July 28, 2007


Western Hemisphere of MarsYes, I'm a glutton for punishment. I had been thinking of starting a new blog, something along the lines of two astronomy-oriented photoblogs that I enjoy reading, Astronomy Picture of the Day and LPOD - Lunar Photo of the Day. Areology, which means "the study of Mars," is a topic I've become increasingly fond of, and I thought I'd try my hand at creating a blog along the lines of the above two, except focusing on Mars (of course). So please come visit me at Areology, where we can learn a few things about Mars together.

The above photo of the western hemisphere of Mars (click to enlarge) is a compilation mosaic of over 100 photos taken by the two Viking Orbiters in the 1970s.

(Continuing) Islamophobia in the Vatican

The Vatican remains Islamophobic. Despite a recent change in Vatican policy that emphasizes a diplomatic approach in dealing with the Muslim world (instead of a theological approach), recent comments by the Private Secretary to Pope Benedict XVI, Monsignor Georg Ganswein, show that anti-Islamic attitudes in the Vatican die hard.

From The Telegraph (UK):
The Pope's private secretary has given warning of the Islamization of Europe and stressed the need for the continent's Christian roots not to be ignored, in comments released yesterday.

"Attempts to Islamize the West cannot be denied," Monsignor Georg Gaenswein was quoted as saying in an advance copy of the weekly Sueddeutsche Magazin to be published today.

"The danger for the identity of Europe that is connected with it should not be ignored out of a wrongly understood respectfulness," the magazine quoted him as saying.

He also defended a speech that the Pope gave last year that linked Islam and violence, saying it had been an attempt by the pontiff to "act against a certain naivety".

In the speech during a visit to Germany in September, the Pope appeared to endorse a view, contested by most Muslims, that Islam's followers spread their religion in its early days by violence.


Recently, Joachim Meisner, the influential archbishop of Cologne, said in a radio interview that the "immigration of Muslims has created a breach in our German, European culture."

From Catholic Online:
“I believe that the speech in Regensburg,” he said, “is prophetic.” He added that the pope wrote his own speeches and that those remarks had not been edited.

The papal secretary said that the “harsh reactions” to the speech was “a big surprise, also to the pope.”

"The huge fuss that arose was because of newspaper reports that took a certain quote out of context and presented it as the pope’s personal opinion," he said.

The pope sought to speak to the fact that “no such thing” specifically defines Islam, Msgr. Ganswein said. “It does not have a voice that is obligatory and binding to all Muslims.”

"Under this term,” he said of Islam, “many different groups are put together that are partially hostile to each other, some even extremist, who refer their doings to the Quran and who use rifles for their goals.”

The Economist: Wet Goods and Dry Goods

There's a very odd story in The Economist this week about the theft of female corpses in China. Some Chinese, who can be very superstitious*, are trying to fulfill an ancient belief that husbands and wives should share a grave together; however, when the man dies unmarried, what should be done? The apparent solution: dig up the graves of women or, in the case of one man, murder living women.

A member of the Chao clan of Gelao village in Shaanxi province was paying her respects recently to a newly buried female relative. She noticed a wheat stalk stuck in the mound of earth with a ribbon tied to it. Alarmed, she alerted her relatives. At 11 o'clock that evening, they ambushed two grave robbers who were starting to dig up the body. A member of the Chao family told a friend from the Wang clan in a nearby village, who had just buried one of its womenfolk. Clan members found nothing suspicious at the grave but the next day came across a large plastic bag in a ditch. Sure enough, it contained the body of their relative, exhumed and waiting for collection.

Parts of rural China are seeing a burgeoning market for female corpses, the result of the reappearance of a strange custom called “ghost marriages.” Chinese tradition demands that husbands and wives always share a grave. Sometimes, when a man died unmarried, his parents would procure the body of a woman, hold a “wedding” and bury the couple together.

The custom has a long history. In the legends of the classical romance of the “Three Kingdoms,” the warlord Cao Cao finds a corpse bride for his son who died in 208 AD at the tender age of 13.

The communists discouraged burials and suppressed ghost marriages as “feudal superstition.” Yet ancient beliefs die hard. As Marxism wanes, burials are reappearing—and so are corpse brides.

The practice is most common in the northern provinces of Shanxi, Hebei and Shandong. This is China's coal-mining heartland. In mountainous Shanxi, pit accidents kill many men too young to marry. Compensation to the family is spent on giving their son a wife in the afterlife.

A black market has sprung up to supply corpse brides. Marriage brokers—usually respectable folk who find brides for village men—account for most of the middlemen. At the bottom of the supply chain come hospital mortuaries, funeral parlours, body snatchers—and now murderers.

On March 7th this year, a local newspaper, Huashang Bao, reported that demand for corpse brides had led to sustained inflation. A top-quality piece of “wet” (recently deceased) merchandise that the newspaper said would have sold for a few thousand yuan four years ago now goes for 30,000-40,000 yuan ($4,000-5,300). In contrast, “dry goods” (long buried) fetch just 300-500 yuan down the Shanxi coal mines.

Such incentives prompted Song Tiantang to kill. In the late 1990s he had made money supplying the market by robbing graves. Mr Song (whose name is a homonym for the phrase “to send someone to heaven”) was jailed after he dropped his mobile phone at a grave he had plundered: the police used it to track him down. This January he was arrested again and confessed to strangling six women and selling their bodies. Killing for corpses, he said, was an easier way to make money than digging them out of the ground.

* I'd like to stress that by no means are all Chinese, in China or living overseas, superstitious.

Bill O'Reilly: Propaganda Pimp

There's a great story at News Corpse about Faux News blowhard Bill O'Reilly: a recent Indiana University study has looked at the way O'Reilly uses his TV program for spreading propaganda. No doubt the master would be shedding tears of joy to see how well his pupil is doing.

Researchers at Indiana University have just published the results of a study that provides academic validation that O'Reilly is a textbook propagandist. Amongst the key findings is that:

"...the Fox News personality consistently paints certain people and groups as villains and others as victims to present the world, as he sees it, through political rhetoric."

The study itemized seven propaganda devices as defined by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis:

  • Name calling - giving something a bad label to make the audience reject it without examining the evidence.
  • Glittering generalities - the opposite of name calling.
  • Card stacking - the selective use of facts and half-truths.
  • Bandwagon - appeals to the desire, common to most of us, to follow the crowd.
  • Plain folks - an attempt to convince an audience that they, and their ideas, are “of the people.”
  • Transfer - carries over the authority, sanction and prestige of something we respect or dispute to something the speaker would want us to accept.
  • Testimonials - involving a respected (or disrespected) person endorsing or rejecting an idea or person.

    O’Reilly was found to have employed six of the seven nearly 13 times each minute. This is an important statistic because it is not merely the use of these devices that define their effect. It is the repetition and the absence of any substantive debate that produces the desired manipulation of free thought. This is why O'Reilly repeatedly interrupts and cuts off his guests - to keep them from diluting the rhetorical Kool-Aid. And contrary to his assertions that he doesn't "do personal attacks," IU has documented the reality that any cognitively functional bipedal hominoid has already figured out - O'Reilly is a bullying buffoon:

    "O’Reilly called a person or a group a derogatory name once every 6.8 seconds, on average, or nearly nine times every minute during the editorials that open his program each night." [See the Stalking Points Memos]

    Of course, O'Reilly didn't invent these tactics. They have been used before by governments, churches and corporations. The notorious American racist/anti-semite/nazi sympathizer, Father Charles Coughlin, served a bit of each of those masters. But O'Reilly has an unprecedented platform from which to spew his bile. And he is not merely a pundit expressing his opinions. He routinely calls on his disciples to act on his directives, whether they be boycotts, petitions, marches, or political activism and voting.
  • July 27, 2007

    "Why don’t you lot just grow up?"

    Around the end of the first week of Ramadan this year will be my sixth anniversary of living here in Asia, insha'allah. (Scary how the time has flown by.) My original plan was just to live here for a year or two before going home. However, one thing led to another - as they usually do - and now I'm here more or less permanently. I've no plans to return to the U.S. anytime soon, but I often think about it. I've heard a couple of horror stories about people - Americans - returning back to the US after living in or even just briefly visiting other countries abroad, and I wonder what type of reception Milady and I would get if we went to the U.S. (Both of us are Muslim, of course, and Milady always wears a tudung in public.)

    What follows is an excerpt from a post at Crooks and Liars where an American citizen had a layover at LAX while on a flight from London to New Zealand. The comments by the passenger named Derek are especially appropriate.

    I moved from Great Britain to New Zealand last week, requiring a flight of 26 hours crammed into a big metal tube with about four hundred other brave souls, the vast majority of us packed into the Economy Class part of a 747, with the usual narrow seats, no leg rests, and poor overheated air ventilation that inevitably leads to sharing every virus on board with everyone else. I dropped at least half my on-board meals down my cleavage trying to eat with elbows pressed together, my ankles swelled to the size (and shape) of a small elephant’s, my calves were a mass of cramps, my eyes throbbed from trying to watch too many movies on a tiny screen eight inches from my nose, my back ached from trying to sleep at twisted, unnatural angles, and my throat tickled with what I knew would end up being a full blown head cold. No, long-haul flights are not fun. People take them because it’s about the only way to get where they really, really want to go. And I really, really wanted to go to New Zealand.

    At least there was a chance for a small break once we’d landed in Los Angeles to change flight crews, restock the food galleys and drinks trolleys and refuel the plane, a chance to stretch our legs in the transit lounge and take a breath of fresh air. So you would think…

    And you would be so wrong.

