The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


­­­­­­­­­­Diplomacy sashays down the catwalk                                  

Yuku Moko comes across as an infectiously affable guy, a Falstaff of fashion.
The cut-and-sew industry the rotund Sulawesian inhabits tends to attract extremes – the reserved craftsperson that prefers to let her or his work speak for itself – and the flamboyant entrepreneur whose personality is marketed as part of the product.
Moko is in the latter class – but there’s one way to get him riled:  Suggest he’s a designer.
“I’m an artist,” he emphasised. “I draw and paint.  Others do the cutting and stitching and modelling. Listen to me, please: If you call me a designer I will get a red-colored face.”
Instead he got rounds of applause for his collection of mainly evening and casual wear “dedicated to peace and friendship between the people of New Zealand and Indonesia.”
The Indonesian Government’s NZ Embassy recently staged its Extravaganza fashion show in Wellington.  It featured seven leading creators, who, with the one exception, were happy to call themselves designers,

The two-hour invitation-only occasion attracted more than 100 and included half the diplomatic corps stationed in the capital “This is the first event of its kind in NZ promoting the richness and diversity of Indonesian design,” said Ambassador Jose Tavares, who was born in East Timor famous for its unique woven arts.
“We are showcasing the versatility of Indonesians, modern fashion trends in the archipelago and our provincial textiles.
“These include songket (patterned hand woven materials with gold and silver threads), ikat (woven dyed yarns) and, of course, batik and introducing them to the NZ fashion scene.”
Added MC Joannes E Tandjung, who has been studying for a doctorate at the Sydney Law School on the legal protection of batik:  “These are more than just clothes.  They symbolise the beauty of our great nation.  Fashion is an effective tool of diplomacy.”   
Apart from Moko the designers were veteran Rudy Chandra who specialises in evening wear and Carla Setja Atmadja who started in the fashion business with silver jewellery made in Bali.
Nita Seno Adji trained as a lawyer but moved into developing hand embroidered dresses; his work featured wayang (shadow puppet) figures and butterflies.

Defrico Audy’s offering included designs inspired by the culture and fabrics of South Sulawesi which he described as “glamorous, edgy, eclectic and sometimes ethnic.”
Handy Hartono used batik to effect in cotton clothes for women and men: “The basic concept is comfort and simplicity.”
Sikie Purnomo studied fashion design in Melbourne, followed by courses in Hong Kong and Milan before starting his own labels in 2003.  He’s now producing Muslim clothes and exporting to the Middle East.
Most of the designs were liberating.  Absent were the cocoon styles which wrap Indonesian women into shapeless bundles like rolled carpets, crimping their movements.
Most mannequins in Extravaganza were willowy Caucasian Kiwis who towered over the designers.  This created a curious effect.  The sombre tones of many materials stood out against the women’s white skins.  The contrast highlighted the clothes in a way seldom seen when worn by Southeast Asians.
The models also showed the outfits with flair and energy, particularly when parading the second half of Moko’s 20-piece assemblage. Bra-less they bounced around the room on the Wellington waterfront as though the extraordinary designs worn with élan were everyday wear, something tossed on because it was first in the wardrobe. 
This suited Wellington, a multicultural city and film industry hub where dress freedom rules and street talk includes Maori, Hindi, South Pacific languages and more increasingly Chinese. The styles and colors also matched the season, as summer yields to fall, or what Kiwis call autumn.
“You don’t normally associate trench coats with Indonesia,” said Tandjung while introducing the show.  “But this is the Southern Hemisphere and windy Wellington”.

Moko, 64, (right) originally known as Mohamed Yauri Yusuf Helmi Abdul Auf Mokodompis is from Makassar. The youngest of ten, his father was a musician and his mother made her own kebaya (tight Javanese blouses).
 He didn’t start out in the rag trade where every colleague is a darling, but in the profession of dour suits and wary decisions hedged by caveats.  For more than 20 years he was a banker, which is as distant from glamor as denim is from silk.
 “I was naughty,” he said.  “I probably worked only two days a week.  It was so frustrating, because my heart was elsewhere, but I needed the security and money.
“After my parents died and my marriage collapsed I retired and went to Japan for six months.  I’d always been an artist and got involved in advertising and interior design. I had a breakthrough when Ibu Tien (wife of the late President Soeharto) bought a cushion I’d made.
“Banking taught me to be careful with money. Despite this I’m probably not a good businessman because I sometimes tell buyers that the clothes they want are unsuitable.
“My market is the elite and each piece is individual. There’s no danger a woman will go to a function and find someone else wearing the same dress.”
He produces about 20 “art products” a month which sell for around Rp 10 – 12 million (US $770 – 915).  He’s closed his shop and spends much time on promotions overseas and at events in shopping malls.
He refuses to be pinned down to any region: “My inspiration comes from Sabang to Merauke. There are so many clever artists, so much potential in Indonesia. But there’s still a way to go, a lack of confidence.
“The concept of malu (shame, and not being different) needs to be used in moderation. There’s too much materialism, a focus on quantity not quality.
“My philosophy is to stay humble, work hard and be kind. Train your mind to see good in everything.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 11 May 2016)

Saturday, May 07, 2016


Fifty Shades of Godzone Green    


Something has been underway in New Zealand that would be impossible in Indonesia. 

