Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- December 18-31, 2005

This page includes posts from December 18-31, 2005 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

December 29, 2005
Semi-Shameless Promotion

The latest change to this site appears in the upper right hand corner of the home page.

It reflects the first of what we hope will be a successful multi-year arrangement between the Rehoboth Beach Film Society and The Movies at Midway, the 14-screen multiplex that is the premier movie location for Delaware's Cape Region.

Beginning January 6, 2006, Theater 14 will be the home of the RBFS' Art House Theater. The RBFS will handle the programming for this screen, with a mission to bring to the Cape Region the best of independent, foreign, and other worthy films that might not otherwise be available around here.

The first movie is Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which will run for at least one week.

The R-rated murder mystery/action comedy features Robert Downey Jr., Michelle Monaghan, and Val Kilmer, and was directed by Shane Black.


For movie show times and tickets, call Movies at Midway (302-645-0200) or visit the box office.


In addition, all card-carrying Film Society members are eligible for the senior admission rate to the screenings on January 6. 


As noted previously, I'll be running this blog ad every week, updated with the current show, along with the coming attractions as they are finalized.


Note: The title to this post is based on the fact that I'm affiliated with the RBFS as a member of its Board of Directors, but I'm not making a dime on this.


December 29, 2005
A new martini man


Congratulations to Stephen Green and his wife Melissa on the birth of their brand new son, Preston!


He's a real cutie.

December 27, 2005
Christmas books

This year's Christmas presents included a few books that will definitely cut into the time spent blogging for this site.

I'm already several chapters into Robert Bruegmann's Sprawl- A Compact History, which I requested from younger daughter, largely on the recommendation of Virginia Postrel. My eighteen years of legal representation of DelDOT have provided significant exposure to and experience with the issues Bruegmann grapples with here. His approach to the subject is a welcome relief from the usual commentary about development.

Virginia herself is featured among the writers selected for the second Christmas book gift, The Best American Science and Nature Writing for 2004, edited by Steven Pinker.

Over the years I've given my wife several editions from The Best American Series, and now she's returned the favor. Virginia's essay is "The Design of Your Life," which previously appeared in Men's Journal.

My wife also gave me Henry Petroski's Small Things Considered: Why There Is No Perfect Design, which looks like it will be a delight to read.

I'll let you know.

December 26, 2005
A mostly lucky surfer

Brian Anderson is a lucky guy, mostly due to the fact that he watches The Discovery Channel.

This past weekend he went surfing near Tillamook, Oregon, and a 10-foot shark grabbed him by the leg.

Anderson remembered from watching a prior Discovery Channel show about sharks that the creatures have extremely sensitive schnozzes.

And so, he punched the shark where it did Anderson the most good, causing the fish to release him. Anderson is now recovering nicely from the incident.

On the other hand, Anderson has yet to hear from the Oregon chapter of PETA, whose members might take umbrage at Anderson's pugilistic response to an innocent creature's simple expression of a basic instinct.

Or something like that.

December 25, 2005
Merry Christmas

Best wishes for the holidays to you and your families!

Here are a few favorite photos, in lieu of the usual pontifications:

A creek shrouded in fog near Barretts Chapel, Kent County, DE

Dunes in midwinter at Cape Henlopen State Park

A Blue Heron just after leaving a pond at Rehoboth Beach Country Club

The Delaware Bay, frozen out to one of the Lewes Lighthouses

December 24, 2005
Three Claudes for Christmas

The Associated Press gave me a great Christmas gift this morning.

It came in the form of a wonderful Claude-worthy headline for a story that's a hardy perennial for the season, a veritable journalistic poinsettia:

Holiday Travelers to Face Crowded Roads

What else could I say but "Thanks so much!" for such a great candidate from the files of the thuddingly obvious.

That's worth three Claudes, easy.

And for the AP headline writers and all the others who might read this, I also say, best wishes for the holidays to you and your families.

December 23, 2005
Tell-tale signs

This evening my wife and I finished up some Christmas shopping, and then decided to put in an order at Casapulla’s Subs & Steaks for dinner.

Waiting for our order to be prepared gave me a chance to do some people-watching.

Not long thereafter, a smiling man came into the store and stood in line at the cash register. He caught the eye of one of the other patrons, and called out to him. They had a conversation while standing 15 feet or so apart. My wife and I and a few others sat between them, below all the talking, as it were.

He was dressed in a pair of work boots, well-worn jeans, a John Deere cap, and a Deere sweatshirt featuring the logo of Taylor & Messick, a Deere outlet in Harrington, about 30 miles away. His buddy mentioned that he was a bit out of his usual range, and the man explained that he’d just finished with a hay delivery.

