Archive | January 6, 2011

No Smoking in Zion: “Cut it out, you fool”

I don’t know where this graphic came from, but it’s reportedly an anti-smoking sign from the town of Zion, Illinois, erected in 1915. The second sentence is classic.

Clearly, it was well known that cigarettes caused cancer and strokes, even back in 1915, despite the tobacco industry’s fight against scientific claims that carried well into the 60’s and 70’s.

Zion, apparently, was founded as a Christian oasis in a country fraught with sin by a Mr. John Alexander Dowie. In addition to regular (and popular) faith healings, he was also known for waging a “Prayer Duel” with self-appointed Muslim prophet, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Ahmad was a complicated figure himself.

It was said that whoever died first during the duel would be exposed as a fraud. Dowie died a year before Ahmad of alcoholism.

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100 Books in 2011

New Years is always full of resolutions and promises, most of which fall to the wayside once the reality of work sets back in. My resolution this year is to read 100 books, at least in part. This is not an extreme move. 365 books would be ridiculously extreme and would call my very sanity into question, unless I were reading Harlequins or counted comic books as “books”. The difference will be that I will at least make some attempt to document the project, creating a personal diary of what should be, an in depth bibliography of works relating to topics of interest on this blog. I won’t review them all. That would take an extra year. I will, however, make an attempt to review the most impressive.

At 100 books over the course of the calendar year of 2011, that would be approximately one book every 3.65 days, not an unreasonable feat.

Starting now, I’m up to three books. Here’s one:

Aung San Suu Kyi – “Letters from Burma”Aung San Suu Kyi should require no real introduction. For the past several decades, Aung San Suu Kyi has fought tirelessly for democratic reforms in Burma, which has suffered under a brutal authoritarian regime since 1962. Part political revolutionary and human rights advocate, part intellectual, along with being the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi has spent the better part of the past two decades under house arrest. During this time she has continued her fight for democracy in Burma, using a non-violent, people centered approach while generating foreign support through her writings and infective charisma. “Letters from Burma” is a collection of short essays written for the Mainichi Newspaper in Japan throughout the better part of the 1990’s. What results is a series of snapshots of the struggles of the NLD Democratic party in Burma, a woman hesitantly thrust into the political spotlight and observations of a deep culture in turmoil.

What is unique about Aung San Suu Kyi’s letters is her ability to weave her unapologetic political views with support not from her political contemporaries, but with her intense Buddhist faith and her deep respect for the Burmese people and it’s long and fascinating culture. This short book, provides not only information on the political history of Burma, but also works as a primer of Burmese culture for outsiders. More importantly, her writings serve as an intense introduction to Theravadic Buddhism and how Buddhist teachings can influence politics and governance. Specifically, Aung San Suu Kyi frequently cites the The Noble Eight Fold Path as a standard for not only personal and human interactions, but all upon which the people should construct and manage the state, to ensure benefit for all.

Aung San Suu Kyi, like many other non-violent political revolutionaries, is able to endure through equal parts of dedication to the cause of a subjugated people and to human rights, and the willingness to admit her own failings and weaknesses. I conclude with a quote from her fantastic essay “Freedom from Fear:”

“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.”

Recently released from house arrest, she has resumed her column for the Mainichi, the first of which appeared today.

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