will be glad to publish these.

i am not interested in supporting the reversing of traditional gender roles.

i don't want to associate the Niagara Falls Reporter with the trash of Hollywood and their ilk.

it is my opinion that hollywood has robbed america of its manliness and made us a nation of eunuchs who lacking all manliness welcome in the coming police state.

now i realize that you have a relationship with the studios etc. and i would have been glad to have discussed this in person with you to help you segue into another relationship with a publication but inasmuch as we spent 50 minutes on the phone from paris i did not want to take up more of your time.

In short i don't care to publish reviews of films that offend me.

if you care to condemn the filmmakers as the pandering weasels that they are.... true hyenas.
i would be interested in that....
I just ... wow. I'd try to examine that message while wearing my copy editor hat, but it bursts into flames any time it comes near this post. Odd, that.

The publisher, Frank Parlato, reportedly is no stranger to controversy in his business dealings. The NFR also made national news recently, publishing this delightful bit of enlightened commentary on how hockey is turning gay. Sound familiar?

Not surprisingly, Parlato waded into the comments and wasted little time blasting away, attacking the messenger and painting himself as an embattled defender of Traditional Family Values. He also makes sure to remind everyone how successful he is -- because that's what Manly Men do, reinforce their appearance of Manliness at every opportunity. Sounds like someone who has years of experience viewing life through the eyes of fear.

Also lurking in the comments are the requisite Men's Rights Advocates, who see a grand conspiracy against men everywhere they look. Articles like these are dog whistles for MRAs and other assorted creeps who feel their lot in life would be so much better if it wasn't for Big Sister depriving them of their rightful status and denying them the sex they deserve. Get out your MRA bingo cards if you read through the comments as they touch on many of their greatest hits: biased against men, feminist onslaught, traditional values, misandry, traditional gender roles, loser geeks and half-men, "women's issues," eunuchs, "spend one week as a man and see how YOU like it," "but what about the rights of men," "freedom of speech," androphobia, etc.

You can almost understand their shock and horror, what with white, male Christians no longer being the dominant force in this country and having to play nicely with the rest of the populace. Yeesh. If this is how real, Manly Men are supposed to behave -- viewing the world as a zero-sum game and treating anyone who doesn't look, think and act in the Traditional Way with contempt -- I'll just go ahead and chop off my dick now, thanks. I want no part of this foofery.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


This is what happens when you let religion sink its fangs into government and hold sway where it doesn't belong. A woman in Ireland is dead because certain parties valued an unviable fetus over the mother's life.
Two investigations are under way into the death of a woman who was 17 weeks pregnant, at University Hospital Galway last month.
Savita Halappanavar (31), a dentist, presented with back pain at the hospital on October 21st, was found to be miscarrying, and died of septicaemia a week later.
Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar (34), an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, says she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination.
This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country”.
She spent a further 2½ days “in agony” until the foetal heartbeat stopped.
The dead foetus was removed and Savita was taken to the high dependency unit and then the intensive care unit, where she died of septicaemia on the 28th.
Read that again. Because some people still believe a book of Bronze Age myths curated by a group of old men in funny hats has some relevance today, supposed medical professionals were willing to leave a pregnant woman in agony for three days before watching her die. Odd how that happened only a month after Ireland's finest minds assured us all that abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of the mother.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Below the line

Have I mentioned lately how much I love the commenters on the Jakarta Globe's website? With only a very few exceptions, my policy on comment sections is "that way madness lies," but bless those Globe commenters for being a shining counterexample.

The Globe commentariat has previous in eviscerating substandard and/or outright wrong-headed editorial stances, such as the newspaper's support for an anti-porn task force and its siding with Islamic radicals in the Lady Gaga Saga. Now we have Peter F. Gontha -- Globe publisher, former Suharto lamprey and admitted crony capitalist -- throwing a fit about Jakarta's new deputy governor daring to check his BlackBerry during their meeting, in which Pak Gontha suggested easing the capital's traffic by restricting access to some roads to vehicles of certain colors, an old idea which has been dismissed by the publisher's own newspaper.

I couldn't blame you if you skipped the article itself -- it's full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, as per usual -- but please do read through the comments. The response to Gontha's kvetching is energetic, to say the least. An example:

Quite apart from the appalling arrogance of the first paragraph the lead in to the third leaves one in awe of this mans audacity.
"I am fully aware that I am no expert in city planning, or an expert in overcoming transportation problems. But as a resident of the city, I feel called to contribute to progress." By Whom?
If you are aware of your inadequacy in this area then stick to what you know and you will not get the short shrift out of a very busy officials office for wasting his time.
"noble intention of meeting with his deputy governor" Your Deputy Governor? Who do you think you are?
This sort of statement epitomizes the elitist arrogance that is one of the contributing factors to the state this country is in. Someone who thinks he has a right to interfere in an areas he professes himself to know nothing about, but wants to meddle anyway because he thinks he is rich and should be listened to.
Perhaps the whole thing was to teach you lesson in humility. Epic Fail....
The whole episode does not reflect well on someone who fancies himself the Donald Trump of Indonesia. Still, perhaps Pak Gontha does deserve some sympathy. A man of his wealth and political connections gets used to being treated with reverence and fear -- especially at the Globe, given his mixed record of success with English-language publications -- and finding out that the universe does not, in fact, revolve around you can be quite a shock to the system. Of course, it's a shock most of us experience and get over in our teens or early 20s.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Last night brought the draw for the fourth round of Concacaf qualifying -- known to its friends as The Hex -- for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Matches don't start until February, but in a brazen bit of stealing from myself, here's my knee-jerk, completely speculative projection on how the last round of qualifying will go.
@ Honduras: MLS players will be short on match fitness in early February, so Klinsmann had damn well better hold Camp Toaster Strudel. The US nicks a goal but concedes late and it finishes 1-1.

vs. Costa Rica: As suggested by SBI, Salt Lake City is almost ideal for this match -- friendly crowd, at altitude and should still be fairly cool in late March. The US gets pushed hard by the Ticos but wins 2-1.

@ Mexico: Think El Tri and its fans will be up for this one? Jermaine Jones gets sent off in the first half and Mexico wins 2-0. The more reactionary US fans express Great Concern on message boards.

