Essays in Idleness


Hybrid warfare

Íñigo López de Loyola, better known to us as Saint Ignatius of Loyola, whose Feast we observe today (in both the traditional and the novel Calendars), was a valiant and gallant soldier. He had more than proved himself in the field, from teenage years through his twenties. Indeed, he owned a reputation for swashbuckle and vainglory; had repeatedly won lethal duels. These Iberians can be mighty proud; Íñigo was the picture of machismo, in his cape and tights, his jewelled boots — the dagger and the sword hanging loosely. It was suicide to provoke him.

But even super-soldiers take unexpected hits, and when the Navarrese stormed the fortress of Pamplona, in May of 1521, Íñigo took a cannonball in the legs.

We are assured that surgical operations in those days, some centuries before modern anaesthesia, were often worse than the original injury, and our heroic Basque gentilhombre, now thirty and no longer in the flush of youth, found himself laid up for a while. And, as luck would have it, starved of his usual reading materials. He preferred the sort of chivalrous tales that Cervantes did such a fine job of mocking. He was stuck, instead, with De Vita Christi, an encyclopaedic devotional work by the (then dated) Ludolph of Saxony. The rest, as we say, is history.

Lounging about like an idler — not his accustomed mode — the future saint conceived an Idea. It was that the Church needs an army, too. Through a rigorous system of prayer and contemplation (seven-plus hours a day), founded on the hints in Ludolph’s book (which could be read as a fourteenth-century Carthusian self-help manual), this Idea was subtly developed. The Ignatian Spiritual Exercises offer a boot-camp approach to Catholic mysticism. The religious order that grew out of them, with the energy, too, of remarkable companions, was “militarist” by nature. But it is a remarkable kind of “hybrid warfare” that Saint Ignatius and his friends “invented” — one in which conventional weapons played, and can play no part.

Enemies of the Jesuits — and from the beginning, they had plenty — might characterize the whole order as a “mind game.” They could never be counted on to do what was expected; they had the tactical genius for surprise. (We all remember the Monty Python skit: “Fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.”) Yet rooted often, as in the case of Saint Ignatius, in a holiness itself inscrutable. God, unquestionably, helped them on their way, into spiritual battle, with an intellectual machinery always state-of-the-art, and a discipline that seemed to pass beyond the human.

That was then, this is now.

There are, in practice, so far as I can see, two Jesuit orders today. I have met “men astutely trained” in both. One is traditional, the other is novel. The traditional “faction” remains loyal to the teaching of the Magisterium under the most intense fire; I could name a few people. The other — but I will not name — thinks it knows better, and is looking cleverly ahead. As one “progressive” Jesuit once told me, “I am loyal to the Church as she will be, and to the Popes of the future.”

Jesuits have provided, for several generations now, perhaps the principal opponents of Church teaching from within, a kind of self-assembled Fifth Column. Where would e.g. “liberation theology” be without Jesuits, who wink at arms running and violent acts? Who purposefully confuse “the poor in spirit” with “the poor in goods”? Who think with their superior expertise they can analyze the most abstruse social and economic questions; and like some of the more advanced Muslims, serve the will of Allah here on Earth, as a revolutionary vanguard.

Perhaps a third group could be identified, a “middle way,” balanced on the knife edge between the two, and sometimes adeptly skating. It has been said that our current Pope — the first Jesuit in that office — is on this edge. From each side he appears to be on the other; but from back or front, entirely on his own. He is certainly not a Marxist, for instance. But he is certainly not an anti-Marxist, either. Nor is he ambiguous. Only a Jesuit could be like that: a whirling dervish of charisma. I had this sense reading Laudato Si’ — in many free-spinning passages I thought, “the exact opposite of what our Church so desperately needs, in a time of terrible doctrinal confusion.” …

But who am I to judge?

Having read something of the Jesuit missions in China, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, I became aware of a “grand strategy.” It was not in any sense a compromise; not an attempt to offer a syncretic version of Christianity to a Chinese court and intellectual milieu of great sophistication. It was rather (to my mind) an exercise in the Socratic. Concede everything that could be conceded to the Chinese mind and high culture; then win the argument on Chinese terms. It was an incredibly brash “strategic vision.” It was conducted, brilliantly. It failed, utterly.

Perhaps Pope Francis has the same brash vision: to concede to the post-modern mind and culture, such as it is, everything it takes for granted; then win the argument on post-modern terms. I hope this is not the plan, however, for still more is now at stake: and there are days when it seems we are down to playing for our last marbles.

The Jesuits were invaluable in the Counter-Reformation. It was often their discipline that held the line, in very unpromising circumstances, at what had suddenly become the Church’s northern frontier. They were Jesuits who conceived ingenious schemes to retrieve the morale of increasingly isolated Catholic communities. Their approach was not, actually, “take no prisoners”; rather it was, “never give an inch”; nor miss an opportunity to move the front line forward; and, count on reinforcements from the rear. For they had an astounding faith, beneath their astounding self-confidence.

Be, and stay, at the forefront of science and of art, of literature and society. Appropriate everything of value and of use, for the Church’s operations. In our contemporary sporting idiom: the best defence is a terrifying offence.

The humble and contrite owed them.

And to my mind (with its monopoly on the thinking at this website), that is rather what we need today, when again our front line is faltering. Not a diplomatic accommodation to defeat, but sudden, shocking, forward thrusts, against an Enemy who has become complacent.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us; remind us how it is done.

More enthusiasm for GMOs

The genetic modification of science by hoodoo is a theme of interest up here (in the High Doganate). I read journalists such as Henry I. Miller, in Forbes, much to the displeasure of at least one correspondent, who does not like his “tone.” I, for my part, very much enjoy it.

Miller is an abrasive critic of everything in food that is labelled “organic.” The title of his piece yesterday nicely sums his view: “The colossal hoax of organic agriculture.” His last two items before that had me giggling, too: “The most imbecilic and pretentious commentary ever written about genetic engineering” (reviewing an article in the New York Times); and, “Whole Foods caught with their thumb on the scale and their hand in your pocket” (on their demonstrably false package weight and nutritional claims). No mealy-mouth he. Nor deficient in job-appropriate scientific training.

I like to start myself with the tomato: a small, very hard, suspiciously shiny, yellow berry of the Deadly Nightshade family, found in the Mesoamerican bush. Highly toxic, especially in the leaves. But it had already endured at least two millennia of genetic modification by the Mesoamericans, before the Spanish conquistadors arrived, to ship it around the planet. As Miller notes, we should bear this in mind when offered an “heirloom tomato” for sale; and then reflect that, with the exception of some genuinely wild berries, game, and fish, everything in the grocery has been modified beyond recognition, and usually over more generations than we can count. This, let me add, is one of the distinctions between ourselves and the apes, to say nothing of the dolphins.

Oddly, though Luddite by aesthetic disposition, I have no objection to technical improvements, per se. I delight in simplicity, and paradoxically, that is what “technology” sometimes delivers. Moreover, we were instructed by our Maker to go forth and multiply, and could not have got so far as we have without increasing the crop yields.

