Posted on 09-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Numismatics) by Rashtrakut

After death panels, Sarah Palin has moved on to the currency.  This time the target is the now abandoned move of the phrase “In God We Trust” to the edge of new dollar coins.  Left out in the speech was the fact that this change was approved by the Republican controlled Congress in 2005, signed by President Bush into law and has already been reversed in 2007.  Also unadressed is the fact that the phrase has not been present on American coins for a large part of the nation’s history and did not become mandatory until 1955.  Luminaries like Teddy Roosevelt opposed the inclusion of the phrase as a cheap political stunt.  Yet another item overlooked in the search for the latest controversy to fire up the base is the benign artistic rationale for the change, to allow more dramatic artwork similar to earlier American coinage.  But why let facts come in the way of a good conspiracy theory.

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Posted on 09-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Some good news from the middle east.  Iraq’s parliament finally approved an electoral law that will allow it to administer a national election in January without the boycotts that plagued the last election.  There is an element of kicking the can down the road, particularly with respect to Kirkuk, but it is heartening to see a compromise decided peacefully and not with guns.  Here’s hoping that the other ethnic mish-mash America is involved in continues on this path.

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Posted on 09-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The United Nations has declared the Afghan electoral farce as “credible and legitimate.”  I understand the political motivations for this resolution but frankly it insults the intelligence of anybody who is not a political hack.  How credible is a process where blatant fraud was initially overlooked, a runoff was ordered under intense international pressure, and the challenger eventually decided it was not worth it because the crooks in charge of the first round would administer the runoff.  We are stuck with Hamid Karzai and his kleptocrats because there is no Pashtun acceptable to the other minorities in Afghanistan.  Now the result of Karzai’s ham-handed and probably unnecessary electoral rigging is the alienation of the very minorities he was supposedly acceptable to.   The international community is understandably wary of redrawing the map, particularly when the border has remained in place for over 150 years.  However, at some point the question must be asked whether the tribal mish-mash that is Afghanistan is really viable as a modern state.

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A 2,500 year old mystery based on a Herodotus story sometimes dismissed as a fable may have been solved.  The Persian Emperor Cambyses II has generally not received good press from historians.  Some of it comes from the difficulty of being the successor of Cyrus the Great, a man who turned a nation of goatherders subject to the Median Empire into what was the largest empire the world had ever seen.  Media, Babylon and Lydia with the famed wealth of Croesus fell before Cyrus.  Cambyses finished the job by conquering the last remaining empire of antiquity, Egypt.

This is when things started to go south and the legend of the lost army begins.  After his initial victory Cambyses failed to subdue Kush in the south and had to give up his plan to attack Carthage because his Phoenician subjects refused to fight their ethnic kin.  The frustrated emperor decided to vent his rage at the Oracle of Amun located in the Siwa Oasis which refused to recognize him as Pharaoh of Egypt.  According to Herodotus the army of 50,000 disappeared in a sandstorm.  An army that size generally leaves behind some traces.  But for 2,500 years nothing was found.  If true, this solves one of the two major location mysteries of Ancient Egypt (the other is the location of the tomb of Alexander the Great which disappears from the historical record in the early third century AD).

To sum up on poor Cambyses, he came to a sticky end.  Forced to leave Egypt to deal with the revolt of his brother Bardiya, he died suddenly.  His eventual successor Darius I would say it was suicide.  Darius, a cousin, who usurped the throne from Bardiya and ruled successfully for 36 years lavished a lot of effort in blackening the reputations of the sons of Cyrus.  Cambyses comes down as a bloodthirsty and moody tyrant who initiated a tradition of royal incest in violation of Persian norms.  Bardiya suffers a worse fate.  The man deposed by Darius was dismissed as an impostor, a Magi priest named Gaumata, who killed the real son of Cyrus.   All of this justified the bloody path of Darius to the throne, sealed by his marriage to the daughters of Cyrus.  As is often the case, the winner got to write history.  In this case the victor inscribed his version in stone.

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