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Friday, July 18, 2008

On the Unhappiness of Parenting

Newsweek reports on recent research indicating that contrary to popular opinion, having children makes people less happy, at least until the children leave home. This will no doubt please the happily child-free, who seem to have a thriving set of self-satisfied communities.

Unlike many of my fellow breeders, I feel no desire to persuade the intentionally childless to change their minds. Lurk in their forums long enough and you'll conclude that inflicting any of them on children would be cruel.

With that said, I think what we have to remember, when considering research like that featured in Newsweek, is that the purpose of our lives is not the maximization of our own happiness. If that's your aim, then eat, drink, and be merry. On your deathbed, gather about you your pictures of stress-free European vacations, those novels you had time to relish, the pay stubs from all the work that being childless enabled you to do.

I will have gone before you, most likely, because having children is hard work, and stressful, and at times it sucks the very life from your bones. But I will go, God willing, to the sounds of my children, and their children, having knit myself into a community not of selfish convenience, but of blood and toil and heartache and joy. I've made every mistake it's possible to make as a husband and father, but this is where I belong.

So go immerse yourself in the wonder of You, and I will pour myself out for this helpless flesh of my flesh. Go live your sterile marriage, and I will struggle to preserve this union that has brought forth life. Have your happiness, and I will take my portion of suffering, and we will see whose joy is greater, in this life and the next.

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Redbox Review: Disadvantaged

The mistake people make about modernism is thinking it's old-fashioned. Thus a movie like Vantage Point comes along, built around the premise that it will be clever to show the same events through several characters' eyes, and people call it "postmodern" because it's, well, so very different. We are accustomed to being omniscient observers, or to staying at the protagonist's side.

Vantage Point instead does a remarkable job of carrying us through the same short sequence of events five times, without growing tiresome. In part this is because the events — an assassination attempt on the U.S. president, combined with a terrorist attack — first catch our attention, and then become a mystery we want to solve. What, exactly, just happened? Who is responsible? As the scene repeatedly unfolds through different viewpoints, the viewer is transformed from onlooker to sleuth.

Anyone who thinks playing about with point of view qualifies a work of art as postmodern, however, ought to read Faulkner, or consider Hitchcock's films. Vantage Point certainly has a clever idea here, but it's not all that original.

The real question is: Does it work? The answer: Yes, until the last twenty minutes. The problem its writers work themselves into is that eventually they have to reveal their hand — they have to show us who the bad guys really are (the answer is predictable), and they have to bring the film to resolution. And this is where their cleverness seems to abandon them, leaving us with a weak ending that attempts to manipulate us with the cheapest of child-in-peril images. Viewers familiar with the far superior Crash will find how poorly Vantage Point performs in comparison.

A better tack might have been to suck us into the omniscient point-of-view in those final scenes, only to interpose some final individual viewpoint that reveals something important to the film's resolution. Instead the film ends with a tidy whimper.

Vantage Point features several well-knowns: Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, and the currently popular Matthew Fox, of television's Lost. Only Whitaker shines, however, and his performance is proof that the best actors can overcome mediocre scripting and direction. Even though the film degenerates into an unexceptional vehicle chase, you will find yourself anxious for Whitaker's character, an estranged father trying to do the right thing in perilous circumstances.

Were you to hire a babysitter in order to take in dinner and catch Vantage Point at your local theater, this film would be a disappointment, unless you are one of those people who enjoys Hollywood's recent displacement of plot with dizzying camera zooms. For a $1 rental from your local McDonald's Redbox, however, the film is probably worth a view, especially if you have a well-salted bowl of popcorn and the kids don't get up half a dozen times while you're trying to watch it. So on a McDonald's six-piece scale, I give Vantage Point three and a half nuggets. But the dipping sauce runs out before you get to the end.

posted by Woodlief | link | (2) comments

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bad Apples

Here I've been thinking that Arabic culture is highly respectful of women (aside from modern-day slavery, of course, as well as Islamic regimes that execute rape victims, treat females as chattel, and sanction the blowing up of schoolchildren, because what society doesn't have its warts?). But now comes the news that two-thirds of Egyptian men admit to harassing women. All it takes is a few million bad apples, I suppose.

Ah, but now that I read the article more closely, I see the men aren't to blame. They blame the women.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wienerectomies and Other Tales

I hit the heavy bag Monday for the first time in five years. I didn't have wraps or bag gloves, but there it was, hanging insolently in the corner of the gym, practically begging for a beat down. Which it got. I have a bruised hand now, but it felt really, really good. A therapist might suggest that instead of beating an inanimate object, I ought to identify the people who have caused my anger and talk things over with them.

But the thing about the bag is that: 1) it doesn't talk back, and 2) you can beat the living daylights out of it without getting arrested. A lot of the world's problems could be solved, I think, if everyone had a heavy bag hanging in his garage.

I bought a machete this weekend. It seemed more practical than carrying a gun around on the property. Just let that probably-not-poisonous-but-nobody-is-really-sure snake rear his viper-like head now. It's definitely going to be up to me, though. The other day a mole popped up directly in front of my lazy dog, and I tried to get her to sic it, but instead she just rolled over for me to scratch her belly. The mole actually tunneled under her to make his escape. I didn't really want it dead; I was just curious about how the dog would handle a real live critter. Obviously if anyone is going to be killing creatures around here, it's going to have to be me.

