Posted on 30-08-2013
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The last few years have seen a more muscular French foreign policy with interventions in its former colonies Ivory Coast and Mali.  France was also the loudest proponent of taking down Gaddafi (probably to overcompensate for its support of the Tunisian dictator and Pharaoh Mubarak at the start of the Arab Spring).

Of course having advocated war in Libya, France (and Britain) ran out of missiles when faced only with Gaddafi’s puny military.

President Hollande has toned down his bellicosity a bit in the aftermath of the vote in the house of Commons.  However, its appears that a handful of French missiles may join the American barrage against Syria.  Quite a turn of events from a decade ago when the Neocons were renaming French fries and referring to “Old Europe.”

Meanwhile in Britain recriminations abound.  Having miscalculated the level of opposition to the war Cameron’s toadies are attacking Labour for endangering the special subservient relationship.

However, for now little has changed.  Even without Britain, Barack Obama’s rush to a half baked war continues.  Looks like the Gallic Rooster will join the American Rooster in its Syrian war.

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Posted on 18-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The casting of Gerard Depardieu to play Alexandre Dumas in a biopic about the famous author has stirred up a hornet’s nest in France.  See link.  Many fans of the possibly greatest author of historical fiction may not know that Dumas whose grandmother was Haitian of Afro-Carribean ancestry dealt with racial taunts all his life.

Alxeandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas, photo by Nadar (from Wikipedia)

To play the role, the blond fair-skinned Depardieu had to wear blackface and a curly wig.  Needless to say this has kicked up a racism row.  It looks like the producers tried to raise the likely viewership by latching on to the Depardieu’s popularity.  I am not in principle opposed to actors portraying a different race, recently satirized by Robert Downey, Jr.’s brilliant performance in Tropic Thunder, but it is a sore subject among minority actors in Hollywood (and evidently in France) for good reason.

If roles were subject to race-blind casting this would not be an issue.  But ethnic actors find themselves pigeonholed into stereotypical roles with few opportunities for a major role.  So when a prominent part like this in their ethnicity goes to someone who has to perform in blackface, it is not hard to see why they get upset.  For an alleged bastion of liberalism, Hollywood has aways been retrograde and craven on race.  Race was evidently a major factor in the casting of the leads in Hitch (African American superstar with a Latina actress). See link.  Minorities often disappeared on major TV shows.  The sitcom Friends somehow spent a decade in New York City with lily white racial surroundings.  “ER” set in downtown Chicago had a near total absence of any Asians.  Indian American characters on TV speak with the exaggerated accent of Apu on the Simpsons (voiced by Hank Azaria) though many of them are born and raised in the United States.

Now I don’t think TV shows need to match the exact racial percentages that exist in American society, but I do wish that the TV execs would break out of their own ethnic prejudices and put some faith in the American public.  At a time when we have a President of mixed race, interracial or race-blind casting should not be taboo.  Based on recent shows, Hollywood seems to be improving.  But more needs to be done so that  a cross-racial casting like the one above can one day pass with little comment, other than those evaluating the caliber of the performance.

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Posted on 26-01-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Religion) by Rashtrakut

France is moving closer to a partial ban on the burqa in certain public places.  Like the previous ban on head scarves in schools, I find it disturbing when a government steps into religious practice that does not pose a threat to its practitioners.  It is correct that the Quran does not explicitly mandate the veil.  The language requiring modest dress in inherently subjective and open to interpretation on cultural norms.  However, that interpretation should rely on the practitioner and not the state.  This is in some ways the other side of the coin of the Taliban and Saudi Arabia mandating the burqa and Iran mandating the head scarves.  They are both wrong and an infringement on religious liberty.

Separation of church and state is a trick subject for Islam since its founders and early leaders combined secular and religious powers in the same individual.  However, after the fragmentation of the Abbasid Caliphate even Islam saw a bifurcation of these functions.  To the extent Sultans exercised religious authority, it was not different than Christian monarchs proclaiming themselves god’s vice-regents on earth.

I had an interesting conversation with someone who supported the proposed French policy today.  However, I cannot help but wonder whether the support would have remained in place if a similar ban was targeted at that person’s religion rather than at what is currently an unpopular religious minority.  A ban of this nature would not be constitutional in the United States.  While I have no fondness for religious fundamentalism and am generally unmoved by overt public religious displays, I will take the liberty granted by the American constitution to the type of secularism (and cultural xenophobia) rammed down people’s throats in France.

