Essays in Idleness


The loss

I was expecting the “pro-life” side to lose the Irish referendum to the slick “pro-death” media campaign, but I was not expecting such a blowout. The losers conceded even before the vote was counted, after looking at media exit polls that showed a “Yes” plurality of more than two to one. Of further interest, to those inclined to desolation and despair, are the rural results. We all knew Dublin had gone to hell decades ago; but even in the countryside it appears that a majority of the Irish unambiguously favour terminating their country’s Catholic heritage, and replacing it with the passing diktats of post-modernity. The whole nation will be as Dublin became.

There was a time when I could, to a point, trust my gut on election campaigns. If the polls said one thing and my gut said another, in any jurisdiction with which I was familiar as a journalist, my gut would usually prove right. As recently as 2016, for instance, I knew Trump was going to win the USA election. But now, I cannot even be sure who is going to win the upcoming election in my native Ontario. The polls swing wildly day to day, between the two socialist parties and the so-called “conservative” one.

Part of the reason for my thread-loss is, living in the big city myself. I fall out of touch with upcountry realities. I assume that what was true of small towns and villages a generation ago, must still be true, in the main. I underestimate the degree of change in social conditions, from many causes.

Not only here, but everywhere, big-city notions have been making their advance, and it shows nowhere better than in the collapse of birth rates and all related social indicators. The glue that held societies together has dried and crumbled. There was no weak point, no single breach, through which The Enemy came pouring. Instead, multiple breaches, and now the whole wall against what Pope Benedict called “the dictatorship of relativism” is become rubble. In a generation or two of cultural upheaval, we have watched many centuries of “social conditioning” on Christian principles disintegrate.

What will replace it?

A good answer may be found by glancing down the index page of the Irish Times, to stories below their huge headline story. There was a feature article about the skyrocketing numbers of the Irish young who seek psychological counselling. Why don’t I just quote:

“Treasa Fox, a spokeswoman for Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education, said most students seek help when they face issues such as social anxiety, panic attacks, acute stress, persistent worrying, phobias, withdrawal and isolation. An inability to problem-solve or cope with normal life challenges, alcohol and substance misuse, acting out in class or with peers, along with self-harm or suicidal thoughts or actions are also common issues. ‘Anxiety issues are showing more in lecture theatres and in practicals, so another substantial part of our work is to provide consultation and guidance to academic staff who encounter this in their daily interface with students’, she said.”

Or let me put this another way. When a social order collapses, and “conventional” ideas are overturned — of what is right and wrong, of what is reasonable and unreasonable, of what is true and false, of what is sane and insane — we do not promptly get an alternative social order. Instead we get a world turned upside down: the tyranny of the mad, under the direction of those drunk on power.

They were celebrating their victory in Dublin last night. They are celebrating everywhere.


I am retreating through the next week, to an obscure location.
I will resume these despatches on the 4th of June.

The referendum

Those not in Ireland — quite possibly a majority of my readers — are denied the vote under Irish law, but may nevertheless participate with our prayers. No technology has yet been designed to stop us. The international “social media” companies have done their best to stop the “No” side from advertising, in response to the overwhelming “Yes” campaign by Irish mainstream media. They are outraged because it hasn’t entirely worked, and the vote may still be close. George Soros apparently didn’t get the monopoly on illicit foreign financial contributions.

But of course, it did not occur to the Meeja Masters that some Irish themselves might prefer not to have Irish babies murdered. It is assumed, in the worldview of progressive politicians, that they can only lose through foreign interference. This is even the view in the Natted States, where Trump is held to have won his election with nefarious Russian support — so subtle, that no evidence has emerged after exhaustive and interminable investigations. Likewise, in every European country, the rise in support for non-progressive parties is attributed in each case to some mysterious external force.

Might it be extraterrestrial, I wonder? Perhaps the Holy Spirit?

Who knows what strange and unaccountable Interest seeks to pull us back from collective self-destruction. But whatever it is, it has proved a terrible annoyance to progressives, everywhere.

I need not advise my Irish correspondents to vote “No.” This is because, so far as I can see, every one of them is doing all in his power to fight the baby-killing measure, already. And doing so with very little support from his own Church hierarchs, still licking their self-inflicted wounds from ghastly sex scandals. I pity them, for the accounts they must give of their own actions, to their Maker.

There is no good cause in this world that is not betrayed, however. Our Lord not only preached, but showed, that this must be the case. Notwithstanding, He told us not to give up, so long as the breath remains in us. The battle may be won or lost in any moment of time. But it is part of a “War in Heaven” whose conclusion can be foreseen. That which is good will be retrieved and purified; that which is evil will burn in everlasting hellfire. We’ve been told this plainly, and I for one believe it.


Eric McLuhan, who died last Friday while on visit to Colombia, was a good friend of long standing. See my piece in Catholic Thing today (here). The Mass for him is in Picton, Ontario this morning. Please subjoin your prayers, wherever you may be.

