Yes things have been a bit slow but...
I'm NOT the most rapid fire poster these days. Life demands more of my time. However the words still swirl in the brain and I do have to vomit them out here for the sake of sanity.
So far the record is 2 posts a month. I'm working on breaking that. Till then enjoy the archives or check out a random post.
I started this blog seven years ago today. It has only had one profound change on my life. A change I see as an unexpected gift. Perhaps it is a reward of developing a regular writing habit without really trying.
Few foresaw the overthrow of Sri Lanka’s seemingly omnipotent Rajapaksa government. Its popularity had won it a resounding victory in the last election without depending on traditional Sri Lankan election fraud. Such factors compounded the shock and disbelief over the events of “Red Thursday”. Never before has regime change in Sri Lanka been so unexpected, swift, final and graphically public. Why this well entrenched power structure collapsed with such rapid ease has become 21st century Sri Lanka’s biggest political mystery.
“Cracks in the Steel: the Roots of the Rajapaksa Regime’s Spectacular Collapse” by Indica Samarapura and Dr J.C Dellthuduwa takes on this mystery. The result is more than just a successful demolition of existing “theories” and “analysis” on the overthrow. It is a work of groundbreaking insight into deeply rooted complexities of Sri Lanka’s political and social ecosystems. Additionally, rigorous research and cutting edge analytical methods makes the book a seminal work in computational political analysis.
The book focuses on the central questions of the overthrow. Why did very different demographic groups with traditional aversions to politics, join forces for such a risky act? How did they forge previously non existent inter-demographic links? What motivated regime insiders with everything to loose (particularly within the security apparatus), to allow events to unfold as they did? How significant were the roles of foreign intelligence services ? What considerations made the Peoples Republic to act as they did? Most importantly, what cascade of factors caused the regime’s core support base to make an enraged u-turn? The answers, as the book demonstrates, are quite complicated.
Yet thankfully the authors deftly guide the reader through that maze of complexity into the light of comprehension. The authors use good writing and an orchestra of “big data” computational political analysis methods to make this happen. Their methodologies rigorously test all aspects of the research — not just the conclusions. For the layman reader this will mean pages of detailed probability calculations, two chapters closely examining social network analytics, as well as some intimidating looking link modelling and clustering coefficient studies.
However the authors’ skilled data presentation enables the lay reader to skip such details without feeling left out. By contrast, the role of the Peoples Republic of China is not as clear cut. Its complexity defies easy summarising. Only a careful read of the relevant chapters can do justice to this vital historical tipping point.
Academic readers will find the “research methodologies” section a powerful toolset for further study. Some of the secondary findings in the book will prove to be a gold mine for future researchers. A typical example is a comprehensive map of Sri Lankan patronage structures. These data models uncovers previously undiscovered network links among Sri Lanka’s ethnic, class and caste structures.
Thankfully the text isn’t all academic. There is an extensive discussion into the roles of the Canadian Office of Overseas Operations and the Norwegian Secret Service. The fight between the Colombo and Delhi CIA stations over control of the Canadian operations make for a hilarious read. The narrative of events leading up to the fateful day, such as the Kinsey Road check point incident (triggered by bumbling Norwegian operatives), bring to mind the style of Fredrick Forsyth’s “Day of the Jackal”.
No doubt these chapters will propel the book up the best seller lists. However the involvement of western intelligence agencies were peripheral to deeper political processes already underway. The underlying shifts within Sri Lanka’s socio-political ecosystem had by then made the overthrow inevitable. The sheer weight of the authors’ evidence and analysis will convince all but the most fanatical conspiracy theorists.
The book has one major ethical grey area. The authors had access to vast quantities of communications data intercepted by the now defunct National Security Signals Intelligence Directorate’s (NSSID) Lihini program. Lihini was a next generation NSA surveillance program supplied by the Peoples Liberation Army cyber warfare command and localised by Ravana Defence Industries.
The authors reveal that the NSSID data contains searchable content of phone, email, SMS and other digital communications. They are at pains to stress that individual communications we not examined. They claim to merely have used AI algorithms to discern patterns and cross reference findings with NSSID analytics. Data from long term NSSID dissident tracking operations such as the Groundviews website were not used — or so we are assured.
