Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Everyone has their Christmas traditions in terms of what films they watch, and mine is like half of America's: watching a Charlie Brown Christmas (with popcorn and hot chocolate). Given how popular it is, I'm always amused to read how the network executives were originally horrified by the show, with jazz score, lack of laugh tracks, and - oh, yes - Scripture reading. (Execs would still be horrified today by that last.) But of course, those are the very reasons it became so beloved. And the message against commercialism is only more relevant today.


Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Not as SAD

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving - I enjoyed the vacation days and had a very nice holiday eating good food (everything from turkey to ceviche) and watching football (the biggest reason I love fall). Aside from that, however, I have been more listless and down for several weeks, struggling, as I customarily do, to adjust to the time change. For some reason it's just difficult to adjust to it getting dark before five, and my situation at work, while pleasant enough in terms of the actual work I am doing, has been less than ideal lately in terms of interaction with other associates and team members (because, in short, there aren't any I work with here). So I have resolved, in the last few days since I realized what was going on (I never remember that I get affected by S.A.D. until a few weeks after I've gotten mildly depressed), to make a positive change to regain focus and energy - not sleeping in, exercising more, working harder, being more social with family and friends outside of work, and finally looking forward to the big change coming up in a few more weeks: we are moving to Texas in January! So, Irishlaw will be soon be a Domer in Dallas, not D.C. I'm excited about the professional opportunities this transfer will create for me at the firm - to work more directly with other practice group members - and I think for the long term, it should be a great place to settle down and start a family.

Still have posts to write on football as we move into bowl season (don't you love how all the media still manage to find ways to mention the Irish even when we're so far down the polls, we might qualify for a ranking in I-AA?) and December in the NFL. But first, have to keep my resolution to be more focused at work ... by heading there now. Ciao!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Random thoughts

1. When did Southwest Airlines stop being cheap?

2. My current daily read is the Housing Bubble Blog, which collects articles from various bubble areas around the country to marshal ever more evidence that the insanely easy access to credit and steep run-up in home prices over the last five years was simply unsustainable. When "starter homes" are $500,000, or one-bedroom condos are asking $350/sf, that's just crazy. This blog is also good for reminding you that homes should be looked at primarily as places to live, not ATMs or investments (unless you're good at timing and managing investments professionally) - since generally speaking, equity is illiquid and you can't count on appreciation like the last few years anyway. In any event, that's one of my favorite topics lately and I appreciate the blog.

3. Brent Musberger makes me want to tear my hair out. Or at least drink a lot (not usual for me). I can't even take two sentences in a row. I'll add "the gun" to the drinking game rules. Anytime Brent says the OSU or Michigan quarterback today is in "the gun," take a drink to shut out the folksy colloquialism. AAGH. You also feel bad for Kirk Herbstreit.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dinner gala

One of my favorite things about being in D.C. these last few years has been getting to go to the Federalist Society national convention dinner each fall, since my firm usually buys two tables. (As a member, I could register for the convention panels, and they always sound really interesting, but I can't usually make it off of work.) A few years ago, Karl Rove spoke (this after the Harriet Miers incident - there was an interesting but gracious and polite reception) and last year Justice Alito spoke and Justice Scalia stepped up also (a hugely enthusiastic reception for them, naturally :). For this year's dinner we were a bit oversubscribed on the number of people interested in coming from my firm, but happily I made it on to the confirmed list of attendees. They just announced a couple of days ago that this year's featured speaker will be President Bush. What can I say, despite several policy disappointments over the past few years, I still like W. So I'm excited to attend. Should be fun!

An epic battle

...of one-win teams approaches this Saturday. We'll be barbequeing with a friend of ours (a Duke alum) and hoping to see the Irish take advantage of our last best chance to win this season. At least we don't have a quarterback controversy anymore! I enjoyed watching Clausen for the most part last weekend (except when he got leveled by unblocked defenders and receivers dropped ten separate passes - not his fault) and think it's evident he just has more a leadership presence on the field. It appears time off for his arm did him some good as well - beautiful over-the-shoulder pass on the second touchdown to Grimes really epitomized that. And yet, and yet. End result was yet another loss. Weis sounded as frustrated as he has all year with the lack of progress all around and said he needs to retool his teaching strategy:

COACH WEIS: ...So what he [Belichick] always used to teach us is that you had to find whoever the lowest level of football intelligence was in a classroom and try to gear all your teaching to him because if he could get it, then usually everyone else would be able to get it, too. So obviously part of the breakdown, to go back to answer the main part of your question, is the fact that we have to start gearing to make sure that everyone from the bottom up, whoever might end up playing in the game, is getting it, because if they're not, whether it's an experienced player or inexperienced player, then that's just not good enough.

Q. I guess the problem here at this point in the season is teaching that -- in the short amount of time left is a pretty big challenge?

COACH WEIS: Well, one of the problems is some of those breakdowns mentally were not from the younger players. You know, they were from experienced players. So it would be one thing if you had that cop out, well, it was just a freshman making a mistake. But when it's an older kid and making a mistakes or more experienced guy making a mistake, that goes back to the message that I was taught that, you know, you've got to find a way to get that done on a week to week basis. You've got to find a way to get that done so you're not dealing with the same issue next Sunday when we get together.

I do think we'll win Saturday. Same formula needed as always - cut down on mistakes, execute the plays called, improve third down conversion rates, etc. We haven't really been able to do that all at once this year. Hopefully the team will get it down this week.

ETA: If you can stand to read through the catalogue of mistakes that ND put together last weekend, BGS has the full recap. It is a pretty painful read. Of course, it was pretty painful to watch as well, since given the defense's play in the first half and the Irish opportunities, this really could have been winnable. We're just . . . not good. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Anchors aweigh

We all knew the season was a wash, and most of us were just looking for signs of improvement anymore. Nevertheless, the frustrating thing about Saturday's loss to Navy was that the Irish appeared quite capable of winning - i.e., the production from our running backs was strong enough to have produced a win - but didn't show enough improvement where it would have counted to actually win. I think it came down to three things, two of which I already had zeroed in on during the game itself:

- Evan Sharpley isn't really a good quarterback. If he had the skills to be the clear-cut starter, he would have built on his experience as a backup to Quinn and seized the opportunity last spring to beat out the competition - or seized the opportunity against USC, or seized it Saturday. But he doesn't, and he didn't. The positives were that he completed a few clutch passes, and some of the misses weren't his fault (receiver drops). But the negatives, which far outweighed these in my mind, were the mistakes. Sacks that did NOT need to be taken, general lack of mobility (the few scrambles were all right, but more like Drew Bledsoe than Steve Young), poor ball protection when it counted (the fumble was absolutely the gamebreaker - see #3 below), and passes that seemed to float a bit. I would rate Sharpley "competent" even for all that, since he was good enough at handing off the ball and he did make some plays happen, but overall I was so frustrated by his lack of vision (and did I mention the killer sacks?) that I wanted to yank him after the first half, much less after the fumble. At this point, I will be extremely disappointed if he is the starter this week, even though Weis has said several times about Clausen and Sharpley that "they're both in the running." Still, he does realize at this point that you have to start looking ahead:

I think the number one thing is who is going to play the best versus -- who's going to play the best for you down the stretch. I don't think what you want to be doing here is each week say, well, who's going to play the best for us against Air Force, who's going to play the best for us against Duke, who's going to play the best for us against Stanford.

I'm at the point right now where I want to win this game, and simultaneously, I want to start -- I want to start building some upward momentum. So they go together.

So the decision isn't as simple as, okay, over the last half dozen weeks who's done what better. It's who gives you the best chance to win this week and the next two weeks and moving forward.

- Back to Navy, the second critical thing was the playcalling that really just seemed indefensible on several plays, particularly given that Weis told everyone ahead of time what he was going to have to do to win this game: essentially, score on every drive because it will be so hard to get Navy's offense off the field. We scored on three of four first half drives, but the key miss was calling for a fake field goal on fourth-and-fifteen. More comprehensively, the play sequence was, after three successful runs following a critical turnover by Navy, a pass for a loss, then two incompletions, and THEN a fake field goal on fourth-and-fifteen at the twenty. Weis said after the game, in a way that made it all sound reasonable, that Navy had given a certain look on such field goals eight times previously so the play should have worked - but they gave a different look this time and were able to stop the fake. It still seemed wrong not to take advantage of a gift scoring opportunity first by going away from what was working (steady running plays), then losing yards, and then not trying for at least a field goal. Because if possessions were going to come few and far between, surely turnovers even fewer? I acknowledge the Irish also had a missed field goal later in the game, so maybe that's why Weis didn't want to try it at 37 yards early on and at the end of the game - but it seems that you want to give the kicker an attempt, especially where every point is going to matter. So: calling no attempts on field goals at the times Weis did, and calling passes at inopportune times, made for a frustrating game to watch.

