Friday, October 31, 2008

LTTE acquires B-2 Spirit bomber?

It seems that the LTTE has updated its hardware to include a couple of these babies.

That at least seems to be the considered opinion of the military establishment and the Island newspaper which reported the details.

"Their (F7s) missile systems failed to ‘lock on with the enemy aircraft," said the report which means the LTTE has got its hands on some pretty advanced stuff.

The good news is that it would would necessitate an overall review of the SLAF’s strategy, which means we can junk the new Chinese F7's and MiG 29's and buy some quality US hardware.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Then and Now

An uncle of mine, a man in his 70's was reminiscing the other day. He had spent a part of his youth in Jaffna. He said he could not possibly imagine how the shy, demure girls of Jaffna, who would blush and giggle at the slightest advance, could have been turned into suicide bombers.

An insight into how the problem grew is provided by Neville Jayaweera, of the Ceylon Civil Service who has recounted his experience as an administrator in a new book. His experience as Government Agent (GA) of Jaffna in 1963, when he was charged with enforcing the Official Languages Act, is an eye-opener.

Fortunately for the public interested in such matters the Sunday Island has carried excerpts from the book. Read them here:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine

In passing, it is worth noting both the quality of the writing and of the intellect of the man and comparing that with the Government Servants of today. Having been fortunate enough to have met quite few members of the old Ceylon Civil Service I can testify that they were all of similar calibre.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bailing out the garment industry

After spending the last six months telling us that the GSP+ concession would be renewed, the government seems to have thrown in the towel, barely three weeks after submitting the application for renewal. Perhaps bailouts are in fashion or perhaps the case was doomed from the start but either way the industry seems set to receive US$150m.

The question is: is there an alternative? In the case of the financial crisis plaguing the rest of the world I would say no, in Sri Lanka's case, yes.

To start, lets just examine the nature of this industry. Prior to WWII the garment industry existed as an industry proper only in Europe and America, everywhere else it was a cottage industry of local tailors and seamstresses.

After WWII factories were set up in cheap locations overseas, starting with East Asia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, later Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Singapore and so forth. Garments are an excellent way for a low-income country to grow because it uses a lot of cheap labour. As the country develops, wages rise and the industry moves elsewhere. A misguided attempt to protect Western manufacturers in the 1970's - the Multi Fibre Agreement (MFA) resulted in the industry spreading to areas that had never seen any kind of industrialisation, like in Africa. The MFA allocated quotas on a geographic basis so manufacturers sought out any location that had a quota.

Therefore the garment industry is unlikely to stay anywhere unchanged, it evolves and moves when costs rise. Take the example of Hong Kong, once a cheap manufacturing location now transformed into a fashion centre, design centre, buying centre with limited high end manufacture.

If Sri Lanka's industry is to survive they need to look at Hong Kong and plan. Unfortunately, in order to evolve to that stage requires certain things that Hong KOng, as a crown colony enjoyed: stability, the rule of law and good governance. For the moment at least, these are things beyond the bounds of possibility so any hard headed industrialist needs to look to other means of survival.

Coming back to the question in hand, is there anything else that the Government can do, short of pouring taxpayers money into the industry? To answer this question, lets look at the fundamental problem facing the industry: high costs (compared to location in Vietnam, China and elsewhere). What can the Government do to help?

Well, for start, how about controlling inflation? If inflation is under control, then costs are automatically under control, right? at least workers will not have to demand exorbitant wages, just to live.

How about controlling power costs? The CEB is notoriously inefficient, power piracy is rampant and the bill winds up mainly in the hands of industry.

The same is true of fuel costs. At the current price of oil the Government is set to make windfall profits at the CPC, a hidden tax in other words. Now I have no objection to fuel taxes, many countries use them and they have their place but why not make it transparent by returning to the pricing formula and adding a transparent tax on that? The moment the tax becomes visible the government will be under pressure to keep the tax to the minimum : which is also good, rather than taking the money through the back door which means less accountability and probably higher cost. How about reforming the CPC as well? Waste, inefficiency and everything else is added on to the fuel bill that you and I pay.

How about improving productivity through better infrastructure? Clogged roads, inefficient ports, onerous bureaucracy at the customs and everywhere else - all these add to costs and make life a lot harder for struggling businessmen.

Unfortunately all of the above is only possible by treading the path that is hard and narrow, in the log run it is the only way out, but headline grabbing bailouts are an easy temporary fix. A fellow called James Manor wrote a book on SWRD Bnadaranaike called the "The Expedient Utopian" - something that typifies much of the post independence rule.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Traffic offences and an escape from the rat race

I was stopped by a policeman last Saturday for going through a red light. I am normally a law abiding driver who signals lane changes, stops at pedestrian crossings, observes the white lines and the road signs that may still be visible so I was pretty annoyed to be stopped. I was certain that the traffic light was not working and told the policeman as much but did not want to waste any time so took the ticket and went on my way.

