Essays in Idleness


Lost tunnels

They’re gone, I think. Not the cockroaches. The exterminators. They’ve moved on. And the water is coming through the taps again, from the other adventure in the High Doganate this week. And everything that had to be removed from every corner (by polite request, backed with the power of law), is back on my shelves and in my cupboards, so that with nothing more than an all-night stand, or two, order is superficially restored. And ho, it even went above freezing today, in the Greater Parkdale Area. Thick overcast and drizzle.

Gentle reader will want to know what the other adventure was; or else he won’t. Either way, I am going to tell him: about tea, and the earthquake. (Tea goes with anything.)

You see, good old G.R., I was walking home, after an exceptionally cold and howling windy day as a street person, the day my flat was “done” by the bug killers. We had all to stay out there, for hours, until the pesticides had settled a bit. I pitied especially those with small children and animals, and thought of all the legitimate refugees in this world. Also, of the illegitimate ones; for the snow, it snows on the just and on the unjust.

And all the way home, through what the British call “brass monkeys,” and for a reason that I will not explain, I was thinking of the chaos I would soon be confronting, in the place where I live; but that the nightmare would soon be over and, “I will make a nice pot of tea.”

Turning into my dear street, I noticed of course the big earth-moving machines, that have been digging it up these last few months (for the fourth time in a few years). Dig, lift, fill; dig, lift, fill; … forever, as in Hell. Something to do with the pipes underground, and how they freeze and crack each winter. For this latest turn, some genius at City Hall has come up with the idea of burying them a few inches deeper.

What surprised me was the new, very large, and impressively deep hole they had excavated, just where the water mains go into my building. Our new superintendent, a sweet yet gritty woman, with no fear of work, was looking into it from the entrance patio she had recently repaired, that had just mysteriously cracked again. (A cracked patio is a magnet for lawsuits.) She had on her worn, worried, sleepless face, an expression of ineffable sadness.

Cheering at the sight of me, she said, “We have decided to install a swimming pool.”

I expressed my preference for a goldfish pond.

“I’ll tell the workmen to change the design.”

So now our water will be shut off “for some time,” I reflected. She confirmed that would be so.

There was another lady standing there, a co-tenant of face quite familiar, who expressed my very most inward thought: how she had been longing for tea, tea, in all her long ambles through the ice and snow. (“Blow, blow thou winter wind.”) I told her that we were in profound agreement.

People are so kind in a disaster. For just before I had entered the fourth stage of mourning (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), she had fetched for me a four-litre plastic bottle, charged with mineral water. And on presenting it she said, “Here, I am over-supplied.” Then added words to the effect that no one could want to make tea from the taps in this building anyway. (Cross-on-the-wall Catholic woman.)


Which takes us to the earthquake.

About Richter Six in magnitude, estimating by the clatter in my crockery cupboard. Caused, I should think, by the giant earth-moving machine, using its immense shovel as a kind of pile-driver, tamping down the earth as the crater it had previously dug was refilled. It felt rather as if the building would come down, imminently, and I pictured all my irreplaceable books in the rubble. Together with their owner.

But no, this building was erected during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and was designed by another generation of builder, to withstand a direct hit from a descending Soviet ICBM. Though I wondered if they’d calculated for a hit from the bottom.

The machines, too, have now moved to the next building, obliterating yet another front lawn, at cost to the unlucky landlord; but the shaking here is now below Richter Five. And after all these months, and months, and months, I am almost accustomed to the noise. (The constant daily mechanical noise of the post-modern city, that keeps our minds off God and our salvation.)

And am once again having a cup of tea, a fine strong Assam, thinking of those cities built before the twentieth century, with the tunnels and the sewer courses run under the streets. Why? So workmen could repair little breaches and blockages without the slightest disruption to life above ground.

And thinking of people like my father, the late industrial designer, who used to preach, “Do it right the first time.”

And of his bearded artist friend (beloved John Sommer), who said, “It is a lie that anything has to be ugly. Everything is made ugly by choice.”

Whole fascinating cities underground, like ant colonies of stone, brick and mortar; sunken canals, tow-paths and arches, deep below “cut-and-cover,” in London, Paris, New York.

And even in Toronto, below the oldest parts of town.

It is true, I am a dreamer, living in the past, oh my!

Death in pearls

George Jonas, along with Catullus and I, had an allergy to prudes. I still have it. As George said, Mrs Grundy disappeared briefly in the 1960s, only to return in the 1970s as Ms Grundy. (I think of George’s brilliant pastiche on Carmen VIII.) It is a Roman and Catholic, anti-Puritan proclivity, to despise prudes, and thus a common property among the truly civilized. Though I must add, in these oecumenical times, that the disease has been entering the Church by stealth.

Of course it would help if people knew what prudery is. It is not defined by its passing targets. It is a mode of pinched disapproval, like political correctness. It can as easily be expressed through a Gay Pride Parade, as by high bonnets and low hemlines. It involves a display of personal virtue. Of all the Presidents of the United States, I think the current one by far the greatest prude: worse even than that whited sepulchre, “Jimmy” E. Carter. (And certainly the most pinched anti-Catholic.)

Prudery finds easy passages in every era, and can invade the moral sense from many sides. Religion becomes bourgeois, and the distinction between sin and virtue is redrawn, corresponding to the distinction between bohemian and respectable. From my reading, all of the Saints were bohemian, and none were prudes. It goes without saying that the Martyrs were, invariably, unrespectable.

Our whole view of “sin” today is essentially prudish. We do not think an act to be wrong on any coherent, catholic (i.e. “universal”) principle. We will abort our own children if they might prove inconvenient to our social standing. But change our view if the process begins to appear “icky.” The prudish mass media — the tabloids especially — home in on something that will turn our soft little tummies. But a sin isn’t a sin because it is icky; rather, a sin is a sin because it is evil.

The first question, from a good Confessor, might well be: “What did it look like?” This may seem a counsel of prudery against scandal, but is actually the opposite. The priest is asking the penitent to stand back from himself, and observe what he did as if he were some other person; to look at the sin “objectively,” thus. Suddenly what seemed small and excusable looks larger and much harder to shrug, and the question of motive may be re-assessed. Why did I do it at all, if I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see me?

But from the Confessional, the whole world looks quite different. We needn’t accuse others to see that this is so. The principle of Mercy towards others begins to shine, with the light directed upon our own souls.

As Mother Teresa said (one of my favourite of her sayings), “I wouldn’t touch a leper for a million dollars.” She could, after all, imagine the bourgeois position, against ickiness. “I only touch him for the love of Jesus.” She was a lady who engaged all her later life in icky operations, right down to taking money from totally unrespectable donors, and shamelessly applying it to good works, while gratuitously praying for the skunks who parted with it only for show.

The audacity with which she walked away from perhaps the most respectable job a woman could have in old Calcutta — memsaab Principal of a high-class girl’s school — and walked straight into the city’s most stinking slum — showed her indifferent to public honour. And then, picking the dying off the street, and taking them home. She had no idea of social advancement; for the penniless dying are not in a position to help one get ahead.

Compared, if you will, with the women in pearls — the church ladies wearing their rosaries, as it were, around their necks as nooses. And sneering, even fibrillating at the gauche; and being somehow not there, in the moments when their Church really needs defending. It would be invidious to associate them with any specific lay order.

