Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Great Pemuda Street Water Caper of 2011

It was a dark and stormy night.  The small room was atwitter with the pitter pitter of rain falling on metal, the drops coalescing into rivulets in the ridges of the corrugated tin roof.  Steady streams of water flowed from the gently sloping roof into the buckets beneath, arrayed strategically to capture the maximum amount of fluid from the ephemeral cloudburst.  The residents of 13 Pemuda street, dwelling there for differing degrees of temporariness, smiled; the next day they would be able to bathe and flush the toilet.

The Water Crisis

For the past three months water has been a problem at my temporary residence, the home of my good friend Agung.  The crisis started due to the unusual dryness of the dry season.  A general lack of even the most minute amounts of precipitation affected Sungai Penuh and the entire Kerinci Valley region.  By the end of the holy month of Ramadan, Pemuda street was being served daily by a water truck, which made deliveries which were then carried by residents in buckets into their respective homes.
The improvised tap
A couple of weeks ago water was restored, but for some reason none made it into the pipes supplying the houses on the north side of the street (including Agung's).  Since the truck was no longer coming daily, this posed a significant problem for half the street.  Repeated complaints to the water board went unheeded and the problem was only solved when one unidentified resident uncovered the feeder pipe to the south side houses and grafted in a tap.  Soon a system of turn-taking arose among the residents of the north side, who daily filled buckets at the improvised tap.

Everything was going fine for several weeks until two days ago.  I was sitting on the curb waiting for our buckets to fill (usually a half-hour operation), reading patiently when two gentlemen pulled up on a motor-bebek.  I soon learned that they were from the water board.  Evidently site of one of the four foreigners in the region filling buckets from an unauthorized, and more importantly unmetered tap had drawn the attention of the authorities.  Soon they learned from other residents what was going on.

Adding a tap.  The helmet is obviously for safety.

shouldn't take water from that tap", one of the men said to me.  "It's stealing".

"I see.  Do you have a word in Indonesian for when a public utility refuses to respond to customer complaints arising from said utility's failure to provide for a basic human need for 3 months?" I responded.

"Hmmmmmm....." said the water man, walking away. 

The watermen immediately went to work.  Somehow within 15 minutes water was restored to the main pipe (1) feeding the north side of the street, but with insufficient pressure to pump the water up the one meter required to make it into our bak mandi (2).  They then installed a plastic tap outside the front door at ground level just past our water meter so we could fill buckets and then empty them into the bak mandi.  They achieved this with a can of wet-dry cement and a hacksaw blade (only the blade).  Then they went to work on the improvised tap.  They had a length of polybutylene pipe they were going to use to rejoin the line sans the tap.  One of the men asked us for some old newspapers.  In a feat of ingenuity that puts my tightfisted old Highland landlord to shame, he used the newspapers to build a fire on the sidewalk and used it to heat the plastic pipe so it could be bent to the required angle to fit the line (3).  Then they went on their merry way. 
Yours truly and the 3-bucket system

Now Agung and I are served by a thin trickle of water from about 10am to 12pm every day.  During this time we connect a hose to the tap and collect buckets of water to fill the bak mandi and an additional storage tub.  We've devised a three bucket system with a syphon, but it still takes about two hours due to the rate at which the water flows.  During this time I read and dream of archimedes screws and ram pumps, and realize that my knowledge of pre-industrial hydraulic genius is lacking.  When it rains fairly heavily we can collect 20 gallons or so in about an hour from the roof.

The Geography of Water

The whole water crisis has been an interesting experience for me, because I've always lived in areas where water was abundant.  The two-hour-a-day has led me to think a bit about a resource that most people take for granted, though.  The availability of water is really a geographic phenomenon; aside from the physical location of water, which in many cases helps determine what sorts of human activities will take place in a given location, availability of water also affects human potential in that the more time you spend looking for water, the less time you can devote to other activities.  Clean, freely flowing water is a luxury in many parts of the world.  The map below shows the percentage of the population in different parts of the world that have access to clean water.  Can you notice any spatial trends?

