Essays in Idleness



We have all seen, or think we have seen, the satellite photos from over north China. The dust storms from the Gobi Desert have cleared. Another cause of the usual cover was some of the world’s most intense, besmogging, industrial production. Most of it is closed, just now. However it happened, the cover blew away. I do not habitually believe the captions on news photographs, but this latter explanation seems plausible to me: that when industry shuts down, the skies open. The stars may unexpectedly reappear. But what is plausible may or may not be true.

In Venice, the canals have become “crystal clear.” Newsmen report fish are returning, and dolphins have been spotted in the city, at high tide. They (the newsmen; dolphins think for themselves) say the pollution vanished in a few short weeks, thanks to the coronacrisis. That it has killed thousands is a downside, they admit, and pauperized some millions more, but seeing fish in the canals is so cool. In reality the disappearance of the (mostly tourist) boat traffic let the sediment settle. The fish were there all along.

Notwithstanding, the world grows quieter. I am able to gauge this from my balconata. It is a moment when, for instance, we are able to judge that the environmental horror was not “peak oil,” but cars everywhere, and other machine noise — visible, audible, tactile and so forth. Too, a landscape we routinely half-notice, of highways, factories, flats, and other things that sprawl — both vertically and horizontally. These things are not cold and evil in themselves, just ostentatiously brutal. They’re easier to bear when they are turned off; and should we wait patiently enough, all will return to wilderness. The deeper ecologists hope everyone will die.

An alternative might be to make the human components of our environment beautiful in themselves. This was the old strategy, abandoned in recent historical time, to accommodate Progress.

It is a jealous god. It demands all our attention. Its altars are located everywhere, and its sacrifices are very strict. Should it be displaced, even briefly, it will take vengeance. Its priestly bureaucracies swing into action, telling its faithful exactly what to do. We obey, fearfully.

But to the canals in Venice, add ten-millions of “homeschools,” suddenly sprung up; and the myriad ordered to work from home. The zoning of the world is suddenly lifted, but the borders are closed. It is a moment when Progress might actually be in danger; when it looks as if the fish swam back. Many are reduced to making their own coffee; heating their own food; even wiping themselves, apparently.

Or examine this another way. The old God, put out of view, may be recalled through that still, small voice, once again detected through the ages. Or let us call it “the music of the spheres,” heard when everything else falls silent.

What we currently call “globalism” is actually much larger, and quite deafening. It is why I gave Progress a capital P. Sometimes it is called “technology,” but that now seems old-fashioned. None of these terms remains adequate to the product of multiple industrial revolutions, through which the relationship of God and man, and each between man and man, has been seriously disrupted. But for a moment the disruption itself is disrupted.

If I were God (and I’m not, incidentally) I would arrange for breaks like this; to give the worldlings some “quiet time” in which to reflect upon their loyalties.

War, famine, plague, millennials

Unlike certain oldies, I have retained some awareness of the “young people.” Curiosity alone would drive me to this, although childbearing (not by me personally) has had the same effect. In my research, I have found the so-called Millennial generation to be every bit as shallow, irresponsible, stupid, and smart-assed as my own, and what is worse, younger. I thought we were the Peter-Pan generation that would never grow up, but the claim must now be shared with successive rounds of offspring. To be fair, the rewards for growing up have been sharply curtailed, through that part of history which anyone remembers, and those who never tried were never punished.

History itself has now so far receded — it certainly is not taught in schools — that by now the kids persist on pure theory. They do what seems necessary to them, in the absence of knowledge. I cannot reasonably blame them for lacking what they’ve never come in contact with, for no one can know about what he has never heard of. On religious questions, for example, what could “transubstantiation” mean? It was easier to explain this to a South Sea Islander, in the good old days of the missionaries, before the islanders got cell phones.

On the other hand, the Millennials are human. The instinct to be human, even when repressed, often returns. Several times I have been moved, almost to tears, by a native decency suddenly expressed, by the most unlikely subject in rings and tattoos. There will always be something to work with, there.

While Millennials appear even dumber than their elders, we must allow for the progressive slide. There are just as many smart people as there once were — they are just born that way, it seems, like cats — and some abroad have benefited from improved nutrition. If caught young, and exposed to learning, they would learn. They simply haven’t been exposed to it yet.

Today’s Defence of the Millennials could be taken as my latest Idlepost on the coronavirus. Millennials are accused of partying, while the world suffers; of not listening to their public health instructions. In particular, it is alleged that, escaping symptoms themselves, they spread a disease that will kill the old, the sick, the feeble and the wrinkly — as if they don’t care. But I think we had the instructions backward, and the young might actually have seen through our imposture.

