Essays in Idleness


On leaving town

A common mistake is to explain oneself, when one has not been asked to do so; or asked, but not by those who care to hear the answer.

“Never complain, never explain,” as Benjamin Disraeli explained, and Churchill would quote, smiling knavishly. Of course both meant never in the sense of, “seldom.” For there are times when one had better explain oneself: to the policeman, the jury, the wife, or whomever; to those entitled to respect. Yet even to them, elaboration may not be required. “Guilty as charged” might be sufficient. From this, a penance will follow naturally.

Wearing ashes will do for the rest; the better when they will find it incomprehensible.

“Judgement is of the Lord, and not of the children in the playground,” as my father once patiently explained, after I had made a fool of myself, in the yard of Saint Anthony’s. He was quoting my grandfather, as I came to understand. (Grandpa had been quoting some older authorities.) “Take yer lumps,” would be a paraphrase. I have not yet mastered this advice myself, but can see that it is wise. So much of the power of “political correctness” comes from this wincing action, to which human beings are inclined: to explain what doesn’t need explaining. Let one’s statement stand, without explication, so long as it was heartfelt and true. Let the critic worm resume his furrow.

Or saith the divine, through the daemon of Blake: “Always be willing to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.”

“Shake the dust off your feet,” was Christ’s own instruction, recalled by Paul and Barnabas when parting from Pisidian Antioch; and we may imagine they had cause to clap their sandals together, many times more. “Amen I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that town.”

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust: this is a side of Christ’s teaching that seems particularly lost on many who claim to hear Him today. He was not a “nice” Saviour. Except in appeal to the Father, He offered no forgiveness to those who did not ask, no mercy to those who did not want it. He was not, as now described even in Rome, the prophet of free lunch.

We owe our explanations to Him; and likewise our penitence. Not to the mob.

The Fire Monkey chronicles

Well, perhaps it has started. In Vellore, south India, we learn that a man was struck dead by a meteorite on Saturday. He was a bus driver; for all we know, a rude one. Two gardeners and a student were also injured in the strike: already we discern a pattern. Officials of the Tamil Nadu government found the crater (5 feet in diameter, 2 in depth), and have recovered from it a charred stone, of some 180 grains, more or less. That would be the weight of an old silver rupee. It was glassy black, and had pockmarks — like a meteor. The size, its likely speed, and the damage fit together nicely: windows blown or cracked to a modest distance; dead leaves ignited. These officials expressed willingness to pay out one lakh of current paper rupees to the family of the deceased, as a kind of prize. Then less, proportionately, to the injured bystanders.

“Scientists,” so-called, doubt the story. They claim long odds against anyone getting hit by a meteor (“astronomical”), and insist no one had been previously so impacted in recorded history. Besides, they need those meteors themselves, for their own fond accounts of how the world came to be.

But Indian authorities reply, the scientific claims are reckless. An American woman was hit by a meteor at Sylacauga, Alabama, in November 1954. They have a back number of the National Geographic to prove it.

I shall be checking Drudge and the Times of India for further such reports, against a list of likely targets — e.g. trolley drivers in the Greater Parkdale Area; cab drivers and passengers alike; horn-blowers attempting to make heretical left turns in rush-hour traffic; errant cheesemongers in the Kensington Market; talk-show radio hosts, and so on. One expects thunderbolts, usually; but these are times when more may be required.

For it is my suspicion that things have gone too far; that we have reached a point where unambiguously cosmic interventions may be necessary. And my beloved Hilaire Belloc — a sound theological mind if anyone ever had one — did suggest that one of the pleasures of Heaven will be throwing rocks at the damned. It is a topic on which I have sometimes meditated.


A good modern mind will not see the humour here; just as he will be unable to see any of the humour in Rabelais, or in the preceding Catholic generations, back through Middle and Dark Ages — when people were often laughing, at things the modern mind has since ruled to be, “Not Funny.” For as our children are taught to think, so compassionately, today: “Oh, the poor fellow, how he hurts: all suffering is evil!”

To the victim, yes, I should think pain is evil; one might even say, pain and death are evils in themselves; but not always to the contextual observer. Rather, I am convinced that a cheap sentimental “compassion,” broadcast especially in literature and art, was among the most destructive contrivances of “The Enlightenment” — designed to make us wince at pain alone, and thus purposefully aimed at all objective moral judgement.

By strict contrast, to your mediaeval mind, or your genuinely Catholic one in all times and places, suffering has a use. That would certainly include one’s own suffering. Compassion, or “empathy” in its updated, mind-reading form, is to be engaged for the Good, and not to undermine it; satire keeps it from wandering off course. Thus, the frustration and thwartment of real evil, however brutal the means to that end, is held to have a lighter side. (So many of the oldest of the old Christian jokes mock the Devil hisself, for his little miscalculations.)

