by Kumar David
You will remember that before religion took centre stage people whispered that phenomena they could not explain were the influence of dark forces and evil spirits. These mysterious goblins were hidden in a nether metauniverse, a multiverse of dark energy and dark matter. Religion came along and Christianity and Islam substituted God for the good and the devil (Lucifer, hell) for the dark side. The latter derived power from dark energy, a manifestation of poltergeist like dark matter. If you take astrophysicists at their word it seems we have made little progress in the last 5,000 years. Ok, ok this is tongue-in-cheek; some of my best friends are outstanding physicists, but let’s take the micky out of these clever people just for fun this corona dampened festive season. But first everyone: Season’s Greetings and take good care of your Health.
Today’s column is for simple folk not nerds and buffs, but I need to introduce what PhD, FRS, ABCDEF astrophysicists say about the uncertainties at the forefront of their trade. In the spectrum from learned papers to magazine articles, videos and popular TV shows the refrain is the same: “We don’t have answers to the two biggest mysteries”. The two crucial concepts about which they frankly declare themselves clueless have names reminiscent of medieval witchcraft; ‘dark matter’ (DM) and ‘dark energy’ (DE). Surely these great men of science were awake to the esoteric associations when they zeroed in on these labels.
Dark Matter (DM)
The way cosmologists say it, the stuff we see and all the world’s optical and radio telescopes explore in the night sky make up less than 5% of the matter and energy in the universe. All the visible stars and galaxies to the outer bounds of the universe 13.7 billion light years away make up less than one-twentieth of the universe. What the devil is the rest? “We don’t know!” they declare. That’s not the worst, most of them also say science intrinsically will never be able find out! It’s a fine how-do-you-do isn’t it when genius science tells you “The truth is unknowable”! I am not in the field but my innate sense of scientific epistemology is averse to this.
Two precise observations have brought cosmology to the conclusion that DM exists. When one examines the structure of a galaxy (Milky Way, Andromeda, billions more) and takes account of the visible mass each contains, no way can the galaxy not swirl apart. The visible mass is too small to hold its spiral arms in place. Galaxies should display a tendency to fly apart like whirling stones at the end of a broken string because there is not enough gravity to bind it together in perpetuity, but the spiral arms are in no great hurry to do so. A great deal more gravity than is visible is needed to explain why galaxies don’t spin apart. Cosmology has no idea where the extra gravity needed to hold things in place comes from, so by reductio ad absurdum it must be an unobservable poltergeist – call it dark matter.
The second reason is the behaviour of light reaching us from a galaxy faraway in the universe. General Relativity (GR) says that light bends as it passes massive objects, so light from this galaxy will be bent a bit if it passes close to an intermediate galaxy or a massive black hole en route. Light rays passing around all sides of the intermediate galaxy are bent inwards, therefore an earthly observer will see a ring of light termed an Einstein Ring. So far so good. But voila, the observed rings are much bigger than they should be; light is bent more than it should be. The intermediate galaxy seems to contain greater mass than it should from considerations of its visible size. A huge amount of DM entwined within the galaxy is declared to be the culprit.
In ancient days the boom-and-flash of lightning was declared to be the grind of thunderbolts flung by Zeus; in medieval times women were burnt at the stake as witches if they bore an “evil sign”; hence gods and devils. Today DM is convicted for want of a discernible culprit. The analogy goes deeper. DM has never been detected though it is said to penetrate all space and go through everything even your bones and body. It is deemed omnipresent but no lab has detected or isolated it. What is it made of, electrons, protons, leptons, muons or what type of elementary particles? No clue. Humans have yet to overcome the custom of calling anything not yet explained God, angels or transcendent. According to the aforementioned school of physics DM bears a singular resemblance to my grandmother’s conception of spirits in that she says we will never ever corner them. Five millennia of civilisation has done the rounds and decided that the old lady was right after all.