Tempus fugit. It seems yesterday we, so much younger, were in his living room in Toronto’s Beach district, attending to the launch of The Interim, Canada’s pro-life paper. Suddenly that periodical is thirty-five years old. Sabina McLuhan, the English girl Eric brought home from his travels, was the brains and energy and for some time the editor of The Interim. She retired from it to focus upon raising a magnificent family. My heart goes out to her, and to them, in this poignant moment of leave-taking.

Estimable men

The grim reaper has had rich pickings among famous writers, octogenarian and up — Philip Roth, Bernard Lewis, Tom Wolfe in the last few days. I mention them together for in their different ways they were three of the saner navigators — into the shoals of our fin-de-millénaire, our hyper-décadence. Only two were conscious writers of fiction, but I think that I would count all three as exponents of “the new journalism,” in which the author becomes gonzo of his own chronicle: a kind of roman-fleuve, spilling over its literary banks into the fields of entertainment and “Meeja.”

“Show don’t tell” was the principle behind that new journalism, which I first encountered as a young aspirant, before it began to bore me. Perhaps the true founder was the painter, Cézanne, who could build a picture with small appliqués of pigment: little drybrush squibs of nothing, that gradually add into something there. But nowhere, or never in sight, the betrayal of a grand intention. Roth “putting the id in yid,” Wolfe “the oy in goy,” one might say. Lewis attempting a thorough, scholarly, external depiction of the modern history of a huge religion, without having religious feelings himself. All good, honest, decent men, from a background culture of honest decency, unrolling a canvas of something from nothing.

Do not misunderstand: I think all three were and remain giants in their kind, worth reading. Two (Wolfe and Lewis) I personally glimpsed in passing, and was impressed with what I thought a good act: privatized public figures in a sense, warm and unknowable. All three struck me as advisers, for how to cope with the contemporary world, who had no advice to offer, beyond presenting a wonderful still-life of how it looks in decay on the eve of disintegration.

The good, the true, the beautiful: I keep going on about these Platonic transcendentals, which take us beyond the parameters of workaday earthly life. Doing this, they cannot be restricted to formal compositions. I think of them as aspects of the Gloria — of a greater beauty that “contains” all three; what “enlightened” men of a previous century attempted to call “the sublime.” But they are not art; art at its highest is a means to them. By “highest” I think, for example, of Dante, infusing meaning into all he draws. There is nothing like this in our contemporary world, and could be nothing like it. We do not share a language that would make that possible, as men did in earlier times. We live in “modern” times when meaning is rejected, when “God is dead” for all practical purposes. The good, the true, and the beautiful craze us. We want to embrace them, but they “don’t fit.”

For Bernard Lewis I had considerable respect: a scholar whose information was hard-earned, and a writer who was bravely coherent. I have views myself of that Muslim realm on which he built his expertise; he was the last of the old-school Orientalists, who knew what they were talking about; could prove and demonstrate everything they said. (Not a fraud, like his antagonist, Edward Said.) Yet to my mind he was missing something vital, something living, something unaccounted in that Muslim realm; for want of better word, the “spiritual” component. He seemed to me tone-deaf in that respect.

Without that component, “the other” remains impossibly “exotic.” While Lewis was, one might almost say, perfectly informed about conditions on the ground in the Middle East — and on the ground in Washington and New York for that matter — he could miss conditions only slightly above.

The same, generally, for all the famed literati of my generation and that immediately before, if I may swing a broad tar brush. The talented depict a world without God, without meaning, whether they intend to or not. They present themselves as “outsiders,” yet entirely on stage. It is as if signlessness were the sign of our times.

Saint Dymphna pray for us

Somehow, I missed the Feast of Saint Dymphna on this day last week — Irishwoman of the seventh century, celebrated in missals of both Latin West and Greek East, though not very boldly in recent centuries. She is the patron saint of the insane.

I could of course have waited upon the latest recension of the Martyrologium Romanum, which moved her feast to the 30th of May, for no intelligible reason. Why the Roman authorities should wish to keep saints’ days in movement I have yet to understand. St Dymphna’s hagiography was formally gathered and committed to writing in the thirteenth century; it was the product of a strong oral tradition that had spread through Christendom, encouraged by many miracles.

We little appreciate today the empirical and rational aspects of mediaeval and byzantine saint-worship. Saints rose in stature not because of some administrative decision in Rome, but because praying to them worked. This is secretly why some saints enjoy special favour to this day, among the common people in the surviving ghettoes of “traditional” Christianity, and also among the sophisticated in there. The modern mind, however, which is both atheist and superstitious, would not dare try the experiment of believing.

