Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Nothingburgers

Our word for today is a favourite with Senator Cruz of Texas. According to the (Internet) Urban Dictionary it refers to, “something lame, dead-end, a dud, insignificant; especially something with high expectations that turns out to be average, pathetic, or overhyped.” A more exhaustive explanation might include the simile of a hamburger with no meat patty. (Lenten suggestion, with nothingfries and water.) This would be a nothingburger definition of a nothingburger.

The latest examples are any of the endless series of lame, dead-end, dud, insignificant revelations about various Trump appointees having met the Russian ambassador in Washington — along with, apparently, everyone else in Washington, or at least, everyone on the right descending edge of Charles Murray’s Bell Curve.

Alternatively, a nothingburger might be like any of who-knows-how-many franchise combos which centre on a meat filling which, under laboratory examination, turns out to be at least half soya filler.

The question becomes an interesting one, for observant Catholics. At what point can we be sure that the actual meat content of a Something Burger is so low that it will count as a nothingburger for the purposes of Lenten abstinence?

Now, I have no opinion on the allegations raised, via leaks from Obama holdovers in Deep State, against Trump’s minions, beyond observing that they are all nuts. I have no memory of having met Ambassador Kislyak myself, but fear that when my staff consult the charred remains of my dayplanner, they may discover that we discussed the USA election, NATO’s logistical arrangements, and the political situation in eastern Ukraine, on seventeen occasions between July 21st and November 8th, 2016. Fortunately, I am not a Trump appointee, so the world may never know.

He is a very charming man, incidentally. Who knows I need more money.

And not a nothingburger at all, or more precisely, not a consumer of nothingburgers, as I judge from his formidable girth, and the tightness of his shirt collars. Whatever one might say against the old KGB, from whose ranks Kislyak ascended, they didn’t leave their operatives hungry.

Turning from Bell Curves to Pareto, and my old saw about the “rule of thumb” (based on the numerical ratio between thumb and fingers), about 20 percent of everything is opposed. Example: make a list for any purpose and you will find that 80 percent of entries arguably belong on the list, and the rest don’t. This will remain true no matter how many times you edit the list. It is one of the interesting things about nature, and it explains much otherwise inexplicable to science. Given about eighty years of the next century, I could write a book on this. One might even say that it is on the 20 percent that seems totally irrelevant that the life or use of the 80 percent depend.

Or vice versa, from a thumbic point of view. No matter how you focus your reading, four-fifths will prove to be a waste of time. Just nothingburgers, like today’s Idlepost.

On beautiful women

There are two kinds of women to whom I am attracted: bad ones and good ones. On examining my conscience, as I am obliged to do by my strange religion (Roman Catholic), I discover an interesting thing: that I am attracted in much different ways. Over time — and I suppose age helps, though not as much as the young might suppose — I find that I have been developing “a preferential option for good women.” It remains imperfect, however.

I am writing as a male, incidentally. Women will have to speak for themselves. Their attractions to men are beyond my comprehension.

Now another distinction, which I will share from my night thoughts. When it comes to bad women, I find that my attention is focused, almost but not quite involuntarily, on those who just happen to be young and gorgeous. Whereas, when it comes to good women, my attention is captured by all ages. And whereas, in the first case, the idea of possession is never far away, in the second it disperses. Let me not compare them to museum objects. But if I did, I would say that I find great artworks, and some pieces especially beloved, beautiful without any need to own them. And often enough, unconventionally beautiful, as for instance certain old ladies, married or widowed or never married or nuns, who exquisitely embody the feminine principle. To be in their company is to be somehow washed, of that which makes one most grossly male.

And then there are women with children. Among those young — and all such will be younger than I am, spare some freak of recent reproductive technology — I am struck with an irrefutable fact. The same woman who was merely pretty, becomes beautiful with child. Which is not to say childless women can’t be beautiful. But then, the active ingredient is chastity.

I was just looking at a photograph of one such, whom I’d describe as “agelessly young.” It was taken recently; it is the daughter of someone I know, in a rural community in midwestern USA. She is at work outdoors. Everything about her posture conveys what is dutiful, humble, kindly. She is in the near background, wearing a sunhat that shadows her face. Her coarse work-dress goes almost shapelessly down to her ankles. She is carrying a bucket that must be full of water: its weight is apparent. I think: there are girls like that, there always were. From all this paucity of information, I can see that she is very beautiful, and the old male instinct of protection is stirred: “Lord watch over her.”

Partly I excuse myself from all the lustful thoughts I’ve ever entertained: a lust promoted throughout “the media,” whether sought or unsought. I was raised in it: in modernity, or post-modernity, its most advanced form. Women have been not “objectified” in our culture so much as monetized; used as a sales tool. Every man who walks through our contemporary world is exposed to this gnawing devilry. Women are demeaned by the “soft” pornography that surrounds us; on the billboards, but also walking the streets. Actually it is quite hard pornography, by any traditional measure; one might even say it is exhausting. It enters not only the eyes of men, portals to the soul; but also the eyes and souls of the women. By increments they become what they behold.

