Saturday, April 25, 2015

Civilization seen by Col. Landis

Andrew Targowski

Col. Landis criticizes my 750 word long entry to the 2014 ISCSC Newsletter for the lack of broader support of my statements.  It is not a scientific paper, just a very short sketch on a very broad topic. More “substance” on that topic is in my book, The Limits of Civilizations (144 pages).  This sketch is my opinion, since the subject matter is based on predicting the future of civilization which is always based on many “ifs.”
The Polemists insist that other intelligence did not visit our Planet for the same reason our SETI system cannot cross the light speed barrier. Einstein said it is impossible, but as Jennifer Ouellette explains some scientists are still trying to break the cosmic speed limit – even if it means bending the laws of physics. Same Einstein asked what is more in God’s basket besides the four laws of physics?  It means that he was wondering whether, perhaps this barrier is only for us leaving on Earth?
Col. Landis asks me why I did not explain what does it mean “survival of the fittest.” I did not do it since our Members know it. Perhaps millions of people know that it is the essence of Darwin’s theory which is the base in all scientific disciplines and common sense disputes.
The Colonel does not like my line “In the 21st century, the progress of the civilized man reached its climax, as illustrated by the …large scale use of the internet.”  He claims that this is totally unsubstantiated. In my view the Internet leads to the strong globalization, decline of Western civilization due to minimalization of the middle class (through outsourcing), replacing Christian values by business values, growth of global stateless corporations, unsustainable growth of production by cheap labor and mass volume of resources, glory of super-consumerism, and population growth, ignition of the ecological bomb, depletion of strategic resources, vulgarization of culture, and so forth.
“Why the use of mobile phones leads to the contraction of the human brain?” Smiles the Colonel.  Because, users of those phones use not full words but short symbols and acronyms, leaving memorization to electronics. This is the reversal of the development of the human brain, which took place about 50,000 years ago when we began to use a developed language constantly growing in the number of words, which led to the development of our vast vocabulary and our brain as well in terms of capacity as in complexity of meanings and their syntax and  semantic relations. The declining use of F2F communication and short acronyms will eventually shrink the human brain. Wait a few centuries for the first statistics. I do not need to produce statistics in 750 word long sketch for a Newsletter. You may find more in my recent book, Virtual Civilization in the 21st Century.
Dear Col. Landis, you are right, Western civilization used to westernize the world. However, in the 21st century, such civilizations as Islamic, Buddhist, Chinese, even Eastern (Russia) want to modernize by not being westernized. Eventually Western civilization will be swallowed by Global civilization. The Colonel is right that Western civilization created Global civilization but now the former is eaten by the later. According to the rule that “a revolution eats its children.” Please read my book Global Civilization in the 21st Century.
Dear Col. Landis, I did not say that 100% of politicians are corrupted. I am not so stupid.
Thank you Col. Landis for providing me so many “fighting arguments” that I could use my “cannons.”
With respect
Andrew Targowski

Comment on Andrew Targowski's Winter 2014 ISCSC newsletter article "State of Civilization Where Are We Heading"

Benjamin L. Landis

I am very much disappointed in the article by Doctor Targowski in the Winter 2014 edition of the ISCSC.  Entitled “State of Civilization Where Are We Heading” it is ideological, not pedagogic; it is opinionated, not objective; it is superficial, not substantive.  Essentially it is the Gospel as declared by Doctor Targowski without any basis in history or fact.  And it is almost totally erroneous.
He begins by declaring “…Apparently man is unique universe-wise, too, or how do we explain that for 4.5 bln years no other “human” visited the earth or no signals betraying one have been recorded by the earth-based SETI system.”  This is nonsense.  The reason no other being has visited Earth is probably the same reason no member of our planet has visited any part of the universe outside our solar system.  We have not discovered how to exceed the speed of light.  We should not blame other societies for the same failing.  Years ago I remember Dr. Carl Sagan saying that there was a strong probability that other living species existed beyond our solar system.  Doctor Targowski’s reliance on the negative results achieved by SETI needs to be clarified.  Does SETI have the necessary equipment to probe the vastness of the universe and to detect living beings?  Has SETI attempted to do so?  If yes, has it covered the entire universe?
Next, he declares that the human species has evolved and endured thanks to the survival of the fittest.  Then, he immediately thereafter writes, maybe it was “…thanks to the skill of collective social life…”  And then again he continues by writing that “…another factor…was the advantageous shape of the hand…”  Or…  In fact, all these concepts are one.  They simply represent different phases or aspects of the evolution of the human species.  Furthermore, the use of the term “survival of the fittest” should have been clarified.  It does not mean in evolutionary theory the survival of the biggest and strongest and healthiest.  It means the survival of those organisms or animals which can best adapt to environmental changes.
The next paragraph that begins “…Further development of man was about the development of civilization…” is filled with inaccuracies.  Unfortunately, I cannot cite them in detail because of the limitation (500 to 1,000 words) on a blog post.
He begins the next paragraph by writing, “In the 21st century, the progress of the civilized man reached its climax, as illustrated by the …large scale use of the internet.”  This is totally unsubstantiated.  How can he know that civilized man has reached a climax?  Believing this, Doctor Targowski demonstrates that he does not understand what a civilization is.  He then writes, “The 21st century mass use of mobile phones…will soon lead to the contraction of the human brain…”  This is totally unsubstantiated.  Doctor Targowski needs to produce statistical or psychological proof that the use of mobile devices causes a deterioration of the brain.
In the next paragraph he states that the [internet] “...leads to the reduction of the world’s diversity as it promotes the expansion of the unified Global civilization…”  The use of the term “Global” is misleading.  Doctor Targowski needs to read Toynbee, who discerned the Westernization of the dying civilizations still in existence in the early 1950’s.  This “globalization” is a one way street.  Western Civilization is westernizing the rest of the world.  None of the other civilizations is impregnating Western Civilization.  But, in contradiction to what he shows on the chart accompanying the article, the world will not be completely westernized by the end of this century.  The transformation of a civilization, even a moribund one, takes centuries.
He then writes, “…the Global civilization…loosens [the] capability [of “social groups living in the same territory”] of self-defense and survival.”  This is a statement totally unsubstantiated by experience.  Doctor Targowski needs to explain how this could or would happen.
He writes, “This is expressed in the detachment of politicians from their service of the voters right after election and offering their services to various groups, scattered across the world, and represented by lobbyists.”  An unfortunate generalization.  He is saying that 100% of the politicians in all the countries of the world are corrupt.  He should know that this is not true.  There are bad politicians and there are good politicians.  There are honest politicians and there are dishonest politicians.  Someone once said or wrote (I think it was an Englishman) that a people has the politicians it deserves.  So, Doctor Targowski would do better to take after the people of the world and not their politicians.  Furthermore, “politicians” are a creation of Western Civilization’s democracies.  There existed civilizations before politicians and democracy.
Finally, he writes, “This is corroborated by the 21st century structural crisis of the states forming the Western Civilization, which in fact has been replaced by the Global Civilization.”  Again, wrong!  What does he mean by “structural crisis”?  Is he implying that 100% of the states of Western Civilization are undergoing this crisis?  He needs to substantiate that proclamation.  And lastly, he repeats his confusion:  Western Civilization has not been replaced by a Global Civilization.  On the contrary.  Western Civilization is creating a Global Civilization, but it will not come into full existence for several centuries.
My final word:  If you have time to waste, read the article, but don’t believe a word of it.  (I wish I could have been more detailed in my analysis of Doctor Targowski’s article, but I had word limitations imposed.)