The traditional Catholic stands frequently accused of indulging “black,” or, shall we say, “sick” humour. Such as the kind spontaneously expressed by the four well-raised daughters of a household dear to me, when they discovered that the hole in the fuselage of a (safely landed) Somali airliner was created by a terrorist who managed to blow only himself out of the plane. Their response was to roll on the floor laughing. It was a classic Rabelaisian skit, in addition to being factually true.

Now, we could go into the deep argument for the necessary existence of Hell, via Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas. (Or, check out Socrates at the end of the Gorgias.) Impenitent immortal commitment to evil requires its equal and opposite, in the balance of things. And of course, Our Lord warns repeatedly of Hell in Scripture. It is not Catholic to correct Him. But a meteor could strike me before I go to the trouble of digging out all the references today. Suffice to say, the modern mind thinks sentimentally about things that are not, in their nature, sentimental. But might just possibly be funny, as the angle of reason is slightly flexed.

I have many times been called to account for snickering out of place. One does not, for instance, make a joke, even about the demise of a Saddam Hussein, or an Osama bin Laden, if one is a good liberal. It is in the poorest possible taste. (As Malcolm Muggeridge once explained, humour is by definition in bad taste.)

“No one must ever make light of a death,” the trolls advise, with their stern judgemental faces. On the other hand, when Margaret Thatcher dies of natural causes, they lighten right up. (See this excellent psychological study of the liberal mind and character in action: here.)


The Chinese Hell, or Dìyù, is much like ours in its architecture, having eighteen levels (a pair for each circle in Dante’s). The punishments get worse as one goes down: this much is in common between folk animist, Taoist, and Buddhist accounts, which vary slightly in their particulars. In all, the tortures are pretty gruesome. Not even at the top level could one wish to be.

Indeed, the modern liberal mind is unique, in doubting the existence of Hell and Heaven. For they are known, so far as I can see, to all cultures. The differences of view on fine points of layout, or on the quickest routes up and down, are quibbles in light of such general agreement.

By way of shout-out to my Chinese friends, I mention this today on their New Year’s. The year of the Fire Monkey is upon us, for a fact. Watch where ye go, while ye can, says the Monkey; and when ye can no longer, don’t bother to dodge. For we have what is coming to us, in a universe that will be proved Just, exactly; to incredible units of astronomical accuracy.

Resting bitch face

“Scientists,” as they like to call themselves, have reached a new frontier: the computer analysis of what is now called in our urban dictionaries, “resting bitch face,” or “RBF.” (See here, or here.) This is the phenomenon, common to royalty, Hollywood stars, and all the columnists in The Guardian newspaper, of a face that broadcasts “bitch” from any distance, when in fact it is only at rest, or perhaps trying to communicate emotional serenity. Such a breakthrough!

In their moments off trying to prove Darwinism, breed monstrous human-animal hybrids, extend the reach of “social media,” and assemble new weapons of mass destruction, the scientists have discovered a means to monitor 500 points on a photographic portrait and then, by applying whatever algorithms, find the statistical correlative to what most people can see at one glance. They intended, I think, an attack on Her Majesty the Queen, in her “we are not amused” moments; but Kristen Stewart, Victoria Beckham, and Kanye West are among the collateral damage. This last seems to have made “the list” thanks to software designed to eliminate “gender bias,” which is apparently exhibited even by machines.

Now curiously enough, independently of pop culture and “science,” I began noticing the phenomenon myself in early childhood. Naively, I attributed it to the old notion that, “the face is the mirror of the soul.” Since, I have developed my observation into a method for identifying liberals, and other deeply unhappy people, even before they start talking. I cannot afford new computer apparatus, so will stick with my instincts.

I suppose the scientists will now propose plastic surgery to correct what Nature fully intended, through her kit-bag of warnings. Technology is the great Corrector, in this respect. The world wags on.


Let me add, to the piece I wrote for Catholic Thing today (here), that were it continued for a few more thousand words, I might make several other points touching on our contemporary lawlessness, both sacred and profane. But as Father Hunwicke says, I type with only one finger, and it is getting tired. (Well actually I type with three, and sometimes use my thumb on the space bar, which is why my pieces often come out longer.)