@ Jamaica: Our friends the Reggae Boyz will host Mexico three days prior, what with El Tri running off to the Confederations Cup (which we've all established no one cares about, right?). Odds are Jamaica will still be stinging after a loss and in no mood to party. Hopefully Klinsmann remembers to pack a few extra wide players, just in case. It finishes 1-1 and BigSoccer is inundated by hotlinked images of panic buttons.

vs. Panama: Reactionaries will declare this game a must-win; realists will remind the reactionaries that every home game in the Hex is a must-win. Even with Blas Perez leading the line, Panama at home is about as close to a get-well game there as is at this point. The US wins 3-1 and goes into the second half of the Hex with eight points, roughly halfway to Brazil.

vs. Honduras: For all the talent Honduras has, it's only beaten the US twice in the MLS Era -- the DC Debacle in 2001 and a friendly after the 2010 Camp Cupcake -- and three times overall. So why does this game scream "trap?" Maybe the intensity of three qualifiers in 11 days is a lot to ask, especially of guys coming off a long European season. (Then again, Mexico has to go to Jamaica and Panama and host Costa Rica in the space of a week before the Confederations Cup, so who knows what that will do to their heads, let alone their bodies.) US 1-1 Honduras and a summer full of Squeaky Bum Time awaits.

@ Costa Rica: If any Concacaf team has the US's number, it's Costa Rica, not Mexico. The US is winless in its last five against the Ticos (the earlier projection notwithstanding) and hasn't left Costa Rica with so much as a point since 1992. Things go poorly, Costa Rica wins 3-0 and "Klinsmann out" becomes more than just the US coach's sign-off when he fills in for Ryan Seacrest.

vs. Mexico: One of the biggest selling points of the Klinsmann era is that his teams get results when they absolutely have to have them. These last three games will put that assertion to its stiffest test yet. Of course this one takes place at Crew Stadium. Chicarito scores early but the US rallies, winning 2-1 and keeping the Columbus mystique alive.

vs. Jamaica: Rough as the Hex draw was to the US, it could've done far worse than playing Jamaica and Panama in the final week. This one seems like a good fit for Kansas City, especially if the weather turns cold. The US grinds out another 1-0 home win over Jamaica and in all likelihood secures a place at the World Cup.

@ Panama: All three US visits to Panama City have been fruitful, yielding two wins and a draw. Unless the US needs this result to qualify (and it shouldn't), expect to see the backups and anyone urgently needing to be cap-tied. The US wins 2-1 as Eddie Johnson nods in two goals and begins his campaign to go to a second World Cup.

Mexico 7W-2D-1L 20 GF 6 GA 23 points
Costa Rica 6-2-2 17 GF 9 GA 20 points
USA 5-3-2 13 GF 13 GA 18 points
Honduras 1-6-3 10 GF 13 GA 10 points (loses qualifying playoff to Oceania winner New Zealand)
Jamaica 1-3-6 5 GF 13 GA 6 points
Panama 1-2-7 6 GF 17 GA 5 points

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Going all-in with Klinsi

My blogging about US soccer has been scarce since coming back to the States. That's partly because classes and searching for a new job take up most of my time and partly because, let's face it, the two matches against Jamaica last month were hardly inspiring. Now, though, the US men go into their last two matches of the semifinal round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying with the specter of things going Very Wrong lurking not too far out of sight.

Let's set the scene: The US, Guatemala and Jamaica are level on seven points atop Group A, from which only two teams will advance. Jamaica is third on goal difference (+1) while the US and Guatemala are dead even (2-1-1, 6 goals for, 4 goals against, +2 difference). The US travels to Antigua & Barbuda on Friday before returning home to host Guatemala in Kansas City next Tuesday. Advancing to the next round of qualifying is still well within reach for the Yanks, but recent events have complicated matters and left some fans with a sinking feeling.

Monday, October 8, 2012

It's all coming back to me

During the five or so years I spent in the tropics, people would often ask me what I missed from home. Leaving aside the obvious answers of family, friends and Dorothy Lynch, I would sometimes give the snappy reply of "I miss being cold." I do hail from more northerly climes, after all, and my aversion to the outdoors and extra layers of fat and fur should put me in good stead for the winter.

What a stupid I am. The past few days have dispelled any lingering haze of sentiment about low temperatures. I took in my first high school football game since leaving Hawaii on Friday, traveling to my old stomping grounds of Kenesaw to see the local team take on Amherst. It was nice to take a look around the site of many of my earliest memories -- even if the early sunset didn't leave much to see -- as was the chance to spend a few hours at the home of a family friend and former next-door neighbor who is in his 24th and last year of coaching the KHS football team. What was less nice was the reminder of just how bitterly cold nights can get this time of year. Mid-30s and a steady breeze tends to drain the fun from most festive occasions.

Monday, October 1, 2012

No laughing matter

Just when Indonesian politics started to not seem so horrifying, some knucklehead had to go and open his big yapper.

Solo Mayor Joko Widodo was officially declared the winner on Friday of the race to be Jakarta's next governor, kicking incumbent Fauzi Bowo to the curb despite the latter's supporters openly and frequently playing up racial and religious fears. That Joko was able to win as a Jakarta outsider and with an ethnic Chinese Christian as his running mate briefly raised hopes that politics in Indonesia could be more about picking the best candidate than which one looks and prays like the most people -- the staid Economist called the win "a triumph for tolerance and civilised values."

Enter comedian-turned-lawmaker Dedi Gumelar. He says the plan to eliminate science and social studies from the national elementary school curriculum is a jim-dandy idea. His stance is odd in that on one hand he bemoans the current curriculum as being modeled after "the West" (whatever that means), yet on the other he suggests embracing the system of Indonesia's former colonial masters.
Dedi said Indonesia should go back to the education system adopted during Dutch colonial rule and shortly after independence, when elementary school students were only taught basic education.

“In kindergarten, learning how to count and read should be prohibited because that’s the time to play and know nature empirically,” Dedi said. “It is easy to teach children to be smart but we should teach children how to be right.”

The Ministry of Education and Culture on Thursday announced that science and social science will be taken out of the elementary school’s curriculum next year to provide children with less school time.

The ministry said that the new curriculum would emphasize basic mathematics, the Indonesian language, religious studies and patriotism.
So colonial Dutch education - science - social studies + religion + patriotism = profits? Or is that prophets?

