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Learning from history

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by S. N. Arseculeratne

My basic belief is that experiences of past and contemporary events and personages will determine our current behaviour. Such experiences would have been from the local scene and from world events. Of world events what affected me most was World War II in 1942 when the Japanese bombed Colombo and Trincomalee.

Of world events, I deal mainly with Germany which played a key role in world events during World War one (1914-1918) and two, (1939 to 1945). In the European wars; the Germans left death and destruction as they advanced through Belgium towards France. In contemporary times, I must refer to Angela Merkel the Chancellor of Germany for 16 years. A brief account of her rule was given in the Sunday Times of July 18 this year. Her rule was illustrious in ways that we could learn a lesson from, her in governance and fair-play and the greater importance of the individual rather than the community.

A few extracts from that report are worth quoting. When she retired from party leadership and politics, the people applauded her for her 16 years of dedicated service. She did not assign any of her relatives to a government post, she did not own a villa, servants, swimming pools or gardens as that report ended with that comment. Here is a lesson for all leaders irrespective of which country they lead. Every Sri Lankan would crave for such a leader.

It is informative to go back to European history. Michel de Nostradamus published ten books, all titled Centuries, each with a hundred quatrains. This French physician and seer prophesied in his Prophecies in 1555 that one of three anti-Christs (devils) to plague the world will be Adolph Hitler. John Hogue (1987) in his book Nostradamus and the Millenium; Predictions of the future wrote: “Nostradamus saw Hitler as the second anti-Christ and possibly the greatest demagogue in our history. The prophet’s belief was that each of the three anti-Christs named would, in escalating degree, bring humanity closer to the final holocaust. “

Neville Chamberlain the British Prime Minister met Hitler in Munich in 1938 and made an agreement; he announced on his return to Britain “Peace in our time…”. Chamberlain had not learnt from history and World War II broke out in 1939.

– With morbid fascination, I re-read, A pictorial history of Nazi Germany by Erwin Leiser. I had written two essays in my book “I think, therefore I am- Rene Descartes” 1. The illusion of a national character, 2. The view from above. In 1, I considered modern German history. Contrasting with the monsters that were Hitler and his henchmen, there were also illustrious German persons, like Goethe, Schiller, the Buddhist scholar monk Nyanatiloka, and Max Muller; where do these latter blessed people fit into Hitler’s Nazi Germany?

That paradox was solved by my consideration of the Frequency Distribution (Gaussian) curve of a plot of the frequency of incidence of the components of the spectrum of human nature, from peaceable, wise people at one end to the murderers and monsters like Hitler at the other end; every population has that spread.

My second essay 2 was “The view from above” in which I wrote of my view from a 19th floor apartment, gazing on the street below, watching the ant-like humans; a man looked so small and insignificant while his brain was far smaller. Yet it was a brain of that size that spewed out the horrors of Nazi Germany, that led to the destruction of Western Europe and the murder of six million Jews. My readings urged me to re-consider, in all futility, the depressing topics of – The Nature of Man and The Future of Man. One might also read my essay, The origins of belief, published in The Island.

– The Pictorial History of Nazi Germany had a final comment: “It is the responsibility of each one of us, be the politician or mere voter, to ensure that there is no new Hitler, no new age of horror”: I think that is a vain hope for it seems to be the case as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the German philosopher wrote : “We learn from history that we do not learn from history”. Moreover, when studying in Europe, I had the chance to spend a short holiday and I chose Germany, which to me was the most paradoxical, inscrutable country of all.

An incident gave me the clue to one aspect of the German psyche – total, unquestioning, obedience to authority. I was standing on the road at a pedestrian crossing. There were several (Germans) also standing, waiting for the red pedestrian light to turn green. There were no cars or other traffic on that road at that time, yet not a single German crossed the road, until the light turned green. That is German discipline for traffic rules- and for Hitler. On the topic of discipline, this comment emphasizes the thrust of an essay that I wrote in The Island, on the role of the individual versus that of the Institution, and that view of the predominance of the indiividual’s importance I begin my last comment.

Discipline of a population must begin with the youth who are the forerunners of adults and a university is the main source of individuals a few of who will become the rulers. Having been an academic in the Peradeniya University in the 1970s, I was aghast at the indiscipline of students who even rented a house next to the campus to do their sordid ragging. The administration seemed incompetent to handle it. The ragging was so severe one female rag victim even committed suicide in a Hall of Residence.

In the 1960s, I was in the University of Manchester, UK, where there was a Rag-Rag week during which new entrant students were subjected to mild, good humoured rags. They however did not verge on the brutal acts in the Peradeniya University. However I was reassured when The Island newspaper of July 19 this year, published an article titled “Public Security Minister reiterates need to instill discipline among youth….. the Minister said that the youth had no respect for discipline, obedience to rules, and values of upholding good behavior”.

