Posted on 30-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Religion) by Rashtrakut

Displaying the flaws in holding fundamental freedoms hostage to the caprices of public referendums, Swiss voters in a distressing result voted to ban the construction of minarets.  One can understand the unease in countries that historically have not faced waves of immigrants from alien cultures (or from a religion with whom there has been an inherent sense of hostility for about 1,400 years) as they struggle to absorb these new immigrants while preserving a sense of national identity and shared cultural values. But as they complain about the refusal to immigrants to look outside their ethnic ghettos, one wonders why people think a vote like this would help the assimilation process (the same goes for the equally idiotic French decision to ban head scarves in schools).  As previously posted on this blog, integration is a complicated issue but rank fear based bigotry does not help matters.

It is tempting to point to the United States as an example, but this country has acquired experience absorbing immigrants since its inception.  Even here the process has been hard, from Benjamin Franklin complaining about the effect of rising German immigration on the use of English and the resulting political threat (sound familiar Mr. Dobbs?) to concerns a 100 years ago that Italian immigrants were importing their brand of seditious anarchism.  But this country survived and the original English culture grew richer by the addition.  It is not an easy lesson to transfer to the inherently more culturally conservative and homogeneous old world.

It will be interesting to observe whether the vote this weekend leads to a financial backlash.  The usual bunch of xenophobes in Denmark and The Netherlands have already piped up to call for similar referendums.  Just how far this spreads remains to be seen.  However, it is still unclear whether this referendum will be upheld by Swiss courts.

One final point in this imbroglio should be made.  While Muslim immigrant groups in Europe should speak up to combat discrimination, it is hard to extend the same latitude to the howls of outrage emanating from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc.  While some of these countries are all to willing to cast stones at Europe, they have been singularly unwilling to grant similar freedoms to religious minorities at home.   And the religious minorities in many cases are not foreign immigrants but locals.  As the old saying goes, people in glass houses should not toss stones.

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Posted on 30-11-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Reacting to the recent IAEA censure, the Iranian regime has reacted with a show of petulance announcing 10 new uranium enrichment plants for uranium it does not have.  The IAEA vote was significant in that Iran got no support from countries it could rely on in the past including Russia, China, India and South Africa.  Even though Brazil has resisted joining the international chorus, more reactions like the one this Sunday could fritter away any goodwill Iran possesses for its legal position that even the Non Proliferation Treaty allows Iran to enrich uranium for civilian use.  However, the NPT requires transparency in Iranian actions which has not been forthcoming.  The Iranian reaction may also point to continuing tensions within the regime on how to proceed without losing face.  The question is whether this back and forth forces Russia and China to join in a meaningful sanctions regime (which is useless without them) and how soon, if ever, this happens.

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Posted on 28-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

A link to an article describing the grisly election related massacre in the Philippines.  The location of the massacre, Mindanao has long been the troubled and violent underbelly of the Philippines.  Unlike the rest of the largely Catholic country, the island has a large Muslim population and a long running separatist movement.  It last showed up in American newscasts in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Bali bombings when the Bush administration dispatched American military advisers to combat some of the more extreme groups there.  In fairness to Mindanao, violence appears endemic in the political system of the Philippines.

This massacre appears to have jarred a country inured to bouts of violence.  However, with the country’s political establishment owing their offices and sinecures to similar (if not as brazen) violent methods it is unlikely that any meaningful steps will be taken to stem the rot in the Philippines political system.

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Barack Obama’s recent trip to China has received much criticism for its failure to achieve much of substance, giving a short-shrift to human rights issues and even raising a minor storm in India from an otherwise innocuous press release.  However, the trip may not have been entirely wasted.  Richard Wolfe notes that lost in the press coverage (and he charitably does not mention the American media’s obsession with Sarah Palin’s new ghost-written book) were agreements reached regarding emissions targets.  This along with talks held with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his state visit last week (which also helped defuse the brouhaha over the joint statement with China) could help break the deadlock at the upcoming Copenhagen talks.

The Chinese visit may have also contributed to the China joining the recent censure of Iran by the IAEA.  The deliverables may not be as groundbreaking as previous presidential visits abroad but address two upcoming issues on the President’s foreign policy slate.  Success in Copenhagen could reaffirm the goodwill that exists for the administration on the ground in Europe.  Bringing India and China into any global agreement to cut emissions will blunt one of the major criticisms of the Kyoto Protocol.  Likewise any Chinese help on Iran is to be welcomed.  These are small steps at present, but they could lead to greater rewards down the road.

