Law and Conversation

August 1, 2011

Family conflict and the law

Referring to the review of James Scudamore’s “Heliopolis” that I posted on The Europa Challenge Blog, I wrote Friday that family pressure on young people to follow a certain personal or professional path can produce enormous conflict when the path isn’t a good fit. Scudamore’s story reminded me of some advice from Penelope Trunk that struck me as enormously insightful: “The job of families is to keep you in line with the rest of the family, in a predestined path that is good for the family. And your job is to create your own path.”

When I wrote my post, I was thinking of family pressure to enter a certain profession or business (as, in Scudamore’s novel, Ludo’s adoptive father pressed him first to change his course of study and then to take a job with one of his associates) or to make an acceptable marriage, usually based on ethnicity, religion, property, and/or social class. Though those exerting the pressure may feel it’s benign and in the best interests of the young people, it seems to me that it often results in enormously hurt feelings and, in the worst cases, unhappy lives spent pursuing unsatisfying careers or unsatisfactory marriages that often end in divorce.

I presented litigation as the worst-case scenario from the conflicts that can arise from such family pressures. But over the weekend, in the pages of The New York Times, an even worse scenario presented itself: two young Afghanis of different ethnic groups are now in prison for daring to try to elope.

Awful as prison sounds, far worse is the fate that appears to await the teenaged lovers once they’re released: death–probably at the hands of the woman’s male relatives, with the approval of her father, who says he wants the government to kill both of them. The only possible escape for the young woman seems to be that the family of a man killed in a riot by the lynch mob that tried to kill her and her boyfriend says she’s responsible for his death, but she can expiate her sin by marrying one of his brothers.

This story is discouraging on many levels, perhaps most for those of us who love and respect both the law and other cultures.

Speaking of government executions, also in the pages of The New York Times this weekend was a thoughtful editorial by David Lat and Zachary Shemtob advocating for televising executions. Please join me later this week, when I’ll have more thoughts on what Lat and Shemtob say.

July 29, 2011

James Scudamore’s Heliopolis


Challenge ButtonI’ve posted a review of James Scudamore’s “Heliopolis” over at The Europa Challenge Blog today. Set in modern Sao Paulo, the novel was one of the nominees for the 2009 Man Booker Prize and is an engaging read. As I mention in the review, it reminds me of how well-meaning family members often pressure others in their families to pursue personal or career paths that aren’t the best fit for them. In the worst case, those paths end up producing great conflict, both within and without the person pressured. If unresolved, conflict can sometimes erupt in litigation, though that’s not a subject of this book.

One of the motifs of “Heliopolis” is avoiding the streets of Sao Paulo, which one of the characters in the novel does by commuting by helicopter. Coincidentally, The New York Times had an article this week about increasing helicopter congestion in Los Angeles. A friend recently called my attention to a YouTube video about L.A. traffic problems, specifically, the road construction that was feared to result in Carmageddon. The video is one of the many subtitled parodies of “The Downfall.” Enjoy!

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