Essays in Idleness


Don’t think twice

There were two reasons why I did not immediately comment on the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature (Kipling, Tagore, Yeats, Undset, Mann, Eliot, Perse …) to Bob Dylan. One was that Mr Essays-in-Idleness does not feel the need to comment on every passing item of news, and has not done since the last mainstream media organization gave him the flipper. And the other was, I couldn’t stop giggling.

Like the Queen, and the late King of Siam, the singer-songwriter in question has been around for as long as my semi-quaver generation can remember (I think I first became aware of him around 1962). He is prehistory to our little ones, though I can easily imagine literature perfessers in Scandihoovia thinking he represents the new, the cool, and the revolutionary. Mr Dylan (formerly Robert Allen Zimmerman) is seventy-five years old, which is to say, older than many of the customers in a customary old folks’ home. Given his loucheness with personal memoir, he may actually be eighty.

Old enough to know that it is never wise to take messages from the Norselands. (My deep-historical Gaelic ancestors already understood this.) Those would include Sweden (as any ancient Pole could tell you). There is a history there, indeed, and it is no surprise that those inaccessible wastes were so quickly lost to Mediterranean civilization and the Catholic Church, after centuries of patient, spiritual conquest. For most of the Middle Ages, our humble adherents in much of the Continent were preoccupied by the security questions they posed; and the Nobel Prizes, founded by a liberal dynamite salesman, are among their more recent efforts to intimidate us.

Now, in addition to possibly being one myself, I am surrounded by self-admitted, super-annuated Dylan fans. For many it was the first love they could not explain. And all, from whom I have heard, are united in belittling the Nobel committee that awarded this ridiculous prize. Similarly, all are delighted that our hero is apparently refusing to take calls from them. “Let them stick it where the sun does not shine,” was the view expressed by one of these old friends. He went on to remark that no Christian has any business taking fillips from those post-modern savages. And that, after all, Bob Dylan is a Christian. And,

… it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe:
The light I never knowed.
An’ it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe:
I’m on the dark side of the road.

All about Nothing

The point of Confession is not to mortify one’s pride, but to disable it. Of this I am reminded by an old philosophical friend, on the second anniversary of whose death I happened to be born. Pride can be mortified easily enough — you don’t need any religion for that. In fact, it tends to be self-mortifying, as one might notice in looking around, or in reviewing one’s own case. But that would require a little reflection.

Today, we are dealing with the Problem of Evil. Or at least, I am. To my perhaps over-Miltonic understanding (a danger in becoming an English-speaking person), it begins in Pride, and specifically in the proud rebellion of the first Angel who got it in his head that he could go to Heaven in his own way. And wouldn’t go there on any other terms. (In fact, Milton was fairly Catholic on this.)

It was, from the start, a contradictory sort of thing to be doing, with its strange corollary — “if I can’t have it nobody will” — but there, if you will, you have it. At the very bottom of the wishing well, when we have fallen into it, we realize an act of incredible stupidity: the conscious choice of Nothing. (With a capital N.) For the truth is, being is somethingness, at least. And the bad news is also the good news, if one happens to be a little devil. It is the discovery that “Nothing” isn’t available. That becoming a None was the wrong move. Unfortunately for the devil in question, making this final discovery, the bad news is for him and the good news is for others.

But there are people — or more precisely little devils in human flesh — who just won’t get this, no matter how patiently it is explained. A rose may be a rose to them, but they miss the next proposition: that it will always be a rose (or, always will have been); and that, a nothing is a nothing is a nothing.

In that sense, I think one goes to Confession to confess … Nothing. One goes to fess up to this, and get it corrected. One’s pride may provide considerable resistance, hence the need to get it disabled — to rebel, as it were, against one’s own personal rebellion.

The same holds for the other Deadly Sins. They are all nothings, so sadly pointless. We can try to rebel against God; but we aren’t going to win. It is worse than that: we won’t even be able to explain to ourselves, plausibly, why we have been so stupid. For in the end, like Iago, we’ll have nothing to say — nothing to say about Nothing; and nothing that could be said in favour of Nothing, given the existence, even in Hell, of the eternal, conspicuous, somethingness. The inmates may desire Nothing — to become nothing, to somehow escape the oppressive somethingness of things. They could pray for it, but that would be absurd. (How do you ask Something for Nothing?)

Any way you look at it, they can never have the Nothing they want. And this because it cannot be had, now or eternally ever.

Or perhaps, cancel the last few rebellions, in the time since one was last there, and set out once again on the path of loyalty, obedience, and decent behaviour, towards the boundless citadel of Love.

Which takes me to my other point about Confession. It is a Sacrament. That is to say, it is not only a something, but a font of somethingness. It is, one might say, the thereness in There. It is life restored: one should go to it sometimes.

For you see, Sartre had it all backwards.


(BTW, the answer to that opening quiz was, “Wittgenstein.”)

An anti-globalist tirade

Why do people want what they don’t want?

This could be confused with a fundamental Platonic question, but I want it to be only slightly confused. If, arguably, people could see the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, there would be no evil. They would know better than to entertain invidious thoughts; or commit imperfect acts. That, however, would make the whole people like God, or at least like godly angels, with various unfortunate theological implications, which I’m eager to avoid. The question I’m asking is much less ambitious. Why do people ask for one thing, when they’d rather have another?

