Monday, November 17, 2014

Trouble In Transtopia: Murmurs Of Sex Change Regret

This article is most worthy of  your attention.

What kind of evil person tries to silence the warnings of those how have done something they regret and are trying to warn others not to make the same mistake?
Phantom Limb Syndrome. I guess they didn't see that coming.

"Oh, Petra, I am so frightened. Darling, something dreadful has happened. I’m sure — I’m almost quite sure. Do you remember when I said Nature couldn’t revenge herself? Oh, but she can and has, Petra.


I don’t know. I feel so ill, and I can’t sleep. He asked me what was the matter with me today. I’d been crying and I look simply awful. Petra, my dearest, what can we do? How cruel God is! He must be on the conventional people’s side after all. " (Dorothy L. Sayers - The Documents in the Case)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Everything I Ever Really Needed to Know about Bodybuidling I Learned from Dave Draper on the Beverly Hillbillies

I first saw this episode back in the 1960s.  I watched it again in its entirety about 10 years ago.  Then I watched it again today.  It is funny how each time I watch it, different things pop out at me.

What I learned about bodybuilding from Dave Draper's appearance on The Beverly Hillbillies.

1.  Outsiders will view bodybuilding as a disease (Barbell Bloat).

2.  Aesthetic Strength versus Functional Strength (see 19:25 in the video).  Clearly, Ellie Mae Clampett was a crossfitter.

3.  Origin of the word "swole"!  Spoken by Granny at 5:50 - "Look at his arms, swole up twice to normal size!"

4.  People will never understand what it is we are trying to do (see video at 12:23).  "Swole up as he is, that poor boy is trying to build hisself a wheelchair."

Fall of the Rebel Angels

This blog entry from artist Ken Ruzic is most worthy of your attention.

I like everything about this painting!

When you go to the blog, do not forget to click the "Play" button on the Fauré Requiem video!

Friday, October 3, 2014

My Response to "5 Reasons Why You Should Never Compete"

Veteran bodybuilding journalist John Romano recently penned an editorial titles, "5 Reasons Why You Should Never Compete."  Reaction to the article, at least in the Comments section at T Nation, were overwhelmingly positive.  But I wonder why, because I don't find much I can agree with in the article.

DISCLAIMER:  I admit to being biased in this matter, because I am exactly the sort of person that Mr. Romano finds so vexing:  a bodybuilder with extremely poor genetics who competes in spite of this fact.  So, take what I say with a grain of salt.

Even before Romano gets around to listing the 5 Reasons, the article is problematic for me. He states:

"Some people just don't belong on the bodybuilding stage. Sometimes it's their genetics or they're just not ready yet. Sometimes they're delusiona
When is a person ready to step onto a bodybuilding stage?  Only when he or she is likely to win a contest?  Ronnie Coleman (whose genetics nobody questions) finished 15th in his first Mr. Olympia contest in 1994.  Should he not have competed because he was not ready to win at that level?

Romano goes on to say:

"Competing is serious business. Do it 'for fun' if you must, but realize that you're annoying the audience, the judges, and the truly dedicated competitors."
How does he know that competing is a serious business?  He offers no proof, but merely an assertion.  What if it really isn't some kind of life-and-death, gravely earnest thing like Romano assumes it is?  What if it is more like adventure, play, or "sport"?
We have still not reached the 5 Reasons when we read this:
"Now, there are people who will contend that bad genetics can be overcome. To some degree that's true, but only to an extent. There are certain genetic attributes that are not favorable to bodybuilding. The extreme examples of which, sadly, must cause the athlete to concede that competition is just not in the cards for him. It should only take a couple of contests to realize this unfortunate truth."
Okay, fine.  Let me grant this for the sake of argument.  So, Romano is in the audience for a bodybuilding contest.  A guy comes on stage who looks woefully out of place.  Should he be condemned by John Romano for being there?  No.  He may simply be following Romano's advice here, by entering a couple of contests to test the waters.  He is following Romano's own recommended process, and should be left alone to do so.

