Bannerman, John. The Beatons: A Medical Kindred in the Classical Gaelic Tradition (1998).

June 25, 2007

The Beatons“If anything the physicians, perhaps especially in Scotland, had risen in status and relative importance since the early law tracts were written down, for they were not ranked therein as highly as the poet or the lawman.”

This little genealogical tract is a handy thing if you happen to have Beaton’s in your ancestry (which I do), otherwise you might be better off reading, oh I don’t know, anything else. While it has numerous interesting points about Gaelic society and the Beaton family’s function in that society, it’s writing style doesn’t exactly make it light reading. It, for the bulk of the book, traces anscestry and, even if it’s one your interested in, it can get a bit boring. However, if you are a Beaton and want to know where you came from, then look no further than this book.

It only really doesn’t have much to say about the law. Probably the biggest statement it makes is the extent to which legal papers create a trail through which ancestry can be traced. Bannerman looks to property titles, court cases, tax bills, and numerous other documents that were kept by the governing parties in order to trace the names of these people. Without these state papers the task would have been extremely difficult if not impossible.

Another point that I found quite interesting was a snippet on how doctors (and other learned proffesions) were under Gaelic law granted a status that gave them the priviledges of nobles. He does note that the physicians were not initially ranked as highly as the “poet or the lawman.” That’s just like us lawyers, always putting ourselves first.

He also points out that physicians were considered to be wealthy even back then as a poll tax set by Parliment on them was quite high.


Hornby, Nick. High Fidelity (1995).

June 20, 2007

High Fidelity

“Laura was, is, a lawyer, although when I met her she was a different kind of lawyer to the one she is now: then, she worked for a legal aid firm (hence, I guess, the clubbing and the black leather motorcycle jacket). Now, she works for a City law firm (hence, I guess, the restaurants and the expensive suits and the disappearance of the spikey haircut and a previously unrevealed taste for weary sarcasm) not because she underwent any kind of political conversion, but because she was made redundant and couldn’t find any legal aid work.”

High Fidelity tells the story of a record store owner, Rob, with a lawyer girlfriend who doesn’t want to grow up but feels that he is being forced to, so he rebels like a little teenager. She moves out because he acts like a prat then he does all the classic man moping while she’s gone. Nick Hornby’s book is not quite a compelling story, but it’s not a bad read either, and men will identify with the childish behavior of Rob, becuase, hey, that’s what we do best.In this book there is a definite representation of lawyers as “grown ups”. Rob’s girlfriend, Laura, is a lawyer who had “radical spikey lawyer hair” and worked with a legal aid firm when Rob first met her. But Rob is concerned that she has changed as she is now a “different kind of lawyer” working with a City firm in London. She has traded in her spikey hair for expensive suits. He does note that she was made redundant at her legal aid job and couldn’t find more legal aid work, but he is still uncomfortable with the change. He claims that because she could no longer worry about “tenant’s rights, and slum landlords, and kids living in places without running water” that she has become intense about work due to her work load and the pressure of working for a big firm and trying to impress the partners, etc. Laura  is a “lawyer by profession and a lawyer by nature.” To add to this she enjoys her job, and this is what makes Rob uncomfortable: the corporate lawyer is a grown up, powerful position, and he feels unease not only at having one as the bread winner of his relationship, but also at hanging out with more of them. He feels that he can’t justify his place in life to the suits, and doesn’t want to (when he makes a list of dream jobs “nobody asks how to spell solicitor”). Lawyer’s to him are “are people who own dogs and babies and Tina Turner albums.”

