Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Monday, October 30, 2006

To Tomasz Stanko last night, the first event in what is now the Hunt Real Estate Art of Jazz series. Stanko has been getting a push-- we got him after a week-long stand at Birdland, on his last night in the US, on the evening after he was featured on Sunday's NPR Weekend Edition. He's got a very distinctive sound-- breathy and buzzing on the soft parts, fast and nearly percussive when he wants to be. There is very much an Ornette Coleman sensibility in what he is doing, which is interesting. I think of Coleman as one of the most European of jazz artists, in the sense that his avant-garde-ism is more art school than blues-based (unlike, say, Monk). There were several moments during Stanko's set when he sounded like an Eastern European imagining America, picturing himself crossing the plains, maybe. Then there were stretches where he was distinctly free jazz, and it was interesting to think about what it must have been like to have been a jazz artist in Poland in the 60's. There is no question that it would have been a political act to play this music. I am inclined to do a little further research.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

"North By Northwest isn't a film about what happens to Cary Grant, it's about what happens to his suit. The suit has the adventures, a gorgeous New York suit threading its way through America." (Via wood s lot.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

We are blessed, those of us who practice in the Empire State, with a court system that is so complicated that there are courts where I will never appear. Sometimes specialization is a useful thing, I suppose: Housing Court, for example, makes sense to me if for no other reason than the sheer volume of cases; Family Court likewise. We have Criminal Courts in New York City, and County Courts elsewhere-- and City Courts-- which mostly deal with misdemeanor offenses. Criminal Procedure is a constitutional specialty, and it makes sense for those matters to be handled on a specialty basis. Another specialty court that I have never understood, though, is Surrogate's Court-- where probate matters are handled. It is not entirely accurate to say that I have never had to deal with Surrogate's Court, because I have had to have wrongful death compromises approved there, and we presently have an infant's trust that the local Surrogate's Court has jurisdiction over, but it is an alien place to me. I feel like Surrogate's has an ammonia atmosphere. For some reason it has its own procedural code, the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act, and this has always been very mysterious to me. In the inevitable way of these things the SCPA is not entirely in line with the current thinking on a number of issues, and there are, from time to time attempts to fix it up. Someone has just noticed, for example, that in certain types of proceedings there is no statutory mechanism to compel the production of documents in advance of an examination under oath. The proposed remedy is to amend the statute by making reference to the Civil Practice Law and Rules. On the one hand, this makes a certain amount of sense: the CPLR is a lovely gothic cathedral of a civil code which really does try to be current with the realities of 21st Century litigation. That said, it seems cumbersome to approach Surrogate's practice this way. If the SCPA is out of line with the CPLR, putting a CPLR patch on the statute is a halfway measure-- why not simply adopt the CPLR? Are the time frames contemplated by the two statutes so different? Are there issues in Surrogate's practice which are unique to probate practice and not covered by New York's (pretty comprehensive) civil practice statute?

It seems to me that a fair criticism of New York practice is that it is a good deal more complicated than absolutely necessary. This impresses me as a good example (as does the existence of Surrogate's Court in general, actually-- why can't Supreme Court do the same job? It can't just be because Surrogate's is such a convenient place to put the patronage, can it?)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Chuck Berry turned 80 October 18. Jerry Lee Lewis may have called his latest side "Last Man Standing" but he's not, quite. I've never been to St. Louis, so I haven't got the feel for it that I now think I have acquired for Memphis, but it makes sense as a place where the Leibniz or Newton of rock'n'roll might have emerged: it's a crossroads, after all, the sort of place where there'd be a lot of music going on, all different sorts. Of course, he made his records in Chicago, but it's the same deal there as well. Somewhere Saul Bellow says that after World War II everything that was loose in the United States rolled into California, and I think something similar could be said about Chicago's relationship to the South. There was a time when it all rolled up the river.