Heaven help us if these miscreants become our rulers. Let us hope that this university recovers its former reputation which merited the comment on the Web; “A centre of excellence in higher education with national, regional and global standing“. In conclusion I must refer to a comment on the Web on Peradeniya University perhaps of bygone years; it was referred to as one of the best universities in Asia.

(The writer is emeritus professor of microbiology, University of Peradeniya)



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Policy quandaries set to rise for South in the wake of AUKUS

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From the viewpoint of the global South, the recent coming into being of the tripartite security pact among the US, the UK and Australia or AUKUS, renders important the concept of VUCA; volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. VUCA has its origins in the disciplines of Marketing and Business Studies, but it could best describe the current state of international politics from particularly the perspective of the middle income, lower middle income and poor countries of the world or the South.

With the implementation of the pact, Australia will be qualifying to join the select band of nuclear submarine-powered states, comprising the US, China, Russia, the UK, France and India. Essentially, the pact envisages the lending of their expertise and material assistance by the US and the UK to Australia for the development by the latter of nuclear-powered submarines.

While, officially, the pact has as one of its main aims the promotion of a ‘rules- based Indo-Pacific region’, it is no secret that the main thrust of the accord is to blunt and defuse the military presence and strength of China in the region concerned. In other words, the pact would be paving the way for an intensification of military tensions in the Asia-Pacific between the West and China.

The world ought to have prepared for a stepping-up of US efforts to bolster its presence in the Asia-Pacific when a couple of weeks ago US Vice President Kamala Harris made a wide-ranging tour of US allies in the ASEAN region. Coming in the wake of the complete US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the tour was essentially aimed at assuring US allies in the region of the US’s continued support for them, militarily and otherwise. Such assurances were necessitated by the general perception that following the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, China would be stepping in to fill the power vacuum in the country with the support of Pakistan.

From the West’s viewpoint, making Australia nuclear-capable is the thing to do against the backdrop of China being seen by a considerable number of Asia-Pacific states as being increasingly militarily assertive in the South China Sea and adjacent regions in particular. As is known, China is contending with a number of ASEAN region states over some resource rich islands in the sea area in question. These disputed territories could prove to be military flash points in the future. It only stands to reason for the West that its military strength and influence in the Asia-Pacific should be bolstered by developing a strong nuclear capability in English-speaking Australia.

As is known, Australia’s decision to enter into a pact with the US and the UK in its nuclear submarine building project has offended France in view of the fact that it amounts to a violation of an agreement entered into by Australia with France in 2016 that provides for the latter selling diesel-powered submarines manufactured by it to Australia. This decision by Australia which is seen as a ‘stab in the back’ by France has not only brought the latter’s relations with Australia to breaking point but also triggered some tensions in the EU’s ties with the US and the UK.

It should not come as a surprise if the EU opts from now on to increasingly beef-up its military presence in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ with the accent on it following a completely independent security policy trajectory, with little or no reference to Western concerns in this connection.

However, it is the economically vulnerable countries of the South that could face the biggest foreign policy quandaries against the backdrop of these developments. These dilemmas are bound to be accentuated by the fact that very many countries of the South are dependent on China’s financial and material assistance. A Non-aligned policy is likely to be strongly favoured by the majority of Southern countries in this situation but to what extent this policy could be sustained in view of their considerable dependence on China emerges as a prime foreign policy issue.

On the other hand, the majority of Southern countries cannot afford to be seen by the West as being out of step with what is seen as their vital interests. This applies in particular to matters of a security nature. Sri Lanka is in the grips of a policy crunch of this kind at present. Sri Lanka’s dependence on China is high in a number of areas but it cannot afford to be seen by the West as gravitating excessively towards China.

Besides, Sri Lanka and other small states of the northern Indian Ocean need to align themselves cordially with India, considering the latter’s dominance in the South and South West Asian regions from the economic and military points of view in particular. Given this background, tilting disproportionately towards China could be most unwise. In the mentioned regions in particular small Southern states will be compelled to maintain, if they could, an equidistance between India and China.

The AUKUS pact could be expected to aggravate these foreign policy questions for the smaller states of the South. The cleavages in international politics brought about by the pact would compel smaller states to fall in line with the West or risk being seen by the latter as pro-China and this could by no means be a happy state to be in.

The economic crisis brought about by the current pandemic could only make matters worse for the South. For example, as pointed out by the UN, there could be an increase in the number of extremely poor people by around 120 million globally amid the pandemic. Besides, as pointed out by the World Bank, “South Asia in particular is more exposed to the risk of ‘hidden debt ‘from state-owned Commercial Banks (SOCBs), state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and public-private partnerships (PPPs) because of its greater reliance on them compared to other regions.” Needless to say, such economic ills could compel small, struggling states to veer away from foreign policy stances that are in line with Non-alignment.

