Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I go to funerals. I know some people don't-- they find them morbid, or depressing, or they reckon the time to acknowledge someone is while the person is alive, or whatever, but I go. Given my upbringing and where I live the overwhelming majority of the funerals I attend are Catholic. This suits me also. Just about the only time a Catholic Mass in North America isn't overrun by people with guitars is at a funeral. The scent of myrrh and murmured prayers are still present at Catholic funerals, and that's what I like: if you are going to have a superstitious ritual it's nicer if it is cloaked in centuries of tradition. That's what's comforting in a funeral-- the ritual reminds us that the world is full of sorrow, and we all must endure it, and generations have endured it.

That's not good enough for some people, though. The Protestant tradition of eulogizing the dead has crept into the ritual. Friends and family members get up and say a few words, and the next thing you know a perfectly acceptable, albeit gloomy, rite has been transitioned into a new form. I don't want to hear about how the dead are in heaven looking down on me-- I want ashes to ashes.

Via Charley Pierce, Catholic Church bans footy theme songs at funerals. Interesting that the work of Freddy Mercury is so well represented.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Obama on Dylan:

"Here's what I love about Dylan: He was exactly as you'd expect he would be. He wouldn't come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn't want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn't show up to that. He came in and played "The Times They Are A-Changin'." A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage — I'm sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That's how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don't want him to be all cheesin' and grinnin' with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise. So that was a real treat."

Oh yeah. Dylan on Obama.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My biggest disappointment in the NY gubernatorial race has got to be that Rick Lazio has withdrawn as the Conservative Party candidate.  We had a shot at eliminating the ballot line there-- no way Ricky could have drawn the requisite 50,000 votes-- but it was not to be. My solace in this is the way he withdrew. Under New York Election Law a party can only replace a candidate if he dies, moves out of state, or is nominated for a judgeship. I don't doubt for a moment that Ed Cox thought about Plan A-- his father-in-law would have put it on the table-- but I guess calmer heads prevailed. Running Lazio out of Brightwaters would have received discussion too, but in the end it was the judgeship option that seemed the simplest. For a lot of people that would seem like a fair consolation prize, but Lazio didn't get that nice house on South Windsor by working for the government. The private sector has been very good to him. The Republican nod for a Supreme Court seat in Suffolk County, while not quite a mortal lock, would have likely meant that Judge Lazio would be commuting to Riverhead for the next 14 years. That nomination has value to someone, and it would have been a shame to waste it on a guy who doesn't want it. Being governor is one thing, but it seems unlikely that a guy who's been pulling down the long dollars would want to spend his peak earning years presiding over cases about car one hitting car two. Confronted with this dilemma (can't kill him, won't move, hates Riverhead) the party has nominated him for a judgeship in the Bronx.

Monday, September 27, 2010

This account of Carl Paladino's life and career seems factually accurate, but I'm not sure it captures the nuance of life in Buffalo. It emphasizes his confrontations with African-American officials-- Byron Brown, the present mayor, Jim Pitts, the former City Council President, James Williams, the current Superintendent of Schools-- but I'm not so sure that the take-away from those feuds should be that the guy is a bigot. I don't know if he is or he isn't, but given the racial composition of the city it is not surprising that there would be a number of African-American politicians in office, and it is not surprising that a real estate developer would find himself in opposition to them from time to time. Did he get along better with Tony Masiello? I don't know. Probably not that much better. The Rite-Aid thing is how I first became aware of him-- he built a ton of them, and they are unpopular with some people because they are unattractive buildings surrounded by parking lots-- suburban style development, if you will, that makes neighborhoods less walkable. On the other hand, he builds them in all kinds of neighborhoods, and lots of times his stores are the only commercial development around. He's not doing it because he's a swell guy, but he isn't redlining either.

Scott Lemieux comments on the adultery thing, ("I Can’t Decide Whether This Is Wrong Until I Know His Party Affiliation"), and yeah-- not classy. On the other hand he's been up front with it, it was some years ago, and it is not as though he was using his family life to demonstrate his qualification for office, as was the case with John Edwards, for example.

