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A Zoo – the latest craze and other miseries

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Cassandra scrabbles around for mishaps and mistakes, of the Mighty of course, for her Friday Cry and ruminates like a true female bovine for scraps of gossip starting Sunday. Strangely this Sunday she fished out nothing. There was much about Pandora and the papers that flew out of the box of investigative journos, but Cass decided not to touch these, too hot and far too close to a pretend royal family for an unprotected woman to look into, least of all, comment on. Then viola! Serendipity! Ooh la la! The editor of The Island, on Monday, October 18, inadvertently threw a morsel in her way: “A move to set up a zoo on a 72-acre land (in Piliyandala)…” And who pray is the Zoo Enthusiast, cruel to animals, behind it? Minister of Power, Gamini Lokuge who, the Ed implies, fits into Bob Hope’s definition of senile: “when candles cost more than the birthday cake,” and Cassandra says outright: Should have retired to anonymity, more probably ignominy, many years ago. Wasn’t this minister the one that defied COVID-19 restrictions and wanted open sesame for his electorate to go where they pleased, as they liked, when the entirety of Sri Lanka was locked down? Resembles another costly candle buyer, ex-tuition master, Bandula Goonewardena, who wanted a cricket stadium built in Piliyandala or thereabouts notwithstanding the many Colombo boasts of, and Moratuwa too.

These Ministers of the government who come up with these ‘brilliant’, read absolutely haywire but personal money making or vote catching, projects should have their heads examined. Free Sri Lanka is on its knees or on its last legs economically so how would it spend on such completely unnecessary projects. The land in Piliyandala was earmarked for a veterinary hospital and factory to turn out food for existing zoos. No, the ‘Big House’ man decided to imprison animals and not cure them. Cass suggests we set environment protector Devani on Lokuge. She will crush the bod using only her knowledge of nature matters, experience as ecosystem protector, womanly wisdom and of course, her sharp, unafraid tongue.

We are sick of these crazy ideas. More seriously, the country is damaged irreparably by these VIP-dreamed-up projects. Cynics say it is to harvest commissions. Surely you don’t send the country down the ‘pallam’ of destruction to enrich yourself? That is idealistic Cass speaking. The realistic Crier of Doom realises that the most important matter of the hour is stashing away pilfered lucre. And there are ways, means and facilitators for this as exposed in the Pandora Papers. The truth however is that now, persons will sell their mothers, their very motherland, to enrich themselves further. They impoverish an already economically challenged country, aggravate the poverty of most, so that 50 percent of the population is ill-fed and half of them malnourished to the extreme.

We, at first, freely allocated forest land for many insane projects; given away by mere word of mouth, however presidential, treating askance written orders. So we saw forest cover, of massive soaring trees, reduced to corn plants. The latest trend is to give away forest land to grow aloe vera. My heavens! Can’t this resilient plant be grown interspaced with trees in other plantations? Can one bear to cut down a tree for this insignificant plant? It is a money-plant though.

Next came the overnight banning of inorganic fertilisers, insecticides, weedicides; then delay in obtaining COVID-19 vaccines while power was consolidated and dual citizens legally brought to the country as saviours. Next followed the rape of Wewa bunds to lay jogging paths for non-est joggers. Billions were also earmarked for beautification of certain cities. OK with excess money obtainable. But aney appé not when the Treasury is drained of cash and SL cannot pay its debts, though, of course, the Governor of the Central Bank (CB) says we are on cloud nine money wise. Ex-Prez M Sirisena tots up billions that were sent in cheques from the Treasury in 2000-something and again on January 7, 2015, just the day prior to the presidential election that saw him through. He asks where the money was sent on a day business was not carried out. It was supposed to be for a huge project to divert the Nilwala Ganga and another to Hambantota. Not a tiny stream has been diverted nor even a start made. Money transferred though.

Now it’s zoos to be built. The Ed had a super solution to this latest craze. Yes, build the zoo with its protective boundaries that converts it to an open prison, but save the beasts and others of the wild and make the politico animals, who commit crimes against humanity, the inmates of the posh new Zoo in Piliyandala; named Lokuge Udyanaya or have again the R name one sees all over the island, except in the North.