There are women who are beautiful, as paintings. I could gaze on them all day. But in the moment lust enters the configuration, that beauty is destroyed. As anything else in the economy it becomes something to use then discard. That mystery of Eros — that aspect of the Love that entails the Creation — is removed from all relations between women and men. And instead we have the cold wither of transaction.

I ask you

As a white heterosexual Christian male, of at least seven-eighths British ancestry, I demand to know what my privileges are. Can I jump queues when I am wearing my “White Privilege” pin? (Get yours here.) Do I qualify for other special treatment? Platinum credit facilities, for instance? More air miles? Clearly marked safe zones for my sex and kind? Will I be automatically short-listed for any job or prize? Granted priority for my partialities and opinions? Extra parmesan on my spaghetti bolognese? A bit of deference if I happen to be drunk and somewhat feisty?

The best I’ve received was an offer of a senior’s discount at a Sally Anne thrift shop the other day. Ten percent off a three-dollar book. (Then I blew it by admitting I was under-aged.) I asked the lady what my White Privilege discount would be instead. Being from Hungary, she was ready with a precise answer.

“Height in inches divided by weight in pounds,” she said, adding after a cheerful pause, “times nine-point-seven over the square root of pi.”

(She is my favourite Hungarian immigrant, since the last one died.)

More than twenty-five years ago, in my Idler magazine, we published an internal government document, which proposed a careful grading of people by shades of race and ethnicity for the purpose of making “reverse discrimination” more algorithmic. The funny thing was, it wasn’t a joke. There were seven levels, each carefully described. Those at the top could be treated like dirt, those at the bottom got anything they wanted, so far as we could see. (Can gentle reader guess who was at each end?)

I recall this only because I’m trying to think back to the origin of that ghastly, sick, viciously evil, rainbow pageant called “identity politics.” More cumbersome research (I checked Wiki) takes us to the early ’seventies. Those inventive Subcontinentals may have started it with reserve places in the Indian bureaucracy for Dalits (the “untouchable” caste). For that I think they should have been raised two places in the chart.

Alas, it would seem, my White Privilege only entitles me to certain adjectival honorifics, as, “Racist,” “Sexist,” “Islamophobe,” &c. Plus vaguer expressions, such as “Fascist,” for which one need not even be Italian. As one drops down the list, fewer and fewer of these terms are applied. At the bottom one is merely, “Sir.”

A correspondent has now called me a “White Supremacist.” I didn’t ask why, for as I’ve learnt, only people with Privilege (in this case, some intelligence) can formulate explanations. Instead I replied, “I’m whatever you say, my little ball of sunshine.”

But do they have a pin for that, I wonder? And what do I get if I wear it?

In cinere et cilicio

I have found that little is accomplished by sitting about in the dark feeling guilty. Penance must be more constructive than that. The expiatory side of penance would more likely consist of prayer and inward chant, extended to prayerful reading and to contemplation. It will carry one’s sorry ass to church; and to that participation in the Mass which is a conduit of the divine mercy.

Anyone can go about in cinere et cilicio — in sackcloth and ashes, marks of poverty. They could be a fashion statement; anything can be turned into that. They began as the costume for our Catechumens, given forty days to prepare for Baptism at Easter. Through this time, they could wear their sins, and by extension public sinners could join them — publicly, in that attire. As I understand (from missals and the like) reconciliation occurred on Maundy Thursday. Christ carries, the rest of the way.

We will know that the Church is getting back in gear when we see a few bishops in sackcloth and ashes. Meanwhile, there are our own sins, our own quiet sins, carefully hidden, even from ourselves. The ashes carried out of church on the forehead — the ashes that were blessed at the altar, at the beginning of this morning’s Mass — sustain that tradition, now much less severe.

To my understanding, shame has been adapting to these post-Christian times. Shame today consists of getting caught. Without God, what else could it signify? But God already knows you and I are worms, we cannot impress Him. Sins honestly confessed then absolved are left behind. The world may still think us an embarrassment, but who cares what the world thinks?

For you and me, penance will be joyful. We’ve got off easy, what could we lament? In perfect contrition we come to know ourselves: to know what we are capable of doing, or capable of not doing when action is rightfully demanded. This takes an awkward burden off our backs, a lot of gunk out of our eyes. It is thus a big plus, and the resolution not to sin again is of its nature joyous. We may fail, but will keep trying.

Penance is penance. It is doing the right thing. Doing the right thing makes us feel good.

