Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- August 28-September 9, 2006

This page includes posts from August 28-September 9, 2006 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

September 5, 2006
Sally's spirit

Sally and Tom enjoyed their beach vacation here, earlier this summer.

On their last night, they came over to our house with a few other friends, and we all drove down to our dock for a boat ride.

Our goal was to find a spot to tie up at the Rusty Rudder restaurant in Dewey Beach, where Sally and Tom's daughters and their friends were to meet us for dinner. The waves were a little choppy, but the ride over was otherwise smooth and full of chatter.

Fortunately, the busy nightspot's dock had a small opening between two other boats, and I was able to take advantage of a wind pushing north to glide into the space. After making ourselves fast against a few piles, we headed down the long pier.

One person carried Sally's computer communicator, and another person carried Sally's walker. A few of us helped Sally step from the rolling boat onto the narrow wooden walkway, while others set up Sally's wheelchair. Sally held onto her guide dog Decker, a gentle black Labrador, as Tom helped Sally into her seat and began pushing her toward the shoreline.

We reached the landside end of the dock, and for perhaps the first time ever noticed how far we had to cross the sand to the steps leading up to the restaurant. It was at least twenty feet.

Sally just grinned and worked her way up to standing in front of her wheelchair. She then used her walker and Decker to slowly reach the steps. She needed help up the short flight, but kept grinning. With dozens of patrons filling most of the seats in the outdoor patio, it was really obvious that our little crowd was attracting a lot of attention. Sally kept going, and kept grinning.

We went indoors and the staff were very helpful in finding us a large enough table. Sally and Tom's daughters and their friends joined us shortly thereafter, and we had a great meal together.

Sally learned she had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2003, and her reaction to the disease and its effects has been one of the most beautiful displays of the human spirit I have ever seen.

In today's News-Journal, Sally and her family are featured in a well-written story by In-Sung Yoo, which you can read here. The online edition is accompanied by a great audio slideshow.

I also highly recommend Sally's Speech, which has been read by thousands of visitors to this site since it was first posted.

September 1, 2006
Is the ratchet moving again?

May a public high school prohibit students from wearing T-shirts with messages that condemn and denigrate others on the basis of their disability, such as an alleged addiction to alcohol?

According to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the answer would appear to be yes.

As reported in an AP story this morning, the Court held that a Vermont middle school violated a young boy’s civil rights by disciplining him for wearing a shirt that conveyed that message, among others: 

The shirt bore images of cocaine and a martini glass - in addition to messages calling President Bush a lying drunk driver who abused cocaine and marijuana, and the "chicken-hawk-in-chief" who was engaged in a "world domination tour."

The Court found that the school could not duct-tape over the T-shirt for the perceived violation of the Williamstown Middle School dress code:

"The pictures are an important part of the political message Guiles wished to convey, accentuating the anti-drug (and anti-Bush) message," the appeals court wrote. "By covering them defendants diluted Guiles's message, blunting its force and impact."

Some folks might quibble with how I phrased the legal question presented in this decision. However, it simply paraphrases a similar question raised by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year:

May a public high school prohibit students from wearing T-shirts with messages that condemn and denigrate other students on the basis of their sexual orientation?

In Harper v. Poway Unified S.D., Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote the majority opinion with this lead. It’s a good example of how one can push a decision in a particular direction by framing the issue in a very particular way.

The young student in the Harper case was upset with a school-sponsored event that officially opposed intolerance of homosexual, lesbian, and transgendered teenagers. He reacted by wearing a T-shirt with a handwritten counterpoint, based on his religious beliefs. It read: 


Judge Alex Kozinski issued a lengthy dissent, and I agree with his stand on the issue:

I have considerable difficulty with giving school authorities the power to decide that only one side of a controversial topic may be discussed in the school environment because the opposing point of view is too extreme or demeaning. As Judge Gilman said in his persuasive dissent in Boroff v. Van Wert City Board of Education, 220 F.3d 465 (6th Cir. 2000), “school officials are not free to decide that only one side of a topic is open for discussion because the other side is too repugnant or demoralizing to listen to.” Id. at 474 (Gilman, J., dissenting) (citing Tinker, 393 U.S. at 508). I couldn’t have said it better.

