Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Thursday, March 31, 2005

A very entertaining post on Michael Bérubé's site, asks the question, "Where did “smooth jazz” come from?" "[A]s the example of David Sanborn demonstrates, smooth jazz also has an embassy in the neighbor state ruled by Steely Dan (in fact, some historians attribute Aja to “Steely Dan’s colonization by the forces of smooth jazz”)." Don't miss the comments-- they're great too: "The enduring presence of santized jazz like Paul Whiteman (and Ozzie Nelson, although I did like Ozzie & Harriet’s closing theme from the later years) also can’t be neglected. And it’s not just jazz--every genre and subgenre seems to generate some Mantavoni-like spinoff that comes later or simply has a broader appeal. The Eagles, Loggins & Messina, etc. took what the Byrds & Buffalo Springfield begat and made it into varieties of soft and country rock, and Kiss took metal from the likes of the Who & Led Zepplin and made it acceptable to bubble gum-types, there’s always been somone ready to take jazz and make it “acceptable” to people who people who have trouble “getting” something as accessible as Ella Fitzgerald songbooks."

When we lived in NYC a smooth jazz station came on the air and was promoted with television ads that featured Miles Davis. "It's very cool," Miles rasped, "Like me." It should go without saying that CD101.9 was not at all cool like Miles Davis, but it bears mentioning that Miles was not above putting out stuff that had as its sole reason for existence its commercial quality. Context is important: I love Miles' "Porgy and Bess", but let's face it, there is nothing on that side that would sound out of place followed by a Herbie Mann cut.

David Johansen, "David Johansen". Johansen really does have one of the best voices in rock'n'roll, and, a goofball sense of humor that is appealing. These songs are full of hooks-- I woke up this morning with "Funky But Chic" stuck in my head, and it's not even my favorite cut. Unfortunately the sound on this is horrible: if you told me that none of the musicians on it were ever in the same room at the same time I'd believe it, and on top of that the mix is unpleasently murky. There really isn't a bad song on it, but I can't say that the set works as a whole because of the bad mix. Seriously, how many times have you heard an album and thought, "Oh well, maybe he'll release a live version that'll sound better"?

The Rolling Stones, "Some Girls". Stands with their best, I'd say. Not a bad cut on it, and really, how many Stones albums can that be said of? Is it the Stones side you'd play to introduce the Stones to someone? Probably not, but it is all there, everything that makes them great. I wish they'd put something like this out today-- I suppose they still could.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Didn't get home in time to play rock critic last night, so I'll fill in with a note on methodology. In 1978 I had a job working in the mailroom for a big, white shoe firm in downtown Manhattan. There was a lot to recommend about this gig: it got me off Long Island and into the City; there was a lot of train time, which worked out to reading time for me; and I was near J&R Music, still the best music store I have ever seen, anywhere. A steady gig, a chance to read about the music scene, a chance to go and see who was playing pretty regularly at the venues that everyone was talking about, and access to the best record store in the world-- this was a time in my life when I could read about who was hot, see who was hot, and buy sides by acts that were on small labels before anybody knew about them. It was also a time when that sort of act existed, and pop music mattered more to me, so it was a perfect congruence of events. Back then I'd read the critic's best of lists at the end of the year and have heard all of the sides they were talking about. This was the vinyl era, of course, and one of the great things about J&R was that it was cheaper than any other record store around. You could go in with a $20 bill and walk out with an armful of great stuff-- or even stuff you had no idea about, but could afford to take a flyer on.

Last night I pulled out Christgau's 70's book and had a look at the "A List" for 1978, then I pulled out the sides from the list that were on my shelves. Of course I don't have all of them, (The Steve Miller Band, "Greatest Hits"? Not on your life). Here are some that I do have that we won't be playing this game with: Blondie, "Parallel Lines" (as a practical matter, a greatest hits collection); Nick Lowe, "Pure Pop for Now People" (I already know this holds up-- it'd feel too much like cheating); Elvis Costello, "This Year's Model" (are you kidding? As great as it ever was, and everyone knows it); Neil Young, "Decade" (it has "Southern Man" on it, and career retrospective like this are not what I'm trying to do, and I'm kinda Neil Young'd out just at the moment); Warren Zevon, "Excitable Boy" (I know a lot of people who'd take issue with me, but this is a greatest hits collection too, with a lot more filler than you'd think).

The rest are albums I haven't played through in a long time-- because they are vinyl, I don't get to them that often, and quite a few of the sides on deck are things I haven't thought about since the digital age commenced. I was surprised I owned a couple of them. I'm looking forward to playing several, and I am really curious about a few. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

One of the pleasures I get from reading Robert Christgau's anthologized "Consumer Guides" is that I can revisit my own thoughts about particular albums or artists along with The Dean. Some time ago Christgau himself decided to play this game, and reviewed a bunch of sides from 1967-- a year or so before he started writing Consumer Guide columns. 1967 is a ways back for me, although, naturally I have music from then, not all of it was stuff I purchased then. Looking at his findings, I think I'd be inclined to dissent on "Surrealistic Pillow" (I like Grace Slick, or at least I used to); "Satanic Majesties" (the Stones album I never play); and the Mothers of Invention (I've always found Zappa pretty useless). I have no opinion about several others, and doubt that I could form an opinion on "Sgt. Pepper"-- it is too deeply engrained to even listen to, and I almost never do.

The reviewer exists to answer a very focused question: "How do I feel about this now?" Because Pop music incorporates as an essential quality it's evanescence, the question of whether the music will endure is usually not addressed; I would say that this is as it should be. (When Rolling Stone went to a star rating system, I knew it was rubbish because five stars meant that the album was a "classic". How would they know?) Still, the question of how something stands up is a legitimate one, even if critics seldom explore it.

