Sneaking Suspicions
 
Archives-- January 28-February 10, 2007


This page includes posts from January 28-February 10, 2007 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

February 10, 2007
Food Blogging

Yesterday Glenn Reynolds noted the publication of Blogalicious, a new book filled with recipes contributed by a wide variety of popular bloggers.

Somehow in all the excitement of the new project, the author forgot to contact me for a submission. <insert raised eyebrow here>.

In any event, Reynolds' post inspired me to compile The Recipes Page, For the first time, all of the over-thirty food and cooking-related posts that have appeared in Sneaking Suspicions are gathered together in one place.

This includes the Marshmallow Farming post, of course.

I hope you'll find the collection reasonably navigable and easy for folks to copy and paste the recipes they'll find there, if desired.

February 8, 2007
Not-so-mobile home troubles

Mobile homes (or manufactured homes, as the industry prefers to call them) have their pluses and minuses. 

For many folks, these relatively inexpensive structures provide the first steps toward homeownership. For those seeking to buy a vacation home in resort areas like Sussex County, these trailers can also be the best and only option. 

On the other hand, mobile homes depreciate quickly, and therefore it’s not uncommon for troubles to arise when someone wants to sell a trailer or buy a used model. 

That was the problem faced by a utility clerk who bought a parcel that came with a mobile home on it, in a park near Ocean View, Delaware. 

First, the community’s deed restrictions required notice to the homeowners’ association of any planned replacements. Second, and more important, the restrictions prohibited the placement of any used mobile home that was more than five years old when initially brought to the park. 

The clerk bought a newer, used trailer, built in 1995, at an upstate location, and made arrangements to have it brought to her lot. She also donated the original trailer to charity, and had it removed. 

Unfortunately, she never asked for the required review. Even more unfortunately, she talked to the president of the association the day after her new trailer was placed on her lot, and he told her that the used mobile home violated the 5-year requirement--by 5 years. 

To make matters worse, after being sued by the association in its attempt to force the removal of the trailer, she didn’t bother to respond to the suit papers. 

The association obtained a default judgment, as well as a contempt citation, and finally moved for a court order to permit them to remove the trailer themselves. 

At that point the clerk sought to present her side of the story to the Master in Chancery Court, Sam Glasscock III. 

He wasn’t too impressed by the delays: 

[Her] decision to hunker down and ignore legal process, rather than responding and mounting a defense, has led to a need for three hearings in this matter, and has required the Association to pay legal fees far beyond what would have been required otherwise. For that reason, and also because the deed covenants allow for payments by lot owners of the Association’s legal fees in successful actions against them, the appropriate sanction here is for the rather substantial fees incurred by the Association to be paid by [her].

As for the removal request, however, the Master faced a different balancing test in devising an equitable resolution. He noted, for example, that many of the other mobile homes in the park were clearly older than the 1995 trailer now on her lot. The clerk is two years from retirement, and put her entire savings into the lot and her now 11-year-old trailer. While she had constructive notice of the deed restriction she violated, Master Glasscock also noted the following: 

[I]t seems unlikely that anyone would willingly accrue the legal problems from which [she] now suffers when the alternative would be simply to have maintained her old trailer on the lot, or to have found a five-year-old-or-newer replacement. I also note, however, that a simple check of the covenants would have revealed the five-year age restriction.

Then again, the association had a legitimate point to make, despite her somewhat sympathetic circumstances:

[T]here is no evidence or even assertion of an interest on the part of the Association in removing [the] trailer from her lot, beyond preserving the validity of the deed covenant. [She] could have, in perfect conformity with the deed covenants, left her original trailer on the lot. That trailer was not only older than the current trailer, but was more trailer-like, and less house-like, in appearance than the current trailer. If there were a way to restore the status quo ante, the Park would look more, not less, old and run-down. Put another way, … maintenance of the current trailer on her lot causes not an iota of harm to the Association except to the extent it reduces the future enforceability of the deed covenants.