    We were told to disembark with all our carry-on luggage, leaving nothing on board. Those who were flying from London to Auckland were told to line up against a wall in a corridor while those whose flights terminated at Los Angeles filed past and disappeared. And there, in a hot, cramped corridor we stood and waited. And waited. And waited. I finally couldn’t stand it, and asked where to find the ladies’ loo – to be ordered not to leave the line. (Sod that, thought I, or rather, my bladder) and I wandered up the queue to discover that we were being processed, slowly, one by one, by a single officer in a tiny booth. After a quick dash to a toilet, I made my way back down the line to where I’d left my new comrades-in-arms – Judy, a petite, smartly dressed 61-year-old Kiwi schoolteacher in London on compassionate leave going home to Auckland to see her terminally ill father, and Derek, a wiry Scots engineer with an acerbic sense of humour. ‘You bloody Yanks seem to think terrorism is something new and only ever happens to Americans,’ he groused to me. Being possibly the only bloody Yank going from London to New Zealand, I became by default the sole available representative for my fellow countrymen. ‘We’ve had the IRA and the French have the Algerians and the Spanish have ETA. Now you know what the rest of Europe’s been living with for the last few hundred years. Why don’t you lot just grow up?’ Heads around us nodded in irritated agreement.

    To our relief, we were finally moved out of the corridor, all following another LAX official to what we were expecting to be the transit lounge… but to our collective dismay, we were herded into a bigger Immigration area, where all those who were not US passport holders filled out long green cards asking detailed personal information, to be handed over to US Immigration officials busy taking everyone’s fingerprints and photographs. There was some confusion about just what to do with me, as I was a US citizen, but was flying on to New Zealand. Eventually, I was given a shorter blue form to fill out. A couple of students with worried expressions – Germans, I think, judging from the language – were being led away by uniformed police who were having interpretation problems. It was a very repressive and rather frightening atmosphere.

    Bear in mind here… we were all ‘non-stop’ transit passengers, due to get straight back on the same plane we’d just gotten off and fly on to Auckland, never setting foot outside the airport and onto American soil.

    Judy, in her strong Kiwi accent, demanded from one of the officials standing guard around us why they needed to take our fingerprints or our photographs. ‘It’s the law,’ he mumbled, a bit shamefaced, and spouted a few disconnected bits of pre-memorized clichés about terrorism and security before stuttering to a halt and looking away. Not even the officials at the airport understood why.

    The Immigration official at the booth was not so polite to her. ‘Take your glasses off,’ he demanded. I could see her stiffen, an elderly respectable schoolteacher unused to being so brusquely ordered around. ‘I beg your pardon? Why do I need to take my glasses off? What right do you have to take my fingerprints or my photograph?’

    Again, came the refrain. ‘It’s the law’.

    We finally were allowed, once we’d all been ‘processed’, to sit down and have a cup of tea or coffee in the transit lounge… for about fifteen minutes before they reloaded the plane. Judy looked angry and close to tears. ‘I’ve never been treated like this before,’ she said. ‘It’s all one thing when you read about it, but having to actually submit to being fingerprinted? I feel… violated. Like I’m some sort of criminal.’

    Would she ever consider returning to the States, as a tourist?

    Absolutely not. And the next time she flew from London to Auckland, she’d make damned sure the flight did not stop to refuel in America.

    This was pretty much the general feeling of every passenger on that flight – none of them had ever intended to enter the United States; it was just a place they had to wait in transit to somewhere else. But their experience had soured them on even considering the States as a potential holiday spot to visit. It didn’t matter how cheap the US dollar got.

    And they have friends and families, too. Some people don’t like it when their 61-year-old mothers are treated like potential al Qaeda terrorists.

    While the rest of the world is enjoying a boom in tourism, and our own tourist industry is begging the government for a let-up on such draconian policies, the abysmal way we are treating air passengers – even those who have nothing to do with visiting America as tourists – is costing the country millions of dollars a day, our reputation as debased as our currency.

    We are not becoming a police state.

    We are one.

    In the comments left at C&L was a piece of goods news, especially with regard to Singapore:

    In the future, fly through Singapore or Hong Kong to London to avoid LAX. LAX is notorious and the experience is always universally bad. Just what nobody needs on a long transcontinental haul. Depending on the transit time through Singapore, you can get a tour of the city, go swimming at the airport, or even take a hotel room inside the air terminal.

    July 24, 2007


    An odd but interesting video over at IZ's. Over 1500 inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (Cebu, Philippines) practicing Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Note: The girl playing the Ola Ray character is not a girl (as is apparent in the closeups). ;) It's a shame they didn't have more than one camera to film this rehearsal with.

    Here's the original, with MJ, Ola Ray and the late, great Vincent Price.

    July 23, 2007

    I'm not surprised...

    Online Dating

    Mingle2 - Online Dating

    I figured I'd get at least an "R." According to the website, I got the "NC-17" because of the word "sex" (four times), "bomb" (three times), "death" (twice), and "crack" (once). Actually, that seems pretty tame to me... Let's see if we can't make the blog more worthy of its rating. ;)

    Karen Armstrong: An Inability to Tolerate Islam Contradicts Western Values

    Karen Armstrong has written a recent article for The Guardian entitled, "An Inability to Tolerate Islam Contradicts Western Values" (published July 21st). The article suggests two problems: a lack of self-confidence on the part of some Muslims who are unable to cope with certain comments and criticisms (true, of course, to a degree), and a lack of tolerance - a hypocrisy - on the part of the West to be able to tolerate and respect Islam and Muslims, through Islamophobic commentary and by trying to deny Muslims the ability to worship in their own buildings (e.g., the east London "mega-mosque").

    Free speech is now the rallying cry of escalating tensions, but we can also use it to expose double standards on both sides.

    In the 17th century, when some Iranian mullahs were trying to limit freedom of expression, Mulla Sadra, the great mystical philosopher of Isfahan, insisted that all Muslims were perfectly capable of thinking for themselves and that any religiosity based on intellectual repression and inquisitorial coercion was "polluted". Mulla Sadra exerted a profound influence on generations of Iranians, but it is ironic that his most famous disciple was probably Ayatollah Khomeini, author of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.

    This type of contradiction is becoming increasingly frequent in our polarized world, as I discovered last month, when I arrived in Kuala Lumpur to find that the Malaysian government had banned three of my books as "incompatible with peace and social harmony". This was surprising because the government had invited me to Malaysia, and sponsored two of my public lectures. Their position was absurd, because it is impossible to exert this type of censorship in the electronic age. In fact, my books seemed so popular in Malaysia that I found myself wondering if the veto was part of a Machiavellian plot to entice the public to read them.

    Old habits die hard. In a pre-modern economy, insufficient resources meant freedom of speech was a luxury few governments could afford, since any project that required too much capital outlay was usually shelved. To encourage a critical habit of mind that habitually called existing institutions into question in the hope of reform could lead to a frustration that jeopardized social order. It is only 50 years since Malaysia achieved independence and, although the public and press campaign vigorously against censorship, in other circles the old caution is alive and well.

    In the west, however, liberty of expression proved essential to the economy; it has become a sacred value in our secular world, regarded as so precious and crucial to our identity that it is non-negotiable. Modern society could not function without independent and innovative thought, which has come to symbolize the inviolable sanctity of the individual. But culture is always contested, and precisely because it is so central to modernity, free speech is embroiled in the bumpy process whereby groups at different stages of modernization learn to accommodate one another.

    It has also, as we have been reminded recently, become a rallying cry in the escalating tension between the Islamic world and the west. Muslim protests against Rushdie's knighthood have recalled the painful controversy of The Satanic Verses, and last week four British Muslims were sentenced to a total of 22 years in prison for inciting hatred while demonstrating against the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

    It would, however, be a mistake to imagine that Muslims are irretrievably opposed to free speech. Gallup conducted a poll in 10 Muslim countries (including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) and found that the vast majority of respondents admired western "liberty and freedom and being open-minded with each other". They were particularly enthusiastic about our unrestricted press, liberty of worship and freedom of assembly. The only western achievement that they respected more than our political liberty was our modern technology.

    Then why the book burnings and fatwas? In the past Islamic governments were as prone to intellectual coercion as any pre-modern rulers, but when Muslims were powerful and felt confident they were able to take criticism in their stride. But media and literary assaults have become more problematic at a time of extreme political vulnerability in the Islamic world, and to an alienated minority they seem inseparable from Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and the unfolding tragedy of Iraq.

    On both sides, however, there are double standards and the kind of contradiction evident in Khomeini's violation of the essential principles of his mentor, Mulla Sadra. For Muslims to protest against the Danish cartoonists' depiction of the prophet as a terrorist, while carrying placards that threatened another 7/7 atrocity on London, represented a nihilistic failure of integrity.

    But equally the cartoonists and their publishers, who seemed impervious to Muslim sensibilities, failed to live up to their own liberal values, since the principle of free speech implies respect for the opinions of others. Islamophobia should be as unacceptable as any other form of prejudice. When 255,000 members of the so-called "Christian community" signed a petition to prevent the building of a large mosque in Abbey Mills, east London, they sent a grim message to the Muslim world: western freedom of worship did not, apparently, apply to Islam. There were similar protests by some in the Jewish community, who, as Seth Freedman pointed out in his "Comment is Free" piece, should be the first to protest against discrimination.

    Gallup found there was as yet no blind hatred of the west in Muslim countries; only 8% of respondents condoned the 9/11 atrocities. But this could change if the extremists persuade the young that the west is bent on the destruction of their religion. When Gallup asked what the west could do to improve relations, most Muslims replied unhesitatingly that western countries must show greater respect for Islam, placing this ahead of economic aid and non-interference in their domestic affairs. Our inability to tolerate Islam not only contradicts our western values; it could also become a major security risk.

