Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Lawlessness

Let me add, to the piece I wrote for Catholic Thing today (here), that were it continued for a few more thousand words, I might make several other points touching on our contemporary lawlessness, both sacred and profane. But as Father Hunwicke says, I type with only one finger, and it is getting tired. (Well actually I type with three, and sometimes use my thumb on the space bar, which is why my pieces often come out longer.)

Disrespect for the law grows from many causes, but one of terrible effect is the quantity of legislation. When I last checked, for instance, a few years ago, the Obamacare arrangements had filled 20,202 pages. Since, by executive order and the like, this has grown considerably, and of course, this not-quite-randomly selected Act and its attachments comprise only a miniscule portion of current USA law overall. I am unaware of page counts for Canadian legislation and orders-in-council (the federal and provincial Gazettes congest with them, every day). In comparison, the Ten Commandments of Moses were easier to remember; and note that Jesus boiled those down to Two.

As I learnt to my cost some years ago, after I criticized a previous Liberal government in perhaps too harsh and public a way, the Income Tax Code is a kind of star-gate, and once one’s file is transferred for audit from Scarborough, Ontario to, say, the notorious office in Saint John’s, Newfoundland, the [omitted] can get you in a million ways; and any appeal to the Tax Court will cost you another million. (Received a letter this week to suggest they are coming for me again, and my only pleasure is that it must cost them a hundred barrels for every pint of blood they can hope to suck from me.)

The modern citizen is a trained wuss when it comes to such things. He will take any tyranny for granted, so long as it comes with the “democracy” label. He has been taking it for a long time, as for instance through the income tax department, which, long before my personal experience of its sick, sadistic ways, I opposed in principle. The department was created not only to pick our pockets, but to give the State access to our most intimate private lives, together with a presumption of guilt in all investigations. The receipts are then applied to leverage debt-based expenditure to purposes themselves, far more often than not, intrinsically evil.

Against this background, it is hardly surprising that the bigger economic players, who can afford whole accounting departments to find existing loopholes, and lobbyists to fetch more when they are wanted, consider themselves to be above criticism if their lawyers can argue they have stayed within the law. But these arguments are useless, should the political powers take a dislike to them. For the government always has larger accounting and legal departments; and when it comes to “lawyering” they hold all the cards.

I laugh, for instance, when anyone proposes a comprehensible “flat tax.” The codes and regulations are immensely complex by design and intention. The purpose was explained to me by a successful businessman once, with whom I happened to be allied, briefly. He said, that whenever he negotiates a contract, he instructs his lawyers to make it hard to understand, by inserting and then insisting upon a myriad of petty little clauses, all of which will appear to be irrelevant. Indeed, he said, all of them may be, but in aggregate they are bound to provide the “wiggle room” should later he decide to welch upon the deal — “legally,” as he put it.

Am I cynical and misanthropic on matters like these? I would think so.

Centralization of human authority in the modern Nanny State is, in its nature, totalitarian. We have governments in control of huge populations, passing the equivalent of municipal by-laws, that apply to the whole country. And these with the full power of police and army to enforce them should any question arise. This is obviously a recipe from Kafka. (Not Barbara; Franz.)

These laws of man make mockery of the Law of Heaven.

But God will have to deal with it, I am too small.

Backhand compliment

My standards for politicians are low. This has finally naught to do with my general objections to “democracy.” My standards for courtiers are low, too; and I’ve found most kings and even some queens disappointing — while allowing that someone must rule. My experience of life is that human beings make a hash of most things they touch, and my belief is that if it weren’t for Divine Grace, our whole race would have extinguished itself, long ago.

Only against this background can I say how impressed I have been with the evaporating field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve watched some of the televised “debates” (which I’d rather call “vaudevilles”), and have some idea from where most of the candidates are coming. Donald Trump is an exception: the man who received more than half of nationwide media attention for more than six months, got one-quarter of the Iowa caucus vote, which was I thought at least twenty-five times what he had earned. I only hope U.S. Americans are now half as tired of this coarse, malevolent buffoon as I am.

But by my standards, the rest of the field (including candidates now dropped out) are impressive. I do not remember a previous nomination campaign in which as many as a dozen candidates were each worth considering. The contrast with the Democratic Party race, which could be caricatured as the Witch versus the Commie, is staggering: two candidates whom no fully sane and intelligent person would dream of keeping in public life.

With Trump happily absent from the last vaudeville, the strength of the field became more apparent. Except Trump, I could not see a single candidate who would offer nothing of value to a national executive. Even such an inexperienced candidate as Carson, for instance, would be in his element at, say, Health and Human Services, if only for the task of dismantling it in a wise, merciful, and orderly way; Fiorina might, ditto, competently close down the Department of Education, or drain some other unnecessary bureaucratic quagmire. Governors Bush, Christie, Huckabee, Jindal, Kasich, Perry, Walker, all struck me as serious and accomplished men, with real experience of the issues on which they touched; Graham, Paul, Santorum, as principled, thoughtful, and determined. Cruz and Rubio are sterling — though again remembering my modest expectations. I never expect gold.

Lord Grenville’s “ministry of all the talents” (1806) came to mind. Although the term could be used facetiously (and was), it did succeed in e.g. formally abolishing the slave trade, and some other ambitious but achievable tasks, before disintegrating, as a consequence of having crossed too many party or factional lines. Churchill’s wartime cabinet had something of the same qualities, and held together until the end of the Second World War while British independence was at stake.

For the very reason the Democrats now offer only a constantly expanding moral, intellectual, and fiscal black hole, there would be some prospect of holding a contrary administration together, for perhaps one full term; long enough to reverse a few trends. Paradoxically Cruz, who is not a “team player,” but commands both horse-sense and logical capacity, might make the best choreographer; Rubio might prove (like Grenville) too cautious and accommodating, at a time when major decisions must be made and not retreated from, to avoid a form of national collapse.

