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"Tradition?? The only good traditions are food traditions. The rest are repressive."

"There are two ways to think. The first is to trust to your ancestors, your religious leaders, or your charismatic professors. The second is to question, to challenge, to explore history for meanings, and to analyze issues. This latter is called Critical Thinking, and it is this that is the mission of my web site. "

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman  

February 2017

Ideas That Make People Kill.


Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Europeans engaged in mutual slaughter over religion: the Catholic-Protestant wars. Religion was not the only issue; the birth of nation-states added poisonous nationalism to the fray. The scientific and industrial revolutions added another element. Catholic states were fighting a rear-guard action in defense of the feudal world. The Protestant states, over time, advanced all the ideological changes that we value: participatory governance, religious to more...

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The Arc of History


As a historian, I share with former President Obama the idea that there is such a thing as "the arc of history." What is meant by this is that human beings have very gradually changed over the centuries from small clans and tribes who had to fight tooth and claw to survive to a global society, much of which has common (and largely American) values.

We no longer throw our adolescent girls into a volcano to calm the rage of the volcano god. Most of us no longer regard women more...

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World Law and Reciprocity


After 75 years with a system of global norms that America created, many around the world are challenging these norms. "International laws" are treaties agreed to by nations and "norms" are behaviors believed beneficial to all who practice them. However, global norms and treaties are voided when one side violates the agreements. During World War II, because Germany, the US, and Britain were all signatories to the Geneva Conventions, they all abided by humane rules validated by regular Red more...

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Russia?s Short-term and Long-term Prognosis


If the thugs in ISIS were not so busy decapitating people, we might have been paying more attention to a longer-term hostile force, Russia. Russia has been an important target of Western attention since the 19th century, when this once backward, frozen backwater came to life and proceeded to conquer and colonize all the countries across Central Asia (the old Silk Route), ending on China?s border and the Pacific Ocean. They controlled 11 time zones and warranted watching.

more...

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Israel and Its Changing Neighborhood


Nothing is more divisive than discussions of the Israeli/Palestinian century old conflict. The problem with this dispute is that conditions have finally changed in Israel?s neighborhood and in America?s new government.

On one side of the issue is the notion that "International Law" is against Israel?s occupation of "Palestinian lands," a position that pretends that there is really such a thing as "international law." For something to be law, it not only must be agreed by more...

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December 2016

Populism?s Unanticipated Consequences: Dictatorship


I learned in my college days that when somebody on campus yelled "Power to the People!" that it was time to take cover. I am allergic to mobs, which are what human beings become when they abandon thought.

The Populist movement is not new. Roman senators as early as 60 BC knew they could buy the favor of voters by putting on a great show: a circus, a great feast, and a big parade. What the senators wanted was their votes, after which they need never concern themselves with more...

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How Our "Nation of Immigrants" Works.



We are a nation of immigrants, including even the "Native Americans" who just migrated here from Asia earlier. Human beings are a mobile species, having migrated from Africa to settle every continent 50,000-100,000 years ago. Even these early migrants had trouble with others either already there or coming from elsewhere. How else did the Neanderthals, our cousin species, get wiped out? Our species has always believed that when newcomers arrive, "there goes the neighborhood."
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America?s History of Isolationism or Engagement.

November 11, 1918, was Armistice Day. On that date a century ago, World War I ended with a cease fire. The clear loser, Germany, collapsed in exhaustion after fighting on two fronts: France and Britain on one end and Russia on the other. The war was stalemated until the United States, very late in the war, entered on the side of France and Britain and won it. Although we do not make much of this holiday, it is still terribly important to the British and French, who lost a whole generation of yo more...

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Celebrating Native American Food


Laina Farhat-Holzman
Pajaronian
November 26, 2016

I have never seen a restaurant discussed and condemned on the front page of a newspaper before Saturday, November 4. On that day, Francis Ford Coppola, famous as the movie producer of The Godfather series and a posh winery he opened in Napa, was condemned for daring to open a restaurant featuring Native American foods. How terrible, said the critics, that someone dare to serve ethnic foods without growing up w more...

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E Pluribus Unum?


This Latin slogan describes the intentions of our founding father: that out of many colonies would come one nation. We Americans are very proud of this idea, and many think that we invented it. However, considering that the slogan is Latin, the ancient Romans certainly thought of it, as did others before them.

The small, scattered tribes of Homo Sapiens peopling Africa never looked beyond their tribes, related by blood. But as our ancestors left Africa and peopled the worl more...

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Israel?s Changing Neighborhood


When Israel first became a nation, a unified Muslim world (in particular, Arab world) invaded, hoping to destroy the nascent state. The Arabs did not prevail, but that did not stop them for trying 13 other times since 1947.

In the past 12 months alone, Israel faced 407 terror attacks, including 165 stabbings, 87 attempted stabbings, 107 shootings, 47 vehicular attacks, and one bus bombing. All this is in a country the size of New Jersey!

Today, however, the more...

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September 2016

Is There Global Rule of Law?


During President Obama?s recent visit to Asia, he spoke about Global Norms to students in Laos. He also said that America has been an enormous force for the good in the world, but that we often think that because of our size and clout, we do not need to know much about the rest of the world. Some people will be annoyed by this comment, but I think it is obvious. Only a steady ten percent of the American public has any interest in foreign policy, which is too bad, considering how importan more...

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Why Is Georgetown University Rewriting History?

Cherry-picking is no way to benefit from historic insight. Suddenly, it has become chic to revisit history and try to undo what was done. There is no way we can undo slavery, and this mode of rewriting history is of no benefit to the descendants of a very bad institution.

Georgetown University was financed in 1789 by the sale of slaves owned by the Jesuit fathers. The university wants to find descendants of those slaves and give them special access to attend Georgetown. Put them more...

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The Fuss over Headscarves

When President Ronald Reagan stood at the Berlin wall and said: "Mr. Gorbachev, Take Down This Wall." Some of the President?s advisers were horrified that he said this, considering it very undiplomatic. The President was very lucky---that shortly after his challenge, events converged, resulting in the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the USSR.

The PBS program Frontline recently did an investigative report on Saudi Arabia, not an easy thing to do considering how paranoid and close more...

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Who is Making Money From Stolen Property?

Receiving stolen property is a crime in order to deter people from aiding or rewarding thieves by buying stolen property, concealing stolen property, and to deter theft in general. Receiving stolen property may be a misdemeanor or felony.

Why, then, is nobody prosecuting the press for receiving the stolen property hacked by Wikileaks? I certainly believe in freedom of the press, but I do not believe that they should be above the law where it comes to receiving, publishing, and mak more...

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Culture Matters: International (Part 2 of 2)

In the 1990s, Samuel Huntington first wrote an essay, then a book, called The Clash of Civilizations. This influential historian threw down a gauntlet that most liberal and idealistic scholars did not want to pick up. But this work was so important that in history conferences across the country, the book was reviewed and critiqued. He said every border between Islamic countries and non-Islamic neighbors was bloody. This was obvious between the Israelis and Arabs, but we had not realized that it more...

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Russia's Long Romance with Lying and Deception

A spotlight has been turned on Putin's Russia lately: the probability that his government had hacked the computers of the Democratic National Committee, sitting on them until being released the eve of the Democratic Presidential Convention. Their agent, Julian Asange, the creator of WikiLeaks, a hacking underworld that only hacks the computers of the West, never Russia or China, dumped these e-mails with the seeming intent of assisting the election of Donald Trump. Russia certainly could not ope more...

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Book Reviews: Nazi Issues

Erik Larson, In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler?s Berlin, Crown Publishers, 2011

Barry Rubin & Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, Yale University Press, 2014.

Mary Elise Sarotte, The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall, Basic Books, 2014.
Reviewer: Laina Farhat-Holzman

By Laina Farhat-Holzman

These three books treat one important more...

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Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East

Barry Rubin & Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, Yale University Press, 2014.

Reviewer: Laina Farhat-Holzman

Not long ago, Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu commented in a speech that Hitler was influenced by his ally, the Palestinian Grand Mufti, Amin al-Husaini, to murder rather than expel Europe's Jews. There was an immediate uproar that this statement was historically incorrect, and that by saying this, he was dim more...

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Iraq War Revisited with Critical Thinking

A British report released a few weeks ago roundly castigated former Prime Minister Tony Blair for his misguided support of America's war to unseat Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Blair is as much condemned (and loathed) by the British left as former President George Bush is by the American left (and Donald Trump). Both leaders are accused of having "lied" about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. To defend both positions, it is true that these weapons were not found during the invasion. Bu more...

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Why the EU is not like the US: The BREXIT Surprise

European nationalism did not die when the EU was born. Climbing out of the ashes of Europe?s second massively destructive war in the 20th century, a group of educated idealists formed the first attempt at economic integration of the European Coal and Steel Community in the 1950s. This grew to integrating more European nations into an Economic Community from 1958-1992. The EC added more European countries to this community, which then became the European Union, an actual attempt to create a "Unit more...

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The Winter of Our Discontent?.

Shakespeare?s Richard III (before he became king) mentioned "the winter of our discontent." That certainly describes much of today?s world, with a vague sort of discontent over bad governments, unjust laws, and looking for someone to blame for floods, fires, and famines. Many people complain, but prefer fantasy and demagoguery to sound policies. There are always those who seize the imagination of mobs because they promise them everything.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, more...

