Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tea and Light Refreshments (or, Anatomy of a Conversation About Everything in a Very Short Time Over, Yes, Light Refreshments)

- "So? Kohomade? How? What brings you by?"
- "Fine fine. No, Aunty, we were just visiting Uncle Grover and we'd thought we'd stop by and give you a chat."
- "Who's Grover?"
- "You know, that's Danuka mallie's wife's father's elder brother."
- "Danuka's wife's father's elder brother… the one who married the one they call Cuckoo Aunty from Dehiwala? Aney, sorry, but the biscuits are a bit broken. If I had known you were coming, we could have made cutlets and rolls. How do you want your tea? Shall I make tea? What will you have to drink? A soft drink?"
- "Aiyo! Don't worry Aunty. Ok, tikak tea dennah."
- "Milk tea?"
- "Hari hari."
- "Here, have a little gram. Take!"
- "Thank you, Aunty. Cuckoo Aunty is Michael Uncle's wife. Grover Uncle married a one Miss Dilshani Jaywardene. Her father was the G.M. of the Kandy clothing outlet in Wattala, a very important man. Aney, sin, she died of dementia two years back."
- "Dementia? Sissy Auntie's husband, Joe, also has dementia now. It's a shame to see him. He used to be so spirited and jovial!"
- "Yes. I can still remember how he'd come down the lane with an umbrella and a bag full of mangos, handing mangos to every Tom, Dick and Harry!"
- " Ah, ha ha! Yes yes! A real rascal, too! He'd slowly come and put two mangoes on Sissy Auntie's windowsill. If her brother caught him, he'd chase him down the lane! How can one do that a not expect a hammering?!"
- "Ha ha ha!"
- "So, putha, what's wrong with Uncle Grover?"
- "Don't you know, Aunty, he was sitting a home one day and complained of a headache. He had come from the hot sun from all the way in Bambalpitiya and Suresh says that he immediately went to wash his face when he came home. Must have been that, it's not good to wash with cold water when your body is hot. To see, he's complaining and complaining of a headache, so they take him to the Hemas Hospital, because you can never be too sure at that age, no? He's seen by the famous doctor D.D.T. Kumaratunge, trained in the UK."
- "Shah! Must have cost an arm and a leg!"
- "Wouldn't you believe, just for the initial examination fee, 15,000!"
- "Boru kiyunna epa! Don't tell lies!"
- "Seriously! And then he was sent to the hospital on doctor's orders-"
- "Ragama hospital? Aney, would you like more tea?"
- "Yes, Ragama. Epa, Aunty, one tea is plenty. You can't stay at the private hospitals. It's too expensive. One thing about Sri Lanka, the public hospitals have the BEST doctors. Don't expect the Hilton, but the attention is first class."
- "That's the thing. Our country has so much potential. But don't you know our people. The doctors will work hard, but no one else works hard. They just want their salary and they don't care about anything else. Sri Lanka is going to the dogs!"
- "Yes, well, we'll see with the new joker in office. The last one managed to make a pretty penny, neda? So it turns out that Grover Uncle had suffered a brain hemorrhage. If they hadn't taken him to Hemas, he would have been dead by now."
- "Noo! So? He's okay now? Please, don't worry about that spill, it's just tea!"
- "Sorry."
- "No problem, putha."
- "So now he's ok. He's resting. He can't talk too much, and he's weak, no. Over 1 month in the hospital!"
- "Aiyo."
- "Will it come out? Here, let me do that."
- "No, don't worry, it's just tea! So is he able to eat?"
- "No, Aunty, that's the big problem. He won't eat, he only drinks water. He says he doesn't feel like eating. But you must eat when you are sick. Madushan took him some of her delicious pancake rolls, but he only took a tiny, tiny bite. He says he feels like drinking thambili, but, don't you know, you can't drink coconut water all the time! He's mad!"
- "Something must have happened with the brain hemorrhage. I will pray that he gets better."
- "Thank you, Aunty."
- "Please, take this bit of wedding cake. Last week I went to Janith and Roxanna's wedding - he's the son of Jayanth Weejasuriya, who's married to S.L.K. Fernando's sister, you know S.L.K. Fernando, don't you, who is an MP for the SLFP, I knew him when the buggar was in school with my son at St. Joe's! Now he's a big shot!"
- "Ah, Shemal is an Old Joe?"
- "Yes, of course. But really, Roxanna is a lovely girl, you should have seen her dress! Sequins from head to toe! I think that dress was made at Shanti Stores, in Rajagiriya. Over 400 people they had invited to the reception, at Cinnamon Lakeside."
- "Shah! Hari nice!"
- "Yes, aney, at the end they gave me two pieces of wedding cake! I told them I shouldn't, since I have a bit of sugar, you know, but-"
- "Ah! You have sugar too? It's a very big problem, neda, this diabetes. Everyone is having this sugar problem now. You know, even Nanga was diagnosed."
- "No! Really?"
- "Yes. Just two months prior."
- "So young. That's too young."
- "Aney, yes."
- "Do you like the bougainvillea I now have in the entrance way?"
- "Ah, yes! Aunty you have done SUCH a nice job with the garden. You have always been into gardening! Such a good gardener, just like your mum."
- "Ha ha! Yes, I have a Tamil boy who comes each week, he's a very bright boy, he knows about this yard work, he suggested to put bougainvillea in the entrance."
- "Yes, you've always kept your house very nice."
- "Thank you, putha. You came on new Negombo expressway, didn't you?"
- "Yes, Aunty. Hari lovely! They say you can get from the airport to Colombo in 20 minutes! If you take Negombo road, you'll be there in one hour if you are lucky!"
- "The old president did those roads. He shouldn't have been voted out like that. And now they are searching his home and personal accounts for supposedly illegal money! But that's not right. You must let people relax. Who else put an end to the terrorists?"
- "Yes, that's true. He ended the terrorism, but he was stealing too much. If a road costs $1 million, they'd say it costs $5 million and pocket the 4."
- "All politicians are corrupt. You'll see how this one is. Give it a few months, and he'll be singing the same song that his old boss did."
- "Hmm. But it is a lovely road."
- "Have another biscuit. Finish it."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