The fact a man (or woman) wants to be president should disqualify him, of course; but as there is no prospect of return to the original Electoral College, envisioned by the American Founding Fathers, the responsibility to eliminate quacks, demagogues, criminals, careerists, the unteachably stupid, and the insane, falls on the public at large. As those Founders realized, “the people” would make an extremely unreliable “safety net,” for the preservation of their own liberties. Men of some character and understanding would be indispensable.

Oddly enough, the USA does seem to have some. Could they be raised to a view above personal ambition, and put to work as a phalanx? Probably not, but the idea is intriguing.

The neoconical hat

Among my proudest moments have been those when some fellow redneck (I presume; he is usually anonymous) has called me a “Jew-lover.” I would hope there is some truth in the allegation. Invariably the assailant strikes me as “a bear of little brain,” but great anger, incapable of reasoned thought, and out to give rednecks a bad name. Not that I value human reason so highly.

“Neocon” is a term that fluctuates in meaning; by now a creature entirely of context. The first self-announced “neo-conservatives” were unmistakably Jews, such as the elder Kristol, the elder Podhoretz, beloved Gertrude Himmelfarb and so forth. It was all in a family, and that family happened to be Jewish. I have myself written for the now venerable Commentary magazine, which began liberal but wised up in the ’sixties, as “liberalism” itself began to merge with demonic forces. Even before that generation, there was a history of Jewish socialists who, after throwing up on Stalin, realized that for all its self-advertised flaws, the Natted States Merica was still the land of the brave and home of the basically decent. … Back then. …

Generation Three served in the Reagan White House, then the Bush one, and finally the other Bush one, all mixed in with Cold War Christians. As we moved along from the Soviets to the Islamists, the Jews proved especially useful. Such “neocon” poster boys as Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle, were representative of a small Jewish coterie in the Pentagon: maybe six or seven, I think I met them all. I discovered them during the Gulf Wars, to be excellent sources of checkable information on what was actually happening in the Middle East. Uniquely among members of the “Baby Bush” administration, they could speak Arabic, Persian, Turkish; were men of high culture themselves, and had travelled extensively in the region. They’d been schooled by Bernard Lewis, and before him by such as Leo Strauss. They were smart cookies, and in point of fact, they did not recommend any of the measures that turned the Iraq invasion into a counter-productive farce. They merely became the fall-guys for the people who had made all the mistakes these “neocons” had tirelessly warned against.

Jeanne Kirkpatrick, George P. Schultz, John Bolton: I toss in such names in the hope that gentle reader will notice I am reducing a long and complicated history to a few short grafs. In this one I want to emphasize the C&W graduates (the letters stand for “Cold” and “War”). The Jewish component became entirely integrated with this “all-American” WASP policy school; as the Jews in Germany before that Hitler fellow were entirely integrated within perfectly Aryan, Weimar German political and intellectual life. But the Nazis, who disliked the whole egghead class, singled them out for scapegoats.

Scoop Jackson, and D. Patrick Moynihan: most certainly not Jews, and not even Republicans. Each name corresponds to a long and admirable tradition within the Democratic Party that was, in the first instance, internationalist, and in the second, sceptical of the Nanny State. It is four decades since they had any influence at all, within that party, but they still have descendants we might weave into this narrative of an America which, like Britain before her, was the world’s policeman, sometime advocate of motherhood and apple pie, and chief salesman for human mobility and free trade. (Globalization is now into its fourth century.)

The term “neocon” is thus, to a remarkable degree, lacking in precision. Anyone who uses it as a generalized term of abuse gets my red neck up immediately; though I do understand it is sought for shorthand, to declare opposition to both of the old Anglo-Saxon planks: interventionism abroad; and the levelling of trade barriers — through which, latterly, American blue-collar jobs have been exported to places like China and Bangladesh. Thanks to the apparent unsuccess of such policies (the real causes of failure are seldom intelligently discussed), the old patriots for “the American Way” can be painted as traitors today, and cast as a superannuated “Establishment.” But this Whig Establishment, if it once existed, died off years ago. Obama, Trump, Sanders are three examples of what we find trampling on its imaginary grave. Worse may soon be coming.

As a very young man in the footsteps of my father — gung-ho on Vietnam, and a “1950s liberal” — I was not a “neo” anything. Gradually my worldview has receded to that of the European thirteenth century, which I don’t find represented by any of the current political parties. (Perhaps I should start one.) My loyalty to “the West” is only a knee-jerk extension of my loyalty to Christendom — which rekindles whenever the sun catches upon a shard of its broken stained glass. I am a “neocon” only in the sense that I remain gung-ho against the Saracens, and am for clearing highwaymen off the open roads — for sake of pilgrimage even more than for trade. I am aware, however, that circumstances have somewhat changed, over the last eight centuries; to my mind, almost entirely for the worse.

Notwithstanding, we must deal, today, with today’s prudential matters. There are costs associated with each proposal for action; and costs, along with alarm bells ringing, for taking no action at all. If, for instance, USA ceases to be present when wanted as a superpower, who or what takes its place? (This is not a rhetorical question.) If we don’t like “globalization” and all that it infers, how are we going to eat? How do we propose to rebuild from the bottom, after everything we lean on comes down from the top? Or more essentially, can we have any candour on political, diplomatic, and economic questions? Or must we, for the sake of political correctness, and electoral tact, be sucked down into a miasmatic bog of lies?

Those dismissed as “neocons” often have the virtue of addressing such questions; even the ethical questions, in their arguably desiccated way. Their critics are — at least to a backward mind like mine — too fanciful, blind, deaf, and credulous.

