Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Sunday, October 31, 2004

With A. away fighting for democracy in Florida I am free to cook some things that she won't eat. Usually this means a lot of eggplant, but I thought it might be fun to try Chuck Taggert's Gumbo z'Herbes. This is a Lenten dish, and so not very seasonal, but I've been wanting to give it a whirl for a while and Cajun cooking is also on A's interdict list. Last night I went to the supermarket and bought pretty much every sort of greens they had: collards, and mustard greens, carrots with tops, beets, spinach and parsley, dandelion greens, boc choy romaine and green onions. My cart looked like it was full of yard clippings. This morning, instead of running, I got up early and cleaned my greens, (CLA and even LCA helped, after they'd had breakfast) and started boiling them. As we carved Jack-O-Lanterns the house was filled with an amazing herbacious, chlorophyll-laden aroma. I left my greens to steep in the pot likker for a bit, while I do some trial prep, and tonight I'll finish it off by making a roux, sauteing the trinity and combining the whole thing with my greens and pot likker. I think I'll add some ham, because we happen to have some ham in the house, but this dish really does seem like something that would be more than satisfying if I went vegan with it, and I probably will do it that way next time.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

I'm not sure how many juries we've picked this year-- we have taken an unusually high number of verdicts, I know. Whatever the number, I know that you could count the number of African Americans in the panels we've seen in Western New York on your fingers-- and you wouldn't need any fingers to count the ones we've seen empaneled, because there haven't been any. Not one. Since we have been representing a number of African American clients this year, this fact has been distressing to us.

Now, you may ask, "What difference does it make? Shouldn't the system be race blind?" and I have to agree that I wish it were that way-- but we are practicing law in the real world. The real world isn't race blind, and, more importantly, the reality of being black in America is something I don't think any white person can really ever completely understand. It is a different culture, and the expectations that exist when you are black are impossible to get your mind around if you haven't lived it every day of your life.

We had three African American women on our panel yesterday. In terms of age, background, education and employment-- the things on the juror questionnaire-- they were more or less indistinguishable from the other women in the room, but since our client happens to be black we knew that our adversaries would be trying to find challenges for cause to get them off the panel. Here in New York we have limited judicial supervision of voir dire. Counsel raised a challenge as to one of these women, and the judicial hearing officer who was supervising jury selection brought her into the robing room to question her on the point in contention. "Now, will you be able to follow the law when the trial judge charges you?" he asked.

Her eyes got big. "The judge is going to charge me?" she asked.

I've picked hundreds of juries, and questioned thousands of prospective panelists, but I'd never heard that before. But you know what? From where this perfectly ordinary, respectable teacher's aide was coming from, it was an entirely understandable thing to be confused about. She's felt the stare of the shopkeeper follow her every time she's ever walked into a store; she knows who the cop is looking at when he drives by-- that's the world she lives in, every day, and that's why it makes a difference.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

I suppose one upside of the NHL strike is that it is one less sport for New England fans to be insufferable about.

As far as I can tell, the thing that made the Red Sox appealing has now been lost. I love the idea of somebody's grandfather in Nashua sitting on his porch in a rocking chair, his head wreathed in smoke from his pipe, a white steepled church in the background, patiently waiting for the Sox to win the Series. The mental picture of this Robert Frost lookalike rooting for Carlton Fisk is what invested the team with whatever charm it ever had. The reality-- fans as boorish as any in baseball, second biggest payroll in the game, last AL team to integrate, etc., etc.-- is far less cuddly. The Sox are not lovable losers-- never have been. As a Mets fan, I know what a lovable loser looks like, and it ain't the BoSox, let me tell you.

Enjoy it, Boston fans. You're the Florida Marlins now.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

I am judging the Desmond Moot Court Competition this evening, and will miss Norman Mailer's appearence on "The Gilmore Girls". I don't schedule my life around tv, and would be embarassed to admit that I watch it at all, but Mailer has given it his imprimator: "I almost never watch sitcoms; I really have a prejudice against them. But for some reason I find Gilmore Girls kind of agreeable. The character Lorelai reminds me very much of my second-oldest daughter, Danielleboth of them are like beautiful hummingbirds, constantly talking and adjusting what they say, quick to the breeze. I told her to watch, and she said, I watch it all the time: So does my daughter. So now I'll be famous with my granddaughter."

