Saturday, January 18, 2014


When does history begin? Isn't it tempting to reply, "In the beginning", but like many obvious answers, this definitely turns out to be unhelpful. As one great historian once pointed out, history is the only subject where you cannot begin at the beginning. We can trace the chain of human descent back to the appearance of vertebrates, or even to the photosynthetic cells and other basic structures which are supposed to be the building blocks of life itself. We can go back further still, to almost unimaginable upheavels which formed our own planet and even to the origins of the universe. Yet, this is not "history".

Commonsense, as always, helps here. History is the story of mankind, of what it has done, suffered or enjoyed. Even when historians write about a natural  process beyond human control, such as the ups and downs of climate, or the spread of an infectious disease, they do so only because it helps us to understand why men and women have lived (and died) in some ways rather than others.

This suggests that all we have to do is to identify the moment at which the first human beings step out from the shadows of the remote past. It is certainly not quite as simple as that, though. First we have to know what we are actually looking for. Most attempts to define humanity on the basis of observable characteristics prove in the end to be arbitrary and cramping, as long arguments about "ape-men" and "missing links" have shown. 

Physiological tests help us to classify data but do not identify what is or what is not human. Some folks have suggested that human uniqueness lies in language, yet other primates possess vocal equipment similar to our own which they use as sounds to communicate with each other. At what point do they become speech? Another talked about definition is that man is a tool maker, yet observations have cast doubt on our uniqueness in this respect, too.

What is surely and identifiably unique about the human species is not its possession of certain faculties or physical characteristics, but what it has done with them; its achievements, or history, in fact. Humanity's unique achievement is its remarkably intense level of activity and creativity, its cumulative capacity to create change. All animals have ways of living, some complex enough to be called cultures. Human culture alone is progressive; it has been increasingly built by conscious choice. Of course, human beings have always only been able to make their history within limits. These limits are now very wide indeed, but they were once so narrow that it is impossible to identify the first step which took human evolution away from the determination of nature. We have, for a long time, only a blurred story, obscure, both because the evidence is fragmentary and because we cannot be sure exactly what we are looking for.

The roots of history lie in the pre-human past and it is hard to grasp how long ago that was. If we think of a century on our calendar as a minute on some great clock hanging in the air that records the passage of time, then white Europeans began to settle in the Americas only about five minutes ago. Slightly about 15 minutes before that, Christianity appeared. Rather, more than an hour ago a people settled in southern Mesapotamia (present day Iraq) who were soon to evolve the oldest civilization known to us.

This is already well beyond the furthest margin of written record. According to our new clock people began to write down the past much less than an hour ago. Some six or seven hours further back on our time scale, and even further remote, we can discern the first recognizable human beings of a modern physiological type already established in western Europe. Behind them, anything from a fortnight to three weeks earlier, appear the first traces of creatures with some manlike features whose contribution to the evolution which has followed is still in heated debate.

The bedrock of the story is the earth itself. Changes recorded in fossils of flora and fauna, in geographical forms and geological strata, narrate a drama of epic scale lasting hundreds of millions of years.

Climate was the first great pace-maker of change. About 40  million years ago - a reasonably early enough point to make a start from - a long warm climatic phase began to draw to a close. It had favored the reptiles, and during it Antarctica had separated from Australia. As the world grew colder and the new climatic conditions restricted their habitat, the great reptiles disappeared. Of course some have argued that there were other reasons for this phenomenon to have happened too.

Crudely summarized, the main lines of this transition were probably determined for millions of years by astronomical cycles. The changing position of the earth related to the sun gave rise to the varying climatic conditions that prevailed down below.

[extracted from History of the World by J M Roberts]

Born into Poverty

Sunday Morning Sermon Jan 19 2014

Child poverty in the USA is estimated in the range between 15% and 23%. How many of these will end up living in poverty is still not clear. World child poverty is said to be around 50% amounting to almost 1 billion children. One in three do not have adequate shelter while one in five are deprived of clean drinking water. One in seven do not have access to adequate health care. 1.4 million die every year for the lack of drinking water and proper sanitation. [Source: Global Issues, The Human Development Report, 2012]

Many families do cycle into and out of poverty through time. Others remain poor throughout their lives. Persistent poverty among children is something of great concern as the cumulative effect of being raised poor usually leads to extremely negative outcomes and very limited opportunities.

While I was watching the six clips of the well articulated and Oscar winning documentary, "Born into Brothels" (2004) filmed in Calcutta, on Youtube last week, it dawned on me that these kids who are subject to this form of life have very little hope of making any mark on a reasonably decent future fr themselves. The full movie can be seen at this link.