The beautiful daughter of a beautiful Christian mother, and a pagan Irish king, Dymphna consecrated herself to Jesus and to a life of purity at an early age. When her mother died, her father, whose madness was perhaps accentuated by grief, fell upon the incestuous idea of marrying his daughter as a replacement for his wife. She fled, to Gheel in what is now Belgium, along with several others including the court jester. His pagan majesty pursued, eventually tracking her to Gheel, where she had already established a reputation for the care and cure of difficult cases. She was martyred when he found her.

Our contemporary “humanists” would laugh, I suppose, at the claims made for St Dymphna in her shrine at Gheel, and in several others dedicated to St Dymphna now scattered around the world. Obviously, those drawn as pilgrims to such places are deluded. Indeed, this is precisely why they have come: to be freed from their delusions.

It is one of the dirty secrets of medicine that “miracle cures” often work. It begins, I should think, when the afflicted soul desires to be rescued; when by grace he or she dimly begins to appreciate that neither the pharmaceutical nor the surgical industries can offer much help. Drugs may induce artificial mood changes, and a frontal lobotomy might reduce one to an even less harmful turnip, but neither can offer a cure. Even electro-shocks, when they seemed to work (as they did when they were practised), brought only temporary relief. The afflicted is seeking something more permanent, and looks in the only place it could possibly be found.

Those who happen to have read the Gospels with any attention, will have observed that Our Lord was a practitioner of faith cures. He was also very clear on demonic manifestations. Modern churchmen are embarrassed by this, and as they do with the Sacraments, take what is an action for a kind of lame symbol, to be saluted in passing by members of their club. We do the ceremonial, when we do it at all, “in remembrance of” something we in fact can’t remember.

A real Christian would notice that this is quite mad.

Bells & whistles

I have been doing my best to antagonize my Chief Texas Correspondent by forwarding media items to him on tomorrow’s Royal Wedding. The latest had the subject line, “Only 24 hours OMG!” and flagged this item from the BBC. I had already sent him a countdown timer so he could set his clocks to it.

As a postscript I mentioned the nice reply of “one of them heavily-dressed full-colour guards” to a media ditz, who asked how he would be coping with the very hot weather predicted for Windsor tomorrow.

“It was warmer in Afghanistan and Iraq, ma’am.”

My CTC is a dogged Republican of the old Yanqui school. Over the years since Vietnam or whenever we have been discussing politics in light of this fact. He is under the illusion that hereditary monarchs are responsible for all the foibles of the world, which aggregated into Twisted Nanny State, and led to The Obama that Makes Desolate, playing King.

I’m afraid these Americans still don’t get it. Some things have nothing to do with each other, except that they may be found within the same Universe, dating from the Big Bang. Twisted Nanny Statehood has prevailed in every single country in the West, and now the World, regardless of its constitutional status. This even includes Natted States Merica. It is not the work of kings and queens. Rather it is the work of the Devil.

It wasn’t the fond idea of those Protestant royals, when they hatched the Divine Right of Kings; for when they tried that on, the power of Nanny was inconceivable. We had not yet had the Industrial Revolution, let alone the French and Russian ones. The Divine Right of Bureaucrats knows no practical restraints.

Had Obama only been a constitutional monarch, he would have been harmless. Indeed, he would have looked good in that rôle. Ditto Pierre Trudeau, of unhappy memory. They knew how to dress the part, and utter occasionally mischievous platitudes. They were comfortable at the centres of their respective courts, and that is all we require. Put their portraits on the coins and spend them. Even Justin Trudeau would be harmless, were he properly supervised by adults. If not, we need arrange only one accident.

As I was explaining to my CTC, I don’t propose to increase the power of our Queen; only to reduce the power of the Guvmint to the point where she looks like something. Parliament can stay, too. So long as it is deferential to the Queen, and keeps the Royal Navy funded and floating. Princes may still fly helicopters, as before. Army, Air Force, and Marines, stet. And the Ordnance Survey, perhaps; and the Heraldry College, sustained by rich sods who like that sort of thing. And some bobbies and Common Law judges in wigs. But the Home Office will be for the bonfire, and the Department of Environment for the fishes.

Won’t this leave the power of big nasty corporations unchecked? The heck it will. They depend on Twisted Nanny. They could not exist without the complex regulatory apparatus that is blindly imposed over entire nations, and without which they would have to seek permissions for each franchise, in ten thousand municipalities; in each of which local businessmen would have the mayor’s personal phone number. And no welfare state will flourish, when taxpayers can see where their money is going.

But everyone loves a parade. God Save the Queen! Cheers to Meghan and Harry!


Sunday morning clarifying footnote. I’m not saying the marriage was valid, of course. The Windsor wedding of our lively junior prince to a divorced, nominally-Catholic commoner could not possibly be, any more than Prince Charles’s last wedding. But it was perhaps the most impressive display of elegant ladies’ hats of which I have ever seen pictures. And the grand procession of Hollywood celebrities and sports stars into the once-Catholic pilgrim chapel of Saint Edward the Confessor (former Patron of England, and still of difficult marriages) made a merry show. Indeed, the English now have a five-century tradition, of spectacular celebration of invalid rites.

