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Science vs religion-I

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Like oil and water, science and religion are immiscible and belong to mutually exclusive domains without any interface. Whenever they have been attempted to be brought together, the result invariably has been confusion, conflict, and bloodshed, of which there are too many gory examples in history. Allow religion to explain the origin of the Universe, according to its own ideas, and you end up with corpses of men and women burnt at stakes.

By GOVIND BHATTACHARJEE

In Tao of Physics, Fritzof Capra wrote that science does not need religion and religion does not need science, while a man needs both. I am not so sure. Again, in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan wrote, “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.

“When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.” If spirituality implies appreciating our own insignificance in the Universe and the resulting feeling of humbleness, then this has nothing to do with religion.

But, leaving aside spirituality, religion and science have never been compatible. While science teaches us a systematic, rational way of exploring this universe to understand the laws of nature that guide life and non-life, religion has brought untold misery and suffering upon humanity. throughout the course of history. by claiming certainty in “information” and “facts” amenable neither to reason nor to observation.

Like oil and water, science and religion are immiscible and belong to mutually exclusive domains without any interface. Whenever they have been attempted to be brought together, the result invariably has been confusion, conflict, and bloodshed, of which there are too many gory examples in history.

Allow religion to explain the origin of the Universe, according to its own ideas, and you end up with corpses of men and women burnt at stakes. Same with politics. Allow religion to rule a nation, according to its own theories, and you end up with Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Iran where the laws of Sharia are more important than human life or human happiness.

Given the chance, religion would turn this world into a demon-haunted place in no time – in fact it has attained a remarkable degree of success in doing so. But, what exactly is science, and what is religion? According to The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, “One way to distinguish between science and religion is the claim that science concerns the natural world, whereas religion concerns the supernatural world and its relationship to the natural. Scientific explanations do not appeal to supernatural entities such as gods or angels (fallen or not), or to non-natural forces (such as miracles, karma, or qi).

“For example, neuroscientists typically explain our thoughts in terms of brain states, not by reference to an immaterial soul or spirit, and legal scholars do not invoke karmic load when discussing why people commit crimes.” Science concerns itself with what is or can be observed and seeks an immediate answer. Religion claims the answer is either unknowable or explained only with the help of faith, that is acceptance of something whose existence is indeterminate.

Science claims to explain phenomena or mysteries only through the tested method of empirical inquiry which is a series of steps involving observation-hypothesis-experiment-inference-theory-prediction-testing. This process is indispensable, even where it may not succeed in explaining all observed phenomena, whereas religion takes recourse to God and finds it absurd that by studying STEM subjects (Science-Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) alone, the concept of God can be reduced to irrelevance. Given the chance, it will subsume science, too.

In fact, a great deal of effort has already been invested towards this end, to start a dialogue between science and religion that is actually an exercise in futility.In 1998, the Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson in his book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, argued that knowledge is a unified system that embraces science, morality, and ethics as well. The aim was perhaps not to make science spiritual but to make religion scientific.

In the 1990s, with its multi-million-dollar grants, the John Templeton Foundation launched a magazine called Science & Spirit, “to explain what science cannot, and asking science to validate religious teachings”. The magazine died a natural death in 2009.The Foundation also financed several documentaries like “Faith and Reason”, “Cybergrace: The Search for God in the Digital World” or “God & the Big Bang: Discovering Harmony Between Science & Spirituality”.

Scores of bestselling books, written by eminent scientists, followed, like Belief in God in an Age of Science (1998) by John Polkinghorne, a Cambridge physicist turned Anglican priest, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (2006) by Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project, or Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe (2021) by Stephen Meyer, Director of the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute which is the main organization behind the so-called Intelligent Design Movement, according to which the universe was created by an intelligent designer, the God almighty.

But physics explains the origin of the universe convincingly from quantum electrodynamics as arising from a vacuum fluctuation and biology explains the evolution of all life, starting with a chance molecule that learned to replicate itself. But both intelligent design and evolution cannot be true at the same time, hence the attempt to find a middle path – an absurd one at that – that God created the universe and left it to the laws of nature, also designed by him, to run it, without any further interference in its future course.

As the New York Times science journalist George Johnson wrote, thus “God becomes a metaphor for the laws that science tries to uncover.” On the question of faith, there are deep divisions among the scientists themselves. While Einstein’s God was one “who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists”, and not one “who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind”, many scientists hold radically different views. Some, like the cosmologist Allan Sandage, wonder: “‘How is it that inanimate matter can organize itself to contemplate itself? That’s outside of any science I know”, while others, like the Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, believe that pursuing God is a “waste” of time that never has “added anything to the storehouse of human wisdom”.

