Archive for » July, 2012 «

The price of blood – 2


(or,‘Economists know the price of everything and the value of nothing.’)


Body fluids

Some people donate blood, while others ‘donate’ for cash. The former, driven by a spirit quite alien to the rest, feel bad about taking blood money. They are slow learners in the new market economy. There was once a time when blood was only offered free and was not seen as a commodity that could be sold. A card issued to ‘blood donors’ was cherished and quietly shown to others with great pride.

The world is now more properly tutored. Nothing is priceless any more. What, if not priceless, is a gift of your blood, given only that an unknown person may live? It instantly lost its unique value when others began to be paid for theirs.

Blood is now rather more like sweat, which has for centuries had its price.

Tears became a commodity long after sweat. Organized money-making using tears to provoke conflict, loosen purse strings or win political support is more of a latter day phenomenon. Attaching a price to blood (or the shedding of other bodily juices) is one more example of the unnoticed blight robbing us of our humanity.

Could there ever have ever been a time, distant past, when sweat too was not for sale, given only of compassion? People of one kind of mindset find it awful that a man may charge his son for helping to build his house, or parent pays child for services rendered. For others it is only natural.

Imagine a world where one could win the labour of others only for love. The tide flows now in the opposite direction. Soon, no bodily fluid will be shed or shared free – whether for stranger or lover, family or neighbour.

Some labours do not raise a sweat nowadays, for they are conducted in premises maintained at exactly the right temperature: various factory jobs or sex work, for instance. Although sexual toil in posh premises may not raise a sweat, it does call forth its own juices. These secretions too may in some earlier era never have been shed for money – akin to how blood, sweat and tears too may then have then been offered.  Shed only for compassion or love, caring or service.

What could possibly surpass sex as a labour of love? We may have lost more than we gained by making sexual pleasure an easily procured commodity. It’s not at all clear that we haven’t already passed the point where the larger part of sexual activity is lovemaking as labour and not labour of love.


The changing world order

The world order teaches, and having taught takes control. We are all enlightened into accepting the evident truths, the instruments of learnt conformity. One contemporary truth has it that everything has its price. You and I aren’t capable of assigning the right price but experts can easily cast in dollars or yen, pounds or renminbi, the cost of a pint of blood.

These anonymous specialists have a name. They are collectively called, ‘the market’ although they don’t admit to it. The rest of us too had better get on the world stage fast and learn to play (with) the market. If not, we shall be consigned to pining for a time when ‘the market’ meant something quite different from the surreptitious workings of a hidden cartel. To hanker for an older order is death – or senility, which comes close. It’s time to take control of the present.

They, the market, price a pint of a North American’s blood well above an Afghan’s. We know that sweat too varies widely in worth, as do tears. Especially tears. Sinhala tears are worth a small fraction of those Tamil, in the world market. Assignment of price can rapidly change, we Tamils and Sinhalese will learn, as Pakistanis have found out (too late?). Most Indians are likely aware of where their fortunes are being guided, without their consent. But what can they do if their PM is inclined to sell them short? Ordinary Iraqis paid the price for Saddam Hussein being bought by the market. But what could they do?

How many dollars did various powerful patrons, ever willing to help us fight to win our legitimate rights, earn for every teardrop shed in the strife they sponsored here? There must have been something to be made from our Tamil and Sinhala tears for them to have given us the attention we got. Muslim tears, whether Sri Lankan or European, count for naught in that global marketplace. Tears of people Christian – even if they were labelled black, or classified Timorese or Egyptian – are priced high in that big bazaar. At least for the present, while the organized church to which they belong remains tamed. Things would change in an instant, should the cathedrals too convert to Christ. (Heaven forbid!)

We do not know how to price a pint of blood, but they, the market, do.


Lab blood

We possess the technology to produce blood in a laboratory. Or mice, or creatures yet unknown.  Let’s now set up the required machinery to produce the perfect pint of blood. Once in operation, it would produce a pint for the cost of little more than the ingredients or raw materials, likely very cheap. My guess is that the laboratory blood will be priced at many thousand times what mere human ‘donors’ are paid. It may cost more to feed a human the raw material needed to make a pint of blood than to shove the necessary ingredients into a machine. But the price of the product will be quite another matter, you can be sure.

