Sneaking Suspicions

Archives-- June 30-July 6, 2002 (Week 26)

Commentary from a practical perspective

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This page includes posts from June 30-July 6, 2002 in the usual reverse order. Each week's postings on the home page are perma-linked to these pages.

July 6, 2002

Immutable Laws of Life

There are at least three unchanging constants in life:

  • The sun always rises in the east.
  • The ocean’s tides always rise and fall.

Delaware residents will pay an additional $300, bringing full-time tuition costs to $5,070. Students from outside the state will pay an additional $740, bringing their costs to $14,600.

The increase is 6.2 percent for in-state students and 5.3 percent for out-of-state students, administrators said.

According to the News-Journal story, the University waits to see how much financial support it will receive from state government before finalizing its tuition charges.

University of Delaware President David P. Roselle said Friday the UD increase is needed to pay for employee raises and increases in health insurance fees.

Roselle added that the state government, facing a tight budget, was not able to give the school all the money it requested.

"The economy is lousy and the state has not been able to provide the level of help that we would have hoped for," Roselle said.

The UD tuition increases are close to the national trend, which consistently manage to grow faster than the general rate of inflation:

[A]ccording to the College Board's annual survey of tuition and financial aid. Average private-college tuition rose 5.5 percent while public college tuition increased an average of 7.7 percent.

I blame credentialism.

The perceived need for a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement for a potentially successful career seems to reduce any significant incentive to manage the costs of obtaining it. There are of course many reasonably priced institutions of higher learning, but the persistent and universal trend seems to be to increase annual charges faster than other sectors of the economy.

I just don’t see any way out of this.

Hence the impression that tuition increases are everlasting, like the sun and the tides.

BTW, my first year’s tuition at UD in September 1971 was a staggering $425, which would be just under $1875 in today’s dollars. In other words, the UD’s tuition hikes in the last 30 years rose more than 2.5 times faster than inflation.

Nice money, if you can get it.

And they will.

July 5, 2002

Jockette story

Younger daughter is a committed jockette, with a current specialization in soccer after years of dedicated play in Little League softball. In school, both sports are scheduled for the spring, so a choice was required. She went for the sport that by then she much preferred.

She’s been on a few traveling teams, a couple local leagues, was a captain of her middle school team of boys and girls, and played most of every game on her high school J.V. team this year. She usually plays defense, either as a sweeper or a stopper.

The choice of position suits her sports personality. Few things seem to please her more than to disrupt the flow of the other team’s play.

This week she started playing in a YMCA-sponsored summer game mixed series. The high heat and humidity took their toll, but some aspects of her attitude hold up regardless of the weather.

After the game, we met at the Boardwalk. She showed me her left knee, with a slight scrape still showing a fleck of dirt around the abrasion.

"Battle wound," she grinned. "I took this guy out with a slide tackle. It was great."

I asked if the tackle related to anything else that had occurred.

"Well, yeah. The same kid was fronting me right up against me the whole game, even when I was nowhere near the ball. So I was like, ‘Dude! Get off me!’"

Did the tackle make him change what he was doing to you?

"No, but it felt good."

I understood.

July 4, 2002

Happy 4th of July!

I was looking for some other stuff on my computer this morning, and found some e-mail I’d written to Jim Lileks, Andrew Sullivan, and Virginia Postrel a long time ago. (In Lileks’ case they go back more than a couple years.) Naturally, seeing them caused me to stop doing what I was supposed to and instead re-read some of the correspondence back and forth.

I then came across the first e-mail I’d sent to Glenn Reynolds, on September 11. By then I’d been reading his blog for a couple weeks, but I had no idea he’d only been at it for only about a month. The e-mail traffic with these four writers soon expanded to bloggers such as Andreas and the boys at Quasipundit, and then to several others.

By October of last year my wife and I were talking about setting up our own blog. I registered the name SneakingSuspicions with Network Solutions, and then put aside the idea until after the holiday season. In response to some polite inquiries, Steven DenBeste and other were kind enough to describe how they set up their blogs. After considering their comments, I decided to go ahead on my own and start this site, using the software and basic design I’d been using for my golf site.

It will be seven months this weekend.

Weblogging remains one of the most intellectually stimulating, demanding, and fun things in which I’ve ever participated that wasn’t part of my work.

It has also made me appreciate even more how great it is to live in America right now.

Just by writing what I think, in an atmosphere of responsibly-exercised freedom, I’ve been blessed with making an acquaintance with dozens of fascinating people from all over the country that would never have happened otherwise. Many are bloggers, and others are the folks that send me e-mail just as I did originally with Lileks, Sullivan, and Postrel.