Mrs Edith Carson, the elderly widow next door when I was a child in Georgetown (and no relation to Rachel), was a fanatical opponent to the fluoridation of the municipal water supply, which she attributed to a communist plot. She may have been right about that, but another of her views struck me as eccentric.

When she returned from shopping, she would toss her apples and pears and oranges and bananas, her walnuts and all the other fruits, beans, pods, and nuts she had purchased — from her back porch, onto the grass. Soon after, she would collect them (less the loot of bird or squirrel), and take them into her pantry. This was from the belief that none were healthy until they had touched the ground. It was a fact she had discovered from the careful perusal of certain (Protestant) religious tracts.

I try to imagine what her views would be today (had she lived she would now be 120), on GMOs. My guess would be, Against. Ditto, for the methods of DNA scrambling by radiation and chemicals that preceded the molecular techniques; and the pioneering methods of wide-cross hybridization. For Mrs Carson was already opposed to the irradiation of potatoes, and even to the atomic bomb, except for the specialized purpose of annihilating the communists.

A dear woman, beloved in memory, in whose debt I remain for innumerable cookies and chocolates. (I gave her name so you could say an Ave.) Yet even with the people we adore, we may sometimes disagree on details.

The marvellous thing about current genetic modification on the molecular scale, it seems to me, is its simplicity and relative safety. And what I mean here is, relative to traditional methods of cross-breeding. Instead of transferring a whole mess of genes, haphazardly from one organism to another, we can now do it in a finical way, one little gene at a time. This gives us more chance to observe the consequences.

But of course, public safety is not the only desideratum, and avoiding risk is not always a virtue. I wouldn’t want to discourage every “jurassic,” cowboy operation, lest we become too fastidious in our ways.

On the third hand, thanks to my own perusal of some (Catholic) tracts — including the Bible, and various Fathers and Doctors of the Church — I am convinced that the genetic modification of human beings is a big mistake, except through voluntary, licit, opposite-sex marriage. Indeed, all attempts at it so far have ended badly.

For humans are enveloped in a moral field that excludes the plants and animals; each one of us a special creation. (See: Catechism.) A fundamental humility and caution when tampering with nature is not a bad thing; we should cherish her. But, cherish by integral moral commandment; not because other creatures have any “rights.” (We have only what rights we can defend; they have only what we bestow.)

Here I refer to the order of Love — quite distinct from the order of sentimentality, vividly presented just now in public wailing over the harvest of Cecil the Lion, by people prepared to overlook the destruction of millions of human babies, and the harvest of their body parts by e.g. the Doktor Mengeles of Planned Parenthood.

Love, in this sense, which accords mere affection to Cecil the Lion, is not reducible to rules in a book; nor can it be encompassed by loveless and morally spastic government regulation. It is expressed, too, in an attitude through nature to nature’s God, inculcated from childhood; and through knowledge founded in that Love, whose outward attribute is wonder.

This should animate even the clinics and labs, and be detectable not only through electron microscopes, but in a work atmosphere of joy. There is no necessary conflict between high scientific endeavour, and amazement with the very tools we find at our disposal. Yet even in the choice of techniques, we should be attentive to transcendentalia: to beauty, truth, and goodness in our intentions, and in our actions. This is not law, but religion.

It is not the gradual transformation of a poisonous New World berry into a delicious and nutritious pasta sauce that is the problem, here. Rather, it is the transformation of the human, into something mean, miserable, small, and finally, murderous. That is the key environmental issue: not what we do with nature but what we do with us.

Trying to understand Lu Yu

Among my chief regrets in life, is my lack of education. For instance, I cannot read classical Chinese. I cannot read modern Chinese either, but that does not bother me. The failing is on my part alone. As a child, in the Bangkok Patana school, in a special class that met by klong-side, an attempt was made to teach me at least the elementary Chinese characters, and how to draw them correctly with a brush. But my family left Bangkok soon after I began, and all I carried away was an instruction book that was soon lost. I lack application.

Translations are treacherous things, and neither are the works of critics to be trusted. If one is to enter into the mind and sensibility of another, in an olden time, one must go by a route that will not be easy. It is almost a religious quest: to shed the layers of personal hubris in the course of acquiring a knowledge that lies entirely beyond one’s self. Or more simply, to be drawn out of oneself by dedicated study. To some degree one may do this by leaps of the imagination. One reads different translations, and different accounts of the same ancient work; but really one is circling around it. To enter in, one must read the original Chinese, against a background of much other historical and cultural learning.

For today, the book in question is the T’ang dynasty classic of tea, the Cha Ching (or, “Chájīng,” to you pinyin commies), by Lu Yu. It was first published, or copied, about the year 762 of our era, in an edition long lost. Subsequent editions were also lost, but the fragmentary tradition was sufficient for Ming scholars to reconstruct the original. It was in three scrolls, comprising ten chapters; about seven thousand characters in all. This is not long, but the work is densely packed. It is full of interest, not only because it conveys a profoundly civilized attitude towards tea-drinking. It also provides basic information on tea botany, cultivation, and production in its ancient brick or cake form: how it is picked, steamed, pressed, dried, stored. All the many tools are described, and their uses concisely explained. It is a technical manual, preceded by learned speculations on the mythological and historical origins of tea; then followed by general directions for the tea connoisseur.

Every sentence raises questions that cry out to be answered. For instance, the seventh chapter appears more a collection of lists than a narrative; it is like an index to preceding Chinese history and biography, viewed from the very acute angle of common interest in tea. The sixth and eighth chapters leave one pondering over the many tea-garden districts scattered across T’ang China, and the range of cultivars in those times. Often one is at a loss even to follow the geography, and is left longing to depart from the present and go searching on the ground. For the poetry of tea arises from the earth; it is founded upon concrete associations.

Now, tea in its modern form — loose tea brewed in a tea pot with a handle and spout — is a development of the Sung Dynasty, centuries later. We tend to assume all progress is improvement, but Chinese scholars did not think that way. As we see in Lu Yu, the old methods were extremely complicated, and required great skills — down to the way the tea was powderized from the cakes, in specially-designed stone mortars, prior to brewing like Japanese matcha. The Japanese tea ceremony is itself derived from older Chinese rituals, which Lu Yu describes, but incompletely. One does not grab at tea, as one grabs at coffee in the morning. Rather it must be given one’s full attention.

We do not today understand what a T’ang writer means by a health benefit, for instance. Or, so I conclude from trying to understand the Cha Ching, as other classical Chinese works. A robust body is less important than a clear mind. The condition of good health involves a serenity that is more a spiritual than a material condition; a notion of harmony with heaven that will pass over the modern reader, for whom “heaven” is without content, without reality. The remedies for bad health are not “cures for what ails you,” in our technocratic, medical sense; not one of them seems to be task-specific. Rather, they relate to what we would call “syndromes” from our ancient Greek heritage: things that go together, and so must be addressed together. There are herbal remedies, and one of those was, classically, tea. But how to take them is as important as what they are; not only how to infuse and swallow, but how to taste and muse upon them. Hence the ceremonial attached, not only to tea.

