Sneaking Suspicions

Archives-- September 1-7, 2002


Commentary from a practical perspective

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This page includes posts from September 1-7, 2002 in the usual reverse order. Each week's postings on the home page are perma-linked to these pages.

September 7, 2002

Watch out, kids! Granddad and grandmom are coming to visit!

Early yesterday afternoon, Maureen Buzdygon and her 3-year-old son awaited the arrival of her mother and father for a visit. They traveled to her home in upstate Delaware from their residence in Florida, and were expected to stay through Sunday.

It looks like some grandparents will do almost anything to spend more time with their grandchildren:

A 74-year-old Florida man and his wife escaped serious injury Friday after their sport utility vehicle plowed through the garage of their daughter's .. home, through a sunroom, onto the rear deck and overturned in a side yard five feet below....

Police did not release the name of the driver or his 72-year-old wife. The cause of the accident remains under investigation....

Fortunately, the accident did not result in any fatalities. Buzdygon’s father was eventually removed from the vehicle and taken to a local hospital, where he is reportedly in good condition. Her mother escaped from the car and refused treatment.

As can be seen from the photograph accompanying this post, the damage to the house is extensive. The damaged portions are now off limits and taped off.

The reporter asked Buzdygon about any alteration in the family’s weekend plans as a result of the accident, and received this nicely understated response:

"They'll probably have to stay a little longer now," she said.

Now, there’s a woman with great recovery skills.

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Rescue workers eventually retrieved the driver of this Mercedes SUV.
The house he drove through is in the background.

Programming Note: Click here for the latest golf book review, if you'd like. The book is called Take Dead Aim, and mixes golf with the CIA and M.I.6--and very nicely, I might add.

September 6, 2002

Two Claudes for an Economics 101 Story

This Reuters headline made me think of my older daughter, currently taking several college business courses this semester:

Price Cuts Lift Circuit City's Sales

It’s reassuring to see that the laws of basic economics in a capitalist society remain valid.

I give the headline two Claudes, because price cuts don’t always lead to increased sales—just most of the time.

I must make sure that our family's budding business expert reads about this startling development. Professor Byron could also use this story when teaching his classes at Warner Southern.

September 6, 2002

Friday Nights in the Fall

Tonight marks the beginning of the fall social season among a very large subset of the Cape Region’s "smug-but-needy" year-round residents.

It’s the first football game of the year, between our very own Cape Henlopen High School Vikings and the Laurel Bulldogs.

For my wife and I, the most important part of the entire Friday evening experience takes place just before and during halftime.

That’s because we are members of yet another stereotypical American phenomenon—we’re band parents.

I’m fairly positive that we’ll be wearing our official Cape Marching Band Polo Shirts (perhaps in contrasting gold and navy blue tones), sitting on our official Cape Marching Band Stadium Cushions, with our eyes shielded from the glare of the stadium lights by our official Cape Marching Band Baseball Caps. (When it’s colder, we will use our official Cape Marching Band Afghan to keep our legs warm, and I think we’ll be buying the official Cape Marching Band Windshirts this year.)

You may notice a certain form of brand-consciousness in operation here.

We will sit with other band parents in the low middle of the home stands, the better to watch both the game and the halftime action. I must remember to bring our two pair of binoculars, so we can more easily watch our younger daughter strut her stuff with the other clarinetists in the 160-member assemblage.

This year’s musical pieces for the half-time show are an interesting mix of Chuck Mangione, Miami Sound Machine, Steppenwolf, and Grand Funk Railroad.

The perennial crowd favorite, however, will certainly be the traditional drum cadence used to bring the band on and off the field. It’s a remarkably catchy set of rhythms, and the typical reaction to the drummers is a huge swaying motion among nearly the entire crowd.

The social element of this first Friday can’t be overstated. Many locals are so busy during the summer that they just don’t see much of each other from June through August.

In between plays and the rest of the action, I’m sure we will catch up on all the local news. Maybe we’ll even make a snide remark or two about the tourists and all the fun they’re missing.

Just kidding about the tourist abuse.

No, really.

