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We can do worse than the worst over there!

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My article titled above is a play on the famous song belted out by Betty Hutton in Annie get your Gun – ‘Anything you can do I can do better’. Cass discerns the truth of this vis-a vis our mobs, politicians and terrorists with the change of ‘better’ to ‘worse’.

The entire world was abuzz with the assault on the Capitol after Trump’s call in his speech at a Republican rally instigating action must be taken. So white supremacists stormed the Capitol targeting the US Congress and House of Representatives. Cass’ reaction was: Oh, we Sri Lankans can do better and surpass those beefy guys who scaled the walls of the seat of American government; smashed windows, crawled, crept and swept into rooms. Trump’s call for sedition was to disrupt the votes being taken within that, would seal the coffin of his departure from office; his coffin in actuality. Though disrupted, the Senate did convene later through the night and passed all electoral college votes to confirm Biden’s bid for Presidency, and Harris for VP.

Here was true democracy within the government in sharp contrast to the anarchy without, instigated by a megalomaniac. He seems to be assured his true dessert – impeachment and even a judicial case against him as instigator of a coup. But will he do worse in the few days left to the 21st and the inauguration of the new President? You never know with a psychopath.

The war cry over there was: Trump did not lose the elections; it was rigged and fraudulent. Thus, the American whites have to grab power by whatever means. Many of the rioters have been apprehended; some in positions of power who encouraged the riot including two Republican Senators. Five have died, one being the pitiable police officer who was shown on TV as suffocating, wedged in a too small space by the rioters and screaming for help. Most of the beefy ones who rioted are lower down types – mostly ill-educated Republicans.

How did we fare over here and do worse, as I contend? SWRD Bandaranaike, soon after he won the Premiership with forming his own party, introduced the Pancha Maha Bala Vegaya as the backbone of the country. Thus, a motley group of farmers, ayurveda practitioners, Buddhist monks, teachers and workers were invited to roam around the Parliament – then by Galle Face Green. Their exhilaration was so great, one sat on the Speaker’s chair – truly sacrosanct then. SWRD for sure is guilty of dragging members of the peasantry to a false sense of power which they overrode.

His Sinhala Only Act paralleled Trump’s incitement to the mob, but with a difference. Though, Trump gloated for a short while, maybe four hours, and the wrong was quickly righted, the violence incited by the Sinhala Only Ac, at first with no concession to either Tamil or English, continued down the decades and though modified to be more accommodating, is still a sharp thorn in the flesh of Sri Lankans. A 28-year civil war resulted with thousands killed. Trump will get his due punishment; SWRD was shot by a Buddhist monk instigated by another.

To parallel the assault on the Capitol was the uproar within the Sri Lankan Parliament in September 2018. The major difference is that while mostly white thugs stormed the Capitol, our Members of Parliament, Sri Lanka’s premier legislators turned rioters and ruffians flouted outrageously the protocols and rules of Parliament. The Americans went in with bull strength. Many may have had firearms but did not whip them out. They used hastily gathered ‘weapons’ like legs torn off chairs. Our rioting MPs went berserk too and were better armed with bound Holy Bibles, torn off equipment, chairs, and deadly chilli powder. We can equal Trump’s role of inciter to the leader of the Party gone berserk, who sat quietly watching. The facilitator was the Prez at the time: Sirisena. No one can deny we did not do worse than the Americans. (‘better than’ as in the song Cass mentioned). Cass looked out for women in the Washington DC melee. Just a very few; unrecognisable in their winter coats. We went better: we had two screaming women cheerleaders in our August House, leading on the Johnstons and Gammanpilas. Yes, Pavithradevi, now of Peni and Mutti fame, and Dr Sudarshini, currently mercifully earning respect as State Minister in charge of C19 prevention. House of Reps Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, was on hand and took the lead to get business done, though it was late night. Our parallel: sage saviour, again of high repute, who braved the gang of uncouth MPs and their missiles and restored the House to order: – Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.

