Posted on 30-12-2009
Filed Under (History, India, Numismatics) by Rashtrakut

The Indo-Scythian King Azes II is mostly known by his diverse coinage.  However, in the West and the Numismatic world he is often known by claims that he was on of the Three Kings/Wisemen/Magi who attended the birth of Jesus.  There is of course no evidence in the historical record to support this assertion and the historical Azes may not even have been alive at the time of the birth of Jesus.

Indo-Scythian Kingdom from Wikipedia

None of this has prevented (even reputed) coin dealers from attaching the relatively obscure Indo-Scythian King who ruled a loosely held kingdom across Northwestern India and Afghanistan (that crumbled shortly after his death) to the Nativity.  Given the tendency for price inflation of items connected to the Bible this has likely elevated the asking price for and interest in the coins of Azes II which are largely minted in the style of the Indo-Greeks.

Azes II Coin from Wikipedia

Silver coin of King Azes II (r.c. 35-12 BCE). Obv: King with coat of mail, on horse, holding a sceptre, with Greek royal headband. Greek legend ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ ΑΖΟΥ "The Great King of Kings Azes". Rev: Athena with shield and lance, making a hand gesture identical to the Buddhist vitarka mudra. Kharoshti legend MAHARAJASA RAJADIRAJASA MAHATASA AYASA "The Great King of Kings Azes". Buddhist triratna symbol in the left field.

Even if the three magi who visited Bethlehem were actually Kings, that one of them would be a central Asian nomad who abandoned his kingdom to travel across the hostile Parthian Empire to a small hamlet in an obscure corner of the world strains credulity. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted on 30-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

In the week long hiatus taken in my blogging activities, the expected protests in Iran have taken place.  The obtuse decision to treat all mourners at Ayatollah Montazeri’s funeral as protesters and shedding blood on Ashura, the Iranian regime is providing further proof of its ideological bankruptcy.  However, as has been noted many times in this blog the tipping point will not come until a sizable portion of the security forces refuses to shed further blood of their countrymen.

In the meantime the regime tries to brutally send a message by targeting relatives of some of the leaders of the protest – like killing the nephew of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi or arresting the non-political sister of Shirin Ebadi.  However, neither of them or even the brave Mehdi Karroubi appears to be the driving force behind the protests.

Iran’s youth (70% of the population is under 30) is making its displeasure felt.  Unlike 1979 there is no charismatic figure like Ayatollah Khomieni waiting in the wings.  While this could make it harder to topple the regime, it also makes it harder for the regime to scuttle the protests by eliminating a select leadership.

In some ways the Rubicon was thoroughly crossed this week.  The Supreme Leader can no longer count on the presumed sanctity of his office to protect him.  The crowds in the street are now baying for his blood.  With some people talking of an Iranian intifada, even the crushing of the current round of protests will only trigger more ferment down the road. The regime can only hope for some external action (of the sort that Messers Netenyahu and the neo-cons would love to provide) that will save their regime.  Here’s hoping they do not get an excuse to force the protesters to rally around a regime they despise.

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Posted on 22-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

As expected the death of Ayatollah Montazeri has brought the crowds back on Iranian streets and the regime predictably tried to tarnish his memory.  Abbas Milani at TNR has a great profile of the man would have been Supreme Leader but for the fact he had a conscience.  The trauma caused to the United States by the embassy takeover and the international loss of face has often blinded Americans to the fact that the Islamic revolution toppled a tyrant (albeit one who ultimately flinched at the thought of firing at the crowds in a manner that did not faze Hafez Assad in Syria or the Chinese regime in the next decade) and that the new regime had broad public backing at inception.

However, the founders of the Islamic Republic of Iran ultimately fell prey to the same moral vacuum that stained past revolutions and led to the Reign of Terror, the Great Purges, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.  Like the French, Russian and Chinese Revolutions before it, the Iranian regime replaced a repressive regime that was far more brutal and had fewer qualms in killing its own citizens.  Montazeri deserves credit for having the moral authority to stand up for to Ayatollah Khomeini and protest the wanton massacre of the regime’s opponents.  For this he suffered house arrest and political exile but earned the respect of his countrymen. It is hardly surprising that the morally and ideologically bankrupt regime is desperately trying to tarnish his name and disrupt his funeral services.  However, by turning him into a martyr they are generating a backlash against the Supreme Leader.

