Archive for December, 2009

Good old days of rotary phones and party lines

December 30, 2009

It’s amazing what we take for granted that was unheard of just a few years ago.

The younger generation has no idea what rotary phones or party lines are. They are as foreign to them as 8-track tapes and black-and-white TV.

Most young people do not write letters. Instead they text, email or make a phone call on their cell phone.

Letter writing is a dying art. It started to go downhill during my generation and is almost unheard of.

I ran across an old letter the other day that had no zip code and no numeric street address. It was sent with 2-cents worth of postage. Imagine getting anything through the mail today without a specific street address or zip code.

Time marches on. What is new today will more than likely be replaced within a few years.

Take the music business for example. It’s gone from long-playing records to downloadable tunes over a period of 100 years, with most innovations occurring over the past 50 years.  I grew up listening to long-playing (LP) and 45-rpm records, and when 8-track tapes came out in my teen years, I thought nothing could be better. Not long after, cassette tapes made the bulky 8-track tapes obsolete.
Actually, the compact audiocassette, invented in 1962, was around before the 8-track tape, which was introduced for cars in 1964 and home players in 1968. Eventually the cassette overtook 8-track tapes in popularity and by 1988, no record clubs offered 8-track tapes.

Cassette tapes were around for many years before the next innovation, CDs (compact discs), came along. Nothing had revolutionized music as much, at least that’s what I thought.
CDs were actually invented way back in 1982 in Japan and not introduced in the U.S. until the following year. By 1985, LP sales had dropped 25 percent and in one more year, CD sales surpassed LP sales.

It’s becoming harder and harder to find a record player or record store.

The digital versatile disc (DVD) was introduced in 1996 and by 1999, its sound rivaled that of CDs. Another major innovation, the Motion Picture Expert Group Audio Layer III, or MP3 player, appeared on shelves in 1999.

In 2001, music DVDs were in record stores. That same year Apple Computer began selling its upgraded MP3 player, the iPod, which would change the music business once again.

When Apple introduced iTunes, the downloadable music market exploded. On Feb. 22, 2006, Apple sold its one-billionth song.

Most people born since 1985 have never played a record, an 8-track tape or even a cassette tape. CDs are still around, but most people in the younger generation prefer MP3 players with iPod at the top of the list.

A lot has happened in the world of music over the past 50 years, which is pale in comparison to what has happened in the world of television over the same time period.

Many things that we think are irreplaceable and indispensable will become obsolete before we actually figure out how to use them.

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It was important to get that tree

December 23, 2009

Some of our most cherished memories involve Christmas. Most of those memories involve family members.

Ironically, one of the most memorable holidays in my life was in the late 1980s when I was far away across an ocean from any family members.

Working overseas at The International Herald Tribune in Paris, France, it was the first, and only, Christmas without family around. I moved my small family to Paris in the spring to work at the newspaper after winning a fellowship.

We didn’t have any decorations, very little money for gifts, and at the time, no real friends to share the holiday with.

But that didn’t deter my daughter, Beth, from making her own decorations for a Christmas tree from scraps of paper and little toys she collected in candy called Kinders. Prospects for a tree did not look good. We had no car to haul one and the idea of toting one on the Paris Metro scared me.

But, I did find a tree nearby at a flower shop. The cost was alarming, about $60, and it would require that I haul the tree with its dirtball wrapped in burlap about two city blocks.

You know that fathers will do anything for their daughters, so I hauled the heavy tree the two blocks to our apartment only to discover that it would not fit in the tiny elevator. There was no way I could haul that tree up six flights of stairs.
Using all my planning skills, I devised a way to place the tree in the elevator and stand above it with my legs anchored to the side of the elevator like Spiderman. It worked, and I was able to get the tree, and myself, to our apartment.

My daughter was excited to have the little tree and her decorations looked beautiful on it. Void of lights it was still one of the most beautiful Christmas trees I have ever seen.

We received some “care” packages from home as our Christmas gifts and were happy to get them. We also took in the sights and lights of Paris, a beautiful city around Christmas.

The day after Christmas we left for Germany to spend the holiday with a former fellow-worker who was stationed there with her husband. Getting to go to an American PX, having a real American breakfast and even crossing Checkpoint Charlie into East Germany, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, combined to make that Christmas season one to remember forever.