Even coming from a PDI-P acolyte, this is bizarre. One of the most common refrains as Indonesia tries to assume what the chestier nationalists say is its rightful place on the world stage is the need to make the country more competitive. Demographic heft will only take a country so far, as India is learning rather swiftly, and a steady stream of mixed signals has foreign investors unsure what to make of Indonesia.

Improving infrastructure is high on the to-do list, of course. It has to be, what with it being cheaper to ship to Jakarta from Singapore than Padang and oranges from China being cheaper in Indonesia than those from Medan. Roads and ports are only one part of the story, though.
Still, infrastructure is but one element; technological readiness is another. Indonesia is not sourcing enough technological advances domestically, and is adding too little value to raw materials. While this is an issue in the short run, Indonesia can always adopt technological innovations from foreign companies through FDI. The Harvard Kennedy School Indonesia Program has found that Indonesia needs to integrate into global supply chains for the same reason, as such networks are often coordinated at each level by multinationals willing to share their efficient production methods in order to reduce costs. This is particularly the case with regard to technological capacity, which is required in all export sectors to develop efficient production methods and reduce costs in a highly competitive global market. For technological competitiveness, the WEF Global Competitiveness Report ranks Indonesia 91st out of 139 countries. Of all of the relevant rankings, this is the country’s worst result.

The third criterion mentioned above is human capital. The low levels of skills and training for workers in Indonesia constrains the production of competitive exports. Indonesia is ranked 66th for higher education and training, and although it has achieved much success in improving enrollment rates at every level of education, it has focused on quantity (fueled by an education-for-all policy) while many people believe overall quality is declining. A lack of investment in tertiary education means the qualifications that the economy needs — science and engineering programs in particular, which are also the most expensive to teach — are in short supply. This is at a time when China is producing 300,000 engineering graduates a year. [Emphasis mine -- ed.]
That's right: In a world where science, technology, engineering and mathematics are taking on ever-greater importance -- and in which Indonesia's leading research institute employs three support staff for every actual scientist -- this bunch of yutzes wants to handicap future generations while whipping more religion and patriotism on them. What's that, G.K. -- something about refuges and scoundrels? I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

Or is it? Sure, this could be another case of the authorities bumbling into a new program with no thought beforehand -- it would hardly be the first time -- but after all, isn't the definition of a gaffe when a politician utters some truth he isn't supposed to say? Looking back on the Dutch colonial era, the education system appeared to be by the elite and for the elite, with the local population divided by race and socioeconomic status while being kept to the margins. Now, who would benefit from an obsequious, oblivious populace that loves Allah, loves their country and doesn't ask too many questions? Certainly not Dedi and his fellow elites at the House of Representatives -- the same vampires who are trying to suck the life out from the only institution making headway in fighting corruption, the same institution that's jailed 40 current or former House members with still more in the hopper. Certainly not the same elites who keep demanding more pay and more perks as they do less and less legislating and fling blame at everyone but themselves when they're called out for their misdeeds.

But let's not get sidetracked. FSM knows political foofery will be around for quite some time yet. Eliminating science from elementary schools not only leaves millions of Indonesian children disadvantaged, it also sells science education short. At that age, science isn't about cramming arcane facts, figures and formulas into malleable little brains -- it's about instilling, as Bill Nye puts it, the passion, beauty and joy of science. It's about helping kids wonder about and question the world around them, so that even if they don't turn into the "physicists and mathematical geniuses" at whom Pak Dedi sniffs, they'll still have the ability and confidence to think for themselves the next time some doom-mongering politician or slimy official tries to lead them a merry dance.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Global perspective

It's been almost a month since a series of events conspired to usher me out of the Jakarta Globe. I'm still pretty narked off about the whole thing, but that's not the purpose of this post. There are some pictures floating around my desktop that I want to post -- some of them even contain people. The shots are somewhat large, so I've left them after the jump.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Living in interesting times

Things are pretty crazy at the moment, no? Nutjobs rioting abroad, craven jerks pandering their way to political office here, the world economy is tanking and the NFL's replacement refs are ruining everyone's fun. It's enough to make you want to hole up in a bomb shelter for a few years until all the Stupid passes.

But take heart, friends, and listen to Uncle Henry.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Humanity, high and low

Like its constituent components, humanity seems to have its good and bad days. Sometimes you come across news that makes you think this bunch of hairless apes might just make something of itself, and other times you wonder how we haven't wiped ourselves out of existence.

Today is the 35th anniversary of Voyager 1's launch. After three and a half decades and billions of miles, this hunk of 1970s technology is about to leave the solar system and enter interstellar space -- the first man-made object to do so. Considering the technological limitations NASA faced back in those days, that the Voyager twins are still functioning and exploring new territory is just mind-boggling.
Voyager 1 is currently more than 11 billion miles from the sun. Twin Voyager 2, which celebrated its launch anniversary two weeks ago, trails behind at 9 billion miles from the sun
They're still ticking despite being relics of the early Space Age.
Each only has 68 kilobytes of computer memory. To put that in perspective, the smallest iPod — an 8-gigabyte iPod Nano — is 100,000 times more powerful. Each also has an eight-track tape recorder. Today's spacecraft use digital memory.
Uplifting, isn't it? When we humans put our minds to something, we can do some damn impressive stuff. Of course, that particular blade cuts both ways.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


What a farce this has been. The last 36 hours have reminded me with full, gory detail of all the things I can't stand about Indonesia.

The HR people at Globe Towers get me my passport at 4 p.m. the day before I leave -- too late to do anything like mail boxes of books or close a bank account. That night, the refrigerator conks out. This morning, the air conditioning unit in the bedroom springs a mighty leak, and on top of that my phone ceases to function. Not a great start but, to quote Brendon Burns, it gets so much worse.

Armed with my last paycheck (converted to rupiah without even asking me) and a passport featuring a snazzy new exit-only permit, I go to HSBC the next morning to close my bank account and transfer that money back to an account in the US. You'd think I asked them to sing the entire score of "H.M.S. Pinafore." What I thought would take an hour or 90 minutes at the most ended up taking five hours (11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) -- so long that the doors were shut and the office boys going home before I actually got my passport back and the account closed. Five hours, 14 different documents to be signed and an innumerable amount of "sorry Meesters" and sheepish grins. "Sorry Meester, but your signature is not an exact match to your passport." "Sorry Meester, but you need to sign a statement document in case any payments you make get returned and you complain about the money." "Sorry Meester, but the Transactions Department has not processed your requests so we cannot close your account yet." In my four years in Jakarta, dealing with that was the closest I'd ever come to truly Getting White and doing something awful.

