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Heard at the club

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A club member who was a planter in the Morawak Korale, came all the way to Galle to consult a doctor friend. The doctor examined his friend thoroughly and prescribed some medicine and asked him to come back in two weeks to see if treatment was to be continued. Two weeks passed and since his planter friend did not turn up, the doctor wrote to him asking him to come at once. But the planter did not come. Concern for his friend took the doctor to the man’s estate one Sunday morning, where he found the planter, quite hale and hearty, playing soft-ball cricket with his children.

“Hello there, doctor,” cried the planter cheerily. “Your second prescription did me a world of good! I’m now as fit as a fiddle!”

“What second prescription?” asked the astonished doctor.

“Why the one you sent by post.”

“You damn idiot, that was no prescription! That was a letter I sent asking you not to fool around with your ailment, and to come and see me at once!”

“WHAT?” yelled the planter. “What the hell man, I thought it was a prescription. No one can read your damn handwriting, and took it to the chemist and he gave me some capsules and a mixture which cured me completely!”

A dog had been run over, and the carcass was lying for hours beside the road. A public spirited citizen saw it and promptly rang up the scavenging section of the Municipality and informed them about it. “I say, mister,” said the official at the other end in an irritated tone, “Why are you bothering us over a little thing like this? Can’t you get somebody to bury the damn dog?” “I certainly can,” replied the caller coldly, “but I thought I should first inform its next of kin.

***

A garage foreman was the plaintiff in a land case, and after several calling dates, his lawyer told him one day that the trial would be on the 20th of that month. Come the 20th, the foreman did not turn up in the Courts. A few days later he dropped in casually at his lawyer’s office, and that worthy angrily asked the man why he had not turned up on the trial date. “Sir, what is the use of my coming on a “trial” date? And, I thought of coming on the actual date,” answered the foreman.

***

One day a little boy came home from school and asked his father in a puzzled tone. Thaththi, what is Aandu Pakshaya? And the father replied. “Putha, Aandu Pakshaya is the Government. And the little boy asked “What is Government?” And the father replied “Putha, it is something like me. Thaaththi rules the whole house and the whole family.”

“What is Viruddha Pakshaya Thaaththi?” asked the little one.

“The Opposition. That’s your mother. Whatever I say or do, she’s against it.”

“What’s a Trade Union, Thaththi?

“That’s like your akka and aiya. Whatever I give them they are not satisfied. They always want more. Their demands are never ending.”

“Thaththi, then what am I?

“You are the Mahajanaya – the public. No one takes you seriously and when we are in the mood to cuff you and kick you, you have to take it. Of course, you are permitted to cry and yell, but not too loudly.”

***

Nearly three decades ago, a chap, then a clerk at the Examination Department, Colombo, was always pressed for money, and one day, when a wealthy mudalali approached him through a peon in the office to conduct a ‘small transaction’, he eagerly went out to meet the man. All the mudalali wanted was a little help from the mahattaya to see that his son got through the exam (Senior Schools Certificate, the forerunner of today’s G.C.E. O/Level) at the first shy. “If the mahattaya can manipulate the marks. I am willing to see to your trouble,” the mudalali said.

Knowing it was an impossible thing to do, the clerk recklessly agreed. He named a big figure, and the mudalali promptly took out a fat wallet and paid him half, the balance he promised when the job was successfully accomplished. Those days it took months for the results to be released, and the impecunious clerk forgot about the whole thing. Until one Sunday morning he was alarmed to see the mudalali’s huge limousine turning in at the gate of his boarding house. He was about to rush into the house, when the mudalali spotted him and waved gaily.

“Beaming, the mudalali got off his car and told the astonished clerk:” Hari, mahattaya, wadey hariyata hari! Everything worked out very satisfactorily. Thank you, mahattaya, thank you very much. I’ll never forget it!”

“Oh, it was nothing, mudalali,” smirked the clerk who had now recovered from his initial shock.

“No, no, mahattaya don’t say that,” said the happy father, taking out his wallet and paying the balance.

“Mahattaya,

I’ve brought you a bonus also.” The mudalali went to his car and returned with two bottles of whisky!”

