31 January 2008

Ryanair - Ads for the Ages

Ryanair has an ever-growing history with its advertisements and its promotional material getting it into trouble! But maybe they are working on the philosophy that all advertising is good advertising even where it should be conceived as being bad!

The latest scandal in this string of scandals revolves around a promotional campaign for back to school airfares. The ads were published in print media with a circulation of some 3.5 million and this resulted in 13 complaints being received by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). This would seem like a number representing a real minority of readers. But as is always the case in these types of issues it is a vocal minority that gets to dictate to the silent majority!

The offending promo is the picture above...

Let me say this on the record...there were no girls like that at any of the schools I went to! If there was I am sure I would have been a better student! Further, if there were girls like that at any of my schools I would have found a way to convince my folks to buy me a plane ticket to return to school rather than having to get up at 3am in the bitter cold of a winter morning and go and catch a train from Harden station (You wanna know where Harden is -- look it up here)...Then again maybe my parents knew that there were not any girls like that at the school I was going to and that is why they sent me there -- way to go Ma + Pa!
It seems that the minority see this advertisement as indecent as it links teenagers to sexually provocative behaviour and therefore was irresponsible -- hold on a second since when have the world's teenagers decided not be sexually active? Most of the facts and figures I have seen would suggest the opposite is true...besides anyone that looks at this picture is not going to be mistaken that this young girl is a model and looks older than any of the girls I or they went to high school with...I once saw a girl like this on one of the university campuses I was enrolled on!
To each their own but I am sure that there will be plenty of cost conscious travelers wanting to travel with low-cost Ryanair no matter the controversy surrounding this advertisement. Besides anyone who had not heard of Ryanair has heard of it now thanks to the ASA!

Language - A Real Trendsetter...

Now here's one for all you language purists out there in cyberspace from a budding Indonesian soap star of mixed parentage...

I am proud that I am not fluent in Indonesian and I hope that my style of talking (accent - red) will become a trend and my identity...which was followed by this verbatim quote "I do not feel embarassed when I am being teased while I speak, I hope that how I talk can be followed by other kids. This is who I am ... this is natural!"

Sounds like that her parents have her head screwed on pretty well with the 'this is who I am ... this is natural' part of the quote, but all the same, pride in mediocrity? Yet, I guess as a 14 year old you have that kind of self-belief as the big bad and nasty world has yet to bring its full weight onto your young shoulders!

Nah, let's face it
Cinta Laura Kiehl is the product of a mixed marriage where her father as a result of his work travelled frequently and much of, if not all, her education was in English. The old man is German so perhaps she speaks German as well, who knows?

Language is a living thing and it changes over time as new words become part of the lexicon. Indonesia is well-known for sub-languages, such as Bahasa Gaul (social or hanging-out language), Bahasa Preman (literally the language of criminals), and amalgamations of all the various languages and dialects that permeate this vast archipelago blended into the national language.

Bahasa Gaul and Bahasa Preman are more languages in their own right than dialects so perhaps Cinta Laura sees herself as being the creator and founder of another kind of sub-language based on the inability to speak proper Indonesian...

I give her credit for the fact that she has learned some Bahasa and obviously this is more than enough to get her a job in an Indonesian soap opera but there is nothing to be proud of in not being fluent in the language of your family on your mother's side. I have no problem with people who speak Bahasa with a foreign accent. Many of my friends who are long-term residents speak as much Bahasa, if not more, than Cinta Laura and they continue to have the inflections and tones of their native languages. But none of them have at least one parent who is Indonesian and none of them are soap stars and none of them are looked up to as model speakers or representatives of Indonesian culture or language. This is not to say that Cinta Laura is viewed in these ways, but when your country tells you it is important to be able to read, write, and speak proper and correct Indonesian then to be proud not to do so seems strange, perhaps even bizarre!

The reality is soap operas are not real but they follow many social norms and dictate others. Is it any wonder that you hear politicians reverting to slang and Bahasa Gaul at official functions? Yet, if soap operas are only to entertain and not to educate then:

Who cares?

I will still get a smile on my dial every time I hear Cinta Laura speak and remember to dedicate myself to the task of making sure my kids, if and when they come along, speak proper Indonesian in the proper places. They can learn the language of their peers from their peers because I am not gonna be able to help them on that front, then again I can always ask for Cinta Laura's help as the language trendsetter for kids of mixed marriages!

Apology Season

Well, Soeharto's kids have decided that they will make, and they have already made, an apology for any mistakes or deficiencies that their father may have had or made. I presume that this apology will also cover all of Soeharto's excesses as well, particularly his part in the misappropriation, some might say theft, of an alleged USD 35 billion from the State coffers and therefore from the good citizens of Indonesia...

Rather than apologizing for and on behalf of their father it is high time they started making these apologies on behalf of themselves. The Soeharto kids each and every one of them became fabulously wealthy under the dictatorial rule of their father...much of this wealth may have disapated with the financial and economic implosion that was the Indonesian economy in 1997 / 1998 but all the same they all remain wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of most Indonesians.

But it is going to be fun to watch as the recriminations and debate unfolds as to how history should recall the legacy of Soeharto -- striking a balance between spectacular economic growth over a sustained period of 30 years and the obvious excesses in the abuse of basic human rights is going to be a tough one...

Many people are giving Soeharto the credit for sustained economic growth but no one seems to be discussing that much of this growth was built on unserviceable public and private debt, which culminated in the financial implosion that Indonesia still reels from today some 10 years later...

I wonder how harsh history will be?

A Cricketing Saga!

The racial vilification saga that plagued the Second Test between India and Australia seems to have been resolved in India's favour...no shock on that one. There should be no shock either in realizing that the International Cricket Council (ICC) caved into the demands of the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket India). Nor should there be any confusion that the threats of the Indian management that they would have been required by the BCCI to pull out of the tour and that planes had been chartered to squirrel the team out of Australia in the middle of the night be under-estimated because from all accounts this is true.

Could the result of the appeal gone any other way...I thought that India was a country with a common law tradition and an understanding of an independent judiciary. This is not to say that the judge in the appeal here was threatened or caved into any particular wishes. He did not! But the mere thought of the BCCI jumping up and down on the spot like a petulant child leaves a sour taste in one's mouth.

What suffers here is cricket!

There should be no doubting that the ICC must now vote itself out of existence and let the BCCI run the game particularly if what is being reported is true. That is; Cricket Australia (CA) was more worried about a potential USD 60 million lawsuit than making a principled stand against racism in sport and forcing the players to follow their less than courageous lead supposedly for "the good of the game".

