Sneaking Suspicions

Archives-- May 19-25, 2002 (Week 20)

Commentary from a practical perspective

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This page includes posts from May 19-25, 2002 in the usual reverse order. Each week's postings on the home page are perma-linked to these pages.

May 25, 2002

Memorial Day

Our family's military experience closely models the history of thousands of Americans.

My wife maternal grandfather emigrated from Italy. Not long after he came to this country, he enlisted to fight in Europe in World War I. He spoke almost no English. The photograph we have of Augusto in uniform shows how proud he was to serve his newly adopted country.

My paternal grandfather was a first-generation American, born of German and Austrian emigres. He enlisted in the Navy in WWI, and served on a troop ship. As he described it to me many years ago, he landed in France, and the war ended.

We laughed about the false connection between those two facts.

My wife's father was a first-generation American, born of Irish emigres. He served in the Pacific in WWII, earning his sergeant's stripes and a Bronze Star among other distinctions.

My father enlisted in the Navy shortly after Pearl Harbor. He initially served in the Atlantic on a subchaser, and then spent the latter part of the war on a Landing Ship Medium (LSM) in the Pacific. By then he was a grizzled veteran Petty Officer 2nd Class, an old guy of 24 with the rest of the crew mostly in their teens.

As the war ended, both our fathers were headed toward Japan. Both spent time in Japan after the war before coming back to America.

Were it not for the work of the Manhattan Project, on which my mother and thousands of other civilians worked, we're convinced that we wouldn't be here to celebrate Memorial Day.

Thousands of others, however, sacrificed their lives while fighting alongside our fathers and grandfathers. We were the lucky ones, and we know it.

We don't often express our appreciation for their commitment to the defense of our country. I expect this year will be a bit different in that respect.

Sometimes it takes an act of evil to remind us of the good done by others, and the good that remains to be done.

May 24, 2002

Polly wants a what?

An Associated Press story today noted that veterinarians at Edinburgh University in Scotland are offering lessons for unfortunate parrot owners burdened by birds with nasty dispositions.

Gidona Goodman of Edinburgh University said parrots were gregarious creatures which thrived on human company.

But if not treated properly, parrots could behave antisocially -- just like humans, she said.

This proposal is a good thing in many respects. On the other hand, the downside risk is that if the vets’ work is successful, it could lead to a diminishing number of parrot jokes.

For example:

A man is walking down a street and is going by a pet store.

A parrot is sitting on a stand just outside the door, and calls out to the man, "HEY, BUDDY!"

Intrigued, the man stops and says, "What?"

The parrot says, "F--- YOU!"

The man becomes upset and goes into the store to complain to the owner.

The owner goes outside and tells the parrot, "That’s the last time you do that. One more complaint about your language, and I’ll bag you up and throw you into the lake. You got me?"

The parrot nods his head.

The next day, the same man is walking by the pet store.

The parrot calls out to the man, "HEY, BUDDY!"

Intrigued, the man stops and says, "What?"

The parrot doesn’t say anything--it just stares at the man.

This goes on for several seconds, until the man loses patience and says again, "What?"

The parrot says quietly, "You know what."

Click here for this week’s golf column, if you’d like. It’s a travelogue about Sunset Beach, NC.

May 23, 2002

An old trick with a new dog

Never let it be said that con men don't update their tried-and-true methods for separating fools from their money.

In a variation from the usual Nigerian 419 scam, some enterprising thieves are now counting on a curious mix of patriotism and greed:

An e-mail making the rounds on the Internet purports to be from an American ``Special Forces Commando'' in Afghanistan who found $36 million in Taliban drug money. The e-mail asks the recipient for help moving the cash, kept in a suitcase, out of Afghanistan.

Apparently there really is one born every minute. The story also notes an FBI report that well over two thousand Americans admitted to falling victim to the allure of easy riches.

Of course, that doesn't count the thousands of greedy morons who were too embarrassed to admit they were taken for the proverbial ride.

By the way, for some reason Mr. Bundu didn’t follow up on his personal invitation. Maybe next time.

May 23, 2002

Five Claudes, Minimum

Chandra Levy's Parents Distraught

This one should anger people, because its utter banality is somehow also needlessly cruel.

