Sunday, February 7, 2016

Divided By a Common Language. . .

OK, this is a story which I tell with some frequency, on the general theme of the sometimes-humorous (or is it humourous?) things that happen when British English-speakers try to communicate with American English-speakers (and vice-versa). . .  (I could also refer you to my reply-comment to the Brighton Pensioner in the comment-space attached to this post). . .

-------------------------

A business-woman I know was travelling to London on business.  She was met at the airport by a gentleman who worked for the company on which she was to call the following day.  Said gentleman drove her from the airport to her hotel, and then, by way of making arrangements to pick her up in the morning and convey her to the office at which meetings were to take place, he asked her, "Shall I knock you up about eight, then?"

Absolutely true story. . .

Friday, January 22, 2016

It's Still Personal. . .

Today is the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision on Roe v. Wade, so I'm giving you, one more time, a (lightly edited) re-post of my 'Abortion' post.  It's one of my better items, if I may say so myself; perhaps even the best I've ever done. Whether or not it was my best, though (by whatever standard such a question might be decided), the topic resonates with me at a deeply personal level. . .

-------------------------

Sometime when I was in college, the realization dawned on me that, as an adoptee, I had been somebody’s ‘unwanted pregnancy’ once upon a time. And in the fullness of time, especially once Jenn and I married and began having children together, that became one of my strongest motivations to search for my birth-mother – I wanted to thank the woman who, though I had never met her, had carried me in her womb for nine months, and seen me through to the beginnings of my life in this world. (And just as an aside, for me as an adoptee, even such a basic concept as that I'd been carried in someone's womb once-upon-a-time could be disconcertingly abstract).

Along with that realization, I came to understand that, all things considered, I was probably fortunate to have been born before 1973 and Roe v. Wade. I had never particularly staked out a firmly-held position on abortion (My pre-voting-age self was probably mostly ‘pro-choice’, without having given it much thought), but once I understood that, had I been conceived in another time, I would have been a pretty likely candidate for abortion (white college women abort roughly 98% of their ‘unwanted pregnancies’), the question took on an entirely different, and personal, aspect.

-------------------------

I recall a conversation I had with my birth-mother some time after our reunion in 1989. She was talking about her life as a pregnant-and-unmarried woman in the 1950s, and how difficult it had been for her, and she said something like, “I just wish I’d had the choices that women have today.”

I nodded sympathetically. . . until the penny fell all the way to the bottom.  Ummmmm. . . you understand, right, that we're talking about ME here? I mean, we’ve had a really, REALLY happy reunion, and both of us are glad for the opportunity to know each other, and our respective families. If you had exercised the ‘choice’ you’re alluding to, none of that would be even a remote possibility. You might still wonder who I’d been, but without any possibility of ever knowing. . .

She understood. Not that she was wishing that she’d aborted me; only that she’d felt so trapped when she was pregnant, and wished that she’d had anything at all she could have done about that. Now, I could understand how trapped she felt. Frederica Mathewes-Green has written and spoken insightfully about women who “want an abortion the way an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg” (and I would highly recommend her book which is the source of that quote; it's an utterly unique book, just for her refusal to take part in the standard shouting matches.).

And I get that. I have the utmost compassion for women who are pregnant when it is nigh unto catastrophic for them to be so. All three of my daughters have been there, and not so very long ago. And my heart ached for each of them, wishing there was something, anything, that I could do to make it easier for them. . .

-------------------------

But, back in 1955-56, that was ME in my birth-mother’s belly. No mere clump of cells, or a faceless ‘fetus’ (honestly, as we sit here, you and I and every other human being are living, breathing clumps of cells; but of course, we're much more than that, and so we were in our mothers' wombs, as well) – it was me, with my own genetic code, distinct from my birth-mother's (or my birth-father's). And if my birth-mother had had an abortion, it was me who would’ve died.

And the ripples go out from there. My adoptive parents might’ve adopted someone else; who can say? But they wouldn’t have adopted me. My classmates and friends and Little-League teammates could scarcely be said to have missed me – how do you miss someone who, as far as you know, never even existed? – but something of the life we shared together would never have happened. Jenn would most likely have married someone else (I mean, she’s an amazing woman; she'd have had guys standing in line for her); but she wouldn’t have married me (and who can say how that might have gone for her?). And our children would never have come to be – her children, if she had any, would be someone else entirely (I've occasionally gotten a chuckle from the thought that I'm the personification of the 'population-control' movement's worst nightmare - an 'unwanted pregnancy' that turned into eight more mouths to feed). . .