Strange gift

Today, the fortieth and last of Christmas, is once again “Candlemas.” It commemorates the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem, along with the sacrifice of Joseph and Mary, who could not afford a lamb. The feast also commemorates the conclusion of the forty-day cycle for the purification of a mother, according to Hebraic custom. A poor Jewish couple with their firstborn, acting according to ancient Mosaic law; greeted by Anne, and by the prophetic Simeon, who utters the Nunc Dimittis:

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

I was an Anglican too many years to abandon this splendid English rendering of the Scripture, the third of Saint Luke’s great canticles (after the Magnificat and the Benedictus). The Latin is good and the Greek is better. The poetry of the words is fully necessary. They are intended to convey the poignancy of the scene, in the face of this old man, who has recognized his Messiah, to the amazement of the child’s own parents.

It was from this canticle that the Greeks named the feast, Hypapante, referring to this moment of recognition by the Old, of the New. Tired and waiting for death, standing himself at the junction of worlds, the eyes of Simeon see that nothing will be the same. The Messiah has come, and the whole course of history that must follow flickers in the old man’s eyes, still bound in the breath of a moment to this blessed Earth, and the dimension of Time. It is the canticle I read over my own father’s grave, as we committed him, dust to dust.

There is, I am sure, theological significance in each of the events that combine to be celebrated within Candlemas — in the procession and the blessing of the candles. The fulfilment of that ancient law, drawn from the pages of Leviticus, is again before us.

I like to think on the two turtle doves: the gift to the Temple that this couple, Joseph and Mary, could actually afford. The simplicity of it, alongside the incomprehensible gift of Jesus.

Christ has come to fulfil the laws of Moses, and the Law behind all law. It makes no sense that He should be here, that He should arrive in this human form, in the arms of this young mother. The ancient imagination demanded that a Saviour come in timpani and trumpets. Here is this small child, and these impoverished parents, with their brace of pigeons in a stick cage. They stand at the intersection of all Time.

The Author of all we know, has sent so personal a Gift, by such messengers, as the fulfilment of His promise to Abraham. I find this astonishing; indeed, too preposterous not to be true. That He is presenting Himself, helpless at the Temple, in fulfilment of an ancient vow. I find it very odd. For what does this gesture suggest?

The humility of a Lover.

Famiglia

The numbers are inevitably disputed — whether it was “tens of thousands” as reported in the back pages of such liberal media as reported it at all, or towards one million as reported by observers — at least there were enough Christians in Rome to pack the Circus Maximus, and similar venues across Italy. They came out Saturday for that country’s “Family Day,” as previously the Christians came out — a million or two — from across France, to express their opposition to a government measure to “redefine marriage.” These latest oppose the “Cirinnà” legislation now going before the Italian Senate.

Italy, as Ireland and several other once overwhelmingly Catholic countries in Europe, lags slightly behind the fore-edge of the post-sexual revolution. I write “post-” because in more progressive countries — Canada for instance — the very fact that there are two sexes, and all that follows from it, is now being “revised” in positive law. The “liberal” media, in Italy as everywhere, are scandalized by backwardness — by any slowness in this overturning of the laws of God and Man and Nature. By rote, they attribute the delays to “the lingering influence of the Roman Catholic Church” (a phrase noticed in New York Times, Le Monde, La Repubblica, &c).

Only one Italian bishop turned up, from what I can see: Genoa’s Angelo Bagnasco, God bless him. The current pope ignored the event entirely, did not mention it in his daily homily, and made plain he had better things to do. He had earlier cut a meeting with Bagnasco after being told that this Benedict-appointed president of the Italian Episcopal Conference would in fact attend the rally. Italy has hundreds of bishops; that only one could be seen on such a day speaks many volumes of silence and disgrace. So again, God bless Bagnasco — brave Christian and true Catholic who, like my beloved Cardinal Burke, and others, would rather be punished than sell out. (Are such men the “lingering influence” the reporters were talking about?)

Yet as in the third century, humble clergy were there to identify with the old Faith. The crowd, from what I can see through pictures, included many simple parish priests, and religious in their habits. They still stand loyally with the sheep when the princes of their Church disappear. God bless and keep each in his or her station, who has made vows, “till death.”

Like the huge pro-life marches, in Washington and around the world, the rally in Italy was outwardly joyous — a “family event.” I am impressed because, even in the bitter experience of betrayal, these gathered Christians do not contort their faces, do not wave obscene placards, or utter such bile as we are used to hearing from their opponents. They celebrate the great and holy cause they represent.

In 2007, such demonstrations succeeded in halting a previous Italian government attempt to desecrate the institution of marriage. We will see what happens now. It is to the credit of Italy that she has held out a little longer than other countries; but optimism would be naïve.

The crowds are naïve. I find them invigorating. Even in the face of “political reality” they hope their enemies can be converted and transformed. And even within countries that have returned to the vilest forms of paganism (child sacrifice!) there are still millions — millions upon millions of Europeans and Americans — who have not given up. They are the “lingering influence.”

Let us be naïve, with them. Let us in the worst moments remember, that so long as this world shall continue, all trends are reversible.

Signs of the times

Often I wonder how it was that I managed to stay out of the Catholic Church, until the age of fifty. I suppose it was much the way my ancestors stayed out, for centuries. They found Christianity fairly obvious, back then, but the claims of Rome less so. Or even if they saw the claims, still could make excuses. Notwithstanding, one thing leads to another.

In my view (that so prevails at this website) it is the “mystical” aspect of Christianity that so repelled them, and attracts me. This is what filled the monasteries both East and West, and works also to retrieve people over the bridge of Evangelicalism. In quite different ways, Calvinism and Lutheranism and State Anglicanism and their various mainstream disestablished Episcopal, Baptist, Congregational, and Methodist successors (I’m sorry if I’ve left anyone out) worked to undermine it — through iconoclasm, rationalism, nationalism, and so forth. But that is some vast topic, which revisionist historians like Eamon Duffy have only begun to survey.

