Monday, May 30, 2011


Niall Ferguson has won for himself the status of a "rock star" among historians. Like Fernand Braudel, he too takes history not in short bursts of time but surveys large processes of historical change and development from a comparative perspective. World historians have turned their attention to a singular aspect of woprld history especially after the onset of Globalization as an economic force backed by multi lateral institutions such as the WTO< IMF and World Bank. The rise of China from the middle of the 1970's under the leadership of Deng Xio Ping has resulted in the dram tic shift in the center of economic gravity from the Washington Consensus to the Pacific region. China holds nearly 3 trillion US dollars in her kitty and is the largest subscriber to US Treasury bonds. In the unlikely event of China deciding to undermine the stability of the dollar, the world monetary and fiscal architecture will collapse like a house of cards. Hence, historians have turned their attention to an exploration of the roots of economic growth and the concomitant social and cultural transformatiom it engenders. Long ago Karl Polanyi in his wonderful but sadly neglected The Great Transformation attempted to expalin just this question. The intellectual arrogance of Marxism and the dominance of the leftists in the field of History resulted in other theories doing the rounds including the dressed up version of Inmanuel Wallerstein, the World Systems Approach with its circular center/periphery dichotomy.

Niall Ferguson's Civilization explains the growth of the West in terms of its inherent historical processes. Competition which enabled economic production to compete for markets and patent laws that protected intell;ectual property rights enabled the western world to make the transition to economic growth. The wide spread diffusion of atrisanal skills which kept the labour market wide open, unlike the closed caste structures in socities such as India meant that there was close cooperation between those who practiced crafts and those who theorised about tham. The Scientific Revolution together with the print culture made knowledge widespread in western societies.

Ferguson writes like a true believer. He completely ignores the horrendous human tragedy that ensued in the wake of Western advance into the world of the "REST". Can there be a greated human tragedy than slavery that became the basis of Western economic dominance. Aferall as an economic historian he is well aware that there are "competitive advantages" due to low labor costs.

In spite of the fact that NIall Ferguson sings hosanas for Capitalism, this is an interesting read.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Masquerade's Wizard of Oz at Sivakami Petachi Auditorium, Chennai

On Friday, 20th May 2011 my daughter and I watched the Wizard of Oz. I remember reading the Puffin
version of the story to my daughter when she was a little girl and the checked dress of Dorothy made
quite an impression on her. She even set aside a green Magyar sleeve frock aside as her Dorothy dress
and named a white stray dog which she persuaded us to adopt as Toto. So Wizard of Oz was a must see
for both of us.
The Chennai Theatre Group called Masquerade put up an adaptation of this story in Chennai recently. A
simple and innovative set design was the main feature of this production. The props were kept to a bare
minimum and the stage lighting was excellent. The yellow brick road was realistically done with a sliver
of light on the stage. Obviously Harshavardhan Ganesh is talented and it showed. The costumes were all
well designed and suited the character. The ‘Cowardly Lion’ played by Shankar Chockalingam was
dressed in a yellow suit complete with tail and all. Rahul Murali, the Tinman, looked metallic with silver
grease paint on his face. It was Neetha Srikanth as the Wicked Witch of the West who took all the
honours for acting. Her performance was electric and there was a certain menace in her demeanor. She
seemed a perfect witch and her sidekick the “cat” looked pathetic as he suffered at her hands.
Frank Baum’s classic tale set in the corn fields of Kansas is really a parable dressed up as a fairy tale: a
story of self discovery and realization. If the yellow brick road is the magic path to self awareness
offered by religion, a straight path to certitude, the four travelers in our play find out that all the
knowledge they sought was within them. Thus the Cowardly Lion discovers that he is brave, the
Scarecrow finds out that he is brainy afterall and the Tinman finds out that he has a heart at the end of
the adventure and even Little Dorothy has within her the ability to return back to her farm in Kansas.
The director has taken some liberty with the text and the innovations such as the Mylapore Mami, could
have been avoided. I am not opposed to innovation as such but a classic text such as the Wizard of Oz
cannot be amended to suit the taste of a contemporary audience. The dance movements introduced to
represent movement and change of scene and tempo derived from Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk was
stunning. Chennai does have talent in the field of theatre.
I enjoyed the play immensely for two reasons. To a large extent it recaptured the lost wonder of
childhood and the innocence of a era long gone. Second the screen adaptation and the script was tight
and well organized leaving few loose ends. And Mitra Vishvesh as Dorothy was the icing on the cake. She
delivered her lines like a seasoned professional and she will go a long way in Theatre.
After a long time I saw a play that I really enjoyed

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Early this morning the US Special Forces acting on a tipoff launched an attack on a villa near Abbotsbad, a town 150 kilometers from the capital. The US attack was successful and without the loss of life the master mind on 9/11 was killed. It would have been foolish to take him prisoner as that would have encouraged hostages situations. So he was killed and no one can fault the US forces for this successful attack. I must say that there will be a sense of closure for a national trauma and my thoughts go out to those who lost their loved ones on that day in September2001.

The death of Osama bin Laden will certainly weaken the al-qaeda network and I am sure the Special Forces will continue the hunmt for other key elements. Unexpectedly this victory has given Obama's presidential relection bid a big boost and I ma sure he will cash in for what it is worth.

