Essays in Idleness


The eighth day

I suppose that I could call today, “the Octave of Rant Sunday,” thus bestowing a name upon the Sunday before. Gentle reader may have noticed my plan for Canada in the last week of January. In the Bugnini Liturgy, we are probably already in “Ordinary Time.” (I haven’t checked.) The liturgical colour is environmental green. (Okay, now I’ve checked.)

My scheme would break this up a bit. Proposed liturgical colour: back to Christmastide white. My overlay may be forgotten in the coming week, which contains Candlemas — a conclusion to the Christmas season, in the liturgy before and after Bugnini’s. It marked, or rather marks, an inflection, or tipping point, between our celebration of Christ’s appearance in the world, and the coming Lent that will anticipate Easter.

All of this may seem irrelevant, now that Holy Church has gone online. For people like me (a characteristic ranter) the Internet hardly exists, and what I write on it is written on water. The Mass has become, for many, something you may watch on YouTube, in moments taken from Batflu worship. “Make yourself comfortable,” I heard, on one of these programmes.

My favourite railway-platform poster for The Times, many decades ago when I lived in England, was jet black, with a logo below a slogan, reversed out of it in white. The slogan was: “Slip into something less comfortable.”

This is what I aspire to, when writing on water. The message will only be visible for a moment, or less. I wish I could say that for Bugnini, but he didn’t say it, before passing on; alas Pope Paul VI didn’t say it for him. Instead, his Novus Ordo has made a lasting contribution to Catholic confusion, and evaporation. I have come to think of the Vatican II reforms, distantly remembered from the 1960s, as the ecclesiastical equivalent of Roe v. Wade. But of course, the analogy isn’t exact. Abortion, after all, only kills babies.

Back then, I wasn’t a Catholic; I was being raised in a post-Protestant home. By 1969, I was flirting with Atheism. But I did know some Catholic children (my liberal parents had told me to play with them), and later, as I came to know more, and older Catholics, I sensed their discomfiture with post-Catholicism. Within a few years, however, I dived into “organized” Christianity, at the deepest, Anglican end I could find. Call me a curmudgeon. Or a fish. (I swam towards Catholicism, deeper still.)

By now, we live in total confusion. For the Church, it has become the preferential option; for society, a new way of life. These Idleposts are too short to document this degeneration, thank God. I am, myself, merely confused most days. Rant Sunday, and Rant Week, are my tiny contribution to recovery.

The ammunition shortage (a rant)

There are, I once discovered as an editor, essentially two kinds of hack. One can write, but has nothing to say. The other has something to say, but can’t write. Really there is a third: for the largest group can’t write, but has nothing to say, either. In theory, there is a fourth group; but they are hard to find.

The people on this planet are, in the main, fairly ineffectual. This is certainly true of writers, but there are probably parallels in the other disciplines.

I was going to write today about the ammunition shortage, but then realized that I know nothing about it. There is a consensus, at least among rightwing bloggers, that while Americans are clattering with guns, the gun stores can’t keep up with their ammunition orders. I supposed the problem was with foreign suppliers; but no, a correspondent tells me this was one industry not “offshored” to China. Whether he, actually, knows any more than I do, I leave between him and his personal arms dealer. He said he was only shopping for a few thousand rounds. Surely any hardware store on Main Street could supply him, I thought; unless he was asking for fancy.

My own ballistics training fell short of Royal Marine. If I had to confront a dozen bad guys, with a machine gun and a belt-fed magazine, I would probably miss them all. As Obama used to say, back in the days when he was inciting violence, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.” As his wife added, “If they go low, we go high.” My guess is, shooting somewhere in the middle makes more sense. But what use is the gun, anyway, if it isn’t loaded?

Some years ago (let me not say how many), I was shamefully flirting with a ridiculously blonde young lady; who promised to take me to a gun range for practice. I was attracted to her for other reasons to start (I am a shallow male), but her enthusiasm for guns was the clincher. She collected them; and not pointlessly pretty antiques, either. She had, for instance, something light and plastic from Israel, that could make wide holes. You could drive your jeep over it, she said, and it would still fire.

Verily, it seemed that she was flirting back. I was doing my best to present myself as an insensitive male pig (she liked that); I was implying a knowledge of firearms that was supererogatory. Imagine her disgust, when it turned out that I didn’t even own a gun; only a brass model of the Zam-Zammah that would take hours to clean, and might not discharge even then. (I wouldn’t count my chances against a real gunslinger.)

I was dropped like a malfunctioning Brown Bess.

So what can I say about the shortage of ammunition? Only that it strikes me as bad news, if we’re going to have a war. One feels naïve, and under-armed, clinging only to one’s Bible. I do have a cricket bat, for when the progressives come for me, but the truth is, I was never a good batsman. I have a hard cricket ball, but my spin-bowling isn’t quite what it was.