Let’s say that this is not due to greater demand for the machine-made blood by individuals who are averse to allowing tainted human blood into their system. The numbers who’d rather die than be contaminated by hellish human products being infused into them is likely too small to drive the price of our new lab blood to astronomical levels. But you can bet that the laboratory blood will be unaffordable to those who most need it. The people called the market have their own ways of determining price.

The market sets value by the cost of machinery, the investments made by enterprising entrepreneurs (ever willing to take business risks with their billions that you and I aren’t with ours), the development of technology, marketing and the like. These demand a good enough return to make the investors into billionaires (oops, trillionnaires) – a few more times over. The simple minded aren’t able to assess the various technological and intellectual costs inherent in entrepreneurial risk-taking. These can be assigned the appropriate price only by those in the know.

But the financial experts never compute the costs of producing the human machine, that currently manufactures blood for the market. Or sweat, tears and other secretions. That’s just another feature of their comprehensive training.

How indeed does the expert know the price that she should rightly pay for a pint of a poor man’s blood?





Commonplace killing


The long lead story on BBC news today demanded comment. I inserted them in red, within excerpts of the original. And I italicized the BBC statements to which I refer.

21 July 2012 Last updated at 03:35 GMT

Batman cinema shooting: US mourns Aurora victims

A candlelit vigil  (I wonder whether these community events sometimes help disconnected and uncaring communities feel better than if the devastation had never happened?)  has been held in Aurora, Colorado, as the US begins to mourn the 12 people killed by a gunman at a showing of the new Batman film, the Dark Knight Rises.

US President Barack Obama ordered flags flown at half mast. (See? He truly cares.)

A man in a gas mask  and body armour  threw tear gas canisters at a midnight screening, then fired on the crowd, killing 12 and injuring 58.


At the Queen of Peace Roman Catholic church, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila told mourners: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. The heart of our Father is stronger than the bullets that killed 12 people.”  (Hmm..)

In a briefing at the end of a difficult day in Colorado, an emotional Governor John Hickenlooper (we must remember to re-elect him) confirmed that the casualty figure had been revised down one, to 70 people killed or injured.

“It’s an act that defies description. (If you look in the wrong place, you will find no explanation. One small possible underlying cause – free and ready availability of guns – has inexplicably been allowed to infiltrate this reporter’s analysis. Even that’s a surprise. The reporter may not allude to any possible deeper malaise.)  Everyone I’ve talked to all day is filled with an anger that can’t find focus,” he said.

Aurora police chief Dan Oates said the attempt to defuse complex booby-traps, explosive devices and “things that look like mortar rounds” at Mr Holmes’s home (A feather in the cap for that Norwegian role-model Brevik) had been abandoned for the night, with federal government experts due to arrive on Saturday. “I’ve personally never seen anything like what we’ve found in there,” the police chief said.

James Holmes was said to be armed with a rifle, a shotgun and two pistols when he launched his assault. All weapons and ammunition were bought legally within the past few months, (How likely is this juxtaposition to be found in mainstream US reporting?) Mr Oates said.

Authorities have established no terrorism link, nor any motive, (Whew, such a relief. No political motive. We can all relax now instead of seeking desperate guarantees of future security.)  and Mr Holmes had no criminal record in Aurora.


It was horribly familiar – as 13 years ago dozens were killed and injured at Columbine High School, just 20 miles away. (Which too was thankfully found not to be due to terrorism – allowing us to breathe a sigh of relief and get back to our nice and normal lives.)

There had been calls then for greater gun control, but people here love their weapons and those used in the cinema were all bought legally. (again not likely to be highlighted in US reports.) There’s still no indication of what caused the attacker to strike in such a carefully planned and clinical way. (The reporter does later hint that the ‘cause’ possibly hovers in the preceding sentence. He needed to look only a little further to notice lots more.)


The film’s director, Christopher Nolan, issued a statement expressing his horror.

