Sneaking Suspicions
 
Archives-- February 11-24, 2007


This page includes posts from February 1-24, 2007 in the usual reverse order.

Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

February 20, 2007
Tough question rephrased and repeated

Late last month I reacted to two separate articles that were related to each other.

The first was a Jay Nordlinger piece that quoted a very Republican friend of his. The unnamed source offered a reason why the Democrats needed to win the Presidency as well as control of both houses of Congress in 2008:

“Because that’s the only way they will be fully onboard the War on Terror. They won’t fully support it otherwise, because they will always be trying to trip up the Republicans. If you want the Democrats onboard the War on Terror, they have to be in charge. Period.”

This sentiment dovetailed with a WaPo article by Ruth Markus about the Democrats' persistent opposition to any policy proposal by the current President.

My post offered a different explanation for the Democrats' attitude than Markus. I think to some extent it's related to the Clinton impeachment and the protest votes that ugly fustercluck generated.

At this point, I'm just hoping that a true national security Democrat receives the nomination:

[I]f [a Democratic sweep is] what it takes to continue the war against those who seek our deaths because their twisted worldview demands it, well, fine. Bush will be gone, so the lingering effects of the Clinton impeachment vote should diminish. However, the war will continue, because the Islamofascists who declared it are still willing to try to kill us.

Thinking along these lines seems to be spreading.

Here is a relevant segment from a recent Jonah Goldberg column:

If you believe that the war on terror is real — really real — then you think it is inevitable that more and bloodier conflicts with radical Islam are on the way, regardless of who is in the White House. If the clash of civilizations is afoot, then the issues separating Democrats and Republicans are as pressing as whether the captain of the Titanic is going to have fish or chicken for dinner. There’s a showdown coming. Period. Full stop. My task isn’t to convince you that this view is correct (though I basically believe it is), but merely that it is honestly and firmly held by many on the right and by a comparative handful on the left.

And that’s the problem: Only a handful of people on the Left — and far too few liberals — see radical Islamists as a bigger threat than George W. Bush. Which is why if you really think that we are in an existential conflict with a deadly enemy, there’s a good case for the Democrats to take the reins. Not because Democrats are better, wiser or more responsible about foreign policy. That’s a case for Democrats to make about themselves and certainly not one many on the right believe. No, the argument, felt in places we don’t talk about at cocktail parties (vide A Few Good Men), is that the Democrats have been such irresponsible backseat drivers that they have to be forced to take the wheel to grasp how treacherous the road ahead is.

Now here's Jim Geraghty's reaction to Jonah, from a post that appeared earlier today:

Let me throw out the really worrisome scenario… suppose the Democrats win the White House, and keep control of Congress in 2008. And in 2009, in the midst of a “reaching out to the world” public diplomacy campaign, the Democratic-led nation is reminded, once again, that we live in a dangerous world.

Geraghty then describes a series of realistic and worrying circumstances, including but not limited to terror attacks in America, more violent Islamist uprisings in the Middle East, and renewed troubles between Pakistan and India. He then poses these questions:

Would the Democrats “learn their lesson” and become more realist/hawkish/ serious/aggressive in the defense of the country?

 

Or would they find it more convenient to blame the previous administration for “poisoning the well” so badly that they couldn’t fix it? Is a quasi-isolationism really that unthinkable?

 

Would even a hawkish president find himself or herself hemmed in by a dovish legislative majority, like Tony Blair finds himself in the Labour Party?

All good questions--and this far removed from the 2008 elections, it's not at all easy to answer them, except to note that they are of a piece with the basic trust issue raised in these and similar posts and commentary.

Nonetheless, the recent non-binding anti-surge resolution passed by the House certainly doesn't instill any real confidence in the likely answers from the current Congressional leadership.

February 18, 2007
Shameless Promotion

This morning I posted my newest golf book review at Hole By Hole.

Lou Hays' Make Your Golf Dream A Reality is a sprightly written golf instruction book, emphasizing the short game as the path to lower your handicap significantly.

There's also a new golf column:

Time to start thinking about new golf equipment
February 16, 2007

The recent ice and snow conditions have made Cape Region golf shop owners a little more lonely than usual.

Nonetheless, they’re preparing for the upcoming golf season with a variety of new golf equipment offerings. More..

I hope you like it.

February 14, 2007
Chorizo-Chicken Creole

We invited several friends over for dinner on Sunday night. I put together this dish on Saturday afternoon, and needed some folks to help eat it the next day.

They didn't mind at all, especially when my wife also prepared a nice salad, along with a great flan and a pineapple angel food cake for desert.

Ingredients:

¼ pound plus two tbs. butter
½ cup flour
3 small/medium onions, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 bell peppers, chopped fine
4 stalks celery, chopped fine
6 plum tomatoes, diced
2 large cans diced tomatoes
1-10 oz. package sliced mushrooms
3 bay leaves
1 tbs. dried parsley flakes
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper sauce
¼ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. red pepper
¼ tsp. white pepper
1 ¼ cup white wine (sauvignon blanc)
5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 pound sweet (mild) Italian sausage
1 pound Chorizo sausage

Directions:

Brown the sausages for 5 minutes a side in a non-stick sauté pan, over medium heat. Remove from pan, slice the links into pieces between ¼ and ½ inch thick, and set aside.

Brown the chicken pieces in the sausage drippings in the same pan for five minutes or so, over medium heat. 

In a large stock pot, melt the stick of butter over low heat, and when it bubbles stir in the flour to make a roux. When the roux becomes light brown, add the remaining butter, onions, and garlic on low heat. Cook until the onions soften, about five minutes.