Photo from Clean Water for the World
In parts of Africa, where more than 300 million people lack access to clean water, it is unheard of.  What's more, in many places the burden of collecting water falls unevenly on the backs of women.  In some parts of Africa, women walk up to ten miles daily in search of water.  In seasonal tropical climates this distance can double in the dry season, when ephemeral streams dry up.  According to Water Aid, the journey is often rife with danger, and the source of water is often polluted.  What's more, water containers are heavy, and along with the health problems associated with the dirty water many women suffer back problems from hauling the water over such distances.

The provision of clean water is, in theory at least, a global priority.  Access to safe water is part of several of the much-publicized Millennium Development Goals, including those involving improving sanitation and ending hunger.  Numerous NGOs and multilateral organizations have programs to improve access to water, but there is still a lot to be done.  Below I've included some facts about water from various sources.

  • 400 million children (one in five in the developing world) has no access to safe water (UNICEF)
  • Unsafe water and sanitation cause about 4,000 child deaths per day (UNICEF)
  • 80% of all sickness is tied to lack of access to safe water (WHO)
  • 2.1 million people per year die of diarrhoeal diseases, 88% of these are linked to unsafe water (WHO)

Picture of the day...

From HippoRoller site
I shamelessly lifted today's picture from the internet.  I came across it when I was looking for facts and maps about water.  The HippoRoller is a neat invention that promises to ease the burden of transporting water long distances and possibly alleviate some of the health problems stemming from hauling water long distances. 


1.  The "main" pipe is 1/2 pvc

2.  The bak mandi is a stone or concrete reservoir found in the bathroom in Indonesian residences and businesses.  You draw water with a dipper from the bak mandi to manually "flush" the squat toilet and wash your hands.

3.  I will never forget this trick and have a strong sense that it will someday come in handy. 

For Further Reading:

For a closer look at water crises around the world, check out this great graphic from the BBC. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Amphibians, the Environment, and Kerinci Seblat National Park

Amphibians are remarkable creatures.  They spend part of their lives in water and part of their lives on land.  They were the first land-based vertebrates (backbone-having) creatures to evolve millions of years ago.  Several characteristics of amphibians make them very much dependent on their geography, as we'll discover in today's post. 

For starters, amphibians do not regulate their own body temperature, like humans and other mammals can.  They are what scientists call thermal conformers.  The outside temperature is very important for amphibians because it plays an important role in many of the body processes of amphibians, including how much oxygen they take in, their heart rate, how they move, their digestive system, how fast (or slow) they develop and grow, and how well their immune system functions.  This makes them very sensitive to temperature changes in the external environment.  It also ties many species of amphibians to a particular area with certain environmental characteristics (niche).  These types of species have limited dispersal abilities, which means that it's hard for them to find new homes and to spread to new areas. 

The Wide World of Amphibians...

Cartogram from Wake and Vredenburg.  See references.

The cartogram (1) above shows the distribution of amphibian species around the world.  As you can see, many of the countries with the most amphibian species are in the tropics.  This mirrors a general pattern of biodiversity for most kinds of plants and animals.  A good rule of thumb is the closer to the equator you get, the greater the biodiversity there is.  From the cartogram we can see that Indonesia has a lot of amphibian species (between 251-450 species).  Now let's look at another cartogram.

Cartogram from Wake and Vredenburg.  See references.

This second cartogram shows the distribution of amphibian species discovered between 2004 and 2007.  As you can see, Indonesia is a hotspot for new discoveries.  The interesting thing about this is that the number of described amphibian species has increased by about 50% over the past 20 years; in others words more than 2000 of the now-known 6300 or so species has only recently been discovered!  Thus we can assume that Indonesia has many more species waiting to be discovered.  But the question is, for how long? 

Threatened Amphibians

Diagram from Blaustein, et al.  See references.
Over the past several decades, scientists have noticed that lots of species of amphibians have gone extinct, and that many others are threatened (2).  In fact, a worldwide assessment of amphibians indicates that one-third or more of the 6300 described species of amphibians are threatened with extinction!  Another study says that the current rate of amphibian extinction is about 211 times the background extinction rate.  The background extinction rate refers to the number of extinctions there should be just in the course of natural evolution.  However, there is a significant amount of debate over the cause or causes of the extinctions and declines.  Below I've summarized a few of the factors that have been suggested to play a role.

