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Friday, July 25, 2008

Adolescent Nation

Some of you might enjoy my latest post at WORLD, titled "Adolescent Nation." A quote:

"We are, it seems, a nation in regression. At least in the past we might have had the cold comfort of shame, but now it seems that the new mood is to proclaim childishness as a virtue."

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More on the Reductio ad Hitlerum

Loyal reader Nichole B. offers a recent example of the reductio ad Hitlerum:

"Obama's sudden plan to pack 80,000 followers into a Denver sports stadium for his acceptance of the Democratic nomination instantly reminded of Hitler's Nuremberg and Berlin rallies, moves the Nazis made as much to intimidate as acclaim."

But you know who else wrote breathless editorials devoid of paragraph breaks in marginalized publications?

Wait for it...

Hitler, that's who.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0) comments

More Opportunities to Be Dumb

This is why I don't often answer emails or phone calls. Money quote:

"In 2005, the BBC reported on a research study, funded by Hewlett-Packard and conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, that found, 'Workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.'"

It's not that we're getting stupider. We're just getting more networked. Now go kill your Blackberry.

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Something those "the world is better without children" twits forgot to consider: they're going to need someone to wipe the drool off their chins.

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The Creation Ponders its Origin

This from Elements of Faith, by Christos Yannaras:

"The history of western man is a dialectic of submission and rebellion, where rebellion means in each case the choice of a different authority, consequently of a new submission, while the goal remains always the same — individual security, the protection of individual certainty about the truth to be believed."

And now this from Edward Tingley's very fine piece in June's Touchstone magazine:

"Ask any sensible person if it is possible that God exists, does not present himself to us by way of material evidence, and yet seeks our acknowledgement on some other basis, one in which we are deeply invested. Could there be a God who does not want to be known the way the facts of nature are known or sums are known? The rational person will say: 'Yes, it is possible'...

We are told we should face the facts. Well here they are: The only world in which strictly empirical evidence is the road that we should take in our views about God is a world in which God either shows himself by such evidence or simply does not exist. Those are the options that the agnostic and the atheist like, and it is because they like them that they never pay any attention to the further fact that accompanies these: God might await us down another road. There are three options, not two."

Both suggest that Modern, Scientific Man may be using the wrong instrument, assuming he is really looking at all. Which brings to mind St. Paul's words: "Professing to be wise, they became fools..."

posted by Woodlief | link | (1) comments

Thursday, July 24, 2008

And some of you thought I was kidding when I said that all our food is going into gas tanks.

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Redbox Review: Anti-Morality Play

The opposition that fussy Christians voice toward Juno seems to boil down to the fact that it is filled with sinful people who live, think, and speak like sinners. Then again, this used to be true of the Church, at least until recent times. The fussy Christians seem to want morality plays in place of films, which is ironic, given that it was their fussy Puritan forbears who outlawed plays in the first place.

Juno is not a girl who would be welcomed into the Sinless Church. She's foul-mouthed, unvirginal, too clever by half, and possessing little respect for authority. Juno has been impregnated by a hapless friend, and she sets out to have an abortion, only to be dissuaded by a lone girl outside the clinic who notes that Juno's unborn baby has fingernails. So Juno finds adoptive parents, and carries the child to term. The film is a revelation of characters, as we see who Juno might become, as well as who the parents-to-be can become. Here we have broken people struggling to be made whole, which is the story of every one of God's people before he is fully God's. It's the story after you are God's as well, come to think of it.

From a "message" point of view, it seems to me that Juno will save more lives than 10,000 stern sermons from pulpits and street corners. It is, along with Knocked Up and Waitress, part of a current trend in films wherein very human, very fallible, very loving women explicitly choose to forego aborting their children. If this reflects (or portends) a concomitant change in the broader culture, then the largely inert pro-life crowd will either be dragged into caring for all these children it said it wanted to save, or be proven hypocrites. One likes to hope that the better instinct will prevail, though it may mean setting aside fancy church buildings and ubiquitous small-group Bible studies for orphanages and daycare. But we can always hope that even Christians can change.

As far as art, the ephemeral set of qualities that determine whether a film or book takes fruitful root in one's soul, Juno is far and above most modern fare. Ellen Page, who plays the title character, is enchanting. She is able to convey with facial expressions alone more feeling and thought than most modern actors seem to manage with a full range of motion, multiple script writers, and a host of special effects. Jennifer Garner also shines, metamorphosing from uptight control freak to yearning mother in a single, breathtaking scene that itself is worth the price of the rental. Jason Bateman manages a seamless yet substantial transformation of his own, and not in the direction one might expect. The supporting actors who play Juno's family and close friend likewise turn in believable, human performances. The only disappointment is Juno's sometime boyfriend, played by Michael Cera, who, between this film and his forgettable performance in Superbad, may well be autistic.