Economics can never become a “science” because people do not act from rational self-interest (whatever that may be). They act instead from impulses, as the advertising agencies understand, and those impulses depend on whether they are being watched. By whom they think they are being watched comes into this. Curiously, their “self-image” is determined through what they imagine to be the views of others. Or rather there is nothing curious about this, since we are a social animal, and our happiness depends on the happiness of the tribe (until the tribe happily decides to destroy us). We try to please, which is why, I would suggest, even the deranged who surround me in Parkdale are outwardly “nice” when they are on their meds — those not prescribed meds having mastered “nice” without chemical stabilizers.

Parkdale, incidentally, is where I live. It has no park, and is not in a dale. Notwithstanding I call it Vallis Hortensis, just to get along.

“Nice,” in this sense, is a bundle of (highly predictable) habits and opinions. It extends to little acts of edginess, that are currently encouraged; and will do for as long as they are. Canadians, for instance — who are among the nicest people in the world; who wouldn’t hurt a fly; who won’t complain about anything, however painful; and will spontaneously apologize to inanimate objects if they happen to collide with them — will suddenly become downright stroppy if one expresses an idea which their betters have ruled to be “not nice.” They will tell you that they “have problems with that.”

One must resist the temptation, simply to give them problems, e.g. by using non-euphemistic language. (Example: you are allowed to be abstractly opposed to abortion; but you are certainly not allowed to be against killing babies.)

Yet, under delicate cross-examination, in the spirit of Mr Socrates’ kindly niece, one finds that they might do it themselves — might express many of these not-nice ideas — if they thought they could get away with it. (We have free speech in Canada, but only between consenting adults.) Their disapproval is an anxious concession to the requirement for niceness, with its comfortable mental and spiritual inanition. It is the line of least resistance when any third party might be within hearing. Alone, with only the not-nice person to talk with, their “problems” begin to disappear.

Secretly, I suspect that across a range of issues, and commercial products, people pretend even to themselves that they like things they actually abhor. Or rather, I think this openly, even though it may not be nice.

The advertising agencies (which work with equal enthusiasm on commercial and political products) know this. It is why Democrats and Liberals exist. It is why products that are obviously not good for any conceivable environment are sold as “ecological” and “organic.” It is why new subdivisions are called “Mountainview” when there is no mountain in sight. Or, “Meadowview” when they are in the heart of an asphalt jungle. It is why politicians, who advocate schemes that will bankrupt the polity, recommend them as “investments in the future.” The trick is to remind people of what they really want, while substituting something the client really wants to sell.

And so forth.


There are many virtues I lack, but among them Patience, which I take as a species of Fortitude, is conspicuous for its absence, perhaps even to some of my gentle readers. This is especially unbecoming in an advocate of philosophical Idleness, who holds that we direct our energies habitually towards the wrong things. There is nothing so misdirecting as Impatience, which, with such conspirators as Hastiness and Superficiality, are bound to spoil the dinner.

I was reflecting on this several evenings ago, while watching an accomplished cook of my acquaintance patiently prepare steak and potatoes for a little spontaneous gathering of old friends. We were sitting around her kitchen island with cheese and good drinks as she, for instance, sliced a formidable heap of onions, before lowering the gorgeous mass into a skillet carefully warmed, with butter gently melted into oil to dissuade the milk solids from burning. This while keeping an eye upon four or five other heating elements, and carrying on at least two overlapping conversations, with imperturbable calm.

Women are generally believed superior in “multitasking,” but it is seldom done with the serenity I witnessed — that passed almost unnoticed, as effort is meant to pass unnoticed in all fine art. Suddenly there was a dining table groaning with magnificent dishes, including a variety of vegetable sides, which miraculously delivered themselves all at the same moment.

A typically impatient person, living understandably alone, I tend to avoid making dinner until I am famished, then cook too much, too fast. My only defence is that I leave no witnesses. Against this, I must confess that it is often a curry I am rushing: in culinary terms, a grievous mortal sin.

Invariably, a curry is ruined by haste, which a fine Punjabi lady such as my heroine the late Mrs Balbir Singh could have made sublime, by small labours distributed through the day, with exactly the same ingredients. For Justice is important — it precedes even Mercy. In a curry, as in any other dish, justice requires that we treat each ingredient, including each spice, as it deserves to be treated: pounded in the right way, roasted or otherwise prepared for its entry into the pot at the right time, in the right order. Toss everything together in a blinding blaze and one will make what might better be called not a curry but a shameful Pandaemonium. Even with the humblest ingredients, the poor of India find leisure to eat well. Or once did.

Reading, thinking, prayer, and gardening, all benefit from careful, slow attention, and a spirit I associate with connoisseurship. It is true, Chesterton told us anything worth doing is worth doing badly; and the proof is that eating is better than not eating, over an extended period. But nutrition is available from any hamburger stall, supposing one likes to throw around money, as surrogate for time. The joy increases as one learns to cook better — and from it a satisfaction that goes beyond the material. God, for instance, did not make a mess in his patient preparation of the universe, and should be emulated long before that Sunday (or was it the Saturday?) when He saw that it was good.

So it is, that I account the writings of Brillat-Savarin holy, for he says dinners are a means of government, and that the fates of nations are decided at a banquet; that dinner is the final business of the day (apart from Compline). That frying gives cooks many ways of concealing what appeared the day before. That it takes little more time to fry a four-pound carp than an egg.

