Thursday, January 31, 2008

Summers misjudged? A kernel of truth in what he said, after all

All officers must pass PTs and hand-to-hand combat classes to graduate from academy! The standards are applied evenly across the board, so that all of those in uniform are equally equipped to serve and protect! This tragedy could've befallen any of the city's finest:
NEW ORLEANS — A vagrant wanted for questioning in a rape overpowered a 24-year-old police officer who was trying to handcuff him, then shot her to death with her own weapon Monday, police said.
Yes, it could've befallen any of them! Even--especially!--that guy.

Equally equipped, indeed. But some are more equally equipped than others.

Political correctness isn't just annoying. It is deadly serious.

In Romney vs McCain on immigration, what do their Congressional endorsements tell us?

The Republican race for the Presidency has effectively been winnowed down to John McCain and Mitt Romney.

The former's record on immigration is firmly established. He led the Republican charge against Proposition 200 in 2004, which was ultimately approved of and passed by 56%-44% of Arizonans. He put forward the McCain-Kennedy amnesty bill. Americans for Better Immigration (run by NumbersUSA), which grades all members of Congress based on their immigration-related voting records, gives him a 'D'.

Mitt Romney is more of a question mark. His past Congressional donations do not reveal a pattern regarding their respective stances on immigration, although on net they've gone to those who are slightly more restrictive than Congress as a whole. He did little one way or another regarding illegal immigration while Governor of Massachusetts. On the campaign trail, Romney's gone after Giuliani for NYC's status as a sanctuary city under his mayorship, and he's criticized McCain for the aforementioned amnesty bill.

It's evident, at least in the blogosphere, many of those who plan to vote on the Republican side during the primaries are not particularly impressed by either candidate.

What about our elected leaders? With apologies to Machiavelli, perhaps the first method for measuring a man on the sincerity of his positions on immigration is to look at the legislative men he has behind him. Thus far, Romney has received 42 Congressional endorsements. There have been 36 for McCain.

Using AfBI's gradecard scoring system, I tracked the performance of those 78 congress critters. Regarding the way AfBI makes the grade calculations, in an attempt to remain as objective as possible, they are based on immigration reduction rather than looking at the nuances in legislation dealing with illegal immigration. They treat H-2A and H-1B visas in an equally negative light. If you see unskilled immigration from Latin America as disastrous but favor some sort of limited merit immigration system for the cream of the world's crop, it may not be optimal. But as the most comprehensive measure available, it is useful.

Romney's backers have a restrictionist GPA of 3.4 to the McCain crowd's 2.4. That's substantial. Of course, these endorsements are influenced by a whole host of considerations, of which Romney's perceived alignment with their legislative agenda on immigration is just one. But Romney does better than the GOP as a whole, while McCain performs even worse than the slate of Republicans who were thrown out in the '06 midterms--and that was a group of relatively open-borders Republicans--not to mention the party as a whole.

John Savage suggests that Mormonism tends to encourage a universalist one-worlder view. The implication is that Romney might, like McCain and Huckabee (only Ron Paul has been consistent in his opposition to things like the Visa Lottery system and the anchor-baby interpretation of the 14th Amendment), want to keep the flood gates open even though he's said otherwise during the campaign.

It's possible, but I don't see much indication that it is probable. Romney doesn't appear to wear his religion on his sleeve (although he does not smoke or drink), and it's hard to determine much about an individual based on the average tendencies of the demographic group he belongs to. In his 2004 book, Mormonism is apparently not a focal point (in making this assumption I'm going off of Amazon reader reviews--I've not read the book myself).

While Mormonism, like the gamut of Protestant denominations and Catholicism, is ecumenical by nature, Judaism is not. Yet Jews are consistently less restrictionist than Protestants or Catholics. A comprehensive Zogby survey found self-described 'born again' Christians to be the most strongly in favor of reducing immigration levels among the major religious classifications considered.

The circumstantial evidence points to Romney as a better choice than McCain for Republican primary voters concerned about immigration into the US.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Florida primary confirms racial patterns of Nevada, SC on Democratic side

The Democratic Florida exit polls (msnbc has a very user-friendly listing of exit poll data organized by state and by party) show the same demographic patterns as were seen in Nevada and South Carolina, with Hillary doing better relative to Edwards than she did in his home state.

In Nevada, Hillary took 64% of the Hispanic vote. In Florida, she took 59% of it.

In SC, Obama took 78% of the black vote. In Florida, he took 73% of it. Also in SC, Obama took 24% of the white vote. In Florida, he took 23% of it. The big difference, of course, is that in SC blacks comprised 55% of the participants on the Democratic side, while in Florida they only made up 19%. The country looks more like Florida than SC.

Hillary is going to dominate in the Southwest and the South, and she has control of big Northeastern states like New York. She will be the Democratic nominee.

The Obama hype has been overblown from the beginning. I had wondered why Hillary hadn't earlier tapped into the Jeremiah Wright/Dreams from my Father goldmine to bury him. Well, she never needed to. As attuned to the demographic realities on the ground as I tried to be, I still gullibly began to waver, influenced by the media bunk.

Edwards departure furthers my certainty. Had he hung around through 'Super Tuesday', the delegates he picked up could've been pledged to Obama. Although they are not obligated to vote for their candidate's endorsement once that original candidate bows out (though 10 of Edwards' delegates will be dispersed among Obama and Hillary in accordance to party rules), traditionally they do. Edwards' crop of state delegates that he still 'controls' represent less than half of one percent of the total delegate pool, and so are not a determining factor. Had he bumped that up to 300 or so, they could've potentially meant something.

But what if Edwards endorses Obama, won't the effect be the same as if he'd pledged those future delegates to Obama? No. His supporters back Hillary over Obama by more than a 3-to-2 margin. His endorsement one way or another will not significantly change that.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Obama the untouchable

John Savage recently complained that his online reading list has been dominated by the Presidential campaign, something he understandably finds tiresome. It is mostly a pony show, with a numbening repetition of empty words like "change", "bringing people together", "new direction", "vision", "experience", and so on muttered endlessly by hopefuls and their surrogates. The media focus on the minutae of what one candidate charges another with quickly becomes nauseating. (Personally, I'd love the next President to be devoid of a vision for new and greater things.)

But the demographics of the primaries and caucuses are of interest. More than the candidates' perpetual repositioning and recasting, this is the real story. In my blathering, I've tried to stay focused on it.

The phenomenon that is Barack Obama is also remarkable. While he's worked diligently to present himself as the raceless candidate (in spite of--or perhaps in learning from--his racially-obsessive past), that he is black has effected the campaig and the subsequent coverage of it enormously.

On account of it, Obama's the least scrutinized candidate on either side. Romney's Mormonism has been thoroughly batted around, and the candid content in some of Ron Paul's newsletters written decades ago (by staffers) has been given lots of attention, especially for someone who is such a longshot in the campaign. Yet there is barely a mention of of Obama's racial soul-searching or his association with the black nationalist who is his self-described spiritual advisor.

In contrast, Bill Clinton--no enemy of most of the major media--came under fire for a pretty innocuous criticism of Obama's war record. Writes a disapproving Vaugn Ververs' of CBS:
When Bill Clinton referred to Obama's claims of consistent opposition to the war in Iraq as "the biggest fairy tale that I have ever seen," many blacks heard more than policy criticism. They heard a dismissive attack on the first black with a real chance of winning the White House. They heard echoes of racial battles of the past. And they heard it from someone who was supposed to be on their side.
The message: If you criticize Obama, you're probably a racist. How many members of the major media want to run that risk?

That lack of scrutiny extends beyond the personal. Obama's voting record is to the left of Hillary's. The National Journal's comprehensive roll call evaluation of all members of Congress during 2006 gave Obama a liberal score of 86 on a 100-point scale, compared to Hillary's score of 70. Yet he's portrayed as the one who is drawing the less partisan independent vote (therefore insinuating that he has broader national appeal).

That's not untrue, but it is misleading. Hillary is performing better among registered Democrats and Obama better among unregistered independents. But Obama's supporters describe themselves as more liberal than Hillary's do (and Edwards' supporters are more moderate still).

