Essays in Idleness


An artist is a solitary

The Japanese draughtsman, Hokusai, admitted to a mania for drawing the forms of things, from the age of six. He could not get anything right until the age of twenty, however. By age fifty he had produced a great deal of work which other people liked. Writing at the age of seventy-three, he believed that he was finally learning a little about the actual structure of trees, birds, fishes, and insects, for the depiction of which he was famous. He begged Heaven to give him him five more years, or ten if possible, for he thought that he could still become a real artist. In fact Heaven, which is always more generous than we deserve, and sometimes even more generous than we ask, gave him fifteen more years. But he did not think he had yet mastered his craft, for he still could not penetrate “the mystery of things.” If he could live to one hundred and ten, he estimated, he would be able to paint a dot or a line that was truly alive. He is now two hundred and fifty-five, by our earthly reckoning. Unfortunately his works of the last one hundred and sixty-seven years are invisible to us.

I have the information above from a catalogue of the porcelain works of Brother Thomas Bezanson, who is now eighty-seven years, but has been dead for the last nine. The catalogue, from Boston, in 1987, presents him in the prime of life. I often wish that I could insert pictures into these little essays, but either I can’t or I won’t. If gentle reader will simply search “images” with the name of this Benedictine, he will get a general idea.

The man had an extraordinary gift, not only for the production of difficult, traditional clay shapes, which require an athletic balance, but for glazes. What makes them extraordinary is not their composition, but their setting and firing in the kiln. This requires an almost inhuman patience and skill. He uses the basic copper and iron materials, in standard, rather ancient, Oriental formulations (tenmoku, “peacocks,” “chrysanthemums,” sang de boeuf, celadon, kaki, “black olives”). But with these he produces effects that are … unprecedented, extraordinary. There, I have used the word extraordinary four times.

Brother Thomas was what we slobs call a “perfectionist.” Four in five of his pots were discarded. Yet from his notes one discerns that many he kept were happy accidents. These included several “miracles” — defined as an emergent colour that the known laws of chemistry will not permit.

He was a solitary. His relations were chiefly with his materials. In one of his notes he expresses a gushing boyish love for a tessah iron glaze, because it is made of the clay, hematite, and magnetic ores of his own native province, Nova Scotia. He seems to indulge self-flattery in his description of its “seed” (little reticulations). But to understand him, we must realize that he believes the pots are making him, as much as he is making the pots:

“The human soul is shaped and fed in the experience of the beautiful.”

Elsewhere he writes, “Art speaks ultimately of an inner vision of the transcendental value: beauty. It is glimpsed, not grasped. Once glimpsed, it brings an inner imperative to concretize it. This can never finally be done, but it cannot be left untried.”

He speaks of freedom as the highest creative value; a freedom that is contemplative, and rooted in theology:

“I want my work to be prayer, and my place of work to be a place of prayer. Noisy, meaningless intrusions, chatter, unannounced visitors all obscure or even block the creative spirit.”

His work is intuitive: “Prayer engages this power. … Prayer, meditation, solitude, and silence, are the keys to it.”

Like Hokusai, he notes that all artists are beginners.

Bonnie & Clyde

I see that Parkdale (or, Vallis Hortensis, as we say among the elect) is back in world news, despite the distraction of Brexit. Indeed, it was while reading a European website, yesterday, that I learnt of the recapture of the second errant capybara in High Park, a few blocks away.

“Bonnie and Clyde,” as they had been dubbed, escaped 24th May from the park zoo, minutes after arriving from Texas. The story has feminist legs, or should have had, for both were female. (The Toronto Scar reports otherwise, but it is always wrong.) The names are apt, for “Clyde” was a girl’s name before it was a boy’s. They were to be locked in with a male, named Chewy; but one look at him and they made off.

Since, we have had capybara-sighting parties all over the surrounding Parkdale, Roncesvalles, High Park, and Runnymede districts. The animal cops (from “Toronto Wildlife Centre”) ran Bonnie to ground on 12th June, after three weeks of freedom; Clyde proved wilier. She — who resembles a deformed, anurous beaver; or hybrid of beaver and pig, with perhaps a side of llama — not only remained at large, but achieved rock-star status, with many public appearances around Grenadier Pond.

Alas, dear thing. She was finally tricked into one of the innumerable baited cages set out for her — otherwise replete each morning with local raccoons and pet cats. It’s back to Her Majesty’s Prison for her. And the threat of sexual abuse from Chewy. And the guards will be more on their toes, I expect, after their recent embarrassment.

A pity, it has been argued, for in addition to people, capybaras are quite popular with the other animals. Birds love to alight on their backs; turtles to cuddle around them; even crocodiles, I am told, would rather buddy than eat a capybara. They are extremely social animals; and contented herbivores. People want them for pets, as they will bond like a dog. Or more so.

That is where the trouble starts, from what I understand. Having bonded, they will not let you out of sight. They will go wild and psycho till you return. And meanwhile they have razor teeth, and no understanding of our social norms, or of the excitable behaviour of our small children. You don’t want confusion with the world’s largest rodent, whose own mores and herding instincts have been undermined. And the only way to avoid misunderstanding is to deny yourself sleep, then devote your waking hours to keeping the capybara happy. This will require flooding your basement, laying hay on your floors, and allowing it to interact with all your possessions, to give your house a more attractive scent. We like it bland; they like it intense.

From what I gather, they are very smart, but manipulative and moody. The ducks in High Park are happy to accommodate; even the geese and swans will adapt to their needs; but humans tend to resent excessive intelligence. Which is why cats have the sense to be discreet about it, pretending whenever they can to be stupid, in their trawling, rope-a-dope way. A capybara would lack their thousand-generation, cumulative experience. His attempts at manipulation would be clumsy.

Which is why, in turn, though I sympathized with the beasts, while they were “homeless” and on the lam, I decided not to offer them shelter in the High Doganate. My heart goes out to refugees, but as a non-liberal, non-progressive person, I am mindful that certain lines must be drawn.

