My Vomitorium Membership

Anyone who keeps tabs on me will know that about three years ago I started running and by winter of 2009 had lost forty pounds.  I’ve kept all this up, but for all the work I was doing I felt I just needed an extra edge.  I was working too hard to be yet a little over weight, so I bit the bullet and joined a gym.

My gym includes people of all kinds; it’s not the place for an uber-serious bodybuilder.  We say that modern men are not superstitious, but one finds evidence of a belief in mystery at my gym.  Anyone who is serious about getting in better shape agrees with the physicist that F=ma, but many of the people at my gym believe that a kind of magic reigns, as if going to the gym is like visiting Lourdes, the Fountain of Youth, or the nudie bar.

I have struggled to keep a straight face while witnessing some of this.  Old women lay on the ab machines, half-asleep, as if mere contact with the sweat-stained rubber will give them the torso of Michael Phelps.  This while the F=ma crowd paces about nervously, waiting for machines and wondering how fast their heart rates are going to plunge. At other times I’ve seen people young enough to do better walk on a treadmill at some glacial pace for thirty minutes and burn a whopping 150 calories.  At that rate they’d be better off skipping the extra cafe latte and staying home and doing something they enjoy, since exercise is obviously indulged half-heartedly.  The elderly recovering from surgeries and heart attacks is one thing; the lazy middle-aged is another.

Nevertheless, it’s not just the lackadaisical who provide the entertainment.  Just the other day I watched some guy do eight reps on the bench press and then get up and stretch his right leg.  More common is the mistake of jerking the weights around.  My joints hurt just watching it.  One of the disadvantages of being young is that your body doesn’t impose discipline for such infractions, and so the young do this disproportionately.

A few years ago I saw an article which essentially asserted that exercise makes you fat.  This is, of course, ridiculous, but only if you know what you’re doing.  Running six miles isn’t even enough to burn off most donuts.  A lot of people assume otherwise, however, and so, after burning their whopping 150 calories on a treadmill, I suspect they head home to eat like pigs while watching rubbish on the idiot box.  (Many idiot boxes—or, if you prefer, booboisie tubes—are available at the gym, too, since most people can’t stand the thought of being outside the matrix for more than a few minutes.)  Maybe this explains why so many of the people at the gym are downright fat, along with why that stupid article was written in the first place.

I looked around at all this one day and had a sudden vision of Roman vomitoriums.  Are these people here just so they can eat more?  Are they attempting to be thin without giving up even the worst of their eating habits?  Would all cultures in all times consider vomitoriums to be grosser than gigantic sweat-holes?  I’m skeptical, especially since I’ve been frequently surrounded by the hygienically-impaired.  I won’t go further into detail, for fear of anesthetizing the reader.

If you want to go to a gym, and if you want to make real progress, there is one place you can go:  the free weights.  By its nature, this section is limited mostly to people who know what they’re doing.  Most of the members at my gym would be afraid to pick up a fifteen pound dumbbell, so it’s a perfectly safe place to go.  Anyone in that section means business and knows you mean business, too.  Get in, work out, get out.  The shared ambition even increases cooperation.  There are no fat people taking naps on the benches.

If jaw exercise were as beneficial as using a gazelle, I suppose America would be the fittest country in the world.  We love to talk about fitness, to admire supermodels, and to buy gym memberships and eat fat free food-like substances.  But something is obviously wrong, since such a small portion of our society is actually in good shape.  I am afraid that physical fitness is a fad that will pass away, a good wave for smart businessmen to ride until people realize they’re not accomplishing anything, and give up, sliding down Mencken’s proverbial greased pole.  Golf is easier.  I only hope that when that day comes, there will still be a place for me to work out.

Chase Utley, the “F” word, and bad taste

Perhaps it was the placement of a new William Penn atop the Comcast Building which undid the curse. Perhaps the curse was just a false religion. In either case, there is no curse now, and the Philadelphia Phillies have won the World Series.

Having lived in the middle of all the celebrating, I can say for certain that not much work has been accomplished in this city the past several days. The World Series victory has been a diversion for everyone, regardless of whether they were looking for one or not. Even I, who generally would rather sit at home and read my Murray Rothbard books than go out and try to patch together a pleasant evening in an oppressively noisy bar, got caught up in the revelry. I attended Friday’s victory parade and then walked the four blocks back to my apartment to watch the ceremony held at the ballpark.

