Thursday, July 16, 2015

Putin's Has His Own Private Assassins

Putin's Has His Own Private Assassins
July 18, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

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.

In this case, things turned out fine. But the story has a much more menacing outcome when one lets loose forces that cannot be contained. Evil has a way of getting loose with consequences not controlled by their authors.

o     Hitler's Brownshirts terrorized the German public during the 1930s quite effectively, but became so bold that Hitler realized that he had to get rid of them all or risk his own neck. In 1934, he organized one night to take them down, in an organized purge. This was called “the Night of the long knives.” The Brownshirts were replaced by the SS.

o     Stalin's constant paranoia motivated purges against anybody that he thought might challenge his authority. Nobody in his inner circle knew who might be next. His assassin-in-chief, Beria, ran the Soviet network of slave-labor camps and was notorious for his sadistic enjoyment of torture and taste for beating and raping women and violating young girls. Beria carried out these purges. It is probably that Stalin so alarmed his inner circle that they finally managed to poison him and Khrushchev bravely organized Beria's arrest and execution.

It is here, however, that I call upon the wisdom of literature. There is nothing more satisfying than Shakespeare for exposing the underbelly of evil. In King Lear, we meet the terrible daughters of the delusional king, two of them in league in absolute ruthlessness----until they fall out! They only know how to hate, not to love even each other, and as such, they bring down their entire evil enterprise, along with their evil colleagues. In history, this happens too.

The great Cult of the Assassins in the 13th Century was exterminated by the Mongols. The Mongols were tamed by the Persians and the Chinese. Hitler wiped out the Brownshirts and the Allies wiped out Hitler. Stalin purged and purged, but his inner circle poisoned him just in time before more of them died, letting Khrushchev clear the air.

Now comes Putin, the latest Sorcerer's Apprentice. Putin has turned Russia's Chechen enemies into his own secret army, creating a Chechen warlord, Ramzan Kadyrov, as his own man in Chechnya. This nasty dictatorship is a combination of a mafia state, pledging allegiance to Putin (not Russia) and to Militant Islam, at least that aspect of Islam that makes them fanatically immune to fear of death. Needless to say, this makes Russian legislators very nervous indeed, because they do not know who may be next on Putin's death list.

Chechens are known to carry out assassinations at the behest of Putin anywhere in the world. They have done so in in London, in Moscow, in Petersburg, and this inspires a pall of fear. Russian police went to Grozny (Chechnya) to arrest a murderer (Chechnya is part of Russia after all), and Kadyrov had them fired at and kicked out. Putin defended Kadyrov, not the Russian police!

Putin had better remember the Sorcerer's Apprentice. If the day comes that he and Kadyrov quarrel, who is going to assassinate whom first, eh? Will Russia have to declare a third Chechen war and level Grozny again? Or will Kadyrov set his assassins on Putin?  Could Chechnya take over Russia? Don't laugh.  Their demographics are better. Putin is bold, but I don't see him dying an old man in his bed. His playmates are far too wicked. Kadyrov may not die an old man in his bed either. Warlords don't.

Time Magazine June 25, has done an amazing reporting job on “Putin's Secret Army.” Simon Shuster in Grozny deserves credit!

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

Monday, July 13, 2015

Middle East is Running out of Water

July 11, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

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 recent urban displaced country people, not to mention those newly uprooted by the vicious wars riling the region. This flood of newcomers is putting even more pressure on the flagging water supply in the Arab world. Even Egypt's Nile cannot keep up with the demands on it. Hunger is stalking Egypt.

But the Middle East is not just the Arab World.  It is also Iran and Turkey, the two non-Arab Muslim countries that have always had the advantage of being in the highlands with watersheds, where lakes and river systems begin (Turkey with the Tigris and Euphrates) and snow-capped mountains and one great lake (Urmia in Iran).

The second and third-largest Muslim states, Pakistan and India, are also running out of water, thanks to over-irrigation from their once lavish deltas and aquifers and prodigal overpopulations.

