Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- January 16-29, 2005

This page includes posts from January 16-29, 2005 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

January 29, 2005
Everything is going according to our plans

When employees screw up badly, employers frequently resort to two different options. 

First, the boss will fire the employee.

The second option is a bit less harsh. The boss will tell the employee to resign, or else be fired.

It looks like CBS management has come up with a third option in handling their mess over fake documents attacking President Bush, one that is noticeably less harsh than either of the first two choices. 

Here’s what the New York Post reported a couple days ago:

The three CBS News execs asked to resign earlier this month over the embarrassing Memogate scandal still haven't quit.… CBS is still waiting. Sources say Josh Howard, Betsy West and Mary Murphy are no longer coming into the office and could be threatening wrongful dismissal lawsuits as they negotiate severance packages. A spokesman said, "CBS refuses to comment on speculation." [Now, that's funny!--Ed.]

Jim Geraghty at National Review Online posted a bit more of the story:

My little bird adds, "The resignations are not yet being handed in, and CBS cannot afford to go to court on wrongful dismissal suits, because they don't want the spotlight shining on their deep screw up, or on their methods. The network is going to pay and pay big-time, or restore these people to their jobs, somehow."

Geraghty's bird might be onto something there. Let’s think about this personnel problem for a bit, from CBS management's perspective. 

CBS was not exactly enthusiastic about investigating its operation and the employees who put together this bogus story. Some might even say CBS was dragged kicking and screaming into acknowledging what anyone on the outside could have easily told them was going on. In fact, hundreds of bloggers and other folks did exactly that. 

Once their attorneys “discovered” enough evidence that even CBS could no longer deny that their staff had royally botched their jobs, the management still had to figure out what to do.  

Firing Mapes was the easiest part, and Rather was supposed to retire soon anyway. Doing anything about the rest of the crew wasn’t nearly as simple, however. Firing them outright might cause even more damaging material to leak out of Black Rock, because fired employees sometimes have loyalty issues shortly after their departure. 

So perhaps CBS execs hit upon the resignation request announcement as the best remaining option.  

If the employees actually left after the press release said they were asked to leave, so much the better. If the employees didn’t resign, then after a suitable waiting period (say, after Rather left), perhaps the management would be in a position to negotiate an alternative, perhaps even a suspension without pay.

At least at that point the employees would no longer be able to point to Gunga Dan and say, “what about him?” 

All that CBS management has to do, then, is simply hunker down and wait. Other events would surely distract the previously curious away from the aftermath of this fiasco. The official line could remain, firmly and openly stated and yet completely opaque, “we have relieved them of their duties and asked for their resignation,” without ever actually intending to follow through on the normal alternative if the employees refuse the request. 

This could be a brilliant strategy. Let’s wait ‘em out and see.

January 27, 2005
Forget you not

Once the Oscar nominations are announced, we try to catch up on some of the nominated movies we missed during their initial theatrical release.

Tonight we watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and could easily see why Kate Winslet is on the short list for Best Actress.

On the other hand, this is the second time I've seen her with the leading man on top of some icy cold water.

Hope she's not becoming plot-cast, if that's what it's called.

January 26, 2005
At least you know where he stands

Delaware State Senator John Still (R-Dover) wasted no time making sure the rest of us know exactly where he stands.

This week, three weeks into this year’s General Assembly session, he and eight other sponsors introduced Senate Bill No. 15. The proposed amendment to the state constitution would read as follows: 

Marriage is prohibited and void between persons of the same gender.  A marriage obtained or recognized outside this State between persons of the same gender shall not constitute a legal or valid marriage within this State.  The uniting of two persons of the same gender in a civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar same gender legal relationship shall not be valid or recognized in this State. 

The text goes beyond the current state law that makes same-sex marriages void (13 Del.C. Section 101(a) ). It would also outlaw what some might call the marriage-lite substitutes. 

Delaware doesn’t have an express domestic partnership law, but the state’s merit rules for its own employees recognize that status for sick leave purposes, at Section In addition, many of Delaware’s other major employers already recognize domestic partnerships for their own employee benefit plans.

It’s not easy to amend the state constitution. It requires an affirmative vote of a supermajority of both Houses of the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions.

I don’t have a strong sense of the likelihood that Senator Still’s proposal will go through unaltered. At this point, however, I think the last sentence of the text would have to be eliminated in order for the amendment to pass. 

Delaware is admittedly a pretty conservative state, in many respects. I just don’t think it’s as conservative as Senator Still’s proposed amendment suggests.