The appeal and review process seems to have set the standard for racism at the "beyond all reasonable doubt" level before a penalty can be imposed. So, the alleged offender had the charge downgraded and eventually was fined 50% of his match fee -- in essence a slap on the wrist and sent home without a ban. The alleged offender as part of the deal did acknowledge that he used offensive language (see an earlier blog entry as to what he said) although at the time this whole sorry saga broke he denied he said anything offensive either...what is the truth, who knows!

So, the BCCI has effectively flexed its muscles and had an umpire replaced and sent home, forced the ICC to alter the rules governing appeals, and forced the ICC to back down on the racism charge...in a boxing analogy this is no mere points decision, this is a first round KO for the BCCI of the ICC. The ICC should not be allowed back into the ring until it gets a medical clearance stating that it is fit to represent the interests of world cricket. I thought these blokes were paid well to have a spine!

The idea that the outcome of the hearing would see India go off and try and establish a separate cricketing organization is fear-mongering at its worst. The reality is that the BCCI has some much financial clout because of international cricket -- the BCCI needs the teams from the rest of the world to remain profitable. It is about time that both the BCCI and the ICC realized this...If the rest of the world was to pack its cricketing kits and tell the BCCI to shove there demands in a place where there aint no sunshine, then BCCI revenues would soon fall.

The World Series of Cricket and rebel cricket tours to South Africa during the hey day of apartheid showed us that rebel leagues have only passing fascination and ultimately the fans return to the real deal.

All in all it has been a sorry saga and a saga hopefully not to be repeated.

An Apology At Last

The road to reconciliation has been long and it has been tortuous but with the imminent apology to be offered by the current Australian government to our indigenous brothers and sisters is long overdue, yet it will shorten the road to full reconciliation. My only hope is that the apology includes the word successive governments have opposed for so long, SORRY!

As a nation we must be sorry for the policies of forced assimilation, as a nation we must be sorry for the policies that led to forced removal of children from their families, as a nation we must be sorry that since that light came on an our indigenous brothers and sisters gained their rights as citizens in 1967 that they have never really been afforded the same access as others. Simply, we just must be sorry.

The issue has never really been one of compensation for past wrongs. You can never really compensate for the losses endured. However, as a nation we must acknowledge that we got it wrong. Perhaps the principles of what occurred were blurred by a desire to do good. There are legitimate arguments that the underpinnings of the initial policy was to make positive changes but the systematic implementation of the policy resulted in the degradation and in many cases destruction of a vibrant aboriginal culture. We must, as a nation, be ashamed that many of the indigenous languages that so widely populated our nation have disappeared and are never to be whispered again.

A poll conducted by the Sydney Morning Herald suggest that a slim majority are for an apology but there is no question in my mind that one is necessary. Once sorry is said then we can move on to recognising our rich indigenous culture through a constitutional amendment to the preamble. Amending the Constitution is going to be far more difficult proposition than saying sorry. Constitutional amendments in Australia are notorious for failing to gain sufficient support from the community to pass. The above poll suggests that when push comes to shove that amending the Constitution is not going to be an easy ask.

The apology is scheduled to be made on 13 February 2008 with the opening of Parliament with a brief ceremony of welcome to be held by the Ngunnawal people.

It is important to recognize past wrongs because without this acknowledgement there can be no justice, without justice there can be no closure, and without closure there can be no 'true' reconciliation.

27 January 2008

Soeharto - Off to Meet His Maker...

What can I say the Death theme continues; t'is the season to be dying, at least so it seems!

This death though is neither sudden nor unexpected, you can see some earlier posts for that. It has been an interesting ride these past couple of weeks with the interesting coverage of the
old fella's illness and how to portray what he has done bad and good over the 32 years he was dictator and the ten years or so of life after being toppled!

There has been a seven day mourning period called and flags are at half mast around the country as a mark of respect for the passing of the former President. I gotta be truthful here and say that I am not sad, I was sadder when my dog died and I am still sad about my dog even now...but with Soeharto I am sure that those who loved him are sad and should be allowed to have their time to grieve their respective loss. For me, I am disappointed that his alleged fighting spirit and the miracles of modern medicine could not nurse him back to health. As the reality is that much of the bad he did and authorized will have died with him. The only place a dead man will be tried is in the court of public opinion. This is hardly likely to bring the sort of closure that the victims of the New Order's excesses need.

But those of you out there who read this blog and are God-fearing people have gotta know that the old fella is now off to meet his maker and that is surely going to be a conversation where I would like to be a fly on the wall. I have always wondered whether or not you can buy your way into heaven by paying off your evil deeds with good deeds in return. This is certain to be a challenge for any person but is sure to be a special challenge for the "Father of Development".

Today is sure to be a day of reminiscing about the past but more intriguing is the future and how Indonesian history deals with the allegations of abuse of power and corruption that do not disappear with the death of the second President of the Republic. The biggest and best irony would have been if the old fella stole his last breath while Megawati was still President and just watching to see whether she afforded Soeharto the same sort of recognition in death that Soeharto had shown Soekarno...unfortunately that scenario was not to, and will never, be.

Selamat Jalan Pak Harto...

Nah, is that "good bye and safe journey" or "good riddance"...I leave that to you!

26 January 2008

Australia Day - Are You a True Blue Aussie?

This is something spotted in the Sydney Morning Herald today and written by Richard Glover. I include it here for no other reason than it made me smile and think of home. I have been based on Jakarta now for the past 15 years on and off with there being more on than off during that time. As I said if you read this and it puts a smile on your dial then perhaps you are more Aussie than you remember...

TODAY you'll probably want to party, celebrating all the things that make us unique. But how do you tell if you are a true Aussie? Here are my 43 top ways to tell if you're a local.

