Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Saturday, April 30, 2005

You know what has been driving quite a bit of traffic to this site? People looking for attorney discipline news and commentary, that's what. People who are looking for that sort of thing can go here, of course, but they won't find what they are looking for there, either.

I missed the Erie County Bar Association dinner this year, but A went, and reported that my comments on the confidentiality of the Fourth Department's disciplinary process had been noted by at least one person in a position to be looking into it. (Maybe "Outside Counsel" isn't the most widely read blawg out there, but we have solid demographics.) I say, "Good", and I also note that the carrion eaters that had been circling for the last two months seemed to have dispersed. That's also good-- it is bad enough when others disparage our glamour profession-- we shouldn't do it to ourselves. As lawyers we have an obligation to respect process, and confidentiality. Gossip respects neither, and should be beneath us.

Friday, April 29, 2005

A little off the beaten path, perhaps, but certainly worth checking out next time I have an appearence in the Eastern District, Grimaldi's sounds like the real deal. Actually, I have been pleased with Romeo & Juliet's on Hertel-- it has long been my contention that you can't get pizza north of Yankee Stadium, but that is no longer true-- I can get it in North Buffalo now.

Building a record library. "When it comes to music, classical fans know that there's a certain essential mix: Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and so on. Jazz newbies start with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus.

But you're into alt-rock. What is this genre's little black dress?. What is alt-rock's must-have chardonnay?" (Part Two is here.)

From a pure rock-crit standpoint, it is hard to argue with these picks, but I wouldn't bother with a good one third of it. Never been a big Bowie fan, for one thing, and the Bowie I do like tends towards the more idiosyncratic-- "Station to Station" say, or "Low". My favorite Bowie is probably "Hunky Dory"-- not really a alt-rock staple, or the foundation of anything much. I've never seen the need for U2, but that's just me-- I'm prepared to admit it as a personal failing.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Wow. (Via Making Light.)

Ginger talks about record stores she's loved.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Law School v. Barber College:
"What People Don't Understand About Your Profession
Law School: What a tort is.
Barber College: What that jar of blue water with the combs in it is for.
Advantage: Barber College. There's no class called "Jar of Blue Water"." (Via Bag and Baggage.)

Dave pointed me to Buffalo as an Architectural Museum, a site I'll be going back to. Perhaps because Lance Mannion's William Carlos Williams poem put me in a receptive mood, I was pleased to discover that Carl Sandburg wrote a poem about the McKinley Monument:

Slants at Buffalo, New York

A forefinger of stone, dreamed by a sculptor, points to the sky.
It says: This way! this way!
Four lions snore in stone at the corner of the shaft.
They too are the dream of a sculptor.
They too say: This way! this way!
The street cars swing at a curve.
The middle-class passengers witness low life.
The car windows frame low life all day in pictures.
Two Italian cellar delicatessens
sell red and green peppers.
The Florida bananas furnish a burst of yellow.
The lettuce and the cabbage give a green.
Boys play marbles in the cinders.
The boys' hands need washing.
The boys are glad; they fight among each other.
A plank bridge leaps the Lehigh Valley railroad.
Then acres of steel rails, freight cars, smoke,
And then ... the blue lake shore
...Erie with Norse blue eyes ... and the white sun.

I really want an Air Zooka. What an obnoxious device!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Can't wait to read the new Sarah Vowell book. I think about Buffalo's place on the world stage at the time of the McKinley assassination whenever I go past the marble obelisk on my way to court. It's funny-- the monument is right smack dab in front of City Hall, a very visible atonement, and a huge contrast to the marker that is situated at the place where he was shot. The latter is simply a plaque on a bolder in the middle of a grassy divider strip on a residential street. I also can't help contrasting the McKinley site with the scene in front of the Dallas Book Depository-- all those earnest nuts with protractor and cameras walking around, looking up, pointing...

Good Gary Giddins on overlooked jazz singers.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Sitting on the desk is a postcard from Genetic Savings and Clone. "Cat Cloning," it says. "For people with the perfect cat!" For $250 bucks they will bank a pet's DNA until it is time to clone kitty. My mind veers wildly over the prospect. My first thought was that it is a gag of some sort; then I shudder over the Ray Bradbury quality of this commercial venture ("Dog Cloning is Coming Soon....").

