Thursday, November 28, 2013

Americans are celebrating the Thanksgiving Holiday today.

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 Gen. George Washington 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 Nov. 19, Lincoln had 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 time 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." (It 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").

But, 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.

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

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.

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

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

1541 - Hernando de Soto of Spain 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 they 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 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 The Netherlands, which had a more secure tradition of religious tolerance, in 1607. 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 was established and named the seat of government for the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

1633 - The first town government in the colonies was 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 was founded.

1638 - The first printing press 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 Netherland 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 received 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, Penn.

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 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 this event occurring?
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, 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 hear 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. Mr. Sawyer and Dr. Pierce argue about whether Kris Kringle is insane in Doris Walker's office. 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! (answers behind the link...)

Happy Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving!!!! Since Miracle on 34th Street (Fox, 1947) is my favorite Thanksgiving motion picture, here's a little trivia quiz for anyone who is interested.

1. The title of the film refers to 34th Street in New York City. But why?
a. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade goes from 1st to 34th Street.
b. Judge Henry X. Harper's courtroom -- where Kris Kringle is found not insane -- is on 34th Street.
c. Macy's flagship department store was on 34th Street.
d. The house which Kringle finds for Fred and Doris is on 34th Street.

2. The Santa Claus initially hired for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is drunk. He justifies his drinking with what rationale?
a. A man's gotta do something to keep warm.
b. Those reindeer make me nervous; this is just a little courage.
c. This? This is just hot tea.
d. I really wanted coffee, with a little cream.

3. Doris Walker is in charge of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the film. When Mr. Shellhammer offers to give her a ride on his motorcycle and take her back to the store, what's her reply?
a. She'd rather walk and enjoy the air.
b. She's going home to take a bath, and sleep until next Thanksgiving.
c. She brought her own car.
d. There's no room in the sidecar, so she decides to go home.

4. When Fred Gailey and Susan Walker watch the parade, Susan comments that the giant baseball player balloon used to be something else last year. What was he?
a. A clown.
b. A Pilgrim.
c. A football player.
d. Mr. Macy.

5. Fred Gailey offers Doris Walker coffee when she comes over to his apartment to pick up Susan. Doris says she'd love a cup. But how many sips of coffee does she actually drink?
a. One.
b. Two.
c. Four.
d. Drains the cup.

6. Susan and Fred scheme to get Fred invited to Thanksgiving dinner at the Walker's. The scheme works (sort of), and Doris invites Fred to dinner. What time was dinner?
a. Two o'clock.
b. Three o'clock.
c. Four o'clock.
d. Five o'clock.

7. Before he goes out onto the floor of the toy department for the first time, Kris Kringle is told by Mr. Shellhammer that he should push certain toys that the store is overstocked on. He gives Kris a list of the toys. Alfred, the chubby teenaged janitor, tells Kris to do what with the list?
a. Hold onto it, they dock ya if you don't have the list.
b. Put it your pocket, and tell Mrs. Walker about it.
c. Ignore it.
d. Throw it on the floor (he's tired of just sweeping up dust).

8. During Kris Kringle's first day as Santa Claus at Macy's, a little boy asks for a certain toy for Christmas. What does he ask for?
a. A fire engine.
b. A real, regulation football helmet.
c. He can't remember.
d. A doll.

9. The mother of the little boy in Question #7, above, is played by famous character actress:
a. Thelma Ritter.
b. Mary Wickes.
c. Mercedes McCambridge.
d. Trick question! She's a total unknown who is never credited.

10. Kris Kringle directs the mother in Questions #7 and #8, above, to what other department store?
a. Gimbel's, of course!
b. Sears.
c. He doesn't say, he just rips a page from his notebook and says to "go here".
d. Schoenfeld's.

11. Kris Kringle is shown asking a little girl what Christmas present she wants. The girl says she wants roller skates. This time, Kringle sends her to what department store?
a. Gimbel's!
b. Macy's!
c. Schoenfeld's.
d. F.A.O. Schwartz.

12. A little orphan girl from Europe is taken to see Kris Kringle. Kringle speaks to her in her own language, which proves to Susan that he really is Santa Claus. What language does he speak?
a. Dutch.
b. German.
c. I thought Dutch and German were the same thing...
d. Hungarian.

13. Every time Kris Kringle must leave his Santa Claus chair, someone puts up a sign that says "Santa Claus is..." What is he doing (according to the sign)?
a. Busy making toys.
b. Feeding his reindeer.
c. Off to the North Pole.
d. Seeing Mr. Macy.

14. The bitter, snarky, evil Mr. Sawyer conspires to have Kris declared insane. What function does Sawyer actually have at Macy's?
a. He administers intelligence tests.
b. He's the store doctor.
c. He's an accounting clerk.
d. He's a personal assistant to Mr. Macy.

15. When Kris Kringle finds out that Mr. Sawyer is psychoanalyzing Alfred and has told Alfred that he hates his father, Kringle becomes very upset. He accuses Sawyer of impersonating a psychologist...and then he says something very strange. What?
a. He confuses psychiatry with psychology.
b. He accuses Sawyer of hating his father.
c. He says Alfred has no father.
d. He accuses Sawyer of impersonating a medical doctor.

Extra Credit: True or false? -- After his meeting with the senior staff, Mr. Macy says that the ad boys show have dinner and get a good's night sleep. But then he also says that they should work on the problem overnight.

It's a miracle if you know the answers!  (They are behind this link....)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

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

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that the George Washington Memorial Parkway, begun in 1929 and mostly completed in 1932, was designed to be an extension of the D.C. park system as well as a means of protecting the Great Falls of the Potomac River and the Potomac Palisades?
"I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds..."

Monday, November 25, 2013

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that the title of the 1964 motion picture Dear Heart as originally The Out-of-Towners, but that producer Martin Manulis changed it when he heard the Jay Livingston and Ray Evans theme song?

The National Coalition to Save Our Mall is a group that is dedicated to preserving the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in its current form.

Anyone who knows anything about the history of D.C. knows that the Mall is highly dynamic. From the city's founding in 1789 to 1881, only the eastern half of the Mall existed. It was bordered on the north by a canal, and another canal formed its eastern boundary in front the Capitol building. It was mostly natural trees, lots of shrubs, and some open patches of grass until the Civil War, when most of the trees and shrubs were cut down to provide camping grounds for Union troops and places for cows (which fed the troops) to graze. In the 1870s, a huge series of winding gravel walkways, some gazebos, some fountains, and a huge number of trees and shrubs were planted on the National Mall to turn it into a Victorian garden. It remained that way into the 1920s.

The National Mall as we know it came into existence after the Senate Park Commission set out a master plan for the Mall in 1902. Although never adopted by Congress, the plan was immensely influential and commission members, who were someof the most respected landscape architects and urban planners of the day, fought tooth-and-nail against anything that would encroach on it. The "McMillan Plan", was their master plan was called, was slowly adopted by various federal agencies, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Committee (NCPC), and other bodies.

The McMillan Plan envisioned the National Mall as a vast tapis vert or grass carpet extending all the way from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. It even placed the Lincoln Memorial where it is today, and created the Reflecting Pool in front of it. All buildings had to be set back 300 feet from the Mall's centerline.

Not all of the McMillan Plan's proposals were adopted. The plan envisioned a north-south crossbar for the Reflecting Pool near the Washington Memorial, but this was abandoned. It envisioned a vast series of terraces, gardens, and colonnades around the base of the Washington Memorial, which was also never created (it would have destabilized it). Instead of the Jefferson Memorial, it planned a huge number of athletic fields, a stadium, bathhouse, beaches, and gymnasiums at the northwestern tip of East Potomac Park. A vast ceremonial plaza was planned where the Capitol Reflecting Pool is instead, and a vast complex of office buildings were to be built around the Capitol (where there is nothing today). Indeed, where the Tidal Basin is today was supposed to be filled in and a "South Arm" of the Mall created. Only a four tiny ponds were supposed to exist, to the west of this arm.

