Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Whatever happened to Ladybird books?

Went out to get a cup of yoghurt after lunch and dropped into the bookshop next door. Was browsing aimlessly when I cam upon a rack of Ladybird books. One title (The Little Red Hen) caught my eye and I picked it up. This is a story that I remember from my childhood, glancing through I find that the story is still the same - except for one critical thing: the pictures have changed! I checked another, The Elves and the Shoemaker, and it was just the same. They seem to have revamped the books entirely.

The highlight of the Ladybird books used to be their beautiful illustrations. I think they were either oil paintings or watercolours but done to a very high standard. The pictures were so attractive that one could spend a lot of time just looking at them. They really brought the story to life and it is something I consider very important in encouraging children to pick up a book.

The illustrations in the new editions are fairly all right but nothing compared to the books of old. For examples of the old have a look here I'm not really sure why they changed the books, maybe to make them look more modern I suppose but I think that was a mistake, something that a thriving market in old editions seems to prove.

Anyway for anyone interested in further information on the history of Ladybird books and old titles have a look here and here.

The official site is here.

A good article on another favourite- Tootles the Taxi is here.

Hugo Chavez has done it: Venezuela faces stagflation

Hugo Chavez hailed as a hero of the poor and much admired by some in Sri Lanka seems to have succeeded in wrecking his country. Its not quite out yet, but despite windfall oil revenues Venezuela faces near 30% inflation and declining gdp growth, for details just have a look at this.

It just shows what incompetence and mismanagement can do. It also tells you that oil is no panacea for economic ills, something that Sri Lanka seems to be pinning its hopes on. Robert Mugabe showed how much destruction one man can cause and it looks like Chavez is following hard in his footsteps.

For a highly readable and personal vignette of Venezuelan life, just read this.

Depressing stuff, if eye opening, but at least I suppose its better to examine others problems than ones own. Safer too.

Friday, June 20, 2008

MAS to shed 600 middle managers?

This is the corporate gossip that is doing the rounds. Rumour has it that 200 will go from MDS (the design department in Ratmalana) and the rest from various other units.

Any further info would be welcome.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Country’s sacred relics belong to the clergy — JHU Leader

This was the title of an article which appeared in yesterdays Morning Leader - see the original here.

I will quote the full text of the report because I think its important enough:

"JHU Leader Ven. Ellawala Medhananda Thero has said the Buddhist clergy and the authorities were at loggerheads due to the Archaeology Act.

"Buddhist monks and the Archaeological Department are at odds due to the Archaeology Act that was introduced by foreigners after their invasion," he had told a media workshop on the protection of artifacts held in Sigiriya.

Speaking further he had said, "This country has sacred relics, not artifacts. Officials of the Archaeological Department are unaware of the situation. These belong to the Buddhist clergy."

Ven. Medhananda Thero said that the Act "was sending monks to jail while officials were going to hell."

He urged authorities not to start any more trouble with the clergy who had cared for the country’s artifacts for more than 2,000 years.

The matter has been brought to the attention of the President as well as the subject minister, the monk had added."

To my mind, this is a rather curious claim. The archaeological sites and artifacts are vested with the state and administered by the Archeology department. The Ven. Ellawala Medhananda Thero now seems to want to throw over the law of the land on the basis that it was introduced by foreigners. If this logic is followed to its conclusion we need to throw the entire legal system and much else, democracy included, out.

The claim that "the clergy who had cared for the country’s artifacts for more than 2,000 years" is dubious as well. The ruined cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and elsewhere had been abandoned and taken by the jungle. They lay forgotten and undisturbed for centuries until British explorers stumbled upon them in the 19th century. No one even knew of the artifacts, much less cared for them until the British period.

Of course there is a profitable trade in artefacts, although how small or large I do not know, and the Archaeology department has been fighting this with its limited means. This move seems designed to weaken the department even further.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Excerpts from the Ceylon Rationalist Ambassador

Dug up an old copy (one of three that we have) and I thought I would share some of the material with others who may be interested. These are taken from the column by Abraham Kovoor, President of the Society, entitled 'Think It Over', free comments with malice to none.


