Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Paris Review "Writers At Work" series is one of the best things ever.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

It's funny, the things that percolate up from my undergraduate education. When we dropped EGA in NoHo at the end of August we stopped into one of the many excellent used bookshops after dinner, and emerged with armloads. Part of my haul was a Modern Library volume containing the three Snopes novels by William Faulkner: "The Hamlet", "The Town" and "The Mansion". One of the best professors I had in college was Clay Lewis, and one of the very best things I took from him was a Faulkner survey. It helps to have a guide with Faulkner, at least starting out, and Lewis was an outstanding guide. A Southerner himself, but not in any sort of jingoistic way, we covered a goodly part of Yoknapatawpha County over the course of the semester. I know for sure we read "The Town", because I was immediately taken with Gavin Stevens, the romantic young lawyer. That's how progressive Faulkner was-- he had a likeable lawyer character. I believe a lot of the material from "The Hamlet" appeared first as stories or novellas-- reading it over the last few weeks a great deal of it was familiar, but big parts seemed new, and it is possible that I never read it before. I recall I read "The Mansion" on my own-- Lewis had accomplished his task with me, and I read a lot of Faulkner after the class was over. Once you have aquired a feel for the territory, one of the treats is that the same charactors, themes and situations keep showing up, so that the effect is like going to a big wake, and hearing about the deceased from a dozen perspectives. Or, I suppose, like sitting quietly somewhere and listening to the stories that swirl around as other people come and go. If you sit long enough, you'll start to recognise a lot of the same stories, even though they are all always different.

In any event, I'm just about through "The Town" now, and enjoying how fresh it seems to me. People come to Faulkner the wrong way, I think. I know I started with "The Sound and the Fury", which is tough sledding, at least at first. "As I Lay Dying" isn't much easier. These Snopes books, though, roll along like Dickens, with barely a wasted word or gesture. It is funny to think that Faulkner was out of print for a time-- American literature doesn't get better than this. The plots are tightly constructed, there are sharply observed characters everywhere, and the anecdotes that build to the ultimate point are often really funny. It's rare for me to take a novel on a Sunday flight-- I like to pick up several newspapers instead-- but this has been a near constant companion.

I must have taken a half-dozen classes from Professor Lewis. He introduced me to "One Hundred Years of Solitude", I recall, and I'm sure a lot of other things that remain important to me. I can only remember the Faulkner class now, though. CLA is looking at schools this fall, and has consented to look at my alma mater. Lewis isn't there any more, (I only recognize one name from my time there) or I'd look him up when we visit. I hope he is still teaching, still sitting quietly in the evening browsing through his old copy of "Lee's Lieutenants"-- he used to talk about that book all the time, but I've not gotten to it yet.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Some catch-up:
Free comic book ideas:
"Art Spiegelman finds a dying Abin Sur and is given the ring to become a Green Lantern, but is later disqualified by the Guardians for being 'massively annoying'." (Via Bookslut.);

The Top Ten College Pranks of All Time;

Friday, September 22, 2006

To the Chicago Symphany last night, a benifit for the IBA's Human Rights Institute. My first thought is to say something about how horrifying it is to find myself in an America where defending and promoting the rule of law is something that needs to be done by an organization like this, but that's too glum, I think. Instead, some thoughts about the performance, which was glorious. Beethoven's 6th and Shostakovich's 5th, and I found myself practically holding my breath for the duration of each movement, each was so beautiful. It occurs to me that perhaps the reason I have never found a way into this music is that it loses so much when it is not live. Visually the sight of an orchestra like this in full swing is nearly as stunning as the music itself, although there are comic elements worthy of Bugs Bunny as well. The reeds and the French horns seem particularly funny-- they fuss over their axes, taking them apart and reassembling them. The first clarenet had a bright red silk scarf that he ran through his instument every now and then, with a little flourish. For the Shostakovich the percussion was augmented by four additional players, and the snare drummer also had a funny quirk-- whenever the cymbal player got ready to , punctuate a passage he'd put his fingers in his ears and wince. I can see being concerened about hearing loss in that job, and I can even understand why he wouldn't wear earplugs, I guess, but it still looked peculiar. Great seats, first base side balcony, right behind the cellos.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

