Sunday, March 30, 2008

James Herriot

Was browsing around in the second hand bookshops on D.R. Wijewardene Mw, just at the corner of Darley road this afternoon. Now these bookshops were famous for their collection of porn and in the dark days of the 1980's and 1990's (and for aeons before that) the only reliable source of supply for the starved male population of the country.

I was there trying to make a quick buck by selling a couple of Playboy magazines (the April 2008 issue plus a Playboy Nudes Special Edition) but apparently things are not going well for the bookshops. Numerous police raids and the advent of the internet have killed their porn magazine business and nobody deals in that anymore. They now retail small quantities porn of DVD's and VCD's but thats about it.

I had gotten the Playboy magazines down after news spread that a girl with some Sri Lankan ancestry named Cristina Caldera appeared in the latest issue of Playboy. Many frantic email and SMS's later I had these two in hand, neither of which had the blasted woman. It was probably in the previous edition but the newsstands don't apparently stock back issues and my friend who brought these down was not able to track the specific issue down.

Disappointed I asked if they had a copy of the Singapore Story but no luck there either. Asked if they had any Kenneth Anderson books (the finest writer on the Indian jungles), but the guy had disposed of four quite recently and had nothing.

Finally asked for James Herriot and picked up two Omnibus editions for Rs.800, about half the price of the new book.

I've been trying to buy his books for some time, they are occasionally available at Vijitha Yapa's but the series is never complete. I read them as a boy and loved them but unfortunately I was introduced to them through the omnibus editions; All Things Wise and Wonderful, All Creatures Great and Small and The Lord God Made Them all. While these have the bulk of his books, some stories are missing.

I read the coffee table book, James Herriot's Yorkshire at the British Council Library, although the book was mangled with several pages torn out.

I did see some of the television series and I came across this wonderful tribute to the man on Youtube, by the actor who played him in the television series : check the links here and here.

To those not familiar with the man - these are books you simply MUST read. They can be enjoyed by both young and old and are an excellent way of reinforcing the reading habit in children (Enid Blyton, in my opinion, being the best way of sparking the interest reading in the first place)

The Wiki entry on the man is here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Signs of changing times in Sri Lanka

The other day I walked into a little shop to buy a tub of yoghurt. While I was eating the yoghurt I noticed tea being served to some other customers, nothing very unusual in that given that most small shops are really tea shops with a few other items of food and drink thrown in, but the customers were being served with tea bags! Tea bags?? Good grief.

I looked around and I saw a few other customers, also being served with tea bags. Bemused, I asked the cashier if they had stopped making tea in the traditional way, out of cheapest available tea leaves (or more often tea dust or sweepings) and his answer was that it was easier to cater to customer preferences with tea bags - there would be no complaints that the tea was too weak or too strong, the customer could make it as he desired.

Until fairly recently, tea bags were an unheard of thing in Sri Lanka. I remember being mystified as a child as to how tea could come in a bag. When we eventually did learn as to what a tea bag was, it was still something exotic, bought by foreign buyers, not something consumed in the domestic market. When big hotels and cafe's like the Barista chain started using tea bags it still seemed pretty isolated which is why I was so surprised to see them being used by the common man. I have vivid memories of tea being brewed in wayside kiosks, the vendor pouring the milk tea from one large glass to another, to cool it down. The tea was poured out from a considerable height and would froth like a beer is the glass below.

Reminds of the time when ice-cream tubs were made of cardboard and the spoons were of wood (I think), like the matches made of wood, lunch packets wrapped in plantain leaves (not lamprais, these were just ordinary lunch packets - the plantain leaf being the cheapest thing to wrap them in), Morris Minor taxis, dustmen who used to walk down the lane to collect the dustbins from houses (no dumping garbage onto communal dustbins or leaving them on the road, the dustmen called at each and every house), rickshaws as a mode of transport (I only ever saw children riding in them, though) and haircuts that cost two rupees each, not to mention a time when one and two cent coins had value and were eagerly collected by children. Now beggars throw back anything less than two rupees.

Sigh. I think I'm getting old.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I come not to praise Mahinda Mama, I bow down in RESPECT

Thinkfree posted something with the above title here.

His thesis was roughly that things are not really all that bad and Mahinda maama seems to be doing a good job.

My contention is that while things may appear to be normal on the surface there are many fundamental flaws that will in time wreck the country, not today or tomorrow but gradually over the next decade or (if we are lucky) two.