There is expiation and purgation. They are subtly different, and subtly the same. In the grand cosmic scheme of things, Christ has atoned. We know of Purgatory, though we don’t know much. Here on this Earth we will do what is within our powers, to expiate in positive acts, and purge ourselves of encumberments. The self-denial that threads through Lent, the de-habituation to luxuries and crutches, is not for sin, per se. It is merely good exercise, repeated each year; the divine form of that cute saying of Nietzsche’s (“what does not kill me makes me stronger”). Alas, clever man, he was able to turn a great Lenten truth into a feeble and implausible lie.

It is the building of strength that makes us stronger; the ability to withstand temptation; the wisdom not to hurt but to avoid hurting ourselves. That is the groundwork of Christian virtue, and like exercise in the gym, it is not for public display.

And neither for that matter is the expiation, except to right very public wrongs. Lent is not performed for an Oscar. The acts of charity — the additional acts, required in this season — are to remain invisible to men. And by charity, invisibly, the heart is uplifted.

A kvetch writes

Gentle readers may stop emailing, to say I have a doppelganger at Crisis (here). I know this now. What makes it especially galling, is that the magazine in question still owes me a few thousand for the last dozen or so of columns I wrote for them (see here), through earlier years of this century. In the end, I found their promises to pay more annoying than their non-payments. Had they candidly told me they were broke, I might have written for nothing; finally I tired of being strung along. I suppose they think I am dead now. Well, just between us, I’m not.

*

Among my first galling experiences as a Catholic, was as a fresh convert back in 2004. I was invited to a Shrove Tuesday feast by a young lady among my earnest new friends. I was promised lots of pancakes and sausages. There were a few people, perhaps a couple more than she expected, and on my arrival she announced herself tired of cooking, and put me by the stove. Much hearty call for those pancakes and sausages: it was my vita nuova, as a Roman short-order cook. Much alcohol consumed, too, including all of the bottle of single malt I brought. Finally, all were filled, and I had the opportunity to serve myself. There was enough batter left for about one-quarter pancake, and the sausages were all gone. The wine had run out, too: a kind of reverse Cana.

*

I could go on like this for a few more anecdotes; perhaps a few dozen. For instance, speaking engagements. In my old Anglican days I was often asked to speak, to various “Christian,” i.e. Protestant congregations, and on the subject of our common religion. Many happy moments, and wonderful people were met in those proceedings. I was always offered some honorarium, which I sometimes declined; but I don’t recall a single cheque bouncing. My public speaking invitations dried up promptly when I declared my Catholic conversion. There were no hard feelings; I could easily understand. From Catholics, hardly any invitations followed. The first was cancelled when it was discovered that I might be a “controversial” speaker; some kind of fire-breathing “traditionalist.” When I told another I couldn’t afford to donate my time — that writing a long speech is a serious undertaking — I was given a smart slap-down for my greed. Elsewhere, I spoke but was stiffed, leaving me out of pocket for transport and expenses, including memorably a rather expensive hotel my host had insisted on checking me into. (Had I known I’d be paying, I’d have picked some cheap dive.)

*

From conversation with other converts, over the years, I learn that my experiences aren’t unusual. As we say, the “cradle cases” aren’t very good on money. If you want to be paid, make sure the invitation has come through the diocesan bureaucracy, with the bishop’s good name stated somewhere. However, I have never once been invited by a bishop to take any part in ecclesiastical life, paid or unpaid. The cash was always for some more reliable Catholic he was promoting, such as Michael Coren.

*

For balance, I should mention that I have had happy relations with two conspicuously Catholic operations, which don’t pay much, but do consistently deliver. And then there was that basilica in Ottawa, that left no bad taste in my mouth. My advice to others in my situation is, make sure they pray in Latin. Among parish Catholics, that’s the best and perhaps the only predictor of payment.

*

I notice from the more reliable news feeds that my pope has betrayed me a few more times, since the last time I mentioned him. I could list the instances, but those interested will most likely be aware of them already. One may trawl Sandro Magister for the latest (here) then scroll through the last four years. Or read Edward Pentin’s reports in the National Catholic Register (articles, blogs, tweets). Or the Rorate Caeli website, though I find it over-emotional. Or Father Zed, or Father Hunwicke, et cetera. Several times my “liberal” fellow Catholics have used the words of the old Peronist to rub in their despication of “conservatives” like me.

*

Today is the fourth anniversary of the sudden retirement of beloved Benedict XVI. I remember feeling outraged by the first announcement, and desolate thereafter. How much better I think it would have been for all the faithful if, sick and exhausted, he had carried on, doing nothing for years, maybe decades. One thinks of Hippocrates. (“First, do no harm.”) Of course, we cannot know this.

*

None of these items quite match the grievances of Saint Paul (see his beautiful rant in the eleventh chapter of Second Corinthians, which was the long Sexagesimal epistle).