People say to me, "Bill, why do you have a weblog?" (No, really, I get asked all the time.) Here's a reason: I said late last night that it was tough to find a decent beer in Chicago. By the time I checked my comments the next morning this guy had three suggestions for me. I can now vouch for Hopleaf-- Red Line to Argyle, then three blocks over. It's a neighborhood called Andersonville, a bit north of Boy's Town, and certainly worth the trip. Thanks, Dude!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"Lakeshore Raddison, please," I said, sliding into the back of the cab. "The only Raddison I know is on the North Side," objected the cabbie. "No, this is on Lakeshore, south of the McCormack Center," I said. "Mon, do you mean the Lakeshore Ramadan?" he asked. "Ramada!" I said, "That's it." I don't recomend it, particularly: it is not convenient to the convention center or to the Loop, and I can't remember its name.

Other Chicago notes: this is the third or forth time I have been to this city, and I have finally had a Chicago-style hot dog. I don't know what I was waiting for-- I am a fan now, and will have at least one more before I leave. In general I favor a grilled frankfurter, and these are steamed, but I wouldn't want one any other way. They come on a poppy seed bun, and they really do say, "Drag it through the garden." I'd asked for mine with the works, but the counter guy directed the grillman in those words. How fantastic is that? "Adam and Eve on a raft, sink 'em!", you know? Steamed dog, poppy roll, smear of mustard, the brightest green sweet pickle relish I ever saw, chopped raw onions, dill pickle spear, tomato wedges and a couple of little sport peppers-- fantastic.

On the down side, I must report that this seems to be a pretty indifferent beer city. There must be a spot, but I haven't located it. The Goose Island, or whatever it's called, is nothing much, and it's a big deal to find something other than Bud or Heineken.

Monday, September 18, 2006

There is an interesting study to be written about US Attorney Generals, I think. They seem to come in three basic flavors: Crook, Crony, and Parson. Maybe that's just two flavors, now that I think of it, and I suppose there have been AGs that were neither Crooked Cronies nor Parsons, but not many. To the IBA this week, in Chicago, and today at lunch the keynote speaker was Dick Thornburgh-- the guy that was Reagan's AG after Ed Meese. Thornburgh fits squarely in the Parson mode. His sermon this afternoon was on the importance of keeping our institutions free from corruption, and he favored us with three examples from his career. He was undersecretary general to the United Nations from 1992 to 1993, and felt that that institution was insufficiently zealous in guarding against corruption, leading to, inter alia, the Oil for Food scandal. Wouldn't have happened if they'd listened to Dick-- he told us so. He was also the court appointed examiner in the WorldCom bankruptcy proceedings, and he was filled with scorn for WorldCom's board, KPMG, and WorldCom's investment bankers. Fair enough, I'd say.

Finally, he favored us with a story about his experience on the independent panel set up by CBS to investigate the so-called Memogate controversy-- remember? Dan Rather and his producer didn't adequately authenticate documents about George W. Bush's military service.

One of my little pet peeves is the misuse of the phrase "begs the question". The Memogate scandal is a great example of what the expression is supposed to mean. The documents CBS used were fake, therefore Bush served honorably. Thornburgh stopped short of actually saying this, but just barely, and it was embarrassing to be in a room full of lawyers from all over the world who knew exactly what had happened, and exactly how the American electorate had been made chumps.