Coming back to Thinkfree, it is true that the armed forces have been given a mandate to go after the LTTE regardless of consequences.

However it is also true that:
1. Certain people continue to make vast sums of money through corrupt arms and other deals;
2. The excuse of "National Security" and the "war" is being used to cover up a great deal.

Thanks to the media blackout, we get only little bits of information on the East, but from what I hear, all MR has done is hand the province over to Karuna's gang. The lives of the people - at least the minorities have not improved and by some accounts have worsened. A sham election has been held to crown a Pyhrric victory and guess who will sweep the polls at the the next presidential or parliamentary polls in the east?

The LTTE was disintegrating thanks to the peace process. Karuna split because of the peace process - remove the common enemy and other differences will start to appear, more splits would have taken place and it was losing support amongst the Tamils.

Instead of letting them fall to pieces, he has decided to re-engage - which is what the LTTE also wanted-which is why they made sure that no one in the North and East could vote at the presidential election.

MR says he is winning the war, he is certainly expending a great deal of resources on it, but with no independent reports, we have only his word for it.

In the meantime, thanks to the fact that he and his crew have no grasp on finance, he has merrily expanded the public sector, (200,000-300,000 recruited in the last two years)embarked on pork laden projects and subsidies with printed and borrowed money. Currently we have inflation of 25% and interest rates of 20%+. So far, no major fall out, but if the war stalls and stretches out for over a year or two more, then, we will be broke and with nothing to show for it and nothing left to fight the Tigers with either.

Only time will tell, for sure but he has abandoned the more certain path for the LTTE destruction in favour of the less certain path, one that has not worked over the last 30 years and he has bet the farm on it. If we win, we can survive, not necessarily thrive because we have mountain of debt and huge fiscal and structural imbalances to put right; if we fail we lose all and will end up a mess, maybe a Pakistan, maybe a Kenya, a Somalia or worse.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

To the citizens of the United States of America:

This is funny.

To the citizens of the United States of America:

In light of your failure in recent years to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas, which she does not fancy).

Your new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed. To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:
You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary.
1. Then look up aluminium, and nuclear, and check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing them.
2. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'colour', 'favour' and 'neighbour.' Likewise,
you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters, and the suffix '-ize' will be replaced by the suffix '-ise'. Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (look up 'vocabulary' ).
3. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as "like" and "you know" is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as US English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter 'u' and the elimination of -ize.
4. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.
5. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The
fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not adult enough to be independent. Guns should only be handled by adults. If you're not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist then you're not grown up enough to handle a gun.
6. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. A permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.
7. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.
8. The Former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline)-roughly $6/US gallon. Get used to it.
9. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.
10. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. South African beer is also acceptable as they are pound for pound the greatest sporting Nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of British Commonwealth - see what it did for them. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.
11. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie Macdowell attempt English dialogue in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one's ears removed with a cheese grater.
12. You will cease playing American football. There is only one kind of proper football; you call it soccer. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies). In the meantime don't try rugby - the South Africans and Kiwis will thrash you, like they regularly thrash us.
13. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware that there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the South Africans first to take the sting out of their deliveries.
14. You must tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us mad.
15. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).
16. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 pm with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.

God save the Queen!

by John Cleese, British Comedian


This is something I have been meaning to put up for some time, it makes sense to do it now because it is related to the previous post. The poem below was written by a former civil servant, probably in the 1960's or 1970's when the brain drain started. He left the country in the mid 1970's.


Dullness pervades our land,
The dunces are getting out of hand;
Alexander Pope saw it coming
The age of Chaos descending.

It is easier to love your enemy
Than consord with stupidity;
Wordsworth extolled the ordinary
And sank into inanity.

Don't traffic with the normal,
Chase the exceptional,
If you would soar into poetry,
Shun mediocrity.

Find your bedfellows
Away from the shallows;
Cultivate the eccentric virus
to nourish your genius.
This advice is not Christian;
But remember the ruffian
Who baited the dull Pharisee
In and out of Galilee.

-Guy Amirthanayagam-

Sunday, March 09, 2008

From the mouths of horses....

It seems that Sri Lanka's politicians are in urgent need of a short course in logic. One is aware that thanks to the brain drain, Sri Lanka is now the home of only the old, the infirm, the damned (who know better but are condemned by fate to spend their lives here) and the stupid. From the bottom of this pool are dredged the leaders of the country: a misanthropic bunch of vagabonds, footpads, fakirs, freeloaders and ne'er do wells.

