Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, July 29, 2011

More on the sale of WBFO from today's story in the Buffalo News:
But UB -- which provides WBFO with $205,000 a year in funding, along with an estimated $1.3 million in support services -- has been looking to save money during these difficult economic times.
While UB didn't go into the talks expecting to sell, it became clear that it would be in the best interest of both the university and radio listeners, said Joseph A. Brennan, associate vice president for communications at UB.
 This is, you should excuse the expression, chump change. UB could find $200k in cash in the sofa cushions, and the $1.3 million looks like spitballing the use of the building (not even the whole building) and utilities. There may be some salaries in there-- WBFO has seven full-time and 11 part-time employees, including news staff, on-air personalities and administrative workers. The same story reports that WNED AM has 8 employees, but of course that's comparing apples and pears. WNED AM is a completely different sort of operation from WBFO. Indeed, as I recall it, WNED regards its AM operation as something of an albatross-- its chief value is the license.

Part of why I am hating this so much is that there is an important difference, historically and culturally, in the world of public broadcasting between public radio stations (small, efficient, essentially local operations that communicate in an intimate way) and public television television stations (bloated, inefficient, largely providers of services that have been supplanted, pipelines for national programing and little else.). It is an accident of legislation that the two are even thought of together, and it has been generally the case that operations that have television licenses tend to treat their radio operations as secondary to their primary purpose. This has certainly been true of WNED in the past-- it is one of the chief reasons that WNED was in financial trouble a dozen or so years ago. I'm also worried about the differences in culture between the two operations: WNED has always seemed to me to think of itself as a television operation with a couple of radio stations, and in my experience in public broadcasting that typically means that the radio stations are the red haired stepchildren.

Another quote:
Brennan added that "UB is a research university; WNED is a public broadcaster. It is their mission to operate a public radio station. It is not our core mission to do that. While WBFO is a very good radio station, it's never going to be central to our academic mission."

Here's what is wrong with that analysis: it is answering the wrong question. It shouldn't be, "Why are we in the radio business?", it's "How can we be using this powerful tool to better advance our mission as a public university?" A university and a public radio station seem to me to have complementary missions.

Oh, and although "UB received two independent appraisals for the radio station before agreeing to the $4 million price tag," I think the deal is weirdly one-sided. I just Googled "How much is a 50 thousand watt broadcast license worth?" and learned that Rice University got $10 million bucks when it sold its license for KTRU a year ago. In a letter to alumni Rice's president said that the university viewed a broadcast license as a " declining asset over the long term as a result of changes in technology and consumer preferences for accessing music." Maybe so, although it seems to me that broadcast rights over the electromagnetic spectrum have been a pretty solid bet. WBFO has in common with the University at Buffalo the fact that both are public trusts, and this has somehow been lost sight of.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I am well and truly vexed to learn that UB has agreed to sell WBFO to WNED. Some years back I was a member of WBFO's Advisory Board, and over the course of my time there I made it my business to educate myself about the history of public broadcasting, public radio and National Public Radio. Buffalo has long been unusual for a city of its size in having both a community-based public broadcasting outlet and a educational institution based station. WBFO's place in the history of public radio is notable: the predecessor to All Things Considered, NPR's signature program was a program developed at WBFO by its then-manager, Bill Siemering called As It Happens. Terri Gross and Ira Flatow, among others, got their start there. I have been unhappy with the programing choices the station has been making for the past three years-- the present General Manager, who had been on loan as an interim GM for a while, cut back on a lot of music programing in favor of multiple rebroadcasts of Car Talk and Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me, but he also, to his credit, beefed up the local news reporting. Shortly before I was term-limited off the board the chair of WNED came to a meeting and confided that WNED was in a fair amount of financial trouble. He was looking for a way to collaborate with us, but it looked like a poor deal. Times change, I guess. Don Boswell did an amazing job of turning WNED around. WBFO, owned by the University at Buffalo, once had a pretty solid base of financial support, but that's less stable than Kon-Tiki these days, and now UB has sold the license to one of its major community service contributions for a scant $4 million bucks. That just sucks. I suppose part of the problem was that UB doesn't really have a Communications program, so owning a radio station may have seemed peripheral to the business of running a university. I don't see it that way-- I think part of what a university is supposed to do is to serve as an educational resource to the community as a whole, but I can at least understand where the decision comes from.

I'd been wondering, and now I know: Jan Hammer's " Miami Vice Theme" was the last number 1 instumental rock single, in 1985. Since 1963, there have been only 11 instrumental number ones-- I'd have guessed that there'd be more. Chuck Klosterman had that tidbit in a discussion of Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein" (from 1973).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I guess it is the end of an era, sort of. Our CatGenie gave up the ghost, and now we just have plain old, 20th century litter boxes. As delightfully hilarious as the CatGenie was, I'd have to say that if the device can't outlive the cat I'm not so sure I'd recommend it.