One thing that I think is an interesting difference between Chuck Berry and his Sun contemporaries is that Berry came to prominence as a live performer-- playing at dances, playing at shows. Elvis' breakout moment came when he was horsing around in the studio, but Berry was inventing this music in front of an audience. I'm not sure what to make of this, exactly-- it seems to say something about the relationship between rock'n'roll and technology, but we already knew that. After all, Muddy Waters invented electricity-- and the history of popular music is really about the history of selling people Edison phonographs.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

To the Desmond Moot Court competition last night-- the event that determines which 2L's will make the Moot Court Board at UB. I got lucky on my co-panelists, and learned a little myself, which made the event doubly pleasurable. I was not crazy about the problem this year-- Meridith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, an affirmative action case in which I suspect the Supreme Court may be inclined to make a narrow, fact-based determination that will not be useful to anyone with good intentions. I can see a lot of anguished hand-wringing about whether the courts should still be in the business of supervising integration-- and some discussion about the extent to which they ever should have been. Still, the students did well, I thought, and it always heartens me to see that the people who practice in my community are, for the most part, right thinking. Maybe it's just the lawyers who volunteer as judges, but that's still enough to reassure me that I live in a Blue state.

Monday, October 16, 2006

We’d heard that it was snowing in Buffalo, and that the power was out, but I was surprised when I called home Friday morning. “Well, the car is all right,” A reported, and I was nonplussed. “Why wouldn’t the car be all right?” I asked. “You have no idea,” she replied. Kate reported that M. had told her, grimly, that, “No matter what you’ve heard, it’s much worse,” but what is someone to make of a comment like that? Even knowing that two feet of snow had fallen, even knowing that the power was out. Even discovering, as we did when we got to the airport, that our flight had been cancelled because the Buffalo airport had been closed. “Just get us to Atlanta,” Kate told the woman at the counter. “I’m sure it’ll open up, and we’ll be able to get in somewhere.”

The rest of that story is for another time—but we spent the night in Atlanta, and didn’t get in until about 1:00 o’clock Saturday afternoon. My first inkling came as we drove down Cayuga—the 33 was closed, so we took the suburban back streets to Main before getting on the 290. Cayuga was barely passable, with fallen trees obscuring the houses, and lines down everywhere. It was odd—the warm weather had melted the snow to the point where it resembled what early spring looks like around here, but the fallen limbs and fallen trees made it look as if an entire forest had been dropped. Houses were completely obscured. People were wandering about with chainsaws, or just walking. On Main Street the traffic signals were mostly out, and every tree we saw was damaged. It’s funny how trees are—you don’t always notice them, but under these conditions every tree was a fresh shock. We won’t know the full extent of the damage until next spring, I reckon.

We took the 290 around, on the theory that it would be clear, and that the lack of traffic signals would be irrelevant. As we passed the Chevy plant I noticed the smell of wood smoke. Everyone with a fireplace was burning wood. “Later,” I thought, “That smell will combine with the smell of sour milk.” Lancaster Avenue is a street that is defined by the trees that line it—they are saying that every tree in the city sustained some damage, and if the sample on our block is any indication, I’m sure it’s true. Casualty figures for something like this are pretty undependable, I think. I’ve heard that two people were killed by falling branches. I am not inclined to count traffic fatalities. There will be some exposure cases, I suppose. I’m guessing that the baby bubble we will see this July will make this event a net gain for the population. Last night, in our yuppie neighborhood the streets were lined with the debris from the trees. Most of the precariously hanging boughs are down now, and the curb resembled the way it looks the week after New Years, when everyone puts their Christmas trees out. It was dark in the houses, except for the glow from candles, but it was not completely silent: there has been a run on gasoline-powered generators, and the lawnmower roar of them made a peculiar soundscape. We have two fireplaces, and a gas stove. The telephones didn’t go out, and even if they had, cellphone technology has made being cut off something different in the 21st Century. This is no Katrina, but it is still a jolt—like stepping off a curb just as a car speeds by, maybe. Or having your kitchen catch fire, but be extinguished before the house burns down. This—whatever it will be called— has the feel of a warning. Be careful. Be aware of how quickly things can change. Know how lucky you have been, how lucky you still are.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

