Friday, April 4, 2008

Tough to be a fan

I've been rather quiet lately because there hasn't been too much going on. My parents were in town for a week, but other than that not much has happened.

One thing that did happen is that baseball season started. I watched the first two games the A's played, taking on Boston in Japan. The first game was rather frustrating because it should've been a win, but our closer Huston Street gave up a home run in the 9th to tie the game. But what really made it upsetting was the fact that we let the game slip away when Brown decided to try to stretch a double into a triple and was tagged out by a mile. The next two batters both singled, so if Brown wouldn't have tried to be a hero, we would've most definitely scored, and gone on to win the game.

The next game Rich Harden pitched a masterpiece of a game with 9 strikeouts. Of course, our biggest weakness is our bullpen and they gave up 2 runs, but we still walked away with a win.

The next two games in the series were played back in Oakland, and from here I really got a good picture of what to look forward to this season. It's not pretty. In the third game the A's were shutout. Now to be honest, there is no surprise here. I'll get more into that later. In the fourth game, Rich Harden again pitched a superb game giving up one run and striking out 6 batters in as many innings. But our lack of offense and our bullpen again turned what could've been a win into another loss.

So we're not even 5 games into the season and yet we're already 1-3, and last in our division. Here's what makes it so hard to be an A's fan. I love good old-fashioned style of baseball. My heroes were never the guys that played long ball and swung for the fences. Home runs are great, but they're not the only thing. The greatest players in the history of the game, Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb didn't hit home runs, they played small ball. It was about hits, doubles, triples, bunts and steals. I've liked the A's for as far back as I can remember, but the golden days for me was when Ricky Henderson was on the team. Henderson was the lead-off batter and would get on base. Next pitch he's on second, and on the third pitch he's at third. The man was brilliant when it came to stealing. Here the pitcher of the opposing team is facing just his second batter, and he's got a man on third. More than likely Henderson was going to score to give the A's a run and build some momentum in the first inning. Sure we had the Bash Brothers of Canseco and McGuire in those days. But even Canseco stole bases. He was the first member of the 40/40 club (for those of you who don't follow baseball that's 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases).

These days the A's rank last in stolen bases. They count on the 3-run home run or advancing runners one hit at a time. We have an owner that refuses to spend any serious money on the team, a GM who micromanages and, yes, has seen some success but has not sent us to the World Series. We get stuck with managers who stay in the dugout, are very quiet, have no personality, and are "yes" men to the GM.

Sometimes I feel like we're just a AAAA Minor League team for the rest of baseball. We develop exceptional players, but then we never hang on to them. A year ago we had some outstanding players. They were all traded away for MINOR LEAGUE PROSPECTS!!! Nick Swisher is an outstanding player. A wonderful hitter, a remarkable fielder and a great personality off the field. He's now gone. Dan Haren was a starting pitcher in our rotation who was really starting to come into his own. No longer with the A's.

Last year should've been a great year for the A's. We got hit with some injuries, and so we really suffered. Out of 162 games, I believe we only played 8 with all our starting players. That's okay though. Instead the team went into panic mode and decided to make this year a "re-building year". But yet, our biggest felt injuries are still on the team. Chavez is still on the DL for his bulging disc. Rich Harden has sat out the majority of the previous two seasons. I like Chavez and I REALLY like Harden. But if that is your weak point then get rid of them, don't get rid of the part of the team that works.

Anyways, I don't want to rant too long. If Rich Harden can stay healthy, then he will be phenomenal. Two games and 15 strikeouts is incredible. If Bobby Crosby can stay healthy then he should start to come into his own. Mark Ellis seems to have a lot of potential for success.

But for the most part, until we get an owner who will spend money on the team, a GM who doesn't micromanage, and a team that plays actual baseball, with bunts and stolen bases, we'll continue to be off the nation's radar.

Could be worse, at least we're not celebrating our 100th Anniversary since our last World Series title like the least not yet anyways.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


The other day I played my 3rd game in the tournament. At first I was very happy, because I was going to play against my subordinate who actually had never won against anyone. However, he apparently had been doing some studying over the weekend, as he very methodically defeated me. At first I tried my "assassin" strategy to end the game quickly. However, he caught on just before my final move and diverted it. So then I switched to taking control of the center of the board. Which I succeed in doing for a short while. However he was able to force my pieces into retreat, and the next thing I knew he had taken over the center of the board and I was in full defensive mode. Defensive mode is fine as long as you're able to exploit the holes in your opponent's offense. However he somehow had found a way to advance while protecting his pieces. I was able to pick off a knight, a rook and a couple of ponds, but that was all. In the end he was able to corner my king into a check mate. One of the few games I have played where the game lasted awhile, yet hardly any pieces were taken, and the king was check mate.