The situation in Pakistan will deteriorate and it may be time to call the Army out to lead. The Zardar Government has helped the US to carry out drone attacks and men like Raymond Davis on whom I have written are really the unsung heroes. But for such men thsi operation wopuld not have been a success.

Fist things first. USA gave an accurate and truthful account of the mid night encounter in which Osama bin Laden was killed. Had the same event happened in my part of the world, the Government would have lied saying that the man was armed and was using women as human shield. A rifle or M-16 would have been placed next to him to make it appear that the truth has been said. I appreciate the Obama Administration and the Navy Seal VI unit for resisting the temptation to score brownie points. Second, as I have often said the Pakistani Administration was abetting in the crime of shielding Osama. The fact that he was found within meters of the Military Base at Abbotabad shows that the ISI and the Army knew of the high value asset located there. It is quite possible that the Pakistanis surrendered Osama bin Laden to the US for some concessions in Afghanistan. The truth will eventually come out. For the moment let us assume that the civilian administration knew little of value. The CIA, NSA, the Department of Defense handed the entire Operation Gerimono is a professional manner, and they deserve a big round of applause.

There has been a controversy over the burial--some would even say, hasty and thoughtless--of the body of Osama bin Laden. The fact is that a tomb or burial site anywhere in South Asia would become a magnet for would be jehadis and a cult would have grown around it. A lieux de memoire is uncalled for and an anonymous burial was the need of the hour. The body of the terrorist could have been burnt and disposed off. Instead the Arabian Sea has been polluted with this corpse. The Obama Administration did what it thought best and it need not have revealed the facts about the disposal of the body. A picture of the dead Osama should have been published in order to quell the nay sayers and the inevitable conspiracy mongers. Why there was such haste is disposing off the remains of Osama bin Laden. USS Carl Vince and its identity ought not to have been revealed.

The hunt for Osama bin Laden was long and wearisome. Countless false leads and deliberately misleading clues were sifted in order to establish the identity of al-Kuwati the courier whose existence was first revealed by Khalili,a Git Mo detainee. In fact the success of the operation shows that the policy of questioning the detainees in a thorough manner was not off the mark. The CIA did a good job in tracking down the fugitive. I do not know why the lack of internet connectivity was troubling. The man was using a data card and it is just possible that WI FI connectivity was there. As for telephone who has land lines in these days of mobile phones. I just do not think that these were important clues that led to the identification of Osama bin Laden. I would like one of the 22 seals who participated in this encounter to write the history of this extraordinary event which in the words of a great historian of ages past, an event likely to be remembered for eons to come.

On 29th April 2011, President Barack Obama signed an excecutive order that authorised the Navy Seals VI unit to seek and kill Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the targets in USA. Are we to believe that the US president has the authority to order the execution of those deemed inimical to the US. Is this argument that USA can violate the sovereignty of a state, enter its territory, carry out a clandestine operation, pick up the evidence and leave, all actions done in accordance to domestic or international law. No court of law has ever convicted the target of the May 1st attack and therefore what is the legal basis of Obama's actions. I have no problem at all with the killing of terrorists, but I am raising a larger issue: the legal and constitutional validity of the presidential order of April 29th 2011.

The nearest example that comes to my mind is the infamous case of Adolf Eichmann who was captured by the Israelis in Brazil and brought to Jerusalem for trial and execution. In this case, the Government of Israel acted according to the testimony of several who gave evidence in the Nuremberg trials. Eichmann was indicted for crimes against humanity and there was ample eyewitness accounts of his direct involvement in the crimes at several camps in Europe. Further there was also the domestic legislation in the new state of Israel that made the capture and trial of German war criminals a responsibility of the Government of Israel and international law went along with this extended interpretation of the doctrine of eminent domain over German war crimes claimed by Israel. I want to know whether there is any provision in US law that enables or authorises the US president o carry out attacks on targets chosen by the US. I am not going into the merits of this particular case. I am raising a larger legal issue. Of course the USA can come out ans declare that they violated the sovereignty of Pakistan as they believe that the situation in that country makes it a "terrorist state" and hence the USA is not obligated to be constrained by the principles of international law.

Pakistan has become a haven for terrorists of every kind and therefore it is not a state in the true sense of the world. It does not have full control over its territory. Sayed Hafiz, a known terrorist is moving about freely in the country. Dawood Ibrahim a known criminal is being protected by the ISI. Since Pakistan does not have control over its territory and its so called civilian government has no monopoly over the use of force within the borders, USA can make a strong case for the violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan. As far as Osama bin Laden is concerned, though there is no evidence that can stand up in a trial court, the law of national self defence does permit nations to defend themselves.

There is now controversy over the killing of the man. I had raised this issue in my very first blog on this subject. The Obama Administration made things difficult for itself by giving contradictory version of the sequence of events leading to the killing of Osama. First they said that he fired at the raiding assault party and Leon Panetta stood by this version. Then they said quite truthfully that that he was not armed. This has not gone well. USA should have stood by one version. Then they said that he used a woman as a human shield and then they back tracked. Now both these contradictions are fueling speculations about the manner in which Osama was killed. There is even one theory doing the rounds that Osama bin Laden was killed in cold blood. I do not subscribe to this version.

Finally the pictures. THe most gruesome image was of the fall of the Twin Towers. How is it that USA is not revealing the pictures of the dead Osama bin Laden. Is there something in the pictures.