- Leading back to the third point, turnovers. We didn't capitalize on their turnover, and they did capitalize on ours - 0 and 7, and setting aside everything else, you could mark that alone as the difference in the game in regulation. And ARRRGGGGHHHH, but that turnover was a killer. Absolutely inexcusable for Sharpley not only to have so little presence facing the rush but also not to protect the ball if he was going to take a sack. The one thing he just couldn't do in Irish territory is give up a fumble for a touchdown, especially when all he had to do was wrap up, but he did. It obviously didn't lose the game all by itself, but that play was about as critical as they come. Making fewer mistakes than the other guy, in a game as close as this, is going to be the edge needed to win. (Note that it's good to be in a position where the game is close enough that turnovers matter, as opposed to games that are so unbalanced that turnovers barely seem a factor. But still.) ND isn't good enough to win without playing error-free. We came closer this week and by all rights could have scraped out a win anyway, but we didn't, and we lost the game and the streak.

So now it's time for Air Force. I was pretty pleased with the running game last week, all things considered (although that was more a testament to the backs than to the line, which still doesn't get much of a push), so hopefully they'll do well again this week. The good news is the players are focused and determined to keep improving. I'll still be with them watching. Go Irish.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

$@#$&^!

Win or lose this game in overtime (I don't expect a win), there will be a lot to say. But I'll start with a few here:

Sharpley is not good.

Playcalling is indefensible (see, e.g., fake field goal, second drive; no field goal attempt, second-to-last drive).

Go Gameday

Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso just picked the Irish in today's game, as we try to make it 44 in a row against Navy. They even predicted we'd score a lot of points! Well, that would be fantastic, but we'll have to see whether the bye week helped this team out and whether they actually are able to turn this last part of the season into something to build on for next year.

Charlie is appropriately concerned with impressing on the team that three-and-outs won't do the job this week:

Like I said to the team yesterday, you're going to get fewer possessions. You're going to have to make the most of them. For example, last year we scored 38, and usually most games this year, 30s or 40s are regularity with them. And because the most touchdowns we've scored in a game offensively, let's be bottom line, we've only scored three touchdowns in a game offensively. This is a team that's scoring five, six touchdowns a game; it's definitely a concern about the production per possession because you're going to have fewer of them in the game.

Some good news comes with Aldridge: "He's back and ready to go." Also, I was wrong that Sharpley wouldn't necessarily keep the starting job, as he has been named the starter for this week - although Clausen is apparently still recovering some from being banged up the last several months. Hopefully the receivers will make the plays this week to help the team overall build confidence with Sharpley. Could this be the week we break out and score over 30? We can hope. Go Irish!

On a different note, yesterday many team members traveled to Chicago to attend the funeral of Robert Hughes's older brother, who was murdered earlier this week. It is good to see how much support everyone, including Weis, personally has given to their teammate at such a difficult time, though knowing how the Notre Dame family comes together at tough times, I wouldn't expect anything less. Prayers for the Hughes family.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A nicer weekend

At least we didn't lose to BYE, like some pundits predicted. Heh.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

At least there's a bye

Ouch. I haven't reached this level of disgust with the Irish offense since 2004, but Saturday was so unpleasant I also did something I haven't done since 2004 - "turned off" the game in the fourth quarter by leaving early. Beforehand, I had joked that I would be there until the end if the score was anything better than 38-0. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut.

So what to say? I was extremely encouraged by the play of the defense, particularly in the first half, as they surrendered only 10 points on long drives (7 came on the 10-yard field) and forced six punts. On the game, USC was held to 5-14 on third downs, with even a fourth-and-short hold in the third. I didn't see too many people out of place -- Darrin Walls made some nice tackles, Laws and Kuntz were making their presence felt on the line, and the whole stadium loved that apparently our defensive looks were good enough on SC's first drive to cause them to take two timeouts (before failing to convert). Thus, for those looking for ongoing signs of improvement on the defense, I believe they were there to see.

The offense was an entirely different story. What a disaster - and how demoralizing must it have been for the defense, which were playing their hearts out, to repeatedly trot back on the field three plays after a fantastic stop? I had a few thoughts, some of which I admit were more frustrated than considered: One, do all the plays the team runs in practice end up in three-and-outs? Because to have under 25% third-down conversion rates, you pretty much have to be trying and well-practiced at it. Two, at least we don't have a quarterback controversy. Anyone thinking Sharpley would seize his chance to be permanent starter by beating the most beatable SC team in recent memory, was quickly disabused of the notion. If Clausen is healthy, he might as well start from here on out, since he is younger and provides at least as good, if not better, chance to move the ball. Three, when did Thomas and Schwapp earn starting RB/FB positions? When we have Allen and Hughes available? Really? As much as I may like Thomas personally, he just hasn't done much to show he should be a starting back, especially when Allen is putting up the averages he is and is running the way he is. It was a bit demoralizing from the beginning for fans not to see our more promising young backs starting. And finally, four: has there ever been better proof of the fact that everything offensive begins with the line? If you have zero push off the line, you won't establish a running game, you won't be able to set up the passing game, and so you'll pretty much go nowhere. There were no penalties on the line except one false start in the fourth, and the protection has improved slightly since Georgia Tech, but their lack of production has been the key to pretty much all of the offensive struggles this year. That's not to say inexperienced receivers, off-target QBs, etc. haven't caused their share of problems, but so much goes back to the line. I really hope that time and experience cause this group to improve. Maybe in time for us to beat Navy ... ?

The very good news is that Saturday's drubbing didn't deter two great new recruits from signing on to next year's class: RB Jonas Gray, a four-star player from Detroit, and WR Michael Floyd from Minnesota, one of the top-ranked players at his position in the country. Said Floyd: "I'm going to help them bring this back and I'm going to get a great degree." Now that's nice to hear! With a class currently ranked #1 for next fall, this Irish fan (along with everyone else!) can continue her ever-stubborn optimism looking forward.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Could this be the day?

Well, maybe not, but I hope the Irish give SC a heck of a run. And who knows? The opportunities are there if we want to take advantage of them. I'm not really sure how much of a jump start Sharpley will give the offense - as Weis accurately noted earlier this week, he really can be hot and cold, and only a few lucky breaks kept his INT total from looking like Clausen's last week. But he's not bad, and if he makes some good decisions and maybe a few inspired plays like the late pass to Carlson last week, you never know. In any event, after making it through an extremely hectic week, I am excited to get to go to my first home game in about three years. Should be on the road to South Bend shortly this morning . . . Go Irish!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

When you're blaming the refs

... it means you didn't play well enough to win. Which is undeniably true tonight. And yet, it really sucks when the refs kill your comeback attempt by first taking away a first down, then taking away a touchdown on the fourth down. Thanks so much for that. Ugh.

Memos to Pat Haden

None of your viewing audience OF NOTRE DAME FANS thinks the "Push by Bush" was particularly cute, as you seem to think.

Additionally, since you are supposed to be calling NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL, the constant favoritism for our opponents gets old.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Middle of the field

Charlie's press conference transcript is up from yesterday here (I don't think there was a transcript of the post-game presser, though, and I haven't been able to watch that one yet). With regard to my earlier question of "where did the slants go?" it appears that it was a deliberate call:

Q. Can you be aggressive and not risky, or is it just inherently both?

COACH WEIS: Yeah, you just don't try to throw the ball -- last week we were either dinking and dunking or taking play action shots. Really there wasn't a prescribed intermediate passing game last week because it was kind of an all or nothing approach, which goes with a conservative nature approach that we were playing last week. When you're playing against a team like Boston College that is so good against the run, they might give up some extra yardage in the passing game because they're going to play a bend but don't break game. In that way they are very similar in mentality, not scheme wise, but mentality to Penn State. When Penn State plays, they just count on you not to have the patience and you mess it up.

I think that we're going to have to do a very good job and be consistent to put some drives together because if not all of a sudden it's 1st and 10, 2nd and 7, then it's 3rd and 7, and you're off the field and you're punting again.

I guess I'm not a huge fan of the conservative approach taken last week with this team, because it certainly seemed as though it resulted in a lot of short drives by not stretching the field at all. The Cowboys got a lot of mileage out of their underneath routes on Monday against the Bills, but then their "dink and dunk" passes also resulted in sustained drives because you can do more with 8-yard passes than 3- or 4-yard passes. Also, Charlie seemed well aware that being up 13-6 in the third wasn't a guarantee of victory, so to go conservative at that time was a gamble in itself, even though UCLA was turning the ball over every other play. Well, it worked on Saturday, and I'm not a coach -- I guess it's just interesting how willing Weis is to go with completely different offensive schemes in different games (while the fans are perplexed). Conservative can be risky, too. A few other comments from the press conference:

On why Robert Hughes, who was fantastic a few weeks ago, didn't play against UCLA: "No, we didn't have a string of longer drives. It wasn't like we had a bunch of 13 play drives in there. He was listed right behind James (Aldridge) in all the pounding packages, we just weren't on the field that many consecutive plays to warrant James being that tired to have to go out. Robert is very much in the mix. I really think that the sky is the limit for Robert."

And then the laugh line: "Q. Can you talk also about the football aspect of it [the BC rivalry]? It seems like there's a history of one team ruining another season.

