Sneaking Suspicions

Archives-- June 23-29, 2002 (Week 25)

Commentary from a practical perspective

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This page includes posts from June 23-29, 2002 in the usual reverse order. Each week's postings on the home page are perma-linked to these pages.

June 29, 2002

Say it isn’t so

A health story put out on the web by Reuters today announced a long-term study’s results that in one important respect came to a different conclusion than I would have preferred.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins studied a group of athletically-inclined male medical students over a period of many years. Their report concludes that the health effects of continued participation in certain sports were better than others:

[T]hose with a preference for tennis in youth were most likely to continue their sport as they aged. And tennis, as opposed to team sports like football and basketball, was the only sport linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly heart attack, by age 60.

According to the study authors, the findings suggest that tennis and other aerobic activities that are easier to maintain over the years--including jogging and biking--may be particularly heart-healthy forms of exercise.

The depressing part of the story related to my current favorite sport:

Unfortunately for ... middle-aged men, though, golfing throughout life was not linked to better heart health in this study, according to Dr. Thomas K. Houston and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

The researchers note that although many men keep golfing over a lifetime, the sport is far less aerobically demanding than tennis.

Some of us considered that last fact a point in golf’s favor.

I suppose I’ll have to return to the stationary bike, in addition to the golf course. For the sake of tennis players everywhere, putting my feet on a pair of bike pedals is a far better method for me to maintain my aerobic capacity than putting a racquet in my hands.

You’re just going to have to trust me on this.

And speaking of golf, click here for the latest golf book review, if you’d like. It’s a golf instruction book unlike most I’ve ever read.

June 28, 2002

Five Claudes, with golden federally-subsidized spikes

I swear I don’t actually search for Claude candidates.

Some days the winners just leap off the page (or browser screen, more often than not):

Politics Help Amtrak Stay on Track

How shall I put this?

I am not surprised.
I am not shocked.
I am not astounded.
I am not amazed.
I am not taken aback.
I am not bowled over.
I am not stunned.

Except in this respect--how could anyone who knows how Amtrak was created ever think otherwise?

AP writer Jonathan D. Salant’s story lays out the sordid details of yet another upcoming Perils of Pauline-like rescue of the passenger railroad corporation. At least this time, no one is even attempting to argue that the railroad’s current priorities and responsibilities are anything other than a combination of political mandates.

Though strongest in the Northeast, California and the Pacific Northwest, Amtrak serves 45 states. There are trains through the states of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ernest Hollings, D-S.C.…

The railroad continues to run money-losing long-distance trains rather than incur the wrath of powerful lawmakers whose states would lose service.

"We are a creature of the political process," then-Amtrak President George Warrington told a House subcommittee in February.

I give the Amtrak folks credit for being clear-eyed and open about the source of their continuing difficulties. Nonetheless, in order for the corporation to escape some of its more egregiously costly and useless routes, it will almost certainly require coming up with an alternative political subsidy to the affected areas and their respective Congressmen. Only then will Amtrak be able to concentrate its efforts on those parts of its responsibilities that could operate in a more business-like fashion.

June 27, 2002

Drug testing for the Drum Major

Missed it by that much.

In March I wrote a post about a guy who was trying to sell pre-packaged urine that was allegedly guaranteed to pass a drug test. The essay included the following:

I've dealt with the legal issues concerning drug testing for nearly 20 years, including seminar presentations at the state and national level. This was not a close case....

Reasonable minds can certainly differ on the appropriate scope of drug testing. In fact, a separate case dealing with a drug test requirement for after-school activity participation will be argued this week in the Supreme Court. I believe it will be struck down as overbroad.

Well, no, as it turned out.

My prediction for Bd. of Ed. of Ind. Sch. Dist. No. 92 v. Earls missed by a single Justice, with a 5-4 majority upholding random urine testing for kids wishing to join the marching band, cheerleading, the Future Farmers of America chapter, and other fun stuff.

Justice Breyer's concurring opinion may provide the best clues in understanding how the majority obtained its five votes.

Breyer noted the Court's recent precedent in Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646 (1995) which upheld random testing for students wishing to participate in athletics. He then recited a batch of alarming statistics concerning child drug use and the limited success of supply side control efforts. His concurrence also took into consideration the historic and continuing responsibilities of schools, as expressed in the Latin term in loco parentis, and credited the school district for recognizing the potential benefits of using peer pressure to reduce drug abuse.

Breyer seemed to give the most credit to the school district's efforts to involve the community in developing the policy:

The board used this democratic, participatory process to uncover and to resolve differences, giving weight to the fact that the process, in this instance, revealed little, if any, objection to the proposed testing program.

