Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Environment degradation in Merapi

One year after the slow and painful eruption of Mount Merapi in Central Java, surrounding communities must continue to face danger. This time, the danger is not high-profile and does not attract media interest. However, it is no less severe in the long run.

While Merapi eruption is commonly seen as disaster by city folks, it is actually seen in a more balanced light by villagers. For one, an eruption leaves fertile soil which will is really good for the surrounding farmers later. And the business people love the top quality sand that eruptions leave, especially along rivers.

So sand mining is now hot. Jalin Merapi reports: nowadays, on a given day, loads of trucks and day laborers work to mine and transport sand. However, as day laborers may get a good deal of Rp. 50,000 ($5) per day, and the mining companies make a huge profit, the local residents are suffering.

Let's listen to the Selo people in Cepogo, Boyolali, Central Java. Where they live has now become prone to land-slides. Agricultural activities disturbed. Sources of fresh water in jeopardy.

What is to be done?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Modern woman vs outdated mentality

Let's talk about art for a change.

The EKI Dance Company is now performing their latest musical, Miss Kadaluwarsa, in Jakarta. I went to their show last night, and loved it very much. First off, the stage performance was awesome. A big salute to the cast and dancers, the musicians, and the lighting, sound and stage technicians. And of course, to the people behind the stage who made this all happen.

What's no less interesting is that this musical brings up an issue faced by probably many women in culturally transitioning countries like Indonesia: how should a single, successful career woman view the notion of marriage, and the role of a man/husband in her life? Miss Kadaluwarsa [kadaluwarsa means expired] points out, in a hilariously entertaining way, that a "modern" woman could still be trapped in an "outdated" mentality that keeps her unhappy and tied to unnecessary binds.

Miss Kadaluwarsa is playing in Gedung Kesenian Jakarta, May 23-27.
Here's the info on schedule, prices, and ticket boxes.

Update: Here are some photos from the show:

Monday, May 21, 2007

"The future is female"

British Telecom's futurologist predicts that the future will be about "the care economy." After the industrial age and the information age, the world economy will capitalize on what can not be automated or outsourced that easily: care. And who are "best suited" for this shift? Right. Women.
Machines will be able to displace people from many of today's information economy jobs, just as they already have in agriculture and manufacturing, Mr Pearson predicts... "More recently intellectual jobs have been done by software."

Consultants, male or female, are easier to automate than nurses. A consultant is tantamount to "an expert system linked to a complicated brain", he says. But nurses' skills are all about being human, by listening and making patients feel better.

"Softer interpersonal skills that cannot be replaced by a system will be better valued than the more rigid skills," speculates Cheryl Clemons, a programme manager for Broadband East Sussex.
A big question remains:
So if women have an easier time because their skills are more valued, does it mean they will also benefit financially? Not necessarily, Mr Pearson warns.
I am thus reminded of school teachers. In the 'olden days,' school teachers were mostly men, and they are highly respected and the pay is not bad. Then one day, teaching jobs were shifted to women, and gradually salary level & social perception of teachers become less and less interesting.

So I'd imagine the response from women is: "so what?"
Any thoughts?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

On happiness as public policy

I knew happiness is hot. But I didn't know that it's now on some countries' policy agenda (economists, here's a new challenge for you... or is this not related to economics?). Newsweek gives a report:
Happiness is everywhere—on the best-seller lists, in the minds of policymakers, and front and center for economists—yet it remains elusive. The golden rule of economics has always been that well-being is a simple function of income. That's why nations and people alike strive for higher incomes—money gives us choice and a measure of freedom. But a growing body of studies show that wealth alone isn't necessarily what makes us happy. After a certain income cap, we simply don't get any happier.

Now policymakers are racing to figure out what makes people happy, and just how they should deliver it. Countries as diverse as Bhutan, Australia, China, Thailand and the U.K. are coming up with "happiness indexes," to be used alongside GDP as a guide to society's progress. In Britain ... the "politics of happiness" will likely figure prominently in next year's elections.
But really, can happiness be measured/figured out scientifically? The New York Times recently wrote a long piece on what is happy (Happiness 101). Whole classes on some elite universities are being conducted on happiness, or to train people to be happy(er). One class gave a "distinction between feeling good, which according to positive psychologists only creates a hunger for more pleasure — they call this syndrome the hedonic treadmill — and doing good, which can lead to lasting happiness."

Personally, I like how happiness is portrayed in the recent Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness. I love how Smith pointed out how Jefferson put in life and liberty as basic rights of U.S. citizens, but not happiness in itself. You don't have a right to be happy, but you have a right to pursue it. Maybe because Jefferson knew from then on that happiness means differently for different people.

And I also like how policy makers are getting wiser by considering happiness, as opposed to simply wealth, as a nation's goal.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Do we need a moratorium of private vehicles?

Last month, Indonesia's Minister of Environment, Rachmat Witoelar, suggested a moratorium (temporary suspension) of new private vehicles in some cities. Mr. Witoelar said this in anticipation of the results of air quality evaluation currently being conducted in seven cities. Here's an English version of the news. Expectedly, GAIKINDO, the Indonesian Association of Automotive Industries, rejected the idea - as mentioned in Metro TV this morning. They blame the lack of infrastructure (roads) that is causing all the traffic congestion, thus producing air pollution.

My take on this:
  1. Forget about adding more roads! This NEVER solves the traffic congestion problem because as more roads are built, people will buy more vehicles. It's only a cosmetic solution to a systemic problem.
  2. At first, I thought the moratorium idea is quite extreme. Originally I wanted to suggest that Mr. Witoelar drop his "command and control" paradigm and go for the "incentives" approach instead. This means improving public transportation so that in the end people would have a better choice and leave their private vehicles at home.
  3. However, after second thoughts - especially considering the lousy implementation of an otherwise great public transportation idea (Yes, I'm talking about the TransJakarta Busway System, or as my sister puts it: "There's the way... where's the bus?") - I think I can understand why Mr. Witoelar suggested the moratorium.
  4. So in the end: NO to GAIKINDO's idea, NO COMMENT to Mr. Witoelar's idea.

In-line with all this, The Jakarta Post just featured an interview with Enrique Penalosa, former Mayor of Bogota, Colombia, and the architect of the "busway" system - or Transmilenio as they call it in Bogota. He has a good explanation on why adding roads is never the answer, although congestion is up to the neck! He also criticized the TransJakarta Busway (in a nice diplomatic way, of course).

Here's a nice quote from Mr. Penalosa:
Solving traffic jams is not a priority. In London, Paris and New York, there are also traffic jams and nobody says that they have to build more roads. The citizens are well aware that if they don't want to be caught in traffic, they will use public transportation. It gives them faster mobility.

So just let all the people suffer in the traffic jams until they leave their cars at home and use public transportation. City administrations should focus on improving the quality of their public transportation instead of investing in new roads. If you have a democracy, roads should be allocated first for public transportation.