One of the most surprising findings of this research is the minor role of social media. Unlike the uprisings in the middle east, it was merely a spectator. According to the author’s data, malfunctioning police water cannon ha greater significance as a tipping point in the early demonstrations. The data also proves that social media hardly played a role creating relationships between the different crucial demographics involved.
The overthrow defied predictions of the few local experts who dared to discuss such a possibility. To paraphrase a giant of Sri Lankan thought, “We didn’t know what we didn’t know”.
Yet it happened, leaving a nation barely able to comprehend the result. There in lies the historical significance of the book’s findings. It will help a bewildered Sri Lanka comprehend an earthquake of history. With that understanding, the country can move on, hopefully as a gentler, wiser democracy. Currently such an outcome appears very unlikely. A position clearly stated by supreme leader Mervil Silva’s recent speech inaugurating public executions of former regime supporters at Galleface.
Review of Imaginary Books, Edited by the Voices in Cerno’s Head.
This is one of those vanity posts using stats decked out in a wordpress.com generated layout. Not too bad I suppose for a blog that’s been doing a post a month for most of the year.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 29,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 11 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
The image at the end of this post is from a different reality. A time when I actually had chunks of time to sit back, reflect and sketch out blog posts. A sharp contrast to the now. Where sentences are born in random moments and mentally strung together in the show over months. Typically when ever some minutes can be stolen from life’s practical priorities: in the shower, on the throne, at red lights, when put on hold.
The same process applies to pecking out the words out of the head and into the phone. Again a few sentences at a time spaceed across months. Editing is a combination of tedium and a nightmare. Such are the demands of the voices that must be obeyed. What amazes me is that anything vaguely coherent is excreted from this process. Writing is indeed a mysterious process.
Incidentally, the sketch below was for the post on Sri Lankan coffee culture back in 2008. The sketch book is the same one used for the hand written blog posts post. Note the contrast between the “public” and “private” foul scratch.
There is a satisfying difference between then and now. Now I actually enjoy reading them my own writing. Even with those cringe inducing typos and proof reading errors. Amazing no?Such is the flow of life. What is created in the latrine trench of desperation feels like an accomplishment no matter how crude and silly it is.
Has the way you write/blog changed in the last few years?
He was in your batch no?
Poosa’s batch. On the under 18 team.
Remember that away game in Kurunegala? The bugger didn’t put money for a hooker.
Bugger saved you buggers from getting AIDS!
Tight bugger no?
Bugger is a pansy machan.
The head cop used the bugger after practices. That’s how the bugger went pansy.
I don’t know machan, he’s now always with some hot NGO chick.
How? You saw the bugger?
At some bullshit arty farty thing. Had to go or I won’t get any for the whole week.
Weren’t you banging that hot secretary of yours?
Was machan – she got married to some shit in the UK.
Machan, you should come to the old plaza with us during lunch. Like the old days.
May be we should catch up with the bugger. Bugger might lend us one of his NGO chicks.
Machan, no point wasting time with frozen Aappa. They only talk to wine sniffing pansies like him.
Those chicks talk too much.
What does the Bugger do these days?
Some boru suddha NGO thing. Bugger got a scol to some arty uni in the states. He was here during the Tsunami and got hooked up with a lot of foreign NGOs. Now the bugger gets grant dollars while we have to run after bloody politicians for bloody rupees.
Speaking of running – guess who I saw running past the office yesterday – Poosa. Bugger was in a mara hurry.
Bugger must be going to that place with the Bulgarian girls.
Why go so far? That Thai place is near the bugger’s office no?
Bugger says the blows are the best.
Bugger also likes blonds.
Bugger should take his pansy batch mate there to cure him.
Those NGO pansies can’t be cured machan.
Poosa can machan.
If he stops chasing every chick he sees.
Now that bugger machan, is a very good bugger.
Yes, new year party time is a good time for eaves droppers like me. Of course my professional ethics will ensure locatable specifics are blurred to hide the guilty. I’ll let you imagine the drunk old boys leaning back in their plastic chairs. Their table creaking with empty Jonnie Walker Reds, coke bottles and empty plates of oily bites.
