Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Mother of God

The expression, cited in my title, got my attention long before I became a Christian, let alone was received into the Roman fold. I found it a rather thrilling assertion, whether or not “true.” The idea that God could have a mother fritzed my little neurons; but it was better than that. For there is a second, Trinitarian punch coming, when the corollary follows, that “Christ is God” — and thus no “prophet” as I was raised to think of Him in my highly secularized milieu. It seemed to me that the Catholics had knocked the wildest Evangelicals into a cocked hat.

This comes back to me, naturally, each year at the Annunciation. From the same milieu, I knew that word as a term of art. Quite literally, an “Annunciation” was a painting of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary, to declaim a famous passage from the Gospel of Luke. I was once fairly well-educated, by Canadian standards, I will have you know. I knew that passage from a fairly early age. I’d read my Gideon New Testament, which in those days was distributed to schoolchildren. (If the schools tried that today there’d be trouble.) I had it from both post-Christian parents that one ought to read the Bible, in order to become an “educated person.” This was not the Holy Bible they meant, rather, “the Bible as Literature” — another book, of identical text, but much different meaning. (Borges once wrote a good story about that: “Pierre Menard.”)

“Mother of God.” Well that just takes the cake, my wee mind thought. Having been pupil in a certain Saint Anthony’s School in earlier childhood (the one in Lahore), I was already prepared to accept the proposition that Catholics are, as a species, crazy; though not necessarily crazier than the rest. Indeed, they seemed so naturally to attract persecution (not only in Lahore), that I tended to identify with them. At some point in early adolescence, the notion that those believed most crazy might be the most sane, was consciously formulated.

It took me till fifty to join up, but as God is my witness, I’ve been pro-Catholic all my life; never more so than in a Canadian High School when I was an “evangelical atheist” and a spiky debater. I noticed the school’s few Catholic kids were the butt of much smug, bad humour. I decided, for instance, to defend Humanae Vitae, on purely secular, rational grounds. All my crushes were on Catholic girls; but that was only indirectly because of their religion. Really it was because they wore their hair long, and were not tomboys.

This eccentricity got me inside several Catholic homes, where I saw the statuary. Mother Mary invariably made an appearance, as she did not in nice Protestant families. They had pictures any Protestant would find in bad taste. They had crucifixes with “the little man on them”; which looked as they might drip blood on your shoe. They framed biblical texts in weird translations. They were tribal, largely because they were excluded from respectable society, and their fathers worked in places like the brewery. Their surnames could end in vowels. One might call it an anthropological fascination; I was also partial to Armenians, and Jews.

“Mother of God.” A little girl called Liddy, who informed me that I was going to Hell, because not a Catholic, once used this expression. I found it as enchanting as her pigtails.

The mother of God, and by extension, the mother of everything, as nearly as I could make out. My mind was not ready for the Virgin Birth, the Immaculate Conception. That is for older boys. But these Catholics had things called Rosaries — you know, the beads — and I gathered they addressed prayers to Mother Mary, fifty times.

Now sixty-three, and doing this sort of thing myself, I continue in amazement. The Annunciation seems to me, still, too much to take in. The conception of the universe comes into it.

Per impossibile chronicles

Dear Mister Trump. After a couple of months of him in office, I have come to the conclusion that while he is reckless with his “facts and arguments,” hair-trigger in his responses, given to hyperbole at the expense of other rhetorical figures, and proud almost to a fault, he is basically honest. Even naïve. He is not the sort to commit criminal acts knowingly. He is verily a bull in the Washington China shop, if not a mastadon, and a simpleton (compared to Reagan, for example) in his understanding of how the world ticks — an authentic populist. But his schemes for “fixing things” is so innocent in juxtaposition with the policies of his predecessor and rivals, it would be nice if the congressional vermin could find it in their hearts to half play along.

“Please, Mister Trump, do yourself a big favour and don’t tweet that before you’ve shown it to one of those high-class lawyers,” is a thought I have perhaps shared, with many. Mister Obama, whose advice came invariably with scorpion whips, said the presidency is not a “family business.” Nonsense. Rulers are in great need of family advisers, to spread their tentacles wider, and provide the kind of criticism whose loyalty they might trust. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, seems to have her head screwed on symmetrically, and now has an office in the West Wing. She is a steadying influence on the old boy, and let me humbly suggest he put her in charge of his Twitter account. Not to edit, of course, except for grammar and spelling; just to selectively delete. If she is selling her cosmetic line while she is at it, I have no objection. Everyone in politics seems to come out rich, and this is among the least craven methods for amassing a White House fortune.