Then, we read this:

"Even if you have the will and the desire and means, plus the requisite genetics to go the distance, there are still better odds that my next Ferrari will be lime green than you ever winning the Olympia."
Wait, hold on!  Is he seriously saying that nobody should compete unless he/she has a good chance of eventually winning the Olympia?  Because that is what he is saying here.  And if we follow this dictum, the vast majority of bodybuilding competitors should not be competing.

Oh, wait, he's going to backtrack now:

"You may not have what it takes to be Mr. Olympia and that's okay."
Then why bother even mentioning the green Ferrari analogy?  Okay, so he was just kidding about having to have Olympia potential in order to be allowed to compete.  Are we coming to the 5 Reasons now?  No, not yet.  But there is this:
"Why is that a problem? It's simple. If bodybuilding were a sport that didn't have an audience attached to it then no one would care. But bodybuilding has an audience. And those fans have to sit through amateur shows that are littered with multiple classes and divisions - from teens to masters to wheelchairs and the endless classes of female competitors - routinely corralling 400-500 or more competitors on the regional level. And they all want their two minutes on stage. If they all got just that, prejudging alone would be over 16 hours long!"
Perhaps this is the crux of the biscuit, then.  Bodybuilding shows take too long!  And this is a valid concern.  But a few things.  First, this does not apply to local shows.  I've attended shows in which only 30 to 40 competitors (in all classes combined!) are entered.  Prejudging took perhaps 45 minutes to an hour.  And this is exactly the kind of show that the inferior competitors Romano is complaining about tend to enter!  To be frank, the promoter is probably very glad for every person who enters this kind of small contest, because it increases his/her chances of breaking even financially on the event.  Every "Mr. Puniverse" that pays his entry fee and brings 3 or 4 of his gym buddies or family members to the show helps to make it viable to put on such shows.  The promoters at local competitions need these competitors to enter their shows.

And those shows that draw 400 to 500 entries?  How many of them are in the Bikini division?  Probably close to half.  So one way to assure that shows are completed in a reasonable amount of time would be to separate Bodybuilding from Bikini.

And, as Romano says, these are regional level shows.  How big a problem is it, really, this phenomenon of under-prepared competitors at big shows, say at Jr. Nationals?  I've just not seen it very often at all.

But let's say it was.  Then, instead of making a blanket statement about people who should "Never" compete ... what about if we just urged people to compete at the appropriate level?  Then, Mr. Romano would never have to attend a regional or national show with weak competitors on stage.  Those competitors should be urged to stay at the smaller, local shows until they rack up a few victories at that level.  That, I could sign up to.  But that is a far cry from telling someone to never compete!

We are almost to the 5 Reasons, I promise.  But first, just to underscore the extreme seriousness of this kind of bodybuilding crime, Romano says:

"That being the case, wasting just one precious second on a competitor that has no business being up on stage is an affront to every single person on either side of the stage that day."
So many questions are begged.  If wasting even one second is such a crime, what about the M.C. telling stale jokes for 5 minutes?  That's 300 seconds, for those of you keeping score at home.  What about inept facilitators, inefficient check-in procedures, and various delays caused by the judging panel?  Maybe those will be covered in a separate article.

And at long last we come to the 5 Reasons:

1.  You're Not Ripped

"This one is my pet peeve and I'll tell you why. As anyone who's ever dieted down into shredded, striated, veiny, contest condition knows, it's a grueling work of intense suffering. There's no way around it. 
Some people do have an easier time of it, but to diet down to contest condition is to suffer incessantly. Usually, the most ripped guy is the guy who can suffer the most. 
Some people can't do it. Some can't get close. And that's okay. All it means is you don't belong on stage."
I am actually close to agreeing with Romano on this one.  You can't flex fat, as they say.  And like a decent tan and appropriate posing suit, being sufficiently lean should be just a basic requirement for competing.  Anyone with sufficient desire can get lean.  Many people lack the desire and that is okay, as Romano says.  Still, I'm not sure if or how you police this.  With a pre-pre-judging, so that the judges look at everyone before allowing them to step on stage for pre-judging?  I don't think that is going to happen.

2.  You Just Don't Have Enough Muscle

This is pretty straightforward.  You need muscle to do well in bodybuilding.  You need lesser amounts, usually, to do well in the Masters and Grand Master divisions or in drug-tested contests.

