About year and a half ago, I made a speech in response to the Orlando nightclub shooting.  In this speech, I made the very narrow legal point that guns should not be sold to terrorists.  Two people then got up and spoke against me.

The total lack of substance behind the speeches of these two individuals shows the extremism and downright silliness that the gun rights position has been reduced to.  Months after the Las Vegas shooting, our Congress lacks the backbone even to outlaw the device that converts semi-automatics into automatics.

Another example of this extremism happened a while back when a woman gun rights activist in Florida was accidentally shot in the back by her four year old child.  According to her position, even a very small child should have access to a gun.

But these gun rights activists should beware history’s pendulum.  There may come a time when the public majority will be angry enough that they will want all guns taken away, just the very thing that the extremists, in their mindless blathering, fear.

There is a third, middle, position that is currently being expounded.  Those holding this position would keep assault weapons kept out of the hands of everyone except the active military or specially trained police officers.  They would pass laws requiring background checks and licensing for those seeking to own guns.  After all, prospective gun owners should be held to safety standards and testing demanded of motor vehicle operators.

In rights are responsibilities.  We should be addressing the issue as rational and responsible adults.

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For my 200th blog with WordPress, I’m posting a sample chapter of my novella BUDDIES.  This novella will be featured in my upcoming book of legal fiction A LAWYER’S CASEBOOK.


Jason Crofts was considered a petty criminal.  He’d been to state prison on a burglary charge, but most of his run-ins with the law concerned petit larceny or marijuana possession.

One day in late October, the sheriff received a distress call.  Jason’s girlfriend said that he was “going crazy.”  In the background, the 9-1-1 operator heard Jason shouting and breaking objects.

A sheriff’s car pulled up outside a broken-down house bordering the woods.  A state police car was already parked outside.

The two deputies approached a heavyset trooper, who stood further back on the property.

“I’m getting too old for this crap,” the trooper said.  “I let him go back there.”  He pointed back into the woods, obviously referring to his partner.

A pregnant young woman came out of the house.  “I told him to stop. He just kept doing it,” she said.  “I’m gonna get evicted for this shit.”

A toddler came onto the porch, putting her hand on a broken screen.

“Go back into the house,” he mother told her.  “Did you hear what I said?”

The deputies were about to start questioning the woman when they heard a gunshot.  The deputies ran into the woods, the trooper trotting behind them.  They found a second trooper lying shot.  He was still breathing.

While one deputy scanned the woods for Jason, the second deputy tended to the shot trooper.  Through nodding his head and making minimal answers, the trooper indicated that Jason had grabbed his gun away from him, and shot him.

The deputy called for backup.  Within the next few minutes, three other police cars pulled up.  Deputies and troopers canvassed the woods. The shot trooper died before Crofts was shot and captured.

Henry Johnson was given the job of prosecuting Crofts on First Degree Murder charges.  Henry was only thirty years old at the time, but he was already a senior assistant in the Crotona D.A.’s office.

Tom Doyle was assigned to be Henry’s co-counsel.  Henry, up to this point, had not had much interaction with Doyle.  Doyle was also young, only two years out of law school.  But he was already gaining attention for his trial skills.

Henry devoted considerable time to the case.  He met with the police officers in off-hours to interview them.  He brought his growing file home to review it and take notes.  He went to the site, where Crofts’ girlfriend no longer lived, and walked through the woods in which the slain trooper had pursued the suspect.  He saw this case as an opportunity for gaining fame and political advancement.

But his excitement was ruined only three weeks after receiving the assignment.  His father was indicted.  State Senator Johnson had run afoul of New York’s governor, not supporting him in a matter that the governor considered crucial.  The governor called for an investigation, and Johnson was indicted with two others.

People around Crotona and Albany shouted that the indictment had been politically based.  The newspapers said as much.  But the lawyers that Johnson hired told him that his chances for getting the charges dropped were poor.

Henry went to his parents’ house, and asked to see his father’s legal papers.  He read through the multi-page indictment and the motion papers that his father’s attorneys had provided.

Henry told his father that he should fight the charges.  His voice became loud when he spoke, and his mother watched his face turn red.  His parents only hesitated when he persisted.  He became quite angry.  Finally, his mother told him that he was tiring his father.

“That’s enough, Henry,” she said.

Henry wondered how his father stayed calm.  He watched his father continue to go to his offices each day in Albany and Crotona.