He also recognized the fact that the program lead to neither criminal nor disciplinary proceedings, except for barring the student from participation in the desired activity.

In other words, the school district accepted its responsibilities for its students; involved the community in the process of determining how to carry out these responsibilities; and came up with the least-intrusive yet potentially effective means of deterring drug use, without using criminal or internal disciplinary mechanisms that would have heightened the constitutional impact of the program's random methodology.

Under these circumstances, I can see why Breyer decided to uphold the program. I also think that his concurrence shows he was the fifth vote.

June 26, 2002

How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All?*


You try to help out by taking over and cleaning up a big mess out West, earn big praise for your successful efforts, and then run into a buzzsaw when you return home to run for office.

Sometimes public service just doesn’t seem worth it.

Then again, sometimes things go your way despite the predictions of the naysayers.

When the Mitt Romney residence story first broke a while ago, I thought this could be turn out to be a major fustercluck. The millionaire businessman, who came to the rescue of the Utah Winter Olympics, also seemed like the kind of guy on whom Massachusetts Republicans could pin some rare but realistic hopes for advancement as their next governor.

Gleeful Democrats then trumpeted the charge that Romney couldn’t comply with the Bay State’s seven-year residency requirement, specifically because of his work on the Olympics.

As it turned out, the search for schadenfreude will have to continue to another day and time.

Today’s Washington Post reported that the Massachusetts Ballot Law Commission ruled unanimously that Romney actually met the requirement, despite some tax records that could have supported a different conclusion.

"Among other things, he continued to maintain his home and personal belongings in Massachusetts, voted in Massachusetts, directed charitable contributions to Massachusetts and maintained financial accounts in Massachusetts," their decision read.

One of the competing Democrats noted that he didn’t agree with the technical challenge to Romney’s candidacy:

[F]ormer Democratic National Committee Chairman Steven Grossman… told The Associated Press, "I think it's a victory for democracy and a rejection of insider politics that the people of the state are sick and tired of."

Nothing like putting a little distance between yourself and your primary election competitors, I suppose.

The best part of the whole WaPo piece was the following description of Romney’s own reaction to the good news:

Speaking from a cow pasture in western Massachusetts, where he spent the afternoon on a dairy farm, Romney said he was "very gratified" by the ruling.

Considering what the other Democrats alleged about Romney’s arguments that he didn’t violate the residency requirement, this part of the report was simply priceless.

Sometimes it’s the tiny details that make a story stand out among the rest.

*A great comedy album from Firesign Theatre, even without the assistance of recreational chemicals. The album title seemed remarkably appropriate for this post.

June 26, 2002

Fun with New Guidelines

Some of you may wonder what kind of legal stuff I work on in representing a state Department of Transportation.

Now you can see for yourself. By clicking on the link in this sentence, you can read the new Draft Guidelines for Accessible Public Rights-of-Way, issued June 17. These proposals cover a host of suggested minimum design standards for pedestrian ramps, crosswalks, bus stops, rail crossings, and other potentially treacherous places for those who can’t see or walk without assistance, but who want to combine mobility with greater independence.

My work includes advising my clients on compliance with these sorts of issues.

If eventually adopted as formal rules, these new accessibility guidelines will influence how state DOTs and others responsible for these facilities make them as useful as possible. Based on my first reading of the proposals, they will also certainly add to the overall cost of providing transportation infrastructure, and cause delays and other problems during reconstruction activities.

These likely results don't necessarily support an argument against the proposed guidelines--they are simply among the practical effects of meeting a broader range of transportation needs than was once thought to be the required minimum.

June 25, 2002

Where the Boys Are

A Washington Post story today about the gender gap at American universities may start a bit of a buzz among the blognoscenti.

Michael Fletcher reports that this year 57 per cent of all bachelors’ degrees were awarded to women, a record high since World War II. The differential widens further among minority students:

The gender gap is even greater among Hispanics -- only 40 percent of that ethnic group's college graduates are male -- and African Americans, who are now seeing two women earn bachelor's degrees for every man.

Some parts of this story certainly ring true in our experience.

Our older daughter just finished her first year at a Virginia state university that was once women-only, but which began admitting men more than a decade ago. Her class was 65% female and 35% male. One of her buddies goes to another Virginia university. She reported that her class was 70% female. The overall gender breakdown at that school is reported to be 62-38, so the trend is apparently widening there.