COACH WEIS: Well, they're not going to ruin our season. (laughter)"

But with more seriousness: "We'd love very much to put a damper on their season. But I think that we understand that they're playing very, very good football and they deserve a high ranking based off of their production. We're going to have to play a very good game to be able to win."

Here's hoping!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Well, that's a relief

The Irish finally put one in the win column at the Rose Bowl last night, and that felt pretty good. It was fairly ugly on offense, but a win's a win. Go Irish! A few thoughts:

- What a fantastic night for the defense. They gave up 282 yards, but forced seven turnovers and played smart and aggressive all night. Crum's stat summary (two INTs, two fumbles forced and fumbles recovered, one sack, seven tackles and two pass break-ups) was incredible, and won him a defensive player of the week award. Trevor Laws was in the backfield quite a bit and continued to play tough. Kerry Neal had a role in breaking up several passes. Generally, the defense seemed to be in good positions. There were still a few examples of poor tackling technique but overall the effort was strong. This should be a great confidence-builder for the next few weeks, which are going to present much tougher challenges.

- My impression has been that we had a power running game two weeks ago, an effective passing game against Purdue, and now a very strong defensive night. Against BC, can we put it all together? That would be great.

- What happened to the slant? Clausen played a conservative, generally mistake-free game (17-27, no TDs, no INTs), and it was nice to see the return of the QB sneak. But total passing yards were only 84. That helps explain the low total of 12 first downs in the game, and continued horrendous third down conversion rate (3/17). Last week against Purdue, Clausen and then Sharpley were able to stretch the field a bit and engineer longer drives by making better use of mid-range passing patterns. Maybe UCLA took away the slant options yesterday, but did they take away all mid-range pass options, or were these just not called? Or is it just that the slightly improved pass protection for Clausen in the first place is happening only because receivers are being held in the backfield for blocking purposes, and not running routes. I'll be interested to see if Charlie discusses this at all in his press conference tomorrow.

- Some have commented that this game felt a bit like 2002 victories, where the team scraped by largely on defensive opportunism that masked poor play-calling and inept offensive play. I think the situation is somewhat different given the players we have now, and also again the evidence of the past few weeks, with at least a couple of legitimately good offensive drives in each game.

- Penalties are still hurting the team: eight for 61 yards, leading to three first downs for UCLA and stalling or hurting at least a few ND drives (the penalties on punt returns are still killers with regard to field position). A couple of the penalties were questionable calls, and ultimately they evened out since ND also made three first downs off UCLA penalties, but there is still room for improved discipline here.

- This may have been the first time in years I was more critical of the team than the network announcers, who struck me as both fair and unobtrusive in calling the game (as opposed to normally, when they seem usually to be rooting for the opposing team). In talking this over today, the thought was that maybe the B-team announcers can actually be better in some respects because they aren't as tied to the storylines the network is pushing for the main games. We were an 0-5 team, 21-point underdogs, lots of young players, in a game showing in only 17% of the country. Might as well just call the game straight, minus any hype - this was refreshing. But as I said, the announcers were actually even more sympathetic to the Irish than I was at times - they kept saying how well Clausen was managing the offense, when I thought it seemed much less effective than last week. Not complaining, though!

While I'm still happy about the Irish this weekend, I have to add a few thoughts on the NFL. First: Trent Dilfer?! The Niners may be doomed for the season (or at least the next month, until the younger players who had been starting to show more promise return from injuries). Watching today's 9-7 loss to the Ravens would have been a better experience if the impressive defensive effort hadn't been spoiled by utter offensive ineptitude and failure to score more than once. Ouch. Second: Could the networks get over their worshipfulness of Brett Favre already? You'd think they would feel embarrassed after awhile to keep fawning over him every time he steps on the field (or stands on the sidelines, or isn't even on camera) - but the swooning for St. Brett only continues. Good grief. I hope the Bears pull this one out. [pause] 2:05, Bears have the go ahead TD. Cameraman dutifully cuts to Favre for reaction shots. What's that - he's grim? Oh, so sad. NBC is sad, too. Al Michaels actually just said, "A night that started out so beautifully and brilliantly has ended up with the Bears winning." (!?!) Well, that was funny. Good riddance.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Signs of progress

There was some actual excitement at McFadden's on Saturday afternoon for about 20 minutes. We had a drive? We had three drives? Excelente. I'll write more later - just wanted to say that for those who are taking a "football vacation" by watching not so much for wins, but just for marked signs of progress on a young squad, this was a pretty good day.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tories and Trek

After holding out for more than a year, Kathryn Lopez finally delivered: Star Trek Weekend on NRO. Now, as John Podhoretz concedes, TNG was basically "a conservative's nightmare." But I wasn't so politically attuned in my formative years, and even if I had been, I clearly wouldn't have been alone in still liking Trek. It's just that now, I agree with my dad that Kirk was the better man, even if Stewart was inarguably the better actor - and to a degree I even agree with Jonah Goldberg that TNG has not aged well. Still, as it is, I can still tell you within 2 minutes of watching the title of any given Next Generation episode. This is a cool trick only among a certain small population of guys, a fact of which I was only too well aware in high school (why yes, I was writing fanfic when it was in its BBS/Usenet days, and I did save up baby-sitting money to go to a convention once). Heh. It all worked out when I met my husband because of Star Wars (and Notre Dame football, I always hasten to add), leading to an appearance by Darth Vader at our rehearsal dinner and a reception toast from my father to "live long and prosper."

Anyway, some amusing articles are up at National Review this weekend. Celebrate the dorkiness.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Beat Sparty

Vannie's MSU preview is predicting another loss. Ay. Regardless, I'll be down at McFadden's with the ND Club today and hopefully finding some things to cheer about. Go Irish!

Halftime update (stayed home instead of heading downtown): See, now that's improvement. We're uneven so far, but "uneven" is better than "hopeless" and we are seeing some great play from the freshmen. With two offensive TDs, plus on turnovers, a few actual drives, and fewer penalties (overall) and sacks than the last few weeks, we're on pace to stay in this game and maybe even pull out a win. Woohoo! I hate Michigan State.

Fourth quarter update: Or not. Still hate MSU, but unhappy with the second half regression.

Appropriate judgment

On Tuesday, the Maryland Court of Appeals turned down a challenge to the state's Defense of Marriage Act, declining to invent a state constitutional right to same-sex marriage. I was surprised but pleased by the opinion, as the Court applied an appropriate standard of review (rational basis) for the existing DOMA, and concluded that the statute did withstand rational basis scrutiny. Moreover, the Court noted that it was following the majority of state courts that have taken up the issue since 2003's Goodridge in Massachusetts. As this was one of the likeliest states to have followed the Massachusetts court (which the plaintiffs certainly believed, having chosen to bring the challenge here and won in the lower courts), it is somewhat of a relief to see the Court, albeit by only a 4-1-2 vote, effectively ruled that the issue was the province of the legislature. Thus, SSM advocates vowed to take the matter to the legislative.

I'm glad they want to go to the legislature now rather than attempting to circumvent the legislative process, but I hope they intend to have a fair debate. Eighteen months ago, Maryland delegates killed by procedural maneuvering an attempt to place a marriage amendment on the 2006 ballot, so that Marylanders could decide the issue for themselves. The delegates at first seemed not to want to place themselves on the record - which I called a cowardly act, since if they were so much in favor of SSM, they ought to have openly supported it instead of hiding their stance from the voters and denying those same voters the chance to decide for themselves. A few days later, the entire House did vote on whether to consider the amendment, and while many Democrats joined Republicans in voting for a full legislative vote, 78 delegates showed by their vote they were not even going to consider allowing Marylanders to decide for themselves on the marriage amendment. I thought the issue might have been more salient in the 2006 elections, though it turned out not to be. Still, with a renewed focus on the issue in light of the Court of Appeals' ruling this week, I am glad to see the Republicans (again, few though they are) intend to try re-introducing an amendment to the legislature (amendments cannot appear on the ballot via popular initiative in Maryland, but must first be approved by the legislature).

"I assure you the constitutional marriage amendment will be reintroduced this session," said Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel County Republican and leading same-sex marriage opponent in the House. "Without it, there's nothing to preclude a future legal challenge made on a different argument or a different basis. The legislature ought to have the courage and the desire to publicly vote on the issue of marriage."

Now that we know the Court has made the judicially prudent ruling not to strike down Maryland's DOMA, I welcome a debate in the legislature - as long as delegates also act prudently, not patronizingly, by allowing open votes in the House itself and/or giving the state's voters a chance to decide the issue themselves.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Dazed and confused

Well, things didn't improve at all on Saturday after the first quarter, including in the measures (penalties and errors) I forgot to mention at the time. They all got worse, except for the fact that we finally went into positive yardage on offense - but not rushing, because the numerous sacks are still negating every hard-fought gain in this regard. Does anyone out there know how to play offensive line? RW at Rakes of Mallow has a job posting for you!

