Essays in Idleness


On the road

I am going upcountry through the week, blessedly without electronic connexions. Verily, I have never known how to upload an Idlepost, from anywhere except the High Doganate, being essentially unteachable, as my webmaster son will confirm. Meanwhile, I invite readers to peruse the 963 Idleposts in the thread below, which I have yet to summon the shame to delete. God willing, I shall return, as General MacArthur said, while fleeing the Philippines; except that, in his hurry, he left out the “God willing” part.

Of back-ups & throwbacks

The hard way, because it is the only way left, we (the “we are the world” we) may gradually learn that abject dependency upon computer networks was a dumb idea. We’re not there yet, but getting closer, as a gentle reader near London reports, who wants to be in Cairo, notwithstanding the breakdown of the British Airways booking system, which has grounded their aeroplanes around the planet. An assiduous reader of news (which I try not to be) will have noticed the “ransonware” cyber attack which scrambled the British healthcare system a fortnight ago, together with various other bureaucracies in countries here and there. We are assured that bigger and better is coming, thanks to the improving skills and technology of the bad guys, many of whom are state-sponsored. And ditto the good guys, if you can tell them apart.

No system crashes forever; there will always be a way to get it up again, along with another way to take it down. This is an assertion of common sense, in the face of hopeful millenarians. My son the electronic engineer tells me that Luddites are needed, to spot the flaws: for only those who truly hate computers, but are condemned to deal with them anyway, will see that to which electronic engineers are characteristically blind. Moreover, the computer-illiterate are invaluable to the salesmen, for the “market” will always consist of people who are not adept with computers, whether they like them or not.

Hard copy has this virtue: that it can, depending on the medium, remain legible for hundreds or thousands of years. From my own experience, I would estimate the permanence of electronic records at less than a decade. This has immense cultural implications, about which the post-modern are incurious: for whatever is not considered sufficiently useful to be copied and reposted passes into the universe of lost socks.

An intelligent teenager of my acquaintance tells me he now buys old-fashioned physical books because, “you can keep them.” Too, the memory of a printed page is always greater than retention from electronic scrolls, which he has noticed is approximately zero. And this, regardless of attention levels, which of course plunge in a medium riddled with “links,” which scatter the attention wonderfully.

McLuhan was writing about this, half a century ago: about how the entire mindset of a culture can be twisted by the media in which it communicates. Through telephones and radio and television ours was already becoming “virtual,” and wisdom was being replaced with “information.” Since, we have been experimenting in the genre of tragic farce, for the condition of society becomes so artificial that it is possible to imagine e.g. that the baby in the mother’s womb is “fetal matter,” or that there are more than two sexes.

You see, we do not need throwbacks and back-up systems only to guarantee that flight into Egypt. They are also necessary to the ecology of the human mind. In addition to connexions with things that don’t exist, we should retain a few links with reality.

Vietnam revisited

There are, if I count aright, three types or classes of military strategists: 1. The students of Sun Tzu. 2. The students of Carl von Clausewitz. And, 3. Total idiots. Never having been offered a general command, I’m still not sure which type I would be. But I do know which I’d prefer. Alas, almost all of our generals, since the “Enlightenment,” have been members of that third class, whose legacy is incredible heaps of bodies, usually for mixed or transient results.

As Sun Tzu said, and Archimedes of Syracuse would have understood, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Next best is to subdue the enemy with the unavoidable minimum of bloodshed, on both sides. Suicidal heroism is all very well, to the partisans of fame, but victory is sweeter.

It has been years since I re-fought the War in Vietnam with my buddies. I am delighted to see that the views I held forty years ago might now possibly pass for mainstream. This I gather from an article in the New York Times, by Mark Moyar, which plugs his own works (especially, Triumph Forsaken), and those of other revisionist scholars, such as Lewis Sorley and H. R. McMaster.

Let me present my original view. The Americans made three catastrophic mistakes: 1. They sent ten times as many troops as were needed. 2. They sent them to the wrong country. And, 3. They forgot to keep what they were doing secret. Instead, they actually encouraged a media extravaganza, which their enemy joyfully exploited.

In war, no news is better than good news. Don’t let the enemy know what you are doing.