Just how much force the regime is willing to use and whether the mobs will peter out will be evident in the coming days.

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Posted on 21-12-2009
Filed Under (Checks & Balances) by Rashtrakut

The ruckus about the creation of a new Telangana state in India brought to the forefront the issue of “small” vs. “big” states in India.  Federal polity in India has one marked difference that that in the United States.  The United States of America was created by a compact among its constituent states which preceded the national entity.  As a result, even though the constitution permits the splitting or merging of states (Article 4, Section 3, Clause 1) with two exceptions (Maine which was carved out from Massachusetts to create a free state to balance Missouri under the Missouri compromise and West Virginia which seceded from Virginia at the start of the civil war) the American states (territories are a different matter) have been relatively sacrosanct.

This was not the case in India.  The mish mash of the provinces of British India and the princely states that acceded to the India at independence made the reorganization of states essential.  Even though the trauma of partition ensured that the power of states would be curbed (more on that later), in the 1950s the fateful decision was made to reorganize the states on linguistic grounds rather than administrative efficiency.  Larger states have always brought with them a concern that the political influential areas would reap state largess while the less fortunate areas would be ignored.  As a result, demands for breaking up some of the larger states have simmered in the background since the reorganization of the states.

A decade ago the agitators for smaller states found some hope.  Uttarkhand and Jharkhand were carved out of the two most populous states in India.  Chattisgarh was carved out of the geographically largest state in India.  This brought the demand for Telangana to the forefront.  A Telugu speaking region merged into Andhra Pradesh, Telangana previously was part of the former princely state of Hyderabad.  While some of the princely states like Mysore, Baroda and Gwalior were relatively well administered, Hyderabad was not.  The region remained a resource poor economic and educational backwater.  Apart from the capital Hyderabad, a large portion of the province has felt ignored in favor of the more prosperous coastal regions of the state.  The argument was that a Telangana state would create with a more responsive local government which will boost regional development.

Unfortunately the  backing for the position is mixed. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted on 20-12-2009
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Rashtrakut
  • Urban development killing the pigeon rearing tradition in Bangladesh.  Having seen the amount and stench of droppings the birds nicknamed rats with wings can create, somehow I don’t think the other city dwellers are too unhappy.
  • Getting pregnant is now a court martial offense.  Only celibate married soldiers need apply for this General’s army.
  • More climate change in India.  The rainfall in the wettest place in the world is dropping rapidly.
  • Britain looks at modifying its onerous libel laws.  There is a reason why the brilliant South Park episode on Scientology ended with a threat to sue in England.
  • Religious fundamentalism in Israel.  Rabbis say that loyalty to God trumps the orders given by the state (of course they interpret God’s word).  Why exactly are the American right wing so eager to give these religious zealots a free pass?  How exactly are they different than the so called “Islamofascists”?

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Posted on 20-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The New York Times has a piece on a pattern of killings within Hamid Karzai’s extended family and the attempts to hush it up.  Honor killings and revenge killings permeate throughout tribal societies like Afghanistan, but it is distressing to see a westernized family like the Karzai’s engage in such fratricidal bloodletting.  It is also a reminder of how the rule of law necessary for the functioning of civil society simply does not exist in Afghanistan.

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Posted on 20-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri has died.  One of the intellectual creators of the Islamic revolution and originally the designated successor to Ayatollah Khomeini, he was exiled from political power in 1989 for daring to question the abysmal human rights record of the regime and warning that it was using Islam to create a dictatorship.  A concerned regime placed him under house arrest in 1997 only releasing him a few years later when he fell ill to avoid the backlash that his death under arrest would cause.  Many Iranians considered him to be the legitimate “Supreme Leader,” particularly since he outranked the current Supreme Leader Khamenei in the religious hierarchy.  Montazeri came to the forefront this summer when he condemned the blatant rigging of the Presidential election.  His death and his funeral will likely become another occasion for the tensions simmering in Iran to reappear on the street.  More lies turmoil ahead for Iran.  A brave man who dared stand up to the repression of the Shah and the Ayatollahs and who dared question the legitimacy of the Supreme Leader, Montazeri will be missed.

