This page includes posts from August 17-23, 2003 in the usual reverse
order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these
A butterfly flaps
its wings in Brazil, causing a tiny shift in the air mass over Rio de
The shift eventually
causes a tornado to touch down in Texas.
That was the famous
hypothetical event once predicted by a meteorologist attempting to make
sense of what is known in system analysis as
I was reminded of
butterflies and tornadoes when I read today’s
by James Glanz and Andrew Revkin, about the latest analysis of the potential
causes of the recent electrical blackout of much of the Northeast United
States and Canada.
According to a
Cambridge, Massachusetts consulting firm, the problem began with a
transmission line sagging into a tree near Cleveland. The ensuing failure of
that line strained other Ohio electrical suppliers in the transmission
network, causing another shutdown. Cleveland then began siphoning power from
alternative sources, leading to further overloads and shutdowns in Michigan,
Ontario, and eventually New York.
It’s a fascinating
scenario, and several industry observers seemed to accept its probable
validity, according to the NYT reporters. The analysis also appears to fit
the concept of chaos theory, in that a tiny change in one area causes
significant alterations elsewhere.
Those who produce
basic services usually find themselves blinking into the unfamiliar glare of
unwanted publicity when their typically rare system failures take us all by
surprise. In any event, the electrical industry has a natural, compelling,
and market-based incentive to determine the cause of the blackout and how
best to reduce the chance of a recurrence.
This blackout may
also remind the political folks that most of our fundamental infrastructure
is subject to genuinely chaotic events, with far less control over the
results than many would find comfortable.
August 22, 2003
Parking—not exactly a privilege, and not
exactly a right, either
assume that access to easy parking is a given--and in suburban areas, that’s
a pretty safe assumption. Within most cities, however, it’s a different
matter entirely. The intense competition for limited spaces within
municipalities leads to a wide range of familiar parking solutions: timed
parking, parking garages, parking meters, residential parking sticker
districts, and so on.
When the issue then
turns to parking for the handicapped, the social policies surrounding this
special benefit often create additional emotional elements. Many times
people complain about frequently empty handicapped spaces left unused. Other
folks become indignant as they watch some obviously able-bodied person zip
into a handicapped spot, without any concern for propriety. Dark whispers
are sometimes heard about how others scammed the authorities into issuing
them a handicapped tag to hang on their rear-view mirrors.
The emotions run high
in part because the designated spaces express a very clear preference for
the disabled, which causes some to question whether the system is being a
little too fair. For others within the disabled community, on the
other hand, these spaces are a matter of simple justice.
Parking is rarely
that simple, however.
Helen Jones has
multiple sclerosis. She works at a Salvation Army service center in downtown
Like many cities,
Monroe maintains fairly tight controls on parking in its central business
district. Anyone can park in the street spaces, but only for an hour. Anyone
wishing to park downtown for more than 60 minutes without running the risk
of a ticket can use a free parking lot a couple blocks away, which includes
designated handicapped parking spaces.
Jones, however, has
trouble walking, and sometimes must use a wheelchair. Her job also requires
her to work odd hours. This fact prevents the town’s special free shuttle
service from the free lot to her work site from being as useful as one might
continued to park her car in a one-hour space close to her job, and kept it
there all day. In response, Monroe’s parking enforcers continued to ticket
She then sued the
city. Jones claimed that under the Americans with Disabilities Act she had a
right to park close to her work without risk of ticketing, regardless of the
time limitations placed on the spaces she used. She lost her request for an
injunction against the ticketing or to require the city to give her a free
all-day parking space near her work, and appealed to the
Sixth Circuit Court of
Although there was a
spirited dissent taking her side, Jones failed to convince a majority of the
panel that the District Court made a mistake in refusing to grant the relief
Jones has access to the
service offered by Monroe - free downtown parking in specific locations.
She does not have a right to free downtown parking that allows her access
to her destination of choice….
The purpose of the one-hour
limitation is to encourage patrons to shop at downtown businesses. Waiver
of the ordinance limiting parking to one hour in the business district
would be “at odds” with the fundamental purpose of the rule. By its very
nature, the benefit of one-hour free public parking cannot be altered to
permit disabled individuals to park all day without jeopardizing the
availability of spaces to other disabled and non-disabled individuals.
Such a waiver would also require Monroe to cease enforcement of an
otherwise valid ordinance, which by its very nature requires a fundamental
alteration of the rule itself.
therefore could not establish her right to park when and where she wished.
and the Michigan disabled community look around, however, they may be able
to use this decision to seek a political reversal in the Michigan
example, if this situation had arisen within a Delaware city, Jones would
never have been ticketed in the first place.