So, unfortunately while I was able to find a victory in the first game that allowed me to play in the tournament, my success was short lived. Though I will report that both players that defeated me went on to play to the final four. This helped take away the bitterness of my losses.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Chess Tournament (continued)

Well, due to the number of us new folks entering the tournament I had to play a match just to enter the actual tournament. Fortunately I came away with a win! So I got to enter into the "official" tournament. However, there's a ranking system, and since I'm new I was ranked at the bottom. The problem with being ranked at the bottom is you play the guy that's ranked at the top (aka the defending champion of the last tournament). Sad to say that tonight I played and lost. I will say this, he was the toughest opponent that I have every played. I saw brilliant strategies, and with every move I felt that he was leading me into a corner. He was an expert at fork (which is when he has two of my guys, and I have to choose which one I will save and which I will let die).

I'm not out of the tournament yet. I'm now in the "losers bracket". I will play whoever loses the next match. Interestingly enough that will either be my supervisor or my subordinate. I'm hoping for my subordinate. I saw him play against the guy that I beat to get in. Granted they were just playing for fun, but he repeatedly got hammered. So if I face him, I should advance onto the next round of the losers bracket.

In the meantime, I will continue to practice my chess playing skills. =)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Chess Tournament

The last couple of days at work have been rather slow, so a lot of the guys have been playing chess. They had a mini-tournament, but that's about wrapped up, so they decided to have another one next rotation. However, this one will be bigger, and they asked me to join. Now, I'm not very confident in my chess playing abilities. Outside of my family, I've never won. So the last couple of days I have been playing against computer programs and developing my strategy. Thus far I've had moderate success. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. Some of those wins have been rather perplexing to me as it seems that the program will go into some kind of panic mode and just surrender pieces. So I've been looking online and trying to figure out some new stuff. If anyone knows of any good sites, has some tips, or is willing to give me some strategy I'd be very grateful.

The funny thing is, is that this evening Cherilyn and I went to the mall and they had a setup of tables and chess games for anyone who wanted to play. I didn't play (remember the lack of confidence thing?), but it was interesting to see a girl around 8-10 years of age beat a full grown adult in a game of speed chess.

Well, I will continue with my research. I'll let you know if I get obliterated or become the great underdog story of the squadron. So far my bet is on the former rather than the latter.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Spring Fever

We focused on the government for awhile, so lets shift gears onto something else...

To be honest, I'm a little down today. One year ago, starting today, I had one of the best months of my life. Normally, I hate March. Its a little better since I met my wife, since her birthday is this month. But that's one day out of 30 very long days. March has no holidays, football season is over, and baseball season is still a month away. Even C.S. Lewis called it the "in between" time of year.

So what happened a year ago to make it the best month ever? Well, if you don't know, last year at this time I was in Florida. What's so special about being in Florida during the month of March? Spring Training baseball! I absolutely loved it! One has to understand that to go to a Spring Training game is like taking a step back in time.

Unfortunately, because our society is so fast-paced, the National Pastime has gone from being the nation's obsession to being the only thing to watch on TV during the summer within just a 100 years. But Spring Training is different.

Here's what is beautiful about going to Spring Training baseball games: The ballparks are small, quaint and intimate. Granted, most are for minor league teams, but when the professionals who have mastered the hardest sport in the world takes the field, its something special.

Speaking of the players, part of the loss of intrigue with baseball is because of the players, their attitudes and their large salaries. Players like Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco make you cringe. But during spring training, they're like kids again. There's a gleam in their eye. Maybe its the small ballpark feel, but they act as though they have rediscovered what makes baseball beautiful. In a sense, its a month-long Renaissance fair.

Then there are the fans. How wonderful it is to go to a game where people actually care about the game itself. Most people I know go to baseball games because its outdoors, they can eat bad food, drink lots of beer, and get loud and rowdy without anyone caring. But again Spring Training is different in this area. Here, the fans are serious. Most of them are season ticket holders who have taken a month off of work and followed their team out to Florida or Arizona. When I went to see the Blue Jays, I was the only vehicle with an American license plate. All the other cars were from Ontario! They're here to see the tendencies of their players. They're here to judge minor league prospects who have been invited to join the Major League team. Scouts fill up the seats behind home plate, but fans are out there too. They have their scorecards, their stopwatches and, yes, even their radar guns.

