Tag Archives: REVIEWS

Book Review: Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates

Embed from Getty Images

 

I recently returned to my first love in reading topics: history and biography. While fiction can be extremely enjoyable, especially when done well, I have always found the true, non-fiction stories of real people and events much more interesting.

That return to true history results here in my latest book review. For the first time in nearly four years, it does not involve the topic of baseball.
Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates” was published in 2015 by Penguin Random House’s ‘Sentinel’ imprint.
This joint effort of Fox News host Brian Kilmeade and author Don Yeager tells the story of “the forgotten war that changed American history.
That war is what many students of U.S. history know as the ‘First Barbary War‘, which, as the book jacket explains, “is the little known story of how a newly independent nation was challenged by four Muslim powers and what happened when America’s third president decided to stand up to intimidation.
America’s first four Presidents played key roles in the events leading up to and during the conflict. But George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison are largely secondary figures to the real military and diplomatic heroes and villains who took part in the action.
Following the War for Independence, the newly formed United States of America was saddled with enormous debt and had largely disbanded its military. This was particularly true in the area of naval force.
America was protected from more established world powers of that time primarily by distance and trade agreements. It had little or no influence on the high seas.
In trying to further those trade efforts, American merchant ships would frequently come under attack in the Mediterranean Sea by the Muslim powers of North Africa. These ‘Barbary States’ nations practiced state-supported piracy in order to exact tribute from weaker Atlantic powers.
American ships would be raided, and their goods stolen by Muslim crews. At times, the ships and their crews would be taken and held hostage for large ransoms.
The fledgling United States had no response other than to pay those ransoms. But this only further added to the national debt. Also, the problem wasn’t being dealt with in any meaningful way. It just kept happening, with no end in sight.
The United States wasn’t the only nation facing these issues. Wealthier countries with an actual naval presence in the region simply paid tribute to the Muslim leaders in order to ensure free passage of their ships.
Adams, a Federalist, and Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, were political adversaries. Those differences extended to their views on dealing with the Barbary powers.
The second President of the United States, Adams thought it possible to continue to buy peace, as was done by other nations. Jefferson, America’s third President, wanted to end that system permanently. He preferred a strong military response.
As Kilmeade and Yeager write:
In response to events on the Barbary Coast, Jefferson, in 1801, had dispatched a small U.S. Navy squadron to the Mediterranean. For the next four years, he responded to circumstances, expanding the fleet to a much larger naval presence. In the end, thanks to the bold leadership of men like Edward Preble, James and Stephen Decatur, and William Eaton, and Presley Neville O’Bannon, military force had helped regain national honor. Even the Federalists, who liked little that Jefferson did, came to accept that the United States needed to play a military role in overseas affairs.
The book is the story of those men: Preble, the Decatur’s, Eaton, and O’Bannon and many more as they battled on land and sea to help a new nation stand up for itself on the world stage.
The United States Marine Corps played a key role in the ultimate victory. This was the war from which came the USMC hymn line “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles in the air, on land and sea.
As the authors state, this war against radical Muslim powers was one which we still, in many ways, are fighting today. It is a pivotal story of the immediate post-Revolutionary War, post-U.S. Constitution period. It is a story that all Americans should know.
Kilmeade and Yeager tell that story in just over 200 easy to read pages chock full of historic drama. Their book includes maps, notes, and a complete rundown of the cast of characters involved in that drama. It will make an enjoyable and educational read for any fan of history, especially of American history.
 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Embed from Getty Images

 

My wife and I had the pleasure of taking in a preview showing last night of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi“, which officially opens in theatres on Friday, December 15, 2017.

There are going to be many spoilers in this review, but they don’t start just yet. Consider this opening sort of like the seemingly endless commercials and previews that accompany every motion picture these days. If you don’t want to know the actual film storyline, I’ll let you know when those spoilers are coming.

Before getting into the film, a little personal background on the two people doing the viewing. You see, we come at the entire Star Wars series and phenomenon from completely different places. Those differences result in my wife and I viewing from completely different perspectives.

When the original film “Star Wars” was released in 1977, I was a highly impressionable 15-year old boy. I was just beginning to explore the broader world around me outside of the little South Philly neighborhood where I was growing up.

My wife, on the other hand, was a 22-year old young woman that summer. She had already started in the working world, and her interests had become much more focused on adult pursuits.

