Sneaking Suspicions

Archives--March 17-23, 2002 (Week 11)

Commentary from a practical perspective

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This page includes posts from the site's eleventh week, March 17-23, 2002 in the usual reverse order. Each week's postings are perma-linked to these pages.

March 23, 2002

Mr. Grumpy makes an appearance

Over the last two days I worked on our state and federal income taxes. Earlier this week I stopped at the local IRS office and the State Division of Revenue and picked up multiple copies of the forms, schedules, and publications.

Last night, as the NCAA Tournament broadcast played in the background, our 1099s, W-2s, charitable donation receipts, business records, and other fun documents sat in a handy pile on the desk. The family copy machine glowed under its cover, waiting for the inevitable additional copies as I slogged through the many worksheets required.

The computer remained on-line for quick access to the IRS website for the Publications I should have obtained or another form because I just butchered my last clean copy.

I finished our returns tonight, as the NCAAs continued.

I am not pleased.

Our federal return includes the following:

  • Form 1040
  • Schedule A
  • Schedule B
  • Schedule C (Two)
  • Schedule SE
  • W-2 (Two)
  • Assorted additional statements explaining the particulars

The one small comfort is that Delaware's tax law largely piggybacks on the federal system. It also permits married couples to file combined separate returns on the same form. For the vast majority of dual-income couples, this means at least there is no marriage penalty for the state income tax.

Nonetheless, two thoughts came to mind as I stared at the ugly consequences of my efforts:

  • That Alternative Minimum Tax idea of mine is looking better than ever.
  • Exactly why do I remain a registered Democrat, anyway?

Stupid ol' taxes.

March 23, 2002

Sausage Goop

We sat and shivered this afternoon while watching the Cape Henlopen High School varsity girls’ soccer team win their opening game of the season. The mid-40s temperature would have been easier to take if it weren’t for the 25mph winds.

Both daughters are avid soccer players, and I am without shame in admitting that they have both a soccer mom and a soccer dad. Both girls remind me on occasion of the health benefits of pasta as they practice and play their favorite sport.

They are also keen to remind me that they really love my sausage goop.

Here's how it’s made:

  • 1 12- or 16-ounce box of small shell pasta
  • 1 lb. sausage, preferably in tube form
  • cup milk
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 oz. (1 stick) butter
  • 1 10.5 oz. can of condensed cream of celery soup
  • salt
  • ground black pepper
  • Tabasco Brand or similar pepper sauce

Put at least 4 quarts of water with about a teaspoon of salt in a large pot, and begin heating it to a boil.

As the water heats, brown the sausage in a large skillet over low heat until it is cooked completely. It should be crumbled into very small pieces.

Sausage skins can easily be cut and the same effect achieved if you are not using the sausage sold in a plastic cover.

Add the shell pasta to the boiling water.

Drain the sausage, and in the same skillet add to the sausage the milk, cheese, butter, and celery soup, along with a few dashes of the pepper sauce. Heat the mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally.

Drain the cooked pasta, and place it in a large pasta bowl. Spoon the heated sausage mixture into the pasta, and mix thoroughly. Grind the black pepper over the top of the bowl, and serve hot.

This recipe will easily serve a family of four, including two famished soccer players.

I should warn you, however, that the goop tends to solidify as it cools.

Leftovers can be used to repair large cracks in sidewalks or other pavement.

Click here for my latest golf book review, if you'd like.

March 22, 2002

An upcoming opportunity for convicts to match society’s likely reaction

At times, convicts and criminals rise above their own dark world and express their own unique brand of contempt at others’ abominable misdeeds, matching if not exceeding the disgust that law-abiding citizens have for the same criminal acts.

The creative arts sometimes recognize this phenomenon.

For instance, in M, Fritz Lang’s 1931 movie classic, Peter Lorre portrays a psychotic child-killer whose success at evading capture by the police spurs the "regular" criminal crowd to join in the hunt.

Miguel Pinero’s Short Eyes is another example. The play’s title is prison slang for a child molester. Inmates hold few other fellow convicts in such disdain. Any felon serving time for molestation of children is said to be at serious risk if the general prison population learns the reason for his incarceration.

I thought of these two examples when I read the following AP story today:

23 Charged in Sept. 11 Charity Scam

Twenty-three people have been charged with falsely claiming that a family member died in the Sept. 11 attacks so they could get relief funds from emergency and charitable agencies, prosecutors say.

District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said 15 defendants who filed false death certificates received a total of $760,465 based on their bogus claims. He said the other eight were caught before they got any money....

