Sunday, November 30, 2008

Eat Pray Love winners!

Congrats to the winners of our fantabulous Eat Pray Love giveaway, Justin Hampton of L.A. and Evimeinar Nasution of Winnipeg. Which begs the question, what's an Indonesian doing in the frozen tundra of Winnipeg, especially at this time of year? But I digress ... copies are on the way.

For those less fortunate, get Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling tale of her travels through Indonesia here, and check out her personal website here. And thanks again to the kind folks at Viking press. If you need a good stocking-stuffer for the holidays, here's a review excerpt from the New Yorker magazine:

"At the age of thirty-one, Gilbert moved with her husband to the suburbs of New York and began trying to get pregnant, only to realize that she wanted neither a child nor a husband. Three years later, after a protracted divorce, she embarked on a yearlong trip of recovery, with three main stops: Rome, for pleasure (mostly gustatory, with a special emphasis on gelato); an ashram outside of Mumbai, for spiritual searching; and Bali, for "balancing." These destinations are all on the beaten track, but Gilbert's exuberance and her self-deprecating humor enliven the proceedings: recalling the first time she attempted to speak directly to God, she says, "It was all I could do to stop myself from saying, 'I've always been a big fan of your work.'"

Today's Top Stories

6.0 blast strikes Sumatra

Heads back to Mumbai

Replaces Iran as head of 40-nation body

Jakjazz 2008 kicks off

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Struggle for the soul of Islam?

Are we seeing a battle for the soul of Indonesian Islam, playing out before our eyes?

Historically moderation has been the keyword, one that espouses tolerance as well as loyalty to one's faith. But with the world going to extremes, I wonder if it's a philosophy that's in retreat, even in Indonesia.

The Jakarta Post has an article on the subject, with the news hook being the passage of the pornography bill, the emergence of shariah law in some areas, and the banning of the sect Jamaah Ahmadiyah, all of which tends towards a stricter Qu'ranic interpretation of the world.

But more interesting than the text of the article itself, is the plethora of reader comments. It's a real kaleidoscope of views, from the 'unity in diversity' crowd representing traditional Indonesian values, to the one-Islam view that hews closer to the Middle Eastern version. It's always a challenge to represent the moderate middle in a cultural debate, but let's hope the cherished Indonesian traditions of tolerance don't disappear in a world gone mad.

Today's Top Stories

Isolation, lack of HIV knowledge helps disease to spread

For isolated Javanese tribe, everything's good

Down with imperialist fabrics!

Wields Cheney-like power behind the throne

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Meaning of Mumbai

What makes me saddest about yesterday's Mumbai massacre, apart from the death and destruction that fill our screens, is how some of the most memorable places in the world are all being subsumed by terrorism.

New York, London, Madrid, Bali ... the connotations these places bring up are no longer the greatness of human achivement, or the timelessness of their natural beauty, but the tragedy and gore of aimless terror.

I've been to Mumbai, strolling along the grand gates of the waterfront, chewing betel nut purchased at local newsstands, drinking chai tea brewed in huge brass pots. Now I feel those days have been stolen by the Deccan Mujahadeen, replaced by images of evil and human frailty, collected around the carnage of the Taj and Oberoi hotels.

I pray for those affected by yet another massacre, and hope that my beautiful memories of Mumbai will one day be restored.

Today's Top Stories

Et tu, Yudhoyono?
Graft scandal hits president's family

Clerics with too much time on their hands
The enemy of faith is ... yoga?!

Indonesia condemns Mumbai attacks
Government reaffirms anti-terror stance

General Motors: Dead in US, alive in Indonesia
New plant to start production in 2009

Thursday, November 27, 2008

New Dow Jones ASEAN Index

Much ado has been made in recent months about shariah-compliant investing, especially with all the petrodollars washing around the Middle East. Muslim investors are looking for someplace to stash their billions, that's in line with Qu'ranic precepts against drinking, gambling, and the charging of interest. (So how does Saudi Prince Alaweed bin Talal become a major Citigroup shareholder? But I digress.)