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Book Review on Communism's Founding Tyrants

James DeMeo: "The Hidden History of Communism's Founding Tyrants, in their Own Words: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky: Genocide Quotes."
Laina Farhat-Holzman, Reviewer.

Because historic memories in the United States tend to be short, there has been a resurgence of romanticism about Marx and Lenin by those who believe that Stalin's Communism perverted what was intended to be a benign philosophy of creating a just world. Many people on the far left of the political spectrum hol more...

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Saudi Arabia: Our Troubled and Troublesome Ally (Part 2 of 2)


A country as insignificant as Saudi Arabia before oil would have mattered little to the world. In the 1950s, as oil wealth began to pour in, the Saudi princes wanted the same sorts of conspicuous consumption enjoyed by other world millionaires. When they first brought in automobiles (for themselves), the Wahhabi clergy were outraged, considering camels good enough for pious Muslims. Cameras and, later, television, were also on their list of harmful items for Saudi culture.

more...

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Saudi Arabia: Our Troubled and Troublesome Ally (Part 1 of 2)


Saudi Arabia is an excellent example of how complex our alliances can be. I have heard from quite a few people that we should dump them as an ally. In the past, even I have muttered that after 9-11, we invaded the wrong countries (Afghanistan and Iraq) and should have taken down Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Of course we could not do this in a world of complex issues and even more complex relationships. We have needed each other for certain things over the past 60 plus years more...

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1400 Years of Inbreeding


Worldwide Muslim marriage practices are now under fire for a spate of genetic problems now in the Western spotlight. The birth defects and anomalies are real and their incidence within Islam is undeniable. The problem is determining if these incidences are all caused by the Muslim preference for first-cousin marriages, a practice forbidden in Judaism and Christianity.

We do not know enough about genetics to determine if this consanguinity is totally to blame, or if there more...

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Four Middle East Water Systems Shape History

Controlling water was one of the first technological efforts at the beginning of what we call "civilization," or city building. Even today, most human beings live on the rims of oceans or on river systems. We need water to drink, for washing ourselves and our goods, but most of all, for agriculture.

Where today Iraq and Iran meet arose the first urban civilization 5,000 years ago, Sumeria. This amazing culture created the first big city-state (Ur), a system of writing, sea-going more...

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Dubious Allies: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Turkey

Countries are not islands unto themselves, even countries protected on two sides by oceans. From the beginning of our country?s birth, we had allies who helped us survive. Our first ally was France, a relationship forged by America?s first diplomats, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. This relationship was a case of "the enemy of my enemy is my friends," both being enemies of England. The French helped us with money, soldiers, and a very useful diplomat, the Marquis de Lafayett more...

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Political Parties Are Not Permanent.

That the Republican Party is heading toward a demolition is no surprise by now. This is not the first time a major American political party fell apart. In the 19th century, between the 1830s and 1860, the Whig Party was the political rival to Jefferson?s Democratic Republican (Democrat) Party. The Whigs ran candidates every election, but elected only two to the presidency.

Political parties are not cast in stone; they change over time. The Jeffersonian Democrats began as an elite more...

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Was the Past Really Better?


When we revere the past to the point of worship, we are saying that those who came centuries before us were smarter than we are. As a historian with little romantic illusion about the past, I think that this worship is misplaced. I checked this out with a two-part question on the final exam in the World History class that I taught: A) If you could go back in a time machine to any period in history, which would you select, and why? B) If you could not choose your gender or class, would t more...

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Do You Really Want a Revolution?

Being angry is not the best reason for voting for a "revolution." One might not like aspects of the way our leaders are leading, but trashing the entire institution of governance under law will not achieve a brave new world. It never has.

Many of those with only vague historic knowledge talk boldly about having another American Revolution like the first one. Our founding, however, was not the result of a revolution, but of a revolt by people who wanted all British laws and protect more...

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How Our Presidents Promote Tolerance

The United States was founded just as the European Enlightenment swept through. The Enlightenment occurred after two centuries of religious wars had exhausted not only Europe?s population, but also its intellectuals. Ordinary people were not theologians; they simply retreated to the various sects accepted by their families or rulers. Southern Europeans remained Catholic, while the more economically progressive north (England, Scotland, Scandinavia, and northern Germany) and their rulers favored more...

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Iran and Saudi Arabia Mix It Up.

In January, active warfare almost erupted when the Saudis decapitated a Shiite cleric, enraging Iran. On the surface, this seemed to be the ongoing hostility between the two major sects of Islam, the Sunni majority and the Shiite minority. Most Arabs and most Muslims around the world are Sunni; most Iranians, with pockets in the Middle East, are Shiite.

This antipathy is often compared with the Protestant-Catholic religious wars---a theological dispute. However, there is little th more...

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The Long Decline of Christians in the Muslim World.

Secular Americans and Europeans are often reluctant to rush to the defense of Christians around the world. Our educations have taught us that the Christian West cruelly colonized the good but downtrodden people of the lesser- developed world. Many of today?s radicalized academics focus on Western racial bigotry; after all, only White people can be evil. They weep for the "underdog," hence the scorn for Israelis, who have the temerity to no longer be underdogs. The "poor Palestinians," no matter more...

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Europe's Good Intentions Hit the Wall of Reality.

Casandras (me included) have been writing for 20 years about Europe's failure to integrate a Muslim immigrant population that resists modern culture. The Islamist terror attacks were alarming enough, but the New Year?s Eve sexual assaults, mobs of "North African" men molesting, raping, and robbing women in Cologne, Hamburg, Sweden, and Finland, have embarrassed governments across Europe. Europe's open door to "refugees" has brought in not only good families capable of integrating, but also hord more...

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Poll Finds Christian-Muslim Divide on Religious Freedom.


The Associated Press put out an article on December 31 on a poll taken in the United States about religious freedom. A vast majority placed a higher priority on preserving the religious freedom of Christians (and Jews) than for other faith groups, ranking Muslims as the least deserving of these protections.

The article seems to be critical of American suspicion of Muslims and belief that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its followers. " more...

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December 2015

Militant Islam has a Woman Problem.


In the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attack on America, there was a knee-jerk assumption that Muslims had reasons for hating us. Many left-wing chest-beaters blamed "western colonialism" for creating Muslim hatred; others blamed Israel for daring to occupy "Muslim lands." "What did we do wrong?" they asked.

Scholars revisited the origins of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the godfather of all subsequent Islamist terror groups. This movement began in 1928 when other compar more...

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The World Has A Strange Fixation on Sex.

Human sexuality has two areas of concern for people who govern: population numbers (Reproduce and Multiply!) and social order (control your women!).

Human sexuality, since the time that men figured out that having babies was not a mystery controlled exclusively by women, has been to make certain that men know which children they father. If a man is to be responsible for protecting, feeding, and leaving a heritage to his offspring, he wants to know that these offspring are his own more...

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September 2015

Religious fanaticism still defies the Secular State.


While stupid killers around the world go on their endless rounds of murdering people in the name of their medieval religion, others are engaged in the great human enterprise (such as the Pluto flyby) of exploring space.

An international coalition of astronomers is building the largest telescope in the world at the summit of a "sacred" Hawaiian mountain, Mauna Kea. When completed, this 98-foot-aperture telescope will permit more than nine-times the collecting area of the l more...

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Tradition!


Tevye, the father living in revolutionary times of rapid change, struggled with what to do about traditions in the much loved musical, Fiddler on the Roof. This Russian-Jewish story, later a Broadway play and then a movie, played to audiences of many other cultures around the world who understood the issues very well. The 20th century was beset with traditions biting the dust. Children were in rebellion everywhere and parents did not know what to do about it.

My own view o more...

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Tradition!


Tevye, the father living in revolutionary times of rapid change, struggled with what to do about traditions in the much loved musical, Fiddler on the Roof. This Russian-Jewish story, later a Broadway play and then a movie, played to audiences of many other cultures around the world who understood the issues very well. The 20th century was beset with traditions biting the dust. Children were in rebellion everywhere and parents did not know what to do about it.

My own view o more...

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What if the 30-Year Religious Wars Prediction Is Wrong?

Yemen, once a backwater that nobody much cared about, is now a failed state that has inflamed an entire region. The Saudis, who have spent obscene fortunes on defense toys that they have never used are now tentatively using them and are rallying other Sunni Arabs to join them. For all their decades of bluster about Israel, they were never this serious before. This time, they are really frightened and their fear is directed at a rag-tag terrorist group that has taken over the government of Yemen. more...

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Let's Take a Long View of the Iran Deal.


The exhausted negotiators had been at it for 20 months, the last many hours of which were nearly non-stop, with the possibility that this important deal might collapse. The United States, Iran, five members of the UN Security Council, and the EU had labored over this negotiation to convince Iran that it was in its best interest to reduce its nuclear program's potential of developing nuclear weapons. Iran had long (and unconvincingly) claimed its nuclear interests were peaceful only, but more...

