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The Presidential Cognitive Test




by Vijaya Chandrasoma

If you can identify an elephant or a hippo from a picture, or count backwards from 100 in reductions of seven, and know the date, month and year it is today, then you too are eminently qualified to be the President of the United States.

Donald Trump has been bragging that he has aced the test he was recently “persuaded” to take at the Walter Reed Hospital after displaying behaviour more erratic, even nuttier than usual, of signs of probable onset of dementia.

The test under reference, called the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), was created by neurologist, Dr. Ziad Nasreddin, of the Alzheimer Society of Canada. “It’s not an IQ test”, said Dr. Nasreddin, “It’s supposed to help physicians detect early signs of Alzheimer’s, and it’s supposed to be easy for someone who has no cognitive impairment.”

There is always that one kid who was with you in school who brags, usually after a few drinks, that he had aced every test at school, claims to have won the most prestigious awards the school had to offer and scored a ton in the big match which he played only in his dreams. Proving that old maxim “The older we get, the better we were.” Donald Trump is the superlative American persona of this kid.

The MoCA is a screening test designed to evaluate various cognitive functions: attention and concentration, executive functions, memory, language, visuo-constructional skills, conceptual thinking, simple mathematical calculations and orientation.

The 30 questions, in seven parts, are designed to assess multiple aspects of thinking typically impacted by dementia:

=Connect numbered dots in sequence, and draw three-dimensional shapes (like a cube)

=Identify familiar animals (a camel, a hippo, an elephant)

=Draw a clock, including all of the numbers, and set the time to 10 minutes past 11

=Repeat sequence backwards from 100 to 0 in reductions of 7

=Listen to a series of five words and repeat them, in order, a short time later

=Speak and understand whole sentences

I am really surprised that Trump passed this. The following are real sentences Trump spoke during a recent speech, providing valuable advice on household implements, verbatim:

“I did a lot of this sinks, showers, all of this stuff. I did a lot of it. No water comes out. You have some areas where there’s so much water you don’t know what to do with it. You turn on the shower, you’re not allowed to have any water anymore.

“Dishwashers, the dishwasher, right? You press it. Remember the dishwasher, you press it, there’d be like an explosion. Five minutes later you open it up and the steam pours out, the dishes…. now you press it 12 times, women tell me again.

“Well, we like the old light bulb better. I said, I like it better, and so what I did is you can either one. If you want to buy the newer kind you can and if you want to look very handsome or beautiful by buying the older kind like I do. It probably gives a better light whatever it is and you’ll be able to spend a lot less money on a light bulb. I mean, it sounds like little but it’s big stuff. OK. It’s big stuff.”

This is the test that Trump says he aced, and even the doctors at the Walter Reed were amazed at how well he had performed. Trump claims they said, “That’s an unbelievable thing. Rarely does anyone do what you just did.” Perhaps these doctors had set a very low bar for Trump and were shocked he didn’t provide conclusive evidence of Alzheimer’s or Dementia.

At a recent interview on Fox News, veteran newsman, Chris Wallace, mercilessly exposed Trump’s penchant for delusion. When Trump said he got a perfect result on the MoCA test, that he had answered all 35 questions. Wallace, who had a copy of the test with him, pointed out that the test contained only 30 questions. This means that Trump gave himself credit for filling in the information required at the top of the test: name, education (about which I have no doubt he lied), sex, date of birth and current date!

He was so proud of his performance that he challenged Joe Biden, his Democratic rival, to take the test with him. “Let’s take the test right now. Let’s go down, Joe and I will take a test right now. Let him take the same test I took.”

This challenge was the Sri Lankan schoolyard equivalent of “Come for a fight”! Fine for the third form at Royal College, but this is the President of the United States, folks.

Wallace told him at the interview that he also had taken the same cognitive test when he heard that Trump had passed it. “It’s not the hardest test. They have a picture and it says what’s that? and it’s an elephant.

Trump got hysterical. “No, no, no. It’s all misrepresentation. Because yes, the first few questions are easy, but I’ll bet you couldn’t even answer the last five questions. I’ll bet you couldn’t, they get very hard, the last five questions.”

At yet another interview with Fox News Contributor, Dr. Marc Siegel, Trump described the hardest question at great length, one that no one but a stable genius could answer correctly, viz. Listen to these five words: PERSON, WOMAN, MAN, CAMERA, TV. Then repeat these words, in the same order, 15 minutes later. Trump somehow convinced himself, however, that (the test) is akin to a MENSA exam, and his ability to score a perfect score is proof of his genius. “The poor guy seems stuck, unable to shake his preoccupation with it.”

