Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, September 28, 2012

To the Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Town Ballroom last night, capping off a pretty sweet run of live music over the past few weeks. We've missed the Chocolate Drops several times in the past, most recently last Sunday, when they were the closing act at the Freshgrass Festival. (It's good that we finally caught up with them too, because singer and fiddler Rhiannon Giddens looked to be about nine months pregnant, and it may be a little while before they tour again.) We knew more or less what to expect: string band music from the Piedmont region. What impressed me, however, apart from the cheerful virtuosity they displayed, was the fact that they completely owned this controversial music, without irony or anger. This is the stuff that minstrelsy derives from, arguably the first great cultural appropriation America was guilty of, but the Chocolate Drops choose to treat their music as purely American music, without dwelling on the ugliness of the blackface tradition. By treating the music respectfully they restore its happiness, I think, and make it possible to hear the joy that was in the hearts of its creators and early listeners. Sadly, we were impressed by the way the audience seemed to focus more on the down-home quality of the source material rather than its historical roots-- there is something very weird happening when the band tells you that a song was written in 1857 and that information is greeted with a loud "Woooo!" Who'd have guessed that there was so much excitement about the James Buchanan administration these days? (Ms. Giddens gently chided the audience on that point-- "Those were not the good old days for anyone like the people on this stage," and also, later, asked that people stop hollering out requests: "We've put together a set list for you. It's something that we do carefully, and we aren't going to change it." Right on,Rhiannon Giddens.) I should add that the Chocolate Drops do not limit themselves to period music. Perhaps the most beautiful song of the evening was a contemporary piece: "Leaving Eden", by Laurelyn Dosset.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I don't recall when I went on my tear through John D. McDonald's Travis McGee novels-- it was certainly over 20 years ago, and maybe more than that. I'm pretty sure I read most of them, but it is hard to tell by going over the list: one of the gimmicks was that they all had a color in the title, which would have been good branding as they came out, but now makes most of them sound more or less interchangeable. "Cinnamon Skin" is a distinctive title; "A Tan and Sandy Silence" not so much. At some point I decided that although the series was surprisingly progressive in some ways-- McDonald seems to have been an environmentalist of sorts-- it was also disturbingly misogynistic. I unloaded most of the books somewhere, and haven't really thought about Travis McGee in years. The other night though I was looking for something pulpy to lull myself to sleep and my hand fell upon "A Purple Place for Dying". Wikipedia says that it was the third book in the series, and that the first three were published one a month from March to May of 1964. Even though we don't know how it long it took to write them, that's an impressive pace. The set-up was pretty well established by the time McDonald got to this one: someone has lost something they want McGee to recover. His deal is that he will attempt to recover whatever it is, for 50% of its value. I can't recall if the person who hires him is always a woman, but in all of the McGee novels I can recall there is always a woman who McGee feels is in need of emotional repair. In a way that is striking all of the women in these books are evaluated by McGee in terms of how sexually attractive he finds them, although he doesn't have sex with all of them. A fair number of people die in these books, and a disproportionate number of them are women. This upsets McGee, although, unfortunately, he usually expresses this displeasure by pronouncing the death "a waste".

McGee's usual drink is a kind of martini that he makes by rinsing a chilled glass with sherry, which he dumps out,  then pours in Plymouth gin, but in "Purple" he drinks bourbon. At one point a character praises his taste in bourbon, but the brand is not mentioned. I have a feeling that once McGee switched  to martinis there was always plenty of Plymouth around in the McDonald household.  It is not uncommon for the women in these books to be involved with men that are older than they are-- this is convenient, because McGee is always older than the women are. In "Purple Place" the older husband is 58, and talks about how someday, when he is dead, his wife will have all his money. Since this codger is only three years older than I am I found this line of talk unrealistic, but I suppose in 1964 men in their mid-fifties were much older than me. In the earlier books McGee is a lone wolf, but later he has a sidekick, and still later some of the women that he has helped out in the earlier books appear as supporting characters. Usually they are still extremely attractive, and usually they have married. They do not seem to have gone on to careers, and sometimes they are brutally murdered. This makes McGee sad. Even though he is no longer having sex with these women it is a waste, because now nobody is.

