Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Women and their dogs

I was at a friend's place a while back, just having a chat when her dog walked in from the garden. She called him over, and he began to play with her. She calmed him down, petted him, hugged him and showered him with kisses. The bond between dog and mistress was tangible, the love inescapable.

Watching this scene I turned green with envy. Oh what would I have given to be in that dog's paws. An arm, a leg, maybe something else. And all that stupid animal could do was thump its tail on the floor.

Things have come to a pretty pass when a man must compete with a dog for a woman's affections. And even worse when he realises that the canine is winning.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Randy Pausch (October 23, 1960 – July 25, 2008): Last lecture

Randy Pausch was an American professor of computer science, he died a few days ago of pancreatic cancer. He delivered a superb lecture, one that has achieved worldwide fame, on Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. Its a must watch for everyone. See it here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Advice on coping SAARC traffic

Tried exploring a few routes today and ended up getting directed into a jam on Maitland Place. I did not want to go to Maitland Place, I was trying to get to Reid Avenue from Gregory's Road but it seemed that a right turn was not possible at Maitland Crescent so turned left and left again into Maitland Place and ended up getting stuck for about 45 minutes.

After about 20 minutes of being idle I realised that I had a book in the car and began to read; and that, dear readers, is the advice I can offer to you.

Carry some reading material, perhaps a packet of biscuits and a flask of hot tea if you fancy, and when you do get into the jam just switch off the engine, relax and read.

The lucky people who are out of Colombo will laugh, but for those forced to be in the city, this is the best option that I can think of.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The SAARC Experience No.1

Was having a chat with a friend in the travel industry and he related an incident that took place yesterday.

A group of tourists were being bused in to the Taj Hotel. The bus was stopped at the Elephant House roundabout and told that it could not proceed any further due to security considerations.

The travellers were advised to get out and walk to the hotel from there.

Several frantic telephone calls later the bus was allowed to go into the hotel and deposit the guests.

This morning a similar problem arose with tourists leaving the hotel - the bus was not allowed to leave the premises. Again more telephone calls and finally they were allowed to leave.

Land like no other, and this is a full week before the 'Official' high security period.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

SAARC Summit: Fort & Slave Island closed

DIG Fort Police has issued the following notice at a special security meeting held at his office today.
1. Starting 25/07/2008 vehicles and people entering the high security zone will be subjected to thorough security checks. (High security zone starts from Kollupitiya junction towards Galle face, Elephant house junction- slave island, York street ect...) vehicles entering the zone will need to obtain passes.

2. From 29/07/2008 no vehicles will be allowed to the high security zone at all. A shuttle service will be functioning for people to come in to the high security zone. (up to D.R. Wijewardena Mw- Lake House ) All vehicles will have to be parked out side the High security zone.

3. Train services will function only up to Bumbalapitiya from down south, and up to Maradana from the other side. Fort railway station will be closed. There will be a shuttle service from Kollupitiya and Maradana to fort (up to D.R. Wijewardena Mw- Lake House ) No vehicles will be given authority to enter from there onwards.

4. 1st of August (Friday) will be declared as a official holiday.

5. Other high security areas declared will be areas near the BIA / BMICH/ and MOUNT LAVINIA. (as some delegates will be located at Mt- Lavinia Hotel)

6. Period concern will be from 25/07/2008 to 04/08/2008 (ending 4th mid night)

Guys, if you are working in Fort, its better to go on leave and enjoy the Beach Festival in Hikkaduwa.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Why swallow Western propaganda on Zimbabwe?

This is the headline of an article by Kalinga Seneviratne in today's Daily News.

His thesis is that the problems of Zimbabwe are largely due to the opposition, NGO's and Western powers and the whole thing is in anycase being blown all out of proportion by the Western Media.

The article does not draw any parallels but it is obvious to the reader that this is the same set of foes that are ranged against the government of Sri Lanka.

As the writer points out 'Human-rights violations worse than those committed by Zanu-PF’s thugs have been reported from Darfur, Tibet and Guantanamo Bay' and also that 'Zimbabwe had been a very peaceful country before the coming of Morgan Tsvangirai as a political party leader.'

In a speech at the FAO Rome summit last month, President Mugabe has highlighted steps that are being taken to improve food production, something the Western Media seems to have ignored.

President Mugabe, along with President Rajapakse and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran were the only Heads of State to grace this important summit, the rest of the world being represented by minor officials.

We must truly be cursed by the gods to have ended up with the same set of foes that the besieged government of Zimbabwe faces. Or perhaps its no accident at all; a plot perhaps? By treacherous forces possibly.