But isn't that what the contest is for?  Determining who has more and better muscle?  If those with lesser amounts of muscle excuse themselves from even entering, there is no contest -- only a parade of the winners, to collect their trophies.

And, also, this "Never" thing keeps coming back to me.  Bodybuilding is a dynamic process, not a static status.  So, just because you don't have enough muscle today, does this mean you should Never compete?  That's ridiculous.  I remember once reading a quote from Bev Francis, which was complaining about some of her competitors.  She said something to the effect that they were not real bodybuilders ... just skinny girls who got built up!  Wait, whoa!  Isn't that the entire point of bodybuilding ... you start skinny and add muscle?  So, to tell a skinny competitor that he should Never compete ... is ridiculous.

3.  Your Calves Suck

This is easily the most bizarre thing in the entire article.  Apparently, for Romano, calves trump every other body part:

"Small biceps, a weak chest, or a shallow back can all be overlooked in view of the whole, but not having calves turns an otherwise good bodybuilder into a lawn dart."
Which is completely absurd. I begin to see why he waited so long to get to the 5 Reasons.  Although my sense of propriety prevents me from listing their names, there are many, many high-level bodybuilding champions who had/have weak calves.

4.  You Have A Bad Structure

Now we come to a crucial point.  Admittedly, some people are cursed with bad genetics for bodybuilding.  It's true.  But there are many bodybuilders with average genetics who have turned Pro.  Phil Heath used to always be critiqued for having narrow shoulders ... until he built enough muscle on them to become Mr. Olympia.  This runs directly counter to what Romano claims:

"Because no matter how much muscle you put on, you're never going to be able to change the framework upon which it is deposited."
5.  Your Skin is Ugly

Although he starts to go into a discussion of tattoos on bodybuilders, this is a dead end, and the section actually ends up being about acne.  I think we can all agree that acne is unattractive.  So, Romano gives this advice:

"Save competing until after you get your skin under control."
That kind of makes sense to me.  It seems like reasonable advice.  But maybe John Romano has forgotten by this point that the title of the article is "5 Reasons Why You Should Never Compete", not "5 Reasons You Should Wait Until You Are Ready To Compete."

After thus concluding the enumeration of the 5 Reasons, Romano continues with this:

"While no one really wants to admit just how much of a limiting effect (career-preventing actually) genetics has on bodybuilding, there is certainly enough evidence these days to support the claim."
I suppose that is true to a degree.  But I prefer this statement I heard from a bodybuilder years ago:
"The harder I work, the better my genetics get."  
To me, that captures the real essence of bodybuilding:  overcoming supposed limitations, not giving up before you even start.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

For Contrails at Evening

Yesterday evening, coming out of my therapy session, I looked up at the sky, which was so beautiful that I spontaneously composed and prayed this Collect prayer:
O Almighty God, who didst cause the heavens to pour forth speech, and didst give to mankind the gracious gift of flight, we give thee hearty thanks for the beauty of Condensation Trails in the evening skies, through him who was taken up into those same skies, thy Son our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Theory for Tattoos - Debunked

This blog entry at First Things was very disappointing to me, not only for its conclusions and shallow thinking, but for its deceptive brand of rhetoric.

The rhetorical method may be summarized in this way:  (1) Make an outrageous statement (ad hominem, optional); (2) flesh out the statement for the remainder of the paragraph; (3)  begin the next paragraph with a partial retraction.  In this way the author, Mark Bauerlein "gets away with" stating absurd and unsubstantiated things, but also has an "out" if someone objects, because of the partial retraction.

So, for example, he states that beneath all the variety of reasons that people get tattoos "is the same call:  'Look at me.'"  But in case anyone should notice that this requires him to be able to look into the soul of another person, he begins the next sentence with this bit of backtracking:  "At least that's how many people regard the sight of a tattoo on a nearby shoulder."