You know you're Australian if …

1. You know the meaning of the word "girt".
2. You believe that stubbies can be either drunk or worn.
3. You think it's normal to have a leader called Kevin.
4. You waddle when you walk due to the 53 expired petrol discount vouchers stuffed in your wallet or purse.
5. You've made a bong out of your garden hose rather than use it for something illegal such as watering the garden.
6. You believe it is appropriate to put a rubber in your son's pencil case when he first attends school.
7. When you hear that an American "roots for his team" you wonder how often and with whom.
8. You understand that the phrase "a group of women wearing black thongs" refers to footwear and may be less alluring than it sounds.
9. You pronounce Melbourne as "Mel-bin".
10. You pronounce Penrith as "Pen-riff".
11. You believe the "l" in the word "Australia" is optional.
12. You can translate: "Dazza and Shazza played Acca Dacca on the way to Maccas."
13. You believe it makes perfect sense for a nation to decorate its highways with large fibreglass bananas, prawns and sheep.
14. You call your best friend "a total bastard" but someone you really, truly despise is just "a bit of a bastard".
15. You think "Woolloomooloo" is a perfectly reasonable name for a place.
16. You're secretly proud of our killer wildlife.
17. You believe it makes sense for a country to have a $1 coin that's twice as big as its $2 coin.
18. You understand that "Wagga Wagga" can be abbreviated to "Wagga" but "Woy Woy" can't be called "Woy".
19. You believe that cooked-down axlegrease makes a good breakfast spread.
20. You believe all famous Kiwis are actually Australian, until they stuff up, at which point they again become Kiwis.
21. Hamburger. Beetroot. Of course.
22. You know that certain words must, by law, be shouted out during any rendition of the Angels' song Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again.
23. You believe, as an article of faith, that the confectionary known as the Wagon Wheel has become smaller with every passing year.
24. You still don't get why the "Labor" in "Australian Labor Party" is not spelt with a "u".
25. You wear ugh boots outside the house.
26. You believe, as an article of faith, that every important discovery in the world was made by an Australian but then sold off to the Yanks for a pittance.
27. You believe that the more you shorten someone's name the more you like them.
28. Whatever your linguistic skills, you find yourself able to order takeaway fluently in every Asian language.
29. You understand that "excuse me" can sound rude, while "scuse me" is always polite.
30. You know what it's like to swallow a fly, on occasion via your nose.
31. You understand that "you" has a plural and that it's "youse".
32. You know it's not summer until the steering wheel is too hot to handle.
33. Your biggest family argument over the summer concerned the rules for beach cricket.
34. You shake your head in horror when companies try to market what they call "Anzac cookies".
35. You still think of Kylie as "that girl off Neighbours".
36. When returning home from overseas, you expect to be brutally strip-searched by Customs - just in case you're trying to sneak in fruit.
37. You believe the phrase "smart casual" refers to a pair of black tracky-daks, suitably laundered.
38. You understand that all train timetables are works of fiction.
39. When working on a bar, you understand male customers will feel the need to offer an excuse whenever they order low-alcohol beer.
40. You get choked up with emotion by the first verse of the national anthem and then have trouble remembering the second.
41. You find yourself ignorant of nearly all the facts deemed essential in the government's new test for migrants.
42. You know, whatever the tourist books say, that no one says "cobber".
43. And you will immediately forward this list to other Australians, here and overseas, realising that only they will understand.

Happy Australia Day.

23 January 2008

Heath Ledger (1979 - 2008)

The Blog seems to be becoming a role call of movie reviews or death...I will need to work on that! But it would be remiss of me to let the passing of Heath Ledger pass without a Blog entry, not only because we share being Australian but because he was someone just beginning to come to terms with his fame and because this is another case of potential that will never be realized.

But aside from potential never to be realized the real loss here is for his family and in particular his daughter. Matilda at two years old may have memories of her father but how she comes to know her father will be through others and through the films that he has made in his all too short 28 years of life. That is sad. A child should always have the opportunity to know their parents, adoption aside if the parents really do not want to know their children. But most people who knew Ledger are saying that he was a doting father and this is a tragedy.

Was it suicide or an accidental drug overdose - I guess an autopsy will give us the grisly details on that. But it really does not matter. The constant grind of celebrity and the fish-bowl existence punishes all celebrities, where each and every action is open to scrutiny--I am glad I am not a celebrity!

My condolences go out to his family in their time of loss.

15 January 2008

The Great Debaters

Maybe I should convert this blog into a film review blog...because what follows is a film review sort of. I have just finished watching 'The Great Debaters' which is kind of a historical fiction as it is based on a true story. But as with any good story some of the facts change and the debate team debates Harvard instead of the University of Southern California like they did for real.

The story is an inspiring one and well worth the time spent to watch it. I wanted to watch it because I love to debate and I love to talk and this movie promised those things with a background of race relations, the power of words, and the desire to succeed despite the odds and despite the forces lining up against you.

The story follows a small African American college located in Marshall, Texas, Wiley College, through their participation in debate competitions culminating in the national debate finals against Harvard University. The film has some big stars in it, which you would expect from an Oprah Winfrey funded film. Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker are the established stars but it also includes some up and coming stars of the future such as Denzel Whitaker, Jurnee Smollet, and Nate Parker...

The main characters are Professor Melvin Tolson, James L. Farmer Sr and Jr, Henry Lowe, and Samantha Brooke. Professor Tolson was a man before his time, at least in the movie, as he was advocating ideas and action in the deep south of America in the 1930s that become building blocks of the civil rights movement three decades later. It is not surprising that James L. Farmer Jr went onto to be one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement after the sort of grounding given to him by his father and Tolson. James L. Farmer Sr was a determined soul in his own right walking from Florida to Massachusetts to continue his education. And I am having trouble finding the time to fill in a computer based electronic application!

The film forces the watcher to confront race relations head on but it touches on so many more issues of the time that still have currency now such as the difficulties faced by farmers and unorganized labor, and the topics of the debates themselves are intriguing insights into the minds of the writers and producers of the script--quality education and civil disobedience as a means of forcing change, among others.

Even though the film is based on a true story it is interesting that the story itself was not considered to be good enough to stand on its own as it occurred at the time. In this age of political correctness there seems to always be a need to make sure that all segments of the community are covered in the demographic of the film. The 1935 Debate Team at Wiley College included no women, aside from the Tolson and Farmer Jr characters the others on the team are composites of many Wiley College debaters. The previous note that the team did compete against all white colleges and universities but not Harvard and the Wiley College team did win championships. So, the question that lingers will always be why was it considered that the real history of the Wiley College Debate Team of 1935 was not good enough to stand on its own merits? It still would of made for a hell of a drama!

That criticism aside it is an inspiring movie and is worth the time to watch it!

14 January 2008

Sportspeople and Steroids

It was with a small degree of disappointment that I read Marion Jones had been sentenced to six months in prison. The reality is that this woman through her own stupidity has thrown away a life of recognition and appreciation by being caught out in a lie but her crimes are not deserving of jail time.

