Sunday, December 30, 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Xmas in DC 2010 - 0015

The National Park Service unilaterally dumped the Yule Log in 2012. WHY????

The NPS is required to hold a public hearing about any changes to the National Christmas Tree, Pageant of Peace, and Pathway of Peace. This is usually held in September or October. I do not know that this happened in 2012, prior to the decision to get rid of the Yule log.

The NPS halved the size of the performance stage, and then moved it due south of the National Christmas Tree. This also meant reducing by half the amount of space in which crowds could watch the performances. Santa's Workshop and the creche were moved to the west, where the stage used to stand. The National Menorah stayed where it was.

The Yule log fire pit was not used in 2012, ostensibly because the pit "did not fit" into the scheme of displays and because the Park Service refused to alter or extend the temporary gravel road that would allow NPS forklifts to service the pit.

It had been part of the National Christmas Tree's Pageant of Peace for 50 years! If you want it back, sign this White House petition.

* * * * *

The National Park Service says they will not survey the public about the missing Yule Log. Instead, they will act ONLY if they receive numerous "official" complaints.

To make your complaint official, you must send an email to the President's Park, National Capital Region, NPS. You can find the email form here.

Friday, December 28, 2012

My Top Ten "most important things to happen in D.C. in 2012" list. It kind of ignores the federal government, just because.
  1. Natitude - Unlike the Washington pro football team, this is a real team effort. Strasburg, Harper, Morse, Werth...
  2. Metro sucks - Metro's continuing maintenance problems, which WMATA did not want to fix for 10 years, are now making D.C. inaccessible on weekends.
  3. Redskins Revival - This is really an RGIII story, but I guess we can call them a team.
  4. June 29 derecho - If you didn't know what this word was on June 28, you did by June 30. This was easily more damaging to the D.C. region that Hurricane Sandy, and (to me) beat out the sizzling heat (11 days of 99.5-degree plus!) of summer for the top weather event of 2012.
  5. Vincent Gray's ethics - Just don't wanna talk about this one.
  6. DC employment rises - Although the workforce expanded by a very strong 17,210 people over the past year, the unemployment rate fell from 10.1 percent at the state of the year to just 8.4 percent at the end of it. That's a whopping 21,241 jobs created inside the city in 12 months. BAD NEWS: There are still 30,379 people out of work in the city. (Officially. As many as another 12,121 might have simply stopped looking for work or are only very marginally attached to the labor force.)
  7. DC Council ethics - Harry Thomas Jr., Kwame Brown, Jim Graham, Vincent Orange, Michael Brown, Marion Barry...
  8. Chuck Brown, RIP - Did he have much impact in the past 20 years? Maybe not, but this was the end of an era.
  9. CityCenterDC - Hardly talked about, this massive redevelopment of mid-town will change everything.
  10. National Museum for African American History and Culture - This brand new Smithsonian museum occupies the last open space on the National Mall, and broke ground on February 12, 2012.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

At holiday time, I like to watch movies that have that holiday featured prominently in them. While there are a bazillion Christmas and Halloween movies, and war movies are always easy to come by on Memorial Day or Veterans' Day, it's not so easy to pick out films that feature New Year's Eve.

So, forthwith is my list of the top 10 movies with a New Year's Eve scene! Your list may vary... This is alphabetical, and some movies listed here are much better than others.
  • After the Thin Man (MGM, 1936) - This is the sequel to 1935's smash murdery-mystery/comedy hit, The Thin Man. The film was directed by W. S. Van Dyke. Dashiell Hammett came up with the story (he invented the characters), but the screenplay was by the husband-wife writing team of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. They also did movies like Father of the Bride (1950), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1955), Easter Parade (1949), and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). They won a Pulitzer Prize for the original play The Diary of Anne Frank. This film has Nick and Nora Charles arriving home in San Francisco (we saw them leave for the city by the bay at the end of the last film) on New Year's Eve. A massive welcome-home party is going on in their house, and they sneak past the guests (90 percent of whom don't even know them! LOL!) and try to go to bed. But Nora's in-laws want to invite them to a stuffy New Year's Eve dinner party, which includes a goddamn hilarious scenes as a drunk Nick sits around the dinner table with a bunch of sleeping old men. The film stars Jimmy Stewart in one of his earliest roles (and boy won't you be surprised to see the role he plays!) as well as Penny Singleton (later of the "Blondie" movies) as a woman of loose morals.
  • The Apartment (United Artists, 1960) - Billy Wilder and his writing partner, I.A.L. "Izzy" Diamond wrote the screenplay, and Wilder directed. Jack Lemmon stars as a nervous, geeky accountant who has a crush on an elevator girl (Shirley MacLaine). Fred MacMurray almost didn't take the role of the villainous Mr. Sheldrake because he'd just signed a 10-year contract with the Walt Disney Co. to star in My Three Sons and a bunch of Disney family movies. Wilder convinced him to do it. Like Rear Window and other films of the late 1950s, the lead character is essentially doing something pretty immoral. Yet, we sympathize with him, even like him. The majority of the film takes place between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.
  • Boogie Nights (New Line Cinema, 1997) - Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, this cautionary tale about the adult film work fell like a bombshell on polite society in the late 1990s. Mark Wahlberg turns in a superb performance as a well-hung 19 year old who finds a way out of his dead-end job and away from his abusive, mentally-ill mother by fucking women on screen and being able to keep an erection for hours. Things are fine for a while, but when porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) loses his source of income (his backer is caught with kiddie porn) Wahlberg turns to drugs and then prostitution. William H. Macy co-stars as "Little Bill," Horner's cinematographer. He blows his brains out one New Year's Eve as his friends stand around in a drug-addled haze.
  • Holiday Inn (Paramount, 1942) - Here's the idea: Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire are hoofers on Broadway. Bing thinks he's going to marry fellow dancer Virginia Dale, but she breaks off the marriage on Christmas Eve and announces she loves Fred instead. Devastated, Bing heads to Vermont -- where he buys an inn. But the inn is only open on holidays, and he invites his Broadway friends up to the inn each holiday. They put on a huge musical show, with each show having a different holiday theme. (This has the effect of keeping all of Bing's buddies employed during the holidays, see?) Bing falls in love with local girl Marjorie Reynolds. Things fall apart when Fred discovers where Bing is hiding out, and he tries to woo Marjorie away from him. Legendary song-writer Irving Berlin came up with the idea in 1935. He'd come up with this soft, gentle song that he thought might turn into a good Chrismtas tune... It was, of course, "White Christmas." But he didn't have the lyrics yet. He did, however, get the idea for structuring a movie around a musical troupe that only performed on holidays. Elmer Rice adapted his story into a screen treatment, and Claude Binyon wrote the screenplay. Mark Sandrich, one of the most respected directors in Hollywood (he'd directed nearly all the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals) directed. The New Year's Eve sequence starts out the film, once Bing gets to Vermont. It ends on Christmas...of course! So Bing can sing "White Christmas." It was the song's debut.
  • The Horn Blows at Midnight (Warner Bros., 1945) - Jack Benny was one of the most popular and funniest comedians of the mid-20th century. Yet, his film career never took off. This film was written by three no-name hack writeers (Sam Hellman, James V. Kern, and Aubrey Wisberg), with Benny providing most of the gags (for which he purposefully refused credit). The legendary director Raoul Walsh (The Thief of Bagdad, They Drive by Night, High Sierra, They Died with Their Boots On, Objective, Burma!, White Heat, Captain Horatio Hornblower, Band of Angels, The Naked and the Dead) helmed the film. The film is, frankly speaking, awful. But it's so bad, it's good: Benny plays a trumpet player in the orchestra of a late-night radio show sponsored by Paradise Coffee. He falls asleep during the New Year's Eve show, and dreams he is an angel and trumpeter in the orchestra of Heaven. He's assigned to blow the "Last Trumpet" at exactly midnight, signaling the end of the world. Two fallen angels, wishing to continue with a hedonistic life on Earth, try to stop him. They steal his trumpet, and hilarity ensues as Athanael and his love-interest try to get it back. The finale of the film involves 30 people falling into a coffee cup the size of a swimming pool atop the Paradise Coffee Building as real liquid is poured on top of them by a gigantic coffee pot. Then they are sucked down through the bottom of the cup, and poured out again. Actually, kind of funny!
  • The Hudsucker Proxy (Warner Bros., 1995) - Co-written by Joel and Ethan Coen and Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Darkman, Spider-Man 3, Drag Me to Hell), and directed by the Coens, this is a 1990s version of the classic "screwball comedy" last seen in the 1930s. Tim Robbins plays a naive college graduate from Iowa who lands in New York City just as Waring Hudsucker -- the owner, founder, president, and chairman of the board of fabulously successful Hudsucker Industries -- lands on the pavement. Determined to drive the stock down even further so he can seize control of the company, Hudsucker VP Paul Newman decides to hire Robbins as the new president. (Clint Eastwood was the first choice to play Sidney J. Mussburger, but had to turn it down due to a scheduling conflict!) Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a fast-talking dame who tries to expose Robbins for her newspaper. The film never quite hits on all cylinders... Leigh isn't an able enough talker to do her "fast-talking dame" bit very well (she stumbles over the consonants), and Robbins is too self-aware and cynical about the role he's playing. But the entire film comes together on New Year's Eve, and includes a great line from Steve Buscemi ("I keep telling you, man: This is a juice and coffee bar! We don't serve alcohol!")
  • Penny Serenade (Columbia Pictures, 1941) - This film was written by Martha Cheavens and Morrie Ryskind. Cheavers was a popular short story writer who wrote primarily for women's magazines; the film is based on an incident in her own life. Morrie Ryskind was a playwright and lyricist on Broadway. He wrote the book for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Strike up the Band in 1930 (music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin), and later wrote plays for the Marx Brothers. Most of these were turned into films starring the comedy team: Animal Crackers, The Cocoanuts, and A Night at the Opera. He wrote the screenplays for and was nominated for an Oscar for My Man Godfrey and Stage Door. The film was directed by George Stevens the wildly successful director of such films as Alice Adams, Swing Time, and Gunga Din. He'd later direct such hits as Woman of the Year, I Remember Mama, A Place in the Sun, Shane, Giant, and The Diary of Anne Frank. Penny Serenade is a tearjerker of a movie: Irene Dunne listens to the song "Penny Serenade" on New Year's Eve, and begins reflecting on her life with husband Cary Grant. The couple has already suffered through one miscarriage, and adopt a little girl. The family sinks under the pressure of their lost child, an adopted girl they didn't want, the girl's illness, and Grant's unemployment. And then disaster strikes again... Songs from the couple's record collection provide clues to their emotional mood as well. Grant was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor.
  • The Poseidon Adventure (20th Century Fox, 1972) - Based on the 1969 novel by Paul Gallico, written by Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes, directied by Ronald Neame, and produced by "the master of diaster" Irwin Allen, this was one of the first "all-star cast" films and one of the first disaser films. The fictional ocean liner SS Poseidon is on its final voyage when it is hit by a tsunami on New Year's Eve and capsizes. The cast includes Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson, Pamela Sue Martin, and Leslie Nielsen.
  • Strange Days (20th Century Fox, 1995) - This film was directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Today, she is the Oscar-winning best director of The Hurt Locker. But in 1995, she was just the director of a four thriller films, none of which showed any real promise. The film was written by her then-husband James Cameron (who'd already directed Escape from New York, The Terminator, Rambo: First Blood, Part II, Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and True Lies as well as written The Terminator, Rambo: First Blood, Part II, Aliens, The Abyss, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and Jay Cocks (who'd written Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence; he'd later write Gangs of New York and De-Lovely). Set in 1999 just before New Year's Eve ushers in the new millennium, Ralph Fiennes plays a Los Angeles cop who has become addicted to SQUIDs -- recorded memories. SQUIDs act like a drug and are illegal, so he's basically a drug dealer. Angela Bassett is his bodyguard and Tom Sizemore is his best friend and private investigator. Fiennes pines for his ex-girlfriend, Juliette Lewis, who is hanging out with hot-bodied, gravelly-voiced music producer Michael Wincott. Fiennes receives a SQUID showing that Los Angeles police murdered a wildly popular rapper, and later receives a snuff film showing that the police raped and killed the girl who recorded the rapper's murder. But who is recording this? How come they are giving it to Fiennes? Fiennes believes he can't turn over the evidence of the rapper's murder, or the city would destroy itself with riots. But his hand is forced... The movie is a cult favorite today, although it bombed horribly on its release.
  • Sunset Boulevard (Paramount, 1950) - Written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and D.M. Marshman, produced by Brackett, and directed by Wilder, this film is one of the quintessential film noirs and one of the most celebrated motion pictures of all time. Wilder and Brackett began working on a script about a has-been movie star lost in her delusions of enduring popularity in 1948, but never resolved several serious plot problems. Marshman had critiqued Wilder's film The Emperor Waltz, and his assessment so impressed Wilder and Brackett that he was hired to finish the script. The film stars William Holden, Gloria Swanson, and Erich von Stroheim. So legendary and numerous are the anecdotes about this film that I will not relate them here. No will I quote any of the film's numerous exquisite lines (okay, just one: "I AM big! It's the pictures that got small!"), or describe any of its astonishing scenes. I will say that it was nominated for a whopping 11 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction (Black-and-White), Best Cinematography (Black-and-White), Best Film Editing, and Best Musical Score. Shockingly, it won just three: Screenplay, art direction, and score. The film's finale occurs on New Year's Eve.