The charges against them include grand larceny, insurance fraud, forgery, falsifying business records, and offering false instruments for filing.

The pictures of the hijackers who flew the planes on September 11 have been shown thousands of times. I’d like to see similar publicity showing the faces of these criminals once convicted.

I’d also like to see how their fellow prisoners react when they learn why these people are in jail.

I’d like to think that the other inmates will feel and perhaps express the same indignation I’m sure most other Americans will experience as this story unfolds.

Not quite child molestation, but close—really close.

Click here for this week's golf column, if you'd like.

March 21, 2002

Cracks in the argument

Today I think Andrew Sullivan painted with brushes both too broad and too fine.

First, he was a bit too restrictive in his view of the sources of the Church’s teachings:

Thinking about this again ... it became even clearer to me that sex is the problem - sex with minors, sex with members of the same gender, sex with members of the opposite gender, relations with the opposite gender. And the striking thing is how, when you read the Gospels, you hear so little about this subject. Jesus seems utterly uninterested in it. So why is the Church so obsessed with it?

I agree that the Gospels do not include a wealth of instruction on proper sexual relations. On the other hand, Paul certainly seemed to have a thing or two to say, and I’ve always understood his epistles to be among the Church’s primary written foundations. Read, for example, 1 Corinthians 1:10 and Romans 1:27. (There’s an interesting discussion of the intent of these two passages at this site.)

Sullivan then asked an astoundingly broad rhetorical question:

Why can we not leave the dark and difficult realm of eros out of fundamental moral teaching?

I can think of one reason--any moral framework that did not eventually address the crucial human puzzle of love and sexuality would be horribly incomplete.

A primary purpose of religion is to attempt to answer some ultimate questions, such as:

  • Who made us?
  • Why are we here?
  • How should we conduct ourselves during our time on earth?

Dealing with these questions, at least in the Catholic faith and most other religions, necessarily forces one to address the essential elements of our humanity.

I frankly don’t know how one could assess what it means to be a human under God without also considering sexuality and love.

Sullivan then asked a question that included a far too sweeping generalization:

Why can we not hold up marriage and committed loving relationships as the goal but not punish and stigmatize the non-conformists or those whose erotic needs and desires are more complex than the crude opposition to all non-marital and non-procreative sex allows[?]

That question makes an interesting use of the term "all," among other intriguing turns of phrase.

I have never understood the Church to support a "crude opposition to all non-marital and non-procreative sex," or that it has ruled against all "complex" desires, however defined. Its strictures certainly come close, but they are not as total in their reach as Sullivan claims.

The Church’s teachings in fact show an understanding and recognition of the practice of non-procreative sex, at least within marriage. How else to explain the rhythm method and the Church’s expressed sentiments accepting that particular birth control technique?

Sullivan then recalled a bit of theology he learned from his mother:

She told us that non-marital non-procreative sex was a sin, but it was not the worst sin by any means. And it was only a sin because it distracted from God - not because it was somehow terribly evil in itself.

She demystified it for me, robbed it of some of its obsessive power. And it's the obsessive power of sexual repression that has so warped our current Church. Let it go. And let's focus on what really matters: love of neighbor, prayer, compassion, service, honesty, justice.

I have some difficulty believing that Mrs. Sullivan intended her teachings about sin to extend to all forms of non-marital, non-procreative sex. Furthermore, I cannot believe that the sexual crimes now wracking the Church, especially the awful incidents of sexual abuse of minors, can have any moral defense or be minimized as something less than horrible sins.

Some sexual sins are, in fact, "terribly evil." I’m not going out on a limb in suggesting that the sex crimes committed by priests against young persons fit within that category. Sex acts where the participants are not fully adult and capable of and granting effective consent are simply a moral and criminal abomination.

Others may attempt to explain away their actions by simply claiming that "The heart knows what it wants." However, an understanding of true morality would not accept that answer.

I’m not defending the Church’s teachings in their entirety. I certainly have my own troubles in squaring my thoughts and actions with the full range of its instructions. Nonetheless, I don’t believe it helps when a writer as talented as Sullivan mixes arguments both too refined and too coarse on matters of morality, sexuality, and love.

Eros is certainly "dark and difficult," but it is also too central to our being to set aside when considering how to live a moral life.

March 20, 2002

All votes are equal; some votes are more equal than others*

Steven Den Beste posted an analysis of a new election system adopted for certain elected officials in San Francisco. Called instant runoff voting, the new rules are allegedly intended to save money and avoid second rounds of voting held weeks after the regular election day.

