Top Christmas movies (and others)

December 21, 2010

It really is a wonderful life.

‘Tis the season to sit down and watch the tube. My 10 favorite Christmas movies are:

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). This classic is at the top of most people’s lists. It’s hard not to shed a tear when the town turns out to support George Bailey in one of the best endings in the history of Hollywood.

2. A Christmas Story (1983). It may be one of the most over-played movies during the holidays (TBS has a 24-hour marathon), but it’s just not Christmas without watching Ralphie in his quest for an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. It also contains one of the best lines in film history: “You’ll shoot your eye out kid.” The unveiling of the major award – the infamous leg lamp – is another classic movie scene.

Ralphie eyes a Red Rider.

3. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). Every time I watch this movie I catch another one-liner missed from the year before from Chevy Chase (Clark Griswold) and his cousin Randy Quaid (Eddie).

4. Miracle on 34th Street (1947). What a movie. Not only does it star a young Natalie Wood, it features the only performer playing St. Nick who won an Oscar; Edmund Gwenn won the Best Actor Award.

5. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). Who knew a bunch of animated characters could teach us about the real meaning of Christmas. Today, small, skimpy trees are known as Charlie Brown trees because of the tree in the school’s Christmas pageant directed by Chuck.

6. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). Boris Karloff, not Jim Carrey, is the real Grinch. The animated version is much better than the film.

7. A Christmas Carol. Take your pick because the film has been remade throughout the decades. The 1951 version starring Alastair Sim is among the best. George C. Scott of Patton fame is also a good Scrooge.

8. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). I was forced to watch this film within the past few years and really liked it. This may be the oddest of dozens of screen adaptations of Charles Dickens’ classic. With Michael Caine as Scrooge, most of the magical Muppets turn up in the film.

The season of miracles.

9. White Christmas (1954). Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye team up to save the failing Vermont inn of their former commanding general in another Christmas classic. The music is great, but the title song was a hit in another holiday movie, Holiday Inn.

10. Home Alone (1990). Although Macauley Culkin (Kevin) has a way of getting on your nerves, the first Home Alone film has become a holiday favorite.

Did you notice only one of the top 10 was made during the past 20 years?

OTHERS:

Frosty the Snowman (1969) and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) are among a series of stop-action animated Christmas films made in the 1960s and 1970s that are still shown today.

The Polar Express (2004) is a great story featuring the talents of Tom Hanks.

Holiday Inn (1942). I have a hard time keeping this one and White Christmas straight in my mind because the title of the other movie was a hit in this movie, the music of Irving Berlin was featured and Bing Crosby starred in both.

The Santa Clause (1994) is the first of three films starring Tim Allen as St. Nick. The other two are not worth mentioning.

Love Actually (2003). In the I haven’t seen it but others say it is good category.

Fred Claus (2007). This is definitely not a classic, but it has its moments. Vince Vaughn stars as Santa’s older brother who hates Christmas.

Elf (2003). People either love or hate this film. Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf is a little over the top for my taste.

Gremlins (1985). People forget this film takes place around Christmas. Although extremely violent, the movie scene where the Gremlins stop their rampage to watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is great.

ON THE NAUGHTY LIST

Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Tim Burton needs to stick to Halloween.

Bad Santa (2003). Although there are some funny scenes in this film, it seems wrong to have a criminal dressed as St. Nick.

Jingle All The Way (1996). Arnold Schwarzenegger works hard to obtain the perfect toy for his son; too bad the film doesn’t work.

Jack Frost (1998). Michael Keaton dies and comes back as a snowman.

Christmas with the Kranks (2004). This film, starring Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis and Dan Ackroyd, has its moments but overall is not memorable.

Some I found on internet lists include: Santa Claus The Movie (1985) and Surviving Christmas (2004), which went to DVD two months after its release.

Among all the lists I read, one film lands at the top as the worst of all time: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964). I guarantee I won’t be watching this one.

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Sam did his homework

December 17, 2010

Sussex County Councilman Sam Wilson had done his homework as he quizzed staff during a recent tour of the NRG Indian River power plant.

He asked plant officials to take a serious look at giving excess sulfur to area farmers instead of placing it in a landfill. Wilson said Sussex soil has a low pH and farmers have to purchase sulfur each year to add to the soil. He claims environmentalists have done too good a job removing sulfur from the air.

