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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  

March 2017

The Role of Language in Politics


A fascinating issue arose during our recent Presidential election campaign, and continues today. Many good, ordinary people fell in love with the candidate who "talked just like they do." News Hour on PBS found two Texas cafes, one in a small town, the other in Austin. The customers were all Texans, all who apparently loved their state and their country, but their answers to the reporter's questions seemed to come from two different worlds.

The customers in the small town 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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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

Who Are Americans? Multiethnic or Multicultural?

The populist resurgence around the world, including our own country, is about identity crisis. Belonging to a "nation" is only a few centuries old. Before that, people identified with their clan, village, or town. Educated and city people identified with their empire, the oldest form of human civilizational organization. But as empires fell, nation states rose.

The nation states were an improvement in some ways over empires in that more people were involved in governance and share more...

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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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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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Culture Matters Part 2

Last week, I wrote about the cultural chasm in the United States that gave rise to election results that surprised many of us. This time, I am looking at the global culture wars.

Along with cultural differences of class and ethnicity, there are cultural differences in religions: most of these benign, but some really divisive. No one cares about different dietary laws, for example, unless one culture forces the rest to practice them. Orthodox Jews have dietary issues: no pork or sh more...

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Culture Matters Part 1


In August, I wrote several columns on how culture matters, both domestically and internationally. I have long doubted that the issue is as much racial differences as it is the practices and values of various cultures. Our recent election was a perfect demonstration of a cultural clash that shocked the world.

The US is going through the same conflict that we are seeing around the world: democratic institutions are losing the support that they have had for a long time. We kn more...

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Discrediting Wikileaks is Overdue!


On October 17, no doubt under US pressure, the Ecuador Embassy housing Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, cut off his Internet access. About time!

Wikileaks has many supporters in the left-wing of our country and, of course, among the salivating press. This organization began as a righteous outing of political misdeeds by giving whistle blowers an opportunity to condemn what they considered commercial or government secrets. Who doesn?t admire a whistle blower, someone m 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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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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Culture Matters! Part 1 of 2.

When the Black Lives Matter organization adds the word "also," this removes the idea that only Black Lives matter. Those who say All Lives Matter are diminishing the truth of the racial situation in our country. But perhaps it?s less about race than about culture.

Those of us who find "multiculturalism" charming are right that in cosmopolitan cities around the world, many delightful foods are available and one can hear many languages. However, especially a country as ethnically more...

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Profiling the Muslim Community


What is so dangerous about Donald Trump is that he sometimes, quite by accident, takes a position that has some merit. He recently talked about "profiling the Muslim community," but, as always, with very little supporting data. If he were not so shallow and glib, he might have said: "There is a cult living in the Muslim community that advocates a most violent form of Islam." This is certainly true, but the notion of a blanket profile of all Muslims is a waste of resources because there a 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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Religion, Sexuality, and Homosexuality


Many well-meaning people believe that the murderous aspects of today?s Muslim true-believers is a perversion of a good religion. To say that there are many Muslims who live peaceful lives is true. But a sizable minority of violent Muslims (Islamists) have Islamic texts to back them up. Islam is a religion, like all other religions, and the behavior of its adherents depends upon how literally they choose to practice their faith. I criticize all "true believers" for their choice of literal 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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Darwin Awards


Mothers? Day, 2016

My periodic columns called Darwin Awards are to nominate those human beings whose existence lowers the global IQ. We hope that those described below will not father more fools.

First prize: Suicidal Skateboarder.
Someone took a phone picture of a skateborder in Syria who, while racing down the street, fell and detonated his suicide belt. This is a real Darwin Award, well deserved. He will father no fools.

Palestinia more...

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What Use Are Good Manners?

Being "polite" is not just a matter of saying please and thank you. Courtesy has always been the lubricant that makes the wheels of society turn smoothly. There is a movement today to conflate honesty with rudeness, mocking the "politically correct." Political correctness is an exaggerated monitoring of words and thoughts that might offend others. The revolt by some against political correctness is that these constraints sometimes muzzle debate. However, the revolt against "political correctness 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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What is a Patriot?


The first mention of love of country occurred in Rome, under the Republic. The slogan was: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (It is sweet and proper to die for one?s country. The better translation is to give one?s life for one?s country.

During our own country?s birth, during the Revolutionary War, Nathan Hale, an American spy captured by the British, said before his execution: " I regret having but but one life to give for my country."

The definition 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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With Women Like These?..

For all the vaunted "sisterhood" among women, we need to be aware that some are not always our friends. On January 17, a woman professor at Egypt's al-Azhar University, opined that "Allah allows Muslims to rape non-Muslim women." One would think that for a Muslim university to admit a woman professor at all is amazingly liberated; however, it is apparent that this woman is in no way a feminist.