Pope Francis is sometimes scintillating good, in condemning this kind of hypocrisy. And sometimes, according to me, he gets it all backwards. Sometimes I discern a fine orthodox intention, gone badly wrong in an “aeroplane” comment. Often I wish he would think before he talks.

Mother Teresa was the mistress of silence in this respect; speaking, for the most part, only in response to a specific request. And with respect to sin, so utterly unsurprisable. It seems easy enough to say, “all men are sinners,” but it is much harder when one considers what we do. The real shame is not before men, however. It is before God — before our heavenly peer, Jesus Christ — who may terribly condemn, but is not prissy.

To “give scandal” by merely leaving an appearance, may plausibly be sinful in many circumstances; but in others may impute only indifference to the prudish crowd, eager to condemn without trial.

To live for appearances, will not do at all.

Peter Paul Rubens is among my heroes, in this respect. He was always turning eyes, if only from his delight in being over-dressed. I should specify that my celebration has nothing to do with his “fat” ladies, either, except that he does rippling naked flesh so well. And there is life in them, as Mother Teresa would say, of the much thinner “babes” her nuns kept discovering, while rooting through the trash.

The parallel struck me once, in “Kolkata” itself (as it has been re-spelt by the nationalist prudes in Delhi), while rooting instead through the treasures of the (formerly “Royal”) Asiatic Society. It is a few blocks away from Mother Teresa’s nunnery, and where I happened to be on the day after her (unwanted) grand public funeral. It contained several sadly peeling Rubens paintings, and other works of his school, imported in the heyday of what was once “the Second City of the British Empire.”

Rubens’s nudes were drawn and painted almost purposely to scandalize the tight-assed Puritans of his day, and generally to disconcert the masses. But that was only a hobby with him. To fully appreciate his gifts, one must look across the whole majestic range of his art, and too, glance through his biography, noting his accomplishments in European diplomacy, his standing as a classics scholar, his heroic loyalty to the Roman Church, and so forth.

O Kolkata! … In so many strange ways, I have thought, she could once have been a second Rome, thanks to the genius of the Bengalis. A city of incredible, shameless juxtapositions, of wealth and poverty, beauty and ugliness, truth and lies. Catholic in her contradictions, and the inward flame of her peoples, whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or Jain. (God I loved that city, which scandalized every tourist with Puritan attitudes towards hygiene.)

The pesticide chronicles

I am pleased to inform gentle reader that I have been allowed back into the High Doganate, and so may now upload another Idlepost. (See yesterday.) All I need is to think of a topic. … Very well then. …

Did you know? That nicotine is a natural insecticide, and cockroach repellant? I knew this, but only vaguely until I looked it up. It was a suspicion that arose from the fact that I don’t have cockroaches (now proved), in a building which is infested by them (as evidence the exterminators who drove us all out on the streets today).

Nicotine may be found not only in tobacco but many other plants. It is the plant’s own protection from insect pests. This is a “duh” proposition. Ingested, it will kill cockroaches; I would tell you how, but it is too gross. A tobacco-rich atmosphere may not kill any, but will at least drive them off, to the flat of the conceited non-smoker next door. (Yet another win/win for tobacco.)

Too, I like to wash things with borax. Borax is good; and harmless in most applications. Do not eat it, however. Cockroaches (and some other insect pests) can hardly taste it. But it is no good for them at all. They are touchie-feelie animals (a cockroach wants to feel surfaces on both sides of him). They spread the residues around, streaking it into all the recesses and cracks where their wives or mistresses and children are hiding. (Female cockroaches are harder to get because they are real home-bodies. One’s roach traps will fill mostly with able-bodied males of military age.)

But if you really want to give your Blattaria a hard time, steep your cigarette butts in water overnight, or longer, and paint the liquid here and there. It’s organic. And it has great staying power. (Come spring, you may want to use it in your garden, too: not on the flowers, which is over the top, but splashed and dribbled in the soil around them.)

My gun-loving readers may prefer the kill-on-contact approach. But stomping cockroaches is a fool’s game; you will never win. They go places where your shoes can’t reach them. And once the light is on, they go there fast.

In my good old days, of childhood in Lahore, some time back in a previous century, all we needed was a spray-can of “Flit,” or DDT. Very quick and effective on the smaller beasties, and eventually on the large. And one didn’t have to move a thing; one just sprayed everywhere. If it got on the plates in the pantry, one gave them an extra wipe. Life was so simple then. Until Rachel Carson came along.

And in my Idler magazine days, we ran an article with the title, “Rachel Carson killed millions.” It was by an Italian gentleman who had calculated the number of Third World deaths that resulted from the U.S. ban on DDT — by adding together the estimated tolls from all the epidemics that could have been prevented by generous spraying of the same. The ban had to be observed by every government that wished to continue receiving Yanqui foreign aid. This in turn was needed in all developing countries, to line the pockets of their ruling classes. Moreover, by obviating work and investment (“capitalism”), it helps keep the poor in their place.

Indeed, one small joy, on my return to the High Doganate this evening, after hours on the street very cold, waiting for the pesticides to settle, was the scent of the place. It reminded me of the DDT of my childhood, and made me feel so nostalgic. Alas, the exterminators wouldn’t let me stick around, to see what they were using. Can I get it in a hardware store, I wondered? Not because I need it; just because I like the smell.

That, and the Dettol, which I praised yesterday.

Big cities. Full of pests. (The Trudeau boy was in town today, as I saw from the widescreen in a hamburger joint, while I was trying to eat. The media actually cheering him at a press conference, as he um’d and ah’d through their softball questions, then tossed us sixty billion from his petty cash.)

And here we are, picking on the smallest. Which does strike me as cowardly, sometimes, and a little unfair.


As the bloguistes like to say, at their most officious, “blogging may be light” for the next couple of days. You see, the High Doganate is located in beautiful downtown Parkdale, which is blest with a rich fauna including various species of flea, fly, louse, bedbug, centipede, beetle, silverfish, gnat, tick, mite, earwig, spider, and of course, cucaracha. Of these last, called in English, Cock Roaches, I believe there are more than a score of species (from out of nature’s thousands) which have integrated well with human life, though our mutual relations are occasionally unhappy.

Meek — their very name in Latin, Blattaria, connotes light-shunning — they are commonly expected to inherit the Earth, thanks to their ability harmlessly to absorb high amounts of atomic radiation. I am told fruitflies can absorb even more, however. They seem also indifferent to climate change, and flourish from the Tropics to the High Arctic. Yes, we are convinced, they will beat us through the next major Extinction Event, and we may imagine them victorious on the other side, grown the size of dinosaurs, and whistling fugally through their spiracles in a most appalling way.

There are some very audible cockroaches, in a couple of places I have lived, though I won’t say much for their musical sensibilities. On the other hand, I gather that Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches are affectionate and diverting, as well as very large, and are popular with the children there, as pets.

Verily, they come large and small. The ones we have in Parkdale strike me as a poor apology for their Order. From those Tropics I was used to them many times the size; and while no one here believes me, I claim to have seen them more than three inches.

Little meat on them, and of no culinary promise, over here. Whereas, the Pong of old Siam were enjoyed roasted: arranged very prettily in spirals on round platters like pizza trays, in the street markets upcountry, though I can’t say I ever sampled any. One eats them “on the shell,” I think.

