Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It wos the Sun wot dun him

So the Sun has come out against Gordon Brown, at the end of his Labour Party Conference. Gordon Brown quite properly replied that it will be the voters who decide the election, not the Sun (The voters of Scotland, Wales and England at any rate, since Labour lack the courage to face the voters in Northern Ireland).

Still, there is something not quite right about a newspaper making the news to this degree. I thought the papers were supposed to report the news (in the Sun's case, the gossip), and I realised that to a degree they also choose the news - but the degree to which this move on this day was calculated to puncture Labour's positive post-conference glow is just a bit too political for my taste.

As the media becomes more political, I hope that in the UK we won't see politicians ignoring the interests of the people and their own principles (for those who still have any) and tailoring their policies to gain the support of Rupert Murdoch's News International, or any other media group.

It's bad enough that they tailor their policies to the interests of companies whose boards they hope to join!

Electric dreams - missing technology

A fascinating show from the BBC, Electric Dreams is an experiment to see how one family adjusts to life in the 1970s, '80s and '90s. Their house was stripped of modern technology, completely reorganised in period fashion, and decorated and equipped with only items available in 1970. The family dressed in 70s clothes, and they they lived a decade a day, with new gadgets (like a freezer and a colour TV) arriving as they became generally available.

Life was very different then - and at times the family complained of being bored, and having "nothing to do" (except for the mother, who was very busy indeed with housework). They spent a lot more time together, eating as a family for instance, and going out together. They had to plan ahead, and phone home - no texting to say you're going to be late, or you've changed your mind.

The programme gave a fascinating glimpse of social history (initially in glorious monochrome) from the power-cuts and strikes of the 1970s, to today's increased freedom from household chores. It also illustrated some very contemporary preoccupations, such as the parents' anachronistic level of concern with health and safety, attitudes to smacking, and the relative freedom then of children to spend time outside, without today's paranoia over "stranger danger".

But there was one major media technology available in the 1970s that was curiously absent. A form of entertainment, and source of information. One that could be used even during the power cuts the family experienced, even when confined to an unheated, game-console-free bedroom "without any supper". One that was virtually omnipresent in the 70s, and that is still widely available. A technology that remains compatible with content produced many years, decades, centuries, even millennia ago. A technology popularised by an invention in Europe in the 15th century.

They had no books!

Perhaps they did, but we didn't see any. Maybe that says more about the priorities of the media people concerned than about the 1970s?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

More free lunches

There was a Drupal Camp in Belfast this weekend. No tents involved, fortunately - that last time I tried that, the air mattress deflated during the night, and I woke up lying on the ground. This was a more comfortable affair - a bunch of people talking about Drupal, doing presentations and demos, and having free lunch - two free lunches, in fact.

It was good timing really - I have been playing with Drupal a bit recently to get a website set up. It's not finished yet, so you can't see it. But I now know a few more useful tricks. It'll be ready soon. Maybe.

In short, thanks to the sponsors of the event, I am now better fed and a little better informed. The cake was a lie, but we did have special Drupal gingerbread men, and I won a frisbee. Better than winning a book, because then I'd have had to do a talk at the next event. And I got to sleep in my own bed, and didn't wake up on the ground, with only a thin tent between me and some particularly ominous clouds.

But in spite of the risk of clouds I'm still planning on going back to Greenbelt next year. Some people never learn.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Microsoft Alderaan Slammed in Race Row

The Register reports that outrage was sparked when the website of Microsoft's outpost in Alderaan was clumsily photoshopped, allegedly to conform to local racial demographics.

Two humans were crudely pasted into the picture to make the all-Wookie board of Microsoft Empire seem more acceptable to potential customers in the influential and wealthy Alderaan mobile, droid and deathstar O/S market.

However the subsequent furore may have hampered the chances of the up and coming Microsoft, as it tries to compete for market share with the dominant BSD2 and 3-CP/M systems deployed in most clone armies.

Jabba Gates and Steve "chair" Bal'cca of Microsoft Alderaan were unavailable for comment.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

And you thought it belonged to you: Why DRM is such a bad idea

Last night I noticed a very funny thing. Amazon had "un-booked" some books they had sold. Their customers woke up to find that their copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm had been taken back, and the cost refunded. Ironic as anything, but how could it possibly happen?

They had not bought a physical copy - they had paid for a licence to read an electronic copy on Amazon's eBook machine - a "Kindle". And that electronic copy was weighed down by DRM - Digital Rights Management (or Digitally Restricted Media) - so that the people who control it are not the buyers, but the sellers. So when Amazon felt they needed to revoke people's eBooks, they could.

You buy it - but they own it!

