Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, December 30, 2005

Here's my Real Life Top Ten for 2005:

The Gates
Luciana Souza at the Art of Jazz
Bob Dylan at Shea's
Danny Meyer's Shake Shack
Romeo & Juliet's on Hertel
Wide Right at Mohawk Place
Guinga at the Art of Jazz
The Return of The Bills old helmets
Laura Cantrell, "Humming By the Flowered Vine"
Willie Nile, featuring The Amazing All My Children Band.

And here's my Worst of the Year:

No Gil Thorpe in the Buffalo News
The Bills
The mayorial election
The endless gossip about Cellino & Barnes
Bush getting his crack at the Supreme Court

Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Happy Birthday shout-out to CLA. Seventeen crept up pretty fast. Posted by Picasa

"It's more than a camera, it's almost alive...." Buried deep in the subconscious of every American is a secret cache of advertising jingles, festering like the vermiform appendix, waiting for some minor trauma, some insignificant jostling, to become inflamed. If you go to this site, do not, as you value your sanity, clink on the Froot Loops link.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

CLA got me the "The Concert for Bangladesh" dvd for Christmas, and although I haven't had the chance to see all of it yet, I have to say that after wearing out my vinyl copy years ago, the visual element makes the whole thing fresh. The Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan opener, for example, which was dorm room trance music back in the day, turns out to be a smokin' jam when you can watch the interaction between the players. And Billy Preston comes out from behind the keyboard and dances during the break in "That's the Way God Planned It" which makes the whole thing much more enjoyable than it ever was as a purely aural experience. It is also fun to note that it's George playing most, if not all of the lead, and Clapton chiming in on slide-- in a few years George would be all about a distictive slide sound that really became his signature, but here we have a chance to see what he was really capable of doing. He was good enough, in other words, to use Eric Clapton in a supporting role.

Gosh, I loved those songs in 1972, but now I have to admit that I have no idea what

"Watch out now, take care
Beware of greedy leaders
They take you where you should not go
While weeping atlas cedars
They just want to grow, grow and grow"

is supposed to mean. What the hell is a weeping atlas cedar? Even so, when Leon Russell takes a turn at the vocal on "Beware of Darkness" it's pretty cool. Ol' Leon, he can yowl with the best of them.

I was obliged to leave off just after the introduction of the band. ("There's somebody on bass who many people have heard about, but they've never actually seen him, Klaus Voormann.") Tonight I'll finish the set off.

Monday, December 26, 2005

PC Magazine's Top 50 Gadgets of the past 50 years.

To "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" this afternoon-- an excellent adaptation of a book I can probably recite sections of. Interestingly they didn't Jesus it up too much, which was fine by me. They will almost certainly follow it up, and I expect that they will make "Prince Caspian" next, if only to be able to use the same actors before they age out of the roles. The Disney folks must be pretty happy-- it's a seven book series, after all, which has the "Lord of the Rings" beat by four. Tilda Swinton was particularly notable as Jadis.

The theater was completely packed-- our group had to split up, and A and I were obliged to sit in the front row, which made watching it tougher than it should have been. I'm half tempted to go again, but I won't. The list of movies Ive seen this year is peculiar: in addition to "Narnia" the sum total consists of "Rent", "Harry Potter" and "The Aristocrats". Maybe I should get out more.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The last time I flew, I ran onto the plane with my shoes in my hand. I'd over-slept, and knew I was in trouble as soon as I walked in. My Jet Blue friend had my boarding pass ready, but the line was backed up to the door. I'm in that airport close to once a week-- and often even more frequently. I know the TSA people, they know me (hell, we actually represent one of them) but they were unyielding.

It was an ugly scene, so hell yeah I'd pay $80 bucks for a pass that gets me on a faster line. Please bring it on.

Other air travel innovations I'd pay a premium for: child free cabins. A requirement that the traveler lift their carry-on item over their head in front of the ticket agent before being allowed to board. (If you can't lift it, check it. I've flown millions of miles and lost my luggage once-- the odds are very much in your favor.)

For the most part the nightmare of air travel is the one envisioned by Sartre-- hell is other people. In ten minutes I'll be leaving to pick up my parents, WJA and TCA. They are troupers for traveling at this time of year, and they will emerge from the plane shaken, not stirred. The fact is that most travelers are amateurs, and therefore not versed in the courtesies it. Oh well. Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"Greetings From Idiot America", by Charles P. Pierce. "Fights over creationism -- and its faddish new camouflage, intelligent design, a pseudoscience that posits without proof or method that science is inadequate to explain existence and that supernatural causes must be considered -- roil up school districts across the country.

