Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- May 21-June 3, 2006

This page includes posts from May 21-June 3, 2006 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

June 3, 2006
Shameless Self-Promotion

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

How to Hit the Second Shot First: Blue and Bawdy Jokes that Unlock the Puzzle of the Green is a compilation of dozens of golf jokes and stories. After over twenty years of golf, I'm sure I've heard or told 90 per cent of them, but it may be handy to have them all in one place.

June 2, 2006
Al, you ignorant slut

Daniel B. Wood of The Christian Science Monitor wrote a very good article about the increasing trend toward the production and widening distribution of single point-of-view documentaries, such as the new global warming movie featuring former Vice-President Al Gore, or Michael Moore's 9/11 screed.

I also like the term used in the piece to describe this type of cinema--docu-ganda.

As a board member for the Rehoboth Beach Film Society, I also share the concern raised in the closing paragraphs of Wood's article::

One problem with such "docu-ganda," say some media experts, is that the films risk limiting their audiences to those who agree with their premises.

"One concern I have about such films is that they are merely preaching to the choir. You're not going to have a fellow with an NRA [National Rifle Association] bumper sticker walking into [Moore's] 'Bowling for Columbine,'" says Matt Felling of the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, which studies news and entertainment media. "[Former US Sen.] Pat Moynihan was famous for saying, 'Everybody is entitled to their own opinions, but they're not entitled to their own facts,' " says Mr. Felling....

All this demands a higher media literacy from filmgoers, say Felling and others. But the ability to discern what is fact, what is varnish, and what is debatable is largely untaught, and viewers are often complacent, they say.

The advent of such films does not mean that people shouldn't see them, but rather that viewers should practice critical thinking, say experts. "The danger of the advocacy documentary is that things might be being kept from you ...," says Peter Lehman of the Center for Film and Media Research at Arizona State University, Tempe. But he adds that it is legit[i]mate for a filmmaker to acknowledge that his film is not neutral. "It's a different mission," he says.

Organizations such as RBFS can do something about this particular risk, in their programming for their film festivals or other events.

For example, if there are docu-ganda films that take opposite sides, such as the two new Walmart movies, then why not show both as a form of counter-programming?

Depending on speaker availability, it might also be beneficial for festival organizers to combine these films with space and time for a debate or post-showing discussion.

The fact that a docu-ganda film may make no effort to present all or even two sides of an issue is, of course, the filmmaker's prerogative. Nonetheless, film-promoting organizations should bear in mind that their own long-term prospects for success may depend on reaching out to as many different groups of potential movie buffs as possible.

Note: This post's title is admittedly just a tad derivative.

May 29, 2006
Summer Season

We drove in to Rehoboth Beach last night for dinner at the new Finbar Restaurant. As should be expected on this particular Sunday, we were joined by umpteen thousand Memorial Day visitors, both on the way in and during the hunt for an open parking space in the little town.

Even though weíve lived here for nearly twenty years, itís still a bit stunning to see so many people all at once, with the certain knowledge that the hordes of tourists will be with us for the next fifteen weeks or so. 

Our initial reaction is usually similar to one little girl who had to deal with some other visitors in a far different circumstance.

On the other hand, we quickly acknowledge that if it werenít for all those folks who come here in the summer, we wouldnít have what we enjoy during the rest of the year. Besides, thereís plenty to like about living here from May through August.

We just have to share.

May 24, 2006
Go Barney--again and again, if necessary

Several bloggers noted happily how this week the very liberal Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) took off after fellow Congresspersons and others who are seeking to preserve the protectionist policies propping up some American agricultural interests, such as Big Sugar.

They're right to applaud him, at least from the perspective of those of us who support free trade policies. It's a fine speech, and yes, you should read the whole thing.

On the other hand, his recent remarks are simply a continuation of stuff he's said before, using several of the same references.

For example, here's the text of his February 24, 2004 speech on this issue. It's well worth comparing to the one he gave this week:

Mr. Speaker, trying to decide what is the greatest hypocrisy in politics is a hard job, but I believe that by sheer dollar volume the support of many who call themselves free market conservatives for the leading aspects of America's agricultural policy qualifies for the prize.