And Lichtenberg observed that coffee is miserable when drunk out of wine glasses, or meat when cut at table with scissors.

And both note that toast not buttered with artistry, is deleterious.

Hard rain chronicles

History will never repeat itself, precisely, any more than two sunsets will be exactly alike, or the wind will blow everywhere in the same way. Yet there are patterns, themes, human habits, that are extremely repetitive, and the intelligent student of history will notice them. There is “nothing new under the sun,” and the wise know it.

For the statesman, versed in some history (though never enough), and supposing him to have some goodwill, there must be the equivalent of weather warnings. He will know there are limits to what he can achieve, and he will know that these limits are externally imposed. Therefore he will focus on what is attainable. If the hurricane is coming, then the hurricane is coming. He cannot divert it, for no man can once it is swirling; his task is instead to predict, to the best of his knowledge and experience, where and how it may land, and look out for the safety of his people. And after it has struck — always in ways not quite anticipated — he must be ready to pick up the pieces.

All of this should be obvious, and yet it is lost on any democratic polity, once politicians begin to hold each other accountable for the weather itself. The people must choose between gangsters, as they are now preparing to do in the large republic over the Lake to my south. It is a sordid and demeaning spectacle, this contest between two candidates, neither of whom should ever have been let near any public office. Such is the disorder in the world around us, that a hard wind is going to blow, and neither has the resources of character, the chaste prudential judgement, the intelligence, the knowledge, the “temperament” or stability of mind, to be useful in a crisis. Both are shameless liars, whose lives have been devoted to self-promotion alone. Neither can be relied upon, except to increase the impact of the storm; to become, in effect, part of its fury.

The die is cast, in this respect, for the election of either is a national disaster, to compound that of the previous self-regarding fool; the fallout from America’s abjuration will continue to spread around the world. In the absence of capable leadership, there is, practically, nothing we can do, besides suffer the consequences. Americans must not vote, or if they do, only to choose the ash flavour they’d prefer; for what could be done to avert disaster was ignored, a long time ago.

No constitution, or other technical instrument, can save a people from ill fate, once the entire ruling class of a country has abandoned “the spirit of the laws,” and reduced themselves to naked lust for power. We might call this “decadence,” though the word is insufficiently strong for a condition that permeates all Western society, and is merely reflected in rulers no longer restrained by tradition and ethical norms. For generations, now, and for historical reasons we hate to explore, “consumerism” (both in market and the distribution of public services) has advanced, to a point where pleasure and convenience determine every consideration of right and wrong. Who is left with the moral authority to declare, “This you may not do!”? (This was the power of the king mentioned yesterday, a mere “constitutional monarch,” but an effective one; now gone, and we will see the consequences.)

It will seem ridiculous to offer the prescription, fast and pray. That it seems ridiculous, today, is a measure of our moral disintegration, the result of which is that we have lost the capacity for self-government in any form. We can no longer look to leaders we can trust to discern, less defend, our real interests. And so, there are no guardians of public safety; or none we would, without compulsion, obey. Wherever we look, we may see the consequences of this.

Our real and immediate interest is to rebuild the character of our civilization; to recover that common understanding of up and down; of right and wrong; of what is worthy and what is unworthy; of what is godly and what is ungodly; along with the telling power of example. Let the world titter in its cynicism: the recovery begins when we fast and pray.


(Bonus Warren essay, here.)

A good & righteous man

“O dark dark dark, they all go into the dark, the vacant interstellar places, the vacant into the vacant.”

I see from the news that King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX of the remarkable Chakri dynasty, has died after seventy years’ reign in Thailand. He had been key fixture of the national life, on the throne since long before most of his subjects were born; beloved, indeed revered. He was already generally acknowledged as, “King Bhumibol the Great.” So fine a monarch, so admired a man, so long-lived — his image on all coins and stamps, his portrait hanging everywhere (including private houses), the royal anthem sung at all public events — leaves a terrifying void.

He came to the throne in 1946, at a trying time in the national life, and departs having been the indispensable guarantor of unity in a society ever more ravaged by the overbearing demands of our cheap globalism. He stood above faction, and could command a loyalty different in kind from that of any self-seeking politician. (Several times he knocked the politicians’ heads together.) He was a living symbol of continuity between past and future, and a bond between the heavens and the earth, as almost any Thai could tell you. He was noble: a reminder that in some high place — somewhere, detached from the omnipresent bureaucracy — was a man of paternal kindliness, a good and righteous soul. This was how things were, and the cynicism towards “authority figures” that afflicts all moderns could, in Thailand, never reach the top.

To his adulators, King Bhumibol explained that he was a man, capable of making mistakes, and no “god.” He asked them not to insult him by suggesting that he wasn’t human. A man can only be a man; yet he may be a good and righteous man.

The outcry of grief, heard throughout his country at his passing, is to my knowledge utterly sincere. It is for no superstar or starlet, but for a power and benevolence that reached down, and touched the soft earth of old Siam. Every family in Thailand has lost the equivalent of a grandfather in him.

At the age of eighteen, by his elder brother’s sudden death, he came into an office that he never sought, nor practically could have expected. Now his son comes to it at the age of sixty-four, after a life not entirely edifying. My Christian prayers are with the Buddhist prayers, that King Vajiralongkorn will rise to the example of his father, and understand as his father did that his task is to serve, in a cause far more exalted than his own pleasure or convenience. The very safety of his people now depends on him.