Comments on Dr. Farhat-Holzman’s ‘Clash of Civilizations offers Glimmers of Hope

Benjamin L. Landis

Dr. Farhat-Holzman’s blog post “ ‘Clash of Traditions’ offer glimmers of hope” [Note for the web site editor: The title should read ‘Clash of Traditions offers glimmers of hope’.] arouses a couple of comments.  First, more than forty years before Huntington, Dr. Arnold J. Toynbee in Volume VIII of his “A Study of History” treated the issue of clashes between civilizations.  Such clashes have existed almost since the beginnings of civilization.  They have traditionally featured warfare and conquest and the eventual assimilation of the conquered by the culture of the conquerors.  There have been, however, exceptions to this general rule.  The most prominent, to my less-than-complete knowledge, being the Islamic Arabs out of the Saudi Arabian desert assimilating the civilization of the more ancient Syriac Civilization and then transforming it into a unique Islamic Civilization.  Unless one wishes to argue that the Arabian Islamic conquerors were already a part of the Syriac Civilization.  But that’s a different blog post.
Huntington’s prediction “that we were headed for stormy times when the largest civilizations would not meet peacefully” (the words are from Dr Farhat-Holzman’s blog post) is fairly meaningless.  No civilizations, large or small, have ever met peacefully since the first civilizations.  Almost 20 years after Huntington’s book, what is the situation?
When the Second World War ended there were only five civilizations in existence: Western, Orthodox-Russian, Islamic, Far Eastern, and Hindu (I use Toynbee’s terminology.).  All these except the Western had suffered in the preceding centuries for two reasons: Colonialism and Westernization.  Starting in the fifteenth century the national states of Western Europe began to colonize the world.  By the end of the First World War North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand were a part of Western Civilization.  All of the Islamic world, except Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan, all of Africa, except Liberia and Ethiopia, and most of Asia, except for Japan and China, were either colonies of Western nation states or dominated by them.  Western Civilization was easily recognizable as the most dynamic of the existing civilizations.  So, it can be said that the other globalizing force, i.e., westernization, began at the same time as colonization.  However, in most of the colonized countries the colonizers had little interest in westernizing the colonized populations.  It is certainly true, nevertheless, that some aspects of Western culture were passed on and adopted, but essentially the civilizations retained their particularities and personalities.
Today, colonialism is dead.  The major force acting on the relations between civilizations is now westernization.  Everywhere in the world one can see the various aspects of Western civilization penetrating the other civilizations.  One could argue that the Orthodox-Russian Civilization has become almost totally westernized.  On the other hand, the Islamic Civilization is fighting hard to resist westernization.  The United States government’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, its failure to achieve a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, and its continuing military intervention in Islamic internal struggles have been major impediments to the adoption of Western culture in Islamic countries.  The Far Eastern and Hindu Civilizations are demonstrating a much more receptive attitude to their eventual westernization.
There will be eventually a global civilization, probably based on Western culture.  I agree with Dr. Targowski on this point.  However, neither he nor I nor Dr, Farhat-Holzman will live to see it.  And it will certainly not be achieved by the end of this century, as Dr. Targowski believes.  The signs of this westernization are everywhere: in the Arab Spring, in Saudi women driving cars, in South Koreans having plastic surgery to westernize their faces, in the Chinese government’s permitting capitalistic enterprises, in the expansion of English as the world’s second language, etc.  The list is long.  I am willing to give further examples if a reader requests, but I imagine that any reader can come up with his/her own.  But one must remember that complete acceptance of a foreign culture takes a very long time, centuries.
Dr. Farhat-Holzman writes that “…most scholars … 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 institution needed to regulate a peaceful, rational world order.”  I would like to know what scholars Dr. Farhat-Holzman is citing here.  They must have been living high in an aerie or deep in a cave.  I can’t cite any scholar who believed that.  The world had not then been globalized; it is not globalized today.  What does globalization mean?  Is the world globalized because I can fly from my home in the United States to Tokyo in less than a day?  Is the world globalized because I can have a telephone conversation with someone in Beijing?  Is the world globalized because most of the clothes I wear are made in China? I side with Dr. Targowski in his article in the 2014 Winter edition of the ISCSC Newsletter “The State of Civilization—Where are we heading?”.   Globalization is more than commerce; it is deeply cultural.
Furthermore, the United Nations had already demonstrated by its performance prior to the end of the Cold War that it was not capable of regulating “a peaceful, rational world order.”  What other organization or organizations is Dr. Farhat-Holzman thinking of?
I would appreciate any comments, pro or con or amplificatory, any reader would like to make on the points I make above.    

