Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Some years back I got my brother a set of Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt's Oblique Strategies, a deck of cards that are meant to be used when making creative decisions. (Must have been 1988, because it is a first edition.) The set didn't make it to the Antipodes, and now resides on a bookshelf in my house. I should probably put it under lock and key-- the fourth edition is presently going for $185 bucks on ebay, and the current edition is £30 quid at Eno's online store. I should incorporate more of them into my life.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Interesting piece on why the judge in the Madoff case settled on a 150 year stretch for his sentence. In general I am of the view that US sentencing laws are far too severe-- they've got similar goons, goofs, gonifs and skels in Western Europe and a ten year stretch is considered pretty unusual there for even the worst crimes. Japan is pretty tough-- and the Japanese are even harsher on capital cases. They don't tell the condemned prisoner when it is coming, they just show up one day. China tends not to favor long sentences, but that's because the list of capital crimes is like that Far Side cartoon about veterinary treatment for horses: Shoot Him. Shoot Him. Shoot Him. Of course the Middle East is also not inclined to waste a lot of time supporting incarcerated people, although they show a great deal of variety in the forms of execution favored for each crime. 150 years for Bernie? Speaking as a Mets fan I'd say that's about right.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

One of our activities while everyone was in town for the LCA celebration was to visit the Albright-Knox. We are regulars there, but this was the first I knew that there is a cellphone audio tour. In its introduction it mentions that the average museum visitor spends less than five seconds looking at each work, and I know that I frequently breeze by stuff that I should look at more closely. Of course, a lot of the stuff at the Albright is worn smooth by my looking at it, but that makes things like the audio tour-- and the special exhibit of Calder, Miro and Arp works from the collection presently on display-- a great enhancement of the overall experience. The Calder, Miro and Arp exhibit is mainly stuff that is not usually on display, and you can see why. Some of it is ephemera: works on paper, studies for larger works, that sort of thing. It is nice to have it for scholarly reasons, and for special exhibits like this, but the major works in the collection for each of these artists are usually on view.

The great thing about the audio tour is that it forces you to slow down. Sometimes there is very little that is new conveyed in the commentary, and sometimes there is a detail or a bit of trivia which snaps the entire work into a new context. I like it when that happens.

I was thinking about this in the context of the gallery's big Jackson Pollack, "Convergence" which is one of my absolute favorite things anywhere. I always spend time in front of it, walking up, walking back, looking at the aging canvas and the dense layers of paint. What I love about it is maybe the least obvious thing about it, which is that it is so composed even though it doesn't appear to be. It reminds me of "Mingus Ah Hum", or the early work of Ornette Coleman, chaotic but with purpose and structure that becomes apparent as you become familiar with the work.

Monday, June 27, 2011

It seems to have gone unremarked upon, at least so far, but the federal magistrate presiding over the prosecution of my friend Lawrence Brose has found that the indictment was defective and recommended that it be dismissed. I mention it even though it may not be the end of the matter mostly to make a point about how easy it is to pile on when charges are brought, and how quiet things get when the meat grinder that is the criminal justice system produces a result that runs contrary to expectations. I wish I could say that this shows that the system works, but of course that is only true in the most technical sense. The National Center for Reason and Justice has taken up Lawrence's cause, and his legal defense fund is here.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A whirlwind past few days, and now calm. My parents, sister and Mr. & Mrs. Smart were in town for LCA's high school commencement and recital (setlist on request-- she was terrific), then yesterday up at dawn to take MJA to the train station, bound for home, and CLA to the airport, bound for her summer gig in Boston. Then back home to take Mr. & Mrs. Smart to the airport and LCA to Lowville, NY where she will be working as a prep chef at a camp for the summer. Whew.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I am very pleased that New York has enacted marriage equality, and likewise pleased that our state senator, Mark Grisanti, thought about the issue and voted like a lawyer. My hope is that he will come back to the Democratic Party if he gets flack. We can always use political courage.

