Sneaking Suspicions
Archives--October-December 2009

This page includes posts from October through December 2009, in the usual reverse order.

Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

December 6, 2009
Not so neighborly

The community of North Shores sits just above the town of Henlopen Acres, Delaware, just below the Gordons Pond entrance to Cape Henlopen State Park.

First laid out in the early 1960s, North Shores has a longstanding reputation as a place for the very well-to-do to enjoy the Delaware Beaches.

The Board of Governors for the community also has an equally longstanding reputation of doing what it can to preserve the private property rights of the folks who own a beach place there. These efforts include significant parking restrictions throughout the community, and vigorous efforts to keep their private oceanfront beach free of the footprints of those who do not own North Shores property.

Apparently that exclusionary attitude is not enough for some members of that community.

In Schneiderman et al. v. North Shores Board of Governors, Inc., a group of oceanfront property owners in North Shores are suing to block the use of dune crossings that the rest of the community uses to reach the beach. Among other allegations, they claim that these crossings could not be built without their approval, and they do not approve.

The dune crossings are about ten feet wide. Each one has a small wooden boardwalk to take North Shores owners and their guests across the dune line to the private beach.

These crossings are not that much to look at--here are photos of the crossings at Ocean Drive and Cedar, Holly, and Farview Roads.

Farview Crossing

Holly Crossing

Cedar Crossing

According to the complaint filed in this case, however, these crossings are a real nuisance.

People using the crossing "talk to one another" while making the short hike to the beach, and some of these people also "gawk" at the oceanfront homes adjacent to the crossings. Furthermore, on some occasions folks allegedly hurt themselves while walking through these crossings, and then have the effrontery to "request aid" from the plaintiffs.

The horror.

As noted above, the oceanfront owners alleged that their right to veto any construction on the North Shores beach extended to these dune crossings.

Chancery Court Master Sam Glasscock disagreed:

The beach-front property owners have a right to veto construction only in that area, the Private Beach, over which an easement was conveyed in favor of the North Shores lot owners in the Deed of Easement....

Nothing in the plot plan and, most importantly, nothing in the Deed of Easement, indicates that the North Shores Private Beach area includes the alleyways over which the defendant has now built dune crossings....

If the right to veto any construction on the beach extended to dune crossings in the alleyways, the beach-front owners would have the right to frustrate access to the beach for all non-beach-front residents of North Shores.

Therefore, Master Glasscock dismissed the property claim element of this lawsuit. As for the nuisance claims, however, the case is still alive:

The complaint alleges that, because of the method of construction and the height of the dune crossings, and their proximity to plaintiffs' houses, they represent an unreasonable risk of property damage to the plaintiffs' properties in any storm. This leaves a factual issue which may well be the appropriate subject of a motion for summary judgment, but which cannot be resolved at this stage of the proceedings. Because this issue of fact precludes dismissal of the nuisance claim, I need not consider whether the plaintiffs state an actionable claim by alleging that the crossovers attract beachgoers whose "talking and gawking" disturbs the plaintiffs' quiet enjoyment of their properties. Nor do I need to determine whether a claim that the pleas for help of alleged injured elderly beachgoers constitutes an unreasonable interference with plaintiffs quiet enjoyment sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Since discovery must go forward on the nuisance claim in any event, I leave the entire claim to be disposed of by motion for summary judgment or after trial.

If I had to guess, however, I would think that those not very neighborly elements of the Plaintiffs' claims will not be sufficient to meet their goals.

I'd be okay with that.

November 28, 2009
Sins of exclusion

Happy Thanksgiving!

I took advantage of the day off on Friday to finally finish a book I'd been slogging through for the last few months, and which will have an honored place on the Mr. Happy Collection bookshelf.

Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed is the second of his books I have read, and it was more interesting from an immediate perspective than his prior work, Guns, Germs, and Steel.

"Collapse" outlines the history of several failed civilizations, including the Maya, Easter Islander, and the Norse Greenland colony. It then draws several potential lessons for today from those eventually bitter experiences.

I might quibble about some of what he argues about how a civilization can cause itself significant troubles, but the following passage seemed remarkably apropos of the current discussion over health care reform:

A further conflict of interest involving rational behavior arises when the interests of the decision-making elite in power clash with the interests of the rest of society. Especially if the elite can insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions, they are likely to do things that profit themselves, regardless of whether those actions hurt everybody else. Such clashes ... are becoming increasingly frequent in the modern U.S. ....

Throughout recorded history, actions or inactions by self-absorbed kings, chiefs, and politicians have been a regular cause of societal collapses....

Conversely, failures to solve perceived problems because of conflicts of interest between the elite and the masses are much less likely in societies where the elite cannot insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions.

This risk of committing the sin of exclusion was not lost on James Madison, who wrote this passage about the House of Representatives while arguing for the adoption of the Constitution, in Federalist No. 57:

they can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of the society. This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together. It creates between them that communion of interests and sympathy of sentiments, of which few governments have furnished examples; but without which every government degenerates into tyranny. If it be asked, what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer: the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America -- a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.

If this spirit shall ever be so far debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature, as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate any thing but liberty.

I put in bold the part of this excerpt that should be kept foremost in mind in thinking about health care reform, or any other massive Federal attempts at change.

Vigilance by the governed is the best possible source of protection from those doing the governing.