The secret government

I stand accused this morning of embracing “democracy,” or even “populism” as another correspondent alleges. They refer to my delight in Brexit, mildly expressed in passing last week. But the charge is unreasonable. I would never do such a thing. I was simply stating my slight preference between two, typically modern, democratic sides, where there was no third option (such as, “Status quo ante 1532,” which would have allowed me to take a more Euro position). I did mention that, as advertised, both sides were repellent, did I not? Two jabbing arms of the same, seemingly invincible Power, whether it projects from London or Brussels.

As a man of the thirteenth century (now trying to read the Cursor Mundi to bring myself more up-to-date), I am suspicious of any profane ideology. My opinion of “the peeple” is low; it is securely founded in observations of myself. They have all the foibles of our current politicians, including our populist pope: low intelligence, poor education, overweening vanity. I recognize each of these qualities immediately; I suffer from all of them myself; everyone in Parkdale suffers from them, except a few graced souls who, I notice, avoid politics altogether. Permit us to make important decisions, and the world will be as you see around you, gentle reader! It will become “a mess,” that only Christ can fix.

This is because of the Secret Government; but bear with me for a moment.

Popular belief in conspiracies should be dismissed before we proceed. I hear them in every bar; they lie beneath the result of every election. Some of these beliefs are more entertaining than others, but none are sufficiently plausible to explain any public event. For here is another thing to say against “the peeple.” They, or more precisely, we, don’t think through our conspiracy theories well enough. For if we did, we would have to abandon them.

Take for instance the anti-Semitic theories. Have you ever sat down to table with a couple of real Jews? I have, many times, with two or more of them, and I can assure gentle reader that they don’t agree on anything. The notion that they could conspire is ludicrous.

And if you think the Muslims are conspiring, think again. Far from agreeing, they are blowing each other up. It is true they blow us up sometimes, too, but this is seldom personal. It is minor and incidental compared to what they are doing in their own countries. I do not undertand how people who cannot form a common front, can possibly mount a conspiracy. Even within the factions, there is reckless violence. (Though among the great majority, a more peaceful sleep of reason.)

Presbyterians have traditionally thought Catholics conspire against them, and vice versa. (There was some violence in Ulster, don’t ye know?) But again, plain experience does not support such beliefs, which cannot stand through any sustained religious conflict. Even the murderous Thirty Years’ War was a squalid double farce: neither party has ever been properly organized. For sure we get waves of deluded enthusiasm, for one silly topos or another; we get mobs. But a mob is hardly a conspiracy. It has the direction of a school of herrings, or a shoal of piranhas. For while given promising circumstances, one may conceivably plot to trigger a riot, the thing itself is too spontaneous. Conspiracies must be more thoughtfully planned.

And as for those secular humanoids, please, don’t try my patience. As some debater in the Brexit campaign observed, these are people who cannot organize a take-away curry, let alone the European Union. To accuse them of conspiracy, whether for or against the public will, is to endow them with magical powers for which they can provide no evidence. Clowns they may be, but neither skilled nor talented in that default vocation. Unhappy clowns, if the truth be told: all make-up and malice, with a defective script.

More generally, no conspiracy can work, beyond a small size and a very short period, given the human condition. As a species, we cannot keep secrets. We are endowed with a neurotic facility for communication — from words to body language to our shifty eyes. We downright broadcast what we are about, when tactics require methodical concealment. Even when formed into hunting packs, we cannot agree on our quarry — thanks to inherited ADD.

Otherwise, we behave as sheep, mindlessly “following the leader” who is himself cluelessly wandering away. And the shepherds too, distracted by a shepherdess, piping their Arcadian melodies and forgetting to give chase. But did the sheep conspire? Only in your dreams.

Nevertheless, there is a Secret Government.

This information was imparted by no less than the Founder of our Church. Too, it was known among the Hebrews, and perhaps some others, for millennia before. It is a permanent conspiracy. It works, more or less, because it does not depend on humans. Moreover, it is perfectly aware that it cannot depend on humans, who are so perverse, that sometimes they do good when they are intending evil. Not even the Devil can trust us.

And he, let me say, is the master conspirator. He is working with a very large cast of little subordinate devils, sneaky and diligent about their work. (As we might be, if we had no tomorrow.) Their chief has been identified as the Prince of This World, and he is in charge of the Secret Government. The Christian is instructed to revolt against him, openly by means of an ungovernable Love. To do so regardless of cost. But this revolt would appear to be still in its earliest stages, and moving backwards at the moment.

I know all this because I have myself a little devil, permanently installed on my left shoulder; and a guardian angel, balancing on the right; and a head in the middle, to complete this triumvirate. This last has the deciding vote, but wobbles.

The devil on my left has much more to say, and some of it is subtle. He has a certain infernal charm. I know perfectly well that he is an agent of the Secret Government. I’ve known it for decades. By now, he does not even bother to deny it; all he offers is the prospect of an easy life.

“Do as I say, and there will be pleasure. Do as that angel says, and we can make difficulties for you. Rather serious difficulties, if you want to know.”

From the infernal POV, of course, the angel is the rebel. It is the devil who is “dressed in a little brief authority,” and has the pride which comes with his appointive office. One may catch him on that, sometimes: he preens. He is cocky and self-confident as a tax collector, and insists that you must pay — with charm, if you are being cooperative, or without, if you try to dislodge him by getting your back up.

Whereas, all my angel ever says is, “No!” — and then only in extreme circumstances. And very loud, coarse, and sudden: entirely without that demonic finesse.

Now, the Secret Government is not very secret, when it comes to that. We all know it is there; we’re just in the habit of pretending it is not, in the vanity of an affected freedom. Nor is the tyranny of this government unknown. We only think it is easier to obey; that we will get along in this world if we are “good citizens” of the infernal commonwealth; that we’ll prosper and contribute to a rising GDP.

Whereas, if we resist, we are likely to be punished. We might succeed in overpowering the little devil on our left shoulder. But he has friends.

However, so have we. And there is an Even More Secret Government, that only appears to be out of power — that distant monarchy under Christ the King. And given, by the grace of God, a fuller view of Eternity, that looks beyond any superficial trouble, you want to be an agent of that EMSG.