A blessed Pentecost to all my gentle readers!

A health warning

I seize with alacrity upon “studies” that confirm my long-held beliefs and prejudices. One of those was, and remains, my belief that physical exercise, especially in the form of vigorous gym workouts, jogging, and lane swimming, are a leading cause of physical illness, dementia, and premature death. Indeed, all my old friends who were exercise phanaticks have predeceased me, except for a few who have gone quite mad. The very desire for this kind of activity I take as an early indicator of mental disequilibration, and a possible death wish.

Now, the study I will flag this morning — here — I take as merely the tip of the iceberg. It only affects to show that exercise for the demented makes their conditions worse, and does that much with statistical moderation. My own vastly more comprehensive anecdotal observations consider the matter in its full scale and range, and explain it coherently.

Be it noted, the exercise phanaticks will often claim — perversely in their own defence — that they get a physical “high” from their labours. I do not doubt they are telling the truth. Rather, I suggest they have a grave addiction. Heroin users of my previous acquaintance — I never rejected them, they simply died off — could claim the same for themselves.

The Darwinists, notorious for mistaking their evolutionary causes, explain any human propensity to quick running and swimming by a just-so story about our ancestors’ lives. They imagine that in our primaeval state, we had often to outrun the beasts of land and sea, or climb trees to escape them; and that over time our gene pool was filled exclusively by the survivors.

But no. The same phenomena can be explained more plausibly by the recurrence of human eccentricities, in defiance of philosophical wisdom. (In theology, this is known as the Fall of Man.) It is my contention that the men of the Stone Age sought exercise more credibly by throwing rocks, and dodging moving objects. Hence our vestigial, urban delight in professional sports, which the great majority would rather watch than play. (In a more natural, country environment, everyone mucks in.)

Man did not, and could not, survive by outpacing the fiercer large animals, themselves designed for speed in the capture. Rather, he flourished by learning how to trick them. My suspicion is that the Darwinists have overlooked this point, and mentally enfeebled themselves, by their own inordinate indulgence in callisthenics and running.

The human body was itself designed for other purposes. At the centre of the scheme we find head and hands. See any proportional model of the human sensory and motor functions. (A “cortical homunculus,” I think this is called.) We are all mouth, bug-eyes, ears, and fingers extending from very big hands. These are mounted on indifferent limbs and connectors. We use what we have when we are on our game. Running is for lizards and leopards; and even they are wiser than to be running all the time; most of the day they just sun themselves. We have much more in common with the elephants, from whom, I speculate, we may have descended.

Nor, if gentle reader insists upon the monkeys, can they run very fast. Nor are all of them such efficient climbers; and those who seem to take workouts in the trees, are adapted to that function. Mostly they just sit about, or hang there. The monkeys can be clever, I own, but are hardly ever wise; perhaps our liberals are descended from them.

Still, I would not speak invidiously of monkeys. For even they know better than to participate in marathons and the like.

On idle godliness

The problem with God is that He’s not a problem, and more, that He refuses to become one. He can only be a problem for us, and in that case a problem of our making. The denials we attempt create nothing but confusion — for us, and for those who listen to us. We spend whole days fussing with denial, when we could have been doing better things — things that include eating and sleeping. We are to my mind insufficiently Idle, in my preferred sense of this term, which is not to be confused with Sloth, a mortal sin.

Rather I think Idleness is more like Silence.

Sloth is misunderstood, when it is confused with mere laziness. Laziness is venial, though unchecked it will accumulate into mental coma. But few are the slothful who are lazy. They fill their heads with problems, lions in the way. This is among those Proverbs of more than superficial depth: we should more carefully consider the lions. A real lion would be a good excuse; but we fill our road with imaginary lions. These include the composition of unanswerable questions — a hobby for more people than you could shake a stick at.

A fine lady in Australia copied to me this morning a meditation by Simone Weil, which I in my turn copy below. Weil, to my mind, was a great idler, as the quotation will explain. She was also, to my mind, something like that Maid of Orleans, whom I so treasure as a Catholic woman: soft in the heart, not soft in the head.


In my contemplations on the insoluble problem of God, I did not anticipate the possibility of real contact, person-to-person, here below, between a human and God. I had vaguely heard tell of things of this kind, but I never believed them. … Moreover, in Christ’s sudden possession of me, neither my senses nor my imagination had any part. Through my suffering I only felt the presence of a love analogous to that which one reads in the smile of a beloved face.