We acquired our cat, who will not walk on an exercise ball, in the traditional manner: we found her outside the house. I had promised my daughters that they could have a cat if they all ran straight A's for the remainder of the school year, secure in the knowledge that they had never done this. When the school year ended, and they had played me for the chump I am, there followed a plaintive mewing under our windows for several nights. You want a cat? That's how you get a cat. The other way is for a little girl with a box of kittens to ring your doorbell.

"In March of 2005, GSC will open its new 8000 square foot, state-of-the-art cloning facility in Madison, WI." I have a mental picture of a big laboratory, with gleaming stainless steel tables and sparkling flasks and Petri dishes. Technicians in white lab coats are working at the tables. Along the walls are broom closets filled with old boots and piles of newspapers where the surrogate mother cats (who are all named "Mary Beth") are constantly whelping.

Or maybe that's not how it's done at all. Maybe a order is placed for a gray alley cat and the folks at Genetic Savings and Clone, after cashing your $32,000.00 check, go out to the barns of Madison and start looking for a gray alley cat to replace your departed pet. I like that better-- but I am still troubled about being on this mailing list. What kind of chump do they think I am? It is one thing to be played for a mark by one's children-- after all, being emotionally manipulated is how I ended up with children in the first place. Once you are on board, you may as well go along for the ride, and the pets thing is part of the experience. Getting mail from some outfit that wants me to put a dead cat in my refrigerator is a little too 21st Century for my taste.

I realize that this is two posts in less than a week's time that mention cats, by the way, and I am embarrassed by this. I will refrain in the future.

Friday, April 22, 2005

If you are here because Lance sent you, I think he is referring to my April 4 post.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

When I came home the other night I was met by CLA. "The exercise ball has a hole in it," she said. We hadn't been able to figure out how to inflate it, but she'd been home from school sick and had, apparently, managed it. "Well that's annoying," I said. "Should we take it back?" "Well, no," she said. "It got a hole when I tried to get the cat to walk on it."

There is a great scene in "A Confederacy of Dunces" where Ignatius is down in the Warehouse District, goofing off, trying to get a stray cat into the bun compartment of his Paradise hot dog cart, and my mind immediately went there. CLA is nearly always pretty respectful of the cat, and this is reciprocated by nearly dog-like loyalty from the animal, which follows her from room to room, and comes when called. Even so, sometimes the proximity of cat and bun compartment can become an irresistible temptation. Lacking a hot dog wagon, the prospect of seeing her pet as a circus animal was too much for CLA to pass up.

Because it looks hilarious, I am probably going to end up with a copy of "The Rock Snob's Dictionary", even though what I really want is "Sonata for Jukebox: Pop Music, Memory, and the Imagined Life"
by Geoffrey O'Brien. The latter was recommended by my pal Dave Benders. Over the years he's referred me to quite a few solid reads about music, popular culture and media, often books that feel to both of us like "Hey, they stole my idea!". (Although I'd have to say that Dave is a lot more qualified to write that book than I am.) Sarah Vowell's "Radio On" was one I found on my own, but I think the fact that I responded to it the way I did alerted Dave to my penchant for this sort of thing. I am interested in the notion of pop music as a cultural signifier, a signpost to what is new, and it does seem to me that this is something that has been lost in contemporary pop. I don't know if it no longer has this quality because we are flooded with media, or for some other reason, but it is true, I think, that the idea of "music that matters" is no longer particularly current. (This is why fans of U2 like that band I think-- I suppose U2 is okay, but what the group's fans really like is the notion that the band is important somehow.)

Not long ago I happened upon a recording of Cher singing "For What It's Worth". This impressed me as a fascinating little relic-- she does it straight, it actually sounds pretty good, and the thing is that at one time Cher singing a social protest anthem like that actually didn't seem post-modern, or ironic, or anything except perfectly reasonable. Now try to imagine a song like that being on the charts at all,
and covered by, say, Mariah Carey. I can't either.