The real Paladino problem is that it does not appear that he has anything more than anger to offer. The lawn signs ("I'm Mad Too, Carl") are clever, and they seem to be proliferating, but the actual proposals he seems to have in mind about fixing the system do not seem workable, and actually seem closer to H. L. Mencken's dictum: "[T]there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong." The Buffalo News pointed out yesterday that his plan for Medicaid (cut it by 40%) is smoke and mirrors. There is no way that "waste, fraud and abuse" adds up to anything like that kind of proportion of Medicaid's budget-- in fact, people who practice in the area will tell you that Medicaid is relentless in tracking down every stray nickel. Trimming eligibility isn't going to get it done either, because it is outside of his power to do so, and because that would merely shove the problem somewhere else.

In a sense what we are dealing with here is a demonstration of how democracy fails. Some problems-- a lot of problems, I'd say-- are too complicated to be solved by popular vote. Getting the New York State government into a rational condition is a technical problem with far too many pieces to be amenable to simplistic slogan-based solutions. I'm not so sure that voters understand this, or even care. Mencken again: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Per Mike Tanier in the NYTimes: "Ryan Fitzpatrick replaces Trent Edwards as the unlucky soul who stands behind the Bills' offensive line and braces for impact." I can't recall a season when the fans have quit this early, but I don't go back with this team all that far: I grew up a Jets fan. Saying that now males me feel the way someone raised as a snake handler must, and it is true enough that I got lucky and got out before I got hurt. The Bills won't hurt me until they move to Toronto, but that doesn't mean I have to watch them. As a sportsman I reckon I fulfilled my responsibilities by running at the Yalen this morning. I'll probably look in on the Bills in a half hour or so, but for now I'm enjoying my muscle soreness and a Bear Republic red ale in the back yard with the orange cat.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

To Michael Feinstein at the Buffalo Philharmonic, LCA's birthday present. Feinstein was in fine form, and loving every minute of being in front of the orchestra, which was conducted by his musical director, John Otto. He is clearly living the dream, and what's great about him is that he is happy to share his enjoyment. He spent a good five minutes chatting politely with LCA, and wrote a length inscription on what used to be my, and is now her, copy of "Live at the Algonquin".

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bills QB recap. I'd forgotten about Kelly Holcomb.

And speaking of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers, last night I caught the end of a show called Pitmasters, a cracker version of Top Chef. One of the judges was Warren Sapp, who seems to have mellowed in retirement. As cooking shows go it was kinda one dimensional: the contestants all acted like they'd been thrown a curve when the surprise ingredient was revealed to be... Chicken! The man-boobs on the judges and the contestants were enough to make me contemplate becoming a vegan.

Maps of Europe.

I'm not sure why I think it is interesting, but just for fun I looked up where the gubernatorial candidates went to school. Cuomo went to Archbishop Malloy, Fordham and Albany Law (Marists and Jesuits-- interesting. His father, a St. John's man, used to correct people who said he was Jesuitical by pointing out that he'd actually been trained by Vincentians.) Paladino went to Bishop Timon, St. Bonaventure (Franciscans) and Syracuse Law. Lazio is the only one with no Catholic schooling-- West Islip HS, Vassar (he was in the second class to graduate men) and American Law (the Washington College of Law at American University).

Lazio's path is the one I can't quite figure out. (Although it is peculiar to me that Andy didn't go to St. Johns, Fordham makes sense for a New York Catholic kid, and Albany was convenient to his day job as his dad's hatchet man. I wonder if he ever went.) West Islip HS was a mile away from where I went to school in a brand new building. And Vassar? You'd think a Vassar man would have done better in a debate with a Wellesley grad, instead of turning in a performance reminiscent of the Russians in Afghanistan.

As for Paladino, the Syracuse thing looks different from most resumes one sees around here, but not everybody gets into UB.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I miss this New York.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Captain X lent me Geeta Dayal's "Another Green World"-- part of Continuum's 33 1/3 series. I'd forgotten how much I love this album, in part because I never bothered getting it on CD. My vinyl copy is still in the stacks-- when did I buy it? It would have been before 1978, because we were well-familiar with Eno before "More Songs About Buildings and Food"-- and before Devo, for that matter. It must have been about 1977, and we back-filled pretty quickly.