Little people like me have been pulled to Rome, modern historically, partly because the common war on Rome faltered, with the collapse of mainstream Protestant congregations. Most of course drifted away to post-Christian hedonism and fey atheism (“agnosticism”), or to the myriad pseudo-religious consumer cults. A revived New Age gnosticism, too, became popular, often masquerading as Buddhism. (Not the Buddhists’ fault, they assure me.) Today the old Puritan impulse, where it survives or is rekindled, pulls towards radical Islam. (The old Scots Presbyters were much like the Taliban.) It is a bewildering disintegration, out there, but also inside the Roman Church, “in the spirit of Vatican II,” where mainstream Protestantism is making its last stand.

Gentle reader must know all this already, however.

My point is only that there are those moments at the fulcrum, where one in effect has no religion at all, and nothing to listen to, except the Holy Spirit. This puts him in great danger of falling into a very traditional and orthodox Roman Catholicism, that will leave all his respectable Protestant ancestors spinning in their graves.

*

There is already too much autobiography in these Idleposts, I will try to suppress a full chronology today, but when I look back I see that opportunities and motives “to pope” were there almost continuously from early childhood forward, along with little revelations. But rather than read, as it were, these “signs of the times,” I found some way to deflect or ignore them.

Here I am using the quoted phrase in a slightly unusual way. I am not thinking of such a thing as an event in a chronological sequence, or “narrative”; nor as the moral of a story, supplied at the end; though I’m not excluding those aspects entirely. Rather I am thinking of a moment “outside time,” though of course it must have intersected with time, for the “event” had a temporal location, and I am nothing if not temporal myself. Art, great art and poetry, captures and communicates such moments, or translates a divine mystical form into something less mystically human and tangible.

(All great art is essentially religious.)

*

It is the year of grace 1972. I am nineteen, and waking in a little attic room, as self-imagined poet in a garret. The sun is rising on a warm midsummer day, and outside the window is that morning light, and thick ivy. Sparrows are chirping in that ivy, a flock in the leaves chatting merrily all at once. This was a sign of the times.

Suddenly the world seemed very ancient, and very new. It came into my head as my eyes were opening, and the light streaking above the floorboards, that I was reclining in Paradise. There are sparrows like this in Paradise, I thought. (I was unquestionably an atheist at the time.) Not ancient, specifically, nor new, but immortal, I thought. I had a theological idea. This moment on Earth is itself immortal, in the sense that it is meant to be, but also in the sense that it is undeniable. The world will pass away, but the memory of this event will not pass, as it were, “in the mind of God.” The sparrows on the leaves are immortal, every note they have uttered “just so.” They hatched, they spawned, they will die; but forever, they will have been. They cannot be effaced, from having been; they will always have been, just here, in the immensity. No tyrant, no accident, can take them away.

This led to a little logical quandary. If this is so, I thought, in a budding scholastic way, the arrow of time must be an illusion. But it can only be so, because it is not an illusion. For it was something not imagined and “abstract” but constructed from the indisputably real and corporally present. For now I do not mean the moment itself — the short space occupied within a single second — but each and every living sparrow, each growing leaf, and every particle of dust floating in the air. All were unmistakably real, and each will always have been, here, in the co-ordinates of this moment. I could “prove” this, easily to myself, because I was here, too.

Perhaps these things are hard to describe.

“Nothing is lost.” That was the “moral,” if you will, that I took from that moment, and as I say, it was “a sign of the times,” vouchsafed to me by the Heaven, by the Grace of God, as I now realize. Yet no empire had crumbled, and the sky had not turned red.

So many people, even in my inbox, are almost in a state of despair about “the way things are going.” It would sound glib to say, “Don’t worry about it.” The Biblical expression is less glib. It is voiced as an angelic command: “Fear not.”

*

Or a little later in time, when I found myself lying in a hospital bed, in a lung ward (this was before I took up smoking), with old men around me, all terminal cases with lung cancer, and I had watched one die earlier in the evening right across from me — paradoxically, of a heart attack. (I rang the buzzer; staff got there quick; but he was dead already.) This man had spent the whole of the previous night curling into a fetal position, and calling for his mother. (He was ninety years old.) This was memorable.

And the old Welsh coal miner in the bed next to mine (also about ninety), who was down to one half of one lung, and in terrible pain — but stoic, smiling, joking, “unkillable” — a member of God’s own working class.

Perhaps I should explain that my own case wasn’t terminal, at all. I had only a tube stuck in my chest, above a collapsed lung. (Say after me, “spontaneous pneumothorax.”) They’d stuck me, rather literally, in that terminal ward, because it had the right equipment, and there was a shortage of beds at Westminster Hospital. Or, seen from another angle, God had stuck me in there to watch old men die.

I was still an atheist; but a firm believer in “the Bible as Literature.” I had borrowed a King James Bible from a (very pretty, born-again) young nurse, only for something to read. I needed magnificent literature, I did not need a paperback, at that time, lying in that ward. I was near to panic, the darkness was encroaching, I was in physical torment myself, and felt the closing in of “the valley of the shadow of death.” Verily, I was beginning to understand what terror feels like.

Purely for distraction I reached (painfully) for the Good Book. It fell open at one of the young nurse’s bookmarks: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, …”

Though the earth be removed. Though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled. Though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.

Selah.

This was a sign of the times.

Good one

Good on Fox, and especially Megyn Kelly, for provoking Donald Trump to stay away from a TV “debate.” It was an exquisite marketing move, for which I must also congratulate Roger Ailes, and Rupert Murdoch. Now suddenly the other half of America — the “liberal” half — is tuning in Fox News and liking it. I am rather enjoying this. It was time to unsettle Mr Trump, who is outwardly a populist thug, but inwardly a pansy. In his absence the exchange of crass personal insults dropped nearly to zero, and the intelligence level quadrupled. (That can’t be good for ratings, though.)