Did pop music always have that quality, I wonder, or was it something peculiar to the post WWII era? In any event, it is gone now, unless rap and hip hop speak to their audiences that way. Perhaps they do, and the fact that I can't hear it marks me as hopelessly out of touch. Or, maybe all media is niche media now-- that could account for some of my difficulty "hearing" rap. I wish I liked rap, but it just leaves me cold. I can't help but think I'm missing something, but I'm past trying. What upsets me about my inability to connect with it is that I don't want to think that there is an American music that race carves me out of, and I am afraid that this may be what is happening. It is, of course, also possible that I have aged out of hip hop, and if that is what has happened at least I have the consolation of knowing that this is something that has happened for nearly as long as there has been American pop music. Aging out it legitimate: Pat Boone covers of Little Richard songs are not. Where does that leave Vanilla Ice? What does this make The Beastie Boys? Why must I be a teenager in love?

The hell with it-- I'm listening to jazz tonight.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Michael Bérubé reports that Benedict XVI took his name after Benedict XII-- interesting for a number of reasons, including the fact that XII "engaged in debate with William of Ockham". (Excommunicated Ockham is more accurate.) Just as one should never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel, it is probably a bad plan to debate theology with a pope. I'm down with Ockham, but you don't see me writing to Rome about it: as I said in my post about disagreeing with the last pope, the principles of the Catholic religion are not subject to debate-- they are articles of faith, which we can accept or reject (because we have free will). Funny world we live in-- I thought Ratzinger had too much baggage, but my optimism got the better of me again. Can't wait for the Scalia Court to start applying some of that sort of thinking to American jurisprudence. There is an interesting essay to be written about the influence of Nino's religious beliefs on his legal thinking-- it is certainly there, but not in the simplistic way that people think. I would say that it is somewhat closer to what we have been talking about here: the intellectual model of Catholic theology frames his analysis of common law. Holmes would have it that the common law is an identifiable, nearly tangible thing that can be determined by the outlines of existing law and behavior. Holmes would also agree that it is an evolving thing: he was very much a modern thinker in that way. Scalia, in contrast, would argue that the law is what it is, and once we have said what it is there remains nothing more to be said. Benedict XII would recognize that argument, and he'd chase you to Bavaria if you disagreed.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Notwithstanding the fact that he has chosen to be named after a delightful brunch dish, the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope reminds me of the "Pleasure Island" scene in Walt Disney's "Pinocchio": "You boys have had your fun, now pay for it!" There are a lot of people who thought the last guy was too strict. Shows what they knew about it.

Over at "Follow Me Here" Eliot addresses Seth Mnookin's NYTimes Book Review essay on Phil Lesh's memoir, and makes a good point that explains why I have never understood the appeal of this band: "There was never anything very important about their songs; most Deadheads lived for the stretches of their music, chiefly in the second sets of their concerts, that came when they voyaged far away from the songs that served as launch points, deep into the space between, untethered and (no matter where they started from and ended up) never the same twice." Having never been to a Dead show, all I have to go on are the records, and the records document a group that sang poorly, seldom displayed any lyrical wit, and seemed posesed of a peculiar high-pitched whinning sound that never seemed appealing to me. There are exceptions, I suppose. "Box of Rain", the first side of "Mars Hotel"-- but the truth is that although there are Dead songs that I don't mind hearing when they come on, there aren't really any that I'd play myself. Now come to find out that this is because I was never privy to the necessary Dead experience. I can live with that.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

I read Jeff Mier's review of Wendsday Dylan show with incredulity: I had been knocked out by the performance, but Miers was of the opinion that, "Dylan and his band delivered a disappointing set marred by missed opportunities, sketchy on-stage communication between the musicians, and a general lack of fire and direction throughout...." For some reason I can't locate Mier's review on line, but I thought it might be interesting to break it down a bit, and see just what about the concert he found "seriously muddled [and] directionless." It seems to come down to the fact that Larry Campbell isn't with the band any more: "The result is a shift away from the guitar-heavy, blazing improvisations of the Campbell band into a slightly more relaxed ensemble sound within which the twin fiddles do battle with Dylan's harp as the primary instrumental voices." Other than that, "The song selection was right on the money." Dylan's first harp solo of the evening (on "Wicked Messenger") was "inspired". On "She Belongs To Me" "the ensemble suggested that it had found a unique group voice." "Dylan himself was in good form, his voice a blend of syncopated bark and mellifluous coo, and his harp and piano playing were consistently great." So what was the problem? As far as I can tell, Mier's problem is that he didn't get to hear a guitarist that he likes. I'm sorry I didn't see Dylan the last two times he came through town-- if the band he had then was that much better, it must have been pretty amazing. In fact, I don't doubt that the Campbell led band was good-- Dylan's bands frequently have been over the years. I think the problem with Mier's perception of this show is that he went in expecting to see something like what he saw the last time. He should know better-- that is never what you get with Dylan-- I daresay it is part of his genius. When I saw the "Hard Rain" television program that documented the Rolling Thunder tour I'd witnessed a few months earlier I was so stunned I almost cried-- now I think "Hard Rain" is one of his most interesting live albums (and I wish I could see the documentary again-- too bad it is not available). The guy at the Albert Hall concert that yelled "Judas!" was surprised, too, as were people in Newport-- there is a trail of disappointed Dylan fans out there, and that's not his problem.