Our modern “naturopath,” who goes into a store full of white plastic bottles containing herbal remedies in tablet and gelatin capsule form, is in his conceit much farther from understanding these things than, say, a motorcyclist stopping for a double baconator at Wendy’s. For the latter at least merges himself in the ambiance or culture of his hunger remedy, and is all of a piece with it as he consumes his hamburger, with coke and fries. He isn’t a fake, like the herbal pill-popper.

Yet I find the ambiance of the tea pavilion, whether in town garden or in the mountains, superior in kind to what we now have at Wendy’s. Call me a nostalgic, living in the past, but I would really rather be there than here.

This is why I wish that I could read, and through that ability enter into the spirit of classical Chinese. More is there than any straightforward translation can convey, and copious notes would surely be necessary, even to begin explaining what has not been said, but would nevertheless have been understood, implicitly through allusions. Who is alive, today, who can write them? The sad truth is, no one I can find.

Liturgy fairies

The expression in my title was used by a certain Scotchman, of Catholic affiliation if not Catholic sensibility, to describe certain beloved Fathers in a certain beloved Parish. He said they care for nothing except the liturgy, and implied that they spend all their days dressing up. Note the further insinuation that they are deficient in manliness. Moreover, he was spreading this calumny about, among the young and impressionable.

I should mention that he was far off the mark. The priests in question are known well to me, and you will wander some distance in Christendom to find their match for charity and good works, involving personal sacrifice. They are also more manly than their accuser, if we take quiet courage for a manly virtue (whether it is found in women or men), in contrast to habitual posturing and bluster. I could give anecdotes. This is not the place.

Now, in Christendom we condemn not the sinner but the sin. Far be it from me, therefore, to condemn this vicious little Scotchman. His pig ignorance was, perhaps, honestly acquired. And his charge would not resonate were there no “liturgy fairies” in this world. (I have met, I hope, more than my share.)

That this is a short, barrel-framed fellow, with a wide flaring neck, and little beads for eyes, I would be reticent to mention, were it not somehow relevant to his case. For he has also the temper of the beast he most resembles (Sus scrofa). A descendant no doubt of the Pictish folk of the Caledonian interior — once described by my genetically Hebridean grandmother as “vindictive dwarves.” (This was not the correct plural, but I knew what she meant.)

I did not query the Pict on his phrase, for it was self-explanatory. It came back to mind, reading Father Hunwicke, yesterday. With the latter I share an Anglican past, and I should think the same experience of a High Church “smells-and-bells” faction that cared much for liturgy; some of whom had the aspect of fairies. And now, even in the Roman Kirk, Hunwicke is able to observe, “the distinction between those whose preoccupation is with Liturgy and, for preference, very fine Liturgy; and those for whom liturgical questions are part of a larger whole.”

More tellingly, he notes that few of the former group came over to the Ordinariate. This was a surprise neither to him, nor to me.

Here in the Greater Parkdale Area, when I defected, I noticed that others doing this were among the more serious “believers”; some of them memorably Low Church, or “evangelical.” The question for them was not whether the Catholic Mass were prettier; around here it is seldom that. It was whether the claims of the Catholic Church were true. (Some went over to the Greek or Russian Orthodox, as their Anglican roofs caved in.)

J.H. Newman, greatest of modern converts from the Anglican “middle way,” was not a “liturgy fairy,” though once very “high.” He did not go “up” from the high tables of Oxford, but down to the stalls of Littlemore, in the course of his own crossing. I think he is the model for any Anglican convert, who follows a road “down.” One must exclude very few who convert for personal convenience of any kind; they have been rare in the English-speaking realms, where “poping” has not offered worldly or material advantages, but usually, social and economic costs.

One goes downmarket, “Irish,” outside the pale; one leaves all the splendid silver behind, and takes up with immigrants and working-class types. This is not the sort of fate which appeals to your “liturgy fairy,” whose eyes remain fixed on the silver.

But Christ is in the wafer, instead.

Traditional liturgy was something to be taken for granted, not obsessed over. It was the way it was and had always been. It had “grown” through the centuries, when at all, only in relation to that wafer; and in the spirit of reverence, not “reform.” The Mass did not cease to be valid, after the ceremonial was trashed “in the spirit of Vatican II”; it was only made ugly and distracting. Christ is still received, though now in a manner often outwardly insulting to Him.

The very clash between “traditional” and “modern” is hateful to a Church whose beliefs and practices refer beyond time. To defend something as “modern” is to admit that it is false. But so is it, to defend something because it belongs to another distinct era. Truth is indivisible, and cannot be partitioned in space or in time.

And likewise the Liturgy, properly celebrated, is inseparable from what it exemplifies and expounds. And we ourselves not liturgy fairies, unless we deliquesce.

As the world turns

Has it occurred to anyone in the Obama administration that the Persians, perhaps, cannot be trusted? Probably not; but it need not occur to them. They are told it every day.

And the Turks, not quite doing as they say? (Ditto; but with fewer reminders.)

I refer only to the governments of the respective nations, of course; we all know that Persians and Turks are, as a general rule, Sufi saints, incapable of deceit; that they have been so since time out of mind. Granted, the classical Greeks tended to be Persophobe; and the Byzantines, Turkophobe; but that was long ago. If you can’t trust Persians and Turks, today, whom can you trust? (Arabs?) Though of course, they do not trust one another.

They are the Turks who command my attention this morning. Their valiant, “moderate Islamist,” freely elected and re-elected leader, Erdogan, promised to help us bomb the Da’ish. (Turkey is, technically, still in NATO.) But oh look, he’s bombing the Kurds by mistake. (Our most reliable allies in the theatre; to whose territories all the refugee Christians run.)

I don’t expect gentle reader to follow; I can hardly follow myself, despite years of trying; I am simply noting the outcry from various Kurdish sources in Syria, reported by the BBC and others. They had enough on their hands with the Da’ish coming at them, before the Turks started hitting them, too.

The Kurds in Iraq will be unsurprised. They have lost ten-thousands of lives to Turkish forces, crossing into Iraq in (officially) “hot pursuit” of Kurdish “separatists” fleeing Turkey itself. They hardly expect the Turks to be serious about attacking their enemies — the Da’ish, who are also the enemies of the Persian ayatollahs. (“The enemy of my enemy is my friend”: sort it out.) The Sa’udi air force is in a similar position in Yemen: ostensibly bombing terrorists of all kinds, like nice Yankee allies, but actually taking sides with the Sunni terrorists against the Shia terrorists. This is called realpolitik, I believe.

And meanwhile those United States, led by some guy doing a victory lap in Kenya, have manoeuvred themselves into a curious position. The Americans are now providing diplomatic cover for both Turkey and Iran, while from their opposing sides they, respectively, both attack America’s remaining allies.

Or rather, to keep up-to-date, they attack the few countries left in the region which are actually “on our side,” in the sense that they are unambiguously opposed to our common enemy, “Islamism.” That would be Egypt, Israel, Jordan — each getting pompous lectures from the State Department, whenever they try to defend themselves. I might have mentioned George Bush’s old Iraq, except, Iraqi Kurdistan is the only part of that country still unambiguously “on our side.” (As for the the Sa’udis, it depends which faction; they are feline and feminine and try to have everything both ways.)

