Agam's Gecko
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
It was a fabulous day yesterday for Indonesians, and for their growing and strengthening democracy. The entire procedure -- one of the largest scale exercises in democracy in the world -- came off very smoothly. So much so, that it seemed to excite many of the mid-day commentators as the results came in. The fact that they could, in an election taking place across tens of thousands of islands spanning three time zones, be in a position to confidently declare the next president only hours after the polls closed in the western time zone, was taken as a point of pride in the efficiency and use of modern election techniques which have been implimented. It seems like they've had quite a lot of practice this year -- parliamentary elections in March, first round presidential election in July, and yesterday's presidential run-off between Megawati Sukarnoputri and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The polls closed at 1:00 pm, and soon afterwards (just after 11:00 am in Jakarta and Bangkok) results started showing up from the eastern islands. Each polling station seems to be handling just a few hundred ballots each, and each time a station reported, it seemed that Pak Susilo was getting between double and up to five times the number Mega was getting. As the central zone and finally the western time zone polls closed, it wasn't long before their percentages stabilised at about 60% for SBY and 40% for Mega. It wobbled a few points either way of that during the afternoon and evening, but stayed remarkably stable with that ratio. and I expect that the final, official count will be very close to that.

Bali went heavily for Megawati, and the race was tight in Central Java, but SBY seems to have managed to win majorities in almost every province. But even when the result was clear to all, and Pak Susilo was persuaded to make a statement, he made sure that the media understood he was not making a victory statement or claiming victory -- it was a statement in which he expressed gratitude and praise for the people, who were the true winners. I wouldn't expect him to overtly accept his victory until the official results are released by the Election Commission -- there's no need to rush this. Indeed both Pak Susilo and Ibu Megawati conducted themselves in quite a dignified fashion during this last campaigning period, which was only one week. There was even a sort of pseudo-debate last weekend -- totally non-confrontational as the candidates didn't actually come face to face. But it was quite telling, all the same. Susilo and his second, Jusuf Kalla took two podiums onstage in a large meeting hall at Hotel Borobudur -- a big audience and live cast on two networks. Opening statements, then questions from a panel of respected national figures. They were given a thorough grilling, and came through looking pretty good. Megawati and her second, Hasyim Muzadi had their chance with a fresh panel of well known national figures. So while the direct confrontation wasn't there, the contrasts were evident. Megawati just seems tired, I think she's known for a while now that her term would be ending here. People are grateful for the measure of stability that she was able to maintain, and for moving some of the reforms along (such as these first direct presidential elections), but they are looking for a more energetic leader.

Best of all, this is a very fine answer to all those in other parts of the world who nervously wonder whether Islam is compatible with democracy. Indeed, if all those pundits and opinion-shapers of the mainstream media world would take time out from listening to their own voices, they might have noticed that a very important example was taking shape right under their noses. It still amazes me how little attention this country gets these days, considering that it is the most populous Muslim country in the world. And we can have any number of Agams of Tapaktuan telling anyone who would listen, that Indonesian Muslims are practically the most generous, tolerant and good natured people one is likely to find on this earth -- it will never have the impact of just having our information gate-keepers giving it the attention it warrants.

In fact, and you won't find this in any of the MSM coverage, there were some positively inspiring demonstrations of how to work the democratic process into the local cultural milieu. In many polling places, some in Bali and East Java that I saw on tv, every voter came dressed in the traditional clothing of the area -- and in several examples that were covered by local media, the polling station officials and workers went all out to make it a special day, with ballot checkers and counters done up as traditional characters from mythological stories. One polling station in Yogyakarta was absolutely fantastic, with everyone in full costume from the wayang stories. When Arjuna hands you your ballot paper, and Gatokaca offers the ink pot to dip your pinky in while the gamelan chimes gently in the background, that's pretty damn cool in my book. These were excellent examples of the Indonesian people saying, "This is democracy, this is what we struggled for, this is what reformasi was all about, and we want it. This is democracy, and this is our way of doing it."

And they make it look like so much darn fun. All this in the wake of the horrendous terrorist attack in the heart of the capital less than two weeks ago. I think part of the giddiness that I noticed toward the end of the day, was sheer relief that none of the terrible possibilities that one could not help worrying about, actually took place. There had apparently been bomb warnings and phoned threats, those had been happening ever since the embassy blast on the 9th. There were definite worries on most minds, yet they turned out (early, most of them) to vote for their head of state, for the first time ever. They did it joyfully, and they made it their own. Yes, democracy is definitely compatible with Islam, no question about it. I've known that for a long time, and it sure will be nice when that truth is more widely known and understood. One day the question will be rarely asked, and when it is, would be met with quizzical looks and, "Well, of course. DUH......!"

