Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- November 21-December 4, 2004

This page includes posts from November 21-December 4, 2004 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

December 4, 2004
Christmas parade

The wind that cut across Second Street during tonight’s Lewes Christmas Parade made the 40-degree temperature feel much closer to freezing.

The parade's four-legged participants didn’t seem to mind, however:

Maybe the Christmas outfit took off just enough of the chill.

December 3, 2004
The Blogger’s Privilege in Delaware

Eugene Volokh wrote an intriguing op-ed piece in the NYT this week about bloggers and the journalist’s privilege.

He noted the Supreme Court decision in the 1970s that refused to find a testimonial exemption for reporters rooted in the First Amendment. On the other hand, Volokh wrote that Justice Powell’s concurrence suggested that a limited form of exemption from the testimonial rules that usually apply to all of us would be a good thing, at least to protect from unwarranted governmental interference:

In such cases, he wrote, journalists should be allowed to claim the privilege, and courts should try to strike "a proper balance between freedom of the press and the obligation of all citizens to give relevant testimony with respect to criminal conduct."

The UCLA law professor and host of the famous co-conspirators then discussed the limited forms of reporter’s privilege laws that apply in some states, and urged that those laws should be extended to bloggers:

Freedom of the press should apply to people equally, regardless of who they are, why they write or how popular they are….

Yet when everyone is a journalist, a broad journalist's privilege becomes especially costly….

In any event, the rules should be the same for old media and new, professional and amateur. Any journalist's privilege should extend to every journalist.

Delaware is among the states that reacted swiftly to the Supreme Court decision Volokh mentioned. In 1973 the General Assembly enacted the Reporter’s Privilege Act at 10 Del.C. Sections 4320-4326.

Perhaps not too surprisingly, there have been very few case decisions construing this law. This is Delaware, after all.

The most recent decision is State v. Rogers, Del.Super., 820 A.2d 1171 (2003). It dealt with a News-Journal reporter seeking to block a subpoena seeking information that the reporter had learned but which had not been made part of any story.

The Judge’s decision upheld the constitutionality of the Act and found that the privilege did not support quashing the subpoena, under the balancing approach called for in the legislation.

What I find most interesting about the Delaware Reporter’s privilege law, however, is that many bloggers already qualify for the limited protections of the Act. That’s because the Act’s definition of “reporter” is broad enough to fit them.

Here’s the relevant text:

4) "Reporter" means any journalist, scholar, educator, polemicist, or other individual who…:

     a. At the time he or she obtained the information that is sought was earning his or her principal livelihood by, or in each of the preceding 3 weeks or 4 of the preceding 8 weeks had spent at least 20 hours engaged in the practice of, obtaining or preparing information for dissemination with the aid of facilities for the mass reproduction of words, sounds, or images in a form available to the general public….


This law already goes well beyond the everyday understanding of what is a reporter. It includes anyone who spends a certain amount of time in a certain set of ways, for the purpose of mass communication.

Without doubt it extends to blogging, even though this particular type of

“mass reproduction of words, sounds, or images in a form available to the general public”

didn’t exist at the time.

Read carefully, in fact, this 1973 law seems to have almost predicted the existence of serious bloggers.

I’m using the word “serious” to describe the level of effort used in blogging. What’s actually posted is irrelevant to the privilege discussion, as the Rogers case above shows. It’s more an issue of what the blogger knows, either as to the source or the content of potentially privileged information.

Based on my own experience, some of these “crazed egalitarians” publishing on the web obviously spend far more than 20 hours every other week working on their blogs, in research, writing, and posting.  This group goes well beyond prolific multi-linkers such as Glenn Reynolds and Howard Bashman, to essay writers such as Robert Musil and Wretchard. (In the latter two cases, of course, there's also the small issue of their current anonymity, but put that aside.)

If a similarly busy Delaware blogger could show how he or she spends time blogging such that these statutory limits are met, then the only real issue for the Court is to engage in the balancing tests called for in the Act.

