Here Thar Be Monsters!

Read in over 149 countries and 17 languages. Now at Augenguy.com! The original Indonesia Bureau brings you news and opinion with an IndoTex® flavor Monday thru Friday at 9a WIB (8p CST), from the other side of the argument to the other side of the planet. Be sure to check out Radio Far Side. Send comments_to luap.jkt@gmail.com, and tell all your friends. Sampai jumpa, y'all!

25.3.10

Rumah Manis Rumah

We step down from the bajaj into a typical middle-class neighborhood in west Jakarta. We are on one of the main streets through the neighborhood, which is just wide enough to allow two Smart Cars to pass, if one side of the street weren't lined with parked cars. You look up. The house is large with a neo-Greco-Roman facade trimmed in metallic gold. A Mercedes is parked in the forecourt. Next door is a dingy one-story that hasn't been paited in a decade. They share a side wall. All along the steet are small stores and restaurants, called warung, and vendors walk up and down the area selling all manner of goods and services. Each has a unique call or sound to identify them. Scattered group of people sit around, not doing much of anything. They all look at us because we are the most interesting thing to happen today.

Welcome to the kampung. This is how the upper half live in Indonesia. A kampung (which means village) is a housing area that is gated (the gates are locked at night) and patrolled by the RT, or citizen security service. Everyone who stays here pays a fee and gives a copy of their ID to the RT. This kampung is one of serveral in the area, along with schools, mosques and a pasar, or marketplace. In the distance, you can just make out the apartment buildings surrounding the local malls. Some people never go farther than the malls in their entire lifetime.

I direct you to the gang, which is a narrow alley way, about 7 feet wide, just enough for three people to walk abreast. Only foot-traffic and motorcycles use them and they lace through the entire kampung. It is lined with houses, literally wall-to-wall. They are all brick and concrete boxes abutted on three sides by other houses. The front of the house has the only windows, and if there is a garden, it is generally on the roof. Trees with various kinds of fruit hang over the walk from the forecourts. We start down the path and come to a house that is unremarkable. It is one and a half floors, white, wrough-iron fence which has a bag of trash hanging on it waiting for collection, pretty much like all the others here.

As we pass the front gate, we step onto the forecourt, which is tiled and has enough space to park a couple of motorcycles and hang the laundry. You notice there are almost no dogs to be seen or heard. They are harum (unclean) to muslims, although semi-wild cats wander everywhere and keep the rodent population in check.

As we come to the front door, you glance down and see several sandbags sitting across from the door. As you step inside, you almost trip over the threshold, which is raised about six inches. You guess there must be a lot of flooding here, probably in the rainy season.

Inside the door is a small room with some bookshelves, a curio shelf and some chairs. This is the sitting room where formal guests are received. Friends and family sit on the floor on mats or pillows in the next room. The family area is spacious and lined with shelves, bins, a laundry area, and a TV. It is open to the dining and kitchen area. The kitchen is not separate but is simply a counter with a sink in one corner. Some houses have an outdoor kitchen adjoining which is used for grilling or frying fish. A refrigerator stands in one corner and the table is in the center of the room. Every square inch of the house has white tile floors. In the kitchen, the tile goes half way up the wall too. You get the impression that you could almost clean house with a hose and a scrub brush, which leads you to notice also that pretty much everything is raised off the floor about six to eight inches.

You look at me expectantly and ask for the restroom. I direct you to a back area through the kitchen. As you step through the door, you are in the utility area. It was obviously a small open courtyard at one point, but it has been covered with translucent corrugated sheeting. A narrow stairway goes up to the half floor, which is either storage or the servants' quarters. On the ground level, there is a washing machine (no dryer) and a small bathroom. Inside the bathroom is completely tiles floor to ceiling with a wall-mounted shower hear, a twenty-gallon tank full of water, a raised platform with a 'squat' toilet (a porcelain bowl set into the floor with foot pads on either side), and a dip bucket. There is no toilet paper or towe in sight. You are on your own to figure it out.

When you come out, still dripping wet, we complete the rest of the nickel tour.

There is a small bedroom at the front of the house and then the master suite, ehich is large room (the only on with an A/C), a couple of beds and another bathroom (you notice this one has a 'throne' and you wish I had sent you here). There are no closets anywhere in the house, so the rooms have wardrobes. Again everything is raised off the floor the ubiquitous six to eight inches. There are some small windows, like transoms, high on the wall that allow some light, and two small skylights in the ceiling. Otherwise, the walls are solid and blank.

