Friday, September 29, 2006


Book Review: Catalhoyuk – The Goddess and the Bull
By Thomas Riggins [from the PA archives]

Book Review: Catalhoyuk – The Goddess and the Bull: An Archaeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization, by Michael Balter, New York, Free Press, 2005.

A new book on archaeology makes the claim that "our understanding of our own origins was changed forever" by a very significant dig in Turkey. Michael Balter, author of "The Goddess and the Bull: An Archaeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization," is a correspondent for the journal "Science." His book is a semi-official "biography" of an archaeological dig in Turkey. But is more than just that. It is three books in one – a history of the dig and the personalities of the archaeologists and other scientists who have conducted it, a history of archaeological theory over the last forty or so years, and finally, not least, a discussion of what the dig tells us about our past.

As for our past, there were extravagant claims made for some of the finds first reported from the site such as evidence for "goddess" worship, a society dominated by women (at least in the cult), the early domestication of certain food species, etc., upon which later investigations have cast doubts.

Nevertheless Balter thinks this dig changed our ideas about our origins. Why? There are several reasons. First, the site is basically an undisturbed Neolithic village that produced, for the first time in this era, representational paintings suggestive of a rich symbolic life associated with an early prehistoric agricultural community. Second, unlike most Neolithic sites, where only material artifacts are found, this site provides a glimpse of the symbolic world of our ancestors as they were, so to say, teetering on the brink of civilization. Third, it is thought that this representational art has religious significance and may have been the motivation for these people all living together at one place. So, this site has changed our views because it is the first to stress not simply the economic side of Neolithic life, but the symbolic, religious and psychological sides as well.

As for the theory part, I am primarily interested in it because, after reading it, I came to the conclusion that there is a lot of confusion about what can and cannot be accomplished by archaeology and about what a sound archaeological method should be and what role Marxist theory can play with respect to it. But, first things first.

Catalhoyuk ("Chah-tahl-hew-yook") is the name of a site on the Konya Plain in south-central Turkey dating from the Neolithic Period in the Near East. Its estimated date is around 7500 BC (+ or -). It may be considered an early "city" ("village" may be a better word) – it is at least a large settlement. It had both agriculture and trade, houses of mud brick, plastered "shrines" or "temples" and fortifications made out of mud brick. House and "shrine" walls were decorated with paintings, mounted bull heads (covered in plaster), and there were many female ("mother goddess") figurines found. The dead were buried under the floors of the houses. I put quotation marks around the words "shrines," "temples" and "mother goddess" because these may be modern conceptions foisted on to the artifacts found at the site.

The names of two archaeologists are associated with the finds at Catalhoyuk (although dozens and dozens of scientists and others worked there under their direction and the discoveries are really a collective effort.)

The first name is that of British archaeologist James Mellaart who was the first to dig at the site. He completed four seasons of digging beginning in 1961. He was forced to quit after the fourth season due to some improprieties regarding alleged purloined artifacts ("The Dorack Affair") which he may or may not have been involved with. His colleagues tend to give him the benefit of the doubt and his professional career made it seem highly unlikely that he was. At any rate, he was tossed out of Turkey and the site was shut down and lay fallow for thirty years.

During the 30-year interval between Mellaart’s dig and that of the next archaeologist (Ian Holder, also British) there was a "revolution" in archaeological theory, at least in the English speaking world, and a large part of Balter’s book is dedicated to discussing it. At least two major figures stand out in this "revolution". The first is an American Lewis Binford and second, David Clarke in the U.K. (who died young).

The movement they started was called the "New Archaeology" and it claimed to be an advancement over the previous generation of archaeologists such as Mortimer Wheeler and the Marxist Vere Gordon Childe among others. The advance was supposed to be more "scientific" and, at least with Binder, to incorporate archaeology within the larger field of anthropology. However, when one goes back and reads Wheeler and Childe the scientific and interpretive "advances" of the New Archaeology do not seem very substantial. Childe long ago recognized that, "In anthropology archaeology must play the same role as paleontology does in zoology."

It seems that all the fuss was about transcending a "cultural-historical" model of interpretation with one modeled on positivism and scientific procedure-- "just as new hypotheses in biology or physics had to be tested by laboratory experiments" so should archaeological theories about the past. Except that archaeology is neither biology nor physics--something, as we shall see, Childe very well knew.

Ian Hodder was brought up in the "New Archaeology" but was early on disturbed by the problem of "equifinality." Equifinality occurs when two or more hypotheses have exactly the same amount of evidence in their favor. Hodder discovered that his research on the problem of a particular spatial distribution of archaeological findings could be explained by mutually exclusive interpretations of the data. He asked himself how could "archaeologists be certain that their interpretations of the archaeological record were correct" if even the scientific method led to equifinality.

In stead of realizing that archaeologists can’t ever be certain of their interpretations because of the nature of their data, Hodder ended up creating an alternative paradigm to replace the "New Archaeology." Influenced by "ethnoarchaeology" – which attempts to read back into past cultures, such as those of the Neolithic, the culture traits of contemporary "primitive" peoples, and by contemporary anthropologists and some "postmodern" thinkers, he developed what has become known as "post-processual" archaeology (as opposed to "processual" another name for the "New" archaeology).

Hodder correctly noted that material culture "is meaningfully constituted" and, as Balter puts it, the artifacts that archeologists find "were once active elements in the living symbolic world of ancient peoples" (a fact well known to Childe). These symbols were not passive reflections of culture put played, as Hodder wrote ("Symbols in Action" 1982) "an active part in forming and giving meaning to social behavior." The problem is not that Hodder is wrong, but that post-processualism doesn’t seem to recognize that we can never know exactly what those symbols meant to past Neolithic peoples nor how they functioned in their social behavior.

The best we can do, as Marxism suggests, is try to deduce from the remains of the material culture what Neolithic life may have been like. The following quote, from "Man Makes Himself "(1936) by V. Gordon Childe is still resonate today and applies to the discoveries at Catalhoyuk as much as to any other Near Eastern Neolithic site. Childe wrote:
"Undoubtedly the co-operative activities involved in "neo-lithic" life found outward expression in social and political institutions [and symbols-tr]. Undoubtedly such institutions were consolidated by magico-religious sanctions, by a more or less coherent system of beliefs and superstitions, by what Marxists would call an ideology. The new forces controlled by man as a result of the neolithic revolution [large scale agriculture, new tools, pottery, village life, etc.,-tr] and the knowledge gained and applied in the exercise of the new crafts must have reacted upon man’s outlook. They must have modified his institutions and his religion. But precisely what form neolithic institutions and beliefs assumed is unknowable."

However, under the influence of post modernism and neo-"Marxist" ideas Hodder and his students thought they "could open the door to understanding the meanings of the art and artifacts that excavations uncovered, rather than simply their functions." Hodder insisted that his method was not anti-science but it did discount "the positive approach to hypothesis testing." But hypothesis testing is the core of scientific method.

In 1993, after years of theory, Hodder got a major dig on which he could test his ideas. Turkey was open to having Catalhoyuk once again investigated, James Mellaart gave his blessings to Ian Hodder as his successor at the site, and so Hodder collected a team and left for Anatolia. The work at Catalhoyuk is now in its twelfth season (2005).

One of the great merits of Balter’s book is how it tells the story of this second expedition to open up Catalhoyuk. The story is more interesting than any novel, and his writing about the cast of characters, the archaeologists and others, who took part in the excavations brings archeology and the problems it deals with alive.

Especially interesting is Balter’s discussion of "the central unresolved mystery" of the Neolithic Revolution-- "why had it taken place at all?" Maybe at Catalhoyuk the answer to this question (why did people settle down and begin farming?) would be found.

Here, however, there seems to be a conflict between processual (scientific?) archaeology and post-processual (postmodern?) archaeology. After getting all the data you can from your dig, how do you interpret it? Do you do it as you go along, following Hodder’s view of interpretation "at the trowel’s edge," or do you wait until you have collected a significant amount of information and only then begin to speculate about its meaning?

For example, Balter quotes Ruth Tringham who thinks we should go beyond "the dry data and create ‘narratives’ about the past." Balter also reports that another member of the dig was inspired by this to confess that he had "always felt that excavation directors should be scientific novelists." I’m not sure we should have the license of novelists when we try to recreate the past. However, this individual later decides that he is a processual archaeologist at heart.

Even the central question, "the unresolved mystery" may not have a solution. Gordon Childe maintained that the "Neolithic" was an abstraction. What we call the "neolithic" is the result of, "Various human groups of different racial composition [a dated concept], living under diverse conditions of clime and soil, hav[ing] adopted the same ground ideas and adapted them differently to their several environments."

One should keep this in mind when reading Balter’s discussion in his chapter "The Neolithic Revolution." Here several different theories of the origin of the Neolithic life style are discussed as if they are mutually exclusive rather than complementary. Following Childe’s lead I see the theories discussed as part of a dialectical unity rather than as stark contradictions.

For example, Childe’s "oasis theory" (originally put forth in 1908 by the American R. Pumpelly) is discussed and seemingly dismissed. This is the theory that the first villages with Neolithic techniques developed around oases as the ancient environment dried out. This theory supposedly fell out of favor because geologists and botanists determined the Near East was "wetter rather than drier" in the period of the Holocene (the geological age we are presently in, the Recent Period beginning about 11,000 years ago).

