Indonesia executes six drug convicts, five of them foreigners

Indonesia executes six drug convicts, five of them foreigners
Widodo has pledged to bring reform to Indonesia

Ban appeals to Indonesia to stop death row executions

Ban appeals to Indonesia to stop death row executions
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has pleaded to Indonesia to stop the execution of prisoners on death row for drug crimes. AFP PHOTO

Pope: 'Death penalty represents failure' – no 'humane' way to kill a person

Pope: 'Death penalty represents failure' – no 'humane' way to kill a person
The pope wrote that the principle of legitimate personal defense isn’t adequate justification to execute someone. Photograph: Zuma/Rex

Obama becomes first president to visit US prison (US Justice Systems / Human Rights)

Obama becomes first president to visit US prison   (US Justice Systems / Human Rights)
US President Barack Obama speaks as he tours the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

US Death Penalty (Justice Systems / Human Rights)

US Death Penalty (Justice Systems / Human Rights)
Woman who spent 23 years on US death row cleared (Photo: dpa)


"The Recalibration of Awareness – Apr 20/21, 2012 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Old Energy, Recalibration Lectures, God / Creator, Religions/Spiritual systems (Catholic Church, Priests/Nun’s, Worship, John Paul Pope, Women in the Church otherwise church will go, Current Pope won’t do it), Middle East, Jews, Governments will change (Internet, Media, Democracies, Dictators, North Korea, Nations voted at once), Integrity (Businesses, Tobacco Companies, Bankers/ Financial Institutes, Pharmaceutical company to collapse), Illuminati (Started in Greece, with Shipping, Financial markets, Stock markets, Pharmaceutical money (fund to build Africa, to develop)), Shift of Human Consciousness, (Old) Souls, Women, Masters to/already come back, Global Unity.... etc.) - (Text version)

… The Shift in Human Nature

You're starting to see integrity change. Awareness recalibrates integrity, and the Human Being who would sit there and take advantage of another Human Being in an old energy would never do it in a new energy. The reason? It will become intuitive, so this is a shift in Human Nature as well, for in the past you have assumed that people take advantage of people first and integrity comes later. That's just ordinary Human nature.

In the past, Human nature expressed within governments worked like this: If you were stronger than the other one, you simply conquered them. If you were strong, it was an invitation to conquer. If you were weak, it was an invitation to be conquered. No one even thought about it. It was the way of things. The bigger you could have your armies, the better they would do when you sent them out to conquer. That's not how you think today. Did you notice?

Any country that thinks this way today will not survive, for humanity has discovered that the world goes far better by putting things together instead of tearing them apart. The new energy puts the weak and strong together in ways that make sense and that have integrity. Take a look at what happened to some of the businesses in this great land (USA). Up to 30 years ago, when you started realizing some of them didn't have integrity, you eliminated them. What happened to the tobacco companies when you realized they were knowingly addicting your children? Today, they still sell their products to less-aware countries, but that will also change.

What did you do a few years ago when you realized that your bankers were actually selling you homes that they knew you couldn't pay for later? They were walking away, smiling greedily, not thinking about the heartbreak that was to follow when a life's dream would be lost. Dear American, you are in a recession. However, this is like when you prune a tree and cut back the branches. When the tree grows back, you've got control and the branches will grow bigger and stronger than they were before, without the greed factor. Then, if you don't like the way it grows back, you'll prune it again! I tell you this because awareness is now in control of big money. It's right before your eyes, what you're doing. But fear often rules. …

Sunday, March 29, 2015

ASEAN has pivotal role in Beijing's regional integration plans

Want China Times, Staff Reporter 2015-03-29

Xi Jinping, right, meets President Joko Widodo of Indonesia at the Great
Hall of the People in Beijing, March 26. (Photo/Xinhua)

The 2015 Boao Forum for Asia, currently underway in China's southern island province of Hainan under the theme "Asia's New Future: Towards a Community of Common Destiny," has revealed a good deal about China's continuing role in forming this community and the basis on which it can be established, according to Duowei News, an outlet run by overseas Chinese.

The sub-forums held at the forum laid out China's blueprint for the community, according to the website.

There have been six main topics of discussion at this year's forum, including macroeconomic policy, regional cooperation, industrial transformation, political security and social welfare, with 77 formal discussion sessions. There has also been much talk of China's Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) initiative, as well as the New Silk Road Economic Belt, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road plans, East Asian economic integration and the much touted "new normal" for China's economy.

This year's Boao Forum has coincided with the end of the two sessions in China–the annual meetings of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference–and the deadline for application to be a founding member of the AIIB on March 31. China has taken advantage of this convenient timing to discuss these concepts at length. In the middle of all the discussion centered on China however, the forum also played host to a discussion session entitled "ASEAN Community: A New Starting Point for Integration" at which foreign minister Wang Yi gave a speech. This has led many to speculate on Beijing's reasons for lending such importance to this session.

