Essays in Idleness


The lies that bind

Up here in the High Doganate, we are discussing whether we should vote “no” to austerity. The Germans haven’t sent us any money. (Well, there was one who sent us 50$, but that was months ago.) We’re wondering if a Greek-style “Big Fat No” might open their hearts and purses. I’m sure they love us (me, purple finches, some other birds up here) as much as they love the Greeks; maybe more.

So there, … we’ve just voted. Me, and after some rhetoric, the finches, … who are parading in celebration on the balconata as I write, like the people in the Plateia Syntagmatos. For after I explained the matter to them, they voted eleven “no,” to seven “yes.” (The rest ate their ballots.) And when the banks finally reopen, hooo are we going to live!

The idea that you are broke, and vote for no more austerity, is so “democratic.” No to austerity; no to paying debts; and no to the rich not giving us more money. I hope you Germans hear that: No, No, No!

Shades of Arab Spring; shades of Orange Revolution; shades of Venezuela. I have noticed, everything that gets the crowds out in political euphoria, ends badly. (Not “almost everything.” Everything.)

As ever, I think of all the people out, across Europe, on all the constitution squares, one hundred and one years ago, demanding that their governments “get tough” with all the other governments. Democracy truly spoke, in the spring and summer of 1914. Seventeen million dead, after all the euphoria. It was not the largest death toll, even to that point in human history. Millions more died in the Taiping Revolt in China, which had ended fifty years before. (That was China’s first essay in popular democracy.) And more, far more, would die in later conflicts.

It is now fifteen years since a socialist government in Greece fudged the national accounts to get into the euro in the first place. And that was on the tail of twenty years’ other fiscal games for subsidies from the EU. It wasn’t just a little lie: some of their numbers were (knowingly) off by an order of magnitude. It is a tiresome business to look back over: lie heaped on lie. And all these men in suits, too polite to call one; too fearful of the mob.

The party that now rules Greece, Syriza (an acronym from the merger of all the battiest, most demonic leftwing parties), has done a remarkable job of splitting the country, in just five months. You’re either with them or against them; they won’t leave you alone. They have every intention of nationalizing everything, and all of their assurances are worthless. The resemblance between Athens and Caracas has emerged: in Tsipras the Greeks have elected another Chavez; another Rattenfänger von Hameln.

I think all democracies end that way.

Honour, and honesty, are personal things, as all the other virtues; a person may have or lack them. Persons may be individually held to account, for what they have done; for the lies they have told. But this is not so for the collective — be it mob, or nation, or corporation. “Collective responsibility” means no responsibility at all. The best we can do is stand back from the mob: not bind ourselves to it.

But there is nothing to be troubled about. The world is as it is, and not different.

Oxi-moron is a bad pun

Vote No, Hellenes: let’s see what happens next. Alternatively, vote Yes: ditto. Either way, their whole country is still bankrupt on Monday morning. I, for one, do not regret the damage they are doing to the euro, the European Union, and various public and private sector banks, quite as much as Christian charity might demand of me. There are people who work in the banks and the bureaucracies whose pain one might feel; European taxpayers stuck with the drubbing; and quite apart from them, the fact that at least some people may have lost honestly-earned life savings — is underappreciated. But this sort of thing happens.

So far as I am aware, no freely-elected government, in the history of the world, has survived the combination of cutting services while increasing taxes on a large scale (absent the prosecution of a world war, but then there is usually no election). This is what their creditors have for some time been asking Greek governments to do. I am able to understand why each of those governments has hesitated to obey. Mr Tsipras, the current prime minister, may be a Marxist loon, but his behaviour in this context is not inexplicable.

The contrary policy has often been attempted, however, and it is a demonstrated vote winner. “Let us all join together and live beyond our means,” might as well be an election slogan. Those with moral stamina may reject this, and vote instead for the mean, tightwad, compassionless rightwing party, but a majority of those without this stamina can be patiently assembled for the Left.

One recalls Theodoros Pangalos — grandson of a frightful military dictator of the same name and Albanian origin, former Greek deputy prime minister, leading light in the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, and begetter of many generous welfare schemes. He once explained how it was that all the money Europeans had “invested” in Greece since 1981 had disappeared, having apparently been used for purposes other than those agreed with the lenders.

“We ate it together,” he said. Adding that, “There are no honest Greeks.”

Perhaps the opponent of every political principle I subscribe to, but one honest man. I wanted to give him an award for candour.