Yet on the eve of Ash Wednesday, and another tour of Lent, one might still make one’s own quick heap. The Holy Spirit, so often falsely invoked, is about His business. Our wayward Church remains that which was founded by Our Lord, in the foresight of Our Father in Heaven. Our task is to remain faithful to her, each of us, though we be abluted by all of our neighbours, and back-stabbed by our friends. Christ was Himself abandoned and betrayed.

Our place is at the foot of His Cross. Paradoxically, it is the only safety; the one place to look for justice and mercy; and the ground of all Hope.

Maybe, or not

The normal tactic in closely-fought factional politics, whether democratic or no, is to capture the opponent’s outliers. Conversely, we try to prevent them from capturing ours. We look to the opposition benches, and try to pick off those closest to our position, to clinch a vote; they might pick off ours to confound us (in Senate, or wherever). If there is one little flaw in the tactics of Mr Trump, who insults people so that they remember, it is his tendency to ignore such old-fashioned methods. Perhaps that is just because he’s new. He might be trying to adjust them. I am curious, for the length of today’s Idlepost, not about the “substance” of Mr Trump’s agenda — no part of which I find terribly objectionable — but about its chances.

Now, I am a Canadian, so it follows I must begin with a sleepy constitutional lecture. What I’ve said above applies fairly constantly to arrangements in the Natted States; only occasionally in the Westminster system, which was not actually designed to be dysfunctional. Were Mr Trump prime minister with a majority in the House of Commons and a few charmless whips, he could ram his agenda home in an afternoon. This would of course require a big nasty omnibus bill, and the invocation of closure, but it’s then four years to the next election, and one may spend the whole time kissing babies. True, they might try to send your bill back from the (unelected) Upper House, rather than along for Royal Assent; but there are threats even Lords can be made to understand.

South of the border it is more complicated. There are at least three competing sovereignties (four now, counting the administrative Deep State, five if you believe the Mass Media), and all these tedious “checks and balances.” (To make the story more complete, I should perhaps mention that, partly by emulation of the Natted Statists, we now have both Deep Partisan State and heavily politicized courts in Canada, … Australia, Britain, India, &c).

Mr Trump would have made a fine prime minister, to my mind, had the Continental Congress only accepted the “dominion status” Mama Britannia was offering back in 1776. But alas, it was not to be. He is big and aggressive and can think on his feet; he comes out well in a verbalized streetfight. Insulated from the rough and tumble on the Commons floor (where traditionally no one got to read speeches), Yankee Presidents have come across too slow and thoughtful. Better (if you ask me) for the seasoned pols to have it out in the alley, while the Queen vaguely smiles.

All this aside, it will be interesting to see how Mr Trump addresses the Congress tomorrow night. If he has any intention of welcoming some cooperation from the “honourable members” on the other side, we will see it. If he has no such plans, we will also see it. Whenupon, I should think, there must be chaos.

Gentle reader will recall that I was against Mr Trump, before I was for him. I was against him through the Republican primaries, and indifferent through the presidential campaign. Since, it has taken the combined efforts of the Democrat party and the world’s liberal media to convince me that he’s the bee’s knees. And, beloved Steve Bannon, who put the situation so crisply to CPAC last week:

“If you think they are going to give you your country back without a fight,” he said, “you are sadly mistaken.”

So look at it from the other side. The opposition to Mr Trump has been almost as strident as the opposition to Mr Reagan, nine electoral cycles ago, so that the poor gentleman had to be shot by Mr Hinckley before “they” would tone it down. In these days of Internet, however, I am not sure anyone can manage the volume controls.

The creation of Adam

Cue Michelangelo and the usual sound effects.

The third sentence in yesterday’s Idlepost was to be taken as droll. In it, I projected that from sheer vexation with pseudo-scientific “narratives” of human origins, I would present my own. Stepping into our imagined primaeval swamp, gentle reader and I then immediately disappear. That is to say, there is no account, or, no account that can pretend to be labcoat scientific, including any I might supply, that will fit the extraordinary facts. The notion of long, gradual, incremental, random, piecemeal, scattered, indiscriminate, fractional and fragmentary development — getting to a specific destination without direction or even having set out — assuredly pleased a certain class of bush-faced Victorian gentlemen, and their evolutionist descendants down to the present day. But it will not save the appearances, let alone men.

We are confronted by something which, on the time scale of geological ages, cannot make sense. We have a world without man, and then a world with him, and whether one “believes in God” or no, we find our ancestors intending conversation with Him. (Unlike all those other animals.) For that is the unmistakable archaeological appearance, and appearances should count, even in science.

James Ussher, the venerable Anglican archbishop, on the basis of explicit Biblical chronogenealogies, placed the creation of the world, by the Julian calendar, on Saturday the 23rd of October, 4004 BC, at six o’clock in the evening. (Sunset announcing the autumnal equinox.) This would place the creation of man sometime on the following Friday. This, to my mind, was almost certainly too late.