Michael Oberst also wrote a very good piece about this case for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education:

The Harper decision paves the way for blatant viewpoint discrimination in high schools across the nation, whenever the censored message touches upon issues that minorities hold dear. What members of the majority fail to understand is that, in the long run, members of historically unpopular or underprivileged minority groups have achieved legal equality in our society not by suppressing free speech but by vigorously exercising it. The 9th Circuit is doing these groups, and all of us, no favors.

I don’t have any problems with the result in the Vermont case. The Second Circuit judges appropriately understood the limitations of the school district’s legal authority, and simply reminded the parties of those facts of school life. 

On the other hand, the Ninth Circuit's treatment of the T-shirt message expressed in the Harper case reminds me of an issue that came up during the 2004 presidential campaign. A conservatively-oriented media company announced plans to show Stolen Honor, a less-than-flattering movie about Senator Kerry’s military career. According to news sources at the time, quite a few folks did what they could to keep the movie from being shown, including enlisting the government in an attempt to block the broadcast.

As I wrote then,

Who are these people? Do they really think the First Amendment is a one-way ratchet that only turns to the left?



September 1, 2006
New car


I'll write up a fuller review after the car and I become more acclimated to each other, much like this guy did about his RX-8.

For now, I'll just say this:



August 30, 2006
Not so happy anniversary

The main Delaware newspaper and other media outlets are busy noting the one-year anniversary since the Katrina hurricane disaster, taking stock of what's been done or not done to recover from the blow and learn from it.

I'm aware that Delaware's emergency management folks are working on improving their plans for these events on the Delmarva Peninsula, because of some issues I've recently addressed in my work.

Delaware has more in common with Louisiana than some folks might think, although The First State's history with hurricanes has blessedly been far more gentle. For one thing, both states are remarkably low-lying compared to other states, with large percentages of their land masses characterized as wetlands. The geography of both states also makes mass evacuation difficult, with a large number of bridges at critical points.

Those are among the reasons why this morning I ordered a copy of Marvin Olasky's The Politics of Disaster: Katrina, Big Government, and A New Strategy for Future Crises. An interesting Q&A session with the author online at National Review helped inspire the purchase, especially in the last segment:

Lopez: Who is your book aimed for? The wonk, the bureaucrat, the frustrated NOLA-er?

Olasky: Citizens and bureaucrats who want to go beyond the official blame games and are open to private sector alternatives. If we can agree that a different strategy will work better, then we bring in the wonks.

He's certainly got me pegged.

August 28, 2006
Shameless promotion

This week's golf column is about the old material shown in the photograph below, and what memories were stirred at seeing them again.

You might like reading it.

August 28, 2006
Slinking along

We took younger daughter to college for her sophomore semester yesterday, and mostly lucked out with the traffic.

By leaving as early as we did, we missed the usual Sunday exodus over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from the Delaware and Maryland beaches back to the Washington/Baltimore metroplex.

The ride south from DC was also quick and uneventful, unlike the time our Oldsmobile was totaled in a Slinky®-related rear-end collision when we were bringing older daughter back to school four years ago.

That incident strongly sensitized me to the risks of riding in heavy traffic when, at any time, the entire traveling mass can come to a sudden, unexplained halt. If I find myself in one of these multi-lane convoys, I try to keep well more than a three-second lag between the front of my car and whatever’s in front of us.

Not infrequently, other drivers will slide into that space from a side lane, which is an awful temptation to succumb to road rage—but it passes.

When we left the college that afternoon to return home on northbound I-95, the traffic was noticeably heavier in both directions. Within a few miles of reaching the speed limit, we came to the first of at least seven or eight more Slinky®-style slowdowns that were interspersed at irregular intervals for the next 50 miles or so. As usual, there was no perceptible reason why all of the cars and trucks quickly dropped down to 5 to 20 miles per hour, for at least two miles at a time.  On occasion we could see the southbound Interstate traffic also congeal, and again we couldn’t see any basis for it. 

I kept to my usual extended-length separation from the traffic ahead, and apparently convinced the folks behind me to do the same. For most of these incidents, the cars or trucks immediately behind me also increased their distance between them and me. Their cooperation certainly made the ride less nerve-wracking. 

Fortunately, the quick slowdowns and slow pick-ups stopped just before we entered the DC Beltway, and the rest of the ride east to Rehoboth passed by as quickly as the ride west. The accordion-like maneuvers on I-95 only added about twenty minutes to the entire passage—far less delay than I guessed when we came upon the first one.


Contact Information:

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

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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2006