Essays in Idleness


Faith & leadership

According to some talking head in a video, there are probably only a hundred people in the world today who can read, write, and speak Latin fluently. I am certainly not one of them. But as my mind wandered among my friends, I counted a dozen or so who can do that in Greater Parkdale alone. And I cannot claim to know everyone in this city. It contains so many ethnic neighbourhoods, perhaps one of them is Ancient Roman. There are several thousand Tibetan speakers within half-a-mile of the High Doganate; who says it is impossible? And note: Tibetan is a harder language to learn than Latin.

So I think we will have to revise the estimate upwards. True, Latin has been in decline, these last ten centuries or so, but as my hero Edmund Burke explained to that nasty whig, Edward Gibbon, there is a lot of rot in any civilization. It takes a long time to flatline completely. Meanwhile, let its enemies dread a revival.

My high-school Latin teacher, the beloved Jessie Glynn, and her colleague Esther Blaney — who prattled fluently in Latin in the corridors — taught as if it could happen tomorrow. One ought to be ready. Truth to tell, it still hasn’t happened, yet their shades would agree that the nineteen in twenty thousand who dropped Latin the instant it was reduced to an “elective” in the Ontario curriculum of 1968, made a serious mistake. Indeed, look at them now: tedious lives, inarticulate even in English, and cannot quote a single line from Horace.

The video, linked by Father Zed, was about the still-living Latinist, Reginald Foster, OCD, who has not given up, even though retired to an oldie home in Milwaukee after decades of service in the Gregorian at Rome, and as amanuensis to four popes. (“OCD” refers to the Discalced Carmelites, incidentally, not to “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” as the wags would have it.) A good eremite, he hates shoes and likes to sleep on floors. He is also inspiring. The clip shows a young Chinese girl who had some sort of epiphany when she met him, and had spent the last DLVII days studying Latin with an enthusiasm that is obviously contagious.

Father Reginald notes that even dogs can learn the language (he teaches them to sit, stand, and fetch in Latin), and when asked if he would like to see something done, says, “I am doing something about it. I’m going down to teach right now.”

There’s leadership for you: the “take charge” attitude one sees in impressive people, who do not waste their time and spirit moaning about things (the way I do). It is a quality closely allied with faith, in the broadest sense, but also in the narrowest. Faith can move mountains, and if the mountains have not yet moved, faith is not discouraged.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, according to the sage Lao Tzu. True, he did not speak Latin, but his Classical Chinese was beyond compare. Let us vindicate this ancient Chinaman, whose teaching was so strikingly compatible with that of Our Lord, by taking charge right now. (Whether the latter spake with the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, in Greek or Latin, I leave to speculation.)

The recovery of Latin Christendom requires the recovery of Latin, and it is in our power to do something about this.

Le Monde

There was a memorable moment in Paris, oh, some forty-something years ago. The late Mr Nixon had just agreed to depose himself as President of the Natted States. I was drinking coffee, from a pretty metal press, and ingesting a roll slathered with “cultured” (deliciously bacteria-infected) butter from the Norman north, and fig jam, full of the warm Provençal south of that large and splendid country; and reading Le Monde, the French national journal of Leftish unctuousness. Their reporters and commentators were puzzled; all of them it seemed. They loathed Nixon to a man, but were trying to get their heads around the fact that a President of the Natted States could be deposed for doing, perhaps just the once, the sort of thing French Presidents did every day, for sport even when for no political purpose. The news was good, yes; but it was also incomprehensible to them. This amused me.

I was, even in those days, a fan of this “Richard Nixton” (the misspelling of his name was a smug convention). I didn’t actually like him, but in the words of a Czech friend, “he gives those liberals heart attacks,” and that seemed a good enough reason to support him. For those were the days when I was just discovering that a lad with my views is not called a “liberal,” but a “conservative” instead. (I’ve since moved on, to “reactionary.”) It was a question of mere labels, “truth in advertising” as it were. An old-fashioned “liberal” like my father to start, I was already in favour of liberty and small government, against totalitarianism and thus, gung-ho on Vietnam. But I had also already noticed that most people who thought themselves “liberals,” were otherwise insufferable.

But I digress. Those were the days before Empörungsgesellschaft had established itself as the European and American cultural norm. Even in Paris, and even among the students still settling from their antics of 1968, there were many who could go a whole day without a single expression of rage. The millennials among my gentle readers will have to imagine that such an age was possible. The young could be reasonable, in other ways, too. Even the girls. I remember!