Beyond the rhetorical shenanigans, however, Bauerlein is substantively wrong.  At least that is what this reader believes.  (See how that works?)

grant, for the sake of argument, that self-expression and the passion for distinction.  Why is this a bad thing?  Is the proper course for a human being to seek to lose himself completely in a larger corporate entity (whether church or state or club)?  Some churchmen think so.  I knew one freewheeling, independent preacher who stated that "within the church, there is no such thing as an individual act.  All acts are acts of the body as a whole."  I provided him counterexamples from Scripture, but he was not able to admit them.  For him, the urge to dissolve his individual personality in a larger whole, to become a mere cog in a big machine, trumped any desire for individual expression.  Or, so he said, because in fact his actual ministry was very individually suited to his own quirky personality.

From my blog on The Passion for Distinction, two quotes from John Adams, 2nd President of the United States:
"There is none among them [the passions] more essential or remarkable, than the passion for distinction."
According to Adams, this passion for distinction was,
"a desire to be observed, considered, esteemed, praised, beloved, and admired by his fellows."
So, I think that much of Mark Bauerlein's suggested reason for people getting tattoos ("This is me, check me out.") is, if not an outright positive virtue, at least a universal element of human life.  Granted, humans often tend toward the other extreme (individualism at the expense of any corporate identity or loyalty) but there is a balance point which allows us to be "very members incorporate" and yet retain our individual identities.

Bauerlein's line of reasoning also fails to account for people such as myself, whose only tattoos are in private, seldom-seen places on the body.  So clearly  there are more reasons that people get tattoos beyond the mere desire for attention.

In his excellent short treatise on "Art & the Bible", Francis Schaeffer brings up the fact of the adornments commanded by God to the Old Testament tabernacle and temple.  It is therefore not an inconsistency to view the human body as a "temple of the Holy Ghost" and yet give it artistic adornment.

Later in the article Bauerlein expands the discussion to include piercing, plastic surgery, hair coloring, and "otherwise modifying the physique" (which would include, of course, bodybuilding).  He then synopsizes a (non-Christian) academic argument which urges us to stop treating the body as a temple.  But simply because this is a line of argument used by some defenders of tattoos and body modification, it certainly does not mean this abandonment of body as temple is supported by all defenders of the same.

Bodybuilding is a good example.  It seeks to make the temple more glorious than one can make it by eating doughnuts and being a couch potato.  And what is wrong with this?  As King David opined,
"... the house to be built for the Lord should be of great magnificence and fame and splendor in the sight of all the nations."  (1 Chronicles 22:5, NIV)
Should our bodily temples be less glorious?  I think not.  But I believe that most who complain that tattoos deface the temple of the Holy Spirit are not really serious about this in their personal lives.  Nearly all of them have excess body fat, and many are obese.  That defiles the temple in a far greater way than simply adding a bit of color does, and yet this is the way that they choose to keep their temples.  So, here is my advice:  the next time a 
Christian complains to you that your tattoo is defiling God's temple, have a long hard look at his collection of belly fat.  That will let you know if he really takes the whole "temple" notion seriously, or is rather simply trying to score rhetorical points.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A New Poem - "Excommunication"


“IT IS ORDERED that the defendant be placed on probation, and the defendant 
shall … not consume intoxicants at any time or any place, and not be present in a place  where the sale of alcohol is the major business.”

I was most sad when they said unto me,
Let’s go into the house where ale is poured,
And tenebral, cool spirits flow down free:
For from such houses I have now been barred.

My sin has gated me on every side
From every type of liquid reverence.
The judge’s writ has bound my will and tied
Me to a bleak, unwilling temperance.

When I recall this, I pour out my soul:
For I had gone in with the multitude
To this , or to some other watering hole,
With voice of praise and joyful attitude.

But now the streets are dark; my friends inside
The merry meeting place think not of me.
Communion with them there I’ve been denied,
I’m excommunicated by decree.

Yet in the life to come, I will imbibe
The Beer of beer and sip the Wine of wines,
All glory to the Bartender ascribe,
And worship at that holy pub betimes.

© 2014 – Paul Erlandson

Monday, September 8, 2014

Biblica Hipsteria

This is just FABULOUS! 

 It starts off slowly, and seems serious. But the rollicking fun begins soon enough! Watch the entire thing!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Orit Arfa - "Why I Stay in Israel"

"Someone asked me why I stay in Israel when I could easily go back to the comfortable haven that is LA.

