Wednesday, July 28, 2010


It is generally accepted that Americans have a short attention span.  I believe this to be true, and I think I am an example.  I have sat in numerous academic roundtables, where non-Americans take 10 minutes to make a point that Americans would make in 2.  Just give me the gist, and let's move on; a roundtable is not a place for definitive proofs, but for raising ideas.  While in Germany, I began reading a news magazine called Focus, and I remarked to a colleague that the articles in it were very long compared to its American counterparts such as Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report.  She said she was surprised, because the articles in Focus were shorter than those in other German magazines.

I like things to make a point, but I can't say that having a short attention span is necessarily good.  I admit that I would benefit from having a little more patience to read longer articles.  There is definitely a tradeoff between getting down to business quickly, and being superficial.

It is commonly accepted that television is in part responsible for our short attention spans.  Oddly enough, though, I find that I have too little attention for television.  Ad breaks are, of course, annoying, but what really bothers me is the fluff that goes into the average broadcast.  I occasionally watch SportsCenter, and I have grown utterly sick of the opening theme music.  I know why they play it so much (to build a brand), but I just want to hear the news.  Then, right before a commercial break, they tell you what is coming up...after the second following commercial break.  Again, it is an understandable tactic to keep you watching, but it drives me nuts.

The fundamental problem with t.v., or video of any sort, is that it is linear.  Often I don't want to watch a good portion of the news, but I'm stuck watching it anyway because you only get one part at a time.  This is what really turned me off to news broadcasts.  Liberal bias is everywhere and it is annoying, but Fox news is subject to the same limitations of linearity as the others.  In a newspaper, I can quickly scan the headlines and decide which articles I want to read; and I can stop reading at any point, if I have gotten the information I wanted.  (News is typically written in an "inverted pyramid" structure, with the most important information first, which encourages skimming (though probably not intentionally -- it's made to grad readers' attention).  It also leads to a lot of duplication as the article delves into details, as opposed to a more expository approach that reveals details in sequence.)

Hypertext is wonderful for facilitating skimming, but a plain old newspaper also works pretty well.  Video, whether on television or on the web, is inherently linear.  That's why I normally skip all video links that I see, even if the topic interests me.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


I had to go into the DMV last week to get a new driver's license and register my vehicles.  This is the ninth time I've had to get a driver's license, and the third time in Virginia.  I always dread it, because the DMV office operates according to different rules of time.  It's like the land of the Lotus-Eaters, only without the pleasant associations.  I do like the way they set up an information booth to perform a sort of triage on incoming customers.  That avoids the possibility of waiting in a long line, only to find out that you should have been in that other line the whole time.  It's also good that they give you tickets, so you can sit down rather than having to stand in line.  This hasn't always or everywhere been the case, and I appreciate it.

The tickets have letters and numbers on them, like a game of Bingo.  We were D73.  An LED display showed the numbers of the customers currently being served, and we had to wait quite a while before another D even showed up -- D68.  Meanwhile, other tickets being served started with A, F, M, R, and several other letters.  I was curious whether the letters actually stood for something, and I regret not asking (but I was undertandably too relieved to get my license at last to think about it).  It would make sense, especially since the letters were not simply consecutive from A to G (or whatever).  On the other hand, I wans't entirely sure.  It could be that they mix the letters up just so you won't know how many people are in front of you.  If they numbered the tickets consecutively, it could be demoralizing to find that you were 73 and they were now serving 15.  You might also get angry if someone with a higher number went ahead of you.  If the letters really do indicate different tasks, it would make sense that not all clerks were trained or equipped to perform all tasks.  If you happened to have a task that was able to be performed by few people, such as getting a license, you might have to wait longer than someone who needed to do something simple, like renewing a registration.

Anger management is certainly an issue at the DMV.  Each window has a security camera pointed at it, and I was curious enough to ask the clerk if these were for angry customers -- she assured me it was.  "No matter what happens," she told me, "it's always our fault."  It's true that people can be unreasonable -- very true.  However, people tend to be a lot more unreasonable after they have been waiting for an hour and a half.  If you've wasted that much time, you are certainly going to be disappointed if you can't even finish what you came to do, and you are going to blame the DMV.  So why don't they do something about the wait?

