Archive for May, 2006

Manassas Elks holds Christmas in July golf tournament

Manassas Elks Lodge #2512 P. E. R. Association will hold its Christmas in July golf tournament on Monday, July 17, at Virginia Oaks Golf Club in Gainesville. Proceeds will benefit area children at Christmas and players who want to participate can sign up now.

Registration begins at 7 a.m. and the shotgun start is at 8:30. All teams will consist of four players. The cost is $75 per person and includes greens fees, cart, prizes, beverages on the course and food at Virginia Oaks after the tournament. Play is limited to the first 144 players who pay. All payments must be received by Monday, July 10. Participants can sign up by sending a check to Manassas Lodge #2512, 10501 Balls Ford Road, Manassas VA 20109. Players should include their name, complete address, and the names of the other three players in their foursome.

Those who wish to sponsor holes can also send a check. The cost is $150 for silver hole sponsors (includes one player), $350 for gold hole sponsors (includes two players) and $550 for platinum hole sponsors (includes four players). Sponsorship signs will be placed near one of the tees during the tournament.

Home by Christmas? Make that 2010 at least

The first British soldiers who deployed to Iraq immediately after the 2003 invasion – on what was called Operation Telic 2 – thought that they were going to be the last troops to be sent.

But they shared the disappointment experienced by many generations of soldiers – that they were not going to be home by Christmas – as the insurgency grew in ferocity out of the post-war power vacuum.

British troops will now spend their fourth Christmas in Iraq and, according to the Prime Minister, another four after that – almost double the amount of time their fore fathers stayed in the trenches of the Western Front.

The soldiers of Telic 8, who have recently started their six- month operational tour, know that there is a good chance they will be back when Telic reaches its teens, if not earlier.

The question remains are they happy to return? The Army thrives as one of the best in the world simply because it is on almost continuous operations.

Iraq and Afghanistan have made it a substantially more effective fighting force than it has been for decades.

Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Northern Ireland in its final years were all – with some terrifying exceptions – humdrum affairs by comparison, lacked this enemy’s suicidal intent.

While Iraq has claimed 111 British lives, the majority of soldiers still want to go on live operations. But, although constant operations might help the Army’s effectiveness, there must be some concern at the loss of experienced NCOs whose families can no longer take the burden of husbands being away.

There is also another worry that the Ministry of Defence would rather was not discussed.

It still refuses to provide precise figures of the number of troops wounded in Iraq and there are rumours that this could number several thousand – in addition to those who are also suffering from the psychological trauma of the war.

There is also paranoia that if no operations are found for the 100,000-strong Army the Treasury will find an excuse for another round of regiment slashing.

“There is the fear that if we reduce our commitments now the Army will be reduced again,” said a senior planner.

The news of another four years will come as no surprise to military chiefs, who have been quietly planning to be in Iraq until 2010. While Tony Blair has trumpeted troop withdrawals over the past year, defence chiefs have known that a sizeable force will have to remain to support the Iraqi army in its infancy.

Without that backing, the British-trained 8,000-strong Iraqi 10th Division would probably unravel, undoing all the investment of lives and dangerous work of the past three years.

While the 10th Division is capable of carrying out counter-insurgency operations, occasionally under its own steam, the command and control discipline is not yet there.

The Iraqi army’s generals appear competent, and with more equipment and training, it might be a legacy the Army can be proud of, but similarly it might also become a tool in any future political and sectarian struggle.

There is also a worry that the violence against coalition troops could intensify with various insurgent groups jockeying for power if they knew the final date of the coalition departure.

Although American planners in Baghdad are said to be detailing a structured timetable of withdrawal – possibly at moments that could prove helpful to the White House – the British presence will gradually draw down in battle-group size chunks of 800 men every Telic.

By 2010 the force in Iraq – about 3,500 – will equal that of Britain’s deployment in Afghanistan, giving the military two fronts on which to sharpen its professional skills for the next conflict.

Holiday shopping season approaches

Christmas music on the radio and holiday merchandise in stores shortly after Halloween caught University of Nebraska-Lincoln senior Jill Ebke off guard.