Some things can’t be kept secret, of course, but when that happens, Mr President’s job is to justify the war with tremendous enthusiasm. Dubya Bush was like Lyndon Johnson in this respect. He was above correcting the lies and disinformation spread by anti-war liberals and progressives. But there are three things which must always be defended: 1. Mom. 2. Apple pie. And, 3. Western Civ. And never with the slightest hesitation, lest the devils get their wind.

The war could have been won, before Nixon even came to office, had the Americans sent their best-trained soldiers into Laos, to cut off the Ho Chi Minh Trail; while making frequent irritating incursions into North Vietnam itself, underground as well as over. Bombing should have been restricted to unambiguously military targets, avoiding pain to non-combatants. (Food drops to them would have made more sense.) The chief immediate task was, however, to prevent the Communists from inserting and supplying a guerrilla army in the South.

We had many natural allies in this task, including: 1. The Hmong and all other tribal interests throughout this mountainous terrain. 2. The Vietnamese in the South, more than a million of whom were already refugees from the North. And, 3. The Vietnamese in the North, suffering under a totalitarian dictatorship.

Now, the endgame should have been Vietnamese reunification after regime collapse in Hanoi. For in war, you never play for a draw. Unless, of course, you are a commander of that third sort.

On pageantry & apocalypse

I notice from photographs (it is unnecessary to read media texts) that Melania Trump, who declined the headscarf in Arabia, was wearing a fulsome mantilla in the Vatican. A nice Catholic girl from Slovenia (married only once, if irregularly) she knew what she was about. The pope might want to discuss her husband’s diet, but Melania was there to have her Rosary blessed. Ivanka, too, was all in black, and veiled: a student of protocol. These ladies are restoring some small degree of order in the West.

Alas, the men aren’t helping. The Donald failed to button his jacket for the papal audience, as Italian journalists were quick to observe. And while Trump arrived in a suitably august motorcade, Pope Francis greeted it in a Ford Escort. (Okay, I read some of the captions.)

Everyone loves a parade, and the place of pageantry in public life ought to be secure. But that is not to reckon, today, with the Three Horsemen of the New Apocalypse, as my late hero Nirad Chaudhuri called them. In a book he wrote to celebrate his own centenary (1997), he identified Individualism, Nationalism, and Democracy as these Horsemen. He said they were the root cause of our post-modern decadence, which differs from the decadence of the past in having these ideological drivers.

Let me add a line of argument he did not pursue. It is because of this that our contemporary decadence is so boring. All three of these Horsemen are tedious. Each is arbitrary and abstract. The Individualist denies his own past; the Nationalist his country’s; the Democrat the peculiarities of the actual people he claims to represent. All are thus opposed to Tradition, which acknowledges real things, and builds creatively upon them.

It will be seen from this list that Trump cannot be my ideal politician; moreover, that from this vantage, he shares an outlook with our current pope. They might quibble, privately or publicly, over the party line they ought to be advancing, but are agreed that something ought to be advanced, that breaks with all the “errors of the past.”

Now the Church herself, and the ladies who accompany these great men, have somehow retained the instinctive understanding that dresses properly for the occasion, and arrives in the appropriate vehicle — not to make a “personal statement,” but to avoid doing so. A man is not what he does, but what he is. This includes a woman.

Pageantry is something “normal,” in the old sense opposed to “common.” It is an “is.” True, it “evolves” over time, along with all of our mannerisms, but for any given time one can know the ropes. Tradition is art, not some crazy science. It is an expression of human and social dignity; it requires beauty in disciplined display. The clothes worn by high statesmen, as the clothes worn by priests, bespeak an office or station. They are not meant for expressions of personal style. They belong to the pageant — which formerly descended to the uniforms of everyday life.

One may move in grand palaces as Saint Thomas More, decked in the trappings of Court and Ecclesia, yet wear a hairshirt underneath. One may live in fine simplicity therein.

Sir Elton John, in a characteristically vulgar, ignorant, and gratuitous attack on the Pope Emeritus, said he wouldn’t dress like that in Las Vegas. In his vanity, he perfectly expresses the degenerate, post-modern mind, in which everything is taken as a fashion statement, and becomes by that measure monotonously showy, ugly, and cheap.

The movie

I know a young lady with an interesting obsession. Since her mother died, she is charged with the notion that her mother can see everything she does. She hasn’t much changed her ways, she reports, but feels a new accession of guilt, or more accurately, shame.