'I hope my murder will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration'

Tomorrow, January 8, 2015, are the Sri Lankan presidential elections. That's all people are talking about here. That, and the expectation of mob violence [note: I should stress that I've only heard this being expressed by members of the more comfortably positioned classes, who often say "Don't you know, these people, they act like animals"], especially if the sitting president Mahinda Rajapaksa should lose.

Six years ago, on January 8, 2009, the editor of the newspaper, the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge was gunned down on his way to work. His editorial was published posthumously a few days after, and I thought I'd include it here.

"No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces - and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the last few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print institutions have been burned, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories, and now especially the last.

I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be the Sunday Leader's 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.
Why then do we do it? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood.
Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognising the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries.
Whatever else I may have been stuck for, I have not been stuck for choice.
But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.
The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence thanks to the public-spiritedness of citizens who at great risk to themselves pass on this material to us. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.
The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.
The Sunday Leader has never sought safety by unquestioningly articulating the majority view. Let's face it, that is the way to sell newspapers. On the contrary, as our opinion pieces over the years amply demonstrate, we often voice ideas that many people find distasteful. For instance, we have consistently espoused the view that while separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it is more important to address the root causes of terrorism, and urge government to view Sri Lanka's ethnic strife in the context of history and not through the telescope of terrorism. We have also agitated against state terrorism in the so-called war against terror, and made no secret of our horror that Sri Lanka is the only country in the world routinely to bomb its own citizens. For these views we have been labelled traitors; and if this be treachery, we wear that label proudly.
Many people suspect that the Sunday Leader has a political agenda: it does not. If we appear more critical of the government than of the opposition, it is only because we believe that - excuse cricketing argot - there is no point in bowling to the fielding side. Remember that for the few years of our existence in which the United National party was in office, we proved to be the biggest thorn in its flesh, exposing excess and corruption wherever it occurred.
Indeed, the stream of embarrassing expositions we published may well have served to precipitate the downfall of that government.
Neither should our distaste for the war be interpreted to mean that we support the Tamil Tigers. The LTTE is among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organisations to have infested the planet. There is no gainsaying that it must be eradicated. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma is for ever called into question by this savagery - much of it unknown to the public because of censorship.
What is more, a military occupation of the country's north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self-respect. Do not imagine you can placate them by showering "development" and "reconstruction" on them in the postwar era. The wounds of war will scar them for ever, and you will have an even more bitter and hateful diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my compatriots - and all the government - cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.
It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government's sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended.
In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.
The irony in this is that, unknown to most of the public, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and I have been friends for more than a quarter-century. Indeed, I suspect that I am one of the few people remaining to routinely address him by his first name and use the familiar Sinhala address - oya - when talking to him.
Although I do not attend the meetings he periodically holds for newspaper editors, hardly a month passes when we do not meet, privately or with a few close friends present, late at night at President's House. There we swap yarns, discuss politics and joke about the good old days. A few remarks to him would therefore be in order here.
Mahinda, when you finally fought your way to the Sri Lanka Freedom party presidential nomination in 2005, nowhere were you welcomed more warmly than in this column. Indeed, we broke with a decade of tradition by referring to you throughout by your first name. So well known were your commitments to human rights and liberal values that we ushered you in like a breath of fresh air.