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Posted on 17-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Pakistani President Zardari’s future is cloudy after the Pakistani Supreme Court voided a controversial amnesty granted by former dictator Pervez Musharraf.  Zardari earned his nickname by the alleged kickbacks he received during his wife’s tenure.

One of the tragedies of Pakistan is the venality and incompetence of its civilian politicians (Zardari’s opponent Nawaz Sharif faces similar charges) that allows the (equally corrupt and incompetent military establishment) to project an aura of superiority.  The weakness of Zardari’s government was on full display when the military establishment torpedoed his overtures to India in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks.  This further weakens his government’s ability to prod the military to take on the Taliban.  Like in Afghanistan there is no clear civilian alternative to this mess, though a place holder from within his party can probably be found if Zardari’s resignation is forced.  More turmoil for South Asia’s nuclear-armed failing state lies ahead.

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Posted on 17-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Our beloved tea-baggers (aka Republicans, Fox News Anchors and other mostly white folk still upset about the result of the 2008 elections) had another gathering in Washington to protest the horrors that would happen if health care access was expanded to people who do not have it (even with this flawed bill) and to make yet another brilliant comparison on how health care equates to the holocaust.  I must have missed all the midnight round-ups that seem to occur in the rest of the Western World that has universal health care.  And these are the same patriots fighting tyranny who remained silent when the previous administration asserted a right to detain American citizens indefinitely without trial, to wiretap phones without warrants and claimed that they could choose what laws and constitutional provisions they wanted to follow.  My rant done, I will let Jon Stewart continue his usual brilliant skewering of the hyperbolic nonsense that has enthralled the Republican base.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Highway to Health – Last Tea Party Protest of the Year
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

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The New York Times has a an interesting read about Pakistan’s unwillingness to take on its pet Afghan militant as part of its posturing for a post American Afghan future.  After riding the militant tiger and finding it hard to get off Pakistan is not yet willing to learn its lessons from the past.  Instead as many observers including this blog have noted, it remains steeped in denial and paranoia about Indian intentions in Afghanistan.  It is much easier to engage in tit for tat blame of India (with no real evidence presented) rather than face up to the mess they have made of their country.  While the Pakistani establishment fiddles, its country burns.

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Posted on 16-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Joe Lieberman’s sudden opposition to the Medicare buy in and other aspects of health care reforms seems to have been triggered by liberal enthusiasm for the proposals.  Also, like many of the conservative Blue-Dog Democrats the opposition seems co-related to the amount of campaign contributions from health insurance companies.  It likely explains the general incoherence of his recent explanations on why he abruptly abandoned his long held views (including some like supporting the Medicare buy-in this summer).  Also see here.  The man cannot afford to further tarnish his sanctimonious public persona by explicitly outing himself as an unprincipled narcissist.

Lieberman’s pique at being humiliatingly defeated in the 2004 Connecticut primary have been on display for some time.  Not understanding why some Democrats would be upset at essentially being branded traitors for opposing a poorly planned war and occupation of Iraq, he used the same slander against Barack Obama last fall.  Luckily for him, Barack Obama chose to forgive and forget.

While Lieberman has been a somewhat reliable Democrat on other issues, he chose once again to stick the knife in to the Democrats on a public issue that was hotly debated in the Democratic primaries last year.  Markos Moulitsas seems to have a valid point when he notes that the bill forced by Lieberman would include mandates to buy insurance but no cost controls and is essentially a give away to the insurance industry.  Maybe it is time for Barack Obama to retreat to his original campaign proposal to avoid mandates.

It was very unlikely that Lieberman was ever going to get the 2012 Democratic nomination for re-election.  His victory the last time around was fulled by Republicans and independents (the latter group having soured on him significantly since then).  It will be interesting to see if he makes a last ditch attempt to save his career Arlen Specter style by switching parties in 2010.  With his re-election prospects dim, I will personally not be sorry to see this self important figure fade out of public view.

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Posted on 15-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

After an unexpected hiatus from blogging activities, kick starting the first post of the week with some thoughts on events that would have merited longer posts at the time.