***

One day, an old villager on his first visit to Colombo, walked into a multi-storey building and saw a lift in action. He watched as an old lady got into the lift and went up. The lift returned a few moments later, and to the villager’s astonishment, a beautiful young girl stepped out. Running to the post office, the old man sent an urgent telegram to his wife. “Come immediately if you want to be transformed into a young girl.

***

Watching Jimmy Carter on television a few days ago, I was reminded of an old story. When he was President of the United States, we had a sort of slogan at our local club. A member would walk in and tell our bartender, “Give me a President bite!” And promptly the bartender would pour him a double arrack (a ‘carter’) and give a plate of ‘rata-cadju’ (peanuts). (Jimmy Carter was in the peanut trade).

***

A friend of mine who is very fond of the bottle was given a lift one day by a business tycoon. This businessman was well-known for his great and impressive acts of charity and for his devotion to religion as well as his services to it. On the way, the tycoon, who was quite familiar with my friend and his ways, castigated him severely for his intemperate habit, telling him it was sinful, harmful, and senseless and holding himself up as a man who practised moderation in everything except religion.

“Where religion is concerned,” bragged the businessman. “I go the whole hog. I observe the Five Precepts to the letter. I give freely to religious and charitable causes. Yes, I practise selflessness,” and so on and so forth.

About fifty miles from Colombo, the tycoon told his driver. “Martin, you must be tired; let me take the wheel.” The tycoon had driven only a few miles going quite fast, when taking a corner, he hit a pedestrian, injuring the man fatally. “Quick, quick, take my place,” said the agitated and very frightened tycoon to his driver. A huge crowd had gathered by now, and a policeman made his way through to the spot. The cyclist had succumbed to his injuries and after a few preliminaries, the policeman asked the tycoon, his driver, and my friend to accompany him to the police station and make their statements.

On the way, the tycoon whispered to his driver, “Now, remember, Martin; you were driving!” He then turned to my friend and whispered, “And you too, don’t forget to tell the same story, that Martin was driving. “You bloody rogue,” shouted my friend who was quite “high” (he always carried a bottle with him on ‘long trips’) “You and your bloody religiousness. True, I drink, and drink heavily but that’s about all I do wrong. But you, you bloody rascal, you are willing to put this innocent driver of yours in serious trouble to save your own filthy skin. No…Chih! You are a contemptible swine, and I’ll be damned if I make a false statement implicating this poor fellow.

I shall tell exactly what took place, you sanctimonious hypocrite!” And my friend, who told me this story, added that to his dying day he would never forget the look of gratitude and relief that the driver, a married man with two children, gave him.”

***

An executive attended an office party. It was such a jolly one, that he completely lost track of the passage of time. When midnight struck, he gave a start of surprise and dismay, and told his hosts he had to go. Two female stenos asked him for a lift, and the three of them got in the car. He dropped the girls at their homes, and when he reached his own house, his irate wife came up to the car and angrily asked him what kept him so long. To avoid a lot of explaining, he decided to tell a white lie to his wife. “I’m sorry, dear, there was a miss in the car and that’s what delayed me.” “A miss in the car, eh?” screeched his wife. “And I suppose that’s the s…’s handbag in the rear seat!”

***

A member was married to a caring, hard-working housewife. They had three children. The man was a dedicated clubman, and went to the club every evening. And every evening, as he dressed to go to the club, his wife would turn nasty. Despite having three children, she prided herself on her youthful good looks, and as he left the house, the man would retaliate by shouting out, for the whole neighbourhood to hear, “Goodnight, mother of three!” She stood this for several days, and one day, when he said this, she called out loudly: “And, a goodnight to you too – father of one?” He stayed home every evening thereafter.

***

A few years ago, when the picturesque inlet at Closenburg, Galle, was a favourite retreat of foreign tourists for sea-bathing and surfing, a German tourist decided to have a dip in the sea. Placing his clothes, wallet and wristwatch carefully on a rock he got into the water. As he was romping among the waves, he suddenly noticed a suspicious looking local standing where his clothes were. He came out of the water, and questioned the man. The man stood his ground, pointing out in broken English, that, as a free-born citizen of Sri Lanka, he could stand wherever he wanted on public property.

