Wish I’d said that – March 24, 2017

“he [André Malraux] was fond of quoting Napoleon’s proclamation, ‘My life is quite a novel.'”

Algis Valiunas reviewing Olivier Todd’s Malraux: A Life in National Review July 4, 2005 – and I suppose a “pithy” quotation fails if it requires an extensive gloss, but I have to add my reaction on reading this line, namely that if you ever notice such a thing about your own life you need to consider urgently the question “Yes but by which author?”

 

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Wish I’d said that – March 23, 2017

“The true savage is a slave, and is always talking about what he must do; the true civilized man is a free man, and is always talking about what he may do.”

G.K. Chesterton in Illustrated London News April 18, 1906, reprinted in Gilbert! Vol. 3 #5 (March 2000)

 

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The tyranny of postmodern choice

In my latest National Post column I suggest that punk rockers and other postmoderns hate and love big government because we’ve done the Nietzche transvaluation thing. Choice doesn’t mean deciding between existing alternatives including right and wrong anymore. Now it means dictating what alternatives should exist and deciding for ourselves what shall be right. Conformity can be rebellion, awful art can be great, big can be small, down can be up, anything we like. Or so we like to think.

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Wish I’d said that – February 26, 2017

“The certainty of a God giving a meaning to life far surpasses in attractiveness the ability to behave badly with impunity. The choice would not be hard to make. But there is no choice, and that is where the bitterness comes in. The absurd does not liberate; it binds. It does not authorize all actions. ‘Everything is permitted’ does not mean that nothing is forbidden. The absurd merely confers an equivalence on the consequences of those actions.”

Albert Camus “The Absurd Man” in The Myth of Sisyphus & Other Essays

 

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Aye, and Cheap Too – It Happened Today, February 20, 2017

What could be more quintessentially Scottish than the Shetland and Orkney Islands? Bleak, remote, picturesque, the ideal location for a hardy folk and their hardy ponies. By reputation the Scots won’t go rock climbing unless they have “full conditions” namely rain and wind that deter even other people crazy enough to rock climb. Och aye mon.

It is therefore a bit surprising to learn that both these island chains, which to my shame I hadn’t realized were northeast of John o’ Groats in the ancestral county of Caithness to which I have not been, itself allegedly more than a little remote, belonged to Norway until the 15th century.

Of course a lot of things “belonged” to Norway in the sense of having been seized by ferocious Vikings over the previous millennium or so. (And parenthetically I often wonder how those who feel that within North America we should do a kind of ethnic reset of landholdings to 1500 think we should undo the impact of those raids, invasions and random chaos.) But these two island chains, it turns out, wound up in Scottish hands via a pawn shop.

Perhaps you don’t fancy your chances of wandering into such an establishment with “Mainland” and its cousins (yes, “Mainland” is the largest of the Shetlands) under your coat and hoping the man at the desk will advance some money without a lot of questions about provenance. But it actually is what happened on February 20 of 1469 when Christian I of Norway put them up as security because he was having trouble scraping together a dowry for his daughter Margaret to marry James III of Scotland in what I suppose was regarded on both sides as a shrewd dynastic move.

It wasn’t. James III’s grandiose European schemes were of no benefit to Norway or his own people who he didn’t bother trying to govern well. And like so many of the Stuarts’ cunning plans James III’s ended badly, with his death in battle against rebellious nobles in 1488. (His son James IV was killed in the disastrous defeat by the English at Flodden. His son James V died shortly after the disastrous defeat by the English at Solway Moss. But I digress.)

The point is that Christian I pawned the islands and never redeemed them, Norway apparently becoming less interested in these picturesque rocks after unifying with Denmark which was bigger, warmer and less inaccessible. In 1472 they were officially annexed to the Scottish crown.

So what could be more quintessentially Scottish than the Shetland and Orkney Islands? I’ll tell you. Getting them in a pawn shop for a bargain price.

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