Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A.'s mother grew up on Buffalo's East Side, and A. and her sister started out there too. They all went to Corpus Christi, and still feel a connection to the parish, one of the many Polish churches in that neighborhood. The East Side has become pretty significantly depopulated over the course of the last fifty or so years, and the people who live there now are more likely to seek spiritual fulfillment at a mosque or a Baptist church than at a Polish language Mass, but there is still a touch of Polonaise in the neighborhood. When the diocese announced that it was going to start shutting down parishes the East Side was one of the places that was targeted. Corpus Christi was independent from the diocese, staffed by Franciscans. Six or seven years ago the Franciscans decided they were done-- the parish enrollment had declined to the point where it no longer made sense for them to staff it. It looked like that was going to be the end of the parish, and in A's family this was a big deal, even though none of them still belonged to it. At the eleventh hour the the Pauline Fathers agreed to take it over, and appointed Fr. Anselm Chalupka as pastor. He did a good job, although you couldn't really say he turned it around. He raised money to repair the decrepit physical plant, he was a visible presence in the life of the East Side, and he was a charismatic figure. Part of it was that by the usual standards of inner city Buffalo clergy he was shockingly young: when he came to the parish six years ago he was 33. Part of it was that he was a native Pole, which must have pleased his constituency, and which made him rather exotic to everyone else. He grew the parish to 370 people from 250, which is pretty good-- I'm not sure how many of the 120 were related to A, but probably a couple were.

Today was his last day. He has been sent to a parish in Yonkers. A's family wanted me to go to his last Mass in Buffalo, because he'd told them that his wish was to see the church filled once before he left. He got his wish, and looking around before the service started it occured to me that the scene resembled something that a Polish Leo McCarey might have made a movie about. They put on the whole kielbasa, a Tridentine Mass, and there was a full house in attendance. Then came the homily. Using Mark's gospel about prophets not being honored as his departure point Fr. Anselm noted that biblical prophets don't predict things so much as they speak the truth. From there he moved into a discussion about how Darwin's "Evolution of the Species" has been used as a justification for atrocity and then-- even knowing it was coming I couldn't believe it was happening-- he made the argument that the United States is perpetrating a holocaust against the unborn. It was like watching Godwin's Law enacted before my eyes. Two days ago Scott Roeder was convicted of murder, after having been allowed to raise the defense of justification for gunning down a man in his church, and there I was, listening to a guy with an accent like a vampire movie call me Hitler.

So here's where I am on the preservation of historic churches: turn them into brew pubs. Nobody's ever called me Hitler in a brew pub.

Friday, January 29, 2010

I've been reading "A New Literary History of America" the anthology of essays edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors, and finding it the perfect thing for picking up and dipping into, which is what I mostly do, or reading for a stretch, which I do when I get a chance. I can't read a book like this-- or a magazine, for that matter-- unless I go straight through, so by "dipping in" what I mean is reading the next essay in line then putting it down. Something that none of the reviews I saw before I got the book mentioned is that although the roster of contributors is a formidable mix of scholars and popular writers, the author of each essay is not given until the end of the piece. This lends an interesting continuity to reading the book, since it is the editors' vision that seems the most apparent. The essays are not long-- five pages is a long one, so far-- but they are dense, and I find that I come away from each having learned something new. Columbus' first voyage was five weeks long, Stephen Foster was born on the same July 4th that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died. It has the first coherent explanation for why the New World was named for Amerigo Vespucci that I've ever seen. There are larger themes as well: America really does have religion deeply embedded in its founding; slavery was recognized as a profound moral problem from the earliest days; notwithstanding the Euro-centric racism of the Puritans (and of the Spanish) the essential personhood of the native population was always recognized; the humanity of African-descended chattel slaves presented greater difficulties-- that sort of thing. It is fun to find out more about the Hudson River School of art; the essay on the Haitian revolution was serendipitously timely.