Thursday, April 23, 2015

When is “Economic Information” Espionage?

April 25, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian has been cooling his heels in an Iranian prison for nine months without charges until now, when we are finally told that he will stand trial for espionage for having “sold economic information” to unnamed Americans. What this information is nobody has been told. What sort of economic information about Iran could there be that could threaten Iran's security, one wonders! I can imagine quite a few things, but cannot imagine that Jason Rezaian could have secured such information. What are they hiding, eh?

Jason Rezaian is an unlikely spy. He is an American-born and San Rafael-raised journalist with dual US-Iranian citizenship who has been serving as a correspondent for the Washington Post. We last saw him interviewed by foodie Anthony Bourdain, talking about food, Iranian culture, and Rezaian's obvious love for his parents' country, a place he wanted to explain to his American readers. How stupid of Iran's repressive government to have singled him out for such treatment. This is just one more indication, much like the one shown in the movie “Rosewater,” of the coming demise of an incompetent regime whose legitimacy has died.

Economic information can be very sensitive indeed. It can indicate things going wrong, hands in multiple cookie jars, people in bazaars or market places being interfered with but not being permitted to complain. In oppressive states, the public only gets around the oppression through underground humor. In Russia, for example, there is the “toilet paper code.” When the economy gets really bad, toilet paper gets scarce in the shops.  People who come to visit are asked to bring their own. This is not a good sign.

During the latter years of Communism, especially in Poland, visitors were asked to bring bars of soap! Soap was a very acceptable tip in hotels.

In Iran, when the Shah started interfering with bazaar corruption and tried price stabilization, suddenly onions disappeared from the markets. No onions?

In both Russia and Iran today, economic information is closely guarded because their leaders do not want people to know what they are doing. Their leaders certainly do not want them to know that Putin, for example, may be the richest man in the world, may be because nobody can be sure, it is a state secret; but the money he controls is something between $40 to 100 billion. This is money that should belong to the Russian people, not a nice thing to think of on a cold, dark winter night.

As for the austere, pious Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, he secretly runs an organization called Setad that benefits from Iran's oil and gas holdings, telecommunications, arms industries, and even ostrich farming. (This latter interests us; we have an ostrich farm that does nothing but lose money.) But the Ayatollah commands a portfolio estimated to be about $95 billion, much of this seized from ordinary Iranians, business people, and religious minorities. Not nice. This information is the result of a six-month Reuters investigation. One wonders how many Iranians know about this, or dare talk about it. But the time will come that they will.

The sad thing is that communists and the Islamic Revolution both promised economic virtue to their miserable, downtrodden populations, yet both deceived them. The communists, almost from the beginning, promised that they would share equally and grow together. But this never really happened. Some were always more equal than others. There were always always more benefits for the party membership and upon the collapse of communism, great inequality burgeoned. Putin has abused his leadership, along with his small inner group of thieves.

The Ayatollas are even worse. They hide behind religious piety and are even bigger thieves and hypocrites to crush their citizens and steal their nation's wealth.

Poor Jason Rezaian is in prison as a warning to anyone who really might dare talk about economic issues in today's Iran.  He may have just asked where the onions have all gone. Who knows? A friend of ours who returned recently from a visit told us people were buying almonds by the nut. A Persian joke?

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Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at or

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

“Clash of Traditions” Offer Glimmers of Hope

April 25
Laina Farhat-Holzman

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 institution needed to regulate a peaceful, rational world order.

Even I, who had lived in Iran and had seen a Muslim culture up close, thought that Huntington drew civilizational lines between civilizations without considering layers---such as the commonality of the elites across civilizations who were all educated in the West sharing more with each other than with their own civilizations.

Alas, Huntington was right and we were all wrong. The elites, as many foreign brides (myself included) learned, reverted to their timeless geopolitical and cultural natures and our marriages fell apart. Huntington was also right that Islam's borders with every non-Muslim neighbor would be bloody. They did and are doing so today. Even the concept of nation-state imposed on them is melting down and they are reverting to clan and cult.

However, it is not all bad news. There is another sort of cultural border that nobody is watching: “tradition.”

