Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

The fire this time

Angelo Codevilla takes an eagle flight over the Black Lives Matter riots, in his latest essay for the Claremont Review (here). Of course the cause I mention is only the one that is currently newsworthy; Codevilla looks back upon great riots of the past. And, while it was often a component, “racism,” as the slovenly define it, was never previously the banner. Were it defined more strictly, it would not be the cause even of slave revolts, for the idea of racial solidarity is historically recent. (I think the English invented it.)

“Us versus Them” is, however, a conflict that can be packaged in many different ways, which may seem ludicrous in retrospect, but when fresh could inspire riot, rapine, and murder. There has never been reasoning in a mob, as there has never been reticence in a tornado, though it tracks according to rules of a kind. One tornado is rather like another, and while none is sustainable, a tremendous carnage will be done while it lasts.

Later, when the sun comes out again, the victims pick up the pieces, often in despair. But they have nothing else to do. The wreckage might have permanently altered a landscape, once peacefully inhabited; whole cities have been altered, as if by a Great Fire. But with the sun again shining, the ruin seems unaccountable. It is time, as Christ says, for the dead to bury their dead.

Codevilla checks through an entertaining  list of revolutionists — “Pastoureaux, Flagellants, Cathars, Free Spirits, Ranters,” &c — none comprehensible until their causes are rewritten by the revisionists of another age. The targets of the time seemed plausible enough, once — enemies demonized by the devil, as it were — but are themselves transient features of history. For establishments change generationally, and who was up yesterday is down tomorrow. Families may endure, relatively, but members of a family don’t.

In most cases, we could see rebellion rising, but only after we had seen the result. In our own time, we can follow the rise of “virtue signalling,” from a long way off, but only now begin to realize its importance, as we see where it leads. But the “cosmic smugness” of the godless is nothing really new.

Millenarianism is Codevilla’s organizing principle — the sudden appearance of hordes demanding apocalyptic perfection, and naturally, claiming it for themselves. Plus, too, one needs a cynical political class, exclusively concerned with increasing their own power. The mobs, after all, don’t only need egging on. Oddly, they also need the cynics’ permission. Some will think of the rioters as their clients, until they find that they are first to go up against the wall. But they are not totalitarians, only cynics; whereas the successful revolutionary will be a totalitarian, en plein air, painting his canvas in blood and excrement.

An age which is capable of thinking that the Batflu could be stopped by political measures, is capable of thinking that political adjustments can prevent “the fire next time.” But we’ve had viciously evil mobs through history, as we have them now, and I do not doubt we will have them to come.

Curiously, the prescription of Stephen Leacock, the Canadian humourist — “mow them down to marmalade” — is the only police method with a chance of working. But as the French humourist, Louis Capet, observed, “pas d’argent, pas de Suisse.” Had he paid his Swiss Guards better, and given more intelligible orders, the French Revolution might never have happened. But then, had their wits been about them, the CCP’s virus would never have spread.

Our present worldview is that events are inevitable. We believe that, because we don’t believe in God. But if, for instance, Calvin had been beheaded, and Luther burnt at the stake, perhaps we wouldn’t have had a Reformation. By now it is too late to test this hypothesis, but when I think what chaos the Church had muddled through during the five previous centuries, I can’t see why she couldn’t have muddled through again. The same for the French monarchy, or conceivably, the Constitutional Republic to our south.

When you see mobs, it is time to put down your tea. For time is at a premium, and as Mrs Thatcher used to say, “this is no time to go wet.”

The veepstakes

Am I the only person recommending that Joe Biden select Ghislaine Maxwell as his running mate?

That she’s a foreign national might present a legal obstacle (UK citizen the last I saw), but surely no one would raise such a petty objection. For after all, she’s a woman. A more significant criticism is that she seems to be a white person, but pharmaceuticals can take care of that. She has excellent connexions throughout the top elite in the Democrat Party, which should confer a kind of diversity by association; plus the street cred of being currently in prison.

Surely she has acquired a wide-ranging familiarity with foreign affairs and other policy-wonk topics from such clients as Bill Clinton, and Prince Andrew. She’s in an excellent position to speak out on many hot-button issues, such as Me Too. And she has environmentalist cachet, from her recent withdrawal to remote New Hampshire, and several other past rural retreats, when she was eluding fussy legal “stings.” Too, much of her income has been derived from charitable, eco sources; some only recently defunct.

I know these various talking points could be made to sound bad, superficially, by those low-class, rightwing hick Republicans, but we have the late Jeffrey Epstein’s word for it that she never did anything wrong. Instead, she would claim the much-coveted victim status.

Connoisseurs of British politics, big business, and high society, would be able to contribute many other qualifications she has for the top job, once Mr Biden perishes. She is the daughter of Robert Maxwell, as I recently learnt from a press item. He was much more than a former Labour MP, with a distinguished (if obscure) underground war record.