There are serious questions about the danger of steroids that are quite separate from their use by sportspeople in the pursuit of the winning edge. Let's face it the current use of steroids in professional sports is a monster of out own creation. Sportspeople can become fabulously wealthy if they are winners. Winners are rewarded and losers, well, they come back another day and do it all over again, perhaps this time with some chemical assistance.

Steroids in sports...there are two options here; open slather or zero tolerance! The fact that those that seek the winning edge are going to continually invest in methods and mechanisms to get around the possibility of detection means that there will never be 100% eradication. It was interesting to note that the former Australian Head Swim Coach suggested that there should be serious consideration given to the open slather approach. He was obviously and quickly shot down, but all the same the point was a valid one and one with which we are all familiar--if you cannot beat 'em, join 'em.

The issue of steroid use in the general population is a completely different issue as the responsible use of steroids has generally been shown to enhance well-being and health. However, as with any drug the irresponsible use and abuse of any drug can have severe side-effects, including death! But to suggest that steroids are the evil of all evils is in and of itself irresponsible.

This post is not advocating that children should be permitted to use steroids. This post is suggesting that adults, in consultation with their doctors should be permitted to use steroids, even where their use is for cosmetic rather than health purposes. I hope one day I run for office and someone digs up this post and tries to attack me with it. But with a bit of luck before I ever run for office this debate will be long over and decided in favour of responsible use.

The simple reality is that if the debate is premised on the dangers to long or short term health then the debate must also include other harmful drugs. Tobacco and alcohol kill many thousands, perhaps millions, of people every year through out the world. Neither are illegal, why? For the purposes of consistency it would make perfect sense for the governments of the world to also go after these other killers and ban them absolutely and immediately rather than reducing the areas where you can legally kill yourself by banning smoking in public places for instance.

But the 1920s highlighted the fallacy that is prohibition! By banning steroids or making the possession of steroids an indictable and jailable offence does not prevent their use. It simply drives it underground and allows the development of a black market. The government would be in a better position if it was to legalize steroids. It could even be a revenue raiser in that where there is no legitimate medical use for the steroid prescribed then it is deemed to be for cosmetic use and there is a tax applied.

But back to Marion Jones and her very public fall from grace. She has been humiliated enough through the fact that she had to make a public admission of her guilt as it related to lying about the use of performance enhancing drugs. Her medals and records have been stripped from her personally and from the record books. She is banned from competition and is unlikely to ever have the opportunity to compete again except perhaps in some kind of masters competition in a couple of decades down the track (pun intended). Jail is supposed to rehabilitate the offender but it is unlikely to rehabilitate Marion Jones as most of her rehabilitation in the sense of understanding her crime has occurred with her public humiliation on an international scale.

Community service through giving back to the children of this world would be a much more suitable punishment. If Naomi Campbell can abuse her domestic help and get to sweep streets then it is strange that Marion Jones gets injected or smeared with a steroid and has to go to jail because she lied about it! Community service if the judge in the case wants to set an example then make her do a couple of thousand hours of community service at "Little Athletics" or something similar. Marion Jones' crime did not really hurt anyone but herself. It may have disappointed her family, friends, and fans but it did not hurt anyone but herself. The punishment on the other hand hurts her children who are going to be deprived of their mother for the next six months.

There is a need for balance in terms of the crime and the punishment...It is time for the justice system and judges to wake up an smell the coffee!

Post Script...

There is an interesting piece in The Age Newspaper (Australia) about how Marion Jones got her just desserts and that no one should have sympathy for her because she is a drug cheat...Most sportspeople caught using performance enhancing drugs are not jailed for using the drugs themselves. Marion Jones was not jailed for admitting to using steroids. She was, however, jailed for lying to Federal Investigators and misleading an investigation, a breach of the US Criminal Code.

Most of the commentary implies Jones was jailed for being a drug user and this is not only a misrepresentation of the facts but it is irresponsible. It was good to see that the quote by John Fahey, former NSW Premier and Federal Minister, and now Chief of the WADA, pointing out that Jones was not jailed for being a drug taker.

To suggest that Jones got off easier than she should have because she disappointed a lot of people is ludicrous! You do not go to jail for disappointing people. You go to jail for committing crimes! If people started getting sent to jail for disappointing their family, friends, and fellow citizens our jails would suddenly become much more over-crowded and financially burdensome for all of us. There is more value in keeping Jones out of jail than putting her behind bars for six months. Jones did not get what she deserved but rather she was given what was thought to be sufficient appeasement for the masses...

Her humiliation, once again, is more than punishment enough!

13 January 2008

National Treasure - Book of Secrets

Who is not intrigued by a little conspiracy theory? Besides it is always nice that the good guys win in the end and it is even better that they always find the treasure and get the girls! This is what happens in National Treasure - Book of Secrets...Yet, it seems to be a premise for a franchise that is going to work, and perhaps work even better than its predecessor in Indiana Jones.

The beauty of this film is that it really is an action film that the whole family can enjoy. It is intellectually stimulating from the perspective of plot and will undoubtedly intrigue anyone ever dreaming about a lost city of gold or wanting to improve their abstract historical knowledge for their next 'trivial pursuit' competition with their friends or down the pub on a Friday night. For the kiddies it is action non-stop without the blood, gratuitous violence, and swearing.

The cynics among us might suggest the whole movie (the second in what is destined to be a series) is designed to set up the sequel. The mysterious page 47 seems destined to become the plot for the next installment, but what is on page 47? This is the unanswered question although we do know it to be life-altering. Life altering here is in fact taking on a life of its own in the blogosphere with many people suggesting the next big treasure hunt is going to be the search for the fountain of youth or life (done and re-done in numerous movies including one of the Tomb Raiders films starring Angelina Jolie, which is a good connection seeing her real life father plays the father to Nicholas Cage's character in National Treasure--coincidence or something more?).

Life altering in this movie was unscripted but designed to draw interest form movie goers. It has worked and worked so well that it is likely to spur an industry of its own, at least until there is a sequel come out to quell the suspicions. But with suggestions being that the franchise is to go more international then another mythical long lost treasure is the most likely choice, and possibly something from the age of antiquity. As one pundit stated page 47 seemed to be a good number of pages before the information that Ben Gates was looking for relating to Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. This, as the logic goes, rules out some of the more modern treasure stories associated with looted treasures from the world wars.

With the rape and pillage of great civilizations over the many thousands of years of human existence means that the possibilities for the next big treasure hunt for the Gates family are endless.

