Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- December 28, 2003-January 3, 2004

This page includes posts from Dec. 28, 2003-January 3, 2004 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

January 3, 2004
So doctor-shopping charges are rarely filed against anyone.
And this is a big deal because why?

I worked at a drugstore when I went to law school in D.C. in the mid-1970s.  

It was a valuable experience, in part because it gave me a good introduction to how low some folks can go.  

For example, a group of poor souls would come to the store on a regular schedule. They were addicted to terpin hydrate with codeine, a controlled substance used as a cough suppressant.  

There was an old formbook at the counter where the pharmacists handed out the prescriptions. The FDA rules at the time limited the sale of this stuff to a single bottle every four days, if I recall correctly. The store clerks used the formbook, filled with names, dates, and drug-purchased information, to make sure the store didn’t run afoul of the FDA. 

Each pharmacist working there told me that the addicts kept to a round-robin schedule of drugstores throughout the city so that they could maintain access to their drug in the doses they needed to remain hammered.  

None of the druggists liked selling the stuff under these conditions. Sometimes they would just tell the addict that we were out of terpin hydrate, or look down the aisle as the addict approached and tell the clerk to pass on the bad, though bogus, news. 

I mention this story because (hat tip to  a story in the Palm Beach Post today about the Limbaugh matter reminded me of it:  

[A] records search by the Clerk of Courts Office revealed only one case in the past five years in which Palm Beach County prosecutors charged a defendant with illegally acquiring overlapping prescriptions….

Doctor shopping, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, is duping at least two doctors into prescribing the same controlled substance in a 30-day period. Records from a pharmacy near Limbaugh's $24 million Palm Beach mansion showed the radio show host obtained more than 2,000 pain and anti-anxiety pills in a five-month period in 2003 from four doctors.

If the law against doctor shopping is rarely used in Palm Beach County, it could lend weight to Limbaugh's argument that the investigation is politically motivated.

That’s an interesting argument to make outside the courtroom. Roy Black, Limbaugh’s attorney, might even try to derail any potential prosecution with this claim and similar allegations about the unfairness of singling out the famous radio commentator. 

On the other hand, I don’t think it will help Limbaugh to make this argument in front of a judge, and I doubt Black will.  

Black knows that the judges know that just because a criminal law is rarely invoked doesn’t mean there is no good reason for keeping it on the books. As with the FDA rules relating to terpin hydrate records, the criminal laws about excessive prescription drug access through drug shopping or other means are part of a reasonable attempt to promote public health.

That doesn’t mean these laws keep addicts from doing what they can to work around the rules. Few things will stop people who are bound and determined to obtain their drugs of choice. The idea is to use a mix of regulatory and criminal disincentives to help prevent drug addiction in the first place. The anti-shopping law is just one part of this approach. 

I’m glad to see that Limbaugh seems to be recovering well from his recent admitted addictive behavior. Of course, there may be other consequences that follow from how he dealt with the addiction before checking himself into a treatment center, including the possibility of criminal prosecution.

But no one should make the mistake of confusing an argument that will resonate with a radio audience with an argument that will work in front of a judge.

January 2, 2004
Three Claudes for a classic bit of American political science

When you’re perched at one end of the political pendulum arc, it’s just not fun to watch it swing away from you.

Some folks understand that the best response to this political problem is to work to win the next election, and refrain from complaining about one’s diminished status.

No one likes a whiner, after all.

That’s why this headline from today’s Washington Post seems so Claude-worthy:

Critics Say Education Dept. Is Favoring Political Right

That would be the Bush Administration Education Department, correct?

So, some folks are saying that a cabinet agency of a conservative president favors those with whom it shares a conservative ideology?


Other than the unintentionally ironic headline, I liked the story for its substance, especially for the fact that reporter Michael Dobbs directly refers to People for the American Way as a “liberal advocacy group” among the “left who [are] crying foul.”

In the recent past that kind of truth-in-labeling has sometimes seemed to be one-sided going the other way, so this example helps restore a sense of balance.