But his father only seemed to remain calm.  While saying little about his situation with the governor, the senator experienced a significant rise in blood pressure.  He was diagnosed as being diabetic.  He started to see doctors much more frequently.

Henry did not suffer in silence.  His moods were now most often foul.  He frequently took to shouting at people, often with little provocation.

His girlfriend, Debbie Flynn, took none of this well.  He had met her two years earlier through friends.  Blonde and slim, Debbie was widely considered a catch.

Soon after they had started dating, Henry took to spending much of his free time with her.  He took her to basketball and football games.  They were seen together around the popular Crotona bars.  When friends would visit Henry at his apartment, they would usually find Debbie there, either fussing in the kitchen or engaging the friends in conversation.  It was generally expected that soon Henry and Debbie would become engaged.

But now, after the indictment, Debbie said she was getting the brunt of his outbursts.  She wondered how much longer she would stay with him.  When friends now stopped by to watch games or shoot pool, they no longer found Debbie there.

Henry also changed in less obvious ways.  He had spent his life accepting the legal system as a noble endeavor.  His only opinion had been that criminals were threats to society, and that they should be vigorously placed behind bars.

Yet now, with his father facing charges, Henry saw the system in new ways.  He paid more than passing notice to the lies that police officers often told, or the tactics of some of his fellow assistants to alter or conceal evidence.

Henry changed in how he handled his cases.  Some defendants he continued to rail against, but others, especially those who were poor, mentally ill or less culpable than their so-called victims, he showed surprising leniency toward.

Across the next few months, Henry came to know Tom Doyle.  Tom’s father had recently retired from the Crotona police department.  Tom had wanted to become an officer, but couldn’t pass the eye test.  His main interest remained in law enforcement.

Tom seemed to do as much work on the Crofts case as Henry.  Crofts insisted on going to trial, so the two assistant D.A.’s prepared.  It took the jury only an hour to come back with a verdict of guilty.


A few weeks later, after final motions had been made, Jason Crofts stood before the court for sentencing.  Tom and Henry stood together at the prosecution table.  Tom noticed the smile that Crofts faced the judge with.

The judge sentenced Crofts to life without parole.  Crofts continued to smile as the deputies led him out of the courtroom.  He smiled at Tom, who was staring at him, and then at his girlfriend, now holding a baby.

Henry shook Tom’s hand.  The two prosecutors went from the courtroom into the hallway.  Reporters surrounded them.  TV cameras glared their lights on them.  Tom stood by as Henry answered questions.

When their work day ended that afternoon, Henry suggested to Tom that they get some drinks.  They left the D.A.’s office.  A shabby homeless man watched them as they got into Henry’s Corvette.

As Henry sped and stopped through downtown Crotona, mud and filthy snow splattered on curbs and the sides of buildings.  Tom saw men grouped together.  Perhaps transacting drug deals.  Tom’s excitement turned to quick disgust that Crotona was still full of criminals.

Henry took him to a popular bar out on a wide suburban boulevard.  Tom and Henry sat at the bar, and Henry ordered beers.  Henry inferred that he would be buying the drinks that evening.

A trim blonde came up to Henry, and embraced him.  Henry kissed her lips, and they lingered for a long moment in each other’s arms.  Henry introduced her to Tom, patting her butt as he placed his arm around her waist.

When the woman left them, rejoining a female friend, Henry turned to Tom.  “You oughta go after her,” he said, still staring at the woman’s butt.  “If you don’t, I will.”

“You have a girlfriend,” Tom said.

“I don’t know.”  Henry gave Tom a self-pitying look that would become familiar to Tom.  “Do I?”

The six o’clock news came on the TVs of the bar.  People whooped and applauded as the screens showed Crofts being led out of the courtroom, and Henry and Tom stepping before the cameras.  Strangers patted Tom on the back.

Then, within minutes, the bar cleared out around them.  People drove off to other bars, or to their homes.  Others went to different parts of the room to eat dinner or play pool.

Henry sat resting, his head almost on the bar, in front of the beers he’d been unable to drink.  “Should I call Debbie?” he asked Tom.

Tom didn’t answer him.  His mind was racing.  The Crofts case was only the beginning.

“We have our program now,” he told Henry.  Henry didn’t look up.  “We could end crime in Crotona.”

Henry looked over at him now.

“Make Crotona a crime-free zone,” Tom continued.

Henry smiled at him, almost laughed.

“Start with the ringleaders.  Work down to the small operations.”

