Dan.. Anda pun Terhipnotis

Kontan tabloid no. 6 hari ini memuat artikel dengan judul di atas, tentang juru hipnotis muda bernama Romy Rafael dalam acara reality show-nya di TV dan usaha klinik hipnotisnya. Sekian kali saya menonton acaranya dan acara-acara serupa di teve, sekian kali itu pula menjadi geram sendiri atas kebohongan-kebohongan yang dipertontonkan buat khalayak pemirsa. Pihak media, sebagai penyandang gelar pilar keempat demokrasi dengan misinya yang--konon--agung, seharusnya tertantang untuk menyelidiki kesahihan dan kebenaran acara demikian, bukan mengekspos keanehan tanpa tertarik sedikitpun untuk memberi penjelasan rasional. Rakyat yang semakin susah hidupnya memang perlu hiburan segar, tapi bukan dengan menyajikan pepesan kosong yang kian mengaburkan batas-batas realitas dan absurditas.


A new blog

Started a new blog. Somewhat laconic, but it suits my mood these days. Dedicated to L, my only daughter; hope she recovers soon :(


On Decision Making

"There is another angle to this. We may also choose to do nothing --like the late prime minister of India, Narasimha Rao, who was famous for not making decisions even on crucial matters of state. Not making a decision was also a decision. Another chief minister (from my home province in India) was well known for his non-committal replies. 'We will see' (neither 'yes' nor 'no') became a hallmark of his nine-year administration." -- D. Chandramouli, Jakpost Oct. 24

On Fasting

The challenge is not just fasting from dawn to dusk, but in avoiding the temptation to overeat after the fast is over.
Fasting is not an end in itself. It is a process -- a journey one goes through, with a positive outlook, to test the power of mind over body. -- D. Chandramouli, Jakpost Oct. 24


Some notes about my Notes

NN is under reconstruction. Our maintenance division is working hard to crack the problem ;)
NN will be up and blogging soon. Thanks.

Update: I have sort of finished modifying this "old" template by Caz. The problem I'm having now is that it doesn't view well with my browser, Opera, or with Firefox. It behaves the way I wanted under the Internet Explorer. (Blogging Lesson #102: Don't fight your browser!) I also have to fix the bug with the Freefind search. *Sigh*


On human choices

The Paradox of Choice; Why more is less, Barry Schwartz.We might have an abundance of options, but the multiplicity conceals within it hidden costs. Rather than liberating us, the banquet of choices available to us has enslaved, tyrannized and paralyzed us. Schwartz seeks to undermine from within the whole idea of the self-interested, utility-maximizing consumer, arguing that the theory of choice ignores the fact that the very act of maximizing desires tend to leave us all worse off. It assumes too much: that we are all-time rational, independent individuals, and capable of making up minds without regrets. Many goods we seek are "positional", e.g. having the best haircult in the class or the nicest view of the lake, all impossible to achieve.

The Era of Choice: The ability to Choose and its Transformation of Contemporary Life, Edward Rosenthal. Less polemical, more eclectic in intellectual influences, but rather flabby and digressing. Edward wants to demonstrate that the ability to choose "has transformed what we are as persons and as a society." Like Schwartz, believes we are not always adept at weighing up risks. We fear getting into an aeroplance while at same time we may be happy to smoke ourselves to death.

The Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle, Cass Sunstein. Salient sources of fear, e.g. of terror. war, pandemic,etc . Citizen consumers suffer from systematic "probability neglect," whereby they ignore the probability of harm and focus on the worst possible outcome, irrespective the likelihood. This is the main problem, at least in today's living. This precautionary principle, which began in Europe, simply means that in risky situations we should fear the worst and then play safe. Argues that this principle is an incoherent and potentially dangerous response to them. Overall, the idea of utility-maximizing consumer has its uses but turns out to be too shallow a foundation on which to construct either a social theory or a human identity. (Notes from James Harkin's reviews, FT, Oct. 15-16.)


On the ability to mend and repair

"Repairing and restoring are difficult and slow arts. It's become a cliche, but is nevertheless true, that we live in a throw-away society, where seven or eight times out of 10 is cheaper to discard an appliance than to mend it. Many objects are designed to be more and less unmendable."

