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One Certain Winner. One Certain Loser

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

The most important presidential election in the history of the United States is currently in progress. Neither President Trump nor Vice President Biden has been to able make a legitimate claim to the White House as yet. As of Friday morning, the score sheet stands: Biden 253 electoral college votes; Trump 213. The magic number to win the presidency is 270 electoral college votes. The final result certified by the state election authorities will likely not be available till next week, but predictions based on voting trends already have Biden anointed as the 46th President of the United States.

Vice President Biden enjoys a record lead of over 4 million votes in the popular vote, with the highest number of votes ever cast in American history. In every other democracy in the world, unburdened as they are with an antiquated electoral college system, Biden would have been declared the decisive winner by now.

Votes in four states are being tabulated, and are too close to call. Biden is leading in two states (Nevada and Arizona), and Trump in two (Pennsylvania and Georgia). Biden holds probably decisive leads in Arizona and Nevada, and has been chipping at the Trump leads in Pennsylvania and Georgia all Thursday night; it is most likely that he will win all four, which will give him 306 electoral college votes, the exact number won by Trump in 2016.

In a democracy, the main goal of the government should be to make voting as easy as possible, so that the voices of all voters could be clearly heard. Not so in the “Trump democracy”, or, perhaps more accurately, the “Putin kleptocracy” that America has become during the past four years. The Republicans, especially in states under their control, have been working assiduously on voter suppression by Gerrymandering and other means; and vilifying voting rules, like mail-in voting, which they feel go against them. Mail-in and absentee voting are usually taken advantage of by the vulnerable, the underprivileged and the poor, who are more likely to vote Democratic, especially during a raging pandemic.

President Trump, in his inimitable and disingenuous style, made an illegitimate claim, announcing on Wednesday night that he had won the election. His actual words: “To me, this is a very sad moment, and we will win this. And as far as I am concerned, I already have.” Trump insisted that counting should stop immediately in the states he was currently leading, Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina; while, amazingly, demanding that counting be continued in the states that he was trailing, Nevada and Arizona. Typical Trump logic, imposing voting restrictions which will ensure a win for him. There are videos of armed Trump supporters protesting at election centers in Pennsylvania where Trump is leading, chanting, “Stop the counting”; and Trumpers at election centers in Arizona, where Trump is lagging, shouting, “Count that vote”!

If Trump remains consistent in his demands to “stop the counting” immediately, Biden will win Nevada and Arizona, where he is leading, which will put him at 270 electoral college votes, enough for him to be declared the 46th President of the United States.

Speaking to a few hundred of his supporters inside the East Room at the White House, where they had gathered to follow the results, Trump described post-election counting as “a major fraud in our nation”, and threatened to take his case to the Supreme Court. He reiterated these baseless election fraud claims without the slightest evidence during a White House briefing on Thursday night, accusing his “political foes” of voter suppression, election fraud, and trying to steal the election from him. The Commander-in Chief made the most egregious and misleading statements, saying, “This is a case where they are trying to steal an election, they are trying to rig an election, and we cannot let that happen”. It was not clear who the “they” were: Democrats? State election officials and volunteers? And the “we”? The Trump administration? The sycophant Attorney General William Barr? Putin? The KKK?

Almost as vitally important as the run for the presidency are two other races being conducted concurrently during this election, for control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. As results stand, Democrats will retain control of the House, though with a reduced majority. Nancy Pelosi will continue to be the Speaker. Democratic hopes of flipping the Senate were not realized. They have picked up just one Senate seat so far, the Republicans will retain control of the Senate, with Mitch McConnell in charge. So the D.C. political power structure will be similar to that faced by President Obama in 2008, with a Senate majority ruthlessly determined to pursue a Republican agenda in the face of a Democratic presidency. Trump makes no claims of election fraud in the Senate and House races, as the votes have been largely favoring Republicans.