‘Black Lives Matter’ and all that occurs often in the States. In the latest two incidents, two black men were attacked and killed by white policemen. The entire country: Blacks, Whites, Hispanics rose up as one to protest and got laws changed and criminals duly punished.

Oh, goodness, one clash with Tamils (1983) condemned us in the eyes of the entire world; caused a 28-year civil war; saw the rise of the worst terrorist of all times and climes: Prabhakaran and his ‘gift’ to the world – the most horrendous suicide bomber. Wounds of the 1983 riot against Tamils have yet suppurating wounds exposed unjustifiably by the Tamil diaspora. Later, rampages against Muslims and them retaliating had the worst massacre – merciless killing of churchgoers and five-star hotel guests at breakfast by radicalised Muslims.

Thus hasn’t Cass justified fully the statement – we can do worse than even the American mindless thugs.

Continuing Covid 19

Neil Ferguson. epidemiologist of Imperial College UK, interviewed by Stephen Sackur on the BBC HARDtalk programme on Saturday 9 January, admitted that often politicians and the scientific community did not see eye to eye, particularly during the Covid pandemic. Politicians watched economic indices sink low and thus their hopes of re-election later and present popularity, while scientists from virologists across the spectrum to doctors in the forefront of attending to Covid-19 patients had the target of reducing deaths and containing infection with all its attendant corollaries. He said that this pandemic was not going to leave the world for very long. Asked the percentage that should be vaccinated so infection rates are reduced, he did not trot out a definite statistic like 70% but said if over 50s and frontline health workers are immunised, the situation would improve fast. Sackur enquired whether poorer countries and Third Worlders would be ruled out as vaccines roll out. Ferguson disagreed because he said India and Brazil are manufacturing vaccines, even the Oxford one, in bulk and therefore obtainable to poorer countries closer at hand and at less cost.

Cambodia and Vietnam, along with richer Australasia and South Korea were able to contain the spread of infection well since strictures were followed closely, lockdowns were ordered and contact tracing and quarantine efficiently carried out. We, tiny Sri Lanka, would have been in this praiseworthy category if not for resting on laurels after the first success and concentrating on passing the 20A, opening up, and not only disregarding health advice of specialists but even encouraging dissidence among scientists and the medical profession.

++

And then of course came the Ukrainians, made to be detestable by an admirer of theirs, a sponsor of sorts, an arranger of their leisure and R&R, of scantily dressed, holidaying gals with others overflowing our holiday resorts and tourists sites – the former selected to benefit only some hoteliers, it is rumoured. The Ukrainians – a pilot – introduced the influx of the second wave of greater virulence (no denying this at all) and a promoter of tourism – outside the tourism sector – but living grand with address: Temple Trees, Colombo 3, is continuing the risk we face for weeks on end with thousands of Ukrainians flying here – all in a test run, protective bubbles or whatever only imagined. You know Cass remembered her maternal grandmother, four feet something, but in nature a red hot chilli. Deiya saakki was the neatest expression of disgust and annoyance in seven villages surrounding hers; and her curse: Hena hathak gahapan with a spat out nodaking. Cass echoes the lady now as she dreads the announcement of a high rise of C19 in the areas flooded across by the Ukrainian holiday makers. They have even been taken to the Dalada Maligawa, always full of devotees. Were the two Mahanayakes not informed?

An experiment, she thought, is a one-off until test results are obtained and measured and deductions made. So, if the first batch of Ukrainian tourists was a test run, bringing in the second contingent should have been suspended until the situ here was assessed. Two weeks at least to ascertain whether fresh cases of infection were reported from people involved and sites visited. No. This was NOT done and not criticized by anyone with political clout. The JVP has shouted against the move; others have come out strong. Not a squeak from the Presidential Task Force for the prevention of Covid 19 spread. We admired them so much earlier, to the point of veneration. Did Jasinghe’s kick to an alien field from the medical where he rendered yeoman service debilitate the Task Force though led by no less a smart person than the Army Commander?

We wait fearfully studying the sure rise of the second wave of infection which should have been well on the wane, but for the Ukrainians.



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Features

Playing politics with science!

