Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"We are in the habit of seeing untended nature as a sort of blankness, awaiting human work to fill it." The reason I believe that the climate crisis is an urgent problem is that there will inevitably be human suffering as a result, and I deplore suffering. On the other hand, whatever will be left will be what is left. My urban neighborhood is teeming with life, and if, in 200 years it is all raccoons and Canada geese and wasps, well, too bad for us. There is a weird sort of arrogance to the notion that only people matter.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A couple of thoughts on "How Gary Hart's Downfall Forever Changed American Politics".

1.  Why is it that the New York Times, or people who write for the New York Times, act as though they have discovered something, even when the thing they claim to have discovered took place right in front of of us? There is one big revelation in this story: the Miami Herald report about Hart's philandering broke at the same time as the E.J. Dionne piece in the Times in which Hart was quoted as saying, “Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’d be very bored.” I didn't know that, and it is important. Pretty much everything else is stuff that anyone who cares already knows.

2.  The reason the important part is important is that it colored the perception of the story. Politicians and sex scandals are nothing new: I'm writing this in shadow of the statue of Grover Cleveland that stands outside Buffalo's City Hall. James Madison Alexander Hamilton got tripped up*. It is a central plot device in Citizen Kane. It tortures reality to say that Hart's downfall was due to some sort of post-Watergate reassessment in politics and political journalism. That's not what happened. Hart crashed and burned because of his perceived arrogance, not because of any troubles in his marriage. Hamilton made the right play: fess up. It's not the crime, its the cover-up. O'l Bill Clinton went one better. He never really admitted to anything in 1992, and by the time the New York Times and the Republican Party caught up to him we learned something very important: Nobody Cared. Clinton weathered the storm because the storm was about something that had nothing to do with whether Ol' Bill had been a capable President, and it had nothing to do with whether he was a likable guy. He was, and he was. Hart, who was perceived as flinty and arrogant, confirmed that impression in the minds of some. Caught in an alley, few of us would have had the wit to do what he should have done, and I can't fault him for being evasive. Too bad. Now we know what the right play is in those circumstances.

3.  The other reason it is important is that it is a useful insight into the arrogance of quite a lot of journalism. The Miami Herold reporters injected themselves into national politics-- and indisputably affected the course of the election-- by deciding to go after a candidate. That used to be called yellow journalism. Nothing new under the sun, mind you: and what do you know? Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal were the source of the expression, back in the late 19th Century.

4.  Would Hart have done better than poor Michael Dukakis? Well, who can say? He couldn't have done much worse: part of Dukakis' problem was that he got the nomination by being everybody's second choice. Candidates like that do not tend to inspire a great deal of fire in their supporters, and it isn't hard to imagine Hart, a good looking, smart guy with a fair amount of national experience, taking to Bush in a way that Dukakis never managed to work himself up to. Certainly Hart would have been better than the Bush reign that followed.

* CJ Colucci caught me confusing my Federalists in the Comments. My apologies to Dolly Madison for the mix-up

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

To the Freshgrass Festival at MassMoCa over the weekend. For those who are interested in the what the social scene looked like to me there's my Twitter feed: @altreuter, #BluegrassBingo.

Louis Armstrong said once, ""All music is folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing a song." Of course, Louis was one of the great geniuses of American music, so it should go without saying that he was right, but at an event like this I find myself thinking about Louis nearly every moment. One of the things that is notable about a bluegrass festival is how white it is, but as Hubby Jenkins pointedly observed during the Carolina Chocolate Drops' set, African American music is the river that runs through all of American music. It's as true of bluegrass-- a form essentially invented by one man-- Bill Monroe defined it, but it has grown nearly as far past his definition as jazz has evolved past Buddy Bolden. At one time I thought different, and considered bluegrass as calcified as Dixieland, but that was my mistake, and although the Freshgrass Festival takes a wide view of the music that includes what I'd call country, or Country and Western, or even some other stuff, there is no question that this is all encompassed by Louis' definition. It is as American as it could possibly be, and it possesses an indisputable terroir.