January 25, 2005
The limits of protectionist politics

Yesterday the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an interesting decision about the limits of protectionist politics. 

It’s also a useful reminder of the fact that sometimes Federal Courts should abstain from abstaining. 

An Ohio solid waste hauler decided to look for new opportunities across the state border, in West Virginia. The business plan called for empty trucks to ride into the Mountaineer State from their home base in Pomeroy, pick up the stuff, and return it to Ohio for disposition.

Not a bad idea, except that the West Virginia Public Service Commission didn’t think much of it.

The PSC issued an order telling the company it couldn’t honor its contract with the Town of Mason, West Virginia, without first obtaining a certificate for the purpose. That certificate could only be awarded if the evidence showed that the area couldn’t already be reasonably served by others.

That’s a tall order for anyone, and an impossible task for an out-of-state waste hauler in this part of West Virginia.

The company then sued in Federal Court, alleging that the PSC’s enforcement action violated the Ohio operator’s constitutional rights under the Commerce Clause.

The U.S. Magistrate who handled the case decided to dismiss it, relying upon the abstention doctrine outlined by the Supreme Court in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971).

That case concerned criminal proceedings, but in a later case, Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass’n, 457 U.S. 423 (1982), the Court explained that the same principle applied to civil matters.

Abstention is recognized as a necessary part of honoring our Federal system of government. It is usually applied to block Federal litigation over matters where state interests are paramount, where the parties can use state courts or other adjudicative processes to handle the dispute, and where Federal legal issues can also be handled in the state proceedings.

As the Fourth Circuit panel noted, however, Younger abstention doesn’t block every attempt to preserve a Federal hearing on Federal issues. In reversing the lower court, the panel explained that a state’s interest in protecting local businesses isn’t enough to keep it out of the Federal courthouse:

[W]e hold fast to the notion that when an interest central to a case implicates the sovereignty and dignity of a state, and when the other requirements set forth in Middlesex County are met, federal courts should abstain. Interests like education, land use law, family law, and criminal law lie at the heart of state sovereignty, and a failure to abstain in the face of ongoing state proceedings would disrespect the allocation of authority laid in place by the Framers….

[T]he PSC requirement challenged here does not concern "improper disposal of solid waste." It concerns who has the right to contract with towns, businesses, and individuals in West Virginia to remove that waste, not the manner in which that waste is removed. Thus, the state interest at stake here is its interest in limiting interstate access to the waste removal market. While neutral health, safety, and environmental regulations are one thing, limitation on market access to maintain exclusive franchises for existing enterprises is another. The possibility that erecting barriers to entry may have certain positive derivative effects--effects the district court called "conceivable," id. — is an appropriate argument for a merits consideration, but is too remote to be the important state interest that is vindicated….

The commerce power plays a role in abstention analysis quite different from many of the other provisions of the Constitution. The dormant Commerce Clause demonstrates a difference of kind, not merely of degree…. It protects all states by ensuring that no state erects the kind of barriers to trade and economic activity that threatened the survival of a fledgling country under the Articles of Confederation. … No state’s dignity could be offended by acknowledging the obvious point that the Framers consciously withdrew interstate commerce from the vast collection of interests that remain the primary responsibility of the states….

When there is an overwhelming federal interest — an interest that is as much a core attribute of the national government as the list of important state interests are attributes of state sovereignty in our constitutional tradition — no state interest, for abstention purposes, can be nearly as strong at the same time.

Somehow I have the feeling that this waste hauler will be running its trucks back and forth across the Ohio River fairly soon, honoring its interstate contracts.

January 24, 2005
Shameless self-promotion

I posted my newest golf book review tonight, which you can read here.

Dave Marrandette's Can I Get a Ruling? uses several dozen stories, predominantly from the PGA and LPGA Tours, to describe the hows and whys of the Rules of Golf.

January 23, 2005

During yesterday’s blizzard I started making a double batch of the Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo recipe from Louisiana Real & Rustic, by Emeril Lagasse with Marcelle Bievenu.

It takes about 4 hours to make, from the initial chopping to adding the last couple tablespoons of filé powder, green onions, and parsley just before serving. 

I let it sit overnight, and reheated it for tonight’s dinner after the Eagles game. 

It was worth the wait, every minute of it. 


January 23, 2005

Just thought I should say that.

January 23, 2005
Not quite there yet

Today’s Washington Post ran an interesting story by Robin Givhan about men’s fashion in general and designer John Varvatos in particular.

