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Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Pound of Flesh

October 31st, 2011 - 4:39 pm

Warfare is older than the modern state. When the Strategy Page described what it calls “vigilante warfare” by Israeli settlers on members of Hamas it might have been talking about a process of “going native”. In the Middle East the tradition of pre-Westphalian warfare is strong. Private war, from the action of clans against other clans to the sponsorship of belligerence by warlords never completely went out of style. The BBC described how Saddam Hussein promised to pay anyone who would kill a Jew. “A Hamas suicide bomber’s family got $25,000 while the others – relatives of militants killed in fighting or civilians killed during Israeli military operations – all received $10,000 each.” The awards came with a special commorative document popularly called a “martyrdom certificate”.


The Tiffin Party

October 30th, 2011 - 12:26 pm

Although the NYT’s recent article on the political awakening of the Indian middle class  describes it as the “Hazare movement”, many might be forgiven of thinking the words “Tea Party”. The NYT describes the sea-change in Indian politics.

A generation ago, the Indian middle class was smaller and centered around civil servants who lived in government housing and sent their children to government schools. Today’s middle class is a creature of the economic reforms of the 1990s and is tightly wedded to the private sector. Its success is celebrated in Bollywood movies, and the Indian news media serve as a bullhorn for its views.

If the earlier middle class saw some politicians as heroes, idolizing Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, this middle class mostly regards politicians with contempt, placing more faith in business leaders or, in some cases, in nongovernmental organizations. Government is no longer regarded as a provider or enabler, but as an obstacle.

“This middle class is less about ‘what the state can do for me’ than ‘the state is preventing me from doing what I want to do,’ ” said Devesh Kapur, director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania.

The shift from a middle class based on civil servants to one founded on the private sector is fairly recent. Civil servants in India were practically as rare as hen’s teeth 65 years ago. In the heyday of the Raj the Indian civil service numbered just over a thousand.  It ruled with a light hand. But Jawaharlal Nehru, who called it the “steel frame” of India, then proceeded to expand it. By 2011 there were 10.5 million bureaucrats in Indian federal and state agencies and it had become a world unto itself. The former “steel frame” had become a tangle of barbed wire which regulated everything; and it became the basis of the “middle class” and perhaps not so coincidentally, the foundation of Indian one party rule.


The Measure of a Man

October 29th, 2011 - 12:33 pm

When Dan Rather reassured his viewers in 1991 that there was nothing too fear from a “black” President in Zimbabwe he was looking at things primarily through the prism of race. But in the four and a half minute video after the read more none of Mugabe’s critics interviewed made reference to his ethnicity at all. It was his Marxist and Maoist roots they were all worried about. The suggestion passed Rather like water on a duck’s back. He could see the situation in Zimbabwe through the racial prism but not the ideological one.


Keep the Change

October 28th, 2011 - 4:44 pm

The Perth Mint has made it possible to do a serious night out on the town with nothing but change in your pocket. That is, if you don’t mind lugging around a 2,000 pound gold coin, called the Golden Kangaroo. But although it is “legal tender” with a nominal value of a A$1 million, the metal in it is valued at A$55 million — about US$59.5 million.


Journey in the Dark

October 28th, 2011 - 1:08 pm

The really pernicious thing about political correctness is that often completely fake.  It was recently reported that the FBI was building crime maps based on the distribution of Muslims because they found the correlations useful to detect certain kinds of crimes.  Now it turns out that the NYPD has been tracking Muslims who change their names on the not entirely fanciful idea that they are up to no good.

Since August, an Associated Press investigation has revealed a vast NYPD intelligence-collecting effort targeting Muslims following the terror attacks of September 2001. Police have conducted surveillance of entire Muslim neighborhoods, chronicling daily life including where people eat, pray and get their hair cut. Police infiltrated dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups and investigated hundreds more.

