Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, July 30, 2010

Up to 64 ounces of sardines.

As an extention of her midwife Praxis experience CLA signed on as a volunteer with an organization called The Priscilla Project. The group matches pregnant refugees with one or two people to assist them through pregnancy. As it happens CLA's woman had already (just) had her baby, but she still needs a hand, so CLA has been trying to find things that she can do to make the family's life and adjustment a little easier. The family (husband, three-year old and one month old infant) live on the West Side, about two miles from the nearest supermarket. Usually she takes the bus to go shopping, and CLA had the thought that it would be easier if she drove her there. I offered to go along to help with the process.

Process is the word for it. The family receives WIC checks for food, and although I had a conceptual understanding of how that worked it wasn't until I'd done some moccasin-walking that I really got it.

Here's how it goes. Every month the family gets several checks-- five or six, I guess. Each check is good for $X dollars, and specifies certain food items that must be purchased. Canned beans, for example, or bread or cereal. Each check is also good for a gallon, or sometimes two gallons of 1% or skim milk. All of the food items specified by the check have to be WIC approved. You can't just buy any canned beans, or bread-- the kind you buy has to be identified as the kind you are allowed to buy by a little blue tag on the shelf next to the unit pricing information.

It is a strange and arbitrary classification system. Ten bucks worth of fresh fruit or vegetables, for example, but a two dollar sack of white potatoes doesn't qualify. She had to buy four sweet potatoes instead. She had an stipend for "up to" 48 ounces of juice, but the WIC approved juice was either Juicy Juice or similar sugar-added stuff from concentrate. "Up to" 64 ounces of canned sardines, but they had to be the right brand of sardines.

The store we were in was a store I occasionally shop at, but the experience of shopping there for the items we were looking for was quite different than the kind of shopping I do. We were mostly in the middle aisles, where the canned and processed stuff is, and we didn't get anywhere near the meat or the poultry. Even the produce selection was grim-- $10 bucks of fruit and vegetables for a family of four for a month? A $2 bag of seedless grapes looks like a sack of emeralds when you are working with that kind of limitation.

We walked up and down the aisles filling our cart, and then got on the checkout line. CLA's client speaks no English, so I felt as though we'd done some good just by helping her navigate the store, but we were only just getting started. As each item was scanned we found that some of the things we'd picked were not approved. The damn potatoes, for example, and the brand of sardines. I thought about what this must have seemed like to this woman. The checkout person was, in effect, a government official, telling her what she could or could not have, in a place of abundance that could not have possibly resembled anything else in her life's experience. Interestingly though, the checkout people were polite and patient and even pleasant. There was no eye-rolling, there were no exasperated sighs. All around us other people were paying with WIC cards or checks also. When I'm shopping I don't see this, but now we were part of it, and it was okay to notice. My thought when I'd told CLA that I'd go along had been, in part, that sometimes it is useful to have a middle-aged white guy around, to cut through the hassle, but we didn't get any hassle.

We ended up with six gallons of milk. The checkout guy said that some people do their shopping once a week or so, but what that means is that one week you'll have your ten bucks worth of fresh fruit and vegitables, and another week it'll be sardines and cereal. And milk. Lots of milk, all the time. Aren't a lot of Asian people (and African-American people) lactose intolerant? And why sardines? I happen to like sardines, but I can't eat them because they trigger my gout. I suppose poor people are less likely to be gouty-- I earned the affliction the old-fashioned way-- but what do you do if that week's featured protean is something you can't eat?

It is shameful, of course. Richest country in the history of the word, but don't let anybody tell you we are generous.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

From Slate: "So what will you do, Kindle generation, when you cannot tell which of the quiet boys holding the e-reader on the subway is engrossed by the latest, predictable legal thriller, and which one by a cheery, long-forgotten Laurie Colwin novel? If by some chance you do end up with the right one, what do you buy him a month later, when it is time for that first, tentative, not-too-expensive present—a gift certificate for a free download?"