  • I liked the general tenor of Barack Obama’s speech but was amused to see some of the blinders come off on the left and the right as a result.  Liberals unhappy about the decision on Afghanistan saw the president expound a doctrine of just war which in some ways could have been delivered by George W. Bush. Conservatives who had convinced themselves that Obama was a weak anti-war liberal seem to have heard for the first time that the President does not rule out war (they seem to have forgotten his comment in the campaign that he was only against “stupid wars” (though he left may argue that the Afghan escalation IS a stupid war).  Time will tell whether the “Obama Doctrine” fares better than the “Bush Doctrine.”  With its understanding of the limitations of American power, it does have a greater chance of success.
  • The Indian government dropped a bombshell with the creation of a new state.  Will discuss the virtues and pitfalls of smaller states in the Indian constitutional context later this week, but words cannot describe how badly the decision making process was bungled.  First the government gave in to emotional blackmail of a hunger strike, then nobody seems to have discussed the decision with the local government and laid the groundwork, and the critical question of who gets Hyderabad still remains unanswered.  The abrupt decision making process has also suddenly brought to the forefront demands for at least 9 new states.  Before the virtues of these demands are assessed, first the Indian government deserves brickbats for sheer incompetence.
  • The Iranian regime returns Shirin Ebadi’s Nobel peace prize medal.  Previous blog here.
  • One of the two Chicago men arrested for planning a terrorist attack in Denmark seems to be singing about his involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.  Not surprisingly, India wants him extradited.

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Posted on 09-12-2009
Filed Under (Economics) by Rashtrakut

Former Fed chairman Paul Volcker chides the banking industry on their belief that financial innovation contributed to economic growth and their failure to come to grips with excessive pay packages.  Sage words that will probably fall on deaf years in the United States.  Meanwhile the British have gone ahead and passed a windfall bonus tax on its financial sector, probably under the theory that taxpayer largesse in the past year enabled these bonuses to begin with.

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Posted on 09-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Professor Jonathan Turley sounds off on the Obama administration coming to the aid of the man who enabled the Bush administration’s torture regime and suggests that it is a rollback from the principles established at the Nuremberg Judges Trial.  Just caught the good professor on TV and I tend to agree with him that the administration’s rationale would essentially prevent any prosecution of Justice Department attorneys for any such lawbreaking in the future.  Unlike many of the brave attorneys in the JAG Corp who spoke out at the risk of their careers Yoo and his ilk essentially enabled the Bush administration’s run around well settled law to pretend that torture by any other name was not torture.  Worse, the harm to American values and reputation produced by giving in to fear does not appear to have produced much of substance (or anything that was not coming in through legal means).  As a friend once told me, Presidents seldom give up executive power.  Still, it is disturbing to see the Obama administration’s craven retreat on this issue.

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In the last decade it has become fashionable for politicians to disclaim any academic knowledge or broader understanding of the world beyond to assure voters that they are just like them.  It came to the forefront in 2000 when two silver spoon ivy league graduates with mediocre college grades faced off for the presidency.  The difference was that one almost reveled in his ignorance and the other over the years had developed a wonkish reputation on the environment and technology matters.  The pattern was repeated in 2004 when another silver spoon ivy leaguer challenged George W. Bush for the presidency and where his grasp of foreign languages was deemed a liability, Karl Rove infamously telling the media that John Kerry looked French.

In 2008 Barack Obama’s double ivy league education was used to classify him has an out of touch elitist.  All of this conveniently ignored the fact that unlike Messers Gore, Bush and Kerry (and for that matter even John McCain whose lineage of admirals likely eased his path into the naval academy over mediocre grades) Obama (like Bill Clinton before him) was a self made man (and for those crying affirmative action he did not disclose his race on his law school application).  And then came the Sarah Palin phenomenon where the Republican candidate for Vice President almost gloried in her ignorance of world affairs beyond the canned talking points.  (See previous blog post here).

Anti-intellectualism is not unknown in American history.  Adlai Stevenson was infamously dismissed as an egghead.  And book knowledge is also not a guarantee of good governance.  But taken too far it can have disturbing results where politicians cannot grasp the difference between faith and science (case in point the ridiculous attempts to term creationism as science).  It is also disturbing in a country that desperately needs to maintain its technological edge but has had to import its scientists for many decades.

