Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- November 10-16, 2002

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This page includes posts from November 10-16, 2002 in the usual reverse order. Each week's postings on the home page are perma-linked to these pages.

November 16, 2002
50 tons of interesting results

This morning's WaPo story on the surprising results of a pollution modeling study for the DC metropolitan area means that the debate on how folks really want to live may take place much sooner than expected.

These studies are required under the Clean Air Act and its regulations. If the analysis shows a predicted increase in air pollution beyond a base year analysis, then official plans must also identify how the area will reduce the potential impacts. Failure to meet these targets with the modeled results of these planned responses has some interesting and pernicious effects.

For example, no Federal funds will be made available for transportation projects in the area, including mass transit moneys. In addition, state or local-funded transportation projects that require Federal permits, such as Corps of Engineers "404 permits" under the Clean Water Act, simply won't receive them.

No permit? No project.

The City of Atlanta had this problem a while ago. Transportation projects in that metropolitan area came to a screeching halt for a while until the planners could meet the requirements of the Federal regulations.

The political element of this issue can't be overstated. It's highly likely that the recent gubernatorial elections in Georgia were affected by this clash between environmental rules and the desire to build transportation projects to alleviate congestion.

The Post story says that the newest analysis shows that the DC area's traffic produces 50 tons per day more pollution than they thought.

That's a really ugly number, because the remaining laundry list of strategies to reduce vehicle-caused pollution is short on practicality and long on intrusiveness. The most effective means to reduce pollution, aside from a total economic collapse in an area, would be to impose a series of "lifestyle" changes on area residents that few would accept in the real world.

That's not lost on those who follow this issue as part of their jobs or their political inclinations:

"There's no way in the world the region is going to build any more major road projects in light of these results," said Loudoun County Supervisor James G. Burton (I-Mercer), a slow-growth proponent. "You can't solve this problem with the marginal solutions that have been put on the table for the last three or four years."...

Fixing a 50-ton problem will take more than clean-air programs, officials said, largely because truck deliveries are an integral part of the economy. They said they will have to reconsider the region's entire clean-air plan, including the need for tighter controls on other emissions sources, such as power plants, construction equipment and lawn mowers.

"I think almost everything is going to have to be on the table," said Katherine K. Hanley (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and head of the region's air quality committee.

Many people don't realize how much these planning agencies have already relied upon low-hanging fruit, such as the major advances in vehicle pollution controls in the last 10 years. The remaining options are not so much a matter of mandating technical changes, such as CAFE standards. Instead, they assume adjustments in land use controls and other reforms that are not intuitively acceptable to most folks.

My personal belief is that the political elements that have to deal with these consequences, especially now that the DC area is so involved, will soon search for a way to push back environmental deadlines or otherwise ameliorate the consequences of total Clean Air Act compliance.

Note: Click here for a prior post on this subject.

November 15, 2002
Follow-up on a nasty criminal case

On August 1 I posted a short essay about a wicked local criminal case. The facts as alleged were so outrageous that I suggested the return of Delaware’s infamous whipping post, or that some other kind of punishment beyond a prison term should be available, in recognition of the qualitative differences among some crimes.

This week a plea bargain brought a close to the case, and I still feel the same way.

First, the facts are just as bad as originally reported. Edward A. Smith, a middle-aged repeat offender, pled guilty to second-degree rape and endangering the welfare of an incompetent person. 

Smith agreed to baby-sit an 8-year-old boy and his 18-year-old brother. The older boy has cerebral palsy, is wheelchair-bound, can’t speak, and is tube-fed. 

While the younger boy was playing outside, Smith moved the older boy to a bed and sexually assaulted him. The 8-year-old then returned inside, saw what was happening, and told his mother when she returned. 

Unbeknownst to the mother, Smith was on probation at the time for prior sexual crimes involving children.

After the plea, the judge sentenced Smith to 11 years nine months in prison. After serving that time, Smith is to be confined at home for nine months, and then be subject to 8 years three months of probation. In addition, Smith must register as a third-tier sex offender (the most dangerous category), and must have no contact with children under 18.

Second, Smith’s statements during the sentencing showed that he still fails to appreciate the gravity of his offense:

He told the judge his history included working a good job, paying his child support and showing up for his court proceedings.

"I've been a good person other than that," he said of the crime.

