Archive for May, 2010

What Memorial Day is really about

May 31, 2010

Somewhere in the middle of all the madness surrounding the Memorial Day holiday, small groups gathered to honor those veterans who died in defense of their country.

Veterans, especially those from the Greatest Generation, get a little heartburn when they see what Memorial Day has become – the start of the summer season. It’s gone so far that some groups actually refuse to have ceremonies on the traditional Monday holiday and hold their services on the real day, which is May 30.

The National Holiday Act of 1971 placed Memorial Day the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend. The VFW and other veterans’ organizations are working to get that law changed, but have had no success to date.

Memorial Day was established following the Civil War in an effort to mend some of the deep wounds of division. It’s now become a time to pause and honor all those who have given their lives for their country.

It was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

Gen. Logan

The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states, but southern states refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.

Several southern states have an additional day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas; April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.

Some haven’t forgotten the significance of the day. Since the late 1950s on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 Arlington National Cemetery gravestones. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.

In 1951, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, a practice that continues to this day.

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Take time to remember

May 31, 2010

Images to reflect on this Memorial Day.

Build it and they will come

May 25, 2010

I’ve had the pleasure recently of interviewing several people who have retired to Sussex County. It’s not hard to find someone who fits into that category because there are thousands of people who have moved here to retire.

In fact, if you believe statistics, Sussex retirees could outnumber working folk in a few years. Most are putting down roots in eastern Sussex and have enriched the lifestyle of Sussex County with some amazing resumes.

So why do they come here?

I can think of a few reasons not to come here.

Florida and Arizona are much warmer in the winter months. In fact, the winters here can be rather dismal.

Outside of eastern Sussex, cultural activities are few and far between.

Health facilities may be adequate now, but with further influx of retirees and an aging population, they may not be adequate in the near future.

You have to drive to get anywhere; public transportation is not designed for retirees.

But, I can also think of plenty of reasons to retire here:

There are plenty of good golf courses.

Those who like nature can watch birds and canoe and kayak to their heart’s content. The beach is never far away from anyone in the county.

Active seniors have many options, with biking and walking trails in eastern Sussex and an active running and fitness community.

You could eat out every night and never run out of restaurants.

The beach is one of the big drawing cards to Sussex County.

There are many organizations, such as Southern Delaware Academy of Lifelong Learning, geared toward expanding seniors’ minds. Social opportunities are also abundant.

There is an endless stream of volunteer opportunities available to seniors who want to get involved.

But, by far, the biggest reason people come here is to get out from under high taxes, especially sales and property taxes.

Many people who escape from New Jersey are accustomed to paying $1,000 to $2,000 per month in property taxes alone. The average resident in Sussex pays about $100 a year in property taxes, not including school taxes. Those living in manufactured homes pay about half that amount.

Then there is growth in Sussex County. It’s hard to get a reading on how retirees look at our growth. There’s no doubt some are outspoken about development on the eastern side of the county – even those from major urban areas.

It’s hard to compare growth in the Washington, D.C. metro area, for example, to growth in Sussex County. Some counties in that area have larger budgets, schools and police forces than the entire state of Delaware.

My feeling is that most retirees don’t see growth as a problem in the county. They may complain about getting out on Route 1, but it’s comparable to what they are used to.

The rush to get here may have been slowed a little because of the economy, but it will return. There might not be gold in them-thar hills, but there is certainly a way to save some gold in the sand and soybeans of Sussex County.

Joan of Sussex County

May 21, 2010

Sussex County Councilwoman Joan Deaver was a little upset with a recent blog when I called her a liberal. She said it’s hurtful to place labels on people, and this one didn’t fit her anyway. Now a Democrat, Deaver said she was a registered Republican before moving to the Cape Region from Annapolis.

I based my claim on her voting record, comments at meetings, her associates and actions. I think asking for the word “Easter” to be replaced on a council meeting schedule falls a little left of center, but that’s just me. In addition, she is not in the same ballpark with two other council members who disagree with almost everything she says – and they are conservatives.

You could argue that county council members don’t fit the true definition of a politician. Granted, politics is not as major a factor at this level of government, but it does sneak in from time to time. No matter how you slice it, elected officials are politicians.

Joan Deaver

Deaver is right that putting labels on people can be hurtful, yet it’s part of the landscape of American politics. It’s not meant to hurt but to let people know what side of the fence elected officials tend to spend most of their time.

