April 29, 2008

McCain Declares New Orleans "Safe"

I wonder if he found Nawlins to be "like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime?"*

HT: I Was Just Wondering; original photo located at Mock, Paper, Scissors

* Yeah, I know Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) said it originally.

April 28, 2008

Chalmers Johnson: Why the U.S. Has Gone Broke

An excellent (but long) essay by Chalmers Johnson (originally published in Le Monde Diplomatique) on how American military spending has helped to deplete American savings while, simultaneously, eroding away American commercial competitiveness. Some excerpts:

There are three broad aspects to the U.S. debt crisis. First, in the current fiscal year (2008) we are spending insane amounts of money on "defense" projects that bear no relation to the national security of the U.S. We are also keeping the income tax burdens on the richest segment of the population at strikingly low levels.

Second, we continue to believe that we can compensate for the accelerating erosion of our base and our loss of jobs to foreign countries through massive military expenditures -- "military Keynesianism" (which I discuss in detail in my book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic). By that, I mean the mistaken belief that public policies focused on frequent wars, huge expenditures on weapons and munitions, and large standing armies can indefinitely sustain a wealthy capitalist economy. The opposite is actually true.

Third, in our devotion to militarism (despite our limited resources), we are failing to invest in our social infrastructure and other requirements for the long-term health of the U.S. These are what economists call opportunity costs, things not done because we spent our money on something else. Our public education system has deteriorated alarmingly. We have failed to provide health care to all our citizens and neglected our responsibilities as the world's number one polluter. Most important, we have lost our competitiveness as a manufacturer for civilian needs, an infinitely more efficient use of scarce resources than arms manufacturing.


They agree that the Department of Defense requested $481.4bn for salaries, operations (except in Iraq and Afghanistan), and equipment. They also agree on a figure of $141.7bn for the "supplemental" budget to fight the global war on terrorism -- that is, the two on-going wars that the general public may think are actually covered by the basic Pentagon budget. The Department of Defense also asked for an extra $93.4bn to pay for hitherto unmentioned war costs in the remainder of 2007 and, most creatively, an additional "allowance" (a new term in defense budget documents) of $50bn to be charged to fiscal year 2009. This makes a total spending request by the Department of Defense of $766.5bn.

But there is much more. In an attempt to disguise the true size of the U.S. military empire, the government has long hidden major military-related expenditures in departments other than Defense. For example, $23.4bn for the Department of Energy goes towards developing and maintaining nuclear warheads; and $25.3bn in the Department of State budget is spent on foreign military assistance (primarily for Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Republic, Egypt and Pakistan). Another $1.03bn outside the official Department of Defense budget is now needed for recruitment and re-enlistment incentives for the overstretched U.S. military, up from a mere $174m in 2003, when the war in Iraq began. The Department of Veterans Affairs currently gets at least $75.7bn, 50% of it for the long-term care of the most seriously injured among the 28,870 soldiers so far wounded in Iraq and 1,708 in Afghanistan. The amount is universally derided as inadequate. Another $46.4bn goes to the Department of Homeland Security.

Missing from this compilation is $1.9bn to the Department of Justice for the paramilitary activities of the FBI; $38.5bn to the Department of the Treasury for the Military Retirement Fund; $7.6bn for the military-related activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and well over $200bn in interest for past debt-financed defense outlays. This brings U.S. spending for its military establishment during the current fiscal year, conservatively calculated, to at least $1.1 trillion.


In order for Japan to manufacture anything, it must import all required raw materials. Even after this incredible expense is met, it still has an $88bn per year trade surplus with the U.S. and enjoys the world's second highest current account balance (China is number one). The U.S. is number 163 -- last on the list, worse than countries such as Australia and the U.K. that also have large trade deficits. Its 2006 current account deficit was $811.5bn; second worst was Spain at $106.4bn. This is unsustainable.

It's not just that our tastes for foreign goods, including imported oil, vastly exceed our ability to pay for them. We are financing them through massive borrowing. On 7 November 2007, the U.S. Treasury announced that the national debt had breached $9 trillion for the first time. This was just five weeks after Congress raised the "debt ceiling" to $9.815 trillion. If you begin in 1789, at the moment the constitution became the supreme law of the land, the debt accumulated by the federal government did not top $1 trillion until 1981. When George Bush became president in January 2001, it stood at approximately $5.7 trillion. Since then, it has increased by 45%. This huge debt can be largely explained by our defense expenditures.


In an important exegesis on Melman's relevance to the current American economic situation, Thomas Woods writes: "According to the U.S. Department of Defense, during the four decades from 1947 through 1987 it used (in 1982 dollars) $7.62 trillion in capital resources. In 1985, the Department of Commerce estimated the value of the nation's plant and equipment, and infrastructure, at just over $7.29 trillion ... The amount spent over that period could have doubled the American capital stock or modernized and replaced its existing stock."