Those who were present in the 1970s and ’80s, over there in Blighty — especially those who were reading the diverting periodical, Private Eye — could fill us in with numerous entertaining details. A family man, Maxwell named his principal yacht Lady Ghislaine, after this very daughter. Indeed, his very own body was found floating in the Atlantic, while it was anchored off the Canary Islands. (He’d been avoiding a meeting at the Bank of England, for defaulting on some very large loans.) But previously he’d been a captain of industry; an heroic raider of pension funds; a polymath of fraud; and by his own account, the future of journalism.

Anyway, this is all just numbers, and as we now know, math is patriarchal. The point is that, from childhood at Headington Hall in Oxfordshire (where Oscar Wilde once cut quite a figure, under a previous owner), Ghislaine Maxwell had been at home to the wealthy and progressive. (It is even suggested that she knew Donald Trump, back when he was a liberal.) She could find her way around Davos conferences.

As for the little matter of soliciting underage girls for prostitution — an antiquated charge if I ever heard one; underage girls hardly need soliciting today — it is one of those vapours, quickly dispersed by the meejah.

Time is of course of the essence, and only weeks remain until the Natted States election. Sticky red tape unspooled by federal prosecutors might tragically impair her release.

But in that case, Mr Epstein had another close associate, Nadia Marcinkova. A Slovak citizen, perhaps, but again, who cares? — with air-piloting skills, which can sometimes come in useful. But the important thing is, she’s a woman, too.

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I SEE from the news that Mr Biden has now chosen a vice-presidential candidate, much nastier than Ghislaine or Nadia, in my view. His handlers must have read the Idlepost above, and realized it was time to get cracking. I see that they printed out a script, in large type, for Mr Biden to read to Kamala Harris, over the telephone. (Who knows what honorific to place before the name of a girl like that?) So the story moves ahead. Now we can discuss whom Kamala Harris should choose for her VP.

Back to the Bronze Age

Granted, my sources may not be up-to-date. I was, for instance, just consulting a book I acquired in high school, during the heyday of my enthusiasm for archaeology, more than half-a-century ago. I note it was printed in 1937, so about thirty years had already passed until it fell into my hands. Some Oxford perfesser wrote it — Lt. Col. Stanley Casson, born 1889.

I believe he is still in good odour, among classicists, archaeologists, and anthropologists of the eastern Mediterranean, for having died in 1944, his Tweets will never come to light. However, it may be discovered that he was a white man. A scholar, connoisseur, and adventurer, according to an obituary I just electronically exhumed; a “monument” in his own right to the British School at Athens. I suppose this might also count against him. Fortunately no statue to topple.

His semi-popular account of Ancient Cyprus is not the only book I have ever read, even on that topic, but it is memorable. If gentle reader has ever stood on the north shore of that island, and noticed that the coast of Asia Minor is in sight, he will begin to see my point. But first I have to make it.

We are shown, in schools and websites, the layers of ancient history, as if they were sharply compressed geological slices. We are told of lines of transmission, and evolution, as if they were inevitable. Well, if you have students you will understand the need to simplify some things, but it is important to remember that you are lying to them. The future may be unknowable, but the past is generally unknowable, too. We impose our own sense on it, using the same squirrelly methods by which we think ahead.

When did the Bronze Age end, and the Iron Age begin? The ages of plastic, silicon, and graphene may have succeeded even the latter, but I’m still not comfortable with iron. Neither were the Cypriots, nor the Egyptians, incidentally — some thirty-something centuries back. Before even that, iron was freely available in a globalized world. I once took a modified fishing boat from Cyprus to Mersin; I wouldn’t encourage swimming it. But the voyage is not far, and too quick with a motor. Even in a row boat, it would have been easy to smuggle ferrous materials, either way.

Yet for centuries, such “highly sophisticated” societies as those of Cyprus and Egypt, stuck with copper and bronze; with gold and silver adornments. The rest of the world might have been with the progressive agenda, but they were not. I speculate that they didn’t like the way iron rusts; there’s something cheap about it. But whatever the objection, they stood their ground. There are old iron objects to be found in both places, but few.

Much later, when the “lifestyle” advocates for the new fashionable metal had won out, and the tide of iron was flooding, it is interesting that the craftsmanship of objects is relaxed. Even ceramics become dull, boring, repetitious; skills are forgotten. We have craftsmen who obviously don’t give a damn any more, just like today. We have the encroaching realm of “productivity,” quantity. Soon these places are easy to knock over, by the conquering savages always lurking about.

We have conservative societies, overwhelmed by technology; and no longer trading on their own terms. In the larger Minoan sphere, we have barbarization. Dynastic Egypt will survive only in Coptic fragments. Greeks, Romans, and finally Arabs will be trashing the place. Ancient civilizations fall.

I regret “progress.” We should resist it heart and soul.

Dare we hope?

After twenty years of lockdown (or has it been more?) we feel less connected to the world and its institutions. The institutions are less connected with each other. Many have “atomized from within.” They continue to exist, but only nominally; reduced to some links on the Internet, perhaps.

One thinks of the Catholic Church, for instance. Once a robust presence, whose tentacles extended through every department of human life, it is now contracted, like a spider under threat. One may poke it, but it will not move, except to shrink a little more. Since long before the lockdown, it had stopped catching flies. Its web is in tatters, blown about by the Zeitgeist. Perhaps it has finished making apologies for itself, and is simply resigned to extinction. (I would call the Church, “she,” were it not for her current fear of gendered pronouns.)