And worst of all is miserable Yemen, which was once a breadbasket and garden with the world's largest earthen dam (5th century AD), but since that dam's collapse, the country has declined. It is now in collapse, running out of water so that even its capital must move to the coast. It has become an anarchy of rival tribes, and its behavior is so stupid that what water is left is irrigating qat, its drug of choice (like pot). Its favorite bride age (9) has produced a population explosion that uses up what water is left. The IQ declines with it. Dumb and dumber?

The following numbers are taken from a reliable well-sourced article by Daniel Pipes (  Iran's Lake Urmia has lost 95% of its water; Esfahan's river, the Zayanderud wend dry in 2010; over 2/3 of Iran's cities and towns are on the verge of a water crisis in drinking water shortages; already, thousands of villages depend on water tankers. Unprecedented dust storms disrupt economic activity and damage health.

Egypt: Rising sea levels threaten to submerge Alexandria and contaminate the Nile Delta Aquifer. Egypt is alarmed that Ethiopia plans to build massive dams on the Blue Nile that will threaten water to Egypt and Sudan.

Gaza:  In a hydrological nightmare, seawater is leaking into sewage, making 95% of the coaster aquifer unfit for human consumption. Yet Hamas continues to dig tunnels to send rockets into Israel.

Iraq: Euphrates River waters are half or what they were. Already in 2011, the Mosul Dam was shut down entirely due to insufficient flow. Seawater from the Persian Gulf has pushed up the Shatt al-Arab, resulting in briny water destroying fisheries, livestock, and crops. Date palms have diminished from 33 million to 9 million.

Pakistan:  may be a water-starved country by 2022.

Climate Change and Arab Spring: Prolonged drought led to food shortages and civil collapses in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, and Yemen.

The only country in the Middle East without a water shortage is Israel. As recently as the 1990s, they suffered water shortages too.  But thanks to a combination of conservation, recycling, innovative agricultural techniques, and high-tech desalination, the country is awash in H2O.  Israel's Water Authority claims they have all the water they need and are quite willing to sell surplus to such friendly neighbors as Jordan.  They have a new technology that can desalinate about 27 liters of water for one U.S. penny. It recycles about five times more water than does second-ranked Spain.

Obviously tradition doesn't work. Could desperation be the mother of some new ideas? Could Israel's neighbors bury the hatchet and consider a common market? The smart ones could consider cooperating on water programs. Egypt and Jordan could, for a start. That could be a beginning of something very fruitful.

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, July 2, 2015

Human Rights Widen In the West, Vanish Elsewhere.

July 4, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

On June 26, the United States extended its freedoms to one more group of fellow citizens, homosexuals, who now have the equality in marriage. Over many centuries before this, homosexual males were jailed, beaten, tortured, and scorned. Female homosexuals were forced into marriage, institutionalized, or shunned.

In Muslim societies, even today, homosexuality is technically forbidden but socially rampant, particularly practiced against boys by those responsible for them (including having special bordellos) and boys among themselves. In harems, women practiced it, running the risk of execution if caught.

Today, in an amazingly short time, Europeans and Americans (even in macho Mexico), countries have extended to homosexuals the same rights that all adult citizens have: to marry, to have children, and to have the legal rights to live with the property rights and inheritance rights accorded to all in our civilization.

Marriage in the West has been a changing institution. Not too long ago, women were property and had no choice of spouse. Families would not permit children of different religions to marry. Not too long ago, it was illegal for marriage between people of different races to marry. All of this was challenged and changed under law. Now people of different genders may marry too. This is an extension of rights that is the hallmark of Western civilization: enlarging liberty.

This parallels all the other enlargement of liberty in America too, particularly in voting rights: from adult White men of property to all adult White men to all men (at least by law including Black men) and finally to all Women. This took several centuries and a bloody war and more bloodshed and grief, but it did happen.

As for the rest of the world, freedom is a work in progress, but is not doing as well as in the West. Unfortunately the Western model of expansion of freedoms has hit a dreadful roadblock, one which Samuel D. Huntington warned us of in 1993 in his Clash of Civilizations: the roadblock of Islam.

On June 26, when America showed its expansion of human rights with its Supreme Court Decision, the “Islamic State” showed its own values in three significant attacks.