We Canadians are unimaginative, and will only touch shellfish, or “insects of the sea”; and then only the more adventurous of us. We choose a narrow range even of poultry. This is prejudice revealed, and for all I know, on the analogy of crawfish or lobster, a cockroach prepared by a talented chef might introduce us to a new world of toothsome, delectable tactility and flavour.

Nor, despite our much-boasted multiculturalism, will we cohabit patiently with cockroaches, which we have assigned to various ethnic origins (as German, Austrian, Oriental, &c), allowing none to be native.

I have seen an old cockroach (quite a few million years) encased in amber, and it looked convincing enough, but later learnt it was not a cockroach at all — the evolutionists now claiming such evident Blattopterans were related instead to mantises, and our “modern” ones to termites. I have no opinion, being deeply suspicious of all family trees, including the one my grandpa drew up to show we were descended from the Norman duke, William de Warenne (close buddy of William the Conqueror). I would not be surprised to discover that the biologists had got similarly carried away, and even bamboozled by false inferences from DNA; though I love how the latest evidence tends to controvert all previous. They are so smug, these tedious scienticists, why would anyone believe them?

And whether they (the cockroaches) wear their ovipositors inside or outside their little bodies, makes no difference to me. We find roaches both ways through the fossil record. I doubt it is an evolutionary tag; more an indication of passing fads in nature.

Now, cockroaches aren’t smug at all, in their flat-backed crouching way, and I should say, generally to be preferred to Darwinians. They are also fairly clean animals, in my understanding; and of no great strength, quite incapable of penetrating tin cans and sealed bottles. Most can even be defeated by stout cardboard or burlap, making do with crumbs and globs of grease on the low-hanging fruit principle. And all are inclined to dislike Dettol: especially the undiluted, made-in-India kind. They will not much bother attempting the impossible, or even the disagreeable, and if offered no sustenance, will go, uncomplaining, on their way.

It is a problem with liberals, generally, that they start too generous, and end in a funk. Those on the lower floors of this building would seem to have been over-kind in leaving food out for the insects; but then cried for the management to exterminate them. The result being, that for the next two days, we must deal with the exterminators — a much bigger nuisance than any cockroaches, and far more demanding.

For instance they tell me that by 9 a.m. tomorrow I must have cleared all my closets, cupboards, and shelves, covering everything thus removed with bedsheets, while moving all furniture away from all walls. There are ample food stores in the High Doganate (all adequately sealed by a Christian survivalist), and as I now realize, towards three thousand books. Given the complete absence of cockroaches, I have judged their request to be unreasonable. More yet, they expect me, and all the other tenants, to vacate the premises along with children and pets, for an extended period in sub-zero weather with high winds and the likelihood of snow. It is a good example of the tyranny that Canadians, by habit, just quietly obey. For we have ourselves become a truckling people, much like cockroaches in our hunching way.

But one way or another — to whatever extent I agree to play along — I anticipate much distraction, and even moments of stress and temptation to descend into the use of an impoverished, degraded vocabulary.

George Jonas

It was typical of George to die on the same day as David Bowie. There was an inner modesty about him. And yet, he was capable of gentle admonition, as in this case. The world applauds Bowie, a.k.a. Ziggy Stardust, &c, pioneer of transgenderism in pop music, and a few other things. It was typical of Bowie to die on the same day as George Jonas. He never had any taste.

Today I am writing this for George. Excuse this, gentle reader: for the moment I don’t care much about you. I am writing as I might to George, if only to you. And you may read it, but you may be appalled. It may seem, even by my usual standard, somewhat disjointed. You see, a part of us dies with each close friend, and I suppose we write our own obituaries, from just that part of us which is now dead.

My last call on George, ended in a characteristic way. I shall remember his last words, to me, a couple of weeks ago. At the usual loss for what to say, in delicate circumstances; having held his hand for long minutes in a final handshake; I found nothing to add except, “I love you, George.” He forced me to move my head closer, to hear his reply. It was: “Sentimental fool!”

But I have lost one of my most loyal readers. And he has lost one of his.

Dear, dear, dear George. I have known he was dying for some time: just look at him. Parkinson’s and a few other diseases, like my mama; all fatal, like birth itself.  By the time one is in the hands of the palliative specialists — worse than the socialists in some ways — one has lost one’s freedom of movement entirely. People really must come to you. And the good-byes get longer and more awkward.

He had known he was dying, too, from about the age of three. Though not a religious person — no, not at all, by nature or from his nominally Jewish upbringing either — he was blest with what I would call “spiritual tact.” He had no difficulty understanding religious nutjobs, especially Catholic ones I think; he understood the role of faith in civilization. He, the late John Muggeridge, and I, made one natural conversational trio (or quartet, with Maya, George’s Korean Catholic wife, also among my heroes), in which he was badly outnumbered, but right at home.

He was the classic 1950s liberal, perhaps the last standing. By about a decade ago, the only ones left were all from the old Habsburg domains. Put it on the record that the last was from Budapest. He came to Canada not entirely by choice, after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, at a time when “classical liberals” were still acceptable; they could even get jobs at the CBC. From right here in Toronto, he watched Western Civ dying.

Suffice to say, a classical liberal is only one degree from a wild reactionary, by the notions of the present day. He believes, for instance, in right and wrong.

An incredible guy. Spoke perhaps three words of English when he landed in Canada. (“Though not fluently.”) Within a few years he was writing poems in our language: good ones. By the time he gave up writing last fall — once again, not entirely by choice — he was the best prose stylist left in what is left of our periodical press, with more than half a century behind him as one of the best writers in English (anywhere).

There is a fine obituary of him by Joseph Brean in the National Post (here), where his column last appeared. Gentle reader (if he hasn’t turned away) may find several amusing Jonas anecdotes over there. I should like to take issue with only one statement. Brean says Jonas was “at heart a newsman.” I don’t think that is true. He was at heart a poet and a thinker, who got involved with broadcasting and newspapers not entirely by choice.

But a brick; an infallibly reliable hack whenever called upon (as by my old Idler magazine, on topics from the opera to abortion). The only deadlines he ever missed were not entirely by choice, either.


It is nearly half a century, now, since I first met George Jonas (1935–2016). I had been dropped from the sky into a Canadian high school (not entirely by choice), and was a nerd who wore a corduroy jacket, and read a lot. (Age fifteen.) He was in the pages of The New Romans: Candid Canadian Opinions of the United States, an anthology of anti-American twaddle, now long forgotten, edited by the late beloved Al Purdy. The bias of the work wasn’t Purdy’s fault. Then, as now, Canadian “intellectuals,” including especially the nasty draft dodgers we took in from the USA, were shameless anti-American bigots. Except, in this book, there was one discordant page.

It was a poem by George Jonas. It was about crossing the border to visit an American woman, and was ribald. It touched on American Imperialism, e.g. “See not her battleships but hear her battlecries, / And melt (perhaps with a wistful smile) / Before the native napalm of her eyes.” … (The ribald bit turned on the phrase, “The world’s longest undefended border.”)

It was the perfect act of droll mockery, undermining all the other contributions. And it is the one piece in that yellowed paperback that still lives.

I wrote a fan-letter. He wrote a very kind reply. We were friends for life.


