Friday, May 29, 2009

Bummer.. Tagged

Was tagged by Delilah and by Santhoshini.

What does one say in five words about a war?

The most significant feature of this war of late, has been its distance: news is limited , there may be many columns of text in the newspapers and hours of reporting on television, but despite all of this, very little information. Nobody dies, nobody is hurt and nothing is damaged. I watch no television and my mind blanks out when trying to read the newspapers so this has been for me a rather surreal war. This leads to Berkeley's question : does something exist if it is not perceived? or in his words “To Be is to be Perceived” (“Esse est Percipi”).

The question is neatly summarised in Knox's limerick:

There was a young man who said "God
Must find it exceedingly odd

To think that the tree
Should continue to be

When there's no one about in the quad."

To which, was written an anonymous reply:

Dear Sir,
Your astonishment's odd;
I am always about in the quad.
And that's why this tree
Will continue to be,
Since observed by

Yours faithfully,

So how does one feel about the ending of a war that, philosophically speaking, does not exist?





that it ended

Thirdly :


for the unknown; what happens next?



for those who suffered



for a better tomorrow.

Oops forgot to tag someone in return.
I hereby tag someone who will really and truly appreciate the tag; PadaShow ha ha ha

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What is democracy?

I have sometimes wondered as to whether a democracy can actually work, especially in a developing country, but perhaps I should have first posed the question: What is democracy?

It is system of government, as opposed to government by individuals. It also government of the people, by the people themselves.

What does this mean?

It is best illustrated with a simple analogy. I work in finance and have encountered fraud many a time, so much so that my personal philosophy is 'never trust an individual, you can only trust a system'. This is the heart of democracy: the system. Individuals do not, indeed should not matter.

The reliance on the system is result on many centuries of struggle against the tyranny of individual rulers. Why place our faith in fickle, fallible people when we can put our faith in a system? A system of laws.

So what exactly is the system?

The foundation of a democracy is the constitution. This sets out the basic rights that every individual enjoys. This is designed to protect its citizens from abuse. A government is not supposed to go against the constitution.

Democracy is also about self government - the people choose their representatives in free elections held at regular intervals (the rulers, however good or bad are ejected periodically as a check on power). Thus power flows upwards, from the people to the government and the government must be answerable to the people.

The third broad principle on which democracy is based is that power is always limited, no one enjoys unlimited power.

Power is limited in various ways but principally because it is divided or separated, between parliament, the judiciary and the executive.

The executive is the government; the Head of state and the cabinet of ministers. It is they who will set government policy. However the executive is answerable to parliament. Parliament is supposed to act as a check on the executive, to question, which is why some of the losing sides in an election are allowed in parliament. The opposition must lead the questioning of the executive, but properly speaking even ruling party MP's must raise questions in accordance with their conscience. Further, a government must pass laws in order to rule and these laws must be debated and approved by parliament before they are enacted.

In the event some people think the laws or policies of the Government violate the constitution then the citizen has the right to take his complaint to the courts who will rule on the matter.

This is the bare bones of how a democracy works, there is a lot more but this should suffice as an introduction.

Democracy is also about government by the people. Citizens are not supposed to be idle bystanders they are supposed to actually participate in affairs.

The people are free to criticise their elected leaders and representatives, and to observe how they conduct the business of government. In turn elected representatives at the national and local levels should listen to the people and respond to their needs and suggestions.

It follows that individuals must have the right to their own beliefs, and to say and write what they think. No one can tell an individual what to think, believe, and say or not say.

For individuals to be informed and to express their views they depend on mass media. No media can be completely free of bias so there must be free competition for news and information to allow many different viewpoints to emerge. When individuals express their opinions, they should also listen to the views of other people, even people they disagree with. Everyone has a right to be heard.

Government by the people works in part through the media. News in carried in the media and people respond, by writing to the media, by writing to the ministers or authorities concerned, by being interviewed and complaining on the media to convey their issues to others who may be interested.

People should question the decisions of the government, but not reject the government’s authority. No one should denounce a political opponent as evil and illegitimate, just because they have different views.

Democracy is cumbersome, complicated, and irksome for rulers who often find themselves facing a barrage of criticism, sometimes entirely unwarranted, but it probably serves the people better than any other.

Acknowledgment: Some of the material in this post is drawn from here. It is a succinct but comprehensive introduction to the subject, read it for further enlightenment.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Any bets on Dialog results?