Tradition, for the most part, emerged for the comfort of men and the control of women. The majority of traditions in world cultures spell out what women must or may not do, particularly in regard to their bodies and sexuality. Other than food traditions, which I truly love, most have to do with virginity at marriage so that men may be assured of exclusive paternity. Most traditions also involve submission to males, but most such traditions are under challenge today as cultural isolation faces dislocation, television, cinema, and contact.

Two otherwise wretched brushes with tradition were challenged in March. In Afghanistan, an ugly mob of men beat, stomped, ran over, and burned to death a woman student they thought had burned a few pages of a Koran (filmed by bystanders for the world to see). She had not done this. The burned pages were not even from a Koran; they were from a Persian book; but even had it been the Koran, did it warrant such a murder?

In an amazing surprise, the Afghan Ministry of Religious Affairs investigated. The negligent police, religious officials, and 13 suspects have been arrested! And wonder of wonders, women (unheard of) carried the coffin to its burial place, faces sorrowfully shown in an LA Times photo in defiance of Muslim custom. An ugly tradition has been bearded, revealed to the world, and prosecuted by the state!

Another challenge to another ugly cultural holdover, this time a Pakistani holdover in Canada. Mariam was a sixth grader (11 years old) in Toronto when she started getting pressure from her family to get engaged. Like so many Pakistani children, she was sent to Pakistan on summer vacation to meet someone selected by an aunt (probably a cousin), but unlike many others who never made it home, she did return home, refusing to marry.

Her mother nagged, wept, refused to speak to her, prayed aloud, did everything to convince her that she was dishonoring her family, but Mariam continued going to school. At 17, she tried to leave home but a women's shelter wouldn't take her because she was not being physically abused. She did eventually find shelter and is now part of a nationwide campaign to help immigrant girls and women facing this sort of pressure, a problem already familiar in the UK, where schoolgirls vanished each summer on “vacation” to Pakistan.

The fact that this issue has been raised in Washington is good news, and we might soon be having laws similar to those now in the United Kingdom making forced marriage a crime.

Bad traditions are finally starting to crumble. There is hope.

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Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at or

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Public Trust and the Role of Law Enforcement

Lynn Rhodes
April 9, 2015

The responsibility of law enforcement to society is under close examination due to converging societal conditions that are not new. Recent shooting in the back of an unarmed black man in South Carolina and grand jury decisions not to indict officers involved in law enforcement related deaths of unarmed black men, amplify this convergence and resulting break-down of public trust.

Enforcement agencies are searching for better ways to build trust in their communities and many use community policing programs and strategies. After all, law enforcement is a public-trust-protection program, there to provide public and resource protection. It works best when conducted in a collaborative manner; Community-Public-Trust Policing 101.

One such program worth examining for its approach and policies is the California State Parks Department and their State Park Rangers (State Park Peace Officers). It is a unique department under the California Natural Resources Agency and includes a sizeable law enforcement function having mutual or concurrent policing jurisdiction with cities, counties, state and federal jurisdictions. Their peace officers have full enforcement authority that extends throughout the state. They provide public safety and resource protection to over 68 million annual visitors throughout approximately 1,600,000 acres; 1,658 miles of ocean and waterfront including 1/3rd of California’s coastline.

A peace office’s role is much larger than enforcing laws.  The spirit of the law and use of discretion when weighing the totality of circumstances are fundamental. California State Park Officers are privileged to be considered as Guardians by a majority of the public. A Guardian is an ally, someone that watches, protects and takes action.  Discretion and trust, essential to their role.

When basic values of providing public-trust protection are formally built into an organization’s policies, their practices generally follow those values. California State Parks has written policies that define expectations for their peace officers:
Law Enforcement is, after all, a positive and necessary public service and a natural complement to the role as guardians and protectors.  With defined values, State Park Rangers are charged with the responsibility for protecting and preserving that which has been entrusted to their care.
Rising crime and various social impacts now encroach upon places which have long been considered sanctuaries for peace and enjoyment. Regardless of the increased use and rising crime rate in parks (public places), all park visitors (community members) have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and to be dealt with in a courteous and cordial manner.
Law enforcement powers are only tools to achieve the goal of compliance.  In many cases, simply informing people that their behavior is illegal will result in compliance.  In other cases the reason for the law must be explained or written warnings issued to offenders.  For others, the threat of law enforcement action will be necessary, and there are cases in which the behavior of the violator is so serious/dangerous as to require immediate arrest or escalated force. The key to a successful law enforcement program therefore rests with the intelligence, judgment, and discretion of each officer.

The Department’s Community Policing policy provides additional direction:
Reinforcing collaboration with the public; one in which its primary jurisdiction and the “community” do not exist independently.  Both are interdependent parts of a larger, more complex social economic and environmental system.  Community policing requires a fundamental change in responsibility for policing by law enforcement agencies alone, to a collaborative, community based system.
Using the community, public-trust policing model, State Park Peace Officers and other department personnel are empowered to develop and maintain relationships with public agencies, community organizations, and businesses, to identify and solve/prevent problems of mutual concern.  Rather than focusing only on visible symptoms of crime, all partners work together, to address public safety, law enforcement and resource protection concerns.  With all parties participating, community members are better able to prevent or solve problems that erode society and public trust.

Law enforcement agencies with defined values, policy and respect, reinforced by continuous training, are best positioned to build real trust in their communities, for society and civilization.

Lynn Rhodes is an international consultant and the former Chief of California State Parks Law Enforcement Division. She can be reached at

Puritans Are So Threatened By Pleasure!