In the same spirit, and on the assumption that all of its members are glued to my Idleblog, I should like to proffer my advice to the current regime. Don’t waste any more time on divisive referenda. Simply remind your creditors how things are. May I suggest:

“It’s true we owe you the money, but quite frankly, we can’t pay. We couldn’t even put a 1.6 billion instalment together, while asking for another 50 billion plus real quick, so take it from there. I’m sure you understand the situation as well as we do. So let’s cut to the chase. We’re not going to pay, and if you have any brains you are not going to lend us another euro. If on the other hand you don’t have the requisite intelligence, please give us another trillion or so, over the next twenty years.”

The bankers could then get busy writing off the debt in its totality; and negotiating with the re-invigorated finance ministers of Italy, Spain, and Portugal. And meanwhile the Greeks could apply themselves to their own next choice — between rebuilding an economy that has taken a hit, as if a war had passed over; or indulging in the kind of hyper-inflation that will eviscerate all economic enterprise, and lead inevitably to bloodshed.

I would recommend the former, but it is up to them. I would propose some Churchillian call, to summon all resources of grit, skill, faith and prayer; or better yet the Adenauer call, to do again what Germany did in the late 1940s: stable currency, enforced rule of minimal laws, no social programmes, very low taxes to compensate, and every man for himself and his family. (Including his extended family.) Make Greece the beacon for a “new Europe,” that works on the principles of the old Europe — which worked.

Start, if you will, with a silver-standard Attic drachma (4.3 grammes), minted with an owl on the reverse, divided into six little button-like obols. Add didrachms and tetradrachms as demand revives, and eventually minas and perhaps even talents.

Meanwhile, if they are truly hungry, we could send them food packages gratis, with notes full of love and encouragement, forgetting their trespasses, as they forget ours.


By way of postscript, let me add that I’ve been glancing towards the Greek Orthodox this last week, to see what their priests and hierarchy are making of events. And I’ve been quite impressed: they act as if no one has heard about any referendum. We need heroism like that in Rome.

Analects of confusion

Today’s household hint will be on computers. Nearly half my life (almost thirty years) I have been in possession of, or been possessed by one. It began with Apples in the old Idler office; it is true that I approved the purchase. By 1987 they were a “necessity” to get a magazine out. Later they were a necessity to keep any job in journalism. Let us fly over details, in a great leap forward to 4th December 1999, the day my elder Wee Tiny Boy (then age thirteen) finally persuaded me that I must have email, too, and access to something I had heard about, which was called the Internet.

He’d already been “on” them for years. People needing to reach me would send an email to my little boy, he’d print it out and walk it down to my office. Often the delivery was made with a droll remark, such as, “You know, dad, the problem with your generation is that you can’t spell.” (He then explained how “spellcheck” was so irritating that one learnt to spell correctly in order to avoid having misspelt words flagged.)

My first experience of that was in a newspaper column I filed, which mentioned the sayings of a certain ancient Chinese philosopher. In print, it came back to me as, The Analects of Confusion. The subeditor in Ottawa told me he had tried to override that twice, but ultimately the machine won.

In Germany, I read (on the Internet) that a factory robot has murdered a human co-worker. Mistook him for a machine part, or whatever. Ah, progress.

I forgot: even before those Idler Apples, I had brief experience of an IBM “PC.” It was very ugly, and the type on the screen was an eerily backlit putrid green, on an interstellar black ground. I hated it quite a lot. The Apples were at least prettier, but harder for me to comprehend. I wrote a short note on this in the Idler. It was a “gender issue,” or so it seemed to me. The IBM was essentially masculine. It asked you questions to which the answer could be either “yes” or “no.” By contrast, the Apple asked more feminine questions, then responded when you tried to answer with the cybernetic equivalent of “getting warmer” or “getting colder.” You had to have a “relationship” with it.

The thing was “networked,” as well, to a couple of other harmless-looking Apples in the office, that could conspire against you. Fortunately we had a hip young gentleman to deal with them. Eric, as he called himself, came from Montreal, where he was used to trouble, and faced every indication of the world’s impending collapse with an almost obnoxious serenity. He rigged the system to prevent common “user errors.” For instance, if you tried to delete a document, a little rectangle would appear saying, “Do you really want to do that?” You hit “yes,” and got another one: “Do you really, really want to do that?” You hit “yes,” and the final one said: “Well, you can’t.”

I remembered him this week when my laptop informed me that I had had something called an “Adobe crash.” My first thought was, “Where’s Eric?” But then I realized I hadn’t seen him for more than twenty years. No doubt he is now wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice.

