TV Watch: Banshee

Fans of one of the best new programs on television will be happy to learn that Cinemax has renewed “Banshee” for a third season to begin airing early in 2015.

This means that our star-crossed hero, sheriff Lucas Hood, will return to continue sorting out the various nefarious elements in and around the fictional small town of Banshee, Pennsylvania.

There are a number of original, interesting story lines that have been developed by the producers, writers, and actors as the show moves through what is now it’s second season. The most interesting of all is the very premise that the show is built upon, beginning with the developments in the very first episode of the first show aired in early 2013.

Lucas Hood is a new sheriff arriving from the Pacific Northwest, hired to take on the job as top cop in a rural Pennsylvania burg surrounded by a large Amish community. Unfortunately, the real Hood never gets to enjoy his new position, as he is murdered in a bar shootout on his way into town.

Present during the killing is a recently released convict. The con kills the men who killed Hood, and in a twist that has to be seen to be fully understood, ends up taking Hood’s badge and taking on his identity. This starts the roller coaster thrill ride of a show moving, and it never lets up.

Antony Starr plays our main character, the so-far unnamed con who we learn has been just released from prison after serving 15 years for his role in a diamond heist. He is tough, jail-hardened, and handsome. He was headed for Banshee himself in order to try to reconnect with his former love and partner-in-crime, Anastasia, played by the gorgeous Ivana Milicevic.

Taking on the identity of Lucas Hood, he proves resourceful in establishing himself in the role of the new sheriff in a town where no one knows the actual Hood.

With the help of a friend from his former criminal days, played by Hoon Lee, and the sympathetic bar owner, played by Frankie Faison, he manages to stay one step ahead of both the local lead thug, played by Ulrich Thomsen, as well as a nemesis from his past, a powerful crime boss played by Ben Cross.

Hood finds that reconnecting with Anastasia is not quite as easy as he might have hoped. During his incarceration she has assumed an alternative identity, and has gotten married and had children, with the local District Attorney, of all things.

The drama centers around Hood’s settling into his new identity and job, his relationship and experiences with his deputy sheriff staff, his attempts at reconnecting with Anastasia, his relationships with a couple of new local ladies, and his ongoing battles with the criminal and political elements in and around Banshee.

The show is tremendously well acted and paced, though the premise becomes a bit harder to swallow over the long haul. When you see the circumstances under which the fraudulent ‘Hood’ comes to town and to power, you can suspend belief and buy it for a time, this fact that he is pulling the wool over the eyes of some pretty sharp customers.

But now in the middle of the second season, what we have suspected all along seems to be coming to fruition. He cannot keep up this identity charade for long. A couple of people have already figured out that something is ‘off’ with the new sheriff. It seems only a matter of time before the fireworks that have already been set off erupt into a full-blown forest fire.

There is excellent supporting work from the talented ensemble cast including Hood’s deputies played by Matt Servitto and Demetrius Grosse, his love interests played by Trieste Kelly Dunn and Lili Simmons, and Anastasia’s family played by Russ Blackwell and Ryann Shane, among others.

“Banshee” continues the great tradition established by other outstanding cable drama series of the last decade or so. Tremendous acting by a talented ensemble cast, an attractive, charismatic lead character, high-quality production value, an interesting and original story line. It is well worth your time to catch up to this Cinemax masterpiece.

NOTE: this is the continuation of my ‘TV Watch’ reviews, more of which you can view by clicking on that below Tag

No Savesies?

As I write this, the sun is glistening off the snow pack that has covered my street for the better part of the past six weeks. Temps are forecast to keep rising and, mercifully, the snow should be gone by the weekend.

But for weeks now, Philadelphia and surrounding areas have had to deal with mountains of snow in a continuous barrage, the likes of which I cannot remember seeing in my lifetime.

Sure, we’ve had large snowfalls in the past, but they seemed to last on the ground a few days, and then temps would rise, rain would come, and the piles of snow would be gone. This year we never seemed to get a break. It was one measurable snowfall on top of another. Again, hopefully that is all coming to an end now.

