Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- May 30-June 12, 2004

This page includes posts from May 30-June 12, 2004 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

June 12, 2004
The dog's not exactly a Safire fan, but still

The news that animal researchers have identified certain human language skills that can be used by dogs is not really a startling announcement to dog owners, but it's a welcome development in science:

Patti Strand, an American Kennel Club board member, called the report "good news for those of us who talk to our dogs."

"Like parents of toddlers, we learned long ago the importance of spelling key words like bath, pill or vet when speaking in front of our dogs," Strand said. "Thanks to the researchers who've proven that people who talk to their dogs are cutting-edge communicators, not just a bunch of eccentrics."

It's admittedly pleasant to see our experience with our dog Rocky confirmed with empirical evidence.

Like the test subject in the piece, Rocky is a border collie (well, mostly), and like the members of other working dog breeds, he's extremely attentive to human speech and other signals. See, e.g., Babe.

In our house, the following words must often be spelled out, or a certain someone will either go nuts barking or start making false assumptions and acting on them: o-u-t, t-r-e-a-t, w-a-l-k, c-a-r, and d-o-o-r.

Rocky's intellectual development has limits, however.

I don't want to cast aspersions, but the only other male in our house still moves his lips when he reads.

June 10, 2004
Recommended reading

If you've ever wondered how effective honor box systems are in the retail trades, or had any interest in the ethical issues raised by such practices, I highly recommend reading "What the Bagel Man Saw" in the June 6 NYT Magazine.

With a hat tip to Mindles H. Dreck, who suggested it to me during a delightful lunch in Manhattan earlier this week.

June 10, 2004
We’re not in it for the money

Today I attended the first administrative appeal hearing that challenged a citation issued by the City of Dover under its portion of the Delaware’s Electronic Red Light Enforcement System. It was held before a magistrate in Justice of the Peace Court #7.

A Dover police sergeant presented the city’s side of the proceeding. He put on two witnesses in addition to his own testimony, and the evidence generally followed the script we had worked out a couple days before during the dress rehearsal.

From my perspective, this hearing went very well.

The appeal was denied.

My clients worked with Dover, a technology vendor, and several other city police agencies, as well as the State police and other interested parties, in developing and implementing this three-year experiment in safety at some of the state’s more incident-prone intersections. The work has kept several of us pretty busy for a while now.

Since Delaware did not take the lead in putting its red light video systems into action, it was able to learn a few things from the experiences of others.

For example, some well-known opponents of these systems have argued that cities and states have shortened the time interval for the yellow light, with the specific intent of creating an easy revenue-raising trap for the unwary.

I'm not defending any such tactic.

In this case, a DelDOT engineer testified that the standard yellow time sequence for this particular intersection should have been a minimum of 4.0 seconds. Therefore, the interval was increased to 5.0 seconds, and the computer records confirmed that this minimum was maintained during the period before the particular violation.

In other jurisdictions the folks challenging their citations have argued that they entered the intersection under red conditions because vehicles behind them, such as ambulances, approached toward them at sufficiently alarming speeds that they were forced into the intersection.  

In this case, the vendor witness explained that the system's digital video cameras captured a separate view from the “context” perspective, showing what was behind the violator as she entered the intersection. This third view helps confirm that there were no such outside influences, and is used with other data in the initial decision whether to issue a citation.

The appellant in this case made this "vehicle behind me" argument, but also readily admitted that nothing shown in the video supported her claim.

Under the statutes that set up this program, the administrative appeal process is intended to be informal. In addition, the citation has no effect on the vehicle owner’s insurance rating, and no administrative points are assessed for these civil violations. On the other hand, the $75 charge and the $30 court cost assessment if the appeal is lost can provide a sharp little incentive to pay attention to the traffic signals.

Nonetheless, as we emphasize whenever we discuss this program, Delaware is not in this for the money.

On the other hand, the folks at DelDOT are realistic about the tradeoffs involved. They expect that the actual number of accidents at these intersections where these systems will be installed (eventually 30 state-wide) won’t necessarily decrease substantially, at least not at first. Instead, the character and severity of the accidents should change dramatically.

There should be a significant shift away from the T-boning, major injury- and death-producing side impact collisions that occur at these crossroads. Instead, there will probably be an increase in low-speed rear impact collisions by drivers paying insufficient attention to the car in front.

This seems to be the general experience of the other jurisdictions that have set up similar enforcement programs.

DelDOT, the State Police, and the city police agencies know that the real effort in administering this program is to make sure that there are very good grounds to issue the citations in the first place. The program’s potential success depends in part on making sure that no questionable charges are filed, and that it becomes very difficult for an alleged violator to win on appeal. If the agencies can maintain effective and fair citation issuance practices, the total number of red light violations should decrease, and there should also be a reduction in motor vehicle fatalities.

And that’s why we’re not in it for the money.

June 8, 2004
Traffic Report

During last weekend's blogging break, June 6 marked the 29th month of this site's existence.

As of that date, 214,023 visitors viewed 273,923  pages.

Thanks very much for your patronage. This remains a lot of fun to do.


Stop by again soon.

June 5, 2004
Blogging Break

I'm taking a short break from blogging, and expect to return to these pages in a few days.

