Commentary from a practical perspective
page includes posts from September 15-21, 2002 in the usual reverse order. Each week's
postings on the home page are perma-linked to these pages.
Adventures in Technology
Yesterday, a large computer firm based in Happy, Texas or somewhere near there delivered the new computer and peripherals that we ordered about a week ago.
Part of this weekend will be spent setting it up, installing potentially balky new software, and moving the household's 1997 P166MMX model to another room that also has a phone jack, just in case.
As a result, the already fairly light posting schedule to which this site adheres may be even lighter this weekend. With any luck, however, the slow, steady stream of sensible communitarian commentary that is the hallmark of SneakingSuspicions.com will soon resume its normal daily schedule. [Others may quibble over this self-description. Ed.]
Your thoughts and prayers are appreciated at this difficult time.
Unfortunate Pots and Kettles
When it comes to environmental issues and the favorite word used to denigrate the other side while arguing about them, Senator Daschle and the Bush Administration apparently work from the same playbook.
Neither side could be accused of complete consistency on environmental issues, and both sides are well aware of that fact.
For example, heres a quote from an AP story on September 19:
Of course, Senator Daschle is fully capable of suggesting a rollback or two of his own, as illustrated in this story from the Washington Times that ran on July 25:
In addition, both sides also use the same passive/aggressive word to challenge the other's policy choices.
Heres a typical usage taken from a PBS story about nuclear waste storage last May 8:
And heres this weeks version from the White House, aimed right back at the Senator:
The word "unfortunate" must be something that the two political parties focus-grouped extensively before they made the conscious decision to use it anywhere and everywhere. (Google "Daschle unfortunate White House", and youll see for yourself.) Their intent seems to be to create a quietly dismissive tone, as if more in sorrow than in anger, so that no one could accuse these partisans of being too excessive in their rhetoric.
"Unfortunate" may "sound nicer" to certain voter groups, but its ubiquity in current political discourse is becoming really annoying. Besides, they're not fooling anybody.
Frankly, Id appreciate a more robust choice of phrases that more accurately describe what they really mean.
How much more refreshing it would be to open the morning newspaper and see something like these quotes, slightly altered from those referred to above:
Obviously, certain rhetorical lines should not be crossed, because failing to respect those limits makes the eventual compromises far more difficult to achieve.
On the other hand, surely these folks can swing something a little harder than this little word-pillow at each other without endangering our democratic republic.
The failure to be more direct in ones choice of expression is truly regrettable.
A pox on both their houses
Heres a hint about reading opinions issued by U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals:
When the first sentence in a labor law decision makes a direct reference to the fact that only a few thousand dollars are at stake, neither side should look forward to reading the rest of the opinion.
The management of a unionized bus company in upstate New York became upset when the union unilaterally dropped a grievance arbitration one day before the scheduled hearing, and only nine days after the arbitrator turned down the unions request for a postponement.
Apparently this wasnt the first time the union had blown off an arbitration. In fact, Article 86.01(g) of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) included a clause dealing with this practice:
The companys arbitration preparation costs (almost entirely attorneys fees) totaled $5655. It sued the union for the money.
Displaying a finely honed sense of irony, the union claimed that the company couldnt sue for the preparation costs, because the CBA required all disputes to go to arbitration.
The district court ruled in favor of the union, and the company appealed.
The Second Circuits decision begins with a fairly telling parenthetical remark stuck inside the first sentence:
After reviewing the factual and procedural steps that brought the case to this exalted level, the Second Circuit reminded both parties of the express language in the CBA.
First, the Union was simply wrong to insist on arbitration of the cancellation costs claim:
A-93 (emphasis added). We agree with [the Company] that this language creates an express condition precedent that must be satisfied before a duty to arbitrate arises.
The Company was under no duty to grieve and arbitrate this cost recovery claim before filing suit over it.
Second, the Company was wrong to seek recovery of its own preparation costs, under the terms of the contract:
The end result, therefore, was an affirmance of the district judges order, but for very different reasons.