Then, through an act of folly, you got involved in the Helping Hambantota scandal. It was after a lot of soul-searching that we broke the story, urging you to return the money. By the time you did, several weeks later, a great blow had been struck to your reputation. It is one you are still trying to live down.
You have told me yourself that you were not greedy for the presidency. You did not have to hanker after it: it fell into your lap. You have told me that your sons are your greatest joy, and that you love spending time with them, leaving your brothers to operate the machinery of state. Now, it is clear to all who will see that that machinery has operated so well, my sons and daughter do not have a father.
In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry.
But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life but yours too depends on it.
As for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man. And I have not travelled this journey alone. Fellow journalists in other branches of the media walked with me: most are now dead, imprisoned without trial or exiled in far-off lands. Others walk in the shadow of death that your presidency has cast on the freedoms for which you once fought so hard. You will never be allowed to forget that my death took place under your watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I also know that you will have no choice but to protect my killers: you will see to it that the guilty one is never convicted. You have no choice.
As for the readers of the Sunday Leader, what can I say but thank you for supporting our mission. We have espoused unpopular causes, stood up for those too feeble to stand up for themselves, locked horns with the high and mighty so swollen with power that they have forgotten their roots, exposed corruption and the waste of your hard-earned tax rupees, and made sure that whatever the propaganda of the day, you were allowed to hear a contrary view. For this I - and my family - have paid the price that I had long known I would one day have to pay. I am, and have always been, ready for that. I have done nothing to prevent this outcome: no security, no precautions. I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death. What am I among so many? It has long been written that my life would be taken, and by whom. All that remained to be written was when.
That the Sunday Leader will continue fighting the good fight, too, is written. For I did not fight this fight alone. Many more of us have to be - and will be - killed before the Leader is laid to rest. I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts. Indeed, I hope that it will help galvanise forces that will usher in a new era of human liberty in our beloved motherland. I also hope it will open the eyes of your president to the fact that however many are slaughtered in the name of patriotism, the human spirit will endure and flourish.
People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niemöller. In his youth he was an antisemite and an admirer of Hitler. As nazism took hold of Germany, however, he saw nazism for what it was. It was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niemöller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, he wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:
First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
If you remember nothing else, let it be this: the Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled.
Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted. Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried."

PS: I hope to give some thoughts after the elections tomorrow.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Feliz Navidad with Crackers and other Hazards

11:45am, Christmas morning. The sky is just a heavy dark grey mass of shit. The streets of Wattala are a little quieter than normal, the majority of people celebrate Christmas in this suburb: the shops are closed, people waking up late at home, fielding phone calls from relatives abroad, enjoying kiri bhat (milk rice) and lunu miris (chili paste; also known as my lesson in "tastes good going in, burns on the exit").

I'm grumpy because some mosquitoes infiltrated my net last night, and the undersides of my feet itch like crazy and my forehead looks like someone hit me with a teeny weeny hammer in several places. My uncle comes up to me and says cheerfully: "Good morning, putha, shall we light up some crackers?"

My heartbeat races. Can it be that time already? Is this how my calling to join the revolution on the streets starts? My uncle, a sleeper cell, can so callously ask his nephew to join the worldwide fight against white supremacy? Should I go get my ski mask and AK? I'm about to say, "yeah, let's get those fools," when he pulls away the newspaper wrapping from the object in his hand.

Oh, firecrackers.

12pm. BOOM! Wattala and the neighborhoods beyond my auditory reach explode in a loud and smoky celebration of Jesus and gunpowder. It's great. I think about the people on the trains, leaning out the windows and yelling inside the tunnels, and I make a monkey face and make a monkey sound. I don't know, I guess monkeys would probably do the same if they didn't realize that everyone around them was planning to light firecrackers at the exact same time. They'd probably also hurl their poop at everyone, but I'm waiting to get a little more solid.