I can rant, however. That will intimidate them.

Cataleptic Friday

My initiation of National Ranting Week — for the last week of January — has not proved very popular so far. Less so than Mr Biden’s Executive Orders, if Fox News polls are to be believed. But great things often have small beginnings, so I will stick to blathering — forever, or until tomorrow; whichever comes first.

My proposal applies only to Canada, anyway. Natted States Mericans have no reason to rant at the moment. A modest description of reality would be adequate. A country in which at least 74 million people are designated “rightwing terrorists,” by the incoming administration; in which free association becomes the crime of “incitement to violence” — unless you actually are a violent, revolutionary terrorist — is hardly in need of rants. Simple reporting will do.

As a Czech correspondent reports: it is a country where one may consult the Bible and the New York Times every day, to see what both sides are saying. Whereas, up here, we do not even read the New York Times.

Up here in the Arctic, or down here in the banana belt of the Arctic as an Eskimo might say, we have reached a point of catatonia where, as a lawyer might add, some ranting “would be indicated.” Our Liberals have done what those Democrats do farther south, except, our Liberals generally did it not only first, but unconsciously. The opposition up here does not need cancelling. There is no evidence that it actually exists.

Perhaps we should call the country, “Catatonia” — from sea to sea to sea to sea, and then some. The Liberals once endowed it with an appropriate flag: one dried-out, red maple leaf, between two prison bars. I think it expresses the neuropsychiatric disorder in both its delirious and frenetic forms; for occasionally we do get episodes of the “I’m a little teapot” condition. But we don’t get “woke” like some other Americans. Until now, we have remained essentially zombies, even under duress.

My thinking is, that we need, periodically, a national episode of ranting; and in view of the Canadian climate, late January would be the most favourable time. It is the low point for hope, generally; a time when the winter set in months ago, when we look forward to: more winter. This was all very well when we had sleigh bells, and threw snowballs, but in modern urban life the municipal sludge just accumulates. The only fun is watching pedestrians, trying to stay vertical on the sidewalks. Months more will pass, before we dig ourselves out; or rather, we will never dig out. All will, eventually, just go away, while we are not noticing. Then we’ll have heat waves, with mosquitoes and blackflies.

Perhaps we would notice more if we were ranting. It is a way to exercise the brain muscles. One has to think: what shall I rant about?

And therefore I am doing my patriotic duty. If I can just antagonize one person in a thousand, perhaps I could get some ranting kick-started. Call me an optimist, but that is my plan.

A stretch beyond

Viscount Eady of Horton, a poet of the Ottawa Valley, and a fusspot in the cause of freedom, writes to mention Procrustes.

Those who have received any sort of education will recognize this figure from Greek legend. Procrustes was the originator of “one size fits all.” He went beyond “equality” to “equity,” as a progressive politician might say. This rogue smith from Attica had a bed, or rack, on which he tied his captives. Those whom he judged too short were stretched; those too tall had their legs shortened, with a saw. Each customer was made to fit the bed.

It was Theseus, as I recall, who solved “the problem of Procrustes,” by fitting him to his own bed.

Now, I don’t think this Biden fellow has much education. He wasted his learning years in politics: a half century as a loyal jackass of the Democratic Party. Having risen to boss, he remains a minion, doing whatever he is told by the various “commies and perverts,” at the core of that institution. The man can read, if the type is large enough, and according to news reports he can sign his name, though probably not with a Sharpie. Indeed, he has signed a record number, of Executive Orders, in his first few days as President of the United States. Or else, someone does his signature well.

He makes an unlikely Procrustes, but sometimes central casting goes rogue, too. Or perhaps they are clever, to cast a man who is constantly praising himself as tolerant, decent, and kind, in the psycho rôle. That makes the drama more subtle.

For Biden aspires to exceed his Greek progenitor. Not only will he make people “equal” — long the Procrustean policy of the Left — he will make men and women indistinguishable, too. Already he has signed the Executive Order. Biological men become biological women in his magical machine, and vice versa. Such categories as fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, uncles and aunts, &c, are also obviated in this order, and as the socialists did in Ontario (and more recently, California), little pointy-head bureaucrats go to work, reducing all legal references to “persons.” (The cones stretch them to full height.)

It is an embarrassment to them, that God made them male and female. They have long been trying to correct God’s work.

I attended a wedding in the years before the Batflu, in a Catholic church, under the occupation of Basilians. The bride, groom, and their respective parents, had begged the presiding minister to “follow the ancient liturgy.” He wouldn’t do that, but to rub it in, he called the couple “two persons.” Writing about this at the time, I said the Catholic Church was conducting “gay weddings.” But of course, these were already in vogue among most other denominations, in our brave new sexless world.