Based on close observation of my daughter and her many friends during their senior year of high school, the following analysis is right on the money:

An annual survey of U.S. college freshmen conducted for the Cooperative Institutional Research Program… has found consistently that men are more likely than women to spend large amounts of time watching television, partying and exercising during their senior year of high school. Women, meanwhile, report spending more time than men studying or doing homework, talking with teachers outside of class and doing volunteer work.

Similarly, data collected by the College Board indicate that more female students than male students are enrolled in high school academic or college prep programs, that girls are more likely than boys to take high school honors courses in most subjects and that girls report having higher academic aspirations than boys.

The difference in pre-college preparation does not dissipate with increasing participation in girls’ sports. If anything, the disparity widens. It is common for most of the girls on the many teams in our local high school to qualify for the "A" or "B" honor roll and numerous scholar-athlete awards. In fact, the girls who become jockettes tend to do far better academically than the boy jocks.

I considered some of the possible explanations for the difference, and at first thought that perhaps the boys were simply choosing to go to community colleges instead. Against my intuition, it turns out that the same gender gap shows up in these institutions as well. For example, a 1999 study of Illinois’ community colleges says that for the last five years, their combined enrollment has averaged 55.8% women and 44.3% men, and that this disparity has been essentially stable for the entire period. A Maryland Higher Education Commission report on the 2001 academic year shows similar gender differences among the many community colleges in that state’s system.

Glenn Reynolds’ reaction was a bit surprising:

[T]hey miss the obvious: over the past 20 years there has been a concerted effort to make colleges male-unfriendly environments, with attacks on fraternities, with anti-male attitudes in many classes, with intrusive sexual-harassment rules that start with the assumption that men are evil predators, and so forth. Now men don't find college as congenial a place. It's a hostile environment, quite literally.

How come none of the experts quoted in this article has noticed that?

I understand Reynolds’ viewpoint, but I don’t think I agree with him. I believe that the "male-unfriendly environments" found at some universities are not widely understood and accepted as a fact of life by young men completing the 11th and 12th grades in high schools throughout the country. The alleged problem, after all, is that the boys don’t attend college in the first place, and not that they become dispirited and quit before completing their degree.

It’s certainly possible that Reynolds’ suggested explanation may find support among 16 to 18 year old boys who live in university towns, where they could easily come in contact with virulent anti-male commentary from the PC folks at their local college. Where I live, however, I’ve never heard any of the kids talk about how college boys are either oppressed or the presumed oppressors.

The simplest and most likely best explanation is that the military or other potentially rewarding work opportunities are a bigger draw for young men than women, compared to the intellectual and other delights of college life. Military enlistment figures broken down by service and age group certainly indicate that the choice to enter the military without first entering college attracts thousands more males.

It's also unfortunately true that the College of Correction, or the prison system as it is commonly known, also experiences a gender gap going in the opposite direction, especially among the age cohorts commonly associated with attendance at universities.

The major flaw in the overall analysis, of course, is the mistaken assumption that in this imperfect world, the general population’s gender demographics will or should be matched in all subordinate areas, such as enrollment in four-year colleges. This misguided presumption shows up in many other areas, such as sports participation in school (as in Title IX practices) or employment after school (as in Title VII disparate impact cases). It forms the flawed basis of many civil rights employment practice lawsuits, and is also used in political posturing outside the courtroom.

In any event, those directly involved in the process of entering college have known about the enrollment gender gap for a long time. This is not news for them.

Each year thousands of parents of high school kids buy the various college reports by U.S. News and World Report and similar publications. The male/female breakdown at each campus is among the common pieces of information provided. The students themselves are more than aware of the disparity in enrollments, and the gap seems to be as much a mystery to them as to the rest of us.

Sometimes the gender mystery is not limited to the difference in sheer numbers. This spring we drove to the campus to bring our daughter home after her finals. At one point we sat on a bench watching many students passing by, while she finished up a few things that didn’t require our presence.

When she returned, I asked her if all of the boys on campus were long haired, sandal-wearing, backpack-carrying, granola-eating hippie wannabes.

She said, "About half. The other half are all jocks."

I was just curious.

June 24, 2002

Heavy lifting

The Sarge would be so proud.

Today’s Washington Post includes a very interesting article describing the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command. Reporter Vernon Loeb’s shorthand term for this transport wing is "the Air Force equivalent of Federal Express."

For those without prior knowledge of this part of the nation’s defense, the piece is a good primer.

Loeb details the Defense Department’s ongoing struggle to maintain the ability to move massive amounts of equipment to the various military hot spots and routine bases around the world. The Air Force is significantly enlarging its fleet of strategic and tactical airlifters:

[T]he military is buying $198 million C-17s at a rate of more than one per month, having invested $30 billion in airlift capabilities over the past 15 years, with $20 billion more earmarked over the next five.

