by Selvam Canagaratna
“Last week’s by President Joe Biden, his first since taking office, was a deliberate exercise in calm. It was not, unfortunately, a similarly deliberate exercise in fact-seeking,” wrote William Rivers Pitt in Truthout magazine. “This was not entirely the fault of the President; the folks he shared that room with seemed to have lost the tether on their job description after four years of enforced mayhem.”
The so-called cream of the Washington, DC press corps leaned into garish stories their phone algorithms appeared to tell them were important — the border situation and “Is the President senile?” — while failing for most of the hour to ask about, for one example, effective strategies for addressing gun violence.
Similarly, and remarkably, not one direct COVID question was asked, though Biden did take a fair portion of the time bringing the assembled up to date on that crisis. The man baked bread with the dough he was handed; what else can you do?
One question, however, elicited a dramatic response from Biden. When pressed on abolition of the Jim Crow-era filibuster, Biden went silent in a drawn-out moment of pause so wide you could have sailed the Ever Given through the gap without scraping the paint. Locking eyes with his questioner, Biden finally replied in a hushed tone, “Successful electoral politics is the art of the possible.”
From a purely political perspective, this decision makes unequivocal sense. This Congress is a bag of cats. The COVID bill was needed desperately by the people, and still required reconciliation for passage. It was also the means by which this new administration announced its presence with authority. On infrastructure, there are at least a dozen GOP senators who would love to be a part of a massive rebuilding package. The only thing standing in the way is the partisan sand in the gears, but then again, that’s like saying the only thing keeping you from getting to Nepal from China is Mount Everest and the Himalayan wall.
On its face, the seeming decision to de-emphasize climate disruption appears to be a terrible error in judgment, yet another short-sighted view of an existential threat unlike any other we currently face. There are wheels within wheels here, however. The proposed infrastructure bill, for one example, is about far more than fixing bridges and filling potholes.
“Biden and Democrats see an infrastructure package as the best way to tackle climate change and get the country to net-zero electricity emissions by 2035,” Vox, “by installing more electric vehicle charging stations on the nation’s roads, modernizing the electrical grid, and incentivizing more wind and solar projects. It could be financed at least in part with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans.”
Biden is also organizing a that seeks to include both China and Russia, two major polluters (along with, of course, the US) whose lack of participation in any future climate endeavours would essentially render the entire effort moot. Biden has also rejoined the Paris climate accord, a further step in re-establishing a US presence in the global climate fight after four years of pollution-happy chaos.
Let us not delude ourselves: These measures are but a teardrop in the bucket of what will be required to stave off our collective environmental doom. As we creep ever closer to fire season out west, the climate will again become as pressing a national political issue as the children at the southern border. Meanwhile, COVID-19 taps us daily on the shoulder and whispers, “This is the future, this is what environmental degradation can do to you, there is much more to come, and you are woefully unprepared.”
The COVID example, though, is telling. One year ago, when we were locking down and taking shallow breaths and afraid of everything, the word “vaccine” became almost a prayer. There was only one problem: The record for fastest development of a vaccine was four years, for the mumps. Were we really facing four years of this nightmare before something vaguely normal returned?
For the moment, the answer to that question appears to be, “No.” In what is arguably the single most incredible human scientific achievement in history, vaccines with 90 percent effectiveness rates were developed, tested and distributed in about as much time as it takes to build a house. Over 100 million doses have been injected into arms so far, and a moment will come soon when we have to start giving vaccine away because we made more than we needed. This is known as a “happy problem.”
It all is simultaneously awe-inspiring and not in any way surprising. The awe comes from the astonishing leap made by scientists and researchers to shoot that formidable gap. The unsurprising part? People found a way to save themselves against all odds and with their asses hanging way out over a steep cliff. “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else,” Winston Churchill once famously said. This is that, but with needles and test tubes.
Cracking the COVID vaccine took funding, co-operation, and the will to get it done in the face of impending catastrophe. That is exactly where we are with the climate. We have proven to ourselves once again that solutions are there to be seized, and . Let us all remind this President of that truth, of the art of the possible wed to dire necessity, before nature once again decides to do so for us.