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Putin Has His Own Private Assassins

I don?t know how many of you remember the story of the "Sorcerer?s Apprentice," charmingly done in the Disney film Fantasia. Mickey Mouse played the Sorcerer?s apprentice, tasked with sweeping out the house. The lazy rascal found the master?s book and tried his hand at magic, turning the broom into an army of brooms who swept and went to the well, nearly flooding the house and coming close to drowning Mickey until the Sorcerer returned and put things to rights, punishing the foolish apprentice.< more...

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Middle East is Running out of Water.

California knows how serious it is to have a water shortage. But we are a modern state and know perfectly well what to do about it. For us, it is just a matter of spending money and having the will to do what is obvious: desalinate the ocean water immediately to our west.

But when the entire Middle East is running out of water, it is another thing altogether. This is a region with a minority of scientifically educated people and a majority of ignorant, religious villagers and rec more...

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Human Rights Widen In the West, Vanish Elsewhere.

On June 26, the United States extended its freedoms to one more group of fellow citizens, homosexuals, who now have the equality in marriage. Over many centuries before this, homosexual males were jailed, beaten, tortured, and scorned. Female homosexuals were forced into marriage, institutionalized, or shunned.

In Muslim societies, even today, homosexuality is technically forbidden but socially rampant, particularly practiced against boys by those responsible for them (including more...

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History Reveals Presidential Close Calls!


As a historian, I can be pretty dispassionate about reading things that are past and gone. Knowing that President Woodrow Wilson had a stroke and that his wife Edith secretly kept him hidden from October 1919 to April 1920 is certainly alarming, but nothing disastrous seems to have happened. This could not happen today, I hope.

The Cuban Missile Crisis, a weekend when the actions of individuals both in the White House----the cool head of Bobby Kennedy who advised his broth more...

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Defunding Israel but Blind to Islamophobia Ripoffs?

Only in the free Western world can such asymmetrical nonsense take place. Israel, the one western country unfortunately located in the middle of the Muslim world is the focus of accusations of Islamophobia and targeted with boycotts of its industries and products. How ironic. Israel is the one country where Arab citizens can vote, have the highest standard of living, and have any kind of future. Yet young stupid liberals in Europe and the US vent their spleen on Israel and turn a blind eye to th more...

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The Candidates Are Missing the Right Answer About the Iraq War!


Watching all the candidates for the 2016 election dancing on a tightrope trying to answer the question about why they voted to go into Iraq in 2003 (or what lesson they should have learned from this "mistake") is painful and unnecessary. There is a simple answer to this dilemma that nobody seems to want to say. Yet this answer is being played out right under our noses.

It was not a mistake to remove a dangerous, murderous, unpredictable dictator such as Saddam Hussein! We more...

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ISIS Runs from Amazon Warriors.

Even if you do not know the great Greek myths about the ancient women warriors, the Amazons, whom Plato described, most of you do remember Wonder Woman, that beautiful comic book heroine who was an Amazon warrior princess. Plato's Amazons were fierce; they could fight as well as any men, and were so devoted to the art of war that they amputated their right breasts so that they could use a bow and arrow as men could. They lived communally, capturing men only to procreate, dumping male children. more...

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Marriage of One Man and One Woman, a Sacred History?


The Supreme Court has not weighed in on the issue of Gay Marriage yet, but plenty of people have had their say, in and out of the court. Even those who believe that it is time to recognize that a same sex couple should have the dignity of being recognized as a family with the same rights as a married couple do note that marriage has a long traditional history of being the sacred union of one man and one woman.

However, I choke when I hear that one. Does it really? Do thes more...

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Europe?s Newest Invasion needs Tough Love.


As Europeans wring their hands over the arrival of desperate boat people swarming from an Africa that seems to be in death throes, Italy is being shamed into rescuing them. How can they not? How can anybody in Europe not be shamed to relive the last time they created refugees when Yugoslavia was in meltdown? Or before that, when Jews had to flee, or when that savior of refugees, America, turned away ships, sending Jews back to the Nazis who then murdered them?

But as a hi more...

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The Nation-State Idea is Not Cast in Stone.


I remember trying to explain to my small children what a "country" is. They understood neighborhood because we could walk around those streets. They even understood city because we could drive around such a recognizable entity. It was a little more difficult to understand state and really difficult to understand country. When they were a little older, they played with geography puzzles and learned to recognize the states that made up "the United States" and later "the world" and eventual more...

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What's New: Destroying One's Own Religious Treasures


The Pagan world had no problem with incorporating other people's gods. They managed to see comparable qualities and forms of foreign deities (love and war, for example) and never found it necessary to destroy these symbols, with only one exception: the gods of the Phoenicians, who demanded the sacrifice of first-born babies. That was more than Greeks or Romans could tolerate and they wiped out that worship and their worshippers (who were their economic rivals also).

Monoth more...

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Is the Fascist Wing of Islam taking Islam over a Cliff?


"Not in My Name" said an unhappy French Muslim holding up a sign in a demonstration in Paris in response to the murders in the Charlie Hebdo journal office and the Jewish market. "Islam is a Religion of Peace!" protested American basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on "Meet The Press. "It?s not about religion" he insisted, even though all the killers shouted that it was indeed about the insult to their religion and their religion?s founder, Mohammad.

So what have we her more...

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While Europe Slept: Denial of the Islamist Threat


Winston Churchill wrote a book in 1938 called While Europe Slept that impressed young John F. Kennedy so much that he made it his senior thesis in school in England while his father was US Ambassador there. His thesis was published as his own book in 1940. Both books were intended to rouse both countries to the threat of Nazi Germany that pacifists were determined to resist.

Europe lost an entire generation of young men in a meaningless fratricidal war between 1914 and 191 more...

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Torture Is Not In America?s Best Interests.

Americans are debating several complex moral issues:
? Does torture produce essential information at a time of terror activity?
? Does torture do moral damage to the torturers themselves?
? Does imminent danger warrant violating US law?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. The 9/11 attack really frightened this country and the government went into emergency mode to find out if more attacks were on the way. This is the ticking bomb theory: do anything nece more...

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November 2014

Russia's Short-term and Long-term Prognosis

If the thugs in ISIS were not so busy decapitating people, we might have been paying more attention to a longer-term hostile force, Russia. Russia has been an important target of Western attention since the 19th century, when this once backward, frozen backwater came to life and proceeded to conquer and colonize all the countries across Central Asia (the old Silk Route), ending on China's border on the Pacific Ocean. They controlled 11 time zones and warranted watching.

Russia wa more...

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We Must Put the "Crises of the Moment" in Context.


Critics of President Obama have an easy job. They do not have to make the decisions that will impact long-term American wellbeing. That is his job, and like making sausage, it is not a pretty process. It involves heavy lifting and complex issues.

Two principles have governed American foreign policy for the past two centuries: first, make certain that no one power controls all of Europe or all of Asia. We would be standing alone if such a powerful enemy controlled all other more...

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Debates About "Intrinsic Islam"

Some noisy public debates are going on about the sensitive issue of the "intrinsic" nature of Islam. Two members of the liberal intelligentsia (Bill Maher and Sam Harris), who do not find any religion logical, have dared to say that the well-intentioned mantra that "Islam is a religion of peace" is baloney. Islam, they say, is intrinsically violent. The respected public intellectual Fareed Zakaria chastised Maher and Harris for condemning this huge world-wide religion. Too broad a brush, he said more...

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The Elephant in the Room: The War Without a Name

As I watched the unfolding drama of an attack on the Canadian Parliament, I immediately suspected that the killer (or killers) were Muslims, probably converts. It took the rest of the day to confirm something that seems to make many in the press uncomfortable. The press, government officials (our own and other democratic leaders), academics, and the "spokesmen" for Islam (a religion that has no official leadership) tap-dance around trying to avoid the word "Muslim." "These violent people are n more...

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Does This War Have an End Game?

We are bad at long-term planning. It is not natural for Americans to think much beyond the next business quarter, election, or war strategy. Unlike Europe, we have no long history or artifacts such as cathedrals, nor memories of endless warfare. For this reason, and because we have a president who is by nature allergic to ?stupid conflicts,? an equally allergic public is asking about an end game to this protracted war against terrorism.

The longest-term policy that we once had was more...

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September 2014

Will Islam Address Its Internal Crisis?

Muslims have lived so long with governments they cannot trust that the rumor mill serves as their source of information. Conspiracy theories are the favorite explanations for all the horrors in the world. If you cannot blame Allah, you must find someone you can blame.

The latest conspiracy theory comes out of the Netherlands, where a Muslim woman, Yasmina Haifi, who works in the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security, has given us the following: ?The Islamic State isn?t Islamic at more...

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This Is No Longer Your Grandfathers' Army.

If we are talking softly but carrying a big stick, as President Teddy Roosevelt advised, we need a big stick. Americans divide themselves into hawks who believe freedom requires defense and doves who believe that if we are nice, others will be too.

The hawks are certainly right that a nation without a good military is vulnerable to the world's bullies. The majority of Western European countries are doves, a position they are permitted because since the end of World War II, the Un more...

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Conflicting Views of the President's Foreign Policy



Journalists often gang up on our presidents. Dwight Eisenhower was dismissed as an inarticulate golf-playing do-nothing by the political elites of his time. In reality, he adeptly handled the earlier years of the Cold War and set forth policies that saw us through a half century. Lyndon Johnson saddled himself with the Vietnam War and was reviled by journalists, academics, and the young, leaving office as a failure. Today, we realize what an astonishing president he was: an unlik more...

