Tuesday, April 26, 2011

First Buddhist Monk at a UK Royal Wedding

A Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala Nayaka Thera, is the first ever Buddhist monk to be invited for a royal wedding in UK, and may be in the whole of Europe, ever.

Hailing from the Malwatta Chapter of the Siyam Nikaya in Sri Lanka, Venerable Seelawimala Nayaka Thera is the Director of the London Buddhist Vihara, which has a history of 85 years. Anagarika Dharmapala started the Vihara in 1926.

Chernobyl and Fukushima: Hiding the Truth

Twenty five years ago, Chernobyl, a small town on the edge of the Soviet Republic of Ukraine, became world famous due to a nuclear disaster. It was something the authorities of the secretive regime tried, in vain and totally unrealistically, to hide from the world.

The Utopian Marxist state, the Soviet Union, did not have room for criticism. The Soviet system was the correct system. Capitalism was degrading, despite the fact that the Soviet bloc was facing food and other consumer goods shortages. In such a system, 'accidents', especially of this magnitude can never happen.

Yes, it was true. Accidents of this magnitude may never happen. It happened partly due to negligence. But, in a socialist society, negligence could never happen.

Therefore, the Soviets wanted to hide the big accident from the world. In a world where satellites keep an eye on what happens all over the world, it was never easy. Also, they might have thought that the Geiger counters in the capitalist world were 'degraded' and therefore not working, which was not the case.

Chernobyl once more shattered the utopia of the Soviet system. It made the new and comparatively young General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) think back. Incidentally, Gorbachev himself was reportedly not informed of the magnitude of the whole catastrophe.

Chernobyl was a no confidence motion on the secretive society a few maintained for their betterment. Such a regime could not survive, and it did not.

That was 25 years ago.

Now is the time to turn to the capitalist world. Another disaster, at Fukushima, occurred just over 45 days ago. One should expect the democratic societies to be more open on the matter. Not so it seems.

The Japanese were extremely reluctant to declare the real magnitude of the disaster, which, to their credit, did not happen through negligence. Nature was playing havoc on Japan, but it does not give the Japanese authorities the prerogative of hiding the truth from the world. However, Japan is much more open than the USSR 25 years ago and there was pressure from outside for the Japanese to open up. The IAEA president, himself a Japanese, had to urge the Japanese to be more open.

The Soviet Union had to own up when it was obvious to the outside world that a disaster had occurred. It is more or less the same in the case of the Japanese.

One can wonder, if capitalism and the Soviet style of socialism are the two sides of the same coin! According to George Orwell's The Animal Farm, it is.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa Refuses Invitation to Royal Wedding

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa has refused an invitation to the royal wedding to be held on April 29, 2011, at Westminster Abbey, amidst widespread criticism. Many human rights organizations and activists had voiced the displeasure at the invitation to a key member of the royal family which crushed the pro-democratic protests in the small island state in a very high handed manner albeit with the help of foreign troops.

This was seen as a case of double standards as the British were extending an invitation to a member of a royal family accused of gross human rights violations while fighting to uphold the same human rights of the Libyans.

The British view was that all royal families were to be invited without discrimination and being an ally, the al-Khalifa clan could never be dropped. But the invitation should have been an embarrassment to the Crown itself. The British may have asked the prince not to attend due to the precarious situation they were in.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mr Bean will be at the Royal Wedding!

Picture: Rowan Atkinson at the Premier of His New Film,(2007),Jack Pearce

Mr. Bean, the fellow who once knocked down the queen when bowing to her has been effectively given a royal pardon at the behest of the new royal couple to be, William and Kate.

Rowan Atkinson, who plays the role of Mr. Bean from 1990, is one of the celebrities who are invited to the wedding at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011. Others include Sir Elton John of the 'Candle in the Wind' fame, Guy Richie and the Beckham couple, David and Victoria.

As the wedding is not a formal state event, elected heads of state will be conspicuously absent while royal houses have been invited. The expected attendance of the crown prince of Bahrain has raised some eyebrows. The royal families have not been discriminated in being invited, despite the current political issues. However, the main invitees are family and friends of the royal couple and numerous charities such as 'Help for Heroes'.

Rowan Atkinson's attendance is justified despite him knocking down the queen once. It was he who blundered his way to prevent the queen from abdicating by uncovering the plot of a Frenchman, Pascal Sauvage, to steal the crown jewels, in the film Johnny English.

May be the royal couple is also seeking the protection of special agent Johnny English!

Arabia on the Move

The rebellion in Libya has overshadowed the uprisings in a number of other Arab countries. The latest protests and crackdown has been seen in Syria, where a anti-Western regime is trying to hold on to power. However, the Arab revolts are neither anti nor pro Western. They are all pro-freedom.

When a fruit seller's protest grew in to a mammoth peoples' uprising in Tunisia, some Western nations, especially France attempted to prop up the falling despot, Ben Ali. The West may have suspected that the fall of one despot may trigger a domino effect in Arabia. Whether they anticipated it or not, they could not keep Ben Ali in power and could not stop the people from rising up against other dictators.