The headline earns three Claudes, though.

January 2, 2004
Strutting their stuff 

Marrying a Philadelphian has its distinct advantages.

If he or she has some local spirit, your spouse will take the opportunity on every New Year’s Day to extol the virtues and fun of watching the Mummers Parade. 

Now, I must admit that the idea of watching grown men and women in huge gaudy costumes walk up Broad Street while playing their banjos, accordions, drums, and brass held no real appeal to me. My prior exposure to the Mummers had always been to catch a glimpse of the parade on local television, followed by some derisive remark about how much booze was required to embarrass yourself in that fashion.

Whenever asked, I would always find some reason to not be in Philadelphia that day. 

Things change. 

We were in the Philadelphia area yesterday. 

My Philadelphia-born wife said, “Let’s go down and see the Mummers.” 

And so we did. 

She was right. There is no substitute for standing in front of the Academy of Music, just below City Hall, and watching a stunningly choreographed performance by a string band such as Fralinger or Quaker City, decked out in amazing costumes. 

The marchers’ interaction with the crowds filling the sidewalks was a real treat, as was their musicianship. In the interludes between performances at several stops along the way, Mummers would smile broadly as some hugely happy child rushed into the street for an impromptu posed picture together. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that over 12,000 Mummers marched in the nine-hour parade. We saw about 90 minutes of the string bands that finished the day’s parade. 

One man stood near us just before the Fralinger band played. He told us that he had already seen their performance, but it was so good he had to walk up ahead a few blocks to see it again. He was right—it was an amazing show, good for first place in the competition

For those who’ve never seen the Mummers, there’s a documentary available on DVD called Strut that was shown at the Rehoboth Independent Film Festival a while ago. My wife saw it (I didn’t—see above confession of error), and says the movie is a good introduction to this unique and worthy Philadelphia tradition.

January 1, 2004
Media-Savvy Tactics in a Circus Atmosphere

I had every intention of maintaining this site’s continuity as a Michael Jackson-free environment.

After all, except for the circus atmosphere that surrounds nearly every criminal proceeding involving celebrities, most of these kinds of cases are actually fairly routine.

On the other hand, the media-savvy tactics used by the Santa Barbara County sheriff’s office in the Jackson matter demonstrate yet another potentially helpful use of videotape technology in handling criminal matters, a topic discussed here previously. 

Jackson alleged that he had been physically abused while in police custody during his interview on “60 Minutes.”

Sheriff Jim Anderson issued a strong denial in response:

The sheriff said Mr. Jackson had raised no complaints during the process, thanked the authorities when it was over, whistled and sang during the ride to jail and replied, "Wonderful," when asked at one point how he was doing.

Anderson supported his story with a series of videotapes and audio soundbites of Jackson, which showed that Jackson was actually given kid glove treatment. [At least one glove, anyway. Ed.]

I watched the police video and listened to the tapes. The officers dealing directly with Jackson were, if anything, remarkably solicitous. Their expressions of care and concern for his physical well-being, combined with Jackson’s responses, were also a powerful rejoinder to Jackson’s later allegations. 

Why, it’s almost as if the sheriff’s office knew that Jackson would claim that the police were brutes, and in response the cops carried out a pre-arranged media-conscious scheme to blunt the impact of such accusations (Wink-wink, nudge nudge, say no more....).

This defensive recording, combined with the sheriff’s new web site dedicated to this case, gives the government a chance for more balanced media coverage. It’s by no means a guarantee, but it could help.

There is yet another potential benefit.

Knowing that the police use video and sound tapes for this purpose might help discourage celebrity defendants from using the media to publicize baseless red herring allegations before trial in an attempt to influence the jury pool (or, to use the technical term, “poison the well”).

Works for me.

January 1, 2004
Happy New Year

Best wishes to your and yours for 2004!

December 31, 2003
A different kind of lookism

The wisdom of the ages warns us to avoid assessing others based on their appearance. This basic truth is frequently expressed in such familiar phrases as “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

More recently, professional grievance merchants have seized on this common sense notion in order to push a somewhat different agenda, alleging that the sin of lookism is yet another form of oppression of the downtrodden.

