22 January 2011

Northern California, Second Graders, and Oral Sex...

Yes, if you are shaking your head at the title of this post, then you are not alone. As I read through the article that I found on Yahoo earlier, and which forms the basis for this post, I was shaking my head too and wondering how it is that this sort of behaviour can happen.

The story originates out of Markham Elementary School in Oakland. The principal was forced to notify parents that a teacher was placed on leave while the school investigates claims that students were not only disruptive in class, but had in fact stripped off and engaged in sexual acts, oral sex to be precise. Preliminary investigations by the school indicate that the complaints have merit and warrant even further investigation.

According to the school, "We believe if the reports are true, there was a serious lapse of judgment or lack of supervision in the classroom." The school then went on to say "We're investigating how could this have happened. It seems unthinkable to us, just the same way it does to the public." Do you think?

The male teacher claims that he was unaware of any of the alleged acts and has stated unequivocally that he did not witness anything that has so far been suggested. Yet, as a teacher, I find it difficult to believe that if he was present in the classroom as he is required to be, then it is pretty hard not to witness children getting their gear off and engaging in sex acts, particularly when these children are in the second grade.

More disturbing is how children of 7, 8 or perhaps 9 years of age are aware of this kind of behaviour. Personally, I cannot recall when I became aware of oral sex, but I am absolutely certain I was not thinking about it in the second grade. As I recall, I did not even get the benefit of sex education, or as it was called at the time "personal development" class, until I was in Year 9 (Ninth Grade).

The school maintains that it is doing everything in its power to ensure that this does not happen again. The school has also offered counselling and any other assistance required to help those children who were involved.

I am still shaking my head. How does something like this happen on seemingly such a large scale in a classroom?

The mind boggles.

Is Obama Eligible to be President of the United States of America?

Yes, he is!

Nevertheless, it would seem that a group of "Birthers" will not be satisfied until such time as the president provides an original birth certificate. Yet, considering the manner in which birthers have gone about their task to date, an original birth certificate is unlikely to close off their beliefs. The cold, hard reality for birthers is that the State of Hawaii, the State where Barack Hussein Obama II was born, has already released enough data in its public records to put this to bed.

To be honest a certificate of live birth and the corresponding birth notices, both of which are contemporary to the event, should be more than enough. It is a truly bizarre claim that Obama is in essence a "Manchurian Candidate" that has been groomed since birth for this task of destroying the US from within as her president.

Interestingly, the Governor of Hawaii, Neil Abercrombie, wanted to assist in putting this matter to bed. However, the State's Attorney General, David Louie, has instructed the Governor that the Governor is barred by law from releasing the private birth certificates of individuals without their consent. Simply, the only person who can consent to the release of the Obama birth certificate is Barack Obama  himself. So, if Obama remains true to past form, it would seem unlikely that a birth certificate will be forthcoming. And, to be honest it is not necessary.

Hawaii has confirmed that the original documents have been cited and confirmed and that information is contained in the State's vital records. So, to all intents and purposes, Hawaii is satisfied that Barack Hussein Obama II was born at Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu on 4 August 1961.

Then again, Hawaii's failure to release the originals is obviously, as the birthers will contend, all part of the grand conspiracy. After all, Obama was born in Kenya, is an Indonesian citizen and a practicing Muslim, right?

Ho hum...

Does Obama Dye His Hair?

And, for today's most important news story:

There are probably more important things to talk about with regards to President Obama's performance as Commander-in-Chief, such as rejuvenating a depressed jobs sector. On the dying front, I guess a man has gotta do what a man has gotta do. And, if that means dying your hair to hide some of the stresses of office then so be it.

Ho hum...

Watching Porn and Thoughts of Rape and Pedophilia...

It is interesting how an argument that links pornography to all sorts of society ills is trotted out to justify a crackdown. There is a distinct difference between arguments regarding the morality of porn and arguments about porn leading to increases in occurrences of rape and pedophilia. So, when high ranking individuals in government ministries, agencies, or the police force make statements to the effect that watching porn promotes thoughts of rape and pedophilia then they have a moral obligation to evidence support for those assertions.

It was always going to be the case in the post TitS vs. RIM battle that TitS would be ratcheting-up his anti-porn agenda and putting the hard word on other institutions of state, like the police force, to pull their collective fingers out and fight porn on their own turf.

Now, Sr. Comr. Baharudin Djafar, a spokesman for the National Police Force in Jakarta has labelled pornography "a disease" and then gone on to say this:

The raid was conducted so that there would be no more porn videos circulating among the public, because they can ruin society — especially children”, and “From watching porn, [a person can get ideas that can] lead him to rape someone or commit [pedophilia] with the neighbor’s children” (as quoted in The Jakarta Globe).

This is not a new argument in Indonesia. It is one that is offered up by all manner of individuals and institutions. The linking of porn to rape and other serious sexual assaults is a favourite of the Indonesian National Commission for the Protection of Children, and was especially so in the aftermath of the Ariel sex tape scandal, which is now coming to a conclusion in the courts.

A final point. Perhaps, now is a good time that TitS and others start to provide some statistics and data that highlight how the war on porn has provided tangible benefits to the community. For example, how it has lowered the frequency and numbers of rapes and serious sexual assaults or how it has contributed to raising the standard of living and getting any of the estimated 50% of Indonesians living on or below the poverty line to a position where they are able to provide a sustainable future for themselves and their children.

I appreciate that TitS views his "war on porn" as a simple law enforcement issue. To a certain degree it is, there are plenty of laws and regulations in place in Indonesia governing pornography. The point is whether this is the sole task of the Ministry of Communication and Information in the sense of devoting so much of a limited amount of resources to defeating. 

On a personal level, I have no objection to the government protecting children from pornography and the ability to access it, However, I do wonder whether or not the government has a right to invade the private sphere of two, or more, consenting adults who wish to make or view pornography within the confines of their own homes with the curtains drawn.

To each their own!

21 January 2011

"Poor" SBY...

The President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono or "SBY" to those in the know, has gone on the record (Kompas) intimating to high-ranking police and military officers that he understands their suffering on the salary front because he has not had a salary rise in more than seven years.

However, this is the kicker, what the president did not say is that his salary is already twenty-eight times the GDP per Indonesian. 

One of the fundamental questions with respect to eradicating corruption in Indonesia is whether or not a significant rise in the level of salaries of police and other officials of state will reduce the reliance on illegal fees to supplement those meager salaries, and thereby reduce corruption. It was within this framework that the president was promising to reinvigorate the government's commitment to improving the prosperity of members of the Armed Forces and Police.

Now, most people would not begrudge a salary increase to those who have earned one. Simply, where performance justifies a salary increase then it is fair that an increase occur. Yet, in situations where performance is poor or promises have been broken, then it is not only hard to justify a pay rise but it is the height of arrogance to be suddenly crying poor, particularly when it would seem that one's workload is not so extreme that there is no time to put out an album of favourite songs to entertain the masses rather than feed them.