The National Mall has changed radically over time. No one envisioned the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, or the National World War II Memorial. The Rainbow Pool, created at the behest of the McMillan Plan, is gone. Maryland Avenue Southwest, once envisioned as a boundary for the Mall, is fragmented and will get even more so with the construction of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial. Beginning in 1917, temporary War Department building were constructed on the north side of the Reflecting Pool. They were not torn down until 1970. Constitution Gardens was constructed on the site.

The National Coalition to Save Our Mall basically likes what they've got now. They don't want it to change one dot. The body was formed in 2000 to fight the placement of the National World War II Memorial on the axis line of the Mall between the Washington Memorial and Lincoln Memorial. They lost that battle, but they've been fighting to stop any additional changes.

Oddly, the National Coalition to Save Our Mall does favor turning the National Mall into a big amusement park. In 2009, the organization proposed adding food kiosks and small restaurants all over the Mall; building additional amphitheaters, theaters, stages, and hard-packed grounds where entertainment can be set up; constructing a large number of fountains and water parks (for the kids, ya know); adding "historic walks" with lots of signage; creating a "President's Garden" to memorialize all presidents on The Ellipse; construction of temporary memorials on sites through the National Mall; building a big National Mall Visitors' Center; permitting lots more large events (like the Folklife Festival) to use the Mall; and adding commercial (not just government) buildings.

So let's go back to Feburary 2013. The National Coalition to Save Our Mall released a plan to create a huge underground parking garage beneath the National Mall. They argue that it can serve double-duty as a stormwater run-off cistern, and hold lots of water for drinking and watering flowers. You can see their little slide show here.

The National Coalition to Save Our Mall makes three points in support of its proposal:

1) The National Mall lacks parking. Street parking is limited to 2 or 3 hours, and is eliminated during rush hour. There is too much traffic congestion caused by buses and cars searching for parking, and buses often parking in front of museums and government buildings -- obstructing views and causing security concerns.

2) The National Mall needs water for the grass, trees, gardens, reflecting pools, and fountains.

3) A 2006 thunderstorm and 2012's Hurricane Sandy led to extensive flooding of the basements of buildings on the north side of the National Mall. A 2009, a planning body recommended building a giant stormwater cistern beneath the National Mall as a stopgap measure.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Some people have called the proposal by the National Coalition to Save Our Mall "innovative".

I don't find it innovative, as it's just doing what people have done in D.C. before (most notably over at Washington Harbour). It also has a huge number of problems. Let's talk about them:

First, adding vast underground parking worsens the traffic problem in downtown D.C. and surrounding roadways by creating a huge amount of parking space. This does not mean that the above-ground spaces (which the slide show detests so much) have gone away or won't be used. They will continue to be used. All the underground parking garage does is create more parking space, and hence more traffic on roads. It doesn't solve any problem.

Second, the National Malll is already inundated with visitors. Indeed, there are so many visitors that the quality of the Mall has been rapidly degraded. Giving more people access to the Mall worsens the problem by magnitudes!

Third, those fountains and sprinkler systems so lovingly talked about by the slideshow are fed by the public water supply system. There is no crisis in the water supply system. None. Zilch. Zippo. Plenty of water is available. There is no need for a vast cistern belowground. Indeed, the NCPC has argued that the National Park Service (NPS) needs to move away from the invasive species and exotic plants that it has planted on the Mall and toward more native plants which can weather drought far more successfully. Adding water to maintain the current unsustainable plantings is like trying to build a watermelon ranch in the desert. You can do it, but it's wasteful and dumb.

Fourth, who is going to move those vehicles in the event of a storm? Look at Washington Harbour's experience: They use the lower two levels of their parking garage as a flood control system, and cars down there are routinely destroyed when it happens. Ditto for what happens with any underground parking garage on the National Mall.

Fifth, the flooding of the Federal Triangle is NOT due to Hurricane Sandy or massive thunderstorms, but rather due to the existence of Tiber Creek -- half of which is currently buried in a sewer tunnel beneath Constitution Avenue and half of which is still flowing through the surround earth north of Constitution Avenue. In fact, the basement levels of most of the buildings on the south side of Federal Traingle leak: Every day, eight buildings -- including the Commerce Department and the FBI -- collectively pump 1.7 million gallons of groundwater from their basements because of submerged Tiber Creek. The east wing of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History is pulling away from the main building because Tiber Creek is beneath it. Stormwater floods these basements even more -- not because the city sewer system cannot handle the runoff. It can: There is an overflow system that dumps stormwater directly into the Potomac River (a massive problem, BTW). The problem is the existence of Tiber Creek, which leaves the ground below and north of Constitution Avenue so wet that any large amount of rainwater will flood these buildings. And no "emergency cistern" is going to stop that.

Sixth, emergency stormwater runoff cisterns like this will be collecting water contaminated with eveything that is on the city streets nearby. This includes a vast array of petroleum products, trash, food, plant debris, human waste, dead animals, and more. Who is going to pay for the cleaning of this underground parking garage? Taxpayers. When the garage is being cleaned for a week after the storm, where do all the thousands of buses and cars go that used to use the parking garage? Right up onto the streets, which are already full of buses and cars.

Seventh, the National Mall is already in crisis over a major influx of crime. This includes vandalism, but also several armed and unarmed robberies, several beatings by two or more people, and several sexual assaults. Adding a vast, dim parking garage only worsens the problem. Look at the tremendous problems Union Station is having -- and it is above ground, well-lit, and exceptionally busy.

Eighth, this "underground parking garage-cum-cistern" seems to be a plan to avoid what the Park Service is already doing: raising the levees on the National Mall. As everyone knows, West Potomac Park, the northwestern end of East Potomac Park, and the western National Mall (past the grounds of the Washington Memorial) were created primary as flood control. Instead of a Potomac River bay about two feet deep, we have earth an average of six feet in height above the mean high-water mark. The earthen berms along both sides of the western mall are designed to hold back floodwaters. As the NCPC has pointed out, however, flat roadways act as channels through these berms for floodwaters (which defeats their purpose), and the NPS' plan to close the roads and erect walls of sandbags is a lousy one. Indeed, the berms themselves have settled, and were never really high enough to defeat the highest type of floods that the city has seen in the past. NPS is engaged in a plan to raise the berms, and address the street-as-channel problems. National Coalition to Save the National Mall doesn't like these changes. So it's proposing a flawed plan for a parking-garage-cum-cistern.... Hmmm....

Ninth, just how is transportation an issue on the National Mall? Most of the Mall is very adequately served by Smithsonian, Capitol South, and Federal Triangle Metro stations. Only the Washington Monument, and West Potomac Park lack good transporattion options. Instead of creating a problematical parking garage, why not create a Circulator bus route that begins at Smithsonian and has stops near Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, South Ellipse, and Washington Monument? It's cheap, it uses the existing infrastructure, and can easily be adjusted to run less frequently during low levels of tourism.

Tenth, I think we also need to raise the eqarthquake stability of such a structure. After all, the western part of the National Mall is reclaimed land. During a significant seismic event, this land is going to liquify and settle. The effect on the eastern mall will be far less, but it's also not clear what the effect will be on the Washington Monument to have several million tons of water on the east side. Seismologists have already rejected any attempt to build structures around the base of the Washington Monument, for fear that they will depress the ground and destabilize the memorial (which is massively heavy and has already sunk into the soil some; a survey was going on this month to determine how much). Just how will an underground parking garage, potentially filled with water, handle a major seismic event?