But Childe was aware of the wetness of the Holocene. He mentions the higher rainfall in North Africa and "hither Asia" than is common today. And he qualifies his theory considerably. In "Man Makes Himself" he expressly states that his theory "may never have been fully realized in precisely this concrete form." What is more, he saw the development of the Neolithic as protracted. That is, the theory is put forth as a possible explanation for the origin of the Neolithic in some areas, but parallelism and simultaneity "cannot be proved." It should also be noted that "drier" appears to be back in vogue. John Noble Wilford "Camps on Cyprus May Have Belonged to Earliest Open-Water Seafarers" (New York Times, 11-22-05) writing about the Neolithic in the Near East (9000 to 10,000 BC) calls it a period "of drastic climate change" leading to "colder, drier conditions."

This means that the "hilly flanks theory" (that the Neolithic began in the foothills of hither Asia) developed by Robert and Linda Braidwood is not the "first major challenge" to Childe. It is a complementary theory for a different region of the Near East. I do not want to belabor the point. Several other theories (of varying degrees of intellectual rigor – including a pseudo-Marxist one based on the ‘Fuhrerprinzip’) are discussed in this chapter and the next, none of which is entitled to exclusivity but should be seen as complementary explanations for different facets of a continuous developmental process that has left behind many different archaeological clues at a variety of locations and times.

I would also note that every valid observation made about the Neolithic and about Catalhoyuk in the book ultimately rests on a solid scientific (Childean or New archaeological ) methodology.

As for the goddess and the bull – no one knows what symbolic or ideological role the female figurines found at the site played in the life of the people who lived there. They may have been "goddess" figurines or good luck fertility charms, or children's toys, or something we will never understand. As for the bull decorations, heads, horns, etc., again we cannot be sure what their ideological role was. As Childe suggests, we can project back theories about these symbols based on the knowledge we have from historical times but we will always risk mixing up science with fiction (as recognized also, Balter indicates, by Lynn Meskell one of Hodder’s ex-graduate students now at Columbia University.)

All in all, this book is an exciting read. Balter knows his stuff and anyone interested in the origins of civilization and the ultimate foundations of the modern world we live in will enjoy and learn from it. Besides that, there is basically an undergraduate education in archaeological theory included.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at

Thursday, September 28, 2006


by Thomas Riggins, Book Review Editor, Political Affairs
[from the PA Archives]

Here is another of our occasional book round ups consisting of short notices of works we have not been able to fully review. These are essentially meta-reviews (reviews of reviews). If any of our readers are inspired to read one of these books and wishes to write a full review please contact The previous nine book round ups are archived on our website.

ALIF: A JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE POETICS: EDWARD SAID AND CRITICAL DECOLONISATION, NO. 25, ed. by Ferial Ghazoul American University in Cairo, Cairo, 2005, pp. 305 (English), 259 (Arabic), reviewed by Gamal Nkrumah in CAIRO REVIEW OF BOOKS, December 2005 in Al-Ahram Weekly No. 774, 22-28 December.

This issue of Alif contains a series of essays on Said’s “contributions to decolonisation and to the resistance to hegemony”. It also commemorates what would have been Said’s 70th birthday had he not died in 2003. Nkrumah confines himself to discussing several of the most interesting contributions. One of these is by Andrew Rubin, a former student of Said at Columbia, compares the liberation struggle of Palestine with that of South Africa. Rubin concludes that “post-apartheid South Africa” can provide a guide for future relations between Palestinians and Israelis as it is “a model of coexistence, interdependence and reconciliation.”
Another interesting article, by Youssef Yacoubi, compares Said to Eqbal Ahmad and Salman Rushdie. Yacoubi writes, “The strength of Said’s personal and intellectual relationship to Eqbal Ahmad and Salman Rushdie, two highly visible South Asian intellectuals, rests in a shared notion that history, narrative, and politics are inextricably intertwined.”
Nkrumah says that the great distinction of Alif is its policy of publishing articles both in English and Arabic. Some of more interesting articles about Said in this issue are in the Arabic section. There is an important contribution in the this section entitled “Antonio Gramsci and Edward Said: Two Different Problematics” by Feisal Darraj. Here we find out that despite differences, Gramsci was an important influence on Said. Nkrumah writes, “Said, like Gramsci, strove to combine theoretical writing and political activism, and Gramsci’s notion of ‘praxis’, the translation of theory into practice, proved especially valuable to him.”
Nkrumah concludes that, “Anyone new to Said’s thought, or needing a reliable survey of it, will find in this enjoyable and well-put-together memorial volume a good place to start.”

THE VICTORY OF REASON: HOW CHRISTIANITY LED TO FREEDOM, CAPITALISM, AND WESTERN SUCCESS by Rodney Stark, Random House, 2005, 281pp., reviewed by Jon Meacham in THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, Sunday, December 25, 2005.

I must admit that reading this review gave me the impression that neither the reviewer or the author of the book have the right understanding of the relation of reason to Xtianity. Meacham (the managing editor of Newsweek) writes that, “Following in the Judaic tradition of valuing human reason, Christians treasure the mind as a gift of God, and the faithful are called to use his gifts to the fullest, to fail to do so is a sin.” I think he basically liked Stark’s book-- but thinks that he lacks “humility” for the way in which he puts down other religions for not depending on reason as much as Xtianity does. Here he quotes Stark: “While the other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guide to religious truth.”
Meacham himself says, “Stark is right to argue that the idea that Christianity is incompatible with reason, a line of thought running from Celsus in the late second century to the philosophes of the Enlightenment, does not withstand historical scrutiny.” We shall see about that. Stark also makes the claim, in his words, that “ the church fathers taught that reason was the supreme gift from God and the means to progressively increase their understanding of Scripture and revelation.”
Here are some quotes from the “church fathers” I looked up-- to see how they “praised” reason. Here is Paul taking about those who depend on reason: “The more they called themselves philosophers the more stupid they grew.” “The wisdom of the world is foolishness to God.” In his book, “The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason”, Charles Freeman shows that Paul condemned “any philosophy that concerned itself with finding truth in the material world.” He was anti-science.
The early father Tertullian said he believed in Xtianity because “it was absurd”-- so it had to be true because only God could make it make sense. There are examples from Augustine as well, who gets the credit for subjecting “reason to faith and authority,” according to Freeman, and thus helping to “undermine the classical tradition of rational thought.”
Xtianity was always, and still is, hostile to reason and science as opposed to dogma and authority. Meachem really gets it wrong about Augustine,for example, when he writes, that he argued “for the significance not only of reason but of free will-- the idea that people have it within their power to choose to accept God and follow his commandments [this is actually the Pelagian heresy that Augustine fought against] in the hope of attaining everlasting life.”
Augustine really said we are only free to do sin. We cannot accept God unless he gives us Grace and makes us, as it were, choose Him. “If this gift of God,” Augustine said, “by which the will is set free, did not precede the act of the will, it would be given in accordance with the will’s merits, and would not be grace which is certainly given as a free gift.” So much for people having it within their power to choose God. Anyone who says “Understand, so that you may believe; believe, so that you may understand’-- is no friend to reason.
Martin Luther was another great friend of reason. He said, “All the articles of our Christian faith, which God has revealed to us in his Word, are in presence of reason sheerly impossible, absurd, and false.” Luther should know.
So much for Meacham and Stark. Stick with the Enlightenment and look for our upcoming full review of Freeman’s book.
[This has since been published in the Sept/Oct 2006 print edition of Political Affairs.]
[This review is also on this blog[Thomas Riggins' Blog]-- type 'freeman' into the search box.]

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at .

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Book Round Up #11: Notes and Previews of "A Troublemaker’s Handbook" and "The Case For Goliath" [PA Archives]
By Thomas Riggins

Here is another of our occasional book round ups consisting of short notices of works we have not been able to fully review. These are essentially meta-reviews (reviews of reviews). If any of our readers are inspired to read one of these books (or any other) and wishes to write a full review, please contact us with your query at

A TROUBLEMAKER’S HANDBOOK 2: HOW TO FIGHT BACK WHERE YOU WORK AND WIN edited by Jane Slaughter, A Labors Note Book, 2005, reviewed by Carole Pearson in DOLLARS AND SENSE: THE MAGAZINE OF ECONOMIC JUSTICE, November/December 2005.

This is a handbook for on the job activists, for those who find themselves living under a virtual dictatorship when they go to work. Slaughter quotes Dan La Botz, "when we get to work, we lose our rights. The boss takes over, a little dictator in the banana republic that is our home away from home." "Banana republic" may be an objectionable term, but the point is well made.

This book is a revised edition of the first handbook of 1991. Slaughter says it "reflects the new direction of labor organizing today" which, faced with the challenges posed by globalization and corporate erosion of democracy has to base itself not just in the workplace but also in "broad-based community coalitions."

La Botz is quoted again: "The goal of organizing is not merely to build unions: it is to increase the power of working people on the job and in society." The boss has to learn that he is dealing with a mass of united people not just a few class conscious union organizers. In addition to the slow and almost invisible process of grievances and hearings, the book explains how activists can engage in direct action and build broad based solidarity movements.

The reviewer mentions how music, theatre and humor can be utilized to ridicule the bosses and encourage people to fight back, as well as the creative use of union bulletin boards in the workplace, the launching of nonviolent disruption campaigns (as at Verizon and Midwest Express Airlines) when strikes may not work.