The introduction of alien species.  Alien species are those that are brought intentionally or unintentionally to a new habitat where they did not originate.  In some cases the alien species is able to out-compete the native species that naturally exist in the area.  Sometimes the invasive species preys upon the naturally occurring species as well (3).  One example affecting amphibians on the continental US is the introduction of lake trout for recreational fishing.  The lake trout feed on tadpoles, thus affecting frog populations.

Over Exploitation.  This simply means that people use too many of the species in one way or another.  Historically demand for frog legs as a delicacy has caused big declines in frogs in many places. 

Land Use Change.  This is another factor that is easy to understand; it simply refers to the way that people change the landscape.  When we clear forests to make farms or to build settlements, it leaves less habitat for many types of animals, including amphibians.

Global Warming and associated changes.  Over the past few decades it has become increasingly clear that people are altering the Earth's atmosphere.  One change involves the amount of UV radiation that makes it to the Earth's surface.  UV is a type of high-energy radiation from the Sun.  This is what causes sunburns on your skin.  Our atmosphere filters out most of the UV radiation, which is fortunate for us because UV is very dangerous to humans (and other animals).  However, human-caused pollution has altered the atmosphere's ability to block our UV rays, and so more UV reaches the Earth's surface than before.  Amphibians appear to be especially susceptible to the effects of UV radiation. 

A bigger problem, though, is global warming.  The changes we have unintentionally made to the atmosphere is causing the planet to warm up gradually.  Over the next century or so scientists predict that the average global temperature will increase by 3-7 degrees.  While this might not sound like much, it will have tremendous impacts on local environments.  One really good example of this can be seen on mountains.  If you've ever climbed a mountain (think of Mauna Loa or Haleakala) you've probably noticed that it gets colder as you go up.  On these high mountains it gets so cold you have to put on a heavy coat!  You may have also noticed that the amount of moisture changes as you go up.  From a geographic perspective, what you've noticed is that you pass through several climate zones on the way to the top of the mountain (4).  Each of these climate zones has different collections of plants and animals; there are different ecosystems adapted to the specific climate conditions.  This variability was first described in the 19th century by uber-geographer Alexander Humboldt, who wrote about the different types of agricultural activity taking place with increasing elevation in the Andes Mountains (look for a future post on this topic; I've included a diagram on the left to give you an idea how it works).  Now, think about the effects of global warming.  As the whole planet warms up, these different climate zones should move up the mountain, shouldn't they?  But there is only so far they can go.  If it warms up too much the climate zones will basically slide off the top of the mountain, disappearing forever.  If this happens we lose the species associated with those climate zones (5).   Now let's think about the example of amphibians.  We already learned that they are closely tied to their natural environment.  This includes not only the climate but the land on which they live.  When the climate zone moves up the mountain away from the land they are used to, it makes it harder for the amphibian species to survive.
Diagram from Sodhi, et al (see references)

More Pesticide Use.  Pesticides are artificial chemicals farmers use to kill farm pests.  They also use fungicides, herbicides, and a host of other chemicals to increase crop productivity.  The problem is that once these chemicals get into the natural environment (often via runoff or wind) they sometimes have unexpected consequences.  Chemicals may weaken amphibians, making them less successful in reproduction and development, or they may affect other parts of the food webs that amphibians depend on. 

Emerging Infectious Diseases.  There are numerous instances of amphibian declines being partially attributed to new or introduced diseases.  One of the main culprits is a fungal pathogen with the intimidating name of Batrachonchytrium Dendrobatidis, or Bd for short.  As habitats get opened up diseases are able to spread to new populations.  They are also spread by humans and other invasive species.  Many scientists are worried that increased temperatures will help the spread of diseases too. 