No two ways about it, everyone we saw could flat out play. Notable: Claire Lynch, Alison Brown, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, David Grisman, Michael Daves & Tony Trischka. The Chocolate Drops were the artists that I was most impressed by; last time we saw them Rhiannon Giddens was eight months pregnant. This time she was in extraordinary voice. And of course, Emmlou Harris-- a classic American voice.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

I am often struck by how often the policies proposed by the Right are not only wrong, but demonstrably, historically wrong. This is true pretty much across the board-- on foreign policy and on domestic policy. For example, the arguments against increasing the federal minimum wage are always the same, and never correct.
"Raising the minimum wage is not, by any stretch, a poverty panacea. Its knock-on economic effects are in fact complex, its redistributive aim less well targeted at the working poor than, say, the earned-income tax credit. But opponents who insist that a raised minimum wage only hurts low-wage earners by eliminating entry-level jobs—a popular conservative position today—often have a weak grasp of the lives of the people involved. In March, Representative Paul Ryan, attacking the proposed hike at a town-hall meeting, said, “The majority of these workers are younger people just getting into the workforce.” This is not so. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average age of workers who would benefit from a higher minimum wage today is thirty-five. Eighty-eight per cent are over the age of twenty. “The typical worker who would be affected by an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2015 looks nothing like the part-time, teen stereotype: She is in her early thirties, works full-time, and may have a family to support.” In last week’s issue, I wrote about fast-food workers who also look nothing like the stereotype, and who have begun fighting for an industry-wide raise and the right to unionize. Their present wages are hopelessly inadequate. One study showed that fifty-two per cent of fast-food workers are on some form of public assistance."
Put another way:
Them that's got shall have
Them that's not shall lose
So the Bible says and it still is news
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own, that's got his own

Yes the strong get smart
While the weak ones fade
Empty pockets don't ever make the grade
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own, that's got his own

Money, you've got lots of friends
They're crowding around your door
But when you're gone and spending ends
They don't come no more
Rich relations give crusts of bread and such
You can help yourself, but don't take too much
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own, that's got his own

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sasha Frere-Jones Tweeted a series of "Perfect Recordings": Volume One, Volume Two, Volume 3, Volume 4, and Volume 5. Somebody assembled them into a Rdio playlist, which is here. There is quite a bit that I am familiar with, and some things that I've heard of but never heard, and some things that I probably wouldn't have ever listened to but for this curation. (When I take the time to listen to rap or hip-hop I recognize that it is closer to the R&B that I like than I think when I am not paying attention, for example.) It is a revelation, is what I'm saying.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Urban Outfitters is selling Kent State sweatshirts with fake bullet holes and bloodstains. Obviously this is appalling, but you know what? As far as I am able to tell, Neil Young and his harmony buddies kept the money from "Ohio" and nobody accused them of crass commercialism. I've always been kind of shocked that the university continued operating under that name-- call it re-branding or call it commemoration, some profound acknowledgement seems in order. Kent doesn't conceal its history on its website and apparently commemorates it with scholarships and memorials. Good for them, I guess, but I could no more wear a Kent sweatshirt than I could a Confederate uniform. Here in WNY there are a surprising number of people who are Ohio-oriented rather than New York-centric, and quite a few of those people end up going to Kent. I cannot imagine what that would be like, but the massacre was a long time ago, and to high school students today it probably seems as remote as the Civil War. 44 years is a long time: we're six or seven wars on since then. The other day a friend posted this photo
of a spent tear gas canister on her Facebook page: it is from the Special Collections Library at UB, and even though the entire architecture of UB is a kind of commemoration of the anti-war riots at Buffalo, essentially none of the students there are aware of that history. It was about ten years before my time-- I wasn't quite in high school back then, but I knew about Kent, of course, and about UB, and Columbia, and the rest of it as well. It was happening all around us, and it seemed like a big thing. Now, apparently, all of it is recalled, if it is recalled at all, ironically, with a Jimi Hendrix soundtrack. I harbor no nostalgia for the Sixties, but I like to think that I likewise have no illusions about that time either.