You notice that every room has a single bare florescent bulb in the center of the ceiling. Additionally, you eye catches wires and cables strung haphazardly across the ceiling. Seems the cable installed took the most direct line to each drop, rather than make any attempt to dress or hide the cables. In the bathrooms, pipes are exposed. It occurs to you that hiding things inside the wall is a major engineering project, since everything is solid brick and concrete. You also notice that the rooms have a single electrical outlet with strings of multi-boxes snaking around the house. All the electic service is DC. You can plug a generator into a wall socket and power everything on that circuit, even the neighborhood if you don't pop the mains first.

One other thing stikes you as you look around. The bathrooms, the utility area and the kitchen all have 50-gallon plastic tanks full of water, and in the kitchen are a number of 5-gallon carbouys with drinking water. Though Jakarta today is faily stable, in the past and in most of the rest of the country, electricity and water service frequently go out, so most people have at least a water storage capability, if not a generator.

Welcome to everyday life in Indonesia...for the upper half. In another installment, you will visit how the other half lives.

21.3.10

Oldie But Goodie

Here's a diddy I wrote about 2 months after I got here. Though it was worth reposting.
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I am told that today is special in that I am to be treated to a couple of Menado delicacies. I am both leery and excited. In my travels, when I have been told these very things, I have been treated to cobra blood, monkey brains, locusts, and fried termites. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy them, but there is always the initial revulsion and wave of nausea that I have to overcome. It takes quite a bit of discipline to focus my mind and forget the source of item.

I have a personal policy that if anyone offers me something to eat or drink that they value highly, I am obliged to try it with the sole exception being if I believe it will cause me personal harm. One can not learn a culture and understand a people if one is not willing to partake fully with them.

Today, my adventure will be cap tikus (CHUP-tee-koos, lit. kiss of the mouse) and erway. The term is very old and most Indonesians now know what it is, but I am blissfully ignorant and for all I know, erway is a local fruit.

My host takes me for a short walk to a spot that is more or less like a commons shared by several families. In the center is a large vat covered with a rubber tarp and a maze of bamboo pipes coming from the top. The bamboo is a little over an inch in diameter and there are about 20 lengths joined together to form a rough coil ending in a spout with a good number of empty bottles nearby. My interest is piqued! It’s a still! This is going to be fun!

Looking around I see a very large pile of coconuts, over six feet high, with the tops cut off. I inquire of my host who informs me that we are going to enjoy cap tikus, which is distilled from pure coconut milk. As I observe the precious drops coming from the spout, I see that the first bottle is only a third full, and that there are about 20 bottles around. This tells me it’s going to be a long process. The vat holds easily 20 gallons and will produce roughly 20 liters.

Several of the women are busy cooking. Some are making steamed rice, others vegetable stir fry, and still others are cooking erway. I sneak a peak. The aroma is exciting and thankfully, it appears to be some form of meat. The cook informs me that it is very spicy as she throws a handful of chilis into the mix. I see bay leaf and anise and other spices I don’t immediately recognize sitting on the counter. Perhaps this time, the delicacy is in the sauce and not in the source.

I join the circle of men and begin talking with them. They are talking to each other in the Menado language and to me in a mish-mash of English and Bahasa Indonesia. One offers me a bottle and a glass. It is cap tikus, he says. It is translucent, but cloudy. I pour out a shot and smell it. The aroma is somewhat like absinth, but with pepper overtones. There are very earthy sub-notes and an overall tropical flair. At first taste, it is smooth and slightly bitter. There is no overwhelming alcohol bite, like I expected from moonshine. Again, there is a subtle anise flavor and the earthiness, but also a very strong "wild" taste, like deer or wild boar. I search for something to compare it to, but nothing comes to mind. It is truly unique.

The men are looking at me with apprehension. I describe my experience to the host, who says that this is a special preparation, not like what we will drink later. This version takes over a week to prepare. I inquire what is done to this version that is different. In the back of my head I hear that voice saying I don’t want to know the answer, and sure enough, I don’t. This version is poured over a fetal deer and allowed to sit for a week or more while the flavors blend (there’s that wave of nausea again). I struggle but manage to nod my appreciation. By the third shot, they could have filtered it through elephant dung and I wouldn’t have cared.