Anyhow, such investing has just been made easier, by the formation of the Dow Jones Islamic Market ASEAN Index. Included are shariah-compliant companies in six of the 10 ASEAN nations (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam). It's weighted by market cap, comprises 284 firms, and will serve as the basis for exchange-traded funds (ETFs) based on the same principles.

All well and good. Too bad it's rolling out just as everyone is shying away from exotic investments of all kinds (and as the petrostates are running low on cash, thanks the plummeting price of oil). Niche ETFs are dying by the boatload because of their tiny size, and investors are all retreating to the safety of U.S. Treasuries, which are now yielding next to nothing. In comparison, funds based on shariah-compliant ASEAN companies are anything but a safe haven ... maybe that's why the index has only a single licensee thus far.

Today's Top Stories

Elephants on the rampage
Sumatra overrun by the ornery mammals

Chevron taps Riau for more oil
New Sumatran field kicks off production

Government wakes up, smells coffee
Asks Australia for crisis loans

Obama misses nasi goreng
Yudhoyono speaks with Barack; wants rambutan too

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Of U.S.-Indonesia military ties

The military relationship between the U.S. and Indonesia has always been a bit of a head-scratcher. Under strongman Suharto, it was pretty tight, with joint exercises and copious supplies of military hardware. In recent years it's cooled off, just as a democratic government has taken hold.

Ironic, for a U.S. administration that famously wanted to spread democracy around the world ... especially in Muslim countries. It's as if they were taking revenge for human-rights slights like the East Timor debacle, but long after the fact. Go figure.

At any rate, the Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece on U.S.-Indonesia relations as a crucial test of Barack Obama's leadership. Will he restore joint training between the Pentagon and the Indonesian military, and risk angering some in his own party (like Senators Pat Leahy and Russ Feingold)? Or will he hold off and risk angering Defense Secretary Bob Gates, said to be a fan of restoring ties, and who is being wooed to stay on in the new administration?

Between a rock and a hard place, as they say. Welcome to the presidency.

Today's Top Stories

Possible interest-rate cut in the offing

Even Garuda barred from airspace

Visit Indonesia year vs. global economic crisis

Liquor shortages plague the nation

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Best and Worst Places to do Business

Can you name the best place in Indonesia to do business? How about the worst?

You don't have to guess anymore, because consulting firm KPPOD (with assists to the Asia Foundation and USAID) has come out with its ratings of 243 'regencies' throughout the archipelago. Using criteria like infrastructure, taxes, security, and 'Capacity of Mayor' (I love that one), they've ranked cities from top to bottom.

(Check out the original survey link here, and Reuters' recent take here.)

And so, without further adieu, the winners: Blitar and Magetan in East Java, Prabumulih and Musi Banyuasin in South Sumatra, and Jembrana in Bali. The stinkers on the other end of the spectrum: Rokan Hulu and Rokan Hilir in Riau, Labuhan Batu in North Sumatra, and two different precinct of Nias Island.

I feel particularly bad for Riau, my old stomping ground. But hey, the numbers are the numbers ...!

Today's Top Stories

CIA book to be banned?
Legacy of Ashes claims Adam Malik was an agent

Bloggers under fire
Wordpress being muscled to give up identity

Indonesia takes on Big Pharma
Set up local production or buzz off, says health minister

Dubai gold rush
Indonesian firms want in on the action

Monday, November 24, 2008

Now online: Life Magazine's archive of Indonesia photos

Life Magazine may be dead and gone, another victim of the print-to-digital revolution, but its iconic photos live on. In fact Google is now hosting their entire photo archive, of which there are about 200 shots of Indonesia at critical moments through the country's history.

It's quite an amazing voyage down memory lane. There are photos of Indonesian leaders in the fullness of youth, like Sukarno and Suharto; images of visiting dignitaries, like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the Soviet Union's Nikita Kruschev; nature shots from decades ago, of Sumatran tigers, Borneo orangutans and Komodo dragons; and regular folks caught in a moment in time, from mosque-goers to Balinese dancers.