I adore Mrs Kelly, even though she once chopped me up on air, into wee tiny pieces. It was a scene I would rather not remember, which still comes back to mind: the biggest fool I ever made of myself on the idiot box. “They” had me on to “discuss” some Canadian journalist with a name like Malice, who’d done an especially obnoxious anti-American tirade for the Canadian shill network, CBC. How did I “feel” about it?

“Just great,” I replied. … Mrs Kelly’s eyes went suddenly narrow. …

“I think it is wonderful when we get to hear what our media types really think. Usually it is confined to off-camera comments. On camera, we get their totally fake ‘objective’ pose.”

She could remain silent no longer. She lit into me with a hundred thunderballs. How dare I defend this obnoxious anti-American twit?

“But Megyn, but Megyn, I’m on your side,” I mumbled, with little hope of being heard. Then I went home to read a hundred emails from patriotic Americans, condemning me to death.

Irony may not be her strongest suit, but Mrs Kelly knows how to rattle people, and that is the interviewer’s most important skill, at least when dealing with the powerful. Ideally, you get them to say, on the record, what they will not want to hear in the recording.

The complete demolition of Henry Kissinger, by the late adored Oriana Fallaci in 1972, stands as I think the high point in my living experience of journalism. She also destroyed Ayatollah Khomeini, Muammar Gaddafi, Haile Selassie, and Yasser Arafat, in plain public view. Indeed, she achieved these things long before her thermonuclear, one-woman assault on Islam, after 9/11. (She was a libertarian anarchist, and finally a “very Catholic atheist,” who met with Pope Benedict XVI and admired him.)

As gentle reader may already imagine, I do not think the purpose of journalism is to be “fair.” One is always in the tag ring with Good and Evil, yet one is not the referee. One’s job is to help Good get a clean knock-out. All the great journalists have understood this: that they do not report what is “fair” but what they believe, or better, know to be true — in its entirety. The task is to expose the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us God.

Will this have any effect on “history”? Almost certainly not. But that is not our business. History can take care of itself.

Now in the present circumstances, I wonder if Good is even in the ring. One is more or less up against Evil, solo, and so might as well invoke God. “Nothing to lose but your life,” as they say. And, “Nothing to gain but Heaven.”

The journalist’s task with Mr Trump, for instance, is not to tell lies to his benefit, or to his detriment. Lies seldom work for long, unless you have guns to enforce them. Rather it is to show him, for exactly what he is. This Mrs Kelly did for a moment in their televised encounter some months ago. The presidential candidate found her impossible to bully. He’d found all other journalists easy marks. Hooo, did he whimper, in vulgar emails afterwards; and last night, conspicuously, he could not return to face her (still owing an apology on air). He wasn’t man enough for that.

Rather, since crass insults are his game, let me add that he is America’s most blustering weenie.

Honi soit qui mal y pense

I notice that pretty much the whole class of Australian politicians will have to be hanged, drawn, &c, for conspiring against Her Majesty, to the end of declaring a Republic. I fear, however, that this won’t happen; that the treason will simply be performed. I am not “up” on the Antipodean situation, and have scanned only a few websites reporting the latest unpleasant news. The usual sleazy rhetoric is employed, to propose the overturning of their constitutional order. The nation must “come of age,” &c, which implies she has failed to do so as a Commonwealth since 1901, and only now may be ready for responsible government. The politicians have decided they must fix this. She must obtain the “independence” that will make her indistinguishable from every other sordid post-modern national amusement park.

The intention is plain, as in all third-world movements. The political class wants a local strongman, or failing that one of their own, to play the Queen in public ceremonies. As I know from our partly parallel Canadian history, pride and envy are their guides. The profane State wants an absolute monopoly of power and prestige, to appropriate both the profane and the sacred. A royal house, especially one not permanently resident and thus directly under their thumbs, is an affront to the politicians’ self importance, with its vestigial suggestion that anything could be above their station. To the faithless, Dieu et mon droit is beyond intellectual reach.

No, “the power of the people” must be absolute, and seen to be absolute, in the person of a politician. And the model of a Republic, designed for the government of small cities, is applied by the politicians to states on the scale of large historic empires, and inflated to accommodate their lusts.

As a Canadian I realize that Australian developments will only encourage the spoilt Trudeau child, and members of his proud and contemptible Party, to try the same stunt here. For them it is only a question of timing: of what they can get away with, and how soon. For decades they worked assiduously to strip monarchical symbols from our public life, and now they claim these are “out of date.” Being politicians, and thus very nearly the lowest of the low, they have sponsored instead a cheap and jingo nationalism to empower their class, even when the individual members inspire little but disgust in the voters.

The Australian constitution, as I understand it, was modelled on Westminster, plus Canadian federalism, and a few details borrowed from USA and Switzerland. One of these last was the public referendum. When last consulted in one, Australian voters defeated a republican proposal by a decisive margin (6 November 1999). But this, to a hungry wolf, is only a temporary setback. He looks for an alternative way to get at the flesh he so craves.

It does not follow that such a proposal will be defeated again. These days, with the pillars of our civilization cracked, “public opinion” can be changed very quickly. In 1999, for instance, the Canadian Parliament not only defeated a private member’s bill (from an irritating backbench homosexual) to introduce “same-sex marriage,” but shot it off with a resolution defining marriage in perpetuity as “the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others,” which passed by an overwhelming margin. The then-governing Liberals were at pains to show they wanted nothing to do with a measure that enjoyed hardly any public support. Those who doubted this (moi, par example) were accused of paranoia.

By 2003, the necessary jackboot was tied on: a provincial court ruled retroactively that “same-sex marriage” could not be denied; and in 2005, Parliament rubber-stamped on behalf of the whole country. By then, public opinion had come round. Anyone opposed could now face “hate laws,” freshly written into the Criminal Code alongside the last season’s “genocide” provisions.

