Sunday, August 25, 2013

On building Pleasure Gardens and austerity measures

The kings of old built pleasure gardens for their own use and amusement. The exact purpose they served is not certain but were probably used for hunting, games and ceremonial purposes. King Wickramabahu III was apparently the first monarch associated with gardens when he built one in 1371. Later ones followed suite.

Under the evil colonials such great traditions died out but what joy filled my heart when I read that these were to be resurrected, in the very city of the colonials. What better way to teach those foreign devils a lesson? 

More soberly, a smaller story  announced new austerity measures

We live in hard times and the yawning budget deficit has necessitated a tightening of the screws (or is it thumbscrews?)

The all-round austerity measures also include further curbing public expenditure while increasing taxes and reducing subsidies or doing both. This came as debt servicing costs rose by three per cent more than state revenue, a senior government official told the Sunday Times. If the new measures were not resorted to, the Treasury would be forced to go for more borrowings to cover government expenditure which would then lead to more debt servicing, the official added.  

Purely from an economic point of view, cutting expenditure on one side, increasing it on another side; to finance the Pleasure Garden, serves little purpose.

In economic terms all that is happening is a reallocation of resources; presumably from areas of low priority to those of greater importance.

Apart from the priorities, there are other questions that come to mind. Why is the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority doing this? It has nothing to do with its function or responsibilities. Are gardners or architects in charge of the TRC?

No, the answer is that the TRC has an increasingly scarce resouce: some spare money. Instead of contributing this towards bridging the existing deficit they instead choose to spend it on a project. Why so?

Because the spending enables the building contractor to make money. Funding the deficit will bring no joy to the rulers (although it may bring some relief to the people) but new expenditure opens new possibilities for personal enrichment and gratification.

Moreover the spending need not be restricted to the funds actually available at the TRC, the TRC can also borrow. The advatage that this offers is that such debt is not recorded as Government debt.

Thus the Government can claim that the debt to GDP ratio (a measure of the sustainability of Government debt) is declining, while actually increasing its borrowings. This is something that the rating agencies have warned about, although all the implications of this may have been missed by the public-at-large. Naturally such grim warnings are viewed as being the work of spoilsports, attempting to ruin the party, so it drew a sharp rebuke from the Central Bank.

Anyway, the path to reclaiming our ancient glory is clear, all one need do is discard the colonial mindset and assume one from some long dead king. This is evident here.

While we await the Pleasure Gardens in Colombo we can visit the one built in Mirijjawila in the Hambantota district. I have not seen it yet, would someone who has visited share a few pictures?

Friday, August 23, 2013 : an attempt to measure the contribution of MP's

Do you know what an MP does? How much does he/she contribute to parliament? Is there some way of measuring what the person you voted for is actually doing?

These are basic questions that the average citizen should ask., a website that was launched today, takes a small step towards attempting to analyse the contribution of MP's in their legislative function. It takes data from the official parliamentary record (the Hansard) and analyses it to see how often MP's have contributed to debates.

This is only a small step towards holding MP's to account but it is one in the right direction and which could be extended to include other information.

The organisation will be happy to publish the Asset Declarations of any MP who cares to submit it to them. (These may be obtained by members of the public on the payment of a fee of Rs.500/-. Citizens are encouraged to use this facility and forward the declarations to who will publish any that it obtains).

One member of the audience suggested that attendance at Parliamentary sittings be also published as there are widespread allegations that MP's only turn up in Parliament when they have nothing else to do. Parliament is sometimes adjourned for lack of a quorum.

Another audience suggestion that the cost of maintaining an MP - his salary, the costs of his staff, office, vehicles, security etc be also published. This would be extremely useful in deciding on the cost-effectiveness of MP's but the organisers said that this information was impossible to obtain.

Is this not a valid question for a member to ask? If British taxpayers know what it costs to maintain the Queen, should we not have the right to know how much our MP's cost? Why has no one asked this question? Is it that even the opposition MP's are quite happy to enjoy the luxuries that come with the job, luxuries that they would be rather uncomfortable disclosing to their constituents?