"The president of the United States announces that he believes ID ought to be taught in the public schools on an equal footing with the theory of evolution. And in Dover, Pennsylvania, during one of these many controversies, a pastor named Ray Mummert delivers the line that both ends our tour and, in every real sense, sums it up: "We've been attacked," he says, "by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture."

And so I ask: what do we do about this? It is a fine thing that we have Charley Pierce fulminating-- I'm a big fan. You know who isn't? 51% of the country, that's who. Minimum. The woman sitting next to me on the plane last week who was telling her college age daughter about the book she was reading: "It starts in caveman times-- actually, even before that, when people were hunting dinosaurs." You know, on jury questionnaires there is a question about "Hobbies", and a lot of people put reading down as one of theirs. I'll bet that it is one of the most frequent responses actually. The lady on the plane likes to read, obviously. She had a book, after all. So we know that education probably isn't the answer. Even in New York State I'm not sure there's an elected official with the guts to say, "The difference between science and the Bible is that one is full of made up stuff," because the nice lady on the plane wouldn't vote for someone like that. We can't teach it out of them. People believe what they want to believe, and they believe that if you insist on disagreeing you must be wrong. This is how Bush can get away with saying the stuff he says. A guy like Al Gore doesn't have a chance in this climate.

I do wonder to what extent it has always been like this. H.L. Mencken would feel right at home here in the 21st Century: is it possible that we aren't stupider than ever, but instead merely just about as stupid? That would be some comfort, I think. I am disinclined to believe in the perfectibility of man, but disposed to believe that we can at least improve. If it turns out that even that is too much, I'd settle right now for holding the line. (I found the Pierce article, which was originally in Esquire, on Bifurcated Rivets.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The conversation turned, as it often does when LCA is participating, to ballet, and she mentioned that her troupe does not have a narrator for "Peter and the Wolf". "I'd do it," I volunteered, but she pretended not to hear me, and changed the subject. "I'm serious," I said. "I'd love to do it." She objected, giving as grounds the notion that I might deliberately screw it up by favoring the Duck (who is the character I like best). "Okay, fine," I sulked. "I'd do a good job, but if you don't want me you can get David Bowie or somebody." "Why would we want him?" she asked. "Lot of people have recorded "Peter and the Wolf," I said. "David Bowie is one of them." "Yeah", she said, "But so did Leonard Bernstein." "Well," I said, "You're not going to get Leonard Bernstein, because he's dead." "So's David Bowie," she retorted. "Remember? The Alamo?"

I still don't think I'm going to get the part.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A duck recipe that looks like it has potential. (Via Slashfood.)

Although I have to admit that they have created a distinctive sound, and have put together a respectable enough body of work, I don't really get U2. Although I have to admit that the idea of Third World debt elimination is a well-intentioned notion, I am inclined to go along with Paul Theroux: throwing money at the problem is probably not the way to go. "We should know better by now. I would not send private money to a charity, or foreign aid to a government, unless every dollar was accounted for - and this never happens. Dumping more money in the same old way is not only wasteful, but stupid and harmful; it is also ignoring some obvious points." Also, I think those shades look stupid. Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 16, 2005

EGA and I will be at the They Might Be Giants show New Year's Eve, possibly the hippest thing I've ever done for this holiday.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Pinter's Nobel Prize speech is as good as everyone is saying. At some point I must have lost interest in the way that artists come upon their work-- the work is more interesting to me now. This means that the first bit of what Pinter has to say impressed me as simply being more of the sort of thing I no longer care about: how do you get your ideas? Do you write in longhand, or type? To what extent is your work autobiographical?

But when the old man gets going, he really starts to roar:

"Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

"As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

"The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it."

It gets stronger, and, I'm ashamed to say, I believe he's right. The United States has, over the course of my lifetime, acted as though it has "had carte blanche to do what it liked." We have "supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War." We have "exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good."

The fact that our country is being called out on this is notable. Pinter says, "Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force – yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish." I say, who will stand up and lead us away from what we have become? I survey the contenders, and I don't see anyone out there with the moral authority to do it-- and yes, I'm looking at you, Hillary Clinton-- my US Senator. You too, John Kerry. John Edwards, step out into the light where we can see you. Howard Dean had the guts to say this horrible war was wrong, Al Gore is on record, but they were, and are, for the most part still voices in the wilderness.