They finished exchanging pleasantries, and he turned to talk to the cashier.

I made a mental guess about what I’d see next, and I was right.

The back right pocket of the jeans featured a distinctive round white worn area. It’s a perfect fit for a tin of smokeless tobacco, such as Skoal.

Together with all of the other visible and aural bits of evidence I’d already seen and heard, seeing this white circle made perfect sense.

I hope he enjoyed his sub.

December 21, 2005
Right emphasis, wrong results

At least with respect to domestic matters, it’s easy to agree with the recent vote by journalists about the year’s biggest story:

The onslaught of Gulf Coast hurricanes, notably Katrina and the deadly flooding which devastated New Orleans, was overwhelmingly picked by U.S. editors and news directors as the top story of 2005 in The Associated Press' annual vote.

It’s also easy to see that despite the importance of these events, the mainstream media did a pretty wretched job of covering them, as recognized in stories appearing both shortly after the hurricanes and more recently.

Brian Thevenot’s American Journalism Review article suggests three ways to improve the work product of his fellow journalists for the next major disasters—and I would suggest, for any reportage:

The first is the persistent questioning of sources – about their sources: How do you know that? Did you see it? Who told you this? Are you 100 percent sure this happened? Who else can confirm it?

The second, wisely suggested in a column by former Washington Post Ombudsman Michael Getler, is careful and frequent qualification: "There is a journalistic device that is informative, accurate and protective, but that too often doesn't get used. It is a simple sentence that says: 'This account could not be independently verified.'" …

The third tool, which lately has been on display by many, though not all, media outlets, is an attitude that embraces the correcting of major news stories as news itself, not something to be buried in a corrections box.

I suggest a fourth technique, based on my own experience.

The best journalists with whom I’ve had dealings are folks who have done more with their lives than simply report on the doings of others. Those who were previously responsible for producing more than paragraphs for a living tend to have a better understanding for what is truly central to a story. They can better appreciate how the bits and pieces of rumors can coalesce to present a false reality, and are more likely to be a bit circumspect about jumping to any early conclusions. They are less likely to succumb to deadline pressure, and are better able to resist running with a story that’s “too good to check.”

I hesitate to characterize these reporters as folks who were once busy with “real jobs,” because the work of journalists is in many respects just as real. Even so, there often seems to be something fundamentally passive about most reporters, compared with others engaged in more active pursuits. That passivity affects judgment, the most critical element to writing as accurately as possible.

For journalists whose prior work experience, if any, never put them “in the arena,” as Theodore Roosevelt described it, there appears to be a greater risk that fundamental mistakes will creep into their stories, of the types that marred coverage of the Gulf Coast storms and their aftermath.

Thevenot’s analysis and recommendations are good. I also think that journalists who don’t leap directly from j-school or college into reporting, but who instead work in some other endeavor first, are more likely to be better at their craft when they do start writing for a living.

December 21, 2005
If there's still a bit of cash in your wallet, I have a suggestion

James Lileks is a witty and wise observer of the human condition.

In today's Bleat, he tossed off a bit of advice that it would be nice to see lots of folks readily accept:

Always write out your charity contributions before you do the end of the year bills.

He's right, at least for the bills that accept something less than full payoffs. You might have a warm feeling about sending in that charitable donation, but it won't help if you're sitting there freezing in a dark house.

If you're both able to and inclined to act on his advice, however, I have a suggestion for you.

I'm on the Board of Directors of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society, a charitable institution recognized as such under the rules of our friends at the IRS. On occasion I've posted here about its Film Festival held each November, and more recently about the upcoming Art House Theater project.

On the other hand, you might not know about some of the additional contributions that RBFS makes to the Sussex County community.  

  • Each month the Third Thursday Theater presents age-appropriate movies for children at the Rehoboth Beach Public Library, in the Library’s Community Room, for grades K-5, in cooperation with the Library.
  • Reels on Wheels is a year-round community education and outreach initiative, designed to bring the art of filmmaking to underserved communities in southern Sussex County. It began in July 2005 at the Harbour Lights CHEER Center in Lewes, and will also include programs at additional senior centers, the Lewes Library, and local Boys and Girls Clubs.
  • Screen Cuisine is a new partnership between the RBFS and the CHEER Center at Long Neck. The dinner and a movie program, a component of Reels on Wheels, provides adult (50+) audiences with an opportunity to socialize and enjoy the cinematic arts.
  • RBFS is also partnering with the Coalition for Tolerance and Justice on a community film and discussion series, exposing audiences to intellectually and emotionally challenging films that highlight the existence and consequences of social intolerance and injustice across America. For the first film in the series, Paper Clips, RBFS provided a study guide for high school teachers. The movie ran for several weeks, thanks to the overwhelming positive response.
  • The Cinema & Art film series is a collaboration among the RBFS, the Rehoboth Art League, and the Inn at Canal Square in Lewes. This series presents films that bring art and artists to the big screen to engage and educate adult audiences in cinema and art.
  • The Student Film Group meets on a regular schedule at the Movies at Midway to learn about filmmaking, watch independent films under the guidance of knowledgeable instructors, and work on local films and other projects.

