The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Monday, March 31, 2014

"The Study of Law is Something New and Unfamiliar to You…"

Somehow, I missed this when it first was posted:

John Jay Osborn, who wrote the novel, had a love-hate relationship with Harvard, if my reading of the novel is accurate. And it seems to have been; as he wrote over a decade ago:
When I graduated from Harvard Law School in 1970, my feelings about the place were clear, sharp. It was an interesting place, an important place and a bad place. It did not have the flexibility to allow individuals to express themselves. It did not allow for reciprocity between faculty and students. In short, it really had no desire to be loved, or even to be respected. The big dark institution, symbolized for me by Langdell Hall, only wanted to be feared. It was very successful in inspiring fear and despair, both in the classroom and in the larger world.

My first novel, "The Paper Chase," portrayed this vision of the institution. Its central character, Professor Kingsfield, on the last day of class, is told by Hart, the student hero, that Kingsfield's contracts class meant something to Hart, that Kingsfield was very important to him. Finally, the corners of the professor's lips turn up in a slight smile. "What was your name?" Kingsfield asks, stepping past Hart. You will never be anything more than a number on a seating chart, Kingsfield is saying; despite all your efforts, you mean nothing to me, or to Harvard Law School.
However, as his creator notes, that didn't remain entirely consistent:
Imperceptibly, over the years, Kingsfield changed. In the six years that "The Paper Chase" was on television--first on CBS, then on PBS, later on Showtime--he grew more complicated. I remember writing the episode "Scavenger Hunt." It begins with Kingsfield going to incredible lengths to track down the most obscure citations available within the entire university. He will then send his students out on a gigantic scavenger hunt to find these citations, a hunt that has no rules, pitting them against each other in a zero-sum game, in which the person who finds the citations gets an A, and everyone else flunks. (Or does he really have something else on his mind, something more "educational"?) We begin with Kingsfield and his loyal secretary, Mrs. Nottingham, down in a subbasement, looking over uncataloged items by candlelight, while a rotting sewer line leaks on their heads.

What law professor is going to go to those lengths? Well, in fact, none. So, if Kingsfield does this, what does it say about him? It says that he cares. It may not be easy to see that, and he would never admit it, but in some fundamental way, he really cares about teaching, and by implication he also cares for his students.
In the above video, he says that the TV series is "a watered down version"--that Kingsfield shows that he cares to us the viewer, if not the students. Interestingly, Osborn claims that there was no one person on whom Kingsfield was based. When I heard John Houseman speak at Fordham,he asserted (as he had elsewhere) that Kingsfield was based on Edward "Bull" Warren, about whom Houseman told several stories, including one in which Warren saw a woman seated in class, wearing trousers, and STARED at her. And STARED at her until, uncomfortable at the glare, she crossed her legs. Warren, so Houseman told us, then intoned, "Now that the gates of Hell are closed--"

Warren, clearly, was not a particularly lovable man, but was not always such a stickler for propriety--Houseman also described him as, late one evening, urinating on Boston Common, "though whether out of necessity or principal remains unknown," he added.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

In Memoriam, Kate O'Mara

I am sorry to see that Kate O'Mara has died, age 74. As my friend Nick Kaufman notes, she was best known for her turn in Dynasty, but (like Nick) I remember her best as the recurring villain the Rani on Doctor Who.

Like Nick, I have to admit that the three stories she appeared in where rubbish; that said, as I wrote in 2012:
Doctor No. 7, Sylvester McCoy, opens inauspiciously with Time and the Rani--a hasty, weak regeneration, a Rani-plot that's more like the Ainley Master on a bad day, and more running around in a quarry. Also Bonnie Langford screams. A lot, and quite loudly. We're talking Chekov in Star Trek II, Fay Wray, only miked. Scream, Bonnie, scream.

I quite like McCoy's clowning as he finds his feet, especially his spoon-playing. And Kate O'Mara wins the good sport of the year award, doing an extended impression of a woman a quarter of a century her junior, as the Rani dupes the Doctor into thinking she is his companion Mel.
The sequence goes on longer than it should, but is especially funny as McCoy's clowning frustrates the seething Rani, who needs the Doctor's experience and equipment, and is taking advantage of his being in a daze after regenerating from Colin Baker. Needless to say, the first thing he must do is lose the outfit:

O'Mara's dead-on impression of Bonnie Langford's voice and mannerisms is all the more funny for the fact that the two women look nothing like each other. And, in fact, that the 80's getup which Langford wears comfortably (at last, a companion who can run without twisting an ankle), is clearly making the more formal Rani twitch with discomfort. The best bits are when the Rani can barely keep up the pretense--O'Mara playing the Rani playing Mel is a hoot, as all the Rani-isms insist on creeping through the chirpy take-off of Langford.

The Telegraph notes that she had a tumultuous life, but that she found ways to cope with adversity:
Late in life she talked how she had overcome her own bouts of depression: “particularly during my first marriage break-up 31 years ago. But I’ve since learnt a cure for depression: listening to J.S. Bach and reading P.G. Wodehouse. This got me through the break-up of my second marriage 17 years ago. The great thing about Wodehouse is that his books are full of romantic problems and yet so hilarious that it puts things in perspective.” The quiet country life in occassional retirement in Somerset suited her. “I’m not frightened of dying, but I love the countryside so much and I’m going to miss it. I’d like to be out in the wind and the trees for ever.”
Not a bad formula, that--Bach, Plum (Wodehouse), and nature. I'll bear it mind when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune come my way, and meanwhile salute a brave lady who faced them down with élan.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Bitters" Bierce and Fuentes's Mexico

"To be a Gringo in Mexico - ah, that is euthanasia!"--Ambrose Bierce

I'm re-reading Carlos Fuentes's novel, The Old Gringo, a remarkable book of fiction that addresses the question of the disappearance and death of Ambrose Bierce. Fuentes stiches together the few known facts (some known only from Bierce's few letters after he went down to Mexico to view the revolution led by Pancho Villa. Little is known; when Bierce departed he was described and quoted in a contemporary article thus:
Traveling over the same ground that he had covered with General Hazen's brigade during the Civil War, Ambrose Bierce, famed writer and noted critic, has arrived in New Orleans. Not that this city was one of the places figuring in his campaigns, for he was here after and not during the war. He has come to New Orleans in a haphazard, fancy-free way, making a trip toward Mexico. The places that he has visited on the way down have become famous in song and story -- places where the greatest battles were fought, where the moon shone at night on the burial corps, and where in day the sun shone bright on polished bayonets and the smoke drifted upward from the cannon mouths.