Pinter's speech is going to get a lot of play, I think, and I have a feeling that a lot of it will be along the lines of "Where'd he be today if America hadn't pulled England's fat out of the fire in WWII?" Well, whatever moral authority our segrigated armed forces bought us by defeating fascism seems pretty depleted today. You don't get to stay right-- you have to keep on doing the right thing. Otherwise you get left. You get called out for what you are, and then being the richest, and the most powerful starts to mean less and less, because you are out there all alone. And then you are the old Soviet Union, that collapses like a wet cardboard box. It doesn't have to be like that, but it will be, very soon, if we don't stop carrying on the way we have. The Islamic world has had it with the US. Asia is pretty fed up, too. The only friends we had were Europe, and Pinter has just made it pretty clear that they no longer stand with us. Who stands up and says, "Enough"?

I couldn't do what I do if I didn't believe that the process can be fixed, but it won't fix itself. We need to hear what people like Pinter are telling us, and we need to decide that what we have become is not what we want to be. Over the past five years I've been saying, "There must have been Germans who felt like this." I believe it today more than ever.

Dahlia Lithwick proposes a contest for the meanest lawyer trick. I object! There are few things more bush-league than this sort of stunt . When you see the messenger bearing the Order to Show Cause on a Friday afternoon you know that you are dealing with a jerk, and for the good of the legal eco-system it is incumbent upon you to (a) crush the jerk; and (b) make good and sure that the jerk's lack of civility is exposed to as large an audience as possible so that this sort of behavior is smacked down good and hard.

Where I mostly practice, in New York's Eighth Judicial District, we call this conduct "a lack of civility" and it is frowned on. If I were to be on the receiving end of a Christmas Eve emergency application, I'd pull the judge into it on the spot, and in nine instances out of ten the offending attorney could expect to get the fisheye-- and I'd get as much time as I want. Sometimes there's nothing to be done about it, and you just have to do the work. When that happens you do the work, but karma is big in our glamour profession, and payback's a bitch. This is even more true, I have found, in New York City, where the legal eco-system is even more finely balanced. Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind-- once you force the other guy to work, he'll make John Henry look like a weekend golfer-- and you'll end up working twice as hard. Lawyers are just as lazy as anyone else, but we didn't get to be lawyers by not knowing how to work-- we can do it, and we can make the other guy work harder if we have to.

I'm sure a lot of people have stories about what jerks they've been. I have a few myself, but we do our profession no good by hyping this sort of thing.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Is there anything more expensive than a free alley cat? I thought that our senior alley cat seemed to be losing weight, and was maybe drinking a lot of water. I ruled out chronic alcoholism, and thought maybe diabetes, but I dreaded taking the animal to the vet. Sometimes showing them a $50 bill, then pretending to rip it up works: it's a simple enough slight-of-hand, and the cat is pleased by the expensive display of concern, accomplished without having to get in the carrier and go to the vet, which they hate. Maybe I should have tried it with a C-note, because it didn't work this time. Instead it was off to the Summer Street Cat Clinic, where they are not impressed with prestidigitation, and want to keep the money. They took blood, and established that it was not a thyroid disorder-- which is good, because I'm not sure I'd have been down with sharing my meds with an alley cat. They were concerned about a urinary tract infection, which meant that we had to collect and deliver a sample of cat pee. I'll just gloss over the details here, if you don't mind. Now they are thinking kidney, and are prescribing a regimen of steroids. Maybe we should have just gotten a new alley cat-- one with an untwistable stomach

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Over the years other people have come with us, but picking out the tree is traditionally something that CLA and I do together, and she has aquirred an expertise in this annual aesthetic challenge. The demands of our long, high-ceilinged living room mean that we need a tall, full Tannenbaum, with a lot of branches for the ornaments that we've acquired over the years. There are ornaments from both A's and my grandparents, and the macaroni stuff that our kid have made, and the two margarine tubs that my youngest brother glued together-- the "Lassie" inscription, in glitter, is worn away now, but it is still the Lassie ornament. Actually, like any great Christmas tree ours is a good balance of the sorts of thing my mother called "cat ornaments" when we were kids, and nicer pieces. The cat ornaments are the low hanging fruit, and I daresay that nieces and nephews have done more damage to them than the cats ever did. There's even one that I remember sampling myself-- it looks less delicious to me today, but I'm glad to see it every year.

I wonder how it is that "Colder than a Christmas tree salesman" has escaped becoming a part of the idiom? If there is a colder profession, I don't care to know what it is-- the welldiggers have nothing on these guys. CLA and I wandered two lots before the tree that spoke to her revealed itself, and the entire process was finger-numbing. We are stringing lights now, and I'm thinking that this is a pretty outstanding pick.