Who would ever think her parents would feel any other emotion, such that this headline would somehow reflect actual newsworthy content?


May 22, 2002

It’s so nice to be wanted

One of the recurring problems for the two major political parties in this country occurs when they try to broaden their appeal to as many people as possible.

In choosing which issues to stress for the greatest appeal to voters, paradoxically sooner or later one group or another already in the fold will feel left out. The party’s newfound focus makes others in their core constituencies feeling like Betty instead of Veronica, to use an Archie Comics metaphor.

Apparently the Democrats are about to re-learn this fact of political life.

David Von Drehle reported in the Washington Post today that men are the newest demographic on whom the Democrats are now pinning their hopes for the next election cycle or so.

Male voters--what a concept.

Not just any men, mind you; they’re talking a special subset of the gender, which the party’s pollsters call the "Office Park Dads."

To continue the cartoon metaphors, imagine Dilbert with a soccer mom wife and two kids:

They live in the suburbs, work in cubicles, own stock and -- with their working wives -- earn a median income of $56,000. They're youngish (25 to 50) and call themselves "moderates" and "independents," but they moved in the late stages of the 2000 presidential campaign to support George W. Bush.

In a presentation to the New Democrat Network, Mark Penn explained to his attentive audience what happened in the past and what their new goal should be.

While the Democrats were carefully marketing themselves to the Moms in recent years, they lost the Dads, he said.

And since the Dads make up 15 percent of the total electorate, they form "the most obvious next target in American politics."

The pollsters told the group that this potential gold mine of voters has a core set of concerns that could be addressed by the party: a strong national defense, the economy in the long term, training opportunities for those who want to work, and keeping interest rates low.

Von Drehle noted that emphasizing these issues might not go over well with the liberal wing of the party, whose interests lie elsewhere.

No kidding.

This is, as Jonah Goldberg would say, sand-poundingly obvious.

I have rarely been accused of being a liberal. I don’t quite fit the Office Dad demographic, either. I can’t help noticing, however, that many of the identified Office Dad concerns have an appeal that goes well beyond that group, or should, anyway. I also know that these same issues are a large part of the package for me.

It’s also been a while since I felt the national Democrat party actually gave two hoots about these concerns, so to some extent I should feel grateful. In addition, if the Democrats go looking for the Office Dad vote, it might also help keep the Republicans on their toes, for fear of losing a bloc of voters they’ve been attracting lately.

It could be interesting to watch how the Democrats' liberal wing fight to maintain their fading influence, if the party leadership does decide to reach back toward the center.

May 22, 2002

It’s good being first

The title to this little post happens to be the new marketing mantra for the State of Delaware. It also fits well with a little situation between columnist David Broder and this site.

In a May 16 post titled Half Right about State Finances, I discussed the budget problems most states are now facing.

In today’s Washington Post, Broder discusses the budget problems most states are now facing.

Advantage--Sneaking Suspicions!

May 21, 2002

Smart Growth meets NIMBY

A Washington Post story about a struggling neighborhood near a DC Metro subway stop illustrates once again the difference between effective disposition of publicly owned property compared to traditional private development.

It also shows that some people can be remarkably free with other people’s money.

The Takoma Metro station in Northwest Washington sits just across the DC line from Takoma Park, Maryland. The DC portion of the neighborhood has seen better days, and the subway authority planned to do something about it. Two years ago the agency reached a tentative deal with a real estate developer to sell seven acres of Metro-owned land for a townhouse development and lighted garage. Included in the package is an unkempt park space.

As reported by Debbi Wilgoren, some of the current area residents are not too keen on the idea of having new neighbors—at least, not as many as Metro and the real estate developer had in mind originally.

... 18 months of community meetings and planning sessions did nothing to forge consensus on the Metro land. The planning office's efforts shaved [the] proposal from 110 townhouses to 65 to 95, and added a nicely landscaped park of about one acre, about half of what is there now.

That was still too much for some.

So the e-mails started flying, signatures were collected on opposing petitions, and someone designed buttons that said "plan" with a circle and a line drawn through it.

At another Metro stop, an apartment building proposal eventually shrunk down to a total of six "luxury townhouses," according to the report.

