Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Saturday, August 30, 2008

I get a 73 out of Omnivore's Hundred; some I've never heard of, and there are a few that I can't eat for one reason or another. It doesn't impress me as all that challenging a list, actually. Many of these things are staple items in our menu rotation, and quite a few are regular treats. (Via Serious Eats.)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Governor Palin is only slightly more qualified to be President of the United States than my mom. TCA is a restless soul, and when she and my father retired to the Tarheel State she got the itch and went into politics. She was a town council member and then mayor of a town more or less the size of Wasilla, and there was talk at one point of a run for Congress. She passed on that, since it wasn't really consistent with being retired, but there it is. An accident of history, if you will. A Vogue cover and a matter of a few years and it could have been my mom standing there being leered at by John McCain. Of course, my mom's a Democrat, so there's that too. I don't know much more about Governor Palin than anyone else outside of the 49th State, but I'm pretty sure I'd prefer my mom's platform.

This selection really makes me wonder at the cynicism of the Republican party. I suppose it might work-- but I don't think it will. HRC's supporters didn't want just any woman-- they wanted HRC. In the Comments at Lawyers, Guns & Money someone said: "This is all about short-term control of the news cycle, stepping on the Obama speech. This is a tactical choice, not a strategic one. This isn't answering the Biden pick, this is answering the positive press on yesterday's speech.
"This is actually a pretty good window into what a McCain presidency would be like--short term fixes, lurching from crisis to crisis, totally misanalyzing problems and proposing bogus but flashy solutions that don't actually work."

I think that pretty much nails it, and I think there might be a backlash because the pick is so nakedly manipulative.

On the other hand, people are chumps. I have to keep reminding myself of this. Obama is running a campaign for grown-ups, and we've seen that fail time and again. Every four years I think about the SNL Bush-Dukakis Debate. "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy". It speaks volumes about the decline of public discourse that Bush pere now looks coherent, let alone like a statesman.

I'm sure Governor Palin is a lot of things. She seems articulate, and I imagine she is quite a bit more honest than the usual Alaska Republican, admittedly a low bar. On the other hand, the fact that she can stand there and accept this nomination without blushing is troubling. She is probably a lot closer in her beliefs to mainstream America than I am, and that's the most troubling thing of all. I take back saying that she is more qualified than my mom-- TCA would be a far better candidate.

I'd been wondering about "vintage" e-mail addresses lately, and now the Observer kindly elucidates the topic for us. I have a Yahoo! account that I use for blogging correspondence, and a gmail account that I use for freelance writing assignments. I have a Yahoo! account that mostly gets spam, but also gets mail from people I need to communicate with. I had an AOL account back in the day, because AOL was one of the best options for getting online when traveling-- I used it all over the world in those dialup days. AOL was the bottom to the totem pole then-- CompuServe or Prodigy were what the serious early adopters used. I had an Altavista account that I used for teaching, but now UB has supplied me with an account that forwards stuff to my main business mailbox. There are probably a couple more orphaned accounts that I can't recall. Lately however I've been seeing AOL addresses being used on letterhead and business cards, and I can't decide if that's retro cool or just hapless. Is it "the default address of McCain-voting Middle Americans sending around cat jokes and emoticons: the online equivalent of wearing mom jeans"?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Law schools game the rankings? Who knew?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Man, ol' Bill Clinton can really bring it, can't he? I'd forgotten how much I enjoy watching him turn it on.

The Worst Colleges in America.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

To Geneseo over the weekend to drop off CLA, her many, many possessions and her porcupine. I was impressed with the system they had devised for this process: historically drop-off day at most colleges somewhat resembles a reverse re-enactment of Dunkirk performed with station wagons, but this was pretty orderly. You pulled up next to an unloading area near the dorm, where student volunteers off-load your car into little tractors. While the parents take the car to a satellite lot, the student signs in, and the tractors (they called them "Gators", but there was a different name on the side) go to the loading dock for the dorm and unload. Worked great, although we had to be discrete about bringing in the porcupine. (I should mention also that although CLA had a fair amount of stuff, it was a pretty modest collection relative to some of the things we saw being brought in. Flat screen TVs?)

The textbook process has been streamlined as well. You can pre-order online, or just show up with your class list. There was a tent with folding chairs outside the Sundance textbook annex, along with a tank full of ice and bottled water. From time to time there was a pizza delivery. You wait outside for a bit, then when things thin out inside the hippie in charge lets another group in. I hadn't brought anything to read, so LCA and I went up to the Main Street store and bought books to tide us over.