Although the results have not been officially certified, there is no doubt that Vice President Biden has already won at least the 270 votes necessary to win the White House. However, many of the final states to be called, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, were within a margin which will trigger a recount, while Trump has demanded recounts in Wisconsin and Michigan, which Biden has won by majorities outside the recount margin. Trump has also initiated a slew of lawsuits, most of them so frivolous and so small that they will make no difference to the ultimate outcome. He has threatened that he will use the powers of the Supreme Court to overthrow the election if Biden wins the presidency. The Trump “militia” is at the ready to wreak Trump’s vengeance at his command. So the dust of this election may not settle for a few weeks more. After it does, the election results will be confirmed, the violence caused by the Trump militia will be overcome, Trump will be dragged screaming from the White House and Vice President Biden will be installed as the President of the United States at his inauguration on January 21, 2021. Whether Trump will be taken from the White House direct to prison is not immediately clear. And we would have seen the last of Trump’s crime family and cronies; Ivanka and Kushner, Donald Jnr. and Eric, Giuliani, Stephen Miller, to name a few.

If, by some twist of fate, Trump defies all predictions and legitimately wins re-election, this column will vanish in a dense cloud of ignominy. And the writer may have to plead for the security of the Witness Protection Program!

McConnell’s Senate and a compliant Supreme Court will prevent Biden from making any significant measures, in expanding Obamacare, in quelling the pandemic and in restoring economic progress. The one hope is that Republican lawmakers in the House and the Senate, freed from the threat of Trump’s tweeting fury, may summon the necessary courage to work with President Biden and their Democratic colleagues, for the good of the country. A hope for bipartisan politics, admittedly a slender one.

The biggest winner of this election is the American electorate, which broke all voting records with their participation, even during a raging pandemic. The apathy in the past of the American people to be involved in the electoral process was evident. Voter participation in presidential and other elections rarely reached 60%, an abysmal number for a nation which pretends to serve as an example to developing countries which have chosen to embrace the democratic system.

 

The US is currently on track to the highest voter turnout in history, with 160 million votes, or over 70% of the electorate. This represents an increase of nearly 20% compared to the 136 million votes cast in 2016. Also, all praise to the officials and volunteers in the election process throughout the nation, who have worked tirelessly to ensure a free and fair election. Increased participation in the most important process in a democracy, especially among the younger generations, indicates that the greatest democracy in the world is not quite dead, in spite of all Donald Trump’s efforts to murder it over the past four years.

Strangely, the biggest loser in this election is also the American people. It is inconceivable that over 60 million Americans, or nearly half the electorate, voted for the re-election of a racist, ignorant and incompetent president. They had also enabled him to run the greatest democracy in the world to the ground for four years, to the cusp of transforming the most powerful nation in the world to a tin-pot dictatorship, beholden to Russia.

I remember watching that satirist/comedian par excellence, Jon Stewart, the host of The Daily Show, the night President Obama was elected the first black president of the USA in 2008. He signed off by saying: “At last, we are who we say we are.” Alas, he was mistaken. The Trump cult of today resembles more closely what “we are” today.

The election of an African American in 2008 to the presidency brought to the surface the resentment of a large percentage of white Americans, fearful of losing the white privilege they had enjoyed for centuries. Resentment which increased with eight years of a flawless presidency which rescued the American economy from the dregs of a recession Obama inherited from Bush in 2008; a black man, the epitome of compassion, honor and integrity, who presided brilliantly over a booming economy of 72 months’ continuous growth and dwindling unemployment, without a whiff of personal, financial or political scandal. This pathological resentment and insecurity resulted in the election of Donald Trump, the complete antithesis of President Obama in every way.

This election showed what a large slice of white American people really are, when they enabled Trump to take a once wonderful democracy to the brink of disaster by his despicable racism and vulgarity, colossal ignorance and homicidal incompetence. Trump has proved inconclusively the assessment of President Lyndon Johnson, who said, in 1964, “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored black man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him someone to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you”.

That “lowest white man” emerged in 2015. He kept mocking and degrading the best black man, feeding the inferiority complex of millions of insecure white Americans. And they let this vile man “empty their pockets”. Hell, they emptied their pockets for him!

Whoever wins or steals this election, America has gone back to the bad old days of racial prejudice and white supremacy of the pre-1950s. Perhaps many of them always lived in that alternate racist reality; maybe the progress made in social and economic justice since 1964 has merely been a mirage.

It’s going to be a long, hard climb back to Make America Great Again. Getting rid of Trump was an important start to this arduous journey.



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Features

Strong on vocals

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The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.

 

 

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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year

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Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.

 

 

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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations

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Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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