The most noteworthy thing from the Democratic South Carolina primary is the prominence of identity politics in a winnowed-down race between three demographically distinct players. Obama did more than three times as well among blacks as he did among non-blacks. Hillary did twice as well among white women as she did among white men and non-whites. Edwards did almost 3.5 times as well among white men as he did among white women and non-whites.

Rather than meaningfully examine this interesting (if predictable) trend, major media sources minimized its importance. Following the Obama win, the WSJ reported:
Mr. Obama's 55% to 26% victory Saturday over Mrs. Clinton was far wider than predicted, and showed off the best assets of his campaign: a powerful ground organization, the perception that he is an agent of change in a party longing for it, and an ability to attract both white and black voters in a state where the electorate remains racially polarized.
But he did almost as poorly among whites as did he dominate among blacks. Obama beat Edwards three times over in total but still lost to him among whites, 40%-24%. Yes, he attracted some white voters. And Hillary attracted some black voters. But racial alignment was the deciding factor.

On his radio show yesterday, Sean Hannity opened on South Carolina, piquing my curiosity in preparing to give an answer as to why Obama won in South Carolina.

But his explanation was bemusing, not insightful. He opined that it was because the primary voters didn't fall for Bill Clinton's racially divisive tactics! Huh? The black candidate received 78% of the black vote and the white candidates took 76% of the white vote. Clearly race was a divisive factor.

But even to attribute the demographic breakdown to Clinton's remarks on Jesse Jackson's victories in 1984 and '88--as if remaining completely silent on the issue of race would make the racial division go away--is to evince an incomprehension of the determinant importance of demographics in heterogenuous societies.

When I say Obama became the black candidate in South Carolina, that is not to imply it was evitable that he would become so--only that we saw in the South Carolina vote what had already been there before it. Mere political chatter didn't decide the outcome. Something more fundamentally important (in the sense of being much less malleable) did.

This trend will become increasingly pronounced in the US. Despite all the babble over which candidate believes what at the moment, what they say will continue to diminsh in importance relative to who they are in determining their support. Expect an ever-heavier dose of the content-free type of speech delivered by Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius in the State of the Union rebuttal.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Obama becomes Black Candidate in South Carolina

All the media reports and news cycles have made mention of the most important campaign 'story' out of the South Carolina Democratic primary--blacks (comprising more than half of the state's electorate for this contest) overwhelmingly voted for Obama, at rates almost as high as blacks vote for Democratic candidates and against Republican candidates in general elections.

Obama took just under four-fifths of blacks. He again won as strongly among black females as he did among black males. Whites voted against Obama nearly as heavily as blacks voted for him--he took 24% of that vote.

While the media stories are generally portraying this as a big win for him, it seems to me that it's the end of his Presidential run. He's become the black candidate, and if that needs reiteration, Obama's relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright has now been 'publicly' exposed (nearly a year after Steve Sailer began released his exposition of Obama's past) and will be readily pointed to by Clinton surrogates.

It's tiresome conjecture over the intent, I know, but Hillary's 'controversial' MLK comment now looks tactically to be quite sound.

Outside of that, identity politics reigned once more. Edwards, who only garnered 18% of the total vote, easily won among white males (45% to Hillary's 28% and Obama's 27%). Hillary won among white women, and of course Obama cleaned up the black vote.

Also of interest in the exit polling is how Edwards was again, in spite of his 'two Americas' theme, the patrician's candidate. The percentage of each candidate's supporters who came from families with incomes of $50,000+ (just under half of the total electorate):

Edwards--62%
Clinton--48%
Obama--47%

Edwards' supporters were also more likely to have been college graduates than either Obama's or Hillary's were.

In contrast to his performance in the whitebread states of Iowa and New Hampshire, Obama actually did slightly worse as incomes increased. Unfortunately, blacks were not broken down by income group, but as more than 80% of Obama's supporters were non-white, the trend proxies pretty well for how he did among blacks at various levels of income (I suspect among whites Obama supporters were again better off financially than at least Hillary's, which probably means that among blacks his support was at about 80% irrespective of income level). It appears that, contrary to the uncertainty less affluent blacks felt towards him as recently as a couple of months ago, members of the community from across the economic spectrum stand behind the (unwillingly) black candidate.

Obama's tragedy is that, in becoming the bona fide representative of black America, he has all but forfeited his chance at the '08 Presidency. One can only wonder how this unfolding sequence will affect him.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

In Britain, white men need not apply at fire department

It's hard to believe that this same country produced Cecil Rhodes, Frances Drake, and Isaac Newton:
White men have been banned from fire brigade recruitment sessions because bosses want to hit their diversity targets.

Four out of five "open" days held by Avon Fire Service were restricted to women and ethnic minorities.

Critics last night accused the West Country brigade of discrimination. An MP said the
move would fuel resentment and undermine race relations. ...

In the latest incident, five "have-a-go" days at the brigade's Bristol HQ were set up
to allow potential job applicants to try out firefighting equipment.

They also had the chance to chat to staff and learn more about selection tests ahead
of an application deadline next week.

Two of the six-hour sessions have been limited strictly to women and ethnic minorities. Another was for women only and a fourth was laid on exclusively for ethnic minorities.

Only today's event is open to everyone, allowing white men to attend.

Tell aspiring young men that their local fire department doesn't want their service because they're the wrong color, restrict the number of applicants and consequently downgrade the capabilities of the brigade in fighting fires, and put a cloud of suspiscion over all of the women and non-European males on the force so that people perpetually wonder whether they are qualified for their positions, or if they were merely given the job based on their demographic profiles in an effort to fill a quota. Sounds like a formula for propelling civilization forward to me!

India's trade deficit with China hits $10 billion

India is concerned about a free trade agreement further increasing the deficit it is already running with China:
Both countries have talked about a free-trade agreement, though China has appeared more eager than India to get it sealed. India has been concerned that it has more to lose than China from such an agreement. India's economy is protected by high tariff rates, which on average are about 10 percentage points higher than the tax levied on most Chinese goods. India would have to get rid of these tariffs -- and lose the tax revenue its government could otherwise collect -- under a free-trade agreement.
Bilateral trade between the two gargantuans amounted to $39 billion last year, with India receiving $10 billion more in goods and services than it exported to China.

Even though India is poorer (with $3,100 in PPP to China's $5,600), and labor there is cheaper than in China, it is still being outdone, even with protective tariffs that provide some counter to the yuan's 'undervaluation'. Although Chinese labor is not known for its efficiency, India's notoriously poor labor force formed the basis for Gregory Clark's argument in Farewell to Alms that differences in productivity are essential to explaining what propels industrial growth. India's export roster to China consists mostly of low value-adding commodities, while China exports lots of electronics and coal to India.

China is in a unique position. Through currency manipulation (which essentially acts as an across-the-board tariff and can be adjusted to remain as such), restrictions on foreign-direct investment, on foreign control of businesses operating domestically, and on foreign exports allowed into domestic markets, China is 'cheating' its population out of a higher standard of living in the present.

But with rapid annual economic growth rates in the double-digits, this is acceptable to a population that is prospering (especially in the urban areas).

So, your income is increasing 8% a year. You're told it 'should' be rising faster than that, but you've lived most of your life in financial stagnation, so why throw a big fit about it? Anyway, the ears hearing your protests won't be particularly sympathetic. And your government is sitting on top of over $1.5 trillion in currency reserves (enough to buy Wal-Mart, Citigroup, Boeing, Exxon-Mobil, General Electric, General Motors, and Microsoft!). It's now getting involved in sovereign wealth funds (with the aim of making some purchases along the lines of the those theoretical ones), buying up assets in other markets. You're getting wealthier, your country is getting wealthier, and the both of you are still managing to play the role of Aesop's ant. In this time of abundance and accumulation, you are nonetheless living below your means.

Meanwhile, Western nations, growing between 2%-4% annually, cannot place such restrictions on import consumption without a palpable slowing of growth or even an absolute decline in their population's standard of living. Yet by continuing to run trade deficits as the US does, the pain in stomaching such a downturn gets progressively worse. We may just be beginning to deal with that nausea.

