Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- October 5-11, 2003

This page includes posts from October 5-11, 2003 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

October 11, 2003
Expressing the limits of one’s political ambitions

Evelyn Nieves wrote a good piece in the Washington Post today about the lamentations of the liberals inhabiting the San Francisco Bay area over the California recall results.

She noted that unlike most of the Golden State, the rim of counties around the Bay opposed the recall by a wide margin. Nieves also included several interesting quotes from a variety of sources, but perhaps one of the most intriguing comments came from a new state legislator:

"San Francisco voters are very sophisticated," said Mark Leno, a freshman state assemblyman. "The 80-to-20 vote is more than just Democrats saying no to the recall. It's independents and members of the Green Party who all came together. We understood unequivocally that this was a power grab."

I conclude from this quote that Assemblyman Leno has absolutely no ambition for statewide political office.

Anyone who suggests that the people outside of his neighborhood are unsophisticated yahoos by comparison is probably not interested in asking those yahoos for their votes.

October 10, 2003
No shoes, no service—no problem

During the summers in the early 1960s, my parents would round up their five kids and head south to the beach in their 1959 Ford station wagon. After a full day of sun and sand, we would clean up and go to the boardwalk for an evening stroll and rides at Funland.

We would also dress for the evening, with starched shirts and shorts and polished shoes. I remember wearing one pair of white shoes with foam soles in particular.

The way our family took day trips like these was typical at the time.

No one would dream of wearing only a bathing suit while on the boardwalk. In addition, going barefoot was not only a foolish thing to do on wooden planks; it was prohibited.

Social mores about proper attire on the beach, the boardwalk, and other public places are quite a bit different now.

At least in some locations, however, the rules about no shoes--no service remain in place. Fortunately, these rules are still upheld against attack by the rarely shorn.

Robert A. Neinast apparently likes going barefoot. He especially seems to enjoy going barefoot in the Columbus, Ohio public library. The only problem is that the library rules prohibited the practice.

Neinast was caught violating this rule several times, and eventually was given a one-day eviction for his actions. Naturally, he tried to make a Federal case out of it.

Neinast sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contending that the library’s no bare feet rules violated his rights under the First, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, as well as the Ohio Constitution and an Ohio statute. 

The District Court granted judgment for the defendants, and Neinast appealed to the Sixth Circuit.

His arguments didn't work there, either:

The Library regulation survives rational basis review because the regulation provides a rational means to further the legitimate government interests of protecting public health and safety and protecting the Library’s economic well-being by seeking to prevent tort claims brought by library patrons who were injured because they were barefoot.

In upholding the rule, the Court referred to an incident record that presented a vividly different picture of a public library than the semi-monastic vision that usually comes to mind:

[T]he States traditionally have had great latitude under their police powers to legislate as to the protection of the lives, limbs, health, comfort, and quiet of all persons.” [citation omitted.] Here, the Board has provided incident reports documenting various hazards to barefoot patrons, including the presence of feces on the floor of the restroom and in the reading area …, vomit on the floor of the restroom and in the children’s area …, broken ceiling tiles on the floor of the restroom …, splintered chair pieces in the children’s area …, drops of blood on the floor of the restroom …, urine in the elevator, on the floor of the bathroom, on a chair in the reading area, and on the floor of the reading area …, and broken glass in the lobby…. The Board also has submitted reports describing incidents where a patron scraped his arm on a staple in the carpet in the meeting room, causing bleeding …, where a patron’s foot went into a gap between the bottom of a door and the ground, causing a cut …, and where a barefoot patron’s toe was caught in a door, causing bleeding and requiring the assistance of paramedics …. The Board thus has demonstrated the existence of a significant health and safety risk to individual barefoot patrons.

I’m sure that librarian-bloggers could add to the list of common-sense reasons why a no-bare-feet rule is a rational governmental regulation.

Nonetheless, it sure looks like the defenders of the Columbus library system went deep into the ick factors to help prove their case.

I can’t fault their strategy, especially since it worked and I agree with the result. From now on, however, I’m going to be taking a very careful look at what's below my shoes when I go to my local public libraries.

October 9, 2003
No irony here, nossir

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich is allegedly not at all happy about how much money individual people can spend to obtain the necessary signatures to invoke a recall petition in California and, presumably, any other states where the Progressive Era reform measure is in place.

According to his radio commentary broadcast on Marketplace October 8, Reich would like to see strict limits imposed, in lieu of the free-spending example set by Rep. Darrell Issa.

Without a trace of irony, Reich actually said the following:

"As originally intended, gathering all those signatures was supposed to be sufficiently difficult that the recall would be used only in those very rare instances where a public official had acted in gross disregard of the public."

I don’t really disagree with Reich, at least as he expresses himself in this particular quote.

Just the same, I can’t help but notice a few things about this commentary, his recommendation, and the reality of what just occurred in California.