AFTERTHOUGHT: So like, the next thing is trying to get our journalistic profession to actually learn how to say the name of the next president of the biggest Muslim nation. Would that be too much to ask? I mean, watching CNN the past few days, in addition to the BBC's Rachel Harvey and her stupid persistent use of "Bang-Bang", I've heard everything from "Yuhodio" to "Yuhohohodo". It's ridiculous! OK newsreaders, so it looks a bit intimidating with that one seemingly superfluous h. Don't let it get to you, and just take five seconds to look at it. Take it slow: YUDHOYONO. You. Dough. Yo. No. Is that so hard? Or if you want to be a perfectionist: Yude. Hoe. Yo. No. Say it fast. Faster. Just like it's spelled. You got it.

That's one thing about the Indonesian language, and it includes names. If you know how it's spelled, you can say it right every time. Absolute consistency. There's no excuse for the mangling of Pak Susilo's name that I heard so many variations of in the past few days -- it could only come from "professionals" who can't be bothered to take five seconds to look at it. I won't get into whatever Rachel Harvey's problem is again -- she's been living in Indonesia for months already, presumably around Indonesians every day, and I can guarantee that she's never heard anyone say "baing-baing" for Pak Susilo's second name. Guarantee. Never. Yet she persists, and now she even has some of the studio anchors in London doing it. Makes me wonder who she spends most of her time with down there.

From the Democracy Project, which I discovered only yesterday:
Whenever a cultural elite is on its way down, there is a Wizard of Oz moment, when the curtain is parted, and the stern claims of authority that have always been heeded in the past are revealed to be the empty, self-protective posturing of an old liar.

[A short essay] by Wilfred McClay, a board member of Democracy Project and the SunTrust Bank Chair of Excellence in Humanities and professor of history at the University of Tennesse at Chattanooga.
As they say, read the whole thing.

I was fairly surprised, after sending my last post last week, following which I hit some pages to find out the latest developments in the RatherGate scandal, and finding to my amazement that he was still hanging on! I mean really, these forged National Guard memos were debunked within 24 hours of their publication by CBS news (henceforth to be known as "See B.S. News) -- and anyone who was following the story closely knew it. Even now, the most comprehensive forensic analysis by a well-accredited authority in the field, is still the one that was posted on his own site. One can peruse his full resume at the site as well, a far cry from the handwriting analysts that CBS was trying to pawn off as document authentication experts for all this time.

So after a week for all this to sink in, and various bloggers working hard during that week to move the story forward and make it difficult for MSM to ignore the sham, I expected to post my latest rantings last Wednesday night and then hit the pages working on the RatherGate story, whereupon I would naturally learn that the inevitable had finally been accepted. But wait. What's this? The New York Times headlines with "Documents Fake, but Accurate"? Rather still sticking by his guns, and some of his colleagues saying, "Well, they might be true? It could happen." And I just went.....

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It's kind of a shame when someone like that becomes such a parody of himself, with his long self-proclaimed journalistic "standards" on full display. But it's really the finest irony to witness Dan Rather become a parody of Richard Milhous Nixon. I may be wrong here, but I seem to remember that it was one Dan Rather who coined that infamous phrase, "What did the President know, and when did he know it?" (On second thought, it might well have been Howard Baker, the vice-chairman on the great Sam Ervin's Senate committee into Watergate. But no matter, I remember Rather using that line to the hilt anyway.) And that, of course, is the question that Dangerous Dan is still refusing to answer, even two weeks after he proffered obvious forgeries in an effort to smear President Bush. As has become clear over the period of this two weeks, the "experts" used by Rather in his story, weren't. Those who were experts (but not mentioned in the story), actually cautioned him not to use the documents, as they were likely forgeries. Rather and CBS went ahead in spite of this. It was as if the prime journalistic directive for Rather and his partners in this charade, had been to forge ahead (heh) and smear President Bush regardless.

I described before how I'd heard phone-in callers to Washington Journal saying things like, "It doesn't matter if the memos are fake -- it's the underlying truth that matters." Never mind that the "underlying truth" depends entirely on the authenticity of the memos. It's hard to believe thinking humans can reason this way, but I have certainly noticed similar phenomenon before when it comes to irrational hatred of "Dubya". Accuracy and truthfulness are irrelevant, fairness is doubly irrelevant. Other people can flub their lines and nobody pays any attention -- Bush does it and he's a "moron". Nobody can say anything mean to make John Forbes Kerry feel bad about himself, because that's shameful, negative campaigning. Yet Bush can be called as "worse than Hitler" and "murderer" and "liar" and "moron" and "rapist" (yes, publicly by some women's organisation), and "chimp" and I'm leaving out a lot. But this is somehow correct and proper and if you say these things you are bravely "speaking the truth to power." That was, in fact, one of Rather's own cliches with which he attested to his own noble calling. It was his journalistic duty and mandate, he would say, to speak the truth to power.