The fact that we did not modernize or replace our capital assets is one of the main reasons why, by the turn of the 21st century, our manufacturing base had all but evaporated. Machine tools, an industry on which Melman was an authority, are a particularly important symptom. In November 1968, a five-year inventory disclosed "that 64% of the metalworking machine tools used in U.S. industry were 10 years old or older. The age of this industrial equipment (drills, lathes, etc.) marks the United States' machine tool stock as the oldest among all major industrial nations, and it marks the continuation of a deterioration process that began with the end of the second world war. This deterioration at the base of the industrial system certifies to the continuous debilitating and depleting effect that the military use of capital and research and development talent has had on American industry."

Nothing has been done since 1968 to reverse these trends and it shows today in our massive imports of equipment -- from medical machines like proton accelerators for radiological therapy (made primarily in Belgium, Germany, and Japan) to cars and trucks.

Our short tenure as the world's lone superpower has come to an end. As Harvard economics professor Benjamin Friedman has written: "Again and again it has always been the world's leading lending country that has been the premier country in terms of political influence, diplomatic influence and cultural influence. It's no accident that we took over the role from the British at the same time that we took over the job of being the world's leading lending country. Today we are no longer the world's leading lending country. In fact we are now the world's biggest debtor country, and we are continuing to wield influence on the basis of military prowess alone."

Some of the damage can never be rectified. There are, however, some steps that the U.S. urgently needs to take. These include reversing Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy, beginning to liquidate our global empire of over 800 military bases, cutting from the defense budget all projects that bear no relationship to national security and ceasing to use the defense budget as a Keynesian jobs program.

If we do these things we have a chance of squeaking by. If we don't, we face probable national insolvency and a long depression.

HT: Grande Strategy

Update: I just read that Chalmers Johnson passed away this past weekend; he was 79. See R.I.P. Chalmers Johnson - 1931-2010.

April 27, 2008

Pulp Fiction Sunday

This was such a funny movie in so many ways. Of course, most of the humor is very dark, but I like those movies a lot. Even something as simple as Butch (Bruce Willis) choosing his weapon when he decides to confront Zed and Maynard is funny (the progression from the small sledge hammer to the baseball bat to the small chain saw until, finally, the samurai sword). These clips are part one and two of the fight between Butch and Marsellus (Ving Rhames), and their capture and escape from Zed, Maynard and "The Gimp."

What now? Let me tell you what now. I'ma call a coupla hard, pipe-hittin' niggers, who'll go to work on the homes here with a pair of pliers and a blow torch. You hear me talkin', hillbilly boy? I ain't through with you by a damn sight. I'ma get medieval on your ass.

Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead.

April 26, 2008

Rice Inflation: When Did It Start?

The global food crisis has been getting a lot of well deserved press recently, and while several different crops have experienced varying levels of inflation, I thought I'd look at rice in particular. Although rice isn't a staple crop in America the way wheat and corn are, it's very much a staple crop here in Asia. Asian reactions to the price increases for rice have varied dramatically. Singapore, for example, has tried to reassure the public that there is plenty of rice while keeping price controls off and allowing companies to bring in additional supplies above and beyond what's normally imported to hedge against any future supply shocks. On the other hand, some other countries in this region (e.g., Vietnam, India and China) have temporarily banned the export of rice.

For this analysis, I used the price data for milled rice provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. This particular file has price information on a monthly basis since August 2005 for several types of rice in the United States, Thailand (the world's largest exporter of rice), and Vietnam (the second largest rice exporter). For my analysis, I've chosen two American varieties, Southern long-grain milled (LGM) and California medium-grained milled (MGM), and one Thai variety, 100% Grade B. (I've done some analysis on the Vietnamese data; however, the data set is incomplete so I'm not as trusting on that information as I am for the other three sets.)

As you can see on the above chart, rice prices had been relatively stable since August 2005, especially for Thai rice. The current upswings in prices began last summer, in July 2007 for both the Southern and California rices, and in September 2007 for the Thai rice. (For Vietnam, it appears that the upswing began in May 2007; however, there is three months' worth of data missing for October-December 2007, and it's conceivable that prices could have dropped in that time period.) Since that time, prices have risen at a compound monthly growth rate of 7.65% for the Southern LGM, 2.80% for the California MGM, 14.47% for the Thai rice, and 8.32% for the Vietnamese rice. Moreover, as the graph currently shows, there's no indication on the part of any of the varieties that prices are likely to change direction soon.