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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 13-11-2009
    Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

    The New York Times reviews rising resentment in France’s former West African colonies from the French embrace of corrupt and brutal dictators.  As with the American embrace of various banana republic dictators in Central and Latin America, this could ultimately be a self-defeating policy.  In the short run, France will benefit but could lose out in the long term due to the local instability it is generating and the backlash on the ground.

    In someways this mirrors the cynical Chinese attempt to lock up resources by dealing with kleptocrats and thugs across the world.  But even China (and Russia) are finding themselves the target of public ire.  In Iran it has lead to chants that routinely called for death to America and Israel, replaced with calls for death to Russia and China.  Russia in addition has an often ignored history of meddling in Iranian affairs for the last 200 years, generally to the detriment of Iranian territorial integrity and democracy.

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

    An analysis of the changing Franco-German relationship.  In someways the change is not too surprising.  Ever since the Treaty of Verdun in 843 AD unwittingly spawned the framework of Western Europe the two countries have had differing outlets for their energies.

    Germany’s eyes have been drawn east for a 1,000 years.  The initial instincts starting with the defeat of the Polish King Boleslaw I Chrobry by the Emperor Henry II to the establishment of the Livonian and Teutonic Knights were expansionist.  That phase was brought to a crushing end by the newly created Polish-Lithuanian super state at the Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg).  After dealing with internal religious strife for the next 200 years, Germany spent the century after the end of the Seven Years War keeping the newly emerged Russian giant on its door step happy and sated expansionist instincts at the expense of Poland.  The expansionist urge returned with a vengeance in the early 20th century.  The establishment of the iron curtain shut off the eastern outlet and forced Germany to look west, but with the end of the Cold War its not unnatural that the eastern flirtation resumes.  Of course. the expansionist urges today are economic.

    When not nibbling away at the German border, French interests historically drew France into the Mediterranean orbit (particularly after the Crusades created a chain of Frankish states in what is now Lebanon and Israel).  But France has always had its western (and often rocky) relationship with England, the Auld alliance with Scotland and it midwifed the birth of the United States.

    The historical patterns are not guaranteed to repeat themselves, but they do suggest that the support structure forged after World War II that enabled the two nations (one recovering from military humiliation and the other from annihilation) to regain their strength together may have run its course.  The impact on the creaky new European State will be interesting to observe.

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    An interesting read on the French attempt to improve the teaching of English (somewhere a militant Québécois is howling in impotent fury).  It is an initiative worthy of being emulated in the United States where foreign language instruction is often an afterthought.  In an increasingly global world grasping foreign languages and culture can give companies, individuals and countries a key strategic advantage.  While educators and even Barack Obama have encouraged this, others are still stuck defending their parochial outlook to the world.

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    Posted on 24-10-2009
    Filed Under (History) by Rashtrakut

    The Battle of Agincourt is one of the most famous victories in English history.  Unlike the battles of Crecy and Poitiers in the preceding century which arguably were even greater victories in the preceding centuries, it has the benefit of being immortalized by Shakespeare.  Shakespeare also succeeded in varnishing the image of Henry V.  The New York Times has an article about the recent dispute about just how impressive a victory it was.  I read about the controversy recently in the postscript to Bernard Cromwell’s novel set around the battle, and am inclined with my non-academic gut to side with Cromwell’s admittedly non-academic thesis.

    Medieval chroniclers can be notoriously biased, but attempting to get a definitive answer based on medieval records (particularly the France of the time which was slipping into civil war) is even harder.  All the chroniclers of the day agree on the fact that on St. Crispin’s day Henry V’s dysentery infested army achieved something remarkable.   Now it could have been cause by the sheer imbalance in casualties and the number of the French nobility killed or captured.  But it seems unlikely that the French would have been as certain of victory if the armies were fairly equal in size or that the rout of an army of equivalent size would have caused such a commotion across Europe or such a blow to the French national psyche.

    Agincourt’s reputation is inflated in the larger historical context.  While it gave Henry V a short term victory and even an acknowledgment as the heir to the French crown the long term English conquest of France was untenable.  Henry’s early death prevented him from experiencing the likely bitter dregs of defeat faced by his great grandfather Edward III towards the end of his long reign.

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