Gentle reader may ask: Am I speaking of the last score of years, or of the next? I’d rather not commit myself. In either case, I hope I am exaggerating.

Reading accounts in “official,” or long-established Catholic media, I am often saddened. They depict congregations that are aged, and dying. Worse, they put a “happyface” on this. A piece last week, by Edward Pentin, describing a trip to churches through the Alpine spine of Europe (here), increased my misery; for Pentin is that rare thing, an honest journalist. Likewise, here in Christendom’s former suburb of Canada, I recognize all the features of decay. What could possibly have caused it?

In particular, I am struck by how Catholics — our hierarchical guardians even more than the laity — are so obsequious, going beyond the Batflu restrictions commanded by Nanny State. We do not even try to get away with anything. That “safety is our first priority” is repeated ad nauseam, by Church authorities without the slightest remembrance that this is the opposite of the Christian teaching, from our Master on the Cross.

Contrast, if you will, the more catholic behaviour of “Evangelicals for Trump,” in Nevada. They have taken to holding big packed prayer sessions in Las Vegas casinos, so that they can pray with minimal restrictions, unlike in a church. Better yet would be to do this before a real altar. Force the state to arrest us, if they have the nerve. Fill the gaols with our penitents, until they have to release us under Batflu regulations.

Politicians in the West are terrified of offending Muslims. Yet Catholics are probably still more numerous than they. The strategy of our leaders should be to make the politicians even more terrified of offending us. Instead, they compete for who can be most compliant.

To which end — Catholic emancipation — we need not even loot stores, toss Molotovs into police cars, and firebomb courthouses, as our Left likes to do. Just be Catholic, in the old-fashioned ways.

And shriek: when our own clergy refuse to acknowledge the demonic, all around us. Who won’t even mention Hell, and like our current pope, and actually a couple before him, flirt with such nonsense as the “Dare We Hope?” heresy, which holds that if Hell is not empty, it soon will be. (This is on a level with the advertisements I remember for the Pepsi Generation.)

Indeed, a first step might be to make errant clergy afraid, very afraid, of their parishioners. For what if, very suddenly, we ceased to be the milquetoasts everyone takes us for?

Ignore, gentle reader!

Please, no one read the aphorisms (or should I call them epigrams?) that I transcribe, below. They are not fit for publication. One contains some dirty words, and there are other examples of gratuitous rudeness. I have copied them from recent pages of a defunct pocket notebook (“bloc-notes” as we say in Urdu). They are “politically incorrect.” The whole notebook ought to be shredded, or burnt, before the Thought Police arrive.

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“If only one life can be saved!” … The gull-cry of a charlatan.

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“Truth is Treason in the Empire of Lies.” [George Orwell?] … “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”

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The replacement, everywhere, of evidence-based science with theory-based scientism, and with this, the triumph of charlatanry.

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Fidentia. “Confidence.” But not in the sense of an insurance policy.

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The slapped tomato. The slices should be violently slapped against a paper towel, when making bacon sandwiches for the picnic. Slight, thin lettuce-leaf “endpapers,” also to fight wetness & mush.

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The Church ought to provide Catholic Speakeasies, where her members can speak openly about things, and those who “have a problem with that” can be openly rebuked. While drinking & smoking, of course.

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The Whiskey Rebellion, 1791–94; during the regime of that slaveholder, George Washington. The rebels failed. They should have made the Income Tax unthinkable, for the next three hundred years.

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Perhaps half of the electorate (or is it nine-tenths?) are no longer capable of grasping that a governor who closes churches, & keeps abortuaries open as an “essential service,” is an emissary from Hell.

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Nothing is as much fun as causing excruciating pain in the part of a liberal that is most sensitive — his ego.

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Valerie, Lady Meux. I don’t own a car, but it hardly matters, as I would rather ride about in a zebra carriage.

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Horse trot, 10 mph. Canter, 15 mph. At the racecourse, around 50 mph. But what is the trotting speed of a zebra?

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Quem deus vult perdere, prius dementat. [“Whom the gods would destroy they first drive mad.”] … Dementia: loss of memory, history, & therefore of a future. That is our difficulty: we are all demented now.

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Stalin sincerely believed in his ideals. So did Hitler. Each had other foibles, to be sure; but if our standards will be sincerity & idealism, then Stalin & Hitler will be making a comeback.

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I’m not saying Liberal voters are stupid. I’m just saying that the Party specializes in policies that can only appeal to the ignorant, & terminally misinformed.

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Le Corbusier called the house, “a machine for living,” & by the same reasoning we might call the human being, “a machine for shitting.”

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I am trying to paddle my little canoe as fast as I can, in the direction opposite to the waterfall.

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Francis’s “developments” are in continuity with Tradition, “as a giraffe is in continuity with a sandwich.”

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Well, for his next act of idolatry, he can [the rest of this sentence has been redacted].

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Remedies for Growth. The human thing is gardening, pruning. Nature is shameless & profligate, our job is editorial.