The question of what it is to be American is an important one, I think, and I think it is something that can only be reflected upon properly by constantly refreshing what we think we know about our shared history. The death of Howard Zinn should remind us of that.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

So now we find out: Was J.D. Salinger writing all that time? Is there something in that file cabinet as good as "Frany and Zooey" (which I think is his best) or "Catcher in the Rye"? Or was it all a hype? Did he retreat to Cornish, New Hampshire and just live out his days? That's always been my theory. Why would he feel the need to write more? On the record of what he'd published it always looked to me as though he'd said everything he needed to, and was running out of ideas. Maybe he really was, as Mailer said, "the greatest mind ever to stay in prep school."

I think it is crumby that the man who killed John Lennon gets a mention in Salinger's obit, and I think it's too damn bad that Salinger must have died knowing that would happen.

(Apropos of today's earlier post, citations to the Uncollected Stories can be found here. Those with access to a decent library can track them down-- I spent several weekends in the bound periodicals section of the Geneseo library doing just that years ago. And The New Yorker has made the thirteen of the Salinger stories it published available here.) Esquire has posted "This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise", and "The Heart of a Broken Story".

Update: A New Yorker article by Louis Menand; an assessment by Janet Malcolm of similar vintage.

Update II: Here is Ron Rosenbaum's piece from Esquire about his trip to Cornish to seek out Salinger. I mostly generally like Rosenbaum, but the sort of Salinger obsessives who tried this sort of thing always impressed me as being a half bubble off level. I'm surprised that Rosenbaum hasn't weighed in with a piece about the Salinger manuscripts yet-- it has been 24 hours since the man died.

Here is a story about of why the magical internet should never replace libraries, newspapers, and newspaper morgues. In the late 70's and early 80's I was a regular reader of the Village Voice. Back then it was a different publication than the boho pennysaver it has become. It had evolved from the more-or-less half-baked political broadsheet founded by Ed Fancher, Dan Wolf, and Norman Mailer and had become an essential weekly read for engaged and aware New Yorkers, whether actual or aspiring. In addition to Nat Hentoff, Tom Carson, Wayne Barrett, Robert Chrisgau, it was where I read Andrew Sarris for the first time. And I.F. Stone. Actually, a list of all the great writing by great writers that went on at the Voice back then would be a good start at a worthy anthology that will probably never be assembled. It was a lively publication, and it seemed to be filled with obscure feuds, which made it even more fun to follow. It was where you went to see Jules Feiffer's work, and Matt Groening, Lynda Barry, Stan Mack (Real Life Funnies: "Guarantee,All Dialog Verbatim") and Mark Alan Stamaty. It was, I believe, the first periodical intended for the general public which featured a regular column analyzing and critiquing the work of the press in covering news stories. Although this is now commonplace, if you wanted it before the Voice started running Press Clips you pretty much had to subscribe to The Columbia Journalism Review .

It had other charms as well, one of which sent me down this particular rabbit hole. In the back pages, among the classifieds, there was a brief column under the byline Vladimir Estragon, called Waiting for Dessert. It was a food column, the sort that consists of a short essay about the author's confused and distracted life, followed by a recipe for something or other. Beef Carbonara, for example, which started out with an anecdote about an acquaintance who said of someone once, "He's such a chump he carries his money in his wallet." The piece continued by observing that such a chump probably also made stew with water. Once there was a piece about making homemade bread and churning butter in a blender. Once he wrote about making chocolate pudding from scratch. The author referenced his family-- The Woman Warrior, The Youngest Member, and The Wee Bairn, and the stories about them were warm and sweet without being cloying.