Actually, they've done about as much as they can do, having streamlined the process quite a bit.  The one thing they need now is more clerks (and possibly a bigger building), but that would cost money.  Any business swamped with customers would certainly spend the money to expand; they want the extra work, and they are going to lose people if they make them wait over an hour to get served.  But the government doesn't work that way.  People have no choice but to go to the DMV, so there is no danger of customers fleeing elsewhere (I doubt anyone ever moves to another state because of poor DMV service.)  The wait times do generate irate customers, but the people who have to deal with them are clerks, not high-ranking officials or members of the General Assembly.

Of course, the government could raise fees to finance improving DMV service.  I suspect, however, that fees are high enough to provide a much better level of service.  The problem is that it is very tempting for lawmakers to siphon money paid by motorists into other things, possibly transportation related, possibly not.  There is no direct correlation between revenue and expenditure.  This can occur in a large corporation, too, but a corporation risks losing customers.  Since the DMV doesn't have to worry about this, it is easy to cut service short and spend the money elsewhere.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Deadliest Warrior

When I was a graduate student in a military history seminar, a professor once told us about an undergraduate who wanted to do a term paper on how a Roman legion would fare against a Panzer division.  The idea sent me into hysterics as I imagined tanks running over guys armed with swords and shields.  It seemed silly on the face of it to want to make such a comparison; the odds were all on one side.

My professor was against the idea more on principle.  He did not think it was useful, or historically valid, to make diachronic comparisons like that.  I can't do justice to his reasoning, because I don't really understand it, and I do not share his beliefs.  I do think comparisons of historical phenomena across time can be useful, and I see no reason why military effectiveness should not be included.

Therefore, I was interested to discover the television series "Deadliest Warrior," which compares weaponry of various famous armies, from modern times (Navy SEALS, the FBI) to ancient history (the Persian Empire, Sparta).  They choose four weapons from each army -- long range, medium range, short range, and special -- and compare how much damage they can do.  They then run a computer simulation using their results to determine which side wins the majority out of 1000 combats, and declare the winner "the deadliest warrior."  They have, as far as I can tell, not made the mistake of pitting soldiers with modern firearms against those who have to fight with swords and spears.  Nevertheless, the series is silly in many ways.

The focus on weapons is understandable, as it is concrete and easier to quantify, but it still pretty much undermines any attempt to reach an overall conclusion.  First, they act as though every soldier carried all four weapons -- that's the only way the simulation can work -- which is very rarely the case historically.  Second, they evaluate the weapons in terms of one-on-one combat.  While there are some weapons for which this makes sense, there are others that it makes a mockery of.

As an extreme example, consider the pike, essentially a long spear.  One person with a pike is hardly a dangerous competitor.  His weapon is maybe 10, maybe 14 feet long, and the only dangerous part is the very tip.  Even if it wasn't very heavy -- which it was -- it still would have been virtually impossible to maneuver against a single opponent because of its length.  (If you want an idea of how difficult, take a laser pointer and aim it at a wall 14 feet away.  You will find that the light on the wall moves around as if you suffered from palsy, because every little move your hand makes gets magnified over the distance to the wall.)  You could easily get around the point of the pike, at which time he would be at the mercy of whatever shorter weapon you possessed.  Put a block of several hundred men with pikes together, however, and the situation is reversed.  Then your sword, no matter how large, will seem puny as a wall of pike points advances toward you.  If you get pase the first rank, you will face another rank of pikes, and another, and another.  Unless the pike square gets disorganized, it is virtually unbeatable by non-projectile weapons.

I haven't seen any pikemen on Deadlist Warrior -- no doubt for good reason -- but every comparison of weapons must suffer to some extent from the failure to consider how the weapons were employed tactically.  To pick an example, they recently analyzed a Comanche scalping knife against some kind of Mongolian bladed weapon.  It was totally pointless, as the scalping knife was never intended as a battle weapon, as they fully admit on the show.  It was apparently used to kill (not just to scalp), but it was a very small weapon used chiefly in raids and ambushes, not something to be wielded against a mass enemy.  They were debating whether the Comanche would be able to get in close against the Mongolian warrior, as though they would ever be facing each other armed just with those weapons.

Another dubious point is that they test the timing and accuracy of the weapons by having a modern Comanche descendant and Mongol use them.  While I am impressed with the skill these people showed with the bow while mounted, it cannot possibly compare to the ability of the actual warriors (on either side), who learned how to ride and shoot at an early age and, at least for the Mongols, spent virtually their whole lives practicing.

