MedEx 2008 and memories

Faculty of Medicine at Colombo University has once again organized Sri Lanka’s key medical exhibition “MedEx” after 26 years, reports Colombo Page. The MedEx 2008 opened yesterday at the BMICH in Colombo and will be opened to public until Apr 1. (By the way, I remember seeing the last MedEx in 1982 as a Grade 9 student! Prof. Carlo Fonseka’s ‘fire walking’ demonstration was the best attraction

Science exhibitions play an important role in educating public on matters directly relevant to them – which they are not even aware of. Not all of us are fortunate enough to see the interiors of medical laboratories. Exhibitions are one successful way of bridging that information gap.

MedEx brings back two fond memories. The first one was the Ananda College Centenary exhibition in 1986, in which I too contributed as an A/L student. The project of our class was to demonstrate some of advanced chemical experiments, which normally could not be carried out in school laboratories. I am sure a large number of A/L and O/L students, especially from schools with little laboratory facilities benefitted from our work.ajith-jpg.jpg

Image: A photograph taken on the last day of the Ananda College Centenary exhibition. Hope you can recognise me in the front row with a set of test tubes in my hand.

The other memory is Gunther von Hagens’ BODY WORLDS the first anatomical exhibition of preserved human bodies, which was made available to the wide public. Since its initial installation in Japan in 1995, nearly 25 million visitors in over 40 cities in Asia, Europe, and North America have seen what is considered the world’s most successful travelling exhibition.

Each exhibition features more than 200 real human specimens, including whole-body plastinates, individual organs, organ configurations and transparent body slices.

Image: Isn’t this scary? What the man on left ‘exhibits’ is his own skin.

The exhibitions also allow visitors to see and better understand the long-term impact of diseases, the effects of tobacco consumption and the mechanics of artificial supports such as knees and hips.

The Bodyworlds exhibitions rely on the generosity of body donors; individuals who bequeathed that, upon their death, their bodies could be used for educational purposes in the exhibitions. Currently, the Institute for Plastination has a donor roster of 8000 individuals, 490 are already deceased.


Image: These specimen come from donors who want others to use their bodies for a good cause


Dear Leader, We Wish You Many Happy Returns of the Day!


Opposition leader and the leader of the United National Party celebrates his 59th birthday today.

Hon Ranil Shriyan Wickramasinghe MP LLB (born March 24, 1949) was Prime Minister twice, from May 7, 1993 to August 19, 1994 and from December 9, 2001 to April 6, 2004. He has also been the leader of the United National Party since November, 1994 and a member of the party since the early 1970s.


Wickramasinghe’s father was Esmond Wickramasinghe, an ex-Samasamajist and supremo of the Lake House group of newspapers. His paternal uncle Lakshman Wickramasinghe was later to be a much respected Bishop of the Church of Sri Lanka. His maternal line consisted of newspaper barons and landowners, the Wijewardenas, who were Sinhala Buddhists. His maternal grandfather was D.R. Wijewardena, the founder of the Lake House publishing empire.


Wickramasinghe was educated at Royal College, Colombo where he was a classmate and a good friend of Anura Bandaranaike, son of then Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike and Dinesh Gunawardena, son of socialist leader Philip Gunawardena. In spite of his inheritance, Wickramasinghe chose to pursue his higher education in his own country, entering the Faculty of Law at the University of Colombo. After graduation he completed the law exams at the Sri Lanka Law College and took oaths as an attorney-at-law. Of all the Presidents and Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka, Wickramasinghe is the only person to graduate from a local university, the remainder either having degrees from foreign universities or no university education at all.

Political career

A successful lawyer, Wickramasinghe joined the United National Party (UNP) and progressed through its youth and bar ranks. Wickramasinghe was appointed as the chief organizer of the Kelaniya Parliamentary seat in the mid 1970s but was later installed as the chief organizer of the Biyagama seat which he won in the 1977 Parliamentary Elections.

He was installed as the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in the new government and was soon promoted to the post of Minister of Youth Affairs and Employment which made him the youngest cabinet minister of Sri Lankan history to date, during is term he created the Sri Lanka National Guard. He introduced the National Youth Services Council (NYSCO) which provides vocational and career training to thousands of school leavers. Wickramasinghe was later made the Minister of Education. As the education minister, he could made a visible positive difference in the standards of education and could build an image as an achiever. Wickramasinghe was also behind distributing television sets to thousands of remote schools in Sri Lanka.