The search for the mysterious cities of gold, and there are seven of them, has been something that has peaked the interest in many an explorer and treasure hunter, seeing many of them die in the cause or become disillusioned by it. Or the contemplation of support by Queen Victoria for the Confederate cause. Or the fact that there are three Statues of Liberty. These are all interesting tid-bits of historical trivia.

But for me the more interesting facts relate to the idea that there is a book that passes from one president to the next that in essence contains all the nitty gritty details of all the unsolved mysteries that conspiracy buffs live on such as the JFK assassination and the Watergate scandal and the missing Nixon tapes. Maybe its me, or maybe I am more of a conspiracy buff than I imagine...did anyone else find it interesting that there are supposedly 18 pages missing from the JWB diary and there are also 18 minutes (and a little bit) missing from the Nixon tapes? I should add though that there is a suggestion that further analysis by the FBI has stated that there are maybe as many as 52 pages missing from the diary...

All in all the movie is good entertainment and anyone with an interest in historical fact will need to do a little research of their own to separate the fact from the fiction. It is not the nest movie I have ever seen but it is satisfying in the manner in which it sets up the sequel and leaves you wondering and anticipating the next installment and this is what a franchise film must do!

If you have an interest in history, particularly US history, and a thirst for trivia, then this is a movie you must see!

The Book of Secrets appears to have many more secrets to reveal!

12 January 2008

A Good Sledge

Dear Readers,

A challenge! The best sledge you have heard or used yourself...a good sledge does not need to vilify by the way (is there such a thing as a good sledge?)...

But to get things rolling here is a Clive James classic on John McEnroe:

"McEnroe was as charming as always, which means that he was as charming as a dead mouse in a loaf of bread."

IVF & Incest

A story from the Sydney Morning Herald caught my eye, surprising because after my morning swim my eyes are red and watering (that's because men don't cry their eyes just water), oh yeah, the story!

After reading the title "Unwitting incest" and the politically incorrect and morally questionable jokes of my youth such as incest being a game the whole family can play, the story really is a tragedy. It is too bad that I am not a statistician or some kind of mathematical genius in order to work out what the odds are that twins separated at birth and raised by different families would run into each other, fall in love, and get married! I would guess that this is remote.

It seems this remote case is being used to ensure that the names of biological parents in in-vitro fertilization (IVF) programs are recorded on birth certificates. One of the features of IVF has always been that the donors could be anonymous if that was what was wanted. The other issue worth considering is that many people donate because their identity is not revealed. If identities are to be revealed potential donors are going to think long and hard before donating their genetic material. This is particularly the case now where biological parents of children are being sued for material and financial support for children that they never intended supporting.

It would be possible to have a complete medical history of donors without ever having to release their names. Yet, this is lost in the emotion. The debate is no doubt going to be heated but is the remote possibility that tragedies like this will unfold in the future sufficient to see a shift in public policy from protecting the identity of the donors to making it compulsory for all donors to be named?

Soeharto Update - Critical

Well, multiple organ failure if it does not kill you forces your family to settle some still pending legal matters out of Court. The Old Fella is now not only looking his age but feeling it as well. It has been reported that death occurred but doctors were able to revive him and get him on a ventilator to assist breathing. As a simple quality of life issue I might have instructed my doctors to let nature take its course--if I stop breathing then so be it, let me go to the light!

Look multiple organ failure in anyone is a serious medical development and in an 86 year old it is very serious. But it is funny in a really sad perverse kind of a way that at this point in time the Attorney General comes out with the statement that the family has agreed to settle the Supersemar Foundation corruption case out of court. For those affected this is not going to seem like justice, but for all you god-fearing people believe in this--what goes around comes around, so your folly comes back to bite you on the ass sooner or later!

Back to the settling out of court arrangement. The action was seeking some USD 1.4 billion in assets allegedly misappropriated (for the less polite among us, stolen) from the Supersemar Foundation. Settlement would seem to suggest that the family has agreed to return something to the State but it would be surprising if it were the USD 1.4 billion that the government was seeking! There are other ongoing cases but if I was the Old Fella's lawyer I would be making sure that this settlement meant that all outstanding issues were settled. Nah, to complete this sad tale we would only need to see the miraculous return to health of the former dictator.

If only I was a cynic!

11 January 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary (1919 - 2008)

Sir Edmund Hillary passed away overnight and his passing is worthy of a blog post on my little blog. It is probably worthy of so much more but this is the best I can offer.

Why bother you might ask, well when I was growing up and much more adventurous than I am now (although in my mind I will always remain adventurous) I used to dream of climbing
mountains and being like Sir Ed. I still harbor dreams of going to Nepal and Tibet and climbing mountains albeit with each passing year the mountains I aim for get shorter in stature.

For these dreams I have
Sir Ed to thank--thank you!

The doG - God Connection

Have you ever wondered why dog is God spelled in reverse, the mirror image. Is God a dog? or is a dog in fact God? Not that I really ever thought about it until just recently. In one of those deja vu moments, where you are thinking about something and then something comes to your attention and crystallizes the moment for you, happened to me just now. Most of my friends have blogs and I was reading the blog of one of these dear friends, a post about dogs and them taking on the characteristics of their namesakes (http://athomeinthequeencity.blogspot.com/) or that for which they were named.

This got me to surfing the Internet to answer the question, why? The Internet is the veritable fountain of information from the accurate through to the truly bizarre, but always a good starting point in any search for information and knowledge. My travels threw up this gem, http://www.geocities.com/~olelo/shelties/god-dog.html, which states that a recently discovered Dead Sea Scroll holds the answer to the age-old question of why dog is God spelled backwards.

This will need further research to confirm but it nevertheless answered the question for me and I am smiling about it even now as I write this post in my blog. But the most likely scenario for me is that most religions believe that their gods are forgiving entities that love unconditionally and my dogs have always loved unconditionally and it is this that is the ultimate connection for me.

10 January 2008


Unyil is my walking companion, confidante, friend, and dog. Unyil and I, we have a deal--I take her for a walk every single day, no matter what time or how tired I might be, and she doesn't bark at people walking by. I am keeping my end of the bargain.

But seriously, the point of this post is that owning a dog, particularly a dog as man's best friend and all, is therapeutic and beneficial. I enjoy spending time with Unyil and if some one was willing to pay me to stay home and spend more time with her then I would but I have yet to find someone this wise!

Everyone should own a pet and especially children (and some adults). Pets teach discipline in that the care needed to ensure that the animal is looked after is ongoing. Even when you might be having that really bad hair day, your pet still needs attention. This is the therapy angle. A bad day always gets brighter when you get home, to both your family and your pets. One of the best parts of my day is getting home after work and Unyil being excited to see me and bouncing round in circles until I sit down and she gets a long-awaited tummy and back rub.