And so it goes. In fact, those of you who were born after 1973, have you ever wondered how many children who might have been your friends or classmates or Little-League teammates, or heck, husbands or wives, were never allowed to be born? Cold statistics tell us that, in the US alone, the number would be on the order of 60 million or so by now (roughly the population of California and New York combined) - a fifth again of the population of our country (worldwide, the number would be many times that).  Do you ever wonder who those people might have been?

But just to cite a number misses the point. What music was never made, what literature was never written, what cures for which diseases never came about, for want of the men and women who might have done those things, but were never allowed to be born?

And even still - to talk in terms of 'who might have done what' misses the point, too. It's not so much that, eg, the late Steve Jobs (an adoptee like me) was so worthwhile for what he did, but that every human life is intrinsically valuable in-and-of-itself. And 'humanity-at-large' benefits from every one of its members, whether they 'accomplish anything' or not. Certainly, we've all benefitted from the fact that Steve Jobs, or Beethoven, or anyone else, were born and not aborted. But we'll never know, in terms other than bloodless, colorless statistics, what 'humanity-at-large' has lost for those tens of millions who were never born. . .

My point here is not to guilt-trip any woman who has ever had an abortion; my heart absolutely goes out to those women, for they, too, have had violence done to them; they've been sold a bill of goods, given a false promise. I only hope to put a more ‘human’ face on the question, and challenge anyone to think of ‘unwanted pregnancy’ not as a ‘problem’ with an easy technological solution, but as something real, and human, and flesh-and-blood. And life-and-death.

-------------------------

I don’t think my birth-mother is terrible for wishing she’d had more choices available to her.  Honestly, on one level, it’s easy for her to say; she’ll never bear the cost of having chosen otherwise (but, to be utterly clear - the very last thing I mean is to trivialize what it cost her for me to be here).

No, I actually think she’s pretty cool; as birth-mothers go, she’s definitely one of the best, and I am as happy as I can be that we’ve known each other for all these years. I understand how trapped she felt 60 years ago, and I absolutely appreciate, and am utterly grateful for, the sacrifice it was for her, for me to be here today. It’s personal for her in an entirely different, but analogous, way to how it’s personal for me. And I understand that.

Existence itself is a gratuitous gift, the only fitting response to which is gratitude.  I am as grateful as I can be for my life, my family, my wife and children, and all of my friends, including those of you who are reading this; for existence in this rich and fascinating Universe, and for the Hope of the World to Come.  And none of that could ever have come to pass for me, if I'd been snuffed out before I could be born.

So you see, it's personal - it involves persons, created in God's image and likeness, with inherent worth and dignity not conferred on them by any other human being. Mothers and fathers and children - persons, one-and-all. And my birth-mother is one of them. And so am I. . .

*************************

And here's a link to a 1974 short story by Philip K. Dick (whose stories inspired films like Blade Runner and Total Recall).  Probably not his best-known story, but eminently worth reading. . .

The Pre-Persons, by Philip K. Dick

I'd love to know what you think of it. . .


Friday, January 1, 2016

Ugh. . .

Well, football season is over for my Spartans, and it wasn't pretty.  Actually, it reminded me quite a bit of 7M's final game a few weeks ago, coincidentally enough, in the semi-finals, as well.  We came out and played quite competitively against what was probably a superior opponent to begin with, and just before halftime, we were looking OK.  Then, one catastrophic play just before halftime seemed to suck the air out of us, and after that, things got out of hand pretty quickly.

Hats off to the Crimson Tide, and especially to Jake Coker, their 'game manager' quarterback, who had the game of his life.  Every ball he threw was absolutely on a dime - I don't think he missed a single pass all night.  Even his five incompletions were on-target.  Our defensive front showed up to play, but our secondary, um, showed some deficiencies.  And our quarterback and offensive line, who were supposed to be our significant strengths. . . well, let's say they didn't have their best games (to be fair, the Alabama defense probably had a lot to do with that).