So as you can see there are a number of possible causes for amphibian declines and extinctions.  The reality, though, is that it is probably a combination of these factors at work.  Different studies tell different stories.  One recent study indicates that small range size is the most important factor, followed by body size of the amphibian.  Small ranges make amphibians more susceptible to habitat destruction, but they also increase the risk posed by extreme weather events like droughts and hurricanes, which may possibly be increases in part due to increased global temperatures.  Body size is an important variable because the bigger the animal is, the longer it takes it to grow and develop and hence recover from disturbances which kill off part of the population.  But there are other studies as well.  Part of the problem is the complex interrelationships between factors working at the local level and those operating at global scales.  For example, one study argues that El Nino, a global climate event, leads to decreased snow in the Oregon Cascade mountains.  Since the snow pack is not as thick, there would be less water when the snow melts in the spring, making streams and lakes shallower.  The Western Toad breeds in these water bodies in the early spring, and so because there is less water protecting the eggs they are exposed to higher levels of UV radiation, resulting in increased infection and death due to water mold.  Fascinating, isn't it?  It's like trying to fit together the pieces of a mystery or solve a puzzle.

Amphibians and Kerinci Seblat National Park

Huia modiglianii

What does all of this have to do with Kerinci Seblat National Park?  Well, it's simple really.  KSNP is a huge protected area that encompasses many different habitats and ecosystems.  A recent inventory of herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles) was conducted over several years to determine exactly what kind of amphibians are out there in the park.  The study encompassed 14 survey sites across a variety of altitudes (50m-2000m) and general habitat types, including hilly cultivated land, highland hill forest, lowland hill forest, marshland, edificarian (near houses and gardens), flat cultivated land, secondary hill forest,
Limonectes laticeps

and heavily degraded forest.  The study found 70 species of frogs, 4 of which had never been described before!  This study was the largest of its kind ever in Kerinci, but there is still a lot of work to be done.  The results show that the park, which is most known for its tigers, has other important species of note.  These amphibians are important because, like we saw above, they are particularly sensitive to changes in the environment.  That means that if you monitor the amphibians, you might be able to get some clues about threats to the environment before they get too severe.  The amphibian census also potentially indicates small areas in the park which could be targeted for strict conservation.  This would enable park managers to c
Megophrys nasuta
hannel their scarce resources where they are needed the most.  KSNP is a huge park, and it faces a lot of pressures.  So anything that can help managers do their jobs better is very useful. 

The photos of frogs are from Kurniati's inventory of amphibians for KSNP. 


(1)  Cartograms are neat cartographic data-visualization tools.  They exaggerate the size of the country, making it bigger or smaller to illustrate the magnitude (size) of the particular variable in question.  Can you find some more cartograms on the internet?  What types of things to they indicate?

(2) Scientists have noted a general trend of extinctions and decreasing diversity among many types of animals, but amphibians seem to be experiencing greater than average declines and extinctions. 

(3) Can you find some examples of invasive species in Hawai'i?  What native species have they affected and how?

(4) Geographers classify climates on the basis of two characteristics: temperature and precipitation.

(5)  Many species on mountains are unique, because mountains function as "islands" for plants and animals.  What I mean by this is that they are isolated areas where populations of creatures evolve without contact with other populations, and so they rapidly diverge from other species.  Think back to my post on the Wallace Line and the example of snails in Hawai'i.  Do you see how the isolation of a mountain top could serve as a barrier for a species?  The Hawaiian silverswords are a good example of this. 

References and Further Reading

Blaustein, Andrew et al.  2011.  The Complexity of Amphibian Population Declines: Understanding the Role of Cofactors in Driving Losses.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1223 pp108-119.

Blaustein, Andrew, Susan Walls, Betsy Bancroft, Joshua Lawler, Catherine Searle, and Stephanie Gervasi.  2010.  Direct and Indirect Effects of Climate Change on Amphibian Populations.  Diversity 2, pp281-313.

Collins, James, and Andrew Storfer.  2003.  Global Amphibian Declines: Sorting the Hypotheses.  Diversity and Distributions 9, pp89-98.