Another "champion for women," a female Kuwaiti politician, Salwa al-Mutairi, promoted 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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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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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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Darwin Awards for 2015

I issue mock Darwin Awards each year for those so stupid they should be barred from adding to the gene pool.

Education Official Resigns.
At a press conference recently, Vasile Salaru, Romanian Minister of Education, said schools should teach female students how to walk while wearing high heels; dance the tango; be a good host[ess]; and walk with "chest out, bottom out, let the boys faint!" Several student organizations protested his comments and called for his resignation. more...

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December 2015

Neither Bigot Not Apologist.

Our country is tied in knots on how to regard Militant Islam. Donald Trump, a bumptious Republican presidential candidate, is gaining traction because he speaks openly about our Muslim problem. However, he is a bully and a demagogue, suggesting we bar all Muslims entering our country from abroad, even our own Muslim servicemen. Will he next suggest deporting all Muslims already here, including citizens, having them join the deported Mexicans, perhaps?

His proposals are obnoxious, more...

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Afghan Problems


With so many urgent events around the world, Afghanistan is not one we wanted to see again. But its problems do not go away, nor can they with Pakistan next door. We are still there, 10,000 to remain, but with an essential task of trying to train a national defense force so that Afghanistan will not revert to its failed Muslim state position under the Taliban.

Training the Afghan army is much like rolling a rock up a hill. Not only are a majority of soldiers illiterate, b more...

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The Saudis Are Not Alone in Religious Stampedes.


When I was a child, my father said: "never chase an ambulance!" He warned that mobs of people can quickly turn lethal, something that he remembered as a child himself when pogroms roiled Russia. I have a life-long horror for crushes of people, and, apparently, with good reason.

In September, Saudi Arabia hosted the annual Hajj, an event that they should have by now learned how to manage. Millions of people descend upon Mecca and reenact a Koranic story about Abraham's conc 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

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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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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Asking the Wrong Question Can Lead to War.

The United States has gone to war twice by asking the wrong questions. Fortunately for us, even though we did not "win" either of those wars (in the conventional sense, such as the way we won World Wars I and II), we did not lose them either. No enemy came to our shores and conquered us. But in both of those wars, we made a terrible mess of two countries and suffered a terrible cost of young lives of our own, costs that we are still paying. Those two wars were the Vietnam War and the second Iraq 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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"Clash of Traditions" Offer Glimmers of Hope


Samuel D. Huntington warned in his landmark book Clash of Civilizations (1996) that we were headed for stormy times when the largest civilizations would not meet peacefully. His views were met with torrents of argument by most scholars who, upon the end of the Cold War, were convinced that the world had globalized; that the United States and its values had dominated all others, and that there was nothing really left to fight about. War was no longer really conceivable. We had every insti more...

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Puritans Are So Threatened By Pleasure!


There has always been a strain in religions from the beginning of time that has feared pleasure. Perhaps it is connected with a struggle between male and female power. Without wanting to push this too far, women can be a distraction. "Let's play!" distracts from the serious work of hunting with the fellows or thinking serious philosophical thoughts in the monastery. Female beauty makes men, even late into their dotage, weak in the knees. My sourpuss puritanical grandfather was pinching t more...

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Poor Jihadi John: People Picked on Him!


"Jihadi John" has been identified as Mohammad Emwazi, a young immigrant from Kuwait, welcomed and reared as a privileged Englishman with a college degree in computer science from the University of Westminster in London. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

But let us look at the surprise that so many people express that this "nice, gentle boy" should turn into the monster whom we all saw taking pleasure in decapitating people (who had done him no harm) in a most the 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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What to do with Returning Jihadis?


Parents know that teenagers must make some mistakes in order to learn, and we always hope that the mistakes are small enough not to destroy their lives. For most of us, they are. In my own case, for my daughter, that was so. Hers were small. Not so for my son, whose experiments with drugs killed him.

For the good liberal non-Muslim parents whose children have gone to Yemen to "learn Arabic" and wound up converting to Islam and becoming Muslim, their choices turned deadly. more...

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Annual Darwin Awards


Every year, I gather up notes on people so stupid that they should not add to the human gene pool. Alas, they do, but I would wish they wouldn?t. Some of them are low hanging fruit, very obviously defective, but others really shouldn?t be on this list at all. They ought to know better.

? Boko Haram. Let us start with the low hanging fruit, which usually comes from the Muslim world. Boko Haram means: Western Learning is Forbidden. They believe the world is flat and water 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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Victimization Has Become Chic---Diluting the Message.

Our country is wallowing in the blame game with endless demonstrations protesting injustice. It is said that Black youth are being unfairly persecuted by police---and too often becoming victims in police shootings. Nobody is protesting the murder of Black youth by Blacks.

That we have had 300 years of injustice to Blacks through slavery and after that Southern Jim Crow and northern inner cities cannot be denied. However, the past fifty years has produced a revolution in race relat more...