Having said those negative things (in brief:  don't believe any of the conclusions of the show, they are meaningless), I am still impressed with Deadliest Warrior in several ways.  First, they have assembled some experts capable of creating and evaluating some very interesting tests on these weapons.  I know something about modern attempts to test 17th and 18th century firearms, and it is very difficult to do.  It is great that they are able to do this; their experiments will become historical evidence, even if their conclusions are ignored.  I am interested in how they managed to recreate these weapons.  They might be using historical artefacts in some cases, but we certainly don't have any Mongolian bows from the 13th century left around.  Of course, this also opens up the possibility that the recreations are not entirely authentic.  Creating a Mongolian compound bow, which consists of layers of bone, sinew, and wood, was a complicated art, and I'm sceptical how easily we can do that today.

Second, I am surprised and interested to see ethnic relatives of the warriors who know so much about combat.  Some people take this stuff very seriously, and they obviously care about the outcome on more than a scientific level.  It's one thing to know about weapons, but quite another to be able to use them effectively.

Third, I have to say that this show is a great idea for attracting interest in history.  I'm always alert to ways to make history appealing to people, and this is certainly a striking one.  It is a little disturbing to see conclusions being drawn from just weaponry, but at least they are doing really interesting experiments with weapons, and I'm sure many people will be drawn to learn more about some of these armies through the show.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Human nature

I'm picky about language, but most things don't bother me seriously. I know people are going to quotation marks around random words and misuse expressions, and I know they do it innocently, so I tend to ignore it. But my rant for today really annoys me, because the people doing it should know better.

I have been listening to courses from The Teaching Company, courtesy of my father-in-law.  These are various series of lectures on specific courses, given by college professors, at a level suitable for college (but without the homework, grades, or credit).  In two of the courses I have heard recently, different professors have referred to the timeless desire to understand "the nature of human nature."

Just roll that phrase around in your mind for a moment.  I hope it should be obvious that what these professors meant was the desire to understand human nature.  If not, a few moments reflection should clear it up.  When we speak of human nature, what do we mean?  Surely it can only be "the nature of humans," i.e. what humans really are.  Therefore, to say "the nature of human nature" is to say "the nature of the nature of humans," which could possibly make sense in some abstract, logical way, but it certainly would not refer to the same thing as the nature of humans.  If Joe Schmoe made a mistake like this, I would totally understand, but we're talking about professors here -- and professors of philosophy, no less, who should be able to parse a phrase.  These are the best professors the Learning Company could find to deliver these lectures.  In short, they should know better, and it drives me nuts that they don't.

This particular phrase bothers me because it should be obvious on the surface -- you should hear the phrase and immediately think, "that can't be right, based on the meaning of the words in it."  Other mistakes, such as mispronunciations, are more understandable.  Even so, I was shocked to hear, in a different lecture series, a professor of Chinese history pronounce "fief" as "fife."  I'll grant that maybe the feudal period of Chinese history is not his specialty, but still, he does teach Chinese survey courses that cover that period, and he did mention the word several times.  If no one has ever corrected him, I suppose it is possible for him to have his misconception of the pronunciation, and I can't really blame him for not looking it up (I rarely bother to look up a word unless I hear someone pronouncing it differently, and I want to know whether I am wrong or he is).  Still, it is a matter of some astonishment that a professor at an Ivy League school of over 20 years tenure could have gone through life saying this word incorrectly and never have had his error politely pointed out to him.  Or never have heard anyone else pronounce it correctly, and have been curious enough to check for himself.  It's the kind of thing you just don't expect to see.

In this case, I think part of the reason may be that he teaches in a very obscure and difficult foreign area.  My experience is that people who do research in difficult languages -- Arabic, South Asian, or East Asian, for example -- tend to get a pass on a lot of what they claim.  The reason is simple:  very few people know enough to contradict them.  If your research area is Western Europe, there are going to be many more prying eyes; and if you research about America, you will be very unlikely to get away with anything.  (Of course, this is because we are talking about professors in American universities.  The situation would be reversed in China.)  Mispronouncing "fief" is not, of course, directly related to this same cause, but it seems symptomatic of the leniency provided to these obscure areas.  If you were a French historian and mispronounced fief, you would certainly be skewered.  (Incidentally, I don't mean to diminish the difficulty of doing research in difficult languages.  It is certainly a fact that people in these fields must spend a vastly greater proportion of their time mastering their research languages, which leaves them less time to learn other things.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Copycat Chains