I’m struck most of all by the many shades of indirectly expressed patriotism displayed in the writings of most of the bloggers and correspondents. Their deep feelings for this country are not portrayed in a bathetic, maudlin show of shallow chauvinism. It’s simply a constant undercurrent in the way they write about what has been done, what should have been done, and what remains to be done to make this country better for all of us.

The strongly expressed emotions and deep commitments to their beliefs can certainly generate a bit of fractiousness to the written debates among the blogging community. Frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The mix of reasoned discourse and occasionally snarky repartee seems essentially American to me. Most of us seem to be lurching toward a set of common ideals, with a wide range of notions of how to go about it.

The beauty of this arrangement is that we can all participate, and lend our talents, thoughts, and arguments toward the goal of keeping this experiment in liberty going as long as possible.

Have a great Independence Day!

July 3, 2002

Money for a Rainy Day

With the recent drought conditions plaguing much of the nation, it’s a bit ironic to read about the state governments which this year tapped into their so-called rainy day funds.

Michael Rubinkam's article discussed the budget problems plaguing most states, and the fact that many of them obtained at least partial monetary relief by withdrawing reserve funds built up during better times:

Nationally, state governments drained tens of billions of dollars from such funds this budget season, continuing a trend that began in fiscal 2001 when Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Mississippi dipped into their reserves.

States' cash reserves have plummeted nearly two-thirds since peaking in fiscal 2000, from $48.8 billion to a projected $18.3 billion in fiscal 2003, as the economic slowdown caused tax revenues to dry up, according to a recent analysis by the National Association of State Budget Officers.

Delaware managed to handle its budget crunch for FY03 a little differently, which may reflect the constitution's limitations on how the reserve fund can be used, as well as the policy choices of Governor Minner and the General Assembly.

Article VIII, Section 6 of the Delaware Constitution sets up a Budget Reserve Account. It is derived from the excess of unencumbered funds remaining from a given fiscal year. The constitution also limits the state budget's general fund resources to 98% of the estimated revenues attributed to that fund, so under normal conditions there will always be something going to the Reserve Account. 

With a supermajority vote of three-fifths of both houses, however, the General Assembly may use the money in the Reserve Account, but only

to fund any unanticipated deficit in any given fiscal year or to provide funds required as a result of any revenue reduction enacted by the General Assembly.

Note that little word "unanticipated." It hasn't come up yet in actual experience, but I read that first clause as requiring the adoption of a balanced budget without tapping the reserve account for the purpose. The second clause is a bit more flexible, but still requires a pointed estimate that a given tax or fee cut will have such an initial revenue impact that the rainy day fund needs to be hit to make up the difference, presumably until something like the Laffer Curve takes hold and produces a positive income stream.

As Rubinkam points out, not everyone is pleased with the decision to use these funds:

In Pennsylvania, lawmakers ... took about $750 million from the rainy day fund, leaving $300 million for future contingencies.

Critics called that inadequate.

"By tapping the rainy day fund, we are putting a Band-Aid over a gaping wound. We are going to be dealing with a budget deficit again next year, and we will not have a rainy day fund to tap," said Matthew J. Brouillette, president of The Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative Pennsylvania think tank.

On the other hand, the rainy day funds provide some breathing room that the states surely would not have in the reserve accounts' absence, and it's not fatal to democracy for the legislative or executive branches to draw on them. There is always the potential for political fallout concerning the use of reserves, but that’s really no different than any other decision on how to spend other people’s money.

After all, the idea in most instances was to create a fund that could permit a state to ride out a short sharp recession until the tax revenues would come back to pre-downturn levels. The interest earned on the reserve accounts also produces its own benefits for the budget process.

The states are certainly running a risk in using these funds. Just sitting on the money makes even less sense, however, especially if the legislature and/or the governor are taking other steps to manage the crunch, such as imposing hiring freezes, enacting budget reductions, and using other time-honored tools to deal with reduced revenues.

July 2, 2002

The Big Brown Birds are Back

I have a soft spot for pelicans.

In the late spring of 1984 we took the Auto-Train south to Florida for a week’s vacation, and ended up in St. Augustine. During a day trip south along the beach toward Daytona, we could see several flocks of brown pelicans gliding along, just above the surf. That was the first time I had ever seen the ungainly looking yet graceful bird in its native habitat.

A few years later, my father and I were fishing in Indian River Bay off the west side of Delaware Seashore State Park, about seven miles due south of my home. As we neared a sand bar, we could see the unmistakable outline of several brown pelicans on the spit of land. Other pelicans then flew overhead toward the same bar. It was the first time my father and I saw them in Delaware.