“It seems like they put stuff out earlier and earlier every year,” she said. “Retailers don’t even wait for Thanksgiving.”

Ebke said she begins her holiday shopping a few weeks before Christmas, despite retailers’ attempts to get her to buy earlier.

In an attempt to increase fourth quarter profits, retailers continue to move up the holiday shopping season every year.

Kelly Maack, marketing director for Westfield Gateway located on 61st and O streets, said their department started holiday marketing slightly earlier this year. Normally their Christmas marketing begins mid November, but this year it commenced Nov. 4, she said.

Maack also said the process was sped up to coincide with the grand opening of Westfield Gateway’s new food court and carousel attractions. She said she expects the holiday marketing to return to mid November next year but can’t yet say for sure.

The mall’s addition features food venues such as Dairy Queen/Orange Julius, Subway and Panda Express, as well as a family lounge and the carousel located in the mall’s Center Court. Maack said the court also boasts a new, contemporary look with a sky light and newly re-surfaced tile flooring.

Maack said the mall’s new attractions are geared toward both children and adults. She said they hope to attract consumers who want a family environment this holiday shopping season, which begins the day after Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving marks the last leg of the race to Christmas, said Ron Hampton, UNL professor and chair of the marketing department, who also has over 30 years of retail experience.

“Many factors go into the demand of that day,” Hampton said.

People don’t have to work the Friday after Thanksgiving. This allows families to travel long distances to celebrate the day, he said.

“The generations of women in a family go out and shop together,” he said, while the men of the family go hunting or watch football on TV. “It began as an exercise of enjoyment of spending time with each other.”

It’s also a way for family members to give each other gift ideas, he said.

Southpointe Pavilions are also preparing for the day after Thanksgiving, said Julie Lattimer, pavilions marketing director. She said they expect heavy traffic, but that Thanksgiving Friday ranks second or third in terms of sales.

“Purchasing doesn’t actually happen until later in December,” Lattimer said.

The pavilions began decorating last week and advertising on the radio. Lattimer added that they’ll release adds geared toward men 10 days before Christmas.

“There’s data that shows men shop later,” she said.

Jane Stricker, co-owner of Birkenstock Footloose and Fancy at 1219 P St., said the store’s biggest consumer days come later, too.

“It’s a good day for the store, but not our best,” she said. “A lot of places offer huge sales and we don’t.”

While employees begin decorating for Christmas in early November, they don’t see a holiday rush until the week before Christmas, she said.

“We’re a destination shop,” she said. “Shoppers go to the malls and get everything they need before coming to us.”

Larger retailers offer big discount sales to attract shoppers early in the season. Using promotions and early-morning sales, retailers like Lincoln’s Best Buy, located at 400 N. 48th St., attract shoppers the day after Thanksgiving.

“It’s our biggest day of the year, every year,” said General Manager Reid Charpentier.

He’s expecting more than 1,000 shoppers to line up outside the door at 5 a.m. when the store opens. He added that sales remain high until the day after Christmas.

Hampton stressed that when to bring out holiday merchandise is often a guessing game for retailers.

“There are two kinds of shoppers: procrastinators and first-minute,” Hampton said.

Many shoppers wait till the last minute. A few even begin their Christmas shopping Dec. 26. However, most retailers begin decorating in the fall Hampton said.

“Once Halloween decorations come down, retailers go straight to Christmas,” he said.

He added retailers begin planning for Christmas long before that. Retailers start overstocking their toy sections in August.

“You start to see gifting items right after ‘Back to School,'” he said.

Hampton’s “Do’s” for holiday shopping:

* Make a list before you go and stick to it. This will save you time and money from unnecessary purchases.

* Get it early to avoid the holiday crowds. You will also have a better chance of snagging that popular item before stores sell out of it. He added that most stores will allow you to return the item if it goes on sale after you buy it for the lower price.

* Keep and organize your sales receipts. You’ll have better luck getting your money back, rather than store credit if something must be returned.

* Get up early. Many department stores offer bargains that run out early.

* Sometimes it pays to wait. If there isn’t a high demand for a product, you can buy it later.

* A gift is better than a gift certificate. Gifts certificates come from procrastinators, he said.