I guess judicial appointments aren't really the sort of hot-button issue with most people as they are with me, or with other lawyers. If they were, Bush/Gore would never have been a close call. I still have a hard time figuring out how anyone could have believed that there was little that distinguished the two of them, but that's what the polls said. If judicial appointments were higher on the list of issues for the majority of people certainly they would have realized that this was something where the two men were sharply at odds, wouldn't you think?

Now comes the news that Chief Justice Rehnquist is sick. Are there three scarier words in the language than "Chief Justice Scalia"? I wonder if this will bring the question to the front of the pack? Of course, it is impossible to know what the effect of that would be-- I suspect that for those for whom reproductive choice-- pro or con-- is an important issue, being motivated to vote goes without saying. The people who base their vote on this issue alone, seem to vote in every election, so perhaps it amounts to a wash. Dahlia Lithwick thinks that it isn't even a wash: since Bush would replace the Chief with a conservative, his re-election would have no effect; and Kerry can't really campaign on the proposition that he'll replace Rehnquist with a more moderate justice because this would appear to be advocating judicial activism. This begs the question, I think: it isn't about one justice, it is about the Court as a whole, and the potential number of vacancies. Beyond that, of course, is the fact that, on reproductive rights at least, judicial conservatism and stare decisis would seem to mean that even Scalia (and Scalia's other vote) would be obliged to respect the law as it stands. Of course we know that's not likely-- if Bush v. Gore stands for any proposition, it stands for the proposition that when the stakes are high enough everyone's jurisprudence is outcome driven.

I wonder about the fact that none of the Supremes stepped down over the last four years. The two that were widely thought to be likely to after Bush v. Gore was decided were Rehnquist, (old, long history of health problems) and O'Connor (also old, also has had health issues, and was thought to be tired of the contentious tone in the Court). Do you think that they all, or each, decided to stay on until there was a legitimate election?

Monday, October 25, 2004

Greil Marcus' Real Life Top Ten used to run in Salon-- even though I estimate that I only understood about a third of it, that's a pretty good average for me with Marcus, and I missed it when it was discontinued. He kept writing it, and I discovered a secret cache of them from the Minneapolis-St. Paul City Pages, from 2003-2004, which I've been sampling for the past few days. Some highlights:

"10) Sarah Vowell reports from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (Dec. 21) "Went to visit the Arizona this morning. What really got me was the little marker to the lower left of the wall of names: the vets who survived but wanted their ashes sprinkled in with those of their comrades. Two of them died just this year. Then I took the bus up to the North Shore to watch the surfers. My sister and I always had a thing for surfer movies. There was one called North Shore that came out when we were teenagers in Montana about a kid from Arizona who learned to surf in a wave pool and moved to Oahu where the real surfers looked down on him but then he won them over and got the cute Hawaiian girl.

"Off to watch the sunset and listen to Warren Zevon. Last night I was doing that and the sun dropped below the horizon line just as his version of 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door' was ending, thereby proving that if there is a God, he directs really hack videos."

8) Bob Dylan, "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," from Live 1964: Concert at Philharmonic Hall--October 31, 1964 (Columbia) Everyone who's heard Dylan perform this number in the 39 years since it appeared on his Bringing It All Back Home knows what will happen when the line "Even the president of the United States sometimes has to stand naked" (as it's sung here) comes up: The crowd will stomp and cheer to show what side they're on, or rather what messy choices they're superior to. But on this night Lyndon Johnson had yet to be demonized. Nixon had not been elected. Ford had not replaced Nixon, or Carter Ford, or Reagan Carter, or Bush Reagan, or Clinton Bush, or Bush Clinton. No one had heard the song before--and it's so strange to hear the line produce only silence, as if it's not obvious what the line says.

2) Kill Bill Vol. 1--Original Soundtrack (Maverick) Not that there's anything less than fabulous here, but the eleven minutes plus of Santa Esmeralda's mariachi version of the Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" is almost beyond human intent.