Quiet changes at the Boao Forum

That China was willing to give the floor to this session, during such a high-profile diplomatic event for the country, suggests that ASEAN integration is key to China's interests in the region and to its own trade initiatives.

Asia accounts for 60% of the world's population and according to an estimate by the Asian Development Bank, by 2050, Asia will make up 51% of the global GDP. However, it is not yet clear how regional integration will play out through this time frame. In recent decades Asia has witnessed unprecedented economic growth, increased regional trade and direct investment as well as economic and social exchanges between countries. This is not just on the economic front, but also in terms of security, in dealing with terrorism and pirates. Political and military cooperation is also starting to make headway, according to Duowei.

Compared with Europe, Africa or South America, however, Asia has traditionally been held back by geographical issues, which have prevented institutionalized cooperation, with only informal meetings between leaders and ministerial-level summits. There is also a need for an effective negotiation mechanism in Asia. Beijing clearly hopes that its new initiatives can resolve this.

At the national level, the ten countries that make up ASEAN have undergone different paths of political, cultural and economic development, but as an organization, they make up a collective of 600 million people, linked by river ways as well as maritime and overland routes, stretching through Eurasia to the Pacific. This is of strategic importance for China's planned "Belt and Road" initiative, as ASEAN countries serve as the gateway to the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. ASEAN countries were also among the earliest initiators of economic integration in Asia, setting out first from preferential trade conditions, to free trade agreements, until they eventually formed an economic community.

This is not the first time Beijing has dedicated a platform to talks between ASEAN countries. Beijing sees ASEAN as a testing ground for its ambitions to implement its strategic entry into Eurasia and so has played a key role in facilitating integration within the organization. From 1991 onward, after then foreign minister Qian Qichen visited the 24th ASEAN leaders' summit as a guest at the invite of host country Malaysia, China's cooperative relationship with the organization began in earnest. This led to regional economic cooperation initiatives surrounding the Mekong river and the Gulf of Tonkin and China subsequently played a role in facilitating negotiations over the ASEAN Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and its predecessor.

President Xi Jinping invited the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, on a state visit on the eve of the forum from March 25-28. On March 26 the two leaders issued a joint statement announcing that they would strengthen the strategic partnership between their countries. The joint statement also reaffirmed Beijing's support for ASEAN's role in regional integration as well as for the ASEAN+3 mechanism - talks between ASEAN countries, South Korea, China and Japan. As Indonesia is often perceived as the major driver behind ASEAN, the move is likely another sign of the importance Beijing is placing on the organization.

The idea of a "Community of Destiny" was first mentioned in a report from the 18th CPC National Congress in November 2012. The concept also featured in Xi's speech at the 2013 Boao Forum, held in April of that year. Xi also mentioned the concept while meeting with Laotian president Choummaly Sayasone in August of 2013 and in a speech at the Indonesian congress in September of the same year. On each occasion he stressed the importance of ASEAN to this community of destiny.

Li Keqiang, right, meets Joko Widodo at the Great Hall of the
People in Beijing, March 27. (Photo/Xinhua)

Related Article:

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fortune Ranks Surabaya Mayor Risma Among World’s Greatest Leaders

Jakarta Globe, Mar 27, 2015

Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini. (JG Photo/Yudek)

Jakarta. Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini has been named as one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders by American business magazine Fortune.

Risma, as she is popularly known, is ranked 24th on the list, above Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun and Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. She is the only Indonesian included.

“Elected as Surabaya’s mayor in 2010, Rismaharini has transformed her city of 2.7 million people into a new kind of Indonesian metropolis, one that celebrates green space and environmental sustainability,” the magazine said.

Other notable leaders included were China’s Xi Jinping, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and Apple CEO Tim Cook, who is ranked top of the list.

In February last year Risma was named world mayor of the month by the City Mayor Foundation.

Risma, who has a degree in architecture, rose to fame in 2005 as the head of the Surabaya park department which is responsible for rejuvenating the city’s parks and developing more green spaces.

The mayor has been praised for her hands-on approach to the city’s problems, such as picking up trash along the roadside or getting out of her car and directing traffic.

But not everyone has been happy with her performance. Last year, she received both praise and criticism for closing down Indonesia’s biggest red light district, also known as Dolly. She sent sex workers back to their home towns with a small amount of money to start new businesses.

Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini. (JG Photo/Yudek)

Related Article:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Police Change Rules on Female Recruits Wearing Headscarves

Jakarta Globe, Markus Junianto Sihaloho, Mar 26, 2015

Muslim female police officers will now be permitted to wear a jilbab.
(JG Photo/Dhana Kencana)

Jakarta. Indonesia’s National Police on Wednesday issued a letter allowing female cops to wear the Islamic veil as part of their official uniform.

A memo from the National Police, signed by acting police chief Comr. Gen. Badrodin Haiti, dated March 25, detailed how female police officers are required to match the color and style of headscarf with police uniform.