The day is spent discussing my travels and impressions of Indonesia. Talk ranges through independence from The Netherlands, World War II and the oil/logging/mineral boom here. I am asked a number of times about my thoughts on Indonesian women and my enthusiasm never fails to elicit a laugh. They are very curios why a bule would want to leave America when so many are trying to go there and we discuss the effects of good marketing, even when the product fails to live up to the hype.

By sunset, we are ready to eat. Bowls and platters are laid out with a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, and of course, erway. I am handed a plate, fork and spoon and ushered to the table to serve myself first and everyone makes sure that I don’t skimp on the erway. I load my plate to overflowing and walk back to my chair. The food is incredible with a range of flavors and smells that are almost overwhelming.

Everyone watches anxiously as I taste the erway. It is a red meat with small bones cooked in oil and spiced until my eyes water and I break out into a sweat. The entire audience is entertained as my face turns beet red. Not that the heat bothers me. I was raised on jalapenos and have enjoyed Thai and curry for many years. This is particularly hot, but not so that I can’t eat it.

The erway is greasy, but not annoyingly so. It is cooked nearly to the point of being fried, but not quite. I detect soy sauce, bay, anise, and a spice that is almost minty. There are copious chilis tangled up in the matrix. I muse that it would be perfect with fresh mushrooms, which are impossible to find here, and perhaps some bell pepper and red onion. The crowd is pleased that I enjoy it and react excitedly when I ask if I may have more.

We wash the whole affair down with an ocean of cap tikus. The children wander off to watch TV and the women clear the dishes. I offer to help, but am firmly told to sit. My head is beginning to swim from the liquor, but the buzz is not quite like any other I have had. My eyes have a hard time focusing and I feel distinctly drunk, but not debilitated. Fortunately I am walking a block to the house. I yawn deeply, and a couple of the men laugh and point. One says that the cap tikus is working since I am ready to sleep.

Eventually, I stand and make ready to leave. There is a round of hand-shaking and two or three of the single women give me the double kiss on the cheek. Obviously, they wish to leave an impression, and it works.

As I start to leave, I stop and remind the host that I still don’t know what erway is. He asks if I enjoyed it and I say of course! I can hardly walk I am so full! He explains that R.W. (err weh) stands for two words in the Menado language that translate as "small head." He smiles broadly, obviously full of pride at his hosting success.

"Anjing!"

I look puzzled.

"Dog!"

The Health of a Nation

One has to wonder why socialized health care has become such a burning issue. I mean: why now? Why is Obama willing to trade ALL of his political capital for it? Why is Congress willing to drive the last stake into the heart of the country, against the will of so many people, in order to pass a bill virtually no one has read? And why is this reform so vital that it must include the IRS to help enforce it?

It's a given that the American health care system is outrageously expensive, but there is nothing wrong with the delivery system, it is the deification of doctors and the complete lack of alternatives that makes it so. The pill pushers and surgeons have a comfortable monopoly on the delivery of health care. Those seem to be the only alternatives ever offered. Option 1: throw pills at it; Option 2: remove and rewire if the pills don't work. There are no other options available through conventional insurance. Why not herbals, acupuncture or holistic care? Why not faith-healers? After all, Western science has proven the placebo effect, so isn't all medicine more or less just faith healing?

By contrast, my experience in Indonesia is quite different. One year ago, I had my first (noticable) attack of Multiple Sclerosis. In the span of 5 minutes, I went from having a highly accurate and trained sense of sight to profoundly blind. I did not have insurance other than my bank account. Subsequently, I went to 6 specialists at 5 different hospitals, stayed for a week in one of Indonesia's premier eye clinics, had 2 MRIs and a CAT scan, blood tests, medication, and follow-up visits. Total out-of-pocket? Less than $1,000. The hospital stay for one week, including nursing, medication and 4 decent meals a day? $200. The MRIs were $200 each. Each doctor's visit? $18. One year of tests and treatments cost about the same as 2 days in a US hospital.

In the end, the only option Western medicine gave me, after steroids restored some of my sight in the acute phase, was lifetime popping pills that may or may not prevent future attacks and which had onerous side-effects. I have since begun a vitamin/herbal routine with massage and acupuncture, which has restored some of my color vision, though not much accuity. A 2-hour, full-body massage runs about $4.50, and one session of accupuncture is about $9.

The point is, if I can obtain state-of-the-art Western medicine in the Third World at a fraction of the cost as in the US, what makes it so expensive? I can buy over-the-counter Amoxicillin, 10 doses, for $4 here. Why does it require a doctor's visit and cost $15 in the States?