But those preenfully holy progressives who mock the “young earth creationists,” and make poor Ussher a figure for fun, should be aware that the earnest archbishop was following a method long accepted, which had yielded dates ranging from the old Judaic calculation of 3760 BCE, to the official Byzantine Orthodox Anno Mundi corresponding to 5509 before the Nativity of Our Lord. An old Roman subtraction makes that 5199. The Bible itself seems to be biblically literalist in this way, and the smart “older earth” types who propose some vague poetical interpretation of the numbers in the Mosaic canon, might wish to bear in mind, that they are flying even more solo.

Alternatively, the smug who rely on radiometric dating could remember that when the techniques are tested, against verifiable historical dates such as those for volcanic eruptions, they yield ages that are often way out of line. And, radiocarbon rates of decay need not be the issue. One must start with assumptions about the original material, and the farther one goes back in time the more reckless these assumptions become. Those who cite dates with confidence from such methods commit the same fallacy of misplaced precision of which they accuse the Biblical literalists; both swim in a sea of ignoratio elenchi. And both are in urgent need of our prayers.

For what happened, happened when it happened, regardless of their schemes. We only know that it did happen, at a time that seems distant to us, but in cosmic terms was sometime last night.

At some moment, Adam was created. We can know that because we can demonstrate there was a time before, and we are living in a time after. Changing Adam’s name will not undo his creation; and our speculations as to how he was created will remain so much piffle, unless or until God tells us.

I hope that makes everything clear.

Fake this, fake that

A great deal of twaddle is published every day on the subject of human origins. But not here, gentle reader. Today, however, I am making an exception. This is because I am teased to exasperation by one of my correspondents, who knows less than he supposes on this topic, and is not even an amateur flintknapper.

There are a lot of people in this world, today as yesterday, whose opinions are well in advance of their knowledge. Let us take a salutary moment to condemn them.

And let us begin with a modest observation. Things are often as they appear, to our richly endowed senses. The human eye is good at picking out fellow humans in a landscape, both by what they look like, and how they behave. Dogs can also spot fellow dogs, notwithstanding a considerable range of size and shape through breeding. Turning towards the past, it is not difficult to tell what is human, even in a thin archaeological record. Rather, it is dead obvious.

Pop science requires that we do not accept this. We are told that humans evolved in form, and then that they evolved in behaviour. All very gradually. This is rot. There is no evidence whatever that humans have evolved as a species, since we became one. We have a cartoon account of cave men, and another of our jet-set contemporaries, and a series of “just so” stories to connect them. The truth is that “primitive” men — who continue to exist in isolated places scattered over the globe — are capable of the same (very wide) range of behaviour as the rest of us. And cave-dwelling has been a pragmatic option, from the oldest fire-lighters to the latest eco-freaks. Even the knowledge that we must light our fires in ventilated spaces to avoid asphyxiation goes way back (we are the species that cooks) and requires little trial-and-error to learn.

Like dogs, we are a variable race, and there is no reason to suppose, having fleshed out a long-defunct skeleton, that the creature could not pass for another human somewhere in the world today. This includes those barely three feet high, and those with protruding jaws or foreheads. Indeed, I think I’ve seen it all in Parkdale.

Now, dogs are in a relationship with us. And we are in a relationship with God. (Sometimes I think the dogs half know it.)

Pop scientists (in which category I include most palaeoanthropologists) are typically human in their love of stories, though not, necessarily, talented as storytellers. (Ovid did this sort of thing so much better.) The fake story of “human evolution” can be told in many contradictory ways. It requires only that we choose some arbitrary indicator, then arrange the samples in a plausible-looking string. Choose another indicator, and the whole order changes. Look back to the accounts of Lower, Middle, and Upper Palaeolithic from less than a century ago, and we find not insights into some development from archaic to modern, but trends in storytelling.

I am partial to flintknappers: the ones who try to flake and sharpen tools themselves, from the usual readily-available stones. That’s how you get the hang of anything: by trying to do it yourself. They have found better stone points at Omo Kibish in Ethiopia (say, 100,000 years ago) than the best from the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution (say, 40,000), for which this was chosen as the key indicator of progress. (Go read e.g. John J. Shea.)

Yet here we are barking up an imaginary tree. The latter could quite possibly speak; the former were almost certainly dumb animals. The staggering transformation came, possibly between. More than two million years of grunting apish hominids, then a sudden avalanche of miraculous tweaks.

Tool use means nothing; being human means everything.

Since, there has been no further change. We are what we are. With cultural continuity, comes accumulation of knowledge: civilization and all that. By a few accidents, we’re back to bushwhacking again. Humans can be ingenious, or buffoons. But there is no evidence — none, zilch, nada — that we’ve been anything but human since the transformation. Whenever that was.