“The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place  (This rings true and probably reflects a genuine inability to see the norms that his ‘hopeful place’ may be helping to establish, worldwide. I have not seen, nor read about, this Batman film but wouldn’t be surprised if it incidentally normalized, if not glorified, exactly the kind of action that the film’s director condemns here. Cinema violence is OK as long as the designated bad guys too in the end are killed, preferably violently. This may well be view of 99% regarding wider society too.)  in such an unbearably savage way (Those who have seen the film will, I guess, attest that the film itself  isn’t at all savage. Any  brutality in films is only an escape from reality anyway.)  is devastating to me,” Nolan said.

“Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families.” (Again, cliché on cue.

The President of the US and all hopeful politicians are also obliged to echo these tired sentiments. How embarrassed are they, I wonder, at having run out of all options to make statements sound sincere?

This is not a day for politics.‘ He can add: ‘This is a day when all Americans of whatever creed or color must come together to overcome the unbearable pain searing our collective soul and the insidious doubts gnawing at our most cherished beliefs.’

My guess is they will not pull out variations on the other exhausted theme, ‘To demonstrate to our cowardly enemies, as we stand together here to affirm, that our great nation is not cowed. It wasn’t yesterday, it isn’t today and shall not be tomorrow.’  

The enemies addressed are forever external. They cannot easily be recognized within, and never within the speaker.)

Despite a strong past academic record, James Holmes was in the process of withdrawing from a doctoral programme in neuroscience (it wouldn’t do to present him as a current doctoral student, would it?) at the University of Colorado-Denver.

One neighbour told Agence France-Presse that Mr Holmes “was always wearing camouflage pants”, adding: “We did not know him well because he talked to nobody. He was always locked up behind his door.” (So they managed to find what they were looking for – something to show that Holmes matched the stereotype. Again, so predictable. Holmes must be portrayed a weirdo who always stood out, so different from our oh-so-normal selves.

Let’s not look in the US police or armed forces, corporate or government sectors or the ‘legal system’ – or in those of other countries, for that matter – for people who may today be no different from what he was last week. This dude mistakenly went to university instead of joining the army or the tobacco company.)

His family said in a written statement: “Our hearts go out to those who were involved in this tragedy and to the families and friends of those involved. We ask that the media respect our privacy during this difficult time.” (Most of those they are appealing to will be of generous enough spirit to recognize, respect and respond compassionately to this family’s plight.

Few in the population at large will want to go beyond dismissing as a politically-driven twisting of reality, any claim that Mr Holmes too is a terrible victim.

To do that they have to do the impossible – examine critically the ethos they subscribe to, and work relentlessly to establish universally.)


One woman known to have been killed was Jessica Ghawi, also known as Jessica Redfield, an aspiring broadcaster and a regular blogger.

In June, Ms Ghawi, 24, narrowly missed being caught in a shooting rampage in Toronto, leaving the scene five minutes before a man opened fire at the Eaton Centre shopping mall(I am sure this lady would have been far more terrified of future risk, had the Eaton Centre killer she escaped been classified a ‘terrorist’.)



He threw two tear gas grenades then opened fire with a rifle. There was chaos as movie-goers fled, some dressed in costume as heroes and villains. (So easily identified apart, aren’t they?)


Colorado gun laws

  • Residents allowed to keep guns in homes, offices and vehicles, but can only carry them in public with a permit
  • There are no limits to how many guns can be bought a month, and the state permits sale of automatic weapons
  • No waiting period for buying a handgun, both state and federal state law requires criminal background checks
  • Since 1998 Columbine massacre, 20 miles from scene of Friday’s shooting, it has become easier to buy guns in US – a national ban on assault weapons sale expired in 2004

(Come, come, BBC – this is an unbecoming attempt to present a caricature of reality in a ‘mainstream’ medium allowed free access to Americans.  You almost equate the actions of a nutter with those of the nice people who sell guns and support both Mr Obama and Mr Romney.

Vigilant media watchdogs must quickly trace the bigots responsible for this journalistic jugglery and do their quiet thing to deny them any opportunity to re-offend.)


