Archive for December, 2010

No trivia tonight. Just a lot of happy caroling. We were better on some carols, like ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” than we were on others, like “Good King Wenceslas’, which really requires practice and singers who know the words and the tune. But we were always enthusiastic. Once again, “The 12 Days of Christmas” was the highlight of the evening.

I took some photos, and realize that I missed more than a few of you. So next year more photos and less beer. Well, more photos anyway.


(ps. click on the photos for the enlarged version)

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Winner: iPod

Tonight’s quiz was filled with the most obscure Christmas questions, leaving most of us feeling that Santa had left only a lump of coal for us this year. Did you know that Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer, allegedly the most famous reindeer of them all, did not even make an appearance in “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” I feel hoodwinked by the reindeer’s press agent. Even iPod was surprised to learn that his sheet with only 1/2 right was good enough to win. Following closely behind were Rosebud, who is a Santa elve wannabe, and Brenda, a newcomer to the game.

Not to worry, next week will be much more fun. No bar exam, because next Tuesday will be the annual night of Christmas carols at Main Street Cafe, surely one of the year’s highlights. Now if only we can convince Ellen to ditch her family responsibilities, and appear to perform her lead role of “5 Golden Rings!”, the night will be complete. Looking forward to seeing you all there.

Good Question!: How many ghosts are there in “A Christmas Carol” ?

Answer: 4

A Christmas Carol is a novella by English author Charles Dickens first published December 1843. The story tells of sour and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge‘s ideological, ethical, and emotional transformation after the supernatural visitations of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come- that’s 4. The novella met with instant success and critical acclaim.

The book was written and published in early Victorian era Britain when it was experiencing a nostalgic interest in its forgotten Christmas traditions, and at the time when new customs such as the Christmas tree and greeting cards were being introduced.

Dickens’s Carol was one of the greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England, but, while it brings to the reader images of light, joy, warmth, and life it also brings strong and unforgettable images of darkness, despair, coldness, sadness and death. Scrooge himself is the embodiment of winter, and, just as winter is followed by spring and the renewal of life, so too is Scrooge’s cold, pinched heart restored to the innocent goodwill he had known in his childhood and youth.

The forces that impelled Dickens to create a powerful, impressive, and enduring tale were the profoundly humiliating experiences of his childhood, the plight of the poor and their children during the boom decades of the 1830s and 1840s, and Washington Irving‘s stories of the traditional old English Christmas.

The tale has been viewed as an indictment of nineteenth century industrial capitalism and was adapted several times to the stage, and has been credited with restoring the holiday to one of merriment and festivity in Britain and America after a period of sobriety and sombreness. A Christmas Carol remains popular, has never been out of print, and has been adapted to film, opera, and other media.

A recap follows:

The tale begins on Christmas Eve seven years after the death of Ebenezer Scrooge‘s business partner Jacob Marley. Scrooge is established within the first chapter as a greedy and stingy businessman who has no place in his life for kindness, compassion, charity, or benevolence. After being warned by Marley’s ghost to change his ways, Scrooge is visited by three additional ghosts – each in its turn, and each visitation detailed in a separate chapter – who accompany him to various scenes with the hope of achieving his transformation.

The first of the spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, takes Scrooge to the scenes of his boyhood and youth which stir the old miser’s gentle and tender side by reminding him of a time when he was more innocent. The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, takes Scrooge to several radically differing scenes (a joy-filled market of people buying the makings of Christmas dinner, the family feast of Scrooge’s near-impoverished clerk Bob Cratchit, a miner‘s cottage, and a lighthouse among other sites) in order to evince from the miser a sense of responsibility for his fellow man. The third spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, harrows Scrooge with dire visions of the future if he does not learn and act upon what he has witnessed. Scrooge’s own neglected and untended grave is revealed, prompting the miser to aver that he will change his ways in hopes of changing these “shadows of what may be.”