Some might suggest that the Delaware Reporter’s Privilege Act needs to be broadened further, for example by eliminating the time element that is clearly intended to limit the current scope of potential beneficiaries. Nonetheless, any further General Assembly action would probably first require at least a few hard cases showing that the law’s existing limitations don’t go far enough, before either House would take up this issue.

In the meantime, the blogger's privilege law is sitting there, ready for use by those who both meet it and need it.

December 3, 2004
Dubious blessings of the season

Today's golf column is a seasonal favorite.

It's a letter to Santa, describing some of the golf gifts that I'd really rather not receive.

Here are two samples:

The Golfers Toilet Paper Holder

The Piddle, Poop and Putt
(no, really!--ed.)

But wait--there's more.

And there always will be, I'm afraid.

December 2, 2004
That was quick

Once again the power of the blogosphere cannot be denied--maybe.

In one of yesterday's posts I suggested that the Democrats needed to tap Senator Kerry for a little cash to help with the Washington State governor's race recount effort.

Glenn Reynolds noted the piece, and the usual Instalanche followed (Thanks, Glenn).

Almost immediately thereafter, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported the following:

Former presidential candidate John Kerry contributed at least $200,000 of unused campaign contributions yesterday to help fellow Democrat Christine Gregoire keep the governor's race alive and pay for a statewide hand recount.


That is for you to decide, dear reader.

For myself, I'm going with pure happenstance, although it's admittedly fun and a tiny bit flattering to think otherwise.

December 1, 2004
Cognitive Dissonance

Chris Gregoire wants me.

More specifically, she wants me to contribute toward the cost of a statewide recount for the Washington State governor’s race, currently certified as a 42-vote win for her Republican opponent.

Today I received an email solicitation from the national Democratic Party in which Ms. Gregoire hit me up for a little cash:

Dear Frederick,

I need your immediate help. You've probably heard about the extremely close race for governor here in Washington. Only 42 votes separate my opponent and me, and thousands of ballots across the state haven't been counted….

Do not let this election slip through our fingers. We are only 42 votes away from victory in Washington, and we are confident that once all the votes are counted, we will win this race. Please help us reach this urgent goal by making a donation today!

Chris Gregoire

So far, so good—it’s a perfectly straightforward request for help from a fellow Democrat.

Or is it?

Immediately following Gregoire’s solicitation appears the following:

Paid for and authorized by the Democratic National Committee, This communication is not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee. 

Cognitive dissonance quickly set in.

How can Gregoire “sign” a solicitation that she didn’t authorize?

Call me persnickety, but this looks like a screw-up.  

This request should have been “signed” by DNC Chairman Terry McCauliffe or someone else. 

Besides, if my fellow national Democrats look closely, there’s another Democratic candidate who seems to have some extra cash lying around

Tap him.

December 1, 2004
Signs that make you go "Hmmmn"

We see a lot of new businesses come and go around here.

Something about Delaware's beach areas seems to bring out the budding entrepreneurs for a wide variety of start-ups.

Nonetheless, one just has to wonder sometimes if the folks who create these new businesses did any market research first, or have any clue about how to reach out to their potential customers.

Here's the sign I saw recently along our main highway that made me think about this:

Now, I know I'm not the world's biggest fan of coconut/pineapple flavored rum drinks, but there just has to be a limited market for renting these machines, right? I'd think the folks who'd be potentially interested in these devices would be limited to restaurants, bars, and the occasional college sorority house.

In any event, I would also respectfully suggest that a cheap sign tacked onto a telephone pole is not the best way to reach one's potential market for any business, what with these signs being illegal and all.

One would never know when a right-of-way control agent or other DelDOT official would come along and take it down.

November 30, 2004
A nice increase among the nation’s smallest businesses

This week’s mail included a piece that dovetails nicely with the most recent U.S. Census Bureau press release.

The Delaware Division of Revenue is looking for my annual license payment for my sideline golf consulting/writing business

Meanwhile, the Census folks noted a significant increase in the number of micro-businesses in the U.S. since 2001.