The Party of Procrustes wouldn’t have it any other way. Putting obvious men in female prisons, and letting them use women’s boudoirs, is a “no brainer” to people with no brains. To most observers, this is “a stretch.” But once the laws are rewritten, most observers go quiet.

Not this one, but let’s see what happens. I’d rather not be placed on the bed of Procrustes, myself, but am looking about anxiously. Where is darned Theseus, when you need him?

Oh, right, still in ancient Greece.

Rant week, continued

A natural development of Batflu worship, will be Public Health laws requiring that everyone be cremated. At first, these will apply only to people who are already dead. The “trendline,” as ever, actually preceded the Batflu; just as the corruption of American election laws did. But the corrupt, like the honest, need morale to feed their spirits, and inspire them into an emotional lather. The Batflu acts as a “force multiplier.”

This is a huge and, as it were, bottomless topic, in which I claim to be no theological expert. To my limited view, it can be condensed to a few thousand years of full-bodied Judæo-Christian burial customs, versus a few decades of the Hindoo and Far Eastern ones we have imported. In the West, historically, when Christianity arrives, old practices of “hydriotaphia” and so forth lapse. (See Thomas Browne.) I am surely simplifying, of course. In my narrow reading, I haven’t encountered exceptions.

Among the truly ancient — our ancestors long before Genesis was written — burial customs remain secure. When an archaeologist finds evidence of “inhumation,” he knows he is looking at a human site. It is the first sign; and verily, the proof, that he is not dealing with dead monkeys. Humans, from our beginnings, buried our dead. Who, I like to wonder, told them to do this?

I do not think the theological arguments can be clinched. The Eastern churches still forbid tampering with graves; they take the inhumation part for granted. Christ wasn’t cremated, &c. Catholics and Protestants still buried their dead, until quite recently. It could be said that Catacombs were early Christian innovations for the crowding problem. Let the economists opine.

Pagan Roman public health laws turned out to be convenient. They forbad interments within city walls. By driving their deceased out along the Appian Way, Christians could get away with marking the graves of martyrs. Christ Himself was not only crucified, but entombed just out of town.

A friend wrote with a question I am answering, to the limit of my ability. He has a spritely mother, who is in her ninetieth year. Although she still climbs fifteen flights of stairs to her apartment (to shame her son, he suspects) she finds herself thinking about death more often than she did at nineteen.

My own parents, not being Christian, couldn’t see the point of any argument for Christian burial when they made their funeral plans. I tried it on anyway, but they smiled me off. (This can be slightly better than laughing.) They made arrangements, and left instructions, to be cremated. I “washed my hands.” Then we buried the urns in the family plot; waiting till Spring in obedience to the bureaucrats.

That God can resurrect from ashes, I take as likely. But that is for God. In the Christian view, humans also have some responsibilities. Parsees and Tibetans fed the corpses to vultures; at least in the good old days. I once admired the traces of the Zoroastrian funeral pillars outside Herat. At least they were pre-Islamic.

My own mother once facetiously suggested that, when defunct, she should be put out in a garbage bag. She was being, shall we say, heroically atheist. I pointed out that her survivors could be fined, for doing that even with a defunct raccoon. It goes deeper than smug public healthies realize.

Marines risk lives to recover bodies. The authorities are still defaulting to some Christian assumptions, even though their trend is satanic.

But Batflu worship will demand a thorough scouring, starting with Trump but ending with Christ.

I’ve had enough

In the spirit of Ranting Week, up here in the High Doganate, let me quote Patrick Henry, the distinguished revolutionist from the Commonwealth of Virginia. “Give me Liberty, or give me Death,” he declared before the House of Burgesses, with Washington and Jefferson apparently in attendance. In exchange for this inflammatory rhetoric, I suppose my Loyalist ancestors would have liked to give him Death. But that was in 1775, when what we came to call the American Revolution was still at the talking stage.

A quarter of a millennium later, I think the British were right to offer the Continental Congress something like the “Dominion” status they later offered the Canadians: practical independence, without the blood and gore. But in human nature — a subject I have studied — a point comes when peaceful and undramatic solutions may be discounted. The Americans, as objects of the ministrations of the minions of the late King George III, had had enough. They had even dumped a cargo of tea into Boston Harbour, when that gummint was trying to lower tea taxes. (It just wasn’t “rep by pop.”)

Ich habe genug,” as we sing in the Bach Cantata (BWV 82) — another meaning for the same words. “I’ve had enough,” meaning, I have lived long enough, seen enough, done enough and received enough; I am content — to die in the arms of Jesus my Saviour.

