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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  

November 2018

Attacks on the Press are now global.



Throughout history, the legitimacy of rulers had nothing to do with behavior, but with bloodline or conquest. Kings and emperors ruled, sometimes with the guidance of counselors, but more often with no overt opposition. There was opposition, of course, but clandestine, coming from rivals for the throne or (rarely) from public outrage.

We must consult folk tales to glimpse how ordinary people might have felt about their rulers. Many tales talk about evil rulers, wh more...

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The Liberal World Order.


Since the end of World War II, something never before seen was happening to the world: a spread of the "liberal world order." Liberal in this case means freedom, not left-wing. Although some might think that it was inevitable, the expected trajectory of the world, because we are older and wiser now, it was not at all inevitable. It would not have happened without the United States not only pushing this, but protecting it with military force and money. Most Americans understood this, and more...

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September 2018

Too Much Democracy?


Populism around the world is in the process of destroying liberal democracy, replacing it with dictatorships. This is a shock to those of us who believed that the American style of democracy was both wanted and on a roll after the collapse of the USSR. Populism (power to the people) is a revolt against government, the often unwieldy process of participatory governance. That Democracy does not instantly solve all problems has become apparent, and many are looking for a strongman to addre more...

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The Ongoing War on Science


In the 19th century, as science was beginning to replace religious explanations for phenomena, the old guard pushed back. This battle raged even within one of the world?s great scientists, Charles Darwin, who was a devout Christian but also a keen observer. His lifelong observations about how species evolve (which he could see with his own eyes) differed from the Biblical explanation that God created all life in one moment and that nothing has changed since.

Darwin was sa more...

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Core Values In Immigration Policy


The issue of how much and what kind of immigration we should allow in this country has fluctuated from generous to xenophobic. From our beginnings and during the 19th century, we needed workers, farmers, and pioneers. The Chinese were welcomed to build our railways but then hunted down and murdered afterwards, culminating in barring them completely until their survivors were once again welcomed after the war. Hordes of other displaced survivors of World War II were welcomed, as were the more...

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Russia?s Disinformation Campaign


Last week, we reviewed Russia?s long-term foreign policy, a policy that is a reflection of its historic vulnerability and weakness. This time, we will examine Russia?s long-term use of disinformation and discord. They have turned to this policy because it is inexpensive and can divide democratic societies without firing a shot. It is effective because so many people in our liberal democracies (rule of law) are not willing to think things through; it is easier to latch onto a source of in more...

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Two Books Explore "What Ifs" in History


The extraordinary closeness of our 2016 presidential election is getting plenty of attention. Very few political analysts at the time predicted that Hillary Clinton could lose the election. Even Donald Trump didn?t really believe that he would win, which was obvious in the choice of a modest venue for the election night party. Analysts are just beginning to explore the "what ifs" of this moment in history.

What if they overlooked the rising tide of people left jobless by more...

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July 2017

Humor Can Bring Down a State

One characteristic of nasty governments?theocracies, dictatorships, and authoritarian monarchies is that they have no sense of humor. The one thing that can put a frightening government on the defensive is to know that their subjects are laughing at them.

In Jacques Barzun?s final book, From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present (Harper Collins, 2000), he tracks the fall of the French monarchy and the French Revolution to the point where the French elites had no fear of makin more...

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Liberal or Illiberal Democracies, What Are They?


My vigilant husband has called my attention to my use of the term "Liberal Democracy." Many readers, even when college educated, are not familiar with that term. The word "liberal" suggests a political position, such as left-leaning. So in this column, and in future ones, when I use the term Liberal Democracy, I will spell out what it really means.

Liberal in this case means Liberty, or freedom. That freedom is provided by a division of power in the government (President, more...

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Populism Across the Globe



Angry people with grievances are making themselves felt around the world in elections. These are not the historically familiar revolutionaries demanding freedom or hungry mobs torching the palaces of their masters (French, Russian, and Chinese Revolutions). Instead, these are people rejecting the values that shaped the modern Western world, liberal democracy (a system promoting liberty, but with checks and balances). "Power to the People" has a long and ugly history.

more...

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Where are the University Grownups?



For some years now, we have seen a transformation in university life that does not bode well. These changes are in line with changes in public behavior in our society at large, a general coarsening of language, ideas, and actions.

The university world provides the next leaders, experts, and supposedly informed citizenry. At U. C. Santa Cruz recently, Black students occupied the Administration Building until the university authorities knuckled under to their demand more...

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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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May 2016

The Winter of Our Discontent?.

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

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

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