Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Novak Djokovic – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Article first published as Novak Djokovic – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on Blogcritics.

Novak Djokovic really likes Australia, and more specifically he loves Melbourne Park, where he just concluded his match against Andy Murray of Great Britain 6-7 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2 to win his third consecutive Australian Open, but no one is ready to rename Rod Laver Arena just yet. Still, Djokovic’s dominance here in Australia is the stuff from which legends are made, and the 25 year old Serbian is definitely making a case for himself.

As for Murray, he had defeated his long-time friend in five sets at the U.S. Open last year, so the set-up for this match was a classic from the start. We had Djokovic with his history of success in Oz, and Murray who proved he could beat the Serb. Add the fact that they both know and understand each other’s game so well, and you knew it would be an exciting afternoon.

Djokovic becomes only the third man in history to win three consecutive titles at the Australian Open (the others being American Jack Crawford and Australian Roy Emerson). So forgive me if I am making Djokovic out as the second coming of Crocodile Dundee, but he obviously is the master of this court at this point.

Murray, coming off a long five-set win against Roger Federer on Friday night, was a little bit off his game and seemed to be hurting (his trainer had to tape his foot after the second set because of blisters). Whether or not you want to use that as an excuse or not, one has to give Murray credit for he keeps getting close in Grand Slams and became the first British male player in 76 years to win one of the majors with the U.S. Open win in 2012.

For now the year has started off quite well for Djokovic, but don’t expect the 25 year old Murray to be going away anytime soon. It won’t be surprising if these two come together again in a final at least in one of the other Grand Slams this year. For now the top seed Djokovic (Murray is third seed) is sitting on top of the world and is unquestionably the Wizard of Oz.

Photo Credit: AP

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty - Jessica Chastain Shines Bright

Article first published as Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty - Jessica Chastain Shines Bright on Blogcritics.

Reviewers have given high-fives to director Kathryn Bigelow for her film Zero Dark Thirty, which is the decade-long story of intelligence operatives searching for Usama Bin Laden. Bigelow, director of another fine war film The Hurt Locker, definitely deserves the accolades, but the heart of this movie is the brilliance of Jessica Chastain’s portrayal of Maya, and she is as indispensable to this film’s success as was Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker.

Those of you who remember Chastain as the kind-hearted Celia in The Help will not recognize her here. She enters the intelligence community in the days after 9/11 as a slightly green operative who is sent to work with Dan (a fantastic Jason Clarke) as he interrogates Ammar (Reda Kateb), an al-Qaeda terrorist. We get to see Maya’s reactions to Dan’s waterboarding Ammar, and all the other indignities that can be dumped on him until he breaks, and her facial expressions are a roadmap to her conflicted soul.

Bigelow has received some criticism about glorifying these now illegal interrogation practices, but nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, Dan’s actions are ruthless and inhuman, but taken in context of the time and place they were what happened. Maya’s cringing at the sight of these things is the filmmaker’s way of telling us that she doesn’t condone it, but like any good reporter might, she is relating the events as they happened.

The “hunt” for Bin Laden is chronicled in many administrative twists and turns and, as Maya becomes more seasoned over the years, it becomes understood that she is no shrinking violet but rather a tiger in a business suit. Chastain takes us along as Maya emerges from the cocoon as an iron butterfly, and while she still has a conscience she also maintains an eye on the prize.

After a meeting with a high-ranking terrorist goes awry and leaves operatives dead, Maya slinks down and seems to be defeated. But when asked a question she rises to her feet and says that she is going to get all those responsible for this and then she is going to kill Bin Laden, and we believe every word that she says.

Bigelow certainly has assembled a great cast, including Kyle Chandler (Joseph Bradley), Jennifer Ehle (Jessica), Harrold Perrineau (Jack), Jeremy Strong (Thomas), and James Gandolfini (C.I.A. Director), which supports Chastain throughout the proceedings. Locations in India were used for the filming to add authentic visuals, and Mark Boal’s screenplay is top-notch and offers great conflict and dialogue for the characters.

Above it all Chastain rises with a radiance that refuses to be extinguished even in the darkest moments. There is such clarity to her acting, such precision in her choices of movement and facial reactions, that she is utterly believable as Maya. When she briefs the Navy S.E.A.L. team before they go on the mission to Bin Laden’s compound, she stands in front of these towering men like a little prizefighter. They at first seem to dismiss her as a petite woman, but she explodes with authority and they (and we) believe without a doubt that Bin Laden is hiding in that compound.