“Belinda,” let us call her, for that is not her name. Both she and her late mother could pass for Christians — the daughter perhaps less splendidly so. She says her mother was some kind of saint, and this is also my memory of the lady, who died a horrible death in consistently good cheer. Belinda calls herself a “bad” Christian, so perhaps she is a good Christian, after all, since a good Christian will always think of herself as a bad Christian. Though on the other hand, she might be right.

Recent casual remarks in these Idleposts return to haunt me in this context. Several correspondents have kindly provided their own “theories” on time travel, in response to e.g. my desire to set out on a book-hunting tour around the Classical Mediterranean. I have a theory, too, which I will surely impart. But first I should mention that all of our theories must make terms with a hard metaphysical fact. The past cannot be changed. Or if it can, we are at sea, truly, and post-modernity begins to make sense.

Now, supposing Belinda’s mother to be a saint, or otherwise an eventual graduate of Purgatory, I find it quite plausible that she can see, from outside earthly Time, just what her earthy daughter is doing within it. And, not only what she is now doing, but what she has ever done, including what she will by her free will come to do, and that from every conceivable angle.

Whether she may now read her daughter’s mind is quite another question. My guess is that only God can do that, or will ever be able to do that; I speculate only on the externals.

Imagine us living still in Flatland, but Belinda’s mother in the Fullness of Space. What is there now for her not to see? Or perhaps I may invoke the fish tank, to add a frisson of subtlety. We know what our goldfish are up to, in their aquarium dimension, but they can only guess at what is happening outside it. As they are fish of little brain, their thoughts on our behaviour — or even on whether we really exist — are of little interest. Indeed: gentle reader is currently indulging what, from a divine point of view, could be described as a “goldfish theory.”

And yet the “two worlds” interact. Fish food drops occasionally into the tank, as manna from Heaven. The Cyprinidae below may think this happens by an entirely natural process, but we who hold the tin know better.

History is unalterable, or will be unalterable as it comes to pass, and is thus “recorded,” in an absolute sense. The dead, or rather, those dead who did not choose to get as far away from God as they could, and thus to “the other place” where they cannot see Him, may walk into His “movie” at any point. They may, according to this morning’s goldfish theory, move around every set at will, invisible to, and undetected by the actors; watch the flick backwards, forwards, sideways, or in stills. But they cannot change a thing.

There is no hiding from the holy dead, it follows; and of course, no hiding from the all-seeing Eye of God. It strikes me that Belinda might as well behave, remembering that in addition to her Creator, her mother may be watching from Eternity, out there.

Just one good smack

The Bronx is a borough of New York City which houses, as we say in India, 14 lakh inhabitants. (A lakh is 10 to the 5th, written 1,00,000.) This is a large number, according to me. For most of the known planetary history, that would make it the world’s biggest city. I am including several conurbations that came and went from eastern Asia, leaving considerable ruins; and of course old Rome, and Alexandria, the great megapoleis of the pagan West, which at their largest probably did not clear one million.

I make these comparisons because I think we sometimes fail to be appropriately gobsmacked by the demographic scales; the sheer number of enfleshed human souls at this time, who wake each morning as you or I, gentle reader, not wishing for a violent or painful death, but instead seeking breakfast. Many want coffee.

My information this morning comes via the Beeb. I’m told that not one bookstore survives in the Bronx. Some enterprising lady proposes to spoil this unique achievement, however, by opening one in the fall. Her name is Noelle Santos, and she is no fool, for her shop (to sell books on “race” and “gender”) will double as a wine bar.

Among the reasons I would time-plane if I could — to Rome, to Alexandria, to Antioch, Pergamon, Byzantium, Athens — is to visit the booksellers. I should probably find papyrus rolls vexing, I’m more of a vellum and codex kind of guy (call me hyper-modern). But I’d surely return with a capsa (cylindrical like an old hat-box) full of scrolls and sillybi, plus inkpots and styli stuffed in my equipage.

Of course there would be problems at Customs, as I’ve found when previously trying to import non-paperback books into Canada. We have agents who’ve never seen such things, and don’t know how to tax them.

Cui dono lepidum novum libellum
arido modo pumice expolitum?