Above everything else, we gained a better understanding of how important family is.

What Christmas is all about

December 22, 2009

Because of my limited capacity to retain anything beyond a few days, let alone several years, the following story may have a few details out of place, but the general idea of the story is still there.

In my younger days, I was editor of a weekly newspaper in another part of Sussex County. Around the middle of December, editors are always searching for stories to warm people’s hearts and capture the essence of Christmas spirit.

I found one at a local elementary school that was collecting coats and clothes for people in need. It was nice that little kids were collecting things for other kids at this special time of year.

Because I knew that a particular reporter in the office was considered a Grinch, I sent him on the assignment to get a story about the clothing drive.

What he came back with has stuck with me for these past 30 years as one of the most touching moments in my life.

When he came back, he couldn’t talk about what happened without getting tears in his eyes. He said he found an envelope inside of one of the coats that contained a few dollar bills and some change.

On the envelope was a note written by one of the children at the school explaining that this was her life’s savings but she was sure someone needed it more than she did.

That story attracted so much attention not only because of what that child did, but the way the reporter, George D. Graves, wrote the story. It was written from the heart by a man who, from the outside, appeared to be the antithesis of Christmas spirit.

But there is more to this heartwarming story. When he told me the little girl’s name I broke down as well. Not only was it someone I knew; it was my niece, Carreen. She is married now and has two teen-age sons.

Small miracles happen all around us

December 21, 2009

I do believe in Christmas miracles. After shopping for a child in need of gifts, I forgot to take one of the key gifts, a skateboard, from the bottom of the shopping cart at the Rehoboth Beach Walmart.

I realized finding the skateboard was a lost cause, but I had to return to the store if for no other reason than to purchase another one. I guess most of us don’t have faith in humanity anymore. There was no doubt in my mind that someone saw the skateboard in the shopping cart and took it.

As I inquired about the skateboard at the customer service desk, all I got was blank stares. But guess what? Someone found the skateboard and placed it back on the shelf. I showed the customer service clerk my receipt and it matched up with the stock keeping unit (SKU) number, so I was set.

There is someone out there keeping an eye out for us.

Night or day: When does county council meet?

December 18, 2009

Life on The Circle will return to normal starting Tuesday, Jan. 5. That’s when Sussex County Council goes back to its morning meeting schedule.

From that date on, all meetings will move from 3 p.m. to 10 a.m. with most public hearings following in the afternoon.

That was the schedule for at least the past 30 years, before Councilman George Cole started to raise a ruckus about morning meetings. He wasn’t too happy about the afternoon-night meetings either. Some public hearings didn’t start until 6 p.m.

Some new members of council supported Cole and meetings were changed to the afternoon.

It wasn’t long after the change that council started grumbling again about making another change. That followed a detailed report compiled by Deputy Administrator Hal Godwin revealing that issues drove public attendance more than the time of day or night the meeting took place. The 3 p.m. schedule, with some 6 p.m. public hearings, lasted nine months.

“If it’s important, they’ll come no matter what time we have the meeting,” said Councilman Sam Wilson.

Councilman Mike Vincent said he received a lot of complaints from his constituents in the Seaford-Laurel area that they were shut of public hearings because they work at night.

Plus, as council members are quick to point out, all council meetings are broadcast via the internet.

So breaking with tradition – almost every other governmental body in nonresort areas meets at night – council is going back to day meetings.

One good thing is that county staff will not be getting paid overtime to attend meetings.

But, with apologies to Mike Vincent, it’s a known fact that most people who work do so when the sun is shining. Under the former schedule, members of the public had a fighting chance to attend a meeting here and there and attend public hearings at night. Now that chance has been taken away.

Away in a place where animals live

December 17, 2009

Manger scene on The Circle in Georgetown.

Does the above photograph offend you? Does it bother you that this manger scene is on The Circle in Georgetown – on a piece of publicly owned property?

The vast majority would not give the placement of the crèche on The Circle a moment’s thought. But, more and more people would answer those questions in the affirmative.