But how does that work, when the very people who claim to adhere to this politically correct catch-phrase declare that accuracy, authenticity and facts don't even matter. That something can be false, and true at the same time. Or, before having to fall back on that position, Rather staved off the inevitable with the time honoured (paraphrasing from several post-scandal interviews), "I'm an experienced and seasoned journalist, and I assure you that the documents are real. Those who dig up these nay-saying experts are simply partisan hacks. The documents will be accepted as real until someone proves otherwise. If the documents are to be proved as forgeries, I'd sure like to break that story. Cause I'm an experienced and seasoned old journalist, yessireebob."

The aspect of this intriguing little interlude during the American pre-election "silly season" which was most interesting to me, was the major role played by new forms of media. Of course I refer to those now multifarious and multitudinous opinion journals known as blogs. Nobody is claiming that these modest operations are about to replace network news or the daily papers. But they had better sit up and take notice, because the blogosphere showed (and not for the first time) that it can move a story ahead, despite the determination of the establishment media to sit on it, bury it on page 27, and whatever else they have up the old sleeve. And in fact the real story is even better than that, for it wasn't even the bloggers who picked it up first, but just a normal guy noticing something suspicious after looking at the files offered online by CBS, and posting his observations on a discussion board. Somebody else read his post, mailed it the next morning to a blogger he knew (Power Line), and the distributed intelligence of the blogosphere took over from there. Readers of the various sites which picked up the ball and ran with it, actually became the most potent resource, with the blogger himself becoming an assembler, organiser, disseminator -- recompiling and revising all along the way as understanding and information was built. It's interesting to follow the timeline of all this, which has been well described (with a voluminous amount of linkage) by Jonathan Last in What Blogs Have Wrought. The plodding, ponderous and stubborn nature of the old media is painfully apparent, as is their virtual ignorance of the new types of informational dynamic systems being born all around them.

The two blogs which first picked up the fact-checking duties for RatherGate (or Cover Yer AssGate, whatever) have earned a place on our sidebar -- Power Line and INDC Journal. I've also added some other interesting sites to the General category, gave the Euros their own heading, added some more Media Watchers, as well as the very fine Simon World to the Asian section. While I understand after having seen the Monday edition of the Lehrer News Hour this morning, that Rather and his partners in crime have finally admitted to the falsified nature of his MicroSoft Word documents (not to mention the conduit who admitted his role is an affirmed "Bush is Hitler" type who also boasts of being a source for Michael Moore), I'm quite sure that RatherGate will continue to be useful for sometime to come -- so he gets a position right below the venerable Rather Biased (who like several of the leading sites on this story, was suffering from server overload for the past 2 weeks -- he slimmed down his page and managed to keep it running). And last but not least, don't miss a few chuckles over the whole mess. The editor at RatherGate has compiled the offerings of 50 Cartoonists on Dan Rather's tribulations. Courage, Dan.

UPDATE: The link just above for the "Rather Biased" site, has now been fixed. After his server overload problems, his hosting service had a fire. I question the timing, heh heh. Well the RB editor got a new hosting provider, so the URL above (and the link on the sidebar) have been corrected for the new page.

I never thought I would say this, but I'm beginning to seriously wonder whether this organisation doesn't actually make matters worse. I firmly believe that to maintain any relevance and moral standing of any kind, the UN must become (as soon as possible if not yesterday) a truly democratic body. Because as it stands now, it's lowest common denominator stuff, and we all know what that means. How can anyone watch the endless hand wringing and prevarication over an ongoing genocide in Sudan, watch how vested interests such as France and China continue to water down the resolution language yet again (the price for not vetoing, natch), the frustration of the United States which endeavours to treat the emergency with the immediacy it certainly requires, and ending up with "in another 30 days we're going to take another look at this, and boy are we going to be serious this time." It's pathetic.