We are shocked, shocked to discover that men in power (including women more masculine than the men) are capable of self-interest and corruption. When formerly, we would have been shocked if they were not. Saints were believed to be the exception, not the rule. Only (from a Parisian perspective) in the strange and unaccountable lands of Anglo-Saxonia were there people who did not know this. But it scrambles one’s entire Weltanschauung, not to know.

Now, personally I carry no brief for corruption, in its myriad forms. Too, I do not consider myself to be an agent of the Devil. But I have come to recognise his existence, as a de facto power, constantly wheedling to make himself de jure. Indeed, it is a principle of my religion that I oppose evil in every form. This would theoretically include the little things, of which one makes a heap for each Confession.

Still, most sin is just sin. It seems almost nothing compared to the monstrous evil of presenting sin as if it were virtue; or virtue as if it were sin; or peccadilloes as if they were grave apocalyptic matters. For that is what unstrings a society.

Men in power are surrounded by temptation, and not being saints, they frequently succumb. Indeed, I should think the great majority of them are approximately half insane, from the cultivation of worldly ambition. I feel sorry for them, because they might go to Hell. But much of what they do is on the petty-cash level — embezzlements and pay-offs, break-ins and frame-ups, lies and rather wild exaggerations; that sort of thing. Surely our present-day obsession with such trifles argues the sin of scrupulosity in us, when there are matters of real moment — and in our own lives!

Read Ecclesiastes, if thou wilt, at least once every year. Learn how things are in this lachrymal vale, and cease to obsess about the Fires and the Furies. Coffee is good; buttered rolls are good; and fig jam, all good; including Le Monde — but for smiles, and not to be ingested.

A puzzlement

Is it alright to express outrage against excessive displays of outrage? I ask this more in curiosity than in anger. And I am curious about the full range of outrageousness: not only the “spittle-flecked nutties” I associate with conventional left-liberal thinking, but the more passive-aggressive forms developed in Canada, by which the target of the original outrage receives the girlish “silent treatment,” then is quietly unpersoned.

Outrage begets outrage, until we remember that Our Lord advised against resisting evil with evil. It was a saying that might be misunderstood, because some forms of resistance are good, and should not be bunched together with the bad ones. There is a place in society for a good hanging; or in war for a variety of thoughtful ordnance; or other focused, decisive acts of problem-fixing violence. Justice may demand it; though let me hope I will not be thought too liberal by adding that justice also demands certain procedural regularities, unavailable in e.g. a Kangaroo Court or Human Rights Tribunal.

There is, however, no place for ill-considered revenge; and the possibility of defeating hatred with love need not be dismissed out of hand.

“I am outraged by your outrage, sir,” is a line I have tried in several situations. Or, “ma’am,” as the case may be — spoken in the voice of unturbulent irony. It worked once, as anything might, calculated to make one’s assailant laugh. The trick is to undermine his self-importance, and this is easier to perform while it is over-exposed. Mere escalation will not have this effect, nor any other form of competition in which spectators are left to vote on which party is the greater lunatic.

For God, in His infinite foresight, has so arranged the human condition that reason has at least a chance. The Christian yoga of self-containment puts anger to its proper uses. Or, should gentle reader prefer: the principles of balance and leverage in judo. The winner in any pugilistic match, including those which are conducted with firearms, is most likely to be the contestant who is thinking more clearly. Anger may serve to inspire us to action, but makes a poor formulator of tactics. (We do want to win, don’t we?)

In the Empörungsgesellschaft of our times (see penultimate Idlepost), it is well to remember that outrage never works for long. It makes a dramatic opening for conflict, but can only be sustained with the sort of acting which, as we are beginning to see in Natted States Merica and elsewhere, soon wears on any audience. “Yes,” one might reflect to oneself, “it is quite outrageous that they are crazy and we are sane.”

But it is important that we manifest sanity.

Fancy people in black

I was not surprised, nor hurt, not to be invited to the Golden Globes this year. I’ve got used to it. I wasn’t invited in any previous years, and quite frankly, I do not own a fancy black dress. Nor a nice black tuxedo, any more, should I have decided to come as a heterosexual, instead of a hetaera. I used to have one: classic 1964 James Bond with narrow Thai silk lapels, handed down by my father. But in a mere half-century it had become somewhat ragged, so I passed it along to the Sally Anne. (Always thinking of the poor: they love ragged and broken things.) Well, these days I’m hardly invited anywhere; which is something I have in common with Harvey Weinstein.