It is nice to be loved no matter what, and this is what pets can bring to your life.

As I sit here in the study and write this post my furry little companion is sleeping at my feet, as a matter of fact on my feet, this is an important dog strategy so that I cannot sneak away without her noticing. Reminds me of a Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam) song, "I Love My Dog"...

Thinking About No. 1

It is early in the new year but even saying that begets the fact that ten days have passed already--time flies even when you are not having fun!

As much as I do not like to make New Year's resolutions...I have indeed made one, but only as of today. For me resolutions are like any other rules we make, destined to be broken and broken resolutions are the seeds for disappointment and regret of not having achieved what we felt to be important to us.

The trepidation aside, I have resolved to think more about myself and a little less about others. The rationale is simply by being more true to myself and pursuing the things that I consider important, and chasing the dreams that I have, then I will by default make a bigger and better impact on those around me.

So, here's to No. 1....go get 'em!

The Profane, the Obscene, and the downright Vulgar

I have felt the need to write this post and was thinking of doing it yesterday but caught up with other things. But now that I know my folks are going to read my blog perhaps this entry will serve as explanation rather than justification for using words that they may find offensive...hey Ma + Pa!

The post prior to this one uses words and some language that is sure to offend as many may consider it to be profane, obscene, or perhaps even vulgar. Yet, the point, albeit perhaps to subtle for some, is that the nature of the offense is more related to the context of the utterance than the utterance itself. Perhaps we should be less tolerant and thick-skinned to the vilification of those around us. Nevertheless, as times change so do our attitudes and understandings of what constitutes offensive language.

Having worked in the criminal law the words in the previous blog and some even more choice words than those do not cause my skin to crawl or cause me any particular personal offense. For others I am sure that offense is intense and perhaps acute. As some of these words are generally considered to be taboo.

I recall an instance way back when, 1992 to be precise, where I was staying with my Nan and Granch in Chepstow in south Wales not far from Tintern Abbey, and Granch was going to cook lunch. Lunch was to be faggots and mash. Now, for those of you who only know the word faggot to mean something different, then let this be a lesson in context. A faggot is simply a meatball and mash is the potatoes that accompany them. But the recollection never ceases to bring a smile to my face, the smile being more intense when people ask me what your favourite food is. Because I can answer; I love to eat faggots and mash! Huh!

So, back to the point of this post...offense is relative and to those of you that I offend with my word choices, I offer my apologies for the offense caused. I am a firm believer of constructive debate and I am prepared for people to constructively criticise my choices, provide feedback, and to try and educate me to the perils of my understandings, But the constructive debate angle allows me to do the same things back to you!

When it is all said and done, thanks for reading my blog!

08 January 2008

Racism in Sport

Some news from my homeland, the land down under, Australia!

The conclusion of the second cricket test has left a bitter taste in many mouths not so much by the way India capitulated on the final day to lose a test which seemed destined for a draw and an end to the Australian pursuit of the all time consecutive wins record at 15, just one shy of the magical 16, but rather as a result of the subsequent suspension of Harbhajan Singh for a racist taunt against Andrew Symonds. Symonds alleges that Singh called him a monkey.

Now, calling someone a monkey in and of itself is not racist, but when the person being called a monkey is Australia's only black player then the question was almost certainly going to arise as to whether it was a racist taunt. But what about if Singh had called Ponting and Symonds a pair of monkeys would that have been racist?

There is a long history of racism associated with calling a black person a monkey. If you do not believe it, then a simple Google search with the right terms will enlighten you no end. The insinuation is that the person is a throwback to the apes, perhaps representative of the missing link, and it is undoubtedly derogatory and intended to offend. Human beings can be really offensive when they want to be.

If Singh called Symonds a monkey he should be punished for it. Is a 3 match ban the most appropriate form of punishment; maybe, maybe not. But even more appropriate would be for the offender to get some counselling and then be required to make public service announcements regarding the danger of racism. This would go to the fundamental goal of achieving a recognition that racism has no place in sport.

But what about more general forms of sledging and taking the piss out of your opponents. Unfortunately, the good ol' days of "ya mother wears army boots" are long gone. Insults of this nature just no longer cut the mustard. Yet, is the best course of action in the light of this fiasco to ban sledging altogether?

Back to the case at hand. I have read some interesting articles and attempts to justify and execute Singh for the alleged comment. It was heard supposedly by a number of people although Singh has strenuously denied he uttered the offending word. But the most interesting article I read related to the
Hindi word for motherfucker (the debate on whether an insult, and it is an insult with sexist connotations, is offensive based on whether it is an adjective or a noun is a different debate and a different post, but for an excellent academic discussion on the use of "fuck" see this link) which is "Maa Ki" to an untrained Australian ear this may indeed sound like 'monkey'. So, should Singh be given the benefit of the doubt here? Perhaps and particularly so in light of his vehement denials that he used monkey.

Let's face it, motherfucker may not be racist but the connotation is clear and as such it is offensive. The difference here is it is not racist and as such would have seemingly attracted no ban (but see the next point on the counter claim relating to the use of the word bastard--this may attact a ban of up to 4 matches). Further, the fact that Singh has now been labelled a racist this is a tag that will follow him for the rest of his career and into his post-cricket life too. What happened on the field should have stayed on the field and been settled there as well. In this age of political correctness the Dons that rule our little worlds would never stand for it. Is Dons racist or something offensive...Dons is used here in the sense of the head honcho of a mafia outfit, The Don. My Ma tells a great story about going to a wedding in her youth where the bride and groom were both of Italian ancestry.

Keeping on the offensive theme. India has lodged a counter-claim against Brad Hodge that he used the term 'bastard' when addressing a couple of the Indian players. Bastard in the technical sense refers to a child born out of wedlock and initially was intended to offend. Overtime the term has lost much of its offensiveness and it is now used in a number of ways like 'you lucky bastard' to signal that someone has enjoyed a considerable bit of good fortune. For example, when Symonds was given not out after edging the ball and standing his ground, you could safely say you were a lucky bastard not to be given out. Unfortunately, for Brad Hogg he suggested he was going to run through you bastards, which simply means he intended to take the Indians wickets as cheaply as possible, has become a test of consistency for the Match Referee.