South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and what it means for SL
State circles in Sri Lanka have begun voicing the need for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for the country, on the lines of South Africa’s historic TRC, and the time could not be more appropriate for a comprehensive discussion in Sri Lanka on the questions that are likely to arise for the country as a result of launching such an initiative. There is no avoiding the need for all relevant stakeholders to deliberate on what it could mean for Sri Lanka to usher a TRC of its own.
Fortunately for Sri Lanka, the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI), Colombo, took on the responsibility of initiating public deliberations on what a TRC could entail for Sri Lanka. A well-attended round table forum towards this end was held at the LKI on November 25 and many were the vital insights it yielded on how Sri Lanka should go about the crucial task of bringing about enduring ethnic peace in Sri Lanka through a home-grown TRC. A special feature of the forum was the on-line participation in it of South African experts who were instrumental in making the TRC initiative successful in South Africa.
There was, for example, former Minister of Constitutional Affairs and Communication of South Africa Roelf Meyer, who figured as Chief Representative of the white minority National Party government in the multi-party negotiations of 1993, which finally led to ending apartheid in South Africa. His role was crucial in paving the way for the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. Highlighting some crucial factors that contributed towards South Africa’s success in laying the basis for ethnic reconciliation, Meyer said that there ought to be a shared need among the antagonists to find a negotiated solution to their conflict. They should be willing to resolve their issues. Besides, the principle needs be recognized that ‘one negotiates with one’s enemies’. These conditions were met in South Africa.
Meyer added that South Africa’s TRC was part of the country’s peace process. Before the launching of the TRC a peace agreement among the parties was already in place. Besides, an interim constitution was licked into shape by then. The principle agreed to by the parties that, ‘We will not look for vengeance but for reconciliation’, not only brought a degree of accord among the conflicting parties but facilitated the setting-up of the TRC.
Meyer also pointed out that the parties to the conflict acted with foresight when they postponed considering the question of an amnesty for aggressors for the latter part of the negotiations. If an amnesty for perceived aggressors ‘was promised first, we would never have had peace’, he explained.
Meanwhile, Dr. Fanie Du Toit, Senior Fellow of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, South Africa, in his presentation said that the restoration of the dignity of the victims in the conflict is important. The realization of ethnic peace in South Africa was a ‘victim-centric’ process. Hearing out the victim’s point of view became crucial. Very importantly, the sides recognized that ‘apartheid was a crime against humanity’. These factors made the South African TRC exercise a highly credible one.
The points made by Meyer and Du Toit ought to prompt the Sri Lankan state and other parties to the country’s conflict to recognize what needs to be in place for the success of an ethnic peace process of their own. A challenge for the Sri Lankan government is to ban racism in all its manifestations and to declare racism a crime against humanity. For starters, is the Lankan government equal to this challenge? If this challenge goes unmet bringing ethnic reconciliation to Sri Lanka would prove an impossible task.
Lest the Sri Lankan government and other relevant sections to the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict forget, reconciliation in South Africa was brought about, among other factors, by truth-telling by aggressors and oppressors. In its essentials, the South African TRC entailed the aggressors owning to their apartheid-linked crimes in public before the Commission. In return they were amnestied and freed of charges. Could Sri Lanka’s perceived aggressors measure up to this challenge? This question calls for urgent answering before any TRC process is gone ahead with.
Making some opening remarks at the forum, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya said, among other things, that the LKI discussion set the tone for the setting up of a local TRC. He said that the latter is important because future generations should not be allowed to inherit Sri Lanka’s ethnic tangle and its issues. Ethnic reconciliation is essential as the country goes into the future. He added that the ‘Aragalaya’ compelled the country to realize its past follies which must not be repeated.
In his closing remarks, former Minister of Public Works of South Africa and High Commissioner of South Africa to Sri Lanka ambassador Geoffrey Doidge said that Sri Lanka’s TRC would need to have a Compassionate Council of religious leaders who would be catalysts in realizing reconciliation. Sri Lanka, he said, needs to seize this opportunity and move ahead through a consultative process. All sections of opinion in the country need to be consulted on the core issues in reconciliation.
