Friday, September 13, 2019

"THE BEGINNING OF THE END" BAGI KPK?


Diberitakan bahwa Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR) RI telah memilih 5 orang PIMPINAN baru Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK). Fakta menunjukkan bahwa Ketua KPK yang baru justru dinyatakan oleh Direktorat Pengawasan Internal KPK telah melakukan pelanggaran etik BERAT.

Saya akan menipu diri sendiri kalau mengatakan tidak kecewa berat dg hasil pilihan ini. Tanpa harus mencurigai atau berprasangka buruk terhadap siapapun yang terpilih, tetapi, bagi saya, hasil pemilihan ini di masa depan akan cenderung memperberat beban KPK karena pimpinannya bukan berkualitas prima, atau yang sering disebut dengan istilah "beyond reproach".

Apalagi pihak pemilihnya, DPR-RI, (yang kendatipun secara legal dan formal sah dan legitim) sedang mempunyai kepentingan politik terhadap KPK terkait revisi UU lembaga tsb yang, menurut publik, bernuasa pelemahan dan bukan pemberdayaan.

Saya secara sadar TIDAK mengucapkan selamat tetapi JUSTRU menyampaikan keprihatinan mendalam, terhadap apa yang dialami KPK dan perjuangan pemberantasan korupsi pada umumnya di negeri ini. Tetapi sebagai manusia saya juga tetap berdoa semoga saya salah dan memohon agar Allah swt memberikan petunjuk.

Dan tentu saya berharap dan berdoa semoga KPK di bawah pimpinan baru bisa membuktikan tampil konsisten sebagaimana sebelumnya. Atau lebih baik lagi. Amin..

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Sunday, September 8, 2019

HOW MEDIA HOAXES DESTROY SCIENTIFIC DEVELOPMENT


By Lily Hikam*)

Like any other child born and raised in the 90s and early 2000s, I was obsessed with the Harry Potter book series. The idea that there existed a fantastical and magical world just beyond the train station was fascinating to me. The more I delved into the story and learn about how the magical world operated the more excited I became. There was a side plot where Harry got injured in a quidditch match. He broke a bone in his forearm, or something to that effect, and as a remedy the Hogwarts School’s Nurse, Madam Pomfrey, gave him a potion called Skellegro, which enabled Harry’s body to regrow the bone overnight. The next day he was as good as new.

Skellegro is the silver bullet everyone in the field of regenerative medicine (yours truly included) is working to create. Imagine if any ailments in this world can be cured just by drinking a pill that can replace old, dying cells causing the diseases in your body. Pretty magical, right? This way we can eradicate any and all diseases in the world, improve life expectancy and alleviate human suffering.

If you have been following my writing, then you’d know that I’m a stem cell biologist. I have written extensively in the past about what stem cells are, what they can be used for and the potential of using stem cells in the field of medicine in the future. I primarily work with stem cells, utilizing its ability to differentiate into almost any cell type in the body to understand the molecular mechanism of inherited heart diseases. In the real world, stem cells is our Skellegro and more. In theory, it can be used to regrow any organ the human body has. Its potential is limitless.

Sounds amazing, right?

Except science is more complicated than it looks on TV and movies. I’ve been doing research for the last seven years, and more often my experiments fail rather than work. What results we do gain are what we call ‘preliminary results’ that still needed to be verified and tested for reproducibility. Groundbreaking results do not happen overnight, which makes research and science a very time consuming process with a very high rate of return on investment, something capitalists and businessmen will balk at funding. This is where the government and the taxpayers usually step in to fund basic scientific research projects, but I digress.

Basic research, also known as the preclinical phase, includes understanding the biology of the disease, identifying key pathways or molecular mechanisms governing a process so we can pinpoint what went wrong with it. Basic research projects are usually conducted in cell lines or animal models of diseases. The results of basic research, if promising will then be used in the next step which is clinical trials to assess a therapy’s safety and efficacy.

There are four phases of clinical trials a researcher or drug company has to pass before their drug can make it to the market. Phase I is conducted to ensure the therapy is safe for use; Phase II is conducted to ensure that the drug has any effect on the disease and with low to minimal side effects on a patient; Phase III is conducted to test whether the drug/therapy is effective, safe and better than the current therapy; Phase IV is conducted to assess the long term effect of a drug/therapy. Usually called “postmarketing surveillance”, this is conducted to monitor whether there is any adverse effect of prolonged use of the drug/therapy.

