Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

A memoir

Twenty years have now passed since a Saint of the universal Church died and was translated to Heaven, from Calcutta. I remember it vividly, because I was soon there, as correspondent for a Canadian newspaper chain. I’d come away suddenly from a week of Princess Diana-mourning, through which I’d made myself increasingly unpopular by failing to “emote” in my op-ed columns. I was appalled by the show of mass-maudlin, in England and everywhere, and said as much; then sneered at the deluge of hate mail.

Calcutta (spelt “Kolkata” today, but not by me) was from my first immersion in its heat and squalour, nearly half a century ago, perhaps my favourite city. It would be hard to explain why. In a sentence, it seemed the purgatorial convergence of all human realities in space and time. The city’s crumbling palaces completed the effect; many juxtaposed with beggars’ hovels. (Now all is being crushed under glass and steel.) Too, I have a fierce if unaccountable love for the race (in the old ethnic sense) of Bengalis. Too, as I’d been fortunate to know from the start, it was the City of Teresa.

Two correspondents were sent from Canada to cover Mother Teresa’s funeral. The other, whom I need not name, had not been to Calcutta before. He took one good look around him, discovered that his hotel booking was worthless, and went right back to the airport, leaving all our readers to me alone. My own booking, in one of the city’s few hundred “first class” rooms, had also been cancelled. Hillary Clinton’s entourage, and the crews of the USA television networks, had appropriated them all, and even those guests already in situ were turned out to accommodate them. I was man-handled by the security detail of the ABC network — the usual pack of liberal and progressive goons.

But why waste time even trying to negotiate? An Indian concierge looked on me sadly — said there was nothing he could do against “these animals.”

Happily the town was familiar to me, and with my luggage I proceeded on foot up Chowringhee until I had found the old Raj hostelry called the Great Eastern, its air swished by rusting oil-sputter fans from high cracked-plaster ceilings. Now a government hotel, it was also booked out — for the Republic of India’s governing elite — but I knew I’d have a chance there. Theatrically declaiming my plight at the counter, the governor of the State of Kerala stepped forward to say he would share a room with his deputy, surrendering his own quarters to “our foreign guest.” This is the sort of thing that only happens in that country; why I have loved India so intensely.

I was exhausted from twenty-four sleepless hours of air travel, through multiple time zones and flight connexions, hungry and sweating like a white man, but also purpose-driven. Tossing my satchel on a marble floor, I hiked immediately to Mother House — on foot, because vehicular traffic was at rush-hour standstill. I joined the media mob outside the locked gate, nearly forfeiting my head to the swinging boom of a television camera. A diminutive Filipina nun was just inside the iron bars, explaining to the animals that no interviews would be given, and no journalists admitted. “This is a Christian convent,” she insisted, patiently. “There is no news here, please to go away.”

Then she caught sight of me, perhaps the least equipped of the mob.

“You look pale, you need a glass of water,” she said, then magically slipt me through. I found myself in a small crowded kitchen with a chapati and glass of tea. I was at the epicentre of some cosmic event, near a lady I soon identified as Sister Nirmala (Mother Teresa’s successor) among my new companions. I got to hear everything. One nun was on a telephone to Delhi — pointlessly demanding that all this State Funeral business be called off, in a colourful mixture of Bengali, Hindi, her native Tamil, and English.

Later, back in the lobby of the Great Eastern, I was now (alone among journalists) at command HQ for those official arrangements. Four miles of Calcutta boulevard were being swathed with thick bamboo fencing, for the parade route; and every single pothole filled. The ancient gun-carriage that had wheeled the corpses of Gandhi and Nehru was en route via the Indian Air Force. It was an incredible scene of army signals, into clunky field radios, spiralling around a turbaned officer with a classic handlebar moustache. His word was law. A vision of cool efficiency “under fire,” it was already the third miracle I had witnessed on the day.

My quiet Anglican prayers (as they then were) carried me along. A fourth miracle was my success in bribing a fax operator to transmit my extensive hand-written copy back to a newsroom in Ottawa, in precedence over Indian state papers. (My cutting-edge laptop had fritzed, of course.)

In the next couple of days, almost entirely without sleep or food, I scrambled, wrote, scrambled. Back home, the editors of the Ottawa Citizen transcribed what was perhaps the last hand-written copy a Canadian newsroom would ever receive — one of my pieces more than twenty pages (ending mid-sentence because the last page had jammed).

When I finally was able to pass out for three hours (awakened by a bearer for a trunk call from Canada) I needed minutes to shake myself awake. All I could remember from the previous evening was a moment of pause atop page seven, when I’d turned to pray, with great urgency: “Lord, you write this, for I cannot.” The rest might as well have been an experiment in “automatic writing.” I had no memory of doing it, and only much later, reading the tearsheets, did I discover (to my relief) that it was weirdly coherent.

That was the biggest miracle. In my life as a hack journalist I had no other experience like that. It was perhaps the closest I would ever come to being in God’s active service; to knowing He had a job for me, to witness what I was meant to see, and write it all down.

