Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Category: Uncategorized

Move On. Nothing to See

Fuss about Nowt

There is a particularly creepy kind of commenter on Facebook. They will insidiously try to gain your trust by pretending that they are just like you. One of the good guys. The opening gambit goes something like this: “I am just as liberal and progressive as you are, probably more so, and I detest Brexit/Boris Johnson/Donald Trump/Dominic Cummings/Harvey Weinstein/Jimmy Savile/Adolf Hitler/Vlad the Impaler/Attila the Hun/Caligula (insert to taste) even more than you do, but, come on, in the interests of common sense isn’t the lefty press going overboard and stirring things up when really nobody cares so why don’t we  just move on and deal with the really important issues”. There will be talk of “moral panic”, “mass hysteria”, “witch hunts” “lynch mobs”. You will see these terms used often on Spiked by Brendan O’Neill and his merry band of contrarians.

Fintan O’Toole

The peregrinations of Dominic Cummings to the north-east have brought the “what’s all the fuss about? Nothing to see here.” brigade out in force. Veteran Times journalist Walter Ellis writes: “Not for the first time in recent months, the Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole has seriously overestimated the extent of the outrage felt by the British people over the actions and behaviour of Boris Johnson and his cronies.” Ellis claims to dislike Cummings but asserts that he  has suffered more than is reasonable. Speaking as an Irish citizen brought up in England who is currently watching Johnson’s Britain from the jaundiced perceptive of my Sri Lankan sojourn, I would say that O’Toole has hit many nails on their heads. I am a regular reader of his articles in the Irish Times, the Guardian and the New York Review of Books. I always find them stimulating and would differ vociferously from the elegant view expressed about O’Toole by Rod Liddle (I almost wrote Rod Hull).  Recent articles about the disintegrating status of Britain under Johnson’s incompetent and mendacious rule were particularly effective. O’Toole is good on the dire consequences for Ireland of contamination by its neighbour.

Anger, What Anger?

Ellis asks the question: “Are ‘the people’ really baying for Cummings’s blood?”. Let us deconstruct that short question. Ellis puts ‘the people’ in scare quotes which nudges us towards thinking that it is not a concept to be taken seriously. Is anyone baying for Cummings’s blood? There have been some mild scenes of people expressing their discontent but very few would advocate causing him physical harm. This does not mean that we can hire the Eddie Stobart van and move on. Henry Mance wrote in the Financial Times (lefty rag), “The government wants us to move on so Dominic Cummings doesn’t have to”.

Maybe not ‘the people’, but some people, many people are angry. An Opinium poll on May 31 shows that 81% of all voters think Cummings broke the rules, and that 52% of Tory supporters think he should resign. Almost half of 2019 Tory voters say their respect for the government they voted in has been reduced. Many more people are sad. Many are tired and fed up. Many are insulted. I think O’Toole puts well how I feel watching Matt Hancock laughing uproariously on Sky News, Helen Whately giggling at Piers Morgan’s questions (and disintegrating on Question Time), Priti Patel smirking on the Andrew Marr Show, Johnson burbling vacuously and betraying his ignorance of the benefit system and just about everything else at the Liaison Committee. O’Toole writes about “the soundtrack to the images stored from these months in the mind and the heart, an unpardonable snigger of elite condescension.”

 

Ellis does not feel the way I do. “I don’t agree. O’Toole is mistaken.” Then he trundles out ‘the technique’. “There are certainly many out there who think Cummings was wrong to do what he did and that he is a nasty piece of work anyway. I am one of them.” Although Ellis claims to be one of the good guys in detesting Cummings, he asserts that there are not enough people who care about the issue to justify “serial blood-letting or a scene from opera bouffe.” Again, a jokey exaggerated language of violence is used to deflect us from the main point. He does the same again later: “The mob senses blood, and a hue and cry, based around revenge for Brexit, has been unleashed.” “It won’t be the mob, with torches and pitchforks that restores decency and competence to Downing Street”.

There is no mob. This is not about mob rule; it is about decent people who have been trying to follow the government’s own guidelines angered at being treated as imbeciles. A woman in rural Durham said: “If there were stocks in the village, Dominic Cummings would be in them. There is not one single person around here who is not disgusted. Everyone is furious because we have all played fair. People haven’t been able to go to funerals, they haven’t been able to go to weddings, they haven’t been able to look after people who are dying. I can’t go to see my friend in Barnard Castle who is dying and yet that four-letter word goes out for a trip. I was born in this county. I have never come across ill-feeling like this about anything. Everyone feels it is one law for us and one law for them. That is so unfair.”

Bloody Liberal Hypocrites

Blood came up again the next day when Ellis returned to the topic. “My post yesterday on the public’s reaction to the Dominic Cummings affair has brought home to me how easy it is to get on the wrong side of liberal opinion when its blood is up.” As if an experienced journalist like Ellis would be surprised at the reaction.  Note the casual contemptuous sideswipe at “liberal opinion”. Elsewhere, he described the “liberals” who disagreed with him as “hypocrites”. He is calling me a hypocrite for disagreeing with him. We are hypocrites because (Ellis knows this for a fact) we are picking on poor Dom because of his role in Brexit not because we care about the undermining of the strategy to deal with the pandemic. Ellis sees himself as a victim of the same “hue and cry” raised against Cummings.

Remember that Ellis said, “how easy it is to get on the wrong side of liberal opinion when its blood is up?” One might expect the leftie press to froth up on the subject but the Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Financial Times, the Spectator and even the Daily Star have been highly critical of Cummings and Johnson.

Baying Tory MPs

The baying mob included many Tory MPs. Now Ellis says, “I clearly underestimated the extent of public disquiet over what Cummings did.”  He had said few people cared. He was wrong. A Guardian analysis covering 117 MPs found they received a total of 31,738 emails since the story broke. Across all 650 MPs, it would suggest the revelations may have sparked as many as 180,000 items of correspondence. More than 100 Tory MPs, many saying they were motivated by their constituents’ anger, criticised Cummings. In a statement to her constituents Theresa May said she could “well understand the [public’s] anger”. She said, “I do not feel that Mr Cummings followed the spirit of the guidance”. Another Tory, Bob Stewart, MP for Beckenham, said Cummings’s position was ‘untenable’ and that he certainly broke the rules.

Tory MPs Sir Roger Gale and Richard Fuller reported a sharp increase in their mail and stressed that these were all individual, sometimes emotional, communications and not computer-generated or cut-and-paste. Several Conservative MPs in marginal seats said they had received more than 1,000 emails about Cummings, Alex Chalk, MP for Cheltenham, has a majority of 981; Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon, whose majority is 628; and Andrew Bowie, the MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, with a majority of 843. Elliot Colburn, 27, the Conservative MP representing the marginal Carshalton and Wallington seat, wrote to Johnson to say he had received more emails on this issue than any other. He said “many hundreds of messages from concerned constituents” had called on Cummings to resign. Many MPs said their mailbox was overwhelmingly weighted towards criticism of Cummings.

Tory hardline Brexiter Peter Bone dismisses the idea that it is Remainers stirring trouble. “Every announcement on changes to the lockdown rules, track and trace, and government support, is bogged down with questions about Mr Cummings. I believe that Mr Cummings did break the rules. Now, if he had accepted that he had done something wrong, and apologised for it, as a fair-minded person, I would have thought that that would be the end of it. It is the insistence that he did not break the rules and the refusal to apologise that has outraged so many.”

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, has already relayed the extent of anger on the Conservative benches to Downing Street.

According to the Guardian, “Other Conservatives vainly try to claim the fuss is being whipped up by bitter and twisted leftwing and liberal Remainers who want revenge on Cummings for delivering Brexit for Johnson.” That is exactly the line taken by Walter Ellis.