But that is the bad news.

The good news is that the United States is no longer a significant player in the Middle East. The net effect of American ministrations, since Obama came to power, and initiated a consistent policy of insulting America’s friends, and encouraging her enemies — in an extended display of moral preening — has been to relieve this former “hyperpower” of any important rôle.

This is an aspect of the “Iran deal” that has been overlooked in the media; even by the “neocons” who are usually sharp to such things. On Obama’s instruction, Kerry freed America of her last consequential forward position: which was enforcing the embargoes that constricted the ayatollahs’ aggressive options. In effect, America has now abandoned Iran as she has abandoned Iraq and Afghanistan; abandoning Israel into the bargain; along with Egypt and everyone. There are substantial Fleet forces still in theatre, to maintain some “optics,” but they no longer have any serious business there.

While it is true that Kerry and company have now removed the remaining impediments to Iran’s development as a nuclear power; in a longer view, he has only hastened the inevitable. If the states that Iran targets (not only Israel) want to do something about it, they will have to act themselves. Paradoxically, this means Israel is no longer alone. She has friends now in Cairo, Amman, and even Riyadh, that she could not have hoped to keep had Iran been successfully isolated. So thank you for this mitzvah, John Kerry.

Also, thank everyone for the cheap oil. The Arabs are drilling it faster and faster, despite falling prices, because they desperately need the cash. And now with Iran back in the market, the Age of OPEC is completely behind us. For meanwhile, fracking has been developed, and even should the Persian Gulf become a radioactive wasteland, it will just be a hiccough in the oil supply.

Thank not only Obama and Kerry every time you fill your tank; but the big oil companies, too, for increasing their margins as the bulk prices fall, thus grandfathering their profits. They will need cash in hand for any future investments. To say nothing of the pension plans that are sustained in the equity markets for big oil, big banks, big everything. We can reasonably foresee a new era of abundant, cheap fossil fuels, ours for the burning. And if it weren’t for the impending demographic crash, and the proliferation of wealth-sucking bureaucracy, we’d have another Golden Age of Capitalism, with growth as through the baby-booming ’fifties and ’sixties.

As it happens, the world is going to Hell in a bullet train, but ho! The beauty is that it will not crash where we were expecting. But then, it never does.

In no strange land

I am very bad at remembering birthdays, dinner dates, anniversaries. Perhaps that’s why I now live alone. This week I set some kind of record, not only by forgetting the birthday of a good friend, which I suppose could be overlooked in some years. But this was a round-numbered birthday. Saint Philip Neri turned five hundred last Tuesday. By the time I realized, it was too late to attend the Mass. I have prayed to him, however, and promised to make it up.

Meanwhile I want to mention, again, the book on Saint Philip, by Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory, which is at last published. (I mentioned it previously, here.) Angelico Press has done a fine job, not only on the typography and design, but also in getting it out promptly, after another publisher (who will be nameless) made a hash. I am quite impressed with Angelico, a recent enterprise whose whole current list is superb. Good publishers are extremely rare. I’m not aware of even one in Canada, and Angelico may now be the best we have for the Catholic milieu in the English language.

A good publisher works exclusively with manuscripts he thinks deserve the light of day; he never publishes shoddy work to make a quick buck, hook a subsidy, swing a deal, or other low motive. This is because he is not sleazy.

On the other hand, because he believes in both the work and the author, he is tireless in promoting them. If there is any way to make the book sell (that is ethical), he will discover it. He must take risks, which he must judge shrewdly. He will be, invariably, both a man of letters and a business man, and he will thrive in the creative tension between these sometimes incompatible callings.

There is nothing whatever wrong with “selling” a worthy product whose benefits are real. On the contrary, it is quite wrong to miss opportunities, or be otherwise lazy, or unnecessarily shy, when one is a salesman.

And a good publisher is a Godsend to a good author: not only for dealing with the “stuff” for which few authors are equipped, by talent or disposition. They become friends, of great use to each other on multiple levels. And as always with true friends, however the relation started — usually, with a meeting of eyes — the entanglements develop into a loyalty beyond all material attachments. This is ultimately what Holy Church is about — a society of friends that extends through and beyond space and time, in Christ.

Saint Philip Neri is worth knowing, as friend. He is incidentally very charming and lovable. Father Robinson’s book is, I think, the ideal introduction to him, for an intelligent reader of our day. He has presented, with approachable learning and also with wit, exactly what it is about this man that has not aged in five hundred years.

The “embodied mysticism” mentioned in the subtitle guides to the Guide, as it were: someone to take us past the obstacles in our present environment, where what is meant by the word “mysticism” is not understood; where it is instead confused with a lot of jolly nonsense. For “mysticism” is not some experience to wait for. It is the way of life, itself, beginning now; the only way through the shutters of illusion. And it begins in a humble, earthy way.

The surtitle, applied at the last — In No Strange Land — is from the poem by Francis Thompson. It speaks of a realm that is invisible, intangible, unknowable. Yet which in grace we may view, touch, and know. Saint Philip is the remarkable guide to that “embodiment,” and Father Robinson will take you to him directly, here.

Chronicles of Gadara

That, “a gentleman never unintentionally gives offence,” is something I first heard from my mother. The barb was not placed unintentionally in the bait: a gentleman only gives offence on purpose. Taken not as a moral injunction, but as a sociological observation, there is, or there was, some truth in this. In higher British society, so far as I could be acquainted with it some decades ago, I saw this principle in action. It was what distinguished the hayseed old squires from the urbane young fogeys. The former could fire a shot across your bow that was unmistakable. They could do it in one sentence or less, uttered softly. The latter would blunder into you like an iceberg, and with as much thought.

And the loss of this ability — to send and receive warnings — has much to do with our current environmental decay. (I speak of the spiritual environment.) Let me employ the V-word now. We have all become impossibly Vulgar. I see this on the sidewalks in the Greater Parkdale Area; I bet it is the same in a conurbation near you, gentle reader. It is not that people want to be rude. Rather, they lack any other way of being.

It is the same among the criminal class, I am sorry to say. My Chief Buncombe Correspondent (it is a county in western North Carolina) was reflecting on this in email. He mentioned several recent, high-profile crimes, including general slaughters. In the old days, you’d have a St Valentine’s massacre in Chicago, and there’d be a reason for it. Perhaps the reason wasn’t good enough, but it was at least comprehensible. Even the pettiest crimes — shoplifting for instance — might be for food or some other household need. These criminals today are so lazy: sometimes they forget even to have a motive.

I don’t think we can blame it all on the Arabs (which is not to forget the Persians, &c), who have lowered the bar on terrorism. True, many of the body-bomb hits seem quite pointless. How are you going to win friends and influence people, with that? And what, pray, was the score you were trying to settle? And explain, please, the “symbolism” of the target; we just don’t get it.

If there were not one Muslim living today in America, or Europe, we would still have to class most violent crime, and much of the rest, as “senseless” below the Baghdad standard. Yet in a strange way, it is also “tolerated”: taken for granted that “things like that” happen every day. (There was actually a time when they didn’t; when even suicides were performed, discreetly.)