The best part occurs during the game itself. The fans will talk and get up in between innings. But when that first batter walks towards the box, and the umpire calls, "Play ball!", a deathly silence comes over the crowd. Something so rare happens. Something that stopped happening decades ago. EVERY EYE IS ON THE GAME! Baseball fans talk about the anticipation of every pitch, but brother let me tell you, unless you've been to a Spring Training game, you don't know what anticipation is. When the bat connects with the ball, the crack echos through the stadium, the fans gasp, and when ball hits the ground, or the snap is heard of the ball hitting the leather glove, the crowd explodes into a roar. Talk about excitement! A music instructor once used to tell me, "Dynamic contrast will enhance and beautify your show". It doesn't get more dynamic than that!

Alas, this year I'm back in Hawaii. Yes, Hawaii might be considered paradise to many, but to me it might as well be Alcatraz for this month. I'll still see games played by UH. But as I was reminded last week when I saw them play the University of San Francisco, the fans are few, and those that do show up don't understand the game. They fill themselves up with alcohol and then shout obscenities at the visiting team, or even their home team if they're losing.

Often times I have wondered if I have truly missed enjoying a moment. When I was a civilian, did I truly enjoy my freedom? No, I took advantage of it. When I was at Biola as a student did I make the most of it? I met some great people and made friendships that I'll have with me for the rest of my life, but I was foolish with my studies and so my answer must be no, and I will live with that regret forever.

But while in Florida, everyday I reminded myself that this was temporary and it was special. I knew that life had not been this good in a long time (I actually thank God that my wife was not able to stay with me, otherwise I would not want to leave). I made sure to enjoy every second and I think I did. But even so, I still miss it very much. Spring Training was the climax of my time there. I saw things during that month that most of society hasn't seen in a century.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

VA Benefits Part III: Solutions

This is the conclusion of the three part series
As I've pointed out over the last couple of days, there seems to be this "desire" from the federal government to increase benefits for veterans. Now, I've shown you the two proposals that have come out of both congress and the White House, and why I don't agree with them. So today, I'm going to do something different. I'm going to submit some ideas on how the government can actually increase benefits, AND reduce spending and/or invest its money for a better return.

First off, I'd like to again revisit the idea of healthcare for veterans. As I very briefly mentioned in part 2, I believe privatizing military healthcare would be a good idea. At least one worth looking into. Centrally Planned institutions have proven not to work. One only needs to look at the Soviet Union, or contemporary N. Korea, Cuba or even China's struggling space program. An idea that I have thought of is that the government can provide a civilian health insurance plan like most corporations. The difference however, is that one can actually choose whether to see a military doctor or a civilian doctor. Its really sad that I have to honestly say that I got better healthcare working as a security guard for Biola University than I do as an active duty member of the military. Now, by allowing military members to have a civilian health insurance, we can cut the amount of military doctors, or be able to send more military doctors to treat combat wounded soldiers. The government can also save cost by getting rid of military doctors that are pediatricians. Reducing costs, and being able to focus more on the mission? Sounds good to me. Unfortunately, I don't believe the government would do this since all we hear about from the left (who also, regrettably, has the political momentum) is how we need to socialize healthcare.

The other plan I have calls for an advanced benefit in the VA loan. Currently a VA loan is used for the purpose of buying a house. Now before I submit my proposal, I'd like to give you the back story for this idea. The government spends thousands of dollars to ensure that servicemen are able to prosper when they leave the military. We all get out eventually. Whether we serve one term or 30 years, everyone finally gets out and has to face the prospect of being a civilian. So, the government spends a lot of money to prepare us. The vast majority of recruits are kids that just graduated high school, have no skills and decided that serving their country would be a good way to open some doors for them. Also, it would be political-suicide for congress to have to explain why those who served are living in a cardboard box. So we get tuition-assistance for school while we serve. We also get the G.I. Bill for going to school. The majority of us get trained for skills that we will be able to apply when we get out (everything from mechanics to computer troubleshooters), and then we get the VA loan to help us get a home. All that money, and for what? So one more person can join the workforce. From my own personal experience, I can tell you that the government will have invested something around $500k. That's a half of a million dollars!!! For me! One out of several thousands! When I get out, I'll be well prepared, but I'll be just another employee.