The modern mind, e.g. Patrick Henry’s, could not possibly associate this attitude with a realization of Liberty, and wouldn’t devote the time to try. We have been wired, since generations before him, to imagine a conflict between the Church (i.e. Jesus), and the Rights of Man. Christ Himself knew this conflict, and first distinguished Church from State. (“Give unto Caesar.”) They needn’t be in conflict, but they are not the same thing.

Liberty of the kind Patrick Henry was shouting is, finally, the cry of the trapped animal. I leave to gentle reader’s judgement, whether the animal had trapped himself. But compare Christ: “That you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” There are variants in the wording, but all make clear that His kingdom is not of this world. Gummints can offer neither truth nor freedom.

Our worldly authorities, in most jurisdictions outside South Dakota, have trapped us as animals. They have put us under control of a Public Health bureaucracy that is as laughably incompetent as it is malign. It deals with humans exclusively as bodies, and their survival as a statistical proposition; in addition to which, they lie about the statistics, and can’t count.

But we are moderns. We use the word “soul” in a purely rhetorical way, and use the rest of our Christian inheritance as trinkets for a pawn shop. These don’t fetch much, these days, when a church can only be understood as a place where viruses are transmitted.

Yet here is the mysterious wisdom of Patrick Henry. Liberty is crucial, even to the apprehension of God. Without the freedom of the truly human, we are reduced to animals. And if you trap us, we might make a fuss.

Monday morning rant

“Reciprocal, sterilizing mistrust.”

This is a phrase I have lifted from the recent complaint of the bishops of France, to the Vatican congregation about Summorum Pontificum. A friend has been working on the translation. Our ecclesial oldies (my observation) continue to advance, or shove, doctrinal “talking points” they have “evolved” from (still my opinion) wrong interpretations of Vatican II — towards (down the throats of) the lay and clerical faithful. Believers, in their turn, continue to hunger for the Gospel and the Mass. In particular, the young are attracted to traditional Catholicism, if they are attracted to Catholicism at all. They, and their hippie elders, exhibit mutual distrust. It is the new generation gap. Or, in the cowboy colloquial, neither has the other’s back.

But overall, few Catholics today are attracted to their religion. This becomes evident if you look at them. Over here on west-side Atlantic, we may now start at the top, with a new, nominally Catholic, “POTUS.” He favours various unambiguously anti-Catholic policies, from abortion-on-demand to making nuns pay for condoms. It would be easier to define him as a common fern, however, than as a leader of men. Something called a “Kamala” stands to replace him. (I am reminded of an Ottawa journalist, years ago, who described the first female leader of our socialist NDP as, “the houseplant from the shop of horrors.”) We might as well start at the bottom, instead.

I have encountered constant frustration when trying to explain, to self-styled “modern Catholics,” the most elementary precepts of the religion they claim to profess. They defend themselves, when they intuit that they are under attack, with one of the two known arguments all progressive moderns use. One is, “How dare you!” And the other is, “Shut up!”

Yet most being innocent, at least of education, they cannot be held responsible for their views. These originate in the mass culture, passing through its Internet stage. Currently, our tech lords conceive their task as “unifying.” This means bringing the two arguments together into a single, aggressive, silencing of discordant voices.

At present, the Googlies are doing a better job of co-opting governments, than vice versa, but as the latter retain their monopoly on serious, military power, I assume that gummint will be taking over Big Tech fairly soon. (I’d put my money on a low-tech sledgehammer, over a high-end computer, any day.) Thanks to innovations such as Red China’s extremely successful “social credit” system, that enforces round-the-clock conformity at every street corner and inside every home, universal idiocy can then be obtained. “Conservatives” will look back on the tech lords fondly.

Now, what is the connexion between these two things — the collapse of civilization into the black hole of “cancel culture,” and the intellectual, spiritual, and physical decline of the Roman Catholic Church?

Having created what we still call Western Civ, the Church should be at the heart of resistance to its destruction. But it isn’t at the heart of anything at the moment.

O Lord, please insert spines where required.

Creative fatalism

Although it is expensive to know one, a lawyer can make an entertaining pet, and in an age like this, he may have one hundred and one household uses. Delectable, are many of the phrases he derives from the law. Among my favourites is, “an abundance of caution.” I close my eyes, and wonder at what a large family of cautions would look like; or a political rally where all are holding their cautions aloft; or a subway platform at rush hour, with all the countless cautions waiting for their train.

Left to myself, I do not think I could produce an abundance of cautions. Perhaps when I was younger. By now I am settled into an incautious old age, and thanks to the Batflu lockdowns, &c, do one thing after another without the advice of a lawyer, to say nothing of the company of one.

