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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

January 17, 2009

mortimer, morden, and miracles

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 1:25 pm

A few “quickies” that took too long to write this Saturday morning afternoon:

Thank you, John Mortimer, for creating Rumpole:  As today’s New York Times reports, “John Mortimer, Barrister and Writer Who Created Rumpole, Dies at 85” (Jan. 17, 2009).  The famous “champagne Socialist” will be much-praised and discussed in the media.  I want to thank him for creating, Horace Rumpole, who Bloomberg‘s appropriately describes as “the curmudgeonly London trial lawyer renowned for his roguish way with the law, his love of small cigars and cheap claret, and his fear of just one person, his wife Hilda, a.k.a. ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’.” No other fictitious character has given me so much enjoyment over the decades as Rumpole, on television and in novels.

As a lawyer and observer of the legal profession, I particularly appreciate Rumpole’s battles with the folks we call the Dignity Police.  As we said here three years ago, after listening to the audiobook of John Mortimer’s novel Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders:

Throughout this enjoyable memoir of Rumpole’s first big case, he is chided by Queen’s Inns and Equity Court versions of the bar’s dignity police – pompous Heads of Chamber, like Wynset and Ballard, worried more about their own perquisites and appearing in “the finest traditions of our great profession” than in working diligently to keep a client from the death sentence or in helping to nurture the career of a young “white wig” lawyer.

Rumpole, of course, refuses to see his role as being “a safe pair of hands” wearing the correct color of pants.   Yes, he never does become rich or famous, or even Head of Chambers, but he serves his clients and profession with his zeal and his soul intact.

As for Mortimer, I particularly enjoyed Clive Davis’ remembrance yesterday in The Spectator, which includes this passage from his autobiography “The Summer of a Dormouse” (which Davis calls a “beautiful, slender book about the tribulations – and occasional – rewards of old age”):

After this encounter with various religious beliefs, I remember that C.M. Bowra wrote, “A people gets the gods it deserves. The grinning, gloating ogress of the Aztecs mirrors a race brutalized by incessant war.” So the Greek gods are as louche, and often as charming, as their worshippers. The God of Israel is extremely nationalistic and frequently cross. The Scotch God is prim and meticulous and the American God, at any rate on the Networks, wishes to be taken literally, lacks a sense of irony and prefers large financial contributions to burnt offerings. When I was at school I was introduced, in the Chapel, to the Church of England God, a well-intentioned old gent who doesn’t care too much for religion.

A final thought from Prof. Yabut: If you’re thinking of giving me a lifetime achievement award, please don’t wait until I’m 85.  If I don’t deserve one before then, I don’t deserve one.  Googling about John Mortimer today, I discovered that the mystery magazine The Strand announced it was giving John Mortimer a Lifetime Achievement Award on January 14, 2009, two days before the author died.

Flight 1549’s Landing Was Not a Miracle:  As we wrote two days ago, the f/k/a Gang was grateful and impressed by the outcome of the collision of US Airways Flight 1549with a flock of geese.   But, in response to the verbal reaction of America’s politicians, press and public, we voice a hearty “no!” to the headline in Rex Huppke’s Chicago Tribune article “Have we set the bar too low for miracles?” (January 16, 2009).  Huppke notes:

“The safe Hudson River landing of US Airways Flight 1549 was remarkable enough to push passengers and public officials, headline writers and talking heads straight into the realm of the supernatural. . . .  It was a tragedy narrowly averted, but was it really a miracle?

“The pilot, we now know, is highly trained and has years of experience. From a pragmatic standpoint, with an expert at the helm, the result was just what it should have been.”

Using the word more precisely in a religious context, John C. Cavadini, chair of the theology department at the University of Notre Dame, told the Tribune: “Strictly speaking, the term ‘miracle’ would be reserved for an event for which there is no natural explanation.”   And, Loyola University theology professor Dennis Martin noted that the Latin root from which “miracle” is derived merely means “a marvelous thing.”  He adds:

“I think it comes down to whether you believe in God’s activity in the world or not. Those who do would say that even with the skill of the pilot, if just a little something goes the wrong way it could all turn out quite differently. When a person of faith says it was miraculous, really what he’s saying is, ‘I believe God was involved.’ “

In response, Ruppke asks a very logical question: “[W]hat of the Canada geese officials think flew into the jet’s engines, causing the plane to go down? If there were divine intervention in the safe landing, why were the geese there in the first place?” And, Prof. Martin replies:

“No mainstream theologian would say God either directed those geese into those engines or that God didn’t act to stop them. God permits this to happen. The birds did what they did. The pilots did what they did.”