In Memphis for TIDA. Paul Simon said he followed the river “To the cradle of the Civil War” but that was really a bit of poetic license on his part; the Civil War was rocked elsewhere, really. What was rocked in this town by the river was Rock itself, and I played hooky Thursday to go visit the nursery. Sun Studio (singular—there was only ever one studio on the premises) is a short trolley ride from downtown, in a neighborhood that is nothing much. My blood raced when I came upon it, looking just as it always has, and I got chills when I walked in.

Sam Phillips never owned the building, and he only leased the half where the studio shared space with his secretary’s office. The only air-conditioned part of the building was in the lunchroom next door, so that’s where Phillips worked. There is still a lunch counter there, and you can get a malt, or a Coke, but mostly it’s a souvenir stand now, with photographs and other memorabilia on the walls. The tour is $10 bucks, and worth every penny. In an upstairs room there are cases filled with icons and iconography, and the whole story is laid out for you. There is Phillips’ original single-track tape recorder. There is Sun’s first record lathe. For $3 bucks you could come in and record a song. If you had $4 bucks, you could record two songs. Who didn’t come in to record with Phillips back then? Howlin’ Wolf made some of his first recordings there. B.B. King. I had not known that “Rocket 88” had been recorded there—it was released on Chess, of course, and the fact that it went on to become a hit led Phillips to conclude that he needed to become a record label as well as a studio. Ike Turner and his band were on the way up from Mississippi to record it when their guitar amplifier fell off the roof of the car, tearing the speaker cone. They’d tried to fix it by stuffing the hole with newspaper. It gave the guitar sound a noisy buzzing sound, but Phillips liked it.

It probably isn’t completely accurate to say that rock’n’roll had a single inventor: as Calculus was invented independently by Leibniz and Isaac Newton, so too was rock’n’roll created by independent geniuses. The difference is only that the inventors of the Calculus were separated by geography: Elvis belted out “That’s All Right, Mama” in the same room—maybe the same exact spot as Turner and his band.
The studio is in almost the exact condition as it was then, as it was when Carl Perkins recorded “Blue Suede Shoes”—same as it ever was, with the acoustic tiles on the walls, baffled on the ceiling—the tiles that Phillips himself put up, based on an article that he’d read in Popular Science. There is a dent in the floor, said to have been created by Jerry Lee Lewis’s pounding on the piano recording “Whole Lot of Shaking Going On”. The microphone that Elvis used is there, and you can pose with it.

We didn’t really have time to do Graceland, although we made a stop on the way to the airport. “How long does the Graceland tour take?” we asked the cab driver. “Well,” he replied, in the Memphis patois that is the only thing in town that moves slower than the antique trolley cars, “There ain’t no single way to answer that question. “You could take the whole tour; that’s the house, and the cars, and the airplanes. Or, if you just wanted to see the cars, or just the airplanes, you could just go to see that part. Or if you wanted to see the airplanes and the house, or the house and the cars, or just the cars and the airplanes themselves, you could do that. It depends on what you want to see, but I can’t tell you what you want to see, because I’ve never been, and I don’t know what you care about.”

