Sneaking Suspicions
 
Archives-- October 3-9, 2004


This page includes posts from October 3-9, 2004 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

October 9, 2004
Down to one bottle

We have a single bottle of white wine left over from a party several months ago. 

Some folks, including my sister and her brother-in-law among others, are wine connoisseurs in whose homes this pinot grigio would have been long gone by now. That’s fine, but it’s not us. Instead, I’m still messing with wine reduction sauces.

The following is the simplest version I’ve done thus far, and it was very well-received earlier this week, served over medium shell pasta.

Ingredients:

2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs butter
1 stalk celery, chopped fine
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 lbs boned, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 to 1 1/2 –inch thick pieces
salt
pepper
Creole seasoning
2 tbs flour
6 oz white wine
6 oz heavy whipping cream
1 tsp basil leaves
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

In a large heavy sauté pan, cook the celery, onion, and garlic in the olive oil and butter over low heat for about five minutes, until the vegetables soften. Meanwhile, dust the chicken pieces with salt, pepper, and Creole seasoning, and then dredge them in the flour.

Brown the chicken on both sides with the softened vegetables. Add the wine, cream, and basil leaves, and reduce to about half the original over low heat. 

Stir in the grated Parmesan cheese just before calling everyone to the table. 

Should serve 4-6.

October 8, 2004
Two peas in the AMT pod

I read and enjoyed yesterday morning's Kausfiles post about using the federal income tax code’s Alternative Minimum Tax as a reform device: 

[T]he need to do something about the horrible AMT is considered the driving political engine behind proposals for overhauling the regular tax code, according to the NYT's Edmund Andrews. ... But why isn't the unindexed AMT a feature rather than a bug? That is, why isn't it a good vehicle for gradually introducing tax reform and simplification? How? Keep all the deductions and credits in the tax code, but simplify the AMT so it's the tax code reformers really want. And keep it unindexed. Then, as the AMT hits further and further down the income scale, more and more taxpayers will have to shift to the reformed AMT system--until most Americans don't even bother with their old regular tax calculations. They just pay the simplified tax, which is maybe a little bit higher than the old complicated tax…. Don't fight the AMT--surrender to it! ... What am I missing here? [Emphasis in original—Ed.]

Very long time readers might recall why I appreciated Kaus’ comments so much.  

During the first two weeks’ of this site’s existence, I also suggested amending the AMT as a reform measure.

Here are some representative snippets that show that while Kaus’ proposal and mine have similar aims, his idea is admittedly far more politically practical:

The AMT should be set at a mere one per cent of Adjusted Gross Income--for everyone.

If my Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) is $25,000, then the minimum income tax is $250, no matter what happens after deductions from AGI for personal exemptions, standard or itemized deductions, and the EIC or other tax credits.

I pay either the new AMT or whatever amount I owe based on the Tax Tables or Schedules, whichever is larger....

If my AGI is $2,500,000, then the minimum income tax is $25,000, again no matter what the tax computations would result after determining total taxable income.

This proposal has the benefit of being simple to execute, and mostly likely impossible to enact into law….

Why aren’t we more up front about it? Why not set up an income tax system so that everyone directly contributes?

If I only directly pay FICA, it’s possible that I will only pay attention to how that money is spent. If I don’t directly pay income tax, it’s likely that I will less interested in how the government is spending other people’s money.

Hmmn. Maybe I’m onto something here as a political explanation for the current system, beyond simple class envy....

Over 127 million people file tax returns now. Millions of them only file to make sure they receive a refund that brings their tax liability to zero. An AMT that held onto one per cent of AGI would still produce a refund in most cases—just not as much.

I have no real hope of ever seeing this idea enacted into law. I’m interested in seeing what others think.

Looks like Kaus thought long and hard about it.

And now we're just like two peas in a pod.

October 7, 2004
Texas Taxes

Virginia Postrel just made me glad I’m not a Texan.

She wrote a fascinating NYT column about the ongoing problems with the Robin Hood system of equalizing school finance among school districts.

Postrel’s commentary was inspired by a new economics study of the state’s decade-old scheme to reduce the disparity between rich and poor districts.

The writers were just a tad blunt with their study’s title:

"Robin Hood and His Not-So-Merry Plan: Capitalization and the Self-Destruction of Texas' School Finance Equalization Plan." 

I read this report. Thanks to my limited exposure to formal economics education, it made my hair hurt. Fortunately, Postrel summed up the study’s analyses and conclusions with her usual pithy insight:

In fact, argue the economists, the Robin Hood system is anything but financially efficient. Robin Hood does not just move money from rich school districts to poor school districts. It does so in a way that destroys far more wealth than it transfers, and that erodes the tax base on which school funding depends.