Under the Presidency of Ranasinghe Premadasa, Wickramasinghe was appointed as the Minister of Industry and Leader of the House under which he initiated the Industrial reforms and established the Biyagama Special Economic Zone. Wickramasinghe had competition from his intellectual colleagues Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake, who had been rivals of President Premadasa. However, he outmaneuvered both of them and many others and accordingly he was appointed the leader of house in 1989. On May 7, 1993 Wickramasinghe was sworn in as Prime Minister after President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated, by the Tamil Tigers.

In the 1994 Parliamentary Elections, the UNP lost to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance (PA) which ousted Wickramasinghe from the Prime Ministership. He also lost the race to be the Opposition Leader by 2 votes to fellow UNP member Gamini Dissanayake who just re-joined the party. This gave Gamini Dissanayake the default leadership of the party and made him the Presidential nominee of the UNP. The UNP was showing great spirit and strength under Gamini Dissanayake, when he too was assassinated by the Tamil Tigers. Gamini Dissanayake’s widowed wife Srima became the replacement candidate of the UNP and secured only 35% of the vote, losing to Chandrika Kumaratunga in all the Parliamentary seats in Sri Lanka apart from Mahiyangana. Afterwards Wickramasinghe was appointed as the Opposition Leader as well as the UNP leader.

As Opposition Leader Wickramasinghe undertook his party through a difficult time period where the UNP supported many of the good deeds of the government despite some members of his party asking him to be more aggressive. In 1999 President Kumaratunga called the Presidential Elections a year prior to its expiration in the hope of regaining and fortifying power in order to amend the constitution. Wickramasinghe was nominated as the UNP candidate.

After a tense election campaign in the wake of the violent North Western Provincial Council election, President Kumaratunga was attacked by the Tamil Tigers in an attempt on her life in which she lost her right eye. In the election held 2 days later (December 21, 1999), amidst a wave of sympathy, Chandrika Kumaratunga received 51% of the total votes to be re-elected for her second and final term.

In 2001 Sri Lanka underwent severe losses in the warfront and only managed a highly unsatisfactory -1% economic growth rate, the first ever negative growth in the country’s history. By the end of the year a some members of the PA government led by S. B. Dissanayake a senior Minister of the PA government, and Deputy Finance Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris left the PA to join the UNP thus destabilising the Parliamentary composition which led Kumaratunga to call for fresh elections. The United National Front (UNF), formed with the PA dissidents, the Sri lanka Muslim Congress and the Ceylon Workers’ Congress assumed power in the 2001 Parliamentary Elections held on December 10. Wickramasinghe’s UNP won all but 6 of the 22 Electoral Districts in Sri Lanka. Thus Ranil Wickramasinghe took oaths as the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka for the second time.

One of his first acts was to sign a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE rebels and start peace talks. This has resulted in a visible development of the country. The civil war came to a halt; the North and South of the island was linked after decades and millions of people benefited as a result. During Wickramasinghe’s second term he also re-energized the economy to reach an economic growth rate of 6% and managed to keep the inflation down, at 2% – the country’s lowest. His liberal economic policies stabilized the national economy. He also developed many international ties setup by him during his time in the Opposition. Sri Lanka underwent huge social changes during this period due to the ceasefire which made the country much accessible and open.

Wickramasinghe came under fiery criticism after a police officer, commonly perceived as a Wickramasinghe ally, exposed an elite Sri Lankan army LRRP unit, based in Colombo who were engaged in covert operations against the LTTE, on the accusation that the unit was deployed to assassinate Wickramasinghe. However, most of the information about this event is baseless and were created by the political opponents of Wickremesinghe, mainly the extremist JVP. During the Presidential Election campaign of 2005 Wickramasinghe addressed most of these concerns and proved these accusations were not correct.

By November 2003 the LTTE showed willingness to reenter the peace talks by proposing an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA), which was seen by some as a blueprint for peace. President Kumaratunga quickly shook off these proposals and assumed the Defense, Interior, and Media Ministries – which cut short the powers of the UNP regime. Soon the President Kumaratunga’s PA allied with radical socialists Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna to form the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and dissolved Parliament to call for new elections.

In the 2004 Parliamentary Elections held on April 02 Ranil Wickramasinghe’s UNF lost governmental office. The popular image of the UPFA candidate and his unrealistic but attractive promises like promising a 70% wage raise, tearing apart of the ceasefire agreement, lowering of the cost of living, employing the unemployed and reinstating the fertilizer subsidy. This left Wickramasinghe and his party a lot to think about and within such a small time they rebuilt the grassroots of the party and strengthened its position as the largest political party of Sri Lanka. Within 14 months of the assumption to power of the UPFA the radical JVP wing left the government destabilizing the government which has over 30 Parliamentarians short of the required majority.