The growth of worker centers is also discussed where low paid nonunion and immigrant workers can get help dealing with issues such as with holding of wages, sexual harassment and discrimination. Workers also learn about the value of unions in these centers but the book points out, in another quote given by Slaughter, "the objective is not to push workers into a union but help them figure out how to organize themselves into a union."

Slaughter tells us the book is full of stories of victories gained by ordinary working people over their oppressors by using these methods. However, she points out one weakness in this work-- there are no accounts "of the failures." It is true that we can learn as much, sometimes, from failures as from successes, but this an upbeat book meant to inspire the fight back so perhaps it can be excused on this account. By the way, if you are unfamiliar with the magazine Dollars and Sense-- check it out, it is the Left’s anodyne to Forbes.

THE CASE FOR GOLIATH: HOW AMERICA ACTS AS THE WORLD’S GOVERNMENT IN THE 21ST CENTURY by Michael Mandelbaum, Public Affairs, 320 pp., reviewed by Anatol Lieven in THE AMERICAN PROSPECT, January 2006.

The reviewer rejects the argument of this book but also recognizes the hubris involved in its positions. He also points out the lamentable fact that the majority of policy makers and political leaders in both major parties agree with the basic premises of the book. These premises are that the US is effectively the acting world government, that it should remain so, and it is better world because of our de facto rulership. This is the point of view of the Bushite neoconservatives who think might makes right (this is the ultimate conclusion to be drawn from the notion "We are an empire now, we make our own reality"), but it is also the point of view of the leadership of the so-called "political realists" or pragmatists who have control of the Democratic Party (the Clinton people for example)-- I don’t mean the part about "might" but that America rules the world and ought too.

Lieven says Mandelbaum used to be thought of as a Democratic realist and even clashed with the Clinton people in the 90s when he thought they were getting to far away from the reality of world politics. He had reference to the failed attempts at "nation building" of the Clintonites.The reviewer suggests that Realists put order, trade and national security ahead of human rights, spreading democracy, and humanitarian intervention or at least that is the "emphasis." They reject what Mandelbaum called "foreign policy as social work." But Mandelbaum’s realism, in this book, makes a bolder claim than that made by any realist at any time in any country "assuming, that is, that Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler are to be classified as ideological fanatics rather than extreme realists." If Lieven doesn’t know the difference between Soviet and Nazi foreign policy then he doesn’t know much at all.

What is that claim? It is "that the United States not only ought to be, but actually is in vital respects the government of the whole planet." If you really support that view, Goliath would seem to be an unfortunate symbol to choose for your position. The reviewer has no trouble in shooting down this ridiculous claim as any decerning readers will be able to do. Mandelbaum bases his claim on the "fact" that the world is safer, economically better off, and in over all better shape under US domination and that the only objection to US rule stems from "envy" ( a few shared by Fouad Ajami, Charles Krauthammer and other intellectual minor leaguers).

One only has to look at the actual condition of the world we live in to wonder what planet can Mandelbaum be on? If US power should begin to "wane" -- to the detriment of the world-- it will be because, Lieven explains, the American people "do not wish to pay for international dominance at the expense of social welfare at home." Lieven says Mandelbaum thinks this "would be a disaster for the world." What happened to "guns and butter"? The old realists maintained the people would put up with the Empire (guns) as long as they got their butter. Now it’s just the guns and if the people protest about the lack of butter that will be a world disaster. A disaster for whom? Calling Lenin!

Lieven is a "better" realist that Mandlbaum. He thinks the Bushites are heading for real disaster due to their policies-- a disaster that may bring the Empire to an end-- as he puts it, it "will bring even the beneficial aspects of America’s global role to an early end." I’m looking at my short list and trying to find out what "beneficial aspects" of US imperialism working people around the world will truly lament if lost. Lieven reveals his own level of realism when he says that Mandelbaum’s problem is that he thinks "envy" motivates US critics when in reality other people really don’t mind being bossed around by the USA "much criticism of the United States today is motivated not by hostility to the idea of America leading, but by profound alarm at the quality of its leadership." If we had some quality control in place the world would just junk the UN and willingly be told what to do by the US.

Perhaps both Public Affairs Press and the American Prospect should exercise a little quality control themselves.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Monday, September 25, 2006


Tibet and China: A Review of Michael Parenti’s “Friendly Feudalism: The Myth of Tibet” article
By Thomas Riggins

Tibet and China: Liberation or Repression - A Review of Michael Parenti’s “Friendly Feudalism: The Myth of Tibet”

Two years ago the website “Dissident Voice” carried the above named article by Michael Parenti which he originally posted on his own web page. The article was also reposted on a “Free Tibet” web site. It is an important article that should be brought to the attention of all PA aficionados as it sheds a lot of light on a controversial issue on the left. That issue is, of course, the so-called Chinese takeover of Tibet and the demand for Tibetan independence.

It is also important because the New York Times Magazine has recently published an article on Tibet profiling a reactionary nationalist movement of Tibetans centered in India (“The Restless Children of the Dalai Lama” by Pankaj Mishra, 12-18-05).

I intend to briefly outline the contents of Partenti’s article in few words (the article with notes runs to 18 pages) with the hope that PA readers will the google the original for themselves. I will then make a few comments on the Mishra piece.

Parenti begins by reminding us that the followers of all the great historical religions have engaged in wars and inquisitions-- always justified by “a divine mandate.” Buddhism is no exception. While it may be a little less tyrannical than some others, it has also had its moments. Parenti suggests we judge it by its actions, not what its proponents say about it. He then gives some unsavory examples of the Buddhists acting badly-- all documented in his notes. I should add a great feature of this article is the collection of notes which will give anyone interested in the issues involved a sure starting point for independent research.

After presenting this evidence he turns to the issue of Tibet and the Dalai Lama. There is a wide spread belief in the US, and maybe the West in general, that before the Chinese take over in 1959, old traditional Tibet was some sort of peaceable, spiritual kingdom, “a veritable Shangri-La”, ruled by the saintly Dalai Lama-- called by one foolish American actor “the greatest living human.”!

Parenti looks at the real history of Tibet, of how the Mongols set up the Grand Lama and how it was the Chinese Emperor who had to intervene with his army and install “the first Dalai Lama.” Tibet had a feudal order and it was quite all right for the Chinese to intervene in support of the feudal lords and lamas but to do so to help miserable serfs and slaves was another thing entirely.

It seems the Dalai Lamas were frequently murdered by their followers and did not themselves refrain from seizing the property and destroying the holy books of those who did not agree that they should run the show. In all this Tibet showed itself to be a typical tyrannical feudal state of which history gives many examples.

Parenti points out religion is not only noted for violence to attain its ends, but also for supporting economic exploitation. One big monastery alone, in the good old days before 1959, had 25,000 serfs. They lived the same way the Russian serfs did under the Czars, only worse as there was also slavery and much more barbaric forms of punishment.

Economically Tibet was run by about 200 families, and dozens of monasteries, which divided the land between themselves. A small army was maintained “to keep order and catch runaway slaves.”

Another wide spread religious practice should be familiar to readers, namely, that “it was a common practice for peasant children to be sexually mistreated in the monasteries.” Parenti quotes Melvin Goldstein’s A History of Modern Tibet to give an idea of what it was like in pre-Chinese takeovet Tibet for the working people (serfs and slaves): “It was an efficient system of economic exploitation that guaranteed to the country’s religious and secular elites a permanent and secure labor force to cultivate their land holdings without burdening them either with any direct day-to-day responsibility for the serf’s subsistence and without the need to compete for labor in a market context.” Mutilation and torture were common. When the Chinese revolution took over Tibet in 1951 no one doubted that Tibet was a part of China-- both the Nationalists on Taiwan as well as the government in Beijing claimed that the region was under Chinese authority. No country recognized Tibet as an independent state.

No matter how much the Lamas and feudalists protested, it was the duty of China to put an end to slavery and serfdom. In fact the Chinese allowed for “self-government under the Dalai Lama” except for foreign relations and military control. Goldstein says China “pursued a policy of moderation.”

However, playing cold war games, the CIA secretly got involved in training Tibetan tribesmen, giving them arms and fomented anti-Chinese attacks. This is what was responsible for the 1959 Chinese military takeover and the flight of the Dalai Lama to India. Feudalism was finally eliminated, secular education was introduced (90 percent of the population was illiterate) and the first hospitals were built.

The NYT Magazine article basically admits the same thing, but adds that “according to Tibetans” 1.2 million people were killed by the Chinese. Parenti’s earlier article also mentioned that figure, but thought it strange as in 1953 the entire population of Tibet was 1,274,000. Other charges such as mass sterilization and deportations “have remained unsupported by any evidence.”

I think Parenti has succeeded in one of his intentions, which was to show that the society led by the Dalai Lama and overthrown in 1959 “was little more than a despotic retrograde theocracy of serfdom and poverty.”

The NYT article is about some of the younger generation of Tibetan exiles that advocate violence, blowing up bridges, targeting Chinese embassies, etc., at a time when the Dalai Lama himself has reaffirmed nonviolence and has distanced himself from notions of Tibet as an independent state. He would like self-rule “genuine autonomy” but as a part of China.

