As a sea of Orange descended on Amsterdam, the Kingdom of the Netherlands got its first King since 1890 – King Willem-Alexander upon the abdication of Queen Beatrix.  After the death of Willem III in 1890, the Dutch have had 3 queens in a row – Wilhelmina, Juliana and Beatrix – all of whom abdicated in old age in favor of their successor.

William III of the Netherlands

William III of the Netherlands

 

King Willem-Alexander, Queen Beatrix and Queen Maxima

King Willem-Alexander, Queen Beatrix and Queen Maxima

The Dutch have had a somewhat tortured history with monarchy.  William of Nassau led the Dutch Revolt against Spain and his title as the independent Prince of Orange (in Southern France) gave him some protection as a sovereign prince.  Yet he was never a King and merely the Stadtholder of  most of the 7 provinces, his brother being the Stadtholder of the rest.  Yet it was the title of Statdtholder of Holland and Zeeland that was key and gave William his title of Captain-General of the Dutch armies and essentially military dictator.  It was also here where the Republican movement was strongest and the resistance to the quasi-monarchial aspects of the Stadtholderate was strongest.

 The Netherlands went through two “Stadtholderless” periods in 5 out of the 7 provinces.  The first from 1650 – 72 after the death of William II until the French invasion.  The second from 1702-1747 after the death of William III (also King of England, Scotland and Ireland) until military failures in another war with France.  The Stadtholders were packed off into exile during the French revolution but the son of the last Stadtholder was restored as King of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (including Belgium and Luxembourg broke away in the 1830s.  Luxembourg went to a male relative after the death of Willem III in 1890.  In the Dutch remnant of the Netherlands, the House of Orange-Nassau has prospered.

Like most of the European monarchies the monarchy is largely ceremonial.  Thanks to the business acumen of Wilhemina, the Dutch Royal House is one of the wealthiest.

The new Queen Maxima also becomes the second Latin American Queen in Europe – after Queen Sylvia of Sweden.  The new King Willem-Alexander will only briefly break the chain of female rule in what should probably be referred to as a Queendom.  He has only daughters and the new heiress to the throne and new Princess of Orange is his daughter Catharina-Amalia.

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Posted on 16-10-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs, India) by Rashtrakut

Pizza, burgers and other fast food are culprits too. These pearls of wisdom are delivered by a member of a Khap Panchayat, in the Indian state of Haryana.

India has been rocked by a series of publicized sexual assaults and honor killings in the past year. This has cast a bright spotlight on the Khaps, caste based village bodies, who are essentially India’s homegrown version of the Taliban. The Khaps have arrogated themselves judicial power independent of the Indian constitution and often wink at honor killings of eloping couples. They are a reactionary throwback for Indians unreconciled to modernity.

It is time the Indian state suppressed these thugs and Indian polity shunned their political enablers.

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Posted on 04-07-2011
Filed Under (History) by Rashtrakut

Otto von Habsburg the last heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne has died at the age of 98.  The son of the unfortunate Karl I (Karoly IV in Hungary), Otto became crown prince in 1916 when his father became the last Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, King of Croatia and King of Galicia and Lodomeria after the long 68 year (tragedy and clamity riven) reign of Franz Josef I came to a close (video of the funeral with a young Otto in the procession below).

 

Otto with Kaiser Franz Josef

Franz Josef witnessed the loss of his dynastic holdings in Italy during Italian unification and the loss of Austrian paramountcy in Germany to Prussia.  His private life was even more calamitous.His brother Maximilian chasing the ephemeral Mexican imperial crown was executed in 1867, his only son Rudolph committed suicide in a bizarre murder-suicide pact in 1889, his beautiful temperamental and estranged wife Elizabeth was assassinated in 1898 by an Italian anarchist who just “wanted to kill a royal” and in 1914 his nephew and heir Franz Ferdinand was assassinated ushering in the First World War.

 

King Charles IV of Hungary, with Zita and Crown Prince Otto. Coronation portrait Budapest, 1916

Emperor Karl was ill-equipped to sustain the creaky Hapsburg state which splintered in 1918.  Failing in two attempts to return to the Hungarian throne, Karl died in exile on the island of Madiera in 1922 leaving the 9 year old Otto at the head of his family.  Prohibited from returning to his native Austria, the young Otto still played a role in the interwar years.  Unlike most of the similarly dispossessed German princelings (Bavaria being an exception), Otto was always an opponent of his fellow Austrian Hitler (the Nazi plan for the invasion of Austria was code named “Otto”).  World War II forced the large Habsburg clan into even remoter exile to avoid closer acquaintance with Gestapo prisons.

It is somewhat fitting that the man once the heir to a creaky pan-European dynastic edifice would morph into a European statesman, serving in the European parliament and working to bring former eastern-bloc countries into the European union.  It is also a reminder how different the political map of Europe looked a century ago.  In 1914 France, Switzerland and Portugal (since 1910) were the only Republics in Europe.  The monarchies of Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey collapsed in World War I.  The monarchies of Italy, Yugoslavia, Albania, Romania & Bulgaria (the last monarchs of the last two are still alive and Symeon II of Bulgaria managed to get elected prime minister a few years ago) were swept away in World War II.  After spending large portions of the previous decades on “vacation” the King of the Hellenes was packed off to his London exile in the 1970s.  Spain is the only oddity to have actually restored its monarchy in the post world-war period.