Imagine [you probably can’t] suggesting the red and white should be replaced because the bicolor is bland and too similar to Singapore’s. 

Some Kiwis reckoned their flag had passed its wave-by date and it’s time to hoist another.  Cheerleader for this idea has been Prime Minister John Key.

The traditional flag includes the Union Jack implying the nation is still a teenage British colony.  They also whinge [complain] that the Southern Cross constellation looks like a first draft version of Australia’s ensign. 

After a NZ$26 million [Rp 240 billion] search for alternative and a referendum, Kiwis voted 57-43 per cent to stay with the old design. 

Any country still seeking a symbol for its identity without resorting to violence must be laid back. Which makes it the ideal holiday destination for Indonesians seeking cal and a break from the Republic’s intense political culture and crowded streets. My Indonesian wife calls NZ the Sleeping Beauty.

Although a self-governing nation since 1907 Godzone [God’s own country] is still a work in progress.

It was the first to give women the vote and introduce pensions for all. It became a nuclear free zone banning US warships much to the world power’s fury, and more recently legalised same-sex marriages.

Conservatives were distressed, but the deeply religious are now in a minority.  That shouldn’t upset Indonesians considering a visit; faith is a personal issue and tolerance levels high.  Discrimination is illegal.

The first settlers planted churches before crops and set out to create a just and fair society with a cradle-to-grave health and social welfare system.

Their offspring, having entered a land of milk and honey now seek fresh spiritual succor. You’ll find beautiful old churches though largely empty. The new buildings are temples and mosques to meet the needs of migrants.

Issues that in other lands push snarling citizens into the streets to burn tyres and shake fists are rare – unless the All Blacks lose. Rugby is the national religion and the NZ team world champions – not bad for a country of only 4.5 million but 30 million sheep. 

Aotearoa, the alternative name for NZ, translates as Land of the Long White Cloud.  That’s what you’ll see if the weather’s right as your Boeing glides across what droll locals call ‘The Ditch’, the 1,500 kilometer Tasman Sea that separates NZ from Australia.

The first Polynesian navigators who magically steered their giant canoes through uncharted waters, made landfall about 1,000 years ago.

They settled in the last habitable empty land on earth, found fearless flightless birds like the kiwi and giant moa, now extinct. They became the Maori and now form 15 per cent of the population. Their culture and language has become part of everyday life for all.

Although later arrivals known as Pakeha came from Britain [hence the Union Jack] NZ is multicultural with 213 separate ethnic groups.   About 5,000 Indonesians live in the country. 

Be prepared to be confused with the better known Filipinos who account for almost ten per cent of the nation’s half million Asians.  A quarter of the country’s population was born overseas.

Indonesia and NZ, though physically distant, are shaky isles sharing places on the Pacific Rim of Fire.

Homesick visitors hankering for familiar sights will enjoy the topography of towering volcanoes and lush valleys, full of mystery and 50 shades of green.  Ferns are widespread, and like the kiwi another national symbol.

Indonesians’ hunger for anything with rice will be satisfied in the cities and bigger towns where Asian restaurants abound.  Elsewhere it’s best to develop a taste for meat pies and tomato sauce, and ‘filled rolls’, long buns stuffed with meats and salads.

To really know the locals try farmstays or bed-and-breakfasts [called B and Bs]. Decoding the vowels can be tricky.  The evening news is telecast at sex o’clock; people quaff melk and eat fesh end cheps.

The less convivial should consider renting a self-contained motorhome with its own kitchen, shower and toilet.   If DIY [Do It Yourself, not Yogya’s special region] doesn’t appeal, hotels and motels are easy to find.

Tourism challenges dairy farming as the biggest player in the economy so the country knows how to cater for visitors.  In any town head first to the I-Site.

Funded by local councils, I-Sites promote their district and provide free and factual information.  After touring North and South Islands several times we’ve yet to discover a dud.

Fancy an industrial strength vacation to expand the kids’ interests beyond Facebook?  Factories making chocolate, beer, aluminium and other useful goods allow visits.

Keen on culture?  Museums and art galleries abound.  Stop at Napier, the world’s best-preserved Art Deco city rebuilt after the 1931 earthquake.  Christchurch badly damaged in 2010 and 2011 shakes is still being reassembled.

Thrill seeker?  Bungy jumping over deep gorges was pioneered in NZ.  So was the jet boat, which can dash down shallow rivers that would rip apart conventional craft.

Life’s a beach.  The islands, bigger than Java but smaller than Sumatra, are long and narrow so the coast is always close.  Mountains form Aotearoa’s spine and are spectacular everywhere, particularly in Fiordland in the southwest.

Department of Conservation [DOC] offices in cities and close to the 14 national parks covering 30,000 square kilometers, offer advice on where to go, what to do and how to stay safe.  Like Ireland, NZ has no snakes; the only large dangerous animals are sea lions.