8) John Humphrys, review of Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, The Sunday Times (London), Nov. 9 "Truss writes: 'The confusion of the possessive "its" (no apostrophe) with the contractive "it's" is an unequivocal sign of illiteracy and sets off a simple Pavlovian "kill" response in the average stickler.' I think she probably understates the case when she argues that people who persist in writing 'good food at it's best' deserve 'to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.' Lightning strikes are altogether too random. There should be a government task force with the single duty of rooting out such barbarians and burning them at the stake."

10) Summer travel tips (e-mail, July 22) Michele Anna Jordan writes from Dallas: "The back of the ticket to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza offers $2 off your purchase of $15 or more at the Spaghetti Warehouse on North Market St."

10) "Eating It" comedy showcase, Luna Lounge (New York City, January 20) Sarah Vowell writes: "As part of MLK day, they asked the audience to sing along with 'Ebony and Ivory,' the white people doing McCartney's part and the black people Stevie Wonder's. This meant a whole room drowning out Paul, followed by maybe one sheepish black guy, the only one in the audience, singing along with Stevie. The point being, even us smart, good-hearted New York wiseacres who cringe at the thought of segregation find ourselves socially segregated by default. I had started out the day reading King's speech to the Memphis sanitation workers, marveling at the way he could call for togetherness without a hint of icky, sappy fakery, and there I was hours later, singing sap. Yet when I was singing my part, singing along with Paul, even though there's hardly a lamer song, I found myself singing embarrassingly loud."

I'd been wondering what Sarah Vowell has been up to. Writting to Greil Marcus, I guess

Sunday, October 24, 2004

I did not see how tobacco companies could be held liable on any sort of products liability theory back when that was a new tort, but now it is an old tort and nobody seems amazed. I will not be at all amazed when the tide turns against "junk food" purveyors--people can laugh now about the idea of suing McDonalds for obesity, but the science is emerging. I don't have an opinion about the social policy of it all, but the legal argument that will bootstrap the science into a basis for liability is closer than any of us think.

Some selected tidbits from Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing Campaign 2004":

" In four short years [Bush] has turned our country from a prosperous nation at peace into a desperately indebted nation at war. But so what? He is the President of the United States, and you're not. Love it or leave it.

'War is an option whose time has passed. Peace is the only option for the future. At present we occupy a treacherous no-man's-land between peace and war, a time of growing fear that our military might has expanded beyond our capacity to control it and our political differences widened beyond our ability to bridge them. . . .

Short of changing human nature, therefore, the only way to achieve a practical, livable peace in a world of competing nations is to take the profit out of war.

Richard Nixon looks like a flaming liberal today, compared to a golem like George Bush. Indeed. Where is Richard Nixon now that we finally need him?

If Nixon were running for president today, he would be seen as a "liberal" candidate, and he would probably win. He was a crook and a bungler, but what the hell? Nixon was a barrel of laughs compared to this gang of thugs from the Halliburton petroleum organization who are running the White House today -- and who will be running it this time next year, if we (the once-proud, once-loved and widely respected "American people") don't rise up like wounded warriors and whack those lying petroleum pimps out of the White House on November 2nd.

Nixon hated running for president during football season, but he did it anyway. Nixon was a professional politician, and I despised everything he stood for -- but if he were running for president this year against the evil Bush-Cheney gang, I would happily vote for him." (Backup Brain pointed me to this.)

Friday, October 22, 2004

Jim Hall's site doesn't mention his upcoming visit to the Albright Knox Art of Jazz series, The New Yorker listings say that he is playing with Geoff Keezer. Keezer's site says that he'll be playing in Poznan, Poland on November 13, but he is coming to the Tralf February 25, 2005, with Christian McBride. I'll be at both shows, and I recommend that everyone else who's going to be in town be there too.