In our politically correct world, mixing religion and government is becoming more taboo. The debate over separation of church and state is nowhere near settled and will continue for generations to come.

Most schools no longer have Christmas events. They are now called winter or holiday events.

Christmas parties with treats and presents around a Christmas tree in teachers’ rooms are frowned upon.

Many businesses are afraid to use the word Christmas in their advertising. However, I noticed that Walmart staff is saying Merry Christmas to customers, at least in the Rehoboth Beach store.

Lowe’s went as far as to remove the word Christmas from its trees, only to put it back on because of public outcry.

These changes in Christmas traditions are perpetuated by those who want everything we do and say to be politically correct and divorced of religious overtones.

People of other faiths and beliefs can still celebrate Christmas as a time for families to gather; not as the birth of the Christ child, and I’m sure many do.

Christmas can be what you want it to be.

Some Christmas wishes come true

December 17, 2009

I’m betting that Sussex County Councilwoman Joan Deaver is the first to publish an official Christmas wish list.

Remember, this is the same councilwoman who tried to get the council to remove the phrase Easter vacation from its annual calendar because it alienated her Jewish constituents. She has since apologized for the action.

Casting that irony aside, it’s impressive that she bothered to send Santa Claus a list for the benefit of those who live in Sussex County. She has included some wishes from her constituents as well.

Deaver has some great “wants” on her list. Included are the following that I would put at the top my list as well: a county board of ethics, with rules outlining when a council member should recuse himself or herself for  conflict of interest; and providing more detail for agenda items to alert people about pending applications – at least offering an address and a better description of a project.

I would include the board of adjustment and planning and zoning under code of ethics review as well.

You can see a complete list of Deaver’s wishes on her website at www.councilwomandeaver.com. You really need to check out her list.

Here is my Christmas wish list:

Councilman Sam Wilson would sit closer to his microphone so he could be heard.

Council watcher Dan Kramer would break his silence and speak at council meetings. He will speak during public hearings but not during council meetings since council adopted a new public participation policy.

Council and planning and zoning would institute a policy that all speakers sign in with their address and make that list available to the press.

Councilman Mike Vincent would stop tabling issues. Prior to his election, the table process was rarely used. He has used it at least twice in the past few months.

Do you doubt that any of these wishes will come true? They do. One of my wishes came to fruition last year. Thanks to Council President Vance Phillips and Chip Guy, director of public information, the council now provides a packet of pertinent information to the press for each meeting. The packet has become an invaluable tool to help disseminate information to the public.

Opening the book to the public

December 16, 2009

As an observer of Sussex County government, it’s easy to be critical. Everyone loves armchair quarterbacks. With that in mind, someone needs to take a look at the county’s public hearing process.

There is an official public record, which is actually a file kept in the planning and zoning office. It’s a bit of mystery how information is placed in that file and when it’s placed.

It’s not unusual for applicants to present information, including changed plans and massive project booklets, on the night of a public hearing.

Throughout presentations, applicants and council members refer to the “book” by saying turn to tab 4, page 3. Of course, the public and press have no idea what they are referring to.

This book, sometimes as thick as a phone book, contains everything pertinent to the application. There is usually a copy of the book available in the official public record, but it may not be in the same form as presented to county council.

Planning and zoning commissioners require this book be presented at least 10 days prior to the public hearing date. It used to be 72 hours.

Although it would be of considerable cost, it should be required that the applicant have copies of the booklet, or at least modified editions, available to the public during hearings.

Get three votes and do what you want

December 14, 2009

Living by the motto get three votes and do whatever you want, Sussex County Council goes about the business of running county government.

It’s hard to pin down the council. Although members claim council is the bastion of the land-use process, that is not the total truth. Yes, council has the final say, but DelDOT makes all traffic decisions, and the Sussex County Conservation District makes all drainage and water decisions, two key components of the land-use process. Most complaints during public hearings hone in on water and traffic issues.

People are frustrated when they try to ask questions about traffic or drainage, and the buck gets passed. All of those decisions are done outside of public purview and with limited county input and virtually no citizen input.

It’s a strange system when you step back and really study it. The role of the state in the process only complicates the system.

Councilman George Cole calls council meetings the best show in town. He’s right.