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

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

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman  

February 2017

Ideas That Make People Kill.


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

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Islam: One Size Does Not Fit All!


Both extreme ends of the political spectrum have a problem with their assessment of Islam, the religion, and Muslims as a global community of people. They are talking over each other, and the most serious consequence was the hasty, ill-considered initiative of President Trump to ban entry of people from seven Muslim-majority countries. Unless Americans of all political stripes understand the real nature of militant Islam, which by its own admission has declared war on the world, even aga more...

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The Arc of History


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

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

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World Law and Reciprocity


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

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Russia?s Short-term and Long-term Prognosis


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

more...

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Israel and Its Changing Neighborhood


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

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

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December 2016

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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Populism?s Unanticipated Consequences: Dictatorship


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

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

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How Our "Nation of Immigrants" Works.



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

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

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Celebrating Native American Food


Laina Farhat-Holzman
Pajaronian
November 26, 2016

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

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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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E Pluribus Unum?


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

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

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Laina with October Movies


Deepwater Horizon

Catastrophes test human character, ingenuity, and endurance. Nature provides plenty of tests with weather, fire, floods, and earthquakes, all considered by insurance companies as "acts of God." But the most fascinating catastrophes are those arising from the very technologies that demonstrate the brilliance of human ingenuity. We are smart creatures, but we do worry about getting too smug about how smart we are. The earliest warning about this smugness is 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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It Can?t Happen Here?

e are just two weeks from the US Presidential election, far too late to change minds. However, many level-headed people around the country take comfort in the thought that American government is designed with so many checks and balances that nothing really drastic can happen. Others say that their "change agent," Donald Trump, will just shake up the government a little.

The saving grace in this country is that the president does not have dictatorial powers. No, he cannot single-h more...

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Israel?s Changing Neighborhood


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

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

Today, however, the more...

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Populism Is No Way to Rule.

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

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Immigrants vs Self-Radicalizing Jihadis



With the latest outrage of terror attacks by two US citizens in New York-New Jersey and Minnesota on September 17, the news media were reporting our leaders? very conflicting viewpoints. The attacks gave fuel to Donald Trump?s notion that terrorists are coming into this country with refugees. "Keep all Muslims out until we know what?s going on!"

The problem with this is that the two terrorists were not "refugees." They were citizens and had spent all their format more...

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September 2016

Is There Global Rule of Law?


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

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Why Is Georgetown University Rewriting History?

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

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

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The Fuss over Headscarves

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

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

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Who is Making Money From Stolen Property?

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

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

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Libya as an American Foreign Policy Problem

Libya is a perfect example of why it is so difficult for the US to design a good foreign policy where one-size-fits-all. The lingering ugliness of what happened in Benghazi is just a small part of the problem. The Benghazi issue, as a matter of fact, is more unique to Libya than to other Middle East countries. Analysis of Libya involves the following issues:

What Libya has in common with other Arab countries:

? Islam. Islam itself is not a one-size-fits-all religion 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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Russia's Long Romance with Lying and Deception

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

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Book Reviews: Nazi Issues

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

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

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

By Laina Farhat-Holzman

These three books treat one important more...

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

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

Reviewer: Laina Farhat-Holzman

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

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Iraq War Revisited with Critical Thinking

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

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Beliefs that Kill

What people believe matters. There are some beliefs around the world that result in murder. So many of us are like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland who said, when Alice noted "One can?t believe impossible things:" "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I?ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." Too many of us believe impossible things.

? Albinos. The people in Malawi, in Africa, believe that Albinos should be abd 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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It Ain't Necessarily So.

Summertime is here, and I find myself humming the song: "It ain't necessarily so." There are some stupid beliefs out there. As a devout centrist, I may make many of my readers unhappy today. But, I suspect there are many more who share my political position: in the thinking middle.

Left-Wing Baloney
? Black Lives Matter. Believers focus on how many police shootings of Black perpetrators there are. However 6,000 blacks are murdered each year, six times the rate of whites ad more...

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The Mystery of Defunding Israel


When one surveys nasty governance, horrible cultures, and rampant injustice in the world, Israel would not appear on any rational list of offenders. Despite this, the campaign to boycott and defund Israel is mindlessly persistent in universities and among far-left radicals. A few people, one of them an "independent" running for Congress, still embrace the conspiracy theory that 9-11 was not perpetrated by Arabs. They insist that the buildings fell because they had been pre-wired and then more...