Rather than put everyone in quarantine, we should protect the weak exclusively. The young can, almost entirely, survive this infection. Let them build their immunities for the future, and meanwhile let them amuse themselves. (Staying away from the age-impaired is much easier for them than not partying.) We could use better methods for this smaller quarantine. Off the top of my head: just shoot any Millennials who come near.

Meanwhile, Deep State is rehearsing how to do a lockdown, in case they want to use it for “Climate Change.” The inability to see health and economy as anything other than a list of priorities, was already inculcated — only partly from demonic malice. The commanding idea that “you just do it,” from banning guns and “carbon,” to changing “genders,” to slaughtering the inconvenient, comes naturally to those who don’t know any better. Depravity becomes logic if you change the word, and “Why not?” — said the button on the red beret that a girlfriend once wore. (I dropped her.)

She was a Millennial, now seventy years old. She knew more than the average Millennial today, but it wasn’t helping. In defence of the latest Millennials, they know less. Moreover, I can’t imagine a compulsory summer camp at which we could fill them in. We’ll just have to start earlier.

Your days are numbered

When statisticians go to heaven — here I am assuming as many things as they do, but let’s do an estimate all the same — the first thing they want is to check the accuracy of their results, exhaustively obtained back here on Earth. Well, not all of them: 13.72 percent ask to see something else first, but the Foyer Angels (FAs) are briefed to humour them, and so each gets to indulge his curiosity.

While statisticians generally make up one of the tamest groups arriving at the PG (Pearly Gates), some are startled by what they find. Population statistics, for instance.

“But we did a census!” I actually heard one cry.

An FA, by the name of Fred, commented on this. He said there are DDs (Demographic Devils) who are delegated by “the Boss” to scramble such figures. Sometimes a DD will refuse to interfere with a projection, however, because he thinks it is too easy, and besides, nobody believes projections anyway. He would rather get back to the racial and ethnic pie-charts, instead. Lots of people believe those.

Too, he has some interesting new business, re-sorting the females and males.

But this all happens back on Earth, as some of my readers already know.

“The epidemiologists make much sport for these little devils,” as one of the other FAs joked, while he was waiting for a new customer.

Fred explained. “It is an area in which every possible comparison is between the statistical equivalent of an apple, and the statistical equivalent of an orange. This makes every definition arbitrary, and deviations from the arbitrary add a cumulative touch. But the illusion of similarity keeps them going.”

I asked him whether this was often the case, in parallel professions. With his delight in double negatives he told me, “It is never not.” He said humans can’t even count things that hold still; imagine how inept they are when an unknown, but changing, proportion of members in each apparent set have become invisible.

Jim, the other FA, and something of a wit, added: “A large part of the little devil’s job is to avoid laughing.” He let me wait for the punchline. “If a human person hears him, the slip goes in his file.”

Fred giggled. “You should see what happens when they try to count birds, or gophers. It’s quite entertaining.”

Jim flashed off to do his “meet and greet” with a New Arrival.

Being sceptical, I began to wonder about these Foyer Angels. Which side are they on? It seemed to me that neither of them was up-to-speed with dignity and respect for the deceased.

Now, I had just read a piece comparing the last flu season to this year’s coronavirus numbers. The loitering FA told me:

“Compare the number tested for any disease, to the yield of dead. There are two valid ways to do it. In the one, everybody lives. In the other, everybody dies. That should be obvious. The art of statistics is to find a third way. Of course, there is none.”

Fred now had to go. But curiously, he was rubbing his hands together, with enthusiasm.

“I have a real treat today: I’m greeting a baseball statistician. But I’ve got a ‘spasmo’  I must get through, first, so I must be off.”

“You mean a heart attack victim?” I asked, somewhat appalled.

“That’s what he thinks,” Fred winked. “Just another boring actuary at the PG.”

Darn. I had wanted him to tell me how the DDs put census-takers wrong, but he was gone in a poof.

I did, however, buttonhole another spirit by a water cooler. (These are reserved for the little devils.) I had many more questions the FAs hadn’t answered. This hunched, rather bat-like, dark little fellow, was looking rather idle. He’d been reading the supermarket flyer some “PG” had been clutching. I noticed that the water came out between his toes.

“Do you ever get tired of your job?” I asked him.

He smiled, roguishly. The smile came out in an upward-pointed crescent, just behind his head. But otherwise no answer.

“What happens to the statisticians after they leave this place?” I inquired of him.

