Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- August 14-27, 2005

This page includes posts from August 14-27, 2005 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

August 25, 2005
Shorts and other alleged abominations

About a dozen years ago, Sting went on a road tour to help sell his then-newest album, Ten Summoner's Tales. My wife and I bought tickets to go see the show in Philadelphia. Our seats were in the middle of the row, in the middle of an upper level section.

At one point during the concert, I took a look up and down our row, and then at the rows of music lovers in front and behind us.

Everyone was wearing jeans--except for me. I stood out in my standard pair of khakis, sartorially speaking.

This long-ago episode is just one more example of the fact that my own sense of what is appropriate casual clothing is in stark contrast to many other folks. I was reminded of this incident when I read Ann Althouse’s semi-screed about whether men should wear shorts.

You can kind of tell how she really feels:

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

That's the short answer about shorts. Men in shorts? No such thing. If you are in shorts, you are not a man. I'll make a small exception for certain sports, or if you are staying at home or in your own yard. But if you're going out in public in a non-sports capacity, put on some pants! This includes the postman!

I can certainly understand Professor Althouse’s aversion to men in shorts. Most men can’t carry off the look very well, especially the mail carriers who seem to really upset her.

Here in Rehoboth, we see more than our share of shorts that frankly shouldn’t be worn, both in the male and female variety. In fact, thanks to the hot summer weather and a generally relaxed approach to appearance while on vacation, we frankly have far too many chances to endure abominable fashion statements by men and women, well beyond the simple matter of wearing shorts.

I blame the self-esteem movement.

People who have always been told how great they are and how great they look, despite all evidence to the contrary, will inevitably go through life clueless as to how they really appear to others. Unfortunately, there are thousands of emperors and empresses walking about nowadays, far too proud to notice what they actually look like.

I wear shorts during summer rounds of golf and while out on the boat. But if I’m going out to dinner or a movie or pretty much any other activity, I don’t usually wear them. It’s only been in the last few years that my wife has talked me into wearing jeans on occasions other than house-painting or yard work, and I can’t say I’m always completely comfortable with the choice.

Wearing khakis or linen or similar long-leg wear just happens to be my own fashion preference—not that there’s anything wrong with that. Is there?

August 23, 2005
Expanding one's reach

While driving to work this morning, I was startled to hear my name and the name of this blog announced by the talk show host.

Dan Gaffney of WGMD told his audience about Sneaking Suspicions, and read extensive quotes from yesterday's post about the hunting incident lawsuit.

For those who came here after listening to Gaffney's show, welcome. Take a look around.

And to Gaffney, thanks for the unexpected plug!

August 22, 2005
At least one deep pocket remains, thankfully

Hunting is an extremely popular sport in southern Delaware, and many folks are keenly aware of the risks involved when hunters fail to follow the rules.

Late last week Delaware Superior Court Judge Joseph Slights III issued a 40-page decision in a personal injury case involving hunters, in which the fact pattern reads like a law school torts examination.

It’s also an infuriating example of how thoughtless some fools can be.

One day Benjamin Walls bought a hunting license from Messick Supply in southern Delaware. The store offered plumbing supplies and general conveniences, and also sold fishing and hunting licenses as an approved outlet for such purposes by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).

Not long thereafter, in January 2003, Walls joined up with several buddies to go on a deer hunt, on a property owned by Elsie Mitchell. Mitchell lived in a nursing home, and a man named George Marvel was the caretaker of the property. He was in Wilmington at the time of the incident. Other members of the group had previously obtained permission to hunt on the parcel.

Two members of the group, including Walls, decided to leave the property and enter a neighbor’s adjoining acreage to continue the hunt. Melvin Joseph, the neighbor, had sometimes been on the 156-acre spread for various reasons, but wasn’t around at the time. Once before Joseph gave permission to a local state trooper to hunt on his property, but he’d never given anyone else approval to try their luck on his land.

While standing on Joseph’s land, Walls took a shot at a deer and missed the animal.

That in itself is not unusual. Hunters miss their targets every day.

Unfortunately, matters didn’t end there:

  • Walls is a convicted felon, with no real assets to his name.
  • He could not legally possess a firearm.
  • As a felon, he also could not legally obtain a hunting license.
  • In any event, he never completed the training course required for a hunting license for those born after a certain date.
  • Messick Supply did not conduct the normal required background check that would have told the company not to issue the license, including making sure that Walls had his hunter training certificate.
  • Walls shot a .30/.30 rifle, which is not a legal hunting weapon in Delaware.
  • The rifle shot hit the windshield of a car driving by the Joseph property on U.S. Route 113.
  • The rifle slug shattered on impact, and several bullet fragments severely wounded the driver’s head and left hand.

After the driver and his wife sued them, Mitchell, Messick Supply, and Joseph filed motions to be dismissed from the lawsuit.