On this, I have spoken with a judge. It is something that bothers him, too. In the traditional courtroom, anywhere in the Western world, the malefactor had his day. Though guilty as charged, he had a chance to explain himself; to provide any possible extenuation. Perhaps he would be hanged all the same, but as a human being he had, before that, some mysterious right to speak, even in the face of his accusers. It was the right, somehow, to vindicate his own claim to a human status, even if all he could do was express his regret.

This is disappearing. The judge said a whole trial goes by, when the question of motive hardly arises. It doesn’t seem important. The accused himself has nothing to explain, and the accusers expect nothing of him. If found guilty, on the weight of (usually easy) evidence, he is merely “processed” into the designated high-tech dungeon; and barring some administrative error, the paperwork follows its parallel course.

Let me put this more plainly. The very idea of “justice” is abstracted from this process, no matter what the law says — written often in another time, by another generation, in other circumstances, back in the day: when the Fact of Evil was intelligently acknowledged.

And with it, so many other coherent things.


I do not expect people to be shocked by evil. I only expect them to see when it is there. The calm mind can assimilate the Fact, and still maintain its equilibrium. It is trained to harmony with a moral order, beyond itself. This hardly makes disharmony impossible. One cultivates the ability to sense when something is wrong, or perhaps, very wrong. Or one does not cultivate this, in which case one becomes, not in an “aesthetic” but a moral sense, more and more Vulgar.

Consider, as an example for this morning, the case of the abortionist “Doctor” Kermit Gosnell, mentioned in a (rightly) tasteless column by Mark Steyn (entitled, “I’ve got a crush on you baby”). He’d snip the baby’s spinal column with scissors, which you’d think would be enough. (The child dies in excruciating pain.) But then he’d suck out the brains, and smash the skull. And keep severed hands and feet in pickle jars. I will grant he may have been “mentally unstable.”

But here is the point: many, many people knew what he was doing, and did nothing about this “women’s health care provider.” All this came out before the Grand Jury: a serial murderer on an extraordinary scale (not dozens: thousands of butchered victims); a sadist killing babies who were, in fact, live-born. And so many people had let it pass.

Including the mass media — happy to report on other ghastly, “senseless” crimes; and blame them on such stuff as “guns” (which not only don’t, but can’t have motives). They, too, turned the other way, burying the story; focusing all their cameras, at the time, on the trial of a certain Jodi Arias, an odd woman who had killed only one man.

Not on Gosnell. A sick, serial murderer; and serial people, supposedly not sick, who let him get on with it. How does one explain these people?

It does not seem adequate to say that they are “typical liberals,” looking the other way, on a par with the “typical conservatives” in Hitler’s Germany who saw things happening to the Jews, but chose silence. For no, they are much worse. A German who stood up to the Nazis was probably a dead man. An American who stands up to the unspeakable evil of an abortionist will merely be ignored by the New York Times.

Ninety-seven percenters

A lovely term appears in today’s dispatches, new at least to me: “thermal machismo.” It is used to describe people who, like the Lord Denizen of the High Doganate, or the Pope, refuse to buy air conditioners, and instead, tough it through the heat of summer. Or at least, tell other people to do so. But I am prepared to share this new honour with all my fellow global-warming deniers, whether or not they own air conditioners. Let us all exhibit thermal machismo. Let me show the way.


Gentle reader may be aware — for it is repeated daily in the mass media — that “97 percent” of the world’s soi-disant “climate experts” support the “anthropogenic global warming” hypothesis. This is a “scientific consensus.” It corresponds, roughly, with the proportion of money paid out for research to confirm it. Less than 3 percent is available for its refutation; even the big oil companies find that PR requires them to follow the AGW mob.

Such numbers hardly impress me. Joe Stalin regularly polled higher in Soviet general elections. I believe his friend Trofim Lysenko also enjoyed a “scientific consensus” for his groundbreaking genetic ideas — even before the “deniers” were formally outlawed in 1948.

Am I comparing unlikes? No, I think it is perfectly valid to compare one massive scientific fraud with another. Alternatively, and more tediously, one might review the whole history of “scientific consensus,” and facetiously suggest that we reverse the odds on the hypothesis finally proving true, and give it that three in a hundred. But really, its chances are zero, as is the case with all tail-wags-dog theories.

The difference between “science” and “consensus” ought to have been taught in grade school. It is a source of regret to me that public education standards have fallen so low.


But here, for comparison, is an example of science where “97 percent” might count. It is a predictive model for solar activity which, unlike the atmospheric models for planet Earth, requires only modest computer time. The actual data from the last few solar cycles was used, leaving no room for virtual cartloads of vague estimates, convenient adjustments, and untested assumptions.

The Sun has, for many centuries now, been observed to have a (rather irregular) magnetic heartbeat — a cycle of about eleven years (it has ranged from less than eight to a little more than fourteen), during which it passes from a minimum to a maximum of magnetic activity, and then back again. A rash of sunspots, solar flares, and the like, are decorative features of the maximums, along with beautiful auroras here on Earth, and magnetic storms so glorious that they could potentially take out our electrical grids. As insolation rises and falls, so does the temperature of the upper atmosphere, which thus swells and shrinks dramatically — affecting the orbits of all our space junk up there, like the waves of the sea.

We will return to that in a moment; but first let me insert a meandering aside.


Given world enough and time, I should like some day to muse upon the astrophysical approach to meteorology. It is my suspicion that it will eventually supply extremely accurate long-term weather forecasts — by uncovering the curtain-rail mechanisms that successively steer the atmospheric pressure systems from the top, down.

Indeed, I know a brilliant madman who thinks the main tracks can already be read in an astronomical almanac, from the relative positions of Earth, Jupiter, and Sun, and thus the interaction of their majestic magnetic fields; that he can already anticipate the twists and turns of the frontal systems from them, then flesh out the weather on the ground from this; and that he can do it for any date in the future or past, with a free afternoon and a pocket calculator. (It is hard to judge whether he has been shunned by his meteorological colleagues for being weird, for being right, or for both.)

Meanwhile we might ramble on the ozone layer, and the curious way it thickens and thins, to let more ultraviolet radiation through at solar minimums, less at solar maximums — and from a wonderfully simple, testable cause. The UV rays themselves split the oxygen molecules to regenerate the ozone; thus the more UV, the thicker our sunscreen. The world works, and life is possible, thanks to innumerable happy little facts like that.

I mention this only by way of reminding gentle reader that good science requires an uncompromising faith in God — Who not only placed living creatures on this Earth, by an extraordinary sequence of irreproducible creative acts, extended over billions of our years; but foresaw what would be needed to protect them.

The ozone scare that the atheists tried on a generation ago — in the hope of crippling human enterprise with a pointless ban on nontoxic, nonflammable, extremely useful chlorofluorocarbons; at ultimate cost chiefly to the world’s poor — should be studied carefully to understand not only the present “climate change” fraud, but every other imposture that has preceded and will succeed it. The formula does not vary.