Believers in God hold that a grand unified theory to explain the universe in terms of a single theory that is the holy grain of science would be incomplete without the integration of faith and ancient wisdom in it, while others, like Christians, were outraged when the radiocarbon dating of the shroud of Turin suggested it as a medieval forgery and not the burial cloth of Jesus, feel that as science develops more sophisticated techniques, their religious beliefs will be vindicated.

Fortunately, the endeavour of all these new-age scientists to blur and finally erase the boundary between science and pseudoscience has not yet succeeded. Similar efforts are on even in our own country. Religion is essentially about worship, and worship means surrender.

Faith is necessarily blind and has to disregard evidence in order to reinforce and validate its belief system. Human life is full of misery and suffering ~ indeed it is a “flash of occasional enjoyments lighting up a mass of pain and misery” from which faith alone can provide a temporary deliverance. “Happiness is but only an occasional episode in the general drama of pain” that surrounds us, as Thomas Hardy said, and if surrender could mitigate even a little of that pain, it should be welcome.

Surrender can also be made more convincing when imbued with love and fear that a God is capable of inspiring in human minds. Finally, if the surrender can hold out the promise of something eternal, like an eternal deliverance from pain or from the endless cycles of birth and death, such an eternal vision becomes too tantalising to resist by most.

All that remains is to remind and reinforce these ideas continually through repetitive rituals, meaningless though they are, and the whole package becomes so overwhelming that few could emerge out of its enchanting aura to be able to see the world and reality with objectivity.

After all, we still do not know how the objective reality conveyed to our brain through the senses acquires a subjective meaning in our mind, how the scent of a rose gets transformed into the memory of our first love, or a fading photograph brings back long-forgotten emotions.

Subjectivity rules the roost, everything else, even hard evidence, becomes mere speculation. Blind faith has no rival, and when blind faith masquerades as science, the conquest of the mind by religion becomes total, and all logic has been clinically erased. The evolution of life and that too on a tiny planet called earth that has just about the right conditions with the right values of fundamental constants among billions of such planets is an awesome mystery that the believers cite to establish intelligent design as the only explanation.

They ignore the fact that there are planets with all possibilities and ours happen to be the one with only just one of these permutations that made life – and God – possible. Logic and faith, like science and religion – are incompatible; if bring them together, there will be combustion and conflict.

But bring complexity to replace conflict, and the science-religion debate immediately acquires a political dimension ~ struggle between secular liberalism and traditional conservatism, authority versus individual liberty, herd mentality versus reason, and state versus individual. In each one of these struggles, rationality is the obvious victim that is left bleeding to die.

(The Statesman/ANN)



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Shared prosperity: A vision for South Asia

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The Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture 2023, delivered by Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, MP
Hon’ble Foreign Minister of Bangladesh
on 03 Feb., 2023.
The event was hosted by the Lakshman Kdirgamar Institute
Of International Relations and Strategic StudiesColombo, Sri Lanka

I am profoundly honoured to have the opportunity to deliver this prestigious Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture 2023. I thank the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, Mr. Ali Sabry, for this honour.

As an academician, it is my immense pleasure to share my thoughts with the esteemed audience of our close neighbour, Sri Lanka. I am also happy to return to this beautiful island, in less than a year, after the BIMSTEC Summit, held in Colombo.

At the outset, let me pay my homage to late Mr Lakshman Kadirgamar, one of Sri Lanka’s finest sons. He was Foreign Minister during some of the most challenging times in your recent history. Still, he steadily moved towards achieving his dream to build a multi-religious and multi-ethnic united Sri Lanka where all communities could live in harmony. He was a legal scholar and a leader, par excellence. He served to raise the level of the political discourse of Sri Lanka, both at home and abroad. His assassination was one of the most tragic losses for the country. However, we are confident that Lakshman Kadirgamar will be remembered by future generations of Sri Lankans for the values and principles he lived and died for which are even more relevant in present-day Sri Lanka.