In the new post 9/11 world we live in, the growth of an anti-Chinese ultra-national and violence prone Tibetan resistance, openly admiring of the tribal groups associated with and funded by the CIA, is a dangerous and unhealthy development. In order to combat its influence on progressive and liberal groups here, knowledge of the information in Parenti’s article is essential.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at

Saturday, September 23, 2006


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The Atlantic Monthly’s North Korean Fantasy
Thursday 21 September 2006, by Thomas Riggins

The mainstream American media seems incapable of publishing anything rational concerning North Korea or its leader Kim Jong Il The latest example of a truly ridiculous and sloppily written article appears in the October issue of the Atlantic Monthly written by right-wing ideologue Robert D. Kaplan (author of “Imperial Grunts.”) The cover of the magazine has Kim on it and the tag “The Menace of North Korea, Its Collapse Could Be Worse Than Iraq’s, Why America’s Nightmare Is China’s Opportunity.” Inside we come to the article proper. Its title is “When North Korea Falls.” Here are some of the highlights of this exceedingly lame article.

Kaplan early on informs us that Kim is not impulsive. The North Koreans even have the “equivalent of think tanks” where they figure how best to respond to an attack from the US or South Korea. Imagine that! How would such an attack come about? According to Kaplan the North Koreans would trick the US and South Korea into attacking it! So this is what Kim is up to. He wants to be attacked. Here is what Kaplan says about potential attacks upon the North, they “would be reactions to crises cleverly instigated by the North Korean government in Pyongyang.”

All is not going well in the North, we are told, despite Kim’s “canniness.” We are then treated to this general observation: “totalitarian regimes close to demise are apt to get panicky and do rash things.” Kaplan would be hard put to find any historical examples, The Soviet Union and all the East European Socialist countries , considered “totalitarian” by the ultra-right among others, seemed to go rather peacefully into the history books. Franco’s Spain also made a peaceful transition to bourgeois democracy. In recent history the only example I can think of a rash action was the US invasion of Iraq. Ill thought out, no plans made for the occupation, and planned by people basically ignorant of the country and its culture. What can be more rash than that. Perhaps a panicky Sadaam Hussein tricked the US into attacking him.

Kaplan gives as evidence that the North is up to no good the fact that in 2003 70 per cent of its combat forces were deployed along the DMZ— up from 40 percent in 1980. That this might be a natural reaction to the US invasion of Iraq and the labeling of the North as part of the axis of evil is not considered. Nor does Kaplan mention that the US has an official policy of preemptive attack with regards to the North. It should also be noted that the New York Times reported in 2003 that when John Bolton, then undersecretary of state for arms control, was asked what the US policy was towards the North he pulled out a book entitled “The End of North Korea” and said “That is our policy”(NYT 9-2-2003)

Kaplan then goes on to fantasize about what will happen when the North, with all its problems, falls apart. He envisions lawlessness, warlords arising, the Chinese taking over, “the Chinese have plans for the northern half of the Korean peninsula that do not include the ‘Dear Leader’,”

We are then treated to a theory about the North called “The Seven Stages of Collapse” which are 1) depleted resources leading to 2) infrastructure collapse, then 3) warlord like fiefs vs a failing central government, 4) attempts to put down the fiefs by the central government, 5) active resistance to the government, 6) the government breaks down, 7) a new national leadership is formed. Kaplan thinks that North reached stage 4 in the 90s but was saved by aid from the US [how thoughtful], China and South Korea and is now back to stage 3. It is absolutely ridiculous to think that North Korea is under the control of warlords. Kaplan describes this stage as follows, “ the rise of independent fiefs informally controlled by party apparatchicks or warlords, along with widespread corruption to circumvent a failing central government.” Kaplan doesn’t seem to notice that “independent fiefs” are incompatible with a totalitarian state.

Well, Kaplan’s fantasy does not stop at stage 3, it goes all the way to stage 7 and the Chinese takeover. It seems all the Korean refugees in China are now Chinese agents! Here is what will happen in stage 7: “China harbors thousands of North Korean defectors that it would send back after a collapse, in order to build a favorable political base for China’s gradual economic takeover of the Tumen River region— the northeast Asian river valley where China, Russia, and North Korea intersect, with good port facilities on the Pacific.” This act of Chinese imperialism may also be accompanied by its troops carving “out a buffer zone in the part of North Korea near Manchuria.” Russia will be upset, of course, because North Korea was its “client state”, but there is not too much it will be able to do— however it will be “truculent.”

While China is scheming for the long haul, the immediate responsibility, at the beginning of stage 7, will fall to (unofficially) PACOM, the US Pacific Command and US Forces Korea— they will have “operational responsibility” for “humanitarian assistance” but not “sole command.”

But what if Kim reads Kaplan’s article and decides to avoid the terrible fate awaiting his regime? There is an alternative Kaplan says. He might launch “a surprise attack on the South.” If that should happen and the US and South Korea counter attack in “robust” fashion millions of people could be killed and the North would risk being destroyed. Kim would be betting that all that bloodshed will somehow be avoided because the prospect of such a war “would lead the South Korean left, abetted by the United Nations and elements of the global media [not the Atlantic Monthly I hope], to cry out for diplomacy and a negotiated settlement to violence.”

Kaplan thinks one of the reasons the North recently tested its missiles is that it may want the US to target it and give it an excuse to attack back against Seoul. “The South Korean left— which has been made powerful by an intrusively large American troop presence and by decades of manipulation by the North”— backed by the UN and global media would demand peace talks and the North “would get a new lease on life.”

I think we have seen enough to conclude that Kaplan’s article is just a lot ot right-wing silly ranting. He goes on to say if Korea were ever united it “would have an instant, undisputed enemy: Japan.” There is even more future telling, or tea leaf reading, towards the end of the article. He concludes that a united Korea will end up a Chinese “satellite.” It seems that the only choice for Korea is to be created according to American or Chinese plans. He says, “the question of whether it’s to be the American or the Chinese vision of North Korea’s future that gets realized may hinge on political-military decisions made in the midst of an opaque and confusing crisis.” Kaplan doesn’t allow for the possibility that maybe the Koreans may have their own vision for the future. The editors of The Atlantic should be ashamed of themselves for publishing this pulp fiction as if it were a serious article by a serious scholar.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Capitalism Kills #3: Case Studies In An Immoral System- Merck and Vioxx, plus the new bankruptcy law
By Thomas Riggins [PA Archives]

The free enterprise system, AKA the free market, AKA capitalism, is an economic system, as we all know, that is dedicated to maximizing profits at any cost. Neither ethics, morality, honor, environmental concerns, nor human life itself will be spared by this system and its quest to put profits before people (and everything else). Here are two more case studies of the system at work. The previous five case studies are archived on our website.

CASE 6. We all see the ads on TV from the big drug companies, telling us how devoted they are to our health and wellbeing. Here is a good example of their devotion from the New York Times of 12-9-05: "Medical Journal Criticizes Merck Over Vioxx Data," by Alex Berenson. It seems Merck was more devoted to profits than to human health. The New England Journal of Medicine is criticizing Merck for the way it faked its results on the safety tests on Vioxx, its arthritis and pain drug. Berenson quotes Dr. G. D. Curfman, an editor at the journal: "They did not disclose all they knew. There were serious negative consequences for the public health as a result of that."

Merck is being sued now on the grounds that Vioxx caused people to have heart attacks and strokes. Could it possibly be that the company’s executives, good honorable American businessmen, could have decided to hide and cover up that information for the sake of big bucks?

In 2000, the journal published the results of the clinical trial of the drug -- the trial done by Merck to show, among other things, that Vioxx was safe. Well, Berenson reports that "the journal said the authors of the study had deleted some data about strokes and other vascular problems suffered by patients...." He also reports that the journal said the authors "also underreported the number of heart attacks suffered by patients taking Vioxx...." In fact, it seems that Merck knew that people taking Vioxx were four times more likely to have a heart attack than those who took an older pain killer such as Aleve! Dr. Curfman said, "the totality of the data didn't look good for Vioxx." But that didn't stop the rush to market the drug, which was not recalled until 2004. Let this be a warning for anyone who thinks the capitalist system has your interests at heart.
Don't trust anything corporations tell you!

CASE 7. This is a great case. It shows how our government teams up with big business groups, in this case the banks, to take advantage of working people and the poor – to keep them as debt slaves for their entire lives – no joke! Lets look at another article from the Times – "Newly Bankrupt Raking In Piles of Credit Offers," by Timothy Egan (12-11-05).

As you know, we now have a new, tougher bankruptcy law – one that banks spent over 100 million dollars lobbying for, so you also know who benefits from the new law – not the American people to be sure.

Right before the new law took effect, there was a surge of bankruptcies as people raced to take advantage of the older law to get out from under crushing credit card debt. Most of these people were not irresponsible spendthrifts. Many were in fact people who had no medical insurance and had to use credit cards to get treatment just to stay alive. The banks want these newly bankrupt people in their clutches again "because it [the new law] makes it harder for them to escape new credit card debt and extends to eight years the time before which they could liquidate their debts through bankruptcy again."

What banks are counting on is that these people will still need money to survive. But this time around they can charge higher interest rates, rake in a lot of late fees, and make people wait eight years instead of the old six to declare bankruptcy gain, while under the new law credit card debts, forgiven under the old, must still be paid.

