Law and Conversation

July 3, 2010

Frittering it away

The revelations over the last few days about the spending habits of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who’s currently on trial in Chicago on federal corruption charges, reminded me of how easy it is to fritter away money on a smaller scale, say, on lattes, salon services, meals out, entertainment, or a thousand other things.  It’s so easy for so many of us–as advertisers know so well–to justify buying a small, or not-so-small, luxury item or service by rationalizing “I deserve it,” “I should be nice to myself,” or “I don’t usually do this.”  Ouch!

Edith Wharton provided a devastating picture of a character frittering away her money and her life in her novel, “House of Mirth.”  Her heroine, Lily Bart, is as human as anyone, imperfect but certainly not bad-hearted.  Her only crime was being raised to do what women of her social time and class were supposed to do:  get enough of an education to attract and enamour a man of her class sufficiently to marry her and then be a beautiful, useless ornament to him.  Incidentally, Lily’s best friend, who tries as best he can to get her onto a better track, is a lawyer, Lawrence Selden.  SPOILER ALERT:  every time I read the novel, I wish that the two of them would manage to pair off and live happily ever after.

Two other novels I enjoyed also come to mind for pictures of characters who find it terribly difficult to curb their spendthrift habits.  The excesses of “Masters of the Universe” living in 1980s Manhattan that Tom Wolfe depicts in “The Bonfire of the Vanities” are unforgettable.  Closer to Wharton’s time,  “An Old-Fashioned Girl,” one of Louisa May Alcott’s less famous, but quite delightful, juvenile novels, depicts a poor relation showing a young woman from a wealthy family that’s suddenly fallen on hard times how to enjoy her life without the expensive fripperies she’d been brought up to regard as essential.

Barrie Davenport wrote a good essay, “How to Simplify When You Love Your Stuff,” on Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog a few days ago.  In it, she provides some good factors to consider when we’re thinking about buying something, some common rationalizations that should be red flags that we don’t need whatever it is and ought to keep the money in our pockets, and excellent arguments for diminishing the importance of stuff in our lives.

What other writers have portrayed spendthrifts in fiction?

June 17, 2010

Trials in literature

Filed under: Books and writing,fiction,Law,reading,trials — Helen Gunnarsson @ 10:01 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

The trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, which began last week in the federal district court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, made me think about depictions of trials in literature.  Apart from the contemporary works of Chicago’s own terrific novelist and lawyer, Scott Turow, not to mention presiding Judge James Zagel’s thriller, “Money To Burn,” and, of course, the works of John Grisham, the following books came to my mind:

1)      To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

2)      Pudd’nhead Wilson, by Mark Twain

3)      An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser

4)      The Trial, by Franz Kafka

5)      The Stranger, by Albert Camus

6)      The Crucible, by Arthur Miller

7)      The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe

None of the trials in these works, however, bears any similarity to the issues surrounding the Blagojevich trial, and I’m disappointed for not being able to think of any good similar fictional depictions.  Professor Daniel Solove of George Washington University Law School provides a list of fine works of literature with legal themes on his faculty website, but not all of these contain actual trials.  I can’t help thinking there must be a number out there; readers, can you think of some I’ve overlooked, especially trials involving allegations of political corruption from other times (i.e. centuries) and places?

Among a number of other good sources, I’m enjoying looking at The Blago Report’s daily analysis of the trial.  Don’t know why that writer, who, according to the Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn is Phil Smith of Tampa, FL, doesn’t provide his name on his site (unless I’ve missed something really obvious, which has been known to happen); perhaps he’s concerned about being overly self-promotional, but I think he should take more credit for his articles.   You’ll find a list of other bloggers and tweeters about the trial at the link for Zorn.

June 14, 2010

Twitter is for trials!

Filed under: Law,Social media,Technology,trials — Helen Gunnarsson @ 1:01 pm
Tags: , , ,

If you’re fascinated as I am by the high-profile federal corruption trial of former governor Rod Blagojevich and his brother but actually have work or other obligations that preclude your attending the trial in person, the next best thing is following the Twitter feeds of journalists who are live tweeting it.  I’ve set up a list at of 15 (so far) journalists and others who are tweeting about the trial, either directly from the courtroom or from wherever they happen to be.  I’ve tried to limit it to those who tweet either exclusively or primarily about the trial, though some may tweet about other matters, generally related to Illinois politics and government.  Please tell me whether I’ve missed anyone whose tweets ought to be included, and I’ll be very happy to add that person.  If you’re a Twitter user, you can follow the list; alternatively, you can just check the link whenever you feel the need for a Blago trial fix.

April 23, 2010

Blog at