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My Basil flies over the ocean; Oh, bring back my Basil to me, my cabinet!

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by Rajan Philips

Basil Rajapaksa is back in cabinet. He was made a Minister even before he could become an MP. Parliament had to wait for the Executive to swear Brother Basil as Minister before the Speaker could take him in as the new National List MP. SLPP MP Jayantha Ketagoda vacated his spot on the list to make way for his political master. The actor-turned politician was preordained to make this sacrifice, and he will be rewarded, the gossip goes, with a posting down under, as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Australia. Not bad at all for an Actor. Too bad for Academics permanently on a waiting list for an Aussie posting. As postings go, the one who came from Australia is now in Beijing. No one wants to go to Delhi, apparently. Everyone wants to go the US, but some want the US Ambassador in Colombo to mind her business. Especially when it comes to presidential pardons.

Basil Rajapaksa is a roving dual citizen of the US and Sri Lanka. He alternates between two homes and two countries. Basil flies east, Basil flies west, and Basil flies over the ocean. The government as a whole is flying over the cuckoo’s nest. As nursery rhymes go, we are sure to hear another adaptation in short order: Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, and all the President’s brothers and nephews could not put him together again.

Basil Rajapaksa is being brought in to change everything that is going untoward and stop the great fall. But the fall has already started. Triggered not so much by the virus as by the government’s incompetence and ineptitude. Nonetheless, the virus is still hugely out of control. The government is not out of control as such; only, it is not in control of anything much. The frustration among government supporters is palpable. The government’s critics are gloating. Even sedate editorial writers are unsparing in their mockery.

 

Dan Sepada?

Mahinda Rajapaksa is known to have weaponized the rhetorical question: “Dan Sepada?” That was to rhetorically remind voters that they made a huge mistake in defeating him in 2015 and electing instead the ill-married Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government. The SLPP turned it into one of its campaign slogans. Now it is boomeranging the new government. A few weeks ago, Dan Sepada? was the title of The Island (June 21) editorial. After the arrest of a person who had phoned the Mayor of Moratuwa to ask “Dan sepada?” Everyone has heard about the Mayor of Moratuwa and his vaccine antics. He is the SLPP type who got caught. But there are Mayors of other persuasions who are known to have organized special vaccine audiences. Then you hear of the GMOA and its jabs. And you ask, Dan sepada?

There is another political meme doing the rounds, this one printed on the back of a three wheeler by its owner, apparently a supporter of Sajith Premadasa. The message is that it is good Sajith Premadasa lost, otherwise the country would still be thinking that Gotabaya Rajapaksa “is a genius.” Hopefully, no one is thinking Sajith Premadasa is a genius. The country doesn’t have to think of, or look for, ready-made geniuses anymore. It has seen it all. And so quickly. Not even two years after the last presidential election, or one year after the parliamentary election that produced a two-thirds majority hoping for absolute geniuses.

The Rajapaksa elders settled on Gotabaya Rajapaksa as their presidential candidate for the 2019 election because he was still a new political commodity whom they could sell as a fresh face. But no one checked his fitness for the job, except, may be, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is full of political instincts. And the system as a whole – election officials, the courts, the media, chose to ignore, or question, his citizenship credentials, because they did not want to stand in the way of a genius. One destined to bring deliverance to the country. Now, the clamour is for an alternative genius from the family. It will not be long before Mahinda Rajapaksa’s weaponized question is flung out again: Dan sepada?

Basil Rajapaksa is the new Finance Minister, ending heated speculations whether he would be given Finance, the portfolio held by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Actually, he has been given more. BR’s Finance portfolio includes Economic Policies and Plan Implementation, all of which were under Prime Minister Rajapaksa. Mahinda Rajapaksa was Prime Minister before he became President. Now he is Prime Minister after being President. MR is also now without Finance. BR has got Finance. And GR has got everything under 20A. Nothing is working – either for the President or for the government. Don’t mention the country.

For a highflying dual citizen, Basil Rajapaksa doesn’t want to lose the common touch. So, it seems. “Though I may serve as a minister, the farmers, fisherfolk, labourers, professions, civil servants and others in this country should think that a colleague of theirs is the minister of finance,” he is reported to have said. There you go, in fell swoop Minister is all things to all men – farmer, fisher, worker, doctor, clerk! The trouble is every one of them has one grievance or other caused by the government and they are all protesting against the government. Unlike during the yahapalanaya days, the current protests are not orchestrated by political long arms. They are spontaneous responses to unbearable situations that people in all walks of life are now facing.

