26 February, 2010

Morality VS Democracy: The crime scene, the morning after Thaksin gets a long-overdue lesson

Compassion Central: Funkypix2’s offer to poor Mr Thaksin should adequately compensate him for the Supreme Court's confiscation of "his" U$1.4 billion.

U$1,400,000,000, now returned to its rightful owner, the Thai people. That's enough to create 1,400 millionaires, and it won't fit on my calculator. Gosh, now he has to personally scrape by on a mere ONE billion $1,000,000,000 or so... how will he manage to pay the rent? ...hence FunkyPix2's heartfelt rescue package (first made way back in 2007).

Ironic. Now Mr Thaksin is grudgingly advising politicians to stay out of politics. Is he at last perhaps beginning to cotton on to the idea that being involved in politics DOES necessarily require a disengagement from personal gain? I don't think so. It underlines his persisting attitude that he was entitled to be the bonus-grabbing CEO of Thailand, not a fair-dealing even-handed prime minister. A statesman is supposed to help the State, not steal from it.

Unaccountably, these Redshirts are upset that their own stolen  money (1.4 billion baht) has now been legally returned to themselves. Perversely, they wanted the thief to keep the loot. Er, am I missing something here? Maybe they're worried about no longer getting their regular bribe to attend demonstrations? Truth is that Thai people are accustomed to admiring anyone who is street-savvy enough to get rich - by fair means OR foul. One Redshirt recently said in a newspaper that it didn't matter to her that Thaksin was corrupt ...because he is a charismatic leader. That's hardly what I'd call a principled position to assist a struggling democracy to find its feet. The relevant question Thai people need to ask each other right now is...
"What would Buddha do?"

Kuhn Thaksin swiftly pocketed 76 billion baht from the illegal sale of Shincorp to Singapore, then immediately snuk it out of Thailand and into tax-free havens in the British Virgin Islands. Pure piracy. Let’s get out the calculator and have some fun finding out precisely what that vast amount of cash might look like. For starters, laid in a flat stack of 1000-baht notes (Thailand's largest denomination note), it would create a tower 700 metres higher than Mt Everest.

The redshirts' underlying gripe isn't really about Thaksin's money, however. Like myself, most of them can't begin to imagine that amount of money. The real problem, the oft unspoken subtext, is about social inequity. There's a yawning chasm of wealth separating Thailand's wealthy middle-class urban elites from its rural poor, and I too feel compassion and sympathy about that. The situation in Thailand parallels the wealth gap in Srilanka between Singhalese and Tamils and other ethnically bilateral countries.

The current protests will probably not immediately prompt change, but in the long term may cause the urban middle-classes and Bangkok elites to become more consciously aware of their position of social advantage. Poorer people may begin to put upward pressure on wages so that countries like Japan are less inclined to exploit the present low wages of Thai workers. Workers may eventually unionize. And if education moved from rote-learning to a more "analytical-questioning" model, all Thais would be empowered to think critically and constructively in their evaluation of propaganda. In many such respects, Thailand is still back where the West was in the 1950s.

In the meantime, Thailand's Redshirts continue to simplistically believe that Thaksin Shinawatra is their Shining Robin Hood on a white horse, come to rescue them from poverty... even though his glib promises to relieve farmers' debts never even looked like materializing during his watch. The simple solution for Abhisit, the current PM, is to visibly direct much of Thaksin's confiscated money towards the Poor, especially in the Northern Isaan areas. And to do it ASAP, before riots ensue in Bangkok - again. The Redshirt leaders will hopefully realize that it is in the interests of the rural poor that Thaksin does not delay any such disbursement by appealing the the Supreme Court decision. If their "black-magic-curse" decision to splash blood around Bangkok is anything to go by, however, they aren't much in the business of Deep Thought. History proves that most Revolutionaries are merely Reactionaries in disguise.

Update 1 from the front-line: a video, taken as the Redshirts began converging on Bangkok, mid-March 2010. Each person gets identified and paid 2000 baht. Who was the very kind donor? This was about the time Mr Thaksin left Dubai and flew "secretly" into Siem Riep in Northern Cambodia, from whence he is now close enough to blow raspberries at Bangkok. Anything to stay in the public eye. 

Update 2: No, Update 1 was wrong. It was another planted rumour, no doubt another chess move on Thaksin's part, a deliberate strategy to continue his chronic attention-deficit "Jack-in-the-Box" media stunts of popping up randomly all over the world... rather like some weird global arcade game. No, he wasn't in Cambodia; he was spotted enjoying coffee and cake in Montenegro. Now I desperately need a candid photo and a speech-bubble that reads  Let Them Eat Rice. 