Friday, September 12, 2014

I ran into one of the former partners of the firm where I once worked at the deli the other day. He was a big deal back then, because he had a big institutional client, and then that client collapsed and suddenly he wasn't such a big deal. He landed on his feet, more or less, and then the firm blew up. Seeing him got me to thinking about what fragile entities law firms are, even though they seem substantial. When it blew up (a couple of years after we'd left) that firm was over 150 years old, but when they blow up all law firms are revealed as being less substantial than Papier-mâché. Yesterday news hit that Bill Savino and three other partners at Damon Morey are walking away to join a Rochester-based firm, and this seems like a fairly significant seismic event in the local legal community. Damon says it is the third largest firm in the area, and I suppose it is. Whether it will endure after losing a big chunk of the work that it is largely known for is an interesting question, and the answer is likely to come down to whether the partners that remain are committed to practicing together. Law firms depend on synergies-- if everyone merely tends his or her garden and expects compensation in excess of actual contribution then they are in an unsustainable posture, but because lawyers are so clever we are pretty good at constructing operations that operate in exactly that way-- for a while. I suppose the paradigm is Dewey LeBoeuf, but there are plenty of other examples.
Peter S. Marlette, Damon Morey’s managing partners, confirmed their departures and said he was sorry to see them leave, but he noted Damon Morey continues to have 85 attorneys among its 160 employees. “We’ve got a firm that’s filled with excellent attorneys and terrific clients, and we will continue to serve our clients as well as we always have,” he said.
Well, there's part of the problem right there: the 75 employees who are not lawyers (lawyers, mind you, not partners) are pretty much pure overhead. So too are some of the 85 lawyers. Ideally associates and paralegals are profit centers, but associates expect to become partners at a rate that typically outpaces their ability to expand the practice. Some leave-- the time spent training them is a lost cost. Overhead will kill you: Class A office space doesn't come cheap, and neither does Westlaw, or photocopiers, or computers, or software (I wonder what the license for 160 copies of MSWord runs?). The service that comes and waters the plants, the money laid out to sponsor the Zoo, or Shakespeare in the Park, or tables at the Heart Ball-- it adds up pretty quick, and meanwhile you have partners who reckon that the client that that retained them 25 years ago is their client, not the firm's client, and that therefore they should get the slice with four pieces of peperoni, not the slice with two, or the slice with just olives, or the plain slice.

I hope Damon circles the wagons, I really do, chiefly for the sake of the 75 people who are not lawyers, and for the sake of the people who are not partners. And I wish Bill Savino well.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

If I wanted a U2 album I'd have gone out and gotten a U2 album. And I think it is a little weird that Apple can just put stuff on my phone. I mean, Thanks for the U2 album, Apple, but stay out of my stuff from now on, okay?

UPDATE: I'm not sure when I last listened to a U2 album straight through. Maybe Joshua Tree? I just don't need that much soaring pretention spiritual idealism in my life, you know? Anyway, this U2 album, which is called Songs of Innocence, god help us, sounds pretty much like every other U2 album I've ever heard or imagined. There is a song (it may be the single) about Joey Ramone, and that seems odd to me: what did Joey Ramone make of Bono, I wonder? If Bono had predeceased Joey Ramone, would Joey Ramone have written a song about him? Is there really any need for another song about Joey Ramone when Amy Rigby has given us this?