Ouch.

For all the problems troubling the public schools in Delaware, at least we can take some comfort from the fact that the tax problems Texas created for itself don’t exist here. 

Unlike Texas and other states, Delaware funds public education through predominantly statewide resources, instead of local taxes. 

The state share dedicated to public school districts usually runs around 65% of the total spent on public education. The Feds chip in about 8% and the local districts make up the difference, with about 27%. Equalization funds, which favor the poorer districts, total about 8% of the state’s education support. 

The size of the state’s contribution is also readily apparent when looking at its FY2005 state budget. Non-higher ed public education appropriations constituted just under 34 cents of every dollar appropriated. This exceeds the revenues generated by the state’s largest single source, the personal income tax. The PIT brings in about 28 cents of each revenue dollar.

Of course, Texas has no such income tax, and I’m not crazy enough to think that Delaware’s method could (or even should) be easily transferred to the Southwest. Based on this study, however, I don’t see how the Texas legislature can keep up their bizarre arrangement much longer.

There are far better ways to ameliorate the stark disparities in local resources for education—but it will surely require rethinking the ratio of state and local dollars set aside for the purpose.

October 5, 2004
A quick assessment of the Vice-Presidential Debate

Shrek 1--Breck 0

October 5, 2004
What a guy

There are many benefits to working in the judicial system in a small town or county, but there are also some disadvantages.

For example, it’s not easy to lose oneself in the crowd, since there isn’t one. And when your decisions upset one or more litigants, there are some additional risks.

Lester Blades is a Family Court Commissioner in Kent County, Delaware. Commissioners handle routine domestic law issues, including motions and some other assignments. Commissioner Blades has a decent reputation among family law practitioners and other lawyers in the county, but Clay Cooper apparently didn’t think much of him. 

Cooper saw Blades in a local restaurant in mid-June, and approached him as the Commissioner headed for a restroom. As noted in the later trial testimony, Cooper then said,

“I want to thank you for ruining my Goddamn kids’ lives. Thanks to you, I have three eighth grade drop-outs.”

He then made sure Blades knew who he was.

Cooper wasn’t finished. Out of earshot of Blades, he then told one waitress,

“I did not know God damn state commissioners were here,”

and shortly later added,

“That person is the biggest piece of shit you’ll ever see in your life.”

One nearby customer made a sarcastic remark in response, but that was the only reaction anyone made to Cooper’s outbursts. As Cooper left the restaurant, he told another waitress,

“I want you to kick the Commissioner’s ass.”

She didn’t.

On the other hand, the State made an effort to do something about Cooper’s comments, by bringing criminal charges for disorderly conduct and harassment.

The matter came to trial quickly, and after the close of the prosecution’s case the judge dismissed the harassment charge. The jury convicted Cooper of disorderly conduct, but his counsel moved for acquittal.

Last week Common Pleas Judge Merrill Trader granted the defense motion. He ruled that Cooper’s free speech rights trumped his potential criminal liability: 

The profane statements of the defendant were not heard at all by Commissioner Blades and the statements were not directed against anyone. The statements did not annoy or alarm or inconvenience the waitresses or any of the customers in the restaurant. The statements did not cause any violence or a breach of the peace. The comments essentially amounted to bad manners. Since I conclude the [disorderly conduct law] to apply to face-to-face words plainly likely to cause a breach of the peace, I must conclude that the defendant’s language, though insulting, was constitutionally protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Some might suggest that the attorney’s fees Cooper paid to defend himself in this case remained a sufficient punishment for acting like a petulant, immature d***head in a public place, even if the criminal charges were dismissed.

Some might also suggest that if this episode is any indication of Cooper’s normal behavior, he should look somewhere else than to a Family Court Commissioner for a better explanation for his family travails—like in a mirror, for example.

October 5, 2004
October boating

My wife and I were able to take a short boat ride in the early evening, and ventured down Rehoboth Bay to Indian River Inlet.

The view west as we entered Indian River Bay from Massey's Ditch was a bit bright, though beautiful:

One sportfisherman barreled through the Inlet against the outgoing tide:

Many of the boats at the State's marina don' t see much use except on the weekend during this part of the year:

On the other hand, the herons keep on fishing:

October 4, 2004
A helpful correction
 

It’s nice to know that the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals cares enough to be meticulous.

Nonetheless, that’s probably not much comfort to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, which failed in its petition for re-argument en banc in a recent appeal brought by environmentalists and others.  