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Lechery is easily mistaken for love.

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Small yappy dogs encourage sin, by tempting bystanders to kill them.

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I am not a Commie, a Nazi, or a Fascist. (Falangist would be getting warmer.) But keep turning the dial until you get to Distributist. It is Reaction, but in a positive form.

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Beware geeks bearing GIFs.

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Buy books by authors, not books about them. The latter are all out-of-date already; and they remain so, indefinitely.

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“Consolidation” is a dirty word. … Three more vile, filthy expressions: “relevant,” “meaningful,” & “accessible.”

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Sign at the staff entrance to an abandoned coal mine, at Glace Bay: “Your wife & children expect you home this evening. Don’t disappoint them.”

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“Gradgrinds & Teufelsdröckhs.” [Maureen Mullarkey]

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Hagamos una Iglesia tan hermosa y tan grandiosa que los que la vieren labrada nos tengan por locos. … A Spanish architect to his patron: “Let us build a church so beautiful & so grand that those who see it finished will take us for mad.”

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“As some Roman said, debauchery isn’t going into a whorehouse, it’s never coming out.” [Louis-Ferdinand Céline]

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“It is not the punishment but the cause that makes the martyr.” [Augustine]

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“The ugly claws & bared teeth of the pelvic left.” [Austin Ruse]

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The kind of drooling, slathering, chronological bigotry that modern education efficiently instils.

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William Baumol, the economist, discoverer of “cost disease.” Why worthless things become more and more expensive.

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Rapid onset gender dysphoria versus pre-digital folkways.

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Aristotle tells us that the Megarians make no distinction between potentiality & actuality. This is equivalent to the Eleatic denial, of motion or change of any kind. But that is mere idealism.

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Memoir of a pre-feminist. My sex life, as a wild atheist youth turned out among loose women, was constrained by a persistent thought. I could not get out of my head the relationship between copulation & pregnancy. I did not think of it as a statistical relationship, or something to be “fixed” by pharmaceuticals or gadgets. I did not look upon women as pleasure machines, or sex toys, inconveniently endowed with legal rights. I just sinned co-operatively.

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Totalitarianism begins with liberal parenting.

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The only objection to some theories, is that they are insane. Consider the death of the algebraist, George Boole — slain by his wife on the theory that pneumonia could be cured by wrapping in wet blankets.

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CO2 emissions: China is double USA, triple Europe, quadruple India, octuple Japan. Japan must be at least triple Canada. We’ve got to catch up.

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We have a growth economy, based on gambling & self-administered confidence tricks. No wonder we’re lagging.

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Bidh maighdeannan-mara nas spòrsail, as they say, in Scots Gaelic. Or, according to Google Translate: “Mermaids have more fun.”

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Exit strategies. Believe me, I empathize. The prospect of having to fix them later, takes so much of the fun out of busting things.

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Jojoba Oil. Something I must avoid learning about.

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“Inspired malevolence, or criminal stupidity?” … It’s not always an either/or.

High-explosive chronicles

Tomorrow we commemorate the dropping of the atom bomb “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan, some seventy-five years ago. “It seems like just yesterday,” an elderly tenant in my building comments, remembering his childhood while struggling with his bat-mask. I was born too late, for a change, but seem to remember from ballistics in high school that it was the trinitrotoluene (TNT) equivalent of fifteen tons. (Or was it fifteen thousand?)

That compares well with a terrorist IED, though poorly with some of the other great blasts of history. We tend to forget the Siege of Almeida (and a lot of other things about the Peninsular War); or even the explosion at Halifax, Nova Scotia, scarcely a century ago, when two ships collided in the harbour, and the one that was a French munitions ship took out the north half of the city. (Don’t get me started on the bureaucratic blunders.)

And then there was the blast at Fort York, here in Toronto, when the Americans landed during the War of 1812, and were a bit careless with the munitions they found stored there. (I think of it as the ancestor of our Lakeside firework displays.)

Yesterday’s explosion in Beirut has been variously estimated, to fluctuating powers of ten. I suppose it doesn’t matter whether the newsmen meant proper British tons (of 20 hundredweight, each eight times the 14-pound stone), or the rounded “short tons” of the Yankees, or those French-revolutionary “metric tonnes.” That can be their little secret. For we could all see what it looked like on the Internet. I watched it several times.

Of course, Hiroshima added the nuclear dimension. Thanks to our prejudice against nuclear fallout, we tend to overlook the more conventional explosions. During the Iraq War (which I do recall), the allies could drop “bunker-buster” bombs without excessive controversy, but just one modest nuke and there would have been a crisis at CNN. People are funny like that: they seem less bothered by death than about how they might die. Whereas, I find the former more consequential.

“They” (i.e. people unlike me) happily throw numbers about when body-counting, too. It was Stalin (or was it?) who observed, that one death is a tragedy, whereas more than a million Armenians slaughtered by the Turks was just “a statistic.” He lived in the age before CNN; but our meejah still like to juggle with statistics. No death is important to them, unless they have an axe to grind. But when they do, it is like TNT.