The guy who wrote it was Geoffrey Stokes, something I did not know until he died, at age 55, in 1995, and I read his obit in the Voice. I can't find that obit online-- here is the NYTimes'. Stokes was prolific. In addition to "Pinstripe Pandemonium", a good book about the Yankees which I have read, he wrote a book called "Starmaking Machinery" about the marketing of a rock band, which I haven't, and a book with Robert Coles called "Sex and the American Teen-Ager". It also seemed like he was writing most of the Voice back then, including Press Clips. That's Stokes in the photo that accompanies this post-- the guy who does not resemble a hipster dofus, which is Robert Christgau. Waiting for Dessert was always accompanied by a little cartoon depicting the author engaged in some frantic activity-- it never occurred to me that the aging hippie the cartoon depicted might be a recognizable caricature, but it turns out it was.

Here's the thing: all that writing, and a lot about the man himself, is nowhere to be found on the 'net. You can go to the Voice's site and hunt-- that's where I found the photo. The obit isn't there, and neither are the Press Clips, or the serious journalism. About two thirds of what I am writing here is out of my own memory. Waiting for Dessert isn't there. (It was anthologized, and if you know to look for it you can find used copies-- the web does have its uses.) If you look up Geoffrey Stokes on Wikipedia, though, all you find is a page of references that suggests just what a significant writer he was. He died before the internet was the ubiquitous presence it now is, and as a result he has largely fallen from the memory of anyone more or less younger than I am. That's a shame.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jack Newfield on Dylan, 1967. "W. H. Auden, Howard Nemerov, and Norman Podhoretz say they have never heard of Dylan. Critic and poet John Ciardi says Dylan knows nothing about poetry. Even Norman Mailer, existentialist fight manager and white hope of the over-30 generation, says, 'If Dylan is a poet, so is Cassius Clay.'"

It is probably not fair to Mailer, who said a lot of things, to dredge this up. Chances are that with the beneit of hindsight he'd recant and admit that both Ali and Zimmerman qualify.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Interesting backstories about "The Last Waltz"-- including the answer to a question that has long puzzled me: Neil Diamond? Who invited him?

It's always struck me as a less than fully realized film, and now I understand why.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Because I can't resist sticking my oar in, when I read Don Esmonde's column in last Sunday's Buffalo News about relocating UB Law into the Statler building I dashed off an email to Esmonde explaining why this would be a terrible plan. He apparently still disagrees. On my way into work that Monday I was stopped by a preservationist acquaintance who is active in the effort to save the Statler and was asked what my thoughts were. We had a pleasant conversation, and then I wrote an email to UB President John Simpson laying out the same arguments. Then I wrote a submission for the Buffalo News, which ran today. Buffalo News stuff disappears behind a paywall, so I'll reprint it here:

"Relocating the University at Buffalo Law School to the Statler would be a bad plan for the Law School, and amounts to valuing a building over an important part of the leading institution in our region. The UB School of Law belongs on campus.
A lot of lawyers think the Law School belongs downtown. The idea has always been popular with students, but this is based on a misunderstanding of what a law school does.
As a past president of the UB Student Bar Association, I’ve been guilty of making the same mistake myself. As an adjunct faculty member for the last 10 years, I think I now know better.
Proximity to the courts is frequently cited as the advantage to a downtown location, but this would actually be a detriment. A quality law school is not a trade school where students pay tuition for three years to learn when to stand up, when to sit down and when to say objection.”
Most lawyers are not litigators, and even most litigators aren’t in court on a daily basis. As entertaining as hanging around the courthouse can be, most of the time it is about as valuable an intellectual experience as hanging around in a bar or a barbershop.
Good lawyers have been trained to think about their clients’ problems, applying a vast field of knowledge to those problems in order to work out a solution. We learn how to do this by coming to grips with the history application of the law. You learn how to be a good lawyer from being instructed in the analytical processes lawyers use in the classroom by quality faculty.
The best law schools have the best faculty — lawyers who are expert in their fields, produce serious scholarship and advance the study of law in society. Quality faculty members are not interested in teaching in a trade school; they are interested in doing serious academic work.
They want to participate in the intellectual life of the university, where ideas can cross-pollinate.
They want to be able to interact with colleagues from other disciplines.
UB Law used to be downtown, and it was well enough regarded back then, but its reputation did not peak until it was moved out to the main campus of the university in 1973. That’s not a coincidence; that’s cause and effect.
Over the course of the past 30 years, the faculty members of the Law School have contributed a great deal to the intellectual leadership of UB as a whole. I cannot imagine that my late property professor, former UB President William Greiner, would want to see a law ghetto created on Niagara Square."