Among the soft-bodied eight-limbed molluscs

Lovely piece on the octopus linked through Maggie’s Farm this morning (here), after one gets through the mandatory Japanese eroticism. They are wonderful slimy things, if you have ever wrestled with one. I haven’t, myself, but the (magnificently Catholic) poet Roy Campbell used to do bouts for the tourists, back home in South Africa. It was a good panhandling gig; earned him enough to get out of the country.

All the octopodes are smart, as too the cuttlefish and squid, though to my certain knowledge, some are smarter than others.

They are very smart, but are they “conscious”? This is a silly question the cognitive types ask, to which the answer may be given by any marine biologist. Of course they are conscious! They observe, they learn, they remember, they adapt; they psych out an adversary; and they don’t waste time on the Internet. True, their brains are distributed through eight arms, which are able to act independently of each other (while humans get flustered with just two). But it is a fine choreography, and the arms will move splendidly to a single end. Never underestimate the dexterity of an octopus.

I should like to solve Peter Godfrey-Smith’s “consciousness” problem for him, mentioned in that link. It is true that the consciousness of an octopus is different from the consciousness of a human, or the consciousness of a fruitfly. This is because God created them severally. The consciousness of one human is different from the consciousness of another, too, because each was endowed with a unique immortal soul. And God didn’t make the octopodes interchangeable, either.

Verily, I am able to report, that even the fruitflies after the nectarines on my counter vary in their caution. Some are easier to kill than others.

From other sources, I must vindicate the reputation of octopodes as talkers. The Darwinoids assume the ability to change colours through intricate patterns in a sudden spectacular way (so that an octopus may disappear without moving) was some evolutionary development for camouflage. But it is also their method of communication. Though solitary by disposition, a travelling octopus can hold one conversation with his swim-mate to the right, another unrelated with his swim-mate on the left — flashing his chromatophores distinctly to each, by way of rhetorical emphasis. (Our politicians have a more primitive form of this ability.)

They, and the cephalopods generally, can hunt in packs when they want to, and by signalling back and forth, become masters of predation against quickly scattering fish. They can open coconuts, and jars — even jam bottles from Bulgaria. They can turn taps on and off; squirt unwelcome guests with water or with ink. They have deadly accuracy, and from a considerable distance, can get you in the eye like a cowboy marksman. For the studious octopus knows exactly which human you are, and has already decided if he doesn’t like you.

Put one in an aquarium, where all his Houdini tricks are foiled, and he gets bored. This is a universal sign of native intelligence; why intellectuals can be such trouble. He (the octopus intellectual) starts looking about for mischief. He protests stale food by jamming it down the drains, as the reviewer reports; he pulls plugs from curiosity, including those on machines; he likes to short out light bulbs. He hops out of one tank then slithers to another, where the fish is fresher, or there’s a cuter octopus babe. The octopodes can design and build themselves little forts, then disassemble and reassemble at another location, using tools where required. Such anecdotes have filled many books already.

Five hundred million years, say the deep-time palaeontologists. That’s the least amount of time since our last plausible common ancestor: some tiny indifferent worm, this side or that of the Cambrian boundary, when the myriad body plans for all future life on Earth suddenly, simultaneously sprang. The deeper we dredge into the geological and biological history of this planet, the odder it appears, and the less we can believe the Darwinian just-so stories.

Include me in

“Whenever I hear the word ‘culture’ I reach for my Browning.”

This, attributed to Goering but rather indited by some other nutjob mediocrity, is among my favourite phrases. Often I cite it with glee. I know just what he meant; rarely has one the chance to empathize with Nazis. Monsters they were, but also human, and if we lose the means to recall what made them tick, we are disadvantaged against their successors.

Ditto with Islamic terrorists, incidentally. Unless we can see them, sometimes, from the angle that makes them most attractive, we miss the whole picture. Know the enemy, I say. The worst psychopath may offer to share some droll humour. It is my firm belief that even liberals and progressives can be charming, sometimes.

One wonders, of course, which Browning Herr Goering would reach for. Would it be an earlier work, as Paracelsus, or Sordello? A later, such as Jocoseria, or Asolando? Me, I think I would start with a dilatory romp through the Dramatic Idylls, then hunker down with The Ring and the Book.

Start again. …

Whenever I hear the word “Baroque,” I reach for my Bach. But soon after I think of Rubens. (In point of historical sequence, Bach might rather be termed “Rococo.”) And then all these churches come to mind, from walking tours in my distant past. England was very poor in Baroque (and Scotland could be omitted entirely); Mitteleuropa quite rich.

I was raised not to appreciate the Baroque, by an industrial designer tending more to the Bauhaus, but for that very reason the fleshy curves and high choral contours became my guilty secret. The choice is finally that between a bulminic and a healthy girl. The attraction to these starved fashion models is not healthy at all; how easy to confuse them with little boys.

