Essays in Idleness


Devices of enslavery

“Without acknowledging how pernicious and far-reaching liberalism’s reach really is, there is little hope for upending it.”

I love a man who will use the word “pernicious,” and not care who hears. Thus I love Richard Greenhorn and the other gentlemen (are there no ladies?) who contribute to the website, American Sun. Our reading today, for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, will be this one, here, forwarded to me by a priestlie correspondent this morning. I applaud this piece because it is just what I would say, were my talents and skills not so cruelly limited.

Many years ago, having returned to Greater Parkdale from fairly extensive travels, and having rented quarters, in Chinatown of course, I renewed acquaintance with several Canadian friends. They looked saddened when they visited these quarters. Unaware, perhaps, that I was then floating in Hong Kong paper gold, they noticed the absence of distractions. Within several weeks, not one but two television sets were delivered, semi-anonymously to my door. The halls being unlit in the evenings, I returned from fairly extensive drinking one night to injure myself over one of these. I hadn’t expected it to be blocking the entrance to my little suite. The problem of getting rid of first one large television set, and then another, was a puzzlement for weeks. Finally I decided to store one of them on a dresser, in the plainest view, so visitors in future could be persuaded that I already had an idiot box of my own.

Now, thirty-something years later, I gather the TVs are “improved.” While you are watching them, they are watching you. Indeed, I am told, even the toasters are tracking your movements, and will only stop if you minister to them with a sledge-hammer. Liberalism is far ahead of where it was in 1984.

“When we argue about liberalism, we are not arguing about politics per se. In the present context, we are arguing about the acquiescence to technical changes which ultimately go to the very definition of man.” (Greenhorn.)

A further motive, in offering the link, is to explain to several somewhat obtuse readers what I could mean by yesterday’s virulent attack on refrigerators. Especially the one who confessed that he loves his refrigerator, and added intemperately that he would never part with it.

A third, is to qualify my own aspirationally gallant attempts to advance the cause of Catholic Integralism. A fourth might be to extend my survey of the inevitable modern alternative to it: Twisted Nanny State.

Then what are we doing on the Internet, one might ask? Trying to be a Fifth Column.

Chronicles of outrage

The young: they are fools.

I was lucky, I learnt this at an early age. It began with the discovery that I was a fool myself. This foolishness had several dimensions, and applied to many things. Not knowing anything was only the beginning. Dependence on technology (even then) accelerated the process of mental rotting, so that by the age of thirty one’s mind was pure, refrigerated compost. Hence our saying, “Never trust anyone over thirty.”

Everywhere I look today, I see the results of youth.

I was very lucky, having, back then, some advantages not shared by most of my contemporaries. For instance, I was poor, and lacked connexions, and had the wit to drop out of school. Too, I was wandering about in strange places. Moreover, having learnt how to read, I had access to the wisdom of the ages.

Let us start with the importance of not owning a refrigerator. This was my good fortune for years on end (in an old workman’s cottage in merry London, which lacked other “amenities” as well, such as electricity, after I disconnected it). I loved that place, my nest in the big city. It was better even than the High Doganate, if that is not blasphemy.

I am utterly appalled — outraged, if thou wilt — to meet people today who put apples in refrigerators, to say nothing of the pears. Do they not know better? Or potatoes, carrots, even onions. Even garlic. Or tomatoes, and other things that rhyme. And that is just scratching the surface of public ignorance.

The list of things ruined in refrigerators, or stored there pointlessly at best, is long. It includes bananas, melons, mangoes, limes, and anything that came from the tropics. But the list also includes apricots and peaches, berries and all quasi-berries such as raspberries and strawberries, indeed, all the fruits of the temperate zone, too. God made winter to remind us of that.

Eggs do not belong in refrigerators. But neither do butters, nor cheeses, nor yoghurts, nor milk with any reasonable fat content (and “skim milk” is a fraud). Olive and vegetable oils must be kept out, together with nuts and anything made from them.

Pickles, ketchups, other condiments, belong on dark pantry shelves, along with anything shot through with the vinegar that already preserves it. This goes not only for hot sauces from the tropics, but for the peppers themselves, and all herbs and spices, whole or ground, fresh or dry. And soy-sauce.

And this goes, too, for all flours and cereals, jams and marmalades, chocolates, dried fruits or any other confection, coffee, and tea. Other foods were packed in tins for a reason, or were “canned” in sealed bottles by fair country maids.