The RBFS is also involved with three special endowment programs.

  • The Lori Phillips Community Outreach Film Fund was established in Ms. Phillips’ memory as a tribute to her past service with the RBFS before her untimely death. The Fund is intended to support a community outreach and/or educational film initiative that promotes social justice at the grassroots level, in memory of her own similar efforts as a Sussex County attorney.
  • The Glenn C. Bowman Endowment Fund supports community participation initiatives, primarily outreach efforts, which Glenn saw as part of the Film Society’s mission. Mr. Bowman, a past Board member and active RBFS volunteer, established this Fund as part of his estate planning before his death in 2001.
  • The annual Morris Fierberg Student Film Award was established in 2004 in memory of Mr. Fierberg, a long-time member and volunteer of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society. This award program encourages student film production by acknowledging the outstanding work of a student film director through the award of a college scholarship.

As you can readily imagine, these initiatives and programs require a financial commitment that the net revenues from the fall Film Festival cannot meet.

If you aren’t already, you might also wish to become a member of the Society, which carries with it several distinct benefits. More information about membership classes is available at the Society’s website.

I don't have a tip jar set up here for several good reasons, not least of which because I don't need money from others to offset the modest direct costs of operating this site. On the other hand, if I knew that some of the readers here made charitable contributions to deserving entities such as the RBFS, that would be a great way to show your appreciation.

Thank you very much for your consideration, and for your generosity.

December 20, 2005
Pogo’s Alabama cuzzin’s anniversary

Today marks the fourth anniversary of Possumblog, now at his nu location.

Go on over to Terry’s place and give him some blogging love.

I think Pogo's bag is one of those Vera Bradley numbers.

December 18, 2005
A starkly clear expression of legislative intent

Most modern-day legislation is a matter of passing the buck.

I don’t mean that in a pejorative way, for the most part.

I’m referring to the fact that at the Federal and state levels, formal legislation is frequently written in very general terms. Accompanying these broad policy outlines are directives to an executive branch agency or two to work out the messy details thereafter, during the necessary regulatory process.

This approach to legislation provides some distinct benefits. For example, it permits legislators to campaign on a platform that shows they’re in favor of the environment, while also giving them a chance to escape direct responsibility for the resulting regulations their constituents might carp about. It also enhances the chances for having the legislation pass in the first place. The devil is literally in the details on many issues, and too many of them can keep a voting majority from ever forming.

Thus is created the modern bureaucratic state. 

Reasonable minds can differ on the benefits and burdens of this arrangement, but it’s usually runs fairly smoothly. Nonetheless, sometimes the regulatory process can break down, to a point where the legislature will step back in and decide the matter, and in fairly blunt terms.

That happened earlier this year in Delaware, in a long-running controversy in which recreational boaters like yours truly are decidedly not neutral.

At first glance, the Atlantic coastline of the First State looks like it’s protected by barrier islands similar to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. However, in Delaware the narrow strips of land are actually part of the mainland. They form the eastern edges of three inland bays lying adjacent to the ocean. From north to south these are Rehoboth Bay, Indian River Bay, and Little Assawoman Bay.

Indian River Inlet provides ocean access for the two northern bays, which connect to each other. Reaching the ocean through that Inlet is a task limited to the foolhardy, however, if the boat isn’t big enough to handle the strong currents, eddies, and frequently large waves.

Over 100 years ago, some enterprising folks dug a narrow, shallow, four-mile-long canal between Indian River Bay and Little Assawoman Bay. It provided a safe route for small craft to reach the southern end of the state, as well as the bays behind Ocean City, Maryland and Assateague Island.

The canal was popular, but it didn’t take long for it to shoal up and limit boat traffic, to the point that for several years now, it’s essentially impassible for all but canoes and kayaks.

The State obtained the canal in 1990, after spending several years discussing the relative merits of cleaning up and dredging it to restore the canal’s utility for small recreational boats seeking to traverse the inland bays. Thereafter, the Natural Resources Department (DNREC) conducted and paid for several additional studies in preparation for dredging, including cost/benefit analyses, wildlife studies, and hydrological reviews. 