It turns out that Amazon, surprised by their customers' outrage or embarrassed by the irony of retrospectively un-selling 1984 -- who knows -- have said they won't do it again.

But they can - and that's the problem with DRM. You don't own what you have bought. "They" can stop you lending it to people. They can prevent you from electronically quoting snippets. They can invisibly edit or change what you have bought - or add new advertising. Or they can take it away altogether. And, often, if the publisher goes bust or even decides to stop selling it, what you bought just stops working. Forever. And it's illegal to try to get it back (in America, it's a felony).

And that is why DRM matters, and why the laws that pander to it matter even more.

And the more media becomes digital and is delivered electronically, the worse this will get.

Maybe not today; maybe not tomorrow; but soon - and for the rest of your media.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fit for purpose?

The UK does not have a very good system for handling people who need a visa to visit the country.

The process is slow and awkward - when the Russians have a slicker process (and their process is by no means slick), you know something is wrong.

The information available on the official Websites is poorly organised, and is not written from the point of view of someone who wants to come to the UK - it reads like some bureaucrat randomly dumped stuff he knows onto a page, and somehow manages to not quite answer any question you may have.

Then there is an unfortunate gulf between the questions they ask, and the information you need to give them if you are to be successful. For instance, there is a section for "any other information". If you don’t fill that with a convincing explanation of why you will absolutely definitely leave the UK after your trip, you’ve just wasted £80 and three weeks - and that doesn't include the time taken to research and fill in the form before you submit it.

And you have to be very convincing - a visit to the UK see a critically ill parent, followed by a journey home to get married and resume employment was considered insufficiently convincing. And by the time the appeal process had dragged on (and that’s another problem with the whole morass), the parent had died. Unfortunately the nameless, faceless, soulless wretch who made that decision had no accountability.

If you have any questions - too bad. You can try to submit a question via a web form, or email. If it does not vanish into the ether, the answer you eventually get is as good as random. I asked the same question twice in a row (I’m sceptical that way) and got diametrically opposed answers each time. And if you think the unambitious targets for response times in the UK are bad, spare a thought for those with questions for the High Commissions abroad - they can propose a staggering 3 weeks to answer a question.

Or you could pay some extortionate amount to speak to the same hapless incompetents on a premium rate line. After this scam has drained your wallet for a while you may well be be sadder and wiser, but you're unlikely to be much better informed.

The system operates as yet another stealth tax, with many of the services being charged at well above the cost of providing them. To add insult to injury, if you save them money by applying in person, they almost double the charge.

And there's another thing. The administration is a farce. A friend of mine applied in person for a visitor visa. £500 or so. You'd think for the money you'd get something a bit slick, and indeed the interview went quite smoothly. It looked like she might be able to meet some friends for lunch. Then she discovered she had to wait for the passport to be processed. And wait. And wait. She could see the pile of passports being processed. One at a time, slowly, with breaks for chat, and lunch, and cups of tea. But when a passport was eventually processed, was it returned to its owner? Was it ever. Not until all the pile had been processed were any passports returned. Sheer gratuitous awkwardness.

More fundamentally, there is a deeply ingrained culture of disbelief, and a failure to understand that, as well as keeping harmful people out, their role is to, you know, let people in.

You’d think all foreign businessmen and women were stealing from us, that tourists were eroding our culture and robbing us blind, and that we all just want to be left alone, the way visa applicants are positively discouraged.

I could go on. You're probably picking that up. You're clearly very perceptive!

Maybe I’ll rant some more about this later.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Good UN / Bad UN

Nobody is perfect, and few organisations are irredeemably corrupt or evil. The UN is no exception.

On the one hand, the UN refugee agency has been trying to do good work on the ground in Sri Lanka in the face of a huge refugee crisis, when the government allows them. (They also do vital work in Pakistan, the Sudan / Darfur, Iraq, and elsewhere).

A refugee camp in Sri Lanka -UNHCR/B.Alan

On the other hand the UN Human Rights Council has ducked the question of human rights abuses and possible war crimes during and after the conflict in Sri Lanka, calling it an internal matter. But as I mentioned before, considering who is on the UNHRC, and their sensitivities about their own "internal" affairs, we should probably not be too surprised.

At least parts of the UN are aware of the need for rapid resettlement of refugees, and the importance of not indiscriminately shelling concentrations of civilians.

Monday, May 25, 2009

On not being involved in a land war in asia?

It seems that the war is over in Sri Lanka, and that Sri Lankans are all one nation now - at least that is the official story. Certainly I've seen lots of flags and public celebration in the streets of Colombo. People are delighted that the brutal and ruthless LTTE (the Tamil Tigers) no longer hold territory in Sri Lanka.