Baying Bishops

Senior Anglican bishops criticised Cummings’s actions and his refusal to apologise.  Many of them received death threats as a result. The Bishop of Worcester said “the whole Cummings drama is not about politics but life and death”.

Baying Experts

The government’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam went out of his way at the daily coronavirus briefing to make clear that people in positions of authority had a duty to lead by example and obey lockdown rules.

Senior UK academics and health administrators wrote to number 10 to warn that public faith in the government is essential if the Covid-19 crisis is to be tackled effectively. They say that trust has been “badly damaged by Dominic Cummings. “The public mood is fragile and unlikely to cope with another over-optimistic target-based strategy that goes on to fail.”

At Least Cummings Isn’t a Butcher

Ellis is aware of all this but he is insouciant. Still he says, “I would hazard a guess that a majority of people will have other things on their mind today than the fate of one 48-year-old political apparatchik.” Of course they do, but that is not the point. Cummings” is not Jack the Ripper or one of the Shankill Butchers. He is a political apparatchik who made a poor decision and has suffered for it more than is reasonable because he is who he is, the Butcher of Brexit.” Jack the Ripper killed five people, the Shankill Butchers 23 – the virus has killed a possible 60,000 in Britain. Chris Bryant, Labour MP for the Rhondda, said he received 20 messages a day all angry with Cummings and has had a constituent tell him he now has no intention of abiding by the lockdown rules.

Consequences and Condescension

Fintan O’Toole does not speak for the Irish people or the British people but I doubt if many people would call him “naive to think that ‘the people’ are working themselves into a frenzy over this.” Ellis is using a variation of the straw man trope. If we all agree that not everybody is worked up to a frenzy we can move on. The issue is not about how many people Ellis thinks are angry. The issue is not about punishment. It is about the disastrous effect on the public psyche and indeed public safety of the actions of this arrogant man and the clown who is supposed to be prime minister.

Where does Ellis now stand on his assertion that “Fintan O’Toole has seriously overestimated the extent of the outrage felt by the British people”?

Enough people are disturbed about this whole business to mean that moving on is not possible. James Butler wrote in the Guardian, “consequences are for little people and, in any case, anyone who really matters is in on the act”. The little people ARE angry. They may not be clear what they are angry about or what to do about it. There is a general feeling of being disrespected. Politicians are taking the piss. To add insult to injury those politicians are making a complete bollocks of everything.

Blame the Media

Because of Cummings and Johnson things will never be the same again. What is the main thrust of Ellis’s argument now that he admits underestimating the extent of public disquiet? In the rose garden Cummings went for the Trump line of blaming the media.  “A lot of that anger is based on reports in the media that have not been true,” Cummings said. It was the media’s fault. Is that what Walter Ellis is doing? In spite of all the evidence, is he still saying this is a non-story puffed up by the media? Ellis says Cummings has suffered more than is reasonable.

I watched Johnson’s performance at the Liaison Committee several times. I couldn’t believe how awful it was the first time. Bernard Jenkin was not as bad as expected but bad enough. He did ask one fairly challenging question but then did not control the proceedings. He allowed Johnson to take the Walter Ellis line. We’ve heard enough about this. Move on. Jenkin chastised Yvette Cooper for over-running her time and for repeating questions. She had to do this because she was not getting answers. Johnson was batting away questions by saying he had dealt with that already. However, the previous answers also only consisted of “I have ben quite clear about that before” and “We mustn’t let petty politics divert us from the task ahead”.

It is clear that government decisions are not motivated by concerns of public good. They are rushing out new wheezes and crashing apps to distract our attention.  Johnson is facing new criticism for easing the lockdown too soon and risking a second wave of infections. There is a perception that this is being done to distract attention from the Cummings affair. Why is Walter Ellis, posing as the representative of common sense, trying to distract our attention?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from Colombo

This appeared in Private Eye number 1516, dated March 3 2020. It is somewhat different from what I originally drafted.

 

Letter from Sri Lanka

from Our Own Correspondent

 

THE Rajapaksas are back! Just four years after Mahinda was ousted from the Sri Lankan presidency by an opposition plan of Baldrickian cunning, he’s once more in the hot seat, now as prime minister – with his younger brother Gotabhaya as president.

 

Gota polled 52 percent in November’s elections, but his victory was as much his rivals’ defeat: the previous faction-riddled and mediocre government had promised yahapalanaya (‘good governance’) but failed abysmally to deliver.

 

Gota is not short of critics. Civil society groups link him to what we call the ‘white van culture’, a nod towards impunity for anonymous violence against dissenters. Members of the Tamil diaspora accuse him of war crimes during the brutal civil war and its even more brutal conclusion a decade ago and bandy the word ‘genocide’. Other accuse him of supporting militant Buddhist monks who persecute minority Muslims during more recent spasms of violence.

 

The members of Gota’s interim cabinet do not inspire much hope. There are numerous old lags from Mahinda’s past (including another brother) as well as a few crooks and thugs. During the October 2000 general election, Lohan Ratwatte (son of a former defence minister) was accused of voter intimidation and ballot rigging and was alleged to be in control of a death squad that killed ten members of the Sri Lanka Muslim Conference on December 5th, 2001. He is now a minister. A policeman who had been investigating claims of impropriety against the Rajapaksas made a speedy exit to Switzerland.

But Gota is also widely admired and even hero-worshipped, the saviour of a nation that gave women the vote in 1931 and has kept faith with democracy since independence in 1948 but has been fatally weakened by corruption and sectarianism.

 

The new President  likes to present himself as a cut above the normal (and widely disliked) party political careerist – efficient, competent. Many who were not among the victims thank Gota for winning the war and for modernising Colombo. The previous government let Gota’s improvements slip and demonstrated a lethal incompetence in security matters. There is the little matter of the Easter bombings. Gota managed to create the impression that it would not have happened if he had been in charge, and it’s certainly the case that senior officials’ reckless incompetence and personal vendettas in the government at the time played a big part in 300 needless deaths and the ruination of the tourist trade.

It seems Gota has been listening to good advice, distancing himself from his older brother’s stock-in-trade personality cult. So far, there are no statues or ten-foot high posters. He dresses simply. He cut down drastically on his security detail and travels in a convoy of fewer than five vehicles which stops at traffic lights. He ordered that his portrait not be hung in government offices. He turned up unannounced at the airport to talk informally with staff and tourists and made similar surprise visits to government offices, asking members of the public how long they have been waiting. Human rights campaigner Jehan Perera was a strong critic of the previous Rajapaksa regime. He has said of the new president: “He has made executive directions by himself that show him as a leader who is different.”

Gota is well aware that Muslims and Tamils distrust him. He told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he intends to focus on development of the Northern and Eastern regions and not on political issues. “Judge me by my record on development of the North and East after five years.” Gota announced, “I am the president of all Lankans – those who voted for me and those who did not”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Quality of Musil

This article was published in Ceylon Today on January 14 2019.

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/21911

 

During 2018, I often quoted the words of Fintan O’Toole, the Irish journalist and literary critic. He made many trenchant and perceptive comments on Britain’s folly over Brexit. He has published a book on Brexit (Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain) which swiftly became a best-seller. In an interview with the London Observer on Sunday December 30 he was asked “Which classic novel are you most ashamed not to have read?” His reply gave me some encouragement. He saidRobert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. I’ve tried about five times. The problem is with me. It’s obviously a great book, but I just get bogged down.” I bought a three-volume Panther paperback edition of an English translation of Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften in 1969 and started reading it in February 1970 in a freezing bed and breakfast in Rusholme Manchester. I have just finished it and it only took me 50 years. It was worth it.