I didn’t know how to bring George Floyd into this, but now I see it. Police “body-cams,” only just released, show that his death was misrepresented. By sheer, characteristic malice, a police killing more easily explained, was tailored into a racial incident, in the megaton range. But had it not been Floyd’s, some other killing might have served Antifa equally well. The trick is to provide video, from which context has been omitted. Radicals are then free to supply their own. Our “social media” will latch on, right away.

The frustration of journalists, unable to attach blame for the Beirut explosion, that could link it back to Trump, was something I noticed as a former practitioner. This means the story has no “legs,” and must stand on body-count alone. But to my reasonably certain knowledge, higher body-counts can be had from a dozen obscure conflicts elsewhere in our world today, and the odd thrilling natural disaster. None of these stories have “legs,” however. They do not satisfy our lust for revenge.

Astronomical aside

“Scientists” (you know what I mean) have told “correspondents” for Rupert Murdoch’s Sun that “mysterious signals” have now been received from a source inside our Milky Way, just fourteen thousand light years distant. We had previously received them from farther afield. They last only a millisecond, but an “Italian astrophysicist” (I hope it wasn’t the one we employ at the Vatican) said that this latest could be traced to a “Magnetar.” This is the imaginative name for stars reputed to have powerful magnetic fields.

Perhaps we will send it a link to the pope’s Twitter account, in return. I’m for supplementing this with Doktor Fauxi, in case they have coronavirus issues. (Previously, I’d have been content to send him to Mars, with Elon Musk driving the Uber.) I gather that early instalments of I Love Lucy, launched by radio-wave in 1951, have yet to arrive.

And I fear they may never, owing to an amplification problem. For it seems the Magnetar in question had to explode with the power of a million Suns, to get that brief radio message out. Imagine what it would take to extend this longer than the millisecond to, say, the full audio track of a television skit, then add the visuals in black & white. Colour seems almost out of the question.

On second thought, why not keep Elon Musk? At only a few billion dollars of taxpayer subsidy, he’s probably an entertainment bargain. But Doktor Fauxi has cost at least a trillion, for a more boring show. There comes a point, according to a businessman I once met, when you have to cut your losses.

Thanks to my education in very backward, low-budget schools in Asia, I learnt to count. This puts me at an advantage over the average North American post-doctorate, who only knows that “black lives matter.” With arithmetic comes a certain apprehension of scale, though let me add, not always a happy one. In my morning tours of our planetary meejah (not a million Suns; at most a couple dozen) I am daily boggled. Do the people who write these things have any idea what they are saying? Or how long their logical leaps extend?

From a millisecond of incomprehensible starburst, to “intelligent” life elsewhere in our galaxy, is such a leap. I could wish that, like a motorcycle across the Grand Canyon, it had not even been attempted. But my wishes are not being consulted on this planet, and see where it has got you.

Women & type

Should women be barred from the printing trades? (Just asking.) I am so old that I can remember the irritation of a dear old guy (happily married) who burbled with resentment whenever he saw a member of the fairer sex at or near a printing press, or typographical machinery. But this was, like so many things now, half a century ago, and the machinery with which he was familiar, was exclusively hot type. It was not only hot, in the sense of molten, but being heavy metal, could kill you even when it was cold. Too, it often moved very quickly. In his opinion, very freely given, it was “not a woman’s domain.”

This was in England, where that domain was preserved into the 1980s, even 1990s, by the unions in deference to Karl Marx, and King Lud. (One thinks of Lud-gate Hill, and Fleet Street.) Women were legally admitted to most trades, by this time; they were only excluded in practice. But with an invasion not of Amazons, but of photo-typesetting, Xerox tech, and soon enough, digital production on computer screens, the women flooded in. It was like the Three Gorges Dam on a bad day. Fortunately for my elderly anti-feminist friend, he’d had a stroke and died. Otherwise he would have had to witness it all.

Whereas I, so much younger, grew further into adulthood taking women in printing offices for granted (whenever possible). They were generally more capable than the men, though also more subject to the vapours. Prejudiced, like any normal human being, I found that I preferred dealing with women, because I could not understand their ego problems. Whereas men, I understood perfectly well, and it would put me off them.

For the sake of a smidgen of historical accuracy, I shouldn’t say that women had never been in the printing trades. Several got inside, over the centuries.

One of my heroines is Beatrice Warde (1900–1969), who, although denied an apprenticeship where she came from (New York, I think) rose to “chief sales girl” in London for the Monotype Corporation. (Perhaps we would say, “sales director,” now.) An accomplished calligrapher, and adept of type, she single-handedly changed the tastes of British and many international book publishers, reviving and adapting many classic pre-industrial fonts (with the help of Stanley Morrison and the London Monotype team), and making the publishers buy them. She was also a very beautiful woman, as well as frightfully articulate by voice, pen, and brush. I theorize this could have been to her advantage. For men, so it seemed, were desperate to please her.

Still, she was habitually a minority of one, and as I understand, preferred it that way. (One thinks of Margaret Thatcher telling some journalist that she’d “never have a woman in my Cabinet.” She loved trolling journalists.)