Laina Farhat-Holzman
March 21, Nowruz,  2015

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 the nurses at ninety when his inhibitions finally failed him. Until then, he made his family miserable.

Moses was up on the wretched Mt. Sinai talking to God and getting the ten commandments and what were his pleasure-loving people doing? Singing, dancing, fornicating, and worshipping the Golden Bull, who represented the pleasure-loving god of their Canaanite neighbors. Several hundred of them were executed on the spot! Religion is not for pleasure! It is serious stuff!

Judaism with its food prohibitions always had problems with those foodies among them who, while living among the Romans, longed to eat Roman food. This certainly had to be a temptation. It would certainly be a temptation for me today not to be able to give up the pleasure of eating the best cuisines of the world----French and Italian foods----for food prohibitions that defied logic. But then, I am not that married to Puritanical values. I thank God (or the Great Mother) who gave us these pleasures.

Centuries later, the British gave up the pleasure-loving Catholic church and went through ten years of Puritan rule. No Christmas! No kissing in public! No colorful clothes! Long sermons in church! Even married sex was sin, in the dark with your clothes on! Ten years of that was more than enough for them. But Puritanical sourness never quite goes away. We have pockets of it even in America. Hellfire and Damnation.

But the prize for Puritanism goes to today's Islamists. Now they know how to be sour. They certainly do not like to laugh. They absolutely hate pleasure, any sort that does not come from anything other than murder: either close and personal (stabbing or decapitating), but also by blowing up women and children at marketplaces.

Some do love the pleasure of sex, however; very selfish sex. They like the idea of having a sexual garden filled with beautiful women and girls, and sometimes young boys, who are kept specifically for their own pleasure. Nobody else may play.

There are exceptions, of course. The Afghan warlords are particularly perverse. It appears that the Pashtoon tribe really detests women and would do without them if they could; but they need them to produce boy children. They really like boys better. The ancient Greeks did too.  They like them as sons, and they like them as sex objects, boy-toys, whom they dress up as little girls who dance and entertain their men friends at parties and who assume female roles in traveling theatres. (Google this practice and see National Geographic archives.)

ISIS puritans persecute any other pleasures that are un-Islamic too. In Iraq, keeping pigeons is an old hobby much loved by young men. Now, Isis is rounding up and killing the youngsters and killing the birds. In Afghanistan, the Taliban did the same with the old custom of Kite running, an old pre-Islamic sport. Having fun (other than murder and flogging) just is not Islamic!  For good fun, just go to an arena and watch a good decapitation or see an adulteress stoned to death. Now there is good sport for you!

The Ayatollah Khomeini really tried hard to get rid of the ancient Zoroastrian holiday of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, celebrated way before Islam was ever thought of. It is a celebration as old as the Chinese New Year, and celebrated over 13 days, beginning on the Vernal Equinox. The Iranians refused to give it up. It is joyous. It is sexy. It is a reminder that there was history before Mohammad. It defies everything that today's sour Islam resents: joy and saying yes to pleasure.

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Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.

The Iran Deal Puts Our Foot in the Door!

Laina Farhat-Holzman
April 11, 2015

For fifty years, we did not talk to the Chinese. We mistrusted them. They mistrusted us. We hated each other and were blind to each other's internal workings. Then, suddenly, because of some youngsters playing ping pong together (not an accident), followed by some very secret diplomatic visits, the United States and Communist China opened relations.

This opening upset a lot of people: the Soviets, hardline Republicans (members of President Nixon's own party), and hardline Chinese Communists, all of whom were vested in the poisonous potential of nuclear warfare.

Nothing changed overnight, but the changes came and the pace of change for the world, looking back, was earth changing. I was visiting Washington when an early delegation of Chinese arrived, all dressed in the same ill-fitting blue Mao suits, trotting around the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks, clicking away on their cameras. A few years later, young women arrived from Mongolia, dressed in red “dressed for success” power suits, on State Department “Capitalism” crash courses, the latest phase of China's opening. My, how things changed. The economy had opened, even though political opening had not.

Our president and China's new president meet regularly and talk very frankly, a good thing indeed. As President Obama said, “You don't just talk to your friends. It is even more important to talk to your adversaries. You never know where you might have common interests.”

So now, after nearly four decades of not talking to Iran, albeit for good reasons, we are now talking. The same sorts of people are gnashing their teeth, the same who gnashed after we opened to China. The hardliners in our Congress are right that Iran is tricky and untrustworthy, just as the hardliners in Iran are right that the United States is tricky and untrustworthy too.

The Israelis are right to be wary of Iran, which has, for political reasons of its own, threatened them verbally and planted ugly thuggish militants in their neighborhood and Iran is right to fear Israel which has assassinated some of its nuclear physicists and has the ability to sabotage their nuclear equipment.

But most of all, the Iranian hardliners are right to fear that our foot is in the door. The announcement of a potential nuclear deal sent delirious young people (now the Iranian majority) into the streets, eager to join the world as Persians again, not as Islamic Revolutionaries! This frightens the graybeards; it frightens the Islamic Guards, who only hold power through force; it frightens even the Ayatollah, who has visions of Gorbachev whose open door ushered in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This is a deal that, if it is ratified, is far better than anybody expected. The Iranians are really desperate to get out from under their terrible sanctions, and if they do, tourists will really start to arrive, a good thing for Iran.

Also, Iranian oil will go out, which will have an effect on oil prices around the world (especially on Russian income, not a bad thing).