Muslims worldwide are celebrating Ramadan, the month-long fast in which they are urged to meditate, pray, pity the hungry, show charity to the poor, and then break their fasts with kindness and good fellowship with family and neighbors. ISIS has a different idea: “To make Ramadan a month of calamities for the nonbelievers.” This was their “noble” goal, and indeed they did.

In Tunisia, they pulled a Kalishnikov from a beach umbrella at a resort for European tourists and killed 38 people (go after the tourist industry). In Kuwait, they killed at least 27 worshippers at midday prayers at a Shiite mosque (wrong kind of believers). And in southeastern France, they car-bombed a gas factory and left the severed head of the driver's employer hanging at the entrance, the assassin taking a “selfie” of the deed.

Somalia doesn't have enough trouble. An al-Qaeda group attacked an African Union base and killed 25 soldiers there. They do not want any kind of law and order in Somalia.

Is it any surprise that Europe is dealing with 40,000 recent migrants fleeing the Muslim world? Why should anyone want to stay there? What does it offer other than death? Which freedoms do ISIS support?

Ken Burns' wonderful special on the Roosevelts has been rerunning this summer. Eleanor Roosevelt has been justly remembered for her stellar work in the United Nations as the author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that spelled out in the 1950s the best values of Western Civilization, that all human beings should enjoy. Every member of the General Assembly of that day, signed that document, including the Saudis!  I watched with disbelief, knowing full well that the majority of signers had laws that forbade granting human rights to women, political opposition, religious diversity, legal independence, yet they signed.

Today, the General Assembly is a Cave of Winds with one agenda: Defund Israel, the only democracy among them. Human Rights is a Grand Canyon.

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

Laina At the Movies

By Laina Farhat-Holzman
June 2015

San Andreas

Because I live practically on the San Andreas Fault, I had to see the movie! The turnoff from the freeway to our street is the San Andreas exit, and our very townhouse has gone through several heavy earthquakes (such as the '89 one) with only minor damage, but one never knows. Our nearest cities, Santa Cruz and Watsonville, both suffered plenty of damage to older structures, trailer-park housing, and some roads, but not much else. No loss of life that I know of.

The movie, however, was a grand disaster film in the Hollywood mode of summer movies. The entire San Andreas fault moved, San Francisco not only fell down like dominoes, but there was fire and tsunami! And, to make the story personal, we were treated to Dwayne Johnson having to rescue his ex-wife, whom he not only still loved but who was just about to marry a very bad billionaire; he also had to rescue his college girl daughter; and his vehicles of rescue included a helicopter, plane, car, and speedboat!  What more could you want?

I went home after seeing this film, still not frightened by my very own San Andreas Fault.  Better that than the Texas floods, thank you.


I am generally not fond of silly spy movies (I take my spy movies seriously), but this one did make me laugh, and the laughter was fun and not embarrassing. A desk-bound CIA analyst Susan Cooper (played by Melissa McCarthy) tasked with guiding her partner Bradley Fine (Jude Law) on a mission to Bulgaria sees him run into trouble. He accidentally kills his target without finding the suitcase nuke bomb he is supposed to bring back. The CIA learns that the target's daughter, Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) might know where the suitcase is and they send Fine to infiltrate her home. Boyanov encounters him and apparently shoots him dead. She claims to know the identities of all the main CIA agents too.

There is no other choice now: Susan Cooper must become a field agent; she is unknown to Boyanov. Cooper, fat, frumpy, and with unlikely disguises, romps her way through all the garden spots of Europe in pursuit of gorgeous Rayna Boyanov, followed by outraged former CIA agent Rick Ford (Jason Stratham) and an Italian contact Aldo (hilariously played by Peter Serafinowicz). The rest of the film is sheer mayhem.  Very funny indeed. Worth seeing. It makes fun of every Bond Film made.

About Elly

This is a Persian movie that I was very happy to see, and that will puzzle the casual viewer who might wonder what this was all about. It even took me a while to figure out the purpose of this film after leaving the theater, but for what it is worth, here is my take on it. (And note, I understood the dialogue!)