There are something like sixteen books in his bibliography, several of them investigative potboilers — factual crime thrillers — from which he made a lot of money. They’re good, too, especially as they show the fine working of his Sherlock Holmes mind. George may have been the only writer in Canada capable of formal logic. He applied it to questions of the day, and was therefore among the most effective analytic thinkers, though always with that veneer of self-deprecating charm. I think two of his latest books are for the ages.

One is, The Jonas Variations: A Literary Seance (2011). It is autobiography on the highest level. George pays homage not to the most “beautiful” or outwardly “meaningful” poems he has ever read — in quite a few languages — but to those which have mysteriously stuck with him. It is a collection of translations, playful imitations, variations and even refutations, woven together not only by the author’s unmistakable personality, but by a delightful running commentary of memoirs, vignettes, and useful thumbnail sketches.

So that, although it looks like an anthology, it should be read from front to back like a novel. The book not only presents a gallery of poems, but embodies an overall poetical structure; in the genre of Dante’s Vita Nuova, a pattern larger than its parts; a hidden integration. Yet it “wrote itself,” too, in the way Jonas introduces one of the items:

“Piloting a small plane on a hot summer day from Toronto to Windsor, the drone of the engine insisted on repeating the opening words of Herbsttag, one of Rilke’s frequently anthologized poems. Herr-es-ist-Zeit, Herr-es-ist-Zeit. …”

By the time he landed, the twelve German lines of Rilke’s “Autumn Day” had become English. Jonas entered them in his pilot’s log, crediting the translation to a four-cylinder Lycoming aero-engine.

Lord: It is time. The summer was fair.
Rest your shadow on the sundial’s face,
Release the autumn breezes in the air. …

The other book is his formal autobiography, Beethoven’s Mask: Notes on My Life and Times (2005). But that is really a biography of the twentieth century; and an extremely knowing one.

It wasn’t written for cash; it is too entertaining for that, and the chapter offering his father’s droll apophthegms on various subjects is (for example) hysterically funny. But I would recommend the book instead as a means to understand what happened at large, on the skin of our common planet. Passages of pure and very sober reflection are intermixed with lyrical and sometimes terrifying memoir. And all a kind of libretto for a music one may almost hear.

“My father’s generation tried to explore reality. Mine tried to exploit it. My son’s generation preferred to simulate it.” He finds no ambition in the risen generation: they take no risks, and therefore assume no serious responsibilities. They derive their excitement from video games, and fear the direct encounter. In the end, they have no regard for truth, no stake in it. Looking farther, over the generation of his grandchildren, George said, “I spawned a tribe of virtual people.” He is not speaking only for himself, but within a larger discussion of what history is, and how it will not go away.

I mention these, of course, in addition to his poems, to be bought and treasured wherever they turn up, in any form. His short-run early collections, which I faithfully collected, are almost unobtainable today. His Selected Poems 1967–2011 was very recently published by something called Cormorant Books; there was a little informal launching for it last month by his deathbed. (Buy it here.)


George had a heart attack nearly twenty years ago, in Arizona I think it was. He looked not too much worse for wear, when we next met at The Coffee Mill. But he had given up cigarettes, and was eating, for lunch, some special preparation that appeared to be toast, onions, spinach, and perhaps an anchovy. We called this stalwart, venerable Toronto institution “The Heart Attack Café” thereafter, in honour of that dish, which I also tried from sheer curiosity. Our conversation that day passed over many things, before we walked out onto Yorkville Avenue.

At the corner of Hazelton, where he turned north, we were chatting about the craft of obituary-writing. He complimented me on some obituary I had written on a common friend. Somehow the fact that he was also mortal came into it. I hoped that I would never have to write an obituary of him.

“But if you do,” George said, “make it a good one.”

Here I must break off. I am sorry, George, I just can’t do that today.

Earthquake planning

For a dead obvious reason, it will not be possible to have a public discussion, or “debate,” about the social crisis in Germany brought on by mass Muslim immigration; or anywhere else in Europe, for that matter; or in Canada, or in the USA. Alas, what seems obvious to me, does not so seem to many other people. So I will try to explain.

It begins with an extraordinary event. I do not mean the New Year’s sexual assaults on a few hundred women in the middle of Cologne; or those in many other trans-Alpine European cities where Muslim “refugees” have recently arrived in extraordinary numbers. This could easily have been anticipated by anyone who had even a modest understanding of the situation. With cases of rape and sexual assault already skyrocketing in all European countries with significant Muslim immigration, prior to the annus horribilis of 2015, such events were a certainty. I was myself entirely unsurprised; just as I was unsurprised by the events of 9/11 in 2001. Indeed, I had publicly predicted (well, in a bar) that the Islamists would try it again, after the earlier hit on the World Trade Centre, in 1993: “They have selected an iconic target, and they will strike and strike again, until they have brought that sucker down.”

No: mass rape and sexual assault on Europe’s (non-Muslim) women was a done deal, from the moment each European government bought into the idea of replacing their aging labour forces, to pay for their welfare entitlement programmes, by throwing their doors open to young male immigrants from the Middle East. “They” were invited to do “our” work for us. (Sounds like too good a deal, no?) Of course, they might have other ideas; and the specific idea of a Muslim occupation of Europe goes back nearly fourteen hundred years.

That such young men would, so very often, forsake work for welfare, came as something of a surprise to the liberal, tolerant, smarming elites. And more, that they would justify this on the immemorial religious ground, that while Muslims must submit to Allah, Infidels must submit to Muslims. Including sexually, in the case of Infidel women.

I was not even surprised by the smugness of people capable of ignoring such basic realities. I first encountered it many years ago, in its most incurable form, chatting with Israeli liberals. There is the old saw, “A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged”; but these people had been mugged, and were still liberal. One dinner I remember vividly in a Jerusalem suburb with a peace-activist couple. They wanted the borders to “Palestine” opened.

“You are already in Palestine, from a Palestinian perspective,” I noted, without drawing a response.

At one point I was rude enough to say: “I can’t understand. You are living one kilometre away from people who want to kill you, and vow to do so when they get a chance. And you want the border opened.”

There was some blather about having to make the first gesture in negotiations for “peace.” I had heard this from every American Secretary of State, except Reagan’s George P. Schultz, along with the words “two state solution” — but they could be partly forgiven for living far off in Cloud Cuckooland, and not knowing what they were talking about. Whereas, these people could not help knowing. So I gave up on them, and we spent the rest of the evening in a pleasant chat about art and archaeology (they admired the design of Crusader castles); during which, as I recall, I had only once to suppress the remark, “You’re not really Jewish, are you?”

How can people be so blind: not to minor passing spectacles, but to questions of life and death? How can they not see what is before their eyes, and bigger than anything else on the horizon?

But with post-modern liberalism, disarmed by “political correctness” (far too mild a term for this powerful drug), this is no aberration but a mode of being. Or so I have observed.

Which takes me towards what surprised me this week. Not the events in Cologne, which we now learn also happened in many other cities as part of their New Year’s celebrations; rather, the complete media silence.

I can understand Merkel’s government not wanting to talk about it; I can understand liberals, generally, preferring some other topic; but I could not understand how the entire German mass media, on nominal “right” and “left” alike, and I assume with little cross-consultation, agreed to shut the story down as if it had not happened; consciously lying to report that there were “no incidents” that night. And in the same Germany whose motto, seventy years ago, was, “I did not know.” Three full days they kept it clamped — right across the Bundesrepublik (138,000 square miles, 80 million inhabitants) — until the growing buzz on “social media” made disclosure unavoidable.