Add to the pot the peppers, celery, tomatoes, mushrooms, and white wine, and increase heat to medium. When the mixture begins to boil, turn heat back to simmer. Add the spices, salt, peppers, sausages, and chicken, including the drippings from the sauté pan, and cover.

Let the mixture simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally.

As I expected, the flavors improve if you let it sit overnight in the refrigerator, and then re-heat it on low/simmer for about 45 minutes just before dinner.

Serve in bowls with hot boiled rice, with baguettes.

Makes about 10 servings.

Afterwards, some of us also enjoyed a few cheeses and a bit of port that went very well with everything that had gone on before.

February 13, 2007
Unstacking the deck

Small town land use disputes sometimes show people misbehaving at their very best.

I think it’s due to the unsettling of expectations that others will do with their land what you want them to do, instead of what they might want to do themselves.

That was certainly the situation with a recent Board of Adjustment hearing in the little town of Fenwick Island, at the southern edge of Delaware and the Atlantic Ocean.

Fenwick isn’t really an island, although non-natives could certainly be excused for thinking it is when they visit. The Little Assawoman Bay sits to the west, with the town taking up only a few blocks of land between the bay and the ocean.

The property in question sits on Bayside Drive, on the west side. The owner formerly stored boats on the mostly triangular-shaped parcel for many years. With the run-up in beach property values, he decided to try to obtain a variance from the usual setback rules, in order to shoehorn a small house onto the lot. 

The parcel barely met the 5,000 square foot minimum, but its odd configuration required Board approval for any house to be built on it. For example, under the normal rules the building envelope (lot space minus the setbacks) measured only 423 square feet. On the other hand, the town code required a building footprint of not less than 750 square feet. 

He first tried to have the Board approve placing a 900 sf home on the lot, but they turned him down. Undaunted, the owner then hired an architect, who came up with a plan that used 821 square feet for the footprint. However, it also included a bump-out of an additional 22 square feet on the second floor, measuring about 11 feet from the street side of the parcel when viewed from overhead. 

This plan brought out several locals in opposition. They found a ready audience among some of the Board members at the contested hearing:

[Two adjacent property owners] stated through a letter that they had been informed multiple times by the town of Fenwick Island that it would not be possible to construct any improvements on the site…. The general feeling of the neighboring property owners was that the Property should be used exclusively for boat storage. [notes omitted].

Another neighbor noted that renters for other nearby properties used this parcel

as an overflow lot, albeit without [the owner’s] approval, … and, if a home were placed on the property, those vehicles would have to park in the street, causing an added safety concern.

The Board chairperson also suggested that shortening the setback requirements would increase fire hazards in the area. 

The Board eventually turned down the variance request, suggesting among other things that the owner should file another plan that came closer to meeting the normal setback requirements. Instead, the owner appealed to the Superior Court. 

Judge Richard Stokes didn’t hide his exasperation with the Board very well:

[I]n a vacuum, a board always could say any submitted plan was not the minimum and should be denied. Designs can forever be tweaked…. [T]he designer… testified that the variance request and design made for a reasonable residential use of the Property which was not rebutted…. [T]here was no competent evidence for the Board to find there were other alternative designs which would permit a viable residential use of the Property.

The judge also ruled that at least one Board member had his mind made up long before the hearing took place. Citing a lengthy colloquy between the member and the Board counsel, Stokes noted the following:

[T]he member did not believe variances to build homes should be granted from the twenty-five foot setback. This same member would not find any variance acceptable. He believed that there was no reason to grant an exception even though it was not practical to build in the twenty-five foot setback and that no practical house can be built on the lot…. In other words, [the owner] bought an unbuildable lot and should never be able to build on it despite the law providing for potential relief.

In my view, this was an arbitrary and unreasonable position which affected the proceedings entirely and denied [the owner] a fair hearing. It is apparent that nothing submitted would be fairly considered. ***

The prejudiced position taken by the Board member poisoned the proverbial well, thus preventing a majority of the Board members present from voting in favor of [the] application. Zoning applications should be judged on their merits and granted where the facts and the law warrant such a result. The Board, through the language used by one member, expressed an unwillingness to grant any variance on the property in question, even if the facts and the law dictated a contrary result. For this reason, the decision of the Board must be reversed.

Relying on the parking issue was also a non-starter:

It is true that there was testimony offered on the impact of the residence on traffic. The design provided for parking and additional space on other parts of the Property…. If overflow problems exist, they are not of [the owner’s] making, and the town should enforce or adopt parking ordinances. [T]he Town cannot effectively require [the owner] to keep his land as a community parking lot.

He didn’t think much of the fire hazard contention, either:

[T]he opinion expressed by [the Board chairperson] about a fire and safety concern where a setback is varied is personal to her. Her view is not supported by any evidence of record.

This is not appropriate, for as one court found:

It is manifest from questions asked by members of the Board at the hearing that, in considering various aspects of this case, they were relying upon facts known to them personally but not made a matter of record by proper evidence. Our various administrative and quasi-judicial bodies should understand that any pertinent information known personally by the members, but not placed into the record by proper evidence, cannot be considered by a court on appellate review [citation omitted].

And with that, Stokes reversed the Board.

I’d like to think that the Fenwick Board members will treat seriously the legal problems noted by Judge Stokes in this appeal, and find a way to improve their decision-making process in their future hearings. To the extent they don’t, however, other Fenwick property owners will be forced to seek yet another brisk reminder of the Board’s obligations from the Court.


   

Contact Information:

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

fschranck-at-sneakingsuspicions.com


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2007