Royalty survives only on the fringes – Scandinavia, the UK, Spain and the Low Countries – and in memory through the hordes of tourists who flock to Versailles, Neuschwanstein and the Hofburg each year.  So here is a nod to the heir of a bygone Europe who spent his life helping create the new Europe and boldly opposed the Nazis and the Communists.

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Posted on 29-10-2010
Filed Under (History, Politics) by Rashtrakut

Politicians and voters often hearken back to the golden and pure political age of the Founders.  The reality is that political disputes were extremely vicious back then and the Adams administration went as far as implementing Sedition Acts to muzzle dissent.  The man touted as the apostle of limited government and states rights would ban American ships from engaging in foreign trade.  Likewise election campaigns (notably the election of 1800) were outright nasty with verbiage that would be unthinkable today.

To prove this point, the folks at Reason came up with the clip below using the verbiage published by Adams and Jefferson supporters in their Presidential rematch.  Enjoy.

Just for kicks, included below are two classic negative ads from 1964 and 1968.

  • The infamous “Daisy” ad – which only ran once

  • “Agnew for Vice President” – Sadly Agnew had the last laugh in that election

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Posted on 23-10-2010
Filed Under (History) by Rashtrakut

Its the type of story that drives defenders of Bill Clinton nuts.  Evidently during the Lewinsky imbroglio Clinton misplaced the “biscuit” – the device used to open the nuclear football to authenticate  a nuclear strike – for a few months.  The risks of a nuclear strike by another country were low in the Clinton presidency, but that does not excuse his lackadaisical attitude towards the codes.  The loss of the biscuit would not prevent the United States from launching a nuclear strike (and play its part in completing nuclear Armageddon) and would probably not be useful to anybody else.  But as Ambinder notes precious time would be lost clearing up the confusion before the United States could respond.  With Clinton’s office not bothering to issue a denial, the story is probably true.

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Posted on 06-10-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs, History) by Rashtrakut

For a man who made a top 10 list of the wealthiest figures in history and was the third and critical member of the First Triumvirate, Marcus Licinius Crassus at times seems almost a historical footnote.  A talented politician and a competent general, Crassus had the misfortune to share the stage with some of the titans of antiquity – his two partners in the triumvirate Pompey and Julius Caesar, the self-important Cicero and to a lesser extent the inflexible defender of patrician republican virtue Cato the younger.  He shows up in popular culture only when another Spartacus TV series or movie is made.  He was the man who defeated Spartacus, but even there Pompey stole his thunder by claiming that his small mopping up action actually ended the Third Servile War.  His inglorious death against the Parthians at the Battle of Carrhae ended the Triumvirate and started the Roman Republic on its slow march to civil war and replacement by the Empire.  He was noted in his time and beyond for his avarice.  He was once acquitted of the capital offense of seducing a Vestal Virgin, because the judges believed his protestations that he was only interested in acquiring her property for a low price.  In death he would suffer the ultimate indignity, when the Parthians poured molten gold down his corpse’s throat to mock his greed.

I bring up Crassus, because he would have looked at this story from Tennessee with some regret as a lost business opportunity.  Rome did not have a public firefighting force until the reign of Augustus.  Crassus was notorious for appearing on the scene of a burning building and buying it and the surrounding buildings for a significantly reduced price.

Which brings us to the unfortunate Mr. Cranick.  Obion County, Tennessee does not have a fire department but has outsourced it out to the city of South Fulton.  Since he did not live within city limits Mr. Cranick was required to pay $75 if he wanted the service.  This he did not do and must have rued this lapse as he watched his home (along with 3 dogs and cat) burn down.  Since he had not paid the requisite fee the fire department declined to show up on the scene until the fire spread to the property of a neighbor who had paid the fee.

Conservative commentators have applauded the fire department for sticking to a policy and sending a lesson to free loaders.  Liberal ones have been furious at the seeming callous manner the fire department watched the house burn down.  This begs the question, why are such critical services offered ala carte in the year 2010?

A fire emergency hardly seems to be the time to check if a fire bill was paid.  I assume Firefighting 101 calls for containing or eliminating a fire before it does more harm.  By failing to extinguish the fire on Mr. Cranick’s property it was allowed to spread to a neighbors property and could have spread out of control as some western states have discovered.  While this county has outsourced fire fighting to only one provider, if other fire fighting entities become involved additional logistical and ethical issues could arise.  Also, would the county have held rigid to its policy if an individual (as opposed to pets who are treated as chattel under the law) was trapped in the burning house?

These issues could have been avoided with a simple solution.  If the county does not have the resources to field independent fire departments and the work can be done by the fire departments maintained in its cities, wouldn’t it make more sense to outsource the work and collect the surcharge to pay for such services from property taxes?  This would avoid the free loading scenario and make sure that all houses in rural areas are protected.   In this scenario the tax increase would have been a mere 0.13 cents for each household.  This case also highlights why the Affordable Health Care Act included a mandate to avoid freeloaders from seeking insurance after they fell sick.

South Fulton appears to have made its point against free loading.  A relative of Mr. Cranick appears to have made his displeasure felt with his fists.  Now it is time for the county to revise a flawed policy to prevent a recurrence of such tragedies.