That 15-year old me related strongly to the young Luke Skywalker, who was supposed to be just an older teen himself at that point. Luke was portrayed by Mark Hammill, and the character dreamt of a bigger reality beyond the confines of the comforting yet bland existence in which he was raised.

I went along happily with Luke and his new friends, Princess Leia Organa (who we would later find out was Luke’s twin sister) and smuggler Han Solo on a series of adventures. Luke was on a quest to find his purpose, and to engage in the battles taking place out there in the larger universe, not unlike my teenage self.

The first film, and the two sequels that followed in that original trilogy, drew tens of millions of us into a world of empire and rebellion. In fact, the original 1977 “Star Wars” film, now known as “The New Hope” within the context of the series, remains the only movie that I ever paid to see more than once at the box office.

It was all highlighted by the ultimate battle between the good and light of The Force, and the lure of The Dark Side. It is a familiar struggle, one that has visited each of our real lives as we continually find ourselves in a tug-of-war with good and evil forces, both external and internal.

I did not see those original films with my wife, we had not yet met, so we never got to share that experience. Her exposure to the “Star Wars” franchise was far less intense than my own. While mine was more personal, hers was based more on what was seeping into the broader culture. So her reaction to these films is never as visceral as my own.

Flash forward a couple of decades, and we would get to share my love of the franchise by seeing all three of the prequel films together between 1999 and 2005. That trilogy revealed the story of how Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala, Luke and Leia’s parents, got together.

The prequels also told how the friendship and mentor-student relationship between Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker deteriorated, leading to the latter ultimately turning to the Dark Side and becoming Darth Vader.

The prequels set the stage in a timeline for the action in the original film series, which ended with “Return of the Jedi” in 1983.

This new series of films picks up the story decades later. The evil Galactic Empire, defeated thanks to the intervention of Luke and his allies in the original films, is re-emerging as the First Order and threatening the benevolent New Republic.

To set the stage for the latest film, the new series began with “The Force Awakens” in 2015. In it we get caught up with our old heroes, Han and Leia. They had gotten married, had a son, fought together to maintain peace in the galaxy, and but then later separated as a couple.

Now aging, Leia had turned in her previous royal title of Princess to become a General, leader of the New Republic’s armed forces. Han had returned to his more familiar and comfortable role of working with co-pilot and sidekick Chewbacca in transporting and smuggling various shipments across the galaxy.

The First Order, an extreme Nazi-like power, was emerging as a genuine threat to galactic peace. Their goal was nothing less than to destroy the New Republic and replace it with tyrannic rule of their own. Leia attempts to locate Luke, who has mysteriously become a hidden recluse, in order to bring the Jedi back into the conflict on the side of her Resistance forces in battling the First Order.

“The Force Awakens” also introduces us to a new generation of characters. Poe Dameron is the greatest fighter pilot in the Resistance forces. With the aid of his orange and white droid, BB-8, Poe is sent to locate the final segment of a map that will lead to Luke.

A stormtrooper known as FN-2187 becomes a defector from the First Order. He joins up with Poe, who dislikes the impersonal number and bestows the name ‘Finn’ on him.

Rey is a loner on Jakku, a seemingly inconsequential lost girl on a middle-of-nowhere planet. She was abandoned by her parents as a small child, and his now scavenging just to get by from day to day.

Finally, the new trilogy introduces a new villain who goes by the name of Kylo Ren. We learn fairly quickly that he was originally Ben Solo, son of Han and Leia. Ben was strong in The Force and was sent to train with his uncle Luke to become a Jedi.

But the Dark Side, which lured away his grandfather (Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader), would turn Ben as well. He would take the name “Kylo Ren” from a mysterious ‘Knights of Ren’ group that he would join. He was then further lured towards the Dark Side under Supreme Leader Snoke, the leader of the First Order.

Now, real spoilers begin here for anyone who has not seen either of “The Force Awakens” or “The Last Jedi” films. Read no further, or prepare to have the key plot lines revealed.

As we saw in “Awakens”, Kylo ultimately kills his father, Han Solo. Meanwhile, it is revealed that The Force is extremely strong with Rey, hinting at some background that is still to be revealed for her character. She meets Finn, who becomes immediately and almost instinctively protective of her.

Leia’s Resistance fighters begin to defend the New Republic against the attacks of the First Order, led by Kylo and General Hux, who commands the First Order’s more conventional forces.