These lines were at the opening of the Veronensis Liber — found corking up a wine jar in an ancient monastery somewhere in the Italian mountains. (“To whom shall I present my pretty new book, freshly smoothed with dry pumice?”) It was also the beginning of my own love for Catullus, which continues to the present day. I found that, from the Latin words, I could smell the volume; as I could touch the Loeb, first handled at Ferozsons, along the Mall in Lahore.

Actually, this Idlepost wasn’t meant to be about books directly, rather about propositions. (Every proposition in Catullus is sharp.)

I direct gentle reader to the series Father Hunwicke is uploading to his Mutual Enrichment blogue. (“Is the Pope a heretic?”) Or to Mrs Mullarkey’s Studio Matters: her items on the Saint Faustina imposture. Or to the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae, which contains the latest statistics on the sudden fall of vocations (especially female vocations) in the Roman Church. Or to the announcement of the latest batch of liberal, progressive Cardinals, with whom Bergoglio has been stacking the Conclave that will choose his successor. Or to several other places I have bookmarked in my little machine here, freshly wiped with an alcohol-dampened cloth.

For all these strands wind into the rope from which we dangle, in a world that is losing its ability to reason, and in a Church under the rule of a captain who buys into the void with both feet. But no heretic.

As Father Hunwicke says, it isn’t heresy until one constructs a sentence which contains an intelligible proposition. (And let me add, there is no heresy in Parkdale, or the Bronx.)

O Lord come soon and smack us all upside the head.

Sweetness & light

One imagines the disembodied souls of the schoolchildren, wandering the streets of Parkdale while they sleep.

“Give me Dante! Give me Petrarch!” they cry.

But instead, when their souls return and they wake, they will be given a stone.

Gentle reader may take this as a criticism of our education system, which carries on through the media, cradle to grave. Its principal purpose is to kill poetry in the children, and keep it dead through old age. The drilling starts in kindergarten, and by the age of seven they are already spouting the industrial oils. The State (fully integrated with big business) insists on this.

Our rulers want a citizenry that is regulation-compliant, a drone force that will work their shifts and pay their taxes. They need obedient subjects for their scheme of progressive social engineering. Whether in peace or war, they need cannon-fodder.

I do not restrict poetry to Dante and Petrarch, though I’m inclined to, while reading them.

Amor, non già per mia poca bontate,
Ma per sua nobiltate,
Mi pose in vita si dolce e soave …

“Love, not indeed for my slight goodness, but of his nobility, placed me in life so sweet and calm …”

The Creator hath endowed us with poetical minds, and we have been trying to rewire them as adding machines.

A few essential things must be taught to children, after which they may learn anything on their own. How to draw, how to paint and colour; how to carve from wood and mould from clay; how to dance, and how to sing, with beauty; how to read music, and play an instrument; how to read, and to write with a legible and elegant hand; and too, how to count and play with numbers.

What else? My curriculum is already rather full.

Add a few languages to this, starting with Latin. Their native language will thus be improved. And there is a wonderful opportunity, while they are still very young and joyfully mnemonic, to cram them full of declensions and conjugations, of exotic vocabulary and the syntactic techniques to put their new words into motion. Let them memorize thousands of verses, whether or not they fully understand them, while they still can. The capacity will begin to evaporate as they ripen in years. Let them absorb into their souls the rules of scansion, the rhythms of prose.

I’ve left out the field trips and the nature study.

Let them find, in the poetry of this world, the rudiments of their respective vocations.

That is the work of the primary schools, where through childhood boys and girls might mix. The work of the secondary schools is more technical, more focused, more specialized, more “optional.” By this I mean voluntary, for those not cut out for academic work should go off to fish instead, to plough, to milk cows, or apprentice as auto mechanics. They must not be pulled, nor the “high schools” dragged by unwilling learners. From puberty, too, the sexes must be segregated, to keep the little ones’ eyes on their work; and preserve their innocence as long as we can.

What I’m suggesting has been touted before, from Plato onward. It used to be called, Education through Art. Herbert Read even wrote a textbook on it (3rd ed., 1958), starting with that old chestnut by George Bernard Shaw, to the effect that poetry (which he called, “fine art”) is the only teacher except torture.