    July 22, 2007

    How to Create an Angry American

    A very good video concentrating on the various lies of the Bush administration. As one of the opening clips says (courtesy of Donald Rumsfeld), "There are a lot of people who lie and get away with it." And I'm ashamed of those of my fellow Americans (especially those in Congress) who lack the spine to stop those people who lie. (HT: Juan Cole)

    July 21, 2007

    (Almost) All Trumpets

    Street Prophets had one of their open thread posts up today that featured trumpets. Of course, as a drum corps alumnus, I can't let a topic like this pass by without commenting on it. What follows (in blue) is most of what I wrote there (along with a new comment):

    This is from the 1996 British movie, "Brassed Off," with Pete Postelthwaite, Tara Fitzgerald, and Ewan McGregor. This scene is where Tara's character "auditions" with the local coal mining brass band by playing from "Conceierto de Aranjuez." Granted, she's playing a flugelhorn and not a trumpet, but so what? [Of course, drum corps fans should recognize this song, especially from the 1973-76 Hawthorne Muchachos (among many other corps).]

    This is Arturo Sandoval, playing with the Boston Pops back in '93. Arturo's a Cuban-American musician who's the best (IMO) jazz trumpeter in the world today.

    While Arturo's a great screecher, no one's better than the late, great Maynard Ferguson whom I grew up listening to. This video's of one of his more popular covers, "Gonna Fly Now," from the original "Rocky."

    July 20, 2007

    Ship of Fools

    This article, by Johann Hari, has been published by both The Independent and the New Republic. Milady and I will watch various political videos that I download from the Internet, but she doesn't really understand why wingnut conservatives in America think the way they do. And, to be honest, I'm not sure I can entirely explain the reasons why to her to my own satisfaction. There's a phrase in the article below, "when conservatism was viewed in polite society as a mental affliction," and that seems to sum up quite well the state of thinking of many of the characters Hari writes about. The article is a little long, but it has a lot of gems.

    The Iraq war has been an amazing success, global warming is just a myth – and as for Guantanamo Bay, it's practically a holiday camp... The annual cruise organized by the 'National Review', mouthpiece of right-wing America, is a parallel universe populated by straight-talking, gun-toting, God-fearing Republicans.

    I am standing waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean, both chilling and burning, indulging in the polite chit-chat beloved by vacationing Americans. A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. "Is he your only child?" I ask. "Yes," she says. "Do you have a child back in England?" she asks. No, I say. Her face darkens. "You'd better start," she says. "The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they'll have the whole of Europe."

    I am getting used to these moments – when gentle holiday geniality bleeds into... what? I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old Californian designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, " Of course, we need to execute some of these people," I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. "A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralize the country," she says. "Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get." She squints at the sun and smiles. " Then things'll change."

    I am traveling on a bright white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, a casino – and 500 readers of the National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been "an amazing success". Global warming is not happening. The solitary black person claims, "If the Ku Klux Klan supports equal rights, then God bless them." And I have nowhere to run.

    From time to time, National Review – the bible of American conservatism – organizes a cruise for its readers. I paid $1,200 to join them. The rules I imposed on myself were simple: If any of the conservative cruisers asked who I was, I answered honestly, telling them I was a journalist. Mostly, I just tried to blend in – and find out what American conservatives say when they think the rest of us aren't listening.

    I. From sweet to suicide bomber

    I arrive at the dockside in San Diego on Saturday afternoon and stare up at the Oosterdam, our home for the next seven days. Filipino boat hands are loading trunks into the hull and wealthy white folk are gliding onto its polished boards with pale sun parasols dangling off their arms.

    The Reviewers have been told to gather for a cocktail reception on the Lido, near the very top of the ship. I arrive to find a tableau from Gone With the Wind, washed in a thousand shades of grey. Southern belles – aged and pinched – are flirting with old conservative warriors. The etiquette here is different from anything I have ever seen. It takes me 15 minutes to realize what is wrong with this scene. There are no big hugs, no warm kisses. This is a place of starchy handshakes. Men approach each other with stiffened spines, puffed-out chests and crunching handshakes. Women are greeted with a single kiss on the cheek. Anything more would be French.

    I adjust and stiffly greet the first man I see. He is a judge, with the craggy self-important charm that slowly consumes any judge. He is from Canada, he declares (a little more apologetically), and is the founding president of "Canadians Against Suicide Bombing". Would there be many members of "Canadians for Suicide Bombing?" I ask. Dismayed, he suggests that yes, there would.

    A bell rings somewhere, and we are all beckoned to dinner. We have been assigned random seats, which will change each night. We will, the publicity pack promises, each dine with at least one National Review speaker during our trip.

    To my left, I find a middle-aged Floridian with a neat beard. To my right are two elderly New Yorkers who look and sound like late-era Dorothy Parkers, minus the alcohol poisoning. They live on Park Avenue, they explain in precise Northern tones. "You must live near the UN building," the Floridian says to one of the New York ladies after the entree is served. Yes, she responds, shaking her head wearily. "They should suicide-bomb that place," he says. They all chuckle gently. How did that happen? How do you go from sweet to suicide-bomb in six seconds?

    The conversation ebbs back to friendly chit-chat. So, you're a European, one of the Park Avenue ladies says, before offering witty commentaries on the cities she's visited. Her companion adds, "I went to Paris, and it was so lovely." Her face darkens: "But then you think – it's surrounded by Muslims." The first lady nods: "They're out there, and they're coming." Emboldened, the bearded Floridian wags a finger and says, "Down the line, we're not going to bail out the French again." He mimes picking up a phone and shouts into it, "I can't hear you, Jacques! What's that? The Muslims are doing what to you? I can't hear you!"

    Now that this barrier has been broken – everyone agrees the Muslims are devouring the French, and everyone agrees it's funny – the usual suspects are quickly rounded up. Jimmy Carter is "almost a traitor". John McCain is "crazy" because of "all that torture". One of the Park Avenue ladies declares that she gets on her knees every day to " thank God for Fox News". As the wine reaches the Floridian, he announces, "This cruise is the best money I ever spent."

    They rush through the Rush-list of liberals who hate America, who want her to fail, and I ask them – why are liberals like this? What's their motivation? They stutter to a halt and there is a long, puzzled silence. " It's a good question," one of them, Martha, says finally. I have asked them to peer into the minds of cartoons and they are suddenly, reluctantly confronted with the hollowness of their creation. "There have always been intellectuals who want to tell people how to live," Martha adds, to an almost visible sense of relief. That's it – the intellectuals! They are not like us. Dave changes the subject, to wash away this moment of cognitive dissonance. "The liberals don't believe in the constitution. They don't believe in what the founders wanted – a strong executive," he announces, to nods. A Filipino waiter offers him a top-up of his wine, and he mock-whispers to me, "They all look the same! Can you tell them apart?" I stare out to sea. How long would it take me to drown?

    II. "We're doing an excellent job killing them."

    The Vista Lounge is a Vegas-style showroom, with glistening gold edges and the desperate optimism of an aging Cha-Cha girl. Today, the scenery has been cleared away – "I always sit at the front in these shows to see if the girls are really pretty and on this ship they are ug-lee," I hear a Reviewer mutter – and our performers are the assorted purveyors of conservative show tunes, from Podhoretz to Steyn. The first of the trip's seminars is a discussion intended to exhume the conservative corpse and discover its cause of death on the black, black night of 7 November, 2006, when the treacherous Democrats took control of the US Congress.

    There is something strange about this discussion, and it takes me a few moments to realize exactly what it is. All the tropes that conservatives usually deny in public – that Iraq is another Vietnam, that Bush is fighting a class war on behalf of the rich – are embraced on this shining ship in the middle of the ocean. Yes, they concede, we are fighting another Vietnam; and this time we won't let the weak-kneed liberals lose it. "It's customary to say we lost the Vietnam war, but who's 'we'?" the writer Dinesh D'Souza asks angrily. "The left won by demanding America's humiliation." On this ship, there are no Viet Cong, no three million dead. There is only liberal treachery. Yes, D'Souza says, in a swift shift to domestic politics, "of course" Republican politics is "about class. Republicans are the party of winners, Democrats are the party of losers."

    The panel nods, but it doesn't want to stray from Iraq. Robert Bork, Ronald Reagan's one-time nominee to the Supreme Court, mumbles from beneath low-hanging jowls: "The coverage of this war is unbelievable. Even Fox News is unbelievable. You'd think we're the only ones dying. Enemy casualties aren't covered. We're doing an excellent job killing them."

    Then, with a judder, the panel runs momentarily aground. Rich Lowry, the preppy, handsome 38-year-old editor of National Review, says, "The American public isn't concluding we're losing in Iraq for any irrational reason. They're looking at the cold, hard facts." The Vista Lounge is, as one, perplexed. Lowry continues, "I wish it was true that, because we're a superpower, we can't lose. But it's not."

    No one argues with him. They just look away, in the same manner that people avoid glancing at a crazy person yelling at a bus stop. Then they return to hyperbole and accusations of treachery against people like their editor. The aging historian Bernard Lewis – who was deputed to stiffen Dick Cheney's spine in the run-up to the war – declares, "The election in the US is being seen by [the bin Ladenists] as a victory on a par with the collapse of the Soviet Union. We should be prepared for whatever comes next." This is why the guests paid up to $6,000. This is what they came for. They give him a wheezing, stooping ovation and break for coffee.