Since, the right-thinking people have tried other common forms of denial: to diminish the significance of the story; or bluster the most trivial details; or transfer blame from the perpetrators; or re-bury the story in the face of reader interest; or change the angle to “hate speech,” defined to include any form of opposition to correct, right-thinking thought.

The chief of Cologne’s police was removed, after he complained that he never had the resources to deal with mob violence on so large a scale; and the government at Berlin got Google, Twitter, Facebook, &c, to agree to censor “hate speech” on their lines, in precisely the way the Chinese government gets social media providers to delete any dissident voice, in China.

Germany’s Justice Minister, Heiko Maas — already on record with the most fatuous statement about the Muslim “wildings” (he attributed them to “organized crime”) — then topped himself. He said that this censorship has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It is merely designed to prevent the “far right” from speaking freely in social media; which are the only part of the media from which they are not already excluded.

Which is to say, it had everything to do with freedom of speech.

I mention Maas because he gives such prize examples for both of the tactics liberals use, in reply to any cogent argument: 1. unctuous preening and strutting and, 2. personalized smearing. (I have been unable to discover a third, in the course of my decades of journalistic experience.)

But again, I could hardly be surprised to learn that the German progressive elite consists entirely of drooling, malicious idiots. For this I also already knew. Rather, my gobsmackling came from the discovery that their hold on power is so complete. I could actually convict myself of being naïve.

On the other hand (neither having been amputated by the Shariah specialists), I must admit that this is a rather old tale. The secular state, whoever governs, has always had interest in silencing opposition to its monopolist claims, or to its worldview, however trite. Moreover, its vanity is especially teased by revelations of its own stupidity and incompetence. It seeks, instinctively by tyrannical means, to advance stupidity all round, churning mud to move it past each successive obstacle.

I would guess that the government solution — in every jurisdiction of the Western world — will be to hurl countless additional billions at “counselling” for Muslim immigrants, who have behaved in what the Nanny State considers to be naughty ways. And I can safely predict that the result will be to aggravate the tensions. Not some, but all reasonably intelligent Muslims will see through this fey act — to convert them from Islam to the liberal vacuity. Increasing numbers will then turn to the more radical imams, for more effective remedial counselling. The result will be the exact opposite of each government’s stated aim. Yet each may prevail, because every alternative idea of the native Europeans — such as, “Islam is Islam is Islam” — will be smeared, and unctuously and preeningly strutted down.

Eventually, the upward pressure of fact will overcome the “official” pressure downward, and there will be an earthquake. Perhaps the initial signals have already been felt. But those who look forward to the full subduction, have even less happening in their brains than the hallucinogenicized liberals.

On waminals

As a proponent of Idleness I may not be well placed to rant against Complacency. But gentle reader must be made to allow the possibility that no inconsistency pertains. For, my love, you must see that the terms are applied to quite different waminals (as my blessed younger son, when little, used to call “things”). The Idle are so with respect to the interior spiritual life, of prayer and contemplation, in which we stray from the vexations of this world. One might, from that spiritual angle, describe this as an extremely active Idleness, but let us not split hairs.

For when it comes to waminals, as my beloved Sengai liked to point out (Japanese Zen abbot, 1750–1837), there are a million hairs in the coat of each lion; and on the head of each hair, a million lions dancing. (He is often very Catholic.)

Things are, and likely will remain as they are, externally, where one may endure with the grace of detachment. Yet the moral order is such that we must sometimes intervene in exterior events — for instance, by making food and eating it. Too, there are instances when we are called to witness to some basic truths, or Truth. I could make a longer list, bridging these two examples.

What we have around us in our world today (and possibly throughout the historical past) is Complacency without Idleness.

Our contemporaries — not all of them, of course, but an overwhelming majority — just want a quiet life, easy money, and good health ending with a painless death in their sleep. (I wouldn’t mind this, myself.) And for all I know, there may be people who score all three. But this is not what Jesus promised to his followers.

It is an open question, however, whether such a victory is good or bad luck. I would close the question by saying, from what I can see, that it is bad luck, in the main; and worse to crave what no other waminals will satisfy.

Victory in that trifecta will not come through prayer; for that is not the sort of thing for which prayers are answered. And while grace is conferred upon us by the divine — so often and, I should think if we could see it, always, in answer to our prayers — it cannot be “earned,” either. For I have had too much experience of grace conferred despite my silence, and complacency, and manifest unworthiness. The trick here is only to notice: first, that in the longer view of waminals, we often or always get better than we asked. Second, that a certain Idleness or detachment is required, to begin to discern how things are, in this vale of tears.

Sometimes, a violent painful death may be a good thing. And here I do not mean for others; for it is easy enough to see who else needs hanging. Rather, sometimes it might be better for us, in that long view of things, to enter the Purgatorial fire a little ahead of our bodily translation. (We ourselves cannot know, finally, what is for the best.)

Christ, we might note, did not choose an easy life, and neither did he find a “nice” way of dying. That he did not devote his life to getting rich, will perhaps also be conceded. (Nor in Scripture nor Tradition do we find Him whining that others got rich on Him.)

He did good works, too, according to his means. (Hence the miracles.)

To witness to the Truth — in so many ways, in so many situations — is not to be “an innocent bystander.” We are not to give evidence in some celestial court of law. We are instead to hear the evidence against us, where the only judge will be Christ Himself; and in the recollection of all our crimes, we will hear whether He still wants to know us.

I think this is important. I think that Complacency is among the easiest crimes. But what down here is easy, may not be so in the world to come.

An axiom

When a Muslim loses his cultural moorings, he becomes a murderous psycho. When a Christian loses his cultural moorings, he becomes a suicidal putz. I think this helps explain a few things in the news.

Actually, it is a bit of an overstatement. In reality, most of either religion, in the course of losing their moorings and the use of their minds, become merely sad cases. And that makes a third, “silent majority” post-religious group: the spiritually numbed Consumers, of whatever has been well-advertised. It includes, too, mentally vagrant former Jews, Buddhists, Animists, &c. They may count for zero as “involved” human individuals, but are easily manipulated in the mass; so long as the manipulation does not require of them any serious beliefs, constructive will, or character.

I suppose, on this chart, some hardened Atheists should be acknowledged. But they, too, are to be distinguished between the real ones — Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and so forth — and the great horde of gentle “agnostics,” whom we may file with the Consumers. Disoriented Muslims have anyway replaced the hardened Atheists in our Western annals of “cool.”

It is for this reason I’m inclined, albeit in an ironical way, to flatter the Islamic terrorists. They have, even by the teachings of Islam, gone rather beyond their remit. But at some level, a man must be sincerely wilful, to slaughter his fellows while crying, Allahu Akhbar! … Or even to storm the “German-looking” women in the Cologne railway station.

And note, if he blow himself up, it is expressly to the end of blowing up others. It isn’t “suicide” in the received sense, which Islam fulsomely condemns. It is rather more impersonal. As T.G. Masaryk pointed out (well before Durkheim), “Suicide is the ultimate subjective act; murder is the ultimate objective act.” If these be the terms, I would have to count a suicide bombing as “objective.”