The country is on a split screen. In one half of the screen, you can see protestors. The other half has been showing government supporters hanging banners and lighting firecrackers to welcome the new Minister of Finance. As if they were not happy with the old Minister of Finance. It is not a new government. They are all in the same government. And as Pieter Keuneman used to say, there is no point in shuffling cabinets when you have only jokers and no aces! And two state ministers were shuffled the same day after Basil Rajapaksa was sworn in as the new Finance Minister and Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-sworn as Prime Minister minus Finance & Economic Affairs.

The two sate ministers are Shasheendra Rajapaksa, a nephew, and Mohan de Silva, not identified as part of the family. As the Economy Next noted, Sheeshandra Rajapaksa, the son of the president’s brother Minister Chamal Rajapaksa, might be holding “the longest ministry title in Sri Lanka’s history as State Minister of Organic Fertilizer Production, Supply and Regulation and the Paddy and Grains, Organic Food, Vegetables, Fruits, Chillies, Onion and Potato Cultivation Promotion, Seed Production and Advanced Technology for Agriculture.” I thought Nivard Cabraal has the longest title, but the Rajapaksa scion is beating Cabraal easily by a mile. Mohan de Silva is given a short title – Coast Conservation and Low-Lying Lands Development. To keep the average title length manageable. Isn’t it curious, that Sri Lanka should have not only a large cabinet, but also each Minister should be padded with multiple portfolios? Or, put another way, dan sepada?

There is no point in going into an analysis of the taxonomy or typology of the state-family system that is now unfolding in Sri Lanka. The point is – it is a non-system pretending to be a system. The reprehensible Saudi state-family system has a long tradition. There is no such tradition in Sri Lanka. And you cannot create one by constitutional chicanery. There are no clever-enough lawyers to do even that. There is power, but there is no government. There are ministers, but there is no competence. There are supporters, but there is no satisfaction. But there are people, and they are suffering. That is the stark reality.

The Basil who flies over the ocean, is not the same as “My Bonnie who lies over the ocean,” the Scottish folk song that apparently was sung by the supporters of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” (Prince Charles Stuart) who went into exile after losing a battle with the English in 1746. That is a historical segue to end this piece with a note about the changing faces in the world of sports. The English Football Team is in the finals of a major tournament for the first time in 55 years. They have so far beaten every team they faced in the current Euro 2020. Except Scotland. The unheralded highlanders held their Brexit English cousins to a goal-less tie at Wembley in one of the early round matches.

 

Sports World Changes

It is a matter of opinion if sporting events are a nefarious distraction from more serious life matters – such as politics. Noam Chomsky apparently thinks so in his Manufacturing Consent, the 1988 book by Chomsky and (Edward) Herman. But sports have been a welcome distraction during the pandemic even without spectators. Japan seems determined to go ahead with the 2020 Olympics, already postponed by a year, even though the country is in a state of emergency and the government of Yoshihide Suga is in some political trouble because of this decision. Of course, there will be no spectators allowed. The Olympics are set to open in Tokyo on July 23. Tennis and Football are seeing epochal changes in London.

Roger Federer, the immensely gifted flower child of tennis from Switzerland, lost his Wimbledon Quarter Finals match in straight sets to Hubert Hurkacz, a promising but relatively unknown 25 year old from Poland. Mr. Federer will turn forty in August, and he may not play again at the All England Club. That would mark the end of an era without much fanfare. Unlike in other sports like cricket or football where players announce their retirement and are given a farewell, tennis players do not usually announce their retirement before a match, and if you lose, as happened to Roger Federer, you have no chance of being given formal farewell. Federer was of course given a standing ovation, much longer this time than when he used to win, but there was no farewell. In fairness, he is not sure what his future plans are going to be.