Getting back to the East, while India is hesitant to allow its trade deficit to grow still larger, the two nations are hardly at odds on everything:
India and China have found common ground on other environmental issues. Both are fending off international efforts to limit their emissions of global warming gases such as carbon dioxide, which is released from coal-burning power plants and cement factories -- pillars of their economic booms and urbanization drives.

Curbing these gases limits economic growth, they argue, and doesn't account for the damage already done by industrialized nations.

"The rights of our people to a fair chance to improve their lot cannot be abandoned because of environmental damage caused by others who...squandered the earth's resources," Mr. Singh was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

China, the world's biggest coal producer and consumer, has already surpassed the U.S. as the world's top emitter of greenhouse gas by some estimates. India, which has the world's fourth-biggest coal reserves and has ambitious plans to use even more, isn't far behind.
With nearly 2.5 billion people between them, they represent one-third of the world's population. Even if the Kyoto Protocols were adhered to by all 36 of those who've pledged to fulfill their commitments (and the majority of them have come nowhere near doing so), for every pound of CO2 reduction, India will add a pound, neutralizing the effect. Oh, and then China will add an extra five pounds on top of that.

By not making didactic demands on other countries and by not using its increasingly ostentatious military, China is able to minimize antagonism and trade retaliations directed its way. In contrast to a US presence in 130 countries, China's 'isolation' makes it appear that much more innocuous. It will be interesting to see how the US-China-India relationship unfolds in the coming decades.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Wealthy, educated blacks excited about Obama

Obama's black support appears to come most fervently from those like his half-brother (click on the graphic to see it more clearly):



As income, education, and unemployment levels rise, so do opinions of Obama among American blacks. If he were to take the Presidency, how would he be effected by the relative ambiguity with which lower class urban blacks feel for him? Will it further inflame the specter of he inevitably turning out to be no different from the Beethoven-listening, Shakespeare-reading Stanford graduate with whom he shares a father?

Taking a closer look at the graphic excerpted from a WSJ article earlier in the week, a couple of things emerge. The polling was done in October, before accusations of playing race and gender cards began being made by campaign surrogates, and when Obama was still the raceless candidate in media portrayals. So it may be that the raceless Obama--with weird facial features, a weird name, and the love of rich whites--didn't appear attractive to the real community. Now that he is, in clobbering Hillary by picking up 83% of the black vote in Nevada, inevitably being cast as the black candidate, those poll results might be too dated to rely on.

Yet this ambiguity among blacks is probably crucial for his candidacy to be viable at the national level. If he becomes the champion of black America, he doesn't stand much of a chance. He'll come up against the sobbering fact that blacks comprise just one-tenth of the voting electorate, and can guarantee him only the 3 electoral votes from DC that are already slated for whoever has a (D) by the name. Moderate white Americans (keeping in mind that 80% of votes will be cast by whites) will shy away from a campaign perceived to be fueled by racial politics. Hispanics, who voted for Hillary in Nevada at a rate of more than 2-to-1, will recoil as well.

Obama is aware of this. He hasn't been running his campaign in a way that suggests he is insecure in his level of black authenticity. To the contrary, he's treated it as a non-issue by, well, not alluding to it, let alone dwelling on the subject. It's certainly conceivable that even if this frenetic identity crisis still characterizes many of his thoughts, in order to become President and maintain a high approval rating while serving, he could squelch it entirely.

You have to wonder, too, if he hasn't realized since winning a Senate seat that his identity crisis is an enormous hinderance for his aspirations from this point forward. As a sharp leftist with a great voice* and a few exotic elements (name and ancestry), his most viable appeal is to affluent Democrats, black and white--the kind of people who gave him Iowa. He will never be able to outpander a Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton (and he might've been better off if the latter had made another run, ginning up the black community that would eventually fall in behind Obama once Sharpton bowed out, while redirecting the speculation on race politics via Obama to the overt conversation about race via Sharpton).

As Steve Sailer has said several times, though, it would be illuminating for him to speak to it directly.

* As I see it: Edwards' southern 'hick' sound combined with his leftism and failed '04 bid create a tired Jimmy Carter feel, Hillary screeches in a way that few married men can stand, Giuliani has a sissy lisp, Romney feels like a debate captain who is trying to pour out all the stats and facts rolling around in his head as quickly as possible, McCain sounds snide and stand-offish, and Ron Paul has a squeaky Elmer Fudd element in his voice. Obama, by contrast, is deep, powerful, and measured. Huckabee has the command of a successful Protestant pastor giving a sermon, and the only one who surpasses Obama.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Three Little Pigs found offensive to Islam

This is happening in Great Britain. It's not from The Onion. Really, it's not:
A story based on the Three Little Pigs has been turned down from a government agency's annual awards because the subject matter could offend Muslims.

The digital book, re-telling the classic fairy tale, was rejected by judges who warned that "the use of pigs raises cultural issues".
Multiculturalism is synonymous with cultural Marxism. Unfortunately, a classic criticism of communism may find its way off of high school and college reading lists in the UK, for surely Muslims will take grave offence at the ruling swine in Animal Farm!

The above excerpt is so self-evidently absurd that it speaks for itself. But at the risk of babbling on needlessly, recall that the story is based on the Three Little Pigs. The protagonists in this tale aren't typical pigs--they're rugged cowboys:
The CD-Rom digital version of the traditional story of the three little pigs, called Three Little Cowboy Builders, is aimed at primary school children.

But judges at this year's Bett Award said that they had "concerns about the Asian community and the use of pigs raises cultural issues". ...

The feedback from the judges explaining why they had rejected the CD-Rom highlighted that they "could not recommend this product to the Muslim community".

They also warned that the story might "alienate parts of the workforce (building trade)".
Invaded and being overwhelmed by hypersensitive, underachieving, unassimilating groups, the universe of words and ideas that can be shared in is continually shrinking. We are witnessing the slow death of Western liberalism before our very eyes.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Young men are most (recklessly?) revolutionary

Continuing on from the previous post, "change" is the themed cliche that numerous candidates have made a point of emphasizing, Obama most successfully. That is, of course, a vague term that is difficult to gauge. It's not a value in itself as much as it is an attempt to present a contrast and offer an alternative to the status quo, to the ingrained party establishment.

Without getting caught up in the merit (or lack thereof), meaning, and sincerity of it, males are more willing to buck the trend. Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich are the candidates who best proxy for a willingness to upset party unity for the 'most desirable' option rather than compromise in the name of making a less desirable outcome viable. Paul's male advantage among his supporters by state, thus far:

Iowa: 3-to-2
New Hampshire: 5-to-2
Michigan: 2-to-1
South Carolina: 5-to-2
Nevada: 3-to-2

Paul is known as a libertarian conservative, and libertarian leanings are more common among men. But libertarianism is, in itself, individualistic and relatively non-conforming.

Kucinich doesn't garner enough support for exit polls to reveal much, but in Iowa and New Hampshire, he snagged an estimated 2% of men to just 1% of women.

Obama too serves as an 'outsider' in his own right, though, if for no other reason because he's up against Hillary Clinton. He's enjoyed a male advantage among supporters in each of the three Democratic states that have gone thus far (though that's obfuscated by the presence of Hillary, as a female). But he does more clearly demonstrate another dimension of the 'changers'--they tend to be young. Obama's youngest cohort relative to oldest cohort advantage among his supporters, by state:

Iowa: 3-to-1
New Hampshire: 2-to-1
Nevada: 2-to-1

The same, for Paul:

Iowa: 5-to-2
New Hampshire: 6-to-1
Michigan: 5-to-1
South Carolina: 7-to-2
Nevada: 3-to-1

In Iowa and New Hampshire, where Kucinich garnered enough support for a difference in age cohorts to be apparent, younger voters were more supportive of him than were older ones.

For many attributes the male distribution tends to be wider than the female distribution is, meaning more men fall outside the 'mainstream opinion' or 'consensus' in the cultural-political realm (in '92, Perot's supporters were more likely to be young men than were Clinton or Bush supporters). From an evolutionary perspective, this isn't surprising. Men are more expendable. Their evolutionary role is more a winner-take-all competition than the female role is.

