26 September 2009


There are three foiled terror plots currently in the news, designed to kill as many Americans as possible. All of the perpetrators are Islamic radicals. It is hilarious to hear the clueless mainstream media refer to Najibullah Zazi simply as a “Colorado man,” rather than say, an Islamic terrorist immigrant. Never mind that he just got there in January, and apparently traveled freely to Pakistan for terror training. A Somali immigrant returns to Somalia for a terror bombing and is referred to simply as an “American.” This kind of nuanced language is a major part of the problem we face. Unless we forthrightly recognize that the problem is specifically Islamic extremism, we will continue to be vulnerable. We should not take too much comfort in the fact that Zazi was caught before doing any damage. That may have less to do with great intelligence work and more to do with the fact that he was an unusually stupid terrorist, like the perpetrators of the first World Trade Center bombing, But eventually there was a second.

It is utter lunacy for western countries to keep importing large numbers of Muslims without increased scrutiny. If that means discrimination, so be it. To discriminate means to be selective, and to discriminate between one thing and another. Do we really want Muslim extremists? There has to be a more rigorous screening process. The only country to do so is the Netherlands, where potential immigrants are tested as to their capacity to adapt to the Dutch way of life.

This is not to say that most American Muslims are suspect. In most cases these are people who have left Muslim countries precisely because of repression and wish to live in greater freedom. They will adapt as most immigrants have. But we cannot ignore the reality that what threatens us emanates from Islam and we must become far more vigilant.

22 September 2009


I recently had occasion to listen to the latest album from “Jay-z.” I listened to the whole thing although it was sheer torture. I was searching for the slightest bit of musical content, which eluded me, since the entire album consisted of boring raps over the same constant beats. There’s a tiny portion of music in the background either sung by a girl or chorus, and to my mind they’re the ones who should get the credit, not the dude that is simply talking over it. This is not music. It may be poetry, but bad poetry. What is incomprehensible is how anyone can occupy their time listening to this stuff and others in the genre that all sound the same, but every time I go on a subway there is a large number of young people with annoying loud headphones bobbing to this junk. I presume the lyrics must be of some import, although through most of pop music history lyrics were often jumbled and incomprehensible. The music was what mattered. Now it isn’t even there, or sampled and electronically re-processed sound.

The sad thing is that this crap has been around an awfully long time. There hasn’t been much originality since the 1980s. Change and creativity used to be far more rapid before then. It is tragically ironic that we live in an era when musical reproduction and fidelity has reached new heights of pristine quality, but there isn’t much worth listening to that isn’t more than a few years old. This is not to say there is not anything good or new out there; there is actually a lot going on in different genres but they don’t get the air play or promotion.

No wonder CD sales are down. It isn’t just Internet downloading. There just isn’t that much worth buying or listening to out there. How ironic that we have the best technology ever for reproducing music and just about the worst product available ever. It is great for things like classical music or jazz, but the sales are miniscule in the US (whereas in Europe they are still significant along with some good pop music). Here is some good dance-trance stuff, but otherwise you’re left with ciassic rock retreads. There is also a large pop market, but the songs all sound like retreads of older songs scrambled through a computer to come out slightly different, but still formulaic. There is very little originality.

The other explanation of decline is that everything has fallen into more and more niche markets with smaller audiences. While this may be true, it leaves no room for something coming along sweeping much of the youth, as has been the case many times over in the past. Hopefully something “new” will come along as a trend sooner or later; my guess is that it would come out of Latin music. There is still nothing better than a good melodic line along with a catchy rhythm to get people’s interest.

10 September 2009


For much of my adult life, initially as a college instructor and then mostly as a senior administrator of an organization almost everyone called me Mr. Sarant. Now that am that much older and unaffiliated, I keep getting addressed by strangers as “George.” I find this annoying coming from someone young enough to be my son or daughter, particularly in situations when I am a customer and due a certain amount of consideration. Sometimes I get irritated enough to ask if we are having intimate relations given that we are apparently on a first name basis. But most are clueless nowadays that they are being offensive. Unfortunately this seems to be universal now, and not just in the United States but in other countries with languages that have a polite form of address, which has largely fallen into disuse.

This may be nitpicking, but to me it is symptomatic of the wholesale coarsening of society. There is endless vulgarity on television, and total loss of standards of any kind, when virtually anyone can be rehabilitated via publicity no matter what they have done. There is no shame, and if there is no shame there is no honor. If there is no honor the bounds of deference and trust are reduced, straining social bonds.

Between television and social networks on the web there is hardly any separation any longer between personal and public, and younger people seem to find nothing unusual about this, though sooner or later they are likely to come across a situation that will make them rue the day they sacrificed their privacy. Things have changed radically. When I was growing up you didn’t curse in front of girls, though by the time I was in graduate school they found this quaintly amusing. Now anything goes. There are no standards, no expectations of restraint, and as a result dignity is increasingly rare.

Social restraints are more than custom. They have a functional utility. They mitigate the impulse to behave selfishly and without consideration of others, and thus make a cooperative society possible. We see this in increasingly anarchic driving habits, and other forms of everyone-for-himself behavior. Manners, politeness, and proper behavior are not just pointless conventions, but essential to social cohesion. Convention and tradition are what instill good habits and personal restraint. This is important because if we do not have personal restraint, the result is a necessary increase in external restraint and control, thereby increasing the sphere of the state and limiting aspects of life that properly belong to ourselves.

I’m not suggesting a return to Victorian values, although we could do worse. But even 1950s values would do, reflecting a time when almost everything was better than any period since. Good manners are what make a good society.