My point, if there is one (this is an Idlepost, after all), is that the changes had nothing to do with “the demands of women”; or if anything, more at the end when they were unnecessary than at the beginning when they would have been ignored. The same with race, colour, creed, &c. For I am mischievously suggesting that this soi-disant “progress” may be true in other fields, too. Sudden, unrelated innovations in technology, circumstance, or rules for something else, transform the labour market; and this, even without anyone intending, let alone wanting any change.

Incredible change happens, but we can’t learn why. This is because we’re trapped in our own lazy, narrow, irrelevant, and obnoxiously political, “narratives.”

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Let us not get too excited. On second thought, let’s just go for it. Had I not sworn off the phrase, “batshit insane,” I might be tempted to apply it to our world at present. Exempli gratia, this is hardly the first epidemic in history, although its inhabitants act as if it were. Nor, for that matter, is it the first time that the world has gone mad, in unrelated ways. It is perhaps because no one ever learns from history, that its worst features so frequently recur; but no one learns anything from epidemics, either.

Yet, whether in this century, or the next, things may return to normal.

Examples of the madness are exceptionally plentiful, at the moment. We need talented female art directors to produce coffee-table books on this subject, on acid-free paper. I know one in rural Ontario who is doing this, so I am quite hopeful. Future generations may be uselessly warned.

The will to pauvre

“So which is true?” — an interrogator asks, — “Your profession of Friday, July 24th, or your profession of Friday, July 31st? Your ‘V for Victory’ cultural warmongering, or the grim resignation a week later?”

My irritating response was, “Both and neither.” Both, if you take each on its own terms; neither, if you were looking for a manifesto.

For the definitive position, I would refer gentle reader to the opening passage in the Gospel of John; and bid him read with unstraying attention. For the Last Word is the First Word, as it explains. (Go to a traditional Latin Mass, to hear it said in the right position.)

But “we the peeple” are only dealing with the moment, as I touched upon yesterday. (I’m one of them peeple, incidentally.) We are acting, sometimes, within external contradictions, or more usually, trying to crawl around them. Yet I, at least, see no contradiction between fighting the good fight, and losing. That they may exchange positions in heaven — these “winners” and these “losers” — was vouchsafed by Our Lord.

(One should also check in with the Beatitudes, from time to time.)

Duty requires us to stand up for our faith, when as now it is mortally challenged, and to stand for our beleaguered fellow faithful, rather than slink away and hide. Yet we should fight meekly, like the Crusaders of old, for the worthy cause, and not for ourselves only. Perhaps we forgot, when the days were sunny, positions we held when the nights were dark.

While I’m in favour of free markets, low taxes, free speech, and all the falderal of current political conservatism, they are not ends but means. I wish we had more leaders in the Church who could spell this out smartly — we still have a few — because our troops are misdirected when our leaders sell out. I would like to hear the occasional war cry, and not just requests for social distancing. I do wish I could hear a bishop, sometimes, telling Nanny State what to do with itself, or reminding moral dwarves that Christ outranks them.

And now we are in a big rumble. The Culture War was something declared on us, when our lives and churches were invaded by these stinking, statist trolls. Their motives are demonic, but we leave that to God: for our purpose can only be to destroy them, in the near term. The pulverization of the Left and all its projects, would be good for us, and in itself, but also good for the leftists. Here let me resort to the “argumentum ad Hitlerum”: we did the Germans a favour by getting the Nazis off their backs. Had we been pacifists, and surrendered, we would only have gone to hell with them. There is no holiness in surrender, except to God. It is our duty to “bend the knee” to no other.

Yet it is not a strategy, but an attitude I am defending. High prudence in these matters is not easy; for not only cleverness, but wisdom is required. Low cunning will not save us from the pain we fear. It only adds ignominy.

And so — Deus lo vult, as it says in the Gesta Francorum.

On the future

Perhaps I have mentioned before, that I cannot predict the future. No one else can, either, and no one can save himself. That, “we’re all gonna die,” I don’t take as a prediction, any more than that the sun will come up again tomorrow — and whether or not one accepts Darwin, or Copernicus. Maybe some day the sun won’t rise, but in that case gentle reader will not be needing predictions.

The Prophets did not make predictions. They were not economists. They were more like routine journalists, or reporters. Each received a message, from God, which he reported to the Israelites. Old-fashioned reporters, to a man: I should think their principal concern was getting the message right. (My usual apology for intruding on theology.) But if God seems to be making a prediction, one should listen up.

Being, myself, neither a Prophet, nor the son of a Prophet, but a mere herdsman, as it were, I make predictions like the world makes predictions. For instance, that the pot which just slipped from my hand, will land on my toes. True, some predictions like that can be reliable. But they are seldom of more than passing subjective interest. It is only when one makes grand unlikely predictions that one is able to elicit subjective interest in others. That’s where asteroids, and climate change come in. Or, “Trump wins,” to scare half the population; or “Trump loses,” to scare the other half.

A more interesting question remains, whether he wins or loses. My view, that either result will lead to chaos, is not actually a prediction. Rather it follows from the observation that we have chaos now. Further, that neither of the alternative parties, in Natted States or most other Western countries, can do much besides sprinkle some additional chaos over the top.

