Archive for Juni, 2006

Murder in the library

Juni 29, 2006

Today is my third day working in my campus library. It is a bit unusual for a grad student with an extra-campus scholarship to work on campus. Students with the kind of scholarship that I receive are typically not allowed to work. It is assumed that the stipend we receive each month is more than enough. And that working will delay our study. Somehow I managed to get the authorization to work on campus, not outside, at least for this summer.

Unlike working outside campus, working on campus means that we will be paid in accordance with the minimum-wage standard. Well, it is completely fine with me. At least I can earn extra money to pay subscription or membership fees to journals or organizations such as certain political science associations, or to attend conferences. This summer job ensures that my subscription to those journals, as well as my membership to one or two associations, will not be terminated. I can still pay for at least another year…he..he.

Also, being a researcher and a lecturer (in a developing country), I have to persistently find a way to make sure that buying new books is an affordable thing for me to do. I did the same thing when I was studying in Australia a few years ago. I worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant every weekend. If I did not spend hours and hours as a dishwasher in that restaurant, I would not be able to buy books as many as I eventually did…he..he. Books are very expensive in Australia.

My first day working in the library was very interesting. I was asked to watch a movie titled “Murder in the Library”. I watched the movie alone in the video room. It was a short movie, only 15 minutes. It featured the famous ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and his dear-friend ‘Watson’. Sherlock uncovered a very ‘complicated’ case: murder in the library. Sherlock, with Watson, investigated how visitors of a library (as well as those who worked in that library) were actually committing a very serious crime without realizing it: killing books.

The killing took place incrementally, every single day in the library. Many people in the library were never really bother to treat books with a good manner. The killing occurred in many simple forms: not putting a book upright on the shelves, spilling over food or drinks on the reading tables or right on top of books etc. In short, according to Sherlock Holmes, we are killing books in many ways almost on a daily basis. It’s a very entertaining way to provide a job orientation for a new employee in the library like myself. The movie’s message is crystal clear to me: a library should try its best to preserve books, so it can preserve knowledge.

It turns out that I am assigned to the digitization division of the library. It’s the library’s continuing project. In fact, many libraries around the world have been doing the same thing. Libraries are trying to preserve books, including the very old ones. They transferred books into CDs, microforms, or other forms that can be stored online. CSIS library in Jakarta has also started the digitization project two or three years ago. But, of course, our project at CSIS is a lot smaller in scale. Our library at CSIS is in the process of transferring its newspaper-clippings to CDs. The clipping itself was started in 1971, in the early days of CSIS. Soon, selected newspaper-clippings of CSIS’ library can be bought in the CD format.

So, I started scanning a book. It’s an old book, published in 1837 in Chicago. It is almost 175 years old. The book recorded the early settlement and the development of many cities within the state of Illinois in the early 1800s. It reported how many people lived here and there during that time, how they were doing, how they made their living, how they tried to establish lines of communication and transportation from one city to another, and so on.

From that book I learn how people in the past dealt with problems that, I think, we still face today. Also, I can see how the language, American-style English, has been shaping up into its present form over the years. The book I scanned was still written in the British-style, not American, English. An English-linguist might be very interested in this book. I realize now how important such a project of digitalization is. Not only preserving knowledge, it transfers knowledge from the past to our present, and more importantly, to the future. Sherlock Holmes then would not be able to make the accusation that we are committing the two crimes: killing books and knowledge.

To be or not to be a liberal

Juni 28, 2006

The piece below is taken from Arya Gaduh’s blog. Reflecting further the post (and reactions) in my blog the other day, Arya gives me an explanation of what constitute ‘a true liberal’. His blog is also accessible, just click the link to his blog in the link area on the right===>

cheers
pjv
———

Being a liberal

Professor Alan Blinder, Princeton economist, has a litmus test for a true liberal – at least, in the modern American sense. “Walk into a room where [a man] is watching football. If his favorite team is not involved, he will always be rooting for the underdog or for the team that is way behind”. Having rooted for Ecuador and Ghana (and having fancied neither) in the World Cup’s second round, I must be a true liberal, then.

Notice that I qualify such liberalism as a modern American one – represented in the United States (US) by the Democratic Party. It’s a rather different animal than the kind proposed by 18th century philosophers, notably J.S. Mills, who emphasise protection for individual rights (including the rights to property and trade) from the power of the state. This kind of liberalism is often associated with the Republican Party.

Guess what: I am also that kind of a liberal.

