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Today at the barbershop i had an epiphany about films. An old Sinhalese film, must have been from the forties, was playing on the small TV. The barber told me that those actors are all probably dead now. The move is called ‘Geetha’, the full credits roll by in the beginning, but there’s a short intro into the whole theme with a scene before that.

The son has just come from England. He sports a little Hitler mustache. He is wearing a dress shirt, pants and tie. The father is dressed in a suit. They are rich people. The mother is absent. She has apparently gone to yet another meeting of a ‘women’s club’. It is a habit of hers to throw away money on these clubs and receive high positions in them. She has taken the good car to go for a function now. The son ridicules his mother’s behavior and questions her objectives. The father says that he has no real say in the matter, since he is a poor man and his wife owns all the money.

Soon the mother returns, bearing a heavy basket of flowers which she was gifted at the event as the chief guest. The son accurately guesses that she must have donated ten thousand rupees to this particular event judging by the weight of the basket, which weighs ten pounds, and the going rate for gifts of flower baskets in return for donations must be a thousand rupees for a pound. This angers his mother. She is dressed in an immaculate sari and sports one of those elaborate 1940s hairstyles that curve around a woman’s face. Further argument is suspended when a worker from their factory comes calling, to tell them that his daughter is getting married. The worker is dressed in an old but neat suit and sarong, his wife wears a carefully preserved white sari.

They have obviously come to ask for financial assistance. but as custom dictates, they don’t say so openly. All pretension is to the effect that the visit is merely to ‘inform’ for propriety’s sake. The father invites them in, the son asks them to sit down. The worker and his wife sit with great hesitation. The father and son then ask some random questions like “where is the groom from?”. The groom is from Kandy and works in the civil service, apparently his salary will be increased once he gets married.

Further conversation is interrupted when the wife loudly calls the husband aside.

“What are these poor people doing sitting in our living room, she asks, “who are they?”

“He is a worker in our factory with his wife”, says the husband.

The wife becomes livid, “poor people have their place and they should not be sitting around becoming pally with the likes of us, have you no shame?”

“well, what do you want me to do?”

“tell them to bloody leave!” she yells, so loudly that the worker and his wife get up, startled, and make as if to go away.

The husband though, plaintively persists “his daughter is getting married, we should give them something, how about five hundred rupees?”

“Are you mad? We already pay them salaries and bonuses. Just give the man five rupees and send him off”.

At this moment, the wife sees some of her acquaintances from her club coming to pay a visit. She becomes alarmed. “Chase those two away at once, what will my friends think of me if they realize the kind of people we welcome into our house!”

The women have come to diplomatically elicit yet another donation, in return for which they will nominate the wife for a post in the parliament. The wife is more than eager to agree. And shells out ten thousand rupees, which must have been a thumping amount at the time, on the spot. Meanwhile the son muses on the fact that his mother loses no time in throwing away ten thousand rupees to become a ‘public servant’ when she can’t stand the sight of the general public inside her own house.

Who in Sri Lanka makes films like this anymore? All i see are movies aping Bollywood. And ‘comedies’ with jokes so lame they need crutches. Some might say that good films with strong messages do get made, but either they get no exposure, or there simply isn’t a market for them.So is something wrong with the Sri Lankan film goer? Have the people no more appetite to ponder ground realities like the class and political differences that underpin the way we live today?

Many Sri Lankans today are sold on cardboard dreams built on TV reality shows and dolled up movie stars. The typical poor Sri Lankan is caught up with the glamor of the rich, and wants to own it as soon as possible. So when he sees the politician roll by in his cavalcade of Range Rovers and matt black BMWs he doesn’t see a vile rogue who owes everything he has to corruption and abuse of power, he sees the epitomization of his own dream. The only way to stop being oppressed is to become the oppressor.

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For minorities to know their place in this country all they have to do is to look at its national flag. Here’s a picture. There are the minorities colored in green and orange, and the Sinhala have a big patch of red.. Hey that’s fine, proportional representation ain’t no crime, but what’s that there in the red patch? is that… A lion? wielding a drawn sword..? Roaring in the general direction of the minorities? Keep out, its saying. This is my turf I’ve pissed all over it, one foot where it doesn’t belong and you’ll soon be ingesting several feet of sword.

