Monday, December 26, 2005

year of shame

2005: what else can you call it. we, sri lankans as a nation should be ashamed of ourselves.


today there will be two(?, i really don't care) minute silences, ceremonies etc. at nine thirty. there will be enough politicians, religious leaders, and other 'great and the good' speechifying to make one puke. no amount of such empty pageantry and humbug will wipe out the fact that we have let the people who died (exact number of whom we do not know by a factor of thousands), or were otherwise affected by the tsunami, down. thousands upon thousands of people still live in 'temporary' shelters and camps and are fast turning in to another lot of vociferous beggars more or less permanently dependent on government and other benefactors, like the war displaced, samurdhi recipients, farmers, and public servants.

it's easy to blame this on victims themselves, by saying these people will never be satisfied with whatever is given to them and in the process have a laugh at their expense as some people do, but that would not divert the blame from those who deserve it, namely all of us, because of our tendency to put our trust in the government and not on the victims themselves.

imo (as i and others said then to anybody who cared to listen, not that what we as a bunch of outsiders say ever matters :-)) the best method to reconstruct the areas affected, and to put the people back on their feet, after the initial relief effort, is to give a substantial oneoff cash grant, to each individual and and to every business/institution (including local governments), with no strings attached, to do with it whatever they wanted. that it would be a oneoff grant and that responsibility for its usage is completely in their hand would have been emphasized to the recipients. In addition to relax whatever regulations or tariffs that will impede the reconstructions. in other words to trust the affected people and to stay the hell out of their way afterwards.

top down micromanagement

no, instead we as a nation chose to micromanage everything in keeping with prevailing socialist mindset of the citizenry. what self respecting politician would want to keep the victims at arm's length in such situation, huh?. no, from mahinda buffalo to sajith premadasa to hakeem to jvpers, all of them wanted to be seen doing somethings (if possible everything) to help the victims. only thing they competed on was on the efficiency of their methods, at heart they all followed the policy. un agencies, non governmental organizations, and everybody else who wanted to help, did the same and media praised or criticized with the same mindset at the back of their mind and never ever questioned this policy of top down micromanagement.

of course most people (even most politicians) sincerely wanted to help. only a few like the mahinda buffalo wanted to skim off the money. however all of them from government to ngos wanted to keep control of the money and how it was spent in their hands as long as possible, instead of just giving it to the victims.

underneath this was the belief that they were more clever, more qualified, and in every sense knew better than the victims what is best for the victims, than the victims themselves. this of course is the fundamental error all socialists make even when the socialists concerned do not think of themselves as socialists.

well they were wrong as always. only the victims know what is best for them, if anyone wanted to help them they should have trusted them. any other method would endup going nowhere, and the present situation of the tsunami victims illustrate this clearly as daylight, but for blind people daylight means nothing.


then there was the election. same overestimation of powers that be, either in buffalo's ability to deliver on the promises he made, or the bunkerholed one's to take revenge on everyone who disobey him, resulted in foisting of an inevitable war on us. willful stupidity in the south and spineless cowardice in the north triumphed over individual self interest. less said of this the better.

sri lankan's chronic inability to face the reality and the tendency to live in an unreal fantasy, where governments can keep a huge population in permanent dependency and where war can be won militarily(either by government or ltte) with the existing resources will soon come crashing down. sooner the better imo, that seems the only way we will ever learn to trust ourselves as individuals.


after such a crash we must ensure that the productive forces and people who have been keeping this country afloat through war and incompetence will finally be allowed to achieve their full potential.

let us not forget, that sri lanka had positive growth rates in all the years but one(2001) since independence, that we have always been the richest (in terms of gdp per capita) country with a substantial population in south asia, and the one with best social development indicators. all of this while we had war, insurgencies, and horrendously stupid governments while others in the region enjoyed peace and stable government. just think what we can do with peace and freedom.

afterall, we not only have the world's most ruthless terrorist organization that is in the bloody cutting edge in terms of military tactics that matter, we also have an army that has more or less contained it with the minimal resources available. al qaeda and americans, as everyone can observe, look pretty amateurish compared to us, even when they use bigger bombs or high technology. just one more example of what we are capable, if we put our minds to anything.

that is why we should face the reality when the crash comes, sometime in the next year or so, and in the aftermath, honestly assess our situation and allow ourselves the freedom to realize our full potential as individuals, instead of shamefully wasting years and years on deadends like we did in 2005.

we must keep that in mind as we inexorably head, past the daily crop dead bodies, towards the fall that we have created for ourselves in this year of shame.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

the season of consumption.

the festive season is on us. the great festival of consumerism, high point of our current religion and culture. one feels happy just walking the streets of colombo. malls and shops so full of people and goods. wallets and purses so full of cash. television playing mushy movies nobody ever watches. offices filled with christmas music. soon there will be lunches, dinners, parties and dances. meeting cousins and their children. giving and getting kisses and gifts. getting drunk by afternoon. feeling romantic for no reason. daydreaming about all the smart women one meets. (for some reason at this time one can develop crushes on conservative well dressed women only, gypsies, hippies and radicals will have to wait till middle of january ). feeling smug and happy after helping the less fortunate. life is good.

