Tim Burton’s Alice in Queen Subway Station

February 12, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Posted in Films and Books, the Law | Leave a comment

I really loved the way they incorporated the Queen Subway tiles into the display of the poster itself. Northbound features the White Queen and southbound features the Red Queen. Clevah!

I love Tim Burton–and visuals go a long way for me, at least with regard to his work. I’m generally willing to forgive much, because I love his creative vision.

It will be a nice mid-semester escape from the madness of the 1L experience of running madly to stay in place while finding myself slipping inexorably behind. Though, in some ways, my encounters with the law are something of an Alice in Wonderland experience in themselves. While it’s never quite “off with her head” (since we don’t have the death penalty–though I sometimes have the uncomfortable sense that I’m on the verge of losing *my* head), some of the judgments do seem rather arbitrary, and decided based on some peculiar and well-concealed motives. You sometimes really do have to read between the lines to figure out why the case law suddenly takes some unexpected and inexplicable turn. And indeed, one could say that I’m wandering through the realms of Easements, Covenants, Negligence and Federal Enclaves with an Alice-like bemusement at the wonders and the mysteries of it all.

But the often-puzzling and generally fascinating Wonderland of Law isn’t nearly as pretty as the Wonderland born of a collaboration between the likes of Lewis Carroll and Tim Burton–of that I am certain. I look forward to checking it out.

Sent from my iPod, so please pardon any typos!

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Nested Narratives of Case Law: It’s Stories All the Way Down

December 21, 2009 at 1:38 pm | Posted in the Law | Leave a comment
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Well, it has been some time since I had any kind of opportunity to update this blog. I don’t know that I’ll be any more reliable in that regard, in the weeks and months to come, either. I started law school in September, at U of T. An amazing, wonderful, fascinating and engaging experience. Law school is pretty much all I hoped for and possibly more. I love reading the cases. They are narratives within narratives.

At the most obvious level, we find the story–often tragic–of the facts around the case being heard. Who wronged whom, who breached which contract, and so on. Sometimes the wrongs seem trivial, sometimes they’re a little bit humorous, and other times they are really, really sad. But this is human drama, at its core. This is story–true stories that are about the struggles and sufferings of real people. They’re riveting, and often deeply moving, at that level alone.

The next level of is that of the reasoning of the judge, as he or she tries to puzzle his or her way to justice. Sometimes the judgments read as crisp, clear, dazzling exercises in thought, revelations of insight or explications of method. Other times, they are dark, tortured and reveal another dimension of struggle and conflict, as you see the judge torn between the common law precedents–or the constraints of the statute–and the ruling that would be just in this instance. Sometimes the tension is between the justice of the moment, of the case at hand, and the clear concern that in using the precedents a certain way, and deciding the case a certain way, a new and dangerous precedent could be set, and the law could take a very problematic direction if left unchecked.

And then, there is the way the cases fit together–the way that subsequent judges look at the precedents, they way that they read them, and struggle with them, such that each case piles upon the previous ones as a tottering, precarious structure that doesn’t always fit well together, but somehow all manages to remain upright. It’s a beautiful thing, the way we try to bring order to the chaos of our complex, everyday interactions and the wrongs we do each other.

We try to bring order to it, but also want justice, and the flexibility to administer that, within the constraints of a fair system. As you can imagine, these are all ideas in tension with each other: the challenge of bringing order to chaos, with flexibility and fairness. And that tension shows, in processes that try to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance and are consequently ungainly and slow; in decisions that rub each other the wrong way, as society changes and suddenly past precedents begin to chafe; in decisions that show the conflict involved in trying to figure out how we should be treating each other, and against what standard that should be judged.

The rulings are messy because we’re messy. Any system that’s too restrictive and rules-based would result in more injustice than justice. So instead, common law moves, and bends and shifts this way and that, as it tries to find the just, middle ground. And that messy, tangled mass of rulings that are full of these subtexts of conflict are beautiful. They’re the imperfect reality that is a fuzzy reflection of our dream of justice–our dream of a fair society, governed by the rule of law.

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