As the explosions continue, I think about how last time I was here in 2007, I don't remember that happening on Christmas. My uncle reminds me that at the time, as the war was ratcheting up, the government in Colombo was on edge, and the celebratory fireworks were most likely prohibited.

Today is a day of visiting people and getting lots of fried foods and sweets forced down your throat. Rich cake, coconut rock, sausages, more rich cake, cutlets (Jacob, your heaven), pancake rolls, eat eat, finish it, have some more, why are you not eating?

I'll leave you with a proposal to the late George Carlin. I read the Daily Mirror yesterday, and I did not see my reflection. Bummer. But I did read this article entitled "SL has been able to overcome post war hazard - Gotabaya."

SL being, of course, Sri Lanka.

Gotabaya, being Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Defense Minister and coincidentally, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's brother, Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa's brother, Speaker of the Parliament Chamal Rajapaksa's brother, Member of Parliament for the Hambantota district (whose shady, multi-million dollar international airport brought in an "excuse me? WTF" revenue of Rs. 16,000 - $120! - last month) Namal Rajapaksa's and Director of Sri Lankan Airlines Shameendra Rajapaksa's uncle, Sri Lankan Ambassador to the US (thank you for my visa) Udayanga Weeratunga's cousin, among others, as well as a supporter of the nationalist-fascist group Bodu Bala Sena and architect of the Sri Lankan army's "kill LTTE leaders and cadre who surrender" policy at the end of the war. I apologize for that long, run-on sentence.

Post war hazard. The article says:
"While claiming that in a post war situation anywhere in the world, soldiers have a tendency to suffer from numerous mental disorders, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said yesterday that Sri Lanka had been able to overcome this hazard productively.  
He also said that, having gone through the cruelty of war, it was essential for the soldiers to be involved in religious duties to recuperate."
George, can we add "post war hazard" as the latest iteration of "shell shock"? Less syllables, sure, but soon we'll possibly be using just a sad face and thumbs down emoji to describe "shell shock".

(here's the link in case the video above doesn't appear)

The crackers are still being lit up as I finish this.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Journey North

A good article appeared in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago, entitled "In Sri Lanka's Post-Tsunami Rise, China is Key." See past the anti-Chinese sentiment of pro-Western business WSJ, and you have a very good picture of what's happening with with Sri Lanka's economic development model. Which is, just build anything as fast as you can, wherever you can get it. If you have read Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, the premise of the article won't surprise you: natural catastrophe is used as a pretext to remove unwanted peoples and make way for big-dollar development projects that may end up having little to no benefit to the people of Sri Lanka.

Many people I have talked to have spoken to me about China's investment in the country, some with appreciation, others with skepticism. China - alongside Israel, Russia and Pakistan, all countries with dark records of oppression of uprisings by minorities within their borders - supported Sri Lanka militarily and politically during the final months of the war against the LTTE, despite numerous credible and disturbing evidence of human rights atrocities that were being committed. (In March 2015, the UN will review a thorough report of Sri Lanka's actions. For a great report, check out Channel 4's documentary "Sri Lanka's Killing Fields"). Now, the newly paved highways that unite the country (or carve up, depending on your point of view), the airports that sit empty, the artificially-created harbors, all built with Chinese megafunds and in some cases Chinese prisoners, are testament to this relationship forged in blood and bombs. It's neoliberal development on speed.

And the politicians are raking in the profits. I can't verify the amounts, but people tell me that if a road costs, say, $20 million to build, government officials will claim it costs $40 million, take the loan (apparently Chinese loans comes with a relatively low interest rate), and tell the people that these megaprojects will somehow benefit them.

People in the Tamil-dominated North with whom I spoke echoed the sighs of relief of the Sinhala-dominated South that the war was over. They could move more freely. (For foreigners to go to Jaffna, you are required to get a clearance from the Defense Ministry. The reason: intelligence officials claim that some groups have attempted to "provoke public disturbance and conflicts among civilians in the North." Sri Lanka does not like reports critical of the public forces' actions.) Though people were happy that bombs were not raining down on them anymore, Tamils I spoke with said they felt that the army controlled everything, from schools to land purchases (I saw soldiers in Casuarina Beach in Jaffna constructing very fancy lodgings, which I assumed to be tourist hotels and not barracks. After capturing Marble Beach from the LTTE on the East coast, the army built and controls several resorts and hotels) to other civilian matters. Sinhala soldiers patrol Jaffna at night. When the train passed through the LTTE's former administrative capital of Kilinochi, I saw soldiers on practically every side-street. It may be simply pre-election posturing, but it definitely gave the feel of an occupation. Which will always breed resentment.

