Essays in Idleness


The misery index

While I was distracted for a few days by “things,” they were nothing important, and verily, nothing to contribute to the National Misery Index, which seemed high enough beforehand. But now, looking over neglected email correspondence, I discover something that can be set against that. My Chief Argentine Correspondent boasts that his South has undone my North, eclipsing my fair Dominion in the achievement of misery; and they will not let up.

This adds to my distress. … “Dear David,” he writes:

“We await the inclusion of all you Northerners with us: a proud second country abottom the International Misery Index. We arrived at this enviable position thanks to the uncanny Argentine ability to think from the anatomical rear. I admit, your politicians are trying, and getting much better at it, but be assured, they will never, ever, reach our disillustrious level. …

“You see, we have had many nefarious entities to blame along the way. We are masters of deflection. As we receded to unprecedented depths of moral squalor, we accused: the voracious Spanish Lion, Perfidious Albion, the American Empire, German Huns, Malodorous Frenchmen, the United Nations, the international banks. We did the whole list. From the World Bank to the Salvation Army there is not one lender that has not been screwed by the Argies. It is a majestic record. …

“The gallery of rogues shown at the end of this email [deleted] is missing the Radicals that began the demolition in 1916 when Argentina was in the position now enjoyed by Canadians. To prove my point, here is the mug of the first Radical president [also deleted]. Tell me if you are not thrown into a paroxysm of admiration and moved to exclaim: ‘Hipolito! Lead us to the light!’ (His autopsy revealed a head filled with the purest form of granite.) Churchill, Roosevelt, Hoover, Wilson, cultivated the intelligent look. Hipolito was sincere: his whole demeanor honestly declared: ‘I am an ass!’ …

[Cf. Trudeau in blackface.]

“The election of Hipolito Yrigoyen brought an end to the era of the Old Oligarchs, who had taken a country similar to Afghanistan (1810 to 1850 or so) up the ranks (economy, education, income per capita, &c) to rub elbows with Britain, France, Germany, and the United States. Imagine! Argentines were the best paid workers on the planet by 1888, and from 1856 to 1916 they ate four meals a day! And they had clothing! Their children went to school! The only Harrod’s outside England was in … Buenos Aires! How perfidious of the English to ensnare us in the vices of consumerism and vanity! Those island robbers! Pirates all of them, especially Florence Nightingale! …

“From this distant land I spy how the powers would steal our honestly earned position upon the Index. But we are the most miserable! We will fight to the last man! Mr Joe Biden may be breathing down our neck; Mr Trudeau de Castro is working hard as Mr Putin (returning Russia to the glory days of the USSR). …

“I propose you address this unfair situation in your well-respected blog. We have earned our post in the Misery Index, over one hundred years! It belongs to us. Canuckistanis go home! Yankees can go home, too! We are exceedingly miserable, and no nuclear conflagration can remove us from our place in history. …

“Yours truly,


Verdunish episodes

The curious journalist might consult people who have lived in Grozny (Chechnya), or in Aleppo (Syria), about Russian military tactics, and in particular about how merciful their troops are.

Both cities were bombed to rubble, but more poignantly, the civilian population in each was intentionally targeted by the Russian war machine. The suffering of the inhabitants was unimaginable — to we who live comfortable bourgeois lives at “the end of history,” here in the far West. In Europe, especially in its eastern sections, there is more appreciation of such things, and it helps to explain their sudden recovery of enthusiasm for NATO.

I am still smarting from the (intellectual) beating I received after writing an especially unironical newspaper column, in 1991. On the verge of the first Gulf War, I reviewed preparations for the Battle of Verdun, some seventy-five years earlier. My point was that a lot of (relatively innocent) people were going to be killed, and probably a lot more than we anticipated. But the battle was necessary, and had to be won at any cost. This was the view of French generals at the time (who’d been “set up” by German generals), and I argued, it is a view that is still defensible, even though we know what catastrophic bleeding ensued.

An inundation of non-fan letters washed in, of the worst kind. It was from readers who actually understood what I wrote, unlike the ignorant plebs I was used to. A much-admired (and formerly admiring) old friend wrote that he was aghast to find my soul so wrapt in darkness. He would never trust me again.