This rambling about to-be-or-not-to-be-a-liberal began when my good friend, Philips Vermonte, a political scientist now studying for his PhD in the US, somewhat objected to my calling him a liberal. He sought for possible reasons for my putting him in a “Fellow Indonesian Liberal” category – only to find it in the fact that he had more web-links to “liberal” (read: right-minded, market-oriented) friends than to more left-minded friends.

For an American reader, this must have sounded quite odd: shouldn’t it be the other way around?

But coming from Indonesia, this, certainly, is not the only available interpretation of “liberalism”. The last time the word went public, it was in a fatwa – a religious edict – of the Indonesian Ulemma Council, which considered it an evil ideology. I am not a hundred percent sure what the Council meant with the word, though I can imagine why religious councils would condemn an ideology respecting individual interpretation of holy texts (though I can imagine that most Indonesians who supported the fatwa were associating “liberalism” with “a liberal lifestyle” which includes sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll). It won’t be the first time in human history.

But I’m digressing. The point I was making (if there was any in the first place), is that for me, being a liberal should transcend economic-ideological line of centre-left and centre-right (e.g., between Keynesian and neoclassic). Liberalism, at its essence, is about respect of individuals. Whether one things that such respect would be better served by a little more market, or a little more government, is a matter of taste. But the far-left (totalitarian communism or), far-right (to quote Kwik Kian Gie, in lack of a better term, “free-fight liberalism”), and far-up (religious fundamentalism) ideologies – now, they are the true non-liberals.

Going back to my dear friend, I really can’t see him supporting any of the three ideologies I just mentioned. In fact, when I checked his supposed “non-liberal” friends, I found all of them to be liberals – promoting individual rights to choose (religions, what to wear, what to think, what to say), or to be (e.g., a woman). I hope, this clarifies – just in case I get tempted to start including M. Vermonte’s “other friends” next time.

On Our Strategic Position, Natural and Man-made Disaster

Juni 26, 2006

Except for the 1960s when the Vietnam War occured, Southeast Asia has rarely been in the U.S strategic radar. The November/December 2005 edition of Foreign Policy (FP) magazine informs me about how U.S strategic experts view the strategic importance of Southeast Asia. FP asked a number of U.S scholars who specialize in international relations and strategic studies: what is the most important region to the United States today? More than 50 percent points to the Middle East and North Africa. Only 0.2 percent thinks that Southeast Asia is the most important region to the U.S strategic interest. Further, only one percent thinks that Southeast Asia will be of the greatest U.S strategic importance 20 years from now, while 60 percent believes that East Asia (of course because of the China factor) will be the most important region by that time.

Southeast Asia, and hence Indonesia, is not that important, strategically speaking. Yet, we tend to speak high about ourselves. We can easily recall a rhetoric written in the high school text books that ‘ Indonesia occupies a very strategic position since it is located between two continents and two great oceans’. Also we remember very well the famous ‘bukan lautan, hanya kolam susu….tongkat kayu dan batu jadi tanaman’ lyric of a Koes Ploes’ song (with all due respect to Koes Ploes and many great songs they have created).

Only recently we fully understand that actually our country is situated right on the spot of the so-called ‘ring of fire’. It makes us vulnerable to almost all kinds of natural disaster. Earthquake, tsunami and do not forget that our part of the world also has the largest number of active volcanoes that can cause devastating impact once they erupt.

Within the period of less than five years, we have been experiencing many kinds of natural disaster: tsunami in Aceh and North Sumatera, big earthquakes in Nabire, Lampung, Nias, and recently Jogja. Since last week, several areas in the South Sulawesi province have been covered with water, flooded. More than two hundreds died. Add the worrying avian flu to complicate the unfortunate situations we are currently facing.

We all know that men can also cause disasters. A number of man-made disasters that occurred in our beloved country are still fresh in our mind. Who has forgotten the bloody conflicts between the Malays, Dayak and the Madurese in Sambas and Sampit between the period of 1997 and 1999? The devastating conflicts between Muslims and Christians in the Maluku province, and also in Poso, have taken the lives of thousands of people, and have not been fully resolved. Indonesia is the country with the largest number of IDPs (internally displaced persons) in this entire planet. According to UNHCR, we have more than one million IDPs (either caused by natural or man-made disasters). It is so sad to be a refugee within your own country for whatever reason. These conflicts have created wounds on our inter-ethnic and -religious relations, which surely will take a long time for us to heal.

Again, we still think that we are a very important nation. We may still hear some people continuously talk about ‘international conspiracy to tear Indonesia apart’. These people simply forget, or just too blind to see (or choose to ignore?), that the international community has been helping us in dealing with those natural and man-made disasters. In Maluku, Poso, Aceh, Nias, Jogja, and Nabire, various countries and international agencies have offered their hands and, as a matter of fact, have been well received by us.