Aboe Bakar Al-Habsyi, a lawmaker from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), praised the regulation.

“This is good news not only for Muslim police women, but also for all Muslims in Indonesia,” he said. “This also means that the police heard our aspirations on this matter.”

The police previously prohibited female police officers from wearing headscarves as part of their official uniforms, although police officers in Aceh are required to wear jilbabs by the semi-autonomous province’s loose interpretation of Shariah law.

In 2010, data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) showed that Muslims in Indonesia numbered 87.2 percent of a total 240 million people in the country, making the nation become the state with the largest Muslim population in the world.

An Acehnese female police officer wear a hijab on duty in the street in Banda
 Aceh, Indonesia, March 27, 2015. Indonesia National Police officially issued a
regulation allowing female police officer to wear the Islamic hijab (heads craft)
 as a part of their uniform. Indonesia is the biggest Muslim population in the
world. (EPA Photo/Hotli Simanjuntak)
VEILED SOLDIERS: Women soldiers line up during the 52nd anniversary
 of the Iskandar Muda military battalion in Banda Aceh on Monday. Under Aceh's
 local sharia-based ordinance, all women including soldiers, are required to wear
veils in public. JP/Hotli Simanjuntak

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Minister to Investigate Age of Death Row Convict Whom Activists Say Is Juvenile

Jakarta Globe, SP/Dina Manafe, Mar 25, 2015

Police officers outside the gateway to Indonesia's maximum-secuirty
prison island complex on Nusakambangan, Cilacap. (Reuters Photo)

Cilacap, Central Java. Minister for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Yohana Yambise said on Wednesday she would cancel the death penalty for a teenager convicted of murder if he were found to have been a juvenile when he was sentenced by a North Sumatra court in 2013.

“I came to check on Yusman and he says he’s in a safe and sound condition,” Yohana told reporters on Wednesday at Nusakambangan penitentiary in Cilacap, Central Java.

“I also came to make sure if he’s a minor,” the minister added.

Yusman Telaumbanua was sentenced to die by firing squad by Gunung Sitoli district court in Nias, North Sumatra, on May 21 2013, for being involved in the premeditated murder of three people in 2012.

On Aug. 17, 2013, Yusman was transferred to Nusakambangan prison to be executed by firing squad. The execution has been placed on hold pending an investigation into his age.

“I haven’t made any decision yet but I will dig deeper into this case,” Yohana said, adding that she would consult with Indonesia’s National Child Protection Commission in the investigation.

She said she would visit Yusman’s village in Nias to check with his school as well as his neighbors and church, which issued Yusman’s certificate of baptism.

“If he is proven to be underage, then we will revise his sentence,” she said. “For children, it’s a maximum 10 years’ imprisonment.”

When Yusman was handed the sentence, the court claimed Yusman was born in 1993, which would have made him an adult.

However, the Commission of Missing Persons and Victims of Violence reported later that Yusman’s baptism certificate proved he was born on Aug. 5, 1996.

The Nias civil registry office has also denied that Yusman was born in 1993, Kontras said.

Indonesian law defines anyone who is under 18 years old as minors.

Indonesian Army Claims OPM Leader Surrenders in Papua

Jakarta Globe, Banjir Ambarita, Mar 24, 2015

A member of the Free Papua Movement, second from right, surrenders
to the Indonesian Military. (Antara Photo/Iwan Adisaputra)

Jayapura. The Indonesian military has claimed a prominent leader of the pro-independence Free Papua Movement, or OPM, has turned himself in to authorities and renounced his struggle against Indonesian rule in Papua.

Goliat Tabuni, his family, and 23 followers surrendered to authorities on Sunday, according to Brig. Gen. Tatang Sulaiman, chief staff of Cendrawasih Military Command.

Tatang claimed on Monday that the group surrendered because they wanted to “live properly like other Indonesians.”

Goliat is a seasoned OPM leader who has claimed responsibility for killing troops from the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) in the past.

Tatang said Goliat had requested the military build him and his family a honai, or traditional Papuan home, in Tinginambut district, where the OPM leader has been operating. TNI representatives were still negotiating with Tabuni.

The veracity of the army’s claim has been questioned by other OPM commanders, however, who have challenged the TNI to prove it.

OPM Commander Puron Wenda said he was unsure about the military’s statement. He said he had not been in contact with Tabuni, who led his own fighting cell, for a long time.

“Goliat might feel he is already independent and that is why he used the title of general, but for us our fight has just been started,” he said.

Enden Wanimbo, another OPM military leader, challenged the TNI to show evidence.

“Where is the evidence? Is there any videos or pictures,” he asked.

Both military leaders said the OPM would not give up fighting for a free Papua.

“We are not asking for money, position, or a new district, we just want Papua to be independent,” Puron told the Jakarta Globe Tuesday.

The OPM has been waging a low-intensity guerilla war against Indonesia since Papua was annexed in 1969.

