Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- April 4-10, 2004

This page includes posts from April 4-10, 2004 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

April 9, 2004
Tip Jar

I have decided to try to make some money from writing this blog.

Today I set up two special tip jars on the home page of this site, in the right column.

Clicking on the logos for the Epilepsy Foundation of Delaware or the ALS Association will take you to the online donation pages used by these two charitable organizations.

If you enjoy reading this site and you’d like to show your appreciation, I’d be honored if you clicked over and donated what you could.

Both do great work, and touch the lives of thousands of victims and their families and friends.

I can assure you that zero % of the money will come back to me. They’ll receive the contribution; you’ll gain a tax deduction; and knowing those two facts will be my compensation.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

April 8, 2004
What she said

I enjoy reading Virginia Postrel’s commentary, and found myself in complete agreement with her post today about the Iraqi conflict:

I have the same problem blogging on this topic that I do blogging on every little twitch in the economic statistics: It's too hard to separate the transient noise from the long-run trend, and the long run is what matters. Things are bad in Iraq right now, but is this a last-gasp effort by our enemies, the beginning of a quagmire, or, most likely, something in between whose conclusion depends largely on our response? Rushing to judgment, especially from afar, is a prescription for foolish conclusions and bad policies.


That’s why I prefer to read the considered opinions on military matters provided by those with real world experience, such as the coolly delivered analyses provided by bloggers such as Citizen Smash, Rev. Sensing, and the gang at Sgt. Stryker’s barracks.

Anything they say about the war on terror carries far more weight than anything I can add to the discussion. 

The old adage that you should write what you know is a principle that some other folks would do well to remember.

April 7, 2004
Update on ticketing disparities

It's a column night tonight. In addition, with the usual flood of new golf books for the spring I'm trying to read and review one per week, which cuts into blogging time.

Meanwhile, the recent post about motor vehicle ticketing disparities and other group variations generated an interesting response from one of my regular e-mail correspondents.

She works as a planner for a major metropolitan school district in California, and passed along the following:

We find that our drivers (who are about 50-50 men and women) have far more men stopped for moving violations than women.  But ... the women get tickets nearly 100% of the time they are pulled over and the men about 85% of the occasions.

When we questioned patrolmen, they said when stopping cars, ... they usually don't stop women unless they are way out of compliance and clearly deserve a ticket.  Most women were either in the drive conservatively camp or crazy pedal-to-the-metal camp. 

But men were often "pushing" it--sliding through the light at the end of the yellow, on the high end of the speed envelope, taking corners just inside the skid envelope, etc.  And many of the stops were warnings, to get them to cool it, reconsider.

These comments were only anecdotal.  No hard data.  But I thought you'd be interested.

She was right.

April 6, 2004
Leveraging one’s way into the federal penitentiary

A long time ago, during the Republican administration of Pete DuPont, someone hit upon the idea of giving each Delaware legislator a chance to direct the flow of some of the state’s transportation funds in their own district.

Each senator and representative district received the same amount of Suburban Street Funds, and they decided where and how to spend it.

Long before I began advising DelDOT in 1987, the Street Fund was extremely popular with the General Assembly. Several legislators spent far more time spending their allotment of a couple hundred thousand dollars apiece than they devoted to dictating how DelDOT would spend a couple hundred million more on other transportation projects.

Whoever thought up this arrangement was no dummy.

It didn't take long after the creation of the SSF line in the state bond bill for some legislators to become a bit adventurous with their Street Fund projects. Eventually I wrote several legal opinions and memoranda about the state constitution's limits on these expenditures, all of which essentially boiled down to a few simple rules: The money could be spent on transportation-related projects, on property that was either publicly owned or dedicated to public use. In addition, the money could be allotted to municipalities who also agreed to the same limitations.

As is often the case, however, some decisions can be perfectly legal without being the best choice from a policy perspective.

For example, one state representative, Al O. Plant, directed thousands of dollars in Suburban Street money to the City of Wilmington for various City transportation projects.

Using the state money for these purposes acted as leverage on the City’s own funds. After receiving Rep. Plant’s allotments, the City then transferred the equivalent amounts of its own cash to a special City account, to be spent on non-profit social welfare projects designated by Rep. Plant.

Thousands of these dollars found their way from that special account into another bank account, controlled by the Reverend Lawrence W. Wright, a good friend of Rep. Plant.

Charity begins at home, of course.

Several thousands of these dollars were then re-deposited into the personal checking account of Rev. Wright, as well as in checks written to Rep. Plant.

Not long thereafter, a federal grand jury indicted Rev. Wright on various federal stolen property charges, money laundering violations, and two counts of making false statements to the FBI.

Rep. Plant was not indicted, perhaps because he died before that could be accomplished.

Rev. Wright was convicted and sentenced to 51 months in prison. He appealed his sentence to the Third Circuit, arguing that the District Court should have made a downward revision in the sentence in light of his charitable works as a minister.

In affirming the sentence today, the appellate panel quoted approvingly from the District Judge’s own explanation for his decision:

The Third Circuit … has guided us with regard to charitable works and contributions of community religious leaders, and said that if a public servant performs civic and charitable work as part of his daily functions, these should not be considered in a sentencing because we expect such work from our public servants….