Of Adam & Eve

The castle is stormed, since yesterday’s Idlepost, by ladies denying that they are bibliophobes, liberphobes, libellumphobes, volumenphobes, chartaphobes, codexphobes, or book haters. Several make good arguments for themselves. My chief correspondente in western Massachusetts reports that every room in her man-free house is book-dominated, and the hallways were lined, too, before she began “downsizing.” So would have been the bathrooms, were they not so small. (I do not keep books in my shower stall, either.)

She is the real deal, for her downsizing, which comes with age sometimes, includes “de-thinging” as well as de-booking, and as she has discovered, the “things” are easier to part with. Notwithstanding she declares 20 boxes or more on topics like gardening and theology to a local monastery, 15 of the murder mysteries she no longer reads to another still addicted, and innumerable books possibly suitable for children to her daughter across the pond — whom I also know as a bibliophile. Too, she has not stopped buying books, which is the decisive indicator.

There is another woman in the Far East (Halifax) whose kitchen cupboards are stuffed with books, and who finds them set down in her refrigerator. Moreover, I am told that there are female librarians, though I doubt this proves any sympathy with the creatures. (With Coleridge, I count books as living, speaking, wingéd things.)

It is true, some women are bookish, and many men are not, as another correspondente insists. Very well, I find this easy to admit, but do not stand corrected. I did write, “in my experience,” which includes several harrowing cases.

“I need clothes more than you need books,” is a phrase I recall from several “starter” marriages. And among those more prolonged, I include a woman who drove her husband to a mental asylum (quite literally, for he did not have a driver’s licence), then dumpstered all his books while he was trapped inside. (He was, to his consternation, released a few days later.) And another, the wife of a prominent university professor, seen present and gleefully smiling soon after his death, through the auction that dispersed his library in big lots arranged by size and colour. She personally thanked the book scouts for carting the horrible things away.

Tolstoy said he would tell the truth about women, but only when he had one foot in the grave.

It happens I have other anecdotes, of book-friendly women, with which I might have created an illusion of balance and equality. But the times are not right for them. We live in an age when the art of generalization has been lost, and no “fact” unillustrated by statistical charts will be admitted. And should the stereotype indeed be statistically validated, there will be riots on campus.

So we must stick to our guns, and generalize bravely.

Behind the eagle eyes, and elephantine ears of our progressive gestapo, we still find examples of affectionate sexism, racism, and the like. (An unaffectionate misandry, on the other hand, is publicly promoted and reinforced by law, along with quotas to restrict the advancement of white people, as the State consolidates its monopoly on prejudice.) It is a proof that some feist still lurks in our old bag of a civilization. For misanthropy is the backbone of Reaction, and targeted misanthropy is the most exhilarating kind.


Since Holy Week, up here in the High Doganate, we have been doing the most ambitious spring cleaning that we can recall ever having done, voluntarily. I say “we,” but I got no help at all from Bodo and Katrina (the pigeon couple I mentioned last week), my purpled finches have been absent without leave, and the fluffy cat (“Mildred”) who sometimes lodges here for vacations has stayed well away. (She is invaluable for dusting those hard-to-reach corners.)

Now, the High Doganate isn’t large: 600 square feet, including the balconata, where the plurality of its inhabitants seem to live. (A big infusion of illegal-immigrant mayflies recently; then the Trump spiders came to round them up.) Which is to say, just less than the seventieth part of an acre.

I know a couple who occupy 30 acres, at least one of which must be indoors, and they never complain about upkeep, so what am I?

One of nature’s whiners, I’m afraid.

Another friend, who has just moved as far away from Washington as he could get, consistent with keeping a job there, reports that he has also been shifting “mountains of books,” some of which he admits exist in two or more copies. His wife will surely have noted this fact.

Women, in my experience, hate books — they see them for what they are, a dusting nightmare — and I could back this assertion with innumerable anecdotes. Instead of a wife, I now have a French paintbrush — the wall variety, in badger hair — which has proved just the thing for cleaning the top edges. (The old practice of gilding the top edges of books made perfect sense: it prevents grime from working into the naked pages.) If women only knew this, so many marriages could be saved.

