Your friends and mine at the National Battlefields Commission presents:
The Plains of Abraham—and the Joan of Arc Garden in particular—will soon be haunted… again! For the 16th year running, visitors young and old will be “frighted” and delighted as the National Battlefields Commission presents a series of fearsomely fun Halloween activities from October 1 to November 8, including the all-new Spine-tingling Tales, aimed at children 8–12. Activities are either free or range in price, so there’s something for everyone!
Here's a better idea: Dress up like General Wolfe and Lord Durham and spend Halloween trick or treating Quebec separatists.
Years ago I asked my father why a ratty old sofa was still in the house. He replied simply: It's there because it's there. The words had a strange finality about them. Almost metaphysical in their profundity. What we were talking about was a sofa purchased years ago, used and abused by the family, and then unceremonious shunted into an obscure room when the newer model arrived. As I recall on delivery day there had been talk of carting away the ratty old sofa. The haulers had offered to take it - for a price. My father balked and so it has remained. A dusty old sofa living out its days, slowly crumbling into the parquet.
The philosophy of furnishing a suburban home is important. It reveals something about the human psyche. When we spend a lot of time and effort bringing something into our lives, we become reluctant to dispense with it. When that particular something is a big and bulky item, requiring much effort to remove, lethargy places its death grip upon it. Think of how many things in your life where you can say: It's there because it's there.
Gingerly moving from the life of individuals to the life of nations we run into the same problem. Things that are there because no one has bothered to get rid of them. In the dim and distant recesses of the national memory a purpose was once understood. That purpose is long done and gone. Habit and lethargy defend the otherwise indefensible. This brings us to the ratty old sofa of geopolitics: The United Nations.
In one of those fits of New Deal liberalism that has cost America so much in treasure - and occasionally blood - it was resolved after the Second World War that world peace would be secured by creating a council of nations. This was suppose to be a new and improved version of the League Nations. The much maligned League had been set-up after the First World in a fit of Wilsonian liberalism. It too was designed to secure world peace. Rather than junk the original concept entirely the United Nations simply tweaked it. As generations of history textbooks have wisely explained the neo-league had a Security Council which recognized the reality of Great Power politics.
This is why the United Nations succeeded and the League failed. Because the UN is realistic and the League was too idealistic. These are sophomoric cliches though they still find currency in foreign affairs circles, more out of lethargy than actual scholarship. The ratty old sofa approach to diplomatic history. The more blunt reality is that both the League and the UN have been abject failures. Jaw-jaw is better than war-war but only if you're dealing with civilized people. The League failed to save Czechoslovakia in 1938 and the UN did nothing to help Afghanistan in 1979. Apparently thugs and tyrants think that war-war is better than jaw-jaw.
What has secured general world peace for seventy years is the United States nuclear deterrent. What has preserved some semblance of order in the Middle East is the understanding - deeply weakened under President Obama - that if things really go crazy the USAF will appear overhead. Thugs respond to force not talk. These are not terribly difficult concepts to grasp in our daily lives, yet when the same principles are applied in global affairs our logic fails us.
Surveying the dismal record of the UN back in the 1960s Ayn Rand quipped: "What would you expect from a crime-fighting committee whose board of directors included the leading gangsters of the community?" Exactly. If someone was to seriously suggest having Al Capone and Elliot Ness working together to fight crime he would be laughed at. If you suggest that Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin should work together for peace you'd be hailed as a statesman. The trick here is to engage in some simply rebranding. The gangsters call themselves President and the crime syndicates pass themselves off as nation states.
The UN has been far more successful than the League of Nations in one very important way: It has survived. The most important thing for any bureaucracy is to survive. Accomplishing it's intended goal is secondary if not outright dangerous. If the War on Poverty had been won why would we need three-quarters of the federal government? If complete world peace existed then the UN would look even more pointless than it does now.
The key to the UN's survival has been one thing: Guilt tripping the United States. Suggesting that if the US failed to fund the UN it would lead to war and devastation through out the globe. Financially the UN cannot survive without American largesse. Diplomatically it exists at the sufferance of the American government, occupying prime Manhattan real estate in defiance of economics and common sense. Had they put the General Assembly building in Newark perhaps the foreign diplomats would have all gone home by now.