Egypt, a key to Arabia and home to a widely unpopular darling of the West was next to overthrow her dictator. The protests did not stop at ousting Mubarak. He was later detained, his party dissolved and investigations have started on the 'shady deals' of Mubarak era. Mubarak has been held responsible for the deaths of hundreds of protesters during the last days of his reign. In a recent move, Egypt's prosecutor ordered the country's ex-energy ministers detained for questioning over a controversial gas deal with Israel under the rule of ousted President Mubarak.

In Yemen, a staunch ally of the West, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has agreed to step down within 30 days after the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) came to an agreement with him to end the ongoing popular revolt. His allies have deserted him, some of them forming a new anti-Saleh faction, the Justice and Development Bloc.

Meanwhile the GCC is embattled in Bahrain, where they have helped the Al-Khalifa clan to cling on to power by sending in troops. The Al-Saud family has led the way in protecting a fellow Sunni monarch, may be in fear of unrest in their own realm, Saudi Arabia. While the regime in the small island state has secured power, in doing so, it has self inflicted a crushing blow on its legitimacy.

Events in Syria are also moving to a head-on collision. Intense crackdown has been reported. Syria was one of the last places to see a significant protest movement emerging. This has led to speculations whether an outside power was behind in instigating the protests.

In other countries throughout Arabia, things are more or less calm. Leaders all over Arabia were forced to enact political reforms. In some places, such as Yemen, Syria and even in Egypt, the future remains uncertain. In Libya, full scale war remains the order of the day.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

OPEC turns 50

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting countries (OPEC) turned 50 on April 19, 2011. The anniversary ceremony was held in Tehran concurrent with the 16th International Oil, Gas, Refining, and Petrochemical Exhibition.

OPEC was born in 1961 at Baghdad with the participation of five countries: Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The organization's current members are Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. These 12 members account for 40% of the world's oil production and has 80% of the proven oil reserves.

The establishment of OPEC was the first step of a process which transferred the controlling power of oil production from multinational oil companies to the producing states. Earlier, the companies earned the bulk of the profit from oil. But, oil was gradually nationalized in many Arab and other nations and the countries themselves began to prosper. This became an important factor after 1973 when the Arabs initiated an oil embargo following the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was after 1973 that the Arab nations amassed a huge wealth from oil.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Now its a Small State in Africa

An absolute monarch in his early 40s, who has 13 wives, an unknown wealth estimated at 100 million US dollars and absolute power over 1.2 million of his people. An enviable person indeed.... This is the last of the absolute monarchs in Sub-Saharan Africa, and one of the wealthiest monarchs in the world, despite the fact that his country is one of the poorest.

Introducing.... Mswati III of Swaziland.

Now, police has dispersed protests challenging Mswati III's absolute rule. This is 38 years after the former king and father of the current monarch Sobuza II banned political parties. Reportedly, labour unions organized this protest also with the help of an on-line campaign.

COSATU, the largest trade union in South Africa has stated that seven labor leaders have been arrested. There were reports of several arrests preceding the planned protests.

It is interesting to see that while the "Arab Spring" is becoming more a "scorched summer" with crackdowns, foreign troops, civil wars and air attacks, spring is moving on to new pastures. The "Spring" should not be an essentially "Arab" one. It should be a "Global" one. Otherwise, one may ask, what is the purpose of the so-called "globalization?"

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Demonstrations Organized through Facebook to Demand the Former SL Cricket Captain's Return

Facebook protests have reached Sri Lanka now. On the afternoon of Saturday, 9 of April 2011 (today), a protest organized through the social media network facebook is going to be held at Independence Square at Colombo to demand the return of the country's cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara, who resigned after the recently concluded Cricket World Cup 2011.

Whether the protest, first of its kind in Sri Lanka, turns out to be successful or not can be assessed only after the event. There are a number of speculations as to what the real motive was behind the resignation of the captain of the team which emerged runners up at the World Cup. The explanations given by Sangakkara, or any other authority for that matter, has not been able to silence various rumors. Sangakkara still enjoys wide support among the cricket fans of the country. This is the basis on which the demonstration is held.

The protest has been criticized by some on the ground that there are more pressing issues to protest about facing the country and its people today. However, others tend to think that Sangakkara's resignation is also part of the problem, as they believe that it was a politically motivated decision. Meanwhile a substantial number of the people seem to be quite indifferent on the issue.

However, one important fact to note is that while there are many who argue that 'there are many more pressing issues', no one has been able to organize a protest of this kind. These critics are revealing the incompetence of the themselves while criticizing the organizers of the event.

Personally, this author is not a huge cricket fan. But his opinion is that for the betterment of a sports team, a successful captain must never resign suddenly. If he had already decided to resign after the World Cup, he should have made that clear beforehand, rather than wait till the Sri Lankans lost the final.

The image shows the singing of national anthems before the start of the Quater Final between Sri Lanka and England at R. Premadasa Stadium, Colombo on March 26, 2011. Picture by Ravindu Dissanayake.