Thanks in large part to changes in pesticide controls and use, each year the brown pelican population is increasing its presence in the mid-Atlantic area. Today’s Washington Post runs a nice story by Staff Writer Nelson Hernandez about the burgeoning pelican colonies now found in the Chesapeake Bay, west of the Delmarva Peninsula.

[David] Brinker, a wildlife ecologist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, has been visiting Spring Island to tag the pelican nestlings who grow up there before they head south for the winter to Florida and Cuba….

Two decades ago, it would have been unusual to see any pelicans at all on the Chesapeake Bay. Now, the waterway hosts several pelican colonies, at Fisher, Smith, Barren, and Spring islands, for a total of about 7,500 birds.

The swelling pelican population is also good news for the bay.

"The fact that they've built into the bay so strongly means that there are certain populations of fish that are doing well enough to support a larger population" of pelicans, Brinker said. And that means those fish are also helping feed other species, such as terns and great blue herons.

The story describes the tagging work Brinker and others do to help track the annual migration of the pelican population from south to north and back again. With enough dedication and a generous application of insect repellent, it’s hard but rewarding work.

I’m just glad that the pelicans are around to be seen and appreciated for their awkward beauty.

July 1, 2002

Rap as a bad act—at least sometimes

The case of Joynes v. State of Delaware would normally be considered a routine affirmation of the trial court’s criminal law evidentiary decisions, except for a unique element relating to rap music lyrics.

Fernando Joynes was a student in a high school home economics class. Part of his training included learning how to work with others in the class kitchen. Joynes’ team leader was a classmate named Morton.

One day, Joynes took offense at Morton’s request that Joynes clean the team’s dishes:

Joynes responded by holding an eight-inch knife against Morton’s neck stating that he didn’t like him and would cut him if Morton pushed him about cleaning up the kitchen.

During the next day’s home ec class, Joynes decided to work on advancing his budding career as a rap artist instead of concentrating on the finer points of kitchen science. Unfortunately for him, the teacher confiscated Joynes’ draft of his newest effort, "What I deal Wit." Shortly thereafter, the teacher also couldn’t help noticing that Joynes was holding an apple corer behind Morton’s head.

This chance observation led to a visit to the principal’s office. Morton then told the teacher about the knife incident the day before.

Joynes learned shortly afterwards that accepting his team leader’s suggestion may have been the better option:

With regard to the knife incident, Joynes was indicted with one count of Possession of a Deadly Weapon During the Commission of a Felony, one count of Reckless Endangering in the First Degree and one count of Aggravated Menacing

As part of his appeal from his eventual conviction, Joynes took issue with the fact that the trial judge permitted the prosecution to use evidence of the rap music and the apple corer episode as part of its original presentation.

The evidentiary issue this claim raises relates to the so-called "subsequent bad acts" rule.

In Delaware, evidence of other crimes is not normally admissible as part of the prosecution’s case in chief, because proving a person has a bad character or did other bad things is not proof that he did what’s been charged in the indictment. Nevertheless, evidence of subsequent bad acts may be admitted into evidence if it is material to an issue or the ultimate fact in dispute and if it meets other conditions, including the following:

(1) The evidence of other crimes must be material to an issue or ultimate fact in dispute in the case. If the State elects to present such evidence in its case-in-chief it must demonstrate the existence, or reasonable anticipation, of such a material issue.

(2) The evidence of other crimes must be introduced for a purpose sanctioned by [D.R.E.] 404(b) or any other purpose not inconsistent with the basic prohibition against evidence of bad character or criminal disposition.

(3) The other crimes must be proved by evidence which is "plain, clear and conclusive."

(4) The other crimes must not be too remote in time from the charged offense.

(5) The Court must balance the probative value of such evidence against its unfairly prejudicial effect, as required by D.R.E. 403.

(6) Because such evidence is admitted for a limited purpose, the jury should be instructed concerning the purpose for its admission as required by D.R.E. 105. [footnote omitted.]

Concerning the rap lyrics, the Supreme Court made the following cogent points:

Writing a rap song is not a bad act. The song lyrics, however, stated that the complaining witness Morton was on Joynes’ "hit list" and that Joynes was proposing to put the heads of his enemies on a shelf. The rap song confiscated by Joynes’ high school home economics teacher was evidence material to determining his intent or state of mind in the earlier knife incident. The record reflects that the trial judge also properly admitted the rap song into evidence after engaging in the entire analysis required … [citation omitted].

Some may quibble as to the first sentence of this passage, at least on aesthetic grounds. As to the rest of this statement, however, one can readily understand and accept the Supreme Court’s decision.