These considerations led to a somewhat surprising result:

Within two years of the hearing in this matter, no later than October 5, 2008, [she] shall remove the trailer currently occupying her lot from the Park. If the trailer is replaced, it must be with a mobile home compliant with the deed covenants. Should [she] fail to comply with this Order, the Plaintiff’s designee may, without further Order of this Court, enter [her] property and remove the trailer. The reasonable expense of the entry and removal, in that case, will be entered as a judgment against [her], and may be recorded as a lien against her property.

Considering the competing equities of the case, this order certainly makes sense to me.

For others, however, this decision will also be a painful reminder that the pile of papers you receive at settlement need to be read and understood, not just filed away somewhere.

And furthermore, nothing good comes from ignoring another set of papers, served on you by your friendly county sheriff.

February 7, 2007
Great minds thinking alike?

Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) made an intriguing yet familiar suggestion at a Senate hearing today:

"I think we have to start thinking about a war on terrorism tax," the independent Connecticut lawmaker said. "I mean people keep saying we're not asking a sacrifice of anybody but our military in this war and some civilians who are working on it."

"When you put together the (Pentagon) budget and the Homeland Security budgets, we need to ask people to help us in a way that they know when they pay more it will go for their security," he said during a Senate panel hearing on the defense budget request.

It was familiar to me because I made an extremely similar proposal over four years ago:

The Freedom Fee--President Bush, in his inaugural address and in his post-September 11 speech, suggested that all of the nation's citizens should do their part to help preserve and protect America, for themselves and for future generations. The Freedom Fee provides a modest, easily understood, and easily applied framework for nearly all Americans to meet that goal.

It works as a form of alternative minimum tax, but unlike the existing statutory scheme, the Freedom Fee would apply to all taxpayers. The Freedom Fee would be determined by dividing the taxpayer's Adjusted Gross Income by 2, and then multiplying that result by 1%....

A taxpayer with an AGI of $20,000 would pay a Freedom Fee of $100.

Here's the important part: the Freedom Fee would not be offset by any credits, except for income taxes already withheld or paid. Even if a taxpayer would otherwise owe no federal income tax for any reason, or be entitled to an Earned Income Credit refund, the Freedom Fee would still be paid by that taxpayer.

The fact is that many, many millions of people in this country pay no direct income tax. With the payment of the Freedom Fee, on the other hand, each taxpayer could say that he or she made a direct contribution to our nation's security and defense, even if that person otherwise paid no direct income taxes.

I knew I liked that guy.

February 6, 2007
Not exactly a profiles in courage moment

Last year the City of Rehoboth Beach took a step toward financial prudence, in seeking and obtaining a change in the City Charter concerning property taxes.

As passed by the 2006 General Assembly, House Bill 530 raised the ceiling on how much property tax revenue could be raised each year, from the former $1 million limit to a new level of $3 million. As I pointed out previously, indexing the $1 million level for inflation when it was first enacted would have made the new limit $3.4 million. In that respect, all they really did was catch up to the old reality. 

This charter change certainly deserved approval anyway, not least of which because this resort city government exports its revenue burdens onto its visitors to a degree not often seen in other jurisdictions, as noted in those earlier posts. It’s an understandable political strategy, but it can also have negative long-term impacts. If the visitors decide that the locals slough off too much onto the tourists on which the town depends, the revenue won’t be there.

Unfortunately, it appears that the city commissioners are now more interested in taking two steps back from this reform effort.

As reported by Daniel Divilio, the Rehoboth Commissioners are currently focused on a single method to raise city revenues in the upcoming budget cycle—increased parking meter fees.

Currently Rehoboth meters vary in price based on their proximity to the beach.

Those meters closest cost $1 an hour, while those farthest away only cost 50 cents. All meters in the middle cost 75 cents an hour.

The new rate proposal would take the 50 and 75 cent meters and set them both at $1, without changing the meters already rated for that amount.

According to Ferrese, the parking rate increase would result in as much as $320,000 additional revenue.

“I think this is a great revenue source,” commissioner Paul Kuhns said. According to him, most people will be accepting of the hike, in that a dollar an hour is not a high rate.