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Posted on 02-10-2010
Filed Under (History, Uncategorized) by Rashtrakut

Tomorrow, Sunday October 3, 2010 marks a milestone.  Ninety One years after the Treaty of Versailles, 65 years after the end of World War II and 20 years after its second reunification,  Germany will make the final reparation payment imposed by the victorious and vengeful Allied powers for its alleged guilt in causing the First World War.  The reparations were controversial as soon as they imposed.  John Maynard Keynes resigned his post in the British treasury to protest the scale of the demands.  They were repeatedly reduced in the 1920s and finally Germany under Hitler repudiated them.  The payment tomorrow is actually for the debt the Weimar Republic incurred to pay the original reparations.  However, they bring another of the poisonous legacies of the treaties that concluded the Great War to a close. The problems caused by the creation of another Yugoslavia in the Land of the Two Rivers by imposing a foreign ruler against the wishes of the local population will bother us for many years to come.

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Posted on 30-09-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs, History, India, Religion) by Rashtrakut

One Hundred and Forty Seven years after the dispute began, the Allahabad High Court rendered a Solomonic verdict designed to end a dispute that rocked and changed Indian politics over the last 25 years.  The court appears to have formalized the solution implemented by the British when riots first broke out over the controversial Babri Masjid.

The mosque was built on the orders of the first Mughal Emperor Babur on the site of either an old or existing Hindu temple that Hindus believed marked the birthplace of one of their prominent deities Ram.  The original British solution was to give both sides access to the site for worship.  Ninety years after the first attempt at a Solomonic compromise the issue flared up again in 1949 when idols were smuggled into the mosque  resulting in Indian government sealing the site.  The dispute picked up steam in 1984 and burst into Indian national consciousness when the Bharatiya Janata Party seized the issue to highlight simmering grievances of the Hindu majority.  The mosque was destroyed by a mob in 1992 resulting in riots across India.

Today’s decision split the site among three litigants (2 Hindu and 1 Muslim) and dismissed a couple of other cases.  The Sunni Waqf Board (which recieved the Muslim portion) has indicated it will appeal.  Given the political consensus rallying around this verdict it is likely that the Indian Supreme Court will uphold the decision.  With the troubled Commonwealth Games about to start, the Indian government must be breathing a sigh of relief at the calm that has greeted the verdict.  Oddly enough the street protests are occurring in neighboring Pakistan whose militants will add this to their litany of perceived grievances at the hands of India.

I am not surprised by the verdict.  It was the only way to resolve an intractable dispute.  But splitting the baby is not the solution for all such disputes in India in the future.  The Babri Masjid was not the only mosque built on the ruins of a Hindu temple.  However, the length of the dispute, the fact that the rights of Hindus to worship on the site had essentially been conceded in 1859, and the mosque being unused since 1949 were all special circumstances that made this verdict possible.  This will not be the case in other disputes.  At some point there has to be a statute of limitations for resolving medieval wrongs.  Hopefully with this verdict the statute has now run out.

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Posted on 08-04-2010
Filed Under (History) by Rashtrakut

Saw this blog post on Obsidian Wings and noticed that I omitted a major result in Virginia’s attempted secession that is often overlooked today.  While it is often the butt of jokes for being on the right side of history it earned a spot as a star on the American flag.  I speak of course of West Virginia.  Western Virginia long seethed in discontent and having few slaves felt disenfranchised by an apportionment process that counted each of the the close to half a million slaves in the rest of the state as 3/5ths of a person.  Needless to say the region declined to join a rebellion in support of slavery.  West Virginia was lucky.  It was occupied by Union troops early in the war and largely escaped the ravages of the war.  Its reward was statehood.

Eastern Tennessee (where slave ownership was rare as well) made a similar attempt to break away from its seceding state.  See link.  Unlike West Virginia it was occupied by the confederates and was unsuccessful.  While the region did not get a star on the flag, it was rewarded by the inclusion of native son (and War Democrat) Andrew Johnson on the 1864 Republican presidential ticket as Lincoln’s running mate.  It was a fateful decision whose repercussions on race relations in this country are perhaps still being felt.

More evidence on why the revisionism diminishing the role of slavery as a cause of the Civil War is bunk.

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Posted on 05-04-2010
Filed Under (History, Numismatics) by Rashtrakut

One of the oldest coins in history hit the auctioneers block last month.  The fourth known stater of Phanes dating to about the 7th century BC sold for 345,000 Euro.  See link.  While these coins bear the badge “Phanos emi Seima” (I am the badge of Phanes), not much is known about Phanes.  Whether this represented a ruler, a wealthy merchant, a deity or a city state is not clear.  But these Electrum coins may predate the Lydian staters, generally deemed to start the concept of coinage (up for debate is whether the Shatamana of Gandhara or Chinese coinage predated the Lydians) .  For more on the origins of this coin and speculation regarding its minter see here.

The emergence of coinage greatly facilitated the growth of international trade in the Mediterranean world and along the trade routes to China and India.  The city states seem to have understood the importance of weight standards early on (with the Lydians even managing to keep the gold and silver content of their electrum coins constant).  And the states that resisted the urge to debase their coinage and/or had the largest imperial reach saw their coinage spread across the world and become almost ubiquitous like the Athenian Owl Tetradrachms, the Mauryan Karshapana, the Roman Denarius etc and sometimes spawned local imitations.  See herehere, here and here.