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Understanding Foreign Policy is like Triple-Decker Chess

We are accustomed to thinking of relations with an ally, an enemy, or an interest when we consider a foreign policy relationship. This is part of our assumption that a nation has an independent identity that is like ours, "one nation, indivisible?" This is a convenient fiction, of course, as if a nation is a person, which it is not.

o Pakistan, India, Afghanistan. Some of our most troubling relationships are with countries with not only complex internal identities, but also equall 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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Whose Fault Are the French Jihadi Murders?


After a horror such as the French-born Muslim assassinations of the editors and cartoonists of a national humor magazine who "insulted" Islam, everyone asks: whose fault was this? Were the French intelligence sources inadequate? Did the sarcastic humor of the French journal provoke sensitive Muslims? Were the killers not sufficiently loved by their mothers? The only question not overtly asked was: "Is there something about Islam that promotes murderous rage?" Even without asking this, Mu more...

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It is Not Smart to Take Rule of Law for Granted.


We take "rule of law" as much for granted as we assume that our supermarkets will not run out of food. It is part of modern society that these things work. Most of us drive our cars on the right side of the street, stop at stop signs and traffic lights, and generally drive with consideration of traffic flow and other drivers whether a police car is patrolling or not.

When we are stopped by a highway patrol officer for something we might have done, the exchange is usually 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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December 2014

Belief and Writing: It Must Be True If It Is Written Down.


Fanatics are not called "true believers" for nothing. Whether the belief is religious or political, somebody?s writings are always the basis for "true belief." Communism originally stemmed from the practices of early Christianity, but with the writings of Marx and Lenin, the basis shifted. Russian communists were fervent believers in the truth of the observations of Marx and Lenin.

The Nazis based their Aryan Superiority ideology on the 19th century anthropologist Arthur d more...

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Europe Rethinks Multiculturalism

Americans, unlike Europeans, have always made room for new citizens from other countries. Since the end of World War II, however, western European countries have been trying to counter their old patterns of bigotry by welcoming all immigrants fleeing horrors in their old countries. The governments of the UK, France, Germany, and Scandinavia have offered social services, welfare, housing, and public schooling for the newcomers.

What they have not done is to make demands on immigra more...

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Some Thoughts on Ferguson

From the beginning of this terrible incident, I saw a few other things not really mentioned in the journalistic frenzy that was heading for a lynching of a cop; this is very popular at the moment---that every time a cop shoots someone, particularly if the cop is white and the victim a Black "youth," the verdict comes in even before the investigation. The police are always guilty.

Are there some racist cops? Absolutely. But does anyone consider how much police forces have been in more...

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Is Iran?s Islamic Revolution Melting?

The Economist had a feature article (Nov. 1) that the steam has gone out of the Ayatollah Khomeini?s Islamic Revolution of 1979. I knew this would happen, but I have been consistently wrong in my optimistic predictions that it would have happened years ago. These new predictions from sources far and wide are giving us all new hope.

It is not exactly easy to get real information out of a buttoned-up country like Iran, but some changes have become obvious. Mosque attendance has drop more...

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The Women?s Revolution Threatens The Old Guard


Laina Farhat-Holzman
Pajaronian
November 29, 2014

Of all the modernizing "revolutions" (Industrial, Religious, Political, Scientific, and even Nuclear), the most destabilizing has been the emancipation of women. Opponents of the female revolution are engaging in a last ditch effort to put that particular genie back in the bottle, but they are losing.

Women have only been emancipated in liberal democracies. In the Western world (and only there), 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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What Makes a British Muslim An Executioner?

Are radicalized Muslim youth more dangerous to Europe than to the United States? It is far easier for immigrants to be absorbed in the US, a country created by immigration from its onset, than in Europe. But even in Europe, where immigrants benefit from generous welfare and possible absorption, many of their children are rejecting these values. Why?

The children of Muslim immigrants are becoming radicalized, some of them in groups and others as lone wolves. What they all have in c more...

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September 2014

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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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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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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Village Justice in India Doesn?t Belong in a Modern Country.


We hear all the time that India is the world?s largest democracy. Certainly by demographics, this is so, but by quality, they are not good enough. However, the good news is that India?s underbelly is no longer hidden; world press has caught up, and decent Middle Class urban Indians are outraged.

India continues to have too many published cases of gang rape and abuse of women. It is good that these are now in the open, but how many thousands more cases never make it to the more...

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Do They Need Mosquito Nets or Law and Order?


Despite what we hear about crime, the American crime rate declined during this past decade and few Americans have ever experienced violent crime. The same is true in Western Europe, with the exception, in both societies, of certain inner-city neighborhoods.

In this country, Black and Hispanic gangs fueled by drugs, drug money, and no future, terrorize their neighbors and, often, their schoolmates. The police try, but as in New York, their efforts to stop and search likely more...