“Oh they don’t,” he said.

The leap

A  gentle reader in Massachusetts, in the habit of attending Mass frequently, comments that we are back in the 14th century: “A plague, two popes, and no Mass.” As a man of the 13th century, I have not caught up with events. In my own diocese, the Cardinal Archbishop has cancelled Sunday Masses, though retained Vespers and daily Masses, where attendance is much smaller. He was “advised” to do this by the politicians; and has therefore dispensed from our Sunday obligation.

Of course, priests may say the Mass privately — that is to say, without lay participants — on behalf of all the faithful. They can hear Confessions, and as we should know from St Thomas Aquinas and others, there is such a thing as spiritual communion. Consult e.g. Father Zed for instructions to “seriously bad-ass spiritual warriors.” It is not actually necessary to become lax. Moreover, taking communion, whether on tongue or hand, does not prevent coronavirus, even if you are superstitious. It could even increase the risk.

But the Catholic doctrine does not work on material assurances. We are still prey to infections, and other accidents. Whether the current infection will be as large and lethal as the media, government, and other enthusiasts publicize, we will see. I have mentioned I have no opinion on that, aside from my characteristic scepticism. But feeling sheepish after it goes away, in a few weeks, after a run on the groceries and stockmarkets — with only a fraction of the annual death toll from conventional flu viruses — would not be the worst that could happen. It has never been necessary to get covid-19, in order to die.

That there are many silver linings, goes without saying. Anything that reduces the vile commercialism of our “globalized” world will be an advantage. But we know it won’t last, and the cruise ships will fill again shortly, whoever happens to own them. A good scare will last slightly longer, but people have a long record of forgetting what they have just experienced, unless they have been through a spiritual awakening in the meantime.

Sometimes I think of a rather undisciplined dog, who escaping from his collar, stepped on the third rail of a railway track in England. He jumped up five feet in the air. Then he went on trotting as if nothing had happened. Dogs may have even shorter memories than moderns.

I had myself nearly forgotten about Sars, Swine Flu, &c. Or Ebola. Or Syphilis, &c. And let us not forget Cholera, Yellow Fever, Spanish Flu, Smallpox, Tuberculosis, Polio, &c. Or the Bubonic Plague, which still doesn’t have a vaccine. Should I survive — which is very likely — I may nearly forget about this, too, although the death rate can be quite high.

I am not telling anyone to avoid precautions, however — this side of the absurd. We have probably bought enough toilet paper now. Avoid Netflix, or it will rot your brain. And I gather we should not lick doorknobs.


While not writing an Idlepost, a few minutes ago, I happened to read a forward from a friend in Ottawa. (Or, Tottawa, as I prefer to spell it.) It was from the House of Commons, and it announced that this august body — by unanimous consent — had agreed to quickly pass a few (questionable) measures, adjourn, and cancel all committee meetings, until April 20th.

I know this may sound like a childish joke, but it isn’t. I checked the parliamentary Twitter site. It was there.

Elsewhere in the Canadian Twitterverse, a Twitterer named David Jacobs writes: “I have never been more disgusted with government. Doctors, police, nurses, firemen, paramedics, farmers, grocers, rail workers, and more will have to keep the country running.”

While my views coincide with Dr Jacobs’, in one dimension, they diverge in another. I have often thought that Canadians would benefit if the House of Commons were simply shut down. I do not propose to enhance the power of Her Majesty the Queen in any respect, however; only to eliminate that part of her government that is not purely ceremonial.

We’ll keep the Mounties, for instance.

Or the Commons could remain, but only if its members agree to restrict themselves to purely ceremonial activities. But in that case, they will have to show up.

Meanwhile, bishops in the Catholic province of Quebec (which includes a few parishes in Ontario), have agreed to cancel all Sunday Masses (including those of anticipation). Please, nobody ask me what I think of Quebec bishops.

I hereby instruct all unmarried citizens to engage in sexual abstinence until further notice.

How to lose

One of the many disadvantages of having money, is that it exposes the keeper to paranoid impulses. For instance, he fears it might all be taken away. Some of these impulses are currently on exposition in the stock market, where more damage to goods and services, if not to healthy soap-loving lives, is now being performed than by any pandemic. Or at least, this is the purport of reports, which present the bull market as a form of collateral damage from a health panic. Whether Natted States Mericans are panicking, in fact, is a separate question: my correspondents assure me there is no sign of it anywhere they live; but clearly they are panicking on Wall Street.