I'd like to be a venture capitalist who specializes in founding chains that copy the business idea of other chains. Not too long ago, I was introduced to Cold Stone's, an overpriced ice cream shop (on the order of $4 for a cone) that hand-mixes toppings such as sprinkles, M&M's, and oreo cookies into ice cream. I just recently discovered another chain called Maggie Moo's that uses the exact same technique. I'm not sure that Maggie Moo's copied Cold Stone's directly (it was founded slightly later), but I don't think two stores came up with this same idea independently. Another case of mirror-image chains are Cici's Pizza and Stevi B's, both of which feature excusively fixed-price buffet meals. Stevi B's is a little more open about copying Cici's (well, they don't mention Cici's by name, but they admit to copying someone, and Cici's seems the most likely).

These little stores jump out at me because I have only learned about them recently, but the same goes for larger chains, such as Lowe's and Home Depot, or Staples, Office Depot, and Office Max. If you were led into one of these stores blindfolded and then had the blindfold removed, you would probably not be able to tell which one you were in until you eyes lighted on some reference to the store's name inside.

I'm not saying these copycat stores don't add value. Often they take the original concept and improve upon it, in the way that Papa John's consciously sought to create a better Domino's, or Ryder a better U-Haul. Ironically, the original chain often ends up copying some of the improvements of their competitors, with the result that the stores evolve in tandem and remain very similar. I'm just thinking that the original idea, and most of the implementation, are the most important components, and copying them would be easier than coming up with them in the first place. Of course, copying is no guarantee of success, but at least you know that the market is there.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

On the level

Frequently people use the metaphor of "levels" to describe different modalities of understanding. You have almost certainly hear someone say, "That is wrong on so many levels"? It is a cliché, and it is intended (usually) to be humorous, so I don't bother too much about what it means. But I am curious about the use of the metaphor of levels in general. It was nicely lampooned in one of my favourite scenes from "Friends." Phoebe was preparing to move out of the apartment with Monica, and Ross was telling her that she ought to inform Monica of her plans.

"I think on some level, she already does know it," Phoebe responds.

"How?" asks Ross. "She doesn't know that you've changed your mailing address. She doesn't know that you're sleeping at your grandmother's every night. She doesn't know that you already have a lease on another apartment."

"Well, maybe not on those levels," Phoebe admits.

The obvious question is, what could Phoebe mean by saying Monica already knows it "on some level"? It can't mean she knows part of it; that wouldn't be a level, but a section. Levels cover the same area, but overlap completely. They are often used when dealing with literature, which can be understood literally or metaphorically. The story of Little Red Riding Hood is literally about a girl being attacked by a wolf, but it could be understood metaphorically as a story about sexual predators. (Actually, I don't know what it is a metahpor for, but let's just ignore that for a moment.) It makes sense to describe these as two different "levels" of understanding, because they both encompass the whole story, but they interpret it within an entirely different framework. If one wanted to apply a Marxist interpretation, that would be another level as well.

So it doesn't make sense to say that Monica doesn't understand that Phoebe is moving out "on the level of" she sleeps at her grandmother's apartment. That's not a level; it's an aspect. It isn't the complete story on a different layer, but rather a segment of the story on a very literal layer. Arguably, Phoebe could mean that Monica knows it on an intuitive level -- that she was aware of what was going on, but wasn't conscious of her awareness. That would be "knowing it" on a different level: fully grasping it, but not in a way that she could discuss it.

I'm not sure, but I suspect that most of the time people use levels in this metaphorical way, it doesn't make much sense. I am as guilty of it as anyone. The use of "levels" to describe knowledge has entered the popular idiom and it just sounds right a lot of times even when it isn't really the best word, just as people intuitively use "cool" to describe anything good. (I hope to write a future entry on coolness, which I think is a very interesting concept.) Of course, people understand its meaning in context, so, arguably, "levels" is just as good as, perhaps even better than, other word choices that are more logically consistent. I try to resist using popular idioms like this, and I often find myself struggling to express the concept in other words. Still, I think it's a good habit to get into. Using clichéd words is easy and can make one's meaning clear in the short run, but I think in the long run it tends to become so broad as to be meaningless. People who speak in clichés often end up saying nothing meaningful, the way corporate mission statements repeat business clichés without conveying any content. Besides, I like to give my mind the exercise of trying to think about what I actually what to express, rather than just letting the words fall out. That seems the right thing on so many levels.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Country Rap?