The whole question of art and cultural history turns on such terms. They are necessary if we will talk at all. But too, they are always misleading. Discretion is the better part of valour, sage Falstaff says, but really it is the sceptical judgement that we require, to keep valiant assertion on the rails.

Browning, one might say, was very late Baroque. We read him today (if at all) through the eyes of Ezra Pound, who looked for that part of Browning that was least Browning. Pound, as many who blossomed in the ’twenties of the last century, was the opposite of extravagant. As master craftsman his constant instinct was to pare down. And yes, that is an aspect of master craftsmanship. But Browning’s constant instinct was to add what was missing. (Pound should rather have embraced Tennyson, his fellow “pure craftsman.”)

The whole mission of Rubens and (Vivaldi and) Bach and Baroque (and Browning) is to recover what has been lost: to put the quivering flesh back on the stripped skeleton; to restore the decorative flourish. The priggish Victorians did this mechanically; Rubens did it resplendently, in defiance of all the prigs in his day.

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith, “A whole I planned …”

On further thought it is to Browning’s “Rabbi Ben Ezra” that I first turn; and to its declarative faith, that the good may be found in the least expected places.

____________

POSTSCRIPTUM. … Please, gentle readers! Stop sending emails to advise me that the “Browning” to which Goering referred was actually a high-powered pistol. I am grateful for your concern, but must insist that my misunderstanding was intentional and an attempt to be … well, cute.

Harvey

A storm which with high and howling winds, crosses over the city, funnelling some trillions of gallons from the Gulf of Mexico, then pauses, and backs over it again, must really dislike Houston. That it now proposes to inundate New Orleans, reprising the track of Katrina, suggests animus of a very high order on the part of the gods. My instinct would be to appease them.

Our Chief Texas Correspondent found himself in Colorado when Harvey came ashore — five thousand feet above sea level. Noting the rise, he then proceeded to eleven thousand feet, “just to be on the safe side.” He may return to view the damage to his Montgomery County estate when the airports re-open. Meanwhile, give the water some time to drain. Please say a prayer for dear Ed and some millions of others displaced and dispossessed. I have an aunt and cousins in the flood zone, too, and notice news reports on the circulation of alligators.

Texas, of which I’ve seen too little, has impressed me as post-modern places go. A combination of historical circumstances have contributed to the character of a people who, more than most, can cope with life. I am not surprised to learn of backbone and enterprise, on the part of those disinclined to play victim. They do not blame politicians for the weather, and even the politicians seem to get their priorities right. For instance, the iron hand with looters is as important as the rescue efforts; and the refusal to compound the difficulties with political theatre such as mass evacuations speaks well of them. But Texas, too, becomes monstrously urbanized.

Of course, this is the Age of Media (a.k.a. the Age of Bullshit), and authorities from the governor down, who should have no time for such nonsense, spend much of it on the talk shows. Alas, this is probably necessary to limit the media storm that will greatly aggravate the natural one, as the usual demons of the Left, who “never waste a crisis,” use it to advance their political schemes. We have now had, for instance, forty years of the vastly incompetent FEMA bureaucracy (one of President Carter’s bright ideas), and sixteen of metastasizing Homeland Security (one of President Dubya’s).

The task of government, in the course of a natural catastrophe, is to maintain order and provide the simplest possible traffic directions to the response. For the most part this must necessarily be neighbour helping neighbour. Relief efforts on the national scale need some coordinating, too, but they should be drawn from military and other “fixed assets” — from organizations that should themselves be designed to respond, nimbly and flexibly, to any kind of trouble. A bureaucracy that does nothing but wait ghoulishly for the last widely-publicized disaster to repeat itself is merely a cash pyre.

With less technology but perhaps more science, public authorities in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus, north China, built canals and reservoirs for irrigation and transport, which also anticipated floods. They did not e.g. spread suburbs across flood plains, then invent insurance plans to recompense the stupid. An extraordinary event might still overwhelm them, but if survived it would provide hints for general improvement and reinforcement. Prudence anticipates the known, but sensibly leaves the unknown to propitiatory prayer.

This we might do again, some day, should we happen to recover our sanity. Build to withstand what can be withstood, whether the power holds or fails. Go with the grain of nature. Think like engineers, not social workers. Let the people make provisions for themselves, and let them, too, learn from experience.

Of rich & poor

I try to avoid taking sides on this issue, defending the poor to the rich, and the rich to the poor, and leaving the “middle classes” — so puffed in North American political oratory, such as it is — under siege from both sides. One adjusts one’s position tactically against any pendulum of opinion, however.

As I recall, decades ago, some rather socialist and atheist Roman bishops in Canada met at Winnipeg to produce a statement expressing the Church’s “preferential option for the poor.” Their smug, bureaucratic tone did not appeal to me. Plus they were wrong on doctrine (God has not expressed a preference for one socio-economic group over another, and no government should, either), and wrong on everything else (“the facts,” for instance). So by way of compensation, though not yet a Catholic, and only just becoming a Christian, I’d go out of my own way to express a “preferential option for the rich.” But it was not entirely sincere.