For there is a profound constitutional wisdom in these words:

“The King is dead, long live the King!”


My own connexions with Thailand go back to childhood. Self-indulgently I link (here) a version of the Thai Royal Anthem, arranged and directed by Somtow Sucharitkul, my old school chum from Bangkok Patana, when we were eleven and twelve years old. (We used to write Greek tragedies together.) It is typical of “Cookie,” as I then knew him — that skinny child who is now that high-born, fat old man in Siamese royal yellow — that he ignores his orchestra and turns to conduct his audience instead. A half-century passes, but he is just the same.

To the passing of His Majesty the King, I think Somtow would have reacted in just the way I did: with tears, and that final, senseless, bravura, “Chayo!”

A Grician implicature

From my usual astronomical distance, I have been following the “controversy” in the Midwest Society of Christian Philosophers. I was, to start, only vaguely aware such a thing existed. Here I must confess to a slight eccentricity. When a man (or even a woman) describes himself as “a philosopher,” I instinctively guffaw. I will accept, calmly, “student of philosophy,” or even, “professor of philosophy” as an academic credential, but am disinclined to call anyone “a philosopher” until he has been dead for a while, and even then with hesitation. In my view, which continues to dominate this website, a person who calls himself a Philosopher is approximately equivalent to one who calls himself a Saint. And when I see a bunch of such people forming themselves into a society or union, I expect rich farce. It is, invariably, provided.

Now, Richard Swinburne is a distinguished emeritus professor of philosophy at Oxford (not the one in Mississippi, the other one). At the age of eighty-one, he retains a fine and precise mind, plus courage. His life’s work may be located near the intersection of science and religion, especially in the field of “natural theology”; his intention has been to make the claims of orthodox Christianity both clear and convincing in contemporary philosophical jargon. He has written seventeen books, several of which are available to phil students in e.g. French, Italian, German, Polish, Finnish, Portuguese, Arabic, Korean, Chinese; … but then, so are the Harry Potter books. His trilogy which began in the late ’seventies — The Coherence of Theism, The Existence of God, Faith and Reason — provided the platform on which he erected, in subsequent books, an account of traditional, received Christianity that shows it to be unique, and uniquely coherent, among the world’s religions. The man himself began as an Anglican, and converted to Orthodox in 1996. Since his formal retirement in 2002 he has updated and improved several of his earlier works, and added more of interest on the “mind-body problem,” and the question of free will, while exploring the frontiers of neuroscience. He has more honorary doctorates than gentle reader could shake a stick at.

This man was lured to a conference of that Society of Christian Philosophers last month, to give a talk about “Christian Moral Teaching on Sex, Family, and Life” in Springfield, Missouri. So far so plausible. In the course of that talk he mentioned the traditional, received Christian view of homosexuality as something morally disordered, and thus potentially curable. There could be nothing he said that had not been expounded previously in his books, and the organizers could not possibly have been surprised.

Nevertheless, the president of this “SCP,” Michael Rea of Notre Dame (which was once a Catholic university) posted an “Apology” for Swinburne’s talk on his Facebook page immediately after. He then led an hysterical electronic mob to denounce his keynote speaker as a “homophobe” in language characteristically dripping with hatred, contempt, and obscenities. (More detail here, with links further.)

I wrote “lured,” and in the upshot it becomes obvious that the purpose of the exercise was, from the beginning, to defame Swinburne; to make a grievous assault on his reputation, and create one of those demonic “teachable moments” through which young students and teachers in philosophy faculties are warned off any kind of intelligent thinking. It was a simple, public act of intimidation, of the kind those who have lived in Communist countries would immediately recognize.

Rod Dreher (here) takes the opportunity to flag a deeper truth, illuminated by the affair. He refers to Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies (2016), which exposes the common presuppositions of liberal democracy and communism — on history, society, religion, politics, culture, and human nature. In the name of “the people,” rendered as pure abstraction, both systems depend finally on the jackboot, to silence all critics of a monstrously shallow party line. The revolutionists proceed upon a long march through the institutions. Their great strengths are in their deafness to argument, and incapacity for boredom.


My limited experience of academic conferences — in my respectable days, I was a keynote speaker at a couple of them; and sat panels or gave papers at several more — was enough to help me understand the burial of philosophy, poetry, and religion in modern academic environments. A glance over the schedule of the conference to which Swinburne was invited (here) will give some idea of the degree to which “knowledge” is now sliced and diced. It is the ideal environment for the political hack — the extreme opposite of what was offered in the ancient peripatetic schools, and the mediaeval universities, filled as they once were with lively and continuous debate, on matters of abiding interest and demonstrable significance.

The French philosopher Henri Bergson, however, gave the argument for attending philosophical congresses, a century ago. He said the important thing is to see the faces. One could spend months trying to master a colleague’s obscure and recondite system. “But one look at his face, and you know not to waste your time.”