Operation Desert Storm did not cause so many casualties — except on the Mesopotamian side — but would have been much worse if Saddam Hussein had the “weapons of mass destruction” that some of our spies already thought he had. But I had argued we must simply take the risk.

The reverse of my argument has been made by President Biden, and all responsible allies. Putin has wagged his staffs — he has put his nuclear missiles on alert — and that is why we must do nothing. We must not encourage him to “escalate.” Or rather, we must do everything we can to confute him, short of anything that would work. We must not, in any case, “send in the air force.”

It is merely an aside, but the same Russians who went about their massacres in Grozny and Aleppo have behaved as pussy-cats when they were plausibly threatened by a superior force. Putin is not actually mad, and if he were, we could count on a member of his own inner corps to deliver the necessary lead injection. He does take extraordinary risks, however, and we can guess that he is arrogant and proud. As Stalin would say, this is not a situation for people with bad nerves.

One must be ready, in this world of sin and death, for all one’s best intentions to collapse, and all one’s reasonable calculations to go wrong. We might especially hesitate to gamble with other people’s lives. But sometimes it is necessary.

War & peace

These are two qualities — cowardice and stupidity — that the Ukrainians, to their credit, have not been showing in their encounter with the Russian army, or at least, they are not advertising it. For it represents a departure from their old policy and habits; which were much safer, and got fewer people hurt. Courage and intelligence are naturally rejected by politicians in both East and West, and for good reason. For even when they do not get their subject killed, they are sure to relieve him of power.

My own objection to the notorious pro-war lobbyists and “Internet Influencers” in the West, is that they are too liberal. They are eager to concede any principle, to form a coalition for war.  They will not be restricted to the facts, but become quite imaginative in assembling their arguments. They may even imagine themselves to be winning a war that no one could ever win, for the sake of maintaining resolve. The advocates have given war-mongering a bad name; it is almost as much of a scandal as pacifism.

War is more defensible when one is attacked, and ideally when attacked gratuitously. The Russians have a long history of giving pretexts for war — even to the Mongols — and for seizing upon pretexts themselves. Down here in the “real world” it is hard to commit an act that is totally wrong, or launch an attack that is entirely unjustified, so perhaps my criticism of the Russians is glib. Certainly, the amount of condemnation that is now heaped upon them, by the Western media and politicians, has shaken my confidence in their essential wrongness. It hasn’t quite carried me to sympathy for the Russian cause, however, and I doubt any of the ten million current internal and external Ukrainian refugees have been much won over.

I was against NATO, which I thought had served its purpose nicely by about 1991; practically, I think alliances should be more subtle in serving transient purposes. For old as it was, the Soviet, or Evil, Empire was essentially a “flash in the pan.” It could not last for even a single century.

Of course, the result of the Russian aggression is that now more countries — including Ukraine, Finland, Sweden, &c — will now beg for entry. The European Union (which I think of as the bureaucratic “black heart of Europe”) has also been promoted by Mr Putin’s scheme of desolation.

But now we are at an impasse. War may require as much cowardice and stupidity as peace. It is hard to choose between them.


Zapad means “the West” in Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, and various other Slavic languages. I learned this many years ago, when I became acquainted with Czechs in, of all cities, Toronto. They had a very literate magazine called Západ, edited by Josef Skvorecky and managed by his wife, Zdena Salivarova. It posed as ethnic grunge, for the purpose of winning a few minor subsidies from the State’s multicultural agencies. But secretly it, and the Czech books of the splendid ‘Sixty-Eight Publishers, were known wherever Czech and Slovak readers had settled — by the 1970s a considerable diaspora.

Indeed, it was from my passing acquaintance with Czechs, and the odd Pole and Hungarian, that I contracted the lethal anti-Communism and “conservatism” that proved so ruinous to my future career. This, and of course I should give some credit to e.g. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who turned my stomach against “liberalism” before I had left high school.

It was not simply politics. For what appealed to me in these (Western) Slavs, and by extension through the many other races I encountered, was this appeal to “the West,” in all of its assembled meanings. Part of it was that anthropological tolerance and untroubled curiosity which has made the West the museum-repository of the works of all civilizations: North, South, and East. Too, I had experience maturing in Asia, when, long before I had subscribed consciously to Christianity, I came to acknowledge that “alien” religious tradition, and the artistic and intellectual truths that had been embraced by the Church. I became convinced that “Western civilization” was unquestionably superior — rooted, as it were, in truth, not power — even while I was charmed by other exotic traditions.