On to less elevated topics: Discontiued Candy. I remember some of these, and miss Caravelle Bars and Fizzies, but for the most part I think we are better off without most of the things on this list. Chum Gum? That couldn't have tasted like what I'm thinking, could it?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

When I was a kid my parents would never have allowed me to see a movie like "Saved". Back then the Church used to rate movies, and films that were antithetical to Catholic doctrine were rated "Condemned". I recall that "Planet of the Apes" was Condemned-- and, with the benefit of hindsight, I actually understand that its despairing vision of humanity descending into beasts was indeed contrary and offensive to the teachings of the Church. Weird as it may seem, Catholics are optimists, and Charlton Heston on the beach isn't what the Pope, or Graham Green, or any of the people that I grew up with in my Catholic boyhood saw coming. Maybe eternal damnation, sure, but that, in the faith of my Catholicism, was an individual thing-- not something that might befall humanity.

Movies about doubt in faith typically either resolve on the side of faith, or try to mock faith, and "Saved", which I watched tonight, deserves a lot of credit for not quite doing either. I can't imagine that it is a film that is going to be shown by many religious groups, but I hope a lot of religious people are watching it at home-- and if they are, I hope that there are people who have never really had a handle on the whole "Christian" thing seeing it too. The dangerous thing about this movie is that both believers and people who come at it from outside may see it as mocking. Both would have a basis, and both could well be accused of lacking a sense of humor, or a sense of perspective.

I think that the worst thing about g-d is religion, and I thought the movie was hilarious and sad; true and grotesque; accurate to my experience and exaggerated beyond recognition. I hate the religiosity that pervades American life, but it is there, and "Saved" is close to a documentary in its portrayal of it. All it was missing was a major sports figure. (Where the hell were you, Calvin Schilling?) CLA had already seen it, but watched it with us, and I was forced to think about what a movie that true would have been like to see when I was the age of the characters-- CLA's age. It would probably been something that was restricted to the late showing of the seedy theater of my hometown, and there is no way that any of even my lowest life pals would have been able to see it. Funny thing is, like all works about doubt in faith, "Saved" probably does a better job of raising the questions that form the foundation to religious belief than the pious works of those who have no doubts or holes in their faith. In its way it reminded me of good old Flannery O'Connor.

Faith is, by definition, impossible to defend, but I stand with Miss O'Connor:

"I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, "A Charmed Life.") She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn't opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. . . . Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.

"Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it."'

I liked "Saved" precisely because it impressed me as a movie that was prepared to believe, or prepared to say,"to hell with it." If faith means anything, I think it means that you stand one place or the other, but that you always wonder if you are standing in the right place, and this, I think, is where I get off the bus from a lot of people who are religious. It seems to me that they are convinced that the important thing is that they believe-- and they believe that their belief makes them right. I believe that belief is founded in uncertainty, that this uncertainty is the miracle of faith, and that certainty is almost certainly heresy.

The upside to my system is that sometimes you get to sleep in on Sundays. The downside is that I know that no matter what I believe I am almost certainly wrong. I used to pray for faith, and now I wonder if my prayers have been answered.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

A. and I were in the second to last row, between first and right for Game Six, sitting in front of an enthusiastic bunch with blond teeth who'd come to New York from some outpost of Red Sox Nation. "We are," clap, clap, "Row V," they'd chant in between beers. When Dave Henderson launched his tenth inning home run into the bullpen, and our spirits were at their lowest ebb one of these guys announced, "They're going to build a monument to that guy in Copley Square!"

As we all know, it didn't quite work out that way. I wonder, though, if Curt Schilling might not be getting measured for a plinth. I hadn't realized that he is the sort of religious nut ballplayer who somehow manages to believe that the deity is a sports fan, and that counts against him, but you gotta be impressed with a guy who repairs his subluxing tendon by stapling it down. I mean, when rubbing dirt on it just isn't enough-- wow. No statue for Johnny Damon, though. He's been too hard to look at all year-- I can't see that his likeness should be inflicted upon future generations, unless it is in a natural history museum.