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The Winter of Our Discontent?.

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

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

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Book Review on Communism's Founding Tyrants

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

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

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


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

more...

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


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

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

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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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Four Middle East Water Systems Shape History

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

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

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Dubious Allies: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Turkey

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

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Genocide extends back 7,000 years.

Archaeologists have just found a 7,000-year-old Stone Age mass gravesite outside of Frankfurt, Germany! This horrifying find erases what we had always thought about human behavior at the beginnings of agriculture and village life. Genocide has a long human history, but we didn?t know that it was that early in the agricultural revolution when population density could not have been large enough to provide for organized warfare.

This is just one of a number of similar mass graves. T 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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Was the Past Really Better?


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

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Do You Really Want a Revolution?

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

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

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How Our Presidents Promote Tolerance

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

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Iran and Saudi Arabia Mix It Up.

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

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

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The Long Decline of Christians in the Muslim World.

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

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Europe's Good Intentions Hit the Wall of Reality.

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

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Poll Finds Christian-Muslim Divide on Religious Freedom.


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

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

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"Round Up the Usual Suspects!"


The Vichy French police chief in the delightful movie, Casablanca, hid his scorn for his Nazi bosses by "rounding up the usual suspects." The usual suspects were a roster of hapless escapees waiting to leave Casablanca for the United States. This standing joke has surfaced once more in today?s global war with Militant Islam.

Some of the "usual suspects" are real. France has just revoked the passes of 70 workers at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports. These are baggage hand 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

The History of How Religions Change.


People on both ends of the political spectrum are stumbling around in their concern about Islam?s future. On the conservative side is the belief that the West is at war with the Muslim world. This is true. The West is responding to Islamic radicalism?s war against not only the West, but against secular Muslims themselves.

On the liberal side is the mistaken view that Islam is just a religion like other religions and given enough time will modernize. Islam is not just a rel more...

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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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Militant Islam has a Woman Problem.


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

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

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Are We At War? And With Whom?


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

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

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Do Refugees Have Responsibilities?


Nobody seems to be asking if refugees themselves have responsibilities to their host country. When people are running for their lives and are welcomed with open arms (as in Germany and Sweden), many are grateful and will eagerly integrate into their new homes. But there are many who will not.

Notice that reporters covering this stressful refugee flood pick and choose whom to interview. On 60 Minutes, I saw interviews with young men who spoke English, one of whom (a teen) h more...

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Is the Paris Massacre a Game Changer?


Laina Farhat-Holzman
Pajaronian
November 21, 2015

Santa Cruz Sentinel and Monterey Herald
November 28,2015

In a multi-pronged attack on Paris, reminiscent of the nightmare attack in Mumbai, India several years ago, a tipping point seems to have arrived. Many assumptions about our enemy have had to be rethought:

First, the Mumbai siege was executed by Al Qaeda under the direction of the Pakistani Intelligence Service. The P more...

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How Can Immigrants Be Absorbed?


Immigration is not new for Europe. The first migrants who arrived from the Middle East (Homo Sapiens) wiped out the Neanderthals, another human species that had lived there for 200,000 years.

Germanic tribes and Huns from Central Asia infiltrated and ultimately destroyed the Western Roman Empire (300-400 AD). The Romans had managed to keep them out for a thousand years, but ultimately collapsed under the crush of their numbers and their military force.

The more...

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Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia: a Primer


A reader once called me a racist in response to an article I wrote criticizing Islamism. I was puzzled because Islam is not a race and criticism of its more poisonous aspects is an attack on an ideology, not individuals.

Today, Muslim activists using their legal arm, CAIR, accuse anybody who criticizes Militant Islam of "Islamophobia," hatred of Muslims. They use this term as the equivalent of the anti-Semitism, or hatred of Jews. However, we need to be clearer in our use more...

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Say Goodbye to Clock Boy!


From the moment the news swept the nation that a 14-year-old Texas Muslim boy, Ahmed Mohamed, had been arrested in school for bringing a suspicious device, I smelled a rat. On the face of this issue, it seemed that a very nice nerdy kid had assembled a Radio Shack digital clock that he brought to school to "impress his teachers." He did not impress his engineering teacher, nor several others to whom he showed his handiwork, but he did at last find a teacher to frighten, one who reacted w 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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Whose Fault is the Immigrant Crisis?