I am aware of the regard the late Lakshman Kadirgamar held for Bangladesh. I am also aware that my Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina knew him well. Let me share an anecdote. During one of his visits to Bangladesh, after meeting my Prime Minister, on the way out, she impromptu took him to the stage of her political, public meeting and introduced him to the audience. He even spoke there for a few minutes. Mrs. Kadirgamar who is present here today, was a witness to that episode. That was an indication of how highly the late Kadirgamar was regarded by my Prime Minister. Perhaps all these prompted Mrs Suganthie Kadirgamar to think of hearing from Bangladesh at this year’s Memorial Lecture. I am deeply touched by this gesture. Thank you, Madam.

We see this as an extension of collaboration between LKI and our think tank BIISS.

Today I would like to share my thoughts on the theme “Shared Prosperity: A Vision for South Asia” which we hold very dearly to our heart.

It cannot begin without recalling our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who provided our foreign policy dictum “Friendship to all, Malice to None” which he later focused more on promoting relations with neighbours first. His able daughter, Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, aptly picked up the philosophy and extended it and went for its implementation.

Before I delve into the theme, it would be pertinent to put Bangladesh-Sri Lanka bilateral relations in perspective. The relationship is based on multitude of commonalities and close people-to-people contacts. Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic ties. We regularly exchange high level visits, are engaged in bilateral discussions on sectoral cooperation, including shipping, trade and commerce, education, agriculture, youth development, connectivity and so on. Our relationship is all about friendship, goodwill and good neighbourliness. Therefore, it is comfortable for me to speak before you in a broader perspective involving the entire region’s development aspect.

Now, why do we think of a holistic approach to prosperity? It is firstly due to the compulsion of the contemporary evolution of global order. We are now going through one of the most significant phases of human history, having already experienced an unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic. Just as we showed our capacity to tame the pandemic, another challenge came in our way – armed conflict in Europe. This has not only slowed down our recovery from the havoc done by the pandemic but also caused a global economic recession due to increase in energy and food prices and, more importantly, disruption of supply chain and financial transaction mechanism, owing to sanctions. Besides, we are also victims of rivalry between big and emerging economies and their strategic power play. All these necessitate the developing countries to get together.

The vision of shared prosperity becomes more relevant when we compare the development trajectory of South Asian countries. Indeed, we have made substantial progress. Some South Asian countries have already graduated to middle income status while others are making their way. Yet, poverty is still high in the region.

One predominant characteristic is that our economies display greater interest in integrating with the global economy than with each other. Regional cooperation, within the existing frameworks, has made only limited progress, being hostage to political and security considerations. The problems have their roots in the historical baggage, as well as the existing disparity in the regional structure. In addition, there are a number of outstanding issues and bilateral discords.

All these realities have left us a message that for survival, we need closer collaboration among neighbours, setting aside our differences; we must have concerted efforts through sharing of experiences and learning from each other.

In this backdrop, Bangladesh has been following a policy of shared prosperity, as a vision for the friendly neighbours of South Asia. Guided by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we are advocating for inclusive development in the region. Our development trajectory and ideological stance dovetail our vision of shared prosperity for South Asia. Let me tell how we are doing it.

In Bangladesh, human development is the pillar of sustainable development. Our Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in his maiden speech, at the UNGA, in 1974, said, and I quote, “there is an international responsibility … to ensuring everyone the right to a standard living adequate for the health and the well-being of himself and his family”. Unquote.

This vision remains relevant even today. In that spirit, we are pursuing inclusive and people-centric development in association with regional and global efforts.

In the last decade, we have achieved rapid economic growth, ensuring social justice for all. Today, Bangladesh is acknowledged as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. We have reduced poverty from 41.5% to 20% in the last 14 years. Our per capita income has tripled in just a decade. Bangladesh has fulfilled all criterions for graduating from LDC to a developing country. Bangladesh is ranked as world’s 5th best COVID resilient country, and South Asia’s best performer.

Last year, we inaugurated the self-funded ‘Padma Multi-purpose Bridge”. A few days ago, we started the first ever Metro Rail service in our capital. Soon, we shall complete the 3.2 kilometer Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel under the river Karnaphuli in Chattogram, the first in South Asia. Several other mega-projects are in the pipeline which will bring about significant economic upliftment.

Our aspiration is to transform Bangladesh into a knowledge-based ‘Smart Bangladesh” by 2041 and a prosperous and climate-resilient delta by 2100. We hope to attain these goals by way of ensuring women empowerment, sustainable economic growth and creating opportunities for all.