With the snow have come a number of practical issues that we have all had to deal with, from altered transportation schedules to cancelled school and work days, and, of course, physical labor. The need to continually dig out from the storms. In Philly under Code 10-720, residents have to clear a 3-foot wide path in front of their homes within six hours of the end of a storm.

But that clearing of “a path” only takes care of enabling folks to use a walkway. There is another issue, one that has become extremely heated and controversial over the years and been particularly highlighted this year due to the regularity of the situation: the saving of a parking space from which you dug out your private vehicle.

Over the years we have come up with a number of colorful ways to save the spaces. Some have placed elaborate, creative, humorous artworks in the space. Others have put household objects such as old toilets out there to save a spot. For most, the tried and true method is the placing of lawn or beach chairs in the spot.

These saved parking spaces have caused problems over the years, both here in Philly and elsewhere.
People have argued over them, physically fought one another over them, and people have even been severely assaulted, even shot and killed over them. What makes the idea of a saved parking space during an extreme weather situation push people to such lengths?

There are two sides to every story, or so it is said. For a man who has experienced the good, bad, and ugly of both sides, I think that I can speak on the issue as well as anyone. In winding down what will in the end have been a 28-year career in law enforcement, and having grown up in the tough, close-knit, and difficult parking 2nd Street neighborhood of South Philly, I have seen it all.

On the one side you have the position as formally taken up and aggressively advertised in news interviews and on social media during this recent difficult stretch by the Philadelphia Police Department. That position has become characterized by the simple, catchy slogan of “No Savesies” – that there is no private parking on public streets, and that it is unlawful to block access to such spots, no matter the circumstances.

On the other side you have the position as passionately taken up by a large number of hard-working, blue collar, everyday Philadelphians of all races, sexes, and across all neighborhoods. I know this simply by reading voluminous exchanges on social media and at news outlets: this other side is indeed diverse, vocal, and insistent. Their view: I worked hard to dig it out, then for a short period of time, I deserve access to that spot.

Frankly, I completely empathize with the latter group. I have been digging out cars from parking spaces constantly for over a month now. I know what it is like to get bundled up, sometimes early in the morning, get out in the freezing cold, and manually dig a vehicle out from under and behind a foot or more of snow.

It is hard work, it takes time, and at 52 years of age it is a little tougher now than it used to be for me personally. You do the hard work, straining your muscles, thankful if a neighbor with a snowblower comes along to provide some blessed assistance. Remember, you are usually digging out not just a vehicle, but also a walkway, possibly a driveway, a fire hydrant path, and more.

And in the types of conditions in which we have been faced with lately, you often have to be creative. There is an aspect of engineering and carpentry involved in carving out a parking space that both frees the vehicle now, and that will be reusable later, all while not creating hazards and inconveniences for surrounding neighbors and motorists.

So you do it. You get out there, you do all the hard work. You open up and clear your home walkway, clean a path to the fire hydrant on your street, and free your trapped vehicle so that you can get to the store, to work, to school while also making the space clear enough to reuse later when you inevitably return.

You have done a great job, and you are tired. But now you have to actually go to work, or drive your kids to school, or go to a doctor appointment, or get to the grocery store, or to checkup on a family member. You ease your vehicle out of the parking spot, leave for the doctor office, or school, or store.

And then you return an hour or so later. There is still a foot or more of snow on the ground. There are mountains of snow, both from Mother Nature’s original dump, and from the movement around of the piles by you and your neighbors. The usual limited number of street parking spaces is even further restricted by these conditions.

But you’re not worried, because you did a nice job of working hard to dig your car out, and will simply put the car back into that hard-earned, well-crafted parking space from which you left just a little while earlier. As you return, your mind finds it almost incomprehensible: someone has parked in the space that you dug out.

Now you can be a well-seasoned, even-tempered, professional law enforcement officer who thinks up pleasant slogans like “No Savesies”, or you can be a hot-blooded, mean-streak, quick-tempered “whatever” profession you want to insert here. I don’t care who or what you are, I guarantee you that the emotion sweeping over you at that moment will at the very least be described as frustration. Frankly, many get downright angry.

Here is where the truly important part of all this begins to develop. The answer to a simple question will say a lot about you: what do you do now? You really have two choices. You can get out of your car, rage, seek out the interloper, and demand they move, creating a confrontation or worse if they don’t. Or you can sigh, move along, and try to find or create somewhere else to park your car, even though that may end up being a block or more away from home.