"Save a horse, ride a cowboy" is one of the most annoying country songs ever recorded. Not only are the lyrics insipid and the melody, if you can call it that, weak, but it advocates a completely self-centered, hedonist lifestyle. One person (who liked it) said it was country's venture into rap music, which is an insult to country and rap at the same time. I don't like rap (chiefly for the content), but one thing I am certain of is that this is not country's first rap-like song. In fact, on reflection, country has a long history of "rapping" its lyrics, although it is obviously not the primary mode of expression. Johnny Cash, for example, spoke the verses to "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," singing only the chorus. I would describe it as a failed attempt -- certainly one of his worst songs, in a musical sense. He used the same speaking voice in "One Piece at a Time," which is at least a far more interesting song.

Country rap (if I may describe it like that) hit the big time with "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by the Charlie Daniel's Band. It was not only a #1 country hit, but reached #3 overall. Even though I generally don't like songs that are spoken, I love this song; it was popular when I was growing up, so maybe I wouldn't care for it so much if I heard it for the first time now. I also like Jerry Reid's "She Got the Goldmine, I Got the Shaft," which I can't attribute to youthful exuberance, since I didn't even hear it until about a year ago. Obviously the chief interest in this song is the humour; musically, it is more like Johnny Cash's rap songs, and is not nearly as interesting as "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."

Then there is Shania Twain's "Honey, I'm Home," which is not just a spoken song, but more like a hip-hop song in feel: supporting music, especially in between verses, and a heavy emphsis on the rhythm of the spoken words. She also makes a lot of use of spoken words in her other songs, such as "Man, I Feel Like a Woman" and "That Don't Impress Me Much" -- and in a way that works, unlike Taylor Swift, who seems to lapse frequently into speaking in her songs but only in a way that detracts from them.

Memorial Interchange

Naming roads after people is a common way of honouring their memory. You can find stretches of interstate named after someone, such as Carl Sanders Highway, the name for part of I-20 in Georgia (called after a former governor of the state). One thing that I have only noticed fairly recently, however, is the naming of interchanges in memory of someone. It seems to be common in South Carolina, through which I have driven frequently in the past three years along I-20 and I-77.

For some reason, the one that sticks out in my mind is the F. W. "Billy" Caughman Memorial Interchange. It appears to have been so designated in 2003 in memory of the "community, civic, and political impact" that he made "on the city of Lexington and Lexington County." It has successfully preserved his name, although I have no idea who he was or what exactly he did -- the only person of that name that I found on the internet is a 15-year-old on MySpace, also from Lexington, SC, presumably a descendant.

There is something ludicrous about naming an interchange after someone, and it doesn't help that this particular one uses the person's formal initials along with his nickname in quotation marks. Would it have seemed disrespectful for them just to call it the Billy Caughman Memorial Interchange?

It is possible that the South Carolina legislature has resorted to naming interchanges because they ran out of more conventional things with which to memorialize people -- all the good ones were taken, in other words. This became something of an issue at the residential college where I lived while a student at the University of Virginia. At the time I stayed there, it was called "Monroe Hill Residential College," so named because James Monroe owned the plot of land at one point. Shortly after I graduated, someone donated a large sum of money to the university on the condition that it rename the location to Brown College. The university accepted -- who can turn down money? -- but tried to placate traditionalists (which means everyone in Virginia) by calling it "Brown College at Monroe Hill."

If this is a problem for the University of Virginia, it is an even bigger problem for Yale, which is more than a century older. I say "problem," but really it is an opportunity. Yale has adopted the practice of appending additional names to its buildings, such that many of them now have hyphenated titles. My favourite is Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona. Now that is a name that says, "We are a very old and very famous university. We have so many famous people to name buildings after that we have to stack them on top of one another. Moreover, our famous people have names like Sheffield, Sterling, and Strathcona, which are upper class names, not boring common names like Brown, Smith, and Jones." Compare this to the University of Illinois, a fine institution (from which I hold my Ph.D.), whose main library is still called...the Main Library. Surely there must be some person, either a famous graduate or a wealthy donor, after whom the university could name arguably its most important building? Or perhaps it resists giving it a specific name in respect to its egalitarian mission, one of the original land-grant universities whose motto is not some high-sounding Latin phrase but rather the simple "Learning and Labor."

