Sidewalk Atlas LIVE & Song Sample

Sidewalk Atlas, an awesome local sci-fi-themed pop band (who I happen to play bass for), is playing two shows this week:

-3/6/2014 – A charity show benefitting Feel the Warmth, which also happens to be the launch party for Philadelphia Impact Hub. We are playing with The World At Large, and Widow Maker Social Club. This is going to be totally awesome; unfortunately it is SOLD OUT.

-3/8/2014 – We are also playing at The Fire on Saturday night, along with Mike Bell and The Movies (and their difficult-to-read site), The Deadeyes, and Leaf Print. We are opening, and we’re starting around 8:30, so make sure to get there on time, and tell them you’re there for us!

If you come and find me, first drink is on me!

I promised music in this post, and I will not fail to deliver. Here is my favorite part of one of my favorite songs, Gone For Now, recorded at a recent rehearsal. Enjoy and I hope to see you this weekend!

P.S. The Sidewalk Atlas album, Stealing Time, is still free at our Bandcamp, so grab it if you like free things that are worth more than you pay for them! Your ears will thank you!

Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah

Okay, I admit it, jokes about lawyers are funnier than jokes made by them. Either way, enjoy this cover of the song alluded to in the title of this post. It was recorded last night at the Rising Star Rehearsal Studio in Gloucester. I’m playing my Dingwall ABII through a Yamaha 100W head and a Hartke 4×10 cab. The band is Goodbye Greenlights; we finally recruited a singer (you can hear Max on this track) and are beginning to rehearse.

Thanks for listening! Have a happy holiday!

Finally, Some Actual Music!

This is a recording I took a few weeks ago with my iPhone’s Voice Memos program. It was taken at a rehearsal with the local cover band, Old Stranger. I am playing bass, my Dingwall ABII through a Fender Rumble 100 with no effects. I’m only putting it up now because I’ve been so busy working and playing, but there should be more stuff coming up soon.

Listening to this reminds me why I’m continually shocked at modern technology; a program most people probably don’t even know about on their phone can record better quality sound than a fair amount of the recording technology that came before it. I created this recording with MY TELEPHONE. On a whim. Just pulled this phone out, tapped the screen a few times, and this happened. Amazing.

I like how it turned out! Let me know what you think.

Cattle Decapitation Songwriting Session, Act II

SCENE III. The band’s practice room.

Enter BAND

SINGER

That was a delectable brunch! Thank you for your company, gentlemen.

BASSIST

No, thank you! That vegetable carpaccio was to die for.

SINGER

Speaking of dying, I had a few lyrical ideas for our latest song while we were there. Let’s start right before the second verse, two beats after that short bass solo. Whenever you are ready!

DRUMMER

One, two, three..

SINGER

BLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOODDDDDD

GUITARIST

Splendid!

exeunt

Thoughts on an Impending Graduation

Three years of law school, finally over. My 85 or so credits gave new meaning to that overused phrase about days being long and years being short. Now, all that stands between me and my juris doctor is seven more of those long days. Graduating has definitely gotten me thinking about the future, and so while I am in this rare enough moment of reflection, I am going to memorialize some of the things I want to keep in mind moving forward.

Be Proud.

I made it. And not even barely; I am happy with my performance. I’ve got a whole summer to study for the bar exam, and since I’m using Themis as my bar review course, I can study at my convenience. I was able to use some of my loans to buy a car (of which I will probably be posting pictures, at some point) and a nice bass guitar and speaker cabinet (which I will definitely be posting pictures of). Many of my friends are buying houses and recording music. Most of the people I know are working and making money. I’m even somewhat employable I think, despite what the news has been saying over my law school tenure. Life is good, and it’s always time to celebrate the good things.

Be Humble

While it is an accomplishment to be proud of, I (and all of us new graduates) need to keep in mind that we are the bottom of the barrel right now. We are mostly useless to anyone who needs us to practice law at this point (although Drexel and its focus on co-ops and clinics make this slightly less true) and we would be pretty lucky if someone would pay us. It’s time to be humble, swallow our pride and dive into our respective job hunts with an open mind and an eagerness to make ourselves useful to an employer. And now, a case study of what not to do:

JosephRakofsky

This young, generically-dressed-and-poorly-groomed gentleman is Joseph Rakofsky, Esq. The Philly Law Blog has a really thorough and engaging write-up about his case HERE, but the gist is this: Joe Rakofsky graduated from law school in 2009, passed the bar, and very quickly got hired to handle a murder case in Washington D.C. He flubbed it, was given the opportunity to withdraw as counsel (with only a few comments by the judge about his inexperience), and suffered the ire of the internet for some of the mistakes he made. He got mad at people talking about him on the internet, and sued something like 74 people and entities at last count (including the Washington Post, Thomson Reuters, the American Bar Association, at least one law school and a number of attorney bloggers) for defamation. And today, finally, his case is over for all intents and purposes. The Order from the Judge is up, and all of Rakofsky’s claims have been dismissed. Unless he appeals, which strikes me as stupid and pointless given the clarity of the Order, he has reached the end.