No chance of getting pecked by a penguin scurrying to its burrow at nightfall in several urban locations.  However beware the curious kea, the world’s only alpine parrot.  They rip off car aerials and windscreen wipers just to see how they work. 

Watch the weather. Start a high-country hike on a day the pious enjoy in paradise and end in the hell of a blinding blizzard where landmarks vanish in a world of white. Wear the right gear and carry a phone with GPS plus a distress beacon. 

Every year a few careless and unlucky adventurers tumble into crevasses, disappear under rockfalls or get swept away by ice slips from melting glaciers.  Fortunately emergency rescue services are on standby; read warning signs and buy an insurance policy as medical care can be expensive.

DOC also runs campgrounds.  Those with minimal facilities are free, the others charge between NZ$5 and NZ$20 [Rp 183,000] a vehicle for an overnight stay.

Buy a fishing license to try for trout in lakes and streams.  If you weep over Indonesia’s beautiful waterways polluted by plastic trash, then NZ will show you how the amazing archipelago looked when citizens and governments cared for the environment.

Drop garbage outside an approved bin and risk a NZ $400 spot fine. The islands aren’t heavily policed like China, but littering is so unacceptable bystanders sometimes dob in [report] offenders.

Road-kill possums are not indigenous.  Imported from Australia in the 19th century they found native birds’ eggs a dietary delight.  They gorged and multiplied exponentially.

Now a major poisoning program is underway and serious attempts made to help wildlife recover.  Conservationists will be happy to explain their methods and happier still if the alien mammals become extinct. 

When did you last see a Javanese hawk eagle in its natural habitat?  In NZ patrolling hawks will watch your wanderings, and Kiwis love you for enjoying their lovely land.

World headquarters of the verb                             

Wellington is wordsville.

Streets and parks in the New Zealand capital are named after pioneers and poets not military men.

All nations celebrate their warriors, but few commemorate the intellectual feats of their creative artists.  Which includes filmmakers.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy and other big budget movies have been made here, giving the place its moniker Wellywood.

Katherine Mansfield, the most internationally recognized of NZ’s writers, initially found her hometown boring; as a teenager she fled to London and lived as a bisexual bohemian.  She died of tuberculosis in 1923 aged 35.

Like Indonesia’s heroine Kartini who lived at the same time and died young, Mansfield was a pioneer of women’s rights.

Following the Writers’ Walk is an essential exercise to feel the pulse of one of the world’s most liveable and compact cities.  Wander where the prose is never pedestrian and where the words of the nation’s creative artists are set in stone and timber.

The city lies 41.29 degrees south - it’s the world’s windiest; the Roaring Forties get funnelled through Cook Strait that separates the North and South islands.

The geography guarantees the weather will be fickle. Four seasons a day, joke the locals. Poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell wrote:

Blue rain from a clear sky.
Our world a cube of sunlight –
but to the south
the violet admonition of thunder.

NZ is the first nation in the world to wake. When it’s almost midnight in Jakarta it’s dawn in Wellington – tomorrow. Its place in the South Pacific with the Antarctic as southern neighbor inspired poet Bill Manhire to locate himself – I live at the edge of the universe / like everyone else.

Maori relationships with the Europeans started well but turned bad.  The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 after 24 years of skirmish and sometimes open warfare.

Despite the vast differences in culture and values, language and lifestyle, inter-marriage was common.  Many Maori speedily adapted to the new reality, among them novelist Patricia Grace:

I love this city, the hills, the harbor, the wind that blasts through it.  I love the life and pulse of activity, and the warm decrepitude … there’s always an edge here that one must walk which is sharp and precarious, requiring vigilance.

Only the sturdy and determined migrants stayed, making Wellington prosper by applying the Scottish Presbyterian principles of faith and education, determination and hard work.

Teacher Lauris Edmond once described her writing as ‘a confrontation with experience’ as her poem The Active Voice shows well:

It’s true you can’t live here by chance,
you have to do and be, not simply watch
or even describe.  This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb.

What to expect

Indonesians need a visa to visit NZ. 

Plan to spend at least a month to properly explore the country – two weeks in each island.  Currency rates are tidal, so check before departure,

Snow bunnies should head for the South Island in July, and Queenstown in particular.  There are also ski fields on the active Mount Ruapehu volcano and Mount Taranaki in the North Island.

A car ferry links the two islands and takes three and a half hours to cross Cook Strait through the spectacular Marlborough Sounds. 

Summer starts in December and lasts three months. Temperatures tend to be below 30 degrees.  Daylight saving means the sun doesn’t set till after 9 pm, later further south where there are chances to see the spectacular aurora australis night show.

Fall [autumn] can be spectacular, as the leaves of deciduous trees turn golden.

If your nirvana is air-conditioned malls, NZ may disappoint.  For the attractions are under the sun and stars, the wild is accessible and the air so pure you know it’s only been filtered by trees.

