Rich Lowry on Zell Miller on National Review Online

Zell Was Right:

So say national Democratic Party leaders, according to this piece:

'What I was telling them was right and correct, if only they had listened to it,' says Miller, who recently retired from the Senate. Democrats are essentially saying these days that they want a party in which someone like Zell Miller can feel comfortable. Alas, they used to have one. But, as someone once put it, today's Democrats are a national party no more.
It's not too late -- if they have the guts to make the necessary changes.

Commentary - Americanism--and Its Enemies

The Faithful:

Commentary magazine runs this month a piece by a Yale university professor of computer science, David Gelernter. Dr. Gelenter argues that Americanism is a religion in fact, not just in form:

Many thinkers have noted that Americanism is inspired by or close to or intertwined with Puritanism. One of the most impressive scholars to say so recently is Samuel Huntington, in his formidable book on American identity, Who Are We? But my thesis is that Puritanism did not merely inspire or influence Americanism; it turned into Americanism. Puritanism and Americanism are not just parallel or related developments; they are two stages of a single phenomenon.
The argument he makes is an extended one, well informed and resonant. I am not, myself, familiar with a number of the sources and documents he cites, particularly the early government and church documents from the Founding. Even so, I can see that there is a great truth hidden here. I recommend the piece to you all.

Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily.

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall

Social Security:

Monomaniac Joshua Micah Marshall has turned his laser-beam focus on the issue of Social Security reform. Well, actually, he's turned his focus on the issue of putting a stop to any attempt to have Social Security reform.

This is not surprising. Social Security is the strongest bastion of socialism in America. With Welfare reform having taken place, it is the one program left to satisfy someone whose political preferences run toward European-style "social democracy." If you lose this ground, you lose it all.

It happens that Grim is an enemy of the whole "social democratic" program. Aristotle notes that 'a proper upbringing' is necessary to having the correct understanding of arete, a word that encompasses both "excellence" and "virtue" in the modern English. Social democracy, because it redirects responsibility and power from the individual to the state, produces the exact opposite of a proper upbringing. It produces a set of expectations about how the world should work that undermines the qualities necessary in a free man.

This objection stands regardless of the practicality of the program -- it is an objection to a welfare system that works, as much as to a welfare system that is broken. Arguing that the program works well doesn't change the fact that what it does so very well is ultimately unhealthy.

However, this philosophy does have exceptions at the margins, and Social Security happens to occupy one. Programs to care for the aged offer little threat to the character of the nation or her citizens, as the character of a man of sixty-five is largely formed. We've observed that there is still some threat in this regard ("Where'd you get all the money?" "The government. I didn't earn it, I don't need it, but if they miss one payment, I raise hell!"). Still, if that is taken into account and adjustments are made to lessen the effect, this is a place where some government involvement can do more good than harm. Social Security reform could be meaningful simply by instituting a strict means test. Only the truly poor elderly would get money, in the medium future; in the near future, we would have a declining scope of payments, so that those who have been relying on Social Security would not be let down.

The needy elderly can thereby be cared for, but the percentage who rely in some fashion on Social Security will be low enough that it won't produce a large faction prepared to vote itself largess from the public treasury, as Sir Alexander Fraser Tyler warned us at the outset of this adventure. Expenditures for caring only for the needy will be far lower than current expenditures, which are outrageously high because the program is structured to make Social Security the "right" of all Americans.

The alternative route -- private accounts, so that "social security" money becomes instead privately owned assets -- is also satisfactory. It addresses the needs of the elderly, prevents the voting of largess from the public treasury, and preserves the principle of individual responsibility and power. It doesn't do it as well as simply leaving the money in the hands of the people to start with, naturally, but it seems a reasonable compromise position. As with any compromise, neither side is really satisfied. The democratic socalist will find the whole thing less satisfactory than guaranteed payments from the treasury; the individualist will find the paperwork and hassle of working with the government to manage his account frustrating, and wonder why he can't just please manage his own money without interference. Those of us who feel that society has a duty to care for the elderly will be satisfied, though, regardless of whether we feel the government should be the agency fulfilling society's responsibility.