He told us that the house had been sold for $85 million dollars, and that Priscilla had gotten 15 % of that. I reflected on the $32,000 that Phillips had received for selling Elvis’ contract to RCA. Phillips has said that it was the smartest business decision he’d ever made, and I said that it seemed like everybody around Elvis made money from him. “Yes,” the driver said, “But he was a good man, too.” It didn’t take long at Graceland to realize that the experience there is a different one from Sun. “They’ve made a Jesus out of him,” I said, and I stand by it. The level of idolatry at Graceland is probably second only to the gift shop at the Vatican. We’d been on Beale Street the night before, and heard the living music—we left Memphis feeling like we’d seen what we came there for. Like all pilgrims, we found the road home longer. We were certainly not prepared for what we found by the time we arrived.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

To David Sedaris last night. There have been times when we've seen him that tears have come to my eyes from laughing so hard. He was funny this time, but in a more comfortable, familiar way. We have reached the point with David Sedaris where it feels like he's an old pal-- and he is a real mensch. It's all one way, of course, and if we were at a party together it would be odd, because we know all about him, and are the voices in the dark to him. Actually that's not quite true-- one of the things that he does that makes his reading so personal is that at the end he has the lights brought up, and he talks a little bit, then takes questions.

He read the piece about the parrot and the Pot Bellied Pig, and something that had been in The New Yorker about Mrs. Peacock. A work in progress about being a reporter writing a story about a city mortuary (he said it had gone over well in Edinburgh, but that it needed more work)and then a lovely thing called "All the Beauty You'll Ever Need". The last was a good example of the sort of thing he does best: it started out as a peevish complaint about some minor inconvenience about living in France, then meandered into an observation or an anecdote about his boyfriend, Hugh, then took a turn into a reminiscence about something or other that shaped up into an opportunity to make an observation about relationships, then ended with a punchline that was romantic and self-deprecating, and sweet.

He read something from his journal, that he'd copied from the London Observer's Sunday Magazine, ("Jar of Vaseline, $4; Box of Condoms, $14; 3 gay porn magazines, $35. Convincing your parents your brother is gay-- priceless"), then talked a little about why he liked visiting Japan and recommended "Is There No Place On Earth For Me?" by Susan Sheehan -- the book he is encouraging people to read. He was funny about it: he said it was moving and beautifully written, but also good because the schizophrenic woman who is the book's focus "is so mean to her parents". "She was about 5'4" and got up to about 280 pounds," he said, "So if you want a book about a mean, crazy fat person, this is the book for you."

Sedaris really works at this-- maybe he's a diva in everyday life, but at these readings he signs books at the beginning until they tear him away; then at the end he signs until everyone who wants to has met him. And he doesn't just sign: he chats, and he writes personal messages. It's funny, in a way, that more writers don't go out and work like this, but maybe it is harder than it seems, and maybe his ability to do this is his particular talent.

Monday, October 09, 2006

I remember this National Lampoon Dylan spoof from when it was new. I'm pretty sure I thought I didn't get it then-- now I think it's just not that funny. (Via Metafilter.)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

"He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others." Samuel Johnson

A list of great insults. One more: "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts...for support rather than illumination." Andrew Lang

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

To Buffalo's All-High Stadium yesterday for CLA's soccer game. She'd forgotten her uniform, so I ended up bringing it to her. I was sort of steamed about it it, actually, but then it dawned on me that my opportunities to see her on a soccer pitch are coming to an end, so I settled into a seat and enjoyed the game. She is getting decent minutes, but is no longer the best player on the field-- the other girls have outgrown her, which means that she just has her excellent field vision and good game judgement to depend on. Still, she had a good outing I thought-- she made every touch count, made no mistakes, and was always where she was supposed to be when the ball was in play. I'll miss watching her.

All-High is something to see. I was sort of aware that there was a stadium behind Bennett, but I'd never seen it. The field is brand new, some sort of high-tech turf that CLA reports is a pleasure to run on. The stadium itself is classic, and I recognized it from "The Natural" once I thought about it. I am of half a mind to go watch a high school football game there this fall.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Buffalo Law Journal features Buffalo blawgers. Like somebody's inappropriate uncle I managed to shoehorn myself in with the kids.

Nixon wants to buy the world a Coke. I don't make a habit of posting videos here, or of watching them, as a rule-- too much real time is wasted, and who has the attention span, you know? Still, this is too good to miss. See if you can spot Willie Wonka.

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