I am of a mind to play the game myself, pick a year that I feel is particularly noteworthy for the music that affected me in a personal way, and attempt to revisit the music as though it is new to my ears. In 1978 I was an undergraduate who pretty much knew everything: as Bob Dylan says, "I'm younger than that now". Let's see how the things I was listening to back then sound in the Twenty-first Century. I'll post two a day for the remainder of the week.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Sports Economist advises that Andrew Zimbalist has a new book out, with Stefan Szymanski, "American Pastime". Professor Zimblist is like a rock star to me.

Friday, March 25, 2005

There seems to be a great deal of competition in the Buffalo weblog realm all of a sudden. Competition is good, so I am pleased and intrigued to learn that Clarity Media Group has filed applications to trademark the Examiner name in, inter alia, Buffalo. (Jack Shafer's "Pressbox" at Slate tipped me off.) I have less of a Buffalo News problem than a lot of people seem to, but a second daily would be good if only because we'd stand a chance of getting better funnies.

Via wood s lot we learned that this year Good Friday falls on Flannery O'Connor's birthday. There is much to respect about Ms. O'Connor-- her life, her work-- but I favor her crankiness. From "A Good Man Is Hard To Find":

"Turn to the right, it was a wall," The Misfit said, looking up again at the cloudless sky. "Turn to the left, it was a wall. Look up it was a ceiling, look down it was a floor. I forget what I done, lady. I set there and set there, trying to remember what it was I done and I ain't recalled it to this day. Oncet in a while, I would think it was coming to me, but it never come."

"Maybe they put you in by mistake," the old lady said vaguely.

"Nome," he said. "It wasn't no mistake. They had the papers on me."

"You must have stolen something," she said.

The Misfit sneered slightly. "Nobody had nothing I wanted," he said. "It was a head-doctor at the penitentiary said what I had done was kill my daddy but I known that for a lie. My daddy died in nineteen ought nineteen of the epidemic flu and I never had a thing to do with it. He was buried in the Mount Hopewell Baptist churchyard and you can go there and see for yourself."

"If you would pray," the old lady said, "Jesus would help you."

"That's right," The Misfit said.

"Well then, why don't you pray?" she asked trembling with delight suddenly.

"I don't want no hep," he said. "I'm doing all right by myself."

Bobby Lee and Hiram came ambling back from the woods. Bobby Lee was dragging a yellow shirt with bright blue parrots in it.

"Thow me that shirt, Bobby Lee," The Misfit said. The shirt came flying at him and landed on his shoulder and he put it on. The grandmother couldn't name what the shirt reminded her of. "No, lady," The Misfit said while he was buttoning it up, "I found out the crime don't matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you're going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it."

I think I look fat, slow and cold in this picture. What d' you know? I was!(More at the KRAC Blog.) Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 24, 2005

As long as I'm raging about matters political, Manhattan Transfer on the topic impressed me as being particularly cogent: "The great thing about Congressional hearings is how effectively they disabuse us of the notion that politicians can be divided into two classes, and that one of those classes is made up of good ones."

Damnit, I really want to stop reading and thinking about the Terri Schiavo matter, but it keeps dragging me back in. Part of my problem, I think, is that over the years I have handled matters dealing with the question of consciousness, and so have no patience with the people who assert that the evidence that this is a person is in a persistant vegitative state is somehow equivocal. One case in particular will stay with me for the rest of my life: a young man who accidentally shot out his prefrontal lobe horsing around with a handgun. For all I know his body is still being maintained in a hospital, but there was no awareness according to the medical proof at the time. Oliver Sacks actually consulted on that one, a brush with genius for me.

I've seen other cases like this: typically the person doesn't last all that long, but a month, or three months, or whatever is long enough. It is the survivors that experience the suffering: reaction to sensation in the patent, or even random movement or sound can ignite an ember of hope, so that the husband or wife or mother or father is forced to re-experience the horror of their loved ones' injury again and again. I get to hear the testimony about all this, and it brings me no joy; I am as inclined to live in optimistic denial as anyone else, and can understand why these people would want to believe that the breathing shell that they sat next to was still the person that they loved. I don't deal in the questions about maintaining life support; I come in long after, when the survivor's grief has calcified into anger.

Timothy Quill, M.D. has written an editorial for the New England Journal of Medicine that addresses the medical and legal issues in this case quite nicely. Although I disagree with him when he says, [T]he courts-- though their involvement is sometimes necessary-- are the last place one wants to be when working through these complex dilemmas," (the courts are exactly where this sort of thing should be dealt with, doctor-- not dealing with this case in the courts is why this case is a crisis), Dr. Quill's medical impressions strike me as careful, intelligent, and worthy of respect. Indeed, it is the respect that the courts have shown to the medical opinions of other experts that demonstrates why the system we have for these types of decisions works-- and why the different treatment this case is receiving is a travesty. (Via rc3.)

We made this leek and brie tart last night: I think the way to go would be to make individual tarts, as the recipe describes, rather than as a quiche, which is what we did because we didn't read the recipe all the way through before getting under way. It'd make a good first course, and I'll certainly try it again. (Via Appetites.)

From The Morning News, a tribute to French butter.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Wouldn't it be fun to be an A&R man? I mean, don't get me wrong, I love my gig at Championship Vinyl, but wouldn't it be exciting to hear new acts, and bring them back to the label so that the whole world could have a chance to hear them? Somewhat in that spirit I played the long embargoed Fiona Apple album this evening, thinking to my self, "If I didn't know what this was, if it just came in over the transom, and I was the guy who had to decide if we should put the resources into promoting and distributing it, what would I do?"

Well, what I'd do is shift fantasies, I guess, and go back to the one about being a critic at the Village Voice. In the end temperament counts for a lot more than we think, and after three cuts of Fiona Apple I found that I was less interested in assessing the commercial prospects of the project (middling, I'd say-- no reason it couldn't sell 250,000 copies, but 75,000 seems just as likely), and more interested in why exactly it was not grabbing me. The version I heard doesn't sound quite finished, which is interesting-- the songs are written the way they are intended to be written, and there are strings and production effects in there, but it still has a work tape quality to it. The songs are okay-- an occasional turn of phrase turned my head, and there are even a few hooks-- but the whole thing has a forced quality to it.