I think that what I then held in my chilblained fingers was the first English translation by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser published in 1953. I am now reading a Kindle version which is in more modern (sometimes anachronistic) English. The translation is by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike. The work is well over a thousand pages long in its unfinished form. Some have asserted that the intended length of the work was twice as long as the text that survives. Musil never decided how to end the novel and left a large section of drafts, notes, false-starts. In the German edition, there is even a CD-ROM that holds thousands of pages of alternative versions and drafts. Musil started writing the book in 1921, spent more than twenty years on it and died before he finished writing the book. I am happy to report that I have finished reading it before I die. Musil died in Switzerland on April 15 1942 and his remains lie in an unmarked grave in Geneva.

Kakaesque Futility

The novel is set in 1913 in Vienna. Musil refers to Austro-Hungary as ‘Kakania’, a name derived from the German abbreviation K und K (pronounced “ka oond ka”) for kaiserlich und königlich or “Imperial and Royal”, but ‘kaka’ is also a child’s word for faeces.  Musil uses the adjective Kakanien to convey the lack of political, administrative and cultural coherence in Austria-Hungary. In the novel, a committee is established to prepare for the 70th anniversary of Franz Joseph becoming Emperor. The year of the anniversary, 1918, would also have marked 30 years of the rule of the German Emperor Wilhelm II. Many bright ideas are discussed, for example, The Austrian Year 1918, The World Year 1918, The Austrian Peace Year 1918 or The Austrian World Peace Year 1918. The novel provides an analysis of all the political and cultural processes that contributed to the outbreak of World War I. Musil’s cruel joke is that what was planned as a celebration of peace and imperial cohesion collapses into chauvinism, two world wars and the destruction of Austro-Hungary and Prussia.

Three Volumes

The main character, introduced in the first volume, A Sort of Introduction, is a 32-year-old mathematician named Ulrich. Although he is described as a man without qualities, he is intelligent and witty and successful with women. Musil said that Ulrich’s main principal characteristics were indifference and ambiguity towards life and society and a kind of passive analytical mind. Novelist Jane Smiley puts it nicely: “As an idle pastime, he gets to know the leading lights of the Austro-Hungarian empire, who, somewhat like their counterparts in the American south of the 1850s, have no idea they are passing into history.” Ulrich lacks hope as well as qualities. “He is always right, but never productive, never happy, and never, except momentarily, engaged. The reader may enjoy his talents and his state of mind, but Ulrich is building to something that may not be pleasant.” A man for today.

In the second book, Pseudoreality Prevails, (The earlier translation renders ““Seinesgleichen geschieht,” as “The Like of It Now Happens.”) Ulrich is persuaded to serve on a committee making preparations for a celebration in honour of 70 years of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph’s reign. Ulrich’s participation in the committee introduces him to many interesting characters. The voluptuous Ermelinda Tuzzi, called Diotima, is Ulrich’s cousin as well as the wife of a senior civil servant. Arnheim, a Prussian business magnate and prolific, if superficial, writer whose character is based on the figure of Walter Rathenau (with perhaps a soupcon of Thomas Mann). Count Leinsdorf, an elderly conservative nobleman, chairs the committee and has been described as being “incapable of deciding or even of not-deciding”. General Stumm von Bordwehr of the Imperial and Royal Army, is initially tiresome but becomes more sympathetic to this reader at least and becomes friends with Ulrich. He makes himself unpopular by attempting to introduce a methodical approach to the mystical atmosphere.

The last volume, entitled Into the Millennium (The Criminals), focuses on Ulrich’s relationship with his sister Agathe. There is a hint of a mystically incestuous stirring and the twins become soulmates when they meet after their father’s death.

Now I feel a little superior to Fintan O’Toole. Like those other forbidding mammoths (Ulysses and À la recherche du temps perdu) this book is often funny. Musil called himself Monsieur le Vivisecteur” “that’s who I am! My life: the wanderings and adventures of a vivisectionist of souls at the beginning of the twentieth century!” and I am sure that he would have had some cutting things to write about 21st politicians.

Kindle is an excellent format in which to read The Man Without Qualities. Because the book is so long it is handy to have the thousand pages in one’s pocket, to dip into it while stuck in Colombo traffic. Kindle allows one to highlight passages and cut and paste. That facility allows me to bring to you examples of Musil’s wit and wisdom. I will do that next week.

Poverty in the UK

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 292018

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/1616

 

In the UK, the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions changes its name every few years to protect the guilty. When I worked for it, it was called the SS) is more unloved than it ever was – and that is saying something.

A combination of austerity measures and a deluded faith in outsourcing has caused a great deal of extra suffering to already vulnerable people. The National Audit Office (NAO) has reported that 70,000 benefit claimants were underpaid by an average of £5,000 each since 2011. 20,000 people could be owed around £11,500 each and “a small number of people” could have been underpaid by £20,000.

There are many people who desperately need that money. Poverty is not just a problem for people who cannot find jobs. Even people in full-time work struggle to exist. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of children growing up in poverty, live in a family where at least one person works. A family might move into poverty because of a rise in living costs, a drop in earnings through job loss or benefit changes.

Data released by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that in 2015, some 4.6 million (7.3 per cent) people were enduring “persistent” poverty. The technical meaning of ‘persistent poverty’ is living in relative income poverty in the current year and at least two of the three preceding years. The figure marks a 700,000 rise in people who are persistently poor since 2014, affecting 6.5 per cent of the population.

It is generally agreed that the effects of experiencing relative low income for long periods of time are more detrimental than experiencing low income for short periods. The proportion of women who were persistently poor in 2015 stood at 8.2 per cent, compared with 6.3 per cent of men – marking the biggest gender gap since data began in 2008. Such levels of poverty are having effects on people’s mental health.  Almost a third of the population was recorded as being at risk of poverty for at least one year between 2012 and 2015.The figures do not compare badly with other EU countries but things have got worse since 2015.

Poverty affects one in four children in the UK. There were 4 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2015-16 – look at it as 9 in a classroom of 30. That wonderful cosmopolitan city London has the highest rates of child poverty in the country. By GCSE, there is a 28 per cent gap between children receiving free school meals and their wealthier peers in terms of the number achieving at least 5 A*-C GCSE grade Men in the most deprived areas of England have a life expectancy 9.2 year shorter than men in the least deprived areas. They also spend 14% less of their life in good health.

According to a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report in 2011, in the year to 2009/10, the child poverty rate fell to 29%, the second fall in two years. Child poverty fell by around one-seventh under the previous Labour Government. More recently, Campbell Robb, the current chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, warned of “signs we could be at the beginning of a sharp rise in poverty, with forecasts suggesting child poverty could rise further by 2021.”Government figures now show that 300,000 more people are now in poverty compared to last year

This suffering is not due to irresistible natural forces or even the spurious laws of economics. This is the result of boneheaded government policy. It has been government policy to impose austerity measures and cuts in public services and to entrust the administration of benefits to those more interested in profit than welfare. Many cuts have not yet worked their way through the system. Many of the most significant reductions to working age benefits will not be reflected in the 2016/17 figures but will bite harshly later on. Robb urged the government, “to restore the Work Allowances in Universal Credit to their original level.

By doing so, lower earners could keep more of their earnings ensuring they could reach a decent standard of living, benefiting over three million low income working households and protecting 340,000 people from being pushed into poverty by 2020 – 21.”

In a press release dated only a few days before I wrote this, 22 March 2018, Robb, said: “We share a moral responsibility to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to build a better life. The government must act to right the wrong of in-work poverty.”
We will see.

 

PC and Kevin Myers

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday August 10 2017.

https://ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=27346

 

Misogyny and Anti-Semitism?

There was quite a kerfuffle in Ireland last week when veteran celebrity columnist Kevin Myers was sacked by the Irish Sunday Times. (Please note that this is a Murdoch paper and has no connection to the Sri Lankan Sunday Times or the Irish Times). Myers decided to comment on the news which had been recently released of the very high salaries being paid to some BBC presenters. Of the 96 stars who appear on the list 32 are women. There has been speculation that some of the highest paid male presenters may face pay cuts in order to pay women more.

