Monday, May 29, 2006

"A Bridge Too Far" is on now. It has the best depiction of what it's like to jump from an aircraft of any movie I've ever seen.
And now the obligatory Memorial Day posts. Most of the people who waste their time reading the tripe I post on this page are solidly on the side of the military, so I'm largely preaching to the choir. But who knows, maybe some day I'll sway just one person. Maybe even a guy who goes down on corn dogs (inside joke).

The first, "What is a Vet" was written by a Marine Corps Chaplain, the second, "Tommy" was written by Rudyard Kipling--the soldiers' poet. Thomas Atkins was a legendary British soldier, hence British soldiers are often referred to as "Tommys". In this case Tommy has become an avatar for all of those who fight on the side of right.

For those not familiar with these works I bid you read them, and give them some thought.

What Is a Vet?

Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eyes. Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel -- or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul's alloy forged in the refinery of adversity. Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem.

You can't tell a vet just by looking. What is a vet?

The Vet is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn't run out of fuel.

The Vet may be the bar room loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel in Korea.

The Vet is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night in Da Nang.

The Vet is the former POW who went away one person and came back another - or didn't come back AT ALL.

The Vet is the Quantico drill instructor who maybe never experienced combat -- but saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into Marines by teaching them to watch and protect each other's backs.

The Vet is the wheel chair-riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.

The Vet is the career quartermaster who watched the ribbons and medals pass him by but made certain every needed bullet found it's way to the front line.

The Vet is one of the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb Of The Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose uncommon valor lies unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean's sunless deep.

The Vet is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket -- palsied now and aggravatingly slow --who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife was still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.

The Vet is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being -- a person who offered some of his life's most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.

by Marine Corp chaplain, Father Denis Edward O'Brian

"Tommy" by Rudyard Kipling

I WENT into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it’s "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,—
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.
I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,—
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.
Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,—
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.
We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,—
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there’s trouble in the wind.
You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool—you bet that Tommy sees!

Rudyard Kipling

Small town Memorial Day parade today. The best kind.

We had Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and scouts I don't know anything about (Amana, Job's Daughters), school children carrying flags and elderly men in Ford convertibles. No commercialization, no floats--just sincere people honoring those who have given their all for this greatest of all countries.

I'm a pretty tough sort of guy. I was SF, I've worked construction, factories, I've laid on the ground and watched blood pool around me--in other words I'm not exactly a pansy. But I can't go to that parade without having to pretend to wipe sweat off of my face a few times.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Want to lose ten years off of your life?

Get a letter from the Clerk of the Circuit Court in which you can see the word "Subpoena" through the address window. I couldn't get that thing opened quickly enough.

As it turns out I had very peripheral involvement in a murder and I've been "commanded" to testify for the state. I wrote about this months ago when it ocurred, but basically somebody promised delivery of drugs, reniged on it and his "customer" quite literally blew his head off. The brother of the "victim" ran into our Boy Scout meeting and I actually went over to greet him thinking he was a new parent. Things went downhill from there and we ended up taking him to the local police station where my name was recorded.

We'll see what it all leads to--I have no problems whatsoever with testifying, but I honestly don't think I can really add anything to the case. On the other hand, it should be very interesting sitting in on a murder trial--We might get one murder every ten years here, so it's an opportunity, so to speak. Neither the shooter nor the "victim" were exactly upstanding citizens, so no tears need be shed for anyone involved.

Friday, May 26, 2006

My latest baseball email, word for word:


I hadn't planned to be Junior/Senior Commissioner this year. Last year's stint as Umpire Coordinator nearly killed me. I had every intention of sitting on my fat posterior and enjoying baseball this year, but I got a last minute call asking if I'd take the commissioner position and couldn't turn it down. I want the guys to have a quality baseball season. I'm not the best commissioner in the world by a long shot--I'm about to lose my mind over rescheduling games among other issues.

Having put my own shortcomings on the line I'd like to address two issues, one which some people will regard as minor and one which I will remain adament about.