I'd heard about the 33 1/3 series, and meant to pick up one but hadn't gotten to it. Continuum International Publishing created the series, which are extended essays about notable rock'n'roll albums. I debated getting the volume on "Highway 61 Revisited" but settled on "Exile on Main Street". It was just about right, long enough so that I had a little left over to read the next day, and a thoughtful piece of writing as well. As I run down the list I can see that there are quite of few of these little books I'm going to want to read (and I can think of one or two that I'd like to write as well).

Monday, August 25, 2008

I'm not sure I know how I feel about Buffalo being portrayed as the next Greenpoint. Good, I guess.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

What I like about the Biden pick is that it says that Obama isn't going to run away from being a liberal Democrat. Michael Moore is right-- if the Democrats are going to win they are going to have to do it as Democrats. There is no reason to vote for any Democrat if they can't understand that. Although I think Biden is kind of a dope, he's pretty dependably liberal, as these things go. And if he is dull, well, it is hard to feel bad about dull without feeling a little guilty. I don't want exciting, I want an administration that can govern capably. Biden got Iraq wrong, which is troubling in a foreign policy expert, but I wasn't expecting Obama to pick Lincoln Chaffee. Could he have done worse? I thought he was going to. Because he was still a freshman during my brief time on the Hill I think of Biden as younger than he really is-- in reality the guy has been around since the Nixon Administration, and that is troubling.

What has been gnawing at me the past couple of days is that for some reason the media has decided that this would be a cool time to revisit Chicago 1968. As it happens, I think the Siege of Chicago is interesting-- 1968 is when I became interested in politics, and Mailer's essay is still good reading-- so it is a subject that I usually enjoy reading, hearing and thinking about. Right now, though, is just not the time. What makes Obama interesting, I think, is that he does not seem to be interested in re-fighting the culture wars of the 60s. Baby Boomers my age were in 8th grade for Woodstock. The only Beatles album I owned in college was "Let It Be". Let McCain pretend that that stuff is important-- he seems eager enough to be an anachronism-- but the rest of the country ought to, you should excuse the expression, move on. We are seeing articles about the Chicago convention now because Boomers are narcissists. That's why old hippies say that they ended the Vietnam war, too. It is completely made up, but they can't help themselves. I suppose people are entitled to their generational myths, but I'm tired of those myths, and the arguments about them screwing up the way we live today. It's not about you any more, old hippies-- it never was. And you, Greatest Generation, who are you kidding? You guys were all drafted, so don't tell me that Tommy Dorsey is better than the Stones.

Friday, August 22, 2008

An interesting thing about McCain is that he really does have a terrible temper. Some of the things he has said to his wife have been quoted elsewhere and are remarkably nasty-- I wouldn't be sleeping on the couch in any of my wife's houses if I'd said that kind of stuff. He is apparently like this in his professional life as well. Timothy Noah reports that he harbors a personal dislike for Obama, which is interesting, and quotes an exchange of correspondence between the two members of the most exclusive club in the world that is really remarkable given that the institution prides itself on its civility. McCain, having been implicated in a corruption scandal once, now believes that he owns the issue, and that he himself is beyond all reproach. Apparently he had a notion about how the Senate should proceed with ethics reform, and when Obama had a different proposal (on a question of procedure, not substance) McCain went nuts. I have written probably more than my share of poisonous letters, and have taken to putting them aside for a day before sending them out. As fond as I am of the form, McCain's letter to Obama is so over the top that it is hard to believe that someone on his his staff didn't tell him to get a grip, or even just slide the letter under a blotter instead of sending it out.

AS I write this the Obama campaign has just launched an ad about the "How many houses" gaffe, and McCain is lashing back with an attack on Obama on the Tony Rezko thing. The McCain push-back is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it's really his best shot, and it is on "integrity"-- McCain's pet issue. By taking it now I'd say he has probably taken it too early. No doubt they'll keep pushing that button, but that is probably also a bad plan. The house thing really hurts McCain on several fronts, and bringing it up is just going to remind people that (a) he couldn't remember how many houses he owns (because he is very, very old); and (b) that McCain has many houses, (because he is very, very rich). That takes Obama's "celebrity" off the table. Even though Obama's house is a really nice house, it is only one, and the chances are that Obama can find it himself without a staffer helping. Finally, it demonstrates that McCain really is an angry guy, with a hair-trigger temper. If he is this easily goaded, the chances are that he will blow up again, and I don't see that helping him. A couple more explosions like this and we may start seeing regular stories about McCain's arrested development. There may be women who are angry about Hillary, but I can't imagine that there are many in that group who will rush to vote for someone who got divorced because he was "turning 40 and wanting to be 25 again." I find McCain's record on reproductive freedom deplorable, but there is disagreement on that issue. Treating your wives poorly-- man, that's no way to get the ladies to vote for you.