Magnificent men

It is time those Americans came to the defence of Latino immigrants, starting with the crews of Cristóbal Colón (or Christophorus Columbus as we say in Latin; or Cristoffa Combo in his native Ligurian, which carries a nice salsa beat). Someone sent me the latest fatuities from the liberal-progressive campaign to have “Columbus Day” in the United States — shifted since 1971 to coincide with our Canadian Thanksgiving, owing to bureaucratic partiality for Mondays — changed to “Indigenous People’s Day” or some such. The idea is that, rather than celebrate, several billion people in the Americas (counting both the currently living and the dead) should guiltily apologize for existing.

This would be one of the more subtle expressions of the Culture of Death; of a worldview that is, issue by issue, with absolute consistency, on the side of human extinction. It is part of a view of human history laid out in “teachable moments” of ideological indoctrination.

Tomorrow will be the actual 524th anniversary of the landing at San Salvador in the Bahamas; and thus of the permanent planting of the Cross of Jesus Christ in the soil of this New World. As a feat of navigation and daring, it was an extraordinary accomplishment; far greater in its context than man’s landing on the Moon. I know this from having been raised on the accounts of Samuel Eliot Morison: that fine New England historian whose sea-knowledge has now stood the test of further researches, through the better part of a century. His biography of Columbus (Admiral of the Open Sea, 1942), and his two-volume survey of westward European endeavours from about the beginning of the sixth century, are works with which every American (from Ellesmere Island to Tierra del Fuego) ought to be acquainted — the true, knowable histories of exploration, to confute the dark ignorance now spread through our schools.

For while the adventurers sought landfall in the Far East, the idea of intervening land could not surprise them. They knew, too, of other fates that might await them — chiefly death by drowning, death by fire on the oceanic salt, death by scurvy, by thirst, by starvation, by mutiny and panic.

They could be confident, however, while sailing off the charts, that they would never fall over the edge of a flat earth. That our planet is an orb has been known by all curious men, and mariners of every class, since Alexandria, since Babylon; most likely, before. Washington Irving’s elaborately false smearing of the mediaeval outlook is the source of this myth which remains a staple of liberal phantasy: the idea that men in 1492 thought the world was flat. He made this up from whole cloth, as much else in his pot-boiling History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828). To be fair, his intention was only to amuse an audience of whiggish suckers, already imbued with the “idea of progress.” For modern, scientistic man is prey to many superstitions that our distant ancestors would laugh at, were they present to reply. Our smug sense of superiority to them is founded upon invincible stupidity.

History is full of atrocities, both intended and unintended; the sin of Adam is written in us all. Behind the campaign of the last half-century to disown our Christian heritage is, at best, an incredibly selective account of past events. Christians, to be sure, have done terrible, unChristian deeds. But we space cadets of the New Age have easily enough sins of our own, to confess before the ultimate Tribunal. Why do we persist in these obsessive apologies, for men from times beyond our feeble comprehension?

The motive is not, as sometimes appears, racial self-hatred. It is rather an antagonism towards Christianity, and at its root the demonic hatred of Christ.

Much evil was exported (and imported) in Europe’s Imperial age, as in every other human expansion. Ours continues today through the trade in ideological perversities — the spilt milk of our abandoned religion. The lust for conquest, material greed, and the bacilli of disease most certainly accompanied our voyageurs, in centuries past. But in the shipholds, too, the precious cargo of a Kingdom not of this world.

Bold men opened, upon the high seas, “a road by which all might come and go that would, and bear our freight of worth to foreign lands.” It was a mission in which one heroic, God-fearing mediaeval Catholic, won immortal honour. For Christopher Columbus was an instrument through whom Christ saved innumerable souls, of every race and colour.

How strange

I cannot tell gentle reader how shocked (shocked!) I am to learn that Donald Trump talks dirty in private; or that Hillary Clinton says one thing to small paying audiences in Wall Street, and quite another to big audiences across the USA. This changes everything. It revolves my commitments 360 degrees. From a position of condemning both candidates, I come out giving my support to neither. Or perhaps the turn was only 359; for the shrieking hypocrisy of the international media, and the whole political class, has possibly moved me one point closer to Trump. It is hard to pick out, however, one-sixth of a second on the dial of a small watch.

Perhaps the most sordid and widely-watched political “debate” (“ever!”) will occur in wild “town hall” format on the networks tonight. I think the rest of us may meet elsewhere, because we’ll all be out for a walk. Pubs must be avoided, alas; for they’ll be showing the implosion on their wide-screen TVs.

Up here in the Great North, where the sun is now declining, and the leaves will soon fall, it is the weekend of Canadian Thanksgiving. There is much for which Canadians could be thankful — quite sincerely if we could overcome our smugness. We could envy the Americans if we were capable of grasping that they have some outward choice, however repulsive and disgusting. Up here we have interchangeable parties, so that rather than a Trump versus a Clinton, we have something more like a Clinton versus a Clinton versus a Clinton; plus another Clinton in exceptional years. (Lest anyone be tempted to make a mistake.) We are told, constantly, to express gratitude for our national cradle-to-grave daycare; and we oblige, with infantile cheering, every “Canada Day.”

Thanks be to God. Who brings the harvest, family and friends. And decorates the winter nights with the light of a trillion trillion stars; and will freeze the ponds for kids to play hockey. Who seems to leave politics entirely to the Devil. We have little left of the cultural memory of Thanksgivings past, once upon a time when people were consciously grateful for such “modest” things — for food on their tables, and knew from whence it came, as also that it came by good fortune. But to the abortuaries of the body, we have added abortuaries of the mind. And now euthanasia: so we may thank the state for death. After thanking it for giving us a choice of many sexes.