Is it my favorite Eno record? I think it may be, although "Before and After Science" is pretty great. "Another Green World" is like "Pet Sounds"- a realization through studio technology of a very specific individual vision. You can deconstruct it-- it has, for example, some of the prettiest guitar work Robert Fripp ever put down-- but it is best understood as a whole. Unfortunately Ms. Dayal's book doesn't do much to add to what I already knew about the album, and it doesn't really work as a pure appreciation either. That's how it goes with the 33 1/3 books, I've found. Sometimes there's a wealth of detail that borders on the OCD; sometimes there is literary experimentation; sometimes it all clicks; and sometimes they fall flat. Bruce Eaton's "Radio City" works because it is framed by a story-- he found the side in a cut-out bin, and ended up playing on stage with Alex Chilton. I like Mark Polizzotti's "Highway 61 Revisited"-- straight up Dylanology, well told, with details I'd never heard before. Robert Janovitz' Exile on Main Street is likewise first-rate-- Janovitz tells you what kind of microphones the Stones were using, but also gets into the relationships among the principals with insight and clarity. I'm less of a fan of Hayden Childs' Shoot Out the Lights. Childs thought it would be interesting to create a fictional character whose career parallels Richard Thompson to narrate the book, and the fiction tromps all over a story that is compelling without embellishment.

All that said, it is a brave act to take on a 33 1/3 I think. The only people who are going to read a book like that are going to be as obsessed as the author, so success is going to be dependent on a combination of insight and creativity that is hard to pull off. In most instances, even if access to the participants in the making of the recording is available their recollection is going to be compromised-- and most of the time access isn't even going to be possible. (If Bruce Eaton had waited a year on his project, for example, two of the members of Big Star would have been lost to him forever.)

Race and ethnicity maps. Buffalo is here. The concentration of Asians on the West Side is what is the most interesting to me-- I wouldn't have guessed that.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lady Gaga is right. And good for her. This whole debate has grown tiresome. There is no place for bigotry in our society, and past experience has demonstrated that an excellent place to start addressing the problem is in the military. People don't like it? Don't serve.

UPDATE: We have Blanche L. Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both from Arkansas, along with the 40 Senate Republicans, to thank for the failure of the bill.

Things I've been wondering about lately, but haven't bothered to properly research:

What was the last instrumental Top 40 hit? (Actually, a list of instrumental Top 40 hits would be an interesting thing to see. This list takes it out to 1979, but that doesn't answer my question.)

Is it true that there has never been a military victory brought about exclusively through strategic air power? (Robert Farley says it is; Japan in WWII and the 1999 Kosovo War are arguable exceptions.)

How do NASCAR teams work? I gather from Talladega Nights that there are different sponsors for each car, even on the same team, and you read that someone drives, e.g. "the number 24 Chevy". Does every driver have his own number? Is there a #24 Ford?

Actually, although I love watching it, I'm not sure how the Tour de France works either.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ok Go. Best video since their last one? Maybe. Maybe their best ever.

I have written to the Cuomo, Paladino, and (what the hell) Lazio campaigns and asked each of them, "To what civic, cultural or charitable organizations does [the candidate] personally contribute?"

I'll post responses, naturally. Anybody interested in a side bet as to which candidate will look the best by this metric?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Integrated Pest Management Fail: NYC thought that retaining a gang of possums to control a rat problem in Brooklyn would be an excellent plan. Now the city has a rat problem and a possum problem. North America's only marsupial, run amok! Ol' possums aren't really know for their rat-hunting prowess. They are mostly known for playing dead, or being actually dead on the side of the road. What kind of city boys could have possibly thought that retaining a pack of chicken-stealing varmints to take on the rats would work?