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Ebola Is Just The Tip of an Iceberg.

The news is full of the latest version of an old demon facing humanity: plagues and epidemics. Ebola is a dreadful disease that has crossed over from the ape family and has gone from an infrequent village killer to reaching some overpopulated urban areas and is currently incurable.

As always, the three-minute news bite misses the bigger picture, one with historic roots. The big picture has some unpleasant truths:

? Origin. Almost all endemic diseases affecting huma more...

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Caliphates and Tooth Fairies Are Cousins.


Those Islamists who have announced that they are a new Caliphate must also look under their pillows when they lose a tooth. Maybe they will find a quarter there. The likelihood of the quarter is better than that of a Caliphate. However, they represent pure Islam, tracing their decapitation of non-Muslims to the example of the Prophet himself. Mohammad preached a war of terror, with plenty of examples of it in the Koran.

Caliph is the Arabic word for successor to the Prophe more...

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Proxy Wars Have Unanticipated Consequences


Getting somebody else to fight while you watch is an old idea. ?Let me hold your coat,? says an onlooker in a bar fight. Even better is watching a prizefight in which poor, unfortunate idiots beat each other to a pulp for entertainment and prize money.

World War II was actually the last time that major powers were locked in deadly combat. Since that time, almost all wars have involved proxies: conflicts in which the actual beneficiaries are not doing the fighting. The enti more...

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Will Pakistan Become a Failed State or Change Its Direction?


Did the US go to war with the wrong countries when we took on Iraq and Afghanistan? Perhaps we should have gone after our ?good allies? Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, who were really responsible for 9/11. This is, of course, wishful thinking considering the many ways that we need relations with these two countries, so we hold our noses and deal with them as ?frenemies,? not friends.

Pakistan grows more troubling by the day, with the Islamists increasingly violent and the secul more...

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Can Wars Be Proportional?

If columnist Amy Goodman had covered the carpet-bombing of Germany in World War II, she would have indignantly defended the Nazis. Fortunately for the outcome of that war, the public did not get a play-by-play description from observers who want war to be proportional.

Throughout 10,000 years of human history, wars were never proportional. Winners won. Chivalry plays no role in warfare.

In history, total conquest was used when repeated conflicts between warring par more...

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Laina with July Movies

Netflix

Dresden
Dresden is a two-part 2006 German TV film set during three days before and during the horrendous British bombing raid on Dresden (13-15 February 1945). This film is particularly significant now to reconsider how little we remember history in the face of current issues, such as the clamor about the disproportionate war being fought between Israel and Hamas. War is not cricket, and throughout 10,000 years of the history of civilization, wars were never propor more...

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Prejudice: Is it Culture or Race?


I have been watching the splendid Cosmos, the successor to the original television series by astronomer Carl Sagan in 1980. That visionary astronomer introduced us to the magical world of space, spurring many young people to consider astronomy as a career. Neil DeGrasse Tyson was one of those youngsters, a Black teen from the Bronx, who was invited to spend a day with Sagan. Now Dyson is returning the favor by producing the new Cosmos, embracing a half-century of incredible progress in more...

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Are ISIS and ISIL Based on Religion or Ideology?


When we hear the word ISIS, we usually think of the great Egyptian goddess of antiquity. Today's ISIS is not a goddess, but is a resentful Islamic military cult that has no clue of what it wants, only what it doesn't want. It does not want western civilization, except for its weapons and medicines for their warriors and elderly leaders. Its only policies involve slaughter, amputating the limbs of thieves, and total enslavement of women. They love public whipping and executions, which the more...

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Alliances Have No Longevity in the Middle East.


Not only are borders shifting wildly in today's Middle East reshuffle, but alliances are too. One needs a scorecard to determine who are friends today and enemies tomorrow. This is not a new problem in the Middle East; it is a historic fact of life.

The greatest accomplishment of the Prophet Mohammad was to unify what had been anarchic tribes in the Arab Peninsula. The process of unification was brutal, but there was no other way to do it. Truces were only temporary and su more...

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The Borders in the Middle East are Changing.


A century ago, the First World War broke out and at its conclusion, the political geography of the world changed. The Ottoman Empire fought on the wrong side of that war and it dissolved tumultuously, with all its colonies ?liberated? and the Turks reduced to a new and exclusively Turkish country. At that empire?s height (15th - 20th centuries), it ruled over Arabia, Mesopotamia, the Levant (Syria), Egypt, and across North Africa all the way to the Atlantic. Its European holdings includ more...

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Does Iraq Have a Future?


The blame game is going on about Iraq?s descent into regional warfare. This is a futile exercise unless changes of policy and real geopolitical insight go along with the blame.

The Bush administration is rightly blamed for involving the US in an invasion of the wrong country, using specious excuses. However, that invasion could have done the region good by just removing Saddam Hussein, a very dangerous opportunist who threatened the region. But real blame should fall on th more...

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US Foreign Policy: Does History Repeat Itself? (Part 2 of 2)


Historians compare the onset of World War I exactly a century ago with our own time. At the turn of the 19th century, the world was undergoing extraordinary globalization. The British Empire ruled the seas and conquered and colonized territories too backward and stagnant to protect themselves. The British introduced the concepts of the nation state to India, which had never really been a continent-wide country before. They introduced railroads, uniform law and order, and a unifying langu more...

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An Iranian in Exile Takes On a British MP.


Ever since the Iranian monarchy fell to a radical Islamic revolution, I have chafed over the nonsense that has passed for history. It has become accepted that Shah Mohammad Pahlavi was evil and that the west had sustained him for too long. I also flinch when Iranians insist that their travails were caused by either the British, the Americans, or the Israelis. This is a failure to take responsibility for the nation?s own folly in allowing Islamists to take control.

One such more...

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US Foreign Policy: What Are Our Goals and Priorities? (Part 1 of 2)


The vital national interests of the United States have always included:

? Protect the sovereignty, territory, and population of the US and prevent and deter threats to our homeland, including, today, nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) attacks and terrorism.

? Prevent the emergence of a hostile regional coalition or hegemon, such as the Nazi-Japanese Axis in World War II and the fear of a Soviet-Chinese axis in the Cold War.

? Ensure fr more...

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It is Time to Get Climate Change Right.

The Tower of Babel is a Bible story about God's punishment for human arrogance in building a skyscraper. In the story, God confounded human language and we have failed to understand each other ever since. But today, some issues, such as Climate Change or Global Warming suffer from the Tower of Babel syndrome. Even when speaking the same language, we don't understand each other.

Climate change is different from weather. Reports about cold winters and snow do not contradict global w more...

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What is Boko Haram and Why Should We Care?


An army of dirt-ignorant terrorists has been running rampant in Africa for the past few years. They call themselves ?Boko Haram,? which has been liberally translated as ?Foreign Education is Sinful.? But this is as misleading as when the Taliban first appeared on the scene in Afghanistan. Their name was translated as ?students,? a strange term for phenomenally ignorant rote memorizers of the Koran in a language few of them understood.

Boko Haram is just what its words say more...

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What the Map Can Tell You.



I am of a generation that remembered geography as one of my favorite subjects in grade school, a subject no longer taught. We learned to read maps, study globes, and learn about the various cultures of the world. In art class, we drew pictures of the various peoples around the world with distinctive clothes (the Dutch with wooden shoes and pointy caps or the Chinese with silk pajamas and long pigtails). Geography was not just memorizing world capital cities.

Today more...

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Why Are We the World’s Policemen?

Cutting the defense budget in the foolish notion that we should not be the world’s policemen is biting us already. We saved the world from great horrors three times. We ended World War I, which was otherwise bogged down in the worst military slaughters since the American Civil War. Instead of building on this achievement, the American public just wanted to forget all about war and we went isolationist, thus permitting World War I to morph into a much worse World War II, which we could not avoi more...

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“The Religion of Peace” gets Brandeis Support


On just one day, and appearing on just one page of the San Francisco Chronicle (April 10), three articles appeared about bomb blasts perpetrated by Muslim extremists murdering other Muslims.

• Pakistan. The first was in Pakistan (22 killed, 83 grievously wounded by nuts and bolts packed in a carton of fruit). These fanatics particularly like exploding in open marketplaces where they can maximize killing the most women and children. This attack took place in Islamabad, P more...

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Putin’s Ideological Fantasy of Russian “Spirituality.”

David Brooks had a brilliant column recently on Putin’s historic mission to restore Russia to the world stage, recover what it can of control over what was once the Soviet Union (and before that the Russian Empire), and assert Russia’s moral superiority over the “corrupt secular west.”

I choked over that last one because their moral superiority is a fantasy indeed. Russia’s “moral superiority” rests on three ideas, as written by Putin’s favorite Russian philosopher more...

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The Russian Bear Still Has Teeth Laina Farhat-Holzman


Many of us miss the Cold War, not because it was without violence (there was, but nothing like that of the two World Wars), but because the antagonist was so interesting. As Churchill once said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” But perhaps it is not as mysterious as we thought then. We only need look at its geography and history to see inevitable continuity---an eternal Russia.

Another reason for preferring the Cold War’s Russia to today more...