No matter.. Minorities here know their place. The Muslims especially have always known their place. In Sri Lanka it seems to me that it is patriotism that is the opiate of the masses. and the Middle classes the biggest consumers. The rich are too busy getting richer, the poor are too busy being poor, but the middle class is upwardly mobile.. Asiff Hussein the anthropologist mentioned this in passing once and the thought has been running around in my head and gelatinizing and taking shape.

The middle class want wealth, the politicians and oligarchs steal that wealth and direct middle class anger towards the Muslims. It’s a classic strategy. Take the USA that stronghold of democratic justice, despite all the problems its people face what do they argue about the most come election time? Gay marriage, abortion and yeah, Muslims. Everything else is secondary. The whole political-media mechanism gears itself around these issues and the people are nicely distracted from the real issues. The wars the corporate abuse the widening wealth gap.

The war here is done.. The upwardly mobile middle classes are hungry, educated and success has been long in coming and now they won’t let anything stop them. They’re really starting to chew on what’s stopping them but it would be disastrous if they start chewing on how their leaders are screwing them out of so much money and opportunity.. So the Muslims, probably the most peace loving people in this country are painted black.

Easy job right? global propaganda is already helping them along. All they need to do is translate books of Ayaan Hirsi Ali or of some incident of barbaric cruelty perpetrated against a woman that has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam and sell them on the pavements of Nugegoda. All that needs to be done is to channel the appropriate funds to bhikkus and organizations willing to sell their souls and you’ve got a racist ‘movement’ that operates in increasing legitimacy.

Facebook statuses I see, pictures being shared around by educated Sinhala youth, sometimes even my direct friends and people I like and who I think like me.. They are all wasting their youthful exuberance. Muslims aren’t the enemy. Muslims in Sri Lanka have made it a habit of living off local prosperity. If you the majority aren’t rich then who will buy our goods? We’ve never had any political ambitions that threaten your sovereignty. If you prosper, we prosper and vice versa. In the past we both prospered by working together against the Portuguese, Dutch and English. Crack open a history book, a real history book, not the one you get from school.

Something is sucking your energy, young people here have always been activists, always headstrong and now something is trying to make you blind. The drug that does it is patriotism, in a context far removed from any form of economic prosperity, which is to say a bastardized form of patriotism. You are blind to the social injustice around you.. That effects you everyday. That shuts you out and closes the door; that invisible barrier beyond which true power and wealth lies in this country.

So wake up and smell the plain tea… It’s got a coating of grime on it called patriotism, but actually it’s just trickery.

It was late, the roads were empty, and I was cruising with my arm on the window sill. I’m approaching the Dehiwala flyover when I see him. A pair of headlights, their proximity indicating that they belonged to a car of Indian make, appears behind me and to the left. I am now really close to the flyover and am reaching the barricade separating it from the rest of the road.

Suddenly, the guy behind cuts through in front of me, in what is an insane maneuver, and just manages to edge past in between me and the barricades without causing an accident. He then zooms triumphantly off up the flyover, only to come up short at the top behind an old, rickety lorry (which shouldn’t have been there in the first place).

According to Scott (2000) road rage is ‘quite unlike other forms of interpersonal violence’ and therefore leaves ‘conflict resolution practitioners’ in a fix. And why is this? Three reasons

1) It involves strangers,

2) It’s related to a driving incident and

3) It hinges upon invasion of personal ‘space’ and thereby is a challenge to identity.

Anyway, after a kilometer or so I roll up next to him, we’re both caught in a patch of traffic as someone makes a right turn into a by lane. My initial instinct is to be superior and above it all. So I ignore him. At first. But then I can’t resist taking one look at this belligerent idiot who almost killed himself and took me with him. So I turn my head and take a look. He is about my age, arrogant looking and is staring me back right in the eye. And upon contact I swear our eyes narrowed, and we coldly assessed each other for a split second, and in this split second we exchanged a mountain of information, most of it not good. The outcome then is predictable.

As soon as the patch of traffic clears up. We’re off. He’s driving what looks like a late model Alto, while i drive a 2005 Zen. He gets a head start because he obviously raced off the first gear. I let him get in front, and use the opportunity to scope out the path ahead. There’s just a slow moving Honda Civic on the road in front of us. The roads are wide in this part of Mt. Lavinia so there’s plenty of room. All I need to do is pass the Civic on the outside, and I have passed my newfound enemy. My car has good acceleration and weighs less than his. So it’s no contest, after a few seconds, I’m ahead of him.