Yeah, I don't think the idea of a parking garage that doubles as a stormwater cistern is a good idea...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... some of the earliest buildings constructed on P Street SW (pictured) were owned by Reverend Luther Rice, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, and Columbia College?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that painter William Walton designed the bier for the body of President John F. Kennedy, and helped decorate the East Room of the White House and the exterior of the White House for Kennedy's lying-in-repose, and helped select the exact spot at Arlington National Cemetery for Kennedy's burial?
This is why Doctor Who tends to suck these days:

Yes, I think that the writing on the show, whose reboot is now in its ninth year, has seriously declined. The first year included the spectacular episode "Dalek", probably the second-best episode of the nine year-run. It also included "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances" ("are you my mummy?"). The second year showcased "The Idiot's Lantern", and the third-best episode of the series' run, "Love & Monsters". The third year included the all-time best episode of the series, "Blink". The fourth year included the excellent "Midnight". And then, during the 18-month hiatus, the show produced the bitterwsweet "The Next Doctor", the thrilling "Planet of the Dead", and the thrilling "The Waters of Mars".

But in the past three years, what's happened? We had but a single great episode ("The Lodger"). We had a few okay ones ("The Doctor's Wife", "A Christmas Carol", "The Girl Who Waited", "The God Complex"), which mostly served as showcases for guest-stars.

Writing aside, showrunner Steven Moffat simply doesn't know what he's doing. His rationales for decisions on the show make absolutely no sense. To make my point, let's look at the decisions Moffat and others made while coming up with the idea for Clara Oswald and casting the role.

* * * * * * * * *

1) Executive producer and lead writer Steven Moffat chose her for the role because she worked the best alongside Smith and could talk faster than he did.
Really? Not because she was a terrific actor, not because she looked the part even. Because she could speak fast. BAD DECISION.

2) Coleman had never seen Doctor Who before her audition. She watched "The Eleventh Hour" (Matt Smith's first outing as the Doctor) as well as the last four episodes featuring Amy and Rory ("Dinosaurs on a Spaceship", "A Town Called Mercy", "The Power of Three", and "The Angels Take Manhattan") top get a sense of the show. She didn't want to watch any more of Doctor Who because she wanted her acting to be "spontaneous".
Really? You know, Jenna Coleman, there's something called "acting". It means that you ACT OUT spontaneity and freshness and surprise and shock and puzzlement. You don't actually have to be those things; you ACT. So what Steven Moffat did was, essentially, to cast a non-actor in the role. BAD DECISION.

3) Neil Gaiman came up with the character of Clara Oswald, and intended for her to be a Victorian governess. Moffat had not yet decided on an actress to play Clara, so for call-backs the writers scripted a modern character for the women to play. During the second round of auditions, Moffat conceived the idea of having Clara appear throughout the timestream. Coleman "trust[ed] that there would be a payoff" to her mystery.
Really? Because if Doctor Who is a piece of shit show, there'd be no payoff. If it was a good show, naturally there'd be a payoff. So is Coleman saying she assumed the show as a piece of crap? YES, SHE WAS.

4) Moffat felt that the introduction of a new companion made "the show feel different" and brought the story to "a new beginning" with a different person meeting the Doctor.

Really? Because, you know, having a new companion has never done that before. And while "a new beginning" might apply to the relationship between Clara and the Doctor, it is ludicrous to believe that it essentially reboots Doctor Who in any way. STUPID REASONING.

5) Executive producer Caroline Skinner said the character of Clara Oswald restored a more "classic Doctor Who format".
Really? You mean Doctor Who is no longer epsiodic? Oh, oh, I know! It means Doctor Who isn't about defeating the alien-of-the-week. No! Wait! There's never beena companion on the show. OOOH! OOOH! I know! We've strayed from the "single companion" theme. NO! It means we've gone back to companions who aren't in love with each other!! In fact, Doctor Who has consistently alternated between one and multiple companions, and it has often had companions fall in love with one another. In fact, Clara doesn't alter the show one damn bit. STUPID REASONING.

6) Smith said that Clara was different from her predecessor Amy Pond (Gillan), which allowed the audience to see a different side of the Doctor.
Really? Because that has never happened with a companion ever ever ever before. STUPID REASONING.

7) Moffat said that Coleman brings "a speed and wit and an unimpressed quality that makes the Doctor dance a bit harder". Coleman said the character "holds her own" and was competitive with the Doctor, providing "a nice double act".
Really? Because in the past, we've had a number of quick-witted, wipping companions. We've had a number of companions who've not been impressed by the Doctor. And we've had plenty of characters hold their own against the Doctor. STUPID REASONING.

8) The character of Clara was intended to reawaken the Doctor's "curiosity in the universe and gives him his mojo back".
Really? Because one of the problems with the rebooted series is that it fundamentally changed the Doctor from someone with a positive outlook and desire to help into a bitter, self-doubting, angry, tragedian who is broken by the sheer number of deaths he's caused over the centuries. If there is a problem, it is FUNDAMENTALLY with the show's writing and not with the companions. But, once having gone over the cliff, if you want to get back on top again you need to alter the Doctor's character. You don't do this by having him "play off" someone. You do it by taking the character of the Doctor on a personal journey that allows him to heal. You don't just cast a bouncy girl with sass. (We tried that with Mel, remember?) STUPID REASONING.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that although the United States Commission of Fine Arts has review (but not approval) authority over the "design and aesthetics" of all construction within Washington, D.C., a positive ruling is de facto required before a bulding permit is granted by the city?

Monday, November 18, 2013

I'm so bummed. I went to Chipotle, and got a burrito. But it leaked, and ate through my paper bag, and fell on the street. Now I have no burrito.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Both monuments.

looking E through N arcade - Lincoln Memorial - 2013-09-30
I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... After leaving the U.S. Navy, National Gallery of Art director Earl A. Powell III considered becoming an architect, but a professor, S. Lane Faison, told him, "That's stupid. You should go into art history. It's the only thing you were ever good at."?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Arts of War and The Arts of Peace in back of the Lincoln Memorial here in Washington, D.C.

Erected in 1950, The Arts of War is in the Art Deco style and sculpted by Leo Friedlander. The Arts of Peace is in the Neoclassical style, and features Pegasus at the center of each composition. It was sculpted by James Earle Fraser.

SW horse eye closeup - Music and Harvest - The Arts of Peace - Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway - 2013-09-30

SW Harvest detail - Music and Harvest - The Arts of Peace - Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway - 2013-09-30

NW closeup - Music and Harvest - The Arts of Peace - Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway - 2013-09-30

NW side view detail 03 - Music and Harvest - The Arts of Peace - Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway - 2013-09-30

SW front detail 03 - Aspiration and Literature - The Arts of Peace - Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway - 2013-09-30

SW view detail 01 - Aspiration and Literature - The Arts of Peace - Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway - 2013-09-30

Friday, November 15, 2013

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that Washington Post architecture critic Benjamin Forgey called the tower at 1099 14th Street NW the "quirkiest" of the many towers downtown, and said it looked like an "improbabl[e]...cemetery ornament in the sky"?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dr. Seuss for a new generation...

This summer, I had quite an interesting conversation with my sister-in-law about the things my next-youngest brother believes about my parent's marriage.

I have a Middle Brother (MB) who is a year younger than me, and a youngest brother (YB) who is four years younger than me. MB was the black sheep of the family, even as a small child. He ripped opened Christmas presents a month before Christmas, he slugged and bit, he would shout and scream and throw tantrums, he did very poorly in school, he would not do chores, and he refused to obey simple rules. By the time he was about 10 years old, my parents pretty much gave up on him. Their goal was to contain, not reform. If he threw a tantrum, they would reward him for calming down by purchasing $300 worth of ski equipment. If he threatened to go drinking with his friends when he was 15, they allowed him to get drunk at home rather than be on the streets unsupervised.