The in & the out of it

“If you’ve got money, you vote In. If you haven’t got money, you vote Out.”

This quote was collected by a Grauniad reporter, from one of Manchester’s suburban slums. He could not find one “Remain” voter in the Collyhurst district. Earlier in the day, however, he had attended a graduate recruitment fair in the middle of the city, where his trouble was finding a “Leave” supporter. Typical quote from a scrubbed, besuited kid: “This is the twenty-first century. Get with it.”

(My Parkdale loyalties come to the fore. We are salt of the earth around here. They spread us on the streets in winter.)

The political coroners do their forensics as I write. They pour over the demographics from the Brexit poll. They acknowledge that their corpse has a couple more dimensions.

For instance: if you’re quite English you voted Out. If you’re a bit foreign, you voted In. If urban, In; if rural, Out. If young, you voted In; if old, you voted Out — the more certainly the older you are.

Or if you’re Scottish you voted In, to stick it to the English. Or if Protestant in Northern Ireland you voted Out, to stick it to the Catholics. Or if Welsh, you had more resentments than anyone can count, and so couldn’t decide until voting day, when you voted Out to stick it to everyone.

If you are an impoverished, sixty-third generation, English Protestant centenarian in a Manchester slum — who voted, In — I would like to meet you. We might not agree on politics or religion, but I love a character. And you probably also smoke and drink.

My own attention is rivetted upon the age factor. My resentment is growing for the young. Most of the elderly in Britain never wanted to be in the European Union in the first place. The British were dragged in by their politicians, who are mortally attracted to anything big. For forty-three years they were compelled to stay, by the tremendous weight of “expert opinion.” During this time, the young were indoctrinated.

It took more than a generation to click, but it finally did. The young can no longer imagine a world without complex bureaucracies, built upon simplistic ideas. (Morality, for them, is reducible to hygiene.)

What they need is a food shortage. And if Brexit can deliver that, all well and good.


P.S. a point which my Chief Texas Correspondent has elicited from me:

There are reasons why the economists have always been wrong in their predictions. (And see that supercilious rag, The Economist, for examples of their mindset.) However, it may make little sense to look to the past, in order to correct them today. For while they are still always wrong, they may be so for different reasons than they were in the past — as they feed the crooked timber of mankind through the perfectly straight rotating blades in their intellectual sawmills.

Will Britain be better or worse off, economically, as the result of Brexit? The answer is they don’t know; and between us, I don’t know, either. I do know the British were, commendably, taking a chance.

During the campaign, I was fascinated by attempts to manipulate fear in the electorate. This came from both sides, but the Euro-sclerotics did the better job. They purveyed the notion that, while the Euro economy may be the world’s slowest growing, there remain huge opportunities for wealth. But the bureaucrats do actually have the power to determine who will get it. Therefore, it is foolish to get on their wrong side.

It was not that Brexit would make the British economy any less efficient. Indeed, the new challenges would likely make it more. Rather, the opportunities for business would be diminished, with nearly half of exports in the European power to restrict or disallow or punitively tariff.

Note this subtle reversal, on the part of economists, of the classical “free trade” position, in which trade now becomes some unnatural thing, which governments may nevertheless encourage by treaty. To Adam Smith and company, trade was the natural thing, with which governments unnaturally interfered.

The premiss of the contemporary argument is that bureaucrats do control trade; and with this comes their “right” to determine who should get rich, and who should be ruined. That position is now taken for granted, by the young and all others of unphilosophical mind — not as an ideological, but as a natural principle. (They don’t think of themselves as socialists; rather as pragmatists of “open mind.”)

It seems to them the most natural thing, that the successful modern business should depend on comprehensive political suck-up; that this is much more important than competitive efficiency, to the man who sincerely wants to be rich.


Frexit, Swexit, Netherlexit; Espanexit, Portugexit; Czexit, Slexit, Luxembexit — they’ll all want out now, till the European Union is down to just Germany and Greece. And maybe Scotland. Can we leave, too? Do you have to be a member to quit? Let’s have a referendum on everything, and everyone vote Leave.

There is great blather this morning about the triumph of democracy. If the EU’s executive were elected by the unwashed masses, it would be no different. It would be no closer to any classical British conception of “responsible government,” in which the executive is accountable to “the peeple,” whether starkly or through the romancing smoke and mirrors of Crown in Parliament. No such arrangement is possible once bureaucracy has spread through the whole sprawling body politic, twitching and prone.

Balancing, or rather, contesting this, we have the predictable liberal freak-out on the triumph of “far right parties,” which is equally risible. Fifty-two percent of the current British electorate is hardly Far Right Haters, or if they are they might have accomplished something by now. In current circumstances such terms are meaningless. There is populist discontent with opposite things — with too much taxes, and not enough welfare. The most anti-mass-immigration parties are conventionally nanny-statist, and only promise to dole more to their constituents from the money that closed borders might save. When in fact we are in debt above our ear lobes.

Are people racist? Of course. Nationalism is racist, by definition. People are racist; always were and always will be. “White people are racist” is racist, as well as true. Liberals are the worst. They are absolutely obsessed with race, colour, and creed; with the manipulation of “identity politics.” Thus they are constantly promoting racism.

Sound statesmen do what they can to avoid this malicious bilge. They will be, by nature, “elitists,” seeking conditions for good order, domestic and foreign peace — for the rule of just law, and a diffused prosperity. This means, usually, changing the subject of political discourse; for “the peeple” (they include me, I’m afraid) are more interested in vengeance, and cash. This would be true at all levels of government.

It is true, I am delighted with the Brexit win. I prefer a pint of 568 millilitres, to a pint of 500 mL. Yet too, I grieve the obsolescence of the Scottish pinnt or joug, which was nearly three times the size of the Imperial, and could be sensibly fractioned into chopins and mutchkins as well as gills; and more generally for government on a much smaller scale.