I see a few things that can be taken from this. First, knowing my limitations is crucial. I am not an experienced litigator. I am not qualified to answer the vast majority of legal questions that friends, family and acquaintances may have of me. Until I pass the bar, I’m not even qualified to give legal advice about things that I do know about. Rakofsky made a crucial error that was pointed out ceaselessly. He advertised himself as an experienced attorney who could handle complicated matters. He represented himself as a seasoned litigator who could represent his clients with all of the tenacity and knowledge that come from years of experience, when really he had none. It is an understandable road to go down on some level. Everyone wants to be the expert and give advice, and attorneys are a narcissistic lot to begin with, but that is no excuse for holding yourself out as someone you’re not.

Along with that, we must remember to have patience. We have a long way to go to get to expert status. The blog I pointed to earlier, the Philly Law Blog, is populated by two young Philadelphia attorneys trying earnestly and honestly to make their way in a solo practice. They really lay out how difficult and rewarding it is to start out, and it has been encouraging to see the kind of support that is out there for new attorneys, solo or not. I’m looking forward to carving out my own place as a Philadelphia attorney. But it never happens overnight.

Thanks for reading.

Concert Review: Opeth/Katatonia – 4/27/13

This past weekend I was lucky enough to see Opeth and Katatonia, two of my favorite metal bands. I have seen Katatonia once before, and I think I’ve seen Opeth four times before this show. I guess you could say I’m a fan.

The Town

Originally the show was supposed to be at the Crocodile Rock in Allentown, Pennsylvania, but due to some interesting legal issues that I might write about later, it was moved to the newly-renovated (although you might not know it) Sherman Theatre in Stroudsburg. Ticketmaster sent me an email about the change and offered a refund, which I appreciated, and the theater itself sent me an email and left me a voicemail. Now that’s service! The venue change meant an extra hour or two of driving, which was a pain, but in the end I think it was a better show for it.

I’m just going to come out and say it. The town of Stroudsburg sucks. After walking from end to end, it appears that Stroudsburg only has three things: hookah bars, regular bars (mainly Irish pubs) and antique stores. And when I say antique stores, I mean weird stores with old and old-looking stuff in them. If you’re looking to knock a few back after spending the day smoking hookah and buying mid-century Grand Marnier bottle holders and Tiffany lamp reproductions, then Stroudsburg is the place for you.

The Show

The Sherman Theatre is an old-style hall like the Trocadero in Philly, except it only has seats on a mezzanine located all the way in the back. Unlike the Troc, sitting in the seats at the Sherman has a downside. The main floor, which is huge, reminds me of the Theater of the Living Arts due to the slope down to the stage. It works really well for shows in both of these places because you can see over peoples’ heads. The extremely high ceilings also made for an interesting experience, as it made the venue seem much larger than it probably was.

Katatonia started promptly at 8:00 PM. They played 11 songs, and that took about an hour. They must have had plenty of time for a sound check, because they sounded far better than the last time I saw them. They started off the set with Buildings from their most recent album, Dead End Kings. I really like this song as an opener, with its heavy beginning riff. They continued through, playing a few more from that album and a number from Night is the New Day, which is probably my favorite one of their albums. I did notice that they played one or two older songs, which was unexpected. This time, I noticed a few guitar solos which I did not remember seeing last time. Altogether, although I think they sounded much better this time, I think that their set is too.. rigid.

For example, Katatonia has no live synth/keyboard player. This is not a problem, for as you can see here, it is not difficult to hear the ambient sounds in the background which are important to set the mood in their music. The problem is that because they’re playing to backing tracks coming from a computer, everything has to be played to a metronome in their ears. It leaves no room for improvisation or changes on the fly; if they slowed down or took a few more measures for a solo, the computer will play things when it was supposed to anyway. Just about everything about the set that they played on Saturday was planned in advance, and none of the band members really needed to see or hear each other to come in at the right time or play the right thing. It’s the opposite of classical or jazz groups, where the entire performance is a conversation between individuals and small groups. Although I appreciate the work it takes to get a set of songs nailed down and play it with digital elements, I have a feeling that Katatonia’s players are good enough that they could do it without. Also, I’m sure they could find a keyboard player who would love to play with them.