Myers chose to concentrate on this gender gap and highlighted the fact that two of the highest paid women were Jewish. Vanessa Feltz is paid between £350,000 and £400,000. Claudia Winkeleman (who also writes for the Sunday Times) is listed as being paid between £450,000 – £499,000. Some of the rage that erupted might have been because Myers’s column was given the headline “Sorry ladies, equal pay has to be earned”, and the writer probably was not responsible for that.

In the article, Myers wrote: ““I note that two of the best-paid women presenters in the BBC – Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz, with whose, no doubt, sterling work I am tragically unacquainted – are Jewish. Good for them. Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price, which is the most useful measure there is of inveterate, lost-with-all-hands stupidity.” He thus left himself open to charges of both misogyny and anti-Semitism as well as bad writing.

Reactions

Kathy Sheridan is another veteran Irish journalist. I recall that she provided excellent coverage from Sri Lanka of the tsunami. In her own column in the Irish Times she showed Myers no mercy. She wrote: “no decent man or woman can afford to shrug off the rank misogyny of last Sunday’s column”. According to Ms Sheridan, Myers has previous in the misogyny department. “All of 20 years ago, I challenged Kevin Myers in print, when he argued that the only reason a decent man was in jail was because of spiteful, whiny females.”

Myers has admitted that he has a tendency to undermine himself with “throwaway lines” but Ms Sheridan is having none of that: “The clear intention was to shoehorn women – any women – into a particular narrative of victimy, spiteful bitches. It was the kind of hateful, utterly unsubstantiated assertion that regularly reduced colleagues to howls of rage.” Myers himself has a tendency to self-pity (on behalf of males as a class rather than himself alone) that is not at all attractive. As my wife often tells me, self-pity is never attractive.

 

Defenders

I am myself somewhat queasy about the fact that a writer should be sacked and his articles deleted because people did not like what he was writing. I have had the unpleasant experience of seeing supposed libertarians calling on editors to ‘silence’ me. I have been fortunate to encounter editors honourable enough to resist such calls for censorship. Myers claims that he has lost his livelihood and his reputation is “in tatters”.

The Jewish Representative Council of Ireland issued a statement defending Myers. Myers had established something of a reputation for himself as a “holocaust denier”. “Branding Kevin Myers as either an anti-Semite or a Holocaust denier is an absolute distortion of the facts. More than any other Irish journalist he has written columns about details of the Holocaust over the last three decades that would otherwise not have been known by a substantial Irish audience. “David Quinn, whose father helped establish the Israeli Embassy in Dublin, said “The Most Pro-British and Pro -Journalist in Ireland has been sacked by a British Newspaper for Antisemitism”.

The distinguished Irish historian Ruth Dudley Edwards was disappointed that some of her Jewish friends should vilify Myers whom she considereda brave man who has incurred a great deal of unpopularity in Ireland by sticking up for Israel and consistently reminding people about what the Nazis did to Jews.”

PC Again

While I am prepared to listen to the arguments of those who deny that Myers is anti-Semitic and I am concerned that a man should lose his livelihood for expressing his opinions, I start to see a red mist when the concept of “political correctness” is introduced into the scenario. Some defenders of Myers find it refreshing that he did not always follow liberal received wisdom. He is contrasted with favourably with Jeremy Corbyn because he took a principled stand against the Provisional IRA.I have also taken a stand against the myths of Easter 1916 and the brutal use to which they have been put. I am completely on the same page as Ruth and Kevin on that subject.

Ben Lowry points out that Myers “was an early critic of appeasement of violent Islamic fanatics. He mocked the naïveté of anti-war demonstrators who inadvertently help protect war-mongering dictators. He was one of the first people to see that if Europe accommodates large numbers of migrants, more will come (or die in the Med). He ridiculed environmental opposition to nuclear power that resulted in more carbon emissions.” He scoffed at the notion of equality.

What is “PC”?

It seems to me that PC is a ruse by which right-wingers attempt to fool everybody else that they are the legitimate guardians of “common sense” and everyone who believes in civility and justice is a cretinous subversive.  Take Donald Trump – please! Trump has shown that he is xenophobic, racist, homophobic, misogynistic and insensitive to people with disabilities. What people like Trump (and people who like Trump) mean when they condemn ‘political correctness’ is, in reality, is that they have no time for common decency, civility and empathy.

Ian Mayes was the first Readers’ Editor, a kind of Ombudsman, of the Guardian. He fought a long but ultimately futile battle against sloppy and hurtful language relating to mental illness.  “I feel a strong commitment to this policy. It has nothing to do with political correctness. It has a lot to do with the way we treat each other, or wish to be treated, and in particular the way in which we relate to each other in times of need.” It was sad to read Mayes’s columns over the years because however many times he returned to this subject he just could not stop Guardian journalists using the word schizophrenic in a sloppy and hurtful way.

Widespread use of the term politically correct and its derivatives began when the political right adopted it in the 1990s as a pejorative term suggesting Stalinist orthodoxy. The right claimed sole ownership of Common Sense. All else was mere ideology. The term Political Correctness used by the right means “excessive deference to particular sensibilities at the expense of other considerations”. Many of the most widely publicized anecdotes about PC were more myth than reality. The British tabloid papers ran a number of fictitious stories about Islington Council going to ridiculous lengths to avoid the word “black”. Boris Johnson floated many myths about EU bureaucracy in his columns written from Brussels. The term “politically incorrect” came into use as implicit self-praise, indicating that the user was not afraid to speak plainly. Some might say they were just rude and insensitive.

Fintan O’Toole wrote about Myers: “He didn’t notice that he was doing something he generally avoids: insulting people who can answer back.” O’Toole saw the Irish Times as being complicit in Myers’s offence. “The paper did him no favours when it decided in February 2005, under the influence of a misplaced anxiety about being seen to censor dissenting views, to publish his column calling single mothers “mothers of bastards” and was then very slow to apologise for this gratuitous kick at the weak. What Myers learned from the episode was not to mind his words but that he would be indulged and rewarded for inverting the usual journalistic imperatives and using his formidable talents to afflict the afflicted.” I do not believe Myers should have been silenced but he is old enough (70) and experienced enough to know that words, like sticks and stones, have consequences.

 

Mind-Forged Manacles

This article was published in Ceylon Today on Thursday May 25 2017.

In every cry of every Man, 

In every Infants cry of fear, 

In every voice: in every ban, 

The mind-forg’d manacles I hear 

 

William Blake

 

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=21718

 

Jim Morrison was a big fan of Blake – The Doors got their name from Blake. In Unhappy Girl

Morrison sings: You are locked in a prison/Of your own devise. Perhaps Morrison was also inspired by Richard Lovelace: Stone walls do not a prison make /Nor iron bars a cage. All three poets seem to me to be saying that we delude ourselves when we think that we are independent agents blessed with free will which enables us to make informed rational judgements. In reality, we are restricted from fulfilling our true potential by an accumulation of bad and good habits or addictions, futile daily rituals, false memories, gut feelings, tribal loyalties. We are our own jailers – although Lovelace was actually in a real prison with stone walls and iron bars when he wrote To Althea.

 

Behavioural Economics

 

The first article I published, on 31 October 2008, under the byline ‘Padraig Colman’ was on the subject of behavioural economics. Behavioural economics combines the insights of psychology with the rigour of economics, factoring human unpredictability into market analysis. Nine years on, behavioural economics is still being discussed but it has come to be considered somewhat sinister by some critics despite the efforts of proponents to portray it as a benign form of Libertarian Paternalism.

 

Michael Lewis recently published a book on the subject, which renewed the controversy. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds , describes the friendship and intellectual partnership of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, the psychologists whose work provided the foundation for behavioural economics. Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow was a best-seller. The book summarizes research that Kahneman conducted over decades, often in collaboration with Tversky.

 

What Is Behavioural Economics?