On the other hand, I wouldnt be too surprised if the Circuit Court also orders both parties to split the costs of the appeal.
It seems only fair.
This week provided yet another example of the trend-setting nature of blogdom.
But of course.
This week I used the new parking garage behind the just-opened New Castle County Courthouse. When I returned to the car, the parking fee totaled three dollars. I put a $5 bill into the wall-mounted automated cashier. After a bit of whirring and stirring, two bus tokens dropped into the change bin below.
At least, thats what the two $1 coins looked like.
This was the very first time I had ever seen these modest bits of metal used in circulation. Frankly, I can see why theyre now considered a failure.
I dont have much objection to using coins in lieu of paper money, as expressed recently by Charles Kuffner. On the other hand, this particular design suffers from two deficiencies, as I see itthe coins have no distinctive heft, and theyre still too close to quarters in size, which was also the knock against the Susan Anthony issue.
Whose face is on the currency is certainly not the issue, obviously. I suggest its more a matter of feel.
The point is to create a new coin that fingers jammed into a pocket can quickly and easily distinguish among the others in the mix.
I agree with Kuffner that something like the old Eisenhower coin would be an improvement, or maybe even an enlarged version of the British £2 bimetal currency.
There are also good marketing reasons to create an improved dollar coin. If the folks at the U.S. Mint created a larger version of the same gold piece, they would instantly create a huge collectable market for the currently unpopular version. That kind of opportunity should not be overlooked. The current sales program for the quarters featuring each state in order of their admission to the Union is already far more successful than they ever dreamed.
Obviously, there are other issues related to coinage that need to be considered, such as conversion of cash registers, vending operations, and so forth. Even so, I think the main problem with the most recent dollar coin experiments is that the people at the Mint did not fully appreciate the need to think bigger than they did.
Give em five Claudes, and then lets go out for dessert
Phineas T. Barnum would be proud to know that the famous aphorism that was falsely attributed to him nonetheless continues to remain one of the ultimate expressions of absolute truth.
This headline receives a five-Claude award, with non-fat whipped cream and a cherry on top.
Thanks to Ann Salisbury for the tip.
Sometimes theres no other way to vote than with your feet
Barefoot v.City of Wilmington is a recent precedential annexation opinion issued by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case serves as a not-so-gentle reminder that even on issues with significant political impact, its a mistake to assume that all those interested must have the right to approve the matter personally.
The City of Wilmington, North Carolina decided to annex a sizable hunk of adjacent New Hanover County. That choice did not please Ovalee Barefoot and several of her neighbors. They lived with about 13,000 other residents in the targeted 9.27 square miles lying between the city limits and the Intracoastal Waterway, just outside the birthplace of Michael Jordan, and were perfectly fine with continuing that arrangement.
On the other hand, the North Carolina legislature authorized cities with a population greater than 5,000 to annex territory contiguous to city limits, and no referendum was required to accomplish the takeover. Neither the 90,000 citizens of Wilmington nor county residents such as Ms. Barefoot had a chance to vote personally to approve or block the annexation.
Its not as if the state General Assembly didnt recognize the benefits of referenda. On five occasions it enacted local legislation that granted voting rights for annexations. In most cases, a majority of those living in the area to be annexed had to approve the idea, while in at least one case the annexation had to be approved by those already living in the city.
After Wilmington approved the annexation, Barefoot and about 100 others sued in state court to block it, and lost. They then appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which upheld the dismissal.
Undaunted, the plaintiffs then filed in Federal Court, alleging a variety of violations of rights under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the Privileges and Immunities Clause. They also threw into the mix a takings claim under the Fifth Amendment.
The District Court granted the Citys motion to dismiss, and the plaintiffs appealed.
The Fourth Circuit was fairly blunt in affirming the dismissal under each of the plaintiffs theories:
The Court was even more direct in dismissing the due process claims:
The plaintiffs faired equally badly with their takings and Privileges and Immunities claims:
As I read the 18-page opinion, I had the distinct feeling that the Circuit Court judges were a bit disbelieving that this annexation appeal had actually reached their courtroom. A search of annexation legislation on the Internet would have shown that the mix of voting options provided in North Carolina is similar to that found in many states. Annexation is one of those local government issues in which experimentation is not at all unusual. Local influences also play a major role in the deeply political decision about whether to hold special elections for the purpose, or to allow the general elections for state and local officials to serve as the ultimate referenda.