In those cases, you really have no choice. No matter what, you cannot create a public nuisance or start a fight about a parking space over which you legitimately have no ownership stake. When you purchased your home, it did not come with public, on-street parking spaces. That is a simple fact. You cannot get self-righteous over parking, no matter the circumstances.

In many cases, the person now taking up the parking space may be a neighbor, and you may recognize the car. You may decide to go up to their home, or call them on the phone, and let them know that you are back, politely asking if they will be long. But you had best be prepared before doing so to handle the situation maturely if the response you get is that they have parked and do not plan on leaving.

The bottom line is that, other than the concepts of formally designated handicapped parking spaces and private, clearly marked driveways, you do not own a parking space on a public street. You cannot park in a handicapped space, and you cannot block someones driveway. Otherwise, on a public street, no one owns parking spaces.

There is no formal “law” against the act of reserving parking spaces in the ways that Philadelphians have been trying to do for generations during snowstorms. You are not going to get arrested for putting a lawn chair in a dug out space. However, there are a number of local and state codes, including littering and obstructing the highway, which have fines attached and which can be applied by law enforecement in such situations.

You cannot reserve parking spaces by placing trash bags, a lawn chair, an old toilet in them, by having your kids build a snowman in them, whatever. But perhaps even more importantly, if you do so, and you return later to find that someone has moved them aside and parked there, even that your items are completely missing, you cannot create drama.

We have to be mature and responsible in dealing with any situation, including under the types of difficulties created by nature over the last month. We even have to be mature and patient when dealing with our fellow man during these times, no matter how wrong or ignorant we feel they may have acted.

And also, consider this. If you are young enough, fit enough, and have enough respect and consideration for your hard-working neighbors, maybe you can even use that spot that you just stumbled upon on your own return home, the one someone so carefully carved out, as a temporary refuge for your vehicle while you go and find and dig out another spot on your block.

Not only will this save some hard feelings, it will also give you and your fellow neighbors yet one more place to put their vehicles over the coming days, when parking is likely to remain at a premium. Working together, having respect and consideration for one another, and treating one another with patience and maturity, this is how we will best get through these temporary tough times.

So yes, there are “No Savesies”, and you need to wrap your mind around that concept and embrace it. You cannot save a private spot on a public street by placing an object there, no matter the circumstances. It should go without saying that you cannot assault one another or create a public nuisance. But also, you should try to be considerate of your neighbors, the difficulties that they are under, and their hard work.

Captain Clutch Ending an Era

For any true baseball fan, yesterday’s public announcement that New York Yankees shortstop and team captain Derek Jeter was retiring as a professional player is truly the end of an era.

For myself specifically, it is yet another reminder that I am getting older too. And it also marks a fantasy baseball loss to me, one that I will comment on more in a moment. But first let’s take a look at Jeter’s real world playing career, and a glance into his highly publicized personal life.

Derek Jeter broke into the big leagues on May 29th, 1995. To put this into a personal context, I was just 33 years old, and it was more than four months before my wife and I were married – we just celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary this past fall. He was only 19 years old then. A day later he recorded his first two career hits for the Yankees. The team was the most storied franchise in baseball history, but it had fallen on hard times.

It may be hard for some to remember, but at the time of Jeter’s arrival in a Yankees uniform the franchise had not won an AL East title or American League pennant in 15 years, and at that point it was 18 years since their last World Series crown. From 1987-92, the Yanks finished no higher than 4th place in their division, the last four of those with losing records.

TheYanks began to emerge from those dark days with a 2nd place finish in the 1993 season, and in 1994 were solid contenders when the devastating lockout hit all of Major League Baseball, ending the season prematurely. Having re-emerged as a contender, the usually big spending Yankees were uncharacteristically infused for the 1995 season with talented, homegrown talent in the form of what has become famously known as the “Core Four” players.

That core was made up of Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada, starting pitcher Andy Pettitte, and relief pitcher Mariano Rivera. The four had all played together throughout their minor league careers, and all broke into the big leagues together in that 1995 season. Together they would lift the Yankees franchise back to the top of the game, starring together on baseball’s biggest stage for the next 17 seasons.