So football season is over.  I can't think we had anything less than a successful season - we were Big Ten champs for the third time in six years (and you have to go back almost 40 years to find three conference championships before that), beat both our major rivals, and earned a spot in one of the national semi-finals, even if we didn't acquit ourselves there quite as well as we'd have hoped.  Our program keeps taking positive steps, reaching incrementally higher year-upon-year.  So, in the spirit of the New Year, I'm hopeful for the future.

Anyway, it's basketball season now, and Coach Izzo's guys seem to have something good going on. . .

Happy New Year, everybody!


Monday, December 7, 2015

Drive Time

Wow. . .

My Spartans are Big Ten champions, and earned a place in the 4-team national championship playoff, with a grueling victory in the conference championship game against Iowa Saturday night (and into Sunday morning).  That was one of the best football games I've seen in quite some time - just two really good, really solid, really strong teams going toe-to-toe for the full 60 minutes.  Another of those games that it's a shame one team has to lose.  Iowa came into the game undefeated, and while some made light of their schedule, I am never one to take lightly any team that hasn't lost a game, nor am I inclined to glibly predict that our team will be someone else's first loss.  I expected a tough, close, hard-fought game that would have my stomach in knots as the final minutes wound down, and in that expectation, I was not disappointed.

The Spartans won the game with a 22-play drive covering 82 yards, converting six first downs and using up over 9 minutes of time on the game clock, even with Iowa using their three time-outs along the way.  I mean, seriously - I don't think I've ever heard of a 22-play drive before; you couldn't use very many more plays than that, and still keep the chains moving.  I haven't seen a complete play-by-play transcript of The Drive, but off the top of my head, I can't think of any set of downs that was converted before third down, and we converted at least one fourth down.  It seemed every time we made another first down, it was by inches, rather than yards.  I'm almost as exhausted just from watching it, as the players were who executed it (of course, they're in much better physical condition than I am).

The final few plays of the drive were a high drama of sheer will.  We converted a fourth down by the length of the football, on the 3-yard line (after getting absolutely stuffed on third down), and then it took us three plays to score the winning touchdown (our only touchdown of the game) starting from first-and-goal at the three-yard-line.  On the winning score, it looked for all the world like our runner was stopped inches short of the goal line, but by some superhuman second effort, the runner surged again, stuck his hand out with the ball in it, and scored with 27 seconds left on the clock.  Just incredible.

(And I should give a special mention to the runner, LJ Scott, who will certainly go down in Spartan lore; I don't think I've ever seen a runner get so many yards on second effort, after he'd been, to all appearances, stopped dead in his tracks.  I'm a little in awe that he's a true freshman; I shudder to think of him, a year ago, playing against high school guys like my son.)

I tip my hat to the Hawkeyes; that was a really, REALLY good team, there, and it's not hard to see how they came into the game undefeated.  Their defense gave us darn little, and even by the fourth quarter, when our offensive line started to get it rolling a bit, we were getting three yards and four, not eight or ten.  And I don't think I've ever seen a defensive backfield knock so many passes out of the hands of receivers at the last instant.  And my goodness, when did Kirk Ferentz (the Iowa coach) become such a wide-open, go-for-broke coach?  There was a stretch early in the fourth quarter, where they passed deep on three plays out of five, including a picture-perfect (if you're an Iowa fan) 85-yard touchdown that put us in the position of needing a long drive to the winning score in the first place.  So hats off to our more-than-worthy opponents.

So now, we go on to the 4-team National Championship playoff.  Our first opponent is Alabama, which ought to be interesting enough, even if their coach hadn't been our coach once upon a time, and won four national championships at two schools since he left us.  I think we've gotten past wishing he was still our coach; Mark D'Antonio has had more success at MSU than Nick Saban ever did.  So God bless you, coach; we're doing just fine, thanks.  We played the Tide in a Citrus Bowl back in 2010, and they fairly well handed us our asses.  But I'm pretty sure we're a better team now than we were then.  Besides, our friends from Ohio State beat them in last year's playoff, and we've won two of our last three against the Buckeyes.  Which is to say, I expect it to be a competitive game, and I'm not conceding anything to our Southeastern friends; win or lose, they will know they've been in a football game.

And besides all that, our basketball team is #1, and looking as good as any team we've ever had.  Good times to be a Spartan, let me tell you. . .