This is my retirement savings plan. A penny saved is a penny earned, and so cutting out the expense of lawyers makes a rich pension indeed. Out of an abundance of caution, however, I try to maintain myself without positive money. This is my strategy to avoid being sued.

But in the world outside of the High Doganate, the cautious prevail. I think of a friend always counting his change. As only “debit cards” may now be accepted, he can throw caution to the wind. In our brave new world of electronic transactions, even gold is reduced from “hard” to “soft.”

This is not as new as might appear. Years ago (many) I had a job for which I was partially paid into a gold account in Hong Kong. This was to dodge taxes in another Asiatic jurisdiction. Too, I liked the idea of gold, which does not badly rust like so many other metals, or tarnish like silver coins, in sometimes unsightly ways. However, being some kind of “economic journalist” then, I knew how to access statistical tables.

It turned out that there were ten times as many troy ounces of nominal gold, stored away in the world’s safest places, than there was solid gold to be found — on the same planet. Ninety percent of this gold was paper, then, and would be electrons today, on some leftist creep’s fickle server.

I was mildly scandalized. My gold was as whimsical as my Mighty Dollars. It was underwritten not by something in real shiny bars, stacked in Fort Knox, but by the public imagination. Several billion people, “liquid” or not, agreed not to ask too many questions; wisely, perhaps, or they would all go mad. That the whole of the international economy was the equivalent of a monstrous pyramid scheme, was something they would rather not know.

My curiosity on this account was matched by many other idle interests. These have continued through the years. For instance, I was once curious about a cancer, which was treated in various excruciating ways, such as by chemotherapy. One might read pages and pages about it, in impenetrable jargon; which I’m sure people do when they think they might have it.

But having done all this, I discovered, one’s prospects of survival were approximately the same as if one hadn’t. Surely, prayer would have been less intrusive upon one’s weak and failing body. And it would also be cheaper.

Or, why give up smoking if you’re dying anyway? Or drinking, if your liver is shot? Or do anything that makes you unhappy, when you have little time left to enjoy?

“Wellness” doesn’t read the New England Journal of Medicine. Why should you?

I’m trying to avoid mentioning the Batflu again, but that isn’t easy. Rather, I will recommend “creative fatalism.” This is slightly different from “moronic fatalism,” such as I observed among construction crews back in that Third World — before “an abundance of caution” was imposed on them. (I was for giving them Darwin Awards, instead.) They would no more wear helmets than safety belts, on their bamboo scaffolding up in the sky. Their attitude was, “if it’s not my day, it’s not my day.”

Similarly, the bus drivers hanging out over the road to starboard. This was to make room for Buddha to drive. I doubted their doctrinal reasoning, for if it were Buddha driving, he ignored speed limits, and steered recklessly. (I preferred the Zen attitude that was, if you meet Buddha in the street, punch him.)

Let me suggest there are precautions one should take, like not making out with Typhoid Mary. Please don’t accuse me of imprudence. But there are risks one should be willing to take, in light of the fact that we’ll all die anyway, and you can’t take anything with you to Heaven. Not even your stamp collection. Not even your collection of Vatican stamps.

The consensus v. the consensual

Don’t tell God anything is impossible. Gentle reader and writer have, and can have, no idea about such things. But we can have a hold on what is possible, or likely, under earthly conditions on an average day. One might call that “knowledge”; or “science,” as some do. Example:

We are no more likely to be rid of the Internet, than of nuclear weapons, in our future. I cannot write about the unforeseeable, because it is unforeseeable. But within my limited purview, I might speculate on how these two nightmares might be moderated. I don’t think either can be made less dangerous. The best one can hope is for some growing appreciation of how much damage they can do, when used gratuitously.

Having no degree in either field, I try not to write what will be contradicted by an expert. On the other hand, “expert” has become a murky concept. Once we had to distinguish only between demonstrated credible experts, and villains. Common sense could usually tell them apart. But with the growth of our “sophistication,” the category of villainy has been much expanded. We have a category of institutionally credentialled experts who aren’t exactly liars, but more like what Harry G. Frankfurt defined as “bullshitters.” They struggle to remain plausible, but are using their expertise to advance interested views. And, having such motives — in opposition to the plain pursuit of truth — they seek publicity, and angle to obtain it.

As Dr Frankfurt hinted, in his short philosophical treatise on this topic (On Bullshit, 2005), these can be, and usually are, more trouble than old-fashioned liars. For a real liar knows he is lying, and can be caught out. By comparison, the modern media expert avoids what is strictly checkable, not only to protect himself, but from indifference for truth. He is, according to me, the intellectual descendant of the mediæval Nominalists, adumbrating words, not realities. While less intelligent than his predecessors, he carries on the tradition of saying that something is true because he says so.