then there are the usual spoilsports. tigers and buffaloes mainly, but one can ignore them for the moment. then again there are the ones who rant about the increasing commercialization of christmas. what they do not get is that christmas has nothing to do with christ or religion. it has nothing to do with saturnalia or birth of mithras either, even though as catholic church admits the date was derived by it from those pagan festivals. even those festivals got the date from winter solstice. it's a curious fact (though perhaps not that curious) that all the festivals the world over falls at one of the two solstice days or on the days on which the sun goes directly above the country of origin. in fact most people would have celebrated the various festivals on the same day in ancient times. it's in the invention of calenders of various types that actually separated them. anyway even the solstice is not the main reason why we have this festival now, it is there because we need to enjoy and indulge and be happy. period.

world will be boring and poor (literally) if not for the rampant consumerism of this season. there would not be malls or or other cathedrals of new religion if not for this season.millions of people who turn out all those goods and foods from around the world will be without work. in the west retailers lose money till the saturday after the thanksgiving, called the 'black saturday' because it is on that day that the bottom line changes from red to black. anybody who inveighs against the consumerism is a hypocrite.

of course we need peace and goodwill on earth too and one can never get tired of hearing the story of birth of christ. imo that story is a miracle in itself, who but the god will invent it. only the easter service can beat the midnight christmas mass in getting one to almost believe in god. but it is always better the be honest with oneself and be aware of one's real motives.

happy holidays, christmas and a new year to every one! and do spend that money.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

free trade is good for sri lanka

why is it that some ppl still fail to grasp the logic of economic theory of comparative advantage? it is not a hard theory to understand imo and it has been around for a long time unchallenged. it explain why even when one country can produce everything cheaply than another country, both benefit by trading freely with each other.

here are two detailed and easy to understand explanations of the theory with examples.
from the economist
from wikipedia

here is an attempt at understanding why comparative advantage is hard for some ppl by economist paul krugman.

here is a free trade faq from cato institute in u.s.

in sri lanka almost everybody who writes for the newspapers, or asked to give their opinion in countless television and radio talk programs, on free trade seem to be against it. i have never seem or heard anybody even the most 'neo-liberal' of unp politicians challenge those protectionist arguments. at most they will bring forth some lame argument about how world bank/imf /wto rules or conditions require them to open up trade or how we have to follow the global trend.

nobody seems to have the courage to stand up and say free trade and globalization is in fact a boon to sri lanka, that we have gained tremendous benefits from free trade and that more we open up more we will gain.

at present the sixth ministerial conference of the world trade organization is taking place in hong kong, and same old protectionist arguments have started appearing in the usual places. a bunch of idiots have even gone to join the anti globalization protests there. this can be depressing but for the actual fact that sri lanka has been steadily liberalizing trade inspite of minor bumps since 1977. what is lacking is the intellectual foundation and popular support such a change requires in a properly functioning democracy.

that is why a socialist backed candidate like mahinda buffalo with his empty 'national economy' is still electable here.

Monday, December 12, 2005

the meditations of marcus aurelius

an empty pageant; a stage play; flocks of sheep; herds of cattle; a tussle of spearmen; a bone flung among a pack of curs; a crumb tossed in to a pond of fish; ants, loaded and laboring; mice, scared and scampering; puppets, jerking on their strings - that is life. in the midst of all you must take your stand, good-temperedly and without disdain, yet always aware that a man's worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions.
book vii; 3.
meditations of marcus aurelius
translated by maxwell staniforth

marcus aurelius was roman emperor from a.d.161 to 180 . he was the last of the so called five good emperors also called adoptive emperors bc they adopted a suitable person as their successor usually a distant relative but sometimes going outside the family altogether.
edward gibbon writing the decline and fall of roman empire said 'period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous' was the reign of those emperors.

be that as it may be, what i am writing about is the meditations or random thoughts or exercises left by marcus aurelius probably without any intention of publication. i originally read them long time ago but did not get them then, maybe i was put off by the thanksgiving passages in the first book. anyway as is my wont i did not finish it, last weekend i read the whole thing through.

it confirm to his stoic philosophy. one might describe stoicism as buddhism without any supernatural beliefs like karma. anyway it is a pure philosophy not a religion disguised as a philosophy which is what buddhism is imo.stoics thought that there was a deity/natural law/universal reason operating in the universe and that one's soul is a portion of that divinity. they emphasized the use of reason to achieve truth and a life in harmony with the universe. though i do not subscribe to this and think the whole world is essentially meaningless chaos i can certainly understand the attraction of such a system.