Would anyone care to make a prediction as to what Dialog's bottom line is likely to be for Q1?

I'm expecting a loss of Rs.4,000-4,500 million. They lost Rs.3,900m in the quarter to December and observing things from a distance no significant changes are apparent in the business, apart from the fairly small VRS which will have an impact from Q2 onwards.

The loss in revenue should be greater in Q1 because they will not have the one-off sign on fee that customers paid to register for the Blaster package. I customers were charged Rs.500 each to sign-on and assuming a million signed up, Dialog could have booked in Rs.500m in revenue, depending on how it was accounted for. I suspect a far higher number signed on and if they accounted all the fees as revenue then this will not appear in Q1.

A company that manages to lose such large sums of money has something fundamentally wrong with it: it needs to re-look at its business model from scratch; incremental changes will not help.

Anyone who is expecting volume growth to compensate for tariff cuts must remember that this tied to the economy: the spending power of retail consumers (which is being eroded by inflation, salary cuts, job losses and the like) as well as the general level of business activity, which is what drives business usage. In any case it is the height of optimism to expect a 60% tariff cut to translate to a 60%+ usage increase (I'm just looking at the Dialog to Dialog charge which was Rs.5 in Jan 2008 and is now Rs.2). Nor are tariff cuts likely to increase penetration significantly given that it is already at a fairly high level.

Update: Dialog announces a first quarter loss of Rs.1,800m today.

The results are far better than I expected. Am trying to get my hands on the numbers analyse them further to see where the improvement came from.

Update 2:

Had a quick look at the accounts and I'm baffled. Gross margins are down by around half, operating profits are down by a similar amount but cash generated is up significantly, from 893m in 2008 to 3,617m in 2009. Even odder, cash generated from operations exceeds gross margins (in comparison, last years cash generated was around 18.7% of gross margin). EBITDA, which should be pretty close to the cash generated figure is only 1.33bn so how cash generation was double that is a mystery.

The company succeeded in raising 16bn of debt in the quarter which should keep them going for a while, although it is not known on what terms the debt was raised.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Modern day dilemmas

Why are Malu-Pang's always triangular shaped?

Who started this tradition, and why? Was it always so?

Is there some precedent for odd-shaped buns in any other country, or is this unique?

In the modern age of cell phones the public telephone box is fast disappearing. This poses a number of problems: where does Clark Kent change into his Superman costume? And where can Dr Who land the TARDIS without the danger of it being promptly stolen by seekers of curios or antiques? Perhaps Dr Who and Superman will need to collaborate in the future, with Superman phoning Dr Who (on his Blackberry) to get him to bring the TARDIS where ever needed.

For Captain Kirk and the crew, the hand-held communicator has become a reality in the form of the cellphone, its the intergalactic roaming charges that are killer.

How on earth (really!) did a tale involving wizards and magic get into mainstream adult cinema? Pratchett did it first (and a lot better, in my opinion, I've yet to finish a Harry Potter book) but this was within the restricted genre of Fantasy. I thought magic was left behind with the Magic Faraway Tree, The Wishing Chair and similar tales by the age of ten, Disney cartoons (upto and including Beauty and the Beast) being the sole exceptions? Disney lost its way after that, save a couple of exceptions the Pixar collaborated Incredible's being the best.

Sri Lanka seems to have a host of heavy metal bands, at least judging by the pictures in the Sunday newspapers of late. They all attempt to look nasty being the approved image for such bands, long hair, unshaven, T shirts with ominous slogans but end up looking like schoolboys (which most of them are) dressing up to attend a fancy dress ball.

Perhaps some serious work on the music (having attended many a TNL Onstage programme - I had friends who were competing) would obviate the need for the 'image'? Why not let the music do the talking? The problem in this case is that no one understands the importance of form in music. Form is to music, what grammar is to language- a frame on which to string ones ideas. Breaking the rules is possible (and the riles of music are far more flexible than that of language) as long as the whole thing makes sense. Listen to Sri Lankan original music and one is left unsatisfied because while there may a tune or two, a theme or two, the authors have only the vaguest idea of how they need to be strung together. Look up song form on google and this will generally give you the idea. Music is ordered sound and 'Western' music is ordered on a number of dimensions: the scale, the time (rhythm) and then form

Therefore to write music some understanding of the underlying principles is necessary, skill as a performer is not immediately transferable to composition.

