A Week of Connections! From Fuentes to Chutzpah

It’s been a busy week but I have managed some time out to take in some pretty interesting websites and readings:

  1. The McGill Law Journal Annual Lecture at the Faculty of Law on March 30, 2011 given by Carlos Fuentes, an admired Mexican author, who was also legally trained and was involved in international diplomacy. He passed away almost a year after giving this lecture. I have read a few of Fuentes novels but I have never before made the legal connection. The lecture is a bit of a challenge as he gave parts of the lecture in French with a bit of Spanish but it is a fascinating read, particularly when he recounts his work in 1950 while secretary to the Mexican member, Roberto Cordoba, of the United Nations International Law Commission. The article also has his responses to some of the questions posed by the students in attendance, which gives an excellent insight into Latin-American politics. I also highly recommend his first novel, Where The Air Is Clear.
  2. On the “what will they think of researching next” connection is a legal research project tracing the use of the Yiddish term “chutzpah” in American case law, particularly after the film premier of The Fiddler On The Roof. This project comes from Eric Posner, a Professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and yes, indeed, mentions of the word Chutzpah in law decisions jumps significantly after the 1971 film version. Interestingly enough the word “chutzpah” doesn’t even appear in the movie! I have a little “chutzpah” myself and decided to do a quick search of the word using the canlii (The Canadian Legal Information Institute) website and found 35 mentions of the word chutzpah from 1996 to 2013 in court or tribunal decisions. The database does not go back too far for some levels of courts so this search is not overly rigorous. Of those 35 decisions, 3 are from British Columbia, 5 are from Alberta (all from the Queen’s Bench and all different Judges), 5 from Federal or Tax Court, 1 from Saskatchewan Queen’s Bench, 1 from Quebec Superior Court, and 20 Ontario mentions mostly from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice with Master Polika winning the prize at using the term in 6 separate cases. By the way, Leo Rosten’s wildly popular book from 1968, The Joys of Yiddish, which really is the reason why Yiddish terms became so popular in mainstream society, defines chutzpah as “gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible “guts”; presumption-plus-arrogance such as no other word, and no other language can do justice.” In these Canadian cases, the word is used mostly in the derogator sense. My particular favourite use of the word is in the BCCA Doman case where Madam Justice Southin says the following: But for the applicants to complain that the delay, which has been caused by their largely unsuccessful attacks in court on the proceedings of the Commission, constitutes an abuse of process calls to my mind the delightful Yiddish word "chutzpah" which is sometimes explained as a man who has been convicted of murdering his parents seeking mercy on the ground that he is an orphan.
  3. You think you’re busy? Well check out Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule here. I really like Franklin’s morning question, “What good shall I do this day?” and evening question to “What good have I done today?” Good questions for lawyers to keep in mind!
  4. Finally, a bit of fun but also a reminder that what you read in the media needs to be check by going to the source, so to speak. This is the news story about the American Niagara Falls icing over due to the polar vortex, which is a mass of bone-chilling arctic air, which usually sits atop the North Pole but can circulate southwards to cool off more than usual whatever lies southward. However, it appears that Niagara did not in fact completely freeze over although it still looked pretty “cool.” Check out this even neater photo from 1969 when the American Falls stopped due to a scientific research, which required the damning of the source. Don’t worry Canada, the Horseshoe Falls were unaffected.