Wouldn't you know that the moment any crisis occurs in the world that the usual commentators would blame the United States? Amy Goodman's recent column blamed the chaos in the Middle East on the US and Europeans sending arms to the region. Others, many on the political left, have blamed the crisis entirely on the disastrous aftermath of our Iraq invasion. However, I have not seen any of these critics pinning blame on the total failure of governance and religion in the Muslim Worl more...

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September 2015

Whose Fault is the Immigrant Crisis?


Wouldn't you know that the moment any crisis occurs in the world that the usual commentators would blame the United States? Amy Goodman's recent column blamed the chaos in the Middle East on the US and Europeans sending arms to the region. Others, many on the political left, have blamed the crisis entirely on the disastrous aftermath of our Iraq invasion. However, I have not seen any of these critics pinning blame on the total failure of governance and religion in the Muslim World itself more...

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Press Coverage Sometimes Skews Needed Information.


Two stories that, thanks to the press and social media, went viral, immediately raised red flags for me. I don?t think "one hand clapping" informs the public on complex issues that deserve more thought.

The first was the coverage of Ahmed Muhamed, the 14-year-old Texas high schooler who brought a home-made digital clock to school to "impress his teachers," he said. The engineering teacher saw it and had no problem with it. Another teacher, however, noted it when its alarm more...

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Refugee Hordes Threaten Europe?s Future.


Europe has a long history of taking in refugees---and of creating them. During the French Revolution, England took in many fleeing the horrors in France. Germany took in Jews fleeing the Soviet Union---to make up for their Nazi period of creating refugees and then murder of Europe?s Jewish population. After World War II, millions of people became refugees, having been bombed out of their cities, including a remnant that survived the death camps.

The United States has a di more...

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Religious fanaticism still defies the Secular State.


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

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

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The United States of Europe Is Obviously Premature.

Europe is a geographic designation: the westernmost peninsula of the Eurasian continental landmass. For the past 7000 years, it has also been the home of a restless mass of human beings, always on the move, settling and moving on, replacing former residents and coming up with one invention after another, the most important of which, from today?s discussion, came from ancient Greece: participatory government (Athens); Rome: written and progressively enlarging law; and England: that kings are not more...

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Tradition!


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

My own view o more...

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Are Arabs Losing Interest in the Palestinians?


Amir Taheri, an Iranian journalist whom I once knew as editor of the English language Tehran Journal in 1978 (while the Shah was still there) has lived in exile since the Islamic Revolution and is a hot potato. He often plays loose with facts, writing things that conservatives love to hear, sometimes without substantiation.

His latest column, however, however, makes a certain amount of sense. The Arab world is in such disarray that the Palestinian issue pales in comparison more...

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Tradition!


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

My own view o more...

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We Americans Misread Our Enemies

We are the global giant who never seems to realize our own strength. Unlike so many others around the world who love to boast about how powerful they are, we almost never do this. Think about the Nazi goose-stepping marches in the 1930s, huge swastika flags unfurled, announcing to the world their intentions. Think about the annual Soviet May Day parades with marching Red Armies, tanks, displays of missiles, and aircraft in formation overhead.

These were the warlike adversaries th more...

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Racism Has a Forgotten History.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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Putin Has His Own Private Assassins

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

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Middle East is Running out of Water.

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

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

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History Reveals Presidential Close Calls!


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

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

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Defunding Israel but Blind to Islamophobia Ripoffs?


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


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

Monoth more...

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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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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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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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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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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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December 2014

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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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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The Elephant in the Room: The War Without a Name

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

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Does This War Have an End Game?

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

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

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Who?s Counting?

One issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, August 23, 2014, was representative of what is going on globally. ?Hamas kills 18 suspected spies in Gaza;? ?Shiite gunmen kill 70 in attack on Sunni mosque;? ?Nation mourns Flight 17 victims (295 of them); ?Civil War deaths top 191,000 after 3 years of conflict in Syria;? ?Ebola outbreak grows nationally with two new cases? (2,615 cases and 1,427 deaths reported). There is a horrific death toll in South Sudan, where ethnic tribal hatreds are killing a h more...

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Corruption Has Ancient Roots.

Political corruption is as old as civilization (the birth of city-states). It is a big issue in the dysfunction of the entire world today, but there are differences in the way different cultures regard it.

