Thursday, 29 September 2011

Goldfarb v. God

 A jeu d'esprit, again from several years ago, about backs and religion.  Chesterton would no doubt approve, as he was an admirer of both.


In the Supreme Court.

Lucifer J:--This is a claim for damages and replacement parts by the plaintiff, a formerly upstanding citizen who alleges manufacturer's defect causing him to be unable to stand, walk, run, or perform other tasks and engage in other pleasures without pain resulting from problems associated with the skeleto-muscular area of his lower back.
            The defendant is a Being of unknown address who claims to be everywhere at once and to have knowledge of and control over all events, past and present, including the outcome of the case now before this Court.  The defendant questions the jurisdiction of this Court on the grounds of divine right, but since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not recognize such a right, the Court has decided to proceed.
            The plaintiff alleges that after about thirty years of untroubled usage, his back began to bother him, at first occasionally and only when he lifted or pushed heavy objects, but lately in many more situations which he alleges should not cause pain but which he says do cause pain, to wit, riding on a bus, sleeping more than eight hours in his bed, playing street hockey, and so on.  In especially acute episodes, he alleges continual pain or pain that comes on from simply turning or bending.
            The plaintiff alleges that the defendant, being the manufacturer of the painful back in question, should be held liable for its defects, especially for its wearing out before its time, after a mere thirty to forty years of use.  He is seeking compensatory and punitive damages or, in the alternative, a new back.
            The defendant denies that he is the manufacturer of the body part in question, saying he merely established the prototype and that the plaintiffs' forebears are more directly to blame. 
            In the alternative, the defendant argues that even if he is deemed to be the manufacturer, he cannot be held liable for damage resulting from misuse of the product, which he says the plaintiff is guilty of for not exercising properly and for not practising good posture.  He has presented affidavits from the plaintiff's mother stating that the plaintiff could often be found slouching as a child and that she frequently had to remind him to stand up straight.
            The plaintiff argues that, without admitting the truth of the posture allegations, even if they are true they do not diminish the defendant's responsibility.  The plaintiff also points to the contract entered into by the defendant in which the latter wrote or caused to be written that "The days of our years are threescore years and ten."  The plaintiff argues that there is an implied warranty in this provision of the contract to the effect that human beings will live in reasonable health for seventy years, a warranty he alleges that the defendant has breached.
            The defendant responds that the provision in question is not contractual but poetical and is merely an observation, not a covenant.  He admits to entering into covenants with the plaintiff's ancestors, but says these had to do with grants of land in return for circumcision and had nothing to do with health in general or the health of backs in particular.
            In the alternative, the defendant argues that even if there is a contractual element to the provision in question, all that it promises is a length of life, and it in no way guarantees a healthy or happy life.
            The plaintiff argues that since the defendant is all-powerful he could easily fix the back in question or at least produce monetary compensation.
            The defendant responds that whatever his capabilities, he is under no obligation to help the plaintiff, especially since he has hardly ever seen the plaintiff in a house of worship.
            The plaintiff's final argument is that whatever the contractual obligations of the defendant, there is a common law duty of care which the defendant has breached by not ensuring that his products are safe and free of defect.
            The defendant responds to this argument by reference to the doctrine of "caveat emptor," or "buyer beware," to which the plaintiff responds by saying he was not a buyer.  The defendant states that he is willing to agree to that point and in fact uses it to question the plaintiff's standing to bring this suit at all: the plaintiff, he says, is not a buyer or an heir or the recipient of a gift; it is hard, in fact, to see what interest the plaintiff has in his back.
            The plaintiff suggests that landlord and tenant law might apply, but he has been unable to produce any lease agreement covering his back.
            This Court is of the opinion that the plaintiff has not made out a case against the defendant and that, as the defendant alleges, the plaintiff has no standing even to bring such a case.
            The case is dismissed with costs to be paid to the defendant.

Modern Life

The rushing to deadlines
The accommodating of others
A black leaf swirling down

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Time Travel without a Time Machine

Homecoming and reunion season seems to be upon us.  Here's an article I wrote some years back about a high school reunion I attended:

Time Travel without
a Time Machine

By Sheldon Goldfarb

     The other day I read that the noted physicist Stephen Hawking has changed his mind about the possibility of time travel.  Apparently, he now thinks it may be possible.
     Ah, I thought, he must have recently attended a high school reunion.
     What a bizarre thing, a high school reunion.  To go back into the past 10, 20, or 25 years, to look up old acquaintances not seen since graduation day, to reveal your new, and hopefully improved, self to the people who liked, ignored, or bullied you so many years before--to travel back into the past, in other words.
     I have just recently returned, if indeed I have completely returned, from such an experience, from a trip 3000 miles across the country and 25 years into my past.  It was a very odd experience.
     When I arrived at the Town Hall, just a couple of blocks from the old high school itself (a high school no longer catering to persons of my linguistic persuasion), I thought I was in the wrong place.  Once, after high school, in my brief career as a journalist, I covered a city council meeting in that very town hall, and now I thought I had encountered another one.  The room was full of middle-aged men and women, some with white hair.
     “Is this the Mount Royal reunion?” I asked dubiously.
     Oh, but yes, yes--yes, it was.  And especially with the help of the name tags everyone was wearing, I could eventually see that these middle-aged men and women were none other than the teenagers I had gone to school with.
     There then followed an almost endless round of “Long time no see,” as, drinks in hand, we exchanged pleasantries and gently quizzed each other on the 25-year gap.
     What a relief to find that the person I thought had published a book before I had actually had not.  That was someone else with the same name.  And how reassuring to find that the person who had followed an almost identical career path as mine had, also like me, been unable to find tenured employment in it.
     On the other hand, how daunting to encounter a senior vice-president of a major communications firm and to realize that dozens of my cohort had already reproduced themselves and were raising families.  How adult, how much further along than me.
     Of course, being further along can have its drawbacks too.  Look at the contemporaries of mine who had lost their hair or gone all grey.
     On the other hand, and sometimes this seemed even odder, look at the ones who hardly seem to have changed at all--or who had improved, slimmed down, become perkier and self-assured.  Maybe I should have spent more time with them way back when ...
     But the oddest thing was to see yourself through others’ eyes, through eyes that were expecting to see your teen-aged self, not the forty-something person you had become.
     “Oh, Sheldon, still the radical,” they’d say, commenting on my beard and red tie.
     “No, no,” I tried to say, not wanting to be too craven or disloyal to my former self, but still trying to distance my present self from some of my past follies of opinion, to assert that nowadays I am a moderate, even a conservative.
     In fact, this was a major disappointment to one of my old political sparring partners, who had been looking forward to a momentary resumption of our old debates on the relative merits of socialism and free enterprise.
     “But I can’t really debate you anymore,” I said.  “Now I believe more or less what you do.  I consider myself a conservative.”
     But I wonder now, after the experience, if I really am.  Compared to all the cleanshaven doctors, lawyers, and business executives who have come out of my graduating class, maybe I am still the radical after all--what with my pursuit of literary and intellectual interests, my single status, my distance from the business milieu, my beard.
     Radical intellectual, conservative intellectual--what’s the difference?  Seen from the world of business, it is perhaps all one.
     And what a disorienting thought that is.  There’s nothing like a little time travel to shake up one’s old perceptions.