Gayle, Mike. Brand New Friend (2005).

March 14, 2007

“. . . or the Bell and Basin in Clapham, which, when it came to licensing laws, was a law unto itself . . .”

I feel that I need to defend myself for, knowingly, picking up such a piece of rubish to read (how did I know it was rubbish? The review quote on the back that touted it as “Bridget Jones for boys” was what gave it away). The wife and myself had just moved to Charlton in the Greenwich Borough of London. While we were out exploring our new environs, we happened upon the Charlton House. As we went in we were asked if we were there to see Mike Gayle speak. The next thing we know we are watching a discussion with the author over his new book, which has been chosen by the Greenwich Borough as the book that they want everyone in the Borough to read (so that everyone will be “buzzing” about it). Being good community people (and suckers for autographed books) we bought a copy.

Why Greenwich would choose such a trite novel as the “one book to get the borough reading” for its Greenwich Reads campaign is beyond me. The author isn’t even local (hell he isn’t even from London and had never been to Greenwich until the day we happened to see him at Charlton House). The book follows Rob who is a graphic designer that moves from London to Manchester in order to be with the love of his life, Ashley. This decision though causes him to move away from his friends, and the focus of the book is his inability to make new friends. Finally after many miserable pages he makes a friend, the hitch is that she is a girl. This causes all the cliched friction that is customary, and the situation ends just about how you think it will. The characters are stereotypes, the plot is meaningless, and the only consolation is that is a very fast read.

The books moments of legal inquiry are brief and unexciting. SInce there is no sort of legal theme that I could identify, I’ll just run through it willy nilly and be done with this stupid review of this stupid book.

Rob’s group of friends in London include in their pub discussion topics “will a socialist utopia ever be possible.” The reason I mention this is that whenever one is reading English history, one finds that everything from literature being written to scientific discoveries happens in pubs. So why not a healthy discussion of the law.

When, Rob moves in with his friends during University he is told not to steal food from a certain roomate unless he wants to start World War III. I once answered a question on an international law exam to the effect that the law among the nations is analogous to the law among roomates. I got an A.

Rob’s girlfriend asks him “who died and made you Minister of Boozing?” What a wonderful government position. I’m running for it next year.

Jo, Rob’s “brand new friend,” is a housing agent who must insist (due to legal requirements) that a man who breaks his own toilet only to have it repaired must fill out the requisite forms. He refuses and tells her that she’ll be hearing from his solicitor.

One of Ashley’s friend’s ex’s married a trainee barister.

And finally some questions “weren’t issued in a digging-for-information-that-can-and-will-be-used-as-evidence-against-you way.” This simply illustrates the prevalence of the United States’ Miranda Rights in world culture.

Brand New Friend
Mike Gayle


Wallace, Irving; Amy Wallace; David Wallechinsky; Sylvia Wallace – The Secret Sex Lives of Famous People (1993)

March 6, 2007

“But sex is part of us all. As the late Justice William O. Douglas of the US Supreme Court put it, ‘The idea of using censors to bar thoughts of sex is dangerous. A person without sex thoughts is abnormal.'”

The Secret Sex Lives of Famous People consists of a series of short biographical sketches about actors, heads of state, authors, sports stars, and various other people situated in the public eye. Each sketch, of course, seeks to shed light upon the more intimate details of that person’s sexual experience. The book contains numerous fascinating tidbits, but needs editing both in that it is too long (491 pages) and that it is packed full of mistakes (e.g. to whom it may concern: William Faulkner is not from Missouri . . . I swear pearls before swine).

The book is actually ripe with legal tidbits (it is too ripe with them for me to even list them all) including everything from divorce suits to laws about sex to bizarre tort claims. However, a theme can be found in the pages even if it is unintended by the authors. The book is organized alphabetically instead of chronologically so tracing the theme throughout the pages is like a puzzle, but if put together correctly it paints a picture of how laws dealing with sex (mainly through family law) have evolved from early church rule in the matter to state adoption and legislation. Furthermore, it shows how the state (up until recently I would argue) has legitimized the traditional sex roles that came from the origins of family law within the church. The state has drawn those traditional mores foward into modern society, but not just in the realm of family law. For instance obscenity laws often serve to enforce societies views on sexual morality instead of actually outlawing items that are so offensive that they are dangerous. A prime example of this is one of the prongs in the US Supreme Courts formulation of what obscenity is for First Amendment purposes: whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards” would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest. By using “contemporary community standards” the court allows a community to decide on the level of deviancy from norms (it also allows for things to be constitutional in some places and not others, which is to say the least problematic).