All that said, there is one part of this discussion that I find astonishing. The debate seems to be focusing itself on defining the precise moment at which Social Security becomes insolvent. Advocates of the maximum position say that it won't be for decades; advocates of the minimum say that, in just five years, the program will stop producing more revenue than it expends, and it's all downhill from there. This is a cynical way to argue, on both sides.

The minimal position is correct to say that the "watershed moment" is nearby, and that this will require certain measures to be taken by, say, 2042. The longer we wait, the sterner the measures have to be. But words like "crisis" derail the whole point of this argument, which is that we don't have to have a crisis if we address the situation now.

The maximum position wants to make only half of that last argument: 'we don't have to have a crisis.' That is not true unless we undertake reform in the near future. You can't have only half the argument.

It is no good to argue that a crisis is "decades away" when you are talking about a retirement plan. Those are meant to be planned decades in advance. Informing someone of the age of twenty that there won't be a crisis until they are at least 62 years old is not encouraging. That's just when they are going to need to avoid a crisis.

Pushing the crisis date back a few years, if it can be done at that point, really only makes things worse. For a thirty year old today, hearing that the money may run out when you're 72 should be alarming. That will be when you're good and retired and have no real option of returning to work should the money run out. Hearing that it may not happen until you are 75 is not very comforting; indeed, the only comfort to be derived from this argument is the hope that you might manage to die before the crisis arrives. | Pants on Fire | 2004-12-30

A Lesson in Politics:

Via Samizdata, I found this story from the Dallas Observer. It provides a useful reminder of the nature of politics, and politicians.

The D magazine special edition goes on and on about the recreational amenities the Trinity River project will create: '...the Trinity River will accommodate small sailboats and paddle boats,' the magazine tells its readers. 'More interestingly, a reverse-flow lake is planned with a 17-foot drop where it curves back to the river, creating rapids and a perfect whitewater course for winter kayaking competitions...

'But the most visible benefit will be on the Oak Cliff side, which will have easy access to downtown, great views and--most important of all--along the levee, direct entry into the country's largest urban park.'

All of this is a lie.
How does he know? Why, the real plans were contained in the "executive summary" document:
Here's the point. And remember, in months of preparation, reporting and interviews, there is no way that somebody at D magazine did not know this: There is no white-water kayaking, no waterfalls, none of that in this plan. The exact word in the document is "none."

And what if the city were able to come up with another $110 million[?] ... Dallas Mayor Laura Miller is quoted in the magazine as saying the extra $110 million, for which she is willing to recommend a tax hike, will "put all the bells and whistles" on the project. So how much white-water kayaking will "all the bells and whistles" include?

None. We don't get white-water rafting until we come up with the additional $700 million.


Maybe you weren't sure a minute ago, by the way, what a "reverse-flow lake" is. Please let me explain. Right now all of the water in the Trinity River is "effluent" or doo-doo water from upriver sewage treatment plants, some of which don't meet minimal EPA standards. It's not safe to swim in. I have spoken to experts who have said it would be unsafe to go sailing on top of this water unless you were wearing a HAZMAT suit.... What we are getting instead is a stagnant rainwater lake with groundwater pumps that somebody hopes will keep the lake a little bit wet during the dry season.

Boating? Well, sure, if you want to park downtown and carry your boat across the levees and down through the ticks and chiggers to the stagnant water. The levee-top roads and the park access roads shown in all the fancy graphics for this project are not in the plan.

Neither, by the way, are the recreation terraces, the amphitheater or the concession and event facilities. They're not in the basic plan. They're not in the $110 million plan. They're in your dreams.
This little example from Dallas can be replicated by glancing at any spending bill passed by Congress. Dave Barry was exactly right when he said:
We must always remember that, as Americans, we all have a common enemy - an enemy that is dangerous, powerful and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.
I agree entirely. And I'm a patriot, fierce as they come. I believe in the Republic, just not in Republicans. Like Chesterton,
Now, I have not lost my ideals in the least; my faith in fundamentals is exactly what it always was. What I have lost is my old childlike faith in practical politics. I am still as much concerned as ever about the Battle of Armageddon; but I am not so much concerned about the General Election. As a babe I leapt up on my mother's knee at the mere mention of it. No; the vision is always solid and reliable. The vision is always a fact. It is the reality that is often a fraud. As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.
My father was right: politicians should be allowed to serve as long a term as they want in government, just so long as they immediately after they lose their first election, they serve an equal number of years in prison.