    A fracture-line in the lumbering certainty of American conservatism is opening right before my eyes. Following the break, Norman Podhoretz and William Buckley – two of the grand old men of the Grand Old Party – begin to feud. Podhoretz will not stop speaking – "I have lots of ex-friends on the left; it looks like I'm going to have some ex-friends on the right, too," he rants –and Buckley says to the chair, " Just take the mike, there's no other way." He says it with a smile, but with heavy eyes.

    Podhoretz and Buckley now inhabit opposite poles of post-September 11 American conservatism, and they stare at wholly different Iraqs. Podhoretz is the Brooklyn-born, street-fighting kid who traveled through a long phase of left-liberalism to a pugilistic belief in America's power to redeem the world, one bomb at a time. Today, he is a bristling grey ball of aggression, here to declare that the Iraq war has been "an amazing success." He waves his fist and declaims: "There were WMD, and they were shipped to Syria ... This picture of a country in total chaos with no security is false. It has been a triumph. It couldn't have gone better." He wants more wars, and fast. He is "certain" Bush will bomb Iran, and " thank God" for that.

    Buckley is an urbane old reactionary, drunk on doubts. He founded the National Review in 1955 – when conservatism was viewed in polite society as a mental affliction – and he has always been skeptical of appeals to " the people," preferring the eternal top-down certainties of Catholicism. He united with Podhoretz in mutual hatred of Godless Communism, but, slouching into his eighties, he possesses a world view that is ill-suited for the fight to bring democracy to the Muslim world. He was a ghostly presence on the cruise at first, appearing only briefly to shake a few hands. But now he has emerged, and he is fighting.

    "Aren't you embarrassed by the absence of these weapons?" Buckley snaps at Podhoretz. He has just explained that he supported the war reluctantly, because Dick Cheney convinced him Saddam Hussein had WMD primed to be fired. "No," Podhoretz replies. "As I say, they were shipped to Syria. During Gulf War I, the entire Iraqi air force was hidden in the deserts in Iran." He says he is "heartbroken" by this " rise of defeatism on the right." He adds, apropos of nothing, "There was nobody better than Don Rumsfeld. This defeatist talk only contributes to the impression we are losing, when I think we're winning." The audience cheers Podhoretz. The nuanced doubts of Bill Buckley leave them confused. Doesn't he sound like the liberal media? Later, over dinner, a tablemate from Denver calls Buckley "a coward". His wife nods and says, " Buckley's an old man," tapping her head with her finger to suggest dementia.

    I decide to track down Buckley and Podhoretz separately and ask them for interviews. Buckley is sitting forlornly in his cabin, scribbling in a notebook. In 2005, at an event celebrating National Review's 50th birthday, President Bush described today's American conservatives as "Bill's children". I ask him if he feels like a parent whose kids grew up to be serial killers. He smiles slightly, and his blue eyes appear to twinkle. Then he sighs, "The answer is no. Because what animated the conservative core for 40 years was the Soviet menace, plus the rise of dogmatic socialism. That's pretty well gone."

    This does not feel like an optimistic defense of his brood, but it's a theme he returns to repeatedly: the great battles of his life are already won. Still, he ruminates over what his old friend Ronald Reagan would have made of Iraq. "I think the prudent Reagan would have figured here, and the prudent Reagan would have shunned a commitment of the kind that we are now engaged in... I think he would have attempted to find some sort of assurance that any exposure by the United States would be exposure to a challenge the dimensions of which we could predict." Lest liberals be too eager to adopt the Gipper as one of their own, Buckley agrees approvingly that Reagan's approach would have been to "find a local strongman" to rule Iraq.

    A few floors away, Podhoretz tells me he is losing his voice, "which will make some people very happy". Then he croaks out the standard-issue Wolfowitz line about how, after September 11, the United States had to introduce democracy to the Middle East in order to change the political culture that produced the mass murderers. For somebody who declares democracy to be his goal, he is remarkably blasé about the fact that 80 per cent of Iraqis want US troops to leave their country, according to the latest polls. "I don't much care," he says, batting the question away. He goes on to insist that "nobody was tortured in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo" and that Bush is "a hero". He is, like most people on this cruise, certain the administration will attack Iran.

    Podhoretz excitedly talks himself into a beautiful web of words, vindicating his every position. He fumes at Buckley, George Will and the other apostate conservatives who refuse to see sense. He announces victory. And for a moment, here in the Mexican breeze, it is as though a thousand miles away Baghdad is not bleeding. He starts hacking and coughing painfully. I offer to go to the ship infirmary and get him some throat sweets, and – locked in eternal fighter-mode – he looks thrown, as though this is an especially cunning punch. Is this random act of kindness designed to imbalance him? " I'm fine," he says, glancing contemptuously at the Bill Buckley book I am carrying. "I'll keep on shouting through the soreness."

    III. The Ghosts of Conservatism Past

    The ghosts of Conservatism past are wandering this ship. From the pool, I see John O'Sullivan, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher. And one morning on the deck I discover Kenneth Starr, looking like he has stepped out of a long-forgotten 1990s news bulletin waving Monica's stained blue dress. His face is round and unlined, like an immense, contented baby. As I stare at him, all my repressed bewilderment rises, and I ask – Mr Starr, do you feel ashamed that, as Osama bin Laden plotted to murder American citizens, you brought the American government to a stand-still over a few consensual blow jobs? Do you ever lie awake at night wondering if a few more memos on national security would have reached the President's desk if he wasn't spending half his time dealing with your sexual McCarthyism?

    He smiles through his teeth and – in his soft somnambulant voice – says in perfect legalese, "I am entirely at rest with the process. The House of Representatives worked its will, the Senate worked its will, the Chief Justice of the United States presided. The constitutional process worked admirably."

    It's an oddly meek defense, and the more I challenge him, the more legalistic he becomes. Every answer is a variant on "it's not my fault" . First, he says Clinton should have settled early on in Jones vs Clinton. Then he blames Jimmy Carter. "This critique really should be addressed to the now-departed, moribund independent counsel provisions. The Ethics and Government [provisions] ushered in during President Carter's administration has an extraordinarily low threshold for launching a special prosecutor..."

    Enough – I see another, more intriguing ghost. Ward Connerly is the only black person in the National Review posse, a 67-year-old Louisiana-born businessman, best known for leading conservative campaigns against affirmative action for black people. Earlier, I heard him saying the Republican Party has been "too preoccupied with... not ticking off the blacks", and a cooing white couple wandered away smiling, "If he can say it, we can say it." What must it be like to be a black man shilling for a magazine that declared at the height of the civil rights movement that black people "tend to revert to savagery", and should be given the vote only "when they stop eating each other"?

    I drag him into the bar, where he declines alcohol. He tells me plainly about his childhood – his mother died when he was four, and he was raised by his grandparents – but he never really becomes animated until I ask him if it is true he once said, "If the KKK supports equal rights, then God bless them." He leans forward, his palms open. There are, he says, " those who condemn the Klan based on their past without seeing the human side of it, because they don't want to be in the wrong, politically correct camp, you know... Members of the Ku Klux Klan are human beings, American citizens – they go to a place to eat, nobody asks them 'Are you a Klansmember?', before we serve you here. They go to buy groceries, nobody asks, 'Are you a Klansmember?' They go to vote for Governor, nobody asks 'Do you know that that person is a Klansmember?' Only in the context of race do they ask that. And I'm supposed to instantly say, 'Oh my God, they are Klansmen? Geez, I don't want their support.'"

    This empathy for Klansmen first bubbled into the public domain this year when Connerly was leading an anti-affirmative action campaign in Michigan. The KKK came out in support of him – and he didn't decline it. I ask if he really thinks it is possible the KKK made this move because they have become converted to the cause of racial equality. "I think that the reasoning that a Klan member goes through is – blacks are getting benefits that I'm not getting. It's reverse discrimination. To me it's all discrimination. But the Klansmen is going through the reasoning that this is benefiting blacks, they are getting things that I don't get... A white man doesn't have a chance in this country."

    He becomes incredibly impassioned imagining how they feel, ventriloquizing them with a shaking fist – "The Mexicans are getting these benefits, the coloreds or niggers, whatever they are saying, are getting these benefits, and I as a white man am losing my country."

    But when I ask him to empathies with the black victims of Hurricane Katrina, he offers none of this vim. No, all Katrina showed was "the dysfunctionality that is evident in many black neighborhoods," he says flatly, and that has to be "tackled by black people, not the government. " Ward, do you ever worry you are siding with people who would have denied you a vote – or would hang you by a rope from a tree?

    "I don't gather strength from what others think – no at all," he says. "Whether they are in favor or opposed. I can walk down these halls and, say, a hundred people say, 'Oh we just adore you', and I'll be polite and I'll say 'thank you', but it doesn't register or have any effect on me." There is a gaggle of Reviewers waiting to tell him how refreshing it is to "finally" hear a black person "speaking like this". I leave him to their white, white garlands.

    IV. "You're going to get fascists rising up, aren't you? Why hasn't that happened already?"

    The nautical counter-revolution has docked in the perfectly-yellow sands of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, and the Reviewers are clambering overboard into the Latino world they want to wall off behind a thousand-mile fence. They carry notebooks from the scribblings they made during the seminar teaching them "How To Shop in Mexico". Over breakfast, I forgot myself and said I was considering setting out to find a local street kid who would show me round the barrios – the real Mexico. They gaped. "Do you want to die?" one asked.

    The Reviewers confine their Mexican jaunt to covered markets and walled-off private fortresses like the private Nikki Beach. Here, as ever, they want Mexico to be a dispenser of cheap consumer goods and lush sands – not a place populated by (uck) Mexicans. Dinesh D'Souza announced as we entered Mexican seas what he calls "D'Souza's law of immigration": " The quality of an immigrant is inversely proportional to the distance traveled to get to the United States."