The rich were often given to include the Princes of the Church (professing socialists always exempted), and the Church herself condemned even from her innards for being, in point of revenues, filthy stinking rich. True enough, I would allow, when you consider the worldly part of the institution whole, the Church takes in an awful lot of money, and not only through the Sunday baskets but from real estate, bankerly investments, and so forth, avoiding some taxes in the better jurisdictions.

But she has overheads, too. How would you, gentle reader, like to have the responsibility for maintaining — oh, I don’t know, a million? — buildings around the planet, a fair proportion more than a century old, and more than half the roofs leaking? And even if underpaid, the wages of choristers and minor clergy add up. And all for the glory of God, don’t you know: she can’t skimp on the decorations.

From ignorance, or native malice, people like to consider revenues and expenditures one at a time. The profundity of double-entry bookkeeping (which the world owes to mediaeval Italians, incidentally, not to Dutchmen as the Protestants imagine) is lost upon the hyperbolicks.

Poverty is good, you should try it some time. I have myself, and have not noticed any diminution in my zest for life. One learns to take pleasure in smaller things. With a bit of taste, one can arrange one’s hut “aesthetically” around a few choice objects — “found art” if necessary. And being small, it is easy to keep clean. And, everything one must do without, saves time to savour what remains. Even the food tastes better, when one has had the leisure to develop a bit of an appetite. No wonder poor people tend to be happier, and thus more helpful, too.

To this day, I feel sorrier for the rich than for the poor. They pay horrendous taxes. They have so much paperwork, they must hire help. They must endure many other obnoxious retainers, and those not even in their service who think they can be touched for cash. Their pleasures are much more expensive; the beggars don’t consider that, do they?

War, famine, plague, sedition

I present the Four Horsemen in this rather Florentine way, to end on the surprise of “sedition.” In the revelation to John, on Patmos, the one thing clear is that they ride out on horses “white, red, black, and pale.” I think then as now the association of pale was with ghostly, “ghastly,” not beige. This last harbinger of pestilence and death is followed by Hades, with jaws yawning to receive the slain. Note that what may merely kill us, is nothing to that death behind death.

War, famine, plague may be said to have worldly causes, abetted by men but not originating with them; for even war may arise as the consequence of irremediable conflicts over food and land, beyond the power of Man to resolve (and no, nor Woman neither, as Hamlet might add). What statesmen could not resolve, in decades or centuries, the generals may fix in a few afternoons; or not, in which case the pestilence spreads. Hence the ancient Christian warning to avoid any war that cannot be won, however just it may seem to the inducted. Moreover, it is better to endure injustice — infinitely better — than to inflict it, as Socrates had said centuries before, and as the Hebrews uniquely taught among the ancient nations of the Middle East.

“War never solves anything,” the pacifists claim, but a candid review of history will show that it has solved quite a lot. So has death in its many forms; it is even a way to avoid taxes. And where would technology be today without war, famine, plague? Each puts ingenuity at a premium.

But sedition: what good is that?

“Tyranny” is sometimes substituted in the Cinquecento lists, and sometimes presented as the opposite of sedition: as the power which the seditious oppose. But Shakespeare knew better in his Histories, and so, I believe, have all wise men (including wise women). The two may be opposed in chambers or in the streets, but are the obverse and reverse of the same coin, minted by our ancestor, Adam.

The will to rebellion lies behind both. The rebellion is against God. The tyrant, as the rebel, seeks for himself a power to which he was never entitled. For justice requires deference to the Lord, in all times and from all stations. The loss of this deference — atheism, in a word — must necessarily involve the loss of all natural order.

To the mediaeval Christian mind, as to the humanist Florentine, the only argument for the overthrow of a tyrant could be the restoration of order — of an Order both natural and divine, scandalized by the raw human. The word “revolution” itself formerly connoted the turn and return to restoration. It must not be an act of, but a response to an act of sedition; and thus must never be undertaken in the raw human way, with a light head and a heavy hand. For the object cannot be to replace one tyrant with another; one party with another party. It must be limited to the restoration of order.

It seems to me that at a deep level, “democracy” can be criticized for its intention: to replace the sometimes inscrutable judgement of God with the too-scrutable judgement of humans. Or to put this more plainly: it is seditious and tyrannical, both, from the start. Its effect can be seen from this cause: for we are all atheists today, insofar as we are enfranchised; all fully “secularized” in the public square.

And what politician would dare to utter the simple words, Deus vult?

Bring back liberals

Yes, yes, gentle reader, I am trying to be irrelevant, but it’s hard, hard to cut against the grain. I do not mean my own grain, of course — for I think that I am naturally irrelevant — but that of the society around me, and which has been around all my adult life. A society that is “evolving,” as they say. And while many other people are irrelevant, too — have opinions on little beyond the weather, and those uncontroversial by intention — they get pulled into our civic “debates.”