Interestingly, the fact that we owned a CatGenie, and ordered supplies for it from Amazon now means that I am getting peculiar recommendations from Amazon. Moisturizer, Coastal Scents Contour and Blush Palette,Quaker Quisp Cereal
and, oddly an 18 pack of Cran-Razz Clif Shot Bloks are there because I ordered CatGenie stuff. What does this tell us about the CatGenie demographic?

Friday, July 22, 2011

New York Times wedding announcement SABRmetrics. Mrs. Smart wouldn't play along, but I'll bet we could have made it in.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I swear, I really am going to stop reading Althouse. She is insufferably smug, and offers next to no actual legal discussion, and the commentators are even worse. I understand the law professor impulse that leads one to ask questions as a means of promoting discussion, but what goes on there is less like a conversation than it is like a bag of cats.So, for example, a post today about a nominee to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and a faculty colleague of La Althouse:

"Victoria Nourse really has very little connection to the state of Wisconsin, and nobody in the legal community in Wisconsin knows anything about her."

Said Senator Ron Johnson, who is blocking Obama's nominee to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Apparently, the University of Wisconsin Law School doesn't count as "the legal community in Wisconsin." That says something. Let's talk about what."
It is an interesting question, I think. Does Althouse feel like a member of the Wisconsin legal community? I think probably some of the faculty at my law school do, and some do not, but I would hesitate to speculate as to who does and who doesn't. I think UB is somewhat unusual, because it has quite a few adjuncts, and I think we may integrate our law school into the community in ways that other schools do not necessarilly, but I am speculating here. There is little doubt in my mind that UB's faculty feel a connection to the larger Western New York community, even if they aren't rolling with bench and bar on a regular basis.

The comment that has set me off is this:
"No law school faculty are not part of the legal community. Those of us that are practicing don't see you, we don't read what you right and you are largely irrelevant to our practices. I don't mean to offend but you are in the academic community not the legal community and there is a difference."
I'd say it is pretty clear that this character is not in the academic community.

For whatever it is worth, I think it is likely that a UB faculty member nominated to the federal bench would be someone with pretty strong connections to the Western New York legal community, and I suspect the same is true of Professor Nourse.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lately we have been streaming movies rather than watching DVDs, and the difference in the experience is worth noting. Although not everything I want to watch is available to stream, this system affords much greater flexibility, for one thing. If A. is out of town, I can watch Reservoir Dogs, for example. If we feel like an episode of 30 Rock, or Freaks and Geeks, it is right there for us. The evolution in convenience from walking down to a bricks and mortar store, to creating a queue of movies that arrive in a pattern that, while reflecting the tastes of the household nevertheless often seemed oddly random, to watching whatever we want as soon as we want it is pretty great. The genius of Netflix has always been the ability to think of, or read about a movie that sounds interesting, then adding it to the list of things we want to see, but knowing that it would be interesting to watch The Sugarland Express sometime, and having the dvd sit on the TV for three weeks because we're not in the mood for The Sugarland Express at that particular moment is a pretty big difference from our present experience.

 A site called Cockeyed Caravan has been useful: it reviews "underrated" or forgotten movies,  and seems to hew more dependably to my tastes than the Netflix recommendations algorithm does. Meanwhile, here's a list of "missing movies"-- movies that aren't available or in print, or movies that have never been finished, or movies with vast amounts of lost footage. I really would like to see Let It Be again.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

To Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II last night, an interesting puzzle for auteurists. It is incredible to me that in order to understand this series you have to invest more time than you would watching The Sorrow and the Pity, but there it is. Eight movies, four different directors. Only two screenwriters, but is there really any question that the auteur of the Harry Potter movies is Rowling herself? This seems odd to me, but I think it must be so-- although Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell and David Yates all had distinctive enough styles in the end the universe that Rowling has created is so dense and rich that a director confronted with it is forced to invent ways to include as much of it as possible, if only by reference, or in the background. Creative choices and editing are usually decisions about what to exclude, what to leave unseen or unsaid, but I have no doubt that these movies have more packed into them than anyone could see without a Movieola.