I had never read any of the mystics, because I had never felt called to read them. In reading, as in other things, I always attempt practical obedience. There is nothing more favourable to intellectual progress, for as far as possible I do not read anything except that for which I am hungry in the moment, when I am hungry for it, and then I do not read, … I eat. God mercifully prevented me from reading the mystics, so that it would be evident to me that I had not fabricated this absolutely unexpected contact.

Yet I still half refused, not my love, but my intelligence. For it seemed certain, and I believe it still today, that we can never wrestle God too much if we do so out of pure concern for the truth. Christ loves that we prefer the truth to him, because before being the Christ, he is the Truth. If someone takes a detour from him to go towards the truth, they will not go a long way without falling into his arms.

Missing day chronicles

The reason I do not upload Idleposts every day (apart from Sundays) is more defensible than some gentle readers might suppose. On days like today, I spend the whole morning (or some other part) composing something which, upon careful rereading, I judge to be worth rendering extinct; to be, in my sober secondary estimation, counter-productive to the cause it would advance. I agree with Pope Francis on many things — we only seem to disagree on crucial catechetical nuances — and one good point he makes is that we mustn’t “go on” about subjects like abortion, every day. We should, as he has yet to advise, save our fire for when we have a ripe target. (Then, I should think, use both barrels.)

At the heart of Christianity is a great joy — a great, and inexplicable joy to the unbelievers — and thanksgiving for the same Life we are defending must take its primary place. Whether in our choice of garlic bulbs for cheese bughetti (see yesterday), or in chant and song, we should not always pick the “moody.” (Lovely Irish expression for garlic past its prime, no?)

Nor should violence be our first resort, whether physical or verbal. Even in the most discouraging circumstances, we should consider other approaches. And better yet, learn in our bones what they are.

There is a young woman, a very effective TV personality — so good that she is now permanently off air — who once did something quite impressive. She was (still is) frequently insulted by liberals, both behind her back and to her face, with words like “bitch,” “whore,” “fascist,” &c. She has the hide of a rhinoceros, however, and these bullets bounce off; almost unladylike in her emotional armour. I sometimes think she doesn’t even hear them. But once, she suddenly heard such an insult, for Our Lady. And what did she do about it?

She burst into tears. It was something I had never seen her do before. It struck me as the most beautifully Christian response to a stinking, savage blasphemy. She spent the next hour trying to recover her poise. I thought, Joan of Arc was like that.

A certain Cardinal Archbishop of Greater Parkdale — a man whom I think too timid, but whose heart seems consistently in the right place — put this into words last week. He reminded an audience of committed pro-lifers that they were not “social justice warriors.” They should not behave anything like those people. No slogans, no cussing. And when they are surrounded by the cussing sloganeers, they should not respond. Our task is to carry some Christian light into the contemporary darkness. It is not a demonstration, but a pilgrimage. Alluding wonderfully to Cardinal Sarah’s works, he advised us to maintain our “Silence,” outwardly as well as inwardly.

My own reflexes do not run that way. When the enemy is outnumbered, I should very much enjoy a streetfight. But rare are the circumstances in which this would be edifying.

There was joy, too, in the acts of the Knights Templar; in the glinting broadswords of Charles Martel. But these were for special occasions; and the joy was nothing to compare with the contemplation of the majesty of Our Lord.

The macaroni chronicles

It is beyond me why these North Americans buy little boxes at the supermarket, labelled “macaroni and cheese.” I saw one yesterday loading her cart with the things, while I was innocently fetching milk for my tea.

Once I bought one from curiosity, and found that it contained little macaroni elbows and a pouch with a powdered substance that would have alarmed me, had it arrived in the mail. I do not know what chemicals it contained, but when the instructions on the box were followed, it began to smell of processed cheese. In Canada we call this “Kraft Dinner,” and I assume it is fed to prisoners. In the USA, where they take branding less seriously, they call it generically “mac’n’cheese.” Until I experiment, I cannot know if cats will eat it.

Now, the Kraft company has a special place in my demonology because many decades ago, when Ontario was applauded for her cheese factories, making cheddars good as or better than any in the British Empire or world, they bought up and closed as many as they could. Or so I was told, by some commie, but he seemed to have documentary proof.

European readers may not be aware that, prior to the World Wars, every region of North America, and every imported ethnicity, had its own distinctive and rich culinary traditions, and the range of goods in our markets was substantially greater than it is today. Across the board, our food was not the bland muck that emerged in the middle of the last century, with the final triumph of state-regulated industrial capitalism, with its tireless search for a lower common denominator to suit astounding economies of scale.

It was an international phenomenon, and the Americans did not even start it (the “spirit of progress” hatched during the Reformation). But as the English-speaking peoples proved the most complacent and incapable of resistance, we acquired the principal killjoy reputation.