Update 3:  The Thai politics soap-opera gets funnier by the minute. Thaksin, in his shoot-from-the-lip knee-jerk manner, compared PM Abhisit to Hitler. In the very same breath, he accused the PM of being surrounded by homosexuals with emotional problems! (Hey, which decade are we in? I also trust that Thaksin's own son won't 't get too annoyed with his Dad over that minor slur). Next, Thaksin accused Abhisit of being mentally unstable - which instantly triggered a lawsuit from Abhisit, of course, who couldn't possibly have let that one go through to the keeper unchallenged. Soon afterwards, a report from Bangkok police confirming an assassination plot on the PM elicited conspicuous silence from the Thaksin camp. Meanwhile, the Redshirts have splashed 100 litres or so of their own blood around Abhisit's home in Bangkok. Besides being condemned by health authorities as unhealthy, even dangerous, (not to mention sheer waste) this prank is nothing more than a transparent attempt by superstitious farmers at histrionic headline-grabbing... faux "Black Magic".

Note that they stored their blood in ordinary plastic DRINKING bottles (eeew!!), then proceeded to tread in it themselves, thus contradicting their own admonition that the PM didn't respect the blood of Thai people (Thai culture dictates that putting your shoe on anything is disrespectful).  Redshirts, police and photographers alike were all spotted with blood. Small plastic bags of blood sailed gaily over the fence and spattered inside... like a grisly premonition of the forthcoming Songkran water-throwing festival (which is, ironically, supposed to be about respect for one's elders). In all, the Redshirt crusade has been a giant media flop, an embarrassing exercise in shooting themselves (and Thailand) in the foot. So glad we weren't there.

Just good friends. Dr Thaksin & Saddam Hun Sen.

Peaceful protests by Redshirts.

Most Redshirts are now dispersing from Bangkok.

23 February, 2010

Catholic sainthood, Genocidal Piety, and Saving Souls in Petrie Dishes

YOU TOO can enter in Saint Mary's
Wet Habit Competition - even if you're a guy

Saint Mary of Australia?? According to Christianity's multiple interpretations of the word "saint", I now feel justified in declaring my own dear wife a saint. She is henceforth to be addressed as Saint Marie of Thailand. You may send flowers, money, cards, cheques, Buddha relics, or hefty cash offerings for your soul.

You may detect my liberal-humanist antipathy to Christianity. Christians are as blindly inconsistent as any other unthinking religious cult. The fact is, the various Christianities are every bit as tribal as Muslim factions in Afghanistan and the Middle East. All are killing each other to prove who has the best Invisible Friend. Duh. They may have chosen to forget that Judao-Christianity and Islam all share the same god.

 Why should one feel obligated to label oneself as an "Atheist". I hardly
feel the need to defend myself as a "non-astrologer" or a "non-alchemist"

Far be it from me to be casting nasturtiums at Saint Mary of Penola, South Australia. She seems to have been, by many accounts, a genuinely strong and trustworthy person. However, it's a mighty leap of doctrine/faith from there to pin a gold sainthood medal on her. All it took to convince Rome's eager-to-please authorities was that two sick people (both Catholics, of course) both swore they were divinely cured because they somehow succeeded in convincing this long-dead nun to pray to an Invisible Friend on their behalf.

Moreover, it seems like strangely circular reasoning to fall back on Human-generated evidence as proof of a Divine event when the underlying premise of the Bible is a belief in the superiority of God’s own words over mere human ones. In this regard, what will the literal Christian (or Jew, for that matter) intuit when reading God’s alleged words in Deuteronomy 22:13-21 where He/She wrote that if a man discovers on his wedding night that his bride is not a virgin, he must stone her to death on her father’s doorstep? Either the Bible is right …or it isn't. We shouldn't be forced to pick and choose if we elect to subscribe to the doctrine of divine infallibility. Read about more Biblical inconsistencies here in (divinely-inspired) Wikipedia.

So, what about these two miraculous cures by Mary? Rates of self-induced natural remission from sickness are well within this range of statistical likelihood. And self-induced recovery from illness happens to just as many people who aren't Catholic: the auto-curative capability of the highly motivated mind is well-documented, even if it remains stubbornly inexplicable. The brain is still a mysterious black box. Research into the field is still fairly much at an embryonic stage of "poke-it-here-and-see-what-happens".

If the literal-addicted Christian insists that everything in the Bible is accurate, then s/he must accept that the Vatican's wholly-fabricated definition of a “saint” is wrong. Nowhere in any human edition of the Bible does it describe a saint as some sort of 'extra holy' person. Nor does it mention that a saint is able to act as an intermediary with God any more effectively than any other person. In fact, the Bible states clearly that anyone who believes in Jesus is a saint (Ps. 16:3; Rom. 1:7; 8:27; Phil. 1:1; Heb. 6:10). So by canonizing Mary McKillop, the Pope is literally declaring that she is Australia's first (and only) Christian. Listen to this Australian radio news item (all my links open for your convenience in new windows).