And don't you wonder about what other senators McCain has teed off on? It would be interesting to see some of that coming to light, and it is bound to.

A big question mark in this campaign has been whether the Obama people will allow themselves to get cuffed around the way that Kerry (and Gore) did. Gore was caught flat-footed, and to some extent Kerry was too, I think. Kerry never expected that his military experience would be turned around against him. It was a stupid foundation for a campaign, and, ironically, a classic example of fighting the last war, and when he got Swiftboated Kerry couldn't believe it was happening. Obama seems to be working hard to move this election out of the culture wars of the 60's, and I say 'bout time.

The polling data is probably not all that reliable an indication of anything more than tendencies right now. As has been the case in the last three cycles turnout is going to be critical this year, and the things I'm reading suggest that Obama has a strong ground game set up. He's got the resources, too, and even if McCain is gaining ground, he's still playing catch-up ball. What we have seen so far tells us that one guy is capable of running a disciplined campaign with a focused message that can also quickly and creatively respond when necessary. The other guy, to his credit, keeps on coming. McCain's a stubborn cat, no doubt about it, and it would be a mistake to forget that. I doubt that the Obama people are counting on a McCain mistake to carry the day, but I think they may get one anyway.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Interesting piece on the reasons Hillary Clinton's campaign failed. Loss of momentum from Iowa was critical, but you really can't criticize the decision not to start there earlier: she'd have taken a drubbing if she'd made her move there before she locked up her Senate re-election. The fund raising issues suggest that the campaign did not learn-- as Obama did-- from the lesson taught by Howard Dean, who looks more and more visionary. Instead of expanding the base of contributors-- and the base of supporters-- Clinton raised money the old fashioned way, from fatcats. Apparently Harold Ickes understood how to count delegates: why his counsel was ignored was probably the key failure of the campaign, but the real question is the one that mystified me about the Dean campaign: where'd all that money go? Apparently big spending is a hallmark. She spent $30 million to get re-elected, which is crazy money, when you think about it: quickly, without looking, who ran against her?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Madonna turns 50 this Saturday, an event that will keep any number of cultural commentators busy. The thing they are all bound to note is that La Ciccone has reinvented herself time and again. It's the thing you say about Madonna, isn't it? The funny thing is, it doesn't seem to be true, at least not as far as her work goes. Sure, sometimes she's a blonde, sometimes not; and she's more toned than she used to be (to say the least), but in terms of her recorded output you could drop a cut from any Madonna side onto any other and I don't think anyone would be able to tell the difference. It's all dance pop, and it doesn't even date all that much. Reinvention is what Miles Davis used to do. What Madonna does is no less impressive-- she has outlived fads in a business that is defined by fads-- but it ain't reinvention.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

FiveThirtyEight is the sort of thing I love: statistical analysis of the polling data for the election. Pundits and talking heads (like the late Tim Russert, or Cokie Roberts) like to talk about polling data, but they seldom delve into what the data means, or how it was derived, or whether what the numbers seem to indicate even makes sense. FiveThirtyEight (the number of electoral votes) does. For example, a recent post discusses the so-called "Bradley Effect"-- the notion that people misreport their actual voting intention so as not to appear racist. FiveThirtyEight notes that there is a way to see if this has happened, then looks at the polling data from the primarys, and compares it to the actual results. Interestingly, they find that Obama tends to outperform the polls. The site is full of interesting stuff like that. Most interestingly, it tracks the polls state by state, so that we can get a sense of what the electoral vote might look like. Very worthwhile.(Via Rafe Colburn.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Should I feel bad about thinking of John Edwards as the white Jessie Jackson? I suppose I should. For all his grandstanding over the years, the Rev. has a genuine track record. He's walked the walk, and accomplished way more than Edwards, and I say that as someone who completely buys into the notion that plaintiff's lawyers really do fight for victims rights, and work for greater economic justice. Edwards, I'm afraid, for all that I believe in his sincerity about the dislocations in American society, has a long way to go before he can seriously claim to be a genuine social crusader. I hope that the fact that he is now finished as a national candidate won't finish him as an advocate for the poor. If we don't see him swinging a hammer for Habitat sometime soon in the coming months we'll have our answer.