Statements, not quite quotes

The President, at an army ceremony with much pomp and pageantry, apologised, or at least said, he had been unable to fully implement promises made to the people. We appreciate this admission. He does not seem to see reasons. Shall Cass dare point them out? To her it’s the false prophets, unwise advisers and the Cabinet who have caused him to be ineffective in the keeping of promises he made which won our votes. The Cabinet, different names given by different persons to most of them, knows only how to shake heads in the correct direction to say yes to the Prez and of course PM, and shake heads horizontally if the answer required is nay. Have we Ordinaries ever heard a Cabinet Minister asking an in-depth, contradicting question from either of the royals or shown the slightest disapproval of their proposals? Most are uneducated boors. So Prez, out with most of them and nominate pragmatic intellectuals in, women included; never mind if they are not lotus buds.

The Governor of the CB says that we can manage even if GSP+ concessions are not granted us. The visiting EU team’s negative opinion of this fair isle gone rotten will be no surprise judging by what a State Minister did while they were right here investigating the human rights status quo. The Minister goes marching into one prison, inebriated it was said, accompanied by a shorts-clad ‘beauty’ and played with the hangman’s rope disregarding the imprisoned inmates. To the other he barges in, not in a playful mood but revengefully and threatens Tamil prisoners with his gun to their heads. No reprimand; no punishment at all for this pohottuwa. And thus, no GSP in all probability. The Governor of CB suffers not, neither does the karachchal Minister, but our garment and fisheries exporters will, very significantly, losses passed onto the near-slaving factory and fisheries workers.

Minister Aluthgamage continues to be hit, trod on, spat at, red paint splashed and burnt. Oops sorry! Minister A’s effigy is subject to these crescendoing indignities. Cass spied another’s effigy being paraded by farmers somewhere. No burning of it; or no TV cameras captured it. These farmers are desperate and their cry for inorganic fertilizers should be respected and attended to immediately.

Teachers, and shockingly principals, striking and marching is not tolerable. They are crushing the dignity of pedagogues or pedagogy and seem to be dementedly following vituperative, hate scattering Stalin, their leader, who gives Cass the impression this mass strike is really a personal vendetta. Those who are supposed to mould totally balanced personalities out of the students in their charge, are behaving worse than jackals. What can salary increases be paid with? The situation is as basic as that.

And so the caravan of leaders moves on; the river of tumult flows; the sea of discontent rises and serendipitous Lanka is changed almost wilfully to a miserable place of high costs and low living.



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Breathtaking new paintings found at ancient city of Pompeii

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The frescoes depict Greek mythology: Paris kidnaps Helen which triggers the Trojan War (BBC)

Stunning artworks have been uncovered in a new excavation at Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried in an eruption from Mount Vesuvius in AD79.

Archaeologists say the frescoes are among the finest to be found in the ruins of the ancient site.

Mythical Greek figures such as Helen of Troy are depicted on the high black walls of a large banqueting hall.

The room’s near-complete mosaic floor incorporates more than a million individual white tiles.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe The Black Room

The black room has only emerged in the last few weeks. Its white mosaic floor is almost complete (BBC)

A third of the lost city has still to be cleared of volcanic debris. The current dig, the biggest in a generation, is underlining Pompeii’s position as the world’s premier window on the people and culture of the Roman empire.

Park director Dr Gabriel Zuchtriegel presented the “black room” exclusively to the BBC on Thursday.

It was likely the walls’ stark colour was chosen to hide the smoke deposits from lamps used during entertaining after sunset. “In the shimmering light, the paintings would have almost come to life,” he said.

Two set-piece frescoes dominate. In one, the god Apollo is seen trying to seduce the priestess Cassandra. Her rejection of him, according to legend, resulted in her prophecies being ignored.The tragic consequence is told in the second painting, in which Prince Paris meets the beautiful Helen – a union Cassandra knows will doom them all in the resulting Trojan War.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe One of the "black room" frescos discovered in Pompeii, showing Apollo trying to seduce the priestess Cassandra

The god Apollo is depicted on one of the frescos trying to seduce the Trojan priestess Cassandra (BBC)

The black room is the latest treasure to emerge from the excavation, which started 12 months ago – an investigation that will feature in a documentary series from the BBC and Lion TV to be broadcast later in April.