Of course, it’s obvious enough that the Marketing and PR Department at the Vatican deliberately uses canonizations as a targeted media strategy to dazzle potential new converts with holy smoke, magic and mirrors. Or, more to the point, to dissuade the flood of defecting rats from the leaky Roman ark. Hey, it's a competitive market for Souls out there in Religionland. And right now is certainly a convenient moment to have a big glitzy canonization party with lots of fresh photos of happy pilgrims en route to Penola - Benedict urgently needs to distract media attention away from paedophile priest cover-up scandals etc. (Convenient, too, that Mary had been named ‘Mary’… “Saint Krystal-Brianna” just wouldn’t have been convincing).

 Yep, media attention is the Big Clue. Instead of going to all the fuss of creating new saints, the Vatican mostly prefers to recycle old ones. In the next photo, relics of St Anthony of Padua (dressed in his Sunday best) get paraded through Colombo airport at the start of a recent 3-week Holiday in Srilanka. The media, you'll notice, had been invited:

Now to pick nits… what exactly does it mean to “believe in Jesus”? I personally believe in Jesus ...to the extent that I'm fairly confident from corroborated historical accounts that the physical man did actually exist… even though his real name was Jeshua bin Joseph, his skin was probably considerably darker than our western white-washed storybook pictures would suggest, and he was hunted down by Roman authorities because he was regarded as a dangerous fundamentalist Jewish terror extremist.  Do I therefore qualify as a Christian… or [eek!] worse still, a saint?
OMG I’m praying not…

The family-size greek-style "St Paul" pizza...
based on a fresco in St Paul's Cathedral.

Anyway, the pope's canonization of Straya’s own brand new Saint Meery [‘saint’ pronounced as in ‘pint’] is a suitable trigger for another of my anti-Christianity photo-offensives. Yew bloody liddle bewdy, mite!

Browse more of my "Religious Issues" posts in the
"Browse by Category" tab in the sidebar on your screen

Click to embiggen. Afterwards, click your BACK button.

Characteristic Christian compassion and caring

"But verily I say unto you, circles are sexier"

Uh-huh, it all makes good saints to me...

The Hebrew language, just like English, uses idioms which can't possibly be taken literally. How easily, for instance, might a non-speaker of English misinterpret our common  idiom "to catch a bus"? Likewise, if a Hebrew person didn't like you, s/he might call you a "son of a viper". If you were a kind person, you might get called a "son of kindness". Examples can be found dotted throughout the Old Testament. But when St Paul the Greek (who had a relatively feeble grasp of the Hebrew language) heard Rabbi Jeshua described as a "son of God", he chose in his pious ignorance to take them absolutely literally. In Hebrew, the idiom simply simply described someone as a good or god-fearing person. How many millions of innocent people have since died as a result of this linguistic error? Why, in the year 2010, do we all still have to submit to this fatally foggy mindset? I'm eternally astonished that Christians are satisfied to believe rather than to know, especially given the Bible's inconsistent evidence and gross mistranslations.

The above scene may have been the Holy Madonna's lot if the Catholic church had been invented back in Jeshua's day. Referring to Mother Theresa, Christopher Hitchens wrote that she: "was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction."

Queen Benedick II.   Gotta love the cute tail !

Benedict catches a glimpse of the Fashion Channel.

Did you realize that it is highly probable that Rabbi Jesus was a member of the ultra-strict Jewish  Essene sect? The Bible frequently discusses the activities of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but is conspicuously silent about the other major Jewish sub-group, the Essenes. One has to suspect a deliberate 2000-year propaganda whitewash by people with vested interests in concealing the fact that Christianity was not totally original but (ironically) based largely on ancient teachings of conservative Judaism. For sure, everything is different since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1945. Indeed, it looks alarmingly likely that Christianity was based on a HUGE mistake, or a number of them. It is generally understood that the Vatican has one or two of the particularly sensitive Dead Sea Scrolls scrolls securely locked away from curious bloggers and other inconvenient weirdos who seek Honesty and Transparency.

Click to embiggen. Afterwards, click your BACK button.

Since the 13th century, souls of babies who died before they could be baptized were deemed to have gone to a holy 'place' which the Catholic Church mysteriously named LIMBO. There they awaited Judgement Day ...and (hopefully) for someone to change their nappies (=diapers). Limbo isn't mentioned in the Bible at all, but the Church simply fabricated it to appease bereaved parents who were illiterate and therefore unable to verify what their trusted priest told them. The problem with lies is that you have to make up more lies to cover your tracks - AND you need a reliable memory. The Church finally decided just a few years ago that it could no longer continue the embarrassing charade and confessed that Limbo never had existed. My question is this: Where will all those tiny souls go now? Here's the heart-warming family-friendly answer, right here on your trustworthy FunkyPix2.
Every sperm is sacred. I quote Sam Harris in Letter to a Christian Nation: "Of course, the church's position on abortion takes no more notice of the details of biology than it does of the reality of human suffering. It has been estimated that 50% of all human conceptions end in spontaneous abortion, usually without a woman even realizing that she was pregnant. In fact, a full 20% of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. The obvious truth here that cries out for acknowledgement: if God exists, He is the most prolific abortionist of all."
Hey Jude, Limbo must have been be awfully crowded in its day.