"Several Buddhist Associations have asked the Colombo Municipal Council to ban the slaughter of poultry in municipal markets and licensed poultry stalls in the City on Poya days. These associations have said that though the council banned the slaughter of cattle, goats and pigs in the city on Poya days, the purpose of ahimsa was negated by the slaughter of thousands of fowls" (Times of Ceylon 26.10.1966)

We fail to understand how the intensity of the sin of ahimsa varies according to the visibility on earth of the sun-lit area of an insignificant satellite like (sic) moon in this vast universe. Does slaughter of animals become a sin only on a Poya day?

While fanatics in India want to save the lives of cows only, their counterparts here seem bent on saving all lives except that of man!

We strongly urge the associations to press for banning the destruction of all kinds of lives on all days so ours may the one and only country in the world ahimsa is practised in its perfection. Nobody should be allowed kill and eat living animals and plants. Ban the use of insecticides, antibiotics and sterilizers. Stop chlorinating pipe-borne water, sterilizing surgical instruments, pasteurising milk. Feed the carnivores at the Dehiwala Zoo with straw. Let Ceylonese eat only carcases of naturally dead animals and plants.


"The proposal of the Minister of Health to introduce birth control in Ceylon, if implemented would wipe out the Sangha because only large families offered a child or two for ordination". So said Ven. Pundit Heele Sumanajothi Thero at a meeting of a Nawalapitiya Trinikaya. (Times of Ceylon)

If the Sangha is to be built up with unwanted children of the country it is better that we had a lesser number or none of them!


"We invite the earnest attention of our fellow men to all that is said and done, to reiterate and expound the meaning and message of Christmas.

It is our wish that Christmas goodwill and peace may abide permanently in our hearts and our homes and reflect in our social and national life" (Rev. Dr W.G. Wickramasinghe in the Daily Mirror)

During Christmas time year after year we hear a good deal from Christian priests about the Prince of peace, meek and mild, bringing goodwill and peace among men.

But let us hear from Christ himself about his mission.

"Think not that I came to send peace on earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword." (Jesus Christ in St Matthew X-34)

"He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one" (Jesus Christ in St Luke XXII-36)

"I came to set a man at variance against his father, a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law". (Jesus Christ in St Matthew X-35)

"If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his father and mother and wife and children and brotheren and sisters he cannot be my disciple" (Jesus Christ in St Luke XIV - 26)


"Unless a new department is formed to administer the affairs of religion, the election pledge of the Government to give Buddhism the rightful place it enjoyed during the times of the ancient Sinhala kings would be a mere farce", said Ven. Meetiyagoda Gunaratna Thera, addressing the Prize distribution ceremony of Sri Sugatha Dharmodaya School in Ravatawatte, Moratuwa (Ceylon Daily News 16-6-1966).

The reasons given in certain quarters of for the Government spending tax-payers money for promoting Buddhism alone is that during the time of the Sinhala kings Buddhism received royal patronage, and during the time of the foreign rule that religion lost its privileged position because the new rulers patronised their own brand of religions. Now that the country has attained independence, it is the duty of the present Government to give back to Buddhism the patronage it once enjoyed under the ancient kings.

It is the people of the country who attained independence in 1947 (sic), and not the Buddhists alone. After getting democratic freedom in the twentieth century are we to go back to the monarchy of the medieval period? In a monarchy everything in the country including the lives of the people belong to the king The king could do no wrong. He could patronise anything he liked, and his subjects had no right to question him. Today we are not subjects of a despotic monarch. we are the citizens of a free country possessing the right even to question our governors.

Kings of old patronised not only their religion but also astrologers, soothsayers, concubines and even prostitutes. Perhaps it is because our ancient kings patronised royal astrologers that we have this 20th century created a chair for astrology at one of our universities. Like the royal astrologers of old, the present professor of astrology at Vidyalankara University may be appointed Government Astrologer to advise the Government on his predictions from time to time!