A survey by The Economist highlighted that SBY was enjoying a salary that ranked him third highest from twenty two countries surveyed. So, what is this in dollar terms? The president enjoys a salary of more than USD 124,000 per year. Interestingly the two leaders in front of him were Kenya (240 times GDP) and Singapore (42 times GDP). It is worth noting that this is the basic salary of the president, according to The Economist. Therefore, it does not include all the fringe benefits that the Head of State enjoys.

The sad truth of the matter is, Mr President, that you have not earned a pay rise. Even more telling in your attempt at empathy is that you really have lost touch with what it is like to be poor in Indonesia and living on or below the poverty line in a nation with vast national wealth and huge potential for growth but with a leadership that has no commitment to anything other than preserving itself. Mr President, perhaps it is time to worry about doing your job, the one you were elected to do and the one that has nothing to do with singing, rather than how long it has been since you have had a pay rise!

Ho hum...

Smoking and Human Rights...

Is smoking a human right? The argument that bans prohibiting smoking violate the basic human rights of smokers or that they violate constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens are arguments that have been tried and failed in a number of jurisdictions. The latest jurisdiction to have a crack at the "smoking bans violates my human rights" argument is about to unfold in Jakarta, Indonesia.

I am a non-smoker. And, to be honest, I am in favour of banning smoking in public places. If smokers want to smoke, then I believe that they have a right to do that. However, that right does not extinguish (no pun intended) my right to be in a smoke-free public place.

A smoking ban generally applies to public places, including bars and restaurants. The United Kingdom has had bans in place for some time. These bans have been challenged through the courts and failed. The courts have tended to hold that even the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly Articles 8 and 14 with regard to private life, family and discrimination, does not protect smoking as a recognised human right. The US is not immune to the drive to clean-up public areas from cigarette smoke. Although, the rate of success in this jurisdiction has been less than in some others.

Australia, for example has had a prohibition in place for some time. In fact, it is now illegal for people to smoke in cars where children are passengers.

The People's Rights Advocacy Team (TAHR) is set to argue that Gubernatorial Regulation No. 75 of 2005 as amended by No. 88 of 2010 discriminates against smokers. The TAHR argument states that the regulation criminalises a basic human rights and makes criminals of smokers who are partaking in a legal product. The TAHR lawyer, Habiburokhman has indicated that TAHR has submitted a judicial review petition to the Supreme Court and made a request of the President to review the regulation. However, these petitions have been submitted on behalf of other parties by TAHR.

Not content to pursue these petitions on their merit, TAHR have suggested that those in favour of the gubernatorial regulations, and those who pushed the regulations through the legislative process, were only doing so because they were the recipients of funds from foreign organisations. Strangely enough, TAHR, when pressed, were not so forthcoming in saying exactly who accepted what and where, or who, it was accepted from.

In essence, the same arguments in reverse are going to be lumped on TAHR and anyone in support of the petitions as being the puppets of big tobacco who are covertly funding these petitions. But, in a similar vein, the proof of who is funding what and where and when in this regard remains to be seen.

This might be a case that I follow as there are some interesting legal arguments to be made and precedents to be established.

But as an aside to the human rights of smokers, an interesting aspect of smoking bans is what impact they will have on employment levels at tobacco companies. Of particular interest is whether the ban will see a reduction in smoker numbers or demand for cigarettes. Any decline in demand is likely to see tobacco companies look to reduce staffing levels. So, I wonder who is looking out for the rights of employees to find suitable and sustainable employment. Is the government going to pick up the slack and provide for those employees who find themselves the victim of retrenchment? Perhaps this is an issue for a different blogpost.

Texting and Walking and Falling and Suing...

This is the video that started off a trend. It had plenty of people rolling around on the floor laughing or in abbreviated speak ROFLMAO.

And, this is the response of the woman (albeit a beat-up of the interview she gave to Good Morning America on ABC), Cathy Cruz Marrero. Marrero is the unfortunate soul who was caught on the mall CCTV falling into a water fountain in the Berkshire Mall in Pennsylvania while she was texting her friend.

Now, it seems that Marrero has decided that it is probably worth trying to sue the mall where she fell into the fountain. It appears that Marrero and her lawyer, James Polyak, believe that they have a case to pursue because Marrero could have been seriously hurt and because the security guard did not organise for someone to come to her aid. The security guard was clearly too busy laughing to organise a call for someone to help, or was he. It is yet to be proven when the tape that appears on YouTube was actually made.

The YouTube version, at least to my technologically challenged brain, to be a mobile phone video of the CCTV footage. This could have been made 5, 20, 50 minutes after the Marrero fall. It could have also been made 2 or 3 days later. However, more research is required on that front. Nevertheless, watching the footage suggests that Marrero was not badly hurt as she gets out of the fountain and then high-tails it out of there. There is good reason why Marrero does this. She is an employee in a store that operates in the Mall. In any event, she did not hang around and wait for any assistance to be rendered.

The security guard that was on duty when the fall occurred has been fired.

The truth of the matter is that the footage should never have become public. But, that is the nature of the world we live in now. Technology ensures that much of the stupidity we get caught out doing or being a part of will one day makes its way online. Yet, how much should the mall management be expected to stump up for the footage making it into the public domain?

Unfortunately, for Marrero, and by her own admission, texting and walking at the same time can be dangerous as she has found out the fountain fall way. The reason she fell into the fountain was because she was not paying attention. For the mall to be liable for the fall means that the courts would have to accept that they have a responsibility to fence of fountains and place warning signs throughout the mall that it is dangerous to text and walk at the same time because you might walk into a fountain, or a glass door, or fall down an escalator.

Perhaps the answer is that malls ban mobile / cell phones. That is, when you come to the mall you have to check your phone at the "phone counter". You get a ticket and can reclaim your mobile phone on the way out of the mall.

There has to be a point where people start assuming more responsibility for their own actions, doesn't there?

Sometimes, though, your fifteen minutes of fame ensure that the spotlight shines on all of your past. Although the interview would suggest that Marrero's unfortunate spill occurred while texting a friend from church, it would seem that Marrero's past is not all angelic. As it turns out, Marrero is also involved in a court case where she has been charged and indicted for theft by deception. Marrero used a co-worker's credit cards to buy more than USD 6000 worth of goods from Target and Zales. Apparently, if found guilty, Marrero is to be sentenced to six months house arrest and required to wear an electronic monitoring device. I wonder if the electronic monitoring device is waterproof?

Optical Illusions...

These can all be found on Yahoo.

There are obviously way more than the select few that I have here, but these are the ones that amused me today.

Perfectly parallel lines. 

Can you see the man? 

Coming or Going? 

This place actually exists, apparently, at 39 Avenue George V in Paris.

And, this is my personal favourite. It is an optical illusion that shows a president where one does not really exist (it really is a photo of an empty chair and a microphone).

Kat Von D and Jesse James: Engaged...

Can you imagine the art work that is going to be present at that wedding ceremony?

Kat Von D, the star of LA Ink, and Jesse James, the former husband of Sandra Bullock, have announced their engagement.

The announcement suggests that they have each found their soul mate and are both happy together.

I wonder if Sandra Bullock will be attending the nuptials?