Monday, December 24, 2012


I wish for winter... real, snowy, cold winter. A winter that makes you appreciate hot cocoa, heavy coats, and some place to go to meet a friend who is warm and cheerful.
Spencer Cox died at 44 last week.

He was 24 years old in 1992. He had HIV, and was furious that drug companies were saying that it would take five to 10 years to bring new AIDS drugs to market. So he and a few others founded Treatment Action Group (TAG) to focus on accelerating treatment research.

TAG fought to have a person with AIDS (PWA) on the FDA's Anti-Viral Advisory Committee -- which oversaw approval of AIDS drugs. Cox had a degree in performance art from Bennington College; he had no training in chemistry, biology, pharmacology, or statistics. Nonetheless, he pushed ferociously for drug companies to move faster -- challenging their management techniques, their data collection techniques, and their drug trial processes.

In 1995, protease inhibitors began to show promise as an AIDS treatment. Without any training, Cox designed a human drug trial for ritonavir, a drug being developed by Abbott Laboratories. Cox's plan was controversial: No one wanted to receive a placebo, and many AIDS activists wanted to let people take the drug first and test its efficacy later. But Cox's design allowed for both speedy data gathering and an accelerated approval process.

After six months, the data showed that ritonavir HALVED the mortality rate of people with AIDS. The drug was approved on February 28, 1996. Instead of seven to 10 years, the drug was approved in one.

Cox had a lifelong addition to meth, sadly. Unable to continue his fight against drug addiction, he stopped taking his AIDS medications in August. He died of complications due to AIDS on December 18, 2012.

* * * * *

Cox's death is getting no attention whatsoever. None. Yet, his actions saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Just what are the gay community's priorities???

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Note to the NRA dumb-wads:
  • Columbine High School had an armed guard.
  • Virginia Tech had an armed campus police force.
  • Ft. Hood was a US Army base with checkpoints and armed MPs.
Guns did not stop those tragedies. Why do you think they will prevent them in the future?


Saturday, December 22, 2012

You rarely see Chris Colfer in anything but dress pants and shirts.

But here he is in shorts! Look at those nice legs. Muscular thighs, muscular calves, kind of hairy, good knees.

This boy is going to look soooooooooooooooo right once he's out of his clothes.

I bet most of you have never heard of Raymond Scott. But I bet you will INSTANTLY recognize his music. Both part of his piece, "Powerhouse", are some of the most recognizable pieces of music in the world.

Scott was a 29-year-old jazz composer when he came up with "Powerhouse" in 1937. Although he had a number of jazz hits in the 1930s and 1940s, his "Toy Trumpet" is easily his second most-recognizable piece. He did a jazz rendition of Mozart's Piano Sonata in C, titled "In An Eighteenth-Century Drawing Room". It, too, is well-recognized by most people. Scott sold the rights to his music to Warner Bros. in 1943.

Scott was leader of the CBS Radio Orchestra in the 1940s and 1950s, and was an early experimenter in electronic music, creating a number of electronic musical instruments. In the 1960s, he was head of Motown's electronic music division. Many of his close friends, like Bob Moog (who invented the synthesizer), later were famous for their electronic inventions.

Largely forgotten by the 1980s, Scott suffered a series of heart attacks and slipped into poverty. He suffered a massive stroke in 1987 that left him unable to work or talk, and he died in 1994.


The Toy Trumpet

In An Eighteenth-Century Drawing Room

Friday, December 21, 2012

So, I saw The Hobbit, Part 1. I was disappointed. I saw it in 3D high frame-rate, but that turned out to be just fine. What disappointed me was the story: Bloated, violent, not about Smaugh, not about Bilbo.