Strangely, I'm not nearly as despondent or fatalistic as might have been expected after a drubbing identical in outcome to four years ago (although it did kill my mood on Saturday night). I think this is for several reasons. First, this is not our program's lowest moment. (I know that's hardly an endorsement. Bear with me.) I've been reading comments about how this was the worst game Irish fans can remember seeing for 50 years, and all I can say is -- where were you during Davieham? This is nowhere near as bad, and that has to be because of the long-term situation. Yes, this team is stinking badly in ways that we didn't expect at the beginning of the year. But it's traceable to two things primarily that we did know to expect, at least somewhat: an offensive line that is truly, horrendously offensive, and a lack of experience across the board. We knew to expect that our line would probably not be as good this year and our team was going to be younger than average because we're playing under NCAA sanction-like conditions, missing a full 15 scholarship players at the junior-senior level, thanks to the prior coach's recruiting "efforts." But these things are going to improve in the next few years, as Weis's strong recruiting classes gain experience and maturity. If we can keep the recruits we already have lined up for next year (class is currently ranked #1) the situation will improve. Thus, I just don't have the same sinking feeling as a few years ago, when it wasn't clear that many good new players were coming up. It's still embarrassing because the players should still be playing better than they are, but that explains some of the difference.

In addition, the team is making so many correctable errors that things will look magically improved as soon as they fix the errors. I'm sure that sounds simplistic, but cut out the false starts, snap the ball to the actual quarterback, don't freaking clip on special teams coverage (those last two apply to you, fifth-year seniors), and turn your head around when it appears the receiver you're covering is looking for the ball, and suddenly the team overall looks better - at the very least stops killing field position and drives for no reason. I understand the buck stops with the coach on all of these errors, and Weis has rightly accepted responsibility, but then again, I'm sure he's not telling John Sullivan to snap balls way over the quarterback's head or telling Travis Thomas to punch people. If the players themselves just played smarter, the team as a whole will have a much better chance to implement the offense.

That still leaves the offensive line, which I will agree is the worst I've seen. They need to figure out how to block better than 1-AA lines (or heck, the Oaks Christian HS line). I don't know what Weis needs to do to fix this - some have suggested he needs to run more physical practices, others have just said the players need to just wake up and decide to play. We'll see what happens with this over the next week.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

All signs point to negative

After one quarter, I see: another 2 sacks; another 3 fumbles; more total negative yardage; and another scoreboard blanking.

Here's hoping we improve in the next quarter.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Not-so-happy Valley

We ending up "watching" last week's game by hitting "refresh" at several intervals during the reception on the boxscore on my Blackberry. Accordingly, my impressions were mostly just of the statistics. Ones I liked: We scored a few more points this week (albeit 7 on defense). Clausen started off 12-16, so he must have been throwing fairly well. The defense looked promising, especially holding down the PSU rush yards in the first three quarters. Stats that stunk: Six sacks. Relatedly, another game with zero rushing yards. Ouch. 1 for 10 on third downs. 14 penalties for almost 100 yards. And, of course, the final score.

I can't offer much analysis of the above, not having seen it all, but the stats do speak for themselves, and the main thing they scream is: The offensive line is royally bad, and the mental mistakes and playcalling aren't helping much. I'll point y'all to Rob's recap at Rakes of Mallow and Mike's thoughts on recruiting and playcalling at BGS. Then, as we look toward Michigan week (how ugly could this one get?), here is JVan's preview at NDN. Even with UM reeling, he calls a (closer) loss for us. I hope he's wrong. . .

Thursday, September 06, 2007

First law of weddings and football

That is, as has been noted before, don't schedule weddings on football Saturdays! There's another 40 weekends you could use over the rest of the year, so this ought to be an easy law to adhere to. For my own wedding, we not only avoided any ND weekends, we even managed to schedule it for the bye weekend between the conference championships and the Super Bowl in January (although, given the outcome of the Super Bowl this year, my Chicago-native spouse maybe would rather not have had that next weekend free to watch the game). For my best friend (a Domer, like me), a June wedding this year nicely avoided having any guests (not to mention the bride herself) have to sneak away during the reception to catch snippets from a game. Nonetheless, my other closest friend (this one from law school, not college, and so not necessarily attuned to the fixed appointments that are Saturday gametimes) has scheduled her wedding for this weekend. While I'm thrilled for her and am looking forward to a fun and full weekend, I'm aggrieved at this blatant disregard for the football fans in the congregation. Who's this day all about, anyway?? :)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

In the lions' den

It's time to look forward to Saturday's game at Penn State, but first Charlie Weis freely admitted that his reaction to the Georgia Tech outing was the same as a lot of fans: "I wanted to vomit." A few other tidbits to take from last week:

- In answer to everyone's question of whether he didn't expect that Georgia Tech would bring blitzes throughout the game, this unsettling response: "But all of the blitz zones and the Michaels and the Sam Mikes, they were, unfortunately, they were what we practiced every day unfortunately. And the reason why I say unfortunately is because when you know what they are doing and you don't handle it, that's even a bigger problem than when you don't know what they were doing, because at least you can say, hey, we weren't expecting that. That's where I feel we had our biggest failure. So rather than sit there and blame the players for not getting it done, I blame me for not practicing enough to get it done."

- On whether there were any positives to take from the game on defense: "[Y]ou lose 33-3, there's no good stat. But that would be the one stat looking back and reviewing, you know, you would say, hey, like in the first half, they had shut them down on third down. He's 0 for 6 on third down and you look at that and you look at the red zone stops, and you're encouraged in certain aspects by what we did on defense."

Jimmy Clausen is going to start on Saturday. Looking back at his plays from last week, he seemed by far to be the most in command, moving out of the pocket when needed, with a quick release and accurate throws. He's still a true freshman playing behind an offensive line that apparently has trouble with blitz defense even when they're expecting blitzes, so I don't expect Clausen to necessarily be a superstar right away, but I'd be surprised if he can't move the offense a lot better this weekend than last. Given BGS's latest post on how even our spread offense last week wasn't as bad as it looked at first, my optimism is definitely up again. (Only to be crushed again?) No, I really do expect to see a lot of progress and a competitive game this weekend, maybe even a surprising win. Go Irish.

Return of the BSOD

I just got a new computer this weekend after five years with my last laptop (which still works really well - I was just persuaded it was finally time for an upgrade), and switched to Dell after nine years total with Toshiba. I like the current 1420 model's specs and aesthetics, and so far everything's been pretty good. Nope, the only adjustment is coming with (and I feel like there should be an ominous chord here) Microsoft Vista. I went five years on XP without seeing a single blue screen of death, but now it's happened five times in the last two days. I've been able to solve most of the compatibility issues by Googling and patching, but it looks like I'll have to do without Paint Shop Pro XI, since patches only work once a program's installed but the computer crashes every time I insert the disk. Otherwise, things seem to be fine, but I'm just waiting for "Windows Genuine Advantage" (which I avoided installing on XP) to tell me my pre-installed copy isn't valid and shut down the whole system. A ver.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

An inauspicious start

That's being polite. I'm trying to find positives in today's 33-3 loss to Georgia Tech, but they're hard to come by. (At least Charlie's great fourth down percentage continues...) So, just some thoughts.

- It was surprising how flat the offense started out. I was expecting to see a focus on the run, given our depth here, but none of the running backs really broke out and it wasn't immediately clear to me whether that was a failure of the offensive line to get any push or open any holes, or whether it was a failure of playcalling. At one point I think the run-pass ratio from the beginning of the game was 20-1, and the one (incomplete) throw was made on a rollout under tremendous pressure. No slants, no out routes, no quickness to beat the blitzes. And two turnovers in the first half. Give credit to Georgia Tech - the blitzes were creative, the defense was aggressive and their push off the defensive line was strong all game.

- I liked our defense in the first half in particular, especially given that GT had such good starting field position. I thought they only started to really tire/unravel after the idiotic Justin Brown foul got him ejected and negated what had been another in a great series of third-down stops. Holding GT to a few field goals kept us in the game throughout the first half, and Laws got some terrific height on his blocked field goal. The overall GT third down percentage was under 30%. It didn't seem people were out of place on too many plays, except on occasion to the outside.

- Nine sacks is absolutely horrendous. Brady, where art thou (and thy great ability to evade sacks)? If we're going to have a porous offensive line all year before the great new recruits start arriving and maturing, we're going to have to select a quarterback who has more mobility - so in spite of the fact that he did get benched for his two fumbles (which were also good strips by GT) and a need to shake up the game, I would probably still rank Jones ahead of Sharpley. But based on the last eight minutes or so, I think Clausen might have earned the nod - he showed a bit of mobility and some great zing to his passes. Of course, if we'd called any slants in the first two quarters, maybe Jones would have demonstrated he could complete those as well. But even if Clausen takes his lumps like everyone else, he looked the best out of the three.

- Charlie said to strike him dead if he ever used the word "rebuilding" to describe this year - so I won't use it, but I will note that apparently we have only 20 scholarship players in the junior and senior classes total instead of 20 in each class, which is Ty's legacy of NCAA-penalty-level recruiting. Where we should have great depth on the offensive line at this point, we just don't and that's been a problem for the last two years as well. Take the last series of the third quarter for one example - on the first play, Sharpley was sacked on first down to inside the Irish ten, and two or three offensive linemen were on the ground. Next play, Sharpley completed a nine-yard pass to West under some pressure. Third down, Turkovich just checked off his defender, who ended up in the Irish backfield again and helped pressure Sharpley into an incompletion. At least Price had a nice punt on this drive - but otherwise it was just emblematic of the way most of the game went. This team needs to gain some experience and momentum. We'll just have to watch closely for the adjustments next week.

