Monday, January 28, 2008

Burma history through postage stamps

The Irrawaddy has an interesting article about a book on Burmese postage stamps which tracing the history of Burma up to 1988. The author, an activist, who has rallied again the illegal junta of army generals does not recognise the government of Burma post 1988... it's not legal... the elections were won far and square by Aung San Suu Kyi but she has not been allowed to lead the country. And, the illegal government continues it oppressive and deadly treatment of any and all who would oppose it.

Burmese postage stamps record the country’s official history, therefore the pro-democracy movement goes unrecognized

Stamps of Burma: A Historical Record Through 1988, by Min Sun Min. Mekong Press, Chiang Mai, 2007. P84.
Postage stamps are more than just small, adhesive pieces of paper that people put on envelopes, the author of this book argues. In the case of Burma, they are “a colorful visual record of its unique history, from the British colonial government through the Japanese occupation, the British military administration, Burma’s independence, the revolutionary council, and the Burmese Way to Socialism.” But, as there are no stamps depicting the pro-democracy uprising of 1988, the author fills this void by designing his own stamps to commemorate this struggle for freedom, and, who knows?— one day they may be sold in post offices in his home country?

I did not associate the author, who uses the pseudonym “Min Sun Min,” with an interest in philately when I first met him in late 1988 on the Thai-Burmese border, where he had fled after the military had brutally crushed the mighty uprising of that year. He was a writer, and he told me about the free newspaper that he had run in his hometown, Bassein.

From the left:
Two stamps from the Japanese occupation of Burma; A stamp from the British colonial era followed by the first stamp after independence in 1948 replacing King George VI with Aung San

Min Sun Min was his nom de plume, meaning “Unique King,” and he proved to be unique indeed. A year later he ended up in New York, one of the first Burmese dissidents to make it to the West after the 1988 uprising. There, every Saturday when he was free from work, he donned one of his two suits, knotted his one red polyester tie and rode the subway to the Burmese consulate in the city. He stood there every Saturday with placards that read: “Hand over the power to the voters!” and “Release all political prisoners!” He was a lone protester long before human rights and democracy in Burma became international issues, but he began receiving letters of support from all over the world. That aroused his interest in postage stamps, and how they reflect historical developments in their respective countries.

His book covers postal history and the world’s first postage stamps and contains a brief history of Burma and images of stamps from various eras in modern Burmese history with explanations of their significance. The first provisional stamps of Burma were issued on April 1, 1937, the date of its separation from India. These were Indian stamps with a portrait of the late British King, George V, with the overprint of the word “Burma” at the top. The first definitive stamps with “Burma Postage” printed on them and a picture of King George VI followed in 1938.

Socialist era stamps

Colonial imprint remained until the Japanese occupation, when new stamps were issued with text in Burmese letters as well as Japanese katakana, which is used by the Japanese for transcription of words from foreign languages. The Shan states, however, had their own stamps, some with “the State of Burma” (bama naing-ngan daw) overprinted in Burmese, reflecting the complex nature of the Japanese occupation, which ended in 1945.

Then the British were back, but this time the stamps did not depict only the face of the British monarch; they also had images of Burmese farmers, elephants and women with Burmese parasols. Colonial rule was coming to an end, and the first set of stamps after independence on January 4, 1948, looked exactly like the last colonial stamps — but with the picture of the British king replaced by that of Aung San, Burma’s independence hero, who had been assassinated on July 19, 1947. He and his cabinet colleagues who were killed along with him were commemorated with a special set of stamps issued in 1948.

Burmese stamps of the future?
Democratic Burma’s stamps showed Buddhist monks and temples and honored the United Nations. Then came the military coup of March 2, 1962, and the introduction of the “Burmese Way to Socialism.” Now the stamps depicted heroic farmers, workers and athletes, and railways and other signs of “progress” under the one-party rule of the Burma Socialist Program Party. And, still, portraits of Aung San, which under the present government have disappeared.

After the 1988 uprising, the “Burmese Way to Socialism” was abandoned, but military rule prevailed. Min Sun Min does not include any post-1988 stamps in his book, “because it was a turning point in Burmese history. That was the year when the military illegitimately assumed (direct) power.”

The last set of stamps depicted in the book—designed by Min Sun Min and, therefore, yet to be issued—show demonstrators thronging the streets of Rangoon and a Buddhist monk exhorting his audience at a rally in the capital in 1988.

