Monday, April 30, 2007

Every once in a while (well, ok, it happens all the time) you encounter a situation that you just can't imagine how the people involved deal with.

Snakeeater, jr. goes to a very expensive school. I think that I related here that I actually broke into tears when I found out he'd been accepted and to this day I'm not sure if it was out of pride or because I knew what it would cost.

Basically, it's ten grand a year, about $250 for books and God only knows in fees, etc. On top of that we just recently figured it's about $100/week just for gas to get there and back. Easily 20K per year.

Now keep that in mind as I relate this--Monday of the Easter break the band gathered together for a last practice session before they boarded buses to travel to Disney World (another thousand bucks). Several students got a Slurpy drink in a clear cup and poured whiskey in it and brought it to the practice session. Sort of a juvenile kind of thing, but something that is absolutely not tolerated at that school, and they knew it. Snakeeater jr. says the teacher smelled it, and because of the clear cup they could actually see the strata--green slushy and brown whiskey. Five guys took an immediate fall and three seniors were expelled. Expelled. Done. Finito. They were getting ready to board buses for a trip on a Monday--a work day.

Thier parents had to somehow deal with getting away from work to retrieve the kids, but that's the absolute least of it. Four years of high school. The economics I cited above. And it's all trashed.

I honestly don't know how the guys will graduate high school. I'm thinking some sort of summer program with a degree in August. This is a school in which 98% of graduates go to college. Where do those three guys stand now?

Fifty some odd grand invested in high school and they won't graduate. It might even boil down to a GED. Damned if I know.

It's sure as hell going to throw a huge monkey wrench into college plans.

And the worst part is it's the sort of thing that, well, I might have done. Actually, not. I did some dumb things back when, but bringing whiskey to high school is even dumber than I was. And especially to this high school.

I can't possibly imagine the scenario at those boys' homes right now. I guess the moral is think, think, think. Yeah, I like the odd spot of adult-type drinks myself. But you've got to think.

I'm not a high and mighty moralist. I have way more than my own share of failings. But man, did those guys screw up.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Oh, and I think I made the grade in umpiring girl's softball.

It's been a tad different--I've umpired adult softball and youth baseball. Never did girls before. It's kind of rough in that some of the batters are about three feet tall, which means the strike zone can be a bit funky, and honestly, I don't like calling 7-year old girls out. Even had a coach come up to me the other day who said "I can tell you hate calling them 'out'".

Yeah, I do.

I prefer to call the older girls--what they call the Junior League. They're 14-15 or so, so they can deal with it when I call them out. Today I called a Ponytail League game, which I'm not supposed to do since my daughter is in that league, but it went well (and I'm not going to throw a freaking softball game just because my daughter plays).

Anyway, I'm calling my last game of the day and I hear someone heckling me from the stands. Normally it's the sort of thing that you just shut off, but the voice was familar. Turns out it was the senior umpire in the league.

I think that's a sign that I made the grade.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

It's amazing how you can so often run across people with whom you have something in common. Sort of the "six degrees of separation" thing.

Five years ago I bought some window stickers at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, NC. (Stupendous museum, by the way). One sticker is a Special Forces patch and the other two are the flashes (that's the patch on the beret) from the two Special Forces groups I was assigned to. I held onto them for five years then finally stuck them on the truck just a couple of months ago.

Couple of weeks ago I'm tooling down the highway and someone passes me and starts waving to me. I thought "Ok, seems like a good sort of guy, wave back". Bear in mind that around here when someone waves to you it generally involves one finger. So I waved. A few moments later I switched lanes and found myself behind him. Lo and behold, on his rear window is an 82nd Airborne Division sticker. A fellow paratrooper. I waved back again and gave him a "thumbs up". He caught on that I'd made the connection and returned the salute.

A good moment on a commute that can make your hair fall out.

Then today I caught up with one of the baseball dads. I'm still trying to sort the family out, to be honest, but I think it's two sisters, one husband and three kids all living together. Nothing weird--I just think it's a single mom living with her sister and brother-in-law. But all three adults have been/are in the Army, so once again there's the common experience. The single mom is ex-Army, the dad is ex-Army and his wife is what's called AGR (Active Guard/Reserves--in other words you're in the Guard or Reserves, but in a full-time status). I enjoy being around them not just because we have the common denominator of Army experience, but also because they're just plain good people. The two sisters are Central American in origin, so they may have some interesting tales as well.

