Maigret: Madame Maigret’s Friend

If you thought, as I did, that this was going to be a book where Maigret’s wife (first name Louise, in case you ever get quizzed) was going to play a central role, you would be mistaken. No, she’s still the model housewife here: doing the grocery shopping, cooking Maigret his meals and fetching him his slippers and pipe at the end of the day. But she does do a bit of investigating at one point, wearing out some shoe leather in tracking down an important lead. After which she can go back to making dinner.

The rest of the book is just as disappointing. It’s another one in the series where the villains are mainly kept off-stage, so we only hear about them second-hand. There’s also a messiness to it that’s perhaps the result of Simenon trying to tie two plots together in an awkward way. Some occasional low-key humour helps out, but otherwise I found this to be one of the least distinguished instalments in the series.

Maigret index

Federal election 2021: Before

In 2015 I did a pair of before and after posts on the federal election, in which I made a prediction that was totally wrong (yeah, I thought Harper would be re-elected). In 2019 I did the before and after thing again, only with a more accurate forecast. Since I’ve been doing the “before” posts a week out from the election itself I guess it’s time to post an entry for what’s happening in 2021, even though I’ve already commented on the calling of a snap election, and the fact that it’s a snap election means there hasn’t been a lot of time for the picture to develop.

I think calling the election was a mistake. The plan was for the Liberals to upgrade from a minority to a majority government and I don’t see that happening now.

And that was all the plan the Liberals had. Asked multiple times to explain why an election had been called — a question they should have had been ready for — Trudeau couldn’t come up with anything very convincing. In one of the French-language debates he could only say that they needed “a clear mandate . . . to understand what Canadians want for the next years.” That’s weak, and I’m not sure it even makes sense. A mandate to understand?

As far as policy goes I don’t think there’s that big a gap between the Liberals and the Tories. Instead there are “optics.” This is where celebrity politics gets you: you live and die by the leader’s personality. Unfortunately for the Liberals, Justin Trudeau has not worn well. Even people I know who started out being supporters of him now feel quite disillusioned. He has not grown into the job. I find it surprising that he is still so bad at answering questions that take him off script, and being able to project confidence or competence. I know it’s an easy dig to say he’s all just fantastic hair and striped socks, a mere pretty boy playing at being a prime minister, but the shoe fits.

The various scandals surrounding his administration haven’t helped, reinforcing the sense that the Liberals are arrogant grifters. Allegations of hypocrisy and corruption have been hard to dodge, with the controversy over Raj Saini being just the latest example. Meanwhile, Jody Wilson-Raybould’s revenge was well timed. Hell hath no fury like a cabinet minister scorned.

Will the NDP be able to capitalize on voter disenchantment, or will voters duly fall into line, as they do every election, and vote for our Natural Governing Party? Never underestimate the timidity and steadfast resistance to change of the Canadian voter. Never.

I don’t know what happened to the Greens. I didn’t follow any of their leadership squabbles, but it’s depressing to think it came down to a disagreement over showing support for Israel. Why are we fighting over this? Annamie Paul seems bright and capable but hard to warm to. That may be why she hasn’t been widely embraced and the party has disappeared. I don’t think it’s racism, as people seem very fond of Jagmeet Singh. Heaven knows the environment should have been a strong issue to run on this year, but it hasn’t happened. I’m beginning to wonder if it ever will.

How well Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives do may depend on how many votes Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada draws away. I don’t think many. People who hate Trudeau will vote for the guy they think most likely to get rid of him.

Personally, I’ve been feeling quite alienated from politics. This is the first election in a while that I’ve seriously considered not voting in. I think on election day it’s going to come down to how long the lines are at the polling station. There are enormous challenges that we face, both in this country and globally, but so-called culture-war issues are in the driver’s seat. Why? Because cancel culture, wokeism, and identity politics crap really plays online. In short, it works. This is the form Western politics has taken in the twenty-first century. I blame the Internet.