Another thing is that I was accused of sexual harassment, once. This was by a young woman I fired, after she tried to seduce me. Fortunately some other girls whom I had not sexually harassed rode quickly to my defence. The little vixen dropped her rumour campaign; though not before it had seriously annoyed me. (Another guy I know was not so lucky; lost his big job and good prospects in life under the cloud of claims that were never brought to court, nor would be, as they were possible to disprove.)

“Amusement” would not describe my response as I watch the current phase of the “sexual revolution.” The paradox is that it made casual sexual advances commonplace: the very sort for which the guillotine is now being sharpened. I don’t blame second-wave feminism for this, but something larger that includes Playboy and, I’m sorry to say, James Bond; and has an ancestry that goes back to first-wave feminism, and the boulevardiers of the Gay Nineties. (Those would be the decadent eighteen-Nineties). A certain, civilized “atmosphere” between the sexes became seriously polluted around then. By now it is a grave environmental problem.

My motivation for today’s little Idlepost is however something I read in “Page Six” of the New York Post. I don’t usually go there, except when something is flagged on the Drudge Report. And I saw such a thing this morning. Having not read much about the Golden Globe party I missed, I was nevertheless fascinated to learn about others who were not invited. These included women with the surnames Arquette, Argento, McGowan, and Sorvino. They were among the first to turn on the sleazy Mr Weinstein, and laid charges including rape that may actually go to court. But as the tabloid explains, “Victims are not glamorous.” The Golden Globes are, after all, a winners’ circle.

“Bandwagons are for climbing on, not starting.” This Lord Chesterfield advice was given to me young, and quite facetiously, by the father who handed me down his tuxedo. I say facetious, because he was incorruptible himself; and too, the sort of man who would start the horses. He was also inventive, and as an industrial designer, designed several products that made other people many millions of dollars, but left him a few hundred out-of-pocket. He truly lacked the skill for cashing in. So that, as he also facetiously noted, inventors, original designers, and pioneers of any sort, tend to die poor. If you want to die rich, do not waste time inventing things for the good of mankind. Focus instead on marketing.

This principle applies to every field with which I am even passingly familiar, including all the arts. Granted, there are exceptions: “Inventors like Edison or Picasso, who were also ruthless entrepreneurs.”

Laying bold criminal charges is likewise a mug’s game. Even if you win, you lose. Others will grab the advantages. These do not come from sticking your neck out, but from piling on, once the defendant is safely down. Third-wave feminism has mastered this principle, of ruthless entrepreneurialism. The glamour comes from cashing in; and strutting your stuff with virtue signalling.

The longer I live, the more I identify with losers. Even Hollywood losers.


I have just learnt a new word, from a Swabian friend. She is a liberal, in the old sense — which is to say, stable, sane, empirical, Continental. Perhaps not a genius, but very smart. Impossible to provoke (I’ve tested this). A liberal from Europe does not allow herself to be confused with a socialist, a feminist, or other insane person. Regine (let us call her) is a reader of Die Zeit, which remains at least a half-sane paper. (How I wish we had something like it in English.) As a good liberal, she tirelessly instructs me, for my own good. She suggests that I become more moderate. (I hesitate to suggest that a German should become more reactionary.)

Well, Empörungsgesellschaft may not be a new word to Germans, but it was to me. Like many of their other concepts, it cannot be translated adequately. This is especially true of their innumerable compounds. The whole is invariably greater than the parts. Empörung could be many kinds of disgust, or indignation; or resistance, or revolt. Gesellschaft could be many kinds of society, company, class. It might even suggest a form of dress. All these meanings are intended. We might wish to translate this term simply, as “outrage society,” and that would get us, superficially, near. But the pregnant ambiguities on either side of the fused appellations conduct a lot of electricity through the matrix, in the absence of a circuit-breaking hyphen.

We must thus incorporate Empörungsgesellschaft into English, whole, as we have done with Weltanschauung, Zeitgeist, Übermensch, Kulturkampf, Gemütlichkeit, Weltschmerz, Schadenfreude. To say nothing of, Vergangenheitsbewältigung.

From what I can make out, the new E-word assumes the floundering of the Fourth Estate (or “legacy” journalism) before the invasive “fifth force” of social media. Crazy bloggers, twitterers, facebooklings, and so forth, are able to impinge upon the public consciousness in new and historically unprecedented ways. “Facts” are concocted to order, and subsequent “fact-checks” are concocted, too; opponents thus label each other constantly as liars. Discussion of every topic is politicized, in the lynch-mob spirit of shrieking moral outrage. The old-fashioned newsman’s criterion of “relevance” is replaced by cross-links to imaginary events and conspiracy theories. Attention is suddenly focused on the most unlikely details. The Internet itself is configured to encourage bizarre confirmation subcultures; users can funnel a round-the-clock supply of whatever “information” might please them. This provides them with a Wundpflaster against their aching kognitive Dissonanz. All public policy must be determined not only in live time, but in the full knowledge that at any moment, anyone can become the object of a Scheiße-Sturms (“shit-storm”).