Trump is so obsessed with this test, as he needs voters to believe it proves beyond any doubt that he is cognitively capable of doing his job. Which probably is an indication he is trying to convince himself that, in the alternative world in which he lives, America is doing wonderfully well under his “strong leadership”.

Also, this obsession may show that he is beginning to understand why his popularity rates are tanking. His current desperation is making him take more dangerous, illegal, even unconstitutional actions to win re-election by any means. He has recently deployed federal troops to states run by Democratic governors, without requests from their governors, indeed in spite of their resistance, to “subdue” protestors against police brutality. Protests which have been escalating in all parts of the nation since George Floyd was murdered on May 25, eight weeks ago.

Trump is following Hitler’s playbook to the letter; Hitler sent his Storm Troopers known as the Brownshirts, the Nazi Party militia, to serve as the Nazi army to quell German protests in the 1930s.

Three of the last and most difficult questions on the test were:

=Serial 7 subtraction starting at 100: 93, 86, 79…..

=Fluency: Name maximum number of words in one minute that begin with the letter F (passing grade – 11 words)

=Orientation: Date, Month, Year, Day, Place, City (This last question in the test was worth six points of the total 30!)

My six-year old grandson will ace this test, no problem.

I am, of course, praying (as fervently as only an atheist can pray) that Trump will not win a second four year-term or postpone/cancel elections by illegal means or refuse to leave the White House if he is defeated at the polls. But I suspect there’s a nagging fear in every journalist’s mind that they will have to buckle down to some serious hard work next year if a real president is elected. The jokes will be no longer be writing themselves on a daily basis.


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Development after the elections



By Jehan Perera

Many years ago, former Government Agent of Jaffna, Dr Devanesan Nesiah, explained the northern sentiment when elections were taking place.  He said there was apprehension about the possible turn of events over which they had no control.  The minority status of the Tamil people would invariably mean that their future would be determined by the outcome of the power struggle in the south of the country.  I was reminded of these words of Dr Nesiah during discussions organised by the Civil Society Platform in the northern towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna on the democratic challenges arising from the forthcoming elections.

The main theme, at the present elections in the south, and most of the country, has been the need to elect a strong government and to give it a 2/3 majority to change the constitution, accordingly.  The response in Vavuniya and Jaffna, by the members of civil society, was that a strong government would not heed the wishes of the people. Like people in other parts of the country, they felt let down by the political leaders and said they did not know for whom to vote.  The issues that they highlighted as being their concerns were economic ones, such as the lack of jobs for youth and the harm to families caused by an unregulated micro credit scheme that made them vulnerable to the predatory actions of money lenders.

The civil society members, in the towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna, did not take up the issue of the 19th Amendment and the possible threat to civil society space that the speakers from the south put before them. This indicated a longer term need to have educational programmes on the importance of the rule of law and judicial independence, in particular, to ensure justice and non-discrimination.  But they also did not comment or discuss the manifesto put out by the main Tamil political party, the TNA, which addressed longstanding issues of the Tamil polity, including self-determination, federalism, the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces or the newer post-war issues of missing persons and accountability for war crimes.


The absence of public debate, at the civil society meetings in the north on the political dimension at the forthcoming elections, may reflect a wariness about speaking publicly on politically controversial matters. Civil society groups throughout the country have been reporting there is more police surveillance of their work. The fear of falling into trouble and being seen as anti-government may have restrained the participants at the civil society meeting in the north from expressing their true feelings. On the other hand, there is also the reality that existential issues of jobs, loans and incomes are of immediate concern especially in the context of the Covid-induced economic downturn. The short term concerns of people are invariably with economic issues.

One of the salient features of the present elections has been the general unwillingness of even the main political parties to address any of the issues posed by the TNA.  This would be due to their apprehension of the adverse fallout from the electorate. It could also be due to their lack of ideas regarding the way forward. Apart from the 19th Amendment, another impediment to a strong government, that is identified by its proponents is the 13th Amendment. In the run up to the elections, there have been calls for the abolition of the 13th Amendment, which created the devolved system of provincial councils, along with the 19th Amendment that directly reduced the power of the presidency and increased the independence of state institutions. The provincial councils have been emasculated by denying them of both resources and decision making power and are condemned for being white elephants.

It has been noted, by the political commentator D B S Jeyaraj, that the TNA’s choice of focusing on issues of transitional justice, in dealing with war time violations of human rights, led to the TNA aligning itself with Western powers. This did not yield the anticipated benefits as the previous government failed to implement many of its commitments in regard to transitional justice. It would have been better to have focused instead on getting the provincial councils in the north and east to engage in more development-oriented work which would have met the existential needs of the people.