You cannot order lunch for 500 million people; or rather, you can but it is awkward. You cannot order lunch for 64 million, ditto. Decisions touching upon everyday life should be made on an everyday scale, where relations between cause and effect are perceptible, and “the peeple” can learn from their blundering mistakes, their abject stupidities, and sharping moral failures. To my mind, the downsizing has a long way to go.

The purpose of large entities, such as the EU or the Roman Empire, is to keep roads open to trade, and the long frontiers of civilization defended; to provide circuit courts and enforce criminal law. This is the most secular power can achieve: a chaste and impartial protection racket, too big to challenge. It is already a tall order. Pile it too high — put all the weight at the top — and it will surely topple.

On nature

Water is not as innocuous as may first appear. Those who have experienced floods will know this. They may associate water with disorder; their imagination of what happens should the seas rise will itself be disordered. They see nothing positive in it. They value water only to the degree that it is useful for their own purposes; they want it piped and dam’d, or at least prettified; when it is unwanted, they want it to go away. They understand water to be stupid; “inanimate” and thus lacking a brain. Even a pigeon, or a squirrel, has “consciousness,” but water, not so. They are contemptuous of water, in all those moments when they are not frightened by it; or parched, longing for its return.

But water has a mind of its own. I noticed this on the weekend, while admiring a small creek or brook through a meadow, three feet at its widest. It had self-organized, neatly. Without the slightest assistance from bureaucrats and environmentalists, the water had designed and cut its own path. It had exploited gravity to govern its own flow; it had even thoughtfully supplied itself with a little floodplain to accommodate special occasions. Yet with carefully drawn banks to which it might or might not return.

It had arranged the pebbles in its course in a way to its liking, showing to my mind an exquisite taste. Liberal, in the best sense, it was also sheltering some little fishes, defined broadly to include a crayfish or two; and other miniature animals in their exoskeletons, and their sparkling veinous wings. It was watering the wildflowers of the field, without making an oppressive show of the enterprise — leaving the wildflowers to advertise accomplishments it was itself too modest to declare.

As we could say of the saints, it was knowing. It knew enough to find its way to a river, but along that way, had created a delightful little pond. And like a fine artist, it refused to be rushed. Here was an artistic sensibility superior to my own; for I could not have done half so good a job of planning its meander, with my cruelly limited gardening skills. I would surely have geometricized somewhere, and spoilt the whole effect.

That was a minor work; there are larger canvases on which the water will “express itself” — sometimes as liquid, sometimes as vapour, sometimes as ice. Even without leaving the High Doganate, I am constantly impressed by its meteorological works; as too, by its extraordinary ability to focus. It will not be put off or distracted, even by the presence of a large conurbation. In cooperation with the elements of earth, air, and fire, it renders scenes of extraordinary beauty, never repeating itself. Sometimes when a fog rolls in from the Lake, I think it is taking a break between compositions; but no, the fog turns out to be a composition in itself. For the water is tireless.

Recently, I made an old point from theology — queen of the sciences. As pagans, and verily, atheists, we comprehend nature from the ground up. We proceed from our own random location, outward. Nature to this view is infinite, so that we will never get to the end. But if Christian, we may take it from the top down. We can see that it everywhere makes sense, on multiple levels, thanks to the existence of a Divine Plan. Nature cannot explain God, for this reason; but God can explain nature.

Somewhere up here is or was a thin book of lithographs, reproducing pencil and watercolour sketches from the rambles of the young J.M.W. Turner. I think he left about twenty thousand of them, to be meticulously catalogued by the British Museum, and then hidden away. Ruskin famously sneered at all this work (little of which he saw) as Turner’s “learning period.” As the author of the book (Gerald Wilkinson) avers, it could not have been. Turner sprang almost fully formed with the ability to paint the weather; and to the last, this is what he painted so well. Even a sketch we could never have seen before, we immediately recognize as “a Turner,” paradoxically because of truth not to a style, but to nature herself. We think we have seen it before, when we haven’t.

What we see, as Turner ages, is less an artistic than an intellectual progression, from the pre-industrial world of the eighteenth century, to the industrial one of the nineteenth. This becomes visible in the vortices of his later works. He pursues drama.

The paradox here is that, in his transitions from watercolour to oil, the scenes become more stilted; and this although his canvases are vast, in comparison to the size of the pocket sketchbooks he took on his walks through England, Scotland, Wales. He tries to make statements in those giant canvases.

He should not have tried; he should have “sketched” with the oils, as Constable before him. As Ezra Pound said, in his latest Canto, “Do not move / Let the wind speak.” Like every other modern, Turner is now trying to control the message; he is trying to put the blissful skies to his own use. In the course of which, he must lie about the skies, when he never lied before.

It is the Victorian affectation. It continues to the present day. We do our romanticizing in a factory. We push for the special effect. We will not let it happen, on its own terms. Always, there is a message, some “unique selling point.” Always, we are trying to write the message; to put the jingle into the music. Always it seems, or rather, does not seem but is, that we are defeating ourselves.

Instead, we should be content, and unambitious; we should try to be the messenger only, like the priest performing the ancient Mass. Until, as it were, entirely by surprise, someone shoots us for it.

That little stream, that brook (I will not tell where I found it) knows better than a squirrel, better than a pigeon, better than a man. Quietly, I think, it is carrying the Word; and patiently, to anyone who will listen. But the sounds of the city make it impossible to hear.

That, anyway, is my message for this morning.

When pushy meets touchy

A note from my chief Irish veterinary correspondent calls my attention to the current spat between Obama/NATO and ex-Soviet/Putin, which is being conducted over many issues, some perhaps too subtle for the mass media to have catalogued. Indeed, so subtle that even I, a connoisseur of subtle conflict, would have to retreat to the foreign policy journals to make a good list. And I’m no longer willing to go that far.

But the Anakonda exercise in Poland, which ended last week after ten days of fun and war games, involving tens of thousands of NATO troops, and quite a few aeroplanes, was designed, as the Obama administration blatantly hinted, “to send a clear message” — we all know to whom. Frankly, sometimes I prefer a message to be garbled.