I am somewhat nonplussed that the New York State Senate Majority Leader is taking the position that it was a grand thing to allow the bill to come to the floor for a vote. Isn't that what legislatures are supposed to do? A quibble in the face of this historic triumph for civil rights, and an interesting moment for New York Republicans. It is also an interesting moment to think about Andrew Cuomo, who Nate Silver is comparing to Lyndon Johnson. It is interesting and notable that the story of how Cuomo armtwisted this into law is so public.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The marriage equality legislative struggle is interesting for a lot of reasons that go beyond the civil rights issue, and the shift in social perception. Watching it play out I can't help but marvel at what it shows us about the way New York State is governed. There are several things going on here. First there is the fact that the senate majority leader is digging in his heels and refusing-- so far-- to allow the bill to come to the floor for a vote. That's business as usual in Albany, and in Washington for that matter. When Democrats do it Republicans howl, but Democrats apparently lack the gene for righteous indignation. There is also the fact that the Republican senators who are contemplating voting in favor of the legislation are being told outright that if they do they will face a primary. This is, of course, notable because New York State Legislators are effectively voted in for life. Unless one resigns, or is convicted of a particularly heinous felony they leave feet first. Part of this is the incumbent advantage, but a bigger part is pure party discipline. The districts are drawn to make seats safe, and the party (both parties) discourage primaries. People wait their turns, and members don't break ranks. This is, of course, profoundly undemocratic, but nobody said that democracy was the point, did they?

The other point is the effect of New York's fusion politics on the behavior of the legislators. The Conservative Party has announced that it will not endorse senators that vote in favor of this bill, and that has a lot of these characters cowering, including, I suspect, my senator, Mark Grisanti. Grisanti was a Democrat, but he ran with the endorsement of the Republican Party, cross-endorsed by the Conservatives. He caucuses with the Republicans, which makes him a Republican, but he can't feel too secure in that role. If he were to be primaried he'd have a tough race. Even if the Democratic Party decided to endorse him (which it might) without the Conservative endorsement he'd have a tough road. It would be pretty to think that he'd cast a principled vote without regard to his future electability, but that isn't very realistic. There are, I'm sure, a fairly sizable number of senators who are doing similar math.

Finally, there is the way the legislature does business. This is old news, but it recent years it has mostly come up in the context of the state budget, which is boring and technical, and difficult for most people to follow. Marriage equality is a social issue, and therefore more engaging. So how does the New York State Legislature come to terms with this issue? The assumption made by courts when analyzing a law is that the legislature made findings, and that the statute in question is based on those findings. Typically the findings are contained in the language introducing the bill, and are based on hearings conducted by the appropriate legislative committee, but that doesn't seem to be how it works in NewYork. Things are referred to committee, then they come out of committee based on what the party leadership wants to push. It is possible that there are hearings, but this must be pretty rare-- I've never heard of it happening. It sure as heck doesn't seem to have happened on the issue of marriage equality. We've seen interviews in which the Archbishop of Brooklyn has said that marriage equality would lead to people marrying their pets (nice job, Catholic Church. You stay classy.), but we haven't had anybody raising their hand and testifying about the issue in front of any Assembly or Senate committees. That doesn't seem to be how business gets done. This session I wrote two reports for the New York State Bar Association's CPLR Committee opposing legislation. The NYSBA is a pretty influential group, and when it gives the thumbs down that seems to carry some weight, but apparently the way it goes about giving the thumbs down is by buttonholing key members and telling them that a proposed bill is "disapproved". It does not seem to be a very transparent process. As it happens I think that the work the Bar Association does is important and carefully thought out, but I'm sure that most people don't care about most of it. Marriage equality, on the other hand, is something that the majority of New Yorkers favor. It is, I think, good social policy. The Court of Appeals has held that validly performed same sex marriages are recognized by New York, which means that the current state of the law favors out-of-state marriages over those performed in New York. That is an inconsistency which ought to be fixed. The California litigation over Prop. 8 produced a significant record establishing that marriage equality makes good sense, but that isn't in the discussion in Albany right now. The process that this bill is being subject to is, if anything, more opaque than the process by which the CPLR is amended, and that is nuts.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

So our security system got it into its head to malfunction at around midnight last night. It started beeping, so I went down stairs to the main box, entered the passcode, pushed Reset, then went back to bed. then it went off again. then it went off again, so I stayed downstairs on the couch. It went off at irregular intervals for the rest of the night. Sometimes I had just enough time to fade into twilight sleep, sometimes it went off as soon as I lay down. It was like a kind of endurance challenge, or like having a colic-y robot baby.