Indonesian Terror Cells Get Help From Down Under: PPATK

Jakarta Globe, Novianti Setuningsih, Mar 25, 2015

Deputy Chairman Agus Santoso of the PPATK. (Antara Photo/Reno Esnir)

Jakarta. Indonesia’s anti-money laundering agency announced on Tuesday that it had detected funds believed to support terrorist activities flowing from Australia into the country.

“We have discovered funding activities from Australia to [terrorist] networks in Indonesia,” said Agus Santoso, deputy chief of the Financial Transactions Report and Analysis Center (PPATK).

He declined to elaborate, saying only that the matter is still under investigation and the agency is cooperating with its Australian counterpart.

“I can’t reveal the exact figure, but it’s not in the millions [of dollars]. We can only confirm that the funds came from Australia to support known radical organizations in the country,” Agus said.

He declined to name the group or any specific incidents the funds may be related to. He also declined to comment on whether the case is connected to the recent wave of Indonesians seeking to join the radical group Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.

“We plan to reach out to agencies [PPATK counterparts] abroad with efforts to cut terror-related funding across the region, including those connected to IS,” Agus said. “We will work with agencies from the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia.”

The government has previously expressed concerns over the hundreds of Indonesians fleeing the country to join IS’s cause, including 16 citizens arrested by Turkish authorities earlier this month for trying to cross the border to Syria, reportedly to support the militant group. They are scheduled to be deported back to Indonesia this week.

Police arrested five suspects over the weekend in Kebayoran Baru (South Jakarta), Bogor (West Java), Tangerang (Banten) and Bekasi (West Java). The suspects are accused of recruiting and financing Indonesian fighters for IS.

Among the five still in custody is a man identified as Amin Mude, a resident of the Legenda Wisata housing estate in Cileungsi, Bogor, who was previously arrested in December for a similar case but was released a day later.

Amin had been accused of aiding and abetting 12 Indonesians trying to reach Syria via Turkey and is now believed to be the main financier for the 16 scheduled to be deported by Turkish authorities.

The five were found with firearms, passports, plane tickets and a combined $6,000 in cash at the time of their arrests, according to Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen. Unggung Cahyono.

At least Rp 7 billion ($ 540,189) is believed to have aided Indonesian IS fighters to travel to Iraq, or Syria, the PPATK said.

“The network is expanding exponentially. The funds raised reached at least Rp 7 billion. They are using all sorts of methods to raise cash, from selling herbal medicine, books and even chemicals,” Agus said.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Filipina maid captures dreams through photography

Yahoo - AFP, Aaron Tam, March 22, 2015

Filipino photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani poses with her work in Macau on
March 21, 2015 (AFP Photo/Aaron Tam)

Hong Kong (AFP) - From her poverty-stricken roots in a Philippine backwater, via domestic service in Hong Kong to acclaim in New York, Xyza Cruz Bacani's inspirational journey started with a camera bought with borrowed money.

The 28-year-old came to Hong Kong nine years ago to join 300,000 other women working as maids in the city, hoping to earn enough money to help fund her brother's education.

But photography has transformed her life, her images of everything from trips to the supermarket to scenes of abuse at a refuge for domestic workers earning laudatory spreads in international media and at exhibitions.

Bacani was recently named as one of the recipients of a fellowship by the Magnum Foundation, a prestigious scholarship that will allow her to study in New York for six weeks.

Filipino photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani
 poses with her work in Macau on March
21, 2015 (AFP Photo/Aaron Tam)
With that in mind, just a week ago, she quit domestic service to pursue her passion for photography. But when she first came to Hong Kong, survival was her first priority.

"The urge to survive is much bigger than the urge to do art," she told AFP in Macau where her photographs are on show as part of the city's Literary Festival.

A self-professed dreamer, she said she also saw the move to Hong Kong as an opportunity to leave her home village, nine hours' drive from the Philippine capital Manila.

"It was a big contrast when I arrived at the airport, I was very excited because everything is moving fast, and the lights are wonderful, it looks so alive compared to my village," she said.

Her passion for photography really took off four years ago, when her employer -- whom she describes as a "great lady" -- lent her the money to buy her first camera, a Nikon D90.

"When I had (the camera), I shot landscapes to flowers to (portraits of) my mom, and then I did street photography."

From that point on Bacani took photographs at every opportunity she had, whether out buying daily produce for her employer or ranging across Hong Kong on Sundays off work.

At first she only shared her pictures with friends on Facebook -- mostly shot in grainy black and white, capturing street moments in classic reportage style.

A Filipino photographer based in San Francisco saw them on Facebook and was intrigued by their originality and quality. From there she came to the attention of the New York Times Lens blog and then of acclaimed photographer Sebastiao Salgado, who praised her work at an exhibition in Hong Kong late last year.

Reflecting on her journey thus far, she marvels: "Right now it's changed my life 180 degrees, here I am having a show in Macau, going to places."