This might be taken as a sequel to my last Idlepost, as gentle readers may surmise. This is because I write only from my own slow-moving experience. Consider Tuesday’s opening line, from Ibn Hazm. I recommend that you consider it carefully, for it offers the key to happiness, as he says.

Now suppose that you are very rich, and have a million, billion, trillion or whatever in equities. It would be clumsy to lose it, by your own mistakes, but sometimes there is no choice. In my own case, with a fortune that might be more conveniently measured in the thousands, it was all taken away. This was twenty years ago, and I have been in the North American state of penury ever since, thanks to actions by others I will not describe. At no point was I accused of breaking any law, but could be “cleaned out” regardless, thanks to recent, trendy laws. Superficially, it was an outrage, and truth to tell, I grumbled on several occasions.

But in the clear light of retrospect, I am grateful, to have been freed from the trap of my bourgeois existence, and modest accumulation of wealth. I can now pray sincerely for the people who took it from me, though not yet for the bureaucracies.

As we learn from the Gospels, great wealth is a terrible burden, but as we might discover by extension, any comfort can have this effect. To worry about money is taken as bad, and it is, though not for the reason assumed. It reveals to the comfortable — and the uncomfortable, in parallel — that they are prey to the wrong kind of worry. It would make more sense (vide: the same Gospels) to worry about the fires of Hell. Many of our ancestors were more rational than we are, in this respect.

Given the great burden of human life — that things sometimes go bad — it makes further sense to discharge lighter burdens so we may concentrate upon such heavier ones, as sin and death.

I don’t like to burden myself with envy, for example. I have nothing against great wealth, per se. I don’t mind if my neighbour is filthy, stinking rich. Modern politics is based on cultivating this envy, and I am eager to have no part of that. But I will allow some pity to fill the space that envy has evacuated: I feel sorry for people who must rise every day, and consult the Dow Jones Index for hints of what they have lost. It is a miserable fate, and in many cases without compensating joys, such as spring sunshine. They are working too hard to notice.

Should gentle reader himself be quite rich, he might understand me better than a poor person. It is a little too late, however, for those who leapt from high buildings, after their fortunes evaporated. (Did you know it is easier to lose a large fortune, than to give up cigarettes?)

But some will claim that being rich makes them happy. There are moments when it might do so, but almost by definition, such happiness is shallow. This is a Christian reflection (borrowed from a Muslim sage): for what kind of happiness is it, that involves the loss of one’s freedom?

Listen to Ibn Hazm

“If you wish to live happy, never be in a condition that would not allow you to be satisfied with another.”

The book, Hispano-Arabic Poetry (Baltimore, 1946) fell into my hands years ago, and I have since failed to part with it. It is by Alois Richard Nykl — dead these last sixty years or so, but prior to that a remarkably learned man. The point of his book was to show the relation between Muslim Spanish poets and the Troubadours of Aquitaine; that in many ways, the former precursed the latter. He was an assiduous translator, and in the course of his survey we take glimpses of the last moments of Granada, and the periods that passed before: the Almohad, the Almoravid, the Muluk At-Tawaif, the Emirate, and Khalifate, looking backwards. For the generous Christian reader, there are moments of nobility to be treasured in their own right, throughout; too, of wine and song.

Some know of the previous Visigothic (and Christian) polity that was conquered by the Arabs, and therefore understand that polities come and go; or they might know of the cultured pagan Roman Hispania which preceded that, with its own famed dramatists and poets; or of the fascinating Iberian caves and prehistory. History flows, we might say, always downhill, but along many paths.

We are often told, by scolds, to appreciate the Andalusian glory, and to remember when an inferior Europe drew inspiration from it. In our attitudes, curiously Islamic ourselves, we celebrate their philosophers principally, both Muslim and Jewish, yet ignore a fine lyrical inheritance. (The Arabs did the same thing with the ancient Greeks. They were mesmerized by Plato and Aristotle, yet from Homer forward the Greek poets were ignored.) We attribute to them a wise tolerance, which they would never have attributed to themselves; for everyone tolerates what he has learned to love.

Iberia is a place, with ghosts as well as people; she leaves her mark on all who pass through. Someone should eventually write on the influence of ancient pagan and Christian Spain upon the later Muslim occupiers: how it made their civilization different from the classical Arabic; how it brought the best (and sometimes the worst) out of them; how it put them in a new encounter with Europe, which persisted for centuries, and persists still, even within the phantasies of Al Qaeda terrorists.