Political corruption is abuse of power by those in trusted authority: people that Plato in his imagined perfect society (The Republic) called ?the guardians.? He, like most great civilizations after ancient Greece, recognized that leadership has responsibility and that rule of more...

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September 2014

This Is No Longer Your Grandfathers' Army.

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

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

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Ebola Is Just The Tip of an Iceberg.

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

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

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

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Caliphates and Tooth Fairies Are Cousins.


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

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

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Will Pakistan Become a Failed State or Change Its Direction?


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

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

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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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Alliances Have No Longevity in the Middle East.


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

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

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Does Iraq Have a Future?


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

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

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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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What is Boko Haram and Why Should We Care?


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

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

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What the Map Can Tell You.



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

Today more...

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“The Religion of Peace” gets Brandeis Support


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

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

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“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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Putin’s Ideological Fantasy of Russian “Spirituality.”

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

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

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The Chickens Are Coming Home to Roost in Pakistan.


Muslim governments always blame “foreign meddling” for all their ills The once great Muslim world has been on the skids since 1200, when it encountered three disasters: the Bubonic Plague, the Mongol attacks cutting off old trade routes and killing as many as half the population in Persia and Byzantium, and Muslim clergy blaming lax religious adherence for these disasters. From that time, Muslim intellectual life went dark.

These disasters also opened the door to a ne more...

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Is Militant Islam Facing an Endgame?

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

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

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Al Qaeda In Africa Increases Its Violence


Yemen is in the epicenter of Al Qaeda horrors. On December 5, the brazen group took on Yemen’s very Ministry of Defense, right in the heart of the capital, probably the most heavily guarded facility in the country. In what is becoming a familiar two-part attack, they first used a car full of explosives (and a suicidal driver) to blow open the entrance to the compound and then others burst inside to slaughter civilians in the hospital inside. They killed 52 and wounded 167 others.
more...

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Polio Returns to Countries Needing Regime Change


The world almost eradicated polio forever. The UN’s World Health Organization has struggled to reach every remote corner of the globe to provide babies with the few drops of medicine that could make the world free of what was once a frightening and crippling disease.

So, why hasn’t it been finished? Some very stupid and obviously evil Muslim clerics have ordered mothers to reject the polio campaign, which they claim is designed by the west to make Muslim girls sterile. 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

Countries Can Be Judged By Their Internments

During the 20th century, a number of nations engaged in expelling populations or interning those deemed “dangerous.” Turkey was the first with the expulsion and internment of their Christian Armenian population, an action that resulted in the first of the century’s genocides. Their World War I ally, Germany, was horrified and told the Turks that this was awful.

Then, Germany did the same in the late 1930s and in the 1940s, where the supposed “resettlement” of Jews deemed 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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Why Some Women Love Violence.

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

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

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Revisiting American and Global Culture Wars


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

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We Have Always Had Turncoats.


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

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

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Insane, or just “Intellectually Challenged?”

When criminal perpetrators go to court, lawyers and judges still have problems with the “insanity defense.” The courts in Florida determined that an obviously demented man knew what he was doing when he murdered eight people in the 1970s. They finally got through all the appeals and executed him, to the howls of those who both oppose capital punishment and especially oppose executing the “insane” or, in some cases, the Intellectually Challenged (very low IQ). To some others, the fact th more...

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September 2013

The Great Utopias Have a Nightmarish History.

From the time that human beings had the leisure to think, there have always been those who did not like how their cultures were organized. One of the quatrains of Omar Khayyam (the Rubaiyyat) as translated by Edward Fitzgerald, expresses it best:
“Ah Love! Could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits----and then
Re-mould it neared to the Heart's Desire!”

He expresses in this v more...

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Moral Foreign Policy May Not Be Prudent Foreign Policy.


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

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

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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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How Do Religions Modernize?


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

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

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The Global Gender Gap


Every year, the World Economic Forum presents a report detailing and ranking global progress toward equality under the law for women. They rank countries from the best to the worst, showing progress (or lack of it) over the prior five years. Needless to say, there is still an enormous gender gap around the world, but there is some movement.

The 2012 report had three authors: Ricardo Hausman, Harvard Center for International Development; Laura Tyson, an economist with Berk 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.
< more...

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Time for the “Democracy Project” to go!