Nor, one might argue, is it rape or sexual assault, in the old sense — what the young “refugee” lads are doing in Cologne, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Stockholm, Oslo, Rotterdam, Bradford, Glasgow, Marseilles, Turin, and so forth, as far under the media radar as our liberal media can keep it. (But through the Internet grapevine, I think I must have seen reports from every West European city, by now.) The assailants have in common that they are all technically Muslim, and that the attacks are almost invariably performed by feral groups: something between five and thirty assailants per female target. Yet I’d be the first to declare that they are not strict, traditionalist Muslims, but “post-religious” come off the Shariah hinge — not yet quite so far as the suicide bombers, yet on the same side of the doorway.

This is proving something exceptionally hard to police. It is a melding together of psychopathy with consumerism. No member of the bang-gang acts on his own impulse. As if answering an advertisement, each simply “buys in.”

It is “post-Islam” in a peculiarly democratic, Westernized form. It is like our old hippie phenomenon, but with a new conception of “free love.”

Forty years on

One could easily say too much, write too much. My old hero, Thomas Ernest Hulme, who died young in the Great War, warned me against this when I was quite young. In the book Speculations (1924), which Herbert Read scrabbled together from Hulme’s loose papers published here and there, and notebooks published nowhere, I found an extremely clear and, in retrospect, somewhat simplistic account of an attitude towards the world which Hulme identified with Pascal. It provided an “epiphany” to me: a manifestation of something. It “showed” to me something I thought I already knew, but did not know.

Here follows the passage that I was reading, in of all places the Victoria and Albert Museum’s art library, some forty years ago, precisely. I may have quoted it before, in which case it is re-quoted. It comes from draught papers on, “Humanism and the Religious Attitude,” written in a style intentionally vulgar. (Hulme, a big man from Staffordshire, like Samuel Johnson before him, hated jargon, and cant, and miserable small lies. And large ones.)



“The whole subject has been confused by the failure to recognize the gap between the regions of vital and human things, and that of the absolute values of ethics and religion. We introduce into human things the Perfection that properly belongs only to the divine, and thus confuse both human and divine things by not clearly separating them. …

“To illustrate the position, imagine a man situated at a point in a plane, from which roads radiate in various directions. Let this be the plane of actual existence. We place Perfection where it should not be — on this human plane. As we are painfully aware that nothing actual can be perfect, we imagine the perfection to be not where we are, but some distance along one of the roads. This is the essence of all Romanticism. Most frequently, in literature at any rate, we imagine an impossible perfection along the road of sex; but anyone can name the other roads for himself. The abolition of some discipline or restriction would enable us, we imagine, to progress along one of these roads. The fundamental error is that of placing Perfection in +humanity, thus giving rise to that bastard thing Personality, and all the bunkum that follows from it.

“For the moment, however, I am not concerned with the errors introduced into human things by this confusion of regions which should be separated, but by the falsification of the divine.

“If we continue to look with satisfaction along these roads, we shall always be unable to understand the religious attitude. The necessary preliminary preparation for such an understanding is a realization that satisfaction is to be found along none of these roads.

“The effect of this necessary preparation is to force the mind back on the centre, by the closing of all roads on the plane. No ‘meaning’ can be given to the existing world, such as philosophers are accustomed to give in their last chapters. To each conclusion one asks, ‘In what way is that satisfying?’ The mind is forced back along every line in the plane, back on the centre. What is the result? To continue the rather comic metaphor, we may say the result is that which follows the snake eating its own tail, an infinite straight line perpendicular to the plane.

“In other words, you get the religious attitude; where things are separated that ought to be separated, and Perfection is not illegitimately introduced on the plane of human things.

“It is the closing of all the roads, this realization of the tragic significance of life, which makes it legitimate to call all other attitudes shallow. Such a realization has formed the basis of all the great religions, and is most conveniently remembered by the symbol of the wheel. This symbol of the futility of existence is absolutely lost to the modern world, nor can it be recovered without great difficulty.”


I was not yet a Christian when I read this, and would have laughed if told I was about to become one.

Would have laughed, perhaps less uproariously, had I been told I would find myself lying in a hospital among terminal cases, in four weeks’ time. For that, not Christian conversion, was the next “big thing” to happen in my little life (helping to focus me from another angle).

Moreover, as a (Catholic) Christian now, I realize that human life is not essentially tragic, nor futile. In this sense, the religions of the West differ from the religions of the East, though it could be said that they start with the same human consciousness, drawn in the passage above. But Hulme claimed only to be inditing the “preparation for” a transcendent or religious view of life. It really was a pity he died in the trenches of the Western Front. I should have liked to meet him as an old, old man.

Put another way, the penny dropped for me while I was reading that. Curiously, at the time I was also reading Kant’s Critique of Aesthetic Judgement (in Meredith’s translation), from day to day in the same library. That was the prolegomena to Hulme’s prolegomena: that steam-train of Kant’s. Other “pennies from heaven” drop on other people in other ways.

What I recall most vividly, on this fortieth anniversary of the beginning of my slide into the Christian religion, was the darkness on the steps as I was leaving the Museum. I was in a state of complete bafflement, from the knowledge that I had just “lost my faith.” For my trust in Atheism had been completely shattered.


I note, in Breitbart, which I’m coming to prefer to Drudge for hard news, the report of a talk that Justice Antonin Scalia gave at a school somewhere in Louisiana. I am a great fan of Scalia, in the balance, though in moments I’ve accused him of being a wuss. He was on form at Archbishop Rummel High School, however, explaining how, in the USA Constitution, there are no restrictions on the public profession of the Christian religion. The limitation is only on the Government, which may not prefer one denomination to another. The Establishment Clause in the First Amendment is very easy to read and understand. The persistent attempts by Messrs ACLU and others to misconstrue it, in frivolous cases brought before the American courts, should therefore (to my mind) be severely punished.

But more, as Justice Scalia put it, there was always “a presumption of the benefit of religion for society.” Even that limousine liberal, Thomas Jefferson held this; and even nearing the peak of Enlightenment provocation, the American “fathers” were transparently Anglo-Scotch in their choice of “enlightened” reading; not bloodthirsty revolutionist French. They knew their society was by inclination Christian, by the standard of centuries, and were not proposing to exchange “the people” for some other of their own invention.

Natted States Merica was established as, “One Nation under God.” As Scalia says, she has honoured the (Trinitarian) God, and God has been good to her in reply. (There are several patriotic anthems to clinch this.)

To Scalia’s remarks (as reported) I would add that the authors of that First Amendment, as well as the full Constitution before, can be shown plainly to encourage the manifestation of religious faith, as the very embodiment of civic freedom. This is quite apparent to me in its construction, which protects expression of religion first, then adds free speech, free press, free assembly, free petitioning, free everything.

The whole purport is to protect the (presumably Christian) citizen against the power of a necessarily profane Government; and in the Second Amendment this is extended to free guns, or rather, the right to own and bear them. I might not myself think all this was wise — I would have argued for the Establishment of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church (probably without much success) — but I can read, and I find what was written in the First Amendment expressed succinctly. Let the atheist filth try to abrogate it.

Moreover, as an old-fashioned British Imperialist, I will take my signal from George III, whose final judgement was, in effect, “Let America be America.” (And even though, as a Jacobite, I need pay no attention to him.)

If you don’t like the States, don’t live there. If you live there, remember that their Constitution is Queen, or rather, has the Monarchical Power. President and Congress and even Supreme Court are expressly limited. If you want a “living constitution” that changes, then get a Queen and give her absolute powers. Indeed, get a whimsical one. (Well, I suppose that was what they were trying when they elected Lord Barack.)