I stay here because I'm fighting for my values, and I'm fighting for what's right, and if Jews can't be here, no one who loves human freedom and morality will be safe.

I am on the front lines. Yes, it would be easy to go back to LA (if I could find a flight), but my life would feel empty there. My heart is not there.

I am prepared to die for what I believe in. Furthermore, America is lost to me. It isn't what it once was."

(Read more here!)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Coffee Retribution!

This really says everything you need to know about the attitude in Elliott Rodger which caused him to murder six people.  Skip to 1:40 for the part where he starts talking.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Juliana Malacarne ... Perfection!

Here is Juliana Malacarne's posing routine from the 2014 Dallas Europa show.  Amazing!!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Source of the World's Problems

I was thinking this morning of the world's problems.  I think that so many of them can be explained by the following 3 facts:

1.  In order to get anything signficant done, you must be able to energize people to support your cause.

2.  In order to energize people, you must not possess any self-doubt.

3.  In order to do the RIGHT things, you must possess a decent amount of self-doubt.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Lenten Thoughts Of A High Anglican - John Betjeman

This is one of my favorite poems from one of my favorite poets, John Betjeman.  I suppose he must be the patron Saint of all whose minds wander in church.  Which is everyone, I should imagine.

Lenten Thoughts Of A High Anglican

Isn't she lovely, "the Mistress"?
With her wide-apart grey-green eyes,
The droop of her lips and, when she smiles,
Her glance of amused surprise?

How nonchalantly she wears her clothes,
How expensive they are as well!
And the sound of her voice is as soft and deep
As the Christ Church tenor bell.

But why do I call her "the Mistress"
Who know not her way of life?
Because she has more of a cared-for air
Than many a legal wife.

How elegantly she swings along
In the vapoury incense veil;
The angel choir must pause in song
When she kneels at the altar rail.

The parson said that we shouldn't stare
Around when we come to church,
Or the Unknown God we are seeking
May forever elude our search.

But I hope that the preacher will not think
It unorthodox and odd
If I add that I glimpse in "the Mistress"
A hint of the Unknown God. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Winning Strength | Sony PROduction Awards

From my favorite Fitness competitor, Oksana Grishina!

If you like the video, you can vote for it here:

The Winning Strength | Sony PROduction Awards

Sunday, February 16, 2014

70 Year Old Bodybuilder

This guy is my hero.

I saw a different iteration of his video on YouTube in which some of the commenters tried to say it was just his good genetics that enabled him to be in this kind of shape at 70 years old.  Some of them even played the race card, saying that only black men could age this well.  But Sonny himself has the right answer, and it has to do with his work ethic and his dogged determination to outrun age for as long as he can.

Well done, sir!

Friday, February 14, 2014

SAVED by the Electric Prunes and Easy Rider!

It is only a slight exaggeration to say that I am a Christian today because of the use of the Electric Prunes' Kyrie Eleison (from their amazing album, Mass in F Minor) in the 1969 film, Easy Rider.

I was in high school when I caught this film (5 years after its debut) on my parents' little black-and-white TV.  It changed my life.  Soon, I borrowed a book of the Easy Rider screenplay from the North Babylon, New York Public Library.  And then, I borrowed the Easy Rider soundtrack from the same library.  I kept renewing both of them as long as they would let me.  Finally, I splurged and bought my own vinyl LP of the soundtrack.

On the Easy Rider soundtrack LP were these musicians: Steppenwolf, the Byrds, the Electric Prunes, the Band, Roger McGuinn, the Holy Modal Rounders, and Jimi Hendrix.  This is the album that led me to discover all the music I've loved since then, with very few exceptions.  It was the trunk of my musical "family tree."

But, I digress.  This blog is supposed to be about the appearance in the soundtrack of Kyrie Eleison, by the Electric Prunes.  Below, I will post the relevant scenes for you youngsters who may not have seen the film, or you oldsters who were tripping too hard when you saw it back in '69.  But first, some background.