(First published in J-Plus - The Jakarta Post 7 May 2016)


Wednesday, May 04, 2016


Disabled rights remain elusive 

Access to public buildings and services is supposed to be available to all.
But try climbing the steps into a bank, mall or government office if you use crutches or a wheelchair in Indonesia.
Not a problem in New Zealand as rights advocate Endang Haryani discovered during a two-week tour of facilities for the impaired.  It’s illegal to deny access to public buildings and transport in the South Pacific nation which claims to be a world leader in care for the disabled.
However ideas and technologies which work well in one culture don’t always migrate successfully.
“A common sight is the handicapped and elderly using four-wheel electric scooters,” Haryani said. “They drive into malls and offices while seated on their little machines; they have access to busses, trains and special toilets.
“I’d love to see that happening in Indonesia, ensuring independence. We could make similar scooters – but our roads and pavements are notoriously crowded and potholed and traffic ill disciplined.  There are few safe spaces.
“There are parking bays exclusively for handicapped drivers in NZ.  Heavy fines are imposed on misusers. I don’t think this could happen in Indonesia.”
Haryani is the director of Yayasan Pembinaan Anak Cacat (YPAC- Foundation for the Care of Handicapped Children) in Malang, East Java. 
There are 17 YPACs across Indonesia, originally established during the 1950s polio epidemic.  Now the crippling disease has been almost defeated by the Salk vaccine, the YPACs care for children with all handicaps, physical and intellectual.
“Apart from access problems attitudes also need to change,” Haryani said. “The disabled have rights and need to be accepted and treated equally.
“The idea that a handicapped child is a curse for sins committed by parents persists. Children can be locked away, hidden from neighbors.  The kids don’t get schooling or the care they need. Those with autism get labelled naughty.
“At YPAC Malang we send staff into the community to try and dispel these myths and get families involved in rehabilitation.
“Early intervention can be effective.  For example children with cleft palates and other disfigurements can have corrective surgery while still babies.  Some hearing impairments can be reduced with speedy action.”
The air fares for Haryani’s fact-finding trip were paid by Jose Tavares, the Indonesian Ambassador to NZ; she was hosted by the Rehabilim Trust.
This is a secular non-government group of volunteers set up three decades ago to help the handicapped in Indonesia.  It was established after the late Colin McLennan, a Scout leader attending a meeting in Yogyakarta, was shocked to see crippled beggars.
He raised money in NZ, formed a partnership with an Indonesian doctor and created the Yakkum Foundation.  Now funded by major sponsors in Indonesia, Europe and the US, Yakkum has expanded and has branches elsewhere, including Bali.
Three years ago Rehabilim Trust chairman Bill Russell visited Malang to seek new seeding opportunities; he was surprised by a plaque on YPAC’s kitchen wall acknowledging NZ Embassy support more than 20 years earlier.
Since then the Embassy’s Jakarta staff had changed several times and no-one knew of the donation.  Former Ambassador David Taylor came for a look, was impressed and found more money to improve facilities.
The Rehabilim Trust followed with backing for a batik making business using designs imitating the splash and drip painting techniques pioneered by the late American artist Jackson Pollock. Two Indonesian banks have ordered the batiks for staff uniforms.
YPAC Malang is a secular organisation with around 130 students.  Most live at home and visit daily for therapy and schooling.  Some orphans stay on the premises.

Haryani was trained as an agricultural engineer and became a successful businesswoman.  She got involved with YPAC as a part-time volunteer “because I wanted to give something back to the community for the many blessings received by my family”. 
Later she was appointed to the Board of doctors and community leaders.  Her reforming zeal and ability to encourage business to donate through Corporate Social Responsibility programs led to her election as director till 2018.  This is an unpaid position.
“The way Kiwis look at the disabled is significantly different,” Haryani said.  “The welfare system provides a minimum payment of NZ$262 (Rp 2.3 million) a week for the sick and injured who can’t work.
“The Accident Compensation Corporation is a universal no-fault accident injury scheme providing free medical care and rehabilitation support.  This often includes modifying cars so a person with lower limb damage can continue to drive using hand controls – and recover their independence.
“There are community art workshops where the handicapped develop their skills in pottery, painting and crafts.  This is an idea I think could transfer to Indonesia. These facilities are in town centers and available to the able-bodied.
“This means the disabled are not separated from the rest of society.  They mix with everyone else so are not seen as being different.  This is important.
“The slogan in NZ is ‘see the person, not the problem’.  There are reports that President Joko Widodo expressed surprise last year when he heard handicapped people sing during a ceremony to mark International Disabilities Day.
“Why should this be unusual?  A person who can’t use their limbs can still use their brains and other faculties.
“British cosmologist Professor Stephen Hawking has motor neurone disease, yet wrote his best-seller A Brief History of Time from his wheelchair using technology which transferred his facial movements into words.
 “Unfortunately our outdated laws still consider the handicapped to be incapable. Modern thinking is that they should and can contribute to society.  Our job is to ensure they can reach their full potential as citizens with dignity.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 4 May 2016)