    In other words: Latinos suck.

    I return for dinner with my special National Review guest: Kate O'Beirne. She's an impossibly tall blond with the voice of a 1930s screwball star and the arguments of a 1890s Victorian patriarch. She inveighs against feminism and "women who make the world worse" in quick quips.

    As I enter the onboard restaurant she is sitting among adoring Reviewers with her husband Jim, who announces that he is Donald Rumsfeld's personnel director. "People keep asking what I'm doing here, with him being fired and all," he says. "But the cruise has been arranged for a long time."

    The familiar routine of the dinners – first the getting-to-know-you chit-chat, then some light conversational fascism – is accelerating. Tonight there is explicit praise for a fascist dictator before the entree has arrived. I drop into the conversation the news that there are moves in Germany to have Donald Rumsfeld extradited to face torture charges.

    A red-faced man who looks like an egg with a mustache glued on grumbles, " If the Germans think they can take responsibility for the world, I don't care about German courts. Bomb them." I begin to witter on about the Pinochet precedent, and Kate snaps, "Treating Don Rumsfeld like Pinochet is disgusting." Egg Man pounds his fist on the table: " Treating Pinochet like that is disgusting. Pinochet is a hero. He saved Chile."

    "Exactly," adds Jim. "And he privatized social security."

    The table nods solemnly and then they march into the conversation – the billion-strong swarm of swarthy Muslims who are poised to take over the world. Jim leans forward and says, "When I see these football supporters from England, I think – these guys aren't going to be told by PC elites to be nice to Muslims. You're going to get fascists rising up, aren't you? Why isn't that happening already?" Before I can answer, he is conquering the Middle East from his table, from behind a crème brûlée.

    "The civilized countries should invade all the oil-owning places in the Middle East and run them properly. We won't take the money ourselves, but we'll manage it so the money isn't going to terrorists."

    The idea that Europe is being "taken over" by Muslims is the unifying theme of this cruise. Some people go on singles cruises. Some go on ballroom dancing cruises. This is the "The Muslims Are Coming" cruise – drinks included. Because everyone thinks it. Everyone knows it. Everyone dreams it. And the man responsible is sitting only a few tables down: Mark Steyn.

    He is wearing sunglasses on top of his head and a bright, bright shirt that fits the image of the disk jockey he once was. Sitting in this sea of grey, it has an odd effect – he looks like a pimp inexplicably hanging out with the apostles of colostomy conservatism.

    Steyn's thesis in his new book, America Alone, is simple: The "European races" i.e., white people – "are too self-absorbed to breed," but the Muslims are multiplying quickly. The inevitable result will be " large-scale evacuation operations circa 2015" as Europe is ceded to al Qaeda and "Greater France remorselessly evolve[s] into Greater Bosnia."

    He offers a light smearing of dubious demographic figures – he needs to turn 20 million European Muslims into more than 150 million in nine years, which is a lot of humping.

    But facts, figures, and doubt are not on the itinerary of this cruise. With one or two exceptions, the passengers discuss "the Muslims" as a homogeneous, sharia-seeking block – already with near-total control of Europe. Over the week, I am asked nine times – I counted – when I am fleeing Europe's encroaching Muslim population for the safety of the United States of America.

    At one of the seminars, a panelist says anti-Americanism comes from both directions in a grasping pincer movement – "The Muslims condemn us for being decadent; the Europeans condemn us for not being decadent enough." Midge Decter, Norman Podhoretz's wife, yells, "The Muslims are right, the Europeans are wrong!" And, instantly, Jay Nordlinger, National Review's managing editor and the panel's chair, says, " I'm afraid a lot of the Europeans are Muslim, Midge."

    The audience cheers. Somebody shouts, "You tell 'em, Jay!" He tells 'em. Decter tells 'em. Steyn tells 'em.

    On this cruise, everyone tells 'em – and, thanks to my European passport, tells me.

    V. From cruise to cruise missiles?

    I am back in the docks of San Diego watching these tireless champions of the overdog filter past and say their starchy, formal goodbyes. As Bernard Lewis disappears onto the horizon, I wonder about the connections between this cruise and the cruise missiles fired half a world away.

    I spot the old lady from the sea looking for her suitcase, and stop to tell her I may have found a solution to her political worries about both Muslims and stem-cells.

    "Couldn't they just do experiments on Muslim stem-cells?" I ask. " Hey – that's a great idea!" she laughs, and vanishes. Hillary-Ann stops to say she is definitely going on the next National Review cruise, to Alaska. "Perfect!" I yell, finally losing my mind.

    "You can drill it as you go!" She puts her arms around me and says very sweetly, "We need you on every cruise."

    As I turn my back on the ship for the last time, the Judge I met on my first night places his arm affectionately on my shoulder. "We have written off Britain to the Muslims," he says. "Come to America."

    July 18, 2007

    DCI Division 2: July (1st Half) Rankings

    The division is beginning to spread out some; the corps are not as tightly packed as they were two weeks ago. The top two corps in particular had double-digit-point improvements (see below). The average high score for Division 2 was 74.107, a 6.690-point improvement over June's average of 67.417.

    1. Spartans (up 1)
    2. Jersey Surf (up 1)
    3. Blue Devils B (down 2)
    4. Teal Sound (up 1)
    5. Raiders (new)
    6. Vanguard Cadets (down 2)
    7. Colt Cadets (down 1)

    Surprises: Raiders have come roaring into the season; they have only done two shows so far this year but are already scoring in the low 70s.

    New: Raiders

    Improvement Rankings: This looks at how well all Division 2 corps have improved on a points basis since the end of June. The average for all corps, as mentioned above, was 6.690 points.

    1. Spartans (14.250 points)
    2. Jersey Surf (12.000)
    3. Teal Sound (7.250)

    Average (6.690)

    4. Blue Devils B (5.150)
    5. Colt Cadets (3.000)
    6. Vanguard Cadets (1.450)

    Year-on-Year Improvements Rankings: This looks at how well the corps have done comparing the first half of July this year to the first half of July last year. The overall average improvement for all corps was a very disappointing 0.200 points, down from June's year-on-year average improvement of 5.792 points. Teal Sound doesn't appear in this listing because they didn't march in any shows during the first half of July 2006. So far this season, Colt Cadets remain Division 2's most improved corps compared to 2006.

    1. Jersey Surf (+3.950 points)
    2. Colt Cadets (+3.300)
    3. Spartans (+1.600)
    4. Raiders (+1.450)

    Average (0.200)

    5. Blue Devils B (-2.300)
    6. Vanguard Cadets (-6.800)

    DCI Division 1: July (1st Half) Rankings

    The average high score for Division 1 corps through July 16 was 79.324, a 5.515-point increase over June's 73.809. No one has yet cracked the 90-point barrier, although that should happen in the next day or so. A new gap is now appearing between the top three corps and the next four. The gap between the top three is a mere 1.20 points.

    1. Blue Devils (up 1 place)
    2. The Cavaliers (up 1)
    3. The Cadets (down 2)

    Places four through seven are in another dog fight, with a gap of only 1.40 points between them. The Bluecoats were briefly in second place, after beating the Blue Devils (has that ever happened before?) back on July 2nd.

    4. Santa Clara Vanguard (up 2)
    5. Phantom Regiment (down 1)
    6. Bluecoats (down 1)
    7. Carolina Crown (unchanged)

    The Boston Crusaders are alone right now, the lowest corps to have broken into the 80s, then four corps are bunched together in our third dog fight (with a gap of 1.35 points). For the first time, The Academy has broken into the top 10.

    8. Boston Crusaders (up 1)
    9. Blue Knights (down 1)
    10. The Academy (up 4)
    11. Colts (unchanged)
    12. Glassmen (down 2)

    The bottom 10 corps have broken into three groups; the boundary between the first and second group is a little cloudy at this time:

    13. Spirit from JSU (unchanged)
    14. Pacific Crest (up 5)
    15. Blue Stars (down 3)
    16. Mandarins (down 1)

    17. Crossmen (down 1)
    18. Madison Scouts (up 3)
    19. Southwind (up 1)
    19. Troopers (down 1)
    21. Seattle Cascades (down 4)

    Finally, Pioneer is the only Division 1 corps to remain in the 60s:

    22. Pioneer (unchanged)

    Surprises: Bluecoats beating the Blue Devils on July 2; that must have been a shock to the Devils. Too bad the Bluecoats couldn't keep up their momentum. Pacific Crest - up 5 spots with the third best improvement in the past two weeks (more on this below). Madison Scouts - Have started to move upward, but it may be too little too late.

    Improvement Rankings: This looks at how well all Division 1 corps have improved on a points basis since the end of June. The average for all corps, as mentioned above, was 5.515 points.

    1. The Academy (8.150 points)
    2. The Cavaliers (7.650)
    3. Blue Devils (7.500)
    3. Pacific Crest (7.500)
    5. Boston Crusaders (7.350)
    6. Madison Scouts (7.250)
    7. Santa Clara Vanguard (6.200)
    7. The Cadets (6.200)
    9. Mandarins (5.900)
    10. Southwind (5.800)
    11. Spirit from JSU (5.700)

    Average (5.515)

    12. Phantom Regiment (5.300)
    13. Bluecoats (5.200)
    14. Crossmen (5.150)
    15. Colts (5.100)
    16. Carolina Crown (5.000)
    17. Troopers (4.550)
    18. Glassmen (4.450)
    19. Blue Knights (4.100)
    20. Seattle Cascades (3.550)
    21. Pioneer (1.875)
    22. Blue Stars (1.850)

    Year-on-Year Improvements Rankings: This looks at how well the corps have done comparing the first half of July this year to the first half of July last year. The overall average improvement for all corps was a mere 0.283 points, down from June's year-on-year average improvement of 1.626 points. Most corps improved this year over last, but a significant minority (42%) are doing more poorly so far this year.