The future investment includes money to buy 60, and possibly 100, more C-17s in addition to the 120 already being delivered. A plan to replace engines and avionics on the aging C-5 fleet is also in place. The Air Force wants to buy 150 more C-130J Hercules -- tactical airlifters that move troops and equipment from base to base once the strategic C-5s and C-17s haul them across oceans….

The nation's fleet of 126 C-5s ... remains a critical workhorse in the airlift fleet, capable of carrying 270,000 pounds of cargo -- 100,000 more than the newer C-17s. Air Force officials hope the program to put new engines and avionics into the aircraft can keep it flying until 2040.

Dover AFB is about a half-mile from my office, and I’ve watched the C-5 operations from the air base for many years. Long-time readers of Sgt. Stryker’s blog also learned about the Sarge's experience of working on these planes at Dover.

The C-5 is a startlingly huge beast of burden. Watching them land and take off brings to mind the folklore that bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly because they’re too big for their wings, but they can because they don’t know any better.

One of the primary DAFB runway approaches takes the C-5s directly over U.S. Route 113, very close to the edge of the runway. If you happen to time your drive on that road so that a C-5 is directly overhead as you go by, it will literally shake your car with the noise. This even happened when I drove a state-owned 1989 Chevy Caprice Beastmobile Land Yacht.

As the article points out, the workaday operations of these fleet carriers provide the critical backbone to the military’s ability to establish a presence anywhere in the world. It’s not pretty—it’s simply essential.

June 24, 2002

Update on Chicken Tic-Tac-Toe

After reading my post about chickens, casinos, tic-tac-toe, and PETA, Ken Goldstein sent a note that he graciously permitted me to quote:

I can almost guarantee that the TTT chickens aren't rotated, so to speak, every hour. They have the booth at the Trop in Atlantic City, and it's right outside of the poker room, where I spent a lot of time. You wouldn't believe the lines of people waiting to play tic-tac-toe against the chicken.

Anyway, I almost never saw them change the chickens, though I was busy with other stuff.

And yes, the chicken always wins. (as Trillin said, Well, the chicken gets to go first).

Even if the casino’s bird-switching schedule is a little off, I’m sure the chickens would much rather be rotated slowly at the casinos, instead of being rotisseried slowly elsewhere.


June 24, 2002

Being Centered

Along with apparently 40-eleven* other bloggers, I took the World’s Smallest Political Quiz. Here are the graphic results:

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This graph may actually explain a lot, now that I think of it. Responsible comment is invited.

*I believe this number was first used in a Pogo comic strip. See the discussion about Walt Kelly's use of language in this article.

June 23, 2002

Four Claudes for Campaign Finance Reform

The headline for the Washington Post story today could have been written immediately after the passage of the recent Campaign Finance Reform legislation and simply held in abeyance for its eventual use, much like a prepared obituary for an aging movie star:

New Routes to Channel ‘Soft Money’ on Horizon

This one earns the WaPo headline writers a four-Claude rating for obviousness.

Thomas Edsall’s article describes the recent rules decisions by the Federal Election Commission that will enhance the opportunities for money to flow toward federal campaigns.

I am not shocked at this news.

The CFR bill, as with so many other alleged reform efforts, always seemed to deserve its other nickname—The K Street Full Employment Act.

Here’s the nut graf, as the media bloggers say:

Many political activists and legal experts believe that by cutting off soft money from the national parties, the law will shift power from the political parties to the network of large special interest and advocacy groups, which will remain free to raise soft money and are gearing up to pick up the slack.

Yup. That’s about right.

Personally, I don’t have a huge problem with this situation, as long as the First Amendment remains as broadly construed as it is currently. The urge to spend money in support of one’s desires for legislation perceived to advance one’s interests is ever constant. Fighting to keep such urges from finding a means of expression is about as useful as commanding the tides to cease.

I also trust in the fact that political interests are almost always forced to address the counter-arguments of those who disagree with them, who are also capable of finding their own money in support of the opposite position.

In addition, the ability to publicize campaign contributions on the Internet is a valuable tool to help level the playing field for those without huge sums to support their message. Bloggers and many others have made extensive use of and similar information resources for this purpose.

Finally, there are sufficient criminal laws on the books to help keep political corruption down to a dull roar, which is about all one can reasonably expect.

Money and politics are inevitably intertwined. The new CFR legislation is simply the best and most recent proof of that fact.

Let’s watch.

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