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“When They Love Their Children….”

Many years ago, Golda Meir, then Prime Minister of Israel, was asked when there would be peace with the Arab world. She said: “We will have peace when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.” We need to look at that astute observation again today because she was right.

A UN observer has released a devastating report on Syria, in which both the government forces and the Islamist insurgents are imprisoning, torturing, raping, and killing children to make a point to more...

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Nelson Mandela Soared Above The Real World.


In late December, the remarkable Nelson Mandela died at 95, leaving behind many admirers, but few followers in governance. His funeral brought together world leaders---astonishing, considering that half a century ago, he was imprisoned as a terrorist by the apartheid South African government. But most remarkable was his release from prison, his forgiveness for those who had harmed him, and his leadership as the first Black president of South Africa. He established a model of racial tole more...

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International Marriages Are Risky.

One of the most important decisions in our lives is the choice of marriage partner. This trumps almost any other relationship we might have---because when good, it outlasts even our relationship with our children.

Marriage choices until our own time were the prerogative of parents (mostly fathers) or, in the still benighted parts of the world, clans and tribes. The children were rarely consulted because it was considered much more important than their whims or hormones. Love was 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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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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August 2013

Darwin Awards: People Who Should Not Be Part of the Gene Pool

Periodically, I assemble items from around the world in which people make decisions that warrant removal from the gene pool.

•Banning Female Farting in Indonesia

No, this was not a joke. I checked. An Islamic city council in Aceh, Indonesia, has banned female citizens from passing gas loudly. The city’s mayor explained that farting aloud violates the Islamic values of modesty---not all farting, of course, just female farting. The mayor said that farting loud (s more...

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Genetics: Do Persistent Close-Cousin Marriages Have Consequences?


The great scientist Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) was the first to systematically explore how heredity plays out. He worked with peas, plants with a variety of inheritable qualities, so that Mendel was able to see the results of certain mating, discovering dominant and recessive genes over many generations of these plants.

Recently, there has been a cosmic leap forward in genetic sciences, thanks to the bold independence of mapping the genomes of a number of creatures, and fin more...

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Europe Has an Ostrich Problem: Denial of Immigrant Violence


Despite the howls of some reactionaries against American immigration reform, it is clear that most people come here to better their lives. They are decent, hard working, and ready to become real Americans, (with the exception of the radicalized few, such as the Somali youths bamboozled into becoming suicide bombers). With exceptions (in Michigan and Minnesota), there are few Muslim ghettos in the US.

Europe's immigration problem is different. Muslim immigrants from some of more...

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Making Excuses for Jihadis.

With the decline of religious influence on our values, the word “evil” has been largely dropped by the modern educated class. We look to the causes of bad behavior---such as the environment, abuse by parents, or bad wiring in the brain. Bleeding hearts like to think that the malefactor is not responsible, turning him into a “victim” of other forces. One idiotic professor quoted in the recent issue of Rolling Stone, blamed the murderous rampage of the Tsarnaev brothers on “American poli more...

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Egypt’s Problems Go Beyond Morsi.


With all the hand wringing about Egypt’s army abruptly removing an elected president, more serious problems are not getting much attention.

The US had hoped that supporting the (unwelcome) outcome of an election would encourage the Muslim Brotherhood to learn how to govern. However, the Muslim Brotherhood abhors everything that liberal democracy values and they had resurrected the fear of “one man, one vote, one time.”

We Americans often assume that an more...

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“I'll Eat His Liver---But Not With Chianti.”

Who doesn't remember the movie in which Hannibal Lector, the criminally insane psychiatrist, tells his interviewer about the delights of eating someone's liver with “a nice little Chianti.” In our society, his cannibalism is considered a mark of his insanity.

However, The Guardian, a British newspaper, showed a much worse case of cannibalism that cannot be excused by need (famine) or insanity. According to The Guardian, Human Rights Watch has identified a well-known Syrian r more...

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Do We have an Empathy Deficit?


One of the key attributes of the truly civilized is empathy: being able to comprehend the feelings of others around us. Most babies have this attribute, showing great distress when in a room with a baby who is crying. Some animals have this as well, most apparent in good dogs who are very gentle with a human baby or who befriend an animal of another species. I recall seeing a clip on television about a young dog who befriended a fawn, the two playing together with great delight.
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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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Here Are the Annual Darwin Awards


My annual Darwin Awards are granted to people so stupid that they should not contribute to the human gene pool. There are many candidates this year.

• Somalia. Being at the top of the list for failed states, it is deadly for journalists----and women. In February, one journalist was jailed, as was the woman who had complained to him about being raped by Somali soldiers. They are both accused of “Insulting the Government.” Such a government should have no future.
more...