For Mr. Bierce was at Chickamauga; he was at Shiloh; at Murfreesboro; Kenesaw Mountain, Franklin and Nashville. And then when wounded during the Atlanta campaign he was invalided home. He "has never amounted to much since then," he said Saturday. But his stories of the great struggle, living as deathless characterizations of the bloody episodes, stand for what he has amounted to since then.

Perhaps it was in mourning for the dead over whose battlefields he has been wending his way toward New Orleans that Mr. Bierce was dressed in black. From head to foot he was attired in this color, except where the white cuffs and collar and shirt front showed through. He even carried a walking cane, black as ebony and unrelieved by gold or silver. But his eyes, blue and piercing as when they strove to see through the smoke at Chickamauga, retained all the fire of the indomitable fighter.

"I'm on my way to Mexico, because I like the game," he said. "I like the fighting; I want to see it. And then I don't think Americans are as oppressed there as they say they are, and I want to get at the true facts of the case. Of course, I'm not going into the country if I find it unsafe for Americans to be there, but I want to take a trip diagonally across from northeast to southwest by horseback, and then take ship for South America, go over the Andes and across that continent, if possible, and come back to America again.

There is no family that I have to take care of; I've retired from writing and I'm going to take a rest. No, my trip isn't for local color. I've retired just the same as a merchant or businessman retires. I'm leaving the field for the younger authors."

An inquisitive question was interjected as to whether Mr. Bierce had acquired a competency only from his writings, but he did not take offense.

"My wants are few, and modest," he said, "and my royalties give me quite enough to live on. There isn't much that I need, and I spend my time in quiet travel. For the last five years I haven't done any writing. Don't you think that after a man has worked as long as I have that he deserves a rest? But perhaps after I have rested I might work some more -- I can't tell, there are so many thingsä" and the straightforward blue eyes took on a faraway look, "there are so many things that might happen between now and when I come back. My trip might take several years, and I'm an old man now."

Except for the thick, snow-white hair no one would think him old. His hands are steady, and he stands up straight and tall -- perhaps six feet."
Fuentes uses much of the contemporary material--his description of Bierce's attire comes right from this article. And, back in the 1990s, it was Bierce who was the draw for me. His writings (including his feud with Mark Twain), his sarcasm, his caustic humor, all appealed to me, and, in regulated doses, still do--one difference between Bierce and Twain is that the latter is much less pessimistic than Bierce. Bierce's humor can become nihilistic, life-denying. A little is a tonic, but too much becomes chilling.

But for Fuentes, Bierce was only one part of the story; the Old Gringo--never named in the book until its very end--has a nemesis, a General in the revolution, Tomas Arroyo, and there is an American woman, Harriet Winslow, who becomes Arroyo's lover, and is a daughter-figure to Bierce, two of whose sons have died by their own hands, and whose marriage ended with a separation, much more rare in those days than now. The Old Gringo's ties to life having all snapped, he is less than thrilled when he feels stirrings of compassion for Harriet and Arroyo, who, like Harriet, revives his paternal instincts, albeit in a different way. Arroyo is as central to the book as Bierce; he is illiterate, self-appointed a General, but with real leadership quality, and is the repository of the brutally oppressed peasants' folk-memory, as well as the papers that show (he has been taught) that the land belongs to the people. The novel is as much the story of Arroyo as of the Old Gringo. On that reading, Harriet, the catalyst, may come in third place, but that seems off. Fuentes creates a believable character, not just a Lawrentian spinster of her era.

And so, the tropes that make me want to retch when employed by D.H. Lawrence work better when deployed by Fuentes, perhaps because Lawrence often seems to me to despise his female characters, where Fuentes loves Harriet Winslow, despite her starchiness, her assumptions of cultural superiority. He sees the warm-heart beneath those traits, and explores Harriet's need for order in a sympathetic way. In a way that Lawrence never does, in my opinion, Fuentes grounds Arroyo and Winslow in their life experiences, and makes their attraction-antagonism credible. And in that telling, Bierce is the catalyst for them, just as Winslow is the catalyst between Bierce and Arroyo. And, in yet another view of the novel, Arroyo (in what Harriet sees as the wanton destruction of the hacienda where she has come to teach the children of the long-fled Miranda family) is the catalyst that sparks the relationship between the Old Gringo and Harriet--drawing him back into life.

In other words, each character is both a primary actor and a catalyst in the relationship between the other two. You can view the story as that of Harriet Winslow (who opens and closes the novel), with either the Old Gringo or Arryo as the primary figure impacting her life. Or, if you choose, you can view the book as the Old Gringo's story of his relationship with either Harriet or Arroyo--after all, he's the eponymous character. But you can, and I think this makes the novel even more interesting, view it as Arroyo's story. Because Arroyo is struggling to find a way for the poor out of poverty, into freedom, and is tempted both by revenge and a narrow vision of justice. The Old Gringo and Harriet offer other possible ways for him to go, but each is flawed as well. Neither Bierce's nihilistic, bleak humor nor Harriet's respect for convention is a life-giving choice for him, yet each has a kernel of something Arroyo could use, as he intuits.

Any one of these three readings is supported by the text, and it's a rich novel for just that reason.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Holy Hobby Lobby? More Than Just a Feeling...

Today's oral argument in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius(full transcript) is being dissected everywhere, of course--from the informed to the, um, less so. (The NYT round up falls somewhere in the middle.)

Briefly, the case involves the double barreled question as to whether corporations formed under state law to engage in commercial transactions may claim exemptions from laws of general applicability that impose affirmative duties upon them that are at variance with their religious beliefs, whether under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, or under the 1993 statute, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, commonly known as "RFRA". The specific context in which the case arose--whether small, closely-held corporations may claim immunity from the Affordable Care Act's requirement that contraceptive coverage be included among insurance plans provided by employers--is important enough, but (unlike the oral argument, as demonstrated by the linked transcript) I want to focus on what seems to me to be the even more important core question.

So, can corporations formed under state law to engage in commercial transactions may claim exemptions from laws of general applicability that impose affirmative duties upon them that are at variance with their religious beliefs?

Under present First Amendment law, in an opinion written by Justice Scalia, the answer is clearly no:
We have never held that an individual's religious beliefs [p879] excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition. As described succinctly by Justice Frankfurter in Minersville School Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586, 594-595 (1940):

Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities.