In the fifth and final chapter, Scrooge awakens Christmas morning with joy and love in his heart, then spends the day with his nephew’s family after anonymously sending a prize turkey to the Cratchit home for Christmas dinner. Scrooge has become a different man overnight, and now treats his fellow men with kindness, generosity, and compassion, gaining a reputation as a man who embodies the spirit of Christmas. The story closes with the narrator confirming the validity, completeness, and permanence of Scrooge’s transformation.

According to historian Ronald Hutton, the current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday spearheaded by A Christmas Carol. Hutton argues that Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity, in contrast to the community-based and church-centered observations, the observance of which had dwindled during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In superimposing his secular vision of the holiday, Dickens influenced many aspects of Christmas that are celebrated today in Western culture, such as family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games, and a festive generosity of spirit.

For a nice tribute site with the full text of  “A Christmas Carol,” illustrated with images from the most-beloved screen version, the 1951 movie “Scrooge,” starring Alastair Sim, try:


For those of you with a Kindle there is a wonderful free version at Amazon’s site:


For those of you more visually inclined, try either of these two performances, generally considered the best screen versions of Ebenezer Scrooge:

George C Scott – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qh_fUMgFomk&feature=related

Alastair Sim – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1l1_82x2BO4&feature=related

source: wikipedia

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Winner: Beth

This evening Beth had dinner with her dad, and as she said goodbye, he urged her to win the game this week. Which is exactly what she did. The irony is that the quiz had been weighted with aviation questions to satisfy a beef from Flyboy Bob, Beth’s husband. Alas, Bob was AWOL this evening. It was left to Beth to carry the family flag and post her very first win. Finishing second was Beth’s old friend, droppin’ Dave.

Good Question: Who was the first man to die in a US airplane crash?

Answer: Thomas Selfridge

Flight’s First Fatal Trip

It was Sept. 17, 1908. Orville Wright was showing off a new “aeroplane” at Fort Myer, Va., for about 2,000 people, including Army brass. Wright took up a 26-year-old lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps, Thomas E. Selfridge, “an aeroplanist himself,” according to neewspaper reports.

The Army had awarded the Wrights a contract to fly a two-man “heavier-than-air” flying machine that would have to complete a series of trials over a measured course. In addition to the $25,000 (about $600,000 in today’s buying power) bid, the brothers would receive a $2,500 bonus for every mile per hour of speed faster than 40 mph. No supersonic stealth fighters just yet.

Contemporary accounts vary, but the pair apparently made three and a half successful circuits at an altitude of about 75 feet, when three or four minutes into the flight, a blade on one of the two wooden propellers split and caused the engine to shake violently. Orville shut down the engine but was unable to control the airplane.

The propeller had hit a bracing wire and pulled a rear rudder from the vertical position to a horizontal position. This caused the airplane to pitch nose-down, and it could not be countered by the pilot.

The Wright Flyer hit the ground hard, and both men were injured. Orville suffered a fractured leg and several broken ribs. Selfridge suffered a fractured skull and died in the hospital a few hours later.

“My brothers will pursue these tests until the machines are as near perfect as it is possible to make them,” Lorin Wright told reporters right after the crash, “if they are not killed in the meantime.” Yikes!

Because of the crash, the first Army pilots were required to wear helmets similar to early football helmets in order to minimize the chance of a head injury like the one that killed Selfridge.

Aviation endured, punctuated by occasional catastrophic crashes that have, in the end, made flying much safer, especially in the United States, where the airlines carry some two million people a day on tens of thousands of flights.

The arc of safety improvements has been dramatic.

Boeing, reaching back to the beginning of the jet age, found one fatal accident for every 30,000 commercial jet flights in 1959. By 2006, the rate for all airliner flights had dropped to one accident for every 4.2 million flights by Western-built commercial jets.

Lieutenant Selfridge nonetheless stands at the head of a rather long queue. Boeing counted 26,454 deaths of people on commercial jets between 1959 and 2006, and an additional 934 on the ground.

Still, an American’s chance of dying in a plane crash in 2007 was one in 432,484, according to the National Safety Council, while the chance of dying in a car was one in 19,216. The lifetime risk? According to the council, one in 5,552 for planes, one in 247 for cars. Maybe we should strap on our helmets when we get in our much more high risk automobiles.

sources: nyt, wired

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