Monday, June 20, 2011

LCA departs for her summer job Saturday; she will return just in time to shower and hit the road for Smith. This means that college shopping has been telescoped, so on Saturday we took a roadtrip to Ikea. On the ride up we saw that there is a Costco en route. A. is powerless before Costco, and we had a lot of Costco requirements for the coming week, so we stopped there on the way back. Most of our purchases were pretty unremarkable. We had a border to cross, so the bag of limes and lemons went back on the shelf, but the flat of pomegranates seemed safe, as too the mangoes.

I am always tempted to beat the system at the border, because I resent the intrusion, but I never do. Mostly this is because A. chimes in, and the daughters cannot be depended upon to prevaricate convincingly, but there is also an element of let's-get over-this-quickly to my border-crossing honesty. We pulled up to the booth with the receipts in hand, and the Customs guy had a look. "Agriculture is going to have to have a look at this," he said, then put our passports in a zippered portfolio, waived another guy over to take it, then directed us to the low building on the side. We were met by another Customs guy who told us to have a seat.

Now, you can call this whatever you like, but as far as I'm concerned we were in custody. We didn't have our passports, so we couldn't get back into Canada or into the US. We were not free to go, which I reckon is the best practical definition of being under arrest that there is. Even though the was genial and pleasant, he had my car keys, and he impounded my pomegranates and mangoes. This was not cool. As it happens A has a partner with a cottage just down the road, so we told the Customs guy that we wanted our friends to have the produce. "I'll have to give you a note for Canadian Customs," he said, then filled out a form. In the space the said "Reason Admission Denied" he printed "Fruits", which seemed a little value-laden to me.

Addendum: CLA's account is here.

Some bands break up; some bands fade away. The E-Street Band always had an exuberant everyman quality, and now it seems like it is coming to an end the way everyone does, with age and illness and death. Few musicians are more associated with youth and exuberance than Bruce Springsteen and his collaborators; for a long time he's been writing about mortality, and now it is catching up with them. Clarence Clemons was central to both the sound and the mythos, and he has left a Clarence Clemons sized hole behind. It always seemed to me that Danny Federici had a bigger influence on the composition of Springsteen's songs than has been generally acknowledged, but the loss of Clemons really feels like the end. Bruce will keep playing, and so will the other survivors, but it isn't going to feel quite the same again for anyone, us included.

There's no shortage of Clemons tributes, but "No one else could have made 'Rosalita' sound like the band was keeping up with him instead of the other way around—he's there at every hairpin turn. Structurally, 'Born to Run' is completely different: Clarence leaps in, solo space clearly delineated to him, and he makes everything he can of it. He played sax the way Prince plays guitar: generously, using all the tricks he can pull out for their sheer entertainment value, yet you don't question his sincerity for a second."

Friday, June 17, 2011

A list of "essential" Long Island albums. Naturally someone in the comments bemoans the absence of the Good Rats; I was merely relieved that they weren't on it. I'd have put the Youngbloods on there somewhere.

What would be on the "essential" Buffalo list, I wonder? Willie Nile's Golden Down I suppose, just because we were talking about it the other day. Something or other by Ani DiFranco, and the GooGoo Dolls, but I'm not the guy to consult on those. Rick James' Street Songs

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I wish I could spend part of Bloomsday watching Willie Nile, but I have other commitments.

By the way, congratulations to Stu Gotz for his winning contribution to our caption contest. Stu proposes:
"Even after all the revelations and scandals, Clinton apparently still had a skeleton or two in his closet."

You can claim your prize at the front desk.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

To Blue Öyster Cult at ArtPark yesterday, and my summer will have to be pretty great to top that afternoon into evening.