There is no chest, no head, no heart, as empty as “public opinion.”

I daresay the Australians will fold the same way, in the face of relentless republican propaganda, and the systematic sabotage of their noble traditions. For while they may be a little less flexible than the average rubber-duck Canadians, it can’t be by much.

While it was, for the most part, only a conceit, the idea that the politician is “Her Majesty’s servant” was a subtle but continuous check on the politician’s vanity. The idea of waiting for Royal Assent — the remote possibility that it might not be granted — provided a modestly civilizing restraint on him. He was obliged at least to dress the part of a loyal domestic, and take his place in an ancient and honourable procession. Even in the decline of kingly power, monarchy remained an impediment to his Adamic barbarity. He must know his place. Remove that Throne — undermine the constitutional order that it upholds — and only the wolf remains.

The American Republic was established with a clear notion that it governed “One nation under God,” further limited by traditionally British, and legally defensible rights, belonging not to the state, but to the free citizen. Their constitution has been effectively overthrown, by the gradual inversion of the meaning of its terms, and the obviation of civil life beyond intrusive government regulation. The “democratic” American politicians, as all others in once free countries, are impeded by nothing as they invade every tiny corner of humane family as well as civic life, while erecting their incomprehensibly large, bureaucratic and autocratic Nanny State.

In our post-modern context, the idea that his Creator has claims above man, and therefore above every human tyranny, is taken for a nonsense. In the descent of practice from the French Revolution, Atheism is now the default position of every public authority. And monarchy becomes ridiculous for its implicit acknowledgement of the immortal Fact of our dependency.

For there is an implicitly priestly order, in which the Crown represents a people before God, and God before a people. Replace that, with some foetid “social contract,” and the possibility of “Crown in Parliament” slides also down the chute. Now it is only “The People,” with arrogated Capitals, who are everywhere in the great majority entirely ignorant of how government works, and who, in the absence of this competence, or any sound foundation, can be manipulated to “support” anything at all — including so many things known to all previous generations as morally abhorrent.

Poor Australia. There will be nothing left of her, after amendment by feckless politics and massive immigration. Her children will grow up as puddings.

On public statuary

A newspaper for a gentleman should be full broadsheet, which is to say, in the English-speaking realms, a page 24 inches deep by 18 inches wide — divided, ideally, into six 15-pica columns, in 8-point type with another point of leading to yield about ten thousand words per page (without headlines or illustrations), while allowing generous margins. This opens out to a yard wide, by two feet deep, which is the minimum a gentleman needs to cover his face and upper body, while snoozing in an armchair at his club.

John Richmond, “sketch-paddler” of fond memory, was the last to publish such a paper in Canada, to my less than certain knowledge. He did this from his residence in Claremont, Ontario. The journal was one sheet (four pages), and somewhat eccentric in character. It was launched slightly before my Idler magazine, and expired soon after launching. I was aware of at least three issues, but find only the inaugural number in my files.

It was entitled, The Bicameral Review, and announced itself as the “Official Organ of the Bicameral Society for the Stimulation of Brainwaves while You’re In, Above, or Near the Water.” An heraldic device with the title might be blazoned thus: “Twinned brainlobes, sable, affronté within a roundel, superscribed with the initials ‘B’ and ‘S’.”

Contents of the first number included a sixty-fifth anniversary commemoration of the Royal Visit of 1919; a half-page Crosshatch Puzzle with forty-five twinned clues; miscellaneous lesser contests and quizzes, in which the prize was invariably a copy of the same remaindered book; a “Plowboy” interview with Mr Significant; surgical advice to help skiers become more serious, high-minded, well-proportioned, keen; tips for rock-fishing; and street interviews with various persons on the breaking-news question, “What does the Provincial Bicentennial mean to You?”

Richmond’s elegant penmanship in captions and caricatures added dimensionally to the enchantment, and while one item was confessedly prurient (a miniature diagram of “the structure of a spermatozoon”), most were in good, or at least acceptable, taste (“Writer Brooke Salmon dressed for a border-crossing,” &c).

A “man of true genius and creative wallop,” as Richmond said of another, more than three decades ago. He was old enough when I last spied him, in white hair and beard; he disappeared from my vicinity without mentioning whether he had died. Only yesterday I discovered that he abandoned this planet in January, three years ago, having taken extended holidays from it in Mexico beforehand. I imagine him still sketching in the refreshing uplands of Purgatory, bounding about in his peculiar way, trailed by numerous small children.

“Dear John,” as one might begin a note to him, to leave at the counter of the Zanzibar, or wherever.

It struck me, after yesterday’s effusion, that in addition to artists who lived and died poor, but whose works now command millions of dollars, there are those who lived and died poor, and are utterly forgotten. In addition to the Unknown Soldier, whom I would never wish to overlook, we might want to subscribe for public monuments to the Unknown Poet, the Unknown Flautist, the Unknown Greengrocer, and so forth. Surely this city is in need of more statues, and it is a pity Richmond can’t be found to design them.

Meditation on a potato

My Chief Texas Correspondent forwards a rather fetching picture of a common tuber — a potato — taken against a black background with a high-end digital camera, by the society photographer, Kevin Abosch — an Irishman. He recently sold it to a Continental businessman, whose identity was undisclosed, for one million euros. (I should like to know where that businessman lives.)

Let me not be vulgar. I will have no fun at the expense of the Irish, or of the rich. This is not a tabloid, like some other websites I could name. Without prejudice I observe that it is an attractive potato, presented in fine detail, unwashed and unshaven. A “nude,” I was thinking, while looking it over. Mr Abosch must have some expertise, for I notice his title is “Potato #345,” which suggests he is an old hand at photographing spuds.

