Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, October 30, 2009

Walking into the San Antonio Airport this afternoon I noticed that there was a decal next to the door that said "Threat Level: Orange". What the hell does it mean that this is apparently a sufficiently permanent state of affairs to merit a sticker on the door?

I've been on a few planes these past couple of weeks, and I am so sick of the Security Theater I could scream. A bottle of shampoo opened in my TSA approved Ziplock bag and saturated my toothbrush. I never have contact solution, which means I have to buy it at the hotel gift shop, or hunt up a drugstore somewhere. And enough already with the shoes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The people who somehow come to speak for their generation don't seem to relish it much, but at any given moment there's no shortage of people who would really, really like the job. There's been a surfeit of memoirs written over the course of the years since the Baby Boom generation started writing, and even the fiction produced by people more or less my age often seems excessively self-referential. Lots of people want to be the spokesperson for my age cohort. It's funny how many of them don't get it at all. Joyce Maynard is one of them.

I read "An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back At Life" when it appeared in the New York Times Magazine in 1972. I was 15, as callow a teenage existentialist as ever read Camus, and the essay made my skin crawl. Years later, when she published her book about her time with J.D. Salinger I was struck by the creepiness of the relationship, but even more so by the fact that Maynard was exploiting it. Then she auctioned the letters Salinger had written to her (and wrote an essay justifying it). Making a fetish of J.D. Salinger is something adolescents (and adolescent intellects) have been doing since, I guess, about 1945, but with the exception of the few nuts who make pilgrimages to Cornish one of the things that most Salinger acolytes seem to respect is his devotion to privacy. Maynard set herself in opposition to this, and by so doing really kind of established herself as the anti-Salinger. Like all narcissists Maynard has only one subject, and like most she is less interesting than she imagines. What sets her apart is how dogged she is in exploiting others to write about herself. (It is also a bit odd to note how the New York Times has been her enabler over the years.) I missed her article about cracking into her daughter's email account last summer, but now her daughter, Audrey Bethel, has written about the experience of being written about by Joyce Maynard. Ms. Bethel is restrained, ("It can be frustrating for me to let my mother own her stories—and by proxy, the stories of the people close to her") but it is pretty clear that the experience of being in emotional proximity to Joyce Maynard means being in a state of perpetual tug-of-war between one's own autonomy and a black hole of an ego that sucks in everything around it. I suppose that if the ultimate product were better there might be some justification for it-- as William Faulkner remarked, "'Ode on a Grecian Urn' is worth any number of old ladies." It is harder to justify when the result is an endpaper for the Sunday rotogravure.

I mention it because it relates to a struggle I have been having. As a writer I am not even in Joyce Maynard's class I'm afraid, but I do feel the impulse to document the experience of EGA's cancer diagnosis and treatment. More accurately, I feel as though I should write about my experience of it: what it felt like to hear her tell me on the phone, "Dad, this is serious. They think I have breast cancer." I should write about what happened next, and what happened after that. It would be hard to do, I think, and the idea would be to describe the past few months in an emotionally honest way. That would be interesting for me to do, because one of the ways that the experience was tolerable was that I managed to contain the emotional dimension of it. Indeed, that was how I responded from the moment the phone call was over. We were visiting CLA in Northhampton. It was Good Friday. We were in Fitzwillies. We finished our lunch, then went to the running store to buy CLA some sports gel for her Rugby games the next day. She went to practice, and we went to the Smith library to book travel. I could tell you all about the quality of light that day, and the quiet, purposeful terse conversation that A and I allowed ourselves. About the flight from Buffalo to Bloomington, and the miserable dive we stayed in there, and the doctors. I could write about how the the difference between the local cancer treatment facilities in Bloomington is different from a major regional cancer center like Roswell Park, and about what it has been like to follow the debate about health care reform over the same period and through the scrim of what we were living.

