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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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December 2016

Tradition!

In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevya, the milkman, a poor Jewish villager trying to survive in Tzarist Russia, is faced by societal changes that he resists with all his might. Tradition is his shield and protection from what he sees as chaos.

Of course, there are limits to how much one can resist the present. Around the world, and even in our own country, there are people who resist the present, or, rather, resist some of the changes of the present. They cherry pick.

The 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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Populism Is No Way to Rule.

It is good advice to hide your wallet when you hear "Power to the People." Our founding fathers knew what "populism" could look like, and deliberately designed our government to keep popular passions at bay. We have representative, not direct democracy government; two bodies in Congress: House of Representatives and Senate; presidential vetoes to override Congress; and Supreme Court decisions to protect us from unjust legislation. It is not a perfect system, but it is better than most other syst more...

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September 2016

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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Letters to Editors: Primary Elections and Slavery Statistics

San Francisco Chronicle
June 2, 2016

Editor:

Slavery Statistics
The report that 18.35 million people in India alone comprise 40 percent of global slavery figures of 45.8 million (Walk Free Foundation) only counts unpaid or ill-paid labor as slavery. What about the status of wives in the 167 countries cited? If a wife is property of her husband, cannot leave the house without permission and a chaperone, may be beaten for "disobedience," cannot refuse se 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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Anger is No Substitute for Thinking.


One of the most difficult things about popular democracy is that it requires thought. Not all voters, unfortunately, are capable of it. Throughout the history of our republic, chaotic events have often brought out the worst in us. Whipping Quakers for condemning slavery, witch burnings, the whiskey tax rebellion, lynchings, religious bigotry of all sorts, hatred of immigrants, and communist scares, have darkened our otherwise optimistic history.

We never took time at our more...

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December 2015

Are We At War? And With Whom?


Leaders both here and in Europe are reluctant to identify those with whom we are at war. They are not fools, and I do understand their reluctance to say that the West is at war with one billion Muslims. Some demagogues might say that, but that is just as foolish as saying we are at war with Terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy.

We had no problem being at war with Nazism or Communism, without saying that all Germans and all Russians are bad people. But plenty were more...

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August 2015

Racism Has a Forgotten History.


We Americans in our self-centeredness think we invented racism and slavery, but we did not. We were one of the few societies in the world to outlaw it when it was a major part of our economy. Others were England, which outlawed the slave trade in 1772 and Russia in 1861 in freeing their serfs. France abolished Caribbean slavery in the French Revolution in 1794 and Napoleon shamefully reinstated it in 1802.

Slavery has been a human institution from the beginning of civiliz more...

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Human Trafficking Numbers Are Spun From Fantasy.


The subject of Human Trafficking is appearing in the press this month largely because of the Foreign Policy Association?s "Great Decisions Program." Sixty Minutes ran one dispiriting feature of a human rights official in Northern India trying to get enforcement from indifferent police to raid a prostitution ring. It seems that the reluctant police warned the fathers in advance, fathers who were the pimps selling their own daughters.

Years ago, a reporter in Lagos, Nigeri more...

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Youth who seek "meaning" find it in bad places.


Intrepid TV journalists have managed to conduct interviews with some of the most puzzling Jihadis flocking to ISIS. It seems inconceivable that a French teen-ager raised as a Catholic in Normandy could choose to join ISIS and decapitate a prisoner on television. But when asked why he does this, he says that he hopes to die and go to heaven. He hates western civilization because it is corrupt, run by Jews, and full of shameless women who dare to show their faces and who do not defer to m more...

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November 2013

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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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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June 2013

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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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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March 2012

The UN Finally Identifies “Harmful Customs.”

Anthropologists have taught us not to judge other cultures, but to recognize that no matter how strange, the custom served a reasonable function. Until now, UN agencies appeared to buy in to that notion, but at last, even they see the folly of this position.

As the Karzai government in Afghanistan attempts to “dialogue” with the Taliban leadership, we are reminded that both the Taliban and the Afghan government stem from the largest Afghan tribe: the Pashtun. These fierce warr 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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November 2011

Do We Have an Epidemic of Sexual Abuse?

The modern world appears awash in sexual abuse and misbehavior. Over the past decade, we see grownup men (coaches and priests, both revered in society) who cannot resist sexually abusing children; those are the worst of the worst. But other misbehavers are lechers who cannot resist groping women, exchanging job promises for sex, or keeping young women captive for years to use them sexually. Are we losing our values, or is this not an epidemic at all, but the last flush of bad human behavior that more...

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What are the Best and Worst Countries for Women? (Part 2)


Last week, I addressed a major issue for most of the world’s women: marriage. This time, there are other issues equally important: women getting a fair justice system, access to health services, education, economics, and political participation. Newsweek (September 26, ) did an enormous service by providing in-depth articles (“The Global Women’s Progress Report”) and some very revealing charts show the best places to be a woman and the worst. There was also a searing article on 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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July 2010

Is Guatemala A Toxic Place for Women?


About 15 years ago, when I was running the UN Association in San Francisco, I was asked by women immigration lawyers to address their legal society to convince the male lawyers that women could qualify as a category suffering state persecution. This would make them eligible for US immigration—but there was fear that such eligibility would become a flood. The women lawyers were already on board, but their colleagues were not.

At that time, there was a notorious case in Ca 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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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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