This theme of legitimation by the state in the book is counter balanced by a steady theme of subversion. Subversion of sexual norms were traced throughout history from Popes to heads of state to political activists. Interestingly, this subversion is unlike most political activism, which is often explicit and pronounced. Sexual subversion is usually private due to the nature of the relations, and it only takes on an activist role once it has been exposed to the scandal sheets. Of course this isn’t the rule, both Rasputin and Marquis de Sade (who both have chapters in the book) were quite outspoken subversives for their own ideas about sex. However, it has only been very recent that there have been outspoken and widespread sexual movements that show some sort of solidarity. These movements still suffer from the norms that the state seeks to enforce through of family law, obscenity laws, and other avenues, thus many who would speak do not due to the stigmatizing effects that this sort of legitimation entails.

This is not to say that all restrictions on sexual activity should be repealed, but instead for us to question the true motives of restrictions and whether they serve a purpose that goes further than enforcing the majority’s moral code.

Below I have listed some of the more memorable law related moments from the book as well as a list of Lawyers, Law Students, and Judges that had their own chapters:

Law Moments

  • Father Divine was arrested in Georgia and booked as “John Doe alias God.” He later proved his divinity when a New York Judge who had sentenced him to 6 months in Jail died of a heart attack.
  • Napolean refused to allow punitive legislation against homosexuality.
  • Farouk I painted all of his cars red and then made it illegal for any other cars to be that color. This way he could speed without police interference.
  • Errol Flynn was involved in a saucy little statutory rape suit. He was aquitted.
  • When 10-years-old, Billie Holiday was sentenced to a Catholic Reform school, because she was raped by her neighbor the much, much older Mr. Dick.
  • J. Edgar Hoover said, “I regret to say that we of the FBI are powerless to act in cases of oral-genital intimacy, unless it has in some way obstructed interstate commerce.”
  • Marie Stopes testified at her divorce trial that her husband “was never effectively rigid.”
  • Oscar Wilde pressed charges against a Marquis who accused him of homosexual activity. The Marquis then showed that he could prove it. Wilde dropped the charges and had to flee the country to escape prosecution.

Lawyers, Law Students, and Judges

  • Giovanni Jacopo Cassanova
  • Charles Dickens
  • Honore Balzac
  • James Boswell
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • William Gladstone
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • Aly Khan
  • Martin Luther
  • Guy de Maupassant
  • Marquis de Sade

The Secret Sex Lives of Famous People
Irving Wallace
Amy Wallace
David Wallechinsky

Priestly, J.B. An Inspector Calls (1946)

March 1, 2007

Gerald: After all, y’know, we’re respectable citizens and not criminals.

: Sometimes there isn’t as much difference as you think. Often, if it was left to me, I wouldn’t know where to draw the line.

Gerald: Fortunately, it isn’t left to you, is it?

An Inspector Calls is a clever little whodunit in which every one and no one dunit all at once. The Birling family has settled down to celebrate the engagement of their daughter to Gerald Croft when an inspector calls upon the household to inquire about the suicide of a young woman. He slowly reveals to each of the family members how they have contiributed to the poor girl’s demise.

J.B. Priestly’s play is more than just a clever whodunit though. He also uses it as a platform from which to preach a socialist agenda. Its not an overt message; Priestly viels it. Arthur Birling, patriarch of the family, former Lord Mayor, and a Magistrate is Priestly’s symbol of capitalism. He is a businessman who looks at the bottom line and the profit margins. It is through his initial actions that girl is set on her downward path. Inspector Goole on the other hand seeks out justice and inflicts a guilty sentence upon each of the family members for their contributtion. It is the aggregate effects of their actions that create the situation. In the same way capitalism (to Priestly) functions as the aggregate effect of numerous people who are guilty as a whole if not necessarily individually.

The other major legal implication, and the one that I find to be more interesting, is that of the mixing of law and morality. This play is essentially a morality play, and the representative of those morals is also a representative of the law. This idea certainly is mixed with the socialist agenda of the play, as socialism is obviously viewed by the author as the morally superior political paradigm. Beyond Priestly’s politics, though, it is significant that a police officer is chosen to deliver a moral message intead of a message of law. In fact, the message that the inspector brings is anything but a legal one. It is a clear cut case of suicide and none of the characters can be held criminally liable for their actions. However, the inspector takes it upon himself to make them feel morally liable for their actions. Inspector Goole blurs the line between law and morals. The line is further blurred at the end of the play when it is revealed that the Inspector is not actually a police officer. His real identity remains unknown, and is irrelevant. It is the fact that the character chose to cast himself as an enforcer of the law that matters. From this position he was able to use the coercive power of law to gain power over the Birlings and to make them feel as though the law itself was condemning their actions. It is the power of law that gives the inspector validity, and his validity that gives his moral agenda power.

An Inspector Calls.
J.B. Priestly