The priorities of Sheikh Hasina Government are the following:

First, provide food, Second, provide cloths, Third, shelter and accommodation to all and no one should be left behind, Fourth, Education, and Fifth, Healthcare to all. To achieve these goals, she promoted vehicles like Digital Bangladesh, innovation, foreign entrepreneurs and private initiatives in an atmosphere of regional peace, stability and security, and through connectivity. Bangladesh has become a hub of connectivity and looking forward to become a ‘Smart Bangladesh’.

When it comes to foreign policy, we have been pursuing neighbourhood diplomacy for amiable political relations with the South Asian neighbours alongside conducting a balancing act on strategic issues based on the philosophy of “shared prosperity”. I can name a few initiatives which speak of our commitment to the fulfilment of the philosophy.

Bangladesh, within its limited resources, is always ready to stand by her neighbours in times of emergency – be it natural calamity, or pandemic or economic crisis. We despatched essential medicines, medical equipment and technical assistance to the Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and India during the peak period of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We had readily extended humanitarian assistance to Nepal when they faced the deadly earthquake, back in 2015. Last year, we helped the earthquake victims of Afghanistan. Prior to that, we contributed to the fund raised by the United Nations for the people of Afghanistan.

Further, our assistance for the people of Sri Lanka, with emergency medicines, during the moment of crisis, last year, or the currency SWAP arrangement, is the reflection of our commitment to our philosophy. These symbolic gestures were not about our capacity, pride or mere demonstration, rather it was purely about our sense of obligation to our neighbours. We strongly believe that shared prosperity comes with shared responsibility and development in a single country of a particular region may not sustain if others are not taken along.

In addition, we have resolved most of our critical issues with our neighbours, peacefully, through dialogue and discussion. For example, we have resolved our border demarcation problem with India, our maritime boundary with India and Myanmar, and also our water sharing with India, peacefully, through dialogue and discussion.

For an emerging region, like South Asia, we need to devise certain policies and implement those in a sustainable manner. I would like to share some of my thoughts which could be explored in quest for our shared prosperity and inclusive development:

First of all

, without regional peace and stability we would not be able to grow as aspired for. To that effect, our leaders in the region have to work closely on priority basis. We may have issues between neighbours but we have to transcend that to leave a legacy of harmony for our future generation so that a culture of peace and stability prevails in the region. We can vouch for it from our own experience. In Bangladesh, we are sheltering 1.1 million forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals. If remains unresolved, it has the potential to jeopardise the entire security architecture of South Asia. So, here the neighbourhood should support us for their own interests.

Second

, we need to revitalize our regional platforms and properly implement our initiatives taken under BIMSTEC and IORA. We are happy that BIMSTEC is progressing better, but we should endeavour to make it move always like a rolling machine.

Third

, we need to focus on regional trade and investment. Countries in South Asia had implemented trade liberalization within the framework of SAFTA but in a limited scale. Bangladesh is in the process of concluding Preferential Trade Agreement/Free Trade Agreement with several of its South Asian peers. We have already concluded PTA with Bhutan; are at an advanced stage of negotiations for PTA with Sri Lanka and discussions for PTA with Nepal are on. In the same spirit, Bangladesh is about to start negotiations on Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India.

Fourth,

a well-connected region brings immense economic benefits and leads to greater regional integration. To maximize our intra- and extra-regional trade potentials and enhance people-to-people contacts, Bangladesh is committed to regional and sub regional connectivity initiatives. Bangladesh’s geostrategic location is a big leverage which was rightly picked up by our Hon’ble Prime Minister. She benevolently offered connectivity in the form of transit and trans-shipment to our friendly neighbours for sustainable growth and collective prosperity of the region. As for Sri Lanka, if we can establish better shipping connectivity which our two countries are working on, the overall regional connectivity would be more robust.

Fifth

, We live in a globalized world, highly interconnected and interdependent. Our region has gone through similar experience and history. Bangladesh believes and promotes religious harmony. We have been promoting “Culture of Peace” across nations. The basic element of “Culture of Peace” is to inculcate a mindset of tolerance, a mind set of respect towards others, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, colour, background or race. If we can develop such mindset by stopping venom of hatred towards others, we can hope to have sustainable peace and stability across nations, leading to end of violence, wars, and terrorism in nations and regions. There won’t be millions of refugees or persecuted Rohingyas. Bangladesh takes special pride in it as even before Renaissance was started in Europe in the 17th century, even before America was discovered in 1492, in Bengal a campaign was started by Chandi Das as early as 1408 that says “সবার উপরে মানুষ সত্য; তাহার উপরে নাই”- humanity is above all and we still try to promote it.