Plant manager Jack Grant said the idea might turn out to be a good one if it can get by scrutiny of federal and state regulators. In any case, they will look into it.

Wilson also knew that it costs twice as much to produce a kilowatt-hour of energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar compared to more traditional production from coal. He even knew the numbers: 14 cents versus 7 cents.

Look out when Kramer gets on line

December 16, 2010

Dan Kramer of Greenwood, the most consistent county council meeting attendee in history, has done something he said he would never do. He has purchased a computer and plans to start his own blog on county matters in 2011.

If he is able to get the blog off the ground, it should make for some very interesting reading. Kramer used to address council members on a regular basis on a variety of topics, but he has been silent throughout most of 2010 because council instituted a new public participation policy. Under the policy, those who wish to speak to council must sign in and are restricted to three minutes more or less. In addition, those who speak are not permitted to address specific council members.

Kramer has a few choice words for the policy and as a protest has remained quiet. That could all change with Kramer’s musings on the world wide web.

When is a conflict not a conflict?

December 2, 2010

Conflict of interest is a funny thing. It appears to be in the mind of the beholder more than anything else. What is one person’s definition of conflict of interest is another person’s definition of business as usual.

When it was revealed that Sussex County Councilman Sam Wilson, who was sworn in two years ago, has part ownership in a small manufactured home park, questions began to migrate in like the snow geese that are landing in local fields this time of year.

Wilson, who has been around the block a few times, took it all in stride and said he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He said his votes on manufactured home issues would not be different if he didn’t have a connection to the business.

This is not the first time the dreaded conflict of interest debate has surfaced in the hallowed halls of Sussex County Council. Several years ago, Councilman George Cole, a real estate agent, was criticized when he sold properties in a development he voted to approve.

At the time, Cole said the real conflict of interest was the actions of his fellow councilmen who owned businesses that could profit from building projects: Dale Dukes selling lumber; Finley Jones providing metal products; or Lynn Rogers selling signs. All three of those council members retired two years ago.

Recently, the council has used a conflict of interest to shut down the nomination of a board of adjustment nominee from Councilwoman Joan Deaver. Council members decided John Walsh’s volunteer involvement as a lobbyist with the Delaware Manufactured Home Owners Association presented too much of a conflict of interest for him to make unbiased decisions.

Wilson was among those opposed to Walsh.

Return Day 2010

November 5, 2010

Delaware State band

Grand Marshal Harriet Smith Windsor with son Jim.

Sussex County Council.

Sen. Tom Carper

Braving the rain.

Clerk of the Peace George Parish gets into the spirit of the event.

Christine O'Donnell

Christine O'Donnell and Senator-elect Chris Coons bury the hatchet.

Aubrey Spicer, honorary parade marshal.

County party leaders bury the hatchet.

Town Crier Layton Johnson reads the results.

Congressman Mike Castle and wife Jane with Beau Biden and Chris Coons.

Sussex County Councilman George Cole.

Local election reform way overdue

November 5, 2010

There is a real fine line when it comes to rules and ethics in local elections.

For example, should a candidate accept donations from businesses or organizations that will in all likelihood be involved in a matter requiring that candidate’s vote?

Many times what is accepted is left up to the integrity of the candidate as long as it falls within the limitations allowed by law.

Should a county council candidate accept donations from local Realtors/developers that will, and have had, projects before council?

Many would argue that accepting those donations sets up a candidate for public scrutiny for conflict of interest. Candidates always say they will not let a donation influence their decisions. Even so, the hint of impropriety is always out there.

Should county council members be allowed to work for other candidates at other levels of government?

It’s hard for an elected official to take off his or her council hat and be John Q. Citizen when supporting another candidate. The moniker of being a sitting council member is hard to shake off.

In the District 5 council race, Republican winner Vance Phillips received several donations; most are from Realtors/developers. Although some of the donations are open to scrutiny, he did the right thing with one donation. He returned a $600 donation from planning and zoning commissioner Marty Ross, whom he appointed to the commission.

Kudos to Phillips for taking that action.

The whole issue points to a major flaw in how campaign finances work. Because most candidates will not police themselves, in a perfect world there would be strict campaign regulations in place that disallow donations from anyone in the housing industry in county council races. It only makes sense because the bulk of county revenue and most decisions by council members involve development and land use.