Should memory serve (I don’t like Google-searching) $170,405,000 was paid for the Modigliani nude that sold at Christie’s in November; and something more than that for a Picasso, earlier last year. By this standard the Abosch is a dollar-store item. An auction house like Christie’s can turn over a thousand million dollars in a week; even before the real estate transactions.

Not only in tabloids, scandal sells. My guess is that Modigliani’s Nu Couché took a premium because it got in the history books, a century ago. It offended a lot of old ladies, at the time. And one may see why it would. Amedeo Modigliani himself lived and died very poor, but somehow acquired along his way the most alluring, even daunting mistresses; such as my admired poetess, the young Anna Akhmatova — his sketches of whom, I am sorry to say, still fetch only in the low millions. (I’m fairly sure Nu Couché is not of her.)

He had a way of life, tubercular and alcoholic, that is the joy of every adolescent mamma’s boy, and helps account for his success with models. He had a simplified and repetitive style, that is the joy of forgers.

One goes to the Prado in Madrid to see the really high-class mistresses. One thinks immediately of Goya’s La Maja Desnuda, painted more than a century before the oldest of Modigliani’s. It bothered the old ladies of that age, so much, that it spent some time in the hands of the Inquisition. Today, there is something about the “full effrontery” of the past, that gets a rise from a certain class of art collector. They will bid a price up and up; although in Goya’s case I must say his companion painting of the Duchess of Alba, fully clothed in the same reclining pose, is the more shocking. (Some art historians say it depicts another of Goya’s mistresses; but I tell you it was the Duchess of Alba.) I think it’s the subtly bolder look in the eyes, of La Maja Vestida. She seems more shy with her clothes off.

But getting back to our potato, I can detect no “attitude” at all. I have indeed been unable to discern much emotion, in any of the potatoes I have handled over the years. One gets more feedback from a live lobster; from potatoes, only the Sartrean ennui. But I would not wish to depreciate this one, the price of whose portrait is itself enlivening. Or one might, given the black sheet background, mistake it for the latest moon of Pluto, in which case the high-resolution detail increases the excitement.

Let me be plain: it is a handsome potato. But I am one of the Scottish genetic persuasion, and can find its like on a local barrow for less than one (1) inflated Canadian dollar. And as to the fine resolution, I have magnifying glasses in the High Doganate up here. Rather, for a million or up, I would expect Van Gogh’s “Potato-Eaters,” or at least a potato by Joan Miró.

We (my CTC and I) were discussing the question of “idea” behind a work of art. “Function follows form,” I declared, in defiance of the moderns; but in agreement with Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and McLuhan. I was stumped, however, on the question of “found art.” I suppose all photography to be “found art,” at best.

The most successful photographer I have met — a Welshman practising in the Far East, who still owes me some rent, incidentally — told me, many years ago: “Painters are born, sculptors are born, composers are born, poets are born. Photography is a hobby.”

I will allow this insight was worth something, but still find him a little in arrears. Though perhaps he made up the difference with other apperceptions, rendered before he flit our shared, over-priced flat — such as how to size up a portrait client. Vanity, he told me, has a certain cash value, and the trick is to estimate well. Too high, or too low, and you have lost the sale.

Though I have liked some potatoes more than others, I can’t reasonably say even one of them was vain. It is the apparent indifference of the potato, to human evaluation, that now has my attention; together with its capacity to sprout in the dark (thus actually diminishing its culinary value). The sensuous young nude, as it were, earth-apple of one’s eye, becomes old and wrinkled.

Not even Durer could impute a motive to any vegetable within his earthy still-lifes. Though here it must be said he never had the chance, with a potato, since these tubers did not penetrate to Nuremberg from the New World — via the Canaries and Antwerp, I think — until after his decease. (Basque fishermen first brought them to western Ireland, I believe, in the 1540s; only a couple of decades after some Spaniard had spotted one in the Quito market.)

Durer’s contemporary and pen-pal Leonardo might also have done immortal justice to this tuber, on first sight, if he had ever seen one. To this day it offers a certain je ne sais quoi to the ambitious botanical illustrator. But what I long for is a potato by Bellini.

The yachtsman

“To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a foundation of financial insecurity. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea. ‘Cruising’ it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change.”

This is one of those quotes one copies into one’s commonplace book, forgetting to note where one found it. Journalists have been hanged for less. A quick Internet search suggests it was probably by Sterling Walter Hayden. It was the sort of thing that appealed to me when young.

Now that I am old it appeals to me more.

Consider likewise the Spanish folksinger María Salgado, on whom I have a big fat crush — her song, Sólo por miedo (“Only for fear”):

Qué bonito es el miedo cuando es sincero,
Qué brillante el futuro cuando es oscuro,
Qué exquisito el delito cuando lo grito,
Cuando lo grito. …

Una vida más tarde comprenderemos
Que la vida perdimos,
Sólo por miedo. …

I dare not translate this, for too many of my readers know Spanish. And besides, this lady sings with a clarity so distilled, that anyone can understand. And moreover, it is too good a song (an Argentine vals, I am told), woven from beautifully precise contradictions. Translated, it can only be ruined. And the music makes it better: the contralto tone of resignation, for instance, when the words speak of shrieking.

Still I would have you consider, gentle reader:

How pretty is fear when it is sincere; how bright the future when it is in darkness; how exquisite the crime when they scream, when they scream! … Only a lifetime later to understand, that life is lost from fear, only. …

(There are a few more stanzas.)

Yes, I should think, that would make it a love song. But for whom, one might plausibly ask? And plausibly answer, for some long-lost love, never met, and never to be forgotten. And a good love song is erotic, and spiritual, so that it echoes in some way, The Song of Songs.