For all that the books are well-plotted puzzles, with bad guys who are very bad and deserve everything they have coming. I guess my problem is that they date badly.  McDonald seems to have aspired to write something more literary than "Kiss Me Deadly"but what we are left with here in the 21st Century is a shelf of novels that have lapels like 1973.

Monday, September 24, 2012

To the FreshGrass Festival at Mass MoCa over the weekend, a pleasant fall excursion featuring interesting art, delicious food, happy music, and New England scenery. The festival commenced with the premier of The Porchlight Sessions, a fine documentary by Anna Schwaber about this distinctively American art form. In some ways, I think, bluegrass is to country as jazz is to blues: improvisational music built on a traditional foundation. Both look back to rural life, but are urban and urbane forms. Both inspire debate about what defines each-- one of the big topics in the movie. It is a complicated issue for both jazz and bluegrass but it is a particularly vexed question for the latter. Unlike calculus and rock and roll bluegrass has a single father, and Bill Monroe had very particular notions about what his music sounded like. It has expanded nevertheless, and we got to see some of the artists that have worked to enlarge the vision of what bluegrass is: Bill Evans, David Grisman, The Infamous Stringdusters....

At heart this is an un-ironic, exuberant music, which means that a festival full of it is bound to be a happy time, and this certainly was. It helped that the space at Mass MoCa is so quirky and engaging. Something about that space seems to encourage the artists who are invited to create and exhibit there. The piece pictured at right is part of an installation by Stanford Biggers called The Cartographer's Conundrum, and we found ourselves taken with an exhibit called Oh, Canada as well. Canada-- itself an exuberant, un-ironic place was a good fit with the music. Also good, lobster sliders.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

To Nick Lowe at Babeville last night, a terrific venue for a performer who is one of my all-time favorite songwriters. (He liked the venue himself, commenting that in the UK they have the Royal Albert Hall or "the Dog and Duck" with nothing in between.) All of those English rockers started out by listening to American music. Keith and Mick became friends when Keith saw that Mick was carrying a Howlin' Wolf record he hadn't heard. John Lennon loved Chuck Berry; Paul was into Buck Owens. Nick Lowe, I think, had a lot of Buddy Holly and Everly Brothers recordings, and in his mind's eye I'm sure he's at least Carl Perkins, and maybe Elvis.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Is the 47% the end of Mittens campaign? Probably not: the world is full of chumps, and as Lance Mannion points out there are plenty of people who will vote Republican because they want to identify with rich people, even though they are not and never will be rich themselves. This sort of magical thinking is, I think, why a lot of people buy lottery tickets. On the other hand, have a look at the map to the right, which shows the states with the highest and lowest percentage of people who don’t file income tax returns. From a purely political science perspective I think we can say that this episode has probably edged Florida (29 electoral votes) into the Blue Zone. Mittens has already written off Michigan (16) and Pennsylvania (20). Call it a hunch, but I think Ohio (18) is going Obama. That's 83 electoral votes. Romney will probably swing Indiana (11) and Missouri (10) back into the Red column, although neither is a lock: Todd Akin on the ballot in the latter has gotta motivate some Democratic voters, and Indiana might realize that the automobile industry is an important part of its economy. I think Obama may have the ground game to carry North Carolina (15)-- that's why they had the convention there, after all. Nevada (6) is almost certainly Blue. My point is that even though this had the look of a close race, I'm not sure where Romney expects to gain ground. McCain's campaign was incompetent: I think McCain's strategy was to rely on his perceived charisma. Romney, I think, has thought that being a technocrat would carry the day, but he hasn't run as a capable manager-- he has been busily demonstrating that he is anything but. I'm not sure what he will look like in the debates. I have a hunch that he will look like the Audio-Animatronic character that stood on the podium during the Republican debates. That's unlikely to motivate anyone.