In that very first season together, Jeter helped lead the Yankees back to the playoffs, with a 2nd place finish in the AL East and a Wildcard playoff berth. In those playoffs, they would lose in dramatic fashion to the Seattle Mariners, a team featuring baseball’s top two young superstars in Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, the latter of whom would ultimately become a major part of Jeter’s career.

The following 1996 season was Jeter’s first full MLB season. Expected to be a strong fielding shortstop who tossed in a few hits now and then, he quickly showed that he was so much more. He hit .314, knocked in 78 runs, scored 104 runs, and was named the American League Rookie of the Year. Not only that, but he led the Yankees to the AL East title, AL pennant, and their first World Series crown in 28 years.

After finishing in 2nd place in 1997 and losing a heart-breaking 3-2 playoff series to the Cleveland Indians, Jeter and the Yankees would go on an unprecedented modern day roll. They would win 9 straight AL East titles from 1998-2006, and 3 straight World Series from 1998-2000. They reached the Series again following the attacks of 9/11 in 2001, losing one of the greatest World Series in history to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 7 games.

Thanks to a game-winning walkoff homerun in Game #4 of that 2001 World Series, Jeter earned one of his two nicknames as “Mr. November“, based on the fact that the game, which began on Halloween night, had moved past midnight, and thus he hit the dramatic homerun in the first-ever MLB game being formally played in the month of November. It was also an homage to the “Mr. October” nickname of former Yankees legend Reggie Jackson.

During the playoffs earlier in that 2001 post-season, Jeter perfectly highlighted his other “Captain Clutch” nickname, bestowed upon him because of the numerous clutch hits and defensive plays which he had a penchant for delivering. Jeter helped beat the upstart Oakland A’s with a heads-up defensive masterpiece that has become known in baseball lore simply as “The Flip“, a play that you have to see and would need a genuine understanding of the game to fully appreciate.

In 2003, the Yankees returned to the World Series as favorites, but were stunned by a young, talented Florida Marlins team. But they continued to win throughout the first decade of the new century as Jeter was joined the following season of 2004 by Rodriguez, one of baseball’s top shortstops himself who moved over to 3rd base in deference to the presence of the Yankee captain.

Jeter and ARod would play next to each other on the left side of the Yankees infield for much of the 10 seasons between 2004-2013, and the two became close, personal friends as well. Jeter was almost exactly one year older, and so the pair were a couple of highly paid, highly publicized superstars playing together in the Big Apple during the entirety of their 30’s.

The two would reach the pinnacle of their playing careers together in 2009 when they would lead the Yankees past the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. That 2009 season was one of six in which the pair would lead the Yankees to a 1st place finish in the AL East. It all began to fall apart with the growing revelations of Rodriguez’ use of PED’s, but that is a story for another day.

From 1996-2012, Derek Jeter has not only been a constant as the starting shortstop on the field for the New York Yankees, he has been a leader as well, serving as the team captain since the 2003 season. During that period, the team has won a dozen AL East titles, 7 American League pennants, and 5 World Series championships.

During the bulk of that period, Jeter has mostly been the picture of reliable health. He appeared in at least 148 of the Yankees 162 regular season games during 15 of the 17 seasons between 1996-2012. But he didn’t just “appear”, he excelled. Jeter has proven over time that he is in the conversation for the title of “Best Shortstop of All-Time” in Major League Baseball.

In addition to his Rookie of the Year Award, Derek Jeter has been an All-Star 13x, has finished in the top 10 of MVP voting 7x, and has 5 Gold Gloves. He has a career .312 batting average and .381 on-base percentage over almost 12,000 plate appearances. Never known as a true power hitter or speed demon, he nonetheless has accumulated 256 homeruns and 348 steals, showing that he can beat you with his bat and his legs as well as his glove.

In 2000, Jeter was the Most Valuable Player of the MLB All-Star Game and was that year’s World Series Most Valuable Player. He has won 5 Hank Aaron Awards and 2 Silver Sluggers as the best hitting shortstop, and a Roberto Clemente Award for his contributions off the field to the community.