Disrespect for the law grows from many causes, but one of terrible effect is the quantity of legislation. When I last checked, for instance, a few years ago, the Obamacare arrangements had filled 20,202 pages. Since, by executive order and the like, this has grown considerably, and of course, this not-quite-randomly selected Act and its attachments comprise only a miniscule portion of current USA law overall. I am unaware of page counts for Canadian legislation and orders-in-council (the federal and provincial Gazettes congest with them, every day). In comparison, the Ten Commandments of Moses were easier to remember; and note that Jesus boiled those down to Two.

As I learnt to my cost some years ago, after I criticized a previous Liberal government in perhaps too harsh and public a way, the Income Tax Code is a kind of star-gate, and once one’s file is transferred for audit from Scarborough, Ontario to, say, the notorious office in Saint John’s, Newfoundland, the [omitted] can get you in a million ways; and any appeal to the Tax Court will cost you another million. (Received a letter this week to suggest they are coming for me again, and my only pleasure is that it must cost them a hundred barrels for every pint of blood they can hope to suck from me.)

The modern citizen is a trained wuss when it comes to such things. He will take any tyranny for granted, so long as it comes with the “democracy” label. He has been taking it for a long time, as for instance through the income tax department, which, long before my personal experience of its sick, sadistic ways, I opposed in principle. The department was created not only to pick our pockets, but to give the State access to our most intimate private lives, together with a presumption of guilt in all investigations. The receipts are then applied to leverage debt-based expenditure to purposes themselves, far more often than not, intrinsically evil.

Against this background, it is hardly surprising that the bigger economic players, who can afford whole accounting departments to find existing loopholes, and lobbyists to fetch more when they are wanted, consider themselves to be above criticism if their lawyers can argue they have stayed within the law. But these arguments are useless, should the political powers take a dislike to them. For the government always has larger accounting and legal departments; and when it comes to “lawyering” they hold all the cards.

I laugh, for instance, when anyone proposes a comprehensible “flat tax.” The codes and regulations are immensely complex by design and intention. The purpose was explained to me by a successful businessman once, with whom I happened to be allied, briefly. He said, that whenever he negotiates a contract, he instructs his lawyers to make it hard to understand, by inserting and then insisting upon a myriad of petty little clauses, all of which will appear to be irrelevant. Indeed, he said, all of them may be, but in aggregate they are bound to provide the “wiggle room” should later he decide to welch upon the deal — “legally,” as he put it.

Am I cynical and misanthropic on matters like these? I would think so.

Centralization of human authority in the modern Nanny State is, in its nature, totalitarian. We have governments in control of huge populations, passing the equivalent of municipal by-laws, that apply to the whole country. And these with the full power of police and army to enforce them should any question arise. This is obviously a recipe from Kafka. (Not Barbara; Franz.)

These laws of man make mockery of the Law of Heaven.

But God will have to deal with it, I am too small.

Backhand compliment

My standards for politicians are low. This has finally naught to do with my general objections to “democracy.” My standards for courtiers are low, too; and I’ve found most kings and even some queens disappointing — while allowing that someone must rule. My experience of life is that human beings make a hash of most things they touch, and my belief is that if it weren’t for Divine Grace, our whole race would have extinguished itself, long ago.

Only against this background can I say how impressed I have been with the evaporating field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve watched some of the televised “debates” (which I’d rather call “vaudevilles”), and have some idea from where most of the candidates are coming. Donald Trump is an exception: the man who received more than half of nationwide media attention for more than six months, got one-quarter of the Iowa caucus vote, which was I thought at least twenty-five times what he had earned. I only hope U.S. Americans are now half as tired of this coarse, malevolent buffoon as I am.

But by my standards, the rest of the field (including candidates now dropped out) are impressive. I do not remember a previous nomination campaign in which as many as a dozen candidates were each worth considering. The contrast with the Democratic Party race, which could be caricatured as the Witch versus the Commie, is staggering: two candidates whom no fully sane and intelligent person would dream of keeping in public life.

With Trump happily absent from the last vaudeville, the strength of the field became more apparent. Except Trump, I could not see a single candidate who would offer nothing of value to a national executive. Even such an inexperienced candidate as Carson, for instance, would be in his element at, say, Health and Human Services, if only for the task of dismantling it in a wise, merciful, and orderly way; Fiorina might, ditto, competently close down the Department of Education, or drain some other unnecessary bureaucratic quagmire. Governors Bush, Christie, Huckabee, Jindal, Kasich, Perry, Walker, all struck me as serious and accomplished men, with real experience of the issues on which they touched; Graham, Paul, Santorum, as principled, thoughtful, and determined. Cruz and Rubio are sterling — though again remembering my modest expectations. I never expect gold.