It is revealed that there is a strong pull within The Force that draws Rey and Kylo to one another, and they will ultimately engage in an epic light-saber duel. She wins, but before she can finish him off, fate allows him to escape.

As the map to Luke is finally fully recovered, Rey is sent by Leia to find him and convince him to return from his self-imposed exile. That is basically where “Awakens” leaves us off.

“The Last Jedi” is written and directed by Rian Johnson, produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman. It begins with Poe leading the Resistance in a somewhat successful but also foolhardy military mission that gets a number of Resistance fighters killed. Poe is demoted for his recklessness by Leia, who is then herself blasted into unconsciousness by the military might of the First Order.

Meanwhile, we flash to Rey back on the island at the exact moment where “Awakens” had left off. Unfortunately, she finds that Luke is almost violently disinterested in any type of return to battle. This becomes a main focus of “Last Jedi”: Rey trying to convince him to return, Luke resisting.

With Leia incapacitated, leadership of the Resistance passes down their chain of command to Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, played by Laura Dern. It’s been quite the year for Dern, who joines this iconic franchise after her featured role in the “Twin Peaks” revival this past summer.

Finn, who was seriously injured at the end of “Awakens” by Kylo, regains consciousness, and rejoins the fight against the First Order. Finn, Poe, BB-8, and a new character named Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) then team up to more aggressively challenge the First Order after Admiral Holdo takes a path of apparently passive resistance.

With Finn’s knowledge of the inner workings of First Order tactics and equipment, they devise a plan to destroy the lead First Order ship which is laying siege to the Resistance vessels.

Their plan is for Finn, Rose, and BB-8 to secretly board the ship and take out its tracking system. Poe would convince Holdo that the last of the Resistance fleet’s fuel could be then used to escape.

The group is instructed by Maz Kanata, a diminutive and large-goggled cantina owner who was introduced in “Awakens”, to seek out a computer expert “slicer” who could help them to sneak on board the First Order vessel. They are directed to a casino on a nearby planet to find this person.

Finn and Rose are taken into custody at the casino and tossed in a jail cell where they meet ‘DJ’ (Benicio Del Toro), who does indeed help them infiltrate the ship. Unfortunately, he also turns on them, delivering Finn and Rose into the hands of the ruthless Captain Phasma.

While all that is going on, Poe leads a mutiny back at the Resistance. Holdo has given an “abandon ship” order which Poe sees as leading the group to sure destruction. As usual, he is jumping the gun, and is put in his place by a revived Leia.

In the Rey-Luke storyline, she yields herself to the Dark Side, only to find that it holds no answers for her. Luke is visited by the spirit of his own teacher, Yoda, and is inspired to give some basic Jedi training to Rey.

Luke also confides in Rey with the story of Kylo Ren. The Force was strong in young Ben Solo, and so Luke had taken his nephew along with a small group of others to train as Jedi knights. But Luke sensed the growing and inevitable pull of the Dark Side in Ben. This led to a confrontation between the two, and with Ben destroying the old Jedi temple, killing some of his fellow trainees before fleeing with others to join the First Order.

Rey was told a completely different version of this confrontation by Kylo. She was becoming more and more conflicted between Luke’s resigned hesitancy and Kylo’s charismatic but dark leanings. She believed firmly that if she could only meet with him face to face, that she could turn Kylo back to the light.

That meeting would take place, and would lead to Kylo delivering Rey to Snoke. When Snoke is unable to convert Rey, he orders Kylo to kill her, thus surpassing his grandfather Darth Vader by completing Kylo’s own full turn to the Dark Side.

Instead, Kylo strikes down Snoke, and together he and Rey fight and overcome Snoke’s eilite force of personal guards. Just when we thought this might be the beginning of Kylo’s return to Ben, just when it looked as if Rey might successfully rehabilitate him, it all turns again.

With Snoke and his guards out of the way, and with his own power growing, Kylo saw this as his chance to rule the galaxy. He proposed an alliance with Rey in which they would overcome both the First Order and the Resistance, and rule alongside one another.

This was not her vision, and so Rey was having none of it. Unable to convince him to join the Resistance, Rey and Kylo put their powers to the test in a battle of wills through use of The Force.

Neither is able to overcome the other, and Rey escapes to help the Resistance. Kylo overpowers General Hux and declares himself as the Supreme Leader, replacing Snoke, and leaves to destroy the Resistance once and for all.