 

Behavioural economics studies the effects of psychological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions and the consequences for market prices, returns, and resource allocation.

 

Kahneman characterized the human mind as the interrelated operation of two systems of thought: System One, which is fast and automatic, including instincts, emotions, innate skills, as well as learned associations and skills; and System Two, which is slow and deliberative and allows us to correct for the errors made by System One.

In real life, economic behaviour does not fit in with the accepted norms of economic theory. In reality, homo economicus failed to pursue his own self-interest. Decisions were based on received wisdom or bizarre rules of thumb rather than logic. The key factors are inertia, overconfidence, and loss aversion. In their everyday existences, people tend to stick with what they are doing, even if trying something different would be easy as well as beneficial.

Kahneman and Tversky developed heuristics, or rules of thumb, to describe specific flaws in our intuitive thinking: the “endowment effect” (overvaluation of what we already have), “status quo bias” (an emotional preference for maintaining the status quo), and “loss aversion” (the tendency to attribute much more weight to potential losses than potential gains when assessing risk) are all related to an innate conservatism about what we feel we have already invested in. We find it hard to tune out information that should, strictly speaking, not be of high relevance to our judgment.

Behavioural economists have taught politicians and policy-makers that the ‘invisible hand’ of the market is not infallible. Their theories and experiments are of interest to politicians because of their relevance to decisions in the public sphere – whether to grant patients buying power in the health service, whether to compel individuals to save for their old age.

Rationalising the Irrational

The systematic errors that psychologists have identified make human irrationality predictable and people can be helped to avoid bad outcomes through “nudges”. Cass R Sunstein devised “choice architectures” or “nudges” that would work with the intuitive apparatus people have in order to guide their choices. For example, if people refuse through inertia to choose between retirement plans, government can help them by automatically enrolling them in the most beneficial plan with the option to withdraw.

Behavioural Economics and Government

 

Richard Thaler has built upon the work of Kahneman and Tversky in books such as Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness which he co-wrote with Cass Sunstein. Thaler wrote a column called Anomalies (sometimes in collaboration with Kahneman, the first psychologist to win the Nobel Prize for economics).

 

Governments have taken up these ideas. Thaler taught at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and was close to Austan Goolsbee, who was Obama’s economic advisor. Sunstein was for ten years a colleague of Obama’s at the University of Chicago Law School (he is also the husband of Professor Samantha Power, who was Obama’s foreign policy adviser until she resigned after calling Hillary Clinton a ‘monster’). Sunstein oversaw the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama White House (Obama subsequently created a Social and Behavioural Sciences Team). Thaler was an advisor to David Cameron’s Behavioural, based in the Cabinet Office.

 

Nudge or Manipulation?

The Economist’s columnist, Bagehot, suspects that the theories of behavioural economists appeal to politicians because they provide a cover for a hands-off approach to problems they should be facing head-on. “Nasty behaviour—such as the propensity of some British teenagers to drink too much, get pregnant or stab each other—is often symptomatic of a deeper malaise: skewed values, social atomism, despair and so on.” Problems of this kind might require the smack of firm governance, rather than a gentle nudge, but the term “nanny state” has long been part of the dictionary of political abuse.

Sunstein’s Libertarian Paternalism might well be what philosopher Bernard Williams called “Government House utilitarianism” a moral philosophy underlying the practice of the British Empire that envisaged an elite who knew the moral truth and could put out simple rules for the natives (or ordinary people) to use.

 

Hidden Persuaders

Heuristics have a relevance to business in the private sector for what they can reveal about consumer behaviour. Thaler has an investment company, Fuller and Thaler’s Asset Management Inc. whose mission statement says: “Investors make mental mistakes. Fuller and Thaler’s objective is to exploit them”. More sinister still, Frank Babetski, a CIA Directorate of Intelligence analyst has called Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow a “must read” for intelligence officers looking for ideas about control and coercion.

In 2007, and again in 2008, Kahneman gave a masterclass in “Thinking About Thinking” to, among others, Jeff Bezos (the founder of Amazon), Larry Page (Google), Sergey Brin (Google), Nathan Myhrvold (Microsoft), Sean Parker (Facebook), Elon Musk (SpaceX, Tesla), Evan Williams (Twitter), and Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia). Psychologists helped to develop myPersonality, a Facebook application that allowed users to take psychometric tests and gathered six million test results and four million individual profiles. Scores on these tests could be combined with enormous amounts of data from the user’s Facebook environment. The architects of myPersonality claim that these tests, in conjunction with other data, permit the prediction of individual levels of well-being.

Facebook

Many people manacle themselves to Facebook. As well as possibly being the cause of them not using their time most productively, they are leaving themselves open to manipulation by those expert in the dark arts of behavioural economics.

Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus, writing in the Swiss publication Das Magazin, claimed that Cambridge Analytica (a data science firm created by a British company with deep ties to the British and American defence industries) had used psychological data culled from Facebook, combined with vast amounts of consumer information purchased from data-mining companies, to develop algorithms that were supposedly able to identify the psychological makeup of every voter in the American electorate. The company then developed political messages tailored to appeal to the emotions of each one.

As Sue Halpern wrote in the New York Review of Books: “Donald Trump is our first Facebook president. His team figured out how to use all the marketing tools of Facebook, as well as Google, the two biggest advertising platforms in the world, to successfully sell a candidate that the majority of Americans did not want.”

How about that for a nudge!

 

 

 

 

Thomas Meaney on Sri Lanka

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday April 13 2017 under the title “Crawling with Errors”.

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=19109

I recently moved closer to the fleshpots of Colombo after spending nearly fifteen years enduring the privations of life in a remote location in Uva province. I have written about that life in Uva province here:

https://staionarytraveller.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/living-in-uva/

The move meant that I have got rather behind with my reading and have only just got around to reading the issue of the London Review of Books dated February 2 2017. That issue contains an article on Sri Lanka by one Thomas Meaney. Because of my tardiness, two people have already beaten me to the punch and taken Mr Meaney to task for errors in his essay. Michael Roberts and Jonathan Spencer are both academic anthropologists with a knowledge of Sri Lanka that is deep and wide.

Thomas Mallory Meaney

 

Others have challenged Mr Meaney’s contention that the country passively gave itself up to foreign conquerors and was in 1948 handed independence on a plate without having to fight for it. Nobody died, he claimed. We Irish (and I suspect Mr Meaney has Irish antecedents) have long memories and are likely to bring up the massacres of Cromwell at the slightest excuse. Uva Province still bears the scars of what happened in 1818. In retribution for an uprising, the entire able bodied male population above the age of 18 was killed and homes throughout the region were also destroyed. The British also destroyed the irrigation systems, poisoned the wells, killed all cattle and other domesticated animals, and burnt all cultivated fields

I have seen a copy of Mr Meaney’s CV and am confident that he is a very knowledgeable young man. However, leaving false modesty aside, I do not think that Thomas Meaney knows as much as I do about Sri Lanka.  Nevertheless, the prestigious organ has allowed him over 7,000 words to inform readers about the country I have chosen as my home. Unfortunately, he makes many egregious errors.

I am not concerned so much about value judgements like this one: “The Rajapaksa years now look like the most ignominious period in the country’s post-independence history.” Mr Meaney is, of course, entitled to hold that opinion. I was myself (as I wrote in these pages https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2015/01/15/partisan-people-and-fissiparous-parties/) happy that Rajapaksa was ousted, but I do not think that history will judge MR as harshly as Mr Meaney contends. After all, he ended 30 years of fear and improved the infrastructure of the country beyond recognition. Sri Lanka also made it into the “high” category of the Human Development Index during Rajapaksa’s rule. It is ten years since I last left Sri Lanka and I have experienced the warp and woof of daily life here. I certainly felt a huge improvement in the quality of life in Sri Lanka even in the backwater in which we lived. I listen to ordinary people like a couple who sell vegetables on Badulla market. We have known them for 13 years; they used to be prosperous but now they are desperate; they wish Rajapaksa had not been ousted. Meaney writes dismissively about Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s transforming of “Colombo into a city of antiseptic beauty” but many of the affluent are worried about the effluent that is returning to the city because of the laxity of the current government. Many are nostalgic about Gota’s can-do spirit.