... The ability to repair and mend things is deeply connected to the ability to repair and mend ourselves." -- Harry Eyres, FT Last Word, Oct 15-16, 2005


Bird flu and its pandemic risk

To update my earlier post on the subject (titled 'The Pandemic of Our Time'), here's a link from ADB sent to me by John MacDougall on the avian influenza and the risk of an influenza pandemic. One who finds it rather ADB-ish can instead trace this link from WHO (but then it may be a bit WHO-ish).


Sahur Blogging 4: Quote of the Week / On Scarcity

"Capital isn't scarce; vision is." Sam Walton, as narrated by Simpleology guru Mark Joyner

Sahur Blogging 3: Sign of the Town

The sign more or less reads: "It's your choice, Sir. Speeding or Reckless Driving=swollen face or damaged car/motorbike. Slower Driving=Safety." It was not a standard sign made by the DLLAJR, the local traffic authority. I've come across such street signs not only in my vicinity but also in the many somewheres I have travelled in the country. They invariably overwhelm me with mixed feelings. One interpretation, I guess, is that it reflects what one thinks of the underpinnings and fabrics of the society." I may want to share my own interpretation later on. Have you BTW ever thought this way?


Sahur Blogging 2: The Ulysses Awards

"Verdicts" by the Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage will be out this Saturday (15 Oct), and I'm somewhat looking forward to the results (as if it would prove me something). According to OpenDemocracy the finalists are:

* Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq, by Riverbend;
* Of Wars: Letters to Friends”, by Caroline Emcke;
* Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier, by Alexandra Fuller ;
* A Season in Mecca: Account of a Pilgrimage, by Abdellah Hammoudi;
* The Outlaw Sea: Chaos and Crime on the World’s Oceans, by William Langewiesche;
* Maximum City: Bombay lost and found, by Suketu Mehta;
* Death in the Little Pentagon: The Secret Killing Fields of the Peruvian Army, by Ricardo Uceda.

It quickly came to my mind that most of these writings were promises of a wealth of "classic" extremes--abnormal or twisted situations or views of life being taken as the central focuses: wars and crimes, criming and soldiering. They are great themes every writer envious to write about, but war stories have cloyed me up here. Great reports they are, they come with a question for us to answer, on why in our age we still have to be exposed with such horrors and monstrositites. I've learned enough how some societal fabrics are spun in this life, so I hardly found nomination of such stories surprising. In fact, my guess is that the Baghdad Burning may be the winner, due to the double (if not multi-) sensations that the work carries with it. It is about living the Post-Saddam Hussein's Iraq (whose occupation by international troops was a modern time tragedy in itself) and the fact it was taken from a blog written by a blogger who is Iraqian by the name of Riverbend, who is a 27 year old female. My sympathy with what's been going on in and with Iraq and the people has nothing to do with this, but finding Baghdad Burning win will be cause enough for me to take a long deep breath and to smile relief; otherwise, my next hope is A Season in Mecca.


Sahur Blogging

The first week of Ramadhan will be over today, and 3 more weeks are ahead. Things of significance (or the lack thereof) have unfolded quietly, and I've just been unable to post on anything since the first day of the holy month. Outside my windows muezzin's calls for early morning prayers are pierching the lazy windy morning. I still have nothing to crow about, but this is definitely my first sahur blogging.


Happy Ramadhan!

Best wishes and greetings in peace to all Muslims in the world on the coming of the holy month of self restraint: Marhaban, ya Ramadhan!

Indonesia's Fuel Subsidy-Reduction Compensation Program

(Program Kompensasi Pengurangan Subsidi Bahan Bakar Minyak -- PKPS-BBM Tahun 2005)

Following is a complete summary of the government's plans relating to its subsidy reduction program. Reliability is very high; all data have been gathered from scattered governmental sources and media reports.

Sector of Education
Total amount: 6.27 trillion rupiah.
i) Bantuan Operasional Sekolah (BOS ) - Block grants for state and private elementary as well as junior-high schools including: SD/MI/SDLB/SMP; MTs/SMPLB; To support the mandatory 9-year basic education policy
ii) Bantuan Khusus Murid (BKM) - Special Assistance for students of senior high schools, state and private, including SMA/SMK/MA/SMLB. Executing agencies: Minister of education and Minister of Religion.
Beneficiary: 28,65 million of elementary students and 10,85 million of junior high students
Time frame: Starting 1st semester of 2005-2006 education year.