Incase you are wondering, “machan” is used 9 times and “bugger” is used 23 times in the above “conversation”. That must surely beat the world record for a blog post with those two words.
Happy blogging in 2014 (for the handful of us old buggers who still do it).
This post is the result of suddenly deciding to take the photo below.
“The guy would take out bunkers with one shot” we were told. From the rest of the recollections you could practically see him taking aim, rock steady in the hell of jungle firefights. When we meet him, the calmness is still there. A fit man, on the way towards his late twenties. He is confidently independent with his white stick. Dark glasses and a beard do a good job of hiding the web of scars on his face.
The highlight of his life was being his unit’s RPG marksman. That ended as he matter-of-factly put it, somewhere near Paranthan. He was pushed backwards by a blast while running through a clearing. A distant helicopter in the Wanni sky was the last thing he saw before something struck his face and everything went black. “The doctors say there’s nothing that can be done” he adds without a change of tone. He insists he has adjusted to his new condition. Proven I suppose by producing two daughters after coming home permanently blind.
They all get by on his army pay for now. Yet he has his sights beyond survival on a pension. He wants both girls to make a living without “depending on a man”, a contact in the government or charity. It is a goal that calls for tuition classes to ensure high scholarship scores, leading to places in a “good Colombo school” and culminating in professional degrees (medicine ideally).
To make it happen he wants to start a small business. Sell snacks in town for a start. The main bus station and the two schools will ensure a steady market. Perhaps in the near distance, a shop. Further out, a willingness to be a blind Mudalali with more diversified concerns.
The investor among us is willing to put in an eye brow raising sum. There a terms and conditions of course. He is told to stay clear of anything that requires refrigeration (and the accompanying fuel costs for the generator). How to manage costs. Processes to avoid theft. A general discussion about investments, banking and loan options. His posture is of intense concentration, determined to absorb it all. The arc of the conversation gets ever wider. Yet it’s weighed down by a desire for specifics, concrete details, commitments that transform conversations over Thambili into actions.
There is no denying the commitment on his part. He wants to keep track of the accounts himself in Braille. Its surprises us all and smells of a familiar distrust of parasitic relatives. His Thambili serving wife seems more concerned about his Kassipu addicted “friends”. From the way she deftly chops the tops off, I don’t think they will have the courage to be a problem. “So many of the men here are passed out drunk by sunset because of that poison” she says. Almost as an explanation of the root of it all, she glances sideways at a fading election poster on a neighbour’s wall. There’s brief flare of contempt at the grinning pudgy face in the poster. Those of us who noticed that flicker get the message.
She’s been reading Sinhalen Business to him at night. It seems to have inspired them both with a spark of hope for making their future brighter. Her calm determined expression reminds me of another wife I’ve blogged about.
Eventually we pile into the van and bounce down the road. Out of a green Sri Lankan heartland, towards the A roads and Colombo’s madness.
In the back they are on the phones, voices raised due to the shaky signal. There’s a call about setting up a photocopy business in Kilinochchi. The guy in question was ex-LTTE. Recently released but still needs to get some documents cleared. Could you get your contacts in the army to take care of it? Meanwhile access to a distributor for a widow near Vavuniya with a new sewing machine is finalised. In Galle, somebody’s daughter will start accounting classes and the journey from a unfortunate past.
There are no organisations, titles, paperwork, grant writing, in this nameless activity. Just phone calls, and conversations among friends of several decades “someone I know wants to help this person in…”. A lot of weekends sacrificed for uncomfortable travel to see things for oneself. Money pulled out of hard earned personal savings. Disappointments shrugged off after lessons learnt. Wisdom acquired by surviving decades of this country’s history seems to keep cynicism at bay.
In the van’s rear view mirror, a blind rocket propelled grenade marksman is stroking the head of his baby daughter held by his wife. The white of his toothy smile is visible against sun blacked skin even from this distance. There is a final wave before the road (track of ruts) bends into the trees. I don’t know what writing all this was supposed to mean. The Voices can only take so much eavesdropping before they get insistent so here you are.