Needless to say, this took what semblance of a plan I had for my last day in Jakarta and obliterated it. I didn't even get back to the apartment until 5 p.m. and had what I thought was a 10 p.m. flight bearing down on me. Some sweeping and mopping here, a frantic round of packing there and I'm out the door at 6:45 p.m. After dropping off the keys to the next tenant, I make for Soekarno-Hatta and get there with 90 minutes to spare.

How am I posting, then? Funny you should ask. After anticipating a 10:05 p.m. takeoff, we're told that the Korean Airlines jet is delayed in Incheon because of stormy weather and will now take off from Jakarta at 1:05 a.m. This handy bit of information landed in my inbox at 11 p.m. -- thanks, Korean Air. Come midnight, though, we get word that the plane won't get here until 5:30 a.m., and now that's been pushed back to 7:30 a.m. Assuming the jet actually gets here and isn't crippled by this apparent Storm of the Century, we should get to Incheon at about 4:30 p.m. local time -- ample cushion to make my 8:50 p.m. connection to Las Vegas. So much for that ginormous 13-hour layover and getting to chill in the Korean Airlines suite.

What burns me most is dashing off in such a hurry for no reason. All my books save three are still at the apartment, as are my collection of press passes (which I should really toss out anyway) and half a box of Pop Tarts (which leaving unfinished is tantamount to renouncing one's American citizenship). I have arrangements in place for the books to be shipped; the Pop Tarts, notsomuch. And on top of all this, I have assignments in my new college courses that are due today. What fun.

One of these days I'll figure out how to pack up, move and travel without having to leave behind large swathes of my possessions or driving myself bug-nutty. And on that day, Tatooine will freeze over.

UPDATE: Yeah. We left Jakarta at 7:20 a.m. on Wednesday (nine hours later than planned) and pulled into Incheon at about 4:30 p.m. local time. Grab dinner and hop on the plan to Vegas, right? Not with the way this trip is going. Almost every other Korean Airlines flight today was pushed back multiple hours, so my 8:50 p.m. flight is now a 2 a.m. redeye. That will put me in Las Vegas at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the earliest -- just enough time to catch a cab, pour myself into bed and be up for the final leg on Southwest the following afternoon. Fortunately, being a Las Vegas institution, the South Point lets you check in as late as 1 a.m.

Oh, and I haven't slept more than five or six hours total since Monday. It's a good thing I don't have to do anything important at my brother's wedding on Sunday as the lack of sleep and jet lag are going to leave me utterly useless.

Monday, August 20, 2012

All the single ladies

I have one week left in Jakarta. To be honest, I'm still not sure how I feel about that. The past week or so drove home many of the things I won't miss (all the noise, noise, noise!), and it will certainly be a load off my shoulders to be done with moving and not have to deal with watching the newspaper I helped bring to life collapse in on itself. Of course, there are plenty of people whom I'll miss, and the thought of voluntarily walking away from newspapers still turns my stomach.

What's occupying my thoughts now -- other than finishing the going-away to-do list, shlepping across the Pacific with 13- and 20-hour layovers and dealing with three more online college classes that start today -- is how I'll adjust to life back in Nebraska. I imagine it hasn't changed that much since I left in 2006. That Callahan fella still runs the football team, right?

How will I occupy my time once I am not gainfully employed for the first time in about 10 years? The college classes take precedence, sure, and I imagine my evenings will be occupied with part-time newspaper work (fall sports season is at hand) and my continuing attempts to teach myself Japanese. My family would probably like me to make more than cameo appearances at gatherings, and I would like to catch up with my small handful of friends in Omaha. Moreover, there's the not-so-small matter of figuring out what direction to take my life post-newspapers.

Here's another question: Should I try having a social life? No doubt that sounds odd to most people, but my journalist readers know to what I'm referring. Working nights and weekends for not a lot of money, changing jobs and cities every other year on average and living in places where the local lingo is not English -- all things I have done in one combination or another -- is not a good formula for a love life. In truth, dating was never that important to me, even during high school. There were always Other Things to Do that seemed more worth my while.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Become one with the madness

Many barrels of ink and oodles of bandwidth have been spilled bemoaning the chaotic state of Indonesian football. For all that time and energy spent kvetching, though, precious little progress has been made in breaking the lengthy deadlock.
Recent developments offer little hope for a solution. The Indonesian Super League intends to restart despite talks to establish a single top flight, ISL stars who answered call-ups by the Merah Putih have been punished by their clubs and the Indonesian Football Savior Committee (KPSI) plans to establish its own national team. Discord seems to be the status quo.

But perhaps we’re thinking about this the wrong way. The first law of quantitative economics states that “if a lot is good, more is better,” after all, so having twice as much football as other countries can only be a good thing.

Sure, it’s tempting to give in to frustration and demand FIFA finally follow through on its threat to ban Indonesia from international competition, but who does that really hurt? The ISL finished an entire season as a rebel league without any consequences, so FIFA sanctions would have little effect on it. The same cannot be said of the Indonesian Premier League, for which FIFA and Asian Football Confederation recognition are its only meaningful chips in the game.

Instead of continuing to gnash our teeth and rend our garments, let us embrace the chaos. The inertia that keeps the ISL and IPL separate is a boon to so many people. Just think of all the secretaries, assistants and mid-level functionaries who are still in a job thanks to these leagues’ refusal to compromise. Why won’t those job-killers at FIFA think of the mid-level functionaries?

It’s not just the people in the league offices. Twice as many leagues mean twice as many players, club staff and referees – even if receiving a monthly salary is at best a 50-50 proposition for said players and staff. Plus, twice as many roster spots to fill means the average Indonesian’s chances of becoming a professional footballer are twice as good. Why are those cultural imperialists at FIFA trying to crush the dreams of hard-working Indonesians?

Football’s sphere of economic influence spans so much further, though. Twice as many stadium rentals; twice as many security personnel; twice as many passengers for taxis, ojeks and buses; twice as many people selling “unofficial” merchandise at official events; twice as much football on TV to boost ratings – this is a central piece of the Indonesian economy we’re talking about here. Why are those greedheads at FIFA so eager to deprive this emerging economy of its rightful revenue?