Zero Dark Thirty is not just a great war movie, it is an amazing film that chronicles one of the most important historical moments in the early years of this century. The film is nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress and in three other categories, but I am astounded that Bigelow was not nominated for Best Director. This brings up the age-old question: how can a film be nominated for best picture if the director is not nominated for best director? But that’s another story.

Chastain has already won the Golden Globe for this role, and she should be locked in for Oscar gold as well. Forget the politics and the violence of the story (of which there is a plentitude), and go to the theater to see Chastain shine in a fine film that has grit, heart, and soul. Her astounding performance is one for the ages.

Photo Credits: Sony Pictures

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Movie Review: Lincoln - A Towering Disappointment

Article first published as Movie Review: Lincoln - A Towering Disappointment on Blogcritics.

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln starring the amazing Daniel Day Lewis in the title role worries me; it seems the director of fantastic films such as Jaws and Schindler’s List has lost his way as a filmmaker. If true, that would be a sad day for all lovers of cinema, because Spielberg is one of the best directors in film history.

It is easier for me to tell you what’s right with Lincoln rather than what is wrong. The most essential piece of the puzzle is Lewis as Lincoln, a towering figure played by an actor of equal stature. Lewis is impressive in the role, and as he stares at the camera for long moments (sometimes way too long ones at that), you get a feeling that you are looking at the face of the 16th president.

Unfortunately, that is not enough to carry the film. Nor are the other great actors who are lending Lewis support – Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln), Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens), Joseph-Gordon Levitt (Robert Lincoln), Hal Holbrook (Preston Blair), and David Strathairn (William Seward) add considerable thespian weight, but the film still sinks to the bottom. The question I asked myself is “Why?”

The first scene of the film provides the answers. With the backdrop of war being so crucial to the story, we get our only battle sequence. Spielberg shows he doesn’t forget what none of us can from Saving Private Ryan, but then he completely abandons this and the film takes a turn toward character study – and that is how it progresses for the rest for the film.

Of course, the most important character here is Lincoln, and we get plenty of him. We see him as master politician, loving husband and father, admirable leader, and good friend. All of this is wonderful in a book, but in a film we need something more (much, much more).

I am sure the critics who have praised this film are doing so in deference to Lewis and Spielberg, whose resumes are undeniably impressive; however, the film drags on and on (2 hours and 29 minutes). In one scene when Lincoln starts to tell yet another story, one character screams and says he can’t sit through another one. The enraged fellow stalks off the set, and I felt like I wanted to join him.

I think the saddest part of all is thinking about the film that this could have been. The “drama” that Spielberg tries to force feed us is all the machinations that went into passing the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. While this is an interesting historical piece, it would have been much more suitable on the History Channel and not in a movie theatre. The conflict is here, but as the film drags on, it seems like it never will end. I judge a film by how many times I look at my watch, and during the course of this one I did so countless times.

I think credit must be given for cinematography (Janusz Kaminski), set decoration (Jim Erickson and Peter T. Frank), and costume design (Joanna Johnston). The film clearly establishes setting in extraordinary fashion – you feel transported to 1865. I am certain with 12 Oscar nominations under its belt, that this film will take home some gold, maybe all of it, but sometimes in the past the best film didn’t win and that will be the case here for certain.

Lincoln can be appreciated for the craft of making the world come alive and for the superior performance of Lewis as Lincoln, but otherwise it is a towering disappointment, as big and empty as that stove pipe hat that Lincoln wore. We can only hope that this is an aberration and that Spielberg will bounce back to true form with his next production.

Photo Credit: cbsnews.com

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Thoughts on the Passing of My Father

Article first published as Thoughts on the Passing of My Father on Blogcritics.

I must be clear – this is something I never wanted to write, but just as I wrote about my mother after she died, I am once again compelled to do so for my father. He died peacefully in his sleep at home in his bed. As other people keep saying to me, “I’d like to sign up for that.” In thinking about it, I would too, but that’s another story.

