Posted on 03-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut
  • Obama donors are feeling left out as they lose some of the traditional access perks of fund raisers.  Fits with a populist theme of the campaign, but am not sure why giving freebies to donors that soothe their ego as opposed to rewriting legislation to suit their needs is all that bad.  A string of unhappy donors could bite the Obama campaign fund raising machine in the butt in 2012.
  • Yglesias highlights the continuing struggles and hypocrisy of main stream media in dealing with Internet based rivals. It is bad enough that Rupert Murdoch whines that Google and blogs like this one (well maybe not this one) who link to his sites are parasites, but now they complain when the sites do the actual journalistic legwork.  While complaining about the websites being ideologically slanted, the same main stream media rallied around Fox as a legitimate news operation.  This Jon Stewart video link in a  previous blog post is worth watching.
  • Daniel Gross thinks the markets overreacted to the Dubai debt crisis last week.  Maybe someone can recommend an expert from the Chicago school to explain to him how our efficient markets are composed of rational actors instead of a bunch of traumatized lemmings.
  • China tries to rescue the story of Mulan from the Disney interpretation.  Must be galling to see the “definitive” interpretation of a historic/legendary icon be a foreign version with the Disney formula of communicative animals and a klutzy dragon. Reminds me of the controversy in India about Peter Brook’s version of the Mahābhārat.

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    Posted on 03-12-2009
    Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

    A decade later Malaysians cannot be blamed for wondering if they are in a time warp.  Ten years after opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim was convicted in a controversial and lurid trial for sodomy, the Malaysian government is back at it.  The charge yet again is sodomy.  However, as Anil Netto points out the political environment in Malaysia has changed.  Mahathir Mohamad no longer reigns supreme.  Malaysian politics is more fractured and as a result more democratic.  The ruling party suffered unprecedented losses in national and provincial elections last year and while it still holds on to power the facade of invincibility is gone.

    The Malaysian government is playing a tricky game here and risks creating a political martyr.  The 1999 trial was widely criticized (former Vice President Al Gore called it a joke) and resulted in widespread sympathy for Anwar.  With its control over the media weakened the Malaysian government will find it much harder to control the domestic narrative during this trial, particularly if the evidence is seen as tainted or coerced.  Whatever the result of the trial, Malaysia appears to be the latest ASEAN country headed into turbulent headwinds.

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    Posted on 03-12-2009
    Filed Under (Environment) by Rashtrakut

    Suketu Mehta with a passionate column on how 25 years after the Bhopal gas disaster legal immunity from corporate structures, government apathy and the unspoken fact of a lower value assigned to deaths in certain places have contributed to the continuing environmental and human catastrophe in the area.  Some of the charges against Union Carbide fit into the caricatured stereotype of  the evil multi-national that will have superior safety standards in the West but will ignore them in the third world.  The Indian government also fully lives up to its stereotypes of incompetence and bureaucratic apathy.

    Bhopal also presents the delicate balance between a company’s legal and moral obligations.  Right now the legalists are winning.  So while the activists complain, the Indian government dithers, Dow claims legal immunity the contamination in the area continues, people still fall sick and die and as usual nothing gets done.  The dead in Bhopal are currently the collateral damage to India’s aspirations for the future for which future profits will not be endangered.

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    Posted on 03-12-2009
    Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

    An interesting read from Time on how a legal loophole allows the United States to maintain nuclear weapons in Europe which in a nightmare scenario could allow Dutch, Belgian, Italian and German pilots to engage in nuclear war.  These bombs are not militarily necessary and are politically unpopular in the host countries.  However, they are justified on political grounds to bind the NATO allies together and even more ludicrously (particularly since one of the problems with NATO is the defense spending cuts by the Europeans after the Cold War) to prevent a nuclear arms race on the continent.  It is also the type of legal parsing that hurts American credibility when it tries to prevent other countries from acquiring the bomb.

    Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons was a difficult task to begin with before additional complications were added into the picture.  The NPT’s arbitrary time line dividing nuclear and non-nuclear powers does not help (and was a big reason why India refused to sign the treaty in the first place).  Then you have the tacit understanding that Israel has nuclear weapons but will never be criticized for it because they are deemed essential for its survival.  Countries like Japan are widely believed to have the knowledge necessary to produce nuclear weapons on a moments notice (which is what some observers believe Iran is really after).  And then the Bush administration muddled the picture further with talk of developing tactical nuclear devices.

    It is not hard to see why conspiracy theorists come to the conclusion that non-proliferation is really designed to divide the world into permanent nuclear haves and have-nots with special rules applied to countries in American favor.