Jeyaraj has also surmised that if the TNA had chosen the path of utilising the provincial council system for development work, it could have obtained support from India, which had been the co-architects of the provincial council system, in 1987, along with the then Sri Lankan government. India has a moral obligation to contribute to developing the north and east of the country where the war raged in full fury and led to immense destruction. India’s role in destabilising Sri Lanka and enhancing the military capacity of the Tamil armed groups, including the LTTE, is a bitter and abiding memory which the journalist Shamindra Ferdinando has written extensively about.

A creative suggestion made during the civil society discussion in Jaffna was for the provincial councils to implement what governments have promised to implement but have failed to do. An example given was that of reparations to war victims. The previous government pledged to set up a system of reparations in terms of the UNHRC resolution in 2015. But, although an Office for Reparations was established, very little was done. The question was whether the provincial councils in the north and east could not have utilised their resources for the purposes of instituting schemes of reparations as it would be clearly within the policy framework of the government.

While the issues in the TNA’s manifesto will remain perennial ones to the Tamil polity, the people are looking for political leaders who will deliver them the economic benefits in the same way as in the rest of the country. The civil society meetings in the north suggests that the northern people are not showing priority interest in political issues as they believe these are non-deliverable at the present time. Instead of using its majority status in parliament and seeking to abolish the 13th Amendment, and the provincial council system, and creating a crisis with the Tamil polity and India, the new government would do better to work through them to meet the material needs of the people. They need to also realize limits of the constitution, and focus on social, economic and political pluralism and promote values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise, and consent of the governed.


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A blazing story!



The local showbiz scene is ablaze with a story about the members of a particular band, who indicated that they are undergoing a tough time, abroad, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a video, showing the members pouring forth their difficulties, and earnestly requesting the authorities concerned to bring them back home, that got others to move into action…and the truth has come out.

After having looked into their situation, extensively, knowledgeable sources say that the video contained a load of lies and, according to reports coming our way, the band has now been blacklisted by the authorities for lying about their situation.

These guys have, apparently, gone on Holiday Visas and have, thereby, contravened the Visa conditions.

The story going around is that they have had problems, within the band, as well.

The authorities, in Sri Lanka, are aware of the situation, in that part of the world, but there are many others who are waiting to get back home and, they say, musicians can’t get into the priority list.

So, it’s likely to be a long wait for these guys before they can check out their hometown again!


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Top local stars to light up ARISE SRI LANKA



Richard de Zoysa’s brainchild, ARISE SRI LANKA, is going to create an awesome atmosphere, not only locally, but abroad, as well.

This telethon event will feature the cream of Sri Lankan talent, said Richard, who is the Chairman of Elite Promotions & Entertainment (Pvt) Ltd.

Put together as a fund-raiser for those, in the frontline, tackling the coronavirus pandemic, in Sri Lanka, ARISE SRI LANKA will bring into the spotlight a galaxy of local stars, including Noeline Honter, Damian, Mahindakumar, Rukshan, Melantha, Jacky, Ranil Amirthiah, Mariazelle, Trishelle, Corinne, Sohan, Samista, Shean, Rajitha, Umara, April, Shafie, Dr. Nilanka Anjalee Wickramasinghe, Kevin, Ishini, and Donald.

Mirage is scheduled to open this live streaming fun-raiser, and they will back the artistes, assigned to do the first half of the show.

Sohan & The X-Periments will make their appearance, after the intermission, and they, too, will be backing a set of artistes, scheduled to do the second half.

The new look Aquarius group, led by bassist Benjy Ranabahu, will also be featured, and they will perform a very special song, originally done by The Eagles, titled ‘There’s A Whole In The World.’

The lyrics are very meaningful, especially in today’s context where the coronavirus pandemic has literally created holes, in every way, and in every part of the world.

Aquarius will be seen in a new setting, doing this particular song – no stage gimmicks, etc.

The finale, I’m told, will be a song composed by Noeline, with Melantha doing the musical arrangements, and titled ‘Arise Sri Lanka.’

The programme will include songs in Sinhala, and Tamil, as well, and will be streamed to many parts of the world, via TV and social media.

Richard says that this show, scheduled for August 29th, is in appreciation of the work done by the frontliners, to keep the pandemic, under control, in Sri Lanka.

“We, in Sri Lanka, can be proud of the fact that we were able to tackle the Covid-19 situation, to a great extent,” said Richard, adding that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged the fact that we have handled the coronavirus pandemic, in an exceptional way.

The team, helping Richard put together ARISE SRI LANKA, include Noeline Honter, Sohan Weerasinghe, Donald Pieries, from the group Mirage, Benjy Ranabahu, and the guy from The Island ‘Star Track.’


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