    1. Seattle Cascades (+7.350 points)
    2. Santa Clara Vanguard (+4.450)
    3. Southwind (+3.175)
    4. The Cadets (+2.750)
    5. Carolina Crown (+2.625)
    6. Pioneer (+2.275)
    7. Colts (+1.825)
    8. The Cavaliers (+1.600)
    9. Pacific Crest (+1.050)
    10. Blue Devils (+0.625)
    11. Blue Stars (+0.600)
    12. Mandarins (+0.400)

    Average (0.283)

    13. Phantom Regiment (-0.475)
    14. Crossmen (-0.525)
    15. Boston Crusaders (-0.800)
    16. Bluecoats (-0.950)
    17. Blue Knights (-1.575)
    18. Spirit from JSU (-1.650)
    19. Glassmen (-2.550)
    20. The Academy (-5.300)
    21. Madison Scouts (-8.950)

    July 11, 2007

    Japanese Massage Chair Pranks

    Here's another crazy Japanese video from IZ Reloaded. The video's a little long in its set-up, but the hilarity begins at the 1:05 mark. There are two sets of massage chair pranks, the first of which is funny enough, but the "Mission II" pranks are LOL hysterical. I also find it interesting that the symbol used to cover up these naked guys' genitals is "Kim," which means "gold" or "money."

    July 9, 2007

    The Economist: The Frayed Knot (2)

    I hadn't forgotten about The Frayed Knot series that I had started last month. However, before I move into the next section that I want to discuss, I thought I'd C&P a few paragraphs from the article that I think are interesting but not necessarily comment-worthy:

    In her book “Marriage and Caste in America”, [Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think-tank] argues that the “marriage gap” is the chief source of the country's notorious and widening inequality. Middle-class kids growing up with two biological parents are “socialized for success.” They do better in school, get better jobs and go on to create intact families of their own. Children of single parents or broken families do worse in school, get worse jobs and go on to have children out of wedlock. This makes it more likely that those born near the top or the bottom will stay where they started. America, argues Ms. Hymowitz, is turning into “a nation of separate and unequal families.”

    A large majority—92%—of children whose families make more than $75,000 a year live with two parents (including step-parents). At the bottom of the income scale—families earning less than $15,000—only 20% of children live with two parents. One might imagine that this gap arises simply because two breadwinners earn more than one. A single mother would have to be unusually talented and diligent to make as much as $75,000 while also raising children on her own. And it is impossible in America for two full-time, year-round workers to earn less than $15,000 between them, unless they are (illegally) paid less than the minimum wage.

    But there is more to it than this. Marriage itself is “a wealth-generating institution”, according to Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, who run the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. Those who marry “till death do us part” end up, on average, four times richer than those who never marry. This is partly because marriage provides economies of scale—two can live more cheaply than one—and because the kind of people who make more money—those who work hard, plan for the future and have good interpersonal skills—are more likely to marry and stay married. But it is also because marriage affects the way people behave.

    American men, once married, tend to take their responsibilities seriously. Avner Ahituv of the University of Haifa and Robert Lerman of the Urban Institute found that “entering marriage raises hours worked quickly and substantially.” Married men drink less, take fewer drugs and work harder, earning between 10% and 40% more than single men with similar schooling and job histories. And marriage encourages both spouses to save and invest more for the future. Each partner provides the other with a form of insurance against falling sick or losing a job.

    Marriage also encourages the division of labor. Ms. Dafoe Whitehead and Mr. Popenoe put it like this: “Working as a couple, individuals can develop those skills in which they excel, leaving others to their partner.” Mum handles the tax returns while Dad fixes the car. Or vice versa. As Adam Smith observed two centuries ago, when you specialize, you get better at what you do, and you produce more.

    July 8, 2007

    Bill O'Reilly is a Lesbian

    Well, not exactly, but Bill O'Reilly is showing himself (and his network, Faux News) to be the moron(s) that he is (they are). The Southern Poverty Law Center has a recent article about a story O'Reilly did on supposed pink pistol-packing lesbian gangs that are "terrorizing" American streets. Of course, the evidence that O'Reilly and his guest, Rod Wheeler, present is extremely shaky (not that that should surprise anyone familiar with O'Reilly). There's a video of O'Reilly's interview with Wheeler on the SPLC website (click on either of the links above or go to Orcinus; I can't be bothered to add such trash to my blog). Also, I've added one small comment to the article below, in blue.

    A "national underground network" of pink pistol-packing lesbians is terrorizing America. "All across the country," they are raping young girls, attacking heterosexual males at random, and forcibly indoctrinating children as young as 10 into the homosexual lifestyle, according to a shocking June 21 segment on the popular Fox News Channel program, "The O'Reilly Factor."

    Titled "Violent Lesbian Gangs a Growing Problem," the segment began with host Bill O'Reilly briefly referencing for his roughly 3 million viewers the case of Wayne Buckle, a DVD bootlegger who was attacked by seven lesbians in New York City last August. Deploying swift, broad strokes, O'Reilly painted a graphic picture of lesbian gangs running amok. "In Tennessee, authorities say a lesbian gang called GTO, Gays Taking Over, are involved in raping young girls," he reported. "And in Philadelphia, a lesbian gang called DTO, Dykes Taking Over, are allegedly terrorizing people as well."

    After this introduction, O'Reilly went to a split-screen live interview with "Fox News crime analyst" Rod Wheeler.

    "Tell me what's going on," O'Reilly said.

    Wheeler, a Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department officer-turned-paid Fox News commentator, launched right in: "Well, you know, there is this national underground network, if you will, Bill, of women that's lesbians and also some men groups that's actually recruiting kids as young as 10 years old in a lot of the schools in the communities all across the country," he reported. "And they actually carry a number of weapons. And they commit a number of crimes."

    Wheeler asserted that "we've actually counted, just in the Washington D.C. area alone, that's Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, well over 150 of these crews. … And they — like I said, they recruit these kids to be members of these gangs."

    O'Reilly asked, "Now, when they recruit the kids, are they indoctrinating them into homosexuality?"

    "Yes," Wheeler answered. "As a matter of fact, some of the kids have actually reported that they were forced into, you know, performing sex acts and doing sex acts with some of these people."

    Flabbergasted by the sheer depravity of it all, O'Reilly nevertheless forged ahead. "I never thought of this," said the host of the "no-spin zone." "It makes sense that, if you had lawless gay people, they would do this kind of thing. You associate homosexuality more with a social movement, not a criminal movement. But you're saying this is all over the country, detective?"

    "It's all over the country," Wheeler replied. "I mean, you go from New York to California to wherever you want to name, you can see these organizations." Next came the pink guns. "Now, the other thing, too, that our viewers are going to find very, very interesting, is the fact that they actually carry—some of these groups carry pink pistols," Wheeler said. "They call themselves the pink-pistol-packing group. And these are lesbians that actually carry pistols. That's 9-millimeter Glocks. They use these. They commit crimes, and they cause a lot of hurt to a lot of people."

    The Authorities Disagree

    Nine-millimeter Glocks painted pink? Dykes taking over? More than 150 lesbian gangs in the Washington, D.C., area alone? These claims are, as Wheeler suggested, "very, very interesting." They're also very, very flimsy. Gaithersburg, Md., Detective Patrick Word, president of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Gang Investigators Network, an intelligence-sharing organization of 400 criminal justice professionals in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, said there is no evidence whatsoever of a lesbian gang epidemic in his region. "Our membership reports only one lesbian gang," Word told the Intelligence Report.

    Sgt. Brett Parson, a member and former commander of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, also questioned Wheeler's numbers. "We have 150 to 175 total gangs in the D.C. area, and out of those only nine where the predominance of members are female," he said. "You simply can't make the jump that they are lesbians. I think it is fair to talk about violence and female gangs. But to sensationalize or marginalize a community by making a statement like that seems irresponsible."

    Confronted by the Intelligence Report, Wheeler was unable, in several phone and E-mail exchanges over a two-day period, to specify a single law enforcement agency or officer, police report, media account or any other source he relied upon for his D.C. area lesbian gangs claim. But he insisted that his report was accurate and that any law enforcement officer who disagrees is "out of touch." "For some reason or other, these organizations don't lay it on the line because they don't know what is going on on the streets," said Wheeler. "This is a serious crisis and the so-called experts are missing it."

    According to Wheeler's personal website, he is a member of Jericho City of Praise, a conservative Christian megachurch in Landover, Md., whose leadership publicly advocates against equal rights for gays and lesbians. The website details Wheeler's 500-plus appearances on MSNBC, Court TV and Fox News Channel shows including "The O'Reilly Factor," "On the Record With Greta Van Sustern," and "Hannity & Colmes."

    Fox News officials and Bill O'Reilly did not return E-mails seeking comment for this story. O'Reilly is quoted on Wheeler's website heralding Wheeler as "America's most recognized and trusted authority on crime analysis and law enforcement."

    Another ringing celebrity endorsement on the site is attributed to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow: "We turn to Rod Wheeler to help us better understand and solve some of these terrible crimes in America." [No wonder this administration has got its head up its @$$.]