A drugs policy for Sri Lanka : the State needs to distribute

A post by Deane on Legalising Marijuana in Sri Lanka prompted me to put up something that I have been thinking about for a while.

On the subject of marijuana I agree with him in full, its not addictive and is less harmful than tobacco; although the smoke will probably do some damage to lungs and throat. It also has a lot of medicinal properties that are worth researching.

On more dangerous drugs; heroin and other opiates; cocaine and its derivatives and all the rest the first thing to do is to collect some statistics on their use. From the little I know it is heroin that accounts for the largest volume. Following the 80:20 rule; identify the few drugs that make up 80% of the usage. The state should then distribute these drugs either free or at nominal charge to the addicts.

At a stroke it will greatly eliminate the petty and dangerous crimes that plague the citizenry and most importantly puts the drugs mafia out of business. How can they possibly sell drugs at a profit when the state is distributing the stuff virtually free?

The State can tie up with some NGO's working in drugs rehabilitation and distribute the products through them. The addicts will need to register and where possible should be persuaded to undergo some rehabilitation treatment, which again could be funded by a combination of public and private funds.

The public faces two large problems with illegal drugs: the crime which is necessary to finance the habits of the addict and the social problems that the addict causes to his family and friends. The policy of state distribution will eliminate the first and through a careful programme of rehabilitation could help alleviate some of the latter.

The biggest and most important benefit that this policy will bring is that it will put the real criminals; the drug gangs out of business. These drug gangs are responsible for a lot of serious crime and they are I believe an important source of funding for political parties. A good many politicians are under the control of the criminal underworld, who finance and run election campaigns on behalf of politicians.

I'm sure the readers of this blog are aware of certain prominent politicos whose links to the underworld are well known; there are many others who are also funded from the same sources but maintain a far more discreet public profile.

It is these people who will be hurt by such a policy, not the public, the addicts or anyone else. Should anyone announce such a policy it would draw howls of protest from many quarters. And we would then know exactly who is funded by the drug cartels.

There is a related problem of corruption that I have blogged about here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Classic children's songs

Here's the perfect tonic for anyone feeling depressed at work today.

Discovered some classic songs on Youtube just now. They are intended for children but can be enjoyed by all; catchy tunes and witty verses. They don't make them like that anymore.

Right Said Fred by Bernard Cribbins
and

My boomerang wont come back by Charlie Drake

A reply to an Editorial in the Island newspaper

This is just another post where I'm saving something I wrote some time ago- this time a response to an editorial in the Island entitled 'Prabhakaran's luck'.

The main thesis of the editorial was, as I recall, that Prabhakaran has got away several times just when the army was about to capture him. The editorial wondered whether he would be allowed to escape again, because the Government was being pressured to re-enter peace talks and hence halting the offensive.

My response was written on the 9th of August 2007, the editorial appeared some days before that, I've not been able to trace it on the web.

Sir,

Your editorial on the above poses the question: will Prabakharan be lucky once more? The short answer is yes, he will indeed be lucky, but to understand why we must look back to the events of 2001. Your editorial surmises, correctly, that the government is facing a financial crises. It was Napoleon no less who remarked that "an army marches on its stomach". An army needs to eat well to perform, but Napoleon 's real contention was the importance of the supply line. Logistics - getting food, clothes, and spare parts to the front - is often what makes or breaks a conflict. This in turn, is dependent on the ability of the government in question to finance a war.

To turn to the events of 2000-2001, the country's economy collapsed, this being driven by excessive government spending financed by printed and borrowed money. Public debt exceeded the output of the economy. This in turn lead to a balance of payments crises, the devaluation of the rupee (which went from 70 to the US dollar to a 100 before settling at around 90). Business confidence evaporated following the attack on the airport and the economy contracted by some 4%.

The UNP regime of 2001-3 restored fiscal discipline by cutting spending, bringing the budget deficit under control, enabling interest rates to fall as low as 10%. The CFA boosted business confidence resulting in increased investment. The tax amnesty announced in the 2002 budget brought in a lot of black money into the economy which sparked the construction boom, the tail end of which is still being experienced today. The majority of the mid and high rise building dotting the capital came up following this. The prevailing low interest rates helped boost these two further and also lead to increased consumption spending via credit cards and consumption based loans offered by banks. Other measures to simplify bureaucracy and the opening of the North East markets also helped.