A drug/therapy has to pass all three phases, then and only then will it be approved and safe for public use. This whole thing will take at least ten years, and most projects usually fail at the phase 1 of clinical trials due to various reasons, from inability to recruit enough patients, poor study design, lack of funding or even inability to replicate data shown in the preclinical phase. The point I’m trying to make here is that there is a long and arduous process that has to be followed before anyone can make a claim “this drug can cure X disease”.

But of course, who wants to listen or read something like this? Be honest, how many of you just got bored reading the previous paragraph and just skipped right over here?

Talking about the long and arduous process to make drugs is boring and discouraging to the layperson. They don’t want to hear about how long it takes to make one type of drug. That’s not sensational news. Nobody’s gonna click on an article telling the reader that most new proposed therapies fail at Phase I. What is sensational, however, is reading about how stem cell injections can cure myocardial infarction (gagal jantung), or that there’s a new plant that can cure cancer despite no publications supporting such claims. Now those headlines people will definitely click and share, increasing ad revenues for these online newspapers. Whether the contents of the stories are true or not is not something that readers (and writers, unfortunately) need to be concerned about.

It is quite a disservice to the public when the mass media care more about sensationalizing science instead of giving them the truth, no matter how much of a letdown it might be. Science in Indonesia is still something unattainable and out of reach from much of the citizenry. We have plenty of research institutes in Indonesia, but who can really tell me the last time the results of their research actually got applied on a grand scale on the population? There is still something mystical about science, especially biological sciences, partly because most of the citizenry never experience any benefits from all the research projects going on and partly because people just don’t know enough about how it works.

It doesn’t help when the media’s approach to any science-related news is to just simplify, or even skip, the science and emphasize and blow the results of a study out of proportion, completely neglecting to mention how the study was designed or whether there any caveats to the results of a study. Recently I was forwarded an article by my father which literally had a line in it saying that “rupanya, protein PRP tersebut punya khasiat 'magis' mampu memperbaiki stem cell yang rusak karena diabetes”. Ironic to say the least, since the whole purpose of a scientific study is to uncover and understand those so-called mystical properties. If I get Rp.10,000 any time I debunk a forwarded article about a new “cure” to an incurable disease, I will be able to retire comfortably at the old age of 29 years.

I’m not a journalist or a reporter, so I don’t have any solution to the apparent misinformation plaguing the Indonesian public. Perhaps Indonesian scientists need to broaden the scope of their reach to the masses, update the taxpayers on what they’re actually doing with the taxpayers’ money. I have said this once and I will say it again: if it’s too good to be true, chances are it’s not true. With how easy it is to exchange information, it’s really up to us to determine what is sensationalism and what is actual news. I understand that not everyone has a scientist on speed dial like my parents do, but that is when having curiosity, a healthy dose of skepticism and doing a little research will help.

*) PhD candidate, Dept. of Biological Chemistry, School of Medicine, University of California, Irvine, CA, USA.
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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

BENDERA BINTANG KEJORA: EKSPRESSI BUDAYA ATAU POLITIK?

Kendati mungkin sangat sulit untuk memisahkan antara dua dimensi tsb, tetapi kita bisa mencoba membedakannya. Setidaknya, demikianlah pandangan saya thd upaya almaghfurlah Gus Dur, Presiden RI ke 4, dalam mencarikan solusi masalah Papua melalui pendekatan kultural. Salah satunya adalah terkait pengibaran bendera bintang kejora.

Paradigma Gusdurian berlandaskan pada sebuah keyakinan bahwa Papua sebagai bagian tak terpisahkan dari NKRI adalah FINAL. Upaya apapun juga yg bertujuan MEMISAHKAN wilayah paling Timur Indonesia tsb dari pangkuan ibu pertiwi HARUS ditolak. Termasuk dengan penegakan hukum sesuai dengan konstitusi RI dan perundang-undangan yg berlaku.

Pendekatan budaya dalam paradigma Gusdurian berarti mendukung upaya penyelesaian konflik dan mencari solusi terhadap masalah2 yg dirasakan rakyat Papua dengan memanfaatkan khazanah ekspressi budaya. Lambang daerah seperti bintang kejora, apabila dimaknai sebagai salah satu ekspressi budaya tentu tidak bermasalah. Bagi GD bendera tsb statusnya tidak akan pernah sama dan tidak boleh disamakan dengan sang saka Merah Putih yg merupakan lambang NEGARA RI.