A group of friends travel to the shores of the Caspian Sea for a three day vacation. (I would not know their backgrounds from the film, but learned this from the blurb.) They are three married couples, former classmates at the law faculty at the university: Sepideh and her husband Amir, with a young daughter in kindergarten; Shohreh and her husband Peyman with two young children, including a son, Arash: Nazy, and her husband, Manuchehr; Ahmad, a divorced friend visiting from Germany; and Elly, Sepideh's daughter's kindergarten teacher. Sepideh has invited her to meet Ahmad who is looking for a new wife.

Some background for Americans: The Caspian Sea area in Iran is the favorite vacation region in the country. It gets 80 inches of rainfall and is flanked by mountains separating it from Tehran and Iran's interior dry interior plateaus. It was rainy and overcast throughout this movie. When I was last there, it was the playground of the rich. It is now run down and shabby, like the “villa” (vacation rental) where the party stayed.

Sepideh was the organizer of the weekend. She loves making things happen. She rented the villa, played matchmaker for her friend the teacher and former schoolmate Ahmad, and just wanted to make everything work. Her only problem was that like probably everyone in Iran has, in order to survive, truth is a luxury. We follow the little lies through to the big lies throughout this film.

First lie: The party arrives and the landlady tells them that the villa they rented is only available for one night. She told Sepideh that the owners were coming for the rest of the holiday. But Sepideh denies knowledge of this. The landlady offers the rundown beach villa and the group takes a vote and takes it. They clean it up  and merrily set about organizing themselves. Second lie: they tell the landlady that Ahmad and Elly are honeymooners. (Iran's Islamic law forbids unmarried couples from being together). Elly is obviously uncomfortable about something throughout the first day. The party, however, are enjoying themselves. They organize getting food, playing charades (even having the children take part), having a very jolly competitive game of volleyball (the women are just as athletic), and they are exactly like the Iranians that I remembered before the Revolution. Then Elly goes off to higher ground to make a phone call to her mother (she says) and does not tell her mother that she is at the Caspian (third lie) and tells Sepideh that she must go home. Sepideh objects and wants her to stay. They quarre and Sepideh hides her bag.

During the day, the party goes to get more food and supplies and one of the mothers asks Elly to watch the children. Elly helps one child launch a kite, and while she does, the littlest boy falls into the sea, a father rescues the child and Elly vanishes.  Nobody specifically saw her go into the water but this seems likely.

Now everything is falling apart. A sea search turns up nothing until much later, Elly's body is found. The police come. The group of friends see trouble ahead. The lies emerge. Sepideh confesses that Elly was engaged, wanted out of the engagement and was willing to meet Ahmad but had gotten cold feet. She had not seen fit to tell her friends everything. She had lied to them.. Now the group had to decide whether to back Sepideh and lie to the police, lie to the fiancĂ©, or what to do.  They instructed the children to lie. The children had to learn early.

The film ends with the whole group trying to free their car, which is stuck in the sand as the tide comes in. Stuck indeed. Iran is stuck. Is there no way to live in that country without lying?

Jurassic World

Twenty-two years have passed since the first disastrous attempt at creating a dinosaur reserve was created (Jurassic Park), and it is now already old-hat to have a Jurassic entertainment park stocked with dynosaurs (Jurassic World). Like all theme parks, the owners must continue to amuse increasingly jaded attendees---with increasingly scary “exhibits.” To this end, scientists and their financial backers have been tinkering even more with the genetic makeup of dynosaurs and, like their timeless predecessor, Dr. Frankenstein, they know not what they have let loose.

This is but one more movie of the genre of the mad scientist sort to provide summer thrills and warnings about  science gone amok, and to make it more up close and personal, it brings to us a family with a married couple contemplating divorce, to the distress of their two young boys whom they are trying to distract by a vacation to Jurassic World; the boys' aunt, a workahaulic who has not yet discovered that love is more important than the bottom line; a mad scientist who does not consider the consequences of his meddling with genes; investors who care only about money; and a hero who cares about animals, a  role model for young boys, a shrew who needs taming; and hapless tourists who need rescuing.