Now, when events like this happen in Philadelphia, everyone holds his breath. Will people destroy the city? As it turns out, no. There was just one bump in the road on Friday. As part of a queue of speakers, Phillies shortstop Chase Utley stepped up to the microphone and unleashed the dreaded “F” word (no….not Federal Reserve!) before any of the TV producers could get a finger on the mute button.

Uh oh.

Now, before I say another word I ought to say this: I am not in the least offended by profanity, and in fact I enjoy using a good bit of it myself. Sometimes, there is just no other way to express a thought. This is because language, beyond the literal meaning of the words, has tendency, and it has sentiment. Surely, after a 25 year long championship drought in Philadelphia, there’s plenty of what could be (loosely) called sentiment to go around.

However, this episode frankly gave me a sinking feeling, a feeling of disappointment. Utley’s comment was completely unnecessary, though I suspect it was the result of an unguarded moment. Ever forget where you are and say something you shouldn’t? This could be what happened to Utley.

Various reactions to this episode poured onto local websites. Most common were the “What’s the big deal?” reactions. (We could call these the “libertines.”) In second place we had the Sheila Broflovskys, who were all concerned about the children. There is another response that often happens in situations like this which might be called the “theocratic” reaction, though it seems to be happily underrepresented here in Philadelphia. These are the people who write the local newspapers and call down the wrath of God on the person who said the bad word (would he be called by these people the “f**ker”?). They call for laws and all sorts of other tyrannical imbecilities which are supposed to protect the innocence of our Great Society. These are the people who give the FCC what legitimacy it has, and they’re responsible for that stupid TV ratings system that no one pays attention to.

The truth is that all of these people have missed the point. Start with the children. Let’s get serious for a minute: How many of them had never heard this word before? Thinking realistically and leaving aside puritanical-Utopian fantasy, we can surmise that most of them have already heard it. And for those who haven’t, I don’t see that such an experience will make a dime’s worth of difference in the development of their long term character, which really comes from good parenting. A good parent doubtlessly took the time to explain that they don’t want to hear that kind of language in their house. So, Sheila Broflovsky can go home now.

We have already explained the problem of the theocrats, but what’s the problem with the libertines? In truth, the libertines and the theocrats suffer from the same inability to properly identify the problem with public, TV-broadcast profanity. They are blind to the actual malady, which is really quite simple.

The problem is bad taste–no more, no less. (This is not to put down Utley as more tasteless than the general population; he is only a product of his culture, just like the rest of us.) Our society tends to group various actions into two broad categories: actions which are legal, and actions which are not–or perhaps one might say actions which can be done and actions which cannot be done. There is little sense of ought and ought not. This is where taste–or one could call it good manners–comes in. It is not moral law, it is not civic law, it is the agreed-upon code of conduct between men, and it is perhaps more responsible for peaceable relationships among us than the nun’s clicker or the policeman’s baton.

The problem with an absence of manners is that positive law is more quickly appealed to in order to rectify an issue which really belongs to the province of good taste. We don’t need the FCC telling us what we can and cannot say on television. Nor do we need to exaggerate and treat the “F” word as a mortal sin, a colossal upsetting of the Order of the Universe. What we need is good taste, so that we can all agree that Chase Utley shouldn’t have said what he said.

And then leave it at that.

The World Series and Americanism

Baseball, they say, is America’s favorite past-time. I confess that I don’t pay much attention to it, except at unusual times such as we have now, as the Philadelphia Phillies are playing in the “World” Series. I really wish I could just turn off the television and pretend that none of this is happening, but I can’t seem to help myself. You see, I have very mixed sentiments when it comes to professional sports. On the one hand, it would seem to be a harmless diversion, so long as it is indulged with due prudence. There is also the added benefit, that, unlike the 1993 Phillies team that went to the “World” Series, the players in 2008 are fairly well-kempt. On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if pride in the hometown team is not a diluted form of a more pernicious civic pride, whereby we find our unity not as neighbors with each other as individuals, but as subjects of the same overlords at Broad and Market Sts.

The truth is probably somewhere in between.