It is very painful to retire a foreign policy initiative that has been with us since Woodrow Wilson in 1918. Americans have long believed that democracy is exactly what benighted cultures around the world want. We assume that if tyranny could be removed, long suffering people would want to vote for good people to govern them. We assume, wrongly, that everybody wants freedom.

President Wilson promoted World War I as a crusade to make the world safe for democracy. By the end more...

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An Important Iranian Visitor is Coming: The Cyrus Cylinder


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

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Both American Political Parties Have Serious Blindspots.

“Liberals” or “Progressives” care for the weak, persecuted, and downtrodden. Liberals see the world as inevitably progressing, step by step, from a harsh and violent past to a future that they believe will be civilized and caring.

Traditional Conservatives believe that without governance, people are violent, destructive, and dangerous. Their ideology rejects changing something that is working for something that they see as “cloud cuckoo.” They worry about too much unn more...

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Rape Epidemics May Spell Death Throes for a Culture.


When I first lived in Iran, before the Islamic Revolution, I never felt threatened in the streets. Upper class women went about their errands in Tehran, dressed in the latest Paris fashions of the day, including miniskirts during the 1960s. Other than being pinched in a crowd, the prospect of rape was nil. Lower class women were dressed in chadors (faces visible) and managed to hang on to these unwieldy veils with their teeth, while managing several tots and netted shopping bags. I felt more...

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Puritanism Has A Long Global History.

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

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

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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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The Dilemma of Changing IQ outcomes


We used to think that IQ (Intelligence Quotient) was something that we were born with. Some of us were bright, some not so bright. Over the decades since IQ was first tested, we can no longer assume that IQ is a fixed genetic talent. IQ can be stimulated to increase or can be damaged into decline (or failure to develop), both the consequences of human behavior.

Although this finding gives us a heads up of what seems to be a evolutionary increase in brain functioning, accor more...

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December 2012

E Pluribus Unum Is a Rare Commodity Today.


E Pluribus Unum is Latin for Out of Many, One. It is the motto of the United States, formed when thirteen colonies decided to form one nation in 1776. But even in this country, when most of the population was essentially one ethnicity (British) and spoke English, we did not always act like one. We split into two over an unresolved issue of slavery, which resulted in the Civil War, with the worst death toll of any American war even today. But the war ended with the states once more unite more...

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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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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

Wikileaks Is In Terminal Decline


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

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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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Who is attacking Science?

The world we now live in is largely the product of science. Thanks to science we have doubled our life spans over just one century: the result of clean water, antibiotics, birth control, and the medical care that keeps women in childbirth (and their babies) alive. We have become so accustomed to this that many people do not even think about such a wonder.

Instead, far too many people are ignorant of how science works, convinced that science is in competition with religion. Thes 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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Religion Has Two Faces: Benevolent and Malevolent.

Militant atheists believe that religion is entirely negative, stupid, and harmful to human beings. Religious historians believe that without religion, a civilization has no moral guidance and no sense of community. Some of today’s extremist religious sects are growing because modernization has produced such existential pain for them. A key sticking point for many, of course, is the emancipation of women. With freedom for women, they ask, what will happen to families?

We have al more...

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How Do We Stop a Genocide?


In Syria, armed thugs (with tanks) went house-to-house in a village and murdered all inhabitants, down to babies with pacifiers in their mouths. In history, this sort of pogrom happened (minus the tanks) in many wars of antiquity (revisit The Trojan War), in which the victors killed every male down to babies and hauled all females into slavery.

During the Middle Ages, a Crusade was declared against two dissident religious groups in southern France, the Albigensians and Cat 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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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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Why Do Shiite and Sunni Muslims Hate Each Other?

Whenever I do a public lecture, questions come up about the Shiites and Sunnis. People read about their mutual hatreds and daily assaults on each other in Iraq and elsewhere in the Muslim world, but really do not know how these groups differ and why they are so violent.

All religions eventually fracture into competing sects with very different interpretations of their common faith. We are well acquainted with this process in the deadly Protestant-Catholic wars, and those of us old 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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More Electoral Fraud in Egypt? What a Surprise.


In our enthusiasm for the Arab Spring and its promise of democracy, we now watch elections and parliaments in Egypt and Tunisia with some concern. How did we get so much wrong?

First, we never talked about “liberal” democracy, the system used in the West that provides checks and balances and protects against abuse of power. We just talked about elections, and they have indeed had those.