Monday, September 17, 2012

It is pretty well established at this point that the vice presidential nominee does little to nothing to help the ticket. It's a sideshow basically. Sarah Palin showed us that John McCain was prone to making decisions without really thinking them through. Darth Cheney demonstrated that Bush was a lazy thinker, prone to influence. I'm not sure what we learned about John Kerry after he picked John Edwards, but here's my point: Paul Ryan makes no difference. He isn't going to put Mittens over the top, and if we are super lucky he will lose his congressional seat too. All Ryan shows us is that (a)Mittens has no regard for the truth. The truth is as mailable as Mitt wants it to be, and Ryun's mendacity is irrelevant to him; and (b) even Mittens knows that the conservative wing of his party (which is, let's face it, the whole, entire party) hates him. He over-compensated with Ryan, but it isn't going to help.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Everything Frank Gaglione did he did with verve and swagger, and sometimes the fact that he was a damn fine lawyer was overlooked because he lawyered with the sort of style and elan that few of us in this glamor profession ever acquire. He died too young, but I feel sure that he enjoyed pretty much all of the time he had.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We were about to start a trial in which we represented two young women who had been sexually abused while in foster care. Neither had a fixed address or contact number, so we set out to look for them, driving around on Buffalo's East Side. We listened to NPR, and so kept up with what was going on, more or less, to the extent that anyone could say what was going on. The streets of the East Side, which is a poverty-racked neighborhood, are always full of people sitting on their stoops, or going about whatever business they have, and on that day, naturally, there were people who were gathered in little knots talking about what had happened. We handed out cards and asked people to have the women call us if they saw either of them. Everyone in the neighborhood knows everyone else, and they all knew our clients, but our presence their seemed to jar them. For the most part white people are seldom seen on most of those streets unless they are cops, and although we were pretty obviously not cops that still left open the question of what exactly we were, and why we were looking for two of their own. Later we thought-- along with about a million others-- that perhaps we could give blood. We went to the Red Cross, but it was closed. Months later we learned that, of course, there was no need for blood, and that most of the blood that had been collected that day had been disposed of.

Editing Norman Mailer.

Monday, September 10, 2012

To the Niagara Falls Blues Festival Saturday, an entertaining excursion. Niagara Falls is 20 or so miles away from Buffalo, but there is surprisingly little intercourse between the two cities, and the denizens of the Falls are remarkably different from Erie County folk. People from Niagara county are mostly seen at Sabres games, I think, and people from Buffalo rarely venture past North Tonawanda. It's a mystery. We went to see James Cotton, who was the headliner, but got there good and early, anticipating a Buffalo sized crowd. WNY has always been a good audience for the Blues, and it is a good bet that this line-up at the Harbor would have drawn a much larger crowd. As it was the audience was several thousand enthusiasts. We arrived just as the Forty Fours, a tight little outfit from LA with a more or less Texas sound were taking the stage. They were followed by John Primer, a Chicago blues man who showed how it is done. Go see this guy. He set the bar so high for the rest of the evening that there was really no point in staying, although we did. The Nighthawks followed, and although they were a capable outfit they were also pretty pale compared to Primer, in every sense. The Hawks stayed on stage for the rest of the night, first backing Donnie Walsh (Canadian), and then featuring a turn on "Crossroads" featuring a 14 year old lighting boy from Rochester, Jon Dretto. The kid looks like a downy duck, but holy smokes he can play. He cut heads with the guitarist from the Nighthawks, a pyrotechnic display that but for Primer would have been the highlight of the evening. Sadly, Cotton is a wreck. A bout with throat cancer has left him unable to sing (or talk much really), and he needed help to get to his chair on stage. It looks like he has vision problems, and not the cool blind blues man vision problems-- the sad, diabetic and old kind. He can still blow, but he was easily fatigued, and although he seemed to be enjoying himself it was sad to see him like that. We left before the set was over. Even at that it was a good outing. The mayor of Niagara Falls was there, and extended the curfew, so he's cool. Niagara Falls used to fund this event with part of the money it got from the Seneca, but the Seneca aren't paying any more. (What did people think would happen with that deal? If you can't enforce it it isn't a deal, it's a scam.)