Not so much public concern though for the hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan refugees being held in internment camps in their own country, without adequate shelter, food, clothes, health care, communications, or access of any kind to the outside world. Private concern, to be sure. From some at any rate. But not so much in the local press. I even saw one article that claimed the West, egged on by the Christian Church, had been training Tamil suicide bombers. But back to reality.

Now that the war is over, it might be a good time to allow international relief workers back in, reunite families that have been divided, and take care of those Tamil menbers of the one nation of Sri Lanka who are enduring such terrible conditions.

If you're interested in the crisis there, a site with more voices and more information than the mainstream media are able to provide is Ground Views: a Sri Lankan citizen journalism initiative, as it calls itself. Check it out!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Aristophanes would have been proud

2400 years ago, Aristophanes wrote his play Lysistrata, in which the women of Greece tried to force their husbands to end a war by withholding their affections. No sex, basically. On strike.

Fast forward to Kenya, 2009. The BBC reports that the Women's Development Organisation, backed by the Prime Minister's wife, called for a similar boycot, to last for a week. They want to force Kenya's political leaders to break the current deadlock and work together. There has been a troubled and ineffectual coalition government since the 2007-2008 election violence.

Will it work? I've no idea - but one Mr Kimondo is not happy. He is suing the organisers of the boycott, claiming it has "interfered with his happy marriage".

Monday, May 04, 2009

Website Assassinated

The Register reports that the Sri Lankan Army's site was "assassinated" by pro Tamil Tiger hackers. Apparently they put "horrible and gruesome images" up instead! The hackers were accused of terrorism.

One commenter at the Register cut through the claim and counter claim:

Let's hope the "horrible and gruesome images" are quickly replaced with the images of picnics and children playing with puppies usually associate with the ongoing artillery barrages upon concentrations of civilians and land wars in Asia in general.
- TW Burger
Could it be that the images the hackers added reflected the "horrible and gruesome" reality of war?

By all accounts both sides have perpetrated horror and grue in huge amounts.

Here is a UN report on the effects of the Army shelling [large 13M pdf document] - published then un-published, apparently because they thought it might damage dialogue with the government. The SL Army accuse the Tamil Tigers of firing at them from the civilian safe zones. The Tamil Tigers have also recruited child soldiers, and fired on civilians who try to leave the conflict area. Of course, when the civilians at last manage to escape they are concentrated into camps with inadequate provisions, and no provisions for reuniting families.

In this disaster, as always, civilians suffer dreadfully.

If you're curious, here are some of the gory details from the hacked website:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The great Greenbelt Giveaway

So how do we get our free church leader? Will they deliver, or do we have to collect them? And if they've been kept in a tent for ages, will they have gone off?

I'm sure the answers are somewhere on the greenbelt site. I hope the weather is good, this August...

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Rip-off Britain: it's worse if you're foreign

Call it a stealth tax, call it taking advantage of those with no choice... call it what you like - it doesn't look very fair.

Look at these figures for New Labour's proposed visa charges for 2009/10, compared to what it costs to process the application:

(Click on the graph for a larger version)

Figures from Written Ministerial Statement announcing proposed fees for Financial Year 09/10

Saturday, April 04, 2009

A true lady never sees the middle of the road as "a convenient spot to park the car".

That's one of the set of rules for true ladies, from the police in a Siberian city, according to Russia Today. Accidents caused by women drivers have been increasing, and this pink book of rules is an attempt to address the problem.

Not everyone is impressed. "They seem to have written it for idiots, not responsible drivers," says Maria, a local female driver. At least it seems to have started some debate.

One more rule from the book: "A true lady uses rear-view mirrors to check the road, not her appearance."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Freedom of speech, or the right not to be offended?

The United Nations' Human Rights Council (the indistinguishable and undistinguished successor to the discredited Human Rights Commission) has excelled itself [see this article]. That august body of the UN approved a resolution which calls for limits on what they called "defamation" of religions, especially Islam. To illustrate the sort of defamation they had in mind, the resolution mentions associations with terrorism or human rights abuses, which it describes as unfair.

It may be argued that such linkages are unfair - correlation does not necessarily imply causation, after all, and human rights abuses and terrorism are not uniquely Islamic. But to seek to ban such discussions would be to play into the hands of two dangerous,yet opposed, groups. It would give comfort to extremists within Islam who believe precisely that their faith requires militant terrorism; they would now have the spurious authority of the UN when they label any critique of their ideas a defamation of Islam. And it would make martyrs of those who see every Muslim as a Bin Laden in waiting.

Worse, this proposal rests on an utterly misguided notion - that organisations and belief systems have "human rights" which trump the rights of actual people. They do not.