In December 2004 Wickramasinghe was chosen by the United National Party as its Presidential candidate for 2005 Presidential Elections due in late 2005. The Supreme Court decided in August 2005 that the elections should be held this year despite the President’s argument that her term ends in 2006. Mahinda Rajapaksa, then Prime Minister, was appointed as the Presidential candidate of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

In the Presidential Election, held on November 17, 2005, Wickramasinghe was defeated narrowly by Mahinda Rajapaksa the Prime Minister at the time gaining 50.29% of the vote, while Wickramasinghe gained 48.43%. A majority of the minority Tamil population in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country who were largely expected to back Wickramasinghe were prevented from voting by the LTTE, who called for a boycott of the polls. 

ශ්‍රීමත් ආතර් සී ක්ලාක් මැතිතුමාගේ අභාවය ලෝකයට පිරිමැසිය නොහැකි පාඩුවක් – රනිල් වික්‍රමසිංහ Opposition leader appreciates the role played by Sir Arthur Clarke


ශ්‍රී ලංකාව සිය වාසභූමිය කර ගනිමින් මෙරටට මහත් ගෞරවයක් හිමිකර දුන් කීර්තිමත් ජාත්‍යන්තර විද්‍යා ලේඛක ශ්‍රීමත් ආතර් සී ක්ලාක් මැතිතුමාගේ අභාවය පිළිබඳ පුවත අසා මම අතිශයින්ම සංවේගයට පත් වීමි.
අනාගත ලෝකය පිළිබඳ අපූර්ව ආකාරයේ ප්‍රබන්ධකරණ රැසක නියැලෙමින් ශ්‍රීමත් ආතර් සී ක්ලාක් මැතිතුමා මුල් වරට ලෝක ජනතාවගේ සුවිශේෂ අවධානයට පාත්‍ර වූයේ මීට දශක පහකට පමණ එපිට වකවානුවකදීය.

අපගේ වත්මන් ජීවිතයේ විවිධ පැතිකඩ හා බැඳී පවතින පෘථිවි චන්ද්‍රිකා තාක්‍ෂණය පිළිබඳව මෙන් ම තවත් බොහෝ නූතන තාක්‍ෂණික සංසිද්ධීන් පිළිබඳ ලෝක අවධානය යොමු කරමින් ශ්‍රීමත් ආතර් සී ක්ලාක් මැතිතුමන් විසින් පත් කළ විද්‍යාත්මක අනාවැකි ලෝකයේ ගමන් මග වෙනස් හා වේගවත් කිරීමට සෘජු ලෙස ම ඉවහල් විය.

තමන් ලෝක අවධානය දිනා ගත් සුවිශේෂී හා සම්බාවනීය පුද්ගලයෙකු බවට පත් වෙමින් සිටියදීම ඉන්දියන් සාගරයේ පිහිටි ස්වාභාවික සම්පතින් පිරි ලංකාව සිය වාසස්ථානය කර ගැනීමට හා අනතුරුව තමන්ට හිමිවන බොහෝ අවස්ථා උපයෝගී කර ගනිමින් මෙරට කෙරෙහි ලෝක වාසීන්ගේ අවධානය යොමු කිරීමට ශ්‍රීමත් ආතර් සී ක්ලාක් මැතිතුමා තුළ පැවති නැඹුරුව කෘතවේදීව සිහිපත් කරමි.

ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ යොවුන් පරපුර වෙත ලොව නවීනතම තාක්‍ෂණික ඥානය ලබා දිමට හා ඒ ඔස්සේ ඔවුන්ගේ අනාගතය දීප්තිමත් කරලීමට ශ්‍රීමත් ආතර් සී ක්ලාක් මැතිතුමා ඉටු කළ සුවිසල් මෙහෙය මෙරට යොවුන් පරපුර මහත් කෘතවේදීතවයෙන් යුතුව සිහිපත් කරනු නො අනුමාන ය.

ශ්‍රී ලාංකික අප ඇතුළු සමස්ථ ලෝ වාසීන් වෙනුවෙන් සිය ජීවිත කාලය මුල්ල්ලේම ප්‍රශස්ත මෙහෙවරක් ඉටු කළ ශ්‍රීමත් ආතර් සී ක්ලාක් මැතිතුමාගේ අභාවය තත්කාලීන ලෝකයට පිරිමැසිය නොහැකි පාඩුවක් වනු නියතය

රනිල් වික්‍රමසිංහ

Our leaders had ears for astrologers, not for Arthur C. Clarke


Once dead, every Tom Dick and Harry have started eulogizing Sir Arthur C. Clarke, for his vision but what is interesting is how far his wise advices were taken or not by our leaders when he was still alive.

