Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Uncertainty of nothing

It is a bit terrifying realizing that I will in less than 100 days go from living in Japan-- which in the words of Garth Algar: Its like a new pair of underwear--at first its a bit constrictive but soon it becomes a part of you.--to returning to the area of the US that I grew up for most of my sophomoric youth.

The sophomoric part being complete is still under review.

Northwest Indiana. Da Region. Da Chicagoland area. NWI.

Or as I like to put it....the place I attempted to maintain a restraining distance of 1000 miles since leaving the Midwest.

Actually, its closer to 90 than 100.


I'm not sure how I will react when confronted by people from high school that I've long since lost track of--or forgot names--but they don't forget the things I said or did that I've long since forgotten. Hell, I can't even remember what I did three years ago today. A good guess is probably dealing with sleep deprivation or bobbing on the ocean somewhere.

The absolute best part will be that...I think...there will be a 10 year get-t0-gether for my high school class around the time I physically return to NWI.

Well, I could always show up as a Cowboy-Millionaire-Astronaut. Just make sure that I don't mention anything that could give me away.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

It's just a Goddamn Game.

I love how old timers and hysterical baseball writers are quick to demonize players who test positive for a banned substance that is not steroids but is known to be used by juicers after finishing up a steroid cycle to boost their testosterone that their body had stopped pumping out as the steroids provided all the testosterone the body needed.

But they guy didn't test positive for steroids. Maybe he's guilty. Maybe he's not. Unless someone tests positive for steroids (as some players have), I don't think I will go off an call a guy a cheat.

It's fishy, its sketchy, it causes one to raise eyebrows surreptitiously, but its not rock hard evidence that Manny was having a party with Jose Conseco poking each other in the ass with steroid filled syringes.

But hey, the current culture in baseball has not only created a situation where players feel compelled to find ways to 1) stay atop the pile, 2) get into the game, 3) have the chance to get that 10 year $200M USD contract or 4) legitimize said contract to management and the fans, but has allowed it to pervade and continue to perpetuate in professional baseball's culture.

The Mitchell report stated that there was general knowledge of PED usage by other players, management, trainers etc. and lets be honest, the trainers should notice these things, the managers should notice (damn, he sure got bigger this year), and the other players would definitely notice these things, yet since there was no legislation in baseball (and baseball would not even attempt to come up with regulation to deal with PEDs, the Players Union blocked all attempts and it took the threat of the US Government to force baseball to adopt some sort of regulation), why should they be the rat because it could be them the next time around needing that extra bit to stay on with the club or at this level.

But of course, the hand wringing at the supposed shaming of the integrity of this beloved game is probably the most laughable of laughable things on earth. We are talking about a game that for several decades would not allow African Americans the opportunity to play at the highest level of baseball although there were players comparable or even superior to those at the mainstream professional level.

Baseball writers love to gush about the greats...Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Ty Co...well not so much Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, etc etc, but if some of the greats of the Negro Leagues were able to join baseball from the get-go, maybe Babe Ruth would be considered a great player but not as good as say Josh Gibson if he were allowed to play at the MLB level. Hell, Babe Ruth wasn't as good as a player as Josh Gibson...so take that ESPN!

But sadly, since baseball was run by a bunch of racists in the early 20th century we'll never know because those players never had the opportunity to play against the supposed "elite players."

MLB has a glimmering and shining history that we should all emulate? Bullshit. Pure Bullshit. Just as this inane idea that MLB has an integrity that needs to be maintained is pure bullshit. There has always been cheating in baseball, pro baseball in this nation has a less than savory history if one really pulls the string and instead of demonizing players, MLB and all associated with its operations needs to:

1) Ensure that there are rigorous standards in place to preclude the use of PEDs in professional baseball.
2) Educate players at ALL levels about the dangers of using PEDs to curb their use. And Jesus will help you win isn't education either.
3) Look into eliminating or curbing back those issues that may have compelled players to use PEDs.
4) Work on rehabilitating and training current players who are known or past PED users to help them out to keep them from relapsing into this habit.
5) Hold managers, trainers and team management accountable for their players. Its easy to suspend a guy for 50 games and take his salary, but how about fining the team, the manager, the trainer for letting this happen. That might make teams more interested in ensuring their players are clean...not only for this game's integrity but for the health of their investment.