It's also not surprising that striplings are more willing to rock the political boat. They are less established than their older counterparts. They have less at stake in risking the status quo, both practically and psychologically, than older folks do.

That the electoral heft of older women is going to grow substantially in the coming years and decades makes me increasingly pessimistic about the the chances of 'radically overhauling' institutions (Social Security, Medicare, the taxation system, the 'benevolent dictator' approach to foreign policy, etc) before such changes are painfully forced upon us out of necessity.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

South Carolina and Nevada; Identity politics (and dreadful senescence!)

++Addition++Hibernia Girl points to Peter Brimelow's pithy take on the results from the two states that is similar to mine. Or I should say, mine is similar to his, since he wrote it first. I hate repeating the ideas of another without giving apropos, but I hadn't read the VDare blog for a couple of days before putting together the following post. So think of it as adding some hard numbers to Brimelow's insight.

Also, I disagree with Brimelow's characterization of the vote as tribalistic--I think "identity politics" is a better phrase. Trend-bucking young bucks are more likely to vote for trend-bucking old bucks. White women for other women, but white male Democrats more likely to side with Obama than Hillary. Military vets with the military man, McCain. Then again, black women went with race over gender by huge margins. So perhaps we should split the baby--whites are more into the "identity" game, as they are, on average, most able to see themselves in a person of another ethnic/racial group or even gender, and other groups, especially blacks, as tribalistic.

---

Scrolling through the exit poll results from South Carolina and Nevada, I made an observation that is hardly novel--identity politics have a lot of explanatory power. And as the US continues on the road to an increasingly diverse demographic mix, the trend will only be accentuated.

- In South Carolina, among Evangelicals and born-again Christians, Huckabee took McCain, 43%-27%. In uncompetitive Nevada, Huckabee's proportion of the Evangelical/born-again vote was more than seven times his proportion of the rest of the vote.

- Among those who have served in the military, McCain took Huckabee, 36%-29%. That's not an enormous gap, and it represented just one-fourth of primary voters. But among the three-fourths who have never served in the military, McCain and Huckabee drew, at 32% a piece. Looking at it from this perspective, the military vote gave McCain the win.

- In Nevada, among women, Hillary took Obama, 51%-38%.

- Among blacks, Obama took 83% of the vote.

- In an epigone's attempt at autodidact-ism, awhile back I tried to understand the OJ Simpson murder trial that I'd been in elementary school during. Steve Sailer provided a lot of help with a quick comment:
Johnnie Cochran was a lot smarter than Marcia. He wanted to stack the jury with blacks, she wanted to stack it with women, so they ended up with a disproportionate number of black women. Johnnie was right.
Black women went just as strongly for Obama as black men did. Thus, of the major gender/racial groups, white women and black women were the most disparate duo. Relative to white women, black women were ten times as likely to 'ditch' gender in favor of something that struck closer to home.

- Also in Nevada, with Bill Richardson out of the race, among Hispanics, Hillary took Obama, 64%-26%. Despite the 'solidarity' of racial interest group leaders, Hispanics and blacks have a rocky relationship. Democrats have worried Hispanics will not vote for a black candidate. That concern is apparently well-founded.

There are a couple of other points of interest:

- In a mock Republican Presidential debate I participated in (as Ron Paul), Jack Cashill, playing Mitt Romney, fielded a question from a serious Christian who was concerned about his Mormonism. Jack (who is actually Catholic) responded not with an apologetic about the faith, but by pointing out that 'we' (Mormons) have the most kids and vote the most heavily Republican. Nevermind what we believe, the important thing is that we get it done!

Mormons are one of the few significant (the only?) non-WASP demographic groups that consistently and overwhelming vote Republican. In Nevada, 3% of those who voted on in the Democratic contest were Mormon. For the GOP, they comprised 26% of the total (of which a staggering 95% backed Romney). In 2004, President Bush performed better in Utah than any other state.

- The political future of the US is in the hands of old fogies. In each of the three contests (SC for the GOP, Nevada for each party), those 60 years and older made up more than one-third of the voting participants. On the Republican side in Nevada, they comprised 45% of the total.

Privatized accounts? Index SS benefits to inflation instead of wages? Raising the 401(k) and IRA penalty-free withdrawal ages? And I thought 'protecting Social Security' was a 'populist' issue now!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Reflections on Dragon Quest VIII (spoiler warning)

(These are my reflections on Dragon Quest VIII for PS2. 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 consider Yuji Horii partially responsible for my upbringing. Not that I've ever met the man, or that my parents were lacking in any way. But from the time I got my hands on Dragon Warrior III (to avoid trademark infringement, the series was known as "Dragon Warrior" in North America through the seventh title) in second grade, I've been a votary of the series. How else was I to know what the word "troglodyte" meant when I was nine years old?

I bought Dragon Quest VIII when it was released in '05, but at the time was in school and working, so didn't plunge in until August of last year. Yesterday, I finally completed the epic, logging 110 hours. Contemplating that, I'm reminded of why spending entertainment dollars at the movie theater or the mall is not only less enjoyable (in my opinion) than gaming, it is also much more expensive.

I'm also struck by how completing the story has left me feeling bittersweet. The game's universe is attaching. It's created lots of memories and was a lot of fun.

What follows is something akin to a movie review (of the game, not a movie, of course--though the trailer is just below!) but with a focus on some individual elements of the story rather than the overarching theme. For while the characters comprising the story, and the allusions that are laced throughout, are quite 'sophisticated', the larger story is (charmingly, in my opinion) simple and traditional--an evil force has corrupted many souls in its effort to attain miserable world domination. An unassuming hero, with the aid of his friends, must travel that world in a valiant effort to thwart this evil and revert things to the happy state they were in prior to the Evil One's undertaking:

The Hero is chivalrous, stoic, abstentious, demuring, humble, courageous, indefatigable, strong--in other words, he is all the things many rpgamers are, er, at least aspire to be! This doesn't always get the babes in real life (though it tends to work in the games), but it does give you, as the Hero, a view from the top of the moral mountain. At least one character in the universe can reliably distinguish between good and evil!

In this way, DQ8 is a traditional RPG. The staple of the Good Hero is changing in part out of necessity for the MMO world, where players are pitted against one another and so cannot all be objectively good, and partly because of the progress that is allowing games to be more and more open-ended (although there will always be a significant market for structured stories), to the point that in choosing your own adventure you might in fact choose to go the Grand Theft Auto route instead of the more heroic one.

The DQ series has always favored grounding the Hero's greatness in auctoritas, influence gained through moral uprightness, fame, and glory in battle rather than through divine birthright. Yet it is usually revealed throughout the course of the story that the Hero is indeed the Chosen One. There is a Protestant pleasure in this--the Hero is not performing magnanimous and valiant acts to attain greatness, but it is natural for one as great as he to perform all of these things. The eighth installment doesn't sway from this.

Yangus is the game's most charming character. The voice overs are good throughout, but, just like political speeches, the rate of words per minute is low, probably below 100. This allows for full articulation and emphasis. Routine readers, however, are usually able to comfortably read 200 words per minute. Thus, it's tempting during less climactic cutscenes to force through the dialogue by reading it without letting it be audibly completed. Not for Yangus, though (he starts talking at about 1:50 in). I never moved on until he'd finished saying his piece in its entirety. I never tired of his Cockney in the least.

He's from Pickham, an obvious allusion to Peckham, a multicultural 'working class' area of southern central London. He's scrappy, honest, and not too bright. He's certainly not vicious, but he's not smart enough to come to philosophical conclusions or make sound decisions on his own.