Joynes will now have to deal with the consequences of his bad acts, while remaining a guest of the state’s prison system.

On the other hand, the case does manage to create a new definition of the term "rap sheet," now doesn’t it?

Sorry about that, but you should have seen it coming.

June 30, 2002

From the Mail Bag--Again

Dear Mr. Bahir Mobuty Sese Seko:

Thank you for your incredibly enticing e-mail, which I received yesterday. On behalf of my client, I believe we can arrange for a mutually beneficial business investment opportunity for you.

I can only hope it is not too late.

I understand from your letter that due to unfortunate family circumstances involving your esteemed father, the late Zaire president Mobutu Sese Soko, you were forced into exile and now

live in Morocco being the only country in Africa that will grant my family political asylum after my father lost power to the forces of the now equally late Laurent Kabila.

Although Morocco is a lovely place, sometimes there’s just no place like home, is there?

It is an utter shame that you left your native country under less than ideal conditions. Even so, I was pleased to learn that your family continues to be blessed with significant resources. As you described it,

we still have over 500 million dollars with a security firm here in Morocco....

I also appreciate the fact that your family is understandably wary in deciding how to invest this money, because as you say, the French government has already confiscated your late father’s "chateaux."

You indicated in your letter that you are seeking "a front," which as you defined it meant

[A] trustworthy and sincere person who would invest these funds currently being held under trusteeship in exclusive parts of the world.

While I understand your keen desire to place your trust in a single person, may I respectfully suggest that a similar if not even more profitable arrangement can be made with the right sort of government agency?

Please allow me to explain.

I represent the Delaware Department of Transportation, sometimes called DelDOT. It is heavily invested in the transportation business here in the United States, and in fact is responsible for nearly all transportation infrastructure in the State. In addition, DelDOT has built important projects for other entities, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including most recently the beautiful bridge across the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, pictured below:

Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Bridge for State Route 1

The C & D Bridge cost approximately $115 million to build, and I am personally proud to say that I dealt with several of the legal issues that arose during the creation of this beautiful crossing.

You mentioned in your e-mail that you

have interest in the growing real estate business anywhere in the world, shares and stocks, and other lucrative businesses.

What a fortunate coincidence! You may not realize this, but DelDOT is in fact the largest real estate "developer" in the State of Delaware. The C & D Bridge is but one example.

In addition, you will be extremely interested to learn that approximately 1 kilometer south of the C & D Bridge is a large toll-collection facility, which in addition to cash transactions also utilizes the famous E-ZPass electronic toll system.

On behalf of my clients, I propose that we use your funds to set up a special investment vehicle, as it were, which will permit you to purchase a significant participation interest in the C & D Bridge and the related toll collection facility.

Just imagine the cash flow for your family that could be derived from such an investment!

I realize that the sheer scale of this proposed venture could alarm a cautious investor such as yourself, who clearly does not have significant prior experience in public/private partnerships in the United States. Nonetheless, I can assure you that this is not the first time that I have played a role in assisting worthy entrepreneurs from Africa in making decisions that can have unexpected and beneficial consequences.

For example, earlier this year a gentleman named Mr. Abbas Bundu contacted me with a similar investment opportunity related to his work as a petroleum engineer with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. In response to his request, I arranged for a meeting at the Dover, Delaware offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

While you may be understandably distressed at this reference, rest assured that due to my important government responsibilities I have been able to obtain the utmost in confidential cooperation with these Federal officials.

In fact, Mr. Bundu was so surprised at the reception he received when he came to the meeting, at the FBI's invitation he decided to stay in the United States at a special residence set up specifically for him, and paid for at taxpayers' expense.

Accordingly, if you would like to seize the opportunity to own a significant interest in a money-generating real estate investment, protected with additional government funds, I would respectfully suggest that we arrange a similar meeting at the Dover FBI Office.

As you said in your e-mail, you would like to

fix[] a face to face meeting to further this proposal[].

Please allow me to strongly agree with your suggestion. I therefore suggest that you make arrangements to travel to America to meet my colleagues and me at Room 2001 in the J. Allen Frear Federal Building, 300 South New Street, Dover, Delaware on August 15, 2002 at 9:30 a.m.

Given the confidential nature of this transaction, and the need for maximum security, please bring to the meeting your passport, visa, and all documents necessary to assure DelDOT that you are in fact the same daring yet shrewd Bahir Mobuty Sese Seko who contacted us with this e-mail.

With utmost good faith and sincerity to match your own, I remain, as ever,

Very truly yours,

Frederick H. Schranck
Deputy Attorney General

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.

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