Something vital got lost in the translation.....
exactly as happened when the Gospels were translated first from Jesus's native language (Aramaic) into Hebrew, and then again (by St Paul) into Greek... then later into Latin, and again into English, Swahili, Thai..... Christianity ought to be re-named Paulanity - only a Greek could have so easily accepted the idea of gods coming down to earth to mate with humans, then returning. Greek gods did it routinely. A strictly conservative Jew like Rabbi Jeshua would never have even thought of it. It was Paul who put the words in his mouth - posthumously.

Click to embiggen. Afterwards, click the BACK button.
Language greatly determines Thought. The Hebrew text of Isaiah, for instance, uses the word 'alma' which simply means 'young woman' ...with no implication of virginity. St Paul couldn't have known that due to the vastly different semantic world of his native language Greek...
...so why didn't his Supervising Editor intercede?

Either the Bible is right, or it isn't. The sixth Commandment, Thou Shalt Not Murder, seems to be severely contradicted by this reading from DEUTERONOMY 13:6, beginning at verse 8:
 If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son, or your daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, entices you secretly, saying, "Let us go and serve other gods"... you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him; but you shall kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God...
Nowhere in the New Testament did Rabbi J. ever contradict this barbarism. In fact, at several points he endorsed it:
For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven... For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. - MATTHEW 5:18-20
Interestingly, Rabbi Jesus was claiming that the Pharisees and scribes, the very highest ranks of the Jewish faith, were not qualified enough to get to heaven. That was precisely one of the frequent claims of the Essene sect.

20 February, 2010

Diary update: Anna Does Chiangmai, February 2010

.................... Multiple Choice Test:     Anna and Marie have
......................... [a] found a new secret friend in the Siam Center, Bangkok
......................... [b] to pee mighty urgently
......................... [c] just downed their third chaippuchino of the morning
......................... [d] all of the above are correct

After returning from an oh-so-post-colonial adventure in Sri Lanka at the Galle Literary Festival, Anna and Marie returned to Chiangmai determined to out-Biggle Biggles.

Here they are, lost in the dangerous haunted tunnels under Chiangmai's ancient Buddhist temple Wat U-mong... conferring whether to turn left to confront a fierce Dragon, or turn right to visit a drink-stall:

More of their brave Thailand adventures are here (this link will open in a new window for your convenience. When finished, close it and you'll be right back where you are now).

11 February, 2010

Winning the Peace in Sri Lanka: It's not over till the Tamil lady sings

 >>> NEWSFLASH !! >>>

Colombo, 9 Feb 2010. Prime Minister Gordon Brown this morning arrested Opposition politician David Cameron for the alleged crime of being involved in politics.
Mr Cameron's whereabouts tonight are unknown. He was violently dragged from a tea party at Buckingham Palace and driven away at speed. This is consistent with a pattern of unexplained disappearances of journalists and anti-Brown dissidents over the past year or so as the country moves towards totalitarian status alongside rogue states such as Burma, Sudan or North Korea.
Mr Brown denied knowledge of any such abductions but claimed that the recent closure of the newspaper The Monday Leader was necessary "in the nation's security interest in order to prevent corruption and to suppress dangerously anti-Democratic minority groups such as the Whigs, Tories, and other terrorist militia". He later added: "We do not have Censorship here. What we do have is merely a limitation on what the Media can say".
Mr Brown (a.k.a."King Gordon I") is also said to have stated that he soon intends to abolish parliament altogether as it is "a bloody waste of oxygen", although this breaking news remains unconfirmed due to an apparent shortage of journalists.    CDN-FOX.
Confused?? Yeah, me too.
OK, fantasy over. Flip to the reality of post-war (pre-peace?) Sri Lanka...

Exactly following the model provided by the mega-wealthy middle-class Thaksin Shinawatra (formerly of Thailand), Mahinda Rajapakse achieves power by targeting the vote of the rural Sinhalese, sufficient in number to give him an electoral majority. As in Thailand, farmers are thought to be the easiest political prey who, due to their relatively limited formal education, are less capable of assessing propaganda bias when it is fed to them.  Simple. But there's more operating behind the scenes - and as usual it comes down to money, of course.