The city planners are clearly frustrated. Smart Growth proposals usually take advantage of amenities such as subway access to lure new property owners into areas they might not otherwise consider. The presence of new development, spurred by disposing of excess public land made available for that purpose, can provide the critical spark to encourage additional direct private investment in nearby areas.

NIMBY attitudes are tough to counter, however:

Fourteen of the city's 39 Metro stations have space nearby for significant housing construction, said D.C. Planning Director Andrew Altman, and the city hopes to target those sites for residential projects.

"It's not just a Takoma issue -- it's a larger issue about how the city's going to grow," Altman said. "Every neighborhood can't say, 'Yes, I'm for smart growth, but in my neighborhood I only want parks and open space.' " He said the city needs the taxpaying residents such development would bring.

The neighbors, of course, are simply taking political advantage of the fact that the subway authority owns the land. These folks don’t worry about maximizing the return on the initial investment of public dollars on the property. Their NIMBY attitude toward such proposals is similar to the tragedy of the commons, because in both cases the perception of personal ownership and responsibility is too diminished.

In contrast, private investors willing to gamble on an eventual approval for development of the public property faced far fewer hurdles:

For instance, two small apartment projects are planned for privately owned lots next to the Takoma station -- projects that generated almost no community opposition, unlike the Metro plan.

Some kind of development will eventually occur on the Metro property. At some point, however, the agency’s smart growth advocates will need to make a more forceful presentation to counter the NIMBY folks’ drag on beneficial investment in their own community.

May 20, 2002

Pleasures of the chase

While channel surfing I periodically come across a couple bits of "reality" television that successfully keep me from hitting the remote key every three seconds.

I refer, of course, to such fine programming as World’s Wildest Police Videos (on FX or USA Network where I live), or the Police Videos show on Fox, starring Retired Sheriff John Bunnell.

He’s the guy with the remarkable white hair, pearly white teeth, and really grating voice.

Apparently I’m not alone in my appreciation for a good ol’ police chase.

A story on the wire today by AP television writer David Bauder described how several weeks ago Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC all jumped on coverage of the same Southern California runaway vehicle, complete with drawn guns, a police dog, and well over two million TV viewers spread among the three networks.

Fox News Channel nearly doubled its typical daytime viewership for the 90 minutes the chase was on, to 1.38 million people. CNN had 900,000 viewers, compared to its April daytime average of 555,000. MSNBC's audience was 60 percent higher than normal.

The three news organizations are not always in synch on these visually compelling stories, which usually don’t receive much notice in the newspapers the next day.

When CNN and Fox devoted 40 minutes in November 2001 to a flaming lumber truck barreling through Dallas, MSNBC didn't cover it. A network spokesman at the time labeled his rivals' news judgment "appalling.''

One part of the story produced a grin that the person quoted probably didn’t intend. Mary Lynn Ryan, managing editor of CNN/U.S, described her company’s continuing editorial wrestling over whether to cover these dramas:

"We decided we would resist the temptation to chase ratings with gratuitous television when we have important stories to tell,'' she said. "I don't think we need to stoop to doing this ... People who know CNN trust CNN, and that's part of our trust. We have to be good journalists.''

I don't believe anyone would disagree with the eventual goal. Others may quibble over the current self-assessment contained in that quote, however.

May 19, 2002

Why I like living here

Today’s itinerary provided several examples:

Morning chores, including the usual dog duties as the rest of the house dozed.

Leaving for the golf course at 6:40 a.m., and teeing off 30 minutes later in bright sunshine. Shooting the five par-3s in a total of one-over is a pleasant little highlight.

More chores.

Half-price seafood entree night at Stoney Lonen, one of the finer restaurants in Rehoboth. Their grilled yellowfin tuna is done just right.

Visiting the newly remodeled Browseabout Books on Rehoboth Avenue, now achieving Borders-sized proportions as the summer season approaches. This place could fit the Viennese coffeehouse model Doug Turnbull suggested that bloggers emulate. Maybe a good meeting place for a Blogger Beach Bash later this year?

Sharing a soft ice cream cone with my wife and younger daughter while walking on the Boardwalk, with a light pink and blue sky over the Atlantic as the day moved through sunset.

Finishing my review of A Golfer's Education and posting it at HoleByHole.

I know that some of today’s events could have easily occurred elsewhere. I’m just sure I would not have enjoyed them as much.

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