- But here's some consolation in the meantime: Hey, Michigan lost.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ready for some football

I feel like I'm only just now emerging from some dark bunker of lease and REA reviews on tight deadlines, all-night deal closing sessions, out of office assignments, lease negotiations and drafting (also on tight deadlines), and a few family events in quick succession (one fun, one sad and unexpected). Now, stepping out into the daylight, it turns out football season starts this weekend, and I'm getting excited and ready to enjoy the fall. Unfortunately, I'm also woefully underprepared to discuss this Irish squad because I've had no time to read up over the last few months - so it's time a few quick homework assignments, and then we'll be set. On the syllabus:

First: Blue-Gray Sky on the Irish run game and offensive personnel groupings.

Next: Charlie Weis's latest press conference from Tuesday.

Next: ND Nation's Georgia Tech preview.

And: The Rock Report on optimism and chocolate.

That should be a good primer. And my other last minute assignment is to remember to sign up for my friend's College Football Pick'em group. I hope it's not too late!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

It's storming outside

Which means there is less cause to regret that I have to be inside all day working instead of outside by the pool. I still feel somewhat grumpy!

This morning we went to the early Mass, instead of the summer late-morning Mass, so my husband could go back into work and I could get started earlier also (this, after 12-hour days yesterday - we are not an exciting couple this weekend!) Unfortunately, however, the early morning Mass is Monsignor's concession to the parishioners who prefer the 1970s Marty Haugen/Carey Landry/John Foley liturgical stylings. Haugen isn't even Catholic (a fact I only became aware of recently). While some of his songs aren't so bad theologically or musically (I grew up with them and like several of them), enough are irreverently-styled, vapid and theologically suspect (from a Catholic perspective) that it's a mystery to me why they have come to so dominate in Catholic parishes. They're often performance or pop pieces, not real worship music. Anyway, I notice that Monsignor never celebrates the early Mass himself, only the late-morning and Saturday evening Masses with organ, incense, and chant. I also notice that our sweet, well-meaning choir at the early Mass is populated by middle-aged folks, while our organist and the more traditional choir are all under 30. (Caveats, exceptions, and so forth.) Oh well. I do still sing all the hymns (except for the really bad arrangement of the Our Father) and make the most of it! And I know that, as for the other side of things, it's certainly possible for organ music to be uninspired and sleep-inducing - I've been to parishes where that is the case. In any event, I honestly believe we're past the nadir in American Catholic liturgy, historically speaking, but sometimes I can't wait for these unfortunate elements of the recent past to be left to the past.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Not dead yet

I'm still around - I just haven't been able to find any balance at work. Either I'm completely slow, or completely busy. To make up for the slow times, I've decided to accept pretty much any assignment people want to give me . . . leading to at least four due this Friday. When I get out from underneath these lease reviews and closing document drafts I do have a few articles I've been meaning to post on, not to mention the news that Notre Dame seems to have almost the entirety of its 2008 team committed. With all this great recruiting news coming from South Bend, it helps to make the wait time until college football season starts again more bearable. Of course, another thing that undoubtedly helps is Every Day Should Be Saturday, which is posting daily affirmations until kickoff.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Vaccines and politics

A reader asked what my opinion was on the new HPV vaccine, so I thought I would write briefly on the subject . . . I don't think there's anything morally wrong with it. Human papillomavirus is fairly ugly, and causes increased rates of cervical cancer (and infertility) in far too many women. Being vaccinated against HPV doesn't mean that a person is less likely to be chaste because sex would now be "safer"; after all, there are (unfortunately) quite a few other rampant STDs out there, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, or herpes; a vaccine against one type of venereal disease is unlikely to encourage a person to think of sex overall as less risky. I believe a family could vaccinate their daughter without fear that it would send a message inconsistent with the virtue of chastity they want to model and impart. That is, it's a far cry from handing out condoms or visiting Planned Parenthood to obtain birth control pills! I also think that no matter how faithfully your children practice chastity and value waiting until marriage, it is, unfortunately, not necessarily the case that their spouse will also have waited until marriage (prior to meeting their intended), and it is possible they may have HPV; if the vaccine could prevent people from contracting HPV from their spouse in that instance, surely it would be a good thing. This is also the case for terrible instances of abuse.

That said, I do have a few problems with issues related to the vaccine. It doesn't protect against all kinds of sexually transmitted HPV strains, for one thing, and so offers incomplete protection. I don't see why it shouldn't be given to boys as well as girls, if preventing the spread of diseases is the main goal. There's no clear evidence on how long the protection lasts and it's quite expensive for those without insurance. Moreover, HPV isn't a communicable disease in the same way that, say, measles are. For those reasons, and the fact that some people do have moral concerns, I would absolutely oppose making the vaccine mandatory (as Texas has done) and I wouldn't think it is a necessary thing, especially if the money isn't there. My understanding is there are no side effects, though, so if a family doctor thinks, and a family agrees, that it's worth it, I don't think it's a bad thing. (For additional commentary, see the National Catholic Bioethics Center statement here and the Catholic Medical Association here.)

My current thoughts on liturgy (or, How to create a reactionary)

I went to a church in southeastern Pennsylvania last week since we were there for a family event and found myself saying the same thing I've been feeling more often lately, which is, "I'm not a Trad, but . . ." That is, I don't particularly long for the Tridentine Mass - I really do prefer the current rite - and I've never particularly minded the modern hymns I grew up singing. And yet, I can recognize and cringe at the worst abuses of the current rite, and as I've become better catechized over the last few years (largely thanks to my husband and my best friend, a recent convert and now mostly a Traditionalist), I find myself becoming ever more aware of the extent of the damage that American liberals did to the Church in the 1960s and 1970s, hijacking the intentions of the well-meaning Vatican II reformers to completely revise and deform, as the Pope put it today, the liturgy. Putting yourself into the place of God in hymns ("I am the Bread of Life" -- well, no we're not, Christ is), applause for the choir during Mass (it's not a performance), using treacly and vapid "teen" music (did I *really* have to sing "Our God is an awesome God" so much in high school?), removing the tabernacle from the altars, priests extemporizing excessively during Mass, general lack of reverence during Mass. I think a lot of the damage that was done, however, was not so much an inevitable outcome of Vatican II, as a consequence of the Council having supremely bad timing. That is, at a time when the Church undertook to implement some gradual and welcome reforms, the entire West was going through massive social and cultural upheavals, and the "revolutionaries" seized the moment in parishes around the country, leading us toward more casual, in some cases more freeform Protestant and in some csaes New Age-y, and less reverent worship. It's only been in the last few years that the priests who came of age under the John Paul II "revival" (and older priests who missed the way things had been before) I think have started bringing back the reverence and solemnity - so often in a joyful way - to our worship.

But in the meantime the country is dotted with parishes that exemplify all the worst elements of the 1970s. The parish we went to on Sunday looked like a spaceship with a sail on top (no photos online so I can't post it). In a postmodern move that I'm sure the architect was extremely pleased with himself on, the church had no actual entrance or vestibule ("Hey! Only capitalist patriarchal oppressors put doors on buildings!"). Instead, there were six small unmarked doors scattered around the building, each six feet away from inner doors leading to the sanctuary. Which looked like a spaceship. There was a giant white plaster abstracted/mosaic type Jesus behind the altar on the wall, while rows of track lighting led up to a center point on the ceiling. If they had suddenly started blinking in sequence, I would fully have expected to be beamed up. There was dark slate around the base of the walls but otherwise just white drywall. The saddest part was that behind the altar in a small area of pews where we were sitting (not having found the non-existent main entrance to the church to sit in the main pew area), and not visible from the outside, were about ten beautiful stained-glass panels with (I think) Czech words. They'd obviously been taken from an older parish somewhere in town that now no longer existed. Unsurprisingly, inside the spaceship, it was a little hard to concentrate on the actual worship, even though the priest was actually quite good. I was embarrassed for St. Ann to have her name attached to the parish. Meanwhile, the Methodist church down the street looked quite ordinary and respectable. I found myself thinking - why? But we all know the great, (mostly) well-meaning people who enthusiastically set about "modernizing" the church over the last 40 years, bringing it "up-to-date" while jettisoning hundreds of years of history and tradition relating to architecture, art and music. Funny how it all looks so dated to my generation now.

Fortunately, things are changing. I'm blessed to be able to attend a wonderful little parish with a pastor who cares about solemnity in the liturgy, using incense every week, singing the ordinary parts of the Mass, encouraging respectfulness and orthodoxy by the example he sets. Our organist trained at Catholic, and selects traditional hymns and makes some use of chant while staying unobtrusive and keeping the focus on the Mass instead of her or the choir. And the architecture of our small church allows for this, with the choir loft set above and behind, and the general shape of the church in the cross shape that has so much theological significance as well as practicality and grace. Aside from this example, though, I know there are priests all over the country concerned with regaining the reverence and beauty of the Mass. (Fr. Martin Fox collected hundreds of examples here.) Our generation has really grown up with the joyful and blessed examples of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who have given us many serious reflections on the liturgy and the life of the Church. Re-catechizing the new generation will take time and effort, but we have good examples (even from the last 40 years! - great institutions and communities, full of people like my parents, actively involved in teaching and witnessing the life of the Church) and a lot of energy I think going forward.