In the meantime, here are the happy couple (and some additional shots of the beautifully tattooed Kat Von D...all photos available online if one cares to look :D).

RIM Blocks Porn on BlackBerry Smartphones in Indonesia...

All hail to the Anti-Pornography King, TitS!

TitS (aka Tifatul Sembiring) has seemingly won the battle with RIM. RIM have not only agreed to block pornography from their BlackBerry Smartphones, but they have gone even further by simply adopting the filtering system developed by the Nawala Project.

This filtering system blocks out all content that is considered to be not only pornographic, but that content that is considered to be related to gambling, phishing / malware, and SARA (this is a term that relates to anything involving religion, ethnicity, race, or inter-group relations). The filter is very broad, which means that many Indonesians will not be able to access sites through their BlackBerry devices that are harmless.

It must be pointed out that the Nawala project is an Indonesia created open-source filtering service that has been in operation since 2009. It is the filtering service of choice for all of Indonesia's telecommunications providers, and it is the one that is being touted by the Ministry of Communication and Information.

The use of the Nawala Project filtering system by RIM is a cost-effective way of meeting the demands for a porn filter from the Minister for [Mis]Communication and [Mis]Information. It is cost effective because it is open-source and it is free. Although, it would seem that Irwin Day, Deputy Head of Public Relations at the Nawala Project, is contemplating that RIM might make some financial contribution to the ongoing development of the technology.

What's next? Well, the porn filter issue was really only a pre-cursor to a much larger battle in TitS' war against RIM. The Minister wants a server, or at least an aggregator, to be built in Indonesia. The rationale is a simple one; Indonesia is the biggest user of RIM BlackBerry devices in Southeast Asia and has earned the right to have the server / aggregator built in Indonesia. For Indonesian subscribers, the belief is that a server here will reduce BlackBerry tariffs. In contrast, the Minister wants the RIM server here because he believes that it will make it easier for his Ministry to track corruption and terrorism suspects and their communications.

If RIM stands true to form then it would be reasonable to expect them to fold on that demand as well. I wonder how long it will be before RIM and its Managing Director for this part of the world, Gregory Wade, are announcing their plans to build a server in Jakarta?

If TitS is giving all his praise to Allah for allowing him a victory in the filter battles, then one can only imagine how much beside himself he will be when RIM announces that it is building a server in Indonesia. It might just be enough to send him into the arms of Vicky Vette and another happy ending!

Then again, one day, and perhaps one day soon, TitS will realise that for all his small victories in battles on the war on porn that he is fighting a losing fight. Internet pornography will always be there as will those with an appetite for it and the desire to develop mechanisms to access it. The porn industry is very much like Medusa's head in that for every snake you cut off, another one grows back in its place (I am sure someone is going to want to argue the point about severing Medusa's head altogether, right?).

Kidnapped: Reunited 23 Years Later...

I tend to spend the odd minute or two surfing the internet. Every now and then, a story jumps out for its horror, its tragedy, its bizarreness or, as in this case seemingly, a happy ending. A young woman who was kidnapped 23 years ago has finally been reunited with her birth mother. It is hard to imagine what sort of feelings one must have learning that you had been kidnapped and have in essence lost 23 years of a potential parallel life. So, when Carlina White / Nejdra Nance says it "felt like a dream", you still wonder whether even in your wildest dreams you would have dreamed that such a day would happen.

The story is one that probably happens a lot more than we care to allow ourselves to acknowledge. The kidnap of children is not a new phenomenon or crime. However, it is rare to here of such happy reunions after such a long period of time.

A 19-day-old Carlina was kidnapped in 1987. The story began with a simple fever and a trip to a Harlem hospital. It ended with Carlina being kidnapped by a woman posing as a nurse and spending the next 23 years living with an abusive "parent". Carlina ended-up pregnant herself at 16 and this is when she started connecting the dots of her own life. A request for a birth certificate could not be fulfilled. The suspicions began to come to the fore as to why that might be. Ultimately, Carlina bailed out of the abusive home in Connecticut and headed to Georgia.

While in Georgia, Carlina met up with the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The Center filled in a few of the blanks and joined the rest of the dots. A DNA test and a few phone calls put Carlina back in contact with her birth mother, Joy White.

The emotions for Joy White and the rest of Carlina's long lost family most be overwhelming too, particularly when they are not only getting back a lost daughter, sister, cousin, aunt or whatever, but Carlina has since had a daughter herself.

Hopefully, this is a story that continues to have a happy ending.

Bank Century, Bailouts, Quorum, and Libel: Need or Diversion?

No apologies on the long-winded nature of this post. Some will find it interesting and some will be bored to snores.

The Bank Century issue is one that has lingered and lingered, and will seemingly linger some more. It is an interesting political issue in the sense that so many are staking so much on "the case" being resolved. However, the issue, at least for some, for a long time, has been whether or not there is in fact a case to be resolved.

The previous hearings on the "scandal" presumably saw most, if not all, of the pertinent information revealed and placed onto the record. However, it would seem that Golkar, under the auspices of the one and only Aburizal Bakrie, alleged artful tax-dodger, that there is more to the Bank Century scandal than meets the eye. Therefore, Golkar is pushing hard for a full-scale inquisition to re-ignite the Bank Century case in the public arena. The cynics among us will surely not miss that Bank Century will serve as an excellent foil for the immediate aftermath of the Gayus debacle which would have seen some focus return to the Bakrie family and their business accounting practices. A diversion? To each their own.

The question then becomes: "Is there a need for the Bank Century matter to be replayed and re-tried in the court of public opinion through a long and drawn out parliamentary process?" On information currently available and the information that wended its way into the public domain the last time around, the answer is no. Any further inquisition is a waste of time and tax-payers money. Yet, perhaps another round of Bank Century frivolity can put this case to rest once and for all.

A point that must not go unnoticed is that the case has ramifications for the 2014 presidential elections. So, in no uncertain terms much of the desire to keep the Bank Century scandal running is nothing more than cynical political electioneering and an attempt to remove possible challenges to the status quo. Here is a scenario that not a lot of people are talking about yet, but they will.

Sri Mulyani Indrawati, the former Finance Minister and current Managing Director of the World Bank Group will undoubtedly be a target of Golkar in its inquisition. The reason is that Aburizal Bakrie has an axe to grind and she is perceived as a threat to him and his political aspirations. Indrawati has the added value of being perceived as "clean". Clean in no other sense of the word than free of the taint of corruption. The point of the Bank Century scandal is a cynical effort to taint her with the stench of corruption that has and continues to permeate to the core of Indonesian politics.

Aburizal Bakrie wants to be president and Indrawati has the credentials to stand in his way. In fact, there are many who believe that she would make a good president of the Republic of Indonesia herself.

But, Indrawati aside, there are others who can be tainted by the brush of corruption and as such "tarred and feathered" in the public eye. These include the son, Edhie Baskoro, of the current president, SBY. There has been an equal amount of 2014 presidential election talk that the democratic party are looking at cementing the Yudhoyono family political dynasty by either anointing the First Lady, Ani Yudhoyono, or Edhie as the successor and rightful heir to the big chair, RI-1.