Honest, I know less than nothing about Fiona Apple, because most of what I think I know is probably wrong, but if I were an A&R guy I would not be excited about promoting this artist. I can hear the potential, but I can't hear the buzz, you know what I mean?

I shouldn't read about the Terri Schiavo matter, and I try not to, but it has reached the point where I can't not look. Everyone one on side of the matter keeps shoving our noses in it, and apart from saying that it's a hard case, I've struggled with what I should think about the whole thing.

And then it hit me: the argument that the people who want to keep Ms. Schiavo alive keep coming back to amounts to "Who's to say?" Harriet McBryde Johnson makes this argument in Slate: "The question is who should make the decision for her, and whether that substitute decision-maker should be authorized to kill her by starvation and dehydration." Other commentators have made the sleazier argument that her husband shouldn't be the one to say, because he is struggling to get on with his life. The problem with this argument is that there is a mechanism that exists to make these calls-- and it isn't Ms. Schiavo's husband, the poor bastard. The courts deal with these issues every day, and they are hard cases, and nobody likes dealing with them, but they do get dealt with. In fact, the Florida courts have dealt with this case. The problem is that there are people who are not satisfied with the answer they keep getting, and for whatever reason, keep trying to devise new places to go and ask the question over.

This is destructive , not only for the poor people involved in the process, but for the courts and the idea of the rule of law. The law is not the best system for making moral decisions, but it is an excellent system for making decisions: it is transparent, it is orderly, and it is supposed to be final. The people who are resisting the decisions of the courts that have addressed this situation are damaging something that is valuable and important-- an institution that exists to make the tough calls when nobody else wants to-- or can-- make them. Law breaks down when there is no finality, and breaking down the law seems to be what these people are up to.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Good commentary on Pogo at By Neddie Jingo. We get endless reruns of "Peanuts" and the best the rest of the funnies can do is to provide fodder for actual humorists. Why can't we have comics like "Pogo" any more? (Via Lance Mannion, who summed up my Neil Young review so nicely I wonder why I used all those extra words.)

Monday, March 21, 2005

This is how it goes, sometimes: Plan A was to go to Steve Earle tonight, but I didn't get tix because I also had a 3:30 court appearance in the Southern District. When I tried to book my flight to NYC, however, I found that although I could get there, I could not return that night. I asked for and got an adjournment on my Southern District event, but everyone who had expressed interest in Steve Earle had other commitments, so that's out. Now I find that if I'd been obliged to stay over in the City I could have gone to a panel featuring Greil Marcus, Christopher Ricks, (Oxford Professor of Poetry, and author of "Blonde on Blonde") and Sean Wilentz, (Professor of History, Princeton University, "Blam De Lam: On Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Volume One")at The Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University for "An Evening of Talk on Bob Dylan". As Bob says: "In the dime stores and bus stations,/People talk of situations,/Read books, repeat quotations,/Draw conclusions on the wall." So that could have been Plan B. Plan C? I have a feeling it will have something to do with left over pasta con sarde.

Friday, March 18, 2005

It appears that the Schadenfreude Parade has been postponed. If you are here because you searched for information about a certain prominent plaintiff's personal injury firm, the entry you are looking for is dated March 11, 2005.

Nobody is covering themselves with glory on this: gossip is nasty; the things that are claimed cast our glamour profession in a bad light; and I continue to be troubled by what certainly appears to be a breach of confidentiality. From time to time the idea of making attorney disciplinary proceedings more transparent is floated, and when the idea is rejected there is always grumbling, but the fact is that reputations are all that we have in this business, and reputations are very fragile things. I have no way of knowing about the claims I am hearing, but I am hearing quite a lot. Even if some percentage of what I hear is true, it is unfair to everyone who works at the firm to be gossiping about things that only the involved principals, the hearing officer, the judges of the Appellate Division and its staff have any way of having personal knowledge about. That's why our profession comes down on the side of confidentiality when changes to the system are proposed. Lawyers self-police, and although the system is far from perfect, for the most part it is pretty effective. It is not made more so by the sort of Coliseum atmosphere that seems to be consuming this particular episode-- in fact, that sort of thing diminishes all lawyers, and does our reputation as a profession no favors.

A friend is fond of noting that when parties are working a deal, and they need someone to hold the money, they don't trust each other, and they don't trust the other guy's accountant, but they'll trust the other guy's lawyer. In my own practice I have seen cases settle for millions of dollars on the word of my adversary-- every case settles on the word of another lawyer, more or less. We can operate in this way because we self police, and because we know that as lawyers we can be depended upon to keep our word. Making a spectacle out of an investigation arising out allegations that the trust placed in a lawyer was violated drags each of us a little lower than we started out. If true, then true-- let the chips fall where they may. But carrying on as though anything other than the truth has a rooting interest is unprofessional. At the close of business today, nobody knows nothin' about nothin'. If that changes, the time for commenting will commence, and adjudicated facts will be out there for comment. Until that time, we should tend our own gardens.

On November 15, 1975 Bob Dylan brought the Rolling Thunder Review to the Niagara Falls Convention Center. Years later Tom Knab and I discovered that we were both at that show, and next month we will go to Shea's to see what Bob is doing these days. In the meanwhile, I have been able to locate this resource, which documents the Rolling Thunder tour, and includes a set list from the performance we saw 22 years ago. It seems to me that Joni Mitchell put in an appearance, but it is possible I am mistaken; I recall a long, flashy guitar number by Mick Ronson-- something about "Mars Bars", and a joke at the end by one of the other members of the band about Ronson "inventing" David Bowie-- apparently this was part of the opening set by the band, which was called "Guam". I really don't remember too much else about the show-- I went with Mark Crawford, who lived in the dorm room next door to mine, and this trip was the first time I'd ever been to Buffalo. I remember being blown away by it all-- when "Live 1975" appeared last year, I was pleased that it better documented what I saw than "Hard Rain" did. (I remember being shocked when "Hard Rain" aired-- it was just noise, I thought, and horrible compared to what I'd seen. I'd love to see it again.) Our seats were along the right hand wall as you went in, and were pretty good. It looks like we saw a pretty good show, too, based on the set list. There was no white grease paint-- that surprised me later, too.