Accordingly, it is a world characterized by VUCA that would be confronting most Southern states. It is a world beyond their control but a coming together of Southern states on the lines of increasing South-South cooperation could be of some help.

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Hair care mask

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LOOK GOOD – with Disna

* Aloe Vera and Olive Oil:

Aloe vera can beautify your hair when used regularly. Aloe vera is a three-in-one plant and is the best medicine for health, skincare, and hair care, too. Using products, containing aloe vera as the hair strengthening agent, is quite expensive. So,treat your hair, naturally, by trying out these natural hair care masks.

Ingredients…

Aloe Vera Gel: 4-5 tablespoons

Olive Oil: 3-4 tablespoons

Egg Yolk: 2-3 tablespoons

Method…

In a bowl, mix well the olive oil (after heating the oil for eight to 10 seconds), the aloe vera gel and the egg yolk.

Apply the mixture on your brittle and dry hair with a hair brush and leave it for four to five hours. Apply it overnight for better results.

Wash off wish a mild shampoo later on.

When applied continuously, for eight to 10 days, your hair will definitely turn healthy and shiny, within no time

* Almond Milk and Coconut Oil:

Almonds are one of the amazing products when it comes to hair care. Try this mask to experience that salon affect you probably missed out.

Ingredients…

Almond Milk: 4-5 tablespoons

Egg White: 3-4 tablespoons

Coconut Oil:1-2 tablespoons

Method…

Mix all the ingredients well, in a bowl, and gently apply it on your hair with a brush.

If applied overnight, it is the best remedy for those with dry hair.

Wash off with cold water and a mild shampoo.

Use it thrice a week and if your hair is badly damaged a daily use for eight to 10 days improves your hair condition.

You can continue using it twice or thrice a week until you get the required results.

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Amazing Thailand… opening up, but slowly

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I know of several holidaymakers who are desperately seeking a vacation in Amazing Thailand, and quite a few of them keep calling me up to find out when they could zoom their way to the ‘Land of Smiles!’

Last year, they were contemplating doing their festive shopping in that part of the world and were constantly checking with me about a possible shopping vacation, in early December, 2020.

Unfortunately, the pandemic proved a disaster to most tourist destinations, and Thailand, too, felt the heat.

However, the scene is opening up, gradually, and fully vaccinated travellers are now being given the green light to visit quite a few countries.

The Maldives is one such destination…and now Thailand is gradually coming into that scene, as well.

Several provinces, in Thailand, have reopened, through the Phuket Sandbox programme, and there are plans to reopen five more areas, including Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, and Pattaya.

Now, hold on! Before you rush and make plans to head for Thailand, here’s what you need to know:

The plan is to reopen to fully vaccinated tourists, and, in all probability, they would be able to visit without having to quarantine. But, that has to be officially confirmed.

Currently, travellers to the provinces that have already reopened, such as Phuket, must quarantine before travelling elsewhere in Thailand. The new reopening plans are the most significant travel policy changes the country has enacted since the start of the pandemic.

Additionally, the Thai government relaxed some restrictions on gatherings in certain areas, including Bangkok, and that’s certainly good news for Sri Lankans who love to be a part of the Bangkok scene.

Bangkok is still in the ‘dark red zone,’ however — the strictest designation — that has restricted movement in the city for months.

The government has said that activities, such as shopping malls and dine-in services, in the dark-red zone, will be allowed to reopen – but no official dates have been mentioned, as yet.

Gatherings are now capped at no more than 25 people, an increase from just five people. A curfew still remains in place, however.

This October reopening (hopefully) will be launched alongside with the country’s newly adjusted ‘universal prevention’ guidelines against COVID-19 … including accelerating vaccination for the local population and formalising tourism campaigns.

Thailand will reopen in phases, I’m told: Phuket reopened in Phase One in July, while Bangkok is scheduled to reopen in Phase Two. Phase Three will reopen 21 destinations – hopefully at some point in time, in October – while Phase Four will begin in January 2022.

The measure comes not a minute too soon for local tourism operators as tourism is one of the nation’s largest gross domestic product drivers (GDP), and preventative measures against COVID-19 resulted in a massive blow to the industry.

Yes, we are all eager for the world to open up so that we can check out some of our favourite holiday destinations.

And, after staying indoors for such a long period, the urge to break free is in all of us.

I’ve been to Thailand 24 times (on most occasions, courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand) and I’m now eagerly looking forward to my 25th trip.

But…I wonder if Amazing Thailand will ever be the same – the awesome scene we all experienced, and enjoyed, before the pandemic!

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