Alas, these days, it takes a lot of words to explain very simple things to Americans. It takes even more if you have Canadians to deal with: all wet and cotton woolly up here. (We do not have even one warm bottom on our supreme bench with any sense at all.) … And the Europeans, hooo. …

But now I am straying from Scalia’s main point. The USA Constitution gave, in particular, no right to Government (federal or state) to “cram atheism down the throats of an American people that has always honoured God.” This is about as opposite to the intention of that Constitution as can be got; and needs rather more than “criticism.”


It is the Twelfth Day of Christmas, leading to Twelfth Night, which is by tradition, Merry. We are in liturgical error if we are not still Merry, this twelfth day in. Verily, the Christmas season extends to Candlemas, which is four weeks more. In defiance of this world, we must remain Merry. For it is no time to be dour. Even the Friday of Our Saviour’s execution, was accounted Good. But we remain till Lent in the state of, Merry, for we commemorate the coming of that Saviour into our world.

As a Christian Traditionalist (and thus unambiguously Catholic) I insist that we try harder. Prayers, too, will bring God to our aid from merrily on high. Enough of this timorous introversion in the expression of our Christian Faith. When the sort of glum idiots that Scalia is opposing stand in our way, let us merrily bulldoze through them!

The market for newes

“Put him into the pot for garlic,” was a nice Jacobean way to dismiss the more vexing news-mongers. Their stench would season the olla podrida.

Oh yes, they had them then: “journalists.” Ben Jonson, the sparkling ingenious playwright and Recusant, then turncoat, has much to say of them. This is not only in his play, The Staple of Newes, designed to settle a few scores. There are poisoned asides in all his other plays, for the whole race of newsmen. This man of London, or city boy, presents in his verses, dramas, and masques, a vision of the City at a time when a couple of hundred thousand could generate the cultural life of a couple hundred modern cities with more than a million inhabitants, each. (But for our contemporaries, “progress” can be measured in numbers, only.)

And for sure, he presents this very specific City of London as a small town, with its lanes and taverns, shops, churches, and houses both great and small. And while it is full of newes, there is a specific market where this commodity is bought and exchanged. It is in lanes near St Paul’s Cathedral, which is to say, near where books are sold; yet it is not to be confused with the market for books. For the newes, in the generation before the corantos flourished, was still generally written by hand, by hacks in the service of patrons; and whether official or often quite unofficial, read by specific paying subscribers; and only then sometimes, read aloud to the non-literate types, who would sometimes (directly or indirectly) actually pay to listen.

The story-telling skills were more developed then. People then as now wanted to hear a story, of the life a cut above their class; it was before the fact-checkers spoilt everything. The “relaters” still had some “poetic licence”; a “licence to kill,” as it were. But elegantly, not the crass way they do it today, in lying TV docu-dramas.

A man of that age would not associate the news with print, or any other mode of conveyance. It was something in itself. Rather than image a news-sheet, or a town crier, he would think of it as words, words, and rumour. The illiterate mind loves to imagine, and dream in fecund breadth for itself; the peasant literate mind demands spoon-feeding, the same sludge as his neighbour.

The market itself became more complicated, as a profession of independent news agents sprang up, who took pride in their access to sources within all the “three religions” of sad, merry London — “the Puritan, the Protestant, and the Pontifical” — with their respective connexions abroad. And who were too cynical to remain devout in any one. (Ah, modernity.)

It took me once thirty meandering lectures to give the fondest outline of the “evolution of journalists” between then and now. (King’s College, Halifax, 1991.) Each was the rough biography of a single prized “journalist” through the intervening half-generations, from such as Nash and Dekker, Dunton and Defoe, Steele, Addison, Swift, Johnson, &c; down to such as Mencken and Muggeridge, or my token Canadians, Bourassa and Needham. Plus rambling asides on their parallel Continentals. There was an extended note on Cardinal Richelieu as journalist, I seem to recall; and a long rant in praise of my beloved Karl Kraus. (I have no text because none was ever written; the whole series was delivered extempore.)

Looking back, I see that I had it badly wrong. The men I selected (along with a woman or two) were all writers, of great talent, adapting to the periodical genre, and consistently enlarging upon its possibilities. In each half-generation, however, the real journalists were nobodies: not worth remembering, as they are truly not remembered. Flunkeys, of one kind or another; “copy boys” as we used to say. Minions, hirelings, footmen, slaves.

We have today, owing to mental depravity, little ability to distinguish a thing from its passing physical representation. Hence the “histories of journalism” that I despise, which focus entirely on the technology. This has left us in a quandary when the newes once more has changed in outward form. People like me, attached to the craft of typography, have trouble dealing with the reversion to reporting in its earlier manner, though now on a “global village” scale.

I could accuse myself thus of being a secret Statist, for the whole tradition of journal-ism — that is, the presentation of news in established periodicals — begins with the post-Reformation claims of guvmint. Every Coranto, Gazette, Diurnall, Mercury, News-Letter, with some hope of surviving, was “Published by Authority,” or pretended to be; and this in every European realm, not only in England. (Amsterdam was something of a chaotic exception.) Each enjoying the use of the Gutenberg device had a “take” on the news, and like mainstream journalism today, it was invariably the same take. Hence the royal coat-of-arms in the title of the old Times, and the papers in all the leading county towns. Then, as now, deviants from the official line were hunted down within a few issues; sent to the stocks or the Tower; or at least, “named and shamed.” (On balance, this was for the best.)

Early American papers, both royalist and revolutionary, were more lively, perhaps; though with the passage of years they became ever more stultifying, in obsequious obedience to the progressive Zeitgeist. It is like that today in Europe, too: the Zeitgeist consistently honoured in its processions, on both its Left and Right sides; Absolute Zeitgeist having replaced Absolute Monarchy.

All governments, in the time since the Reformation, when her real estate was violently seized from Holy Church, and worldly Power monopolized  by the rulers of the new Nation States, have tried to corner all the markets, too. All have attempted to spiritualize the material, in the act of appropriation. Few have been shy.

But the thing itself, newes, is only a commodity, belonging like any other in a “market” as the Jacobeans still understood; and we need no more puff the news-writers and their proprietors than we celebrate the dealers in pork-bellies, or vegetable oils. If they are interesting, it will be for some other reason, such as the adventures they get into. The buy-and-sell of anything that has been reduced to a commodity is boring, except as a means to wealth and power.

The earlier “journalism,” going back into the Middle Ages, was mostly for merchants. Great families such as the Fuggers of Augsburg, or the Medicis of Florence before them, operated widespread, international intelligence services, for their private commercial ends. Indeed, all the good news journals since that time have been business newspapers, whose subscribers have consisted of businessmen and statesmen alike, who need to know what is actually going on. The “masses,” by contrast, have always been gulls, to be entertained with mindless sensations, and thereby commercially or politically manipulated and exploited. (Perhaps I am with Chomsky, here.)

One might almost say that there is nothing new under the Sun.

Wallace Stevens said memorably that, “prose is the Official View of Being. Poetry is the unofficial view.” The former can become jokey; genuine satire is possible only in poetic verse or prose, directed to those with supple mental capacities. (Rhyming jingles count as prose in this scheme.) The progress of “journalism” itself has consisted in the elimination of poetry, and with that the descent of man into an ever darker Dark Age.