Let's talk a little bit about the story. Essentially, the story is about a terrified little man, Bilbo Baggins, who is bullied by Gandalf and the dwarves. In a decision he later comes to very much regret, he decides to stand up for himself and "prove his worth". So he goes on this journey to help kill a dragon. The essence of the story is that Bilbo becomes a better person by confronting his fears. The company decides to go to Rivendell, because the elves can help with the map they have. Along the way, the company encounters trolls. Bilbo tries to be something he's not (a burglar) and get caught. This forces the dwarves to save him, and they get caught. Gandalf pulls their fat out of the fire by distracting the trolls for many hours -- until dawn arrives, and the trolls turn to stone. The dwarves are even less impressed with Bilbo then before. The elves do help with the map, and the company moves on. They get caught by orcs while crossing the mountain. Again, Gandalf has to pull their fat out of the fire: He does so by killing the Goblin King. Bilbo gets lost, and confronts the evil creature Gollum in a riddling game.

Bilbo's emergence from the orc tunnels and sneaking past the dwarvish lookout (with the help of the One Ring's invisibility power) makes the dwarves think Bilbo is a better burglar than they thought. But Bilbo is troubled, because he knows it's nothing he's done: It's all the Ring. The dwarves get treed by some big wolves. Gandalf tries to pull their fat out of the fire again, but mistakenly sets the forest on fire. Just in the nick of time, eagles arrive to save them. The eagles deposit them at the home of Beorn, who gives them food, rest, and ponies. The company loses faith in Gandalf's guidance while traversing Mirkwood. They are caught by poisonous spiders. This time, Bilbo uses the same trick Gandalf did (imitating voices to cause dissension in the spiders' camp) and frees his friends. But the whole bunch are instantly caught by elves instead.

Bilbo, still invisible with his ring on, is not caught by the elves. Instead, he breaks his friends out of jail. But he has no plan to escape the elvish kingdom. By luck, the company comes upon a way out: In the apple barrels. (My word, what if the elves had not recycled??) The company ends up at Laketown, where they cause a sensation. They are re-outfitted again, and managed to get to the Lonely Mountain just in time to use the advice given to them in Rivendell. They find the secret back door into the Lonely Mountain. Unwittingly, Bilbo almost causes them disaster: By taking a simple coin from Smaug's treasure, he manages to enrage the dragon. Fleeing Smaug's wrath, the company must hide inside the mountain.

Smaug lays waste to Laketown. But a soldier in the town is told by a thrush (deus ex machina) how to defeat the dragon. He does so. The elves arrive to see what's up. The men of Laketown and the elves realize that the golden hoard of the dragon is now up for grabs, and they head for the Lonely Mountain. The 13 dwarves, however, have sealed themselves inside the fortress there and called for help. Bilbo tries to mediate a truce by turning over the Arkenstone (a fabulous dwarvish gem) to the men and elves. It doesn't work: War between the newly-arrived dwarvish army and the elves/men is about to break out. Just then, the orcs -- pissed off that Gandalf killed their king -- come storming out of the Misty Mountains. Elves, men, and dwarves unite to fight off their long-time foe. They are losing, but at the last second the eagles show up again to help turn the tide.

Sadly, the dwarf leader, Thorin, has died in the battle. He's laid to rest in a crypt in his fortress, the Arkenstone on his chest. His Nth-removed cousin, who led the dwarvish army to his rescue, becomes the new king of the Lonely Mountain. The men rebuild their town better than ever. Bilbo goes home a new man.

* * * * * * * *

It's a very simple story. Peter Jackson thinks he's better than J.R.R. Tolkien, however, and so he has fucked it up with all sorts of new crap. (No longer is the goal Smaug, no longer is Smaug the main villain. Now it's Azog the Giant Albino Orc.)

Let's examine one of the characters in the movie, shall we? That's Thorin II Oakenshield.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"The Trumpet Shall Sound" is one of my favorite parts of Handel's Messiah. And it needs to be sung like this -- forcefully, with depth, power, and authority.

James Greenleaf (June 9, 1765–September 17, 1843) was an important early American land speculator.

A member of a prominent and wealthy Boston family, he married a Dutch noblewoman (whom he later abandoned and then divorced) and was briefly consul at the United States embassy in Amsterdam. Returning to the United States, he engaged in land speculation in the District of Columbia, New York state, and other areas. He was a central figure in the early development of Washington, D.C.

His land business collapsed in 1797, and he spent a year in debtor's prison. He married a wealthy Pennsylvania heiress after his release, and spent the remainder of his life in genteel poverty, fending off lawsuits.

Historians Thomas P. Abernethy and Wendell H. Stephenson nevertheless call Greenleaf "the most important land speculator that the United States has produced."

James Greenleaf tomb - Congressional Cemetery - Washington DC - 2012Greenleaf Point in Washington, D.C., is named for him. He built the famous "20 Buildings" on high ground on South Capitol Street in 1797. By 1800, however, the only other finished road through the area was New Jersey Avenue. The city's first Methodist church meeting was held in one of the "20 Buildings" in 1802. Never finished, the "20 Buildings" were in ruins by 1824.

Greenleaf also built the Thomas Law House in 1795. This structure still stands in 2012, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Greenleaf School, a former D.C. public school located on 4th Street SW between M and N Streets SW, was named for James Greenleaf. It was built in 1896 and razed in 1960.

Greenleaf's two-story, wood-frame home, which stood at the corner of 1st and C Streets NE had a barn and large garden (where he grew mulberry trees), and a vast library of some 2,600 books. The house was razed in 1870. But in 1862, it sheltered Major General William Tecumseh Sherman and some of his officers after the Second Battle of Bull Run. (The area is now a U.S. Senate parking lot.)

Greenleaf also owned a small farm of perhaps an acre or less situated at 6th Street and Virginia Avenue SW. The site was later the location of the Jefferson School, designed by noted local architect Adolf Cluss. (It is now the site of the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency.)

He is buried in D.C.'s Congressional Cemetery. His grave is due west of the caretaker's cottage at the main entrance.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reinhold Weege, creator of the fantastic comedy Night Court, has died at the age of 62. Court is adjourned. *sad*

Cause of death has been called "natural causes".

In this episode from the fifth season of Night Court, Judge Stone is trying to complete 207 cases in a single night so a millionaire will donate money to save an orphanage. With two minutes to midnight, and two cases left, Dan and Christine try a hooker who is up on a prostitution charge.

"The Speedy Case".....

The Night Court Curse???

Night Court had a large number of cast changes in its first four seasons.

The public defenders:
Gail Strickland was cast as the original Public Defender, Sheila Gardner. The role was recast after the pilot was filmed. She later played the first openly lesbian character on U.S. network television (on the series "Heartbeat").

Paula Kelly was cast as the second Public Defender, Liz Williams, in the first season. The African American actress received an Emmy nomination for the role. Kelly was cut from the cast after the season ended when producers concluded she was "too normal" for the zany comedy.

Ellen Foley was cast as the third Public Defender, Billie Young, in the second season. She was supposed to be a romantic interest for Judge Stone, but chemistry between the two actors never materialized.

Markie Post was cast as the fourth Public Defender, Christine Sullivan. She made an appearance in the second-season episode "Daddy for the Defense". Allegedly the producers wanted her, and not Foley. But Post was co-starring on "The Fall Guy", and was not released from that contract in May 1985.

The bailiffs:
62-year-old Selma Diamond was cast as Bailiff Selma Hacker. A veteran comedy writer (she wrote for the Marx Bros., Ozzie and Harriet, Danny Kaye, Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Dick van Dyke, and others), she became known as a late-night talk show guest in the 1970s. A lifelong chain-smoker, she contract lung cancer in 1985, and died at the end of the show's second season.

62-year-old Florence Halop was cast as Bailiff Florence Kleiner in season 3. An original member of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre, she played numerous guest-shots on TV in the '60s and '70s. She was a favorite character actress on "Barney Miller" from 1976 to 1984 (which is where "Night Court" creator Reinhold Weege met her). She had a one-shot guest role on "St. Elsewhere" in 1984, but her character was so popular that the writers got her into 15 more episodes during the season. She, too, suddenly was diagnosed with lung cancer and died after the third season.

32-year-old African American comedia Marsha Warfield was cast as Roz Russell in season 4. She managed to live, and stuck with the show until it ended its run.

The court clerks:
Karen Austin was cast as Court Clerk Lana Wagner. She quit the show after 10 episodes (although she remained in the credits for the rest of the first season). No court clerk appeared in the final three episodes of Season 1.

40-year-old Charles Robinson was cast as the second Court Clerk Macintosh "Mac" Robinson. He stayed with the show until it ended its run.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

An interesting announcement about the MLK Memorial. The National Park Service has decided to remove the offensive quotation -- not replace it.

The artist was upset because a change in the memorial would mean "it would look like a patch job". So the quotation is just going to be removed.