The verse maxim I have cited is both lyrical and philosophical. It falls out of a body of work to rival the great Persian Islamic tradition in literature, music (nota bene), architecture, painting. The thundering truth embodied in that line is intensely Islamic, and could have been Persian, or have come from anywhere in that realm. It also happens to be intensely Christian, and could have come from anywhere in ours. By stealing it, however, I risk the wrath of another mediaeval Muslim Hispanic poet, who would suggest that my tongue be cut out, as it is “the right hand of the verse thief.” (The Islamic propensity to chop right hands off thieves is well attested over space and time.)

All I wished was to hold it up, and consider it for itself. It is a good question for worldlings of all faiths and denominations. Happy, perhaps, for the moment, could we be happy in another, when everything in our surroundings has changed? Or are we just like frogs, instead, blissful only in one corner of a pond, and apt anyway to be eaten if we move?

“For the days of man’s life consist of brief moments, / They pass as quickly as the lightning flash: / And I, now prepared to unload my burden, / Like the camel who hurtles me towards death. …”

I have perhaps taken liberties with my re-translation.

The pandemic prattle

Not being gentle reader’s “news hound,” I have nothing to add, nor even subtract, from mass media reports of the coronavirus pandemic. (In China, Iran, and Italy, we already have three dispersed regions to justify that label.) I have my suspicions on how it started, and even how it first spread, but these could not be useful, now. I lack exact medical knowledge of the pathogen and its behaviour, and have otherwise no way of guessing its future course. No one yet knows the death rate, or can master the epidemiology, until the disease has run more of its course.

From the (partly legendary) history of “plagues,” I know that human efforts to stop them will generally be counter-productive, and that confidence in new methods is misplaced. Some, today, are impressive, nevertheless, and the speed at which medical labs have been responding creatively in the United States, Israel, and other free countries, is encouraging: within months we may have working firewalls and a “cure.” But within weeks the whole population of our “globalized,” “interactive,” “synergetic” world will have been infected. The virus has already landed in hundreds of global locations, and that was all it needed.

We can know that panic is, not seldom, but never helpful, and we live in a time when the technical means of spreading panic have advanced suddenly and tremendously. They are intentionally abetted. The crisis will be — is being — used for political ends, which must necessarily undermine the blesséd “stay calm and carry on” impulse. On the other hand, there is no more way to stop a panic, until it has burnt itself out, than to stop a novel virus; at best we can slow it if the public authorities are factual and candid. But what will be, will be. Such pain as may be coming, will come.

Pain, in the broadest sense, including the imaginary, is the issue. Our modern societies have been, we might say, trained to cope with it poorly. Our anxieties about quite modest forms of physical discomfort, are often no longer in our control. All traditional societies were better in this respect: both Christian and non-Christian. Without being explicitly stoic, people were raised to embrace “coping mechanisms” which range from purposeful distraction from the pain at hand, to fatalist assumptions.

We were once raised to expect pain, to accept it as part of having a living body. It came with nature, and so, living there, we were prepared to endure it. A distinction between pain, which may or may not be “objective,” and suffering, which involves a commanding element of choice, is common to all previous societies; ours are actually innovative in this regard. We want instant relief, and even demand it, propelled by our absurd faith in technology. We distribute blame when it doesn’t arrive, as if every disaster were the product of a plot. I get this from the tone of so much media reporting: malicious allegations of malice. I’ve been guilty of it myself.

For us, the virus is a useful growing up experience. The world is still the world, though we thought we had changed it. Events happen which we didn’t foresee. Live with them, or die, as necessary. For Christians, neither should impinge upon our overriding joy.

Fun with figures

First, we reduce everything to numbers. Next, we lose the ability to do math. I’m not sure what comes next after that.

I was thinking this when informed that 500 million dollars, divided by 327 million Americans, makes $1 million per American, with enough left over for lunch. This insight, working from a twittertweet, was provided by a member of the editorial board of the New York Times — always a malicious newspaper, but once a respected one. I learn from a blog that at least one prominent TV personality leapt upon it, too, and many lesser souls then copied. The “500 million” was the number these polymaths had taken, on the usual hearsay, as the amount rich meejah-mogul Bloomberg had blown on his badly failed attempt to buy the Democrat primaries. People, they imagined, would have preferred to take his cash directly. (At $1.53 actual, per head, it might buy them each a coffee, but they’d have to shill out for the doughnut.)

In Republican comments, the comparison was of 500 million, to the hundred thousand or so that semi-literate Russian Facebook trolls had supposedly spent, to swing the last election to Donald J. Trump. But a voter would have to be a more sophisticated arithmetician to follow this joke.