Therefore, the current libel case being played out in the Central Jakarta District Court has much relevance to those aspirations of the Demokrat Party and Edhie Baskoro himself. Edhie along with Djoko Suyanto (Coordinating Minister for Legal, Political, and Security Affairs), Andi Mallarangeng (Minister for Sport), and Hatta Rajasa (Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs), have launched a libel action against Mustar Bonaventura and Ferdy Simawun.

Bonaventura and Simawun are from a group called Bendera (Benteng Demokrasi Rakyat / People's Defense for Democracy) (Benteng is a fort and it is used here in the Alamo sense of being the last holdout against the invaders that are all around them. Bendera is also the Indonesia word for Flag). The group is oft described as being an ultranationalist youth group whose first real moments in the public eye came with calls to destroy Malaysia.

Bonaventura and Simawun were at the forefront of claims that Edhie and the others were the recipients of almost USD 200 million in kickbacks from the Bank Century scandal. Aside from Edhie and the others, the implication was that these kickbacks were used to fund others as well and hence the corrupt monies flowed to SBY and others in his inner circle, thus tainting them all with corruption.

The Demokrat Party and some of the other members of the governing coalition have been quick to point out that they are going to try and thwart any re-opening of the Bank Century scandal. However, there are a couple of "problems" on that front. The Constitutional Court recently lowered the numbers necessary for parliamentary quorum to be achieved in order to trigger debate from 3/4 to 2/3. In simple terms, the 26% of the seats that the Demokrat Party held in the House are no longer sufficient to ward of any public pronouncements by the parliament on issues that the Demokrats find striking a little close to home.

Nevertheless, if Golkar was dead set keen to tarnish the reputations of as many political opponents as they can, then they should be channeling much of their attention to the Central Jakarta District Court in support of Banventura and Simawun. They could conceivably be doing this out of the public eye.

The first trial hearing in the libel case was a mess. It was a mess because Bonaventura and Simawun refused to enter the court until their supporters were allowed to be seated in the court for the hearing. For some reason this was permitted. Chaos was almost certain to follow. When Bonaventura and Simawun were finally brought to court and seated for the opening salvos, it was not long before the proceedings degenerated into shouting matches between supporters and witnesses with judges trying to keep order. In the end, the judges ordered the chamber cleared of Bendera supporters, at which point Bonaventura and Simawun left the building with their lawyers in toe. They left because of the inherent unfairness with which their supporters were being treated.

Seriously though, I have no problem with supporters being present, but there are rules and etiquette to be observed in a courtroom whether you like it or not. One of those rules is that there is to be civility, which means that the judges were well within the bounds of fairness to remove unruly supporters.

Nevertheless, unruly supporters aside, the case is an excellent opportunity to put on the public record all and sundry with respect to evidence of the corruption linked to the Bank Century case. In that sense, like it or not, the Bank Century scandal is not done and any dirty laundry, if it exists, can certainly be aired in a libel case like this one.

The reality for Bonaventura and Simawun is that merely getting Edhie and his cohorts up on the stand and asking them whether or not they took the kickbacks is not going to "cut the mustard". The only way that the defense will corner any of these men into confessions is to overwhelm them with the truth of the allegations that have led to the libel petition being filed in the first place. This was evident in the short proceedings of Thursday when Suyanto sat in the witness chair.

Saor Siagian for the defense asked Suyanto whether or not he had received Bank Century funds. Suyanto's simple response was he was not involved in the case. The only way that Siagian can resolve this good ol' Mexican standoff is to have a little more ammunition left in the gun. There needs to be a magic bullet that ties all these claims together and proves that kickbacks were paid. If not, then Siagian has a hard road to hoe that is going to end up with his clients being found to have committed the offense as claimed.

And, this is where Golkar and other Bank Century conspiracy theorists can help Bonaventura and Simawun. Simply, if they have anything like hard evidence as opposed to hearsay, innuendo and the odd creative thought process, then now would be the time to put it out there.

But, getting back to where we started; a need or a diversion? You be the judge!

20 January 2011

Gayus Tambunan, Seven Years, and Justice Seen to be Done?

Gayus Tambunan, the corrupt tax official, received a sentence of seven years for his crimes. On hearing the verdict, Gayus thanked the judges for being fair and impartial, lambasted the incompetent and lying Legal Mafia Eradication Taskforce, and hinted that the CIA was involved in the process of helping him out.

The big question that most people are asking in the immediate aftermath of this decision is: "Was justice done and was justice seen to be done?" Perhaps the 'real' question is whether there is any difference in those two concepts; justice and justice seen to be done.

The prosecution demanded a sentence of 20 years. When one considers the scope of the fraud and the corruption that was alleged in this case, then 20 years was probably not a manifestly excessive request. So, a sentence of 7 years does seem to be on the light, the very light, side of the justice equation. This leads to the idea of justice being seen to be done. In this case, seven years leaves a bitter taste in one's mouth when there are others sent to prison for fraud and corruption cases that involved considerably less losses for considerably longer periods of time. Justice was not seen to be done in this case.

It is a foregone conclusion that the prosecution will appeal this verdict. Based on the 12 instructions issued by the president, it would be a toss-up as to whether the president would want this case to be an ongoing distraction. Perhaps, the Legal Mafia Eradication Taskforce will say "we have done our job and we are outta here...thanks for coming!" After all, the president said he wanted the Gayus case resolved, and it is. Although, the result is hardly a positive outcome for anyone but Gayus who would have been thinking that 20 years was a very real possibility.

Nevertheless, the real question for the president, for law enforcement officials, and to a lesser extent the community is "what happens next?" The reality is that the trial of Gayus Tambunan was a media circus, but in amongst all those shenanigans were some rather explosive allegations and counter-allegations. All of these allegations must be investigated and  'resolved'.

The companies that had dealings with Gayus need to be worried. The individuals that have had dealings with Gayus or who are in someway connected to him need to be worried. The biggest issue now facing the president is does he modify his instructions a little to demand that the KPK become the lead investigator on all these matters or does he let the corruption-tainted national police force continue to participate in a charade where public perception is clearly that the police are operating in a way to protect their own interests and their own people.

The reason this is such a test for SBY is that some of the companies involved are conglomerates owned by well-connected people with special interests that they will be seeking to remove from public scrutiny. The "biggie" now is does the president have the testicular fortitude to take these matters head on an exhibit some leadership to his people? Or, does he do as he has always done hand it off to one of his many minions so that he can later use "plausible deniability"?

But, getting back to the sense of justice and justice being seen to be done. The argument is really one about what is a legally sound judgment and what is a sound judgment with respect to public perceptions. Seven years does not satisfy the public perception of either justice or justice being seen to be done. In a strict legal sense, a seven-year sentence may in fact be fair in light of what the prosecution was able to prove regarding the indictment charged.

Finally, the statement by Gayus that intimated that the Legal Mafia Eradication Taskforce had provided assurances of certain conduct being undertaken and promises being made that were not fulfilled must also be investigated, particularly as this taskforce reports directly to the president and seemingly works at his discretion. Perhaps Gayus was misled into believing a promise from the taskforce was a promise from the president?