But, why not make it look like a patch job? Shouldn't we be reminded that process never triumphs content? (It seems the quote got approved because a deadline had passed for comment, not because everyone had commented.) Shouldn't we be reminded about the failure of the memorial foundation to accurately remember King? Shouldn't we be reminded that government was responsive to the public, and that this is a LIVING memorial that, even though cast in stone, has proven responsive?

I guess not. I guess it's the artist's vision, and not the memorial and the people, that matter. Which is too bad, I think.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Today, Metro announced that it will cut Blue Line service by 50 percent over the next few years in order to accommodate Silver Line traffic.

Metro is completely incompetent. They expect to add 60,000 riders a day to a subway system already projected to reach maximum capacity (1 million boardings per day -- that's running 8-car trains every six minutes on every single line every hour of the day) by 2020. Metro projected in 2001 that it would not reach carrying capacity until 2045. But the system has seen astonishing growth of more than 3 percent a year since 2000, and will reach 745,000 boardings this year alone.

So what is Metro planning to do? HALVE Blue line service in order to accommodate those 60,000 riders. The Blue line already carries about 127,500 riders daily. Metro wants 65,000 of them to start taking the bus.


Remember, Metro has a history of UNDER-estimating ridership. For example: Metro estimated Green line opening-day ridership at 18,000. That estimate was exceeded by 2,000 riders a day on the SECOND DAY the stations were open. One month after the Green line was open, ridership had risen to more than 30,600 per day.

Let's be clear: Metro is going cancel service on the Blue Line over time. After all, the only Blue Line station served which has no other line serving it is Arlington National Cemetery. And that's just 1,827 boardings per day. (Buses can handle that!) It wants the Silver Line, Yellow Line, and Orange lines to handle the traffic currently handled by the Blue Line.

Sayonara, Blue Line!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bodhi Day beginningBodhi Day celebrates the day on which the first Buddha achieved enlightenment.

It is traditionally celebrated by starting the day with tea, cake or muffings, and reading. That's how I started my day at first morning's light. Instead of reading Buddhist scripture, however, I was reading Tony Kushner's Angels in America: Millennium Approaches.

Who doesn't like hot Ukrainian men working out in the street????

More, please!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Grandma E. taught me about a number of Norwegian Christmas traditions. She grew up in Norway, being born there in 1889 and not leaving until about 1910. Those were tumultuous time for Norway. The Norwegian king unified the Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish thrones around 1400 AD, but the real power center was in Denmark. Half the popultion had died in the Black Death of 1350, and recovery still had not occurred after several centuries. In 1814, Norway-Denmark was caught on the losing side of the Napoleonic Wars, and Norway was transferred to Sweden's control. A protracted war led to a largely autonomous Norway (except in foreign affairs), but Sweden refused to invest in Norway. Norway separated peacefully from Sweden in 1905, and industrialization and liberalization proceeded rapidly afterward.

My grandmother left Norway in the midst of all of this. For most Norwegians, this led to a rejection of their peasant past in favor of more modern, middle-class traditions. But to Norwegians who emigrated to America, keeping hold of those peasant traditions reminded them of "the old country." (Norwegians today often look with bemusement at the wacky holiday traditions of Norwegian-Americans.)

What my grandmother brought with her to the United States was a mish-mash mixture of old and new Christmas traditions from the turn of the last century. Older traditions (like Christmas Day Night sled-racing) had died out, while newer ones (like the Christmas tree) had not yet firmly taken hold. Peasant food like sylte (head cheese), lefse (a type of potato crepe), and lutefisk (salt cod jellied by the use of lye) were still common in America, but would be rejected by most of the Norwegians she left behind within a decade or two. New traditions -- like singing around public Christmas trees, or the use of white-only electric Christmas lights -- were not yet developed in America but were rapidly taking hold in Norway.

This is part of what she told me, fleshed out a little.

* * * * * * * * *

Preparations for Christmas actually began in early November. The goal was to have all your firewood chopped and stacked near the front door so you didn't have to do any work for the rest of the year. You were also supposed to have baked huge amounts of cookies, so you didn't have to bake for the rest of the year. Animals were also slaughtered -- in part so you didn't have to feed so many animals, in part because most people had too many animals to house (barns were small, and some poor people actually brought animals into the house).  But slaughtering was done in November because it means you didn't have to do it again for the rest of the year.

Among the favorite things to eat was sylte, or head cheese. This isn't cheese at all, but rather alternating layers of meat and fat from the face and head of an animal. It sounds gross, but there's nothing bad-tasting about it. Indeed, the meat has the same flavor as any other part of the animal. My Gramma said it was synd og skam ("sinful and shameful") for any part of the animal to go to waste. Head cheese was cured in a salt brine and packed into a mold. It formed an incredibly tasty cold cut for eating later. Blood sausage and pickled pigs' feet were also specialities people liked. Most meats were salted, smoked, or dried rather than eaten fresh. The idea was to have meat last all winter, until the spring thaw. Any farm which wasn't able to make its meat last all winter was considered a failure.

Another key ingredient of the season was juleol, or Yule beer (also known as Christmas beer). This is an exceptionally dark, high-alcohol, sweet beer brewed especially for the season. It has a strong malt taste, and can be spiced as well. Beer is drunk all day long, every day from December 13 to New Year's Day. (Many Americans think juleol is a bock, but it tastes too hoppy and spicy for a bock.)

Pagan Norwegians believed that an evil spirit, Lussi, began roaming the earth on December 13, and no one should be caught doing work lest they be punished by her. Lussinatten, or Lussi's night, was the beginning of the holiday season, the night on which Lussi began her rein on earth. For many Norwegians, Advent (the Christian tradition of marking time until Christmas) began on Lussinatten. Animals are said to be able to talk on the night of December 13, and so were given additional feed that night. Bonfires were commonly lit as a means of celebrating the changing of the sun's course back to longer days.

Beginning around 950 AD, Norway's Christian kings introduced the myth of Saint Lucy (Santa Lucia) and made it part of the holiday season. St. Lucy was virgin who refused to mary a pagan, so her fianceƩ denounced her. The soldiers sent to toss her in prison could not move her, and she could not be set aflame. She tore out her own eyes to spite her husband, and even when impaled with a sword she denounced paganism. UGH! Just the sort of thing you want on Christmas, right? Well, Norwegians incorporated Santa Lucia into their Lussinatten celebrations. In each village or neighborhood, a young girl is chosen to represent Santa Lucia. The girl dons a white robe and a wreath of evergreen is worn like a tiara. A ring of lit candles stands on the wreath. The girl is supposed to go door to door, offering sweet buns to each household. A mob of young boys in white tunics and pointed hats with stars on the tips (the "star boys") follow her, singing and helping her. Many homes would have burning thin white tapers known as "Lucia candles" that night, and incense would be thrown into the fireplace to create a "Lucia fire."

Norwegians also put candles on graves from December 13 to New Year's Day. The idea is to commemorate your dead. Solstice, like Samhain (Halloween), is considered a time when the barriers between this world and the spirit world become thin. Spirits may cross over to our world, and we may communicate with beings of higher power to gain insight into life, morality, and the future. Honoring the dead with candles is one way this belief was reinforced.

December 13 also represents the season when the julenisse arrive. Every little kid believes in the julenisse! Nisse are the chubby, pranksterish Norwegian elves. They are the original inhabitants of the land, and must be honored between December 13 and December 25 with a bowl of porridge, a bowl of rice pudding, some lefse (a potato crepe), or a mug of Christmas beer left out for them overnight. Each farm or house had many nisse which lived there. But the julenisse in particular was very powerful. It was customary to set a place for your julenisse at the table from December 13 to New Year's Day, and to make a bed for him in the barn. On Christmas Day, he came to every house asking if there are any good children present. If there are, he leaves gifts. If you dishonor the julenisse, he will spend the whole year creating problems for you, sabotaging your work, damaging your crops, and tampering with your animals (cows won't give milk, sheep don't give good wool, horses go lame, etc.).

Another tradition was the julebukk, or Christmas goat. This was an ancient tradition which developed in pagan days. The legend was that Odin (dressed in a long red coat, long red pointed hat, and white beard -- say, remind you of anyone?) would travel through the night skies in a sled drawn by two goats. He'd leave loaves of bread at the homes of good and needy people. To remember his visit, little straw goats would be created and hung in the home. (They are still very popular Christmas ornaments today. I see them everywhere.) Odin would also be remembered on Christmas Day. As the day drew to a close, a person dressed in a goatskin and wearing a goat mask would go to a neighbor's house and sing a song. The family would have to guess who was under the mask. The singer would get a sweet snack (sugary cookies or a sweet bun), and then go to the next house. One or more people from the first house would don masks and follow. People would get dropped off at each house (invited in for coffee or beer, and some sweets), while others would join the julebukk in making his rounds. If the julebukk was mistreated (e.g., not fed), the julebukkers would tell dirty jokes, sing off-key, vandalize the house in small ways (like egging or TPing it today), act sexually in public, or even try to scare the people who lived there.