Based on police reports, it now appears that two women from the Mid-Atlantic region forgot this little life lesson.

According to the police, Dover resident Peggy Knotts was separated from her husband, who was now living with his girlfriend.

The authorities say that while working at her job at a convenience store in Pennsylvania, Knotts’ friend Sandra Hood 

… approached a man about killing ... Knotts' 53-year-old husband and his 35-year-old girlfriend. Hood told the man that the killings had to happen in Pennsylvania and look like an accident, according to the court records.

The scheme fell apart almost immediately. The man Hood spoke to went to the police. The cops then ran a sequential sting operation on both women. They captured on tape an incriminating conversation between Hood and the man, and used that evidence to convince Hood to make a recorded conversation with Knotts:

"Peggy asked Sandra if they could trust him, and that he had to make it look like an accident so she could get double indemnity on her estranged husband's insurance policy," [Pennsylvania State Trooper James] Albert said in the court records. …

Hood told Knotts that she would have the hit man call her….

When Knotts received the call…, she was unaware that she was actually asking state police Cpl. William Arndt to handle the killings for $4,000, to be paid after the job was accomplished, police said in court records.

Their conversation was recorded. State police in Pennsylvania then obtained a warrant to arrest Knotts….

Here’s the best part of the whole story, and the point of this post:

Albert said the alleged hit man apparently was selected for his looks.

And as we should all know by now, looks can be deceiving.

December 30, 2003
Support civility

I don't always agree with Gary Farber, but I always respect his basic civility on display in nearly every post he files at Amygdala. For a very good example, check out this longish piece from December 29 on one aspect of the response to the recent Iran earthquake disaster.

He's continuing to have some ongoing troubles when not blogging, so any help you can give would be most appreciated.

December 30, 2003
Couldn’t quite clear that last hurdle

Here’s a hat tip to Howard Bashman for his speedy announcement of the D.C. Circuit opinion concerning Monica Lewinsky’s suggestion that the rest of us should continue to pay for her role in the Clinton affair.

Earlier this year the same court ruled against Vernon Jordan’s request for payment of his legal fees concerning the same debacle. In re Madison Guar. Sav. and Loan (Jordan Fee Application), 344 F.3d 1250 (D.C. Cir., Spec. Div., 2003) (per curiam). 

If Lewinsky read that opinion, she would have picked up a clue about her own chances to recover over a million dollars in legal fees and costs. 

Perhaps she did, and tried anyway. As I read the all too familiar facts* detailed in today’s opinion, however, it’s hard to imagine that her petition was anything more than a last-gasp attempt, supported more by hope than any realistic appraisal of her chances at reimbursement. 

A few other points came to mind in reading the panel’s decision. 

First, this entire screw-up is so September 10.

Second, I believed Clinton should have been removed from office, on the perjury charge at the least. I didn't like the potential political consequences that would have likely followed from that result, but I thought it needed to be done in any event.

The fact that Clinton wasn’t removed played a major role in determining how I voted in the 2000 election. It’s pretty obvious that a lot of other voters felt the same way. Considering what’s happened since those impeachment proceedings, perhaps I should be grateful that 22 Senators didn’t vote the way I thought they should.

Third, I was intrigued by the opinion’s historical comparison:

In short, the question is: would evidence of criminal wrongdoing by an incumbent President and accomplices of that President have escaped an investigation of similar scope in the absence of the Ethics in Government Act? History teaches us that the answer is no. The most recent parallel investigation of an incumbent sitting president before the enactment of the Ethics in Government Act arose from the Watergate scandal during the administration of President Richard Nixon. The thoroughness of that investigation is legend. We have no reason to believe that the Department of Justice, the Congress, and other civil authorities would have been any less diligent in the Clinton administration of the 1990’s than in the Nixon administration of the 1970’s.

The only thing missing from this passage was an ironic footnote reminding the readers of Hillary Clinton’s role in the Watergate impeachment inquiry.