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Interesting piece about the Boilermaker from Running Times:

"New records and new world stars are only one side of the annual Boilermaker story. More than any other race, it seems to me to encapsulate our sport's strange binary conjunction of the global and the local.

"Running, I mean, is a high-profile professional sport and a billion-dollar international industry, yet it is also an activity rooted deeply in separate local communities, and dependent on non-professional participation and hometown volunteerism. At one end of that spectrum, Desisa, Kiplagat, and first Americans Mo Trafeh (10th in 44:58) and Laurel Burdick (ninth in 52:36) were logging results that lifted them a rung or two up the global big-time ladder. At the other end, almost all of the 13,100 runners were local (4,500+ from Oneida County) or regional (12,500+ from New York State); the 5,000 volunteers were folk next door; and many of the estimated 30,000+ spectators only walked to the end of their street. I won't over-simplify the stats, but set those figures against the City of Utica's latest population count, 60,000. That's social impact. The packed house at that night's Moody Blues concert was trivial by comparison."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sometime between 20 and, oh-- let's say 32, we look as good as we are ever likely to. The tragedy is that when it happens most of us don't realize it. The anxiety of adolescence continues to infect our consciousness, and we focus on the features of our physiognomy that displease ourselves, instead of realizing that when we are 24 we are all pretty.

I was thinking about this today because it's Buffalo's Garden Walk weekend. Over the years Garden Walk has turned into something quite remarkable. People come from around the country to wander the neighborhoods, and the neighborhoods in turn all work like Tartars to put on a display. This year North Parade, on the East Side, was the beneficiary of some grant dollars, The Humbolt Parkway neighborhood of Buffalo, where North Parade is located, has been blighted since the 60's, but this project demonstrated the difference a little landscaping and some flowers can make.

It got me thinking. When was Buffalo at its most attractive? It is tempting to answer glibly and say that the city's good looks peaked when're it was in early adulthood, perhaps around the time of the Pan-American Exposition, but I don't think so. Too many of the iconic buildings and neighborhoods weren't here yet. By the late 1920's City Hall was dominating the skyline, but I doubt that the '30's were all that generous to Buffalo. My hunch is that the peak was in the period immediately following WW II, just before the St. Lawrence Seaway opened up. There was still a manufacturing economy, and the port was still important. Three or four generations of wealth had accumulated here, and as I rode my bike around town this afternoon I could still see the bones. More than that though, I could see that the Buffalo still looks pretty good when it pulls itself together for a party. We can't stay 24 forever, but we can always look good if we make an effort.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

LCA is a stronger rider than I would have guessed, and she doesn't mind taking a turn in front from time to time. We went about 20 miles, more or less, and although she was feeling the burn for the last stretch down the parkway she hung on till the end.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy had a croquet party for board and staff last night, so A and I gave it a whack. The croquet pitch is next to the Parkside Lodge, and is exquisite. It is to my backyard more or less what the brand of croquet on offer is to the brand of backyard croquet I was familiar with. The real deal is played on a surface like a putting green and is full of tactics and trick shots. They had two styles on offer-- 9 wicket, which is the American variation; and 6 wicket, the real deal English game. The two relate more or less like pool and billiards. The English game is played in a circle, with the post in the middle. The wickets are more narrow- the ball just squeaks through-- and the balls are heavier, about a pound. In order to play a successful round you must play off the other player's ball, ideally setting it up behind your target wicket in order to set it up for the shot you take after making the wicket.