There is also a great deal about the politics of sex and it is often defined in legal terms. For instance Rob, while on hiatus from Laura sleeps with an American musician who claims that “sex is a basic human right.” Later when she comes to see him he thinks in his mind that that the one night stand should be the end of their contact: “that is the law of this country.” Even a married couple feels compelled to defend their monogamy to Rob as if “its against the law because we’re [Londoners] all cynics and romantics” and he is there to arrest them. Mostly these legal terms come from Rob and his insecurities about relationships, but a deeper commentary about law, gender, and the body can be detected. He describes dating as an adolescent in terms of “Attack and defense, invasion and repulsion . . . it was as if breasts were little pieces of property that had been unlawfully annexed by the opposite sex – they were rightfully ours and we wanted them back.” The property analogy is one that certainly historically has legal implications, but maybe Hornby represents a somewhat more hopeful picture. Rob does views women through mysoginistic lens (e.g. he is terrified that Laura will sleep with Ray, but he immediately goes and sleeps with Marie and has cheated on Laura before), but throughout the novel he is confronted with Laura’s power, which I would argue is why Hornby caste her a a lawyer (and particularly a corporate lawyer). As a lawyer she is able to, as a character, draw on a host of suppositions about the intelligence level and the power of the proffesion. Rob is confronted by this as well as her power in the relationship being the one that not only makes the money but also makes independant decisions. Rob must learn to cope with his insecurities due to the strength in Laura’s character that will not bend to control by Rob.  Thus in the end a Laura has gained a significant bit of power back and overcome traditional legal setbacks that accompany her gender, and she does this as a lawyer.

Nick Hornby

Jerome, Jerome K. Three Men in a Boat (1889).

June 19, 2007

Three Men in a Boat
“It must have been worth while having a mere ordinary plague now and then in London to get rid of both lawyers and the Parliment.”

Somewhere between a travel guide and a satirical victorian novel, Three Men in a Boat is a crafty piece of writing that takes the reader up the Thames river from London to Oxford with three men weary of the city but not quite adept at coping outside it’s bounds and a dog who at times seems more like a kidnap victim than a pet. Jerome, leads us up the river with a self deprecating narrator and his two pals, all of whom know exactly what they are doing but have no idea how to do it. The trip itself is laden with comedic tales, historical lessons, and sublime meditations on the beauties of nature. I found it a great read and highly reccomend it.

As for the law. It comes in a few different divisions. Probably the largest chunk could be looked at as Legal History. As the trip goes up the river the narrator points out numerous sights where Kings and Queens have inhabited. The first with real legal connotation is when he is at Runnymede where in 1215 Magna Carta was signed on Magna Carta Island in the middle of the Thames. He recounts the story as if he were there amongst the barons who were forcing the hand of the slippery King John. The narrator also notes that Magna Carta was “translated to the common people some four hundred and odd years later by on Oliver Cromwell, who had deeply studied it.” The trip then passes Old Windsor where, according to Jerome, Earl Godwin was “proved guilty by the justice of that age of having encompassed the death of the King’s Brother.” Godwin apparently said that if he was guilty the bread that he put in his mouth would choke him, and it did. Finally they pass through Reading where Parliment would move to if there were a plague in London and the “Law followed suit” in 1625.

Property law is addressed in a scene where the trio are on the bank of the river and man comes up and asks whether they are trespassing. After a comical exchange they send him away and note that he was only after a bribe and the best way to handle these situations is to “offer your name and address, and leave the owner, if he really has anything to do with the matter, to summon you, and prove what damage you have done to his land by sitting down on a bit of it.” This interaction though leads to a short diatribe at the riparian land owner on the Thames who placards up no trespassing signs, and that this selfishness creates an urge in the narrator to hammer the placards down on their heads. It reminds me of that Tesla song. Of note here though, is that under common law there was no need for the owner to show damage only that the defendant had actually trespasses, so the party could have been held liable.

There is a smidgen of criminal law as George recounts a morning in which he got up too early and wandered about London. It raised the suspiscion of the police who escorted him back home. This scared him a great deal and he “pictured the trial, and his trying to explain the circumstances to the jury, and nobody believing him, and his being sentenced to twenty year’s penal servitude, and his mother dying of a broken heart.” Illustrating the coercive power of the police force to even disuade a person from legal activities. Poor George is later charged with playing the banjo badly in public. The evidence is clear and he is given a six month restraining order. Another run in with the police is suggested when lodging is hard to find. George thinks they could get a free nights lodging by assaulting a police officer, but there is the danger that they would only get hit back, so the thought is abandoned.