From my perspective, the inflation for rice is mostly of the cost-push variety, with oil and fertilizer costs as primary culprits. The discussion of the inflation being driven by demand-pull is nonsense, in my opinion. Demographic changes are far too slow to account for such a rapid increase inside of one year's time, and there's not been any sudden desire for people to eat more rice or that rice has become a substitute in place of another grain.

When might we expect to see rice prices declining? Based on current futures prices for rough rice at the Chicago Board of Trade, the May 2008 futures are selling at a price of $23.80 (as of this time). Futures peak with the July 2008 contracts ($24.18), before falling slightly to this year's low of $21.78 (November 2008). For 2009, prices are expected to increase slightly ($22.38 in May 2009), before falling to a low of $18.25 for November's contracts. In other words, prices are expected to drop by almost a quarter, but only in another year and a half's time.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos and J2TM.

Update: This post was mentioned on the Daily Kos Eco-Diary Rescue 4.26. Thanks Meteor Blades!

April 23, 2008

SG Acrnyms

Pop quiz, hot shot! Think you know all the Singapore acronyms? (We're an abbreviated society here. ;) ) Here's a small sampling of the various three-, four- and five-letter acronyms that are commonly seen in Singapore. (I'm skipping the two-letter acronyms altogether.) Name the following:




Bonus Question: Name the 5 C's.

Now, before you get your knickers in a twist, here are some hints:
* Most acronyms are the same number of words as there are letters, but not always.
* Many of the acronyms ending in "E" are "expressways," but not always.
* Most of these acronyms are serious (e.g., government departments, businesses, educational institutions, etc.), but a few are cultural acronyms.
* Finally, almost all of these are or can be used in everyday conversations.

Answers can be found in the comments, or you can cheat and click on the Wikipedia link above.

April 21, 2008

Tower Mas Extra Hot Chili Sauce

This second set of ads (see here and here for the other two in the series) is also getting some attention, albeit for the wrong reason: everyone's focusing on the, er, lack of genitalia on the "chili pepper." "WOW! penisless angry, jumping, high kicking ketchup! very dangerous shit!" as one commenter put it on Ads of the World. Still, probably a chili sauce Milady would be interested in trying, if it's halal.

Agency: Leo Burnett Singapore; HT: Advertising is Good for You

Canon EOS: Vision First

Two sets of ads I thought I'd share. This first set, "Vision First" for Canon Eos, was confusing a lot of the commenters over at Ads of the World. At first glance, without knowing what company the ads are for or the tag line, the ads are confusing. But, knowing that the ads are for a camera, the highlighting of the womens' eyes with the niqab and the ninja outfit makes a lot more sense. As photographers we rely so very much on our vision, both literally and artistically, to make a great photo. Vision, then, comes first, thus the highlighting of the eyes.

Agency: Dentsu, Beijing, China

Good Fathers Read to Their Sons

One of my sisters mailed me a copy of Jim Trelease's book, The Read-Aloud Handbook, originally published in 1979 and now in its sixth edition. Trelease's thesis is that by having parents -- including fathers -- read stories or books aloud to their children, that the child's reading comprehension and academic achievement will increase dramatically. The book is well researched (the following passage alone contained five footnotes, which I've omitted), but many of the facts presented are eye-opening -- and disturbing -- to say the least. The problem is that many American families have placed the burden of the parent reading aloud to their children on the mother. Not that this is completely surprising; after all, mothers are the primary care givers to children under five, regardless of whether she works or not, and he almost always is the primary bread-winner. But that doesn't mean that he can abdicate all responsibility toward his child's intellectual development. There are ways a father can encourage his child or children to read. One of my brothers-in-law, the husband of my sister who mailed me this book, takes his four children to the library once a week, every week. My own father was another bookworm who often read for pleasure, whether it was fiction or non-fiction. As a child, I remember my mom telling us kids (on numerous occasions) that dad wasn't going to wake up soon because he had been reading until two a.m. And, of course, my sisters and I were always encouraged to read. (As a teenager, I often read from our World Book encyclopedia or its various yearbooks for pleasure. Yeah, I know, I was a strange kid, but I've never lost while playing Trivial Pursuit either, so there! ;) )

The following passage comes from a section entitled, How do I convince my husband he should be doing this with our children? (pp. xxii-xxiv of the Introduction). What's surprising and scary is how much American boys have slipped behind girls academically since 1970. For years, we've read articles about how the number of female students has grown in American universities, but usually within the context of a single department or degree program (e.g., law school, medical school, etc.). But apparently the problem is much more widespread. Even looking at my own university's data (Fall 2006 statistics), female students outnumber male students for both undergraduates (53%-47%) and graduates (54%-46%). (For the Honors College, the gender ratio is the same as the graduate students' ratio, 54%-46% in favor of females.) So if you parents want your sons (and daughters) to do well at school, start reading to them now... even if they're teenagers.