Yang menjadi persoalan adalah ketika pemahaman tsb ternyata mengalami distorsi dan bahkan sengaja dimanipulasi oleh pihak2 tertentu yang bertujuan memisahkan Papua dari NKRI. Mrk melakukan apropriasi thd lambang budaya tsb dan memaknai serta menggunakannya sebagai lambang negara Papua merdeka.

Dalam wacana dan praksis konflik Papua masalah bendera bintang kejora itu pun lantas menjadi arena PEREBUTAN makna: budaya atau politik. Salah satu implikasinya adalah kesulitan menentukan apakah ketika individu dan/atau kelompok mengibarkannya, apakah ia /mrk merepresentasikan pemakaian lambang tsb sebagai ekspressi budaya Papua atau politik pemisahan dr NKRI?

Bagi saya, selama paradigma yg mendasari wacana dan praksis pengibaran bendera bintang kejora masih bertabrakan, maka tidak mungkin ada titik temu. Pihak separatis hanya akan memanipulasi solusi budaya GD demi kepentingan politiknya. Sebaliknya pihak aparat gakkum akan punya legitimasi dan alasan utk melarang pengibaran lambang budaya tsb karena dianggap sebagai ekspressi politik separatis. IMHO

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Thursday, August 22, 2019

KASUS UAS: ANTARA PERMAAFAN vs HUKUM


Hemat saya, bukan aspek penjelasan teologi dan/ atau keyakinan UAS yang paling utama menyebabkan munculnya respon negatif atau kritik terhadapnya. Tetapi sikap/gaya, tutur kata, dan pilihan diksi pidatonya yg mungkin juga menimbulkan ketersinggungan sebagian ummat agama lain.

Saran dari berbagai pihak agar UAS meminta maaf adalah atas nama menjunjung nilai kesantunan publik dalam rangka memelihara keselarasan sosial. Dan jika benar demikian, itu adalah saran yang bijak dan patut diterima.

Tetapi kalau pun ada pihak-pihak yang memilih untuk mengambil langkah hukum terhadap UAS, hal itu juga bisa dipahami. Saya termasuk yang bisa memahami pilihan itu dalam rangka mencari keadilan dan kepastian hukum.

UAS kabarnya menolak untuk meminta maaf karena beliau memandang apa yang disampaikannya dapat dipertanggungjawabkan dari aspek teologis dan keyakinan. Ditambah lagi alasan bahwa forum di mana beliau bicara, yaitu Masjid, adalah ruang tertutup atau khusus untuk ummat Islam.

Jika demikian, apakah berarti membawa kasus UAS ke ranah hukum lantas menjadi satu-satunya alternatif? Silakan anda memberikan tanggapan. Bagi saya, pilihan permaafan dan/atau proses hukum bisa menjadi solusi, baik bersama-sama maupun menjadi alternatif satu terhadap yang lain.

Yang jelas, menurut pendapat saya, pembiaran atau impunitas atas kasus UAS ini, BUKAN solusi.

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4. [MUI Minta Video Viral UAS Tak Dibawa ke Ranah Hukum, Ini Komentar Polri] http://share.babe.news/al/vmdxTrRR
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Friday, August 16, 2019

DOMESTIC TERRORISM & THE MYTH OF AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM


In the span of twenty-four hours, America was shocked by the occurrence of two mass shootings claimed the lives of 31 people. The first shooting occurred in El Paso, Texas, a town located on the border of the US and Mexico, at a Walmart of all places. The gunman, Patrick Crusius (21), drove the nine-hour journey from his home in Allen, Texas, for the sole purpose of carrying out the massacre. Armed with assault rifles, shooting glasses and ear protectors, he systematically gunned down families and children. By the end of it all, twenty two people were pronounced dead.

Fast forward thirteen hours later and another shooting has occurred in the town of Dayton, Ohio. The second shooting claimed the lives of nine people, including the shooter, Connor Betts (24). To be sure, and already buried underneath the horrific headlines, there was last week’s shooting in Gilroy, California that claimed the lives of three people: two children and an adult, making the statistics even more horrifying with three shootings in the span of one week. And yet nobody mentioned or even talked about the Gilroy shooting. Perhaps because it occurred a week ago? A cynic might have said maybe because not enough lives were lost to warrant enough grief and outrage.