Buddhists are not the only people living in Ceylon and paying tax to the Government. The present demand for religious universities by Hindus and Muslims stems from democratic ideas. If Buddhism is to get state aid, they too have a right to claim their share.

Surely this country needs more academic and technical institutions. Jaffna deserves a university there. But should it be a Tamil or Hindu university? Mr Sivasubramaniam wants Hindu priests to be trained at public cost. For Hindus their priests are born as a separate caste, whereas other religions have their priests ordained. According to the Hindu religion it is sinful for a non-Brahmin to officiate as a priest. If Brahmins, monks and moulawis are to be given separate universities, surely there will be similar demands for Christian priests of diverse denominations.


The (sadly now defunct) Ceylon Rationalist Society used to criticise the influence of religion in public life and expose what they called 'spiritual frauds' and other superstitions. They stood for the cause of reason in what they took to be an increasingly irrational society. They delighted in exposing hypocrisy and the volumes published by the Society are always interesting to read.

Things have got much worse since then and the need for the society is felt ever more keenly.

Anyway, it is all but impossible in society today to explain that one is an atheist. People are shocked, surprised and they look at one in a strange way. This is then followed by numerous questions on why, why, why don't you believe. When asked the question I either dodge or lie. Saves unnecessary questions. I imagine it would be like introducing someone as a lover or some other variant of the term.

My journey on the road to the damned was a long one. As a small boy I was told stories of Jesus and my love for the character was exceeded only by my love for my mother. I remember being deeply impressed by the selflessness, courage and goodness of the man. These were recurring themes in my young life: two other early hero's were Nelson and radio operator of the Titanic, Jack Phillips who went down with the ship, sending messages for help even as it sank.

In later years we were told that not everything in the bible was true. There were these illustrated books that we had at catechism classes that had black patches of varying sizes over the hearts of young sinners: small patches for small sins; larger ones for bigger sins. It had us rather worried so perhaps someone put us out of our misery but we were never quite sure for quite a while.

In later years, reading more on science and in my mid-teens writers like Asimov convinced me that there was no real god but I still went to church, mostly I think to please Granny. She was very devout and would go to church everyday, sometimes twice a day (my other grandmother was just as bad) and she would be very pained if we missed mass. my father never went and as children we found it boring and kept saying that we would stop going to church as soon as we grew up which made her very angry. If we missed mass we would be reminded at various times of the day that mass was on at 11am at the Jesuit Chapel, 12 at the Hospital Chapel and so forth until evening. She would then remind us on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday whenever she saw us but generally give up after that and contend herself with giving the culprit a black look or two if she caught sight of him.

Which is mostly why I remained a regular church-goer from my early-mid teens. It was easier than having to take the hassle, and in later years I realised it was probably one of the few things that kept her happy. Granny really was god and I stopped going after her death in 1993.

It was after I discovered the joys of singing (in 1998) that I began to go to church again, although a firm atheist by now my church going became very regular I rarely missed mass at all - because I loved to sing.

Naturally I make no mention of my beliefs to my companions and the few of them who are aware have generally come to assume that I have recanted, either way I don't bring up the subject.

My views on religion have however changed. God may not exist but his church certainly does which got me pondering as to how something so patently absurd could still exist in the light of all evidence against it.

I came to realise that religion can be experienced on many levels: spiritual, social/cultural and psychological. Look at the major events in life: birth, marriage, death: and religion appears for all except the most committed unbelievers. Religion has its uses: it can serve as a code of ethics and for social conduct (this is in my opinion its weakest link, for along with the positive lessons there are negatives as well but we can always concentrate on the positives and ignore the negatives); it adds a lot of colour, the ceremonies, symbols and the like and most importantly it can provide solace in grief.

