Nutritional supplements for school children

30 August 2007

If the government of Sri Lanka wishes to undertake any school-based nutritional programs, it must take the form of nutritional supplements rather than the wasteful “milk-and-buns-for-all” form (I’m referring to a 1990’s program). One of the vitamins Sri Lankans are most deficient in happens to be one of the cheapest: vitamin B. Beri-Beri–a disease resulting from vitamin B deficiency–is named after the Sinhalese word for it.

There are many school children who do not receive their daily allowance of calories. But it is wasteful to use a blanket program to reach such a subset. It spreads the finances too thin: the only things that can be provided to ALL school children is something as nutritionally worthless as a bun and a sugar-laden packet of flavored milk.

Sri Lankans (even affluent ones) are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals due to the nature of their diet. A blanket program should target THIS deficiency. A TARGETED program should reach the calorie-deficient group (but should be done in a way that will not subject the child to social stigma).

The B complex of vitamins and vitamin C are safe for un-prescribed mass distribution. Overdoses are not absorbed by the body due to water-solubility. These two vitamins are essential for the proper functioning of many bodily functions, including the immune system and the nervous system. Among the many symptoms of deficiency are increased susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections, reduced alertness and lethargy. Vitamins B and C are extremely cheap, easy to transport and store (compared to food items).

I am skeptical of government-sponsored programs with good intentions. However, every administration wants to undertake them. Therefore the best taxpayers can do is at least demand that they attempt the proper program. Iodine supplemented salt has demonstrated some success in fighting hypothyroidism. The benefits of daily vitamin B and C supplements may be even higher. On the long term, savings in public health care costs may help offset part of the program’s costs.

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Remove nationalist indoctrination from school syllabi

24 August 2007

State schools teach the basics of political/ethnic prejudice in the process of teaching history. National pride is not something that can be TAUGHT. It’s something you grow into by yourself. When you try to TEACH national pride, what you end up teaching is prejudice.

National history of every country should explicitly start with the following: We’re NOT the greatest nation on Earth. We’re NOT the most righteous people on Earth. We’re not the most clever. We may be ahead in some areas, behind in others, but we’re just another group of people just like everybody else.

Avoid things like: Glorification of past, bloody battles: History books meant for young children depict Dutugemunu as a hero in the Elara-Dutugemunu war. The same treatment is given to a number of other less-than-righteous kings.

If memory serves me, a Grade nine school history book mentioned with barely concealed glee, two notable defeats of Portuguese/British at the hands of Sinhalese militia. It specifically mentions how a certain lake/marsh turned red with the blood of the foreign soldiers: hardly an educational fact.

Many other interactions with foreign races have been recorded in our school history books in neutral sounding language, but with a definite Sri Lankan slant. The school books have been partially sanitized of most of the wrongdoings committed by Sri Lankans.

As Bertrand Russell says, if every country taught their own imperfections and non-superiority to their young, they will be less likely to approve state aggression against other ethnicities or groups. But such a public is a disadvantage to a power-seeking regime.


Economy vs. Security

22 August 2007

There needs to be two types of government monitors among citizens: those who monitor security without economic concerns and those who monitor economics without security concerns. Using security concerns to distract people away from economic failures is one of the oldest tricks in a politician’s repertoire, because economics and security represent the two most basic concerns: one is concerned with the gaining or production of value while the other is concerned with the prevention of their loss (by values, I mean lives and property).

If we were to appoint someone to evaluate this administration’s economic performance without letting himself be influenced by security issues, he will report that economic performance is unacceptable. It is important that not all concerned mount the mainstream media bandwagon. When an issue appears on front page headlines, we automatically assume it is of highest priority. If the coverage involves an incident, then it IS of highest priority as long as the event is in progress. However, as soon as the situation subsides, coverage MUST return to long term issues. If short term issues receive too much coverage, then by the time one is finished, another would have arrived to fill the headlines. This may be acceptable to mainstream media that depend on action-packed headlines for sales and ratings. But the non-mainstream and citizen journalists must keep covering the longer term issues. In fact, some can afford to concentrate SOLELY on “standing” issues while allowing mainstream media to cover sensational news


Unethical ordainment of children

9 August 2007

More serious than unethical conversion is unethical ordainment. It is in the interest of both the religious and the secularists that ill-disciplined, dishonest and malevolent individuals do not make it to the ranks of monks and priests. Make it illegal for a parent or any adult to ordain a child as a priest/monk without his/her consent. It is disgraceful that certain parents find nothing wrong with the practice of ‘donating’ their children to the Order in the hopes of accumulating merit/blessings for themselves. Unfortunately yet predictably, these tend to be the same priests/monks who start behaving like regular individuals (and sometimes worse) when they become adult members of the clergy. They were never meant to be priests/monks; they may even harbor resentment over their fate. They are unable to lead the life of a priest; yet they cannot leave the Order without social stigma; even if they do, most of them are without the skills to survive outside their respective religious establishment.