Many people are unaware of the massive impact China has had on the history of Srilanka over the past couple of years since Mahinda Rajapakse visited Beijing. That visit gave China the courage to no longer be wary of offending India. Just as China has bank-rolled the governments of Burma and Sudan (among others) in a quest for economic empire, Sri Lanka has received massive soft loans and military assistance. Without this help, the 25-year struggle against the Tamil Tigers could not possibly have ended so abruptly, and Rajapakse would not therefore have had so many electoral aces up his sleeve. China certainly has Tamil blood on its hands. Who do you think vetoed the UN resolution about investigating war crimes in the Tamil prison camps in the north? I suggest Chinese tourists be wary around Jaffna.

Rajapakse is fanning the flames of international competition too. Last week he popped up in Moscow for a photo-op with President Medvedev and to shore up deals with Russia to explore for oil [etc] off the coast of Sri Lanka. The USA is competing furiously to keep its interests alive in the face of Chinese investment. China is in a stronger financial situation by comparison with the USA following the 2009 meltdown of Capitalism. It is the financial  cat; the USA is its mouse. China has realised that the Wild West's "shoot-your-way-in" model of colonialism isn't going to work in today's world. Colonialism can now be done better - and more cheaply - by email and online transfers.

China's state-owned CHEC Corporation is bank-rolling a huge new expressway which will soon connect Sri Lanka to the huge new Chinese-funded seaport at the southern town of Hambantota. Surprise surprise, Hambantota district is Rajapakse's own constituency - much of the money was siphoned off for his massive election campaign). Explanation? As world oil supplies shrink, China desperately needs a chain of windows onto the Indian ocean and in particular onto the Arabian Gulf. (For this same reason it has inveigled its way financially into Burma and is building a seaport at Sitwe ...which explains why the Burmese military junta can afford to be so scornful of UN sanctions.)

To the Sri Lankan rural majority, Rajapakse's waltzing on the world's stage probably seems grandly impressive ...and progressive. In the short term, people's expectations of re-vitalized economic activity may be superficially fulfilled as they observe building projects sprouting everywhere, plus find some short-term labouring jobs. In the longer term, there will be a dawning disillusionment as people begin realizing that the People's Dictatorship of Sri Lanka has been set up principally to benefit the already-wealthy Singhalese middle-class of Colombo and the southern provinces ...not the rural majority.

Is this not a recipe for grass-roots Tamil unrest all over again? Is this not a sordid re-run of colonial history by another name? Could Sri Lanka be sleep-walking into selling its soul for a pittance? It's not too late - Rajapakse faces another election in April. Is there a new Opposition phoenix rising from the ashes to bell the cat? Fonseka, even though his platform was essentially not so different from that of Rajapakse, was correct in his objective of not concentrating too much power in the hands of one person. Parliament must at all costs be allowed to dissent and counter-balance. Even if I were a Rajapakse supporter, I would now consider voting elsewhere in order to reduce his huge majority by just one vote ...after all, History is the sum of individual actions. It would prove healthier for the country to have a half-decent Opposition.

I refer you to this Canadian CBC article for balanced background reading. There are also more of my comments about Tamil-Singhalese reconciliation in my recent previous post about the Galle Literary Festival. Alternatively, just scroll down past this natty collection of one-liners...
The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen.
- Tommy Smothers

A censor is a man who knows more than he thinks you ought to.
- Dr Laurence J. Peter

Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it.
- Mark Twain

If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.
- Noam Chomsky

Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.
- Former US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart

Everyone is in favour of free speech. Hardly a day passes without it being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.
- Winston Churchill

Only the suppressed word is dangerous.
- Ludwig Bome

07 February, 2010

Holiday in Sri Lanka and a photo essay from the Galle Literary Festival 2010

Galle Fort Lighthouse, a cathedral-like Mosque, and airborne Sri Lankan youth.

We've just returned to Chiangmai after 18 days in Sri Lanka, partly in order to attend the annual Galle Literary Festival which happened in, amazingly, the  town of Galle. Located at the south-western tip of the island, the 17th-century Dutch fort at Galle is an idyllic and emminently practical spot for a festival of this nature.

Here's a brief 360 degree pan movie I took from the same spot where the above photo was taken. (Oops - in the movie I called it a cathedral instead of a mosque):

...and here's another view I borrowed from the internet... these stone walls saved hundreds of lives during the Tsunami:

Close-up of the Mosque from the land-side:

...and yet another view, this time from our personal helicopter. In the distance you can see the Galle Cricket Ground, the most hallowed piece of real-estate in the entire country as far as cricket-addicted Srilankans are concerned:

(I took the Youtube movie  from the corner garrison nearest you,
...although we've never seen the tide as low as this)

The rear of the Fort ramparts overlook the cricket ground.
The stone sentry-box probably attracts a premium price during test matches.

And so - to the Galle Literary Festival itself. A fine array of invited Writers was on hand to provide close encounters of the literary kind. As when we attended in 2009, it was impossible to attend every session as some clashed or overlapped, so every person necessarily experienced a different festival. I'll mention some of my personal highlights from 2010.