I have been accused of “book collecting,” but there is no truth in this. They merely accumulate, of their own free will. Indeed, while installing a few new bookcases, which necessitated the juggling of several old (and bookcases are hard to juggle, believe me), I was able to identify several hundred works that could be “recirculated.” Gentle reader may be shocked to learn that my principle parodies that of the abortionists: “Every book a wanted book.” Another principle is to avoid having them pile up on floors, which creates physical obstructions to peripatetic philosophizing.

From previous exercises in librarianship, I have found that one comes down in the end to the same clump of six redundant tatty paperbacks, which can’t be parted with, no matter how ruthless one is feeling. These six have followed one about since adolescence. Three are little art books, providing crisp, matt, colour reproductions of, respectively: Spanish frescoes of the Romanesque period; Russian icons from the twelfth through fifteenth centuries; and, Persian miniatures from ancient manuscripts.

Two others are Penguins: Baudelaire, Selected Writings on Art and Artists; and Erich Heller, The Disinherited Mind.

Finally, Céline, Journey to the End of the Night.

Many other books entertained my youth; a few stitched hardcovers also survive, but fade into the background woodwork. These six stand out because they are so obviously disposable, and have survived every purge through the last half-century.

I stare at them, together, and realize that an entire worldview could be constructed from them, and that it was my own, in formation.

Of prophecy & prognostication

One is often told “you cannot live in the past,” or, by way of self-contradiction, that one is doing so. I would if I could, though of course I should like to choose which past to live in. Meanwhile, what is one to say for those who aspire to live in the future? Can they do it? Should they wish even to try? (Consider: only the dead are “ahead of their time.”) For my part I am convinced that if I wait patiently, the future will come of its own accord. Too, I doubt my capacity to hurry it.

Some days time seems to move faster than others — I frankly prefer the slow time days — but I notice that events remain tightly coordinated, and the tune is the same regardless of the tempo. Many are the tasks I could perform more smoothly if I could will slow-motion. I often thought this as a cricket batsman. But if the opposing bowler could will it, too, I’d be done for a duck just the same.

Those who cannot live in the future would nevertheless like to see the movie. I understand the attraction — how curiosity killed the cat — but not what good it will do me. If I knew the day and hour of anything unscheduled, it would follow that I could not change it. I would find myself watching in mute horror. Only my powerlessness could be enhanced. Alternatively, I would have been shown only a hypothetical future, extending from present trends, in which case, what was the point?

Bad behaviour leads to bad ends, shall we say, and good to good. In which case I don’t need to know the end, only the means.

The children at Fatima, a century ago, were not told by Our Lady what would happen in the future. Or if they were, they were much too young to understand. A great deal was happening in the world of 1917, one did not require heavenly visitation to see that it was fateful. From what I’ve read, one would not even have required a newspaper subscription, to know that the West was turning from God. Not being the Mother of God, ourselves, we are poorly placed to understand Why she would come, to that then, to that there, to those particular children. We cannot “understand” the apparitions as we might try to understand the plot of a novel, or the narrative sequence in news reports.

Instead the children, and by extension all the children of the Church, were told to pray, urgently. We were told to abandon our sins, make restitution, and look in Hope, liturgically, to the East (from where Mary came, and to where she returned, literally, in the memoirs). We were told, in effect, that the Kingdom was at hand, yet from the philosophical perspective, it is always so. We were told not what will happen, but what to do, and that immediately.

Prophecy must necessarily involve a breach in time, it seems to me. This, because our world in time comes in contact with a world beyond it. In this sense the daily Mass is invincibly prophetic. But it is not prognostic.

One does not go to the altar as to the weather report; or as the pagans did to a marble slab, to examine the entrails of birds. The childish human tendency, to ignore what we are told and ask instead what will happen, is exhibited in so much well-meaning reverence towards this anniversary of the Fatima apparitions.

With respect to God, and to all divine manifestation, I think we should grow up a bit — stop asking “Why?” and, “What is going to happen?” — and instead more simply do as we are told.

In praise of anarchy

Good: Trump fired Comey. About time. I have nothing against the man, but he needed to be fired. Everyone should be fired, it builds character. I will draw the line at hanging, usually. But yes, turn them out on the street, make them earn a living.