Prediction: I have a hunch the Liberals get back in with another minority government, helped mainly by the Toronto vote. But a week out it’s really too close to call. I don’t think the NDP will do as well as forecasters have been expecting. The Greens are going to be annihilated.

As I’ve done previously, I’ll be back in a week with a post-mortem, when I’ll hopefully have some more to say.

Eighties house party

Making a comeback?

The American social critic Kurt Andersen has a thing about the present age being a culture of nostalgia, one that is no longer creating anything new. One of his favourite examples is today’s music, and whenever I read him going on about this I find myself doubting how strong an argument it is. It has an air of “grumpy old man” about it, complaining about all this noisy rock ‘n’ roll that isn’t real music. I mean, I liked, and still like, the music I listened to in high school and university, but I assume kids today have moved on.

This past week saw students moving back in for the start of university in my home town. A house behind me that sold a couple of months ago is apparently going to be party central, filled with a lot of good-looking young people. On Saturday night they were having a house party, and I was sleepily listening to the tunes they had cranked up. After a while I started noticing something, and began making notes on the party playlist. Here’s a stretch of what I heard:

“Hungry Heart” Bruce Springsteen (1980)
“Come On Eileen” Dexy’s Midnight Runners (1982)
“Bust a Move” Young MC (1989)
“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” Tears for Fears (1985)
“Groove Is in the Heart” Deee-lite (1990)
“Freedom” Wham! (1984)

Wow. I have to say this really surprised me. Kids at university were literally playing the same songs thirty years ago. I think the only thing I missed was Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” and I might have just nodded off before they got to that. If they’d started up Black Box’s “Ride On Time” I think I may have had to go over and introduce myself.

What gives? Is Andersen right? Don’t today’s young people have their own music to listen to? I’m not complaining, but I don’t think the music I listened to as a young man was anything special. I just like it because it’s what I grew up with. Shouldn’t something have replaced it by now?

Electioneering

Last night was the first, and only, English-language leaders’ debate for the 2021 federal election. It was a complete waste of time. At least the first hour was, which is all I could watch.

The medium of television led to the replacement of debate with the sound bite, a snippet of a few seconds of speech taken out of context. From the evidence on display last night this is getting worse. Brevity was strictly enforced by the moderator, as the leaders had only thirty seconds at the most to answer questions, and that not without interruptions. All of this just meant that they were trying to repeat slogans and catchy phrases as quickly and clearly as possible, without saying anything of substance that might get them in trouble.

Questions weren’t answered. People talked past each other. There was the usual empty virtue signaling. Impossible, to my eye, to pick any clear winners or losers. I watched a breakdown of the “highlights” again this morning and found they were moments that hadn’t registered with me at all.

Green Party leader Annamie Paul came across as strong, but also fatalistic. She talked about having to come together across party lines to work on addressing environmental issues, which seemed to be conceding to reality. Maxime Bernier of the People’s Party of Canada wasn’t allowed to join the debate because the PPC didn’t meet the threshold for voter support, even though they are apparently polling ahead of the Greens now. I’m afraid it’s not looking good for the Greens this election, or for the environment as an issue moving forward.

Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet wasn’t worried about being likeable, so he didn’t even try. Which was actually kind of fun to watch.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was the most assured and articulate and it didn’t matter much. In the first hour anyway he was the only one I recall making a clear policy statement, about ending subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. That’s something I would have liked to hear some debate over, but things had to keep whipping along.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole hit his talking points. He’s not a charismatic or inspiring personality, but at least doesn’t come off as an arrogant jerk, which is something the Tories have struggled with recently. This isn’t a party with any new ideas though, and it’s not as if their old ideas were any good.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau hasn’t changed in six years, which isn’t to his credit. He still has a lot of trouble speaking off script and can’t explain why this election is happening.