Sixth

, we have to look beyond a traditional approach of development and challenges and revisit the non-traditional global crises of the recent time. We are experiencing food, fuel, fertiliser and energy shortages due to global politics and disruption of supply chain; as littoral and island countries, we face similar challenges of natural disasters; we have vast maritime area which needs effective maritime governance; we need to curb marine pollution and ensure responsible use of marine resources. Our collective, sincere and bold efforts are required to minimize the impacts of climate change as well.

In this context, I would like to share Bangladesh’s understanding and position.

Ocean Governance:

· Blue Economy:

Bangladesh is an avid proponent of Blue Economy and responsible use of marine resources for the benefit of the entire region. We are keen to utilize the full potential of our marine resources and have developed an integrated maritime policy, drawing on the inter-linkages between the different domains and functions of our seas, oceans and coastal areas. Bangladesh also values the importance of sound science, innovative management, effective enforcement, meaningful partnerships, and robust public participation as essential elements of Blue Economy. At this stage, we need support, technical expertise and investment for sustainable exploration and exploitation of marine resources. As the past and present chairs of IORA, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka should find out ways of bilateral collaboration particularly in Blue Economy in the Bay of Bengal.

· Controlling of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing:

IUU fishing in the maritime territory of Bangladesh needs to be monitored and controlled. Our present capability of marine law enforcement in this regard is limited. Here regional collaboration would be very useful.

· Marine Pollution: Marine pollution is a major concern for all littoral countries. Micro-plastic contamination poses serious threat to marine eco system. Responsible tourism and appropriate legal framework, underpinned by regional collaboration, would greatly help.

Climate Change and Climate Security in the Bay of Bengal:

We have taken a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to make the country climate-resilient. Our Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan was formulated in 2009. Bangladesh has pioneered in establishing a climate fund, entirely from our own resources, in 2009. Nearly $443 million has been allocated to this fund since then.

Moreover, we are going to implement the ‘Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan’ to achieve low carbon economic growth for optimised prosperity and partnership. Green growth, resilient infrastructure and renewable energy are key pillars of this prosperity plan. This is a paradigm shift from vulnerability to resilience and now from resilience to prosperity.

As the immediate past Chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, we had promoted the interests of the climate vulnerable countries, including Sri Lanka, in the international platforms. Bangladesh is globally acclaimed for its remarkable success in climate adaptation, in particular in locally-led adaptation efforts. The Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA) South Asia regional office in Dhaka is disseminating local based innovative adaptation strategies to other climate vulnerable countries.

To rehabilitate the climate displaced people, we have undertaken one of the world’s largest housing projects which can shelter 4,500 climate displaced families. Under the “Ashrayan” project, a landmark initiative for the landless and homeless people, 450,000 families have been provided with houses. Keeping disaster resilience in mind, the project focuses on mitigation through afforestation, rainwater harvesting, solar home systems and improved cook stoves. In addition, the government has implemented river-bank protection, river excavation and dredging, building of embankment, excavation of irrigation canals and drainage canals in last 10 years at a massive scale. We feel, our national efforts need to be complemented by regional assistance.

As the chair of CVF and as a climate vulnerable country, our priority is to save this planet earth for our future generations. In order to save it, we need all countries, specially those that are major polluters, to come up with aggressive NDCs, so that global temperature remains below 1.5 degree Celsius, they should allocate more funds to climate change, they should share the burden of rehabilitation of ‘climate migrants’ that are uprooted from their sweet homes and traditional jobs due to erratic climatic changes, river erosion and additional salinity. We are happy that “loss and damage” has been introduced in COP-27.

Seventh

, South Asia needs a collective voice in the international forum for optimizing their own interests.

Finally,

and most importantly, South Asian leaders need similar political will for a better and prosperous region.

We hope that Bangladesh and its neighbours in South Asia would be able to tap the potentials of each other’s complementarities to further consolidate our relations to rise and shine as a region. May I conclude by reminding ourselves what a Bengali poet has said, and I quote,

Don’t be afraid of the cloud, sunshine is sure to follow.

With this, I conclude. I thank you all for your graceful presence and patience.

Joy Bangla, Joy Bangabandhu!