Ross Kaufman and Zana Birski have delivered a glaring view into how these poor kids, born into brothels in Calcutta, live and survive the daily rigors of life, themselves being drawn into prostitution as they grow older. Whole generations of grand mothers, mothers and daughters take to the red light district once trapped in this quagmire.

Reading the email that came through this week related to an old school mate, a few years junior to us, who was seen on the pavements of Colombo, it struck me that this could have easily been any one of us. We are, no doubt, privileged that we never had to take that route and have been able to stay clear of this menace that humanity thrusts upon so many millions across the globe.

"Why this poverty", one may ask? Pundits and researchers may come up with a 1,001 answers and methods to resolve them. Has it got better or worse through time? Science and technology has developed to great strengths and levels. Yet, suffering has still not ceased.

While most of us must be involved in some form of poverty alleviation at simple levels within the environments that surround us there are many others who just dont give a damn. And life goes on.



Sunday, January 12, 2014

Should we relinquish our citizenship?

Sunday Morning Sermon - Jan 12 2014

Renunciation is the voluntary act of relinquishing one's citizenship or nationality. It is the opposite of naturalization whereby a person voluntarily acquires a citizenship, and distinct from denaturalization, where the loss of citizenship is forced by a state.

Renunciation of citizenship is particularly relevant in cases of multiple citizenship or dual nationality, whereby a person obtains acceptance in a foreign nation based on many available factors. Each country sets its own policies for formal renunciation of citizenship. Some countries may not allow or do not recognize renunciation of citizenship or establish administrative procedures that are essentially impossible to complete.

While the passion for nationalism could be identified to be a negative attitude that makes people attached to their country of birth while at the same time abhorring other nations, human beings do have a tendency to affiliate themselves to a land with very emotional and sometimes, even violent attitudes. Most of us attach ourselves to the community, ethnicity, religion, town, school, into which we are pushed into since birth. Basically, it is emotional without a doubt.

People seek immigration to other lands where they are willing to give up their nationality at birth for economical reasons, education, development of family and children, and opportunities that may not come so easily back home.

Growing up in the land of ones birth brings with it many facets of nostalgia, memories, and feelings for the land without a doubt. Reality, on the other hand demands people to make choices to move away from these passions seeking better opportunities for themselves and their loved ones.

Whatever said and done, however democratic and human rights loving nations may claim to be, migrants will still be treated as second hand citizens. The so called "sons of the soil" even if their ancestors were immigrants, will always make first claim to their "right" to be a cut above the newbies who come in hordes thereafter. Many nations also offer immigration to people who are oppressed in their own nations for various reasons of conflict and abuse.

When one is confronted with a situation of accepting migration into a new nation one has many options to worry about, especially when they have to start all over from scratch in an environment that is alien to them.

We saw the massive exodus of the Burgher community from Ceylon when Australia opened their doors to them. Most of them have done exceedingly well in settling down and developing careers for themselves which they may not have had back home. The mass movement of the Tamil community to UK, Europe, and North America, after the ethnic crisis of 1983 is another situation when large populations have been forced to move and seek asylum in western nations.

Migration has massive impacts on the lives of the migrant as well as that of those sons of the soil living in the host nations. Clashes of culture, religious requirements, and other differences begin to have some form of impact on the people. Some are willing to accept this intrusion while others may find it unacceptable.

At the end of the day the decision to make up ones mind to stay or to move becomes totally dependent on the needs of that particular moment in time.