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We Are Providing the Wrong Cure to Dysfunctional Nations

What groups of human beings believe and how they behave is called their culture. Ant colonies and elephant herds do not seem to have much variation or change in how they behave; they are programmed by nature. Human beings, however, choose their cultures and behavior—and sometimes individuals within these cultures diverge from them. We call this free will, although scientists dispute that we are ever totally free of the cultures in which we are born.

Since the end of World War II more...

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Europe’s Multicultural Model Is Changing.

Europeans do not have a record of religious tolerance, as can be clearly seen in their history of religious wars (16th - 18th centuries) and their appalling Anti-Semitism for 2,000 years, culminating in the Holocaust.

But in the newly emerging Europe after World War II, Western European countries (Britain, France, Netherlands, Scandinavia, and Germany) were determined to create a new European multiculturalism. First, national barriers were coming down as European elites created th more...

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December 2012

What Can a Husband Do About a Disobedient Wife?


A month ago, an Iraqi woman was found on a roadside, beaten to death. A sign was pinned on her: “Go back to your country, you terrorist.” There was immediate hand-wringing from good-hearted people, led by the Islamic American legal propagandists (CAIR), pointing to one more hate crime against American Muslims.

Because there have been very few American Muslims murdered by American thugs, my antennae went up. In short order, the police in El Cajon announced that the mu more...

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Should National Defense be "Proportional?"


Media coverage of the Israeli/Hamas conflict has promoted the idea that Israel’s response to months-long missile attacks on Israel is “disproportionate” because so few Israelis have died compared with the number of Gazan deaths. This outrage comes from people who should know better, such intellectual elites as Amy Goodman, whose syndicated column appears in the Sentinel; the British Economist magazine, and National Geographics.

Amy Goodman is the darling of the poli more...

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Sex, Religion, Politics, and Power Make a Powerful Quartet.


I have waited until the salacious reporting on General Patraeus’ fall from grace has died down before I weigh in. It is no secret that the United States has conflicting standards on that most difficult of human issues, sex. On one hand, in the public sphere today, anything goes. But we are still the children of our Puritan beginnings, and remnants of these values remain with us, particularly with our leaders.

• Power. From our beginnings as humans, the relationship more...

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Morphing to Murder


It is a mystery how decent, ordinary people can become murdering savages. Most human beings on a daily level just struggle to keep their families fed and are usually benign to their neighbors. But throughout history, perfectly ordinary people have been turned into rampaging mobs. Furthermore, clearly psychotic leaders can enchant otherwise rational people into following them. I have never understood the appeal of psychotics (such as Hitler) or fanatics (such as Osama bin Laden); but then more...

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Why the Taliban Shot a Teenage Girl


The Pakistani Taliban roused the ire around the world with their latest horror, an attempted assassination on a teenage girl for promoted educating girls. They recently beheaded a 7-year-old girl and nobody noticed. But this time, mobs of Pakistanis demonstrated in support of the girl and in criticism of the Taliban. Is this issue about the status of women or is there more to it?

When, on 9/11/2001, President Bush was asked why these Islamists hate us, his answer was: “ more...

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The Sad Tale of Three Misled Young People Unfolds


Most of us who are conscientious about rearing our children try to let them learn from small mistakes or small bad choices. However, it is difficult to know if a mistake is small or not, or if it will blight their lives forever. Three young people in the news have made large mistakes, and one of them died as a result.

The three are: Rachel Corrie, John Walker Lindh, and Pfc. Bradley Manning, all of whom were undone by fanatical attachment to extremist ideologies. Their mi more...

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The Saudis Have A “Modest Proposal” for Women

In 1951, Philip Wylie, an American social critic, wrote a novel called The Disappearance. In this fantasy, something happens in the cosmos, a spasm of some sort, that resulted in the disappearance of each gender from the other, both living in parallel worlds. It is always fascinating to contemplate how men and women would manage alone, a fantasy as old as ancient Greece, whose mythology included the Amazons, a tribe of women warriors who managed very well without men.

Men withou more...

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September 2012

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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What Does “Educated” Mean?


The newly elected president of Egypt is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which should alarm us a bit. But we are being reassured that he has a Ph.D. in Engineering from an American university---USC.

Iran’s president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, also has an Iranian Ph.D. in Engineering. Syria’s dictator has a degree in ophthalmology from England. We will find leaders from all over the developing world with such degrees. How “educated” are they?

The UN’s more...

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Egypt Has Post-Election Blues.


A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture on Egypt’s “Arab Spring” and their recent round of elections. The speaker was optimistic about this process, and noted a number of “accomplishments” that Egyptians should regard with pride:

• A tyrannical dictator removed
• A relatively free and fair election held
• A member of the Muslim Brotherhood elected (Accomplishment?)
• The military promise to yield to civilian rule
• Treaty 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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Does Equality Mean “The Same?”