This is a summer movie, folks, and provides what you pay for.

Inside Out

Every single critic loved this movie, raved about how this was the best film of the summer, and provided the best, most accurate explanation of what goes on in an 11-year-old girl's mind. Having two 10-year-old granddaughters, I gave it a try.

Sorry to say, I was not overwhelmed. I have to confess that Pixar films do little for me; I am much more a fan of the beautiful Japanese cartoons, both the art and the stories, much more to my taste and more reflective of my values.

As for Inside Out, I really liked the reviews better than I liked the movie. I just  don't get the hype.

I'll See You In My Dreams

The only reason to see this film is to hear Blythe Danner's killer version of Cry Me a River.  Other than that, it is a very depressing little film about ageing that I could have done without, thank you.

Some TV Notes

Madame Secretary has been terrific! Catch up with that one if you can. Tyrant is becoming interesting and may continue to be worth watching. It was a little too soap operera-y last year but is better now. Deucheland 83 (on Sundance) is wonderful and well worth watching! Even with subtitles! The Brink, supposedly an “edgy” spy spoof about the CIA in Pakistan, is vulgar, stupid, and utterly insulting. Shame on HBO for this one!!!

On Netflix, look for Dancing on the Edge.  Very good indeed.

History Reveals Presidential Close Calls!

June 27, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

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 brother President John Kennedy, whose bad health was not known to the public, overriding the not-cool heads of the US military advisers; the cool head of Russia's Khrushchev, the best among the USSR's rogues; the heroic actions of a Soviet nuclear submarine commander off the coast of Cuba who had no advice from anybody but his own conscience; all combined to save the world from what might have been a global nuclear catastrophe. Just reading about this gives me cold sweats.

But the latest historic revelations give me equally cold sweats. Two new books have just come out about President Richard Nixon, whom we thought we really knew pretty well by now. Well, no we didn't. Evan Thomas' book (Being Nixon) gives us a balanced picture of Nixon's entire life, his well-known flaws but his lesser know sympathetic side. He was a man who desperately wanted to be lovable, but just could not be. He did succeed in overcoming what for most politicians would have been total defeat, even after the disgrace of his leaving office before he would have been impeached---and even found guilty of crimes.

But the second book (One Man Against the World) is the one that has really frightened me after the fact. Tim Weiner, New York Times reporter, has had access to newly released Nixon tapes and other interviews, tapes inexplicably never destroyed. These tapes reflect what was going on during a very dangerous period during the Yom Kippur War, when Israel suffered a surprise attack by Egypt and came close to losing! In the Situation Room, the five-member military team, which included Alexander Haig and Henry Kissinger, learned that the Russians were sending nuclear warheads to the Egyptians. They tried to rouse the President, but he was, as he had been for some nights, drunk and unavailable.

Nixon was so distraught by the disintegration of his administration, the unraveling of all his actions and the impending doom of exposure, that he had become insomniac. Only alcohol enabled him to sleep. The country was facing a possible nuclear confrontation and unelected officials had to make decisions that, by sheer luck, turned out to save us from disaster. All praise to Kissinger and Haig. (And Israel was saved from an Egyptian win by Russian tanks in the Sinai with no air conditioning.)

Nixon had mused to Haig: “Maybe the country would be better off if I just left.” What did he mean by that? Step down? Commit suicide? And then what? There was no possible Vice President at the time. Spiro Agnew was under indictment for bribery. House Speaker Carl Albert was a Democrat and was under a cloud too. Kissinger was not native-born. Not good.

Historians like to look at the broad sweep of movements, of great trends, of issues that play out, creating historic eras. Marxists see everything in terms of economics and class struggle.  They see the ruling classes dominating and exploiting the working classes, aided and abetted by bureaucrats. The individual is not much of a factor here.

Others see geography as the major factor in determining much of the sweep of history: where countries are, what climate, natural resources they have, what sort of neighbors, all of these determining their history. These are the geopolitics that provide the luck (good or bad) of a country's history. I largely buy into this theory, but there is another great mystery that we cannot afford to ignore: the final mystery of individuals and their choices of good or evil, who can override all these other things.

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