Friday, April 29, 2016


Gunning down a nation’s reputation    

There’s a popular anecdote in Indonesia about President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo.  It was told to journalists by the man himself - perhaps it’s apocryphal.
Shortly after taking office in 2014 he was in Beijing for an APEC summit; at the official dinner he apparently insisted on sitting alongside leaders Obama, Putin and Xi because Indonesia is a negara besar (great power or major nation). 
Measured by population the claim is correct – Indonesia ranks fourth in the world. Geographically it’s the largest archipelago.  These attributes have been inherited, not earned.
Jokowi is also right if greatness is gauged by potential.  His nation has huge deposits of natural resources, vast areas of fertile land and enterprising people.  It’s been a democracy since the start of this century - the world’s largest Muslim country with a name for practising moderation – a fine accolade.
But in political management terms the situation is less than great. Indonesia’s nominal GNP ranks 16th, even behind Australia with one tenth of the population.  For ease of doing business the Republic stands at 109 on the World Bank index.  Just 30 minutes ferry ride distant is Singapore at number one.
In sports Indonesia is a non-starter having never won international titles beyond badminton. This year tiny New Zealand scored the Laureus Award – the Oscar of sporting achievement – after the All Blacks became global rugby champions.  NZ has fewer people than Surabaya.
Jokowi says his homeland is a maritime nation.  It has just two submarines built in 1981 and no aircraft carriers.  Its military strength is less than Taiwan’s, and the US$6.9 billion defence budget one tenth of Russia’s.
Indonesia has more than 2,000 universities and tertiary institutions but none in the world’s top 500. Its scientists, creative artists and philosophers have rare talent long crushed by an authoritarian culture dominated by oligarchs and the military. No surprise that the nation has yet to claim a Nobel Prize.
However measured in terms of judicial graft, discrimination and brutality Indonesia is a negara besar.  On Transparency International’s corruption perception scale it’s 88. For application of the rule of law it’s number 52 out of 102. 
Justice can be bought.  The Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi  (KPK Corruption Eradication Commission) has successfully convicted many law officers including judges in courts established to counter corruption. Former Chief Justice Akil Mochtar is behind bars. 
These successes have scratched, not wounded the system.  It’s widely believed that those suffering the most severe sentences have empty wallets.
Fourteen real or perceived drug traffickers were executed in Indonesia at the Nusa​ Kambangan jail last year – most on 29 April.​  They included men from the Philippines, France, Ghana, Nigeria, Brazil, Indonesia and two Australians who had reformed during their decade in detention.
The Indonesian legal world is no repository of confidence. According to the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) Zainal Abidin, the sole Indonesian in the last batch to face the M16s, could not appeal because his file had disappeared.
The South American Rodrigo Gularte suffered from serious mental disorders and didn’t understand he was to die, according to his priest Father Charlie Burrows.
Filipino Mary Jane Veloso’s execution was stopped in the final hours when another trafficker suddenly confessed to police.
The men’s deaths led to widespread international condemnation. Australia, Brazil and the Netherlands withdrew their ambassadors, inflicting significant damage to Indonesia’s international image. 
Not all anger is expressed beyond Indonesia’s borders.  Komnas HAM (the National Commission on Human Rights) is an advocate for reform, as are many NGOs.
Most countries have abandoned the death penalty.  Eventually economic sanctions will be applied against nations that execute, and their overseas representatives will be treated as pariahs.
In Europe this month President Jokowi told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the death penalty was necessary because between 40 and 50 citizens died every day from drug abuse.
These are the same figures he used to justify last year’s executions, which suggests capital punishment has had no impact.
The statistics come from a 2008 study organised by Universitas Indonesia and Badan Narkotika Nasional (BNN – the National Narcotics Agency).  Australian and other academic researchers have labelled the findings ‘ambiguous’, inaccurate’ and ‘oversimplistic’. 
Nonetheless they appeal to those who see solutions to complex problems in stark terms. The logic is false:  If fear of death changes behaviour then millions would stub out when they read cancer statistics.
Sixteen times more Indonesians perish in pain every year from the cruel disease than Jokowi’s estimate of drug deaths; packs warn Merokok Membunuhmu (Smoking Kills You) before an image of a skull, but the rates still rise.
Then there’s the hypocrisy.  Indonesia regularly pleads for the lives of its workers in Saudi Arabia; abused maids who lash back and kill their vile employers are frequently sentenced to beheading. Indonesians get outraged and diplomats protest, but the Saudis seldom listen.
Ironically Jokowi’s intransigence came when the UN opened its first major conference on prohibition policies, examining why the so-called ‘war on drugs’ has failed to stop manufacture, supply and use.
Countries, like Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and some US States have either decriminalised the use of marihuana or reduced penalties.  Others are taking a health approach rather than a punitive position.
However the Indonesian government is not in this group.  Jokowi continues to repeat his determination to pursue a tough line, instructing law authorities and the army to crush drug use.
More offenders are scheduled to go before Indonesia’s firing squads this year.  If the promises are carried out Indonesia will have abandoned its right to claim greatness, unless it wants to sit alongside China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. According to Amnesty International estimates, these were the major executors in 2015.
Although there are no Australians on the current death list the Sydney Morning Herald recently editorialised on ‘barbarism in the cause of political expediency’ urging Australia to campaign for a global ban ‘for the common good of humanity’, whatever the victims’ nationality:
To many in the West, the need to punish for punishment's sake remains an Old Testament throwback to an-eye-for-an-eye. It has no place in any modern, civilised, democratic nation.
Indonesia's culpability in reviving executions for convicted drug criminals and denying the Australian pair clemency was no better or worse than the policies of China for killing political prisoners or indeed so many states in the US for killing murderers. It is simply wrong.
Australia’s fury at last year’s shootings was blunted by earlier comments from former Prime Minister John Howard. Although he claimed to be against capital punishment he supported the execution of the three Bali bombers who killed 202, including 88 Australians, in 2002.
In Norway mass killer Anders Breivik has no fear of state-sanctioned death, despite having bombed and shot 77 mainly young people.  This year the right-wing extremist won some court victories against the state, which had allegedly failed to respect his civil rights on issues like contact with other prisoners.
The legal decision startled and distressed many. However it reinforced Norway’s position as a nation that holds high the rule of law and refuses to lower its principles by treating its most loathed and unreformed inmate in any illegal way.
It’s not just the condemned who die in countries that keep the death penalty. It degrades and often destroys all involved in the grisly procedures. None feel greatness. Every volley of the execution squads cuts down a nation’s reputation as a fair and just society which respects human rights, a good place to invest and holiday with the kids.
The first steps for Indonesia are to address the deficiencies listed earlier, restore the rule of law and make the legal system clean. That includes a moratorium as a prelude to abolishing capital punishment. 
Then Jokowi won’t need to demand a place on the top table; it will be offered with respect and by right.
(First published in Strategic Review 27 April 2016 -


Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Kia Ora, shalom.

 Scientists and journalists mix like acid and water.

Both must publish or perish but approach the task from different vantages.  Scientists think they occupy the high intellectual ground, the custodians of all knowledge which they occasionally drip feed to those below.

Journalists dwell in the lower levels but know this is where true wisdom resides.  We hear the voice of the people.  It is not polysyllabic jargon. It’s blunt and direct.  It resonates.

Scientists keyboard 100 word sentences.  We use ten.  They have discourse.  We talk. They elucidate – we tell. They juxtapose, we mix. 

Noel got down and dirty and not just because he was a soil scientist.  He could  communicate and to do that you have to relate.

Indonesia is not for all. It can delight but it’s also discomforting. For some it’s magic – for others menacing.

If discipline and order rule your life then stay away.  If organisation is the measure of your being then remain in the Anglosphere.

For our nearest Asian neighbour is different from Aotearoa on almost every compass  point from religion to cuisine, history, language, culture and all degrees between.

Though not in geology, landforms and the troubled, trembling land we stand upon. When Noel and the GNS and MFAT teams went to Aceh after the Indian Ocean tsunami they witnessed the awful devastation and anguish close up.

So did the scores of other international recovery teams. Though their mission was mercy some saw the answer  as telling  damaged people to move away.

Kiwis don’t do that. Noel didn’t fly in and out – he returned and was welcomed back – and that’s the mark of the man.

Indonesians are canny folk.  Though protocols are important they don’t trump relationships.  Journal paper may dazzle and intimidate fellow professionals here - but they have no clout in Indonesia where people are measured by their warmth, sincerity and personal concern.

Noel showed through his humour and compassion that although he came from a different world he understood the pain and concerns of ordinary folk of Aceh.  His efforts on their behalf were genuine and not a career advancement. 

The proof is in his book on the recovery of Aceh, a work that could not have been written without the support of the victims and some  key Indonesians.

People like Dr Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of the Aceh recovery programme, Susi Pudjastuti, now Minister for Fisheries and Dr Dwikorita Karnawati, rector of Universitas Gadjah Mada who sees Noel as a hero.

That’s because Noel had mana on all levels.  Few Indonesians know the word but they understood here was a man who carried the knowledge and authority but never flaunted those qualities.  He handled influence with humility.

As a result he and his colleagues from GNS Science, MFAT, UGM and others have showed that the future doesn’t have to be a photocopy of the past, that systems can be installed to warn of dangers to come and survival lessons can be learned.

Because of Noel and his colleagues millions will survive in future disasters.  Noel made a difference because he came down from the academic heights and spoke the language of ordinary people. 

He related.  He communicated.

In our grief we should be proud.  Proud that we knew a man who had a rare and special quality – the ability to show that science can make lives better.

(Delivered at the funeral of Dr Noel Trustrum in Kilbirnie, Wellington, on 26 April 2016.  Noel died five days earlier after battling cancer for five years.  His last weeks were spent with his wife Helen in Bali.)

