Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

One of the great things about Bob Dylan's "Theme Time Radio Hour" is the intro: a woman's voice recites, "It's night-time in the big city..." and continues by describing the scene in and around the Abernathy building. (Come to find out the narrator is Ellen Barkin, which makes it even better.) Jaime Hernandez made a promotional poster illustrating all of these clips, and now a guy named Simon Nielsen has made a QuickTime movie out of it. Dylan and noir, with Ellen Barkin. What could possibly be more in my wheelhouse? (Via BoingBoing.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

From an interesting interview with Robert Wyatt at Pitchfork:

"Pitchfork: Did you once say that without jazz America would have been a mistake?

RW: It wouldn't have been a mistake. But if it hadn't been for the black cultural experience, from the gospel and blues and jazz, American would be no more famous than, say, New Zealand. Americans do make great films. But who doesn't make films? The Japanese do, the French do, the Iranians do! The Americans have a huge commercial advantage. So I wouldn't say cinema. Actually it was Clint Eastwood who said, the only things America has contributed to civilization are the western and jazz. And I don't think westerns are bad, but lots of people make great cinema. But jazz is right there."

I'm pretty sure I disagree, or at least, that I think there have been other notable contributions, both in the arts (even if we didn't invent the mystery-- a debatable point-- it certainly attained its highest form here.), and politically. For all the faults of the US, it is still the first nation formed out of a philosophy, and that philosophy is still a laudable aspirational goal. It is very easy, after nearly eight years of George W. Bush, and after nearly 50 years of imperialistic swagger, to lose sight of that. Jazz, fortunately, helps bring it back into perspective.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

My law partner and I have always thought of ourselves as pretty good writers, and we enjoy modest success as freelancers, so I guess there is some basis in fact for this belief, but it has been a while since we have turned out a piece of legal writing that I like as much as the motion for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals that we just turned out. The merits I'll talk about some other time, but the crafting of the motion really caught our imagination.

New York's Court of Appeals is the highest court in the state, with narrow jurisdiction over questions of law only. Although there are matters which can be taken up as of right, for the most part it self-selects its docket, and the object on a motion for leave is to persuade the Court that your case presents an interesting and significant question. It isn't enough that the Appellate Division may have erred-- the case has to have something that grabs the attention of the judges.

I've never been to the Court of Appeals. I think we have done a pretty good job of laying out what makes our case important. I can't wait to see what the Court has to say about it. Without going into it, our claim involves the rights of the innocent, and our client spent 12 years in Dannemora before he cleared his name-- a tale right out of Victor Hugo, if you ask me.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

An interesting essay on the problem of faith. (Via Making Light.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Peg Bracken and the guy who invented Rice-a-Roni kick it. So that's the author of "The I Hate To Cook Book" and a convenience food creator. The way I figure it a third shoe is about to drop, and somebody from the fast food industry is probably on the roof right now. But who? The Colonel and Ray Kroc and Dave Thomas are already dead; so is Arthur Treacher. Other likely candidates are actually fictional, although if I were Ronald McDonald I'd be sure to look both ways crossing streets.

Monday, October 22, 2007

This is a pretty cogent analysis of how the Republican presidential nomination race breaks down, and what the members of the field's future prospects might look like. I find the prospect of a Giuliani/Clinton race horrifying, mostly because it seems to me that the rest of the country doesn't really "get" Giuliani. Interestingly, the last time he had a shot at Hillary, he backed away (with the stated reason that he had been diagnosed as having prostate cancer and needed treatment.)

It is interesting that the Republican Party's bench strength seems so thin. In a year where there are so many appealing Democrats, the Republicans can't seem to find anyone who doesn't appear to have multiple potentially fatal flaws. Of course, I could be wrong about this; the fact that Rudy seems to be the front runner may mean that Americans are more tolerant about a candidate's messy personal life than is assumed (they were with Clinton). Giuliani's pro-choice past is probably irrelevant to most people-- it is a fringe issue at this point, which Republicans seem to reckon they can take care of by foisting the lifting over to the judiciary. His 2nd Amendment positions aren't the negative that they might be, and in the general election might swing some city voters his way, keeping, for example, Ohio on the Red side.

