Tuesday, April 29, 2008

European prisoners disproportionately Muslim

In a feature article, WaPo foreign reporter Molly Moore laments how Muslims in European prisons are being snubbed by policies that 'cater' to Jews and Christians. These chosen faiths enjoy better spiritual services, as the chaplain-to-Jewish/Christian prisoner ratios are intolerably lower than the Muslim cleric-to-Muslim prisoner ratios are.

Estimates from the article of how many times more likely Muslims are to be incarcerated than are non-Muslims in the following European countries:

France -- 14 times
Britain -- 4 times
Netherlands -- 4 times
Belgium -- 9 times

An important French prison official in charge of integration is there to assuage our concerns, however:
"Many immigrants arrive in France in difficult financial situations, which make delinquency more frequent," said Jeanne Sautière, director of integration and religious groups for the French prison system. "The most important thing is to
say there is no correlation between Islam and delinquency."
Correlation doesn't necessarily indicate causation, but there very clearly is a correlation between Islam and criminality in Europe, as Sautière acknowledges one sentence before asserting that no correlation between Islam and criminality exists.

Apparently statistical literacy is not a requirement of those who pursue a noble career in the multicultural racket. Then again, she might realize that indeed a correlation does exist, but, as her line of work dictates, she understands stating that no such correlation exists (irrespective of reality) is of the utmost importance.

More on miscegenation and its effects on the demographic landscape

++Addition++John Savage responds here. He makes an interesting remark regarding the elite opinion on immigration--even if we assume the reality of human biodiversity is understood, the establishment has many reasons to lower the average IQ of the populous. Steve Sailer has summarized the elite opinion on IQ as this: It doesn't matter, but they have higher IQs than everybody else. If Steve's pithy descriptor strikes you as accurate, it's hard to argue that what John asserts doesn't describe the situation right now.

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Responding to a post here on one of his own, John Savage entertains the idea of a one-drop non-white rule for preferential treatment at the national level but ultimately finds several faults in it. He points out that transnational differences, an important driving force behind whiterpeople's support for liberal immigration policies, will remain unchanged. Thus white guilt will become mocha guilt, the end result being more of the same. He also suggests that one-drop non-whites will still identify as non-whites, and thus clamor for lots of immigration from non-white places. Rather than excerpt snippets and thus obfuscate John's points, I urge you to read his post in full if the discussion interests you. My response, which I left at BNWW, is below.

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The strictly national, one-drop discussion is a thought experiment. I'm not endorsing it, although I do think it would be preferable to a nominal non-white percentage requirement for preferential treatment.

No claim to a crystal ball here, either. But it's uncertain that an 80/20 white/non-white 'homogenuous' (that is, everyone is more or less mostly white with about the same amount of black/Amerindian ancestry as contemporary blacks have European ancestry--and with a one-drop rule, whites would have greater opportunity for fecundity due to greater desirability, so the mix would probably be something more like 85/15 or 90/10) will be one supportive of open immigration from Africa, Latin America, or the Caribbean. Most blacks express restrictionist views on immigration, while Hispanics tend to split or lean modestly towards restrictionism, depending on how the issue is presented to them.

Hispanics today, especially those of first generation in the US, understandably feel closer to other Hispanics entering the US than hypothetical 80%+ Euros will sometime in the future. It will similarly be more difficult for open border elites to leverage ethnic solidarity in this future, because the Indians simply won't be there (even if there is no shortage of aspiring chiefs). I suppose the pertinent question is how strongly the population buys into the tripe about one-drop. Will most people see it as a legal requirement to be exploited (in short order by virtually everyone), or as an accurate descriptor of biological reality?

Presuming only blacks and whites for a moment, were the public to overwhelmingly support unfettered immigration from Haiti or Nigeria, we'd have to throw out the working assumption that people are rationally attempting to maximize their own IQs and the IQs of their offspring. That calls into question your initial assumption that all people will have become racial realists.

Barack Obama's dominance among blacks shouldn't necessarily be taken as evidence that someone of mixed European and Other ancestry will reliably be able to appeal to Others as they rally behind him. With this presumption, it stands to reason that the mixed leader will play up his Otherness. And against an opponent who is entirely white, it will work. But against someone who is entirely Other, the mixed person will lose the battle for the Other vote.

We see this in Latin America regularly. The Amerindians back a fellow Amerindian or Mestizo who is mostly Amerindian against a more European-looking candidate (ie Morales in Bolivia, Chavez in Venezuela, Obrador in Mexico).

With Hillary as an opponent, Barack has the black vote in the bag--the mixed candidate leveraging his Other credentials to take the Other vote against the white candidate. But when he ran for Congress in 2000 against the very black Bobby Rush (who was heavily involved with the Black Panthers and is now, in addition to being a Congressman, also a preacher) in the very black 1st district of Illinois, Bobby beat Barack by a margin of more than 2-to-1--the mixed not being able to win over the Others like someone who is 'authentically' other can.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Extremists, not Islam, the problem?

The State Department, DHS, and the NCTC urge that it's time to forever separate Islam and terrorism--in our diplomatic lexicon, that is:
Federal agencies, including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counter Terrorism Center, are telling their people not to describe Islamic extremists as "jihadists" or "mujahedeen," according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. Lingo like "Islamo-fascism" is out, too.

The reason: Such words may actually boost support for radicals among Arab and Muslim audiences by giving them a veneer of religious credibility or by causing offense to moderates.

For example, while Americans may understand "jihad" to mean "holy war," it is in fact a broader Islamic concept of the struggle to do good, says the guidance prepared for diplomats and other officials tasked with explaining the war on terror to the public. Similarly, "mujahedeen," which means those engaged in jihad, must be seen in its broader context.
"Islamo-fascism" never made much sense. "Islamic fundamentalism" is a better descriptor of the ideological force driving terrorist attacks on Western targets. Of course, such a phrase indictes Islam as a compelling engine of the contemporary international terrorist problem. Can't have any of that.

Can Islam be stripped of its martial essence? Tough to see how that'll be pulled off, since Islam's central figure, an expansionist military leader, is having revealed to him (and his followers) the commands and teachings of God throughout the Koran.

In contemporary Christianity, by contrast, the divinely blessed violent conquests are in books most Christians know almost nothing about. Joshua paraded around Jericho and it fell, right? Oh, the walls fell and then all the inhabitants inside (including livestock) were massacred? My pastor never told me that. Judges, I assume, has to do with ideals of justice, right? Oh, you mean it's a compendia of accounts of the violent military expansion and contraction of Israel under various obscure leaders? Huh, wasn't aware.

Christians primarily pay attention to the four gospels (especially Luke and John) which together comprise about one-tenth of the Good Book. And that 10% doesn't condone violent militancy at all.

We'd be better off pointing out the strong connection between Islam and terrorism against the West and then doing everything we are able to do to separate Islam and the West from one another.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Encouraging miscegenation could make Western nations either more, or less, European

John Savage recently posted on an older discussion at VFR about William Saletan's assertion that increasing interracial marriage rates--reuniting the human genome--is the quickest way to close the IQ gap. John suggests that rather than requiring a global totalitarian government to force greater interracial birthing, preferential treatment could do the job:

The point would be to create a strong enough incentive for whites and Asians to believe their children will be better off if they have children exempt from the global program of discrimination. Say the threshold is that people who are 50% or less white are exempt from discrimination, whereas those who are at least 50.1% white are subject to profound discrimination. As a result, I can reason that my reproductive fitness would wind up being greater if I marry someone 100% nonwhite, and have children who are only 50% white and exempt from discrimination. They will have lower IQ than if I’d had white children, but if the discrimination is sufficient as to outweigh the disadvantage of the low IQ, I will be better off having children who are only half white. The 100% nonwhite person, on the other hand, will benefit (and will know it if we’re honest about IQ, as we’re assuming here) by having a smarter child than if she had married another nonwhite.
For sake of argument, assume John has an IQ of 100 (to those familiar with him, that's a grossly understated assumption I know, but for conceptual purposes it works). He can either procreate with a white woman, IQ 100, or a black woman, IQ 84. If he goes with the white woman, his kid has an IQ of 100. If he goes with the black woman, his kid has an IQ of 92.

So the affirmative action benefits for the oreo would have to exceed in value what an additional 8 IQ points would net him for John to choose the black woman. For sake of argument, grant that society's preferential treatment amounts to more for the oreo than 8 additional IQ points will grant him. Assuming each person is aware of his own IQ and the IQ of the others, the black woman will want John to choose her. The white woman, however, will not want to be John's mate. She'll be after a black guy for the same reason John wants to mate with the black woman. John wouldn't choose the white woman, anyway. Non-whites are thus able to max out reproduction, with an accessible supply of white mates that far outstrips their demand for white mates.