Nothing like trying to diminish the impact of one’s truly awful acts, I suppose.

Perhaps the next General Assembly session in January will include a debate on the potential return of the post, or some other kind of demonstrative punishment that more closely fits society's reaction to heinous conduct.

Cases like this certainly make one think it’s worth reconsidering.

November 14, 2002
Trying to milk the law for all it’s worth, and coming up dry

Here’s a judicial opinion-reading tip:

If you’re (a) appealing from a district court, and (b) the district judge dies before the appellate court issues its decision, and (c) the very first footnote in the appellate opinion details with folksy fondness about what a great guy the district judge was, you probably don’t need to read much more of the opinion to know that you lost.

Timothy Van Groll had a milk hauling contract with the Land O’Lakes dairy cooperative in Wisconsin. He started out as an employee of another trucker, and eventually became a partner in the trucking operation. He bought out his partner a few years later, and bought the truck for his business. 

Van Groll’s primary arrangement with Land O’Lakes (hereafter LOL) required him to pick up raw milk from 12 to 30 dairy farmers and drive the loads to LOL’s Denmark, Wisconsin plant. He wore an LOL-issued hat, shirt, and jacket, and his truck had an LOL logo on its side. LOL paid for the logo installation. LOL also expected Van Groll to comply with its safety and cleanliness manuals, which primarily repeated Federal standards for the industry.

The hauling contracts were for 1-year terms, renewable for the same period, but subject to termination with a 30-day notice.

For a while there, Van Groll was in clover. Between the regular hauling business and a sideline effort bringing LOL cheese to the East Coast, for example, he earned about $280,000 in 1998. 

For reasons that were not disclosed in the opinion, however, the relationship between Van Groll and LOL began to sour.

In 1999 LOL began contract termination discussions, and offered Van Groll a severance package which he refused. After that, LOL began transferring some of the hauling assignments away from Van Groll. Finally, well before the 30 day notice provision required it, LOL formally terminated the hauling agreement.

Van Groll didn’t just stand there, chewing his cud. He sued LOL, arguing that his arrangement with the cooperative fit the requirements of the Wisconsin Fair Dealer Law (WFDL). 

This statute, which is similar to those adopted in other states, is intended to level the playing field for certain kinds of contractual arrangements between large entities and their “dealers.” 

Think of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the owner of the Kwik-E Mart franchise in Springfield, and you have a good idea of the intended beneficiaries of this legislation.

Citing prior decisions, the Seventh Circuit described the intent of the WFDL as follows:

(“We have deduced from the structure and history of the statute a central function:  preventing suppliers from behaving opportunistically once franchisees or other dealers have sunk substantial resources into tailoring their business around, and promoting, a brand.”). The statute should be “liberally construed . . . to promote its underlying remedial purposes and policies.” Wis. Stat. § 135.025(1). 

Among other requirements, the law required at least a 90-day termination notice, which would give dealers a chance to find a suitable replacement strategy for the continuation of their business.

Nonetheless, District Judge John Reynolds held that Van Groll didn’t meet the WFDL’s definition of a dealer, and therefore the notice provision did not apply.

The appellate court affirmed the lower court, and ruled that Van Groll’s attempt to cream LOL in this lawsuit was whey off. 

After all, Van Groll was not a franchise holder of an LOL business. LOL did not make him buy his truck; that was Van Groll’s own decision, even when LOL offered a program to lease equipment at below-market rates. Other than the exclusive hauling deals with the cooperative’s farmers, Van Groll was free to haul milk for anyone else. In addition, Van Groll made no real investment in the LOL logos on his truck or the LOL-issued uniforms, so unlike the usual franchise arrangement, Van Groll was never really out-of-pocket for the cost of “branding” the most visible sign of his business.

After skimming through the facts, the only legitimate conclusion was that Van Groll was simply a trucker who lost a hauling contract. LOL’s arrangement did not impose the kinds of potentially unreasonable business risks to truckers that sometimes plagues franchise owners in other enterprises. 

However much Van Groll may have felt whipped by LOL’s handling of his hauling contract, he simply wasn’t the kind of business owner who could use the WFDL to force a change in his contract’s terms.

Others may have been mooved by the trucker's tale of woe, but the federal judiciary was not.

Note: It’s true. Some cases really do enhance the opportunity for punning.