Take, for instance, the absurd, piggish Americanism on display at this (and probably every other) “World” Series. First, there is the insistence on calling it the World Series and on naming its victor world champions. There was a time when this was literally true, but no more. These terms only denote the typical American arrogance in thinking that the accomplishments on this shore are the only ones that matter. And when the Japanese kick our asses in Olympic baseball–in or in the Little League World Series (a real world series), for that matter–we just pretend it didn’t happen. Oh, and by the way, Americans didn’t even invent baseball. File that one in the “Al Gore invented the internet” folder.

If these arrogant allocutions aren’t enough, there is an accompanying ritual of State worship which is dumb, stupid, imbecilic, and, needless to say, in poor taste. I am referring, of course, to the singing of “God Bless America” during the 7th inning stretch. To hell with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame!” That song does not heap due reverence upon the thugs that loot the fruits of our labors in the name of making the world “safe for democracy.” No, you must listen to this stupid song, and you must enjoy it, even if you have a music degree from a major conservatory. Earlier this year, Yankee Stadium management threw a guy out because he tried to use the restroom during this voodoo Statist incantation.

It will not suffice, of course, to have any old citizen with a “good” voice sing this piece of trash. No, it must be a member of the U.S. Death Squad Military, decked out in his or her finest uniform. I don’t know how well these people sing; I always get to the mute button before I can be assaulted with their most-likely poorly calibrated intonation. Last night, perhaps as a joke, the TV crews showed a picture of Independence Hall at the conclusion of this august, holy ritual, as if Thomas Jefferson or James Monroe would approve of all this absurdity.

What’s wrong with a stupid song? Well, first of all, it has been known from the time of the most ancient philosophers that music has a particularly virile power to seduce men into thinking or doing things they otherwise would not do–in this circumstance, worship the USA. In the case of “God Bless America,” however, there is a further consideration. The text of this music is pedestrian in the extreme, and perhaps its vapidness covers up something even more to be regretted: the self-righteous posture of what is purportedly a prayer. The tone of it all sounds something like, “Hey God, bless us and give us more SUV’s, or we’re gonna bomb whichever country you live in and take all yer’ oil.” This is a far cry from those ancient Latin prayers with wordings such as, “O Lord, we humbly beseech thee in thy mercy….”

Because of all this mountebankery surrounding American baseball, I have had plenty of reason to resist getting on the Phillies bandwagon. But last night, on a walk to the store following the game, I got to rethinking all this. Yes, baseball, and other sports, are used as occasions to nakedly worship State power, and many of the partakers of the festivities buy into it. But this would not seem to be an intrinsic part of the activity. Many, I’m sure, just ignore all this stupidity and get along just fine. Moreover, seeing that most people don’t change and never will, we would be left to allowing only Statists to enjoy sports if we were to become too uptight about all this, and that would perhaps be the gravest injustice of all–the idea that only Statists could partake of such otherwise wholesome activity.

The joy on the streets of Philadelphia in the wee hours of Monday morning was palpable. A city which has not had a professional sports championship in 25 years is one game away from breaking the dry spell. Even if many of them are acting like fools and baboons, I have never seen the people of Philadelphia happier than they are right now. This city, which for five or six decades has been a ruinous hellhole of government mismanagement, mediocrity, and disappointment, just might finally have something to be genuinely happy about.

And the fact that such joy would be coming from something other than a Utopian government plan (save for the fact that the taxpayers funded the stadium…) just might be what we need.

Notre Dame football looking for Rosary bead donations

Many, many years ago, there was a local showdown between two high-powered high school football teams, one Catholic, the other public. The game came down to a last minute 27 yard field goal attempt by the Catholic team. They missed. The public high school went 11-0 and into the playoffs.

“What happened? How did you win?” I asked one of the coaches from the public school. “They dropped their beads,” he answered.

I just watched Notre Dame drop their beads. After a fantastic punt return, a Notre Dame receiver ran the wrong route in the end zone, and, despite the fact that he was wide open, could therefore get nowhere close enough to the ball to score a touchdown. The snap of the ensuing chip shot field goal attempt was fumbled.

Here we go again. Ten more games of this.  Notre Dame needs your Rosary bead donations.

Oh…..but now they got the ball back and scored. Maybe kvetching will be the magic formula for this year.

In any case, I have to stick with Notre Dame. They might have a cheesy mascot, but at least they don’t take any State funding.