First to "Dead Planters and Lost Dogs": the dogs didn't get much of a mention, all's the pity. I refer to Michelle de Kretser's brilliant and complex new novel The Lost Dog. But how much can you say in an hour, after all? Nevertheless, it was an articulate and interesting session about which writerly issues get her pumping. Also, Ru Freeman spoke honestly and insightfully on several occasions. Claire Tomalin's authoritative talk to do with the hidden women of history - and in particular concerning Nelly Ternin - was completely absorbing. Louise Doughty addressed the topic of otherness and displacement felt by Romany gypsies and offered personal and colourful anecdotes from her own family history. Likewise the Scottish-Nigerian poet Jackie Kay spoke of the personal ambiguities and complexities triggered by situations of inter-racial international adoptions, and revealed that many internal adoptions by Srilankan parents are simply a way of obtaining a child slave. Gillian Slovo's descriptions of writing/performing her play Guantanamo introduced me to nuances of "verbatim theatre" I had not considered. It occured to me that a Sri Lankan edition of Guantanamo might now be in order.

(Yes I agree, female Writers were represented strongly at Galle this year!)

Indeed, the big "Who Am I?" question loomed large over almost the entire festival: predicaments of Otherness, Displacement and Diaspora certainly offer rich pickings to the Writer. With the Sri Lankan presidential election occurring during the festival, such issues were foremost in the minds of Sri Lankans. The Fringe Festival hosted a great session titled "The Literature of Post-War Sri Lanka" (referring of course to the recent military defeat of the Tamil Tigers). I felt that this highly pertinent panel discussion ought to have been mainstreamed into the Festival proper out of respect for the host country and especially for the crushed Tamil minority (oops, now they'll know I'm a humanitarian liberal). I also felt that the term "Post-War Literature" might have been better replaced by "Pre-Peace Literature" given that there first needs to be a period of reconciliation and mutual acceptance of responsibility between Singhalese and Tamils before any peace can reasonably be said to exist. Military victory does not equal peace.  Perpetuating the "Us and Them" syndrome is futile and ultimately poisonous, and is poignantly meaningless in a situation where Singhalese and Tamils have been inter-marrying and working together over many generations. Finally, Srilankan bloggers are of course the defacto seed-bed of post-war writing under difficult censorship restrictions; I thought they didn't receive adequate acknowledgement - or encouragement - by the panel.

In this regard, the screening of the new documentary film "Do We Really Want To Live Like This?" was an important attempt to defuse the "Us and Them" problem. It showcased young Sri Lankans on both sides speaking frankly of their experiences of the civil war. This is exactly the sort of personal confessional and cathartic sharing that must take place as a first step during the unavoidable transition period to anything resembling true peace. A few audience members were bruisingly critical by commenting that the film should have suggested answers as well as posing questions, and ought also to have focussed on possible political mechanisms of the peace process. But they failed to grasp that the film was offering tentative first steps only, getting people at least talking to each other instead of hiding in silence and fear. And again, how much can a single 40-minute docco tackle? Get more info at the website pact.lk ...but this site, along with other key Tamil websites such as tamil.net and tamileelamnews, were mysteriously disabled during the run-up to the election. Interesting, especially given the violent political intimidation by the Rajapakse regime, the unexplained disappearance of a dozen dissident journalists over the past year or so, and Mr Rajapakse's unforgiveable prohibition of UN inspectors from visiting the Tamil incarceration camps after the war ended. Zero cred. Such uncouth behaviour one might expect from the Burmese military junta.

Goebbels step aside! Check out this unbelievable crap from a recent edition of the Daily News [roughly the Sri Lankan equivalent of Fox News in the US]:

(methinks the professor may now expect a promotion from the president).

As usual, though, it is the victor who writes the prevailing version of History, which, after all, is only a branch of Literature (the cynic might say of Fiction). In the current ecstatic but unrealistic mood of nationalistic optimism which has been deliberately whipped up in Srilanka, I feel that genuine short-term peace is less than likely. Indeed, during the Festival we got to hear precious little from Tamil authors - except a few poetry readings by Thavayoganathan Sajitharan marginalized in a less-than-optimal venue. Ironically, the British historian Antony Beevor, in his House-of-Commons delivery of  his session Playing Fast and Loose with History, made some salient points about propaganda, demonization, "faction creep", counterknowledge, and cherry-picking historical evidence in the Wikipedic Age - all of which resonated so strongly with the current political imbalance in Sri Lanka - but (curiously) no link was attempted. Mr Beevor even stated that Film is the most potent propagandic element in the post-literate age, yet neglected to point out that the important Sri Lankan documentary "Do We Really Want To Live Like This?" was about to be screened right next door. Mmm, ships passing in the night.