Informed of the massacre at dawn, President Obama briefly addressed a campaign rally before returning to the White House to address the situation. (Go, oh courageous and decisive leader – feed James to the drones !)

“There are going to be other days for politics,” he said.  (See? After briefly addressing a campaign rally, having been ‘informed of the massacre at dawn) “This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection. (What is Obama capable of truly reflecting on, I wonder?)



Almost as if to drive home the point, another lead story on the same day’s BBC news is:

21 July 2012 Last updated at 01:34 GMT

Rezwan Ferdaus admits US model plane explosives plot

An American supporter of al-Qaeda has pleaded guilty to trying to blow up the Pentagon and US Capitol with explosives-laden remote-controlled model planes.  (

(See? We can all sleep more easily now.)





The price of blood

(or,‘Economists know the price of everything and the value of nothing.’)



Some people do donate blood,

while others give for cash.

The former, driven by gentle urge,

think blood money is trash.



There was a time not long ago

when blood was always free.

An era that came well before our new economy.

Could there ever have been a time,

when tears were not for sale?

Nor even sweat?


How much dough did indeed flow

to supporters outside

(ever willing to help us fight, to win our legit rights)

for every teardrop shed, in their sponsored strife?


Quite a fancy price we’d get

had we a factory

producing perfect blood.

Put it together inside me

and they get it almost free,

far cheaper than a simple chip in most machinery.


We are now so open-minded

that priceless things are priced.


How does the expert trained to cost,

work out the price of a pint of blood?


Craft it naturally

and few hundred bucks we get.

Machine made and the price they’d fix

is many thousands instead.


They know the price of everything

but the value of nothing, we sigh.

Though cast as slight, it nicely hides

a monumental lie.


It is true they do not recognize

the value of whatever.

We should have seen they never knew

the price of anything either.



The price of vegetables



Essential or luxury?


The cost of a kilogram of carrots has gone up to around 180 rupees during the last week, compared to about 80 rupees two months ago, at the same vendors’. The fruit ‘ambarella’, also cookable as a vegetable, sells at 90 rupees today compared to 50 during the last season. What theory or theories of economics help explain this occurrence? Are any of the theories better than our uneducated guesses at predicting notable rises or falls in prices? And does understanding economic theory allow us scope to control the size and direction of price changes? They should, of course, if the theory were valid. A tiny possibility exists though that economic theories are totally arbitrary constructions, which don’t really apply to the real world – and don’t even have to. We could then as easily have chosen different rules to live by, since the ones we are taught are no more than articles of faith. (Ah, but whose faith?)


How indeed have vegetable prices gone up of late? The most obvious answer is that the drought in some parts of the country has led to reduced yields. The economic laws of supply and demand operate unrelentingly and, given the simple operation of a free market, lead to increases in price. Markets have to be unnaturally or forcibly controlled to keep prices low in the face of such curtailment of supply or of increased demand. Such interference with market forces leads to bad consequences. Vegetable prices go up due to the operation of universal laws beyond human control, we are to understand. In this case, the simple law of supply and demand economics underlies the price rise.


We experienced some months ago an escalation in vegetable prices as a result of an increase in the cost of fuel. The increased transport cost when divided by the total load in a container could have accounted for an extra two rupees or so for every kilogram of vegetables, say. But natural economic forces operated and the extra price the consumer had to pay went up by ten to fifteen rupees. Supply-demand reductionists could argue that the price should not really change at all, as the quantum of vegetables delivered and the demand by consumers remain unchanged. Why do market forces not keep prices unchanged, when supply and demand have not changed? Well, we must now qualify our supply-demand paradigm and include things like cost of production and transport. Some would argue that it is primarily the cost of production, packaging, marketing and transport that mostly determine price. New medications are horribly expensive during the time they are protected by patent because they naturally cover the huge costs incurred by kindly pharmaceutical giants in research and development.