There is some history here. Perhaps gentle reader may recall it. As an old Cold Warrior, I remember it almost with nostalgia.

A country the physical size of Russia has a lot of “backyard,” and the country is ringed by ex-Soviet republics, many of which, if not all except Belorus, are enthusiasts for NATO. They do not wish to be “forgotten” by their historically more recent allies, and the demand for some show of force did not come primarily from USA. Perhaps our diplomats have privately asked the ex-KGB agent who rules Russia today why he thinks this would be. Or perhaps they have not thought of it. They’d be sure to get the answer that, for allied historical reasons, there are substantial Russian ethnic minorities in many of these countries, too, and that none of those have been “forgotten,” either.

Georgia, Crimea, eastern Ukraine, could be mentioned, as examples of Russian behaviour that does not display a perfect understanding of international law pertaining to the violability of national borders. But then, the Russians could cite instances where the same was overlooked in the West. Verily, the redrawing of boundaries is an ancient practice, usually accompanied by main force, and not necessarily by chaste arguments. And often, it has gotten out of hand, as we remember from two World Wars — from which, it strikes me, we may not have learnt so much as we imagine.

Obama is often criticized, from the Right, for being flaccid in defence of American and Western interests; for appeasing enemies, and sacrificing allies. I do not think this criticism is entirely just. In my own view, which dominates this website, the problem with them has more to do with weak heads and general incompetence. Their rhetoric means almost nothing at all: it is spacey and “academic” and naïve, in the smug Harvard manner. It is not pacifist, as some of my best warmonger buddies allege. It is instead lackadaisical. The Obamanites are willing to assert American superpower, but only after events have migrated beyond their control. They vaguely understand that “the world is a dangerous place,” that “the law of the jungle” governs much of it. They do not, most certainly do not, intend surrender, even to the ayatollahs of Iran. They are, sincerely, trying to be tactical. The difficulty is that, if I may resort to a vulgar, commonplace expression, they don’t know their ass from their elbow.

Moreover, it is fair to add, the mismanagement of the Russia file goes back ninety-nine years. (Our ancestors realized that Leninism needed snuffing at birth, but in their moral and physical exhaustion after the Great War, could not summon the will to complete this task.) Through all this time there has been a misunderstanding of the nature of that country: that it is, even remains, essentially Christian. By the progressive loss of our own Western Christian sensibilities, we became unable to appreciate this fact.

Communism, and Islam, are genuine opponents. But Russians, and Muslims, are not. It is wiser to appeal to the best in them, than to the worst.

In the case of Russia, the fatuous “reset” of a simple-minded former secretary of state inspired only derisive laughter from the other side. She did not understand that change is not effected by pressing buttons, which are not connected to anything. (Indeed, as we gather from the email scandals, button pressing is not her forte.)

What for all their own flawed judgement the Bush administrators did understand, was the need for best efforts behind the scenes. Bush himself tried to befriend Putin, over a barbie at the ranch. This was part of a larger scheme to improve contact between the countries, beginning with tone. It required, behind the scenes, diplomatic acknowledgement that, strange to say, the Russians might have some plausible grievances; that there could be some merit in their analysis of the historical fallout from the Soviet collapse; that there could be some comprehension of views that the (unpleasantly aggressive, if substantially weakened) successor regime shares with most Russian people. Like us, perhaps even more so, they do want to look after their own.

Let me mention that I think Putin is vile. I think Obama is vile, too, but in much different ways. In the virtual world of the Internet, everyone may “comment” — showing that we are all pretty vile, in our respective ways.

In the world of diplomacy, however, the tradition is to keep opinions to ourselves. The task is to identify common interests, including an interest in not killing each other. This is not, as often thought, a vain activity. It beats, I think, making threats to people likely to retaliate in kind, when we have no idea what we will do if they do that.

Perhaps this, in a sentence, is what Bush understood, and Obama does not understand: That threats should never be empty. That empty threats should never be made.

Five stars

Curiosity kilted the cat, or however that saying goes: I have been reading too much news again, and must cut back. This morning’s excuse was curiosity over the results of municipal elections in Italy.

It seems they went well. The progressive types were turned out of office all over, and the country’s Five Star Party, founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo a few years ago, has won 19 of the 20 cities in which its candidate stood for mayor. Starting with Virginia Raggi in Rome, many of these mayors-elect could pass for fashion models. She, for instance, will try to improve upon a record that has “Left” the city indebted to more than twice its annual revenues, and its officials enthralled to organized gangsters.

Naples was the only exception, where a mayor already deeply loathed by the Left (a tireless public prosecutor) won re-election by a landslide.

The idea of electing comedians and comedy teams to office is very attractive to the Italian national character. I have praised them for this before. It shows a maturity of understanding rare in the annals of modern democracy. Given the omnipresence today of po-faced progressive parties, the alternative cannot be po-faced “conservatives,” whom the po-faced Leftist media will methodically smear and slander, as for instance in Canada and USA. They accept that verdict, and agree to lose. Rather one needs people with a sense of humour and no political past. I suppose this is the argument for Trump; though I would argue that he takes himself quite seriously, and doesn’t see the joke at all.

For vulgarity is not the same thing as humour. It is a dimension of comedy, but the full commedia dell-arte requires more. It must be spontaneous on several theatrical levels to occasion real surprise, and catch the po-faced off their leaden balance. It requires masks and good costumage. It requires stock gli immorati, ridiculously in love as much with themselves as with their sweethearts; fine silk dresses or alternatively the patched clothing of an impudent Colombina, with her weaponized tambourine. It requires confusions of identity, in the spirit of old Terence, and Plautus. It needs fantesche and servette (maids and serving wenches); Smerildas, Nespolas, Diamantinas.

The genius of sixteenth-century commedia dell’arte was to cast women in the women’s rôles. Elsewhere in Europe, men always played these parts: just as “Mrs Clinton” today (who is of course really a man), or “Caitlyn Jenner.” For the truth is that cross-dressing gets boring after a while; and that nothing is so shocking, now as then, as a woman playing a woman.