A voice for the unheard

With increasing concerns over the treatment of domestic helpers in Hong Kong and the region, Bacani is now turning to documentary photography to try to draw attention to abuses.

"That's what I want my photography to do, to be able to help people ... to me photography is a very powerful tool to change someone's perspective towards an issue," she said.

In the summer of 2014, Bacani documented migrant workers who had taken shelter at a refuge after suffering abuse at the hands of their employers, an experience she described as "life-changing".

"I was angry at first, it was a roller-coaster of emotion when I saw this kind of situation.

"I think I was there to be the voice of those domestic workers who remain unheard, whose voices have been muted."

Just last month a judge sentenced a Hong Kong woman to six years in jail for beating and starving her Indonesian maid in a case that made global headlines.

Bacani's own employer could not be more different, she says, offering support and encouragement to pursue her plans of becoming a photographer full-time.

"She said my domestic worker duties... are restricting me from growing up as a person, it's a chain that holds me," Bacani said, after stopping her domestic work last week.

Bacani's story has inspired many other helpers in the city, and she is urging them to pursue their dreams too.

"They keep on telling me... now that they've seen me, I made them realise that it's possible to do the things that you really want to do outside your job.

"I want people to see that your job, your work, it doesn't define who you are," she added.

"The dreams that I had when I was young, I'm having them now."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

'Happy' Pharrell mobbed at UN General Assembly

Yahoo – AFP, March 20, 2015

Musician Pharrell Williams (L) is mobbed by fans at the International Day of 
Happiness at the United Nations in New York March 20, 2015 (AFP Photo/
Timothy A. Clary)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The UN podium has been the scene of countless speeches both passionate and dull, but the audience was not world leaders but children, and they mobbed the speaker.

Pop star Pharrell Williams -- best known for his viral hit "Happy" -- addressed the UN General Assembly on the "International Day of Happiness" as he raised his voice on the dangers of climate change.

After he spoke, "Happy" came on the speakers of the normally solemn hall as dozens of teenagers and younger children raced toward him with their camera phones in hopes he would dance.

UN security guards rushed into the crowd in fear of a stampede as an official took the microphone to urge everyone to step back.

Williams has been working with former US vice president Al Gore to organize global concerts in June to build public pressure for a UN-backed agreement on climate change at a conference late this year in Paris.

"You should know that happiness is your birthright," Williams told the hundreds of assembled children, whose placards all read "#happyplanet" instead of the usual names of UN member states.

Musician Pharrell Williams (R) and Philippe Cousteau Jr. gesture during the
 International Day of Happiness at the UN in New York on March 20, 2015
(AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary)

"If you don't take care of your home, you don't have a life, so we have to now transition from climate change to climate action," he said.

Environmentalist Philippe Cousteau Jr joined Williams to warn that climate change's effects were looking even worse than initially feared, pointing to Cyclone Pam, which recently ravaged the Pacific island of Vanuatu, as well as the rapidly melting Arctic ice.

"One of the scary things about climate change is that all of our predictions have been too conservative," said Cousteau, the grandson of legendary French ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

'Happy' playlist

As part of the International Day of Happiness, the United Nations worked with streaming service MixRadio to create a playlist.

Numerous musicians and actors offered selections when asked to name songs that made them happy.

Pop diva Britney Spears picked Prince's infectious hit "Kiss," British DJ Fatboy Slim chose the 1976 R&B peace anthem "Harvest of the World" by The Isley Brothers and cello great Yo Yo Ma offered a Bach work recorded by the late Pablo Casals, often considered the greatest master of the instrument.

Musician Pharrell Williams(2R) speaks at the United Nations (UN) during the
 International Day of Happiness in New York on March 20, 2015 (AFP
Photo/Timothy A. Clary)

Two artists chose works by themselves -- Portuguese singer David Fonseca and Indian film composer A.R. Rahman.

And in a selection that was especially intriguing, singer-songwriter John Legend chose late Motown great Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up."

Williams earlier this month lost a $7 million lawsuit from Gaye's family, which accused him and Robin Thicke of stealing "Got to Give It Up" for their 2013 hit "Blurred Lines."

Williams denies the charge and has called the verdict an affront to artists.

The United Nations declared an International Day of Happiness –- which coincides with the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere –- in 2012 after an initiative by Bhutan, the Himalayan land that measures "Gross National Happiness" instead of a standard economic indicator.
Related Articles:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Feline Fun for All at Cutie Cats

The cats are the often indifferent stars of the show that is the newly opened
Cutie Cats Cafe in Kemang, South Jakarta. (JG Photos/Lisa Johanna)

Some say the world has gone to the dogs. Nihilism aside, judging from the rapidly growing number of cat cafes popping up around the globe in recent years, the world is obviously going to the cats — and Indonesia is no exception to the overload of fluffy cuteness.

Jakarta cat lovers, go ahead and let out that suppressed squeal of delight (you know you want to) at the news of Cutie Cats Cafe, the first of its kind in the archipelago. Since the late 1990s, Asia has seen a boom in this CATegory of feline-friendly businesses, but Jakarta’s first taste of this growing trend hopes to set itself apart in several ways.