Sussex seeing red; Delaware is blue

November 3, 2010

Republicans rode the wave in the Nov. 2 election in an unprecedented sweep in Sussex County, including the ouster of all three Democratic row offices. The three Democrat winners were Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf in the 14th District, unopposed Sen. George Bunting in the 20th District and John Atkins, a former Republican, in the 41st District.

Republicans took every other seat in Sussex – some without any contenders. Sen. Joe Booth, 19th District; Rep. Dan Short, 39th District; Rep. Gerald Hocker, 38th District; and Rep. Biff Lee, 40th District, walked into new terms without any opposition.

Other winning Republicans were Jack Peterman, unseating incumbent Bob Walls, in the 33rd District; incumbent Dave Wilson in the 35th District; Harvey Kenton in the 36th District, replacing retiring Rep. George Carey; and incumbent Ruth Briggs King in the 37th District.

Republicans Vance Phillips, District 5, and George Cole, District 4, retained their seats on Sussex County Council.

The real shocker occurred in the Sussex row offices with all three incumbents going down in defeat. It’s surprising because all three are well known in the county and have been doing good jobs. The fact they had a “D” beside their names was the kiss of death this time around.

Jeff Christopher, a deputy under former sheriff Robert Reed, will replace Sheriff Eric Swanson; Scott Dailey, owner of Capstone Homes, will replace Recorder of Deeds John Brady; and Cindy Green, a self-employed elder caregiver, will replace Register of Wills Greg Fuller.

Swanson did a lot of damage control in the Sheriff’s Office and got it back on track. Although Fuller proposed fee increases early on, he recanted and has become one of the most visible of all politicians in the county. Brady, who is everywhere, trimmed expenses and helped bring the office into the 21st century with upgraded technology.

To state the three winners ran low-key campaigns would be an understatement. I’m sure the three incumbents were among the most shocked people in Delaware on election night.

The Republican wave swept over Sussex County, into Kent County and was swallowed up by the C&D Canal in New Castle County. Thanks to New Castle voters, Democrats dominated the federal and state races, winning everything from the U.S. Senate and House to treasurer and attorney general. The only kink in the Dems’ armor is Tom Wagner. It appears the long-time Republican state auditor was able to sneak in a win by a 1-percent margin. Democrat Richard Korn says he will probably seek a recount.

Pumpkins in the air

November 3, 2010

This weekend marks the 25th year people have gathered in local farm fields to win bragging rights for throwing a pumpkin the greatest distance. World Championship Punkin Chunkin is like no other event.

From the first winning throw of 126 feet, the event has grown into something nobody expected – a happening of people who dedicate their lives to launching white and orange orbs.

Sophisticated air cannons, hurling pumpkins nearly a mile, have replaced those early contraptions, and the field of play is now a 1,000-acre farm. The world record, held by Young Glory III, a local team, stands at 4,483 feet.

Thanks to national television exposure from the Discovery/Science Channel, Punkin Chunkin is no longer just a local event: It’s now on the national stage. The network plans three hours of coverage this year with “The Road to Punkin Chunkin” airing Wednesday, Nov. 24, followed by a 2-hour special Thanksgiving Day.

Frank Shade, director of media relations and president for eight years, said it’s hard to point to one reason for the event’s success. “It’s a natural progression of throwing things,” he said. “There is a human fascination to see things that are not supposed to move.”

He said 95 percent of those who attend the event are hooked for life.

The event had an inauspicious start with three teams. In 1986, John Ellsworth, Trey Melson, Bill Thompson, Chuck and Darryl Burton and Donald (Doc) Pepper met on a field near Milton in the first official chunk.

This year’s event, which takes place off Route 404 near Bridgeville, is Friday-Sunday, Nov. 5-7. Competition in a variety of divisions – from human power to trebuchet to air cannon – takes place each day with a team’s best throw, shot or chunk recorded. Some wow the crowds with spectacular shots, while others never get a shot off and still others make “pie” as the pumpkin explodes. Other than chunking, a full slate of activities help to attract as many as 80,000 spectators.  Shade said, based on advanced ticket sales and camping requests, this could be the year the attendance tops the 100,000 mark. “Everyone who attends has one thing in common – they love to see pumpkins fly,” he said.

He also said everyone keeps an eye on the air cannons to see if one can finally eclipse the mythical-mile mark.

The Miss Punkin Chunkin Pageant and pumpkin-cooking contest take place Saturday and the chili cook-off starts at 11 a.m. Sunday. Fireworks to celebrate the 25th anniversary will fill the skies at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Music has also become an important part of the event. This year 12 bands are scheduled to perform, including many local favorites like the Funsters, as well as country music star J.C. Anderson.