Those Resistance forces appear to run out of time. Holdo and Leia’s escape plan has been discovered, and their ships are being picked off one by one.

It dawns on Holdo that there is but one way out of the situation. In a suicide mission, Holdo flies the main Resistance ship directly into the lead First Order vessel at light speed, slicing it in two as she sacrifices herself.

This was the very same ship that Finn, Rose, and BB-8 were on board and trying to sabotage. As the ship begins to disintegrate around them, Finn is confronted by Phasma, and the two engage in a showdown of their own which ends in her demise. Finn, Rose, and BB-8 are able to then flee the doomed vessel and re-join the Resistance.

In the final battle, the Resistance has taken refuge on a secluded planet. But the First Order finds them and quickly over-matches them with superior military might. Leia and the survivors find themselves cornered inside a reinforced cave with the First Order about to deliver a final blow.

Suddenly, in walks Luke Skywalker. After a brief reunion with Leia, he marches out like some wild west gunslinger to take on the full might of Kylo and the First Order all by himself. Unable to defeat Luke with conventional weapons, Kylo realizes that he will have to fight this battle himself.

This sets up a mano a mano between Luke and Kylo in which Luke delivers a warning that echoes one given decades earlier by Obi-Wan to Vader: “If you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Luke succeeds in buying time for the Resistance to escape from the cave. They do so with the help of Rey and her growing abilities to draw upon the power of The Force. We leave Leia, Rey, Finn and the others as they flee aboard the Millenium Falcon.

Kylo suddenly realizes that he has been fighting with a Force-projected image of Luke, not the real person. We are left with him frustrated the he was unable to kill the real Luke, and that the Resistance has escaped.

Luke has fulfilled his destiny. He passed along the fundamental secrets of The Force to a new generation in Rey, and thus Luke will not end up as the last of the Jedi after all. We watch as he finally dissolves as a physical being, dying in peace and becoming one with The Force.

The film has wrapped up all of the story lines at this point, but still has one final scene with which to tantalize us. It shows a small group of children back on Canto Bight, the planet where Finn and his group had visited the casino earlier. These young stable hands had aided in Finn and Rose’s escape.

A small boy in the group is shown using rudimentary powers of The Force to retrieve a broom. He then uses the broom to make motions of a light saber as he looks up at the stars.

We are thus left with the vision of a younger generation that has been inspired to one day join the Resistance, and with the hope that The Force will once again be a force for good in helping lead their cause.

That is where we will pick up with Episode IX, slated for a December 2019 release. That film was originally intended to feature a larger role for Carrie Fisher as Leia. Of course, we know that Fisher died almost exactly one year ago. She had finished filming all of her scenes for “Last Jedi” by that point, so “Last Jedi” will be her last appearance.

When we return to the series, we will certainly find Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, and Chewie as key figures in trying to restor the Republic, battling against Kylo and his New Order. I’m sure there will be some appropriate resolution for Leia’s character as well.

Will Luke return as a Yoda-like figure to guide Rey? Will there be a satisfying resolution to the Rey-Kylo relationship? Will there be a heartfelt romance between any of the characters? Will there be new characters? We’ll have to wait two years to find out.

Now, that takes care of a recap of the story. So how would I rate it, and what criticisms, if any, would I have?

I prefaced this piece with my own history in following the “Star Wars” saga. That history takes me back four decades to my youth. I need to say this: I am not an unbiased source. I am a big fan. I don’t wear costumes, don’t read the books or comics, don’t play the video games. I don’t watch the animated series. But the films and their story will always be a part of me.

I loved the original trilogy. I enjoyed the prequels, which gained a measure of criticism from many Star Wars fans. And I can also say the same now regarding “The Last Jedi” and its “The Force Awakens” predecessor.

The prequels and the new trilogy do not hold the same romanticism for me as the original trilogy. That is no fault of the films. It is simply a reflection of my having grown older. The characters of Luke, Leia, and Han, even Darth Vader, are iconic because they came first. They started what has grown into a generational phenomenon.

As ground-breaking as the visual effects were from that original trilogy in their time, the newer films offer so much more in the way of special effects. Modern technological advances make any type of creature, world, and weapon a reality confined only by the imaginations of the creative team working on each film.