The sheer concept of a cafe where customers pay money to be surrounded by cats is so bizarrely quirky that it had to have come from Japan, the land of all things adorable — with an unconventional twist. But surprisingly enough, the world’s very first cat cafe opened in Taiwan in 1998.

“Japanese tourists coming to Taiwan, they took on the idea and then the first one opened in [the year] 2000-something in Tokyo and that’s actually the place where the most cat cafes are at the moment,” explains Michael Kurtz, co-owner of Cutie Cats Cafe. “There, the people have the same problems [as in Jakarta]; there, the people live in very small places that are very cramped. [So] it’s quite popular for people to go to cat cafes, to sit and relax, and play with the cats of course.”

Japan now boasts more than 150 cat cafes, according to Smithsonian magazine, while Singapore has five. Other cities to join the fray include Bangkok, Melbourne, Sydney, London, Vienna and Munich. Thanks to Michael and his wife Lia Kurtz, the driving force behind their establishment, Jakarta now also has a cozy haven for cat lovers.

(JG Photos/Lisa Johanna)
 Located in Kemang, South Jakarta, the capital’s unofficial center of contemporary art, hipster hangouts and expat housing, Cutie Cats Cafe is a purrfect fit for the area — especially in the row of pet shops, independent boutiques and modern furniture stores on which it’s nestled. For those craving a meal — or a pint — after their visit, Bremer Beer Garden, Tree House and Pizza Barboni are a short stroll away.

The cafe isn’t the easiest to spot; situated above a boutique, the first telltale sign of the place is a narrow glass door with a logo of a smiling yellow cat. Look up, and if you’re lucky you’ll spot one or two of Cutie Cats’ residents lounging against the floor-to-ceiling window of the second floor.

Once through the doors, a hallway leads to a flight of stairs where you’re greeted with that familiar cat smell — one all cat lovers know and love. And though the quaint counter of Mama Cats Kitchen looks inviting with its range of cakes and drinks, all you’ll want to do is dash over to the framed window for a look at the furry occupants on the other side. Before entering, however, you’ll be asked to hand over Rp 55,000 ($4.20) for your first hour of play time, exchange your shoes for a pair of sandals, and spread a few drops of sanitizer on your hands.

Don’t expect a rousing welcome; cats will be cats and though they might give you an apathetic glance, they’re more likely to lay their heads back down on a comfortable pillow, sharpen their claws on one of the room’s many scratching posts, or leap onto a maze of perching platforms fixed to the wall. The best time to have the room and all 16 cats to yourself is at opening time, 10 a.m. Business picks up an hour later, and as per the Jakarta social landscape where nothing is done individually, customers come in hordes.

“Afternoons are quite full, evenings are really full and weekends are packed. We take reservations from people with prepayments,” Michael says, urging guests who have booked their spot to arrive on time. Should the cafe reach its maximum capacity of 20 people, including up to five children and one Cutie Cats employee, you won’t have the option of exceeding your allotted time. The cafe has even had to turn away visitors who show up without a reservation on a busy day.

A month after its launch, Michael says the response has been overwhelming, joking that he and his wife would have created a larger space “if we had known from the very beginning that so many people would come.”

Store manager Lisa concedes that she and her staff were caught completely off guard on opening day.

“It was completely full. People were lining up,” she says. “We actually only expected guests who were friends of [the Kurtz’s] or maybe their relatives, but we immediately received real customers!”

The cafe’s priority remains its brood of 16 cats, which includes a Bengal, several Exotics, Himalayans, Scottish folds, Persians and mixed domestics. Guests are given a strict list of Dos and Don’ts to follow, available in English, Japanese, German and Indonesian: do play with the cats, but use only the toys made available; feel free to take pictures and tag them @cutiecatscafe on Instagram, but don’t use the flash; by all means, pet the cats, but not while they’re asleep; and above all, please don’t pick them up. Ultimately, these rules amount to one holy tenet: The felines are in charge and we are mere congregants of their cuteness.

Even cafe employees are always at the ready to do their bidding, with the start of each day dedicated to their grooming needs — a part of the job Lisa finds most challenging.

“Sometimes [the cats] are on the very top platforms and we have to [coax them down],” she says. “Or they run away and we have to chase them. It can be a real struggle.”

Throughout the day, Lisa and her staff keep a sharp eye on the cafe’s goings on, making sure the cats are treated well and cleaning out their litter boxes as often as needed. Hygiene is another top priority, which is why — unlike many other cat cafes — the kitchen and cake display are kept separate from the play room, Michael explains.

The treats on offer at Mama Cats Kitchen are “foods that cats typically don’t like,” he adds. “We only provide cakes and savory things” to ensure the cats don’t try to sneak a bite.