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Is Militant Islam Facing an Endgame?

Many intellectuals believe that the political right-wing is “demonizing” Islam. This is a conundrum, because it appears that Islam is demonizing itself. How peaceful is a religion when it is obviously going through a fever fueled by resentment, fear of modernity, and a phase of religiosity that is as much at war with its own people as it is against the rest of the world?

Religions are like rivers: there is upstream, downstream, rapids, still waters, and a delta where the relig more...

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December 2013

Alarms Bells Are Going Off As Al Qaeda Networks Spread.

As a historian with a long view, I avoid alarming predictions of doom and gloom. Although Militant Islam is very dangerous, I don’t think it has longevity. Wherever Islamists take over, they arouse the intense hatred of their subject people. Muslims in Mali, for example, celebrated when the French Army chased out the jihadis.

It is one thing to fantasize about a restored Islamic Caliphate (religious dictatorship) but quite another to live under it. Like all other meteoric phenom more...

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Can We Legislate Against Sin?

From the beginning of human society, control of behavior was essential to cohesion. You cannot have a community of human beings living in anarchy; they would be at each other's throats. Nor can you have an individual surviving for long in isolation. We are tribal, and need each other to survive.

There are several ways to control behavior: first, training the children with rules, rewards (affection), and punishment; brute force from leaders (or male punishments on women who defy ru more...

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The Politically Correct Only Recognize “Selective Slavery.”


Many years ago, I submitted a paper for a conference on Slavery (World History Association), which was rejected. The problem was that I offered a history of slavery going back to its ancient roots, but the association was only interested in the evils of Black Slavery in the West. This was my first exposure to “selective Slavery.” Then later, serving as the director of the United Nations Association in San Francisco, I questioned the organization’s authorities about enlarging the UN more...

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Why Some Women Love Violence.

There is an old joke (a John Wayne movie?) that tells of why women put up with violent husbands. “How else can I know he loves me?”

In the developed world, wife beating is no longer considered a sign of love; it is bullying, intimidating, and criminal, which means the batterer can go to prison. But in the modern world, where violence against women is no longer tolerated, it is a mystery why some modern women choose to convert to Islam where wife beating is common. Some not onl more...

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Revisiting American and Global Culture Wars


George Will recently wrote a column about “When liberals became scolds.” He was certainly right about that, when considering such liberals as Amy Goodman and Media Benjamin (the notorious Code Pink). I have never heard either of these women say anything positive about our country. If one were to ask them, I am certain that they would say that they love this country so much that they want it to be better than it is. They seem to think of all their carping as loyal opposition.
more...

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The “World Community” Has Double Standards.


The response to Bashar Assad’s use of poison gas lobbed into rebel-held suburbs of Damascus has been fascinating. Finally, somebody is remembering that a treaty was signed by almost every country in the world banning poison gas at the end of World War I. The use of mustard gas in trench warfare decimated a whole generation of young men fighting on both sides of the war. This was the first time that any weapon had been declared unacceptable to human values. Poison gas is an effective ge more...

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We Have Always Had Turncoats.


Why would a citizen of a country that serves them well opt for betrayal? Why would a US army psychiatrist value Militant Islam more than fellow soldiers he felt justified to murder? Why would Somali-American teenagers train to become suicide bombers, first abroad, but hoping to do so in their homeland?

The recent spate of terrorists who want to damage this country and as many of its residents as possible is not new; we need to remember this issue in the past, and how we de more...

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Democracy Has Strings Attached.


Democracy means “Rule by the people.” First devised by the ancient Athenians, native freeborn men of property could cast votes for issues of importance to their city. Discussions before the vote were carried out in the public marketplace, where all voters could assemble. Over time, however, the system become corrupted and some unfortunate decisions were made (such as going to war against fellow Greeks) that made the democracy collapse.

The Romans modified the Greek sys more...

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September 2013

Is the US the World's Policeman?

The question comes up in public discussions all the time: Why should we be the world's policemen? Of course we are not the world's policemen, but we do play an enormous role in serving as a de facto government in a world that, without us, would have no governance at all. The opposite of governance is anarchy, a non-system that makes life like that of the European Dark Ages after the fall of Rome. Rome, like the United States, did far more good than harm to the world it governed.

more...

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Moral Foreign Policy May Not Be Prudent Foreign Policy.


We Americans love our democracy. For all of our faults, most of us live in a society governed by rule of law, a society where we can walk the streets of our towns in safety, and where we are equal under the law regardless of gender and race. We are governed.

We do have an underbelly, however. Some of our inner cities house people for whom this is not so. Despite this, our imperfect society is a work in progress, because we do try to make the system better and the system do more...

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Russia is an Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery

Russia never fails to fascinate us. The very scary Cold War has been over for several decades, after a fifty-year period in which the Soviet Union and the United States engaged in a conflict that could have ended in nuclear holocaust. But real friendship has not replaced the hostility either. We have a cold peace.

Nations have long histories. Russia has been shaped by its geography It occupies a huge expanse of the Eurasian plains, from Eastern Europe all the way to the Pacific. I more...

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How Do Religions Modernize?


Religions can modernize. When we explore the history of how human beings coped with fear, disasters both natural and man-made, fertility, and death, we see great changes to the religions of our most ancient ancestors.

• Pantheism. Our ancestors invented systems for coping with existential fears. They saw the divine all around them: initially as forces to be placated, but also to be honored and celebrated. The ancient Greeks, for example, modernized their earlier pantheis more...

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In Defense of Dead White Men

The youth and women’s revolutions of mid 1980s, attacked western civilization, particularly the traditional educational focus on the great figures of Western history. It became chic to call all of our progenitors, the likes of Shakespeare, Socrates, and our Founding Fathers, “Dead White Males.” Academic institutions and the popular media hastened to get on board, deeming Western Civilization overblown in importance (at least) and deserving of obliteration (at best).

The fem more...

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Are We in an Everlasting War?


President Obama recently declared that it was time to end our war on terror. Some consider this stupid because individual terror attacks still go on, but I think the President is right. Unless we plan to invade Pakistan or Saudi Arabia and clean out their Islamists, we no longer have a war in which a country is involved. He did not say that terrorism was over; but these nasty terror cells can be managed by police and FBI and tried as criminals.

President Obama does have a more...

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The Chechens Are a Model of Dysfunction.

Some of us who are geographically impaired have been confusing the Chechens with the Czechs. All they have in common was that both suffered under the rule of the Soviet Union. The Czechs (the former Czechoslovakia) were under Soviet rule from the end of World War II until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. The Chechens, however, have been ground under the Russian Empire's heel from 1830, next under Soviet rule (1917), and once again under Russia (1989). They are not a happy people in the best of more...

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Anthropology Wars Affect Us All.

Anthropology Wars Affect Us All.

Humans have always been curious about the customs of others, as first systematically applied by the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, who traveled the ancient world observing its varied cultures. It is obvious that human cultures differ. We are not just the product of natural instinct; rather, we make survival decisions based on our geography, experience with our neighbors, responses to dangers, and the luck of bad or good leadership.
more...

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An Important Iranian Visitor is Coming: The Cyrus Cylinder


We are accustomed to seeing Iranians as revolutionary Shiite Muslims at war with the world, exemplified by Ayatollah Khamenei (and before him, father of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini). Soon-to-be ex-president Mahmud Ahmadinejad has been a mouthpiece for every obnoxious pronouncement such as Holocaust denial, denial that homosexuality exists in Iran, and membership in the cabal of fascist dictatorships, along with North Korea, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe, just to name a few. (They all ga more...

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Why is Slavery Still With Us?

Why Is Slavery Still With Us?
Laina Farhat-Holzman
Sentinel
March 2, 2013

I have just revisited the 1997 movie, Amistad, based on an actual case. In 1839, a Spanish Cuban slave ship washed up on shore with only Africans on board, the crew, with the exception of two White men, having been killed. The queen of Spain demanded the return of the vessel with its “cargo.” The two White survivors claimed the cargo as well, based on fraudulent documents. But even more...

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Puritanism Has A Long Global History.

It has always been a mystery to me why at various points in history, religions have gone puritanical, viciously hostile to any vestige of pleasure. This is not to say that puritanism is only nasty; it can also promote such good human values as self-control, industriousness, and honesty.

American puritanism in the 1600s was one such movement, a movement responsible for the American Protestant Ethic, and it produced a dynamic civilization. But it also had a dark underbelly in its more...

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Algeria’s Bloody Siege Shows Al Qaeda Gone Global


In the 1990s, well before the 9/11 attack on America, historian Samuel D. Huntington, in a groundbreaking work called The Clash of Civilizations, noted that throughout the world, every country with Islamic neighbors had “bloody borders.” This book came out at a time that optimists were predicting “the end of history” and, perhaps, the end of war. Huntington was attacked as a pessimist and racist to boot.

Once more, this dazzling scholar proved his critics wrong. He more...

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Sex Crimes Are Part of the War Against Women and Modernity.

Violating women and girls is as old as human existence. Incest taboos in so many cultures is testimony to the problem that even within the family, little girls are preyed upon by fathers, uncles, and brothers.