Few areas in public policy in this country are as heavily subsidized by the taxpayers, rigged against consumers, blatantly unfair to poor people in other parts of the world, and contemptuous of the whole notion of competition and free enterprise as American agriculture policy in various of its aspects.

I am frequently puzzled to hear many who declaim their staunch allegiance to free trade, low taxes, no government intervention in the economy, the free market, and unmitigated competition make an implicit exception when the subject is corn, cotton, wheat, peanuts, sugar, or other commodities. Apparently, there are people who believe that the works of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek contain an invisible footnote that says that none of this applies to agriculture.

Amazing similarity, eh?

Now compare these two speeches with a Frank quote used in a December 1994 National Review article by Rich Lowry:

"In my copies of Milton Friedman and Ludwig von Mises," says Representative Barney Frank (D., Mass.), "the footnote that says none of this applies to farm programs was left out."

I suppose at some point even Mr. Frank must tire of using the same arguments he articulated at least a dozen years ago. On the other hand, the bigger disappointment is that he and others opposing agricultural subsidies like those enjoyed by the sugar interests have had to fight against these giveaways for so long.

Perhaps like-minded folks, such as those pushing the Porkbusters movement, will finally provide enough additional support to help carry the day for Rep. Frank and other free-traders.

May 23, 2006
Two Claudes for the money

On the rare occasions that I go into one of Delaware's gambling establishments, I can always see the same thing--lots of white-haired folks, stooped over the slot machines, who only rarely take their eyes off the whirling discs that eventually stop and tell them how much they just lost.

Even so, the News-Journal headline today about senior citizens and their money seemed way too obvious to attract anyone's attention long enough to read the story below it:

Retirees seek financial security

Imagine that.

This goal really separates the no-longer-working from the rest of us, doesn't it?

As usual, the piece this yawner accompanied was better-written than the boring headline indicated, although anyone with retirees as parents or friends would not learn much new about the subject.

This header earns two Claudes.

May 21, 2006
From the Mailbag

Two recent emails discussed two different posts from a while ago, both dealing with transportation issues.

In August 2003 I wrote about a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision involving Ms. Helen Faith Jones. She received a large number of parking citations issued by Monroe, Michigan, allegedly for overstaying the cityís time limits on its metered parking spaces. Ms. Jones argued that the enforcement policy as applied against disabled motorists such as herself violated Federal discrimination laws. 

Hereís a portion of what I said about the case, after the majority on the court panel turned down her appeal:

[I]f this situation had arisen within a Delaware city, Jones would never have been ticketed in the first place.

Under 21 Del.C. Sections 2134(f) and 2135(f), any person who is issued either a handicapped registration plate for her car or who obtains a handicapped tag to hang on her rear view mirror can park in most parking zones and any metered spot, without fear of ticketing. The only exceptions are for areas with rush hour parking restrictions, or where parking would create a traffic hazard, or similar limited circumstances.

That law wasnít enacted because the Feds said Delaware was required to change its parking laws. It was enacted because the disabled community managed to convince the General Assembly that the citiesí modest loss of parking meter revenue and spaces was outweighed by the needs of the handicapped for better access to their choice of destinations.

In other words, sometimes itís better to seek oneís privileges through the political process, rather than argue for their attainment as a matter of right.

It appears that her legal advisors were thinking along similar lines.

Ms. Jones wrote to tell me that she won a separate appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. From what Iíve seen on the Internet, it looks like she was able to rely upon Michigan's version of the Delaware laws I mentioned in the post.

Hereís what she also said in her recent note:

The city has since undergone extensive renovations to comply with the minimum standards of the ADA. As is often the case many facts do not make it to press and often those that do - don't always reflect the reality in which we live. I thank you for your interest and reporting on this matter.

As regular readers also know, Iíve written about automated red light enforcement systems a few times. Besides being an intriguing transportation policy issue, I also have advised my clients at DelDOT about their own red light camera program from its inception, including handling the appeals filed against the Delaware citations.

A gentleman from Virginia sent me a copy of my August 26, 2002 post on this subject, and apparently took issue with some of my commentary about the safety goals of these programs.

Hereís what I said then:

  • The point of many infrastructure improvements in highway safety is not necessarily to reduce accidents.
  • The point is to reduce fatalities.