 

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Posted on 27-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Economics, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The request by Dubai World (the investment flagship for the emirate) for a debt standstill rocked global markets this week.  The latest fallout from the bursting of the real estate bubble brings with it contagion fears and questions about how deep the problems may go.

Dubai World also raises questions regarding “quasi-sovereign debt.”  Investors who previously relied on an “implied sovereign guarantee” for debt issues by these government owned ventures may want a stronger government guarantee in the future.  Government owned entities from South Africa to Russia may find it harder to borrow funds without a risk premium unless their governments explicitly guarantee the debts (relying on the fact that essentially insolvent countries like Iceland have also not stopped paying their debts).

In political terms this also strengthens the position of Abu Dhabi within the United Arab Emirates.  Until the real estate meltdown Dubai was positioning itself as the Hong Kong and Singapore (and with some of the ridiculous buildings coming up, Las Vegas) of the Middle East.  In the process it was upsetting the delicate power balance in the UAE.  With yet another bailout now needed, the more conservative Abu Dhabi will likely extract another pound of flesh to restrain the ambitions and presumptions of Dubai.

If it were needed, Dubai World is just another example of how intertwined the global financial system is and how problems on the other side of the world can have immediate impacts at home.

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The latest gambit by the Iranian regime in its attempt to squash dissent.   In what appears to be a first, they have now seized the Nobel Peace Prize medal awarded to Shirin Ebadi.  The official justification appears to be back taxes owed for the $1.3 million award, which Ebadi claims is no subject to tax.  The regime has now frozen her bank account and may try to seize her home.

Inflicting financial pain is hardly a new tactic for repressive regimes.  However, seizing the medal smacks of pettiness that will hold up the Iranian regime to deserved ridicule.

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Posted on 25-11-2009
Filed Under (Sports) by Rashtrakut

Fans of Adam Sandler who modeled their golf game on “Happy Gilmore” beware.  The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia has ruled the “Happy Gilmore swing” is dangerous and breached the standard of care even though the cause of the accident at issue probably had more to do with the copious amounts of alcohol consumed by the golfing party.

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Posted on 25-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut
  • George Gavrilis suggests a closer look at the resolution of the Tajik civil war for the type of state system that may eventually emerge in Afghanistan.  While it is an interesting thought, Tajikistan did not have the same ethnic and sectarian tensions Afghanistan did and nor was it a proxy playing grounds for its neighbors.
  • Another look at the relative unknowns chosen as Europe’s President and Foreign Minister.
  • How the fears of a swine flu epidemic may have been cynically used as a gambit in Ukraine’s presidential election.
  • How Hezbollah has used a loophole in Shiite marriage law to satisfy the libido of its foot soldiers.
  • Time for the gathering of the Muslim faithful in Mecca for another Hajj, this event being overshadowed by swine flu fears and the political drama from Iran.
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Posted on 25-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Its been one year since the shocking images of the assault on Mumbai were flashed worldwide.  Time magazine reviews how India’s security situation domestically still leaves it as a soft target.  One of the few things the Indian government can take some pride in is that even its creaky justice system is bringing the accused to prompt trial.  But then unlike 9/11 the Mumbai attacks unfortunately were merely the latest and most public of the myriad terrorist events in India in the last 25 years.  The Indian judicial and legal system has far more experience dealing with such cases and the pitfall of draconian anti-terrorism statutes (TADA and POTA).  Unfortunately after each outrage like the Mumbai attacks the next draconian statute hits the books.

As the anniversary of the attacks approached and as it prepared for unwelcome attention to the paucity of any meaningful cooperation, Pakistan “rounded up the usual suspects.”  Count me a cynic on the likelihood that anything meaningful will come out of this.  While Pakistan has belatedly launched its assault on the Taliban, it remains unwilling or unable to clean up the terrorist  support infrastructure it created in the last 25 years.  However, 26/11 should also have hammered home just how isolated Pakistan stands in the international arena at present while its rival with all its flaws is increasingly accepted as a major international player.

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Posted on 24-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Noticed this link on Yglesias with the odd praises of Chavez for characters ranging from terrorist Carlos the Jackal, to Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to Uganda’s notorious Idi Amin.  Now that George W. Bush no longer occupies the White House the parade of American liberals legitimizing the populist Venezuelan demagogue by flying into Caracas seems to have died down a bit.  It is not easy for public figures to admit they were naive and taken in by a foreign authoritarian dictator.  But by largely remaining silent in face of Hugo Chavez’s erratic behavior, his evisceration of democratic institutions, his embrace of thugs and tyrants around the world largely because they are anti-American, and repeatedly trying to fund similar populist coups in Latin America they are guilty of the same hypocrisy that they alleged occurred under the Bush administration.