There is a whole genre of cancer memoir, but my story would be different because it wasn't my disease. Of course other people have done that, too, but at least John Gunther was eulogizing his son in his memoir. It seems to me that if I wrote about what this has been like I would be doing exactly what Audrey Bethel says her mother does, and I am not interested in doing that. Exhuming my emotional state would be making her story-- a good story-- a story about me, and that feels inappropriate. So, for now, the good news remains that EGA is doing well. She writes about her experience ably, and the chances are that if you read this you already know about that. It turns out that breast cancer, as horrible as it is, is pretty treatable, although the treatment is pretty horrible too. In the back of my mind the idea that there is more to say about all this lingers, an itch that I am trying not to scratch. Right at this moment that seems like the most emotionally honest response.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Interesting piece by Joan Walsh in Salon today on the way the media treated Clinton.

"[F]rom start to finish, President Clinton was besieged by a vicious just-say-no GOP abetted by the perversely, inexplicably, cruelly anti-Clinton leaders of the so-called liberal media -- from the New York Times' lame crusades against Whitewater and Chinese donors and Wen Ho Lee, to the integrity-free "opinion" journalism by Maureen Dowd and, sadly, Frank Rich, to a whole host of other liberal media characters who couldn't shake their feeling that Clinton was a fraud, a poseur, a hillbilly, a cynic. Their trashy eight-year oeuvre will likely go down in history as the most spectacularly malevolent and misguided White House coverage ever -- and politically costly, since it also encompassed Vice President Al Gore and probably made George W. Bush president in 2000."

That's pretty much how it looked to me. It's one thing when the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal attacks a Democrat, but there was no excuse for the NYTimes to carry on that way, and I'd love to know why that happened. It would be an interesting J-School project to go back over the front pages of the NYTimes during the Clinton years and count up how many times Ol' Bill and (especially) HRC were shown in unflattering photographs, and it would be an even better study if you contrasted it with St. Reagan-- or GWB. Walsh continues with an anecdote about Tim Russert, whose canonization has always been a mystery to me.

Bill Clinton was far from the president I wish he'd been, but he was a capable, intelligent president wh deserves a lot more credit than he ever got. He towers over Reagan, but we'll all be quite a bit older before that gets said aloud by very many.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

For a moment I dared to hope. When I heard that Ratzinger was opening up Roman Catholic communion to disaffected Anglicans I thought for a minute that the invitation was to the Anglicans that are cool with shamans who are women or gay. I don't know what I could have been thinking. Naturally what the Church was actually doing was announcing that it is fine with the peculiar bigotries it has been fine with for the last 2000 years or so, and inviting others who feel the same way to come on aboard. Which, of course, is certainly it's prerogative. It is not my place, or the place of anyone else, to tell a religion what its rules should be. It seems to me that this move might have been poor PR, looking for a fight that didn't need to be looked for, but that's none of my business either.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's all hindsight, of course, but I think we can now say with some certainty that The Mommas and The Pappas were the sleaziest pop group of their time. Keith Richards, Led Zep? Not in the hunt. The Velvet Underground? Art school dandies. Alice Cooper was always a pose, a minister's son out to shock. I can't think of anything that beats a decade's long incestuous relationship, complicity in that relationship, and death by ham sandwich. Denny Doherty had an affair with Michelle Phillips, but that's nothing-- he was just trying to fit in. (I used to own a copy of "Dave Mason & Cass Elliot", but I don't know what happened to it. That won't be getting the box set reissue treatment anytime soon.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

The first bit of public art you encounter at the Austin Airport is this statue of Barbara Jordan. Later, when I went for a run on the Lance Armstrong Bike Path I saw a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughn. They say Austin is in Texas, and the university is there and all, but none of that is what I expect from the Lone Star State.

Damn fine barbecue brisket at Stubbs-- that I expected.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Is there a Halloween event, or any kind of event, for which this would not be inappropriate? Maybe a frat party at the University of Alabama, for ten minutes. It would get you thrown out of a trailer park. It would get you thrown out of a hobo camp. Even on a girl you couldn't ironize this." The 10 Worst Halloween Costumes So Far

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The marriage recognition rule seems to be tripping up the Court of Appeals. It needn't.

