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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

It's funny the things that stick with you. Years and years ago there was a comic strip called Moon Mullins.  I couldn't tell you much about it: the titular character was a former boxer, but that doesn't enter into the strip I'm recalling. One of the characters was feeding ducks on a pond, and when asked why replied, "Cast your bread upon the waters and it shall be returned to you a hundred-fold". That sounds like the set-up to a Peanuts strip, but what happened next wasn't: the first guy spotted a panhandler, and mindful of the mis-quotation from Ecclesiastes pulled a ten dollar bill from his wallet and gave it to him. Immediately he was swarmed by mendicants looking for handouts.

So it is with good deeds. This morning at 6:00 AM my phone rang. The caller's brother had been popped for inter alia, possession of child pornography, and my involvement with the Lawrence Brose Legal Defense Fund means that a Google search will turn up my name. I feel bad for the caller, and referred her to some actual criminal defense lawyers, but am left with the question, "How come nobody ever calls me at the crack of dawn asking for advice about pizza?"

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

I don't recall what year I ran the 5th Avenue Mile, but I remember that it was a beautiful fall day, and I remember that the race was rescued by Donald Trump. The concept of a straightaway mile race on a city street was pretty new. Milers are track athletes and seemingly small things like roadway grades, make a big difference to them. The race, which was run in heats with the elite runners going last, was a chance for regular runners to be on the same pavement with world class runners and to see those runners as they blazed past, after we'd had our go. It was pretty special for that reason alone, but it was also a cool course, down the Museum Mile. It had lost its sponsor, and Trump, sensing an opportunity for self-aggrandizement, stepped in. He was there, all orange, with that weird hair, and you know what? Sponsoring that race was a good thing that he did. I had a great day, and I've always had a tiny sliver of gratitude towards him for that.

Now he is burning down the Republican Party, so that's two things I like about him. It is hilarious to watch, e.g. David Brooks lose his mind as his party descends into madness, yes, and Charles Krauthammer too. It will be even funnier watching them wring their hands if Trump gets the nomination, because cats like Brooks and George Will and Kruthammer are how Donald Trump happened. When Ronald Reagan went to Philadelphia, Mississippi for his first post-convention speech, when Bush pere ran the Willie Horton ads-- and on down the years, the conservative punditry was stitching together the monster that is now running amok.  The only thing that could possibly be better than this would be watching these characters trying to walk back their horror at this thing they have created in order to explain that Trump isn't so bad.

I can't wait.

Monday, February 08, 2016

The sportswriters at the Buffalo News often seem to have an adversarial relationship with the Buffalo Bills, and this is, I think, unfortunate. The relationship WNY has with this team is deep and wide: when the Bills win, everybody's Monday is a little brighter; and when they lose it's always like a rainy day. Because of the way they are reported the middle of the week and the off season frequently feels defensive and flinchy, and since it's just a game that seems wrong to me. This came to mind when I was in Miami last fall, reading the coverage of the Dolphins in the Herald. The Dolphins at that point were more or less tied in the standings with the Bills, and were a pretty terrible team, but the columns and the reportage had a ring of optimism to it. The News, on the other hand, has probably run a fair number of capable football people out of town, and one of those people was Wade Phillips. It was nice to see ol' Wade, a Buffalo kind of guy if there ever was one, get the props he deserved last night: that Denver defense was as good as it gets.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Two interesting questions: how should jurors be charged with respect to social media and wireless device usage; and should jurors be advised during voir dire that their social media presence may be viewed by the attorneys?

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Five Thirty Eight reports that "Trump won 39 percent of the vote among Iowans who decided on their candidate more than a month ago. But he took just 13 percent of voters who had decided in the last few days, with Rubio instead winning the plurality of those voters."

One could read that as meaning that Trump peaked too early. I think it means that the narrative shifted on him, and that Iowa caucus-goers were hedging. I did not know that there is a difference in procedure between the Republican Party and the Democrats: it turns out that the Republicans vote in secret, while the Democrats huddle and are counted in groups. I suspect that this has an impact on outcomes.

Monday, February 01, 2016

You don't hear enough about Jessie Jackson these days, but as Pierce points out Jessie was as close as it gets to winning twice.

The Glory That Was Grease. Oddly enough, I was thinking about the invention of the Fifties the other day, specifically in the context of how the term "Punk Rock" came into being. Before the Ramones, before the Stooges, before the New York Dolls or the Velvet Underground a punk was a young sexual subordinate in a homosexual relationship. (Wilmer, in The Maltese Falcon is referred to as a punk, and takes considerable umbrage at the designation.) A punk has the veneer of toughness, but is only really tough because he enjoys the protection of his patron. An actual tough guy would have been called a "hood". And where did the idea that rock musicians were tough guys come from? Musicians aren't hanging out on street corners looking for trouble: they have piano lessons to get to. Blues musicians are a different story: a blues man will mess you up....

Thursday, January 28, 2016

This teaching Constitutional Law thing is proving to be an interesting challenge, because I am making a conscientious effort to teach it as a class about how the US government functions rather than a course about law per se. I suppose it's a fine distinction, and one that may only matter to me, but as I have geared up for this course one of the things that I think I have come to realize is that there is a distinct lawyerly bias to the way that we approach the subject. The American jurisprudential tradition is common law, and common law is at its root based in storytelling, anecdotage, parables about disputes and how they were resolved. "The life of the law has not been logic, but experience."

That's fine, and certainly it is an important and useful way for lawyers to understand the Constitution, but since I am not-- in this class-- training lawyers, I want to do it differently. The textbooks and hornbooks and commentaries all start with Marbury v. Madison, because, I think, Marbury established the concept of judicial review of constitutionality, and thus establishes that the proper methodology for the study of constitutionality is through the filter of the judicial decision making process. I see several problems with this. First, it seems to elevate the courts, and particularly the Supreme Court, to a level of superiority over the other two branches that the text of the Constitution certainly does not support. More notably, because the federal courts in our system can only resolve cases and controversies they are necessarily involved exclusively in examining and deciding situations that are, virtually by definition, outliers. Life on the edges may be more interesting-- I'd be a fool to dispute that-- but the frontier is not where most of us live or work or interact with our government. I think that if my goal is to teach how government operates I need to be starting in a place that is different from the way I was taught Constitutional Law.

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