The characters don't all find Jesus in the end. In fact, they never mention Jesus at all, except in vain. But one gets the impression that these are precisely the kinds of people in whom Jesus takes an interest. Perhaps that means that the rest of us ought not look at them, when we encounter such people in real life, as something that must be scraped off our shoes. We could all stand to be reminded from time to time that sinners are humans too, and further, that the open sin can more easily be healed than that which lurks in the dour hearts of the ostensibly sinless.

On my McDonald's Redbox six-piece nugget scale, I give Juno five and a half nuggets, and that's with the fancy honey mustard dipping sauce, mind you. Throw in a large fry while you're at it, cooked extra-crispy, because there's a cameo by Rainn Wilson that may well make you wet your pants. And be sure to watch the outtakes.

posted by Woodlief | link | (3) comments

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

From loyal reader John T., following an exchange about bears, and the penchant among wildlife authorities for valuing their lives over the lives of hikers:

"When it comes to the safety of my family, I have relegated the government to an advisory role only."

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William Isaac Woodlief: "Where is the tooth fairy's house? I want to go there."

I don't believe he's thought that out. I mean, what does she do with all those teeth? And how does she earn all these coins she hands out? And what kind of person goes creeping into children's bedrooms?

I'm just saying.

posted by Woodlief | link | (1) comments

Time for a Little Carping

The snake ate my grass carp. I think I told you how I stupidly left my pond fountain off long enough to kill all the fish (but not the $#!%!*! snake). As a consequence, an algae problem has presented itself. Thick wide islands of slimy green algae, anchored to the bottom of the pond by long runners of progressively darkening stuff that terminates in a base of sludge. (For those of you who were planning on having sushi for lunch, I apologize.)

So I bought some grass carp. Two six-inch, rambunctious fish, just aching to get at my algae. I haven't seen them since I dropped them in. And it's not like I've only casually visited this pond, you see, because recently I had to go in to slough off the algae.

Allow me to paint that scene for you. Picture me in shorts and knee-high wading boots. No shirt, because I'm an idiot. We'll come back to that point. In one hand I'm carrying a metal rake, and in the other I have my big machete. But of course I have to put down the machete, because the algae is so heavy that I need two hands to rake globs of it toward the shore, where I scoop it onto the grass. I don't know how to accurately portray the smell, but imagine death being simmered at the bottom of a big pot, and you should get close. Now let's add the heat: 101 degrees. Because it's Kansas, and the heat is the only way we know to keep away the shallow coastal types.

So there I am, slowly working my way around the shore of the pond, which is a good thirty by forty yards at its widest points. I'm stomping and slapping at the tall grass, and talking really loudly in hopes of scaring away the snakes. I'm scooping algae. I'm jumping at every movement in the grass at my feet. And meanwhile, my shoulders and back are acquiring third-degree burns, because of the part I mentioned earlier, about me being an idiot.

At some point Isaac, my worker buddy, came out with his little rake to help. We eventually realized that we needed to call in the Woodlief Navy. So I dragged our inflatable raft down to the edge. If you've ever had a big dog try to sit in your lap, this was me attempting to situate myself in that raft. The only reason God didn't let me roll over is because I was providing him too much entertainment right-side up.

I rowed to the center, and began reeling in algae. Don't underestimate the weight of water-logged algae. I heaved in a little at a time and wrung it out, creating giant balls of rolled, dried algae that I plopped at my feet. All the while I kept looking over my shoulder for that ginormous snake. I think he was nearby, because I kept hearing these swishing, plopping sounds. He is a crafty one, this snake. I pulled at least 250 pounds of algae out that way, and I think next time I'd just as soon use napalm.

But back to my grass carp. There wasn't a sign of them. What would eat two six-inch grass carp? That $#!%!*! snake, is what.

So now I've got to get more grass carp. And I'm going to have to stake out the pond with a shotgun. Somebody told the snake I bought a machete, because he's made himself scarce. But sooner or later he'll have to rear his bruised head, and that's when I'm going all Bolivian army on his Butch and Sundance. Because a man can only take so much.

posted by Woodlief | link | (2) comments

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Et Cetera

I saw a billboard with the picture of a middle-aged man on a motorcycle, emblazoned with the argument: "Millions of Harley owners can't be wrong." Being a misanthrope by nature, I can't help but reject that claim. After all, don't millions of people drive Chryslers? Don't millions of people walk about in public with those earbud thingies stuck in the sides of their heads, under the illusion that they look like captains of industry, or playas, or both? Didn't millions of people watch "Golden Girls" every week, for crying out loud?

Only recently did I learn that this logical fallacy has its own official Latin name: argumentum ad populum. So we know it's a problem, because those Romans didn't mess around when it came to argumentation.

This puts me in mind of my favorite such argument, shared with me recently by my friend Brett Hinkey: reductio ad Hitlerum — the belief that if you can establish that your opponent's view was once held by Hitler, you've won the argument.

And come to think of it, didn't millions of people support Hitler? And thus, ceterus paribus, ipso facto, e pluribus unum, I think I've proven my point.

posted by Woodlief | link | (1) comments