How then did the price of ambarella go up recently? The cost of production for the man who markets his crop of the versatile fruit-vegetable is virtually nil. The tree sits untended in his garden and chooses each season to produce more or less fruit. He sells part of it to the local vendor and the costs incurred harvesting and transporting the fruit is minimal. Despite a better yield in other ambarella trees in the area as well, the price has risen sharply. No increase in production and transport costs, far greater yield all over – but the price rises.


This is not at all a problem for our economic theories. The supply-demand force rather than the one of cost of production and delivery can again be pulled out. The generic vegetable scarcity boosts the price of the now abundant ambarella crop, as it is in greater demand due to alternative vegetables now being scarce. The market has created an increased demand for the class of product that our man too supplies. He then benefits from the overall scarcity of vegetable. Knowing that vegetables are scarce he ups his asking price. The free market works in this way. Price is determined also by how much people are willing to pay.


Now we should all take an interest in this business, for our lives are strongly influenced by the operation of apparently natural universal economic forces and laws. Better understanding may help us better handle our finances or even alter our consumer behaviour to bring prices down. Well, not really. Demand may be in the hands of consumers to control, no doubt, but the power to price shall never be. All we can find are after the fact explanations of events.


Our local ambarella man carries some of his produce to the vegetable vendor expecting to get more than double the 30 rupees he was paid for ‘a kilo’ last year, when the vendor was selling at 50. Since the vendor got a profit of 20 rupees at the time, and given the current market price of 90 rupees, our man believes he can net over 60 rupees a kilo now. Imagine his surprise when the vendor makes a counter offer of 30 rupees this time round too. Discussion allows our man to negotiate only an increase of a further 3 rupees. Having no knowledge of the laws of economics and how they operate, he offloads his bounty at 33 rupees a kilo.


An ‘educated’ and kindly neighbour, better informed of how economic forces operate, explains to the simpler man that he has been had. He asks the man to take a sample of the stock from next week’s pluck to another seller and negotiate the price beforehand. Our man does so and the offer from a vendor a little further away is 30 rupees. That man too sells at 90. The neighbour takes pity and offers to drive our simpleton around, to help him locate other vendors who will give our man the appropriate price. The best offer he raises is 32.


We know that the unfettered market always finds the right answer and provides both consumers and producer the fairest possible deal. To distort its smooth operation is to invite economic collapse. The market works in mysterious ways and helps the other, infinitely more powerful, mysterious operator fashion the perfect world.

Let us be patient.

In the meantime, have faith.

Waiting for the Olympics


Has not anyone told you yet, she’s counting the days for the Olympics? Or that he’s waiting impatiently for the next test match to start? They have told me, in different words and at different times. But why? So they can observe the spectacle live, savour the moment of challenge virtually first hand. On screen.

There are others who pine for the next European football championship or, the pinnacle of screen-spectator pleasure, the next football world cup final. Would they not miss the fare that they avidly watch now? Nah, it’s so boring in comparison. One wouldn’t have guessed, from the diligence with which the allegedly boring television menu of today is chased, consumed and commented upon – in the absence of Olympian or test match competition. Or does all this simply show that the other pursuits we know, to murder the hours and years we’ve rendered useless, are even more tedious?

How about just going across to watch the next test match, live? Or play some real cricket. Savour the challenge, live. Huh?

Oh that would be deadly boring.  What would we do with no commercials to fill the time between overs?

Commercials are life saving, for they give meaning to life.




Dengue mosquito eradication


Mona Lisa


It is good to see committed effort now being put into the eradication of  ‘dengue mosquitoes’.  People who are concerned about the public welfare will be happy when the numbers newly infected come down.  Others, perennially stuck in a grumpy groove, will secretly be disappointed to see a decline.  They will publicly take no notice, while quietly striving to divert attention away from any good news.  None of us would think we belonged in this latter, gloomy, class – even if we happen in reality to be its patrons.

Let’s check the genuineness of our support for efforts at eradicating dengue, which we loudly proclaim. I propose we ask ourselves, our colleagues and various well-known and vociferous commentators on this subject to say whether they will applaud those carrying out the current eradication campaign, should they manage to reduce the incidence of dengue by a given amount.