Up here in the High Doganate, where we currently lack a panel of experts, but once got a prize for doing sums in school, we (in the sense of, “I”) are seldom surprised. We’re used to progressive, non-binary, politically correct mathematics, and the many headlines they generate. We’re used to blocking them out, and only wonder why the general electorate hasn’t developed this skill. But when told that “the rich” are going to pay for whatever The Peeple wish to appropriate today, they are quickly gulled.

This is a minor matter, however, compared to the numbering itself. Their world — ours — is now apprehended through a thick fog of digit(al)ized numerals. These have replaced things. Judgements, on everything, have been simplified, by reducing each thing, absurdly, to a composition of numbers. We have little machines to do any requested calculations. (“Statistics don’t lie.”) This is called scientific reasoning. True, some of us are still locked in pre-scientific boxes, wherein numbers only bounce off the walls, and things are still apprehended in and of themselves.

It is a poet’s world, if gentle reader relearns the use of his eyes, ears, smell, taste, touch, et cetera. The late Marshall, then his late son Eric McLuhan also counted. They were trying to enumerate how many senses were acknowledged by mediaeval men. The number was in the dozens when I last checked with Eric.

By means of this backward way of looking, our distant ancestors could detect subtleties that made each thing unique. They, like artists, could know plenty that we would judge to be of no importance.

In order to recover this exalted state, under present intellectual conditions, one must try very hard to ignore numbers. Try instead to “see” things, just as they are. Even within numbers, the felt distinction between big and little was worth noting. (This was one of those “senses.”) That anything with more zeroes after it than one has fingers to count, is meaningless to the human observer, was once understood.

For instance the question, “How far away are the stars?” was grasped as irrelevant. They were known to be very, very far away. (The “sense of distance.”) They also knew the Earth was, comparatively, very small. That we couldn’t visit the immensity, was no occasion for regret.

But once we have numbers, the “how to” spirit surfaces. The desire to extend our control over things that are, in their nature, none of our business, comes with the new techniques of calculation. (How many sea miles west, from Huelva to China?)

It is interesting (to me) that about the time Columbus was reporting on the Indies, Queen Isabella was presented with a proposal to establish an academy, that would regulate the Spanish language. She rejected it, not on grounds of what it would cost, but because unlike Latin, or Greek, Spanish was “the language of the people.” Therefore it didn’t concern her. It was instead something outside her reach, a “thing” apart, like the circumference of the earth. Some things, irreducibly, were.

Politics of Gethsemane

Canadians are, as the Irish were described by Jonathan Swift in his day, “A servile race, in folly nursed, who truckle most when treated worst.” Whether either were always so, I will open to debate; my experience is more with the (former) Dominion of Canada.

As has been confirmed, by the recent interruptions in our transport system, or the government’s extension of the “MAiD” (euthanasia) programme to kill off the least convenient portion of our population, we will stand for anything. We take pride in our obedience to the authorities of misrule, so long as their measures come with the fatuous label, “progressive.” We will even condemn what we’re told to condemn, should anyone express an intelligent objection, for it is a country where, as David Frum once explained, “There is always one side to every question.”

Our police will not even put out a fire, set by “native peoples” along a railway track that most certainly does not belong to them, for fear of a political incorrectitude. (The term in quotes is a malicious falsehood; it is designed to apply only to a select racial group.)

While I think it is over-polite, this statement from Archbishop Collins describes the latest expansion of the country’s horrific “euthanasia” laws. (Again, quotes around a poisonous euphemism.) Yet there was no Lenten appeal to Christians, for conspicuous penitential prayer. Must he assume that we are all saltless?

This item, by the Canadian poet and thinker David Solway, makes a summary of our situation, five years into the management of a contemptible prime minister. The statement on our “Dead Country Walking” has not the fault of excessive politeness. I endorse every line.

Through all my adult life, which began in the age of Trudeaumania, Canada has been in the forefront of “progressive” innovations. Indeed, an American deacon long in residence here, commented that the craziest Democrat pipe-dreamers back home, proposed policies that were legislated in Canada decades ago — such as a “single payer” medical bureaucracy, and compelling taxpayers unambiguously opposed to pay for abortion-on-demand. Objections of conscience are simply no longer acknowledged up here, and the old saw, that this is a “free country,” is now in disuse.

We are in the vanguard of public evil; yet in saying so I imply that the same “trends” have advanced throughout the Western world. The innovations are rarely if ever voted upon, here or elsewhere. Instead, the public are exhaustively “re-educated” to the new position, by organized propagandists in media and state. The “debate” on each issue consists of demonizing and smearing the few who offer any kind of argument. They are few because they know what happened to the last person who stood up — for what had through thousands of years in all human cultures been accepted as the good and the true.