The free shows at ArtPark are set up at the top of the hill. If one is so inclined there is 'prefered seating' in the infield, but otherwise people set up lawn chairs on the side of the hill, and that's what we did. Captain X, well familiar with the scene, had us arrive early, so we were there for the sound check. I love sound check, even when it is just the drum tech pounding, and a roadie saying "check, check", but this was pretty elaborate, and it gradually dawned on me that these guys were going through some pretty specific runs. The infield had a group of early arrivals hanging on the fence in front of the stage, and a little buzz was building. A guy with a guitar walked out from behind the Marshal stack and started running through some effects. We were too far away to make out faces, but it looked to me like it was Buck Dharma. They noodled around for a little, then someone in front must have said something, because, after a false start they started playing "This Ain't the Summer of Love". They jammed on it for about ten minutes, then Buck said, "Any other requests?" Someone shouted something, Buck said, "Yeah, we could play that," and they kicked into "Harvest Moon".

Now, here's the part where I confess. "This Ain't the Summer of Love" is the lead track from "Agents of Fortune", which is the side with "Don't Fear the Reaper", so it doesn't really qualify as an obscurity. Back in the vinyl days if anyone had a BÖC album "Agents" was probably the one they owned, and Side One was probably the side that got played the most. "Harvest Moon" on on the other hand-- that's a cut from "Heaven Forbid", a 1998 release. I had to look it up-- but I recognized the song. The truth is that I'm a much more serious fan of BÖC than I've ever admitted. Sure, they are Long Island boys, (with upstate roots) and yeah, they are the thinking man's metal. Some of me wants to chalk it off to Jones Beach nostalgia, but I just can't do it. These guys have a deep catalog, they can really play, and they enjoy doing it. They can improvise, and they can call an audible mid set to play something unplanned. When they came back on after the opener to play their set they played the hits, but they also made a point of playing a fair amount of stuff that only a fan would know, and I knew 'em all, pretty much. I feel like I should get a tattoo. For the most part this is about as far as rock and roll gets from the blues unless Rick Wakeman is involved, but the blues are in there-- it's seventies suburbs blues, wasted in your parents' basement watching Japanese SciFi blues.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Over the course of the weekend and today I've been participating in an interesting CPLR related debate over expert witness bias. One of the participants just rolled out a list of experts-- doctors and otherwise-- whose been held by Courts as a matter of law to have stated opinions that were conclusory, without foundation in facts, evidence or science. He got as far as the "B"s. What is amazing to me is how many were familiar to me. Some I've used, some I've cross-examined, and a few I've just heard of. Damn, it's been a long road.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I'm not sure where I am with Bill Simmons' Grantland yet. Hate the name, which sounds like a a farm for graduate students. I wish I could say that I don't like Simmons, but the fact that I pretty much always at least skim his stuff, even when it is about the NBA, pretty much belies that. I'm not sure I know what the mission of the site is supposed to be: is it a more literary

All that said, the features on The National-- and especially Charley Pierce's article-- make me want to hope for the best. The National was plain old terrific, and really has never been matched. That story about going to a Cubs game with Bill Murray? That's stayed with me to this day. Their Pete Rose gambling coverage was the best anyone could have hoped for-- fair, comprehensive, well-documented and relentless. The PED coverage was likewise better than anyone has managed since.

Charley Pierce has made no secret about his feelings towards Simmons, and Simmons has responded in kind. The fact that Pierce is on board with Grantland strongly suggests that Simmons may be onto something. Wouldn't that be interesting?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Caption Contest!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

One of my favorite law school classes was Phil Halpern's Criminal Procedure. A smallish group of first year, second semester students took it-- it was really an upper division course, and we were all warned that the material was demanding, and that the workload was going to be intense, but we went for it anyway. Most classes at UB back then were three credit hours, but this was four. The reading was demanding, and Professor Halpern showed no quarter. He's a big guy-- we used to see him using the card catalog in the library, where he'd pull out the drawer and put it on top of the cabinet to riff through it. He has a deep, resonant voice, and he was very, very Socratic. We were all in absolute awe, and killed ourselves trying to keep up. (When he wanted a quick right answer he'd call on our friend Paula Lynch-- now Chief Administrative Justice for the Eighth Judicial Department Paula Feroleto.)