“Consensus science” is of this nature. In it, truth can be negotiated, or imposed. While the weather next Saturday will be known to the living, a prediction for much later in the century has no meaning. From the number of variables in play, I can tell you with certainty, that woke “climatologists” are talking bosh; and every signature on their consensus I may add to my list of persons to ignore. This is elementary stuff: and I do try to stick to what is elementary, and foreseeable.

The success rate, for elaborate predictions, remains, at this point in our history, zero-point-zero. But it is becoming so also for the present, and past. The Batflu, here, is current primary example. Owing to obvious manipulation, we cannot know much about its effects. In rough terms, we can know that they are exaggerated, because almost every expert has a vested interest in getting the numbers up, and those who disagree will be punished. The same is true for all the popular remedies, including such nonsense as mangle-wearing, and obsessive social distancing. No legitimate research lies behind either, so we must assume the purposes for various lockdown orders are not actually the Batflu.

It has spread everywhere, by now, and the fact that almost nothing can be done about that, can be put to the advantage of our social engineers. By pretending that they can control it, they have their excuse for controlling us.

But we can’t know about the past of this epidemic, either. By concealing or confusing the origin of the virus, Red Chinese rulers were acting in their own interest; yet also in the interest of the Western expert class. In this field, as in so many others, origins are vital to the facts going forward. They must cultivate vagueness, even on cause and effect of vaccines. For how can they control people, who know, fairly clearly, what is going on?

Be afraid, be very afraid, is all that they will tell us, for the foreseeable future.


Back in the day, when I was trying to build a wee publishing empire, that would offer a few lordly voices to talented people who might otherwise become servants of mediocrity and glibness — nearly two score years ago — I found to my surprise there was enthusiasm for it. But too, opposition from the most surprising quarters. For instance, commercial publishers were instinctively repelled. They weren’t just the (leftwing) “arts councils” that blocked us, whenever opportunity called. Ad agencies were also scandalized.

I once received a memorable, hectoring lecture from an otherwise friendly ad executive, giving me a lift home from a party we had both attended. As I hint, I rather liked this guy, and his decisive, “tough as nails” approach to messy issues. He was not, like other advertising people, an incurable “suck-up.” He would explain, without hogwash, why it was in his customer’s interest to buy something; what the benefits were, and what the drawbacks of a false frugality. But he would also candidly qualify what he said in his sales pitches. He didn’t ask, “What is truth?” — but characteristically told it. Moreover he showed the other qualities of a good and decent salesman. He would not take it personally if he didn’t make the sale. He’d continue to be helpful.

Pontius, as I will call him, was explaining to me why my Idler magazine could never serve a larger market, and why it was certain to fail, even if I struggled heroically for a few years. He, personally, enjoyed the magazine, but that was the kiss of death. All in all, it wasn’t worth doing. He would offer to help, but really, that would be like peddling drugs to a minor. Rather than lead me astray, he said, “Cut your losses.” I had real potential in real publishing, he suggested, and so, it was time for me to “suck up.”

This was advice meant kindly. He was acting in loco parentis to what he perceived to be an orphan boy. He could be my Lord Chesterfield: “the Machiavelli of the minors.” He could point to my path of least resistance. He used the word, “convenience,” brashly.

Had I listened to him, I might have saved myself about half-a-million dollars. Had I ever found a generous investor, I might have cost him a few millions more. In fact, I briefly did, and had he not had some genius for spotting tax deductions, I would have cost him.

While I never met Pontius again (I had met him before), I remember him so vividly, that I hear his echo in the words of other men. A ruthless man, on the surface, yet with a heart of silver, if one were onside. A reliably honest advisor, to those who would be his friends.

The Church, I reflected, was from her beginning, a very bad business proposition; and becoming her “client” (getting baptized) was not a very sensible career move.

To relax my analogy somewhat, there are fools who are drawn to music and art. In this world, most become miserable failures, unrecognized while struggling on the cusp of penury, or below. But a tiny few strike it rich. Paradoxically, great success need not involve compromise. One hits the Zeitgeist at a sweet point, and Bob’s your uncle. (I had an uncle named Bob.) Luck is the great bestower of riches in this world; you have it or you don’t. And while it may be true that some are good at surfing it, there are waves in the ocean you will not survive.

Returning to Pontius, he had an answer to this: a formula for success in business. It was in his word, “convenience.” The market is, consciously and unconsciously, searching at every moment for the easy way out. This pertains even to buying groceries. No one has made a fortune by launching a chain of Inconvenience Stores. Bear that in mind if you want to make a million.