The CIA involvement angle may well become a side-show of some importance as it has the potential to distract from the real issues in the case. The US Ambassador, Scot Marciel, wasted no time in suggesting that the whole CIA claim was nothing more than an attempt to divert attention from other aspects of the case. But, then again, he would, wouldn't he?

Ho hum...next case!

18 January 2011

California: "Superstorm"...

Australia has been subject to some pretty catastrophic flooding over the past month, particularly in Queensland and more recently in Victoria. So, it was with interest that I read this story about a California "Superstorm". At first, the story reads like an overview for an 'end of days' or 'apocalyptic' end of the world film. Yet, the further one reads the more serious and real sounding it becomes. The icing on the cake though is that the history of superstorms in the region is fairly well documented and the US Geological Survey people have done some science on the phenomenon that indicates that the superstorm might not be that far away.

So, what does it look like for California? Well, the 100 or so heads that came together to try and work this out came up with a scenario that saw about one-quarter of the state flooded and a damage bill somewhere between USD 300 and USD 400 billion. It seems that there might be a time in the future where California will need the Governator (aka Arnold Schwarzenegger) once again.

The scientific model that the experts are working with is Biblical in the sense that it shows 40 days of constant rain that sees a deluge of more than 3 meters of water inundating the Central Valley.

The arguments for a superstorm do not seemingly rely on global warming, and the history of the superstorm suggests that California has been victim of severe flooding in the past. However, scientists do note that we are in a pattern of rising atmospheric temperatures that are critical to creating the conditions necessary to allow a superstorm to develop.

How prepared is California? And, more to the point, can one ever be prepared enough for a storm of such magnitude?

The mind boggles at the power of Mother Nature.

Jury Duty...Meow!

Today's posts have been a little heavy. So, it is time to lighten the mood somewhat.

Here is bureaucracy in action.

Sal, the pet cat, has been summonsed for pussy jury duty. It would seem that in spite of Sal's limited language and comprehension skills, and the fact that he is a cat, he is still required for jury duty at the Suffolk Superior Crown Court in Boston.

Sal's owner, Anna Esposito told the powers that be that Sal was a cat. She even went to the trouble of getting Sal's vet to confirm that Sal was not fit for jury duty. It would certainly liven up proceedings to see a cat occupying Chair No. 12. It would be even more fun if young Sal was elected forepussy  foreperson of the jury. But, when push comes to shove, it will not take the court long to realise that Sal is disqualified from sitting on the jury because he does not speak English.

On a serious note though. This case should highlight how badly bureaucracy can get things wrong. Perhaps it is something one needs to remember when dealing with a bureaucracy, as frustrating as they can be. The cat for jury duty arose because the last US census asked for people to note down family pets. It seems Sal graduated from family pet to family member, and then qualified for jury duty.

I have to say, this story certainly allowed me a giggle. After all, could you imagine Sal sitting on the jury in a case of a dog doing the doo on the pavement? The dog is a goner, electric chair all the way!

Gayus Tambunan: SBY Adopts A "Hands-On" Approach...

There is a limit to the "ummming" and "ahhhhing" that one's constituents can take before they start to get fidgety and demand a more hands-on approach to end what appears to be a never-ending lurch from one crisis to another. There is probably also a point that a president reaches where they can no longer look at themselves in the mirror without being horrified at their own incompetence. So, in many respects it is a "no-brainer" that Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (or SBY to the masses) has decided to tell the nation that he has issued 12 presidential instructions and appointed the Vice President as his point man on the Gayus case.

Yet, the more hands on approach runs counter to the president's preference of the past. The president avoided getting involved in the shenanigans that saw two Corruption Eradication Commission commissioners investigated on fabricated evidence because he did not want to be seen to be interfering in the application of the prevailing laws and regulations. Yet, in this case he seems to think that it is time to meddle and sort things out.

Although his meddling is really an attempt to look like he is doing something without really doing anything at all. It is, for those of you familiar with the term, a "Clayton's Presidency"; the presidency you have when you are not having a presidency.

SBY has instructed law enforcement to cooperate. He has instructed law enforcement to engage the KPK in a more pro-active way in investigating the cases that have not already been investigated by the police. Oops, sorry Mr. President, but aren't the police implicated in some of these cases, and wouldn't having the police in charge of some of these investigations be a conflict of interest that is not all that different to letting the fox have the keys to the hen house? The KPK should be handling all these cases and the KPK must be given the mandate to re-open and re-investigate, if they so desire, any and all cases of their choosing. Anything short of this leaves you exposed to charges of favouritism and interfering in the drive to eradicate corruption.

One of the "biggies" that the president put forward was that it was time to adopt a reverse burden of proof. Simply, this means that the burden is no longer on the prosecution to prove the case, but the burden shifts to the accused to prove that they did not commit the crime that they stand accused of. The question that people should have of the president is where do you want to stop the reversal of the burden of proof? Is this just for corruption cases or is the intent to just reverse the presumption of innocence in favour of a presumption of guilt until such time as the accused can prove their innocence?

As a matter of interest, Mr President, how much smoke is needed to reverse this burden of proof? For example, if a citizen says that a bribe was demanded and then paid would this be sufficient to trigger the reversal and the accused receiver of the bribe have to prove they did not make the demand and accept the money or goods? What happens if someone accuses the president of having acquired wealth during a stint in the army from illicit means? Would the president then be required to prove the origin of their wealth? Is it not the case that the wealth reports that elected and appointed officials in government must complete designed for this purpose.

Reversing the burden of proof is a double-edged sword and a very slippery slope. In any event, one must ask whether a reversal of the burden of proof would have made any difference in this case?

But I digress.

The 12 Presidential Instructions in a nutshell are:

  1. The National Police, Attorney General, and the Ministry of Law and Human Rights are to expedite the resolution of the Gayus case;
  2. Increase the synergy between the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK) and the Legal Mafia Eradication Unit. And, the KPK to become more involved in cases not yet "handled" by the police;
  3. Performance audits of all those involved in the Gayus case;
  4. All the companies mentioned in the case to date are to be investigated;
  5. Reverse the burden of proof;
  6. Relevant agencies are to search for, locate, and repatriate all state assets including any money obtained corruptly;
  7. All officials who have violated the prevailing laws and regulations are to be punished accordingly (within a week);
  8. Restructuring of all organisations and agencies that have been found wanting throughout the Gayus case;
  9. Review and reform of work systems to ensure that future failures of this kind do not occur again;
  10. The president to receive written reports on the progress of the implementation of these instructions;
  11. Progress reports are to be made public so that the knows what has been done, what is being done, and what will be done with respect to the Gayus case; and
  12. The Vice President is appointed to head-up the supervisory team, and the VP is to be assisted by the Legal Mafia Eradication Unit.

Just a personal note. I am not convinced that this is a more hands on approach. To me it reads as a statement to try and preserve personal public support for himself while maintaining enough distance that he is not fully hands-on and can claim later, when this does not get a positive result, that people did not do as he instructed them to and therefore it is "not my fault".

Ho hum...