And old timers should simply shut up because I highly doubt that they would be so angelic in the same situation.

Now to bring down the BCS! Go President Obama go!

Friday, May 8, 2009

A silly day dream

A silly day dream that involves me running/owning a Tex-Mex/Hawai'ian bar-restaurant in Shonan, complete with a little surf shop for the pure essentials people need on a surf trip: wax, fins, fittings for fins, misc tools, rash guards, wax combs, surf leashes, locks, waterproof cases, sun block, nu-wax strips...and of course warm showers and board storage.

In the back will be where I shape my own boards--or have guys shape boards for other people.

At night we would have local acts--reggae, local type music, bebop jazz groups etc.

Not sure about the name of the place...that'll come later

Early look at "The Third Reich at War."

Needless to say, for anyone who has only the basic American high school level understanding of the Second World War in Europe, they are probably unaware many aspects about the war.

But I have to caveat this by stating that the Second World War was not a subject I exclusively studied, I am pretty confident that I am not clueless about this subject.

American high school version of WWII:
1933 Hitler becomes dictator of Germany and immediately rebuilds the German military. The wimpy British and French acquiesce to the German's demands in Austria and later in Czechoslovakia. The Germans then blitz the Poles and subsequently defeat their inferior army; in fact the Poles were so backwards that they sent cavalrymen on horses against German Panzers. Then the Germans invade and beat the French because they are fans of surrendering. Then they invade Russia, get caught in a bad winter; which doesn't help because they declared war on the United States. The US beats up the Germans pretty bad in North Africa, then stages the worlds largest amphibious operation at Normandy and start to liberate France. Then the US liberates Paris. Then the Battle of the Bulge. Then its a race to the heart of Germany for the US and the USSR who have too many people for the Germans to fight. The Russians take Berlin in 1945, Hitler commits suicide and end of the war.

That was actually a bit difficult for me to write seeing that I had to eliminate most of what I've read about the European theatre of the war in order to give the truncated version of what covered about 20 - 30 pages in a US textbook. Needless to say, I forgot to mention that it was the US that bailed everyone out. I think I managed to get the contempt for the French in there...the same pointless contempt that Americans today have towards the French.

As for the US taking the brunt of the war, in reality, it was probably the people of the Ukraine and Russia that took the biggest losses in the war compared to other European nation. Soviet records tended to lump all USSR casualties together, following old Russian doctrine of including the states of Byelorussia and the Ukraine into the overall Russian state. Norman Davies covers this near the end of his work: No Simple Victory.

I do highly recommend that book for those who have only the rudimentary background about this epoch in history.

Still, I am a bit saddened by the tilted version of the war, as seen through the kaleidoscope of the American experience: the roles of the British (who bore the brunt of the German Luftwaffe from 1940-1941), the French (it was not cowardice on the part of the French fighting man that brought about their surrender--in fact the French decided to make Paris an Open City to keep it from being wiped out by the Germans. As for the French not predicting the Germans coming through the thickly wooded Ardennes...it was a huge gamble on the part of the Wehrmacht to commit to that move and the French had covered the most likely path of the Wehrmacht, coming down from Belgium) and even more sadly, the marginalization of the Red Army.

Reading the excellently composed A Writer At War covering the personal writings of Vasily Grossman, a Soviet war correspondent for the Pravda, along with other writings by Antony Beevor, Norman Davies, Guy Sajer etc does bring to light the colossal struggle between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army, and how all other campaigns conducted by the American Army pale in comparison.

Patton's great tank battles were mere child's play, or just the games of divisional commanders when compared to Kursk.

The clearing of the hedgerows in Normandy or even the Battle of the Bulge paled in comparison to the bitter struggles of Stalingrad or the siege of Moscow and Leningrad.

The great and swift movements of the US Armies in France were a normal day for the Red Army sweeping across the European steppe towards Berlin in 1944.