John's oreo is best off finding another oreo, but would still take a black mate with an IQ of 84, resulting in a child with an IQ of 88, over a white mate with an IQ of 100, resulting in a child with an IQ of 96. The 75%-black, 25%-white kid is eligible for benefits resulting in a boost of more than 8 points, so his 'effective IQ' is higher than the 25%-black, 75%-white kid with an IQ of 96 who is not eligible for preferential treatment.

Thus the blending is underway in the first generation. In subsequent generations, the ideal becomes being 50% white. Being more than 50% white is bad news, with 50.1% white (not entitled to preferential treatment) the worst situation of all. With this price-is-right dynamic, mating pairs will try to get as close to 50% white as possible without going over. Thus they will accept offspring that is 40% white, but not 60% white.

Whites will be bred out of existence. Once someone falls below 50% white (say 40% white), when there is no one who is more than 50% white but less than 100% white around, the white percentage in that line will begin to drop further. Only those who are less than 40% white will see an advantage in mating with the person who is 40% white--those between 40% and 50% white will look elsewhere, to a limited (and dwindling) supply of half-whites.

Those who are 100% white, who could conceivably boost the white percentage back up, will have no incentive to breed with anyone who has any white in them at all--and if one does, it'll be with someone else who is 100% white, not the the 40% white person. A 100% white mating with a 40% white would lead to a bad outcome for both parties, as their offspring would be 70% white with an IQ of 95 and no preferential treatment eligibility. If the 100% white is going to doom his kid to no preferential treatment, he might as well do it with another 100% white so that the kid has an IQ of 100 instead of an IQ of 95.

In a rational world, John's proposed strategy would work. For simplicity, I'm avoiding the varying amount of European blood in American blacks (averaging around 15%-20%) that complicates the computations and I'm not touching the Hispanic category, which really gets dicey. I'm operating under the assumption that cheap genetic testing becomes widely available, and that the whiteness metric is clearly defined--for $100 bucks, you find out, among other things, that you are X% white. I'm also assuming that people act in a rational manner, which isn't always the case when it comes to two becoming one. Nor will downward pressure on average IQ make people any more rational.

I'm also ignoring the desirability premium intelligent non-whites would enjoy from such strong preferential treatment going into effect and keeping Asians out of the picture altogether.

The discussion centered on a global governing body granting preferential treatment on a worldwide scale. But at the national level, the effect of John's strategy would be the same. However, a one-drop rule, absent immigration, would have the opposite effect. Given current TFR rates by race and ethnicity in the US, a one-drop non-white rule for preferential treatment would be a way of keeping the country as European as possible.

With free-for-all mating, the smaller groups inevitably get gobbled up by the largest group, which is only marginally effected by the mixing. We see this clearly in American blacks, who on average, after more than three centuries here, are nearly one-fifth white. American whites, however, are on average less than 1% black. If preferential treatment is given for any nominal percentage of non-white blood, whites would be encouraged to find non-white mates, with those who are only marginally non-white becoming especially attractive. Non-whites (or non-100% whites in this case), from those who are 99% white to those who are not white at all, would conversely try to find the whitest mate possible, since their offspring will already be given preferential treatment due to their own non-white blood.

In any country where the white population is a majority but in the process of becoming a minority due to differential fertility rates, immediate interracial increases with a one-drop non-white rule for preferential treatment is, theoretically, a way to stop the trend, freezing the current total genetic profile and distributing it evenly across the population over time, so that a nation that is 80% white and 20% black moves towards becoming 100% white with a mocha tint.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I messed up

Statistics require attention to detail. Early Tuesday morning, with the Pennsylvania primary coming up, the idea of predicting the outcome based on a simple linear formula built from regression data on race of the states having voted up to that point came to me. I pulled my data from my email account since I wasn't at home at the time. Anyway, I didn't save the equation after I plugged in the Pennsylvania numbers.

When I recreated it at home this morning, I came up with a different result--Hillary winning by 4.4 points, 52.2%-47.8%, instead of 8 points as I'd said earlier. After toying around for a bit, I found the mistake. I took the white and black percentages as a total of all voters, and then multiplied it by the white+black total (.96), to come up with Obama's share. The last step isn't needed. So the polls were more accurate.

I'm really sorry for the carelessness. It's why doing things at home without pressing time constraints is a much better way to go (that's where I almost always do my blogging).

Hillary's better performance than the crude equation predicted likely comes from news about Obama over the last several weeks being worse for him than news about Hillary has been for her. Also, most of those sitting on the fence going into the primary are now voting for Hillary. Before March 4, they'd been voting for Obama. The thrust of the post remains the same--demographics are an anchor, while all the other things that go on comprise the wind, shifting the electoral boat back and forth along its anchor-restricted range at the surface.

The equation used:

Barack's total share = ((((46+[black percentage of voters]*-.28436)*[white percentage of voters])+([black percentage of voters]*.84))+(.33*[Hispanic percentage of voters]))/[1-percentage of remaining voters]

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Those on the fence as they enter the booth now breaking consistently for Hillary

++Addition++The equation I came up with was faulty. It was actually a bit less accurate, rather than a bit more accurate, than the polls were. FK still came out on top!

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I feel vindicated for having not closely followed the unimportant dog and pony show that has been the Democratic nominating process over the last several weeks. Basic demograhic information made a better augur than did last-minute polls, and blogger Fat Knowledge made an even better prognosticator than that. As Steve Sailer notes, this race is about identity--or the tit-for-tat between the campaigns and the media outlets that facilitate it have netted to nothing.

One notable thing to mention from the exit polling data--Hillary again cleaned up with late deciders. With the lone exception of ethnically anomalous New Mexico (where whites tried to throw Hillary to the curb but Hispanics barely saved her), Hillary's performance among voters who made their decisions sometime in the last three days leading up to the election had been worse than her overall performance in every of the first 25 states where exit polling data are available.

On March 4, with contests in Texas, Ohio, Vermont (which she lost), and Rhode Island, she did a 180, outperforming among the late performers four times in a single day, after only having done it a single time in all the contests that'd come before. Then she did it in Mississippi. And now she has done it yet again in Pennsylvania, beating Obama 59%-41% in the category compared to only 55%-45% overall.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ask them what they think, or tell just by looking?

++Addition++The equation I came up with was faulty. It was actually a bit less accurate, rather than a bit more accurate, than the polls were. It predicted Hillary winning by only 4.4 points, not 8 points. I'm sorry for the mess up.

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Going on the assumption that 16% of the turnout in today's Pennsylvania Democratic primary will be black, 4% will be Hispanic, and the remaining 80% will be white*, I plugged the racial/ethnic demographic numbers into a linear equation built on regression data from non-caucus states that have already voted to come up with a prediction for today's results. The method's outcome favors Hillary by eight points, 54%-46%.

My intention isn't to try and upstage the pollsters or show that I have some superior insight into the workings of American electoral politics. The method may miss the mark. Even if I were to be so audacious, it'd be tough to distinguish my prediction from what the pollsters are saying. Real Clear Politics amalgamated average has Hillary ahead by a little more than six points.

Instead, I want to show how important it is to know who is voting. Or, looking at it from another angle, to take note of how relatively unimportant what the candidates say and do in the media, in speeches and debates, at public forums, and in other places actually is.

Obama's relationship with Wright, among other shady characters, has (finally) become public knowledge. Hillary's been ridiculed for the blatant embellishing of her trip to Bosnia while looking 'good' in the most recent debates. Obama has a huge cash advantage going forward. Those things are in addition to all the other perpetual campaign-related stuff that's been going on for the last several months.

And still the last-minute polls, with all that excitement and momentum-shifting factored in, predict virtually the same outcome that'd be expected if only the racial/ethnic characteristics of Pennsylvania's voters were known. Throw in age, income, geographic, religious, and family structure data into the mix and the two point gap between that prediction and what the polls show probably gets even smaller.

* The figures for other groups are too limited to be included, and anyway they'll only comprise a couple percent of the state's overall vote.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Is DMB the whiterest band ever?

As one who is third-generation on the maternal side and has poor Ozarkan roots on the paternal side, I'm persistently tormented by the thought that I'm not whiter enough, that I haven't suffered through private school, violin lessons since the age of four, or being an only child. Sure, I may play soccer or have gay 'friends', but identifying United's team captain isn't something I can do off the top of my head, and try as I may, I'm really only acquaintances of those gay guys as I have so little in common with them.