But that still doesn’t stop Spotty, a black-and-white Persian mix and one of the most active of the bunch, from deftly hopping onto my table and tentatively sniffing at my carrot cake with wide, expectant eyes. The 1-year-old is also one of the more fearless, approaching anyone holding a cup of juice or cupcake with, well, cat-like curiosity. Another spirited member of the family is 6-month-old Argo, a beautiful Bengal who roams around the elevated bridges, leaping gracefully from one platform to another like his wild cousins. Seven-year-old Candy, an Exotic and the eldest of the group, prefers to lounge on the carpet, giving the toys waved in front of her an indignant glance before once again closing her eyes for a snooze. And then there’s the baby: 3-month-old Usagi (rabbit in Japanese) is a gray-and-white Scottish fold who perhaps attracts the most attention for being just so darned adorable.

Come to Cutie Cats Cafe at your own peril; these furry felines will melt your heart and leave you planning your second, and third and fourth trip for more cuteness overload.

Rino Kakinuma, 7, plays with toy poodles, beagles and a golden retriever
at the Dog Heart cafe in Tokyo, February 22, 2015 (AFP Photo/Yoshikazu Tsuno)

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Question: Dear Kryon: I live in Spain. I am sorry if I will ask you a question you might have already answered, but the translations of your books are very slow and I might not have gathered all information you have already given. I am quite concerned about abandoned animals. It seems that many people buy animals for their children and as soon as they grow, they set them out somewhere. Recently I had the occasion to see a small kitten in the middle of the street. I did not immediately react, since I could have stopped and taken it, without getting out of the car. So, I went on and at the first occasion I could turn, I went back to see if I could take the kitten, but it was to late, somebody had already killed it. This happened some month ago, but I still feel very sorry for that kitten. I just would like to know, what kind of entity are these animals and how does this fit in our world. Are these entities which choose this kind of life, like we do choose our kind of Human life? I see so many abandoned animals and every time I see one, my heart aches... I would like to know more about them.

Answer: Dear one, indeed the answer has been given, but let us give it again so you all understand. Animals are here on earth for three (3) reasons.

(1) The balance of biological life. . . the circle of energy that is needed for you to exist in what you call "nature."

(2) To be harvested. Yes, it's true. Many exist for your sustenance, and this is appropriate. It is a harmony between Human and animal, and always has. Remember the buffalo that willingly came into the indigenous tribes to be sacrificed when called? These are stories that you should examine again. The inappropriateness of today's culture is how these precious creatures are treated. Did you know that if there was an honoring ceremony at their death, they would nourish you better? Did you know that there is ceremony that could benefit all of humanity in this way. Perhaps it's time you saw it.

(3) To be loved and to love. For many cultures, animals serve as surrogate children, loved and taken care of. It gives Humans a chance to show compassion when they need it, and to have unconditional love when they need it. This is extremely important to many, and provides balance and centering for many.

Do animals know all this? At a basic level, they do. Not in the way you "know," but in a cellular awareness they understand that they are here in service to planet earth. If you honor them in all three instances, then balance will be the result. Your feelings about their treatment is important. Temper your reactions with the spiritual logic of their appropriateness and their service to humanity. Honor them in all three cases.

Pope: 'Death penalty represents failure' – no 'humane' way to kill a person

Pope Francis outlines the Catholic church’s opposition to capital punishment in a letter to the International Commission against the Death Penalty

The Guardian, AP, Vatican City, Friday 20 March 2015

The pope wrote that the principle of legitimate personal defense
isn’t adequate justification to execute someone. Photograph: Zuma/Rex

Pope Francis says nothing can justify the use of the death penalty, and there is no “right” way to humanely kill another person.

Francis outlined the Catholic church’s opposition to capital punishment in a letter to the International Commission against the Death Penalty, a group of former government officials, jurists and others who had an audience with him at the Vatican on Friday.

The pope wrote that the principle of legitimate personal defense isn’t adequate justification to execute someone. “When the death penalty is applied, it is not for a current act of aggression, but rather for an act committed in the past.”

“Nowadays the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed,” Francis declared. He was building on church teaching, including pronouncements during St John Paul II’s papacy, that modern prison systems make executions unnecessary.

Capital punishment “does not render justice to the victims but rather fosters vengeance”, Francis added.

“For the rule of law, the death penalty represents a failure, as it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice,” Francis told the anti-death penalty advocates.

While he didn’t mention the US by name, Francis cited debates about which method should be used to carry out executions. “There is discussion in some quarters about the method of killing, as if it were possible to find ways of ‘getting it right’,” the pope said.

“But there is no humane way of killing another person,” Francis concluded.

In previous comments, Francis denounced life imprisonment as unjustifiable punishment. In his remarks Friday, he called life terms a “sort of covert death penalty”, since it “deprives detainees not only of their freedom, but also of hope”.