Finally, do not keep live animals in a refrigerator, nor let your children sleep there on hot summer days. (That, traditionally, was what fire escapes were for.)

The only thing I can think of, that might benefit from refrigeration, is ice. If you insist on making ice cream, ice is a desideratum, along with lots of salt. But our clever ancestors invented ice boxes, which could operate entirely without artificial power.

I suppose an unwanted, unplugged old refrigerator could be adapted for this purpose, but it’s an ugly solution that will expose one to ridicule, if persons of sound mind suspect that it is working.


I also write on outrage in the Catholic Thing today. (Here.)

Rolling home

My Chief Texas Correspondent has ping’d me the link to a local TV station down there, giving live coverage of the last ride to College Station of President George H. W. Bush. Their camera is mounted on the train, and as it rolls one may glimpse ten thousand faces along the track, standing in gloom and rain, as they have apparently been doing for hours; their cars parked everywhere, their children and their friends around them; their umbrellas and their Merican flags.

From a helicopter, we see the train itself, and I notice that a freight door is wide open on one of the cars: so all may see the draped casket as it passes.

I think back over half a lifetime, of the Bush family, and the Bush presidents, the father and the son who learned from his example. I had no more knowledge of them than a passing journalist can acquire, but a strong impression from their works and words of both “41” and “43.” They were, in recollection, decent and honourable men, who did their best in good conscience, with prayers.

In all the heat of politics, through all efforts to drag them into mud, I recall nothing either of them did or said that I would characterize as cynical or sleazy. Both were in the best sense patriots, who knew they’d been elected to serve their country, and every national interest; and not a partisan faction therein. Neither lacked courage, nor when events called, the boldness that leadership often requires. I could not say this of many politicians. It has nothing to do with whether I agreed with them on one judgement or another, or whether this or that policy succeeded.

Already, Bush Senior seems a figure from another age, when the concept of “mom and apple pie” could still be imagined as uncontroversial, and formal civility in public life had not yet perished, though one could see it was in rapid decline. This is not a veiled criticism of Trump, but of the times that have produced both him, and his opponents. While I am no enthusiast for “democracy,” my gut tells me that at least among those old enough to remember, people ache for the restoration of dignity. The death of this old man reminds us, that the present carnival of malice was never inevitable.

But history is littered with dishonourable leaders, populists and demagogues, petty criminals and very ambitious criminals in high places. My look back is not mere nostalgia for a better time, or a better generation. Nothing is inevitable in our divinely-freed world, which by turns accepts and rejects the grace of our loving Creator. We have better and worse angels, to obey or disobey.

May the old parachutist rest in peace. (A sport he first tried over the Sea of Japan.) He really did “serve his country,” to the limit of his ability and understanding — a gentleman, of consistent good faith and good cheer.

We will need character ourselves, to find character in our leaders again.

Of mangles & battledores

Some ladies of my perilous acquaintance have formed a gymnastic “club.” That is to say they exercise together, upon the machines of a local commercial gym.

“A Gymkhana?” I asked, with my usual obtusion, wondering if the officers’ sports clubs of India were now admitting women. You know: anything can happen these days. A Gymkhana in Parkdale would not surprise me, though members without waxed, handlebar moustaches might strike me as odd.

“No,” my informant replied, cutting off a fruitful line of speculation and inquiry.

To make the short conversation shorter, I proposed that they found a lavoir, instead. Or perhaps a bateau-lavoir, for the shore of Lake Ontario, should the spring I had in mind within the former Village of Parkdale prove to have been permanently sealed. For though I’ve noticed that in our now conurban district, there are plenty of coin-operated laundries, I can’t find one free, old-fashioned wash-house. And this, notwithstanding plentiful immigration, and all the cultures we are supposed to have absorbed. What I had in mind was something like what they had in Europe, before all this modernity set in. Some of these lavoirs, built in the 17th century, were gorgeous beyond words.

A long, shallow, slightly raised stone tank, fed by a clean spring, then draining into purposeful ditches; the tank’s edges and dry levels designed to accommodate the washing and beating of clothes. Perhaps an elegant slate or pantile roof set over, as a matching hat. And the ladies of the community all gathered around, in their communal joy, merrily washing and beating away, in a place where they might gossip and no man overhear. (Men were strictly verboten.) Moreover, excellent exercise to keep them trim.