November 14, 2002
Star-Spangled Pledge Break

Today's AP story about yet another attempt to legislate patriotism turned out to be a good example that one is usually better off thinking reflectively rather than reflexively.

The Pennsylvania state legislature is now considering a bill that under most conditions would require students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing The Star-Spangled Banner each morning.

The Senate version would apply to both private and public schools, and also includes a requirement to display the American flag in every classroom.

In an attempt to assuage those concerned about First Amendment rights, the bill provides a mechanism to avoid compliance with the pledge requirement:

The measure would allow students to decline reciting the pledge and saluting the flag on the basis of religious conviction or personal belief, but school officials would have to notify their parents.

The ACLU is thus far unimpressed with the exemption mechanism:

[I]t believes the parental notification requirement would discourage students from exercising their right not to participate.

A state legislator named Allan Egolf introduced the bill in the state House because he was troubled to learn that some schools didn't ask their students to recite the Pledge.

"It's getting away from teaching about what our country stands for, what our founders did, and why we have the country we have,'' Egolf said.

I must admit that my first reaction was to think, "Oh, jeez. Here we go again with some wingnut picking a fight with the ACLU he'll lose eventually, but in the meantime earn big media coverage and some political capital for making the hopeless effort."

On second thought, I decided that the legislator might be onto something, at least in part.

Suppose that on each day every school played a different musical arrangement of the national anthem. Each version would be accompanied by a short text reading, explaining the musical and historical background of each rendition.

For example, at this site one can read about and listen to several 19th Century arrangements, including a few from the Civil War period. In contrast, Whitney Houston's version is a great modern-day rendition, recorded during the 1991 Gulf War. 

One of my personal favorites remains Jimi Hendrix's instrumental, recorded live during the original Woodstock concert (Showing your age again, aren't you?-Ed.). Several albums in addition to this one include this stirring interpretation.

The fact is that there are dozens of national anthem recordings available, each with their own historical context that schools can convey to their students with each playing.

As the students listen to sometimes wildly different portrayals of the same anthem, the unifying characteristic of the song itself should impart a valuable daily lesson about America. Taking this extra step could go a long way toward meeting the legislator's goal of making sure our kids learn about the kind of country in which they live, without raising First Amendment hackles.

November 13, 2002
If you lost credibility in one major area of responsibility, what makes you think you kept it elsewhere?

Some folks don’t seem to understand the possibility that their actions in one arena can diminish their influence in another. 

That’s what came to mind while reading a story in today’s WaPo about the American Catholic bishops and the potential attack on Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime. 

AP Religion writer Richard N. Ostling reported:

A committee headed by Boston Cardinal Bernard Law was directed to draft a statement about America's Iraq policy that will likely oppose an American invasion under the current circumstances. 

The next paragraph noted that Law “has been under fire all year for his handling of sex abuse claims against priests,” and is now developing the proposed position for their group’s international affairs committee. 

The bishops’ stand on the Hussein matter was set out previously in a September letter to President Bush. Ostling noted that this letter  

inform[ed] Bush that the bishops' 50-member administrative committee had serious moral questions about "any pre-emptive, unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq."

This part of the story raises two issues.

First, it appears that the bishops’ current stance was not altered in any way by the 15-0 vote in the U.N. Security Council, approving the potential use of force the bishops felt so strongly about if conducted solely by the United States. In any event, what is it about unilateralism (as the bishops define it) that makes this particular effort at self-defense a morally dubious enterprise?

Second and more important in the long run, millions of U.S. Catholics have “serious moral questions” about the manner in which these same bishops handled hundreds of sexual abuse cases involving the priests that some of these bishops failed to supervise. 

Their mishandling of these cases has seriously damaged their credibility as Church leaders, in an area of responsibility directly related to their official status. 

Considering the bishops’ self-inflicted wounds on their moral authority, many Catholics are right to question the continuing credibility of the bishops where there is far less of a direct relationship between their status as Church leaders and their position on matters such as defense policy. 

One wonders if the bishops’ effort to make a public statement on the Hussein matter was simply an attempt to deflect the attention of the Catholic laity away from the Church’s continuing internal management problems. 

Perhaps it had nothing to do with laity, but instead with the bishops’ own group dynamics. After all, it’s probably much easier to espouse allegedly serious commentary about the morality of war with Hussein, instead of dealing with the ugly consequences of failing to meet fundamental responsibilities as Church leaders.