I stand by my opinion-- this was a Dylan show that exceeded whatever expectations I had, and least in part because my expectations included the possibility that the show might be awful. See him when he comes to your town, and be prepared to be surprised.

Friday, April 15, 2005

I love it that Roger Clemens has never won at Shea. If I am not mistaken, the Mets are the only team in baseball with a winning record against him as well.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

To Bob Dylan at Shea's last night, just about the perfect sized venue for a show like that. You hear a lot about what Dylan is like live these days; very little of it is encouraging; a great deal is outright disparaging. We went with the thought that it might be great or it might be terrible, but no matter what it'd be interesting. It turned out to be a terrific show, from the opening notes to the finish.

When I last saw Dylan I was better familiar with his catalogue, which at that point extended to "Desire". I didn't know it all, but I had a handle on it. At this point, nearly 30 years on, he has expanded his book to the point where he could easily play for weeks before I'd hear a song that sounded familiar, but this wasn't that set. He is well known for reworking his familiar old songs so that they are strange and alien sounding, but this wasn't that set either. This was a mix of stuff I'd never heard, stuff from his last couple of releases that I know, but not well, and familiar standards that had been re-worked in interesting ways and sounded great. Set list:
1. The Wicked Messenger (Neither Tom nor I recognized this. It was terrific.)
2. She Belongs To Me (I love this song.)
3. It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)(A slinky sounding arrangement that popped along and carried the right tone of menace.)
4. Queen Jane Approximately (A nice surprise. Not a number that I think of very often, but classic Bob.)
5. Cold Irons Bound(Still a new enough number that he played it pretty much as it is heard on the album. He can still write 'em.)
6. Desolation Row (Completely re-worked, in a way that emphasized how strong the melody is in a song that I never thought of as having any.)
7. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again (Ahh. One of the greatest songs of our times, I think. Kinda country in this arrangement.)
8. Man In the Long Black Coat (New to me, and a fine Dylan song, but I don't know that I'm running out and buying "Oh Mercy" on the basis of this performance.)
9. Cat's In The Well (Growled right along. This is a side that I might pick up.)
10. Ballad Of Hollis Brown (A good example of the sort of obscurity that Dylan has always had in his catalogue. It sure didn't sound like this on "The Times They Are A Changin".)
11. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (Don't you love Dylan songs like this? He played it straight, and it was mighty fine.)
12. Like A Rolling Stone (A show-stopper. Mike Bloomfield's guitar part on the original is iconic. I would buy a bootleg of this show just for the solo we got on this song. As powerful as ever.)
13. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues (Everybody's favorite Dylan song changes from time to time I think, but this is always on my list.)
14. All Along The Watchtower (It is a given that Dylan heard Hendrix's version and thought the world of it. Played like this it'll always be fresh, even though nobody will ever have any idea of what the hell it is supposed to mean.)

A terrific band: two guitars, bass, solid drumming, a violin and a pedal steel player who frequently added a second violin, and stepped in on banjo for one number. Bob sticks to electric piano, stepping out in front from time to time to blow some excellent harp-- really, the best harmonica I've ever heard him play, improvising on the solos in a way that established once and for all that he knows what he is doing musically.

Here's how good it was: I'd see him again tomorrow if I could. If I can, I'll catch him on this tour again. If you can, you should too.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Watched CLA in her first Rugby match over the weekend, joined on the sidelines by Jim Jarvis. I have said before that CLA is lovely on the soccer pitch-- her look on the Rugby field is different, but she is still a pleasure to watch. The difference, I suppose, has a great deal to do with the difference between the two sports. The whole thing was a blast to watch, although once the boy's team took the field it was clear that the ladies have a ways to go. They are still learning their positions would be my diagnosis, and they need to find a kicker.