Well, that is just one of my suggestions for municipal improvement. Once built, a lavoir would require little maintenance, thus no need for fees, nor bureaucrats. Indeed, lots of money would be saved, if both coin-laundries and gyms could be obviated. Alas, North Americans are nothing if not non-communal, these days, so we might return to mangles and battledores instead. I find beautiful examples of these devices on the Internet, and see no reason why craftsmen should not resume their manufacture.

It is a matter of regret, to me, that my washing board went missing after my last move. For years I have been intending to replace it. I have laundry pail and blue bars of soap, but the job would be easier if I had that washboard back. Alas, in my small urban washroom, there is room to swing neither cat nor battledore, and I’m reduced to mangling and squeeging by hand. The architects of our apartment complexes did not think of this, did they, when providing such tight spaces.

In view of their ventilation arrangements, I hardly think them rational. One design flaw after another, and I can’t speak for the building standards either, in carpentry and joinery, plastering and much else. The plumbing used to work, however, until the environmentalists specified toilets that use only 80 percent of the water, but need to be flushed five times.

Still, the biggest scandal of waste, in my view, is the laundry disposition. People laze about doing nothing all day, except sitting in chairs in front of computers, often munching on Pringles. Then in a panic they realize they need exercise, or else they will die. They lay out hundreds or thousands for membership in a gym. Or take a car and pay twenty dollars for parking, when they could briskly walk a mere three or four miles, and probably arrive quicker. In the morning I see them jogging — to nowhere, loaded down with expensive gizmos when they could as easily be carrying heavy bags. I see them paying for nasty little decorative salads, yet ignoring the traditional rules of fasting and abstinence.

Sometimes I think they have all gone mad.

Of riots & rioting

It is the policy of the High Doganate to discourage rioting, even in France. My acting Chief Paris Riot Correspondent reports a lot of property damage recently; I daresay the meejah have covered it lovingly. The cause appears to be the government trying to put its books in order. “The peeple” are unhappy because they are deprived of some entitlements, and charged closer to actual costs for services. They are getting what they voted for, and of course this makes them violent.

Under pretext of environmentalism, for instance, they will be taxed more for fuel. This was unimaginable to them, and the “reforms” are overall broad enough that they are now being goaded from both Right and Left. The usual searing envy has them marching into the better neighbourhoods, torching cars, spray-painting, smashing windows, and so forth; looting, very earnestly, the upscale stores.

Tear gas, stun grenades, water cannon. The police get to have their fun, too.

For many of the older citizens, this must bring 1968 to mind. I know that I felt a twinge (ah, to be fifteen again, and wiser than those passing through their “terrible twos”). Indeed, Paris — where I once learnt the cobbles are numbered on the bottom so they may be put back in place after they’ve been used for missiles — has been unusually peaceful this last half-century. There used to be a revolution every ten or twenty years, and lesser annual uprisings over this and that. I can understand nostalgia.

But, according at least to me, the French are not unrepresentative of humankind. Give people something they cannot afford, and they may be grateful, briefly. Stop giving it, or reduce the subsidy, and they will combust. This is the fate of all politicians’ promises. It happens the faster when “the peeple” in question have been raised in a state of post-Christian barbarism, with no conception of Hell. A scant thousand years ago it was the Norsemen we feared; now it is ourselves.

Among my eccentricities is the habit of reading histories. (Shakespeare’s are wonderful; but even Voltaire’s have their moments. Thucydides, hooo!) Let me assure gentle reader I seldom research to any great depth; it is mere curiosity. By now I am convinced that nothing can be fixed. Even in Christian times, people behaved atrociously, and those with power were as bad as the rest.

I used to indulge counter-factuals, the “What if?” questions. What if some kindly and intelligent soul, with a knowledge of the consequences of human stupidity, were parachuted into an earlier time, with a remit to alter the course of history for the better. It would be like insider trading. He would probably use his knowledge to get absurdly rich, and be utterly corrupted.

But suppose he didn’t, and instead did what he could to avert some pending catastrophe. Suppose, for sake of argument, that he succeeded. In that case, I am now fairly sure, there would be an alternative catastrophe. Thanks to his good intentions, it would probably be worse. Which is sad, when you think of it, for the world could be a paradise if everyone behaved. They will not, however. It’s that “Fall of Man” issue.

For you see, gentle reader, men are what we are. Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked. I have this from the Prophet Jeremiah (speaking through the liturgy), and ain’t it the truth?