YB was the baby of the family. My mother had a very, very difficult pregnancy with him, and afterward was told she could have no more children (even though she desperately wanted a girl). Consequently, my parents treated him like a baby, and he learned to manipulate their desire for someone to coddle. He'd complain of a "tummy ache" the moment he had to do chores or homework. He learned he could bite, scratch (he kept his fingernails very long for this express purpose), and kick -- and then when you retaliated, he'd cry loudly and blame everyone but himself. He learned that he could simply do nothing -- just sit in a room, or curl up on a bed, or simper a bit -- and my parents would stop pressing him to clean up his room or mow the lawn, and make someone else do it. He learned that if he played up his incompetence and "babyness" to the hilt (even as a 10 or 14 or 16 year old), my parents threw up their hands and would turn to someone else to accomplish the cooking, cleaning, chores, or whatnot rather than teach him how to do it.

* * * * * * * *

Today, according to what I learned, MB tells everyone that my parents had the perfect marriage. They loved one another deeply, never argued, and my dad was heartbroken when my mother died of cancer two weeks after their 25th wedding anniversary.

In fact, my parents were on the verge of divorce for the last 10 years of their marriage. My father was a selfish lout who rarely paid attention to his wife in any way. He loved get-rich-quick schemes, and often blew entire monthly paychecks on foolish scams or outlandish purchases. Very often, we ate Depression-era food like sugar sandwiches and Saltines with canned tomatoes because my father had somehow blown all his paycheck on some disastrous plan. My parents had nasty, lengthy arguments about my mother's desire to have a life outside the home. She once won an award from the Montana Farm Bureau for her use of wheat stalks in handicrafts; my father refused to allow her to engage in that hobby ever again. A trained speech therapist who once worked for Easter Seals, she wanted to help disadvantaged Native American teens and single mothers learn basic life-skills. My father discovered that she'd taught a young Native American woman how to vote, and he ended that "hobby" of hers, too. In the last decade of their life together, my father became so brutal and nasty toward her that my mother would openly weep when she visited friends. She was counseled repeatedly to divorce him, but she refused -- because there were still kids at home. (I believe that, once my youngest brother left college, she would have divorced my dad.)

MB saw none of this. For one thing, he was so little aware of other people's feelings and behaviors -- so wrapped up was he with being a narcissist -- that he probably was not aware of it.

But far more likely is that he simply never saw it. Beginning in junior high (we had junior high, not middle school), MB began staying at friends' houses as much as he could. On weeknights, he would go directly from school to a friend's house. At least twice a week, and often as many as four times a week, he'd eat dinner there and then spend the entire evening at one or more friend's home. If he did come home for dinner, he'd leave again and go to a friend's house for the evening. We had a 10 PM curfew, and so he'd come home shortly after 10 PM. (The local news was from 10 to 10:30 PM. My dad shut the house down at 10:30 PM -- all lights were off, all doors locked, etc. My brother would violate curfew repeatedly, but never came home after the news was over. He knew that was a hard, firm deadline.)

On Friday nights, MB would invariably spend the night at a friend's house. Same for Saturday night. Only on Sunday night would he spend the night at home, and then usually not getting home until 8 PM or so. (In Montana in the 1970s and 1980s, Sunday night was "homework night" for a lot of kids. Other families forced their kids to do homework, and MB would either do his at their house or not at all. "Not at all" or "barely" was the option MB chose, so usually it meant coming home after other people kicked him out of their house.)

* * * * *

And then there were summers.

Beginning about the start of junior high, MB met the son of a wealthy doctor in our town. Let's call him "Doc Johnson", because this man was as tough and leathery as the bootmaker's products. "Doc Johnson" had married the daughter of a rancher, a quiet and gentle woman who'd spent most of her life in the sun. She was older than most parents by a full decade, with white hair and heavily tanned and lined skin. She was also something of an alcoholic, as her husband was a wife-beater and an angry, angry, angry man. Madame Johnson, however, figured out how to live with her husband: Stay at home, no friends, keep the house spotless, cook meals and serve them on time. "Doc Johnson" was the kind of man who, if he lived a very orderly life, was taciturn and quiet. The slightest disruption, however, and he blew his stack.

"Doc Johnson" owned a large ranch in north-central Montana that was his favorite place to be. Their house in town was large, and roomy enough for Doc's two kids, a girl and her much younger brother.

It was the brother MB met. Now, this kid, Doc Jr., was good looking. Short, but good looking. He was quiet, but not shy. He had brains, but rarely used them. (He was also hung like a horse, but that didn't become important until after he left for college and finally discovered what blessings and benefits he had between his legs.) In many ways, Doc Jr. was a lot like my brother MB -- but "Doc Johnson" and his massive, physical, violent temper kept Doc Jr. in check. Naturally, Doc. Jr. and MB bonded immediately.

Oddly, "Doc Johnson" loved my brother. My brother was "the son I never had", so "Doc Johnson" said repeatedly. It was the oddest thing in the world. The Doc's own son was the same as my brother. But the Doc loved my brother, not his own kid. The Doc tolerated my brother's wildness, cheekiness, sarcasm, anger, violence, and sloth. But he wouldn't tolerate it in his own child.

In some ways, this caused but also alleviated tension in the "Doc Johnson" family. When my brother was around, "Doc Johnson" was a much more pleasant man, and the constant stress he placed on his own kid evaporated. At the same time, Doc. Jr. and the doctor's wife were both envious of my brother and thankful for his presence. Doc Jr. began to hate his father for this.

My brother quickly discovered the "Doc Johnson" ranch. And he began spending his entire summers up there. Within a week of school getting out for the summer, the "Doc Johnsons" would head for the ranch. Doc would travel back to the city on Mondays, see his patients, and head back on Fridays. Meanwhile, Mrs. Doc and Doc Jr. would stay at the ranch, my brother with them. They cooked out, they rode horses, they mended fences, they rounded up cattle. My brother learned to use snoose (wet tobacco placed between the cheek and gum), spit, use a spittoon, and use a lariat. The boys hunted gophers, rabbits, snakes, and skunks.

Now, my parents usually went for two weeks to North Dakota to see my grandparents. We'd depart the week before Independence Day, and then spend that week and the next visiting relatives. My brother would have to come back to town to come with us. Naturally, he threw a huge tantrum at having been "forced" to leave his little bit of heaven and spend time with his family. He took out his rage and bitterness on all of us, with endless insults, taunts, punching, tantrums, screaming, and all around bad behavior. If my grandfather gave us three kids ice cream bars, MB would knock mine out of my hand and stomp on it -- then run away, claiming he had nothing to do with it. If my grandparents asked him to mow the lawn or clean leaves out of the gutters, he'd refuse. If we went to an elderly relative's house, he'd throw a low-level tantrum the entire time.

After 14 to 20 days of hell, we'd go back to Montana. And my brother would decamp for the "Doc Johnson" ranch, and stay there until a week or two before school started.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I'm only slowly coming to be aware of just how much this influenced my childhood.

Both my parents were people who grew up somewhat poor, and loved money. My dad engaged in get-rich-quick schemes. My mom wanted to be a social climber and loooovvvved gambling.

In hindsight, my mother was probably very conflicted by MB's relationship with tough-and-leathery "Doc Johnson". On the one hand, "Doc Johnson" was just the sort of rich, socially superior person that she idolized and desperately wanted to be like. She craved being admitted to their social circle, and participating in the "lifestyles of the rich and famous" that she thought they had (well-kept, beautiful homes; maids; nice furnishings; well-behaved children; nice cars; teas and brunches; dinner parties; etc.). That "Doc Johnson" and his mildly alcoholic, sad, weather-beaten wife never lived this kind of lifestyle was not something she acknowledged. (In fact, when she discovered that Mrs. Doc was alcoholic, she quickly ended any budding friendship they might have had.)