UPDATE: Ouch. The band was fine, but as for the game, well....

September 5, 2002

Stereotyping and other character flaws

Sam Heldman is not happy with Andrew Sullivan’s word paintings.

As Sullivan is wont to do, and as I commented in a different context a while ago, he sometimes applies a very broad brush without much support:

Raines is … a Southern white liberal from Alabama, a man eager to prove - even to the point of excess - that he isn't some Southern bigot. He won a Pulitzer for an excruciating, guilt-ridden memoir of his black nanny when he was a kid. So he over-shoots.

To be fair to Sullivan, at least in the following post he refrained from using the literary equivalent of a spray gun for his stereotyping:

It seems to me important to distinguish between genuine Southern liberals, and those who seem to pursue an extremely liberal agenda precisely because they feel the need to credentialize themselves with blue America colleagues.

Even so, Heldman is not impressed:

Any evidence for this supercilious junior-psychologist "Southerners don't really think as deeply as I do, they just act according to their hidden subconscious imperatives or social climbing" nonsense? Of course not. Is it barely conceivable that this is another one of those often-remarked instances where Sullivan is attributing to others the faults that he finds in himself -- i.e., that he takes the stances that he takes, not because he believes them but in order to curry favor?

Heldman also takes issue with Mickey Kaus’s comments on this topic:

Kaus, too, is jumping on Sullivan's bandwagon, claiming that every Southerner more left than himself (which is starting to include a vast number, as he runs towards the Right) is a "Guilty Southern White Boy" motivated by inappropriate regional psychology rather than the presumably more wonderful and intellectual and well-thought-out things that impel Kaus towards the political positions he takes.

With all due respect to Heldman, I didn’t read Kaus as actually arguing that every Southern writer to the left of Kaus is a GSWB. I took Kaus’s comments as an attempt to point out the limited number of persons who could be labeled as such, and to suggest a rational explanation for their belief system that had nothing to do with maintaining social status. For example, Kaus (correctly, I believe) noted the following:

GSWBs also tend to look beyond formal equality (e.g. "color-blindness") to motivation because, in the South, in the 60s, ill motives tended to do their work through formally equal rules (e.g. literacy tests, rigged court systems) and the real question was "are you one of the good guys or one of the bad guys" (As is sometimes the case, Sullivan doesn't quite understand America yet).

... My greatest respect is reserved for pro-civil-rights Southerners, like Charles Peters of the Washington Monthly, who somehow never became GSWBs.

Regardless of any guilty sentiments, Southern liberals certainly had a legitimate basis to express their concerns about motivation. For example, Kaus’s comments above reminded me of the Supreme Court’s Griggs v. Duke Power Co. decision. (For those without experience in discrimination law, part of this case involved the adoption of an intelligence test requirement for employment. The effective date for implementation of this new standard just happened to coincide with the effective date of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and had an adverse impact on blacks seeking employment. That’s the kind of history to which Kaus refers in this post.)

Kaus also cited Virginia Postrel, a Southern writer who can speak with some authority on this issue. In her September 4 post she wrote the following:

[S]outhern liberals in Big Media are liberals because they think that's the side of good, and they're self-righteous about it because they've seen southern conservatism at its worst. The problem is that they're surrounded by people who think all things "liberal" are good and true, and they haven't adjusted their political categories in 30 or 40 years.

I believe that Postrel’s statement is accurate, as long as it’s also understood that she’s describing a type of Southern personality, and not engaging in a wholesale stereotyping of all Southern liberals.

I simply don’t take either her or Kaus’s points as that broadly aimed.

The labeling to which Heldman justifiably objects has a long pedigree, of course. It’s certainly not limited to identifying GSWBs. I read some other broad characterizations recently, also triggered by Sullivan, which literally hit close to home.

In a Slate dialogue about blogging posted this week, Sullivan said the following:

Then there's the supercilious tone of some of the early bloggers (early means 1999). Like year-rounders in a seaside resort, they both need and mock the tourists.

In response, Kurt Andersen picked up on Sullivan’s imagery:

Year-rounders in a seaside resort who both need and mock the tourists and ooze alternative-weekly, grass-roots-loving piety. Well, yes; exactly….

