Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- May 27-June 16, 2007

This page includes posts from May 27-June 16, 2007 in the usual reverse order.

Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

June 14, 2007
Annals of newspaper editing

Some words sound very similar, but have quite different meanings.

Here's an example from today's State News, reporting a proposal to boost fines for traffic offenses and send the new money to the state's Transportation Trust Fund:

Joint Finance Committee co-chair Rep. William A. Oberle Jr., R-Newark, said the measure would provide some sorely needed money in a year when revenue estimates have fallen and the operating and capital budgets are stretched thin.

The proposal might be more palpable to legislators because it only impacts those who break the law, Rep. Oberle said, unlike the proposed motor fuel tax increase, which would affect all motorists at the pump.

Some other legislators might think that idea is pretty palatable to them, instead.

Or maybe not.

June 13, 2007
The plush tradition continues

Last night’s thunderstorms helped create the conditions to maintain an early summer season tradition.

The downpour kept me off the golf course for my usual league match, and sent me home far earlier than expected.

The place was quieter than usual. Younger daughter was busy at her restaurant job, while older daughter and my wife were meeting at another local restaurant in town.

After finishing my golf column for the week, and running up and down the TV channel selector a few times, it dawned on me that I hadn’t completed a longstanding June family ritual.

So I drove into town, and found a parking spot in the ocean block of Delaware Avenue, immediately adjacent to the Funland amusement center on the Boardwalk. I put two quarters in the meter, which still had about 20 minutes on it, because what I was about to do could take a while. If I was lucky, the combined 50-minute interval might just be enough time.

I had to win a prize at Skeeball.

I exchanged smiles with Mr. Fasnacht, the owner of Funland, as I walked past one of the old kiddie rides. Standing in his familiar red jacket, he was watching over a new batch of very young children and their parents.

There wasn’t an overwhelming crowd that night as I walked through the building. It’s still early in the season, and the real crush won’t come for a few more weeks yet. That was fine with me, because I knew I’d have a great chance to avoid a long wait at the Skeeball alley on the other side.

My luck continued. There were several open alleys. I walked right up between two little girls, perhaps 6 and 9 years old. They were concentrating so hard on their own games that they hardly gave me a glance.

I put in a quarter and the rack of familiar brown balls rolled to the open slot.

I used my tried and true method for scoring, and the first ball worked just as I planned.

I roll them toward the left bumper on the alley about three quarters of the way to the end, and on the rebound the ball rolls up the ramp. This one popped directly into the 40-point hole.

The next two balls did the same, and I began to think about scoring more than the minimum 250 points required for the smallest prize.

As with any other sport, of course, that kind of anticipation had its usual effect. The next few balls bounced off the 40-point rim and rolled back to either the 20-point circle or, worse yet, the 10-point section.

Chastened once again by the challenge of Skeeball, I tried to return to my original composure. The balls started returning to the 40-point spot, with an occasional bounce-out to add an anxious moment or two.

I was down to the last ball, and only needed a 30-point score to make the 250 points. It went right in, and the red light atop the alley began flashing.

The Funland attendant, who was maybe 19, grinned as he handed me the precious prize:

A plush dog imported from China, sold by Goffa Int'l USA.

This plush dog is about 5 inches long. It fit perfectly inside the front pocket of my dress slacks as I walked out.

I can’t remember the last time I won a Skeeball prize on the first quarter. Sometimes I’ve gone through several dollars on the attempt, which of course is perfectly fine for the Funland folks.

Mrs. Schranck was also highly pleased at receiving another small furry animal for her growing collection.

Some traditions are way more enjoyable than others.


May 30, 2007
Not a legal limbo—more of a step shuffle

The ongoing debate over sidewalk responsibility in Wilmington continues to be unresolved. 