The opinion is a good primer on several aspects of personal injury law in Delaware. Judge Slights discusses a wide variety of tort issues relating to the duties that property owners owe to others, as well as the use of collateral estoppel concerning Walls’ eventual criminal conviction for Trespass to Hunt. The opinion also deals with several relevant statutory provisions, including the Public Recreation Act (7 Del.C. Section 5901-5907), the Premises Guest Statute (25 Del.C. Section 2501 et seq.), and a new 2004 law granting immunity to authorized sellers of state fishing and hunting licenses (7 Del.C. Section 511(f)). 

In fact, this lawsuit is the reason for the new immunity law’s enactment. The judge noted the parties’ agreement at oral argument that Section 511(f) was adopted with this case in mind. Nonetheless, as explained in footnote 45, it was also obvious that no such immunity was intended to be extended to Messick Supply:

See S.B. 211, 142nd Gen. Assem. (June 9, 2004)(remarks of Senator Venables, the sponsor of the Bill)(“What Senate Bill 211 does is basically give immunity from lawsuits for agents of the State of Delaware who sell hunting and fishing licenses. And what brought this about was a case in Sussex County which certainly is going to affect all of the State of Delaware. We had one of the stores, country stores, sell a hunting license, using the record he had previously been licensed a year before, and the man went out and had some serious violations, broke the law in several cases. A lawsuit resulted from that and under joint and several liability I guess they go down the line and sue everyone. And basically if this happens and this lawsuit is successful it certainly is not going to affect the person being sued now but in the future what it would do would send a message out to the rest of the people that sell licenses that you would be immune from lawsuit.”)(emphasis added).

The final decision as to these defendants is practical and fair, all things considered.

The judge held that no reasonable jury could find under these circumstances that Melvin Joseph

knew or should have known that a dangerous condition (unauthorized/unsafe hunters) existed on his property. Absent such knowledge, there is no basis to conclude that Joseph owed a legal duty to Higgins.

Elsie Mitchell was also dismissed from the suit:

[T]here is no evidence to suggest that the instrument of harm (Walls’ rifle discharge) was a dangerous condition that was negligently allowed to exist on Mitchell’s property. The dangerous condition - - Walls firing the bullet in the direction of a public roadway - - first surfaced on the Joseph property. Under these circumstances, Mitchell owed no duty to [the Plaintiff] as a matter of law.

On the other hand, Messick Supply is still in the case. It attempted to bar recovery under the Public Duty Doctrine, which shields public employees from tort liability when their discretionary duties to act apply to the public at large, as opposed to a particular person. However, Messick Supply was an independent contractor for the State, and couldn’t use this doctrine for itself. In addition,

For purposes of this motion, Messick concedes that it did not verify that Walls had completed the required safety course and did not adequately explore Walls’ criminal record. Messick simply failed to follow the prescribed procedure for issuing hunting licenses. This failure to act does not reflect the requisite exercise of discretion to implicate the Public Duty Doctrine.

Messick has offered no other basis upon which the Court could conclude that it owed no duty to Higgins and the Court can discern none on its own.

I don’t know how deep Messick Supply’s pockets are for this case, but they have to be deeper than the convicted felon who stupidly shot a .30/.30 rifle while trespassing near a major southern Delaware highway. In any event, the net effect of this decision should be to encourage a decent settlement, before a hunting-savvy Sussex County jury panel is asked for its opinion.

August 21, 2005
Lewes Harbor

When Charles Hill stopped by during his 2003 World Tour, I took him into Lewes for dinner at The Lighthouse Restaurant. The Lewes & Rehoboth Canal runs by the place, and the harbor area is home to several dozen fishing boats.

Charles was a bit surprised. His prior impressions about the Delaware beach area didn't include any notion that a fair amount of sportfishing might actually take place here.

While puttering about on the boat today, I took the photographs below. For those who share Charles' unfamiliarity with Delaware's Cape Region, these should help explain that there's a lot more here than sand dunes and ocean spray.

A small head boat heads back to its dock after a trip to Delaware Bay.

I once considered buying one of these condos that look out onto the sportfishing fleet. Then I thought about several large diesel engines warming up together in the pre-dawn darkness.

The tall building behind these boats is The Lighthouse, where Charles Hill and I had lunch. The outdoor seating along the docks is very pleasant, and the view is nice from indoors, too.

There are a few large sailboats here, but the wind is just fickle enough to require a motorized back-up. That's the Inn at Canal Square on the right.

August 20, 2005
Shameless self-promotion

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

The Six-Spoke Approach to Golf by Tom Patri takes golfers beyond the basic golf stroke to the game's other fundamentals.

August 17, 2005
Even more fun with Swingline

I never used to pay much attention to what kind of stapler was used in the office—until, of course, I heard this bit by character actor Stephen Root, in Office Space, one of the all-time movie classics: 

Milton Waddams: [talking on the phone] And I said, I don't care if they lay me off either, because I told, I told Bill that if they move my desk one more time, then, then I'm, I'm quitting, I'm going to quit. And, and I told Don too, because they've moved my desk four times already this year, and I used to be over by the window, and I could see the squirrels, and they were merry, but then, they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn't bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it's not okay because if they take my stapler then I'll set the building on fire...

Now, that’s the kind of office diatribe that will make you sit up and pay attention. 

