Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- February 1-7, 2004

This page includes posts from February 1-7, 2004 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

February 7, 2004
Pebble Beach—Oooooh.

This week the PGA Tour is playing my favorite golf tournament—the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am

I played the famous Monterey Peninsula course over seven years ago, and can still describe each shot.

I will not subject you to a recounting. However exciting it may have been for me, there are some things one just doesn’t do.

On the other hand, for many golf fans this weekend marks for the actual start of their interest in the current PGA Tour season. In honor of that occasion, here are two links to my most recent golf columns, discussing some of the new amendments to the Rules of Golf.

Right now, I have some painting to do before the show starts.

February 6, 2004
Three Claudes for a belated recognition of reality

The upcoming Tennessee primary gave the AP’s headline writers a chance to say something about former Vice-President Gore that some folks had been saying for a long time:

Dean May Gain Little With Gore's Approval

No kidding.

The article itself made the same point in even more pungent terms:

"You lose contact with the public and you can give all the endorsements you want, but you become a voice in a hollow tree," said Democrat Tommy Burnett, a former lawmaker and lobbyist.

Allison Shaw, who was casting her ballot for Wesley Clark on the last day of Tennessee's early voting period Thursday, said Gore's endorsement hurts Dean in Tennessee.

"A lot of people see Al Gore as ... out there, not in touch with most Tennesseans."


Considering the way the Gore endorsement was initially received, however, Governor Dean’s current dim prospects for the Tennessee election were predictable.

That’s why this headline earned three Claudes.

February 5, 2004
Recommended Readings on Human Behavior

Here are two blog posts I highly recommend:

If you’ve ever considered writing a book or magazine article, do yourself a favor and read Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s witty piece about rejection letters.

Her work includes composing and sending these bits of unhappy but necessary communication. She’s been reading a website devoted to these letters and the writers who receive them, and is not particularly pleased.

Her reactions are fully justified.

I especially liked this passage:

Herewith, the rough breakdown of manuscript characteristics, from most to least obvious rejections:

  1. Author is functionally illiterate.
  2. Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.
  3. Author has a serious neurochemical disorder, puts all important words into capital letters, and would type out to the margins if MSWord would let him.
  4. Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language. Parts of speech are not what they should be. Confusion-of-motion problems inadvertently generate hideous images. Words are supplanted by their similar-sounding cousins: towed the line, deep-seeded, incentiary, reeking havoc, nearly penultimate, dire straights, viscous/vicious.
  5. Author can write basic sentences, but not string them together in any way that adds up to paragraphs.
  6. Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.
  7. Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.

    (At this point, you have eliminated 60-75% of your submissions. Almost all the reading-and-thinking time will be spent on the remaining fraction.)

  8. It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.
  9. Nobody but the author is ever going to care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.
  10. The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.

    (You have now eliminated 95-99% of the submissions.)

  11. Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.
  12. Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.
  13. It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.
  14. Buy this book.

Robert Musil also wrote a good post about human behavior, including among other links a reference to an insightful, amusing column by Howie Carr about Senator Kerry’s less than pleasant contacts among the citizens of the Commonwealth he represents.

The Law of Continuous Dealing that plays such a large part in Delaware’s political world is one reason why that kind of arrogance is rarely seen around here. No politician could last long in the First State if he or she earned a reputation along the lines that Carr describes.

Of course, there are some political types here who needed to learn this lesson. I used to refer to a highly-placed staffer in a past Governor’s administration as Stainless. A rod of that material, jammed far up an orifice not designed for the purpose, was clearly the best explanation for his smug demeanor.

He eventually came around.

It’s been my experience that most of the folks who run for election in Delaware know better than to act self-important. In larger states with far less personal contact among most of the voters, however, the risk of maintaining a certain haughty if not to say French-like demeanor is probably far greater.

February 4, 2004
The last victim

This week I’m reading Edward T. O’Donnell’s Ship Ablaze, a masterful account of one of the worst peacetime marine disasters in American history.

The General Slocum was a New York excursion steamer on which 1,300 people boarded June 15, 1904 for a day trip on the East River. 

Most of the passengers were immigrants from Little Germany.

Most attended the same Lutheran Church, St. Mark’s, at 623 East Sixth Street in Manhattan. 

Most were women and children. 

Most of them died, after a fire broke out on the ship.