Well, there is more to it than that; I have merely picked out the bullet points. But I think those Germans are onto something.

Empörungsgesellschaft. … You read it here first.


According to a certain Syrian gentleman — from the Patriarchate of Antioch, one of the Pentarchy of “first churches” going back to the Apostles, specifically Peter and Paul — Christ was baptized in the waters of the Jordan. And not on His own account, strictly speaking, but for mysterious reasons, having to do with the Sacrament of Baptism itself. He was, as it were, “baptizing Baptism,” and making holy the waters. This was a manifestation of the Trinity — done in the name of the Holy Trinity, and by the Trinity, for the purposes of the Trinity. God the Father acknowledges, “this is my Son”; the Spirit descends in the form of a dove.

“There they are, all Three. How can anyone miss it?”

He was alluding to another gentleman, a certain smartass from California, who’d said he had read the Bible right through, but hadn’t found the Trinity mentioned in it.

But of course one can miss anything, if one is sufficiently obtuse. It is what makes our modern, happyface, deist unitarianism possible; along with atheism and a few other things. And as my Syrian informant said — decades ago — this was so in Damascus, too. Syrian Christians were already “promoting themselves to the glory” of a post-religious, middle-class life, with osterizers and toasters. So, for that matter, were their Islamic friends, “going rogue” from the Muslim point-of-view; losing all interest in observance, and by extension, in belief. (Verily, this opened the field to the fanatics.)

Denho, the Syriac term, can be translated “Epiphany,” or “Theophany.” It is the same Feast as we celebrate “todayish” in the West, though if I’m not mistaken it omits specific reference to the Magi. Yet it stresses a first appearance to the Gentiles. It carries the etymological implication of a light-burst, a moment of revelation. But so does the Epiphany in our Western feast. The Syrian rite combines gospel events on several planes, as ours does; while focusing upon action through John the Baptist. The miracle of Cana, and of holy marriage; of Magnificat, and the baptism of children: all this is carried into the Manifestation — alike through Greek Testament and Peshitta. East and West, the Epiphany recalls that moment when the sublime, very ancient and long enduring Hebrew faith “explodes” into the World Religion, for the salvation of all men.

From the little I was able to understand in my own readings on “comparative religion” — back in the day — I was struck most forcibly not by the theological differences of the Eastern churches, but by their familiarity, across the board. Separated, as we have often been through many generations, the pattern of Liturgy remains the same. It seems to lie discernibly beneath each refinement. It is like reading alternative translations of the same original poem. That Poem being Christ.

Something mysterious has been working against syncretism in all the wandering strands of our Faith. Everywhere the idea of Epiphany remains. The accretions through the centuries seem to follow from the source, more than from external influences. There is that “Jewish” quality — for although we are not united by tribe, we are bound by calling.

In my days of wandering — even before I became a Christian myself, when I was motivated instead by anthropological curiosity — I was fascinated by Assyrians, Copts, Ethiopians, Malabars; … all the “exotics” I encountered.

The Portuguese, on first landing in India, were surprised to find among Hindu-looking temples, some dominated by large granite and quite unmistakable Crucifixes. It was a shock of recognition, between two Christian peoples, separated since the first Christian century. But in the old Syriac word, “Nasrani,” they could hear what these people still were, and of their long descent from Saint Thomas the Apostle.

I read (still own) a history of the Christians in China, long, long before first contact with the European missionaries of the Renaissance; was impressed, in Japan, by the fact of underground Catholic survival through centuries under the threat of hideous torture. Or of the Korean Confucian converts to an unimaginably distant Nazarene — “self-taught” Catholics (from the Jesuits at Peking) whom the Jesuits arriving in the Hermit Kingdom had known nothing about. Then, as now, everywhere we go, including Antarctica in one Anglo-Argentine anecdote I could tell, there are Christians to greet Christians.

No other religion has travelled like this. But to the theophanic point, none has maintained its integrity over vast, “multicultural” isolations of space and time. And through the wormholes come the ministers of renewal. Christ does not forget those who have not forgotten Him — mother and child, through the generations.