But a realization has helped assuage this internal conflict. It might even be enough for me to stop being such a conspicuous Japanophile. See, I've been into the whiterest band of our time since I was in elementary school. I even pulled back with the death of the Lillywhite Sessions. That's right, I learned to play Grey Street when it had four verses, not two. No, I don't think it has anything to do with Julia Grey. She was flushed out for good in the cathartic Halloween. No, it didn't torment him for seven year's of the band's existence. It was included on BTCS, but it first appeared on Recently, the band's second independent release back in early '94. Anyhow, I smelled the selling out years before it became so blatant. And don't ask me about Stand Up, because I. Don't. Even. Know.

Why is the Dave Matthews Band the whiterest music act ever? An immediate objection is that the point of following the indie scene is to identify and become familiar with a band before anyone else knows it exists. Thus you will already be familiar with the band when it gets some mainstream attention, when other whiterpeople are hearing about it for the first time and simultaneously voicing their skepticism of such a commercial enterprise, nervously trying to play it off as though they knew the act before it was big, too. They're hoping that the band's revelation is enough to deem it unworthy of being further discussed, thus allowing their cluelessness to go undetected. It is an unspoken rule, of course, that if you do not call them out on their previous ignorance*, they will be indebted to you in the future (this is what the whiter status game is all about).

Fine, but by its very definition this eliminates the typical indie band, because by necessity that band loses its hallowed position among whiter people upon hitting it big. It's virtually impossible to talk about the contemporary whiterest band--by the time the conversation is over, that band has been abandoned to the mainstream rabble. A popular whiter band of the purest stripe is a tautological impossibility.

What we're looking for is a band that lots of whiterpeople like (or liked)--because of a variety of factors to be discussed below--enough to hold their (status-sniffing) noses as its mainstream popularity grows. That is, it has the characteristics that make various obscure bands attractive enough to garner the elusive whiter early adopters, early and late majorities, and even laggards. In the case of the purest whiter bands, only whiter mavens exist, and then the entire whiter product distribution collapses as the mavens re-emerge on the myspace fan pages of yet undiscovered bands.

With that out of the way, here's the untoppable list of whiter-approved attributes the Dave Matthews Band (primarily on the back of Dave himself, who is the band's whiterest whiter guy) enjoys. You'll see they simply outgun other whiter favorites like Elton John (too commercial), Phish (too hippie), and Dream Theater (one Korean guy doesn't stack up against three black guys, and anyway DT's mainly male appeal is too chauvinistic).

- Four of the five permanent band members can claim to be African. LeRoi, Carter, and Boyd (the black guys) were born in the US and thus have suffered from institutional racism throughout their deprived lives. Dave was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Stefan, though the odd-man out, has a couple whiter-approved attributes of his own. His parents are both musicians, and he joined the band at the age of sixteen. And he's big into one of the whiterest sports of all, snowboarding.

The fan base has always been primarily comprised of white pre-college and college kids along with the white collar professionals they become, but that describes the crowd at virtually every whiter pleasure, from snowboarding in the Rockies to shopping at organic grocery stores downtown. So this doesn't set the band back much.

- The band's first public performance was at Charlottesville's Earth Day Festival in 1991 (to have been there is to have the biggest dick of all, and allows one to immediately get other lesser fans squabbling over who's been to more Gorge concerts to submit in deferential silence). A lifelong green, Dave pushed the band into "raising awareness" (always whiter gold) of global warming before it became fashionable to do so, back in '02. The band even teamed up with Ben & Jerry's (whiter gold) to launch the One Sweet Whirled campaign (a clever play on one of the band's earliest songs) aimed at getting people to reduce their carbon footprint (in ways other than foregoing long drives to see the band perform at various venues throughout the country).

- As aforementioned, Dave's an immigrant. Always a plus.

- Raised in a Quaker family, Dave's always been a pacifist. His family left South Africa for the US ahead of conscription obligations that would've put him in the service of the apartheid government. Further, he grew close to LeRoi through conversations the two had about the evils of South Africa's governmental systems.

- Several of the band's songs are laced with biblical allusions ("Climb on two by two", "I am who I am," "Eat, drink, and be merry", "The wine that strung Judas from the devil's tree", etc). Dave is biblically literate, which could get him in a lot of trouble were he a pious Christian. However, as an agnostic (or even an atheist--there's an ongoing debate among fans over this), the literacy earns him bonus points. It expands his philosophy of, uh, love, all you need is, all you want is, all you need is, love. He is thus obviously qualified to assert that Jesus met Mary Magdalene after paying for her services ("He met another Mary, for a reasonable fee, less than reputable, she was known to be") and lament how the beautiful message of Christ has been violently perverted by organized religion.

- The band allows live recordings of their shows, and even sets up a section to facilitate dubbing at each of their concerts. All that is asked of fans is that they share the recordings (that is, they don't sell the recordings but instead let others listen to and copy them for free). In other industries, providing cheap or free content once you've established market dominance is often called predatory pricing, but this is about the music and thus is purely altruistic behavior. Anyway, they did this before they were big (it was, in fact, key to building a nationwide grassroots fanbase).

- Dave's experienced a heavy dose of family tragedy in his life. His father died when he was ten, and his older sister was murdered by her husband in South Africa, leaving Dave and his younger sister to share responsibilities for raising their nieces (or niece and nephew? Oh God, I should know! Crap). He has on multiple occasions and in his music pondered skeptically how an omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent God could allow such tragedy to exist in the world, a favorite topic for whiter people to wax philosophically on. Stefan has also suffered, losing a daughter to SIDS.

- Speaking of doses, Dave used to be into some pretty heavy drugs. No harm done, of course, and he gave them up as he matured, just like any fatherless black kid roaming the urban streets while his crack-addicted mother sells herself to feed her addiction would if not for the oppressive white corporate structure that surrounds him. Now the bandmates just toke up on occasion while in the studio. It's all good. Helps them get creative.

- Dave was a bartender and local actor before forming the band. It's rumored he choose those sporadic lines of work to facilitate easily leaving them for an extended period of time to travel around Europe on foot until he'd burned through his savings. He'd then be able to return home and pick up where he'd left off (just kidding, I made that rumor up. But being a bartender and aspiring actor are both whiter gold).

- Despite a gentle southern drawl, an identifiably masculine persona (relative to the non-country music scene, where androgyny is often the rule rather than the exception), being married, and having three children, rumors that Dave is gay or bisexual remain. The recalcitrance of such rumors is in part a result of Dave's failure to dispel them. He's probably not gay, but gay is a-okay with him. Thus the rumors (which are more fawning than malicious) project an image that says, "I'm straight but not narrow".

- As if the band's multi-racial composition isn't enough to prove its diversity merits, tours frequently include black women as back-up vocalists. Okay, this is Philadelphia-style diversity, not LA-style diversity, but as far as Philly goes, DMB has it maxed out! The music video for the song Stay solidifies this off-stage and in-studio as well.

- The band's logo, the firedancer, is a curiosity that can't really be tied to anything in particular that the band has done. It's eloquent and influenced by abstract works of art. As only true fans are cognizant of it, the firedancer helps reduce the dissonance whiter fans suffer from being involved with a band that has become this mainstream. True votaries, or "nancies" (note the tolerance of such a noun choice) as we call ourselves, are indeed an elite group, closed to new members by the passage of time. See, you really had to be around before UtTaD, or Crash at the very latest.

- Dave's wife is a naturopathic doctor (more whiter gold), and his three children have the following names: Stella Busina, Grace Anne, and August Oliver. His green credentials offset his planet-threatening fecundity, of course.

- Despite being born in South Africa, having lived in the UK, and having spent most of his time stateside in Virginia, his favorite city is Seattle. He even owns a "cottage" (that I could probably fit my house inside a few times over) there. Save perhaps San Francisco, it doesn't get any whiter than that.

- Dave owns more than 1,000 acres of land in Virginia where he grows organic produce through a CSA program (essentially the application of communitarian practices to local farming) in addition to a wine vineyard where gravity flow techniques are used to make the wine less 'artificial' by reducing mechanization.

- Dave's on Farmaid's board of directors, and the band has played the benefit concert regularly since '95. It supports family-owned farms in their mortal struggle against mega-farms (think helping inefficient mom-and-pop retailers survive in the face of a Wal-Mart moving in to grasp why this is a noble whiter cause).

[UPDATED 6/27/12 - DMB bassist Stefan Lessard wrote an op/ed urging people to "Keep instruments free of illegal wood".]