He demonstrates the potential positives of a dogmatic belief system (religious or otherwise) in ways that those who believe everyone is capable of becoming little Socrates are blind to. When the Hero and Trode run into him, he's a wandering vagabond. His attempt to shakedown the wagon falters when the Hero outmaneuvers him, leaving him hanging from a broken bridge. Trode is happy to let him die, but the Hero rescues him. And so your votary is born. He has a new belief system--aid the Hero in whatever way he can. Encouraging him to think critically and skeptically about all that unfolds would lead him back down the path to perdition he was on before his propitious meeting with "the guv" (starting at about 3:45):


Jessica
is molded with the innuendo that Hori's DQ team loves--suggestive humor, but rarely anything explicit. Personally, she is about as asexual as they come, never showing romantic interest in anyone. Yet references and allusions to her attractiveness are a recurring theme, from your uncle's "VAH-VAH-VOOM" remark to her special abilities, under the skill tree "Sex Appeal".

I've always been amused by the stats of female characters in RPGs. Occasionally, there is the she-male brute like Alena from DQ4 or Ayla from Chrono Trigger, but those are exceptions to the rule. Females are like males with different stats tilts. They usually have higher agility and greater magic capabilities at the expense of strength and endurance (the virtual world tends to treat agility and strength as though they belong on opposite ends of the athletic spectrum, when in reality the two attributes tend to go together), but their personalities are rarely feminine. I have not yet played any Final Fantasy titles past VI, but the only character coming to my mind is Rosa from FFIV.

I suppose they tend to be what feminists should want, but they're not made with Carol Gilligan in mind. They are the stuff of male players' dreams--a sexy female image of themselves, who likes the same things and has the same goals that they do. Feminine characters are rare because, well, epic journies to battle evil incarnate are typically better-suited for strong men, not delicate women.

Xena and Lara Croft just can't be taken seriously. Of course, there are ample male audiences for these women, but their performances gain through carnality what they lose in credulity. Plus, they're action-oriented enough that it can make for a good entertainment compromise when your trying to decide on what to watch with your own lady! Still, if I believe that I can cold cock the heroic protagonist in a matter of seconds, it's that much harder to suspend my disbelief and become enmeshed in the game's universe. Parenthetically, I'm no fan of the trend towards pre-pubescent, androgynous male characters that has apparently become standard fare in the FF series.

So the females have to be tomboyish and are given powerful magic abilities, since that can hardly be protested. In hand-to-hand combat, they're just not going to be able to cut it alongside male warriors. So they're casting spells. Magic proficiency isn't supposed to mesh with what you see in the real world, irrespective of who the caster is. It's magic, after all!

Yangus serves the Hero, the Hero serves Trode, Trode serves Medea, and Medea... well, Medea is a horse. So the telos for these folks are set. Angelo has the revenge of Francisco to pursue, and anyway he isn't materialistic nor is he enticed by power because he's repulsed by the responsibility that comes with it. S that leaves Jessica, with the void from her brother's death and the estrangement from her family, as the party member most susceptible to the lure of Rhapthorne's forbidden fruit--the sceptre, an all-powerful, all-corrupting One Ring (with a sharp edge for running people through).

Angelo is the game's most dynamic character. He's sort of a hedonistic, agnostic, Christian humanist. He doesn't take his religious or ceremonial roles at the abbey seriously (although his swordsmanship and bow proficiency are impressive enough for him to become a Templar knight). He's more interested in hustling the rubes at nearby Simpleton and chasing ladies than in carrying out the duties of his station.

Angelo marches to the beat of his own drum, but he's a good person. He goes to extraordinary lengths, outshining even the rising star, Marcello, to save Abbot Francisco. When things must be done, he rises to the occasion. The rest of the time, he wants to be carried around by his free spirit, as captured in one of his remarks prior to undertaking the Dragovian trials:

"If there's one thing I hate in this life, it's a trial. What kind of masochistic lunatic would come all the way up here to endure a gruelling, not to mention tedious, challenge?"

In contrast to Yangus, he illustrates the inhibitive rigidity of a dogmatic belief system imposed on high-IQ, existential types, the result of which is often resentment and rebellion by those who are being imposed upon. Not surprisingly, it is Angelo who spurs you to disrupt the wedding between Medea and Charmles, the political consequences of disrupting a marriage that ties two powerful kingdoms together be damned!

There are a few other characters worth remarking on. Marcello is a Hideyoshi-esque, peasant-to-king type of character with a zealous French Revolutionary hatred of the nobility. That, as the illegitimate son of one of his father's house servants, he was disowned by his aristocratic family imbues him with a desire to stick it to well-bred institutions--and their members--everywhere. He despises his half-brother Angelo, opens up the Templar ranks to the meanest elements of society, and promises to remake the Church into a populist institution, trampling all over its historical roles in the process. While he and Angelo are outwardly quite similar, the difference between what's in each of their hearts is enormous:


Red
is an unscrupulous feminist. She strikes out on her own in Cap'n Crow's cave, using Yangus' obvious affection for her to beat the party to the treasure. But her charade is stopped when Crow's apparition beats her unconscious. At that point it's time for a real rumbler like Yangus to step in and get the job done! While Yangus might not appear to have all the qualities of a good mate, this is really a dad-cad relationship in reverse, with Yangus as the better half.

Rolo is sinfulness personified. He's power-hungry, corpulent, ornately adorned in jewelry, egotistical, and expectant of kickbacks from those he treats well from his position of authority as a High Priest in the Church hierarchy. He even has a 'cross' (to avoid being explicitly sacrilegious, the symbol looks more like the head of a trident than a traditional Christian cross) tatooed on his head, a la a scandalous clergyman named Baldwin, who was the first abbot of St Mary in Jerusalem after the Crusades began.

But then he undergoes a powerful transformation that evinces the complexity with which Japanese games embellish themselves in religious themes. It's generally assumed that the take on religiosity is uniformly negative, but Rolo frustrates that lazy assumption. After being thrown in an underground prison, known as Purgatory Island, by Marcello, Rolo genuinely repents. He then becomes a Christ-like figure, sacrificing himself so that the rest of the party can escape (video in two parts):



Medea
shares her name with a Greek character who also caused some ruckus in getting the one she loved to marry her. Fortunately, with Medea we don't get a continuation of the similarity after that marriage takes place. Unlike Jessica, she is the classical maiden. Consequently, she doesn't fight, nor is she dynamic--until the end of the story, she is merely a melancholy backdrop reminding you of the damage Rhapthorne has done.

Trode is the most memorable character you do not control (a brief time at Tryan Gully excepted). He's a good monarch, consumed with the well-being of his kingdom and especially of his daughter, but shows little concern for anything else. With his true identity masked, his pretentious attitude is a perpetual source of humor and his interactions with Yangus are enough to make you laugh out loud while you're sitting alone in front of the tube.

But the characters with whom I've become intimate with are dead to me now, a fate all figments of fantasy inevitably suffer. This separation is more intense than those in the past, though (more so, I'm ashamed to say, than was breaking things off with some past girlfriends!). The ability to converse with the party after virtually every geographical change or narrative trip (in first person no less) develops the characters in a way that no other entertainment medium save for novels can, with the benefit of a first/second-person relationship instead of the standard third person perspective books and movies give you. They react to the same stuff you're thinking about, enhancing the sense that they are real beings sharing your trials and tribulations with you, in real time.

Of course, I can (and no doubt will) play the game again, but I'll already know how it ends. It'll be like watching a historical documentary the second time through, while the initial epic was like living in the time and at the place that the history was being made, with a hand in it.

The graphics are engrossing, the battle system retains the tried and true fundamentals that have made the series so successful but adds new elements like the tension function and ability trees, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the legendary Koichi Sugiyama, produces some timeless pieces, like the world map track, as well as bringing back some old masterpieces, like Ramia. After completing the Dragovian trials and obtaining the alternate ending, I yen for it to be just beginning once more. To shake that sadness, I wasted no time stepping into Final Fantasy IX. The best way to get over the death of a beloved dog is to get a new puppy, right? Actually though, the game isn't exactly six feet under. I expect a couple of years down the road I'll immerse myself in it again, hopefully forgetting as much about it as possible.

Given that the attachment to virtual worlds can be made so strong now, it's unsettling to think what the future holds. Throughout the course of the game (and I only played a four or five hours a week), I'd joke to friends that at some point I'd be sucked in for good, venturing out only to work and go to the grocery store. After all, I have a good five years worth of great RPG backlog, and at the current rate of production, I might not ever get ahead even if I tried.