The entire Harry Potter phenomenon has been an interesting thing to observe. An entire generation-- as it happens, the generation that my daughters belong to -- has grown up with these books and these movies. Interestingly, that generation also includes the actors who portray the principal characters. It is nice that Matthew Lewis, who plays Neville Longbottom grew up to be such a good looking guy-- there is a lesson there that a lot of people don't learn until their tenth high school reunion. So what does it mean? Having been marked by this series, what will the Harry Potter generation take away from the experience? As fond as I am of the books they seemed to me to get woolier and woolier as they went on, more and more ad hoc. One interesting way that the movies differed from the books was that they were a little tighter as narrative, with a clearer sense that there was an actual narrative arc being constructed. I may be wrong about this, but there were times reading the books when it seemed to me that Rowling wasn't sure where exactly her narrative was taking her, and relied for long stretches on her inventiveness to carry it while she worked out where the hell the thing was going. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with that-- I have lots of Sonny Rollins albums that sound like that's what he's doing. But this is a story, and stories have beginnings, middles and ends. Stories are told to show us something. What is the Harry Potter story supposed to be about? One thing that strikes me is that, unlike Disney movies, these stories seem to be about the strength of a mother's love. Harry's mother saves him, of course-- but so does Molly Weasley, and even Narcissa Malfoy. Fathers, interestingly, are less dependable. Harry's father was a bully and kind of a jerk. Is there any doubt that Lucius Malfoy insisted on naming his son Draco? Luna Lovegood's father is useless and weak, and Dumbledore, the supreme father figure of the series, is at the very least calculating and oblique. We see at the end that Harry has become none of these things, but it is, I think, because he has absorbed the lessons from the women around him that has done so.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Last night as I drifted off to sleep my mind got stuck on trying to remember who Truman's vice president was. Alben W. Barkley shouldn't have been that hard a name to dredge up-- he was majority leader in the Senate, and I think he was the last person to return to the Senate after his term as VP was over. (Let's see: Nixon, no. Johnson, no. Ah-- Humphrey, yes. Agnew went to jail. Ford was from the House, ran for re-election and lost. Rocky was not asked to run with Ford. Mondale, no. Bush ran for, and was elected President. Quayle, hahaha, no. Gore, no. Cheney, no.)

Alben W. Barkley. Why couldn't I remember him?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Utica Zoo responds:

Thank you for your kind words! This year, we had the Sulcata tortoise, a baby alligator (he is often mistaken for a caiman!), a rabbit, a lizard, a snake, a husky dog, and a pygmy goat. We think these animals are very charismatic, but we understand they may not be as impressive as the llamas were. The trouble with bringing large animals to the boilermaker is that they need to be both harness trained and very comfortable around people. Hopefully, we will get to that point with the alpacas in the next few years. Until then, we will do our best to bring out the most interesting animals we can. Thanks again, and we hope to see you running by again next year!
Mary Hall

You know, I thought it might be an alligator, but I didn't want to look stupid, and I guessed wrong. And what's a Husky doing representing a zoo?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Every year I look at the Boilermaker pix and marvel at the fact that this is as good-looking as I am ever going to get, because next year will be worse.

Wendy and Coleen do not have this problem.

Ranked: Bob Dylan Albums From Worst to Best. A pointless exercise really, and not even a complete list. Is Street Legal really "better" than Self-Portrait? What does that statement even mean?

Relatedly, a Facebook friend was musing on how the way we are introduced to an artist affects the way we think about and relate to that artist's body of work. He was talking about an Albert Ayler side which he likes but which  was derided as a commercial sellout, and said "I kind of like the fact that my first real exposure to [Ayler] comes via his ultra-controversial "sell out" move (which did not sell well at all, darn the luck). Maybe the equivalent would be someone whose first exposure to the Clash came from Cut the Crap? And didn't hate it at all? Or if your first Dylan album was Self-Portrait? Or your first Neil Young album was Trans? (Both of which I happen to love, at least for conceptual reasons.)" It is a good question, I think, and has had me thinking about what artists I was first I was first exposed to through a work that was unconventional, or a departure.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

If what just happened in the Roger Clemens perjury trial happened in the context of sports we would all be justified in thinking that the US Attorney's Office deliberately threw the game.

Let's be clear about this: they didn't just show a tape that had been ruled inadmissible; they made improper statements in opening. We can argue about whether this is a trial the government should be bothering with ($10 million bucks!?!), but I don't see how it is possible to accidentally screw a trial up like this 20 minutes into it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dear Utica Zoo,
Running past you is one of my favorite parts of the Boilermaker, which is my favorite part of the summer. I understand that the llama retired, and I miss it. This year you featured a tortoise, which had personal relevance for me, and a caiman, (I think) which was okay, but not really the sort of animal I was hoping for. Could you please try to have some sort of charismatic mega-fauna next year? I see that you have alpaca-- those would be nice, or maybe the donkey could appear.
Thank you for supporting the Boilermaker.
Your ob't sv't, Bill Altreuter

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"[O]n Gilligan’s Island, it wasn’t the Professor who went to Harvard, it was Mr. Howell, the rich man."