If I have any criticisms, there would be two. First, I found myself wishing that there was greater reliance on the actors and their skill in developing relationships and dialogue. The films try to balance that element with the special effects of the battles. For me, I would prefer fewer special effects-enhanced fights and more dramatic acting scenes.

Second, in this particular film it felt like too much story was being scattered around too many characters. I would much rather have seen more of a relationship develop, more teaching take place, with Luke and Rey than was actually shown in the film.

Daisy Ridley as Rey is clearly the breakout star of this new trilogy. She is captivating in the role whenever she hits the screen. I felt that she was under-utilized in this latest film. I would, for instance, have been interested in seeing a more interesting background story developed for her, something that reveals a reason for the strength of The Force in her.

Same goes for Oscar Isaac’s character of Poe. This has been a character with a great deal of potential, but one who has been reduced to a stereotype of the insanely gifted but undisciplined maverick fly boy. Picture Tom Cruise from “Top Gun”, only in outer space. Poe could have been a modern Han Solo, but that ship may have sailed.

I was never really sold on John Boyega in the Finn role. A supporting role, sure. But he is cast as a major character, and I just don’t find him to be leading man material.

We are also through two films now, and I don’t see a legitimate romance. The sexual tension, first as a triangle between Luke, Leia, and Han, and ultimately in the Han-Leia relationship, helped cement the “heart” felt in the original trilogy by the audience.

Who is that supposed to be here? Rey and Finn? Finn and Rose? It seems as if those have been tried and found lacking. Rey-Finn feels more like the brother-sister relationship of Luke-Leia than a romance. Finn-Rose might happen, but I simply don’t find it all that interesting.

The relationship between Rey and Kylo seems almost dirty, and not in a sexual way. While it appeared as if each might have briefly thought of the other in that way during a fleeting moment in “Last Jedi”, it seemed as if they immediately realized what went through all of our minds: “No.”

The most interesting hope for a romance to develop might end up being Rey-Poe. The two characters finally meet towards the end of this one, and there seems to be a quick spark. But it was indeed quick. There was no real conversation between the two, and nothing is made of a relationship.

Kennedy was hand-picked by the creator of this world and these characters, George Lucas, to carry the torch forward. She needs to try something to recapture the magic. Perhaps with the return of J.J. Abrams to direct Episode IX, we will find Star Wars getting back to those roots.

For old school Star Wars fans, there are definitely some great retro nuggets in this one. The aforementioned Luke nod to Obi-Wan. Our old buddy R2D2 cues up a video of one of the original trilogy’s greatest hits for Luke. There is an actual appearance from Yoda, and we hear the ethereal voice of Obi-Wan. Luke takes the bridge of the Millenium Falcon, finds the gold dice that Han had hung there, and reminisces over his old friend.

Looking back on the nostalgic aspects that were heavy in “Last Jedi”, they also served as a reminder that we missed out on something that I would love to have seen. Due to the choices made in the “Awakens” storyline, there would never be a reunion of Luke, Leia, and Han all together.

I recommend that everyone who has ever called themselves a Star Wars fan should go see “The Last Jedi” as soon as possible. It continues the story, opening with the now iconic musical strains of John Williams and the introductory word scroll. You get to watch Leia and Han reunite. You will see R2D2, C3PO, Yoda, Chewbacca, the Millenium Falcon. It pushes forward the newer generation story of Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo, and BB-8.

What do I want to see in a finale in 2019? I want a Rey-heavy film, one that sees her fully learn the powers of The Force. I want to see the return of the Jedi – not a repeat of that film, but a rebirth of the Jedi knights. I want to see Kylo as clearly and unambiguously on the Dark Side. I want to see a realistic Rey interpersonal relationship developed, perhaps with Poe.

I would love to see a Luke cameo as Rey’s spiritual Yoda-like teacher. I want to see good defeat evil. I want to see the First Order defeated and the Republic restored. I want to see Rey defeat Kylo, though not necessarily kill him.

Finally, I would actually like to see the ending have something that leaves the door open, that allows the folks at Disney to perhaps revisit the series a few years down the road. I mean, what is life without the hope of a Star Wars fix coming at some point?

I wouldn’t know. For me, the events which took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away have always been there. I’d love a new hope, one where I might continue to enjoy this series for years to come.

TV Watch: Justified

Embed from Getty Images

Timothy Olyphant starred in “Justified” from 2010-15

 

It’s been three and a half years since the last piece in my “TV Watch” series came out. That last article in February 2014 covered the action-packed Cinemax drama “Banshee” starring Antony Starr and Ivana Milicevic.