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Tribute to our Welsh Pembrokeshire Corgis

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by Sunil Dharmabandhu
U.K.sunilrajdharm@yahoo.co.uk

Two years ago, the gap between the number of cats and dogs in the UK stood at 1.5 million, with 7.5 million cats and nine million dogs. The pandemic saw pet numbers soar in Britain, but now the gap has closed to just one million, with 12 million cats and 13 million dogs. Main reason is affordability due to obvious limitations in where one lives. Cats are independent, love to venture out on their own, exploring, hunting, etc., and even bringing home “captured trophies of rats,” etc! Dogs, on the other hand, belong to different categories of being guard dogs, like vicious German Shepherds, trained to do just that, hence the appeal to be with security companies, police, etc., over in more constructive spheres, like sniffer dogs at airports to detect drugs, cash, or in hospital settings, to detect cancers and other diseases!

Border Collies, excellent breeds on farms for protecting sheep, shepherding them in on the command of farmer’s whistles, which enter TV competitions, etc., commanding as much as £50,000 for the well trained! Then, we have an array of other domesticated breeds, from the big to St Bernard’s (absolute softies), Huskies, Great Danes, Newfoundland and Labrador Retrievers who would jump into waters to save our lives, smaller breeds, like Dashhounds, Poodles and Terriers to name a few. But, which breeds topped the list with our beloved Elizebeth the QUEEN? Your guess is spot on ! Pembrokeshire Corgis! Be it a quirk of coincidence or otherwise, my Welsh wife and I fell in love with our very first, Sox, bought as a present by her parents for just £15.00, way back in 1982! To say she lived up to her reputation, full of energy is an understatement! We were living in our first house, a two up, two down, end of terrace house in Croydon, now an extremely busy part of outer London.

She would wreck the little rose bushes in our small back garden, enjoyed walks to a nearby park to exercise before going to work ourselves. It was a freezing day in the winter months, she had her a free run around and lost no time discovering the delight of jumping into frozen puddles with just her neck sticking out, enough to make another dog walker remark “doesn’t she think she is clever!” It was summer when her antics got us into real trouble! In her free run, she spotted a mature man sunbathing, bare-chested in the park. What did Sox do? Jumped on his chest only to annoy him and embarrass us! Apologising, we quickly put her lead on and walked away long enough to think it was far away to release her to enjoy the freedom! We were wrong, she made a hasty retreat to get back into her antics and jump on the same man, sunbathing, to be told off ! Temptations of water, lakes, etc., would never stop her! Full of fun and life!

She lived to a ripe old age of 13-plus to give way to the next, Taffy, a bold, very daring Pembrokeshire Corgi, ready to take on much bigger German Shepherds on our walks, given half a chance ! He was followed by Madam Tara, who thought she was more Royal than the Royals! In her old age, showing difficulties walking, we had doggy walkers to take her round in Berkshire. Tara made us feel embarrassed when she kept barking at pedestrians to get out of the way to make way for her “Royal Walkabouts!” Some saw the funny side, others didn’t hesitate giving us funny looks! While Tara was still enjoying life with us, who joined us next? The “gentleman”’Corgi of all we ever had, Toby. He would allow ladies to go in first at the door, such was his refinement!

True enough, both Tara and Tudor had the good fortune of being spotted by Her Majesty the Queen! Here’s the proof:

The Queen pointed towards our Corgis in a dignified manner though we didn’t get a look in as “commoners’ in the scheme of events!

Both Tara and Toby, no more gave the way for Tudor, a tricoloured Pembrokeshire Corgi, now six years, and our first ever outside the Corgis, a tricoloured miniature Jack Russell, calked Gitto, four years old, both getting on like a house on fire! They are inseparable, thinking themselves of as father and son!

But, in return, they give us unconditional love!

Life has its own nature’s twists and turns!

For those in similar circumstances, or worse, please take comfort!

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Impact of new technology on 13A conundrum, climate and biodiversity catastrophes

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by Chandre Dharmawardana
chandre.dharma@yahoo.ca

Sri Lanka has celebrated its 75th independence anniversary. Its president Wickremesinghe has taken matters into his hands with unprecedented assertiveness. Perhaps, he senses his last chance, and wishes to solve as many problems as he can, before he leaves. A bankrupt economy, shortages of food, energy, and medical supplies, compounded by distrust among ethnic groups are on his plate. But Wickremasinghe has ignored economic problems and turned to constitutional initiatives like the 13th amendment of the Gandhi-JRJ era, while risking re-kindling of partly dormant ethnic fires. He has also ignored the climate and economic summits weakened by war.

Getting ready for extreme climate eventualities

Two Climate summits (COP27 and COP17) in 2022, and the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos raised red-banners regarding climate catastrophes, an uninhabitable earth, rapid declines in biodiversity and the free fall in the numbers of pollinating insects vital to the food supply. The poorest countries would suffer most although least guilty of the consumerism that has unleashed these catastrophes.