As much as I enjoy and even depend on several blogs (including yours), that incestuous, smug-but-needy, seaside-resort-full-timer sensibility is a besetting sin of the genre.

As with other stereotypes, there’s a kernel of truth in these references to those of us lucky enough to live at the beach full-time.

I readily admit that on occasion, there’s a genuine sense of relief when the tourist season is over, and we have the place "to ourselves." There’s also no denying that if it weren’t for the tourists and the dollars they leave behind, most of the locals would be hard-pressed to live here.

Special terms crop up in conversation among the beach locals to describe this occasionally fractious relationship. In New Jersey, for example, one common reference to the tourists is Shoobies, so named for the lunch boxes that the visitors brought with them from Philadelphia. (They looked like shoeboxes.)

In Rehoboth Beach and other Cape Region towns nearby, the pejorative use of "The Tourons" is gaining acceptance. Like many other phrases, this one seems to have a Western etymology.

Most of the beach’s year-round residents aren’t stupid, however. They certainly realize that if it weren’t for seasonal tourism, all the wonderful opportunities for great food and entertainment that are here year-round simply wouldn’t exist.

Furthermore, with all due deference to Messrs. Sullivan and Andersen, the smugness occasionally expressed by some Rehoboth Beach locals is often a pale imitation of the superior attitudes displayed by some of the town's visitors.

We could tell you stories, but we won’t.

The basic truth is that it just isn’t right to label a whole group of people with the same characteristics, psychologically or otherwise, simply because of a bad experience or two (or more) with some of them.

If I’m going to take off after someone, it will be because of what I perceive as that person’s individual flaws, and not because of where they live or where they were born.

Except for the French, of course.

Click here, here, here, and here for some other bloggers' comments on this subject (check posts for 9/4 and 9/5).

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September 4, 2002

A Maritime History Lesson

Some folks nowadays apparently have no sense of history, or classic literature for that matter.

Last weekend the unfortunate Jerry Tibbs went fishing with a few friends on his boat about five miles off Port San Luis, California.

Then, tragedy literally struck:

A whale suddenly breached and crashed into the bow… and tossed him into the sea…. Three other fishermen stayed aboard the damaged boat, which was towed to shore by the Coast Guard.

Tibbs and his three friends were just ending a day fishing for albacore when the accident occurred.

After more than 18 hours of searching, Tibbs' body was found Monday afternoon.

One other aspect of this unhappy clash between man and nature also bears noting:

Coast Guard officials said it was the first time they could recall an accident caused by a whale hitting a boat.

That’s just amazing.

It's also mistaken.

It sounds like none of the USCG folks ever read any of the eyewitness accounts of the1820 Essex disaster, or even Moby Dick, the famous Herman Melville novel based on the Essex incident. It also appears that they knew nothing about the other famous ship-sinking case, in which the Ann Alexander sank after a whale-butting incident in 1851.

I blame the animal rights movement for this appalling suppression of basic knowledge of the risks of seafaring.

September 3, 2002

Aiming at a Target for Potential Redevelopment

Opponents of sprawl often point to redevelopment of existing land as a viable alternative to virgin farmland.

This common sense notion sometimes fits in very nicely with the developers’ own concepts of what would be a good investment.

For one thing, the rest of the area’s public infrastructure is usually in place. For those jurisdictions with impact fee regulations, rebuilding a site may also be far less expensive compared to the cost of contributing to a totally new set of publicly-owned improvements.

Today’s Washington Post provides a fairly unusual example of how this process can occur where the demand can support a truly startling, significant investment. In Fairfax County, a national home builder corporation spent into the mid-8 figures to buy out the owners of 88 old subdivision lots, with parcels between a half-acre to an acre each in size:

On the 80-plus-acre site will eventually rise more than 1,000 townhouses and apartments and a handful of detached houses, densely packed onto new streets. It will be one big development, with one new name, Fair Chase.

(Will Vehrs’ note about this plan uses a very funny headline.)