A wide residential and commercial block, known as “Region 9”, is being cleared of several metres of overlying pumice and ash thrown out by Vesuvius almost 2,000 years ago.

Staff are having to move quickly to protect new finds, removing what they can to a storeroom.

For the frescoes that must stay in position, a plaster glue is injected to their rear to prevent them coming away from the walls. Masonry is being shored up with scaffolding and temporary roofing is going over the top.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Fresco protection

A plaster glue must be injected behind a fresco or it is likely to come away from the wall (BBC)

Chief restorer Dr Roberta Prisco spent Tuesday this week trying to stop an arch from collapsing. “The responsibility is enormous; look at me,” she said, as if to suggest the stress was taking a visible toll on her. “We have a passion and a deep love for what we’re doing, because what we’re uncovering and protecting is for the joy also of the generations that come after us.”

BBC Map showing excavations in Pompeii

Region 9 has thrown up a detective story for archaeologists.

Excavations in the late 19th Century uncovered a laundry in one corner. The latest work has now revealed a wholesale bakery next door, as well as the grand residence with its black room.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Reception Hall

In the reception hall, rubble in the far right corner is from renovation at the time of the eruption (BBC)

The team is confident the three areas can be connected, physically via the plumbing and by particular passageways, but also in terms of their ownership.

The identity of this individual is hinted at in numerous inscriptions with the initials “ARV”. The letters appear on walls and even on the bakery’s millstones.

Dr Sophie Hay explained how a rich politician left his mark on the buildings

“We know who ARV is: he’s Aulus Rustius Verus,” explained park archaeologist Dr Sophie Hay. “We know him from other political propaganda in Pompeii. He’s a politician. He’s super-rich. We think he may be the one who owns the posh house behind the bakery and the laundry.” What’s clear, however, is that all the properties were undergoing renovation at the time of the eruption. Escaping workers left roof tiles neatly stacked; their pots of lime mortar are still filled, waiting to be used; their trowels and pickaxes remain, although the wooden handles have long since rotted away.

Dr Lia Trapani catalogues everything from the dig. She reaches for one of the thousand or more boxes of artefacts in her storeroom and pulls out a squat, turquoise cone. “It’s the lead weight from a plumb line.” Just like today’s builders, the Roman workers would have used it to align vertical surfaces.

She holds the cone between her fingers: “If you look closely you can see a little piece of Roman string is still attached.”

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Plumb line

It’s possible to see a remnant piece of string around the neck of the plumb line (BBC)

Dr Alessandro Russo has been the other co-lead archaeologist on the dig. He wants to show us a ceiling fresco recovered from one room. Smashed during the eruption, its recovered pieces have been laid out, jigsaw-style, on a large table.

He’s sprayed the chunks of plaster with a mist of water, which makes the detail and vivid colours jump out.

You can see landscapes with Egyptian characters; foods and flowers; and some imposing theatrical masks.

“This is my favourite discovery in this excavation because it is complex and rare. It is high-quality for a high-status individual,” he explained.

BBC/Jonathan Amos Ceiling fresco

The archaeologists have had to piece together a ceiling fresco that was shattered during the volcanic eruption (BBC)

But if the grand property’s ceiling fresco can be described as exquisite, some of what’s being learned about the bakery speaks to an altogether more brutal aspect of Roman life – slavery.

It’s obvious the people who worked in the business were kept locked away in appalling conditions, living side by side with the donkeys that turned the millstones. It seems there was one window and it had iron bars to prevent escape.

It’s in the bakery also that the only skeletons from the dig have been discovered. Two adults and a child were crushed by falling stones. The suggestion is they may have been slaves who were trapped and could not flee the eruption. But it’s guesswork.

“When we excavate, we wonder what we’re looking at,” explained co-lead archaeologist Dr Gennaro Iovino.

“Much like a theatre stage, you have the scenery, the backdrop, and the culprit, which is Mount Vesuvius. The archaeologist has to be good at filling in the gaps – telling the story of the missing cast, the families and children, the people who are not there anymore.”