Lord Grenville’s “ministry of all the talents” (1806) came to mind. Although the term could be used facetiously (and was), it did succeed in e.g. formally abolishing the slave trade, and some other ambitious but achievable tasks, before disintegrating, as a consequence of having crossed too many party or factional lines. Churchill’s wartime cabinet had something of the same qualities, and held together until the end of the Second World War while British independence was at stake.

For the very reason the Democrats now offer only a constantly expanding moral, intellectual, and fiscal black hole, there would be some prospect of holding a contrary administration together, for perhaps one full term; long enough to reverse a few trends. Paradoxically Cruz, who is not a “team player,” but commands both horse-sense and logical capacity, might make the best choreographer; Rubio might prove (like Grenville) too cautious and accommodating, at a time when major decisions must be made and not retreated from, to avoid a form of national collapse.

The fact a man (or woman) wants to be president should disqualify him, of course; but as there is no prospect of return to the original Electoral College, envisioned by the American Founding Fathers, the responsibility to eliminate quacks, demagogues, criminals, careerists, the unteachably stupid, and the insane, falls on the public at large. As those Founders realized, “the people” would make an extremely unreliable “safety net,” for the preservation of their own liberties. Men of some character and understanding would be indispensable.

Oddly enough, the USA does seem to have some. Could they be raised to a view above personal ambition, and put to work as a phalanx? Probably not, but the idea is intriguing.

The neoconical hat

Among my proudest moments have been those when some fellow redneck (I presume; he is usually anonymous) has called me a “Jew-lover.” I would hope there is some truth in the allegation. Invariably the assailant strikes me as “a bear of little brain,” but great anger, incapable of reasoned thought, and out to give rednecks a bad name. Not that I value human reason so highly.

“Neocon” is a term that fluctuates in meaning; by now a creature entirely of context. The first self-announced “neo-conservatives” were unmistakably Jews, such as the elder Kristol, the elder Podhoretz, beloved Gertrude Himmelfarb and so forth. It was all in a family, and that family happened to be Jewish. I have myself written for the now venerable Commentary magazine, which began liberal but wised up in the ’sixties, as “liberalism” itself began to merge with demonic forces. Even before that generation, there was a history of Jewish socialists who, after throwing up on Stalin, realized that for all its self-advertised flaws, the Natted States Merica was still the land of the brave and home of the basically decent. … Back then. …

Generation Three served in the Reagan White House, then the Bush one, and finally the other Bush one, all mixed in with Cold War Christians. As we moved along from the Soviets to the Islamists, the Jews proved especially useful. Such “neocon” poster boys as Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle, were representative of a small Jewish coterie in the Pentagon: maybe six or seven, I think I met them all. I discovered them during the Gulf Wars, to be excellent sources of checkable information on what was actually happening in the Middle East. Uniquely among members of the “Baby Bush” administration, they could speak Arabic, Persian, Turkish; were men of high culture themselves, and had travelled extensively in the region. They’d been schooled by Bernard Lewis, and before him by such as Leo Strauss. They were smart cookies, and in point of fact, they did not recommend any of the measures that turned the Iraq invasion into a counter-productive farce. They merely became the fall-guys for the people who had made all the mistakes these “neocons” had tirelessly warned against.

Jeanne Kirkpatrick, George P. Schultz, John Bolton: I toss in such names in the hope that gentle reader will notice I am reducing a long and complicated history to a few short grafs. In this one I want to emphasize the C&W graduates (the letters stand for “Cold” and “War”). The Jewish component became entirely integrated with this “all-American” WASP policy school; as the Jews in Germany before that Hitler fellow were entirely integrated within perfectly Aryan, Weimar German political and intellectual life. But the Nazis, who disliked the whole egghead class, singled them out for scapegoats.

Scoop Jackson, and D. Patrick Moynihan: most certainly not Jews, and not even Republicans. Each name corresponds to a long and admirable tradition within the Democratic Party that was, in the first instance, internationalist, and in the second, sceptical of the Nanny State. It is four decades since they had any influence at all, within that party, but they still have descendants we might weave into this narrative of an America which, like Britain before her, was the world’s policeman, sometime advocate of motherhood and apple pie, and chief salesman for human mobility and free trade. (Globalization is now into its fourth century.)

The term “neocon” is thus, to a remarkable degree, lacking in precision. Anyone who uses it as a generalized term of abuse gets my red neck up immediately; though I do understand it is sought for shorthand, to declare opposition to both of the old Anglo-Saxon planks: interventionism abroad; and the levelling of trade barriers — through which, latterly, American blue-collar jobs have been exported to places like China and Bangladesh. Thanks to the apparent unsuccess of such policies (the real causes of failure are seldom intelligently discussed), the old patriots for “the American Way” can be painted as traitors today, and cast as a superannuated “Establishment.” But this Whig Establishment, if it once existed, died off years ago. Obama, Trump, Sanders are three examples of what we find trampling on its imaginary grave. Worse may soon be coming.

