Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- November 2-8, 2003

This page includes posts from Nov. 2-8, 2003 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

November 8, 2003
Film Festival mini-ratings
Updates below

Below are mini-reviews of the movies I saw during this year's Rehoboth Film Festival.

Each one includes the title, the director, a one-line synopsis, and a rating that uses the same evaluation language and range requested of the Festival participants: Total Bomb, Just OK, Good, Great, and Outstanding.

25 New Faces (Shorts)

Terminal Bar
Director Stefan Nadleman.
Documentary about Times Square dive.

Strange and Charmed
Director Shari Frilot
Following quarks as they travel between love stories.
Just OK

Fly Cherry
Director Jessica Sharzer
Young girl with active imagination meets old neighbor with a past.

Five Deep Breaths
Director Seith Mann
Compelling drama about loyalty and betrayal among college students.

Evelyn, The Cutest Evil Dead Girl
Director Bradley Peyton
Screamingly funny romance fable, reminiscent of Tim Burtonís early work. Outstanding.

Tom Hits His Head
Director Tom Putnam
Panic attacks plague middle manager.

A Ninja Pays Half My Rent
Director Steven Tsuchida
Farce about roommates causes audience to gasp for air in laughing response.

Around the World in 101 Minutes (Shorts from all over)

Stevenís Sin
Director Lynda Tarryk
Cautionary tale about a naÔve young gay Mormon on his first mission call. Good.

What About the Bodies
Director Simon Ellis
Slapstick short about the troubles of victim disposal.

Blue Skies
Director Ann Marie Fleming
Tribute to those who died on 9-11-01, using Irving Berlinís genius.

Cry for Bobo
Director David Cairns
Scottish clownsóbank robbers, or merely costumed entertainers?

Director Marc Bisaillon
Fable applying a familiar form of relationship to a new setting, this time between children and parents.

Fast Film
Director Virgil Widrich
Animated story uses overlapping clips from other movies, superimposed on paper forms.

Director Jeroen Annokee
Woman driver hits but doesnít kill bird, and goes back to finish the job; black humor ensues.

Did You Ever?
Director Justin Leonard Stauber
Woman on road trip meets mysterious travelerómore than eroticism in the air.

Director Gyorgy Palfi
Hungarian Best Foreign Film nominee for 2002 Oscars.
That which does not kill me makes me hiccup.
Just OK.

Made in Estonia
Director Ronado Pettai
Radio serial comes to life, as imagined on the fly by the two men responsible for the characters.

The Last Great Wilderness
Director David MacKenzie
Tragicomic thriller about two travelers forced to stop at mansion filled with troubled, dangerous residents--Impressive low-light cinematography.

EDI (Eddie)
Director Piotr Trzaskalski
Moving drama about ragpicker's otherworldly sacrifice on behalf of those who don't deserve it--Poland's Foreign Film nominee for 2002 Oscars.

800 Bullets
Director Alex de la Iglesia
Comedy about stuntmen still working at decrepit Spaghetti Western movie set, now a failing tourist trap, forced to deal with modern times

UPDATE November 8, 2003--

Music for Weddings and Funerals
Director Unni Straume
Norwegian award-winner centers on a successful woman, her ex-husband's wife, and his mistress, all forced to deal with a related loss.

Documentary Shorts

Director John Columbus
Elegaic reminiscence of going to the Jersey Shore.

Fluid Movement
Director Beth Pacunas
Baltimore's Patterson Park preserved by its neighbors by their performance art at its swimming pool

Left Behind
Director Christof Putzel
Haunting images and dialogue of orphans with AIDS in Nairobi

XX to XY: Fighting To Be Jake
Director Emily Atef
Sympathetic treatment of woman's progress toward becoming the man she's always known she is.

Zodiac Sign
Director Peter Patzak
Ambitious German attorney's institutionalized brother comes home, forcing his brother to reveal more to himself and his family.

UPDATE November 9, 2003:

Blessing Bell
Director Sabu
Existential study of displaced worker wandering through his city, touching/not touching the lives of several disparate characters.
Just OK

Reel People, Reel Lives, or Reel Fun (Shorts)

The Meat Market
Director Chris Ohlson
Intense sales meeting between desperate ranchers and whackjob beef distributor.

Director Matt Kovalakides
Sharply moving urban piece

The Least of These
Director Rik Swartzwelder
Stranger forces Baltimore diner denizens out of their routine for a good reason

The Vest
Director Paul Gutrecht
Funny school-days bit with wonderful lead actress

Director Leon Siminiani
Honeymooners find no escape from bride's past

Director Matthew Ehlers
Didn't know it was possible to say "May I help you" in so many ways--very funny

The Gallery
Director Jos Stelling
Middle-aged man's wait outside lingerie store for his wife enlivened by another woman and his overactive imagination

November 6, 2003
The real motivation

Most of the time, the motivation behind litigation is pretty straightforward. In personal injury cases, someoneís trying to be compensated for their losses. In bankruptcy cases, creditors typically fight over the scraps left over from debtorsí debacles. In most corporate contexts, the fundamental issue is either control, money, or some combination of the two. 