- The putative achilles heel of this otherwise impervious outfit is in what it calls itself. Unlike say, the String Cheese Incident, the Dave Matthews Band name comes across as pretty vain. So the lead singer is the band, huh? Hell, even that warmongering John Ondrasik had enough sense to give create the veneer of modesty by naming his solo act after one of our (whiter people's) sports.

Joke's on the fool who goes this route, though. The band toyed with the name Dumela, which means "hello" or "greetings" in a Bantu language. But even something as golden as projecting tolerance and friendship through the use of a foreign word (African, no less!) was too tainted. The band didn't buy into the whole corporate entity thing. They didn't even have a name when they first started playing local gigs around Charlottesville, and that was after the EarthDay performance.

However the name came about, it was by default. Some say it was due to an employee generically booking the group as Dave Matthews band because he wasn't given anything to call them. Other explanations are equally obscure. Whatever the case, it wasn't even an after thought. It just stuck). Even though the band's collective hands are clean of any wrongdoing, they still frequently refer to themselves as DMB, or more precisely, dmb (presenting the acronym in lower-case letters creates a nice left-right symmetry and is less pretentious than using all caps).

- Clander, the authority on whiter people, clearly had dmb in mind when he posted on the musical tastes of whiter people. A nancy will immediately notice the post is Clander's 41st. Coincidence? I think not, as #41 is arguably the best in the band's arsenal but largely unknown outside the nancy ranks. It's blatantly non-commercial, too--live performances can run half-an-hour in length despite the song having no chorus. See the magic for yourself (skip forward to 3:45 to see what whiter people really dig--the whiter guy feeding off the energy of the black stallion):



Is there any other musical enterprise that could beat dmb in a head-to-head preference poll of America's whiter population? I don't think so.

* For those who are not whiter, do not be confused by how the passage of time effects this ignorance. It is embarrassing to be ignorant of the band when everyone else is ignorant of it, but once people have heard of it, it's embarrassing not to be ignorant of it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Busting up Iran after building it up?

++Addition++Pat Buchanan's latest column addresses the question of why, with everything the US has done in Iraq having benefited its Persian neighbor, Iran is allegedly supplying and training Shiite militias through its Quds force and through Hezbollah while also backing Ansar al Islam. His answer is the US' tacit support for PEJAK, a Kurdish resistance group similar to the PKK but operating at the eastern end of Kurdish territory.

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As rumblings of war with Iran grow louder, I wish more would be said of how we've helped create the beast we now want to destroy. The WSJ op/ed board has a piece that amplifies those rumblings but doesn't touch on the deeper reasons of why they're now 'necessary'. Last week, General Petraeus stated that Iranian interference is "the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq."

It doesn't bother me per se, but how hubristic do we come across as in censuring Iran for meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq?

Anyway, isn't it, rather than a threat to democratic viability in Iraq, just the predictable result of democracy in the country? Seems Petraeus is fallaciously equating democracy with Western liberalism. Sixty percent of Iraq's population is Shiite. With the Sunnis, who comprise less than one-sixth of the total population, now out of power and the Baathists who fought an almost decade-long war with Iran gone, of course Iran is going to have greater influence than before. Iranian influence may well threaten the relative viability of secular liberalism in Iraq, though. Seems likely to me that Iraq six years ago will have been a more liberal place than Iraq six years from now will be.

The board points to Iranian funding for Al Qaeda in Iraq:
In a recent interview with a newspaper in Qatar, an Iraqi Sunni insurgent vented about Iran's support for al Qaeda in Iraq. "We found Iranian [currency] at an al Qaeda headquarters that we uncovered," Ahmad Salal al-Din told Al-Arab, as translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute. "We have also captured Iranian weapons, not to mention audio and video recordings containing announcements by al Qaeda fighters that they had received training in Iranian
military camps and that al Qaeda wounded were being transported to Iran for medical treatment."
That would be one of the guys we knocked out of power venting about a group being aided by allies of those we put in power, a group that had virtually no presence in Iraq before the invasion.

The board sees this as business as usual:
These tactics will be familiar to anyone who has followed Iran's history in Lebanon, where Hezbollah, backed by Iran, is trying to bring down the elected government. Or in Gaza, where Iran's Revolutionary Guard trains and equips Hamas.

It was tough to do that in Saddam's Iraq. Then we free Iran from its pincered position between two hostile regimes--the Taliban (which Iran nearly went to war with in 1999, while continuing to support the Northern Alliance, the Taliban's fiercest opposition within Afghanistan) and the Baathists (that Iran fought a costly eight-year war that left as many as one million of its own people dead). In the process, we push oil prices up internationally. Iraqi oil production has yet to return to the 3 million barrels per day prior to invasion, mostly due to less output in the north. The war has helped fuel opposition to the US throughout the Muslim world, and its national governments from Eygpt to Pakistan have followed suit, becoming less supportive of US influence and less cooperative with US interests in the countries they govern.

It's not surprising that in the midst of such propitious circumstances that Iran wouldn't exploit this golden opportunity to expand its own influence throughout the Middle East. When I say Islamic opinion of the US has dropped since the beginning of the decade, I need to point out one notable exception--Iran. The Persian public's view of the US has become more favorable. In '01, 63% of the country held an unfavorable view of the US; by '05 it had dropped to 52%. It's not difficult to imagine why.

The board argues (yet again) that it's time to kick the tires and light the fires:
So: Iran is contributing to the death of GIs, is arming our enemies in Iraq, and is proceeding to ignore the world by enriching uranium for a nuclear weapon. Is the Bush Administration merely going to slink out of office with that legacy?
Since the war has gone so well, it's time to attack a country nearly four times the size of Iraq with a population more than twice as large? Occupation is out of the question.

Despite being a bigger beast than Iraq, though, military victory would be just about as quick. Iran's military capabilities are roughly on par with those of mighty Jordan. The question is what the trouncing would accomplish. Is our reason for staying in Iraq and moving against Iran the prevention of the consequences of having invaded Iraq in the first place? After falling Saddam, we disband the Baathist-commanded army to give the Shia majority more control of Iraq's armed forces, then we find ourselves protecting Sunni groups from Shiite militias allied with (and often part of) that Iraqi army. Then we back the Badr forces against al-Sadr's forces in southern Iraq, even though the former is more friendly with Iran. The Iranian factor, then, must now be dealt with directly.

Knocked out the Sunnis, but some of the Shiites became too powerful. Knocked out those Shiites, but al-Sadr's Shiites became too powerful. Knocked al-Sadr's guys out, but the Baghdad-based Shiites with their history in Iran became too powerful. Better knock out Iran, then, before these guys become too much of a problem. I'm reminded of a Simpsons episode where an effort to control the local pigeon population presumably leads to Springfield being overrun by gorillas:
[As several Bolivian tree lizards catch and eat pigeons]
Skinner: Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.
Lisa: But isn't that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we're overrun by lizards?
Skinner: No problem. We simply release wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards.
Lisa: But aren't the snakes even worse?
Skinner: Yes, but we're prepared for that. We've lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.
Lisa: But then we're stuck with gorillas!
Skinner: No, that's the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.

That Simpsons reference works on another level--it shows how tenuous my understanding of the Middle East is. With posts like these, I'm looking for guidance from wiser minds as much as I'm trying to present my own befuddled understanding of the situation.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Homies in the hood better than Crips, but both better than Crips alone?

When I saw a post at Mangan's with the humorous (but unwholesome) picture below, I thought of my dad:



Heh, no, not about his past or why he shouldn't quit his day job. The thought was more general, of libertarian-types like him who seem to subconsciously operate under the assumption that when poor Hispanic immigrants settle in the US they are replacing urban blacks.

The picture elucidates that psychology. Those guys don't look like the types my dad would want my sister to bring home, but they don't exactly make my hair stand on end, either.

Several of them are lard tubs, bringing to mind gourmands who live with their mothers and hang out with Amerind girls sporting tight jeans and aesthetically revolting muffin tops. They are dressed in clothes that are too big for them (which means the jerseys must be XXXXXXXLs), speak Spanglish (beginning most sentences with a drawn out "damn"), and act like true gang-banging BAMFs--on GTA3, that is. The Luigi mustaches and knee-high socks increase the silliness factor even more.

Instead of thinking Tookie, I'm thinking Lil Homies. I think you had to fight some of these characters in Earthbound.



In fact, these Lil Homies provide a great illustration of the cuddly-bear image Mangan's gangstas bring to my mind:



Better my sister show up with one of those goofballs than with 50 Cent, and if occasionally one of the goofball's homies knocks off one of 50's entourage, all the better.