That is incidentally my scheme for the improvement of all modern business and government. Fire everybody. For instance, fire Trump. By all means fire Trudeau. Get all their henchmen off the public teat. As gentle reader must know, I am opposed in principle to all non-hereditary office-holding, and employees who expect a steady cheque. This leads to being ruled by a certain class of pushy, noisome, interfering bosses. In particular, no one should take a management job, unless he is stuck with it.

Well, maybe keep Trump. He’s stuck with the job, and doesn’t need the pay. And besides, he seems to be good at firing people.

As a sometime reader of Fielding, I consider myself a connoisseur of the police functions. I think of the FBI, or its equivalent in any other national jurisdiction, chiefly as a public menace. They’re as likely to be in league with the malefactors, as against them. To be sure, there are some things that need to be investigated, to which end I propose an informal network of Chandleresque “dicks,” commissioned case by case. If they catch the malefactor, a big reward; and a pretty funeral should they happen to die trying. If they fail, let them beg for half of their expenses.

Spies, and counter-spies, ditto. They are only doing a private investigator’s work, in a more cosmopolitan environment. Don’t be a frayer; pay for results. This is what we used to do, and it worked much better. Salarymen, as the Japanese call them, are only there to collect salaries.

Most policemen do simpler work. They are night watchmen. In cities like Chicago, there are day watchmen, too. They should be big and burly and fairly well-armed. I’m not against hiring women, so long as they meet the height and weight requirements, and can run a five-minute mile. Watchmen should supply their own sparkling uniforms, as other tools of their trade. And they should collect their wages from the people by whom their services are required. (Bankers understand this.) A neighbourhood cop should report to the neighbourhood. If they find him sleeping, then, hail and farewell.

This is more or less my approach to everything. My favourite newspaper editor, who almost fired me on several occasions (Neil Reynolds, of blesséd memory), treated all his staff as if they were free-lancers. And free agents: he’d ask politely if you wanted the assignment, never taking that for granted. Only if you didn’t, would he dump you. He had no use for unions. He loved being sued. Everything around him was creative chaos. “People who don’t like this kind of work should try farming,” he once explained.

We live in an age of vast organizations. Even in the Vatican, it’s like that. I was reminded yesterday of sainted Pope John XXIII, asked by some newsman how many worked there. “About half,” he replied.

Of course, not everyone is suited to a frenetic life. The great majority are content to be poor. The rich are mostly happy to inherit. Why should we bother them with goods they don’t need? I have no prejudice against the quiet harmless poor, or birthright wealth, either. I don’t think it right to disturb such people.

On the speed of thought

I’ve been outsmarted by a pigeon, in the wee hours of this night. Rather, by two pigeons, of a single mind. They have decided to interpret an article of furniture briefly parked on the balconata (up here in the High Doganate) as a dovecote. They are trying to nest behind and under. While I appreciate that they are ardent young lovers, I find their cooing disruptive. In the daytime, I menaced them with a broom. They fled in panic: right through a small squadron of indifferent sparrows.

Now, any self-respecting sparrow can out-manoeuvre a waving broom, and he knows it. Whereas, a pigeon isn’t sure. Moreover, sparrows are pert little creatures, wise for their size, and I find they have generally thought through their responses in advance. In ground-feeding, for instance, a sparrow has no difficulty stealing a pigeon’s crumb. He takes the pigeon for a big fat cumbersome oaf, and knows he won’t retaliate. Indeed: that is one of the things I find most Christian in pigeons, or “rock doves” as they’d prefer to be called. Too, I might credit them with a kind of idiot fortitude.

A pigeon might strike one as a slow thinker, a sparrow as a quick one. This is the reverse of true, and itself an example of contemptibly quick thinking. Sparrows are outwardly sharp and bright, but take their sceptical time on all questions of policy. Whereas, a pigeon will quickly settle on a stupid idea, then stick to it come what may. In this respect, it is a liberal bird. The idea of nesting on an inhabited balcony was an especially stupid one. By now the young couple has been twenty times whisked away. But they keep coming back, having selected an utterly indefensible poke hole.

However, one of them — the female, I suspect — has conservative tendencies. She has reasoned that I am less likely to come out with the broom if she just shuts up. This night, I discover that she has pushed her nest to the place farthest from broom-reach; and that her man has been told to do all the panicking for her. She remains silently incubating her eggs, as he alone flees in a great commotion — circling back to the other end of the balcony to make another commotion as I again drive him off. Surely, it was the female who thought this tactic through.