On the other hand, my mother was very, very upset that her own son rejected his family so completely. She was also distraught because she and my dad appeared to fail so miserably in reining in his sloth, anger, violence, and selfishness. Being good parents was something both my folks wanted desperately to be (it made them feel better about themselves), and the fact that they'd failed with MB was deeply upsetting. In addition, my mom very much envied my brother's easy acceptance by this wealthy, socially superior family (when she could not win such acceptance).

I don't think my father understood what was happening, noticed it, or acknowledged it.

Both my parents were just very, very glad to get their wild beast of a son out of the house for three months. It meant some real calm settled on the family. It meant that the repetitious cycle of outrageous behavior/violent anger, punishment, failed punishment, and taunting of my parents for their failure disappeared. Overnight. Whoosh, gone.

* * * *

There were unintended side-effects of this, however.

I spent most of my time at home, or next door at our neighbor's house. With my younger brother playing at infantilism and my middle brother no longer in town, nearly all the things that needed doing at the house fell to me to do. Guess who mowed the lawn every single week? Me. Guess who had to do dishes twice a day? Me. Guess who had to do laundry twice a week? Me. Guess who had to help my father when he failed miserable to fix the lawn mower or the car? Me. Guess who had to vacuum the house every other day? Me. Guess who had to weed the garden? Me. Guess who had to pick dog shit out of the grass? Me.

Not that my winters were much different from the summers. MB was always gone, so he never shoveled the driveway or the sidewalk in winter. He never got kicked out of bed at 4 AM to go look for the dog who'd gotten out of the yard. He never had to chop ice from the gutters in the street when spring came. He never had to chop wood and bring it inside, every evening.

I didn't mind chores. I minded the immense unfairness of it. It ate at me.

* * * * * * *

I also have come to realize that MB completely lacks any understanding of how his behavior and childhood shielded him or isolated him from the reality of our family. I used to think that his stories about my parents' perfect marriage were fantasies -- things he told himself and others to avoid confronting the reality of it.

Increasingly, however, I'm realizing that he may simply not know the truth.

But I'm also fully cognizant of the fact that he does not want to know, because his fragile sense of self is built on the shifting sand of my parent's "good marriage". Where once he hated my father, today he does everything he can to show how proud he is to be his father's son. Where once he loathed everything about the family and its history, today he does everything he can to embrace it. (If you find a ragged piece of fabric lying in the house, my brother will call it an "antigue" and declare it has "family history" attached to it and refuse to let you throw it out. It's kind of crazy.) My father's violent rages, my father's beatings, my father's intense and overwhelming selfishness, my father's stupidity, my father's craven greed, my father's sloth -- none of that goes recognized. According to MB, my father was a "beloved schoolteacher" who was gentle, loved people, intelligent, courageous, and more. He was a fucking saint, as MB tries to put it.

When my father died, I ran into some of my mother's friends over the 10 days I spent in Montana. Many of them expressed to me just how ugly my parent's marriage had been. I guess that now that a person was dead, they could be honest about things. Nearly all of them believed that I already knew this stuff. (I didn't, but I just smiled and nodded and said "Oh, I know...") Interestingly, none of them talked to MB about it. When MB learned (fifth-hand) about what they'd said, he flew into a rage. Everyone was a liar but my dad. Everyone was a filthy fucking asshole, but my dad.

When my mom died, 20 people gathered in the hallway at the hospital. More than 300 came from all over Montana, North Dakota, California, Idaho, and Wyoming to attend the funeral.

When my dad died, he died alone. About 30 people showed up for his funeral, most of them people he'd not seen in 20 years. Most of them came out of respect for my mother, not my dad.

MB refuses to acknowledge this. He has told me point-blank that more than 500 people showed up for my dad's funeral in 2009.

I just bite my lip and stay quiet.

But I am more and more aware of just how widespread and deep the repercussions of MB's life-choices reverberated through my family.

Big Mike detail - Museum of the Rockies - 2013-07-08

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History was due to accept a nearly-complete T. rex skeleton known as the "Wankel" or "Devil" Rex on National Fossil Day (October 15, 2013), but that the federal government shutdown meant it will not go on display until the museum's Hall of Dinosaurs is done being refurbished in 2019?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I already own The Essential John Ford Collection -- a boxed set that includes a documentary as well as four fantastic fiilms: Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), and My Darling Clementine (1946).

Now, Turner Classic Movies is releasing John Ford: The Columbia Films Collection. It contains four films: The Whole Town's Talking (1935), Gideon's Day (1958), Two Rode Together (1961), The Long Gray Line (1955), and The Last Hurrah (1958).

Two of these are, I think, spectacular films. The Whole Town's Talking stars Edward G. Robinson as Arthur Ferguson Jones, a meek advertising company clerk who is a startling double for a gangster known as "Killer" Mannion. The lovely and always spot-on Jean Arthur is the woman the shy and terrified Jones has his eye on. Mannion breaks out of jail, and naturally Jones is arrested. Jones proves his real identity easily enough, and the cops give him a "pass" so that he won't be arrested again. But when the real Mannion encounters Jones, he hatches a scheme: Impersonate Jones so that he can commit a host of crimes and get away with it. The film involves a neat twist at the end, and a suspenseful check-cashing scene at a bank. I know, right? "Suspenseful check-cashing scene"? But you have to see it to believe it!

The other film is one of my all-time favorites: The Last Hurrah. Spencer Tracy plays Frank Skeffington, an Irish Catholic mayor of a overwhelmingly Protestant town in New England. Skeffington's held office for years, mostly through corruption, bribery, and patronage jobs. Nothing outrageous, but enough to keep him in power -- and to challenge the city's bankers and WASPs, who care nothing for the poor. Jeffrey Hunter plays Adam Caulfield, the son of the city's Protestant newspaper owner and a reporter. Disgusted by Skeffington's tactics, he comes to appreciate just how Skeffington has undermined the Main Line families that once controlled the town. The elites, however, have turned the Catholic bishop against Skeffington, and they decide to run a political neophyte against him -- Kevin McCluskey, a brain-dead, dull, boring but handsome ex-soldier. Using television and radio, the elites begin turning the town against Skeffington...

The Long Gray Line is a Tyrone Power bio-pic about a long-time instructor at West Point. I find it boring and treacly. Gideon's Day is a minor film about a Scotland Yard policeman that switches from his family life to the legwork he engages in to catch criminals. Two Rode Together is a James Stewart, Richard Widmark, and Shirley Jones Western about a sheriff (Stewart) and Army officer (Widmark) who save four people long held captive by the Comanche Indians. Jones plays a young woman who believes her baby brother (now in his late teens) is probably one of the captives.

Two Rode Together is an interesting film, because it's really about American hatred of sex and other cultures. An old white woman considers herself "less than dead" after being forced to have sex with the leader of the Comanches and be his wife for the past 15 years. A young Mexican woman, however, is glad to be rescued (hence, "Mexican" is associated with "whore"). Another captive is a teenage boy just come of age, Running Wolf. Is he or is he not the lost white boy now grown to manhood? Can he adapt to white culture again?

John Ford called the film "just crap" and said he'd done it a hundred times better in his classic film, The Searchers. But there are some incredible cinematic shots in Two Rode Together that have to be seen to be believed. There are many who say that by 1958 John Ford was a half-blind old man who had nothing left in him, that he showed up on the set of John Wayne's The Alamo begging for work, and that he was drunk and broken.

Yet, this is the man who would produce the stunning, pessimistic Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance just a year later, and who'd push Cheyenne Autumn in 1964 into an Oscar nom for best cinematography. (And neither film relies on goddamn Monument Valley, either.)

A Christmas Carol, the novella by Charles Dickens, was first published on December 19, 1843.

Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol largely to remind his family and his readers of the Christmas traditions which Dickens himself had experienced as a child. Dickens' father had been moderately prosperous, and Dickens' childhood had been one of upper-middle-class gentility until he was 12. Dickens' family celebrated Christmas in imitation of the upper classes. They adopted a number of Continental traditions (the Christmas tree, mistletoe and holly in the home, the Yule log, feasting, the giving of presents, playing games on Christmas Day, caroling, decorating the home, lighting candles, celebrating Advent, etc.), and Christmas became a time for close and loving family interaction. Dickens included many of the traditional Christmas celebrations his family had in the novella (particularly when depicting the holiday party held by Scrooge's nephew, Fred.)

But Dickens' father went to debtors' prison when Dickens was 12, forcing young Charles to begin working in a shoe-polish factory. Dickens was deeply scarred by the experience, even though he only worked there for a few months. His father inherited £450 from his dead grandmother, about eight years' worth of income for a skilled craftsman. It was a very large amount of money, and it allowed Dickens' father to be released from prison. Dickens was sent to a boarding school afterward for about two and a half years. The school was horrible, the teachers barely more literate than the children, the discipline cruel, and the food barely edible. This experience had a very negative impact on Dickens, and it, too, appears in the novella -- in particular the scenes where the Ghost of Christmas Past visits a depressed and lonely Young Ebenezer at boarding school.

Dickens published his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, in 1836 when he was 24 years old. Over the next five years, he published four of his most popular novels: Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, and Barnaby Rudge. After a long and exhausting six-month American tour (during which he read and acted out many of his most popular writings on stage to worshipful crowds), Dickens returned to England in the fall of 1843. He was desperately short of cash, and frustrated at the uncouth nature of America. So he wrote A Christmas Carol, a novellette that would not only make him a quick wheelbarrow full of cash but also give make him feel better about upholding old traditions.

A Christmas Carol contains elements of an idealized Christmas. But Dickens' observations of the lifestyles of both Ebenzeer Scrooge and Bob Crachit are fairly accurate.

But just what sort of businessman is Ebenezer Scrooge? We're told that many people owe him money, and that he has a "counting-house" at his office. A "counting-house" was a room where accounting was done: The entering of deposits, the writing of checks to pay expenditures, the entry and filing of receipts, the logging of loans made, the calculation of interest, the receipt of payments and recalculation of principal, etc. Scrooge also mentions that he often goes to the "'Change" (the Exchange) and sits there, conducting business. It's not clear, though, whether Scrooge means a stock exchange or a money exchange. We can conclude, however, that Scrooge is a professional money-lender, and that he lends money to both private people and businesses. When he lends money to businesses, he probably does so in the form of loans. But if he is part of the stock exchange, he is probably lending money to businessmen to buy stocks. If he means the money exchange, then he probably is a money-changer as well -- exchanging foreign currency into English money and back again. This, too, makes sense: We learn from the novella that as a youth, Scrooge apprenticed at Fezziwig's. What sort of business was Fezziwig's? We know Fezziwig owned a warehouse, and that this warehouse is where Scrooge worked. So it's possible that Scrooge is still engaged in the merchant trade, and probably foreign trade. However -- and this is important -- Scrooge's business cannot be very big, as he has only a single clerk.

Scrooge clearly lives a typical upper-middle-class life. Few members of the middle class owned property; most rented. Indeed, leases at the time were often for 99 years! Leases would be passed down from father to son to grandson, like title to property. It's clear that this is how Scrooge got his house. A Christmas Carol tells us that Scrooge inherited his house from Marley after Marley's death. Most likely, he inherited this 99-year lease. It's possible, though, that Scrooge owns the house outright. (But this seems likely, given how small his business is.)

What was Scrooge's home like? We learn from the novella that it was set at the end of a cul-de-sac, the furthest house back from the main street. It was large, many-storied, and gloomy on the outside, while the inside was drafty, dark, cold, and empty. But if Scrooge was a typical upper-middle-class Englishman, we can surmise much more about the kind of home he lived in. For example, it is probably a detached home.  A wealthier individual's home would be detached, which meant that there was grassy space between it and the houses on either side. There most likely would have been a small yard in back, where flowers or vegetables were grown, or small animals (like rabbits or chickens) kept.

Scrooge's home also most likely had four floors. In England, "ground" floor was the story at street level and the "first" floor the first story above "ground." (I'll use that terminology here. Most Americans would consider Scrooge's "ground" floor the first floor, and Scrooge's "first" floor to be the second floor.") Scrooge's home most probably had an English basement (a floor half-below street level). The basement would have contained a kitchen, pantry, and dishwashing/laundry room. Most upper-middle-class people had live-in servants, and they slept in a room in the basement. The "ground" floor was accessed by a short series of steps which led up to a main door. Inside, an entrance hall with chairs received guests. To the left of the entrance hall was a dining room; to the right, a library. On the "first" floor was a drawing room -- a massive room where entertaining occured. It occupied the entire floor, with few interior walls to break it up. Removable partitions or very heavy curtains would have been used if the drawing room was to be broken up into smaller spaces. These partitions were either put up by hand, or were an accordion-like structure (like you see today) which pulled out from its resting place against the outside wall. Scrooge's "second" floor probably contained several bedrooms. Most homes had four, but there might have been as many as seven. At the very top of the house was usually an attic or garret for storage. In most such homes, a servants' staircase ran from the top to the bottom of the house in the back, while the family used the main staircase. A dumbwaiter usually ran from the kitchen in the basement to the "ground" floor (e.g., to the dining room) and "second" floor (generally to the master bedroom). The entire property would have been surrounded by a six-foot-high wrought-iron fence. The main gate was locked, so that burglars, the poor, or strangers could not gain entry. The front gate would be unlocked only during the day (when tradesmen or deliveries were expected), and in the evening only when guests were anticipated.

Homes like these usually had several staff. A female cook would prepare meals, and a female housekeeper would maintain the home. Scrooge might have had a houseboy (a young boy who would help him dress and do some of the hard labor), but not a butler. If Scrooge had a wife, there would have been a maid-of-all-work as well. With children, an upstairs maid might have been added; with lots of children, there might even have been a parlour-maid.

A Christmas Carol tells us that Scrooge is not using most of his home. He has none of the normal staff an upper-middle-class person would have, and probably has a part-time housekeeper and cook come in. Nearly all the rooms in his home have been rented out as business space. The ground (basement) floor is a wine cellar, Scrooge says. The first floor (with its unused dining room and library) and the second floor (with the large drawing room) were also leased for office space, Scrooge tells the reader. He would have had to climb through a darkened, empty, unlit house holding a candle to reach his bedroom on the third floor. All the bedrooms but his own would have been closed off as well. We know that there are at least three bedrooms on the "second" floor, because in addition to Scrooge's bedroom there is a dressing room. It's possible that Scrooge has sub-divided the master bedroom to create the dressing room, but give his miserliness it is more likely that he merely is using the bedroom next to his (to which there is a communicating door) for the dressing room.