I came to know that even my juvenile atheism was tinged with Christianity, inevitably, because of my very longing for truth.

The imperfection of the West is well understood in all of its languages. But it has an aspiration which I think ultimately is a passionate desire, for salvation, from the God who listens.

The Russian invaders of Ukraine carry a “Z” (for “Zapad”) scrawled on their tanks and other military vehicles, to show that they, too, aspire to something. It is not, however, Catholic Christianity, nor even an Orthodox twist, but conquest of the West. They are, once again, as enemies of our civilization, defeating themselves; as all enemies of the West have magically contrived to do.

We, in the West, have been our own enemy. But we should abandon this affectation.

Faith in dollars

It says here (in the Wall Street Journal), that oil contracts between Saudi Arabia and Red China will now be denominated in Chinese Yuan (whose banknotes feature the portrait of Mao Tse-Tung). This would be similar to intra-European transactions being denominated in old-fashioned Reichsmarks (with portraits of Adolf Hitler), or Roubles (with “Uncle Joe” Stalin on them). Once they, too, were fashionable.

Eventually such currencies become worthless — even to coin and banknote collectors — but through the season of their totalitarian sponsors they are prized.

More so, for instance, than the United States Dollar is becoming, for it is going out of style. It has been “softening” in slow-motion for more than a century. The acceleration of its decline began fifty-plus-one years ago. This was when the U.S. president, Richard Nixon, cancelled the convertibility of the dollar to (a small fragment of) gold. It was one of his radical measures, including price and wage freezes, and surcharges on imports.

The combined effect was to rubbish the Bretton Woods system of international financial exchange. Mr Nixon, a politician, of course promised to “reform” it, but this hasn’t happened yet, and besides, Nixon is dead.

In the days when I still owned my 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, I could visit a time before World War One when the whole planet — or at least those parts which sometimes used money — was on the gold standard. World trade, or “globalization,” was greater, proportionally, then than now. A chart filled several pages, in this encyclopaedia, giving the fixed value of some hundreds of traditional coins, of the many countries and colonies. These could be relied upon to be pretty; I collected as many as I could find.

Dollars were not exclusively king, in those days — the Pound Sterling still enjoyed more prestige, from universal recognition. The British Royal Mint kept offices in Ottawa, and in addition to gold sovereigns they minted Canadian gold into $5, $10, and $20 pieces.

Except for small change (in silver), that is the last we saw of real money. Americans could last glimpse it, perhaps, in photographs of Fort Knox. By the ‘thirties, under F. D. Roosevelt, American nationals were not considered mature enough to own actual gold. Only the State could own it, and only Politicians could own the State. Since, gold has existed chiefly in faith.

I was myself being paid partly in “gold,” to a bank in Hong Kong, when I commanded a salary as a young spark in Asia, a few decades ago. But upon inquiring, I learnt that this was paper gold. By diligent research I was rewarded with the news that the international quantity of paper gold exceeded the amount of the mined gold metal by about twenty times. This discovery was an important step in my (still somewhat naïve) understanding of metaphysics.

The world has sincere faith, I realize. Would that its faith were in God.

Price resistance

Among the best ways to fight inflation is, don’t buy. When prices rise, on anything that is not (for the moment) urgently needed, learn to go without — for a while, or until prices have collapsed. Or perhaps prices won’t collapse, in which case one may learn to live without the now unnecessary product, permanently.

Food is an embarrassment. For the foreseeable present, urbanization has made us all dependent on the shopping mall and pop-up groceries. Wealth does not grow in the vicinity of our homes. Our cities are paved, to prevent gardening; and municipal inspectors arrest the breeders of livestock.

But, now sixty years after her death, I continue to be inspired by my maternal grandmother, who had the benefit of a Gaelic-speaking consciousness. Her own ancestors, from the Isles, had taught her to create, not purchase; and thus to provide for every want — or everything that could be made by human hands. (Truth to tell, some things were obtained by barter.)