December 23 was known as "Little Christmas Eve". The house would be decorated with wreaths and boughs of evergreens. The whole house would smell of sweet resin. Holly was also very common, as the bright red berries added color to the home. Some families only decorated the house once the kids were in bed, so that on December 23 the children would wake to a house transformed. When oranges were introduced to Norway, it became common to leave the orange peels out and allow the scent of orange to mix with the scent of resin to make a sweet smell in the home. Evergreens served another purpose, too: Many Norwegians believed that nisse sheltered in evergreens during the winter. So bringing in evergreens not only reminded you that spring would come again, but also surreptitiously brought some nisse into the house (where they were warm and were treated well).

Norwegian Christmas is all about cookies and cakes. Very popular is the kransekaka, a yellow cake covered in marzipan (almond paste, flour, and rosewater). Another is "sweet raisin bread" (julekakka), and a third is "cinnamon bread" or skillingsboller. More on julekakka later... Kransekaka was eaten as a snack at any time, while skillingsboller was commonly toasted and smeared with butter and eaten at breakfast or lunch.

The sju slag or "seven cookies" are traditionally made during the Christmas preparation season. Every family claims their seven cookies are "the" seven cookies.  With about ten billion different kinds of cookies in the world, you can make up your own list. But my grandmother said they were:
  • Smultringer -- plain cake donuts.
  • Hjortetakk -- a cake cruller made with baker's ammonia. They have a kind of strong taste... (Baker's ammonia, or hartshorn, predates baking soda or baking powder. It makes cookies super-crisp.)
  • Sandkaker -- "sand cakes," or almond-flavored sugar cookies that look like miniature pastry or torte shells.
  • Sirupssnipper -- diamond-shaped gingersnaps with a blanched almond on top.
  • Berlinkranser -- "Berlin wreaths," or circular butter cookies with an egg wash crust and sprinkled with sugar.
  • Goro -- rectangular, thin potato cookie-cakes with cardamom, cognac, butter, and lemon and imprinted with intricate designs.
  • Krumkaker -- "crumb cakes," cardamom-flavored wafer rolled over over a waffle iron, shaped into a cone, and filled with whipped cream.
  • Fattigmann -- a cream-and-butter sweetbread flavored heavily with cinnamon and twisted into fancy circular shapes.
Other popular cookies are kongelige pepperkaker ("royal pepper cakes," gingerbread cookies with a dash of pepper for bite), rosetter ("rosettes", a rose-shaped, wafer-thin sugar cookie), and bordstabelbakkels ("stacked cookies," square and thin butter cookies stacked in a huge column, each cookie separated from the other by almond meringue).

Cakes and cookies generally keep well, and can last weeks.  Once again, the idea was to bake gigantic amounts of these, so the family could snack into mid-January without the baker in the house having to bake again.  (The Norwegian rule at Christmas?  NO WORK!)

On Christmas Eve, old-time Norwegians used to eat a huge feast known as the koldtbord ("cold board"). This was a five-course meal, served buffet-style. A soup course would start the meal (usually meat or chicken soup), and be served all by itself. This was followed by a course of aged cheese, served solo as well. Next would follow a meat course, usually one or more dishes of beef, pork, venison, duck, or goose. This was the first course which had side dishes. The sides were baked or creamed potatoes, and any number of winter vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, beans, turnips, or squash. The next main course was composed of fish dishes like pickled herring salad, herring in cream sauce, lutefisk (jellied cod), or whitefish balls (with a dill sauce). These, too, would be served alongside vegetable side dishes. For dessert, there would be fruit, cookies, and cake. Dinner was served when it got dark, which was usually around 4 PM.  (This is up north, remember!)

Because the julenisse arrived on Christmas Eve, Norwegian children opened their presents that night (and not on Christmas Day). A child might be three presents from a father or aunt or grandparent: Something hand-made (to show your love), some expensive clothing (since clothing was hard to come by), and a toy or other non-essential gift (for pleasure). After the presents were opened, the kids would be put to bed.  There was no modeling of clothes or playing with toys.  You go to bed!  After the kids were asleep, the parents would have coffee and cake around 10 PM. (This is about a third of the way through the night, remember. In the U.S., this would be similar to sending the kids to bed at 10 PM, while parents stayed up talking and having coffee until 1 AM.)

Christmas Day was spent quietly. It was not a time for boisterousness, celebration, or rowdiness. Before dawn (roughly around 6 AM), the father and oldest sons would go outside. Wherever there was an arch or eave or doorway, they would stamp down a circle in the snow. Over the circle they would hang sheaves of wheat or corn. This is the "feast of the birds": Tradition says the birds would dance in the circle, and eat freely of the grain left out for them.  (Not even the wild birds should be forced to work for their meals on Christmas!)

Norway is officially Lutheran, but Norwegians are one of the least-churchgoing people of Europe. Still, everyone goes to "knee-knocker services" on Christmas -- so named because the church was so packed that they hauled out extra chairs and everyone was crowded together. (Their knees knocked against one another!) People would head to church in the pre-dawn light (which in Norway means 7 AM or 7:30 AM in the winter). Services did not last long. There would be a song or two, two readings, a very brief sermon, a song or two...  and then it was all over. Less than an hour would have passed. Everyone would then come home for breakfast. The main dish at breakfast was porridge. An almond would be put in one lucky child's porridge. Whoever found the almond got a marzipan pig to eat as a treat. Wealthy familes or those on the coast might even have lobster for breakfast. Lobster is considered a delicacy, so having it Christmas Day was special.

After breakfast, people sang. Today, most Norwegians have a Christmas tree (a custom imported from Germany in the mid-1800s). They gather around it in a circle, holding hands and singing carols. But my Gramma says that most farmers didn't have one while she was growing up ("only city people had one"). Still, people would hold hands in a circle and sing. Some of the songs were silly and goofy, like "Ring Around the Rosy." Other songs might be patriotic or solemn, or folk songs that would tell a story. One common Christmas song was about apples and pears hanging on a tree, and in winter they all fall off the branches (at which point, everyone in the family falls on the ground laughing).

The remainder of Christmas Day was spent relaxing and snacking. (Remember: No working! No cooking, no dishes cleaned, no prep, no nothing!) Open-faced sandwiches, bread and jam, cheese, and smoked herring or cod would be available. A Christmas Day treat was julekakka ("Yule cake" or "Christmas cake"). Early Norwegians did not often use yeast in their baking, due to the expense and trouble of using it. But julekakka was an exception. This is a very sweet circular cake akin to fruitcake. It is flavored with cardamom (the spice used in a lot of Norwegian foods), and contains raisins, candided fruit, and chopped almonds. It's dusted with powdered sugar, and served sliced.

Christmas Day dinner was both elaborate and formal. Everyone got dressed in their best clothes. (If you had just gotten a suit or new shirt for Christmas, this was when you showed it off.) The best tableware and flatware were also used. Dinner started with rommegrot, a hot rice pudding with sugar, cinnamon, and cream served in a huge punchbowl. Next came the fish course, which was usually smoked cod with a cream-butter sauce and boiled potatoes. The next course would be spare ribs or a crown rib, with a side dish of finely shaved cabbage cooked almost to disintegration with butter, sugar, and caraway seed. (They called this "Norwegian sauerkraut," but it isn't even close.) A summer ham or a light fish dish (like creamed herring, or herring in tomato sauce) would be served fourth. The fifth course would include cold cuts, cheese, bread, butter, and milk. Dessert was generally quite light, and included raisins, candided fruit, nuts, julekakke, and fresh oranges or tangerines.

Norwegians are big Twelfth Night celebrants. Back in the day, each of the 12 nights after Christmas was spent at a party. You'd head to someone's house around 3 PM, drink beer, snack, and then play games or dance. Norwegians used to favor cotillions (social dancing in two lines, ordered by gender) and waltzes, along with a ring dance that is similar to American square dancing but much more energetic (even wild). But that pretty much had fallen by the wayside, even in my grandmother's childhood. (Unless you were rich. Rich snobs always were more formal and traditional.) Playing cards for fun (never money) was a super-popular. Card games which involved more people (like pinocle) were favored over games which did not (like poker, hearts, or bridge). Flirting games were also popular in gramma's time. They'd play a version of "truth or dare" (dares always had to be flirtatious or titillating). Going into the closet with someone and kissing was another game. There was also a game similar to the modern game of "Telephone" (where someone whispered something salacious into one person's ear, and the sentence had to be passed on and on and on to see if it got distorted in the retelling). "Playing doctor" (although clothed) and blind man's bluff were also common. One game was called "clapping out": A young man was sent from the room. The girls would decide who liked that man best. They would then put on their most serious faces, and he'd re-enter the room. He'd have to stare into the face of each girl, and guess which one was the girl who liked him best. He only had a few minutes to make his decision, and often he'd make faces or say outrageous things to the girls to get them to betray their true feelings.