Our foot in the door can have another effect on some of the more troublesome mischief that Iran has played in its revolutionary zeal in the world. Its support for Shiite insurgency in Yemen, support for the Iraqi government, support for the Assad Alawites in Syria, could ultimately fade in the face of reentry into the global community. All of these Shiite groups speak Arabic, not Farsi. Without revolutionary zeal, Persians will lose interest. They have been Persians far longer than they have been Muslims! Watch this bloom.

The verification regimen goes on for a very long time, and when looked at over such a long period, it is difficult to imagine that Iran will still be an “Islamic Republic.” The handwriting is already on the wall on that one.  It is clear that Iran will always be a major power player in the balance of power in the Middle East, as it has always been and will always be. It balances the Arabs and Turks. Iran has been our ally before and can be again.

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Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at or    

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

April 4, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

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).

Monotheists, however, had problems with polytheists. Beginning with Abraham, they destroyed idols and pagan temples, deliberately building their own temples and later churches atop Roman and Greek (and later Aztec, Mayan, and Inca) structures.  Islam continued that practice, destroying what they could, and when the Christian structure was too solid or too beautiful to destroy, they painted over the art and imposed their own geometric mosaics, destroyed the bell towers and built their own slender towers for calling believers to prayer. The beautiful Hagia Sofia (Blue Mosque) in Istanbul (former Constantinople) is one of these. The same is true for lovely churches in Spain, once Catholic, then Muslim, and then Catholic again.

The Catholic structures were considered so sacrosanct that even kings could not (usually) go in to seize someone seeking sanctuary there. The one time that this sanctuary was violated created a scandal that nearly unseated a king.

I am an unbeliever in the texts of any religion, but a believer in the architecture of all of them. The magic of religious belief speaks to me in the structures, music, and arts that human beings have produced in their religious edifices much more than in their theologies. I feel as much spirituality in Notre Dame during an organ recital as I do in the remarkable Masjed-i-Sheikh-Lotfollah in Esfahan, Iran, which I think is the most beautiful Muslim structure in the world.

Two much older structures have also dazzled me with the same spirituality: Stonehenge and a recently uncovered one in Malta, long covered by a hill in a farmer's field. It is a perfect gem of a temple where people worshipped some 5,000 years ago, much like a little Stonehenge.

And until now, it has been a marvel to me that throughout religious conflicts that have roiled the world, the cathedrals of Europe have never been attacked, Catholic by Protestants (except sometimes with whitewash). And even through the bombing raids during the horrific World War II, care was taken to try to avoid destroying these world heritage treasures.

The Shiites and Sunnis have loathed each other for centuries, but for the most part have managed to get along with a minimum of bloodshed---until now. Suddenly, every day throughout the Muslim world, not only are Mosques attacked, but are deliberately attacked during religious services to kill as many people as possible. People are attacked at weddings and funerals.  Bombings are inflicted not only during these rites, but a few minutes later when aide workers arrive.

This is something new and horrible. It seems like something smacking of a death spiral of the religion itself. What else can it be when someone conceives of a suicide bomber going into a mosque in Yemen full of men and boys, blowing himself up, and when the people flee, a second suicide bomber blows himself up killing the rest of the worshippers?

These horrors are being carried out in the name of people claiming the banner of religion, but it is increasingly difficult to see how that can be any more. They are carrying the banner of out-of-control street thugs who want to show how very bad they can be. Nothing is beyond them:  rape, disrespect for the dead and dying, for the mourning, for prayer, for holy places, for the good people who come to the aid of the needy and desperate, for women and children in marketplaces, for civil life, for school busses, for journalists, and even for their own people's history. They care for nothing. This is nihilism at its worst.

Even in Mecca, Mohammad's house is now a parking lot. Shame on them.

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Laina At the Movies

By Laina Farhat-Holzman
March 2015


If I hadn't read a critic's comments: “One of the best movies of 2014, this inventively filmed (no visible cutting-it seems like it's all one shot) show-business satire stars Michael Keaton as a former superhero film star, now in his 60s, who goes to Broadway in search of redemption and enters a maelstrom of tension and strife” I wouldn't have gone to that movie. I am sorry I went. Most people who went to see it also went only because it was an Academy nominee, otherwise it would only have been seen by the artsy crowd.

It was sad, dark, depressing, had elements of “magical realism” not explainable as just madness in the mind of the protagonist (he could actually fly) and I left the theatre wishing I had not gone. The best lines in the film were those of Shakespeare, recited by a failed actor living in the street. Alas.

Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I was forced to suspend my less than enchanted view of India to enjoy the first The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel film, which managed to entertain me. How could one not be entertained by a group of stellar British seniors braving the discomforts of Jaipur-Belly (I knew it as Tehran Tummy), unreliable electrical brownouts, nuisance potholes, insane traffic including water buffaloes, in exchange for the dreariness of British weather. And how charming to watch such pros as Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, and Judi Dench interact with other in a ramshackle Jaipur hotel redesigned to be a British retirement hotel run by a young, fiercely enthusiastic young Indian played by Dev Patel. The film worked, and the audiences flocked to see it and they were charmed.

Now the sequel arrived, and my friends and I, no spring chickens any of us, sat in a theater in which we may have been the youngest!  We, alas, were not charmed. The cast of this sequel seemed to be a showcase of the Downton Abbey, with the wonderful Maggie Smith appearing very old indeed, and very depressed throughout. I was particularly annoyed to find India portrayed as totally benign. Not a harsh word to say about anyone or anything. Not the India we see in the news every day. I certainly would warn any senior English pensioner against wandering around those streets without warning to guard life and limb.