So I thought of something else the other day. Granted, its more risky. Only 20% succeed the first five years, and only another 20% succeed out of the first 20% the next five years. So I don't have all the kinks worked out yet. But what if they could give a VA loan for opening your own business? Risky? Yes, but if done correctly, the returns would be huge. Instead of investing all that money for one employee, now the government would be able to invest money into someone who became an employer. Do you see where I'm going with this? Instead of the government putting out workers, it would put out leaders and entrepreneurs , who would have any number of employees under him. He would create more jobs, which in turn would strengthen the economy. If successful, he would earn more money than he would ever make as an employee, and use that money to further invest. And as we all know, the more a society invests, the better for our economy.

But there is a problem here as well. And its one that would require a change in thinking. The relationship between commerce and government has always been a hostile one. People succeed in accumulating wealth, adding jobs, investing in the market, strengthening the economy, and the government rewards them with higher taxes. Commerce then retaliates by moving their money to off-shore accounts (thus investing in foreign banks), moving their corporate headquarters to another nation (strengthening foreign economies), outsourcing jobs (raising our unemployment rate), and raising the cost of goods and services (causing inflation, weakening the dollar). While commerce wins the battle for themselves (and not that I blame them), government is the one driving them to do this.

So before we can even think about changing the VA loan so that it can benefit our country, the politicians within our government need to change the way they view commerce. The liberal left need to stop trying to wage war against the markets, and allow this country to become a business friendly nation again.

I hope you have enjoyed this mini-series. I also hope there was something out of all this that you were able to take and learn from. The biggest advice I can give from all this, is that no matter how good the government might make something sound, always ask yourself if this is the best they can do for our nation. Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Monday, February 25, 2008

VA Benefits Part II: Healthcare

This is the second part of a three part series.
On the 7th of this month I was watching Bill O'Riley when some rather alarming news caught my attention. O'Riley said that he was teaming up with Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Peter King to help pass legislation on a new bill that is being drafted that would allow for ALL veterans, regardless of time in service, to have health benefits for the rest of their life.

Again, this sounds like a really good idea on paper. But what about the details? How will this be implemented?

As it stands now all Active Duty, currently serving reservists and National Guard, retirees and wounded servicemen get free healthcare. In my opinion, its not that great. As someone who has had both an HMO and military healthcare, I have found that free market healthcare is the better choice. There's something to be said about quality. Most military doctors who get paid the same no matter how many patients they have tend to not care as much. But I digress.

Currently, here in Hawaii, I used to be able to get a same-day appointment. That's pretty good. However, there are not too many military retirees that live here, and the base was pretty small. Lately the base has been expanding, and with an increase in military members and their dependents it is now a next-day appointment. Its still not too bad though, right? But lets look at a couple of other places that I have been. Take for example Langley AFB in Virginia. There are a lot of retirees. On top of that, the base is the headquarters for fighters. So overall, you are now talking about a base hospital that has literally thousands of patients. A same-day appointment or even a next-week appointment is unheard of. Scheduling an appointment with a doctor can take an entire month or two. Now try going somewhere with even more retirees like Macdill AFB in Florida. Now you're talking about an area that has a large population of retirees. It also happens to be the headquarters for CENTCOM. So the base hospital is seeing a large population of retirees, military members and their dependents and even military members and their dependents from other nations. Needless to say the wait to schedule an appointment is incredibly long. In fact, Macdill's hospital is so full that as you enter the base a sign flashes saying they do not have any emergency medical services on base.

The point in all this is that military hospitals, with the exception of bases in more remote locations, are already overcrowded. Aside from privatizing the military healthcare (which I think is an unexplored option), there's not much that can be really done about it. Its bad enough that they prioritize who gets seen, with retirees getting the short end of the stick.

So can you imagine if this bill gets past saying that ALL veterans, whether they served 2 years or 20 years, will get free healthcare for the rest of their life be like?!? Doctors will be overworked, and less likely to care (trust me, I've seen it). It'll take months to see a doctor through an appointment. Sick call in the mornings will become an all-day event like an emergency room.

Lastly, for those of us who do get out, will we even be given a choice? As it stands now, all military members are enrolled in the government healthcare program called Tricare. Now, if my wife, who is a civilian, gets a job with health benefits, Tricare still has to be my primary provider. If I want or need something done, and the private provider my wife gets does a better job, too bad. If I go to them when Tricare could've done it, then I get in trouble with the military.

Is the same thing going to happen if this bill passes and I get out? Am I doomed with social medicare for the rest of my life? Common sense says of course not. But we all know that common sense seems to always elude our government, especially in the legislative halls. I haven't even discussed what this could cost the government, and of course, that means what it will cost the taxpayers.

This bill proposed by Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Peter King is nothing more than a political ploy. I'll even give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they might be trying to do what they think is best for veterans. But the fact of the matter is, is that the best help from government can sometimes be no help.