Monday, November 23, 2015

No Time

Well, my Spartans did it again, winning our game over the weekend against the (previously) undefeated defending national champions; in Columbus, no less.  The Las Vegas types had installed us as 14-point underdogs, which, considering that we were ranked in the Top Ten going into the game, was a pretty stunning spread.  Suffice it to say, we weren't widely expected to win.

But win we did.  The final score was 17-14 in our favor, and we didn't actually hold the lead until the field goal that won the game on the final play.  But honestly, we fairly dominated the game, pretty much from start to finish.  If we hadn't turned the ball over twice, they might not have scored at all.

[As an aside, I didn't get to actually watch much of the game; 7M's high school team was playing in the state semi-finals an hour's drive from OurTown (or, it would normally be an hour's drive; in five inches of snow, it became more like two, at least on the homeward leg), and Jenn and I went to watch that.  Alas, they lost; their game was closer and more competitive than the final score would indicate, but our kids just made too many mistakes against a really good team (memo to the opposing coach - when you're ahead by 22 with 3 minutes to play, and you run a trick play to score again, that's. . . how shall I say it? . . . a real no-class move; I'd like to use more, um, colorful language, but you know, just sayin').]

So we only got to see the 4th quarter of the Spartan game on TV.  And I was just stunned to see our offensive line getting a 2-yard push on virtually every snap.  You're not supposed to be able to do that to the mighty Buckeyes, but there it was.

Since Urban Meyer has been the Ohio State coach, his Buckeyes have lost exactly two conference games - two years ago in the league championship game, to my Spartans, and now this past weekend, their first regular-season loss in the Big Ten under coach Meyer (over nearly four full seasons!), again to my Spartans.  Memo to the other twelve teams in the Big Ten - come on, you guys, somebody besides us has to figure out how to beat these guys. . .

So now, possibilities open up for us, just a bit.  If we win our game next Saturday, we'll be Big Ten East Division champs, and then we'll play Iowa for the overall league championship.  If we win that, we stand a decent chance of getting an invite to the 4-team national championship playoff (and if we hadn't sleep-walked our way to a loss at Nebraska, it would be more than merely a 'decent' chance; *sigh*).  So, woo-hoo!, and all that. . .

And then there's this fascinating little tidbit from our two big rivalry-game wins this season - we beat both Michigan and Ohio State, and in those two games combined, the total amount of time that my Spartans were actually in the lead was - exactly zero.  We never led either game, until the winning points were scored on the final play of the game. . .

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Fun With Fractions

Bijoux will like this one. . .

Recently, I got a letter from one of the oil companies with whom I hold a credit card.  They were returning my check to me because their bank had returned it to them, saying that the amount of the check was not clear, and would I please send them a replacement check?  WTH??  They helpfully included the offensive check with their correspondence, so I could see for myself the nature of the confusion.  The amount I owed was $5.75 (we use pre-paid cards for 99% of our gas purchases; but every so often, we run out on the pre-paid card before we can reload it, so we end up putting small amounts on the credit card).  And, in the box on the check, I had duly entered '5.75'.  But - horror of horrors! - on the amount line, I had written 'Five and three-quarters', rather than the 'canonical' form of 'Five and 75/100'.  Because, you know, sometimes you just want to have a little fun (and honestly, as fun goes, this ain't so much as all that) and do things a little bit differently, 'cuz that's just how I roll, sometimes.  Anyhow, this was 'unclear' to the bank, so they returned my check to the oil company, and what was the oil company supposed to do?  They just want their $5.75, and I want to give it to them.  But the bankers were being obtuse morons (I'd like to say they were being anal-retentive obtuse morons, because of how it connotes infantile toilet-training issues, and it sounds like I'm indirectly calling them a**holes; but I won't. . .)

So I sent them their replacement check (with 'Five and seventy-five hundredths' on the amount line) (I know, I know. . .), along with a photocopy of their letter to me, on which I had copied a quarter (you know, a 25-cent coin), and circled the words 'quarter dollar' on the face of the coin.  In a hand-written note, I said that they should consider changing banks to one which wasn't so easily confused as to whether 'three-quarters' was the same thing as '.75' or not, and the nature of the currency in which they trade, since the bank's stupidity had cost both of us time and aggravation.  Over five bucks - and three quarters. . .

If I knew which bank it was, I'd happily tell the world, but I don't.

Morons. . .