As a very young man in the footsteps of my father — gung-ho on Vietnam, and a “1950s liberal” — I was not a “neo” anything. Gradually my worldview has receded to that of the European thirteenth century, which I don’t find represented by any of the current political parties. (Perhaps I should start one.) My loyalty to “the West” is only a knee-jerk extension of my loyalty to Christendom — which rekindles whenever the sun catches upon a shard of its broken stained glass. I am a “neocon” only in the sense that I remain gung-ho against the Saracens, and am for clearing highwaymen off the open roads — for sake of pilgrimage even more than for trade. I am aware, however, that circumstances have somewhat changed, over the last eight centuries; to my mind, almost entirely for the worse.

Notwithstanding, we must deal, today, with today’s prudential matters. There are costs associated with each proposal for action; and costs, along with alarm bells ringing, for taking no action at all. If, for instance, USA ceases to be present when wanted as a superpower, who or what takes its place? (This is not a rhetorical question.) If we don’t like “globalization” and all that it infers, how are we going to eat? How do we propose to rebuild from the bottom, after everything we lean on comes down from the top? Or more essentially, can we have any candour on political, diplomatic, and economic questions? Or must we, for the sake of political correctness, and electoral tact, be sucked down into a miasmatic bog of lies?

Those dismissed as “neocons” often have the virtue of addressing such questions; even the ethical questions, in their arguably desiccated way. Their critics are — at least to a backward mind like mine — too fanciful, blind, deaf, and credulous.


The numbers are inevitably disputed — whether it was “tens of thousands” as reported in the back pages of such liberal media as reported it at all, or towards one million as reported by observers — at least there were enough Christians in Rome to pack the Circus Maximus, and similar venues across Italy. They came out Saturday for that country’s “Family Day,” as previously the Christians came out — a million or two — from across France, to express their opposition to a government measure to “redefine marriage.” These latest oppose the “Cirinnà” legislation now going before the Italian Senate.

Italy, as Ireland and several other once overwhelmingly Catholic countries in Europe, lags slightly behind the fore-edge of the post-sexual revolution. I write “post-” because in more progressive countries — Canada for instance — the very fact that there are two sexes, and all that follows from it, is now being “revised” in positive law. The “liberal” media, in Italy as everywhere, are scandalized by backwardness — by any slowness in this overturning of the laws of God and Man and Nature. By rote, they attribute the delays to “the lingering influence of the Roman Catholic Church” (a phrase noticed in New York Times, Le Monde, La Repubblica, &c).

Only one Italian bishop turned up, from what I can see: Genoa’s Angelo Bagnasco, God bless him. The current pope ignored the event entirely, did not mention it in his daily homily, and made plain he had better things to do. He had earlier cut a meeting with Bagnasco after being told that this Benedict-appointed president of the Italian Episcopal Conference would in fact attend the rally. Italy has hundreds of bishops; that only one could be seen on such a day speaks many volumes of silence and disgrace. So again, God bless Bagnasco — brave Christian and true Catholic who, like my beloved Cardinal Burke, and others, would rather be punished than sell out. (Are such men the “lingering influence” the reporters were talking about?)

Yet as in the third century, humble clergy were there to identify with the old Faith. The crowd, from what I can see through pictures, included many simple parish priests, and religious in their habits. They still stand loyally with the sheep when the princes of their Church disappear. God bless and keep each in his or her station, who has made vows, “till death.”

Like the huge pro-life marches, in Washington and around the world, the rally in Italy was outwardly joyous — a “family event.” I am impressed because, even in the bitter experience of betrayal, these gathered Christians do not contort their faces, do not wave obscene placards, or utter such bile as we are used to hearing from their opponents. They celebrate the great and holy cause they represent.

In 2007, such demonstrations succeeded in halting a previous Italian government attempt to desecrate the institution of marriage. We will see what happens now. It is to the credit of Italy that she has held out a little longer than other countries; but optimism would be naïve.

The crowds are naïve. I find them invigorating. Even in the face of “political reality” they hope their enemies can be converted and transformed. And even within countries that have returned to the vilest forms of paganism (child sacrifice!) there are still millions — millions upon millions of Europeans and Americans — who have not given up. They are the “lingering influence.”

Let us be naïve, with them. Let us in the worst moments remember, that so long as this world shall continue, all trends are reversible.