Have a great weekend, and take a look around the contents pages if you haven't been here for a while.

Thanks for visiting!

June 3, 2004
White dresses

It had been a long day.

I had left for work at the usual time. After reaching Dover, I gathered together some files at my office and then drove the state car to Philadelphia to present DelDOT’s defense in a construction claim arbitration at the AAA offices on South Broad Street, next to the Academy of Music.

The last time I’d been at that corner was to watch the Mummers Parade on a cold day in January.

This time the weather was gorgeous—sunny, lightly warm, and with the usual bustle of a June morning in downtown.

The arbitration proceeding went well, and quickly. We were finished before 1 o’clock, and I drove back to Dover. I changed cars and continued south to Georgetown, trying to reach Sussex Pines Country Club in time to catch the end of the state high school golf championships. Fortunately, the kids were playing a bit slow, so there were at least four groups of players yet to finish when I walked up to the scoreboard, with its pensive group of players and parents knotted in front, pointing and talking in low voices.

The Cape team did well, finishing in fifth place overall, with their best golfer earning third place in the individual category. The other players had also hung around, so there were no problems obtaining the interviews and the usual grip-and-grin pictures for my golf column, due that night.

I drove home from there and talked a bit with younger daughter. She was preparing to drive back to high school to join the band and choir, scheduled to perform in that night’s graduation ceremonies.

She left the house, and I started drafting the week’s golf column. 

My wife came home as I was finishing it up, and shortly thereafter we drove to Lewes and walked a block or two to the Inn at Canal Square, a hotel that hugs the western side of the Lewes & Rehoboth Canal in the heart of the town.

As parents of a junior, we were there to help out with Cape’s traditional post-graduation party for the seniors and their families. Dozens of area businesses donated various supplies for the event, and the Inn’s staff joined right in during the process of setting up tables, loading bins with sodas and water, and offloading the trays of chicken wings and other food for the buffet line.

At about 9 p.m., the first few attendees began to appear, joined quickly thereafter by a flood of happy, busily chattering graduates, parents, and younger siblings. We were kept busy all night replenishing the stocks, emptying bins, and talking with friends.

Almost as soon as the first flood of graduates appeared, however, I felt a sharp pang of emotions. I had forgotten about one of Cape’s traditions, in which the senior girls wear white dresses under their graduation gowns.

Most of the young women this year had kept to that custom, and, of course, they were all beautiful as they glided around the courtyard.

The folks at the local White House/Black Market store must have been very happy.

During the evening I talked with many of the young ladies and young men, full of plans for the summer and college in the fall. Several of the girls were on my daughter’s swimming and soccer teams, or on little league squads dating back half their lives ago.

The sight of all those white outfits called to mind Irwin Shaw’s famous short story, Girls in Their Summer Dresses. More importantly, however, seeing the graduates reminded me that twelve months from now we’d be completing a similar stage in our own family’s life.

We had a great time with older daughter’s graduation celebration a few years ago, joined by her friends and family. Next year we would join younger daughter at a similar party, in which she will wear her own white dress.

Something must have gotten caught in my eyes for a few moments there.

June 1, 2004
Four Claudes, standing in line

It’s been a while since a decent Claude candidate has merited an appearance on this site.

The Associated Press came through today, however, with a stunner worth four of ‘em:

Travelers Face Long Lines at Ga. Airport

Thousands of frustrated travelers waited in two-hour-long lines to pass through security Tuesday at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, slowed by a rush of business and post-holiday passengers.

Travelers at one of the country's busiest airports stood in a labyrinthine line that wound through ticketing and baggage claim areas and the food court before even nearing the security gate.

Just so we’re clear, let’s review the basic elements of this story:

  • Atlanta is one of the country’s most-used airports
  • It’s a holiday weekend
  • Thousands of travelers had to go through the airport’s security system, which caused significant delays for most of them

I am not shocked to learn this.

I don't know any sentient being who would be.

May 31, 2004
Notes to Mariners

An short length of old mooring line, still secured to a well-buried hunk of concrete, is hidden in the shallow water about 30 feet north of the dock at The Rusty Rudder in Dewey Beach, about half-way down the pier's length.

This line is long enough to wrap around one’s propeller and bring the entire docking process to a sudden halt. If this happens, shut off the engine, enter the water, stand behind the tilted motor, and slowly unwrap the line from the propeller.

During this process, pay no attention to the folks on the pier and in the Rudder’s open-air shoreside bar, several of whom may be laughing and pointing in your direction.

Avoid attempting to dock near this area.

On the other hand, the public docks in the Lewes & Rehoboth Canal in front of the Irish Eyes Pub & Restaurant are very handy for a lunch stop, and apparently free from such hazards.

That is all.

May 30, 2004
Shameless self-promotion

This morning I posted my latest golf book review—The Works of Art: Golf Course Designs By Arthur Hills, by Arthur Hills with Michael Patrick Shiels.

It looks like a standard coffee table book, but appearances deceive. It's actually an insightful review of the hows and whys behind the successful career of one of America's premier golf course architects of the last few decades. 

The photographs are impressive, nonetheless.


Contact Information:

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


Home Page
Table of Essays
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 2002-2004