Our most recent decision involving a neutral, generally applicable regulatory law that compelled activity forbidden by an individual's religion was United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. at 258-261. There, an Amish employer, on behalf of himself and his employees, sought exemption from collection and payment of Social Security taxes on the ground that the Amish faith prohibited participation in governmental support programs. We rejected the claim that an exemption was constitutionally required. There would be no way, we observed, to distinguish the Amish believer's objection to Social Security taxes from the religious objections that others might have to the collection or use of other taxes.

If, for example, a religious adherent believes war is a sin, and if a certain percentage of the federal budget can be identified as devoted to war-related activities, such individuals would have a similarly valid claim to be exempt from paying that percentage of the income tax. The tax system could not function if denominations were allowed to challenge the tax system because tax payments were spent in a manner that violates their religious belief.
The Court backed its analysis in that case, Employment Division v. Smith, with citations dating to 1879, involving cases in which the statute at issue prohibited conduct (such as polygamy, or the use of peyote in Native American worship at issue in Smith itself) and required action, such as the payment of monies.

So, under Smith, case closed. Individuals don't have the right to these exemptions under Smith, let alone corporations. Of course, Scalia could just scrap his prior opinion, as he did in 2012's Natl. Fedn. of Ind. Businesses v. Sebelius, in which he rejected his own 2005 opinion in Gonzales v. Raich, broadly construing the Commerce Clause. Scalia's deference to Congress tends to be, unfortunately, accordion-like--it expands (as in Gonzales) when he likes the regulation at issue, and then contracts to nil when he doesn't--as witness not only NFIB v. Sebelius, but even more so last year's egregious evisceration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in Shelby Co. v. Holder. (In that case, a statute passed pursuant to an express provision of the Constitution, entrusting enforcement of the right to vote to Congress, was held to strict scrutiny because it violated an imaginary doctrine that all states must be treated equally in all legislation. Good luck finding that in the text!) And Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and even Kennedy might go along with him. Of course, if that did happen, we would have the intriguing political spectacle of five Catholic men reversing a precedent that one of them wrote and another (Kennedy) joined, in order to grant secular corporations an exemption that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops have been vehemently arguing for, and one that impacts the health care choices of women (three of the remaining justices). It will, frankly, look like special justice--that the provision of insurance by secular corporations whose owners share the beliefs of the majority warrant exemptions from the law, while the actual means and modalities of worship used by minority religions do not. I just don't know that Chief Justice Roberts likes those optics, though his heart seemed to be with the corporations today.

RFRA doesn't really solve the problem, either. As all the Justices acknowledged, the broad reading of RFRA required to support Hobby Lobby's position would create huge disruptions in the law, the very disruptions, Justice Kagan noted, that animated Smith:
"Your understanding of this law, your interpretation of it, would essentially subject the entire U.S. Code to the highest test in constitutional law, to a compelling interest standard," she told Paul Clement, the lawyer arguing against the mandate for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. "So another employer comes in and that employer says, I have a religious objection to sex discrimination laws; and then another employer comes in, I have a religious objection to minimum wage laws; and then another, family leave; and then another, child labor laws. And all of that is subject to the exact same test which you say is this unbelievably high test, the compelling interest standard with the least restrictive alternative."

Kagan's remarks might sound familiar to the legally-trained ear. In a 1990 majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, Scalia alluded to the same examples of what might happen if religious entities are permitted to claim exemptions from generally applicable laws. He warned that "[a]ny society adopting such a system would be courting anarchy."

"The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind," Scalia wrote in the 6-3 opinion, "ranging from compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws, and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws, environmental protection laws, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races."
The ultimate question, though, under the First Amendment or RFRA, is whether a corporation, an artificial entity created by the state to shield its owners from liability for debts contracted by the business, to enjoy perpetual life (and thus avert the problems businesses face when a principal dies), and to enjoy special tax privileges, can properly be treated as being the same entity as its owners for the purposes of religious expression rights. In other words, is this legal fiction to be treated as separate from its owners to their benefit in commercial transactions but as being one with them for religious purposes? And what of the well-rooted doctrine that the purpose of business corporations is to maximize return to shareholders, not to allow management to serve its own vision of the good with the shareholders' investment? (I'm not a fan of this rather bleak doctrine, but as Professor Bainbridge at the link notes, cultivating goodwill through socially responsible behavior may fall within the remit of the corporation). The point is, for-profit business corporations are separate from their owners, and not organized for religious purposes. If they are treated as vehicles for their owners' religious expressions, you are giving the owners a double advantage--shielding them from the worst risks of doing business while multiplying their ability to enforce their religious views on employees, clients and others.

I do not think that this is what the Framers or the Congress that enacted RFRA (itself of dubious constitutionality as applied here, as many of the problems that led to its invalidation vis a vis the states apply to prescribing how federal courts will apply claimed religious rights claims comes awfully close to an establishment of religion; the Court's 2006 opinion applying RFRA did not have such an issue before it, but it also had a much more limited, focused application of the statute before it.)

How will this come out? Anybody's guess, and I don't handicap. I suspect that if it tips in favor of the employers, it'll be a narrow opinion on RFRA grounds, possibly limited to closely held corporations, with very strong dissents either way.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Phineas at Bay: The Editor's Report

Simon Raven (who adapted Trollope for television, in addition to his own many novels) once defined himself as a writer: "I arrange words in pleasing patterns in order to make money". A short definition for a tall order, even leaving aside the money part.

Karen Clark, my editor who rejoices in the dread title "Domineditrix" (she is the queen of the double, and even triple, entendre, but credits me with this soubriquet) has now provided me with the third and, we feel pretty sure, final edited manuscript. (I'm not sure where Karen's choice of three drafts and done came from, but I agreed, based on the advice of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote somewhere (can't recall where, at the moment), that three drafts was about right--any more and you risk sucking the spontaneity out of the work, as witness The New York Edition of Henry James).

So, as we near completion, where are we? Well, obviously, I'm terribly biased. So it was very nice to see her blog post about P at Bay, which she described as a "tour de force sequel to Anthony Trollope's "Palliser" novels. It's a hell of a good book, and the reason I know it's a hell of a good book is that I am now reading it for the third time . . . and, if anything, I am enjoying reading the book more than I did the first time around." (I've left out a nice triple entendre, so you can click the link to Karen's place.