We are expecting a new translation of the Mass in English, much more faithful to the Latin from which it derives, that I think is to be implemented starting later this year. And today the Vatican released Pope Benedict's motu proprio encouraging the wider celebration of the 1962 missal (Tridentine) Mass as the "extraordinary" rite not needing any special permission from bishops anymore, as used to be the case. He is also focused on restoring the ordinary rite (the Novus Ordo) to greater orthodoxy, because:
This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.

As Gerald at Closed Cafeteria (linked above) put it, "I bet there are a lot of "Amen!"'s out there right now." Yep. For those who do prefer the old Mass, it's great that they should have the opportunity and freedom to assist it, but the ordinary rite deserves to be rescued as well and with his deep concern about the liturgy, Pope Benedict I think brings much cause for hope to the faithful.

I'm hardly likely to become a Traditionalist - I do prefer the Novus Ordo, solemnly celebrated. (Personally, I also am extremely leery of the smugness and misogyny I often encounter with this group.) Nevertheless, if the motu proprio, combined with the upcoming new English translation of the Mass, leads American pastors to celebrate the ordinary rite with due solemnity, I absolutely welcome it. After all, "I'm not a Trad, but . . ."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

An unlikely sort

Something more uplifting than those last sour thoughts . . . For those who haven't caught it yet, you have to watch this video of Welsh car phone salesman Paul Potts stunning the judges of "Britain's Got Talent" last week with his unlikely talent: singing opera.


The poor man just looks so defeated and dumpy before he starts singing and you can see the judges rolling their eyes . . . but then he proves he can sing. I love watching this transformation. I've been to half a dozen operas, which is enough to appreciate the enormous talent it takes to perform, even though it isn't my favorite kind of music or theatre. It's just nice to see someone succeed with true talent -- gives me goosebumps every time I watch. Potts's second and final, winning performances proved he wasn't a fluke in this case. It's hard to be anything other than happy for him :)

Visual assaults

Has anyone else seen the posters for "Captivity," the latest horror movie? They're plastered all over Metro right now, and feature a closeup of a stereotypically pretty blonde behind a fence or cage, with her mouth open in fear and her eye makeup smeared, with a tear streaking down her face. Apparently the previous poster (which didn't make it to DC, only to New York and L.A.) was even worse, showing the same girl being kidnapped, tortured, and finally killed. It's really disgusting, and I hate that it's hard to avoid seeing these images every day on the way to and from work. I would ask, who in the world is this sick stuff supposed to appeal to -- but we all know the target audience, some subset of teenage/twenty-something guys who have some disordered fascination with seeing ever more inventive tortures depicted, preferably on young, pretty women. I'm aware some of these graphic horror movies involve torture of men, but of course the fact this "torture porn" is equal-opportunity doesn't make things any better. This certain segment of Hollywood keeps churning out dark, twisted films and plastering their images in our faces - and they must be making some money. Just like regular pornography, they're often doing it by crass exploitation and victimization of women, and I would hope all women could agree that this isn't "empowering," it's just sick.

Stephen King, offering quite a few caveats, still is of the opinion that "[s]ure it [these types of movies] makes you uncomfortable, but good art should make you uncomfortable." On the other hand, sometimes things that make you uncomfortable have no redeeming value and are actually just bad art.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Monday, June 11, 2007

Abortion agendas and ironies

The Economist this week prints two letters in response to its recent article looking at world abortion laws. The first, signed by professors from Johns Hopkins and the London School of Hygiene, as well as a Guttmacher Institute representative, decries the "significant economic costs" related to the 19 million illegal abortions estimated to occur each year around the world. "Legal" apparently equals "safe" (never mind that abortion harms plenty of women's health even in countries where it's routine); "illegal" apparently equals "unsafe." The writers note that unsafe abortion costs include "long-term health consequences" including: subfecundity and infertility. I am quite impressed by the researchers' touching concern for women's fecundity and fertility, but I wonder whether any of them has ever noted the irony inherent in their worrying about these things following abortions. The abortions themselves, after all, have a direct and short-term effect on fecundity and fertility every time one is performed, seeing as how actual pregnancies and children are terminated thereby. Indeed, if the writers are concerned with fecundity and fertility, perhaps they might encourage women to carry to term the pregnancies they have already conceived.

Then again, having the children would also impose its "significant economic costs" - so maybe the best answer is to get rid of even more of them. The second letter printed, by one John Bermingham of Denver, observes that the map of countries that prohibit or severely restrict abortion "is almost identical to regions that are distressed from overpopulation." They face "severe social stress, ethnic tensions and civil disorder," and on top of all that they're all going to need food assistance. Bermingham delicately does not spell out the conclusion he means to suggest by his association, but it is clear all the same: legalize abortion, and these poor countries that are essentially welfare queens on the international dole, living in squalor, might just improve their lot just by causing there to be fewer of their citizens. If it's the same man, Bermingham has apparently been involved in pushing liberalized abortion policy for four decades. He used to justify it just on the basis of preventing back alley abortions (the numbers of which used to be -- and often still are -- quite falsely inflated). He seems now to have moved on to general population control rationales. Is that progress? It bothers me that reasonable people might well think so.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Lasting a lifetime

Sweet, noncynical article in the Post today about the archdiocese's celebration of married couples at Mass in the Basilica yesterday. 500 couples who had been married at least 25 years each came to renew their vows, and it seems like they all had neat relationships and large families celebrating with them. I had to smile at this couple:

That same attitude has kept Betty and Ray Lankford, 81-year-olds who own a plumbing business on Solomons Island, going during their 62 years of marriage. (Her father predicted it wouldn't last.)

Their only fights, they said, were about the kids.

But they had 10 kids. [So they must have gotten along well enough!]

So, Ray said, they had an agreement. "Never go to bed mad and always kiss and make up," he said. "And when you get up in the morning, say, 'I love you.'"

The last anecdote is about a couple married 63 years tearing up as they restated their vows, the same simple vows used in many Catholic weddings today. What a beautiful model these couples provide by their love and commitment, especially for all married couples just starting out :)

In which I discover social networking

Usually I think I'm pretty Internet-savvy, since I've been on it for so long -- and to such an extent that my family always thought I was kind of weird :) Still, I do miss a lot. I've been posting on and reading various forums and message boards for ages, but never got into the social networking sites, since I think Facebook and MySpace got popular just after I left college. Long and short of it is, I finally discovered Facebook this weekend, tagging along after my four younger siblings (and four younger siblings-in-law), and what a great invention! It was great to be able to find friends from school that I haven't been in touch with in awhile, and to have another way to stay connected with my family. I may have to start spending even more time online. Heh.

ETA: Apparently Howard Kurtz also just discovered Facebook and wrote about his experiences navigating the site as a guy older than "99.99% of the Facebook population." It's fairly amusing.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Dawn in DC

Tuesday night I got to meet Dawn Eden, along with a very nice group of other commenters on her blog, at a little get-together in Dupont. I've enjoyed Dawn's writing for several years -- particularly her unapologetic challenges to Planned Parenthood's false messages to women, and her impossibly clever headlines -- so it was great to have the opportunity to meet her in person. It felt a little subversive talking about chastity and random Catholic topics in the particular neighborhood we were in, given it is one of the hippest neighborhoods for singles in the city and I doubt many people would be all that keen on chastity in relationships there! -- but I think everyone had a good time getting to know one another. For my part, I'll definitely have to remember to keep reading the Musical Monk and the Three Massketeers, now that I know some of the personable guys behind these sites. Thanks to Dawn for inviting us out!

A bit more on IVF

I felt my last post was not as well explained as I wanted it to be, so here's a stab at some additional thoughts. I think far more people understand the moral objections to abortion than to IVF or other artificial reproductive technologies, which seems to be an exclusively "Catholic thing." How can anyone oppose the creation of new life, after all? All people want is children to love, so it's hard to see why technologies that help infertile people conceive might be morally problematic.