The other part of the health care bill is the enforcement. The bill allows for the IRS to garnish wages and attach bank accounts in order to force you to pay for health care that you may or may not have need for in the future. Many people receive health insurance as a benefit of employment, plus there is a Worker's Compensation Program for on-the-job injuries, plus there is a federal law requiring hospitals to provide emergency stabilization, plus there is a large network of charity hospitals, plus there is Medicare/Medicaide. So why exactly must Americans be forced at the point of a gun to buy into government-sponsored health care?

As my colleague George Ure points out, at UrbanSurvival.com, there are two compelling possibilities: 1) to provide a massive make-work program to employ as many people as possible, and 2) since the bill allows the feds to begin collecting in 2011, but not deliver until 2014, the money can be used to shore up the federal budget in the meantime. Both of these make sense in light of the current economic mayhem. I would add that it recognizes the lobbying efforts of big Pharma cronies, provides an additional layer of control and admits the rising storm of Baby Boom demographics.

Large-scale reforms such as this one always have multi-pronged benefits in order to get the greatest number of supporters. Arguably, Boomers are the single largest interest group in American society at the moment. This group, which has squandered the treasury and created a burdensome entitlement system knows that Social Security and Medicare can never hope to provide the benefits they expect in their old age. So it is imperative that they modify the system to give them what they want. After all, it is what they have done for decades, the rest of us be damned.

I believe the same effect could be achieved with simple reform of narcotics laws. Let the Boomers smoke and inject themselves into oblivion, tax the sales of opiates and other narcotics to pay for their convalescence and achieve all the same goals while keeping them quietly sedated. That's what they have sought for a generation, so give it to them. It's what they want in the health care bill: assured access to painkillers. My solution benefits society, while the legislation currently pending benefits corporate bottom lines. Same result, only one costs money and the other makes money.

As a final thought, there are tremendous investment opportunities right now in funerary services. Companies operating interment and incineration are the are the unsung economic growth engine of the coming decade, as we slowly and finally get rid of one of the most self-indulgent, navel-staring generations in history.

17.3.10

Generally Speaking

Indonesian is a very curious language. It is one of the easiest I have found to get started, and one of the hardest I have found to master. I say that as a Westerner, but also languages have been a life-long hobby of mine. Before coming here, I was fluent in three and conversant in another seven.

Indonesian uses the standard Roman alphabet, which makes it one of the easiest Asian languages to learn for a Westerner. The letters f and x are almost never used. Instead the letter p sounds like f when it appears in the middle of a word. The letter x is replaced with ks, such as taksi. The letter c is pronounced like the English ch. The vowels are the same as most Euro languages: ah, ai, ee, oh, oo.

Indonesian comes from Mulayu, which was a trading language among the islands of the archipelago. Malasian, Indonesian and Tegulu (Phillipines)are all cognates. Though there are dialectical differences, learning one gives you a kick-start for understanding the others. It's the same concept as the romantic or germanic languages of Europe. Knowing Spanish helps with Romanian. Knowing German helps with Norwegian, and so on. Because Indonesian was a trading language, things like numbers and basic concepts like eat, sleep, buy, and sell are ridiculously easy to learn. A Westerner can learn the alphabet in an hour and the number in a day. Concepts like sell/jual just add di at the beginning to become "for sale."

Other easy concepts include plurals. Doubling a noun makes it plural. Orang/person becomes orang-orang for people. In the same way, verbs can be doubled to intensify them. Dengar/hear becomes dengar-dengar for listen.

Pronouns are fairly straight-forward. They don't change based on function, so saya means I/me/my. The tricky ones are pria/ia/dia, which equate to he/she/it, except that dia is a genderless pronoun for a person, not a thing. It functions like they in English when you don't want to use the object's gender or it's not important. The other head-scratcher is kita/kami. Kita means we when the listener is included in the group. Kami means we when the listener is excluded. Indonesian has a formal you, just like all Euro languages (thou/thee/thy in English), but it also has a formal I. In fact, for I and you, there are three levels of formality: saya/aku/gue for I, and Anda/kamu/lu for you. Incidentally, Anda was only added in 1956, and is used mostly in advertising and in very formal communication.

There are a great number of words that have been borrowed into Indonesian that a Westerner will recognize right away. Tranportasi, operasi, dokter, and proyek to list a few. English has borrowed Indonesian words also, such as kecap.