“Even the petty crimes?” Henry asked him.  “Traffic infractions?”

When Tom went silent, Henry laughed and slapped his shoulder.

“They’d know who’s in charge,” Tom told him.

“It isn’t that simple,” Henry replied.

“It is simple.  There are bad guys.  We have to bring ‘em down.  We have the ability.  We have the will.”

“But who are the good guys?” Henry asked him.

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Recently the pianist-singer-composer Gabriel Kahane has given concerts featuring Schumann’s 1840 song cycle Dichterliebe, or A Poet’s Love.  It makes for a revisit to a composer who, in recent years, has been seldom performed or considered.

In a long retrospect, we remember Schumann as a key mid-19th century contributor to the piano literature.  We think of him as mentor to the young Johannes Brahms.  We recognize him also as a tragic figure who suffered from mental illness, and ended his days in a sanitarium.

Yet for too many years, Schumann’s work has been neglected.  He came from a literary background.  His father was a bookseller.  He was strongly attracted to literature.  Like Berlioz and Wagner, two other literary musicians, he worked as a music critic.

It was Schumann’s background in literature that made him a key figure in the field of lieder, art songs that are the settings of poems.  While Schumann’s songs are less numerous than Schubert’s, they are almost as important to the development of this art form.

It has been argued that Schumann possessed better judgment than the earlier composer, although it Schubert, to his credit, often used the texts of Goethe and Schiller.  Nevertheless, where Schubert based such major song cycles as Winterreisse,  or A Winter’s Journey, on the poems of journeyman bards, Schumann went to Heinrich Heine, one of the greatest German poets, for his Dicterleibe.

Schumann’s prominent place in the piano literature is well deserved.  Recently I went back, after the absence of years, to play his Traumerei on the piano.  Schumann possesses a sensitivity to the shapeliness of melody that places him in the forefront of the Romantic movement.  He stands as an interface of sorts, connecting such early Romantics as Beethoven with such late ones as Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Mahler.

Finally, it’s time for his orchestral music to be given proper attention.  In the last years of his life, Schumann composed four symphonies and the Piano Concerto in A Minor.  These works were for a long time considered a minor part of his output.

For me, they show the influence of Beethoven.  They also resemble Brahms.  The reality is that they strongly influenced Brahms, who, as a young pianist-composer attached himself to Schumann and his household, becoming close friends with the older composer’s wife, the pianist Clara.

If for no other reasons, Schumann’s orchestral works would be important to musical history for their influence on Brahms.  But, despite long-held critical opinions, these pieces are major works in themselves, as rich in imagination and sensitivity as Schumann’s piano works.

To revisit, or initially visit Schumann’s work creates a rewarding experience.  I would strongly encourage the push for the performances of his piano, vocal and orchestral works.

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Felix Mendelsohn studied with Carl Zelter, a composer who founded the Berlin Philharmonic and befriended the great Goethe.  Goethe shared Zelter’s enthusiasm for Johann Sebastian Bach.  The poet likened Bach’s contrapuntal melodies to the thoughts of the Creator on the verge of materializing our universe.

Zelter had studied with a student of Bach, and considered it his duty to keep the flame of the Master’s music alive during the period when his work was vastly underappreciated.  For during that long time from the Master’s death in 1750, lasting nearly seventy-eight years, he was widely considered merely a provincial choirmaster who had been an organ virtuoso.

The young Mendelsohn asked Zelter if he could see the score of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion.  Zelter countered that his student was not ready to see the Master’s work.  Finally, after a year of further study, Zelter told him, “You are ready now.”

With this, the old composer showed Mendelsohn the great score.  His student eagerly read through the manuscript, and arranged to do a concert of it.  Through Mendelsohn’s 1828 concert of the St. Matthew’s Passion, Bach emerged as one of the greatest composers, a position that subsequent time has only strengthened.

In my last years of high school, I studied piano with an old woman who had long been a professor at Syracuse University’s school of music.  This woman, Alice McNaught, had never married, but rather devoted her life to music.

She was rich with stories.  She had seen both Paderewski and the great Rachmaninoff in concert.  Paderewski made mistakes, but this was, she said, only to show that he was human.  Paderewski, who had served as Poland’s premier a short time after World War I, was far and above her favorite pianist.

As Zelter had studied with a student of Bach, Miss McNaught had studied with a student of Johannes Brahms.  Over her upright she kept a sketch of a heavyset bearded Brahms playing the piano

But Bach was her favorite composer.  This seemed strange to me at the time.  I knew Bach principally through the cold logical exercises of the inventions.  I much preferred the power and passion of Beethoven.