    Wheeler told the Report that he spent seven years in professional law enforcement before going to work as a corporate security officer for McDonald's Corp., a job he has since left. These days, Wheeler is a "food defense specialist" for the American Institute of Baking. Just this spring, he publicly warned that the Big Mac is vulnerable to bioterrorist attacks at "250 points" during production.

    Viewers left wondering what, exactly, Wheeler was smoking before he went on "The O'Reilly Factor" might find a 1994 Washington Times article intriguing. The paper reported that Wheeler was suspended from the Metro D.C. police force after testing positive for marijuana in a random drug test. Wheeler told the Report that samples were mixed up and that he was eventually "exonerated."

    Facts and Fiction

    The only specific instance of actual violent lesbian gang activity that Wheeler cited on "The O'Reilly Factor" was a May 19 attack on a 15-year-old boy who was stabbed near a transit station in Prince George's County, Md. "And the police found out that it was a group of six women who identified themselves as being members of a lesbian gang that actually attacked this young man," Wheeler told O'Reilly.

    According to a June 15 article in The Washington Post, however, two of the three individuals arrested in that assault were teenage males, though the article did note that, "Metro officials said the fight was between two gay and lesbian gangs that operate in Maryland."

    An extensive Internet search seeking to verify O'Reilly's assertion in the introduction to Wheeler's interview that a lesbian gang called Dykes Taking Over is "terrorizing people" in Philadelphia turned up only one possible source. WCAU-TV, a local NBC affiliate in that city, reported in 2004 that a small group of 8th-grade girls at a West Philadelphia middle school were allegedly "bullying, groping and harassing" other girls in gym class with "gay remarks." The report made no mention of the 8th-graders using pink pistols or other weapons.

    Similarly, O'Reilly's introductory mention of a Tennessee lesbian gang called Gays Taking Over that is "involved in raping young girls" appears to have been based solely on a highly dubious Feb. 28 television report from WPTY-TV, an ABC affiliate in Memphis, Tenn. Featuring dramatic "reenactments" of high school bathroom rape scenes shot in grainy black-and-white footage, the lengthy segment's vaguely salacious claims about local high school girls being raped and "sodomized" with "sex toys bought on the Internet" was based almost entirely on the lurid musings of a single Shelby County gang officer.

    Titled "Violent Femmes," the sweeps-week segment was so thinly sourced and grotesquely sensationalized that it's difficult to believe that any professional journalist found it to be credible. And it wasn't. Under intense pressure from local gay and lesbian activists, the affiliate's station manager finally admitted that WPTY-TV's reporters had neither independently verified the gang officer's overheated claims nor obtained any documentary evidence such as arrest records or written police reports to substantiate their tale. As the station grudgingly conceded, "Our investigation did not turn up widespread violence in schools due to this."

    Rashad Robinson, the senior director of media programs for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), said that while he wasn't pleased to see the inflammatory "Violent Femmes" segment used as a source for a national television "report" on Fox News, "I wasn't startled."

    "The sad truth is that sensationalized, undocumented, fear-driven reports about [gays and lesbians] preying on children are proven to be a ratings winner, and the station managers and news producers know that because they're reporting about gays and lesbians they don't have to be as concerned about backing up their sensationalism with actual facts and figures," Robinson told the Report. "The O'Reilly segment essentially reported a national epidemic of lesbian gangs preying on young girls without offering up one solid figure or one credible source. This type of reporting creates a climate of homophobia and fear and perpetuates dangerous stereotypes of gay people and definitely helps feed into a climate of anti-gay discrimination and violence, which is a true national epidemic, but not one you're likely to see reported with such zeal by Bill O'Reilly."

    The third case O'Reilly referenced, the assault on 29-year-old Wayne Buckle in New York City last August, did actually occur. Buckle was whipped with belts and stabbed by women who identified themselves as lesbians. But there is no evidence the women are members of a criminal gang, and O'Reilly failed to report that the attack was prompted, according to the New York Daily News, by Buckle spitting, cursing, and flicking a cigarette at the women after one of them rebuffed his sidewalk sexual advances.

    And then there are the pink Glocks.

    There have been no media reports at all of lesbian gangs committing violence while armed with pink-painted 9-millimeter pistols or calling themselves, as Wheeler colorfully described it, "the pink pistol-packing group." Several law enforcement officers contacted by the Report found the idea laughable. There is, however, a well-known national organization of gay and lesbian firearms owners called the Pink Pistols. This group has never been implicated in any gang activity. Asked by the Intelligence Report if he'd perhaps confused the Pink Pistols with a criminal organization, Wheeler denied it. "I wasn't referring to their pink pistols," Wheeler said. "These [lesbian] crews, these gangs, they buy a Glock 9-millimeter and you can paint them pink."

    Pink Pistols spokesperson Gwen Patton said the pistols the group's members carry are, by and large, not actually colored pink. The Pink Pistols are now demanding an on-air apology from Wheeler, O'Reilly and Fox News.

    "A lot of people are confusing these imaginary, lesbian, gun-carrying gangs with our organization," said Patton. "We would appreciate it if Mr. O'Reilly would invite Mr. Wheeler back onto his show to clear up this nonsense in the same arena it started — on national TV."

    July 7, 2007

    Self Portrait: The Uncle in Niece's Eye

    I was looking at some photos last night that I had taken maybe a month or so ago but had never downloaded off the camera. I looked at a photo of one of my nieces and noticed that there was something cloudy in her eye; so I zoomed into the picture and, yes, lo and behold, you could literally see some clouds in the distance reflecting off of her eyes. So I looked at a picture of another niece, the younger sister. Now that was a James Bond moment - there, reflected off this girl's young eyes is "Uncle," your's truly, caught in an accidental self-portrait. So, there you are, the Uncle in Niece's eye. (BTW, that black U-shaped thing is the camera strap hanging in front of my chest.)

    Year-on-Year Improvements (DCI and DCA, June 2007)

    Division 1

    This analysis looks at the high score for each corps from this past June and compares it to the high score the corps achieved last June. In this way we can see who's made the most progress and, in some cases, who's regressed from last year. Of course there are many, many reasons why a corps may improve or fall behind from one year to another - we won't attempt to do that analysis. But this ranking gives an idea of who are the most improved corps this season to date. The results may surprise you.

    Notes: This analysis makes the most sense for smaller corps and those corps that aren't at the highest tier of competition. Some of the better corps (e.g., Blue Devils, The Cadets, The Cavaliers) will rank fairly low on the list because these corps are consistently good from year to year and, thus, make little significant improvement. Also, corps that didn't march last year (e.g., The Troopers, Velvet Knights) aren't included in the analysis as, obviously, there's no score to compare against.

    1. Pioneer (+7.80 points)
    2. Seattle Cascades (+7.05)
    3. Glassmen (+6.40)
    4. Blue Stars (+5.65)
    5. Carolina Crown (+4.40)
    6. Santa Clara Vanguard (+3.95)
    7. Southwind (+3.70)
    8. Mandarins (+3.50)
    9. Blue Knights (+3.20)
    10. Pacific Crest (+3.05)
    11. Phantom Regiment (+2.95)
    12. Colts (+1.90)
    13. The Cadets (+1.55)
    14. Blue Devils (+0.85)
    15. Bluecoats (+0.75)
    16. The Cavaliers (+0.10)
    17. Crossmen (-0.75)
    18. Boston Crusaders (-1.55)
    19. Spirit from JSU (-3.55)
    20. The Academy (-7.95)
    21. Madison Scouts (-8.85)

    Sixteen of 21 corps showed improvement this June over last June. The Academy's jump from Division 2 to Division 1 might account for some of the drop this year; Madison's drop is, to be honest, shocking. They've improved some in the past few days, but are still doing rather poorly this season (and have yet to crack 70 points as of this writing). They will need to pull a major turnaround just to make the finals.

    Division 2

    1. Colt Cadets (+18.15 points)
    2. Teal Sound (+9.55)
    3. Jersey Surf (+6.15)
    4. Blue Devils B (+1.10)
    5. Vanguard Cadets (unchanged)
    6. Spartans (-0.20)

    The fact that two-thirds of all the Division 2 corps have improved their scores this year compared to last is very encouraging. Even the two that didn't are performing either at the same level as last year or just slightly under it - certainly an insignificant difference. The Colt Cadets' improvement is very impressive.

    Division 3

    1. Citations (+12.20 points)
    2. Fever (+11.30)
    3. 7th Regiment (+10.50)
    4. Capital Sound (+9.50)
    5. Gold (+5.65)
    6. Memphis Sound (+4.50)
    6. Targets (+4.50)
    8. Blue Devils C (+4.45)
    9. Mystikal (+0.05)
    10. Impulse (-1.85)

    There are currently 16 Division 3 corps marching this season, but only ten of them qualify for the year-on-year analysis so far (the number will increase for the next reporting period). Like Division 2, the vast majority of the Division 3 corps have improved over last year's performances. Only Impulse is performing below last year's results.


    1. CorpsVets (+20.313 points)
    2. Kilties (+13.513)
    3. Music City Legend (+12.600)
    4. SoCal Dream (+6.987)
    5. San Francisco Renegades (+6.083)
    6. Reading Bucaneers (+3.887)
    7. Governaires (+3.075)
    8. Connecticut Hurricanes (+2.875)
    9. Hawthorne Caballeros (+2.637)
    10. Chops, Inc. (+1.462)
    11. River City Regiment (+0.493)
    12. Empire Statesmen (-0.462)
    13. Minnesota Brass, Inc. (-2.137)

    DCA results are somewhat like Division 3's: There are 18 corps currently marching, but only 13 so far eligible for analysis. Likewise, the vast majority of corps improved this June compared to last June's highs.