At any rate, I caught up with the dad today. He has only been able to make something like three games in two seasons, so even seeing him was a rare event. But it gets better. He drives a soft top Jeep, I'm driving a soft top Jeep. He works for a company that supplies chemical to the biotech industry. I've bought chemicals from his company. Then we started talking Army and damned if he wasn't in the 5th Special Forces Group. He wasn't "SF Qualified"--in other words he didn't go through the fun-filled course that qualifies you to be on an A-Team--but he was a paratrooper and spent time in 5th Group's signal (radio) company. As coincidences go, I was a radio operator as well, and while I spent most of my time on an A-Team, I did spend some time working with the signal company.

He ended up driving an AH-64D Apache Longbow, but he said he has a special place in his memories for the time he spent in 5th Group. He eventually left the Army after 9 PCSs (military talk for packing up and moving) in 13 years. It's a rough way to raise a family, so I can't blame him for bailing. He said he truly would have liked to have made the grade and flown with the 160th SOAR, but family just had to take precedence.

So anyway, keep your eyes and ears open. If I can run across such rare creatures as fellow paratroopers and SF-types, who knows what we may run across...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Well, it's spring. The tulips are up, the daffodils are up, the crocuses are actually on the way out and the crack of bats has begun to sound.

Well, make that the tink of aluminum bats.

And best of all, the assholus baseballus has emerged from his long winter sojourn.

Sunday we had a makeup baseball game. All went well until the other side realized they were going to lose. A batter hit a ball up the first base line, and a fielder went after it and dropped it. The umpire called it fair and two runners came home, giving the other team the go-ahead run. A coach blew out onto the field and explained to the umpire that the fielder may have been in fair territory, but his glove was across the line, ergo foul ball. The coach was definitely strident, but not over the top. The ump (who was way too young, but we have few umps left because of this sort of bullsh*t) ruminated for a moment, then agreed. At that point the other team's coaches went ballistic. A grandfather, for chrissake; his son and another guy who must be a father---all three proceeded to behave like two-year olds. I went to full boil and shouted one of them down before my wife reigned me in. After that it got so bad that parents were actually shouting at the coaches to sit down and let the kids play.

As it is so often, it wasn't a matter of the umpire making a bad call, it was that the coaches themselves don't know the rules. That's a good rule of thumb, by the way. Most times you hear "bad call", it's the coach who is wrong. But a good coach will blow it off and say to the kids "That's the call, let's make a good play next time". Only a jerk throws an almighty fit in front of his young, impressionable boys.

I've made a few phone calls, and am going to do face-to-face with a few people, but my opinion is that those coaches don't need to be mentoring 14-year old boys. Period.
Yes, I'm going to be the bad guy, but am I worse than those guys who behaved like children in front of children?

Softball goes, well, ok, but bumpy moments there as well. Last night a coach grabbed my ear before the game to tell me the other coach might intentionally walk a batter. First, as an umpire, I'm a bit uneasy about spending a whole lot of "face time" with any coach. I don't care who wins in the leagues above and below my daughter, but I don't want to be perceived as "buddying up" to any coaches. I'm honestly impartial as all getout, but if I spend five minutes chatting with one coach, it could be perceived the wrong way. Oh, and I'm not allowed to call games in my daughter's league, but you know, if I ever did so and threw a game, I'd be cheating my daughter. I could call her games with complete impartiality. In fact, I called a few of my son's games last year when they ran out of umpires. But I digress.

At any rate, I knew the coach had told me about intentional walks, but I thought in a league composed of girls aged 7-9 that was a ridiculous concept. Who the hell would play stupid things like intentional walks on an 8-year old girl? Well, they did. I didn't quite catch it. I was immersed in the game--how many strikes, how many balls, how many outs, which bases are occupied, is there force on any base, is infield fly in effect...So when the pitcher threw four balls with really high arcs I didn't think too much of it. I did warn her twice about her arc, but she was 8-years old and three feet tall. I have to cut her some slack.

Normally, no big deal. In fact, in most softball leagues the pitcher can tell the umpire he/she wants to walk the batter and the batter simply gets the base. Don't even have to throw a pitch. In co-ed softball it's a bit different. If you intentionally walk the guy, the woman following him also gets a base in order to prevent pitchers from walking the men in order to get to the "weaker" women.

So even though her pitches were high (illegal), the end result was the same: the batter took first base.

As it turns out, there is a local rule against intentional walks. I didn't know about it, but bonehead-the-coach certainly knew about it. In fact, the other coach gathered several league officials (I wasn't aware of it) to witness the at-bat that he knew was coming. The batter had hit a triple in an earlier inning and he knew her next at-bat would be an intentional walk.