Further Dylanology: forty years ago, "Like a Rolling Stone" was recorded and released. Greil Marcus has written a book to mark the anniversary.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

A friend had to return a video last Saturday, and proposed that we meet at Coles to enjoy a Bear Republic Racer IPA. Of course I was happy to be of assistance in this way, and made the necessary arrangements. As I entered the bar I saw a large form come upon me. I was hoisted by my jacket up against the bar and found myself face to face with a lawyer acquaintance, the very embodiment of the sort of large Irish kid that used to plague my existence in grade school, all grown up to the full hod carrying size of his noble ancestors. "I just want to say," he roared, "Thank you for what you wrote!"

It seems that his office has come under some unwelcome scrutiny of late, he'd read a post of mine about it, and he'd found it fair. After I'd regained my composure we chatted a bit, but no confidences were revealed. One thing that he did say, however, struck me, and I am wondering about it today. How'd whatever is out today, the day before the Appellate Division hands down its decisions for the term, get out? Our glamour profession takes pride in our respect for confidentiality-- we aren't supposed to tell secrets. Who told? THere seems to be quite a lot of detail in the low buzz that's been going around-- where'd it come from?

I would think this would be something that the Fourth Department might like to know.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

There is no disputing Ron Rosenbaum's bona fides when it comes to insight into Long Island culture, but he can be unnecessarily snide. It is also true that he is a man not above beating a dead joke past the point of endurance. Both of these qualities mar his otherwise excellent piece on surf culture this week. First things first: Ron, nobody ever called it "the Guyland", and even as a Tom Wolfe-esque attempt at emulating the accent it is a lame joke. It was a lame joke the first fifty thousand times you took a stab at it-- get over it. Second, what do you mean, "I’ve followed surf culture since high school, when—even on Long Island, of all places—there was an embryonic surf culture centered around the South Shore’s Gilgo Beach,"? Even on Long Island? Dude, The Rock has some of the best beaches in the world! To be sure, the surf isn't up to the Antipodes, or The Big Island, or wherever else people go to find the Perfect Wave, but c'mon, there is no reason that I can think of for you to feign surprise that people surf sixty miles from NYC. You evoke Gilgo, so I have to believe you've been on a board-- why disparage the experience?

That said, the remainder of the essay gets it right. "The casual, cheerful rejection by early surfers of conventional American life in almost all its aspects: ambition, career, conventionality. Theirs was a great “No” in a sunburnt California way. They lived a nomad life, without a roof over their heads much of the time, unconcerned with material possessions beyond their boards, living for the ever-receding dream of the Perfect Wave. What could be more Transcendental?" I might propose that what is really being described is Beach Culture, and that Surf Culture is merely a subset of the larger sun, salt and sand rejection of the nine to five world, but I think there is something happening here that is worthy of further investigation. I saw "Blue Crush" for the first time this past winter, and the glimpse into warm weather culture that my trip into the Confederacy just afforded makes me yearn for something other than the temperatures in the 30s with the prospect of flurries that are still my daily reality here in Buffalo. I'm going home and listening to Dick Dale tonight.

Best of all, each of the Supremes shown in this strip can be identified. I'll betcha the spectral founding fathers could be too, if the rest of us could see them. That's some fine comics. I'm down with the jurisprudence on this one, too. It is plain that there has been an evolving standard for Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, and although the United States is still operating in the 19th Century, along with much of the Middle East, and China, and some other places that I'd like to think the First Country Founded On The Idea Of Freedom wouldn't want to be lumped with, we don't have flogging, or stoning, or the stocks, and I think that is as it should be. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Two tours in Vietnam; the Army Commendation Ribbon, two Bronze Stars, one Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. BS in Forestry, BS in Engineering, MA in Journalism and Communications, and a JD. Post military career as a public defender, then as a State's Attorney. Three children, who seem like solid citizens, and seem like fun. A 48 year marriage-- my parents did not attend the wedding, I learned yesterday, because I was newly whelped, just two weeks old.

A full life, and at 70 probably shorter than he'd have asked for, although I don't get the impression he ever asked for much. Every family is its own story, of course, and in this family I am probably no more than a fleeting image in the background in of a home movie of a long-ago birthday party. In the larger family, the metropolitan Carlin family, I suppose, my role is somewhat larger: I have at least the distinction of being the eldest, with whatever honors seniority conveys. My Uncle John, of course, loomed large in family myth and history: his military service took place at that time in my life when the politics were meaningless, and the glamour everything. He figured prominently in my mother's stories about growing up. That was his canoe paddle in the basement: my mother and my Aunt Joan thought it was hilarious that this was on the list of things to bring to Syracuse when he went off to college, and they painted "John C. Carlin, G.W.F." on its shaft-- "Great White Father". It speaks well of his sense of humor, I think, that he kept the inscription.

I could not put a date on when I might have last seen these cousins, but 30 years might not be an overestimate. Funny to think that so much time has passed, but the proof of it was in looking at everyone: I doubt that the cousins would have recognized me if I'd passed them on the street; I would not have recognized them, I'm sure.

When you are a child, the first thing you get tired of is people telling you how much you have grown. When you have children, the thing that astonishes you is how quickly they actually do grow. Lately I have given some thought about how fast my time is slipping by, and at the funeral I couldn't help but notice that the aunts and uncles who had once marveled at my growth had themselves become old. When did that happen?