Public ignorance is currently being exploited with the witch-focus on innocent carbon dioxide, the ozone hole having had its day. But there are thousands, perhaps millions of other plausible substances around which the next planetary scare can be designed. The cynical seize upon each in turn to extend their worldly power. As all demonic agents, they rule by fear. And as all demonic agents, they are easily defeated, by withdrawing our fear, and suddenly substituting our laughter.

For in the end, they are not scary at all, but sad, grim, and pitiable; and in the end, Christ will defend His own.


For the moment, however, it is sufficient merely to grasp that the Sun is both direct and indirect source of our heat; that more radiation generally corresponds to more heat; and vice versa.

We are currently in Solar Cycle No. 24, of systematic record-keeping going back to the reconstructed Solar Cycle No. 1 of 1755–66. By now we begin to discern cycles within cycles (for instance, there seems to be a background ninety-year cycle, too), which correspond suggestively to our longer-term climate patterns. The sunspot cycles are understood to reveal a dynamo in the convective fluids deep within that fiery orb. This explains the overall movement or throb, but recent models can account for few of the irregularities.

By positing a second dynamic cycle, closer to the Sun’s surface, that interacts a little asymmetrically with the first, Valentina Zharkova (of Northumbria University, UK) may have unlocked the crown jewels:

“We found magnetic wave components appearing in pairs, originating in two different layers in the Sun’s interior. They both have a frequency of approximately eleven years, although this frequency is slightly different, and they are offset in time. Over the cycle, the waves fluctuate between the northern and southern hemispheres of the Sun. Combining both waves together and comparing to real data for the current solar cycle, we found that our predictions showed an accuracy of 97 percent.”

Now, that 97 percent is an actual correlation; not a vote by climate “experts” for their next round at the public trough. Something that works on 97 percent of the past is more likely to work on 97 percent of the future, than something that has been pulled out of a (very sophisticated, empty) hat.

And if it does, we now know what is coming: another extended “Maunder minimum” of the kind that was enjoyed by Londoners, from 1645 to 1700, when the Thames formed the habit of freezing over, the rich could travel about in sleds, and the poor learn to skate or slide.

Solar Cycle No. 25 will peak in the year 2022, already weaker than the one before, if Prof Zharkova is right. (And, No. 24 was weaker than No. 23.) The dynamos, by her calculation, are so aligned to cancel that the solar minimum from the beginning of Cycle No. 26, about 2030, will mark the beginning of another mini-ice age. There will be very few sunspots for a very long time — at least three more solar cycles. And lots more pretty ice and snow.

We will be able to test whether she is right, conclusively, over the next few years. Compare: the carbon dioxide hypothesis which can only be tested by a judgement call — this ongoing vote by the “experts” in whose livelihoods we have all become tragically over-invested.

Little Tibet in Parkdale

“Do not commit any sins. Practice all the virtues. Subdue your imagination. This is what the Buddha teaches.”

This English tag is painted in small capitals, red on yellow, under a line of Indic abugida which I take for Tibetan. Though if it were Dzongkha, Drendjongké, Ladakhi, Balti, or Purik, you could have fooled me. Rotating prayer wheels provide another clue. (Whipping and whirling in a Lake Ontario breeze.)

Let me go out on a limb and declare it to be a secluded Tibetan temple — tucked away on a side street in what was once a nice middle-class Parkdale house, and sure doesn’t look like one any more.

I passed it just now, returning to the High Doganate with some groceries. (Plums: gorgeous soft yellow plums. And blueberries, fresh from the bushes: very cheap. It is July, and Ontario’s foodlands are exploding!)

Actually, I was being coy. I know it is a Tibetan temple, from a Tibetan girl who prays there. She is a nurse in the “home” where my late mother resided: Kelsang, let us call her. There are several Kelsangs in there; and even some Tibetans with other names.

An enchanting girl: ridiculously young and pretty. Modest, soft-spoken, cheerful, attentive. Went to Saint Joseph’s, at “Ooty” (Udhagamandalam), where many Tibetan refugees had gone before her. It is in the Nilgiri Hills. (Some day I will tell you about the tea they grow there.) Speaks better English than I do. Also kinder, more intelligent, and harder working.

As an old Saint Anthony’s boy, from Lahore, I’d met girls like her before. They raised them, in considerable quantity, over the high brick wall, at the Saint Anthony’s girls’ school. You might see one if you went into the Cathedral. They were all so enchanting.

There would be no point in trying to convert Kelsang to Romanism; no point at all. She had already been taught by Catholic nuns, back in south India. They were very strict; and she adored them. She knows the Catechism inside out. She described it as her “second religion.” Catholic Christianity is “very wholesome,” she conceded. But Tibetan Buddhism “will remain my first.” Notice the modal verb.

“And your third religion?”


A quietly fanatic opponent of abortion, incidentally: “All Buddhists are opposed to murder, in that or any other form.” Also opposed to contraception, divorce, sodomy, … you name it. Says Canada is a beautiful country. “But full of crazy people, with no morals, no faith, no manners, no reason.” Fears young Tibetans are being corrupted by them.

Which takes us back to the temple:

“Do not commit any sins. Practice all the virtues. Subdue your imagination. This is what the Buddha teaches.”

We may or may not have other matters to dispute. But so far as this goes, I think the Buddha teaches correctly.

The daily forty-five

God bless Mollie Hemingway, who had the patience to list forty-five irreproachably relevant journalistic angles on the Planned Parenthood baby organ harvest story — in case some major gliberal media outfit, with the budget to gather news directly, should decide to cover it. She delivers at the outset the gorgeous conceit that, maybe they just don’t have any ideas. Whereas, in the compared Confederate flag story, they have so many; and follow up on each, no matter how ludicrous and gratuitous; and blow a nothing (“psycho had Confederate flag on his web page”) into a national rage, with real consequences. (If gentle reader is lost, go to Mollie, here.)

Through the decades of my own — admittedly firsthand — experience of modern media, I acquired a certain phlegm. Nothing my colleagues did, could surprise me. While I could characterize the typical graduate of a journalism school as a devil in human flesh, I found that this was not always juste.

Instead, a profound stupidity — both moral and intellectual — was the decisive factor in the overwhelming majority of reporting decisions. I found the average newspaper or broadcast editor is actually less intelligent than the average reader or viewer; but that he compensates by specialization. He lives in a bubble: a society of his own, wherein he does not fear being contradicted. He can easily shut out anything that might tease his brain. He develops an instinct for ignoring any potential source of moral or intellectual substance.

He follows the movements of his peers. For reasons perhaps invisible to the observer who is not a fish, the entire school of fish turns promptly. Or when invisibly threatened, they disappear, simultaneously, into the reeds. Too, they are cold-blooded, like fish. And none of them believe in the existence of water.

It is forty-five years (and some months) since I was present in the newsroom of the Globe and Mail, as a “copy boy,” in the moment when the managing editor changed the hiring policy. Previously it had been, “we will never hire a graduate from a journalism school.” Now it became, “we will only hire people with academic credentials.”

Which is to say, graduates from journalism schools.