Mention of a will is made in which a Sarah Hill, left £1 to be divided amongst two boys and two girls who “had never been undutiful to their parents; who had never been known to swear or tell untruths, to steal or to break windows.” The narrator says that these types of children had been hard to come by and observes that this is alot to give up for 5 shillings a year. I agree.

Finally, there is a funny little moment where the Narrator recalls an attempt by Harris to sing the Judge’s song from Trial by Jury. The lines of which are “When I was young I served a term/ As office-boy to an Attorney’s firm.”

Jerome K. Jerome

Brackstone, Carrie-Anne & Laura Bushell. Oi, Pikey: A Celebration of Cheap Living (2005).

June 15, 2007

Oi, Pikey

“2001 – 36 people attempt to sue McDonald’s after the famous coffee spilling lawsuit in th US. High Court Justice Richard Field said McDonald’s has no obligation to warn customers about the risk of scalding from a beverage that’s made from boiling water. Hard luck pikeys.”

This was a Christmas present purchased by my wife for me because on the back it says that it is for people who “take soaps from hotels.” At least she knows me well. Really, it is a comical book about living on the cheap in England (which becomes an ever harder task). It’s quite tongue in cheek and starts with a reclamation of the word Pikey. It usually refers to a gypsy or traveller, but Brackstone and Bushell want it to mean so much more. They say it should stand for those proud to value value and find liberty in that which is inexpensive. To be honest, though, it’s a fairly amusing book.

There are just random bits of law. The criminal law is treated with a short discussion of a recent ban on police using the word because it refered “to a particular type of criminal usually from the travelling community.” The authors conclude that a ban on “‘you’re,’ ‘under,’ and ‘arrest’ would have helped more pikeys (however they do note the financial advantages to jail time). They later tell us that the pikey child should hone his criminal skills when young, because that is when he is “out of reach of the long arm of the law.”

In addition to the reference above to the McDonald’s Case, they mention comedian Ken Dodd’s trial for tax evasion (he was acquitted). It also tells us that Johnny Vegas nearly had to sue for the ₤1 that he sold his wedding photos for to Viz magazine.

A few lawyers make the book. When tracing the etymology of the words the authors look twice to usage in Charles Dickens, who was at one point a law clerk. Jerry Springer is a pikey hero, who besides being a famous white trash spokesman is also a lawyer. Cherie Blair is a successful ebayer and a barrister. There is also a reference to Ghandi who studied law in England.

Probably the only real legal theme that runs through the book is that Pikeys should take advantage of the law and live on the dole as much as possible. This can be either through the redistributive power of the welfare state or through the redistributive power of tort claims. Margaret Thatcher makes the book as an enemy of the Pikey because she “made massive cutbacks to [Great Britains] infrastructure, paving the way for capitalism.” This in part damaged the welfare state which “was the linchpin of pikey living.” The pikey, in the author’s view, must be able to get as much out of the state as possible.

So, um . . . oi, pikey.

Carrie-Anne Brackstone
Laura Bushell

MacDonald, Bruno (ed.) Pink Floyd: Through the eyes of . . . the Band, Its Fans, Friends, and Foes  (1996).

June 13, 2007

Pink Floyd“I have instituted proceedings in the High Court against myself for blatant plagarism, as I feel that this sort of thing must be stamped out.” -David Gilmour

Ah, the Floyd, a long time musical obsession of mine. Bruno Macdonald, in this book, has put together a compilation of short articles on Pink Floyd which covers pretty much everything up through the Division Bell album. Its a good selection, too. It includes stuff from die hard fans to the scathing critiques of the band. It also has a crafty little A to Z of all the songs. The highlight of the book for me is the article by Tom Hibbert in which he accuses Roger Waters of being the “gloomiest man in rock,” and having recently seen Roger in concert (at Earl’s Court), I think that I might wholeheartedly agree.

