Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “law”

Bleak House

Bleak HouseBleak House by Charles Dickens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought I had read this book a long time ago, and had even marked it as “read” in GoodReads, but I think that was because it was shown to me in one of those book compatibility tests, now hidden behind a “More” button. I soon realised that I hadn’t read it before, and I was probably thinking of Dombey and Son.

I was moved to read Bleak House because I had just read Black House, in which the characters read it, and I’m glad I did, because I think it is one of Charles Dickens‘s best novels. As it was published over 160 years ago there have been countless reviews of it, and so I won’t try to review it, but rather comment on a few themes.

I found it rather difficult to get into, because Dickens has a large cast of characters, introduced piecemeal, so that the connections between them only become apparent much later. It also seems to cover several different genres. Quite a number of Dickens’s novels have a storyline that is entwined with a moral crusade. In this case there are at least two moral crusades, one against rapacious lawyers, and another against people whose obsession with abstract causes leads them to neglect ordinary human relationships and become increasingly selfish and self-centred. So the heroes of the story are those who embody unselfish love. In a sub-plot it is also a crime novel, and from another point of view it can be seen as a love story.

One thing that strikes me about this is how it contrasts with the philosophy of Ayn Rand, who detests altruism and propounds the virtue of selfishness. She claims, in a rather contradictory way, that altruists are all self-centred, and that altruism is at its core selfish, therefore altruism is bad and selfishness is good. And she gets pretty preachy about it in her novels.

While Dickens appears to be making a similar point about the self-centredness of altruists like Mrs Jellyby in the novel, he ascribes it to a somewhat different cause. Those who are addicted to the Cause, whether it’s development in Africa, winning a law suit or fashion (Deportment with a capital D) manage to persuade themselves that they are being unselfish when at their most selfish.

But Dickens comes to a different conclusion. The characters who are so wrapped up in the Cause that they have no time for people lack love. People like Mrs Jellyby might gladly give their bodies to be burned, as St Paul says in I Cor 13:3, but if they have not love, it is worthless.

In this sense, Bleak House pleads for Christian values as strongly as Atlas Shrugged pleads for capitalist ones.

Another thing that struck me about it was the language, which seemed surprisingly up to date. I had no difficulty in understanding it, which shows, perhaps that in many ways English has changed remarkably little since Dickens’s day. But I suspect that while we may have little difficulty in understanding Dickens’s language, he might have considerably more difficulty in understanding ours. It is not that words have changed, but things have changed.

And perhaps for that reason I would not recommend that most of Dickens be read by anyone under 40. I think if I had read this in my teens, as a school set work, say, a lot of it would have gone right over my head. Or even in my early twenties, at university. For a start, I wasn’t aware of the difference between Common Law and Equity until I was in my 30s and researching genealogy. There are some books that people can enjoy at different levels at different ages, Gulliver’s Travels for example. Quite young people can enjoy the stories as adventure stories in strange place. As they grow older, they can appreciate other aspects, like satire. But in Dickens, with a few exceptions like A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities, the ground floor and first floor are not there. Bleak House starts on the third floor, and though it may sometimes go higher, it rarely goes lower.

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Daily Maverick :: Biko Lecture: Kentridge warns against government meddling in judicial affairs

Daily Maverick :: Biko Lecture: Kentridge warns against government meddling in judicial affairs:

The police officers responsible for Biko’s death were not reprimanded. In fact, two received promotions. And despite Kentridge’s efforts, the inquest’s verdict found nobody was to blame for Biko’s death.

The reason for the sham verdict, Kentridge reminded us, was that the independence of the apartheid judiciary was undermined by biased judges appointed by the state. At this point there was an almost audible intake of breath from the audience seemingly putting two and two together about recent events around the appointment of the Chief Justice.

Hat-tip to Carpenter’s Shoes: Kentridge and Biko 2011.

‘Nuff said.

I lose my zest to look my best when I read the daily news

The heading is a line from Jeremy Taylor’s song Confession

Well one fine day I’ll make my way
to 10 Downing Street
Good day, I’ll say, I’ve come a long way
excuse my naked feet
But I lack, you see, the energy
to buy a pair of shoes
I lose my zest to look my best
when I read the daily news
’cause it appears you’ve got an atom bomb
that’ll blow us all to hell and gone
If I’ve gotta die then why should I
give a damn if my boots aren’t on?

If the daily news was depressing fifty years ago when Taylor composed his song, it’s just as depressing today, though for a somewhat different reason.

Back then it was depressing over things that mattered, like atom bombs.

Now it is depressing over things that don’t matter so much.

Back then there were important issues at stake, life and death issues, one could say.

Now it’s just about the personalities of politicians jockeying for position.