Friday, October 19, 2007

I'm thrilled about Al Gore's Nobel Prize, but there is no getting around the fact that the guy needs to ramp up his hipness quotient. I didn't know that the Peace Prize laureates are allowed to invite a musical guest to perform at a post-awards ceremony concert, but even if it were sprung on me at the last minute, I think I could do better than Melissa Etheridge. I'm afraid Al's music collection must look like it is from a late 80's girl's dorm. What, Janis Ian wasn't available? Good heavens, man, you are from Tennessee. Melissa Etheridge is the best you could come up with? Hell, why not pick musicians from New Orleans, people who are already victims of climate change? The Dirty Dozen Brass Band would have been cool-- or Wynton Marsalis, or Fats Domino! Let's get the Neville Brothers over to Oslo. You can invite anyone, and you invite Melissa Etheridge? Sure, she did a song for your soundtrack, but you could have just invited her as a guest. Good grief, it wasn't even that good a song. You know she's going to play it though, even though the only thing anyone will want to hear is the one about walking across the fire-- with the one about the window as a encore, I suppose.

Maybe the scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will pick Patti Smith or someone to make up for it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

More candidates for the Under-rated Rocker's Hall of Fame.

I'd have to say that the Lost in Space robot was the best robot ever. Others might disagree, but even the most ardent fan of R2D2 would be happy to see the Lost in Space robot next to the tree on Christmas morning-- and for $24,500 you could make that person very happy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Netlix brought us Jean-Luc Godard's "Sympathy for the Devil" over the weekend, and I've been thinking about it since. Although at first it has the look and feel of a documentary, Godard was after something different, I think. The movie consists of three repeating set pieces, with a couple of intervening scenes. There is a reoccurring scene set in a junkyard, featuring black revolutionaries, and a reoccurring scene set in a recording studeo, featuring the Rolling Stones working out the title song. In between these longer scenes, and several others, there are short pieces which show a woman spray painting revolution-themed graffiti on various surfaces. Throughout the movie there are barriers and barricades-- the wrecks of cars in the fenced-in junk yard; the walls the graffiti artist paints; the acoustic dividers the musicians are separated by as they record-- with a couple of notable exceptions. The first is in one of the other longer scenes, in which a film crew and an interviewer follow a woman through a glade, questioning her about liberation. The second is towards the end of the Stones' recording session, with Mick, Charlie and Keith sitting on the floor working out the final details of the song.

It is all very 1968, and very good for what it is, but what makes it compelling is the Stones stuff-- the rest of it, as creative and shocking as it still appears, is not very engaging, and is frequently ham-fisted. But the Stones-- there is Jagger, a complete pro, working through each take, tweaking the lyrics here and there, listening to how it is coming together, making suggestions. Charley Watts, implacable, working it out. Keith is a restless creative force-- when a take ends, like Watts, he will go over a lick he wants to get right, or talk to Brian Jones and go over a riff, or talk to Mick. Early on he takes the bass over from Bill Wyman, who is then relegated to incidental percussion. Wyman is in the great tradition of immobile bass players, but Keith, barefoot, bops along to the samba riff that is the song's signature. As a documentary about the creative process this part of "Sympathy for the Devil" works brilliantly, and is a beautifully crafted piece of filmmaking, with the camera moving easily from one participant to the next without any cuts. "Sympathy for the Devil" is a complex number, and the level of musicianship on display here demonstrates how professional and hard-working this band really was.

Recommended for fans of the Stones with a fast forward button whose wives are not at home. (A. was not so into it, let's say.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

The only really unpleasant part of the bike path was the stretch along Niagara Street. There's is a fair amount of traffic, and you are obliged to ride on the glass-strewn sidewalk, past the First Amendment bookstore. The new bridge eliminates most of this, although the fact that the pedestrian bridge to the Army Corps of Engineers parking lot is still closed remains a nuisance. I hadn't realized that the path is the result of one guy's vision-- my hat is off to you, Jesse Kregal-- this is a terrific quality of life improvement.

Friday, October 12, 2007

On the flight to JFK yesterday morning I was looking for the Star Trek rerun when I cam across a black-and-white movie about college football. It had an eye-catching cast:John Barrymore as a populist governor, Jack Haley as his aide, George Murphy as the coach. Every now and then they would burst into a song and dance routine, and George M. Cohan's "H-A Double R-I-G-A-N" was prominently featured. A comic twist was that a co-ed was the place kicker. You think you have seen a lot of movies, but I'd never seen, or even heard of "Hold That Co-ed", supposedly a comic take on Huey Long's career, although a long way from "All the King's Men", what with featuring Jack Haley and all.