For nearly twenty years, Roger Federer, Spaniard Rafael Nadal and Serbian Novak Djokovic have been dominating the tennis world with a virtual monopoly over the four grand slam tournaments (Australian, French, Wimbledon and US Open). Federer and Nadal have each won twenty of them, and Djokovic with 19 trophies is set to match and surpass them. Djokovic is the only one remaining at Wimbledon this year. He is the overwhelming favourite to win, but if he were to lose it would be passing of the torch to a new generation of players.

Wimbledon finals are today (Sunday) and later in the evening, elsewhere in London, England will be playing Italy in the final match of Euro 2020. Fifty five years ago, in 1966, at the same Wembley venue, England won its only World Cup beating Germany in the finals. England has since not been in the finals of any major football tournament. The current English team is not only young and talented, but is also the most diverse with players of colour and of Irish origin. The team is also political, with players taking the knee at the start of every game to show solidarity with social movements for equality, inclusivity, and racial justice. Whoever wins the game, England or Italy, sports can also be a moral weapon for social causes. Not just a distraction.



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Features

English in Mathematics

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By R.N.A. de Silva

 

“Which subject did you have most difficulties with, having switched the medium of instruction from Sinhala to English?” I posed this question to a Sri Lankan student who was following a pre-University course in an educational institution in Hong Kong, having completed studies up to the GCE Ordinary Level programme in the Sinhala medium in a leading girls’ school in Colombo. “It is definitely mathematics,” she replied. Having served as a teacher for a long period of time at this educational institution with students from over 80 countries, I realised the above-mentioned view was shared by other students, too, who had to change the medium of instruction to English. This does not seem to make sense as one would have expected mathematics to be the easiest subject to follow as it has its own symbolic language. Why then has this situation arisen?

I would like to separate these difficulties into two categories:

1. Hastiness due to mindset

2. Vocabulary issues

Sometimes hastiness can automatically occur due to the mindset that mathematics should be easy to follow even if you change the medium of instruction as you are dealing with symbols. This attitude can cause enormous problems as students may skip instructions or avoid reading the question fully and concentrate only on the symbolic part of the problem

As an example, consider the following question.

The graphs of lines 3y = 5x + 1 and 2y = 7 – 3x intersect at point P. Find the coordinates of P.

Seeing the word ‘graphs’ and the two equations, a student maybe tempted to draw the graphs of the two lines and thereby find the point of intersection, which is a time-consuming affair. If it was read properly, the student could have noticed that the solution can be obtained by solving the two equations algebraically, which is much more efficient.

To a fast reader, obtaining the correct answer to the following question can be a problem as it may end up with just finding the value of x.

If 2x+3 = 5x-3, find the value of 2x+3.

The students need to be trained to read the question fully and understand what is required to be done, before attempting it.

The time spent to grasp the aim of the question is not wasted time.

Many children consider mathematics as an alien language consisting of symbols and expressions. Most of the difficulties that students encounter is related to vocabulary. The mathematical interpretation of the meaning of a word may differ from the meaning given to it in the English language. The word ‘find’ in mathematics means to obtain an answer showing the working while in the English language, it refers to discover or search. The following sketch shows the funny side of this difference.

Two of the words that has caused much confusion are ‘or’ and ‘and’.

In general usage, A or B is considered as either A or B but not both, as shown in picture.

However, in mathematics ‘A or B’ means ‘it can belong to A or B including intersection’. This is shown in picture.

The above, in normal usage is interpreted as ‘A and B’. However, in mathematics A and B refers to only what is common to A and B as shown in picture.

Here are the mathematical meanings of some of the other words which can have a different meaning with the English language definitions.

Determine

– Obtain the only possible answer

Plot

– Mark the position of points on a diagram

Write down

– Obtain the answer (Working need not be shown)

Constant

– A number that does not change

Similar

– Having the same shape but not the same size

Deduce

– To show a result using known information

Operation

– A procedure such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc.

Element

– A member of a set

Volume

– The extent of space occupied by a solid

The following illustrate some of the difficulties that the difference of meanings brings:

How odd these odd numbers are? The even numbers are even stranger.

Don’t be mean and help me to find the mean of these numbers.

Is right angle the right answer? Let me write it on the board.

The polysemous nature of some of the mathematical terms make it confusing for the students in the understanding of mathematical concepts. Mathematical terms have precise definitions to describe numerical relationships. At times these definitions resemble the everyday usage meaning but there are instances where the definitions notably differ. Consider ‘in general’ as an example. In mathematics there can be no exceptions to a result if it is considered to hold in general. However, in everyday usage, if a claim is said to be true in general, it would mean that it is true most of the time, but exceptions are possible.

