Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Another Chance For Burma

During 1943 to 1945, my father had the honour to serve alongside the Burmese Rifles as they strove to remove the Japanese from Burma. In difficult terrain and conditions, these brave men and women, along with the 13th Liverpool Regiment, fought long and hard to remove a murderous and oppressive regime.

Eventually, the Japanese were defeated in the South-East Asia theatre of World War Two, and in 1948, Burma won its independence from the UK and had the opportunity to forge its own destiny. The Burmese Republic, called the ‘Union of Burma’ was born and its progress into the 20th Century was rapid and significant. In 1961, its UN representative, U Thant was elected as the United Nations Secretary General

This fledgling democracy was strangled in 1962 when the oppressive military junta of General Ne Win took control through a bloody coup d’etat. Since then, under a procession of cruel and oppressive military leaders, Burma or as it now wants to be known, Myanmar, the population has been held in check.

Throughout that time, pockets of opposition have grown up, only to be brutally wiped out when it became too much for the leadership. In 1990, elections were held and, of the 489 seats available, the democratic opposition won 392. This election, of course, was ruled null and void by the ruling junta. At that point, the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been held under house arrest – though that did not stop her from being awarded the Sakharov Peace Prize in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Released from house arrest in 1995, she was told that if she left the country, she would not be allowed back in. Her British husband was in the UK with their children and was dieing of cancer. She never got to see her husband, and has not seen her children from 1990.

The junta is widely believed to be at the centre of human trafficking, enforced labour and slavery, and commonly uses to torture and execution to maintain control. That situation remains.

The recent demonstrations by monks and the population are yet another effort by those who see a democratic future for the country to persuade their ‘Government’ to abdicate and allow genuine free elections. It is a window of opportunity for the rest of the world. Already, George Bush has announced sanctions to be imposed against Burma. Anyone who has read my posts knows I’m no admirer of Bush, but in this act, as far as it goes, has to be applauded. This time, there is no reason for the rest of the free world not to follow suit. As I write this, reports are coming in of 3 monks shot to death by the military. There is no time to waste. We must act now.

My father always said that the Burmese people were some of the gentlest, yet bravest and compassionate people he had ever met and it tears him apart to this day. From his descriptions, it is definitely a country I would want to visit, but not until a true democracy exists.

Aung San Suu Kyi once said: ‘It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.’

Friday, September 21, 2007

American Jackass

How typical, I thought, as I read Rudy Giuliani's disparaging comments about 'socialised medicine', in other words, our universal and free National Health service. It is all fine and good for an ex-mayor of New York and 'White House hopeful' on a cynical photo opportunity to bolster his flagging campaign, to say he had beaten prostate cancer because the survival rates are better in the US than in the NHS. I really do not know where he got his figures from, but from what I was able to find, our survival rates for prostate and a number of other cancers are as good as anywhere else - private or free!

However, if Giuliani looked at the figures for the rest of his countrymen, and not just the rich and privileged like himself, he would find that the vast majority of people would not be able to even walk through the door of the hospital he was treated in.

OK, the NHS is not perfect, and it is a perennial subject for complaint and criticism, and maybe they aren't as good as the best private hospitals in the world, but it is definitely better than Medicare or any other half-baked system the Yanks can come up with!

Maybe Mr Giuliani could explain how are health service would be better if, as in the US, 40 per cent of Britons could not even afford to see a GP? Or how those without expensive healthcare insurance have to sell their homes to pay for even the most routine of operations? Or how it would be better for us to have insurance companies refuse to insure our children due to 'existing medical conditions'?

When the US finally drags itself out of its Victorian attitudes to healthcare, in other words "the rich get the best and the rest can die", then he can comment.

Finally, he personifies the prevailing attitude amongst right-wing Americans, the arrogance to openly state that if other countries do not follow the American path, then they are wrong, degenerate or even a threat and this gives them the right to interfere and comment in such a crass manner.

The NHS is our health system. It is the jewel in the benefit system in the UK and is regarded with great affection by the vast majority of the UK population, and I take it as a personal insult when someone who knows nothing about it, and is a guest in our country, pipes up ind basically condemns it.

Go home Rudy, your opinions are not welcome here.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Rugby World Cup 2007 - Day 1

France 12 - 17 Argentina

Opening day of the World Cup and the hosts, France - everyone's second favourite to lift the cup after New Zealand, were in action at the Stade de France in Paris. Their opponents, - The Pumas, Argentina.

The expectation was that this would be a match worthy of the opening ceremony with a spirited performance by Argentina, but France coasting to a reasonably comfortable win. Lets face it, France were at their national stadium, performing in front of the fans, what could go wrong.

Unfortunately, Argentina had not read the script. They had the audacity to take the game to France and actually apply pressure leading to uncharacteristic mistakes by the normally dependable backs. This pressure finally led to a French handling error, giving a penalty to Argentina. Inside-centre, Felipe Contepomi stepped up and slotted the kick over the bar to score the first points of the tournament.

France came back quickly to score a penalty of their own, but Argentina had still not learnt due reverence and continued to pester and challenge France, scoring another couple of penalties. Even when France attempted to play their own game, they came unstuck, leading to the first try of the tournament, and the only one of the match, being scored, again, by the Pumas. In, what can only be seen as a desperate attempt to get some movement, Remy Martin threw an interception pass which Argentina's Felipe Contepomi shipped on the ball quickly to racy full-back Corleto, who outpaced the covering defence to score in the right corner.

At half-time, the score was France 9; Argentina 17 and the French nation was in shock.

In a second half dominated by mighty defence and enterprise by Argentina, they restricted the French to just one more 3 point score, and held on to conclude a mighty and historic victory - one, this rugby fanatic will remember for a very long time!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

This Is Happening Here!

This sign, erected in a small town in America, is a heartfelt response to the destruction of local culture by big business and globalisation.

Every Pound spent in our big supermarkets, is a coffin nail in local markets selling local goods at a fair price.

In Wigan, the town's market is a shadow of it's former self, having been effectively strangled by the competition of the 'Big Four'. How long before it is closed for good!

As shoppers, we have the power to change that, it just requires will and effort - and if you think I'm preaching, then be aware, I am just as much to blame as anyone else, for being seduced by the cheapness and easy shopping, big supermarkets bring.