In total the Life archive consists of millions of photos dating back to the 1750s, and is helpfully broken down by factors like people, places and events. Most were never even published, so it's well worth a look ... if only for a glimpse of when print journalism was still king, and the public collected Life Magazine photos as the precious specimens they were.

Today's Top Stories

Papua forges ahead with controversial plan to monitor disease

Government discusses capital controls to save embattled currency

An innovative way to combat deforestation

Indonesia turns to World Bank for budget help

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cruise Update: The Spice Islands

If you feel like getting away from it all for a while - far, far from the crashing Dow - reader Michael Corbett sends in word of a unique Indonesian cruise opportunity.

The Orion is Australia's only five-star expedition cruise ship, and usually travels to spots like Oz's Arnham Land, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Antarctica. But in 2009 they're adding Southeast Asia to the roster, with its Spice Island Adventure.

On the itinerary are islands like the Malukus, Komodo and Sumbawa, and the legendary dive site of Alor, along with rarely-seen spots like the uninhabited isle of Satonda. The nine-night adventure kicks off Sept. 10; prices range from staterooms at $6,365 all the way up to $13,325 for the 'Owner's Suite'.

Not cheap, to be sure. But to be on an expedition ship ranked #2 in the world by Berlitz Cruises (complete with luxury touches like gyms and spas), it could be one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips to tell the grandkids about.

Today's Top Stories

Friday, November 21, 2008

Free stuff! Eat Pray Love giveaway

By now everyone knows about Eat Pray Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. It's Elizabeth Gilbert's massive Oprah-blessed bestseller about travel and self-discovery, and now the good folks at Viking press have sent along a couple of copies for Everything Indonesia readers.

To enter for the free drawing, send an e-mail to with "Eat Pray Love" in the subject line, and your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. I'll draw a couple of names from a hat and send free copies to the winners. If you're not one of those selected, then help out the author and buy the book at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

For those of you not familiar with the book, here's the review from Publisher's Weekly:

"Gilbert (The Last American Man) grafts the structure of romantic fiction upon the inquiries of reporting in this sprawling yet methodical travelogue of soul-searching and self-discovery. Plagued with despair after a nasty divorce, the author, in her early 30s, divides a year equally among three dissimilar countries, exploring her competing urges for earthly delights and divine transcendence. First, pleasure: savoring Italy's buffet of delights--the world's best pizza, free-flowing wine and dashing conversation partners--Gilbert consumes la dolce vita as spiritual succor. "I came to Italy pinched and thin," she writes, but soon fills out in waist and soul. Then, prayer and ascetic rigor: seeking communion with the divine at a sacred ashram in India, Gilbert emulates the ways of yogis in grueling hours of meditation, struggling to still her churning mind. Finally, a balancing act in Bali, where Gilbert tries for equipoise "betwixt and between" realms, studies with a merry medicine man and plunges into a charged love affair. Sustaining a chatty, conspiratorial tone, Gilbert fully engages readers in the year's cultural and emotional tapestry--conveying rapture with infectious brio, recalling anguish with touching candor--as she details her exotic tableau with history, anecdote and impression."

Today's Top Stories

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ouch! Jakarta Index falls some more

Here we go again. Another day, another 2% drop for the Jakarta Index. Indonesian stocks are caught in the downdraft of the American market (magnified by the fall of the rupiah), where the Dow is now below 8,000 and basically where it was five years ago. What was that about 10% annual returns, that our financial advisors kept telling us about?

You're probably wondering about where to invest your money, when nowhere is safe. Good thing I just wrote an article for Canada's Globe Investor magazine, on what Ben Graham (the king of value investing) would do right now. The answer is he'd probably be buying.

In a nutshell, Graham looked to buy companies with low price/earnings ratios and low debt, that are selling at a discount to their book value. With the carnage going on right now, it's the first time in a long while that a lot of companies fit that description. Sure, things could go even lower, thanks to investor panic. But it's impossible to predict an absolute bottom, and according to the numbers, plenty of stocks already look pretty darn cheap.