To add to the problem, there are some terms such as ‘degree’ that can have many different meanings within mathematics while having a different meaning in everyday use. In mathematics, degree can refer to the measurement of an angle, the complexity of an algebraic equation and a unit of temperature.

Although mathematics deals essentially with symbols, it is taught through the medium of language which is the major means of communication. Students build understanding as they process ideas through language. It is important for students to give emphasis to the familiarisation with the mathematical vocabulary and at the same time understand the difference of meanings of terms mathematically and everyday usage. Teachers have an important role to play here in highlighting such terms and using them in different contexts for comfortable acclimatization. As Marcus Quintilianus quoted, “One should not aim at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand.”

(The author is a senior mathematics examiner of the International Baccalaureate Organization and a member of the faculty of the Overseas School of Colombo.)

 

 

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Features

Success with debut single

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Fred-James Koch: Lots of airplay for ‘I’m Runnin’

 

Fred-James Koch seems to be more in the news, these days, than his illustrious father, Alston Koch.

The turning point in Fred-James career is, undoubtedly, the Hollywood film ‘Night Walk.’

His role in the film is two-fold – actor and singer.

It’s, in fact, his singing of the theme song, ‘I’m Runnin,’ that has generated quite a lot of excitement, among music lovers.

The song is now being heard, world-wide, over radio (in Sri Lanka, on Sun FM), while the video, too, has been seen by many, on social media.

An Australian magazine, ‘Music Injection,’ had this to say about Fred- James:

“Fred- James Koch has written an incredible theme song for the movie ‘Night Walk,’ called ‘I’m Runnin.’ Just released, this song is engaging and gives us a sense of urgency, as the song builds. Fred-James vocals have a unique tinge to them and with the video having scenes from ‘Night Walk,’ it encourages me to watch the movie. ‘I’m Runnin’ features AZ Sheriff.” – Jen.

Following the debut spin for ‘I’m Runnin,’ on The Music Director programme, on 88.3 Southern FM Melbourne, the track was also played on the All New Saturday Ausmosis programme.

And, guess what! It’s now No. 3 on the Australian Top 20 Download chart. and No. 2 on the Australian Top 20 Stream chart.

 

 

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Inklings of change in national reconciliation policy

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By Jehan Perera

 

The government comfortably overcame a vote of no-confidence in one of its key ministers over the rise in the price of fuel.  Those who expected to have greater numbers supporting the no-confidence motion miscalculated that the apparent differences and rivalries within the government would be uppermost.  Any government, or institution for that matter, would have its internal differences.  The current government is better secured against these differences that might otherwise split it into different competing parts on account of the familial bonds that bind the leadership together.  The President, Prime Minister, newly appointed Finance Minister, as well as the former Speaker who is now Irrigation and Internal Security Minister, are closely knit brothers who have gone through trials and tribulations together. 

An iconic photograph of recent times would be the joy on (then) President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s face when he embraced his brother (then) Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa shortly after the latter survived a suicide bomb attack at the height of the war.  The brothers, however, have different strengths and constituencies.  They have different groups who follow and advise them, and each of these groups would prefer if their leader was the first among equals.  President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s comment that he has another eight years in which to achieve his goals has been widely discussed.  It would send a signal to others in the polity that it would be premature to gather around another member of the family at this time in anticipation that the baton would be passed on at the conclusion of the President’s current term in 2024.

On his part, the President has been promoting the institution he once served and to which most of his confidantes belonged or continue to belong.  The institution of the military is one where the closest of human bonds can be forged, because on the battlefield each depends on the other for their lives.  In his early period in office, the President has been promoting the military, both serving and retired, wherever he can, as ambassadors to foreign nations, as Covid health guideline monitors and as a supra grade of administrators in government departments.  It is often the case that those appointed to these positions are not the best suited to the tasks they have been set to do.  But the President evidently trusts them and they are his support base.  Unlike any other president in the past, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is not a member of a political party.  Civil society organisations have periodically called for a non-party presidency who is non-partisan in decision making. 