Well, I am wandering off topic. I am so old that I can remember from childhood when “macaroni and cheese” might still imply a baked casserole, with other ingredients than macaroni elbows, industrial margarine, homogenized milk, and the mystery powder. To be fair, the box, as I recall it, offered a recipe for making something like this by adding more expensive ingredients, and radically extending the preparation and cooking time; but I reflected that if one were to do this, the contents of the box would sabotage it.

Now it happens that, up here in the High Doganate, where we have only one prisoner to feed, and he does all the work, extremely simple cookery is often permitted; and even encouraged, on Fridays. Among the dishes is what my younger son once dubbed “cheese bughetti,” and this is how it is made.

In a pot of heavily salted water, boil the pasta, along with as many garlic cloves as your heart may desire. When both are reasonably soft, dump into a colander, rinse and drain. Then flip this back into the pot, and lightly braise in a small pond of actual butter. Having grated an appropriate quantity of a fine, sharp, seriously aged Ontario cheddar (from goat milk if available), jumble everything together and grind blackpepper over the top.

There you have it: four ingredients not counting salt and pepper (or three, as there are people on this continent now who won’t eat garlic even after it has been transformed by heat, but my beloved son was not one of those). Fifteen minutes of time, for an organized person. The result is quite addictive.

So, I suppose, is the stuff from the box, but God knows what they put in the powder to make it so, and whatever it is, He cannot possibly approve.

A furious aside

It is amusing, or alternatively it is desolating, to learn from some silly poll that four in five Canadians believe there are some laws on the books somewhere that limit abortions in some way. And yet they have the vote in our free elections.

No, Canada is unique, in having no such laws whatever.

Or perhaps we are not: it is possible this could also be said of North Korea, though I find the assertion impossible to check.

Soon, perhaps, it will be said of Ireland, where the vote to remove the constitutional restraint on baby killing will be held on the 25th of May, and the Irish will or will not take a decisive step down the road to perdition. (Not the first: the journey begins with open contraception and easy divorce.) It could also serve as the final, irretrievable betrayal of Ireland’s Catholic heritage; of that Ireland which was once the beacon of Christian civilization; which sent her missionaries into the heart of barbarous pagan Europe in a very dark age — foreshadowing universities, hospitals, cathedrals, and other Catholic inventions; Dante and Shakespeare and all that.

There, as here, the proponents of abortion argue that it is just a small step, a “baby step” as one of them said without thinking, to cancel a part of the Irish constitution and thus remove some “unnecessary paperwork” from the “decision-making process.” They wish to reassure sceptical voters that “there will be no big change,” only a slight “modernization.” They know this is a lie — a big black obvious lie — the point of which is to baffle persons of small brain.

Once the lock is blown off, the door is open.

The big lie has a further purpose, in spreading confusion and conflict among those who should surely have the brains to know that murder is murder, even when the victim is defenceless; and that the guilt of it, which cries to heaven for justice, cannot be reduced by tossing a few euphemisms around.

It is a strategic error not to fight these people with everything we have. Even if our side should lose, no one should be left in doubt what the stakes were. Or ever allowed to forget, until they discover the grace of repentance.

Ottawa’s annual March for Life was yesterday — Holy Thursday, the traditional Feast of the Ascension; now shifted to Sunday in liberal Catholic churches so it won’t interfere with the work week. There is some hope in the fact that this march grows year by year. For a brief moment today, passers-by may see what 100,000 pink and blue flags look like, around the Human Rights Monument: one for each Canadian child sacrificed since last year’s demonstration.

The liberal media, including the newspaper in that town that used to employ me as its “token conservative,” do their best to ignore what are by far the largest demonstrations that have ever converged on Parliament Hill; but the traffic chaos this year got the news in, contradicting their own “extremely conservative” estimates of the crowd size.

To the contemporary liberal mind, killing unborn babies is a matter of private conscience for pregnant women alone to decide, having been protected from “pro-life propaganda.” But a traffic jam is a real public evil. How they howl when delayed for work!

Or when someone shows a picture that plainly displays what abortion is. Such poor taste!

Heaven, Hell, & Alder Hey

Atul Gawande, MD, made what I consider a devastating point, though in passing, during some recent podcast (here), called to my attention by an article in Crisis (here). It was a tale of two nineteenth-century inventions that changed the practice of medicine, unquestionably for the better: anaesthesia and antisepsis.

The first demonstration of the ether gas was performed at Massachusetts General Hospital in October, 1846, by a Boston dentist, William T. G. Morton. For the first time, surgical operations could be performed painlessly. Within two months, the invention was known and being applied in every capital of Europe, and in little more time it became commonplace internationally. The number of surgical operations vastly increased, as it was no longer necessary to hold patients down, and act very quickly.

Joseph Lister first used carbolic acid (phenol) to perform sterile surgery at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, in August, 1865. This would have the effect of vastly increasing the survival rate from these now commonplace surgical operations. But the news took years to circulate, and by the twentieth century surgeons were still working with infected equipment in filthy environments. Indeed, I have read accounts of the horrors of battlefield medicine in the First World War: men with survivable injuries, lost by the hundred thousands from ignorant, unnecessarily unhygienic medical procedures.