Following its own regulations under The Subaqueous Lands Act, DNREC filed for and obtained a permit to conduct the Assawoman Canal dredging in 2004, after much controversy and debate.

The state’s Sierra Club chapter wasn’t happy, though, and forced DNREC to defend its decision in an extensive hearing before the Environmental Appeals Board. The EAB had the authority to revoke the permit and block the dredging, a fact that was not lost on the parties.

At the May 10, 2005 hearing, the Board notified the parties that it was inclined to remand the matter back to the Secretary for a revised cost/benefit study. The Board finalized that decision in a written order issued in July 2005. 

On the other hand, if the EAB’s May announcement was intended to annoy the local legislators who supported the dredging, it worked. 

State Representative Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View) quietly managed to have a unique provision added to the FY2006 Bond Bill, enacted by the Delaware General Assembly on June 30, 2005.

Section 81. Assawoman Canal Dredging. It is the express finding of the General Assembly that the benefits of dredging and maintaining the Assawoman Canal exceed the costs of such project and the Secretary of Natural Resources and Environmental control is hereby directed to initiate all necessary actions to dredge the Canal pursuant to all terms and conditions provided for in the state and federal permits issued for the project and initially authorized by Secretary’s order 200-W-0047 dated August 12, 2004.

That, dear readers, is a starkly clear expression of legislative intent. 

Shortly after receiving the EAB’s July Order telling it to study the matter again, therefore, DNREC announced that it wouldn’t bother. 

The Sierra Club then sued DNREC, seeking an injunction to preserve the victory won by the environmental group in the EAB proceeding.

In early December, however, Chancellor William Chandler issued a short, sharp reminder that what the Legislature can give as a matter of process, it can also take back, at least under these circumstances:

[I]t is important to bear in mind that the EAB rejected all of the Sierra Club’s contentions regarding environmental and ecological harm to the canal as a result of dredging.… Instead, the EAB focused on one deficiency in DNREC cost/benefit analysis: the failure to calculate and consider the enforcement and policing costs associated with increased boat traffic through the canal…. 

The Chancellor couldn’t help noticing that the Sierra Club’s EAB victory was narrow at best, and that the General Assembly retained its legislative prerogatives: 

With this important fact in mind, it is evident that the Sierra Club cannot argue that the dredging itself will cause it irreparable harm. Instead, the argument is that the dredging will deprive the Sierra Club of its “procedural rights” to insist on DNREC undertaking a new cost/benefit calculation. The alleged interference with the Sierra Club’s procedural due process rights, however, cannot be equated (in my opinion) with the irreparable injury required to justify the extraordinary relief of an injunction. The Sierra Club has not lost any substantive right or privilege. At most, it has endured an abbreviation, or short-circuiting, of an appellate review procedure that was available to it. That is, the amended cost-benefit analysis would have served to inform the General Assembly of the relative benefit of this project. Instead, the General Assembly reached its own conclusion, and instructed DNREC that the extra costs of policing and enforcement associated with increased boat traffic are insufficient to outweigh the public benefits of dredging the canal. Of course, this is entirely within the prerogative of the General Assembly, which has plenary authority to tax, borrow and appropriate money for public purposes….

At most, Sierra Club has seen its procedural victory disappear, but that in no way constitutes irreparable injury to it, or its members. The Sierra Club’s procedural right to have its appeal heard and considered has been enforced. But it had no right to preclude the dredging of the canal.

In light of his decision on the preliminary injunction, I doubt there’s much life left in the Club’s suit for permanent relief. As if to further discourage any such additional efforts, the Chancellor also made this observation in his final footnote: 

It is not at all clear that Sierra Club’s procedural rights have been violated. And, indeed, I harbor serious doubts as to the merits of its claims. The injury posed by the wrongful (if wrongful it was) failure of DNREC to amend its cost-benefit analysis can at most, and indirectly, lead to some financial harm to Delaware and its taxpayers. As a tax-exempt entity, it is not clear to me on what basis the Sierra Club has standing to pursue the merits of its claims, in any event.

The Delaware General Assembly doesn’t often intervene like it did in this case. On the other hand, this particular issue has festered for a very long time. Those supporting the dredging of the Assawoman Canal have been extremely vocal and frustrated over the delays that dragged out the administrative process.

Unlike the normal buck-passing of modern legislation, therefore, in this case the General Assembly simply suggested that it would be happy to pick up the check—right now, in fact.


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 2002-2005