Monday, October 18, 2004

When you hear or read about the "teams of lawyers" that the Kerry campaign is mustering to go to battleground states, one of the people you are hearing about is A., who will be in Florida. I like to think that I'm pretty political, but I'm not, really, not in the sense that I am involved. I'm more of a theorist, I guess, although A. characterizes it as me being talk, and she being action.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Excellent post on "thinking like a lawyer" by Scheherazade. "Stay of Execution" has become a blog about preserving her humanity in the face of her legal training, something that I think all thoughtful lawyers struggle with. The tagline for "Outside Counsel" used to be Edmund Burke'’s observation that, "law sharpens the mind by narrowing it," but the truth is more complicated than that. Law is a toolbox-- a set of skills that can be applied to solving problems, and like any good craftsman a good lawyer tries to use the right tool for the job. Law school gives us some of these tools, but it is important to be sure that we acquire more specialized tools as our practices become more specialized-- just as it is important to recognize that sometimes our basic tools can and should be upgraded.

For example, like a lot of lawyers-- and almost all judges-- I used to believe that the skills necessary to be a competent neutral were essentially the same skills possessed by an advocate. It was not until I underwent mediator training that I realized how mistaken I was. Some of the things that Scheherazade describes as lawyer skills are the same things that neutrals use: breaking complicated questions down into parts, to use one of her examples, or the ability to forecast probable outcomes, but there are a number of different tools as well. Among the things that law school is poor at providing training in is listening-- and this is central to what a neutral does. Once a new skill is acquired, however, it is often pleasantly surprising how often that skill can be applied successfully to problems that you've been dealing with one way for years. Listening to a client can and should be something that a good lawyer does to get to the best outcome. Often we rush into a matter without paying attention to what is really being said by our clients about what they want and what they need-- and that is a mistake. It is sometimes a mistake that the client encourages (beware when a client starts talking about "the principle of the thing"-- always a warning sign) but regardless of whose mistake it is, it is the lawyer that is in the best position to correct it before it gets out of control. I'm afraid to go back over this post to count the cliches, but I'll add one more: when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

It is easy to take Burke's position, and think of what we do as lawyers-- or even as litigators-- as the one dimensional, technocratic application of a rigidly defined set of rules, but that's not what the good lawyers I know do. When this work is the most gratifying it is creative and dynamic. One of the things I love about being a lawyer is that my learning plateau never seems to crest. There aren't a lot of jobs about which that can be said, and it is an aspect of our glamour profession that is often overlooked.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Jessamyn West advises that Alison Bechdel has a blog. I thought there might be "Outside Counsel" readers who would like to know.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Good post by the Uncivil Litigator on tort reform, "among the most laughably non-credible political issues talked about in the popular media today."

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Good essay on Pogo. Walt Kelley's strange world illuminated my childhood, and infected my political beliefs in a lot of ways. Distrust pomposity. Recognize stupidity for what it is. Be kind, and considerate. I suppose I'm more Albert Alligator (or g-d help me, Howland Owl) than I am Pogo Possum, but there isn't a day when I read the funnies that I don't miss that strip. (Via Electrolite.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

To Squeaky Wheel this evening, for our annual members meeting and a screening of videos called, "Why Vote?" The first video shown included this:

"The choice could not be more clear nor the consequences more crucial. In one of the futures we can choose, the future that you and I have been building together, I see security and justice and peace.

I see a future of economic security-security that will come from tapping our own great resources of oil and gas, coal and sunlight, and from building the tools and technology and factories for a revitalized economy based on jobs and stable prices for everyone.

I see a future of justice--the justice of good jobs, decent health care, quality education, a full opportunity for all people regardless of color or language or religion; the simple human justice of equal rights for all men and for all women, guaranteed equal rights at last under the Constitution of the United States of America.

And I see a future of peace--a peace born of wisdom and based on a fairness toward all countries of the world, a peace guaranteed both by American military strength and by American moral strength as well.

That is the future I want for all people, a future of confidence and hope and a good life. It's the future America must choose, and with your help and with your commitment, it is the future America will choose.

But there is another possible future. In that other future I see despair--despair of millions who would struggle for equal opportunity and a better life and struggle alone. And I see surrender--the surrender of our energy future to the merchants of oil, the surrender of our economic future to a bizarre program of massive tax cuts for the rich, service cuts for the poor, and massive inflation for everyone. And I see risk--the risk of international confrontation, the risk of an uncontrollable, unaffordable, and unwinnable nuclear arms race."