Sector of Health
Total amount: 3.87 trillion rupiah.
i) Program Jaminan Pemeliharaan Kesehatan bagi Masyarakat Miskin (PJKMM), or Program to Guarantee Health Maintenance for the Poor, namely free health service provision at Puskesmas and its networks, health referrals, and in-patient treatment in appointed state or private hospitals (Class III in-patients), with funding channeled by PT. ASKES;
ii) Program Penyelenggaraan Pelayanan Kesehatan di Puskesmas Puskesmas service provision and referrals to appointed hospital (Class-III in-patients) with funding channeled by authorized budget users appointed by Minister of Health. Executing agency: Minister of Health
Beneficiary: 36,146,700 poor.
Time frame: Starting 1 July - 31 Dec. 2005

Sector of Infrastructure

Total amount: 3.34 trillion rupiah.
Infrastructure development for backward villages. Each village will get Rp250 m per year. Executing agency: Minister of Public Works.
Beneficiary: 12.834 poor villages; selection of poor villages with help from Ministry for Development of Left Behind Regions. Note: According to statistics poor villages amount to
Time framce: August 2005 onward.


Intended stakeholders: i) Low income households; ii) farmers; iii) laborers; and, iv) businesspeople.

A.Fiscal incentives;
B. Reform in the trade sector;
C. Reform in the transportation sector;
D. Presidential decree on Govt's Purchase Price of rice;
E. Direct cash subsidy.

A. The fiscal incentives. Objective: A number of policies aimed to stengthen industrial competitiveness, improve business climate and compensate to household groups (particularl workers) not targetted at the direct cash programi. Time frame: Effective October 1, 2005 up to January 2006.
1. Status change of value added taxation on primary products to non-taxable goods. Purpose: To give incentives to primary agricultural products. Time frame: Effective January 2006.
2. Postponement of State non-tax revenue charges to export and import transactions. Objective: To smoothen and ease transactional costs in exportation/importation. Time frame: Specifics will be stipulated in the amendment of PP No. 44/2003, which will be effective for 3 months starting November 1, 2005.
3. Uplifting ceiling of nontaxable income brackets. Objective: to ease taxpaying burden particularly to low income workers. PTKP subject to tax will increase from Rp 1 million per month to Rp 1,1 million per month. Time frame: January 1, 2006.
4. Exemption of import tariffs for some products. Objective: to improve industrial competitiveness to users particularly SMEs. In regard to sugar, import duties will be reduced by heeding the interests of sugar cane farmers, processing industry and end users. Import duties will be totally uplifted to the following products:
a) Raw materials and heavy-duty industrial components, to 0%;
b) Importation of engine assemblies for public transport, to 0%;
c) Import duties for sugar:
- Raw sugar import duties reduced from Rp 550/kg to Rp 250/kg;
- Rafinated sugar from Rp 790/kg to Rp 550/kg;
- White sugar from Rp 790/kg to Rp 550/kg;
d) Import duties for energy-related converter kits.

5. Expediting cancellation of regional regulations on taxes and retributions. Objective: to improve business climate; on-going program, part of the government's annual workplan for 2005 and 2006, for which purpose the law No. 34/2002 will be amended.
6. Reduction of tax basis for public-transport vehicles.
Objective: to ease the burden of public transportation, subject to MOHA regulation No 16/2005.

B. Reform in the Trade Sector. Objective: Efforts to smoothen flows of goods so as to increase industrial competitiveness and product domestic products from unfair competition.
(a) Termination of technical verification processes in importation of salt and sugar for pharmacheutical purposes; tire cord; filter cloth; gunny cloth (goni); and gunny- sacks.
(b) Addition of priority and green lanes to importing producers;
(c) Combating smuggling by applying the so called red line to general importers of lubricant, cigarrettes, garments, shoes, cosmetics, and electronic goods, and tightening the checking of Letters of Origin (SKA).