Thus, the book ends on a very positive note: Min Sun Min has faith in a democratic future for Burma. The images of the cataclysmic events of 1988 will not be forgotten, he writes, and, “They deserve to be recorded and issued as stamps, one day, when Burma is free.”

Bertil Lintner is a correspondent who specializes in Burma and Asian issues. His latest book is Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Struggle for Democracy (in Korean)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Walking with God has positive impact on teens

A rather interesting article in today's Sydney Morning Herald describes the positive impact the being a Christian has upon teens. The survey found that teens with a belief in God has more social awareness and compassion for others.

Those teens who walk with God tend to have a big helping heart, too - Sydney Morning Herald
ALMOST a third of Australian teenagers do not have any religious beliefs, new research has revealed.

And academics from Monash University and the Australian Catholic University found those with serious spiritual and religious beliefs were likely to donate more money, participate more in their communities and be more concerned about their society than their non-religious counterparts.

Researchers surveyed 1219 13- to 24-year-olds nationally. At least 47 per cent of those aged 13 to 17 identified themselves as Christians. About 15 per cent classified themselves as New Age and 7 per cent as having "other" beliefs.

Researchers found that active Christians rated helping others and social justice higher than other spirituality types and that teenagers serious about their spirituality were more likely to be volunteers. They were also more likely to be more generous when giving to charity.
Purposeful … Caitlyn Foster at the All Souls Anglican Church in Leichhardt,
where she voluntarily runs a Fair Trade stall selling products from India and South Africa.
Photo: Tanya Lake

Caitlyn Foster, 17, describes herself as an active Christian and voluntarily runs a stall for the Fair Trade organisation at her church every Saturday, selling products from India and South Africa. It turns over up to $800 a week. Profits go back to the people who make the products.

A University of Queensland study found that moving away from traditional beliefs to "trendy", self-focused religions was not making young adults happier.

Sarah Price

A wretchedly awful reaction to Heath Ledger's death

This past Friday on Channel 9's "A Current Affair" there was the most unbelievably awful interview with a pastor in the USA (Westboro, Kansas). It was distressing to hear him as he railed against Heath Ledger, his family, gays, the war in Iraq and Australia. The introductory hymn was "God hates the world" with a catchy tune but a horrible message.

This pastor, Fred Phelps, and his brand of "christianity" bear no resemblance to the Christianity I know. It bears no resemblance to my own experiences with God and Jesus Christ. When I read the Bible, I see God's love towards all and his desire that we all know and experience love and forgiveness. The only crushing condemnation that came from Jesus' lips was against the self-righteous religious leaders of the day who felt they were better than everyone else. Jesus said they were blind, and hypocrites... people who wouldn't lift a finger to help the poor and downtrodden. I do wonder at what Jesus's response would be to the vitriol of Mr Phelps.

What was even sadder to me was the way the young children in his congregation were spewing the same kinds of words... hatred.

When asked about Australia, he said that they pray for Australia... and they have a map of Australia with the word "sodom" written in large letters over the whole continent. He said we were "the land of the sodomite damned". Shudder! Has God (or god?) given him the mantle of a judge over us all? Absolutely not. Jesus Christ is the judge, he's the only one worthy enough to be the judge. And, he's already made clear through his death and resurrection that he's paid the penalty for all sins and wickedness. Our part is simply to accept that.

Anyway, if you would like to watch the video, follow the link below:

Heath Ledger: Minister speaks
Heath Ledger: Minister speaks

Friday, January 25, 2008

Transplant miracle

In Oz, we are agog with the report of Demi-Lee Brennnan's miracle. She had a liver transplant at age 9 (she is now 15) and in some miraculous way her immune system and blood type have changed to that of the donor! The result is that she does not have to take anti-rejection drugs! If researchers can figure out how it happened they may be able to replicate it for others. What a wondrous possibility!
I wonder if her young age when receiving the transplant might have had something to do with it. Whatever, it's lovely to have some good news coming from the media!

15 year old Demi-Lee Brennan

Read the full story at:

Transplant girl's blood change a 'miracle' - National -

You can also see a video about it at:

A medical miracle

Have a good day!