The number of businesses with one or more owners but no paid employees grew nationwide from 17.0 million in 2001 to more than 17.6 million in 2002, a growth rate of 3.9 percent, according to a report issued today by the U.S. Census Bureau. The rate of increase during the 2000 to 2001 period was 2.7 percent….

Nationally, these small businesses make up more than 70 percent of all businesses. They may be run by one or more individuals, can range from home-based businesses to corner stores or construction contractors and often are part-time ventures with owners operating more than one business at a time.

The report, Nonemployer Statistics: 2002, should be read as yet another sign that the business cycle is recovering nicely from the last recession. It’s also nice to learn that my own state is among the top five in nonemployer business growth, along with Nevada (7.4%), Georgia (6.3%), Florida (6.3%), and Texas (tied with Delaware at 5.2 %)

The Bureau report also noted that during the same time frame, receipts from these businesses totaled $770.0 billion — up 5.5 percent between 2001 and 2002.

To me, that’s a pretty impressive performance, especially when it’s kept in mind that this grouping does not include the millions of small businesses that have employees in addition to their owners.

My own business receipts are doing very well this year, thankewverymuch, although this little sideline is a tiny contributor to our family’s bottom line.

The money spends, though.

November 29, 2004
There’s one in every family

I know just how Maureen Dowd feels.

She wrote a column in yesterday’s NYT about how the rest of her family follows a very different political path than the one she chose:

They're beyond red - more like crimson. My sister flew to West Virginia in October to work a phone bank for W.

Most of her column, in fact, is an extended quotation from an email sent by her brother Kevin, in which he sings the various praises of the GOP, especially in light of the election results.

Like Miz Dowd, I’m often at political odds with most of the rest of my large family. In my case, however, they’re the ones in a deep shade of midnight blue. More often than not, I’m the one bearing a pinkish hue or rosy glow.

At times my sister and brothers show deep concern, wondering if my political leanings might be treatable with prescription drugs or extended psychotherapy. Thus far I have politely declined their sincere offers to help me see the (blue) light.

Also like Miz Dowd, I received post-election email from a brother, in which he forwarded the following reaction to the Republican victory:

Psalm 2004

Bush is my shepherd, I shall be in want.
He maketh me lie down on park benches,
He leadeth me beside the still factories.
He restoreth my doubts about the Republican Party.
He leadeth me into the paths of unemployment for his cronies' sake.
Yea, though no weapons of mass destruction have been found, he maketh me continue to fear Evil.
His tax cuts for the rich and his deficit spending discomfort me.
He anointeth me with never-ending debt:
Verily my days of savings and assets are kaput.
Surely poverty and hard living shall follow me all the days of his administration,
And my jobless child shall dwell in my basement forever.

One of the great things about my family is that they never let their politics dull their sense of humor.

For her sake, I hope Miz Dowd's family is the same.

November 27, 2004
Short stuff

The birthday was very pleasant. The presents included a DVD of The Princess Bride, the DVD widescreen edition of the first three Star Wars movies, and a new flat panel monitor.

We also went together to see The Incredibles, who were just that.

Virginia Postrel is right--it well deserves a second visit during its first run.

There are also connections between The Incredibles and both The Princess Bride and Star Wars. I won't give either of them away, other than to suggest you pay close attention to a character's voice in one instance, and to a chase scene in the other.

On the shameless self-promotion front, I posted my newest golf book review earlier today.

Dr. Bob Rotella and Bob Cullen's newest joint effort, The Golfer's Mind, is a good example of how self-help books can become successful franchises. They found new and different ways to express the same basic points they made in their previous bestsellers. The advice is still good, by the way.

November 26, 2004
Birthday greetings

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. We did.

Today's my birthday (51!), and so blogging will be continue to be light.

In the meantime, here's my golf column for this week.

Every year around this time I do a piece about the landscaping and other work performed by golf course superintendents and their staff over the winter season.

Golf courses are perhaps the largest playing fields used in any sport. I've always thought it was important for golfers to understand and appreciate all the effort required to keep the layouts in good condition.

The greenskeepers appreciate the attention, and are not shy about explaining what they do and why they do it.