November 10, 2009
The Mister Happy Collection

Revamping the home office has been on our schedule of fun things to do for a long while.

It was tops on the list, in fact, except for everything else we could think of doing instead.

Nonetheless, late this summer and early fall, we began the tortuous process of moving hundreds of books, recycling a few reams of no-longer-needed papers, going to furniture stores, and debating the merits of paint chips with names like Romance, or Stone 2.

I didn't see what Stone 1 looked like, but Stone 2 worked out well as the final selection.

During the book-moving part of the makeover, my wife asked me for a recommendation among those on the shelves. She was looking for a book that was different from her usual preferences.

I mentioned something, and she began to look over the shelves that held the books that were mostly mine.

As she studied the options, she became, as they say, a bit animated about the overall scope of the non-fiction, non-golf selections. She re-discovered that my reading interests are a mite bit severe, when viewed from one perspective.

With the office now finished, we put these particular books on a shelf, which we've now named the Mister Happy Collection.

See if you agree:

In my own defense, I should say that several of these books appeal to my conservative communitarian impulses. These include Death in Hamburg, The Great Influenza, Ship Ablaze, Rising Tide, and Isaac's Storm.

Allen Weinstein's Perjury, perhaps not so much. It's just a great history of a particularly nasty piece of treason.

November 10, 2009
What a tangled web someone wove

Early mornings in the fall around here often include a surprise or two.

I'm up with the dog well before the rest of the occupants, and so I sometimes see stuff that just isn't around later in the day for the others to appreciate.

Or at least, it isn't quite so impressive looking, once the sun has risen past a certain point.

For example, one sunny weekend not long ago, this was the scene outside my home office window:

Somebody had been very, very busy the night before.

It probably ran out of web fluid at some point. Or perhaps the spider was on caffeine or other drugs, which can be impressive in their effects.

October 25, 2009
Freebies and other ethical challenges

A new controversy that potentially implicated my writings on this blog and my golf-related website helped spur me to begin posting again here, after a work- and family-related hiatus.

It's about freebies and such.

I made it the subject of the main part of my weekly golf column this week, which is reprinted here below, but with hyperlinks added.

Hope you like it:

Several years ago a golf equipment company asked me if I would conduct a product review for one of their golf bags. They would send me the bag; I would try it and write about it; and then, I could keep the bag for my personal use.

I talked with Dennis Forney, the publisher of this fine newspaper, about their request. Forney’s position was straightforward, as he always is whenever we chat—I could accept the freebie, as long as I was honest in my assessment about it.

The equipment folks sent me the bag, and it was eventually the subject of a column that ran in this paper and on my golf website. I liked it but I didn’t love it, and that evaluation should be pretty clear to anyone who reads the review.

Since that time, I have had the occasional freebie or two in other golf-related contexts, such as a hybrid club or a round of golf at a Cape Region golf course that wanted me to write about the playing experience.

Again, there was no editorial control over the results of those experiences, other than my own requirement to write an honest assessment, as Forney suggested.

This issue came up again recently, thanks to a remarkable set of proposed guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC suggested that bloggers and others should openly disclose any such freebie reviews or paid endorsements, apparently to make sure their readers understand the potential motivations of the writers. The question of actual motive, however, could be left to the tender mercies of the federal government to decide.

The Commission appears to be trying to do something about advertising that is “masquerading as bona fide endorsements,” according to the New York Times, a publication with its own issues about public relations and news content.

Lots of bloggers are up in arms about the proposal, however, not least of which because of the daunting prospect of dealing with an official FTC investigation.

The FTC says their rules are aimed at nontraditional media such as the blogging community, but one has to wonder why they are not so worried about more traditional media outlets, such as this newspaper. After all, review copies of new books, screener copies of new DVDs, and other products and services are not the sole review domains of bleary-eyed bloggers.

Out of an excess of caution, therefore, let me be as clear as possible.

I review golf books and other items that are sent to me, as part of this column. I do not receive any direct payment for these reviews, other than the chance to keep the stuff.

If someone goes to my website and orders a book I reviewed through my association with, I earn a tiny percentage of the sale. It’s certainly not enough to change my mind about the merits of these books. As for other products and services I review, you will be the first to know if these were freebies, because I make a point of telling you about that fact in the same column.

Glad we had this little chance to clear the air.

October 25, 2009
Back on line

I took a break from writing for this blog for a while.

Did anything happen while I was gone?

January 17, 2009
Shameless self-promotion

I'm this close to kicking my PC with a size 10 Timberline boot, what with all the fun I'm having trying to make it work with a new wireless printer.

At the moment, I'm attempting an alternate route, in which the software will be installed on Dr. Schranck's notebook computer, which may be less balky.

In the meantime, here are links and the opening lines to the most recent golf columns, which you may enjoy while I continue to test what remains of my self-control:

Harry Vardon's Excellent Adventure
January 16, 2009

Modern-day professional golfers have millions of reasons to be thankful for Tiger Woods. More..

Playing at Bear Trap Dunes
January 9, 2009

I rode down to Bear Trap Dunes Golf Club on the day after Christmas to join local PGA pro Devon Peterson and a crowd of fellow members of Shawnee Country Club, for an outing at the popular Ocean View public golf course. More..

Cape Region Golf Year in Review 2008
January 2, 2009

This week marks the end of this column’s tenth year. 2008 was also a busy twelve months for Cape Region golf. More..


Contact Information:

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

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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2009