I think there are intrinsic and extrinsic answers to that. First, in the Catholic understanding sex has two equally important and inseparable aspects, the unitive and the procreative. Cutting off either aspect can do grave damage not just spiritually, but also relationally and socially. Sex outside of marriage cannot be truly unitive because a couple cannot give themselves to each other fully, with the sacramental and lifelong commitment found in marriage. Artificial contraception cuts off the procreative aspect of sex by making a couple closed to the possibility of life. These may be two main examples of how either the unitive or procreative aspect could be denied, but there are certainly more, and everything is frequently interrelated. Just as artificial contraception helped facilitate ever more widespread nonmarital sex and helped separate sex from marriage, ART has helped separate childbearing from sex and in ever more cases, from marriage as well. Instead of being used only to help married couples overcome infertility -- which might seem less objectionable, but still is not acceptable because of the dissociation of procreation from union -- ART is now ever more frequently being used by unmarried single women, by homosexual couples, and by even more creative arrangements involving surrogates, egg donors and sperm donors. All of these violate marital unity and cause children to be harmed by being created in such a way as to intentionally deny them the right to be raised by their own married mother and father. Conception by IVF or other ART, in these cases, is not comparable to adoption or to situations where a child does not have his own mother and father by unfortunate happenstance (death, divorce for serious reasons, or abandonment). It is not making the best of a less-than-ideal situation; it is creating the less-than-ideal situation by intention, from the beginning. Morally, it takes us away from God's design and contributes to us thinking of children as rights, rather than gifts.

As often happens when a situation is morally objectionable, problems may be seen in many practical aspects as well. The processes involved for many ART procedures are arduous and potentially harmful to women's health, in particular -- high doses of hormones to induce superovulation for egg donation or use in IVF could have negative effects, for example, and the egg harvesting procedure is painful. The chances of conceiving and ultimately bearing a child through IVF are surprisingly low (less than 30%, last I saw), meaning these processes may have to be repeated multiple times. Children conceived through ART, while often healthy, have significantly higher incidences of birth defects and are higher risk pregnancies all around, with higher miscarriage rates and premature births. Part of the increased risk comes from the fact that a much higher incidence of ART pregnancies are multiples, including high-order multiples, than occur in nature. People faced with high-order multiple pregnancies are frequently driven to the evil of abortion in order to eliminate some of their unborn children. People who create excess embryos often leave many frozen in stasis for years, only to be destroyed later. People who conceive with anonymous donor sperm or eggs may face the reality of their children having a myriad, unknown number of half-siblings who may grow up anguished about missing the chance to know their siblings or their unknown parent in common. The physical and emotional trauma involved thus are often magnified beyond what is usually found in pregnancies.

Behind all of this is the fact that assisted reproduction is a multi-billion dollar business, marketed efficiently by an industry that has a lot of incentives to turn human beings into commodities, and not many incentives to concern itself with ethical questions. Doctors used to restrict their services to married couples, but if homosexual and single parents represent more customers, more business, more profit, the industry will eagerly expand its services. If women patients are above an age where they can healthily bear children, the industry will offer tempting financial incentives to young college students or poor foreign women, encouraging them to risk their health to donate eggs. Couples or individuals looking to conceive are encouraged to pore through books of egg and sperm donors selecting for superficial traits, as if people were specimens of meat being critically evaluated in a supermarket for quality. The market only encourages this evaluation of people not for who they are, but exclusively for their hair color, SAT score, and height. And the industry has financial incentives to play on the desperation and emotional distress that often come along with the desire to have a child. At ten to twenty thousand dollars per attempted cycle of IVF, people are often at their most vulnerable as they are asked to shell out money for the promised cure. Additional information about donors often costs extra -- want to hear what his voice sounds like? See her baby pictures? That's a value-added service; pay up. Sperm banks and fertility clinics can't really be faulted for trying to increase profits at the margin.

Thus for all of these intrinsic and extrinsic reasons, IVF and assisted reproductive technologies are seriously problematic. Everyone can sympathize with the heartache and despair felt by those who face infertility -- I certainly do. But the answer should not be to seek to create children outside of marriage, with anonymous donors or create surrogate arrangements; it is to lay this burden at the foot of the Cross, to pray for strength through the suffering, and perhaps to help make the best out of another child's difficult situation through loving adoption or caregiving in another way. Doctors should be able to work to find cures for impotence or infertility, but I don't think creating children outside of marriage or artificially should count as such a "cure" that would be morally permissible.

ETA, though I would hope it goes without saying: Of course the circumstances of their conception are never the children's fault, and their lives should be celebrated as should the lives of all children. I know several families with multiples who are great, happy kids. Appreciation and support for those who are already here (and hopefully a part of loving families!) shouldn't stop us, however, from questioning whether the industry and methods used to conceive them should continue to be unregulated and widely accepted.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sins crying out to heaven

The other week's Sunday Post carried an interesting story from writer Liza Mundy, who wrote the "Everything Conceivable" book referenced in my last post. I can't help but think the Post published it intending it to be yet another one of those articles meant to portray abortion sympathetically (in this case, the practice of "selective reduction" of individual fetuses from multiples pregnancies caused by ART), as it followed an abortion doctor throughout a few of his typical days -- but instead, it became yet another article that portrayed the practice so honestly that its evil could not help but be exposed. In that sense, then, I think Mundy was doing her job well. According to Stanley Kurtz, Mundy "largely favors the brave new world she portrays," but nevertheless is honest enough not sugarcoat its realities. Rather, the brutal reality of the world of selective reduction is quite evident in the article.

Among the many risks of ART is a higher risk of birth defects or low birth weight and related problems, even among singletons, but particularly among the many higher-order multiples that tend to be conceived in these procedures. Some people, though undoubtedly scared, put faith in God and accept the children they have conceived, knowing their lives will be forever changed but accepting the responsibilities, joys and sorrows all together. But many couples opt for abortion of some of the multiples. They justify this by saying it will make for a safer pregnancy for them (likely true) and better odds for the remaining children (also possible, though not at all certain) - or they justify it simply by saying they could not afford/handle raising multiples. In this case, none was quite so divorced from human feeling as to undertake reduction just so they wouldn't have to start shopping at Costco (N.B., in that case the triplets pregnancy was natural) - but the logic of reduction is still cruel and chilling. First, the abortion doctor (Mark Evans, here) goes on what George Will, the father of a boy with Downs Syndrome, correctly terms a "search and destroy" mission for any babies who are slower to develop or who appear to have abnormalities indicating Downs or other conditions. If all of them look equally healthy, the doctor might make the call based on gender. Two boys, one girl? One of the boys will probably have to go. Ethicists all seem to agree that's an ethically sound form of sex selection, as opposed to sex selection done for the "wrong" reasons. Finally, if there's no other way to pick which baby to eliminate, it may come down to just an accident of placement in the womb -- closest to the needle, first to go. There's absolutely no mistake about what's going on here, since the first steps in the procedure involve detailed ultrasounds, and few of the patients have any illusions. Indeed (and again, going to how great this "choice" is), some are terrified, some are pressured, and some are horribly guilt-ridden (though not enough to stop the procedure).

[O]n Greenbaum's screen were three little honeycombed chambers with three fetuses growing in them. The fetuses were moving and waving their limbs; even at this point, approaching 12 weeks of gestation, they were clearly human, at that big-headed-could-be-an-alien-but-definitely-not-a-kitten stage of development. Evans has found this to be the best window of time in which to perform a reduction . . .

"They are all measuring at 11 weeks and 6 days," Greenbaum said.

"That's right," the woman said, wonderingly. "It is 12 weeks tomorrow."

So far, there was nothing anomalous about any of the fetuses. Greenbaum turned the screen toward the patient. "That's the little heartbeat," she said, pointing to the area where a tiny organ was clearly pulsing. "And there are the little hands. There's the head. The body."

"Oh, my God, I can really see it!" the patient cried. "Oh, my God! I can see the fingers!"

"Okay!" she said, abruptly, gesturing for the screen to be turned away. She began sobbing. There were no tissues in the room, so her husband gave her a paper towel, which she crumpled to her face. The patient spent the rest of the procedure with her hospital gown over her face, so she would not see any more of what was happening.

WHAT WAS HAPPENING WAS DAY ONE OF A TWO-DAY PROCESS, in which one of the woman's three fetuses would be eliminated through an injection of potassium chloride, which stops the fetal heart.

Greenbaum, the nurse, twists herself ethically to say she'd never work at an abortion clinic, but somehow this is fine. Yet: "It's a very hard procedure, because the baby is moving, and you are chasing it. That is what is very emotional -- when the baby is moving and you are chasing it." Hunting it down.

Mundy, to her credit, points out the contradictions inherent in ART patients praying for children and then deciding "God gave me too many." It is a form of playing God. I doubt articles like this will really make a dent in the number of people who nevertheless keep spending and trying for ART pregnancies and subsequently face multiples pregnancies, but again, anything that shines light on this darkness is ultimately serving the good.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

IVF out in the open

I've been writing about and trying to follow IVF and assisted reproductive technologies for years, but even when you highlight the occasional feature articles and profiles on the subject, you still get the feeling that people aren't seeing the broader picture. Anything that helps spread information on the subject to a wider audience, then, is a good thing -- like Slate's article a few weeks ago about two new books on infertility treatments.

(Of course, there is a major problem when articles like this only start coming out many years after a multi-billion dollar industry is entrenched and it can seem too late to *do* anything about it, but you have to take these stories where they come, I suppose . . . ) One key question, for instance, that you don't often see raised is this:

[Mundy's] book offers an important chronicle not only of the existing technology, but also of the unanswered questions about the short- and long-term implications of reproductive medicine. Why, for example, do IVF babies—not just twins, but singletons, as well—tend to be born prematurely and smaller compared to non-IVF children? Why, too, are there higher rates of birth defects, including bowel and genital deformations, as well as a form of eye cancer, among IVF children? Mundy notes that parents who have trouble conceiving may somehow differ genetically from their fertile counterparts. Or the problems may be related to some aspect of fertility treatment. We don't have the answers yet, but patients should at least know about the question marks.