A lot of history in a small blob of metal.

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Posted on 04-04-2010
Filed Under (History, Numismatics) by Rashtrakut

A unique Brutus aureus is on display at the British museum.  See link.  As is evident from the picture the coin commemorates the Ides of March and the assassination of Julius Caesar.  While the silver denarius version of the coin is known, the coin on display at the British museum may be the only authentic gold coin commemorating the assassination in existence today.  See link.  As noted in the articles above, these coins were famous in antiquity and were referenced by the second century historian Cassius Dio.

However, these coins are replete with irony as a few years before minting them Brutus himself would have considered them an act of impiety.  For a long time in the Greco-Roman world it was considered an act of impiety to use the image of a living person on a coin.  Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander created a loophole to get around this.  Philip’s tetradrachms display the image of Zeus and Alexander’s that of Hercules.  However, the gods on the coin just happen to look like the king.  After Alexander’s death, Ptolemy I of Egypt was the first to brazenly use his own image on his coins without resorting to the divine loophole.  With the horse out of the barn, the other Hellenistic states followed.

But the ban remained in place for Roman coinage for another 250 years until it was breached by Julius Caesar (probably one of the items added to his myriad alleged offenses that led to the assassination).  And yet Brutus, that stern defender of the values of the Roman Republic, issued coins with his own image on them.  The likely reason for this apostasy is the fact that after Caesar’s death his successors discovered the propaganda value of using their own images on the coins used to pay their soldiers.  Once again after horse got out of the barn everybody else followed.  And Brutus decided to use his apostasy to glorify the assassination of Caesar, the act primarily associated with his name two millennia later.

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Argentina upped the ante in its long dispute over the Falklands.  See link.  It does not help that the disputed islands may have oil and natural gas deposits.   This is makes Argentinian angst on the subject even more acute, and probably explains why Argentina is trying to make it harder to sustain an oil exploration venture on the Islands.

Geographic proximity would appear to argue for Argentinian control of the Falklands.  But since the islands were uninhabited when Europeans landed, the sovereignty claims are fairly complex.  It does not help Argentina’s case that the islanders themselves vocally want to be a part of the United Kingdom.  With no native populations displaced by the colonization there are few moral arguments against respecting their wishes.

This is very similar to the periodic spats between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar.  Ever since the British conquest was ratified by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Spain has tried repeatedly to get it back (including a 4 year siege during the American Revolution).  With two referendums (the last in 2002) having overwhelmingly voted for British sovereignty Spain has periodically responded with petulant economic blockades and harassing border restrictions.  Unlike the Falklands the capture of Gibraltar was accompanied by the departure of the native Spanish inhabitants.  Whether that has any moral bearing on the dispute 300 years later depends on your point of view.

Ironically Spain is engaged in a similar dispute with Morocco over Spanish enclaves on the North African coast.  Spain rejects any equivalency because these were Spanish possessions before the current state of Morocco existed.  See link.  Morocco obviously disagrees.

The age of decolonization has reduced the number of far flung outposts (e.g. Hong Kong, Macau and the Panama Canal Zone), but the remaining ones can still cause tempers to fray, even if war is unlikely in many such disputes.

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Posted on 17-02-2010
Filed Under (History) by Rashtrakut

The United States Mint has accomplished an unlikely feat.  The have two cities in upstate NY feuding over the rights to hometown son Millard Fillmore.  The minor dust-up that should cause amusement everywhere else came as a result of the Mint’s choice of Fillmore’s birthplace Moravia to launch the new Presidential dollar bearing his name.  Buffalo where Fillmore spent most of his career, where he founded the University of Buffalo and where he is buried has taken umbrage.  See link.  Most Americans (and almost all non-Americans) will probably respond with “Millard Fillmore, who??”

Its hard to blame them.  History has not been kind to the 13th president of the United States.  As one of the mediocrities between James Polk and Lincoln, he is remembered for his failures rather than any successes.  Fillmore had some successes resolving some prickly foreign policy disputes amicably.  But domestically his desperate desire to appease the South gradually built up the tensions that exploded into the civil war.

It is an irony of history that the one Southerner (and the last President to own slaves while in office) to hold the Presidency in the 19th century, Zachary Taylor, had the gumption to stand up to the South promising to lead the army personally to hang traitors.  In contrast, his three vacillating Northern successors spent their tenure appeasing the South.  Fillmore has attracted the most opprobrium for the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act that forced Federal marshals in free states to arrest fugitive slaves (somehow revisionist Southerners arguing that the Civil War was about federalism and not slavery forget this basic assault on federalism they perpetrated (albeit based on the US Constitution) to protect slavery).

As a Vice President who was unexpectedly elevated to the Presidency, Fillmore also displays the flaw in the American political process in how Vice Presidential candidates are selected (in recent years John Edwards and Sarah Palin provide examples of people chosen by the arbitrary whims of the candidate and who mercifully were not elected).  He was selected to geographically balance out the ticket, for his obscurity that would not generate too much hostility and to deny some New York party bosses a space on the ticket.

