Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Beheadings, stonings, chopping off hands. Hideous misogyny.  Lavish financing of Sunni terrorists. Actively outlawing religions other than Islam. The world is full of horrible places, but Saudi Arabia has to be right at the top of the list, don't you think?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

New York's Legislature is pretty awful, and I don't know anyone outside of the political machine that would disagree. There are a lot of things that are bad about it, but one big thing is that the legislators are allowed to take outside employment. In fact, so are their staff members. This means that they can practice law, or sell insurance, or run other sorts of businesses, and in their "private" dealings they are allowed to do business with the state. Being an Assemblyman or a state Senator is thought to be part-time work, notwithstanding the six-figure salary. Being a staff member is likewise part-time, so you can be a state Senator, and have a staff member who draws a salary from the state, who is also employed by, e.g. your law firm, or insurance brokerage or what have you. As stupid and wrong as that seems, one universal rule still applies: Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered. I have no insight into whether Sheldon Silver is guilty as charged or not, but the mere fact that he has disclosed three  quarters of a million bucks a year in income from Weitz & Luxenberg is enough to make even the most cynical observer believe that there is more than merely smoke emanating from the Speaker's office.

UPDATE: Five Thirty Eight provides us with this handy table to help us get our heads around political corruption in the fifty laboratories of democracy. Here's the thing: apart from the difficulties associated with enacting legislation that inhibits legislators from doing what they want to do it shouldn't be so hard to craft decent ethics laws, and it certainly shouldn't be hard to enforce them. I'm all about the presumption of innocence, and I wouldn't want to suggest that Sheldon Silver be suspended from representing his constituents while this thing plays out, but it is not encouraging to hear my former classmate and present Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle on the radio first thing in the morning talking about how the Democratic caucus stands behind Speaker Silver. Wouldn't the right thing to do be to step aside from the Speaker's podium while the case was pending? Shouldn't Joe and his fellow caucus members have gently suggested this? I pick on a lot of places in this space, places that are racist or generally bigoted, places that elect horrible people to high office, that sort of thing, and then I look around and realize that my glass house is in need of some glazing. Criminal law is a pretty blunt tool for this sort of work-- what we should be doing is buttonholing our representatives and telling them that we're tired of this bullshit.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Kim Fowley dead. It seems to me that the current generation of rock and roll musicians have become so professionalized that you wonder whether they are getting enough joy out of what is a difficult and frequently under-remunerative career. I mean, would you want to party down with Arcade Fire? Or even play an Arcade Fire side at a party? Make no mistake about Fowley, his was a rock and roll life that embraced it all. Many thanks to Steve Van Zandt for giving Fowley a radio outlet on The Underground Garage: it was Fowley's final gift to us. Here the indispensable Aquarium Drunkard gives us two prime Fowley cuts

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Honorable Eugene Fahey has been named by the Governor to the Court of Appeals. Good pick-- Judge Fahey, who used to have a locker next to mine at the Y, is an intelligent cat who thinks seriously about the way that law operates.

The Court of Appeals, which is New York's highest court, was created in 1846, and over the years there have been several methods used to select its judges. Originally four were elected and four were selected from sitting Supreme Court justices. In 1870 the state constitution was amended and judges the court went to an elected judiciary, and in 1974 that rule was changed to the present system-- a bench of judges appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate. I could be wrong about this, but I think this appointment marks the first time since then that there will be two judges from Western New York on the court together.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How is it even possible that Anita Ekberg could have been 83?

Monday, January 12, 2015

I hate PACER, the electronic filing and access system for the federal courts. The interface is horrible, but what really pisses me off is that it's expensive. 10¢ a page doesn't sound like a lot, but it adds up quick, and as far as I can tell there is no good reason for it to be anything other than free. It should be searchable, too.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Banned Words.


"It used to have a special significance reserved mainly for fine art and museums. Now everything is curated. Monthly food and clothing subscription boxes claim to be finely 'curated.' Instead of abusing curated, why don't they say what they really mean: 'We did an online search and posted the first 25 items we found' or the 'curated selection of items in your box this month are a mix of paid placements and products that have failed to sell elsewhere.'"