Since that time, more and more Americans have taken on the phenomenon of binge-watching television series. This involves watching all episodes of a show in a short period of time via an OnDemand service, or through a pay service such as Netflix or Amazon.

Many times, I have found myself in conversations regarding which series folks are currently binging. Some of these conversations have turned me on to some of my favorite television shows.

I have also passed along some of my own favorites as a recommendation to others. That is what I’ll be doing now with ‘TV Watch’ over the next few months. As the series continues with occasional pieces, I’ll be highlighting some of my favorite shows from the last decade or so that have concluded their original runs, but which are available for you to enjoy on those various OnDemand or pay networks.

Near the top of any recommendation list that I could make would be “Justified”, which originally aired on the FX network from March 2010 through April 2015. It’s 78 episodes over six seasons make up one of the best and most original cop dramas in television history.

Timothy Olyphant stars as deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, who battles the bad guys operating in and around his home turf of Harlan, Kentucky.

Harlan is a small town and county located in extreme southeastern Kentucky near the Cumberland River, bordered by mountains and ridges. The mountainous geography and warm, humid climate help set the stage for the series.

Olyphant is in some ways the typical smart aleck style law enforcement officer. His quick wit and superior intelligence often helps him disarm his opponents, both literally and figuratively.

One of my all-time favorite lines in TV history came out of the mouth of Raylan Givens:

“You run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. You run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.”

And as with many a good ol’ Cowboy hat-wearing southern boy, he can back up his mouth. Raylan is good with both a gun and with his fists when needed. But he’s quick enough with both that wit and his gun that he rarely needs to actually use his fists.

A running thread throughout the series finds Raylan battling with the outlaw Crowder family, especially one whom he knew since childhood. Boyd Crowder, as played marvelously by Walton Goggins, proves to be Raylan’s principle nemesis.

Raylan’s personal life is complicated by ongoing flirtations with both his ex-wife Winona Hawkins (Natalie Zea) and Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), Boyd’s sister-in-law. Though Winona disappears for large stretches of the series, she will return and prove critical as it winds to a conclusion.

Both Raylan’s personal and professional lives are also constantly complicated by his father, Arlo Givens (Raymond J. Barry), who is suffering from the early signs of dementia. Unlike Raylan, Arlo has spent much of his life on the wrong side of the law, often with Boyd’s father Bo Crowder (M.C. Gainey) who is a key figure in the shows first season.

As the show progresses, Raylan is forced to battle newly emerging threats, some from locals such as the Bennett and Crowe families, others from out of town drug operatives.

That renegade Bennett clan includes family matriarch Mags Bennett, played by Margo Martindale, and her sometimes bumbling but always villainous son Dickie Bennett, played by familiar face Jeremy Davies. Both Martindale and Davies won Emmy Awards for their roles. The Crowe family is a bunch of alligator farmers, and is led by another familiar face in Michael Rapaport.

Assisting Raylan on the law enforcement end are his immediate boss, Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen. The chief is played brilliantly by Nick Searcy as a father figure to Raylan. He is much more of a straight, by the book lawman.

Based largely on Raylan’s track record of success, and simply liking him personally, Art tends to give Raylan a great deal of latitude in getting the job done – most times. Fellow deputies Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel) and Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts) work out of Raylan’s office and usually have his back.

The shows theme song is “Long Hard Times to Come” by Gangstagrass, a New York based group that combines blue grass and rap in an original sound. The song was nominated for 2010 Emmy Award.

Over it’s history, “Justified” won a 2010 Peabody Award and the two Emmy Awards. Among the numerous nominations that it received over it’s run were eight Emmy Award nominations, including for both Olyphant and Goggins. The show, Olyphant, Goggins, and Carter all received Critic’s Choice Award nominations over the life of the series.

You rarely, if ever, get this style of law enforcement shown on television. Rural and small-town life highlighted, and the law enforcement in the form of the U.S. Marshal’s office rather than some big city police.

Whether you are a fan of cop shows or not, I believe that you would find “Justified” enjoyable. It’s smart, well produced, and well acted. If you’ve never seen it before, add it to your list of shows to binge-watch sometime soon. You won’t regret it.

Book Review: “So You Think You’re A Philadelphia Phillies Fan?”