The US has taken the strongest position on the Tibet issue for many years, while other countries waffle, look the other way, or say nice things in some settings while keeping their mouths shut when they actually meet Chinese leaders. I would be more than proud to report that Canada was holding high the principles of human rights and self determination, and taking the lead in bringing China and Tibet together for a long awaited mutually agreeable solution. But alas, I can't. Canada says the right things sometimes (when it's quite safe to do so), we throw out the full red carpet treatment for His Holiness when he comes to visit us, and we bask in our kind and gentle nature, our lofty principles of non-confrontation and tolerance, and all the happy feelings he reflects back upon us. Naturally -- there's no challenge at all in that. Go with the flow, we love him, he loves us, everybody's happy. If only those nasty Americans could be more gentle and kind like us, then they could learn compassion from His Holiness and the world would be a better place.

Except that they do -- his last visits to Washington and New York and other cities have been at least as big a deal as the visits in Vancouver and Toronto this year. His welcome is every bit as warm as we gave him, with the added benefit that he actually gets meaningful commitments from US administrations to continue working toward a just settlement of his people's plight. In Canada he gets genuine good will from the people, and sweet but meaningless words from our leaders. In the US he gets both the genuine good will, and firm commitments and concrete support from their leaders. They speak frankly with the Chinese ruling clique when they meet, they take measures which help to protect Tibetans both in Tibet and those escaping into neighbouring countries, they are not reluctant to publicly shame the Chinese government if it might help an imprisoned monk, nun or dissident Tibetan nationalist. These kinds of principles are precisely the reason that the cornerstones of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights -- states like Syria, Sudan, Libya -- felt that the US deserved no place on the esteeemed Commission, and voted it off a couple of years ago. Canada, whose diplomats always say the right things at the right time, has had no such difficulties. Of course, we've never sponsored (nor even co-sponsored any motion at the Commission naming China for any of her egregious human rights crimes.

Andrew McCarthy asks some painful questions about the edifice on Turtle Bay, with a recent article, U.N.: What Is It Good For?. I really, really, really, really wish I could honestly say, "Oh but there are plenty of reasons." But after having watched how Saddam had the whole 190-odd member states hopping to various choreographed dance steps while he seemed to be directing the ensemble with his little finger (until 35 or so finally decided that that would be enough of this kind of crap), and now watching the Salafist thugs who run Sudan doing basically the same thing with the connivance of certain states with no moral principles -- the dance only serving as a delaying tactic so they can continue to eliminate their "tolerance" problem (the African tribes who are being slaughtered in Darfur are mainly tolerant Muslims who do not adhere to the fanatical Salafi school of the Arabs), I'm frankly at a loss to find any reason for the existence of an enabler of such deviant behaviour. Oh, I know that logically there must be dozens of beneficial programs that do humane good deeds, but when the body as a whole seems to be the principal enabler for that which it was designed to eliminate, something needs fixing. McCarthy asks the hard questions, and offers some facts which most people will not have known. I'm constantly reminded these days of the old quotation, I forget now who the originator was, that "For evil to succeed, all that is required is for good men to do nothing." I'm sure there are many good men and women in the massive UN bureaucracy, and even in the member delegations. It just seems that an awful lot of them are doing little, if not nothing, about the success of evil. Andrew McCarthy, by the way, is a former prosecutor who led the 1995 terrorism case against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others.

So, another week, another handful of devastating suicide bombings in Iraq, more attempted assassinations of Iraqi leaders, more destruction of infrastructure like oil pipelines and electricity generation, more kidnappings of good-hearted people trying to help Iraqis get on their feet, more killing of young guys trying to sign up as police and National Guard so they could protect and defend their own country, more examples of the sickening animals who thirst for the opportunity to saw off some white guy's head with a bush knife. It's been a bad couple of weeks, no doubt about that. What puzzles me is that with all this happening, more Iraqi recruits than ever are showing up, wanting to sign up for an honourable task, the country's leaders are seemingly undaunted, fully determined to never give up from their goal of becoming a full fledged democracy -- and the puzzling part is to hear some guy in the very country which is standing shoulder to shoulder with the Iraqi democrats, proclaiming that he will begin the withdrawal within six months.

Does he think Iraqis have forgotten what happened the other time? Does he think it's been easy to persuade them that this time, the United States will not desert them? Does he not understand the fear which permeates everything, when most people have been born under, and know nothing else than the Republic of Absolute Fear? Does he really not get it -- that when such complete fear and obeisance to power is engrained in almost everyone from the cradle onwards, they are unlikely to ever be able to get over the feeling that the shadow which was lifted might come back to envelop them at any time. It's a kind of insecurity which may well be impossible to overcome in one's lifetime, and the only ones who will truly be free of it would be the ones born after it was no more.