Scrooge's bedroom, like those of most English urban homes at the time, would be heated by a small coal-burning fireplace. Most upper-middle-class people lit this fire just prior to going to bed, and woke up to a bitterly cold room. Scrooge, however, seldom lit his fireplace (we're told) with more than a lump or two of coal. He probably used it only for meals (see below), and refused to allow it to be stoked with enough coal to actually heat his room. Bedrooms in upper-middle-class homes at the time were sparse: There was usually a four-poster bed with heavy bed curtains to hold in heat from the sleeping bodies. Beds for the wealthy were were placed on a wooden stand which raised the bed about a foot off the floor. On this platform would be a horsehair mattress (the less-well-off middle-class made do with straw), and a feather mattress on top of that. Layers and layers of sheets and heavy blankets would keep a person warm during the night. Numerous pillows propped a person up in bed as well as provided additional heat-retaining devices for the head and shoulders. Most people generally wore a heavy nightdress and cap to keep warm. (Scrooge wears just such clothing to bed.) To one side of the bedroom would be a wardrobe in which a person's clothes were hung (there were no such things as closets). A rug would lie on the floor, and there'd be a a dressing table with mirror and a washstand. The dressing table would contain, at most, a tray, ring-stand, combs or brushes, and perhaps some pots or vials containing facial and hand creams. This was a table; there were no drawers. A bowl and a pitcher of water would sit atop the washstand, and beneath it (usually behind a cupboard door) would be the chamber pot. There was no indoor plumbing; you pissed or shit in the pot (which would be emptied the next day into the sewers).

Bob Crachit's home is likewise typical -- at least for a lower-middle-class family. Most lower-middle-class houses were "back-to-backs," which meant that the back wall was shared with the back wall of the house behind. The side walls, too, were shared, so that only the front of the house had windows. Glass was expensive, so most windows were generally greased clear paper (which let a sort of yellowish light through). There was usually one large room downstairs and one large or two large rooms upstairs. A fireplace for cooking would occupy the rear of the main downstairs room, with pots, pans, dishes and cutlery stored on the mantel above the fireplace. In the center of the room would be a wooden table (able to seat six, usually) and some chairs. Off to one side would be a large trunk (usually wood, but sometimes made of tin) in which the family's clothes would be kept. Pegs and hooks lined the walls at shoulder height for the storing of clothes and other items. Perhaps some benches or stools would also sit against the wall. Most bachelor men purchased a wooden cupboard or sideboard before becoming married. The longer a person remained without children, the more furniture they purchased. But Crachit, having so many children, probably doesn't have more than the sideboard. In the poorer familes, everyone slept in the same room. The parents had one bed, and all the children slept in a massive second bed. The chimney provided heat in the bedroom at night, at least for a short while. Trundle beds (a low bed stored under the main bed) might be pulled out at night for the smaller children to sleep on.

The Crachits probably were slightly better off than most families -- at least before the kids came along -- for we're told they had a home with four rooms. We know one of these rooms was at the back of the house, behind the fireplace. This is the room where the family did washing. This room had an upright rectangular brick oven, in the top of which was set a large copper or tin bowl with a lid. Underneath was space for a fire to be lit. This is where the family did their washing. The washing would be boiled (literally) in the bowl, then the dirt beaten out of it. (Soap was not known yet.) Laundry was hung indoors to dry (since outdoor air was so filthy). During the summer, this wasn't so bad. But in the winter, it made the home damp and uncomfortable. Limited kinds of cooking could be done here as well. A Christmas Carol say this is where the Crachit's Christmas pudding was cooked, and that when it was taken out of the bowl the whole house smelled of food and washing. Bleah! Now, by 1840, even many lower-middle-class families lived in homes with a kitchen rather than a washroom in the rear. It would have a coal-fired fireplace (not a stove), and be the warmest room in the house. But the Crachits don't live in that kind of home, which indicates that their poverty has left them in an older home without a kitchen.

The Crachits probably did not eat at home most days. Large families were expected to eat in pubs or obtain food from vendors on the street rather than cook meals at home. This was because the Crachit home had no storage area for vegetables, and certainly no cold-storage area for keeping dairy products or meat.

Keeping families together was a problem for the emerging English middle-class. Nearly all the children were expected to sleep in the same bed, in part because of space limitations and in part because more bodies meant that they wouldn't freeze to death at night. But consider the most likely outcome when you mixed boys and girls in their teens in the same bed at night. That's right: Two-headed grandchildren with purple tongues and crooked legs! To reduce the likelihood of incest, older teen girls often did not sleep at home once they reached the age of 13 or 14. Families with only girls for children would sometimes take them in (usually for a small fee) or the teenage girl would stay at a local all-girl rooming house.

Interestingly, Bob Crachit is lower-middle-class, but he shouldn't be poor. He has a decent job with a relatively well-off employer. So it's not his low income that leaves him poor but rather the large family he has. Crachit also isn't like your typical English father, either, in that he hasn't put his children to work. In most middle-class families, children older than 10 or 11 years of age were expected to work to support the family. Crachit's oldest daughter, Mary, works days as a milliner's apprentice and earns her keep at night by working as a maid-of-all-work for a wealthy family -- sleeping at her employer's house so that she doesn't have to share a bed with her older brother, Peter. Even though Peter is 13, he doesn't yet have a job. That's very odd. Nor does Belinda, the Crachit's second-oldest daughter (who is 11 or 12 years old). The size of the Crachit family means that Bob should have hired a scullery maid to help his wife out part-time, but the family's poverty means they cannot afford it.

What about the other aspects of daily living? Scrooge's house would have had a pump in the basement scullery, or (if no pump was available) a waterman would come by every day with his horse-drawn water-wagon and fill a cistern in the rear of the house. The Crachits would get their water for cooking, drinking, and washing from a public pump or fountain, and carry it to a water barrel in the house. Most people, rich or poor, wore the same clothes four or five times before washing them. Scrooge probably owned six or seven suits of clothing and two or three sets of bed linens. His laundry only had to be done once a month. But Bob Crachit probably owned one suit, maybe two, like the rest of his family. The Crachits would do laundry weekly: The entire family would chip in to boil water, cook the clothes, beat the dirt out, wring the clothes dry as much as possible, and then hang the clothing up to dry. Scrooge probably used beeswax candles to light his home at night. The Crachits had no indoor lighting, and would have gone to bed when it was dark. Both Scrooge and Crachit probaly bathed once a week. Upper-middle-class families used a a tin or brass bathtub in the scullery, but since Scrooge has rented this area of his home to a wine merchant he probably bathes at the public baths. As the adult male in his home, Bob Crachit probably also bathed at a public bath. But Crachit's family would bathe in a tin tub in the washing toom, with the mother bathing first and then the children (oldest first). By the time the family got to the smallest kids, the water would be absolutely filthy. (No wonder Tiny Tim was sick!)

What about food? Neither Scrooge nor Crachit would have had refrigeration. There was no such thing as an "ice box" as existed in the United States. Perishables would be purchased on a daily basis and cooked immediately. (Some upper-middle-class people might have had a marble shelf in the basement pantry which would help help keep meats cool and edible for a day or two. But Scrooge has closed his pantry and rented out the basement, so he doens't have this.) Ebeneezer Scrooge would have had access to most of the better-quality foods that wealthier individuals also enjoyed. But Bob Crachit's diet was heavy on bread. Up to half his daily calories came from bread, and bread was the "staple of life" for his class of person. Whether a family was wealthy or poor, food was usually sold from a cart by a "costermonger" who traveled through each neighborhood on a daily basis. In wealthy or upper-middle-class families, the servant or wife might also visit a store in the morning, place an order, and the food would be delivered later that day.

What did they eat? Breakfast for the wealthy was usually eggs and bacon, with bread. For the poor, it was usually bread and butter (usually with meat drippings allowed to soak into the bread for flavor, protein, and fat), or a sweet roll. Lunch for both the wealthy and the lower-middle-class was usually the same thing: Perhaps roast potatoes, maybe pea soup, sometimes a sandwich or a meat pie (dough with bits of bacon cooked into it), maybe bread and butter. Both the wealthy and lower-middle-class would finish lunch with a fruit tart. The wealthy might also eat smoked fish or cheese with lunch. A standard evening meal for the upper-middle-class generally meant a main meat dish (fish, lamb, or less commonly beef), vegetables (salad, roast vegetables, or vegetable soup), potatoes, and a "pudding." (Puddings were a sweet dish of flour, eggs, milk, fat, spices, and fruit rolled into a ball and then boiled in cloth.) The upper-middle-class might also have some other sweet dessert like cake. While the upper-middle-class and wealthy might eat meat every day or every other day, the lower-middle-classes usually ate meat only on Sunday. Most Sundays, this meant sausages or stew-meat cooked over an open coal fire. On holidays, larger cuts of meat would be eaten. But since most poor homes didn't have kitchens and most middle-class kitchens didn't have ovens big enough to handle large cuts of meat like goose, turkey, or roasts, these large cuts had to be taken to the neighborhood baker's and cooked in his ovens.