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Mosaic floor
There are certainly more than a million tiles in the mosaic floor, possibly up to three million (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe Roman lamp
Boxes full of artefacts: One of the many oil lamps recovered during the excavation (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe Fresco showing Leda and the Swan
Another fresco depicts Leda and Zeus in the form of a swan, whose union would lead to Helen’s birth (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe A piece of moulded cornicing painted in bright colours
Brilliant colours: Ornate cornicing was also preserved under the volcanic debris (BBC)
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Democracy continuing to be derailed in South Asia

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A scene from Sri Lanka’s ‘Aragalaya’ of 2022.

Sections of progressive opinion in Sri Lanka are currently commemorating the second anniversary of the country’s epochal ‘Aragalaya’, which brought down the dictatorial and racist Gotabhaya Rajapaksa regime. April 9th 2022 needs to be remembered especially as the date on which Sri Lankans in their tens of thousands, irrespective of ethnic, religious and language differences rose as one to impress on the country’s political class and rulers that their fundamental rights cannot be compromised or tampered with for whatever reason and that these rights should be realized henceforth.

During the ‘Aragalaya’, Sri Lanka attained nationhood, since the totality of the country’s social groups, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, spoke out for equity and equality among them, from the same platform. Thus was Sri Lankan nationhood born, which is quite different from statehood. It is left to progressives to ensure that Sri Lankan nationhood, thus born out of the ‘Aragalaya’, does not prove to be stillborn.

To express it briefly, political ‘Independence’ or statehood is believed by most Sri Lankans to have been attained in 1948 but this is not tantamount to achieving nationhood. The latter is realized when equity and equality are established among a country’s communities.

Of course, we are a long way from achieving these aims but the historic significance of the ‘Aragalaya’ consists in the fact that the ideals central to nationhood were articulated assertively and collectively in Sri Lanka as never before. The opinion climate conducive to nation-building, it could be said, was created by the ‘Aragalaya’.

It is left to the progressives of Sri Lanka to forge ahead with the process of realizing the ideals and central aims of the ‘Aragalaya’, without resorting to violence and allied undemocratic approaches, which are really not necessary to bring about genuine democratic development.

The ‘Aragalaya’ was a historic ‘wake-up’ call to the country’s political elite in particular, which, over the years could be said to have been engaged more in power aggrandizement, rather than nation-building, which is integral to democratic development. Given this bleak backdrop, it amounts to a huge joke for any prominent member of the country’s ruling class to make out that he has been ‘presiding over the only country in Asia where democracy is completely safeguarded.’

To begin with, a huge question mark looms over Sri Lanka’s true constitutional identity. It is not a fully-fledged parliamentary democracy in view of the substantive and sweeping powers wielded by the Executive Presidency and this issue has been discussed exhaustively in this country.

On the other hand, Sri Lanka is not free of strong theocratic tendencies either because there is no clear ‘separation wall’, so to speak, between religion and politics. The fact is that Sri Lanka’s rulers are constitutionally obliged to defer to the opinion of religious leaders. Therefore, Sri Lanka lacks a secular foundation to its political system. This columnist is inclined to the view that in terms of constitutional identity, Sri Lanka is ‘neither fish, flesh nor fowl.’

Moreover, the postponement of local and Provincial Council polls in Sri Lanka by governments alone proves that what one has in Sri Lanka is at best a ‘façade democracy’.

derailing democracy in Sri Lanka goes Religious and ethnic identities in particular continue to be exploited and manipulated by power aspirants and political entrepreneurs to the huge detriment of the countries concerned.

Needless to say, such factors are coming into play in the lead-up to India’s Lok Sabha polls. They are prominent in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as well. Statesmanship is a crying need in these societies but nurturing such leaders into existence will prove a prolonged, long term project, which also requires the interplay of a number of vital factors, many of which are not present to the desired degree in the countries concerned.

However, of the ‘South Asian Eight’, India is by far the most advanced democracy. It has a Constitution that explicitly enshrines the cardinal rights of the people, for example, including the very vital Right to Life. Such a right is non-existent in the Sri Lankan Constitution, for instance, and this is a huge drawback from the viewpoint of democratic development. Among other things, what this means is that the Sri Lankan state exercises substantive coercive power over its citizens.