Also, this follow-up post is awfully encouraging:
I finished re-reading Sister Carrie in record time, having found an edition with nice big print that didn't strain my eyes - and, after that was gone, I needed something good to read. Well - John's book fit the description like a kid elbow glove on an Edwardian Professional Beauty. It's a good read. In fact, third time around, it's an even better read. (You will, I hope, pardon me for preening a bit if I say, "And that's because I edited the first two drafts.")

Don't get me wrong - it was an excellent novel the first time around, before I ever had anything to do with it. But John is one of those rare writers who can take his ego completely out of the way and think about "What is the best thing we can do in the service of this book?" The book itself - das Buch an sich! - and getting it as good as it can be, is all. By the time I had finished Round One of the editorial process, I was already rejoicing in the half-affectionate, half-sardonic nickname John had bestowed upon me - Domineditrix. I think the fiercest crack of the whip I gave was when I sent John and his main character, Phineas Finn, down into a Welsh coalmine...he hadn't written a description of the horrors endured by nineteenth century colliers, and I implored and argued and harangued, and finally used my ultimate weapon - "Your reader will feel cheated if it's not in the text!" - until he said, "Right, I'll give it a go and see how it turns out," and wrote it just to shut me up. And it's one of the best things in the book, by gum.
Karen's editing has been tremendous--not just reading for grammar, clarity, and typos, but, as she indicates, for character, consistency, and that intangible something Ronald Dworkin called fit. Not to mention the clothes. She did a helluva job researching the Victorian costuming I needed to describe, and gave me the opportunity to make my use of an old legal chestnut into a credible comic bit.

I should add that I have had four other readers who have given me invaluable feedback--one a professional novelist herself, as well as a Trollope-lover (she caught a badly-off character beat), one a scholar whose insights into what he has called "the Phineas Diptych" inspired a scene that I didn't even realize I needed until I'd heard him speak. My Dad came up with a great approach to bring in non-Trollope readers, and which led to my Prologue. Finally, another non-Trollopean served as a reality check. But Karen has toiled over this long novel, with enthusiasm and persistence, bless her. It's a better book for her efforts.

It's a little daunting--and extremely exciting--to realize that I'm nearing the point where I have no more excuses, but must, as Robertson Davies once wrote, enter the public square, tell the tale, and see how it fares.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Wrong Side of History

I want this post to be irenic, but that may not be possible. The entity led by the former Episcopal bishop of South Carolina, currently calling itself the Diocese of South Carolina (the right to the name is in litigation--I'm not trying to be snide, just noting that the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and that led by Bishop Lawrence, who, whatever he may be, is no longer a bishop in the Episcopal Church) is, according to the Post-Courier, accepting primatial oversight from the GAFCON provinces:
Local Anglicans who separated from the Episcopal Church in 2012 approved a resolution Saturday accepting a new provisional oversight that gives them a formal ecclesiastical connection to the global Anglican Communion.

The Diocese of South Carolina will join the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, a worldwide network of theologically orthodox Anglican churches, and enter a relationship with primates from the Anglican Global South. The Global South comprises growing provinces in Africa, southeast Asia and South America.

"This will give us gracious oversight from one of the largest ecclesiastical body in the (Anglican) Communion," Bishop Mark Lawrence said in his address to the annual diocesan convention.

The unanimous vote Saturday became possible after a group of Global South primates formed an oversight council last month in Egypt to "provide pastoral and primatial oversight to dissenting individuals, parishes, and dioceses in order to keep them within the Communion," according to a statement from their steering committee.

They then offered the local diocese oversight under the new council just weeks before its annual convention this weekend at Christ Church in Mount Pleasant. The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Anis, primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East and chairman of the Global South steering committee, is a supporter of Lawrence and has traveled to Charleston to speak to local Anglicans.

Diocesan leaders jumped at the opportunity, though it meant notifying clergy and laity shortly before nearly 400 delegates voted.

"This is an unqualified good thing for the diocese, so we really felt the need to respond now," Lewis said. "In many ways, it was serendipitous that we had a diocesan convention already scheduled."
The article quotes Bishop Lawrence as stating that that he hopes Saturday's vote "will not be interpreted, either by those within the Diocese or across the wider Anglican Communion, as a step away from ACNA or any other more permanent provincial affiliation."

OK, I just have to say this, because I believe it is true: You are on the wrong side of history, Bishop Lawrence. Oh, I understand that there are those who hold the view that the biblical proscriptions against same-sex relationship (on the part of men, that is) remain binding and do not hold this position out of homophobia. Peter Ould is one such, who has even rebuked his own side for "not just the cruder forms of language in this discourse that are a sign of no real intent to listen and build relationships," but for refusing to engage with the pastoral realities of same-sex attractions more broadly. (Ould's critique of his own side, to my mind, is as valid now as it was in 2008, when he published it.) But this re-alignment goes beyond that; whether by affiliating with ACNA or the GFCA, South Carolina is embracing the Anglican Churches of Nigeria and their enthusiastic endorsement of statutes criminalizing not just homosexuality but advocacy for equal rights for gays or lesbians--requiring private citizens to function as informers, too. These statutes have led to mob violence in Nigeria and has led to media outing of suspected gays in an invitation to violence in Uganda.

This advocacy of de jure repression and crushing of free speech and association, which have invited and reaped mob and legalized violence--this, in the eyes of the South Carolina secessionists, is acceptable Christian behavior--indeed, exemplary, as it has been done by the religious bodies to whose jurisdiction they will now accede.

There is no kind way to put this; this is to align oneself with the forces of hate and violence. Fred Phelps, who died yesterday, did less actual harm to gays and lesbians, their families and their associates, than have the Archbishops of Nigeria and Uganda; they won in their nations, at least, while he lost, and was increasingly marginalized.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patricks Day

On the occasion of St. Patrick's Day, let me share a slice of Somerville & Ross's Some Experiences of an Irish R.M., as adapted in 1983, starring the marvelous Peter Bowles as the befuddled but fundamentally well-intentioned Major Sinclair Yeates:

(My affection for these books led me to drag Major Yeates into politics in Phineas at Bay; the Major is not entirely sure he's cut out for Westminster, even if he wins his seat; Phillipa has no doubts at all that he will do splendidly.)