According to the Washington Post article that inspired Den Beste's essay,

The new instant system would avoid this second round of balloting by allowing the voters to rank candidates as their first, second and third choice. Those preferences would be used to pick a winner.

The new system could give some lesser-known candidates a boost against incumbents or other leading politicians.

Here’s how an FAQ described it:

All the voter has to do is rank one or more candidates. It’s like renting a video or picking an ice cream: What video (or flavor) do you want? That’s your first choice. If they don’t have that video (or flavor), what would you like? That’s your second choice. If they don’t have that, what’s your third pick? That’s all there is to it. It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

Some version of the instant runoff system is in place in such places as the City of London, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Australia.

Referring to his love of mathematical impossibility proofs, Den Beste cited the Nobel Prize-winning work of Kenneth Arrow. According to Den Beste,

He showed that an ideal voting system was impossible. Any such system, if it did not have even more serious flaws, suffered from a situation where some participants in the system would have more influence than others did. Not to put too fine a point on it, some people's votes are worth more than others.

After running through a points-based scenario or two, Den Beste concluded that the new system had its own flaws. A reader’s comment then generated this response.

The thing that occurs to me about it is that it tends to favor extremists over centrists, but I'll have to think about it some more.

When it comes to election law and other politically sensitive issues, I try to think of the many ways in which the law of unintended consequences could trip up reformers’ good faith efforts.

I looked at the sample San Francisco ballot displayed at the Fair Vote site, for example. It looked like voters were required to vote for each candidate in order of preference.

If true, that doesn’t square with normal voting practices. Vote totals in general elections, with a long slate of candidates for several positions, usually vary tremendously.

Citizens are also notorious for voting as much against a candidate as for a rival. Would this new system force a person to vote for a candidate they really hated, even as the third or fourth "preference?"

The new system also seems to affect a separate but common voting strategy.

The city I once represented had a strong mayor, city council form of governance. Most of the city councilmen ran for office from districts, but four seats were citywide, at-large posts.

Under the city charter, the minority party was guaranteed at least one of the at-large seats. Even so, the majority party always ran four candidates for the four at-large seats, and the minority party often ran two candidates.

The at-large campaigns therefore tried to persuade their strong supporters to vote for only one of the at-large seats, and to refrain from voting for each of the open seats. Otherwise, "throw-away" votes for the other at-large candidates could produce a loss, when combined with the votes of the other candidates’ committed supporters.

Like Den Beste, I’m going to have to think about this new instant system a bit more. Something doesn’t feel right, though.

*Cheap stunt homage to George Orwell, obviously.

March 19, 2002

Violating Holy Orders and other sacred trusts

Many bloggers and other opinion writers are commenting upon the Catholic Church sex scandals, the ugly revelations of which seem to expand every day.

Andrew Sullivan and Rod Dreher have debated several elements of the disaster, especially with respect to the homosexual acts that are part of the problem. Nonetheless, both agree on the need for full disclosure and prosecution as absolutely necessary, for the sake of the victims and for the Church.

Jeff Jarvis recently took issue with a distinction he believed Glenn Reynolds made between "priests having sex with children and having ‘underage sex.’"

Jarvis bluntly stated he made no such distinctions:

Priests having sex with minors (of either gender) is patently wrong on every level -- it is wrong for adults to have sex with minors of any age (the adults are responsible for controlling themselves); it is especially wrong for clergy to abuse their trust with young people and families in this way (for Christ's sake!)….

This is about responsibility. This is about crime. This is about sin. This is about laws of man and God. This is about right and wrong, pure and simple. And sexually exploiting and abusing children is dead wrong by any standard. Dead wrong.

Andrea Harris and Kevin Holtsberry also contributed thoughtful comments.

I’m not convinced that Reynolds was making the point that Jarvis thought he did. As I read his posts, it seemed that Reynolds was primarily trying to say that some public outrage about this misconduct in part depended on whether the sex acts were homosexual or heterosexual. To me he was implying that the higher degree of indignation about some acts may simply demonstrate animosity toward homosexual priests, whether or not they engage in such conduct.

Personally, I don’t care which types of sex acts are involved between priests and minors. They’re all wrong, and equally deserving of both contempt and vigorous prosecution.

Fortunately, modern criminal law statutes don’t make sexual orientation distinctions in describing adult/minor sex crimes. Delaware’s rape laws are a good example.

The felony charge under 11 Del.C. Section 768 first deals with underage sexual contact, which covers a broader range of acts beyond outright intercourse:

A person is guilty of unlawful sexual contact in the second degree when the person intentionally has sexual contact with another person who is less than 16 years of age or causes the victim to have sexual contact with the person or a third person.