Dark Energy (DE)
DE is in some ways stranger than its accomplice DM. Like DM it too is from precise and reliable observations. There is no dispute about that; the confounding observations are rock solid. This time the mystifying observation is the accelerating expansion of the universe. The universe is expanding like an inflating balloon; its parts moving away from each other. That was expected from non-fudged General Relativity (GR), more on that in a moment. But the crazy thing is that it is expanding at an accelerating rate. Billions of years ago it was not expanding as fast as it is now. DE theory claims to dissolve the paradox. As new space is created the new empty space is born with intrinsic additional energy, DE, it claims. Expansion creates energy in its emptiness, so expansion implies positive feedback. More energy pushes more expansion.
The gravitational attraction of ordinary plus dark matter which make galaxies fall inwards is defeated and the universe is ever more forcibly pushed outwards by DE. A crude analogy is the explosive energy of a detonation which makes things fly away; the release of energy pushes things out. However the explosion analogy does not explain why the bits are flying away faster and faster. Matter and DM slow down expansion by gravitational pull, DE speeds it up. So hypothesising the positive feedback of DE being created all the time in newly emerging space, if you buy the story, explains everything.
Scientists, unlike politicians, medical quacks and witch doctors are honest chaps. They admit it when they are foxed. NASA frankly concedes “Theorists don’t know what the correct explanation is, but they have given it a name. It is called dark energy. More is unknown than is known.
We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the universe’s expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery”.
That’s enough poking fun at avant grade astrophysics. What are the explanations for all these funny goings on? Let us recall Einstein’s great fudge. In 1915 he derived general relativity (GR) to describe a gravity-dominated universe but the maths displayed a puzzling expanding universe. So he fudged and included an arbitrary factor called the cosmological constant lambda () whose value was carefully contrived to stop the universe of his equations from expanding and stay put. Horror of horrors! In the late 1920s Hubble’s observations proved that the universe wasn’t static, it wasn’t staying put, it was expanding. A sheepish Einstein abandoned lambda calling the episode the “biggest blunder of his life”.
Now comes the next twist. Avant garde cosmology now abruptly wants lambda back! By picking a certain value for lambda it can make the acceleration of expansion in the equations fit the observed acceleration of real expansion. This is a modern day counter-fudge because there is no physical reason why it should have this value or even why lambda should exist at all. This to my mind however is not a problem. Why does the attraction or repulsion between charges depend (inversely) on the square of the distance between them, or why does Newtonian gravitation do the same with the distance between masses? That’s just the way the laws of physics are, the way the physical universe functions; full stop.
A more radical view of some cosmologists is that the time has come, after a century, to go beyond GR and formulate an all-new theory of gravitation. This will be a huge upset because GR has worked to perfection in every domain such as the solar system and in all cosmology except inside a black-hole and this bothersome DM-DE distraction. Some restructuring of GR equations may eliminate the need for DM/DE concepts entirely. And there is no alternative candidate visible that will preserve all that GR has achieved, let alone do more.
A more comic heresy (Alice in Wonderland cosmology) is that there are more universes, maybe millions floating around – the multiverse hypothesis. Poor Steven Hawking’s mathematics dragged him in this counterintuitive direction. Our universe is said to be one among many and the others are pulling and pushing. To keep the figurative description, DM is stuff from parallel universes spilling over into ours and the accelerating expansion of our universe is the outward pull of another universe. This is their substitute for DM and DE. Ah well, I think my grandmother’s version is more charming and convincing.
Glimmers of hope?
Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?
What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.
‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.
‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.
‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.
‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.
‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.
Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.
Heartfelt hope of the many
The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”
Still utterly hopeless
Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.
Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.
Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.
Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis
By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse
(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)
There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.
The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.
1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.
2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.
3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!
4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.
Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains
We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened
1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.
2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.
3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.
4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.
Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.
1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.
2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible
3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:
Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.
Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.
Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.
Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.
Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.
Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.
Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.
Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.
1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers
All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.
The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of
India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and
There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.
Thomians triumph in Sydney
Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.
Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!
who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:
The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.
Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.
But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.
Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.
A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.
Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.
A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.
The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.
Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.
The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts. But the Thomians had other ideas.
The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable. Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.
It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.
Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.
The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.
In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.
Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.
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