As dumb as it was, I have to say it sucked me in-- the magical escapism of the cinema. Depression-era stuff like this frequently works better than you'd think.

Dorris Lessing. I didn't see that coming. If I was guessing women (there have only been 11) I'd have gone with Margaret Atwood, but okay, Lessing. I hope Harold Pinter rang her up and invited her over for a drink.

Someone pointed out that all of the Nobel Prize laureates this year have been European- born.* I wonder when the last time was that it lined up like that. Has it ever? Of course the Nobel Prize is, in some ways, the cover of Newsweek for high culture, but it is interesting that the cultural and scientific influence of the US has diminished to this extent.

*Update: The NYTimes says Lessing was born in Persia.

Friday, October 05, 2007

I don't know who or what The American Planning Association is or does, but it is still kinda cool that the "Elmwood Village" is included on its list of Great Places in America. The list is broken down into neighborhoods and streets, and Main Street in Northampton is included on the latter, which means that lucky EGA has been able to enjoy three place on the list-- Park Slope is the other.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

When you think about it, the idea of music and the artifact that contains the music as being more or less synonymous had a pretty brief run, but probably shaped music-- certainly American music-- as much as, if not more than, any other single idea. The notion that musical performances could be turned into commodities and sold by the thousands didn't take too long to catch hold, and if early sales of recorded music were originally intended to help drive gramophone sales, soon enough what we would consider today as the software became almost the entire point, even superseding performance. Wily furniture store proprietors became wily record producers, and label owners, and turned out the music that became the American Trinity. Along the way, they refined the art of hype and promotion, and turned music-- which had previously been a performance medium-- into a new kind of product.

I was thinking about this the other day as I tried to decide what I think about live albums. Are they necessary? Are there any good ones? What is the point-- beyond the commodification of a specific performance, and the opportunity to sell the consumer the same product more than once? Is there a legitimate artistic reason to release a live album?

I was thinking about this because the live version of "Shelter from the Storm" that appears on "Hard Rain" came up on shuffle as I was driving. There are, at this point, quite a few live Dylan sides, although at one time they were rare, and before that, nonexistent. As it happens, when it was released, I really hated "Hard Rain", but now I'd have to say that it is my first or second favorite live Dylan side. But is it necessary? What would be the qualities that would make a live album necessary?

This is less of a problem with rock'n'roll's siblings in the Trinity. Live blues sides make sense because the documentation of the interaction between artist and audience is worthwhile, and because that interaction often propels the artist into heightened expression. The best B.B. King sides are all live, for example. In jazz also the live setting can work to illuminate aspects of the music that might not otherwise be heard. I can't tell you how many live Monk sides I've got, but they are all like snowflakes, baby. Something like Duke Ellington's "Ellington At Newport 1956"-- particularly Paul Gonsalves' solo on "Diminuendo in Blue, and Crescendo in Blue" is all the evidence anyone should need that there is an artistic justification for live jazz albums. There are scores of jazz sides like this, but I am hard pressed to name a rock live album that isn't merely product. Are there any?

Monday, October 01, 2007

When I was in high school I had an English teacher with the brooding dark looks of Edgar Allen Poe. We all knew that he was brilliant, and one of the hallmarks of his scowling intelligence was that-- it was said-- he read the New York Times, cover to cover, every day. "Even the weather!" someone breathlessly explained to me, and I vowed to become a genius myself.

CLA confided to me the other day that she is realizing that maybe my fussiness about dinnertime isn't so crazy after all, and that since moving away to school she has become an avid reader of the NYTimes' Wednesday food section. She reads the rest, too, and so is, I presume, on her own way to genius. It was through her that I was directed to this interesting cornbread cake recipe. Apparently it gets served with maple pecan ice cream, and this recipe looked like it had potential, although I must confess I have had only limited success with custard-based ice creams in the past. At the farmer's market Saturday LCA and I came upon a vendor who had Grade B maple syrup, which is what was recommended, and which isn't all that easy to find, so we broke out the yokes and made some custard. I think a couple of things went right for us. The corn starch, although cheating a bit, is only cheating a little bit. And we let the custard chill overnight before adding the milk, which meant that my ice cream maker didn't have to work so hard at bringing the dense mixture to the proper temperature. It was mighty good stuff, in any event, and I will make it, and the cake next weekend.

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