In its modern sense, strategic leverage is not drawn from something given like the geographic location. A tiny country can be powerful, while a country with enormous physical size like ours can be very weak. The sources of strategic influence nowadays are coming more from things that can be smartly constructed or developed, such as human and intellectual resources or economic competitiveness. Having said all that, I believe the source of our many weaknesses is not the ‘international conspiracy’, which is a very vague notion. The source is from within. Our mindset. Do nothing to change such a mindset is a recipe for further disaster.

Which Side Are You On?

Juni 25, 2006

Arya Gaduh, a very good friend of mine and also my co-worker at CSIS, owns a very nice blog. The pieces he posts up there are all very well written and thought of. I remember the time when we, junior researchers at CSIS, were competing to publish op-ed articles in newspapers as many as we could back in 2002. At that time, we were always criticizing each other’s writings, complaining almost about everything: style, arguments or even titles of the articles. For us at that time, praising was a forbidden thing to do…he..he. Nevertheless, when it came to his articles, none of us could comment. His articles, mostly on economics, were always sharp, clear, and clean.

Arya has been very nice to leave comments on my blog recently. Feeling the need to reciprocate, I visited his blog a few days ago. I noticed that he had added some new links there, including one to my blog. What struck me was that he titled that link ‘fellow Indonesian liberal’. I am not sure whether he is serious or, judging from my past experience with him, is only teasing me (hebat lu Ya…he..he).

At this stage, I could not really answer the question that popped up in my mind when I was visiting Arya’s blog: am I a liberal? May be. I did read Anthony Giddens’ “Beyond Left and Right” long time ago though. Similar to what happened during those days in 2002, this time I failed to leave any comment on his blog. I decided to exit quietly with that big question in my head.

I then realized that in fact my blog has more links to the liberals than to the leftists. To the liberals, it links to the blogs of Ari Perdana, Arya Gaduh, Cafe Salemba, and Puspa ‘puspini’ Amri (I know you guys don’t mind being called liberals…he..he). Meanwhile, I only have three links to my proud-leftist friends: Coen Pontoh, Indoprogress, and Martin Manurung (I guess they will not complain about this either, will you Coen, Tin?). For me, it’s a battle of ideas. And it’s good.

Kajian Multidispliner

Juni 21, 2006

Saya tidak sengaja menemukan kutipan menarik dari Karl Popper: “ We are not students of some subject matter, but students of problems. And problems may cut right across the borders of any subject matter or discipline”. Karl Popper jelas menunjukan salah satu problem akut dalam dunia akademik mengenai sulitnya mengembangkan kajian multidisipliner.

Sudah lama terjadi pandangan saling merendahkan antara mereka yang bergelut di bidang ilmu eksakta dengan mereka yang berlatar belakang ilmu-ilmu sosial. Jaman kuliah di Bandung dulu, mahasiswa ITB yang merasa lebih hebat selalu membawa mahasiswa barunya keliling kota selama program Ospek. Mereka melewati kampus universitas-universitas lain sambil mengejek mahasiswa universitas lain sebagai “nothing” dibandingkan dengan ITB. Padahal, kemudian lulusan ilmu eksak/teknik atau ilmu sosial, sama-sama banyak yang jadi koruptor tuh….he..he..he. Tidak ada yang lebih hebat.

Di Amerika hal seperti itu terjadi juga. Sebuah komunitas ilmuwan sangat bergengsi di Amerika, National Academy of Sciences (NAS) yang beranggotakan lebih dari 1500 ilmuwan terkemuka di Amerika dari beragam disiplin ilmu, mengalami hal yang sama. Penerimaan anggota baru lembaga sangat bergengsi ini selalu berlangsung ketat. Setiap kandidat akan dievaluasi oleh pakar-pakar sesuai bidangnya masing-masing. Seorang kandidat juga harus mendapat persetujuan dari dua pertiga anggota NAS agar bisa diterima menjadi anggota.

Dulu pernah terjadi perdebatan amat sengit saat NAS sedang memproses keanggotaan Samuel Huntington, professor ilmu politik di Harvard itu. Sekali waktu, Huntington dalam sebuah bukunya pernah menulis begini:

The overall correlation between frustration and instability (in 62 countries of the world) was 0.50

Kutipan itulah yang menjadi basis beberapa anggota NAS untuk menolak penerimaan Huntington ke dalam komunitas ilmuwan itu. Yang paling agresif menolak adalah Serge Lang, seorang professor matematika dari Yale. Dia bahkan menyebarkan selebaran menggalang penolakan bergabungnya Huntington. Lang menyebarkan selebaran itu ke seluruh anggota NAS sebelum sidang tahunan mereka berlangsung. Lang antara lain mengomentari tulisan Huntington tadi seperti ini:

This is utter nonsense. How does Huntington measure things like social frustration? Does he have a social-frustration meter? I object to the academy’s certifying as science what are merely political opinions”.