I wonder how long it will be before we Americans are restored to the position of respect we once had in the world. Quite a while, I think, when even a guy like Dick Thornburgh-- a guy a never liked, but who I never had any reason to think of as a dissembling son of a bitch-- uses Memogate as an example of the importance of integrity. How much more refreshing if he'd talked about the crisis in American democracy caused by the Supreme Court when it injected itself into the political process-- or about the decline in respect for the Supreme Court, caused by the same thing. There were a lot of lawyers from a lot of places that would have been interested in hearing what he had to say about that.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Virtual Tour of "A Confederacy of Dunces". Wouldn't it be great to go to NO and walk in Ignatius' footsteps? There aren't a lot of other charaters and cities that I feel that way about-- I'd like to go out on Bush Street to think things over, like Sam Spade, but I'm coming up blank on others.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Ron Rosenbaum weighs in on "Modern Times"-- he doesn't like it. I'm surprised and a bit disapointed that he's such a moldy fig. Of course he has a lot invested in "Blonde on Blonde" era Dylan-- it was Roesenbaum who interviewed him for Playboy when he gave the "thin, that wild mercury sound," quote, and he has been dining out on it ever since.

His critique seems to be based on the notion that a "roots" sound is wrong for Dylan, which seems wrong to me on a couple of levels. First, I don't think you can really call "Modern Times" all that roots-y". It's got a rock'n'roll feel to it, and rock'n'roll is certainly rooted in the blues, but this is not a John Fahey side by any stretch. I'm also troubled by the notion that Dylan should be expected or obliged to re-invent rock every time out of the box. If we take 1951 as the starting place ("Rocket 88", natch), the form was 15 years old when Dylan recorded "Like A Rolling Stone" and changed the genre forever. There haven't been too many rock paradigm shifts since, I'd say, although it would be interesting to chart them. It's a lot to expect that Dylan would or should change it more than once-- what he has done since then has been to write a lot of great songs, and release some great albums. It's probably a little early, but it seems to me that "Modern Times" belongs on the shelf with, oh, "John Wesley Harding", maybe, or perhaps "Nashville Skyline". Is that the same shelf as "Highway 61 Revisited" or "Blood on the Tracks"? Probably not-- but it ain't "Self Portrait" either.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I got my freelance career started after writing about my Spencer Tunick experience, and discovering that getting paid to see my words in print was a lot better than the occassional piece in the New York Bar Journal. I went to the editor of Spree and asked if I could write more for the magazine, and she generously told me that I could-- as long as I wasn't interested in writing about food or music. Apparently there is no shortage of people interested in being paid to write about those topics, which I suppose accounts, in part, for the Village Voice deciding to cut Robert Christgau loose. His firing had been in the wind for some time, but I'm still disappointed: "Consumer Guide" has been the best reason to read the Voice for years, and there isn't a better, funnier rock critic out there. Maybe you want to be Lester Bangs-- I'm with Jody Rosen: if you write about rock, we are all Christigauians. "With Pauline Kael, Christgau is arguably one of the two most important American mass-culture critics of the second half of the 20th century—yet he's devoted the majority of his working life to fashioning 100-word blurbs with letter grades. He's a public intellectual who unwittingly invented the reviews section of Entertainment Weekly."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

If there is a wearier cliche about Dylan albums than "It's his best since "Blood on the Tracks"", I don't know what it is, but talk about his last three sides being a "comeback" has got to be closing in. The problem, of course, is that we've all been burned by a Dylan album or two. Greil Marcus may have put it best when he was confronted by "Self Portrait", but it has happened to us all. My moment came with "Street Legal", yours may be different, but we all approch a new Dylan release a little warily. Sure, "Time Out of Mind" was a return to his songwriting form, but it's sooo depressing, when do you ever feel like listening to it? And yes, "Love and Theft" proved that he still had a sense of humor-- and had "Mississippi" on it-- a song he'd given to Sheryl Crow first, proving that there are still pop stars interested in his stuff, and that his stuff still held the potential for mass appeal. But the fact is that "Modern Times" represents a step up from both of these. His singing is better, for staters. The guitar sound is better. The songs are sharper, and more consistant. There isn't a song on this side that couldn't find its way onto a good playlist or mix CD. It really is the first time I've put a new Dylan side in the drawer and wanted to play it again as soon as it was over since-- well, it's the first new Dylan CD that this has ever happened to me with. I was still listening to vinyl the last time.

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