It will make the people and agencies concerned redouble their efforts when they hear their usual detractors say, ‘Reduce dengue by such and such percentage and I shall sincerely and loudly praise you and not try somehow to denigrate your achievement or divert attention to an unconnected problem such as the AL exam marks or murders in Kahawatte and Katuwana (but of course not the leeway given to some media to promote tobacco to kids through resumed TV cartoon placements).  And should you exceed the target by a given amount I shall hold a special event to felicitate you publicly and desist for three months from defaming you through bogus accusations.’


New strategies

The people responsible for eradicating dengue will then be more vigorous in the exercise. They may even want to test new strategies that they haven’t yet added to their repertoire of responses. I too have a suggestion for them of my own.

I suspect we may get even better results than now by destroying only typical breeding sites and letting atypical ones remain. In fact, we should try to increase the number of atypical sites.

What do I mean by atypical breeding sites? These are breeding sites maintained under responsible supervision and drained at regular intervals. Such collections of water are found in many households. So, at the same time as we remove collections in cans, plastic containers, coconut shells and tyres, we also set up a system of identified containers with the appropriate mixture – for pregnant (or ‘gravid’) mosquitoes to locate easily. Having got them to deposit eggs where we want them to, it is an easy matter to empty the containers in rotation, every few days – well before the larvae mature into mosquitoes.

Let’s say we manage at present to destroy 95% of breeding sites. Confronted with the dearth of suitable locations, our pregnant lady mosquito is unlikely to drop off her eggs lazily on a dry stone. She instead searches diligently for the tiniest collections of water that escaped our campaigners. We may therefore do well by supplementing our eradication of typical breeding sites with the addition of scattered containers that we deliberately place at the right distances.  If we knew exactly the ingredients she liked most to see in these collections of water we could provide those in plenty, to make her choose our site with enthusiasm.


Mosquito breeding traps

A difficulty in making an added impact through such a measure is that we need to cover a sizeable area with a network of ‘artificially maintained’ sites. And it cannot have an impact if there are thousands of competing cans, coconut shells, blocked drains and the like in the vicinity. So the measure can only be useful as a supplement to clean-ups, not as a replacement. There is of course the major risk that our ‘artificial sites’ will not be drained regularly because the people entrusted to do so are irresponsible. We then end up having added to mosquito breeding opportunity instead of having seduced them with attractive facilities so as to kill their babies.

A solution to the latter problem was available through a product advertised by an entrepreneur in Aranayaka a decade or so ago. He advertised mosquito breeding traps constructed using the simple expedient of having a fine net touching the surface of the water. Mosquitoes would deposit eggs on the film of water above his net but larvae that went below to grow and develop could not escape the net as adults. The strategy provided a solution to the risk that people may forget to drain their breeding sites. But it was offered for interested individuals to use, and not accompanied by a clean up of the natural collections of water in the surroundings. Nor was it possible for scattered individuals to cover large enough territory with an adequate network of strategically placed breeding traps. A proper experiment in a wide enough territory is needed, to determine the optimal distances at which artificial sites can have an impact.



There is the potential for enhancement of this approach, through research on the chemical attractants that can draw gravid mosquitoes selectively to the ‘trap sites’. At present we can re-create the right medium for each species of mosquito by duplicating what it chooses for its larvae ‘in the wild’.  A little bit of applied chemistry will enable us to develop the pheromones that can entice female mosquitoes to seek out our distant killer sites over nearer alternatives hidden from our view. But we don’t have to wait for all that right now. We can simply test in a given area the possible benefit of supplementing the current clean up campaign with the provision of a network of killer breeding sites, employing the simple ingredients we can use right away. Water and a few dried leaves are enough to start with, for the dengue carrier.



At the same time as we contemplate the large scale destruction of mosquitoes, or their babies, we should spare a thought for people who find the idea of any deliberate killing repugnant.

“Kill (and thereby defy your precept) or be fined fifty thousand rupees.”   Is this a call to martyrdom?  Will it lead to vociferous demands for the right to practice religious precept, free of heavy handed state intervention forcing us to sin?   Quite unlikely I’d say – for it is the nature of gentle precept to avoid the use of force.