This is because (another observation), there is no philosophical integrity, either on Right or Left. Perhaps a little more on the Left, because it is more consistently destructive, and progressing from irreligion, to outright satanism. Whereas, the Right is holding with irreligion, and just spinning at the moment.

My own position is like that of the “liberals” I grew up with: neither pro- nor anti-Trump, but anti-anti-Trump, the way my generation were anti-anti-Communists. Actually, I deprecate him myself, for a long list of reasons, such as whimsical policies on the trillion-dollar scale; nevertheless, I support him as the least available evil.

But tell that to the ineffectual Louis XVI, on his way up to the guillotine. That man was also a (mild) liberal and reformer. He was always willing to give his lethal enemies half of what they wanted. He, too, lacked a philosophical spine. As “absolute monarchs” go, he was a klutz — symbol of a power already hollowed out. Like Trump, just trying to ride the tiger. The ideal enemy for a genuine revolutionary, one might say. And history is full of Louis XVIs. Unfortunately, it is also full of genuine revolutionaries. And it doesn’t take all that many of them, to seize the instruments of power.

This last is less a prediction, or an opinion, than a little-known fact. The great majority of Frenchmen were not enthused by the downfall of King Louis, nor Russians by that of Czar Nicholas, or either by the fall of any of the mediocrities who first replaced them, trying to preserve a few constitutional norms. “The peeple” could never have voted for what was coming, as they won’t be voting now. They were just trying to get on with their lives, as opportunistic as any of their leaders.

Those “peeple” have no philosophical heart either, let alone experience with rudders. They’d need such things to take their own stand. Those noble individuals, who resist ruthless revolutionary tyrants, generally end up in the same way: friendless and dead.

I am not even expecting the next Revolutionary War to be coherent. Things just happen. No predictions from me.

Apology to the flittermice

Resolved: I must swear off calling people “batshit insane,” for my chief bat informant — who doubles as my acting deputy chief correspondent for western South Dakota — won’t have it. Vespertilio Antiqua, as she signs herself, thinks bats are being libelled, slandered, and smeared. Frankly, I should have agreed with her from the start, for in my experience — which has included sharing an office with them — I have found the Chiropterians to be not only blameless but upstanding (well, downstanding in their case) — polite, considerate, and while flighty, always impressively so.

Only a very few vampire bats give their whole order a bad name; so that even while jungle-camping in hottest tropical Americas, gentle reader is unlikely to be bothered by one. For the rest, they should not be criticized if they are unwillingly infected, or attacked by thoughtless parasites. Nor should other species complain that they are carriers of disease; for this would hardly be a problem if the bats were left alone.

As I learnt in Lawrence Gardens, across the street from me when I was a little lad in Lahore, bats are much like us. Their chatter is decipherable when anyone is listening, and as computer analyses were always certain to show. They have many dialects, and their speech is not mere declarations, as we (no doubt falsely) assume of most animals. Rather their conversation is addressed specifically to their neighbours.

According to researchers in the Tel Aviv university (in the latest study done with algorithms), Egyptian fruit bats are easy to translate. They review food, and argue about portions over dinner; they give each other fruit and insect-finding tips. When roosting they upbraid those who may be jabbing them, or otherwise huddling too close. The females take a “me-too” attitude towards unwanted sexual advances. They use baby talk with their juniors, and different tones with their contemporaries, ranging from subservient to smug. Like most species, they hang together when threatened, but when not they squeak as proud individuals. They know who, among predator species, are particularly mean to them; and I suspect, when to shut up.

Their skin-wings, which some might think could be aesthetically improved by feathers, make them more manoeuvrable than any kind of bird, and the tiniest can be mistaken for moths. You’d need a pretty quick stop-action camera, to appreciate some of their aerial tricks. To turn on a dime is hard enough for quadrupedes (quadrupedi?), but to do it while airborne is spectacular.

Neither this Dakotan correspondent, nor I, have any idea how the current epidemic was launched from the Wuhan coronavirus lab, but we doubt that the bats — from Yunnan caves or wherever — played any voluntary part in it. Given what the Chinese Communists do to Uighers, Falun Gong, and Christians, I hate to think what they do to bats.

My own allusions to bat guano were unfair. It makes an excellent fertilizer, rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium — to say nothing of the micronutrients. Verily, I regret comparing bats to Democrats, or other loathsome progressive fools. They didn’t deserve it, and I take it all back.

Retractiones

I am, it must be confessed, an abject incompetent. Take, for instance, the Idlepost I uploaded yesterday. My purpose was, paradoxically, to recommend Charles Dickens, as something to read while the Batflu continues. Sneakily, I suggested that he is very entertaining, and in a “non-highbrow” sort of way, to those who may have tired of Hegel. He will fill many hours with delight — by a delicious escape, into another world in space and time. He will excite both laughter, and tears, for the person who might like a break from merely wanting to kill certain politicians. He is a joy to read, as chocolate truffles are a joy to eat, if you happen to like chocolate truffles.