At this the foreigner began berating the man. Guessing that the German was using obscenities, the man decided to give him in kind. “You!” he said, pointing his forefinger at the German. “You, one mother, two, three, four, five, fathers!” That was his English version of “a son of a whore”.

***

A club member was thoroughly drunk one day. Then he staggered to his car, to go home. After a few minutes, the members heard his outraged cry that the steering wheel was missing.

Some of his friends came out and solicitously helped him out of the rear seat to the driving seat, but he was not allowed to drive.

***

Sam was a popular club man. And, when he walked into the club one evening, his friends who had heard the dreadful news, gathered round him sympathetically. “We heard that your wife left you, Sam,” they said unhappily. “So, let us help you drown your sorrow.” “Sorrow?” grinned Sam. “Boys, there is no sorrow to drown!”



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Why Small Farms will be the backbone of food security

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The ecological axiom that: ‘Energy flow through a system tends to organise and simplify that system’, is abundantly clear in agriculture. As farms moved from small interdependent units, bounded by fences and hedgerows, to large cropping fields to accommodate machine management, we lose the biodiversity that once existed on that landscape and the biomass that provided the Ecosystem Services. This sacrifice was rationalised through the invocation of economic profit. The economic ‘profit’ gained by subsidies on fossil fuel and uncontrolled extraction from the Global Commons. The ‘development’ of agriculture has become a race to control the commodity market. The farmer ceased to be a feature of the farm. In a telling statement, the farmers of Sri Lanka sent the following statement to the CGIAR in 1998 :

‘We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition, we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide- related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.’

The diverse farm had to yield to production monoculture, which was made possible through the burning of fossil fuels. Ironically the burning of fossil fuels is the major reason for the current destabilised climate and threat to agriculture. One consequence of climate change is the predicted rise in global temperatures. If ambient temperatures exceed 40 degrees , which has become the reality in many places even today, food production will be compromised. All the food we eat originates with plants and plants produce using photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, or the capture of solar energy by plants, is done with chlorophyll, the thing that makes plants green and chlorophyll begins to break down after 40 degrees. Landscapes whose summer temperatures go beyond this limit will have smaller and smaller crops as the temperatures increase. The only solution to this oncoming crisis, is to begin introducing trees at strategic points on the landscape.

Trees and all other forms of vegetation cool the environment around them through the transpiration process, which takes place in the leaves. The water absorbed by the roots is sent up to the leaves which release it as vapor, cooling the air around it. Measurements on trees done by research institutions worldwide, indicate that an average large tree produces the cooling equivalent of eight room sized air conditioners running for 10 hours, a cooling yield 0f 1,250,000 Bthu per day. Plantations of trees have been recoded to have daytime temperatures at least 3 degrees below the ambient. This is an important aspect of Ecosystem Services that needs to be considered for adaptive agriculture.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realise the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer facing the headlights.

But placing trees in and around cropping areas becomes a problem in large cropping fields designed to accommodate machine management. The management of such trees and hedgerows requires needs that cannot be provided without human management. Agricultural landscapes will need management that will be adaptive to the changing climate. An example would be; small interdependent units bounded by fences and that increase biodiversity and the biomass while providing Ecosystem Services.

Investment in food security, should take climate change seriously. All new agricultural projects should address the heat thresholds of the planned crops. The Sri Lankan country statement at COP 21 stated that :

“We are aware that the optimum operating temperature of chlorophyll is at 37 deg C. In a warming world where temperatures will soar well above that, food production will be severely impacted.”

And that :

“We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as; production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognised.”

These statements cry out for the recognition of the role that small farms will have to play in the future. In a temperature compromised future, small farms with high standing biomass, through their cooler temperatures will continue to produce food in heat stressed periods. If such Ecosystem Services can be given a value, it will strengthen the economy of small farms and ensure local, sustainable food production into the future.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realize the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer in sheadlights.

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Encouraging signs, indeed!

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Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community

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by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”

INTERNAL FRAGMENTATION

The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.

EARLY WARNING

An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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