Sometimes itís not so obvious. In so-called public interest lawsuits, for example, the actual goal may be masked behind the tactical means chosen to achieve it. 

On the other hand, itís often not too hard to figure out the real agenda. 

This week the Seventh Circuit had one of these cases.

The Highway J Citizens Group filed a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) lawsuit about two adjacent highway/bridge projects in Wisconsin.

The Bridge Project rebuilds 1.3 miles of two-lane highway in the town of Ackerville, Wisconsin. According to the Wisconsin DOT, this project had several goals. First, the new bridge would eliminate at-grade railroad crossings for two railroads, in advance of a predicted expansion of rail traffic. Second, it would bring this section up to Wisconsinís current standards for State Trunk Highways. Finally, the project would acquire a corridor wide enough to accommodate the segmentís eventual expansion to a four-lane highway, when conditions warranted. 

Related to that last goal, the project limits at one end of the Bridge Project line up with a second, larger project along Highway J/State Highway 164, stretching over 18.1 miles. The Highway J Project was sufficiently complex to require a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement. On the other hand, the Bridge Project only met the regulatory standards calling for a simpler, faster Environmental Assessment. 

In NEPA cases, however, ďfasterĒ is a relative term, and the Citizens Group did what they could to slow things up. They argued that an underground contamination plume from a nearby closed landfill would contaminate private wells if the bridges were built. Their experts suggested that the cast-in-place concrete pilings needed for the bridgeís platform would provide a critical chemical path between the plume and water supplies. In light of these alleged concerns, the Group insisted that an EIS had to be performed before the project could go forward.

WisDOT, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. EPA, and others disagreed with the Citizens Group. Nonetheless, as part of the EA the project sponsors had further studies performed, and the permitting agencies agreed that there was no real risk of further contamination. 

More importantly, the Federal government agreed that there was no need to delay the project even further by requiring an EIS. 

After WDOT began construction, the Citizens Group filed for an injunction against the project. They lost at the District Court level, and lost again when they took their claims to the Circuit Court. 

The appellate panel devotes many of its 45-page opinion to recounting the procedural history leading up to the litigation. The administrative record supported the decision to use an EA for the Bridge Project, as well as the governments' hazardous material evaluations. Furthermore, the State/Federal response to the stated concerns about contamination was not only thorough but also respectful, even as it disagreed with the Groupís contentions.  

It was also clear that there was no mistaking the real agenda of this citizensí group. Groundwater wasnít the real concern; neither was the procedural issue about whether WisDOT should have done a full-blown EIS for what was essentially a routine rail crossing safety improvement. This lawsuit was merely the convenient peg on which to oppose the potential expansion of the highway network in the area. 

If it werenít already obvious, it certainly became so when the appellate panel quoted from the stateís analysis of the flawed alternative proposal made by the Citizens Group:

Adding gates at the railroad crossings would not address the fact that there are currently long delays due to the amount of train traffic here. This will only worsen in the future since Wisconsin Central Limited has plans to double the train traffic on these lines. The installation of signals does not guarantee safety. The close proximity of the railroad tracks to the intersection may cause traffic to back-up past the tracks while waiting to clear the intersection. This proposal does not address the need for the project in regards to state trunk highway standards. The 11% grade just north of the intersection, inadequate shoulder widths, poor pavement structure, and the inadequate stopping sight distances throughout the project are all substantial features of this highway which are not addressed. Also, the need for future expansion to 4 lanes has not been addressed.

Based on the record presented to it, therefore, the Circuit panel's conclusion on this issue was fairly succinct:

Given that the environmental impacts of this Project were found by the defendants to be insignificant, the defendants satisfied the requirement that they consider reasonable alternatives. We are not entitled to second-guess the defendantsí reasoned and informed determination that the public interest, including the public safety, would be better served if the preferred alternative were built.

Works for me.

November 5, 2003
Rehoboth Independent Film Festival 2003

Tonight marked the beginning of the sixth edition of the Rehoboth Independent Film Festival.

We went to the sold-out opening event at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center, featuring the award-winning documentary, Winged Migration.

The Society's Programming Director, Joe Bilancio, told the audience during the introductions that the film had the misfortune to be nominated for best documentary in the same year as Bowling for Columbine.

Having now seen both films within a month of each other, the Academy voters' choice was actually worse than I thought when it was first announced.

Winged Migration uses phenomenal cinematographic techniques, without any special effects, and doesn't shy away from some of the harsher realities of avian life and death.

The crowd applauded the film warmly at its end.

This year I'm taking some time off from work to enjoy even more of the festival than I've done in the festival's first five years. Look on this site for short reviews of what I manage to see over the next four days, if you're interested.