Anyway, Dragon Quest is Japan's series. Japanese law stipulates that DQ titles may only be released on Sundays or holidays, following Dragon Quest III's debut on a Wednesday that lead to severe truancy problems with school kids and absenteeism from work across the country. Unlike the Final Fantasy series, DQ games have less of a Hollywood cultural feel and more of an ecclectic Japanese tint to them. So DQ games, while still Tolkienesque in their universes, feature more of a uniquely Japanese take on Western society than FF games do.

The DQ stories also tend to give prominence to religious themes and institutions. Nintendo of America begrudingly accepts this now, but throughout the nineties, games coming stateside had to be altered to remove these potentially offensive references. The church provided healing services and allowed you to save your game, but that was about it. By Dragon Warrior VII, that was all in the past, as the final battle pitted you against none other than God.

Japan's religious fabric is syncretic. Buddhism and native Shintoism are the biggest players, but Christianity (especially around Christmas) is also present, and cultural remnants of Neo-Confucianism, introduced from the Chinese mainland and emphasized by Tokugawa Ieyasu in the early 17th Century, are part of the cultural ethos. While there are a host of belief systems, by American standards, none of them are taken seriously.

And there is no problem with borrowing things from cultures that never directly influenced Japan and having fun with them as well. So in DQ8 we can have the following scenario:

Yangus prepares to administer a Yggdrasil [Norse] leaf to Jessica before an undead samurai [Japanese] with as many arms as Vishnu dispatches her, while she returns the favor by using the Caduceus [Greek] to heal his wounds. Erstwhile, the Hero has launched a mercurial [Roman] thrust with his partisan [generic middle ages], falling a belial [Hebraic] before it can interrupt Angelo from firing a Cherub's [Judeo-Christian] arrow at an approaching dullahan [Irish].

Consequently, in Japan it is not controversial to depict God as superhuman yet neither omniscient nor omnipotent (both attributes that three major monotheistic religions grant Him). After you've defeated Rhapthorne, Lord of Darkness (the Devil), Empyrea ('God') remarks, "You humans never cease to amaze me." That's after you've become more powerful than, well, anything else in the world, supernatural or otherwise (including Her).

Throughout the game, the Church and the Templars (the Church's military branch) feature prominently. Religion is ascribed a sort of ritualistically prominent but unserious ceremonial role--a presentation that Marx would have approved of--in the eyes of the game's movers and shakers. This misses the mark in the relatively pious US, in Europe where religion is accorded even less respect, and in the Middle Ages when religion was deadly serious indeed. This gives a mukokuseki (nationless/raceless) flavoring (which is also apparent in the ethnicities represented, as discussed later) that Japanese entertainment is famous for.

It is not all cynical, however. The world is also filled with pious 'extras' (like movie extras, I'm referring to the townspeople and travellers who you are able to talk to but who are insignificant in the overall scheme of things) who pray diligently and make the pilgrimage to the Holy Isle of Neos (located in a hostile desert and protected by a Templar contingent, the Isle is a rough allusion to Jerusalem during the 11th and 12 Centuries). And there are clearly genuinely good religious leaders, like Abbot Francisco and the first Pope who is murdered by Marcello.

Other historical allusions to Christianity exist. Maella Abbey, a castle under the control of the Templars, is more of a representation of the Hospitallers once the Order had fled Rhodes and was granted Malta. The Abbey is an "order state" located near the town of Simpleton, but the 'indigenous' folk are not allowed to join the Templar knighthood, at least not until Marcello becomes the Templar's "Grand Master" and, in accordance with his anti-aristrocratic strain, encourages them to join. Similarly, the Hospitaller ranks were closed to the native Matlese population.

The choice of a sceptre as an object of great power has biblical roots. Psalm 2: 9 reads:

You [that is, God] will break them with an iron scepter. You will smash them to pieces like pottery.
Indeed, the sceptre turns out to be an instrument of (the) God(dess), but not before it's powers have been abusively used for destruction of much that is good.

Like other games in the DQ series, the sharpest criticism from a pious Christian's perspective is the tendency towards humanism, often attained through the Hero overcoming the putatively omnipotent in battle. In IV, you must do what the heavenly king of Zenithia cannot, in defeating Necrosaro. In V, the Lord of Darkness must be vanquished, and again so in VI. In VII, the highest achievement is to overcome God Himself in direct combat.

The eighth installment follows that trend, but less 'sacrilegiously'. To confront the Lord of the Dragovians, you ascend a glimmering stairway to arrive on the heavenly dais. That's clearly an allusion to the "stairway to heaven" Jacob dreams about on his way to Haran, at the top of which stands God. The Lord of the Dragovians is clearly more powerful than Rhapthorne, just as God is more powerful than Satan, but Jacob wasn't about to go mano-a-mano with God (and come out on top, no less)!

The relationship between Marcello and Angelo looks a lot like Augustine's view of the proper relationship between Jews and Christians. Marcello, the elder of the half-brothers, is chosen to lead God's earthly organization. Instead of using that station for good, he, with Rhapthorne's power, destroys the Holy Shrine at Neos. After battling with the party, he is found by Angelo grasping to the side of a precipice above the deep crater from which Rhapthorne has just risen. Resigned to die, Angelo saves Marcello nonetheless. In so doing, he says, "No, I won't let you die. You will go on living, knowing that the brother you despised your whole life took pity on you."

Well, Angelo doesn't exactly inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, but he does destroy the Devil and bring peace to the world, which is impressive enough in itself!

The relationship might also be seen as pulling from the Cain-Abel and Ishmael-Isaac relationships as told in the book of Genesis. In the former, Kain becomes so jealous of Abel that he kills his younger brother. In the latter, the half-brothers aren't recorded as interacting much with one another, but the parental situations are the same--Ishmael (like Marcello) is the first-born child of an 'aristocratic' man (Abraham) and his servant (Hagar), while Isaac is the 'legitimate' child born later to the man and his wife (Sarah). Tying back into the Augustinian remarks, it's interesting to note that Paul, in Galatians, sees Ishmael as symbolizing the older but rejected Judaism and Isaac as the newly-favored Christianity.

Speaking of Marcello, the one who is to become the spiritual leader of the Goddess' earthly Church, his corruption in harnessing the power of the sceptre housing Rhapthorne brings Martin Luther's writings to life: The Pope is indeed the antichrist!

I mentioned mukokuseki earlier with regard to where the fantastic elements are drawn. Well, it's really more of a tossed salad than the generic goop from a melting pot. Stuff is taken from a host of different mythical traditions. The same can be said about the 'demographics' of the DQ8 world. The vast majority of the characters hail from somewhere in the UK (it was localized for English audiences there), with the Queen's English and less well-bred British voices represented, in addition to more than a smattering of Scottish and Welsh accents.

There are a few exceptions to this, though. Orkutsk, which sounds Russian and can legitimately be argued to be inspired by a host of places throughout the Siberian region--my pick is Norilsk, one of the northernmost cities in the world, to the west of the unforgiving Putorana Plateau--is full of Russian-accented people. The Orkutsk region is inundated by a perennial snow and it's frigid--you remember the avalanche, don't you?--there's nowhere in Britain that comes close.

On Purgatory Island, the underground prison in the sea off the coast of the continent holding Savella Cathedral, the two brutish guards are clearly Aussies. Get it? You're "down under"! One of them even calls Rolo a "Galah"--a vocal, pink-crested cockatoo that is common in Australia and Tasmania.

Empycchu, near the portal to the dark world from whence Empyrea comes looks generically Amerindian enough that it's not a stretch to see it as a primitive village on the outskirts of Machu Picchu. To portray the most backwards people in the story--recall the priest who is a missionary trying to bring Truth to these superstitious villagers--as Peruvian-like might seem appropri--er, I mean, insulting, but then again Empyrea protects them, so maybe the joke's on everybody else!