And speaking of former VP candidates, although Holy Joe makes a certain amount of sense as a McCain pick, I don't think it will happen. McCain might well ask; his other choices all seem pretty unpalatable, for one reason or another. You have to wonder who McCain's friends are, don't you? Kerry liked him well enough, but who else does? Lieberman seems like he'd be a natural, but Lieberman is just for Lieberman, and he knows that it'd be curtains for him if he jumped ship and lost. He has no interest in being a member of the minority party; and the Democrats, even though they are spineless curs, wouldn't invite him to their reindeer games any more. Lieberman probably thinks of himself as a good pick for Secretary of State, but he'll keep the GOP at arm's length until after the election.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats. Pop culture iconography that's right in my wheelhouse, Dean Martin to Tom Verlaine; Lauren Bacall to Jean Seberg. Catherine Deneuve to John Coltrane. Categories: They Were Collaborators. The Cool Hall of Fame. Jesters of the Republic. Adventures in the National Pastime. They Were an Item. More.

Addictive, like a pile of old Life magazines, only better.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

As Teresa Nielsen Hayden put it, "I hate it when the government makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist." Even so, I will confess that I have long harbored the notion that the anthrax letters were a Bush Administration scheme to provoke a war against Iraq-- and then the planes hit. By that time the anthrax plan was in motion, so they went with it. The targets were journalists and Democrats, and the WMD pretext was one that they obviously had in mind. I reckoned from the day that the son of a bitch was sworn in that we'd see an attack on Baghdad. Hell, Saddam tried to kill his daddy, you know. The problem with a notion like that is that it gets stuck in your mind like a caraway seed between your teeth. Maybe Bruce Ivins really was batshit crazy. Maybe that's a set-up too, designed to wrap up the case. Another law enforcement triumph from the people who actually make John Ashcroft look good. Or maybe they had a batshit crazy anthrax scientist (how does that even happen?) and they manipulated him into it. Wouldn't have been hard.

See, the thing is that I think these people are pretty much capable of anything. No lie is too big, or incredible, and no breach of law gives them any hesitation. Once you've subverted the Constitution, what's left? International law? They don't even believe it exists.

And now I have to lie down with a cold compress.

Friday, August 08, 2008

It is better for plaintiff's to settle than to go to trial; it is much better for defendants to settle than to go to trial. I'd say that this is pretty consistent with the way most trial lawyers think, for a number of reasons. The economic analysis is interesting-- I'd like to see more studies like that. Bottom line: lawsuits are expensive ways of placing your economic decisions into the hands of people who don't care as much as you do.

Andrew Cuomo's role in the subprime crisis. Interesting, and I'd like to hear his response. In a nutshell, while at HUD, Cuomo set housing goals that pushed Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac into the subprime market, then rejected rules which would have imposed more stringent reporting requirements. Good reporting, but that's what you'd expect from Wayne Barrett.

I yield to no one in my admiration for Mario Cuomo, but Andy has always impressed me as being too calculating by half. In a way this is a story about good intentions gone awry, although Barrett makes it clear that he thinks Andy's political machinations (and aspirations) are implicated here. It is a mistake, I think, to lay this disaster entirely at Cuomo's feet-- the Bush Administration has had nearly eight years to correct for the changes in the economy that it brought about, and certainly the basic assumptions underlying HUD's policies during Cuomo's tenure changed during that period. Alphonso Roy Jackson (I had to look it up) had time to make adjustments, and I also wonder where the Senate oversight was. (Oh snap. Chuck Schumer chairs that subcommittee.)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Dystopic Earths of Heinlein’s Juveniles. It seems to me that in some sense most SciFi concerns itself with Dystopias. Most detective fiction is about crime and corruption. Westerns are about societies that are wild and lawless, or have wildness and lawlessness inflicted upon them. Romance novels are about societies that are repressive and make True Love impossible.

And it isn't just genre fiction. What's "The Corrections" about? It is a novel about contemporary society where everyone is unhappy. That's Updike, and Cheever, and Hemingway, and everybody else I can think of off the top of my head. There are only two stories, right? A man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