Festivals like Christmas are purely cultural traditions that can be enjoyed by all. It is not even Christian, dating back to the Roman Saturnalia which in turn was based on ancient festivals of the winter solstice. It is instructive to remember that Brazil's famous Rio Carnival is actually religious in origin - its connected with the Lenten observances although I don't know precisely how. Now religion like that is something we can all enjoy.

The psychological aspects of religion are its most important . In times of stress or great grief, the rituals provide a ready made channel for overflowing emotions and the simple rubric of the prayers can offer a lot of comfort.

Religion therefore has a place in society (and its uses) although god (in his many manifestations) does not exist.

There must however be the distinction between religion as a purely personal belief , which has its place and religion in public life, in which it has no place.

No two people will approach religion in exactly the same way and while each must be allowed to do as he wishes (provided he does not cause a nuisance to others ) it is entirely unfair to impose the views of some on the entire population.

A state cannot believe and rulers should not assume that their personal beliefs can be taken to be those of the state as a whole.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lèse majesté

An insult against the King. The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English (2008) defines this as: the insulting of a monarch or other ruler; treason. A fuller description of the term is found in Wikipedia.

Very few countries now have specific lèse majesté laws but treason is still a crime. The question that arises in Sri Lanka today is whether criticism amounts to treason. Those who have been following the debate may be able to discern for themselves where the official position lies, even if the officials themselves are quite unaware the concept itself.

This in turn raises further interesting questions, not least Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Super Seven

Got tagged a while back and have been wondering what to do about it. I was away to begin with so I only saw the tag several days after it had been stuck or pasted or whatever the correct term for the thing is.

Now it is fairly easy to come up with a list of trivial items but I'm somehow reluctant to do that - goes against the grain you see. Whatever it is, it needs to be true to myself, find it quite hard to be otherwise. Its a real pain sometimes: picking a birthday card or a present for someone can be an agonising process - it needs to be right, it must say just the right thing and it needs to be true. This is why I keep a stock of cards around. Whenever I find a good one, I'll buy it and keep it for use sometime. The trouble is I sometimes forget that I have cards in stock or else I've put them away so well that I can't find them aaarrrggh..... Sometimes I do find them, when the need arises, the trouble is when i do look at them again I sometimes find that time has altered my perception of things and the card is not really suitable anymore so I'm back to square one again....

I also think that deep down I'm an arch conservative: in dress, in habits, in manners, in taste, although I do like to think of myself as being liberal in my views I'm not entirely sure if that's right. A conservative taste in fashion means that its damned difficult to find trousers and shirts in Colombo, so my favourite shopping has been in Malaysia where there is a much wider selection. Forget Singapore, even with a sale things are prohibitively expensive.

Curiosity is the other trait that I seem to have. I keep telling myself that curiosity is what killed the cat and that curiosity is but one step away from nosiness and that I hope keeps my instincts in check. I keep wanting to know WHY? Why does this happen? How does it work? What went wrong? Sometimes answers come a long time after the question was asked, sometimes after the question was forgotten. Benn wondering how pillows came into being. Why is it so difficult to sleep without one and how did early man learn to use the primitive equivalent of a pillow? Are there cultures where pillows are unknown?

Sometimes these questions take a curious turn. There was a time a few months back when I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking that I had an excellent question or idea on some problem in economics and then I fall asleep. When I wake up I could never quite remember what the question was and for a time I was wondering if I actually woke up, or whether I dreamed that I had woken up and come up with a question. Reminds of the philosopher who dreamed he was a butterfly. After a while he could not figure out if he was a butterfly who dreamed he was a philosopher or if he was a philosopher who dreamed he was a butterfly. All very mysterious.

I talk too much. I love the sound of my own voice. Get me going on a pet topic and I'll talk till the cows come home. Hell, If I can write this much garbage (with poor typing skills) can you imagine how bad I can be just talking?

A rebel at heart, unfortunately with no permanent cause. Need someone to help organise or get something done that is unusual or difficult? If its interesting enough, I'm your man. A sort of a modern day Indiana Jones or Rambo, I modestly tell myself....