Monday, July 11, 2011

I had a great Boilermaker weekend, with a radically re-engineered group this year. The usual KRAC stalwarts were unavailable, but Wendy and Coleen proved to be amiable companions. Coleen located the best hotel I've stayed at for this event.  (Hard to believe I've run a dozen of them, but I have the glassware to prove it.) It was bigger than ever this year, and every year I marvel at the oddness of it. For one weekend this worn out old city is filled with athletes. When we went to the supermarket after dinner to buy breakfast stuff and Gatorade the bottled water aisle was cleaned out-- the stocker told me that this was the third time he'd reshelved that day. At Dominique's Chesterfield, which has added a room, there was a long table next to ours that gradually filled up with the members of the Belle Watling Track Club, the only team in the region with a name to rival ours. (I had the hats, and we split an order of the greens Moreli.)

No llama. At the zoo here was a tortoise, which is amusing, and a big caiman, but the Utica Zoo really has to get with the program and bring on the large charismatic mega-fauna. On the other hand, the orange popsicle was perfect, the most refreshing thing I will eat all summer. The race, you say? Yeah, that was good too. I was under-trained, and although It seemed like it was going to be a cool morning by the end of the first mile the cloud cover had cleared and I knew I was going to struggle. I reckoned the best strategy would be to take water every stop, and for a while that worked, but at the top of the six mile hill, before Utica College, I determined that I was in sufficent gastrointestinal distress to warrant an extended rest stop. I will spare further detail, but it cost me on time, although I was able to soldier on successfully thereafter. This year's flyover was sort of lame-- we got a big helicopter instead of jets. I'm not crazy about jet flyovers as a general proposition-- they seem more than slightly totalitarian I think-- but there is an undeniable cool factor with jets that choppers don't deliver.

Friday, July 08, 2011

A. went to yoga last night, and made me promise that I wouldn't watch anything that she was interested in seeing while she was out, so I watched Flash Gordon: The Deadly Ray from Mars, from 1938. We used to watch these when we were kids-- I guess they must have been on Saturday mornings, probably on WPIX, but I'd never realized until now how deeply this stuff informed our play and our imaginations. This particular episode featured the fearsome Clay People, who I had forgotten about, and of course all of the rocketships made that iconic electronic buzzing sound as they flew. When Ming (The Merciless) operates the television that they use to communicate (an early surveillance society technology), he tunes it in by using both hands to manipulate the knobs on the set. Things explode, and sparks fly. Electricity arcs. It is pretty fabulous, and it is interesting to think that this sort of fascination with science and space travel is probably now more or less a thing of the past. As a child of the 60s I know I dreamed of being an astronaut, and in fact I have a cousin who was so absorbed by the whole NASA mission that he went on to become an astronomer. If you offered David a chance to go to Mars tomorrow he'd jump at it.

As I write this the last space shuttle has just taken off for its final trip, and space travel, except for low level orbital stuff seems to be pretty much a dead letter. I suppose there are any number of sound reasons for this, but it makes me sad, and impresses the Major Matt Mason playing kid that still lives inside me as a generational failure of imagination. These days an interest in space travel  is kind of a phase, like a fascination with dinosaurs. Some people grow up to be palaeontologists, and I suppose there will always be aeronautical engineers, and astronauts too, but somehow I'd have reckoned that the latter would be a different sort of profession by this time.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

As you might expect the Peace Corps requires that CLA submit a fairly substantial sheaf of forms pertaining to her overall heath. Her regular doc, and her dentist have to fill stuff out, and so does her optometrist.  Because she is out of town we have been running around getting this done, and today I went to Lenscrafters to bring them the forms. Apparently they told A. that they wouldn't do it by fax or by email--I had to go all 19th Century style and ride out on horseback. When I got there they told me it would be about an hour, so I left them my cell number and did a couple of errands. When they called me back I found I was speaking to the store supervisor who earnestly explained to me that they could not fill out the form because if a third party used the magical information on it-- essentially the resolution of her prescription and the measurements for the frames she wears-- then they would be personally and individually liable if there were any defect.

(This particular Lenscrafters is, by the way, a font of misinformation. They are the same characters that told EGA that she might have ocular cancer, which she emphatically did not.) I am dumfounded by the way that these guys operate. The supervisor said that she would call Lenscrafters' legal department, and that is where the matter now rests. Of course she is completely wrong-- the mere assertion that a recitation of medical data might result in the imposition of liability is idiotic, but there was nothing I was going to say that was going to clarify the question for this lady. She heard something, or more likely misheard something somewhere, and now it'll be two trips to the gigantic Mall of Doom instead of just one, all to accomplish something so utterly routine that it should require no more than the click of a mouse.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Good guide to the Tour de France. I like that the rule changes and course advantage the riders who will be contenders for the polka dot jersey, and I'm psyched for the Schleck brothers.

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