At the inception of the round table, Executive Director, LKI, Dr. D. L. Mendis making some welcome remarks paid tribute to South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela for his magnanimous approach towards the white minority and for granting an amnesty to all apartheid-linked offenders. He also highlighted the role played by Bishop Desmond Tutu in ushering an ‘Age of Reconciliation’.
In his introductory remarks, High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in South Africa Prof. Gamini Gunawardena said, among other things, that TRCs were not entirely new to Sri Lanka but at the current juncture a renewed effort needed to be made by Sri Lanka towards reconciliation. Sri Lanka should aim at its own TRC process, he said.
During Q&A Roelf Meyer said that in South Africa there was a move away from authoritarianism towards democracy, a democratic constitution was ushered. In any reconciliation process, ensuring human rights should be the underlying approach with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights playing the role of guide. Besides, a reconciliation process must have long term legitimacy.
Dr. Fanie Du Toit said that Bishop Tutu’s commitment to forgiveness made him acceptable to all. Forgiveness is not a religious value but a human one, he said. It is also important to recognize that human rights violations are always wrong.
Cucumber Face Mask
* Cucumber and Aloe Vera
• 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel or juice • 1/4th grated cucumber
Mix the grated cucumber and aloe gel, and carefully apply the mixture on the face and also on your neck.
Leave it on for 15 minutes. Wash with warm water.
* Cucumber and Carrot
• 1 tablespoon fresh carrot juice • 1 tablespoon cucumber paste • 1 tablespoon sour cream
Extract fresh carrot juice and grate the cucumber to get a paste-like consistency. Mix these two ingredients, with the sour cream, and apply the paste on the face.
Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water. (This cucumber face pack is good for dry skin)
* Cucumber and Tomato
• 1/4th cucumber • 1/2 ripe tomato
Peel the cucumber and blend it with the tomato and apply the paste on your face and neck and massage for a minute or two, in a circular motion.
Leave the paste on for 15 minutes. Rinse with cool water. (This cucumber face pack will give you brighter and radiant skin)
Christmas time is here again…
The dawning of the month of December invariably reminds me of The Beatles ‘Christmas Time Is Here Again.’ And…yes, today is the 1st of December and, no doubt, there will be quite a lot of festive activities for us to check out.
Renowned artiste, Melantha Perera, who now heads the Moratuwa Arts Forum, has been a busy man, working on projects for the benefit of the public.
Since taking over the leadership of the Moratuwa Arts Forum, Melantha and his team are now ready to present their second project – a Christmas Fair – and this project, I’m told, is being done after a lapse of three years.
They are calling it Christmas Fun-Fair and it will be held on 7th December, at St. Peter’s Church Hall, Koralawella.
A member of the organizing committee mentioned that this event will not be confined to only the singing of Christmas Carols.
“We have worked out a programme that would be enjoyed by all, especially during this festive season.”
There will be a variety of items, where the main show is concerned…with Calypso Carols, as a curtain raiser, followed by Carols sung by Church choirs.
They plan to include a short drama, pertaining to Christmas, and a Comedy act, as well.
The main show will include guest spots by Rukshan Perera and Mariazelle Gunathilake.
Although show time is at 7.30 pm, the public can check out the Christmas Fun-Fair scene, from 4.30 pm onwards, as there will be trade stalls, selling Christmas goodies – Christmas cakes and sweets, garment items, jewellery, snacks, chocolate, etc.
The fair will not be confined to only sales, as Melantha and his team plan to make it extra special by working out an auction and raffle draw, with Christmas hampers, as prizes.
Santa and ‘Charlie Chaplin’ will be in attendance, too, entertaining the young and old, and there will also be a kid’s corner, to keep thembusy so that the parents could do their shopping.
They say that the main idea in organizing this Christmas Fun-Fair is to provide good festive entertainment for the people who haven’t had the opportunity of experiencing the real festive atmosphere during the last few years.
There are also plans to stream online, via MAF YouTube, to Sri Lankans residing overseas, to enable them to see some of the festive activities in Sri Lanka.
Entrance to the Christmas Fun Failr stalls will be free of charge. Tickets will be sold only for the main show, moderately priced at Rs. 500.
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