I have spent fourteen out of my twenty nine years of living in the United States. I learned many things about the world and about myself by living in America that I think I would never know had I stay in Indonesia. I became familiar with every different culture under the sun due to America’s diversity and I have received educational opportunities and scholarships beyond my wildest dreams. The United States is still the land of opportunity, the Mecca of scientific advancement, and one of the best places in the world for innovative works. And yet these days such great things about America seemed lost in the midst of the horrendous human tragedies in the form of mass shootings in public places.

I still remember the first mass shooting that I witnessed, the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech campus and its aftermath. I was still in high school back then, and after the shooting occurred the school’s doors that used to be open during school hours became firmly locked from that point on. After that first shooting, I lived through countless news of mass shootings, the frequency of which increased during the last year alone. And like a person who has been tickled too many times to the point of not being ticklish anymore, now whenever I hear news about another mass shooting all I can do is shrug and sigh tiredly.

Frankly, I have no energy to be outraged anymore after the nth time innocent people are gunned down in a supposedly safe public place, followed by the media arguing about why this tragedy happen and exploiting the tragedy for higher ratings and more clicks online and politicians doing close to nothing, only offering empty platitudes of thoughts and prayers, not trying to put safeguards in place so this tragedy won’t ever repeat itself. Cue the next mass shooting, and we’ll repeat the same thing all over again. And the sad truth is: most Americans’ knee jerk reaction when they read a story about a mass shooting is the same as mine.

With the repeated failure (or more appropriately ‘disinclination’) of lawmakers to enact stronger gun control laws - in direct defiance to what the majority of the American people want and in direct acquiescence to the gun manufacturers’ and gun lobbies’ wishes - mass shootings have become “normalized” in American society. Just a part of the American life, if you will. And that is the scariest part of everything, because something as gruesome and horrific as mass killings should never become the norm, and yet in today’s America it’s starting to become that way. I often think about the Sandy Hook massacre, where twenty six school children ages 6-7 years old were senselessly gunned down by a madman with access to too many guns. In the aftermath of the shooting, Congress couldn’t even pass a basic gun law reform to require universal background check on anyone who wished to purchase a firearm. If the deaths of so many children weren’t enough to catalyze significant reform, then nothing can.

The above lackluster attitude in the US was a far cry from the New Zealand when it saw its first mass shooting on March 15, 2019, that claimed the lives of fifty one peoples. Only a few days later, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the ban of assault rifles in the country. New Zealand might not ever see another mass shooting, but America? Another mass shooting is almost guaranteed. Unless something more than “thoughts and prayers” are offered to the victims and the citizens.

Domestic Terrorism in America

There is always one aspect of these mass shootings that people would spend the most time debating and grappling with: the motive. Most of the time the motive is self-explanatory: frustration, anger, hatred, the desire to sow discord and chaos in the general populace. All of these emotions coupled with the ease of obtaining and purchasing firearms leads to the unique American phenomenon of mass shootings. However, recently the motives of the shooters are even more self-explanatory as these people deemed it necessary to publish a manifesto to elaborate the reasons behind their atrocities: hatred against minorities, those who deemed to be contaminating American society with their presence in the country.

Recent shootings have all included a racial or ethnic component to it. The Tree of Life synagogue shooting was due to the shooter’s false perception that Jewish people were funding the caravan of Central American immigrants who were heading for the US border in search of asylum; the El Paso shooting was because of the perceived threat of ‘invasion’ by Mexican immigrants; the Charleston church shooting was to incite a ‘race war’ between White and Black Americans. White supremacy, the belief that the White race is superior to others and perceiving any other races/ethnic groups as subhuman, belied all these attacks and the fact that these atrocities are occurring more frequently is no coincidence.

Anyone who’s intellectually honest would call these shootings for what it is: An act of domestic terrorism fueled by white supremacist ideology. And its rising frequency is directly correlated with the normalization of anti-immigrant sentiments by none other than the President himself. Combined with the ease of obtaining deadly weapons to enact such murderous rage and the socioeconomic conditions of the current day, it all combined perfectly to create a situation where domestic terrorism perpetrated by white supremacists occur at high frequency in modern day America.