One passage from Givhan’s piece stood out:

Varvatos does not aim to dress the Everyman -- the fellow who swears by pleated chinos and sees no reason ever to spend more than $45 for a pair of bluejeans. But he is aiming for a large sweet spot in the menswear business.

He wants to dress men who consider themselves fashionable but who do not follow fashion. These gentlemen want to look sophisticated and modern but would prefer to accomplish both without the aid of large logos.

If Givhan is correct, then call me Everyman.


My personal collection of pleated cotton pants includes samples from Tommy Hilfiger, Geoffrey Beene, Bass, Izod, Dockers, and Old Navy. I wear them to play golf, go to restaurants and movies, and otherwise knock about. 

I also own four pairs of blue jeans. One pair (Wrangler) is about 15 years old, and flecked with a bit of self-applied house paint. The other pairs (Old Navy, about $20 each, one black, two blue) are of far more recent vintage, and were bought at the urging of my wife. I wear them on the boat, when cutting grass or doing other outside chores, and on a few other occasions. 

On the other hand, I buy suits, sport coats, dress shirts, and ties from Brooks Brothers, which is not exactly downmarket. The offerings at Jos. A. Bank are often tempting, and I make regular stops at Beene, Hilfiger, and a few similar places. 

I also have my own copy of Paisley Goes With Nothing, and have read it at least three times. 

I'm just not quite there yet when someone suggests I should drop a quick couple hundred on a single shirt.

A summer or two ago I stared at a pair of expensive blue jeans offered at the local South Moon Under store. They were Diesels, and could have been mine for only $145.

Just so it’s clear to anyone reading this—there is no freakin’ way I am ever going to pay that much for denim.

That’s just nuts.

Instead, I think I’ll just continue my comfortable lifestyle as a Rehobosexual.

January 22, 2005

Amid all the harsh conditions that struck here and parts north and west of Delaware today, a few delicate elements also appeared.

The initial snowfall was just fine enough to create an interesting pattern on the azalea bushes outside my parents' home.

It didn't last, but it was pretty while it did.

January 22, 2005
Since we're talking about bringing back the classics...

Glenn Reynolds posted a short piece today admitting to his not-so-inner geekiness.

He recently received his own DVD copies of the original Gilligan's Island and Lost in Space.

He added another suggestion that made perfect sense:

My big question, though, is why The Addams Family isn't out on DVD yet. America's youth need role models, and who better than Gomez Addams?

Why indeed?

And as long as we're talking about reviving some of the classics of video art, why not bring back one of the very best?

I refer, of course, to F Troop--that stunningly realistic study of how the American West was won.

How about it, America? Will you join us in the mission to restore the nation's funnybone?

By the way, my bride can sing all the words to the F Troop theme song by heart, and will often do so without being asked.

It's no wonder that I love her so.

January 21, 2005
Perhaps there isn't one born every minute

A work friend tipped me off to an eBay item on which bidding closed earlier this week:

The bible, signed by jesus!

I especially liked this part of the advertisement:

Item Specifics - Non-Fiction Books  
  Format: Hardcover     Publication Year: --  
  Subject: Religion, Spirituality     Special Attributes: Signed  
          Language: English  
          Condition: Used

The good news is that there were no takers, thus restoring my faith in mankind.

January 21, 2005
Thank you, Andrew

Andrew Sullivan pointed to a great new commercial by VW that just made my day.

Go. Now.

Thank you so much, Andrew!

January 19, 2005
Worst and dumbest $250 he ever spent

Physicians are often considered among the smartest people around. 

Every so often, however, something happens to cause one to reassess that commonly-held assumption. 

Carl Drury, Jr. was a doctor in Brunswick, a picturesque small town in southeast Georgia. One day a friend of his, Steven Whatley (an ATF agent, BTW), took up the doctor’s invitation to stay with him after Whatley had separated from his wife. 

Drury also wanted to separate from his wife, but under a far more permanent arrangement.

Over the course of several months, he complained frequently to Whatley about his marital difficulties, and stressed that his wife “had to go.” Eventually, Drury began asking Whatley to either kill Mrs. Drury or find someone who would. 

Whatley went to his superiors, who told him to pass along a cell phone number that linked the doctor to an undercover agent. Whatley, no fool himself, did what he was told. 

Soon enough, the doctor made contact with the undercover operative, and began the process of negotiating the terms. The bidding began at $2,000, but over the course of four telephone calls finally dropped down to $250, accompanied by an unloaded .38 caliber handgun. 

To help hide his scheme, Doctor Drury used a pay phone to call the undercover cop. However, calls to the agent’s cell phone used lines that ran into Florida before running back into Georgia.  