My lack of any connection beyond the ties of blood did not keep me from the funeral: the fact is, I can be pretty much depended upon to show up at these services. I don't like to, and practice has not perfected my chops-- I doubt that I have ever said the right thing at a wake or a funeral, but I go anyway. I always feel like I am making a gaudy show of whatever grief I have in the face of the true mourners, but I also believe that misery does love company, and not just for the reasons we customarily assume. Company is a welcome distraction, and if I can help in that way, it seems a small enough thing to contribute.

There is little need to go into detail about the service, or the experience: most of the experience was what most of my experience is like: airport, airport, event, airport. I'm not so sure that the companionship of priests in life would be worth the sort of superior eulogy my Uncle received, at least to me, but he had the sort of faith that I have always looked at with envious amazement. Perhaps he had the sort of life that makes faith simple; perhaps having faith made his life simpler. In any event, the Mass was the regular daily Mass that he attended during his illness. He picked the Gospel reading: the punchline about the fig tree from Mark. I like Jesus blasting the tree that wouldn't bear fruit out of season-- he preferred the idea that with belief prayer can accomplish anything. It seemed to me as I sat in church that this was one more time when he probably wasn't asking for much, and that what ever he was praying for had little to do with his own impending death.

I left Florida with the feeling that although I had not known my mother's big brother well, I had a good sense of him from his survivors. It seemed to me that he was someone who was at some pains to surround himself with people that he enjoyed. He must have valued intelligence, and he famously liked a Beefeater martini, but probably the quality that he most favored was loyalty. If these were the qualities that were important to him, I think he probably died happy in the knowledge that he had increased the world's store of these virtues. Seventy is young, I think, before I like to think I will be done, but he accomplished a great deal, and had fun doing it. I'd have to believe that he was pretty satisfied with the way it turned out.

The NYTimes reports that "Razom Nas Bagato!" has been accepted by the Song for Europe contest after having its lyrics changed-- it had been rejected as "too political". Of course, "Razom Nas Bagato!" is the anthem of the Ukrainian Orange Revolution, so it sort of goes without saying that the lyrics were political, and I marvel at the pusillanimity of the Song for Europe people in rejecting it on that basis in the first place. "Razom Nas Bagato!" has been rocking my iPod since I first heard it on NPR. It really is the sort of song you can imagine a whole football stadium singing-- but it'd be a shame if it's political meaning was lost: kind of like turning "For What It's Worth" into "We Will Rock You". If I had my way we'd be singing "Razom Nas Bagato!" on the steps of City Hall, outside the Erie County Legislature, in the galleries of the State Legislature. But not if it is just a song. "We are not beasts of burden! We are not goats!"

Sunday, March 13, 2005

I finished up "Shakey: The Biography of Neil Young" by James McDonough and felt exhausted. I'd started out with it in a state of exhilaration, and found myself carrying it in airports, reading it in cabs and generally just gripped by Young's story, but it began to fade for me, just like Young's music can. There was a stretch in his career when I found that every side he laid down was essential stuff, then, like Dylan, he went through a prolonged drought, then he bounced back, and was essential again. Some time ago (six years ago, thereabouts) I cracked that if we were going to have a Bush in the White House we could take consolation in the fact that at least we'd get some decent music out of Neil Young-- unfortunately it hasn't happened yet.

I was surprised at how much I knew about Young, and how much I'd known but forgotten. Part of the initial rush of the book came from seeing this enigmatic figure come into focus-- and part of the letdown came from the fact that once he is in focus, it is clear that he is really kind of a jerk. In fairness to Young, McDonough's portrait injects a great deal of McDonough into the process, and McDonough seems pretty burnt out about Neil Young by the time Young is into his fourth or fifth renaissance. At first McDonough's strategy of injecting himself into the narrative seems brilliant. He often starts chapters about a portion of Young's life off by describing his contemporary impression of some person who was important to Young at some time in the past. He then weaves that individual's recollection into a narrative that also includes excerpts from his interviews with Young conducted over the course of the project, other third party accounts, and omniscient narrative drawn from other sources. This works well for a while, but gradually McDonough becomes a more and more important character, and we find that we are reading more about McDonough's impressions of a particular gig or recording than we are about anyone else. Since these impressions are frequently negative, the appeal of reading them pales pretty quickly.

Another problem is that quite a few people who you'd think would be important to talk to declined to be interviewed. Bob Dylan might or might not have something interesting to say. Stephen Stills would certainly. Robbie Robertson. John Lyndon. Young's wife Pegi is virtually absent-- McDonough cites her desire for privacy, then moves on, and we are left with a void. David Geffen is not heard from. McDonough provides a list of these and others, and probably anyone who is interested enough in the subject could supplement the list themselves. (Where's Bill Graham, for example?) Not too many people come off well. Nils Lofgren does, which makes the absence of his Spindizzy catalogue from print feel all the more painful. (My copies reside in the Antipodes, except for Nils' final Grin album, "Gone Crazy", recorded at about the same time as "Tonight's the Night" and concerning more or less the same things.) Stills comes off badly, hardly a surprise. David Crosby is not particularly vivid-- I get the sense that he was pretty strung out when most of this was written, but it is just as likely that he is a self-absorbed jerk. Graham Nash is a wimp-- but that is hardly stop the presses stuff. Jack Nitzsche seems distant and dangerous, also hardly a surprise.

Young's first wife, Carrie Snodgrass, (who died last year)comes off as a sad case-- a bright, talented and attractive person who got sucked into the worst of the Sixties. Young divorced her because he felt she was unfaithful, she denies it, weakly, and Young's infidelities are glossed over-- hey, that's rock'n'roll, baby.

Similarly, the incredible amount of drug use is just staggering. It is not glamorized, particularly, but it is plain that the drugs took their toll on everyone. Norman Mailer talks about how drugs affected his creative process in "Advertisements for Myself" in a knowing way, essentially concluding that drug use is borrowing from the future at a high rate of interest. It isn't hard to conclude that the same conclusion can be drawn with Young, but McDonough doesn't draw it-- or any other real conclusion, for that matter.