I hate being a pinhead at girl's softball. Baseball you have to be way over the top assertive, but I didn't think I'd have to be so with little girls. In fact, a couple of weeks ago a coach came up to me and said "I can tell you hate calling them out on strikes", and I do. I want to make a game of it, but I don't want to box them in so tight on balls and strikes that they have to pitch like they're in college.

BUT--I got burned last night. I got the clarification on local rules today. Intentional strikes are not allowed in this league and I can toss the pitcher if I even think she threw balls intentionally. Better yet, I can toss the coach if I hear him tell her to throw intentional balls. By toss I mean you have 30 seconds to be somewhere else. If I can hear or see you after 30 seconds the game is over and your team loses regardless of the score.

Tonight is going to be a whole different ballgame (so to speak). I'm taking a page from my favorite umpire's pre-game speech to coaches: "You get two warnings, and this is your first".

I have two favorite sayings (and I even made them up myself--didn't copy them from Samuel Clemens or Winston Churchill).

The first is this: When you die, your obituary might note that you were active in youth sports, but it's not going to quote your damn win/loss record.

The second: It takes an adult to really f*ck up a children's game.

For Pete's sake, shouldn't we just be glad they're out being active instead of sitting on their fat posteriors eating Twinkies and pretending to play ball on their game things? (for the record, there are no Nintendos, X-boxes, Game Cubes, whatever in this house. Nada. Here, if you want to play a sport, you actually play the sport).

With those thoughts I'll depart to walk to the end of the road to meet the Bear as she gets off of her bus, then get ready to be the voice of sanity as some girls meet to play some ball. I always tell the coaches I'm simply there to make a game of it. I might have to expand a bit on that tonight, though...

Friday, April 20, 2007

I generally support the president. Hell, even on his worst day he's better than John Kerry or Al Gore. Kerry is a buddyf*cker and Gore is an idiot.

Having said that, I do recognize that the president has made some errors. He pulled us out of the Clinton-made economic slump and he's been a steadfast leader in the war that radical Islam declared against us, but like all of us, he's made a mistake or two along the way.

His first mistake was establishing the Transportation Security Administration. He did so under heavy pressure from Democrats such as Ted "I killed a girl, but so what, I'm rich" Kennedy and other moral stars in the bunch of criminals we blithely call Congress. The call after 9/11 was "Do something, do something" and typical of Democrats, they demanded a knee jerk "do it now, don't give it any thought, just do it" response. To his discredit, the president bowed to the pressure and created the TSA.

The creation of the TSA has had exactly zero effect. All it did was take thousands of contract workers and make them federal employees. The same guy who screened your luggage yesterday simply showed up today wearing a fancy shirt with "TSA" and a little gold shield embroidered on it. The only thing that is different is that now that he's a federal employee he can be completely unsuited for his job, but he can't be terminated. I went to the class. It takes an 18-month audit trail of infractions, counseling, corrective measures, etc. to terminate a federal employee.

So all the president did was take a group with more than their share of idiots and make those idiots fireproof.

I recently went through security at Orlando airport. The first checkpoint was manned by about six people wearing maroon jackets. They were contractors of some sort. Hadn't gotten to the TSA people yet. Of the half-dozen people in maroon jackets, only one was actually doing anything. The rest of them spoke exclusively Spanish to each other, as did the sole English speaker between passengers. Now, I'm not racist or anything, but I have issues with going through a security checkpoint in the United States in which none of the security people speak English. It was rude, it was "in your face" and my Spanish is rusty enough that they could have been discussing ways to kill the gringos and I'd have missed it. Dammit, if you're going to man security at a US airport, speak English.

As it was, the sole English speaker simply said "ID" (is that all the English she knows?) and literally simply made two strokes with a pen on the boarding pass. I could have done that myself. It was literally the most useless security measure I've ever seen. Just two strokes with a pen. Jab, jab.

So then we passed to the "professionals". The TSA people. Talk about hiring the handicapped. I suspect that I danced on the edge of getting jailed, but my TSA tormentor was too stupid to figure that one out. Bear in mind that I've just passed through a "security" checkpoint of dubious value, manned by people who can't even speak English. Here is my conversation with the TSA idiot:

Moron: Whose carry on is this?
Me: Mine
Moron: Are you sure?
Me: Yes, I'm sure
Moron: Oh, so you use hairspray
(at this point I went from simmer to full boil)
Me: The hairspray is for my daughter who is standing next to me, A$$hole. (Yes, I called him a$$hole)
Moron: You can't take more than three ounces of liquid on an aircraft
Me: What am I going to do, detangle the pilot? (This might have been the point where I really risked getting thrown off the flight, but Mr. TSA wasn't bright enough to pick up on it)
Moron: Well, you can't take more than three ounces
Me: Well, how much is in there, genius?
Moron: I don't know, I can't measure it
Me: Exactly.
Moron: The bottle says 8-ounces
Me: But it's damn near empty
Moron: I have to go with what the bottle says
Me: Fine, A$$hole. Take it

I'd have been fine except that Mr. TSA decided to be a smarta$$ about the hairspray thing. After that, I went incendiary. Fortunately for me, the TSA guy was too stucking fupid to realize I held him in utter contempt and would have ripped his lungs out in a different setting (then again, none of the witnesses spoke English, so just maybe...).