Value investing is a long-term strategy, though, so don't expect to make big money in the next days or months. But if you're holding for many years, those who buy now, when things are at their bleakest, will be nicely rewarded. Consider Ben Graham himself: He almost went bankrupt in the Great Depression when the market lost 90% of its value, but by sticking to his principles, ended up a millionaire who retired in the south of France.

Today's Top Stories

Sulawesi furby gets worldwide attention
Private equity takes a run at Bumi
Final exam for Indo airlines

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Accor Hotels cornering the Indonesia market

It's tough times for the hospitality industry, but you wouldn't know it by how Accor Hotels chain is expanding its footprint in Indonesia. My friend Cynthia Dammerer sent an update of what's happening on the ground:

"Accor will open its 7th hotel in Bali in May '09, a five-star Pullman-branded hotel - the first internationally branded complex for the Legian region, that is growing steadily in popularity with tourists. Complete with restaurants, bars and boutique shops, the hotel sits opposite the famed Kuta beach, at the quiet Legian end, and offers five-star luxury in guest rooms and suites; Pullman "welcomer service"; and edgy new standards that is setting the brand apart worldwide.

"General Manager Philippe Battle believes that the Pullman Bali Legian Nirwana will appeal to upscale tourists, wanting to be close to, but not in the heart of the action. For more info check out

"There are also the new pool villas at Novotel Lombok - the original and best resort still in south Lombok. The visionary who selected the Kuta Beach location for the Novotel Lombok could not have forseen just how popular the region would become once it was discovered by the general tourist public, other than surfers and those wanting to truly drop out for a few weeks. Emaar, the Dubai-based conglomerate, has recently invested US$600 million in a 1200-hectare parcel of land on the beachfront behind the Novotel, and plans to open an Armani and Ritz Carlton Hotel there, after the new international airport is built there in 09/10.

Novotel has just built beautiful private pool villas that are proving very popular with honeymooners, coupled with luxury beach candlelit dinners. Once the new development starts and international flights increase, expect huge traffic to the palm-fringed azure sea and white sands. It's Indonesia's best-kept secret."

Sounds fab. Of course if these hotels explode in popularity, they won't be such a secret anymore. So let's keep this to ourselves. :)

Today's Top Stories

Uh oh, more Muslim cartoon controversy
Forest carbon credits taking off
Tempo vs. Bakrie

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Aceh on the rise ...

Mother Nature is always quick to replace one natural devastation with another. And so we forget about the massive tragedies that have aleady passed from our consciousness.

Good thing institutions like the Red Cross and Grameen Bank don't forget, though. Their microfinance efforts in the northern Sumatra province, an area which was in danger of being completely wiped from the map in the tsuanmi of 2004, are helping families get back on their feet. In one Acehnese village alone, 90 women got loans from local partner Yamida to start bakeries, and buy oyster boats, and kick off countless other projects.

In total, more than 17,500 women in Aceh are able to earn a living thanks to the work of Grameen and the Red Cross. In times of life or death, political issues like Aceh's separatist movement or strident version of Islam take a back seat, and are replaced by simple images of people helping people.

Today's Top Stories

Monday, November 17, 2008

New Indonesia doc: The Burning Season

Looks like an Australian documentary about Indonesian deforestation, The Burning Season, has been picking up some big awards. It recently won an Inside Film prize for best documentary, for its creator Cathy Henkel.

Labelled an "environmental thriller" for how it chronicles the competing concerns of palm oil plantations, the endangered orangutans of Kalimantan/Borneo, and entrepreneurs who are trying to sell carbon credits to Western polluters (and thus funding the forests in their natural state), The Burning Season took 18 months of shooting on four continents to complete.

The issue seems to be reaching a tipping point, as environmental organizations try to get the word out before the razing of forests gets too out of hand. After all, such clearing results in 20% of global carbon emissions. At such a rate - 300 football fields an hour, it's said - the "lungs of the world" are in serious jeopardy.

