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
November 8, 2003
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)
Around the World in 101 Minutes (Shorts from all over)
Director Gyorgy Palfi
Hungarian Best Foreign Film nominee for 2002 Oscars.
That which does not kill me makes me hiccup.
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
UPDATE November 8, 2003--
for Weddings and Funerals
UPDATE November 9, 2003:
Reel People, Reel Lives, or Reel Fun (Shorts)
November 6, 2003
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:
Based on the record presented to it, therefore, the Circuit panel's conclusion on this issue was fairly succinct:
Works for me.
November 5, 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
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:
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
I happen to be a registered Democrat.
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:
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
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:
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 2002-2003