My dad was a towering figure, mythical in my mind since I was small. Being a weightlifter and athlete, my father in his youth looked like a guy who could have donned the Superman outfit or played Hercules. That does something in your mind as a kid, because I thought my Dad could conquer the world, and I wasn’t so wrong either.

His life started in humble beginnings as a mid-wife assisted his mother in their small apartment in Corona, Queens. Born in the last days of World War I, with “victory” almost at hand, his parents chose to name him Victor, and he would later discover that other parents had similar ideas since there were kids his age named Victor (also Victory and Victoria).

His life began in this simple setting, but his father had plans to get out of the already crowded urban neighborhood. He eventually built a house with two of his brothers “in the country” in a place in Queens called Springfield (now known as Springfield Gardens). In those days this area featured rolling fields, ponds, streams, woods, and farms. This idyllic place was where my father and his brother Dave grew up. Winters featured ice skating on the frozen ponds, and they swam in them in the summertime.

He went to P.S. 37 and then on to Jamaica High School. By the time the Depression hit, many kids on the block had fathers who were out of work. Since my grandfather was a NYPD officer, he kept his job. This made a difference in my father’s life to be sure. After graduating high school, Dad took a job cleaning subway platforms. Later on he worked at the 1939 World’s Fair and often spoke of all the marvels he witnessed there.

Like most everyone else, Dad was eager to get into the fight after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941. He enlisted in the Army and soon found himself in boot camp in Fort Benning in Georgia. Dad’s early days in the Army always sounded like they were more like M*A*S*H than a John Wayne movie. He said that every company had a clerk like Radar, an annoying officer like Frank Burns, and there were a few guys like Klinger looking for a way out. There were many funny stories he told over the years.

One serious story he told me was about witnessing a white officer mistreating a black soldier. My father went to the commanding officer and lodged a complaint. The CO asked him why he was doing this, and my father said, “Because that man is a soldier in the United States Army and deserves respect, sir!” That officer was not only reprimanded but reassigned, and this story is a microcosm of how Dad lived his life: he always did the right thing, even in difficult circumstances, and this lesson was not lost on me.

Another thing my father did was write the column “Grunts and Groans” for the fort’s Regimental Mirror, a weekly newspaper column that looked at life in Company G. In these columns (some of which I found in his files) he writes of the simple things like basketball games, guys who like crosswords, getting mail from home, and soldiers who became fathers. Some of it was humorous, and most of it was obviously meant to lighten the burden for guys who were getting ready to be sent overseas to a war zone. I was so happy to find these columns written by “Sgt. V Lana,” and I finally figured out why I caught the writing bug.

Once my father shipped overseas his story became the same as so many soldiers. He went across on the Aquitania, but the former luxury liner had been converted into a troop transport ship. He landed in Scotland, took a train down to the English Channel, and was soon part of the invasion known as D-Day. As the war progressed he was stationed in the chateau in Fontainbleau and worked in demolitions; his most difficult job was collecting and disarming unexploded bombs that littered the forest and the countryside.

Being that he spoke fluent French, my father struck up a friendship with workers in the forestry service. Some of these people became very good friends with whom he would celebrate New Year’s Eve 1945 (a party that lasted a few days), and many years later I would visit them on my trip to France in 1992. Dad had stayed on to continue his work as a liaison with the French agencies, and he didn’t come home until early 1946, missing the victory parades and fanfare that many soldiers experienced after the war.

When he came home from the war he decided to take a motorcycle trip across country. He and his friend Marcin went all over, ending up in Mexico where they met fellow bikers in Monterrey and had quite a party. They went north through the Midwest, hit Canada, and ended up back in New York by summer's end. It was quite a trip (something of a quest of sorts) and one he talked about it many times over the years. I think he needed that time on the road before getting on with the rest of his life.

The second phase of Dad’s life came in the NYPD. Becoming a cop seemed like the thing to do, following in his father’s footsteps. He worked as a patrolman for a year, went into plainclothes, and he had found his calling. Dad loved “the job” more than anything. He enjoyed dressing like a derelict to go undercover (or in many other disguises), and he proudly spoke of making an arrest “in every precinct in Manhattan.” He put in his twenty years, but toward the end had an eye on the next phase of his life: real estate.