Into the environment of such a truly damaged national psyche, rides the Lone Ranger. Oops, no, it's only Lurch with a Lone Ranger mask on -- but equally willing to save the day. Never mind, he says to his newfound foreign friends. I know we promised, and I know we always tell everyone else to never acquiesce to bestial brutality and intimidation, but heck almighty this is too hard. These guys are some bad dudes you're up against, and wow but they really don't want you to get democracy at all, do they? And, well, democracy's not all it's cracked up to be anyway (I mean, Thailand could have gone communist for all I cared 30 years ago, see?). So what I'm sayin' is, we'll be prayin' for ya, and we'll certainly be supporting any relevant resolutions at the old Security Council. That'll help, right? So don't worry little brother, when things settle down I'll come back over and seek to truly understand your society by really experiencing your wonderful culture on its own terms and in a non-judgmental way. I'm sure that day will come. In the meantime, See Ya! Wouldn't want to be ya!

I don't think for a minute that this is what he intends to say. But for many Iraqis who will always have a hard time managing to trust anyone on this level -- and especially the very country who many of them feel could have helped to end the nightmare more than a decade earlier, and let them down -- this is how it will sound. And this is the effect of "nuanced John's" forthright announcement on only one of his audiences. One must also consider the received message as heard in the ears of America's current allies in the struggle against a global Islamist terrorist movement, in the ears of that very movement itself, the ears of the very prolific terrorist-coupled-with-Saddamist forces who have drawn the line against democracy, and who are commited to prevent it growing roots of any kind in that country. In the ears of other state actors, whose very dictatorial continuance depends upon the success of those hard working jihadis in Iraq, and who are almost certainly fueling the wanton killing in every way open to them. How is this, "We begin withdrawing in six months," likely to go down among those various audiences? Frankly, if he has a logical and realistic plan that could guarantee the Germans, French, Russians, Canadians (hah! fat chance) and the other reluctant helpers would send large numbers of troops to spell off some of the Americans, enabling a partial withdrawal of US forces in six months, he should still keep his big trap shut about it! Jeez, talk about headline grabbing blabbing -- al Jazeera wouldn't have missed that one! Could such stupidity have encouraged an increase in pressure, a stepping up of bombing civilians and sawing heads off foreigners, the moment they perceive a weakening resolve? We'll never know of course, there's no Kerry-free universe to compare it to. Well, I don't know who Zarqawi would vote for either, but I think I've got a pretty good idea who he's pullin' for.

And so again in the landscape of the mass media, when there is abundance of shocking and grisly events, there's no room left over for anything else. Chrenkoff is up to Part 10 of his Good News from Iraq series - each one seemingly more extensive than the last one. He also has a series on ignored news from Afghanistan, where as we all know (naturally!) that over 10 million citizens exceeded everyone's hopes in voter registration for next month's presidential elections. Almost half of those are women, by the way. Afghans and Iraqis demonstrate in thousands of little ways every day, that they are determined to succeed, to achieve their new democratic country, to defeat the animals who have no place in civilised society, and one day to be able to sit back and feel the satisfaction of what they've accomplished. I'm quite sure that the overwhelming majority of the people of both these countries, the good hearted and kind people that most of us are, they want this passionately. Just as the Indonesian people demonstrated yet again for themselves just yesterday.

I can't say it often enough -- if I'm thought to be completely wrong in my firm belief that, in the present circumstances and global strategic situation, defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan is not an option in any way shape or form -- please take a minute to read what a few modern, democratic-minded Iraqis are thinking. Take a peek at one or two (or more!) of the articulate Iraqi bloggers up there on the sidebar. Every day that a reader comes to Agam's Gecko, thinking "I've got a few minutes to kill, let's see what Agam's thinking about today," and finds that lazy old Agam hasn't updated since last week again, why just read a couple of articles on Iraq the Model instead. Just to balance the terrible and apocalyptic stream that the general media is feeding you the other 98% of the time. Omar recently did another in his ongoing series, where he translates the comments on a BBC Arabic language talk-back page. Amazing stuff from internet-using people in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, etc. He makes it available for us in English, just so we know.

By the way, Omar and Mohammad have formed the Iraqi Democracy Party, and plan to run for parliament! Check it out! We can all help, it's not only guys with guns who have a job to do. And if by chance any reader is feeling a bit more ambitious, Wretchard at Belmont Club has been doing a series on the security situation in Iraq, and let me tell you -- this guy knows his stuff. If you've been hearing talking heads from all sides lately, describing the situation as deteriorating rapidly into total disaster, take a brief look at Wretchard's assembled data and well informed analysis. As always, there's a lot more to it that what manages to spill through on the 6 o'clock news.

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