On the other hand, the Indian Supreme Court has time and again creatively interpreted the Right to Life, so much so life-threatening conditions faced by Indian citizens, for instance, have been eliminated through the caring and timely intervention of the country’s judiciary. Sri Lanka needs to think on these things if it intends to entrench democratic development in the country. Thus far, the country’s track record on this score leaves much to be desired.

A predominant challenge facing progressives of South Asia, such as the ‘Aragalaists’ of Sri Lanka, is how to forge ahead with the task of keeping democratization of the state on track. A negative lesson in this connection could be taken from Bangladesh where the ideals of the 1971 liberation war under Shiekh Mujibhur Rahman were eroded by subsequent regimes which exploited divisive religious sentiments to come to power. In the process, religious minorities came to be harassed, persecuted and savaged by extremists in the centre.

Whereas, the founding fathers of Bangladesh had aimed to create a secular socialist state, this was not allowed to come to pass by some governments which came to power after the Sheikh, which sought to convert Bangladesh into a theocracy. A harrowing account of how the ideals of 1971 came to be betrayed is graphically provided in the international best seller, ‘Lajja’ by Taslima Nasrin, the exiled human and women’s right activist of Bangladesh.

At page 60 of the 20th anniversary edition of ‘Lajja’, published by Penguin Books, Nasrin quotes some persons in authority in Bangladesh as telling the country’s Hindus during the religious riots of 1979; ‘The government has declared that Islam is the state religion. If you want to stay in an Islamic country all of you must become Muslims. If you don’t become Muslims you will have to run away from this country.’

Not all the post-liberation governments of Bangladesh have turned against the ideals of 1971 and the present government is certainly not to be counted as one such administration. But the lesson to be derived from Bangladesh is that unless progressive opinion in a secular democracy is eternally vigilant and proactively involved in advancing democratic development, a country aiming to tread the path of secularism and democracy could easily be preyed upon by the forces of religious extremism.

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Homemade…to beat the heat

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With lots of holidays cropping up, we are going to be on the move. Ok, that’s fine, but what about the scorching heat! With temperatures soaring sky high, skin issues are bound to surface.

Well, here are some beauty tips that will give your skin some relief:

Aloe Vera: Apply fresh aloe vera gel to the skin. It helps to soothe and heal sunburn. Aloe vera contains zinc, which is actually anti-inflammatory.

Papaya: Papaya pulp can be applied on the skin like a mask, washing it off after 20 minutes. Papaya contains enzymes and helps to remove dead skin cells. Add curd or lemon juice to the pulp to remove tan. Fruits like banana, apple, papaya and orange can be mixed together and applied on the face. Keep it on for 20 to 30 minutes. Papaya helps to cleanse dead skin cells. Banana tightens the skin. Apple contains pectin and also tones the skin. Orange is rich in Vitamin C. It restores the normal acid-alkaline balance.

 Lemon Juice: Lemon is a wonderful home remedy for sun tan because of its bleaching properties. You can apply lemon juice by mixing it with honey on the tanned skin and leave it for 10 to 15 minutes before washing it off .

Coconut Water and Sandalwood Pack: Sandalwood has great cleansing properties, whereas, coconut water is widely known for a glowing skin. Mix coconut water with one tablespoon of sandalwood powder to make a thick mixture and apply it all over the face. Wash it off after 20 minutes. This is a perfect cure for tanned skin.

Cucumber, Rose Water and Lemon Juice:The cucumber juice and rose water work as a cooling means for soothing the brown and red-spotted skin. To use these effectively, take one tablespoon of cucumber juice, lemon juice, and rose water and stir it well in a bowl. Use this solution on all over the face and wash it off with cold water after 10 minutes. This helps to turn your skin hale and healthy.

Milk Masks: Yes, milk masks do give glowing effect to tired skin. Just apply milk mixed with glycerin all over the face. Relax for 15 minutes and rinse with water. The treatment softens, rejuvenates and restores a natural PH balance, thus protecting the skin from the negative effects of the sun. You can also take half cup of milk and add a pinch of turmeric in it. Apply the mixture on your face and wait till it gets dry. Use this solution on a daily basis for exceptional results.

(Yes, time to take care of your skin and beat the heat!)

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