“All Men are created equal,” said Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence in 1776. We Americans, who are the first to try to live by this idea, have had nothing but trouble with it. The very idea is fraught with problems. If it means that God has created all men (never mind women or slaves) equally, how can we explain babies born with dreadful defects that prevent them from ever being “equal” to the able bodied? And if we look around at the distribution of mental, p more...

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Birds Are Spies, at Least in the Middle East.


Critical thinking is not a natural attribute of human beings. Most of us are more inclined to believing anything in print or that we hear, or believe those things that support our already existing prejudices. It takes hard work to question statements that seem reasonable on their face. Too many of us are ready to believe anything, even when ridiculous.

One recent example is a trend of Middle East countries that so fear Israel’s capabilities that they are ready to believe 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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Is There a Legal Problem with “Hate Crimes?”

The definition of “hate crime” is one of those overkill legislative initiatives with unforeseen consequences. It is noble to recognize that some people commit crimes out of hate, but a murder is a murder, and this should be enough.

How can we possibly know a criminal’s inner thoughts (his hatred for his victim); furthermore, even if we can know this for certain, what difference does it make to the victim? The hatred of the murderer should only reflect upon the ultimate sent 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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What Has Become of Academic Critical Thinking?

When I was in college, I could not tell you how my professors might vote. They were, as were my elementary and high school teachers, resolutely apolitical. We were taught to think, debate, and even act out in mock political conventions and model United Nations conferences.

This is no longer so in many American and European universities. Despite the avowed liberal values of support for the underdog, rights of women and minorities, and distaste for violence, there is an almost univ more...

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The Clash of Civilizations Has New Venues


When historian Samuel Huntington wrote Clash of Civilizations in 1997, our already politically-correct culture found him over the top at best, and bigoted at worst. Academics around the world weighed in at conferences and in reviews of this book, many of them uncomfortable over his picture of Islam.

Huntington recognized that the end of the Cold War did not mean the end of conflict in the world. The newest variety would be more difficult in some ways than that between the more...

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Denial is not a river in Egypt.


Although this headline is a joke, the facts on the ground are not. Fareed Zakaria, usually a sound commentator on world affairs, chastised the pessimists who see no democracy for the Arab Spring. He noted how slowly the revolutions of America and France bore fruit. However, liberal democracy only comes from countries with a 2500-year-old western heritage—or those that have adopted these values (Japan, South Korea). Whatever fruit Egypt will bear will not be liberal democracy, no matter more...

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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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How Is Citizenship Determined Around the World?

There are many ways of acquiring citizenship in the modern world. This concept, being a citizen of a country, is relatively new; in the past, in nation states with a king, one was a subject—and that usually depended upon birth. Refugees could and did come to some: many Continental Europeans fled to England, escaping the persecution of revolutions. In those days (late 18th century), they were permitted to remain as subjects. Voting rights was a much later proposition.

Today, mo 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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Democracy Can Have a Dark Underbelly


As much as I love democracy, Western Liberal Democracy, this institution has a dark side. There are problems with our own American democracy; even more troubling are democracies such as that of Russia, and worse, democracy in the Muslim world. Why is democracy so under assault?

Liberal Democracy is a system in which people do have choices, but there are also rules that keep the “people’s will” from becoming tyranny. Voting is the last step of building a democracy, w more...

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Attacking the British Embassy is an Iranian Rite of Passage.


On December 1, Iranian thugs attacked the British Embassy in Tehran in hours-long violence. This recalled the Iranian seizure of the American Embassy in 1979, holding American diplomats hostage for 444 days. When the 1979 assault happened, right after the Iranian Revolution, the Revolutionary Government initially denied complicity (which may have been true). However, in short order, the Ayatollah decided to take credit for this act.

This time, the Iranian press claimed tha more...

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Arab Spring Is a Conflict between Religion and Nationalism.


The enthusiasm for the Arab Spring and its birth of democracy in the Middle East gives me heartburn. What we hoped is not what we got. Now, as disillusion sets in, not only ours, but also that of the young demonstrators (particularly young women) who shed their own blood in Tahrir Square and Tunisia, we need to see what the optimists missed.

We have again mistaken voting for democracy. Although people who have never had choices love to vote, they really do not like choices more...

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December 2011

TV Humor and Soaps Are Potent Tools For Democracy.


One of the most devastating tools against tyranny is humor. Dictators cannot stand being laughed at; they work hard at being feared. On a bitter cold New Year’s Eve of 1989, the long-time dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, summoned his people to the square below his palace to deliver a speech. The crowd shuffled and seethed with anger over their short rations, lack of fuel, and daily insults while Ceausescu and his nasty wife lived in an obscenely lavish palace. As he continued to more...

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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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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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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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September 2011

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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Does Free Speech Include Hacking and Mayhem?