Friday, December 09, 2005

It happened to me again-- and I'm sure it won't be the last time. One thing I've learned over the course of my peculiar career in our glamour profession is to drink local. Parachuting into a place for a day or two the way I do, I've figured out that "I'll have the same", is a good strategy-- the natives know what works, and what's good, and drinking local gets you into the head of the place the way that maybe only knowing the language can do better. It's not an absolute rule for me-- if I were in a Muslim country, or, I don't know, Utah, g-d forbid, you wouldn't see me at the iced tea stand, but as good guidelines go, Drink Local has served me well. The problem is that when I find myself in a place where I'm enjoying myself (something I try to do-- another guideline of mine) I end up thinking that a bottle of whatever it was that we were drinking would be a good thing to have on hand at home. Also, it is a mistake always to pass on duty free liquor, and the cheapest is also usually the local stuff, and there you have it. In Puerto Rico there's nothing like a nice rum drink. I'm not ashamed to say that I enjoyed several while I was there last week. I got together with some old friends, and rum drinks are full of vitamin C, and there is this bird flu thing, and we were by the pool, and what the hell, how often do I get to Puerto Rico?

Next thing you know, I'm in the airport with a few minutes to kill. So now, in addition to the half bottle of dark rum that I bought the last time I was in Puerto Rico, I have a great big bottle of Bacardi and a great big bottle of coconut rum. I now have enough rum to start a pirate ship. I live in Buffalo-- rum drinks aren't really what we do here. If there are ten days of summer when a rum drink would be just the thing, that'd be a lot. The half bottle in the liquor cabinet is three years old-- nobody I know ever comes over and says, "How about a Cuba Libre?"

Well, it'll be Pina Coladas this Christmas, if I have to buy a CD of steel drum carols to pitch them. Feliz Navidad.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"Fifty States, Fifty Slogans"

What does it mean, do you suppose, that the two that survive were the jolly ones? David Yaffe asks, is there anything left to say about the Beatles? My answer would be that quite a bit more than was necessary has been said about the phenomenon, and about the individuals, but, remarkably, the music has not only endured, but has gone on to mean something important to two subsequent generations. John would have been 65 this year, the 25th anniversary of his death. He'd have been closer in age to my mother than to me. And yet, when trapped in the car with me and my iPod, it is Beatles songs that my children turn to, and, interestingly, it is the material from "Help" backwards that they favor-- they are not impressed by psychedelia or the pseudo-intellectualism of "Sgt. Pepper". They like the early stuff, and I am struck each time I hear those songs by how much The Beatles were John's band back then. It's been 25 years since I pulled into the driveway on Springville where A. was living. We'd spent the weekend in Boston, as I recall it, and we heard the news on the radio just as I was pulling in. I can't recall if that was the same night that her "Subpoena Powers" paper blew out of her hands, and we stayed up all night re-typing it, but I think it was. Frankly I think "Imagine" is a truckload of tripe, as unsatisfactory a way to remember the man as "My Way" is as a monument to Sinatra, but neither Sarah Vowell nor I can control the way the media wants us to remember things-- I'd go with "I Feel Fine", or "I Should Have Known Better", but what do I know? A quick Google yield a list of one guy's top 40 Lennon songs, which is a nice way to remember.  Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 05, 2005

"Have you stood on a high and windy hill and heard the acorns drop and roll? Have you walked in the valley beside the brook, walked alone and remembered? Does Christmas smell like oranges to you?"

Inspired by my recent visit, I added Robert Altman's "Nashville" to our Netflix que. I'd remembered it was terrific, but very little else about it, and was really knocked out by how really well it has held up. Back when it was released I remember thinking that the music was too hokey, but now I like it-- even when it is hokey, like with Henry Gibson's stuff. I was also just knocked out by some of the performances. Ned Beatty -- Ned Beatty!-- almost steals the movie. Best of all, even though the place in the movie does not resemble the place where I was, both had in common the thing that seemed to me to define the place: everybody was either in the business, or looking to break into the business, any way they could. Great stuff.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Red State/Blue State. Hey, baby, the culture war isn't over until it's over. You can't see the Smith stickers on the Volvos, but the absence of any sort of indication of an affiliation with even a Texas institution of higher learning on the back window of the pick-up is, I think, telling. Dude, no love for the Longhorns? (Nixon-Agnew image via bluishorange.) Posted by Picasa

I thought this was an interesting strategy: "Judge Facing Removal Seeks Paid Suspension". I have to say that appearing in Queens Supreme is just about the only thing that rivals the experience of Kings County: it sometimes seems so corrupt that you think you can feel it on your skin. I don't know Justice Blackburne, but I remember reading about the incident that has her in hot water: apparently thinking that she was a character in a Dylan song or something she let robbery suspect in her courtroom escape arrest by allowing him to leave through a back door.