I'm having a little fun, I know. But I wouldn't balk at getting in the ring with any of those guys, while Tookie in his prime would've made me soil myself and, if running like hell didn't work, pray for some yet-undiagnosed "Homer Simpson syndrome" of my own.

Compare Mangan's Surenos (though they don't look very southern to me) to a couple run-of-the-mill shots of some Crips:




I've spent an absurd amount of time around young black guys for being a white boy raised in the suburbs, and have had little contact with Hispanic hoodlums, but if I didn't know any of them, I'd rather stumble across Mangan's crew than those Bloods.

Of course the libertarian 'logic' mentioned early is fallacious. This isn't Greece in the 1920s. We're not talking about a population swap, but a population accretion. Underclass Hispanics add to the mix, and to the extent that they do assimilate, they assimilate towards black norms.

And it doesn't take much athletic prowess to unload from a car window on a guy standing twenty feet away on the sidewalk. I try to refrain from highlighting anecdotes and case studies as indicators of broader trends unless some important point is succinctly illustrated in doing so. But the murder of Jamiel Shaw (although at this point the motivation doesn't appear to be racial) draws attention to the 'ethnic cleansing' that is occuring in places like LA:
A south Los Angeles Latino street gang targeted African-American gang rivals and other blacks in a campaign of neighborhood "cleansing," federal prosecutors say. Alleged leaders and foot soldiers in the Hispanic gang Florencia 13, also called F13, are being arraigned this week on charges stemming from a pair of federal indictments that allege that the gang kept a tight grip on its turf by shooting members of a rival gang—and sometimes random black civilians. The "most disturbing aspect" of the federal charges was that "innocent citizens … ended up being shot simply because of the color of their skin," U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien told reporters in announcing the indictments.
Shaw was a black kid in the wrong place at the wrong time:
The parents of Jamiel Shaw Jr., a high school football star who was gunned down by a reputed gang member just blocks from his home, urged Los Angeles city leaders today to go after criminals who are in the country illegally.

Pedro Espinoza, 19, allegedly shot and killed the 17-year-old Los Angeles High School student on March 2 in the 2100 block of Fifth Avenue, not far from the Shaw family’s Arlington Heights home. According to police, the shooting occurred one day after Espinoza was released from county jail, where he was serving time for assault with a deadly weapon.

U.S. immigration officials believe Espinoza, a member of the 18th Street gang, may have been in the country illegally.
I'd love to see the WSJ op/ed board tackle this one. Perhaps they could decry Jamiel's father as a (black) nativist, a member of the 'vocal minority' that is up-in-arms over poor interior enforcement. Maybe they'll put a broken-home spin on it. Jamiel hadn't been living with his mother (although his parents are married). She was too busy fighting for the neocon cause over in Iraq at the time of her son's death!

Another aspect of the Shaw story deserves some attention:
Pedro was reported as being “uncooperative” when employees of the state attempted to ascertain exactly where he was born, claiming that he didn’t know where he was born or where his family was.

Pedro Espinoza served four months and walked out of jail, despite the fact that the day after his arrest, authorities had contacted a relative of Pedro’s who claimed that Mr. Espinoza had been smuggled into the United States illegally when he was 4 years old.
Trying to decipher how much criminal activity is perpetrated by illegal immigrants is murky business. I've given it some thought, in light of ICE's announcement that there will be stepped up deportations of criminal aliens going forward, initially totalling 200,000 per year, but now said to reach upwards of 450,000 removals annually.

A study by Ruben Rumbaut, popular among open border enthusiasts like Linda Chavez, claiming that the foreign-born are less criminally-prone than natives are didn't mesh with ICE's first announcement, and it certainly doesn't with the most recent one. Extrapolating from Rumbaut's estimates, we get about 100,000 total foreign-born prisoners in state or federal prisons. Since local jails hold about one-third of the nation's total prison population, we arrive at a ballpark estimate of 150,000 foreign-born prisoners (including legal residents) throughout the entire country. Yet ICE is going to deport as many as 450,000 of them!

Cases like Espinoza's are likely part of the reason for the discrepancies. The federal government, in its insouciance, assumed he was a US citizen, and presumably Rumbaut would have as well when conducting his study. Espinoza would have no reason to say otherwise. The pickings aren't as good down south, and unlike California, where whiterpeople fight with other whiterpeople to give a thug as much license to roam the streets as they can while his record builds, people at home will be weary of you, as this lugubrious NPR story explains:
El Salvador's rampant, gang-fueled crime is one of his biggest worries. Some of those gangbangers were kicked out of the United States, which is why Giron never tells people that he was deported.

"They think you're a criminal or a serious killer," he says. "And they don't trust you."
Under the terms of his deportation, it will be years before Giron can even apply to re-enter the United States. By that time, it's hard to say where he will feel he belongs.
Had ICE known he was from Mexico, he'd have been deported after being released from jail (for assault with a deadly weapon) the day before he gunned down Jamiel.

Friday, April 11, 2008

From 64,000 criminal deportations in '06 to 450,000 in '08?

Another positive swing of the pendelum known as federal immigration enforcement:

The U.S. Homeland Security department has launched an ambitious nationwide effort that would cost $2 billion to $3 billion a year to identify and deport the estimated 300,000 to 450,000 illegal immigrants locked up each year in jails and prisons.
That's a big step up from the announcement made by Julie Myers in January that ICE would deport 200,000 illegal criminals (heh, as opposed to the legal criminal) this year. And it's a quantum leap forward from the 95,000 removed in '07 and the 64,000 removed in '06.

Not everyone is celebrating:
Arnoldo Garcia, program coordinator for the National Network of Immigrant Refugee Rights, said the ICE effort could result in profiling of immigrants.

''They're wasting resources," said Garcia, whose group is based in California. ''And how are they going to verify the rights of those individuals who are jailed?"
It should be (though it's not) stunning that there exists opposition to removing convicted criminals from the US. The "profiling" charge doesn't even make sense, unless it is incarcerated prisoners--whose privacy is forfeited upon conviction and sentencing--that is at issue. Garcia's last sentence is even more baffling. I'm not sure what rights he's referring to, or what effect verifying them is supposed to have.

The point of excerpting the feeble criticism is to show that even the "jobs Americans won't do" and "family values" bromides can't be used here. There really are no grounds for opposition to this from any point of view claiming to have the US' well being at heart. Not in the criminal deportations, anyway, but another aspect of the announcement is problematic for the open borders side. ICE also plans to:
Increase the 287 (g) program, which trains state and local law enforcement officers to perform immigration duties.
The program essentially gives participating law enforcement agencies at the state and local levels the power to perform immigration enforcement functions. That ICE would favor an expansion of this program in an attempt to allay concerns that the agency is inept isn't surprising. An MoA, a few weeks of training and certification, and police are helping get the job done.

The only thing I don't like about the announcement is an "expansion" of early parole programs for non-violent inmates if they agree to deportation. Those behind bars for a non-felonious crime wouldn't be committing a felony (I don't think, unless that was stipulated as part of the early-release agreement) upon re-entry as immigrants who are convicted of felonies and then deported from the US do when they return [Actually, I was wrong about that--to re-enter the US after being forcibly deported is to commit a feloney. Thanks to John S Bolton for setting me straight].

We've seen time and time again that making it more difficult to live here illegally makes people less likely to live here illegally. Profound, I know. A full sentence followed by deportation is a tougher pill to swallow than immediate deportation alone is.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Strictness index: Which states are the toughest? The most lenient?

That 'strictness index' is a way of gauging how tough or lenient states are towards their criminals by looking at the net effects of how they apply criminal justice--namely how many people they put in prison--rather than by what statutes might say about how a particular crime is to be dealt with.

It is figured by taking incarceration per 100,000 residents (then multiplying it by a factor of 100 for ease of presentation) and dividing it by the 'crime index' (described below). If a state has 500 people locked up and its crime index is 8,000, then its strictness index is 6.25 ((500*100)/8000). If another state locks up the same proportion of people, 500, but its crime index is only 6,000, it has a higher strictness index, at 8.33. The second state is thus tougher on its criminals than the more lenient first state is.

The crime index is figured by adding violent crime and property crime (both per capita) together, weighing violent crimes nearly 18 times as heavily as property crimes. Violent crime includes murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Property crime includes burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft.

The reasoning behind the weighting involves a couple of things. In 2001, the FBI reported that just under half (49%) of all inmates in state prisons were there for having committed violent crimes, while one-fifth (20%) were being held for property crimes. Thus there are about 2.45 times as many thugs behind bars for violent crimes as there are for property crimes. Nationally, there are more than seven (7.31) property crimes committed for each violent crime committed. Property crimes are more frequent, but unsurprisingly, most severe punishment is meted out to perpetrators of violent crime.