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It is obvious that the only way out of this disastrous pandemic is through science––the use of vaccines that have been introduced in double quick time due to scientific ingenuity. It is the duty of politicians to refrain from playing politics with science.

 

By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

If you thought it was only our politicians who played politics with science, you thought wrong. Admittedly, ours are pretty bad as evident from the Dhammika peniya episode. We had our Health Minister freely advertising the concoction by ingesting it in her office and wasting the valuable time of academics by instructing them to test it for efficacy. Getting a pretty bad attack of Covid-19 demonstrated the idiocy of her action but she continues unashamedly to be our Minister of Health!

A Professor of Pharmacology turned politician did likewise. Forgetting what he taught his students, he supported the untested therapies, the explanation given by one of his colleagues being that he behaved as a politician, not a scientist! By implication, even scientists can forget science when they become politicians! Funnily, he was rewarded by being appointed the Acting Minister of Health the day the Health Minister was discharged from hospital, which was rather bizarre considering that during the Minister’s prolonged period of hospital-stay there was no acting appointment! Perhaps, fearing that he might take the bread out of her mouth, the Minister returned to office within a few days of discharge.

Although the first wave of the Covid-19 epidemic was very effectively controlled, the loss of efficiency as regards the second wave was due no doubt to allowing non-scientific ideas to creep in. The refusal of permission for the burial of Covid-19 victims in spite of a group of top scientists recommending it, made us look foolish and turned international opinion against the country.

The clamour for vaccination is a welcome sign, more so because the UK is continually producing evidence for the extreme efficacy of vaccination.

The UK was the first country in the world to start vaccination and has already vaccinated more than 21 million of its 66 million population. It started with the Pfizer vaccine, closely followed by the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. EU, which was a late starter, was critical of the Oxford AZ vaccine. The French President Emmanuel Macron is obviously guilty of playing politics with science as he was one of the vaccine’s most vociferous critics, calling it “quasi-ineffective” for the elderly. As a result of political comments of this nature, more than half of EU countries limited the Oxford AZ vaccine to those under 65 years, in spite of the European Medicines Agency approving it for all age groups.

Another political appointee, Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President, had a public spat with AstraZeneca over gaining more of its vaccine doses and introduced a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland; she was forced to reverse her decision, quickly. She then suggested the UK had compromised on “safety and efficacy” by approving the jab so early, despite the EMA reaching the same conclusions as the UK’s internationally-respected MHRA, which approved the Oxford AZ vaccine for all ages. Millions of doses of Oxford AZ vaccine, which they obtained in spite of criticism, remain unused in France and Germany. Why did they not have the generosity to give these to struggling countries like Sri Lanka?

Data released by Public Health England (PHE) shows that both the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are highly effective in reducing COVID-19 infections among those 70 years and over. Since January, protection against symptomatic Covid-19, four weeks after the first dose, ranged between 57 and 61% for Pfizer and between 60 and 73% for the Oxford AZ vaccine.

In the over 80s, data suggest that a single dose of either vaccine is more than 80% effective in preventing hospitalisation, around 3 to 4 weeks after the jab. There is also evidence for 83% reduction in deaths from Covid-19 with the Pfizer vaccine and data for Oxford AZ vaccine is awaited.

European aversion to Oxford AZ vaccine is, no doubt, due to Brexit than to science. Very soon, all EU countries would be forced by science to allow all age groups to have the Oxford AZ vaccine which, by the way, is the cheapest vaccine that is easier to transport and store. Politicians who criticised Oxford AZ vaccine have had to eat humble pie but they will no doubt come out with some claim to justify their idiocy!

A Belgian minister, Budget State Secretary Eva De Bleeker, has angered vaccine manufacturers by revealing sensitive and confidential commercial information – the price that the EU has agreed to pay for the leading Covid-19 vaccines. Though her twitter message was deleted quickly, screenshots taken show that the EU agreed prices for the three vaccines used at present are as follows: Oxford/AstraZeneca: €$ 1.78, Pfizer/BioNTech : €$ 12 and Moderna: $18.