November 24, 2004
Some folks had a big old time with this one

Gina Kolata of the New York Times wrote a story today about a challenge to a prior CDC report suggesting that 400,000 Americans die each year from being too fat.

Apparently a fairly simple calculation error infected the analysis, and the CDC staffers are taking steps to correct themselves:

… Dr. Dixie Snider, the chief scientist at the centers, [said] the Institute of Medicine will have a meeting next month to discuss the appropriate statistical methodology to calculate obesity deaths. "One of the things we're trying to do is not to come up with any one person's favorite method," Dr. Snider said….

"We regret that we published a number that in retrospect was incorrect," Dr. Snider said. "And we regret the confusion. But the underlying message does not change. The paper makes clear and the erratum makes clear that tobacco and obesity are the two biggest killers."

The NYT piece also discusses the politics of fundraising among competing disease-fighting interests that can be affected by such reports. It is well worth your perusal.

What caught my eye, however, was the fact that the NYT's headline writer for this story seems to have been loosely supervised, if at all:

Data on Deaths From Obesity Is Inflated, U.S. Agency Says

That’s just an awful pun, under the circumstances.

Some might also quibble with the timing of this story, coming as it does just before the country’s primary feast day. What kind of mixed signals are the government and the media trying to give us here, anyway?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow, but let’s all think twice about going back for thirds, shall we?

November 23, 2004
Fool for love

Guys will do incredibly stupid things to impress girls.

This fact of life is not limited to humans, as proven this weekend at a supermarket not far from Sneaking Suspicions headquarters. 

According to the News-Journal, a whitetail doe bumped up against a window pane in front of a newly-opened Food Lion store on the north edge of Milton, Delaware. She was trying to evade a 150-pound buck that clearly had love on his small mind.

She bounced off the glass, but the would-be suitor wasn’t as lucky:

Three seconds later, according to a security-camera video, the pursuing male jumped into an adjacent window. His antlers shattered the glass, and the animal fell to the floor in front of one shopper as she made her way into the store.

For the next seven minutes, the buck slid and slipped across the store's floors, going up the soda aisle, racing by the meat counter and eventually finding his way to the produce department, where employees cornered him in a storage room.

After a short break to give the spooked deer a chance to settle down, Manager Darrell Millman crept into the storage room, unlocked a door to the back lot and coaxed the animal out.

It ran off, a little bloodied and skittish, but apparently not seriously injured.

The manager also showed he had a good sense of humor about the incident:

"Ain't this some stuff? I was sitting in my deer stand all night the night before, and I didn't see anything," said Millman, a deer hunter since he was a kid. "I come to work Saturday and they find me."

Mr. Millman is also obviously a native downstate Delawarean. I just hope he was kidding about being in that stand all night, what with deer hunting at night being illegal and all.

November 22, 2004
More than just Sweet Fifteen

Hispanic migration into Delaware has followed two distinct patterns.  

When we lived in Wilmington during the 1980’s, Puerto Ricans dominated among the Spanish-speaking immigrant population in Delaware’s largest city. Our next-door neighbors were from the island, and each year joined thousands of others for the annual Puerto Rican Day parade that started a few blocks from our row house. 

Since that time, the number of Hispanics moving to Delaware has boomed, especially in the lower two counties. Now, however, the new immigrants primarily come here from Mexico and Central America. 

Last Saturday night we were guests of one of my wife’s former ESL students, who proudly orchestrated a delightful Mexican-style quinceanera celebration for her beautiful 15-year-old daughter.

It took place at the Harrington Volunteer Fire Company’s spacious new hall, which easily handled the roughly 150 attendees. I doubt that this meeting space has been the site for more than a few such parties thus far, but as the Hispanic community continues to grow and prosper in Kent and Sussex Counties, I’m sure there’ll be many more.

The formal portions of the quinceanera were both moving and impressive. The young teenagers, decked out in formal wear, were a little stiff as they worked through the waltz and the other ceremonial dances. They loosened up considerably during the subsequent party music sequences.

The young girl who was the center of attention sang songs in Spanish and English. She beamed as her mother placed a tiara on her head and her father placed new slippers on her feet. 