Finally, how a book like this can exist without even a stab at a discography is a mystery. For that matter, very little effort is put into noting what the critical response to particular albums was, which would have been interesting. "Shakey" will be a good starting place for the definitive Neil Young bio, but that book is a long way from being written.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Sometimes it is nice to think about dream assignments. My children used to believe that I was counsel for Professor Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Children (or at least I used to tell them that). In today's paper I read that Jay Leno, who is on Michael Jackson's witness list, and therefor subject to the gag order that is in place, brought a motion for permission to make jokes about Jackson. Now that's a dream assignment: the lawyer that goes and gets an injuction on humor lifted. How do you get a gig like that? Do you start small, representing birthday party clowns, working your way up to open mikes, then local radio shock jocks? Why didn't anyone tell me that this was a career option?
Update: Some time ago I was acting as local counsel for a friend on a matter before Judge Elfvin. My friend is a pretty funny guy, but he was notably reserved before the judge, who was his usual wry self. Afterwords I commented on this, and my friend said, "I got the impression pretty quick that in his courtroom he makes the jokes." Very astute. In the instance of the Michael Jackson joke injunction, the judge, The Hon. Rodney Melville, has been quoted as saying, "I'd like to tell [Leno] to tell good jokes, but I guess I can't control that." Count on it-- he killed with that line.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Useful Jazz timeline from Jorn. (Via Bifurcated Rivets.)

When I learned that Steve Barnes and Ross Cellino were under investigation, I braced myself for the cackles of the jackals, and I have not been disappointed. Cellino & Barnes changed the paradigm for plaintiff's personal injury practices in this end of the state, and in doing so managed to step on quite a few toes, and bend quite a few noses out of joint. They built the largest personal injury firm in New York-- a remarkable thing, and they did it two ways: by advertising, and by getting results.

Lawyer advertising has been legal for long enough that you'd think it would be no big deal by now, but when Cellino & Barnes started putting up billboards they started a buzz that was like nothing the Buffalo legal community had ever witnessed before. The radio station that featured morning shock jocks Shred & Regan put up a parody billboard across the way-- probably the funniest thing they ever were associated with. The Ethics Committee of the Erie County Bar Association harrumphed, called down its wrath, and decreed that the advertisement was in violation because it didn't list the firm's street and mailing address. (They changed it.) Newspaper columns were devoted to "the billboard lawyers". And everybody who practiced plaintiff's personal injury law saw their practice change.

There are basically three ways that a plaintiff's practice gets work. Most have some sort of regular source of referrals-- a connection to a labor union, say, or a lawyer in a different practice area who refers cases. There are the referrals that come from existing clients, and then there are the cases that just walk in. It is this last group that everybody wants, and that advertising is targeted to, but most lawyer advertising is pretty poor stuff. The yellow pages have become useless as a reference because the ads are so ubiquitous, and that was about as far as anyone had figured it out until the billboards went up.

They hadn't been up long before people noticed that they weren't getting a lot of the walk-in clients they used to. By the time the television ads started, people were leaving their lawyers and signing up with Cellino & Barnes. "They've sucked all the air out of the room," a friend complained to me. Firms that would never have advertised in the past-- notably the Beltz office, until that time the undisputed leader in the category-- found that they had to start in order to compete in the marketplace. (The Beltz ads are classy, like commercials for high end brokerage firms. I wonder about how effective they are-- they seem like they were designed to avoid stepping on toes, or offending the sorts of people who are offended by lawyer commercials.) Somehow Cellino & Barnes managed to keep finding ways to advertise more heavily. I'm not sure when I noticed it, but for a couple of years radio broadcasts of Bills games referred to the area inside the opponent's 20 yard line as "the Cellino & Barnes red zone."

All of that is about the hype. The other part of it is that they helped a lot of people, and were tough adversaries. They gave out a lot of money, too, to the Parks, in scholarships, to other cultural organizations, to hospitals. They weren't shy about letting people know about it, but you'd have to say that they were good corporate citizens.

We practiced with Steve before he went off and started practicing with Ross, and we went off to start our practice. I feel sad that someone I know and like ended up like this-- they got greedy, they tried to corner the market, and it ended up the way that sort of story always seems to, sooner or later. "Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered" is what is written on the tombstone of every failed law firm. The ecology of plaintiff's personal injury firms is such that they seldom get very large: usually they break up because the partners are each talented trial lawyers, with big egos, and they decide that they are tired of sharing. Cellino & Barnes grew to a very unusual size by avoiding that particular trap-- although the lawyers in the shop were all certainly capable, I don't think any of them would be on anyone's list of "Most Dazzling Trial Lawyer In Town." For the most part they are all lawyers who have labored in the insurance defense vineyards, a lot of them in-house. They knew how to try a case, and they were tired of getting clobbered. Cellino & Barnes offered the chance to be on the good end of a verdict for a change, and they didn't have to bring in any clients-- the firm took care of that. The trick to plaintiff's work is twofold: screen out the dogs, and be prepared to try everything. They had the lawyers on hand to try the cases, and that meant they were able to get the maximum value out of what they took in. It was a clever model-- it kept the egos out of the business, and made the practice more stable, but in the end the temptations of greed found another way in.

A couple of years ago they were talking about putting up their own building on the waterfront. Now everyone who worked there will be scrambling to find someplace to land. Ross and Steve will continue to receive quantum meruit on the cases that were in the office, and I suspect that they made a big enough pile of money during their run to keep them from having to dance in the streets for nickels. It's a shame, is what it is, and on top of it we are going to get the big helping of schadenfreude that's been fermenting in the basement since the first billboard went up. Indeed, the rumor mill was cackling about it for weeks before it happened. Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Hipper and cuter than you or me, Mary Kunz has a little story about some local radio moron flirting with Ann Coulter in "The Buzz" today. Because she is convinced that her Republican Party membership makes her even more adorable (as if that were possible), Ms. Kunz notes in an aside that "UB isn't known for playing host to right wingers".