As Dr Gawande points out — in passing — both advances made life easier on patients. But the second saved lives on a — vastly — greater scale. The first was unique, in making life easier for doctors, who no longer had to operate on screaming, writhing customers. This also, incidentally, hugely increased their trade, and thus their income. Washing up, effectively, only added nuisance.

I already knew this history — my mommy was a ward matron, after all — but until the comparison was spelt out, the full significance was lost on me. I had read the “official” versions in several standard medical histories. They assume the slow spread of antisepsis was a problem of communications. Gentle reader will note that this is a lie. Methods of communication did not slow in the generation between the two inventions.

And I mention this with some animus, having read a few outraged emails from doctors defending the staff at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, who in their “disinterested, empathetic” way were eager to terminate the existence of the baby, Alfie Evans, “to ease his suffering,” in defiance of his parents’ plainly expressed wishes. (The child was comatose and not in pain.)

It is forty years since the book, Medical Nemesis: The Expropriation of Health, was published and “progressively” ignored. The author, the thoughtful Catholic anarchist Ivan Illich, went to considerable trouble to document all of the surprising allegations he made against modern, over-professionalized, institutional medicine, and the phenomenon of Iatrogenesis (doctor-created ills) that followed from the “medicalization” and “pharmaceutical invasion” of modern life. I could tell first-hand stories myself to curl my reader’s ears.

The book is worth revisiting because Illich studied these phenomena with the breadth that is rarely accorded to them. He stepped beyond mere technical questions to the larger issue of how we deal spiritually with sickness and death, yet without once lapsing into bathos.

We hear clichés crediting modern medicine with the reduction of the death rate — such that by the mid-twentieth century life expectancy had been restored to what it had been in the parish records of the High Middle Ages. (It plummeted through the Renaissance.) Some of this was due to medical and pharmaceutical advances. But most of it was attributable to improvements in hygiene — to the tradition from Pasteur and Lister. The accomplishments of hospitals and “public medicine” have been relatively modest, though incredibly expensive; fundraising requires that they be wildly overstated.

Alder Hey was a hospital caught in a huge scandal over the sale of baby parts from abortions, only a few years ago. This is an extremely profitable business, conducted at the edge of the law. I’m sure many good and conscientious doctors and nurses have worked and still work in that hospital, and so many like it. God bless all who work tirelessly for causes that are genuinely humane. But please do not tell me that the well-paid agents of modern bureaucratic medicine are all saints. It spoils my breakfast.

Of midges & men

The High Doganate has been under midge attack these last few days, though I think we will survive. They mount two or three offensives each year, and the first is a mark of spring. The first spiders of spring, emerging on my balconata, weave glistening webs to welcome them. Few of these tiny upwinged dragons make it through my window screens, but if one in a thousand succeeds, there are further swarms around the lights inside. The life of a midge or mayfly is short, even without guns; Pliny gives them about five minutes, I think, after their elaborate double moult. They must swarm, for in this brief period each male must find a female, mate then perish. (A much longer and duller nymph stage precedes.)

Well, there are many kinds, with considerable differences in habits and size. I am, quite frankly, no midge expert, and stand to be embarrassed by some knowing reader. My numerous visitors would seem to be chironomids or “muffleheads,” common enough around these Great Lakes, in hundreds of subtly differentiated species. Under a glass, one may appreciate the male plumeux, the feathery antennae. It is said they don’t eat, in the adult stage, but a congregation around a tiny blob of honey that fell on my counter during yesterday’s coffee-making gave the lie to this. With such a “breakfast of champions” I wager that a midge might be fortified for a long day.

It happens I was reading, on my cot last night, while the midges buzzed about my ears, Fabius Planciades Fulgentius — possibly fifth-century bishop of Ruspe (in what is now Tunisia), and possibly not. His own editor says he is “decadent, involved, littered with wasteful connectives and rhetorical extravagances, pompous, inflated, pretentious, prolix, infested with Asiatic exaggeration”; that as a thinker he is “muddleheaded, dubious, graceless”; as a researcher, “suspect and second-hand”; that his “enormous sentences confront lucidity like barbed-wire entanglements.”

Darling of the intellectuals in the later Middle Ages and through the Renaissance. Author of five surviving treatises, including an exposition of Virgil, and an overview of the Ages and Man. Utterly forgotten by the smart set, today.

In short, my kind of guy.