The second change is a huge gender gap among American schoolchildren. Since 1970, there's been a steady gain in female achievement, accompanied by a steep drop in male performance. ... In 1970, male enrollment in college was 59 percent, female 41 percent. Three decades later, it's almost completely reversed -- 57 percent female, 43 percent male.

The top 10 percent of high school classes is 56 percent female, 44 percent male; among high school graduates who maintain an A average, 62 percent are female, 38 percent male. Three out of five high school National Honor Society members are girls, and they outnumber boys 124 to 100 in Advanced Placement (AP) classes. As recently as 1987, boys had outnumbered girls in those classes. ...

We know what caused the rise in the girls' scores -- their mothers' value systems about education changed thirty years ago. Mothers now expect more of their daughters intellectually. But how do we explain the nosedive on the part of the boys since 1970? Is it a coincidence that in that same year, 1970, we saw the birth of a national TV phenomenon called Monday Night Football? Prior to that, Madison Avenue pretty much thought it was a waste of time trying to advertise to men late at night -- they were all asleep in their La-Z-Boys. Then along comes MNF and they've got millions of guys doing high fives on their chairs at 11 p.m. It didn't take long for the networks to catch on that sports at night could bring in a boatload of advertising dollars and thus was born ESPN, then ESPN2, followed by channels for golf, rodeo, NASCAR, wrestling, extreme sports -- you name it, all sports, all the time, 24/7.

The impact on the young male of seeing his dad worshiping daily and nightly at the altar of ESPN, has to have played a damaging role in male attitudes about school. Girls read and write; guys hit, throw, catch, shoot, and fish. By 2000, moms were "taking their daughters to work," but dads were still taking their sons to the stadium.

The father who can find his way only to ball games with his kids is a "boy-man," whereas the father who can find his way to a ball game and to the library can be called a "grown man." Unfortunately, we have a growing shortage of grown men in America today. Once I asked members of an audience in Decatur, Georgia, if they thought they'd ever hear a president of the United States make a statement like that to the American people, and a woman replied, "Yes -- as soon as she's elected!"

The strange thing is that this "dumbing of Daddy" seems to affect families at all education levels. In a study comparing poverty-level families and university-educated families, fathers in both groups read to the children only 15 percent of the time, mothers 76 percent, and others 9 percent. That could change if we publicized studies like one conducted in Modesto, California, which showed that (1) boys who were read to by their fathers scored significantly higher in reading achievement, and (2) when fathers read recreationally, their sons read more and scored higher than did boys whose fathers did little or no recreational reading. When the dads were surveyed, only 10 percent reported having fathers who read to them when they were children.

April 20, 2008

Blade Runner Sunday

Two music videos to share this afternoon from the movie Blade Runner. The first video is a compilation of two of the three musical themes from the soundtrack; the second is a full version of the movie's love theme.

Fiery the angels fell. Deep thunder rolled around their shores... burning with the fires of Orc.

[Original verse from the poem, "America, A Prophecy," by William Blake.]

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

ShaikR is Back!

ShaikR is back! For those of you who may not be familiar with Shaik Abdul Khafid, he's a local (Singaporean) Muslim blogger who's known both for his former blog, Spiritual Tendencies, and his artistic talents. The latter was primarily manifested through his banners, such as the "Muslims Against Terrorism" and "Islamized Blogs" series, which can be found on a number of Muslim blogs (see the sidebar to the right).

In the past few days, the Shaik has released a new series of "Muslims Against Terrorism" banners, plus a few new ones; I love the "I Laff @ Islamophobes." All of the banners can be found on his graphics page.

The Shaik has also drawn a number of comics that skewer both Islamophobes and a certain breed of Muslims.

Check it out!

April 19, 2008

The Economist: Just What Do They Dislike, and Why?

An article in this week's The Economist about the new book by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, Who Speaks For Islam? The article's primary criticism about the book is that the data was taken from the annual Gallup World Poll and that, at a cost of $28,500 for the full results of that poll, "...it's hard for ordinary folk to judge exactly how fair the authors have been in mining their own data." Otherwise, the results are generally positive:

The authors rehearse several arguments that make sense to anybody who knows the Muslim world. Rather than despising Western freedom, many Muslims admire it, but they scoff at Western claims to be promoting democracy. Muslim women want greater equality, but they are attached to their faith and culture, and hackles can rise when Westerners set out to "liberate" them. The minority of Muslims (7%) who fully approve the September 2001 attacks are not much more pious than average; so religiosity doesn't seem to be what makes them violent. In one survey, over two-thirds of Muslim respondents called America aggressive, while the proportion who took a similar view of France or Germany was under 10%. So democracy as such isn't a Muslim bugbear.