The contemporary economy works on the opposite principle, to the convenience of tax collectors. Consumers are trained from early childhood, to be profligate with money, and all other things, by a slimy, oppressive army of advertising agents, sales girls, and Internet Influencers. Even the habit of counting one’s change has been cancelled by progress; now one mindlessly waves a bankcard.

We should refuse to buy anything we see advertised, for in such a case we can know that the cost of promotion is added to the cost of production.

By refusing the many commercial suggestions by which we are confronted, we not only help to put the advertisers out of business, but we free our thoughts for the contemplation of more worthy things.

Cogito, ergo?

The psychological concepts of “conscious” and “unconscious” correspond to the physiological test of “shallow” and “deep.” Beneath them, we have what is reputed to be a “collective unconscious.” (I turn to the late Swiss sage and shrink, Carl Jung.) This represents what remains to the human, although it extends outside. It is the consciousness that lies beyond the individual’s reach, unlike his personal complexes and pathologies, of which he can be made dramatically aware (through meticulous psychiatric reports).

When we get to a certain depth, that we consider profound, we cease dealing with things from the world of our experience. Rather, we have the facts of the brain and its structure; and their unseen interactions with reality at large.

Sometimes we become “unconsciously,” but as it were, consciously unconsciously, aware of this reality through art. One has seen the painting before, perhaps at the dream stage, or originally from another century; or heard the story in the remote past, on the knee of a forgotten ancestor; yet it is shockingly new. It is larger than life, and suddenly more vivid.

Art, and poetry, generally, are a revelation of what “everyone knows,” but did not know before they were indited.

We assume that everyone participates  in the same “collective unconscious”; but it may be unique to the physical constitution of a single, isolated brain. Were I a “secular materialist,” or atheist as we used to say, I might ponder this more. It is a path that leads to phrenology, and by various further developments to eugenics, demographic editing, mass-murder and all-round humourlessness.

There may be a deeper unconscious, still: quite non-material and thus incapable of interacting with this world by the techniques of cause-and-effect. It might never be detected, even though it is exquisitely capable of forming impressions, and making instinctive moral judgements — and conducting them through our physical channels, without leaving physical scars.

Well, I’ll relent now. For we are off-road, and possibly overturned.

But what of this “lower unconscious,” endowed like the more visible upper forms, by our Creator — made by Him, as everything was made? Yet also detachable from our universal kit? For the soul of a man is unique, and uniquely a mystery; not to be solved by studying the habits of another man, or by gathering reliable statistics.

He may be awakened from his sleepwalking, eftsoons.

Placidly recalled

Electricity can be, under optimum circumstances, the next best thing to a horse for getting about, on inland waterways. It might be even better — for it leaves the towpath clear for pedestrians, and for horse riders.

I was dawdling this morning, somewhat wearied by the current war hysteria. The mass media cover, at most, one topic at a time, with their round-the-clock blaring. This changes only when a new and more saleable hysteria is selected to replace it. There are currently several wars in progress around the world, of adequate savagery, where human misery may be found, and countless refugees flee for their lives. Sadism may be observed at many locations. But a law of media is strictly “one war at a time.” Something like the Aristotelian unities govern their portrayal of news events. The emotional possibilities of a sensation must not be diffused, in their dramatic unskillfulness; journalism is the opposite of an art form. It is the first draught of every historical fraud.

Russia is much hated by Western media anchors and correspondents, I have noticed. Their bigotry is for reasons it would be tedious to explore.

England, by contrast, is much smaller and better loved. A canal system was dug out of it, mostly in the eighteenth century. The country becomes vast when one walks about it, and if along ancient rural rights-of-way, and canal towpaths, it will appear to be an immortally green and pleasant land.

“Narrowboats” glide along these canals, or once did. (They still do, but not always gliding.) Most of those in the Midlands are ditches a mere seven feet across, and the locks restrict a vessel’s length to sixty feet or so. Twisting and turning and winding along each “cut” prevents excessive speed. This leaves only noise as a way to be annoying. So when obnoxious petrol (or, Lord help us, diesel) motors came into general use, in the last century, this oversight of progress was corrected.

Formerly, horses towed the narrowboats, from the shore, and long paddles were sometimes used, from the rear of the boats, to propel them. (The best I saw were swayed back and forth like the tails of desultory fish.) Some even had majestic painted sails: once, long ago.