Coincidently my Antipodian sibling found himself next to a rugby game yesterday as well, and I like his description: "As near as I've been able to tell, rugby consists of passing the ball backwards while running forward until such time as there's either no one to pass to or a hole opens in the opposition line or the one with the ball believes he's going to be able to charge through the other players whether they get out of the way or not."

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Netflix means I'm seeing quite a few more movies than I normally do, and except for the fact that I really don't like to watch a lot of tv, it's been pretty cool. I have had a chance to catch up with things that I've wanted to see for a long time, and it is much better to update my queue when I think of something I'd like to see than it is to stand in the stupid video store thinking, "Maybe 'Desperately Seeking Susan' again". Video store vapor lock is a topic for another day, perhaps, or perhaps I will never experience it again. Over last weekend I caught up with "Round Midnight", something I've wanted to see for years. It drove everyone else from the room, of course, but wow, what an amazing movie. Dexter Gordon has always been one of those guys that I liked well enough, but never developed an enthusiasm for-- now I'm a fan. Actually, the way to watch the movie is to just play the musical sets-- Herbie Hancock won an Oscar for the soundtrack, and the various bands are killer. Hancock, Gordon, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Freddie Hubbard, Cedar Walton.... This may be some of the best jazz footage I've ever seen.

The actual story would break your heart-- it's Bud Powell's story, almost completely. (The only real departure from Powell's life that I caught was that in the movie the beating that damages the Powell character occurred in the Army, rather than at the hands of the New York police.) What is really amazing, though, is Gordon's performance-- guys win Academy Awards for this sort of turn. Oh, and did I mention that it is a gorgeous looking film? Great stuff.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Yow, Greil Marcus, what's up with the neck, dude? If this is what happens to rock critics who aren't Lester Bangs, maybe I'll go back to whatever Plan A was. Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Clash, "Give 'Em Enough Rope". If this came out today it would be a monster. Seriously, I doubt that there is a band working that could touch this for its passion, or its humor, or on depth of material. Not a bad cut on it, and yet this is, I think, sort of a neglected work by The Last Band In The World That Mattered. It was their first US release, you may recall, although the people that followed this sort of thing all got "The Clash" as an import, or got ahold of a tape. "London Calling" was the masterpiece, of course, and "The Clash" is the classic, but "Give 'Em Enough Rope" has "Stay Free", which still gives me chills, and "Safe European Home", which still cracks me up, and "Drug-Stabbing Time" and "English Civil War"-- actually, I sat there saying, "This is one of my favorites," the whole time it was on.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The funnies in the Buffalo News seem to have discontinued "Gil Thorpe" (half the reason I get the paper). For right wing jollies they feature some stupid thing about a little girl and a dog or a coyote which I can't bring myself to read. Every time I do it seems to be saying something pointlessly mean about Hillary Clinton, which would be okay if it was funny, but which usually rise to about the level "Her marrage is a sham"-- that's not funny, and it is certainly not a fit subject for the funnies.) We don't get "Mallard Filmore", probably because Millard was from Buffalo, but EGA gets it in the Boston Globe, and it is a source of vexation to her. I just found out about "Medium Large"which is consistently laugh aloud funny, and since it features stupid Mallard Fillmore, I thought now would be a good time to mention the strip. (EGA says, "Mallard Filmore. He's a duck, who's a Rebublican. How is that supposed to be funny?" I don't know-- maybe it is like "Family Circus, and it's not supposed to be funny.) Posted by Hello

Just last Friday I was talking with KRAC Captain Tom Knab about Saul Bellow. Tom likes, "Columbus too thought he was a flop, probably, when they sent him back in chains. Which didn’t prove there was no America”; I like, "I am an American, Chicago born--Chicago, that somber city--and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man's character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn't any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles." We agreed that "The Adventures of Augie March" is one of those books that thrills you as you read it.

It is funny that the two of us came to Bellow at such different times in our lives; in many ways I wish I were just now starting that shelf. Instead I read "Augie March" at the end of my junior year in high school, a birthday present from Kate Connolly. In the manner in which I read things then, I followed up with the rest of his stuff. It was just the right time to read the shorter works of Bellow-- I was a teenage existentialist, after all, so "Dangling Man" and "The Victim" and "Seize the Day" were right up my alley. Augie was too-- there is never a wrong time for the picaresque, after all. "Herzog" left me cold, though, and "Mr. Sammler's Planet" was an annoyance that I tried to like, but couldn't. The book of Bellow's that I have returned to again and again over the years, however, has been none of those-- I am a fan of "Henderson the Rain King", maybe his most atypical book. "I want, I want," says the voice Henderson hears, and I understood that voice then just as I do now.