As an ultimate indignity, Fillmore is probably remembered most for a hoax, that he was the first President to install a bath tub in the White House.  The hoax was used without correction in the Kia ad below a couple of years back, which cost some ad execs their job.  See link.

Admirers of this much maligned and obscure President can try joining one of the local Millard Fillmore Societies that pops up as a lark every so often.  See link.  Meanwhile, Millard Fillmore has received the honor of two launches of his dollar coin.  A precedent has been set for the battle over Grover Cleveland, born in Caldwell, New Jersey but whose career was largely in Buffalo, best remembered for being the only President with non-consecutive terms and the last man before Al Gore to win the popular vote but lose the electoral college.

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Posted on 16-02-2010
Filed Under (History) by Rashtrakut

Science (and DNA testing) have now answered some of the mysteries behind King Tut.  Tutankhamun (who started his reign as Tutankhaten) is a fairly obscure and unimportant Pharaoh.  But he is one of the only one whose tomb was discovered nearly intact (perhaps because of his lack of importance and possibly from the loyalty of a successor).  The opulence of his tomb catapulted him into public imagination far beyond what the accomplishments (if any) of the boy-king justified.

And yet not much is known about the boy/man himself.  He ruled during the period when the Egyptian New Kingdom under the XVIIIth dynasty was at the peak of its opulent splendor but facing religious turmoil.  He succeeded the enigmatic Akhenaten (formerly Amenhotep IV) who drew the wrath of the priestly class by transferring royal patronage from Amun to the sun god Aten (which has also drawn a lot of attention for alleged monotheism).  The relationship between the two Pharaohs (an there relationship to the even more obscure Smenkhkare who was co-regent and perhaps the brief successor of Akhenaten was not known.

Tutankhamun was assumed to be Akhenaten’s son, but his mother was not known.  Most historians doubted that his mother was the famous Nefertiti and speculated that it was a minor wife of Akhenaten called Kiya.  The damnatio memoriae that appears to have been inflicted on Akhenaten in the religious reaction following his death (when Tuthankhaten morphed into Tutankhamun) may be to blame for this.

But now DNA technology has lifted the veil.  King Tut was likely not murdered by his vizier and successor Ay, but was instead a frail product of inbreeding who suffered from a bone disorder and likely died from an infection from a broken leg aggravated by malaria.  See link.   Also see here and here.  Akhenaten has been identified as his father and Amenhotep III and his chief queen Tiye as his grandparents.  His only grandparents.

Tutankhamun’s mother was Akhenaten’s full sister.  There are no records indicating that Nefertiti was related to Akhenaten which likely rules her out.  So far the identity of the mother is not known.  This also makes Tut’s wife Ankhesenamun known to be a daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti his half-sister.

Royal inbreeding was very common in Egyptian history.  The royal family being considered divine a “pure” bloodline was expected to be passed down.  This occurred elsewhere (including for example with the Incas) and the Egyptians appear to have passed it along to their Persian and Greek conquerers.  While sibling marriage faded away after the rise of the Roman Empire, royal families until this century were plagued by the effects of inbreeding.

The DNA testing has also confirmed that Akhenaten was not androgynous in appearance from some medical condition as the artwork of his reign appears to suggests.  The unusual renderings of the Pharaoh and his family appear to have been made for artistic and religious reasons.

Deciphering a 3300 year old mystery was made possible by the Egyptian habit of mummifying the dead.  There seems to be a pattern of solving ancient Egyptian mysteries of late.  See previous blog post.  Maybe the trifecta of finding the tomb of Alexander the Great is round the corner.

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The liberium veto is attracting some more attention.  Yglesias disputes Krugman’s contention that the liberium veto and the resulting government nightmare led to the disappearance of Poland as an independent nation.  See link; Also see previous blog articles here and here.  I disagree.  While the decline of Poland-Lithuania had commenced before its invention, the liberium veto made it impossible to reform Poland while its neighbors on east and west were awakening from their slumber.  It is true that the great plains of Eastern Europe do not provide Poland with many barriers from invasion.  However, unlike some other countries Poland had sufficient manpower and geographic depth to overcome this defect.

An example to the contrary would be the coastal strip of Israel-Palestine-Lebanon.  In recent years some opponents of a Palestinan state have used the absence of any Muslim state since the Arab conquest of the region to argue that the Palestinans were not a national entity.  That ignores the unfortunate reality that Christians and Jews have struggled to establish viable independent states in the same region.  Sandwiched between Egypt and Syria (and occassional erruptions from Babylon-Mesepotamia), each with significantly greater resources of manpower and wealth, independent states in the region have historically had to rely on weakness of its neighbors or significant assistance from abroad.  A survey of the four independent states to rule the region shows why.

The biblical kingdom of David and Solomon flourished at a time when Pharaonic  Egypt was in deep decline and the Hittite Empire on the other flank had long since dissolved.  The weakness became evident shortly after Solomon’s death when a revived Egypt under Sheshonk I would humble Solomon’s successors.  The twin Kingdoms of Judea and Israel would survive, but would have to pay tribute to the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians until their destruction.

The second independent Jewish state of the Hasmoneans emerged as the Hellenistic successor states of Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria were in decline.  Even then, the Hasmoneans would not obtain independence until the Seleucid state dissolved into civil war after the death of Antiochus VII.  Independence would be extinguished by the Romans a century later.