Now, death had a history before that. I think of the soil, and so many buried; ashes to ashes, dissolved out of view. Of how they await the Resurrection — our mothers and fathers, our uncles and aunts, generation behind generation.

At least, there are moments when I think of this soil, turning; of the Harvest my contemporaries have ceased to expect. Of the ground that was seeded, from the beginning; that in that spring will burst through our asphalt, with a power that will split any rock, convulsing in choral waves of the Gloria.

Of the dead, burying their dead through the ages; and of the once living, who are living still. Of their graves, with the snow blowing over; of the graveyards, grown over by the thickening woods, in quiet and forgotten places, once filled with children’s laughter. Nothing has been forgotten in God.

I think of the children in the sunlight of time future, as of the children in the sunlight of time past, called from their play by Our Lady. And of stars wheeling in their new courses, as it was in the beginning and will be in the end. Yet even now they wheel, beyond our failing sight.

How incomprehensibly strange is this world; how large, in the passing of trivial events. In thanksgiving for the peace that passeth all understanding, let us whisper deep to deep.

Anchovy sandwiches

The life of an impresario is not to be recommended to any of my gentle readers. The money may be good, but you have to hang out with rock stars and stelle del cinema — boorish people who always order the most expensive wine on the list, and trash their hotel rooms. It is the job of the butler in the house of horrors; you will need a large staff to clean up after your charges; and in the meantime you are likely to become the focus of their abuse. And that is before considering the mind-rending fuss of booking dates and transportation. Or the tedium of the court appearances.

From what I can gather, this has always been the way, and was no different in the age of Restoration Comedy. Richard Brinsley Sheridan remains a playwright in the annals of “Eng. Lit.” but in life was probably far more concerned with his property interests along Drury Lane. Shakespeare, too, did real estate on the side, the complex tax-dodging that goes along with that, and was up to his ears in theatre management, along with his rôles on the stage. I wonder how he found time to actually wright forty plays — and not at all bad plays, in my opinion — amid all these distractions. To say nothing of those “sugar’d sonnets among his private friends,” &c. He must have been a monster of efficiency. And not one holiday in Biarritz (so far as we know).

About Sheridan we know more, including his curious gift for creative procrastination. To Shakespeare’s accomplishments he added those of a duellist (it is the best way to dispose of drama critics), and Member of Parliament (as Whig, sadly enough). Plus, coming from Ireland, which in London has always required great skill. He came from a family of impresarios, however (his papa used to manage the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin, his mama wrote plays and bestselling novels), so was accustomed from birth to the demands.

Too, having eloped at a ridiculously young age, with the ludicrously beautiful Elizabeth Ann Linley (surely gentle reader has seen her portrait by Gainsborough), he needed lots of money. She came with a good dowry, once he got round to marrying her, but that was quickly burnt through (along with the cash and jewellery from a wealthy former suitor). To maintain themselves as apples in London society’s eye (big house; lavish entertainments) poor Sheridan was put to the trouble of writing one smash hit after another. The marriage proved sufficiently tempestuous to run the costs up further. (Both parties made a habit of “falling in love.”) There wasn’t a choice, really: for as an impresario of my acquaintance once explained, it is generally easier to make more money than to persuade one’s wife to spend less. One thing leads to another.

Duelling alone requires much preparation, and quibbling over venue. But Sheridan was a master fencer (as his wife an unforgettable soprano), and a sure winner. As he showed, you don’t even have to kill them — which is icky — just separate the drama critic from his sword and have the pleasure of watching him crawl and beg for mercy.

(Well, there was the one unfortunate incident, in which his aggrieved opponent came at him with the broken remnant of his foil, putting Sheridan in hospital. But that was more embarrassing than painful.)

A master in postponing tasks till the last moment, Sheridan was notorious among his players for leaving them in rehearsal with incomplete scripts. In the case of his play, The Critics, he hadn’t finished the thing, until it was two nights before the opening at the Theatre Royal. He had this memorable character, “Sir Fretful Plagiary” — to traduce one of his rivals — but had yet to decide upon a suitable fate for him. Too, how to dispose of the villainous stage critics, “Dangle” and “Sneer.”

The answer was to lock Sheridan in a room with a couple of bottles of fine Medoc, and a mound of anchovy sandwiches. Also a pen and some paper. He’d be sure to finish, from his need for more claret.


I’m arrested by this idea of anchovy sandwiches. As we are in the middle of the eighteenth century this morning, I would guess the anchovies were salt-pickled as today, and might be pounded into a paste. Contemporary cookery books mention anchovies again and again, as an explosive flavour enhancer, and as a cure for headaches; but I can’t find a recipe for anchovy sandwiches on my shelves. I am, however, informed by a scientific Frenchman that like Roman garum, or Siamese nam pla, anchovies are one of heaven’s glorious nucleotides, when salted: just waiting for a glutamate to set off. The salt is merely a cover for an umami savour they can deliver, big time.

Not from the traditional barrel, but from a small Italian grocery jar, I pulled my wee fillets — in honour of Sheridan, messy life, and the Friday abstinence. My own recipe was simplicity itself. Into the anchovies I pummeled a good dollop of butter, a generous squirt of lemon, a dribble of wine vinegar and dusting of dry herbs. For good measure, this mixture was casually heated in my smallest stovetop pot, then bottled (in my now empty anchovy container) and stowed in the fridge.