More importantly for this discussion is the additional, more serious felony charge for rape in the fourth degree, under 11 Del.C. Section 770:

A person is guilty of rape in the fourth degree when the person:

(1) Intentionally engages in sexual intercourse with another person, and the victim has not yet reached his or her sixteenth birthday; or

(2) Intentionally engages in sexual intercourse with another person, and the victim has not yet reached his or her eighteenth birthday, and the person is 30 years of age or older...; or

(3) Intentionally engages in sexual penetration with another person under any of the following circumstances:

    a. The sexual penetration occurs without the victim's consent; or

    b. The victim has not reached his or her sixteenth birthday; or

(4) Intentionally engages in sexual intercourse or sexual penetration with another person, and the victim has reached his or her sixteenth birthday but has not yet reached his or her eighteenth birthday and the defendant stands in a position of trust, authority or supervision over the child....

(Emphasis supplied.)

Under Delaware law, then, the distinction between minors under sixteen and those not yet 18 is one without a difference, at least if applied to the priest/minor cases thus far reported.

In either case, because the defendant holds "a position of trust, authority or supervision over the child," the same charge would apply. Even young priests under 30 could not use their own relative youth as a defense.

Furthermore, the felony laws against sex with minors do not differentiate between homosexual or heterosexual acts.

No one else should, either.

When the sex involves children under 18, and priests or ministers are the alleged adults taking advantage of them, there can be no real consent, and there can be no real excuse.

March 19, 2002

Icebergs the size of my home state

On a potentially far lighter note, MSNBC reported that a huge iceberg broke off from Antarctica:

[T]he National Ice Center on Monday confirmed reports that a mammoth iceberg — some 40 by 53 miles in size — had broken away from a section of the continent in the Amundsen Sea.

The iceberg was designated B-22 and is larger than the state of Delaware. It remained relatively close to the continent and was not described as an imminent threat to shipping.

So far there’s no official statement from the Dominion of Melchizedek on whether it will lay claim to the iceberg.

Note: I credit Gary Farber with tipping me off to the existence of the Dominion.

March 18, 2002

Critical fact missing from report

Over the past weekend Philadelphia police raided an auto body shop where a cockfighting tournament was well underway. They managed to arrest 84 people. Several others escaped through windows and doors.

Law enforcement officials also recovered the birds used in the tournament:

Police also found 13 dead roosters, some dismembered, and they rescued 66 live birds. The birds were taken to the Philadelphia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on Erie Avenue.

The birds’ rescue may be short-lived, literally speaking:

"We're treating them, we're observing them, we're taking care of them," said Megan Kane, assistant director of communications at the SPCA.

She said that the birds likely would be euthanized.

"These birds are in separate cages. They're aggressive birds. They can't be adopted. They are nasty, nasty birds. They are trained to be this way. They will fight to the death."

Unfortunately, the newpaper reports do not indicate whether any of the fighting roosters are the famous Delaware Blue Hen breed.

March 18, 2002

Legal limits to entrepreneurship

I give Kenneth Curtis credit for his spirit of enterprise, but sometimes that quality alone isn’t sufficient.

Today the U.S. Supreme Court turned down without comment Curtis’ appeal against a South Carolina law aimed directly at his business.

He sold his own pee.

Operating as Privacy Protection Services, Curtis sold kits that included a 150 cc plastic intravenous packet filled with his urine, along with a tube, heating element, thermometer, and, of course, duct tape.

For the interesting price of $69, purchasers could use his guaranteed drug-free pee to pass drug screening tests. The instructions showed how to use the packet, tubing, and duct tape to fool any test "observer" into thinking it was the subject’s own urine. According to his web site, the packet held enough "product" for two drug tests.

Curtis claimed that he was opposed to drug use, but was also opposed to drug testing.

Nonetheless, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the state law:

"A statute making it unlawful to defraud a drug test furthers the public purpose of ensuring a drug-free workplace," South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Toal wrote.

"Furthermore, the public purpose of creating safety in the workplace outweighs any legitimate interest, if any, of Curtis in doing business."

According to a local newspaper in North Carolina, where Curtis moved his business after South Carolina passed the law he challenged, Curtis is now selling the kit (without pee) for $49.

In other words, his urine sold for $20 for 150 cc’s, or a startling $133.33 per liter.

To put this in perspective, a bottle of Glenlivet single malt scotch sells for $52.00.

However much Curtis would like to wrap himself in the flag of freedom fighters everywhere, his arguments against the South Carolina statute had very little merit.