We do not say often enough that freedom without responsibility is anarchy. This is exactly what we are witnessing in Europe and closer to home: the controversy about our Bay Area Rapid transit system, BART, pulling the plug on cell phones to preempt a dangerous riot.

A few weeks ago, BART security officers shot a transient who had advanced threateningly on them. Whether their action was warranted or not belongs in the realm of law enforcement investigation, not on mob rule more...

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All the News That’s Fit To Print?

We treasure our freedom of speech, which is the very first amendment in our constitution. We consider the press to be an arm of our democracy, with its primary responsibility to be the watchdog over government power and its possible abuse. When investigative journalism works as it should, we all benefit from governance in which officials cannot get away with corruption for long. Not all get caught, but enough do to serve as a warning to the rest.

Look at Afghanistan, where the gov more...

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Do We Know What Makes People Evil?


What could make a nice Middle Class Norwegian murder 74 people because he hated his government? Or make an American Baptist college student convert to Islam and murder soldiers at an Arkansas recruitment center? Does human evil come from our genes (nature) or from our upbringing (nurture)? The debate is unresolved.

Genetic advocates can show that certain things in brain chemistry can create impulsiveness, hot temper, and sometimes inability to empathize with the pains of more...

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More Humans Can Read, But What Are They Reading?

The “Sky Is Falling” crowd says that too many Americans no longer read. I am not convinced—nor do I believe that we read less than our grandparents did. Let’s look at the history of writing (and reading), a history much older than we used to think.

A major invention that separated homo sapiens from our primate ancestors was writing. There is increasing evidence that our Stone Age ancestors were communicating with something akin to readable writing systems on stone and po more...

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For Girls, Idealism Can Be Deadly.


President Kennedy urged American youth to consider a stint in the Peace Corps where they could help the world's poor and spread American values. Thousands have heeded this call, and for many, their time abroad was a valuable learning experience. But for many others, mostly young women, there was a big problem that was swept under the carpet until now: rape.

The idea that women and men are equally human and entitled to equal opportunities and dignity is very new. The Unit more...

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Sometimes Marriage and Childbirth Customs Have Serious Consequences.

Anthropologists have been telling us for the past century that traditions and cultures have survival value for their people. We have been carefully taught not to criticize another culture because there is no single way to be human. Today, however, we see cultural practices around the world utterly disconnected from “survival value.” People persist in certain behaviors because they believe they are sacrosanct parts of either their religion or traditions.

• Africa. One is ha more...

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There Are Consequences For Lying


Brain scientists tell us that when brains are scanned to see which areas light up, brains scan differently when told a known lie or truth. Even without brain scans, it should be obvious that those who live where truthfulness is promoted live in a community of trust. Those who are accustomed to living in a culture where lying is part of survival are resigned to it, but not happy.

Trust and truth go hand in hand. As children, we either learn to trust our parents and their tr more...

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Europe Has Immigration Problems on Steroids!


For all the problems we think we have with immigration, Europe’s problems far exceed ours. The US has always had a history of panic about new and alien groups pouring into our country (Irish, Italians, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and now Hispanics). But all of these groups came here to become American; they integrated and contributed. By and large, the same is true of Muslim immigrants to the US today—particularly Iranians and Afghans. In Europe, however, many in the flood more...

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What is the future of religion around the world?


The United States is, and has long been, a religious country, sometimes to the point of obsession. Our safety net is having no officially recognized state religion; we have instead vigorous competition among faiths so that no one can dominate.

Around the world there seems to be an explosion of Islam, thanks to rampant population growth and prison conversion. But demographers already note that fertility rates around the world have peaked and are in decline. Muslim countrie more...

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Does the Bin Laden Decapitated Snake Still Have Life?


Was the killing of Osama Bin Laden “justice,” as President Obama has said, or was it “vengeance,” as both critics and admirers claim? Justice, technically, could have been served by putting that monster on trial—or a succession of trials everywhere he had ordered mass murders (Kenya, Yemen, Bali, Mumbai, London, Spain, and the United States). Taking him out, the way we did, where he was confined to the house just like his women, could be said to be vengeance, but I don’t thi 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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How Goes It With Women Around the World?

By Laina Farhat-Holzman
Santa Cruz Sentinel
March 5, 2011

International Women's Day is coming up on March 8. Regarding women as human beings, equal in rights and dignity with men, is the boldest revolutionary change for mankind and is only a product of modern Western civilization. This view is not universal. Much of the world sees women as property to be disposed of as the men see fit. As my late mother-in-law once noted, it is better to be lucky than good.
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Iran Is Closer To Imploding

Although Iran is an Islamic dictatorship that controls its news, certain things are leaking out. The revolts in the Arab world are making them very nervous.

• Disloyal Opposition. The opposition leaders during the disputed 2009 presidential election did not mean to undo the Islamic Revolution. The millions who voted for the opposition just wanted a better and less pious president. However, after the government set goons on the peaceful demonstrators in the streets, the world wi more...

