Mark S. Weiner

Archive for September, 2012|Monthly archive page

Burma and the Rule of Law

In Burma, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Marxism, Rule of law, Southeast Asia on September 29, 2012 at 9:35 am

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending a talk about the rule of law by the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has good reason to have opinions about the subject. Suu Kyi spent nearly fifteen years under house arrest for her pro-democracy activities against the socialist government that ruled her country (and ran it into the ground) from 1962 to 2011. Labeled “a destructive element” by the regime, she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Suu Kyi was in town on the invitation of one the undergraduate colleges at Yale, and a fellow of the college was able to snag me a ticket toward the front of the hall where she spoke (it’s nice to have such friends!). From there, it was easy to see that Suu Kyi is both a charming and an electrifying presence—though only some of the wattage comes through in this video of the lecture:

Read the rest of this entry »

Odds & Ends

In Method, Rule of the Clan on September 27, 2012 at 10:34 am

A few odds and ends today.

First, I’m very happy to report that The Rule of the Clan now has its second jacket endorsement! The blurb comes from Rogers Smith, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Smith writes: “The Rule of the Clan is a delight to read—an engaging tour of societies in which kinship groups have been the primary form of social organization, from Anglo-Saxon England to medieval Iceland to southern Sudan, modern India, the Philippines, and much more. It is also an insightful meditation on what proponents of individual freedom must grasp if they are to realize their aspirations in societies made up not of rational abstractions, but people like us.” For the first endorsement, from Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, see here.

Second, for those of you reading Worlds of Law regularly, I thought I’d suggest that the best way to follow the blog is to sign up for the automatic email announcements of new posts—a really handy feature of the website design. All you have to do is enter your address below under “Follow Worlds of Law via Email.” I don’t expect to post more than three times each week, so you won’t be flooded with messages, and you can unsubscribe at any time. Read the rest of this entry »

Of Mexico, Blasphemy, and the “Feel-Clash” of Legal Difference

In Aesthetics, narrative, form, Blasphemy, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Freedom of speech, Islam, Law and literature, Method, Mexico, Pakistan on September 26, 2012 at 7:09 pm

Last week I attended an exciting talk by the journalist David Lida, who for over twenty years has documented everyday life in Mexico, particularly Mexico City, in ways few other writers are able to do (because Lida has both great compassion and serious nerve). During the event, Lida read from the manuscript of a semi-autobiographical novel, and an episode he recounted nicely illuminates an issue I’ll be examining centrally on Worlds of Law.

In addition to his career as a writer, Lida has an unusual side job. He works as a “mitigation specialist” for attorneys representing Mexicans in the United States who are facing the death penalty. What this means, in essence, is that he unearths the back-story of people who have been accused or convicted of capital murder to help persuade courts to show them leniency—if a sentence of life without the possibility of parole be can called lenient. In practice, the job requires Lida to travel to humble, sometimes dangerous places and persuade strangers to reveal intimate details about other people’s lives: about their friends, parishioners, cousins, brothers, and sons. He then stitches those fading snapshots together into a narrative for American defense lawyers.

It is work that requires moral and physical bravery, a surplus of “negative capability,” and a skilled pen. Read the rest of this entry »


In Aesthetics, narrative, form, Animals, Books and libraries, Europe, State development, Wales on September 21, 2012 at 4:30 pm

At Sotheby’s auction house this July, a single medieval manuscript sold for £541,250, or about $879,000. At over $8,700 per page, the price strikes me as a bargain, if not a steal. Why? The reason has to do with the extraordinary history of the country my wife and I saw as we walked along Offa’s Dyke and looked to the west, across the River Wye and into the distant green hills. It also has to do with the number three.

Although it’s part of the United Kingdom, Wales has a long, proud history of legal independence. Even after the country was united with England under Henry VIII, the Welsh administered English law in their own court, the Court of Great Sessions, for almost three hundred years, until 1830. Today, guided by the evocative expression “Legal Wales,” the country is developing a range of autonomous legal institutions and practices as part of devolution.

The stakes of this process are high. If in time it leads to a fully independent Welsh nation, for which an independent system of law would be a prerequisite, the politics of Britain and Europe would be profoundly changed. Read the rest of this entry »

The first endorsement of The Rule of the Clan

In Rule of the Clan on September 21, 2012 at 10:21 am

Before I publish my next post about Welsh law later today, I wanted to share the happy news that my forthcoming book, The Rule of the Clan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), has received its first jacket endorsement! Thrillingly, it’s from Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University. The BBC has called Ahmed “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam.”

Amb. Ahmed writes: “Mark Weiner has raised the crucial yet neglected subject of tribal identity and loyalty in modern society. The sweep of his book and the depth of his analysis make it essential reading for anyone interested in connecting past to present in order to chart a felicitous path to the future.”

I’ve never met Amb. Ahmed—though some dear friends will know that I once provided a distinctly hammy performance of the character of an Islamic judge in a reading of his play “The Trial of Dara Shikoh”—which makes receiving his endorsement all the more meaningful to me. I would have been delighted had he simply read the book. His calling it essential is absolutely exhilarating.

The occasion of Amb. Ahmed’s endorsement also gives me the chance to send greetings to my Pakistani readers, including a special shout-out to my friends M & S and their family in the Swabi district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in the northwest frontier. Warm greetings from America!

A Walk in Wales, Part II

In Border regions, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Europe, State development, Wales on September 19, 2012 at 5:28 pm

As my wife and I walked across Wales this summer, we developed an inside joke that probably only a couple of historians on vacation could find quite as hilarious as we did. Whatever sight happened to be before us—whether an ancient, ruined castle, a range of green hills in the distance, or the ham and cheese sandwiches in our backpack—we described (in grandiloquent tones, often with one arm outstretched) in terms of the number three. Thus:

Three are the towers on that fine fortress of Edward I!”

Three are the delicious ales we have consumed this evening!”

Three are the miles we walked totally off course earlier this afternoon!”

Forgive us. Like I said, we were on vacation, and we were overcome by mirth. We were also entertaining ourselves with a sly reference to an especially interesting—and revealing—feature of Welsh legal history.

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My New Post on Life of the Law

In Anthropology, Guest Posts on September 18, 2012 at 11:39 am

The terrific new website Life of the Law recently asked some of its friends which book most changed the way they think about law. Here is my answer. The other respondents so far are Cass Sunstein and Emily Bazelon.

An ending, a beginning, an invitation

In Autobiographical, Wales, Welcome on September 13, 2012 at 8:28 pm

The stout man in the beekeeper’s outfit waved as we approached him on the trail from Machynlleth to Llanbrynmair. “You must be the Weiners,” he said as he took off his helmet and smiled.

“We—we are,” I replied, dumbfounded to be recognized on a secluded byway in the Welsh midlands. “How on earth did you know?”

“Who else could you possibly be, then? Only one or two people pass by here every day. You’ll be staying with me tonight. I’m your innkeeper.”


It was another typical encounter in Wales—a warm welcome extended in a remote, green landscape. This summer, my wife and I walked 350 miles through that lush country, roaming over hill and dale, or bryn and cwm, just after lambing season, when the fields echoed with the sweet, insistent bleating of sheep and their young.

The walk marked both an ending and a beginning for us, and we walked with a purpose. Read the rest of this entry »