The News also ran two letters. As is traditional when there is a downtown preservation issue of some sort one was from someone from Elma. There is always a letter from someone who lives in Elma, or Alden, or Medina or someplace-- people who haven't been downtown in forty years. The other was from Joseph C. Grasmick, a member of the UB Law class of '79. His letter is notable for its nostalgia for a time he can't possibly remember. It is always possible to argue that things would be better if they were more like they were in the olden days if you start from the premise that the olden days were the best days ever. They weren't, but there's no convincing some people.

Esmonde's argument is a bit more invidious. He says that UB owes downtown, because it is a taxpayer funded institution. He is wrong. UB is obliged to be a responsible steward of its institutional existence-- its responsibility is to be the best university it can be. When I went to UB Law, (I graduated in 1982) its US News ranking placed it in the top 20 nationally. There is simply no way that it will ever scale to that level again if the University decides that it should model the law school after New York Law.

I'm fond of the Statler, which is a historically significant old hotel building. We had our wedding reception there. Notwithstanding that affection, however, there is no question that the Univesity of Buffalo and its law school are more important to the region than an old hotel. If Brian Higgins wants to make the Statler a part of UB let him figure out a way to turn it into student housing.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mr. Plimpton's Revenge: A Tale Told on Google Maps. (Via Flutterby!)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Man, this was one of the best toys ever. (Via Topless Robot.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pazz & Jop hasn't really been the same since The Dean turned the franchise over, but it's still a worthwhile survey. Tine was I'd be familiar with all, or mostly all of the list; this year I've heard bits and pieces of about a dozen sides in the top 50, and really liked about half of those. (Neko Case, Wilco, Vijay Iyer Trio, Roseanne Cash, "Together Through Life", "I and Love and You"). I guess that's respectable-- I spent more time listening to pop this year, but I feel like I've been away for a while.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

There is apparently no shortage of potential candidates for NY Attorney General if Andrew Cuomo decides to run for governor. Kathleen Rice, the current Nassau County DA (and an alum of the Brooklyn DA's office; former state insurance superintendent Eric R. Dinallo; former assistant US Attorney John P. "Sean" Coffey; state assemblyman Richard Brodsky, state senator Eric Schneiderman; and deputy secretary for public safety and homeland security Denise O'Donnell (the only upstater on the list). I'd say that Denise is probably the one with the best resume, too-- former US attorney for the Western District of New York, a pretty similar gig to AG.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Rest in peace, Kate McGarrigle

Monday, January 18, 2010

I bought a celery root the other day, a smallish one, about the size of my fist. Cubed and boiled it with potatoes in about a 1/3 ratio it was delicious, adding a tangy earthiness to the spuds. Funny how it goes with vegetables-- when I don't know how to work with something I am unfamiliar with I usually just take a pass. I'm thinking I want to make a gratin next, and at some point celery remoulade.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

We're all going to die, and when we do I hope each of us has an obit this good:

John J. Meegan of Buffalo—known as Jack to hundreds of local runners—who ran the Boston Marathon 30 times, was a member of the Buffalo Softball Hall of Fame, and played competitive hockey most of his life, died after a run in Delaware Park on Thursday. He was 74.

Mr. Meegan, who was born and raised in Buffalo and went to Northwestern University on a track scholarship, collapsed after suffering a heart attack on the way to breakfast with two friends he had been running with.

“He always said, ‘If I am going to go, I want to go running,’ ” said Ron Paladino, who had just run two laps around the Delaware Park Meadow with him.