After three full days, awards will be presented at 5 p.m. Sunday.

Last year, the Punkin Chunkin Association awarded $25,000 in scholarships to area high school students. In addition, several local nonprofit organizations make money by assisting the army of volunteers needed to put on the event.

Go to  www,punkinchunkin.com for more information.

It will be over soon

October 27, 2010

Soon, those terrible ads will stop. Soon, pundits will stop pointing fingers. Soon, we will be able to answer our phones without fear of taking part in a political survey. Soon, we can get our mail and not filter through the propaganda spouted out by politicians.

It will come to an end Wednesday, Nov. 3, after the mid-term election results are final, or at least most of them.

Political experts are predicting a Republican resurgence that could put the party back in control of the U.S. Senate and House. If that occurs, prepare for a wild ride during the final two years of the Obama administration.

On the local level, two Sussex County Council incumbents, Vance Phillips in District 5 and George Cole in District 4, are hoping they can ride the projected Republican tsunami into another four-year seat. Combined, the two have nearly 40 years of experience on council.

Partisan politics don’t influence as many decisions at the local level in Sussex County. Votes aren’t on party lines and land-use issues, which occupy most of county officials’ time, are not based on party politics. However, the political party of a candidate can matter in the voting booth.

Although the election can come down to a candidates’ party, since county council elections only occur in the candidate’s district, it usually comes down to how popular a candidate is.

Another alternative would be to allow council members to represent their district, but have the entire county vote in their respective elections since the decisions council makes are on a countywide basis.

No one other than someone in the Cole family has held the District 4 seat. George’s father, Charlie, was the first person elected to the position after the county changed from the levy court to the county council system in 1974. His mother, Kitty, finished out the last year of her late husband’s third term when he passed away in 1986.

On the Democrat side, Russ Melrath has a good organization and is working hard to get his name out to the public. He is also working hard to get his views on the issues out there.

Phillips, who has been active in Republican politics since he graduated from college, has run for national office and been a member of council since 1998, being elected president in 2009.

On the Democrat side, county retiree Denny Cordrey is running on the premise that as a former county employee, he knows how the system works.

There is a lot at stake in the council election. Should one of the two incumbents lose, there could be a swing to more anti-development stands by council. Currently, several votes on key projects, zoning changes and conditional use applications have been 3-2 votes. It appears both Melrath and Cordrey lean more to the camp that supports growth in areas with appropriate infrastructure in place.

Both Democrats have an uphill battle against incumbents who have been in office a long time and have a strong base to build on.

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It will be over soon

Soon, those terrible ads will stop. Soon, pundits will stop pointing fingers. Soon, we will be able to answer our phones without fear of taking part in a political survey. Soon, we can get our mail and not filter through the propaganda spouted out by politicians.

It will come to an end Wednesday, Nov. 3, after the mid-term election results are final, or at least most of them.

Political experts are predicting a Republican resurgence that could put the party back in control of the U.S. Senate and House. If that occurs, prepare for a wild ride during the final two years of the Obama administration.

On the local level, two Sussex County Council incumbents, Vance Phillips in District 5 and George Cole in District 4, are hoping they can ride the projected Republican tsunami into another four-year seat. Combined, the two have nearly 40 years of experience on council.

Partisan politics don’t influence as many decisions at the local level in Sussex County. Votes aren’t on party lines and land-use issues, which occupy most of county officials’ time, are not based on party politics. However, the political party of a candidate can matter in the voting booth.

Although the election can come down to a candidates’ party, since county council elections only occur in the candidate’s district, it usually comes down to how popular a candidate is.

Another alternative would be to allow council members to represent their district, but have the entire county vote in their respective elections since the decisions council makes are on a countywide basis.

No one other than someone in the Cole family has held the District 4 seat. George’s father, Charlie, was the first person elected to the position after the county changed from the levy court to the county council system in 1974. His mother, Kitty, finished out the last year of her late husband’s third term when he passed away in 1986.

On the Democrat side, Russ Melrath has a good organization and is working hard to get his name out to the public. He is also working hard to get his views on the issues out there.

Phillips, who has been active in Republican politics since he graduated from college, has run for national office and been a member of council since 1998, being elected president in 2009.