Sunday, January 5, 2014


Sunday Morning Sermon - Jan 5 2014

tradition is a belief or behavior passed down the line within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with events of the past. Common examples that are visible include celebrations, holidays, dress codes (some, even like lawyer wigs or military officer spurs), but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings. Traditions can persist and evolve for thousands of years—the word "tradition" itself derives from the Latin tradere or traderer literally meaning to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping. While it is commonly assumed that traditions have ancient history, many traditions have been invented on purpose, whether they are political, religious or cultural, over short periods of time. 
The concept of tradition, as the notion of holding on to a previous time, is also found in political and philosophical discourse. For example, the political traditions of the carrying mace in a parliament, religious festivals based on various anecdotes tat have come down through generations, and social events in sports and other forms of human activity and behavior. 
A number of factors can exacerbate the loss of tradition, including industrialization, globalization, and the assimilation or marginalization of specific cultural groups. In response to this, tradition-preservation attempts have now been started in many countries around the world, focusing on aspects such as traditional languages. Tradition is usually contrasted with the goal of modernity which attempts to try and make people think out of the box and step out of their traditions that their ancestors have given them.
While some traditions are certainly a lot of fun, frolic, amusement, and goodness, many others do cause quite a lot of hardship on people, who simply spare no pains in trying to maintain these traditions at a huge cost of time, money and effort, which they can ill afford.
Take the case of ostentatious wedding ceremonies that the middle class family want to emulate purely to keep up with the Jones'. The many rituals and acts that are painfully delivered by poor families during ceremonies and events, even extending to funerals. The dowry systems of give and take, between bride and groom, that still prevails in many communities when marriages are arranged and executed.
Many, are the families who fall into great debt and difficulty in trying to maintain some of these expensive traditions purely to maintain their self respect within the community or village. 
All human activity somehow have their own traditional beginnings, be it a simple birthday party of a child or even the launch of a massive business corporation.
Of course we do have the tradition of the cycle parade before the Roy-Tho, the Stag Party, the ragging in Universities, Hen Parties, Xmas, New Year, Eid, Deepavali, Vesak, and so many other events that do consume quite an effort, cost, and time in preparation and execution.
There would certainly be some added value if people started to take a deeper look into some of these traditions and start dismantling them or even fine tuning them to make their life much more easier and pleasant to live.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Starting All Over


Happy New Year 2014!

Starting all over

Ethics may be defined as the set of moral principles that distinguish what is right from what is wrong. Ethics has a twofold objective: it evaluates human practices by calling upon moral standards; also it may give prescriptive advice on how to act morally in a given situation. Ethics, therefore, aims to study both moral and immoral behavior in order to make well-founded judgments and to arrive at adequate recommendations. Sometimes ethics is used synonymo
sly with morality. An action, which is morally right, is also called an ethical one. Codes of morality are called ethical codes. Business ethics can also be defined as business morality.

Business Ethics is the branch of ethics that examines ethical rules and principles within a commercial context; the various moral or ethical problems that can arise in a business setting; and any special duties or obligations that apply to persons engaged in commerce. Generally speaking, business ethics is a normative discipline, whereby particular ethical standards are formulated and then applied. It makes specific judgments about what is right or wrong, which is to say, it makes claims about what ought to be done or what ought not to be done. Generally speaking, business ethics is concerned with the study of what is good and bad, right and wrong, and just and unjust in business.

This goes without saying that there is a general consensus among human beings about certain fundamental ethical values.
without saying that there is a general consensus among human beings about certain fundamental ethical values.
In the general
  scheme of things, adherence to moral code and ethical behavior is a part
Most ethical teachings that stem from culture, religion, communities, and societies,
 jealously guard their behavior, deeds, words, thoughts, feelings and intentions. 
They also require people
 to observe certain norms and moral codes in their family affairs; in dealings with relatives, with neighbors and friends; in their business transactions; in their social affairs, 
 in all spheres of private and public life

Each individual in andemocratic society expects to enjoy complete freedom in the earning of his livelihood.
They can start, manage and organize any kind of business enterprise within the limits set by the 
prevailing laws of their lands
. However, freedom does not and must not operate without a sense of responsibility. An individual is free to pursue his economic activities provided he respects the code of conduct prescribed for the profession, which broadly means choosing things lawful and shunning matters unlawful. 
demands a certain 
 of behavior from economic agents – the consumers and the producers. The behavior prescribed for the economic units of the society are so devised as to lead to a happy state of affairs, which is the ultimate goal of 
. A market is characterized by certain norms that take care of the interests of both the buyer and the seller. There are a number of rules of ethical discipline in 
commercial transactions without which business contract would be regarded as lacking perfection in the light of the code of good manners, decency and ethical excellence. 

Trustworthiness is one of the most important principles of ethical discipline in commercial transactions. Trust is a moral virtue and duty incumbent on any human being
in the performance of his affairs. It demands sincerity in work and purity of intention from every believer. A
 n honest
 trader will not, therefore, barter his
conscience for worldly gains. He will avoid fraud, deception, and other dubious means in selling his merchandise. The sense of mutual trust demands that the pros and cons of commodity be revealed to the buyer so that he purchases the commodity in full satisfaction. 
One should be lenient and generous in bargaining. Therefore, whoever demands his debt back from the debtor should do so in a decent manner. 
  creditor should be easy and generous in demanding back his money. The debtor, in turn, should also give back the debt to the creditor on time with due thanks and politeness. 
reat importance 
must also attached 
to the 
ual obligations 
 and promises. 
 is expected
 to keep up his trusts, promises and contracts. The basic principles of truth, honesty, integrity and trust are involved in all business dealings.