(Bonus: Searching for the image to accompany this post also yielded this classic Carly Simon album cover. Ah, the 70's. Did anyone buy this for the music?)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Carl Paladino's website, which is pretty well done, has a big banner that says, "The last NY governor from Buffalo became president of the United States." It's a cheap shot to note that Grover Cleveland also fathered an out-of-wedlock child, but what the hell, why not? The New York Times is not above it, and the guy is bulletproof the way that David Paterson tried to be. Poor Paterson got it all out there too, but Carl is bringing a special elan to it all. He is going to be hilarious, because he has no filter, and I respect that. Carl is bulletproof on the crazy, but it would be a big mistake to duck a debate. Cuomo has to engage him and what he should probably say is along the lines of 'I agree with him on essentially nothing, except for one big thing: New York's government is profoundly broken."

I think what Carl is likely to discover is that nobody has the stomach for change. You know how many New York State legislators lost in the primary this week? Four. Out of 212. Tell me about yer tea party, anti-incumbency, anti-Albany vote. Who were they? A woman from Lewiston that I'd never heard of before, Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, a 10-year veteran. I don't know whose dog she ran over. Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, who the NYPost describes as "the poster boy of Albany corruption". Bayport Assemblywoman Ginny Fields lost-- I haven't seen anything that explains why. The fourth, William T. Stachowski, I understand. Stachowski was invisible for 28 years, a Democrat in the Republican majority Senate. He suddenly became important when the Senate changed hands, and bobbled every opportunity. He became ensnarled in the budget mess, and got nothing out of it. People may not know what UB 2020 is, but they know that UB is important, and Stachowski looked like a chump after he made a grandstand play and ended up with nada. He was on the wrong side of history when marriage equality came to a vote, and he somehow managed to become the person identified with the failure of that bill to pass. It was gutless of him, and it put a target on his back.

But that's it. Four people. Carl Paladino can rail all he wants to-- if there isn't more change than that in the legislature nothing will be different, and I doubt that there is going to be. Bill Stachowski lost, but there are 208-- give or take-- members that are returning, and they are all just like like Stachowski, people who go along to get along, legislators who reckon they've done a good job if they bring a slice of pork home to their districts. In fact, most of the time that is the yardstick that voters use. On the evidence of Tuesday's returns it looks to me like that hasn't changed a bit.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Daisy Owl hasn't updated in four months, so now I'm reading Hark! A Vagrant

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In my basement there is a collection of lawn signs, a sort of museum of the quixotic. We have never had a winning candidate advertise on our lawn, a pretty remarkable streak when you think about it. Rory Allen's sign joins the gallery today.

I wonder if yesterday really was a manifestation of anti-Albany sentiment. The perfectly odious Bill Stachowski, a 28 year veteran of the state senate was the only local incumbent legislator to lose. That's not really pitchforks and torches, you know what I'm saying?

Of course there's Carl Paladino. Carl ran a frothing at the mouth campaign against a guy with an established record of unpopularity for the chance to get flattened by Andy Cuomo. I haven't seen the numbers yet but my hunch is that the Lazio voters just stayed home. Paladino is a tea party success story, no doubt about that, but I'm not so sure that his support is as broad as it is deep. I'm wondering if he can keep the Republican line second on the ballot -- and I'm thinking that this might be the end of the Conservative Party line. Carl has his own third party line, and the Conservative Party didn't back him- they went with Lazio.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Interesting. Via The Volokh Conspiracy, Real-time Googling of Jurors During Voir Dire. (But first an aside: is that correct usage for "via", since I am linking to the Volokh post, and not to the site that the post references? A pdf of the decision is here.)

The trial court barred counsel from Googling prospective jurors. Although the appeals court declined to reverse the verdict, noting that the plaintiff did not demonstrate that his case was prejudiced by the trial court's ruling. Plaintiff could not point to any juror that was unqualified or that he would have peremptorily excused. I'll be that was an awkward moment during oral argument.