But he doesn’t give up. He’s dogging my tail. This is one determined belligerent idiot. So I go faster. My eyesight narrows into tunnel vision and I only see what is ahead. A yellow crossing materializes, and a pedestrian appears in my line of sight, I slow down slightly and swerve a bit to give him room to walk. Whether he avoids my tail is not my problem. But my tail is still on me. If anything, my slowing down has given him an edge. And now he’s catching up.

I accelerate some more. We are both probably traveling at near optimum speeds. He keeps up, and is now scoping out a way of passing me on the inside. I am calm. My mind is on a different plane, detached, observant and analytical. We are reaching the junction at Templers Road when I see an opportunity ahead.

The man is on a bicycle, and he’s slowly crossing the road on a yellow line. He approaches the middle of the crossing. And I slow down just a bit in order to let him pass in front of me. I know my pursuer can’t see the bicycle but he must know that I slowed down for a reason,  but still he insists on making the mistake of accelerating and trying to pass me on the inside despite this, but now the bicycle is directly in his path, and his only options are either to brake hard or to kill someone, possibly himself.

As I reach the junction, now accelerating again, I don’t hear a crash. And I don’t see my tail anymore. I have won. Despite myself, this makes me feel good. What I did was absolutely stupid. Several people could have died. But the soaring feeling of triumph in my gut is not going away.

But after a while I feel a little shame. And in response my mind becomes analytical again. I suppose that’s why I wrote this post. Because this little drama that went through last night is played out over Sri Lankan roads on a daily basis. Tuk tuks, buses, Marutis, Hondas, Defenders they all do it. Uncles, mallis, thathhaas and Guney aiyyas. We all get a thrill out of the occasional road race. The rage of being wronged is hard to contain. And righteous victory must always be ours.

I was in Japan two months ago and it’s impossible to imagine something like this happening there. The Japanese are immeasurably polite, pedestrians would rather wait five minutes until the ‘don’t walk’ sign turns green rather than violate social protocol. And mind you this is when the street is absolutely empty of cars. Drivers respect pedestrians even more than pedestrians respect drivers, and they will stop abruptly well in advance of almost breaking your knees (which is how lowly pedestrian are treated here).

In Japan they don’t appear to dehumanize other people on the roads. Over here other people are just inanimate objects. As if we are all playing Need For Speed. Because you know, if we die, we can just hit the restart button.

A picture of cops

From the guy who ‘helps’ you park at a random location in Colombo and then snidely asks for payment for a service you never noticed him doing, to the hustlers outside airports who get you taxi’s but yelling and waving their arms about, freeloaders (economic term, rent seekers) are everywhere.

There are rent seekers all over the country, hidden in little nooks and corners, sucking a little juice out of your paycheck every time you come close to them. Most of them you don’t notice, most of them you will only notice when you’re in trouble; because most of them can be found in the government service.

In the government service, ‘rent-seeking’ is the technical term for a bribe. You bribe the clerk to do his job, and to move your file to the top of a pile. When you get your driving license you have to invariably slip a bribe to the guy who tests you. This is regardless of your performance in the test; of course if you fail miserably then they kick you out and return the bribe so at least we can be reasonably sure that there aren’t any real malcontents driving around.

The Real Bad Boys

But there’s a brand of rent seeker that is far more devious and conniving. They are the bigger versions of the smaller rent seekers we just talked about. The simple ‘parking assistant’ or government clerk pales in comparison to the vested interests of these bad boys.  They are the grafters, the influence peddlers and the hoodlums in business and national suits.

Like, It is no secret that politicians love commissions. Ever thought why we continuously pick Chinese contractors despite the abusive loan rates? Hint; It’s not the superior quality. I heard from a friend who heard it from a parliamentarian that the Chinese offer commissions of up to thirty percent of the contract value, while the Indians only offer ten percent.

In an environment so lacking in transparency and accountability as ours, commissions and other vested interests are the only deciding factor in politicians’ decisions. Contracts that should be made with the best interests of the people in mind are made in line with the best interests of political pocket lining.

Influence Peddlers

Organized groups of influence peddlers are also known by the more civilized term ‘lobbyists’ in more ‘developed’ governments. Here in the paradise isle everyone is an influence peddler. Law and order rests completely at the mercy of an elaborate network of contacts. Even a little influence goes a long way. The letter of the law is a book shut up in a medicine cabinet, only to be pulled out to prosecute the non-connected or the scapegoat.