It has only been with the passage of years, even decades, that I have come to agree with my late teacher.  Perhaps Mozart was as versatile, but Bach is the most profound of composers.  He is the most rigorous in his exploration of counterpoint.  It seems that the inventions and the Well Tempered Clavier were not enough for his intellectual curiosity.  At the time of his death, he was working on the massive Art of the Fugue.

It is a testament to Mozart and Beethoven’s intellects that they both possessed a strong appreciation for Bach during the period of neglect.  Mozart studied in London with one of Bach’s sons.  Beethoven found solace after a period of drunkenness and depression by studying the works of Bach and Handel.  From these studies he emerged with his final masterpieces: the Ninth Symphony, Missa Solemnis, Hammerklavier Sonatan and his extremely experimental string quartets.

Mozart and Beethoven both nodded to Bach by building the fugue into their sonatas.  The intricate forms of counterpoint appear like an ancient cellar beneath a modern edifice.

Bach’s contributions to instrumental music were immense.  As a virtuoso on the organ and harpsichord, he created a vigorous keyboard style that has taught and inspired all subsequent pianists.  The only organist of his time to approach him in skill was George Frederick Handel.

Bach directly contributed to the piano’s development.  He served as consultant to Silbermann, a German piano maker, from the 1720’s through the 1740’s.  In 1746, Bach dazzled Frederick the Great by improvising impressively on the many pianos located throughout the Emperor’s palace.

Bach’s contributions to instrumental music have extended far beyond keyboards.  A violinist friend of mine has marveled at the partitas composed for violin.  Like the other great composers of the eighteenth century, Bach was a violinist as well as keyboardist.  According to one of his sons, he played the violin with considerable clarity and power.

Bach’s musical greatness extended to vocal music.   As strange as may seem from someone so obsessed with counterpoint, Bach paid particularly close attention to the texts he set.  His object was to fully realize the implications of these texts through the added dimension of music.  In this he is matched only by Monteverdi.

Only those who have studied Bach closely have realized how versatile the Master actually was.  His interests extended far beyond music.  He was as erudite in Lutheran theology as Wagner was in philosophy, which is to say something considerable.

Like many great composers, Bach also had a considerable interest in literature.  He wrote poetry occasionally, and we have from him a poem about pipe smoking.

It has been said that the only musical field not touched by Bach was opera.  But our inquiry need not stop there.  It is true he never composed for an opera house, but may have played in the Hamburg Opera orchestra as a young musician in 1705.  Regardless of how he learned, Bach shows considerable knowledge of this Italian form of theatre.

His passions and cantatas are dramatic works.  As Bach showed considerable sensitivity to text, he also showed sensitivity to character and dramatic situation.  His dramatic works possess a suppleness and flexibility that far outdistances the dramatic abilities of Handel, who actually wrote operas.

In recent years, a number of Bach’s passions and cantatas have been staged by the percipient director Peter Sellars.  His St. Matthew’s Passion has been presented as a religious pageant and ritual, and has worked well as such.  As a religious play, it has strong ties to the medieval mystery plays.  And the Coffee Cantata, a tale of a burgher who is frustrated by his daughter’s coffee drinking, is a comic opera with ties to the plays of Moliere and Goldoni.

An added richness is these works is provided by Bach’s mastery of instrumental music.  Unlike so many other dramatic composers, Bach creates string and woodwind parts as fully realized as the vocal.  In this he anticipates both Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the operas of Wagner.

Some critics have argued that Bach is not an opera composer in that his passions contain narrative passages from the evangelists and choral reflections based on Lutheran chorales.  Yet Greek tragedies and Brecht plays also have epic and lyric layers that do nothing to detract from the dramatic scenes or their overall theatrical impact.  The combination of such elements make these compositions all the more compelling and profound.

My hope is that other directors will follow Sellars’ lead in staging Bach’s cantatas and passions.  The old choirmaster has emerged as one of our greatest opera composers.

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You are the alchemist of my life,

changing all trips, all meals, all plans,

transforming what would be quite lonely hours

to ones of glad companionship.

Even one so quiet

can stir the sun rays.



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When the hotels of Manhattan become too expensive a few years back, my wife and I started staying in New Jersey.  The Garden State had its virtues, but the trek between North Bergen and Manhattan was a challenge.