That's from President Jimmy Carter's 1980 acceptance speech, folks. He was talking about what the year 2000 might hold. Read that last paragraph over and ask yourself if President Carter didn't just nail it. Even the part about a nuclear arms race is right-- he couldn't have known that it would be India and Pakistan, the Koreas and Iran that would be in the race; and it is recession, not inflation that is ravaging out economy, but I'd say that President Carter gets an A+ on prognostication. To my everlasting embarrassment I voted for John Anderson in 1980. I'm sorry, Jimmy-- you were right. The future of "surrender of our energy future to the merchants of oil... surrender of our economic future to a bizarre program of massive tax cuts for the rich, service cuts for the poor... international confrontation...[and]uncontrollable, unaffordable, and unwinnable [war]" is our reality today.

The Buffalo Financial Control Board has its offices in our building, and today I happened upon a press conference being given in the lobby by the chairman. This stuff interests me: I even watch the hearings on public access, so I stuck around and listened. In a nutshell, the city will not be able to achieve financial stability by cutting, but serious cuts need to be made. Financial growth and development are necessary. After the jackals of the press were done, I went up and asked, "Aren't you really saying that structural legal reform is going to be necessary before we can get on track?" He acknowledged that this was true, but wouldn't say what the FCB had in mind, or what a timetable might be.

This is the nuts and bolts of government, and it is hard stuff-- in a way I understand why the media reports it so poorly, and why people try to avoid coming to grips with it. It is fine to say that contracts should be awarded on a particular basis, and that public employees should receive certain benefits, but the money has to come from somewhere. A great deal of the time this discussion turns into one about taxes, but that's really too simpleminded-- in New York municipalities (other than NYC) are not taxing authorities. As Howard Dean kept pointing out, the effect of the Bush tax cuts was to increase the amount that states and local entities (in New York the counties) are obliged to raise in tax revenues-- in most places resulting in a net increase in taxes to most people. The form that these taxes take tends to be more regressive as well-- sales and property taxes mostly. Buffalo is sort of stuck-- it cannot raise revenues through taxes, and has law imposed requirements on the things it has to spend for. It is a tough spot to be in, and not the sort of spot where popularly elected leadership is likely to do us much good.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Notes on the Chicago Marathon (and pictures!) will be forthcoming at the KRAC Blog for the next few days-- as I sort out the experience in my head. Over the course of my career as an athlete I have often heard people say "you never know what your body is capable of until you try." I'm not buying into that completely-- I know, for example, that my body isn't capable of going that much faster than I have made it go in the past-- but it is true that preparation can accomplish a great deal, and that the mind is the hardest thing to train.

I'll say this also-- the miles flew by. It was an different experience from the training, but the training was there, too, every step, and particularly over the last steps.

I can't say exactly how long I've wanted to run a marathon, or for how long I've known that it was something that I knew I could do-- on one level I didn't know I could do it until some point this summer. Maybe at 16 miles, maybe at 20. Maybe I just always thought I could, and then I knew I could when I had the miles in the bank.

I slept like a baby Saturday night, out when my head hit the pillow at 9:30. At about two in the morning I came awake, the kind of waking that feels like being underwater and swimming to the surface. I thought to myself, "I feel tired, but good. I guess it was okay." Then I realized, "I can't remember anything about the race!" I had six hours to go before the gun went off, but I was so sure that I could do it that I thought I already had. I drank some water, and went back to sleep, knowing that I'd remember what the race was like the next night.

More on Chronicles: Volume One. It occurs to me that since we know Dylan to be an unreliable narrator, there is absolutely no reason to take this book at face value. I also know that I will read it, even if I don't believe a word of it.

Friday, October 08, 2004

The lawyer who moderated the conference in Salzburg and I had a conversation about our experience of Europe the last night we were in town. She lives in Prague at the moment, and finds herself noticing some of the same odd disconnects that I do-- the disconnects that come from our American perception of history in contrast with the European experience of it. Some of it is purely cultural, and some of it, I think, has to do with the fact that in Europe all of it is still so close to the surface that one almost has to deny some of it.