Sialnya buat Huntington, melalui perdebatan sengit dalam dua kali pertemuan tahunan NAS di tahun 1986 dan 1987, dia tidak berhasil mendapat dukungan dua pertiga anggota dan gagal menjadi anggota NAS. Padahal salah satu promotor dia untuk menjadi anggota adalah professor Herbert Simon, seorang computer scientist sekaligus psychologist yang pernah menjadi pemenang Nobel.

Jared Diamond, anggota NAS juga, menulis artikel di majalah sains Discover tahun 1987 membahas episode seru Lang versus Huntington itu. Dia bilang ‘soft sciences are often harder than hard sciences”. Jared Diamond adalah ahli biologi, yang juga banyak menulis hal-hal di luar ilmu biologi. Bukunya Guns, Germs and Steel laku keras. Jared Diamond mengingatkan bahwa ilmu eksakta, yang biasa menganggap diri sebagai “hard science”, butuh ilmu sosial (yang sering direndahkan sebagai “soft science”). Demikian juga sebaliknya.

Dalam satu disiplin ilmu sendiri perdebatan semacam ini bisa juga terjadi, terutama menyangkut metodologi. Dalam ilmu politik misalnya, selalu timbul perdebatan sengit antara mereka yang mengutamakan metodologi kuantitatif – yang penuh dengan statistik – dengan mereka yang menggunakan metodologi kualitatif – yang mengkedepankan ‘thick description’. Mereka yang menggunakan metode kuantitatif , seringkali memandang sebelah mata kajian-kajian kualitatif. Kajian kualitatif mereka anggap penuh dengan spurious relations antar variabel alias tidak meyakinkan. Kajian kualitatif juga dianggap tidak bisa di generalisasi, sehingga tidak terlalu berguna.

Teman-teman sesama peneliti di CSIS juga sering saling menggoda. Teman-teman di departemen Ekonomi selalu menantang kami-kami di departemen HI atau departemen Politik untuk menyamai kajian ekonomi. Menurut mereka, kajian ekonomi jauh lebih advanced dari ilmu sosial lain, karena kajian ekonomi bisa di kuantifikasi. Bahkan, ilmu ekonomi bukan lagi bagian dari ilmu sosial katanya…he..he..he. Well, kita tinggal tunjuk krisis ekonomi tahun 1997 saja: kalau ilmu ekonomi kita sedemikian maju, kenapa gagal menghindarkan kita dari krismon 1997 atau kenapa ilmu ekonomi tidak mampu segera menyembuhkan kita dari krisis itu sesudahnya? (pegimane bung Yose, Arya, Puspa, Imung, Pasha, Yudo?…he..he..he). Ilmu ekonomi butuh ilmu sosial lain, juga sebaliknya.

Kembali ke Jared Diamond, there is no such thing as hard sciences or soft sciences. Seperti anjuran Karl Popper, kajian multidisipliner penting untuk dikembangkan. Atau untuk melengkapi Popper, kita perlu triangulasi metodologi kuantitatif dan kualitatif. Mungkin kajian-kajian yang menggabungkan dua metodologi sekaligus akan lebih powerful.

Tapi sebagian kita, termasuk saya, memang rada alergi (atau takut?) dengan angka dan statistik. Saya membaca berita terbaru di koran mengenai hasil Ujian Akhir Nasional di sekolah menengah umum (SMU) di Indonesia yang kontroversial itu. Hasilnya bisa ditebak, matematika menjadi momok biang ketidaklulusan. Memang bidang hitung menghitung ini harus di konfrontasi, bukan dihindari, terutama oleh saya yang rada bantet otaknya kalo ketemu statistik.

Fall semester yang akan datang mungkin saya akan mengambil sebuah mata kuliah metodologi kuantitatif, Introductory Analysis to Political Data. Saya baca-baca arsip silabus mata kuliah itu dari tahun-tahun sebelumnya. Saya lega melihat salah satu judul dalam daftar buku yang selalu wajib dibaca untuk mata kuliah itu. Disusun oleh John Kranzler, buku itu berjudul “Statistic for the Terrified”. Cocok sekali buat saya…he..he.