The skeptics here at f/k/a do not believe in divine intervention in human affairs. (If we did, we would have quite a few bones to pick with a supposedly all-loving but demonstrably arbitrary and capricious Supreme Being.)  For us, the safe landing of Flight 1549 was a “miracle” using the meaning of “an unexpectedly marvelous thing”.  It was not the result of divine intervention — nor angelic assistance.  We’ll leave you with two points to ponder:

  • If a reasonable God were going to choose to grant a particular airliner a death-free crash, why in heavens would he choose one filled with employees of the Bank of America, just one day before BofA got a $20 billion bailout (and two weeks after it charged Your Editor a $39 fee for being a few hours late making an $18 minimum charge card payment)?
  • To those who always tell me God allows evil and unfair things to happen, because he gave humans free will and has to respect it, I ask: “Did he give the geese free will, too?”

update: Almost miraculousErik Turkewitz has been watching to see whether lawyers are complying with the New York ethics rule banning the solicitation of victims of a mass disaster within 30 days of the event. [DR 7-111 (22 NYCRR 1200.41-a)] So far, Turk has found only one lawyer looking for client with a Flight 1549 ad.  Only one!  Really.  Follow-update: Eric has done a great job explaining some of the problems that exist with the NY 30-day solicitation ban, in the post “New York’s Anti-Solicitation Rule Allows for Ethics Laundering and Must be Modified”  (January 22, 2009).

Marvelous but not unexpected: It’s only halfway through January, and Matt Morden has already posted more memorable poems and photos at his Morden Haiku weblog this year than I can fit in one post.  Here’s a sample:

lingering frost
i paint a wall
a new shade of white

.. [orig. Jan. 11, 2009]

winter breath
enough to obscure
the stars

all day in the ice
on fringes of the river
colour of the moon

down from the hills
a taste of mist
on my beard

… by Matt Morden at Morden Haiku

Matt’s year-end sunset inspired dagosan to dig up one of his own:

year-end sunset
we head East
into pinks and blues

……. by dagosan
(photo taken at Riverside Park, Schenectady, Dec. 28, 2009)


  1. Thanks as ever for the plug David. And in view of your liking for John Mortimer and Mr Rumpole, you might be interested in this obituary in today’s Guardian

    Best Wishes


    Comment by mattm — January 17, 2009 @ 2:27 pm

  2. You are very welcome, Matt. Thanks for letting me share your artistry. And, thanks for the Guardian link.

    Comment by David Giacalone — January 17, 2009 @ 2:31 pm

  3. Amen on the Sully miracle. Sully did his job in an excellent, professional manner. He deserves kudos for a job well done, and to suggest he was either incredibly fortunate or had divine intervention demeans the effort. This wasn’t the hand of God, but the steady hand and sound judgment of a very good pilot.

    Comment by shg — January 17, 2009 @ 5:31 pm

  4. Good evening, Scott. Thanks for a well-said (and unusually staid) take on Capt. Sully’s “job well done.”

    Comment by David Giacalone — January 17, 2009 @ 5:40 pm

  5. “unusually staid?” Whatever do you mean?

    Comment by shg — January 18, 2009 @ 8:56 am

  6. Which word stumped you, Scott, “unusual” or “staid“?

    Let’s just say that your many fans at Simply Justice are accustomed to colorful adjectives and insightfully-frank psycho-analysis, when the shg we know disagrees or disapproves of conduct or trends. (e.g., here)

    Comment by David Giacalone — January 18, 2009 @ 9:20 am

  7. David, you might also be interested in this article which could prove yet more grist to your “tell-em” haiku mill.

    Comment by mattm — January 18, 2009 @ 11:16 am

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