The Long View 2004-06-04: Twists in the Party Line

The article by Greg Crosby, How We Will Lose the Islamo-Fascist War, that John links in this blog post is the kind of thing I found convincing in 2004. I suppose the author is half-right. We really did get tired of the war in Iraq and tried to bring the boys home. And that power vacuum we left behind did indeed prove an opportunity for an even worse kind of terrorist than the ones we set out to vanquish in 2003.

However, Crosby is [was? I have no idea what he thinks now] also half wrong. We weren't fighting World War III, and Islamic terrorists are not a threat greater than the Nazis. Hell, if that comparison were even close, the Islamic state would stretch from Morocco to Iran, instead of of being isolated to border regions of Iraq and Syria. It just isn't true, or even close to true.

Right after the towers came down, that was harder to understand.

On a lighter note, John's interest in English spelling reform shows up here. Some of the groups that John was involved in protested the National Spelling Bee, as a way to get publicity. I have some sympathy with the project of spelling reform, but this is an idea that has just never caught on in the last century, and I find it surprising how hostile of a reception the idea gets. We English speakers seem to take a perverse pride in just how difficult words are to spell.

Twists in the Party Line

Maybe I am just reacting to the spate of relatively positive stories this week that followed the nomination of an interim government in Iraq, but it's hard to shake the impression that the situation has changed dramatically in just a few days. Suddenly we see no more pictures of leash-girls, or read speculations about a "fighting retreat." Most likely what's happening is that the media are reconciling themselves to the prospect of a successful outcome to the war. The effect is as if someone had just turned off some really annoying music.

Some foreign leaders seem to be going even further, and reconciling themselves to the prospect that Bush will be reelected in November. Their determination to improve the public image of their relations with Washington is echoed by the Bush Administration's eagerness to demonstrate that, yes, the US still does have allies. The president's trip to Europe for the anniversary of the D-Day Invasion is an excellent opportunity for all concerned. It is, however, extremely awkward for the Kerry campaign, one of whose themes is the Bush's Administration is alleged disregard of the post World War II alliance system.

* * *

Someone who does not seem to have gotten the memo about all this is John L Allen, Jr., the Vatican correspondent for The National Catholic Reporter. The New York Times published a most unfortunate Op Ed by him yesterday, entitled "The Campaign Comes to Rome." It was about the president's visit today with the pope. Allen recalls this bit of history:

In 1983, Gen. Wojcieh Jaruzelski, then prime minister of Poland, received Pope John Paul II at the Belvedere Palace in Warsaw. It was the pope's second trip to his home country, but the first since the general had imposed martial law 18 months earlier, and in a speech before their meeting the general defended his decision. Despite the defiant tone of the speech, many reporters noticed, General Jaruzelski's knees were shaking.

Allen then rehearses the policy differences between the Vatican and Washington about Iraq, and speculates about the Bush Administration's need to court the Catholic vote. (That's increasingly mythical, but this is a Times piece, after all.) Then Allen asks:

Unfortunately, when John Paul II and George Bush appear before the cameras tomorrow, they will almost certainly be seated. So it will be harder to see whether the president's knees are shaking.

You would think that someone who works in Vatican City would know better than to say something like this. The pope has Parkinson's Disease; his meeting with Bush occurred on what was obviously not one of John Paul's better days. It was the pope who was shaking. As for the pope's statement, it was by no means hostile. The pope was keen on UN involvement in "normalizing" the situation in Iraq. However, the message was also clear that the Vatican, or at least John Paul II, think that Bush's heart is in the right place:

Mr. President, as you carry out your lofty mission of service to your nation and to world peace, I assure you of my prayers and cordially invoke upon you God’s blessings of wisdom, strength and peace.

As for electorally useful statements, the pope did offer this:

I also continue to follow with great appreciation your commitment to the promotion of moral values in American society, particularly with regard to respect for life and the family.

Frankly, most family-values types are going to vote for Bush anyway, but the choir does like to be preached to.