In a televised event in Mullaitivu, the LTTE's military capital and scene of the final and most dramatic battles in May 2009, the president asked Tamils to forget the past.

But along the highway to Jaffna and throughout the North the reminders of the war - and of who won it - persist. At Elephant Pass, the tiny stretch of land that separates Jaffna from the rest of the island, an LTTE tank is placed at the foot of a memorial to a young Sri Lankan army corporal who blew himself up in an attempt to stop the LTTE from bringing the explosives-laden vehicle onto a base in 1991. Now, it's a tourist stop for Sri Lankans eager to know a formerly unknown area of the country, with buses stopping and their occupants flooding the souvenir shop, run by the army. Signs denounce "terrorism" and unflinchingly praise the Sri Lankan Army.

In Batticloa, the tsunami-battered majority-Tamil city on the East coast, on December 19, President Rajapaksa held a very well attended electoral event, which was heavily covered by the press. That night, locals told me that rumor had it that villagers from the outskirts were bussed in for the event and paid 2,000 rupees - with locals being paid 500 rupees - a LOT of money in a country where an average teacher makes roughly 25,000 rupees a month, or about $190.

While all that money is been thrown around, at least 35,000 people became homeless in the past three days due to the heavy rains that flooded much of the Eastern and Northern parts of the country, which had been preceded by a severe drought between August and November that wiped out a many rice paddies' harvest. Though in the past few weeks, President Rajapaksa has suddenly lowered taxes on fuel, water and electricity, along with raises and some subsidized motorcycles for public servants, even the middle-class for some time has been complaining about the cost of food and living. Sri Lanka, like the rest of the "modern" world, is widening the gap between super rich and super poor.

The New York Times ran a piece two weeks ago about how foreigners are snapping up Sri Lanka's precious coastline real estate. Another nail in the coffin of the working poor.

We'll see how the elections go on January 8. Right now, there have been only a few incidents (that I know of) involving fighting between party militants on the street. The opposition candidate, Maithrpala Sirisena, is running on an anti-corruption platform and has pledged to do away with the executive powers that allow the president to be accountable to no one, but it sounds hollow to me. After all, Sirisena was the Sri Lankan Freedom Party's (Rajapaksa's political party) general secretary and a Minister of Health until last month. And now he is the opposition? Hmmm.

Sorry for this long piece. I'll catch you up on everything else later. Check out the pics here!

And big solidarity abrazos to the folks at DC Capital Bike Share who just voted to join the union! 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Peoples Power Assembly Movement on shooting of police in Brooklyn

Just wanted to reprint the following declaration from the Peoples Power Assemblies (, issued on Dec. 21, which is a very clear and focused piece about what the movement against police brutality can expect following the Brooklyn cop shootings. Sending all my love and energy to the people on the streets who have always resisted and continue to resist!

And here are two articles from SOA Watch Prisoner of Conscience (2001) Peter Gelderloos. 
Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3: Stayed tuned!

The police have been desperately searching or waiting for some occurrence that they can use as a weapon to crush the most powerful, widespread, national mass uprising against racist police terror and murder since the 1960s.

Until yesterday, the frame-up of activists from#MillionsMarchNYC on Dec. 13 was the weapon. We demand immediate amnesty for those targeted activists accused of the alleged attacks on New York Police Department detectives on the Brooklyn Bridge.

But now, the police — and the powers that be who rule over society and whose interests the police “protect and serve” — have got a much bigger weapon. The Dec. 20 killing of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, allegedly by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who afterwards allegedly killed himself in a subway station, is NOW that weapon.

We underscore the word “allegedly” because all we know about what happened is what the police have told us.  And while at the moment we have no information that counters the police story, we always suspect whatever the police say because they lie all the time.

One of the reasons that many of us prefer the strategy of a mass, social and political uprising against the whole system, over individuals targeting police, is because history has shown that more often than not, when people engage in individual, random attacks on police, it's used by the government, the police and the system to attack the movement with violence baiting, in order to justify ratcheting up repression against the masses.