After the coup d'├ętat staged by CBK in November 2003, the momentum of the measures taken by the UNP faltered momentarily but then continued. The tsunami of December 2004 proved a blessing in disguise, with a huge inflow of funds providing a massive stimulus to the economy. The growth of 2005 and 2006 was helped by all of these factors.

Mahinda Rajapakse's administration, drawing confidence from the sound performance of the economy in the past few years has thrown economic sense to the winds and expanded public spending. Pensions and salaries of government servants consume 57% of all tax revenues thanks to the expansion of the public sector. This has been financed by money printing (leading to high inflation) and borrowings. Thanks to high borrowings interest payments eat up 30% of total government revenue. It is worth noting that as per the last budget pensions and salaries (240bn) and interest (169bn) both exceed defence expenditure (140bn)- which in 2006 was doubled from the previous years 70bn . Public debt is once more hovering close to 100% of GDP, the rupee is under pressure, the government is imposing all manner of taxes and raising fuel prices to try to collect enough funds and failing to do so is resorting to money printing (some 20bn in the last couple of months) and is now in the process of trying to raise US$500m to finance further spending. Capital expenditure is being cut, which means citizens can expect further deterioration in infrastructure from broken roads, flooded sewers to erratic electricity.

In short, the government is close to broke and will shortly find itself unable to fund the war any further without risking a total economic meltdown. Foreign aid does not form a significant component of government revenue (some 24bn) the burden is mainly borne by the taxpayers of the country. If this situation continues on this trend the economy will collapse once more and Prabakharan will find himself confronting an enemy unable to defend its borders, and he will have Eelam by default.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Polarisation

Met some friends for dinner at the Golden Mile on Friday. Food was quite good, prices fairly reasonable and the atmosphere good, enlivened by a private party taking place at the restaurant.

One of the people remarked that he had met an old school mate at a reunion yesterday. My friend and his friend, lets call him X, had been talking a while. It turned out X was under the impression that all Tamils supported the LTTE and was genuinely surprised when my friend informed him that on the contrary a large number opposed them. Now X is a man in his late thirties, a qualified architect and studied at a popular Colombo catholic school. The fact that a mature, urbanised educated man could hold such a view illustrates the degree to which the country is polarised.

It is human nature to move around with people who are 'like us' in most ways; people from similar backgrounds and upbringing, our friends and family are all drawn from the same sort of strata so most people who do not look beyond their close circle are likely to see and experience only their circle and their views are shaped accordingly. Under normal circumstances this would not be a problem, people having a parochial view of a situation would not cause a problem, but in a country where issues of race have become a problem then such a narrow view points to a lot of problems ahead.

Without dialogue between the communities, suspicion and fear can only grow; this of course being fanned by extremist political parties.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ranil Wickremesinghe: The man we love to hate

Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of the opposition occupies a curious position in the political arena. He is regularly blamed by the Government for all manner of ills, from the Ceasefire Agreement to the possible loss of GSP+ concessions from the EU. He is criticised by the government and its supporters for his background, for having a squeaky voice, for wearing a suit even for being effeminate. He is painted as a traitor bent on discrediting the country at the very least and possibly even plotting its very destruction.

All this leaves Mr Wickremesighe quite unmoved. He rarely responds to any particular charge and never seem perturbed, let alone worried by what is said about him. In Sri Lanka this seems to be taken as a sign of guilt - most supporters of the government seem to agree with all of this something the local blogosphere bears testimony to.

His party and his supporters on the other hand are left wringing their hands in despair. He does not seem capable of mounting any challenge to the government. The few rallies and protests organised have not really taken off - that despite the mounting problems of the government. Even if he can't organise public protest he could release press statements that can highlight the many flaws in the Governments policies but presumably feeling that anything he says will be used against him he remains silent. He can't even hold his party together with parts of it now supporting the government and what is left of it in danger of splitting apart.

He is almost like the Batman villain, the Joker; who is characterised as the villain we love to hate; something that conceals his importance to the regime in power.

The ruling coalition would would be in deep difficulties if not for the help of Ranil Wickremesinghe. The perennial leader of the opposition is the best thing that any government in power could hope for.

The UNP is a large party, some would say the largest party in the country. In the hands of a Mangala Samaraweera, a Chandrika Bandaranaike, an S B Dissanyake even perhaps Sajith Premadasa or Karu Jayasuriya it would be a formidable political machine instead of being divided, disinterested and ineffective.

None of this is to detract from Mr Wickremesinghe's qualities as a potential Head of State; he would I believe be quite effective in that role; it is the party politics and the pulse of the common man that he fails to grasp.

The Government should be offering poojas to him, in secret every night, even as they pillory him by day.