I've dealt with the legal issues concerning drug testing for nearly 20 years, including seminar presentations at the state and national level. This was not a close case.

When the only purpose for which the product is marketed is to enhance the customers' opportunities to evade detection in a legal drug test, there is no reason to believe a state law prohibiting the business would not be upheld.

Reasonable minds can certainly differ on the appropriate scope of drug testing. In fact, a separate case dealing with a drug test requirement for after-school activity participation will be argued this week in the Supreme Court. I believe it will be struck down as overbroad.

The policy issues raised about drug testing are also worthy of debate, especially whether it makes sense to conduct wholesale tests of the innocent in the search for the relatively few who are guilty.

Nonetheless, drug testing is a legal mechanism to protect public safety and welfare, especially when the persons involved would present a serious hazard to themselves and others if they were impaired. Truck drivers and heavy equipment operators come to mind, for example.

At the very least, post-accident and "reasonable suspicion" testing protocols should not be subject to fraudulent attempts to hide the occasional ugly truth.

March 17, 2002

Red Cross troubles mount

For an organization intended to serve noble charitable purposes, the Red Cross certainly seems to find itself beset by controversy.

In fact, trouble has stuck to the Red Cross like white on rice for most of its history.

Georgetown University’s library includes in its special collections the papers of Reverend William Coleman Nevils, SJ. A 1933 document is captioned as follows:


In a February essay in The Idler, the writer describes the bitter issue of the International Committee of the Red Cross and its relationship to the equivalent relief agency in Israel. Over 50 years ago the ICRC voted to exclude Magen David Adom, the Israeli emergency aid organization, from membership in the umbrella group.

[T]he official explanation is that because Magen David Adom, which is active in the only Jewish state in the world, won't use a Christian cross as its symbol.

The writer points out that the lack of a cross hasn’t kept the ICRC from admitting into its ranks many Arab and Moslem relief organizations, whose trucks and other equipment proudly display the Red Crescent.

[Correction: the actual Red Cross-related entity that voted to exclude Magen David Adom from its federation was the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Thanks to Dan Hartung for the correction. 3/18/02 FHS]

The Idler piece also noted that the ICRC protested the treatment of the men kept at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That questionable decision further alienated many Americans and others, who might just redirect their charitable contributions in retaliation.

The American Red Cross’s response to the September 11 attacks is continuing to cause grief for the charity. A March 6, 2002 essay in the Christian Science Monitor noted the following:

The Better Business Bureau recently put the American Red Cross on informal probation, pulling a favorable report card of the charity from its website. The report won't go back up unless the Red Cross answers detailed questions about how it handled the money and blood it received after Sept. 11.

Perhaps an e-mail scam letter I received yesterday shows best how the Red Crosses' many missteps over the years have damaged its reputation.

An alleged Dr. Michael Adaeze wrote to me, explaining that he was a director of EcoBank Plc, in Lome, Togo. Apparently a Mr. Jerry Wegner, whom Dr. Adaeze described as an "oil merchant/contractor" in Togo, died in a horrible plane crash. Wegner kept his accounts at the Ecobank, and at the time of his death

had a closing balance as at the end of march,2000 worth USD8Million (Eight Million United States Dollars) which the Bank now expects a next-of-kin to claim as beneficiary.

Dr. Adaeze then explained that despite earnest efforts the bank cannot locate a next-of-kin to return the $8 million. What is worse, in his estimation, is the likely result of the bank’s eventual decision that there are no next-of-kin, and what he and his conspirators believe should happen instead:

[T]he management under the influence of our Chairman and members of the board of Directors, retired Major General Umar Shelling, requested that arrangement be made for the funds to be declared UNCLAIMABLE and subsequently donated to the Red Cross....

In order to prevent this, some of my trusted colleagues and I now seek your permission to have you stand as a next-of-kin to Late Engineer Jerry Wegner so that the funds USD8 Million would be released and paid into your account as the beneficiary's next-of-kin. All documents to enable you get this fund will be carefully worked out.

(Emphasis supplied.)

So this is how far down the Red Crosses' standing in the world community has sunk. Con artists in Africa actually believe that some suckers with more greed than brains will give them access to US bank accounts, not only for a piece of the action, but also to keep the Red Cross from receiving a donation.

Now that’s low.

Contact Information:

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

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Official small print disclaimer: This is, after all, a personal web site. Any opinions or comments I express here are my own, and don't necessarily reflect the official position of my work as a government attorney or any of my clients.

That fact may become obvious later on, but it needs to be said here anyway.

Frederick H. Schranck 2002