It’s come to this

At a time when only just over half of all Americans have been vaccinated against COVID-19 there has been a sudden interest in use of the drug ivermectin, a horse dewormer, as an antidote. This madness hasn’t stopped at the border, with a run on supplies of the livestock drug in Alberta and Amazon Canada including warnings on search results for the drug on its site (even though Amazon doesn’t sell it).

In the U.S. the Federal Drugs Administration posted the following on their Twitter account: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.” Nevertheless, celebrity podcaster Joe Rogan recently admitted that he was taking the drug after having come down with COVID.

This is stupid on the level of the Tide Pod Challenge, where people would eat packages of laundry detergent. The Tide Pod thing was performative jackassery that I assumed was being done just to get clicks and views on social media and it didn’t involve more than a couple of dozen cases, at least as far as I can tell. Is the use of ivermectin any different? Are people just doing this to get attention? Or as a way of publicly declaring their pathological distrust of all authority and expertise? It can’t be just because they’re stupid, because I don’t think they all are. At least I don’t think they’re all this stupid.

Maigret: Maigret and the Old Lady

Is Maigret an alcoholic? He does wonder at one point here if he’s drinking too much, though at least he’s not an angry drunk. He just gets sleepy.

So not an alcoholic, but someone who drinks a lot. Most of this is professionally related. “The upstanding citizens who protest against the number of bars are unaware that they are a godsend for the police.” A poisoned chalice, I’d call it, since given the number of glasses of beer, wine, liquors, and liqueurs that Maigret pounds back in these books, usually while he’s working, his liver must be thoroughly pickled.

His favourite beverage is something called a Calvados. I had to look this up, and found that it’s a cider brandy native to Normandy. It’s also the regimental drink of the military unit I was a member of in the reserves. This was news to me. Apparently the Canadians landing on the beaches on D-Day were handed out Calvados by the locals.

As Maigret heads to Normandy for this adventure it’s no surprise he gets a chance to knock back a few Calvados. Though he also smashes a bottle for effect at the end, an action he almost immediately regrets.

The set-up is familiar. There’s been a murder in a small town that looks like a picture postcard. Maigret admits he has “a childish hankering” for such places, even while being aware of “the other side of the coin.” The pretty houses are just like the nice clothes and good manners of the rich family he’s investigating, where all the members are living secret lives. Meanwhile, poor people end up being more collateral damage.

Overall I’d rate this as one of the best pure mysteries thus far. It’s a poisoning this time, and poisonings are fun because they’re a more thoughtful sort of crime. The killer has a plan that has to be unraveled, as it is here in a satisfying way. Minus what happens to that bottle of Calvados.

Maigret index

Return to Stepford

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching the two (big-screen) adaptations made of Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives. Mostly I was trying to figure out what went wrong. Levin’s book is a little classic, and one that would still seem to have a lot to say to us today. But both movies (1975 and 2004) get confused as to what their ultimate point is, and end up being muddled without providing much in the way of horror, humour, or social commentary. I can’t help thinking that someone might still be able to get it right, if they ever want to give it another shot.

And they’re off!

Somebody take his picture.

Justin Trudeau has called a snap Canadian federal election for September 20.

It is a tactical move, as the current Liberal minority government still has a couple of years to run before an election is required. Party political strategists, however, have presumably looked at the numbers and feel that now is the best time to upgrade to a majority government.

Why is this such an opportune moment? I think there are two main reasons.

In the first place, the competition is reeling. The new Conservative Party leader, Erin O’Toole, has not, thus far, been playing well with the public, Jasmeet Singh of the NDP still hasn’t caught on (and likely never will), and the Green Party is in total disarray.

Secondly, Canada is recovering (hopefully) from the COVID-19 pandemic and the Liberals want to take credit for the general sense of relief that Canadians feel.

In the next month I’ll probably post my usual, wildly inaccurate election predictions, and then offer some thoughts on the results. But for now, here are some preliminaries.

I think calling an election this early is cynical gamesmanship. Will the Liberals be punished for it? People don’t like being taken for granted, especially by politicians.