Even though Sri Lanka was short of forex, delegations went to all those summits and returned. President Wickremasinghe even suggested a Climate University for Sri Lanka! Will it teach environmental science to the 225 MPs, elucidating Sri Lanka’s vulnerability?

A tropical island like Sri Lanka is particularly vulnerable, facing global warming, sea level rise, loss of biodiversity, irregular monsoons, increasing freak floods and droughts, invasions of harmful locusts, insects, parasites and viruses responding to new warmer climate patterns?

A country must have a robust energy supply and a well-secured food supply to cope with such adversity. Lanka’s agricultural outputs have [1], more than 43% of children under five suffer from malnutrition [2] while government hospitals have run out of resources.

Potential submersion of the North and East.

The Tsunami of December 2004 reminds us how the North and Eastern coastal areas, as well as the Southern coast went under sea. Global warming and a warm sea will destroy the underground fresh water bubble sitting on sea water that nourishes the Northern peninsula. Changes in specific gravity, convection currents and release of trapped gases work inexorably. The limestone land and connecting causeways will fail and create a new submerged “Mahabalipuram” or “Kumari-kandam” within a few decades.

The Muslims and Sinhalese ejected during ethnic cleansing of the North by the Tigers, and denied of their lands should not show schadenfreude at the plight of northern Tamils facing rising seas, because those who will suffer are not the warring leaders, but innocents too poor to escape to the south or to other lands.

The one constitutional amendment that is sorely needed to save them and the North is NOT on the table!

COP27 had promised funding for mitigating expected climate damage. An over-arching authority covering areas threatened by sea level rise is needed. The Mahaweli authority provides an archetype that overrides parochial boundaries to cover the whole ecosystem. A climate authority needs to build dykes, mangrove shields, etc., while integrating sea-weed farming, fishery, elevated roadways, agriculture and energy generation. We discussed these in the The Island, Sept-30, 2017, while an extended version is at Researchgate [3].

Constitution makers incorporating a climate authority must also recognise that the elections model has failed even in the UK and USA, with corrupt politicians setting up corrupt oligarchic rule. A widely considered way out is the sortition model where a sizable fraction of the legislators is elected by lottery from politically non-affiliated citizens to serve just one term. We discussed this in the Sri Lankan context (The Island, January, 2, 2023), while the Harvard Political Review [4] has recently discussed its relevance to USA.

Aspirations of Minorities

Political and constitutional methods of resolving language-rights, and providing local government by local politicians while keeping the centre happy have always failed and a 30-year war was fought. However, eminently practical and inexpensive technological solutions have become available during the 36 years since the introduction of 13A in 1987.

Language rights

According to Tiranagama (The Island 28-07-20), Sinhala and Tamil are the official national languages; Tamil, the language of the main minority is official in all 9 provinces. Sinhala, the language of the majority is official only in seven provinces! Sinhalese police officers and public servants fail to communicate in Tamil, and vice versa. Consequently, citizens are not served in their own language. Furthermore, smaller minorities, e.g., the Malays, and their language rights are completely ignored.

Technology can right these wrongs

Google translate, ChatGP, and new AI technologies provide seamless trans-speech to anyone across over 200 languages. Open-source modular AI speech transcription, e.g., “Whisper” beat humans in comprehending speech ambiguities and rendering into a target language. James Somers, writing in the New Yorker claims [5] that what sounds like “Can you crane a Ford?” is correctly understood as “Can Ukraine afford” by “Whisper”.

Cell phones are cheap, and computer-literate Lankans can utilise these technologies to create Apps to bring true parity to Sinhala, Tamil and other language. You speak your lingo to your phone and your listener hears it in his/her language and local accent! AI provides an end to the language strife of the past.

Local government

The costs of solar energy, batteries and electric locomotion are falling steeply. US-style highways cater to private transport powered mainly by polluting fossil fuels. Highways cost far more than public transport using fast electric trains.

If Jaffna and Colombo were veritable suburbs connected by fast trains, 13A becomes an irrelevant anachronism. Wigneswaran can have breakfast at 8 am in Colombo, and easily meet Jaffna citizens living 300 km away well before lunch!

High speed electric trains plying at 300 km/h are now quite common, while the Shanghai-Maglev train runs at 460 km/h!