The (seemingly) minor issue is the flag. I think baseball should be played underneath an American flag. As far as I know, the flag gets flown only when I put it up and I was dismayed to find that when I put it up last Saturday, the teams which followed never bothered to take it down. I can't make anyone put it up or take it down, but I think it would project a nice image if we flew the flag during games and then took it down and stored it properly until the next game. As a former Boy Scout and soldier I can give lessons on how to fold it if need be.

Ok, off of my soapbox. Now for the real reason I am writing this email.

I received a call from John ---- (umpire, and a damned good one) tonight about the game. John feels that the base umpire took a lot of heat and John told me that as far as he's concerned every one of the calls could have gone either way. He said that the guy called a good game. I have tremendous respect for John's judgement, and if he feels that the base umpire called a good game, I'm going to go with it.

As I said, I didn't ask to be commissioner and I know I'm not very good at it, but I am the commissioner for better or for worse. I purposely did not look at the schedule to see who played tonight, and I won't. This warning is for everyone:

I will not tolerate coaches, managers or parents giving umpires a hard time. If you want to discuss a call in a rational manner, that's fine (Bear in mind that judgement calls are not open to discussion, period). Little League Baseball is about imparting a love of the game, teaching kids how to play, teaching teamwork, teaching sportsmanship, encouraging them to put their heart in it and play hard, teaching them how to win with dignity and lose gracefully. When you die your obituary might note that you were active in youth sports--it won't post your win/loss record.

Part and parcel with developing young baseball players is developing young kids who have an interest in officiating the game as well. Jumping all over young, budding umpires does the game no favors. It just makes them quit. We are suffering from a serious dearth of umpires. By contrast, the Jaycees, where my daughter plays, have no shortage of umpires. The umpires there are treated with great respect despite the fact that I can tell you as a former softball umpire myself that they are not even as good as our 13-year old umpires. They don't call games in a "professional" manner and often make bad calls. BUT--they are afforded respect and never badmouthed in front of the girls.

Our job is to develop young boys (and girls). Beating up on the umpires does nothing to that end. What coach has never signaled a player to steal only to have the player picked off? Likewise, umpires sometimes boot calls. But until you're perfect, lay off the umpires.

John often briefs managers before the game with this line: "You get two warnings, and this is your first". I'm following in that vein. Yes, I know that sometimes something outrageous occurs on the field, but 99.9% of the time it's a good guy doing his best to call a good game.

Let's have a good time and play some baseball.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Discrimination comes in all flavors. There's a claim by certain people, mostly black "leaders" who literally make a living playing the race card, that only "empowered" people can discriminate, ergo only straight white males are capable of discrimination. Well, discrimination is discrimination. Period. And I've seen every bit as much (far more, actually) discrimination from minorities than from the evil straight white male.

Well, here's a turn I never would have thought of--

Gallaudet University is variously described as "the nation's only" and the "world's only" university for the deaf. I don't know know which, if either, is true, but I know that it enjoys a reputation as a stellar institution of learning.

Well, the students at Gallaudet have chosen to make total a$$es of themselves. Recently a woman named Jane Fernandes was selected to succeed the outgoing president of the university. Now, to my mind, a president manages a university. In the selection process, you are looking for someone who can do that job. The president of Wyotech probably doesn't know a lot about repairing diesel locomotives, he/she knows how to run a school. Leave the technical details to the instructors. Not good enough for the students at Gallaudet. The president must be deaf.

Well, Mrs. Fernandes just happens to be deaf. From birth. But---she learned to speak and grew up speaking. She didn't learn American Sign Language until her early 20's. The problem? She's not "deaf enough".

Gad. Reminds me of the arguments I've heard about people not being "black enough". It's discrimination, plain and simple. You can cloak it with strawmen about "empowerment" and whatever else, but it's simple discrimination. Something that I hope the graduates of Gallaudet never have to contend with themselves.

Hell, she's not even new. She was the provost under the outgoing president and is married to a (hearing) retired Gallaudet professor.