I am inclined to agree with the appellate court, but I think it is a closer call than they make it. There should be room for discretion in how a trial judge manages his courtroom, and this judge surely thought that he was being fair-- the plaintiff didn't have a laptop, and wasn't Googling, and the judge thought he was leveling the playing field.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Uncle Fred was in town on his way to the Toronto Film Festival, so we enjoyed the sort of relaxed, thoughtful weekend that characterizes his visits. Elsewhere you can read my thoughts on the lawyer movie he brought along, but this observation, by Joe Conason, reminded me of one of the things we talked about as we drank our coffee and read the paper:

"[U]ntil the advent of the Obama presidency, Republicans had no reason to scapegoat Muslims or demonize Islam -- and indeed, they could not have inflamed those prejudices without damaging their own leaders, especially George W. Bush."

Sadly, we have Jimmy Carter to thank for legitimizing religion in our public discourse-- I'll forgive him a lot but never that. Of course, the current display of Philistinism goes beyond the mealy-mouthed pieties that are now a permanent part of public discourse. What we are really seeing is a sort of code for the implicit racism that underlies the tea party movement, and, as far as I can tell, the Republican Party in general. The line of thinking seems to be that the Obama presidency is illegitimate because he isn't a real American, and the proof of that is that he isn't Christian. Of course, neither is Glenn Beck, but that's not the point. This is Nixon's Southern Strategy all over again, cloaked, as Sinclair Lewis predicted, in the flag, and carrying a cross.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

It was big day for Canisius-- their QB was 4 of 10 for 152 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed four times for 101 yards for two more TDs. Their starting RB had 122 yards and two TDs. The Crusaders D did not allow 100 yards and had five sacks. Two of the Canisius TDs came on the first plays of drives. It was, in other words, as thorough a rout as I've seen. My search of my attic failed to turn up anything in SJB colors so I was able to slink out in anonymity.

Still, it was a beautiful day for a football game, and it was an interesting scene. I'll bet the Suffolk County judiciary doesn't turn out for SJB games the way the Eighth Judicial Department turned out for this.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Scott D. Nostaja update: He's asked that his name be withdrawn from consideration as interim president of UB. This whole thing was handled very badly, and I'm surprised by that: UB usually has a better handle on perceptions than this. Simpson's announcement, timed as it was with the first day of classes, was tin-eared to say the least, and Jeromy Jacobs' announcement that the UB Council had appointed Nostaja was way off base. It was, as we say in our glamor profession, an ultra vires act, and whoever had the idea that this was a good plan couldn't have thought it through very clearly. For one thing, it bucked the usual protocol in these matters. When the president of a college or university steps down the provost usually acts as interim, because the provost is the chief academic officer of the institution. Appointing Nostaja-- or proposing him, which is what they are now saying is what happened, looked like the sort of thing that a business organization might do. It looked like Simpson didn't care to see through the strategic plan he'd developed (with Nostaja, among others), and it looked like he was engineering the appointment of his lieutenant to finish off the job he'd lost interest in. It would also have complicated the search for a new president. Transitions like this are not easy, even in small organizations. With something like UB, with its multiple constituencies and robust internal politics you gotta go in with your ducks in a row.

The particulars are different, but it reminds me of the time Bill Parcells left the Jets. "So long, J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets!" Parcells said, with an airy wave of his hand. "Bill Belichick is in charge now".

Friday, September 10, 2010

On the way into work this morning I noted that the marquee in front of Canisius High School announced that that their football opponent this weekend is "St. Johns LI". I checked, and it is indeed St. John the Baptist DHS. It'll be the first SJB football game I'll have attended since I was a freshman (I went to one-- Cross-Country meets conflicted), but I can't not go-- Canisius is closer to my house than St. Johns was. I have to figure I have a good chance of being the only alum in the stands.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

I'm still slugging my way through Underworld, and still enjoying it. It is best taken in bigger bites, I think, but that's probably generally true of fiction. DeLillo references Lenny Bruce at several points, so I've been watching some YouTube clips of Bruce. His second to last performance is here-- most of it consists of his reading his indictment and explaining the bits that it describes. Some of it is close to being funny, but most of it isn't. On the other hand, it is possible for me to understand how he might have been funny, sometimes. Whether he was actually imparting any great truth is harder to know. What's most interesting about the clip I've linked to is how contemporary it seems. Bruce was shocking then, but the world has shifted, and this is mostly stuff that seems tame today.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