This, of course, is all done for the benefit of the people: "The people coming out of bankruptcy need an opportunity to get back on their feet." That noble sentiment came from the chief mouthpiece for the American Bankers Association. Egan states that, "consumer groups say that the new law has put millions of Americans at risk of being in a continuous debt loop through their credit cards." In other words, in danger of being permanent debt slaves to the banks! This was done by "our" United States Congress, but it’s obvious it is not "we the people" who run the show in Washington.

The banks will make out like bandits because, consumer groups say, "the new law makes it much easier to make money on people who live near the edge every month on their credit cards." So, that's the system – designed to exploit and make miserable the lives of the working people and the poor, so the fat cats can live it up.

"The banking industry," Egan reports, "worked in Congress for nearly ten years to pass the law, and critics say it gave them everything they wanted to increase profits from people prone to debt."

Finally, note this information from a study called "The Plastic Safety Net" – it reveals, according to Egan, that a full third of American households of low and middle-income families "used credit cards for basic expenses-- rent, groceries and utilities-- in any four of the last 12 months." This doesn't include those who had to use the cards for medicines or hospital and doctor bills. Most of the victims of the banks are also older people (50-to-64).

This Christmas when you watch, if you do, for the umpteenth time Frank Capra's "Its A Wonderful Life," just keep in mind the real bankers are represented by Lionel Barrymore – the James Stewart character is totally make believe.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


PA BOOK ROUND UP #9: Notes and Previews on New Works by Thomas Barnett and Robert Fisk
By Thomas Riggins

Here is another of our occasional book round ups consisting of short notices of works we have not been able to fully review. These are essentially meta-reviews (reviews of reviews). If any of our readers are inspired to read one of these books and wishes to write a full review, please contact The previous eight book round ups are archived on our website.

BLUEPRINT FOR ACTION: A FUTURE WORTH CREATING by Thomas P.M. Barnett, G.P/ Putnam’s Sons, 2005, 440 pp., reviewed by Phyllis Eckhaus, IN THESE TIMES, November 21, 2005.

This is a book dedicated to glorifying the Pentagon and the waging of war, especially in the Third World. This war-mongering cheerleader for crimes against humanity is quoted as follows with respect to the military forces of US imperialism-- they constitute “a force for global good that has no equal.” This force for global good is mostly known for the inordinate number of women and children it has slaughtered from Vietnam to Baghdad(with many stops in between). Eckhaus explains why Barnett thinks, as she says, “the invasion of Iraq was a wonderful thing.” It is because it “flushed” out “terrorists”. “In the end,” Barnett is quoted, “it was almost impossible for the Iraq occupation to go to badly, because the worse it became, the more it transformed the region.” It transformed the region all right-- into a hotbed of anti-Americanism that has been destabilized and cost over a hundred thousand lives just so a corrupt cabal of Bush-Cheney cronies can profit through non-competitive war contracts-- some “force for good”! Eckhaus further writes that according to the book “American power and privilege are intrinsically beneficent.” Barnett also thinks “It would be ‘misguided in the extreme’ for Americans to give up our gas guzzling because reducing our dependence on foreign oil would diminish our influence on the Middle East, to that region’s great detriment.” It is not just Iraq that benefits from being bombed by the US-- some South American countries would benefit as well. He “cites Venezuela as a ‘rogue state’ ripe for American invasion,” according to the review. This looks like a fun book to read to understand the depth of depravity the neocon imperialist mentality can sink to but you will have to keep in mind that Barnett is writing in the US in 2005-- not Berlin in 1933.

THE GREAT WAR FOR CIVILIZATION: THE CONQUEST OF THE MIDDLE EAST by Robert Fisk, Alfred A. Knopf, 1107 pp., reviewed by Ethan Bronner, THE NEW YORK TIMES Saturday, November 19, 2005.
Ethan Bronner is not to happy with Fisk’s book. I think because Fisk tells it like it is about the Middle East and this doesn’t sit very well with the preconceptions of the pro US policies of the Times. The title of Bronner’s review is “A Foreign Correspondent Who Does More Than Report.” We are told that Fisk is Britain’s most famous foreign correspondent and that he been covering the Middle East for three decades. He reports for “The Independent”-- and is a little too independent for the Times reviewer. He admits that Fisk, who has had three interviews with Osama bin Laden, is “a writer of exceptional power” and has many awards for his reportage, yet he “has become something of a caricature of himself.” And why is that? It is due to his “railing” [read “criticizing”] US and Israeli policies. It seems you cannot criticize Israel, only “rail” against it. The title of the book is taken from an inscription on a medal his father was awarded for fighting in the Middle East in World War I.
At over 1100 pages this is a very long book-- but it details the history of the Middle East for the last quarter century or so. Bonner is upset because he thinks Fisk seeks “to expose the West’s self-satisfied hypocrisy nearly to the exclusion of the pursuit of straight journalism” [such as can be found in Judith Miller’s articles in the Times about WMDs in the lead up to the Iraq invasion.] And then “there is Mr. Fisk’s belief that Western treatment of the Muslim world-- through the [so-called] war on terror and the occupation of Iraq-- is today’s version of the Great War [i.e., WW1].” Bonner can find only three, quite minor, criticisms of “fact” to bring to our attention-- all having to do with Israel and seemingly having more to do with interpretation rather than actual facts. He apparently objects to Fisk’s approval of a quote from the Israeli journalist Amira Hass who says the job of the journalist is “to monitor power and the centers of power.” Well, that certainly is not the task that Times journalists set for themselves. Bonner is forced to admit that the “West’s sins of ignorance and aggression in the Middle East are real” but Fisk’s “many legitimate points are sometimes warped by his perspective.” Anyone who has seen or heard any of the interviews that Amy Goodman has had with Robert Fisk on her program “Democracy Now” will know what that perspective is-- a deeply humanistic awareness of the cruelty and injustices of war and oppression from whatever source, and the ability to rise up against one’s own cultural prejudices and attempt to understand the viewpoints of others. I’ll take the reportage of Robert Fisk over that of the New York Times any day of the week.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Monday, September 18, 2006


CAPITALISM KILLS: Wal-Mart and Amerada Hess [PA Archives]
By Thomas Riggins

The free enterprise system, AKA the free market, AKA capitalism, is an economic system, as we all know, that is dedicated to maximizing profits at any cost. Neither ethics, morality, honor, the environment, nor human life itself will be spared by this system and its quest to put profits before people (and everything else). Here are some more case studies of the system at work. The previous three case studies in this series can be found in the archives.

CASE 4. One of the duties of the Labor Department is to protect children from exploitation by American corporations. We know from history that the business class will ruthlessly seize upon children to exploit every last cent they can out of them in order to increase their corporate wealth. The Bushites represent the business class to the exclusion of almost every other segment of society. So you can expect these ultra-right Republicans, with the President in the forefront hypocritically masking his greed behind the pieties of a "born again" Christian, to see to it that no child is left behind unexploited.

A perfect example is revealed in the New York Times for 11-1-05: "Labor Dept. Is Rebuked Over Pact With Wal-Mart: Agreement Addressed Child Labor Rules," by Steven Greenhouse.

Wal-Mart is famous for violating labor laws. The article quotes Representative George Miller (Dem Calif.) who says, "The Bush Labor Department chose to do an unprecedented favor for Wal-Mart, despite the fact it is well known for violating labor laws. The sweetheart deal put Wal-Mart employees at risk, undermined government effectiveness, and further undermined public confidence that the government is acting on its behalf."

So, what is all this about? The Labor Department found 85 violations of the child labor law (for children 17 and younger) in Wal-Mart stores in Arkansas, New Hampshire and Connecticut. Wal-Mart, among other things, was having the children work with dangerous machinery such as cardboard balers and chain saws.

Wal-Mart had to settle with the Feds -- not the Feds of old, who were not so hot themselves, but the new Bush Feds. It seems that there is a big Republican donor at Wal-Mart and the donor's interests, not those of the children, are what the Labor Department wants to protect. Here is what they did. 1. Wal-Mart paid a cosmetic fine of $135,540 (peanuts for this multibillion dollar corporate criminal). 2. The Labor Department agreed to give the company 15 days advance notice before they inspect again! It is not likely they will find future violations. 3. Even if Wal-Mart is too stupid to clean up its act in the 15 days before the "inspection" and they get caught violating the law, there will be no citations or fines if they clean up their act in the next 10 days. 4. It gets better! This settlement agreement was largely written by Wal-Mart's own lawyers and the Labor Department left its "own legal division out of the settlement process." Sweet! And finally, 5. The Labor Department agreed to "to let Wal-Mart jointly develop news releases" with it about the violations and the settlement.

The foxes are indeed watching the hen house.

CASE 5. This is from the "Metro Briefing" in the New York Times of 11-23-05 ("Oil Company Settles Gouging Complaint") Acting under the maxim that it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good, certain oil companies seemingly could not resist breaking the law in order to price gouge and make extra profits from the human tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. They wouldn't be capitalist corporations if they didn't follow their own version of 'seize the day.'

So what did they do? This story is only about one state, New Jersey (but don't think this behavior was not more widespread). New Jersey accused Amerada Hess of gouging "drivers with higher gas prices" due to the storm. Hess and others (Motiva/Shell, Sunoco, and independent sellers) were charged with having "artificially inflated prices and increased prices more than once every 24 hours, the state limit." It is evidently okay to do this once every 24 hours but not more than once. Anyway – it’s stealing.