Prosecutors Say They Have Done Enough: Ariel Guilty!

Rusmanto the lead prosecutor's response to the defense claims in Nazril "Ariel" Irham's distribution of sex tapes trial was one for the ages:

“We ask the panel of judges to reject the entire statement of defense put forward by lawyers for the defendant.” And, “We stand by the sentencing demand of five years.”

To be honest, every prosecutor who is worth their salt would stand by the arguments that they have made when leading the court through their case. However, the opportunity is one to, in essence, surrebut the defense case. The simple strategy would have been to take each of the defense arguments one by one and rebut them.

For example, the defense argument that the sex tapes were made in 2005 or 2006 and therefore a law passed in 2008, such as the Pornography Law, cannot apply retroactively. The prosecution, for example, might want to have argued that the actual offense of distribution did not occur until 2010 and therefore the law is not being applied retroactively.

The difficulty though of a closed hearing is that it is hard to get an exact account of what the arguments were. With a bit of luck the 'documents' will become publicly available in the near future, or at least "available", for perusal.

A decision in the case that has gripped the nation since June 2010 should be handed-down by 31st January 2011. This is a case that seems to beg for an appeal. So, no matter what the verdict is, this case will be appealed. If Ariel is acquitted as he must be, then there is no doubt that the prosecutors will appeal. If by some unreal twist of fate Ariel does not walk free, then it goes without saying that the defense will appeal. It would be interesting to see how a time served sentence would be viewed by either side.

I wonder how large a police presence will be required in Bandung to keep order? Let's face it, this case has generated extreme feelings on both sides with fans demanding an immediate release and hard-line Islamic groups demanding that Ariel be sentenced to death.

Well, it is almost time for police and law enforcement officials to find another case to distract public attention and scrutiny away from issues that really matter like the ongoing Sidoarjo mud extrusion or the Gayus shenanigans...and it is probably time for me to find something else to follow too. Any suggestions?

How Much Time Should Ariel Do For A Sex Tape?

Here is the crux of this case: "have the prosecutors proved that Ariel was involved in the distribution of either the tape of him having sex with Luna Maya or the tape of him having sex with Cut Tari?" The answer must inform the judges when making their decision. Based on the evidence which has been adduced in court, the answer to this question is "no". The prosecutors have not satisfied the burden of proving Ariel guilty of the charge for which he has been tried.

This trial is not about making and starring in an amateur porn film. Morals aside, it is not a crime to make a sex tape of yourself and another consenting adult in Indonesia. It is illegal to distribute that tape.

Despite the court being closed for the duration of the trial this must not be construed as it being secret. The truth of the matter is that both sides were more than willing to discuss on the record what their respective cases were to the mass media. So, getting a handle on who did what and with whom has not been difficult. For example, the gist of the defense was that the prosecutors had no evidence linking Nazril Irham (aka Ariel) to the alleged distribution of the sex tapes. And, O. C. Kaligis, one of the lead defense lawyers was quoted as having said as much to The Jakarta Globe. The whole defense case ran to some 107 pages (of which I hope to get a copy). The word from the man himself was contained in a 3-page plea which Ariel read to the court. Ariel gave this plea a name, "Nazril Irham, a victim of brutality". Ariel's statement would be a good read because it is hard to imagine what brutality he has suffered.

It is fair to say this is not the "test" case for the laws being argued before the courts. There is little doubt that Ariel has been humiliated by having this case played out in public, there is little doubt that the man has suffered for having his freedom curtailed whilst being detained, but I am not sure that he has been brutalised. Nevertheless, the man should never have done a day in detention. And, a guilty verdict would be unsound and would be an injustice. But, if Boy Afrian Bondjol is to be believed, then brutalisation claims relate to the idea that his privacy has been invaded and that process in the public eye is one that is brutal. Once again, humiliating rather than brutal.

For me, this case has always rested on whether the prosecution could prove that Ariel was involved in the distribution of the sex tapes in which he starred. The argument that he did not doing anything to prevent their distribution is the same as actively distributing them is not sustainable. The assumption is that he knew the tapes had been stolen and that he allowed, in fact encouraged, them to be uploaded to the internet. The balance of evidence would suggest that Ariel knew the sex tapes existed but did not know that they had been stolen.

Yet, the other key issue is whether the Pornography Law can be used in this case. There are interesting legal arguments to be played out here and some serious hair-splitting can occur. By most admissions the sex tapes were made in 2005 or 2006. This by itself suggests that the sex was not that good seeing no one can quite recall when the deeds were done. But, on a more serious note, 2005 and 2006 are both years that passed prior to the enactment of the Pornography Law. Recent Indonesian case law is unequivocal in stating that Indonesian laws cannot apply retroactively. Admittedly, this was a terrorism trial, but the principle was sound.

Although, the Pornography Law was passed in 2008 and therefore seemingly cannot apply to the production of these tapes, there is a different argument in play with respect to distribution. Distribution allegedly occurred in 2010 when the sexual performances of Ariel, Luna Maya and Cut Tari were uploaded to the internet. Therefore, there are arguments to be made that the actual violation of the law occurred within the parameters of the Pornography Law.

The legal reasoning of the decision once it is finally handed down should make for some real interesting reading.

School Over-Crowding and Birth Control...

How best to deal with surging school populations? A rapidly expanding school population is not something that I am going to have to worry about at Collarenebri Central School. There is undoubtedly some fluctuation in student numbers. But, as I understand it, those fluctuations are up and down 10 - 15 students. Then again, Collarenebri is a town of just 250 people. It goes without saying that New York faces a whole raft of different challenges. One of those is overcrowding in its school system.

It is estimated that by 2015 that the lower Manhattan school area will need to find an additional 1000 spaces for children wanting to attend school. This poses an enormous challenge to officials and city administrators. Do you build new schools or expand existing schools? Or is there some other alternative. According to, the recently appointed Schools Chancellor, Cathie Black perhaps birth control would be a good option.

This tongue in cheek comment has caused considerable offense. The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, has had to come to her defense and state, what to me seems obvious, that it was a joke. For offense to be taken it would mean that those taking offense must have believed that she was seriously contemplating birth control as a means of resolving what will become a significant burden on the education budget of the city. Hmmmm....

Nevertheless, the tongue in cheek comment has garnered more press than what the city actually plans to do. So, how are the New York City bureaucracy going to deal with the 1000 extra students that will need to be educated by 2015? Aside from needing extra schools or classroom space at existing schools to accommodate the additional students, there will be a need for additional teachers, won't there? Or is the expectation that class sizes will continue to expand?

TitS: Kena Deh...

A recent viewpoint from the Economist "In Praise of a Twit" must be a high water mark in Indonesian history for a serving minister of the Indonesian government. But, when one thinks about it, it is a wonder that it has taken this long for Tifatul Sembiring (aka TitS) to be recognised for his wonderful work. TitS is desperate to always be relevant and this is the driving force in his populist nationalist rhetoric invading the Twitter-sphere (the picture reflects his desire to his need to be relevant!)