A modest man who never talked about his achievements, Mr. Meegan was a legendary runner who often ran Boston with little or no training, after spending the winter playing hockey in a Canadian league.

His team, called the Damn Yankees because they were the only Americans, played in a league that featured a number of former professional hockey players. He later played for an older version, Bakewell’s Buddies, until practices moved to Niagara Falls two years ago.

Mr. Meegan, a frequent winner of his age group in the Buffalo News Runner of the Year series, had at least three close brushes with death that never seemed to faze him.

He nearly bled to death in 1998 after an artery in his abdomen burst and he lost eight pints of blood. He spent four days in the intensive care unit, and a month later ran his 20th straight Boston Marathon, finishing in what was a slow time for him, four hours and nine minutes.

Three years later, he was in a tree stand hunting deer with a bow near his camp in Cattaraugus County, when he slipped while trimming a branch and fell 17 feet to the ground. He walked a mile and a half back to his camp, packed up and drove home to Buffalo. He watched a Buffalo Bills game before going to the hospital. He had broken three ribs and punctured his lung. That year, he missed the Boston Marathon.

“He was signed up again this year,” said his longtime friend and running partner Dick Sullivan. “It was going to be his 31st Boston. I’ve run 31, so it looks like I’ve got him beat. It’s a heck of a way to keep ahead of him.”

Mr. Meegan in the coming weeks was preparing to do his fifth Death Valley Marathon Run with a group of veterans. They parachute into the desert and then run the next week, staying each night in an air-conditioned motel.

His son, John, said the family only learned after his death that Mr. Meegan had been diagnosed with a structural heart problem. Friends say after he learned that having it corrected might affect his ability to run, he decided to pass on getting treatment.

Sullivan said he and Mr. Meegan hiked throughout Ireland, Wales and England, and did most of the Appalachian Trail in sections over the years.

They both ran for the Belle Watling Track Club and were on a number of teams that won national masters cross-country races. In recent years, Mr. Meegan ran for Checkers Athletic Club.

He was inducted into the Buffalo Softball Hall of Fame in 1985, but gave up softball in the 1970s when he started running more.

Tom Donnelly, the race director of the Turkey Trot, recalled how competitive Mr. Meegan was in his running.

He said Jim Caher, a Buffalo runner who had never been able to beat Mr. Meegan, came across him lying by the side of the road during the Utica Boilermaker, wrapped in ice, with his shoes off, being attended by emergency crews.

Finally, Caher thought, “I’ll get to beat Jack,” and kept running.

“Around nine miles into it, he felt a tap on the back of his shorts with gentle encouragement, ‘Let’s go, Jim, we’re almost there,’ ” Donnelly recalled. “Well, Jack had woken up, demanded his shoes back, pushed the ice off and continued his run.” It was the last time Caher tried to beat him.

A tool and dye maker at American Optical, Mr. Meegan retired in 1997. He was a member of St. Mark’s Church.

He and the former Laurel Richard married on Nov. 28, 1959. Besides his wife, he is survived by his son and two daughters, Amy Fanning and Erin; and a brother, Patrick.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In court the other day to update the judge on the status of a settlement. The hang-up is getting the proposed Medicare Set-aside agreement approved. This is a pretty new thing in personal injury work, although in the Comp realm they've been dealing with it for nearly ten years. If a plaintiff is Medicare-eligible, or about to be (in other words, old, about to be old, or on SSI Disability), a fund to provide for medical expenses going forward has to be set up so that Medicare isn't on the hook for expenses that ought to be paid by some other responsible party, like Comp, or a tortfeasor. (Actually, it's not all that clear that the MSA thing applies to tortfeasors, but it looks like it will soon.)

It is a complicated and time consuming process, and not many people are proficient at it yet, although it has been going on in Comp long enough for there to be consultants who can handle most of it. The proposed MSA has to reflect the projected costs, and justify why some costs are included and others not, and then the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have to okay the plan. Typically the insurance company that is settling the claim buys some sort of annuity, but funds can be paid into a dedicated account and self-administered by the claimant.