Two statements in the Nation newspaper caught my attention today. The JHU spokesman is quoted as saying: "the HRW should initially issue reports about the human rights situation in their own country before making statements about other nations such as Sri Lanka." He goes on to add that:

“We completely dismiss the report issued by the HRW. They should issue reports about the USA first, instead of making statements about Sri Lanka. They should talk about Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and their own country if they are really concerned about the violation of human rights,”

(For the full report please click here)

To begin with, what is the man saying? There are humans rights violations elsewhere, therefore Sri Lanka has no case to answer.

How the situation in other countries has a bearing on Sri Lanka, I fail to understand. Should'nt human rights be measured against certain standards, standards that the country is a signatory to? Trying to justify violations in Sri Lanka by saying there are violations elsewhere is lame at best.

The fact that the spokesman for the JHU has not even bothered to familairise himself with the HRW is abundantly clear-the website details reports on all of the countries mentioned by the JHU spokesman. Click on the links for reports on Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, the UK and the USA.

I doubt if the spokesman even bothered to read what the HRW had to say, never mind the Gautama's views on the subject.

In an interview in the same newspaper, Minister Basil Rajapakse follows the same logic as the JHU spokesman. When questioned on the HRW report he says: I don’t think the government should respond to all these things that appear on the internet. Most of these organisations have not even visited this country. They don’t talk about violations in their own countries. If you go to a website and see how many people are lost in New York City on a day, I think it is more than the population of Sri Lanka. Recently, a child was abducted and hidden under a highway for one week. This is the situation there. Everyday, if you visit a supermarket, you would see notices pasted on doors, saying, so and so is missing. These are the people who talk about Sri Lanka. Missing persons is an issue all over the world. You cannot just say there are abductions."

The Minister sees no differences between missing persons and political abductions.

I have often toyed with the idea of testing the intelligence of the members of parliament by subjecting them to an IQ test. As a control, one could also subject the inmates of the monkey house in the Dehiwala zoo to the identical test. Any bets on the winners?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Some miscellaneous thoughts on music

I had a sudden urge to listen to Only the Good Die Young, a song by the band Queen and this being the age of the Internet, turned to my usual source of music: Youtube. When listening to the song I was wondering why I could not see Freddy anywhere and when the camera focused on the pianist was more than a little surprised to see Brain May sitting at the keyboard.

A bit of quick research (on the web) and I find out that this is the only song by Queen that was conceived after Freddy's death and it is mostly a eulogy on Freddy. For the performance on Youtube look at this, for more details on the song check the Wikipedia entry.

Just thought this might be of interest to any fans of Queen.

The problem with music of today seems to be a lack of a distinct voice, in the sense that there does not seem to be a highly personal stamp on anyone's music, save perhaps Shakira's. A song by Abba is almost instantly recognisable as being by them and no one else. This is evident to most people, not just hardcore Abba fans. The same is true of the most other great bands: The Beatles, The BeeGees, Paul Simon, even cracko Jacko Michael Jackson.

Mariah Carey has a truly great voice (and is very very hot to look at) but her music lacks the distinct stamp of individuality. I don't know how many people have heard of Eartha Kitt, but just listen to this or this and one can see the difference with this. Madonna is actually good compared to creatures such as the Spice Girls or Britney Spears (who looks good and has a fairly decent voice but not much else).

I don't know if its simply a sign of old age but I really cannot distinguish between one musician and another these days. I know that a lot of music is written to formula by a small set of professional writers who try to cater to the current trend in the market and perhaps this is to blame for the decline.

The modern concept of popular music is in fact a creation of the media - first broadcast radio and a short while later the advent of recorded music. Before that there was a limited array of folk (meaning traditional as in the sense of folksong) and popular music, transmitted by means of printed sheet music and live performance at dances, local festivals and the like. It was the medium of broadcast and the availability of records that enabled musicians to cater to a vast audience and rake in millions in fees and which resulted in a huge influx of talent. As long as the record and broadcast industry confined themselves to developing existing talent, they succeeded in developing the cause of popular music, once they moved into the realm of creating music to fit the perceived needs of the audience (rather than simply attempting to bring new voices and talents to the audience) they seem to have unwittingly sowed the seeds of the eventual destruction of popular music.