Essays in Idleness


Little Hunting Creek

George Washington’s birthday is still observed (on a first Monday instead of on the actual day by the Julian or Gregorian calendar), in the United States — at least, in the Republican (“fascist”) tradition. Those who lean Democratic have gone mostly Woke/Satanist, and may wish to protest the fact that Washington, along with the other wealthy Founding Fathers, owned slaves. He inherited them, O lucky man, along with considerable land holdings, including the Plantation at Little Hunting Creek, which was renamed Mount Vernon — within an easy cart-ride of Alexandria, Virginia. His white, cisgendered, Anglican family had owned some of that property since 1674, and the founding president extended it. Slaves thus proved useful — as they had through humanity’s universal past. Washington was good to his slaves, said the old narrative.

Sir John A. Macdonald, the first prime minister of Canada, while also white, cisgendered, and Anglican (though truth be told he converted from Presbyterian), has also been spurned and repudiated by the progressively smug, though he could not own slaves. For the (spurned, repudiated) first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, Lord Simcoe, had abolished the importation of slaves in 1793, so that any surviving slave would have croaked from old age by Macdonald’s time. Instead, charges against Macdonald have been stitched together from the way he treated Indians (letting some go to residential schools), the Metis (allowing an insurrectionist murderer to be hanged), and immigrants from China (imposing a “head tax,” of fifty dollars). … Boo! boo! bad man! as my little sister would say, who was rather Woke from the age of four.

We do not celebrate prime ministers’ birthdays in Canada, except that I understand December 25th is the Nativity of Justin Trudeau. But instead of Washington’s Birthday, when leading capitalist enterprises may wish to close north of the border, the way they do to the south, we devised Family Day — or whatever it is called by the whim of politicians outside Ontario.

But family is a form of slavery, and may be heteronormative, and thus opposed to transgenderism. Moreover, a family that breeds children is an affront to the woman’s right to an abortion; as well as to the pregnancy rights of a deadnamed male. I do not see how anything like a “family day” can be allowed to stand.

Holy war

The punishment should fit the crime, in the view of that literary master of cosmic jurisprudence, Dante Alighieri. So Mohammed, whose VIIth-century departure from Christian ways in Arabia, descended to that circle of Hell which encrusts the schismatics, where he was enchained and split lengthwise. His promise of carnal pleasure in the afterlife could be reviewed alongside his denial of the Trinity, and of the Passion of Our Lord, in the mediaeval view; and for various other reasons, “dialogue” with Islam was generally neglected.

The notion that a deceiving prophet had arisen among the Saracens was communicated to the Byzantine capital by Christians and Jews; but first the Armenians, and many others, were appalled by reports of civil wars, engulfing the Saracenic regions — on a scale even greater than when the Zoroastrians had invaded those regions. But “Allahu akbar!” — Muslim conquerors soon brought word to any of the neighbours who hadn’t heard. Spiritual conflict (“Jihad” to the Arabs) does not always result in material conflict, but given an unambiguously materialist faith (Communism is another example), it invariably does. The Utopia that has been conceived, must be imposed.

My own notion is compatible with what I believe was the eventual Franciscan response. In 1219, Saint Francis famously “went the distance” to Egypt to present the Gospel to the Muslim sultan, Malik al-Kamil, ahead of the Fifth Crusade — which had already reached Damietta, upon the Nile. Al-Kamil (known as “Meledin” to the Franks) was a brilliant man, himself juggling not only Christians but Mongol pagans and royal conspirators. But we must not forget that God has made all humans capable of what Christians are commanded to do. Saint Francis, we understand, was not treated ignobly.

Francis’ intention was not to negotiate a peace treaty, but rather to appeal to the heart of the Egyptian sultan. Francis did not hesitate to stake his life on this. His thinking was radical. If one’s religion does not exalt peace, over conquest, how will peace ever be achieved? If it exalts conquest, instead, so that peace can be obtained only when the world has been subdued, peace is an empty word.

Observe: peace must necessarily involve martyrdom — witness to the truth — as it did for Franciscans repeatedly in the Islamic realms. For in love we are still required to stake our lives, on the conversion of the warlike. Evangelism is not “an option.” Crusades must continue.