The result? Hess, which of course admitted no wrongdoing, agreed to pay the state $372,391 for its court costs. Some of this will go to the poor. Hess also agreed to obey the law in the future -- big of them. The capitalist state is appeased. Why doesn't Hess have to turn over all the money it gouged to a fund to help the poor? No, it gets to keep its ill-gotten profits. You only end up on Riker's Island for petty-theft it seems (Hess is NYC-based). Cases against the other culprits are still pending. If the Hess settlement is any indication, we can affirm that crime (corporate crime, that is) pays.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Friday, September 15, 2006


Books: The Heirs to the Prophet Muhammad and The Creation
(PA Book Round Up #19 Reviews of Reviews)

By Thomas Riggins

THE HEIRS OF THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD: THE TWO PATHS TO ISLAM by Barnaby Rogerson (Time Warner, 432pp.) reviewed by Anthony Sattin in the Times Literary Supplement, July 7, 2006.

Progressives have a lot to keep up with these days. Besides having to keep tabs on the new and refurbished old theories of the right and left plus keep track of the aggressive misuse of Christian doctrine for right-wing partisan advantage, Imperialism’s assault on the Muslim world now requires us to monitor “political Islam” as well. I am assuming most Americans are more familiar with Christian and Jewish religious thought and can easily, hopefully) see through the hypocritical uses of religion by the ultra-right (waging war and claiming to follow “the Prince of Peace”, or denouncing “terrorism” and turning a blind eye to the genocidal pogrom unleashed against the Palestinian people) than they are with the understanding of Islam and its misuses.

Rogerson”s book, therefore, looks like a good introduction to the history of Islam. The reviewer calls it a “fascinating narrative.” It deals with two important aspects in the rise of Islam. The first deals with the struggle for leadership of the new Muslim community after the death of Muhammad in 632 AD (excuse the Western dating system.) The second deals with the rise of the Islamic empire “one of history’s great epic tales.” The reviewer points out that coming out of Arabia, the Muslims, within 50 years of Muhammad’s death, ruled from the Atlantic Ocean through the Middle East up into Central Asia. Quite a feat. “Yet,” Sattin writes, “rather than attest to the glory of God as revealed by the latest messenger, [the book] shows how the Arab Empire proved to be the rack on which the Prophet’s followers were broken.”

How is this conclusion reached? It is shown that as a young man engaged in the world of trade Muhammad was not so different from his fellow humans. He engaged in trade, as did many others, and “was not adverse to wealth.” But all that changed for him “once he had begun his mission.” As he succeeded in his religious endeavors and his influence grew tribute and wealth began to flow to him. Did he use it to aggrandize himself? No! He used the new wealth to help and benefit the poor and weak members of the new Islamic society.

He also preferred the simple life like “the biblical prophets” before him.

But what did his followers do after his death? Not so much the early followers who knew him personally, but the second and third generation and beyond, what did they do? This is where this second aspect (the rise of empire) is intermingled with the first one-- the leadership struggle right after the Prophet’s death. In brief, two factions began to develop: one formed around people associated with Aisha (Muhammad’s second wife) and the other around his son-in-law Ali. This is the origin of the split between the Sunni and the Shia (the Ali faction).

This split might never have happened but for the immense wealth that began to accumulate as a result of the expansion of Islam. This led to disputes about who should be leading the community as the successor of the Prophet. The wealth now led to “temptation and conflict.”

Finally these tensions led to “a civil war in which Ali, Muhammad’s cousin, son-in-law, confidant and champion, was assassinated.”

This was a disaster. As has happened too many times before in history, the money and power trumped the true meaning of the message of the religious teacher. With the murder of Ali, Rogerson writes, “ the era of holiness within the Islamic community is over, the scheming politicians, the police chiefs and the old clan chiefs are once again back in power.” Welcome to the club.

THE CREATION: AN APPEAL TO SAVE LIFE ON EARTH by Edward O. Wilson (W.W. Norton & Company, 175 pp.) reviewed by Matthew Scully in The New York Times Book Review, Sunday, September 10, 2006.

This short book is an appeal by the eminent Harvard biologist (emeritus) for humankind to stop the destruction of life on our planet. Half of all species could be extinct by the end of the century due to environmental destruction (such as global warming among others). Matthew Scully, identified by the Times as "a former senior speechwriter for President Bush" seems like a strange choice to review a book by a scientist. Nevertheless, he gives the book a rather positive review while at the same time promoting Christian values at the expense of Wilson's secular humanist world outlook.

This may be the point. Wilson has cast his book in the form of a letter to a Southern Baptist minister suggesting that while they have different metaphysical outlooks (evolutionary biology versus Biblical revelation) religion and science should be able to call a truce and work together to save the planet. Wilson considers religion and science "the two most powerful forces in the world today" (Scully quotes) and he wants to ally them, Scully writes, "in an ethic of 'honorable' self-restraint toward the natural world." This is a strategic error at the heart of Wilson's outlook.

Science and religion are superstructural phenomena and their "force" is derivative with respect to their "powerfulness." Scully should know this. The Bush administration manipulates science for its political ends and is still in denial about global warming. Religion too is used for political ends and is manipulated by the ruling class to further its class interests. So what are the actual "most powerful forces in the world today." There are indeed two, as Wilson thinks, but they are in a dialectical relationship of mutual antagonism and contradiction. They are foundational not superstructural forces.

The first force is that of globalization which represents the real power of the world wide capitalist economic system driven by a structural need to expand and increase its profits by ever more intense exploitation both of the natural environment and the human raw material (in the form of working people) whose labor power it must consume in order to survive. No ethic of "honorable self-restraint" is possible within this type of economic system.

The second force is created by the first in response to it. This is the growing awareness among the working people that globalization must be fought and capitalist exploitation resisted. We see people throughout the world becoming more aware of this and beginning to fight back. Manifestations of this growing power are seen from Central and South America, the Middle East, Asia and Europe (rejection of the EU Constitution) and in the US by the mobilization to break up the ultra-right control of the government. If the planet is to be saved the victory of this second force over the first is the only way it will be accomplished.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Mindless Journalism: David Brooks, Jack Murtha and the Lost War [PA Archives]
By Thomas Riggins

There has been a real fuss last week over Pennsylvania Democratic Representative Jack Murtha’s call for the US to leave Iraq. Sunday’s New York Times had an article by suburban-stay-safely-home-while-others-die prowar columnist David Brooks (“The Importance of Staying With Iraq” NYT 11-20-05) taking Murtha to task (he has “simply given up”). Brook’s attitude was more or less echoed by Joe Klein (“Think Twice About a Pullout”) in Time magazine (11-28-05).

Reading these two guys can only lead to the conclusion that the war has already been lost but they want the killing to continue anyway. One senses that the armchair warriors are really frustrated with Murtha for having spoken up.

Brooks agrees that the “American presence in Iraq does lend popular legitimacy” to the Iraqi resistance. He further says that our presence is a “catalyst for violence.” He also calls the American occupation “botched” and responsible for a “security vacuum.” He refers to a Pew Research Center poll that found most journalists and academics who study what is going on think the war is “unwinnable.” Sixty-four percent of military officers, true to the gung-ho spirit, think it is winnable-- not surprising, they thought they would win in Vietnam as well.

Klein quotes Sen. McCain, who favors a crusade against “Islamist radicalism,” as wanting to send more troops into the Iraqi sinkhole. Yet McCain “wasn’t sure where the additional troops would come from.” This is a great victory strategy-- we have a winnable war by sending in non-existent reinforcements. Good luck with your crusade Senator!

Murtha, who has been on the Armed Services Committee for thirty years and who reflects the real sentiments of the Pentagon, frankly thinks the Iraqi aggression has put “the future of our military” at “risk.”

Brooks and Klein worry about what will happen if we pull out and let the Iraqi people decide their own fate without us. Klein complains that people are more interested in the past than the future. He thinks spending time on “whether the President intentionally misled the country into war” is “a waste of time.” We need to concentrate on the future.

Klein’s position isn’t even rational! If Bush intentionally lied to go to war he ought to be impeached. As for the future-- who would trust anything he had to say in the future. Far from being a waste of time, finding out if the American people were intentionally lied to is of the utmost importance. There is already, I think, overwhelming evidence that this is just what happened. Brooks even hints at that when he says “the president doesn’t give out credible information.”

So, with all this, why is Murtha’s withdrawal plea being rejected? Brooks says it overlooks the “main source” of violence in Iraq. That source is “the sectarian war between the Sunnis and the Shiites.” Brooks makes it clear that all the blame is on the Sunni side.

This excuse to prolong the killing in Iraq won’t hold water. The sectarian violence is the result of the American invasion and is prolonged and exacerbated by the occupation.

Nevertheless, Brooks wants us to stay the course. It seems that “after 18 months of incompetence” the mightiest, the only, superpower in the world now has a “50-50” chance to win. A 50-50 chance-- superpower vs. a ragtag group of insurgents, and a small but determined resistance can do no better. That is a patheic justification to continue to torture people and to drop white phosphorus on women and children. If this is the best we can do, then this war is already lost.