This level of "suburban renewal" would be pretty surprising where I live. The Cape Region area just doesn’t experience the same intense pressure for residential property as Northern Virginia.

On the other hand, in the commercial property context, redevelopment can work out very well  in many places.

Here’s an example.

In the late 1980’s the Rehoboth Mall opened up on Route 1, about midway between Lewes and Rehoboth Beach. The new shopping center included a Superfresh supermarket among its anchor tenants. In addition to the indoor retail shops, the property also included the usual collection of pad sites situated along the main highway, offering the four basic food groups among several drive-through restaurants.

(For the uninitiated, the four food groups are sugar, starch, lard, and salt. Ms. McArdle may disagree).

Over the next decade, the area’s booming increase in year-round population convinced Superfresh to move to another spot and build a bigger store. In the meantime, the Mall suffered from continuing vacancies among the indoor segments.

Eventually, much of the shopping center property became vacant, including the supermarket.

To me, the sight of unused commercial property looks like a bad case of blight on the community.

The huge growth in the surrounding region had an additional effect on other development, however. The traffic on Route 1 on the weekends assumed big-city proportions, and wasn’t so great during the weekdays, either. This made it difficult for new retail development prospects in the area, because the developers’ traffic engineers couldn’t obtain satisfactory traffic study results.

Compared to K-Mart and other retailers, Walmart came to the Sussex County beach business party a little late. By the time the Arkansas retail giant decided to expand in the area, its options were actually pretty limited.

Eventually, Walmart hit upon the notion of buying much of the Mall property, and slightly downsizing its usual building footprint so as to match up the store’s square footage with the available (and previously approved) space. "Grandfathering" the prior development’s traffic levels for the site in this fashion worked well, at least from the engineering and land use perspectives, and the store obtained the necessary governmental approvals fairly quickly. The new Walmart opened at this location last October, and many of the other changes in the Mall property are nearing completion.

Thanks to the recent bankruptcy and dissolution of the Ames department store chain, it now looks like there will be similar retail redevelopment opportunities in many locations throughout the country.

For example, a small shopping center with an Ames anchor sits just outside Rehoboth Beach. The same traffic study limitations still impede new retail business construction in the area. Nonetheless, the prospect of redeveloping the property once Ames finishes its "Going Out of Business" sales should be just as promising as occurred with Walmart's adaptive reuse of the Rehoboth Mall.

It could be that this Ames parcel will soon be Targeted for a new retail chain to be located at this little bit of heaven in eastern Sussex County.

That idea certainly beats leaving the place vacant and subject to abuse.

September 2, 2002

Say Cheese

Several bloggers took off after The City of Wilmington recently. Most of them objected to the revived police practice of taking targeted photographs of the folks that hang around the corners where drug dealers carry on their trade. Glenn Reynolds’ comment was fairly typical:

[T]he notion of making people get out of their cars to be photographed because they might someday be criminals strikes me as evil.

As with many such issues, the complete facts are a bit more, shall we say, nuanced than what Reynolds and other writers assumed in opposing this part of Wilmington’s anti-drug campaign. See the following articles and the News-Journal editorial linked here, here, and here.

I haven’t come to any firm conclusions yet about the legal niceties surrounding the taking of photographs in these circumstances. For one thing, other than using the pictures to support a warrant, I’m not sure how the issue would come up in a criminal prosecution. Assuming there was more than the photograph to provide probable cause for the arrest, which is usually a very safe assumption given normal police procedure, I can’t imagine that the photographs would lead to an overturned indictment, under the usual "harmless error" standard of review applied to such cases.

On the other hand, I know the neighborhoods affected by the drug trade, the mayor, the police chief, and other people involved in the controversy. I also subscribe to the "broken windows" theory of community policing. The picture-taking seems to dovetail with that proven approach to making neighborhoods safer.

I also find myself in the peculiar position of actually agreeing with the News-Journal's Norman Lockman, a local columnist I don’t usually find convincing. For once, he and I are on the same page, as shown by the following extended quote:

There are times when white liberals and black intellectuals, with their good intentions flying, make me wonder at their good sense, even though I am a liberal myself. That these two groups are joined in the name of civil rights to thwart a community-supported police effort in Wilmington to clear drug dealers from street corners leaves me asking, "What are these nice people doing representing the interests of drug hustlers?"