Saturday, April 23, 2016


Out damned spot, out I say!  Thou art not PC    

He was not of an age but for all time!
We should be thankful that the greatest master of the English language, who died aged 52 four centuries ago this week - probably on the 23rd though that’s in dispute - was not writing in the Age of Revisionism ruled by  hyper-sensitive trolls.
Many of William Shakespeare’s plays and characters would have been labelled politically incorrect and banned, pages ripped from school texts and statues of the Bard jackhammered. Fatwas would have been pronounced.
The idle iconoclasts who trawl Internet websites seeking flaws and faults would have done their best to tumble the Stratford scribbler down to their level.
Errors abound. For example, The Merchant of Venice is decidedly anti-Semitic. Shylock is the archetypal Jew burdened by all the hateful prejudices that have so harmed his race.  The character needs to be re-written as a brain surgeon, nuclear physicist or musical maestro, not a money-grubbing usurer.
 Juliet is no feminist.  Why didn’t she knee Romeo in the groin when he started soliloquising with his soggy sentimentalism? Instead of swanning around in the House of Capulet like a precocious teen in wispy wear, she should have been clad in dungarees, sweating over a hot anvil and beating swords from ploughshares.
The Moor in Othello proves the author had racism in his blood, calling the man a barbarian just because he came from Barbary  It wasn’t till 1883 that the role was taken in London by an actor who didn‘t have to use make-up to change his skin color.
Creation of the deformed Caliban in The Tempest is a vicious slur on the differently abled and should be erased from the plot, or at least given a few lines to show he’d overcome his handicaps.
Never suggest Shakespeare was an environmentalist – he had Macduff’s soldiers destroy a complete forest.  This was just so Great Birnam Wood could go to Dunsinane and fulfil a prophecy of the ‘secret, black and midnight hags’ – sorry, senior citizen ladies.
Instead of denuding the landscape, sustainable resources should have been used to disguise the army, like recyclable fibre bags. But on the upside the tactic did help defeat Macbeth whose villainy included the murder of decent Duncan, a man of high principles.
And the insults!  To be told by Prince Henry ‘peace, ye fat guts’ must have hurt the weight-challenged Falstaff.  And who’d dare now call his servant a ‘cream-faced loon’ with a ‘goose look’? An Employment Court bullying charge would most certainly follow.
Ageism?  You can’t read King Lear without noting the Stratford prodigy had it in for the oldies. Dementia is not funny.  Had the pitiful monarch retained all his marbles he’d have worked out that any daughter with a name like Goneri was not to be trusted.
The story is hardly original: Scholars have identified at least ten earlier works by others proving that Shakespeare was a plagiarist, the worst of all possible crimes for a writer. 
If he’d been given an honorary doctorate by some obscure university trying to ingratiate itself with the literary set, then meritless academics from rival campuses would now be signing on-line petitions to have the title rescinded.
Shakespeare’s output [at least 37 plays and 150 sonnets] would have had him condemned for hogging the quill.  How could any aspiring young dramatist get a leg into the business when one old hack was dominating The Globe’s playlist?
Take a close look at the texts – they’re so full of clichés any decent editor would demand rewrites or bin the copy.  Here are a few examples – ‘good as gold’, ‘brave new world’, ‘be-all and the end-all’, ‘come what may’ and ‘fancy free’. 
OK, so he coined them first but that’s cold comfort to the modern reader – something WS didn’t consider when he set out to be a wordsmith.  He should have looked into the seeds of time and known which phrase would last and which would not.
However all’s well that ends well. There’s one redeeming feature which might have earned him modern approval particularly in the theater where he also worked as an actor and director.  Although married to the older Anne Hathaway and father of three, he harbored secret love not for a lady but a lad.
‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ is for a ‘fair youth’ as are other secret sonnets published only after the poet’s death.  The LGBT community can celebrate and religious colleges delete Shakespeare from their reading lists lest students switch their sexual preferences.
This op-ed started with a quote from fellow playwright Ben Jonson so it’s apt that we end with another celebrating a genius who unveiled the Age of Enlightenment and got in first before the World Wide Web reduced us to witless consumers of the trite:
 Thou art a Moniment, without a tombe,
And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 23 April 2016)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


A supermall of disasters      

There’s a simple way to slash the death and injury toll from the natural disasters that brutalise Indonesia’s most vulnerable:  Stop people farming in danger zones, like banks of rivers prone to flood, and the slopes of grumbling volcanoes.

However policing such bans would be almost impossible in modern democratic Indonesia, according to Medi Herlianto (right), director of preparedness in Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana BNPB – the national office for disaster management.

“Floodplains and the lower levels of volcanoes are fertile areas where people grow crops and raise stock essential to their livelihood,” he said. “They’ve been there for generations.  It’s their right.

“What we can do is encourage citizens to be aware of the risks, understand what’s going on and have the ability to escape. We don’t want everyone to rely on central government.”

Herlianto was speaking in Wellington on the sidelines of a New Zealand government aid program study tour run by the research institute GNS Science.  It’s been designed to help Indonesians prepare for the next big horror show that a fickle universe can throw up.

The BNPB was formed in 2008, four years after the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami.  The policy is to develop district agencies known as BPBD (Badan Penanggulangan Bencana Daerah (district) so communities can handle smaller emergencies themselves

That includes ensuring villagers take responsibility for early warning systems.  This year 22 tsunami sensor buoys installed off the West Sumatra coast failed because they’d been plundered for parts or stolen for scrap.

A new system is being developed. “We will change the technology,” Herlianto said. “We’re still working to help people realise the importance of these devices.”

In the past natural disasters came ‘out of the blue’ as the idiom suggests, or as insurance companies still say, ‘an Act of God’.

In the scientific and rational age it is clear many catastrophes are predictable, like heavy mountain rains ripping out treeless hillsides causing landslips and flooded fields below. 