We do not have the guts to live — to risk, and to adventure. That is why, today, even those who get married, never get married; even those who go to church, never go to church; even those who travel, never leave home. We feast without feasting, fast but never fast. And then in the end we fear, for nothing — for all that never happened, that we have lost.

Yesterday we entered Septuagesima, the turning point in voyaging from Christmas to Easter. (Though till Candlemas, Christmas remains alight.) From life to death, from port to port. And on this day of Saint Paul’s going forth, suddenly in the garments of a Christian, we may see that all this life is an adventure — from the setting out, to the coming in; through the transcendent joyful agony of “real life.” Or we look on graves and remember, the Love that was not spoken, nor died for even once.

Snow in New York

There could be no mercy, were there nothing to forgive. This is why Confession precedes Absolution. I’m sure the pope knows this — for he has said as much in his new book, The Name of God is Mercy, a conversation with the liberal Vaticanista, Andrea Tornielli. And it shouldn’t be necessary to point it out, to anyone who has been exposed to Catholic teaching, and/or logic. But it is lost on some.

Plenty of sound Catholic teaching to be found, between the lines of this new book. I have not read it through, but in what I perused, I found nothing to disagree with strongly. Questions of emphasis arise, but these will always do in a religion that cannot be reduced to a single tweet, or curt either/or, though it has inspired thousands of millions of them. You see, God is simpler than a tweet, but also infinitely larger.

People read tweets and do not read books: this is a problem I am perhaps not the first to call to gentle reader’s attention. Moreover, I cannot think of a tweet that will make them change their ways. I have just, for instance, read a review of the pope’s new book in a “nice” liberal organ, that could be reduced to, “the pope is wagging his finger at people who wag their fingers,” and thinks this all for the best. The writer seems blissfully unaware that she spends the whole review wagging her finger — albeit in harmony with the pope’s finger. I think they are wagging at people like me, and as it were, goading us to wag right back. Then we can be got for wagging our fingers at the pope.

John Podhoretz, incidentally not a Catholic, is a masterful tweeter. I spent nearly half an hour, yesterday morning — “time I will never have back,” as they say — reading nearly a hundred of his tweets, as they were being generated, sometimes a little faster than I could read them. He had put his neck out, as he loves to do, criticizing the Mayor, for telling the wusses of New York to stay in from the snow. Podhoretz is very tired of these Nanny State pronouncements, to people of small if rapid brain. (So am I.) In the time, he very wittily deflected dozens upon dozens of insults directed at him. I read them because they were so amusing; but regret that such a clever man is wasting his time on fools. (For he can also write very witty essays.)

Perhaps we might call it “the culture of New York.” Or even more grandly, “the culture of cities,” which by their nature reward quick thinking, but tend to neglect the profound. Indeed, at a dinner, recently, my hostess expressed her shock at the decision of a younger couple, also at table, to move out of the inner city entirely, to a rather distant small town, in the hope of raising their children properly.

“But they will grow up as dolts!” she expostulated.

Then apologized, saying, that while she granted rural people the right to life (she is very conservative by city standards), they are slow and, you know, rather drooling. You should see how they drive in the city, she added. I dragged my own knuckles into the debate, in defence of slowness and drool.

And, I insisted, consecutive reasoning. I am a great fan of the linear, and of thinking “inside the box” of custom. Also, I advocate lip-reading to my students, to enjoy the aesthetic dimension of those works intended as “literature.” Country people would know what I mean.

Snow in Washington

Forty-three years now, the marchers have gone in to the middle of Washington, DC, to mark the anniversaries of Roe v. Wade. It is the world’s largest annual pro-life demonstration. Marchers in other countries commemorate different dates; in Canada for instance, we fill up the space in front of Parliament in May, while the media take their holiday. In our case, the full slaughter began forty-seven years ago; in Britain, forty-nine. On the Continent, the case is more complicated, for to this day there remain some restrictions on the mother’s “right” to have her baby killed. But by and large it became, almost everywhere through the ’seventies, open season on the wee bairns. (Little countries like Ireland only going to Hell now.)

They have the perfect weather for the celebration of life, this year and this day, in Washington. According to my information, all government offices are closed. The downtown looks abandoned, and the snows had started along with the marchers: the weathermen predicting two-and-a-half feet. In such circumstances, Christ is taking attendance personally.

A reader provides this link (here) on what it’s all about. It is to a most memorable pro-life speech, delivered by the late Father Richard John Neuhaus in his own last year. I read it then (2008) with distracted approval; I see that it has grown on me since.

For he is right: the issue does not go back only half a century. It goes back to Adam, via Cain and Abel, and can be shown to do so. And the enemy have not been so many named judges on a law bench, for their name is Legion.

At times, I have myself thought all marches pointless, and all large congregations ineffectual — except alas those who gather to empower a Trump, or an Obama; a Mussolini, or a Hitler; or in every European capital a century ago, to demand entry into the Great War.

What can be the meaning of a “March for Life”? It will not change anything. The eugenic liberals, the parenthood planners, who exulted in the U.S. Supreme Court decision, will go to any length to defend it — so long as only babies are paying for their sins. Only if the danger were instead to themselves, would they cut and run.

By now, it is well over sixty million slain, in the USA and Canada (less than one in a hundred of those after rape or incest, or with the mother’s life in danger); and well over another thousand million around the world (thanks e.g. to western-financed population control programmes, chiefly through the United Nations). And now we move into the era of euthanasia, for the old, the depressed, the sick, and abandoned, who weigh upon our own “quality of life” by their demands on our medical and welfare budgets. I mention this only to contradict the Pollyannas who say, “it can’t get any worse.”

Whatever comes, we must bear witness. And this, not only to the evil that is done, but also to the joy that cannot be defeated. For the Life, conceived for each, in the Love of our Creator, will bear us forward through all Satan’s wiles; and in this moment it is trudging through the snow; and Christ will collect His sheep to Him.