Example: Which monuments to once-admired historical figures should we blow up today? Or would melting them down be better? How to conceal those we’re not yet sure of, till we reach a decision? And should the pedestals also be removed, or re-used to mount new monuments to e.g. Britney Spears? This is a pressing matter on which we’re all called to judgement, if not action.

Moreover, there are subsidiary issues. Has President Trump sufficiently condemned those with antiquated tastes in sculpture? Was he quick enough to do so? Is he bigoted, or prejudiced, or just a racist? Why hasn’t he ordered the destruction of monuments himself? There are many around Washington, DC.

Or consider another angle. Should everyone with the name “Robert Lee” be silenced? Starting with sports broadcasters of Oriental appearance? Or is it sufficient to take them off the air? Should they be imprisoned, or enslaved perhaps, by way of historical restitution? Capital punishment is unacceptable, but might they be euthanized instead? What about people with other names, such as “Jefferson” or “Davis” or “White” or “Tom”? Are there ways to unperson them that can provide us with “teachable moments”?

For you know, gentle reader, on this topic of public statuary alone, where I seldom previously had opinions, and those I had quite mild, I suddenly find myself enflamed. (They are going for Catholic saints now, incidentally.) Yet I hesitate to share my views, for fear of inconvenience. For it is inconvenient to be prosecuted for the incorrect use of free speech (including pronouns, now regulated by our Canadian criminal code); and I am a notorious incommodophobe. (Or is it sinistrophobia, “fear of the Left,” or, gaderophobia, “fear of swine inhabited by devils,” or, chiroptostercornuceophobia, “fear of the shrieking batshit insane”?) … So maybe stick to the weather.

Alas, no relief there. One might easily put a foot wrong, by observing that it is cooler today, thus exposing oneself as a global warming denier. Or alternatively, get right that it is warmer, yet casually propose a trip to the beach. This implies that the beach is still there, that sea levels are not rising. Why have I not raised my voice against it?

Verily, I look through the media, and find all kinds of issues that, as recently as a few years ago, or a few months or a few minutes, no one thought important. How they rue their complacency now!

I doubt it actually started then, but I recall from my childhood in the ’sixties the drumroll building for “relevance.” Those with incorrect (i.e. non-Left) views were deemed irrelevant, and sometimes shouted down. But most were just ignored.

“I may not agree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it!” That is what the liberals in those days declared, before history buried them.

How irrelevant they were. How extinct they are now.

The knot

If I am going to run for President (see previous Idlepost), it strikes me I will have to dress better, and shave more frequently. To which end my little sister — the success in the family — dragged me along the spiff section of Bloor-by-Yorkville yesterday. She had decided I would need a couple of Brooks Brothers shirts, and goodness knows what else, if I were going to make a favourable impression at, for instance, the wedding I shall soon attend of my wee tiny boy (only six-feet-eight-inches high, and suddenly shot past thirty; the spittin’ image of my father sometimes). For I shall be her date on that occasion, and father-in-law to a bride, and ladies don’t like to be seen with tramps.

What could I say? She was channeling our late mama, who was on my case to the end. Languishing in the nursing home, she caught me on TV (I was still semi-mainstream then), and when I appeared by her bedside later, she frowned upon me.

“You weren’t wearing a tie, your shirt looked baggy, and the rest of that grey cardigan should be surrendered to the moths.”

Forty-seven years have passed since that mama dragged me along Dundas Street in London, Ontario, to a high-end tailor’s. I was just-turned seventeen, and off to a new job at a small squalid newspaper in Asia; still a fairly fresh high school drop-out. She thought I should cut a figure on arrival. A photo of me, besuited at Malton airport, is still in my possession. (I look very young.) I still have the boar-bristle hair brush she bought me on that day, and use it every morning (honest, mama!) while saying a little Catholic prayer for her immortal soul. Indeed, the brush seems immortal, too: few signs of wear. It is amazing how long things last when they are made properly.

Once upon a time I was rich and jet-set. Well, propeller-plane perhaps; but I used to know how to dress well. Shirts bought in Jermyn Street, London (the real one) whenever I passed through; blazers and flannels made by tailor in Hong Kong, from fine British wools. “The magnificent man does not count the cost,” saith Aristotle, and while this is not Christian, it is getting there.

I was subjected yesterday to the humiliation of a salesman, showing me how to adjust a tie. He knew everything that could be known about the clothes he was selling, but there are limits. For as my papa taught, the dimple in the knot of a silk tie must be blithe, understated. Too, the tie should hang a little off true — a very little, and never so much to look like a fashion statement.

Papa also taught me how to knot a bowtie, how to wear cummerbund and tuxedo, how to polish shoes, and fold socks away in rectangles for storage. How to stand like an Officer of the Royal Navy. Moreover, that it was all a joke, life on this planet: be prepared for the punch line. Never let your self-possession slack. Learn to drink without making a fool.