The Obamacare fiasco in the House of Representatives, now come to a head, is a reminder that the “administrative state” cannot be peacefully dismantled. The plan was set up, as all progressive measures, to be unrescindable. It did not merely create a vast new class with vested interests; it tipped the scale on medical expenditure (soon one-fifth of the USA economy, thanks to demographics and bureaucratic regulation) from personal to public responsibility. Government is now answerable for anyone uncovered by health insurance, and may use this to routinely demand totalitarian controls. You can’t take Obamacare down (or anything resembling) without replacing it with a more egregious system, or rather, you can’t take it down without tanks.

This is a “problem” with the entire Nanny State. Given 20 trillion of acknowledged federal debt (a small fraction of unfunded liabilities), common sense would indicate the need for economies. But they can’t be made. The federal budget, in USA as in all Western countries, is so dominated by the constantly inflating cost of “entitlements,” and those are so impossible to brake, that cuts must be made to services only governments can provide. There is no “democratic,” and certainly no quiet way out of this rat hole, which the cat of a corrupt jurisprudence now jealously guards.

Americans, as all other denizens of our decaying Western Civ, have become abjectly dependent upon Nanny, spiritually as well as materially, to our ultimate destruction. Individual self-seeking continues, however, and the common effort to game the system accounts for the insupportable debt.

The best excuse I have heard for the president, from Republicans and his international well-wishers, is that it takes a honey badger like Trump to grit in. I agree that vulgarity is often required. But from the outset, the gentleman announced he wasn’t going to mess with the welfare order, that he was just going to make it more businesslike and efficient. (“Businesslike” confers no political advantages.) In other words, from the outset he was totally defeated; and would never have been elected, had he been a genuine radical.

Ditto, for the “nationalist” parties in Europe.

The rest is silence

The world has lost a truly great entomologist, perhaps its greatest collector of beetles, with the death of David A. Rockefeller, on Monday at the age of one hundred and one, among the cabinets of his specimens at Pocantico Hills: each impeccably labelled and mounted. Rockefeller’s dwarfed the collections of Darwin and Wallace, the accumulated stores in Oxford University, the holdings of natural history museums in many sizeable European countries.

At the age of seven, this young David discovered his calling — or was called, by an elegant, an elongate Parandra, glittering dark caramel, the full inch long, with its formidable pinching mandibles. It was trespassing in the foliage on his father’s estate. Veritably, a Parandra brunneus. Bravely lifting it by its sides, the lad dropped it into a bottle, the first of his hundred thousand catches, by one means or another. For in addition to his personal pouncings, Mr Rockefeller was able to obtain many finely specialized collections, from the world’s great auction houses, to extend his own estimable hoard.

On his sixteenth birthday, while other boys might party, David found eight species of leaf beetle alone, on the same estate. In family visits to their rubber plantations in Liberia (where the prize was a three-inch Augosoma centaurus), their wine properties in Margaux (a memorable Caloclytus varius at Chateau Lacombes), he was able to find many beetles more. At Harvard, entomology was the only subject in which he scored an “A.” As an American soldier in Algeria during the last World War, he was able to amass more than a hundred of some forty-one species. Many hundreds, previously unknown, were catalogued on the expeditions he sponsored, and often accompanied, to the uttermost ends of the Earth. We can hardly look at a high-altitude scarab from Mexico today, without recalling that among the rarest is the Diplotaxis rockefelleri, discovered by, and named for, our hero. Indeed, more than a dozen splendid beetles now share his name.

This scion of the Rockefellers, youngest of the second generation to succeed the principal co-founder of Standard Oil — among the classiest of American robber barons and philanthropists — had advantages of birth over any of his rivals, but used them to laudable effect. And his collections will now migrate to the appropriate facility at Harvard, from whose Curator in Entomology (via the Internet) I have gleaned most of these facts.

David Rockefeller was in at the conception of many other things — Manhattan property deals including the sites for the United Nations, and the former Twin Towers; the foundation of the Trilateral Commission, and so forth. It’s all in the obituaries somewhere. But these were mere flexings of money and power. The discovery and entrapment of a new beetle throws all such accomplishments into the shade, and makes the life of a plutocrat worth living.

May he rest in peace, among his beloved bugs.

Pears

It is true I am a pirumphile, or lover of pears, as I am reminded by a plastic jug of excellent pear juice I have obtained from a farmer’s market. It is large, a half-gallon, but I cannot guarantee it will last very long, up here in the High Doganate. Fresh, it is very satisfying, but transformed into perry (poiré to you Normans or Angevins) it could become an exquisite mediaeval beverage, and would be among my tipples, were I able to find a source for it near this place and time. It is best as a still pear wine, or cider; please omit the modernist carbonation. Too, it can be distilled into a thoughtful, philosophical brandy. When the world contends that something has gone pear-shaped, I am all ears. Had I more enterprise, I would set out my orchards right away. For as the proverb declares, “Plant pears for your heirs.”