Will one bold MP dare ask this question? Or care to give an estimated figure for his own costs?

Perhaps we need legilation like the New Zealand Civil List Act which compels that this information be made public?

There was a suggestion that a blog linked to this website be started, allowing members of the public to post questions and opinions on relevant matters.

All in all a very interesting idea and one that is worth trying to develop.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fonterra, Out!

Thus spake the Lakmawa Diyaniyo, supposedly an ally of National Freedom Front (NFF). The NFF is lead by the irrepressible Wimal Weerawansa, who basically does what the rulers want done but don't want to do themselves.

It seems that Wimal Weerawansa's antics have been observed, so Hey presto! out springs another front.

The CIA coined the term Plausible Deniability to describe the withholding of information from senior officials in order to protect them from repercussions in the event that illegal or unpopular activities by the CIA became public knowledge.

In Sri Lanka we have improved on this and created Complete Deniability; where puppets who are portrayed as clowns carry out the strict orders of their masters.

The reputation for buffoonery is no accident; it is a carefully cultivated deception which enables the regime to laugh off incidents and events in public while sending a message to their victims.

Very clever indeed.

Apart from anything else, the Fonterra exercise presents an excellent opportunity to distract attention from the Welliveriya incident. This however is not the prime motive; the real target is the huge value of the business that Fonterra runs.

Getting rid of a big competitor will allow opportunity for state-owned businesses to profit; profits which can then be siphoned off. It may also present opportunities for a few cronies to set up "local" businesses to "help" local people, while gouging the consumer and lining their pockets.

In the meantime there is untold damage being done to various businesses including printing and packaging (Anchor keeps one or two of the 6-7 big printers going, not to mention the manufacturers of foil packs), advertising and media (one of their biggest customers), wholesale and retail trade (who rely on a few major products to cover their overheads). 

A few weeks ago it was Dipped Products that was pushed overboard. They may or may not have been responsible for the pollution but by allowing the crisis to explode and then looking for a quick fix was the worst of all solutions for all concerned. The problem is still unknown and far from fixed but has disrupted production and frightened customers.

A few weeks later, and with much more sinister motives, Foterra has been targeted.

The next time some idiot tells me that this Government is very business friendly is going to get thumped.

Growth? The only growth is in the Government expenditure and the egos of those who cook the statistics.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Poya joys

A clear, moonlit night is such a joy to observe. There is a stillness, a tranquility, so far removed from the hurley burley and the stresses of daily life.

Just sit back and observe; the stars twinkling, wisps of clouds being blown across the sky, the gentle, cool night time breeze.

I have been too preoccupied with politics of late; I always was but it seems to have grown ever larger. I think its the sheer ugliness of the thing that binds me, a wierd fascination of the grotesque.

I must blame Mr Lee Kuan Yew, his books transformed my thinking and led me to look at economics and politics in quite a different way. It was fascinating, sometimes entertaining but developments in the last few years have been depressing, even shocking.

It has poisoned my mind, blunted my thoughts and robbed me of spirit.

I need to spend more time gazing at the stars.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The rise of the Hitler myth and Goebbels' principles of propaganda

I came across some interesting articles on how the myth of Hitler was sustained and the principles on which Goebbels based his propaganda. Both would be of professional interest to people in marketing.

To citizens they present a useful template against which to judge what is emanating from the local media, especially after a call from the Chief of Defence Staff to the media to protect the image of the army.

For almost a decade after 1933, Hitler enjoyed a remarkable degree of popularity among the great majority of the German people. However dramatic and spectacular his political career, concentration on Hitler's character and personality – in some respects bizarre, in others downright mediocre and wholly unpleasant – can nevertheless do little to explain the magnetism of his popular appeal. Nor can his extraordinary impact on the German people in these years be accounted for satisfactorily by seeing in Hitler's personal Weltanschauung (notably in his obsessions with the 'Jewish Question' and with Lebensraum) a mirror image of the motivation of Nazism's mass following. Recent research has done much to qualify such assumptions, suggesting too that even deep into the period of the dictatorship itself Hitler's own ideological fixations had more of a symbolic than concrete meaning for most Nazi supporters. (emphasis mine).

