At first light, at first sight and at first read, the news seemed to be a page out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. But Lanka was forced to believe it, like it or lump it, when Russia announced its decision to cut down on its 400 million dollars worth of Ceylon Tea imports from [...]


Beetle in a tea crate raises storm over lifting ban on cancer causing asbestos


At first light, at first sight and at first read, the news seemed to be a page out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. But Lanka was forced to believe it, like it or lump it, when Russia announced its decision to cut down on its 400 million dollars worth of Ceylon Tea imports from Lanka, all because they had found a single beetle in a crate that carried Lanka’s economic bread and butter.

Never in the field of human commerce, perhaps, would so many have faced losing so much due to one small beetle.
But why did one beetle get Russia’s goat? That is the 400 million dollar mystery and question. One that those who blame Lanka’s woes on the western world and claim it’s all due to some international capitalistic conspiracy but look to Moscow as their Marxist Mecca should ask themselves.

Last week the Russian authorities stated that they have found one beetle in a container carrying Ceylon Tea. The Russian agricultural safety watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor said last Thursday that Russia will place temporary restrictions on imports of all agricultural products from Sri Lanka, including tea, from Dec. 18. The watchdog said it had taken the decision to impose restrictions after it found one insect, known as the Khapra beetle, in one consignment of tea from Sri Lanka.

But the tea in that one crate was securely packed as stated by Lanka. The beetle may have been found in the same crate – and that is possible for this particular pest is known to seek out cracks and crevices in burlap bags, sacks, crates, rail cars, ship holds and trucks, where they can remain hidden for years. But how could this 1.6–3 mm tiny insect have pierced its way into the packaging? The chances are it could not have.

But the worry for the Russians is not over whether its singular presence will spoil their cup of tea but of the danger it may pose to their favourite tipple Vodka which is traditionally made from fermented grains such as sorghum, corn, rice, rye or wheat, though you can also use potatoes, fruits or even just sugar. Therein lies the fear and rub. For this creepy crawly Khapra is a crop killer and the Russian phobia is that the beetle, whose staple diet is grains, could have attacked Russia’s vast growing fields and turned the entire land mass into a Siberia and denied the masses their food and drink.

Not that this particular lone Lankan Khapra could have waged a one beetle Rambo style biological warfare against the grain fields of Russia. Given that the life span of the Khapra is not more than 10 days it would have been dead on arrival after its long sea voyage. The problem is with its larvae which can take years to develop if the temperature falls below 25°C. Then they may enter diapause. In diapause, the larvae can molt but are inactive and may remain in this condition for many years and then emerge to wreak its havoc.

But it takes a female beetle to lay the eggs. And thus the first question Lanka should have asked Russia – was the single Khapra found in the tea consignment male or female?

Yet, whatever the sex of the beetle may have been, every year Russia imports millions of tons of grain. In crop year 2016/2017, Russia’s cereal imports amounted to 1.37 million metric tonnes of cereals which are the favourite food of the Khapra beetle. Would the Russians say they have not found a single beetle – male or female, not a single larva active or dormant, in any of these grain shipments it has made over the years? That if one had been found they have taken steps to ban all future imports from the country of origin? The normal course of action nations, for instance Canada, have taken is to reject the entire shipment in toto, not ban or place restrictions on future imports.

So is it the beetle that’s bugging Russia to take this radical step against Lanka or does the Kremlin have a bee in their bonnet over Lanka’s decision to ban the import of asbestos from Russia, and continues to protest incessantly over its shock and horror, given that Russia is one of the world’s largest asbestos exporters?

According to the Minister of Plantations Navin Dissanayake the presence of the pest is only a decoy to give the Russians an excuse to exercise economic blackmail. He may have a point. And if so it is one of the worst incidents of economic arm twisting international trade has witnessed in recent years where a major power has used an insect to gain an elephantine killing on its export profits. The fact that the beetle was spotted just two weeks before the Lankan asbestos ban comes into effect cannot be ruled out as a mere co incidence, now can it?