Maybe that's why Henkel has managed to recruit a new American fan to spread the gospel: None other than California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Can't hurt to have The Terminator on your side.

Today's Top Stories

Sunday, November 16, 2008

7.5 Earthquake Hits Sulawesi

It's one of the world's sad ironies that natural disasters so often hit nations that are the least equipped to handle them. Something like a Hurricane Katrina is horrible enough when it happens to the richest country in the world, so when the developing world is affected by Mother Nature, the effects are even more dearly felt.

And so to the news of a massive 7.5-magnitude earthquake beneath the sea floor near the island of Sulawesi. The nearest town was Gorontalo, and no word on casualties or property damage yet, but the strength alone was enough to cause a serious tsunami warning. In fact it was an earthquake the triggered the Sumatra tsunami of 2004, and which devastated the region in so many ways that are still being dealt with.

It can't be said that earthquake news is ever surprising in Indonesia, since the archipelago owes its very existence to seismic bursts throughout history. After all, the country sits right on top of the "Ring of Fire," the Pacific Ocean's minefield of volcanoes and fault lines. Such is the inescapable fragility of everyday life.

Today's Top Stories

Friday, November 14, 2008

Say it ain't so, Rihanna!

Terrorists have claimed another, unlikely victim: Rihanna's upcoming Jakarta show.

With Indonesia on alert after the execution of the three Bali bombers, some countries have put out travel advisories about visiting. Until the situation shakes out, and we see if Jemaah Islamiyah or brother organizations take any revenge, many diplomats are saying it's best to be cautious.

And so, the sultry R&B songstress from Barbados has canned her performance, saying security wasn't up to par. Perhaps understandable, since the 20-year-old doesn't really want to get caught in the nexus of international politics, religion and terror. She just wants to sing 'Umbrella', God dammit!

Refunds are available for disappointed concert-goers, or you can wait until January or February, when she plans to come back. But if I was Rihanna, it's not the Smiling Bombers I'd be wary of. What about Indonesia's new anti-smut bill, which takes aim at women dressing scantily in public? That's her whole schtick!

Today's Top Stories

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Indonesian charity FAQs

Hard to believe, but 2008 is fast drawing to a close. And for American taxpayers, that means you want to log any charitable contributions by the end of the year, in order to claim them by the April 15 filing deadline. If not, you may have to wait until 2010 to see any tax benefits.

Don't just throw your money down a hole, though, but be rigorous about who receives your giving. To evaluate Indonesian charities that might be worth some of your largesse, check out sites like Charity Navigator, which has a rating system based on criteria like what percentage of donations are gobbled up by administrative costs. Plug 'Indonesia' into the search engine on the home page, and you get a slate of 40 nonprofits to sift through.

Some of the five-star winners that have operations helping Indonesia's 230-million-plus people: The Red Cross, Direct Relief International, Doctors Without Borders, the International Rescue Committee, Unicef, World Vision, and Save the Children, among others.

Charity Navigator isn't the only nonprofit watchdog, though: GuideStar and Charity Watch perform similar services. Granted, it might be a very tough time to give, considering the trillions in wealth that the housing bust and stock-market meltdown have wiped away. But if you can actually save lives for only a few dollars, it's hard to justify not giving.

Today's Top Stories

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Jakarta Globe hits the newsstands

Extra marks to the new Jakarta Globe for chutzpah (for those not familiar with the term ... brass balls). In a digital era where print journalism is basically dying a slow and painful death, at least in America, in comes a new English-language daily.

The Jakarta Post is obviously the granddaddy of English publications in Indonesia's capital, and I imagine it'll be a steep climb to unseat such an insitution. But the Globe is backed by big money, i.e. billionaire James Riady, and if he wants a newspaper then he'll have one. (Reminds me of Canadian media baron Conrad Black, who started the National Post as a conservative voice even as it lost millions and millions of dollars.)