I wrote about this issue a few years ago, and again in late 2005. Without repeating those posts in full (although they make for great reading, obviously), the current situation is as follows:

  • As ruled by the Delaware Supreme Court in 2004, the City of Wilmington’s Charter gives the city government the responsibility to maintain and repair the 360 miles of sidewalks throughout Delaware’s largest municipality.
  • Under the State Tort Claims Act, however, Wilmington cannot be sued for damages based on injuries received from accidents involving sidewalks.
  • The City does not want to assume the costs of repaving all of the city’s sidewalks, and so it hasn’t.
  • Many other Delaware cities, including Dover and Newark, have effectively shifted this responsibility to the property owners adjoining these sidewalks. This is also common in other cities throughout the United States.
  • The only way for Wilmington to follow its sister cities’ lead is to amend its City Charter, which it can do by a referendum adopted by city voters, or by a supermajority bill passed by the Delaware General Assembly.

The News-Journal ran a front-page story today about this lingering controversy.

Previous City efforts to have the General Assembly adopt the charter change have not gone anywhere, and the current effort is also stalling. The City’s political troubles with this year’s bill appear to be caused by the fact that many Wilmington residents, including some who are pushing an online petition on this issue, are deeply uninterested in accepting this responsibility.

The subhead for the story says that Wilmington is “in ‘legal limbo’” since the 2004 Supreme Court ruling that wiped out a jury verdict in a sidewalk case brought against an adjoining property owner. The decision also wiped out the prior city ordinance that attempted to put this burden on these and similarly situated citizens.

It’s not really a limbo situation, however. It’s more of a step shuffle, as the City government and its residents squabble over who should pick up this particular tab.

In the meantime, there are other funds available for this purpose. A lot of folks have taken advantage of that fact. For example, most if not all of the General Assembly delegation with districts within City limits provide sidewalk replacement money through the Community Transportation Fund.

To me, this particular tussle simply illustrates the routine tension between communitarian goals and the methods chosen to achieve them.

Not many people argue against having sidewalks in an urban environment like Wilmington.  Nonetheless, it’s also easy to see why the debate over how to pave these paths has become so bitter. Most folks have no trouble suggesting that other people should pay for a common benefit, instead of making their own direct contributions.

And for the City government, it’s often easier to seek a charter change that affects those choices through the General Assembly, instead of asking its own citizens to make that decision for themselves.

That’s some kind of dance.

May 28, 2007
Shameless promotion

This morning I posted my newest golf book review at Hole By Hole.

Michael Bohn's Money Golf: 600 Years of Bettin' on Birdies is a comprehensive look at the symbiotic relationship between golf and gambling.

Two to one says you'll like it.

For more golf stuff, you might also like the most recent golf columns, including a travelogue about Myrtle Beach and more than you might think could possibly be written about a single high school golf team.

However, the Cape Gazette is justifiably proud of its sports section and its local angle focus.

Here are the column links:

The Fish is now in the Cape Region--darn it all
May 25, 2007

Each Cape Region spring brings a familiar run of migrating fish, including tautog, bluefish, and flounder.

This year’s fish travels included a new specimen--but this one is related to golf. More..

Cape golf team closes out regular season with two more wins
May 18, 2007

Some bounce-back victories are easier than others—and some wins take almost no effort at all.

Those are two lessons the Cape Henlopen High School golf team took away from the two victories that closed out their regular season, after their recent one-stroke loss to Sussex Tech. More..

Cape splits two matches
May 11, 2007

You learn more from losing than from winning.

The really close defeats are more memorable than the blowout victories.

There are only so many ways to put a nice spin on a loss. Nonetheless, the one-stroke defeat by Sussex Tech on May 8 at The Rookery, 163-164, clearly stung the Cape Henlopen High School Viking golf squad. More..

Cape picks up three more wins and a ranking
May 4, 2007

This week the Cape Henlopen High School golf team won three more varsity matches and some statewide recognition. More..

May 27, 2007
Sympathy ploys falling on deaf ears--one hopes

Our friends at Lehman Brothers are pretty obvious.

The financial giant, as predicted here, recently argued before the Delaware Supreme Court against paying their Delaware bank franchise taxes, based on its Delaware bank's highly profitable role in funding a huge run of mortgage debt the bank financed.