Chaste Valentine

There is no conflict between “Valentine’s Day” and Ash Wednesday, as gentle reader might discern, while consulting my piece on Valentine, from nine years ago:


Valentine was a IIIrd-century priest and martyr at Rome. A basilica was raised over his tomb beside the catacombs at the second mile of the Flaminian Way, along the feet of the Parioli hills, by Pope Julius I in the IVth century. (Today, the site is well within and under the Roman suburbs.) This, say archaeologists, was repeatedly enlarged through subsequent centuries, and by the XIth a convent and cloister was attached. It went into decline, but the ruins were still quite visible in early modernity, before they were washed out by floods (caused by modern human idiocy). That it were verily a memorial to Saint Valentine was attested by fragments of verses chiselled into the basilica itself.

No problem with this, so far, and there should never have been a problem. Valentine, who came from Terni in southern Umbria, was martyred at Rome under the emperor Claudius Gothicus — “the Cruel.” He was clubbed then beheaded for defying emperor’s orders, then justifying his action by Christ. Legend suggests there was a ban on marriages, which the psychopathic ruler had decreed because he thought his troops were being cissified by attachment to their wives and families. Valentine’s defiance took the form of marrying many Christian couples secretly. In his final incarceration he is said to have passed a last note to the gaoler’s daughter, whom he had converted (along with her father), hence: “From your Valentine.” This may be interpreted according to the holiness of the reader’s imagination. The mediaeval adumbrations were chaste; the post-modern mind, crippled by narcissism and pornography, seems incapable of imagining that any “love between two persons” might exist without at least some attempt at copulation.

The cult of Valentine spread both from Rome, and from his native Terni. The asinine notion that this indicated two Saint Valentines first surfaced in the XIXth century. It was championed by liberal scholars in the XXth, and other Valentines were solicited through the historical record as far afield as northern Africa. By the 1960s, we had liberals arguing that, on the contrary, there had been no Saint Valentine, only some otherwise nondescript guy who must have paid for the construction of the basilica, and been honoured as the modern rich are, when they endow some wing of a hospital or whatever.

This was the sort of mental garbage in circulation about the time Annibale Bugnini (who incidentally came from Terni himself), decided to suppress the Commemoration of Saint Valentine. Veneration by millions of the faithful over seventeen centuries had now been clouded with uncertainties by a few godless pointy-heads. In an act of barbaric desecration, the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius was shunted from July 7th, to “occupy” February 14th, with carnage following down the line. And that is why thoughtful reader must turn from his Novus Ordo to his Vetus Ordo missal to begin recovering his Catholic heritage: on this, as on the other days of the year.

Had I world enough or time, I would ramble over at least six modern schools of hagiography that, since the later XIXth century, have vied to replace that attested through the many earlier centuries of Catholic practice. (A seventh seems to be under construction, on the fly, by our current Holy Father.) The time-honoured practice had been to consider the proposed saint’s earthly life in the light of Christ’s, and to test it by the evidence of miracles both in and after. This last was crucial, for the Universal Church does not create but only recognizes a Saint; invariably the devotees of the Saint have recognized him first, and the last word is from Heaven.

As usual in modernity, faith in Christ has been replaced by reliance on transient “scientific research.” This latter discounts or eliminates everything for which hard material evidence is lacking, and thus assuages the extreme self-regard of today’s credentialed intellectuals — who assume themselves, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to know better than the men of previous centuries, who saw evidence then freely available.

Baconator Monday

Shrove Tuesday Eve seems an appropriate occasion to remind my readers to eat bacon, for it will not be an option for observing Catholics, starting Wednesday. Let me remind them that bacon is deliciously savoury, and an abundant source of glutamate, and moreover let me add, that the one fact follows from the other. Our “umami” neurotransmitters not only broadcast taste throughout our central nervous system; glutamate is necessary to keep the brain functioning.

All vertebrates could benefit from this knowledge. It is why the herbivores never win Nobel Prizes; why deer are so often caught in headlights; and why vegetarians tend to recede, intellectually, to the level of budgerigars.