Phineas Finn was, of course, too reluctant to be tagged a stage Irishman to celebrate St. Patrick's Day too much; still, his pipes are almost all from Peterson of Dublin, and I can assure you that he extols the virtues of the "System" in comparison with less well designed Sassenach products.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to one and all.

Jindal's Administration Proves His Own Point

Two years ago, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal advised his fellow Republicans Republicans should “stop being the stupid party.”

He has since proved himself a worthy member of the Stupid Party, a group whose membership I will cheerfully concede is not coterminous with the GOP.

Latest, and best example? This:
Louisiana is suing national left-leaning policy group in federal court, saying it violated trademark rules when it put up a billboard and commissioned television ads critical of Gov. Bobby Jindal that use the state's tourism logo and motto.

Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne has been locked in a pitched battle with the group for weeks, unsuccessfully calling for it to take down the billboard that is currently up on the I-10 coming into Baton Rouge from Port Allen."We have invested millions of dollars in identifying the Louisiana: Pick Your Passion brand with all that is good about Louisiana. No group should be allowed to use the brand for its own purposes, especially if it is for partisan political posturing," Dardenne said in a statement announcing the suit.
" has every right to attack Gov. Jindal, the state's refusal to accept Medicaid or, for that matter, me personally. But they do not have the right to use our protected service mark, which is used solely for the purpose of promoting and marketing Louisiana. We own the mark and its use is under the direction of my office, not the Office of the Governor."
(Read the full complaint here).

Now, I'm assuming that Jindal has some level of control over his Lieutenant Governor, and that Dardenne isn't "going rogue" as the dafter right wingers are admittedly prone to do. But this case, filed in federal court, seems to be filed in the complete absence of any knowledge of the limits of trademark protection and, more importantly, of the First Amendment.

Because, ah, Jay? Yeah, Move On almost certainly has a right to use that phrase in a parody billboard. With this current Supreme Court, very little is absolutely sure, but this is mighty close.

Ever hear of Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell (1988)? No? It involved, as summarized by the late Chief Justice Rehnquist (for whom the current Chief Justice clerked, a few years earlier):
The inside front cover of the November, 1983, issue of Hustler Magazine featured a "parody" of an advertisement for Campari Liqueur that contained the name and picture of respondent and was entitled "Jerry Falwell talks about his first time." This parody was modeled after actual Campari ads that included interviews with various celebrities about their "first times." Although it was apparent by the end of each interview that this meant the first time they sampled Campari, the ads clearly played on the sexual double entendre of the general subject of "first times." Copying the form and layout of these Campari ads, Hustler's editors chose respondent as the featured celebrity and drafted an alleged "interview" with him in which he states that his "first time" was during a drunken incestuous rendezvous with his mother in an outhouse. The Hustler parody portrays respondent and his mother as drunk and immoral, and suggests that respondent is a hypocrite who preaches only when he is drunk. In small print at the bottom of the page, the ad contains the disclaimer, "ad parody -- not to be taken seriously." The magazine's table of contents also lists the ad as "Fiction; Ad and Personality Parody."
The Court held the ad to be protected speech under the First Amendment.

Nor is the fact that the service mark holder is the plaintiff, and not his boss, the Governor, dispositive; fair use and parody protections under the First Amendment extend to the holders of the mark. Under the doctrine of fair use, a court must consider "1) purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is commercially motivated or instead is for nonprofit educational purposes; 2) nature of the copyrighted work; 3) amount and substantiality of the portion used in the newly created work in relation to the copyrighted work; and 4) effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.” Here, where the use is non-commercial social criticism, and the plaintiff is the State, which is especially subject to such criticism under the First Amendment, the case seems to me to be frivolous. The State's political practices are being held up to the state's glossy self-portrayal, and found lacking.

In other words, this case is stronger than Falwell, not weaker--the political actions of the State of Louisiana is being mocked for incongruity with its own ad campaign's tropes. The tie between the protected speech and the use of the service mark is tighter than in the Campari ad case. Nor is the use likely to damage the mark, either--it doesn't dilute it, but relies on its strength to deliver a message about the perceived failures of the Jindal Administration. Moreover, it's a billboard, not a and the original audience, the people of Louisiana, would be aware of the source and nature of the sign.

Move On will relish the fight, the publicity, and, I feel pretty sure, the win.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Lenten Thought

The variorum lyrics to Leonard Cohen's song "Everybody Knows" raise an interesting point:
Everybody knows that Jesus was born in Bethlehem without a single dime
Everybody knows the homeless people could be himself some other time
Everybody knows the deal is rotten:
Old Black Joe's still picking cotton
For your ribbons and bows.
Everybody knows.
And here's Cohen on Jesus:
"I always liked the founder of Christianity. You know, it took a lot of church councils to decide whether he was divine or not divine, but to me that is not the question for us. The thing is that his moral stance is unequalled -- he's the only guy who's put himself squarely with the outcast, with the leper, with the sinner, with the prostitute, with the criminal. Nobody is excluded from his embrace.

"There have been some startling religious figures, but I don't think there's anybody who said so specifically that nobody is beyond this embrace. It's so subversive and so revolutionary that we haven't even begun to deal with it. It's a miracle those ideas have lasted in the world, because there's no evidence that the meek shall inherit the earth."
It reminds me of what Shaw wrote:
The question seems a hopeless one after 2000 years of resolute adherence to the old cry of "Not this man, but Barabbas." Yet it is beginning to look as if Barabbas was a failure, in spite of his strong right hand, his victories, his empires, his millions of money, and his moralities and churches and political constitutions. "This man" has not been a failure yet; for nobody has ever been sane enough to try his way. But he has had one quaint triumph. Barabbas has stolen his name and taken his cross as a standard. There is a sort of compliment in that. There is even a sort of loyalty in it, like that of the brigand who breaks every law and yet claims to be a patriotic subject of the king who makes them. We have always had a curious feeling that though we crucified Christ on a stick, he somehow managed to get hold of the right end of it, and that if we were better men we might try his plan. There have been one or two grotesque attempts at it by inadequate people, such as the Kingdom of God in Munster, which was ended by crucifixion so much more atrocious than the one on Calvary that the bishop who took the part of Annas went home and died of horror. But responsible people have never made such attempts. The moneyed, respectable, capable world has been steadily anti-Christian and Barabbasque since the crucifixion; and the specific doctrine of Jesus has not in all that time been put into political or general social practice. I am no more a Christian than Pilate was, or you, gentle reader; and yet, like Pilate, I greatly prefer Jesus to Annas and Caiaphas; and I am ready to admit that after contemplating the world and human nature for nearly sixty years, I see no way out of the world's misery but the way which would have been found by Christ's will if he had undertaken the work of a modern practical statesman
Or, as Nietzsche phrased it, "In truth, there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross."