We then switched our overnight location to Tarrytown, located in Westchester County along the North Metro line.  I was familiar with Westchester because my grandparents had lived there in the last three decades of their lives.

My grandfather had been given a position managing the Hudson Valley section of a company.  So my grandparents relocated from the family center in Brooklyn up to Westchester.  To relatives remaining on Long Island, this seemed a huge move.  So when my mother started attending Syracuse University three years later, the change was little noted.  She’d already moved to the Far North.

We who live in the Empire State have an interesting sense of geography.  To many people in the central region, anything south of Albany is New York City.  But to those in the City or on the Island, anything north of the Bronx is Upstate.

In reality, New York is composed of several regions: western New York, central New York, the Adirondacks, the Capitol Region, the Hudson Valley, New York City and Long Island.  The Hudson Valley, following the Hudson River from Albany down to New York City, is one of the most attractive.  On the west side of this river are the Catskill Mountains, made famous by Washington Irving in his story “Rip Van Winkle”.

New York City is approximately two hundred seventy eight miles from my home in Syracuse.  Until a few years ago, the fastest route to Manhattan, after the stretch of Route 81 to Binghamton, was through Pennsylvania and then New Jersey.  That’s no longer necessary.

Route 17 has been expanded and made an expressway.  In Rockland County, 17 runs directly into Route 87, the lower Thruway, which quickly goes across the Tappan Zee Bridge into Westchester.

Back in the Catskills, Route 17 runs past a number of streams with Dutch names, signs of the early settlers.  These streams are famous for their fly fishing, and the area even features a fly fishing museum.

Route 17 has some of the problems of a road that was, for a long time, little travelled.  It has relatively few hotels or restaurants.  For a long span, from Hancock, just south of Binghamton, through Middleton, in Orange County, there are no real stopping places.  I suspect this situation will change over the next decade.

It’s often hard to see the past in New York City, as it’s so brimming with the present.  But the past is everywhere: in buildings going back as far as the 1700’s, and in the old Algonquin trail known as Broadway.

Yet in the relative quiet of the Hudson Valley, you are perhaps better able to see the past.  Near Tarrytown is Sunnyside, home of Washington Irving.  In the graveyard of nearby Sleepy Hollow, made famous by Irving’s tale of the Headless Horseman, are the graves of Dutch settlers from the 1700’s.  Many are so old and worn that it’s all but impossible to read their inscriptions.

A number of the house tours in the Westchester area are run by the Rockefeller foundation, which means that guests are raced through the areas, with little time to look around.  When we went to the house of John Jay, first U.S. Chief Justice, a couple of years back, we were given much time, although the main house was, at the time, closed for renovation.

Lower Westchester County has been absorbed into the New York metropolitan area.  White Plains, which now hosts a number of corporate headquarters, is no longer the small town it was when my mother lived there.

But when you get to upper Westchester, in the vicinity of Jay’s home, everything becomes rural.  These are the advantages of staying in Westchester.  It’s quiet, and you can have time to relax after a day in the City.

But all the while you are breathing the quieter atmosphere of Upstate, you are also aware of its closeness to the most exciting city in the world.

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I’ve been listening to an oral history of the U.S. Supreme Court.  One section deals with Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis, two of the most distinguished justices in the Court’s history.  Holmes was known as “The Great Dissenter”.

It seems that during the early decades of the twentieth century, Holmes and Brandeis were voices crying in the wilderness.  Often they dissented together from the Court’s majority opinions.

Yet their perceptive views eventually became the law of the land, particularly in such matters as free speech.  The later Court considerably altered its positions.

In 1882, Henrik Ibsen wrote a play called An Enemy of the People.  The play’s protagonist, Dr. Stockmann, argues that truths are accepted only by the few.  Once they are accepted by most people in a society, they are no longer true.

This position is not quite accurate.  I would hold that truths remain as such.  Yet their relevance fades.  Those who advance emerging truths meet with considerable resistance while the majority recognizes only long-established ones.

Near the end of his life, Beethoven composed his Grosse Fugue for string quartet.  This piece, with its finely-wrought dissonances, seems more the work of a Stravinsky or Bartok than a composer of classical period.  Yet Beethoven wisely said, “This work is not for now.  It is for the future.”

Beethoven’s words indicate that there would be a future in which his work would be grasped.  The many people who cling to threadbare platitudes are able to be educated, and it is the duty of the vanguard to educate them.

As a civilization, we need to regain our forward momentum.

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