Ordainment is a decision that carries life long consequences. A dependent under the age of 18 is in no position to give consent to it. Yet, the major religions prevailing in Sri Lanka require than the training of priests/monks start early. The minimum age for ANY form of ordainment should be 13. Between 13 and 16, the parents and the priests/monks must provide written assurances to authorities that the person to be ordained is fully willing and prepared and he must be interviewed separately by officials before legal permission is given. Ideally, religious laws should change to allow anyone to undergo priesthood training from any age between 13 to 18, and at age 18 decide whether to continue or not; and to be able to leave the establishment without any stigma. Ordainment of children against their will should be banned.


Government as an arbiter/representative

4 August 2007

The failure of democracy in third world countries is largely attributed to the average third world citizen’s tendency to view the government as a caregiver, rather than an arbiter/representative. This is why communism is an Eastern phenomenon (most third world countries being concentrated in the eastern hemisphere).

It is not the government’s job to supply bread, water or housing. It is not the government’s job to take care of citizen’s needs. In a proper democracy that responsibility lies with each individual. The government is a third-party that comes into play when individual desires clash and an arbitrator is required. The law performs this function. The government can also be a hub for resources that are best pooled. National defense for example, is a common goal that is best vested in a single representative entity (rather than each citizen bearing arms).

When citizens become dependent on the government for needs other than this, tyranny arises. Fulfillment of needs is the bait through which tyranny takes hold. Tyranny and abuse of power can never arise in a nation where the majority of citizens understand the true purpose of government. The road to turning Sri Lanka into such a nation is a long one. We need to educate the public on the true mechanics of politics.


Separation of Church and State

1 August 2007

The result of any mixture between religion and politics is EVIL. Sri Lankans who are aware of world history already know this. Christianity corrupted by political power took a thousand-year bite out of our civilization: the period spanning approximately 5 – 15th century AD are lost to humanity, the Dark Ages. The Church tortured and burned women as witches; it had the power to dictate what people learned and what they didn’t; to ban and burn books; to jail/execute writers and scientists; to send troops to other countries in the name of God.

Christianity was restored to the form originally designed by Christ, only through a massive internal struggle between Christians themselves: the Reformation. Christians have never forgotten this lesson. This is why in America, religion is forbidden from entering the government and is forbidden at the highest possible level: the Constitution. Religion may not be taught at school; public prayer or religious symbols within state buildings are not allowed. Most non-Christians find Americans’ apparent hostility toward their own religion puzzling. There is nothing puzzling when you see that the hostility is not toward religion, but toward mixing religion and politics. Muslims have yet to learn this lesson.

Buddhists tend to argue that, since Buddhism is a non-violent and tolerant system of beliefs, it cannot happen to Buddhism. They were proven wrong: on the subject of the ethnic conflict, political monks continue to be the most outspoken advocates of violence and intolerance. Astonishingly, some of them went beyond advocacy to direct demonstrations of violence.

There is ZERO correlation between the teachings of a religion and the degree of evil committed once it is mixed with politics. If “he that is without sin, cast the first stone” and “turn the other cheek” lead to the Witch Trials, it is no surprise that sermons of the Buddha too, were distorted to serve political ends. Buddhism in Sri Lanka has already been heavily corrupted by the politicized clergy, yet there is no sign that Sri Lankans are becoming wise to what Europeans learned centuries ago: ANY MIX OF POLITICS AND RELIGION IS EVIL.

Sri Lanka is a Buddhist COUNTRY. But it cannot be a Buddhist STATE. The difference seems subtle but is critical. Americans are far more Christian than Europeans or even their own neighboring Canadians. It is said that America is at once the most secular state and the most religious nation.

Amend the constitution to prohibit the government from favoring any religion or the parliament passing any law mentioning a specific religion. Make it clear that no religion is exempt from the Law: in any contest between the Law of the Country and the Law of a religion, the Law of the Country must prevail. In the eyes of the Law, only the Law is Holy. Religion must remain a private matter. Abolish all religion-related government departments and funding programs, with the exception of archeology projects dealing with preserving ancient Sri Lankan ruins (most of which happen to be from a Buddhist civilization). Sri Lankan cannot become a Buddhist state or a Christian state or an Islamic state or a Hindu state. It MUST be a secular state.