She recommended a novel called "Austerliz" by W.G. Sebald (and a collection of essays: "On the Natural History of Destruction" which I want to read next). "Austerlitz" is terrific, a narrative of identity and displacement in the form of a discussion about, among other things, architecture. One of the buildings touched on is the Palace of Justice in Brussels, a huge pile that I saw for the first time right at the height of the pedophile scandal that consumed Belgium a few years back. Two weeks before I was there the local firemen had hosed the building in a symbolic protest with a meaning that was abundantly clear in the city which has as its monument Mannequin Pis. I was there attending a lawyer's conference, and the building had been opened to us for a reception. That evening, as we mounted the stairs, there were photographs and votive candles set out as memorials to the abducted and missing-- a further reproach to a justice system that had horribly failed.

I love courthouses, and I have always maintained that the ornate grandeur of courthouse architecture is important because it helps to impress upon we participants the solemn responsibility of working justice. It is easy to get lost in the sausage-making routine of practicing law, and easier, sometimes, in a courtroom that has the Formica ambiance of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Sometimes, though, the symbolism carries a different freight, and I was reminded of this on that evening, and again the other night, reading Sebald's book. The innumerable rooms, the maze of corridors, the anonymous numbering of every place we scuttle to and from in a courthouse are the embodiment of bureaucratic oppression, the impulse to create a structure with so little human scale that the end result is an institution which has no humanity left in it.

This is part of the European legal heritage we have inherited, as surely as are the Hellenic ideals of individual rights and all the rest of it.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

With Chicago just days away, I was not able to watch the VP debate the way it should have been watched-- as a drinking game. We'd been looking forward to it, but were disappointed. I'd have to say that Edwards came up small: stand for something, John! The format favored Cheney, of course, but no excuses-- Cheney is much more effective than he gets credit for. I saw him speak at UB back in 1993, when he was exploring the idea of running for President (as opposed to running the President) and he was a presence that filled a sports arena. An evil presence, sure, but there's more to him than just a glowering gray man-- I don't think that Bush, for all that he is said to be charismatic, has quite the same effect. Cheney at a conference room table is a tiger in the jungle: completely in his element, and as dangerous an animal as walks. You could see the air being sucked out of the room, and Edwards, whose effectiveness comes in no small part from his animation, was no match, even though I knew that a fair percentage of what Cheney was saying was simply false.

Salon has an interesting compilation of excerpts from autobiographies about meeting Bob Dylan for the first time.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Just like Steely Dan sing, I've spent a lot of money and I've spent a lot of time-- at a number of things, actually, but what I'm thinking about is in music stores all over-- because you just never know what you are going to find. The thrill of the hunt is diminished now, somewhat, since the internet makes it easier to find a specific side, but even then there is the occasional triumphant find, and I just bagged one. EGA went to see Laura Cantrell in Northampton last year and reported that the proprietress of WFMU's "Radio Thriftshop" performed a cover of Hogey Charmichael's "Hong Kong Blues". I used to sing it to her as a lullaby, and, come to think of it, tracking down a recording of Hogey singing it filled a lot of time when I was supposed to be somewhere else back in the day. I wanted it, and now I have it. The rara avis is mine, and it can be found here.

Could there be a more unreliable narrator than Bob Dylan? And yet, having said that, I know I am going to read "Chronicles: Volume One" Will it tell me anything I don't already know? Probably. Will it illuminate the work in some new way? That's harder to know. An album based on Chekhov' stories? If you say so, Bobby.
 Posted by Hello (addednum: Ron Rosenbaum weighs in.)

Monday, October 04, 2004

Dylanology: Jacques Levy, Dylan's collaborator on some of the lyrics on "Desire", has died. (Dylan is exclusively responsible for "One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)" and "Sara"; Levy, who trained as a psychologist, gets some responsibility for "Oh Sister" and "Joey", to say nothing of "Isis" and the rest. Some of the worst Dylan songs ever-- pretentious drivel, Dylan being self important.) Levy is better known as the director of "Oh! Calcutta"; I had not realized that he'd directed Jerry Orbach in Bruce Jay Friedman's "Scuba Duba,".