It’s clear as day what is occurring and who’s to blame. And yet the Conservative Right, chief among them the Republican Party, Right Wing pundits, the incumbent administration and GOP lawmakers, are all eager to blame anything else but their constant rhetoric that has been not so subtly demonizing immigrants and the poor and championing American (white) supremacy. In their minds, it’s not the guns that are the problem, but the people who wield them.

These people are afflicted with mental illnesses or played too many violent video games that messed with their heads. Right wing lawmakers and pundits made these arguments conveniently ignoring the fact that these talking points have been debunked by extensive research and ignoring the fact that the majority of mentally ill people are non-violent, stigmatizing mental illness in the same breath. Furthermore if the perpetrator is White, they would go through the extra mile of convincing everyone that this was an isolated incident and not in any way representative of race relations in America. So why this exercise in futility?

The Myth of American exceptionalism
I think the answer to that is twofold. 1): these lawmakers are heavily reliant on money from gun manufacturers and the gun lobby to finance their campaigns. It is in their best interest to never pass any form of gun reform law that could limit sales and consequently affecting these companies’ bottom lines, which will stem cash flow to their campaign funding. Hence, anytime a shooting occur, it is never an issue of accessibility to guns and weak oversight but personal responsibility so there’s nothing the government could do about any of this. So the more they distract and blame the tragedy on other things the better. 2): acknowledging these shootings as a domestic terrorism act committed by white supremacy and right wing extremism would be anathema to the myth of American exceptionalism, the foundation on which American self-identity was build upon, and detrimental to the American brand as the shining beacon of Democracy on Earth.

American exceptionalism purports that America is different from any other countries on Earth. Its existence was ordained by God, or in the words of the Puritan John Winthrop “a shining city on a Hill”. This myth of American exceptionalism -another word for “exceptionalism” is “supremacy”, by the way- is the basis of many policies enacted by the United States government since its independence from British colonial rule. Policies such as the Westward Expansion and the Indian Removal Act systematically remove and dramatically decrease the population of the Indigenous people of the American continent in favor of providing land for White settlers and Colonists.

The Annexation of Texas and the Gadsden Purchase increased the United States’ territory through forceful taking of Mexican lands. Not to mention the 19th century experimentation in Imperialism through which America obtained Hawaii, Puerto Rico, parts of Cuba, American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands and the Philippines. Out of all the territories obtained only the Philippines became an independent country, while the rest, with the exception of Hawaii, remained a US territory to this day, stuck in a limbo where they’re subjected to US law but without having a say on what laws are being made.

Ironically, it is the myth of American exceptionalism that has made it possible for the US to interfere in other country’s internal affairs, toppling democratically elected governments and installing regimes that are friendly to US business interests under the guise of bringing democracy to oppressed people. However, regimes that are supported by the US are almost always brutally oppressive to its own people. Imagine if the Chilean government were to do the same thing the US government did when they supported the rise of Pinochet to power? US interventionism was never seen as a bad thing by the American people, since they have long been inculcated with the myth of American exceptionalism. They truly believe that what their government was doing in their name was done under humanitarian concerns. Which explains why in the wake of 9/11 attack many Americans wondered why they were attacked. “Why do they hate us?” seemed the prevailing thought back in those days. 
Perhaps the most famous example of what American exceptionalism allows was the fact that Americans never had to confront or seriously deal with the legacy of slavery and racism in their country. The Klu Klux Klan flourished in the wake of Emancipation, terrorizing newly freed Blacks and the Jim Crow law was basically part of many Southern states’ laws up until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law. To this day, one can find many statues of Confederate generals that seceded from the Union and fought to keep slavery in many cities and states in the South. It’s also not strange to see Confederate flags flying alongside the American flag. As an analogy this is akin to seeing the Nazi flag or statues of Hitler or Goebbels anywhere in Germany. Yet in America, in 2019, this is a familiar sight.

White supremacy is entrenched in American society. Its existence is undeniable and permeates many aspects of society from the Criminal Justice system, housing access, the educational system to the job market. To deny it is to turn a blind eye to a parasite that lives within a living body. Dormant most of the time but when the immune system weakens, the opportunistic parasite strikes and wreaks havoc in the body, resulting in irreparable damage. To acknowledge it and to take steps to prevent its spread will be tantamount to decreasing the threat this harmful ideology poses, not just for America, but for the world at large.

*) PhD candidate, Dept. of Biological Chemistry, School of Medicine, University of California, Irvine, CA, USA.
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