In the end, each innovation is effectively confirmed by the great tide of “low-information, low-intelligence” voters. They confirm the agents of “progress” in power, on the basis of their own virtue-signalling postures. Those who express the slightest reservations, such as Canada’s retiring parliamentary opposition leader, are drummed out. (Although he promised not to do anything about them, he was accused of harbouring non-progressive views.)

My only reason to vote “Conservative” is to keep the “Liberals” out of power, thus slowing the rate at which new affronts to civilization are introduced. In some other Western countries, something more ambitious is being offered by the “Conservative” parties, and is proving quite successful. But even our “progressive” pope has openly condemned such “populists,” demanding that government bureaux and international organizations ignore them and press ahead on “climate change” socialism, ruinously open immigration, and so forth.

I cannot think of a response besides, don’t fall asleep. It was the agony Christ conveyed to his disciples in the garden at Gethsemane. The worst may yet happen, but will be transformed.

A look inside

Jean Vanier is the latest Catholic hero to go down. No sooner had we begun to name schools after him, but an internal investigation revealed an “inconvenient truth.” Not all of his relations with young attractive female volunteers had been chaste. Nor was he just slipping.

The grisly details may be found on the Internet. I have made no effort to examine the charge-sheet, case by case, though I can see it looks bad enough. Not McCarrick class (Vanier seems to have molested only technically adult women), but darkly hypocritical all the same. I seem to have misplaced my enthusiasm for smut, as part of my retreat from hack journalism, or I would provide more details.

Our hero came from a good family. (His father was Canada’s last plausibly viceregal governor-general, if that means anything to anyone anymore.) The institution founded by his son, L’Arche, with the play on his mother’s maiden surname, did commendable works for those with “developmental disabilities,” by all accounts I’ve heard: hundreds of outlets in dozens of countries. Jean Vanier was also internationally respected as a philosopher and theologian: some thirty books. I’ve never read one, so must pretend to have no opinion.

He was a repository for trust and adulation. He cultivated a “look” which I would describe as aggressively benign. He played the saint in public, well: he was a master of publicity. Owing, no doubt, to my personal nastiness, I was suspicious of him all along.

When a Catholic in his position systematically avoids such an unpleasant topic as abortion, and speaks of everything else with a cloying niceness, my suspicions are aroused. Though I kept my views politely to myself, it was only because he was none of my business, and I’ve seldom had a need for more enemies. He didn’t seem to have any, however.

“If the biographers of the saints would write of their defects as well as of their virtues, their biographies would be longer.” So said Saint Alphonsus Liguori to one of his novices.

Another of his nuggets, from Naples a quarter millennium ago, was, “Everybody has defects of character. I have more than others.” It was a pre-modern boast.

What they were I am unable to ascertain; even a modern Irish biographer finds only tepid ones. But God would find more. Too, let it be said, that one makes one’s confession to Him, not to the rabble.

But the irritation, with the late Jean Vanier, is that he kept his “little foible” up for too many decades. Moreover, and more damning, I gather he had developed a theological patter as part of his seduction routine.

Good taste, if nothing else, requires the sinner not to make godly claims. This is, arguably, the worst feature of sexual and all other exploitation. It is cruelty, of a vicious kind, for when the victim is abandoned he or she will be alienated not only from the figure of authority, but also from the God for whom he presumed to speak. Terrible harm is done to a soul who was trusting.

Terrible things happen: we must be “comfortable” with that. We cannot know to what depths of depravity another human is capable of sinking — it is always lower than we surmised. Yet we can know, with assurance, exactly what we have ourselves done, or intended; and we ought to know that forgiveness can come only from the Witness of all our crimes. For He is also the ultimate Victim.

A man like Vanier now serves as a dire warning. You think you are a nice guy? You’re not.

Joy & foreboding

Thanks to juxtaposition, the Christian feasts and fasts, both Western and Eastern, have not only kept the observant on their toes. The liturgical schedule also teaches, by increments, as all of the liturgy has been doing (or, “had” for the cynical) these last many centuries. The juxtaposition of “Mardi Gras” with “Ash Wednesday” is meant to be abrupt. Not meant, perhaps, by designing liturgists, but by the believers themselves.

Shrove Tuesday was, in its ramifications I think, an invention of the people. We will have a big party and joyously clear away the clutter from our barnyard lives; then we will face the morrow with ash on our foreheads. Both adventures are fully Catholic, “in spirit.” But one would be meaningless without the other. It is not merely cynical, but impoverishing, to take only the one we prefer.