The third independent states in the region were the Crusader states of Outremer formed after the First Crusade conquered Jerusalem.  The First Crusade was aided my the tumult in Islamic Syria following the Seljuk invasion and the weakened state of Fatimid Egypt.  Outremer was extremely reliant on continued immigration from Western Europe, particularly landless younger sons of the nobility to provide a manpower for its army.  Once Syria started to consolidate under Zengi and Egypt and Syria were united under Saladin, Outremer was doomed.  Understanding this inherent defect, many of the crusades following the Third Crusade were targeted at Egypt (which had a large native Christian population).

Which brings up the current states of Israel and Lebanon.  Israel has benefited from superior organization in its early years, heavy immigration of European Jewry and immense amounts of American military aid.  This has helped it overcome its exposed strategic situation.  In contrast Lebanon has been for most of its history a Syrian satellite.

Poland never faced similar issues of viability.  Its wounds were self inflicted.  For example Poland disappeared as a single entity for about 200 years when Boleslaw III Wrymouth chose to divide the country among his four sons after his death in 1138 (a succession policy similar to the one that contributed to the fragmentation of the German principalities next door).  Yet the concept of a Polish nation and the title “Duke/King of Poland” would survive until the reconstitution of the Polish state 200 years later.  After its union with Lithuania, during the reign of Casimir IV Poland-Lithuania stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea.  Hardly the mark of an inherently doomed state.

If Poland had an exposed geographical frontier, so did every other European state except England. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted on 26-01-2010
Filed Under (History) by Rashtrakut

The Indian constitution (and the Indian republic) celebrated its 60th birthday today on January 26, 2010.  Apart from a 2 year suspension when Indira Gandhi imposed a national Emergency, the Indian constitution has been the foundation of the world’s largest democracy.  It is no small achievement.  At its birth few thought that democracy could flourish in a poor country with deep cultural, linguistic and religious divides and with such a large illiterate population.  But the creaky wheels of Indian democracy have kept on churning and have so far overcome some structural flaws within the constitution’s federal layout (see link), an over-centralization imposed as a reaction to the partition of India and from the insecurities and authoritarian tendencies of Indira Gandhi.

A lot of the credit must go to India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.  Ever since the dismantling of the license raj and the beginning of free market reforms in India in 1991, it has become fashionable to criticize Nehru.  However, unlike many of the early leaders of the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa, Nehru was at heart a believer of democracy and its institutions.  He did not attempt to turn his ruling party into a gaggle of sycophants, create a cult of personality or attempt to create a political dynasty by aggressively promoting his daughter Indira.  The ultimate respect for constitutional norms survived Indira Gandhi’s failure on all these three points (and even the Emergency was imposed based on a constitutional provision).  And even with this failure, Indira Gandhi like her father did take steps that created a national identity.

As Kashmiri Brahmins who grew up in the North Indian heartland, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi projected an Indian identity.  Buttressed by the boost to their reputation by their history in the independence struggle they belonged to India in a manner that few leaders other than Mahatma Gandhi could.  While this did have the deleterious effect of choking the growth of an alternative set of leaders, it delayed the rise of regional satraps  until a core Indian national identity was nurtured.  India has suffered secessionist movements along the periphery, but with the rise of coalition politics reliant on regional support some of this tension has eased.  This has eased the concerns (more often raised in Western media about the fragmentation of India).

Finally credit must be given to the professionalism of the Indian armed forces and their willingness to obey civilian authority.  In most newly independent countries, Nehru’s neglect of the army in the 1950s followed by the debacle at the hands of the Chinese in the 1962 war would have sparked a coup.  It did not happen.  Western media raised similar fears of a coup in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, a thought not seriously considered domestically within India.  Today such an eventuality seems unthinkable.

And so India’s democratic republic continues to move on into is projected rise as a new world power.  There are issues of concern.  The division of revenues (as noted in the article linked above) is and will continue to be a source of tension between haves and have nots within India.  India has punted the issue of reapportioning parliamentary seats till 2026.  When reapportionment does happen, it will cause tension as the more prosperous states (which have done a better job implementing family planning policies) lose parliamentary seats (and as a result political power) to poorer states.  Indian democracy, like many young democracies, is often rooted in support of personalities as opposed to policies and political dynasties dot the landscape.  This phenomenon is not unknown in the United States, but the next step to the maturation of Indian democracy has to be the strengthening of parties based on political ideologies rather than vehicles for personalities.

So far India’s politicians have generally shown a sense of flexibility in working towards a common national purpose.  As long as that continues, the passage time will buttress the sense of Indian national identity and the Republic of India will continue to thrive.  So here are birthday wishes to the longest written constitution in the world.

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It often comes down to what gets through the filter of the American media. To be fair, the United States is hardly unique in this.  Few countries engage in serious introspection about their actions.  However, there often seems to be a major disconnect between American self-image and the image as seen abroad.

To some extent it is understandable.  Self-criticism is too hard to take and certain groups can often go too overboard on the critiques of America without acknowledging the good.  But too often the American media goes to the other extreme by embracing the Pollyannaish version of American exceptionalism (like the ridiculous George W. Bush assertion “they hate us for our freedoms“) in which all American foreign policy actions are undertaken for noble reasons.  As many Latin Americans would tell you, that has unfortunately not always been the case.