"Judge Pigott frequently returned to his point that recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages would discriminate against the New York residents who are in domestic partnerships or civil unions, but who have not crossed across the border to get married in Vermont or Canada, two nearby jurisdictions where same-sex marriages are now legal.

"We're going to say to Canadians and to Vermont residents and to people of other states that, 'You're more valuable to us than our own residents,'" Judge Pigott said. "That, if you're married in Canada, we're going to recognize your marriage. But if you have a civil union or a domestic partnership in the state of New York we're not."

The problem here is that there are two problems. One is the problem identified by Judge Pigott: New York ought not treat its own residents like second class citizens. That's not the issue before the court-- that is something, the Court of Appeals has already ruled, that the crooked and incompetent New York State Legislature has to deal with. Western New York's own State Senator William Stachowski is the chief impediment to this-- people should write to him. The other problem is less of a problem. Lots of places have different rules about marriage. Different kinds of cousins can get married in some places, there are different rules for what constitutes legal age, there may even still be places that recognize common law marriages. As long as the marriage was legit where it was entered into, if you are living in New York you are entitled to the protection of the laws of the state of New York. That's been the rule for a long time, and it shouldn't be too hard to figure it out in this case.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

So what you do is you take a bunch of basil, and four or five cloves of crushed garlic, and two tablespoons of dried pepper flakes, and you cover it with olive oil. Put it on low heat. I used canned tomatoes, but fresh plum tomatoes would be better; peel and seed them, then strain the seeds out. Heat some olive oil in a pan, then add the tomatoes and the strained juice. Season with salt-- a couple of teaspoons or so. Mash the tomatoes up with a potato masher, and bring the whole thing to a frothing boil. Meanwhile, the basil/garlic/pepper flake thing is probably boiling too. Turn that off-- You don't want to cook the basil/garlic/pepper flakes, you want the oil to become flavored. Put it aside. Pull the tomatoes off the heat too. Add the seasoned oil. I had about a cup of oil, and I used about a half cup-- the rest will come in handy for something else.

Cook your spaghetti until it is just shy of al dente. Ladle some of the sauce into a skillet, over a low heat, then toss the pasta in, with a little of its cooking water, some grated Parmesan cheese and a pat of butter. Turn the pasta until it is coated, then plate. Here is a pictorial-- annoyingly it doesn't give amounts, so I had to play it by ear.

It is delicious. The flavored oil gives it a basil "pop" that's terrific.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A, EGA and LCA went to visit CLA, and I remained here, thinking I'd get a few things done. So far so good with that, but when I went to see about dinner this evening I realized that our freezer is packed with mostly one quart bags of frozen stock, or one quart bags of scraps and trimmings labeled "For Stock". There are some popsicles too.

Friday, October 09, 2009

You know what? When the radio snapped on this morning and announced that Barack Obama had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace I felt like I had won it.

It seems to me that the people who are responding to this in a negative way may not have a really good sense of how the United States is regarded by the rest of the world. Harold Pinter said aloud what many thought: "The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless...."

And now the world, or at least the Norwegian Academy, has said that Barack Obama is different. I think so too.

I'm sorry that Conde Nast has decided to fold Gourmet. Although I seldom read it, I like magazines, and Gourmet was a classy one. I also liked that Ruth Reichl was the editor. Reichl is cut from the same kind of cloth as other great magazine editors, a larger-than-life figure who was famous for going to restaurants she was going to review in disguise. She wrote a memoir that belongs on the shelf with M.F.K. Fisher's books, and from all reports she worked hard to keep Gourmet from being just a version of Town & Country about souffles. It can't have been easy being the Anna Wintour of poached pears, and it's a pity that Conde Nast reckons that we've gone so far down the Rachel Ray road that there is no longer a way to sustain the publication. Too bad-- I'd have liked to have written something for it someday.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The other day "Rock n' Roll Hoochie Coo" came on the radio, and I started thinking about a flash guitar mix. "Sleep That Burns" belongs on that, and something by Nils Lofgren. Picking the right Jeff Beck number would be an enjoyable pastime, and the right Mick Ronson...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