We live in a time of crisis and great challenges. And our political leadership continues to decline in quality. Is this the fault of the media? Of democracy? Looking at the field of candidates it’s hard not to feel despair.

As always, the Liberals will gain a lot from comparison shopping. The Big Prize in Canadian federal elections is Ontario, where there is already a Conservative government in power, and not a very popular one at that. This plays well for the Liberals. Also helping them out is what’s been happening south of the border, where it seems like the American right is imploding into a molten ball of ignorance and madness. Canada’s political right can now easily (and not always unfairly) be painted with the same brush as an anti-vaxxer, gun-toting, climate change-denying mob. Not in Canada! will be the cry. We’re better than that!

There has been an interesting development in national politics, both here and in the U.S., that has seen personality/celebrity and cultural issues jump into the driver’s seat. This is regrettable, but I can understand why it’s happening. The media, for one thing, tend to focus on these things because they push people’s buttons and they don’t take a lot of explaining. Try digging into the details of budgets and fiscal policy and see how many clicks you get. In the next month I expect we’re going to be hearing a lot of stuff about the personality of the leaders and the signaling of identity politics. Which national leader do you like the best? Are you woke? Are you for/against cancel culture?

I feel like I have to fight against this political tide myself. The fact is, Justin Trudeau has gone from being a slick, shallow, and dim figure I never cared much about to someone I despise. I don’t want to call him a bad person, but he is a sanctimonious hypocrite (the accusations of groping, the blackface) and, like so many establishment Liberals, he’s someone long steeped in the traditions of Natural Governing Party corruption (SNC-Lavalin, the We Charity). But how much of this should I be taking account of when casting a vote? Shouldn’t I just be concentrating on policy and platforms? Not that these mean all that much. But even though I knew Trudeau was never going to get rid of the FPTP electoral system, I still felt let down by that broken promise.

In any event, now they’re off to the races and we’ll have to see how things shake out. Here’s hoping we go for the least bad option, whatever it is.

Alpha bullshit

While working on an essay-review of some of our most pernicious new ideologies I’ve ended up listening in on what’s known as the “manosphere.” This is basically the male take on relationships today, and while some of it is entertaining, in that podcast-on-while-I’m-making-dinner sort of way, and there’s even some helpful, commonsensical advice on tap, most of it is awfully repetitive and reductive.

Within the manosphere it’s now glibly assumed that there are these creatures known as “alpha males”: special beings who dominate the commanding heights of evolution through their easy reproductive success. The losers are then “betas” who don’t get to breed. (There are other Greek letters as well, but they aren’t as important.) On the other side, women are said to hit a “wall” after peak fertility, with their Sexual Market Value going into steep decline thereafter, to the point where by the age of 40 they have become virtually worthless. Stay away from these painted harpies because all they want is to steal your money and screw alphas behind your back!

Both sexes can be precisely graded on a scale of 1 to 10, as High Value and Low Value mates, their score determined by a mix of biology and Internet algorithms (hey, it’s how Facebook got its start!) whose judgment cannot be questioned because, you know, it’s science.

And so we’ve arrived at a point where it’s now become common to speak as though something like an “alpha male” actually exists and is not just a metaphor. For what it’s worth, my understanding when the word first started being used a while back was that it only referred to not-very-bright jerks who had no friends, couldn’t hold on to a job, and usually had substance abuse problems and/or criminal records. Now they are apparently supermen, and to be celebrated. You may hate these people, in a spirit of Nietzschean ressentiment, but that’s only because you’re inferior.

I’m depressed to see that this crudely reductionist ideology has become something concrete, a mythology and mental space that young people at least are now trapped inside. Just as with the myth of a “meritocracy,” an after-the-fact justification of everyday selfishness and narcissism is now seen as the intellectual underpinning of some kind of immutable law. I don’t think people any more stupid than they’ve ever been, but being steeped in a culture full of such bullshit I’m afraid that they’re becoming more vicious.