A clear case is how his advice was entirely ignored when Sir Arthur C. Clarke publicly requested the present government not to change back to GMT+5.30 standard from the earlier GMT+6.00 or what was popularly known as ‘Chandrika Time’.

In that occasion the advice of some astrologers’ bypassed Clarke’s and Sri Lanka continues to use the ‘Standard time’ that Clarke never wanted to.  

This was the full statement Sir Arthur C. Clarke issued. It is self explanatory why he prefers ‘Chandrika time’ or GMT+6.00 to ‘Mahinda Time’ or GMT+5.30.

I have followed with interest the current debate on readjusting Sri Lanka standard time to what it was before May 1996. It is a sign of our mature democracy that such proposals can be discussed widely before a final decision is made. I would like to offer my thoughts to help the government reach a rational decision.

As we can recall, the clock was adjusted in 1996 during a major electricity shortage,as a measure of daylight saving. A decade later, Sri Lanka is still struggling to meet the growing energy demands, and spending vast amounts on imported oil that generates more than half of our electricity supply. I understand from the CEB’s published data that the electricity use load in the evenings is considerably more than that in the mornings.

So if we put the clock back by half an hour as proposed, dusk will fall sooner — and households will be consuming more electricity for lighting. Both the country’s generation costs and individual electricity bills could go up as a result.

I do share the concern that the prevailing time requires some children to leave home for schools fairly early – sometimes while it is still dark. The best solution for this is to start school sessions later. (In neighbouring India, for example, most schools start at 9.30 or 10 am.) Let’s not forget that the current standard time allows an extra half hour of daylight in the evenings for adults to get back home and for children to play.

Beyond these very valid local concerns, I would like to draw attention to macro level implications of changing Sri Lanka’s standard time again. We standardise time because we need to deal with others. In the 19th century, for example, every little town in the US had its own time: the impossibility of running trains under this scheme gave rise to standard time. In today’s rapidly globalising world, Sri Lanka cannot afford to keep changing a fundamental attribute like standard time every few years. Such a move could harm the perception of foreign investors, international banks, airlines and tourists – at a time when we are trying to attract them all.

There are sound reasons for maintaining our standard time as GMT + 6 hours. The earlier time (GMT + 5:30) caused considerable confusion to those based outside Sri Lanka. Going back to that time can inconvenience over a million Sri Lankans now living and working overseas, whose remittances are vital to our economy. Sri Lankan companies competing for outsourced data processing and other business opportunities in the global knowledge economy have an advantage with the current standard time.

Indeed, most countries in the world have a full hour’s difference with GMT. (I have been telling every Indian VIP I meet that they should get rid of their half-hour difference!).

Older Sri Lankans can probably recall the consternation caused in the 1960s when we changed our weekend to follow the lunar calendar. It took years to recover from that misstep. I sincerely hope that wiser counsel would prevail on this occasion.

Vidya Jyothi Sir Arthur C Clarke

Colombo, 14 March 2006

2001: A Space Odyssey – perhaps the best science fiction film ever made

2001: A Space Odyssey is a 1968 science fiction film directed by Stanley Kubrick, written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke. The film deals with themes of human evolution, technology, artificial intelligence, and extraterrestrial life, and is notable for its scientific realism, pioneering special effects, and provocatively ambiguous imagery and sound in place of traditional narrative techniques.

Despite receiving mixed reviews upon release, 2001: A Space Odyssey is today thought by some critics to be one of the greatest films ever made. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, and received one for visual effects.

A sequel to the film, titled 2010: The Year We Make Contact was based on Clarke’s 1982 book 2010: Odyssey Two and was released in 1984. However, Kubrick was not involved in the production of this film, which did not have the impact of the original. (Nonetheless, Kubrick makes a cameo appearance in the film. The cover of a Time magazine seen in the film features illustrations of the Soviet and American presidents. Clearly, the illustrations represent Kubrick as the Russian Premier and Clarke as his opposite. Also, the name of the captain on the Leonov is “Kirbuk”.) Clarke went on to write two more sequel novels: 2061: Odyssey Three (1987) and 3001: The Final Odyssey (1997).

Arthur C Clarke bids farewell to 21st century

Author Arthur C. Clarke, whose science fiction and non-fiction works ranged from the script for “2001: A Space Odyssey” to an early proposal for communications satellites, has died at age 90, associates have said.

Clarke had been wheelchair-bound for several years with complications stemming from a youthful bout with polio and had suffered from back trouble recently, said Scott Chase, the secretary of the nonprofit Arthur C. Clarke Foundation.