And there are some snippets of law in this baby. Brilliant.

The prevailing legal bit is of course about the Waters v. Floyd in which Roger Waters sued David Gilmour, Rick Wright, and Nick Mason from using the name Pink Floyd after Waters left the band. It is described at one point as a “legal football” of “which one’s Pink?” Waters believed that when he left the band it should have terminated because he was the driving creative force, and fair enough, at the time he was. But that didn’t stop the band from continuing when the original driving creative force left group in the form of a mentally fried Syd Barrett. However, Syd didn’t sue, so who knows. But maybe Water’s had a point as alot of the songs are credited primarily to him (i.e. most of The Wall). Of course I wonder how many of them notice that Mason is the only person to have been in the band from start to finish?

But of course its not all that easy as one finds in a David Fricke article from Rolling Stone article in the book. The real problem began when Waters fired a manager because he assumed Floyd was finished and that contractual obligations could not be completed when there was no band. The manager, Steve O’Rourke, wanted to get the royalty penalties that he felt he was entitled to due to an illegal termination under the contract. Waters apparently offered compromise deals to the others (at this time just Mason and Gilmour), which would have allowed them to retain the name by ratifying his dismissal of O’Rourke. They didn’t bite. So O’Rourke is about to sue Waters and Water’s tells Pink Floyd, “Listen, guys, if those papers come through my door, we all go to court. I am not going to be hung out in court for years and years while you guys are calling yourselves Pink Floyd.” As we all know he sued. Water’s characterizes the suit as a legal issue of who owns a piece of property called Pink Floyd, but recognizes that a court can’t determine “what is or isn’t a rock group.” He even recognizes that “no court in the world is interested in this airy fairy nonsense of what is and isn’t Pink Floyd.” As we all know Gilmour and Mason (and Wright, now) still use the name Pink Floyd so Waters lost out. Unfortunately, I haven’t really researched it enough to give you any more details than that.

There are also a few fleeting references to other law topics. There is an reference to the rise of the psychadellic movement in 1960s London, and its use of pirate radio stations. These were on their way out due to the Marine Offences Act “which was being rushed through the Commons.” This is followed by the police attempts at suppression of drugs, by using raids on the clubs where this music was being played (and taking in a few celebrities too). It does talk about one raid wherein the police searched 750 people and made 11 arrests.

Finally lets not forget that there is mention of one of the great rock songs about the law, “The Trial” off The Wall.

Bruno MacDonald

Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children (1981).

June 6, 2007

Midnight’s Children“Mr. Kemal, who is the thinest man Amina Sinai has ever seen, sets off with his curiously archaic phraseology (derived from his fondness for litigation, as a result of which he has become infected with cadences of the law courts) a kind of chain reaction of farcical panic . . .”

Trying to summarize a book by Salman Rushdie in a small paragraph to start a blog article discussing it is just futile. This is due to the multiple competing topics that one could claim to say one of his books is “about.” Midnight’s Children is no exception and may even be the epitome of his layered and complex storytelling. I will take the overt metaphor from the book though, and make the claim that it is about India, but only with the reservation that this is only one of many themes and in a story about fractured land, fractured people, and fractured plots. In fact this is probably to simple. Thus I could also be very happy claiming that it is about fractures. What I won’t do is attempt to tell you what happens in any detail as it would bog down the legal analysis. Instead I will write from the oh so academic stand point that you the reader have already read the book (and if you haven’t you should) and commence with the legal analysis forthwith.

My reading of the novel is that Rushdie presents the law as a magically real experience that attempts to define and control man but in the end causes postmodernesque fragmentation and fracturing instead. This is a theme that I think can be traced throughout Rushdie’s work, but this is my initial foray into this little project so what I present below is more formative than anything else.

