Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has found himself in hot water lately over the discovery of photos where he appears in black- or brownface.

What I find most depressing about all of this is that it looks like it is going to become one of the defining campaign issues — if not the defining campaign issue — of this year’s federal election. Not jobs, health care, the environment, or economic policy, but something this stupid.

I guess you can argue that the photos and the fallout from their release tell us something about Trudeau’s character. Something not very flattering. He is being pilloried, with some justice, for being a hypocrite: his principled stands on issues relating to identity politics being derided as mere virtue signaling.

That expression “virtue signaling” is worth a bit of explanation. Some people object to it, or find nothing wrong with the idea of making public one’s own set of moral values. My own take is that, used pejoratively, the expression should be understood as referring to signaling one’s own virtues in a facile way that costs the signaler nothing. But of course it may involve demanding others make sacrifices.

I think Trudeau has done his share of virtue signaling. What bothers me the most about the current scandal is the general air of dishonesty in Trudeau’s response. In brief: how could he possibly not have known that these photos were out there all this time? They were even published in a school yearbook! Did he think they had just disappeared?

In a later press conference he admitted that he had in fact been aware of them while he was going through the process of being initially vetted by the party, but had found them too “embarrassing” to mention. In other words, he really did think they were dead and buried. Now, being asked if there are any more such photos out there that might surface at some point, he will only reply “I am wary of being definitive.”

Does any of this matter? In a polarized political environment, where people are voting against the other side more than they are supporting their own, maybe not so much. If Donald Trump can shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and get away with it, Justin Trudeau can probably get away with this. Our politics have become a joke.


Dance, dance, die

Sussing things out.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching Suspiria then (1977) and now (2018). Dario Argento’s original is a classic and a movie I still enjoy. Luca Guadagnino’s version is terrible. I can appreciate that Guadagnino wanted to do something different, but I don’t think anything he did worked. What a shame. I had been really looking forward to it.

Reading event: Eden Mills Writers’ Festival

Eden Mills Writers’ Festival

Eden Mills, September 8 2019:

The Eden Mills Writers’ Festival is an annual event featuring dozens of readings taking place at several different venues located around the picturesque village of Eden Mills. I’ve been several times before but hadn’t gone in the last couple of years and was interested in seeing how it was doing.

The weather was beautiful, as it always seems to be. I hate to imagine all the booksellers on Publishers’ Way having to run for cover if the skies ever opened up.

Everything was very well run. All the readings were starting on time and the shuttle bus service was excellent. I don’t know why so many people drive to Eden Mills. The buses are more convenient.

I noticed a couple of somewhat minor changes. In the first place, they’re trying to mix the readings up a bit by adding a brief discussion period among the panel of authors at each venue. I think this is a good idea. None of the readers I saw this year was bad, with Anakana Schofield probably being the best, but I think most people would like it more if they just got to listen to the authors in conversation.

The other big change, which is something that has been ongoing, is that there are now no major publishers attending. Publishers’ Way just consists of individual authors and various other organizations. Some of these latter groups I could understand, like the public library. I’m not sure what others, like the Council of Canadians or Amnesty International, were doing. I also noticed that Amnesty International was handing out the same literature they were three years ago.

I’m disappointed by what’s happened to Publishers’ Way. I like seeing the independents and individual authors handselling their books, but this is a book fair and it would be nice to see more publishers working the big crowd, most of whom would love to buy their books. My advice? Offer some discounts for cash-only deals. None of this full list price stuff, with tax. Just call it $10 a book, or two books for $15. Don’t make this difficult!

This was, however, my only complaint. Eden Mills is a great event, even though a full afternoon of it tires me out. At one point I ended up sitting in one of the handicapped chairs because I didn’t see the wheelchair sticker on the back. Oh well. Sorry if that inconvenienced anyone, but I’m getting old!

Our new literary overlords

From Who Owns the Future? (2013) by Jaron Lanier:

What will books be like once Silicon Valley has had its way with them?

A lot of people will pretend to be commercially successful authors, and will put money into enhancing the illusion. Most of these will rely on family support or inheritance. Gradually an intellectual plutocracy will emerge.

From World Without Mind (2017) by Franklin Foer:

Our great writers cared about money because they needed it. They needed it to feed their families, and so that they could devote themselves to fulfilling their creative selves. Without pay, they would have been consigned to day jobs, unable to fully apply themselves to their prose. Apologists for Amazon like to sneer at the writerly caste, a hermetic club that dismisses outsiders who aren’t part of the gang. Yet history shows the alternative to professionalized writing. A few geniuses from the lower rungs of the class structure would manage to produce lasting art, despite the distant odds. But writing would largely survive as a luxury for those who could afford it, a hobby for the wealthy – for the trust fund babies, the men of leisure, those with resources to follow their economically irrational passions.

Why can’t we have both?

From The End of the Twentieth Century and the End of the Modern Age (1993) by John Lukacs:

Near the end of the twentieth century — indeed, near the end of the so-called Modern Age — two dangerous circumstances threaten the world. One is the institutionalized pressure for material and economic “growth” — contrary to stability and threatening nature itself. The other is the existence of the populist inclinations of nationalism — contrary to a greater and better understanding among peoples, often debouching into barbarism. One is the thrust for increasing wealth, the other, for tribal power. One issues from the presumption that the principal human motive is greed; the other, that it is power. To think that the former is morally superior to the latter is at least questionable; but to think that the progress of history amounts to the triumph of money over force is stupid beyond belief.