My eyebrows went up when I saw who the judge's lawyer is-- I've known Dick Godosky for a long, long time. He grew up on the same block as the man who taught me this business, and although they were friendly you couldn't find two more contrasting characters outside a Dickens novel. Dick is a creature of the political culture that surrounds our court system. I don't mean to say that he doesn't lawyer by knowing the law, but he prefers not to. Instead he trades on the network of favors he has built up, maneuvering to the best position available. In this way he embodies a particular paradigm of late 20th Century Bronx legal culture: Roy Cohn famously used to say, "Some lawyers ask what the law is; I ask who the judge is." I've tried a few cases with Dick over the years, although I don't think we've ever taken a verdict, and I've always felt that I had to watch him like a hawk, just to figure out how I was going to get screwed. He's the kind of guy that walks out of the robing room while your setting up for the day, thinking that you were the first lawyer in the courthouse.

Back when I was working in the Bronx every day-- Dick's natural habitat-- the Hon Louis Fusco, the Chief Administrative Judge, who ran the place like his personal banana republic, got into a spot of trouble and found that he was obliged to resign. This was an event of seismic proportions-- nobody knew what might happen next, if there were going to be indictments-- it was a weird time. Burt Roberts, the former District Attorney and the Chief Administrative Judge on the Criminal side of the building (and the guy that Tom Wolfe based the judge character on in "Bonfire of the Vanities") was put in charge. The story is that Dick approached Roberts through an intermediary and asked to have the court shut down for an afternoon so that they could have a farewell lunch for the departing Judge Fusco. The way it's told, Roberts replied, "Tell Godosky that if he wants to be a big shot, he can throw him a dinner," and the building stayed open. Still, if you admire chutzpah, you have to love it that he even asked.

In a way, Dick's current application to the court is a similar request, or at least similarly audacious. It takes a very particular kind of guy to be able to ask for this kind of stuff without blushing. I would put it to you that having an elected judiciary at least fosters this sort of thing-- Dick Godosky doesn't think that he is making an unreasonable request-- ever-- because he believes that what we do is all about swapping favors with people. He'll whisper a name to someone, then maybe someday the name will be able to do a little something for Dick when he needs a favor for a client. A little thing like a suspension with pay for a judge that helped a suspect escape arrest in her courtroom (what is on the wall behind the bench in that courtroom do you suppose? "This Way to the Egress"?)-- this should be no big deal.

I don't see this one happening-- but even if it doesn't Dick looks good to his client, and will just shrug if he's asked about it. "She should be entitled to defend herself," he'll say. He won't be critical-- that's not his style at all. He wouldn't ever run the risk of insulting someone who might otherwise be inclined to do some smaller favor someday. Like Goldilocks he will ask for favors in all sizes until he finds the right fit-- and then, in that case, he'll get the sort of result that he expects to get every time out of the box. That is when Dick Godosky stands on the courthouse steps and says "Justice was done."

Friday, December 02, 2005

My daughters were talking about the Narnia books the other day: we mostly have the same favorites, although the orders differ. I'd say that I like "The Magician's Nephew", "The Silver Chair" and "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" best, but CLA surprised me by saying that "The Horse and His Boy" would make her top three. She concedes that it is horribly racist, but she likes the animal characters, and she likes Archenland, which is sort of the Narnian Canada, except without hockey. The problem of race in Narnia doesn't end in book five-- "The Last Battle" is even worse, I'd say. It is also, by far, the weakest book in the series, and the one that I imagine is the least read. (Thanks to Bookslut for the link.)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I haven't really spent enough time in the tropics to form a sensible opinion, but I have to admit that it was pretty nice looking out the window of the plane when we touched down and seeing palm trees and a lush, verdant landscape. I haven't seen much of the City of St. John because the property I'm here defending is located right in the heart of the resort corridor-- there's an Intercontinental next door on one side, and a Ritz Carlton on the other, and some other pretty deluxe joints around as well. Larded in between are odd little strip malls, like the ones you'd see on the edge of Rehobeth or someplace. I recently read that Puerto Rico has something like 3 million people and two million cars-- an unusually high per capita ratio-- and one consequence of this seems to be that parking is at a big premium. The strip malls and fast food joints all have restricted access lots, with attendants, apparently to prevent people from just parking without shopping.

I can certainly see the appeal of the climate, but I don't know how I'd feel about living in a place where there are people sleeping on the sidewalks at the airport, and I have a feeling that the warm weather might sap my aggression, ambition, and what passes for my work ethic. All travel for me amounts to asking, "Could I live here?" Although I think I could, I am inclined to think that it's better that I not. Since it's a civil code jurisdiction I won't be, so that works out fine.

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