Mrs. Deaver has stepped out of the role of Joan the Citizen to Joan the Politician. Elected officials are right-wingers, left-wing radicals, moderates, conservatives, ultra-conservatives, pro-development, anti-development, fiscal conservatives and the list goes on and on.

So why did she change her party affiliation? I think it’s a safe assumption that she was told by her constituents she would have a better chance of winning an election in her district with a big “D” before her name. Those around her, many who are transplants from the Baltimore and Washington areas, side with the liberal agenda on many issues. There is nothing wrong with that, but it’s the way it is.

Mrs. Deaver changed her affiliation to take on a different label, and once again, there is nothing wrong with that. Politicians do it all the time.

My own label would be conservative, which most people would find odd since I work in a profession with a liberal label. No matter how hard we try, it’s impossible to escape the labels all around us. Sorry about that Joan. Is moderate better?

Beautiful day in Sussex County

May 21, 2010

Nassau Valley Vineyards near Lewes.

Time to cut some of those meetings

May 20, 2010

It’s time for Sussex County Council to stop meeting.

Councilman George Cole once said any day the council doesn’t meet is a good day for Sussex County. It’s time for his words to become reality.

Council meets every Tuesday with occasional time off for holidays and vacation periods. In all, there are about 42-44 meetings each year. Do they really need that many meetings?

Over the past few months, a few meetings were almost a waste of time. The May 11 meeting was over in 20 minutes.

No one would complain if council removed one meeting a month from its schedule. With the emphasis on cutting expenses, here is a way to trim some fat.

What we don’t know about oil

May 18, 2010

The recent oil rig explosion is catastrophic news that could have far-reaching effects beyond just the Gulf Coast area.

And every pundit worth his or her salt is discussing the pros and cons of offshore oil extraction, but there is a lot we don’t know about the industry.

There are more than 3,800 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, most based off the coast of Louisiana, producing 1.5 million barrels per day, which is one-quarter of domestic output and about 2 percent of global production.

The assumption that offshore oil rig workers are paid handsomely is in the eye of the beholder. Without specialized skills, workers average between $40,000 and $60,000 per year. Most crews work two weeks on the rig and two weeks off. It’s considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

First offshore rig

The world’s first offshore oil platform in the Caspian Sea is still producing oil after 60 years. The platform is now a small town with a population of 5,000 built on dirt and landfill.

First major spill

The industry got its first black eye on Jan. 29, 1969, when a Union Oil Co. rig 6 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif., had a blowout spilling out more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil. The disaster helped spur the environmental movement and severely hampered future oil exploration off the West Coast.

Worst disasters

One of the worst disasters occurred in the North Sea July 6, 1988, when Occidental Petroleum’s natural gas rig Piper Alpha exploded, killing 167 workers. It took three weeks to extinguish the fire and the loss was estimated at $3.4 billion.

The two worst oil spill disasters were on opposite sides of the world and not caused by offshore rig explosions or spills.

In 1991, when Iraqi troops retreated from Kuwait, they opened valves and pipelines allowing 8 million gallons of oil to spill into the Persian Gulf.

On May 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling out 10.8 million gallons of crude oil. The spill covered 1,300 square miles and resulted in an economic loss in the billions and an environmental loss that is still being felt two decades later. Exxon ended up paying more than $2 billion for the clean up and another $5 billion in punitive damages to victims of the spill. The total amount was reported to be Exxon’s annual profits at that time.

Because of the spill, Congress passed legislative requiring all tankers to be double hulled by 2015. In addition, limits were placed on drilling in environmentally sensitive areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

How much is spilled?

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 1.3 million gallons of petroleum is spilled each year in U.S. waters. Between 1971 and 2000, there were 250,000 oil spills recorded by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Offshore drilling accounts for 30 percent of U.S. oil production and 11 percent of natural gas production. Only 2 percent of all spills between 1971 and 2000 were attributed to spills or leaks from offshore oil rigs. Almost half of all spills come from oil tankers.

Oil and gas seepage also occurs naturally. The most famous spot in the country is Coal Oil Point off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif., where 100 to 150 barrels of liquid petroleum and tons of gases are released every day. Although evaporation and weathering helps to dissipate some of the petroleum, tar balls wash up on beaches in the area.