Finally, as for Murtha, his call for withdrawal is not prompted by any high ethical or moral consideration (such as the inherent immorality of war in the first place, especially a war of aggression). His is a practical objection. We are losing and our military is being broken and we may need it to confront the real enemy “down the road.” Who might that be? I’ll give you a hint: the answer might be found in a fortune cookie.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at pabooks@political

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Mindless Journalism: The New York Times' John Tierney and the Idiots [PA Archives]
By Thomas Riggins

John Tierney, the New York Times’ latest in-house op-ed page right-wing ideologue, has decided that the soccer star Maradona, as well as Hugo Chavez (president of Venezuela), are “idiots” (John Tierney, “The Idiots Abroad...”, New York Times, 11/8/05). They are not the only people he thinks are “idiots.” The article makes clear that anyone opposing President Bush’s “free trade” capitalist proposals for Latin America is an “idiot.”

Why is he picking on Maradona? Because, despite the fact that Maradona was born “in a shantytown near Buenos Aires” he was able to become a sports star and make zillions of dollars in Europe and make lots of endorsement money ($10 million a year) from the likes of corporations such as Coca-Cola, Fuji-Xerox and Puma-- multinational corporations all.
He has shown that he is an ungrateful “idiot” because he recently denounced President Bush as 'human trash' and protests Bush's economic policies toward Latin America. Maradona even had the nerve to smoke a Cuban cigar (given to him by Fidel) while doing so.

Tierney quotes the right-wing Latin American propagandist Alvaro Vargas Llosa (himself the offspring of privilege): “Maradona embodies the wonderful possibilities of globalization [any little slum urchin can become a sports star and Coca-Cola rep,] yet he does everything in his power to deny people poorer than himself to participate in that world.” We all know about that beautiful world that Tierney and Vargas Llosa refer to. The Bush world of globalization with its lovely sweat shops, I mean, modern third world factories and the right to work 18 hours a day for peanuts, I mean, the opportunity to have a decent job (compared to starving) and support your family (more or less, if you are a family of one).

Tierney is enraptured by a book, written nine years ago-- before the “idiots” caught on to what globalization (AKA imperialism) was really doing to the Third World and its people--i.e., killing them for profits). The book, by Vargas Llosa and two other right-wing propagandists was called “Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot”-- and no, it was not autobiographical in nature. You must read this book to understand “phenomena” like Maradona, we are told. This book is nine years out of date. I’ll go Tierney one better and recommend that to understand “phenomena” like Vargas Llosa and Tierney you should read a book some say is 157 years out of date, “The Communist Manifesto”. To out of date for you? Well then, try Lenin’s “Imperialism The Highest Stage of Capitalism”-- only 89 years old.

What about Chavez? Why is he an “idiot”? It is because he “is determined to prevent a free trade agreement among Latin American countries and the United States.” That is to say, Chavez is against the trade policies of the US which tend to increase poverty and starvation in Latin America, and under the slogan of “free trade” unfairly exploit the economic weaknesses in Latin America to transfer wealth from that area of the world to the United States.

Tierney knows full well that there is no such thing as “free trade”, he seems just to want to confuse the issue. The US supports American corporate interests by low tax rates, subsidies, tariffs, etc., all designed to give an edge in the world of trade to US interests, and to damage the interests of the third world. There is nothing “free” about this at all. Chavez is an “idiot” for bringing these issues up and for not wanting the already poor and downtrodden masses of Latin America to be super-expolited by the US. What Chavez wants is “fair” trade. “Fair” trade is actually something that could be negotiated. “Free” trade is just a slogan dishonestly used to promote an ultra-right agenda.

The day after Tierney’s screed appeared, the “Times” ran an article in its business section, “Farm Issues Stall Talks For a Deal On Trade” by Edmund L. Andrews. These were talks about a global trade agreement and they broke down over the question of subsidies that the rich countries don’t want to cease making to their own businesses-- subsidies that make for unequal and unfair trade agreements with poor countries. Although European countries were the focus of the article, it also says, “Some negotiators were more sympathetic to Europe, contending that the United States was offering less than Europe in reducing farm subsidies.”

Tierney recommends Chile as a model for those who would fight poverty and approvingly quotes Jose Pinera “the Chilean reformer who started the first private-account social-security system, and then helped introduce similar systems in two dozen other countries.” What Tiernry does not tell his readers is that Chile's privatized pension system is a complete bust-- Cf. the article “Chile’s Privatized Pensions: No Model for US” by Jose Cadamartori (a former Chilean minister of the economy) in the November 2005 issue of “Political Affairs.” That article shows that retired persons in the private programs end up getting only 62 percent of the pension that a person gets in the public system. The only people who benefit from the private system are the capitalists who run the systems.

After reading John Tierney’s article, I came to a very different conclusion regarding who was and was not an “idiot.”

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at

Monday, September 11, 2006


Books: Republicans vs. Democracy and the Consequences of Bush's War [PA Achives]
By Thomas Riggins

Here is another of our occasional book roundups consisting of short notices of works we have not been able to fully review. If any of our readers are inspired to read one of these books and wishes to write a full review, please contact

OFF CENTER: THE REPUBLICAN REVOLUTION AND THE EROSION OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Yale University Press, 2005, 272pp., reviewed by Matthew Yglesias in THE AMERICAN PROSPECT, November 2005.

This looks like an important book not only because it explains how the Bushites retain power, but because it gives different reasons than those given by Thomas Frank (What's The Matter With Kansas) - i.e., it does not support Frank's thesis concerning "false consciousness." As Yglesias writes, "class polarization in American voting patterns is increasing and has never been higher than in recent years." Nevertheless people who should not be voting for Republicans are doing so. Why?

Before answering this question, we must note that not only have the Republicans become dominated by the far right, they have also created "the most, cohesive, disciplined congressional party in American history." Big money is behind all this. Yglesias says that policy is being set by "a hyper-empowered group of corporate managers and super- rich individuals." They not only set the policies, but also lie to the American people about what these policies really mean, and a supine press rarely questions them. Tax money is "being redirected away from the public good" and into the hands of the Republicans and their buddies. The laws going through Congress are worded deceptively so that normal people don't understand what is happening, and the public is actually told the laws will do the opposite of what they will really do. Never before has a major political party lied so much about its policy objectives. It has to lie, as polls show that the American people, when they are given correct information and a choice, are not at all conservative in the ultra-right Republican sense. Now, why do they "win" elections?

The Bushites use "the low levels of political awareness" of the people to consciously mislead them (a large portion of the population still links 9/11 to Iraq!). They are also undercutting democracy. They have gerrymandered voting districts so that if only 48 percent of the people vote for them and 52 percent vote against them they still get "almost 55 percent of congressional districts." Remember, when fascism comes to America it will be waving the American flag. Progressives must do a better job of educating the public. That is why left-center unity is the order of the day, and this book can help in the struggle.

IRAQ'S PEOPLE IN THE SHADOW OF AMERICA'S WAR by Anthony Shadid, Henry Holt & Co., 2005, 424 pp., reviewed by Ben Macintyre in THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW for Sunday, October 30, 2005.

What is interesting about this book is that it is written by an Arab American reporter fluent in Arabic. He was able to go where most other western reporters could not go, and he could speak with the Iraqi people directly. The biggest impression I got from this review was of the enormity of the crimes committed by the Bushites in starting this war. President Bush has no moral superiority to Saddam Hussein, in fact less, because he is a hypocrite.

The book tells us Iraq is divided into two zones-- the "Green Zone", described by Macintyre as a "security oasis of four and a half square miles protected by concrete and wire," and the "Red Zone"-- the "rest of Iraq." Shadid sees what is happening in Iraq as a gigantic failure of American policy due to our ignorance and cultural arrogance. He quotes an American officer who said, "We're not going to risk the lives of one of our soldiers to be culturally sensitive." With fools like this in command "our soldiers" are in big trouble!

Macintyre provides some good quotes from the book, such as the following reflections by the author: "My country had taken over another country, and I was watching it happen." Except that the U.S. did not really take over. The so-called "greatest military power in the world" controls only its little "Green Zone." As Shadid states, "the United States now controlled Iraq's destiny; we would now decide its fate. And we understood remarkably little about it." Except that we don't control its fate or anything else about it. We are just a blind killing presence in a country we are ignorant about. The bill that the American people will have to pay for the crimes of Bush and his cronies has not even begun to come due yet.

What do the Iraqi's think of us? Macintyre quotes Shadid: "At first cautiously welcomed, the United States Army became 'first a callous overseer in a looted capital, then an insensitive occupier in a Muslim land, and now... a provocative presence whose visibility only deepened the strife.'" We should bring the troops home now, impeach Bush and his cabal and turn them over to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, along with Saddam Hussein and his fellow defendants at the kangaroo trail in Baghdad. That is what would happen in a just world. Macintyre says, however, that "Shadid offers no solutions." Nevertheless, this book presents an authentic eyewitness account of the blunders and crimes of the Bushites.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Capitalism Kills: Case Studies in an Immoral System [PA Archives]
By Thomas Riggins

The free enterprise system AKA the free market, AKA capitalism is an economic system, as we all know, that is dedicated to maximizing profits at any cost. Neither ethics, morality, honor, the environment, nor human life itself will be spared by this system and its quest to put profits before people (and everything else). Here are some case studies of the system at work.

