The Long View 2006-11-13: TXT, Steyn, Spengler, Tridentine

 2004 Madrid Train Bombings

2004 Madrid Train Bombings

It has genuinely been long enough that a terrorist attack that I have no personal stake in, like the Madrid bomadmbings of 2004, with 193 people killed and 2,000 injured, seems like it happened in another lifetime. At the time, I remember reading hot takes [which wasn’t a thing then, if I remember aright. Merriam-Webster backs me up.] like Steyn’s that credited that bombing with redirecting Spain’s involvement in the Middle East.

I don’t have any idea whether that is actually true, and I don’t care to find out at this point. It is more interesting to me to reflect upon what John J. Reilly said here:

I think that if the jihadis had been able to blow up subways and airliners in the US, they would have been doing so right along, no matter what the tracking polls said.

At lot of what happened in the United States post 9/11 has clearly been useless or worse, but also we haven’t had anything on that same scale since. In retrospect, our enemies really are stupid and feckless, and incompetent as well. 9/11 was shocking, but it also seems to have been sui generis. Unfortunately, there was a whole cottage industry of people turning out purple prose about the imminence of another terrorist attack on the United States for quite some time afterwards. Most of them haven’t really owned up to that foolishness, with a few notable exceptions. Despite writing things like this, John J. Reilly himself perpetuated some of this foolishness.

This quote is still useful twelve years later:

In the Reagan Administration, "small government" had semantic content: it meant the deregulation of banks, airlines, and telecommunications. That project was necessary and largely successful. However, the term "small government" has outlived its referrent. Now, like "nondiscrimination," it is used in contexts where its application means anarchy facilitated by fraud.

Both of the despicable frames mentioned here are still going strong in 2018.


TXT, Steyn, Spengler, Tridentine

Yet another educational jurisdiction is accepting text-messaging conventions on exams, and Simon Jenkins could not be more pleased:

Thank you, Scotland. First John Knox, then the Enlightenment and now the Scottish Qualifications Authority. In a direct challenge to the English at their most reactionary, the authority has declared that it will accept text-messaging short forms in school examinations. The dark riders of archaism will protest and the backwoods will howl. No spell is cast as dire as spellcheck. But the champions of reason are massing north of the border and need our support...I have no quarrel with grammatical authoritarianism. Grammar is a vehicle that needs a highway code of human communication. To parse is to prosper. Grammar evolves to reflect the new uses that language requires of it, as dictionaries include new words. Adverbs and adjectives fight the good fight against poverty-stricken nouns and verbs. Prepositions and conjunctions are hurled into the fray. A controversial time is had by all.

In contrast, spelling has become a no-go area, an intellectual tundra. While plain writing is considered a stylistic virtue, plain spelling is a vice. English orthography is an edifice of unreason. Word endings are the last gasp of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman invasions, embedded in the cultural DNA of literary Brahmins. Not to spell properly is a sign of being common, as once was ignorance of Latin. Knowing your "ie" from "ei" or -ible from -able does not affect a word's meaning one jot. It is a caste mark, its distinction deriving from its very obscurity....The Scottish examiners are adamant that they are not rewarding text spelling, since there will be no marks for it, only for accuracy of meaning. Pupils will be credited for quoting "2b or not 2b" but will get higher marks if they spell it conventionally. That they should be penalised for an offence that Shakespeare himself committed is strange.

From the point of view of orthographic reform, we should applaud this development only conditionally. The text conventions that Scotland is now tolerating are often suboptimal. It also really isn't true that Sam Johnson's Dictionary became the basis for the current conventional spelling in order to grind the faces of the poor: the striving classes required a teachable standard, and Johnson's Dictionary was the only resource on the shelf. Still, as Jenkins notes, texting is the first mass-experience of an alternative orthography for English. It is news to many people that such a thing is even possible.

* * *

Mark Steyn is disenthused about the results of last week's election; he argues that the U.S. must prove it's a staying power:

On the radio a couple of weeks ago, Hugh Hewitt suggested to me the terrorists might try to pull a Spain on the U.S. elections. You'll recall (though evidently many Americans don't) that in 2004 hundreds of commuters were slaughtered in multiple train bombings in Madrid. ... they employed a craftier strategy. Their view of America is roughly that of the British historian Niall Ferguson -- that the Great Satan is the first superpower with ADHD. They reasoned that if you could subject Americans to the drip-drip-drip of remorseless water torture in the deserts of Mesopotamia -- a couple of deaths here, a market bombing there, cars burning, smoke over the city on the evening news, day after day after day, and ratcheted up a notch or two for the weeks before the election -- you could grind down enough of the electorate and persuade them to vote like Spaniards, without even realizing it. And it worked. ...On Tuesday, the national security vote evaporated, and, without it, what's left for the GOP? Congressional Republicans wound up running on the worst of all worlds -- big bloated porked-up entitlements-a-go-go government at home and a fainthearted tentative policing operation abroad. As it happens, my new book argues for the opposite: small lean efficient government at home and muscular assertiveness abroad. It does a superb job, if I do say so myself, of connecting war and foreign policy with the domestic issues. Of course, it doesn't have to be that superb if the GOP's incoherent inversion is the only alternative on offer...