Plus, men who make jokes that are genuinely funny, such as some untranslatable remark Beppe Grillo tried the other day about the new Muslim mayor of London, which made all the po-faced heads explode. He has been called, repeatedly, “the most dangerous man in Europe,” for his ability to attract audiences, and make them laugh, despite being banned from Italian state television and so forth. He does not run himself, but is content with his position as backstage producer, out of his conviction that criminals should not aspire to political office. (Almost everyone in the Italian Parliament has a criminal record, many in the first degree.)

Among his most dangerous notions is that citizens should be permitted free speech, and that the power of politicians should be curtailed. This goes considerably beyond the “Brexit” position, that British politicians should be re-empowered at the expense of European ones.

We’ll see how Italy’s experiment turns out. For a preview, gentle reader might consult the page on Grillo in the Wicked Paedia: their usual po-faced hatchet job on anyone who dares to ignore the progressive agenda.

Marriage à-la-mode

Let us hypothesize. The ordination of most Catholic priests is invalid; the Mass in Catholic churches is usually invalid; and most Catholic marriages are null.

Our pope recently uttered this last opinion, volubly, then had his minions alter the transcript from “most” to “some.” That in itself was noteworthy: for when an honest man realizes that he has said something stupid and wrong, he does not try to tamper with the transcript. Rather he withdraws or corrects the remark, explaining what was wrong with it — the way even the politician McCain did after alleging that Obama was “directly responsible” for the massacre in Orlando, when he was only indirectly responsible. For a transcript is a record of what was said, not what should have been said.

Let me thus amend my opening hypotheses. The ordination of some Catholic priests is invalid; Catholic Masses are sometimes invalid; and some Catholic marriages are invalid, too; where in each case, “some” is understood to be a frequent occurrence. Would that sound much better, coming from the living guarantor of Roman Catholic teaching?

Ah, gentle reader may object. He didn’t make the first two observations, only the third, which he then tried to soften. No, I played my own rhetorical trick, by insinuating two more observations that would follow from it, logically.

For marriage is a Sacrament, according at least to the received Catholic view in all centuries. If it is invalid — which technically it could be for some reason, such as a previous marriage by one or both of the participants, or some other obvious disqualification such as both being of the same sex — it might not be the priest’s fault. Perhaps they lied to him; perhaps they went to trouble to make the lie seem plausible. Once the investigation is concluded, it might not be necessary to have the priest defrocked. His humiliation would be sufficient to warn other priests, who might be tempted to perform marriages between characters of dubious integrity.

For some of these young priests may be wet behind the ears. They may not have “discerned” (I think this is the popular term at the moment) that the “partners” are insane, or so lacking in basic human intelligence that they are incapable of understanding what the marriage vows mean. The process for nullity exists to correct such “clerical errors.”

Or maybe, as our pope often reminds, it was one of those “shotgun weddings” — so that both girl and boy needed taking aside, and a patient quiz about their situation. Were they threatened with death if they didn’t go through with it? Did either, or both, look drugged? Were they being escorted by armed men? (Perhaps this often happens in Argentina.)

But assuming they were qualified adults, without grave impediments concealed, it is the priest who has knowingly presided over an invalid Sacrament. In which case, his orders must come under review. For all we know he has been, for instance, wantonly serving Communion to people who could not possibly be in a state of grace; who might, though nominal Catholics (perish the thought!) never have made a Confession in their whole lives. Who might be indifferent to Christ’s commandments, or even openly in rebellion against them.

For if her Sacraments are invalid, the Church herself is brought into terrible scandal. How can she claim to be the observant Bride of Christ, when she does not care what He says or does? Was her own mystical marriage somehow invalid, and were her members through twenty centuries of history simply conned into believing her defining claims, when “most” or “some” of them were fraudulent?

I am spelling all this out, incidentally, not to be funny, but by way of encouraging gentle reader to think things through. We need more of that today. I could go on spelling, but I am not writing a textbook on canon law. I am trying to draw only irresistible implications; and those explicitly in defiance of the latest ukases from the Dictatorship of Relativism. I tend not to be “merciful” in that regard. Nor do I groove upon “a mess.” I’d rather make a start on cleaning it up.

One becomes a Catholic (no one is “born that way”) by an act of faith that does, for all its unity, have an intellectual component. Words have meanings, and the words we hear in the Mass (some of us daily) may be, as elsewhere, true or false. That is why Our Saviour put us on guard against blathering, when He said answer Yea or Nay. If there are other denominations that do not take their own articles seriously, that is their problem. Ours is to speak truthfully, or confess when we have not spoken thus.

The more one thinks about what our pope said, the more one flinches. When he says that one of our Sacraments is invalid, whether in “most” or “some” cases, he must explain himself. He is making an astounding assertion; an assertion which brings into question the substance of Holy Church. And he was elected to be her guardian. Decency requires him to spell out, himself, what he could possibly mean; or he brings his own validity into question, by another link in that logical chain.

It is ours to be calm, and persist in the faith; Christ will take care of it, in His own good time. We have had some very bad popes before. This one is arguably worse than those who were infamously corrupt, for they were not inclined to toy with the doctrine, nor excavate through our foundations. Pope Francis was nevertheless validly elected, just as marriages before the altar are valid, until proven otherwise. We must pray for the Church, and also for his soul, and can only hope that correction comes soon, and we can put the last few sordid years behind us.

The week in review

“Downtown Orlando has no bottom. The entire city should be levelled. It is void of a single redeeming quality. It is a melting pot of third world miscreants and ghetto thugs. It is void of culture. If you live down there you do it at your own risk and at your own peril. If you go down there after dark there is seriously something wrong with you.”

An interesting POV.

It was written by some gentleman in the Florida State Attorney’s office, ninth circuit, on his Facebook page. (I have edited for spelling and style.) I gather he has been suspended under section SA09 of the office social media policy, which requires a higher standard of civic boosterism. He may be terminated, for it was his second offence. (Earlier he was carded for the expression, “crack hoes.”)