From this, I estimate that violent crimes are about 18 (2.45*7.31) times as serious in the eyes of the public as property crimes are, and thus weight the two factors comprising the crime index accordingly. This doesn't mean that the crime index is 18-parts violent and only one-part property, because there are so many more property crimes than violent crimes that take place. It is, on average, 68% violent and 32% property.

A shortcoming is the absence of data on drug-related offences. Nearly one-quarter of inmates are in prison for such crimes. Unfortunately, I can't find numbers broken down at the state level for them.

The incarceration rates are from Pew's massive report entitled One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008. Despite the year mentioned in the title, the data used for the strictness index are from '05. Data on violent and property crime, which come directly from the FBI, are also from '05. Keep in mind, we're looking at the percentage of people behind bars relative to the percentage of people committing crimes. So a state can have lots of people in prison and still not be very strict, if it has lots and lots of crime.

The strictness index, by state (colored according to how each voted in the '04 Presidential election):

StateStrictness
1. South Dakota12.63

2. Mississippi

11.58
3. Idaho10.74
4. Virginia9.85
5. Kentucky9.85
6. North Dakota9.61
7. Wyoming9.48
8. Wisconsin9.35
9. Georgia8.36
10. Louisiana7.94
11. New Hampshire7.67
12. Alabama7.66
13. Connecticut7.28
14. Vermont7.16
15. Texas7.06
16. Oklahoma6.99
17. Indiana6.88
18. Colorado6.53
19. Montana6.43
20. Maine6.17
21. New Jersey6.13
22. Pennsylvania6.06
23. West Virginia5.90
24. Utah5.87
25. Arizona5.76
26. Delaware5.68
27. Ohio5.61
28. Oregon5.57
29. Kansas5.43
30. Missouri5.36
31. California5.35
32. Iowa5.12
33. Michigan5.11
34. Nevada5.00
35. Florida5.00
36. Arkansas4.98
37. North Carolina4.98
38. Nebraska4.92
39. New York4.78
40. Hawaii4.77
41. Alaska4.72
42. New Mexico4.68
43. South Carolina4.62
44. Rhode Island4.34
45. Washington4.19
46. Tennessee4.12
47. Maryland3.94
48. Illinois3.91
49. Minnesota3.57
50. Massachusetts3.38

Not surprisingly, conservative states tend to take a tougher stance on crime, liberal states a more lenient one (although the libertarian-left states of Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire are relatively harsh). The correlation between strictness and Bush's share of the '04 vote is .47 (p-value of zero).

Geographically, the Northwestern interior and the South are the most stringent (with the notable exceptions of Arkansas, Tennessee, and the Carolinas), while the West coast and parts of the Midwest are the most permissive, but no clear patterns emerge (see a visual representation here--click on each of the ranges at the bottom left of the map to better distinguish individual states from one another).

Whining about how 'whiterpeople' presume their cultural and political proscriptions are best because places with lots of whiterpeople are the best places to live and whiterpeople as a group do quite well is a reoccuring theme of mine. Bridget Moynahan might be able to care and provide for a child out of wedlock, but an unskilled black woman with a double-digit IQ living in the urban core cannot. Piety might seem silly to Richard Dawkins, but for the left half of the bell curve it can be a saving grace. A generous welfare state with libertine social policies may function well enough when all its inhabitants are Dutch, but things get trickier when Somalis and Moroccans start showing up in significant numbers.

And opposing mandatory sentencing in favor of judicial discretion, probation, and rehabilitation for serious criminals might not lead to degeneration in the streets of Cambridge, but in Tucson that outcome is more than just a theoretical possibility.

Or are the results even that contingent upon demographics of the state in question? The data suggests otherwise. The crime and strictness indices correlate positively at .52 (p-value of zero). States that are more willing to throw people into the slammer experience less crime even without adjusting for estimated IQ, affluence, average educational attainment, and the like.

How can that be if Mississippi is so strict and Massachusetts so lenient? Obviously you're at greater risk of being murdered in the former than you are in the latter. But Mississippi experiences relatively little crime for being a Southern state. The surprisingly lenient places in the South mentioned previously--Arkansas, Tennessee, and the Carolinas--all suffer from more crime than Mississippi does.

While Bay Staters can feel good about having a few less people in their prisons than North Dakotans can (356 to 359, respectively), they have to accept that the violent crime rate in Massachusetts is almost five times as high as it is in North Dakota! Nearby Connecticut incarcerates people at a rate more than 50% higher than Massachusetts does, yet it experiences less crime.

Similar relationships exist in other places. Take tranquil states like Wyoming and Nebraska, for example. The former incarcerates 690 people per 100,000 compared to the latter's 421. But despite (or perhaps in part because of) Nebraska's more diminutive prison population, its crime index is almost 20% higher than Wyoming's is.

Based on the proportions of their populations behind bars, you'd think Indiana suffered more from crime problems than does its more sophisticated neighbor, Illinois. Not so.

Even Minnesota, home to the fictitious Lake Woebegon (and in many ways its embodiment at the national level) experiences crime rates about 12% higher than the perpetually impoverished and 'backwards' state of West Virginia does. The coalminers throw more people in jail, though (443 to 300).

The US' 'unique' demographic situation (28% NAM) among developed nations leads me to believe that we do not, as a country, have "astronomical" rates of imprisonment, nor do our individual states that are less hesitant than others to lock people up. I agree with Ron Guhname instead:
The adjective I would use is appropriate.
Indeed.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Reflections on Final Fantasy IX (spoiler warning)

(These are my reflections on Final Fantasy IX for PS. RPGing is a personal hobby, and such exposition enhances the gaming experience for me. But it may not be of interest to many readers, so please disregard this post if that is the case).

I've just finished Final Fantasy IX, although I won't be turning off the soundtrack anytime soon. Nobuo Uematsu refers to it as his best work of the series, he having spent a year touring medieval sites in Europe for inspiration and arranging some 160 tracks, of which 140 are used (among my favorites are the themes of Eiko and Zidane).

Unlike the Dragon Quest series, FF games are not laced with religious and historical allusions. Cinna, a member of the shady (but decent) gang of bandits appropriately known as Tantalus (a thieving son of Zeus), shares a mistaken identity with Cinna the poet. Tantalus abducts Garnet for noble reasons, but in so doing earns (or cements) their reputation as no-good vagabonds. Fortunately, none of the group's members meet the same fate the Roman does.

There are other kinda-maybes, like the group's leader, Baku. He shares his name with the capital of Azerbaijan, where more than 10% of the population is made up of displaced persons and refugees.

Freya, having been reunited with her long-lost love, is to return to Burmecia to rebuild the decimated kingdom. As much of the population has perished, enjoying the fecundity of the Norse goddess she's named after would be a blessing. Further, her last name is Crescent, as in the Fertile Crescent. This would be more satisfying if she actually had lots of children and led the flourishing revival of Burmecia, but none of this is revealed as coming to be.

Psalms 75: 10 reads, "All the horns of the wicked also will I cut off; but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted." While I think Eiko (who retains her horn) is more admirable than Garnet (who has her horn cut off), the adopted princess is certainly not wicked by any stretch of the imagination.

For the most part, the names of places that are not unique to the game do not fit into the story in a particularly meaningful way (ie, girl's equip Minerva plates, Steiner's most powerful sword is the Ragnarok, and so forth), and they are sometimes nonsensical (ie, as the universe's greatest smith, it seems a more appropriate name for Hades (!) would have been Hephaestus).

If the classics lesson isn't one of the major attractions, the shared theme of finding one's way home is. Each of the characters (and not just the controlled ones--even Choco's making the journey), in addition to the shared desire to knock out Kuja, is searching for his individual telos. The answers are as diverse as the characters, but they're not fungible. There's the proverbial one thing, absolute in its existence, but different for each person.

This presents a reality missed by Blank Stalism and what I call the Ecumenical Man (or utopianism). The former presumes that environmental circumstances mold a person, and thus his fate is solely the product of his environment. To a limited extent this does apply to Vivi and Zidane, who are unique in that both of them were artificially created (but their triumph is overcoming their man-made directives), but it mostly misses the mark.

Would any amount of prestige and prosperity have been able to persuade Amarant to swear fealty to Alexandria as the kingdom's protector? No, yet Steiner eagerly does so without a thought given to any of the accompanying benefits. Steiner would never be able to embrace a perpetual wanderlust in search of palet-pleasers as Quina does. In turn, s/he would be a poor candidate for tracking down a lost warrior (and personal love interest) and bringing him back to defend the homeland, as Freya undertakes to do.