I played 9 wicket, and was still in over my head. It was a very civilized evening, but I don't think it's my sport.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

As a general proposition it seems to me that blogs fail as journalism because blogs are primarily opinion based writing, with little research or shoe-leather reporting to back up the analysis. Of course, this is what most op-ed pages run too, so it's not as though this is a situation that is unique to this form. It is also true that sometimes bloggers do some background work. An outstanding example is this piece by Paul Campos, at Lawyers, Guns and Money on Elena Kagan's career and Supreme Court nomination. Campos has been critical of the Kagan nomination, arguing that she is oddly inexperienced and that her scholarship is thin, but in this post he goes beyond argument and investigates the circumstances behind her career at Chicago, her time in the Clinton administration, and her tenure as Dean of the Harvard Law School. He spoke with a number of people who were willing to be quoted anonymously, and several others on background-- there are no attributed sources, which is troubling-- but the people who he quotes tell a story that is rather different from the narrative we've had from the day the short list dropped. In Campos' view Kagan is more or less as qualified as thousands of other people, and has reached this career pinnacle as the result of an "extraordinary combination of social privilege and the ability to exploit it".

Campos breaks down the tenure process and provides a behind the curtain look at academia, then breaks down what the evaluative process in a scholarly manner, citing, inter alia "The Legal Process", Henry Hart and Albert Sacks book which argues that judges should interpret legislation as if it were the product of "reasonable persons pursuing reasonable purposes reasonably."

"The most interesting question about the Kagan nomination remains this: Why did Barack Obama nominate someone with largely unknown legal and political views to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court? Under the circumstances we can do little more than guess, but I would venture that three inter-related factors were crucial. First, Obama himself, as a former president of the Harvard Law Review and University of Chicago law professor, has been immersed in cultural context — elite legal academia — which puts a great deal of stock in the belief that being a good Supreme Court justice is largely a matter of technical competence."

He draws from this the conclusion that Obama is "at heart a comfortable denizen of Establishment America".

"The relative ease with which Elena Kagan is being confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court illustrates the extent to which Establishment America believes that a member of the club in good standing – someone who has gone to the right schools, and gotten the right kinds of jobs, and befriended the right sorts of people – can be counted on to do the right thing, even though her own legal and political views remain largely unknown. Naturally, from the establishment’s perspective, the right thing is to do nothing that might seriously disturb any of the social arrangements that continue to serve its interests so well. And in the end, Obama’s faith in Kagan is most likely based on a well-warranted belief that, as a Supreme Court justice, she will prove to be as acceptable to that establishment as Obama himself."

It's a longish read, but well worth it. I'm not sure I agree with all of it-- her clerkship with Thurgood Marshall isn't really touched on, for example, and Justice Marshall's endorsement of her-- even if it was 1988-- means something to me. Campos' main point is really less about Kagan and more about Obama, I think. The reality of Obama is probably that he is less different than any president of the Harvard Law Review than we believe, and the Kagan nomination confirms it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I am advised by Erin Bonk of the Utica Zoo that the llamas are fine, but they don't live at the zoo any more. They've retired and are living on a farm, which sounds suspicious, although I'm assured it is not a euphemism.

The zoo has a couple of alpacas that may debut next year.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I like the idea of mayonnaise mixed with red onions that have been sautéed in red wine and chopped bacon.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Boilermaker pix are a bit of a disappointment this year. This is the best of Jim and Wendy that I've seen; I haven't seen one with Caroline in it at all.

One of the first things I thought when I learned that George Steinbrenner had died was that the guy had managed to seize the spotlight one last time. Timing is everything, and now the All-Star game was going to be about The Boss. I'm not so sure that it always had to be about The Boss, but I was reminded of the famous phantom elevator altercation that followed the Yankees' World Series Game 3 loss to the Dodgers in 1981. That's unfair, I know, but that's how it always went with George-- even Yankee fans never knew exactly how to feel about him. In the end Yogi forgave him, and so did Dave Winfield, and probably so did everyone else he feuded with over the years. As Alan Barra points out in his Voice obit the guy was big enough to admit when he was wrong, and was loyal and generous as well. In the end you'd have to say he was good for baseball, and great for baseball players. It is odd that people tend to side with management in sports, but Steinbrenner made that nearly impossible: he was such a gigantic ego that the huge money he spent on players was dwarfed by the force of his personality. In a funny way this probably made it easier for the players to take the money.