Boost to economy

The oil and natural industry employs more than 9 million people, contributes $90 billion in taxes and $1 trillion to the U.S. economy. Sixty-percent of the nation’s oil is imported – most from Canada followed by Saudi Arabia and Mexico. Nearly 85 percent of all energy consumed in the U.S. comes from oil, coal and natural gas.

Ride of Silence speaks volumes

May 14, 2010

If you ride a bike you should consider taking part in the sixth annual Ride of Silence. The local event, with help from Sussex Cyclists, takes place Wednesday, May 19, at 7 p.m. Cyclists should meet at Tile Market off Dartmouth Drive behind the Lewes Wawa on Route 1. We ride for about an hour on an escorted ride to the canal bridge in Rehoboth beach and back.

There is no talking, and the speed is kept at 12 mph or below.

Chris Phalen organized the first ride in Dallas in 2003 after a passing bus mirror on an empty road killed his friend, endurance cyclist Larry Schwartz. It was designed to be a one-time event, but has grown to become an international one.

Last year there were more than 300 rides covering all 50 states and 18 countries ­ – even one in Antarctica.

By taking part in the ride, cyclists are hoping to raise awareness that cyclists share the road, to honor those who have been injured and memorialize those who have perished on roads around the world.

The website, rideofsilence.org, contains a sobering section with names of those who have been killed by motorists. The list contains thousands of names from places across the globe. As a rider, it makes me stop and think.

Road riding in the Cape Region is a challenge because of never-ending traffic. Once you get out into the countryside west of Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, it’s another world, but getting there can be an adventure. It’s never fun crossing Route 1.

One of the things I miss from the western side of the county is the lack of traffic. From my former house in Seaford I could be on back roads within a minute and never see a car for an hour.

On the eastern side you have to keep your wits about you at all times and stay as far to the right as possible.

“Tonight we number many but ride as one

In honor of those not with us, friends, mothers, fathers, sisters and sons

With helmets on tight and heads down low,

We ride in silence, cautious and slow.”

– From the Ride of Silence prayer

I’m a living room race fan

May 13, 2010

It’s been almost 8 years since I attended a NASCAR race.

I miss the drama and excitement of the race, but I don’t miss the hassle involved with actually being there.

As a member of the media I have attended dozens of races at Dover Downs International Speedway, a few at Bristol Motor Speedway and even one at Richmond International Raceway.

David Pearson's #21 when he drove for the Wood Brothers.

Racing has exploded to the point it’s called Race Weekend now with hundreds of thousands of fans pouring into the Dover area. The Monster Mile weekend takes place May 14-16. People in the area have learned through experience to let the fans have Dover this weekend.

Dover Downs hosted its first race July 6, 1969 – a race won by King Richard Petty. He would go on to win seven Dover races in his amazing career.

Two years later, the current two-a-year schedule was put into place.

I started attending races in 1973 and didn’t miss many for the next 27 years.

In the 1970s not much attention was paid to NASCAR in Dover; getting 30,000 fans was considered a really big deal. Now the stands hold 135,000 fans.

In those days, I could stand in the pits with the pit crews, get great interviews and photographs, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Bill Elliott and David Pearson.

I had a collection of hundreds of NASCAR photographs, which are now cherished by a race-crazy relative.

King Richard Petty is still in the pits.

The last few races I attended turned into a media circus. While security guards kept me up from getting close and personal in the pits, TV and radio crews nearly ran me over. Of course, they had the run of the place.

The pits are filled to overflowing with people who have nothing to do with the media, but who do have friends in high places.

Newspaper photographers and reporters seem to be low on the feeding chain, so I stopped going. I guess younger reporters and photographers have nothing to compare it to, so jostling for position and enduring the constant hassle doesn’t bother them.

But I remember the good old days when any media coverage was considered a blessing.

Although it’s great to see a race in person, watching one on television is what I prefer today.

What was Sussex County’s first name?

May 12, 2010

Here is a hint to one of the answers.

The history of Sussex County is fascinating if you bother to do a little research. Here are a few trivia questions to see just how much you know.

1. Sussex County had a different name from 1680 until 1682. What was it?

2. Georgetown has not always been the county seat. Which town was the first county seat?

3. We see the word “kill” used in names around southern Delaware: Murderkill and Broadkill are two examples. What does the word “kill” mean in these references?

Check a future blog for the answers.