I've mentioned before that I saw Dylan touring with the Rolling Thunder Review in support of "Desire"-- it was a great show, and a great band. I was stunned when the "Hard Rain" television special aired, sounding and looking like nothing like what I'd seen. With the benefit of hindsight I can now say that I like the "Hard Rain" album, but the songs Dylan was producing in these period are far from his best. Still, it must have been interesting being Jacques Levy, avant guarde theatrical director, lyricist, Dylan pal. He must have been killer diller at the Colgate University theater department.

Amy Fisher's parenting tips. You know what? She's got some good advice. My theory is that there is nothing wrong with making your kids do the things they should, and everything wrong with the approach that says, "Let the kid make her own mistakes." If you have what it takes to be a parent in the first place than you have the benefit of experience. What good is that experience if you don't use it to help your kid when he's about to screw up? I am particularly down with the idea that teachers should provide parents with a list of assignments. Extracting such a list from teachers is harder than you'd think-- damn near as hard, I'd say, as getting it from your kids.

I went to bed yesterday exhausted after hounding a certain daughter, last initial "A" about an assignment. It got done, but in order for it to get done I had to stand over her shoulder for hours. Better I should do that, though, than she should turn in something less than her best work, or not turn it in at all. I've been down that road-- she shouldn't need to.

To the Matt Wilson Quartet over the weekend, the season opener for the Microsoft Art of Jazz Series at the Albright-Knox and another illustration of a terrific drummer-led combo. Wilson's band features two reed players, Andrew D'Angelo and Jeff Lederer, and Yousuke Inoue on bass, and had a sound that reminded me of Ornette Coleman. (Wilson started out playing with long-time Coleman collaborator Dewey Redman.) The reed players were principally on alto and tenor, but D'Angelo occasionally switched to bass clarinet, and Lederer was also featured on soprano sax and clarinet.

There was tremendous exuberance in the playing, which swung a lot more than you might expect that sort of "free jazz" might, and the humor and obvious enjoyment the musicians derived from playing with each other was infectious. Bruce Eaton, the promoter, had set up a kid's show for the following day-- I was so excited by the show that I call a friend at intermission to encourage him to bring his daughter. I returned with LCA and CLA on Sunday, and when is the last time you saw a jazz act that was so exciting that you went back to see them again less than 24 hours later?

Wilson is a chatty guy, and talked a great deal in between numbers; at Sunday's performance, which was a good deal more relaxed, he became a lecturer, and had a good deal to say about the history of the music, and its American quality. Jazz is both influential, and accepting of outside influences, for example, two traits that among the best of what constitutes the American character. Jazz values virtuosity and improvisation-- again, aspects of American society that we value and honor.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing that Wilson is doing is a project involving the creation of music inspired by the poetry of Carl Sandburg, like Wilson, a product of the Midwest, and, like Wilson, an artist interested in expressing what it is that the idea of "America" embodies. Wilson mentioned at one point that his band was "democratic" when it played together, for example, respecting the ideas and contributions of each.

Friday, October 01, 2004

If all stories were written like science fiction stories. "The planes left from the city airport, which they reached using the city bi-rail. Ann had changed into her travelling outfit, which consisted of a light shirt in polycarbon-derived artifical fabric, which showed off her pert figure, without genetic enhancements, and dark blue pants made of textiles. Her attractive brown hair was uncovered.

At the airport Roger presented their identification cards to a representative of the airline company, who used her own computer system to check his identity and retrieve his itinerary. She entered a confirmation number, and gave him two passes which gave them access to the boarding area. They now underwent a security inspection, which was required for all airline flights. They handed their luggage to another representative; it would be transported in a separate, unpressurized chamber on the aircraft.

“Do you think we’ll be flying on a propeller plane? Or one of the newer jets?” asked Ann.

“I’m sure it will be a jet,” said Roger. “Propeller planes are almost entirely out of date, after all. On the other hand, rocket engines are still experimental. It’s said that when they’re in general use, trips like this will take an hour at most. This one will take up to four hours.” (Via Electrolite.)

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