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William C. Altreuter

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

There weren't many people on the Buffalo State campus this morning, but I was able to do what I needed to get done. Jackie, the Political Science Department secretary, was in, and she showed me where the copy machine is, and where my (shared) office is. She handed me a sheaf of papers and directed me to the various buildings where I was issued a faculty ID, a classroom key, a key to the technology lectern and a parking pass, so I'm pretty much ready to roll. It didn't feel like much of a ritual, but that's what it was-- the unofficial first day where I get a rough lay of the land.

What I'm thinking is that we will march through Article I, Article II and Article III, along with the corresponding sections of the Federalist Papers and some illustrative cases, then get into federalism. It seems to me that law school Constitutional Law classes focus chiefly on judicial review and the powers of the federal judiciary, even when the actual topic is something different, like federalism or the scope of the powers of Congress or the President. I want to see if I can avoid that, and make the class more about the scope and limits of governmental powers generally. Along the way we will necessarily touch on things like how to read a case, and the principles of common law, and that should be a reasonably full semester. I have an issue with teaching ConLaw as though it is a species of Federal Jurisprudence-- the latter is a much more narrow subject (although as complex and intricate as a Swiss watch). We are going to talk about what it means to say that ours is a government of laws, and the differences between laws and rules and customs, and I think it will be exciting.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Up on my hind legs, waiving my arms.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Posts from 2015 that I particularly liked looking back on:

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.

If that makes sense to you, I'll give you a doughnut.

We do prospective students a huge disservice with the lie that a JD is just a handy thing to have around, like a hammer or a roll of duct tape.

Diogenes said, “And if you could learn to live on lentils, you would not have to flatter the king.”

[T]he fact that from one of the worst things about America some of the best things emerged is worth celebrating. 

But that's not really what is peculiar about the experience of seeing an anecdote in which I am a character (a vaguely comic character at that) in print. What it seems to be about is a concern on my part, rooted in vanity of course,  that in this anecdote what I believe to be my complexity, my dimensionality, is lost. I have become, somehow, the father in Clueless-- a supporting character in someone else's movie. It is strangely jarring to find myself recognizing that character, and then realizing that I recognize him because he is me, like staring at a stranger across the room in a bar, and then realizing that I am looking in a mirror.

So last week -- last Thursday morning, at about 3:30-- I woke up with serious abdominal pain. After I ruled out ectopic pregnancy I really wasn't sure what might be the cause, so I vomited for a while, and went to sleep in the back bedroom so my thrashing and moaning wouldn't disturb A. Of course, sleep was not in the picture, and in the morning I told A. that I'd be staying at home in agony. Naturally she wanted to be all helpful and stuff, but she also had a deposition to get to. I told her that if things took a turn I would either call her or die. 

I have concluded that people who carry texts around like that are pretty much always going to be people I'm going to have a problem with. Bibles, Korans, copies of The Great Gatsby-- whatever it is, the only reason you can possibly have for carrying it around is because you are hoping for the chance to wave it at someone.  


Subjects for further study: Best Jazz Albums of 2015

Monday, December 21, 2015

If there were an official anthem for playing darts alone in an empty roadside bar during a rainstorm, it would be “Baker Street.”

(Fun fact:  Rafferty used some of his "Baker Street" money to underwrite the production of Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights.)

Friday, December 18, 2015

For a few years A and I tried serving a different cocktail every Christmas. We did Sazeracs one year, and hot buttered rum, and I think there was another-- glögg, maybe? My recollection is hazy. It's not really a drinking crowd, and although I enjoyed it,  it was not a tradition that caught on. Even so, I think it would be fun to serve Tom & Jerrys.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Carnegie Deli isn't my favorite-- my heart will always belong to Katz's, perhaps literally should my ultimate demise be attributed to cured meats. Even so, the Carnegie is an essential institution. At one time I could pretty much count on being able to get a pastrami sandwich within a few blocks of anywhere I was likely to be in New York. (Pastrami Queen in Kew Gardens made appearing in Supreme Court, Queens County worth the tsouris.) Some of the greats are long gone-- most of them, really. Every now and then I think of Wolf's, and mourn. The Carnegie is a cultural institution that is as important to New York as Lincoln Center, the Bronx Zoo, or the Esplanade in Brooklyn Heights, and I hope I haven't eaten my last sandwich there.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

A while back I was talking to a friend about Hemingway and the art of leaving things out. In the famous Paris Review interview he gave to George Plimpton he said,
“I’ve seen the marlin mate and know about that. So I leave that out. I’ve seen a school (or pod) of more than fifty sperm whales in that same stretch of water and once harpooned one nearly sixty feet in length and lost him. So I left that out. All the stories I know from the fishing village I leave out. But the knowledge is what makes the underwater part of the iceberg.”
Watching Jessica Jones while A was out of town I had a small epiphany: one of the reasons that the recent run of Marvel stories-- in film, and especially in the series-- work as well as they do is exactly because they leave out so much. In fact, when the movies fail it is generally because they insist on telling too much: again with the radioactive spider?

Over the years comics have done a formidable job of developing  a dense mythology, rich with characters and history, and when we see it on the screen we don't need annotation. That's a girl passing through a solid wall in the background-- nobody needs to tell me it's Kitty Pride. "Hand me that," Tony Stark says, and hey! Isn't that Captain America's shield? I was unfamiliar with Jessica Jones before I started watching, but I know who the Purple Man is, and I know that a big, indestructible African-American guy is Luke Cage. I think the character that  amused me the most is Jessica's friend, Trish. It took me a bit, but then I realized that she is Patsy Walker, one of the most interesting people in the Marvel Universe. Patsy started out as a character in a teen comic sort of like Archie, then went on to be the star of a comic about a young model, and then became Hellcat, a member of the Defenders who was married to Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan. The thing is, nobody needs to know any of this to enjoy the show, which is about free will versus coercion-- as old a story as there is. The part that is left out gives the characters depth and dimension, but you don't see that part, and that's where the brilliance is.

Friday, December 04, 2015

This is the Obama I voted for.

Cultural obscurity: intros to eighteen 70's sitcoms. I'm pretty sure I never saw any of these. Hell, I only ever heard of two or three.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

When A is out of town I look for things that we can binge-watch. Someone suggested Narcos, so I gave it a whirl last night. Here's the thing: the War on Drugs could be a great subject for a movie, or especially a series, but Narcos is a far cry from how a great movie or series would be told. I was optimistic when the opening text crawl referenced magical realism-- but I quickly lost hope when I realized that the voice-over narration was never going to stop. For me voice-over is lousy filmmaking. There are exceptions, of course. William Holden's opening in Sunset Boulevard comes to mind, but only a genius like Billy Wilder could have pulled that off. Someone like David Lynch could make a magical realism series about the drug wars that would show that they came about as a result of a combination failed American foreign policy in Latin America and the criminalization of  domestic urban poverty, but Narcos is just the same old Miami Vice jive.                    

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