I think that if the jihadis had been able to blow up subways and airliners in the US, they would have been doing so right along, no matter what the tracking polls said. However, it does seem to me that now they have an added incentive to accelerate whatever plans they have: they believe they have the US on the run, but from their perspective, a collapse would be far better than a staged withdrawal. One of the effects of the election, ironically, is that any attacks that do occur in the US will now be blamed on Democratic capitulationism, rather than on the Administration (which of course is actually responsible for preventing terrorism).

It really is not true that the national-security vote evaporated on the first Tuesday in November. The Bush Administration made a deliberate decision after the president's reelection to make the war politically sustainable by lowering its profile, which meant making it just another of the many important items in the president's second-term agenda. The Republicans lost the benefit of the national-security vote because they had long ago stopped cultivating it.

Steyn is right about the catastrophic effects of the congressional Republicans' bovine certainty that raiding the treasury was the same as good constituent-service. However, that has nothing to do with the "big government/small government" dichotomy, a rhetorical device that increasingly impedes thought. In the Reagan Administration, "small government" had semantic content: it meant the deregulation of banks, airlines, and telecommunications. That project was necessary and largely successful. However, the term "small government" has outlived its referrent. Now, like "nondiscrimination," it is used in contexts where its application means anarchy facilitated by fraud.

Readers will know that I am a great fan of Steyn's America Alone, but as I have also observed, his attempt to link the defense against the Jihad with domestic policy is the book's great weakness. You cannot fight Churchill's war abroad and maintain Coolidge's Normalcy at home. That is exactly what the Bush Administration tried to do.

Steyn further tells us:

Whatever it started out as, Iraq is a test of American seriousness. And, if the Great Satan can't win in Vietnam or Iraq, where can it win? That's how China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Venezuela and a whole lot of others look at it. "These Colors Don't Run" is a fine T-shirt slogan, but in reality these colors have spent 40 years running from the jungles of Southeast Asia, the helicopters in the Persian desert, the streets of Mogadishu. ... To add the sands of Mesopotamia to the list will be an act of weakness from which America will never recover.

For the near term, we must remember that the outcome in Iraq has not yet come out. There is no equivalent there of North Vietnamese heavy infantry waiting to pour across the borders when US forces leave. Neither, for that matter, is there really much sentiment in the US for total withdrawal, especially from secure areas like Kurdistan. For the longer term, I would point out that the era of half-measures, bad deals, and actual defeats began with the Korean War in the Truman Administration and extended through the Clinton Administration, which did one damned stupid thing after another, with no discernible diminution of US influence. It's not that the US is so splendiferous as that the world seems to have lost capacity to generate an alternative.

* * *

Spengler takes these things in stride, noting from his perch at Asia Times that Halloween came late in Washington

The sina qua non of a ghost is that it is condemned for eternity to reenact the delinquencies of its past life. That is just what we should expect from Robert Gates [the nominee for Secretary of Defense]. As chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Soviet desk during the early 1980s, Gates shared the consensus academic view that the Soviet economy was strong and stable. A prosperous Russia, he reckoned, would respond rationally to management by carrot and stick. Fortunately for the United States, then-CIA director William Casey recruited outsiders such as journalist Herbert E Meyer, and listened to them rather than to Gates...

If the Soviet economy was crumbling, some leftist commentators object, what justified the Reagan administration's military buildup of the 1980s? The answer is that a failing empire is far more likely to undertake dangerous adventures than a successful one. That was true of the Soviet Union, whose 1979 invasion of Afghanistan threatened US power at the moment of its greatest vulnerability. It is equally true today of Iran, which faces demographic implosion and economic ruin during the next generation...we cannot easily imagine a world in which we will not exist because the world has no use for us. Self-styled power brokers of the James Baker ilk have no place in the world when power asserts itself in its naked form and there is nothing more to broker. The realists fancy themselves the general managers in a world of hierarchy, status and security. Replace these with insecurity and chaos, and there no longer is any need for such people...For the past five years I have counseled the United States to learn to live with the chaos that it can do nothing to prevent. No matter: Americans will learn, late and at cost, the way they always do.

Actually, i was having thoughts along these lines a few weeks back when I saw Zbigniew Brzezinski on the PBS New Hour explaining that there is no such thing as Islamofascism. When he was President Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State, he never quite said there was no such thing as Communism, but there was a certain resemblance between his policy of disengaging from the Cold War and his attitude toward the Middle East today.

* * *

The Tridentine Restoration approaches, or so we may judge from this report:

Cardinal Francis Arinze, one of the most popular and powerful Vatican officials to visit St. Louis since Pope John Paul II's 1999 visit, told more than 250 people at the Chase Park Plaza Saturday morning that Latin should be used more frequently in the Roman Catholic liturgy.

The Latin language now, he said "is in the ecclesiastical refrigerator ... Mass today should be in Latin from time to time." ...In an hourlong, often humorous, address that received several standing ovations, Arinze suggested that, in order to give Catholics options, large parishes offer the Mass in Latin at least once a week, and in smaller, rural parishes, at least once a month. (Homilies, he said, should always be in the faithful's native language.) Latin "suits a church that is universal. It has a stability modern languages don't have," he said.

It is in the nature of restorations often to be substantial improvements on what they purport to restore. This variety of usage that the Cardinal describes is precisely what should have happened in the 1960s. Doing it now will not eliminate the vernacular liturgy; it will shame it into perfection.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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