Moderna, a Bio-tech company, which has not been profitable so-far, is heading for wind-fall profits and the drug-giant Pfizer will get richer. No one seems to have followed the noble gesture of AstraZeneca, which agreed with the Oxford group to provide the vaccine on no-profit basis.

It is obvious that the only way out of this disastrous pandemic is through science––the use of vaccines that have been introduced in double quick time due to scientific ingenuity. It is the duty of politicians to refrain from playing politics with science.

As Dolly Parton sang with a rewrite of her famous song ‘Jolene’ whilst having her jab:

“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, because once you’re dead, then that’s a bit too late.”

 

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Who wants to live forever?

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The haunting lyrics of The Queen song and the almost plaintive tone in Freddie Mercury’s oh so unique voice, when he sang this song (particularly in his live performance at Wembley), echo through my mind these days. There are two main reasons why longevity is foremost these days.

The first, of course, being the pandemic that is among us. It may be the first time that the civilian population of the entire world is facing the possibility of sudden death, not from incoming fire or even suicide bombers but from an insidious, unseen, minute germ!

The second reason why the length of our lives and prolonging it for as long as we possibly can have been entering my thoughts, is when I see the scramble to get the anti-virus vaccine that I observe in the Pearl. Now, most of us are Buddhists and somewhere in those teachings is a belief that we come into this world with a certain amount of AYUSHA or length of life, and that when that is over the end happens and there is no choice. At least, that is the basic interpretation of undoubtedly very complex teaching.

If that is the case, why this scramble for the vaccine? Why are we using privileged positions (connections to rulers and politicians), connections to doctors, and even the Mayors of certain cities to short-circuit the waiting lists? Older people are complaining that they are being denied the vaccine, why? Those people have probably achieved all their objectives in life, completed successful lives, seen grandchildren or even great-grandchildren, why do they want to deny some young man or woman starting out on life with all those milestones to reach, the vaccine, particularly if they are devoted to the teachings of the Buddha.

Is it selfishness, greed, and avarice, things we should avoid according to these self-same teachings, or is it simply one-up-man-ship and the need to be able to boast that they got the vaccine when the “ordinary” man is still standing in queues and probably infecting each other due to the total chaos and non-observance of Covid protocols in these places of administering the vaccine? Think about it dear readers, especially those of you who have completed productive and useful lives, brought up “successful” children, and as is the way in our society provided them with houses, lands, dowries, and other ways of sustenance. Do we really need to join this scramble for the vaccine? Or, use our position of privilege to probably deny some younger person, with a life to live, the chance of getting it. Is it even our ego (something else we should control and make less significant in our lives and decisions) that allows us to justify our long existence in this world? They need my superior intellect, does this world and this society, therefore I must live as long as possible! Or, is it simply the basic animal instinct to live as long as possible, something that we as humans with our superior brains should be able to think around?

Here in Aotearoa, we have re-entered a level 3 lockdown in our most heavily populated city and a level 2 lockdown for the rest of our country. This has been due to certain non-observance of Covid protocols by people of a clearly identified community, living in a certain part of the city of sails, as Auckland is also known. This is the second time that the community, living in that part of the city has brought about an escalation of the pandemic and stricter lockdowns. It has brought more economic misery and spelled the end of the road to more businesses and enterprises. Now, in the Pearl, we may have resorted to attacking those communities and even rioting. All that seems to have happened here are of course the usual vitriolic racist attacks on the internet and a government decision to vaccinate those areas of the city first, in an attempt to control the pandemic. Wow! in the pearl either all these people would have been rounded up and locked up in a camp in the Vanni or locked down under strict curfew with the threat of being shot if violated. The jury with regard to if the Pearl alternative or the Aotearoa alternative of these should have been used is still out …

Maybe some readers are interested in the outcome of the threat that is looming over us from the upcoming United Nations action in Geneva? I have been trying to get some feedback from “intellectuals” currently living in the Pearl, but they seem distracted, and a feeling of helplessness seems to prevail. The incumbent Foreign Minister seems to think that a humble Indian Ocean Island with what strictly speaking, can be considered a failed or at least failing economy, can dictate terms to the UN, behaving like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Maybe our “new best friend” China, probably aided and abetted by Russia has lent strength to his arm.