C. Reform in the Transportation Sector. Objective: Endeavor to curb high cost economy. Attainment of lower cost is expected to improve competitiveness of Indonesia's products in domestic and international markets and strengthen domestic economic integration. Main target in the reform is more competitive agricultural products.
a) Reduction of truck-weighing stations (jembatan timbang) from 127 to 64;
b) Reduction of container handling charge (CHC) and set surcharges to not exceed 50%, which is expected to lower terminal handling charge (THC) from US$ 150/container to US$ 93;
c) Cancellation of 36 local govt-imposed regulations in the sector exempting charges on overloaded containers; time frame: effective October 2005.

D. Presidential decree on Govt's Purchase Price of rice. Objective: Through amendment of Presidential decree no 2/2005, it aims to maintain stability of farmers' income vis a vis the fuel price hikes.
Scope: The GOI will increase by 36.2% its purchase price of unhusked rice from farmers; the GOI is indicating to increase the rice price by 34.4%. Time frame: The decree on rice takes effect on 1 January 2006

E. Direct cash subsidy. In place of commodity-subsidy, the GOI is now implementing direct cash subsidy 15.5 low-income households (approx. 30% of national households). Time frame: 1 October 2005 until end of the year (3 months of October through December 2005. Possible continuation until end of 2006. Amount: Rp 100.000 per month.

Vouchers for direct cash subsidies for poor families, Rp300,000 for 3 months: October, November and December 2005, to cover 15.5 million families, or 62 million people


1. BPS to census the poor;
2. Data to be sent to and validated by Ministry of Social Welfare;
3. The Ministry to instruct PT Pos Indonesia to print the fuel compensation vouchers;
4. Vouchers to be distributed to regional postal offices;
5. Regional postal offices to cooperate with local governments;
6. Vouchers to be distributed to Kecamatan (sub-districts) all over Indonesia;
7. Kecamatan to distribute vouches to Kelurahan (Village offices);
8. Village officials to hand in vouchers to beneficiaries.

Variables to Identify the poor:
1. Size of home less than 10m2;
2. Floor made of soil, bamboo, wood;
3. Walls of low quality
4. Dependence on public toilets/latrines;
5. Unprotected source of water;
6. Nonelectrification;
7.Use of wood or carcoal for cooking;
8. Consume no meat in last 1 weekl;
9. Meal frequency only once a day;
10. No new clothing in last 1 year;
11. No financial capacity to go to puskesmas or hospital when ill;
12.Breadwinner has a job;
13.Breadwinner eduicated as low as elementary school level or less;
14. Owning assets of Rp 500, 000 or less;
15. Recipient of no business credits in last 1 year.

Very poor: 16 million
Poor : 24 million
Near poor : 22 million
Total: 62 million



Issues: Widespread perception of totally free education, while actually it is very highly limited. Each schools is allowed to charge students if the amount of BOS subsidy is smaller than its actual need.


Issues: Actual numbers being bigger than that targeted by the center, local governments are expected to mobilize additional funds; but this assumption is too optimistic. There have been reports on rejection of some appointed hospitals in providing services to the poor.


Issues: This program cannot cater to all needy villages. By design it only cover about 50% of the nation's poor. Even some regions that have been selected as beneficiaries still have not enjoyed it.


Issues: Inaccuracy and discrepancy of data on the poor. Susceptibility to corruption.>

The Year of Living Utopianly

If complaining changed things, the world would've been a better place long before the first time we discovered it.

The other day I found a small writing pad from last year's symposium of the "National Symposium on Poverty Reduction in Indonesia." I'd been following the issue in the last two years, but on that particular other day a personal conclusion was established: all such stuff simply doesn't work. It'll only be terrible wastes of resources. Nah, that's quite an establishment, but not a complaint (and I'm not complaining either now). In fact I also made a vow to refrain from complaining to or cursing about the government--even silently ;p The problem any government faces in making changes is no dissimilar in nature to the difficulty a citizen faces in affecting personal changes.

OK, now I just want to take some notes on a reality-check article from William Easterly. He recently wrote on something that crossed my mind: the practically futile efforts in the "politically correct," formal fight against poverty. He wrote about the fiasco too, at the global level that is, with amazingly familiar conclusions.