Though close, I would not go so far as to call myself pomaceous, for while my love doth extend to apples, and hath often done to a fine Calvados — and I wilt happily embrace a succulent loquat, a bletted medlar, a fragrant quince — it is capable of finding an ideal contentment in a perfectly ripened pear. All these “pomes,” each in many kinds, were common to Europe, and also to America, in times before the modernist standardization. Now, most industrial apples leave me cold, and some cannot even be redeemed in a maple-syrup deep-dish apple pie.

Or let us dwell briefly on the pert, pear-related rowans (“dogberries” to my far eastern correspondents in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland). These, in their innumerable varieties, were revered in merrie England through past centuries, leading back behind the iconoclast Reformation, yet I doubt any would be recognized in cities today, even were gentle reader and I bombarded with them. We are “urbane,” after all, or as I like to say, “conurban,” for we live not in cities as previously defined but in broad sprawling deletions of the landscape. The extraordinary variety of the world, as presented to the imagination in cookery books from almost anywhere before the Great War, is now beyond memory and perhaps belief. I see the most ignorant things said of our ancestors’ diets, by the believers in “progress” and therefore supermarkets, with their narrow range of strictly branded goods, the same at all locations.

Read Shakespeare — from the Warden Pear in A Winter’s Tale, to the Popperins on which Mercutio suggests obscene play for tragic Romeo:

Now will he sit under a Medler tree,
And wish his Mistresse were that kind of Fruite,
As Maides call Medlers, when they laugh alone …

Read Chaucer for that matter, by way of recovering an ancient alertness to the scents of a cultivated nature, in times when botanical curiosity had more dimensions. But of course, we have scientific gardeners today, at work preserving the DNA of ages. It is only missing from our everyday lives.

A giant rabbit

One wonders, though not for long, how many Canadians were aware that yesterday was the Feast of Saint Joseph, the Patron Saint of Canada. (Transferred to today, this year, to preserve the Third Sunday in Lent.) Of course, this is also a feast throughout the universal or Catholic Church — of Saint Joseph, Confessor, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also Patron of the Church; model of domestic virtue and humble daily toil; embodiment of “confident docility”; entrusted by God with a difficult and glorious mission: to be a father. Entrusted, by the Father of fathers, to be foster-father to Our Lord. It is a feast of the First Class, in our liturgical calendar. Compare, if you will, the Feast of Saint Patrick on 17th March, which is of the Third Class.

Yesterday I was trapped on the east side of Yonge Street for much of the duration of Greater Parkdale’s annual Saint Patrick’s Parade — moved to the nearest Sunday. It is now a two-hour procession to celebrate pseudo-Irishness, and general multiculturalism. From my station next the window in a coffee shop I first watched circus swordplay and swirling Chinese dragons, then other leprechaun-free displays. But mostly there were stage-Irish demonstrations, such as wee bairns attempting “Lord of the Dance” moves on flatbead truck-trailers. Very sweet.

Canada, both French and English-speaking, is rich in genuine Irish traditions, many deeply religious, and all of which would seem to have been obviated. I have come to believe that dark Guinness was especially brewed to discourage North Americans from adding green food dye.

As recently as my youth, I remember associating the Republic of Ireland with certain Catholic inclinations. Except in the heraldry of the Irish counties — plenty of flags — I was unable to spot a single religious symbol in the long procession. The most “authentic” Irish element was a little cell under the Sinn Fein banner, in moth-eaten uniforms, and poor marching order, accompanied by the crackling audio track of some revolutionary song, with their characteristic mix of sentiment and psychosis. They in turn were trailed by a much larger military pipe band — immaculately drilled, kilted, decorated, and bag-squeezing, bellowing “Scotland the Brave.” Only to me, perhaps, did it appear that the latter were escorting the former to gaol. Then, “The Maple Leaf Forever” to rub it properly in. Then, big green recycling trucks, honking their deafening horns.

The most interesting thing was a giant rabbit. A young lady from the Ontario upcountry had it roadside on a prettily-knitted leash. All passing floats with children were delayed — the kiddies demanding to get a better look. It was a “Great Continental” by breed (a.k.a. “Giant German,” originally “Flemish Giant”). I learnt this by asking her. She was carrying it as a resplendant fur coat, and we exchanged glances (the rabbit and I). It did not look entirely happy. Tired, and world-weary, by only the age of three; unrecompensed by fame. When she put it down it scurried into its vet cage, for safety.