Now, I happen to know this for an outright falsehood: the reason I don't subscribe to the Distinguished Speaker's Series is that it is filled every year with conservative Republican pols and blovators, interspersed with media mediocrities with a local connection-- who may as well be either Republicans or Senate Democrats for all the good they are. The last one I went to was Dick Cheney, fer chrissake.

A difference between left leaning journalists and ideologues like Ann Coulter (or Mary Kunz, it should go without saying) is that on the left there is better fact checking. They seem more comfortable just making stuff up, and attacking the patriotism of anyone who questions their version. I couldn't let it stand, so I checked. In fact, last year J.C. Watts spoke; the year before that Rudy Giuliani was a speaker; for the 1999/2000 series former President George Bush was a speaker; the year before that saw General Colin Powell; P.J. O'Rourke spoke in 1997; David Gergen spoke the year before that; the program hosted the McLaughlin Group the
year before that. 1993-94 was a banner year for right wing nuts: I saw GOP rising star Dick Cheney (evil then, too) and George F. Will. Other notable Republicans who have appeared as guests of the Distinguished Speaker's Series include Gerald Ford, Jeane Kirkpatrick and John Tower. (Tower left his Superman suit home, and appeared sober to me, so I guess he was "distinguished" that night.)

I mean, it wasn't even that clever a remark-- to be stupid and wrong, in the cause of such a pointless little anecdote, is really the sort of thing that makes Mary Kunz just about the most irritating thing about the Buffalo News.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Timothy Noah has always written well: the recent death of his wife has charged his writing with a new energy-- perhaps anger?-- that makes what he is putting down more persuasive and compelling than ever before. It is certainly true that we have socialized medicine in the US -- it is a tiered system, with Senators and Congresspersons enjoying the best care, and veterans receiving the more mainstream care, but as Noah argues in this piece, the care that patients in the socialized system get is far better than what the rest of us are getting. "There are many reasons why this is so. One reason, Longman explains, is that people don't shuffle in and out of the VA system the way they shuffle in and out of private health care plans, either because they change jobs or because their employer decides to do business with a different insurance company. Another reason is that the doctors are salaried, and therefore lack any conceivable financial interest in subjecting a patient to avoidable medical procedures. But the main reason the VA hospitals are doing especially well these days is that they have adopted the same modern information technologies that have been embraced by every other sector of the economy."

I'm sorry for Noah's loss, but he is saying a lot of things that need to be said. The medical profession is just about the least transparent industry I can think of-- and every time the government tries to get a handle on it, the wizards that run it fill the room with more smoke. In a way I am at a loss as to how we can let ourselves keep getting gulled, but in another way I am not-- as a lawyer, I am always on the razor's edge of being declined as a patient, as are my family. Indeed, when we moved to the Queen City of the Lakes, our children's pediatrician thoughtfully transferred our daughters' records to their new doctor with a note on the top in red marker: "Parents Are Both Lawyers". It was underlined, but I don't recall if there were exclamation marks. Anytime healthcare reform is discussed it seems as though there is a similar thinly veiled threat: "You seem to be pretty healthy: it'd be a shame if you mysteriously developed flu-like symptoms."

Monday, March 07, 2005

New York Magazine's 2005 Best of Food list. Danny Meyer's Shake Shack is something I'll make a point of checking out.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

To Kenny Werner at the Albright-Knox Art of Jazz series, a piano player touched by Bill Evans, among others, with a disconcerting resemblance, from the back, to my undergraduate advisor, Professor Kenneth L. Deutsch. Werner swung hard, and improvised with wit: it was a completely enjoyable performance. He made a mild joke about Republicans in the early going, which sent my mind down a rabbit hole.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden posted a link to this troubling essay several days ago at Electrolite, and it has been gnawing at me: as Americans we think of ourselves as being at the pinnacle of civilization, but the reality is, perhaps, somewhat less exalted. It seems to me that I am more in love with the potential of our country-- the first to be founded on an idea-- than I am with its reality, or its history. A taste for genocide can't be erased, nor can the taint of slavery and racism-- America's Original Sin. As I sat listening to Werner play music that derives from that taint, I tried to think of a time when the US has ever lived up to its fabulous potential, and I kept coming up blank. We think of the World War Two generation that way-- or some people do-- but I can't get away from the fact that that war, however justified, however righteous, was fought by a segregated armed service. The Civil Rights movement that percolated in the Post-War period, and came to a boil in the '60's took place at a time when America was embroiled in a series of imperialistic misadventures that hardly do credit to Benjamin Franklin. The idea that the struggle against racial bigotry has been succesfully concluded has to insult the intellegence of anyone who cares to look around, and it hardly counts as a triumph of right thinking to have merely set out on the long road that has brought us to the place where we are now.

Perhaps the thing that most disturbs me about the bunch that are running our country is that they seem convinced that the way we are represents near perfection, requiring only some tinkering to dismantle our rudimentary social services system to become complete.

And yet, it is still a society that wants to recognize and reward individual achievement, in a way that does really distinguish it from just about every other culture on the planet. My modest accomplishments would probably not have been possible for me to realize had I been raised anywhere else, and the potential that my daughters have is even greater. Anyone anywhere with an entrepreneurial instinct yearns to come to the United States. The artists that so obviously touched Kenny Werner overcame incredible obstacles, including being born black in the United States of America, to produce some of the greatest art of what we call, in our hubris, "The American Century". (Went by quick, didn't it?) Some of them even got rich doing it-- the American Dream, I guess that is. I don't know why we can't have that, and also have a society that protects the vulnerable , and stands as a beacon for the rest of the world, but it certainly seems to me that in this dark hour we have managed to elect leaders that stand opposed to that very thing, and it troubles me deeply.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Props to Catherine Berlin, who gets a nice mention in Richard Huntington's review of the CEPA Member's Show today.