A direction for tramps

It is necessary to distinguish idleness from tramping. The latter is technically a subset of the former, but also they are opposites, mutually contained. One may be perfectly idle at a single location — Kenko’s mountain hut, for instance, where nothing of any significance is accomplished over the course of many years, beyond what we tediously call “spiritual growth.” In tramping, we take this show on the road.

In proper tramping the hut, which had maintained its stillness in slow decay, parallel to our own, is replaced by the knapsack or satchel (backpack, duffel, haversack, whatever) and the prospect from the mountain with the prospect to the mountain, along the open road. I hardly know which to prefer.

There is a problem with my feet, they get itchy sometimes, and I long for the old days of wandering and adventure. Though I should concede that I am homebody by nature, as evidence that even on the road, I seldom strayed very far from my knapsack, carrying it as a snail his shell, and moving not much faster, proportionally to size.

With Cicero, I keep insisting that a man needs a library and a garden, though the question of a kitchen often comes to mind. The world, however, can be taken as a garden, and the library can be carried along. While I’m opposed in principle to what used to be called the Harvard Five Foot Bookshelf, and more radically to the Man of One Book, it must be said that in tramping five feet of books is too heavy, and thus, some degree of fanaticism becomes unavoidable.

A Musulmán fanatic need carry only his improvised explosives. His Koran must be left home, lest it be damaged, but the rest of his equipage has enough to say. However the Westernized traveller, in addition to his missal, will need other works to occupy his mind. Orientalist by disposition, he may want, for instance, an authoritative guide to the country through which he is passing, with some hints to its geography and art.

Novels are useless, or of little use; I have seldom met a novel I could read more than five times, and many I could not bear twice. The same is true for any history of events, real or imagined; once one has the story one may leave it in a laundromat somewhere. But should one have a Virgil to carry — a Dante or a Shakespeare or a Bible — one has as much companionship as could be, with justice, demanded. Always, I assume, on India paper, made as light and compact as human wit may craft, and with some waterproof enclosure. Or other works, of some poetical depth and complexity, with which the long conversation may be had, when companions of flesh and blood are absent.

I have the happiest memories of reading on the road, and transcribing into notebooks when I was warm and dry. When young it was usually Penguins that I carried, very light and quite disposable, though I realized at some point they had all a common flaw. They were all in English, worse, contemporary English, and it seemed the world’s literary harvest had been reduced to a hamburger franchise thereby.

This is a terrible limitation upon the English-speaking tramp, that all the world’s voices have been monotonized for him. It all sounds inescapably English, whereas, from the moment of first glorious encounter with the meandering foreign tongue, we find that it doesn’t sound English at all.

Hence the importance, for the tramp, to become a humble visitor, and a mendicant of language, as he proceeds from his familiar mountain hut, towards the ineffable far countrie.

On statutory holidays

Today, the third Monday in February, is a civic low-traffic day in the Province of Ontario. It is called Family Day because some Liberal politician, good old Guinty McSquinty, decided we needed a day to spend with our families (however defined), to which end he would abridge our labour. I thought we already had at least 104 statutory holidays for that. In other provinces and territories, however, they celebrate different things: Yukon Heritage Day, for example, or Louis Riel Day in Manitoba. By some astounding coincidence, all these parochial politicians selected the third Monday that is Presidents’ Day in the sublime republic to our south. There, I suppose the holiday was proclaimed because Americans don’t pay enough ceremonial homage to their ancestral rulers.

Denizens of this “Fine Province of Ontario” (a phrase often on the lips of Former Premier Bill Davis, though never made mandatory) must regret that the party I founded in high school — the Very Conservative Socialist Monarchist Party, or VCSM — never came to power with me at its head. I thought it would be an easy romp, for the party was dedicated, like Mr Davis, to being all things to all people, simultaneously, and regardless of cost. Indeed, with great foresight, I began each of my campaign speeches (for the student council), “Ladies, Gentlemen, and Others,” providing a model of inclusivity far ahead of my time. Too, I proposed visionary infrastructure projects, such as building an aerodrome, so we could have a Parachute Club.

Had I succeeded, I would have put a complete end to unpleasant labour, and created more time for the enjoyment of our families, by declaring every day of the year to be a statutory holiday, with celebrations of Zoroastrian Awareness Day, Entomological History Day, European Dress Size Adjustment Day, Provincial Sleeping In Day, and so forth.

Well, I can’t go through the entire platform, for it seems I have lost the manifesto. But it contained many other thoughtful proposals, in clairvoyant anticipation of the twenty-first century. “Believe me,” as Donald Trump says.