Even in religions without the familial incest taboo (such as Islam), the pious are told that it is a sin to permit your daughter to have her first menstruation under your roof. She must be married before she becomes a “temptation” to the menfolk.

• Rape more...

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The Urban-Rural Conflict is Central to Today's Global Dysfunction.


Civilization began with the rise of cities (civilization means city building), some 5,000 years ago. To have such institutions as irrigation systems, professional armies, specialized priesthood, and professional artisans, population concentration is essential. Villages cannot produce such specialization.

Cities have always appealed to the ambitious, who love the colorful energy of city life, and refugees from the no-longer viable countryside. Successful cities attract tale more...

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November 2012

The Russians Are Looking Like Their Old Selves Again.


Russia before the Communist Revolution in 1917 had conflicting cultural characteristics: a relatively small educated class and aristocracy undergoing a European-style renaissance; and the vast peasant and village population, dirt-poor, superstitious, and ignorant. Geography plays a role in shaping a culture. Russia’s vast size and wide-open plains left it vulnerable to invasions by such brutes as the Mongols and later the Nazis. Violence, characterized by the whip (the Russian knout, a more...

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September 2012

Wikileaks Is In Terminal Decline


The most consequential Anarchist attack on the Western world may be in meltdown. The Anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were responsible for the assassination of a number of world leaders, the last of which led to World War I. This movement hoped to destroy the established governments of the day so that a “new and better” world could emerge. Their mission did not spell out what kind of better world that would be, but these ideologues believed, with little evidence, more...

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When is Cultural Criticism “Racism?”


Mitt Romney is a diplomatic disaster, but I do want to defend one comment he made on his summer travels that has been unjustly attacked. He commented on the cultural differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians that account for their economic disparities. He was immediately called a “racist” by the Palestinians, a cry launched at any who dare do cultural criticism.

A distinguished historian, Tom Holland, just produced a documentary on “The Untold Story of Is more...

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Can There Be A World Without History? Militant Islamists Think So.


Since the end of World War II, we have not seen deliberate assaults on historic landmarks that we see today. Both sides wantonly destroyed cities with their great historic architecture, but history was not their real target.

History is the target today. The Afghan's Taliban government deliberately blew up statues of the Buddha in Bamiyan because “they weren't Muslim.” In the Middle East, Africa, and Pakistan, Islamists are targeting churches for destruction, something more...

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Why Do We Give a Pass to Evil?

I recently wrote an editorial about Genocide, with its long trek through history—but one of my colleagues noted that I had not mentioned the USSR, one of the worst human rights offenders ever. My friend, Swedish human rights attorney Bertil Haggman, compiled the violent death statistics of the USSR from 1917 to 1982: The Communist Genocide (in Swedish), ten years before the demise of the Soviet Union. Haggman estimated about 104 million dead in his 1982 book; now the numbers are known to be cl more...

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The “War Against Women” Rages On


Modern social values for women had a brief, uneven life in the Middle East, and are now in meltdown as Islamist parliaments take power.

Countries that have revolted against dictatorships (with a modicum of modern law) are now seeing the results of their “democratic” elections. When largely ignorant populations vote, they vote for what they know: in this case, Islam. Traditional Islam would not be the problem, but its radical versions are. The first issue to come under more...

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Can We Rescue Our Democracy?


Sometimes transformations take place under the radar. We do not see that a real change has happened until the tipping point suddenly makes it apparent. We are living at such a time now. Our Democracy is at a low ebb-but there is light out there.

Participatory government (democracy or republic) has always been difficult by its very nature. To function at its optimum, there must be a good constitution that sets forth rules, elected officials who believe in a process charact more...

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Sometimes Inaction Against Bad Guys Has Dangerous Consequences.


The most difficult political-military situation a nation must face is when to take action against a threat. Too much force can be overkill. However, if a great power hesitates, this can be perceived as weakness, or can give an enemy an exaggerated belief in his own power.

The United States has always tried to avoid looking like a bully (even when we are one), unlike such powers as Russia, which has never worried about being a bully and even uses this perception to get its more...

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The European Uprisings of 1848 Reverberate in Today’s Arab Spring

Americans are accustomed to thinking that our 1776 revolution was the model for all others. This may account for the wacky optimism of Western journalists cheering on the street demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. They assumed these demonstrations would truly give rise to American style democracy. They now see that this is not so.

Those of us who were less enthusiastic can justify our pessimism by noting what’s going on in Libya (revenge and lawlessness) and in Syria, more...

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Fear and Loathing or Analysis and Perspective?

There are two ways to analyze the violent eruption of global terrorist attacks that have marked the past three decades: analyze the nature of the threat and the culture supporting it, or blame it all on the evils of Western colonialism and American militarism. The latter analysis is the choice of the “politically correct,” who say that terrorism is as rampant in the West as it is in the Muslim world. A truth check, however, will tell us that for every Western terrorist (such as Timothy McVei more...

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There Are No Easy Answers for US Policy in Syria

It is distressing to see Syrian people-ordinary civilians-hunkering down in bunkers without sufficient food, water, or medicine. Syrians look at us on screen and wonder why nobody is helping them. Why are we not?

Arab dictatorships have similarities. Syria has been run by a father and son, the Assads, for the past half century. Tunisia, Iraq, Libya, and Egypt were others. They all began as secular dictatorships; Islam did not have the pride of place it enjoyed in the past.
more...

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Time to Revisit the Abused “L” Word, “L” for “Liberal.”


The term “liberal” has become a very bad word in some circles. Many conservatives today do not see Liberal as just another political viewpoint, but as an evil philosophy. Simultaneously, many who call themselves “liberal” today seem to have forgotten what liberal really means. We all need to revisit this important concept.

“Liberal” derives from the mid-19th century concern with “liberty.” The British liberals stood for freeing much the economy from govern more...

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What Happens When People Suddenly Have Choices?


The very notion that people have choices in their lives is so new that much of world is still reeling from this idea. For the millennia since the emergence of homo sapiens, choices have been limited. Survival depended upon families, tribes, and later kingdoms, where individual choice was inconceivable, except for the leader, whether father, clan chief, or king. Bad decisions could bring disaster on them all, and leaders were always challenged by others who would then make decisions. Dict more...

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December 2011

Immigrants and refugees: Is There Room at the Inn?


At Christmas, we hear once again about refugees---this time the family of Joseph, Mary, and the soon-to-be born Baby Jesus. It is a touching story—and timelessly evocative of so many millions of people who have had to flee for their lives from persecution.

The 20th century has been a time of the largest dislocation of people in history. World Wars I and II uprooted millions, all seeking sanctuary in the West. However, there was no rush of refugees to the Middle East or more...

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Global Violence Declines---Except in the Middle East--Part 2.

As mentioned in Part 1 of our two-part look at the decline of violence in the world, daily violence has been on the increase in one region of the world, the Muslim Middle East. But even here, the numbers are terrible when compared with the rest of the world, but not when compared with the history of the region itself.

Violence in the daily life of people in the Middle East, once dictators are removed, is no different than the violence of daily life in Europe from the fall of more...

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Is Human Violence Really on the Wane? Part 1 of 2

Despite rampant pessimism at the moment, history can show us that life has never been better. The majority of today's humans have more to eat, better health, more stable governance, and much less violence than ever before. Violence needs to be seen in context.

Several authors (The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined and A History of Violence: From the end of the Middle Ages to the Present) insist that violence has decline---even in the face of the horrific 20th more...

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Community: Is Letting the Penniless Sick Die an Option?

Humans do not do well without community. Even religious hermits could not have survived without food and the support of community.

We are not flock animals, guided only by instinct; we are willful individuals with a range of choices in our behavior. Community, however, requires control of behaviors. We learn these rules, which are rewarded or punished by our leadership.

In the simpler culture of family and clans, authority was usually accorded to the strongest memb more...

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How Goes It With Marriage Around the World?(Part 1)


This is a two-part series on how women are faring worldwide. Marriage is part I, and four other major concerns are part 2, next week.

Americans are great romantics about marriage. In the traditional past, women were property and were disposed of in marriage as best suited their relatives and clans. But in the past 400 years, Europeans (and American colonists) began to accept a young couple marrying out of mutual affection. Of course, we are talking about people with some f more...

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September 2011

U.N. “Anti-Racism” Conference Attacks “Islamophobia”


Ten years ago, a UN conference in Durban, South Africa, featured “racism, xenophobia, and related intolerance.” The conference was a hate fest with only two targets: Israel and “Western Imperialism.” It was so ugly that most Western ambassadors walked out, past banners that equated Israelis with Nazis and much worse: posters illustrating the Koranic claim that Jews are descendants of pigs and apes.

Durban II, held in Geneva in 2009, keynoted that famously “toler more...

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How Did the Media Cover 9/11?


Ten years after the most horrific foreign attack on America (the British in I812 and the Japanese in 1941), we are looking back to see how this attack affected our national character. Considering the horrific nature of 9/11, we responded with astonishing nobility and some expected missteps. We are a nation that habitually underestimates an enemy-and then overestimates this same enemy. It takes a while to get it right.

Watching how people in New York, especially the first r more...

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Let Us Put the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 In Context.