The tragedy of Hugo Chavez is that Venezuela’s creaky democracy had fallen prey to its bumbling elites and needed a jolt of popular legitimacy.  But instead of producing a Solon, Venezuela provided a Catiline with no respect for the rule of law and unwilling to learn from the failures of the command economy that ruined the Communist bloc.  One cannot criticize the bumbling elites who preceded Chavez without recognizing the failure of the so called Bolivarian Revolution to reach its proclaimed goals.

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Posted on 19-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, History, Technology) by Rashtrakut
  • The New York Times reminisces about the original automobile disaster story – The Edsel.
  • Warnings that America is falling behind in the space race.
  • The Christian Science Monitor exudes optimism about the international unknowns chosen to be Europe’s President and Prime Minister.
  • Steve Chapman tracks the decline of conservative intelligentsia from Goldwater and Reagan to Palin.
  • Conservative Rod Dreher reviews and trashes Sarah Palin’s ghost written memoir.
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Posted on 19-11-2009
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

I have tried to stay away from the Sarah Palin media extravaganza, but the Jon Stewart clip below was too good to pass up.  Conservatives often try excusing Palin for the often excessive cult of personality around Barack Obama.  A few obvious differences should come up right away apart from basic intellectual attainments.  One politician has actually thought about the issues and when challenged on a hostile forum like Bill O’ Reilly can defend them  The other delivers garbled sound bites and complains about mean Katie Couric.  Then there is the weird resignation half way into her term, not for a transition to higher office or because of a prison conviction

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show: The Rogue Warrior
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis
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Posted on 18-11-2009
Filed Under (Technology) by Rashtrakut

The United States Supreme Court is hearing a case that could limit the granting of patents for business methods and practices.  It is a debate worth having.  The purpose of patents is to grant an incentive for the creator to derive benefit for their products.  But by creating monopolies they skew the marketplace and can stunt innovation.  The problem is possibly worse in copyright laws as vast sections of creative works appear to have been walled off from the public domain forever, with no real debate by legislators whether such extensions are needed to protect innovation (which was the original motivation  for granting copyrights to begin with) and whether other creative activity is being stunted while granting corporate welfare to behemoths like Disney.  Then there is the constitutional question the Supreme Court dodged when it upheld the Copyright Term Extension Act (aka the Disney Protection Act).  The Constitution grants Congress the power to grant copyrights for a limited time.  But if the time limit keeps getting extended every 20 years at what point is it a de facto unlimited grant of a copyright.

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Posted on 18-11-2009
Filed Under (Sports) by Rashtrakut

France sneaks into the Football World Cup aided by Thierry Henry’s hand.  Raises a question whether sportsmanship is passe or whether I am being naive.  It brings to mind Diego Maradona’s infamous hand of god that ultimately overshadowed possibly the best goal ever scored.  Too much money and raw national pride appears to be at stake for sportsmanship to win out.  I cannot help but remember the defining idiom of the then gentlemanly game that I grew up with – That’s not cricket.   Of course cricket today is rife with dubious ungentlemanly tactics.

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Posted on 17-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

With the Supreme Court outlawing criminalization of homosexual conduct, the debate in recent years has spread to gays seeking some of the rights and privileges of civil society particularly relating to marriage.  Even though legalizing civil marriage would not require churches to permit gays to marry under their roof the push for gay marriage has been portrayed as an assault on traditional marriage.  Of course a 50% divorce rate would seem a bigger threat to traditional marriage and other than a tongue in cheek referendum in California, there has been no serious push to ban no fault divorce (which somehow exists in the civil context without affecting churches like the Catholic Church that prohibit or strongly discourage divorce).  It is also striking how much the rhetoric against gay marriage seems to parallel the rhetoric against miscegenation 50 years ago, which was also going to destroy the institution of marriage.  Also if you really want to protect “traditional marriage” you should push for the way the institution existed in the western world for most of the past two millenniums – as was generally Chattel marriage, where the wife was the property of the husband (for the humor impaired, I am joking).

The issue was in the spotlight earlier this month when Maine voters reversed the legislature’s recognition of gay marriage.  It came up in the last week when the Catholic Church threatened Washington D.C. that it would shut down its charity programs in the city for the homeless if a law recognizing same sex marriages was passed.  The rationale was that this would cause the Church to recognize same-sex marriages.  This was followed by Rhode Island governor Don Carcieri’s veto of a bill that would allow domestic partners the right to claim the bodies and plan the funerals of their partners.  The justification again was the protection of the institution of marriage.

Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert has a great satirical piece mocking both these arguments.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word – Skeletons in the Closet
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor U.S. Speedskating
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Posted on 17-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

First Honduras and now Iraq, expressing optimism about people coming to their senses can be a perilous exercise.  After an previous optimistic post from me, the deal is now starting to unravel.  Unhappy with their seat allocation the Kurds are threatening a boycott and the Sunnis are expressing their displeasure as well.  It seems that the Kurds have not learned from the Sunni boycott of the previous elections that such a step is ultimately self defeating.  The elections will happen, the Kurds will be locked out of the corridors of power and ticked off groups will resort to the gun.  The mess in Iraq also shows just how hard it is to conduct a multi-ethnic state when there is no trust among the various ethnic groups.

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Posted on 17-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut
  • Josh Marshall wonders what people are afraid of.
  • Andrew Sullivan applauds the President for not being governed by fear.
  • Republican Congressman John Shadegg engages in some crude fearmongering.
  • The irrepressible Jon Stewart identifies the real risk…the media…plus pokes some fun at Rudy Giuliani.  Best line at the end of the clip “Geraldo Rivera is now the voice of reason”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Law & Order: KSM
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show

Full Episodes

Political Humor Health Care Crisis
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Posted on 16-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The economist profiles the rise of Brazil.  Also see here.  Once better known for soccer, its beaches the women and inflation, Latin America’s giant has taken some giant leaps forward in the last 15 years.  When gasoline prices rose in the United States, many looked with envy at Brazil’s ethanol driven cars.  Brazil’s sugarcane derived ethanol is economically far more viable than America’s corn based ethanol giveaway to Archer Daniels Midland Company.  Yet Brazil still has many hurdles to overcome, notably the endemic violence, crime and poverty in its shanty towns.  The riots there last month were an embarrassing distraction from the pride and joy of winning the 2016 Summer Olympics.

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Posted on 16-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The Economist thinks that the UK’s political parties should call Scottish Nationalist Party chief Alex Salmond’s bluff an hold a referendum on Scotland’s future.  With only about a third of Scots hankering for independence a referendum could put the idea of reviving an independent Scotland in cold storage for some time.  Alternatively it could set a precedent for repeated referendums on the subject as in Quebec.  The idea of a referendum is fairly unusual in the United Kigdom’s constitutional history.  The Parliament being sovereign major decisions have always been decided in Westminster.  This does permit the passage of essential but unpopular decisions, but they could also result in the elites thumbing their nose at public will (as was the case with the original Act of Union).  None of this will of course address the fundamental constitutional flaws that the United Kingdom currently faces.

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Posted on 16-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Ever since Barack Obama announced his plans to close the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Republicans have been in a lather about the perceived risks that would happen if these terrorists were transferred to a federal super-max facility.  The fact that these facilities already house people like the original World Trade Center bomber, Ramzi Yousef somehow seems to elude them as does the fact that nobody has actually escaped from these facilities. Finally some conservatives (Republican Congressman and Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr, David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform) have called out the GOP for its scaremongering.  Yet somehow I do not hold out hope that any of the prospective 2012 candidates will display any fortitude and stand up to the Republican base.

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The New York Times profiles former Sandinista dictator Daniel Ortega’s end around term limits in Nicaragua.  A persistent conflict in democracies is the extent to which institutions bow down to popular will.  Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and his acolytes (Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Ortega and former Honduran president Zelaya) have complained with some justification that Latin America’s institutions have historically ignored the economic underclass and indigenous minorities.  However, their solution essentially replaces military caudillos with elected populist ones.  The end results are just as bad and like Chavez the populist demagogues start justifying their stay in power because they are some how irreplaceable.  The elected populist demagogue is not unknown in Latin American history as the disastrous career of Argentina’s Juan Peron can attest.

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I finally got around to reading this blog article that my brother sent me with links to a BBC interview with Warren Buffett.  Am linking the video from the article below because they are definitely worth watching.  Buffett is a rare rich person today who is not offended by the progressive tax rate, though he notes that he also benefits from the capital gains rate.  Buffett and his friend Bill Gates also represent a fading class of the rich in America, one that believed that their great wealth brought with it social responsibility and not just greater power to be exploited.