Some decades later, … I had a curious conversation with an administrator at a certain university in Waco, Texas. He asked my advice on the management of the university’s journalism school. He had been impressed by some talk I had given; and it seemed to me, from the questions he was asking — “What would you do if?” questions — that he was proposing to offer me the job of that school’s retiring “head.” (Except, the man did not know he was retiring, yet.) This administrator was dreaming of a major overhaul; of creating America’s very first, and therefore leading, “conservative” journalism school.

I told him it was a dumb idea. For once the school had that reputation, no one who graduated from it would be employable. That, journalism schools are a big business like any other, and profit comes from supplying the market with an absolutely standardized product. There might, as today, be falling prices for this commodity (warm bodies to fill newsrooms), but those still buying want the same old thing. The watchword is “reliable.” Anything resembling curiosity in a graduate, or other indication of independent mind, would lead directly to a costly scandal.

Now, it is true that there is Fox News, the New York Post, and the Wall Street Journal. Rupert Murdoch discovered that he could become even richer by supplying news and entertainment to what Charles Krauthammer mordantly called the “niche market” — of half the USA. These were the “conservatives” who despised the monopoly “liberal” coverage of … everything that fits in the category of “news and entertainment.” Give the rednecks something to watch and read. And supersize that with an order of “tits’n’bums,” and a deep draught of patriotic kool-aid.

In fact, I told my Waco man, that his scheme might work if he got Murdoch interested. But that would involve hiring a Murdoch flunkie, not some royalist, religious nutjob from the Far North.

But really, it still wouldn’t make any difference. For in order to flourish, in the mass market, the media of the Right must become the mirror of the media of the Left. That is to say, they must be thoughtless and knee-jerk; they must be morally and intellectually obtuse. For nothing else works in a mass market.

To its credit, I noticed the other day, Fox News briefly led with the Planned Parenthood body-parts-for-sale story, thus bringing it to the attention of some millions of people who might not otherwise have noticed. But those will be millions who, even if they puke, cannot do anything about it. For it is just “news,” confirming their (perfectly reasonable) prejudices. They already know themselves to be numerous and powerless — for if you can’t stop abortion, how do you stop this? (Republican congressmen, ditto.)

There is a deeper glibness, that embraces both Left and Right, and cannot be overcome by glib media. For short, I call this “democracy.”

Like Pope Francis, I like to invoke the Devil. We may not share many policy prescriptions, but on that point we’re as one. In my pathetically humble opinion, the glib society is easily ruled by the Devil. This includes demonic characters in high offices, and running departments and agencies (such as Planned Parenthood) all down the line. But that is incidental to what I mean. It is just a staffing issue. There will always be people advancing their careers, by seeking management positions in, say, Auschwitz.

Even if you replace, say, Barack Obama with, say, Donald Trump, you do not defeat evil. At best, you give it a chance to kick with the other cloven hoof.

Really, there is no choice, but to infect once again the entire civilization with a Christian conception of what is and isn’t “news.” One in which, for example, abortion in any form, and prior to any sale of baby body parts, would be, quite simply, a crime story.

On the other hand

A cow writes, that I have been unfair to her and her kind. The cattle are a benign race, she claims. They are not nearly so manipulative as Perfesser Fleischkopf has alleged. They are not, certainly not, like the white lab rats who delight in getting the white lab-coats scurrying about, by such simple devices as running through doorways, ostentatiously twitching to shocks, ringing little bells, and so forth. And it is true enough, that between lab rat, and behaviourist, there is an intellectual chasm — the Rattus norvegicus wins every time. Which is why, I suppose, the behaviourists treat them so cruelly.

Cows, my correspondent writes, are not so sportive. And she reminds me that they are not only milked, but sometimes slain and eaten: think of that! Hardly anyone eats rats any more, at least in the West (I have a recipe from Malawi); and they are seldom milked, either, even though the protein in their milk is ten times that in the human lactation — a matter that has surely been brought to the attention of the Nestlé food company, famous for its nutritional research, and innovative approach to baby formulas.

(Now let me confide, that while this email was signed “Elsie the Cow,” I have reason to believe it was written by another.)

True, there is some evidence in the Internet of progress on the rat-milking front. But here it should be plainly said, that the story is a hoax. Though more modest in its claims than those for “climate change,” it exhibits the same propensity to manufacture evidence.

An article in Modern Farmer points to the inconvenience of milking 674 largish rats, to match the daily output of one healthy Holstein. While it would not be impossible, in principle, to make cheese from rat’s milk, there is no truth to an account of the invention of an automated rodent milking machine by a Copenhagen Institute of Agriculture (neither exist); and even at the suggested retail price of 139 dollars, one cannot purchase (the imaginary) “KG Blue Cheese,” made from the milk of the (non-existent) “Siberian Udder Rat,” and (never) advertised as the “nectar of the gulags.” Nor should we believe that George W. Bush is among those who favour it.

Though if you put a product so packaged and priced in a specialist section at Whole Foods, with some earnest (if fictive) testimonials, I think you might find a few customers in the Greater Parkdale Area.


A great deal of modern science and technology is of this sort, as we learn from multiple recent sources. I celebrate the original paper on rat cheese, because it was a joke, and because it provided sufficient internal clues to debunk itself. Unlike the sceptical Modern Farmer, I would not condemn it for being a joke. I would rather condemn works in which more effort is taken to make the falsehoods plausible; where there is no joke, but instead a little humourless agenda to entrap the gullible.

I daresay more is written than is attentively read, in science and technology today; and what is read is often to a questionable purpose. It is good to seed the literature with parodies, to demonstrate the truth of this assertion.

As Richard Horton, editor of the British medical journal, Lancet, wrote after a secretive symposium last spring on the reliability of biomedical research:

“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”

But he thinks this is a recent development; and he thinks something can be done about it by spending more money on research. To my mind the evil of scientism is older than that; and the excess of money paid out for “results” contributes powerfully to the corruption.

This is an old story; I taught a course on it once. The same thing happened in the ancient world, to dismember an earlier development of empirical science in the Hellenistic age, centred finally on Alexandria. By the time of the Roman Empire, it was quite dead. The focus of all work was now on applied technology; scientific thinking had, not in contrast to this, but by the same oppressively practical habits, turned to astrology, alchemy, and other fanciful researches. Science had succumbed to scientism, and its results were now the product of “consensus.”

It took more centuries than ten for the idea of demonstrable scientific truth to slice back out of the cocoon of superstition — a large, still mostly unknown history that, in turn, connects the renaissance of the twelfth century with the baroque renaissance that led to such as Newton, and Pasteur.

Yet no sooner had that been achieved, than the gnostic impulse was re-asserted. By the nineteenth century, the “just so stories” (of Marxism, Darwinism, Freudianism, &c) were back in play, masquerading as empirical science, and we began again weaving our way into a sack of darkness, under the direction of scientistic high priests, girded about by “consensus.”

“Go, go, go, said the bird,” as T.S. Eliot put it in Burnt Norton. “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”

A new model for society

Whatever you might say against European imperialism and colonialism, it was good for the dairy industry. Ditto the railways which, beginning with the Great Western, made a fortune delivering rural milk supplies to the Great Wen of London, using methods soon copied by entrepreneurs in Paris, New York, Bombay. We forget, don’t we, that before 1860 or so, almost all dairy farming for urban consumption was done within the cities; to say nothing of other animal feedlot operations, including poultry and eggs; market gardening, horticulture and so forth. I’m with the hipsters for bringing it all back.