Ingeld & Christ:

An interesting story from Laksamana.Net underlines both the differences of Southeast Asian Islam, and the age of the region's cultures.

Majelis Mujahedeen Indonesia, or "Indonesian Council of Holy Warriors" (MMI), is a radical group founded on all too familiar principles: the founding of an Islamic state where there is now Indonesia, a state under Islamic law. It holds all the vaguely Wahabbi strictures about life. The Front Pembla Islam, or "Defenders of Islam Front" (FPI) is a vigilante group designed around enforcing those same strictures. It does things like attack and destroy cafes that serve alcohol in Jakarta during the fast of Ramadan.

These groups, linked to Saudi Arabia's vast school-funding movement, will hold no suprises for the Western reader. But there is one part of Indonesia that is actually under Islamic law (sha'riah): Aceh province. And there is a separatist movement in Aceh province which has been fighting for the full independence of Aceh from the Indonesian government. The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) is a name you will probably get to know in the next few weeks, as they spar with the Indonesian military around our Marines and sailors.

Here's the twist, for those of you who have not heard of Aceh before now: GAM has demanded the expulsion of MMI and FPI from Aceh province.

"The government of Aceh in exile... deplores the arrival in Aceh of members of the thuggish so-called Islamic Defenders Front and the terroristic Indonesia Mujahidin Council. The introduction of these organizations into Aceh at this most critical time squanders scarce resources by the Indonesian government which is better allocated to the victims of the recent tsunami," said the statement.

"The FPI and MMI are not welcome in Aceh and have never been supported by the Acehnese people, nor has their presence been requested. The FPI has been involved in sectarian killings in Maluku and Central Sulawesi and illegal attacks against non-Muslims and others in Java and elsewhere."

The statement said MMI is the "umbrella organization for groups such as Laskar Jihad, Laskar Jundullah and the FPI" and has "the explicit aim of turning Indonesia into a non-democratic fundamentalist Islamist state".

"The actions and words of both the FPI and MMI are against the teachings of the Holy Qur'an and the Hadith and contradict the tolerance and faith of Acehnese Muslims. Neither the FPI nor the MMI has any credentials or skills in disaster relief, and their presence is clearly intended as a provocation to the people of Aceh. Their intervention in Aceh is therefore counter-productive and is not wanted," it added.
GAM is an indigenous people's movement defending, in their way, the traditional culture of Aceh. Precisely because it is a genuinely traditional movement, it frowns on Islamist/Wahabbi rhetoric and practices of the sort that has become popular in the urban areas of Indonesia among groups such as FPI and MMI. Islamists are enemies of traditional cultural practices, such as the famous Indonesian shadow puppets, which aren't directly related to Islam -- in fact, they have their roots in Hindu culture, though they are now an important feature of life in Aceh province.

It was in just this way that early Christian saints deplored the traditional culture they were trying to supplant: you may remember Alcuin's famous diatribe against traditional Germanic hero poems, "What has Ingeld to do with Christ?"

Very early in the life of Grim's Hall, I wrote a piece suggesting that the relationship between Ingeld and Christ was the way to break the Islamist movement. I still think that it is, as the Aceh case may demonstrate. What has Wayang to do with Islam? To the people of Aceh, they are as father and mother.

Musings of The GeekWithA.45

Royal Marines:

The GeekWithA.45 tells a story, pertaining to the selection of a military sidearm:

'As regards to calibers, I once had a Royal Marine tell me, over Guiness in a London pub: 'The 9mm is, you see, a round invented in Europe for shooting other Europeans.

'Being civilized, we fall down when shot, and wait for the chaps with the red cross armbands to carry us off.