“A meat rabbit,” its mistress frankly explained.

The dogwhistle chronicles

The Left mildly disguise their anti-Semitism by substituting the term “Zionists” for Jews. Our pope does it by substituting “Pharisees” and like terms, in his daily homiletic attacks from Santa Marta — aimed chiefly against Catholic doctrinal precision. Our Saviour, who could hardly have been an anti-Semite, being Jewish himself, did make actual Scribes and Pharisees the butt of parables, and was very sharp on religious hypocrisy. But this was not to the purpose of disowning their religion; rather of showing how representative characters were disowning their own.

As many popes before him were at pains to explain, to Catholics and to others, we are Jews ourselves and our religion is not a contradiction of, but a continuation from, the Truth and truths going back to Moses and before. The Ten Commandments apply to us, too; the Great Commandment that Our Lord specified was itself paraphrased from Hebrew Scripture. He does not “invent” this, He shows it to be the structural and hermeneutic core of the Torah and the Prophets. Echoes of the ancient Scripture are everywhere in our Gospels.

Christ did not come to overthrow the Law, but to fulfil it. He said as much. He came as a scourge not to those who upheld the Law in their lives and hearts, but to those who twisted it. He preached Love, in all its mystery and toughness, not Climate Change.

We call this pope’s persistent heresy “Marcionism,” after Marcion of Sinope, who came to Rome about the year 140, after the Bar Kokhba revolt. Marcion taught that the revelations of Christ and the traditions from Paul were incompatible with what he thought the legalistic, bellicose, jealous and spiteful God of the Jews and their Torah. Gnostic not Christian, he may be found in the roots of the Eastern religion of Manichaeism, which spread through the declining Roman Empire in the fourth century, and flourished in competition with Catholic Christianity for many centuries thereafter.

Marcion’s heterodoxy was identified and denounced, in texts we still have by the earlier and orthodox Tertullian, and in texts, fragments, and allusions of other Church Fathers. It is encountered by the serious student trying to master the development of genuine Catholic doctrine, as it peels off errors and misunderstandings from the ancient pagan world — many of which are flourishing again, and again must be confronted and defeated. On this one our pope has yet again, in his fuddling and irresponsible banter, grabbed the wrong end of the stick.

A much better understanding of the Catholic faith may be found in the open letter Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, emeritus of Milan, has addressed to a conference of biblical scholars. (More detail may be had from Sandro Magister, &c.) He echoes and enlarges upon complaints from e.g. Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo di Segni, about the Marcionism issuing daily from Santa Marta, and the rustily-edged politics that go with it. Rabbi Laras is put to the trouble of explaining what the Catholic doctrine is, to our pope; while further noting the exclusion of Jewish biblical scholars from that conference in Italy, which included many non-Catholics among its eight hundred invitees.

The Jews are the last people we should be opposing. How often, in Catholic teaching and liturgy, we have found ourselves onside with them against glib reformers, who by putting the New and Old Testaments in conflict, adjust Christ’s teachings to their own (usually malignant) ends. They are callow, and in failing to plumb the continuity between Old and New, comprehend neither. For it is in God’s “messaging” to the Hebrews that we first find the light of our Messiah; and without it His Coming makes no sense.

Justicialismo

Peronism came to Argentina and never left. Not only have the Partido Justicialista and its avatars dominated Argentine electoral politics, through their various iconic husband-and-wife acts over the last seventy years, but they have contaminated the thinking of the whole country, which adhered to their arbitrary and contradictory doctrines even during the sixteen years they were banned, and adheres to the present day when once again they are nominally out of power. Actually it is a century, now, since Peron’s “Radical” predecessors first won election (dating from Hipólito Yrigoyen, 1916). Moral, intellectual, and material squalour is their chief legacy to a country which was once among the world’s most prosperous and most free. The spiritual equivalent has now migrated to Rome.

This, at least, is the impression I have formed from afar. “Justicialism,” so far as one can read, embodies every sort of rhetorical populism, across the political spectrum, but with a heavy and perfectly consistent bias towards centralized power. It stands for “social justice” — an absolutely imaginary and therefore unattainable ideal. It is on the side of labour and of management, it is Catholic and anti-Catholic, racist and anti-racist, isolationist and aggressive, leftist and rightist and dogmatically nationalist with all the contradictions nationalism entails. Yet it is not unique.