First, folks still had to decide for themselves whether to sign the petitions, no matter who asked them. The California Secretary of State vouched for the signatures eventually, so I have to assume that a highly significant number of people were not mere automatons in the presence of a compensated signature gatherer.

Second, Governor Davis managed to tap a whole bunch of wealthy contributors for both his successful re-election and his unsuccessful recall campaigns. Somehow I doubt that Secretary Reich’s ire about individual contributions in the context of the recall process extends to this group.

Third, Governor Davis also managed (with help, of course) to build up a tremendous deficit in a very short period, which among other failures generated a perfectly understandable, tremendous level of ill-will toward his administration. Therefore, it’s not a huge stretch to conclude that Governor Davis’ governmental fiascos met the high standards described by Reich. After all, it’s hard to see how anyone could create an 11-figure revenue shortfall without showing some serious “disregard of the public.” 

If I keep all these facts in mind, it’s fair to conclude Reich’s concern about the influence of cash in the California recall petition-gathering process is actually far more partisan than it is high-minded.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course--but Reich certainly shouldn’t squawk when someone notices.

October 8, 2003
The substance of scooter style

The Washington Post yesterday ran an intriguing piece about scooter girls that reminded me of Virginia Postrel.

I hasten to add that I have never met Ms. Postrel. I don’t know if she owns or has ever ridden a motor scooter. Nonetheless, the points she makes in The Substance of Style, her new book, seem to be well-illustrated in the WaPo article.

Scooters, after all, are a mix of urban and urbane practicality:

Motorized scooter sales were up 38 percent last year, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. And while only 8 percent of motorcycle owners are women, about 35 percent of new Vespa buyers are female.

"They're designed well, they're good-looking," [Vespa owner Susan] Bruno says. ". . . I think of 'La Dolce Vita.' I think of Audrey Hepburn riding sidesaddle in 'Roman Holiday.' "

Some women want to be that girl, the symbol of an unfulfilled desire….

So they become scooter girls.

WaPo staff writer Reilly Capps didn’t exactly stick to just the facts in describing some of the style-based reasons for the revival of interest in scooters, especially the high-end models:

[T]he Vespa, smaller and lighter than a motorcycle, is a slick little machine. Curvy, like a shrink-wrapped '38 Buick. No clutch, no gears, as elegant as Isabella Rossellini. On a scooter, you don't roar down the street, you glide, less like a motorcycle and more like a magic carpet. …

There's even a purse hook on many Vespas, which are sold at scooter "boutiques," not dealerships. These boutiques also hawk midriff T-shirts and a Vespa Barbie. Some have cappuccino bars.

The other point about the Vespa boutiques is that their locations are far more likely found on a retail street dedicated to fashion than down on Auto Row.

Vespa of Rehoboth Beach, for example, is set up on Rehoboth Avenue exactly as Capps describes the scooter boutiques, near an art gallery and some high-dollar clothing stores, but minus the cappuccino (it’s available at over three locations within a block of the scooter boutique, so it’s not really missed).

The Vespas and other scooters, especially the Honda and Yamaha retro-styled models, have a significantly larger presence among the Rehoboth locals and visitors. There’s also no disputing the practical convenience of moving about town on a tiny two-wheeler, compared to the daunting alternative of finding parking space for a car.

It’s also true that these scooters turn heads, no matter which gender’s riding them.

I still want a scooter, though after the recent purchase of a commuter car I’ll have to wait a while longer.

At the rate I usually keep up with style on a personal level, however, I’ll probably be late to the scooter party.

October 7, 2003
Retail lessons

Tonight we stopped at a fast food place for dinner. The couple in front of us ran up a tab of $8.95, and handed the cashier a $10 bill.

Apparently there was some problem with the cash register, because he couldn't punch in the numbers and determine how much change to give back.

He had a deer-in-headlights look as he told the couple, "I'm not good at math."

I then leaned over and said, "It's $8.95. Put a nickel in your hand. That's $9. Then take a dollar out, and that'll add up to $10."

He took the advice and completed the transaction.

Fortunately, at that point another cashier appeared to take our order.

I normally wouldn't have intervened, but we were in a bit of a hurry. Besides, it looked like he was just going to stand there until someone came to his rescue.

I've heard sad stories along these lines before, but this is the first time I'd seen it for myself.

October 7, 2003
Corruption and TFN Status

The 2003 Corruption Perceptions Index was announced today.

Bangladesh led the way as the most corrupt nation among the 133 on the primary list.

The index didn't include all countries, because of limited survey data for some of them. In a separate listing the people who published this CPI detailed further information about 62 other countries, such as Somalia, an African basket case. With a bit more supporting data, it would have been somewhere between Bangladesh and Cote d'Ivore on the official list.