2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. The rap-sheet against it is very long indeed. In the rare moments when it is not paralyzed by factionalism, it is proving moral cover to some of the world's worst regimes. A sick joke of a place that puts Iran and Saudi Arabia on its Human Rights Council. If today American membership in the UN was put to a Congressional vote it would very likely fail. With that failure the UN would likely slide into the history books as ignominiously as the League did way back in 1946.
The thing about ratty old sofas is that - after a time - they become very mouldy.
But shadows crept in. For example, her schoolmates would simply disappear, with some regularity. What happened? Their fathers had fallen from favor and been arrested (or imprisoned or killed). Sometimes, a schoolmate would give Svetlana a note to pass to her father. It had been written by the schoolmate’s mother, whose husband had been dragged away in the night. Could Comrade Stalin do something? The dictator got sick of these notes, and told his daughter not to serve as a “post-office box.”
That 1963 [Corvair] compact is the largest artifact in the new American Museum of Tort Law that Mr. Nader has established here in his hometown in northern Connecticut. During a tour of the museum before its opening on Sunday, he said he hoped the museum would teach a new generation about the vital benefits of personal injury lawsuits and even, dare it be said, plaintiff lawyers. He wants to educate people about the hard-fought history of consumer protections that are now taken for granted — and that he says are under assault.
Still possessing that awkward theatrical touch that made him a progressive icon, Ralph Nader has an unusual idea for educating the young in the glories of modern tort law:
Mr. Nader also dreams of having drama students re-enact famous tort trials in a mock courtroom here and streaming the cases online to high schools, colleges and law schools. The staff hopes to arrange frequent school tours and to keep a visible online presence.
Pity the poor aspiring actor who has to play Ralph Nader. As if the life of a drama major isn't tough enough. Yet to Nader and his admirers - a shrunken number since his inadvertent assistance in electing George W Bush - the law is not a shield but an avenging sword of social justice. An attempt to accomplish the New Jerusalem through litigation instead of legislation.
Utopia, however, has it's price. A price that can now be measured in the trillions:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the annual cost of the tort system translates into $809 per person—the equivalent of a 5 percent tax on wages. The trial lawyers’ share—roughly $40 billion in 2002—was half again larger than the annual revenues of Microsoft or Intel. In 2002 the estimated aggregate cost of the tort system was $233 billion, according to the actuarial firm Tillinghast-Towers Perrin. That cost represented 2.23 percent of our gross domestic product. Over the next ten years the total “tort tax” will likely be $3.6 trillion.
To put that 2.23% in perspective the Department of Defense is going through about 3.8% of GDP at the moment. Keep that in mind the next time someone argues that defense spending is bankrupting the nation. This isn't to argue that tort law is inherently a bad thing. As Ricochet's own Richard Epstein has put it:
Tort remedies are essential to protect people (and their property) who do not have contractual relations with defendants from harms such as air and water pollution. The legal system should never allow self-interested parties to keep for themselves all the gains from dangerous activities that unilaterally impose losses on others—which is why the most devout defender of laissez-faire must insist, not just concede, that tough medicine is needed in these cases. The fundamental question here is one of technique: What mix of before and after sanctions will do the job at the lowest cost?
Which isn't the motivating philosophy behind the American Museum of Tort Law. Let's go back to the centrepiece not only of the museum but also of Ralph Nader's career: The Corvair. Contrary to popular mythology Chevrolet's most infamous product was hardly a death trap:
With incorrect tire pressures, a rapidly cornering Corvair driver could easily find the vehicle’s back end heading towards the front. The average US driver was simply not prepared to handle that eventuality. Could GM have done more to avoid the oversteer stigma? Yes. GM saved six dollars per car by not making the front anti-sway bar standard. And who knows how much (little) the effective rear camber-compensating spring adopted in 1964 cost.
GM hardly comes off as saintly in the story of the Corvair, if not quite as bad as Ford with the even more infamous Pinto. Yet what killed both cars wasn't litigation or Ralph Nader, it was something more prosaic and far more powerful: Competition. There were simply better cars on the market at comparable price points.
Neither car was particularly dangerous for its time. That automobiles as a whole have become safer over the years is not because Ralph Nader has decreed it so, but because cadres of talented engineers have done a yeoman's job of improving automotive design and construction. You can no more legislate better engineering than legislate economic growth or human health and happiness. That's a somewhat harder concept to put into a museum.