Kurniati, Hellen.  2008.  Biodiversity and Natural History of Amphibians and Reptiles in Kerinci Seblat National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia, 2005, 2006, 2007.  Cibinong, Indonesia: Research Center for Biology, LIPI.

Rohr, Jason, and Thomas Raffel.  2010.  Linking Global Climate and Temperature Variability to Widespread Amphibian Declines Putatively Caused by Disease.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences v107#18.

Sodhi, Navjot, et al.  2008.  Measuring the Meltdown: Drivers of Global Amphibian Extinction and Decline.  PLOS One v3#2.

Wake, David, and Vance Vredenburg.  2008.  Are We in the Midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction?  A View from the World of Amphibians.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Vol15 Supplement 1.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Indonesia's Wallace Line and an Introduction to Biogeography

Poster from
"In the archipelago there are two distinct faunas rigidly circumscribed, which differ as much as those in South America and Africa and more than those of Europe and North America.  Yet there is nothing on the map or on the face of the islands to mark their limits.  The boundary line often passes between islands closer than others in the same group  --Alfred Russel Wallace, 1858 in a letter to his friend Henry Walter Bates.

Alfred Russel Wallace is often described as a "naturalist".  He lived from 1823 to 1913, a time when many of the principles guiding our understanding of the world and its natural processes were being formulated.  Wallace went on expeditions around the world; he suffered malaria and dysentery on his quest for knowledge and several times nearly lost his life.  But his real contributions would stem from his time in the islands that would eventually become known as Indonesia.

Alfred Russel Wallace explored the Malay Archipelago from April 1854 to April 1862.  During that time he collected thousands upon thousands of specimens and described hundreds of new species.  He was fascinated by the diversity of species in Indonesia.  He was startled to find dozens of species of trees, butterflies, and other creatures within close proximity to one another.  The diversity of species was far beyond that in his native England, and what he found challenged conventional understandings of where creatures come from.  Among these diverse creatures, though, Wallace found similarities, and reasoned that many of the species he encountered must be somehow related.  What complicated his hypotheses, though, was the existence of a stark contrast in species composition between the eastern and western parts of the archipelago.  In the words of Van Oosterzee (see reference below),

In Borneo Wallace found monkeys, wild cats, civets, otters, squirrels, but in Sulawesi he found few monkeys, but lots of cuscuses.  In Sulawesi there were honeyeaters and parrots, but in Borneo there were oriental birds like woodpeckers, barbets, trogons, fruit thrushes...

The two sides are divided by what would eventually become known as the Wallace Line (1).  Wallace had to figure out what was going on here.  What was responsible for these incredible variations in floral and fauna between islands that in some cases were only a few kilometers apart?

Wallace is often considered the father of a burgeoning sub-discipline of geography called biogeography.   Wallace was the first scientist to realize that the distribution of related species is fundamentally linked to the geologic history of the places the species inhabit.  Biogeographers study physical geography in an attempt to understand how species are distributed.  Biogeography is based on the principles of evolution and natural selection that were first elucidated by Charles Darwin and the aforementioned Alfred Russell Wallace. A proper discussion of the theory of evolution is beyond the scope of this blog, but for our purposes here a couple of basic principles will suffice:

1.  There is random, natural variation within species.  This simply means that through time, a given species will change bit by bit.  You can see this in humans.  Even though as a species we are very closely related to one another, there are all sorts of differences between people.  We have different skin tones, eye color, hair color, body types, etc.  All of these differences are types of mutations that occurred during the several-million-year evolutionary history of humans!  The same thing happens with other species as well.  Think about all the different types of dog you see.  They are all the same species (canis familiaris), but between the different breeds there is a lot of variation. 

2.  This random variation can be passed down through generations.  Even though the variation is random, it can be passed down from generation to generation because the information responsible for these variations is encoded in genes.  This is why you share many of the same traits as your parents!  In the aforementioned example of dogs, people take advantage of this tendency for traits to be inherited to breed dogs of certain types. 