State governments continue to have the ability to make the choice between those two forms of obtaining public consent to fundamental decisions about the appropriate form of government to apply to a given area.
Thats the point Justice Holmes made in the Bi-Metallic case cited here, and it remains a valuable precedent.
In addition, but without denigrating the personal disruption it may cause, there is always the option to vote with ones feet.
Selections from the IKEA catalog
A story in todays NYT outlines the launch of a new advertising campaign for IKEA, the Swedish retail furnishings giant. The updated marketing approach focuses on convincing the customers to think of furniture as disposable, much like clothing or other fashion-sensitive merchandise.
In part, the company's latest promotion seems intended to make a virtue out of IKEAs less-than-stellar record for selling stuff that will hold up well over time.
Well, good luck to them.
We dont live near an IKEA store, but a few of our relatives do. We enjoy going to the stores and almost always buy a little something whenever we go. We also receive the IKEA catalogs in the mail.
The furniture and other big-ticket items are frequently tempting, and there are several inexpensive offerings available that are both useful and fun to have around the house.
Nonetheless, the consonant-filled names IKEA gives to the hundreds of objects it sells can make our mouths hurt while trying to pronounce them.
As with perhaps millions of other customers worldwide, we sometimes have fun dreaming up new names for possible IKEA products.
Here are a few selections from our version of the company's newest catalog:
Look for the distinctive blue and yellow exterior on a vast box store near you!
After the initial experience, I suggest simply listening to the music again, this time with eyes closed.
The videos imagery, based on the WTC paper fragments that floated over the Carroll Gardens neighborhood in Brooklyn, will remain vivid in the minds eye. Other visual memories from the events of September 11 may also return to listeners, depending on the changing emotional tones struck by the music throughout the roughly 4-minute composition.
After the fourth or fifth repetition, I could see the Blue Man Group performing the piece, with two of the members leaning carefully over the plastic pipe arrays as they created the percussive melody.
The music is appropriately somber, though not funereal, with a hint of modest hope suggested toward the end of the piece.
For some viewers, the few thousand paper fragments seen in the video may call to mind the equivalent number of those who died in the buildings that produced that artificial flurry in Carroll Gardens.
The video is not maudlin, and there probably shouldnt be any tears caused by watching it.
It would be perfectly understandable, however, if ones eyes glistened a bit as some of the bits of paper come into focus.
Possibly doing well by doing good
Its nice to see somebody not only conduct helpful research, but also do something about the results of that research.
A story posted by Reuters yesterday discussed a new report about injuries to U.S. children coming into accidental contact with bicycle handlebars. Dr. Flaura K. Winston of the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia headed a team of researchers on this topic, and their results were published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
The story notes that the scale of the problem is fairly significant:
Thankfully, there are possible solutions to lessen the risk:
The last paragraph of the story shows that Dr. Winston also possesses some initiative in this regard:
Good for her. I hope it helps.
Naturally, I have my own contribution to this story.
I have always been an avid, if not voracious reader. At one point, my mother suggested that if toilet paper had words printed on it, no one else would ever be able to use the bathroom.
This keen interest in the written word carried with it some unusual risks, given my penchant for reading anything and anywhere.
One summer evening, I decided to combine my interest in reading with bicycle riding. I carefully held my book in one hand, while steering with the other.
Looking where I was going, unfortunately, was an additional safety consideration that I failed to notice.
I also failed to notice the parked car in front of me, until I hit the center of the rear bumper with my front tire.
The impact threw me forward and down at the same time, so that I scraped my chest against the handlebar post and wire basket attached above the front wheel.
The other kids playing around in the area at the time had a great time laughing about the accident.
I wasnt nearly as amused about it as they were.
On the other hand, that was the last time I ever tried that stunt.
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