Some precautions are common sense; tertiary training isn’t necessary to know that forest trash set alight during a drought is certain to cause down-wind smoke. In other situations technology can help with automated weather-change stations.

Not every disaster sends alerts.  The 2004 tsunami that killed around 250,000 (the majority Indonesians in Aceh), was triggered by an undersea megathrust earthquake which hit without warning.

One thing could have saved lives – an understanding of natural events.  Before the waters hit coastal communities the ocean inhaled leaving exposed beaches.

Unaware this extreme low tide was the prelude to the tsunami, thousands ran onto the suddenly bare sands to collect stranded fish and marvel at the rare phenomenon.  They were the frontline victims when the tide reversed like a cavalry charge.

Disaster mitigation and management is a growing business dominated by engineers like Herlianto who studied in France.  But the industry needs multi-task experts willing to cooperate with other professionals.

When Teuku Faisal Fathani (left) enrolled at the prestigious Universitas Gadjah Mada he was asked to number the Yogyakarta campus faculties. “Eighteen,” replied the sharp young undergraduate who’d done his homework.

“Wrong,” said the lecturer.  “There are only two:  Engineering and non engineering.”

Faisal, as he’s best known, tells the story to illustrate the arrogance of closed-mind academics contemptuous of the trendy ‘soft’ courses luring students from the traditional ‘hard’ sciences.

Times change. In one of life’s many curious twists and turns, the student from Aceh is now an associate professor of geotechnical engineering at UGM.  This suggests his habitat is a factory load-testing concrete girders.

Instead he’s directing a disaster preparedness project that embraces many of the courses despised by his superior decades ago – like sociology, psychology, political science and anthropology.

“It’s fascinating and I’ve learned so much,” he said. “Engineering is measurable.  It has a beginning and end.  It deals with known materials with limits.  That can lead to thinking in terms of black and white.  That’s not how things work with tsunamis, earthquakes and other calamities.”

In the NZ capital Faisal, along with 28 public servants and academics from four Indonesian provinces, visited seaside suburbs most likely to drown should a tsunami hit.

Knowing that in the chaos and confusion of a major natural disaster people often panic, blue signs and lines have been painted on roads leading to safe zones.  It’s an example of a low cost initiative that’s been copied by Indonesia and other countries.

After the 2010 eruption of Central Java’s Mount Merapi, Faisal co-authored a self-evacuation program including maps of danger spots. Leaders were chosen and groups assigned to take care of the old and vulnerable while fleeing in orderly fashion.

“The village of Glagaharjo was wiped out, but all residents survived because they’d rehearsed an exit plan,” he said. “They knew what to do and where to go.”

Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown told the Indonesians that her city had been built on a major earthquake fault so it was important for citizens to be regularly reminded of the dangers that could suddenly strike. 

Pavement plaques remind that the central business district is now several hundred meters from the ocean.  Before a 19th century earthquake which tilted the harbor, shops and offices were on the waterfront.

“Disaster awareness must be part of the school curriculum – continuously educating generations of the dangers even when nothing has happened for years,” said Yunelimeta Asman Djannas (right) , who also studied in France.

She’s the second in charge of a 78-strong BPBD, opened in 2010 in Agam. The West Sumatra regency was an early acceptor of the need to establish local agencies.  It’s also the site of floods and landslips.

“Unfortunately not everyone is easily convinced that disasters will strike, or that if they do anything can be done,” she said. “There’s a lot of conservative thinking and resistance to new ideas. We need time to change mindsets.  It’s a slow process.

“In my religion (Islam) it’s taught that we have a duty to take care of ourselves, our families and neighbors.   That’s a priority.”

In his stay alert-be aware campaign Faisal and his colleagues have designed posters and teaching materials, including some that only use pictures.  “In isolated mountain settlements we’ve found people over 50 who can’t read Indonesian,” he said.

“Getting over fatalism is our biggest hurdle.  That’s why we need experts from other disciplines who understand the best ways to convince people that they can save their lives in an emergency.”

In another curious twist Faisal was in Japan studying for a doctorate when the tsunami struck Aceh.  Member of his family, including his parents, were seriously hurt though none perished.

Back in Indonesia he saw the psychological damage to victims of the catastrophe. “Survivors can often suffer long-term emotional problems,” he said. “They are alive, but no longer the same people.”

 Faisal has now built a tsunami-resistant home for his relatives who remain in the North Sumatra province.

By the numbers

Indonesia has 127 active volcanoes.
Thirty per cent of the population lives within 30 kilometers of a volcano.
Of all volcanic eruptions worldwide last century, Indonesia ranked among the top ten in deaths, injuries and home destruction.
The 2010 Mount Merapi eruption killed 302 and impacted more than 100,000.
In 2015 there were 1,685 disasters.
Most were caused by floods, fires, droughts and landslips.
Disasters cause knock-on economic damage to the nation through closed transport hubs, school shut-downs and business disruptions – seven times the cost of the original event.
BNPB says the capacity to respond effectively to disasters is still limited. It wants to reduce risks by 30 per cent within three years

 (First published in The Jakarta Post 10 April 2016)