Rather than disputing Mr Meaney’s judgements, I am more concerned about factual errors that any decent copy-editor should have spotted and questioned with the author. Jonathan Spencer drew some of these to the attention of the LRB in a letter and the editors allowed Meaney a response. He was oddly offhand: “I thank Jonathan Spencer for clearing up errors for which I have only myself to blame. But some of his objections are unnecessary.” Who else could be to blame for his errors? What is that “but” doing there?

 

Jonathan Spencer has carried out fieldwork in Sri Lanka since the early 1980s, concentrating at first on rural change and local politics, but writing more recently on ethnic conflict, political violence and political non-violence. His current research looks at the fraught boundary between the religious and the political in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Professor Spencer had pointed out that Mr Meaney’s claim that the British “converted Ceylon’s inhabitants on a much larger scale than the Portuguese and Dutch had” was nonsense because there were four times as many Catholics as Protestants in the population in 1948. Spencer also said that it was plain wrong to describe SWRD Bandaranaike as a member of the ‘burgher class’ when he was a man from the highest caste in Sinhala society. Spencer also questions Meaney’s account of the JVP uprising: “The ‘fifty thousand youths’ who ‘descended on Colombo’ in 1971 are new to me, and I imagine to all other scholars of modern Sri Lankan politics.”

 

There are many more ludicrous errors. Mr Meaney says that Mahinda Rajapaksa was from Matara. According to Wikipedia, he was born in Weeraketiya in the southern rural district of Hambantota. In his opening paragraph Meaney writes: “Solomon Ridgeway Bandaranaike, the anti-colonial head of state who took power in 1956…” Later he writes that “Bandaranaike’s wife, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became head of the SLFP and the world’s first female elected head of state…. “  In fact,  both Bandaranaikes held the office of prime minister. The head of state was Queen Elizabeth II. Also in the first paragraph, Meaney writes: “After independence in 1948, Ceylon alone among the former colonies not only retained but promoted the monarchy”. Did no-one at LRB notice the contradiction?

More confusion about office here: “Prabhakaran participated in the assassination of the governor of Jaffna”.  On 25 April 1978, the LTTE issued an open letter, which was published in the Virakesari, claiming responsibility for the assassination of eleven people including Alfred Thangarajah Duraiappah in 1975. Duraiappah was the mayor of Jaffna (elected by the people) and a member of parliament (elected by the people), not the governor. Jaffna does not have a governor. The Northern Province has a governor who is appointed, not elected. Prabhakaran, of course, was never elected by anybody. Another avoidable blunder was getting the Army Commander’s name wrong. Meaney calls him “Sarnath” Fonseka instead of Sarath.

As Michael Roberts writes: “Thomas Meaney speaks with a certainty that brooks no doubt: ‘At the Nanthikadal lagoon, in the far north-east, Prabhakaran was captured and killed. Photos of his execution and a gruesome video were widely disseminated.’ Since no documentation is deployed in these types of powerful media outlets, we have no means of checking Meaney’s conclusions.” After citing the views of David Blacker who had served in the Sri Lankan Army, Roberts comments: “Alas, the Western world is dominated by journalists and intellectuals who have no experience in jungle warfare (or any form of warfare).” Roberts uses Blacker’s expertise to quash DBS Jeyaraj’s contention that the LTTE leader shot himself and questions the view that he was captured and summarily executed. HL Mahindapala wrote: “Nobody knows who fired the fatal bullet. It seems to be a gun shot fired within a range of about 10 metres.” Roberts surmises: most soldiers will tell you: more often than not, one sprays a round at vague figures of the enemy way in front of you. … a frontline soldier has the luxury of identifying an officer or X and Y to target only on a few occasions”. I have no way of knowing how Prabhakaran died, but then, neither does Mr Meaney.

 

I am disappointed that LRB has seen fit to publish this error-strewn essay rather than giving the job of reviewing books on Sri Lanka to people who have knowledge and expertise in the subject. I am sure that Michael Roberts or Jonathan Spencer would have made a better fist of it. There is insufficient space here to deal with all the dubious statements in the article. I may return to the subject later. Malinda Seneviratne commented: “there seems to be an over-indulgence in off-the-cuff remarks.” As political scientist and former ambassador Dr Dayan Jayatilleka wrote to me: “The usual, wry well-written Orientalism, just like all the LRB pieces on SL through the years. You can’t really pick at this ball of wool, can you?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

China and Sri Lanka Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday February 9 2017.

 

Colman's Column3

China and Sri Lanka Part One

By

Padraig Colman

Donald Trump seems to be determined to annoy as many people as he can. He has made a good start on antagonising China.  The appointment of Peter Navarro, who has forged a career out of condemning China, to the newly- created National Trade Council does not bode well.  Navarro, an economics professor at the University of California, Irvine, published a book called: Death by China: Confronting the Dragon – A Global Call to Action.

navarro

This seems like a good time to examine Sri Lanka’s relationship with the PCR (People’s Republic of China). February 7 was the 60th anniversary of full diplomatic relations between this island nation  and China.

Ancient History

Professor KM de Silva, in his monumental History of Sri Lanka, describes how this island punched above its weight in ancient times. Sri Lanka, despite its diminutive size, belonged to the big league along with the ancient hydraulic civilisations such as China.

prof-k-m-de-silva

The economic potential of the Anuradhapura region was increased by proximity to the Mahaweli River. Mahasena’s Minneriya tank, plus many smaller tanks and irrigation systems built between the fourth and ninth centuries, helped sustain a considerable local population as well as producing a substantial agricultural surplus for export. The port of Gokanna (Trincomalee) played a part in the development of commercial relations with China and South-East Asia which enhanced the economic potential of the region.

Sri Lanka’s strategic position on the sea route between China and the west meant that from the early days of the Christian era there would have been trade between the island and China which would have been bolstered by religious affinity. However, up until the eleventh century the cohesion that comes from strong diplomatic and political ties was lacking.

The Buddhist connection helped to forge links between the two countries. There is evidence that Sinhalese nuns went to China in the fifth century and helped in the ordination of women there. In 411 AD, the famous Chinese Buddhist traveller Fa Hsien visited the island and stayed for two years.

fa-hsien

However, contacts with Chinese Buddhism were occasional and tenuous.

During the Polonnaruva Kingdom, Sri Lanka was a vital link in the great trade routes between east and west. The unity imposed on the Muslim world by the Caliphs and the peace imposed on China during the T’ang and Sung dynasties allowed trade between China and the Persian Gulf to flourish. Sri Lanka’s geographical position helped it to benefit from this.

In the early fifteenth century, under the Ming dynasty, seven powerful fleets from China visited the ports of the Indian Ocean demanding tribute and obedience to the Chinese Emperor. The Muslim explorer Zheng He (often known as Cheng-ho) was a Hui court eunuch and fleet admiral during the early Ming dynasty. On Zheng He’s, first visit to Sri Lanka in 1405, his objective was to take back the tooth relic from Kandy. In 1284, Kublai Khan had sent a similarly unsuccessful mission for the same purpose. Zheng went back to China disappointed but also aggrieved and he returned five years later to capture the Sinhalese king, Vira Alakesvara, his queen and several notables and took them as prisoners to China. The king was eventually released but his humiliation meant that he could not recover his throne. In 1411, the Chinese emperor sent a nominee to the Sinhalese throne but he was swiftly eliminated by Parakramabahu who began a reign of 55 years.