Then again, Senator Clinton would probably be the very last person Lewinsky would have consulted on this issue.

*One part of the opinion is not factual, in that it inaccurately refers to an insufficient majority of Senators voting for Clinton’s removal. On one count it was an even 50-50, and on the other count it was 45-55.  I assume the Court will soon correct this error, which was not fundamentally critical to their decision.

December 29, 2003
Of Skillets and other Tools

The burgeoning blog discussion about cookware featuring Glenn Reynolds, Steven Green, and Justin Katz has an undeniable Tim the “Tool Man” Taylor feel to it. 

After all, reading men describe their kitchen implements is not all that far removed from watching a debate over the merits of DeWalt power tools compared to Black & Decker's offerings.

Even so, that won’t keep me from joining the conversation. 

There's also an odd coincidence.

Yesterday I bought a 12-inch sauté pan from the friendly neighborhood K-Mart. It’s a Martha Stewart brand, with

[a] copper encapsulated aluminum base [that] provides excellent heat distribution across the bottom ….

It cost $24.99.  

That’s about one-fifth the price of the high-end version of the All-Clad line Reynolds wrote about, and less than half the cost of the All-Clad’s Emeril brand he and Katz discuss.  I didn’t price any similar Calphalon pans, but judging from what Green says, his chosen implement for the expression of his cooking dreams is somewhere in the middle between the two All-Clad products. 

The price points for the entire Martha Stewart line seem to support what Katz says about using familiar names to change the marketing dynamic for these products. 

Mostly I was just looking for a larger pan than one I’ve been using for 25 years, a 10 ½-inch cast iron skillet that my wife and I both love. This new skillet has a nice heft to it, and the nearly vertical sides are another attractive feature. 

For preparing most of my Creole/Cajun recipes, I rely on an 8-quart cast-iron dutch oven that we’ve owned for over 20 years. 

Besides being nearly impossible to destroy, there are also some health benefits to using these low-cost cast-iron pans. Cooking slightly acidic foods such as tomatoes leeches some of the iron out of the dutch oven and skillet and therefore helps prevent anemia to some small extent.  

The one common element to all these pans is their relative weight. It’s next to impossible to cook food properly if the pan’s bottom is so thin that the heat transfers both too quickly and too unevenly.

Unfortunately, it's pretty easy to buy pans that aren't really up to the task.

While there’s obviously a wide range of prices, when it comes to cookware there’s just no substitute for quality.

December 28, 2003
Watching someone commit a crime

We witnessed a crime today. 

The experience renewed my appreciation for how hard it is to provide an accurate eyewitness description. 

My wife and I went to a leather goods store in a nearby outlet center, and were looking at a display of handbags.

We were about 15 feet from the exit, and I turned to face the door when I heard the security alarm sound.

An African-American woman in a tan outer jacket had almost reached the sidewalk outside when the clerk called out to her, “Ma’am! Ma’am!” 

She stopped and handed over a shopping bag to the clerk. He asked her to come back inside the store, and she did, all the while asking “What’s this about?” 

He explained that a security tag had set off the alarm, and pulled a large leather jacket out of her bag. She protested that she’d paid for it, but slowly fumbled around with her purse when he asked for the receipt. She also didn’t have an answer for the clerk when he pointed out that there was an empty coat hanger on the rack where the jacket hung until just a few minutes ago. 

The woman continued to ask what the problem was. The clerk then waved the coat in front of the detector towers near the door. As the signal went off again he called back to another clerk and asked him to call 911. 

The woman shook her head and left the store, abandoning the jacket and bag still in the hands of the clerk.  

He followed her out to the parking lot, and returned a few minutes later. 

The clerk still held the jacket, but there was no sign of the woman. 

I concluded that we had just witnessed a botched attempt at shoplifting, because otherwise there’s just no explanation for not trying to keep the jacket the woman had allegedly just purchased. 

On the other hand, I watched the entire event, and I know it wouldn’t be easy for me to provide a detailed description of the woman. 