Kuhns also explained that it was a way of generating revenue by taxing the consumers that come into town every summer, without putting a bigger burden on the residents.

Well, sure—unless the visitors decide to go somewhere else.

I talked to Ferrese today, and he described the five other revenue options the commissioners turned down.

Two suggestions also related to parking charges, although they were on a far more modest scale. Another involved personnel cost sharing. A fourth modest proposal would have increased tree removal permit fees (paid by city property owners) to offset the cost of the city’s arborist--but the commissioners didn’t like that one, either.

The commissioners also turned down a plan to raise certain business fees, including the rental permit charge paid by the resort’s landlords—many of whom are also city residents, you would not be surprised to learn.

Zapping out-of-towners with higher parking meter fees is not exactly a profiles in courage moment for Rehoboth's city commissioners. Now that they have the ability to raise property taxes above the artificially low ceiling that once existed, the town’s leadership should at least be considering a modest increase in property taxes, in addition to the usual smacking around of those who didn’t vote them into office.

Considering the impact of this parking meter hike on the city’s businesses, however, I expect several of those folks to make themselves heard on this latest proposal. The Rehoboth merchants certainly understand how parking meters affect both their bottom line and their non-metered competition outside the little city’s boundaries, even if the commissioners don’t.

I'm sure they will have the opportunity to learn that lesson, prior to finalizing the city budget.

Disclosure: We own a property within the City of Rehoboth Beach.

February 4, 2007
Thank you, Prince

That was the best Superbowl halftime show in many, many years.

Not exactly a high bar to cross over, but just the same Prince was simply great.

The man still has it, doesn't he?

February 3, 2007
Shameless self-promotion

This afternoon I posted my newest golf book review.

The Efficient Golfer is essentially a golf infomercial, in print. Some parts will appeal to golfers uninterested in spending additional money on other portions of the author's suggested remedies, but it's mostly an extended advertisement.

The newest golf column is also up and running at Hole By Hole:

The Dreaded Third Plane and other midwinter golf lessons
February 2, 2007

With only occasionally favorable weather conditions for golf during the mid-winter, Cape Region golfers don’t have a lot of opportunities to keep up their skills on their favorite local courses.

In recent interviews, Cape Region golf professionals provided a wide range of advice about how best to prepare for the upcoming season over the next couple months. More....

Hope you like it.

February 2, 2007
The Christopher Shea Law?

In many ways Delaware is a conservative state, notwithstanding its recent record in presidential elections. This is very much the case when it comes to declining attempts by personal injury lawyers to be empowered to use new theories of civil liability. The state Supreme Court and its lower courts usually demur, and refer the potential litigants to the General Assembly for the relief they seek.

This isn’t all that unusual. Most state courts are reluctant to step on what they consider legislative turf, especially when there are many competing policy issues to be considered.

On many occasions, for example, both the Delaware judiciary and their counterparts from other state court systems have shown a decided reluctance to put their judicial imprimatur on dram shop liability—the ability to sue a tavern or bar owner for the injuries caused by drunks who were served in those establishments shortly before they hurt themselves or others.

Thus far the Delaware General Assembly has not chosen to accept the invitation to adopt a law that would establish this potential liability under appropriate circumstances. In 2003, for example, Senator Peterson and Representative Keeley co-sponsored such a bill, but it went nowhere.

Perhaps a Supreme Court decision issued yesterday will help change the legislature’s attitude—and a now-dead State Police Corporal’s sacrifice could thus be honored.

In July 2004, a man went to a family social function in Sussex County and drank alcohol while there. He then traveled to a popular tavern in Rehoboth Beach, continued to drink, and eventually left the establishment at 1:15 a.m.

Several miles from the tavern, he crashed into another car on Route 1. The drunk driver then left the scene, and traveled for several miles north in the southbound lanes of the divided highway. State Police Corporal Christopher Shea was heading south on Route 1, and the two vehicles collided head-on.

The drunk driver died at the scene, but later tests showed he had a .336 blood alcohol concentration. Shea died nearly an hour after the collision.

The corporal’s survivors sued the tavern and the family who had served their relative prior to his visit to the establishment. After losing in Superior Court, the plaintiffs appealed.