The Blank Slate worldview is contrasted by the Ecumenical Man, in which there is a universal proscription for happiness and meaning that is desirable fo all. Life is successful to the extent that one progresses towards this. Universal religions like Christianity and Buddhism are obvious examples, although there are secular versions as well (Marxism, the Noble Savage, etc).

Zidane, initially the aimless existentialist, harnesses his abilities to protect his friends. Upon finding out that he was supposed to infiltrate their planet so as to turn it over to Terra, he realizes this to be unconscionable, and sticks with the friends who have without hesitation come to his aid in the face of mortal danger. Eiko carries the torch of her ancestors that would've been extinguished if she bit the dust (how would Garnet have otherwise discovered her homeland?). Steiner sticks to the path he'd gravitated to in the beginning, but with a greater level of sophistication in so doing. That clearly is his purpose, but it cannot be Amarant's or Quina's.

All are on a journey to find the right garden to tend, as Montaigne might say, and thus are able to act cohesively as a group, but each garden requires cultivation practices that require a unique gardner--only the right person will do.

The theme of manufacturing life for nefarious purposes runs deeply throughout. Early on, the party makes it to the village of Dali to discover an underground factory where black mages are produced using Mist and caged chocobos. Zidane, Vivi, and Kuja are all later revealed to be produced for similar purposes. This loosely borrows from The Matrix. Indeed, Hironobu Sakaguchi's team pays direct homage to the film in the set of ending sequences, when Zidane burrows down into the heart of Terra as it is imploding to rescue the defeated Kuja (at 2:10):



The mass production of beings to be used as obsequious but ruthless soldiers in a campaign of conquest necessarily pulls at a commonly held fear of what cloning might lead to. That is, in the words of Steven Pinker (p226):

An army of zombies, blanks, or organ farms... the duplication of a body without a soul.
More than pulls at the fear, the game exploits it. The black mages are exactly that, an army of zombies that uncritically does the bidding of Brahne, and ultimately Kuja, who care nothing for them. Vivi's raison d'etre becomes undoing this evil, by trying to convince mages held under sway to break free of it, and by going at the source of their bondage, Kuja himself.

The mages create their own village, which they eventually share with the Genomes (Zidane's artificially created race), where the inhabitants are able to pursue their own lives in their own ways, using their own talents for their own purposes. Thus the dangerous experiment ends happily, in a way that would make Margaret Mead proud:

We must recognize the whole gamut of human [and black mage, Genome, flaming Amarant, and anthropomorphic rat!] potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human [et al] gift will find a fitting place.
Does this mean manufacturing life is a good idea, since the end product can be guys like Vivi and Zidane? Hardly--Kuja, who is also created, throws a big wrench into that conclusion.

Less ambitiously, maybe it is that each living creature has a soul--there's a ghost in that war machine with the pointy hat--and thus enjoys free will, even if it's made like Frankenstien's monster.

Or, as Garland and Kuja both create living things as pawns to do their bidding, perhaps it's that slavery is bad. Fair enough!

There is also an element of Carl Jung's "collective unconsciousness" in the dreamy place called Memoria that the party travels through at the end in front of the final showdown with Kuja.

This elicits more questions than answers. It is revealed that there is a pool of memories that all people share when Zidane witnesses Garnet's escape during the destruction of Madain Sari ten years in the past. As the memories are thought to only be accessible to those who experienced the actual events that form them, it is startling that Zidane is able to see the destruction. I was anticipating a revelation that Zidane was present as a young boy on the Invincible when Madain Sari was wiped out, but instead we get the fantastical shared-pool-of-universal-memories 'explanation' that feels forced in unnecessarily towards the end of the game.

Finally, a few remarks on the characters.

In social psychology experiments, people consistently overrate their own positive qualities. In moderation, this leads to self-assurance, to confidence. In excess, to arrogance and hubris. Zidane certainly isn't an exception to this rule. He seems to straddle the fence between healthy self-confidence and reckless overconfidence.



This turns out to be a tremendous asset, as he is less hindered than Vivi by his station in life. He's more willing to throw off the yoke of his intended purpose and move on with what he's made his own purpose. And even his boldness never really comes back to bite him. For example, he leads the hesitant party as they leap off the airship and into the unknown warp field between Gaia and Terra. They all could've plunged to their deaths, but instead they're all transported in one piece.

His name is French, which means "Gypsy" in English, is fitting, as he's of the mold of other spunky thieves from the series (namely Locke from the sixth title).

Vivi, whose name translates from Spanish to "I lived", has a personality that contrasts to Zidane's. He is diffident and ruminative. His lack of assertion and repeated hesitation, combined with his childlike appearance, create the sense of a befuddled being. Yet it is his thoughtfulness that allows him to grasp the big picture before anyone else in the party does.



Vivi is, understandably, the one who is inclined to "question everything". He initially flirts with solipsism. It serves as a psychological escape from his reality as a prototype of the mindless soldier who destroys stuff for a year before coming to a permanent stop. But it is through this dialectic inner-struggle that he is spurred to action, fostering independent thought--life, really--in the escaped black wizards on the outer continent.

For having the bulk of the first half of the story revolve around her, Garnet is pretty unremarkable. She doesn't make many decisions on her own, other than a futile effort to side with her adopted mother against Kuja. When she does, the outcome is either already fixed irrespective of what she decides to do (ie, when she elects to run away with Tantalus even as the group was in the process of abducting her), or things don't go well (ie, when Alexander is attacked by Kuja and she must command the Knights of Pluto).



That she uses Zidane's dagger to cut her hair shows that she continues to progress with his help*--his trusty weapon was the impetus for her alias assumption and the decision to conceal her royal status, and it is he who spurs her to cut ties with her tragic past. But even then, she is merely committing to following the rest of the crew in pursuing Kuja.

Steiner is portrayed as a silly knight who takes himself too seriously. His clunky armor and the playful moniker "Rusty" Zidane gives him accentuates this. But upon further reflection, it is hard to see him as anything other than unrelentingly noble. Somewhat naive, perhaps, but purely noble. He has sworn fealty to Alexandria, and goes about fulfilling this oath with the utmost diligence, in spite of a second-rate contingent at his command.



He appears foolish in turning his ire toward Tantalus instead of the powers that be in Alexandria, but the player has to remember that while it has become apparent to the one with the controller in his hands that the abduction is in Garnet's best interest, Steiner has no way of knowing this.

He retains a strong sense of honor even in dealing with foes, as when he rebukes the third black waltz for hurling the black mages off the cargo ship to their deaths, and when he decides to argue for a life sentence for Zidane instead of capital punishment, since Zidane did help the princess at one point, even though he abducted her and exposed her to mortal danger.

He's slow in realizing Brahne's evil intentions, but to fault him for it is to wield a double-edged sword. By all accounts, Brahne was a fair and good ruler to be trusted prior to her involvement with Kuja. That she unpredictably took an abrupt turn for the worse after so long is Steiner's tragedy, not his moral failing. If only all people were as noble as he, such deception and the need to detect it wouldn't ever come about.

Freya exits the forefront as quickly as she enters it. After meeting Zidane in Lindblum and proving her battle prowess at the hunting festival, she joins the group in a failed attempt to save Lindblum and then Cleyra. Before Cleyra is destroyed she finds Sir Fratley, who suffers from retrograde amnesia, the origin of which is never explained. But the reunion is banal and unsatisfying, and Fratley quickly leaves again. From that point on, her part is one of little significance.



Quina primarily provides comic relief. S/he's very much an epicurean (or more precisely, a gourmand) in the contemporary sense of the word, searching the world for tasty treats. That s/he, like his/her relative who adopted Vivi, ends up embracing outsiders instead of fearing them (to the irriation of his/her sensai) is a cliche victory against 'xenophobia', I suppose.



Eiko follows in the footsteps of the orphan Rydia from IV and Relm from VI. She's an audacious and precocious child (said to be six years old, putting Lisa Simpson to shame) who aspires beyond her years, usually resulting in an unhappy outcome for her but comical pleasure for the player, as with her unrequited crush on Zidane.

Like Steiner, Eiko elicits a mix of humor and pity. Also like him, she is one of the game's most admirable characters. Unlike her relative (cousin? Sister?) Garnet, she is not royalty. She does not command her own Praetorian comprised of Zidane, Beatrix, and Steiner, among others, as Garnet does (the pusillanimous Moogles who require more caring directed towards them than they dispense to Eiko don't count). Unlike the princess who commands Bahamut and Odin, her eidolon summoning is a decade away from maturity. She doesn't benefit from the beauty Garnet possesses or the education Garnet has received.