Monitoring name changes illustrates how the threat of terrorism now casts suspicion over what historically has been part of America’s story. For centuries, foreigners have changed their names in New York, often to lose any stigma attached with their surname.

The Roosevelts were once the van Rosenvelts. Fashion designer Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz. Donald Trump’s grandfather changed the family name from Drumpf.


Edward J. Epstein recently wrote me to say that even though it has been 48 years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, “I am still asked every anniversary by the wire services: ‘Was Oswald alone, and, if not, who was behind the assassination? ‘”  Among other things he points out that he wrote two books on the subject, both on Kindle. The first is Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald and the second is Killing Castro.

Peter Knight, in his book, Conspiracy Theories in American History argues that much of US history, especially after the Second World War, would be incomprehensible unless you understood there were always two explanations for anything. The official explanation and the Real Explanation.  He mentions Agent Orange, the origin of AIDs,  Aliens, Cattle Mutilations,  Pearl Harbor as examples. And there is of course, the Kennedy Assassination, right up there with the certainty that the September 11 was actually orchestrated by Israel.


The End of the End of History

October 26th, 2011 - 10:50 pm

“Nobody should take for granted another 50 years of peace and prosperity in Europe. They are not for granted. That’s why I say: If the euro fails, Europe fails,” Merkel said, followed by a long applause from all political groups.

“We have a historical obligation: To protect by all means Europe’s unification process begun by our forefathers after centuries of hatred and blood spill. None of us can foresee what the consequences would be if we were to fail.” …

“But debt restructuring alone does not solve the problem. Painful structural reforms have to be made, otherwise even after debt restructuring we’re back to where we are today … It’s not enough that the troika comes and goes every three months. It would be desirable to have a permanent supervision in Greece.”
Angela Merkel

Does Merkel have a choice? Or is she acting out the inevitable consequences of a policy that could have led only to one possible road — the one she finds herself on?


Borrowed Time

October 26th, 2011 - 7:35 am

With the sovereign debt crisis now spreading to Italy, European leaders are looking for ways to insure the continent’s third largest economy against default and extend similar protection to banks, which are sure to be pulled down if one or several European countries fail to service their deut obligations. A Council of Foreign Relations article itemizes the growing dangers:

The sovereign debt crisis has begun to infect Italy, the eurozone’s third largest economy. And as the contagion spreads from Greece to the core of the single currency union, it has endangered many French banks that hold large quantities of Italian and Greek government bonds. This has put other exposed continental banks–and U.S. financial institutions– at risk, feeding investor unease throughout global markets.


Pied Piper

October 25th, 2011 - 10:03 pm

“Or a man who makes potions in a traveling show”

Into the second decade after World War 2 it was still common for itinerant bands to go oompah-pahing around Manila and I nearly ran away from home for the first and only time in my life. The front gate had been left ajar and the sight of a brass band passing in the street was a scene too compelling for a boy of 5 to resist. I was out the gate and nearly two blocks away before my mother finally caught up and led me home.

But the fascination of following the traveling show persisted. Later in life I was tempted but never quite foolish enough to apply for employment in one of the many tawdry carnivals that crisscrossed the country, arriving in time to coincide with the scheduled Fiestas of the different towns throughout Luzon.  But the appeal is seemingly universal.  According to Wikipedia, the traveling carnival was a popular form of rural entertainment in early 20th century America, and indeed throughout the world.


For Our Own Good

October 25th, 2011 - 2:36 pm

Wired describes how the FBI is actually engaged in the ethnic profiling of Muslims because they’ve found a correlation between being Muslim and the commission of certain types of crimes.  The data collected underlies “crime maps” and has proved useful to the Bureau.  However, the discovery of the correlation is itself being treated as a scandal. How dare the Bureau suggest such a thing, whatever the evidence?

Last month, Danger Room revealed that the FBI was training its agents that religious Muslims tended to be “violent” and that Islamic charity is merely a “funding mechanism for combat.” In response, both the FBI and the Justice Department promised full reviews of their training materials.