The Court en banc affirmed the lower court.

After noting the prior failed legislative attempt to enact a dram shop law, as well as its own longstanding precedents refusing to adopt a common law version to impose liability, the Court described some recent alternative legislative efforts to deal with drinking problems:

Instead of passing bills relating to dram shop liability, the General Assembly enacted statutes regulating the use and sale of alcohol in Delaware in recent years. For example, in 2004, the legislature reduced the blood alcohol legal limit while driving, operating or controlling a motor vehicle to 0.08. Under 4 Del. C. § 1206(c), a server of alcohol who is found serving an intoxicated patron alcohol can have his server training card revoked. In 2005, House Bill No. 176 created a certification and renewal training program for alcoholic beverage servers and provided for the implementation and enforcement of the legislation. The General Assembly also amended 4 Del. C. § 1201, tightening the State’s control over serving alcohol. In 2006, the 143rd General Assembly passed Senate Bill No. 376, which mandates an ignition interlock for offenders with a blood alcohol content of .15 or above or for those who refuse a chemical test. The 143rd General Assembly also passed Senate Bill No. 270, amending provisions in titles 11 and 21 that make it unlawful to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These recent enactments indicate that the General Assembly is fully aware of the social issues derived from, and has taken measures it deemed effective to regulate, alcohol consumption [notes omitted].

***

Because the judiciary did not create the dram shop liability doctrine and because the General Assembly has actively and expansively regulated the use and sale of alcohol, we decline to create a new cause of action. We defer, as we should, to the General Assembly, which is uniquely situated to effectively examine the empirical data, hold public hearings, debate the social and economic issues implicated, and then decide whether Delaware should recognize dram shop liability. Accordingly we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court on that issue.

Using similar logic, the Court also refused to adopt social host liability under these circumstances:

The rationale for not extending liability to a social host is that one who consumes alcohol is the sole proximate cause of any injury he causes to a third person. The inability of a social host to control a guest once the guest leaves the host’s home can lead to “significant financial burdens.” Furthermore, as we have consistently declined to create a common law dram shop cause of action, it would be anomalous for social hosts to have greater legal responsibility than trained, licensed and regulated bartenders [notes omitted].

I didn’t know Corporal Shea, but I know several people who did, including some downstate legislators. A few of them are also retired state troopers.

Their reaction to this decision, involving an on-duty police officer protecting the rest of us when he was killed, could spur a renewed effort to enact dram shop legislation during the current General Assembly session.

Named in his honor, the Christopher Shea Dramshop Liability Law could be an appropriate response to the risks that drunk drivers present, by providing an incentive to bar and restaurant owners to stop pouring and call ‘em a cab instead.

February 1, 2007
A little too restricted an explanation

My friends at Hertrich's Auto Sales face most of the same kinds of business risks as other retailers, but you might think that shoplifting wasn't one of them.

You would be wrong to think that.

According to the Delaware State Police, last night a young man broke through a garage window at the Milford dealership and entered the building:

He then allegedly drove a 2005 Dodge Neon worth $15,000 through a second garage door to leave the dealership.

To make matters worse, he then managed to smash up the Neon, in next to no time:

Approximately 10 minutes later, according to police, he crashed the car on Bowman Road, injuring himself.

His injuries are not life-threatening, apparently.

What caught my eye about this news story was the final paragraph:

Officers said alcohol was a factor in the crash.

Considering how little time passed between the breaking and entering, the theft, and the crash, I think this explanation is a bit too restricted.

It sure seems to me that alcohol was a factor in all of the crimes he committed in this incident.

February 1, 2007
The Horror

A good buddy of mine is a twisted soul, and not merely because of his dubious choice of friends.

During our lunch break today he had me listen to a Peter Gabriel song, which in and of itself would have been fine.

Except in this case, the singer was Don Ho, and the song was "Shock the Monkey."

It was part of a 2002 album called When Pigs Fly that he'd recently bought.

Oh, the horror.