The article also reports on another poll which had was released this past week:

The results of a more narrowly focused survey, by another American pollster, were released this week. They are a troubling read for the Bush administration. A poll by Zogby International of 4,000 people in six Arab countries—Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—found rising numbers had a "very unfavorable" view of America. And compared with a similar poll in 2006, an increasing number (67% versus 61%) thought Iran had every right to pursue its nuclear activities. Whatever one believes about the Muslim soul, Mr Bush's efforts to court the Sunni world, ahead of a possible showdown with Iran, seem not to have impressed the Arab street.

April 15, 2008

The History of the Humble Olive

There's an interesting diary on "the history of the humble olive" over at Daily Kos, of all places, that was rather interesting. Be sure to check it out. Personally, I love olives and olive oil, and I can easily go through a bottle of olives while eating cottage cheese (another favorite food), using the olives as a garnish. Tasty! Here's a brief quotation from the diary:

The Olive was a native to Asia Minor and spread from Iran, Syria and Palestine to the rest of the Mediterranean basin around 6,000 years ago. It is among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world (being grown before the written language was invented). It was being grown on Crete by 3,000 BC and may have been the source of the wealth of the Minoan kingdom. The Phoenicians spread the olive to the Mediterranean shores of Africa and Southern Europe. Olives have been found in Egyptian tombs from 2000 years BC. The olive culture was spread to the early Greeks then Romans. As the Romans extended their domain they brought the olive with them (but not the olive branch! They were fond of conquering). A little known fact is this: 1400 years ago the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, advised his followers to apply olive oil to their bodies, and himself used oil on his head.

April 14, 2008

The Economist: Gender Gulf

The April 10th edition of The Economist has an article about the problems Muslim women in the Middle East and the banking/financial services industries have in meeting each other. Much of this problem is due to gender segregation, but another problem is that many of these companies haven't thought about the benefits of targeting their marketing toward women and the practical ramifications of being able to market directly to these women; for example, hiring women who are able to meet clients and customers without needing a husband or other male relative to chaperone. I also like how the one company mentioned in the article, Forsa, avoid the "pink-ribboning." Unfortunately, this type of cosmetic change to a company's marketing scheme is all too common and is very superficial. "Oh, look! My credit card has a picture of a rose on it. I'll bank with you." Yeah, right.

But many women still avoid face-to-face meetings with unrelated men. That makes the male-dominated world of banking particularly hard to penetrate.

There are ways of getting round the problem. Saudi retail banks have set up segregated branches that only women can enter. “Ladies' banks” are also cropping up in the UAE. Segregation is a controversial issue, but the facilities at least allow women to manage their finances independently of prying fathers, brothers or husbands. Rising divorce rates give added motivation for women to hide away some money, skeptical of the help they will get from mostly male judges.

Increasingly, wealth managers are also realizing that women in the Gulf region are sitting on fortunes in cash, land and even jewelery. According to Amanda McCrystal of Bramdiva, a London-based wealth-consultation service for women, a few years ago there was a boom in online share-trading by women in the Gulf, since they could do it from the privacy of home. Many were singed by a regional crash in 2006. Some will not return; many of those who do may seek professional advice.

Sandy Shaw, who heads Middle Eastern operations at Coutts, a private bank based in London, says about a quarter of her clients are female, and are keen to keep control of their affairs, especially to ensure that their estates will pass to their children when they die. Aware of this, a small number of Western female bankers now travel regularly to the Gulf to hold meetings with female clients. Again, one of the attractions is privacy; they can visit a Saudi woman at home without her husband present, which a male banker normally could not do. Women may require different products from men, too. In Saudi Arabia and Qatar, for example, they have more of an appetite for lower-risk, capital-protected investments. But this is likely to change as they become more experienced investors, says Ms Shaw.

In the UAE, Dubai World, a government holding company, has set up Forsa, an investment company run by women for women. Its staff scorn what they call “pink-ribboning”: superficial changes to market products to women, like making a credit card pink. Across the region, more such firms would be helpful. This is not only because women need opportunities to work. The finance industry needs them, too: it is growing so fast that it is struggling to recruit and retain staff.