But sometimes I am too paradoxical by half. I don’t know what effect my little electronic paper may have had, on non-Dickens readers. But I stirred a hornets’ nest among the Dickensians. I seem to have diverted that natural hatred of politicians, onto myself. Several have chastised me, in terms I would reserve for Justin Trudeau. Perhaps, in future, I should try to “paradoxically recommend” some other novelist.

That I was, unparadoxically, also trying to put in the reader’s head, that Dickens has contributed to the demoralization of our world, was on the surface of my essay. In this respect, I was acknowledging this author’s great power. The reduction of hard moral fact, to mushy simper and what we now call “empathy,” was partly his doing. I detect it even in the unpleasant vibrations of BLM rioters, and other agents of our Left.

They “protest” things that, indirectly, they learnt to protest from the kind-hearted Dickens; subjective hysterias about the world being unfair. Of course it is unfair, as it has always been, and to everyone who has been living in it. But unfairness is a whim, compared to sound moral judgements, and the reticence that should accompany them. We cannot make the world “more fair” by rioting. Dickens, incidentally, agrees with me on that.

He was among the writers (and artists generally) who contributed subtly to our post-Christian worldview, based on emotion, not remorseless thought. Who made, say, Christmas about giving presents to little children, rather than centrally about the birth of Christ. That doesn’t mean his works should be suppressed. On the contrary, they should be read and enjoyed, with this thought in mind. He moralizes, but in a way that may actually subvert morality, by substituting “feelings” for the hard truths, which are to die for.

My title today is out of Saint Augustine — Révisions, as the French say. This does not (necessarily) mean taking anything back. Rather, trying to make things clearer, in restatement.

*

On the other hand, there are things I should just apologize for. Yesterday, for instance, I finally took some aging donation cheques to my bank (almost all foreign). The delay was untoward. I had put off entering a financial institution, under (Red Chinese) Batflu circumstances, for longer than was conscionable — causing anxiety to several readers who asked if their cheques had ever arrived. They did, almost certainly; the Canadian post office is not quite as bad as its reputation. (Hardly anything is.) Forgive my procrastination. And thank you most vociferously for your patronage. Especially you foreigners, in Natted States and Australia.

As I mentioned above, I am abjectly incompetent, and this applies to many thank-you notes that I have failed to write. Often I condemn myself for “good intentions,” though I find it more comfortable condemning others. If gentle reader never received thanks for a splendid donation, he may be assured that I intended to send them. But he has a remedy: to never send me money again. That will teach me. And in the meantime, I can starve.

A bourgeois moralist

Contemporary book reviewers were often unkind to Charles Dickens. I am referring to the higher-browed Victorian periodicals, often unbearably pompous to the modern reader (though not, of course, to me). Rereading the Spectator’s review of Bleak House, I think they could have conceded more: that Dickens is a genius, and his novels are mesmerizing; that he silences his critics with magic sprawling art. His caricatures are unforgettable, and sometimes in the background of his plots there is a divine movement, rising independently of authorial intention.

But I agree on their main point: that Dickens is essentially mindless.

Consider Little Dorrit. It is apparent in the (often mawkish) scenes within the Marshalsea Prison (for debtors of the lower castes), where Dickens’s father was once an inmate. This was not a happy place, according to my historical information, but in son Charles’s treatment I detect an atmosphere that Solzhenitsyn would later capture, more purposefully, in the Gulag. The sense that, “We are rising,” floats in a ghostly way, through and above specific characters; who are only doing what they can to get by. In the worst sort of bureaucratic trap, constructed by a symbolic Circumlocution Office, the Marshalsea prisoners owe money, that they cannot possibly repay, because they have been gaoled. (This situation was revived by the feminists who rewrote Ontario family law in the 1990s.) And yet there is paradoxical hope.

Having no advantages of class, they would seem to have fallen to the cold cruel bottom of an unfeeling world. But they are free now. No one can do anything more to them; and the only way is up. These inmates are human, have committed no worse than petty crimes. They have no motive to envy one another. They make their prison into a neighbourhood. Friendless, except for each other, they’ll only ever get out by miracle — if some unlikely person on the outside suddenly pays their debts. Trust Dickens to contrive this happy escape.

By dei ex machina, the plot rumbles on. There’s good bits as he kills off his virtue-signallers in Italy, one by one. I discreetly cheer as each goes down.

Dickens plays his audience for laughs and tears. That’s what the reviewers condemned him for. He was, from beginning to end, a “popular” writer, though perhaps somewhat morbid at the last. He brilliantly engages the emotions of his reader, but goes almost out of his way not to engage their minds. Except that he trips into politics, often, and irresponsibly. For his politics are cheaply “good guys versus bad guys.”

He casts his victims, to win sympathy for them. Yes, crime produces victims. But Dickens leaves the deeper questions of “crime and punishment” alone.

All tabloid journalism is like this; and all our meejah at the present day. It is Dickensian (like our Christmases used to be). It is Church of Nice. While I must admit having myself fallen in love with little Amy Dorrit, born as she was in the Marshalsea (and thus, debtless, free to come and go), I resented the Dickensian manipulation. In the end I was glad to (mentally) dump her on Arthur Clennan. May they live happily ever after, on their unearned money.