There seemed little excuse for making this sequel, even with its ending with an Indian dance extravaganza taken directly out of a Bollywood movie.  Alas, not for us. A cheerful, but wasted afternoon.


Science fiction movies always give a writer an opportunity to play with themes bigger than technology, and this film does, a theme no less than that of consciousness. Ever since the invention of robots, human beings have worried that somebody will invent a robot that will be able to think-and that it will be smarter than human beings. Artificial intelligence is a really frightening notion: one that was able to traumatize us in the film 2001, when the computer HAL refused to obey its human master and took over the space ship. Good grief!

In this South African film, the story takes us into the near future when the human police force have been replaced by robots who are much more effective and far less vulnerable to a well-armed and lethal criminal underworld. They are maintaining order and the company manufacturing the robots is doing very well indeed.

But one young engineer (Deon Wilson, played by Dev Patel) has ambitions beyond using robots as mechanical weaponized police: he wants to create a thinking robot. Salvaging a robot whose battery is fused and cannot be replaced (after a gun battle) with only three days of power left, he succeeds in creating a chip that replicates a human brain that can think.

Hugh Jackman plays Vincent Moore, another engineer with a different ambition: he has created a very malevolent killing machine called the Moose that he is eager to deploy-but only for the purpose of getting rid of all the robotic police so that they can return to human policing. He and his machine are pure evil.

The film explores all levels of good and evil, and biblical “Genesis” is a theme that one does not usually see throughout such a science fiction film. Deon calls himself “the Maker” (God?) and Chappie, the thinking, child-like Robot is his creation, like the first human, capable of knowing right from wrong. And Chappie has a point when he asks his maker how could he put a conscious brain into a body destined to run out of battery in three days!  Indeed!

He has been kidnapped by a criminal gang led by Ninja and his mate, a tough, smart little cookie name Yolandi, who surprisingly turns maternal and begins to help Deon to program the childlike Chappie, teaching him language. In one of the most endearing scenes in the film, she reads to him from a childrens' book about the little black sheep, explaining the concept of the soul!

Ninja's gang, bad as it is, is less evil than the master criminal gang above it. Even evil has its levels, and it seems that Hugh Jackson's Moose is the most evil of all.

Will Chappie choose good or evil?  Will his maker survive all this chaos and violence?  Does Yolandi become the beginning of robotic religious worship? Tune in to think about it.

One word from your rational reviewer:  Nice as it is to think that our brains can be plugged into a computer chip to be transferred to a new body so that we can live forever, alas, dear friends, our brains and bodies are married to each other. Our thoughts and identities are both electronic and chemical and hormonal.


Why make another Cinderella? Because this time, Kenneth Branagh did it right and it was wonderful. This 17th century classic written by Charles Perrault has given hope and pleasure to children for centuries. How lovely to think that goodness can triumph in the face of injustice, something that does not usually happen in the real world.

In this film, Lily James (last seen as the frivolous Lady Rose in Downton Abbey) plays Ella, Richard Madden (Jamie in Game of Thrones) as Prince Charming, Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine (the wicked stepmother), and Helena Bonham Carter as The Fairy Godmother, among other well known British stars. This was stellar drama done well.

We see Ella living with doting parents in a beautiful estate where her family has lived for many generations. They are wealthy merchants, country gentry. Her mother believes in magic and is kind to animals, particularly mice. Life is perfect until her mother becomes ill and dies. Before her death, she gives her code of honor to her daughter: Have Courage and Be Kind.

Her father, years later, marries again, and brings home a new wife, a widow with two daughters, Widow Tremaine (Blanchette). Ella welcomes them with kindness. On a business journey, her father dies and her stepmother shows her  true colors. She dismisses all the servants and turns Ella into the sole servant, Cinderella, much abused, hopeless.

One day in despair, Ella leaps on her horse and rides into the forest where she encounters a royal hunting party and a frightened stag. She warns the stag off, and meets a young hunter whom she chastises for hunting an animal who had done him no harm. Neither knows whom the other is. They like each other. It is the Prince, who calls himself Kit, his father's pet name for him, and says he is an apprentice in the palace. She says nothing about herself.

The rest of the story we know. Even in her misery, Ella feeds the ugly old hag some milk and bread. The old hag is her fairy godmother, of course. And the magic is the splendid work of this very godmother, played by Helena Bonham Carter, who turns all the familiar things: the pumpkin, mice, lizards, frogs, and dress into the most glorious coach and works of imagination possible!  There was never such a ball! And never was there such a turning back into their original components. This was truly the magic of modern cinema.

Now, for some social commentary about the nonsense of the supposed democracy about the Prince marrying a simple country girl.  Nonsense! Ella was NEVER Cinderella, despite all the malevolent efforts of her stepmother and her stepsisters!

She had been reared in luxury by loving parents who taught her gently. She had been taught to dance. She spoke French (as we saw in this movie)! She was accomplished and beautiful.  She could ride a horse astride (this at a time that even having a horse was something only nobility could manage. She had a code of honor taught by her parents (noblesse oblige) “Have courage and be kind.” And she had something that was exclusive only to later than 16th century western values: forgiveness. She forgave her horrible stepmother!

Her prince was not marrying a simple country girl. Nor was she marrying a boring Prince Charming. He was worthy of her.