Relations with Communist China

Fast forward to the Communist Revolution – Ceylon was among the first countries to recognize the   PRC. Ceylon and the People’s Republic of China accorded each other diplomatic recognition in January 1950.

In 1952, Dudley Senanayake had just formed a new government when Ceylon faced a world shortage of rice.

dudley

The country entered independence saddled with a colonial plantation economy which was susceptible to fluctuations in world conditions. The country faced a foreign exchange crisis in 1952 caused by a dramatic fall in export prices after the end of the Korean War and the price of natural rubber declined by 36%. The Rubber-Rice Pact of 1952 further consolidated a cordial relationship with China. The agreement gave the newly-independent Ceylon a large market for its rubber in China, and China supplied China with low-cost rice. This agreement was entered into at a time when China was victim of trade embargoes which cut off imports of strategic materials including rubber.

After SWRD Bandaranaike became prime minister in April 1956, the two countries established full diplomatic relations on 7th February 1957 and set up embassies. A number of bi-lateral agreements strengthened political, economic, trade and cultural bonds. Ceylon/Sri Lanka supported the PRC’s “One China” policy, which Trump is now undermining, and efforts to give the UN’s China seat to the PRC. The USA did not establish diplomatic relations with the PRC until 1979; Japan in 1972; UK in 1972 and France in 1964.

z_p-08-bandaranaike-4

Mao Zedong died on September 9 1976. September 18, the day of Mao’s last rites in Peking, was also declared a day of national mourning and a public holiday in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government declared an eight-day period of mourning to coincide with observances in China. A condolence book was opened by the Chinese embassy.

Mrs Bandaranaike and China

 

mrs-b

The premiership of Sirimavo Bandaranaike further consolidated the gratitude of the PRC towards Sri Lanka. Her commitment to the Non-Aligned Movement provided the country with a great deal of international support and respect. She said: “Underlying the policy of non-alignment is the belief that independent nations, although small and militarily weak, have a positive role to play in the world today. This attitude is completely different from that of washing our hands of these matters, which was perhaps the idea behind the classical theory of neutralism. That was non-involvement — remaining in splendid isolation.”

The world’s first woman prime minister fully understood the importance for Sri Lanka of good relations with both India and China. She had close personal friendships in both countries and was distressed when the Sino-Indian war broke out in 1962. The Chinese Government were feeling somewhat victimised and expressed the view that the Colombo Conference countries were functioning as judges rather than mediators. Mrs Bandaranaike’s mediation efforts were helped by her husband’s and her own history of support for the PRC and her close personal friendship with Chou En-lai.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike paid her first official visit to China in 1962, and made further visits in 1972 and 1977. China was isolated at this time and did not regain its UN seat until 1971. The Chinese government appreciated Mrs Bandaranaike’s visits and she forged close personal connections with the Chinese leadership. At her request, relics of the Buddha were brought to Sri Lanka from China on loan.

Chinese aid, which was on more favourable terms than aid from other countries, started during Mrs Bandaranaike’s premiership. She personally supervised the plans and construction of the BMICH (Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall). Built between 1970 and 1973, the convention center was a gift from the PRC in memory of her husband SRWD Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of Ceylon from 1956 to 1959.

 

JR and China

Although he led Sri Lanka into a closer relationship with the west, President JR Jayewardene visited China in May 1984. During JR’s rule the USA was Sri Lanka’s main arms supplier and China accounted for only 30%. In the 80s, India strongly objected to Sri Lanka’s evolving relationship with the US, Pakistan, China, as well as Israel. The former Indian Foreign Secretary, JN Dixit, cited JR’s foreign policy as the primary reason for Indian military intervention in Sri Lanka in 1987.

jr-jayawardene

Premadasa

ranasinghe-premadasa-1

Premadasa was president of Sri Lanka at the time of India’s disastrous military intervention in 1987. India’s actions, the imposition of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord and the 13th Amendment and the forced merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces as well as the invasion by the Indian Peace-Keeping Force, drove Premadasa towards China. As prime minister, he had visited China in 1979 and received a warm welcome. By the late 1980s China had become Sri Lanka’s main arms supplier, accounting for 58% of all weapons imports, providing warplanes, artillery and tanks. Premadasa invited a senior Chinese political leader to his party-political events and China played a big part in his economic policy.

Gun Control Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday July 28 2016.

Colman's Column3

There has been a great deal of smugness in Europe about the epidemic of mass slaughter in the US. The recent shootings in Munich remind us that such things to do not only happen in the US. Recent horrors in Europe did not depend on assault weapons – the weapon in Nice was a truck, in Munich an axe bought from a hardware store. The Munich shooter, Ali David Sonboly, used a Glock automatic.

However, just because mass slaughter can be achieved by mentally disturbed people without assault weapons, that is no argument for allowing mentally disturbed people to have access to firearms. Mass shootings are not unknown in the UK but they are so rare that they cause shock and outrage and usually lead to a tightening of gun control.

Hungerford

On 19 August 1987, in Hungerford Berkshire, Michael Ryan shot 16 people dead, including his own mother, using a handgun and two semi-automatic rifles, before committing suicide. Shortly after midday on 19 August, Ryan approached Susan Godfrey, who was picnicking in Savernake Forest. He marched her away from her two young children and shot her 13 times in the back. During Ryan’s rampage, a police officer died and many people were injured. 15 other people were also shot but survived.

No firm motive for the killings has ever been established.  Dr John Hamilton of Broadmoor Hospital and Dr Jim Higgins, a consultant forensic psychiatrist for Mersey Regional Health Authority, both thought Ryan was schizophrenic and psychotic. Hamilton stated: “Ryan was most likely to be suffering from acute schizophrenia. He might have had a reason for doing what he did, but it was likely to be bizarre and peculiar to him.”

The police saw no reason to deny Ryan his firearms certificates in spite of the fact that many people described him as odd. Everyone who knew him thought he was a fantasist who told stories about a non-existent military career. Ryan did labouring work dressed in combat fatigues and was obsessed with guns. He carried his guns in his car and took pot shots at road signs. Given a job clearing footpaths in the town, Ryan would turn up carrying his rifle.

After the massacre, there was an immediate demand for a tightening of the law controlling the possession of guns. “The existing legislation is wholly inadequate …” said the General Secretary of the Police Superintendents’ Association. “There are too many guns in circulation and a lot of people who have guns clearly should not be in possession of them.” The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 was passed in the wake of the massacre. The Act bans the ownership of semi-automatic centre-fire rifles and restricts the use of shotguns with a capacity of more than three cartridges (in magazine plus the breech).

At the time of the massacre, Ryan legally owned a Zabala shotgun, a Browning shotgun, a Beretta 92FS semi-automatic 9 mm pistol, CZ ORSO semi-automatic .32-caliber pistol, Bernardelli .22-caliber pistol, a Type 56 7.62×39mm semi-automatic, aM1 carbine .30 (7.62×33mm) semi-automatic rifle (a rare “Underwood” model).

Why would a school caretaker need such weapons?

 

Dunblane

On Wednesday 13 March 1996, Thomas Hamilton, aged 43, drove his van to Dunblane Primary School near Stirling, in Scotland. He cut the telephone cables around the school  and made his way to the gymnasium carrying four legally held handguns — two 9mm Browning HP pistols and two Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolvers. He was also carrying 743 cartridges of ammunition.

Why would a shopkeeper need such weapons? Why would the authorities grant him a licence to have any weapons at all?

He shot dead sixteen five-year-old children and one teacher before killing himself.

Hamilton seems to have been a paedophile. There had been complaints to police regarding Hamilton’s behaviour towards the young boys who attended the youth clubs he ran. Claims had been made of his having taken photographs of semi-naked boys. He claimed in letters that malicious rumours about him led to the failure of his shop business in 1993. In the 1980s, George Robertson, a  Labour MP, (later General Secretary of NATO and Baron Robertson of Port Ellen, of Islay in Argyll and Bute) who lived in Dunblane, had complained to the local Conservative MP Michael Forsyth about Hamilton’s boys’ club, which Robertson’s son had attended. Robertson acted as a spokesman for the victims’ families. He was also a key figure in the campaign that led to the ban on handguns in Great Britain.