Also, while we are on the subject, I'd like to propose a few rules for bands. Rule One: Only one member may be barefoot on stage. (We can call this the Abbey Road Rule.) Rule Two: If you have a chick singer she is either the singer full-time, or she plays an actual instrument. Tambourine is not an instrument, Betty. Rule Three: If one member has a nickname, or a stage name everyone else must either adopt a nickname or a stage name, or no-one else may adopt a nickname or a stage name. So Ringo is fine, or Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, but either Bono and The Edge agree that one of them goes by the name on his Baptismal Certificate, or Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. adopt nicknames. I'd pay money to see Bono and The Edge in a steel cage match over who gets to keep their nickname (both of which are stupid and pretentious), but it would probably be easier for all of us if the other two just assumed names. For years I thought that Clayton's name was a weird homage to the late Harlem congressman, Adam Clayton Powell. If it actually is, then we are already nearly there, and if it isn't he should add "Powell" and wear Black Power tee shirts. The die is cast for Mullen-- he is Junior Mullen from now on. (And by the way, what's up with that guy from the Eagles, Timothy B. Schmidt? Was he getting a lot of mail for some other Tim Schmidt?)

A final U2 note: I should mention that I have seen them live. They were at the Tibetan Freedom Concert on Randall's Island back in 1997, along with Noel Gallagher, Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth, Biz Markie, Alanis Morissette, Patti Smith, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Radiohead, Yungchen Lhamo, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, A Tribe Called Quest, Beastie Boys, Rancid, Björk, Pavement, Blur, Michael Stipe & Mike Mills, Taj Mahal and Phantom Blues Band, De La Soul, Dadon, Chaksam-pa, Nawang Khechog, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Eddie Vedder & Mike McCready, KRS-ONE, Porno for Pyros, and Lee Perry featuring Mad Professor & the Robotiks Band. Patti was great, A Tribe Called Quest was-- not my sort of thing, I guess. I don't recall a lot of the others-- there were multiple stages, but I absolutely remember that U2, who were in their Zooropa phase, were dreadful. 

I'm going to make knishes, but I have no idea who will eat them with me.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A. and I were 46 and 47 at our polling place this morning, at about 9:00 AM. That's kind of a light turnout. (We did see two other likely Teachout/Wu voters there, so on a percentage basis it looked like a pretty good morning for insurgents.)

UPDATE: Five Thirty Eight takes a look at the race. It is notable that there are no public polls available; I'm guessing that's so because no-one really saw Teachout/Wu as a meaningful threat. Andy is running hard in WNY-- this is where he spent the day yesterday. I'm thinking that Kathy Hochul has turned into a bit of an anchor--- they pretty much kept her under wraps for the entire run-up. 

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Bands I Wish I'd Seen (Probably An Ongoing Project):

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

As I go about my day here in the Queen City of the Lakes what I'm seeing is something quite new to me in my time here: economic activity. Success has a thousand fathers, of course, but there is no denying that the cranes and the construction and everything else has a great deal to do with Andrew Cuomo's WNY economic policies. Andy waltzed to a win last go-round, but he didn't carry Erie County, and he has been flirting with us ever since. As part of this he picked Kathy Hochul as his running mate, and here's the thing: Kathy Hochul kind of personifies what I don't like about Andy Cuomo in one convenient package. She worked in John LaFalce's office when LaFalce was in Congress, and LaFalce was an anti-Choice Democrat. Best case, LaFalce botched the Salamanca deal and brought about the Seneca Casino downtown. He denies that this was his intention, but I've read the statute. Hochul then went on to run the Erie County Clerk's office, a non-ideological position where she opposed the issuing of driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Then she ran for Congress, in a special election in the most Republican district in New York State. She won-- a big upset, and was certainly better than Tom Reynolds, or Chris Lee, her immediate predecessors. She was, however, unmistakably a Blue Dog, and voted to support bills that required states to recognize the concealed weapons permits of other states, and supported hydraulic fracturing. I suppose I could forgive the LaFalce connection, but the rest are deal breakers for me. Either Cuomo picked her in a cynical and wrong-headed attempt to appeal to the Western New York base, or she actually is ideologically aligned with him, or both. In any event, I have a progressive alternative, and that's how I'm voting. It is a win-win as I see it. I get to vote my ideology, and if by some fluke Teachout/Wu win then that's great. If they don't-- well, Wu may edge Hochul, which would have a down ballot effect. If that doesn't happen either then I'll vote for the Democratic ticket with my conscience clear.

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