January 30, 2007
Independent films and the Internet

Tim Wu wrote an intriguing essay in last Friday's Slate on the continuing popularity of independent film festivals, despite the greatly expanded film-viewing opportunities presented by the Internet.

He focuses on the recently concluded and famous Sundance Festival, well-known beyond the limited circles of film buffs for its ability to jump-start the distribution cycle for movies that are a hit at the Utah resort (e.g., last year's Little Miss Sunshine, with four Oscar nominations). Compared to the crush of filmgoers flocking to movies of sometimes dubious quality, Wu suggests that YouTube and other web movie outlets should bring exponentially more viewers to see the same kinds of independent films, but it's not happening:

You might think, in our era of decentralized media, that we would have discovered a better way of finding good independent films. Yet, despite living in an age where bands are born on MySpace and blogs by basement dwellers out-rate CNN, the world of independent film seems strangely immune to the World Wide Web. Sundance and other film festivals represent the big running exception to the main media story of the 2000s: crowds besting experts in finding great independent material.

Wu provides some reasonable explanations for this phenomenon that are well worth considering.

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society's annual Independent Film Festival is considered a successful regional event of its type, with about 18,000 tickets used for about 125 screenings over four days. It's always scheduled for November, fairly late in the film festival season. Our film programmers can take advantage of the buzz created by the prior festivals, such that a substantial portion of the films we show have made appearances elsewhere--but not all in the same festivals. Many RBFF patrons tell us they really enjoy the opportunity to see the films they've read about all year, in one convenient place.

In addition, we have a very large festival tent adjacent to the theater complex. Hundreds of film fans gather there all day and into the evening to eat, drink, and chatter happily about the movies they've seen, the movies they plan to see, and their friends' reactions to the movies they saw.

From that experience, I'd say that the communal aspects of this and similar film festivals simply can't be matched by someone sitting at home in front of a computer monitor.

I mean no disrespect to the fine folks at Atomfilms or other web film venues, but it's just not the same kind of fun.

And as long as people appreciate the opportunity to come together to enjoy movies on large screens, independent film festivals will continue to have an advantage over their Internet competitors.

Disclosure: I'm on the RBFS Board of Directors. This year's Festival is currently scheduled for November 7-11--mark your calendars.

January 29, 2007
Book nook

Today I finished reading another book that I'm happy to recommend.

David Owen's Sheetrock & Shellac is subtitled A Thinking Person's Guide to the Art and Science of Home Improvement, and it certainly is that.

There's much more, however. Owen, a New Yorker staff writer, maintains a gentle, self-deprecating tone in this memoir of his family's home ownership, renovation, and construction projects. To the mind's inner ear it will sound pleasantly familiar for regular readers of the magazine.

I especially enjoyed the passages in which Owen shows a fine appreciation for the craftsmanship and professionalism of the individuals he relies upon for much of the work in restoring an old house and later building a new cabin.

In addition, I frequently found myself smiling in recognition of Owen's own misadventures in do-it-yourself maintenance, a bit reminiscent of Tim Allen's old shtick as well as my own mishaps with plumbing, carpentry, and painting.

The biggest surprise, however, was the segment in which Owen describes his eventual selection and tenure as a member of his small town's zoning commission. It was a very pleasant experience to read the passages outlining his extremely practical, communitarian approach to land use decision-making.

If his fellow citizens have any sense, they'll find a way to keep him on that commission.

January 28, 2007
A Claude winner that's not the headline writer's fault

The usual nominees for a Claude award for a thudding statement of the obvious are the headline writers for the nation's newspapers.

Today's winner can't be blamed on the media, however. Instead, the folks doing the editing simply ran a direct quote from the speaker, in this case a person seeking the Democratic nod for the 2008 presidential election:

Senator Clinton Campaigns In Iowa: "I'm In It To Win It"

That's worth three Claudes, easy.

In the interests of fair competition, I'll be sure to run similar Claude winners from her competition as I come across them.

Between now and the Denver Convention, there will be plenty of opportunities.

Sigh.


   

Contact Information:

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

fschranck-at-sneakingsuspicions.com


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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.

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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2007