*

Notwithstanding, it was less clairvoyant than this (here) remarkable document, from the hand of Joseph Ratzinger (as he then was). It was brought to our attention this morning by Rod (“Benedict Option”) Dreher, and shows that by age about thirty, years before Vatican II, and three score behind the present moment, he had already grasped the worldly fate of our Church, in times like these; and the futility of her worldly aspirations. And this simply by his characteristic method, of looking at everything sub specie aeternitatis. It is, incidentally, a method anyone may master, through the exercise of the brain, in constant rejuvenate sacramental prayer, with broad reading.

Note that, more fundamental than “the separation of Church and State,” which is merely a human legislative folly, there is a deeper separation between the sacred and profane. Every Christian must live apart, and live together, and live apart together, or rather, together apart, in ways essentially opposite to the ways of this world. We might call this some “Benedict Option,” but it begins on Calvary, in extension of the apartness of the Hebrews. And note that it requires no careful plan. In the pursuit of a Christian life, it happens on its own, by cause and effect beyond human tracing.

At my current more advanced age, I have begun almost to appreciate that nothing we could possibly do, by way of legislation, would make the slightest difference in the longer view. … He Is; we are.

Therefore I propose to rename this third Monday in February, with all other todays, the Centre of All Things Day, and hereby proclaim it, by Executive Order of the High Doganate, in defiance of all those by whom I am totally ignored.

Aphorisms for Saturday

Bedeutung is always richer than Deutung, as sage Balthasar says. He was not the first to say it, but I think he put it in a delightfully simple way. Notice the use of “always” as opposed to often, sometimes, occasionally, &c, as a journalist might write. The truth is embarrassing, because it is always true. The partial truths come and go, and the obsession with establishing them is a mark of mental fragmentation. What is, is.

Or let us stick it in plain English: “Meaning is always richer than Interpretation.”

Could there be any “problem” with this? Perhaps it is too obvious. As Hans Urs von Balthasar, a German Swiss who loved French, must have been thinking, how would this sound in that other language? For German can be so cut and dry. English, by comparison, is cut and drier.

And as Schelling says (I have this through Balthasar), “artfulness is part of the credibility of philosophy. An artless thinker can produce little truth.”

To the English mind, this is an outrage. We only find truth, we never “produce” it. From my slight understanding of the world, a Frenchman would have little trouble with this, and a Spaniard none at all. An Italian need not even be told.

“There are two kinds of aphorisms. The first answers the need for intellectual synthesis. The second, the need for an infinite perspective on things.” I add this to help my English readers along.

And in the hope of bringing it right home to our living rooms: “It is remarkable how little a wise man is concerned with harmonizing philosophical systems.”

We English (in which I include Scotchmen, Americans, Antipodeans, and the graduates of our colleges from wherever they came) are further obsessed with heresy. Or rather, it is part of the same mental fragmentation I mentioned above. Before we will go one step, towards giving a hearing to anyone, we want to know that he is on our side. We miss out on a lot of orthodoxy that way.

Indeed our minds, especially here in North America, are in thrall to various Scots Prebyterians, long dead and not otherwise missed. From Knox to Enlightenment was a hundred-yard dash. They were the real progenitors of our Enlightenment, absorbed by the rest of us almost as spectators. On the Continent it was a much different matter. The French, for instance, much given to thought, added no water, and swallowed the premisses as straight poison. One might almost say that, historically in the French Revolution, they died for our sins.

“The Enlightenment is always wrong, because its ultimate goal is to expose. Grace, by contrast, is founded on truth, because it covers a multitude of sins. What God once and for all does not wish to know should never become the object of human knowledge and investigation.” (Balthasar, again.)

Here, I think, is an exhilarating statement of the unEnlightened, reactionary view:

“Our existence, in its very foundations, is structured for sacrifice. As we grow up we want to become something, to grasp, to climb; but then the curve takes a downward turn. Quietly life takes from our hands everything we have snatched up. In the end we are granted the possibility of dying and, with it, that of performing the highest act of homage before the Eternal One.”

Up against the pipes

Does gentle reader enjoy being smeared? Well, I should speak only for myself. I don’t like it. Perhaps I am projecting when I guess that most members of the new administration, Stateside, don’t enjoy it either. Verily, I’ll go out on a limb, and say no normal person (is Trump normal?) delights in being viciously attacked. And yet our Lord said: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” (Note the qualifier.)

In such an exposed position, I would be wondering if there is any point in trying to alleviate ills and dysfunctions in public life, over the objection of spy networks within Deep State, the lawless courts, the organized rioting, the lies disseminated by the mainstream media and other votaries of the Hyena Left. I would find myself longing for retreat to some mountain hut, to resume the composition of these zuihitsu.

Or, quietly reciting to myself the “If —” poem of Rudyard Kipling, or maybe quoting it, as I gather the illustrious quarterback Tom Brady did the other day. It is true he is not a member of the Trump administration, but by now he might as well be. For this tweet, he was immediately labelled as a “white supremacist.” There are more manipulable Kipling texts than that, if you are an illiterate junkyard dog, who takes this author for a KKK wizard. But then, the message of the poem is so profoundly noble, I can understand why it drives progressives crazy.