-------------------------

Which reminds of a similar anecdote from several years ago.  I was at the post office.  I don't remember exactly what my business there was; probably I was mailing a package that needed to be weighed, or picking up a package with postage due, or somesuch.  Anyway, the amount I owed was X dollars and 60 cents.  So, in a similarly whimsical mood, I wrote a check for 'X and three-fifths' and handed it to the clerk, along with my ID.  The clerk stared at the check with a withering scowl.  "Three-fifths?" he asked, glaring back at me.  "Why did you write 'three-fifths'?"  Without waiting for my answer, he turned to a woman who I took to be his supervisor, and asked her, "Can he DO that?  Three-fifths?"  The supervisor looked at the check for several seconds, then at me, then back at the check, without saying a word.

At this point, the other folks in line are glaring at me, like, 'What kind of troublemaker are you?  We're all here, just trying to get our packages mailed, and you're causing trouble and holding up the line.  Jerk.'  And I'm wondering if I'm going to need to dive under the marble countertop, 'cuz, you know, here was a postal worker, and he was getting agitated.  I'm sure I was messing up his throughput metrics, and causing trouble for him with his boss.  And all because some flight of fancy had induced me to write 'three-fifths' on my check.

Finally, the boss sighed, gave me another sneering glance, and said, "I guess that 'three-fifths' is the same as 60 cents," and shot me a final 'it's-people-like-you-that-make-guys-like-him-start-shooting' glance.  And everyone else in line breathed easier, and I went on my way, duly chastened.  And I resolved that I wouldn't deal in fifths of dollars anymore (I won't even mention the twenty-cent piece that circulated in the four years 1875-78 - one of the design proposals actually said '1/5 of a dollar' on the back - 'cuz that would only confuse things).

But I will still occasionally, when the right sort of mercurial mischief (or maybe it's the wrong sort) overtakes me, write 'tenths' or 'quarters', or 'one-half' since, you know, those fractions correspond to actual values on the coinage of the realm. . .

(*sigh*)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Miracle in Ann Arbor

This morning, during the announcements before Mass, our priest, Father Steve, made the following announcement:

"In honor of yesterday's Miracle in Ann Arbor, all Catholic priests around the world will be wearing Green and White vestments today."

(It was a joke, right?  See, according to the Liturgical Calendar, this is 'Ordinary Time' - which covers something like 33 weeks of the year, and during Ordinary Time, vestments and altar coverings are green; I'm pretty sure it had nothing to do with yesterday's events in Ann Arbor, no matter how miraculous.) (Pretty sure. . .)

But. . . Hoe. . . Lee. . . Crapp. . . It WAS kinda miraculous.  At least, if you're a Spartan like me.  Folks from our Sister Institution down the road might see it in more nightmarish terms. . .

I won't spend much time rehashing the final play of the game; you can go here to see it.  Suffice it to say that we were 10 seconds away from losing to our hated rivals, but. . . a miracle happened, and we beat them for the 7th time in the last 8 times we've played.  As to the play itself, everything had to happen just as it did, or we don't win the game.  If any single thing went differently, we lose (as the final play was being lined up, The ESPN Win Probability Tracker had our odds of winning at 0.02% - 1 in 5000).  And this wasn't a last-second trick play, or anything that the Spartans planned or designed; it was a pure, gratuitous gift from (I'm tempted to say Heaven; I don't really like references to 'the football gods'). . . well, it was a gift.  

I feel for the Michigan punter, I really do.  He'll take way more crap than he deserves over it (in fact, the Facebook/Twitter trolls have already been pretty vicious toward the kid, which is reprehensible in the extreme).  The fact is, it was a classic game between two pretty darn good teams; a great game (say it with me) if you didn't care who won.  But I did care, and so did a whole lot of people in my state, which only added to the intensity.

I will take the win, and the year's worth of alumni/institutional bragging rights.  But I know (and I want you all to know that I know) that there is NO ultimate significance inhering to this football game.  Good and Evil aren't at stake (well, maybe just a little bit) (I'm kidding!!), and nobody (I hope) is going to Heaven or Hell over the outcome (there were reports of a fan being taken from the stadium after the game, having suffered an apparent heart attack; no reports on whether his soul was in a state of grace or not).

But yeah, I'll take it. . . Oh, yeah, I'll definitely take it. . .