FROM LANKA WITH LOVE: The Khapra beetle that created a storm in Russia’s tea cup and a hole in Lanka’s pocket

In 2015, President Maithripala declared – to a wave of environmentalists’ applause – that his government will ban the use of cancer causing asbestos from the 1st of January 2018. The decision made by President Maithripala Sirisena, in his capacity as the Minister of Environment, to control the use and import of asbestos from 2018 with it finally being phased out by 2024 was approved by the Cabinet last year in September.

But this week in the face of the Russian threat to restrict or even ban Ceylon tea imports, the president was forced to go back on his pledge to save the Lanka people from asbestos dust in the dawning New Year. He announced that the planned ban set to come into effect on January 1st will be suspended indefinitely till further notice. And it has led to a storm of protest from environmentalists and others with parliamentarian Ven Rathana Thera warning the government that he will be compelled to launch a protest campaign if the government sticks to its decision to relax the ban on Asbestos,” with him leading the march.

The problem with asbestos is that it is so hard to destroy asbestos fibers. The human body cannot break them down or remove them once they are lodged in lung or body tissues. They remain in place where they can cause disease, especially lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis which is a serious, chronic, non-cancerous respiratory disease. Inhaled asbestos fibers aggravate lung tissues, which cause them to scar.

Mesothelioma has occurred in the children of asbestos workers whose only exposures were from the dust brought home on the clothing of family members who worked with asbestos. The younger the people are when they inhale asbestos, the more likely they are to develop mesothelioma. This is why enormous efforts have been and are being taken to prevent school children from being exposed to asbestos dust.

Since 1987 importation of blue asbestos has been prohibited as it was identified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization and at present all kinds of asbestos, including white asbestos have since then also been identified as carcinogens by the UN body.

According to the World Health Organization all types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs). Currently about 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace. In 2004, asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis from occupational exposures resulted in 107,000 deaths and 1,523,000 Disability Adjusted Life Years In addition, several thousands of deaths can be attributed to other asbestos-related diseases, as well as to non-occupational exposures to asbestos.

But given Lanka’s pecuniary plight, can this nation adopt the stance of the worm that turned and defy the Russian Bear? Especially when it voted this week supporting the UN resolution on Jerusalem and became the mouse that roared against the American Bald Eagle?

Taking on one super power may be bad enough. Taking on two at the same time may seem careless. And can lead to catastrophic consequences. In the New Year, the Lankan government will have to use all its diplomatic efforts and skills to ward off the storm set to blow from both Russia and America.

The Prince and Meghan: All because of this crazy little thing called Love

Meghan’s 12 million buck engagement gown raises Brits’ brows both for its high cost and for its daring

He is Britain’s most eligible bachelor. Well, at least he was until he announced his engagement to a woman across the Atlantic coming from a background as different and as wide as the ocean that separates London from New York. But what does it matter when this crazy little thing called Love makes even a Prince of the Realm bite the dust to seek bliss in chalk to his cheese.

His grandmother is the Queen of England. His father Prince of Wales, next in line to the throne of that sceptered isle of Britain. His elder brother waiting his time and turn to assume the British throne thereafter. And he, himself, the sixth in line to the throne. Not bad a pedigree, when you come to thinks of it, is it now? Even though Britain has fallen on hard times, and is now as common as the common market they voluntarily exited from last year, royal blood still counts.

But is he truly royal, with blue blood throbbing through his veins? Poor Harry. For the last few years he has lived under a cloud of rumour and calumny that he may not have royal blood at all, that he is not Charles’ son but the illegitimate son of Diana and her bodyguard married father of two Barry Mannakee. Especially after Diana admitted to the affair in a series of videos which became public earlier this year when Channel 4 aired the documentary titled Diana: In her own words.

ROYAL COVER UP: Official photograph released on Thursday of the royal couple’s engagement reveal Megan in nude-colored lining to make the see through 56,000 pound Ralph & Russo gown more modest

She said “I was deeply in love with him, I was playing with fire and I got burned. But I never had sex with him. I was quite happy to give it all up… just to go off and live with him. Can you believe it? And he kept saying he thought it was a good idea too.” Mannakee, who was 40 at the time, was killed in a road crash three weeks after he was removed from his post in 1987. Diana claimed that he had been murdered. She said: It was all found out and he was chucked out and then he was killed. And that was the biggest blow of my life I must say. ”
And she, Meghan?