I argued against dieticians so recently as Saturday, but must now present two seemingly paradoxical assertions. I do not argue against those who tell us not to ingest demonstrated poisons. And, neither will I dispute with those who promote excellent and healthy foods. They serve an object, like art criticism.

The best food writing, by nuance, provides an irresistible argument for fasting and abstinence — the precise contrary of alimentary reasoning. You don’t fast because you don’t like bacon (unless you have perverse tendencies). You fast in despite of this, until Sundays, when plenitude will be permitted again.

Don’t worry; be happy

In his “treatise on human happiness,” deep within the Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas reveals the desire for happiness that is found in the heart of every human soul. It is part of our “hard wiring,” and so outrivals such limiting accidents, as a person’s race, gender, IQ, or creed. Moreover, Saint Thomas thinks that it should not be compromised. For as a lawyer might say, an ambition of complete, rapturous bliss — “is indicated.”

To this, modern medicine has responded with the heart monitor, and other devices to measure everything from caloric intake, to the state of your finances. Indeed, tedious instructions from dieticians make us all into neurotics. I calculate that worrying about cancer, alone, took five years off the average life. And that was before climate change was invented.

Saint Thomas never dieted, so far as I can see. He would, however, observe church fasts. For the best form of dieting is, not to eat. This may be supplemented by not listening to the news. For have you heard? God alone is the answer to our vexatious public questions.

One should not look for happiness only in the pages of the Angelic Doctor, however.

No, you should also consider the works of the Czech composer, Jan Dismas Zelenka, at the court of Dresden (whose horns and whistles were supplied mostly from Bohemia).

Zelenka was just pinged to me, on this infernally modern machine: his Missa Charitatis (in D Major, ZMV 10). It arrived with a reproduction of his autograph score, from 1727 (I think). It gives the text for his thrilling exposition of God’s love and mercy.

The theological point is clinched, in the Benedictus — within an extraordinary conversation, that we may overhear. It is between a soprano and an alto, and two transverse flutes.

Wedding bellwethers

Among the excitements, during our repaganization of Western, formerly Christian, society, is the necessity of rewriting all our laws and customs. As an ancient English curse, cleverly attributed to the Chinese, had it, “May you live in interesting times.” It was the English who were capable of irony; and now we are cursed.

Marriage is one of the many institutions that have come up for review. It wasn’t really a legal institution. Only adultery was against the law. Nevertheless, the State kept a form of marriage register, and customary events, such as bridal showers and wild bachelor parties, accompanied the entries. “Natural” marriage continued to exist, in parallel with the formal sort, but without any protection against adultery.

Eventually the “welfare state” and homosexual demands began to dissolve the institution. It now appears to have reached complete dissolution, except that the State continues to invent matrimonial laws.

An understanding that marriage had permanently “evolved” occurred to me while attending a Roman Catholic church-wedding, as a friend of the bride. She came from a fearfully backward, conservative home, as did the groom, but the priest did not, apparently. He purposefully twisted the words in the Rite that he was awkwardly reading. Instead of “this man” and “this woman,” the marriage was between “two persons,” he proclaimed. This made it a same-sex marriage, even though both parties had explicitly requested a Christian service.

All marriages must now be same-sex marriages, I concluded, and cross-sexuality has been banned. (Still, the State enjoys making new laws, and the Church prides herself on her ability to catch up.)

Since our scheme of repaganization may quickly be supplanted by Islamic conquest and forcible conversion, and Islam has numerous laws and customs (for instance first-cousin marriage, and polygyny), there may not be much time in which to compose the new texts. These things, after all, require centuries to settle, and in the absence of an otherwise agreed religion, they will be settled in (ludicrously) different ways.

Fu on the idle life

In the grand procession of idlers, to which I have always aspired, P’an Yüeh is a worthy exemplar, from the vicinity of the magnificent capital of Lo-yang, in the Three Kingdoms period of the third century — a little before it was sacked by the Hun.

While idleness is a universal, or “catholic” activity, it admits of several specializations; P’an Yüeh’s particular calling was “ineptness,” for which reason, after an undistinguished career as a government official in which he scored many failures, he retired to his family estate. He is quite amusing on the subject of his various professional catastrophes.