All Egyptian players have a stake in the outcome. The military esta 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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What Is America’s “Worldview?”


How we vote, behave, and think is based on our view of the world. Whether consciously or not, we all have beliefs about human nature, and these views shape us. These worldviews are the product of our various religions and the experiences of our European, Asian, or African ancestors. They fall into the following categories:

• Man is basically evil (sinful), and must be restrained by firm governance;
• Man is born innocent and good, and learns evil from society; 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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What Happens When People Suddenly Have Choices?


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

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December 2011

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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Was the Israeli and Hamas Prisoner Exchange a Good Deal?


A young Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was snatched by Hamas raiders across the Israeli border in 2006. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, not a combatant who had been at war with Hamas. They kept him alive for five years, hoping to exchange this him for one thousand violent Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

In October, the exchange was made—to the mixed joy and anguish of Israel—joy for bringing home one of their own and anguish over those they were rel more...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Community: Is Letting the Penniless Sick Die an Option?

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

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

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

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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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Which “Defamation of Religion” Does the UN Human Right Commission Dislike?

Some people claim that the Norwegian mass murderer was inspired by “Islamophobes,” people critical of Militant Islam. They say that warnings by such scholars as Robert Spenser and Brigitte Gabriel about Islamists infiltrating European culture fostered Mr. Breivik’s rampage. Perhaps, they may think, if nobody said anything unpleasant about Islam, the European Right Wing might have gone after their usual target, Jews, rather than Muslims, and nobody would care. But the problem of integrating 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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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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How Do We (and Afghanistan) Negotiate with the Taliban?


It is a matter of doctrine that if the conflicts in Afghanistan (and Pakistan?) are to be resolved, military force alone cannot do it. Our planners are trying to separate the Taliban from Al Qaeda, as though they are really different. I do not believe they have ever been different in philosophy or tactics.

On June 29, the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, was on fire, after being attacked by nine Taliban (or Haqqani Gang) suicide bombers. Only one was an actual 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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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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American Foreign Policies Cannot Always Be Consistent.


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

Dictatorships that are at least competent more...

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In a Democracy, Some Decisions Are Agonizing.


For most of human existence, leaders and priests made decisions and ordinary people either obeyed or suffered the consequences. For almost everyone, tradition left a very small range of independent decisions.

Today, certainly in the developed world, we all have to confront decisions every day, and for our elected leaders, the process is often difficult. The following is a small list of terrible decisions facing both democracies and autocracies today.

• T more...

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How Goes Terrorism Around the World?


Every year, I revisit such issues as “How Goes Democracy Around the World,” “Status of Women,” and “Terrorism Inc.” This column surveys the condition of Militant Islam (Islamism) for the past year.

The term “Islamist” does not refer to ordinary Muslims. It has a specific definition. Islamism is a political ideology that uses a particular interpretation of Islam as its theology—with lessons from Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia as its political methodology. more...

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Tyrants have a long history.


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

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

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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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How Goes Democracy Around the World?

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

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

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Can 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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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.
< more...

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December 2010

What Were They Thinking!


We are supposed to be Homo Sapiens (“thinking” or “wise” humans), aren’t we? Some of us are not, alas.

WikiLeaks.

It is astonishing that WikiLeaks and its founder, anarchist Julian Assange, have so many supporters. What kind of thinking can imagine that reading other people’s private messages and publishing them is “freedom of speech?” What kind of world do they think they will have if democratic nations cannot protect themselves from those 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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Let’s Round Up The Usual Suspects


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

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

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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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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

Did We Have Guns of August Again?



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

more...

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A Venetian Tradition Bites the Dust—a Woman Gondolier!


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

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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 Freedom of Speech Incitement to Kill?

We all know that freedom of speech has one commonly accepted exception: when someone falsely yells “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. Obviously this action will result in injury or death.

But another issue that faces us today is the very fuzzy line between free speech and incitement to violence. Such a case is roiling the Canadians today with a case in Toronto, reported on by the Toronto National Post (May 1, 2010). This story illustrates the painful nature of what to do with incit more...

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Is Guatemala A Toxic Place for Women?


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

At that time, there was a notorious case in Ca more...

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Are We Going to Need More Immigrants?

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

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

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

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What Are The Good Old Days?

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

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

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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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October 2009

Can Too Much Freedom Destroy Democracy?


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

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

The more...

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