 

CHALLENGE EXCESSSES

However, there is a need to challenge the excesses.  The president’s pardoning of a soldier who was held by several courts, including the Supreme Court, to have deliberately killed children and (adults, eight in all), outside of the battlefield may be due to his conviction that loyalty to the military counts most.  However, the President is expected to uphold the system of checks and balances, and if he favours one institution at the expense of the others, it leads to a weakening of the entire structure of governance.  Another looming challenge is that posed to the autonomy of institutions of higher education and specifically the universities.  The government decision to vest the Kotelawala Defence University with powers to accredit other institutions of higher education is a threat to the freedom of thought and expression.  The military hierarchy who will head the KDU can be expected to have values that are important to the military, but not to democracy which is based on human rights.

The KDU law needs to be opposed as indeed the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) has urged along with opposition political parties.  At the same time there are other issues on which civil society can consider giving constructive support to governmental initiatives.  For instance, they do not engage with NGOs who provide a variety of services complementing the work of the government. The most important of these is the national reconciliation process.  There are indications that the government is shifting its stance on the issues of post-war reconciliation.  President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election victory on a highly nationalist platform won him a big majority of votes of the Sinhalese ethnic majority.  The government felt empowered to publicly declare its intention to withdraw from the post-war reconciliation process initiated by its predecessor government with support from the international community.  This was followed by withdrawal from UNHRC resolution 30/1 of 2015 co-sponsored by the previous government. 

However, the four subsequent internationally driven resolutions against Sri Lanka, emanating from Geneva (UNHRC), Ottawa (Ontario Parliament), Washington DC (US Congress) and Brussels (EU Parliament) seem to have led to a serious rethink within the government about its policy towards post-war reconciliation.  All four make human rights and the ethnic conflict their centerpiece.  Though not yet publicly commented upon, the signs of change are two-fold.  The first is the increased visibility of the US Embassy in meeting with the leaders of the Tamil and Muslim parties.  The media has reported that US Embassy officials discussed issues of post-war reconciliation efforts, devolution of power, rule of law and the Prevention of Terrorism Act with SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem. Recently, a US Embassy delegation, led by Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz, held similar discussions with TNA leader R. Sampanthan where the focus was on the proposed new Constitution.

 

CHANGING WINDS

The second sign of a change is the statement from the Presidential Secretariat announcing a recommendation, emanating from the President Commission of Inquiry for Appraisal of the Findings of Previous Commissions and Committees on Human Rights and the Way Forward headed by Justice AHMD Nawaz.  This is with regard to the EU call for the abolishing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act long seen by those promoting national security as part of the country’s first line of defence.  The Commission said that it cannot agree with calls for repealing the PTA but Sri Lanka’s anti-terrorism law should be reformed in line with similar laws in other countries, including the UK.  This would be aimed at affirming Sri Lankan sovereignty and national security interests, which are important to the government’s voter base, while complying with the requirements of the EU parliament which has called for the repeal of the PTA on the grounds that it violated human rights. 

The Presidential Secretariat statement also contains a significant section in which it mentioned that “It is the policy of the Government to work with the United Nations and its agencies to ensure accountability and human resource development in order to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation. The Government is committed to providing solutions for the issues to be resolved within the democratic and legal process and to ensure justice and reconciliation by implementing necessary institutional reforms.”  This is the first official indication that the Government is reconsidering its earlier position that it would blaze is own path with an indigenously generated reconciliation model which would not require international assistance. In this context it would be useful if the government focused closer attention to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Goals.

Veteran Tamil political leader V Anandasangaree, who has championed Tamil rights for a long time, and whose son is a Canadian parliamentarian, has referred to these recent developments and said that the President who holds the defence portfolio, Prime Minister and Finance Minister being members of Rajapaksa family could ensure genuine post-war reconciliation.  He also urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government not to leave the problem for a future administration to resolve, but address it now.  If the President is to successfully address the problem that has eluded a solution since independence, and been the biggest disaster to Sri Lanka’s development, he will need to broad base his support at multiple levels.  He will not only need the support of the ruling party, led by his brothers, as well as civil society, but also that of the ethnic minority parties and the opposition political parties.  This will require patience, dialogue and self-sacrifice, and the need to break from past and chart a reconciliatory course of action.

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