Charley Pierce reports that his illegal campaign contribution conviction came about because Maurice Stans threatened to set IRS after his shipping company. I'd never heard that before, but I believe it, and if it is true than it is a credit to Steinbrenner that he didn't whine about it in public. He look his lumps, and was ultimately pardoned, and that seems in character.

Fans of other teams accused him of buying pennants, but that's unfair. He put the money he made with the team back into the team. Twins fans, among many others, had good reason to be jealous of that.

Still, timing is everything. He bought the Yankees for $8.7 million; the team is said to be worth $1.6 billion now, and he died in a year where there is no inheritance tax. You can't buy estate planning like that.

UPDATE: WSJ reckons that his estate may have saved $600 million. "Forbes recently estimated the Yankees owner’s net worth at $1.1 billion, largely from the YES network. The New York Yankees, which he acquired in 1973 for $10 million, are now worth $1.6 billion but are 95% leveraged due to debt from the new Yankee Stadium."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I'm very sorry to learn that Harvey Pekar has died. His irascible personal demeanor and his chosen medium probably prevented him from achieving the sort of glory that his work deserved-- he wrote a comic about a a crabby, opinionated autodidact. When I saw him lecture a year ago at the Buffalo Public Library he said that his intended audience was "people who will get it", and he was uncompromising about that, in the tradition of the musicians he was so knowledgeable about. It's an interesting oddity that he worked in a collaborative form, but he was fortunate in his collaborators, all of whom "got it."

Monday, July 12, 2010

To the Utica Boilermaker over the weekend, after a one-year hiatus. CLA ran it with me, and Jim's sister Wendy ran it with him, a pleasant family outing. It's still one of my favorite summer things to do. We committed late, so getting a place to stay turned into staying in Syracuse, and there were a few other adjustments. The llama wasn't there for some reason-- I hope it's okay-- but the zoo was represented by a goat and a pig and a cayman or an alligator or something. My Popsicle was grape, and Caroline's was lime. The weather was tolerable-- hot but not melting. We were there for the experience, but still ran respectably. It's never easy, but it is also always great.

I guess conditions were pretty good: three men broke the course record. 11,524 runners finished out of the 13,000-plus who started-- I didn't see anyone getting medical attention on the course, and I wonder what became of all the DNFs.

Home in time to see the end of the World Cup. Spain, it turns out, is awesome, and I was wrong. That happens a lot.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Spain loafed through this Cup. I liked them going in, but they were undistinguished in the first round, losing to Switzerland, beating Honduras 2-0, and giving up a goal to Chile in a 2-1 win. I don't see how they can get past Germany.

Uruguay's decision to play volleyball against Ghana was unsporting, even though it was what an economist would call a rational choice. CLA is (still) angry about it. There is an interesting discussion about whether the handball was "cheating" here. I'd say that the rule works the way it ought to. An automatic red card and a penalty kick is a pretty serious sanction, particularly since there is the discretion to suspend the offending player for two games instead of just one. Apparently penalty kicks are converted to goals over three quarters of the time; Ghana had its shot, and didn't make it. The only tweaks to the rule that I can come up with create their own problems. You could, I suppose, increase the punishment by obliging the offending team to play its next match shorthanded; alternatively you could have the official simply award the goal. The former seems disproportionally harsh, and the latter seems to me to invest the ref with too much discretion. Points should be scored by the players, not awarded by the referee.

The Dutch look like sleepers to me. They've played tough, and they've looked good, but they've also snuck up on the tournament. Beating Brazil is their big credential, obviously, just as Germany's win over Argentina established the Germans as something more than bullies beating up the Socceroos. I'm sticking with the Orange to win it all.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

A lonely vuvuzela sounded at the FC Buffalo-Maryland match yesterday afternoon. There were three or four of the horns in the stands actually, but in a crowd of a couple hundred you don't get the same swarming effect you hear on tv.