On further thought, I realized that something wonderful had happened, perhaps the answer to my prayers. Two computer programs had been warring in the innards of my laptop; the bigger had just won. It was now preventing the smaller from functioning. And the smaller program was necessary to play any kind of moving picture. None of those provoking ads would now display, with their soundtracks set to max volume; indeed, nothing that moved on my screen would work, including any kind of video, wanted or not. But nothing that held still was affected. There was a slight downside, in that I could no longer play the latest Chant performances on YouTube, or call up last night’s Bill O’Reilly rant on Fox News. But hey, I have plenty of CDs; and I always knew what Bill was going to say.

Not sure how to advise gentle reader on reproducing this little miracle in his own machine. I think you just pray, informally: “God, these pop-up advertisements are driving me nuts.” And then one of His computer angels comes and fixes it for you. But as I’ve mentioned before in this space, we cannot expect miracles to be reproducible.

I shall take this up with my computer-wizard son when next he calls. I think there’s a million to be made here, marketing a specialized program that nixes anything that moves.


Before starting my daily rant, let me link the two responses to last week’s “gay marriage” ruling of the United States Supreme Court I found most cogent — those of Fr James Schall (here), and Dr Ed Peters (here). The first is a remarkable tour-de-force by one of the finest minds in the Church, still with us; the two together will provide any gentle reader, Catholic or not, with some insight into the heritage of Western legal thinking. Print out in plain typography if you can, in both cases.

“Natural law” is not some “theory,” analogous to the latest fashion from France, but has been through the centuries the foundation of our legal, and by extension political, reasoning — in Holy Church, and by extension throughout the civilization she engendered. To be unfamiliar with it is to be inadequately trained, as a lawyer or politician dealing with any moral question. For even if this heritage is rejected, the grounds on which it is rejected must be clarified, and the question must be answered: “If that is not your authority, what is?”

It has been the counter-heritage of modernity (from, say, Descartes), and then post-modernity (from, say, Rousseau), to reject, without decently confuting, that deeper heritage. By this I mean that the modern refuses even to examine, let alone engage with it. He has the curious confidence that he can wing it on his own, that he can conjure his principles from thin air, without any need to make them consistent with the principles he has previously conjured. Finally, today, as we read in Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion (backed by four nullities who were only there to vote), he can base his decisions only on emotion, on “nice feelings” without reference to any legal code or jurisprudential principles whatever.

This is bad, but in a sense the dissenting opinions were worse. They may show a logical understanding of what the statutes were, and complain that they have been ignored, but they cannot penetrate to the foundations of those statutes. All the legal traditions of the West are thus reduced to a matter of opinion and the passing fad, the opposition to which is purely negative. A credible opposition proposes a positive instead: an alternative understanding of how things are, to stand against how things aren’t.

A third link might be to Prof Edward Feser (here), who presents the situation in popular terms,  by reference to a science fiction movie. We are dealing not with a revolutionary party, but with an establishment that constitutes a closed camp; an establishment that, in an official and officious way, absolutely denies the existence of any coherent reality, beyond what they make up themselves on the fly. (He chose The Matrix; I would have reached a little farther back to Blade Runner for a more subtle prophetic account of the world that lies before us, wherein a long forgotten fixed moral order has been replaced by dubious “memories of love.”)

To my mind, the greatest service the Catholic Church could provide in the present chaos (with the help of other Christians who aspire to orthodoxy) is to resume her ancient educational mission. We cannot “debate” with the Zeitgeist when we do not know with any assurance where we ourselves stand — what we believe, and what are the reasons for our beliefs.

It is a task which cannot, by its nature, be performed through extempore tweets and sound bites. Even if reasonable, or true in themselves, these mean nothing if they are not effectively grounded and qualified. The mass media, and the social media, are not in their nature our allies. We may use them to clash, but they are nearly useless for fundamental instruction. In raising children, it is important that these sources of “information” be unplugged: for we need their whole attention. The connexions we must restore are with reality itself.

Unfortunately, our Church is in a very bad way, and being led farther astray. Her primary method of teaching has always been through the Mass, the liturgy — learning by doing — and this was systematically sabotaged in “the spirit of Vatican II.” Her catechetic instruction is in bad hands: overwhelmingly, people who do not themselves know what they are teaching, and are often bad examples of personal formation. But thanks to God for such documents as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the great wealth of historical materials to which it points in footnotes and internal references, the structure or skeleton of the teaching still holds. Too, the Old Mass is returning.