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    Posted on 02-12-2009
    Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut
    • Pakistan’s cautious response to the Obama speech and worries it will push the fighting into Pakistan itself.
    • Counting on the successful elections this weekend to break the country’s isolation, the Honduran parliament refuses to reinstate deposed President Zelaya.  My guess is that other than hot air coming from Caracas and its allies, they are probably right.
    • Jane Hamsher starts a rebellion on Obama’s left flank.  It could be a positive for the Democrats if it energizes their base for 2010.  But it could also turn into the nihilistic crusade of the sort that doomed the Republicans in NY-23 if this spins out control.
    • Elizabeth Warren warns about the disappearance of the middle class.
    • The White House claims executive privilege in preventing its social secretary from testifying before Congress in connection with the party crashing.  Administrations change, executive overreach and refusal to be held accountable does not.
    • Huckabee doubles down on his clemency decision for the teenager who eventually became a cop killer.  As noted in yesterday’s post it does not appear that his commutation order was unjustified by the facts at the time.  However, at least one person thinks he protests too much about the “disgusting” attacks.

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      Posted on 02-12-2009
      Filed Under (Current Affairs, Economics, History) by Rashtrakut
      • Christopher Hitchens complains about how the saga of the party crashers overshadowed the visit of Manmohan Singh to the United States and vents about the state of media coverage.  This is hardly a new phenomenon, though it seems to have got worse in the last 20 years.  From my viewpoint the O. J. Simpson circus, I mean trial, was the start of this nonsense.  It showed when the media cut away from Clinton’s state of the union address to announce the civil verdict against OJ.
      • The Economist’s Banyan on how North Korea in the finest traditions of bankrupt regimes “revalued” its currency and robbed its citizens.
      • More Afghan perceptions on Obama’s speech.
      • A depressing read on how the Taliban is wrecking the rich Buddhist heritage of the region and threatening museums in Pakistan.
      • The Economist cites a Stephen Walt column on how German unifier Otto von Bismarck’s realism may be a guide on a realistic foreign policy to ease tensions in the world and tackle Iran.  It is an interesting theory, but historical analogies don’t always fit.  Bismarck’s concert of powers was ultimately doomed because Russia and Austria-Hungary’s ambitions (along with their proxies Serbia and Bulgaria) clashed in the Balkans and an over-powerful Germany clashed with the traditional British agenda since the Spanish Armada of preventing any one power from dominating the European continent.  These tensions were already evident by the time of Bismarck’s unceremonious dismissal.
      • How far will Dubai’s woes rein in Sheikh Makhtoum’s ambitious agenda?  It gives conservative Abu Dhabi a lot more leverage.

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        The Mughal Emperor Akbar is famous for his tolerance (including the repeal of the jizya on the non Muslim population) and his open encouragement of religious debate that resulted in an attempt to create a syncretic faith the Din-i-ilahi.  While browsing through the upcoming CNG Triton XIII auction, I stumbled across a numismatic example of this tolerance from this coin depicting the Hindu deity Ram and his consort Sita.

        This is a fascinating coin on so many levels.  First, it is a rare numismatic representation of Ram and it is ironic that it appears on the coinage of a Muslim ruler. To the extent Hindu coinage represented deities, the goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) was the most popular choice (See here, here, here and here for examples).  Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva and their consorts make their appearance on Vijayanagar coinage.  But Ram is a rare subject for Indian numismatics (after a quick search I found this coin for Akbar’s Vijayanagar contemporary Tirumala II but have not seen many more) and is more likely to show up on temple tokens.

        Then there is the irony that Ram would be the subject matter of this coin.  Akbar’s grandfather Babur allegedly destroyed the temple built on the site of Ram’s birthplace.  A movement to correct this historical wrong has simmered for about 150 years until it burst on to the Indian political landscape in the 1980s.  The after effects are still felt today.

        Finally there is the unusual presence of images on Muslim coins.  Since the religion eschews depictions of the human form, Islamic coinage has often relied on calligraphy and geometric forms (See here and here) to enhance the coinage.  Images appeared in transitional coinage like the Arab-Sassanian or the Arab-Byzantine variety or by Muhammad Bin Sam after his conquest of Delhi where he continued the gold coinage with Lakshmi for a while.  There were a few coins on horseback like the Seljuks or Iltumish (See coins 216 and 217 on page 14) of the Delhi Sultanate or the series by Seljuk Sultan Kaykhusraw II honoring his wife.

        Akbar’s son and successor Jahangir would commission an equally fascinating (and as a result now widely forged) series of Zodiac coins.  But the open adoption of another deity in a non-transitional coin is unique in Islamic numismatics (indeed the incorporation of Jesus Christ on Byzantine coinage by Justinian II caused the caliph Abd al-Malik to commence the tradition of Islamic coinage largely bearing scripts).

        A truly fascinating (and given the estimate, expensive) example how far Akbar’s theological discussions and disputations took him.