The message has sunk in in Bahrain, where a third of finance-sector employees are female, and in Kuwait, where, including property, the figure rises to 40%. Some employers there say they find female bankers work harder than men. Yet in Saudi Arabia, official statistics indicate that just 5% of Saudis working in finance and property are female. And across the region, it remains hard for female businesswomen to get loans, especially if they are not from prominent families. Even in Bahrain, where nearly one-third of businesses are registered by women, “sometimes women can only get a business license in their husband's name, especially if they have less capital,” says Aamina Awan, who is researching female entrepreneurship in the region.

Cross-posted at J2TM.

April 13, 2008

Dick's Got a Firm Grip On His Pole

Get real, people. That is not a naked woman reflected in Vice President Dick Cheney's sunglasses. Although it kind of appears to be. If you blow up the picture, you can see it is Cheney's hand gripping the handle of a fishing rod.

The picture was posted on the White House Web site as one in a series of photos of Cheney outdoors.
-- Naked Woman in Cheney Glasses? No!

HT: WTF Is It Now?!?

Life Lessons of Drum Corps

I just came across this old article of mine that I had published in the May 2000 edition of Drum Corps World, and thought I would repost it here:

In the mid-70s, I marched in the baritone line of the Mark Twain Cadets.  The Cadets were a mid-sized corps from Elmira Heights, NY that competed primarily in upstate New York and Pennsylvania.  Like other corps, then and now, we had our share of volunteers.  Most of those volunteers were parents of fellow corps members.  "S," for example, was the father of "D," a fellow baritone player, and "K," a guard member.  S was a large, muscular man who drove Bus 6.  His was a familiar face to all the corps members.  While there was a constant turnover of drivers for Bus 5 (the bus I rode), S was the bus driver for Bus 6.  Week in and week out, for at least the five years I was involved with the corps, S helped get us to where we needed to go.

While S was accepted and respected by the corps members, "Z" was not.  Z was our equipment truck driver, and she received her malicious nickname because of her weight.  Despite the fact that she put in as much time as S (perhaps even more), she wasn't respected by the corps members.  One year, the corps started asking for dues.  The amount was nominal, being only one dollar per week.  When some of the corps members realized that it would be Z who would collect the money, they told others to bring their dues in pennies.  By this, they wanted to make Z's collection bag to weigh as much as possible.  Had everyone in the corps done that, the weight of all the pennies would have been considerable.

One day, my dad overheard me make some disparaging remarks about Z.  (Back then, I talked and acted just as stupidly as any other teenager in the corps.)  That day, my dad drove home an important lesson:  Z wasn't working for the corps because she had to, but because she wanted to.  That lesson was reinforced in the summer of 1978.  By this time, the Mark Twain Cadets had merged with the Grenadiers of Broome County, NY to form the Empire State Express.  The night of July 27, we traveled from the southern tier of New York to Lynn, Massachusetts to compete in the World Open.  We were the very first corps to perform that morning, in the Open Class prelims, so there wasn't any opportunity for us to prepare for the show, other than to get into our  uniforms and warm up.  (Despite this disadvantage -- or perhaps because of it -- the Express scored high enough to be in the Open Class finals that night.)  After our prelim performance, I was struck by the sight of Z, putting our equipment back into the truck.  There she was, working very early on a Friday morning, after driving several hundred miles in the dead of night.  She didn't have to be there.  She could have been home, sleeping in her bed, back in Elmira.  It was then that I truly realized her dedication to the corps.  She had sacrificed her sleep, her time with her family, her vacation time, and her money to be with us on tour.  How many other parents were working with her to help the corps?  Damn few.  And yet we treated her with a lack of respect few other adults would have put up with.

I would hope that the corps members of today already realize the need to respect and accept others as they are.  I can see where it would be easy, while attending camp or during the grind of tour, to take the non-marching personnel of the corps for granted or to treat them with less respect than they deserve.  For the non-marching personnel of each corps, whether they be the corps management, the instructional staff, or any of the volunteers, are just as important to the corps as the marching members are - and maybe even more so.

I haven't seen Z since 1978, and I have no idea if she's still involved with the drum corps activity.  However, should she read this article and recognize herself in it, I hope she will forgive me for any pain I may have caused her when I was an immature teenager who should have known better.

April 10, 2008


I came across this video the other day on a blog I had never read before. A couple thoughts came to mind:
  • If you don't shed a single tear (at the very least) while watching this video, you aren't human.
  • The father is truly amazing; I don't even know this guy's name, but he's one of my heroes now. How much more of a competitor can he be? There's no question he's not racing to win, but he shows a strength and determination that I doubt few of the other competitors have. And the love they both show for each other during the race... Kul wahad!
  • And yet I fear for the son. The son looks like he has cerebral palsy (?). What will happen to him when his father dies?