A column by Juan Cole brought this issue up for me recently.  The column deals with the continuing human catastrophe in Gaza.  Israel’s apologists in the United States often attribute any criticism of Israel to an undercurrent of anti-semitism and are only too willing to grant it unquestioned support.  However, it is stories like the one linked above that have undercut the sympathy Israel attracts (including among some progressives in the United States) in many parts of the world.

Israel is no longer the plucky underdog of the Six Days War or the Yom Kippur War threatened by seemingly overwhelming odds.  While the threat to Israel is real, the armies of its Arab neighbors have atrophied since the fall of the Soviet Union.  Meanwhile the Israeli army built up with a steady diet of American aid is the 800 lb gorilla in the Middle East.  Add to that the (not publicly acknowledged, but understood) second strike nuclear capability delivered to Israel by the United States and Israel has the ability to pulverize any of its neighbors (as Lebanon and the Gaza strip found out in the last two years).

However, with great power comes great responsibility.  American media coverage generally fails  to acknowledge this change in status for Israel or the extremely disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties in the last decade.  American media has also not really delved into the details of the collective punishment inflicted on Gaza in the past year.  When the destruction is covered, it is generally framed solely in the context of a response to terrorist attacks with little discussion of whether a hammer is being used to swat a fly.  As a result, the United States remains one of the few countries where public opinion and elected officials generally uncritically support Israel.

In contrast, the rest of the world’s media has covered this issue extensively.  So now a furious and sometimes bewildered Israel finds much of world opinion treating it as a bully for actions it feels are justified self-defense.  Israel is also painfully learning the lesson the United States learned in Vietnam.  Civilian suffering transmitted to the living rooms makes for awful public relations for a democracy, unless of course the media chooses not to cover it.  It is unfair, but countries are generally held to higher standards than terrorist groups.

A critique I have had for the Cheneyian vision of the world is that it often seeks to lower American actions to the standards of the thugs they oppose while encouraging charges of hypocrisy by maintaining the high minded rhetoric that plays so well domestically.  Israel does have a point that it should not have to take too many pious bromides from human rights “paragons” Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc. who are only too willing to use the Palestinians as props while doing nothing to ameliorate their lot.  However, the question does arise whether Israel really wants to lump itself on the issue of human rights with these countries?

Juan Cole’s column also brought about a sense of deja vu.  The stories about Gaza sound distressingly similar to the stories about the sufferings of Iraqi civilians during the sanctions in the 1990s.  These stories were circulated by human rights groups, dismissed by the Clinton and Bush administrations as solely Saddam Hussein’s fault and were largely ignored by the media.  While nobody should discount Saddam’s brutality, hiding behind indifference of a tyrant to the suffering of his people is an odd way to absolve yourself of any responsibility.  And ultimately all that suffering made not a whit of difference to toppling his regime.  As the Iranian people are finding out and as the Chinese found in 1989, public outrage by itself cannot topple men with the guns who have no qualms about shedding blood.  It is also very easy, as in the case of Iraq, for governments used to manipulating public opinion to transfer the blame to the people implementing the sanctions.

The result is a propaganda coup for the regime (another example would be Castro’s dictatorship in Cuba that blames the yanquis for the failures of its socialist revolution) and a recruiting boon for fanatics like Al Qaeda who tap into the resentment caused by the suffering that is transmitted into living rooms across the Middle East.

However, as little of this is transmitted to American living rooms the perspective of the American public is shaped very differently than the rest of the world.

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A lot of the focus of English and American studies into the evolution of constitutional governance naturally focuses on England.  The Magna Carta with its colorful villain in King John is too hard to pass up.  But the English Kings were not the only monarchs to find their power checked.  Various forms of parliaments rose up across Europe as monarchs haggled with their merchants and barons for funds while trying to avoid rebellion.

Eastern Europe was not immune to such trends.  Seven years after the Magna Carta, the Hungarian nobility forced their extravagant King Andrew II to issue the Golden Bull granting the nobility greater powers.

A series of dynastic shifts in the three premier East European monarchies of Bohemia (Přemyslid to Luxembourg to Jagiellon) , Hungary (Árpád to Angevin to Luxembourg) and Poland (Piast to Angevin to Jagiellon) caused a steady shift of royal power to the nobility (and as the list shows the three countries imported each others princes very often).  Each new foreign dynasty brought with it new privileges to keep the nobility happy.

However in the 16th century this pattern breaks.  Bohemia and Hungary fell to the Hapsburgs (who also married themselves into the crowns of of Spain,. (briefly Portugal and England), Naples, Milan, Sicily and the Netherlands).  After the Thirty Years War the ramshackle Hapsburg monarchy pulled back many of the privileges granted to the nobility.  Poland went in a different direction.  Faced with the impending death of the last male Jagiellon the magnates of Poland-Lithuania instituted an elective monarchy.

While the crown remained in the hands of female line descendants of the Jagiellons until 1660, the elective principle and the haggling by prospective monarchs for support took full control.    It was around this time that the legislative innovation that crippled Polish government for the next century was introduced – the Liberium Veto.