I've been trying to process the abrupt resignation of UB president John Simpson since it was announced last week. He had a clear vision for the direction he wanted the institution to move in, and he was clear in articulating it. When the legislature passed on implanting the changes his team proposed Simpson jumped ship, and that troubles me. UB is the single most important institution in the region of any kind-- educational, economic, political, cultural, you name it-- and I'm not sure what to make of the fact that Simpson quit on it, although this is clearly not a good thing. It's interesting that the appointment of Scott D. Nostaja as interim president of UB is creating such a stir. As it happens I've met Mr. Nostaja, who impressed me as an intelligent and capable guy. I wonder how much of the fuss is being raised by people with a dog in the fight, and I'll bet you a doughnut that the people quoted in the Buffalo News article wouldn't want the job, so there must be something else going on. They say that academic politics is vicious because the stakes are so low, but that doesn't seem to be what's going on here.

Simpson's resignation is a very big deal for New York higher education state-wide, and for the economy of the region. The fact that Nostaja is stepping in illustrates this-- he is obviously going to be more involved with keeping UB's long-term strategic plan on track than with the internal operations of the university as an academic institution. The chair of the UB Faculty Senate complains that "Having not undergone the rigors of graduate school, research and publication as a scholar, nor teaching at the university level, he lacks the authority to judge the achievements of junior faculty and make tenure decisions. He lacks the authority to judge any resolutions on academic matters emanating from the Faculty Senate --- grading policies, graduation requirements, the establishment or dissolution of an academic unit, to name only a few." I'm not so sure that this is true, and I am far from sure that these are things that are going to be the most important part of the job while the search for a new president goes on.

I wonder if the real objection to this appointment might be with the long-term plan that Simpson (and Nostaja, among others) were putting in place. There are, I suppose, legitimate objections to the plan Simpson (and now Nostaja) advocate-- greater autonomy, including the ability to set tuition, is not necessarily consistent with the mission of a public university. On the other hand, greater autonomy isn't per se inconsistent with that mission, and the failure of the State of New York to adequately fund its university system has to be addressed somehow. UB is either on the brink of lapsing into mediocrity or poised to become something greater than it has ever been, and the time to debate Simpson's vision for the institution passed several years ago. It can't be said that the process wasn't transparent-- I was getting the emails.

Simpson should have stuck it out. I don't doubt that. He's made a bigger problem out of this situation than it already was, and I am not particularly confident in the ability of the people left to deal with it to do so--Scott Nostaja excepted, I suppose. At least he has a clear vision of what he wants to do, and a clear set of priorities. Jeromy Jacobs has merely aggravated things, and is now going to have to deal with governance issues. I thought he was more adept than this. The faculty senate will do what faculty senates do, which is mostly hand-wring and blither. The local delegates to the legislature have already demonstrated that they are incompetent. It may be that this mess will result in some electoral change, but even if that happens SUNY restructuring is not likely to be a priority. I'd like to think that Andy Cuomo will take the matter in hand, but I don't really see that happening.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Mark Evanier makes a good point about Sarah Palin: "There's "running for president' the way people named Bush or Clinton run for president, which is because they think they have a good chance of winning and that's the goal. There's also 'running for president' the way it's been done by Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader and (I guess) Ron Paul and others, which is as a way to get attention and to perhaps attain other, lesser goals. None of those gents ever thought they'd win but they thought there was a value to being a candidate. Maybe it promoted their causes, maybe it promoted them, maybe there was even some money in it. So they 'ran.'