I cast no aspersions on the milkers of buffalo, goats, sheep, camels, donkeys, horses, reindeer, yaks, when I recognize that the Holstein/Frisian cow was the great cause and inspiration for the rise of what Max Weber murkily called the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, emanating from the north-west of Europe. Instead, as will be seen, I champion them.

Neil Cameron interviewed the learned Professor Gerhard Fleischkopf, in a cover piece for the Idler magazine, more than a quarter-century ago, to publicize a thesis that still hasn’t been taken seriously enough by the historians. Contra Weber, Fleischkopf showed that it wasn’t the Germans, Dutchmen, Normans, English who launched this cultural revolution. Rather it was their cows, who forced them to rise very early every morning, lest they be kicked upon finally approaching the engorged teats with their milk-stools and pails; forced them otherwise to adopt patterns of behaviour entirely in the interest of the cows. Their philosophical and theological outlook — a dramatic break from the mediaeval scholastic synthesis — was not in any sense original to them, but instead an artefact of their cultural and intellectual manipulation, by cows. And so, too, their adaptive pushiness towards those of other lands — those lesser breeds without modern dairying techniques — whom they subjugated in turn, as agents of the cow.

Professor Fleischkopf proposed a post-Marxist vegan materialist analysis, but was happy to explain his insights in lay terms:

“Who has not quailed and shrivelled inside, when confronted with the cold hatred in the eyes of a Siamese cat disturbed from rest? Who has not winced and turned his head when faced with the sad, reproachful stare of a basset hound? These feelings of unease are as nothing when compared with what happens if you spend hours locking eyes with a cow. That steady, unceasing watchfulness, that awful solemnity!”

Yes, it was at the root of the Protestant Reformation.

As one who has returned to the mediaeval Catholic outlook, I am an enthusiast instead for a Canadian elk dairy industry, whose animals lactate a milk that is superior to that of your standard Holstein (“Frisian” to you Euros) in butterfat content, milk solids, and trace minerals from aluminum to zinc (including iron and phosphorus).

Let me specify the elk, Cervus canadensis, also known in these parts as the Wapiti; and not the moose, with its more palmate antlers, slightly larger size, and solitary disposition. One may no more herd moose than cats; I have considered and rejected both propositions. Readers abroad could easily fall into confusion, however, from their eccentric habit of using the terms interchangeably (i.e. moose and elk; foreigners can usually tell the difference between either and a pet feline).

For that matter, elk meat contains more protein than beef, and has that game venison edge to carry it beyond the beef glibness; though I have to admit it is a little on the lean side. The antlers are a spring shedding bonus, and until we find a better use for their bone and velvet, we may export them to China by way of settling our national debts. A glover once told me the hides, too, are more than a match for the common cowhides; at the very least they make excellent teepees. The animal itself stands about a foot taller than a Holstein at the shoulder — before we measure the male antlers — and their booming, operatic, basso profundo voices are of potential use in any barnyard choir.

But they are the females and their milk that more immediately interest me. Verily, should some gentle reader see clear to send me a few million through PayPal, I would be happy to invest in elk cheese factories, which I find at present too thin on the ground. (There are none in America, by actual count; the closest is at Bjurholm, in northern Sweden.) I have access to an Ontario cheese-making specialist still in the pink of youth (from the Forfar family, and a little shy of eighty, which is young for a Forfar these days); and the outline of a winning promotional strategy. Surely, billions could be made.

It is true that elk carry an uncommonly broad range of infectious diseases, but I gather they suffer little themselves, seldom communicate them to humans, yet pass them along readily to cattle, thus conferring a significant competitive advantage on our elk dairy farmer.

My motive is, however, higher than that of enriching myself and my friends. It is instead to substitute for the bovine, a new model of social organization, based instead on cervine attitudes and behaviour. The elk bulls (I prefer to call them stags) are more manly, the elk cows (I prefer to call them hinds) more feminine, and both in their nature less smug. Neither has the cattle-cow’s aggressive ideological propensities; and so long as you aren’t messing with their calves, the females are more deferential. The males, too, outside the rutting season. And I believe the hinds are less Germanic when it comes to being milked; they will let us sleep in most mornings.

I’m not sure whether to count this as another “Benedict option.” But gentle reader will appreciate that I am trying to think “outside the box.”

Strait up

The parable of the unjust steward, in Luke 16 and today’s (Old) Mass, presents “difficulties” to the interpreters, we learn. One giggles when one reads that. Jesus is commending a shyster who, about to lose his job, cuts deals with his boss’s debtors. He still has the legal power to write off debt, but won’t have it for long. He uses it to make good friends, for his own future.

Now, Jesus is assuming an audience intelligent enough to grasp that he would not be preaching dishonesty in business. He is also showing a side of Himself that tends to be downplayed: His sense of humour. More, I would say: He is acknowledging, hardly for the first time in the Gospels, that sin is actually quite common. He knows how the world works. The parable gets its colour from its plausibility. Jesus seems almost to be relishing the cleverness of this unjust steward; and by telling us he cuts one bill to 50 percent, another to 80, winking at the craft. This is a guy who deals within deals: a genuine “wheeler” dealer.

The good, experienced priest in the Confessional will never be caught by surprise. He’s heard it all. He is even aware that whited sepulchres are capable of hypocrisy. He’s guessed that the unmarried aren’t necessarily virgins; and that those who chafe under the rest of the Church’s various “unmerciful” moral commands, are not aggrieved because they are obeying. That there are crooked timbers in business, too, will not come to him as a revelation.

Pretensions of innocence often make me giggle. They do not, however, present me — or anyone else with half a brain, I should hope — with intellectual “difficulties.”

Now, the point is, today’s shyster has “prudence” in a very worldly way. He is looking out for his own future when, unemployed, he will need a few rich friends; having rejected the alternatives of hard labour, or begging in the streets. Not only sharp in business practice, but accustomed to wasting other people’s money, we might say that this steward meets the criteria for “shrewd as a serpent.” He falls, however, somewhere short of “harmless as a dove.”

Perhaps, Our Lord is suggesting, we should be as shrewd, or more, but to a different purpose: the business of assuring our own future in Heaven, where they do not need a knock-down on barrels of oil, or even quarters of wheat.

“No servant can serve two masters.” We have got that far by verse 13.

En route, we have been told that faithful in small, is faithful in large; that faithless in large, is faithless in small. Elsewhere this is expounded further, so that from many angles we can gradually perceive something in common with respect to the good, the true, the beautiful. They are indivisible. Truly, there is no way around strait dealing.

Ah, “mercy”: it strikes me that the same principle applies to other servants of the Master. I’m thinking here not of commodity traders, but — hypothetically — of priests and bishops. Suppose, for sake of argument, that they made it a practice to write off the debts owing to their own Master. Suppose, say, they decided to forgive what He in His Justice had not so decided, merely to win friends and influence people. This would certainly help their standing in the world. But I wonder if it would improve their standing in Heaven?