Sections 2134(f) and 2135(f), any person who is issued either a
handicapped registration plate for her car or who obtains a handicapped tag
to hang on her rear view mirror can park in most parking zones and any
metered spot, without fear of ticketing. The only exceptions are for areas
with rush hour parking restrictions, or where parking would create a traffic
hazard, or similar limited circumstances.
wasn’t enacted because the Feds said Delaware was required to change its
parking laws. It was enacted because the disabled community managed to
convince the General Assembly that the cities’ modest loss of parking meter
revenue and spaces was outweighed by the needs of the handicapped for better
access to their choice of destinations.
In other words,
sometimes it’s better to seek one’s privileges through the political
process, rather than argue for their attainment as a matter of right.
Simmons writes movingly and well about many topics, especially American
geography and history.
He also finds other good sources of interesting history
writing, and is happy to point them out to his readers.
extensively from another blogger,
South of the Suwannee, who found a great article about the civil rights
struggle in Florida in the Orlando Sentinel. It was a fine
accompaniment to Simmons own recent piece about Louisiana's race
Whenever the topic comes up, I like to recommend three
books on black history. The authors' political slants vary, but in each case
I believe they present the facts fairly. In addition, each writer avoids the
easy resort to the bitter polemics that frequently mar other treatments of
this part of the American experience.
Simple Justice describes the halting but eventually successful process
whereby the NAACP and many others achieved victory in
Brown v. Board of Education, in a stirring history.
Raymond Wolters was one
of my history professors at the University of
Delaware. He was the first historian I ever met who explained how
Woodrow Wilson's presidency was a near-complete disaster for American black
aspirations and advancement. Several years after I graduated, Wolters wrote
The Burden of Brown, a sober history describing what happened in each of
the communities that were directly involved in Brown. In one respect
it is a sequel to
Simple Justice, but in most other ways it is far more than that.
I also appreciated the eye for detail displayed by
Nicholas Lemann in
The Promised Land. It's a frequently moving, frequently frustrating
history of the black migration from the South to the Northern states in the
second half of the 20th Century.
I attended two nearly
identical ribbon-cuttings in the last two days, for two new, nearly
About 6 years ago, the
Henlopen School District asked me to become part of a Facilities Task
Force concerning their school buildings. We were asked to develop and
recommend to the board a long-term plan for the district's capital needs. It took
a bit more than a year, and we presented them with a 20-year schedule for the
creation of two new middle schools, then a refurbishment of the district's
single high school, followed by the replacement of the elementary schools.
Several of us on the
Task Force also attended the public hearings on the eventually-adopted
proposal to answer questions. We did more of the same in later meetings
seeking public comment on the required bond referendum.
The voters approved the
bond issuance by a 2-1 margin, which set a record statewide at the time, in
a district noted for its high retiree population.
Must have struck a responsive chord.
I then served on the District's interview panel to help
select the architects who were to design the two schools, using the basic
design framework we suggested:
- Final build-out to support 700 in Grades 6-8
- Library/Media Center, Cafeteria, Gymnasium sized
to fit eventual build-out
- Modular classroom segments to enable each
building to support approximately 500 students at first, and later add an
additional 200 kids when growth required it.
Farther along the process, several of us on the
original Task Force then joined a new panel and developed the recommended
attendance zone boundaries for the two schools.
The ceremonies yesterday
and today celebrated the upcoming openings of the first new school buildings
in the district in well over 30 years.
It was fun to help the
community on this project. It was especially enjoyable to watch the faces of
the kids and parents who will be the first to use the new schools walking
around the new rooms, chattering away excitedly during the open house after
August 19, 2003
Not exactly a judicial temperament
Howard Bashman and others, I've been
following the recent events concerning the elected Alabama Chief Justice,
Roy Moore, and his continuing efforts to impose his will upon the Federal
I mean no disrespect when I suggest that Chief Justice
litigiousness concerning his new Ten
Commandments boulder is itself a great argument against the popular election
of state judges.
Delaware's supreme court justices are selected by the Governor on a
recommended merit basis
and confirmed by the State Senate. For that reason alone, I just can't imagine any
Delaware supreme court justice being as fundamentally
and indefensibly defiant as Chief Justice Moore has been in this case.