Well, though she was not born with a royal tiara upon her head, still none will deny that she has earned a few dubious diamonds to make her Harry’s best friend as wife, hopefully, for life.

For starters, she’s American. And divorced. She’s also three years older than him. She’s also half black. But there’s more. She’s also an actress. A small time TV one at that. She has also appeared semi nude. And now, splashed across the front pages of the world’s newspapers, are photographs which reveal Meghan Markle sparkle in topless glory to be viewed by every lecherous eye. If that’s okay for a prince, why should it not be okay for frogs, you might as well ask? As Harry told the BBC in an interview last month, his late mother, Princess Diana, would have been “over the moon” about the pair’s engagement.
On Thursday the couple released two photographs of their engagement. The Ralph & Russo gown was a daring number for the future member of the royal family, but braless Markle opted for a nude-colored lining to make the see through dress more modest. London’s Daily Star wrote, “Prince Harry’s fiancé Meghan Markle left fans goggle-eyed yesterday when she ditched her bra for the sauciest official pictures ever released by the Royal Family” and headlined the story ‘Saucy Meg’s Royal Flash’.

The price: 56,000 British pounds or nearly twelve million Lankan bucks. This had a Daily Mail columnist writing, “Not for Meghan a nice bit of LK Bennett or even a Catherine Walker. Oh no. This is from the stable of Ralph & Russo, a label deliberately created to help the very rich dispose of their cash by dreaming up ever more extravagant ways of stitching together a few pieces of fabric”. Britain’s best selling daily The Sun slammed the extravagant price of the one off dress saying, ‘its £56,000 price tag is equivalent to a three-bedroom house in Hull or double the average annual UK salary’.
Eighty years ago Harry’s great grand uncle Edward the Seventh, King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Empire, and Emperor of India, from 20 January 1936 was forced to abdicate the throne of England when he chose love placed in his heart than to the crown placed upon his head. Times certainly were different then.

But then, of course, Edward was the Prince of Wales, directly in line to the throne when he began his affair with Mrs. Wallis Simpson. And neither was he a nerd. Before he met her he had already established his credentials as a womanizer, who could wake many a sleeping married woman with a kiss from his lips, The world was his oyster, and many a young debutant, the prized realm’s cream of Britain’s aristocratic society, awaited the honour for him to crack the pearl’s shell.

And, when he became king on the death of his father, he wished to have his crumpet and eat it too, the British establishment would have none of it. He had the support of Winston Churchill to canvass the case for him but even the old bull dog who within ten years would win the war for England with his morale soaring oratory, could not save the king his throne and had to make do with writing the King’s ”The Heart Has its Reasons” abdication speech and make the last of the romantic king of England say ”I cannot discharge the burdens of my office as king without the love and support of the woman I love.“
You also may ask, but Edward was king, and that was different. Presently Prince Harry, formally called Prince Henry of Wales, is fifth in line for the throne, but as soon as William and Kate’s new baby is born in 2018 Harry will be bumped to sixth place and it’s a little farfetched to think that he will ever be King. True. But when you consider the vicissitudes of Britain’s Royal Family, can the possibility be ruled out?

Queen Elizabeth II is only Queen today because Wallis Simpson grabbed the heart and bedded Edward VII. When Elizabeth was born she was the third in line to the throne. Her father, the stammering Bertie, never expected he would ever be king of England. And he was quite glad to remain in the wings. But Wallis changed all that. And thrust the present royal family into the limelight.

But why Edward VII became King is also due to a remarkable quirk of fate. His great grandmother Victoria was never born to be Queen but rather a humble seventh in line to the royal throne. No one expected her to rise beyond her seventh status. But the fates had plans for her. And made her queen at the age of eighteen.

DAILY STAR: Front page

As the SUNDAY PUNCH wrote two years ago when the present queen broke Queen Victoria’s 63 year record as Britain’s longest reigning monarch, if a twist of fate brought Elizabeth to the throne of England, then it had been a concerted campaign waged by kismet that brought her great grandmother Victoria to the throne and placed her there to occupy it for a record 63 years which Elizabeth surpassed last week. Here the Fates played an even more remarkable role in securing the crown for her killing off any possible contender to the crown, even before her birth. Consider the remarkable rise from relative insignificance to the pinnacle of the British monarchy of Victoria.