Ok I've run out of steam, and my knee seems to be hurting so I'm stopping now.

Oh, by the way, if anyone needs and introduction to the real Super Seven some characters from my childhood days, have a look at them here.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Saving the tourist industry

Damn foreigners! They are highly unreliable and instead of descending in droves on dear mother Lanka and parting with their cash, they have been going elsewhere and leaving the beach boys, courtesans, footpads and assorted wheeler dealers who prey sorry, derive gainful employment from these people in the lurch.

The solution is to make do with a few foreigners and fill up the hotels with locals, but how? Locals with throng the hotels on long weekends, which are plentiful, but not plentiful enough. A four day week perhaps? Saves fuel and gives permanent long weekends. It might work but what of the other days of the week? Even in Sri Lanka one cannot hope to enjoy a permanent holiday all year round.

The solution is really simple: declare certain key tourist beaches to be nude beaches and carry appropriate publicity, with or without stolen photographs from Cancun to boost appeal. The male population of Sri Lanka will fill the hotels to capacity...

Invasion of old geezers

The populace must brace itself; an invasion is imminent, not by the Tigers but by a Dad's Army of retired old geezers. That at least is what a new policy by the Department of Immigration seems set to achieve.

According to the Sunday Observer, "The Government has given approval to the Department of Immigration and Emigration to go ahead with a special resident visa scheme that would woo senior foreign nationals on retirement to spend the rest of their life in the country.

The Department expects its new scheme - a dream home for foreigners would attract more senior foreign nationals to the country with their savings which would contribute to boost the national economy especially in tourism, real estate and other related sectors which have currently faced a setback due to the drop in the number of tourists."

It seems like only yesterday that the country was trying to restrict foreigners from buying land, a 100% tax on land purchases has been in operation since around 2004 to discourage this. There was also an outcry against paedophiles, homosexuals and other undesirables entering the country not to mention charges of neo-colonialism and cultural imperialism being leveled at many people.

Never mind, the Department of immigration has retained an important control: the resident visa is valid for only two years and will be renewable depending on the conduct of the visa holder. “We will review the scheme to check whether it is suitable and whether the foreigners will benefit from it”, said Abeykoon, Controller General of Immigration.

Good thinking. We can collect their cash and then boot them out in two years, clever no?

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Saw an interesting book in the shop the other day; Thug: The True Story of India's Murderous Cult by Mike Dash.

I have encountered them occasionally in popular culture including the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but always thought they were fictional, until now.

The Thuggees were considered, depending on the researcher; either as a cult or a network of secret fraternities, rather like the Rotary Clubs of today I suppose.

They are fairly old, existing in India and operated between the 17th and the 19th centuries, although some claim that they existed from as far back as the 13th century.

The Thugs worked by befriending travellers and then ritually murdering them; strangling them with a yellow scarf to the accompaniment of music and included the consecration of a pickaxe and the sacrifice of jaggery. The pickaxe was used to dig the graves of the victims.

The Thuggees were said to be worshippers of the goddess Kali and were stamped out by the British.

Easy solution to saving power missed?

Was away for a while, am catching up with the news and not surprisingly a number of people have written articles on how to reduce energy consumption, but everyone seems to have overlooked the simplest, most painless one: set the clock back.

This was first done in the desperate days of 1996/7, one of the few sensible things done by CBK, I might add. This was reversed a couple of years back, mainly with the intention of appeasing the gods.

The Gods have failed: flood, war, disease (chikungunya, dengue and viral flu's plus other exotics are rampant) and we await drought and pestilence. There is nothing further to be gained by trying to appease them any further, they can hardly do worse, so let us collectively boot out the gods, think for once and use available sunlight to the maximum.

To the detractors of this policy, the CEB admitted that it generated some Rs.400m a year in savings - at the time the policy was discontinued, it should be double that now.

ps. The tagging craze seems to be on, will try to repond as soon as time permits.