He had other tips on how to be a gentleman, regardless what one is wearing. When to speak and when to shut up; moments to take charge, and moments to fade into the wallpaper. That civilization depends on vowels; and on behaviour consistently benign. That remarkable things can be accomplished by the man who does not seek the credit; that what we now call “virtue signalling” is the mark of the ill-bred. To live simply whether rich or poor, cheerful in sacrifice for the good cause; but with constant attention because, Le bon Dieu est dans le détail. Finally, the need to kill Communists and Nazis.

Now, I’ve forgotten most of this, but as my little sister reminds, there is such a thing as family. And one bears a grave responsibility to them, because as mama said, it shows.

The grandstand chronicles

Should I decide to run against Trump in 2020 (and I realize it will require an amendment to the United States Constitution), I have my campaign strategy mapped out. Like Trump’s in ’16, it will anchor upon a slogan: “Make America Christian again.”

As I am allergic to baseball caps — double allergic when they are worn backwards — perhaps something more like straw boaters to emblazon this upon, plus the odd tricorne (beaver fur by preference). And pretty bonnets for the ladies.

There will be short and long versions of my slogan. The longer form: “Make America Christian again and, you know, rural.”

Too, there will be secular litanies, or “bring-backs,” so named because each line begins, “Bring back,” … followed by whatever comes to mind. Examples: “Bring back deep-dish apple pie,” or, “Bring back hand-set hot metal type,” or, “Bring back cabriolets and fargons,” or, “Bring back Franco.”

Assuming he has the guts to run for re-election — and I wouldn’t put anything past him — Trump will be excoriated as a liberal and progressive, a communist and a capitalist running dog. Except, I am thinking my vice-presidential nominee should be a running dog. A ferocious one, who will double as my security. A fox-hunting Jack Russell perhaps, or one of those killer poodles trained by the French Foreign Legion.

And a goose. No, no, gentle reader: not a gander, and most certainly not a gosling, but a full-fledged, thoughtful and courageous Barnacle Goose. It will be the symbol of my gallant Regressive Party: the steadfast goose, on guard against any sort of innovation.

I have other policies in mind, but will save them until closer to the election.

Abenomics

It is amusing how economics works in Japan. In truth, this “applied science” is amusing everywhere, but one place at a time. My title plays on the name of that country’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe; one sees the term often in Asiatic media. He is trying, with the considerable equipage of a modern guvmint, to put some life into the Japanese economy. A growth rate that flatlined thirty years ago continues to be flatlined; real cash wages gently “relaxing” (not more than 1 percent per year).

The effects that are possible by this method are, however, restricted to galvinism. Put the electrodes on, and the frog’s legs twitch, notwithstanding the frog is a corpse. But he can’t make tadpoles any more.

Now, the Bank of Japan is struggling to push inflation up to 2 percent a year. By this galvanic method, they think their economy might come back to life. Since Keynes, the great economic spiritualist of the early twentieth century, and ingenious dissembler of the hocal-pocal arts, almost everyone agrees that it should. Other electrodes are tactically placed to drive the Yen exchange rate down; and pour borrowed money into “infrastructure.” The intention is to make the ex-frog jump, once before every election.

But the Dollar knows how to sink faster, and the spending only drives up a debt which absorbs ever more of the budget in servicing costs, and might eat the whole thing if interest rates climb. (Infrastructure that is actually needed tends to pay for itself; but that is another story.)

I think I left out “structural reform.” That is one of the “three arrows” of Mr Abe’s failing plan, along with the “monetary easing” and the “fiscal stimuli.” In structural reform, you move the government departments around, to create a kaleidoscopic effect, that masks bureaucratic expansion, and rivets the attention of simple folk, who can no longer find what they are looking for.

Japan is among the world’s frontrunners in demographic collapse. It is more visible there than elsewhere because, the Japanese do not like immigrants. I don’t blame them, I don’t like immigrants either; though I think I like my native countrymen less. And they don’t improve as they age, so far as I can tell. They only become more expensive to maintain.

There was a piece I read — I forget where — about sperm counts. (Amazing what one finds on the Internet.) It seems that throughout the “developed” world, which includes Japan as well as Europe and America, they are mysteriously and rapidly falling. It sounded plausible. Combine this with accelerating superannuation; with the proliferation of new sterile “genders” among the young; with the obviation of old-fashioned sex itself through pornography and “sexting,” sex toys and robots (again, Japan is at the front edge); with the ideological impositions of deep ecology; with abortion on demand and the means to detect the slightest imperfection in the womb — and what do you have? Not a baby boom, I would guess.

Yet that, alone, would expand the consumer markets, and eventually, load more tax revenue into the front end to replace what is being constantly evacuated.

Here is a principle of economics which perhaps only Schumpeter began to discern, before he looked away to happier prospects.

Prosperity kills. Eventually it even kills prosperity.

Portent of doom

Today’s total solar eclipse is, I am given to understand, by the almanacs as well as the fools in the media, the first to pass right across those Natted States Merica, from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean; the path of totality impinging upon no other nation state. If I were a USAmerican, I’d be worried. Will it also be the last? Will it be like Halley’s the portent of doom?