There are a lot of questions about this set-up, and not a lot of answers. If, for example, someone doesn't spend all of the allotted money in a given year does it roll over into the next? (Probably yes, but why?) If CMS does not approve a proposed plan is there a review process? This is a big issue, since the process effectively gives somebody in Medicare approval authority over a settlement agreement that the parties themselves don't even have.

As soon as I learned about this new wrinkle my first thought was that it could screw up a lot of otherwise good settlements because the time it takes to get approval is cooling off time for the plaintiff. It also seems to me that it will effectively drive up the cost of settlements, since a fairly strict accounting of expenses which had previously been spitballed is now required in more cases. In situations where a life-care plan was called for we've seen this sort of thing for some time, but now we're having to do it in cases that resolve in the low-to-mid six figures.

This work has never been as easy as it looks, and the MSA thing is making it even harder. That means more expensive, and more expensive means that practitioners have to be more risk-adverse, and that means, I think, that there are a lot of people who may have legitimate claims that aren't going to be worth taking. That bothers me.

Monday, January 11, 2010

In the pre-industrial era, horses kept to the left so riders could draw their swords. Napoleon changed Europe to the right
The US followed France. In Canada the rule varied by province until the 20's. (Newfoundland was not part of Canada until 1949, and its motorists drove on the left until 1947.) Road traffic in seven European jurisdictions drives on the left: Cyprus, Guernsey, Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Malta and the United Kingdom. None shares a physical border with a country that drives on the right. In South America, only Guyana and Suriname drive on the left. In addition to South America there are several places in Asia and in Africa where you have to switch at the border: Hong Kong and China is one which I'll bet is pretty busy. The Swedes switched on Högertrafikomläggningen in 1967. (100 Things We Didn't Know Last Year, via Kottke.)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Is New Zealand Australia's Canada? Last night's movie was Blue State, about a San Francisco liberal in 2004 who vowed to move to Canada if Bush was re-elected. Anna Paquin co-stars, and was the executive producer, which makes her my favorite X-Man ever. Although Paquin was born in Winnipeg she grew up in New Zealand, and considers herself a Kiwi. The movie gets a lot of things right. The main character is a blogger, and it understands the peculiar narcissism of blogging. It gets liberal self-righteousness, too, so I guess you could say that it cuts pretty close to the bone for me. What I most liked about it was the way that it seemed to capture the affection that people with liberal social thinking outside the US have for the US, a kind of clear-eyed view of the country which comes from being neighbors and friends, but not family members. One of the Canadian characters says at one point that the border is like a one-way mirror. They look through it and see us, and we look at it and see our reflection.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Yikes! This was a mistake. I'll have to tweak more when I have time. Damn, where'd the Funnies go?

Haloscan, which provided the comments here, has moved on. I'll get comments back shortly.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Online legal research is a peculiar proposition. Westlaw and Lexis are expensive, but reliable. Nothing I've seen that's free has impressed me as being reliable enough to depend on, but that may be changing. Via Matthew S. Lerner's always useful New York Civil Law I've learned that Google Scholar includes a legal research tool. I'm going to want to play with it a little more before I start working with it, but Google's presence in this area is a serious game-changer. Both West and LexisNexis are in the business of taking material that is in the public domain and selling it by supplying indexing and cross-referencing as a value-added component. When I was learning legal research we didn't believe that a mere Boolean search was sufficient-- cross-checking with the Shepard's' citation listings was an automatic part of any research task. That's changed, of course. I don't imagine that there are too many lawyers younger than I am who ever use the Shepard's books. If Google gets serious about this then the only thing West and LexisNexis will have to sell are treatises,forms and annotations. Those things have a real value, and there's plenty of money to be made there, so I'm not worried about West. What's really interesting is that this would be the best example yet of information wanting to be free.

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