Early reports project a 48-page daily with a starting print run of 50,000 and a soft-news feel, with plenty of lifestyle and sports. Senior editor Lin Neumann, formerly of the Hong Kong Standard, is headmanning the project, which kicks off in just about the worst economic environment imaginable. He also has the lofty goal of being compared to the South China Morning Post, the Straits Times and the Bangkok Post.

As a freelance journalist, I wholeheartedly support any new print venture that employs us ink-stained wretches, and pays its invoices on time. But as a reality check, think of Conrad Black's other vanity publishing venture, the New York Sun. It too started with much gusto a few years ago ...but thanks to hard economic realities, it just closed its doors for the last time.

Today's Top Stories

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

American dangdut?!

A while back we reported on the unlikely story of Arreal Tilghman, an African-American from Delaware who somehow was becoming a star in dangdut, the popular Indonesian musical style.

Looks like he's been through his apprenticeship and is ready to hit the airwaves. The 22-year-old won the Dangdut in America auditions, and was then spirited away to the archipelago to refine his techniques. He then came back for a November launch through his label NSR Productions, with a crucial assist from the Indonesian ambassador who promoted the event.

I don't know much about him - does he sing in Bahasa Indonesia, for instance? - but am curious to see if this American dangdut push gains traction. Will he become the next Rhoma Irama, peddling rhythms to a U.S. audience that are a unique blend of Indian, Arab, Malay, and Portuguese? Hey, if Barack Obama can grow up in Jakarta and become president, anything can happen ...

Today's Top Stories

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Flores hobbit: Alien from Earth?

A fascinating documentary on PBS's Nova series tomorrow night, about a recent discovery on Indonesia's Flores island that rocked the archaeology world.

It was Homo Floresiensis, the skull an adult female from roughly 18,000 years ago, who in size was no bigger than a three-year-old child. Labeled a human 'hobbit,' after the miniature humans of the Lord of the Rings books, it was a once-in-a-lifetime find ... that led to other discoveries in the same huge cave, of hobbits existing there for 95,000 years.

Observers speculate that the tiny female could be the result of either a dwarfism-related illness, or the 'island effect,' where species evolve in strange and unique ways (like Flores' pygmy elephant). Or it could represent an entirely new branch of the human family tree, with similarities to other ancient finds like Lucy from Africa, who herself dates back three million years.

But Flores' specimen was so close to us timewise, in the grand scheme of things, that descendants may have even lived in recent history. Makes you stop and think about the wonder of it all.

Today's Top Stories

And so it ends
Greenpeace ratchets up the pressure on palm oil
Growth slows for Indonesian economy

Friday, November 7, 2008

Whither Indonesian airlines?

In my travels I've never seen anything particularly egregious about Indonesian airlines, and in fact I've quite liked Garuda. In comparison I've risked my life on some real clunkers, like airlines from Bhutan and Bangladesh, where they're still working on the idea of proper cabin pressure.

Seems like the European Commission, though, has a different stance on Indonesian airline safety. In fact they have a blanket ban on local airlines travelling to EU countries, which is a crushing blow in a tough economy. Even at the best of times, airlines face a very difficult path to profit.

RI is doing its best to try to overturn the ban, lobbying the EU ferociously on the subject at the recent ASEM summit. They're coldblooded about it, though, and it looks like there are no changes imminent, at least until Indonesia revises its transportation laws in the interest of passenger safety.

Granted, some progress has already been made by Garuda, Merpati and Airfast, with some airlines achieving a supposed grade of 35. But when European authorities are looking for a score of 65, that's hardly passing with flying colors.

Today's Top Stories

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Indonesian hotels make Forbes list

About time that elite travel publications recognize that there are some outstanding five-star resorts in southeast Asia. This time it's Forbes Traveler, which names world's 50 best new hotels. The local Indonesian winners: St. Regis Bali, and Hotel Tugu Lombok.

The latter is cousin of the famed Tugu Bali, helmed by Anhar Setjadibrata. Guests get to enjoy the white-sand beaches of the island's northwest, along with the legendary sunrises over Mt. Rinjani. And talk about a personal touch: The owner dipped into his personal collection of Indonesian antiques to furnish the place.