This matter came to mind when I watched the Jon Stewart clip below yesterday.  It is bad enough that Fox seems to insist that its women anchors wear skirts with high hemlines, possibly to distract the audience from the factual liberties that happen there by “accident” from time to time.  But having a host (in Stewart’s words) “dumb herself down to connect with an audience who sees intellect as an elitist flaw” (or perhaps to connect with the dim-bulbs who are her co-hosts) seems a bit much.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Gretchen Carlson Dumbs Down
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

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Posted on 09-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

More unrest on Iran’s streets and campuses.  See here, here, and here.  As the protests have dragged on they have become more brazen in insulting the Supreme Leader Khamenei.  The desperate regime has started targeting the protesters globally, arresting mothers mourning their children killed in the protests, and lately assaulting presidential candidate Mousavi and his wife.  And even in the face of the batons of the Basij and the guns of the revolutionary guard the brave students of Iran continue to march and protest.  The hope for Iran is that as the protests continue and the support base of the regime weakens the men with guns start to waver, and messers Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and their bomb first ask questions later enablers in the United States do not do something stupid to prop up an intellectually bankrupt regime.

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Posted on 09-12-2009
Filed Under (Technology) by Rashtrakut

The latest in the recording industry’s crusade against potential customers.  A federal judge has reluctantly signed off on a $675,000 verdict for illegally downloading 30 songs.  The recording industry’s lobbyists convinced Congress that these amounts were needed to “protect artists” who do not get much of these royalties to begin with and the punitive nature of this fine would deter illegal downloads.  However, at some point the dollar amount of the award reaches ridiculous levels.  The victory here is symbolic.  The defendant in this case will file bankruptcy and most of this fine will not be paid.

While the recording industry chose the brilliant tactic of suing would be consumers and opposed the relentless march of technology, the music market has moved beyond overpriced CDs.  In the age of the Ipod the battle over Napster and Kazaa seems dated.  In the event the Senate gets out of the spell of the RIAA’s lobbyists and amends copyright law (unlikely) the phyrric nature of the industry’s  victory will be even more evident.

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Posted on 07-12-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

What a difference from the Musharraf years, when the former Pakistani dictator peddled his b.s. and nobody in Washington bothered to check him.  However, by the end even the Bush administration lost patience with him starting covert drone attacks and looking the other way when street protests forced him into exile.  After years of ignoring the problem the Obama administration is essentially throwing down the gauntlet.  One of the concerns with the Afghanistan surge was that the Taliban could execute a strategic retreat to its Pakistani hideouts.  Now Pakistan evidently faces the choice of dealing with insurgents in its territory of having American drones do the job.

Neither option is particularly palatable to Pakistan.  Reeling from a wave of terrorist attacks, a move against the Afghan Taliban could make the situation worse.  On the other hand, its bruised national pride will find it hard to bear expanded American strikes inside its territory.  Another concern is that the civilian government already weakened by a pending court challenge to its legitimacy may not survive.  However, the real power in Pakistan belongs to the Army-ISI nexus.  While presenting them with stark choices, the administration has tried hard not to alienate them.

President Obama’s Afghanistan speech did not spend too much attention on Pakistan.  However, Pakistan is the key to resolving the military portion of the Afghanistan problem.  The Taliban’s safe havens that have existed with relative impunity over the past decade and beyond have to go if the Afghan surge is to have any success.

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Posted on 07-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Sports) by Rashtrakut
  • Just how bad are the Chicago Bulls?  Opposing player with the ball ties his shoes in live play and no Bulls player even tries to take the ball.  See link (includes video).
  • Not a shocker.  Vladimir Putin hints that he may run for President and take back his previous office in 2012.  Meanwhile legal institutions and the rule of law in his country atrophy.
  • Nicolas Sarkozy shoots off his mouth, ticks off the United Kingdom.
  • Former Pakistani dictator’s graft amnesty challenged in court.  It could affect the ability of President Zardari formerly known as Mr. Ten Percent to stay in power.
  • Iraq may have finally got a deal to hold its elections.  Previous blogs here and here.  The electoral deal staves off a potential civil war over sharing power and oil revenues.  Here’s hoping it holds.  Maybe we can finally start satisfying some of the other benchmarks George Bush talked about.

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    Posted on 07-12-2009
    Filed Under (Sports) by Rashtrakut

    Its that time of the year again.  When the traditional American meritocratic process falls sway to the blind appeal of tradition.  When the BCS Cartel starts spinning reasons why the atrocity of a post season is justified behind pointless slogans like “Its all for the student athlete” “In the current system every game is a playoff”  “The tradition of the bowls are essential to college football” “There is no way to devise a playoff that will satisfy everybody”  Concerned with fan unrest that shows over 80% of the fan base disliking the current system, the cartel hired former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer to peddle the increasingly laughable talking points for the current system.