As I looked at the list, it appeared to me that a strong statistical correlation could be established between a country's rankings on the Corruption Index and other signs of deep trouble.

For example, Bangladesh is a world leader in ferry disasters, although it's by no means alone in its ability to create overcrowded and other dangerous conditions leading to the drowning deaths of hundreds of people all at once.

AIDS infection rates are also high among those countries ranked as most corrupt.

Other diseases, such as the yellow fever outbreak now plaguing Sierra Leone (#113 on the CPI list), are exceedingly rare among the least corrupt nations.

Worse yet, the millions of children under five years of age dying each year from diarrhea don't seem to be a high priority among high-ranking corrupt countries, even though the disease is readily treatable.

A statistical correlation should not be confused with causation, of course. Even so, I can't help but think that unless a country decides to do something about the level of corruption that infects it, that country's status as a Totally Fouled-up Nation in other respects will also inevitably continue.

October 7, 2003
Recommended Reading

Here are two more blogs I recommend to those who enjoy reading the legal stuff that's offered here.

J. Craig Williams' May It Please The Court includes daily posts, with legal news and commentary. Williams' Newport Beach, California practice focuses on business and environmental matters, it appears, but his blog posts range further afield.

Associate Justice William W. Bedsworth publishes his posts at A Criminal Waste of Space about once a month. If his attitude while on the bench is anything like the sharp-witted commentary that spices his weblog, it must be fun to argue before him--unless you're unprepared, of course.

October 7, 2003
Traffic Report

October 6 marked the 21-month anniversary of this site. As of that date, 159,699 visitors have viewed 1204,834 pages.

Thanks very much for your patronage. Stop by again soon.

October 6, 2003
Somebody's a movie buff. Unfortunately for the other guy, he wasn't.

John Mallon led a bit of a double life.

A native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Mallon was 61, married for 40 years with 5 children and 10 grandchildren. Retired from the civil service, he worked as a consultant for the Ulster-Scots Agency, which according to its web site is dedicated to preserving the language and culture of the group.

Unfortunately, he was also a real creep.

Using the Internet, he would make contact with young teenage girls, seeking to arrange and consummate sexual liasons with them. In chat rooms and e-mails, Mallon would tell his victims that he was 47, a wealthy businessman, and single.

In February 2002, Mallon trolled the web and found a 14-year-old Chicago girl named Marny. She rejected his advances at first, but then relented. Marny told him her father had abandoned her, and Mallon played on that loss to entice the girl.

They eventually talked directly by telephone, and Mallon agreed to fly to Chicago to meet her. He was scheduled to go to a ceremony at the White House on March 11, and so he left a few days early for the sexual rendevous.

Mallon landed at O'Hare, and registered at a hotel. He was fully prepared for Marny, with a videocamera set up, condoms, and a gold necklace for a present.

As it turned out, Marny was also fully prepared for Mallon.

She came to the hotel, and as Mallon tried to hug and kiss her the police pounced on him.

Marny was a fake.

She was an agent, and she and her fellow officers arrested Mallon for the federal offense of using interstate and international communication devices to entice underage females into sexual acts.

Mallon pled guilty and was sentenced by the District Judge to 21 months, 20 short of the sentencing range that would normally apply. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit overturned the sentence, finding that the reasons given for the downward adjustment didn't support the lenient treatment.

Mallon will be a guest of the Federal correctional system for a while longer.

There are two aspects of this case that are intriguing, in addition to the basic facts.

First, there's a fascinating passage dealing with the US DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security, relating to Mallon's potential untimely deportation  during the government's appeal of the sentence. The Circuit panel's discussion is well worth reading for those interested in how executive branch agencies don't work together very well sometimes and, on rare occasions, involve the courts in the dispute.

Second, apparently somebody involved in this case was a movie buff, at least when it came to picking a name for the "victim."

After all, Marnie is the name of an habitual liar and thief, portrayed by Tippi Hedren in the famous 1964 Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name.

I guess Mallon didn't pick up on that fact when he was literally creeping through the chat rooms.

And in this instance, that's a good thing.

October 5, 2003
When the smell of burning leaves is neither possible nor enough

There’s a lot to like about living in a small state, as noted and illustrated several times in the posts on this site.

There is the occasional glitch, however.

For example, Delaware’s tiny size makes landfills, a basic community responsibility, far harder to manage than most other states face, who are in possession of far more open, sparsely populated acreage.

The Delaware Solid Waste Authority is responsible for handling almost all of the state’s stuff that no one wants.

The agency maintains three huge landfills, with state-of-the-art controls against leakage and other known environmental risks, along with a series of transfer stations and recycling centers.

Naturally, DSWA must plan for the day that these landfills won’t be able to hold all of the state’s effluvia. That includes deciding whether some stuff just won’t be dumped at the Authority's landfills anymore.