Here are some images and posters I took in Galle during the lead-up to Election day. The image of the leaf in the first poster is a reference to the Boddhi Tree under which Buddha attained Enlightenment and understanding about equality between all people, not killing any living thing, etc. You may draw your own conclusions:

The next poster needs some explanation: Rajapakse, on the right, asks "How's the food?", and Fonseka replies "Absolutely delicious, sir!!!". This is a spoof on a recent popular TV commercial for Lemon Puff biscuits in which an army commander asks his obediently drilling soldiers the same question. After the chorus of "Absolutely delicious, sir", the camera swings around behind to reveal each soldier secretly concealing a packet of Lemon Puffs. I'm assuming that Srilankan voters were expected to extrapolate that Fonseka, likewise, was secretly concealing political ambitions. If the public didn't consciously "get it", it was never going to matter too much because the poster was entertaining on a superficial level per se and jaded voters don't mind a touch of humour. Also, a not-so-sutble subtext reinforced the message that Fonseka had been Rajapakse's subordinate:

View from a Bajaj taxi:  street electioneering in Galle. Lean close to the screen and you might hear just how extraordinarily loud the Message was:

The posters below were all ripped down by next morning. I would have thought putting posters on a decrepit little hovel like this may have been a tad counter-productive... but maybe I'm just too western in outlook. (We had to chuckle, though, when we spotted Rajapakse's face plastered large over a hot-air balloon ...ho ho lol etc.)

...and here's the new 1000 rupee note recently issued by the Srilankan government:

You guessed it. Rajapakse also campaigned using the "Change" slogan.

Ah but I digress. As an antidote to all this political stuff, I'll comment on the Festival concert presented by the Chamber Music Society of Colombo at the charismatic old Dutch Reformed Church inside Galle Fort. The standard of performance was even higher than last year. Mozart's Il Re Pastore overture was strongly and confidently asserted. The audience's expectations for Hindemith's Acht Stucke were unfortunately damped down by being informed that it was 'difficult' music and 'lacked melody'. On the contrary, in my opinion, the eight miniatures are cram-packed full of the most intensely interesting Teutonic melodies of the entire concert. Having said that, intonation was, of course, more challenging because the music is chromatic and darkly contrapuntal, with fewer secure tonal anchor points onto which the performers' ears can latch as easily as in earlier styles. I respect the important decision to include some newer music (well, dated about 1920 or so?). After retreating to Vivaldi, resident composer Stephen Allen conducted the world premiere of his songs Forest Paths. I liked their shimmering touches of quartal harmony and added seconds... they also reminded me obliquely of Mahler's Lieder von der Erde. Soprano Mary Anne David was notable. Handel's Agrippina Overture was energetic. Its quavers could have been a little more strongly dotted, but in retrospect I feel it was adequate, given the relatively wet accoustic of the church and the fact that I was sitting close by in the second row of pews. Haydn's Symphony 39 served as dessert. Overall, very well done! I'll be back for more in 2011.

Now I'll shift gears into holiday/travel journal mode. Here's are some typical streetscapes inside Galle Fort:


[above] The Vice Squad, Galle Fort.

Looking up at the tiled roof of Pedlar's Inn. These are the Roman-style under-over tiles, possibly introduced by Srilanka's colonial occupiers:

The Festival held a kite-flying event at Galle Fort. Marie and Anna also took part in a bicycle ride (dubbed the Tour de Galle) thru the rice-paddies (although some briefly indulged in unintentional bog-snorkelling), and there was a whale-watching boat-trip which departed from Whalewatta
(aw shucks, sorry, that's an in-joke for Srilankan consumption only)

The YMBA (Young Men's Buddhist Association) is close by, but is much tidier.

The delightful Galle Fort Hotel  [below] has an unpretentious facade with colonial-style shutters, but the interior has been restored exquisitely. Well done Carl! (see the video):

PS: and thanks for the yummy homemade coconut-and-lychee icecream!

We stayed not far away at the small "Beach Haven" guest-house in Lighthouse Street with the delightful family of the charismatic Mrs Sita Wijenayake, a former mayor of Galle. Highly recommended. Here's a fam pic of mother and daughter:

Galle retains its domestic fishing industry. Below is a typical roadside fish stall close to where we attended many of the GLF sessions. Sniff the screen for a more complete sensory experience:

Beware - in the background [below, top left] is a dreaded Tata bus, the Tyranosaurus Rex of Srilankan Roads. The horn is manufactured dangerously loud because the buses have no brakes to speak of.  Question: What happens if you get scared half to death twice?

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
When in Galle, gobble freshly-caught seafood as often as decorum permits...
...as we did when we spent some time at the beach near Unawatana, just south of Galle:

A balanced diet is seafood in each hand.

Galle Face?

All suffered from the disease of iPhonitis. Note the ubiquitous lime sodas.

Haunted house, abandoned after the Tsunami. The figure on the balcony wasn't
there next morning. It's OK, don't worry, it was armless...