Queen and Country

John Boorman's Hope And Glory 1987 film was nominated for five Academy Awards, telling the story of a nine-year-old boy, Bill Rohan (perhaps Boorman himself) whose school was destroyed by a wandering Luftwaffe bomb during World War II. The children, of course, were delighted. This film became a cult favorite, and told what it was like for ordinary British children growing up in that dramatic era.

Queen and Country takes up Bill's story ten years later when he is drafted into the Korean War, along with his best friend, Percy, an incorrigible prankster. The two of them never get sent into combat (fortunately for them) but are assigned to teach typing and have their first exposure to sex and love (young nurses).

The film seemed to me much longer than its two hours, skipping around between its MASH-like humor of the two young men trying to get even playing tricks on their stuffy commanding officers, the shabbiness of 1950s postwar Britain bereft of its empire, the sadness of the death of King George and the coronation of the young Queen, and the obvious lack of direction of the younger generation of the British, not able to take positions on anything. It didn't work for me.

The film made me feel somehow sad.

Two TV Programs That Deserve Better

Two network programs, The Americans and Dig deserve better! I have been watching them because the ideas behind them are so good, but they should never have been submitted as programs interrupted by commercials, stretched out as they are, and teasing audiences for weeks at a time. They would have been wonderful as movies or as PBS series.

The Americans is a program about Russian moles, a couple planted in Washington during the Cold War, who live like Americans, have two children who know nothing of whom their parents really are, nor do their neighbors in their rural suburb. This is so well written, and the moral issues so fascinating, not only theirs, but also those of the FBI family living across the street from them. How long can they keep from getting caught?  How long can they keep from realizing that they are being used by an extremely bad system? How long before their children catch on? How long before they themselves fall in love with the country they are supposed to be betraying?

The other program is a new one:  Dig. It is so good, so complex, that it is maddening to have it cut up by commercials!  It is about a conspiracy by really wacko people who want to bring about Armageddon in Israel based on an apocalyptic myth: a red heifer, the return of the messiah, and the breastplate of the last high priest of the destroyed temple in Jerusalem. There is an FBI agent, an Ultra-Orthodox group, a sinister cult in New Mexico, criminals, an American consul-general, and all sorts of very unsavory players. And what better venue can you have than old city Jerusalem at night?

This deserves better.

Putin Marches Briskly Into the Past

March 28
Laina Farhat-Holzman

Russia under Putin is certainly different than Russia under Communism. That enemy was an ally in fighting Hitler only because Hitler invaded Mother Russia. When that war was over, Russia reverted to their older position of being hostile to participatory democracy, a political philosophy traditional in authoritarian Russia. They did not like Europe's direction at all.

For all Russia's talk about “The People,” whether ruled by the Czars or by the Communists, the rulers did not expect “the people” to be in charge. They always believed that the State knew best. But to keep “the people” in line with their rule, they created certain imagined figures that the people could embrace and love (and when necessary fear): “Mother Russia,” imagined as an all-embracing female motherly image; the mother church, Russian Orthodoxy with its colorful architecture and its enormous wealth and power; and the Little Father, the Czar himself, in whom resided all good. Any bad out there was because he did not know about it.

When the Communists destroyed the Empire and murdered the Romanovs, they quickly substituted for all the old institutions. Stalin replaced the Little Father. Mother Russia was replaced by the Party. The arts (Ballet, Circus, Opera) were now for all the people and replaced Mother Church. Science replaced Religion. Reason replaced Russian Mysticism. The only missing piece was participatory governance. Democracy was not wanted. Otherwise, they were a modern state.

Putin was part of that modern state. So what has happened to him? Why is he marching backward into a past?  What is it that he is sharing with the dark ignoramuses of Islam? What are they most afraid of and loathing in their world view? I am shocked to note that one of the things that both fear most is, of all things, a revolution that we have all taken for granted, the emergence of women as equal human beings. This has ramifications that our world has absorbed but theirs has not.

When Putin first demonstrated unexpected devotion to the Russian Orthodox Church, it seemed odd for a once devout Communist. How can an atheist do this?  The Russian Orthodox Church has well known positions on many issues regarding women-and Jews-and homosexuals---hence Putin's position on all three must distress modern Russians who had hoped to bring their country into current European values.

Russia's values and politics are increasingly in line with those of the Islamists, who also scorn women, religious toleration, and participatory democracy---all values espoused by the modern west. Putin's cozy relationship with Chechnya's Muslim dictatorship, Iran, and Syria raise eyebrows also.

I don't think this is going to go well for Russia in the long haul. The Nazi/Soviet peace pact gave Russia just a little breathing room before the Nazis bared their teeth and started to devour Russia. Islamists are not good bedfellows for the long haul. Islamists are on their own march off a cliff to oblivion.

Putin has another problem. As one of the world's biggest kleptocrats, having stolen billions of dollars from what should have been money used to improve Russia's infrastructure, he is hanging on to power to avoid going to prison. The issue may be resolved unpleasantly for him in a palace coup before he leaves office. Russian mothers are not happy seeing the body bags returning from Ukraine and they will be heard from.

Russia deserves better than to march into the past arm in arm with Islamists and the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian women are a power to reckon with.
And this is a country with enormous talent just waiting to be unleashed again. We have seen renaissances there before, and I look forward to seeing this happen again.

Their temporary alliance with Islam could turn on a dime. Islamism is in the grip of an apocalyptic endgame. They are at war with the modern world, which they call “Rome” (by which they mean Byzantium, the mother of Russia back then, and something that has not existed for 500 years). Russia does not want to be part of that apocalypse, does it?

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Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at or