Socialism is leftwing Fascism; Fascism is rightwing Socialism. Other than that, they are the same. They vie for the same voters, and politicians may move comfortably back and forth between their symmetrical (i.e. identical) extremes. The principle underlying both is that the government should control everything, for the government’s idea of the common good. Whether the government technically owns everything is neither here nor there. Indeed, Socialism/Fascism works better, for the government, if private actors can be made to take the blame and the losses for all of the government’s goon-show mistakes. Any “excess” income on which they fall in their government-assigned monopolist stations can then be impounded.

Mussolini tried the same tactics in Italy, and Peron hugely admired him (as did Roosevelt and many others at first). And had it not been for the embarrassment of having to choose an ally in the last World War, Fascism would probably still dominate conventional Italian electoral politics. Rather it does, notwithstanding, for as the Argentines have shown, you cannot oppose a bundle of statist contradictions without falling into contradictions yourself, and being lured incrementally into a reflection of your enemy. Italy as all Europe now reposes under the direction of a Euro-justicialismo of nested bureaucracies, and in North America we have “evolved” our Nanny States along the same lines. Everything is regulated, and with that signature clumsy incompetence that is inevitable when something very large and ham-fisted tries to micromanage things very small, such as human beings and their families.

How to resist? Not by “proposing alternatives,” which can only be implemented from the top down, through participation in the established political order. That has been tried, repeatedly, and has anyone noticed it has repeatedly failed?

Rather, I think, one resists by creative personal non-cooperation: rendering justice not “socially” to the abstract mass, but individually to your neighbours. With love.

That was from the beginning the “political” genius of Christianity, which undermined dirigiste authority simply by ducking under its radar sweeps; emerging when, under its manifest contradictions, it finally and totally collapsed. Casualties — martyrdoms — must sometimes be taken, but to the ends of Heaven they are all good. Live a free Christian life, in defiance of the modernists, but without telling them.

Spread it by example.

Benzedrine options

We use “option” to mean “alternative” today, especially inversions of the established order, and yet by the disappearance of any established order the word is returning to its earlier use. There have always been different ways to live, and different routes to Hell, as well as ways “home.” Rod Dreher’s latest instalment, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, formally published yesterday, again sounds the horn. I haven’t read it, and probably won’t, for while I have a high opinion of Dreher, he is still just a journalist like me, not to be taken too seriously. His book must sell in the very market for “trends” he condemns, and that involves forms of discretion I happen to despise. He is alarmed; it must make a point. Current books are much narrower than casual essays in that regard. They have become homoeopathic expansions of single aphorisms. They dare not range off-message. The point must be hammered in the manner of “direct mail”: lots of words but the same “unique selling point,” over and over. By now we all understand that he isn’t recommending we take to the hills, that it is sufficient to disengage on location. And whatever one’s circumstances, the “option” of a consciously Christian life is always there. Okay, okay, I’ll buy.

To my mind, we need a better understanding of the “options” that led us astray, to conduct our resistance. Too, I should like to defeat the enemy, wherever possible, by creative engagement. It must be assymetrical warfare, however, because we don’t have the weapons for a more conventional Armageddon, and shouldn’t play to the enemy’s strength. The enemy wants excitement, we must defeat him with stifling calm. For the world he has delivered, through the twentieth century and in preparation through centuries before, is hepped up on amphetamines. I think Benzedrine makes a nice symbol, for the inhaler of the ’thirties proved useful in war, to keep soldiers awake and alert in their land, air, and sea trenches. The general destruction of contemporary youth by more powerful substances reflects the evolution in Western society to the condition of permanent psychic warfare. Euphorias kill. Pain-killers, ditto.

It takes only three days away from the sources of anxiety to free one from their iron grip, though much longer to quench the fire they leave burning. I was reminded of this over the weekend, in Ottawa to attend the obsequies for my remarkable friend, Mary Scheer. This took me away from my computer, in which I find the daily news, and upon return to the High Doganate, Monday night, I discovered in myself a decided indifference towards catching up. When I did get around to checking, I saw that there was nothing new in the news: only more “dog shit,” if I may lift a term from a recent Joseph Epstein essay. Why do we waste our consciousness on it? More precisely: why do I?

Yet there are dangers even in the withdrawal from worldly interests, because the mind has become so accustomed to the false adrenaline drive. We return to religion, or take it up, in the same spirit we think we have abandoned. We also find in the Church, today, a substitute for the politics we mean to leave behind, because she has become so worldly. Father Rutler of New York quotes Pope Benedict to advantage on this matter:

“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labelled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,’ seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

Gradually, calmly, must one learn to identify and flush one’s amphetamine options.

You are not alone …

You are not alone, gentle reader. Everyone is opposed to Daylight Savings Time.