Friday, January 09, 2015

My news source for the Charlie Hebdo story has mostly been the BBC, with a little bit of NPR. It has been interesting to hear from French experts on terror, and I find that the French-- who resemble Americans maybe more than any other European nation in their multiculturalism and approach to civic life-- have handled this horrible episode in a way that deserves commendation. 
First of all, let's start from the premise that like the US the French have a lot to overcome before they can claim to have overcome racism. It's a work in progress for them, just as it is for us, and the long history of awful racist caricature that is apparently still more-or-less mainstream in France looks like stuff that no American newstand would carry. It is crude, Klan level shit, and although I yield to no-one in my free speech absolutism, gross bad taste is hardly the same as incisive social commentary. 
That said, the response of the French authorities was to treat this event as what it actually was: a criminal matter. To me it resembled the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, and I think that is how terrorist acts should be treated. From Charley Pierce: 
One encouraging part of the French response to this incident is the fact that it was conducted primarily as a police action. A vigorous one, granted. A militarized one, certainly. But, at least from my vantage point, the murderers were treated as criminals. They were identified as criminals, hunted as criminals, and ultimately discovered through the basic techniques of criminal investigation. Except over here, they weren't treated as super-villains with dark magical powers. They were gunmen -- and one gunwoman -- who shot up places and killed people. Their crimes were their only cause. Now they are dead. Their crime spree is over. It ended the same way crime sprees ended for Bonnie and Clyde, and John Dillinger. And it's time for people to calm down again. But I suspect that won't happen, at least not here.
Finally, this. Both the US and France have long traditions of religious freedom. In the US we keep the government out of religion because there were persons who believed that governments are inclined to persecute religions. In France religion and government are kept separate because  it was thought that religions were a pernicious influence on good governance. I lean to the latter, myself, and wonder if some of the sense of victimhood that seems to permeate the thinking of many persons on the Right doesn't come from the former.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Since just about the only TV I watch is football games I must have seen the commercial during a football game: a beautiful woman in a white toga invites us to play a game about Medieval war on our phones for free. Holy crow, it's Kate Upton! Now, I'm not one for video games, but the ad was so well done that I thought I'd download the game and see what the deal was. In Game of War: Age of Fire you start out with a rudimentary city and some resources. You try to increase your wealth by building farms and quarries and an army and what not, and you form alliances with others, I guess because there are battles and sieges and stuff. I haven't quite figured that part out yet, and I guess that part of the game is that you are supposed to dope out for yourself what you are supposed to be doing.

It is sort of mindlessly fun, I suppose. The graphics and animation are okay, (no Kate Upton, though) and there are a lot of little busy buttons to push, but instead of trying to figure out the game I have found myself wondering how the hell the thing makes money. I mean, it must make money: Commercials during football games cost bux deluxe. My first thought was a paranoid thought: maybe the thing was tracking information about me and my activity. For all I know it's doing that too, but apparently the way this thing makes money is that people actually spend money on it. In order to get nicer weapons or more powerful soldiers or whatever you can buy 'gold' with real money. And people do this! I am at a loss. I wouldn't have downloaded the app if it had been 99¢, but other people spend real money that they could have spent on, I don't know, going out to dinner, on this thing. Amazing.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Je suis Charlie Hebdo. And you know what? I'm the Colorado Springs NAACP too, damn it.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Binge listened to Serial on the drive to take LCA back to school. It is interesting for several reasons: one is that it is a way of telling a story without a resolution. In that way it is more of a story about constructing a story, which is very meta. It is also interesting because it (perhaps inadvertently) is a story about the difference between how a reporter/storyteller develops facts, and the way that lawyers/storytellers tell stories. I think the guy got poor lawyering, but there is a lot about the lawyering that we don't know, because (a) the lawyer is dead and can't explain her decision, and (b) the reporter isn't really equipped to explain or understand them anyway. So as a lawyer listening I think I hear it differently.  I think that law is a useful critical tool-- but I also think that just understanding narrative is an important critical tool as well. I do not think that most of the audience recognizes how they are being manipulated. Both Serial and its obvious ancestor,  In Cold Blood illustrate really effectively why the law of evidence works the way it does. Hearsay rules are weird because it seems like good information should be the same as more information. But it isn't. Being told that someone has big brown innocent eyes, or reading a diary, or really most of what the reporter seems to be relying on just doesn't have much value as evidence. And UB's own Professor Charles Ewing saying, well, I've seen this or that-- while interesting-- really doesn't either. What makes him seem reliable is that he confidently asserts that in these other cases he was able to get at the Ultimate Truth. What I hear is that Ewing thinks he's pretty clever, but I'm not so sure that  Ultimate Truth is available when you are operating at any sort of remove from the actual events. Once it turns into narrative it is suspect, because narrative is a persuasive tool, and our mind seeks out narrative. We have a cognitive bias towards narrative, and impose it even where it doesn't exist. It is also not clear how Ewing came into the picture. I have a feeling that he had listening to the podcast and called the reporter. I suppose he might have been sitting minding his own business in O'Brian Hall and gotten a call-- he is well-known in the field-- but I would want to know the background on that. ( He says he got a call out of the blue. It says something about the program-- or maybe my own journalistic sense, that I am reminded that if your mother says she loves you, check it out.)

It's all confirmation bias, really. The whole story is about believing what you chose to believe. It's funny also, because radio works so well as a persuasive tool. You don't notice the quiet background music, for example, but that is setting you up. When Sarah Koenig. is talking about background, the background sound is one thing, then when she is interviewing people the background is telephone ambient, and when she is going somewhere and there are road sounds, or when she plays recordings from the trial-- it all sounds different, and we respond to each differently. And although I recognize that, I can't say that I have ever read anything that speaks to the effect it has on our perception. I think that a lot of the things that she looks into are irrelevant. I also think that one of the ways that prosecutors operate is to construct a narrative, and that the proof that follows that narrative gets shaped by the narrative-- and that is misleading.

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