Where Indonesian gets difficult is its structure. The grammar is like nothing I have encountered in European languages. It requires a radical shift in visualization or "framing," as I call it. Things like: rame meaning crowded, noisy and/or chaotic; matahari meaning sun, but is literally "eye day"; buah can mean fruit, each or thing depending on context. A prime example is hati, which means liver or guts in general, but hati-hati means caution and perhatian means attention or beware. This is a very limited list, but it gives you the idea.

Indonesian has a host of affixes that are added to words to change their function or meaning. These include, meng-, peng-, ber-, per-, ter-, -i, -kan, -nya, and -lah. Some of them are quite easy, such as peng-, which added to a verb makes it the person who does the action (tulis=write, penulis=writer). Ter- is a superlative or intensifier, such that bakar/fire becomes terbakar/burn, or baik/good becomes terbaik/best. Others are very difficult, such as meng-, which is added to nouns or verbs and has several different meanings depending on the word and the context. It can change a noun into an adjective, flavor a word (e.g.-lihat/see, melihat/visit, scrutinize or look in on someone) and create continuous action like adding -ing in English. You might have noticed the affixes also create spelling issues, as letters drop or change when adding them, and the rules are arbitrary. For instance, meng- and lihat become melihat, but meng- and obrol become ngobrol.

The one I have the most trouble getting my head around is -nya. I find it most helpful to translate it as "it is." For instance, you might ask someone, "Tidurnya nyenyak?" This equates to, "Sleep (it is) sound?" The "you" is inferred by context. Another example is "istrinya," which is used to when referring to a third person's wife, but never to my or your wife. I'll get back to you on this one when I get it figured out.

Indonesian has no tenses in the sense an English speaker thinks of them. The easiest is the future, where one simply adds akan before the verb, like English adds will. Past tense uses affixes with a very complex set of time statements. For example, before can be said five different ways, depending on whether something happened before in the past, will happen before something else in the future, or that you should do something before something else (like, turn before the river). Words like sedang can indicate a continuous action, like running, or indicate a simultaneous action, like while. When translating sedang, you just have to guess which meaning from context. The same for harus, which can mean must, could or should.

Many verbs are not negated, but rather have separate words for the negative sense. In other words, you don't say may and may not, you say mari and dilarang. Other examples include adalah/is and bukan/isn't, buat/do and jangan/don't. This feature of the language effectively multiplies the vocabulary one must learn in order to read signs and get instructions.

There are a whole slew of speech particles that act as a kind of verbal punctuation that don't have an English translation, making them difficult to conceptualize. They also don't appear in dictionaries, even though they are very common in spoken communication. Some examples are deh, neh, sih and dong. Deh relates two things, like the expression, "Kasihan deh lu," which more or less means "poor baby." Another popular expression is, "Cape deh," which means, "makes me tired," in the sense of saying, "oh hell!" Neh directs a statement to a nearby thing. In fact, just saying neh is a way of getting someone's attention. Sih softens a question so that it is not pointed or harsh. A common expression is, "apa sih?", which is like asking softly, "what is it, dear?" Dong is my favorite. It is a statement of the obvious. For instance, you say, "Its raining," when we are up to our knees in flood waters, and I respond, "Ya dong!"

Finally, there are the things that just don't fit into a Western mind-set. A prime example is love. The Indonesian word for love is kasih, but is almost never used when expressing love for someone. It is mostly used in the sense of the Greek agape, or spiritual love, like God's love. Instead, you would tell your loved one, "Aku cinta pada (ka)mu," which literally means, "I suffer for you." You would also tell them, "Sayang kamu," which translates as, "I pity you." In English, they sound harsh or strange, but in Indonesian, they are tender words cooed to a special person. Other examples are counting animals by the tail instead of the head, counting objects by the fruit, or using completely different words for sing, singer and song. These are the types of concepts that are most difficult to learn because they require radically different conceptualization, or "framing."

In the end, understanding the language is to understand the people and the culture. At first blush, Indonesia is a very different world. Once you begin to understand how folks think here, you can begin to understand why the culture is the way it is.

The next step is manners, but that's another essay altogether.

16.3.10

Tolerance and Other Fantasies

Today is Nyepi, a Hindu holiday in Indonesia, where Hindus are not allowed to work, leave their house, use machines or electricity, cook, etc. In Bali, which is predominantly Hindu, life effectively ceases. The rest of the country gets the day off.