Three years ago Julius Malema was saying he would kill for Jacob Zuma. Now it seems there’s nothing he’d like better than to step over Zuma’s dead body and into his shoes.

The two big stories for the last fortnight have been Julius Malema’s disciplinary hearing for bringing the ANC into disrepute, and Zuma’s appointment of Mogoeng Mogoeng as Chief Justice.

But what are they about really? are there any really important issues at stake?

I don’t think so.

I think that the central issue in both is Jacob Zuma’s attempt to curb ambitious or potential rivals, to surround himself with yes-men and distance himself from potential no-men. Thabo Mbeki was accused of doing the same thing when he tried to slap down and discredit Zuma. Zuma bounced back, and perhaps Malema will too.

About the appointment of Mogoeng Mogoeng as chief justice, I think veteran journalist Allister Sparks put his finger on it when he wrote BusinessDay – ALLISTER SPARKS: At home and abroad:

Zuma has bypassed Judge Dikgang Moseneke, the deputy president of the court, whom the legal profession is almost unanimous in regarding as the obvious choice, and named a highly controversial figure instead.

Why? It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the president has a personal prejudice against Moseneke. This is the second time he has bypassed the most respected legal mind on the court, who also happens to be in pole position for the senior job.

Moreover, it is believed Zuma approached three other judges before turning to Mogoeng, and that all declined the job. Could it be they, too, recognised Moseneke as the obvious candidate and were uncomfortable about accepting it ahead of him? If that is the case, it means Moseneke didn’t even figure among the top four potential candidates in the president’s mind. In fact it means Zuma has blackballed him.

One is left to assume this is probably because Moseneke is not a member of the African National Congress (ANC), but was once a protege of the ANC’s great rival, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

If Moseneke were Chief Justice, there might be the danger that he would exercise an independent judicial mind, and not be swayed too much by the interests of the ruling clique of the ruling party. It wasn’t so much that Zuma was desperate to have Mogoeng, but rather he was desperate not to have Moseneke.

That’s what’s so depressing about the daily news nowadays. It’s not about big issues any more, but only about the ambitions of politicians to retain or grab power, and the shifting alliances as they do so. Oh yes, Julius Malema talks of nationalising the mines and the spirit of the Freedom Charter. But it might be more in the spirit of the Freedom Charter if the RDP were to be revived. Nationalising the mines might have been a viable option in 1955. All it would achieve now would be to saddle the taxpayers with nearly fully amortised assets, and the liabilities of solving the problems of acid water. So I suspect that is just empty rhetoric to try to gain support.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Steve Biko. Would it have made a difference if he had lived? Or would have have immersed himself in a medical career, as Dikgamg Moseneke has immersed himself in his legal one?

Are todays politicians like children dressing up in their mothers’ clothes, going around saying “I’m the king of the castle, you’re the dirty rascal”? Trying to walk around in shoes several sizes too big for them, shoes once worn by people like Oliver and Adelaide Tambo, Walter and Albertina Sisulu?

When I read the daily news it certainly looks like it, but are the media telling us the truth?

Perhaps we should follow Bishop Nick Baines when he says, “And most of us have a life to live and work to do and will leave this media game (for, entertaining though it obviously is, that is all it is) to the media.”

Is it just a media game, part of the entertainment that the media provide for the masses?

Bishop Nick writes (Game off | Nick Baines’s Blog) about a different setting, a different group of newspapers, and a different group of people, but perhaps what he writes is true of the media here too.

And, as he says, “Despite the accurately vague language that is used in these reports, it is sadly inevitable that many people will think them credible. I don’t blame the writers for amusing themselves in this way, but the readers need to ask themselves a few questions.”

Beware artists, authors, photographers — Americans want to steal your work

It seems that American lawmakers are planning a new copyright scam, which will allow people who steal your work to sue you for using it without their permission.

clipped from mag.awn.com

I find nothing funny about the new Orphan Works legislation that is before Congress.

An Orphaned Work is any creative work of art where the artist or copyright owner has released their copyright, whether on purpose, by passage of time, or by lack of proper registration. In the same way that an orphaned child loses the protection of his or her parents, your creative work can become an orphan for others to use without your permission.

Currently, you don’t have to register your artwork to own the copyright. You own a copyright as soon as you create something. International law also supports this. Right now, registration allows you to sue for damages, in addition to fair value.

The only people who benefit from this are those who want to make use of our creative works without paying for them and large companies who will run the new private copyright registries.

These registries are companies that you would be forced to pay in order to register every single image, photo, sketch or creative work

blog it

And if you live outside America, any American will be able to register your work and claim it as their own — remember the scammers who tried to copyright rooibos tea?

I hope this is just an April fool’s joke that’s past its sell-by date, as it’s not from an official source, but the rooibos tea incident shows that it’s just the kind of thing the Americans would do.

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