Due to criminal neglect of firefighting and lifesaving equipment, combined with near-total cowardice by most of the crew, 1,021 passengers perished in the sinking.

The tragedy eventually led to major improvements in maritime safety, but at a horrible cost. 

This week the last remaining survivor of the General Slocum fire died.

Adella Wotherspoon was 100 years old, and lived in New Jersey. She was six months old when her mother and father took her on the ill-fated trip. They all survived, but other family members perished.  

The General Slocum catastrophe never fully captured the American imagination in quite the same way as the sinking of the more famous Titanic, even though the loss of life was nearly equal in number. 

There are reasons. 

First, there’s the matter of class. The General Slocum victims were primarily immigrants and first-generation Americans, with most of them of relatively modest means. Their deaths just didn’t have the cachet of the famous, rich passengers on the Titanic

Second, the disaster involved German-Americans before the First World War. During and after that conflict, sympathy toward those with a German heritage was in short supply. 

Notwithstanding the diminished national response to the disaster, local efforts to memorialize the dead continue. This year marks the centennial of the sinking. 

Before her death, Ms. Wotherspoon spoke about the efforts made to keep alive the memory of those who perished that awful day: 

She said observances of the tragedy "have been a great help to the survivors and the relatives of survivors."

Rest in peace, Ms. Wotherspoon.

February 3, 2004
Not so much targeting blight—more like blighting Target

Some of the folks in the property rights movement are probably not too pleased with the Eighth Circuit, after the appellate panel’s decision today concerning another eminent domain/redevelopment case.

On the other hand, the plaintiffs still have a chance to prove that the City of St. Louis should not be allowed to take their property for the sake of a new Target store. They’ll just have to take their chances with the State of Missouri’s court system, instead of making a Federal case out of it.

In the mid-1970s Target leased a property in St. Louis. As expected, the lease terms gave Target the maintenance responsibility. The chain also had the right to make various alterations and improvements to the building. 

By 2002, however, Target’s plans changed. The company contacted the landlords about the potential for doing a total replacement of the now-dated structure. The owners weren’t against the idea, but they also wanted changes in the lease’s rent terms, this time tied to sales volume. 

No further negotiations took place. Instead, Target talked to the local alderman, and gave him the impression that they might leave. Company representatives also told the city that it was unable to reach an agreement with the owners, but in fact there’d been no actual sales negotiating between the parties.

Things moved swiftly thereafter. 

The city’s redevelopment authority hired a private company to conduct a property study, which (surprise!) concluded that the store was “blighted.” 

The designation was something of an indictment of Target’s maintenance practices, but the company didn’t seem to mind. In fact, Target helped draft the critical parts of the report.

The Board of Alderman passed the ordinance designating the parcel as ripe for redevelopment, and the Redevelopment Authority then began the acquisition/condemnation process. The city also approved Target as the eventual landowner of the parcel, and the company also qualified for a pleasant little tax abatement. 

Just before the deadline for the original owners to respond to the city’s final offer of just compensation, they sued in Federal court to block the taking. Litigation proceeded simultaneously in the state courts, but the U.S. District Judge eventually issued a TRO to block the condemnation proceedings. After the judge converted the initial order into a preliminary injunction, the City and Target appealed.

The circuit judges seemed to take a dim view of what took place here. Nonetheless, the panel also disagreed that this case stood apart from the usual significant deference given local land use decision-making processes by the Federal courts.

Since Missouri statutes and case law contemplate that constitutional challenges will be raised as defenses to a condemnation, [the original owners] will have an adequate opportunity in the state condemnation proceedings to assert their claim that the taking of their property is for a private use….

Federal abstention in this case would permit Missouri's condemnation procedures to run their course. Eminent domain is an appropriate tool to help neighborhoods remain economically viable, attract industry, and encourage future growth. [Citation omitted]. Missouri has adequate judicial procedures for consideration of the parties' competing interests. Land use policy is an area in which federalism principles are particularly strong…[citations omitted].

In the circumstances of this case it was an abuse of discretion for the district court not to abstain and permit the state eminent domain action to go forward. It was likewise an abuse of discretion for the court to exercise jurisdiction and to issue the preliminary injunction.

Now we’ll find out how much of a hint the Missouri state court judges will take from their Federal counterparts.

February 3, 2004
Light turnout

My wife and I voted this evening in the presidential primary, about an hour before the polls closed.