Since day-long snacking was common during the Twelfth Night season, dinners were uncommon. It was far more common to have a porridge breakfast, a good lunch, and then snack and drink the day away until evening. There usually wasn't any big finale to Twelfth Night.  It just ended.  By then, people desperately needed to start cooking, cleaning, and getting on with work again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Groundbreaking on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Education Center occurred today. This massive, 35,000-sq.-ft. museum will be built right next to the Lincoln Memorial.

It's the wrong idea. Dead wrong.

Is every monument to have a mini-museum next to it now? Why not a WWII museum right next to the World War II National Memorial? Why not a Korean War Museum right next to the Korean War Veterans' Memorial? An FDR museum right next to the FDR Memorial? Hey, we need a Washington Museum built around the Washington Monument, and there's all that empty space right behind the Lincoln Memorial for a fine Abraham Lincoln Museum.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Education Center says it is not a museum, it's an "education center" designed to 1) Bring the Vietnam War alive to those who never lived through it; 2) Be a place to connect names to faces; 3) Be a place where vets can heal.

These are specious rationales.  None of them are unique to the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, and none prevent a memorial from being built next to other memorials and monuments. So why is one being built here?  The first rationale is specious, because if people didn't live through WWI or WWII or the FDR years or Lincoln's assassination, why not build museums next to those memorials, too? The second rationale is a slap in the face to the Wall: It is an accusation that mere names on a black granite wall are "not enough" (a criticism hurled at Maya Lin's fantastic memorial since its inception), and it denies the power of the Wall to heal and elicit memory. The third rationale is yet another dig at the Wall, as well as a time-bound rationale. Once there are no more Vietnam War vets, does this meam the "education center" has lost its purpose and should be torn down??  Why build something "just"for Vietnam War vets?  You mean this isn't a place for all American people??

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Education Center is a terrible mistake which will turn into a white elephant scarring the Lincoln Memorial grounds and opening the floodgates to peculiar, unnecessary, and ill-conceived projects everywhere.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

SunTrust has a mobile app. Only, it won't download. And when it does, it doesn't work.

It's been like this for months, and SunTrust doesn't seem to want to fix it.

What a fucking awful bank!!

Friday, November 23, 2012

I'm waking up
To ash and dust
I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust
I'm breathing in
The chemicals
I'm breaking in, shaping up, checking out on the prison bus
This is it, the apocalypse

I'm waking up, I feel it in my bones
Enough to make my system blow
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
I'm radioactive, radioactive
I'm radioactive, radioactive

Ah, holiday memories. And holiday films! Who can forget Rudolph's first flight? Or Jimmy Stewart running down Main Street?

But one of my favorite Christmas movie moments comes in the made-for-TV movie, "Prancer."

It's a silly little made-for-television movie about a little girl whose parents are divorcing. She finds an injured reindeer, and believes it is Santa's lost minion, Prancer.

My favorite part of the movie?

Prancer has followed the girl to school. The handsome sheriff tries to capture the reindeer. He bursts out of a classroom door, gun raised, surprising Prancer.

Prancer backs up into the corner of the hallway... And about two gallons of reindeer pellets gush out of Prancer's ass.

Ah, Christmas memories!!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The ideal mate helps me make the Thanksgiving meal. Notice how he checks the oven to be sure it's hot enough.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My parents thought that "the holidays" meant "put the kids in front of the TV so we can ignore them." To me, "the holidays" have always meant movies on TV: We watched The Sound of Music at Christmas, The Ten Commandments at Easter, and Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang at Thanksgiving.

To this day, I spend my holidays mostly watching movies.

Sadly, there are zilch movies about Thanksgiving. Can you believe that? The Thanksgiving holiday has the most-traveled day of the year (the day before Thanksgiving). More food is sold during Thanksgiving than Christmas, Valentine's Day, Halloween, Memorial Day, Labor Day, or Independence Day. The day after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year. Thanksgiving is the traditional kick-off of the American year-end holiday season.

But nada on film.

Oh, I take that back. There are five movies...kind of. Only one film (Plymouth Adventure) is about Pilgrims, and it's amazingly non-historical. One film is about two guys trying to get home for Thanksgiving (Planes, Trains and Automobiles), but not about the holiday per se. One (The Ice Storm) occurs during the days just before and after the Thanksgiving holiday but is not about the holiday per se. One starts on Thanksgiving (Miracle on 34th Street), but is really about Christmas. One has just one scene set during Thanksgiving (Holiday Inn).


But two of these are two of my favorite films of all time.

Thanksgiving is coming!!!!!!!!! So enjoy this awesome Daffy Duck cartoon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Know what totally sucks?

That I can't find an image of a nude guy wearing a Pilgrim hat.
Americans are coming up on the Thanksgiving Holiday again.

Some background:

The first autmn feast observance was made by Pilgrim settlers in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621. Of the original 102 immigrants, only 56 had survived. But the harvest of 1621 was bountiful, so Governor William Bradford ordered a celebration. More than 90 Wampanoag Indians joined them, for without the Wampanoag's help the colonists would not have survived. The three-day celebration included venison, duck, goose, fish, berries, watercress, lobster, dried fruit, clams and plums.

No observance was made in 1622. After a drought broke in 1623, another "day of thanksgiving" was observed in Massachusetts.

In 1676, the town of Charleston, Mass., observed a day of thanksgiving on June 29 in order to celebrate the town's founding. No Indians attended; the celebration was meant partly to be in recognition of the colonists' recent victory over the "heathen natives".

The next Thanksgiving celebration was not held until 1777. A December "day of thanksgiving" was observed throughout all 13 English colonies in the New World to observe the American victory over the British at Saratoga. Congress and General George Washington then proclaimed annual "thanksgiving day" celebrations in December until 1783 (with the exception of 1782).

In 1789, President George Washington ordered a national day of thanksgiving in December to honor the Pilgrim settlers. But there was widespread disagreement over the holiday. Some felt the focus on the Pilgrims (at the expense of other settlements) was inappropriate; Thomas Jefferson argued that a "Day of Thanksgiving" was undignified. Washington proclaimed a "thanksgiving day" in 1795; President John Adams did so again in 1798 and 1799. President James Madison declared another in 1812 to celebrate the end of war, and declared two in 1815.

But the concept of a national day of thanks did not die. A number of American women kept up a small but steady drumbeat of support for a holiday through articles and essays in various publications. Several states held state-level "Thanksgiving Day" holidays. But many Southern states refused to to hold a holiday out of religious bigotry against Puritanism.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November to be "Thanksgiving Day." On November 19, Lincoln consecrated the national battelfield and cemetery at Gettysburg (delivering his famous "Gettysburg Address"). Deeply moved by what he had seen and heard, Lincoln ordered a national holiday to be observed.

The actual date of Thanksgiving moved a couple of times over the next 70 years.

In 1924, Macy's department store began holding an annual parade in New York City to celebrate Thanksgiving and "officially welcome" Santa Claus to the city. The first balloon appeared in 1927; it was "Felix the Cat." (The parade was suspended from 1942 to 1944 due to World War II.)

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the next-to-last Thursday in November to create a longer Christmas shopping season. But Roosevelt's decision was not mandatory, and half the states continued to celebrate the holiday on the last Thursday in November. In 1941, Congress established the fourth Thursday in November as the official Thanksgiving holiday. (Sometimes this is the last Thursday and sometimes the second-to-last Thursday in November; Congress essentially "split the difference").

Because Americans are so poor at history, here is a brief run-down of settlements in the New World for those of you who want to know when the Pilgrims (and others!) got here.

- - - - - - -

1000 A.D. - Leif Ericson, a Viking, explores the east coast of North America and sights Newfoundland. He establishes a short-lived settlement there.

1492 – The Italian explorer Christopher Columbus makes the first of four voyages to the New World on behalf of Spain.  He sets foot on plenty of Caribbean islands, but never North America.

1497 - John Cabot of England explores the Atlantic coast of Canada and claims the area for the United Kingdom.

1499 – The Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci explores the northeast coast of South America on behalf of Spain.

1507 - The name "America" is first used in a geography book.

1513 - Ponce de Leon of Spain lands in Florida.

1519 - Hernando Cortes conquers the Aztec empire in the Andes.

1519-1522 – A Portugese, Ferdinand Magellan, becomes the first person to sail around the world.