“White supremacist” is, should gentle reader not have observed, the current vogue term among those devils in human flesh, who seem to have worn out “racist” and “fascist.” Anyone who opposes them is now a “white supremacist,” including moi, I should think, and every traditional Catholic. (I notice that the typical “white supremacist” in the Church wants Cardinal Sarah to be our next pope.) To be fair, I think there are some genuine white supremacists in North America today; perhaps thousands in a population of a few hundred million. Most of them south of the Rio Grande.

“It’s the thought that counts,” as I was writing on today’s Catholic Thing (here). The reality hardly matters, as the ideologues have discovered, in this age of triumph for politics over religion. But as I say there, the Enemy couldn’t succeed had he not first rendered most of the population unresponsive to godly reason. “I feel” has replaced “I think” more generally, as our criterion of judgement on the most important matters. And this is the very requirement for the advance of totalitarian evil, in society at large.

Let me mention that I am quite impressed by the calibre of most of Trump’s appointments — especially Steve Bannon and Betsy DeVos — and relieved that he has shaken off Mike Flynn. Most, in addition to high competence, seem to have “the right stuff” to endure the constant smearing from “media” in the broadest sense, and the threat of violence. I’ve begun to include several in my prayers.

As I suggested yesterday, I am and will be hardly in agreement with everything they do. But they are up against the pipes, through which the unmistakable stench of Hell is venting into our world, and thus in need of divine and human sustenance. As the Bible says, “Fear not!” in the battle.

The no-brainer chronicles

The Trump plan to Make America Great Again consists of some wonderfully simple ideas. One revenue-neutral plank is, for instance, to take taxes off exports, and put them on imports instead. (NB, there is no such thing as “revenue-neutral” in politics.) This will have a positive effect on the trade balance, while usefully smashing up a generation or more of international trade agreements. I selected it for this morning’s smile because, I’m neither for nor against. Better than that, I probably don’t have the right to an opinion, beyond: he got elected, let’s just watch. Perhaps thirty-seven years ago, I might have had the patience and current knowledge to analyse the proposed measures in detail, and guess at consequences ignored and unforeseen.

On the face of it, today, I can only say there are advantages and disadvantages to having a crass businessman in charge of your country, as opposed to, say, a malicious idiot from the political Left. On the other hand, it must be conceded that both my Iron Law of Paradox, and my Paradoxical Law of Irony, come bigly into play, and I recall the historical fields of carnage that followed from “no-brainers” of the past.

Put it this way. There are unexpected, and often devastating consequences to tampering with the market in any given way. And the same is true of tampering in the opposite way. It should not be the function of the government to play favourites, and the more it insists on playing “us versus them,” the more complicated our lives become in the subsequent fallout. Which is not to say that Trump started it. Indeed, he appears to be trying to match the existing nationalist policies of China, Mexico, &c, tit-for-tat.

Here is where I always disagreed, with pretty much everybody. A nation state is, with certain exceptions such as Kiribati, a very large entity. A modern “nanny state” is conducted on a scale beyond anyone’s comprehension. The single measure that might be good for a given town in, say, West Virginia, cannot possibly be good for another in Idaho, and adds debilitating paperwork at both ends. Meanwhile, the scale of the regulation is so great, that small family operators right across the country, lacking huge resources for lobbying and propaganda, will inevitably be scrood. For the truth is big guvmint and big bidnis interface only with each other.

Once upon a time, many years ago, I scrapped into one of these “no-brainer” political deals. The remains of the locomotive manufacturing business in Kingston, Ontario — whose century-old products I had glimpsed, still on the rails in India — were now on the block. A monster German corporation was offering to buy them, for the very purpose of competing, in Canada, with a (hugely subsidized, monopolist) Canadian corporation. The government stepped in, to “save” a Canadian industry, retroactively change the ground rules, and kick in more subsidies so that the Canadian monopolists, based in Montreal, could take over instead. This was accompanied by nationalist rhetoric, and Kingston was thrilled. Critics like me were unofficially deflected with bigoted anti-German blather held over from the last World War.

But I knew exactly what was going to happen. The local works, which would have been expanded by the foreign owner, were soon closed by the new Canadian owner, after studies had been commissioned to “prove” it was uneconomic. The latter’s last possible domestic competitor was thus snuffed out. The locals, whose lives had been for generations part of a proud Kingston enterprise, had been suckered. The politicians had told them it was little Canada versus big Germany. In reality, it was pretty little Kingston versus big ugly Montreal.

That is how the world works, with politics, so that whenever I hear of a big new national no-brainer scheme, my first thought is, which innocents are getting mooshed today?