The elections staff told us that we were the 209th and 210th voters to use the booths in the 4th Election District of the 14th Representative District. That's less than 25% of the total registered Democrats in the district.

The 14th District's turnout is usually a bit higher than most of the rest of the state, thanks in large part to an area population that generally skews toward seniors. If that trend continued tonight, Delaware's total voter turnout will be pretty light.

Frankly, I'd be surprised if more than 15 more Democrats came in after us.

I gather from the broadcast media's early call for Kerry in Delaware that Joe Lieberman is not long for this year's campaign, despite his earnest efforts to win here.

For more coverage of today's primaries, take a look at this site, which is also running a charity drive for the Jimmy Fund.

UPDATE: Well. That didn’t take long.

The turnout of about 14% of Delaware's Democratic voters went 50% for Kerry—a 7% landslide.


And Joe quit, too.


February 2, 2004
Rush Hour

I left work late this afternoon and headed south toward home. 

At this time of year, however, rush hour on the Delmarva Peninsula isn’t limited to humans. 

Over the course of my forty-mile trip I observed at least six absolutely huge flocks of blackbirds, joined on a few occasions by cowbirds. Each flock formed a snaking line about a hundred yards across and well over a half-mile in length across the slowly darkening sky, moving generally from the farm fields in the west toward the marshlands to the east.

As I turned into my neighborhood, the view changed to several V-formations of Canada goose overhead. My quick count totaled several hundred.

I stood on the driveway for a minute or so and listened to them call out as they flew over our house toward their overnight nesting grounds.

It was a very pleasant finish to the day.

February 1, 2004
Veal therapy, with mustard and Pinot Grigio

Sometimes there’s just no substitute for pounding something into submission. 

Last night’s dinner was a pleasant reminder. 

While at the local supermarket yesterday, I picked up a package of veal pieces that the butchers intended for stew, and then went to the utensil aisle and bought a meat tenderizer. 

Not the chemical stuff, mind you—it’s a wooden mallet, with teeth on square ends about two inches per side.

Thus armed, I returned to our kitchen:

¾ pound veal stew pieces
3 tbs. butter
2 tbs. olive oil
ground dry mustard
6 oz.
Pinot Grigio
3 tbs. parsley, chopped fine or in flakes

Pound the veal pieces (on a safe, flat surface) with the mallet until they are something less than ¼ inch thick. Don’t be shy—after all, it’s therapeutic. 

Dredge the flattened pieces in the flour, and set aside. Season the top sides of the veal with the salt, pepper, and dry mustard. 

Heat the butter and oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place the seasoned side of the veal pieces in the butter and oil, and season the tops of the veal pieces with more salt, pepper, and dry mustard as the first side browns. Brown both sides for for a couple minutes, and then add the wine and parsley to the skillet. Cover and simmer for ten minutes on low heat, turning the pieces once about halfway through. Serve with rice when the wine mixture reduces to about half the original volume.

Serves two.

UPDATE: I've added a couple items to this recipe that you might find intriguing.

February 1, 2004
All quiet on the primary front here

This is one of the quietest primary seasons I've ever seen here.

We don't have that many nomination campaigns for local and state elections, and this is the first-ever presidential primary in the Blue Hen State. Nonetheless, there's a distinctly different, subdued feel to the run-up to next Tuesday.

In short form, it's a bit like this:


Delaware's holding a Democratic presidential primary in two days!

<crickets chirping>

Where I've traveled within the state over the last week or two, Wesley Clark's campaign has been the only one to put up the little yard signs.

And if my experience as a registered Democrat is any indication, the candidates have mostly stayed away from telemarketing.

The total so far? Two:

  • Yesterday I answered the phone and heard a cheery, high-pitched grandmotherly type introduce herself as part of the Clark campaign. When I explained that I was in the middle of painting a bedroom ceiling, she quickly agreed that there would be a better time to call than right then.

  • A few days ago we received a taped telephone message from Congressman Kennedy, letting me know about an upcoming appearance by Senator Kerry at the IBEW hall in Wilmington, 85 miles away (The Congressman didn't hear me click off before he finished).

Delaware's political leaders have tried several schemes to increase our state's influence in the national election process. Nothing's really worked, but I can't say I'm surprised.

There are several nice aspects to living in a small state, but one of the trade-offs is the degree to which your part of the Union is essentially ignored in national political campaigns.

Fine with me.


Contact Information:

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


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2004