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        http://www.vcoins.com/ancient/ancientcoinscanada/store/viewItem.asp?idProduct=8002
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        Posted on 02-12-2009
        Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

        Barack Obama’s speech yesterday threw no surprises. (Transcript here).   More troops are headed to Afghanistan (see previous post here) which has caused heartburn on the left.  There are assurances that this is not an indefinite mission and troops are supposed to start coming back by 2011 which has caused conniptions on the right.  There have been the expected harrumphs about fighting corruption and getting the Afghans ready to step up when the Americans leave (original post on Afghanistan from this blog here).

        What is unclear whether this is feasible.  If the Afghan army is still a figment of imagination (previous post here) and the Karzai government remains as incompetent (both very likely scenarios) will the United States really start withdrawing to the chorus from Republicans that Obama “lost” Afghanistan?  Hopefully the answer is yes, because the prospect of an American withdrawal may be the only way to jolt the Afghan government to action.

        What happens if the Taliban withdraws to its safe havens in Quetta?  Will Pakistan, which only reluctantly turned its guns on its homegrown Taliban, start another fight inside its western border in a province (Baluchistan) already brimming  on the verge of open rebellion?

        What about the various NATO allies who have started withdrawing their troops?  Obama’s address noted that Al Qaeda’s attacks had targeted them as well.  Will that be sufficient to overcome the war weariness in those countries? Germany’s top general and deputy defense minister were forced to resign last week over a botched air strike and there are calls for a German withdrawal by 2011.

        A successful solution is not entirely in American hands and relies a great deal on lady luck (and on wobbly Pakistan doing its bit).  Obama’s speech was a sober and realistic appraisal of the situation on the ground, but perhaps too optimistic (as such speeches always are) about success in the future (See Juan Cole’s take here).  The “success” of the Iraqi surge may have raised hopes of similar success in Afghanistan, but these are two entirely different societies with very different problems.  The future in Afghanistan remains murky.

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        Posted on 01-12-2009
        Filed Under (Current Affairs, Politics) by Rashtrakut

        Mike is Huckabee under fire for yet another clemency grant.  However, unlike his previous politically motivated attempt to pardon Wayne DuMond this one seems to have been motivated by a genuine attempt to do the humanitarian thing that will (and is already being) exploited by his political opponents.    I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, as Yglesias notes the commutation of the sentence (Huckabee did not send Clemons out of the jail house door) may have been justified at the time.  On the other hand as Joe Conason at Salon notes, Huckabee who disdains the separation of church and state may have let the professions of religion influence his commutations.  Just as when the conversion of death row inmate Karla Faye Tucker to Christianity brought calls for clemency from Pat Robertson, one wonders whether a conversion to another faith would have been as helpful to Clemons.

        Even though Huckabee’s excessive public displays of religiosity and his refusal to acknowledge the utility of the wall between church and state are a turnoff to me and like Sarah Palin he is somewhat light in his grasp of policy,  he is in many ways an appealing politician.  He does not come off as mean spirited and has a affability and sense of humor that can draw people to him.  Whatever his motivations, in a culture where the way to fight crime is to incarcerate and forget about rehabilitation he was willing to stick his neck out on the belief that people can reform.  This time it had tragic results and he will pay the price at the hands of a political and media culture that prefers cardboard cutout politicians.  It is a pity that there is no room for him in the dog-eat-dog political world today.

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        Posted on 01-12-2009
        Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut
        • Formerly conservative blogger Charles Johnson on why he parted ways with the right.
        • The latest from a birther unable to accept the results of the 2008 Presidential election trying to get a local jury to indict Barack Obama for treason, even though treason is a federal and not a state offense.
        • Praise for George W. Bush.
        • This one made me chuckle (picture below).  Using humor to bash gay bashers.

        Coudroy skirts are a sin

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        Posted on 01-12-2009
        Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

        Jackie Ashley from the Guardian has an article detailing the various machinations on the subject.  On a sidebar after reading the article, it is amusing to see how much the cause of union is aided by the Scottish need for a financial bailout.  A major selling point for the Act of Union in 1707 allegedly was a financial bailout for the disastrous Darien Scheme.  With Scottish Banks requiring bailout today it is not surprising that some Scots can appreciate the benefits of the Union Jack over the Saltire standing by itself.  With the Scots absorbing a higher proportion of Westminster’s largess it is not surprising that the English have cooled a bit on the Union.

        The modification in English attitudes reminds me of the response of a friend resident in Ontario at the thought of Quebec seceding from Canada.  He was tired of Ontario subsidizing Quebec and then hearing grumbling from Québécois on how they would be better off with their own country.  Similar attitudes prevail today in Belgium with Flanders and Wallonia eternally at odds with each other and very few “Belgian” institutions (the monarchy and the soccer team) in place holding the country together.  Unions of different cultures are always difficult to sustain.  When the common bond (historically it was often religion or a personal union of crowns) starts to fray, people are all to eager to question whether the sum of the whole exceeds the sum of the parts.  A few more velvet divorces may be in the offing.

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