That said, we also know that anger over police repression and murder is so deep that it should come as no surprise to anyone that somebody would, sooner or later, act on that burning rage. Especially when the so-called justice system demonstrates time after time after time that police can, and do, murder with impunity.

Neither do we forget that 99.9 percent of the violence comes from the police.

No repression against the movement

From this point on, the establishment media and all who benefit from or serve the system will insist that we forget that the police have been waging a racist, violent and deadly war against Black and Brown people, especially young people.

The new narrative coming from on high will be that the murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Ramarley Graham, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III and thousands of other young people of color don't matter anymore.

We are about to witness a no-holds-barred campaign to criminalize and break the powerful movement sparked by Ferguson, Mo., which every day has brought many thou
sands of people into the streets of cities and towns across the country.

The rhetoric from rulers about “respecting the right to protest” will be replaced with “the 
protesters are guilty of murder” – and so the right to protest will be revoked.

The strength of the uprising has rocked the system and weakened the capacity of the police to crack down on the protests, which, after all, is the ultimate goal of the police. How else can they continue their war against Black and Brown people?

Let us not forget: It is the police who kill without mercy, without regret, without concern for the families of their victims. It is the police who function like a gang, alien and hostile to most of society that's not privileged by class or race.

The only concern of the police is that their violence, their cover-ups and lies not be questioned.

The people who really value all life, who want a world free of repression, violence and all forms of injustice, are the people who have been marching with signs that say “Black Lives Matter.” It is within this tremendous new movement against police violence that genuine humanity and the understanding of the pain of those who must face the holidays without their slain loved ones are rooted.

Most importantly, we must not let what happened in Brooklyn on Dec. 20 be used to destroy, harm or shake this movement for justice. We demand no escalation of repression against the movement. 

This movement is the hope of the future. The oppressors hate it and fear it. We must see that it is not set back.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Island of a Thousand Mirrors

Thanks to my sister for recommending the book, Island of a Thousand Mirrors, by Nayomi Munaweera. I just devoured it, and was hoping it would be longer. Without even getting to the issue of the war in Sri Lanka, I found myself smiling every time she described a smell or a comment from a parent or a frustration - I just identified with much of that. Anyways, you should check it out. Gail had also mentioned it to me and about the NPR piece with the author.

Check out some more pics from my recent trip to Kandy. The last time I saw the Temple of the Tooth  - supposedly where one of Buddha's canine teeth is stored - was in 1993, before the 1998 bombing by the LTTE. A lot of the history around the tooth is wrapped in religion, wars and bloodshed, so I wonder what the future will be for it and the country. 

I wandered off into the Udawatte Kele (Kele is Sinhala for forest), which is directly behind the Temple. It was the old sanctuary for the Kandyan kings and queens, and was where they bathed and played, but also where they escaped when the city was being attacked. There were lots of cute macaques, of course. And tons of soldiers. There are rumors that the LTTE is regrouping in the North, and coupled with elections coming up (the LTTE rumors could be an electoral ploy), there is no doubt that the country is getting even more militarized. I'm looking forward to next week's trip to Jaffna and the North.

At one point, I walked up the Kodimale trail to the highest point of the jungle and sat on a rock to enjoy a delicious seeni sambol bun and a yummy banana. I felt a little prick on my arm, and instinctively slapped at the mosquito. But my hand came back a little gooey. I looked down, y qué coño, it was a leech. I tried not to panic, and I took a picture, because it's not everyday that you get attacked by a non-capitalist leech, right? I started downhill, thinking about how I would get rid of this guy (because they latch on real good), when I felt another prick on my right arm. They seemed to be falling from the sky. I looked down, and they were swarming on my shoes. It was like The Walking Dead. They blindly hustled across the loamy ground and attached to my shoes, then quickly raced up my socks. I was burning, stamping, kicking and ripping them off. The one on my left arm had already swelled up with my blood and grew from the size of a inch worm to a centipede in about 5 minutes. I quickly calculated and figured at that rate, I'd have a Siamese twin in 30 minutes. So I had to rip him off. I fled the kings' forest sanctuary, the little monkeys with their mouths in a big wide O at my panic. 

I visited another statue of Buddha way up on a hillside. Got suckered into giving a donation, and they asked me to write my name on the certificate, which stated: "The Fund accepts the sum of Rs.        100      donated by Mr./Mrs.      Donald Duck     of the      USA     to be used for all kinds of construction works..." It also stated that "Donations may cause the well-being of both this and the next births." May cause?! What a rip-off! I want guarantees, Buddha!

