A little laughter in the time of corona

Friday, 11 December 2020 00:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The so-called COVID-19 cure demonstrated that we’re living in a land of honey, if not one where the milk of human kindness has all but evaporated 

The days are growing shorter, the nights longer. And there is an awful finality in the air, like the last sober drunk at a party that fizzled out half a bottle ago. So! The last thing I want to do is to make you laugh. But it’s still on my list.

Speaking of which, when I need a little light relief, I tune into the nine o’clock news. Which, on certain channels, should be called ‘not the nine o’clock news’. Where, having started with ‘good evening’, they tell you why it isn’t. 

When reporting and deciding fails, I opt to watch MPs speaking in parliament. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak. However much you may respect a former army chief, or not a pompous minister in the House’s ranks, it gives me puerile joy to see grown men treat parliamentary debates as an extension of war by other means. And it isn’t friendly fire when an incumbent and former justice minister take pot shots, with a chair-throwing ‘member’ (is he better named ‘Johnson’?) as collateral damage.

Going to parliament doesn’t make you a statesperson any more than standing in a garage makes you a sedan, saloon or station wagon.

Not funny is the formerly fasting MP turned global agitprop specialist on the prison riot conspiracy. He thinks it’s either an American product or a ‘made in China’ export. If I agreed with you, you wee man, you brave tribalist, we’d both be wrong.

But between this specimen and that other wild beast masquerading as the subject minister in question, there’s little if any doubt left in the minds of watchers of our own version of National Geographic that in the jungle of brute politics, only man is vile. Watching him angrily pitch into far more sterling nature-loving public officials doing their duty makes one realise that we never really grow up; we only learn how to act in public. Some of us don’t learn even that. And it shows.

Where the cracks are showing most is in the battle against corona. It’s all moans, groans and drones, of late… largely because the battle has passed from public health inspectors to privateer generals. War (whether civil or contra COVID-19) does not determine who is right – only who is left.

The so-called COVID-19 cure demonstrated that we’re living in a land of honey, if not one where the milk of human kindness has all but evaporated. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of fatuous endorsements. 

From leaning on past presidents for succour to flinging futile pots into sullen rivers, we’re led by a banshee who’s no mean Boadicea in the House either. For she on honey-dew may have fed and drunk the milk of paradise. But those who saw the hordes at the gate of the snake oil merchant are only filled with holy dread. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

The ministering angel would have done better to copy the opposition leader’s erstwhile recommendations rather than follow the recipe for quackery. Of course, even in politics, to steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research. And one’s genius often consists in concealing one’s sources. Viharamahadevi (she who would have had us throw her into a sunless sea as a votive offering) has no source, depth or tide, except ebb, and the unwashed with her.

Of course, as a Boudicca who battles her enemies across the aisles, she’s a tad better than the MPs who don’t go to the House. Buses stop in bus stations. Trains stop in train stations. On their desks, however, appear to be work stations. It’s a national shame: the number of elected representatives who regularly abscond from parliament, as well as a crime against sundry electorates.

But some of the MPs who do go to the House are no better. Many of those who voted them in thought they wanted a career in public service. Turns out they simply wanted pay-cheques and sundry perks. And a nice little lunch at next to no cost… except to the taxpayer.

A greater public cost comes at government’s inability to speak in words of more than three syllables. Ergo, ‘cluster’ is fine but ‘community’ cannot be said, much less spread. The rot starts at the top. I didn’t say it was your fault, my dear sir, I only said I was blaming you. So are the rest minus 6.9 million too.

The crisis not being foremost on the chief’s mind has been attributed – by him, on national TV – to doing his stern duty. In matters of politics as much as managing pandemics, we’re reassured that our governors would do their best according to their consciences, which it was intimated were clear. A clear conscience is often the sign of a fuzzy memory. So said Sir Winston Churchill… he was a great speechmaker – when sober. “I may be drunk now, but tomorrow you’ll still be ugly.”

Over here, we leave something to be desired. The attitude while making a speech is: “When I want your opinion, O my people, I’ll give it to you.” You do not need a parachute to skydive unless you want to do it again.

On a break from watching politicians shoot themselves in the foot on state TV, I recently watched a vintage clip of JR at the White House talking about woolly mammoths and gifting the incumbent Ronald Reagan a Sri Lankan elephant. The Old Fox managed to praise, pander to and patronise that POTUS – all in one short speech at a soiree where Oriental cunning outshone Western imperial posturing. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

If only the Grand Old Man’s great-nephew had done something other than fanning about or retreating into sulky absentia, only to fuel faint rumours about ‘Ranil coming back to Parliament’. There’s a fine line between hugging and holding someone so tightly that they can’t get away.

About the UNP and its ethos, I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.

About the government refusing to learn from its mistakes, I’m told that to be sure of hitting the target, you must shoot first and call whatever you hit ‘the target’. The state of the treasury’s coffers is such, it is said, that if you would like to have a billion rupees in reserve, then start with two billion. In the absence of data, or published performance reports, it’s all up for grabs.

About the SJB learning from its mistakes – as an inveterate survivor from the shipwreck said on a talk show the other night – you’re never too old to learn something stupid.

I am supposed to respect my elders, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to find one now.

But then again, there was our venerable premier’s opening of a wind power plant which, according to the not-TV-news, he ‘graced’. That should silence the ‘power mafia’ anti-lobby, at least for a while. Change is inevitable, except from the media.

The mass media and the fourth estate are our two nations divided only by a common language. Like leopard-hunting, it’s the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.

(Journalist | Editor-at-Large of LMD | WFH while watching TV)


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