As discussed in a December 2006 post, the trial court didn't think much of the bank's arguments that it shouldn't pay Delaware for the privilege of enjoying the state's relaxed attitude about the business operations of financial institutions that choose to headquarter in the Diamond State:

Delaware taxed the mortgage interest, for franchise tax purposes, only when the mortgages were held by and on the books at the Delaware Bank. Also, the funds used to purchase the mortgages came from the Bank. The Bank marshaled the FHLB funding received in Delaware with money earned from the CD sales in Delaware and channeled it to the borrowers. Therefore, the taxed income was earned in Delaware....

[T]he Bank’s Delaware activities, such as accepting CD deposits and accessing FHLB loans, substantially furthered the Bank’s mortgage business, contributing over 90% of the funds for it....

This [interest] income is attributable to Delaware since the funds from the Bank “fueled the entire mortgage banking business.” Without these funds, the Bank could not buy the mortgages. And, it was the Bank that bought the mortgages. (It does not matter that someone else, LBH, told the Bank which mortgages to buy.) Then, the Bank earned money from them while they were here. Delaware did not tax any other transactions.

The News-Journal story about the appeal included a fun quote from the bank's attorney. On his client's behalf, he highlighted the Delaware Bank Commissioner's decision to charge $5,200 in penalty assessments for each day Lehman failed to meet its Delaware obligations:

"We believe the penalties were piling on," Frankel said, adding that the bank believes it owes only about $3 million.

Some arguments lawyers make are rich in unintended irony.

Consider this other financial piece in today's Washington Post about some of the fee and interest practices of the nation's credit card issuers. When the consumer complaints described there are combined with the Lehman lawyer's beefing about who is doing the "piling on," I just can't stop smiling.

May 24, 2007
Not exactly graceful in defeat

A while ago I wrote a story about a fight in Chancery Court between the Dewey Beach Lions Club and some folks who owned properties lying just east of a playground lot owned by the club.

The lawsuit involved a tiny alleyway between the parcels. Because of the summer rental crowds using these properties, the owners argued that they had a right to use a portion of the club property for an even wider path.

Master Sam Glasscock disagreed:

When the lots currently belonging to the Owners were created many years ago, they included the use of a 15' easement along their western boundaries to allow access from the public street. As the years have passed and what were originally simple cottages were transformed into substantial beach homes, the Owners and, particularly, their summertime renters and invitees, found it convenient to park in the easement. Some of the properties were rented to groups for the summer, and these tenants were forced to park their multiple vehicles in areas which included the easement, if they were to park them on the properties at all. At the same time, just to the west of the easement, the Strip was open to the public as a right-of-way for access to the Lions Club playground. It was, therefore, natural for the Owners and their guests and renters to avoid the easement, clogged with parked cars, and instead drive to the properties over the Strip. Because of the public license to use this area, however, the Owners’ use was not hostile to the rights of the possessor of the property, and therefore[e] no prescriptive rights in the Owners’ favor were established.

As I noted at the time, this decision affirms the point that "your parking problem is not your neighbor’s responsibility."

According to a news story tonight, however, it appears that one of these neighbors was not exactly graceful in defeat.

A Dewey Beach woman and her handyman have been charged with poisoning a sycamore tree, located on a nearby playground, that blocked her view of Rehoboth Bay....

Pearl Golden, 57, was arrested May 18 and charged with criminal mischief, second-degree conspiracy and criminal solicitation, all felonies, Dewey Beach police said. Her handyman, Daniel Furr, 22, of Dover, turned himself in two days later on charges of criminal mischief and second-degree conspiracy.

... According to court records, Golden told a witness in late April that she was aggravated with the Lions Club for putting up a fence between its McKinley Street playground and her house.

She had encountered problems with the club in the past, she said, and decided to have her handyman kill a tree on the club’s playground so she could have a better view of the bay, police wrote in court records.

The tree's now dead, and according to one worker the tree will cost at least $3,000 to be replaced.

I hope the new tree grows quickly, thickly, and high.


Contact Information:

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

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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2007