The first glimpse of Opeth that I had was the huge pedalboard on top of a Marshall full-stack during Katatonia’s set. Opeth finally came out at about 9:30, and the room filled up pretty quickly. They started with The Devil’s Orchard from their newest album, Heritage. I thought this was a funky song to start with, and I also interpreted it as a reminder that this album’s prog-rock departure is the direction they’ve headed in, and that’s that. Immediately following that song they started playing “Ghost of Perdition” from Ghost Reveries. That was when it became apparent that the double-bass pedal was far too loud. That would be a theme, and later on in the set I would struggle to listen to the most memorable bass lines (for example, here in Blackwater Park, which was the encore song, and the octave shifts here in Deliverance). That, and standing close to the stage was difficult. The bass drum would vibrate in my chest and make breathing hard during the heaviest double-bass parts.

Other than those few minor complaints, Opeth really blew me away. Mikael went from soaring clean vocals to deep growls with no change in his facial expression, let alone effort. The solos were many and interesting to listen to. The band was rehearsed and tight without being perfect reproductions of the albums. And there was a surprise for us: the first song I ever heard from Opeth, Demon of the fall, performed acoustically! Apparently they played in a church and wanted an evil song to play, so they arranged this one for acoustic guitar and bongos. It doesn’t get much more evil than hand-percussion.

They played for a full two hours, which means it was a long, dark drive home at midnight, but it was totally worth it.

The Rating

Katatonia: 3.5 / 5
Opeth: 4.5 / 5
Stroudsburg, PA: 1 / 5 (and the 1 is only for Flood’s craft beer selection!)

Confidence, Humility, and Reasonable Doubt, Part I

The deprivation of an individual’s liberty should never turn upon the theatrical presentation of arguments or evidence, the volume and tone of an advocate’s voice, or due to physical acts of intimidation.

I love reading about prosecutorial misconduct, and court responses to it. Part of that is because I am undoubtedly defense-oriented, I’ll admit. Another part is because the conduct is usually so outrageous. When defense attorneys end up in appellate opinions it’s generally because they were ineffective, but when prosecutors do, it’s because they were too effective. But part of the appeal for me is because the lessons written into these opinions are generally more common-sense, applicable to all lawyers. A court explaining why an attorney crossed the line of decency isn’t dealing with an esoteric legal rule (Rule Against Perpetuities, I’m looking at you), it is guiding the profession directly. In this case, what I find fascinating is the connection between the prosecutor’s conduct and reasonable doubt.

All the way back in August, the Pennsylvania Superior Court sent down an opinion (which can be found here) affirming a trial court’s order for a new trial. The criminal court in Venango County (wherever that is) had ordered the new trial for the defendant, who was accused of beating up a 1-year-old, because the prosecutor had gone too far in his condemnation of the defendant.

But what is too far?

The role of a defense attorney, as I have seen it, is to convince the jury or judge that while your client is not a saint, he didn’t do this particular bad thing, or at least may not have. The burden of proof is on the State or Commonwealth, and that is a fact that makes it into every single closing argument. The defense attorney tells the jury to focus on the legal arguments. Failing that, there is a probability argument to be made. Finally, an acknowledgment of the defendant’s flaws is humanizing. All of these things theoretically make the defense attorney’s job easier (although in reality, criminal defendants do end up bearing a de facto burden. Where is your alibi? What were you doing at the scene of the crime, if not committing it? If not you, then who?)

Prosecutors, on the other hand, have it way harder. They have to prosecute most of the cases that come across their desk, taking the word of a witness or police officer as gospel truth. On the one hand, they have the benefit of police investigations, experts, and the credibility of police officers (usually) to help their case. But on the other hand, they have to convince the judge or jury that what the defendant is charged with absolutely happened, and happened how the witness says it happened. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is a high burden, and any doubt on the part of the prosecutor can be fatal to a case. A jury can tell when the State’s attorney doesn’t believe his or her own witness, and they won’t believe the witness either. All of this gives rise to the need for the prosecution to look absolutely certain of the defendant’s guilt, even if they’re not.

Thus, situations like the case I started talking about happen:

First, “[d]espite instruction by the Court to cease doing so [during both opening and closing arguments], the [prosecutor] continued to physically intimidate the Defendant during his closing argument by invading the personal space of the Defendant and his attorney by pointing his finger in their faces.”

The prosecutor “menaced” the defendant and his attorney by going right up to the table where they were sitting, pointing and gesticulating at them. Drama and emotion play well to juries. That’s why court rules keep them to a minimum. Then it becomes personal:

the prosecutor told the jury that Culver was “the most unreliable historian we’re ever going to meet[,]” “probably the most unreliable, unbelievable person that you are ever going to come across[,]” and that Culver was “lying, lying, lying, lying, and lying.” Id. at 18 (citing N.T., 3/19/10, at 109, 140, 141). The prosecutor also told the jury during closing arguments that Culver was “somewhat the compulsive or pathological liar . . . .”