For the female is the slower thinker, in most species. That is why each is able to reproduce. The males think faster, and are thus prone to error. The female, though physically weaker, manipulates for his own good.

In human society, under current social conditions, the females are thinking quicker and quicker. It is an issue that was taken up some years ago by my poet friend, Robert Eady, in his disquisition, “On the maximum speed of women.” I notice they now make the sort of perpetually adolescent, repetitive mistakes in which the males used to specialize — acting on those ideas which “seemed good at the time.”

Indeed, I was awakened by a pack of female juvenile delinquents (human), cavorting in the street below. Though I was rewarded with a glorious view of the Flower Moon, at the full. And offered this latest contest with my pigeon squatters.

“You think too fast,” is among the more tedious criticisms with which I afflict my most liberal acquaintance. They are so clever, and they always get it wrong. They belong on television, where the quality of thought doesn’t matter, but the speed of it is vital. None, it seems, can be taught the Iron Law of Paradox which, among its many corollaries, holds that “if it feels good, you should hesitate to do it.”

We’ll see if my pigeons can learn this in the morning.


The latest thing in Europe is “to have an existence.” I noticed this phrase often coming up while half-following the French election campaign. They now have a thirty-nine year old technocrat for president, named after a diacritical mark in Latin and Hungarian. That makes him, I think, a long vowel, or a heavy syllable. I shall think of him poetically, with breves on either side. On checking, I see that he may also have an existence in Livonian, Samogician, school Arabic, and various Polynesian languages.

Indeed, I wondered why they declared him the victor with the vote from Tahiti not yet in. Have they no existences there, too?

His wife is sixty-four, as everyone must know. They’ve been “an item” since he was fifteen. That would be when she was thirty-nine, I calculate. But they are married, now: him for the very first time. He and his step-daughter were classmates; “Ms Trogneux,” as she calls herself, their teacher. Drama is what she taught, I gather. And in a Jesuit school. She says that Macron was “precocious.” She was an heiress to a wealthy chocolatier, married to a banker at the time. (They had other children.) A lot of interesting things are possible under French law. Here in America, she might have been prosecuted, instead. One sees that sort of thing a lot in Fox News.

Suddenly I remember a girl of fourteen. Her surname is lost to memory, but she had the same given name as this new first lady of France: “Brigitte.” Long tumbling auburn hair, sun-bleached, tied into a ponytail while working. Sharp features, and a beautiful slight assymetry. Piercing blue eyes. We were picking grapes together in the Médoc. (You could get these jobs easily, during the harvest, even if you were an illegal like me, just travelling through.) The girl looked older; “precocious” I would say. I was myself already an old man, some months past twenty.

Everyone drank wine, from big tumblers, just to quench our thirst; all ages. This in a shack in the fields, to which one retired, thirsty and exhausted. Good red “table wine,” as I recall; better than the stuff they export. Perhaps that had something to do with it.

Confusing myself with Henry V, and the young lady with Catherine of Valois, I asked if we could be married. My French was as bad as Henry’s. (It is worse now.)

It turned out that we could, under French law.

But she said that her father would not approve. (He didn’t like “Anglo-Saxons.”) And as she was plentifully supplied with big brothers, I decided not to press my suit.

Apparently, this Macron’s parents didn’t approve, either. But I would guess he is more wilful than I.

Everyone “has an existence,” as I have said, from my attentive reading of the European fashions. This includes everyone I’ve mentioned. And they have a philosophy, called Existentialism, over there. It says that everyone has an existence, and develops through acts of will, not only by thought but by “feelings,” in a world that is perfectly absurd. Ah, Europe. (Perhaps Existentialism is out of date, I must check.)

It doesn’t really matter who is President of France. The country has never been governable. I didn’t like her much, but thought that “Marine” Le Pen would have been more entertaining. I would not go so far as to say that she doesn’t have an existence any more; only that it must be diminished.

Everyone has an existence, you know. And a will, too, that’s what I’ve found. And these days anyone can marry anyone, it seems. That’s because they “have an existence.”

It’s all in a book I was reading, back when I was picking grapes: L’Être et le néant, by Jean-Paul Sartre.

Goes well with big tumblers of wine.