Friday, February 22, 2013

And the Oscar Goes To...

I've gotten back into the Oscars this year, mainly because it doesn't seem that the dastardly Weinsteins don't have their evil clutches on the top prize once again.  That is, unless they find a way to rig it so Silver Linings Playbook scores a major upset, similar to what happened when they stole the Best Picture award from Saving Private RyanShakespeare In Love was a good film, but in no way deserved the top prize.  But of course some Weinstein ballot magic did the trick.

A few years back I was absolutely mortified that The Dark Knight was not nominated for Best Picture. As a good consolation, a great film in Slumdog Millionaire won so I was happy.  Last year I couldn't care less who won after the travesty of the year before in Inception not only losing out to The King's Speech for the Best Picture Oscar, but Best Original Screenplay.  That, my dear friends, was an abomination.  That was on the level of Young MC winning the Rap Grammy over Hip-hop all-time greats.

But this year is a reprive from my Oscar animosity because I loved the two top films vying for Best Picture, Lincoln and Argo.  Two great films I know that Argo has the wind at it's back with upset wins at the SGA and PGAs which is a tell-tale sign of being a front runner, but I wouldn't be surprised if Lincoln pulled it out.  That said, I think Argo should win as it was a slightly superior film.  Here are my choices for who will (rather than should) win in the major categories on Sunday night:

Best Picture -- Argo

Best Director -- Steven Speilberg, Lincoln (I would've given it to Ben Affleck, but he wasn't nominated)

Best Actor -- Daniel Day-Lewis (remarkable performance)

Best Actress -- Jennifer Lawrence (Weinsteins are thrown a bone)

Best Supporting Actor -- Tommy Lee Jones

Best Supporting Actress -- Anne Hathaway

Best Original Screenplay -- Armour

Best Adapted Screenplay -- Argo

Best Editing -- Lincoln

Best Animated Film -- Brave

Best Foreign Language Film -- Armour

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!!!

This is my daughter Elena's second Valentine's Day so I was able to get her my usual Valentine's Day gift that I give to my wife and son--Godiva chocolates--which Elena loved. Well, she loves to eat most anything, but she really is fond of chocolate.  So to Elena, my wonderful wife Betsy, my sis Ivonne, and my mom Marion, Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday

This morning I went to the Cathedral of Saint Patrick in NYC to get my ashes, as I’ve done for years past on Ash Wednesday. I’m a life long Catholic, with—admittedly—periods of agnosticism and atheism (a long story for another blog post). But I’ve been back to the home town religion for the last 25 years or so. I had been getting my ashes for so long, that I had lost track of the reason behind it. That’s a big no-no in Christianity. Jesus explicitly distinguished His followers from the pagans by noting that the pagans followed ritual without worship. In other words, they went through the motions without understanding why. For His followers, however, Jesus wanted them to know and understand by worshipping in their hearts and by their deeds. So a few years back I researched Lent and Ash Wednesday to make sure I knew what it was really about.

Yes, I know that Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season in the Christian calendar, the 40 day period of preparation for Good Friday and Easter, but I had wanted to know more. According to the pamphlet handed out in St. Patrick’s, in explanation of Ash Wednesday:

“The ashes of Ash Wednesday not only describe our humanity, more emphatically, they are a proclamation of hope, reconciliation and peace. Ashes give symbolic expression to our trusting dependence in God’s merciful love.”

Okay. Now for the explanation for Lent in the pamphlet:

“Lent is the period of forty days during which we examine our lives in order to renew our faith. Through acts of love, we become more like Christ in our attitude toward God and one another. Let prepares us to take part fully in the celebration of the Easter Mysteries during the Triduum (3 days) of the Lord’s Supper, his Passion, Death and glorious resurrection on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, the holiest days of the Christian year.”

Being a history buff, I didn't stop there. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Lent and Ash Wednesday first arose at different times. The word Lent is Teutonic in origin and referred originally to the spring season. The significance of the number 40 invokes both Moses and the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, Jesus fasting for 40 days in the desert in preparation of His ministry, and Jesus lying 40 hours in the tomb.

A preliminary 40 day fast for Easter arose in the Fourth Century. This was not inclusive to the then separate custom of fasting during Holy Week. This preliminary fasting period became known as Lent. By the Fifth Century, Lent lasted for six weeks including Holy Week, but there was actually only three total weeks of fasting excluding the weekends. Soon there was a split, with some Christian communities insisting on 40 actual days of fasting and, thus, Lent would last eight weeks (40 days plus non-fasting weekends) with other communities sticking with the six week tradition. By the Seventh Century the six week tradition won out, but with six days a week fasting for a total of 36 fasting days. The tradition of beginning Lent with Ash Wednesday began in the Eighth Century. It arose from a devotional imitation of the practice observed in the case of public penitents. The ashes themselves are from the previously blessed palms from the prior year’s Palm Sunday. By the Middle Ages, Lent consisted of forty weekdays which were all fast days, and six Sundays with Ash Wednesday marking the start of Lent.

As to the fast itself, there has never been a hard tradition. Some Christian communities abstained from eating anything that was once alive, others abstained from all living creatures except fish, and others only ate birds and fish. There was a consensus, however, that for fasting days there was only one meal a day and it was taken in the evening. Over the years, the fasting requirements were relaxed and now in the United States no meat may be eaten on Ash Wednesday, Lenten Fridays including Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The origin of making a Lenten sacrifice is more obscure, but probably arose with the relaxation of the fasting requirement.

Finally, now that we know about Lent and Ash Wednesday, the the last big question is--why is Easter at a different time every? Is there a hidden Church calendar we don't know about? Does the Pope pray for divine inspiration when to set it? No. Easter is reckoned to the traditional start of spring, March 21 and the first full moon thereafter. Generally, Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon following March 21. This year the first full moon after March 21 is March 27 and Easter Sunday is on March 31.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Happy 204th Birthday, Mr. Lincoln

Two hundred and four years ago today, Abraham Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin on a farm in Hardin County, Kentucky. Lincoln’s birthday is a legal holiday in only 7 states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Indiana). Local government buildings are closed here in New York, including the courts.

Growing up, I had gotten used to having both Lincoln’s birthday and Washington’s birthday off from school, but that changed in the mid-1980s with the joint holiday of “Presidents Day” on the third Monday of February. I put it in quotes because the official name is still “Washington’s Birthday.” Washington’s Birthday is actually a federal holiday while there has never been an annual Federal holiday honoring Lincoln. As they say, the South lost the war, but won the peace.

But maybe that might be changing with the changing demographics of this country and a new found interest in the 16th President, thanks to Steven Spielberg's wonderful film, Lincoln.  Spielberg is planning to send a free copy of the movie to every school in the country so students of today and tomorrow can learn a little bit more about one of our greatest presidents.