I think we can all agree that a library would be a fine thing to have named after one. Interchanges, however, are a more dubious proposition, and I say this without wishing to cast any aspersions upon the memory of F.W. "Billy" Caughman, whatever he may have done. So if, after I die, someone comes up with the idea of preserving my name (a doubtful premise, I admit) on some interchange, rest stop, or weigh station, let me save them the trouble by declaring that it is an honour that I would be just as happy to do without.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Taylor Swift

My wife has a Taylor Swift album. I do, too. It's called "a radio."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

More church names

I was down in Georgia again this past weekend, where I discovered another interesting church name. (For others, see here and here.) Well, technically not a church, I guess; it is the Temple of Miracles Worship Center. What is a worship center, and how does it differ from a church? I presume the people who came up with this name had some reason for it. Probably they avoided the word "church" deliberately, since church can have negative connotations for some.

I have even less clue about the motivation behind the "Family Aquatic Center" in Charlottesville. Okay, it's more than a pool, but we always call it a water park, because it has many of the same features (lazy river, lots of fountains, water guns, etc.). It is smaller than what you would normally call a water park, but that still seems a more reasonable name than "aquatic center." This is the kind of name you get when a committee comes up with it.

I discovered another interesting church, although not for its name, but rather its type. It is a "biker church." Apparently there is a whole series of churches designed to minister to bikers. Ironically, I heard someone refer to a Christian biker gang last weekend as well, another new idea to me. I love the way Christianity reaches out to even the most unlikely of converts; and, although the rhetoric may use aggressive metaphors (I heard someone refer to "spiritual warfare" yesterday), the result is inevitably more peaceful than what proceeded it (so long as government is not involved).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

July 4th

Few Americans actually refer to the holiday known as "Independence Day" by its name; to most of us, it is "July 4th." It is ironic, therefore, that we have lived in many places that do not celebrate on the fourth day of July. I mentioned yesterday the fireworks in Warner Robins, Georgia, which were on July 2nd. They are recorded and broadcast to American service personnel on July 4th. Columbus, Ohio hosts a large "Red, White, and Boom" festival on July 2nd, timed so as not to interfere with the smaller celebrations of its suburbs (my favourite of which is Reynoldsburg, which bills itself as "The Birthplace of the Tomato" for reasons that I have not yet figured out). And Detroit holds its celebration on the last Wednesday in June. It is called the International Freedom Festival, and honours Canada Day (July 1st) as well as Independence Day.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Independence Day

I didn't like fireworks when I was growing up. Sure, they look pretty, but the loud noises hurt my ears. I remember, well into my 20's, wincing every time I would see a bright flash indicating a particular loud noise was coming. I also don't remember hearing much about independence on Independence Day, and we didn't cook out, so July 4th was just another day off to me.

Now I think of it in very different terms. Independence means more to me as I get older. Several years ago I made a decision to take the holiday more seriously specifically because I wanted to celebrate American independence -- and personal freedom -- more. The rise of the Tea Party movement has made me even more interested in American exceptionalism and the threats to it. And, I outgrew my dislike of loud fireworks; either I'm more hard of hearing, or I just got used to the noise, I'm not sure which.

So I was glad to go see the fireworks put on by Robins Air Force Base this year. It took place in McConnell-Talbert Stadium, which is where the local high schools all play. I haven't been able to find seating information, but it is a very impressive stadium for a high school; I'm sure many colleges don't have one so nice. The field was packed with viewers, and the stands were about 3/4ths full. We were treated to the Air Force Reserve Component Band, which is apparently a pretty good band (I'm no judge of music, but I enjoyed it), followed by Diamond Rio. Then we got a very nice fireworks display, much grander than the one I'm used to in my hometown. I really liked the fact that they played patriotic music in the background during the fireworks. It inspired me and made me think of the bombs bursting in air, so much that I actually relished the loud bangs at the end. The music, which was mostly country, suited me perfectly -- so much so that when I created a patriotic mix album a few years ago, I used many of the same songs they played.