When I heard the announcement of his death last night on the radio (say what you will about NPR, I like that the death of a guy like Bellow is big news to them) I started thinking about the group of post war American writers that he belongs to. Is he the one that should have been the Nobel Laureate? I'd have a drink with Norman Mailer any time, and if you like, I'll make the case for him, but it probably shouldn't be Mailer. Actually, I'd go with Philip Roth. In 1976, though, when it was time for Sweden to honor a Jewish American writer, Mailer's politics (and his antics, I think) had put him out of the running, and Roth was writing stuff like "The Breast" and "The Great American Novel". Don't get me wrong-- I like "The Great American Novel", but if you have ever gone to baseball game with a European, you know that some things just don't translate. Bellow was always more European-- his first two books were what Camus would have written if Camus lived in Chicago (and was imitating Camus). Still, prizes or no, I have been moved by Saul Bellow's writing for as long as writing has moved me-- there is a corner of his work that colored how I go about my life, and in an odd way I find myself more moved thinking about the ways that his writing affected me more than the death of the Pope moved me. The Pope, after all, was a distant figure, perhaps polarizing, perhaps inspirational on the political stage. At about the time I was setting out to start my story, to define myself as Augie March does, I had "Augie March". The Pope never wrote anything to me like that.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

I can see my house from here! (Looks like it could stand a coat of paint, too.) (via Kottke.)

The Buffalo connection made this story jump out at me, but it'd be worth ready anyway. (Via Electrolite.)

Monday, April 04, 2005

It has been interesting to read how many people are weighing in on the death of John Paul II with some variation on the theme, "I didn't agree with him about a lot of things but...." It seems to me that this statement betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of who the Pope is, and what a Pope does. This is hardly surprising among non-Cathlolics, and I suppose among American Catholics it should come as no surprise either, but still, it sounds odd to my ears. Catholics don't agree or disagree on matters of faith-- the fundamental precepts of Catholic doctrine are not open to debate, and among these precepts are certainly the concepts of sin and forgiveness. When people say, "I disagree with the Pope about X" what they are most often saying, I think, is that they don't believe that something is a sin. This is interesting, because it undercuts some very important concepts in Catholicism. Catholics sin-- every one of them. It would be committing the sin of pride for someone to suggest otherwise. The point of the faith is that sins may be forgiven-- if one acknowledges the sin, and is sincerely sorry for offending g-d by committing the sin, than one can be absolved of the sin.

In our society it seems as though self-esteem has replaced repentance to the degree that absolution is no longer what is wanted; validation is the new sacrament of the day. This is, I think, why this Pope, who was by any measure I can conceive of a good man, and a fine moral example for our time, is thought by many to be out of step, and "conservative" whatever the hell that's supposed to mean. There aren't wets and drys in Catholic theology-- it is a faith, and as such is much more about the questions than the answers. There are answers, to be sure, but for the most part the answers are very unsatisfying unless accepted in faith. You want to disagree with Catholic teachings, go right ahead, but don't think for a minute that what you are doing is redefining Catholicism-- what you are doing is defining yourself out.

On the other hand, there is nothing in the Catholic faith that says that by sinning you are a bad person. Catholics believe that we are imperfect, but perfectible. This is not at all the same thing as believing that we can become perfect-- no
Catholic would have any patience with such nonsense. It is all process-- working towards becoming better, recognizing that the ideal, as embodied in Jesus, and, I suppose, his mom, amounts to recognizing that this is something we can never
achieve. All we can do is try, and when we fail, if we acknowledge our failure, we can set out to try once again. I suspect that this belief lies at the heart of the clergy sex abuse scandal. The unhappy sinners who were sent back out into the community were unworthy sinners, just like the rest of us, and just as worthy of forgiveness in the eyes of the Church. Unfortunately Cardinal Law and the others forgot to render unto Cesear, not an uncommon mistake by the Church over the last two millennia.