  • Schism

    A Saudi blogger, Raed AlSaeed, has come up with a response to Geert Wilder's hate film, Fitna. Visually, Schism is divided into three parts: numerous American soldiers beating up a couple of Iraqi men (to the growing excitement of a warped American GI who was filming the scene from above), various clips from the movie Jesus Camp, and CNN coverage of Baghdad being bombed by the US Air Force at the start of the Iraq War in 2003. Interspersed are various quotations taken from the Bible (primarily the Old Testament) that, without context, make Judaism and Christianity seem particularly bloodthirsty.

    However, Raed's purpose for making Schism is not to attack either Judaism or Christianity, but to show how and why a film like Fitna makes an intellectually dishonest argument. At the end of the movie, Raed wrote:

    It is easy to take parts of any Holy book that are out of content [sic; he means "context"] and make it sound like the most inhuman book ever written. This is what Geert Wilders did to gather more supporters to his hateful ideology. To create schism.

    HT: Rob Wagner: 13 Martyrs

    April 9, 2008

    The New Auburn Purple Lancers

    My very good friend VKGARRY sent me an e-mail today to let me know that the Purple Lancers of Auburn, NY is being reborn. That's excellent news. For those of you not as well versed in your drum corps history ;) , the Purple Lancers started out as a senior corps in 1949 (as most corps of that era did), with the senior corps eventually folding in 1957. However, in 1960, the Purple Lancers were revived as a junior corps and became very prominent among the many, many New York State corps of the late 60s and early 70s, winning the state's American Legion championship in 1974 (which was a very big deal in those days) and placing tenth in the DCI Open Class finals that year. The Purple Lancers were and still are the only New York State drum corps to have ever placed in the 35 years of DCI's Open Class/Div. I finals. (Those were the days when making the DCI finals was truly an achievement, where you had 56 other corps to compete against in the 1974 prelims to make 12 spots, compared to the measly 22 corps competing in 2007 for the same 12 spots.) And then the corps collapsed that winter, and all of us in New York drum corps were stunned.

    So I'm very happy to see one of the venerable names of drum corps revived, and I wish them all the best of luck. (Note to the Purple Lancer management: Don't worry so much about getting the corps onto the field so quickly, but do get yourself a guard and drum unit up and running in WGI competitions; this will help to get your name out and establish yourself as a serious, competitive unit. This is the Voice of Experience speaking; BTDT.)

    April 8, 2008

    The Shallow Mind of the Islamophobe

    One of the things that strikes me about Islamophobic people is how shallow their minds are. In fact, they follow a remarkably consistent pattern, on a par with lather, rinse, repeat. To illustrate this point, I'll take the recent case of the Muslim bus driver, Arunas Raulynaitis, who allegedly had ordered all of the passengers on his bus to get off so that he could do salat, one of the five daily prayers we Muslims do. At least that was the original story as told by The Sun.

    Stage 1: Show a swift knee-jerk outrage without bothering to wait till you've heard all of the story. Don't stop to think! You must foam at the mouth so that all your dhimmi friends will be convinced of your sincerity and conviction to the cause.

    Yes, it's ubelievable [sic] --unbelievable that zealous Muslims are so keen to prove that Islam is intolerant, uncharitable, regressive, and in-you-face supremacist. "Kuffar to the back of the tram! Don't you people know your place?" [Original emphasis.]
    -- Comment at Dhimmi Watch: U.K.: Muslim bus driver halts bus to pray

    Stage 2: Read the real news.

    London United Busways say they have carried out a full investigation after driver Arunas Raulynaitis rolled out his prayer mat to perform his daily prayers, facing Mecca on the number 81 bus in Langley.

    Bosses have analysed evidence, including CCTV footage, and say the driver was actually on his 10-minute break when the incident took place at around 1.30pm on Thursday.

    They added that the control room had in fact radioed Mr Raulynaitis to terminate the bus outside Langley Fire Station in London Road because it was running late due to road works. Passengers were asked to leave the vehicle while they waited for another bus to pick them up to complete their journey.

    Steffan Evans, spokesman for London United Busways, said: “The bus was delayed and by the time it had reached Langley the next bus on the route had caught up.

    “At this point the bus service controller decided that in order to maintain the frequency of the buses he would curtail the late bus, and therefore instructed the driver to transfer his passengers in order that they could continue their journey without any further delay.”
    -- Slough & Windsor Observer: Bosses defend Muslim bus driver who stopped bus to pray

    Stage 3: Ignore the real news, and renew your frothing hatred toward Islam and Muslims. Facts can never get in the way of the "truth."

    A bizarre example of insane genuflection in order to deflect attention from Islam and the Muslims who spread and practice it. The notion that another bus is sent to continue a route which the Muslim brought to a halt in order to "pray" (read "demonstrate his utter contempt for those "infidel" passengers while showing them who's the real boss") is a gotesque [sic] parody.