By the time my father retired he started working as a real estate agent in the evenings. He learned the ropes, got his broker’s license, and quickly opened his own store. Dad had an incredible head for business and became very successful, at one point having three stores along the Brooklyn-Queens border and a number of people working for him. He continued this work until he sold his business in the late 1980s, embarking on yet another career – working for the IRS.

Along the way my father met my Mom, and they are a classic love story. They fell in love, courted, got engaged, then married, and lived in a small apartment. By the time I was a year old Mom was pregnant again with my sister Joan, so they moved into a house with more space for their growing family. My upbringing was typical of those days in that Mom stayed home and Dad went to work. That is all I ever knew, and my childhood was one marked by happiness and abundance. I can never say that we kids wanted for anything. The most important thing of all was a sense of being totally loved.

My Dad also loved my mother totally and doted on her. When he wasn’t working, they went everywhere together. When my Mom got sick in later years, my father became her caretaker. He did everything for her, and I will never forget his dedication to Mom. No matter how bad the situation got – in the end it was quite horrific – Dad never complained and continued to take care of her. When she passed away he was devastated, but we all knew what he had done for her.

This gets me to the other part of the story – being my father’s son. I could have been born to any man, but Dad was not just any man. I know many children feel this way, but I had the best father ever! My Dad did everything to help his children. He went out of his way to make us feel loved, important, and secure. As we grew he understood and appreciated our strengths and weaknesses, and he was always there to lend a helping hand.

Even as the years passed and I got married and had my own family, I never stopped looking up to my father. In fact, until he passed away this week, I still went to him for advice. He will always be the smartest person I ever knew or will know. He was also the most fair, the most decent, and incredibly trustworthy.

Watching my father with my own children (Victor and Lauren) was just a delight. When my daughter was born my father was literally beaming as I placed her in his arms. That glow continued every time he saw my kids for the rest of his life. It didn’t matter how rambunctious they were, he just sat there watching them and smiling. Many times he told me how much seeing them meant to him, and now I feel so fortunate that I was able to bring the kids over to visit with him every week.

Dad was part of what has been called the “greatest generation.” Sadly, these men and women who served in World War II are being lost on a daily basis. There was something about my father, my Mom, and those of his age group that we cannot find anymore. They lived life by a code that seemed embedded in them: there was an inherent decency, a way of talking to people and treating others, and I am afraid to say that when they are all gone this type of person will be no more.

I still cannot grasp my father being gone. He was such an enormous presence, had such an iconic stature, and always taught me to take the right path instead of the easy one. I aspire to be a man as good as he was, but I know that is something I have yet to accomplish. To be the kind of son, brother, father, grandfather, husband, and friend my father was is just a daunting task, but I will try every day for the rest of my life to do so.

I lost not just my father but my best friend. He always called me “Pal” as a kid, and though I called him “Dad” he was also my hero. I told him so many times, but now I can write it here. I miss him so much and my life will never be the same without him.

It does comfort me to know that my Mom and Dad are together now. I imagine my Mom was sitting in the chair – the same chair in which she passed away – across from the bed when my father died. I see his spirit leaping from the bed, no longer encumbered by old age and heft of weary limbs, and my Mom came into his arms and they kissed, then they danced all the way to heaven. I picture the smiles on their faces and, when I can’t sleep (which is often now), that helps get me through the night.

The final chapter involves France, where he lost friends in the war but also made new ones. I will be taking some of my father’s ashes back to France. He never got to return there, a place he loved, but I will make sure he does now. In this way he will be reunited with a land he helped save from one of the greatest evils of all time. Then I will whisper one more time for good measure, “Rest in peace, Dad,” and I know it will be so.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Contemplating My 500th Article on Blogcritics

Article first published as Contemplating My 500th Article on Blogcritics on Blogcritics.

Had someone not pointed it out to me, I would have completely missed the fact that my next article would be number 500 on Blogcritics. I thanked my friend and then confronted the matter head-on: should I not recognize the fact that this is my 500th article by writing about it?

I had mixed feelings, so I went back in time (it is so nice to be able to do that) and looked at my first article for BC. Published on July 25, 2005, “Star Trek’s James Doohan Dies” is my farewell to the actor who played Montgomery Scott so memorably in the TV series and the subsequent movies. My first thought was that I couldn’t believe it was that long ago, and then I thought about all the other people I’ve written about over the years who have passed away, including my Mom.