'You yanks, on the other hand, keep getting into arguments with disagreeable sorts who insist on trying to kill you after they've already been shot, so naturally you think you have to blow great bloody holes in them. Quite right, really.'
I'm not sure if he means that it's "quite right" that we favor the big guns, or that these folks keep insisting on trying to kill us. Hard to tell with the Brits. That dry sense of humor, you know.

It's worth noting that the Texas Rangers were early adopters of the five-shot Paterson Colt revolver, which fired a lightweight round of .36 caliber, with even lighter calibers available. They used it to great effect in the constant skirmishes, and occasional battles, with the Commanche. The heavy Walker Colt was designed later on the recommendations of one of the most famous of the early Rangers, Captain Sam Walker. Among his innovations was an increase to .44 caliber. Although this weapon was designed by a Ranger for the needs of Rangers, many didn't like it because of the heavy weight and massive concussion. They stuck with the Patersons.

So it's an old debate, really, even among Americans. - The Filipino Global Community


If you want to interrupt a festival, this is how serious people do it:

"Had we not recovered these bombs and arrested these people, the procession could have turned into a bloodbath," said Senior Superintendent Elmer Jamias, chief of WPD Station 5 which covers Ermita.
The place is the Philippines, where suicide bombers linked to Jemaah Islamiyah and a local mosque were planning to infiltrate a Christian parade, on the feast of "the Black Nazarene."
Tens of thousands of barefoot Roman Catholics take part in the annual Jan. 9 procession in which the centuries-old ebony statue of Jesus is taken from Quiapo church and paraded around the district.

Among the most prominent regular participants is Vice President Noli de Castro.

"The scenario is, there would be suicide bombers in the feast of the Black Nazarene," Jamias said.

"They would rig their bodies with bombs, join the procession, and blow themselves up. God made sure this would not happen," Jamias added.
No one could be sure that the police caught all the bombers, or recovered all the explosives. In spite of that, the largest crowd ever came out to the Quiapo Church. The vast turnout slowed the procession, such that suicide bombers could have easily decimated the crowd. Bombs in such a crowd would be brutal, but less so than the stampede and the crush which would follow. Supporters seemed unafraid:
Despite concerns that the procession might be attacked by militants, hundreds of thousands of devotees thronged to see the ebony statue of Jesus Christ, which is believed to have miraculous healing powers, as it was paraded through the sidestreets of Quiapo district.

"We were not bothered by the reported plot to bomb the procession. But if anything happens, at least we are in the presence of the Nazarene," said market vendor Mario Dignos....

"I’m not scared of anything, even bombs," added Zenaida Gutierrez, a housewife. "I am with the Lord."
This is the spirit of the true martyr, unlike the twisted form of the word which has come to grace the lips of the cruel. It reflects in any number of ancient texts, but still has the power to astonish. We have seen it before, but never become accustomed to it.

It is this kind of radical hope and faith which alone can defeat the enemy. We see similar courage in the hearts of men and women standing in line to vote in Afghanistan, and we shall see it in Iraq. We saw that kind of courage, once, in Tienanmen Square. We see it in our heroes and volunteers.

These men and women have met with different fates. The pilgrims of Quiapo pass unmolested; the students of Tienanmen were driven under with tanks and bayonets. The voters in Afghanistan suffered but little, and gained much; there is no doubt that the voters of Iraq will suffer more, for the enemy is more powerful in their nation. And as for our own fighting men, they contest from behind the strongest armor and most deadly firepower we can devise. Our medical skill is second to none, and the injured can be transported to safety for the length of his recovery. But it would be folly to say there is nothing to fear:
Thus ended the memorable field of Ashby-de-la-Zouche, one of the most gallantly contested tournaments of that age; for although only four knights, including one who was smothered by the heat of his armour, had died upon the field, yet upwards of thirty were desperately wounded, four or five of whom never recovered. Several more were disabled for life; and those who escaped best carried the marks of the conflict to the grave with them. Hence it is always mentioned in the old records, as the Gentle and Joyous Passage of Arms of Ashby.
Yet they go, each in their turn. In their courage, the world has hope. It falls to us to be worthy of them: and to go ourselves, if Fate should call.