Fulgentius looked interesting. I am no Latinist, either, but suspect from what I see that he is actually rather droll and ironical; that he is composing these grand rolling sentences while giggling and drinking way too much calda and mulsum. He seems to know Greek, unlike his North African contemporaries; and he takes us on tour of the back alleys, through that fascinating late-late classical, pre-Islamic place. He is Catholic Christian, with a love-hate thing for the pagan Romans, and no romantic illusions about Vandals; capable, I suspect, of some very sick humour, of the underground Christian sort, and their God-damn-them-all attitude towards the world. A Latinist ought to thrill at his witty etymologies, and revivals of defunct vocabulary. It is his editor and translator from Ohio or wherever who would appear to be the dry stick.

Which brings me to one more complaint about modern academics. They simply assume their own subjects are a waste of time. There is a mayfly (“ephemeropteran,” a Fulgentius might say) smallness about all but a few of them. They reach every conclusion before they start, and may be swept away after a day or two.


My Chief Grand River Correspondent writes:

“Inspired by your post, I drop you a note this fine Spring morning in Western Michigan, to let you know that I, too, am enthralled by mayflies, and celebrate their emergence, and deaths, with fly rod in hand. Midges, at least in Northern Michigan, emerge somewhat late in the Winter, prior to the official start of Spring, calendar wise at least, and rarely bring trout to the surface in our locales. Currently, flyfishers in our Great Lakes state are keeping their eyes peeled for the Ephemerella rotunda, or Hendrickson, affectionately referred to as the ‘Hennie’ in polite fly fisher company, along with the Baetis tricaudatus, or Blue Wing Olive, colloquially referred to as the ‘BWO’, and the Brachycentrus americanus, which technically is not a mayfly, but a caddis fly, the ‘Little Black Caddis’.

“For a flyfisher, such as myself, who is passionately addicted to the pastime, mayflies are of intense interest. I maintain little preserved specimens of them, in small glass vials, and retain photos of them in various stages, from nymphal, to adult, along with a few photos of the mayfly itself emerging from its nymphal shuck in the surface film of a little crick I am intimately familiar with after twenty-three years of intercourse.

“I often think of the beautiful brevity of mayfly lives while sitting streamside, wondering at the majesty of El Shaddai’s minute tweaking of these wonderful bugs, whose lives reward not only hungry trout, but men such as those who are called to fish for trout. There is a magic to taking feathers and fur and tying them to a hook to imitate some mayfly, and then floating it over a rising trout and being electrified when it takes the fly. …

“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! And be very thankful for mayflies.”


Saint Luke was a painter, by some accounts, and by others a physician. I think he was both, and more, from acquaintance with his writings. But certainly a physician. When Matthew and Mark recount the saying of Jesus, that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to pass through the gates of heaven, they use the Greek term for a household sewing needle. But Luke instinctively uses the term for a surgeon’s suturing needle. Case closed, to my mind.

Jesus did not stop at that observation, however. He added that what is impossible for men, is possible with God. To omit this, is to miss the point of everything.

The metaphor in this proverb was old, and some scholars think, Persian. It is also used in the Koran, but only as a threat. The apostle Luke adds something to the counsel of forgiveness by his medical allusion. For what we are discussing, after all, is the cure of souls.

Supplementary to yesterday’s effusion, everything I write in this website and elsewhere, touching on politics, whether in the narrower or in the broader sense that includes economics and what pass for the social sciences, must be qualified. In my portrait of present-day Canada I was of course inviting a reader in any other country to make comparisons with his own, for everything that is wrong with Canada can be found in every other country in Europe and the Americas, so far as I am aware. It may be worse, it may be better, in any given place, but our crisis is that of Western Civilization. There are no schemes for reform I offer, only ineffectual hints towards alleviation, and I quite intentionally doubled down on dismal in my last paragraph. We are in an “eye of the needle” situation.

But here is where the qualification comes in. At the centre of our crisis is our loss of faith, in the Trinity, and beyond this of good faith in everything else we are and do. We, by our own collective efforts, cannot possibly rectify this. Nor can we do so in our individual lives without Christ’s help. I write this explicitly, today, but meant it implicitly in yesterday’s dismal conclusion.

There is no human problem that can be solved by politics, and every human attempt at “solution” will, unfailingly, make things worse. The art and science in that field can only be safely directed towards alleviation of specific ills. It is like medicine: you are still going to die. The best any doctor can do is patch you up in the meantime. Alas that world of politics is full of quack doctors with their miracle cures, and electorates that are easy prey for them. The innocent are scooped up with the guilty, the rain it falls on the just and the unjust; but this has always been so.

An old lady I recalled in a recent Idlepost, polishing the brass in a parish church, was doing more to the good than almost any statesman. This is because sustaining and building the Church, in all of her many dimensions, is the best we can do when we get up in the morning. It is to pray and to make ourselves receptacles of grace. Let God do the work, and let us focus our energies upon being his obedient servants.

Forget about trying to fix the world. As my father used to tell me, and his father told him: “Go with God.” I have told it to my sons. It is the only possible way forward.