Category Archives: The law

A sign of the American times

Checking out official documents today for the immigration services, I noticed that the forms only provide two lines for the person making the application to list their former spouses. “Hmmm,” I pondered rather formally to myself. “That really doesn’t seem to be enough space at a time when marriage appears to be less valued than any previous stage in the institution’s history.”

And then I turned the page and saw a continuation sheet with specifically reserved space for a further 38 ex-spouses to be listed.

Welcome to America!

So sue me

No word sums up America quite as well as ‘litigious’. So conscious am I of the propensity of my fellow citizens to engage the services of a lawyer that I can barely bring myself to go to the toilet at work, for fear that the sound of me relieving myself will cause untold emotional trauma to some unwitting bystander who subsequently sues for $25m.

Of course, most Americans go through their lives without even knowing the name of a good attorney, let alone leafing through the pages of Money Grabbing Bastard Monthly in order to find one to employ. But there’s definitely a group of people who are prepared to sue at the drop of a hat. Especially if the hat is dropped on their big toe, bringing a tragically early end to their once promising tap-dancing career.

Now a New York resident Gokhan Mutlu is suing JetBlue Airways for $2m after being forced to sit in a toilet for three hours on a flight to California. Apparently he was turfed out of his seat by a flight attendant who originally agreed to sit in the jumpseat so that Mutlu could board, but then actually found it too uncomfortable for the flight.

Being honest, it’s difficult to find much sympathy for any of the parties involved.

Certainly there’s no sympathy for the pilot, who allegedly told the passenger that “he was the pilot, that this was his plane, under his command that (Mutlu) should be grateful for being on board.” I mean, I will barely say a rude word to the world’s worst waiter in New York in case they decide to sue for discrimination against serving staff, so it’s difficult to understand why the pilot thought that he could get away with attacking a passenger.

Nor for the flight attendant, whose poor little bottom got a bit more uncomfortable than she thought it would to get in the jump seat, and so had to persuade the pilot to make the nasty passenger sit in the toilet so that she could give her derriere the cushioned home it so richly deserved.

And don’t even get me started on the passenger. Sure, it’s possibly dangerous to sit with no safety belts in the bathroom. And it’s probably pretty humiliating too. But how humiliating does something have to be before you deserve $2m for your troubles? Frankly if I was paraded naked infront of a crowd of people that included my mother, all my ex-girlfriends and the entirety of The Special One’s extended family, maybe I’d think that I’d deserve a million or so.

But sitting on a toilet and missing the chance to pay two dollars to get the chance to watch yet another movie featuring Jennifer Aniston, doth not a couple of million dollars make.

Frankly, if it meant avoiding the sorry excuse for food that most American airlines serve, he should have shaken the pilot by the hand and thanked him for the best flight he’d ever had.

Fight the power

I’ve never been in trouble all my life. Well, that’s not strictly true. I was practically roasted alive when I was about five, when I ignored my mum’s declaration that I couldn’t buy a Screwball from the ice cream van while she and my sister were at the house of one of her friends. How she found out, I will never know. Although, in retrospect, it was possibly an error to buy one for my sister as well as myself, and take it around to the house she and I my mum were at.

Given that I had fallen at the first hurdle in my bid to be a criminal mastermind, my reluctance to clash with any kind of authority was possibly not surprising. I was never put into detention even once at school, something which my equally pious schoolfriends The Bean Counter and Broadsheet Benny can’t claim, to my knowledge. I’ve never had my driving license endorsed in the 17 years since I took my test, although admittedly that might have something to do with not having driven for the last twelve years or so. And I’m not sure I’ve ever been into a police station, let alone been under suspicion by one or more of its occupants.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got no halo. I’ve had my fair share of questionable behaviour, and I’m not in line for the sainthood any time soon. But when it comes to officialdom, I firmly toe the line. When The Special One made a joke on my visa application, I made her write it out again. I get unnerved when she fills out a form in sentence case when it specifically asks for block capitals. And if the Inland Revenue ask for me to return a form by a certain date, you can be damn sure they’ll have at least three days before the deadline.

Given this goody-two-shoes approach to life, it’s hardly surprising that I still get a little bit nervous whenever I come into the US and have to go through immigration. Even though I’ve entered the country around 60 times in the last ten years, I guess I still figure they’re somehow inexplicably going to link me to a elite band of Welsh nationalist warriors attempting to inflict leeks and daffodils on a hirtherto unsuspecting American public.

Sadly though, it appears that my respect for the law and its officials isn’t matched by immigration officials themselves.

Last weekend, I nervously approached the immigration desk and meekly handed over my documentation. Immigration officers aren’t employed for their chat, but every fifteenth journey or so, you get someone who is determined to show that they’re not all humourless robots with masochistic tendencies.

And so it was with ‘Tony’. Having extracted from me that I’m a music fan, he proceeded to question me at length on my views on digital music, presumably to the annoyance of the 252 other passengers waiting behind me for one of the two immigration officials set aside for non-Americans.

Having said that I buy music from iTunes but still love the physical product, Tony told me that he only buys music digitally these days. He used to get all his music from Limewire and Kazaa, apparently, but stopped using them a couple of years ago.

“You realised that those sites were illegal?” I said.

His response? “Why would I care if they were illegal? I stopped because I got some viruses on my computer. I couldn’t care less that it’s illegal.”

The illusion is shattered. I may go out and rob a bank later.

Step back in time

Sunday proved to be a confusing day in the Brit Out Of Water household, given that the whole family was convinced that the clocks had gone back an hour. It wasn’t until about 4pm that we realised the error, and only then because somebody turned up for dinner at the “wrong” time and managed to put us straight. Having had the bliss of an extra hour in bed, it came as a bit of a shock to the system to lose an hour unexpectedly in the middle of the day.

In the United States, it would appear, clocks don’t go back until next weekend this year, thanks to the President Bush-endorsed Energy Policy Act of 2005. The bill decreed that daylight saving would begin three weeks earlier than normal and end a week later, in the hope of saving up to 100,000 extra barrels of oil every year. Not that any saving would make even a dent in America’s wasteful use of natural resources, but you’ve got to appreciate the gesture.

For a week, then, New York is only four hours behind the UK (a fact I won’t be revealing to my mum, who is still struggling to come to terms with what time it is in New York when she’s settling down with her Horlicks late at night). But whatever the time difference, there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s noticeably darker for substantially longer periods here than it is back in Blighty.

Getting up this morning at 6.30am to make a school lunch of peanut butter sandwiches (wrong, I know), I stubbed my toe on the treacherous walk to the bathroom due to it being absolutely pitch black outside. Then looking out of the office windows at 5.30pm, it was pitch black again – the day having disappeared without me going outside once. And remember, this is before daylight saving time even kicks in.

Given New York and London’s relative geographical positions, maybe the difference in daylight is unsurprising – but that doesn’t make it any easier to come to terms with. It’s only October after all, and this is going to get worse before it gets better. By the time of the shortest day on December 22, I’m fully expecting dawn at around 1pm, with sunset about an hour and a half later. I’ll be coming to work in my pyjamas, just so you know.