Needless to say, it is a humbling and eye opening experience when actually delving into the German-Russian War. It puts into perspective the actual sacrifices of the Western Allies and the fighting ability of the Russian and German solider. While it is pretty easy to go along with the generally accepted statement that the German Wehrmacht was one of the world's greatest armies in World War II, the soldiers of the Red Army were nothing to scoff at. Tough, resilient and brave fighters--they were the ones who broke the back of the Wehrmacht in 1944. They were the ones who actually crushed the fighting ability of the Wehrmacht.

Of course, we all know Stalin wasn't exactly the world's greatest humanitarian, but it was the officers and enlisted of the Red Army, irregardless of Party affiliation: news flash, not all members of the Red Army were Communists...in fact those in the Party were not so sure whether or not to allow members of the Red Army into the Party. It was a very exclusive club.

We just happened to corner the market on improving on pulverizing cities from the sky.

So maybe Russians do have some right to scoff at the Western Allies when talking about defeating Germany, because until the Red Army overran the German industrial complex, the Albert Speer run war industry of Germany was still able to produce to supply the Army. Maybe they do have a right to scoff since it was they who destroyed one of the most powerful armies in the world at Stalingrad, or that they inflicted the crippling blow to the vaunted German panzer might at Kursk.

But, this post wasn't originally intended to go into how people should at least read one or two books about the Eastern Front (I do suggest Antony Beevor's Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege 1942-1943 and The Fall of Berlin 1945 as they are not only very informative but very accessible to the casual reader. He is the perfect historian--one who is able to convey his vast knowledge into something that anyone can easily understand and retain. I also suggest Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova's joint effort in A Writer At War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army, 1941-1945 that chronicles the Eastern Front through the private journals and Pravda pieces by Vasily Grossman), but about my take on the first hundred or so pages of Richard J. Evans' latest opus about Nazi Germany titled The Third Reich at War.

I have not read his first two books, The Coming of the Third Reich and The Third Reich in Power, but he even states in the introduction that each volume is capable of standing alone on its own. His intent in The Third Reich at War is not to give a history of World War II in Europe, but to "focus...is on Germany and the Germans" and at the very center of it is the mass genocide committed by the Germans and the German state. Basically, he intends to show how the Germans developed the mechanism that later lead to the killing machine of the "Final Solution."

Right from the start, Evans floors me with evidence that just as the German Wehrmacht was rolling across Poland that the murder, dispossession and deportation of Jews and Poles followed in the dusty tracks of the panzer divisions. Needless to say, despite some commentary about how this isn't a new trail blazing history of Nazi Germany, I personally thought that the German savaging other races did not go into full swing until the start of Operation Barbarossa. There's always something that someone did not know.

Still, just after the first 100 pages or so, I find it very readable with great information and without the usual dry prose that would make most people pass out after the first three paragraphs or so...but maybe other people would find this boring. I find TV in general quite boring, so who knows. The book already stands well on its own and maybe when I finally trudge through the 680 pages that remain, I may look into his two previous volumes.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

When you put on your uniform, you are not a solider of god.

While the baseball purists will bemoan about the signal that Manny Ramirez has sent to young people with his current suspension in violation of MLB's drug policy, that is a non-issue in light of a little tidbit of information a buddy of mine was kind enough to post on Facebook.

I could care less about professional athletics sometimes--the teams, athletes, GMs, media, boorish fans and etc have created this situation with high salaries and matching expectations that allows for people looking to find an extra advantage in the game.

In other words, you have reaped what you have sown. I combat this by not subsidizing any professional team or athlete. The reality is that these teams and paid professionals do not care about you and don't want to drink a beer with you. They want to be left alone in their own free time, so therefore, give them space.

But this is a much more serious issue: US military chaplains proselytising in Afghanistan. Here's the article on Military.com.

For me, I am disgusted by these commissioned officers blatantly tossing out regulation just because they feel that it is their mission from god to force their bronze age god onto other people. This is not a mission for US military chaplains; they are there for personnel in the military who seek counseling etc.