It is easy enough to lapse, especially when every worldly advantage can come of apostasy, as has been the case through nearly fourteen centuries for Christians in the Muslim realms. The hard thing to understand is rather, why there are people who have not lapsed; who continue to die, sometimes, for their refusal to relinquish a promise that was made to their fathers, dozens of fathers ago.

The historians must explain how all of this was possible, through the “normal” or “natural” progression of events. Indeed, they have a lot of explaining to do.

Twelfth Night: no surrender

“A lie gets halfway round the world before the truth even gets its pants on,” or something like that, as Mark Twain is supposed to have said, though if he did, it was hardly original. The attribution has circumnavigated the planet many times, without the correction ever catching up. But the falsehood can be proved. Jonathan Swift in the Examiner (1710): “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.” That in itself gets us closer to Adam, but from Swift’s tone I would guess that he had found the proverb elsewhere. He (and Shakespeare, incidentally) liked to pick sayings off the street, like spilt farthings; save them and then, put them to good use. Often the genius is more editor than writer. (Alexander Pope almost specialized in this insight.)

And let me add, from my shallow reading of history, that the tortoise does not necessarily outrun the hare. Or when he does, no one is still watching.

I think I wrote once, at dribbling length, about the Flat Earth. The joke there was, that no one believed the Earth to be flat — at least, no one with a modicum of education — through all the centuries until 1828. That was when Washington Irving’s quite fictional biography of Christopher Columbus was published. It has a scene wherein Catholic bigots challenge Columbus’s assumption that the world is spherical, claiming scriptural authority to refute him. But the sphericity of the Earth was never in question, when he was planning his voyages. Instead, the issue was, the Earth’s diameter. (Columbus miscalculated by assuming that Arabic miles were the same as Italian; among other little oversights. He knew the sphere was large; just not how large.)

In fact, scripture presents our planet as round, and Isaiah describes it hanging in space. Irving’s playful (and genuinely bigoted) account is thus double nonsense. But shameless Darwinists bought into the story, to smear opponents of their “progressive” (and unproveable) evolutionary theory; and ever since, the progressive types have been using the “Flat Earth” as a mud-ball. Meanwhile, American fundamentalists, not to be outdone, provided much-needed credibility to the slur, by buying into the Flat Earth themselves, and standing up for it courageously. (God bless them: fundamentalists can be coached to believe all sorts of things are in the Bible, that ain’t.)

Sometimes, in moments of desolation, and sometimes in moments of elation, I think of our world in the manner of Isaiah — but with lies buzzing round it like flies around a dung ball. You can’t kill them all. They’ll still be there after global cooling.

The piece I wrote today for the Thing (here), touches on this matter: of public stupidity and its relation to sin; of public beliefs that are bass ackwards; and ever promoted by the malign, for purposes they will never fully understand.

The truth is that there are many lies, and that they assemble themselves in buzzing constellations, that disperse then regather after the wind blows through. Till the world ends, they will never be permanently blown away. New generations of the grossly ignorant arise to replace the fallen; yet within each soul, falsehoods can be corrected only one at a time.

Listening to Rome today, one might easily form the (wrong) impression that the Church has given up on lie-swatting. It is as if she admits the task is hopeless; that she must now make her compromise with the falsehoods of this world, through the magic of “accompaniment” and “discernment.” But as Christ is her Founder, she is not entitled to do so: not with every living soul at stake, and every single one to be fought for.

In a world full of lies, long and always full of lies, it is the function of the Church to remind what the Truth is. And to do so even if the masses are indifferent, or mock her as they once mocked Christ. It is to shine the disinfecting Sun on sin and error. For us, the task is complementary. It is to seek that Truth, and to apply it.

Pay no attention

Today would be the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, according to my old missal; though it will be celebrated tomorrow according to my parish bulletin. I try to avoid staying up to date in missals, the most recent up here in the High Doganate having been printed fifty-six years ago, somewhere abroad. But there are too many Bugninisms already in this 1962 recension. I find a 1939 more reliable, though I keep a few much older, for security and clinging purposes.

I should also like to mention that it is my 800th birthday, measured in Full Moons. (I was born under a Full Moon, almost to the minute, and am thus a genuine lunatick, not a fake one like so many others.)

Was watching it in the western sky as it descended, earlier this morning. Superb clear sky, except some light brushstrokes presenting as grey eyebrow clouds, by way of surreal decoration. As I discovered upon stepping out, it is still rather chilly … for a January.

I am taking a few days off, from my excessive writing. But gentle reader will recall that I am a graphomaniac, too, hence this little slip. Pay no attention.