The next morning after my ride with Pontius, when I went into the workplace, I assigned myself first thing a calligraphy task. I composed yet another motto to hang on the wall of the Idler office:

“Always forsake the easy way out.”

Wealth & power

Hypocrisy is often dismissed as a humdrum moral vice; rather as pæderasty, or buggery, or commissioning abortions: things considered very grave in the past, but now quite acceptable among progressive persons. One feels almost cruel, or envious, to criticize the adept hypocrite. How dare we try to withdraw the air in which he lives and breathes? “Zero tolerance” is directed at more serious vices, such as having wrong opinions, or voting Republican.

As Paul Valéry said, “Power without abuse loses its charm,” and when, for instance, a governor who proclaims crippling Batflu restrictions is seen ignoring them, he is outraged. His critics are his opponents, he reasons; they really ought to be investigated first!

A milder, general criticism is sometimes made, about the lifestyles of the rich and famous. How is it that prominent environmentalists burn so much jet fuel in their travels from one conference to another, at the world’s most lavish resorts? Shouldn’t they go about in sackcloth and ashes, as they tell us to do?

This is to misunderstand their hypocrisy. We assume they are motivated by greed, and the love of pleasure, the way we would be. But why must it be piled on so thick? Many a jetsetter hardly uses the jacuzzis. He takes a quick shower, because he has another aeroplane to catch.

Yes, most people are attracted to the sumptuous, but in a fine and private way. They rarely encourage the paparazzi, or wish to be watched over their fences and walls. They hire security, to scare trespassers away. Servants, up to a point, must be endured, but in the past they could be ignored, the way we ignore appliances. I may not have a toaster, but I do have a stove, and could swear that it is staring at me. But it was manufactured in the 1960s, so I needn’t fear it has an Internet connexion. And besides, if it did, it wouldn’t be reporting to the tabloids, but to technical staff. We try to ignore them, at least so long as we can pretend they are equivalent to our maids and butlers.

It is hard for a modern to understand wealth; especially as it is so often distributed among the lowest classes, who rose to prominence through politics or business. In the past we understood why the prince lived well. He was born to that station. He needed the wealth, and to be seen flaunting it, as a mark of his power. His subjects might not take him seriously if he didn’t have a palace. They might laugh at him.

Our misunderstandings come from attributing to unthinking hypocrisy, what is perfectly calculated. For the truth is, human nature never changes, and wealth continues to express power. Hypocrisy, itself, is a signal of high station. I continue to enjoy the excuse of a Canadian Liberal politician, who was “called out” for obscene self-indulgence at the taxpayer’s expense, by a Parliamentary committee. He angrily rejoined, “I am entitled to my entitlements.” Like a Nancy Pelosi showing off the extravagant contents of her refrigerators, he was duly re-elected. Impressing the peasantry is an essential task.

Why don’t “conservatives” understand? The answer is, they are also moderns, and often have the same “born yesterday” quality they attribute to the “liberals.” They don’t understand, for instance, that it is their wealth and fame that entitles the Hollywood stars to mouth off, whether or not they know anything. You’d think we’d get that.

Wealth is a means to display power, much more than vice versa, but as power leads to amassing more wealth, hooo. It is a natural phenomenon, like the water cycle. The pretence of using one’s power to advance the public weal, is no different now than it was in the 15th century; or in the 10th, &c. And there were satirists then, too.

Plutarch on envy & hatred

Today, I thought as I was rising (under lockdown conditions), I should be reading Plutarch. Gentle reader may know this author, born into the middle of the first century, chiefly through Shakespeare, born fifteen centuries later. For Plutarch’s voluminous Parallel Lives is primary source material for Shakespeare’s plays set in antiquity, and necessary background for his broader views on history, on public life and politics, civic virtue, and on ethics in a more contemplative sense. But Plutarch was also central to Rabelais, Montaigne, and many other leading figures of the Renaissance and later. Successive translations of Plutarch have been formative within all European literatures. My own reprint of Philemon Holland’s into English (he was the translator-general to the Elizabethan age) is an irreplaceable treasure: accurate in a way our breathless contemporary translations have ceased to be.

The Plutarch I have loved most, from my own formation in grade school, is the Plutarch of the Moralia — that sprawling collection of the miscellaneous essays plausibly attributed to him. So many survived the “fall of Rome” because they remained current in the unfallen Eastern Rome of Byzantium, in Plutarch’s famously transparent, accessible Greek. He was known at least vaguely to our own Middle Ages in the West, and wherever he could be read, was beloved. This was so in his own lifetime, too. More even than the Orwell-like clarity of his language, it was his spirit that was so attractive, so warmly companionable; his genius in expressing a learned and uncontentious authority. Where, for instance, he finds malice in his biographical subjects, he neither condemns nor excuses.