Recall:  George Hanson (the Jack Nicholson character) had just been murdered by rednecks.  Our heroes Captain America (Peter Fonda) and Billy the Kid (Dennis Hopper) have not yet met their similar fates.  They are having dinner when the song starts, and Hopper is trying to talk Fonda into visiting the New Orleans whorehouse which Nicholson had recommended to them:  Madam Tinkertoy's House of Blue Lights.

Fonda is protesting, being the spiritual one of the pair, but Hopper (the carnal one) wins him over with the argument that George "would have wanted us to."  So, they zip off to the brothel, and it appears to be housed in an abandoned church, because the place is adorned with high religious art, interspersed with pin-up style nudes.  It is an interesting juxtaposition, given that the Electric Prunes are psychedelically chanting:  "Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy" in Latin.

There has never in the history of the world been an album quite like Mass in F Minor. Everyone with any interest in popular music and/or Christianity should hear it at least once.  When I first saw the above scene, this song affected me very powerfully, along with the images of the film.  After spending some time in the brothel, and hooking up with two prostitutes, Karen (Karen Black) and Mary (Toni Basil), they decide to head out to Mardi Gras. 

They wind up in a cemetery, and decide to drop acid (I've written a bit about my experimention with LSD here and here). The deliver method of the acid is important.  Fonda places it on the tongue of Karen and then of Mary, like a priest giving the consecrated host.

During the cemetery scene, after the acid begins to kick in, the words of the Apostles' Creed are recited in the background.

So, what do we have here?  We have sin:  drunkenness, fornication, and drugs.  We have the cry for mercy (Kyrie Eleison!).  We have high church art juxtaposed with pornography.  We have a mimicry of Holy Communion. We have the historic Christian Creed being recited.  These scenes from Easy Rider happen at the intersection of sin and redemption, of transgression and mercy.  And it is all bound together in one by the psychedelic chanting and mesmerizing guitar and organ of the Electric Prunes.

This scene made me feel powerfully, for the first time, the pull of the beauty of the historic Christian faith.  It was not the Christian tradition cloistered away in safety, but bursting out of every seam of the universe to meet, confront, challenge, and possibly even convert these drug smugglers and prostitutes, even in the very midst of their intoxication.

It gave me hope of the same thing happening to me.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Pretty Boy Floyd and the Quintessential Leftist Mistake

I woke up this morning with Woody Guthrie's song Pretty Boy Floyd running through my mind.  Specifically, it was the Byrds' version of the song.  Roger McGuinn once introduced this song as being one that others had called Guthrie's "socialist anthem."  McGuinn then said the song didn't seem socialist to him.  But of course, it is.  Because it makes the same basic mistake that almost all Leftists make in their thinking, which is to assume that being generous with money stolen from law-abiding citizens is a virtue.  It is not.

Hear also what Pretty Boy Floyd saith:
"You say that I'm an outlaw; you say that I'm a thief.  But here's a Christmas dinner for the families on relief."
But Guthrie had no right to bestow honor on the outlaw simply because he had given to one set of people goods he had stolen at gun point from another set of people.  And modern Leftists make this mistake all the time.  They truly feel that they have done a charitable act when they force other people to cough up their money and hand it over.

This explain the statistics  one so often sees on the miniscule level of almsgiving by Liberals, such as the one about Al Gore about a decade ago.  Their method is so often to be generous with what they have forced others to send in to the government.  They are brothers in crime with Pretty Boy Floyd.

But of course, it is hard to call any one of Woody Guthrie's songs a "socialist anthem," because nearly all of them are, to one degree or another.  Consider this gem, from This Land is Your Land:
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;

But on the back side it didn't say nothing;

This land was made for you and me.
In other words:  Feel free to trespass on anyone's private property or even (I suppose) take it.  Because private property was an evil notion for Woody Guthrie, as  I suppose it is for all thieves.
Guthrie did get one thing right, however.  It is this:
As through this world I've wandered,
I've seen lots of funny men.
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.
We have a name for the latter set of thieves:  we call them Democrats.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Aging and Beauty (Part 2: The Joy)

In Part 1 I talked about the sadness that comes with the loss of physical beauty as we age.  In Part 2, I want to discuss the joy that I have found in this process.