Crim Pro is, basically, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment jurisprudence. It's a lot of ground to cover, and we rode at a gallop for the whole term. It's stuff that has stayed with me, which is a tribute to Professor Halpern. I can't say that I have pet cases from every course I took in law school, but the Crim Pro stuff was thrilling. One of the decisions I have always had a warm spot for is Mapp v. Ohio, which held that the same exclusionary rules that federal Fourth Amendment jurisprudence required were also binding on state law enforcement. The local heat entered Dollree Mapp's house looking for a criminal suspect, and while they were there they found porn (!). It seemed a shame to not arrest her for it, so that's what they did. I had not realized that the case found its way to the Supreme Court on a First Amendment theory, but that's the story. Justice Tom Clark saw the case as an opportunity to make Fourth Amendment law consistent, explaining that "a federal prosecutor may make no use of evidence illegally seized, but a state's attorney across the street may, although he supposedly is operating under the enforceable prohibitions of the same Amendment." Alexander Wohl has a good piece on the decision, its background, and the attacks on it, past and present.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Chili-Spiked Chocolate Ice Cream. Yeah, that could work....

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Catwoman scholarship.

Friday, June 03, 2011

I don't see the point of prosecuting John Edwards, but then again there is little that I understand about this. Why, for example, did he have third parties pay his mistress and his catspaw? Edwards is loaded-- couldn't he have dipped into his own pocket? Philandering is one thing, but being a stupid philanderer is another altogether. Being a stupid, cheap philanderer who thought it would be excellent to run for President also not cool.

The argument seems to be that Edwards' campaign would have been toast if Hunter had gone public, so the money paid to keep her quiet was therefore money spent to further his campaign which means it was a campaign contribution. Doesn't that seem strained? And here's another thing-- why would he have brought other people into this web? Doesn't he know the first rule of secrets? It sure as hell isn't "The more the merrier."

Thursday, June 02, 2011

It acts like a virus, but McAfee assures me I'm clean: when I click on a link from a Google search I'm highjacked to something else. Extremely vexing, even though it isn't porn.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Via the Tor Blog, the first in a series called Genre in the Mainstream discusses Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s relationship to science fiction. Oddly, it is probably the science fiction crowd that would have problems with having Vonnegut, rather than the mainstream bunch, although he was nominated for three Hugo Awards. Looking at the books on the Hugo lists for those years is interesting: In 1960 Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein won; also nominated were Dorsai! by Gordon R. Dickson, The Pirates of Ersatz by Murray Leinster,That Sweet Little Old Lady by Mark Phillips and The Sirens of Titan

In 1964 Here Gather the Stars (alt: Way Station) by Clifford D. Simak won. Also nominated were Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein, Witch World by Andre Norton, Dune World by Frank Herbert, and Cat’s Cradle.

Finally, in 1970 Slaughterhouse Five lost to The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. Also nominated that year: Up the Line by Robert Silverberg, Macroscope by Piers Anthony, and Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad. (The awards presentation that year was in Heidelberg, and I wonder if Vonnegut went. I wonder if he had prepared remarks in the event of winning.)

The author of the Tor post suggests as a test, "that if the science fiction elements are removed and the story ceases to function, it’s probably science fiction," but I'm not so sure that this is meaningful, and am more inclined towards applying Duke Ellington's approach when he was asked to define jazz. For the Duke there were two kinds of music: good music and everything else. That seems like a fair way to think about this issue as well. If the test is whether the story has to have a rocket or time travel or something than the chances are that it is not a very interesting story. What makes Starship Troopers an enduring work, for example is not the fact that Earth is at war with extraterrestrials: it is the book's descriptions of basic training, and the discussions about the obligations of citizenship. You could take out all the high-tech weaponry and it would be closer to The Naked and the Dead than to anything else. (It would not be as good as The Naked and the Dead, but it might be as good as, maybe, The Winds of War.)

The question of whether something is genre fiction is really a kind of ghettoization issue. The Tor author incorrectly reports that Cat's Cradle lost to A Canticle for Leibowitz, which actually won in 1961, but if that were true would it have seemed an injustice? It's been a long time since I've read Leibowitz, but I recall it as being a lot better turned out than The Foundation series, with which it shares a great deal. Come to think of it, what's the difference between Leibowitz and The Road, which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize? I think the real issue here is that Vonnegut was and may still be poorly understood, but that's our problem, not a problem with his work.

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