So, in a country or culture that does not look favourably on children born out of wedlock, then being a bastard is stigma that is particularly offensive. Australians are likely to argue that bastard is no longer an offensive term as it is used regularly. The Indians made a similar claim that in Indian culture the monkey is a revered creature, and it is a deity, and as such hardly offensive. This is perhaps an oversimplification and India would be better served to argue that Singh did not use a racist epithet but rather he called Symonds a motherfucker. I am not sure that I can see the overall distinction here on an offensiveness level but if someone thinks that the insult of one's mother is less offensive than racism on the offense scale then so be it. Let the powers that be explain that one!

Hopefully, this is a storm in a tea cup that over time will dissipate and be dispatched into the pages of history. Racism is a serious issue but there are too many questions about whether there is a sufficient preponderance of circumstantial evidence to convict and punish Singh for his alleged indiscretion.

The bigger issue in the long term was the preponderance of mistakes made by the umpires which had the impact of completely changing the outcome of the contest. This has given rise to an active debate as to how much technology should be allowed into the game. These are separate but related issues. Related because better microphone technology might have picked up the exchange between Singh and Symonds putting to rest once and for all the dispute as to whether he did or did not say it.

The optimist in me says that cricket and sport will be a better game for this experience.

07 January 2008

Mud and More Mud

Well, the Lapindo disaster that has devastated and paralysed Sidoarjo seems to be getting worse despite all the promises that things would get better and the victims would be looked after. The latest fiasco in this never ending drama is the collapse of the embankments that are supposed to contain the mud flow and prevent it from inundating more villages and farms.

The collapse of the embankments saw the surrounding rail lines and roads submerged in up to 80cms of hot stinking mud. And while the people responsible for the embankments twiddle their thumbs and look for someone to blame the mud continues to rise and is now above 1 meter in some places. Just as Bakrie has sort to blame an earthquake for the disaster the Agency responsible is also looking to blame God, this time too much rain. Yet, the reality is that as the earth continues to spew the hot mud out onto the surface the integrity of the land under the embankments is compromised and they have started to collapse under their own weight. So, if you cannot stop the flow then you must build secondary and tertiary containment walls to ensure that where one collapses you have another ready to pick up the slack.

The other problem that ensures people continue to become victims of this disaster is that people are refusing to relocate to other areas. This refusal is based on the fact that they have not been compensated as they are supposed to have been. But it is not only the local residents that are losing money and being affected by this, the government is losing money as well. The inundation of the railway tracks with thick mud means that trains cannot continue to run and tickets have to be refunded and alternative arrangements made.

The cost of the disaster continues to climb with each passing day. There are estimates now that losses will total in the tens of trillions of Rupiah. It is high time that Bakrie and his family made good on the compensation to the victims of this tragic environmental disaster and forked over some of that hard-earned cash he is sitting on. After all he is the richest man in Indonesia and as the Coordinating Minister for Community Prosperity it is about time some of that prosperity made its way to the people of Sidoarjo. This is especially so since his personal fortune has climbed from a miserly USD 1.2 billion to USD 5.4 billion in the space of 12 months.

Updates to follow on this story as it is not likely to come to an end any time soon!

Indonesian Elections 2009

With the Indonesian general and presidential elections to happen in 2009, and seeing everyone is talking about it already, I have decided to join the fray. Here are some personal thoughts on what may transpire over the coming 18 months or so!

Even at this stage it seems as though it is Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's (SBY) election to lose. The reality is that there simply has not been any new potential candidates come through the ranks that have attracted attention or energized the masses. This is going to be another election in the transition to full-fledged democracy where entrenched interests and the old political elite will still dominate the presidential and senior leadership (parliament speaker) elections.

So, who might run?

Megawati - A former president of questionable leadership ability who relies heavily on the charismatic charm of her long-dead father, Sukarno. There have even been suggestions that she still converses with her father and has sort his permission to run again in 2009; scary thought when you think about it. If she wins then public policy in Indonesia is going to be through seances with the dead!

Amien Rais - Says he won't and he should do what he says! Enough said.

Jusuf Kalla - Head of Golkar, filthy rich, and from Sulawesi. Being the Head of Golkar provides some leverage but it is worth noting that there is not universal support for him as evidenced by the fact that Wiranto got up to beat him last time around.

Wiranto - Serious questions about his human rights record but he has proven to be fairly teflon in that regard so far. He failed to attract support last time around and has since created his own party, the Conscience Party (Hati Nurani). It is unclear whether this is an electoral vehicle or just a poor attempt to clear his own conscience? He can sing, so that is something he has in common with the current President.

Gus Dur - See my earlier post. He will not pass the medical. But he might be able to exert some influence if the National Awakening Party (PKB) garner enough electoral support.

Hamengkubuwono X - The Sultan of Yogyakarta is one of the perennial candidates in name but despite his seemingly huge popularity in Yogyakarta and throughout Java (to a degree) this has never translated into broad-based appeal that would see him as an electable choice.

Sutiyoso - The former Governor of Jakarta. He has some minor party support that spurred him to announce his candidacy for the top job. However, this is yet to translate into any endorsements from the major parties. Potentially a player though if any of the major parties consider him a vote getter in Jakarta but that is hard to see as his record in Jakarta is mixed at best - a vice-president perhaps?

There are likely to be a few other names mentioned such as Hidayat Nur Wahid of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) which have become an increasingly important political force with a very strong base in Jakarta.

Maybe by 2014 some new younger faces less entrenched in the ways of the old political elite will emerge. But I do not see them coming to the fore before the elections are held in 2009. Stranger things have happened, so one can always hope, right?

Republik Mimpi

It seems that the parody of Indonesian political life of present and past politicians, particularly Presidents and Vice-Presidents will soon become the stuff of parody itself. The popular television show "Republik Mimpi" or the Republic of Dreams has found itself in the position where one of the comedians has found himself in some serious legal trouble.

Jarwo Kuwat who impersonates the current Vice-President, Jusuf Kalla, is alleged to have committed a rather large fraud of some IDR 200 million. The fraud stems from the presentation of a cheque that subsequently bounced, a complaint by the person who received the cheque (Alex Cokro), and then Kuwat's failure to answer the three separate summons. The final of these was issued by the police in November 2007 which followed up two earlier summons issued in December 2006. This has in essence forced the police's hand and an arrest warrant is imminent.

Now the legal process will take over and run its course.

This is not the first time the show has been the center of a legal stoush. However, the earlier legal issues really went to the heart of the type of freedom of expression supposedly guaranteed under the Constitution. Unfortunately, at least for Jarwo Kuwat, this is a personal legal issue but one that nevertheless will impact on the show.