Two thousand years, and we're still playing catch-up ball.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Brief Look at the Status of the Anglican Wars

I haven't been posting much about the property disputes and other internecine strife within the Anglican Communion, because (1) Not all that much has happened lately, though there has been much sound and fury, and (2) it's Lent, and riling myself up and my readers too is hardly a spiritual discipline.

But, two things crossed my transom of late, and they do seem worth of note.

The U.S. Supreme Court's denial of review in Falls Church v. Protestant Episcopal Church was not, in my opinion, particularly notable as the Virginia Supreme Court based its decision on an issue of state law. At the time the decision came out, I agreed with A.S. Haley "that, as this decision is limited to an interpretation of the Virginia law of trusts, it is not susceptible review by the U.S. Supreme Court, and will stand whether the reader finds the opinion,Haley's critique, or my limited defense persuasive." (I strongly disagreed with his analysis on the merits).

So I am rather surprised to read Haley's post on the denial of certiorari, describing the decision as a "heartbreaker":
This was potentially a huge decision for those suffering from years of the courts' misreading of Jones v. Wolf (1979), 443 U.S. 595, as detailed in numerous posts on this blog. The significance is that it would have been the first church property dispute which the Court has accepted for review since Jones -- some 35 years ago. While the decision below (from the Virginia Supreme Court) is not based on ECUSA's Dennis Canon, it nonetheless is grounded in a misreading of how a national Church can unilaterally establish a trust in its favor on all parish property without the parishes themselves declaring the trust in question. Similar bad readings of the dictum in Jones have come from the Supreme Courts of Connecticut, Georgia, New York and California.
I am genuinely surprised by this reaction, not because I don't understand his chagrin at his side's loss, but because he saw it coming, and, more to the point, this claim that state and lower courts are misreading Jones v. Wolf, 443 U.S. 595 (1979)--the decision that found that state courts could under the First Amendment, within certain limits, apply neutral principles of law rather than deference o a hierarchical church's highest decision making body--just does not make sense. In Jones, at p. 618, the United States Supreme Court emphasized the minimal burden on a church to establish a trust retaining property for a diocese or the denomination that he states would be bound to respect:
Under the neutral principles approach, the outcome of a church property dispute is not foreordained. At any time before the dispute erupts, the parties can ensure, if they so desire, that the faction loyal to the hierarchical church will retain the church property. They can modify the deeds or the corporate charter to include a right of reversion or trust in favor of the general church. Alternatively, the constitution of the general church can be made to recite an express trust in favor of the denominational church. The burden involved in taking such steps will be minimal. And the civil courts will be bound to give effect to the result indicated by the parties, provided it is embodied in some legally cognizable form
(My emphasis).

Now, whatever you think about the theological merits of the dispute at issue, I just do not see how one can seriously argue that (1) The passage of the the Dennis Canon, using this language and in response to the Court's opinion, is not in conformity with the opinion; and (2) how it is not, therefore, under the First Amendment, governing, absent a reversal or modification of Jones--which would unsettle decades of settled property law and expectations reasonably relied upon for 35 years.

Now, this unsettling might be needed if there were in fact a misreading of Jones, but Haley seems to view the case as a charter for state independently applying their own laws willy-nilly, but in fact the opinion suggests that the Free Exercise Clause sets limits, as delineated in the opinion, a conclusion eloquently set out and applied to the Virginia law at issue in Justice McClanahan's concurrence. In sum, I do not just disagree with Haley, here; I genuinely do not see what his argument is, other than that the Supreme Court did not mean what it said, which is always a tough argument to make.

Edited to Add: "Chagrin" may be the wrong word to use, as it could be takes to mean merely frustration, and thus not recognize the genuine pain this internecine quarrel causes whoever loses an individual encounter. That'a part of why I have often suggested what I call the Gamaliel Option--based on my belief that time will reveal the truth-- we could both be wrong in part and right in part--and whether we really have a future apart or together. It could also take some of the heat out of the situation, as the parties deal with each other in the interim knowing no further damages can rack up. Both sides would have to sign a cease-fire agreement in which they agreed to do nothing for a period of years (say 10 to start), and to waive any statute of limitations or laches defenses against the other during that time period, as well as damages being frozen for the time period. Negotiate to see that the breakaway congregation make provision for the TEC adherents (or vice versa where applicable), so that too could be worked out.

Each side loses nothing other than the vindication of secular law. The breakaway parish/diocese would have functional independence, TEC would not have to worry about losing its legal claims by not moving aggressively. At the end of the 10 years, the parties could negotiate, renew, or file their legal actions again. It's not standard corporate law, but then, this shouldn't be. We could get on with mission and, even if we end up separating, do so with less animus, maybe even learning to work together in places. Anyway, one lawyer's mediation dream.

The other issue? The previously eirenic Peter Ould, in disagreeing with an article quoting Bishop Alan Wilson on whether clergy can be charged under the Clergy Discipline Measure for entering a same-sex marriage refers to it as being published in "the Guardian Komment Macht Frei" ("Comment is Free" is what the Guardian calls its opinion blogs and section). Seriously? That's offensive and, dare I say it, unchristian. It actually makes me re-think my prior references to Ould as a Christian conservative with one whom can productively engage. The Guardian may have its flaws, but I'm pretty sure it's not Auschwitz.

Monday, March 10, 2014

And Love Itself Must Rest...

Byron's poem, So We'll Go No More a-Roving got under my skin when I was a boy and stumbled on it in a Ray Bradbury novel--no, really.

The poem:
So, we'll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.
The rather gentle, autumnal melancholy of the poem is at odds with what one expects from Byron (he was, after all, "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" according to Lady Caroline Lamb, in a classic instance of it-takes-one-to-know-one), and so stayed with me.

The strangest thing about the experience of going over one's own first novel--ok, for me, and my first novel--is becoming cognizant of all the roots of various moments in the book, and the extent to which I have found ways of using themes, motifs and what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called "little fragments of my fleece that I have left upon the hedges of life." (Collected Legal Papers Papers (1921) at v). Byron's poem informs a moment that I felt (and feel) the book needed, and gave me a construct around which to structure an autumnal moment that completes a movement in the lives of the characters--and leads to a new theme.