One wonders what the social media policy was in Sodom and Gomorrah. Up here in the High Doganate we don’t have one. Nobody working for us has ever been suspended for a Tweet, Instagramble, or Facebooking. True, nobody works for us, up here, but that is another issue. We allow visitors to comment freely, but request that they wait until they have left to say what they think of the place.

The gentleman, whose identity is revealed in Fox News, had more to say. He contrasted downtown Orlando with Walt Disney World which, he suggested, is much nicer. And this although, I learn, there is risk that an alligator may eat your child. The truth is I have never been to Orlando, so am in no position to make my own comparisons. I defer to e.g. Wallace Stevens, who once said that while he’d never been to Europe, he’d been “almost everywhere in Florida.” (He refers somewhere to the Sunshine State’s “venereal soil,” but I don’t think he specifically mentions Orlando.)

Given my aesthetic sensibilities, I would probably prefer downtown Orlando to Disney World. Less, you know, “Mickey Mouse.” But that hardly means the city should not be levelled. If anything, it is an argument for extending the perimeter of deconstruction.

Cities get that way when you let people into them. People need minding, and often won’t do it themselves. They need taboos more than they need tattoos. They don’t need encouragement to misbehave. In the present state of the world, the peer pressure seems to be going all the wrong way.

Turning to other news — item after item after item from across Merica and around the world — one wonders what city should not be levelled.

Well, Fallujah is being levelled again, as I write. (I was once nearly suspended myself, for proposing in a newspaper column that the USAF make it into a parking lot, and that the USACE then build a Walmart at one end. I was being facetious, but one of the complaints against me — for “advocating genocide” — was taken to the Ontario Press Council. If memory serves, I won that case, but it was a 5–4 decision. Can’t be sure of my memory, however, for there were many hundred formal complaints, during my last stint as a fishwrap copywriter.)

And now it comes to this morning’s survey, where I find no mention of even one shining city on a hill.

So I walk out on my balconata, to look over Parkdale, and I think. Is there a way to level it without damaging the trees?

Consider the alternatives

Gun control seems to be fairly effective in China. One cannot trust communist statistics, but it appears the murder rate can be sustained with fists, feet, clubs, and knives. That would not exhaust the alternatives, for the reader in an encyclopaedic mood, but I would like to focus particularly on long knives, which are the weapon of choice among Muslim “separatists” (i.e. terrorists) in the People’s Republic. This morning I am reminded by the BBC of the small gang in the usual black costumage, who killed and maimed about 160 at a railway station in Kunming. (Who then got no sob demonstration at Toronto City Hall.) It was hardly the first such account I had read, and I have noticed that these attacks are not confined to the Sinkiang region, which has ethnic affiliations with Islamic Central Asia. (Kunming is itself in Yunnan.) This is something to bear in mind when weighing the risks of train against air travel, for tourists in those parts.

Personally, I’d rather be shot by an expert, or even by an amateur with a high-powered gun, but the public are seldom consulted on these matters. I am such a wimp, in my desire to omit the pain component from almost any bad experience; and I suspect many share this aversion, too. On the other hand, it should be acknowledged that the slower the death, the better for a Catholic Christian, who has the more time to repent of what may be a formidable accumulation of sin, since his last participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; and has a better opportunity to receive Last Rites. To say nothing of how pain can help inspire a good confession.

Among survivors, now from another point of view, gun wounds are often preferable to the alternatives. The flak from suicide vests and car bombs is especially worth avoiding, from a purely cosmetic angle. (Only the bomber himself is assured of a quick, corpse-deleting death.) In this respect, travel arrangements will often prove irrelevant; for as a friend put it, “You needn’t go to the Middle East because, thanks to open immigration, the Middle East comes to you.”

Hard cases make bad law, but they also contribute to poorly-informed public opinion. Should a poll be conducted, on how people would prefer to be murdered or maimed, the respondents will need time to think it through. They will also need better information than the mass media are likely to supply, given their fanatic obsession with guns. And again, as I often point out, our education system fails us. Children are not taught prudential reasoning, which would assist them in grasping that while one course may be bad, others may be demonstrably worse.

On guns, it is a little known fact that even in the Natted States Merica, where they seem rather more easily available than elsewhere, they do not account for the majority of murders. Convenient as guns may be for this purpose, if you are a Merican (according to the latest FBI statistics) you are six times more likely to be murdered with a knife; and with a rifle, only one chance in fifty. That the murder rate itself is higher than in some other countries, I will happily concede. What can we say? Mericans just like to kill each other. Banning guns won’t help. (It might be good news for the reindeer, however.)

I further note that after the Congressional “assault weapon ban” of 1994 lapsed in 2004, Mericans went out and bought an awful lot of rifles. And under the Obama, it has become an extended shopping spree. Were I a factotum in the NRA, I would recommend a special life achievement award for this President, who is perhaps the greatest promoter of gun sales to private citizens in the history of the world. Every time he fulminates on this issue, people rush out to buy more.

This is good for the economy, of course, but what has it done for the murder rate? This actually went down, after 2004, and the portion attributable to rifles declined within that decline. (Check this out yourself if you do not believe me; you might want to start here.)

A semi-automatic (and what guns aren’t, these days?) may be especially convenient for the solo criminal bent on multiple killings, and that is the sort of thing that often makes the news. But as we discover from a review of mass murders in China, even the single psycho with a long knife can run up an impressive score, if he has any proficiency. And as for suicide vests, bombs and grenadoes, well, have you heard? That they are still unavailable at Walmart?

None of this can make any difference to our contemporary liberals and progressives, because they are eye-patched and ear-plugged against any argument that confutes their simpleton slogans. Sometimes I just want to shoot them; but I don’t, because I would be loath to do anything that might improve their case.

Fashion statement

It is hard to hesitate before calling all contemporary intellectual life a fashion statement (note the singular). I will not go so far this morning. I will only mention the temptation. And it is a temptation, to respond to fatuities presented everywhere in public life, with fatuities of one’s own. (“Resist ye not evil.”) In fact, diverse opinions are still held, and huge chunks of the population are hardly impressed by what, in the continuing absence of a more powerful term, we call political correctness.