Here’s a respectful suggestion to the bishops--clean up the mess in the Church, and soon. After you restore your standing within the Church, some of us might be more inclined to take you seriously on other matters, foreign or domestic.

November 13, 2002
Blast from the past

Yesterday’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Flowers v. Carville is well worth reading for those interested in libel law. Otherwise, the opinion’s perceived value will most likely depend on how one feels about the participants and their partisans.

Reading the names and allegations again, as described by Judge Kozinski, created dual sensations—relief that the country is no longer mired in the low tragicomedy of the Clinton era, and irritation at the frequent un-seriousness and missed opportunities of those times.

In addition, there were far too many folks for whom the term nekulturny applied just a little too well.

Some held very high office.

Two other quick points:

If the wide-spread assumption within the blogging community is correct, then Jeff Cooper made a legitimate point about the “(no relation)” portion of the opinion. It might have been modestly amusing to insert that phrase during the drafting of the decision, but it had no place in this published version. It would be nice to see that parenthetical remark removed, since its presence doesn’t seem to add anything but a wince to the opinion.

It was also a nice surprise to see Gore defend Clinton.

(That’s Gabriel E. Gore, Esquire, who was on the brief with lead attorney David Kendall for Defendant Hilary Rodham Clinton.)

November 12, 2002
Bambi must die, and we will eat him

Periodically I will hear or read someone who really doesn't like Walt Disney. Hates him, his company, his movies, and especially his theme parks.

A story in today's NYT may give the anti-Disney folks yet another reason to oppose his legacy, if they aren't too squeamish:

[Deer] spread Lyme disease and livestock ailments. They are struck by cars, trucks and motorcycles more than a million times a year, with the accidents killing more than 100 people annually and causing more than $1 billion in damage.

The human toll makes deer deadlier than sharks, alligators, bears and rattlesnakes combined.

In part, I agree with those who blame Bambi for this situation.

It's entirely possible that Disney's ability to make certain animals look just too cute to kill deterred thousands of folks from taking advantage of the fact that white-tailed deer are a wonderful, delicious source of protein. [Mmmmn--Venison--ed.]

As a result, many parts of the country are now being overrun by "rats with antlers," as some folks I know refer to the species.

Reporter Andrew C. Revkin does a great job of summarizing the various thinning strategies adopted by urban, suburban, and exurban communities to reduce deer herds and restore some ecological balance.

The absence of natural predators other than man can have truly pernicious effects, as the piece shows with many examples.

Locally, my father is about to do his part. He's hunted for about 65 years, and loves to shoot deer. After taking a break the last few seasons, he managed to obtain two deer stand dates at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in the coming weeks. Last night he proudly showed me his new short, rifled-slug barrel for his 12 gauge shotgun. He also described his comparison shopping for the shotgun shells (Walmart is not always the least expensive place--but some of you know that).

Our family stands ready to help.

After all, somebody has to eat the deer chops, the deer steak, the deer burger, and other fine byproducts of Dad's ecological efforts.

I believe we'll be up to the task.

Bambi Meat
Still on the hoof

Note: My favorite version is Bambi Meets Godzilla. Some folks would say this is not news to them.

30 seconds
of pure fun

November 11, 2002
Beach Blogger Weekend coming up

This weekend is the inaugural Beach Blogger Weekend. Today I updated the page describing the itinerary and accommodations with a list of pet-friendly places to stay, for those who asked.

Please send a note or call 800-476-8989 to let me know if you're coming, so I can confirm the seating needs/arrangements for Saturday lunch and Sunday brunch.


Note: Here's the latest golf book review, if you'd like.

November 11, 2002
The empty vessel of "Judicial Activism"

During the few hours this weekend that we didn't spend at the movies, I read the Cass Sunstein NYT op-ed piece. The essay has already generated several blog comments, most of them critical and appropriately so.

I think the most bothersome thing about the article is that "judicial activism" is such an empty vessel.

The term is nearly bereft of meaning by itself. Instead, a careful identification of the user's own political perspective is first required before any understanding can be poured into the phrase.