On grouseness

Grouse are “adapted” not only to an environment, but also to being grouse. This has been overlooked in most current researches. There is something remarkably grouse-like in their overall pattern and behaviour. They seem to know that they are grouse; to be content with that identity; willing to live, and also to die, in the condition of grouseness. Foragers of the wild will have noticed that they taste like grouse, too.

One may make no sense whatever if one takes them to be something else. They will persist in their grouse-like partialities, and in point of fact will remain distinctly, univocally, unambiguously, grouse — even if we try to persuade them that they are, say, cockatoos.

Some other creature might invade their peculiar ecological niche; might even do so successfully. The grouse will respond to that invasion, implacably, as grouse. They will, should it come to that, go down as grouse. They will under no circumstance attempt to transform or metamorphose themselves in response to such a crisis. They will not even consider such a proposition. It would be strictly fight or flight, on grouse terms.

Should they flee, it will be to the sort of territory they find agreeable to themselves, as grouse. They will even go in search of such territory. But suppose they cannot find a suitable new abode, they would frankly rather starve than cease to be grouse. Indeed, contra Darwin, they are totally opposed to adaptation, and to liberalism of any other sort. (This is among the reasons I admire them.)

They believe in their gods; they recognize their angels. More: they trust them. Asked to evolve some new characteristic, by any other authority, they will ignore the instruction. They could never think of such a thing, themselves. More likely, such a development might occur to the grouse archangel (who would report it upward); or be discussed among the lesser grouse angels, assigned by God to look out for grouse interests on the metaphysical plane, and therefore always gravely concerned with correctly interpreting the details: the signs of the times from a grouse point-of-view

Yet even in such a case, the new character, or species, would emerge from the underlying grouseness of these creatures, and appear as an extension of the grouse repertoire. It would be all of a piece with the grouse ontology; with the beingness of grouse. For in this, as in all other angelic orders, operating within the dance of time, there is consistent, creative adherence to a living tradition.

And in this case, to the grouse tradition.


Now, while I may surmise all this, in my contemplation of grouseness, I must not be reckless. I must tell gentle reader, quite plainly, that I am devoid of insights into how the angelic and creaturely orders interact, beyond the fact that they do. Nor can I have much to say on the hierarchical order of the grouse angels, abstracted in themselves. In this world we chiefly discern effects, seldom causes. These latter we may often not even detect, except in the most general way, through our taxonomic studies.

That there is indeed some kind of archangel, who looks out for the grouse order at large, from prairie chickens in the south to ptarmigans in the far north of our northern hemisphere, is evident not only to sight and outward experience but more recently to studies in the sequences of mitochondrial DNA. This much is obvious.

Somewhere in the middle we have dusky grouse, ruffed grouse, sooty grouse, hazel grouse, spruce grouse, willow grouse, sage grouse, and so forth. And let me mention my Gaelic favourite of all grouse: the large, crow-black, but red chevron-browed, ground-dwelling, forest-loving, western Capercaillie — currently fighting for his life among the Scottish pines. A delicious bird, as I am given to understand.

From a general survey, we might reasonably infer the existence, on a planetary scale, of well over a hundred, perhaps two hundred specific grouse angels in the ranks beneath the grouse archangel; but that is to consider the matter too narrowly. There are the spirits of grouse past, and grouse future, as well as those now present; and I should think the angelic hierarchy extends downwards to the feudal lower angels who mind the innumerable tribes and families of each grouse species, and their respective haunts — interacting, on a practical level, with each genius loci, minding the terrain.

That the angels may sometimes clash among themselves, we may plausibly suppose; and I have sometimes suspected this to be the explanation of apparent evil in Nature herself: that the Devil despises grouse as he despises us and all the rest of Creation, and that he is doing his best to infiltrate the cosmic order at every available point: to “get at” the grouse as he so evidently tries to get at us. In some mysterious way our eldest ancestor opened the door to him, and in the course of doing so exposed the grouse also to his ministrations. This being our fault, our most grievous fault.

Notwithstanding, there would seem to be a background, and finally, an overriding harmony, which having been disturbed, is always restored, and often, that right soon.

But here things become impenetrably complicated. For angels come and go, from what we can follow of angelology. They, as we, are created, and may be reassigned. When, ultimately, God requires a new species, as part of his unfolding Plan, I should think a new messenger angel is created or assigned to assume the divine “form” of that species.

(William Blake is quite good on this.)


Now, all the above is from my private reflections on grouseness, only; my “theory” or “doctrine” of grouseness, as it were; and may at first seem incompatible with what is now taught in the biology departments. So be it; I think the balance of the evidence is on my side.

The Levée

Among the happier celebrations of the True North Strong and Free, now falling into desuetude, is the New Year’s Levée. Invisible today, in the Greater Parkdale Area, it was still a major social Event when I lived in Kingston. The Mayor, in the chains of his office, would hold it at City Hall; and too, the Commandant at the Royal Military College (Canada’s Sandhurst, or Westpoint, across the Cataraqui River). A “very British custom,” as most Canadians would tell you; but like most everything else they believe, not true.

It is French. The term comes down from their ancient Kings, and the example they set, for all Europe, of holding conferences with their principal advisers — in their own bedrooms, upon rising each morning. (Hence the name.) Kings, you see, unlike commoners and populist tyrants, are always at work. It is not a job easy to enjoy — there is no privacy, whatever — and those who covet a throne are, today as through history, fools indeed.

The royal Governor at Quebec — in the days of New France, when Canada extended to Louisiana — also observed this custom, and made it a public occasion on the first day of each year. His officers would attend him, in full resplendent dress, with the accolades of the public at a distance.

When the British conquered Quebec, and installed a British Governor, they nevertheless maintained this custom (along with many more, happy and glorious). Indeed, Levées spread through British North America, among every class of ruler. The Governor of New York, for instance, or the Governor of Virginia, might still be hosting New Year’s Levées, were they still legitimately selected. (Actually, I’m not sure they ever did: the Internet is useless for checking such particulars.)

Full uniform, to be sure; and in the earlier days, no ladies were invited. However, as Canada “progressed” through her World Wars, there were some woman officers; and by plausible extension, spouses of the officers, both ladies and gentlemen. And other prominent citizens came; and their spouses too; and finally, their children. These days, if a Levée is held at all — by tradition about noon on the first of January — it is a Mêlée, because anyone can come. (“Democracy” gets you, one way or another; and the expense is invariably added to the tax bill.)

Well, truth to tell, “the public” were always involved. It is to this we attribute such patriotic Canadian drinks as le sang du caribou, a punch based on wine; or its Anglo equivalent, “moose milk,” based on rye whisky. The habitants and inhabitants would offer their loyal toasts from about 10 a.m. (the traditional hour to begin drinking), until close of day, whenever that would be. Pausing occasionally, of course, to sing “God Save the Queen.”

As I say, these are proudly Canadian civil customs, though going into disuse. For to the sacred, we had always added the profane.

Today, royal customs are considered “snooty.” We now have in our country, sad to say, a class of “republicans” or “nationalists” — the lowest of the low — who want to suppress every inheritance, by which our country was historically defined, and thereby reduce us all to a grim, beggary imitation of the USA — which these nationalists in turn also condemn, in their fiendish bigotry. The first custom we should restore, is therefore hanging for treason.