1524 - Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian exploring on behalf of France, lands on the Carolina coast. He then sails north and discovers the Hudson River. He continues northward, entering Narragansett Bay and landing on Nova Scotia.

1541 - Hernando de Soto of Spain, wandering throughout the panhandle of Florida and along the Gulf Coast, discovers the Mississippi River.

1565 - The first permanent European colony in North America is founded at St. Augustine (Florida) by the Spanish.

1584 – English captains Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe explore Roanoke Island, Virginia, and claim the territory for England.

1585 – Sir Richard Grenville lands the first English colony in America at Roanoke Island, Virginia. The colony is abandoned in 1586 after the colonists engage in war with the Native Americans.

1587 – Grenville brings a second group of settlers to Roanoke. The first English child in the New World, Virginia Dare, is born in Roanoke on August 18. Grenville sails for home, and war with Spain breaks out. Grenville sells his interest in the colony to a group of investors. When the British return to Roanoke in 1590, the colony is found to have been mysteriously abandoned with no sign of any graves or dead.

1607 – Jamestown, Virginia, is founded by the London Company. By the end of the year, starvation and disease reduce the original 105 settlers to just 32 survivors. Capt. John Smith is captured by Native American Chief Powhatan and saved from death by the chief's daughter, Pocahontas.

1609 - The Dutch East India Company sponsors a voyage of exploration to North America by Henry Hudson. In September, he sails up the Hudson River to Albany.

1613 - A Dutch trading post is set up on lower Manhattan island.

1619 - The first session of the first legislative assembly in America occurs as the Virginia House of Burgesses convenes in Jamestown. It consists of 22 burgesses (delegates) representing 11 plantations.

1619 - Twenty Africans are brought by a Dutch ship to Jamestown for sale as indentured servants, marking the beginning of slavery in America.

1620 – On November 9, the Mayflower lands at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with 101 colonists. The colonists, known as Pilgrims, had broken from the Church of England and settled in 1607 in the Netherlands (which had a more secure tradition of religious tolerance). In 1620, the Pilgrims emigrated to America. On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed by the 41 adult male Pilgrims, establishing a government with majority rule. The Mayflower Compact set the precedent for other colonies as they established governments in the New World.

1624 - Thirty families of Dutch colonists, sponsored by the Dutch West India Company, settle in what is now New York City.

1626 - Peter Minuit, a Dutch colonist, buys Manhattan island from Native Americans for 60 guilders (about $24) and names the island New Amsterdam.

1630 - In March, John Winthrop and more than 900 Puritan colonists land in Massachusetts Bay. In September, Boston is established and named the seat of government for the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

1633 - The first town government in the colonies is organized in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

1634 – More than 200 Catholic settlers, fleeing a rising tide of Puritan intolerance in England, arrive in Maryland and settle the town of Baltimore.

1635 – The Boston Latin School is established as the first public school in America.

1636 - In June, Roger Williams founds the colony of Rhode Island and the town of Providence. Williams had been banished from Puritan Massachusetts for calling for religious tolerance and enhanced political freedom, including separation of church and state. Providence becomes a haven for many other colonists fleeing religious intolerance.

1636 - Harvard College is founded.

1638 - The first printing press in North America is set up in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

1652 - Rhode Island declares slavery illegal.

1663 - King Charles II establishes the colony of Carolina and grants the territory to eight loyal supporters.

1664 - The Dutch New Netherlands colony becomes English New York after Gov. Peter Stuyvesant surrenders to the British following a naval blockade.

1664 - Maryland passes a law making lifelong servitude for black slaves mandatory. Similar laws are later passed in New York, New Jersey, the Carolinas, and Virginia.

1673 - Dutch military forces retake New York from the British.

1674 - The Treaty of Westminster ends hostilities between the English and Dutch and returns Dutch colonies in America to the English.

1675-1676 - King Philip's War erupts in New England between colonists and Native Americans. King Philip (the colonist's nickname for Metacomet, chief of the Wampanoags) engages in bloody war up and down the Connecticut River valley in Massachusetts and in the Plymouth and Rhode Island colonies. More than 600 English colonists and 3,000 Native Americans die. King Phillip is killed on August 12, 1676, ending Native American independence in New England forever.

1681 - Pennsylvania is founded by William Penn, a Quaker. Penn receives a Royal charter with a large land grant from King Charles II.

1682 – The French explorer La Salle explores the lower Mississippi Valley region and claims it for France, naming the area Louisiana for King Louis XIV.

1682 - A large wave of immigrants arrives in Pennsylvania from Germany. They settle the area around Germantown.

1685 - Protestants in France lose their guarantee of religious freedom as King Louis XIV revokes the Edict of Nantes. Many to leave for America and found the town of New Orleans.

1688 - Quakers in Pennsylvania issue a formal protest against slavery in America.

1690 - The beginning of King William's War as hostilities in Europe between the French and English spill over in the New World. In February, Schenectady, N.Y., is burned by the French with the aid of Native American allies.

1692 - In May, witchcraft hysteria grips the village of Salem, Massachusetts. Between June and September, 150 persons are accused and 20 persons -- including 14 women -- are executed. By October, the hysteria subsides and the remaining prisoners are released.

1693 - The College of William and Mary is founded in Williamsburg, Virginia.

1697 - The Massachusetts general court expresses official repentance regarding the actions of its judges during the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. Jurors sign a statement of regret and compensation is offered to families of those wrongly accused. In September, King William's War ends as the French and English sign the Treaty of Ryswick.

1700 - The Anglo population in the English colonies in America reaches 250,000.
More Miracle on 34th Street Movie Trivia Quiz!

1. The film opens with Kris Kringle walking down a street in New York City. He sees a store employee putting a model of Santa and his reindeer in a store window. Kringle says that the model and display are wrong, telling him that Donner's antlers many points?
a. Three.
b. Four.
c. Five.
d. Six.

2. The thing which breaks the ice between Doris Walker and Fred Gailey is Thanksgiving dinner. Does the film actually show them eating?
a. Yes.
b. No.
c. No, but the dinner conversation is quoted at length later.
d. Yes, but only in a montage.

3. When Mr. Shellhammer is sitting in his office bemoaning the fact that his Santa Claus is sending customers to other stores, his secretary tells him he's got how many other women waiting to talk to him?
a. Six.
b. Eight.
c. Thirty.
d. Just two more.

4. Fred Gailey asks Susan Walker what her father thinks of fairy tales. Susan says her father is:
a. Divorced from her mother and living in France.
b. Dead.
c. No one knows where he is.
d. Working for Gimbel's.

5. Kris Kringle talks with Alfred, the chubby teenage janitor, before going out on the floor of Macy's for the first time. Alfred tells him, "There's a lot of bad -isms floating around, but the worst is..." What?
a. Communism.
b. Capitalism.
c. Commercialism.
d. Selfishness-ism.

6. Fred Gailey takes Susan to see Santa Claus at Macy's, despite her mother's wishes. Susan says Kris Kringle is the best Santa Claus she's ever seen. Why?
a. Because his beard doesn't have wires going over his ears.
b. Because his suit is the shiniest.
c. Because his padding is real.
d. Because he has the best ho-ho-ho.

7. Doris Walker tries to explain to Susan that Santa Claus isn't real, that Kris is just a nice old man. When Kris Kringle arrives, she shoos Susan out and asks her secretary for Kringle's employee card. Does Doris Walker know Kringle's last name?
a. Yes, it's Kringle.
b. Yes, it's Claus.
c. No, she mistakenly calls him Smith.
d. No, she'd doesn't and is surprised to learn it is Kringle.

8. Kris Kringle's employee card lists his current residence. What's listed on the card?
a. North Pole.
b. Macy's Department Store.
c. Brooks Memorial Home for the Aged.
d. Jewish Hospital and Home.

9. When Mr. Macy gathers his senior staff to talk over the new "send customers to other stores" policy, he points to evidence of its success by citing....?
a. The fury over at Gimbel's.
b. The flood of customers into the store.
c. Telegrams from the mayor's wife and governor's wife.
d. A letter from the President.

10. After the meeting in Mr. Macy's office, Doris Walker tells Mr. Shellhammer that she fired Kris Kringle because he thinks he's Santa Claus. Shellhammer replies that it doesn't matter if he thinks he's....what?
a. The Easter Bunny.
b. Uncle Sam.
c. President Washington.
d. Mr. Macy.

11. After learning that Kris Kringle may be crazy, Mr. Shellhammer suggest that "Maybe he's only a little crazy, like painters, or composers, or..." Or what?
a. Mr. Macy.
b. President Roosevelt.
c. Mad scientists.
d. Those men in Washington.

12. While in Doris Walker's office, Mr. Sawyer and Dr. Pierce argue about whether Kris Kringle is insane. Sawyer asserts that Kringle's "entire manner" is aggressive. As evidence, he cites what?
a. Kris shouted at him.
b. Stomped out of the office.
c. Carries a cane.
d. Never takes off his Santa Claus outfit.

13. Doris Walker worries that if a policeman asks Kris Kringle his name, "Clang! Clang! Bellevue!" Someone suggests that Kris stay with a store employee in the city. Who makes this suggestion?
a. Dr. Pierce.
b. Mr. Shellhammer.
c. Kris Kringle.
d. Susan.

14. Doris Walker points out that Mr. Shellhammer has an empty room where Kris Kringle could stay. Shellhammer says it's fine with him, but his wife might disagree. He comes up with a scheme: "We always have martinis before dinner. I'll make them _________-strength tonight. I'll bet after a couple of them, she'll be more receptive!" How strong does he intend to make them?
a. Double-strength.
b. Triple-strength.
c. Volcano-strength.
d. "Man-strength".

15. Kris Kringle tries to get Susan Walker to have an imagination again. He tells her: "How would you like to make snowballs in the summertime? Or drive a big bus right down Fifth Avenue? How would you like to have a ship all to yourself that makes daily trips to China and Australia? How would you like to be the Statue of Liberty in the morning, and in the afternoon..." What?
a. Be a monkey.
b. Be a zookeeper.
c. Swim through the ocean with the dolphins.
d. Fly south with a flock of geese.

EXTRA CREDIT! Doris Walker asks Kris Kringle to see Mr. Sawyer first thing in the morning before reporting for work, to take a test. Kringle laughs, and says he's taken dozens of psychiatric tests. He then ridicules the tests by saying, "Who was vice president under John Quincy Adams? Daniel D. Tompkins -- I'll bet your Mr. Sawyer doesn't know that!" Is Kringle correct????

Mirabilu mirabilis! Correct answers are behind this cut and in bold.

While growing up, Thanksgiving at my house was always stressful. My parents snarled and fought with one another, my brother J. and I snarled and fought with one another, and my brother and I snarled and fought with my parents. My father was a brutal, vicious, physically abusive person. His selfishness knew no boundaries. If he wanted quiet and you made the slightest noise, here came the fist. If he wanted dinner at 4 PM, it better be done right on time -- or out came the screams, the punching, the verbal abuse. My mother was like a wet cat around him: Hissing, arching, angry, spitting, howling. He didn't dare approach her, so he turned on anyone he could. She was the same: Interfere with her in any way, and the claws slashed. Her way was far more emotionally and verbally abusive, but it was not less damaging.

My mother did not cook often, and when she did her cooking was bland and mediocre. She had a Betty Crocker cookbook, but I don't think she used it except as a prop. So although we got a turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and the like on Thanksgiving, it was a mediocre meal made by someone who never practiced as a cook.

I, frankly, don't remember Thanksgiving Days much. They were never memorable. They all seem just one huge mash of anger, fear, and hatred. I seem to have always slept in very late on Thanksgiving, as a way of avoiding the day as long as possible. Usually, my father would break down my bedroom down, screaming, pulling the covers off, slapping at me to get out of bed. The question "Why?" always elicited more slaps, more anger.

Thanksgiving was a day of avoidance. Avoid the family by making the shower last as long as possible. Avoid the family by taking as long as possible to get dressed. Avoid the family by taking as long as possible to eat a bowl of cereal. Avoid the family by taking as long as possible to do whatever chores needed to be done (shoveling the walk, or raking leaves, or cleaning dog shit out of the back yard, or chopping wood, or whatever). Avoid the family by watching TV in the basement (or, if they were in the basement, in the living room). Avoid the family by spending as much time in the bathroom as possible. (Yeah, sure, mostly masturbating. I was a teenager, for chrissake!)

The most blessedly quiet, content times on Thanksgiving were during the grocery store runs. My mother or father would invariably discover that they had forgotten to buy butter, or buy evaporated milk for the pumpkin pie (or that they'd bought condensed milk!), or something. I'd always volunteer to go to the store to get it. Alone, in the car, was peace. An over-crowded grocery store with only one clerk meant peace. I always delayed my return home as long as possible, and it didn't matter if I was ruining dinner or not. (If you don't want it ruined, you should have bought the right ingredients, dipwads.) I'd peruse the magazines, I'd chat with people I'd only barely know, I'd scour the parking lot for "just the perfect parking space" (even if it were empty, or full). I'd drive slowly, letting every stop-light turn red. Anything -- anything to prevent going back home.

The hour or so before eating was the least stressful at home, mostly because it meant my mother was super-busy with food. My dad was the official turkey-carver and gravy-maker, so he was busy too. I always breathed a sigh of relief, because it meant the day was almost over.

Dinner itself was a rushed affair. No conversation, no laughing, no noise. You stayed quiet at the dinner table, and rushed through things. You said, "It's great mom", even if it tasted like shit, because if you didn't there'd be hell to pay. If my dad snarled about eating like hungry pigs, you mumbled that it was because it was so good. (A compliment to mom meant that he couldn't call you a fucking liar and start striking you, because then it meant her food sucked. And the angry, wet cat would come out -- claws extended, all four limbs aimed at his face.)

The danger was that my brother J. couldn't handle any chewing noises or he'd start screaming and punching, so dinner was a tightrope: Chew as fast as you could, mouth purposefully clenched shut, and hope he wouldn't throw a fit. If he did start screaming (and I do mean screaming -- at the top of his lungs), then you knew war was coming. You had to scream back, push back. Then the fight would begin. And within seconds, my father (who sat to my right) would begin pulling, punching, screaming. My mother (who sat to J.'s left) would lunge across the table to try to stop things. ("Can't we have a nice dinner just for once?!?!")

The fight might last only five or ten minutes, but it was always traumatic to me. I don't know why. Dinner would end with food strewn everyone (at least the dog had a good meal), everyone bruised and clawed and scratched and hot and angry. J. liked to not only punch, and punch as hard as he could, but also claw with his fingernails. I'd usually have some ragged cuts on my face or left arm. My dad punched, too, which meant bad bruises on my right side. (Even in his 20s, my brother J. would attempt to start fights with me at holiday meals. The last time he did so, we were at a great-uncle's home in Tacoma, Washington. My youngest brother was in the National Guard, and about to head off to Iraq during the Gulf War. In front of a room full of kids aged five to 12, J. began screaming, hissing, howling, and punching at me because he could hear me chew. I said, "What're you gonna do? Start a fight in front of these little kids?" He whipped around. Little children were open-mouthed, horrified at him. Quivering with rage, he controlled himself. I chewed with my mouth open, making the most disgusting noises, for another half-hour. He's never done that since.)

After dinner, my brother would skulk in his room, door closed. My parents would sit in the living room, arguing, drinking bad wine (mom) and bad beer (dad), blaming one another for their pig-children. My youngest brother would watch TV in silence.

When I was not yet able to drive, Thanksgiving meant usually going to a neighbor's house to hang out or to drive with my dad to the store. Once I could drive, I'd light out in the car afterward -- just driving around town. Needing to be anywhere but there. Needing to be away from the constant hatred, constant attacks, constant trauma, constant drama. Maybe I'd come home after a few hours and stay, but usually I went out again. "I'm going to a friend's house" was the best excuse (ignoring the demand that I provide this friend's name).

* * * * *

College in Seattle was too far away to return home for Thanksgiving. It meant hanging around school, ordering pizza, hanging out near Pike Place, and wondering what the Japanese students were talking about as groups of 20 made noodles and soup and fried rice in the tiny dorm kitchen. Seattle is cold and went in November, and a lonely town when it's wet like that. Everyone is inside, and the city is grey and silent. You can hear your own footsteps, no matter how much it rains.

One Thanksgiving in college, I felt so alone that I drove down to Tacoma and walked around for four or five hours near the Tacoma Dome, Pacific Avenue, and the pedestrian mall. I stumbled into the Pink Elephant Car Wash, and the nearby Almond Roca factory down there. I got a huge can of the stuff, then came back to my dorm room. I took a hot shower in my clothes, got back to my dorm room (with agog Asian students looking at me as if I had grown antennae), stripped, turned the heat up high, and chowed down on noodles, almond roca, and vegetables while watching Hello, Dolly! on KCPQ-TV.

It was one of the most peaceful, contented Thanksgivings I have ever had.

* * *

I've since learned to be a good (if not great) cook. I have made full-fledged, massive-meal, every-dish-but-mashed-turnips Thanksgiving meals. I've spent the day with the family of a boyfriend, or spent it entertaining friends, or spent it alone. But looking back, I find that many of these Thanksgivings have been difficult in one way or another. I have friends who say, "Every Thanksgiving I have is terrific. Friends, family, cooking, football, shopping, movies." I marvel at that.