Like so many bad ideas, the measure was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin, but after being ignored as too silly even by the French revolutionists, it was borne into the world by the Kaiser in 1916. The idea, I suppose, was to make Catholics miss Sunday Mass, at least once a year, and possibly twice. The unintended consequences included the disruption of sleep patterns, travel schedules, record keeping, medical and all other automatic equipment, while spreading chaos between adjoining political jurisdictions, and gratuitous civic aggravation within the larger ones. It was remarkably successful, and as all other progressive schemes, any attempt to fix it creates additional complications, while confirming the transfer of moral onus from the Individual to the State. (Cf. “Obamacare reform.”) I deny the argument that anything so obviously inspired by dark supernatural forces can be “well-intended.”

In its theological dimension, this “DST” also provides evidence that the Devil is capable of foresight, for with the development of digitized clock displays that cannot be simply adjusted but require consulting some sans-serif, fine print, and probably lost manual with instructions translated by non-native speakers from Korean through Chinese, we now have semi-annual clock-adjustment nightmares among the cybernetically unintuitive. Which is to say, everyone.

True, I am sometimes criticized for omitting the qualifier “almost” before universally inclusive terms, but make no apology. One must not grant concessions to demonic agencies, whose lawyers are constantly text-searching for opportunities to raise asinine objections. Our project should be to induce “psychiatric flooding” in them, to lift each boat off its final mooring, each door off its final hinge, as Donald J. Trump seems to understand. (I may not like him much myself, but am getting in the habit of deferring to the man with the best enemies list I have ever seen.) May I suggest replacing “everyone,” whenever challenged, with, “every God-fearing Christian.”

This morning’s other modest proposal is that all who oppose Daylight Savings Time — which is to say, every God-fearing Christian — should appear one hour early for work through spring and summer, then one hour late through fall and winter, or vice versa by personal whim, continuously until the system collapses under the weight of its own absurdity. This is unfinished business from the Great War.

Meanwhile, the campanologists are advised to ring the church bells a little louder and longer, so no one misses the Mass.

____________

A correspondent cites an unnamed Indian chief in Arizona: “Only a white man would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket and sew it to the bottom of a blanket and have a longer blanket.”

Empty threats

As Stalin used to say, “Nuclear weapons are only a problem for people with bad nerves.”

There are people whose nerves are almost too good, and Stalin comes to mind as an example. But if it is not apocryphal, and even if it is, I think this one of his better lines. I rank it with, “Whenever I hear the word ‘culture’ I reach for my Browning,” long misattributed to Himmler, Goebbels, or Göring. (Stephen Hawking spoke it of Schrödinger’s cat.) Socrates, too, must have said things like that, for he was often politically incorrect. And I, for my part, am with the late Herman Kahn, or was it Lewis Mumford, who said, “Nothing is unthinkable.”

I mention it today — do not fret about nuclear weapons, gentle reader — because, quietly in the background while the pinhead media and the seventeen-headed “intelligence” community of those Natted States are busy eating their President, Iran and North Korea are testing his nerves with “illegal” missile launches, and Beijing just added a line of its own. North Korea certainly has, and Iran probably has nuclear weapons, to go with their fairly long-range delivery systems. I know the latter fact can be denied, but not plausibly: the mullahs have had every opportunity and all the means, plus friends in Pyongyang. Moreover, we might extend our last proposition by adding that, in the life of unstable nations, “Nothing is illegal.”

That is why progressives dream of a single world government: to put all the power in a single set of hands which, with the help of the latest technology, could universally outlaw any peep of dissent from their excruciating nostrums. Frankly, I’d rather nuke them.

Yes, Trump is being tested, but it is hard to get his attention while he is tweeting against his domestic foes; and they are teasing him like crazy. Mad Dog Matthis is, I will suppose, making the decisions to move U.S. fleets around, in case the nonsense becomes intolerable. We trust that Ayatollah Khamenei, and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, are at least as sane as Stalin. I am not offering odds, however.

Nineteen sixty-two was perhaps the last time nuclear weapons were in the news, appropriately. Since, we have had plenty of peacenik botheration when they were no immediate threat, and indifference when they were one. This is a testimony to the world’s media: that they have managed to miss the point, bigly and consistently, for at least fifty-five years.

Still, panic is not indicated. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but I’m not so sure about nuclear fallout. As one correspondent noted, in response to yesterday’s Idlepost, there were 1,021 nuclear explosions (including multiples) at the Nevada Test Site, going back to the ’fifties. This was an hour northwest of the city of Las Vegas, and not one of its residents has two heads.

Another reminds, that it is important to wash your hands after handling irradiated meat. Why? Because we can’t even trust the stuff to wipe out bacteria.