Political parody of the type seen in the Republic of Dreams is an important means and mechanism for developing political debate in Indonesia. Even though it is in its very essence comedy and its primary objective is to humor those that watch it, a secondary and equally important function is that it serves to educate. In amongst the humor is information on democratic rights, democratic ideals, reflections on current events and developments, to name but a few.

Gus Dur for President?

Gus Dur never seems to be far from the news, I think he likes it that way too! Gus Dur has made headlines by stating his intention to contest the 2009 Presidential elections not necessarily to win but more so in the Don Chipp vein of the Australian Democrats of "keeping the bastards honest!" Yet, the idea of Gus Dur running again in 2009 after the debacle of his candidacy in 2004 raises some obvious questions.

The simple truth for Gus Dur is that he failed in 2004 because he was unable to satisfy the strict health conditions placed on individuals seeking the Presidency. Are the health conditions discriminatory? Well, the answer here depends on who is making the decisions and the subjectivity or objectivity of the decision maker. But the rules from 2004 have been maintained and without any reports suggesting that the former President's health has improved it seems likely that he would 'fail' any future medical tests ordered by the Election Commission.

Gus Dur is a skilled populist but this proved to be his undoing in his presidency as the bureaucracy and more importantly the more-established political interests were never able to settle into a routine. Gus Dur as a populist often saw him referred to as being like the wind; being able to blow in any direction required. This is an entirely different concept from adjusting one's sails to catch the wind and this is what most solidified opposition against him personally and his presidency.

Gus Dur is an enigmatic character and as such will garner support for any potential bid to return to the No. 1 chair. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this support will translate into enough pressure to get him through the health test phase let alone secure the votes needed to be elected.

The man is a valuable addition to the political scene in that in his own special way he does get the community talking about issues that are important to the broader community as a whole, which is always good from a news standpoint as it gives us journalists and wannabe journalists 'stuff' to right about! And it also gives comics an endless supply of material for parody.

A Soeharto Quickie Update...

Anyone hoping for an imminent demise or a quick death, it seems, will not have those prayers answered. It has been reported throughout the day that the former dictator's health is improving after dialysis and a blood transfusion...

As noted in the previous post it is unlikely that any improvement in health is ever going to be enough to restart any legal actions against the old fella! This is confirmed in the apparent lack of political will for a prosecution with the statement of the Speaker of the Parliament, Agung Laksono, suggesting all legal actions should be abandoned on humanitarian grounds. Too bad the same amount of humanitarianism was not shown in the suppression of public and political opposition to the former strongman's rule when he was in power.

However, it is worth noting that it is also being reported that plans and preparations for a funeral have been made. The burial will be in the family plot next to his wife, Ibu Tien (Siti Hartinah), who passed onto the next world in 1996. The family plot is in Astana Giribangun - Surakarta, Central Java.

06 January 2008

A Soeharto Update...

Things do not look so crash hot for the former Indonesian President as his health is allegedly deteriorating rather rapidly. There have been a raft of health issues for the former strongman over the past several years and these now seem to have become more acute.

The primary health problems relate to a worsening heart condition, kidney failure, and apparently significant fluid build-up in his lungs...a matter of time?

Newspaper reports are stating that Soeharto has made it clear that he does not want to be taken overseas for treatment. This suggests to me that he perhaps knows his time is near and it is not too far into the future that he will get the opportunity to meet his maker.

I wish neither suffering not death on the old fella. I would rather he was healthy and before getting that opportunity to face his maker he has the opportunity to face the justice system here on earth. The ultimate shame would be for him to acknowledge wrong doing and be punished for it now, assuming the Office of the Public Prosecutor can make its case against him.

Updates to follow if there are any worthwhile bits to update.

04 January 2008

Hidden Cameras

A warning for all!

This is a little late for the now
former Health Minister in Malaysia but make sure you check your hotel room for hidden cameras before settling down to a romp in the proverbial hay. Dr. Chua Soi Lek has been forced to resign from his post amid the circulation of a sex tape. Unfortunately, Dr. Chua Soi Lek does not seem to be Paris Hilton and is unlikely to turn this into a reality TV career or lucrative appearance fees and events and parties.

I guess the moral of the story here is if you are checking in to a hotel for some on the side sex then either check for hidden cameras or don't hold back and give the performance of your life. You might just be able to parlay it into a career in the porn industry, with movies titled like "Dr. Knows Best!" or "Sexual Health: A Minister's Journey to the Dark Side". I am sure you, my loyal readers can do better on the titling front than me.

The Malaysian Hotels Association has been releasing press releases claiming that Malaysian hotels are safe and your privacy is guaranteed. However, the recording of this video and its subsequent dissemination suggests that privacy is not always guaranteed. The encounter occurred in a four star hotel in Johor State. So, the more stars a hotel has is not necessarily any guarantee of better service, treatment, or privacy.

The age of technology and the Internet ensures that any indiscretion no matter large or small is likely to be caught on tape or memory stick by someone somewhere and then offloaded or uploaded to the highest bidder.

Apparently, the video is doing the rounds in Malaysia. The rest of us might just have to wait for it to be uploaded to the Internet, may be it already is?

Moderates vs. Fundamentalists / Radicals

The moderates against the radicals or the radicals against the moderates is not a new phenomenon in any country and Indonesia is no exception to this. The recent spate of attacks by fundamentalist Muslims against minority sects proffering an alternative view to the mainstream teachings of the faith indicates an escalating battle for control of religion. What is at stake? Perhaps the secular status of Indonesia.

I have written previously on this issue but it is one worth revisiting briefly. The MUI fatwa has provided the basis for the attacks by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Indonesian Mujahideen Council (MMI) on the Ahmadiyah sect. The attacks have seen the mosques and property of Ahmadiyah followers burned and damaged. These attacks have also been directed personally at followers.

Unfortunately, the President has provided explicit support for the power of the MUI and the fatwas that it issues by stating that he will abide by them. This support has only emboldened the FPI and the MMI to advance their conservative agenda of establishing a pan-Asian Caliphate and then implementing / imposing Syariah law throughout the newly established Caliphate.

Interestingly, the MUI is funded generously by the Government but the Government is not bound to abide by any decisions made by the MUI. In fact, the Government could go a long way to reducing the importance of the MUI by refusing to fund it.

The question here though is: Are the moderates prepared to step up and take back the debate on secularism and lead a revival of moderate thought? The answer to this question will go a long way to determining the social stability Indonesia enjoys over the coming years.