Today brought some additional news about Swingline staplers:

Fortune Brands Inc. completed the spinoff of its office products subsidiary, ACCO World Corp., to shareholders on Wednesday. ACCO then combined with smaller General Binding Corp. to form one of the world's biggest office supply firms….

ACCO's brands include Swingline, Kensington, Wilson Jones, Quarter, GBC and Day-Timer. It has annual revenues of nearly $2 billion and about 8,000 employees worldwide and retains its headquarters adjacent to Fortune Brands in the northern Chicago suburb of Lincolnshire.

Last week I took a few hours to read the over two-hundred-page information statement about this transaction, sent to all shareholders of Fortune Brands. My primary interest in owning this stock is based on the company’s golf-related businesses, including Titleist and FootJoy, so in that respect the spinoff transaction was not as compelling as it might have been otherwise.

On the other hand, I may just hold onto my shares of ACCO Brands. The more I think of it, the more I'm convinced that now would be a great time to push for the adoption of Milton Waddams as the new company spokesman.

Milton and his Swingline--beautiful together.

August 16, 2005
Didn't know we had such similar tastes

A short while ago I mentioned some of the books I've enjoyed reading this summer, including Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History.

I didn't realize that President Bush and I had such similar tastes in nonfiction:

According to the White House, one of three books Bush chose to read on his five-week vacation is "Salt: A World History" by Mark Kurlansky, who chronicled the rise and fall of what once was considered the world's most strategic commodity.

Perhaps the President has also been reading this blog.


August 16, 2005

We traveled to Québec for a vacation while I wasn’t blogging, and had a great time.  

We flew to Montreal’s Trudeau (Dorval) Airport and rented a car. We were in no hurry to reach our destination, so we left the Interstate-like Auto-Route 40 at Berthierville and took Route 138. This is a far more scenic alternative, with great views of the St. Lawrence River at many spots, and passing through several small towns. Quite of bit of the passage reminded us of driving through the farm country of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and Delaware’s Sussex County.

Then we neared the city limits of Québec, where the steep inclines were in sharp contrast to the relatively flat ride from Montreal. 

The staff at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, where we stayed, was remarkably helpful and courteous. In no time we became acclimated to their doubled greetings ("Bonjour!-Hello!").

The accommodations were terrific, and the river views from our suite were a constant delight. We also took the guided tour of the hotel, which I recommend especially for those interested in the railroads and their role in developing the North American tourist industry.

The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, on the bluffs above the lower part of the city.

Once the valets took our car, it stayed parked until we left several days later. There was no need to drive anywhere, with so much to see by simply walking around.

The highlights of the trip included several museums and other treats.

For example:

My wife said that the new permanent exhibition at the Musée de la civilisation, People of Québec... Then and Now, was the most philosophical history exhibit she’d ever seen, and I agreed. It’s a fascinating look at Quebec’s past and current struggles with sovereignty, federalism, and assimilation. The film segments, directed by Benoît Pilon and produced by Canada’s National Film Board, were especially thought-provoking.

If you like sculpture, I highly recommend the special exhibit at Le Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Camille Claudel and Rodin - Fateful Encounter. It features wonderful examples of the work of these former lovers, with an emphasis on their artistic influences on each other.

We also visited one of the Martello Towers on the Plains of Abraham just west of the city walls, on our way to the museum. It’s a rare, restored example of 19th century military engineering, made obsolete with the invention of rifled cannon.

There weren’t many other Americans in our group when we toured the Parliament Building. Most were visitors from other Canadian provinces, along with a few folks from Europe and South America. Our hostess deflected well some fairly sharp inquiries about Québec politics.

The Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica Cathedral was beautiful, and there was a fairly steady stream of visitors quietly viewing the incredibly ornate interior.

The house enclosing the Ursuline Museum, on the other hand, featured very simple interior decoration. The real artwork was in the vestments and other religious items sewn by the nuns in centuries past, and displayed in several rooms.

We also took a 90-minute cruise on the M/V Louis Jolliet that gave us some great views of the city and the surrounding waterfront.

There were other delights, of course, including the residents’ penchant for filling the flower boxes on their stone and stucco houses.

I also made a valiant effort to sample Canada’s finer brews during our meals, most of which were in the popular outdoor cafes. I very much appreciated the craftsmanship resulting in the Alexander Keith’s IPA, Unibroue’s Blanche de Chambly, McAuslan’s Griffon-Rousse, and Hoegaarden White, a good Belgian wheat beer.

I also smoked my first Cuban cigar, an inexpensive Jose L. Piedra Cremas petit corona. It was very mild, and my wife and younger daughter said they actually liked the smell.

The fine weather also brought out the street theater performers, whose audiences were always appreciative.

The buskers' presence would be a welcome addition to our own town's entertainment offerings during the summer season. I'll have to see if I can help make that happen.

This was one of our better vacations, and I'm looking forward to returning soon.

August 8, 2005
Summer Blog Break

I'm taking a short break from blogging, and will be back by next week. In the meantime, take a look around in the back issues, if you'd like.


Contact Information:

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


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2005