My hunch has been that when it comes to nut-cutting time Palin would find a reason to bail-- probably one that relates to her children. Now I'm not so sure. She's apparently still got enough juice in Alaska to get an incumbent senator from a political dynasty beat, and she's showing that she is a force to be dealt with elsewhere in the parts of America that I try to avoid. She's not apparently not building an organization, but her influence is undeniable. I wonder if there is some boon that she might be promised that would tempt her to throw her support to someone else. What could Huckabee, for example, offer? An appointment to the Court of St. James?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Once I think Albany was one of the state capitals most likely to trip up guessers, but Albany's brand has increased its visibility and people probably pretty much know it now. Actually, when you run down the list there are fewer obvious guesses than not-- Indianapolis, Phoenix, Honolulu, Boston,Lincoln.... The great ones are the obscure ones. Jefferson City! Salem! Frankfort! Pierre!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

When in NoHo I like to stop in at The Raven, the local used bookstore. I don't think I've ever found something I was actually looking for there, but it is a window into what people are teaching (who would teach The Reivers I wonder? If it isn't Faulkner's slightest novel it has to be close. Maybe it was a course in meh books by great writers. You could do Across the River and Into the Trees, and The Breast, and Tough Guys Don't Dance....). Serendipity is what used bookstores are all about anyway, right? Bobby Thompson's obit was still fresh in my mind, so I walked out with a copy of Underworld. I'd read the famous prologue, Pafko at the Wall, when it appeared in Harper's, but by the time the book appeared I was past my Delillo phase. I'm now about two thirds into it, and although I like it a great deal, I wonder if history hasn't changed the way it will be read in the future in ways DeLillo obviously could never have intended.

In my notes on the book I wrote, "Is this the last pre-9/11 novel?" In one way or another DeLillo's Big Subject has always been America's Cold War paranoiac mindset. We're still paranoid, of course, in every sense of that loaded term, clinically and metaphorically, but the focus of our paranoia has shifted. Underworld does a beautiful job of capturing the feel of its time, but the mothballed planes in the desert are a different sort of symbol now. Those planes never dropped their bombs after all. The planes we think about today are like the planes Laurie Anderson sang about in O Superman-- a work that has similarly undergone an involuntary shift in meaning. American planes, made in America, that became bombs themselves.

Reading Underworld over the course of my travels the past couple of weeks I've found myself musing over the ambiguities of history in general. Wandering around in Columbia we came upon the soldiers and sailors memorial park. A. was not particularly interested, but I had a couple of hypotheses I wanted to test. The first was whether the Korean War dead were suitably memorialized. This has been an ongoing project for A's father, a Korea-era vet. Sure enough, there was no separate monument to the Korea dead-- they shared a stone with the WWII dead. Other than Ted Williams I am hard pressed to say what the two had in common, and this validated my father-in-law's complaints about the so-called "forgotten war". I was after bigger game than that, however, and I found it. Missouri is technically a border state, even today, but in the Civil War, Missouri was a border state that sent men and supplies to both sides, had its star on both flags, and had separate governments representing each side. Sure enough, the names on the Civil War monument were each listed with either the initials "USA" or "CSA"-- in roughly equal ratio. I was starting to count them so I could work out what the ratio was when an elderly woman approached us. "Are you looking for someone in particular?" she asked. We said we weren't, and she told us proudly that she had grandfathers on both sides-- and pointed out their names. So Missouri = Vichy I guess. In Europe there remains a lingering sense of shame, and I'd always thought that this was because the atrocities of the last century were still within living memory, but the Civil War is still sufficiently proximate to have the living avatar we encountered, and the poisonous flaws that permeated the Constitution still have their effects felt in our society. The whole trip had me thinking about the remedial efforts we've tried to take over the course of our history. EGA's prospective in-laws remind me of the 21st Amendment. One of the reception venues we looked at was the headquarters of the St. Louis Bar Association, which featured photographs of both the first woman lawyer in town and the first African-American lawyer. The woman came after, just as suffrage for women trailed the 15th Amendment by 50 years. (The woman, Lemma Barkeloo, was admitted in 1870. What must it have been like to have been a woman lawyer who wasn't allowed to vote?) I suppose at the time these things must have seemed progressive or even radical, but the perspective of history tells us otherwise. It is shocking that the United States tolerated slavery at all, ever. It is appalling that there was ever a time when women were thought incapable of participating in government. Driving back to the airport along St. Louis' Martin Luther King Boulevard I found myself thinking, "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice." I wonder what Lemma Barkeloo would have thought about that?

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