3.  New traits that confer an advantage will be more likely to be handed down, whereas traits that are disadvantageous are less likely to be passed along.  I like to think of these variations as nature's laboratory.  Right now nature is performing millions upon millions of experiments on living things!  Sometimes the new trait might help a critter live longer or cope with its environment better.  In this case, the critter is more likely to find a mate and have children.  But in some cases the new trait might cause problems for the critter, which would make it more likely to be eaten by a predator or befall some other unfortunate case.  If this happens, it's less likely that the new trait will be passed along. 

Photo from Hawaiian Tree Snail Conservation Lab at UH
The unique contribution of Wallace was to show that the lay of the land matters in these processes of evolution and speciation.  So in addition to the aforementioned basic principles we can add a couple of correlaries:

1.  Species that are somehow divided into subpopulations will begin to diverge, and the rate of divergence depends in part on how frequently the populations interact with one another. 

Like Indonesia, Hawai'i is a great place to study biogeography.  One fascinating example of the effect of the natural environment on the evolution and radiation of species comes from the many varieties of tree snails that inhabit our archipelago.  When the snails arrived in Hawai'i long ago, there were no predators, and so the random, natural variation we spoke of earlier ran rampant.  The snails were able to spread all over the island.

This is where changes in the landscape come in.  Have a look at the two topographical maps I've included below.  The first is of the Big Island, which is the youngest island in the archipelago.  It's actually still growing.  The second map is of Oahu.  Can you notice any differences?

Even though these maps are of slightly different types, you should be able to see some differences between the two islands.  Oahu is marked by valleys running out of the Koolau and Wainae mountain ranges.  Manoa, Makua and Palolo are just two examples; there are dozens of others, and you're probably familiar with at least a few of these.  These valleys are carved by wind and water, the forces of erosion.  The oldest part of Oahu is a little more than 3 million years old, and so mother nature has had a long time to work her magic on the island.  The island has been dissected by water and wind, leaving a roughness to the terrain.  The Big Island, on the other hand, doesn't have nearly as many valleys (though there are a few), and though the mountains are higher, the terrain is a lot smoother. 

Now let's think about the islands from a snail's perspective.  Remember our islands have emerged from a hot spot (TK) in the middle of the ocean, and so when they emerge from the sea they are barren with no creatures.  They are also very far from any other land masses (think of how long it takes to get anyplace on a plane!) which could be potential sources for colonizing creatures.  Thus there are significant obstacles for any plant or animal to make it to Hawai'i, and throughout the millions of years that the islands have been here only a few managed to make the journey.  The tree snail was one of the lucky ones.  When the tree snail arrived millions of years ago, it likely disembarked on an island like the Big Island: expansive with fairly smooth terrain.  It would have been easy for the snail to spread across this island.  Combine this with the fact that there were no predators and you have a true snail paradise!  I've created a diagram below to give you an idea of what it might look like (please note that the snails are not to scale):

As you can see, the snails are free to roam and interact.  They are pretty much all a part of the same population, and so the random variation gets shared between them because they are able to breed with one another.  We can think of the Big Island as being like this.  However, as years pass and erosion sets in, natural obstacles like valleys and ridges are worked into the landscape, as you can see from the diagram below.  This diagram is a model for an older island, like Oahu or Kaua'i.

On the older island, the initial population of snails gets broken up into smaller populations, each isolated from one another.  What this means is that if a new trait emerges in one of these smaller populations it will be shared within that population only, but not with the other populations.  So eventually the different populations will begin to diverge and will eventually reach the point where they are completely different species!

Wallace was the first to understand how natural geologic processes could affect the evolution and divergence of species, but he made his observations in the context of Indonesia.  His "line" traces a division rooted tens of millions of years in the past when the configuration of continents was very different than today.  The variation in species reflects the varying origins of the various islands in the Indonesian Archipelago.  The islands of the western part of Indonesia have a very different history from those of the eastern part, and the island of Sulawesi is a different story all together!  Look for a future post on how the islands of Indonesia have actually moved across the face of the earth.