So, why do I mention this? Well, it has to do with religious tolerance. In Indonesia, which is 80% Muslim, almost every religion gets at least one national holiday. Compare that to the US where only Christian holidays are allowed. If someone were to suggest giving the country a day off for, say, Buddha's birthday, Idul Fitri, Hannuka, or a Rasta bake-off, there would be howls of protest.

"This here is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles. By God, we can't let the heathens get a holiday in THIS country! They can go back to whar they come from!"

Yeah, I've heard it said time and time again. Change Christian to Islamic and I hear the exact same thing here.

So is Indonesia, and by extension, Islam, more tolerant? Not really. For one, Indonesians will take any excuse to not work. For another, the minority religions tend to cluster on certain islands (Hindus on Bali, Christians on Sulawesi, Buddhists in Sumatra). This means that there are strong power blocks that could use intolerance as an excuse to pull out of the Repulic (not unlike East Timur).

In the States, religious minorities are liberally sprinkled within the general population and don't represent strong political blocks. Therefore, Washington sees no expedient reason to kowtow to them. Furthermore, the US is a contiguous landmass and so is much easier to dominate.

Indonesia is a collective of roughly 20,000 islands, all with competing needs and agendas. If more than one region becomes unstable, it represents a major effort to extend force. In the States, one can literally march an army into a State and subdue it. In Indonesia, it requires the mobilization of the Navy and Air Force as well. So best to keep the natives happy.

Generally, minority religions are just barely tolerated. The mosques broadcast their tri-hourly prayers at ear-splitting volume all day, every day. Every public school, airport, mall, and public space has a musholla (Islamic prayer room) where non-Muslims are forbidden. The schools take breaks for prayer time, even splitting classes in two for it. Public life here revolves around Islam. There are allowances for non-religious Christmas displays. Buddha's birthday has fireworks and public ceremonies. There are three New Year holidays (Islam, Gregorian and Chinese). But you never forget that this is predominantly a Muslim country.

The chances of a non-Muslim getting elected president are virtually nil. The only non-Muslims in national office are from areas where minority religions are dominant. Muslim politicians who are haji (have completed the 3rd pillar of faith by pilgrimage to Mecca) always wear their black fez to let you know it. There is a government office which regulates Islamic holidays and censors films. During Ramadan, restaurants shutter the windows during the day. Out of habit, everyone, no matter what religion, says, "Al-salam mulaikum," when formally greeting someone. That's Arabic for "peace be with you."

On a broader note, the 1998 riots here were, in effect, Indonesia's Kristal Nacht. Here, the Chinese function in the same role as Jews in the West. They own the media, the banks and most of the prime real estate. The Chinese (even those who have been here for generations) don't fully integrate into the society, much like Jews (especially the one who maintain dual nationality). They tend to look down on the "lokal" people. For this reason, exactly like the situation in Germany in the late 1930s, the "lokal" blamed the Chinese for the economic woes of the country and mobs formed to harass, destroy and even kill. A comparative study of that history and Germany's show striking similarities.

In some ways, Indonesia is far more tolerant than the States. Americans notoriously are xenophobic and paranoid, which is why we have planted Hard Rock, Hyatt and McDonald's everywhere, so even when we travel we don't have to mix with the natives. We couldn't stand having aboriginal peoples squatting on our land, so we committed genocide, even using bio-weapons (small pox). We make the world learn English so we don't have to use their dirty languages. We just don't want strange people around us.

On the other hand, Indonesia is strung together from about 300 distinct tribes and peoples, with an equivalent number of languages. It is an amalgam of cultures and traditions that makes the States look positively homogeneous. In fact, a Cajun has more in common with a New York yankee than most groups here have with each other.

Indonesia has been colonized and exploited for over a millennium, starting with the Chinese and finishing with the Dutch about 65 years ago. It's revolution is still in living memory. The islands had to bond together to gain independence and provide for common defense. Therefore, Indonesia must be more tolerant. It is not perfect by any means, and Islam is the law of the land.

Concessions must be made in order to maintain the Republic. If not, it would fly apart almost overnight. There are rivalries and hatreds, even some ancient blood feuds. Most islands resent Java because the power, money and resources are disproportionally concentrated here. Java has the best roads and most stable power supplies. But throw 'em a national holiday or two, and they mostly keep quiet.

Not unlike America's pork politics.

