Man of Contradictions: understanding the enigma named Jokowi

Ben Bland’s recent book, Man of Contradictions, is touted as the “first English political biography” of Jokowi. There are two biographies of Jokowi in Indonesian, written by Alberthiene Endah. Other “semi-biographies”, such as “Jokoway” by Joko Sulistyo, are questionable at best, as they are written by active government staff. So, I was anticipating Bland’s biography to provide a more impartial picture of Jokowi’s governance.

Front cover of Man of Contradictions. Source: Penguin AU.

In this respect, it delivered. Drawing from his numerous interviews with Jokowi, Ben Bland manages to deliver a relatively impartial assessment of Jokowi’s governance over the years. His central thesis: to understand the enigma that is Jokowi, one must understand his contradictory nature.

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Creative potholes and the liberating feeling of having freedom to create

My writing has stifled, but I am not talking about raw numbers. As far as numbers are concerned, I think I’m writing more than ever—mostly due to work demands. It’s just that the quality of my writing seems to be slipping, and this is apparent in my scholarly work. I just don’t feel like I’m living up to a certain standard, that I’m always falling short, that I’ll never be like the “cool guys” at the proverbial top, wherever that “top” may be.

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Functioning and teaching from home: some notes

It’s been 3.5 months since the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Indonesia. I decided quickly to move away from Jakarta, the epicentrum, to my hometown in Bali. I thought I could function better at home, back with my parents, instead of being cooped up in a shoebox with nobody to talk to. The university also ordered all faculty to stay at home until July, which is among the more generous policies compared to other universities. 

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What is expected of academics?

These are thoughts that have been fermenting for a very long time (around 2 years or so). They’ve been nagging me a lot, but it is only that I’ve finally managed to gather them in a relatively coherent manner. So far, these thoughts only existed on paper, in the private journal that I always carry around.

Earlier in 2019, I was working on an article on the role of community organizations in extremist deradicalization in Indonesia. The premise was simple: state-based deradicalization in Indonesia has not always lived up to expectations. Maybe community-based initiatives can pick up the slack. I was writing the article in tandem with two other senior academics. As the junior in the group, I did most of the work. Once the first draft was finished, we sent it in for review. Then came the naturally long silence that I expected in academia. I used the three-month silence to work on my first conference paper and other things I’ve either picked up willingly or been thrusted upon. (Update: that article is now published in Journal for Policing and Counterterrorism [paywall])

At the conference, I felt it was a holiday. I didn’t have any teaching obligations. I didn’t have to work on anything else. All I had to do was attend panels I liked and present my paper. Other than that, I could practically do anything else. It was there where I met my professor from my Master’s days and we did a bit of catching up. The following conversation happened. It happened a while ago, I may have mis-remembered some details.

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A volley of misguided higher-ed policies and now, we’re supposed to import university presidents?

In 2016, Minister for Higher Education, Research, and Technology (just “DIKTI” for short), Mohammad Nasir, proposed importing university presidents to chair in national universities. The proposal was buffeted with negative criticism and eventually died down. Three years on, it has resurfaced.

Why did this proposal resurface? According to the Jakarta Post, Nasir, speaking on behalf of the government, basically wants to “get local universities listed among the top 200 universities in the world.”

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Is academic experience inferior to “work” experience?

I can’t believe arguing with people on Twitter would lead me to produce more blog posts. I might as well re-label this column as “Summary of Things I Argued on Twitter Today”.

Anyway, this musing is brought to you by this thread by @ernabila_ . In the post, the OP (original poster) posted a screencap of a LinkedIn post by Ann Ping Saw, who told a story about an (ex)employee who begged them for a job, but after a few months, quit to pursue a Master’s.

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The long haul: failures, successes, and equilibrium

Drawing from the informal poll I did weeks ago on Instagram to solicit suggestions on what content should appear more on this blog, one of the suggestions was a discussion of my failures in academia. I don’t know why, but it kinda just popped up in my head as I was vacantly gazing outside the window. My dog was chasing a garden rat.

When I was a student, both undergrad and grad, I imagined academe would be nice place where everyone is civilized (not all), intellectual (definitely not all), and working together towards the common goal of human enlightenment (some are actively conspiring against this). Plus, my dad is an academic and he got to travel—business class!—everywhere. Given these rose-tinted goggles, I sought my place in academe.

What most people see on the outside are the happy moments: graduation, completion, and acceptance. These are moments I choose to present. However, this is all superficial. What often goes unrecorded are the constant failures, rejections, and plain old stress. Also, back pains because of too much sitting and irritated eyes because of too much screen-staring. And indigestion. Lots of it.

What I learned, especially in these two years of holding an active academic position, is that everything oscillates until it reaches equilibrium. If you haven’t failed yet, you will, and vice-versa. You just don’t know when. So here’s a short summary of my academic journey. It’s not always smooth, as you may infer. Caveat abound. Some unconscious self-censorship may be present.

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Student-professor relations

Starting from a Twitter thread by @roythaniago (see below) which basically compiled a bunch of complaints students had to their professors, I also want to chime in with my own two cents.

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