Yet she's the actionable one, the decisive one, the bold one, the vivacious one, the one not mired in paralytic self-pity. Cook for a dozen? No problem. Leap off of a flying airship? Sure thing. Persistently filch from a bunch of dwarves to feed her Moogle pals? Yep. Okay, the last one isn't without stain, but isn't she at least entitled to as much slack as Jean Valjean? She's just a kid, after all!

Amarant fills the badboy niche (like Kain from IV and Shadow from VI). He lives by a simple code that states those who are strong live and those who are weak die (sound familiar?). Except he's not really that strong, and Zidane licks him. Like a lone wolf who's been forced by the pack's alpha male to submit, he follows Zidane, remaining cynically aloof from the rest of the party until they make it to Terra, at which point he realizes that utter selfishness is self-defeating.



He isn't that dissimilar from Zidane, but however subtle the variances are, they demonstrate the difference between the ideas that genes (and by extension, organisms) are selfish in the commonly understood sense of the word and that they are selfish in that propagating themselves is the ultimate goal and so everything they do can be seen through that lens.

Amarant errantly does whatever he fancies without troubling himself with how it affects others. Ultimately, that amounts to not caring, or at least not giving adequate foresight, to what becomes of himself. He ends up without allies but with a big bounty on his head, and finds himself on his back after challenging Zidane. Amarant's but a rebel without a cause.

Zidane, on the other hand, epitomizes Richard Dawkins' selfish gene. He aids and protects a motley crew, but in Machiavellian terms, it's quite the prudent investment. His friends end up rallying to him in his most desperate moment, as he staggers along near collapse among vicious creatures in Terra. He ends up getting the young queen of one of the world's two super powers and ingratiating himself to the "regent" (a confusing term to describe Cid, who by all appearances is Lindblum's permanent king) of the other.

Just because that's the way things end up, there's no reason to ascribe such calculating motives to Zidane. This is merely a product of his natural valor and benevolent disposition. As the vignette reads, virtue means not needing a reason to help people. Zidane is 'selfish' not in that he cares only for himself, but in that he is successful in every way, as opposed to Amarant's self-absorbed (but counterproductive) dead-end selfishness.

*Humorously, after Garnet disappears from Lindblum ahead of a party meeting with Cid, Zidane knows where she's gone and shoots off to Alexandria after her. The problem? Alexandria is on the other side of the enormous Mist continent, and the crew only has one vessel for transportation, the Blue Narciss (a ship). From the cut scene, you'd think she'd just run across the street, but apparently she's run across half the world!

Next off, I continue the reclination process, to tackle the legendary Final Fantasy VII.

Also see my reflections on Dragon Quest VIII.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Making it too easy for the neocons: Media coverage and deaths in Iraq

When Eliot Spitzer was disgraced, Randall Parker lamented how much attention was given to the story while ignorance on some of the most basic facts pertaining to the situation in Iraq is so widespread. More than two-thirds of the American public is not aware that 4,000 US military personnel have been killed in the conflict, with nearly half believing the number to be under 3,000 and 23% thinking the total is higher than that.

Like most readers who turn to the internet for most of their news and virtually all of their commentary and analysis, I share RP's irritation with tabloid stories generally. I don't have cable or even functioning network access, and consequently haven't watched anything on TV for years. Last week when I was working out in a hotel exercise room early in the morning, I had the place to myself so I turned on the tube in the room. I flipped through to Fox News but after ten minutes (after I'd read through the news ticker cycle scrolling the bottom of the screen!) I simply could not take anymore of "Fox and Friends". CNN and MSNBC were hardly any better. I ended up, happily, on Animal Planet for the duration.

I knew it was bad so the attention devoted to the courtesan doesn't surprise me. What I am struck by is how major media outlets, who share RP's opposition to a continued military presence in Iraq, are in large part 'responsible' for that lack of interest in what's going on in Mesopatamia.

Pew Research has a feature called "The top story index" on the right side of its homepage. Pew, in conjunction with the Project for Excellence in Jounalism, tracks what percentage of the public follows a story or subject most closely as well as what percentage of media coverage is devoted to each story or subject. For several months, the percentage of the public following Iraq most closely has been in the teens, even while media coverage has consistently been in the 2%-4% range (it has just recently shot up after what took place in Basra).

That variance, where media coverage doesn't keep up with public interest, is usually relegated to financial concerns or sporting events (for example, 9% of the public shows the most interest in the NCAA tournament, but only 1% of news stories are devoted to it).

So why the near-silence on Iraq after it had been pervasive in the news since the invasion began back in March of '03? US soliders haven't been dying as rapidly as they had been from '04-'06. Iraqis haven't been dropping as fast, either.

From the beginning of '07 when the surge was announced, through the funding victory the administration received in May of the same year, to the present Shiite central government's attempt to take control of Iraq's most important commercial city, fatalities and coverage have trended in the same direction.

The correlation, by month, between media coverage and American soldier deaths is .63. For media coverage and reported Iraqi deaths, it's .68. Click on the image below to see it more clearly. Media coverage and reported Iraqi deaths are scaled to US fatalities for the purpose of better visual representation.



The data include last September, when media attention spiked as General Petraeus announced that a drawdown of 30,000 troops would take place over the following year (Petraeus has since called for a "pause" in the planned pullout, making it likely that if/when one of the Democratic candidates is inaugurated in early '09, there'll be more US troops in Iraq than there were in November '06, when Democrats took both houses of Congress from the GOP on the war). Removing the September aberration, the correlation for media coverage and US deaths is .69, and is .83 for media coverage and reported Iraqi deaths.

When things are going (especially) poorly, they shine the spotlight on the destruction! When things are relatively calm, they sweep the whole thing under the rug!

That sounds like the criticism war boosters have made of the media for years. It is, because the criticism is valid. That is what has happened. Now that al-Sadr has been fighting with the central government forces and is urging a massive protest against the US occupation of Iraq next week, there's been a predictable return of media coverage.

I find this undesirable for a couple of reasons. It allows those who support a perpetual six-figure soldier presence "until the job is done" to accuse American media outlets of being responsible for over four-fifths of Iraqis wanting the coalition out and nearly half of the country's population supporting attacks on US troops. A couple of weeks ago Rush Limbaugh asserted that media coverage causes US fatalities, insinuating that if the media wouldn't pay so much attention, fewer parents would have to get that unexpected visit from a uniformed officer.

In the words of RP:

Poor strategic decisions are more important in their effects than what reporters say about them.

What they say might make a difference at the margins, but war supporters are arguing that it's potentially a deal-breaker. See, it's not the inherent incompatibility of Islam and liberalism, the enormous challenge of getting a society where the average IQ is estimated to be 87 to function freely, the historical failure of poor nations in transitioning to and remaining liberal democracies, or the barriers to uncoerced national unity (as well as competent military and police forces) that exist in a society with such high levels of consanguinety, where half of the men are married to a second-cousin or closer. Nope, it's the way the media have undercut everything we've tried to do that has prevented the creation of a post-war Germany in Iraq.

Much of the media, which won't touch the fundamental obstacles to a Western Iraq, pretty much believes the same thing. There's a fear that highlighting successes and reporting drops in casualties alongside stories of the soldiers who've died and the long-term costs of the war might make a turnaround possible. Yeah, the Bush administration has executed the war terribly, made lots of tactical mistakes, taken its eye off of the real threat hiding along the Afghan-Pakistan border, the Iraqis won't stand up (they could if they'd choose to, but they won't), etc. But Amsterdam in Baghdad is surely attainable, if only we'd not botched everything up so badly and instead reached out diplomatically to Saddam.

The net result is a focus on tactics, rather than what Iraq is and who its people are. It's not New York and its people are not New Yorkers. People are different, and Western proscriptions do not work equally well across all places and populations.

Further, it obscures the fact that ethnic segregation has led to a reduction in violence between groups within Iraq. Military commanders have found walls separating Sunni and Shia neighborhoods in Baghdad to be effective in lessening the fighting and bringing relative calm.

And it generally reflects poorly on the state of major media outlets in the US, making evident (for the umpteenth time) that providing as much objective information as is attainable is not their raison d'etre.

We need to cut our losses. Why sink another $500 billion and 4,000 lives (and hundreds of thousands effected directly through injuries and through the loss of friends and relatives) for people who do not want us there? What's happening in Iraq is important, and we need a media that doesn't shy away from it when it fears paying attention may jeapordize US failure there.