The suit focused largely on the problems caused by the District’s combined sewer systems. These old pipelines blend storm water with filthy water destined for sewer plants, with predictably godawful consequences. The panel decision reversed the lower court's order in favor of the District.

The three-judge panel’s short order noted that not one member of the Court of Appeals voted to rehear the case. Even so, it did grant the District this one small saving bit of grace: 

[T]he opinion rendered in this case is hereby amended to reflect the following minor addition: In footnote 1, the portion of the second sentence that reads “the dumping of ‘an unprecedented 4.6 billion gallons of raw sewage’ directly into Lake Michigan” shall be changed to read “the dumping of ‘an unprecedented 4.6 billion gallons of raw sewage’ (more precisely, rainwater laced with raw sewage) directly into Lake Michigan.”

Glad they cleared that up.

On the other hand, the lake’s fish may not appreciate the distinction.

October 3, 2004
While I wasn't blogging

Somehow it’s been a bit harder than expected to go back to regular posting. 

Perhaps I needed more of a break than I thought. 

In the meantime, while I wasn’t blogging there were a few noteworthy events around here. 

The tornado trip. We had tickets for the Phillies game last Tuesday night, as part of an ALS fundraiser. My bride also figured it would be a good time to bring her mother back to Rehoboth for a short visit. 

The weather was threatening when she stopped in Dover to pick me up for the rest of the trip, and we debated a bit on whether to go. Eventually, we decided to head north.

In short order, the following occurred:

  • The Phillies canceled the game

  • Our normal route was closed by flooding
  • The alternative route was affected by a late-afternoon tornado, with accompanying damage and rush-hour tie-ups 
  • On the way back from retrieving mother-in-law, we were forced into several detours due to flooded creeks and washed-out roads
  • A normal three-hour there-and-back-again stretched into over eight hours, including stops to wait out the worst parts of the storms.

Not everything this past week or so was wretched, of course. 

The retreat. Last week I attended the Attorney General’s retreat, along with nearly the entire complement of Deputy Attorneys General from throughout the state. The sessions were held in Dewey Beach, which I’m sure was a treat for the upstate deputies. In addition to the valuable CLE credits, I was also thankful for the break from my normal daily commute, which for this event dropped down to the five-miles from home to the Bay Center.

Most times I don’t mind driving 80 miles a day, but sometimes all that travel does wear on a soul. 

Golf stuff. I also finished the handicap allocation study I mentioned previously, and posted the newest golf book review.

The Gift is another entrant in the growing number of golf books with a self-help focus intended to be broader than the sport.

Movie stuff. My wife and I also strongly recommend De-Lovely, a great biopic of Cole Porter that’s now showing at the second-run theater here. It’s graced with a wonderful cast headed by Kevin Kline and Naomi Judd, along with some startlingly good interpretations of Porter’s classics. I have a new-found appreciation for Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, and Elvis Costello.

No, really.  

Legal stuff. On the legal front, last week the Sixth Circuit issued an important ADA decision concerning sidewalks and municipal responsibilities. The case reaffirms the fact that a city’s failure to retrofit wheelchair ramps at intersection corners as part of a routine repaving/reconstruction program is a quick-losing lawsuit just waiting to happen.

One would think that no city managers or public works departments needed this reminder, but some folks must be slow learners.

UPDATE: Here's the link to the opinion.

Cooking stuff. Yesterday's cooking included our first batch of applesauce for the fall, courtesy of a nice sale on New York apples at the friendly neighborhood Superfresh.

This recipe is based on the Fanny Farmer Cookbook's directions.

12 apples, cut into 8-piece chunks. (I used 5 Galas and 7 McIntoshes)
2 tbs. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Put the apple pieces and other ingredients in a large pan with a few tablespoons of water. Cook over low heat for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally (BTW, this also produces a very pleasant aroma throughout the house).

Run the cooked mixture through a hand-cranked food mill and that's it. Taste the sauce after it's had a chance to cool off, and add more cinnamon or nutmeg if desired.

This recipe yields about five or six cups, depending on how much is sampled before dinner.

September 24, 2004
Blog Break

Much as I enjoy writing for this site, sometimes other parts of my life intrude on the time I otherwise devote to this hobby. 

I need to take a break from blogging for a little while, but I have my reasons. 

I expect to return to blogging some time next week. Thanks very much for your continued patronage. In the meantime, enjoy meandering around here with some of the prior posts you might have missed.

Note: Besides being an accurate description of intended events, this post is also an homage of sorts to Terry Teachout. He is one busy guy, isn’t he?


   

Contact Information:

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

fschranck-at-
sneakingsuspicions.com


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2004