On the Democrat side, county retiree Denny Cordrey is running on the premise that as a former county employee, he knows how the system works.

There is a lot at stake in the council election. Should one of the two incumbents lose, there could be a swing to more anti-development stands by council. Currently, several votes on key projects, zoning changes and conditional use applications have been 3-2 votes. It appears both Melrath and Cordrey lean more to the camp that supports growth in areas with appropriate infrastructure in place.

Both Democrats have an uphill battle against incumbents who have been in office a long time and have a strong base to build on.

Across the pond

October 20, 2010

Eiffel Tower

London

At night



I’m going way off The Circle with this one with some reflections on a recent trip to Paris, London and Dublin.

Even in a global environment, those of us in the USA are insulated to some extent.

We think we are world-wise, but when we travel we find out those little secrets not discussed in travel books and on Travel Channel.

Take for example toilet (toilette or loo) facilities. It might come as a shock to some that men and women share some bathrooms – in their own stalls of course. It’s also a little unnerving when a woman enters the bathroom to clean up around you as you stand at the urinal. There are also still some squat toilets (that you have to pay for the joy of using) for women in the older cafes in Paris.

Then there are strikes. Although not commonplace in the total scope of things, they do happen, and sometimes without much notice. Currently, economic conditions in most European countries mirror, or are worse, what is going on in this country. High unemployment rates, rising taxes and attacks on sacred benefits (like retirement age) have some Europeans uptight. Unions, particularly those involved with transit, are responding with work stoppages and strikes, which can nearly gridlock cities such as London and Paris.

On a recent holiday across the pond, we ran into a pair of strikes in both of those cities, which forced us to change our plans. In Paris, we had a bus trip planned to fabulous Versailles, but when we arrived at the travel depot we were told workers might be on strike. We had three options: bag the trip; schedule another day; or take a chance and lose our money if the palace was closed.

We decided to reschedule and even on the second day, workers decided to strike for an hour, delaying the opening until 10 a.m.

THE GOOD NEWS

The good news is you can get just about anywhere without driving a car, which is not the case in the USA. I lived in Paris for a year 20 years ago and didn’t drive except for a brief time during a tour of Scotland.

However, getting around can be a little unnerving as you try to decipher the Paris Metro or London Tube, and although we rode buses in Dublin and London, we never felt confident we were on the right lines and had the right stops. Traveling during rush hours in the morning and afternoon can also be trying on your nerves.

BEST TIP

If you are planning a trip overseas to major cities, most offer museum and transit passes you can purchase in advance. The Paris museum pass was marvelous, as was the Metro pass. Not only did we save a lot of money in admission costs, in some museums they allow those with passes to get into quicker lines.

But, be aware, almost every museum now has security measures akin to those at airports.

WATCH OUT FOR

In Paris, it can cost as much as 50 Euros, about $70, to take a taxi from Charles de Gaulle Airport to center city. Several shuttles are available at about half the cost, but the one we chose forced us to wait about an hour outside the airport. After a 6-hour plane ride, that was not fun.

Underestimating the exchange rate. It’s not 1 pound, it’s $1.60; it’s not 1 Euro, it’s $1.40. A modest meal for two in Paris cost about $55 and about $65 in London.

The VAT (value added tax), which was added into every purchase, ranged from 13 percent to 21 percent.

Warnings are out everywhere for pickpockets and scam artists. Guess what? I was scammed by a young lady on the Pont Alexandre (bridge) in Paris near the Grand Palais. She said she found a gold ring on the ground and it did not fit her, so she gave it to me. “Take it, take it,” she said. She had her mark targeted in.

Five seconds later she was back asking for a small fee for giving me the “gold” ring. I gave her $1 Euro, which was not enough – she wanted 2 Euros. Of course I should have walked off, but caved in. I now have a $3 souvenir of Paris that is turning green.

BEST MEMORIES

Paris: Watching the Eiffel Tower light up with sparkles at night; people watching sitting outside any Paris café; eating crepes along the Seine; the majesty of Notre Dame; the opulent beauty of Versailles and its gardens.

London: The history that encompasses the city; Hampton Court’s mixture of architectural styles; getting a rare view inside Buckingham Palace (it’s only open two months each year); walking on Tower Bridge.

Ireland: The beauty of the green hills; the stone walls; the people who go out of their way to help you; the idea that around every corner is a piece of history dating back centuries.

Ireland

Louvre