Probably not the smartest move on my part, but then again, I wasn't exactly dealing with the world's smartest person, either.
Lots of events to comment on the past week--hang on for pithy opinions about Disney World and the wonderful government agency called the TSA.

Today I heard something to the effect that Harry Reid declared that we have lost the war in Iraq.

Harry Reid is a horse's a$$. He fantasies himself something of a crusader, but a crusader who hates the president more than he loves his own country. He'd sell us down the river in a heartbeat if it discredits the president. What kind of person hates so much that he'd flush the country down a toilet just to "get" a president he doesn't like? Reid maintains a web site called "Give 'em Hell, Harry". What an ego. First of all, the name comes from a play written about Harry Truman and second, shouldn't he be more concerned with the congressional mission to work with domestic policy than his own personal crusade?

Your job, Harry, is to formulate domestic policy. You weren't elected to masturbate your ego by fancying yourself as the president's number one critic. On the other hand, maybe it's just as well that you are consumed with tilting at the presidential windmill, because clearly you're not bright enough to participate in our country's lawmaking process.

I understand that our own revolution against England was fraught with uncertainties. From the beginning it wasn't necessarily popular--it was begun by a bunch of hotheads in Massachusetts--and militarily we could have been crushed at any time by the seasoned, professional British military. The saving grace, which led to the creation of the greatest country on the planet, was that the average person in Britain didn't give a rat's patoot about the colonies, and at the same time got tired of hearing about British casualties.

That's the exact model that Harry Reid is seizing upon, though I doubt that he's smart enough or knows enough about history to realize the connection. He wants us to tire of attrition (while blocking any measures that could move the war into a decisive mode versus pure attrition). He wants us to say "Who gives a fig about what they do in some country halfway across the world and why should we commit troops there?".

Well, I'll tell you why, Harry. Radical Islam is a serious threat to the world. You might remember such minor things as the attacks on 9/11, the bombing of the club in Bali and many, many other incidents. Hell, radical Islam has been at war with the west pretty much forever, but they came out of the closet and declared official war back in 1981 in Iran. They like to behead people with pocket knives. Ever seen a video clip of that, Harry? I can tell you that it's not a clean, painless death, and yet they revel in it. I still have nightmares about the woman I saw beheaded, but those soulless monsters sleep well and do it again and again. I swear they get a boner out of it. If we pull out of Iraq it will become another Afghanistan--a lawless playground for people who hate the west so much they'd load their own children with explosives. Same goes for Afghanistan itself, though I'd hazard a guess that Harry is too stucking fupid to know that we still have troops committed to Afghanistan.

This is a war that we need to win. Yes, it might last a while, but it's better than sitting up at night waiting for the next time some hate-filled Islamist lashes out at us. First it was machine-gunning people at airports. Then pushing old men in wheelchairs off of cruise ships, then throwing bombs into pizza parlors, then flying jetliners into office buildings. Do we really want to back off and wait to see what's next? Let's all hold hands with with Abu bin Buttplug and sing Kumbaya and see how far it gets us.

The war is unique in history in that it's a war against an ideology and not country against country, but it's an ideology that must be defeated. Radical Islam has kept the world in fear for how many years now? Bombings, machine-gunnings, beheadings, you name it. Radical Islam has left a trail of blood for decades. While the rest of the world finds common ground, only radical Islam finds a need to lash out at everyone who isn't one of them. We've managed to resolve the greatest, most powerful standoff in the history of the planet: Soviet Union vs. the West; but radical Islam remains implacable.

Sorry, Harry, but if you want to give anyone hell, you need to start with radical Islam. Give them hell. And since you don't have the balls to do it yourself, at least support the men and women who are doing it for you.

Monday, April 02, 2007

There's just no making some people happy. I called a girl's softball game this evening, and one of the teams was just getting shelled. The games last 75 minutes and the team getting beaten was the visiting team. At 70 minutes another inning was about to begin, so I went to the visiting coach and told her I'd start the inning, give her girls an at-bat, and then end the game so the other team couldn't pile on more runs, since they were obviously going to win the game. She actually got offended so I said fine, let's play some ball. After two strikeouts I heard someone say something about being over the time limit and the coach suddenly charged onto the field and called her girls in, ending the game. I should have jacked her up for running onto my field and calling an end to my game, but it didn't seem worth it.