She was 5 foot 4 to 5 foot 6 inches tall, with shoulder length hair that had been lightly straightened and pulled into a ponytail, and wearing a cap. She appeared to weigh about between 160-170 pounds, but with loose-fitting clothes and her overcoat that’s a bit of a guess. She was wearing pants. 

I’m sure I could pick her out of an in-person line-up, but I’m also sure I’d have trouble selecting her from a photographic array.

December 28, 2003
Our long-time friends the French

My wife gave me several books for Christmas, including Simon Winchester's The Meaning of Everything.

She is a wonderful woman.

It is a fascinating, witty history of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. It also includes examples of the incredibly detailed etymologies for which the OED is justly famous.

Given the diplomatic difficulties that Great Britain and the United States are now experiencing with the French, it was perhaps perfectly understandable that Winchester would select one particular example as an illustration of the proofing process:

Frenchified ..., ppl. a. ...
1. contemptuous. Having French manners or qualities; French-like.
1597. B. Jonson Ev. Man out of Hum. 1, i. This is one Monsieur Fastidious Brisk, otherwise called the fresh Frenchified courtier....

As this one word's history shows, it's not as if our current dispute with our long-time French friends is all that unique.

December 27, 2003
The money will spend, but it still makes a difference how you spend it

Two items in this week’s news about Delaware’s finances show that the state’s fundamentally conservative approach to budgeting doesn’t mean it won’t spend the cash it has.  

It just means that they know it still makes a difference how you spend it. 

Like most every other state government, Delaware’s been hit fairly hard by the recession. Since it depends heavily on corporate and personal income tax as a percentage of state revenue sources, any such downturn is usually painful. 

On the other hand, thirty years ago the State was in really bad shape, and took some serious steps to fix the funding problems in such a way as to prevent their recurrence, as long as both parties were sane about it.

The state constitution was changed to require supermajorities to increase fees or taxes. State laws also set limitations on increasing long-term debt, tied to revenue projections provided by a uniformly accepted estimating process, the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council (DEFAC). In addition, state spending was also capped at 98% of the predicted revenue, creating a rainy day fund that the State has yet to tap. 

Since the beginning of the state 04 fiscal year last July 1, the State’s revenues have improved, in keeping with the slow general recovery from the recession. The latest DEFAC numbers showed major improvement over prior projections, leading to several suggestions for what to do with the new money.

State employees did not receive a pay raise last July, and the governor is up for re-election in 2004. On the other hand, it’s too early to tell if the new money is temporary, and neither political party is interested in being charged with being too quick to expand the base operating budget when things are this touchy. 

This week Governor Minner proposed instead that the employees be given a one-time bonus check of $500 each. The money won’t be built into the basic pay structure, but it’ll certainly spend in the meantime. 

And, of course, thousands of state employees might just remember this bonus next November. 

That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if the Republicans who dominate the state House decide to up the ante a bit and propose a slightly bigger bonus, and soon.  

When new money comes in but the budget folks can’t conclude that it will recur in future years, Delaware’s usual practice is to put that new one-time money into the capital fund. Given the pressure for pay raises, this bonus proposal will alter that approach somewhat if it’s adopted. 

On the other hand, no one in position of authority is suggesting that all the new money go into state employees’ pockets, such as mine for example. A story in today’s statewide paper reports that the Budget Office is assuming that much of the new one-time money will be dedicated to funding state construction projects, especially to help meet the pent-up demands for new school buildings. 

That’s probably a safe assumption. After all, recognizing the difference between one-time revenue enhancements and a structural increase in long-term tax revenues carries with it two fundamental attractions—(a) it helps maintain the state’s AAA bond rating, and (b) the obvious signs of state support for education, expressed in bricks and mortar, don’t hurt any incumbent’s chances for re-election. 

Thankfully, neither party seems interested in messing with this fairly successful approach to deciding how to spend other people’s money.


Contact Information:

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


Home Page
Table of Essays
Table of Essays 2002
Links to the Weekly Archives

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