We all had a great time.

November 21, 2004
Bagging it 

The Associated Press ran a story today from the People’s Republic of San Francisco that should help burnish The City’s longstanding reputation as one of the leading locations for nanny-staters eager to tell others how to live.

(SF locals call it The City. No municipal egos there, eh?—Ed.) 

An incoming city supervisor, elected on the Green Party ticket, is proposing a hefty fee of 17 cents each for using plastic or paper grocery bags:

More than 90 percent of consumers choose plastic bags, which are blamed for everything from clogging recycling machines to killing marine life and suffocating infants. But the fee would also apply to paper bags to help reduce overall waste.

Promoting a healthy environment "means we need to help change people's patterns, and that even means their shopping patterns," said incoming city official Ross Mirkarimi (Green Party), who will join the Board of Supervisors in January. "This is a sensible user fee."

The waste impact of these bags is not inconsiderable:

The city's Department of the Environment estimates that San Francisco customers bring home about 50 million bags each year. That accounts for about 2 percent of waste, at an annual cleanup cost of about $8.4 million.

The AP obtained a quick quote from the plastics industry. They certainly know how to phrase an emotional argument in opposition:

"We think essentially it's an unnecessary and misguided approach," said Tim Shestek, spokesman for the American Plastics Council. "This tax is going to hurt those who can least afford it."

Actually, the APC guy has a point. If you are like me, and do at least half of the grocery shopping in your home, with just a few minutes’ thought you can quickly add up the number of bags you bring home each week. For folks watching every penny, the new fee would add up quickly. 

The one good point about the proposal is that it’s not limited to plastic. There are eminently sound reasons why grocery stores switched from paper bags in the first place. Here’s how one New York county government described the difference in connection with its recycling program:

[P]lastics can play a significant role in energy conservation. Not only do plastic bags require less energy to produce than paper bags, they conserve fuel in shipping.

It takes seven trucks to carry the same number of paper bags as fits in one truckload of plastic bags. While you can not place your plastic grocery bags in your curbside recycling container you can take them back to the store to be recycled. Most stores have recycling containers for the plastic bags right near the front entrance.

I tend to doubt that this plan will become an official SF city ordinance, at least in its current form. Nonetheless, the folks pushing for it should consider an alternative approach that takes advantage of the city’s attraction to tourists, while also promoting reductions in plastic bag usage. 

How about an Official City and County of San Francisco Grocery Bag?

After all, tote bags are a common and popular convention or conference giveaway. When bought in bulk, they’re also pretty inexpensive. It would be easy to work up a logo design or two to imprint on these bags. They could be sold with a 100% markup over cost, with the proceeds going to handle other waste reduction efforts. 

The San Francisco government can also take advantage of their more sophisticated City locals, eager to show how environmentally sensitive they are while also displaying their good taste. How about a tie-in with L.L. Bean or other tote sellers for an equally official, but higher-end version?

The city's tourism industry would probably be an eager partner in this effort, and could easily spread the sale of these bags far beyond the Bay Area. It would be similar to the Mind The Gap t-shirts and other trinkets sold by the London Underground subway system.

Other cities could adopt this same approach in their own jurisdictions. How about Seattle, Ann Arbor, Madison, Wisconsin, or even cross-Bay rival Berkeley? 

I’m really only partly tongue-in-cheek here. The fact is that charging people to use plastic grocery bags adopts the same charming approach to policy-making used by the former East German government. It also creates immediate and unpleasant side effects on folks who can't afford to spend a lot of money in order to make others feel like they’ve done something good for the environment. On the other hand, governments could greatly improve their chances of altering private behavior if they adopted some basic capitalist tools to assist in their efforts.

Selling the city’s trash-reduction program with Official Grocery Bags doesn’t have the same power-grabbing appeal that the current fee proposal provides for its proponents—but it will help cut down on trash.

That is the idea, isn’t it?

Extra points for spotting the pun in this post.

UPDATE: Charles Hill nicely describes the mindset of the folks seeking to impose this new fee.


Contact Information:

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


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2004