Don’t think of this as another example of short-sighted gridlock. Instead, consider it a victory for the grand Indonesian tradition of dialogue ad nauseam. Last week, The Economist said of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, “By doing very little, Indonesia’s president is doing fine.” Like Rome’s Fabius Maximus did to Hannibal of Carthage during the Second Punic War, Indonesia has a chance to bend FIFA to its will and continue reaping the economic benefits of more football as long as it continues to do as little as possible.

It’s not as though FIFA or the AFC have shown much interest in hurrying along the process. The only deadline in the memorandum of understanding signed in June by the KPSI, ISL and Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) involved holding a national congress by the end of this year, and even then it included no sanctions or method of punishment in the event of failure. If the continental and world football governing bodies can’t be bothered to show leadership or demand accountability, it’s no wonder Indonesia’s squabbling factions have found better things to do than fixing the rift in the sport in the months since signing the MoU.

So let’s learn to stop worrying and love the deadlock. Greet this impasse with the same benign resignation used when facing Indonesia’s increasingly traffic-choked streets. After all, having twice as much football can only benefit the people who really matter in this country – bureaucrats.

Make a joyful noise

What's it like to be in Jakarta now that Ramadan is over? It sounds a lot like this. I took that at 2:40 a.m., and the noise is still going. If you listen closely, you can hear the mosque across the alley, another of the neighborhood mosques, drumming and fireworks -- about the only thing missing is the motorcycles modified to be as noisy as possible.

EDIT: At last, a bit of peace and quiet. I can still hear some mosque's muezzin in the distance, but it's largely quiet here at 8 a.m. That was at least 12 hours of solid noise -- no doubt the Prophet is pleased.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ladies: Stop getting yourselves raped

Cultural relativism is nice and all, but some things are just plain stupid. In response to a series of rapes and attempted sexual assaults on public transportation in Jakarta, Indonesia's women's empowerment minister has ... wait for it ... asked the ladies to take up martial arts!
Women need to learn martial arts to protect themselves against violent acts, according to Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Linda Amalia Sari Gumelar.

“The mastery of martial arts is necessary for women to escape dangerous situations,” she said in Jakarta on Wednesday.

Citing the recent rape and robbery attempts inside public transit, and numerous sexual assaults on Jakarta’s Angkot minibuses, Linda said women were often the target of violent attacks.

“Many female workers using public transport to return home late at night become victims of assault,” she explained. “Women are often seen as weak, so they become sitting ducks for criminals. Therefore, women must master martial arts in order to protect themselves.”
To paraphrase Zapp Brannigan: Madame Minister, what the hell? This is outrageous, and in a right-thinking country a government minister spouting this kind of bullshit would be looking for a job by sundown. This is the person in charge of overseeing the well-being of Indonesia's women and children?

Why place the extra burden on the women? It puts the onus on women not to get themselves raped, rather than on men not to do the raping; in short, it blames the victim. Such victim-shaming is a problem all over, and Indonesia is no exception. Look no further than the Big Durian, where Governor Fauzi Bowo helpfully suggested that women were being raped because they wore revealing clothes.
After a series of attacks on women by public transportation drivers, including the pack rape of a woman on her way home from work, Fauzi said miniskirts were inviting to rapists.

“You can imagine, if [a woman] wears a short skirt and sits next to the driver, it could be seen as inviting,” the governor said. “Wear sensible clothes, not ‘inviting’ clothes.”

He also had a similar message for women who take motorcycle taxis, or ojeks.

“If you ride on an ojek wearing short pants or a miniskirt, do not sit like a man,” Fauzi said. “If you sit sidesaddle, there will be no problem.”
(Incidentally, Fuzzy Bowwow is about nine points back in his re-election bid despite he and his campaign fomenting religious and ethnic hatred by telling Jakarta voters that they must vote for fellow Muslims or incur Allah's wrath. It's just a coincidence, I assume, that his opponent's running mate is a Christian and ethnically Chinese.)

How can people in positions of power continue to be so anti-woman and treat rape and sexual assault so blithely while still keeping their jobs? It's no wonder there's such a culture of impunity in this country when victims of crime are held equally culpable — if not more so — than the people who actually break the law.

System failure

Another day, another mind-numbing editorial from the Jakarta Globe. The scandal du jour is that business tycoon and presidential financier Siti Hartati Murdaya has been caught offering a Rp 2 billion ($212,000) bribe to secure a permit for her business. This is obviously embarrassing for Hartati, her business and the Democrats, especially as the latter is already dealing with enough graft scandals in its ranks.

What is more embarrassing — at least if you still believe in quaint notions like journalism — is the Globe's mewling apologetics. Rather than affix any blame to Hartati, the brain trust at Globe Towers would rather use its editorial to fault "the system" and repeat its endless call for nebulous "reform."
Don't Blame Hartati; It's the System's Fault
The announcement of Siti Hartati Murdaya as a corruption suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission is a sad day for the business community and for the country.
Hartati has been named a suspect by antigraft investigators amid allegations that she ordered the payment of a Rp 2 billion ($212,000) bribe for Amran Batalipu, the head of Buol district in Central Sulawesi, in exchange for a palm oil plantation permit.
It cannot be denied that Hartarti is not the only business owner who has offered a bribe for a license to establish a business. Talk to any business owner who has had to deal with regional or local government leaders and chances are they will have a similar tale to tell.
Unfortunately, this is how the system works in this country and it urgently needs to be reformed. It is common practice for regional bureaucrats to demand such payments from business owners. Yes, some business owners are not angels, and some occasionally find ways to avoid the law. However, it is equally true that business owners are victims of the system and have no choice but to comply if they want their businesses to proceed.
Corruption is a cancer that is eating away the soul of this country. But unless the entire system is overhauled, we will not conquer it and innocents like Hartarti will be ensnared in its web.
We hope investigators will conduct a thorough probe into this matter and allow the Indonesian public to view all the facts. We call on the authorities to also ensure that the recipients of the alleged bribe are also brought to justice.
What Hartarti allegedly did is against the law, but she has also contributed enormously to social causes and helped underprivileged Indonesians through her generous charitable works. This should not be discounted in the investigation.
I'd ask if the Globe was the least bit embarrassed by running something so cloying — "business owners are victims," "no choice to comply," "innocents like Hartati" — but after its slapstick denouncements of pornography and Lady Gaga, defending a corruption suspect is almost genteel.