(TK)  If you are not familiar with the way the Hawaiian Islands form, you can do a google search for "Hawaiian Island formation" or "volcanic hot spot".  The Hawaiian Center for Volcanology is a good place to start.  The Bishop Museum in Honolulu had a really good exhibit on the hot spot as well.

References: Van Oosterzee, 1997.  When Worlds Collide: The Wallace Line. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.  220pp.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

We're Gonna Blow A 50-Amp Fuse!

Today on my second day back in Indonesia I encountered a demonstration (demo) outside the headquarters of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) on Jalan Rasuna Said in central Jakarta.  I was just walking down the road when I happened onto the demonstration, so I stuck around in hopes that the protest would degenerate into a riot and I'd get a chance to witness some tear gas, water cannon, and rubber bullet action, since that kind of stuff would be pure gold on YouTube.

It turns out that the protestors were upset with Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), vice-president Budiyono, and former finance minister Sri Mulyani over their alleged involvement in a scandal known as the Bank Century affair.  I'm quite interested in Indonesian politics and current events, and so I decided to ask around as to what was up.  After all, Sri Mulyani, who is currently managing director at the World Bank, is widely regarded as a brilliant economist of unshakeable integrity and a possible candidate to be the next president of the Republic of Indonesia.  Sri Mulyani's straightforward manner has won her the respect of Indonesia watchers around the world, so I was curious to learn about her "dark side", because up until now all I've heard is good things about her.   

So I asked some of the several hundred protestors that had been bussed in to central Jakarta for the occasion.  All the protestors were young folks, and so at first I thought they might be college students.  "What's going on here?  Why are you guys upset with Sri Mulyani for?"

"Because she's a corruptor!" came the answer from several different people.

My efforts to ask the question in several different ways, along with my prodding for elaboration ended in vain.  So I tried a different angle.  "What do you guys want the KPK to do about it?"

"We want her brought down!" was the standard response.

"But you know she's at the World Bank now, right?  The KPK doesn't have any influence over the World Bank," I argued.

"BUT SHE'S A CORRUPTOR!" was the only rebuttle.  And then I noticed something.  In addition to not knowing much about the issue at hand, all of the young people were men.  And then I realized that this wasn't a protest at all, but rather an engineered political statement designed to resemble a protest.  This ersatz mass-movement is a common tactic in Indonesian politics, where popular discontent is a powerful tool, especially since the fall of strongman president Suharto in the late 90s.  These protest literally employ young men to shout slogans and carry inflammatory signs designed to impugn the character of whoever is the subject of the protest.  Protestors are paid around 30,000 rupiah (around $3.50) and are offered a free lunch for their participation.  This particular protest was organized by a political organization that shall remain nameless.

It was a pretty interesting thing to watch.  The paid protestors even offered me some lunch, but I refused since I'd already had my fill of rice and chicken sinews for the day.  We sat around shooting the breeze.  They were obviously in it for the food and the money, so I wasn't going to learn much about the allegations against Sri Mulyani.  So we talked about other things.

Keith: "Mana cewek?" (Where are the chicks?).

Protestors: "Di Mall..."  (at the mall...).

All: "HAW HAW HAW!"  (Haw Haw Haw). 

What made the day most interesting is that yesterday, on the flight from Singapore to Jakarta, I sat next to an Indonesian civil servant who had worked for 15 years as a banker specializing in international finance.  He told me about some of the intricacies of the Century Bank imbroglio (which are far too detailed and boring to get into here) and how difficult the whole thing is for your average Bambang to understand.  We then got into a discussion about how dangerous ignorance can be in a democracy.  We both agreed that lots of folks are swayed by simple explanations for incredibly complex problems, which makes the ultimate resolution of such problems that much harder to achieve.  It made me realize how blessed I am to live in a country where all the people are well informed when it comes to complex issues such as the national debt, taxation, and global warming.  It's because of this that we're able to elect leaders that do such a good job working together for the benefit of everyone!

On a lighter note, below I've included the picture of the day.  This photo is of Moon Base Epsilon, which, due to the failure to carry a one in complex orbital calculations, actually ended up being constructed in Jakarta.