As Eilmer of Malmesbury (mentioned before in these Idleposts) foresaw, the appearance of Halley’s Comet in early 1066 marked the end of old Anglo-Saxon England. It wasn’t a retrospective thought on the part of this flying monk. If I read William of Malmesbury aright, it was a prophetic announcement. The tail of that comet, passing unusually close to Earth, filled the night sky, and its head was competitive with the Moon in brightness. The Battle of Hastings promptly followed.

I am a traditionalist when it comes to astronomical portents. An eclipse of the sun can be no good thing. But my contemporaries, who seem to live for spectacle alone, are out there in their millions, in their camp trailers and so forth, apparently cheering the thing along. Thus, the spectacle I behold is that of good old American optimism.

We have had alternating Ages of Faith, and Ages of Superstition; the most recent of these latter having been dubbed an “Age of Science” by its fetishizing enthusiasts. In my own humble view, it is an Age of Bullshit, founded upon philosophical propositions that will not fly as far as Eilmer in his glider. (See here.) Among these propositions is the silly belief that man is the author of his own portents, there being no God, except that recognized in some pantheistic, New Age way. All nature’s lesser portents are predictable “by our science,” or will be soon, according to this shibboleth; and true enough, we could see this eclipse coming from temporal miles away.

On Saint David’s Day, 1504, Señor Cristóbal Colón cowed inhabitants of Jamaica with his anticipation of a lunar eclipse. He got this from some European ephemeris he happened to be carrying, for purposes of navigation. He said the Moon would disappear, and it did. He pretended to have ordered it, and asked his Arawakan interlocutors if they would like to have it back. This prototypically supremacist imposture tipped the power scale between him, and those by whom he was seriously outnumbered, in a decisive way. Smarter than us moderns, I should think, the ancient Taino (who gave us our words for hammock and canoe; barbecue, hurricane, tobacco, &c), could see immediately that they were beaten, thus sparing their island a great deal of unnecessary violence.

Will we?

But what am I saying! The question is rather, Will they? (I am a Canadian, after all; only partial eclipse up here.) I don’t ask, Will they take the message from the heavens, and change their ways? For that would be another optimistic reading.

Instead, let me suggest that it’s too late now. The Washingtonian Americans had a good run; let me not be ungenerous to them. But game’s up, and the fat lady sings. George III will be returning, promptly; live with it. The statues of your republican heroes are already coming down.

The Sun, I say, will disappear. You want it back, Yankees?

The longer game

What a week it has been, at least in the yellow world of journalism and politics. I have had nothing new to say on anything — at least I hope to have said nothing new, for my intention in commenting on passing events is simply to repeat the old gnomes which they freshly illustrate. Thucydides, into whose works I privately dipped last Tuesday, was as up-to-date as anything I found “breaking” on the Internet.

Consider, for instance, the career of the Athenian general (then Spartan, then Persian, then Athenian again), Alcibiades — more sinned against than sinning, and more sinning than sinned against, by turns. A large man, persistently underridden by the mean and small; a hero and no saint. Loved to the point of worship by the crowds; hated by the umbrous, to the point of madness; and always “in the news.”

A polarizing figure, as we’d say today; who, for his impieties, was finally run down by a mob. They set fire to the cottage where he’d retired with his mistress. (The Spartans commissioned the mob by one account; the young lady’s parents by another.) Boldly emerging from the flames to confront the whole tribe of his adversaries, he died in a hail of arrows. The gods let only Stalin die in his sleep. (Or so we thought until we got more information.)

Thucydides alone has the full measure of Alcibiades, it seems to me, reminded by comparison to scholars, ancient and modern alike, who cannot agree on what his virtues and vices were, let alone their applications, each choosing a new stick to get the wrong end of. Plutarch’s Life of Alcibiades is quite enthralling, as ever; the orators Demosthenes and Isocrates throw off their usual bright sparks. Plato, who casts Socrates as Alcibiades’ mentor, does so in two dialogues so facile that we doubt Plato wrote them. Our Shakespeare catches something of the ancient and immortal bitterness that surrounds Alcibiades’ persona in his “problem” play, Timon of Athens (among my favourites). Until the recent loss of Western memory — the Alzheimer’s of our dying Civ — we continued to be amazed and puzzled by the man.

But Thucydides had the generosity, and attentiveness of spirit, to grasp him in his very largeness — great artist among strategists and tacticians, victorious as an Alexander wherever he led men; immensely strong, courageous, eloquent, flamboyant — but finally only in his own cause. Lesser authors diminish him, even when they praise; Thucydides can find the small within the large.

The world makes room for such men of action; men make room in their heads and hearts. But Athens would have ruled Hellas had Alcibiades and Athens pulled together, consistently upon the same ox. Each, in the end, was unworthy of the other: the man, traitor to the city; the city, traitor to the man.

How the great self-cancel! Few end well; and even those still lionized in old age, as Churchill, know themselves failures as they think back. In the long game, of human history, all the men of action are failures, and only the Saints leave legacies which moths, rust, thieves, and intellectuals are unable to corrupt.