For the franchise of legends such as Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Jackson and more, Derek Jeter has become the all-time leader in hits, games played, stolen bases, and at-bats while playing in an era of specialty pitching, with much longer travel requirements and closer public scrutiny on the massive public stage that is New York in the age of mass media.

On that public stage, Jeter’s personal life has been magnified. A young, single, attractive star during his 20’s in the 1990’s and his 30’s in the 2000’s, Jeter has been linked romantically with a number of high profile young ladies. It was just reported that he recently broke up with magazine covergirl and Sports Illustrated model Hannah Davis. In 1997 and 1998 he dated superstar singer Mariah Carey, something she has publicly acknowledged.

At various times he had relationships with Miss Universe 2000 and Bollywood star Laura Dutta, Latino singer Joy Enriquez, TV actress Jordana Brewster, TV host (and now Mrs. Nick Lachey) Vanessa Minnillo, Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima, fitness model Vida Guerra, and Hollywood actresses Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba, and Minka Kelly. He has appeared on “Seinfeld“, as host of “Saturday Night Live“, and in a couple of motion picture bit parts.

My link with him in the fantasy baseball world began when he was a young player. In the summer of 1998 during his 3rd full season, I became involved with the beginning of a “keeper-style” league that is now about to begin it’s 17th season. At that time, 10 of us drafted from among every player in baseball, and I selected Jeter with my 2nd round choice, the 13th overall pick in that draft. He would be my starting shortstop for the next 5 seasons, leading my Philadelphia Athletics team to it’s first title in 2002.

After dealing Jeter away, I reaquired him for the 2004 season, and then again as a throw-in in a trade prior to last season. He has been a big part of the success of my own fantasy baseball history, and now for 2014 will appropriately go out in our Whitey Fantasy Baseball League with the franchise that for which he began.

The 2014 season will hopefully prove to be a much more fitting farewell for this great player than was his devastating 2013 season. During the 2012 playoffs, Jeter suffered a severe ankle injury. He was able to appear in only parts of 17 games last year as the injury proved much more difficult to heal than was anticipated.

He also watched as his old buddy ARod went through the PED revelations and his own injury troubles, and as the other members of that “Core Four” all made the decision to retire themselves. Posada, perhaps Jeter’s best friend and for whom Jeter stood as Best Man, retired after the 2011 season. Both Pettitte and Rivera retired following last season, Mariano memorably crying on the Yankee Stadium mound when Jeter and Pettitte took him out of his final game.

In addition to these losses and challenges, there have been a number of others. Their longtime manager, Joe Torre, left the Yankees following the 2007 season. Longtime owner George Steinbrenner died during the summer of 2010, as did iconic Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard. His recorded voice still announces each Jeter at-bat. Derek’s final such at-bat at the stadium will be the final time Sheppard’s voice is heard there after more than a half century.

Derek Jeter is a New York Yankees icon, and a no-doubt first ballot Hall of Famer when he is eligible. We should see his enshrinement at a ceremony in the summer of 2020. He will move into the next phase of his life, possibly in some other role within the game as a broadcaster or coach. Almost certainly we will see him settle down and establish a family of his own.

All reports at this early stage of preparations for the coming 2014 season are positive as far as his health. Let’s hope that he gets to enjoy one last hurrah on the big stage of the big leagues in the Big Apple. If he does, we will all get to enjoy one last year with the man who I personally consider the greatest shortstop to ever play the game, one of the greatest that I’ve ever seen. It’s the end of an era, and let’s all hope it ends as gloriously as Derek Jeter’s legend deserves.

Sochi 2014

If you’re anything like me, when you heard that the 2014 Winter Olympics were being held in Sochi, you said to yourself, and may still be saying, “Where in the world is Sochi?”

The easy part of that answer is the one thing that you likely already know, that it’s in Russia. Okay, so the Olympics are being held in Russia, that’s easy enough.

But while we’ve all heard of Russian cities such as Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and, uh, er…yeah. Go ahead, name another Russian city. Any city or town at all. Exactly. It’s a massive country, the largest in the world, covering 1/8 of the planet’s land-mass, and has been a major American rival for a century, but you’re lucky if you know two cities there.