Even a “victory’ for Lanka at the UNHCR to this resolution should not be cheered too vociferously, as the countries ranged against us will have long term plans. Every step of this government will be monitored closely. The loss of our garment exporting privileges to the first world could result along with other economic sanctions that would make the cost of living in the Pearl even higher.

One rather interesting possibility seems to be travel bans on certain individuals and freezing of their assets held abroad. Now that could be stimulating, especially if the numbers involved are made public! However, if that was the case, I believe the attempt to rectify the situation would have been given to a more competent person than “the bull in the china shop”!

I cannot resist putting this out dear readers and I apologise profusely in advance. What if someone like Ranil W, was in charge of foreign affairs? Do you think we would have had a more professional approach and had a better chance in dealing with the complicated nuances of handling UN diplomacy, in the long term? At least we may have not insulted and possibly humiliated the visiting PM of one of our allies, Imran Khan of Pakistan! On the other hand, Mr. Khan, you may rest assured that even if you had addressed our parliament, no member would have understood anything you said or even been able to decipher your immaculate Oxbridge accent. It is only those of us who have shut ourselves out mentally from the shenanigans or gone into voluntary exile who watch with dismay, who would have savoured your words and briefly wondered …what if … ?

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Thanks for quick vaccination; harmful dabblers in the occult should be severely dealt with

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There has been much in the daily press on vaccination against Covid-19 in this fair isle of ours, or rather in Colombo and its suburbs

Let’s put aside complaints and say praise be!

Most of what was media-written was on the ensuing chaos of not knowing where to go for the jab; how to get a token; which age group will be given it (apart of course from VIPs and politicians who were close behind frontline health workers). Mercifully, the authorities righted the initial wrong of deciding on prioritizing the 30-65 age group and neglecting the over 65s, who were placed second in the priority list in more enlightened countries following WHO strictures. And so lots have got the jab and we anticipate a drastic drop in infection and Covid death rates. Cass contributed her fair share of criticism in this column but not stridently nor unreasonably. She had not seen the privileged list that passed off as Municipal workers on Tuesday 24 February at the Public Library, Colombo 7, arriving in Mercedes Benzes and SUVs. If she had, her ire would have emerged in pure vitriol! One friend said she enquired from several sophisticates in the queue how they got there, but received mumbled replies. So, a Rose by any other name, even Do-Gooder, smells as bad when it goes unjust! Things got much better and the service worked smoothly once the MOHs came into their own.

What Cass notes in summarizing the issue today is thanks and gratitude to the government and the Health Services particularly, for vaccinating so very many so quickly. People who wrote about this issue, Cass included, were all praise for the actual data takers and vaccine givers. In certain centres, the old and disabled were queued in a different line and vaccinated within an hour.

The gratitude Cass renders is because only part of the total amount of vaccine was gifted by India and the WHO. Our government booked early and paid for the rest, and of the Oxford kind. This vaccine is admittedly relatively cheaper, but it had to be paid for, which cost the government bore. We have to appreciate the massive organization entailed and excuse inevitable hiccups. This fact struck Cass as a feeling of much needed security and elimination of fear was felt, and all for free. Also when a friend in Melbourne wrote they were as yet awaiting vaccination.

 

Black Magic and witchcraft in Sri Lanka

If you thought as Cass did that we would never ever resemble a dark Congo tribe resorting to occult cures or a re-enactment of shades of supernatural superstitious beliefs in witchcraft as in Salem, Massachusetts, USA, in 1692 (where some young girls caught prancing naked cooked up lies about good women in the village being witches), you and Cass were both mistaken. We’ve had these in different styles right here in supposedly majority Buddhist Free Sri Lanka with other religions holding people together, in the 21st century with some of our own doing brilliantly well in advanced scientific disciplines all over the developed world. Cass, as you now know, was born and bred in the hills of Kandy with its most sacred Dalada Maligawa and picturesquely situated quaint temples in peaceful green valleys with the sound of evening pooja bells, joined by Kovil tinkles and Sunday sonorous Church gantara and the cry of the Muzeen. We never had a bali or thovil ceremony. If an inauspicious time descended on the village or a household, it was pirith chanted by Bhikkhus. So to Cass what has been happening very recently is even stranger than to those who have village cousins who dabble in mantra and kodivina with kattadiyas in action.