One more, just because I can't resist. What kind of booze is called "Kinsey"? Posted by Hello

Amazing gallary of vintage advertisments.
 Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

I am no fan of County Legislator Al DeBenedetti, but I have to give him his due: per DeBenedetti says, inter alia: "What [Judge Makowski] should be doing is dealing with the law suits before him. He should be telling us exactly how far we can go in cutting certain departments in order to be consistent with the Erie County Charter, state law, and the state constitution. Instead of that he is dabbling in the budget process, appointing mediators and the like, when that is really not his job. It is the County Legislature that is charged with the task of determining budget priorities, not Judge Makowski."
DeBenedetti goes on to slam the compulsary mediation process the court ordered. "Those aren’t professional mediators he appointed, those are three political operatives. He appointed Dennis Penman, a Republican operative, Mr. Gioia, who is an active Democrat, David Rutecki who works for Mr. Wilmers. These people aren’t mediators. For one thing, they broke the first rule of being a mediator. They held a press conference....Making these cuts is the Legislature’s job, not the Judge’s."

Of course, it would have been helpful if the Legislature had been doing its job, but we can put this aside for the moment. The fact is that he is spot on about this bogus mediation process, which is the favorite toy of many judges. The idea of "compulsary mediation" is antithetical to a properly functioning mediation process, as is the appointment by the court of the mediators.

Interesting site, PoliticsWNY. Reading it makes me want to take a shower.

Roanoke River herring sounds like the sort of thing I really ought to look into. "The big issue among river herring lovers is degree of doneness. Some ask for it sunnyside up, meaning minimal immersion in the fry kettle, resulting in a fish from which you can peel away the skin and lift moist pieces of meat off the bones. The opposite way to go is to ask for your herring cremated: fried until hard and crunchy and so well cooked that all the little bones have become indistinguishable from the flesh around them. The meat itself is transformed, its weight lightened so the natural oiliness is gone but the flavor has become even more intense. The crust and the interior are melded, and they break off in unbelievably savory bite-size pieces, finally leaving nothing but a herring backbone on the plate."

The corner of the Tarheel State where it is to be had is not near anyplace I am likely to find myself, and the Howard Dean sticker on my minivan is likely to draw stares from the gun rack crowd, so I need to devise a different strategy. Perhaps there is an upcoming art instalation in the vicinity, or a 10k road race.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Viewed at a distance--—glimpsed from outside Central Park, say, perhaps a block or so away, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s New York City installation “The Gates” had a somewhat tacky look, like orange plastic snow fencing, or the barricades around an excavation site. We had come to see this project on its last day, and I was trying to be open-minded, but my first glimpse was not encouraging.

I was living in New York City when the artists first proposed erecting a series of arches draped in fabric along the park’s pathways, and although I was initially a skeptic, seeing photographs of the “Wrapped Reichstag”, and “Running Fence”,, installed in Sonoma and Marin Counties, California in 1976 persuaded me that a temporary work like this might be worthwhile. New York was a very different place when “The Gates” was first proposed in 1979. Central Park was a very different place, a kind of synonym for mugging and danger and violence. Back then, a project like “The Gates” seemed like a way to make the park accessible again.

I aquired a better understanding of Olmsted’s conception of public green space when we moved to Buffalo, particularly once A. became involved with the Olmsted Parks Conservancy. When I learned that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a long-time patron of the arts, had given “The Gates” a green light, my skepticism returned. We’'d had a sort of installation in Delaware Park for several winters, featuring neon snowmen, and the like, and I knew that this sort of artificiality was antithetical to Olmsted’s vision. I was worried that deploring illuminated reindeer and applauding Christo and Jeanne-Claude’'s project at the same time would make me the sort of snob that boasts about never watching TV.

As I got nearer to the 97th Street entrance to Central Park the appearance of “The Gates” improved. The play of light on the fabric, and the effect of movement and shadow made it appear less garish, and the scale of the thing became more apparent once I was close enough to see people interacting with it. The orange fabric cast a warm light on the people walking through the arches, and I realized that there were scores of people walking, talking, taking photographs and otherwise enjoying the sort of clear cold February day that might otherwise have been spent doing whatever it is that people do on late winter Sundays. These people, it soon became apparent, had come from all over the country, and all over the world to be in Central Park enjoying the experience of this artwork.

Listening to other people'’s conversations, it became clear that quite a number of the people present were German, and had witnessed “"Wrapped Reichstag"”. One of the volunteer docents told me that many of the Germans he’d spoken to felt that the Reichstag project represented an important transition for their country, and that many other people had told him that, for them, “"The Gates"” represented a transition from the post September 11 world. Perhaps so, but more than anything else what I found remarkable about "“The Gates”" was that the experience of participating in it seemed to create a kind of community. In a way that was very different from what Fredrick Law Olmsted would have imagined, thousands of people were enjoying his park in a way that he would have recognized in a heartbeat. The experience of “"The Gates”" was the experience of being at a party or a festival. People stood patently on line to climb the stairs of Belvedere Castle; everyone was at pains to stop to allow someone else to take a picture; we all smiled at people coming towards us from the opposite direction.

“"The Gates"” were a remarkable piece of engineering and logistics, and the evanescent quality of the project gave the whole thing a slightly intoxicating air: we all knew we’d never see anything like this again, and I think that feeling must have been present from the moment the installation went up. Inherent in the nature of the installation was that the elements would affect the texture of the cloth, and the movement of the drapery. There were traces of rust on the black steel base supports, and the orange rust was like the orange scarves and sweaters that people seemed to be wearing, or the Cristo Orange buzz cut we spotted one guy sporting. The installation had an organic quality in that sense: it changed over time, and it worked change on the people who were exposed to it.

I have more to say about "The Gates", and a chance to get paid to say some of it, so I'll let go of the topic here. It was worth the trip. Posted by Hello

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