* Use catalogs for the hard to buy. You can find them unique, one-of-a-kind gifts.

FURIOUS councillors have set up a special committee to ensure the High Wycombe Christmas lights fiasco does not happen again.

Our sister paper Midweek reported in November how things went wrong when former EastEnders actor Todd Carty, who played Mark Fowler in the BBC soap, failed to turn up to switch on the lights, blaming filming commitments.

And after the ceremony, angry residents flooded the BFP newsdesk complaining that Santa had turned up in a BMW, and that there was no Christmas music or festive atmosphere.

Council chairman Doug Anson did the honours, but even he said the event had been a fiasco.

And councillors are particularly angry that residents are blaming the district council, when the ceremony was actually run by the Town Centre Partnership.

Speaking at a meeting of the High Wycombe Committee, David Fieldhouse said the event had been appalling and the council should get someone else for the job.

Darren Hayday, Wycombe District Council’s representative on the partnership, said: “It reflects badly on us because people think we run it.”

Despite this, Shelley Ford, town centre manager, said it had been a great success.

No High Wycombe councillors could find a good word for it and Roger Colomb said the partnership should be told to make sure next year’s event met with the council’s high standards.

Clare Martens said the council should have nothing to do with the Christmas lights, or should pay to get someone else in to help.

The partnership should be pushing the town and anything to do with it.

After all it was an opportunity for traders to make some money, she added.

Peter Cartwright said Christmas was a good opportunity to show what High Wycombe had to offer, yet on this occasion the shops closed on what should have been the first night of late night shopping.

He added that the council had given the partnership a generous amount of money for promotional activities.

You can have no doubt the ‘war on Christmas’ of 2005 will be dusted off and return in 2006

Remember back in December when I asked “… would someone please forward me a list of all the lawsuits the ACLU has filed this year regarding usage of the word ‘Christmas’? There must be a million of them.” No one sent a list, or even one example.

Remember that story from South Carolina I wrote about the rumor that the local Wal-Mart greeter had been fired for wishing folks a “Merry Christmas” that got so persistent that folks were threatening to return gifts?

It was all false, a scenario that likely played out all across the country.

Remember the hubbub about the school program in Dodgeville, Wis., in which the words to “Silent Night” would be changed to “Cold in the Night,” and the words of the religious songs changed to secular?

Remember how that was “Exhibit A” in the “war on Christmas,” according to the war’s holiest warriors, the Liberty Counsel? It was all based on falsehoods and misleading information, according to the school district, and they are seeking redemption of the legal variety.

According to an open letter to the Liberty Counsel (printed in the Wisconsin State Journal on Jan. 25), the School District of Dodgeville is seeking a public apology, a written retraction and damages of $23,899.48 (for administrative, legal and security costs).

The Liberty Counsel is the nonprofit litigation arm of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University/Baptist empire, headed up by Florida attorney Matthew Staver.

On Dec. 7, a “Liberty Counsel Alert!” and press release claims, “Ridgeway Elementary School’s ‘winter program’ has changed the name of ‘Silent Night’ to ‘Cold in the Night.’ Sung to the tune of ‘Silent Night,’ the lyrics have been secularized. … At the same time the school has changed the religious songs to secular, the ‘winter program’ has included decorating classrooms with Santa Clause (sic), Kwanzaa, Menorahs, and Labafana (a Christmas witch!). Liberty Counsel has issued a demand letter to the school stating that the school’s actions violate the Constitution.”

Ridgeway had never planned to sing “Silent Night” as anything but “Silent Night,” and there was no demand letter.

That very same day, Liberty Counsel had sent a fax — apparently after the press release had hit the Internet — to the District claiming “concerned parents” in the school district had contacted Liberty Counsel in regards to the Ridgeway Elementary “winter program.”

The fax stated that Liberty “… understood that ‘rather than sign (sic) lyrics to ‘Silent Night,’ which discuss the birth of Jesus Christ, the children will sign (sic) a song, to the tune of ‘Silent Night,’ which discusses how lonely a Christmas tree feels sitting out in the cold.’

The fax also contained what Dodgeville’s attorneys described as “… a canned memorandum of law pertaining to religious holidays. The letter contained no request for a reply, for more information or for any explanation of the District’s program.”