That was yesterday. This morning I selected two slices of soft white bread, and spread the compound between them. Thus provided, I set about completing my Idlepost for the day.

Good I declare it (the sandwich if not the Idlepost). Invigorating, quite. And the pot of Assam tea was all very well. But better, I would think, with two bottles of claret.

Towards silence

“At the beginning of our Eucharistic celebrations, how is it possible to eliminate Christ carrying his cross and walking painfully beneath the weight of our sins toward the place of sacrifice? There are many priests who enter triumphantly and go up to the altar, waving left and right in order to appear friendly. Observe the sad spectacle of certain Eucharistic celebrations. …

“Why so much frivolity and worldliness at the moment of the Holy Sacrifice? Why so much profanation and superficiality before the extraordinary priestly grace that makes us capable of bringing forth the body and blood of Christ in substance by the invocation of the Spirit? Why do some believe themselves obliged to improvise or invent Eucharistic prayers that disperse the divine phrases in a bath of petty human fervour? Are the words of Christ so insufficient that a profusion of purely human words is needed? In a sacrifice so unique and essential, is there a need for this subjective imagination and creativity? ‘And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words,’ Jesus has cautioned us.”

This excerpt is translated from a book published this morning (in French), by beloved Cardinal Robert Sarah. It is entitled, La force du silence (“The Power of Silence”). From what I can see (here; and also here), it is a development of what he said in, God or Nothing, in the same dialogue form with the intelligent journalist, Nicolas Diat. The earlier book was more autobiographical and personal; this one looks outward from Sarah’s curial station, at Rome. His “style,” as that of Wojtyla and Ratzinger, is to proceed from, then return to, the heart of the Christian religion, in Christ.

As with another beloved cardinal, Raymond Leo Burke, there is great strength in Sarah’s manner. He is gently direct, without mincing. I’m aware there are people who hate all these men, but I cannot see how. None has shown the fear or self-consciousness that usually excites the dogs. Good Christian instruction omits that mouth-organ whine I am so tired of hearing from our pulpits; and the blathering of those “airport bishops” — “the turbulent floods of easy, hollow words.” The faith is not to be argued, but affirmed. The religion is so, and it is so; you may reject it, but there can be no doubt what it is. Those who are listening will hear; those not listening will not hear. Shouting is unnecessary; it only adds to the environmental noise.

Both Burke and Sarah are, in the best sense, plain speakers. They are capable of replying to the simplest questions with a “yes,” or a “no.” They give answers which themselves hold still. Each is papabile.

Our Mass has been confused, vitiated, emasculated, through the last half century of “reforms,” which turn away from Christ, towards worldly concerns. This reversal is most apparent in the turning of the priest, who now puts his back to God, and thus makes himself the focus of the sacrifice. We have turned from silence towards noise — even within the Mass. As Cardinal Sarah says plainly, this is wrong, and must be corrected.

However, I do not think, and do not think he thinks, that everything can be restored by “a fix.” Correcting this mistake is a precondition for correcting all the others, but in that only a start. We, in the Church and in her proximity, face unprecedented circumstances, in a world of constantly increasing noise — and with it, ever bolder atheism. We cannot out-shout this world. Paradoxically, we must go by a way that is silent, even to hear our own hearts; before apprehending God in the silent centre of things. The Mass begins and ends in this silence; and does what is necessary to expound it.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

A thought for Hierotheos Day

Do devils have rights? I should think they do, especially in our world, where even furry animals have rights, which can be spelt out and chartered. Apparently even polar ice shelves have rights, in the latest expositions of deep ecology. We would be wrong to melt them. And coal has the right to sleep undisturbed in its coal beds, et cetera. For we are, I’m afraid, increasingly insane: a proposition that is easily confirmed by reading posters on any university campus.

Still, “to give the devil his due” is an old concept; the “devil’s advocate” is a debating pose long honoured. But those are similetic propositions, as I think we say today. It is not the devil we are honouring, but justice, principally, in the first case, and truth in the second. We are testing propositions in a sceptical way, and verily, taking the arguments out of hiding; out of their “safe spaces.” Or, we once were.

This is what the man whom I consider the world’s greatest intellectual hero — one Thomas Aquinas — set about doing, on a big and ruthless scale. It is moreover at the root of “scholastic” philosophy, with threads dangling centuries beneath it, all the way down to Plato’s Socrates immediately below Aristotle; if not to some Pre-Socratics. The truth might set us free; but first we must find out what, or even where, it is.

If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from, …

As a young man I was inflamed by this slogan, that “ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Unfortunately I was taking it more from e.g. the drug-addicted S. T. Coleridge, than from Our Lord. I was willing to follow it anywhere, however; except to Source. But upon arriving there (despite my best efforts to arrive elsewhere), I found this Source to be, as it were, an infinite force multiplier.

Yet it is a saying that will survive translocation through many diverse contexts, in a universe designed to yield truth from any point. We must start somewhere. And it turns out we could start anywhere. Which is why, in the end, we tolerate, or used in principle to tolerate, open discussion in places like universities.