If for no other reason than to be publicly wrong, I'm going to say that my hunch is that Evan Bayh will be standing on a platform next to Barack Obama when the VP announcement is made. He's not necessarily who I'd pick-- as an old Birch Bayh hand I've followed Evan's positions over his career with some disappointment, although I agree with Scott Lemieux that context is important. "There is no senator more liberal than Bayh in any state more conservative than Indiana," and I guess that should count for something.
Bayh's presence on the ticket adds executive experience and deep Washington connections. I think Indiana could tip-- five of its congressional districts are presently represented by Democrats. I'd rate it a state worth contesting. I also think it's worth noting that Bayh's presence on the ticket would be an olive branch extended to the Clinton wing of the party, and he would help make sell the ticket to the Midwest as a whole, I think. He's not a very exciting pick, but there don't seem to be any exciting picks out there, and in any event it's Obama's job to bring the excitement.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Scrolling around the other night I came upon "The Benny Goodman Story", which I'd never seen. It was late, but I got sucked in by the credits, which promised that a lot of Goodman's cronies would be appearing, and then because John Hammond was a prominent character. I'd forgotten that Goodman was Hammond's brother-in-law, which is awesomely cool. Hammond is a thread that runs through jazz and the blues to Dylan and Springsteen (among many, many others). He'd be an excellent subject for a movie bio. So would Benny Goodman, actually. Although "The Benny Goodman Story" got the music right, and even made a couple of interesting points about the way popular music was distributed back then, the movie failed to point out that Goodman was an important racial pioneer, even as it was making a schmaltzy point about Goodman's Jewish mother and his shiska future wife. On the other hand, the musicians promised in the credits delivered. Teddy Wilson was prominent throughout, as were Gene Krupa, Buck Clayton and Lionel Hampton. Stan Getz is supposed to be in there, but I didn't spot him. They all got to play, and they frequently got to play entire numbers, which made the stuff in between (the "plot" for want of a better word) seem like annoying filler. Steve Allen seems to have been cast by reason of a superficial resemblance to Goodman which was apparently mostly that they both wore glasses. I guess glasses were a defining facial feature in the 30's, which explains how Clark Kent fooled Lois for so long. Allen was a capable piano player, and was therefore musician enough to mime the clarinet bits, which were dubbed Goodman, natch. Unfortunately, air clarinet, and a bit of business putting the cap on over the instrument's mouthpiece was about the limit of Allen's ability to act the Goodman role. Goodman was, to put it kindly, a reserved personality (except to the extent that he was not an utter martinet), so the blame can't all fall on Allen, but it is still peculiar to see a stand-in among the actual artists, and it's too bad that they didn't just make a straight documentary.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

A bit of trivia that's being trotted out quite a bit lately is that only three US Presidents have been sitting Senators when elected. The last one was JFK, and I sat down with a pencil the other night to try and figure out who the other two were. The first order of business was to list them. I was able to go as far back as Harding, but I couldn't recall how he had come to the nomination, apart from knowing that he'd been nominated in a backroom deal at a brokered convention. Turns out he's one of our senators; the other was James A. Garfield, who the Ohio Legislature had appointed, but who was nominated as the Republican candidate for President before actually taking office as a senator. Benjamen Harrison was a sitting Senator too (the Hoosier State was big stuff in Presidential politics back then), so I guess Garfield isn't included in the tally on a technicality.

It's funny that this is the case. Every Senator is said to look in the mirror in the morning and say, "You could be the next President", and the institution itself is said to be "the most exclusive club in the world", but evidently it's not the best path to the top job. Being Vice President is a good move, and being VP for someone old, or bullet-prone is a very canny move. Perhaps the former is what Mittens is banking on -- I still think his LDS pedigree would be a deal-breaker for too many of what would otherwise be his base for him to get there any other way. Time was being in someone's Cabinet was a good move, but Hoover was the last guy that worked for.

I'd say that the National Governors Association is a more exclusive club than the Senate-- there are only 50 members of that, and being a governor is a much better way into the Oval Office than the Senate. David Broder quotes the late James H. Rowe Jr. as telling him once that if he could he'd amend the Constitution to provide "No senator of the United States shall be eligible for the office of president," because "Senators don't know how to run anything. Their staffs have to tell them what to do. They walk around with little slips of paper in their pocket saying, 'Call so-and-so,' or 'Remember to talk to so-and-so.'"

Friday, August 01, 2008

Over the past few months I have been doing a bit of formal Dylanology, and I expect that the fruits of this will see publication before the year is out. For the project I conducted a survey of the commercially available live Dylan sides, and concluded, inter alia, that the interesting re-working of his material that he has been doing in recent years is unfortunately under-represented. It now seems that this omission is about to be addressed: the next Dylan release will be Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006. Although three alternate versions of "Mississippi" seems like a lot there's quite a bit on this set that looks mighty interesting. The live "Cold Irons Bound" dates from the tour I saw him on a couple a years ago: the song gave me chills then.

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