Saleem Sinai is Rushdie’s overt metaphor for the state of India, and was born at the exact moment that India gained independence from Great Britain. This can be seen as an initial jumping off point for Magically Real Law. At this moment India became India again, and not the British Colony of India. The magically real aspect is that this is treated as a birth, but does anything new actually exist, are the people suddenly different? Or instead is it simply that the legal matrix has shifted? Rushdie’s answer, I think is that it is only a legal matrix, which attempts to create a concrete existence for the people.

As is proper, we learn of the birth of India, but we must first look at the history. Rushdie examines Ghandi’s attempt to defeat the British domination with silence, the British counter of the Rowlatt Act (against political agitation), and Martial Law regulations. These are battles that are occuring not so much between peoples as between legal frameworks. That is not to say that people aren’t affected, indeed they are highly affected in that the law helps to support culture. The metaphor for this can be found when Methwold insists that those that buy his estate live like the English until the exact moment of Independence. In doing this he forces his culture, through a contract, upon the Indian Families that move into to his estate. Not only do they must absorb his culture, but they must also absorb his law. The contract is probably based on the British model, as is the property law that supports it. The larger picture is that after the British leave, the remnants of their legal order doesn’t, and those remnants may not support the underlying culture of the people as well.

The theme again arises in light of the partition of Pakistan from India. It was all occupied by the British, but upon independence there were two countries with competeing views. These two regions, before the British colonization had not existed as any sort of nation state, yet afterwards they had embraced the idea of nationalism. This is a very real thing, but its basis is ephemeral. Time even was suceptible to it as the clocks in Pakistan “would run a half an hour ahead of their Indian counterparts.” These partitions and borders, while real and enforced are only magical divisions and do not reflect the actual layout of the culture and the population. Furthermore they are suddenly Western nation states, thus creating the need for a large legal net as opposed to micro legal systems.

Much of this partition is drawn along religious lines, with India becoming a secular state and Pakistan becoming a Muslim state. But this partition can’t hold up under its own terms, because of the deep religious currents in India. We find this when Ahmed’s assets are frozen by the government because he is a Muslim. It is fought in the courts but only won by bribes, which further exposes contradiction within the law, which is meant to be secure and final. As Nehru consults astrologers for his 5 year plan for his secular state, the legal system for the people becomes just as malleable and susceptable to non legal argumentation. Hindu’s and Muslims clash, but they now clash under the framework of a Western legal tradition. Later in the book, there is an attempt to reorganize India into states of Languages, an analysis of this would follow the same sort of reasoning.

The magically real partioning on the territories then becomes magically real in Saleem who feels himself literally fracturing into pieces. What Rushdie has achieved is showing the consequences of the law on the person or body. The fracture is more than legal, more than mental; it is a physical affliction to the people and the culture. This physicality is repeatedly shown in the main character of Saleem.

Saleem describes his existence in India as one of an “infinity of alternate realities,” but in Pakistan where truth is what the law says it is he is beset with and “infinite number of falsenesses.” The differences in the two cultures can be explained by the differences in the law. Secular law allows for possiblity, whereas theocracy allows only for the binary of truth an falseness. When the law enforces this binary the truth becomes magically real as it is supported by an item that is also magically real (if you accept that the law is a magically real structure i.e. that it comes from nowhere yet we accept it as a solid and binding force). The dichotomy between the two exhibits exactly this point. If the law were a real thing it would be substantially the same in each country, instead the law is created in reaction to the presence or lack of religion exposing the law’s preoccupation with rule and its lack of concern with justice.

These are just really initial thoughts and formulations on a somewhat perfunctory read of the novel. It should be noted that legal themes run through out. On can find criminal law, contract law, family law, tax law, immigration law, and probably scads of other items throughout. Each of these in turn can probably have this idea applied to it and be used as a way of exposing weakness in the system.

Salman Rushdie