Yet Murrow’s broadcasts highlighted the grit and resilience of most Londoners in the face of catastrophe: the blown-out shops that remained open for business, the families grown accustomed to the daily pilgrimage to bomb shelters, the firemen and ambulance drivers who stood at their posts as incendiaries fell around them. “We are told today that the Germans believe Londoners, after a while, will rise up and demand a new government, one that will make peace with Germany,” Murrow reported. “It’s more probable that they will rise up and murder a few German pilots who come down by parachute.”
The walking, talking microagression that is James Bond is getting a remake:
In a new book, however, James Bondwill be getting a dose of modern morality, asauthor Anthony Horowitzreveals the tricks he used to drag the spy kicking and screaming into the era of political correctness.
But he has introduced a cast of new characters to point out the error of his chauvinistic ways, including messages about smoking causing cancer, women who give him a run for his money, and an “outspoken” gay friend.
Because if there is anything James Bond needs it's an "outspoken" gay friend. Apparently a character who is both gay and not "outspoken" would be unimaginable. The novel is set in 1957 so it would be interesting to imagine how many "outspoken" homosexuals were working for MI6 at the time. Since homosexual conduct was - in theory - a fireable offense in every intelligence and military organization in the world for years afterwards, I suspect that any outspokenness exists only in the author's exquisitely sensitive imagination.
Please keep in mind that the above refers to the Bond novels, NOT the films which are in many ways an entirely separate enterprise. Something like half of all the people on earth have seen a Bond film, very few of those have read Ian Fleming's original novels or the subsequent "tribute" stories that have been written in the half-century since his death. This is something of a pity. While I haven't read, nor do I plan on reading, any of the pseudo-Flemings I have read some of the originals. Ian Fleming was a master prose writer, as was his now largely forgotten brother Peter.
Ian Fleming isn't the only one to get the post-mortem ghost-writer treatment. The same has been done to Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy. Back in the early 1990s Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind was mated with a much hyped sequel, Scartlett. I think the two-time Bond actor Timothy Dalton was in the TV film version. I'd look it up on IMDB but I doubt anyone cares. These are examples of marketing going to war with art. A fair fight it is not.
Not being modern enough with an appropriately gay friend, James Bond has in this new novel also acquired a live-in girlfriend. In the early Connery films Bond was paired with a girlfriend named Sylvia Trench. You can see her at the very beginning of Dr No and From Russia With Love. The character was dropped from the later films. Since no one remembers Sylvia Trench, Bond is instead being paired with no less a Bond girl - sorry Bond woman - than Pussy Galore.
Now imagine living with a woman like Pussy Galore. Heck, imagine living with the actress who immortalized her, Honor Blackman. You're thinking action, adventure and wild nights of passion! And you'd be wrong:
Trigger Mortis sees the new couple living in 1957 Chelsea and irritating one another over their boiled eggs, with “an uneasy silence full of dark thoughts and words unsaid”.
Given the flaccid nature of what I've read so far, I'm certain the thoughts aren't dark enough. The author explains himself with the brazenness you'd expect:
“My first duty, my first responsibility was to be true to the original feel of the book, to be true to Ian Fleming: his creation, his world and his ideas.
"What I was trying to do was wrap myself in his mantle and write a book that would be worthy of him.”
Ian Fleming was for his time an unusual enlightened and far sighted man. Perhaps if he was writing a Bond novel in 2015 there would be an outspoken gay friend. Fleming, however, didn't live long enough to experience the New Jerusalem that has subsequently been built in England's green and pleasant land. Instead this pseudo-Fleming is using the real article as a puppet for his personal views.
Perhaps if Mr Horowitz's version of Fleming's version of Bond was set-in 2015 then adaptations should be made. But it isn't. The novel is set six decades in the past but with modern sensibilities slipped in under the guise of a dead writer. The Bond of the novels was a man of his times. He smoked like a chimney and shagged anything that moved.
Trigger Mortis is the sort of sophomoric re-writing of literary history you'd expect from a militant feminist, the type that likes to re-imagine Queen Elizabeth I as a lesbian being oppressed by the Tudor patriarchy. An attempt at cleverness that becomes wearily predictable. Even the novel's title, Trigger Mortis, has the feel of a failed attempt at mordant wit.
James Bond isn't real. Even by the standards of the novels - which were far more realistic than the films - he is a creature of fantasy. To imagine a politically correct Bond is to imagine Merlin as a research chemist or Prospero as a climatologist. Even in a world of pure fiction we cannot be left alone. Our imaginations must be made to conform to the dictates of our pedantic times.