As for St. Regis Bali, hardly a surprise that the legendary upscale hotelier gets a nod from Forbes. Among its luxe attractions: The beaches of Nusa Dua, its Remede Spa, and 121 suites and villas chock-full of handcrafted Balinese art. Best of luck to these luxury oases, in the teeth of a monster economic slowdown.

Whether they'll be able to attract enough guests to survive in a world where travellers are staying close to home, business trips are being slashed or cut back, and expense accounts cancelled altogether ... well, that's up to the economics gods.

Today's Top Stories

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

He Did It!

Barack Obama did it.

May this new era of politics heal the divides of America and the world.

The final paragraphs of his victory speech (full text here):

"This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing - Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons - because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America - the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.
When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "We Shall Overcome." Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves - if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Obama-mania? The world awaits

Voting day here in the U.S., finally, after two full years of a loud and incessant campaign. An eerie calm, almost, as voters and networks - in fact the world - wait for the polls to close, and the madness to begin.

Democrat Barack Obama looks on course to capture the presidency, given his slight leads in a number of important swing states, from Ohio to Virginia to Colorado. But you never know; in the last election, John Kerry was said to be leading by countless exit polls, until he wasn't. And we all know the outcome of that.

We'll see if America is ready to leap into a multicultural future, with someone whose formative years were partially spent in Indonesia. (A sad footnote: His beloved grandmother died just yesterday in Hawaii, unable to hang on until the election.) Who knows how that long-ago experience in Jakarta will affect Obama's vision and his presidency, should that come to pass. But certainly a global outlook, and his innate understanding of America from both the inside and the outside, will be a vast improvement over what we've had the last eight years. And so, we cross our fingers, and wait.

Today's Top Stories

Security stepped up for Indonesian prez
Prince Charles and the Sultan, BFFs
China & Indonesia get cozy

Monday, November 3, 2008

Stock schizophrenia!

Finally, some relief for Indonesian investors. After being beaten to a pulp the last couple of months, the Jakarta Index just rose over 7% in a single day. This volatility is giving me a headache.

So what gives? Looks like an interest-rate-related bump. With global demand destruction taking place, and commodities slumping all over the world, that means downward pressure on prices instead of upward. That, in turn, means the Indonesian central bank doesn't have to be quite so diligent in tamping down inflation, because it's already moderating of its own accord. And that has market-watchers giddy that there might be big rate cuts on the way, which could lubricate borrowing and ease the money supply in these difficult times.

About time, since they've raised borrowing costs for six straight months, not something you want to do in the teeth of a possible depression. Don't get too excited about these wild upswings, though, since the market could just as easily swing back down again. One silver lining: They say that extreme volatility is a reliable sign that the stock markets have hit bottom. Let's pray, for the sake of our collective retirement savings, that that's the case ...

Today's Top Stories

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ultimate Hideaway: Contender #4

I have a special place in my heart for Sumatra's Riau province, where I spent some time doing development work back in the '90s. I was about 200 km from a telephone, far even from the local capital of Pekanbaru, in a village where you had to take a river raft even to get there.

So when reader Jasmine Borschberg sent in news of her spa on Batam island, off Riau's coast and just south of Singapore, I had to give her props. Called Tempat Senang, it's dropped in the middle of gorgeous gardens and has cultivated a Balinese feel with its lush, woodsy architecture (with individual guest suites decorated in Indian, Indonesian, Chinese and Thai styles). The spa itself features specials like cinnamon body scrubs and, most innovatively, a 'Turkish Fish Spa' where tiny fish nibble away at your feet, giving you a natural exfoliation.

Golf lovers can also hit the links with the Indah Puri club right next door. Check out the packages like the weekend special, of two nights plus three hours of couple treatments for $599, or the six-hour day-spa blowout of $396 for a couple. For Singeaporeans especially, Batam is barely a hop away, and Tempat Senang looks like the ideal place to escape the global economic craziness.

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