The fu is a kind of memoir-essay, which was ancient even in 300 AD; followed by a shih, or descriptive poem, longish by Far Asiatic standards. In a delightful fu-shih (translated by Burton Watson), P’an Yüeh describes the excellent trees he has planted, fishponds he has dug, rooms he has constructed around that family retreat (and the mill he owns to finance it all). He lives an idle life with his aged and delicate mother and various siblings, but no longer his wife. For in another poem I learnt that he was one of “a pair of birds nesting in the wood,” but woke one morning to find himself alone.

His expertise in fruit and vegetable gardening I cannot judge, after 1,800 years, but his mention of pears from Lord Chang’s valley orchard, persimmons of Marquis Liang’s wu-pi strain, King Wen of Chou’s supple-limbed jujubes, and Chu Chung’s plums, suggests a formidable practice of silviculture, or a diligent thief. His inventory of legumes and herbs reveals a passionate foodie. He has retreated in contentment, yet still has pleasing distant views of the Yellow Riverside capital, whose temples he visits sometimes. He has made “ineptness” work for him.

Chou Jen is quoted in the Analects of Confucius: “He who can exert his strength steps into the ranks; he who cannot stays behind.”

Aware of this adage, and despite his perspicacity, P’an Yüeh accepted recall to official service. He was falsely accused of treason, by a powerful rival in the bureaucracy; then executed, together with his mother and all members of his family, in the tradition of oriental tyranny.

Moral: It is very dangerous for an inept person to fall into competent hands.

Down with Expressionism

Culture is antecedent to politics, we are told by the people who have noticed, and religion in the broadest sense (including every religious impulse from the saintly to the satanic), is antecedent to that. Faith, of some kind, can be found, inspiring, throughout the diagram, but to say this is misleading, for we would have to include many kinds of faith that are false.

Expressionism, as an art movement, is associated with northern Europe, but expressionism as a universal, raw tendency also came from the northern wastes. Our non-expressive classicism is from the Mediterranean and Byzantium, not because they are geographical South, where the sun rises higher year-round, but because they were constitutionally anti-barbaric. The North can be anti-barbaric, too, but frank sentimentality and emotional excess — romanticism, at its most depraved — may be interpreted as a spastic effort to stay warm.

By contrast we have Piero della Francesca: the painter who was also a mathematician. He depicts the character of his subjects, in preference to their “narrative,” to the point where the innocent observer who has never heard the story will not guess what is going on.

If, as a young man (as I once was) you are mysteriously and powerfully attracted to, let us say, Piero, and Cézanne, it is because of this quality of “ineloquence” (Berenson’s term). They impress me as the most articulate expression of this anti-expressive quality, which has nothing to do with the history of art, per se. One may find it in every era when art has aspired to substance.

Yet the XXth century was home to the “Expressionist” movement, and the XXIst century continues from its bottom. The Wickedpedia uses Edward Munch’s panel, The Scream, to illustrate this in one glance. It is a spectacularly neurotic painting, infected with angst, that disturbs the viewer.

A notion, taught in our junior schools, that the purpose of art is to “express oneself,” must be condemned in any mature society. Ditto, the sort of poetry written by adolescent girls. Trash needs no encouragement.

The rightful artist, even when employed in self-portraiture, presents character in preference to feeling. The “selfie” impulse denies even the possibility of art.


It is a while since I cheated, and brought an old Idlepost forward. This is from Candlemas, ten years ago:


Today, the fortieth and last of Christmas, is once again “Candlemas.” It commemorates the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem, along with the sacrifice of Joseph and Mary, who could not afford a lamb. The feast also commemorates the conclusion of the forty-day cycle for the purification of a mother, according to Hebraic custom. A poor Jewish couple with their firstborn, acting according to ancient Mosaic law; greeted by Anne, and by the prophetic Simeon, who utters the Nunc Dimittis:

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

I was an Anglican too many years to abandon this splendid English rendering of the Scripture, the third of Saint Luke’s great canticles (after the Magnificat and the Benedictus). The Latin is good and the Greek is better. The poetry of the words is fully necessary. They are intended to convey the poignancy of the scene, in the face of this old man, who has recognized his Messiah, to the amazement of the child’s own parents.