Scrooge, being a bachelor and miser, took his meals the way Bob Crachit and his family did: They went to a food vendor on the street, or to a pub or meal-house and ate their meals there. Had Scrooge been a normal person, he would have had his food delivered, stored, cooked, and served at home. Interestingly, Crachit's wife probably only cooked on weekends.

A Christmas Carol tells us that the Crachit family cooked their goose at the baker's. But they cooked their pudding at home. At one point, the Ghost of Christmas Present strongly criticizes English society for trying to enact "Sunday closing" laws. These laws would have meant that bakeries would have to close on Sunday. The effect would have been to deprive the poor of the ability to cook large cuts of meat on Sunday, for which the spirit is justifiably angry.

Tea was the most common drink for all classes, because it was cheaper than coffee and healthier than unboiled water.

There's an interesting sidelight to A Christmas Carol as well which tells you a lot about Ebenezer Scrooge. In the mid-1700s (about 100 years before the time in which the novella is set), most people would have had a heavy breakfast of meat/eggs (or bread, if you were poor) in the early morning, followed by a heavy "dinner" at 4 PM, and a very light "supper" (more a snack, really) at 10 PM just before bed. But by the time of A Christmas Carol, the "dinner" hour was occuring at around 8 PM. "Supper" no longer existed. A new meal had emerged -- "luncheon" -- to be eaten around 11 AM or Noon. For the upper-middle-class and wealthy, there was even a new meal: "Tea," a snack of tea and sweet desserts held around 4 PM. It's clear from the novella, however, that Scrogge still followed the old routine of breakfast, dinner, and supper. This is why Scrooge has a light meal of gruel just before bed.

But what to wear? Scrooge was expected to work in a black coat, shirt (collars and cuffs were detachable), waistcoat, and black trousers. Checks and stripes were considered "unserious" and the mark of a con-man. Crachit was expected to wear the same clothes, although he could get by without the waistcoat. Hair was worn long (cut at the collar), and beards and mustaches were uncommon until about 1850. A Christmas Carol tells us that Bob Crachit had purchased a new collar, and given his old collar to his son, Peter (who saw this as a rite of passage into manhood).

Other facts in the novella are also telling. Let's take money: Back then, a pound sterling was worth 20 shillings, and 1 shilling was worth 12 pence. There were four crowns to a pound, and one crown was worth 5 shillings. Half a crown, then, was worth 2.5 shillings. At the time, a skilled craftsman (one of the higher-paid workers in England) could expect to earn about 4.6 shillings per day, or 27.6 shillings a week. (Work weeks were six days long until the 1930s.) Bob Crachit earns 15 shillings (three crowns) a week, which goes to show how poorly he is paid.

And what about the end of the story? Scrooge tells a boy that he'll give him half a crown if the boy runs to the butcher shop down the street and brings back the butcher and the prize turkey in the window. Scrooge is essentially offering to give the boy one-sixth of a week's wages! That's like offering him $115 in today's money.

Perhaps the greatest enigma of the novella is not Scrooge or Cratchit but Scrooge's nephew, Fred. Right at the beginning of the novella, we learn that Scrooge considers Fred (who is given no last name in the book) to be poor. But, interestingly, Fred doesn't seem poor in the least! He has his own home (much like Scrooge), he has a wife, and he has a fairly nice set of clothes. In fact, Fred seems not to have a job at all, for he can visit Scrooge's place of business during the day and not have to worry about whether he'll lose his job.

Is Fred independently wealthy?? It's an interesting question. Perhaps the root of Scrooge's anger at the world is that his father bequeathed the family fortune to Ebenezer's sister, Fran. We know that Scrooge's father was relatively wealthy, for he had a country home and a house in London, and he could afford to send his son to a boarding school. Yet we also know that, by the time Ebenezer is in his late teens, his father is dead and the family is penniless. Perhaps Fran inherited everything, and the terms of the will required her to provide nothing to her younger brother.

Such an inheritance might have left Fred in a sort of "genteel poverty." He would not necessarily have to work, due to the income he received from the inheritance. He might even have inherited the lease on his home, so that he himself would not have had to buy the property (just make the rental payment).

We also know that Fred is wealthy enough to entertain. One of the key developments in Christmas celebrations around 1800 was the transition of Christmas from a public holiday into a private one. From about the early 1400s until 1800, Christmas was never spent in the home. Rather, everyone spent Christmas in public. Remember, back then, there was no "middle class." Most people in Europe were very poor. Christmas was a time for the wealthy to distribute food, drink, and fuel to the masses in a public square or at the church. Most people would gather in a public square or on the commons (the state-owned meadow on the city limits, where the poor could graze their livestock) and pool their resources to celebrate the holiday. Christmas rarely incorporated pious religious services; rather, Christmas was a time for hard drinking, hard partying, and hard fornication. But Christmas also served a social function by bringing people together as a community and making everyone feel like they belonged. It was only with the rise of the English middle class around 1800 that this changed. The middle class began trying to reinforce their position in society by denigrating "the poor," and community socializing quickly came to a screeching halt within a half a century. Christmas turned inward, becoming more of a private (family) affair than a public celebration of togetherness.

So what about Fred? Fred has invited a few (very few) friends to his home for eating, drinking, songs, and games. This indicates that Fred has enough money to pay for such a party, and gives the lie to Scrooge's claim that Fred is dirt-poor. What Dickens is doing is drawing on the older tradition of public celebration, but mixing it with the emerging tradition of a private (rather than public) holiday. This part of the novel isn't very historically accurate, but it serves Dickens' goals well.

One last thing should be mentioned about A Christmas Carol: Have you noticed that there are no presents given in the novella? Gift-giving was not a common practice at Christmas until the 1840s. Prior to the 1800s, people did not give gifts at Christmas. Instead, they donated food and drink to the poor. It was not seen as a "gift" but rather as a requirement of being wealthy. It was a classic redistribution of wealth. (How socialist! That darn Jesus...always beating up on the rich.) As the late 1700s approached and people had more wealth, it became more common for a person to make a small item at home and give it as a token to a family which they visited during the Christmas celebrations. Such items were usually small objet d'arts or handicrafts, small gifts of food or liquor, an item for common use (like a cup or bowl), or perhaps a religous item (like an icon). Only around 1840 -- juuuuuust before Dickens wrote his story -- did store-bought Christmas presents become common. Indeed, it would be another quarter-century before the commercialization of Christmas really set in. By 1870, the middle class had grown so large that the giving of gifts at Christmas was now becoming popular. These gifts often took the form of toys for children, and luxury items for adults (perfume, clothing, art, musical instruments, etc.). Because the giving of gifts was not yet a well-established tradition in Dickens' time, he does not include it in A Christmas Carol. Rather, Scrooge instantly thinks of giving food to the Crachit family. It's not because the Crachits have no food (they have it). It's not because the Crachits need more food (although they could do with that). It's because Scrooge is thinking of the older tradition of giving food and drink to another family on Christmas. We interpret this much differently, given our modern perspective -- but that's not how Dickens intended for it to be seen.

So not only is A Christmas Carol a great story. It's telling us a lot about what it was like to live in 1843, and what it was like to be poor. It's telling us a lot about the changing traditions of Christmas at the time, too.