(Fun fact: Corruption, narcotics offenses and terrorism are considered "extraordinary crimes" in Indonesia. Murder? Notsomuch.)

The Democrats, as ever, can't decide whether to stand by their own or disown the accused to save the party (not that there's much party to save). All this despite Hartati initially expecting people to believe that her bribe was a "donation" and asking: "Do I look like someone who would bribe?" Now we have the House of Representatives speaker Marzuki Alie — also a Democrat — saying that Hartati was "forced" to offer a bribe. I don't recall anyone holding a gun to her head or threatening her family, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. Wouldn't such a philanthropist and champion of the poor taking her complaint about corruption to the anti-graft authorities carry far more weight and leave her in a better light than where she finds herself now?

Of course, Marzuki wouldn't just offer up such claims without sound logic behind them.
“Why don’t you ask her [Hartati]? As far as I know, businesspeople are usually stingy. They wouldn’t give any money unless they really had to,” he told reporters in Jakarta.
Can't argue with that.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Brush(wood) with greatness

It's rare for me to walk away from an interview more energized than I was when it started. That's not to suggest that the people I talk to are boring -- rather, it's just that after so many years and so many interviews, it takes someone (or something) truly engaging to pique my interest.

I am fortunate to have done a few such interviews during my time in Jakarta. I had an extended phone conversation with Therese Shechter on the subject of virginity and its place in society, and I've had several chances to talk with grassroots football expert Tom Byer before, during and after his attempt to bring his technique training program to Indonesia (while that fell through, an even bigger project to secure hosting rights for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup might just succeed in spite of the ongoing infighting).

Today, I had the chance to speak with someone I already knew fairly well (albeit in a one-sided way) but had yet to meet in person: Brian Brushwood, who was in town for Mahakarya Magician 2012, a huge magic show. He was every bit as fun and engaging as I'd hoped, and I'm glad I made the effort meet him before he left Jakarta and flew back to the States. Having the chance to meet people like Brian is one of my favorite aspects of journalism and one of the things I'll miss most when I'm out of the business.

It was so much fun, I even set aside one of my main rules and got a picture with him (it helps that he and my dad are well-acquainted). Tom Osborne? Nope. David Seaman? Sorry. Brian Brushwood? Damn skippy.

In case you're wondering, I'm the fat one.

Healthy hypocrisy

Who doesn't love a good presidential gaffe? Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has two more years to revel in his status as Indonesia's lame-duck president, and it appears he intends to spend those years much like the rest of his time in office -- issuing toothless, out-of-touch directives while leaving the populace shaking their heads and wondering how such an ineffectual ninny got elected to the highest office in the land.

SBY's latest exercise in Not Getting It came this past week when he told his fellow Indonesians to stop seeking medical treatment abroad. While such an admonishment likely raised a few eyebrows among the estimated 600,000 Indonesians who spend $1.2 in so-called "medical tourism" each year, it was at least in keeping with his previous rhetoric. He said last July that he had always sought medical check-ups in Indonesia, adding that the quality of the country's hospitals and doctors was "something to be proud of."

It should come as no surprise, though, that the president is just as susceptible to the "do as I say, don't do as I do" syndrome that is so prevalent among Indonesia's elite. It turns out SBY has sought medical treatment abroad, with confirmation coming from the former head of the president's medical team and the Kuala Lumpur hospital, which brags on its website about SBY being a "regular customer" and that 60 percent of its medical tourists come from Indonesia.

Such privilege also extends to SBY's family, with first lady Ani Yudhoyono traveling to Pittsburgh for neck surgery that the president himself claimed could not be performed in Indonesia. Even the long arm of the law isn't enough to keep well-to-do Indonesians in the country, with the likes of graft convicts Muhammad Nazaruddin, Nunun Nurbaetie and others seeking treatment abroad for sometimes dubious (and sometimes legitimate) health concerns despite the protestations of law enforcers. Fleeing to Singapore seems to be a consistent theme among persons of interest in Indonesia, a fact that definitely has nothing whatsoever to do with the Indonesian legislature still refusing to ratify an extradition treaty it signed with its neighbor in 2007. After all, only a fool and a communist would see a link between that and Indonesian corruption suspects (an increasing number of whom are lawmakers) using Singapore as a convenient place to stash their assets and themselves.

But what about those who don't have the means to seek treatment abroad? Roadshows by Singapore doctors won't have much effect on the vast swath of the Indonesian populace that still lives on less than $2 a day, and the options available to the average Indonesian don't make for pretty reading. Less than half the 1,523 hospitals in the country can pass government certification standards. There is huge demand for doctors, but the level of trust in them is lacking and one does not need to search far for horror stories of medical malpractice here. While politicians furrow their brows and bicker about building more hospitals or undertaking reforms to benefit the overall public health, the poor and the desperate take matters into their own hands by using odd and sometimes dangerous pseudoscience such as "railway therapy" -- laying down on railroad tracks in the belief that electrical energy emanating from the tracks will improve their blood circulation and cure all sorts of ailments.

Even if it's not quite a paradox, it's odd nonetheless. Governments at every level are increasingly willing to provide free health care and education to the poor, placing further burdens on state coffers already strained by skyrocketing spending on fuel subsidies. Meanwhile, the well-off send their children abroad to study and spend hundreds of millions of dollars seeking VIP health care overseas. To restrict the elite's ability to do either of those would be self-defeating and needlessly intrusive, of course, but how sustainable is a system where the rich can (and do) opt out and the rest are left choosing between a bunch of unappealing options? Difficult decisions must be made as Indonesia tries to reform and modernize its services, and it's hard to see that kind of bold, far-sighted leadership coming from a regime that is so willing to call upon the people to make sacrifices it won't make itself.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

You are watching Halal TV

Allowing an unelected, religiously motivated group to regulate the media because there is a "similarity" with food? Brilliant! I don't see how this could possibly end up being abused or twisted. Translated from state news agency Antara:
Television shows to be broadcast in West Java are set to be stamped with the halal seal from the country’s highest Islamic authority, part of a plan to ensure “decent” programming for viewers.
Neneng Athiatul, chairwoman of the West Java Broadcasting Commission (KPID), said on Tuesday that her office was working on the halal certification with the provincial chapter of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI).
“The Broadcasting Law states that all programming must respect religious values, so that’s why we believe that implementing halal certification for TV broadcasts is feasible,” she said.
Under the plan by the KPID and the MUI, only “decent” television shows that do not feature themes or images “violating norms” will get the halal stamp.
Neneng claimed this was to ensure that viewers were protected from programming that “could destroy their morals or violate decency standards.”
Salim Umar, head of the fatwa, or edict, commission at the MUI’s West Java branch, insisted the principle of awarding halal status to a TV program was the same as that for branding food as halal.
“There’s a similarity between food that is consumed by the body and [TV] programs that are consumed by the spirit,” he said. 
“Halal [methods] that are used for food can also be implemented for television programs.”
The move is the latest in ongoing efforts by Indonesian officials to regulate morality in the media and in daily life.
Earlier this year, police refused to issue a permit for Lady Gaga’s already sold-out Jakarta concert, citing alleged concerns about her moral stance.

The places I'll go

Few things drive home the thought of leaving like booking a one-way plane ticket. After spending most of the last four years in Jakarta (save that brief spell in Beijing), I now have 27 days left in the place I've called home the longest since leaving Grand Island in 1999. It's Korean Airlines from here to Incheon, Korean again to Las Vegas and Southwest back to Omaha -- just one way this time, unlike last year.

The four months after that are roughly sketched out, with more college classes online taking up most of my time in addition to hopefully working part-time for one of my old papers and seeing family. I will certainly keep my eyes open for intriguing opportunities, but most of what I'm seeing so far are entry-level prep sports jobs (don't want to go back to making $20,000 a year) or high-level college and pro football beat positions (don't have the chops or interest for those).

It's what will happen after the calendar flips to 2013 that's weighing on my mind now. I have a rough idea of what I do want, a better idea of what I don't want and a vague plan for how to go about it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

When I grow up

While growing up, I envisioned myself doing a great many things as an adult. At times, I wanted to be a paleontologist, a meteorologist, a stand-up comedian, an Air Force pilot and probably many other things. It wasn't until high school that I seriously began considering newspapers as a career.

One thing I definitely did not envision myself doing was debating relativistic physics via text message with an Australian while waiting (on deadline!) to copy edit a story about the political slapfights emerging over the suddenly rising price of soybeans in Indonesia. It's weird how these things work out sometimes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

More baby steps

Step by step, little by little, person by person, the message is getting through — it's not cool to hate. Who's on the right side of history now? The Scots and ... the Muppets!
The Muppets are ending their relationship with fast food restaurant chain Chick-Fil-A in a show of support for gay marriage, the creators of the puppet troupe said on Monday.
"The Jim Henson Company has celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness for over fifty years and we have notified Chick-Fil-A that we do not wish to partner with them on any future endeavors," the company said in a statement posted on their official Facebook page.
The Henson company, named after the creator of lovable characters like Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, supplied their Creature Shop Muppet toys to Chick-Fil-A for children's meal packages but decided to sever ties after recent statements by the fast-food chain's Chief Executive Dan Cathy.
Cathy told the Baptist Press in a recent interview the company supported the "traditional family," and "the biblical definition of the family unit."
Chick-fil-A, for those who haven't been paying attention, has been quite public about idealizing the "biblical definition of the family unit" — read: not Adam and Steve. According to the Los Angeles Times, it has donated millions of dollars ($2 million in 2010 alone) to groups opposing homosexuality. It also sponsors annual Daddy Daughter Date Nights, one of those odious "purity balls" in everything but name.

I've only eaten there once, as far as I can remember, but it will remain at one. I value standing up for my beliefs and opposing homophobia more than tasty chicken sammiches.

Speaking of tasty, here's this news nugget from the people who gave us the deep-fried Mars bar:
Scotland's government has announced plans to legalize same-sex marriages.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Wednesday that legislation permitting the marriages would soon be introduced.
The measure has backing from the major Scottish political parties. It follows a public consultation on the issue.
When enacted, Scotland could become the first part of the UK to allow same-sex marriages.
The UK government has conducted a public consultation on legalizing same-sex marriages, and it has the backing of Prime Minister David Cameron. But UK officials are waiting for the results of the public consultation before taking further steps.
Bless those Scots, boldly going where the precious English fear to tread. It's nothing less than what you'd expect from those who invented the modern world.

EDIT: And now the Kiwis are joining in, too! A bill on marriage equality is going before the legislature — apparently MPs' bills can get on the agenda by being drawn at random. New Zealand just has to be a little different, doesn't it?

EDIT 2: And now ... Vietnam? Didn't see that one coming.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Burn the heretic!

Didn't the Inquisition end a few centuries ago? Not for some Catholics in India.
In brief: The public assertion that a religious statue isn’t actually crying has put prominent rationalist Sanal Edamaruku in peril. Arrest warrants have been sworn out and Edamaruku could be picked up at any time — merely for stating the obvious, in the world's most populous democracy.
This isn’t about India-bashing — far from it. The contributions of this enormously layered (and oppressed) nation are countless, and indisputable. But the hounding of Edamaruku, at the behest of religious groups using a law that is a remnant of British colonialization, threatens to return their democratic system of justice back to medieval times.
And a man’s liberty, to say the least, hangs in the balance.
This is about as patently ridiculous as it gets. Someone points out that the water dripping from a statue of Jesus was not a sign from God but drainage from a washroom, and for that he gets charged with "deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments of any class or community?” If I didn't know any better, I'd say the local archdiocese didn't want some nosy rationalist taking away its new cash cow.

Sanal Edamaruku is no stranger to controversy. He has poked holes in the mythos surrounding Mother Teresa, and he withstood a religious charlatan's attempts to kill him on live TV with tantric rituals. (If you have a few minutes, watch Part 2 and Part 3 of the challenge -- it's quite the show. I won't spoil the ending for you.) He's also spoken out against another woo-peddler who claimed he could cure HIV infection, cancer, tuberculosis or any known disease by splashing the afflicted with a bowl of fresh water.

Now, though, the local Catholic leaders are trying to silence Edamaruku by sending the police after him to answer for this victimless "crime." The Rationalist Association is mustering support for him while this works its way through the courts. If like me you are a supporter of free speech and the need for rational thought to triumph over fear and superstition, please sign the Rationalist Association's petition and, if you can spare a bit of cash, donate to Edamaruku's defense fund. With the deep pockets and political connections of the Catholic church, he'll need every bit of support he can manage.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Small wonder

You know that quaint legal idea of not being able to profit from one's crimes? It hasn't quite caught on here in Indonesia.

A brief from today's Jakarta Globe:
A court in East Kalimantan has sentenced Abdul Hafid Ahmad, the former head of Nunukan district, to two years in prison and fined him Rp 50 million ($5,300) for embezzling Rp 7 billion from the 2004-05 district budget.
The sentence on Monday from the Anti-Corruption Court in Samarinda, the provincial capital, was substanitally lower than the six years and Rp 200 million fine sought by prosecutors.
A demand for him to repay the Rp 7 billion was also turned down, with the court ruling that there was “no proof that Hafid had enjoyed the money.”
After the ruling, Hafid insisted he was innocent and said he would appeal.
In case you're keeping score at home, this guy has to pay $5,300 and spend two years in the clink — which will inevitably be reduced on appeal — but gets to keep the $740,000 he skimmed from the district budget because the prosecution couldn't prove he "enjoyed" it. Small wonder people are so skittish about taking their chances with the Indonesian legal system.

The reason it's a brief rather than a front-page story on an egregious miscarriage of justice is because graft convicts are regularly fined a fraction of the amount they skimmed off for themselves. More often than not, they're not obliged by the courts to return their ill-gotten gains, either. Small wonder Indonesia is one of the countries where graft is most associated with the cost of doing business.

Not that those tasked with enforcing the country's laws are doing themselves any favors. When mayors and district heads can ignore rulings by the Supreme Court and the police can be cowed by the mere threat of violence by religious thugs, small wonder people question how much weight the rule of law really carries in Indonesia.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Another false dawn?

Sitting around tables. Engaging in dialogue. Signing memorandums of understanding. Holding news conferences to announce the aforementioned dialogue and releasing statements saying the details will be hammered out later. If Indonesia's business class has mastered anything, it's the art of Doing Something without actually doing anything.

The latest twist in the long-running saga of the fight to control Indonesian football is an apparent peace deal between the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) and the Indonesian Football Savior Committee (KPSI). The deal -- overseen by world governing body FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation -- aims to end more than two years of internal power struggles, and the announcement of the MoU brought much back-slapping and high-minded talk of working in the best interest of the sport. The highlights are that it 1) requires the reinstatement of the four former PSSI executive committee members who resigned to form the KPSI; 2) brings the Indonesian Super League under the PSSI's jurisdiction but allows it to finish its season operating autonomously; 3) dissolves the KPSI as a governing body; 4) establishes a joint committee (half PSSI, half KPSI) to create a new top-tier league "as soon as possible" and review the PSSI statutes; and 5) requires a new PSSI congress before the end of the year.

Granted, even getting the two groups to sit down together is a minor victory given the chilly reception attempts at reconciliation talks received. As anyone paying the slightest bit of attention can tell, though, the issues plaguing Indonesia's favorite sport run far deeper and are more complex than can be rectified by a few gabfests and a new committee. There are underlying, fundamental questions that must be answered before any meaningful reform can emerge. (Sound familiar?)

Friday, June 22, 2012

The things we print

As an expat, and especially as an expat journalist, it is incumbent upon me to learn about the social mores of my country of residence and adjust my expectations and understanding. I like to think I've done a reasonable job of adapting and blending in, or at least as much as a big, hairy bule can in Indonesia.

That said, sometimes bullshit is just bullshit. Every so often, an article comes across the copy desk whose subject matter makes my eyes start twitching again. There is an understanding on the copy desk that local reporters will sometimes tend toward credulity, not asking follow-up questions or poking at a statement that doesn't pass the smell test out of either a deference to authority or a sheer lack of time. These aren't much fun to edit but are often salvageable.

Then there are articles that are just plain bullshit from soup to nuts. We've had our fair share at Globe Towers — from asking feng shui masters and fortune tellers to predict the events of 2012 to profiling spiritual consultants, shamans and a guy who is so close to Allah he can pray away the rain. We've had woo-tacular health stories about acupressure and a "healer" who says he can cure breast cancer with leeches. Seriously.

This week brought a whopper of unprecedented depths. It was on an "aesthetic wellness clinic" with a handful of entertainers singing the praises of homeopathic remedies and other pseudoscience. Homeopathy, let's remember, has yet to show any efficacy past a placebo effect and is based on the principle of water "remembering" what was once in it. The article also quotes the doctor — of what, I shudder to think — pushing various dubious-sounding remedies, including one that "eliminates free radicals from the body and heals many chronic illnesses, such as cancer." [Emphasis mine — ed.]

Then there was this passage, which was just ... ick.
Indonesian singer Marini said she also maintains her excellent physical condition by visiting the clinic.

“I’m so lucky to have come across Nano Philosophy last year,” she said. “The clinic has helped me look and feel good since then.”

The 65-year-old had previously struggled with constipation that led to severe bloating, lethargy and dull facial skin.

“The doctor treated me with Nano cocktails and organic juices,” she said. “After three treatments, I can move my bowels regularly. I’ve never felt so good in my life. My friends also said my skin looks smoother and more supple.”
I raged against this story for hours, though obviously to no avail. At the very least, I did manage to work the word "claims" into the sentence "Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine that assists the body’s natural tendency to heal itself."

We also managed to cut this bit thanks to a space crunch. Pills that give you a six-pack, beat depression, quit smoking and get over a breakup? Where do I sign?!?
“The pills improve my metabolism and make my body leaner,” said Chicco. “I now have a six-pack [abs].” 
Nano Philosophy has a wide range of homeopathic treatments for hormonal imbalance, joint pain, nerve pain and depression.
“For Chicco, we used a cocktail made of laminaria [brown algae] that destroys fat buildup and excretes them through his lymphatic system,” Muliana said.
The clinic also prescribes homeopathic pills for reducing stress, quitting smoking or even getting over a bad breakup. 
“The lovesick remedy is usually prescribed after a relationship breakup or a sudden bereavement,” Muliana said. “It enhances the mood and energizes patients to continue their lives.”
The pills are taken twice daily, in the morning and at night. Muliana would not say how much they cost.
You know what they call alternative medicine that's proven to work? Medicine.