For many young people (and here, I am thinking mostly of teenagers) the thought of old or even middle-aged people expressing attraction for one other is a chilling and grotesque one.  My daughter regularly upbraids me and my wife for kissing each other.  It disgusts her.  I am not completely certain that her view is the normative one for modern teenagers, but it is that old people (by which I think she means anyone over the age of 40) should cease to have fun, cease to pretend that they could ever be physically attractive to another person, and basically just shuffle off to the old folks' home to patiently await death.

But that is not what we old folks actually do, much to the consternation of the youthful.  We continue to find each other attractive.  But there is more.  I can say without reservation that I find a greater percentage of women (and men, for that matter) attractive today than at any time in my life.  When I was young, I too failed to see the beauty in older women.  But now I can see it.

Now, this could be true in part because older women actually are more attractive today than forty years ago.  It is possible that increase in the practice of healthy eating and regular exercise have made older women objectively more attractive than the older women of decades past.  But I do not believe that this is the main effect.  I think the main effect is manifold, and that each component of it has to do rather more with my sight than with the physical appearances of the people I am seeing.

On the one hand, with age, I think that there normally comes a sort of healthy humility:  a realization that we ourselves are shot through with flaws, pimples, warts, annoying asymmetries, and aesthetic aberrations.  This often can have the effect of causing us to leave off scrutinizing the flaws of others, including flaws in physical beauty.  If we notice them, we tend to forgive them.

But, beyond that, certain "flaws" inherent in aging actually seem to enhance the beauty of the other.  At our ages, we are all to be congratulated (a bit) for merely being survivors of all we have endured.   And the crinkles around the eyes, the crease lines in the forehead ... these are the emblems of our heroic survival.  We know it to be true of ourselves.  We have these age lines because we have worried much, and we have worried much because we have loved deeply.  Our scars have all become beauty marks.

But the last part of the effect which I'd like to discuss is perhaps the most important:  as we age, we learn to see inwardly.  That is, we learn to read a person's soul in his or her visage.  We learn to recognize extremely subtle hints in the physiognomy (the narrowing of the eyes by 0.5 mm, or the transient twitch of a nostril, or the tiniest upward curl at one edge of the mouth), things which are definite clues to the character and beauty of the soul within, but which we would have missed in the days of our youth.

The observation of beauty, as it happens with age, is a great and seemingly solitary counter-example of the overwhelming trend for humans to become jaded with the passing of time.  This "unjading" is a remarkable thing.  In almost every other area, our tolerance for a thing becomes greater, and we must have ever and ever more of it in order to become excited.  But not with beauty as observed by an older man, at least one who has (under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit) been paying attention and carefully honing his observational skills.  He breaks the rule.  He is like a man who at 21 needed twenty drinks to become drunk, but who now can become intoxicated by a mere sip.  Beauty is in all people.  Only now, we can see it.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Aging and Beauty (Part 1: The Sadness)

My ex-Brother-in-Law used to describe the loss of beauty in an aging person by stating that he or she had been "hit over the head by the Ugly Stick."  It is obvious that our appearance changes as we age and that, on average, it decays quite a bit.

The decay usually happens slowly, especially to ourselves or others that we see on a daily basis.  On the other hand, when we see a current photo of someone we've not seen in twenty years, the aging effect seems stark and sudden, and brings us up short.

I actually want to talk here about the opposite effect, that of suddenly seeing an old photograph, taken in youth, of a person we have seen gradually age for years or decades.  It, too, brings me up short, but in a different way.  It could be a celebrity, a friend, or even an enemy, but the sudden glimpse back in time to see the image of that person, brimful of youthful beauty and energy ... well it has an odd effect on me.

In the first two seconds after seeing such an image, I am almost always overcome by the beauty of the person.  I had totally forgotten how great they had looked back in the day.  Over the years, I gradually came to accept as normal and "real" the ever more tarnished image I saw, and the sudden return to the untarnished state brings with it a rush of joy, an exhilaration that has to do with the energy of life at its very core.