For example, the placement of the famous Jersey barriers within medians in one sense "created" more injuries, from cars bouncing off of them. On the other hand, the high-walled concrete sections also significantly reduced fatalities from head-on collisions.

In addition, guardrails along highways frequently protect drivers and their passengers from vaulting into space, where the highways' side slopes canít provide a safe place to recover. Nonetheless, the blunt ends of guardrails were frequently the source of many deaths and serious injuries. New blunt end treatments called attenuators canít and wonít prevent all injuries from a nasty bit of aiming, but they usually prevent deaths.

Similarly, side-impact incidents at intersections, or "T-bonings" as they are often called, are typically far more deadly than rear end collisions. One of the primary reasons for installing the red-light camera systems, from a safety perspective at least, is to help prevent deaths and major injuries from T-boning.

Therefore, Iím not at all surprised to read that the red-light cameras

merely trade one type of crash for another,

as quoted by Car and Driver.

Thereís nothing "mere" about that fact at allÖ.

There are other policy issues concerning red-light camera technology that are well worth debating, not least of which is the question whether revenue considerations take precedence over other goals in a particular locale. Nonetheless, from a safety perspective, the fact that the cameras hold out the real promise of reducing serious injuries and death can be a effective counterpoint to the fact that they may also result in additional, predominantly minor accidents.

In other words, these red-light enforcement systems actually help illustrate the principle of intended consequences.

My recent Virginia correspondent has a decidedly different take on the subject, as shown in these segments from his email:

In DE, is the measure of effectiveness test for yellow light duration being done and the results published for each and every proposed rlc site, the point being to absolutely distinguish between red-light violations generated by the shortcomings in the light timings and/or other shortcomings versus those that are indeed deliberate? Officials in Virginia refused to conduct this engineering undertaking before resorting to the use of red light cameras and now, as perhaps you can imagine, there are big problems. 

Rest assured, deliberately tripping people up with inadequate yellow lights so other people, using the pretense of safety, can turn around and issue red light cam ticket$ under ongoing dangerous conditions is not the hallmark of civilized people. It is how dirty rotten scoundrels do business. Rabbits and fools that grease such wheels are equally dishonest ... usually as they shield themselves with their phony good intentionsÖ. 

When you regurgitate the most recent conventional red-light-cam "logic" of cam advocates that rear end accidents are of less consequence than side impacts, you are cavalierly discounting some rather serious considerations. Many near miss rear enders invariably manifest seconds later as side impacts and even head on collisions. Rear end "accidents", in and by themselves, can and indeed do cause serious injury ....... and they even kill people. Considering the serious safety and equity issues involved, people like yourself should not so cavalierly dismiss the facts and swallow hook line and sinker the phony market[]ing claims of inherently dangerous red light cam fanatics.

To answer his specific question about Delaware, not long after the stateís red light camera program began operations, the General Assembly added this passage to 21 Del.C. Section 4101(d)(1):

[T]he duration of the yellow light change interval, at any intersection where a traffic control photographic system or other traffic light signal violation monitoring system is in use, must be no less than the yellow light change interval duration specified in the design manual developed by the Department of Transportation.

This law re-affirmed DelDOTís previously adopted policy choice. In fact, in most locations the stateís yellow-time sequence has been extended slightly, for example from a manual-recommended 4.5 seconds to a full 5.0 seconds. In addition, in each appeal hearing the court is presented evidence of the yellow time and the degree to which these sequences extend beyond the recommended limits. 

Furthermore, I strongly disagree with the correspondentís suggestion that Iím being cavalier about the risk presented by rear-end collisions and their potential aftermaths. I know that this issue is being seriously studied by a number of transportation engineers, and that the data thus far have not always been conclusive.

DelDOTís red light camera enforcement system is a three-year experiment. My clients are looking at their accident data every month to see what changes in accident type and number may be occurring as a result of having these systems in place. That data will certainly play a role in the General Assemblyís eventual decision whether to retain these systems or drop them.

I canít speak for other jurisdictions, but any claims that Delaware only has its eyes on the money and doesnít care about traffic safety are simply false.


Contact Information:

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

Home Page
Table of Essays
Table of Essays 2005
Table of Essays 2004
Table of Essays 2003
Table of Essays 2002
Links to the Weekly Archives

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 2002-2006