Oh, one interesting thing. I realized on the train ride to and from Kandy, that it appears that Sri Lankans like to scream out the window when the train goes through a tunnel. Each time we entered a tunnel, a loud howl started to rise. I thought it was the excited kids in front of me, but then I saw a young couple laughing and yelling out the window. It was awesome. I made a sort of muted monkey sound out the window. I didn't want to keep my mouth open too long as all the smoke from the engine was pouring in through the windows.

People are soooo friendly. People laugh and sing on the train. I offered my fellow passenger a banana, and they offered me sandwiches. A security man at one statue asked me to come and have tea with him. Even the military. They have a really hard look when you first encounter them, but then if you smile, and huge toothy smile is reflected back at you. It's hard to imagine such smiley people killing each other. Damn. 

PS: On a different note, I'm sure those of you on Facebook have seen this, but Alice told me about this article. About privilege in racist, sexist USA.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Back again!

A lot has happened in four years. Apologies to my two blogspot followers who have been waiting impatiently for my next comunicado.

Here are some thoughts from Sri Lanka.

Today, I finally ventured out of Wattala over to Colombo. Technically, Wattala is the burbs of Colombo, but the madness just out the front door on Negombo Road is anything but the maddeningly peaceful suburbs of gringolandia. I walked to the post office, asked (in Sinhala!) how much to mail some letters, gave the right amount, and headed down station road, to the Wattala train station.

The traffic blasts by you, and since there are no sidewalks, you have to jump over the sewer ditch when a diesel guzzler charges right towards you. You walk for 5 minutes and you feel the grit already clinging to the sweat drops trickling down your face. Three-legged dogs wag their tail at you. Every single inch of possible land is taken up with shops, and people seem to come out of every single alley way and doorway. Even the coconut trees and the weeds refuse to back away from the madness. It's just seething with life.

I took a train to the Colombo Fort station, and blundered about for awhile trying to get out of the station, because the station manager at the Wattala station didn't sell me a ticket (guess he didn't understand what I wanted at the ticket-sales booth). Finally, after getting out, I went to go buy another ticket for the express train to Kandy. Waited 30 minutes to get to the vendor, and when the man in front of me was about to ask about his ticket, the salesman got up and said he was going to lunch. Be back in a half hour. So we all had to wait until he stumbled back in, sleepy after his mid-day rice feast.

Bananeira in Galle - click to see more pics so far.

So, nothing special about this post or the past few days. Except that I am using my meager Sinhala. The mosquitos are having a field day with my fresh blood. And we saw the beach at Galle. I was just asked by my uncle if I wanted to go to church. No thanks, I'll pass. Again. I'm hoping my lack of faith will not make my super religious family here despair and kick me out, as they've asked me a few times if I want to go with them to church. The food is delicious - I'm soooo excited that every single dish is super spicy!!!!

Today is also Nomination Day in Sri Lanka. That's when candidates are officially nominated to run for president. Elections are January 8th. The current president, Percy Mahendra ("Mahinda") Rajapaksa - but I want to emphasize the irony of his name Percy despite him claiming to be so nationalistic-, is running for a third term, much like another fascist tried to do in Colombia, Alvaro Uribe. He'll probably win. The newspaper showed a picture of a motorcycle rally by government officials in support of Rajapaksa. They had all been gifted the cycles by the government in return for their allegiance. Along the highway (Sri Lanka boasts some impressive new Chinese-built and -financed highways across the country, another way to control and divide territories) from the airport, there is a brand new apartment complex, and the only people who get to live there are those who support the president's party, the United People's Freedom Alliance.

Came across a good website today - Center for Policy Alternatives -  They have some good documents, including some about hate speech on Facebook. Since the war against the LTTE ended in a fiery, genocidal blaze in 2009 (upwards of 70,000 people killed in the final months), trouble continues in the North with accounts of forced sterilization (though this is still being investigated by the Permanent People's tribunal to see if it adds up to genocide), ongoing internment camps, attacks on and arrests of journalists and witnesses and a complete militarization of the Northern provinces (some 150,000 troops alone in the North). In addition to all that, CPA states that now anti-Muslim hatred is higher than anti-Tamil hatred was at the height of the war.  And, of course, the politicians keep fanning those different hatreds in order to get into office.

Will keep you posted on the elections.

Well, that's it for now. I'm going to get my curry eating on. From Colombo to Ferguson, FTP!