Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
July 3, 2015
Barbecues, bands and fireworks. Tomorrow is the Fourth of July and I wish you a
Happy Fourth. Two hundred and thirty-nine years in which the last half century has
been a period of unrivaled military (and economic) power. What the countries leaders
have done with this unique opportunity in global history, historians will debate forever.
History also yields interesting facts. For example: when this country declared
independence, the Mughal Empire, a major (and bigger by far than European power)
contributor to the world GDP had been in existence for over two and a half centuries.
The Rohingya Muslims had been in Burma for two centuries already. Their citizenship
was taken away by military junta some decades ago, and after a campaign by militant
Buddhists monks, they were attacked, their villages buried and they were herded into
camps, from where they try to escape seeking sanctuary with often tragic
consequences. Minorities are never always safe leading to the perpetual paranoia of
the Jews and their desire for a homeland.
Our period of ascendance and the glory days of the British Empire eclipsed the
Mughals and the Chinese, the latter, for most of recorded history, easily the largest
component of world GDP -- notwithstanding the movies' 'greatest empire the world
has ever known' prefacing references to the Roman Empire. On a purchasing power
parity basis, China is once again the world's leading economy, reclaiming a position it
has always held except for the aberration of the European colonial period of the past
Despite rickety railroads (in comparison with Europe, Japan and China), potholed
roads, and generally creaking infrastructure including failing schools and a large
literacy challenged population, there is no one on the horizon to contest our military
might. So what have we done with this power?
We certainly have not followed Colin Powell's Pottery Barn Rule, 'you break it, its
yours'. Instead there is a new rule now, 'we break it, its yours'. At the same time, we
claim to be working towards peace and stability in the world, and perhaps with good
intentions, although many remain unconvinced calling us the Great Satan, or the devil
whose sulfurous smell persists after he has gone.
About a decade ago, scientists studied a troop of 84 macaques at Emory University's
Yerkes national Primate Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Each of the macaques, they
observed, belonged to one or more networking groups, groups for play or grooming
for example. These networks operated under the watchful eyes of some very senior
dominant males, who ensured fights and spats did not get out of hand, and served as
a sort of police. The scientists removed three of the major policemen from the troop,
then watched and waited. As fights got out of hand, the effect was disastrous leading
to a kind of balkanization of the troop. Small homogeneous groups separated
themselves from the others, and the troop was weakened to a shadow of its former
strength with the squabbling.
It is a remarkable parallel with our forays in various countries over the last decade or
so. Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and now Syria and Ukraine are a long way from the stable
democracies promised their inhabitants.