"[V]ideo on demand is something of a conceptual oxymoron, since most people who demand video often don’t know what they want. For the indecisive renter, the video store has been an ideal waiting room." That gets at the heart of it pretty nicely, for video and for music stores. Sometimes-- lots of times, really-- you know you feel like watching a video, but you don't know what you want to see. The next three things on our Netflix queue, for example, are Woody Allen's "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex", "Ride With the Devil", and the "Saragossa Manuscript". Assuming that the three disks on top of the TV right now go, or have gone back, (a longshot) that's our weekend line-up. I can already tell you that there is a veto vote for each, which means that Saturday after dinner someone is walking down to Blockbuster. The Blockbuster experience gets drearier almost by the week, all fluorescent lights and dreadful stuff from the 80's that I never feel like watching. It was different when Mondo Video was down the block, but that was obviously an unsustainable business years before it closed. What's been lost is serendipity, coming across something and just taking a flier on it, and I miss that.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

I really don't want to be second-guessing Frank Sedita all the time; the best thing would be for the Erie County District Attorney's Office to be an efficient, well-run shop, and all this drama is extremely counter-productive. I also don't really care much about Steve Pigeon. Probably Pigeon is no more honest than he needs to be, and certainly his notion of the role politics should play in a well-ordered society is different from mine. Is it so different that it encompasses criminal behavior? I couldn't tell you. Here's what I can tell you: firing a guy who has already been all over the front pages is a bad plan. If Mark Sacha is a burr under your saddle, have him try shoplifters in Cheektowaga for the remainder of his career. Also, don't make stuff up if a phone call is going to establish that you are making stuff up. Frank Clark and Steve Pigeon already denied that there was any sort of immunity deal. There was exactly zero chance that either was going to back off that story, so insisting on that story just looks bad.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Nobel Prize handicapping. I think the IOC's rejection of Chicago reflects a deep seated anti-American sentiment, so sorry Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates (and Bob Dylan). If it hasn't happened for Amos Oz or Adonis I don't think it is going to happen this year either. I like Murakami, but I think he needs to build up a larger body of work. We've had Pinter (more evidence of animus to America) and Lessing, so that's enough Brits for now; too bad for you Ian McEwan. Juan Marse has a hot hand-- if I could play a trifecta I'd be inclined to box him with Cees Nooteboom and Mario Vargas Llosa. Since I can't, I think I'll go with Llosa. South American, conservative by Swedish standards, well-established. We'll find out Thursday.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Under ordinary circumstances I wouldn't much care to comment on Taylor Branch's book about his conversations with Bill Clinton, much less Joe Klein's review of it, but like a blind pig Klein comes up with a truffle: the 'great theme' of the book, he says, is "the struggle of a president mostly interested in policy against an opposition party obsessed with regaining power."

"The Republican efforts to undermine Clinton were rarely substantive and often unscrupulous. The president was impeached not because he committed anything resembling a high crime, but because the effort would cripple him at a moment when he might have gotten something accomplished — his popularity was running at 60 percent or so, the economy was booming. During the Clinton presidency, the Republicans accelerated their slide from a party of responsible conservatives to a party of antigovernment talk-show nihilists. Leaders like Bob Dole were intimidated by bomb-throwers like Newt Gingrich."

I'm not sure when this tremendous insight stuck Klein; it was nowhere in evidence back when he was reporting on the Clinton administration, or the impeachment, for that matter, but he deserves credit for getting it right in 2009, ten years or so after it might have made some difference. It's pretty to think that someone might notice that the same observation remains true today, and that our current president is confronted with opposition with exactly the same motives, but I'm afraid that would be too much to hope for.

(I also think, for whatever it is worth, that Klein over-values the quality of Bob Dole's leadership. Dole was always a Republican hatchet man, which is why he finally got a turn at the Republican Presidential nomination. I suppose he is marginally more honorable than John McCain, but that's not much of a metric.)

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