TitS has a skill that many Indonesian politicians crave for but rarely achieve, the ability to unite liberals and conservatives alike. Sadly, this is not uniting them together but positioning them as diametrically opposed extremes on the pornography debate. There really seems to be little middle ground here as the debate has morphed into one of "you are either with us or you are against us".

There has been plenty of commentary about the TitS vs. RIM / BlackBerry shenanigans. One of the best pieces has been written by Treespotter. It is in Indonesian which makes it for an Indonesian-reading audience. However, many of the points have been made by him in the past in English and you will also find many of those points here.

It appears that TitS has had a bit of a victory. RIM the makers of the BlackBerry Smartphone have agreed to block porn on their devices for the Indonesian market. RIM will be up for considerable expense in reconfiguring their devices to comply with the TitS demand. However, it is worth noting that this has to be done in conjunction with the local providers of BlackBerry services. It will be interesting to see how much of the "cost" local providers are willing to bear in order to see compliance happen. Or is the expectation that RIM will cover all the costs?

Some would consider this victory one for censorship and perhaps point out that this reflects the growing power of more conservative Islamic political forces. To be honest, I am not sure that the arguments here are being made on purely religious or political grounds. Anyways, a Google search using the terms BlackBerry, Islam, and Censorship turned up this image (no offense intended so hopefully none is taken).

Once again, RIM should have just stood its ground and said "No". If TitS had of pushed through with his ban he would have only ensured his legacy as a good source of comedic material for comedians around the world, including the likes of Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, David Letterman, Jay Leno and the like in the US. I am sure there are comedians in Europe who are also "taking the piss". But, even more so, all of the politicians and other high-ranking public officials would have begun jumping up and down demanding that TitS pull his head in and do something worthwhile with his time as it is becoming increasingly obvious that the man is getting blinded by the sunshine that he thinks is shining out of his arse.

The reality is that even if RIM blocks porn to its BlackBerry devices there is going to be a negligible effect on overall supply of pornography to the Indonesian consumer. Let's face it, people can still go down to Block M or over to Glodok and buy pirated local and foreign pornographic DVDs until their collective hearts are content or stop beating because of the shock of the sudden release of all that sexual tension. The truly sad thing is that TitS still does not get that a national internet filter is not ever going to happen until such time as their is only one government controlled entry point to the Indonesian marketplace.

Probably more worrisome than RIM's capitulation on the porn filters is that TitS is touting that RIM has also agreed to allow the Indonesian government to intercept messages and other communications on BlackBerry devices. There is no need for BlackBerry to make any such concessions to TitS. The reality is that if there was a lawful reason for an interception to occur then a warrant issued by a legitimate court would see RIM comply. Besides, there is little doubt that Indonesia has agencies both public and spook-like that would already  have the capabilities to intercept communications without the communicator knowing about it so there really is no need or reason for the Minister of [Mis]Communication and [Mis]Information to have this power as well.

There will be a time in the future, perhaps it is now, that Indonesians when they think of TitS will collectively sigh and say in a most colloquial of ways "kena deh!"

16 January 2011

"No Baby" Campaign...

If this is not an advertisement for finding an effective way to provide sexual health and reproduction lessons in school, then it is hard to work out exactly what would be. In one Memphis, Tennessee, high school there have been 86 teenage pregnancies within the last 12 months. Some of those young women, 15 - 19-years-old have given birth and the others will soon do so. Reports suggest that Frayser High School is not extraordinary as the rate of teenage pregnancy in the area where Frayser High School is located is currently running at 26%.

The mind boggles as I really cannot get my head around the idea of more than a quarter of the girls being pregnant. This is particularly so when I think back to my high school days where it would have been hard to find 25% of the student population that was sexually active let alone a quarter of the girls being pregnant.

A "No Baby" seems to be a case of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. Nevertheless, a response of some kind has to be made in order to attempt to arrest the continuing increase in teenage pregnancy numbers.

The thrust of the campaign is teaching girls that it is alright for them to say no to sex. The overriding theme of the program is to develop the confidence of young woman and to empower them to make decisions by educating them to their rights. The program, from what I can tell, is also educating these young women about pregnancy and the challenges it will pose to them now and in the future. The program is also designed to ensure that these young woman are well-educated to the best practices of pre and post-natal care.

The scope of the problem facing the Memphis area school system is obvious when one looks at overall US statistics relating to teenage pregnancy. The data from 2009 states that the national average for 15 - 19 year-olds is 39 births per 1000 girls. However, this rate is much higher than the numbers in Western Europe. In Australia, the numbers are pretty low, but they are rising. This rise is attributed to a decline in the quality and frequency of these issues being discussed and taught in the classroom environment.

It is unclear whether the lower numbers in Western Europe and Australia are attributable to better education or just better teenage awareness of contraception and pregnancy. In Australia, at least in NSW, the responsibility for teaching students about sexual health falls under the curriculum of the Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) framework.

PDHPE is not my area of expertise. To be honest I have only looked at the curriculum sparingly. I have only looked at one text book on the subject, the one used by Cootamundra High School. To my uneducated self, there seems to be more than enough in the curriculum and the textbook to get the job done.

My personal view is that it is critical that we arm our children with all of the tools necessary to allow them to make informed decisions about what they want to do and how they want to do it. It is important that we encourage our children to be responsible and to take responsibility. Therefore, I am in favour of ratcheting-up the time that is spent on the teaching of sexual health / personal development in the classroom. The reality, as I see it, is that it would be remiss not to try.

I have a good few years yet before I will have to be sitting young Will down for the inevitable birds and the bees talk...

Arnold Schwarzenegger Drops a Cool USD 200 Million...

Ah, the lives of the rich and famous!

I like Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is in many ways the embodiment of success and to all intents and purposes representative of "living the American Dream". I am almost certain that there are many who disagree with me, but after all it is my blog and I can hold whatever opinion I like :)

I have always admired those who choose to go into public service. There is no higher calling than public service, and this is true irrespective of your political stripes; it simply does not matter whether you are labor or liberal, democrat or republican, green, socialist, democratic socialist or whatever. This is also irrespective of the few bad apples who see public service as a means of feathering their own nests, they are a minority in the big scheme of things.

So, it was with interest that I read about an interview that Arnold Schwarzenegger gave to an Austrian newspaper where he said that he estimated that being Governor of California cost him USD 200 million. But, what was most enlightening was that he felt it was more than worth it.

Schwarzenegger is a renowned family man, so it was not a surprise to read that the biggest challenge for him was managing his family time. A loss of family time is often an excuse that is used not to enter public service or to leave it once one has been in it for some time. In many ways that is why public service is such a high calling. It is not only the individual elected, or appointed, to office that make sacrifices in order to serve the greater public good, the family of that individual also must sacrifice.

It will be interesting to see what moves Schwarzenegger makes now. Does he go back to movies? Does he hit the lecture circuit? Does he just kick back and relax? Or does he start lobbying for a change to the Constitution in order that he, and other non-US born citizens can run for President?

Although, the "Birthers" might argue that it does not really matter anymore as that Kenyan born, Indonesian passport holding interloper from Chicago (aka Barack Hussein Obama) has already usurped the Office of the President of the United States of America. But, seriously though, non-US born citizens cannot become President of the US without there being a constitutional amendment to permit it.