To date the students have gone so far as to bar entrances with vehicles and have actually asked Congress to intervene. The protests have even spread to the Maryland School for the Deaf in some show of misplaced solidarity. The dispute has been so bitter that the interim head of the board of trustees resigned, saying she was just overwhelmed by everything and had to go. Nice work, students. Hope you're proud of yourselves.

And the whole thing isn't without precedent. In 1988, when a hearing woman was appointed president, the students shut the campus down for a week and forced her to resign.

Imagine me in a position to hire someone and telling them "We're all hearing people, we just don't want your kind around here". I wouldn't do that in a million years, but you get the point.

Discrimination, boys and girls, is discrimination. Period.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Well, I blew a weather call this evening. It had been nasty, drizzling and unseasonably cold all day. Two hours prior to game time it appeared that more storms were blowing in from the south, so after agonizing all afternoon I decided I had to make a call sooner or later, so I called tonight's game off. I made the call much sooner than last years' commissioner would have, but we spent a lot of time hanging on a thread with him, not to mention driving to the ballfield in rain because he wouldn't make the call until the last possible second. For better or worse, tonight's games didn't happen.

Didn't want to end up like these guys...

Rain Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Finally caught a break. The kids hang out with a girl and boy down the road whose father is a contractor. They're the big paintball crew, and while I didn't think much of paintball when I watched it, the kids had a blast.

We live adjacent to a corn field and while there is a row of trees between us and the field we get ferocious winds that sweep across it. Some years ago we lost a big chunk of siding across the back of the house and recently we lost a downspout.

I have an extension ladder, but it won't reach the roof in the back of the house (it's on a downslope and has a walkout basement), so I went and called the guy I know. Hell, if I'm going to pay someone, it may as well be someone I know and like. He wasn't in, so I left a message. Two days later two guys simply showed up, replaced the downspout, took all of the bent downspout with them and left. Just like that.

So I called and left another message. He called me back this morning and I asked him what I owed. I know it was $400+. It was estimated at less than our $500 deductable, but just barely less. "I don't know", he said, "just buy the boys a case of paintballs next time we go out". We're talking $25 bucks.

If anyone wants to know a good contractor (and a good guy) in central Maryland, drop me a line.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"Dr. Stangelove or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb" came on the other night. It's one of those films that I just can't stop myself from watching. It's the darkest of dark comedies, but the deadpan performances by the actors and the whole way it's put across make it an incredibly compelling film.

It's an anti-war film (soldiers aren't necessarily pro-war, they just recognize its inevitability) by the Master of the Strange, Stanley Kubrick. If you haven't seen it, well, put it on your list. It has to do with "noocular" annihilation of the world, but Kubrick and his bent staff do things along the way you couldn't imagine. The characters have incredibly imaginative names, but I have to wonder about the sex lives of the guys who came up with the names.

First, there's Gen Jack D. Ripper. No explanation required.
Then there's Gen Buck Turgidson--"Buck" being a young, studly man and "turgid", well, you know
The hero of the film is a British exchange officer named Mandrake and, of course, Mandrake is known as an aphrodaisiac
The Soviet Ambassador is named Alexis Desadeinski--could the Marquis de Sade be far behind?
The US President is named Merkin Muffley. The two words have something in common. Ask me if you don't know.
The Soviet Premier is named Kissov (kiss off).
There are some gratuitous names such as Col. "Bat" Guano and Maj. "King" Kong, but the above ones are the best.

There are even things like a B-52 Pilot reading a Playboy centerfold and later the same woman (who I think really was a centerfold) showing up in Gen Turgidson's bed.

And then the lines:
When Gen Ripper loses his marbles, he calls Wing Commander Mandrake and informs him that the "big one" has started. In an understated US stereotype of British officers Mandrake replies "Oh, damn...are the Russians involved?"
Or when Gen Turgidson catches the Soviet Ambassador taking photos he tackles him prompting the president to declare "You can't fight in here, it's a war room".
Or, "Shoot, a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff" (You'll have to watch it).
And I don't know why this is my favorite, but it is. You'll have to watch the movie: "That's private property. Ok, I'm gonna get your money for you. But if you don't get the president of the United States on the phone, you know what's gonna happen to you?....You're gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola company".