Our opposition has missiles, we fight hand-to-hand. This is the hard truth of the present situation, in which glib “media” shower their filth “24/7.” Parents have little time with their children under present economic arrangements, when both (if there are as many as two) are off working in environments unrelated to them, or seeking light entertainment themselves, in exhaustion from their jobs. Meanwhile the children are exposed to that filth, on average for six or seven hours per day in North America, according to the last study I saw. And this is supplemented in most cases by more hours of secular schooling, in which they are also taught the interests and attitudes which the Internet embodies for them. They are thus raised as consumers of cheap goods and opinions, the very possibility of coherent thought undermined by ever shorter attention spans.

But this is just where faith comes in: for reality does not change when it is misrepresented. Humans, for instance, remain male or female, children are procreated by one of each — such truths do not go away, when subverted. They will remain true even when the devils in human flesh breed children by incubator: still it will be seed and egg, beyond their comprehension. Good and evil do not change by human re-definition; and neither does the fact of Jesus Christ, by now too well implanted in the knowledge of the world to be expunged from it entirely. He is a fact congruent with everything else we can know about the nature of things, the shape of reality, the inward and outward coherence of a universe not of our making, and of life on Planet Earth.

The task is to teach not how things should be, but how things are. In this we are bound to find divine assistance.

Please pray the Magnificat with me, on this Feast of the Visitation.

Beautiful Dominion

Gentle reader may have guessed, that when I am at a loss to idly comment on the pressing issues of the day, I turn my attention to such as birds and dragonflies. Angels might be mentioned, or perhaps other spirits of the air — the music of The Tempest comes currently to mind on the grand mediaeval theme of Reconciliation — but they require powers of observation quite beyond mine own. Swallows have not been mentioned, though they should have: our Parkdale swallows very much returned from Brazil, and a new generation of them have been swirling with their (oppositely sexed) parents — enlivening both morning and evening dusk as I sip (respectively) coffee and tea.

The city hardly notices what wonders soar above, or play right under its noses. But from this advantaged position, a hundred feet up in my ivory tower, my Taj minaret aloft (floating above the tomb of my earthly hopes), such material realities come into view. These include each month the fingernail moon, and each day a newly painted version of the western sunset. God has favoured me, not only with all this, but with just enough poverty to see it.

Dominion Day is again here; the Parkdale firecrackers announced it last night. Drunks and the bipolar seemed also to be celebrating in the street below, in the wee hours. It is now one hundred and forty-eight years since the instrument of our political Confederation came into effect, which is mistaken by the mob for the origin of our more ancient country.

But as the few educated Canadians know, our country is instead more than four hundred years; the torch carried not by Sir John A. Macdonald, but by Samuel de Champlain from the Old World. He was himself less than thirty years of age when Acadia was first abuilding — this oldest of our “founding fathers,” whose accomplishments in various fields exceed those of all our progressive activists combined, so many times over. In two days we may celebrate the four hundred and seventh anniversary of his, and our first capital, at Quebec. And there she still rides serenely on her cliffs, with her advantaged view over the Saint Lawrence. Perhaps from a sufficient height, bar blindness, one may begin to see Time.

Whatever we may do on the other days, on anniversaries we should look strictly back. “We walk to Heaven backward,” as Blessed John Henry Newman reminds; and can look even for ourselves in memorials. This is just what contemporary Canadians, in the main, refuse to do — or the graduates of our government schools are incapable of doing. The ‘sixties cult of youth is still on us, enforced by sorry old (women and) men. They counsel the youth to look only forward, into vacuity. It is the counsel of annihilation.

But as once again I have nothing to say, that might not be interpreted as raining on a parade — and at the moment there are so many parades to rain on (that’s how you get rainbows, incidentally) — let me add a brief note on Redwing Blackbirds.

Yesterday I walked up Humber way, enjoying the overcast, misty and cool. In the course of less than a mile of this riverside paradise, this verdant arbor of nesting birds, I must have passed through eighteen successive Redwing defensive perimeters. (Perhaps I exaggerate; perhaps not.)

The screeee-am they let out just over your head is something memorable to hear. They save it to the moment they pass over from behind, close enough to fluffle your hair — in the hope, I should think, of inducing a heart attack. It is as good as the sudden announcement of an ambulance (which must trigger many deaths in this way). And better, for our ambulances are not yet equipped to defecate in passing.

One Redwing achieved his pinpoint Stuka hit. Another was trying to pluck my tailfeathers, till he established that I didn’t have any. A third and fourth were a family combination. They executed a magnificent cross-manoeuvre, in which the female screeee’d from above to distract my response, as the male flew directly across my face — planting his red and yellow wingmarks indelibly in my fevered rightwing imagination. How brilliantly combative!

And, O my fellow Catholics and Christians, how useful to study for the days ahead: when the sexual re-educators come for our own children.