As this exhilaration fades, I feel a few seconds of kinship with the person.  I won't say "love", for people accuse me of using that word to easily, but I will say that I have a warm, fond feeling for the person, and a wish for him or her to be happy and young again.  I am "rooting" for him.  I am "on her side" in the struggle against beauty-robbing age.  I want blessings to fall on them, perpetually.   And the odd thing is, this effect happens even with my enemies (e.g., political opponents).  I am not very good at keeping Christ's commandment to love my enemies, but seeing youthful photographs of them seems to allow me to do so, with nothing held back.  It is a nice feeling.  I think, "Sure, they did this or that harmful thing to me, but ... oh, my, how splendid they looked back then."  Or, something like that.

And then, the awful Third Wave comes:  A debilitating and paralyzing sadness, sweeping over me like a wave and pulling me under.  Look what has happened to us, what we have become!  Look what time has done to us!  Behold, in a human face, what the curse pronounced on "the two orchard thieves" (as Herman Melville described our first parents) has done to us.  How sad it all is, living in a fallen, decaying world.

The image of the youthful face reminds us of what might have been, and of what can never be again.  And this last wave of emotion stays with me longer than the first, more joyous two.  We have sinned.  We have fallen short.  And God has bludgeoned us with the Ugly Stick.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Gym Shoot with Jeff Sygo

A bodybuilder only looks his or her best for a few weeks out of the year, and so it is advisable to take lots of photographs during these periods (usually around the dates of competitions).  It helps us to remember how good we can be, and allows us to cherish the results of our months of hard work long after returning body fat has come to obscure the underlying muscles.

Here are some photos by Jeff Sygo of SymiPhotography, shot at the Powerhouse Gym in Fenton, Michigan.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sobriety as Superpower

I have had a breakthrough.

Like many of my paradigm-shifting breakthrough thoughts, this one came to me while in the middle of a 45-minute cardio session.  When I do cardio, my brain gives a simple set of instructions to my body:  "Try and keep it around 135 bpm, and I'll see you in 45 minutes."  My mind then goes off to ponder, pray, or play.  And sometimes it even comes up with something brilliant.

For some time, I have been trying to stop drinking alcohol.  I can succeed for months (or sometimes years) at a time but, so far, I've always gone back.  One of the reasons it is hard for me is that to accomplish it, I must refrain from doing something.  I tend to to better at reaching goals which cause me to do things than at ones which make in necessary not to do a certain thing.

Quite naturally, I think, I have been thinking of sobriety as a negative ... it consists of NOT doing something.  I've unconsciously thought of it as being like darkness, which has no real existence of its own, but is merely the absence of light.  In like manner, sobriety is the absence of fun drinking.

But what if I were able to think of sobriety as a real, tangible, positive entity?  I think it would help me.  So, my idea is to redefine the baseline from which I take my measurements regarding productivity and success in life.  In the past, I've always assumed my baseline productivity level to be that which I can achieve with 100% perpetual sobriety.  Any drunkenness will cause degradation to this productivity level.  No place to go but down.

Now, I am going to create a new mental baseline.  My new baseline is the level of success and productivity I would achieve by going out once per week and getting really drunk.  After such an event, I am generally weaker in the gym for at least the next 3 days.  I have to sleep more, so that time is lost in addition to the actual 3 or 4 hours lost during the drinking itself.  There are many other areas of life in which similar levels of degradation are noticed.  For argument's sake, let's assume that my overall effectiveness for the week is 80% of what it would be assuming 100% sobriety.  So now, this 80% level is my new 100% level, my new "expected" baseline level. 

A few magical things happen from this way of thinking.  One is that it is now possible to go up beyond 100% productivity -- all the way up to 125%, in fact.  And how is this achieved? By the positive, forceful, and strong thing we call sobriety.

And that is the other magical thing:  sobriety is now a positive entity.

Suppose you are a bodybuilder, and you are told that there is a supplement that can cause you to be 25% more effective in the gym.  And, by the way, it's free!  You would jump at the opportunity!  That super supplement is sobriety.

Or, again, what if someone told you that when you go to parties, you could have a 25% better mental acuity and 25% better ability to see through phony people.  And that you could drive better, play games better, read faster, lift more weight, produce more at work, and feel better.  It would seem to you as nothing less than a superpower!  This superpower is sobriety, and I am planning on exploiting it from now on.