In other words, these guys should no longer be drawing a paycheck from the US government. But that's my own opinion...and opinions are like assholes...everyone has one and everyone thinks everyone else's stinks.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Do you really need a Kalashnikov?

A thought popped into my head when I read an article on CNN.com about people hoarding ammunition in the United States. The thought was: do you really need that Kalashnikov?

Yes, there is nothing in the article about AK-47 ammunition, but the same proponents for the Second Amendment would be the first to say you have the right to own a AK-47. Indeed, the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights states:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." (Courtesy of the US Archives Online)

So, yes, it does say that the right to keep and bear arms are not to be infringed by the government. But the first part of this sentence is also very key and requires an understanding of the historical context.

*Insert time machine travel type noise from Dr. Who* In the 18th century, there was no permanent, large standing Army (except for the British Army) that exists in our contemporary epoch. In fact, the Founding Fathers were not very wild about the idea of creating and maintaining a large permanent professional army, based on their experiences during the imposition of British power on the North American continent in the late 18th century. Therefore, as they were not interested in maintaining a large professional Army (and Navy), it was felt that the idea of state militias, which were a well established part of each state would provide the basic defense for the United States.

Until the growth of a larger professional Army in the United States after the American Civil War, the state militia system was the pool of manpower that the government would call up in order for the defense of the nation. The American Civil War is written by the exploits of several state militias battling on the killing fields, from Fredricksburg to Shiloh to Chancellorsville to Gettysburg to Cold Harbor (albiet, these militias were called up for Federal service in the Militia Act of 1862 to fill the ranks of the Federal Army, but they were not part of a large standing professional Army).

The idea was that the pool of manpower that would fill the ranks of these militias would have to supply their own weapons when called up, as listed in the Militia Act of 1792. Therefore it was important for individuals to have the right to bear arms. The follow on Militia Acts of 1903 and National Defense Act of 1916 Federalized the state militias and placed them under the auspices of what would later become the Department of Defense...and removing the requirement for one to appear to drill with their own M-1 Garand, M-14, and now M-16 and 9MM and 100 rounds of ammunition.

So, why is it that people need to have military grade weapons? I'll be the first to admit that it's fun to pop off rounds from a machine gun (done during my time on active duty), why is it that private civilians need automatic weapons, .50 cal sniper rifles, machine guns and other military style ordinance in their own personal inventory? I'm not quite understanding that the right to bear arms based on 18th century realities actual equates to the right for one to own the before mentioned weapons.

This is not to say people should not be allowed to own handguns, hunting style rifles and shotguns. But my issue is with people needing an AK-47. There is no need to have such weapons since there are no requirements for civilians in the National Guard or even the State Guards to personally own those weapons as they are supplied those weapons by those organizations.

Of course, online, the quotes of Adolf Hitler espousing the importance of banning or having oversight for personal weapons is used to hammer the fear factor into people, raising the spooky spectre of the Nazi demon that murdered, imprisoned and plundered Europe from 1935-1945. Somehow I think that if the US government passed laws similar to the Enabling Act of 1933 or the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, then people should be worried...somehow limiting the production and dissemination of military grade weaponry does not fall under the government taking away your rights.

Case in point, why would it be possible for someone to get those machine guns robbers used in LA several years back that held a whole city in fear for a few hours.

Atop of that, in light of some of the public shootings, as one of my esteemed friends suggested that there be a thorough screening of people to ensure they are mentally stable, do not have suicidal tendencies or have a record of violence or criminal activity. What is to stop a guy who beats the shit out of his girlfriend or wife from using a gun the next time she "pisses" him off? What is to stop someone who is not mentally stable from going into a community college, murdering a classmate and then taking their own life? These are legitimate ideas and should be used in the process of someone looking to purchase a firearm. Why should we allow people who could be a danger to themselves and others to be allowed to simply stroll in, pay for a gun, wait three days and then pick up said weapon?

Even better, why should our modern civilization allow the before mentioned people have the ability to buy military grade automatic rifles, high powered sniper rifles, large caliber weapons and machine guns?

And lastly...

Do you really need that Kalashnikov?