* * *

Does this mean joint Terror and Culture Wars are going swimmingly? Not if you believe this scenario by Greg Crosby, entitled How We Will Lose the Islamo-Fascist War:

Americans will slowly but surely start to forget why we are fighting in the first place and the general sentiment will be to "bring the troops home...When that happens, watch for John Kerry (who up until the prison abuse story broke had been sounding moderate to almost hawkish in his campaign speeches concerning the war) to take a sudden, yet decidedly anti-war stance. He will proclaim that if elected he will end the war and "bring our young men and women home" and he will win. After he takes office he will make good on his promise and begin the extrication of our forces from the region -- leaving the place to the terrorists in much the same way that South Vietnam was left to the North. When this happens we are done for. It will be exactly at that point in time when we will have lost the war to the Islamic Terrorists.

By no means. Even if this worst scenario happened in Iraq, that would not mean the end of the war. It would just mean that we would be waiting for the nukes to go off in Western cities (along with other things, like oil cut-offs and demands for Sharia zones in Europe and Canada). When those things start to happen, moderate and relatively bloodless experiments, such as turning Iraq into a regional demonstration project, would no longer be possible.

Yes, I did write "relatively bloodless."

* * *

Recently I bought a DVD of the best science-fiction film ever made, Forbidden Planet. This is the 1956 film, with Leslie Nielsen. I noticed something about the exposition that precedes the film: unless I misheard, the narrator says that the first expeditions to the moon happened "in the last decade of the 21st century." For space-flight proponents in the 1950s, that was a somewhat cautious forecast. Then just two days ago I saw this item about the gradual development of space flight:

MOJAVE, Calif. (AP) - A privately developed manned rocket will attempt to reach space this month, its builders said Wednesday. It would be the first non-governmental flight to leave Earth's atmosphere...SpaceShipOne, created by aviation designer Burt Rutan and funded by billionaire Paul Allen, will attempt to reach an altitude of 62 miles on a suborbital flight over the Mojave Desert on June 21.

That story seems more consistent with the timeline of Forbidden Planet than with the timeline I remember. Maybe R.A. Lafferty was right, and the 1960s were a diabolical hallucination.

* * *

Speaking of the devil's pranks, no admirer of Charles Fort could fail to applaud this story in The New York Post:

June 1, 2004 -- A boat party in an exclusive area of Long Island Sunday night was interrupted - when a severed human hand mysteriously dropped out of the sky onto the deck of a boat, police said yesterday. The bizarre incident occurred in the water just off the Lawrence Village Marina, where a group of boats had gathered to have a party. One owner was in the cabin when "he heard a noise, goes out to check and finds the hand on the rear deck of the boat," said Nassau Detective Sgt. John Azzata. "At this point, we don't have a clue where it came from. It's a mystery."

A little more investigation sparked the hypothesis that the hand might have come from a corpse that had recently washed ashore at Atlantic City, minus hands and feet. Then, however, The New York Times put in its two cents:

MINEOLA: FALLEN OBJECT MAY BE PART OF A DEAD BEAR A fallen object on a boat, first thought to be a clamshell and then a decomposed human hand, may actually be part of a dead bear, perhaps a claw awaiting treatment by a taxidermist. On Sunday, a startled deckhand at the Lawrence Village Marina in Nassau County reported the object to the police. It was then taken to the county medical examiner's office for analysis. Yesterday, Detective Lt. Dennis Farrell of the Nassau County Police Department said that a taxidermist working on a bear in his backyard, near the marina, reported that a bird might have flown away with a bear part.Stacy Albin (NYT)

Sounds like the Party Line to me.

* * *

The protests at the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee have gone reasonably well. At least they got some publicity, such as this story from Carl Weiser of the Gannett News Service:

Seven members of the American Literacy Society picketed the 77th annual spelling bee, which is sponsored every year by Cincinnati-based Scripps Howard. The protesters' complaint: English spelling is illogical. And the national spelling bee only reinforces the crazy spellings that lead to dyslexia, high illiteracy, and harder lives for immigrants.

The story gave the forces of obscurantism equal time, however:

Bee spokesman Mark Kroeger said good spelling comes from knowing the story behind a word - what language it comes from, what it means. "For these kids who understand the root words, who understand the etymology, it's totally logical," he said.

That's perfectly true. If you know Latin and Greek and Norman French, English spelling becomes pretty transparent. Certainly it is to me; I've been a language buff since I discovered Tolkien when I was 15, and I can read a couple of languages. Maybe, though, we should have a spelling system geared to people who know only English.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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