With the installation of electrical engines, we may hope that silence will return to the small and crinkly waves. The swans and the ducks would be approving.


North America is currently importing a substantial amount of its oil and gas from Mother Russia. The Biden and Trudeau administrations — good post-liberals — hesitate to tamper with this, for fear that when the supply is cut, prices will rise astronomically. This, in itself, is not an issue for them, in terms of money (which they can always “print”), but there is danger when rightwing people, such as myself, demand that we resume drilling and fracking; and when others among the electorate are inclined to rebel. A better alternative, for the fashionable left, is to seek alternative supplies from Venezuela and Iran — two nations that have incidentally pledged to kill us.

Oil and other carbon fuels are dirty, in the leftist imagination, and therefore we must buy them only from the dirtiest people, and murderous criminals. Trucks, tankers, and pipelines, are also dirty, so that ever more expensive regulations must discourage their use, except by foreign agents.

Our own regulatory regime is no longer restricted to government acts, but includes performance by private investment syndicates, operating beyond the law. They work, on an incalculable scale, to direct companies on “woke” principles — i.e. according to the dictates of the global warming hysteria, and the latest post-humanist social ideals.

The young, who go into business today, are reduced, intellectually and morally, to the condition of civil servants, owing to the prolixity of government regulations, and these ideological pressures. They live and breathe by instructions from the tax departments, and their radical, sub-literate peers. While laws of supply and demand still work, as they will even in death camps, their effects become increasingly perverse. The forthright and honest worker, or manager, is singled out for punishment, when he calls attention to himself by speaking truthfully.

Yet superficially, production continues to move. Humans have a genius for adaptation, and even in formally communist countries, the manufacture of weapons can be prioritized, or apartment blocks in China. We have the example of the Pyramids, for what humans can achieve under political compulsion; and we have humans who take pride in the achievements they have compelled. In a “democracy,” we even get to vote for these over-achievers, and their proposed schemes, which appear so novel and cool.

We pass plentiful sanctions, against ourselves.

Our ungodly instincts demand them.

The path out

The Soviet-Russian tactic, through the age of Stalin and to the present in Ukraine, has been to spread ruin over a countryside, once they have recruited sufficient numbers for war. Cities are methodically encircled, and their artillery reduces them to rubble. It is a ruthless, intently moronic war strategy, that has earned Russia a reputation quite opposite to that of her starets (monastic elders), and chess masters.

Why do the nations, surrounding Russia, wish to join NATO? Why, for that matter, did Europeans try to ally, against the Third Reich? Why do schemes of Oriental despotism still persist, in the Occident, regardless?

The Soviet-Russian argument for invading Ukraine is that the western portion of that country aspired to NATO and EU membership, and therefore needed to be “de-Nazified.” In some university faculties this is supplemented with a charge that Western Imperialists have been teasing the Russian bear.

I daresay they are right, and the corrupt, Westernized Ukrainians can be blamed for welcoming the seduction.

As contemporary atheists suspect the iteration of religious wars, we might consider this dimension. The Western Ukrainians have, as west Europeans, adhered, often in the past, to Augustinian (western, Catholic) Christianity; the more traditional Slavs to a more ancient, Eastern form of Christianity in which Church and State are not so alien to each other. (Communism builds a shining bridge, for the defective mind.)

But societies on both sides have largely apostatized, desacralized, deconsecrated, secularized, and refocused their waning sense of awe and honour away from God, towards faithless sex, romantic politics, and the almighty dollar.

We are surrounded, but more to the point infused, with brutish lies, and there is little to choose between “democracies” East and West.

War is a crime, according to various authors. It is an indication that while we have risen above chimpanzees in our use of technology, and raiding tactics, still, we remain, morally, about on the monkey level. Or if we had made slight gains, these have now receded. There are arguable exceptions among the saints (who never entirely disappear), and even some of the more complicated sinners, but in general we grow overweight and lazy, until we receive the signal from our rulers to become murderous again.

Some animals kill for sport — not just because they are hungry — but our persuaded vegetarians develop psychoses that exceed this destructiveness. Ukraine is just a little war, in which one nation gets wiped out; there will only be a few million dead, wounded, and exiled. Our “environmentalists” are much more ambitious. They hope to transform the whole world.