Ten years ago, Al Qaeda attacked New York and Washington (and more if they could have pulled it off). How could we not see this coming? And are we lulling ourselves into sleep again?

o Failed Awareness. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, no other credible enemy appeared on the horizon. To us, an enemy was a superpower with nuclear weapons. Not even China appeared to be a viable menace to us-at least, not for a long time.

Some of us, however, were more...

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Is Turkey Still A Secular Muslim Model?

Until now, Turkey has modeled how an Islamic state can modernize and democratize. When the Ottoman Empire crumbled after World War I, the Turks retreated to what they considered their original homeland in Anatolia, once the homeland of the Byzantine Christian Roman Empire until the Ottomans conquered it in 1453. Constantinople was renamed Istanbul.

Under cover of World War I, the Turkish military carried out the century’s first ethnic cleansing, a deliberate massacre of the Chr more...

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Iran, Like Some Here, Also Believes In Apocalyptic Myths.


We live in a time of strange beliefs. The latest comes from Iran. Although a country with skyscrapers, metro subways, and nuclear aspirations, their leaders believe in sorcery. The conflict between obnoxious President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Khamenei has now produced a spate of arrests; 25 people, associated with Ahmadinejad's Chief of Staff, Mashaei, have been accused of being “magicians who evoke djinns” (evil spirits)-yes, like the ones who come more...

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American Foreign Policies Cannot Always Be Consistent.


All dictators are not alike. Former US Ambassador to the UN, Jean Kirkpatrick, noted that because of the Cold War, the US supported some authoritarians, but not totalitarians. Authoritarians control their countries with armed force; they are often thugs. But totalitarians mess with their subjects' minds, imprisoning and executing people for wrong thoughts (or religions). A thug really does less long-term damage than an ideologue.

Dictatorships that are at least competent more...

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How Do We Deal With “Sticks and Stones?”

In our present day culture, we have been taught (usually at mother’s knee) that “sticks and stones may break your bones but names can never harm you.” Annoying as it is to have people call you names, it does not warrant punching them in the face. But this is not so elsewhere, not did it used to be so in our own civilization’s past. What we are talking about here is “the honor culture.”

Until the middle of the 19th century, gentlemen fought duels of honor. That by ser more...

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Tyrants have a long history.


Shakespeare said “Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears a Crown” Henry IV, Part Two. Throughout most of human history, kings ruled. They were thought to be annointed by God (or the gods), and were to be obeyed by all their subjects. But in some of the more advanced societies, kings were not all-powerful; there were exceptions.

Chinese culture demanded obedience to a king unless the king’s “mandate of heaven” was revoked. People could recognize that heaven no longer ble more...

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How Goes Democracy Around the World?

Democracy Project. The United States has long had a “democracy project.” After World War I, President Woodrow Wilson tried to establish an organization that would midwife newly freed colonies into democracies. He was instrumental in establishing the first “World Government,” the League of Nations, but a key Senator prevented the US from joining. That organization without us had even less teeth than today's United Nations.

At the end of World War II, the US has once more p more...

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Can “Power to the People” Get Egyptians Democracy?


Reporters standing amidst the throngs in Independence Square in Cairo seem to be carried away by the excitement of this demonstration of popular will. I do not share their enthusiasm; I fear human beings in mobs. Nice, ordinary people can be transformed by group-think (and a handful of manipulators) into deadly and destructive monsters. It takes only moments to go from a peaceful demonstration to organized burning, looting, and murder. But so far, this “revolution” has been remarkab more...

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Can National Cultures Really Change?


One of the best geo-political analysts and forecasters around is George Friedman, head of STRATFOR (Strategic Forecasts), whose services are used by people responsible for foreign policy making. His team travels, talks to important decision makers, and watches unfolding events from the perspective of history.

Does history really repeat itself? Friedman thinks it does. “The geopolitical is about the intersection of geography and politics. It assumes that the political lif more...

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What Is “American Exceptionalism?”

Most Americans believe in “American Exceptionalism,” even when they have never heard the term. This means that the history of the United States is unlike that of most of the world; we have neither hereditary nobility, king or dictator, nor a state-supported ethnic or religious identity.

One becomes American by birth or by choice (immigrants)—with identical rights. Our constitution is very much alive—changing as conditions in our world change, providing an adaptability ve more...

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December 2010

What Is “American Exceptionalism?”

Most Americans believe in “American Exceptionalism,” even when they have never heard the term. This means that the history of the United States is unlike that of most of the world; we have neither hereditary nobility, king or dictator, nor a state-supported ethnic or religious identity.

One becomes American by birth or by choice (immigrants)—with identical rights. Our constitution is very much alive—changing as conditions in our world change, providing an adaptability ve more...

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What is National Security?


The first duty of a government is to keep its citizens (or subjects) safe. Safe from what? We live in such relative safety that most of us have forgotten what the world was like for our ancestors—and what it is like for too many people around the globe today.

Many governments in history that kept their subjects safe were dictatorial and monstrous. Yet the devil they knew (the local tax collector or executioner) were better than the other devil they remembered all too we more...

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Let’s Round Up The Usual Suspects


Norgrove Rescue.
A young British woman, Linda Norgrove, who was working in Afghanistan as an aid worker, was kidnapped in September. Her Afghan colleagues taken with her had been released by the Taliban, but she was still being held. An American special operations force tried to rescue her—but during their attack, there was an explosion and she (and her kidnappers) were killed.

How was this covered in the press? There were headlines saying “U.S. rescue force m more...

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Book Review: Tom Holland: The Forge of Christendom:

Tom Holland: The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West, Anchor Books, 2008.

One of the most fascinating Medieval centuries was the 11th. The year 1000 was ushered in with near hysteria that this millennium year since the birth of Christ would be the beginning of the end for humanity. When the skies didn’t open up to the “end of days” in 1000, the next date chosen was 1033—the millennium of Christ’s death and resurrection. That year also ca more...

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Some People Have to Lie to Survive.


From the beginning of time, human beings have learned that telling the truth is not always the best policy. Courtiers learned not to tell truth to a king; workers had to lie to their bosses; women feared speaking the truth to a husband, as did children to their parents. Telling the truth, a value of modern Western life, is a luxury born of a society that punishes lies, not truth. And yes, our politicians are still learning this.

A recent movie, Easy A, tells the story of a more...

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Why Are We No Longer On The Same Page?

I remember when more Americans shared core values than had contentious differences. We have always had both Republicans and Democrats who valued fiscal prudence and self-reliance and both believed in the value of government. Both shared the values of a society of law and order, of vigorous but courteous debate, and of winning or losing an argument with grace. The losers in a national election still treated the president of the winning party with respect, and worked with him even while disagree more...

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Iran’s Islamic Justice Is a Message to the World

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, convicted in 2006 for having an “illicit relationship” with two men after her husband was murdered (by someone) the year before has become a cause célèbre in the western world.

This woman was accused, arrested, tortured for a confession, and was scheduled to be stoned to death for adultery this summer. However, the outcry from the US and Europe got her a little extra time. The Iranian Islamic government, very annoyed at the uproar, then decided t more...

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“The Sky Is Falling” Is Alive and Well—Again.


We are already past the millennium year 2000 (or was it actually 2001 that began the century) and the sky didn’t fall. Now what? Are we ready to recognize the new millennium as the beginning of something or will we still cling to knee-jerk pessimism?

In the year 1000, Europe panicked about the “end of times” that would probably cast them all into hellfire and damnation. The year 1,000 came and went, but the skies never opened. With a little ingenuity, the forecast more...

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Take Another Look at Tony Blair—Who Maybe Got It Right.

History does not necessarily validate contemporary assessments of famous politicians. Tony Blair, one of the most popular British Prime Ministers ever, left office under a cloud of opprobrium, not only by his own countrymen, but American progressives as well. He was condemned for having supported the war in Iraq (the 2003 war) and was dubbed “George Bush’s Poodle.” This is a sad end to what was a dazzling career—but maybe it is not the last word.

In Philadelphia (September more...

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September 2010

Did We Have Guns of August Again?



There must be something about late summer that turns some countries belligerent. World War I began in August, 1914 and World War II started September 1, 1939. In September of 1806, Prussia and Russia declared war on Napoleon. All through the Middle Ages, wars also began in the fall, as did the famous war between England and France, ending in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 (see Shakespeare’s Henry V). Just a coincidence or is there a historic reason for this?

more...

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Sticks and Stones Go Big Time.


An idiot preacher with a congregation of maybe 50 people threatens to burn 200 Korans on 9/11 and the world goes mad! This incident shows us the downside of 24/7 news coverage. In Pakistan, a country that can afford to make nuclear weapons but not educate its young, is all up in arms when hearing that somebody is going to burn Korans. The usual rent-a mobs riot and burn American flags (and of course, this does not offend us, does it?) And one loudmouth grabs the microphone to announce more...

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A Venetian Tradition Bites the Dust—a Woman Gondolier!


On 9/11, our country was attacked by a sect particularly offended by the equality of men and women (an abomination in suicide/murderer Atta’s eyes). It is appropriate, then, to celebrate one of the most amazing revolutions in history—that women are not property but are persons. This revolution still horrifies many of the world’s more benighted cultures, as we know from their words and actions. See Time Magazine’s August 9 cover showing a young Afghan woman whose nose and ears wer more...

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Germany Has Had a Curious Century of Islamic Relations.