Over the last Holy Week I was reminded of a short story I'd read years ago by B. Traven called, "While the Priest Was Away". I had to special order the book, and just re-read it. It is about a Mexican peasant who is the sacristan of the
church in his village. The local priest is called away on business, and directs the sacristan to clean the statues of the saints in his absence. The man does so, but the statue of the Blessed Virgin is damaged by his negligence. It works out for him,
however, and ends happily, he believes, through the intervention of Judas Iscariot. You should read it-- like all of Traven that I've read (not enough yet) it is wonderfully told, and the twist is hilarious, but the point I am trying to make here is that the sacristan would never have tried to argue that damaging the statue wasn't his fault, or that his negligence and pride weren't sins. He is a simple man, but he is well aware of his sinful nature. Rather than denying this, however, he embraces faith, and in doing so believes that he is rewarded. Indeed, although Traven would no doubt take it different view, to the other characters in the story it is clear that he has been rewarded for his faith.

It would be an interesting thing to lead a life of faith. It can be done, even today. Actually, I have a feeling that it has never been all that easy, so saying "even today" in some way depreciates those that have done it in the past. It was probably as hard for St Augustine as it was for Francis of Assisi as it was for Thomas Merton. It is not an easy row to hoe ever, but it seems to me that this Pope managed it, and that is an impressive thing. He leaves a church that is not what I'd want it to be, and is almost certainly not all that he could have hoped for. I don't think it is fair to pick arguments with it, though; for all its imperfections, for all of its refusal to look at the way we live now and accomidate itself to that, the Catholic Church still gets credit in my book for hewing to its core beliefs. People have been turned to pilars of salt, I'm told, for less.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Shoes, "Black Vinyl Shoes". Although the liner notes are at considerable pains to describe the technical limitations of the recording process, what jumps out here is the songcraft. These are well put together little numbers, each with snappy hooks, and tasty licks, each in its way a perfect little pop gem. Lyrically the songs are about angst and love lost among the 20 somethings, which is unfortunate; although there is a universal quality to the subject matter, it is not one that I have any interest in today, even as nostalgia. It is interesting also, to think that the distinctive sound of this side, imposed by the technology available to the band in their living room, would today be an effect that would be digitally reproduced. Chances are that if these guys were making this album today, what we'd get would be "Boston".

Then to Cracker last night at the Icon. This is a band that I have a passing familiarity with, because it is a favorite of my friends, but I can't say that I have ever given them a sustained listen. This was a stripped down version: David Lowery and Johnny Hickman with the Hackensaw Boys, the opening act, sitting in on some numbers. It was a terrific set, very pro. Tom Knab is fond of saying that "Somewhere out there the greatest band in the world is playing in some bar," and on this particular night we happened to be in the right bar. Both Shoes and Cracker share in common the fact that they have the tools to appeal to larger audiences. There were about two hundred people at the Icon last night, and they saw a terrific show. Although the Shoes album is described as "legendary", and although they did get a contract, I have never met anyone else that has heard of them. I remember that the album was hard to find (I can't recall where I found it). Nowadays if it is out there it can be located and purchased, diluting the record store treasure hunt as one of the joys of being a music fan. "Black Vinyl Shoes" is an interesting relic from the time before digital, and a nice bit of pop product. As nostalgia what it invokes in me is not the romantic ache that is its subject matter, but rather a remembrance of the time that I sought this sort of thing out semi-obsessively.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Wire, "Pink Flag". Oh, Art Rock. Is there anything you can't do? I really have no idea how much stuff like this I have on my shelves, but electric guitars like this never really get old. Out of the subsonics melody seems to emerge, and although I'm sure they'd be better live, there is no disputing that on record this sounds pretty terrific. CLA (whose most recent music purchase is a decent sounding hard rock side by a band out of Las Vegas called The Killers) asked if this was The Ramones. I can see how a casual listen might give that impression; Wire is working with the same sort of sonic material. The difference for me is that The Ramones have a sense of humor (or, perhaps, a sense of humor that is accessible to me). Odd as it may sound, the Gang of Four probably had a better sense of humor than these guys. Wire is a Brit outfit too, but they are working that serious, dark European vein. That makes this fine for those times when you want loud distortion but it is probably not party music. I suspect that the reason I haven't played this in years is that I haven't lived in a dorm for years, but that is not to say that "Pink Flag" doesn't hold up.

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