Except through Christ, I have come to believe, there is no path out of our lamentable condition.

The principal newscaster

The most telling argument against the Ukrainian side (versus Putin) may be seen and heard from virtually any mass medium in the West. The Bafflegaberatti, as I shall call them, are overwhelmingly pro-Zelensky (the Ukrainian Caesar-of-the-moment). How does this tell against him? … you may ask.

It has sometimes happened, in the modern world, that a defensible, intelligent, and honest proposition has been embraced by the Bafflegaberatti, for an evanescent moment. Perhaps that is what is happening now — the light showing through — as it did for several days after “9/11.” And perhaps not. But when the newscasters all agree, on the airwaves for more than a week, my suspicions are passionately aroused.

The mass media are, in my experience (from decades of having worked for them), characteristically false and misleading, to a frightful degree. Their customers, “the people,” are also badly informed, but only because they are tipped off by their idiot boxes. By following instead my rule-of-thumb — that anything generally believed and promoted by the talking heads of commercial broadcasting is likely to be malicious, and yet imbecile — it is sometimes possible to understand current events, at least in outline.

So what went wrong this time?

My speculation is that things which happen fairly suddenly, in the perception of the media, have a way of “cutting through the shit.” Given time (say, two weeks) we will be getting essential falsehoods again, if we are not receiving them already. In the meantime, the modest details of an underlying truthful account will be botched and misrepresented.

The “fog of war” will be held accountable. This results from the reporting of something, when nothing is known.

For the Prince of This World is its principal newscaster.

Slava Ukraini!

The Red Chinese have accused Ukraine of meddling in Hong Kong.

This did not happen yesterday, I should explain, but some months ago. How did those clever Ukrainians do this, my reader may ask, naïvely. They did it by secular inspiration, when they uttered the phrase, “Slava Ukraini!” — which they had been doing in their own nationalist cause since the nineteenth century — and more aggressively since they fought for independence from the Leninist regime of the Soviet Union, during 1917–21.

Since 2014, the phrase has been in the air again, just as truck horns are in the air here in the Canadas. The Hong Kongois, who tend to be well-informed to a fault, picked up on it by 2019. They began to declare, “Glory to Hong Kong!” in multiple languages, from Cantonese to English; or rather, to sing it, for this phrase and its variants are often set to music, wherever it is used. (The Canadian truckers’ “Honk Honk” makes its own music.)

Wi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, and little Justin Trudeau, all get quite offended by the use of such phrases; and all have gone to the trouble of manufacturing bare-faced lies to resist the respective sovereignty movements. Readers will gather that I am unsympathetic with any of these dictators, or Mr Would-Be.

Because I (or more exactly, my father) was also unfavourably inclined to the dictatorship of Mr Adolf Hitler, it may be incumbent upon me to specify of what my disapproval consists. For granted, Hitler was a nationalist of a sort. I have long been an enemy of nationalism, when it is rudely proclaimed, though with mysterious moments of enthusiasm for nationalisms of other sorts.

A nation, to my mind, and also in fact, includes all those who hold the citizenship, and may dwell legally within its territories. This, as opposed to people of a peculiar culture, or race, on whose behalf airy claims are made.

In Christian terms, nations may certainly exist, with or without this settled definition, under the rule of a Caesar. But the followers of Christ simply live where they live, and the amount of respect they owe to the local Caesar is ultimately zero. When Caesar (however elected or installed) is himself obeying and perhaps imposing just and reasonable laws, they will respect his temporal authority; but if he goes rogue, or mental, this respect diminishes.

Therefore, the persons who speak the Russian language, or were Russian ancestrally for whatever number of centuries or minutes, if they became citizens of Ukraine in 1994 (when the borders were most recently agreed by all parties), or were since born into that situation, remain citizens today. The same goes for ethnic Ukrainians, Jews, Tatars, Tatarlars, Scythians, Tauric Chersonese, &c. By challenging this sensible order of things, and physically invading the lands governed from Kiev, Mr Putin makes himself indisputably a war criminal; one who now has accumulated many counts of murder.

We must take him to The Hague to stand trial. …