CASE 1. The New York Times, October 18, 2005: "Study Finds Lax Safety Standards at Construction Sites" by Fernanda Santos. The upshot of this story is that construction companies have found out that it is cheaper to pay fines for safety violations, even when their workers are killed, than to follow the law which requires safety gear. For example, Manuel Falcon had no hard hat or any safety gear when he fell to his death in 2003 at a work site. The federal inspectors only fined the company $2625 for these violations-- $21,000 could have been levied! And this is typical. The "Times" quotes B.P. Morelli, of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association (which just released a study of this problem): "The industry fines are considered a cost of doing business and too minimal to effect a change in behavior."

We should note that in the last four years there have been 144 fatal accidents in New York City alone. The study points out that, "The average penalty for serious safety violations, in which severe injury or death is highly likely, is $1,569...." And OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, part of the Labor Department) has only 28 inspectors for all of New York City, Westchester and Rockland counties, as well as northern New Jersey. The low fines and deficient number of inspectors says it all. The government, federal as well as state and local, is on the side of the contractors.

This is not only class warfare against the construction workers it is racism to boot as we find out when reading the comments from one of the trial lawyers to the effect that many of these accidents take place in the "underground" construction industry and the victims are mostly immigrants from third world countries.

The article says "that builders do not feel compelled to comply with safety regulations." This is a perfect example of Profits before People and shows how unregulated (here under regulated or under enforced regulations) capitalism will even resort to killing people to make a buck. They are getting away with murder. The Republican response? Tort reform and verbal attacks on the trial lawyers!

CASE 2. The New York Times, October 20, 2005: "Repeated Defect in Heart Devices Exposes a History of Problems" by Barry Meier. This is a great illustration of how capitalism works in the real world. Company makes defective heart device, makes lots of money, covers up the defect to protect "market share," patients die. The story begins with the sudden death of a 21 year old who dies in his girl friend’s arms. His heart defibrillator malfunctioned (short-circuited.) It was made by "the Guidant Corporation, the country’s second-biggest maker" of these devices. It seems Guidant knew all about the defective devices but "had not told doctors for three years" that there had been "about [!] two dozen cases." Guidant also said the death of the 21 year old was "a tragic event" but the company "did nothing wrong" [naturally].

Last summer Guidant recalled "tens of thousands of defibrillators and pacemakers."

Nice going – these things are inside people – you definitely don’t want your heart device "recalled"! Here is something even better. After the company made a new and improved model they had a problem – what to do with the old defective models it had on hand. It did what any responsible capitalist would do – it "sold older units out of inventory"-- still doing nothing "wrong" of course. Meanwhile, they had another device – a defib-pacemaker combo (the "Contak Renewal") approved by the good old FDA – this also had short-circuiting problems. A couple of whistle blowing doctors close to the company exposed them so now the cat is out of the bag. But this story has a happy ending. "Guidant announced that it had regained more than 80 percent of the market share it had lost as a result of the recalls."

CASE 3. In the same issue of the Times (10/20) Bob Herbert has an op ed piece, "Rain Forest Jekyll and Hyde?" that exposes how capitalist corporations really treat the environment. It is an article about the Chevron Corporation. This corporate criminal has the gall to give out something it calls the "Chevron Conservation Awards." The awards go to people the corporation thinks have helped protect wildlife and the environment, and have educated people "to heighten environmental awareness."

So it would appear that Chevron is trying to be a good corporate citizen. Not!

Way down in Ecuador Chevron is being charged for causing "one of the worst environmental disasters on the planet." It seems the corporation, over a twenty year period of oil prospecting in the Amazon jungle, dumped 18 BILLION gallons of toxic sludge in the the rivers and forest where it operated. Now the lives of 30,000 poor mostly indigenous people are at risk. According to a law suit being brought against Chevron "this massive, long term pollution has ruined portions of the jungle, contaminated drinking water, sickened livestock, driven off wildlife and threatened the very survival of the indigenous tribes, which have been plagued with serious illnesses, including a variety of cancers." Chevron seems to want to finish off the work started by Columbus and the Spanish.

Chevron investigated itself and found out that it did not do anything wrong. Surprise, surprise! Chevron says its sludge "wasn’t necessarily toxic." There are "no harmful impacts" from their sludge. It must be an unrelated coincidence that the destroyed jungle and rivers and the sludge happen to be coexisting with each other. People will get the wrong idea about Chevron because of this.

Capitalism at work. Herbert points out that corporations do pretty much what they like in the Third World, especially in remote areas. The American press doesn’t cover their activities and "the suffering tends to go unnoticed by the outside world." We should keep this in mind when we hear people going on about the benefits of globalization and the free enterprise system.

Stay tuned.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at

Saturday, September 09, 2006


By Thomas Riggins

David Brooks, the ultra-right columnist for the New York Times’ op ed page (hired for “balance” no doubt) has penned an analysis of the current Israeli attack on Lebanese civilians which purports to tell us what must be done (and its not a let up on killing civilians, especially women and children.) His article, “Cease-Fire to Nowhere” can be found in the Sunday New York Times (July 30, 2006) and was written before the latest Israeli butchery of unarmed civilians, mostly children, in Qana.

Brooks is afraid that Hezbollah will emerge stronger as a result of the Israeli attack on Lebanon and that a cease-fire will come into place before the inept Israeli killing machine can attain its goal of eliminating Hezbollah as a threat. The tortured logic and twisted acessments of the realities of this conflict which Brooks bases his views upon reveals the weakness of the ultra-right world view.

Brooks says that “most of the world is calling for an immediate Lebanese cease-fire and another Israeli withdrawal.” This is not due to any love of Hezbollah but, and Brooks doesn’t mention this at all, because most people are appalled by the brutal killings of the civilian population. Israel is not inflicting much damage on Hezbollah at all but is simply killing anything that moves in what are effectively “free fire zones”. This type of unprincipled mass slaughter of civilians, rememinesent of the practices of the US in Korea and Vietnam and the Japanese and Germans in WW 2 ( and by some of the allies towards the end of that conflict) are simply ineffective and militarily unjustified (as well as morally repugnant.)

Brooks concedes that many of those calling for a cease-fire “are people of good will whose anguish” over the “suffering” clouds their appreciation of “long term considerations.” Brooks, far from the field of battle, seems immune to such “anguish” since he has spent “a week on the telephone with experts and policy makers” he will not be influenced by the mere dead bodies of Lebanese civilians. ”Hey come on guys, grow up, war is war.”

The killing must go on to prevent, what is really unpreventable by now, the growth of Hezbollah’s influence. He tells us that Muslims will think “terror” is the right tactic to use to bring about the “Muslim renaissance.” Of course it is always the other side that uses “terror.” The state of Israel itself used “terror” to come into existence so don’t worry that Hezbollah is the role model for the success of “terror.” What is dropping bombs on women and children if not “terror.”

From the Arab point of view it is justified resistance to Zionism and imperialism that is being successful and that is what really worries Israel and the US-- the “terror” boggie man is just for Brooks’ ultra-right constituency. (But don’t take this to mean I justify killing civilians by any side.).

Brooks says Bush should get “enormous credit” for keeping the killing going so that Israel can weaken Hezbollah. But Israel’s counterproductive policies of mass murder are actually having the opposite effect. Those who think that political and moral questions can be solved by having a bigger gun, as Brooks evidently does, have no understanding of what is behind the problems of the Middle East.

Here are a few observations that Brooks makes that really tell you where he is coming from. Some are correct but most are not. He is worried that we will not easily succeed in Lebanon (we being the US and Israel, which Brooks confuses with Western Civilization). This is because first, the “U.S. lacks authority because of Iraq.” He doesn’t explain this, but he is correct. Iraq is not to the enormous credit of Bush and would seem to indicate the US has no idea what is going on the Middle East as a whole. (Hint-- solve the Palestinian problem first and everything else, except who gets the oil, will fall into place.)

Second, he says that Israel is “wary” of going into Lebanon because it might not get “help” in getting out. More likely it is afraid of another defeat such as led to its withdrawal in the first place. Third, he says “The Europeans, being the Europeans, are again squandering a chance to play a big role in world affairs.” What type of analysis is that? “The Europeans, being the Europeans...” Are we to think that there is something in the nature of being a European that makes one want to squander one’s chances? What he means is that the Europeans have a better understandings of what is going on and don’t want to follow in the footsteps of the clueless Bush administration.

Finally he says the “moderate” arabs (his quotes, there are no moderate arabs for the ultra-right) “are finding that if you spend a generation inciting hatred of Israel you will wind up prisoner to groups who hare Israel more than you do.” Just where did this “hatred” of Israel come from anyway? Maybe Brooks should look at John Kilfer’s article “Israel Is Powerful, Yes. But Not So Invincible” in the same issue of the Times.

Kilfer quotes Augustus Richard Norton, a Shia expert at Boston University, a retired Army officer who taught at West Point and served in Southern Lebanon with the UN. Norton notes that Israel has been bombing and killing in Lebanon for more that twenty years. That is its answer to everything--kill civilians. The hatred that Hezbollah has for Israel: “That hatred was created by Israel; it wasn’t there at the beginning.”

David Brooks doesn’t want an immediate cease-fire. He, along with Bush and all those who support this unjustified “over reaction” by Israel and the continuing killing of civilians, have blood on their hands.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at pabooks @