The appearance of homogeneity — of a closed camp among the innumerable pseudo-intellectuals in media, academia, politics, law, the bureaucracies, &c — is created only by peer enforcement. There are still genuine intellectuals: men and women of real learning, capable of honesty, candour, substance, rigour, fortitude, humour, intelligent and independent thought. It is just that they are driven out of their livelihoods, whenever they are discovered.

But that is too large game, for a man with a short glass pea-shooter. Instead let me fix upon corduroy jackets.

My first, largely unintentional experiment in modern sociological research, was conducted in an Ontario high school. I wasn’t in it for long: only until the age of sixteen when I became legally entitled to leave. In the meantime I focused upon making myself obnoxious. One of my techniques was to pose as an intellectual, and come to class wearing a corduroy jacket. In retrospect, I now think that smooth velvet and a bow-tied cravat would have been more effective. But age is required, to develop imagination.

In the beginning, I was uniquely dressed. Within a few months, however, I was joined by others. The habit of jacket-wearing was spreading through the corridors of GDHS. But while I had carefully selected an olive-green jacket, as the proper tint for corduroy display, the copyists would wear beige or darker browns or ghastly light blue corduroy jackets, and sometimes they were of some other material.

This, notwithstanding one of my copyists had earlier taunted me, by my locker, for wearing a jacket at all, and accused me of being “a pointy head.” (Which was true, of course.) Kids do not wear jackets, he explained. It is simply not done. My understanding was that it had not been done, since the uniforms had come off, a couple of decades before. (I blame Hitler.) That happened to coincide with the plunge of pedagogical standards, to the absolute zero we have achieved today.

What can I say? I was delighted to establish my power as a gang-leader, but annoyed that my followers were getting their colours wrong. A corduroy jacket must be olive green. No other jacket may be in that colour. A velvet one, for instance, must be black. A blazer must be navy blue. A summer flannel jacket must be white. Tweed must be Harris. Motorcyclists must wear leather bomber jackets. My whole philosophy of jacket-wearing was forged under the pressure of events. Tuxedoes require silk lapels, and James Bond set the sartorial pattern. There is black tie, or white tie, by occasion. Should a man, however young, turn up at, say, a wedding feast, sans cummerbund, or wearing a polkadot tie, he should be told to leave. Especially if he is the groom.

My views have since been relaxed. The case seems hopeless. It becomes hard to draw a line, even at facial tattoos. I would describe our present environment as a zoo, except, the animals at least know how to dress, and even “at home” in their cages wear the correct furs, scales, feathers, &c.

It was the photo of Malcolm Muggeridge, accompanying the excellent article by Father Murray at the Thing today (here) that got me started. Muggeridge knew the right colour for corduroy; and how to look like an intellectual while sitting at a typewriter. (Note that his fingers are mischievously misaligned with its keys, as if he had confused typewriter with pianoforte.) He was not always a gentleman, but he could play it when required. (I knew his son John well, but to tell some stories would be “too much information.”)

The truth is, I have let the side down. At this very moment I am wearing flip-flops and jeans. I often feel, and ought to feel ashamed. My only excuse is Socrates, who, I gather, dressed daily in an almost provocatively sloven way, reserving finery for fine formal occasions, when he would suddenly appear as a dandy. But even the workman should be wearing his wool cap, and the butcher a tie above his bloodied apron.

For laxity is terribly contagious.

Now, your contemporary pseudo-intellectual, governed by the glib, with reasoning that is no reasoning at all, will say who am I to prescribe correctness in dress, while condemning it in political behaviour? And the answer will be a paradox, kiting far above his head. Men who dress strictly to code will express their uniqueness in other ways. Among, for instance, the strictly uniformed lads of the commendably backward British schools in Asia, which I had attended before that wretched high school, there was true variety in minds and faces.

There will always be regulation, in human affairs. But I would rather regulate dress, than thinking.

Showing grandma around

It would be fun to explain to my maternal grandmother (died 1962) how a cash machine works. Not the inside of it, of course, I have no idea what goes on in there; just the “interface.” How one inserts this card, enters this password, presses these buttons, and cash comes out in freshly-printed twenties (or fifties, if we want to go wild). She was Gaelic, she took money seriously. But she also had a cackling sense of humour, to go with her memorable candour, and I wonder if it would make her laugh. Looking at the banknotes, she would realize that it was play money.

But she, who never to my knowledge played with a television, might be more amazed by the screen. She would ask who was the little cartoon man in the bowler. I would explain that it is the icon or mascot of the RBC. She would ask, what is that? And I would say it’s the old Royal Bank, but they’re afraid to say “royal.”

“And what is that he is waving?” she would say; and I would say, “The rainbow flag.”

“And what does that represent?” she would wonder.

“It’s the symbol of the LGBTTIQQ2SA movement. It stands for: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Intersex, Questioning, Queer, 2-spirited, and Allies.”

“I see,” she would respond, dryly.

“Or else it is called, the Pride Flag. It comes out for Pride Day in Toronto. Which now lasts, according to this advertisement, from June 1st to July 3rd.”

Grandma would still be puzzled, but might comment that Pride is the queen bee in the hive of the Seven Deadly Sins. She may not have been Catholic, but she loved anything in sevens.

“Ah yes, grandma, the old PEWLGGS.” (That would be Pride, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, and Sloth.)

Now that I think of it, I might not enjoy showing my world to my maternal grandmother. She would want to know, on point after point, “What godforsaken soul came up with that idea?” She had not lived even to experience Pearson and the Elder Trudeau. She was gone years before our country was occupied by Martians.

“What godforsaken soul came up with this L, G, and following business?” By now she would be shaking her umbrella. For she came from a generation when certain things could not be abided.

“It wasn’t an individual, really, it was another ‘movement’, the DLPSFGA.”

“The wot?”

“The Democrat, Liberal, Progressive, Socialist, Feminist, and Gay Alliance.”

“You mean the communists and the perverts?” she might shout, for the elderly can be a little hard of hearing.

“Shhh, grandma, keep your voice down.”