August 18, 2003
Preserving privilege and piping plovers at the same time--nice argument, if
you can make it
Fire Island is a classic
spit of barrier beach, lying a short distance from and roughly parallel to
the southern side of Long Island. Its current shape is about 32 miles long
and from 1/4- to 3/4-mile wide.
I refer to "current
shape" because Fire Island is subject to the same shifts in its makeup as
every other barrier island on the East Coast. The wind, ocean waves, and
human interactions with the sand dunes cause erosion, movement, and
sometimes the eventual disappearance of these islands. Hurricanes and other
storms sometimes speed up these processes, but
the only constant about
barrier islands is that they never stay the same.
These facts of natural life don't sit well with human
beings, many of whom point to deeds and other property instruments as proof
of their ownership and dominion, even over geologically ephemeral phenomena
such as barrier islands.
The fact that some of these folks spend millions on
their vacation homes on these islands shows the value they place on
preserving their privileges of ownership.
Those with significant property interests at stake
often push the State and Federal governments to spend taxpayer's money to
preserve the barrier islands from the ravages of natural events, especially
when some previous attempts at controlling nature produce unintended
side-effects, such as increased erosion from man-made groins and other
These folks are not above attempting to use the
environmental protection laws for their personal purposes.
That doesn't mean the courts will agree with them, but
it does mean that these people will make the effort.
The Second Circuit today affirmed a U.S. District Court decision dismissing a
lawsuit attempting to force the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers, and New York State to implement the Fire Island Interim
Project (FIIP). This scheme would have cost an estimated $52.8 million for
the initial efforts, plus $5.2 million per year in maintenance expenses, to
create new sand dunes and restore eroded beaches.
The alleged beneficiaries, of course, would not be
limited merely to those who just happened to own some highly valuable beach
property. According to the plaintiffs, the FIIP would also benefit the
piping plovers that nest on the island.
Plovers are migratory song birds, now described by the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as "likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future."
After the FIIP cost estimates were prepared, however, the
Interior Department and the Corps decided not to go forward with the
project. Furthermore, New York State did not endorse the Federal proposal.
The court decisions came down to a simple matter of
standing. The plaintiffs could not show that the FIIP would halt the results
of earlier, human-caused changes in the island's beaches. In addition, they
could not make the connection between the court order they sought and their
Despite plaintiffs-appellants' optimism, there is no indication that the
FIIP would, in fact, remedy Fire Island's erosion problems. Moreover, we
recognize the the FIIP is merely an interim plan spanning a five-year
period. Accordingly, even were the FIIP successful, at best, it would be
terminated and shortly replaced by another program whose chances of success
are only speculative at this point in time.
The appellate panel noted that the plaintiffs essentially
sought an equitable remedy for what might eventually be ruled as a taking of
their property rights. Under longstanding precedent, no such injunctive
relief is available. Instead, just compensation would be paid for such
takings, if that fact were ever established.
The plaintiffs are not actually left to their
condemnation remedy, of course. They continue to have recourse to their
friends in Congress, where beach replenishment projects are
tradition in government spending.
From the Fire Island property owners' perspective,
relying on the political process for Federal help provides nowhere near as certain
a guarantee of assistance as a court order would have. In part that's
because others have
different ideas about the best way to deal with the island's erosion.
Nonetheless, it was the only real choice the plaintiffs should
have had under these circumstances, and is the best remaining option.
The NYT’s renewed emphasis on
correcting mistakes is a welcome development, but it can still be a bit
Today’s mea culpas
included a gem relating to basic geography, in a story the editors said ran
in last Saturday’s paper about electrical systems in the eastern United
States and Canada:
Some maps in the grouping mislabeled the state southeast of Ohio. It is
West Virginia, not Maryland.
Oops. Missed it by that much.
I’m sure the folks from the Mountaineer
State were a bit surprised to see this error creep into the NYT reportage. I
doubt that this kind of mistake is made all that often when discussing the
great state of West Virginia.
If the NYT had screwed up in placing
Delaware on the map, on the other hand, the newspaper would have simply
joined the crowd.
Delawareans are used to this
disrespect, actually. Whenever I meet someone from some state far from my
own, I brace myself for the geographic guesswork that often follows shortly
after I tell them I’m from Delaware.
Here are the three most common
- “Isn’t that up near Connecticut or
- “Where is that?”
- “Is that in New Jersey somewhere?”
Why, it’s enough to give a
State native a complex, or something.
Estaban Parra wrote a nice piece about lawyers and
in today's News-Journal.
Of course, the fact that he mentions this site and has
some very kind things to say about it may have played a role in my
evaluation of his work.