Arcadia first brought Renaissance Italy, especially Venice, to my mind, with the presence of the artisan guilds and the fact that the town is built over water. But Dominico, who appears at first to be a descendant of one of the great sages, has a Greek accent and Arcadia is an actual prefecture along the Peloponnesian coast, so that's the better allusion. As Arcadia is the last stop before journeying into the Orkutsk region, the departure from 'British' lands serves to emphasize the point that you're heading into the rugged unknown.

Italy isn't left entirely out in the cold, though. Morrie of the Monster Arena, who constantly refers to the hero as ragazzo (which means "my boy") in Italian, has a very pronounced accent and wears goofy Renaissance attire.

Then there is Tryan Gully, the multicultural paradise where elves, humans, and monsters live in harmony. No one thought the place could exist, because presumably, just like in the real world, in the DQ8 universe such a society could not remain cohesive for long. All the denizens of the place indeed turn out to be friendly, but I had my hand on the hilt of my sword the entire time nonetheless. If things ever got ugly, it's clear that the humans and elves of the gully would be in dire trouble.

Finally, there are the Dragovians. The Japs of my Nintendo-laden childhood were pathetic. They were near the bottom in World Cup and produced the worst character in the Street Fighter series, E. Honda. But this unique race--which seems a blend of Chinese and Japanese--is the most powerful in the DQ8 universe (perhaps this is supposed to serve as social commentary, since Japan is one of the most homogenuous countries in the world). It had remained closed to the outside world until one of its women left, fell in love with the human prince of Argonia, and produced the Hero. The Hero's grandfather, Chui Mein (a Chinese name) who accompanies the party in the form of the adorable Munchie, has a Japanese accent. The Dragovian equipment won from the trials is stylistically Japanese as well.

As is usually the case with entertainment produced in Japan and destined for the US, some points of significance are missed and other things that might not be intended to be controversial become so. The games usually go through a "localization" process before being released outside of Japan to address these issues. This didn't happen in the usual way with DQ8--sound effects were edited and voice-actors were included with the North American release, but the story and gameplay remained identical. There is little reason to think it should have been otherwise, but a couple of things stand out as areas that in the past might have attracted some edits.

The story twice touches on the 'hot button' issue of abortion. When you reach Empyrea's eyrie in an attempt to save her egg from the gryphon Demon, his destruction of it is lamented by the Godbird as the death of her baby--not her fetus, her embryo, or her scrambled egg breakfast.

Xia, the Dragovian mother of the Hero, courageously decides not to terminate her pregnancy, even though the birth kills her. That baby ends up not only saving the Dragovian race, but destroying the Devil in combat. Talk about the argument of potentiality being used!

Abortion is technically illegal in Japan except under special circumstances (that appear to be pretty wide-ranging), and is illegal after 21 weeks of gestation, at the point when the fetus becomes viable outside of the womb. The official abortion rate in the US is almost 50% higher than in Japan, although apparently the Japanese number is believed by many to be much too low. It's not as contentious an issue as it is in the US (though nowhere is the issue as contentious as in the US, partly due to the fact the the US has the some of the most liberal laws on abortion in the world, surpassing even Western Europe). In any case, the story should make pro-lifers happy.

David, a descendant of one of the Great Sages who is the devoted, obsequious servant of Dominico, is supposed to be a sympathetic character. He eptomizes one of the five relationships Confucious considered crucial--that of a subject to his ruler. Even for me, a conservative Westerner, he comes across as pitiable and naive. That he tolerates such despicable treatment from Dominico indirectly leads to his murder by Leopold. Pledges be damned, man, stand up for yourself! Why die for one who'd just assume you be dead anyway?


Again, the blind devotion to a ruler rears in Ascantha. The king, who by all accounts is a warm-hearted and generally good man, has essentially shut down the country to mourn indefinitely for the loss of his beloved wife, the queen. That kind of self-indulgent pouting is hardly acceptable in a leader of the West today (though this may be changing). It's not until he is able to relive memories of his wife that he realizes she would be disappointed with him going on in such a way. Only then does he allow the kingdom a return to normalcy.

One other occasion along the same theme appears. After Marcello has thrown High Priest Rolo and the rest of the party into prison at Purgatory Island, Rolo is incredulous at the suggestion that Marcello might have axed the Pope. Even though Rolo epitomizes everything Zwingli, Calvin, and Luther blasted the Catholic Church for, he can't imagine anyone on the inside taking out the highest ranking person in the world. Needless to say, that sort of treachery isn't so unfathomable--or even always reprehensible--in the West.

Dragon Quest VIII is a wonderful experience. If you've stepped away from the RPG world of your early years, you won't be disappointed in coming back. It gave me a higher level of enjoyment than just about anything else I've undertaken ever has. Still, no commentary would be complete without a few complaints.

Beginning the names of so many of the castles and cities with the letter "A"--Ascantha, Arcadia, Argonia, Alexandria--makes it difficult to keep straight who's from where and how these places relate with other towns and especially with one another. That Ascantha is a fictional name, and that the localizers almost certainly thought Argonia was as well (it's actually the name of an obscure town with a population of around 500 people in the southern center of Kansas), helps somewhat, because Arcadia is a real place in Greece and Alexandria was the Hellenistic intellectual center of the world for several centuries and second only to Rome in its prominence during the Roman Empire.

The Japanese are fascinated with gambling. Religion does not have the prominence in the East that it does in the US, so the attention we might assign to following the guiding hand of Providence is replaced by an obsession with luck.

The consequence of this in the DQ world is the assured appearance of the casino, where rare and useful items can be purchased but only with tokens that are prohibitively expensive to buy and so must be won at the slots and card tables. I heard of tricks to bend the odds in your favor, but of course they included reseting the game when you hit a rough spot. That's not my cup of tea, so I skipped the casino entirely. Thus, I never acquired the falcon sword and had to settle for only one meteorite bracelet (though the timbrel of tension+acceleratle one-two punch at the beginning of battle was a fine substitute for the latter).

Along the same lines, the Monster Arena is frustrating in that randomness is its foundational element. I was able to beat all but Morrie's team on my own, at which point I had to consult an online walkthrough. After assembling the suggested team, I gave it three shots. And my team still fell through each time! I never actually experienced victory there. The fools were obsessed with hitting the metal babble, despite the fact that he is the most difficult to put out of commission and is far less threatening than the servant of darkness!

Of course, if as the player you were able to actually control your monsters, it'd be a cakewalk. But their staggeringly poor tactics set you up for lots of defeats. Spending fifteen minutes watching my powerful but idiotic threesome snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and coming out 1,000 gold pieces lighter, in addition to an elevated blood pressure, isn't particularly rewarding. Even when victories are had, there is little feeling of accomplishment, since it's more luck than anything done on your part that determines the outcome.

Ah, the pangs of DQ8 withdrawal are painful to bear. I cannot help but wonder how long it will be before I'm drawn into worlds like these forever. Opium destroys a man, but it sure would be a pleasurable destruction...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

SCLC to follow La Raza in leaving Kansas City; more racial interest groups likely to follow

++Addition++Semler has resigned. In her words, she's "had enough". When the 'controversy' first started, she offered to resign, but Funkhouser asked her to stay on board. So she did, for over six months, continuously under criticism during that time from racial interest groups and leftist media sources. It's not hard to understand why a grandmother in her seventies would not want to bear that kind of burden for the crime of belonging to a popular citizens' action group in favor of national sovereignty.

---

KCMO Mayor Mark Funkhouser (D) has 'forced' yet another racial interest group to go elsewhere:
A national civil rights organization co-founded by Martin Luther King Jr. is pulling its 2008 national convention from Kansas City to protest decisions by the mayor.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference thinks Mayor Mark Funkhouser showed racial insensitivity when he appointed a member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps to the park board and when he tried to oust City Manager Wayne Cauthen, an African-American, without consulting with the City Council.
Nevermind that Cauthen has been looking for work elsewhere even after his contract was renewed or that the only racial 'controversy' regarding Funkhouser's attempt to stop the City Manager's contract from being renewed is that Cauthen happens to be black. Cauthen's handling of city projects produces plenty of reasons for the no-nonsense Mayor to want him out.