    After the last three seasons it is laughable to suggest that the virtue of the current system is that every game is a playoff.  Two years ago the national title game consisted of a 1 loss Ohio State team and a 2 loss LSU team (somehow more deserving than all the other 2 loss teams) both of which lost their last home game.  Last year’s title game was a match up of one loss teams (magically deemed superior to the other one loss).  Oklahoma made the title game primarily because of a 3 way tie-break that relegated a team from Austin with a castrated bovine mascot to a lot of teeth gnashing.  This year the title game participants were chosen out of FIVE unbeaten teams.  The team from Austin that whined last year got to the title game largely based on pedigree, not having beaten any team of substance this year.  Yet the argument persists and will be repeated each year.  Just tell TCU, Cincinnati and Boise State this year how every game is a playoff.

    College football’s ruling chiefs made it clear how much they cared about the welfare of the student-athlete (at most of the football factories the student appellation is a bit of a joke) when they raised the regular season to 12 games.  The change allowed the larger schools to rake in more revenue with an additional home game.  Somehow college basketball and baseball seasons survive across two semesters, but a playoff induced extension of the season into early January would be unbearable to the football player ( a ridiculous argument made worse by the scheduling of the so called national title game in the second week of January).

    Other than the fans of the schools participating, most fans don’t care about the proliferation of bowls featuring teams with 6-6 records.  The college basketball playoff shows just how popular a football playoff could be.  Unfortunately, it will not happen in the near future.  The real reason is one which everybody knows but will never be uttered by the BCS honchos.  Money.

    A playoff would require money to be shared equally among conferences.  The current system keeps the premier bowls and as result the lions share of the bowl money with the major conferences.  Under congressional pressure, the BCS reluctantly modified its rules a few years ago to make it easier to accommodate small conference schools.  This year with Oklahoma State’s belly flop against Oklahoma, Pittsburgh’s failure to knock off Cincinnati and Nebraska’s failure to shut the door on that school in Austin they reluctantly feature two small conference schools – TCU and Boise State.

    And so the cycle continues.  This rant will return next year as a meaningless venting exercise.  Half of college football will start the season knowing that even perfection will not give them a share of the national title (Utah last year and TCU/Boise State/Cincinnati this year).  Even though every other sport and every other division of football somehow manages a playoff this will somehow be impossible to structure in the top tier of college football.  So the “championship” will remain decided by generally clueless media voters and not on the field.  Cartels of the world rejoice…you have college football shackled in chains.

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    Posted on 04-12-2009
    Filed Under (History) by Rashtrakut

    Interesting NY Times article on the Turkish nostalgia for the Ottoman past.  Obviously such nostalgia is not uncommon and often bears limited touch to reality.  Even the Taliban claims that they want to create the ideal conditions that supposedly existed under the Rashidun Caliphate, overlooking the fact that the last three of those Caliphs were assassinated (and the last two assassinations were political).  Even in the United States people nostalgically look back to life in the 50s or the alleged nobility in public life under the Founding Fathers.

    As far as nostalgic dreams go the Turks sure have a lot to daydream about.  For the descendants of a steppe tribe whose conquest of Anatolia was almost accidental they blazed their way across the global stage.  The battle of Manzikert was a Turkish victory because of a comedy of errors and treachery and even then with the Byzantine army almost intact did not have to be one of the major turning points in history.  But the Byzantines lapsed into one of their ill timed episodic civil wars and in the ensuing decade most of Anatolia was lost for ever.  Numerous opportunities to reverse the flow were wasted in the coming century.  With the Byzantine Empire reduced to a hollow shell after the disastrous Fourth Crusade, the stage was set for the Ottomans.  The Ottoman rise was meteoric.  From a minor tribe in northwestern Anatolia in the early 1300s they had conquered the Balkans and most of Anatolia in 100 years.  After a brief setback at the hands of Timur, the next 120 years saw the conquest of Constantinople, Syria, Egypt and Hungary, the humiliation of the new Safavid Persian Empire and the first siege of Vienna.