That fact furnished all the federal jurisdictional authority necessary. The doctor was soon arrested and charged with violating the federal murder-for-hire statute, and for possessing a firearm in connection with a crime of violence. 

The doctor tried a novel defense during his trial, suggesting that he thought he was taking part in an ATF role-playing exercise.  

The jury didn’t buy it. 

Neither did the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which this week upheld his conviction and his long prison sentence. 

What I found most remarkable about this case was the $250 price tag for the bogus murder-for-hire. 

Seems a tad cheap, doesn’t it?

Shouldn’t that tiny sum have warned the doctor that something was a little, shall we say, off about this proposed offing? 


January 18, 2005
The Office

My wife and I were among the very few people to watch Office Space during its initial and remarkably short theatrical release.

The movie's short tenure on the big screens seemed remarkable (to us, anyway) because we left the theater still gasping for air, with slightly damp faces from the tears of laughter it produced. It was a complete wonder to us why more people simply didn’t flock to see it. 

We bought the VHS edition as soon as it was available, and proselytized it fervently among our movie-going friends and relatives.

Not long thereafter, Office Space began appearing in frequent rotation on Comedy Central. It quickly developed a large, devoted, and belated following. 

Somehow we missed learning about The Office while all this was going on, but someone finally tipped us off. 

I bought the full set of the BBC satire in DVD format last week. We watched every bit of it, leading quickly to even more guffaws, wincing, gasping, and tears of laughter.

Run, do not walk, to your nearest DVD outlet and buy this set. Absolutely brilliant, hilarious stuff.

You won't be able to look at an employee evaluation form in quite the same way ever again.

January 17, 2005
The first read is often the best

Thanks to Glenn Reynolds’ tip, I read David Brooks’ highly complimentary review of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

Here’s how Brooks sets out the primary thesis of this likely bestseller:

There is in all of our brains, Gladwell argues, a mighty backstage process, which works its will subconsciously. Through this process we have the capacity to sift huge amounts of information, blend data, isolate telling details and come to astonishingly rapid conclusions, even in the first two seconds of seeing something. '' 'Blink' is a book about those first two seconds,'' Gladwell writes.

Considering my interest in golf, I should read this new book to see if or how Gladwell discusses this trait as it affects my favorite sport.

For example, many folks think that to be good putters they must emulate what they see many PGA or LPGA Tour pros do before putting—gather views from the front, back, and at least one side, complete with plumb-bobbing and earnestly whispered conversations with their caddies.

This much effort is fine for increasing one's face-time on TV. It also gives the television cameras a chance to focus on the logos adorning the pros’ caps and shirtsleeves. 

Nonetheless, these golfers (and the amateurs who copy them) would be far better off if they simply trusted their first instincts.

Here’s how really good putters often handle this part of their game:

  • Take a look at the ball and the hole as they step onto the green

  • Crouch behind the ball and visualize a start line for the ball to begin rolling

  • Take their stance, with perhaps one practice swing

  • Putt

It usually only takes a couple seconds for that first impression about the best direction to putt to take hold; the subsequent efforts are often a process of second- and third-guessing, which rarely help. 

Don’t just take my word for it. 

Here’s what Bob Rotella and Bob Cullen wrote in their most recent collaboration, The Golfer’s Mind:

[P]rofessionals are geniuses at reading greens…when they trust their first impression. Unfortunately, in competition, too many players think they have to work harder at reading greens. They feel guilty if they don’t ponder the problem for as long as the rules allow, and from as many angles as they can imagine. Two things tend to happen as a result. They overread the putts, seeing breaks that aren’t there. In overreading and changing their minds, they undermine their trust in what they see. If it was wrong the first time, why can’t it be wrong the second and third times?

It’s always best to trust your first impression. You can take in all of the necessary information, about slope, grain, and speed in a short time. Once you’ve done that, stop reading the green.

It’s all true. The best putters I know take the least amount of time to read the green, pick a line, and just putt. The worst putters I know are often the slowest. 

I’m interested to learn if Gladwell provides any explanation for this phenomenon. Trusting one’s first instincts in visualizing a target makes a lot of sense when thinking about other athletic activities, such as catching a fly ball. It fits in well with our heritage as hunters.

On the other hand, it’s not so intuitively obvious that coming to a speedy aiming solution is the best option when thinking about a light touch on a small ball sitting on tightly mown turf.

It just is.


Contact Information:

Fritz Schranck
P.O. Box 88
Nassau, DE  19969


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2005