Whenever, I think about Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming president of the US I have to have a little chuckle. I always remember that Sylvester Stallone movie, Demolition Man, where he has been cryogenically frozen and upon being refrozen he learns that Arnold Schwarzenegger had been president. How prophetic would that be?

The Dilemma: Smaller Classes or Invest in Teachers?

As a new teacher going into a small central school I really do not have to worry about class sizes. My class sizes range from 3 students through to 14 students. The challenges are sometimes more to do with professional development and professional learning. Nevertheless, with the technology that is available in the 21st Century there are so many different ways to explore and learn.

A recent national survey found that those surveyed thought that investment in schools to lower class sizes was more important to raising student outcomes than investing in teachers through either recruiting the best graduates or providing bonus pay for achieving outcomes. Interestingly, this is contrary to a recent study which found that lower class sizes were not the most effective way of raising student outcomes.

The survey found that many of those surveyed believed that the investment in schools was an effective way to build a strong economy. The survey was undertaken by Interconsult for the Australian Education Union. The results will be released and discussed in full at the AEU conference that is set to start today.

My personal opinion is that both options running concurrently is a better way of going about it. Smaller class sizes in conjunction with increased teacher support through improved professional development and learning opportunities for teachers.

When it is all said and done, I am itching to get out to Collarenebri and get started.

Suicide in Indonesia...

Suicide is a tragedy. It is not only a tragedy for those that make the ultimate choice to end it all, it is also a tragedy for those that are left behind and who must deal with the shattered lives that remain. Two things had me thinking about death and the way it is portrayed and discussed this morning: the first was an article in The Jakarta Globe and the second was seeing that "RIP Justin Bieber" was trending on Twitter (just about anything that has a Justin Bieber link trends or goes viral on Twitter, just ask Conan O'Brien. And, I am wondering whether or not "Justine Bieber: Suicide Death" within this post will result in any additional traffic to this blog post? If there is, then this might be a good thing from an awareness perspective).

This short post is an opinion piece on suicide in Indonesia.

According to The Jakarta Globe, the Ministry of Health's 'suicide hotline' has been ringing off the hook with a sharp increase in the number of calls during the first three months of operation. The hotline number for those that need it is 500-454 (although I recall Jakarta phone numbers having more digits than that...the number is correct, I checked!). The hotline was launched as part of World Mental Health Day in October 2010. Dr. Bella Patriajaya, Head of the Suharto Heerjan Mental Health Hospital, said that the reason was that more people were seeking help for their problems.

The data to-date is showing that not everyone who calls the hotline is intending to commit suicide. There are also significant numbers of people calling who are depressed or suffering other mental disorders. Even though, there is no confession of intent to kill themselves, the suicide hotline is still an excellent starting point for a sympathetic ear and perhaps some direction to services that can provide longer-term support.

Interestingly, the World Health Organization 2001 data states that the suicide rate in Indonesia is 1.6-1.8 suicides per 100,000 people. Nevertheless, a more recent study conducted by Ahmad Prayitno of Trisakti University in Jakarta supports more recent WHO data for Southeast Asia that claims that the suicide rate is closer to 24 incidents per 100,000. This is a staggering number as it would equate to about 50,000 suicides per year or 1,500 suicides per day. The reality is that even this study suspects that the actual rate and numbers are much higher.

The more recent studies are showing a trend in the reasons for suicide becoming more economic related. This includes losing a job, being demoted, or even living beyond one's means and getting into a spiral of uncontrollable debt. Nevertheless, the study also shows that more 'traditional' reasons relating to an inability to deal with emotional trauma remains a significant factor.

One of the biggest difficulties in determining exact numbers is the taboo nature of the subject. In most religions, and communities, suicide is frowned upon. Therefore, it is not uncommon that many suicides go unreported or are misreported as natural or accidental deaths.

It is important to remember that suicide is not a problem unique to one country. So, speak up and reach out! You might just save a life.

"Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother"...

Parenting is an art form, of this there is no doubt. And, as an art form, there are styles one likes and approves of and there are styles that one does not like nor approves of. Yet, there is no one style that is 100% guaranteed to be successful in producing a well-adjusted and accomplished child who grows into an adult that contributes to their community in positive ways. Or is there?

There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal the other week written by Amy Chua, an American with a Filipino heritage and a Chinese ancestry. The article was titled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior". The general gist of the article follows the substance of Chua's arguments for successful parenting that she describes in her book "Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother".

I have not read the book, so this is not a book review. It is not a critique of her parenting style either. It is merely an opinion piece on how one might decide which style to adopt. Perhaps the point is that each person is unique and each family is unique so maybe it is a case of manipulating styles by taking the best of many styles or those bits that work and co-opting them into a style of your own.

But, back to Amy Chua and what has worked for her. Stereotypes are powerful things and it is to see them when you want to, or feel the need to, label certain things. So, why is it that Chinese children are such high achievers? The generalisation aside assuming that there has to be one Chinese child somewhere that does not fit the stereotypical bill of "high achiever", but nevertheless this is the stereotype, right? Are Chinese children high achievers because they are intellectually more capable or is it that they are more driven courtesy of strict parenting practices.

The Chua argument probably follows the line that strict parenting plays a fundamental role in ensuring 'successful' outcomes for one's children. There are plenty of children who would balk at the prospect of a home where they were not allowed to do the following:

  • attend sleepovers;
  • have play dates;
  • be in a school play;
  • complain about not being in a school play;
  • watch TV or play computer games;
  • choose their own extra-curricular activities;
  • get a grade less than A;
  • not be the  No. 1 student in a subject (exceptions for gym / PDHPE and drama)
  • play any instrument other than the piano and violin (and you have to play at least one of either the piano or violin)

As a parent I am balking at this list. Maybe that is because this is not how I was brought up. So, may be our parenting styles tend to reflect those of our parents before us. As a parent I do not want to be that strict. I want Will to be able to take some responsibility for the things he wants to, and chooses to, do. Admittedly, at two-years-old he is going to have less of a say in this.

For us it is more about understanding what learning style will provide the best outcomes. Even at an early age it is easy enough to see that Will is a musical and visual learner. Nevertheless, he loves to read and enjoys acting and role-playing. So, the idea of not allowing him to pursue that seems to be counter-productive.

Then there are personal philosophies that have me believing that sleepovers and social interaction with his peers on his own terms through extra-curricular activities, like sport, and also fundamental to his overall development as a human being.

Parenting is a difficult skill. We are enjoying the ride, but it is certainly a case of learning on the job. It is also a case of trial and error, working through what gets the outcome we want to see and reworking those methods that don't or discarding them altogether.

The point overall, is I am not going to ridicule Chua's style and I am not going to write-off her book as a recollection of how she abused her children's rights, as some have. I am likely to be looking for the book next time I am in the bookstore. Besides, Chua is law professor at Yale...can't argue with that :)

With parenting, ultimately we all want the same outcome: happy, healthy, wise, and well-adjusted young people who contribute to their communities. How we get there, to each their own.