“Science” means “knowledge,” and as the sane discern, it will not hold still. An oxymoron is a figure of speech; but “settled science” is a flat-out, self-negating contradiction. For our knowledge has this much in common with a black hole: that it has no bottom. And what can be constructed from our practical knowledge, will never be secure. The suction is too great, one might say.

Reading Thomas Nagel the other day (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, 2012), I was happily reminded of the overview that only philosophical reasoning can provide. Nagel is not merely refuting the old bearded wonder of Down House, and his sproo. He is showing the inadequacy of materialist naturalism, to explain anything. From a noticeably irreligious point of view, he reviews our modern, “scientific,” intellectual equipment. It can give us answers, but only to questions that can be phrased in a tedious way. It cannot cope with interesting questions.

Such as: how does matter come into being? How does life emerge from dead matter? How does consciousness emerge from life?

Now, those are interesting evolutionary questions, which materialist naturalism must necessarily funk. It simply does not have the equipment, and will not have in any future foreseeable, at least to Nagel. But he can descry the need to restore the teleological reasoning which our ancestors trashed in the soi-disant “Enlightenment.” Which suggests we are not quite through with Aristotle yet, who noticed that one cannot make sense of a function except by acquiring an understanding of its purpose. That, in effect, nothing “just happens” in our busy little monde. Not when you look into it. (See my magisterial unpublished treatise on, The Uses and Abuses of Paranoia.)

Nor can we embark on the catechistic questions, with what we have in our labs. Why is man here? What are his real options? To what end might his functions aspire? But Nagel avoids the phenomena of Faith, as beyond his philosophical jurisdiction. Having graduated from Science to Philosophy, we would have to graduate again to Theology for that. To which end, we would have to believe that it exists.

And so, to return to my original question, do devils have rights? This is an issue, because they have long been demanding something like the Internet “right to be forgotten.” They demand to be excluded from any consideration of how our world works — and in the name of their president, Settled Science. They assert some absolute right to privacy, as they get on with their daily chores. All those who mention them should, in their view, be hauled before the courts, and punished. Even Nagel appears to respect these demands: he leaves devils out of the account entirely.

But there I disagree. I want to keep them in our larger account of Nature. For I think the explanatory power of devils is yuge.

Gender benders

There was a nasty incident in school, when I was a wee boy in Pakistan. It happened in a washroom, after a muddy school recess. (No showers there; instead, taps over a trough along one wall.) A child had been put up on a stool by the other children, in the middle of this dank, slippery, concrete chamber. It was a boy’s school, but the child was a girl. She had been stripped naked, and all around the boys, mostly older, were taunting her. Viciously. She, for her part — who had been “he” before the incident — was beyond tears. I recall the terror in her face: the strange amazed silence of a six-year-old, with no defender. I recall, only vaguely — I was seven, then — running for authority. (This was what my parents had taught me to do.) Later, being told at the school to hush up about it. For the parents of this child were Very Important People.

I knew this little girl, slightly; in memory as a “little boy lost.” Always stiffly uniformed, and scrubbed; never wishing to play. Her parents were neighbours in our Nedou’s compound, and this was their only child. I knew the story, though it is hard to reconstruct what I knew when. They had wanted a boy, so badly, that having a girl they dressed her as a boy, and gave her a boy’s name, and made her behave as a little soldier-man, even before enrolling her in a boy’s school. The deceit was quickly exposed at St Anthony’s. (We might ask: What were they thinking?)

Today, I suppose, now that sex can be told before birth, that little girl would just have been aborted. (Through our pre-Christian ages, too, people were not sentimental about the despatch of unwanted children.) The preference for boys is now an established demographic fact, in India, China, much of Africa. The first-born, especially, “must be a boy,” when childbirth itself is publicly discouraged. Transgenderism has yet to catch on, over there. It is, however, being pressed through the United Nations and Western aid agencies. Pope Francis was dead right, on his plane ride back from Georgia and Azerbaijan, to call the export of the latest Western “gender theories” a form of “ideological colonialism,” a scheme of “indocrination” — as each wave before it.

A little girl of six does not choose her sex, in this or any other situation. But small children are imaginative, and will play along with the phantasies of adults, having yet no anchors of their own to hold them, by the rocks close ashore. They are suggestible and manipulable. Their shock in discovering that this “boy” was a girl contributed to the cruelty of her persecutors. But I should think it was also a terrible shock for the little girl, who had become entirely convinced by her forceful parents that she was, instead, a little boy, whatever the evidence to the contrary.

My views on “gender theory” will be easy to predict. God made them male and female. There are, indeed, “hard cases,” of apparent hermaphrodism from birth, but these are rare. Confused sexual inclinations have often been observed in nature, but the acts which follow are not consenting: the target animal will repel the advances, if it has the strength. Only the human fancies can mature into consent — because (see the Book of Genesis) we are capable of perversities deeper than any bestial ones.

I have sometimes wondered what happened to that little girl. We never saw her again at St Anthony’s; her parents suddenly moved away.

Similarly, I wonder what will happen to the little ones who are persuaded today, by the state-imposed “gender” indoctrinators, that they are “trans.” They provide the ideologues with a moment of publicity. But what follows, for the child?

Most likely: a life of self-destruction, which the child in his innocence could not possibly foresee; which only a responsible adult could have foreseen, on his behalf.

So where are these responsible adults? When the “gender” tyranny gathers around him, will he not have even one defender?