    Attempts by apolgists [sic] for fascist Islam appear more and more desperate with each new Jihad transgression they attempt to sanitize.
    -- Comment at Dhimmi Watch: Bosses defend Muslim bus driver who stopped bus to pray

    Stage 4: Wait for the latest breaking story about Islam and Muslims in the media so that you can once again show off your ignorance and dedication to the cause. Don't bother to learn any lessons from having been wrong the last time. Besides, Mom doesn't care as long as you sweep the basement floor clean of all your Cheetoz™ crumbs.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    HT: Islamophobia Watch

    April 7, 2008

    Big Yellow Taxi

    Milady needed some material to write one of her tests, and she asked me to look up the lyrics and information to the song Big Yellow Taxi. While I'm familiar with the song (who isn't?), I had no idea that it was originally written by Joni Mitchell. The inspiration to write the song came from a bad experience Joni had in Hawaii:

    Living in Los Angeles, smog-choked L.A. is bad enough but the last straw came when I visited Hawaii for the first time. It was night time when we got there, so I didn't get my first view of the scenery until I got up the next morning. The hotel room was quite high up so in the distance I could see the blue Pacific Ocean. I walked over to the balcony and there was the picture book scenery, palm tree swaying in the breeze and all. Then I looked down and there was this ugly concrete car park in the hotel grounds. I thought "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot," and that's how the song "Big Yellow Taxi" was born.

    The first video is of Joni singing live in front of a small audience in 1970; the second video is of the Counting Crows cover.

    April 6, 2008

    Put Some ICE in Your Hand Phones!

    This is a very good idea, one that makes you say, "Why didn't I think of that?" "ICE," by the way, stands for "In Case of Emergency."

    Here’s the idea:

    1. put several ICE listings in your cell directory ICE-1, ICE-2, etc.
    2. under each of them put the phone # of another family member or a friend who you’d want called in case of emergency.

    If there is an emergency and you’re unable to communicate, first responders will (we hope: the concept is voluntary, so part of your homework, boys and girls, is to let your local officials know about it, so they can make certain police, fire and EMTs know to check the listings) check your ICE listings and then until they’re able to reach one of your emergency contacts, tell them about where you are and your condition, and ask whether you have any particular chronic conditions and/or medications that should be considered in caring for you.

    HT: David Stephenson, via Crooks & Liars

    April 3, 2008

    How to Write a Song: The Three H's

    The New York Times has a new blog called "Measure for Measure," which is about the creative process of writing songs. I love music and have been involved with a number of groups since I was a child (primarily drum corps), but I've also found that the art of song writing is both interesting and difficult. (I've created one song so far, Pterosaurocity1, which I didn't think came out very well.) The following quotation comes from songwriter Darrell Brown, who explains that a good song must have three "H's": honesty, humanity, and hooks.

    We then proceed to vent and hash out our thoughts and feelings, our anger and frustrations, our longings and hopes and try to gently coax them into the shape of a song. And that song must have the three H’s in it: Honesty. Humanity. And hooks.

    First, honesty, because I believe that people will only put up with a lie for so long and I want my songs to last forever. For me, finding out if a song is honest or not is a gut thing. An honest song will show innocence, vulnerability and strength all at the same time: “I Can’t Make You Love Me” sung by Bonnie Raitt and written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin or Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” or “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper or Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Songs that rise above the songwriter and performer and have a life of their own.

    Then, it has to be full of humanity, and by that I mean the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual sides of humanity. The big themes — the brokenness and the triumph of it all. So people can relate to what I am writing and singing about.

    Then, finally — and this is extremely important to a song — it has to be filled with hooks, basically because I don’t want to bore people to death with all the honesty and humanity I am parading about. Hooks, as most of you know, are an absolute staple of pop music, bits and pieces of rhyming syllables or words, rhythmic chords and melodies chiming in and out and strung together in some fresh way so they never leave your brain, so you can’t stop thinking about or humming that song wherever you go. No hooks? Then it is not a great song and never will be.

    Examples of great hooks? There are so many, but here are a few that come to mind. The chorus of Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears (“Take a good look at my face….”). The refrain of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” (“I can’t get no…”). The very first line of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” or of “Killing Me Softly With His Song” sung by (but not written by) Roberta Flack.

    I also know this from experience: Not all of the songs I write will be good ones. Actually, a lot of them will be ridiculously bad (experience has also taught me not to show those songs to anyone for obvious reasons). But when an honest, four-dimensional, hook-filled piece of humanity is finally born, there is a clue to recognizing it’s timelessness.