It was from this canticle that the Greeks named the feast, Hypapante, referring to this moment of recognition by the Old, of the New. Tired and waiting for death, standing himself at the junction of worlds, the eyes of Simeon see that nothing will be the same. The Messiah has come, and the whole course of history that must follow flickers in the old man’s eyes, still bound in the breath of a moment to this blessed Earth, and the dimension of Time. It is the canticle I read over my own father’s grave, as we committed him, dust to dust.

There is, I am sure, theological significance in each of the events that combine to be celebrated within Candlemas — in the procession and the blessing of the candles. The fulfilment of that ancient law, drawn from the pages of Leviticus, is again before us.

I like to think on the two turtle doves: the gift to the Temple that this couple, Joseph and Mary, could actually afford. The simplicity of it, alongside the incomprehensible gift of Jesus.

Christ has come to fulfil the laws of Moses, and the Law behind all law. It makes no sense that He should be here, that He should arrive in this human form, in the arms of this young mother. The ancient imagination demanded that a Saviour come in timpani and trumpets. Here is this small child, and these impoverished parents, with their brace of pigeons in a stick cage. They stand at the intersection of all Time.

The Author of all we know, has sent so personal a Gift, by such messengers, as the fulfilment of His promise to Abraham. I find this astonishing; indeed, too preposterous not to be true. That He is presenting Himself, helpless at the Temple, in fulfilment of an ancient vow. I find it very odd. For what does this gesture suggest?

The humility of a Lover.

Taking leave

There is, arguably, such a thing as real democracy — which is, people voting with their feet. For instance, in the States, there is significant net internal migration from “blue states” to “red states,” and from big blue cities to anywhere else. International refugee movements display which are the “shitty little countries” (I quote a prominent foreign policy wonk), and which countries are most attractive. Foolish inhabitants may vote in elections for their own impoverishment and cultural decline; they often do. But their migration patterns display a contrary knowledge. They move consistently “to the right,” politically; and away from Islam towards Christianity whenever possible.

Childbirth is a vote, too, but in time instead of space; and here the woman’s choice prevails. They vote with the feet of their little babies, or by eliminating them. I try not to pay too much attention to these trends, for they have become spectacularly depressing; but note, the Canadian birth rate has now officially shrunk to its lowest level in recorded history. This indicates that Canadians would, on balance, prefer not to be alive. They have other ways to show this preference, and have acted on all of them, but the decline in the birthrate is the second-most definitive. (Suicide is tops.)

The previous record low-birth performance was achieved in the previous year. This statistic is misunderstood, however: for Canada’s population is simultaneously growing, at well over a million a year, due to record immigration. But the people who used to live here — mostly of French, British, miscellaneous European, and native Indian ancestry — have been dying off. White women are mostly sterile, apparently, for those who enter the adventure of mothering are, in most cases, from races we did not formerly import. This means the per-woman birthrate, which has dropped to 1.33 overall, understates the predicament. It may still be close to 2.1 (the replacement level) among the “new Canadians.” It is closer to zero among Canadians of the ancien regime.

Well: “Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow.”

Tempora mutantur

“The times, they are a-changin” was among the governing slogans of my boomer generation, when we were younger and friskier, though now that they have changed, we do not dwell on it. We look back, in my case over seven decades of dubious and often painful alterations, and realize that although things may have changed, profusely, the assumption that we would have something to do with it had been unsound.

Nevertheless, it is not true that one man does not have the ability to change the world. Consider Lenin, Hitler, Pol Pot. Had each of them never been born, a lot of others might not have perished so abruptly, and the timeline of history might have, comparatively, lacked variation; though we keep the counterfactual argument in reserve. What else might of, would have, had to happen? Any of those gentlemen could have been knocked out by a childhood disease but then, perhaps, even greater monsters were naturally annihilated, instead.

“Be careful what you wish for” is another epigraph, tried and true, but as we cannot actually know what we have wished for, we are unable to be careful enough.