Maybe I should have killed the mole, I don't know. We're still sorting out our place in nature. I was all set to shoot coyotes and bobcats until a friend explained that I ought only to do so under certain circumstances. I caught the boys, meanwhile, splashing about in the creek without shoes again. We have a concrete bridge to the back part of our property, and beneath it are three drainage pipes through which the creek flows. The boys have discovered that it is fun, when the creek is low, to crawl through these pipes. Given what I know of snakes and spiders and other creeping things, I admire their pluck.

Nonetheless I had to give them a stern talk about snapping turtles, and how difficult it would be to go through life lacking a finger, or toe, or wiener. That last one got their attention, and led to all sorts of interesting dinner-table discussion about how, exactly, a turtle could bite off one's wiener.

They wear pants most of the time, and at least two of them consistently have on underwear, so I think the threat of a wienerectomy is minimal, but if that visual works to keep them from wallowing in the creek, I'm all for it. I suppose a child psychologist would suggest I not fill their heads with irrational fears, but this imaginary child psychologist probably agrees with the imaginary therapist who says I shouldn't hit the heavy bag, and we all know how useful that advice is.

posted by Woodlief | link | (3) comments

Let Those with Ears to Hear...

Caleb broke my heart last week. He told me that he prefers Christian rock to blues and jazz. And not even the good stuff, but what they play on the popular Christian radio station. In an effort to open his ears to the truth, I played him one of Stevie Ray Vaughn's first concerts. Nothing doing. The boy wants Christian pop.

Then, as if to rub salt in my wounds, he and Eli went outside to play golf. They play with plastic clubs, since none of us thinks Isaac should have access to anything so lethal as a real golf club made of genuine skull-crushing metal. Christian rock and golf. Sigh. The things these kids pick up from their friends.

I'm thinking maybe I'll tie him down and make him listen to Stevie Ray's version of "Little Wing" until he understands the error of his ways:

posted by Woodlief | link | (2) comments

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


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News by Osmosis

In national news, we are out of gasoline. That recent tankful you got will be your last. We are also out of money. Your local bank will soon be converted to a pawn shop. Finally, we are out of food, because everything but corn is poisonous, and all the corn is going to ethanol production. Ethanol is supposed to go into the gasoline, but since we are out of gas, the U.S. government will soon begin stockpiling the ethanol, because the Farm Lobby doesn't want to go back to the outdated practice of selling corn to people who actually want to eat it.

In response to the lack of gasoline, President Bush called for drilling in Alaska and along the coasts. Liberals reply that this won't help because it will take years to bring gas online, by which time we should all be enjoying wind-powered SUVs. Conservatives agree, but say the potential environmental destruction makes drilling worthwhile nonetheless.

Speaking of dried-up commodities, Jesse Jackson, finding himself outflanked on the right by Bill Cosby, on the left by Moveon.org, and on the left and right by Barack Obama, has recently developed a comedic act in which he impersonates a Klansman. This has received mixed reviews.

It has been a rough summer in the entertainment world. Tom Cruise perished in a plane crash. Will Smith died from a heart attack. New Kids on the Block is staging a reunion tour.

This just in: It turns out Tom Cruise and Will Smith are alive and well. A new form of spam email announces the death of someone popular in an effort to trick the unfortunate recipient into opening it. Our News Department apologizes for the error. They also apologize for the fact that the New Kids rumor is, unfortunately, completely true.

On the political front, Hillary Clinton is now homeless. Our man on the street tells us she has alienated her fellow panhandlers by insisting on the best corner in downtown NYC and berating passersby who give her anything smaller than a twenty. She dismisses these allegations as fabrications concocted by the right-wing panhandling machine.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, is furious that the uber-conservative New Yorker magazine's latest cover depicts him as a radical Muslim. Through a spokesman he denounced the image and issued a fatwa against the New Yorker's publisher and cartoonist.

John McCain is not, in fact, dead.

In sports, everyone in the Tour de France is a junkie. In response, Brett Favre has decided to enter the race, riding a yellow and green Huffy.

And for my local readers, Kansas remains hot, flat, and windy, politically schizophrenic, and filled with people who own their own homes and know how to farm. All things considered, at least it's not New Jersey.

posted by Woodlief | link | (5) comments

An Update on the Body Parts We Do Not Speak Of

Several people sent me suggestions for the little-boy parts that I was having so much trouble naming with something appropriately descriptive yet not clinical. Some of my favorites, along with the slightly anonymized name of the offender:

  • Juevos (Ken L.)
  • Twig and berries (Jason A.)
  • Nizzles (Jeff S.)
  • The Manlies (Carl H.)

And finally, my personal favorite, and the new Woodlief family word for those most important of particulars: Nuggets. As in: "Hold on to your nuggets! I'll be there in a minute!" Or, "Watch your nuggets in the ring, son, that one fights dirty!" The applications are endless. Many thanks to my friends Amy and Paul.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Go watch this now.

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Funnel Cloud

This is a belated thank you for David Anderson of Iowa, who was kind and generous enough to visit my Amazon Wishlist and send me a copy of Hem's Funnel Cloud. I heart Hem. I'm not sure if this makes me a girl (either the adoration of Hem, or the employment of "heart" as a verb), but I don't think I care. I also heart Mr. Anderson, who I am sure is a fine, upstanding citizen from whom many of you could learn a thing or two.

So here's one of my favorite tracks from Funnel Cloud:

posted by Woodlief | link | (2) comments

A quote from my patron saint, were I to have one, which maybe I do and simply don't realize it:

"A time is coming when people will go mad and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying: 'You are mad, you are not like us.'" — St. Anthony the Great (HT: Jon de Jong)

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I think everyone can agree that Jesse Jackson has finally had that mental breakdown we've all been waiting for.

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