The District issued its own press release on Dec. 8 explaining “… our students have performed this program several times over the past 18 years. As customary, the program will conclude with the singing of traditional Christmas carols. … Our district policy allows us to perform both religious and secular music in our curriculum and performances. We include both in order to achieve balance.”

Nonetheless, Staver made the rounds of talk shows, speaking of the war on Christmas and threatening lawsuits against infidels.

The Dodgeville letter states that on Dec. 13, Liberty was “… provided with a statement indicating that, from the start, the program included traditional Christmas music (including religious songs with their original lyrics).”

Staver turned himself into the lawyer-who-saved-Christmas when he released a Dec. 14 Alert! headlined “School Dumps ‘Cold in the Night’ and Returns to ‘Silent Night’.”

There was never a program change, but there was Staver savoring victory in Exhibit A of the war on Christmas.

And fundraising off of it. That’s the most disgusting aspect of this whole affair.

I can picture my 86-year-old grandmother getting one of these solicitations and I know she’d think the war on Christmas to be just terrible.

Would she give some of her fixed income? Maybe.

Staver acknowledged his error … sort of. “(Dodgeville School Superintendent Diane) Messer and the rest of the school board should have or could and were requested to call us to resolve any alleged misunderstandings that they say might have been, but they didn’t do it,” Staver told the Wisconsin State Journal.

Would you buy a used car from that man? Trust him with your afterlife? Not me.

Around the time “The Great Pumpkin” is disappointing Linus again, someone in a boardroom in New York will say, “Hey — ratings really jumped when we did that ‘war on Christmas’ bit. Let’s stir that up again.”

We should set up a betting pool.

Throw in $5 and pick a date for the first “war on Christmas” letter of 2006 to roll in.

If you want festive lights help raise cash, says Guild

FACED with the daunting prospect of raising several thousand pounds to finance Christmas lights in Reigate this year, the town’s Business Guild has invited people to come up with fundraising suggestions or even state whether they want the lights at all.

The vexed question of the town’s festive lights came up at the monthly meeting of the guild on Wednesday February 8.

The guild first launched a major fundraising drive to replace the Christmas lights, which were no longer serviceable, back in 2001, with members raising nearly £40,000 then and Reigate and Banstead Borough Council also kicking in a large sum.

With its Christmas lights coffers now running virtually on empty, and with the prospect that the lights will once again have to be replaced either totally or in part, the guild could have to raise at least £12,000, and possibly a great deal more, if the town is to celebrate Christmas this year in the style it has become accustomed to.

The borough council has Meeting at The Market pub in High Street, guild members, representing a cross-section of businesses in the town, were almost uninamious in their view that the festive lights were vital for the town’s commercial viability.

Martin Neve, guild treasurer, said that the guild’s own finances were in a healthy state.

However, its Christmas lights fund, after taking into account expenditure incurred in 2005, was virtually empty.

He suggested that the guild invite members to make an additional voluntary donation for the lights when invoiced for their annual membership fees.

Borough officials in the dark over missing history, books

Mt. Pleasant Borough officials recently found they are missing a piece of borough history and records.

Council President Mike Tabita and Borough Manager Jeff Landy said they discovered that the borough minute books from 1828 to 1901 and July 1966 to January 1994 are missing.

“We’re not saying at this point that someone has taken them, but right now they’re not where they’re supposed to be,” Tabita said.

Landy will search the storage areas of all borough property to see if the books were just misplaced, but action will be taken if nothing turns up by the March 6 council meeting.

“We’ll announce at that time that the books are missing and give 30 days for the possibility of having them returned if they were taken,” Tabita said. “After the 30 days, we’ll offer a $5,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of anyone who has possession of these books.”

In other business, Bauer is hoping by the next meeting to be able to order parking meters to replace those that aren’t working on Main Street.

He also will look into getting three different phone quotes for new Christmas wreath lights to hang in the borough.

The borough recently received a $10,000 grant through the state Department of Economic Development to purchase new Christmas lights.

Bauer expects the borough can purchase about 35 wreath lights with the grant money.