November 4, 2003
Fun for the self-centered--not so fun for the rest of us

Traffic capacity is a limited public resource that requires careful management, especially at busy intersections. 

Thatís because itís just not possible to provide all the lanes of traffic everyone might want, with separated grade interchanges at every crossroad. 

Itís also why there are traffic signals.  

The signals permit vehicles to flow as smoothly as possible at intersections, in an electronically-controlled ballet. 

On many transportation networks, such as those run by my clients at DelDOT, these signals are coordinated and controlled by a combination of on-site sensors and remote controls. The more modern systems minimize congestion and pollution, by tightly monitoring the competition for capacity between the main roads and side streets, and adjusting the signal sequences accordingly. 

Nonetheless, other public policy considerations can override the traffic controls at signalized intersections, using an electronic veto. Special infrared receivers and emitters are used by ambulances and other emergency vehicles, to preempt the signal sequence to save precious time on the way to an accident scene or hospital. 

In Delaware, between one-third and one-half of all of its traffic signals have these special preemption devices in place. The General Assembly appropriated the money not only for the receivers, but also for the infrared emitters installed in volunteer fire company vehicles and state, county, and municipal police cars. 

Most folks donít have a huge problem with interrupting the normal light sequence for the sake of ambulances, fire engines, and the police. 

On the other hand, making these signal preemption devices available for purchase and use by the truly self-centered is just disgraceful. 

A WaPo story appearing on the MSNBC website today reported that a company is selling a device called a MIRT (mobile infrared transmitter). The company representative claims they are limiting their marketing efforts to emergency service providers as a less expensive alternative to the emitters sold by 3M

Unfortunately but all too predictably, however, some of these devices are showing up on eBay and other websites:

... One Web site offers plans and kits for making copies of the MIRT emitter, and a recent eBbay search found a number being sold for $300 to $900.
       One seller notes, ďNo visible light is emitted! That means that through the exclusive use of the MIRT you will completely blend in with all other traffic, yet be able to safely control intersections!Ē The seller then warns, ďWE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT YOU DO WITH THIS PRODUCT!Ē

In Delaware and most other states, using these signal preemption devices by anyone other than an authorized emergency service provider would be an illegal interference with a traffic control device, but there are the undeniable problems of detection and deterrence. Nonetheless, in highly congested areas, where interruptions in signal phasing can quickly create huge tie-ups, this risk is simply intolerable. 

I expect most DOTs will push hard for additional authority to block the improper use of these devices, if their existing legislation is insufficient. 

The rest of us also have a stake in fighting the spread of these emitters. Red lights are frustrating enough without learning that some selfish creep just added several minutes to your time waiting for the green.

November 3, 2003
ĎTainít funny

I happen to be a registered Democrat. 

Along the partyís broad political spectrum, however, I am far, far closer to the Zell Miller wing than, say, Howard Dean and his supporters. 

I also like to think I have a sense of humor about most things, especially in matters touching upon the political. For that reason, I enjoy reading the frequently amusing posts at The Corner at National Review Online

Even so, a single word in Andrew Stuttafordís short note at The Corner today managed to put me off a bit: 

Depressingly, Howard Dean has become the latest political figure to reveal that he does not trust himself with a drink. Doubtless the charming Martin Sheen will be quick to describe him as a "white-knuckle drunk," or is that a line that the 'principled' Mr. Sheen only uses when the candidate is a Republican.


Pardon me, but whatís so depressing about those who choose not to drink? 

Was this some kind of reverse moralizing, or what? 

I suppose Stuttaford was going for some kind of old-fashioned, ainít it great to get hammered, Esquire-like view of alcohol consumption. Itís hard for me to conclude otherwise. 

Even so, it didnít add anything to the strength of his larger point concerning Martin Sheen and his less-than-kind remarks about President Bush two years ago. 

As best I can tell, neither Dean nor Bush makes a big issue about their decisions not to imbibe. Neither one is pushing for the restoration of Prohibition. If anything, both men simply live their lives as they do, and donít try to force their views about alcohol on others. 

Whatís wrong with that? 

After all, millions of folks avoid alcohol for good reason. Some limit their intake to reduce the chance for debilitating migraines. Many others are long-time friends of Bill W, or related to those who are. Still others base their decision on religious grounds.

In any event, Stuttafordís opening detracted from the larger, legitimate point he was making. 

John Cole made much the same point relating to the same Dean story that triggered Stuttafordís post, without the jarring impression caused by that one unfortunate word.

November 2, 2003
Fall haze

I played in a golf tournament with my father today at Rehoboth Beach Country Club.

The course sits on a neck of land at the north end of Rehoboth Bay, with water on three sides.

As we left the property in mid-afternoon, we saw a sailboat off to the west, slowly drifting in the haze:

Sailboat on Rehoboth Bay, afternoon of November 2, 2003

It looked almost Impressionistic, or like a painting by J.M.W. Turner.


Contact Information:

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


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2003