Food and energy security

A small nation facing troubled times needs secure sources of energy and food produced using climate-friendly methods that conserve biodiversity. Agriculture contributes over 1/3 of the noxious greenhouse gases (GHG) that cause global warming, while fossil fuels, industry and warfare contribute the rest.

Unfortunately, climate summits and the WEF have become hostages of the oil-lobby and politically powerful Eco-extremists who dominate the EU. Consequently the resolutions of these summits, while recognising climate dangers, provide NO useful solutions. Thus the [6] – a prime example of [7] similar to those tried out and failed in Sri Lanka – were reiterated at COP27 and Davos by EU President Ursula von der Leyen.

The EU Green Deal embraces “organic agriculture (OA)” , redubbed “regenerative”, and promises 55% reduced GHG emissions by 2030 – an impossibility, having reneged the very tools for GHG reduction, namely, no-till farming, agrochemicals, modern seeds and gene technology. Organic agriculture strongly boosts GHG emissions through intense tillage, waterlogging of land for weed control, and composting for fertiliser, making a mockery of climate and biodiversity conservation efforts.

Sri Lanka has learnt its lesson, and planners must follow agricultural scientists and expel political monks and pseudo-ecologists who tout outdated technologies and ancient seeds in the name of tradition. The canard that ‘traditional rice varieties have immense nutritional benefits” must be rectified [8].

Energy self-sufficiency

Self-sufficiency in clean energy is eminently achievable for Sri Lanka. It has one of the highest densities of aquatic bodies per hectare, a string of hydroelectric reservoirs and a national grid linking the land. US National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado has studied Sri Lanka and Maldives and noted Lanka’s good potential for solar-energy.

In 2009 we proposed [9] that all reservoirs be equipped with floating solar panels, not only to generate electricity, but also to prevent water evaporation, automatically increasing hydro-electricity by some 30%. This boost is NOT subject to fluctuations due to changing cloud cover.

On the other hand, the electricity generated using wind or solar panels IS subject to such fluctuations, at ANY GIVEN LOCALITY. This “fickle” nature of solar- and wind- electricity has been used by the CEB engineers and some academics to discredit them as viable options for Sri Lanka. They have touted coal and LNG, utterly disregarding forex costs and environmental unsuitability.

In reality, when solar and wind energies are generated in MANY localities, and then saved in batteries or as head-water in reservoirs, then no fluctuation effects will be felt by the grid. The idling batteries of electric vehicles parked during the day can store Solar by V2G (vehicle-to-grid) plug-ins. The forex cost for such energy development is orders of magnitude cheaper and cleaner than for LNG and other touted solutions.

The potential from bio-energy, e.g., using castor seed for diesel oil [10], exploiting the ease of rapidly growing Castor could be exploited to provide a secure panoply of clean inexpensive energies for Sri Lanka.

Relevant basic ideas were laid out in 2009 [9] and at least some pilot projects were appropriate. The nay-sayers won the day and Sri Lanka is starved of energy. Even today 100% conversion to renewable energy that does not need Forex is possible within a decade for Sri Lanka.

So, proposals to drill for oil in the Mannar basin, or unsolicited offers to set up nuclear power to solve Lanka’s energy problems should generally be rejected as undesirable and unnecessary

Conclusion.

The three major problems facing Sri Lanka, namely (a) linguistic and local-government rights of minorities (b) energy and food security, (c) mitigating global warming effects, have all changed their character since the 1980s. These now have clear technological solutions.

References:

[1]https://economynext.com/sri-lanka-maha-2021-rice-harvest-drop-40-pct-due-to-fertilizer-ban-95750/

[2]https://island.lk/childhood-malnutrition-the-double-edged-sword/

[3]https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320258350_A_Tenth_province_or_Coastal_authority_to_deal_with_climate_change_A_must_for_a_21_st_century_constitution_of_Sri_Lanka

[4]https://harvardpolitics.com/sortition-in-america/

[5]https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals-of-technology/whispers-of-ais-modular-future

[6]https://commission.europa.eu/strategy-and-policy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en

[7]https://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2023/01/05/the_us_must_learn_from_sri_lankas_green_policy_mistakes_873852.html

[8]https://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2023/01/30/paddy-farming-organic-versus-agrochemical-based-methods/

[9]https://dh-web.org/place.names/posts/dev-tech-2009.ppt

[10]https://island.lk/can-castor-beanrubber-and-tea-seeds-solve-sri-lankas-diesel-deficit/

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