I did make it a point to check the light when I passed by the next day and it was'nt working; or at least the red light was'nt.

Anyway, to return to the tale, my mood brightened a bit when I realised the ticket was being issued by the Slave Island police where a good friend had a contact. Now the fine for running a red light is Rs.1000+taxes so it is worth the hassle to avoid it. Contacted my friend and he put me on to his contact, met the man (with a T-shirt in hand as a little present) and he said call him the next day and he would arrange for me to talk to the OIC. He also admitted that they knew that the particular traffic light was not working and I wondered silently whether the police were deliberately targeting motorists to fill their quota of fines.

Then began the saga. It appears that the good Sergeant's daughter is taking part in the Derana Superstar contest. I was asked to send around 150 sms's (more if possible) between 8.30pm next Saturday and 8.30am the next day (Sunday). He also gave me a printed card with the girl's photo and number. She looks quite fashionable with straightened hair, but then a lot of very average females improve their looks by straightening their hair.

Today I encountered another member of my staff whose husband had been copped and he had been asked to do the same. My friend, who gave me the contact has also been asked to send many SMS's and told me that when he met the Sergeant he was carrying a bagful of SIM cards which was distributing to people for votes.

I'm not sure what kind of prize money is available to the winner but it seems fairly obvious that the Sergeant sees an escape from the rat race if his daughter succeeds.

I always thought these things rather silly and they are actually designed to benefit the organisers (the television companies, the phone companies and whatever media are involved) rather than the participants, but I suppose some kind of talent is involved somewhere and it does give an opportunity to people who do not take to traditional careers to better their lives.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Casserole of Marmot

I'm no chef but this is something I want to share.

John Man has written a highly readable account of the life, death and resurrection of Genghis Khan.

His quest started with an article in the American Journal of Human Genetics. In a DNA study of some 2,000 men across Eurasia, geneticists found that several dozen of them shared a common pattern - a pattern that ran through 16 population groups ranging from the Caspian Sea to the Pacific Ocean. They arrived at the startling hypothesis that it would have been possible for one man, living in the 12th century, to scatter his genetic material across half Eurasia.

Man sets the stage for the search for Genghis Khan by conjuring up a vivid image of the landscape of Central Asia. This recipe is from the introduction, where he describes some of his own travels in the region. Man claims that for the most part the method of cooking would have been familiar to twelfth century families. Bored Domestic Goddesses are hereby invited to try it out.

Casserole of Marmot

(To feed six. Time approx 1 hr)

You will need:
1 marmot
Good quantity of dried dung
Assorted fist-sized stones
1 knife
1 pair pliers
1 blow torch

First, shoot your marmot. Using string, hang dead marmot from a branch. Skin it, peeling skin carefully downwards to keep the skin in one piece. Discard entails. Ignore flies. Remove and dice flesh. At the same time, arrange for the visiting author to collect cow-pats, said author to ensure cow-pats are dried to the texture of polystyrene. Make a pile of dung. Use blow-torch to start slow dung-fire, arranging for smoke to drift over diced marmot flesh to discourage flies. Place stones in fire. Using wire and pliers, sew up limb-holes in marmot skin, binding holes tightly. Do not seal head-hole. Into your marmot-skin bag, insert meat and red-hot stones, using twigs to hold stones. Ignore attached dung, ashes etc. Bind up head-hole with wire, using pliers to secure. Apply blow-torch to skin, scraping off seared fur. Meanwhile hot stones have begun to cook the meat from inside out. Trapped air expands to form taut, round, sausage-like container. As fur is removed, blow-torch cooks meat from outside in. After an hour, cut open and serve meat with fingers. As stones cool, toss them about until you can hold them without too much pain: they are good for health and luck.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Greenhorns in the West

Doggone and darnit!! Looks like the Wild Wild West is facing a new invasion of Greenhorns from back East.

Them Eastern Greenhorns aint gonna cause no trouble, at least if the local Sheriff has his way.

Independent Commission to probe INGO's

The JHU has apparently called for an independent commission to probe the activities of INGOs involved in relief work in uncleared areas in the North.

The monks suggest that the independent commission be made up of "a team of patriotic retired servicemen who are pro-government..."

This really made my day.

Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera, further alleged that "most Tamil civilians living in uncleared areas belonged to the so-called 'Mahaveer' families who assisted and sustained the Tiger outfit".

He then says "The Tigers were trying to induce foreign intervention in the country by getting the Security Forces to target innocent civilians or INGO personnel in their areas."

So the question is: are there any civilians in the Wanni? Any real civilians that is, not Tiger supporters.

Methinks the teaching of logic should be made compulsory from grade five onwards. As far as the inhabitants of the Paradise Isle are concerned it looks like poor old Aristotle died in vain. Come to think of it, perhaps that is the case even with the Gautama...