I refer here to the stupidly preposterous belief in Dhammika’s peniya as both a prophylactic and cure for pernicious Covid-19. Where is that charlatan veda – oops sorry- Kaliamma devala kapurala now? Safe with his ill-gotten gains, we suppose.

The latest voodoo story, but with such a tragic ending, is that of the 9-year-old Delgoda girl who suffered an emotional (rather than mental) aberration and was subject to exorcism by caning her mercilessly. The exorcist could not be a woman; she must certainly be a sadistic aberration herself. Can you believe that she applied oil on the girl and used the cane on her till the kid went unconscious? Was the cane an ordinary one? At first I could not believe the story read in the papers – how cane a person to death, but it was a child receiving the torture and who knows what sort of ‘weapon’ was used. The mother definitely must be punished more severely. Maternal love, even in the animal kingdom, will never allow harming an offspring, so how on earth did the mother watch all that caning. One shot would have torn Cass to the defence of her child, or for that matter any child, with talons extended and blood now not turned to milk as the Sinhala saying goes, but to vitriolic fury. The woman exorcist with supernatural powers and the mother are in police custody. Why doesn’t she do a Houdini and astound handsome Police high-up Ajit Rohana?

People claiming superhuman clairvoyance and divine power crop up everywhere. Cass accompanied a friend to consult a girl in the suburbs of Kandy to find out where her hub had ‘donated’ a fairly large sum of money. This girl had given clear directions to find a lost Persian cat to a third friend; hence the visit. She was a pretty, soft girl of around 18. Once Cass and the other entered the room, the girl changed, was in a near trance and speaking in an entirely different voice, pronounced the reason for seeking her help and said “Look for a man always dressed in long sleeves and thinning hair parted in the middle.” The friend was baffled and defeated by this long shot, but finally she met a man of this description – the father of a girl in her husband’s office. She did not ask for the money!

Such ‘powers’ are temporary; maybe like poltergeist manifestations in a teenager’s home. But going for cures to them is unthinkable. Buddhist bhikkhus and maybe bhikkhuunis, so also certain Christian priests (the bulk of lecherous Father Mathew intrudes here) do have powers of exorcism. A medical doctor is the best bet, in any case, including even mental upsets.

 

Short Takes

Imran Khan’s all too brief visit was a successful veni, vidi, vici in spite of being snubbed ungraciously over the address to Parliamentarians (what a weak, threadbare excuse was offered – C-19 precaution!) and missing out two of our cricket greats: Michael Tissera and Anura Tennakoon from the list of cricket folk to say Hi to the great Cricketer at lunch at Shangri La. What was the success apart from charming everyone and showing off what a Statesman can look like and carry himself off? Why – the Muslims of Sri Lanka conquered. Burial was theirs or so it seemed. But hold it, is it gazetted or is this ‘yes’ like the Prime Minister’s definite ‘can bury’ pronounced in Parliament and then brushed aside and explained by the Gaman as “he was merely expressing his thoughts.”

Main headline in The Island of Wednesday 3 March:” PCol report on Easter Sunday carnage: AG won’t be given ‘sensitive’ volumes.” Why on earth? Is it X-rated and the AG underage?

Picture on page I of same issue of Dr Rajitha Senaratne arriving at the Colombo High Court to appear in a case involving two persons who accused then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa of various crimes. We have long forgotten even a single word of what they said. They will not get off free is Cass’ bet unlike Aluthgamage, who emerged very recently from a court house free as a bird, accused of corruption, Cass recalls.

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