The Javanese (central Java) were the first to convert to Islam, back around the 1500s. The Sundanese (west Java) made Indonesia's first treaty with the West (Portugal) in order to secure an ally in fighting the Islamic onslaught. Islam won and Indonesia became a European toy for 500 years because of that. Such is the stuff of history.

America's lip service to tolerance is a joke. America is one of the most intolerant places I have ever been. Heck, even the "tolerance movement" won't tolerate intolerance. In fact, tolerance is a pipe dream. All people bear prejudices, whether from experience or ignorance. You cannot force oil and water to live together without a homogenizer to keep them mixed. For people, that homogenizer is mutual interest. Just forcing people to love each other will never work. One must find a common interest to bring disparate groups together. In Indonesia, that common interest was getting rid of centuries of colonization and exploitation. It is fed with concessions to religious tolerance.

Imagine North America's indigenous people banding together and throwing the bastards out. What you'd have left is Indonesia without the water.

By the way, Islam means "the rule," and muslim is "one who follows." So now you know.

15.3.10

A Smidgen of Curmudgeon

H.L. Mencken had it right: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed – and hence clamorous to be led to safety – by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

Maybe you’ve heard of Climategate? In short, the University of East Anglia and the IPCC, the epicenters of Climate Change data and regulation, have been shown to be frauds. (see here for details: http://www.climate-gate.org/)

One of the safest bets I know is that, if everyone is rushing for the same exit, it’s better to look for another one. That personal philosophy has served me well, though it has brought repeated harassment and ridicule. "Little Big Man" has been one of my favorite movies for, among other things, a scene involving a "contrary" who bathes with dust and dries off with water, and rides his horse backwards. I like that guy!

In 1998, I began working with groups who wanted to separate Texas from the Union. The reasons for this movement are as diverse as the people involved, though they generally group around oppressive taxation, outrageous regulation and the general steaming pile of politics coming from Washington. I was called almost every derogatory name in Webster’s. Now the current governor of Texas has mentioned secession and a woman who ran for governor was riding a tide of sentiment based on her platform that was nearly identical to the independence groups.

In 1999, I sold all of my stocks and cashed out my 401(k), sold my house (and rented it back), bought gold and silver bullion, and advised everyone I knew to do the same. The howls of laughter ceased only long enough to throw a few barbed epithets, and then resumed again. At the time, gold was selling at $260 an ounce, silver was steady at $5 an ounce and the Dow was soaring at all-time highs. A year later, the Dow had crashed, gold and silver were climbing to new record prices. Gold is now at $1,100, silver at $15, the Dow is struggling to hold 10,000, and house prices have dived at historic rates.

I still have it in my sent box, too. It’s dated December 18, 1999.

The biggie was a subject which no one was allowed to question. I was literally yelled at, came close to blows a couple of times, and was soundly derided for holding my point of view. My position as contrarian was generally tolerated on most subjects, but I could never, EVER speak against the Holy Doctrine of Global Warming.

Incidentally, Global Warming, somewhere along the way, became Climate Change. I suppose that way one could argue that moving from Canada to Panama was proof of of Climate Change’s existence.

Anyway, my argument was reasoned and multi-faceted. First, carbon dioxide is a weak greenhouse gas. The only way to control warming is to ban water vapor on a planet that is 2/3 water. Next, I reasoned, a warmer climate and more carbon dioxide would benefit crops, thereby feeding more people. Two birds with one stone, I thought. Third, I believe it is the height of hubris for people to think they can affect global climate in roughly a hundred years. The system is far too large and complex for a little car exhaust to do that much damage. Fourth, the geologic record had already demonstrated that Earth had survived (nay, thrived) in periods far more extreme that anything the Gorevians were predicting. Fifth, scientists will say anything for grant money. And sixth, if everyone is running to the Global Warming side of the ship, then its safer to be on the other side.

I was released from a teaching job because I refused to teach Climate Change as gospel. Rather I chose to teach students critical thinking and healthy skepticism. One friend has refused to talk to me because I would not believe in Climate Change. He still won’t answer my email, only now I think he is just embarrassed. He argued that even if Global Warming doesn’t happen, the change in lifestyle enforced on people would be a good thing. I countered that if wrong, it would have the effect of the boy who cried wolf, it would discredit real science, and the result would be people increasing bad behaviors as a reaction to having been deceived.