(Compare anthropogenic global warming, which is the most effeminate threat to the survival of our species I have yet heard. The truth, however regrettable, is that there is no chance the seas will rise fast enough to drown Los Angeles.)

No reason to stay tuned. If nuclear missiles are headed your way, there might be some notification. But it doesn’t really matter: the things move fast, and either you’re in the blam range or you’re not. The same could be said every day of reckless drivers. They will hit you or miss you: what is there to add? And since we’re all going to die anyway, we might direct our prayers to more certain things.

Think environmentally

Obviously, if you want to be rid of the wild boars overrunning your neighbourhood, you import their natural predators. You bring in grey wolves, tigers, and komodo dragons. The Japanese authorities now rely on gun-totin’ hunters. According to news reports, they have already nailed eight hundred of the beasts in the Fukushima district where, according to the same news reports, the boars had been flourishing thanks to the eviction of 150,000 human residents after the nuclear plant meltdown. They (the boars) had been making themselves at home in abandoned houses, and are reputed to stalk people outdoors when they haven’t already surprised them as squatters. Forest rats, larger deer, tanuki (“raccoon dogs”), and green pheasants have also been spotted by the returnees — all among traditional mountain fare in those islands — but all assumed to be heavily irradiated, so that Shogun says don’t eat them.

A pity, if gentle reader was dreaming of a botan nabe hotpot, with bamboo shoots and mushrooms, in a white miso sauce; perhaps with a side of bonzai prawns. One ought not to be mulling such things in Lent.

But what about that radiation? Not only around Fukushima, after six years, but Chernobyl after thirty, a wide variety of game has thrived, so well that the emigration of radioactive boars has been mentioned as “a problem” in Hungary and Czechia. Yet these animals were in the finest fettle, and after Easter, I’d be happy to try them in a goulash, provided only that gentle reader goes first. After all, if we overlook a slight increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer, that may be statistically insignificant, people who hung around haven’t suffered either. I suspect the warnings have been overdone, and what we have is the usual post-modern outbreak of neurosis.

If I returned to the High Doganate to find a wild boar had installed himself as my flatmate, the question whether he was glowing would not be the first I’d ask. Rather, I would call in my Swedish friend, whose wilderness skills make him my go-to guy for large ungulate pest control. But truth to tell, I have not encountered that or any similar inconvenience in all the time I’ve lived here. They are the tenants across the street, in the halfway homes for the criminally insane, whom I find more “concerning.” (Fortunately, the Tibetans have opened a new dzong farther down, which promises to improve local karma levels.)

As a diligent reader of Muir and Thoreau (some time ago), I’m entirely in favour of wilderness preservation, and perhaps wilderness creation, though not by legislation. I think nuclear accidents may be the means by which this cause can be advanced, through private enterprise. To which end I note that we have an antiquated reactor at Pickering to our east, that might at any moment improve the aesthetics of Oshawa; and were it not that our breeze prevails westerly, I’d recommend the slovenly construction of a new one for Mimico, just across Humber Bay.

For to my mind we call too many things “problems” today, which might more positively be identified as “solutions.”

Middlebury

J. M. Cameron (1910–95) was a philosophy professor at Saint Michael’s College in Toronto, here, for many years. I met him through one of his prize students, who happened to be my girlfriend at the time, forty-plus years ago. He asked me what I was reading, over tea. I was reading Hobbes. He thought Hobbes the devil, but as I was interested, he turned to teaching me Hobbes — who grew in my estimation under Cameron’s direction. That I wasn’t his formal student made no difference: when someone was interested, he found the time. He was the first of several distinguished “perfessers” I preyed on, over the years. Again and again I found them extremely liberal — with their time — if I could show a genuine interest in their topics.

Cameron came from a working class, North British background; he was an old Leftie from what we might call the same universe that produced Alasdair MacIntyre. (He would playfully class-bait his rather “Upper” wife, who would affectionately reply, “Oh, James, you are so jealous!”) But too, he was a sincere Catholic, and severe moral thinker, who over the course of decades became truly a sage, politically unplaceable. I got to know him well in his old age, when — compulsorily retired, and now banned from the pages of the Leftie intellectual journals for his various ideological heterodoxities — we took him up at The Idler. (He had been a major contributor to e.g. the New York Review of Books for nearly thirty years from its founding in 1963.) We disagreed about lots of things; but in addition to giving me a better understanding of his own positions, he gave me a better understanding of mine.