By many public commentators I have been informed, recently, that the times are changing again. “Woke” is going out of style, I am told, and “DEI” is dying. The scandal is that we have lived in an age when such idiocies have thriven. But we will always live in such an age, and in consequence, the times will always be changing.

Arctic farming

Apparently, I am not the first to notice that a substantial portion of the state in which I am a national (“Canada”) is uninhabited. I think the last person to notice was the late John George Diefenbaker, a politician who pursued a “northern vision.” Visions seldom outlast the sunrise, but as well, Dief-the-Chief was a self-confessed Tory, therefore quickly run out of office by the Grit voting machine. (It did not flourish on smearing and lies to the extent that it does today, but even in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties, that was the essence of the Liberal Party.)

The Arctic, by which I refer to all those latitudes above 60 degrees North, is prevented from inhabitation and economic growth by government edicts. It is almost entirely “federal” land, on which any sort of investment, except large socialist-capitalist megaprojects with substantial political kickbacks, is legally unwelcome. The people who live there, despite the cold, owe their existence to government subsidy.

Sometimes, supposing the will, I have imagined how it would be done. How would we make Canada “north of 60” a magnet for immigration? Successful political reform will require violence, or an election like the one they had in Argentina recently, in which the immutable élite is exterminated in a scrupulously vegetarian way. But then what?

My own vision involves glasshouses. Under the sun of the arctic summer, a tremendous amount of growth could occur, of vegetables and the like. (Even salads — lordy, lordy.) By design, these glasshouses would float upon the permafrost, while being anchored by geothermal pipes. Once passive solar energy was lost to the long, dark season, micro-aggressive solar panels would continue to shine light on the winter seedbeds. Persons and livestock might also benefit from geothermal warmth.

The whole strategy would be clinched by allowing people to own things, and to trade, without the intervention of “planners” and environmental bureaux. Further encouragement could come with a universal tax break for the North, to be gradually extended through the rest of the Dominion.

Too much college

Stephen Leacock has receded from the literary history of Canada and the world, though like Chesterton, he retains many readers. He might have retained more, I venture, had he been more brutal in satirizing contemporary stupidities; but he was determined to be gentle. He thought that was the rôle of the humourist, and he assumed the rôle, from a native capacity for wit and drollery; and perhaps paradoxically, from courage. He knew that it takes more courage to state a platitude, than to invent a paradox (and less to utter a blasphemy, than defend a truth), and so he deviated just for fun. Too, he was by training an economist; where’s the fun in that?

I’ve been reading Leacock’s more serious popular books (he wrote some real drudge for the classroom), which I find more entertaining than his less serious books, produced every year at Christmas. Towards my age, he wrote Too Much College. He says what might as well be repeated today, and again be ignored. He looks back over many decades of college lecturing, after several decades of formal schooling, and many centuries of formal higher education since the Middle Ages.

We have, Leacock gently hints, created a mostly useless, but partly counter-productive, enforced educational bureaucracy, proceeding at the speed of the slowest pupil, year by tedious year. The idea that “college” is an appropriate place to study any of the number of things, that need doing before studying then doing again just after, is exhibited as farce; but also the sedentary topics are extended until, by the time the student has obtained a marketable degree, he is approaching retirement.

Education has been eating up life. The book appeared in 1939, even before the post-War inflation of “educational privilege,” but already the institutions of learning had swelled immoderately. They offered a service that “gentleman don’t need, and the poor cannot afford.” Their best, most splendid graduates are taught to speak subjunctively.

Leacock describes the evangelization of his own discipline, when it spread beyond the Manchester School to the East India Company’s school at Haileybury. “Their cadets were supposed to need it, and work it on the Hindu. The first lecturer was Malthus, the apostle of the empty cradle; but he had a hare-lip; the students couldn’t understand him; so no harm was done.” But by now, we have conferred degrees even on “masters of business administration.”

The moral damage rapidly spread from an essentially Malthusian, hare-lipped approach to reality, to the patient procedural destruction of our youth, as they are taught to think that they know something. Alas, the dear children.