As a child I recall seeing "Impeach Earl Warren" bumperstickers, when conservatives bitterly opposed the Supreme Court's "judicial activism" during the 1950's and 1960's. Similar charges flew (and still fly) concerning later decisions from the Court, such as the abortion cases.

Now that the liberals feel as if their influence is waning, we see commentary such as Sunstein's, fretting about judicial activism that allegedly threatens their view of how the world should work.

I'm not so Pollyannish as to believe that this state of polemical affairs will change any time soon with respect to this phrase. It's worked for too long for both sides as a successful rallying cry.

I just need to keep in mind that almost anytime I see "judicial activism" used, someone is seeking to replace thoughtful discussion with debate by sloganeering.

Doesn't do much for me.

November 9, 2002
Oatmeal Raisin Movie Cookies

I make oatmeal raisin movie cookies on the Film Festival Weekend for a few reasons. 

First, even though each cookie is fairly large, they are easy to sneak into the theater. Second, the recipe makes plenty to share with our friends, who also prefer cookies to a steady diet of movie popcorn and candy. Finally, the time it takes to prepare them fills up the morning nicely, before traipsing off to an all-afternoon, all-evening session at the Festival.

The recipe is based on one I found in Farm Journal's Cookies, (Galahad Books Edition, 1995).

  • 2 cups (1 lb.) unsalted butter

  • 2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed

  • 2 cups sugar

  • 2 tsp. vanilla

  • 4 eggs

  • 3 cups flour

  • 2 tsp. salt

  • 2 tsp. baking soda

  • 6 cups quick oats

  • 1 1/2 cups raisins

  • shortening for cookie sheets

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Soften or melt the butter, and pour it into a large mixing bowl with the brown and white sugars. Cream the mixture (I use a hand-held electric blender) until it is fluffy. Add in the vanilla, and then, while still beating,  add one egg at a time to the mix.

Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together, and add to the butter/sugar/egg mixture. Then stir in the oats and raisins. (This step alone will give your forearms a nice workout.)

Using an ice cream scoop or similar semi-large spooning device (a thumb at the right time will help release the dough from the scoop), drop the cookie mixture onto cookie sheets that have been greased with the shortening. Each raw cookie should be about 3 tbs. in size, and for a normal size sheet, don't put anymore than 8 cookies at a time. They spread out while baking.

Each batch will take between 10-15 minutes, depending on your oven's quirks. I usually time each batch for 12 1/2 minutes, and have another sheet ready when each batch is done.

Cool on racks, and try to make them all before other folks in the house steal at least one. It won't be easy.

With our ice cream scoop this recipe makes 64 cookies, each one about 4" in diameter.

November 9, 2002
Light Blogging Weekend--Many Movies Beckon

Writing for this site usually takes place while sitting in a comfortable chair in a darkened room, staring at a screen. 

This weekend the chair, the room, and the screen are changing locations and sizes in a big way. 

It’s time for the fifth annual Rehoboth Independent Film Festival, and it’s a highlight of the fall we have never missed.

Blogging will be light as we sit in comfortable chairs, in darkened stadium-style theaters, staring at a whole bunch of movies on the screens. There are a hundred to choose from, and there’s no way we’ll see them all. 

Some, of course, are not merely movies. A few are *films*, and others might qualify as <sniff-sniff> cinema. 

Below are summary reviews of the movies we saw. The URL references take you to the Film Festival pages for the capsule summaries and other information. The reviews use the same grading system the Society asks ticket holders to provide as they leave each showing: Total Bomb, Just OK, Good, Great, and Outstanding

Many of these films can be seen at other film festivals, in limited release, or eventually on video/DVD.

The Trials of Henry Kissinger—Good (my wife’s rating)
Standing in the Shadows of Motown—Outstanding (my wife and younger daughter’s rating)

(World Shorts Compilation)
At Dawning—Outstanding
Dos Mas—Good
Orphan Street
—Just OK
The Host—Great

Roger Dodger—Great

Update: Saturday, November 9, 2002
Autumn Spring--Outstanding

(U.S. Shorts Compilation)
Blank Canvas--Just OK
The Book and the Rose--Great
The Wormhole--Good
The Tower of Babble--Great

Update: Sunday, November 10, 2002
How Harry Became a Tree--Great
P.S. Your Cat is Dead--Good

    Beach Blogger Weekend!
November 16-17, 2002
Rehoboth Beach

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