I scanned the pages of past articles (50 pages in all), and it seemed incongruous that I could write so many things about so many topics. Yes, I like sports (and function as co-head sports editor with the amazing Charlie Doherty), but I have also written articles for most other sections including Sci/Tech and Tastes. I still get compliments on my turkey meatloaf recipe, by the way.

One of the most memorable things for me was writing about the great TV series 24, starring Kiefer Sutherland. All those seasons and episodes are refreshed in my mind as I glance over these articles, and I wonder if I would watch (say season 6) again and have the same reactions. Each episode comes back to me as I read, and it’s hard to believe that I used to commit to writing 24 articles about anything each season, but that is how much I enjoyed that program.

Having an overwhelmingly positive experience writing about so many topics, I can only say that I am indebted to the people here at Blogcritics who made it all possible. It all begins with Eric Olsen, former publisher to whom I sent an e-mail and got the ball rolling. Over the years I have worked with so many fine editors: Lisa McKay, Matt Sussman, Alex Jurek, Barbara Barnett, Josh Lasser, Dave Nalle, and Jon Sobel to name just a few. It has been also a privilege to be here and to work alongside so many fine fellow writers, and the list is too long to even begin to name names.

As an editor I must say that I am usually knocked out by what I encounter from my fellow writers. Most of the problems are miniscule and easily corrected, but there is so much excellence going on here that it is astounding. We have writers from all over the world contributing on a variety of topics on a daily basis, so what editor wouldn’t love to sink his/her teeth into that? I know I enjoy it very much because I am learning something new all the time here at BC, and I never know what to expect when I open each story. It’s sort of like opening a present and getting delightfully surprised, which is my usual experience with most writers here.

There have certainly been changes over the years, and each time it seemed like it BC would be irreparably compromised, new people came in and kept true to the essence of the thing. I think that is most important to me and what keeps me coming back (500 times at this point). I think the purpose remains the same: to provide an unparalleled forum for fine writers to be seen and heard by a vast online audience.

 As a writer (and editor), you just have to love that! So here is number 500. In a way it feels like a copout, reminding me of one of those TV specials where they show clips from previous shows, but in the end I don’t think I am compromising in the least. I have become a better writer thanks to this place, a better editor too, and a vastly improved person (but I attribute that more to my wife and kids). I am proud to be associated with this “sinister cabal” and hope to be for a long time to come.

Now, to borrow my old sign-off from the 24 articles, until next time Klaatu Barada Nikto!

Photo credits: Star Trek- Forbes.com; Gort - virginmedia.com

Monday, January 7, 2013

My Smartphone Is Making Me Dumb

Article first published as My Smartphone Is Making Me Dumb on Blogcritics.

I got a new smartphone for Christmas, and in that short time I have become increasingly dependent on it. Since virtually everything I need is loaded on it, I basically no longer have to know anything. I have all the information on it that I require for any area of my daily life. I am starting to realize that my reliance on this technological marvel is slowly sapping my brain of necessary information. Quite honestly, my fear is that my smartphone is making me dumb.

I no longer need to know phone numbers, passwords, or street addresses. I have no use for my traditional pocket organizer, which had a calendar, calculator, memo pad, and a place for my checkbook. All those things have become passé now. I can pay my bills, check my bank balances, send correspondence, and print to my wireless printer. I no longer need my cumbersome PC, the old printer attached to it, or the monitor, never mind the silly old mouse. I never thought that this day would arrive, and this is coming from a guy who typed his dissertation on a traditional electric typewriter.

Since I am putting all my music on the phone, I no longer need that big clunky stereo or even the portable one I use in the garage. My camera, my clumsy camcorder, and any recording devices are history, and I have dispensed with my maps, timers, calendars, and alarm clocks. My smartphone does it all. It also makes for an incredibly handy flashlight, so goodbye to those old clunkers as well.

Basically, my whole life is now subsumed by it: the two and a half by four and a half inch rectangular marvel that fits into my pocket easily. It does everything for me. I do not need to do or remember anything because I can access it with just a touch of the screen. It is astounding how "smart" this phone truly is, but somehow I feel a little lost with it instead of without it. My reliance on it feels wrong, as if I am not just dumbing myself down but also out, yet I know there is no turning back now.