    The long decline that lasted the next 350 years (interspersed with occasional flickers of strength) commenced with the death of Suleiman the Magnificent.  Gradually many of the European and North African conquests were lost.  The Empire survived largely because, like Austria-Hungary, nobody could agree who would fill the vacuum.  The coup de grace was delivered by World War I.  Outrage at the humiliations imposed by the Treaty of Sevres gave rise to the nationalist movement under Ataturk and the elimination of the dynasty.

    It is dangerous to romanticize Ottoman rule too much.   Read the rest of this entry »

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    Posted on 04-12-2009
    Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Rashtrakut

    Two cave dwelling and homeless Hungarian brothers have hit the genetic jackpot when they discovered that they have inherited a portion of a $6.6 billion fortune from a grandmother they never met.  It appears that they each get 1/3 of the inheritance.  Two people who have cause to praise the rigidity of German inheritance laws.

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    Indian authorities (with silent Bangladeshi cooperation) appear to have arrested the head of the United Liberation Front of Asom.  ULFA now appears a spent force and hopefully the mistakes of the past that gave rise to the insurgency will not be repeated.  While the Indian constitution explicitly protects minority religions, cultures and languages and the Indian government has generally not actively discriminated against minorities, India has been plagued by repeated insurgencies and secessionist movements along its periphery.  This was often created by excessive centralization in the aftermath of partition and particularly in the Indira Gandhi years.  The central government also repeatedly dismissed opposition governments in sensitive states like Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir.  While this was also carried out in different parts of the country, needless to say states with large minority populations took umbrage.

    The insurgency in Assam was different in that unlike Kashmir, Punjab or Nagaland the state is largely Hindu.  Assam, like Kashmir, has historically very much been a part of the Indian cultural mileu but due to geographical location was somewhat isolated on the periphery.  The name of the state itself comes from the Ahoms who conquered the ancient Indian region of Kamarupa.  While the Ahoms would defeat Mughal invasion attempts their civil war plagued kingdom was eventually conquered by Burma.  A few years later the British annexed Assam after the First Anglo-Burmese War.

    Assam like Punjab saw its territory drastically reduced after independence when Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh were carved out of the state.  Even now certain tribal gorups like the Bodos have agitated for their own states.  If this was a bruise to the Assamese ego, the Indian government made it worse.  Even though Assam contains most of India’s land based oil reserves the refineries (and the resulting jobs) were relocated to electorally more promising states.  From the 1970s illegal immigration from Bangladesh threatened the religious and demographic make up of Assam, a problem aggravated by unscrupulous politicians enrolling these politicians on the electoral rolls.  By the 1980s Assam was the site of a simmering insurgency.

    Countries don’t often get a chance to fix repeated mistakes.  However, the decline of the Indian National Congress and the emergence of coalition politics at the national level in India has helped ease some of the regional unrest.  Article 356 of the Indian constitution that was repeatedly misused in the past has rarely been used in the last 15 years.  This has allowed Indian state governments to rise and fall on their own merits without New Delhi being used as a scape goat.  The decline of ULFA is an opportunity to finish the transition from the bullet to the ballot to resolve Assam’s problems.

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    Posted on 04-12-2009
    Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

    As the Pakistani army finally turned its guns on the monsters it help create, the monsters have responded with the type of violence that Afghans and Indians have experienced over the years.  For these so called warriors of Islam it is evidently no sin to send suicide bombers into a mosque (reserved for military families) or to blow up schools.  For the zealots who fund and support these terrorists the question must be asked, what sort of state do you think you would gain in the unlikely event these tactics succeed.  With Pakistan finally facing at home the tactics it has used via proxies against India for the past 25 years it is now or never to fix its corroded institutions and fractured civil society.

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    Posted on 04-12-2009
    Filed Under (Religion) by Rashtrakut

    Previous post here.  Now Jon Stewart’s turn to engage in mockery with an amusing sequence at the end regarding Swiss neutrality.

    UPDATE: Particularly amusing is the portion when Oliver raises the issue of Nazi gold to be met with stony silence.  The ambassador is a good sport though on the litmus test.  Meanwhile a Swiss politician puts his foot in his mouth raising the hackles of the Jewish community as well.

    The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
    Oliver’s Travels – Switzerland
    www.thedailyshow.com
    Daily Show
    Full Episodes
    Political Humor Health Care Crisis

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