Fortunately or unfortunately (you decide) it's about the tenth time the UN has done something like this, so it's not likely to become law any time soon - except perhaps in states where human rights are already pretty much a lost cause.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Evverything feels better after a good breakfast

Last night we arrived in Manchester Airport. The flight was pleassant, and the sandwiches were very nice - and half price, because it was the last flight off the day (Ryanair probably inccrease the prices instead, for out of hours catering).

That was the good part.

There was nobody at Manchester airport to meet us with a wheelchair. Fortunately the staff found a chair wwe could push ourselves, avoiding a 20 minute wait. So Maithrie pushed the chair and I pushed both baggage trolleys!

Then we bought 2 more sandwiches and a carton of orange juice from the Spar in the terminal. The chicken one was off, and the orange was not so much resealable as opened, started, and resealed! The taxi driver wasn't friendly or helpful, but at least we arrived at the hotel safely.

And today, after a good breakfast, everything seems much better.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Taking the... Mickey?

What is Ryanair's Michael O'Leary smoking these days? His latest wheeze seems to be putting coin slots on the toilets in his planes - at least that's what the BBC says he is considering. The service, already scraping the bottom of the barrel, looks set to plumb new depths.

And how come it's OK to charge anyone booking one of his flights a credit card fee for each passenger and each leg of the journey? How can that legitimately be described as a "credit card" fee? The credit card company don't charge Ryanair extra if more people are included in a single transaction, or if more than one flight is involved in a transaction. Time the Trading Standards Office started taking an interest, perhaps?

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Two steps forward, and one step back.

Just as the house was getting tidier and most of the rooms were functional, the shelves in my study collapsed. As I sat at my desk.

Suddenly I was almost buried in an avalanche of folders, CDs, books and papers.

Sorry, no pictures. It's just too traumatic - and I need a coffee.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Speeches and Writing

I've been reading a few powerful and thought provoking speeches and other writings recently - this one, by the assassinated Lasantha Wickramatunga stands out. He wrote it shortly before his murder, and it was published in the Newspaper he edited in Sri Lanka shortly afterwards. Some of the names and incidents may be unfamiliar - but you should get the gist:

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 past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, 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.

Every newspaper has its angle, and we do not hide the fact that we have ours. Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy. Think about those words, for they each has profound meaning. Transparent because government must be openly accountable to the people and never abuse their trust. Secular because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours, secularism offers the only common ground by which we might all be united. Liberal because we recognise that all human beings are created different, and we need to accept others for what they are and not what we would like them to be. And democratic... well, if you need me to explain why that is important, you'd best stop buying this paper.

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 example, 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 urged 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 - pray 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 UNP was in office, we proved to be the biggest thorn in its flesh, exposing excess and corruption wherever it occurred. Indeed, the steady stream of embarrassing expos‚s 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 Tigers. The LTTE are among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organisations ever 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 them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma is forever called into question by this savagery, much of which is 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 that you can placate them by showering "development" and "reconstruction" on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also 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 countrymen - and all of 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, Mahinda and I have been friends for more than a quarter century. Indeed, I suspect that I am one of the few people remaining who routinely addresses him by his first name and uses 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 SLFP 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 yourself involved in the Helping Hambantota scandal. It was after a lot of soul-searching that we broke the story, at the same time urging you to return the money. By the time you did so 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 that my sons and daughter do not themselves 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.

Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you. Indeed, your conduct has been like a small child suddenly let loose in a toyshop. That analogy is perhaps inapt because no child could have caused so much blood to be spilled on this land as you have, or trampled on the rights of its citizens as you do. Although you are now so drunk with power that you cannot see it, you will come to regret your sons having so rich an inheritance of blood. It can only bring tragedy. As for me, it is with a clear conscience that I go to meet my Maker. I wish, when your time finally comes, you could do the same. I wish.

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 of them 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. I feel sorry for you, and Shiranthi will have a long time to spend on her knees when next she goes for Confession for it is not just her owns sins which she must confess, but those of her extended family that keeps you in office.

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 now paid the price that I have long known I will 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 remains to be written is 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. Not all the Rajapakses combined can kill that.

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 Niem”ller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in 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. Niem”ller 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, Niem”ller 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, remember 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.

It is worth remembering why we protest when liberties begin to be eroded, and the state starts to gather more power to itself. What might it allow?

What in the name of all landfills were Debenhams thinking?

These days it's apparently fashionable to be green. Which is why it's all the more shocking when you see something so incredibly environmentally hostile from a major UK company.

Here is what Debenhams used to pack six tiny plates.

And why did they all have to be packed separately? Are we the only ones to ever get more than one plate at a time?

At least some of the packaging was biodegradable.