These days he is all but forgotten; but never by me. I still have most of his books; unfortunately his magnificent revisitation of Newman’s Idea of a University (1978) seems no longer among them. I will find it again, I hope. A significant part of it was devoted to exploring, then condemning, “parasensical discourse” … “a kind of curious verbal play, neither sense nor nonsense, designed to inculcate attitudes, not convey information.” The universities were already full of that, and the prospect for the recovery of real learning, especially in the humanities, had already grown dim.

He was among the last proponents, within liberal university walls, of the old liberalism — of the free and open (and civil) discussion of ideas. He recalled with pleasure Hasting Rashdall’s evocation of the universities in the later Middle Ages, when society could be said to be governed by three powers — Sacerdotium, Imperium, Studium — or, as we would say, the Church, the State, and the University. This last was, as it were, the one safe place for unsafe opinions.

One must, Cameron explained, look squarely at the arguments for e.g. “sexism” and “racism,” if one is to defeat them. Looking squarely means entertaining the possibility that one may be wrong about quite elementary things. This requires us to widen our little worldviews.

Cameron was the sort of man it was impossible to surprise. One could ask him very basic questions, and find that he had thought them through. I asked him one day if, from all his experience in teaching, he had found anything in common between all his best students?

Without hesitation, he replied, “Yes. … All, without exception, were self-taught.”

Belmont, Fishtown, Middlebury. … All sound like towns in Charles Murray’s statistical imagination. I think of Cameron whenever I watch the savage offspring of “parasensical discourse” rioting to suppress a university speaker they have never read, but been taught to hate. They cannot look squarely.

As a (rather leftish, and publicly feminist) lady, seriously injured by the Middlebury mob, said after: “They will not even look in your eyes.”

Deep state

I’m against big guvmint. So is my JCWC (joint chief Washington correspondent), but he tells me to avoid the expression, “deep state.” It’s a propaganda term; it draws you into devil-worship. You might hate big guvmint, and totalitarianism in any form, but if you become obsessed, it will eat your brain. However, I like to err on the side of paranoia; and I appreciate the poetical flavour of the term.

Meanwhile, my CTC (chief Texas correspondent) pings me a piece from the Wall Street Journal. It is about a fellow Aggie who has lost big. It wasn’t directly the fault of Deep State. Rather, the price of oil dropped through the floor, and his aggressive investments went sour in consequence. They’d have worked at 45$ a barrel; not at thirty. He still has his wife (a former Playboy model), and a trickle of consulting income, but the mansion and everything else must go. That’s downright humiliating; and apparently there are many stories like that in the oil patch now. The man is upbeat, though, and his blonde says, “It was just a house.” He intends to win it all back. Good luck to him!

To my own little mind, there is a problem with “entitlements.” That Texan could let go, but most people won’t. Once they have an entitlement, you can’t take it away. Or rather, you can’t without a terrible scene. And the fight won’t be over political theory, it will be over cash. People sincerely believe in cash, they don’t believe in theories. Were they properly instructed, they would realize that post-gold money is also just a theory, and not a very good one. It is an illusion: one must be credulous to believe it. Thanks to “democracy,” of course, almost everyone is credulous, and feels “entitled” in some way. Still, unlike food stamps, oil was at least something.

All God’s fault I suppose: He put way too much oil in the ground, more than anyone can use. We can hardly burn it fast enough. Fortunately, it has good environmental effects, putting carbon dioxide in the air, which helps plants flourish. And we must do our best to delay the next Ice Age. I may be anti-cash, but I’m definitely pro-oil.

I think of a businessman I once interviewed, in a previous century: a big oil man (it was vegetable oil). His HQ was a noodle shop on lower Charoen Krung in Bangkok. That had been his first business, as a refugee from China. He sat behind an old splintered school desk in the shop, in singlet, khaki shorts, and plastic flipflops. He didn’t think businessmen should put on airs; it attracts unwanted attention, from tax collectors and other filth. He struck his deals in the shop (well, he may have had a telephone). He had never signed a contract. He was old school: a man’s word is his bond. Too, you stay where you got lucky. (Cue the sidebar on feng shui.) Family lived upstairs; his own kids served tables. He was worth millions. But he didn’t count it in cash, only in warehouse inventory. He wasn’t the sort of nerd who trusts paper.

Besides, he was rational. “If you can make this much, you can lose this much.” His father had been rich; lost everything including his life to the Communists in Swatow.

“And besides, I work all day. What use have I for a mansion? And who needs limousines? My customers come to me.”

Didn’t want his children spoilt, either. If he lost everything, they could still sling noodles.

Don’t trust cash. If you get a pile, spend it right away. Buy tradeable stuff. It’s stuff that sells, cash is just guvmint notepaper. It’s a big nothing, all Deep State.