And then to top things off, after the game the girls lined up for the old "high five" with each other after the game and two of the girls on the losing team smacked girls on the other team instead. The coach went over and told the losing coach she needed to curb her girls and the end result was a parent from the losing team dashing over to the other parents and screaming that they were "A$$holes". The game was over, so fortunately whatever comes from that is a league issue and not my problem.

But sheesh. You just can't make people happy.

I've been around baseball and softball a very long time now, and I can tell you that coaches set the mood for a team. Bonehead coaches will have bonehead parents and bonehead players. And one game into the season this coach has already poisoned the well...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

I'm of two minds now. I wanted to post that it's spring, the crack of bats is in the air (well, ok, the "tink" of those freaking aluminum bats) etc. But all I can think of is lynchings.

Now, undoubtedly someone is going to take me to task for using the word "lynch", just as someone got taken to task the other week for suggesting that the NBA needs to "crack the whip" on a particularly thuggish player (and in the NBA "thuggish" takes on serious relative meaning). Apparently "crack the whip" takes on racist overtones when the subject of your diatribe happens to be black. Well, one of the three people I believe have been politically "lynched" happens to be black, one is of Hispanic descent and one is white. And all were unfairly "lynched" for purely political reasons.

First there was Lieutenant Colonel Allen West. Col. West received intelligence that his men were going to come under ambush that night, and an Iraqi was being held who had first hand knowledge of the ambush. The Iraqi was questioned, no answers were forthcoming and in a last ditch effort
to protect his men, Col. West finally fired his sidearm in a threatening manner after which the Iraqi spilled the beans. The mission was carried off with no loss of US personnel. But, Boo, hoo, he hurt the terrorist's feelings. 

Lt. Colonel West was drummed out of the Army. Apparently someone forgot that we're engaged in a war. A war that actually started a long time ago, but that we finally awakened to when a small number of fanatics gutted airline stewardesses with boxcutters and goaded airline captains into opening their flight decks by soaking the passenger spaces with the blood of stewardesses and ultimately flew aircraft into office towers. 

Col. West did what he deemed he had to do to protect his troops and got hanged out to dry for it. That's sad.

Number Two lynching was Marine Lieutenant Ilario Pantano. Lt. Pantano was involved in a shooting and left a sign saying to the effect "US Marines, no better friend, no worse enemy".

A little bit of history:  Pantano enlisted in the Marines and served in the first Gulf war. Following that he went to college and ended up making six figures as a Wall Street trader. He also became a movie producer and married a woman who was a model. So far a perfect life. In the wake of 9/11 he made the decision to return to the Marines and serve his country. That's not a decision lightly taken. Would that all of us have the testicles that Ilario Pantano possesses.

But Lt. Pantano was involved in a shootout attended by a Marine who had an axe to grind. Yes, Lt. Pantano left the sign in the wake of the firefight. But there's no law against that, it's the sort of thing that warriors do, and there's some truth to it:  No better friend, no worse enemy.

This sort of stuff happens in war (Remember the airplanes and skyscrapers thing? We're at war, and we didn't declare it).

As it turned out, the Marine who testified against Pantano had a serious record of being a jerk. In fact, he had been denied a promotion by Pantano. So it's not hard to imagine he had a hardon with Pantano. Well, as it turned out, Pantano was found innocent, but his career was so trashed by the incident that he left the Marines forever. Good going guys. Keep up the "good" work. Trash a few more of your best and see what it gets you.

The latest, so far, political lynching has been "Scooter" Libby. The entire case defies logic. Supposedly he "outed" Valery Plame. Well, in the first case, Plame was never a covert officer, which makes it impossible to "out" her. Covert officers are protected, obviously. But a non-covert officer has no such protection. Unlike James Bond and "M", we know the identity of the head of the CIA, DIA, etc. They're in the intel community, but they're not covert, ergo we know their names. The same goes for anyone who works for a three-letter agency--as long as you're not covert...Valery Plame drove a desk in the CIA. She was not a covert operative. So "outing" her is a non issue from Day One. Hell, she posed for magazine covers. She's not covert, period. So she can't be "outed", period.

And then there's proving a negative. College logic courses teach you that you can't prove a negative. In other words, you can't prove that Libby didn't not remember. Hell, the Clintons spent eight years (and counting) not remembering things and now we're going to send Libby to jail? Talk about a lynching.