VICTIMS 1 AND 2 Victoria’s father was the fourth son of King George III. In 1817 a succession crisis broke out when the only legitimate grandchild Princess Charlotte of Wales, the daughter of the Prince Regent George, suddenly died. Had she outlived both her grandfather King George III and her father, she would have become Queen of the United Kingdom, but she died following childbirth at the age of 21. The baby boy who would have become the heir to the throne was still born. This immediately brought pressure on Victoria’s father and his unmarried brother Clarence to rush into marriage and produce an heir to keep the dynasty alive.

Thus when she was born two years later in 1819, she was fifth in line to the throne after her father, who was fourth, and his three elder brothers. Her position thus was precarious. If her father’s eldest brother, the Prince Regent who would be king produced an heir, Victoria would be shunted further down the line. The birth of two daughters to Clarence, another elder brother of her father, did exactly that. She was now in 7th place. In betting parlance the filly was not ranked as an outsider but as a no hoper.

VICTIMS 3 AND 4: But the wives of her father’s eldest brother the Prince Regent and the one next, the Duke of York, were past the age of child bearing. Only the third brother, the Duke of Clarence, who had married in the same year as her father, and would succeed to the throne before him, produced two daughters. The eldest was born in the same year as Victoria and the other was born in the following year. But, alas, both died in their infancy. Victoria was restored to No 5 again.
VICTIM 5: Victoria’s father died in 1829 a week after King George had died. The Prince Regent became king as George the IV. With her father’s demise, now she was No 4.
VICTIM 6: The childless Duke of York died in 1827. With every death Victoria was climbing up the ladder. Now she was No 3.
VICTIM 7: King George kicked the bucket in 1830 and was succeeded by his only surviving brother William. Now Vitoria was No 2 in line to the throne. She became Heiress Presumptive. A special Regency Act was passed in 1830 to make Victoria’s mother the Regent in case William should die whilst Victoria was still a minor. King William, however, did not trust Victoria’s mother’s capacity to act as Regent and told her that he intended to live until Victoria’s 18th birthday so that the regency could be avoided.
VICTIM 8: On May 24th 1837, Victoria turned eighteen years and the regency became redundant. King William’s wish was granted. Within a month, on the 20th of June 1837, he died, Victoria became the Queen of England, a position she would hold for 63 years until her death in January 1901. From May 1876, she had the additional title of Empress of India – something the present British queen never had.
Thus from being way down the line to claim the British throne, Victoria was inexorably pushed up the ladder to reach the top most rung. Unlike the present Queen Elizabeth II, Victoria was no mere constitutional monarch reduced to being nothing more than a showy fixture on the British landscape. She came to the throne when Britain had become the greatest empire the world had ever seen, an Empire upon which the sun never set.

So perhaps Harry may have his day too; and Meghan, the half black American divorcee of topless fame three years elder to him may well end up as Queen Meghan, the Royal Consort of King Harry. And the Royal Family itself may end up as common as the rest of the British people. And all because of this crazy little thing called Love.


The Star of Bayt Lahm

THE MAGI FROM THE EAST: Following Star of Bayt Lahm, the Star of Bethlehem

As three wise men rode their camels that night
And gazed at a star that shone above bright
Eclipsing the rest with God’s light sublime
The star the Lord dawned – The Star of Bayt Lahm
A star to enlight the dark of man’s night
And lead them all from blight to godly light
Thus did the Good Lord shed His light sublime
With the star of Good Hope –Star of Bayt Lahm
To herald his son’s great birth on this earth
And show to those who could discern his worth
He blazoned in the celestial clime
The sun He named as the Star of Bayt Lahm
Sent from heaven to save accursed mankind
The Lord illumined with starlight divine
To herald in that clime and in that time
The advent of His son with star Bayt Lahm
The SUNDAY PUNCH wishes you all a very Happy Christmas.

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