Today’s News-Journal editorial mentions one idea now under active consideration:

[A] recommendation from the Recycling Public Advisory Council to stop using landfills for yard wastes within two years is bound to have a profound effect on how Delawareans treat their refuse. The council is scheduled to outline a new statewide recycling program later this month.

Yard wastes account for 15 percent or more of the trash now buried in the state's three landfills. That translates into tons of trash that can be disposed of elsewhere or used as compost around homes, in parks or on public lands. The restriction will require new state or county laws, with the necessary enforcement procedures and safeguards against the unscrupulous people who will try to circumvent the regulations.

But ridding the already overburdened landfills of branches, grass cuttings, and leaves will provide years of additional space for regular garbage and trash that must be disposed of underground.

Interesting idea, and I’m glad to see that the editors have a clue about how difficult such a plan would be to implement successfully.

Unless incineration is part of the solution, however, perhaps as part of an electrical power co-generation project, essentially the editorial is pushing for additional landfills, albeit limited to a special purpose.

That’s not to say the idea is impossible. Nonetheless, adopting it will require a degree of political will not often found or used, along with a few other things.

Here are a few of the issues that quickly came to mind:

Local Land Use Control. As LULU* candidates go, a landfill is about as good as it gets, even one limited to grass, branches, tree stumps, and other biomass materials.

In Delaware, nearly all land use controls outside city limits are handled by county governments. County officials are as sensitive to their constituency as any other political animals, and are rarely inclined to force the issue when it comes to controversial land use siting decisions. In part, that’s why the DSWA is largely exempt from these controls, and on occasion has relied on that legal standing.

To make this idea work, any agency eventually tasked with handling yard waste landfill (YWL) must be given the same exemption from local control, if this new responsibility is not simply given to DSWA.

Legal limits on public land and YWL use. Sometimes parcels of land are given to the government for specific purposes, such as parkland, and accepted on that basis. Contrary to the News-Journal editorial writer’s assumption, normal YWL use wouldn’t fit that definition, with the exception of certain practices followed by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. For example, DNREC accepts and then converts donated Christmas trees into mulch

Therefore, any YWL site analysis needs to confirm the absence of such limits, or the agency needs to be empowered to eliminate those use limitations through eminent domain.

My clients at DelDOT own a lot of land, and not all of it is used for transportation.  Some of these parcels might be large enough to meet the normal conditions for a landfill site, such as providing buffer space for the sake of the neighbors (the smell of composting material can gag a maggot, after all).

The agency now has good records of what it owns, and any YWL proposal should take a look at the list of properties proposed for disposition. Even so, the same risk of a NIMBY blockade exists for these properties, unless the General Assembly decides that dealing with the yard waste disposal need is more important than continuing the tradition of local land use control.

The collection conundrum. Some city governments deal with yard waste fairly efficiently, at least in the collection stage. Rehoboth Beach, for example, tells its citizens to pile up the leaves and such in the street, where the city’s vacuum truck collects them. I can readily imagine a large increase in this service for the sake of the YWL concept, if only because there doesn’t seem to be any other way to convince the citizenry to deal directly with yard waste.

For example, every year my clients must dispose of tons and tons abandoned trash and debris on the state’s highway system. I shudder to think about the increase in the maintenance workload when thousands of bags of grass clippings appear on the state’s back roads, if a ban on yard waste goes into effect.

Other issues. There are other issues, of course. There are Clean Air Act compliance rules to contend with, if the decision is to use incineration as one of the yard waste reduction strategies, along with state law limits on open burning. There is the additional little problem of methane, a potentially dangerous byproduct of massive compost piles.

Nonetheless, if the landfills Delaware now uses for all kinds of stuff are reaching their capacity faster than planned, it makes sense to explore the option of finding either another place or another way to deal with a significant contributor to the pile.

*Locally Unwanted Land Uses

October 5, 2003

On Saturday, October 4, several bloggers attended the Bloggercon meetings at Harvard.

One blogger continued his focused and successful quest to be among the fairest sources of links and commentary on the Plame/Wilson matter. 

At least one other blogger, on the other hand, joined more than 20,000 people in a common goal—seeing if the University of Delaware could beat both William & Mary in an NCAA Division I-AA, Atlantic 10 Conference football game, at Tubby Raymond Field in Newark.

This year the Blue Hens were up to the task:

Two first-quarter touchdowns were more than an adequate foundation for Delaware, which didn't stop there in a 41-27 win viewed by 20,485 fans.

"We kind of played most of the game from in front, which is nice when you can do that," Delaware coach K.C. Keeler said.

Delaware, ranked No. 4 in NCAA Division I-AA, improved to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the A-10.

Here’s a special note to my friend Will Vehrs, renowned blogger and distinguished graduate of W&M:

Nanny nanny boo boo.


Contact Information:

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


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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 2002-2003