How to win the civil war

It depends, of course, which side you want to win. “Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks,” as my hippie friends used to say. The methods used by what I consider to be the Other Side in the current civil war are working well for them: sneak attacks, lies, and misrepresentations. But I wonder, sometimes, what might work for us. We have tried the Enemy’s devices, but discovered that the Enemy is more proficient in their use.

Note that the current civil war started five hundred years ago — precisely, if we count from Wittenberg. (Dog-whistle: see Shakespeare, Hamlet.) This is a fairly long time, and the issues and partisans have “evolved” through the war’s successive phases. By the time of the Thirty Years’ War phase, not every one on the one side was strictly-speaking Catholic, nor on the other, strictly Lutheran; and the tactics on both sides had become much the same.

Today we call it Progressives versus Conservatives. Up here in the High Doganate, you’d think we’d be above it all, because we (I speak inclusively of my pigeons and purpled finches) are, strictly-speaking, not Conservative but Reactionary. And on Red Cross principles, I’m inclined to count the birds as non-combatants.

But at any given moment in a civil war, there are two, and only two sides, with precious few “United Nations observers.” Those constituting any “third way” tend to become casualties in the crossfire.

The entry of Radical Islam into the battle, implicitly on the side of Progress, is not really a new development. The current “demographic” siege of Vienna, for instance, was preceded by more conventional sieges in 1529 and 1683. The maritime aspect, across the Mediterranean, though again now less conventional, was decidedly an influence on this civil war, until alleviated by Lepanto in 1571. The Protestants/Progressives had the advantage of fighting on one front only; they had Muslims to assist them by enlivening the other front. Catholics/Conservatives had in effect to defend the whole European game board, while trying to play on it.

As I say, the current phase is, even at its clearest, unconventional. We have many millions — hundreds of millions for a fact — who aren’t strictly-speaking Neutrals. More precisely, they don’t know which side they’re on. The Progressive tribunes (I cite CNN for an example) wantonly confuse the issues for them, by mentioning e.g. Charlottesville and Barcelona in the same breath, then blaming everything on some orange-faced Presbyterian defector named Trump.

It is now explicitly Progressive versus Conservative, and even at Rome, denominational affiliations have lost their poignancy. Not any more a “religious war” by the sound of it, but in one sense all wars are religious, as in another none are.

The current Progressive mission is to erase history; the Conservative rearguard is to preserve some knowledge of it. (See also here.) There are front lines passing through every formerly-Christian Western nation, and each formerly-Christian Eastern nation, too — like the old one running through each human heart. But today I am reviewing the visible external civil war, only.

Let me tell gentle reader something interesting about that populist (apparently they’re on our side at the moment), Trump. His personal popularity inflates and deflates, from poll to poll; but not the issues on which he is instinctively excoriated by all Progressives. According to polls that have been fairly consistent, whether the topic be immigration, healthcare, taxes, infrastructure (including military), keeping statues, and so forth, the great majority of the USAmerican electorate are essentially on his side. Something similar can be said of almost every, if not every other Western polity. Alas, “democracy” replaces issues with personalities.

The great majority, now as ever, would like the civil war to be over, and often “cuck out” in the hope that thereby, peace can be obtained. Most do not understand that the Progressive agenda is progressive. Their supposed leaders have likewise perfected the art of flinching, and are eager to negotiate or “McConnell” every truce. The Other Side will always want more, however. Nor are they grateful when they win concessions.

It occurs to me that this is the secret for winning the civil war. End “strategic retreats.” (The odd tactical one may still be necessary.) Demand not peace, but Victory, and be prepared to die on every hill. I think in this respect Mr Trump has the right idea, and Mr Bannon has become one of my favourites, too. And a few more in countries like Hungary and Poland.

That they will all perish in the battle, can go without saying. They are, after all, on the front line of this seemingly perpetual Verdun; and everyone dies sooner or later. The trick is to replace them, when that happens, with characters equally feisty, and offer no truces whatever. Never ever let the [bad word] regroup! Pour through every breach in their defences! Onward to Berlin, as it were.

Steadfast is the word; though I think tenacious will do around tea time.

There is a motto once woven with gold thread into the pallium of each Roman pontiff. It is out of Saint Paul, and it sayeth, Deus vult!

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POSTSCRIPTUM. … Ah well, I see from the yellow media that Bannon’s down now. This has long been a problem for monarchical governments, and family businesses generally. You have friends and family; they fight. You can’t get rid of family, so you have to dump your friends. Unless of course (little light comes on) you are sufficiently ruthless; and have tired of, say, the squirt your daughter married. In which case Italian, Cinquecento precedent offers a broader range of options. … Forget orderly; often chaos works better against the anarchic foe. You (I am now addressing Mr Trump directly) won’t be able to get anything through Congress, anyway. So stop worrying about it. Rule by decree like Obama. The generals are still with you, sir.