Saturday, September 08, 2012

A couple of post-convention thoughts. Someone in the New Yorker has quipped that the Republicans nominated Romney for the same reason that the Democrats nominated Kerry-- in the hope that other people would like him more than they do. Seems about right, and I have a hunch it will work out about the same. More interesting is this story from New York Magazine. Apparently Mittens is targeting eight swing states: Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and New Hampshire. For the moment Wisconsin, Michigan, or Pennsylvania are being conceded. Of course things could change, but as the article points out,
The reason this looks worrisome for Romney is that he’s pursuing an electoral-college strategy that requires him nearly to run the table of competitive states. The states where Romney is not competing (and which aren’t obviously Republican, either) add up to 247 electoral votes. The eight states where Romney is competing add up to a neat 100 electoral votes, of which Romney needs 79 and Obama just 23. If you play with the electoral possibilities, you can see that this would mean Obama could win with Florida alone or Ohio plus a small state or Virginia plus a couple small states, and so on.
The Democratic Convention was extremely focused on Ohio, and I'd bet a doughnut it end s up blue. Once word gets around about The Marathon Man's plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system Florida will look like a reach. And they had the convention in the Tarheel State specifically to help develop a ground game there.

Friday, September 07, 2012

A thought on the DNC: I haven't seen anyone else say it (yet) but it seemed like it was very swing state targeted. All that talk about saving the auto industry (true enough, and yeah, it was a tough call, and yeah, it was the right call) is as much about Ohio and Michigan as anything else. I haven't started counting on my fingers yet-- I'll leave that to Nate Silver for now-- but if the Democrats take those two it's pretty tough for Mittens to see the path through. In terms of constituencies I'd say that the appeal to women was well worth the effort-what was more interesting was that the support for gay rights in general, and marriage equality in particular-- was overt and shouted loudly. Republicans tiptoe around it by referencing "tradition". The Dems are having none of that, and it would be interesting to see the polling that lead them to conclude that this was the way to go. I think they are probably correct on this, but I'm sure that there were quite a few people who were gnashing their teeth.

Wow, it is nearly Nobel Prize time again. Ladbrokes is offering 7/1 on Haruki Murakami; the money is short on Bob Dylan too, at 10/1. I don't understand how both Cormac McCarthy and Philip Roth can be 16/1: McCarthy is too trendy, and I think someone must have it in for Roth the way they used to for Graham Greene. Wouldn't you think that this might be the year for perennial favorite Adonis? If I could work some sort of parlay, he'd be part of it, maybe with Chinua Achebe (2-/1-- a pretty good price). This doesn't feel like Margaret Atwood's year, and 50/1 sounds about right.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

I'm inclined to write at greater length about the DNC, which is mostly a pleasure to watch. I will limit myself to this: that nun was the real deal.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Good discussion of how New York practice treats the Notice to Admit in the context of Brett Favre's penis.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Persuasion is a big part of what we do in our glamor profession, and one of the least persuasive ways I know to preface an argument is to start by saying, "Webster's dictionary defines...." Not infrequently this turns into an adventure in question begging, but even if that trap is avoided this tactic betrays a lack of analytical rigor. In his review of Justice Scalia and Bryan A. Garner's Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts Outside Counsel hero Judge Richard Posner quotes the Hon. Frank Esterbrook on this tropism:
“[T]he choice among meanings [of words in statutes] must have a footing more solid than a dictionary—which is a museum of words, an historical catalog rather than a means to decode the work of legislatures.”
I'd like to know what Posner annd Esterbrook have to say about another of my pet peeves, saying that entering a word or term in Google yields x number of hits.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Paul Ryan lying about his marathon PR bugs me. Lying about running a marathon seems like the kind of thing only someone who lies automatically and compulsively would do. I suppose it doesn't rise to the level of lying about military service, but it is still disgraceful. I think we can all agree that being honest and competing within the rules are fundamental in our sport, and I think the fact that we believe that makes runners and athletes dependable, worthwhile members of society. Lying about your time is like cutting the course, or just making it up and saying you've accomplished something you haven't.

Oh, and Sarah Palin ran a marathon in three hours and fifty-nine minutes, two minutes faster than Ryan's time.

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