He died early Wednesday — Tuesday afternoon ET — at a hospital in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he had lived since the 1950s, Chase said.

“He had been taken to hospital in what we had hoped was one of the slings and arrows of being 90, but in this case it was his final visit,” he said.

In a videotaped 90th birthday message to fans, Clarke said he still hoped to see some sign of intelligent life beyond Earth, more work on alternatives to fossil fuels — and “closer to home,” an end to the 25-year civil war in Sri Lanka between the government and ethnic Tamil separatists.

“I dearly wish to see lasting peace established in Sri Lanka as soon as possible,” he said. “But I’m aware that peace cannot just be wished — it requires a great deal of hard work, courage and persistence.”

Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick shared an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay for “2001.” The film grew out of Clarke’s 1951 short story, “The Sentinel,” about an alien transmitter left on the moon that ceases broadcasting when humans arrive.

As a Royal Air Force officer during World War II, Clarke took part in the early development of radar. In a paper written for the radio journal “Wireless World” in 1945, he suggested that artificial satellites hovering in a fixed spot above Earth could be used to relay telecommunications signals across the globe.

He is widely credited with introducing the idea of the communications satellite, the first of which were launched in the early 1960s. But he never patented the idea, prompting a 1965 essay that he subtitled, “How I Lost a Billion Dollars in My Spare Time.”

His best-known works, such as “2001” or the 1953 novel “Childhood’s End,” combined the hard science he learned studying physics and mathematics with insights into how future discoveries would change humanity. David Eicher, editor of Astronomy magazine, told CNN that Clarke’s writings were influential in shaping public interest in space exploration during the 1950s and ’60s.

“He was very interested in technology and also in humanity’s history and what lay out in the cosmos,” Eicher said. His works combined those “big-picture” themes with “compelling stories that were more interesting and more complex than other science fiction writers were doing,” he said.

Tedson Meyers, the chairman of the Clarke Foundation, said the organization is now dedicated to reproducing the combination of imagination and knowledge that he credited the author with inspiring.

“The question for us is, how does human imagination bring about such talent on both sides of the brain?” he asked. “How do you find the next Arthur Clarke?”

Clarke was knighted in 1998. He wrote dozens of novels and collections of short stories and more than 30 nonfiction works during his career, and served as a television commentator during several of the Apollo moon missions.

Though humans have not returned to the moon since 1972, Clarke said he was confident that a “Golden Age” of space travel was just beginning.

“After half a century of government-sponsored efforts, we are now witnessing the emergence of commercial space flight,” he said in his December birthday message.

“Over the next 50 years, thousands of people will travel to Earth orbit — and then, to the moon and beyond. Space travel and space tourism will one day become almost as commonplace as flying to exotic destinations on our own planet.”

(News story from CNN and the video was released by Clarke’s personal office together with TVE Asia Pacific on his 90th birthday)

Country loses another gentleman politician

sarath-1.jpgFormer Jaffna security Forces Commander, military spokesman and Deputy Speaker Sarath Munasinghe died at a private hospital last morning at the age of 59.

By a strange coincidence the then Speaker and senior politician Anura Bandaranaike under whom Major General Munasinghe functioned as Deputy Speaker also died the day before at the age of 59.

Major General Munasinghe had enlisted in the Sri Lanka Army as a cadet on February 15, 1970 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Sri Lanka Artillery and rose to the rank of major General on February 23, 1998.

During an army career spanning twenty nine years he served as the Commanding Officer of the 6th Artillery Regiment; Commander 15 Brigade Group, Mannar; Commander 12 Brigade Group, Colombo; Coordinating Officer Welioya; coordinating chief Batticaloa, Ampara and Polonnaruwa Districts, General Officer commanding 51 Division and 54 Division.

Major General Munasinghe was also the Army Director Psy Ops and director Media Operations headquarters, Ministry of Defence and Director Media Army Headquarters whist being the Army spokesman.

He was elected to Parliament from the Kurunegala district on the PA ticket in 2000.

The Major General joined the UNP after parliament was dissolved in 2001 but was unable to secure his seat at the General Election that year. He was later appointed chairman of the Building Materials Corporation and the National Housing Development Authority.

At the time of his death, he was the UNP organizer for the Polgahawela electorate.

Major General Munasinghe was a contemporary of the present Army Chief Sarath Fonseka and former Army Chief Shantha Kottegoda.

A father of two, he was an old boy of Maliyadeva College, Kurunegala and the UNP was to meet last evening to discuss his funeral arrangements.