One of the most curious arguments against my orneriness is that I don’t care about future generations. The people espousing this argument are of the generation which has completely, financially screwed at least the next three generations through greed, avarice and a profound self-centeredness. One almost has to wonder if they wanted Climate Change to happen to cover the tracks of their crimes. A scapegoat, as it were.

There are two aspects of human behavior that remain unchanged throughout all history: people will do anything to avoid being ridiculed, and people react badly to being forced to change. Therefore, humans become herd animals en masse to maintain the status quo. It’s a self-reinforcing circle of self-interest.

In my lifetime, I have been told that acid rain would destroy civilization, a new ice age was forming, and the world would end as a great desert surrounded by ocean. I was told that jogging down polluted city streets was healthy, led by a guru who died of a massive coronary at 55 while jogging. I was told that the cholesterol in eggs would kill me and a few years later I was told I needed that same cholesterol.

I have been told that Jesus is coming any minute now to finish His Work. In fact, He has been expected any minute for 2,000 years. My father once burned up 50 acres and a barn thinking the neighbor would be there any minute to plow a fire-break.

Basically, being a contrarian has served me extremely well, though I have had to endure a lot of crap because of it. The way I see it, the world won’t end, though it may become hostile to humans. If I read all the data correctly, if I exercise daily, eat only vegetables, avoid unnecessary risks, and live in a padded room, I can expect to live about 75 years. Or I can enjoy my life and get about the same quantity with a lot more quality.


Of course, we could get hit by an asteroid tomorrow.

14.3.10

The Far Side Manifesto

OK, kids. Get out your Slinkies. Go on, I know you have one.

Good. Now stretch it out on the dining room table. Ten feet ought to be enough. Lock it down.

OK, now get down and look at it from the side. Stand back a little so you can see the whole thing. Looks like a wave, right? It cycles up and down peaks and troughs, and progresses through time. Now shift around and look at it from one end. It's a full circle with no beginning and no end. Got that picture in your head?

You've just entered The Far Side. The same object has transformed from a wave to a particle, and all you did was shift your perspective. From one view, it looks like a series of events that are strung together across time. They are related, yet separate and distinct. From the other perspective, it becomes a single object, an endless series of stopping and starting points that form a single circle.

This model applies to history, light, time...pretty much everything. It can all be viewed from multiple angles and from each angle you get a different result. It's like the old joke about four blind men describing an elephant. Each one has a completely different perception of the beast from his perspective.

The ancient Romans and the Cubists have one thing in common: multipoint perspective. They enjoyed the esthetic of viewing things from many different points at the same time.

This is the definition of The Far Side.

When I chose to uproot from mainstream Texas (that may be oxymoronic) and change my perspective in Indonesia two years ago, I chose to see the world from several vantage points at the same time. I physically relocated to the exact opposite side of the world, and yet it was the same world. Nothing had changed, yet everything did.

I went from a country with about 300 million people to a country with about the same population. I went from a country that spanned about 4,000 kilometers and 4 time zones to the same. But, one was rock and the other was water. One was West and the other was East. One was North and the other was South. They both had stars, just different stars. My day became my night and vice versa.

I went from a career in the visual arts to being functionally blind. I changed from cynic to optimist. I breathed the same air, but now that same word (air) meant "water." The transformation was complete. I had stepped through the looking glass with Alice and completely upended my perspective.

All my life I have had the wanderlust. I chose my career because I could work and learn in many different fields. I worked in news, medicine and petroleum. I wandered the sidelines of NFL games, peered into tragedies close-up, I went into caves and hung out of helicopters and smelled the inside of a living human body. I witnessed birth and death and every stage in between. I've met and interviewed intellectual giants and mental midgets. I have sat next to great spiritual purity and the darkest evil.

And yet...

It hasn't been enough. I haven't seen it all. I haven't sampled from every dish. Nevertheless, sometimes life closes in; it becomes claustrophobic. After a while, it feels like you are on life-support and you need radical intervention to jump-start the mind again. That's when it's time to seek The Far Side.

I have traded my perspective for something radically different. Instead of church bells, I hear the mufti's chant. My new language is completely divorced from anything European. My coastal plains have become volcanic mountains. My visual world has become textual.

With all being said, The Far Side Manifesto is that I will endeavor to share with the reader a new perspective. Perhaps I will help to find a new perspective or, at the least, shed new light on the old one. With any luck you will find some things interesting, maybe inspiring and occasionally infuriating. I hope you will follow along and enjoy the show.

Welcome to The Far Side!