That's not the only difference of course. It's a pleasant enough afternoon. I'd say the level of play is about what you'd see at a D-III game, nothing wrong with that. The crowd looks like a mix of Delaware Soccer kids with a parent, some player friends and (maybe) girlfriends, and the sort of people who will attend any sort of sporting event if it has 'Buffalo' in its name. Some of those guys are the guys with the vuvuzela's, a couple are banging on drums, chanting, and even trying to lead the crowd in song. In some sense this is sport in an ideal form: local, low stakes, nearly pure recreation. It reminded me of a Bemidji-Niagara hockey game.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

With the death of Robert Byrd, Joe Biden is next in line,to the Presidency, then Nancy Pelosi, and then... wait, who is the President pro tem of the Senate now?

It's Daniel Inouye, the senior senator from Hawaii!
Inouye has always impressed me as a decent guy, but he's 85 years old. I can understand where the notion the the President pro tem ought to be in line might come from, but that doesn't make it a good idea. It is a largely ceremonial office, for one thing, unlike the Speaker of the House, who is actively involved in policy making. The President pro tem comes to the job by hanging around longer than anyone else. Consider who has held the office since the 25th Amendment was ratified: James O. Eastland (Racist Monster, Mississippi), Warren Magnuson (D, Washington), Milton Young (R, North Dakota)(served for a day before retiring. I didn't know that either.), Strom Thurmond (Hate-Filled Old Codger, South Carolina), John C. Stennis (Racist Monster, Mississippi), Ted Stevens (Convicted Felon, Alaska), and Byrd. I kinda liked Bob Byrd, but I'll be honest, I can't say the idea of Robert Byrd behind the desk in the Oval Office would have ever filled me with delight.

Granted, the members of the Senate all no doubt believe that each of these characters would be supremely qualified to be President-- after all, they are all Senators, right? I am less enthusiastic, although resigned. The disaster that would result in Daniel Inouye becoming President would dwarf the disaster that Daniel Inouye would be as President (Eastland, Stennis, Thurmond maybe not so much.)

Friday, July 02, 2010

Robert Chrisgau's last Consumer Guide. This day had to come-- I'm sure the job felt more and more like work all the time. It has to have been difficult to love music as much as Christgau obviously does, and yet never have time to listen to an old favorite. Part of the problem was surely that his sense of professionalism obliged him to listen to so much. Part of the problem was undoubtedly that so much of what he was obliged to listen to was so indifferent. I suspect also that he wearied of the capsule form, and wondered if perhaps he hadn't squandered his gifts by tossing off quips, while cats like Greil Marcus were writing things like Lipstick Traces.

I've followed Chrisgau
everywhere he's written: Creem, Newsday, the Voice.... The Venn Diagram of our tastes in music doesn't perfectly overlap, but I've never gone wrong with something he's recommended. Presumably he'll be writing longer stuff now. He's been producing essays for Barnes & Noble for the last two years. Maybe he'll stray from the rock'n'roll plantation. His story for the Newark Star-Ledger about the woman who starved herself to death on a macrobiotic diet (from 1965-- how the time does fly by!) is the only bit of straight journalism I think I've read of his, but it was a masterful piece of storytelling. I'm not sure I want a novel, but something with a narrative arc would be interesting.

In "High Fidelity" Rob makes a list of his top five dream jobs. They all involve discovering or producing musicians, not actually being a musician, and I'd have to say that this resonated with me-- my personal rock'n'roll fantasy has always been to be Dave Marsh or Robert Christgau, not Mick Jagger or Bob Dylan. It would have been great to have been a staff writer for Rolling Stone in 1968, or the Village Voice in 1977. In a way that impulse is what this site is all about, and in a way the stuff that I write and get paid for has been more influenced by the Dean of American Rock Critics than by anyone else I read. CG hasn't been as much fun since it moved to on-line only, but I'll miss it all the same.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Unheard Dylan songs.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?