A Good Article on ISIS and Islam

Finally, the New York Times published a valuable, insightful piece on ISIS and Islam. It’s written by an author called Mustafa Akyol and is a lot better than any of the usual¬†pieties on the subject. Highly recommended.


I love my fellow immigrants but sometimes we can get on anybody’s nerves.

In Montreal there was a blackout in one of the residential areas. 

“Well, it’s Canada,” announced an immigrant from Iraq contemptuously. “It’s not like anybody expected any better from Canada.”

This reminded me of a Russian woman from Yekaterinburg who said to me once with the same contemptuous shrug, “New York! Phe! That’s such a provincial little place. It’s even more pathetic than Paris.”

Let’s Be Less Mean!

There is a middle-aged woman from Poland working in the “Russian” section of the local ethnic food supermarket. (I believe she’s from Poland based on her accent and facial features.)

The woman always looks terrified and very defensive whenever I approach her. Today she almost burst into tears when she had to tell me that the product I wanted wasn’t available. Her hands were shaking and her voice was unsteady, so I had to reassure her I was really fine without this particular brand of squash paste. (God, I love squash paste. But you’ve never tried it because it isn’t manufactured here.)

Russian speakers are mean but immigrant Russian speakers are REALLY mean. I can only imagine what my cultural compatriots put this poor lady through at that store every day.


Since the collapse of the USSR, the central complaint of the people of Russia  (but not of other Soviet republics that I know of) was “Nobody fears us any longer!”

I can’t tell you how many times I heard or read this phrase in discussions of whether the end of the USSR was a good thing.

“We can now travel! And buy anything we want! And read all the books we like!”

“Yes, but nobody is afraid of us any longer!”

“We can start businesses! Be in control of our lives! Listen to music! Express ourselves freely! Use contraception! Buy tampons!”

“Yes, but who cares about all that if NOBODY FEARS US ANY LONGER!!!”

Today, the people of Russia are happy because although the economy is in the toilet, they can’t express themselves freely, contraception is under attack, and traveling or starting a business is more and more out of reach, Russians feel feared by the world, and that’s somehow more important. Why this is so crucial to them is a total mystery to me. I mean, it’s fun to be feared but how much of your economic well-being would you give up for that?

Is There a Problem in Secondary Ed?

I’m starting to think that the only reason why it seems like there is some massive problem in the US secondary education system is that a high school diploma no longer gets one a job. So people conclude that something is wrong with the schools and flog them to death. But it’s not the schools, it’s changing reality.

The students who come to college unprepared and barely literate wouldn’t have been more prepared in the past. They would have been exactly the same but we wouldn’t see them because they’d be hidden from view in their manufacturing jobs. Now that there are no more manufacturing jobs, these young people want to join the world of more comfortable, less mechanistic work. And as a result, the educated classes can no longer pretend that these young people don’t exist.

None of this is a problem of the school system per se, though.