Plutarch draws us in, simultaneously: to the world of mind, and the world of action. This is why he can seem so recent, still. The reader is confident that he is telling the truth about events, in a way blind, like justice. He is chaste, in the non-ribald sense. His freedom from pomposity never strays into the opposite vice, of excessive familiarity. To his contemporaries, exactly as to us, he was the reliable advisor, above party or faction.

Paradoxically, most great writers, in all languages I think, are bad at second languages. Though resident in the city of Rome in his prime, and its, he was a poor Latinist, and rather part of the élite ghetto of Greek-speakers there; but “urbane, cosmopolitan.” He considered himself a Roman, and acquired the citizenship. He apparently thought as a Roman, even in youthful travels to Egypt and perhaps beyond. Returned and retired to his native Chaeronea, a mere village in Boeotia, he is a proud local patriot, and a patriotic Roman; a citizen of the world.

Coming only decades after Christ, he is still pre-Christian pagan in his knowledge. He represents the best of that classical civilization: the very humanity that was finally able to receive Christ. In moments, he seems almost a pagan Augustine in his morally-passionate, unexcitable calm, his immortal kindliness and peaceful, settled courage — in his immovable common sense.

He knows the human condition, and reading, this morning, “over his shoulder” again, I find him truly informative on envy and hatred. If he hates, he hates the former much more than the latter.

For envy undermines all amity of feeling; is the great destroyer of brotherly love. It invades the heart of the self-righteous, whereas our pure prejudicial hatreds are shared with the mindless brute beasts. One might thus say that they are innocent, by comparison. But Envy seeks mischief, and can never be assuaged.

For any one, at any time, Christian or non-Christian, this is an important thing to know; to be on one’s guard against envy building in one’s own soul. It easily masks itself as virtue. We would rather detract from and subvert the accomplishments of others, than benefit ourselves. It is a “hate crime” that worms beyond any hate crime, and there are moments when it is governing the world.

Twice a day

A correspondent has adopted a diet plan I will recommend to others; I am even considering it myself. He wanted to cut down on his Internet consumption, with a view to leaner and meaner; but not to cut it out entirely, just yet. He wasn’t on the Internet at all, in a previous century. Time to move hesitantly backwards. Later, perhaps, he will be more decisive.

Closing his Twitter and Facebook accounts was something he had already done, along with closing several others. He’s also getting into the habit of exiting websites, the moment he’s confronted with “soft pornography,” or garish advertising displays.

“I wanted to detoxify myself on several levels. Why replace Twitter with Parler? The whole idea of social media stinks.”

He did replace his Google search engine, however, with something more frustrating called Bing, that was working less obviously for The Other Side. He won’t order anything through Amazon, thus saving himself a lot of money. Too, in a gloriously joyful moment, he smooshed his Apple handheld thingy (outdated), with an antique sledgehammer (found on Ebay, he admits).

As for Bezos, Gates, Pichai, and that Ho-bearded pothead in San Francisco, he wishes them well. “I pray for their conversion to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”

Gentle reader will guess this man lives in Montana (though originally from New York), and was a Trump voter. His current motto is, “Cancel them before they cancel you.” He likes to hum the old Shaker hymn, “Tis the gift to be simple,” while swinging his sledgehammer, or his glistening axe.

He has retained email, however, after transferring to a less curious, intrusive server. He did not wish to eliminate distant friends, just because they’d forgotten how to moisten postage stamps. But he reminds that sealed, handwritten notes, make it harder for Big Tech to “follow” you.

For that, and for “essential services” such as Idleposts, he has his new diet plan: “twice a day at nine o’clock.” That’s when he connects, for up to half an hour, thus restricting his buzz to an hour a day in total. He uses a loud, slightly rusting, pre-digital cooking timer to signal when this period is up.

Never having subscribed to most of these services, I have less emulative work to do. Even these Idleposts are first drafted by hand, although I mess with them in pixels. I was raised in graphite technology, albeit with an advanced, mechanical pencil (gift of my father, for my ninth birthday). I find it is still useful, to avoid lateral thinking, or wandering unintentionally “outside the box.”

“Reduce your electronic footprint,” Mike suggests. “Sure, The Enemy can find you and arrest you, but why make it convenient for him?”


OBSERVATION. — A gentle reader in Arizona writes, regarding pencils, that he grew up with one in his hand, and through his subsequent career in architecture, “planning,” and art. His brain has been connected, through his hand, to pencil, pen, or brush, for some time now; rather than to a keyboard. Too, his brain reaches through other simple tools; and there is an internal connection between brain and heart. “It is rather difficult,” he writes, “and almost always painful, to caress the ones you love with a keyboard.”