As well as allowing me to engage with a text that has been marinating in my sub-conscious since I was twelve.

Perhaps it's because the poem was in my heart in writing that I thought of it when an old friend died of an illness, all too young, last week. Her memorial service was this weekend, and seeing so many friends of my youth--some hardly changed, some in different walks of life than would have anticipated--made the poem loom larger in my thoughts. Seeing these friends,even under such circumstances, was an unalloyed good. Because, when our number was reduced, we gathered. Some remotely, by e-mail or social media, some in person, there and then.

The heart of our friendship was and is still beating.

The heart may pause to breathe, and love itself may rest--and them, altered forever, but unbroken, it goes on. The pause ends, and we who are left for the next stage of what Anthony Powell called the dance to the music of time, we resume, mindful of our losses, but taking them with us, until we all meet again in the Grand Finale.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Les Bicyclettes de Brooklyn

("O, Hai! You wants to move us?")

Yesterday was a pretty spring day, which led La Caterina and myself to both go take care of the cats at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. We have to move the cats from the back annex (largely wild country, dotted with some once-beautiful, crumbling buildings) to a smaller tighter area called "Admiral's Row" (also dotted with crumbling buildings, but less open space_

The loss of the buildings at both sites strikes me as tragic--so many beautiful creations allowed to decay--but both places have a picturesque charm.

So, to check it out, we pulled out our Citibike keys, got bikes out, and took a spin around the area. Now, I'm a fan of the notion of bike-sharing, but this was the first time I'd been on one from the NYC program. It was easy to handle and ride, the day was lovely (it was just 3:00, so the warmth was at its acme), and we tooled around the peculiar mix of the sylvan and the industrial that is the BNY.

Now, I haven't ridden a bicycle in a few years (my last apartment in LIC was not well positioned for riding), and--well, it really is like learning to ride a bicycle; you never forget.

As we rode around, though, an ear worm attacked, and the song that my sister and I were taught long ago in chorus rose unbidden in my mind:

(Aye, the 60s have a lot to answer for, n'est-ce pas?)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"He's My Best Enemy"

The relationship between the hero of fiction and the villain is, by its very nature, a vexed one.

The archetype, of course, is the rapport between Sherlock Holmes and Professor James Moriarty. A faithful rendition of the original meeting as described by Conan Doyle has elements of esteem mixed with profound enmity:

A more modern adaptation of the same scene:

I like how Gatiss uses the old lines ironically, and how the scene performs a similar function to Doyle's, but in an entirely different way.

Of course, in the new series, the Doctor and the Master take this to an extreme…

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Francis Fails A Big Test

From Vatican Insider:
Speaking about the horrific abuse of children by priests, Francis said “the cases of abuse are terrible because they leave very deep wounds”. Benedict XVI “was very courageous and opened a road, and the Church has done a lot on this route, perhaps more than all others”, he stated. He noted that the statistics reveal the tremendous violence against children, but also that the vast majority of abuse takes place in the milieu of the family and those close to them. The Church is the only public institution to have moved “with transparency and responsibility”, he said; no one else has done as much as it, “but the Church is the only one to be attacked”.
Now, I first hoped that this translation is in error, or the interview misquoted, but alas, no.

So let's be clear: Pope Francis is, empirically, wrong. The Church has, as demonstrated by a spate of grand jury reports, and other investigatory reports, including the Cloyne Report, just to name a couple, and the Murphy Report, cited in my monograph at the link (alas, not the final version, which is available only on Westlaw or LEXIS or in print), has obfuscated, evaded secular law enforcement, and consistently protected the accused over the victims. Nor is this behavior relegated to the dim past, as demonstrated by last year's effort by the Archdiocese of Newark to shield a priest's violation of a plea agreement. The Church has been anything but transparent.

It is true that Pope Benedict improved on the abysmal record of Pope John Paul; at least he removed the serial abuser Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado from ministry, who had been protected by John Paul II until that Pope's health broke down. He also presided over an improvement of the canon law process. But the Pope Emeritus never engaged with the real problem: the Church's culture of reserving jurisdiction to itself over violations of secular criminal law.

Francis, using motifs from the John Paul-Benedict playbook, is likewise claiming that the Church looks good in comparison to secular organizations, is the real victim of media bias--both claims raised, as I noted in Command and Coercion, by his predecessors to deflect criticism that is in fact well-founded and, on the facts, unanswerable.

Pope Francis has set a new tone for his papacy, but this verse of the song, for now, remains the same.

(Hat-tip: The Dish)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Trouble With Torvald: Plot Contrivances and Torvald's Tsuris in "A Doll's House"

(Above, Young Vic Director Carrie Cracknell's "Nora: A Short Film Responding to Henrik Ibsen's 'A Doll's House'")

Right, sorry; a little breather from the blog. In the week since I last posted, though, I did get to see the Young Vic's extraordinary production of Ibsen's A Doll's House (of which Ben Brantley's review and my theater companion, Karen Clark pretty much say it all).

The production was, as Brantley writes, harrowing:
What we had just witnessed was a harrowing account, directed with breathless momentum by Carrie Cracknell, of a woman pushed to the breaking point by the fear of being found out. Yes, I mean Nora Helmer, the pretty, childlike wife of an adoring businessman and a woman whom no one, not even Nora herself, would believe capable of illicit doings.

As played in a galvanizing, star-making performance by Hattie Morahan, Nora is forced into devastating awareness of just how devious she’s become and how warped she has been by the subterfuge. That’s a revelation from which no one is likely to recover quickly, including anyone lucky enough to see this production, which runs only through March 16.

Don’t go, though, expecting a highbrow equivalent of the latest Liam Neeson nail-biter, or not only that. Working from a sharp new adaptation by the playwright Simon Stephens, which underscores the imprisoning powers of sex and money without sounding didactic, Ms. Cracknell’s canny production knows that the quickest route to the head is through the guts.