Thats all, folks, its Saturday night and I;m off to look for my fix.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I have come to the conclusion that work is alien to Man. If one thinks about modern society work is what defines one. Meet a stranger and what is the question that comes up fairly early in the conversation: where do you work? what do you do? And god help you if you happen to be a housewife.

Going back a bit further into history, the caste system is based on occupations, farmer, fisher, warrior and the like. So what is this thing and why is it so important?

I would define work as being, in its essence, gratification postponed and thus similar to the economic principle of saving.

In the animal kingdom almost all activity willingly undertaken is either always pleasurable or results in pleasure. If one thinks of primitive man in a hunter-gatherer existence, life would have revolved around the search for food and other necessities of life. Some effort would need to be expended on this activity but the objective is simple and the reward reaped within a fairly short period of time

The shortcoming with this simple life is the uncertainty in obtaining food, which lead to the development of agriculture and animal husbandry and unwittingly set Man on the rocky road to serfdom. With agriculture the fairly short time span between effort and reward lengthened; from hours to weeks and months; thus was work born.

Farming is a fairly simple example of work; the objectives are fairly straightforward and the relationship between effort and reward, though distant is fairly visible: in the blooming orchards or fattening calves.

With the dawn of the industrial age, this link was weakened further and disappears completely for a vast majority of people trapped in mindless offices or factories, despite the best efforts of Human Resources departments to introduce performance related reward and numerous other distractions from the drudgery of work.

The need for holidays, as an escape from the misery of work, eventually became necessary. This started simply enough with the eight hour day and the five day week. In agriculture work is determined by the seasons and the weather. Man works according to the rhythms of the seasons which has its own breaks. No such breaks exist in the world of factories and initially workers were expected to work till they dropped.

After much conflict, the birth of the trades union movement and a revolution or two later, we had the five day week. Would a weekend have any meaning if the week were not crammed with work? And what does one call someone who has been fortunate to emancipate himself from this drudgery? a Gentleman of Leisure, later shortened to Gentleman meaning one who does not work for a living.

Thus work is an entirely artificial construct, something that Man has created, something that we do in order to exist. Work has been with us since the dawn of civilisation perhaps 7000-8000 years ago. It is yet to evolve as a natural instinct in an animal that has been in this modern form for perhaps 6 million years and evolving for around 40 million years before that.

This of course has nothing to do with my slothful attitude towards the dashed thing or my constant attempts to avoid as much of it as possible. I'm just trying to get in touch with my inner animal.

Burning out

I seem to have run out of things to say. The local blogosphere seems to have erupted in a series of catfights (another one seems to be starting today) which is bad enough, work pressure is terrible, with profits evaporating the people in charge of the till are not popular and of course the raging controversies that fill the pages of the newspapers.

I attended a fairly decent concert by the Chamber Music Society yesterday which seems to have restored my spirits a bit. The playing was decent, although the overall sound seemed a bit heavy on the bass for some reason.

I was also in Galle over the holidays and although it was pretty wet, managed to catch up with a friend who moved there. Said he hated the traffic, the roadblocks, the noise and the pollution in Colombo.

I don't usually complain a lot but this whine seems to have stimulated my grey cells a bit, just had an idea for a proper post, must please my fans, no?

Eating ones own words

I find that I have been seduced by the discipline economics and perhaps the dismal science may be blamed for my perennially gloomy outlook on affairs. Some say it is better to be the optimist who sets out hoping the sun will shine rather than the pessimist who always takes an umbrella about on the basis that it will rain; someday. I probably fall into the latter category.

When I started this blog it was mostly to pin down my opinion on events, mostly for my own entertainment, and to reflect on these from time to time.

I have long held the view that the war could not be won militarily. My argument rested on a couple of principles; that the government would run out of money half way and that even if significant advances were made, the Tigers would scatter into a guerrilla force, which would again stretch resources to breaking point. When the Government's money eventually ran out they would return.

The battle is now all but over and the Government has emerged triumphant so my thesis is proved wrong.

I underestimated the determination of the Government. I thought MR was an incompetent duffer, the steely resolve with which he, the Defence Secretary and the Army Chief prosecuted it was something that I had had not reckoned with. As a friend said some months back, in Gotabhaya, Prabakaran met his match.

The economy, although battered proved to be more resilient than expected and even with the impact of the global crunch, the real collapse is starting only now, so we managed to squeak through. The bill will eventually need to be paid and the price will be heavy but as far as this battle is concerned it had no effect. There is also the minor matter of the social and political price, which appears trivial to the public, such things always do, until the bill is presented.