The Cullen Inquiry into the Dunblane massacre recommended that the government introduce tighter controls on handgun ownership and consider whether an outright ban on private ownership would be in the public interest. There was a great deal of public and media pressure to totally ban private gun ownership. The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee agreed with the need for restrictions on gun ownership but ruled that a handgun ban was not appropriate.

In response to this public debate, the Major government introduced the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which banned all cartridge ammunition handguns with the exception of .22 calibre single-shot weapons in England, Scotland and Wales. Following the 1997 General Election, the Blair government introduced the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997, banning the remaining .22 cartridge handguns in England, Scotland and Wales.

Cumbria

On 2 June 2010 a lone gunman, taxi driver Derrick Bird, killed 12 people and injured 11 others before killing himself in Cumbria, in north west England. The first killings were of people Bird had a personal grudge against, starting with his twin brother and moving on to the family solicitor and then rival taxi drivers. He then drove through several local towns, firing apparently at random, and calling a majority of the victims over to his taxi before shooting them, many of them in the face. After Bird killed himself, police confirmed that two weapons (a double-barrelled shotgun and a .22-calibre rifle with a scope and silencer) had been used by the suspect in the attacks and that thirty different crime scenes were being investigated.

Bird had held a shotgun certificate since 1974 and had renewed it several times, most recently in 2005, and had held a firearms certificate for a rifle from 2007 onward.

How did the firearms legislation allow a taxi driver to have these licences? Why would he need guns?

Gun Crime in the UK

Less than three per cent of firearms offences in the UK result in a serious or fatal injury. For 2011/12, police in England and Wales recorded 541 offences as homicide, of which 42 (eight per cent) involved the use of firearms — a rate of 0.1 illegal gun deaths per 100,000 of population. The number of homicides per year committed with firearms in England and Wales in the ten years to 2011/12, averaged 56 per year. During the same period, there were three fatal shootings of police officers in England and Wales, and 154 non-fatal shootings, an average of 15.4 per year. Britain has some of the strictest gun regulations in the world. As of the middle of last year, there were 1.8 million licensed guns of all kinds in the country, according a report by the UK government. The UK’s population is just under 65 million.

Britain is proud of its record on gun control but why should there be 1.8 million licensed guns in the country? I can never get my head around why ordinary people should be allowed to have guns at all. The three cases described above show that severely disturbed people were allowed to legally possess firearms when they had no need of them.

A small group, known as the Gun Control Network, was founded after Dunblane. Bereaved families and their friends also initiated a campaign named the Snowdrop Petition to ban private gun ownership. The petition achieved 705,000 signatures and was supported by some newspapers, including the Sunday Mail, whose petition to ban handguns had raised 428,279 signatures within five weeks of the massacre.

The UK legislation that was passed had bipartisan support. Even after the killing of Jo Cox MP, political rivals came together in their grief and shock. One cannot imagine Obama and Trump getting together after a shooting the way Cameron and Corbyn did. This is not because British politicians are necessarily morally superior to their US counterparts. I would argue that British legislation is morally superior on this particular issue.

Next week – the right to bear arms.

 

Gun Control – a Comparison

Leytonstone is a station on the Central line, the line which runs roughly west to east through central London and into the north-eastern suburbs. On December 5 2015, a man stabbed three people at the station before police subdued him with a stun gun and made an arrest. The man was reported to be shouting Muslim slogans and “This is for Syria”. Someone called out: “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv! You’re no Muslim, bruv! You ain’t no Muslim!”

The Metropolitan Police were very quick to describe this as a “terrorist incident”. The Somali-born knifeman had images of Fusilier Rigby (beheaded by a Nigerian Muslim) and British Islamic State executioner Jihadi John on his phone, along with material linked to ISIS.

It later transpired that the assailant, Muhiddin Mire, aged 30, had a history of severe mental illness. He was sectioned in 2006 during an episode “when, essentially he lost touch with reality”. His name was not on any database of suspects or known extremists, and he was not believed to have been exploited by any known terrorist group or individual. After Mire was convicted of attempted murder and incarcerated in Broadmoor high-security mental health facility, Commander Dean Haydon, head of counter-terrorism for Scotland Yard, said: “I would not class it as a terrorist incident now.”

Mire was experiencing paranoid delusions a month before the attack and  his GP referred him to his local community mental health services. He had missed an appointment with a community mental health team four days before the incident on 5 December. Mire’s family had also become concerned about his mental health and tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to return to Somalia, having failed to persuade the health authorities toplace him in a secure institution.

Mire targeted Lyle Zimmerman at random after travelling on the same tube carriage. On video footage, Mire was seen turning Zimmerman over, kicking him six times to the head and chest, and sawing at his throat with a breadknife. Louise McGuinness said in a statement that when she shouted at Mire to stop he turned to her and said: “This is for telling me to stop,” and kicked Zimmerman harder. It seems that his attack on Zimmerman was in emulation of the beheading of Lee Rigby.

Zimmerman, who sustained three large lacerations to his neck that exposed his trachea, testified at Mire’s trial in May 2016, where he said he felt his attacker was “a crazy person, a mentally ill person.”

Prosecutor Jonathan Rees QC had told jurors Mire’s mental health problems were not a defence that excused  his intention to kill Mr Zimmerman. Mr Rees also argued Mire had shown interest in ISIS and Islamic extremism before his “relapse” and his decision to give up his job as a taxi driver. The prosecutor said: “He is sympathetic to those who are choosing to pursue jihad against  non-Muslims. It can be no coincidence that he carried out the attack three days after parliament had voted to extend the bombing campaign against ISIS to territory in Syria. The evidence clearly establishes that the motive underpinning this attack was that bombing campaign in Syria. That was at the very forefront at his mind.”

After the jury delivered its verdict, Judge Richard Marks QC, praised those who remained at the station to warn others while Mire carried out his attack. He said: “There are members of the public who showed remarkable courage and good heartedness who became involved in this case.” He praised the “public spiritedness of the people who rushed in to help on the day of the attack”.

Those public-spirited people  did not run away and called the police and filmed the attack providing helpful evidence. The police arrived fairly promptly, tasered the assailant and protected him from an angry mob as they took him into custody.

Nobody died.

So here we have a seriously mentally ill person who has become further deranged by Islamist propaganda, He is arrested, put on trial and sentenced. The attack was horrific for those involved, particularly Lyle Zimmerman but nobody died because the only weapon Mire had to hand was a fragile bread knife.

In Orlando, a seriously mentally ill person who had become further deranged by Islamist propaganda, a bi-polar wife-beater with repressed homosexual tendencies, kills 49 innocent people and is then killed himself. Omar Mateen could not be stopped by his victims because he was armed, not with a fragile bread knife, but with an AR-15-type assault rifle, which he would only have needed to reload once during his killing spree due to the weapon’s large magazine size. In the state of Florida, anyone over the age of 18 can buy an AR-15 as no state permit is required. AR15s are owned by around 3.7 million American households. The National Rifle Association has defended the mass sale of assault rifles, insisting they are useful for wild hunting and “home defence.” Why would a family need such a weapon for self-defence? It is not a gun suitable for hunting. Its main function is mass slaughter. The AR15 has become the weapon of choice for mass killers in the US.

 

I was astounded by the utter fatuity of a comment on Facebook. Someone commented in fit of juvenile snarkiness: “OK – it’s the gun’s fault”. The NRA is always trotting out the cliché, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people”. Amend that to, “People with guns kill people, so don’t let madmen get their hands on AR15s.”

 

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