...Who is the real constituency for these efforts? Not the people who are afraid to go outside their homes at night. Not the people who cringe at the sound of gunshots out front. Not the people whose homes are worthless because they are in a high- crime neighborhood.

The true beneficiaries are the crooks who count on liberal naiveté and legal technicalities to keep the decks clear while they poison black communities.

... [T]he intimidation practiced by drug gangs on neighborhood people puts picture-snapping to shame. It is so great, in fact, that the likelihood of innocents being trapped in a nighttime drug corner sweep is pretty small because gang enforcers run them off for fear they are spying for the cops, and because most ordinary neighborhood people are smart enough to stay clear. Check it out.

What bothers me most is the assumption that it is wrong to be rude to the delicate sensibilities of thugs. Whose value is that? Not the neighborhoods'. Furthermore, I know for certain that most of the absentee civil libertarians caviling about this are too chicken to go near one of these drug corners, day or night, except in a police car.

I understand the legal and constitutional niceties. You don't want police messing with decent people. There are still rogue cops who prey on black communities for sport. Unfortunately, that menace is far surpassed by the menace of drug gangs who prey on black communities for profit. Residents in these neighborhoods are clamoring for police to come in and do something about the drugs and guns. And what to the white liberals and black intellectuals do? Side with the crooks. Where's the balance?

Barbershops and beauty parlors are the tom-toms of black neighborhoods. The buzz in black barbershops I frequent in Wilmington is, "These people don't have a clue. This ain't school deseg -- which they also messed up for us." You won't find many constitutional wizards in or behind barber chairs, but you will find people who think it's dumb to make it harder for cops to roust drug gangs. I agree with them....

What he said.

[Full disclosure: I was an assistant city solicitor in the civil division of the City of Wilmington's Law Department from 1979-1987, and an occasional prosecutor in Municipal Court.]

September 1, 2002

A perfect movie for a rainy weekend

After a summer of near-total drought, the Labor Day weekend around here is shaping up as a perfect ending to the season.

It started raining late Friday, and it looks like it will continue through Monday--a great time for movies, reading books, and other quiet pursuits, from our perspective.

With some favorite family members visiting, my wife ventured out and snagged a few videos. Last night we watched The Man Who Wasn’t There, another masterful bit of work by Ethan and Joel Coen.

I was pretty sleepy before the movie started, but was wide-awake when it finished. That doesn’t happen often, but this film clicked on so many levels it produced that effect.

The cinematography had a crisp look to it, much like the black-and-white photography of Life Magazine during the early 1950’s, the same time frame for the movie’s plot.

Billy Bob Thornton’s facial expressions (or, more often, lack of them) were a treat. They presented a starkly funny contrast to the dialogue and the situations in which his hapless character found himself, as a plan for marital revenge spirals quickly beyond anything he imagined.

Frances McDormand was simply wonderful, as usual. She can play an absolutely normal human being better than most.

Pay close attention to the dialogue by Michael Badalucco, who plays McDormand’s brother and Thornton’s boss/brother-in-law. It goes on forever, in keeping with his character, but also sounds completely natural.

Tony Shalhoub’s masterful performance as the hotshot criminal defense attorney Freddy Reidenschneider pretty much stole the show. I’m sure I’ve never heard the Uncertainty Principle explained or applied so brilliantly. Those who don’t care for lawyers will also gain a new piece of satirical ammunition.

[BTW, we also really enjoy Shalhoub’s new television series,  Monk, in which he plays a private detective with obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s not exactly politically correct, and also not afraid to use wit for wit’s sake.]

As with most Coen brothers’ movies, this one won’t appeal to everybody. From my perspective, however, the two men are simply continuing their series of fine movies with this gently twisted take on the film noir tradition.

September 1, 2002

Aw, Shucks. You didn’t have to go and say that.

Thanks, Will. Made my day.



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Fritz Schranck
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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002