Not only did the prosecutor seek to prove that the defendant did the crime, but he also wanted to show that the defendant was a BAD GUY. If he’s a BAD GUY, then the jury will convict him, even if the actual evidence does not rise to the level. With the evidence that prosecutors are generally given, I believe that reasonable doubt, properly applied, would eliminate many cases from the docket. I couldn’t say how often any given prosecutor actually believes beyond a reasonable doubt that any particular defendant is guilty, but I think that it’s probably less than they say they are sure.

 

Carillon?!

I thought I had seen it all. And then I saw a carillon.

After having seen, in person and on YouTube, some outrageous instruments and ensembles (upright bass ensembles, prepared pianos, electric string quartets, a bass saxophone, the Wanamaker pipe organ), I couldn’t imagine an instrument that is even more unwieldy and inflexible.  But let me get this straight: attach a number of bells (from approximately 23 to at least 47) weighing hundreds and thousands of pounds (the largest carillons can weigh over 100 tons: 200,000 lbs!), and place them in a bell tower or other structure that would be able to hold it and get to work playing the works of Bach.  Or Lady Gaga.

I mean, don’t get me wrong.  Any instrument whose proper technique includes slamming your fists on the keyboard is fine with me.  But even with its understandable development from church bells in the town square, I have trouble not seeing it as a status symbol.  The carillon in the video, a class gift to Princeton University from the class of 1892, was proposed as a gift “at once noble yet different from all other gifts.”  It certainly makes my class gift, which was something like in-ground lights in the quad or solar powered trash cans, seem dull.

Even if it was donated less as a practical gift and more as an interesting and exotic piece, it still has a beautiful sound and is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.  I hope you enjoy the video as much as I enjoyed seeing it live.  I’m not sure about when it is played during the year, but in the summer it is played on Sunday afternoons from 1:00pm-1:45pm.  More info can be found here.

Accordion Case Repair

My old Galanti accordion has gotten a lot of use lately. Unfortunately, the case has not been up to the task. Upon seeing the nearly destroyed case sitting by the trash can, my dad decided that he’d give the separations in the case a layer of epoxy, so we can at least say we tried before buying a new one. I thought the final result of the repair was funny enough that I had to take a picture.

Accordion case, loaded down with weights and vises.

The Correct Answer

It has been a busy week for murder, religious intolerance and fast food.

First, there were the reactions to the shooting in Aurora, Colorado last week. Some of these were thoughtful, engaged, and reasonable while simultaneously sympathetic and angry. Some were partisan, litigious, and self-serving. Also, Obama went to visit the families of the victims. As the Onion points out, this is all par for the course. Alas.

Then, there were the comments from Dan Cathy, the founder of fast food chain Chick-Fil-A and the reactions. Mr. Cathy, whose business is making delicious chicken fried in peanut oil, decided to venture into the business of pontification. His statements to the Baptist Press were that the company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.” This is a little surprising, as there are plenty of people who are very vocal about their support for traditional marriage. It seems as though Mr. Cathy, whose 1,600 stores are mainly located south of the Mason-Dixon, doesn’t have a lot to lose by making these comments, but I don’t really understand what he has to gain. All it seemed to do was rile up us Northerners. And it was extremely effective. You can see examples of this in Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, to name a few. I personally will not be eating at Chick-Fil-A anymore. Luckily there, are plenty of copycat recipes for their nuggets.

What all of these things (besides the copycat recipes) have in common is the idea that the speaker has the RIGHT ANSWER. I will let their own words speak for themselves:

“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.'” – Dan Cathy

“They no longer believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation, they teach that God is OK with homosexuality, this is just increasing more and more. It is mankind shaking its fist at the authority of God.” – Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association

And, for good measure..

“I don’t think [the Constitution]’s a living document, I think it’s dead. More precisely, I think it’s enduring. It doesn’t change. I think that needs to be orthodoxy.” – Justice Antonin Scalia

Don’t even get me started on the Vatican’s treatment of American nuns lately.

What these things have in common are men who have decided that there is one right answer to any question being asked. What is marriage? What is the right way to live? What does the Constitution mean? These things have no correct answer, but only our best guesses. And these people, with a straight face, look the camera in the eye and say “I know what God/Thomas Jefferson/the Bible thinks/wants/believes/says, and what you’re doing is wrong.” It is we who are shaking our fists at the heavens, while they are only trying to point us in the right direction. Is it fear of uncertainty that makes them talk and think like this? Is it the thought that there may not be an objectively correct answer to their most burning questions? They seize a document, a book, or the words of long-dead men so they don’t have to face that we all are meandering through life, doing what we think is right with no thumbs up or thumbs down from the sky?

Whatever the reason, the kind of gall that these people have is breathtaking. By speaking for God, you make yourself into God.

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