The books also talk about how the emotional desperation involved for so many families using ART leads them to ignore risks like this and be vulnerable to the commercial industry that often charges them more than $10,000 per cycle (and the odds of success in the first cycle are shockingly lower than you might think given the hype - less than 30%, the last time I read). I tend think the best solution would be to move away from using these technologies at all - not merely getting government involved to regulate - but in the meantime just getting people to think more carefully about all of the issues involved is important.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ghosts

I've actually been motivated to blog lately . . . just as work has picked up significantly. All the deals have to close by the end of the month, and even though they probably won't, we have to act like they will. It's good experience - I'm helping on the sale of several portfolios of retail properties - and I'm enjoying it, but often working from home every night, so no blogging. I did get to make the trip this past weekend to South Bend, though, for my younger brother's graduation from Notre Dame. It was great to see my family and be back on campus. The commencement itself was a very nice ceremony. They need to move it out of the JACC, since it simply does not work to force elderly relatives to climb up bleachers without railings, and it isn't especially fair to not have enough seats for all relatives of the graduates to actually see the ceremony. Nevertheless, it was a great thing to see, and the speakers all did a nice job too. The valedictorian, Michael Rossmann, who I think is the younger brother of one of my classmates (who was a pretty successful guy himself), was amazingly accomplished and is planning to become a Jesuit priest (at the same seminary where another one of my world-traveler classmate friends is currently studying). The commencement speaker, the CEO of GE, had a nice speech as well, and earned some appreciative applause when he joked several times about being the main guy in charge of televising our football games every fall. [Note to NBC: Production values can still be improved on the telecast, and maybe it's about time for some new announcers . . . but hey, it's nice to have the contract at all, right? :) ]

I never feel nostalgia so acutely as when I am remembering Notre Dame. Reading ND Magazine updates on all the classes throughout the years and seeing the different stages of life we all pass through produces an almost physical pang. The recent graduates are all getting married and having children; as you move back twenty-five years alums are reaching the top in their businesses and sending their kids to college; as you move back twenty-five years the alums are moving into retirement and sending news about their grandkids and their battles with cancer; and as you move back twenty-five years from that, you catch a few glimpses into the lives of a disappearing generation that still loves the same place you do.

Walking around campus evokes a similar feeling. I've only been out of school there five years; it's hardly as though my friends have passed on or anything - in fact, I was thrilled to see and talk to many of them just a few months ago at my wedding, and my best friend's own wedding is coming up soon. Still, as there are unfamiliar, newly raised buildings and other changes around campus, it all feels different and yet the same. Walking around the corner to the front of South Dining Hall, I felt as though I would surely see my regular group of friends waiting on the steps there. If I had walked into Stanford, I would hear the Irish songs playing at a party my friends were throwing. If I'd turned down the steps at SDH, I would find the old Scholastic team putting together the next issue. If I'd walked down the hallway in Lyons, I would find my friend leaving a message on the white board. I did actually see Fr. Poorman, who warmly said he missed seeing me at Keough Mass every Sunday night, as I used to attend with my friend from Texas whom I now haven't seen in a few years. These memories - these ghosts - are everywhere you step at this place. They mean more to me than I can even express sometimes except through a simple, profound sense of gratitude. But while the new students pass through each year and new buildings are constructed, I look to the connection to the past with the present - to newer memories of my own, like sharing hot wings and beer (well, I had Dr Pepper :) with my ND friends after my wedding and reception where they gave me an amazing scrapbook full of photos and reflections from our undergrad days (I have an inordinate number of friends who went to graduate and professional schools!), and the cross-country phone calls to share our news with each other as we all start to move forward through our own new stages of life, and backwards in the alumni class listings. It's hard to say much more except - this place is truly blessed.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sunday afternoon naps

Well, I'm not napping -- I'm reviewing title commitments and surveys for the afternoon, fun fun -- but I had to post these cute otters for your (well, at least my mother's!) viewing enjoyment. Here ya go:

Real progress

Part of practicing in commercial real estate involves reading old property documents, and occasionally I run into tidbits that are rather shocking to modern sensibilities. I've seen a lot of conveyances and title deeds to "John Q. Smith and wife" -- as if said wife was so much of an afterthought that it wasn't even worth recording her name. (I can promise when I buy a house with my husband, my name will definitely be on the deed, thank you very much.) A lot of times I'll also see title companies noting "covenants, conditions, and restrictions agreements" pertaining to the land but specifically excepting anything in those agreements that violates the Civil Rights Act. Sometimes I wonder why they have to be so careful to exclude such provisions -- but then today I read an actual deed from the 1920s in which the purchaser promised that the land would never be owned or occupied except by members of the White race. Wow. I remember Shelley v. Kraemer, but don't usually come across for myself examples of what that case was dealing with. Sometimes it's good to be reminded and grateful of how far we've come since the days that such blatant prejudice and offensiveness was actually sanctioned by the law.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Draft drama

I was going to go grocery shopping after Brady Quinn got picked on Saturday, so I figured I'd be able to head about by 1 or so. Turned out I wasn't able to leave until closer to 5, since, as everyone knows by now, the selection process did not go exactly as planned. I wasn't too concerned when Brady wasn't picked in the first several selections, as I was convinced that the Dolphins would grab him at #9. Their most likely current starter was "Cleo Lemon," which sounds more like a stage name for a 1940s jazz singer than an NFL starting quarterback. Quinn to Miami would have been a fantastic match. And it all looked meant to be, until the Dolphins' new coach announced he wanted an average-to-good receiver/punt returner who just happened to be an old family friend: Ted Ginn Jr. You can watch the reaction here:


And watch again. And re-watch. Oh, it's so painful. Ouch. What a colossally dumb move by the Dolphins. One fan on the team boards was so upset he misspelled his exclamation as "WFT???" Heh. Anyway, I felt their pain. It was not a great move, since who was supposed to be throwing to this great new receiver? Even though Miami did later pick the 26-year-old BYU QB John Beck, they could have had a guy who's already had two years under a pro coach, with great accuracy and decision-making.

I think you had to feel Brady Quinn's pain, too, or at least the awkwardness of having the cameras focused on him during every selection announcement. I'm glad the commissioner eventually pulled him away from the cameras, since even though it was only to be expected that teams with mid-round selections wouldn't pick quarterbacks since they all had them, it still would have been hard to watch the next couple of hours if Brady was still out in public, waiting. I'm not thrilled he has ended up going to the Browns after all of that, but he really does love that team, they seem happy to have him in turn, and I hope it ends up being a good fit. At least he will have a good offensive lineman in front of him.

Other Irish players drafted included Abiamiri (by the Eagles) and Ryan Harris (by the Broncos). Darius Walker signed as a free agent with the Bears, and I hope he earns a spot on the team. Overall, it was the best draft for the team since 1997. As for my other pro interests, it looks like the 49ers had a solid draft, as they picked up a few defensive linemen, including LB Patrick Willis from Mississippi in the first round. I hope to see these players contribute to the slowly ongoing improvement in San Francisco next year.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

"The Final Word on Quinn Spin"

Good analysis from the Rock Report, here:

First, Quinn didn't struggle in big games. He was fantastic against Penn State which most considered the biggest early game on the Irish schedule. Quinn won the Georgia Tech game and led the two big comebacks against Michigan State and UCLA (which looked like a weak win until they knocked of USC.) He completely outplayed the Heisman Trophy winner in the biggest game of the Weis era and engineered what should have been the winning drive.

He also looked at the top of this game early against LSU. Replay it. Dropped passes and penalties are the only things that stopped the Irish early on. LSU was able to get the Irish back on their heels and Quinn sustained a knee injury and he was ineffective later in the game, but no quarterback would have been effective under those circumstances.

Here's the real headline: Quinn didn't have great games against defenses that dominated Notre Dame's offensive line and played tight on our receivers. That's really a duh, point. By this same 'bash' thought process JaMarcus Russell struggled in 'big games' against Florida and Auburn... in fact, he pretty much lost the Florida game early on. Troy Smith looked abominable when he was pressured and forced to play without Ginn. Same has been said of Manning . . .

Time for the draft! My non-penetrating thoughts are, I think Quinn will do fine with pretty much any team except Oakland or Detroit, so I hope neither of those teams picks him. I think he'd do great with Tampa Bay if he lasts that long -- it would be great to have him throwing to Stovall again and Gruden is overall a pretty good coach -- and I don't think he'll last until 9 but Miami would be a good place to go too. And I suppose Quinn would do well enough with Cleveland, too, although I was never a Browns fan. I really, really pity whoever gets picked by Detroit, unless it's Calvin Johnson, who's probably the only single player whose talent couldn't be crushed even by that pitiful system. In any event, all speculation will be moot in a half-hour. Until then, I am enjoying Will Ferrell's draft coaching bit: