Showing posts from May, 2011

Animals and Indonesia

Four Corners last night aired a disturbing story about the appalling conditions in some Indonesian abattoirs involved in slaughtering cattle exported live from Australia. The painful, drawn-out killing of the cattle was the stuff of nightmares, and reflects badly both on the Indonesian abattoirs and their staff, as well as the Australian meat industry figures who knew there were problems but allowed it to continue. It has been interesting to observe the way animals are treated in Indonesia. Not well, in many cases. Monkeys are dressed in silly outfits and forced to perform stunts on the side of the road. Live chickens are strung up by their feet, tightly clustered in batches as they are transported to the market. Scrawny cats are kicked and teased by children as they scrounge for scraps of food in piles of rubbish. In a way, these things are not surprising. This is a poor country in which many people are struggling to make ends meet. Animals are considered almost exclusively for t

Suction cups, ear candling and other bunkum

I'm a sceptic. And proud. I mean 'sceptic' in the real sense, not the way it has been used as a euphemism in the climate change debate for a head-in-the-sand denialist. (As it happens, I suspect a real sceptic would rationally assess the evidence and conclude there is reason to take action to reduce carbon emissions, if only as a precaution against calamity.) My scepticism is all about seeking out evidence to assess a given proposition, and stripping out emotion and subjectivity in working out what is genuine, and what is merely wishful thinking. For that reason, I'm doubtful about the merits of medical treatment outside the mainstream. My reasoning is best encapsulated by the quite brilliant Tim Minchin and his beat poem, Storm : “By definition”, I begin “Alternative Medicine”, I continue “Has either not been proved to work, Or been proved not to work. You know what they call “alternative medicine” That’s been proved to work? Medicine.” For me that knoc

Prison no impediment for terrorists

New research from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute suggests Indonesia's prisons, far from setting terrorist inmates on the straight-and-narrow, are giving them space to organise themselves and plan new attacks. The full report is available here , but Greg Sheridan has two interesting pieces on the study in The Australian today. In his news piece , he summarises the research thus: TERRORISTS have set up shadow governments in Indonesian prisons, recruiting members, sending money from jail to jail and, at least once, co-ordinating an attack outside. They run businesses, use mobile phones to preach sermons to followers outside and dominate prison mosques, says a report released last night by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. And in his analysis piece , he explains the significance of the research: It is worth noting that this kind of fresh, empirical evidence is as precious as gold in the war on terror. Instead of attributing motives and causes and syndr

Corruption forum

I went along to an interesting panel discussion on corruption in Indonesia , hosted by the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club (of which, I'm happy to say, I'm now a member). Despite only two of the four advertised guests attending - Donal Fariz from Indonesia Corruption Watch and Amien Sunaryadi from the World Bank - it was useful to get some understanding of the challenges faced in combatting corruption in one of the world's most corrupt large countries . The panellists were confident that the right systems had been put in place to tackle corruption, but the challenge was for them to be properly implemented. The panellists talked of powers that have been granted to corruption-busting bodies, primarily the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi , that hadn't been utilised. In some cases, instances of corruption were being dealt with by offenders merely having to repay their illgotten gains - hardly a penalty likely to discourage people from trying their luck. I asked the

Inside a tragedy

The Jakarta Globe yesterday published a very fine account of the horrible racial pogrom in February in which three members of the Ahmadiyah sect were killed while police watched on. Ahmad Masihuddin, Irwan and Bebi are the lucky ones. Ahmad recalls the moment when a man attempted to mutilate his genitals, while Irwan has developed an intense fear of water. Bebi cannot speak, due to a dislocated jaw, and must eat through a straw. Read the rest here.

Malaysia's awkward mulitculturalism

Last week I spent a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur, taking in the fantastic sites and smells of a city that's small enough to function smoothly and large enough to keep a curious tourist amused, for a few days at least. But one thing you can't help but notice when you arrive is the creepy 1Malaysia campaign, the touchy-feely multicultural propaganda effort that appears based on the notion that if you hit people hard enough with a message they'll meekly acquiesce. Peering down at you from billboards, dominating bus stops and even blaring through your car radio are state-sponsored messages of happy diversity, emphasising how harmonious the relationship is between Malaysia's three main ethnic groups - Malays, Indians and Chinese. Not content with plying people with images of multicultural children smiling as if they miss out on dinner if they don't, the campaign uses the distant stare of Malaysia's prime minister, Najib Razak, to ram home both its message a

Trying accused terrorists

News that prosecutors have decided against seeking the strongest possible penalty for Abu Bakar Bashir is a disappointment to those of us that want to see the legal system are the primary forum for seeking justice against terrorists. The prosecutors' decision emerged in a Jakarta court hearing today into terror offences. The prosecutors have dropped some charges and are now seeking life in prison rather than the death penalty. According to Agence France-Presse: Prosecutors at his trial in Jakarta said the charge of providing firearms and explosives for terrorist acts, for which the 72-year-old preacher could have faced the death penalty, "could not be proven convincingly". The charge of inciting acts of terrorism was also dropped, leaving only the accusation of providing funding to a terrorist group, for which the prosecutors sought a maximum life sentence. Bashir's fellow travellers in Indonesia may complain at the severity of the sentence sought (as the

Starry, starry night

There are few things sadder in the world than children who grow up not seeing the stars at night. Staring up at the skies in wonderment is a universal experience across time and place, but there are some who get the opportunity only rarely. Jakartans are in that category. The abundance of light and pollution generated by the city makes it impossible to see anything in the sky at night beyond a haze and the occasional glimpse of moon. Which is perhaps why it was so thrilling to go to Jakarta's planetarium yesterday. Seated on the fringes of several schoolgroups, I found it heartwarming to hear their shrieky excitement as the room went black and the 'sky' was filled with twinkling stars. A great way to spend an hour in Jakarta. A bit of a shame it's harder to experience the real thing.

Ossie, Ossie, Ossie?

Burdened by an insatiable curiousity and too much time on my hands, last night I ventured to witness the rally held in honour of Osama bin Laden at the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI - Front Pembela Islam) facility. The FPI have a reputation for hardline religious values on a swathe of moral and social issues ( see the Wikipedia listing for the history ), so it's little surprise they would leap on the bin Laden death as a cause célèbre. At the rally, my lack of Bahasa Indonesia language skills only put me at a marginal disadvantage - much of the evening was spent shouting condemnation of Barack Obama, the United States, Israel, and even on one occasion, Australia. Meanwhile any mention of bin Laden was met with rousing cheers. And all was followed by folksongs, though thankfully we were spared Kumbaya It was the usual rah-rah ranting and raving to the true believers, who in this case numbered about a thousand and were overwhelmingly male. I went along because I was c

So Singapore

My partner and I last night jumped online to buy tickets for the World Netball Championship 2011 happening in Singapore in July. The experience of buying the tickets, through the ticketing agency SISTIC , was a great reflection of the often Orwellian Singapore mindset. Soon after you start the purchasing process, a message in red tells you that your IP address is being monitored. Sure, many websites might record your IP address, but few would have the gumption to tell you: "Your IP address XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX is being recorded for your security ." (emphasis added) Then when you get to the point of choosing your seating category, the drop down menu invites you to choose your price. On the list lies just a single item - "Standard Price". And finally when buyers are attempting to select seats, the drop down menu carries a bewilderingly large array of options, leaving by far and away the most tempting option being the one at the top - "Let the system assign th

Osama's death raises Indonesia terror risk?

Tom Allard writes in the Fairfax papers on Tuesday that Indonesia is preparing for a post-Osama attack on Western interests : INDONESIA is bracing for retaliatory terrorist acts targeting Westerners as it emerged that the country's most wanted militant, Umar Patek, was arrested earlier this year in the same Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden met his end. The country's anti-terrorism chief told The Age that he "definitely" expects an attack. "Every terror action [from the perspective of violent Islamists] will be replied by another attack," said Ansyaad Mbai, the head of Indonesia's National Anti-Terrorism Agency. It's a sensible analysis, trading on the notion that bin Laden was of significant symbolic rather than practical value to the jihadist cause, a view I suspect is close to the mark. The abundance of willing foot soldiers in Indonesia and a renewed sense of injustice is the right formula for further violence. It's pleasing th

My durian debut

I've only been in this fine city a few weeks, but I already have a contender for my favourite little afternoon tea spot: The White Box , in Menteng. The place exudes funk, with a white theme throughout the cafe only interrupted by the occasional bit of faux-graffiti wall art. The staff are nonchalant but get the job done, while the menu has enough quirky and unusual items that the sheer length of it (a common feature of Indonesian menus) is not as off putting as it as at other places. Even though I was there on a quiet weekday afternoon, there was some live acoustic music happening out the back, with the resident strummer making fine use of his six-stringer. Come back during a busier time, and I suspect the place would be a hive of activity. It was here that I popped my cherry - to use a culinary metaphor - for a distinctive Indonesian fruit: durian . Okay, so it was in the form of a durian mousse cake. But with the warnings attached to the fresh durian, a food that has bee