more so when one reads this book. one is at once stuck by the relevance of the thoughts and the clear headed intelligence of the author, respect for whom grows with each passage. in the end i decided to write a post about it.
initially i thought i should limit myself to quotations with barest of biographical notes but it seem i haven't achieved that kind of self discipline yet. :-)

remind yourself constantly of all the physicians, now dead, who used to knit their brows over their ailing patients; of all the astrologers who so solemnly predicted their clients doom; the philosophers who expatiated so endlessly on death and immortality; the great commanders who slew their thousands; the despots who wielded powers of life and death with such terrible arrogance, as if themselves were gods who could never die; whole cities which have perished completely, helice , pompeii, herculaneum, and other without number. after that recall one by one each of your own acquaintances; how one buried the another, only to be laid low himself and buried in turn by a third, all in so brief a space of time. observe in short how transient and trivial is all mortal life; yesterday a drop of semen, tomorrow a handful of spice and ashes. spend therefore, these fleeting moments on earth as nature would have you spend them, and then go to your rest with good grace, as an olive falls in its' season, with the blessing for the earth that bore it and a thanksgiving to the tree that gave it life .
book iv;48

in all your action let there be a willing promptitude, yet a regard for common interest; due deliberation, yet no irresolution; and in your sentiments no pretentious over refinement. avoid talkativeness, avoid officiousness. the god within you should preside over a being who is virile and mature, a statesman, a roman, and a ruler; one who has held his ground, like a soldier waiting for the signal to retire from th life's battlefield and ready to welcome his relief; a man whose credit need neither be sworn to by himself nor avouched by others. therein is the secret of cheerfulness, of depending on no help from without and needing to crave from no man the boon of tranquility. we have to stand upright overselves, not be set up.
book iii:5

you can download the book from project gutenberg. translation there is differant from above.

it is perhaps ironic that it is marcus aurelius who broke the tradition and named his son commodus as his successor, commodus was a disaster.
btw the old emperor played by richard harris in the film the gladiator is supposed to be marcus aurelius. the film however is a complete fantasy and has no relation to historical fact except in the flimsiest level.

Monday, December 05, 2005


yes. notwithstanding the positive spin for peace that some ppl in government and off it seem determined to put on, there is no doubt that war is on the way. though the bunkerholed megalomaniac intentionally left the time frame of his ultimatum vague, my guess is, based on the hints tna mps drop and what little i know of military logistics, late spring or early summer 2006, just 4 to 6 months away.
(on the other hand if the extremely disturbing events in the last 2 or 3 days are in fact the start of the gradual escalation of provocations expected before actual war, it may be closer than i think)

there is only one way to prevent war. that way requires mahinda buffalo to do a complete u-turn and embrace the federal state solution and to convince everyone(especially the international community) that he is sincere about that (to the point that tigers themselves believe everyone else is so convinced).

imo that is impossible, even for ppl who are more naturally gifted than buffalo and his herd.
as former u.s. ambassador to sri lanka, teresita schaffer now at center for strategic and international studies (csis) says 'key quality he will need is leadership'. the ambassador may not have intended it like that, but the fellow is sorely lacking in that department. (explanation for jhu /jvp losers: macho posturing, a buffalo speciality, is not leadership).

ltte knows this. they are expecting the government to go through its expected motions and fall for the trap they laid on november 17th.

however the government can at least avoid the most obvious baits. they should for instance not separate north and east provinces, or drop the norwegians as facilitators or aid the paramilitary groups(like karuna faction) openly.

government can also stop scoring an own goal by emphasizing that vp's speech was in fact a ultimatum by a warmonger, and not a invitation to talks, as they seem to be insisting at the moment in order to score political points in the south. they should realize that the campaign is over, now what they say is taken seriously by an audience that includes the international community.

already sri lanka monitoring mission is starting to score the goal in the wrong column: after their latest meeting with ltte its spokesperson said there was no hint of a ultimatum from the ltte. before the war starts government must make sure that the slmm puts the full blame for it on ltte as it deserves.
in a report issued on december 1st by the csis(report south asia monitor issue 89 is not in csis website yet but is available in tamilnet(pdf-1.1mb)) , ambassador schaffer notes, 'most of the speech was a carefully crafted argument about how sri lanka’s sinhalese politicians had undermined every chance for peace in the past two decades and more......his unrelenting argument about how both major sri lankan parties had failed to keep their promises offers little optimism that a breakthrough is likely.'

government must lobby hard to make such opinion making think tanks aware who the real warmongers are. they should encourage the sri lankan peace activists to speak openly as to who is driving the country to war. can it, after all they did to criticize such ppl during the campaign?

military front

all that is in the diplomatic front, in the military front too government should start to prepare for the unavoidable.

first , they should realize that the war cannot be won militarily with the current resources of the country. realistically ltte can only be undermined and/or defeated during peace. so primary goal of the war should be to get the ltte to talk peace again.

second, given the limited resources, government will have to abandon some territories in order to release troops and other assets, to make more effective use of them in other areas.
for instance, jaffna town is probably useless militarily and ties down huge number of troops in an area that can not be easily supplied. so it is more logical to limit the troops in jaffna peninsula to the defensible camps with no civilians inside, and concentrate on the east (which can probably be cleared of ltte with the help of karuna faction) and probably on a slow steady push northward from vavuniya.
question is whether buffalo has the stomach for that kind of sacrifice. is he willing to see his standing with the fools in south go down in the interest of the country?

government should decide on these questions now and not wait till war starts, bc it inevitably will.