Sochi is actually ranked 52nd in size as a Russian city with approximately 340,000 citizens. To give you an American comparison, Bakersfield, California is our 52nd-largest city with a population very comparable to that of Sochi.

While you and I may have never heard of it before these Olympics, Sochi is actually very popular in Russia as a tourist resort area, with about 2 million people visiting each summer. It sprawls along 90-miles on the southwest coast at the very edge of the Black Sea, and is one of the few places in all of Russia with a sub-tropical climate as well, featuring sandy beaches and palm trees.

It is about as European as a Russian city can get as well.
Almost 1,000 miles away from Moscow, the Sochi area, divided administratively into Sochi ‘proper’ and a handful of other districts, lies right at what would be considered the border of Europe and Asia.

The tropical, seaside coastal atmosphere doesn’t tell the whole Sochi story, however. You also have the nearby scenic Caucasus Mountains. The wide variety of seasonal sporting opportunities has made it a popular area for sporting activities. The local tennis school, in fact, launched the careers of both Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Maria Sharipova, among others.

As with most of the world outside of the United States, football (soccer) is a major sporting activity. Sochi has been home to a Russian club team for the last couple decades, and is home to the year-round training facility for the Russian national men’s and women’s teams.

In July of 2007, the Sochi area was awarded the Winter Olympics and Paralympics as the first-ever Winter Games to be held in Russia. Despite it’s scenic beauty and the facilities already in place, the area was in no way considered “Olympics-ready”, and Russia had to commit an initial $12 billion investment package to get the infrastructure up to standards.

It is estimated that it has cost a total of nearly $50 billion in a private/government construction of facilities for the Olympic Games. Everything from the electrical/power infrastructure to the airport to the railway had to be upgraded to accommodate the Olympics, and then you have construction of many of the event venues themselves.

An investment of this size by a major world power like Russia means that Sochi will not be a one-off event location. After the Olympics, the investment in infra-structure to bring the area up to such a major standard will pay off in other events as well. Sochi will begin holding the Russian Formula One Grand Prix this year, and host the 2018 FIFA World Cup matches.

The Winter Olympics in Sochi will be the largest ever held in terms of the number of events. There will be 98 separate events held in 15 disciplines across 7 separate sports from skiing to hockey to ice skating. The Opening and Closing ceremonies and some events will be held in the newly constructed Fisht Olympic Stadium, named after the nearby towering Mount Fisht.

There are a variety of star performers to watch at Sochi, perhaps led by the numerous NHL professional players who will participate for each nation in the hockey competition. The American hockey team will include such familiar names as Zach Parise, former Flyer James van Riemsdyk, and Phil Kessel, whose sister Amanda is a key player on the US women’s hockey team. The Canadians, always an Olympic hockey favorite, will include former Flyer Jeff Carter.

If you’re a fan of the our hometown Philadelphia Flyers, a number of the team’s players will be participating, though not our snubbed team captain Claude Giroux, notably left off Team Canada’s roster. Flyers participating include Kimmo Timonen with Finland, Jakub Voracek with the Czechs, Mark Streit with Switzerland, and Andrej Meszaros with Slovakia.

Aside from hockey, key Americans to watch include snowboarders Shaun White and Kelly Clark, figure skaters Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold, skiing stars Bode Miller and Mikaela Shiffrin, speed skaters Heather Richardson, J.R. Celski and Shani Davis, the ice dance team of Meryl Davis & Charlie White, and bobsledders Steven Holcomb and Lolo Jones, the American summer Olympics track star controversially named to the USA women’s bobsled team here.

Hovering in the background, and hopefully remaining there, is the always present fact that the Olympic Games are set on a major worldwide stage. Most of the planet is following on television and the internet. There have been specific threats, particularly by the usual Islamic radicals, of attacks against the Games. Security is tight in Sochi, with Russian President Vladimir Putin claiming a “Ring of Steel” has been provided for the athletes and attendees.

The next two weeks should provide a wide variety of winter sporting entertainment and human interest stories from this summery Russian resort town. Hopefully now we all are a little more familiar with the area and the “home team” American athletes. They will be joined by worldwide stars who will capture our attention as the drama of the Olympic Games unfolds.