Good coffee was hard to find at Unawatana beach. We eventually tracked down a
barista at Sunil's Garden Guest House, so no longer had to resort to injecting caffeine.

...but the food was good, if you like rice and curry. Here are Marie and Anna at the Unawatana Beach Resort, known as UBR to locals (pronounced as "Yubia"). Anna's downing yet another Lion beer. It's here we discovered the existence of Lime Lassi. 

Marie nervously begins to suspect there's a storm coming.

One dusk we ascended the hill behind Galle, up to the Ladyhill Hotel at the very peak, then tramped up 4 flights of stairs up to the big rooftop restaurant, the highest point in Galle. Lo and Behold, 30 minutes after we had arrived, Darknesse fell and there cometh a Greate Thunderous Storme of Biblical Proportion. What you see in the photo was just the first hint - later, we couldn't even see the adjacent trees for near-horizontal rain. We were the only people there - spooky - and rain was blowing in sideways to the centre of the restaurant, flooding the floor. A truly gothic experience, complete with lightning. We turned off our beloved iPhones and retreated to the loos to keep safe.

A shop, abandoned after the Tsunami.

Election posters disrespectfully adorn a Tsunami wreck, sulking a long way from the sea.

Cat - the Other White Meat.
Anna photographed every single feline in Galle - and the married ones as well.

Then came a brief trip to Kandy, Dambulla and Sigiriya. First, a charismatic little area at the rear of Kandy's Tooth Temple in early morning light. This site is clearly much more ancient than the temple proper:

There followed the obligatory attendance at a performance of Kandyan Dance:

The Temple Caves at Dambulla were worth the climb, but do remember to take water:

Then it was off to Colombo to visit our friends Theresa and David who run the luxurious boutique hotel Mount Lavinia House. Next we met up again with Marie's cousin Ravi and our friend Kumar, who generously took us to dinner at a top-notch restaurant located in Tintagel, the residence of three former prime ministers and a former president. Read its chequered story here.

Next day it was off to Colombo's main graveyard at Borella to hunt down yet more headstones and genealogical evidence of M's family history. We found (and photographed) several graves which we hadn't located on previous visits. Ravi had a hunch... here he is leading the Band of Brave & Intrepid Explorers, not a single one of whom was wearing a regulation Pith Helmet nor bearing a loaded Blunderbuss: 

We also trudged off to a Buddhist temple and monastery, Vajiraramaya at the Colombo suburb of Bambalapitiya, where Marie's great-uncle used to be a monk. Bikkhu Cassapa (AKA Great-Uncle Cassius) used to use this library a great deal. We met and chatted to a monk (Rev. Gnalapala) who could still remember him from his childhood, and he generously gave us original articles plus a sketch by Cassapa himself. (Rohan, thank you too, and would you pass on our thanks to Rev Gnalapala?)

We took Anna for a stroll around parts of Colombo to get a feel for it. Guards at checkpoints around Colombo Fort were a bit touchy about security because armed soldiers were preparing for the Independence Day celebration on 4 Feb. Hmm, didn't want to rub them up the wrong way...

This abandoned (curved glass!) shop window near the Pettah Market sported a poster of you-know-who as well as an un-nerving reflection of an Auschwitz-style guard tower accross the street:

Plantation House, a colonial relic:


Cargill's Department Store - yes, it really is that colour - is now but a shadow of its former glorious self. It's become a small grubby supermarker. There are still dusty corners piled up with nineteenth-century shop-fittings, though:

These school-kids were singing nationalistic songs on the day before the election (when campaigning was forbidden, incidentally). They were probably praising You-Know-Who:

...and before leaving Srilanka to return home to Thailand, let's guzzle a cool mango lassi and goat curry/rice at Ravi's members-only Capri Club... thanks Kuhn Ravi, it was great.


 Some miscellaneous odd moments from the trip:
* the uniformed and heavily armed SWAT soldier in a Hikkaduwa convenience store turned out to be a bored security guard. Nevertheless, it kinda focusses one's attention...
* a shop named SHAM ANTIQUES
* Laugh's Gas - company name on the side of a van
* a monkey streaking into the restaurant in Kandy, then streaking out grasping a sugar doughnut before you could even say "Scratch my fleas please"
* Sri Lankan woman leading a porcupine on a leash
* The Ivory Inn - name of a restaurant near an elephant orphanage
* "Chinease Restaurant" with menu offering Mashroom Source
* Secondhand car yard called FAITH MOTORS - "the mechanical experts"
* shop advertizing AYURVEDIC THERAPHY

Then it was back to Thailand, Beloved Land of the Ever-Smiling Calculator. My next diary update, coming to a small screen near YOU, will document Anna's Evil Escapades upon her return to Chiangmai.
Watch This Space >>> ttttttttttttttttt