Influential people get government contracts; influential people get licenses to open gas stations, hotels and supermarkets. Influential people can mobilize law enforcement officials (being rent seekers themselves) through bribes and threats to protect business interests; protection that should have been given free to anyone with a business, influential or no.

When vested interest is rampant corruption becomes commonplace. Otherwise uncorrupt people become corrupted too because there is really no other way to participate in the economy. It can shut out the brainiest and most capable and only let the unscrupulous and devious in; reducing overall productivity, widening the wealth gap and grossly increasing poverty. In Philippines a study has shown that rent seekers have contributed to poverty in the county for over fifty years.

The Real Problem; Anything for free

But the problem is not just a problem of a few bad apples in the pile. The real problem here is that it is an attitude that shockingly permeates everything from the highest echelons of the economy to the lowest, most widespread parts of society in Sri Lanka. We’re all influence peddlers in our own way. We all give bribes and pull strings if we have the opportunity, and most of us don’t balk at getting away with a violation if we can.

If the people in the country are themselves prone to operating on vested interests, rather than interests that benefit the whole of society, then our leaders and business elite will do the same. The damage increases with the power of the person doing it and so you have another social disease that causes untold damage to all concerned in the long term.

Every time you bribe someone you exacerbate the disease, every time you stand by and let injustice go unpunished you make it worse.

from Neuromancer, not really related

Most decisions we make about money, after a certain level, are not based on logic or facts. Emotions, hormones and ego play a bigger role than is usually imagined.

As a response, analysts are becoming introspective, they are questioning the axioms of existence, they are turning to neuroeconomics; an emerging field and uses techniques from neuroscience with theories from psychology and economics to study financial behavior.

Most of the thinking behind this deals with how and why we make decisions as human beings, surprisingly not a lot of decisions are made purely based on logic and facts, go figure. This is basically relevant to anyone who uses money.

Why We Can’t Let Go of Our Losers

Blind optimism is sneakier than you think. We are always convincing ourselves we’re OK when actually we’re on the losing side. It’s an ego thing more than actual loss. We just can’t take the mental blow. This article looks at why US investors, despite the market taking a deep tumble, are still not selling.

Selling an ..asset, says Mr. Odean, “isn’t primarily about economic loss, it’s about emotional loss.” Once you sell below your purchase price, he believes, you can no longer tell yourself, “I still made a good choice, and it’ll come back.”

A study.. found that people are much worse at estimating whether a bad investment will produce mild or severe losses than they are at predicting whether a winning investment will generate small or large gains.

What hormone levels say about financial performance.

A lot of buying and selling decisions, especially in high rollers, is quite influenced by hormones; namely testosterone and cortisol. Testosterone can generate mental and physical energy, while cortisol, produced in response to stress, decreases sensitivity to pain, and heightens our memory functions. High levels of these can cause irrational behavior.

…They found that higher levels of testosterone tended to be predictive of trading success: but as the variance (unpredictability) of a trader’s returns increased, so did his cortisol levels.

“During the dot-com bubble, people who were working with me displayed all the classic symptoms of mania: They were euphoric, delusional, and overconfident; they couldn’t put a coherent sentence together; and they were unusually horny”

So keep it in the pants.

Same Brain Circuitry as Cocaine

When we make financial decisions, supposedly based on logic and fact, we are actually using brain circuitry usually used in a largely non financial environment like when you snort cocaine and get attacked not necessarily at the same time. But on the bright side, moderate emotional involvement seems to support a rational decision. Everything in moderation.

Financial gain activates the same reward circuitry as cocaine. Risk-taking activities resulting in a series of lucky gains may induce a potentially destructive positive feedback loop.

Financial loss appears to activate the same fight-or-flight circuitry as a physical attack, sidestepping higher brain functions (“rationality”) in favor of emotional processing and elevating heart rate, blood pressure and alertness. Once triggered, this circuit overrides most other decision-making components and is very difficult to interrupt.

*In case you didn’t know. Europe is in the middle of a debt crisis, and its bigwigs can’t agree on what to do about it. The US sat back and smiled for a while, it could afford to, the dollar was up and consumer spending was moving, but that temporary pick up has chillaxed a bit. On the other hand, China appears to be a little woozy, and is predicted to hit a crisis this may happen or not happen. No one really knows how all this will affect emerging markets like Sri Lanka yet because no one can imagine, or wants to imagine, the worst that could happen.