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Why Egypt and Not Iran?

We have just witnessed a modern popular change of government---a revolution of sorts. Most Egyptians appear to have agreed on one thing: to end of the rule of Hosni Mubarak. Tunisians in the streets rid themselves of their long-time dictator a couple of weeks earlier. Everybody in the Middle East is watching and waiting to see which other autocracies crumble. Iranians are watching too---their Islamic dictatorship with alarm and the public with bitterness that their 2009 attempt failed.
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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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Why Do We Hate Government?

Democrats and Republicans have different ideas (in theory) of what government should do. Both believe that, as our founding father James Madison noted, if men were angels, they would need no government. But since they are not, they need government to control the unangelic among us---and government needs to control itself as well. Government is not given a free hand to rule. In our system, we have multiple checks and balances so that no one sector of government can become a dictatorship of unlimi more...

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A Few Surprises Are Happening in Afghanistan!


Although it seems like pushing a rock up a hill, our Afghan War may be coming to an end. We certainly want out of a war that seems to have no way of declaring victory—but we have been in that position in every war we have fought after World War II, the last war we definitively won. War is changing, just as social mores are changing.

Although Afghanistan seems to be the end of the world where civilization scarcely reaches, there are a few hopeful signs of change.
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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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How Fragile is Civilization and How Thoughtless is Anarchy!


We in the developed world live in a civilization that would make our ancestors giddy. We have rule of law, participatory government, literacy, property rights and contracts, and live with possessions never dreamed of by the most lavish emperors of the past. But the most important thing that characterizes our civilization is a culture of trust. We trust that we do not have to fear our neighbors, that the market always has food, that there is a system of law enforcement that works quite we more...

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What Can We Do About Fear of Flying?

Whenever I fly, I get patted down because my titanium hip replacement sets off the alarm. I am used to it—and try to be good humored—as do the earnest agents who know how silly this is (considering that I am not a 15-30-year-old man nor a woman wearing a burqa).

Scanners are now in many airports—and they will both reduce the time spent in security lines and make it much less of a nuisance to taking off shoes, belts, and other things that could mask on-board weapons or explo more...

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Time for a National Dialogue on Crime?


No matter what we do, our prisons seem to get more and more crowded. Judges are often given no choice in the sentencing for certain crimes, and the crimes we list on the books keep growing. Just as we need to redo the nation’s infrastructure each half-century, we need to redo our justice system.

Definitions. Crimes are actions by a person to deliberately harm another or others: physical violence (assaults, rapes, murders), property harms (theft, holdups, home invasions more...

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Sometimes Important News Hides in the Back Pages.


Iran’s Problems.
The latest news from Iran: sanctions are really starting to bite. The government has suspended subsidies for food and fuel—which will not please the masses used to the largesse of bread and circuses (stoning women for adultery). People may put up with bad justice systems—but do not take kindly to losing subsidies considered entitlements.

In addition, the internal stresses in Iran’s government are difficult to confirm. Iran has such a lo 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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September 2010

Laina At the Movies, September, 2010


The American.
It is unusual to see George Clooney in a film that is better shown in an art house than a multiplex—but this one really fits both venues. Furthermore, Clooney’s performance could well win an Oscar. He appears in every frame—and without much dialogue—his face reveals a most painful inner struggle.

The story is that Clooney has been a government (US?) assassin for many years. As the story opens, he is pursued in Sweden by assassins from the oth more...

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Religious Toleration Has Never Been Absolute.


The First Amendment of the US Constitution requires: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

There is no quarrel that Americans have the right to have their own religion (and that the government will not select an official one) and that they ma 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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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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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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Why is Sex Such a Global Problem?


For a biological system programmed for species survival, humans have manage to turn sex into a hideous institution for exercising power over others. This perversion of sex is used by some men to exert control over women, girls, and boys. What should be a partnership between mates, as in the rest of nature, is too often a bludgeon for abuse of power.

Of course, some men have grievances too, claiming that beautiful women (or any women) deliberately drive them wild with desir more...

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What Makes President Karzai Tick?



One of the most difficult issues for foreign policy is to understand the default nature of a culture. By this, I mean, what are the normal values that people in a particular culture have, values inculcated by parents, community, and history? Human beings are certainly capable of sometimes radical change under the right circumstances—but over the long haul, we all revert to what feels natural and right.

Americans are always taken aback when a person from another c more...

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Why Do Small Businesses Get So Little Respect?


A reader responding to my recent column on poisonous ideologies (Fascism, Communism, and Militant Islam) asked why I didn’t include capitalism. My response was that capitalism has raised more people out of poverty than any ideology ever, and does not depend upon brainwashing. I suggested he read Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic, which traced the evolution of American capitalism. This ethic was the first ideology to validate work—that work is not an evil, but is a good thing—both more...

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