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Another World War I veteran dies in France

One of the two remaining veterans of WW1 has died at age 110. It's a ripe old age for one who endured the horrors of war. I respect his feelings about not accepting medals and honours. So many died, so many young men died... and for what? The "war to end all wars" has become just one of many. There is so much death and destruction happening in so many countries in the name of something or other. Has any good come out of any of the battles? Maybe. But at what cost? We talk about having evolved from the apes. However, if that were the case how come we seem to be devolving not evolving in kindness, goodness, love and peace?
I am thankful for those who endured so much to deal with the megalomaniacs whose inflated view of their own importance has taken us on such a costly journey over tha past 100 yrs.

France's oldest man dies, one World War One survivor left - World -
France's oldest man dies, one World War One survivor left
France's oldest man, a First World War veteran who refused a medal and spoke powerfully about the horrors of war, has died at 110, leaving just one veteran alive from the conflict.
Louis de Cazenave died at his home in the Auvergne region in central France on Sunday, the government said.
President Nicolas Sarkozy called his death a reminder of the 1.4 million French who had lost their lives in the 1914-18 war.
Cazenave survived both the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and the Second Battle of the Aisne a year later, two of the bloodiest episodes of the "war to end all wars".
Born in October 1897, de Cazenave became an infrantryman in 1916 and retired in 1941. He refused a military decoration but was eventually awarded the civilian Legion of Honour in 1999.
"Some of my comrades weren't even given a wooden cross," he told Le Monde newspaper in 2005.
Recalling events etched into his mind 88 years earlier, he gave a grim account of the offensive on German positions along the river Aisne which caused about 350,000 French and German deaths and led afterwards to a partial French mutiny.
"You should have heard the wounded between the lines. They called out to their mothers, begged us to go finish them off," he told Le Monde.
"We found the Germans when we went to get water at the well.
We spoke to them. They were just like us; they had had enough."
He described patriotism as "a way of making people swallow anything" and war as absurd and useless. "Nothing can justify it, nothing," he said.
The last surviving "beardy," the nickname given in France to First World War veterans because of conditions in the trenches, is now Lazare Ponticelli, 110.
He has refused an offer of a state funeral, saying it would show disrespect to war victims who never got the same honour.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Arab comedians

Great article in today's Sydney Morning Herald!

THE comedian Maysoon Zayid introduces her act by declaring she is a Palestinian Muslim virgin with cerebral palsy, adding: "I just want you guys to know I am a virgin by choice … and that is my father's choice.

"My father has spent the majority of my life terrified that I will accidentally lose my virginity so there's a list of activities I am not allowed to do: there is to be no horseback riding, not even on a carousel."
Like much minority humour, Arab comedians are intent on challenging stereotypes.

Aron Kaydar, another Arab comedian on the festival bill, jokes that he will name his first-born son Al, as in Al Kaydar.

Zayid and a fellow comic, Dean Obeidallah, started the festival in 2003 when the Arab community was "under siege" and any news coverage that did not portray Arabs as terrorists was a reason for rejoicing.

Obeidallah, a native of New Jersey raised by Sicilian and Palestinian parents, said the terrorist attacks transformed how he was seen in his own country.

"Before 9/11, I am just a white guy living a typical white-guy life. I go to bed September 10th white. I wake up September 11th, I'm an Arab."

Initially, Arab-American comedians were wary of mocking themselves because their community was so widely criticised. Their humour had now evolved from pleas for understanding to a more mainstream comedy reflective of minority, immigrant humour, Obeidallah said.

The title of the festival - Arabs Gone Wild - would have been inappropriate and unthinkable several years ago, Obeidallah said, but the Arab-American community has become more assertive and confident. The festival of stand-up and sketch comedy will run over six nights off Broadway.

One festival sketch suggests that if Fox News gave itself free rein, Arabs could be blamed for all misfortune in America, including extreme weather events. And hurricanes would be given exclusively Arabic names, as in "Look out, here comes Mustafa. Run for your life."

Before the 2001 attacks many Arab comedians worked in ignorance of one another, but America's response to the attacks gave them a sense of a shared cultural experience.

Zayid said the war in Iraq had intensified the pressure on Arabs. "When you're vilified, you need a voice and the most vilified people in the media right now are the Arabs," she said.

She does not joke about September 11 nor about the 72 virgins some extremists believe are the reward in the afterlife to those martyred in the cause of Islam.

"I'll push the envelope as far as I can, but if I am going to get someone killed I am not going to joke about it," she said.

An example of the more mainstream humour that has evolved over recent years is Obeidallah's routine where he relates the discomfortof other Americans on learning he is an Arab. "Oh, you're an Arab," one said. "I love hummus."