Feeling Nora’s concentrated fear forces us to ask just what it is about her situation that turns a comfortable home into a hell. What we have here is visceral consciousness-raising, a venerable form of theater that was the favorite of the ancient Greeks, I believe, but is seldom so successfully practiced these days.
Let me just add that Dominic Rowan, as Torvald, more than holds his end of the play up, turning in a nuanced, three-dimensional--by turns a paternalistic, loving, creepy, terrified, and, ultimately, pitiable Torvald. The added complexity enriched the play, as did the set. As Karen writes:
The "doll's house" quality of the revolving set gained a visual piquancy from our being seated that high up. I was reminded, gazing down, of the dollhouse I'd had as a child, of creating and directing the lives of the small stand-ins for who I thought I was going to be when I attained the coveted status of grown-up, and the twinkling charm of a peek from above at an unreal reality. So must the gods upon Olympus see our lives.
So, an admirable production of an admirable play, yes? Yes. Nothing specially for me to add? We-eelll…

The efforts involved in getting the plotting of Phineas at Bay right has, perhaps made me a little more aware than I used to be of how other writers do it. So, in viewing A Doll's House, which I hadn't seen in some two decades (!), I noticed something I might not have previously: Torvald is indeed a very weak, and quite possibly a stupid man--or Ibsen has blundered, not in his amazing depiction of these characters, but in the contriving of his plot. I'm not sure, and your thoughts solicited. (Let me point out that my beloved Anthony Trollope had made legal errors that undermined his plots, leading him to, in frustration, commission an opinion by counsel to avoid legal errors in The Eustace Diamonds; I dread the pointing out of any errors in my own plotting, come to that.)

But I get ahead of myself. Here is the situation. Torvald is presented as an able young lawyer, with a head for affairs:
Nora. Just fancy, my husband has been made manager of the Bank!

Mrs Linde. Your husband? What good luck!

Nora. Yes, tremendous! A barrister's profession is such an uncertain thing, especially if he won't undertake unsavoury cases; and naturally Torvald has never been willing to do that, and I quite agree with him. You may imagine how pleased we are! He is to take up his work in the Bank at the New Year, and then he will have a big salary and lots of commissions. For the future we can live quite differently--we can do just as we like. I feel so relieved and so happy, Christine! It will be splendid to have heaps of money and not need to have any anxiety, won't it?
(Act I)

On a smaller scale, so too is his former friend, Nils Krogstad:
Nora. Who is it?

Krogstad [at the door]. It is I, Mrs Helmer. [Mrs LINDE starts, trembles, and turns to the window.]

Nora [takes a step towards him, and speaks in a strained, low voice]. You? What is it? What do you want to see my husband about?

Krogstad. Bank business--in a way. I have a small post in the Bank, and I hear your husband is to be our chief now--

Nora. Then it is--

Krogstad. Nothing but dry business matters, Mrs Helmer; absolutely nothing else.

Nora. Be so good as to go into the study, then. [She bows indifferently to him and shuts the door into the hall; then comes back and makes up the fire in the stove.]

Mrs Linde. Nora--who was that man?

Nora. A lawyer, of the name of Krogstad.

Mrs Linde. Then it really was he.

Nora. Do you know the man?

Mrs Linde. I used to--many years ago. At one time he was a solicitor's clerk in our town.
(Act I)

In all of the interactions between Torvald, Nora, Dr. Rank (their great friend, in love with Nora), or Mrs. Linde, there is nothing to suggest that either Torvald or Krogstad is unintelligent or imprudent, rash or foolish in business or professional affairs--Krogstad's respectability has been ruined due to a scandal, not ineptitude and his work at the bank is unobjectionable. Got that? Good.

Now here is the plot contrivance upon which the marriage of Nora and Torvald is wrecked: Seven years before the action of the play, as Nora relates, Torvald "over-worked himself dreadfully. You see, he had to make money every way he could, and he worked early and late; but he couldn't stand it, and fell dreadfully ill, and the doctors said it was necessary for him to go south." Nora raises the money by a loan from Krigstad (by then, a usurer, after the unspecified scandal that wrecks his respectability--clearly some kind of professional misconduct), but forges the signature of his father as co-signer, mistakenly dating it three days after his death (of which she had not yet received word). When Torvald fires Krogstad from the bank, in part to oblige Nora by hiring Mrs. Linde, but really because his former friend's misconduct rankles him (Act II), Krogstad blackmails first Nora, and then, by a letter describing Nora's fraud, Torvald. As Krogstad describes the letter and its goal:
Krogstad. Besides, it would have been a great piece of folly. Once the first storm at home is over--. I have a letter for your husband in my pocket.

Nora. Telling him everything?

Krogstad. In as lenient a manner as I possibly could.

Nora [quickly]. He mustn't get the letter. Tear it up. I will find some means of getting money.

Krogstad. Excuse me, Mrs Helmer, but I think I told you just now--

Nora. What do you want, then?

Krogstad. I will tell you. I want to rehabilitate myself, Mrs Helmer; I want to get on; and in that your husband must help me. For the last year and a half I have not had a hand in anything dishonourable, amid all that time I have been struggling in most restricted circumstances. I was content to work my way up step by step. Now I am turned out, and I am not going to be satisfied with merely being taken into favour again. I want to get on, I tell you. I want to get into the Bank again, in a higher position. Your husband must make a place for me--

Nora. That he will never do!

Krogstad. He will; I know him; he dare not protest. And as soon as I am in there again with him, then you will see! Within a year I shall be the manager's right hand. It will be Nils Krogstad and not Torvald Helmer who manages the Bank.

(Act II)

When Torvald reads the letter, he exclaims "I am in the power of an unscrupulous man; he can do what he likes with me, ask anything he likes of me, give me any orders he pleases--I dare not refuse." So it's blackmail, savvy?

By now, you have probably anticipated where I am going with this. Krogstad can raise a scandal involving Nora and her efforts to protect a dying father whose heir she was and a sick husband by a forgery that, in view of the mores of the time, would probably dish Torvald's career.

And Torvald can send him to jail using the blackmail note. They have mutually assured destruction--if anything, the facts involving Krogstad, thanks to the letter, are much less equivocal, much more recent, and are written in the culprit's own handwriting.

In sum, Torvald has--if only slightly--the upper hand And as lawyers, both he and Krogstad should know it. Yet Torvald, in his panic, is anxious only for himself, abusive to Nora, and utterly mean-spirited in his extremity, which, in fact, is no extremity at all.

So, there you have it. A dazzling bit of character drawing, underscoring Torvald's abject weakness (and it may very well be, if Torvald's breakdown was as much psychological as caused by overwork--Nora is hardly a reliable narrator)? Or a ploy contrivance designed to put the screws on Torvald, which he should have been able to effectively reverse--I mean, who signs a blackmail note?

Well, gentle reader, what say you?