    Overall, results are impressive so far. Those corps that are still marching are doing well in comparison to last year; now, if only more corps were marching (period).

    July 6, 2007

    An Open Letter...

    ...to the young Muslim man at Masjid Al-Abrar:

    I doubt that you know me, nor do I know who you are; however, I do have something to say to you: you were embarrassing at jumu'ah today. You know how crowded it gets at the masjid: SRO, brothers praying on the stairwell landings, praying on a hot tile roof. I was able to get a small place to sit next to you on the second floor just as the sunnah prayer was starting, right after today's khutbah. I did the sunnah prayer but noticed that you didn't - that hand phone of yours seemed more important to you. However, the prayer was, after all, only sunnah, not fard, so I can see why you might not want to do it, even though 99% of your Muslim brothers there were praying.

    But then I noticed that you didn't pay attention to the duas being recited by the imam; it was that hand phone of yours again. You were playing Tetris, or some similar game, and I could only shake my head in disgust at you. Not that you noticed. You kept on playing your game until the final adhan. Then you got up like a bolt of lightning and you were all business. Up until this point I had been wondering if you were really a Muslim; I had assumed that you were but you sure weren't behaving like one. But you finished the prayer, shook my hand (which I was tempted not to touch because I was so disgusted with you by this point), and then you were out of there, once more, like the proverbial bolt of lightning.

    Dude, we're here to escape from the world at large for a few brief minutes so that we can return our thoughts to our Lord and Creator. Perhaps you need to be reminded of a few ayat from the Qur'an:

    (Lit is such a Light) in houses, which Allah hath permitted to be raised to honor; for the celebration, in them, of His name: In them is He glorified in the mornings and in the evenings, (again and again), By men whom neither traffic nor merchandise can divert from the Remembrance of Allah, nor from regular Prayer, nor from the practice of regular Charity: Their (only) fear is for the Day when hearts and eyes will be transformed (in a world wholly new), (24:36-7)

    O ye who believe! When the call is proclaimed to prayer on Friday (the Day of Assembly), hasten earnestly to the Remembrance of Allah, and leave off business (and traffic): That is best for you if ye but knew! (62:9)

    O ye who believe! Let not your riches or your children divert you from the remembrance of Allah. If any act thus, the loss is their own.

    So my gentle advice to you is that, next week, you should put your hand phone away and pray earnestly to Allah (swt) for forgiveness. And if that's too hard, then just stay away from the Masjid so that another Muslim brother can pray on a cool carpeted floor instead of a hot ceiling tile.

    Your brother in Islam,


    July 5, 2007

    DCA: June Rankings

    The 2007 Senior season has had very few performances so far this year, so the rankings are very shaky. Only the three California corps and the Kilties have performed four shows so far. Everyone else is at two, one or zero.

    1. Reading Buccaneers (unchanged)
    2. Hawthorne Caballeros (up 2)
    3. Empire Statesmen (down 1)
    4. San Francisco Renegades (up three)
    5. Bushwackers (down 2)
    6. Syracuse Brigadiers (unchanged)
    7. Connecticut Hurricanes (up one)
    8. CorpsVets (up one)
    9. Minnesota Brass, Inc. (down four)
    10. Kilties (up one)
    11. SoCal Dream (up nine)
    12. River City Regiment (up eleven)
    13. Frontier (up one)
    14. Music City Legend (down one)
    15. Governaires (up one)
    16. Gulf Coast Sound (up eight)
    17. Chops, Inc. (unchanged)

    Cincinnati Tradition did not march any judged competitions in June, but did perform one exhibition, as did SoCal Dream and the Governaires.

    Surprises: For the most part, it’s a little too early in the season to judge whether there are any major surprises so far; however, it should be noted that SoCal Dream is running almost nine points above their scores this time last year. That’s surely worth an “Attaboy!” ;) (Update: I made a slight mistake in the above calculation for Dream, and have calculated the remainder of the all-age corps for year-on-year improvements. Dream's improvement for the month of June is actually 6.987 points and is the fourth best improvement among all the all-age corps. Music City Legend comes in at #3 with a 12.600-point improvement, #2 is the Kilties with a 13.513-point improvement, and #1 is the CorpsVets with a whopping 20.313-point improvement. Mention should also be made of the San Francisco Renegades, who have improved by 6.083 points for the fifth best improvement. All the other corps are below four points.)

    Notes: Under my ranking system, the Renegades placed 7th last year while the Connecticut Hurricanes ranked 8th. At the DCA finals, the placement for these two corps was the other way around. Hence the discrepancy in the comparison to last year’s ranking.

    New: None.
    MIA: Alliance, Lakeshoremen, New York Skyliners, Rochester Crusaders, Sunrisers, White Sabers.

    July 4, 2007

    Japanese Barking Spiders

    Only the Japanese could come up with this type of video. The sequence starting at 1:46 is a hoot. From IZ Reloaded.

    DCI: June Rankings

    Division 1

    At the end of the month, there's really a top seven instead of a top six. Seven corps have scored into the 80s so far, the high being 82.25 and the low 80.35:
    1. The Cadets (up 4 places)
    2. Blue Devils (up 1)
    3. The Cavaliers (down 2)
    4. Phantom Regiment (down 2)
    5. Bluecoats (down 1)
    6. Santa Clara Vanguard (unchanged)
    7. Carolina Crown (up 1)

    Then there's a big drop. Number 8, the Blue Knights, had only gotten as high as 75.75 by the end of the month. The low for this grouping is 71.05:
    8. Blue Knights (down 1)
    9. Boston Crusaders (up 1)
    10. Glassmen (up 1)
    11. Colts (up 2)
    12. Blue Stars (up 2)
    13. Spirit from JSU (down 1)
    14. The Academy (new)

    The next five are in a real dog fight, all within 1.10 points of each other:
    15. Mandarins (up 2)
    16. Crossmen (down 1)
    17. Seattle Cascades (up 2)
    18. Troopers (new)
    19. Pacific Crest (up 2)

    The bottom three are all in the mid 60s:
    20. Southwind (down 2)
    21. Madison Scouts (down 12)
    22. Pioneer (up 1)

    Surprises: The Cadets - Up four places to #1. Can they maintain that lead? Madison Scouts - WTF??? What makes this even worse is that they haven't made any significant improvement in seven shows. Since June 22, all of their scores have been between 64.45 and 66.60, a 2.15 point improvement. Has Southwind ever done better than Madison so far?

    Notes: First, the "up," "down," "unchanged," and "new" indicates the rankings of the corps at the end of the last ranking period (i.e, the end of last season). At this point in time, the rankings are somewhat reliable for Division 1, but should be taken with a major grain of salt for Divisions 2 and 3. The rankings for The Academy and Seattle Cascades are a bit shaky as each corps has only done 3 and 2 shows respectively (whereas every other Division 1 corps had done a minimum of six shows each, up to 11 in the case of The Cadets). I wouldn't be surprised to see dramatic increases in the July rankings from both of these corps.

    New to the rankings: The Academy, Troopers
    MIA: Capital Regiment, Esperanza, The Magic

    Division 2:

    This is a tight division; the top five (of six for June) are all within 4.15 points of each other. The Colt Cadets are the only corps that hasn't broken out of the 50s.

    1. Blue Devils B (up 5)
    2. Spartans (up 1)
    3. Jersey Surf (up 4)
    4. Vanguard Cadets (up 1)
    5. Teal Sound (up 4)
    6. Colt Cadets (up 5)

    Surprises: Due to all the turmoil in the division between this year and last, "surprises" will have to be based on scores as of this time last year. Blue Devils B, Spartans, and the Vanguard Cadets are all within 1.10 points of their scores through June 30 last year. Jersey Surf has risen 6.15 points, Teal Sound 9.90 points, and - the big winner - Colt Cadets have increased their score by 18.15 points since this time last year.

    Notes: The rankings are relatively firm, except for Jersey Surf, which had only one appearance in the month of June.

    New: None
    MIA: East Coast Jazz, Jubal, Oregon Crusaders, Raiders (they started their season in early July), The Academy (moved up to Division 1)

    Division 3:

    Like Division 2, Division 3 has taken a beating in terms of the number of corps marching so far this season. There's one prominent new face this year, but many MIA. More on that below.

    1. Fever (up 4)
    2. Memphis Sound (new)
    3. Revolution (down 1)
    4. Impulse (down 3)
    5. Citations (up 4)
    6. Velvet Knights (new)
    7. Capital Sound (up 1)
    8. Gold (up 4)
    9. Blue Devils C (up 11)
    10. Dutch Boy (down 3)
    11. Mystikal (up 8)
    12. 7th Regiment (up 4)
    13. Racine Scouts (up 1)
    14. Targets (up 1)

    Surprises: In comparison to this point in time last year, many of the Division 3 corps have made significant improvements. The scores for Impulse and Mystikal are about the same as this time last year; however, Blue Devils C, Gold, Memphis Sound and Targets have all improved 4.50-5.65 points each. The big winners so far are: Capital Sound (up 9.50 points), 7th Regiment (up 10.50 points), Fever (up 11.30 points) and Citations (up 12.20 points).

    Notes: These rankings should be taken with a grain of salt. Only the west coast corps have had a significant number of shows for the month of June.

    New: Memphis Sound (down from Division 2), Velvet Knights
    MIA: Blue Saints, H.Y.P.E., Jester, Quest, Raiders (moved to Division 2), St. John's, Spirit of Newark, Spokane Thunder, Trinity, Vision Elite, Yamato. Les Stentors, a new corps for this season, started their season in July and will be included in the next ranking cycle.