First part of the interview here:

Second part of the interview here:

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Posted on 15-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Yglesias raises a question whether by terming terrorism as war you end up justifying (at least in part) the declarations of the perpetrators that they are somehow holy warriors instead of murderous thugs. This comes in light of the Obama administration’s decision to finally bring the 9/11 accused to trial.  This has caused the usual suspects including Rudy Giuliani to raise the standard weak on terror charge (ignoring his previous support for such trials by the Bush administration). A depressing characteristic of American conservatives after 9/11 is their willingness to eviscerate the rule of law in this country by permitting limitless wireless wiretaps, challenging the patriotism of attorneys who defended the Guantanamo accused (forgetting that John Adams defended the accused in the Boston Massacre) and letting a President claim that he can hold suspects (initially even American citizens) in prison indefinitely without trial.

After the Bush administrations bungled the opportunity of military tribunals by patently trying to turn them into show trials, it is hard to see how they could have regained international credibility.  However, a civilian trial is not without risks.  It requires a strong judge who will prevent the proceedings from turning into a circus Zacarias Moussaoui attempted to do and Slobodan Milosevic managed to do.

Ultimately, it is antithetical to American values to indefinitely hold persons without trial.  While some conservatives are fond of stating that as non-citizens have no rights, it flies in face of the Constitution which extend these rights to all “persons” and not just “citizens”.  It is time these criminals stop being used as a bogeyman to curb American values and liberty.

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Posted on 15-11-2009
Filed Under (Technology) by Rashtrakut

Fareed Zakaria sounds off on the risk that America may be losing its innovative edge.  He may have a point.  Over the last 100 years America has benefited from the brain drain from other countries, whether it was people fleeing persecution or emigrating for superior job opportunities.  All of this was also made possible by the finest higher education system in the world.  That no longer automatically holds true.

Like with many field leaders in the past the American education and political systems sat on their laurels.  The first item that seems to get cut in every state budget seems to be higher education.  The problems with high school education do not stem entirely from money, but even there resources are often a problem in inner city schools.  Worse, as the Chinese and Indian economies start creating job opportunities at home and with the American manufacturing industry in decline, their graduates no longer automatically consider America as the top job destination.  With improving economies the quality of research institutions that can compete with American universities is increasing.  And then there is the American immigration system which in the throes of post-9/11 paranoia scared off many researchers from moving to the United States.

The United States still has some advantages over the rest of the world.  However, harnessing that can use assistance from governmental entities not obsessed with tax cuts and who understand the importance of creating an infrastructure for growth and overcoming libertarian ideologues who pretend that the American  success story occurred in a government free vacuum.

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Posted on 14-11-2009
Filed Under (Accident of History, History, India) by Rashtrakut

Fore previous posts in this category click here.

The next rumination in this series focuses on what I term as an accidental empire – Mughal Empire.  For the descendants of a bunch of Central Asian marauders, the Mughals have been indelibly entwined with the image of India.  From the Taj Mahal, to the Mughlai cuisine that is the staple of Indian restaurants across the world, to the loan word Mogul that has been incorporated into the English language the cultural influence of the Mughals survives to this day.

Yet the Mughals were in many ways an accident.  The survival of their Empires territorial integrity for so long is in marked contrast to their Timurid cousins.  The prevalence of polygamy and concubinage caused recurrent succession problems across most Islamic dynasties.  The Ottomans would solve this by a mass slaughter of the siblings of the new monarch (Mehmed III would notoriously commence his reign by executing 19 of his siblings).  After this blood letting almost brought the dynasty to an end following the death of Murad IV (his only surviving heir was his insane brother Ibrahim), the Ottomans would formalize the policy started by their father Ahmed I.  Henceforth princes would be locked in the Kafes (literally the Cage), a section of the harem where they were under surveillance and often with concubines too old to get pregnant, and the succession to the throne rotated through seniority.  While this stopped the blood letting, it eventually resulted in the succession of emasculated, unprepared and often psychologically disturbed men who oversaw the Ottoman Empire’s long decline.

The Timurids did things differently.  Traditionally each prince received an appanage to rule.  The obvious result was a fragmentation of authority and near constant fratricidal strife following the death of the founder of the house Timur-e-lang (Tamerlane).  Weakened by civil war, the fragmented Timurid states would be mopped up by the emerging Safavid Empire of Persia in the west and the Shaybanid Uzbeks from the east.  This pressure from both ends ultimately forced the founder of the Mughal dynasty Zahir ud din Muhammad Babur to abandon his dream of restoring Timur’s empire from Samarkand and head east where the disorder in the Delhi Sultanate under the incompetent Ibrahim Lodi opened up new venues of action.  Accidental opportunity #1 Read the rest of this entry »

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