It may seem harsh to say, and I guess it is, but the Court also believes it cannot permit the defendant to hide behind the very community from whom he stole. He solicited money which he purported to use to help parishioners of his Church and the community at large.

Instead he used the money, as we have heard uncontested testimony, to do things, personal things [such as] fix up his car, his son’s house, and to gamble. Thus, the Court will not downwardly depart based upon the defendant’s civic work and charitable contributions.

Both the District Court and the Third Circuit showed remarkable restraint under these circumstances.

April 5, 2004
Not all group disparities are bad—some are a mystery, and some are far worse

Three recent stories about group disparities are well worth reading.

The first piece, in The Tennessean (hat tip—Drudge Report), reported on variations in motor vehicle violation ticketing rates in the Memphis area. The results run counter to what most people might think:

According to the data, white women were most likely to get ticketed when pulled over by police — 93.3% of the time. By comparison, black men were ticketed 88.2% of the time they were stopped….

Police might also have a tendency to stop some motorists to a greater or lesser degree than they are represented in the population of drivers. For example, the Tennessean analysis showed far more men pulled over than women.

The newspaper's report (at least in the edition I read) didn’t address a fundamental question relating to these gender differences—that is, to what extent are men more likely to commit the kinds of motor vehicle offenses that would spur an officer to take enforcement action.

That basic problem in statistical analysis is astutely noted in David Post’s short essay in The Volokh Conspiracy.

Post describes the issue as applied to the repeated claims that a disproportionate number of Americans are ticketed for driving while black. He cites a new study by Stephen Michelson in the Arizona State University law journal, Jurimetrics:

Michelson points out that, first, none of the studies measures the extent to which cops can actually perceive the race of drivers as they whiz by at 75 mph. If cops were completely unable to tell which cars are driven by blacks and which by whites, of course, whatever was accounting for this disproportionality could not, of course, be "racial profiling."

Second, and somewhat more complicatedly, the relevant baseline for comparison with the proportion of stopped cars with black drivers is not "the proportion of black drivers going over the speed limit," but rather "the proportion of black drivers going so far over the speed limit that they are likely to be stopped."

Post summarizes Michelson’s findings:

[T]he data collected thus far are consistent with the idea that blacks are significantly over-represented in this category -- enough to account for the higher proportion of blacks among the stopped cars.

If true, then the real question becomes far more difficult than the one which has troubled many state police agencies and civil rights activists—why the disparity among those who speed the most?

An even worse racial disparity dilemma is now facing parents, teachers, and school administrators in Delaware.

Test scores in the statewide eighth grade math test over the last six years show persistent and significant racial variations in passing rates. More than half of all students fail to meet the minimum standards, and the numbers are simply awful for blacks:

In some districts, proficiency rates on the eighth-grade math test for minority youngsters are more than 40 points behind those of white students.

A chart that accompanied the News-Journal story showed this disturbing pattern across nearly every school district in the state. For example, in Brandywine School District, which includes part of Wilmington and a large swath of New Castle County north of the city, 81.72% of the white students passed, but only 36.64% of the black students passed. In Cape Henlopen District, where I live, the numbers are nearly as bad—78.35% compared to 39.22%.

The story discusses a variety of potential solutions:

A survey of the 16 districts that have eighth-graders shows that some have made great gains in their proficiency rates. Superintendents find strategies that work, such as recruiting highly qualified teachers and lengthening the time spent in math classes.

Others point to professional development strategies among teachers, which they say have helped their teaching corps adjust to the problem-solving type of math the state standards and the 21st century demand.

Frankly, this News-Journal piece was one of the more infuriating stories I have read in quite a while.

I specialized in discrimination law through most of the 1980s, with an emphasis on testing issues. During that time I believed and argued that whatever the causes for racial variations in test performance during the 1960s and 1970s, by the turn of the century these disparities would surely be reduced. It certainly looks like I was far too optimistic.


April 4, 2004
Shameless self-promotion

This afternoon I posted my latest golf book review—Jimmy Demaret: The Swing's the Thing, by John Companiotte.

It's a biography of the once-popular PGA player, nowadays more famous because of The Golf Channel's rebroadcast of Shell's Wonderful World of Golf series than for the fact that Demaret won three Masters. The Texas native hosted the series after his 31-victory tenure on the PGA Tour.

Demaret's life and career deserved a good, well-written biography.

Unfortunately, this one isn't.

April 4, 2004
Update on veal therapy

A couple months ago I posted a recipe that touted the therapeutic benefits of pounding veal as part of the preparation process.

Last night I made a few changes to this recipe that worked out very nicely.

I shredded some prosciutto and fried it until it was crisp. At the point in the recipe where I added the wine and parsley to the browned veal, I put in the prosciutto bits along with a few tablespoons of cream.

We served the result on a bed of couscous.

Several oohs and aahs resulted, which are always nice to hear.

In the recipe proportions used in the February 1 post, I'd estimate I used about 1/8 pound of the Italian delicacy and about 1/4 cup of cream.


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 2002-2004