What seems necessary, therefore, is an examination not of Hitler's personality, but of his popular image – how the German people saw their leader: the 'Hitler Myth'.(Sourced from here)
 According to the article, the principles in building the myth were:

1. Built on herioc notions of leadership, a Superman of sorts. The man who did what no other leader did before.
2.  A 'peoples leader' who embodying strength and vitality would crush internal enemies and win greatness and empire for a people 'without a living space'.
3. The extreme glorification of military values promoted the extension and partial transformation of 'heroic' leadership images.
4. After the end of the old political order, ideal leadership was envisaged as being embodied in a man from the people whose qualities would reflect struggle, conflict and the values of the trenches. Hard, ruthless, resolute, uncompromising, and radical, he would destroy the old privilege and class-ridden society and bring about a new beginning, uniting the people in an ethnically pure and socially harmonious 'national community'.
5. He embodied the triumph of true Germanic virtues – courage, manliness, integrity, loyalty, devotion to the cause – over the effete decadence, corruption, and effeminate weakness of Weimar society.
6. Portrayed the struggle of the 'little man' against society's 'big battalions', and mortal struggle against Germany's powerful internal and external enemies to assure the nation's future. (Emphasis mine)

How many bells does that list ring? Read the article in full.

Goebbels' principles of propaganda were:

  • Avoid abstract ideas - appeal to the emotions.
  • Constantly repeat just a few ideas. Use stereotyped phrases.
  • Give only one side of the argument.
  • Continuously criticize your opponents.
  • Pick out one special "enemy" for special vilification. 
Of the more detailed list the following are particularly relevant:

Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans.
    1. They must evoke responses which the audience previously possesses.
    2. They must be capable of being easily learned.
    3. They must be utilized again and again, but only in appropriate situations.
    4. They must be boomerang-proof.
  1. Propaganda to the home front must create an optimum anxiety level.
    1. Propaganda must reinforce anxiety concerning the consequences of defeat.
    2. Propaganda must diminish anxiety (other than that concerning the consequences of defeat) which is too high and cannot be reduced by people themselves.
  2. Propaganda to the home front must diminish the impact of frustration.
    1. Inevitable frustrations must be anticipated.
    2. Inevitable frustrations must be placed in perspective.
  3. Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.
  4. Propaganda cannot immediately affect strong counter-tendencies; instead it must offer some form of action or diversion, or both.
 Now who's been a Good Boy and spent many an hour pouring over and now practising the output of Papa Goebbels? Hmm hmm, telleth the Truth and shameth the Devil.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Rumours, rumours.

Heard a few rumours recently that I though were worth sharing.

The first story is a bit wild, a genuine conspiracy theory and concerns the factory at the centre of the Weliiveriya incident. The story is that they did have a treatment plant for waste but when the electricity prices went up, switched off the plant.
When talking to a few people they said that even if this were true, could this really have poisoned the water in such a large area? A lot of raw rubber factories (factories that process the latex) have treatment plants but no one seems to be quite sure how effective these are. There should therefore have been fairly widespread complaints about other fcatories if they were capable of contaminating the water in a large area, ergo the company was not the culprit. Admittedly the rubber factories are not the same as a glove manufacturer, but some chemicals used in the processing may be similar.

A more likely explanation could be that the pollution came from cesspits and sewage tanks, caused by improperly planned housing.

The real problem is that no one knows the truth and no one seems to be interested in getting to the bottom of it either. The President's grand gesture of asking the factory to relocate, to pollute some other area is hardly a solution. In fact it may only be a glib statement, to quieten the masses.
Meanwhile, the latest on the Sri Lanka Tea Board is that the cess funds, which are collected from the export of tea have been used to fund the Carlton Rugby tournament. If bailing out the Cricket Board was bad enough, if this were true, I think this is infinitely worse.

Does anyone have any further information on this?