Democracy Comes Second

When system fails, people go for personality. Sometimes I think my country needs enlightened bigotry, though I realize the term is contraditio in terminis. Still, Guido Tabellini will be unforgiven--for his reminders on Democracy quoted almost intact below, from Democracy Comes Second.

"But how important is democracy for economic success? Not much, the empirical evidence suggests. This might appear surprising. After all, is it not true that virtually all rich countries have democratic forms of government, while the poorest countries (mainly in Africa) are non-democracies?"

"The positive correlation between income and democracy that one sees across countries could be due to reverse causation: democracy is more likely to persist as a country grows richer. It could also be due to special historical or cultural circumstances: some societies are just more successful than others, both in terms of economic development and with regard to their ability to develop and maintain democratic political institutions.

Whatever the reason for the observed positive cross-country correlation between income and democracy, it should not be confused with causality. Being democratic does not seem important in securing economic success."

This does not mean that democracy is unimportant. But the sequence of reforms is critical for successful economic development, with economic reforms coming first. When an open and well functioning market system is in place, democracy has a much better chance to lead to lasting prosperity.

An important reason for this is that, in order to create a successful market system, the state must respect basic individual rights: the rule of law, private property, and the enforcement of justice. These fundamental rights are part and parcel of democratic government. But when it comes to economic development, these fundamental rights are more important than other purely political aspects of democracy, such as universal suffrage and genuine political competition.

This is how the Western world became democratic in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Economic liberalism came first, political liberalism later. But today's young democracies have to do everything much faster. They don't have the luxury of restricting suffrage to property owners, or to more educated citizens.

Nevertheless, we should remember the lessons of history. Political reforms are more likely to be successful if they are preceded by economic reforms. We should insist that Egypt or Pakistan improve their market system, apply the rule of law, and open their economies to international trade and capital movements. Allowing free elections and true political competition is also critically important, but this should follow economic reforms, not precede them."


Who was tolling the bell?

The three blasts shattering parts of Bali, Indonesia, put a tarnish image yet again on the bloody face of Islam in general and the moslems in the country in particular. Jemaah Islamiyah was already branded the alleged culprits. Rohan Gunaratna, head of a terrorism research center in Singapore said, "The only the group with motives and capabilities to attact western interests in Indonesia in a coordinated fashion is Jemaah Islamiyah." A fatal labelling, if you asked me. These days some local tv stations are running amateurish videos from a tourist (with identity protected) who happened to be videoing the site before one of the blasts. They were all three suicidal bombs, concluded the police, rather too quickly. Were they? if anything, all this news has eclipsed reports on the first "bomb" when the government hiked the fuel prices--a decision feared to kill many poor.

Moreover, before the blasts foreign governments had issued several warnings of the possible acts of terrorism. But who blew them off? what was the motive? How on earth could agencies predict terrors? Endless questions continue being asked and as many answers are being made available. Conspiracy theories eventually work to provide the thinking paths one wants to believe in the attempt to design "truths." Conspiracy theories work best when they are impossible to prove.

Thus Donne's question "For whom the bell tolls?" is as vague a pertinent one to ask as mine: "Who was tolling the bell?" The truth either doesn't exist, or it has fled the country. The hoi polloi cannot any more expect or afford a "one-size-for-all."


G30S-BBM and the Bali Blasts

the last two mornings and nights of september saw jakarta an unusually jammed city. cars and motorbikes lined up along the roads where gas stations were, making the queues for fueling the engines. one local newspaper headlined a warning: watchout for the G-30S-BBM, alluding the government's plan to hike fuel prices to a mystery still shrouding the country's history with the 30th september 1965 a coup d'tat.

the eve of this new month of october sent omens for the rest of the year. with the holy month of ramadhan coming very soon, the government on late 30th September finally announced the outrageous news most people had feared to hear: the second fuel price hikeof the year since last march. like many people, i had anticipated the bad news, but still couldn't escape from the shattering news. the hike turned out to be at an average of 126.6%! the figure had come from nowhere transparent. government officials including the vice president himself had explicitly said it would be just around 50%-60%.

as if the blow were't fatal enough. on the way to the airport i heard from a local radio evening news that two bombs went off at kafe nyoman and kafe menega in jimbaran, and another one at kuta square, bali, killing more than twenty locals and tourists and injuring even many more...