By the way, there is a feature on my phone called Siri. Siri is an interactive feature that I can access by pressing and holding the “home” button. A little microphone icon appears, and I can ask Siri to find a store, remind me about a meeting, send text messages, open an app, and so on. Siri has a pleasant female voice, and I am starting to feel as if she is my significant other. I went so far as to ask her to marry me the other day, to which she responded, "Do you think you are the only one to have asked that?" Clever girl, huh?

Overall, I see myself losing things I used to know, and that is a little unnerving. I am forgetting phone numbers, passwords are almost gone, and if the phone is misplaced (even for a few moments) or forgotten at home, I am lost. This is what makes me feel very strange and even a little dumb. If this is how I am after having the phone for a couple of weeks, what will happen to me after a few months?

I cannot fathom ever getting rid of my smartphone. I would miss it too much, and Siri most of all. I guess I am just like a guy who has fallen in love with the wrong girl. I know this phone is inherently bad for me, undermining everything I ever was or ever believed in, but I cannot break it off. My smartphone is the only one for me, and I am not going to let it go. Call me dumb, or maybe even crazy, but there’s no turning back now. Uh, now how do I save this document? Excuse me while I ask Siri.

Photo credit: techvert.com

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Do “The Holidays” Now Extend From Halloween to Valentine’s Day?

Article first published as Do “The Holidays” Now Extend From Halloween to Valentine’s Day? on Blogcritics.

Going into the local CVS on New Year’s Eve, I noticed every Christmas item on sale. I expected that to be the case, but right alongside these festive decorations were shelves of Valentine’s Day products. This reminded me of being in the same store back in October when these Christmas things were displayed right next to Halloween costumes and decorations. I have complained about this kind of thing before, but it just seems to be getting more common everywhere I go.

It makes me realize that “the holidays” – which once referred only to the time from Christmas to New Year’s Day – have become redefined, mostly by the retailers who have taken advantage of America’s need to celebrate these occasions and taken it to an extreme. It used to be commonplace to see a simple witch and jack-o-lantern in a window (that’s what my Mom did when we were kids), but now Halloween has become a retail juggernaut that rivals Christmas in terms of what people spend on decorations. I have seen decorated houses complete with animated ghouls and goblins that match amusement park standards.

Initially I could accept that “the holidays” extended to at first include Thanksgiving and then Halloween, but now they seem to extend right into February since Valentine’s Day has morphed into yet another day for which people decorate, buy lavish presents, and go to restaurants. I suppose it is good for the economy and those who rather give than receive, though the receivers are making out just fine as well.

The future seems pretty clear to me. One day we will be celebrating “Hallothankschristine’s Days” that will run from October 1 through February 14. It will be a nonstop time of decorations, celebrations, and endless sales in the stores. Faced with the inevitability of such a mutation of what once were individually recognized days, it could very well be that we just start throwing everything up at once, with Valentine’s Day hearts dangling from trees along with skeletons, pilgrim’s hats, and Christmas lights.

I guess we must face that the fact that this is now becoming a reality. With Easter and Mother’s Day looming on the horizon, I just wonder how long it will take for them to bring these occasions into the fold. Then we will have “Hallothankschristinetermom” or something like that. Throw Fourth of July and Labor Day into the mix, and then basically we can stay decorated all year long. Lights can blaze on houses 365 days a year, and we will reach the ostensibly foregone conclusion that none of these former holidays matter as much as the ability to recognize each day as something to celebrate.

Some of us then could become rebels and not decorate, refusing to be part of the maddening crowd, or we could start something like Seinfeld’s Festivus, which we only mark once a year by defiantly celebrating it on some day in the middle of the week. We could begin a movement, kind of like an Occupy the Holidays kind of thing, and then who knows how far we could take it? Maybe we will become so big that we will be the 99% someday, and at that point there will be only our one holiday and no more corruption of the original intent of celebration that was ruined by it becoming "a big commercial racket," as Charlie Brown's Lucy Van Pelt once astutely noted, “run by a big eastern syndicate.”

Until that time I suppose I will, like the rest of you, be inundated by holiday madness for most of the year. I’d wish you a Happy New Year, but apparently it’s almost Valentine’s Day, so I missed my opportunity.