This measure allowed a single member of the Polish Sejm (parliament) to end the session and nullify all legislation by shouting Nie pozwalam! (I do not allow!).  Somehow this pernicious measure was allowed to continue.  Egged on with bribes from neighboring Prussia and Russia who were only too happy to see a weakened crumbling Poland and delusional deputies who considered this privilege as the hallmark of liberty, attempts at reform were thwarted for a century.  It wasn’t until 1764 that someone utilized a technicality to bypass this measure.  But by then it was too late.  In three successive partitions (1772, 1793, and 1795), Poland was wiped off the European map.

Obviously the filibuster does not even come close to the liberium veto.  But when a minority uses it of pretty much every single piece of legislation (including for example overwhelmingly popular bills like the military budget), it is hard to always appreciate the difference.  Not surprisingly calls to abolish it are rising.

In some ways the Democrats conversion on the filibuster (and boy did they love it when George W. Bush was President) mirrors their conversion on the advisability of the Independent Counsel Act.  When independent counsels targeted Republican Administrations all was fine.  It took one out of control independent counsel who acted like a heat seeking missile aimed at Bill Clinton’s rear end for the Democrats to switch sides on the issue.

The Republicans do risk overplaying their hand on this issue (they used more than 100 of them last year).  There is no constitutional right to a filibuster and the repeated use on every single item (which will likely increase with Scott Brown’s election) will increase the Democrats incentive to explore procedural technicalities like reconciliation to force a bill to a vote or even the nuclear option previously considered by the Bush Administration (which will be really hard for the Republicans to oppose since they drafted it).

The realization that they will one day return to the minority likely makes some Democrats squeamish on the issue.  But the legislative process in the Senate is currently broken on many issues (and don’t even get me started on the issue of anonymous Senatorial holds which have made the appointment of the President’s cabinet a travesty).  More appropriate protections for the minority (like giving them the ability to delay but not eternally block legislation) can be considered.  Otherwise ridiculous headlines like “Scott Brown Wins Mass. Race, Giving GOP 41-59 Majority in the Senate” will continue to proliferate around our broken legislative process.

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Jyoti Basu died this Sunday.  The nonagenarian had been ailing for some time.  The usual round of obituaries, paeans and critiques have poured in.  See here, here, here, here, here and here.  In 1977, the English educated Basu initiated the longest running elected rule by communists (which likely will draw to a close next year).  The common theme in the articles on Basu since his death generally refer to the following:

  • His unusual length of tenure,
  • The land reforms initiated in Bengal that broke the feudal hold on society,
  • His secular outlook that saw few religious riots on his watch,
  • And finally the historic moment in 1996 when he bowed to the command of his party’s politburo and turned down the prime minster’s job.

The more critical articles also refer to the industrial stagnation, if not regression, that occurred on his watch.

Basu in many ways is an overrated figure.  His importance is inflated by the collapse of all opposition parties in West Bengal, aided by the general unwillingness of the Congress party to challenge the reds on their home turf and the communists ruthless utilization of the instruments of state to quash dissent.  This is in stark contrast to the other communist bastion in Kerala, where Communist and Congress led coalitions alternate power with mind numbing regularity.

However, the untrammeled power Basu and his communist colleagues had locally, ultimately showcased the ideological bankruptcy and incompetence of the communist movement in India.

Land reform in Bengal was long overdue, and that early accomplishment marks the high water mark of communist rule in West Bengal.  Unlike Kerala, the other social indicators remain average.  The Bengali peasant is still poverty stricken, businesses have fled the state and Kolkata’s status as the cultural capital of India has long since been taken over by Mumbai.  The violent collapse of the communist party’s attempt to entice the Tata Motor Company to build a plant at Nandigram, symbolizes why businesses are not keen to enter Bengal.

The impact Basu would have had in the rejected prime ministership (he later cryptically referred to the rejection as a historic blunder) is also overrated.  Basu would have headed a ramshackle coalition united by the pursuit of power and a loathing of the Hindu nationalist Bharaitya Janata Party (subsequent events would show that many of the constituents of the coalitions valued power over their loathing of the BJP).  The coalition was supported from the outside by the just deposed Congress party which was smarting from its electoral humiliation and itching for the opportunity to force a new election.  It is hard to see how Basu’s tenure as prime minister would have been markedly different or longer than what actually transpired.  The BJP would have still made the necessary electoral adjustments and Basu’s mismanagement of West Bengal’s economy hardly supports the theory that any good governance on his part would have prevented the BJP’s ultimate rise to power.

The humbling of Bengal’s communists in India’s parliamentary elections last year has given rise to hope that their  33 year old grip on power may come to a close in the next state elections.  However, with the successor likely to be the mercurial populist Mamata Banerjee, it is hard to see West Bengal’s lot improving anytime soon.

Meanwhile, one of the last of India’s “gentlemanly” politicians of a bygone era has passed on, fortunate that he will not see the collapse of the creaky edifice he nurtured in West Bengal for so many years.

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Posted on 10-01-2010
Filed Under (India, Numismatics) by Rashtrakut

See previous post regarding the coin here.  The auction where that coin was listed closed last week and the coin with an estimate of $75,000 sold for $140,000 (presumably including auctioneers fees).  A rich price for a truly amazing historical coin.

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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 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 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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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 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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