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In Bali’s Demon Parade, Plastic

Jakarta Globe, Nadia Bintoro, Mar 20, 2015

The artist Made Bayak wants to raise awareness about the unsustainable
 use of plastic in Bali, through his project to build an ogoh-ogoh for Nyepi
the traditional way. (JG Photos/Nadia Bintoro)

As Hindus in Bali prepare to mark the sacred day of Nyepi, or the Day of Silence,  that falls this Saturday, myriad spooky-looking monster effigies, known as ogoh-ogoh, have begun popping up in  villages across the island.

Nyepi marks the start of the New Year in the Balinese Saka calendar, and as such is the most important religious celebration for the island’s Balinese faithful. The celebrations leading up to the day begin with the purification ceremony of Melasti, which takes place three to four days before in a temple by the sea, culminating on the eve of Nyepi with the burning of the ogoh-ogoh.

A representation of evil spirits, ogoh-ogoh are larger-than-life effigies of demons, symbolizing negative elements or malevolent spirits. During the Bhuta Yajna ritual, on the night before Nyepi, the ogoh-ogoh are paraded around each village and then set alight, in a symbolic act of vanquishing all negative elements and restoring the balance between the gods, mankind and nature.

It represents a total cleansing before welcoming Nyepi, a day reserved for self-reflection, when all activities that may hinder such purpose are prohibited. As such, there is no lighting of fires, no working, no entertainment activities and no traveling during Nyepi, with Bali’s airport shut down for the day.

In the past, ogoh-ogoh were made from bamboo and paper. In recent years, though, the artisans who make them have increasingly turned to the more pliable medium of Styrofoam — a choice of convenience, but one that goes against the meaning of Nyepi as a day for getting back in balance with nature.

Local artist Made Bayak is leading a small revolution to take the ogoh-ogoh back to its environmentally conscious roots. He does this by constructing his ogoh-ogoh from plastic waste, to symbolize the true evils that have engulfed the resort island in recent years.

An artist-cum-environmental activist, Bayak hails from Banjar Sakih ward in Gianyar district, and studied at the Indonesia Institute of Arts in Denpasar.

In his third year there he began experimenting with art using plastic as his medium. He went on to exhibit the resulting works in a show titled “Plastiliticum,” an indictment of the “age of plastic” in which he says mankind has mired itself.

“I believe that after the megalithic and paleolithic, mankind is entering the new era of Plastiliticum,” Bayak says.

“If we continue consuming plastics like we do, archaeologists in the future will only dig up plastic as the remnants of our civilization.”

Bayak’s “Plastiliticum” expanded over the years and is now a project titled “Plasticology,” which the artist has been working on for the past five years.

The project has yielded numerous works of art, from paintings to statues, that employ plastic waste and other castoffs that Bayak collected himself from landfills.

To mark Nyepi this year, Bayak is challenging himself to extend the “Plasticology” theme by incorporating an important cultural celebration into his art to create an even bigger momentum in his push for greater awareness.

 “Creating this ogoh-ogoh along the youngsters in my village is my way of campaigning against the trend of making ogoh-ogoh using Styrofoam,” he says.

“It is also a way of educating the youngsters on the dangers of Styrofoam, which releases a toxic smoke when it burns. Even during the sculpting process, the fine Syrofoam grains can be very dangerous if inhaled by the artists.”

Through his ogoh-ogoh, Bayak is also declaring war on the culture of instant gratification that pervades life in Bali in the contemporary age.

“It seems everybody in Bali nowadays is so caught up with the instant lifestyle. They want everything to come quick and easy, and forget about the real essence of the making of ogoh-ogoh,” he says.

“Ogoh-ogoh is essentially a symbol of Bhutakala or the bad traits that people possess. During the Tawur Kesanga ceremony on the night before Nyepi, when people burn the ogoh-ogoh, there’s a term, ‘nyomia,’ which is about turning the traits of Bhutakala into God’s traits.

“So it’s about salvation and how to make something that’s bad good again. This is what I want to achieve with the use of plastic waste in making this ogoh-ogoh. It’s recycling through culture, as I believe Styrofoam and plastic are just another form of the evil Bhutakala.”

With the help of his four nephews and local youths, Bayak is rushing to finish his ogoh-ogoh before Nyepi. The frame is constructed out of bamboo, the body will be padded out with papier-mache using old newspapers, while plastic waste will be used for the outer embellishments and for adding color.

“The challenge was to find the right plastic rubbish to create the artistic coloring that I envision for the surface. I had to visit a lot of landfills in Bali to dig up these treasures,” Bayak says.

He says he hopes this practice of re-using plastic waste will catch on among the people who turn out to watch the ogoh-ogoh parade and the subsequent burning tonight.

Bayak also continues to hold regular exhibitions of plastic-waste art, as well as workshops for local schools and communities, where he teaches children how to make dolls and paintings using plastic waste.

 “These projects are all still self-financed, but I believe art is a useful and effective method to raise awareness of this issue, especially among the kids. It’s important to plant the seeds of reuse and recycle in these little minds,” Bayak says.