Germans have been living in northern Europe for several thousand years. The Romans knew them as enemies at first, and later as applicants to be part of the Roman Empire. But Germany as a nation-state is new—1871—and as such, has scrambled to catch up with much older nation states of England and France.

Germany was late in empire building too—unlike Spain, England, France, and the Netherlands. Part of the injured pride that spurred Hitler’s World War II was the lus more...

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Laina At the Movies, August, 2010

FAREWELL. I am recommending a movie that you might only be able to get on Netflix because it has come and will go with little notice. The reason to notice it is that not only is this a true story, but an important piece of Cold War history that we all need to understand.

The film is set in April, 1981, at a time that the US and USSR came the closest to outright conflict since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Ronald Reagan was president, and Francois Mitterrand had just been elected to more...

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When is IQ a Major Security Issue?

August 7, 2010

Katie Baker (August 2 Newsweek) cites a new study that theorizes that constant endemic diseases can stunt brain (and body) development in children. This explains the lowest IQ scores in the world in Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Mozambique, and Gabon. But these are not the only countries with bad numbers. The disease exposure for children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and village India are equally bad—and it is possible that not only disease, but other factors—incest more...

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Why Do Dead Ideas Continue to Haunt Us?


In New Orleans, there is a belief in the “undead”—zombies—who will not stay buried after they have died. This is definitely not a good thing to believers in Voodoo. However, in various places around the world, we are still seeing what we thought were dead ideas coming back to ruin a new generation of lives. There are three zombies out there: Marxism/Maoism, Nazism, and the cult of Militant Islamism.

Marxism/Maoism. Apparently there are people who didn’t hear th more...

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Are We Going to Need More Immigrants?

Immigration history in the US has always followed predictable trajectories. People around the world have periodically flooded in when there were jobs for them—or a future for them. They were needed—but simultaneously hated by the already integrated working class who feared labor competition.

The Players. Our first large-scale group of migrants were African---not voluntary immigrants, but slaves. Their history is a separate category.

In the mid-19th century, Germ more...

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Does Enlightened Self-Interest Rule the World?


Our founding fathers were influenced by the European Enlightenment, a movement reacting to two centuries of Catholic/Protestant religious wars, which ultimately disgusted intellectuals. Religion was the glue that had held Europe together from the fall of Rome to the end of the religious wars. But in its absence, what would be the new glue?

Jefferson took apart his Bible, discarded the “superstitious parts,” and rebound the remaining slim volume. He liked the moral tea more...

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What Are The Good Old Days?

In final exams given to my World History classes, the last question was: “If you had a time machine, which culture in the past would you choose to live in—and why would you choose it?” Then came part 2: “ If you had to gamble on being female rather than male, slave rather than upper class, would you still choose that culture?”

They all got it. The good old days were not good for everyone, and those cultures that had the largest number of unfortunate people were the ver more...

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Europe has an Identity Crisis.

There is an old Persian tale about a man who went up to a palace gate, banging on it and demanding entrance. The guard asked what he wanted. “I want to stay at this inn!” he said. “This is not an Inn,” said the guard. “It is a palace of the Shah.”

“Who lived there before him?” asked the man. “His father,” said the guard. “And before that?” “His grandfather and great-grandfather.”

“This sounds like an inn to me! People coming and going. more...

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Let’s Have Another Look at the “Humanitarian” Flotilla

A supposedly humanitarian flotilla that set out in June to break the Israeli blockade of Hamas in Gaza can be looked at a number of ways. The event was not what it seemed in the first 24 hours, when the world press was treated to conflicting video tapes from both sides. What really went on?

The Players.
• The Israelis have grown increasingly sour over events in Gaza, a region once occupied by Egypt and later by the PLO. When the Israelis, under world (and domestic) pre more...

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Some Bedfellows are Incomprehensible

There is an Arab adage: “The Enemy of my Enemy is My Friend.” Unfortunately, this is not always so. The enemy of your enemy may be your enemy too! It makes no sense to me that the University world has demonized Israel in favor of the most repressive of Islamic “friends.”

Since the 1970s, the most radical-left factions of activists in universities have been bedfellows of the most radical-right, socially benighted groups. I recently watched a German film: The Baader-Meinh more...

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What is a Circassian and Why Should We Care?

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Ask anybody about genocides—the deliberate attempt to wipe out—in whole or in part—an entire people, and they will come up with a depressing list. In the past century alone, we had an enormous part of the Armenian population of Ottoman Turkey, six million European Jews, and former Yugoslavian Bosnian Muslims murdered at the hands of the Turks, Nazis, and Serbs, respectively. Tutsis were murdered by Hutus in Rwanda and the people of Darfur province more...

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Can We Ever Force Peace on Combatants?



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Historically there are two ways to end war: one side triumphs and the other side surrenders—or they forge an armistice or truce. A third way to end war is for a third party to impose a resolution on the parties. This can work only if both parties know they have been defeated and have no other option.

In ancient Greece and Rome, when conflicts reached the point of all-out war, the winning side would seize loot as reparations, kil more...

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Good Old “May Day” Comes Back From the Dead


On May Day in Santa Cruz, California, what was promoted as a college block party turned out instead to be a rampage of destruction led by a few black-clad, masked anarchist thugs. The undermanned police force was caught with their guard down, and small businesses suffered thousands of dollars of destruction. This time, there were no deaths, but the next time there may be.

In Athens, also on May Day, peaceful demonstrators marched to protest against capitalism and the econ more...

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Annual Darwin Awards?


Darwin Awards usually refer to those whose decisions are so stupid that they remove themselves from the gene pool by dying. My annual survey uses a slightly different definition: those whose decisions are so flawed that the consequences of their actions reduce the global IQ.

Religious Wisdom. A senior Iranian cleric, the ever dazzling Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, who leads Friday prayers at Tehran University, knows whom to blame when Tehran has a huge earthquake. This cit more...

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What Can These Women Be Thinking?


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April 20, 2010

Since 1985, more than 250 women, Tamil, Chechen, Indian, and Muslim, have become suicide bombers.

An unsettling new trend is emerging: conversion of Western women to Islam and their recruitment into Islam’s most murderous cults. How can such a misogynistic movement seduce women?

Recently two American women were picked up on terror charges: one the petite blonde known as “Jihad Jane” and the ot more...

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Whose Ally is Turkey Today?

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In my college Sociology text (decades ago), was a surprising survey asking who would American fathers most object to their daughters marrying. At the top of the list came Turks—yet few of these fathers had ever met one. This reflected a fear so old that it was buried deeply in the western memory bank.

In 1452, the Ottoman Turks conquered the old Byzantine Empire, that eastern part of the Roman Empire that had been a great power for a thousand more...

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Greece is in the Grip of Denial.


Greece is on the verge of bankruptcy and the rest of the European Union is much alarmed. The very currency of the EU, the Euro, is endangered by this and Germany, an economic giant in Europe, may have to bail Greece out to prevent a cascade of disasters.

Not only is Greece is in trouble, but so are Portugal, Spain, and Italy. Suddenly, all of the optimistic predictions about the European community overtaking us and making the Euro replace the dollar as the world’s major more...

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October 2009

Can Too Much Freedom Destroy Democracy?


We have just gone through a summer of obnoxious free speech—which the First Amendment of our Constitution is designed to protect. But there is one caveat in our protection of free speech: it must not pose a public danger (rousing a mob to violence, encouraging assassination of public officials, or falsely shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater).

I would say we are getting close to that caveat—and have been teetering on this brink for some time.

The more...

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Is There Any Hope for Afghanistan?




Imagine a country where:
• Five minutes out of the capital you need armed guards to travel.
• Without a national army or police, where only tribes and warlords control each region or fight with each other.
• The vast majority are not only illiterate, but are locked in a dreadful marriage of vengeful tribal law and an unenlightened Islam.
• That cannot defend itself from any its neighbors or from any great power that wants somethi more...

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July 2009

The Iranian Revolution May Be In Phase Two


It is not easy to track the progress of the current Iranian Revolution, considering the blocking efforts of the Islamic Revolutionary government. However, people still come and go, and once out of Iran, talk. This includes analysts—several of the best of them, Iranian-born (Karim Sadjatpour and Trita Parsi), have been in Iran recently and have many contacts there.

President Obama correctly noted that “the dust has not settled” in the aftermath of the contentious (and more...

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Why is War Always “Disproportionate”?


Warfare has never been a ballet of equality between combatants. When World War II began, the Nazis, Japan, and even Italy, disproportionately attacked and bombed weak countries that had done nothing to them. Civilians were targeted and the Axis’ occupations were brutal.

But by late 1944, the tide had turned. The United States and Great Britain were disproportionately powerful in the air, encountering little opposition from the Nazis. The US dropped two atomic bombs o more...

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September 2001

Janus Blindsided: The Islamic Revolution


Comparative Civilizations Review, No. 45, Fall 2001

I. Introduction
The Islamic Revolution of Iran has had spillover effect throughout the Middle East and the world. In the intervening two decades since that cataclysm, many scholars have attempted to analyze the causes and to speculate why a modernizing revolution turned into a backward march. Although scholars generally agree on the basic events of the monarchy's collapse, there is no agreement on the causes and more...

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