Funkhouser appointed Semler to be a commissioner of the Parks and Recreation department last June, alongside four others (including a black nationalist) who were brought in to add 'diversity' to a board that had previously been comprised of intolerable male WASPs! It is just as hard to see now as it was then how a septuagenarian grandmother who is member to a popular neighborhood watch group writ large, the Minuteman Project, could pose a threat in the eyes of a group whose very name indicates its racial objectives, in spite of her omnipotent position as a Parks and Rec commissioner.

Racial insensitivity is on display in both of these actions, indeed. You might even go as far as calling the Mayor's actions color-blind!

This insensitivity is in contrast to the racial (hyper)sensitivity of SCLC co-founder Martin Luther King, Jr, who called for special privileges for blacks, favored reparations, claimed that the US was a nation born in genocide, and supported socialism. Or of the group's contemporary goals--fighting on a host of fronts explicitly for the benefit of "African Americans and other minorities"--under a banner inspired by the Marcus Garvey-founded United Negro Improvement Association.

The Urban League weighed in as well, urging the NAACP to follow suit:
“The Urban League, SCLC, NAACP and La Raza entered into a national partnership,” Grant [President and CEO of the KC Urban League] said.

“We stand in solidarity with SCLC and La Raza in this fight to uphold the principles of civil rights and send a message to Mayor Funkhouser.”
The conference, expected to have drawn in the area of 2,000 people, is of negligible economic consequence. But shunning the city, rather than pulling dollars out of Kansas City, is the SCLC's objective:
In a news conference this morning, Charles Steele Jr., president and chief executive officer of the SCLC, will announce the decision.

“I am here to raise hell,” Steele said in an interview with The Star after flying into Kansas City Monday afternoon.

He said the SCLC probably would hold its convention, expected to draw more than 2,000 attendees, in New Orleans instead.
I'd like to say I'm surprised by the revelation that a black rights leader plans on "raising hell". I really would. But, well, you know. Anyway, the chocolate city is the optimal place to have that sort of thing.

Racial hypersensitivity is in the future. Hold a view, make a statement, or institute a personnel change that a race hustling group doesn't approve of, and listen to the crying--or worse--begin.

It may strike you as odd that a mayor attempting to put people in place who he believes are more capable than the ones he wants to replace is asserted to be inherently racist. But you're thinking too much like an Anglo, judging individuals on merit rather than primarily on racial or ethnic characteristics. Your time is passing. In the future, less will be for you, and to the extent that you make contributions, they will be for the benefit of others whom you owe.

We joke about political correctness (or cultural Marxism, or whatever you'd like to term the body of omertas continuously being heaped upon free thought in the West), but this kind of extortion has the aim of shutting down debate and intimidating outsiders into bending to the will of the special interest group crying foul.

ICE to deport 200,000 jailed criminal immigrants this year (isn't that nearly 10% of the US prison population?)

Parapundit's Randall Parker has an encouraging post on ICE's stepped up effort at deporting foreign criminals serving sentences in US jails and prisons. But the number of immigrants in need of removal according to Julia Myers doesn't mesh with estimates of the foreign-born prison population being touted by open borders advocates like Linda Chavez. I've looked through some of the relevant data and wasn't able to conclude much, but I might as well offer what I came up with. I suggest you read RP's entry before dealing with what's below.

The average time served for a prison sentence handed out at the state level is just under three years, and it's even longer than that at the federal level. It's unusual for someone held in a state or federal prison to serve less than one year behind bars. So I don't see how sentences of less than one year could be accounting for the huge disparity unless the bulk of the deportation orders are for those who are being held in local jails, where sentences are usually for less than one year.

It doesn't seem to add up. The study by Ruben Rumbaut that Steve Sailer referred to (via Linda Chavez) doesn't give absolute numbers of prisoners broken down by ethnicity and nationality, but it does give percentages. Extrapolating from that, the study estimates that there were fewer than 70,000 foreign-born males between the ages of 18-39 in state or federal prisons in 2000. Males between the ages of 18-39 comprise around 70% of the prison population, so we can probably assume that the total population of incarcerated foreign-born under Rumbaut's methodology comes to 100,000.

ICE is going after criminal immigrants at all levels. Local jails hold one-third of the nation's total incarcerated population, but Rubenstein's figure of 290,050 from the Department of Justice report only applies to state and federal facilities. If we assume that at the local level the demographics are similar to what is seen at the state and federal levels, somewhere in the area of 130,000 of those slated to be deported are being held at the state or federal level. This is nearly twice the total number of foreigners that Rumbaut estimated were being held in all jails across the country. That difference would have had to come in the course of only six years.

Two-thirds of the US foreign-born population is from Latin America. As Rumbaut's report shows, foreign-born Hispanics are more likely to be incarcerated than are European or Asian immigrants. So it'd be pretty safe to assume that of those 130,000, around 100,000 are Hispanic, yielding an estimate that about one-in-three Hispanic prisoners in the US are foreign-born. Yet Rumbaut's total incarceration figure for not only the Hispanic foreign-born but other non-native prisoners and which includes local jails, totals about that amount.

At least one of the following must be true:

1) Rumbaut's study was faulty.
2) Myers' numbers are wrong.
3) There was a significant increase in the size (and rate) of the foreign-born prison population between 2000 and 2006.
4) Local jails hold a greater number of immigrants than do state and federal prisons, and most of those slated for deporation are currently being held at the local level.

Local sentences vary by location, but the average length of a felony sentence to be served in a local jail was just over six months in 2000. Of those convicted of felonies in state courts, 41% of those sentenced to jail time served it in a local jail.

For Rumbaut's estimates and Myers' numbers to compute (ignoring the six year time gap for simplicity), most of the deportation orders--at least 100,000 or so of the 200,000--would need to not only be coming from the local level, but also be for those who have been given sentences of less than one year. Why? Because Rumbaut's numbers are pulled from a specific point in time, when the Public Use Microsample (PUMS) for Census 2000 was performed. If 100,000 or so foreigners had been in jail sometime during the year but were not incarcerated when the survey was carried out, both Rumbaut and Myers would theoretically be correct.

Since there are more felons being held in state prisons than in local jails, the majority of those 100,000 or so being slated to be deported from local jails (and quite likely a majority of all those being slated for deportation, since I'm assuming that ICE is going to get every foreign-born felon held at the state and getting the non-felony number by plugging in what's left over) would have to be serving time for non-felonious crimes (DUI, drug possession, etc).

On its face, this seems highly unlikely. Myers could probably clear up the confusion if she were queried on what percentages of these 200,000 people are currently being held in federal, state, and local facilities, but if I had to put money on it, I'd wager that either Rumbaut's estimate is too low or Myers' is too high. I'm not sure why ICE, which hasn't exactly reveled in the idea of having to step up deportations, would overstate the number of foreign criminals in need of removal. I can imagine why others might, though, but am not able to prove they're wrong, either.

Parenthetically, Rumbaut shows that the longer immigrants have been in the country, the more likely they are to be behind bars (see table 3). The putative rate of incarceration triples for foreigners who've been in the US for more than 15 years as compared to those who've been here for less than five years. This meshes generally with Steve's point that immigrants, who are disproportionately poor themselves, are assimilating to the cultural norms of America's native poor.

But it also stems from the fact that a 30 year-old who arrived stateside yesterday has had a lot less time to get himself thrown in a US jail than have natives who've lived here their entire lives. Yet as soon as he enters the US, he's 'counted' among the non-criminal foreign-born population. And if he has a criminal past at home that isn't known in the US, he's likely to spend less time in jail (and therefore less likely to be counted among the incarcerated at any given time) when he does commit a crime than would a native with a record who committed the same crime.

++Addition++On RP's thread, John S Bolton observes that deportations of foreign criminals, even though they've been inadequate (ICE reports that last year it identified 64,000, most of whom were deported), will also artificially lower the incarceration rate. It's similar to what was discussed above except on the other end--instead of receiving a lighter sentence since the crime was the first one the immigrant had committed (in the US), after serving a relatively light sentence, the foreign criminal is deported, thus keeping him from receiving a relatively harsher sentence for subsequent crimes based on his criminal record in the US.