We do this “secularly” (i.e. profanely) at the New Year. On the Eve we drink merrily and pig out. We used to extend this with indoor garden parties, to a levée upon the next day, up here in the frozen North. The governor or mayor would be waiting for us. That seemed too formidable and disciplined, however, so now we just do the headaches, quietly privatized — those of us who were young and animate.

My own recollection of having drunk Southern Comfort too copiously of a Near Year’s, for the first and very last time, comes back to me after half-a-century. I am still trying to get the taste out of my mouth. I am still trying to account for the girl in whose strange bed I awoke next day — we were both fully clothed I must assure gentle reader — and who possibly hadn’t been my only mistake. I mustn’t have been thinking ahead. I don’t actually remember what I was thinking. My only defence was being a teenager. I knew immediately that it wouldn’t work.

But on New Year’s Eve, thought of the morrow is generally “abstract.” Such items as Resolutions are, as most of us realize, “for the record.” We might label them “fake news” in advance. We know ourselves well enough not to believe them. As Mister Wilde said, “I can withstand anything except temptation.” We forgot to anticipate, how our Resolutions would be enforced.

Ash Wednesday is, for the faithful Western Christian, not a joke, however. It is, to the believer in Christ and His Church, scarily specific. No matter what one’s capacity for pancakes and sausages, we know what is coming. There will be forty days of it — morning, afternoon, and night. This is what I mean by “foreboding.” To one of saintly disposition, there is joy in this, too: in the simplicity and purification; in the looking forward to Ends. This disposition does not come naturally to me, however.

There are moments, perhaps, when I feel that my appetites are conquered. This is a ruse of the Devil; and one of his cleverest at that. Imagine one’s subsequent surprise, when the double-dose of temptation arrives, and one has neglected to request divine help in facing it down. Or alternatively, one was a humble Christian, and cautious about playing the hero. We have learnt to try without the expectation of success, and therefore without boasting, even to ourselves. For how many times have we failed?

Hence the self-knowledge, never to be abandoned, in our preparation for the annual fight with the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. We will try to accomplish what seems within our modest powers, assisted by a Lord who knows that we are toddlers, learning, as it were, to walk. Let’s get that right, for now. But some day we will run — into His arms.

On paper logic

My old friend George Jonas, now forcibly confined within the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, observed of the times:

“In the not too distant past, people who were illiterate could neither read nor write. These days they can, with disastrous results for the culture.”

He quoted his own old friend Stephen Vizinczey:

“No amount of learning can cure stupidity, and formal education positively fortifies it.”

On stupidity itself, I like to quote Robert Musil:

“If it were not so hard to distinguish stupidity from talent, progress, hope, or improvement, no one would want to be stupid.”

How often we revert to the dispersion from the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, when craving for a little common sense.

Over here in Canada, where the last few surviving reactionaries sometimes meet for whisky and a smoke, I was glad to discover myself not the only gentle reader who noticed the connexion between my last two Idleposts.

Some — not Catholic, I noticed — took me to be subtly criticizing the bible-thumping impulse. This showed discernment, on their part. From Gospel-printing by the million in a thousand languages, to Bible “apps” on your “smart phone,” our common religion does not suffer from lack of texts. Let me say for the record, folks, that I have no objection to Scripture, per se, only to the glibness with which it is so commonly received.

Can people accurately interpret the original substance of works translated after thousands of years? And on one quick reading? On its face, this question answers itself. They cannot possibly, without much help, and a patient humility far beyond the normal.

But if Jesus is God, and if he really founded a Church as He said, and introduced the sacrifice of the Mass, with a liturgy formed and steeped in her Scriptures, there must be some way in. When Our Saviour told his Apostles to disseminate the Word to the ends of the earth, I frankly doubt he was anticipating either moveable or digital type.

Cor ad cor loquitur, as Saint John Henry Newman took for his motto, from Saint Francis de Sales and much older sources. It is a phrase that contains many dimensions, explanatory yet inexplicable as many Christian things. (Newman himself did not try to explain it.)

We are not distributing a text, although it is Holy Scripture — whether the part written before He came down from Heaven, or the part that was written after He returned — in the largest possible number of copies at the lowest possible price. This is not a commercial enterprise, with missionary salesmen. As an exercise in communication, it is conducted from heart to heart and is — miserable word — ineffable.

The function of our evangelism is not promotional nor statistical. There is no formula. Men are not converted by syllogisms, Newman said. We do not tell the story of Christ, except to children. We distribute Him.