Stick it to the uncle (Reuters)

Will i though? That’s highly doubtful. yes i know all you democracy wonks love to vote. You think voting is the highest calling of citizenship. But taking pills is not the epitome of good health, staying fit is, when the body is sick, medicines dont matter, thats not the way to solve a problem. Medicine is for people in denial.

Its funny, i can’t seem to attach so much importance to voting anymore. The medicine i think will no longer work. The body has decided where to go, its sick and the doctors can say whatever the hell they want, its gonna go on doing what its doing. It refuses to take exercise. If democracy is the darling of the modern political aesthetic, then our system is the middle aged uncle dancing the baila in microscopic strokes to a beat hidden deep in the music that only few can hear. He’s obese and happy about it, he is a fat model in a world full of anorexic teenage girls.

This system might work. Old, fat uncles are probably good at many things that teenage girls aren’t. But you can’t put the same moves on both of them. That is assuming you want to put the moves on an uncle in the first place. Right now our system is more old fat uncle than teenage girl. Are you getting this? Am i coming through here? i suppose that’s too much to ask.

But yes, it is crunch time. I was anyway planning on being out of Colombo tomorrow but that might not happen. So there is a very real possibility that i will be within the city but still missing a purple stinky pinky. Oh yes, i’m real bad.

None of the candidates have impressed me really. there’s Moragoda with all his fancy marketing, but he’s tried that before, and Colombo fell into his lap. But then all he turned out to have is good PR. How will that be different this time around? I guess we can wait and see. The UNP, what the UNP is still around?, is barely around.

Instead there are flocks and heaps and herds and masses of career politicians emerging everywhere. They’re crawling out of the wet works. Every Lani, Pani, Ravi and his sister’s estranged husband wants a piece of the cake. You can see the gleam in their eyes. The polished speeches, the rote promises. They’re playing it safe, using the same old methods to dupe the poor people, why fix something that aint broke?

So I’m inclined to suspend judgement. I won’t participate in the process because i am ambivalent. I’m the guy who will go along with what everyone else decides because i plainly can’t see a difference between any of them, and there is no color it is all only gray. So I vote for gray, this better pay.

Indian students get flak for being Indian

A lot of Sri Lankans proudly profess their hatred for India. Why? i ask. ‘Cause they’re arrogant’ comes back the answer. Pfft like Sri Lankans aren’t? Please. There has to be something else behind this mysterious hatred for our neighbors. Is it the bad English accent? The hot movie stars? The sledging in the cricket field? The economic success?

Wait hold on, you say, economic success? you scoff. Half the population is below the poverty line! you triumphantly espouse. Yes but a lot of them are now above it thanks to their economic policies, i say. India’s corporations are taking over the world. Educated Indians are enjoying better living standards. They are beginning to get some actual respect out there.

Their leadership is not something to envy. But at least their top rung have got their ducks in a row and seem to be leading the country in a direction. It doesnt matter here or now what direction, let it suffice that they have a direction, something that we seem to be lacking.

And Indian people, arrogant? I’m not sure about you but most Indians i have met have turned out to be quite nice. Sure they’re determined, somewhat materialistic and egoistic. But hello, we aren’t much different. We’re determined, mayhaps for the wrong reasons and terribly uptight about our identities. And besides, are the qualities to be hated?

Also isn’t blind hate what brought about the ethnic conflict in the first place? we hate without rhyme or reason, sense or sensibility, pride or prejudice (i had to throw that one in, sorry Jane) its like we’re shifting our angry eyes from the North to something further North. The big hulking neighbor we all fear, and so we all hate. Are we afraid of colonization? that claptrap the JVP sold us as propaganda to spark an ill thought out insurgency in the South?

Think of cricket. A lot of people want India to lose cause the simply ‘don’t like em’. They don’t know why or how. Their dislike is not a dislike that can be articulated. They just hate em. Well, haters gon hate. India is a strong team and if they win against us, I will still respect their win. This is a big moment for cricket in these parts of the world, and if Sanga and his boys pull through, all well and good i will whoop along with the rest of you. But if India wins then it’ll do a world of good to the confidence of a billion people. And that would be something i’d be happy to watch regardless.

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