Like everyone else in Philadelphia during the year 2008, Scott Butler was completely caught up in the exploits of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball club.

The Fightin’ Phils were on their way to the club’s second of five consecutive NL East Division crowns that summer. The season would culminate in the Phillies capturing just the second World Series championship in franchise history.

 

With all that fanfare as a backdrop, the Penn State grad decided to get in on the blogging game. He founded the “Phils Baseball” blog at philsbaseball.com that year.

Those were heady times for a Phillies fan, and it was a joy to keep up the blog for the first few seasons. The last few? Well, as every Phillies fan knows, things have become much more of a chore.
Undeterred by the recent losing seasons, Butler has published his first book through Sports Publishing. “So You Think You’re a Philadelphia Phillies Fan?” comes along with a subtitle advertising it as “stars, stats, records, and memories for true diehards.” In its 213 easy to read pages, Butler’s book delivers what it promises.
Every summer, I look for a couple of baseball themed books that I can read on the beach, or in my backyard. I love it when I can find one relating to my hometown Phillies. This one is perfect.
Butler breaks his book down into four sections. At the start of each, he poses a set of trivia questions. With each section, the questions get increasingly more difficult.
But then during the ensuing chapter he doesn’t simply answer each of the questions. Instead, Butler gives you the stories behind those answers.

FROM ROOKIE TO VETERAN

The first section title “Early Innings – Rookie Level” has a total of 30 questions. He prefaces the chapter in this way: “There are plenty of difficult questions in this book, but you won’t find them in this chapter. Here are a few easy ones to get you started.
Do you know the Phillies all-time career leaders in Home Runs, Wins, Strikeouts, and Saves? The team nicknames of the 1950 and 1983 Phillies NL champions? You’ll find these Phillies basics here.
Even though many of you will know the answers for the first section, reliving these great players, teams, and moments makes for light-hearted fun reading.
The second section titled “Middle Innings – Veteran Level” also has 20 questions. Here things get a bit more difficult for the youngest fans. A number of the questions here are on the great Phillies teams of the past, including the 1915, 1950, and 1964 clubs.

FROM ALL-STAR TO HALL OF FAMER

Section three is “Late Innings – All-Star Level” is filled to the brim with 50 questions, and gets into some deeper trivia.
Which player had more RBI in one game than any player in Phillies history? Who turned the last Phillies triple play? Who was the last Phillies batter to hit for a “Cycle”? The only two Phillies to ever hit 30 or more home runs and steal 40 or more bases in a single season?
The last section is “Extra Innings – Hall of Fame Level” and finishes up with 20 final questions. For instance, do you know the player received by the Phillies as a throw-in for an 1896 trade, and who would go on to become a Hall of Famer? Do you know the two Phillies players who each hit two home runs in a single inning?
Grab this one up and enjoy some of that light summer reading. No matter your personal level of expertise on the team, you’re guaranteed to learn something new. “So You Think You’re a Philadelphia Phillies Fan?” would also make the perfect gift for your own favorite Phillies fan.

Book Review: The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox

For younger fans of the Boston Red Sox, and Major League Baseball in general for that matter, this might be hard to believe. But for a long stretch of my lifetime, those Bosox were considered to be jinxed at best, chokers at worst.

The Red Sox have captured three recent World Series crowns in 2004, 2007, and in 2013. They have reached the postseason four other times as well in this century. They are considered one of the leading AL contenders once again this season.

But from 1908 until 2004, just short of a full century, the Red Sox could not manage to win a single World Series championship. In fact, during that stretch, the Sox captured just two American League Pennants.

The first of those came in 1946, when Ted Williams and company were edged out by the Saint Louis Cardinals thanks famously to the “Mad Dash” of Enos Slaughter in Game Seven.

I began following baseball in 1971, and distinctly recall rooting for Boston in the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. One of the attractions for me to the Red Sox cause was that lengthy frustration, attributed to the “Curse of the Bambino” by more superstitious fans.

Famed Boston baseball historian Herb Crehan has a fairly new book out, published by Summer Game Books last year. The book is based on the other AL Pennant won by the Red Sox during that 95-year stretch.

The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox: Birth of Red Sox Nation“, was released in 2016, written by Crehan. His bostonbaseballhistory.com website is the definitive stop for all things Red Sox. The book includes a forward by pitcher Jim Lonborg, who played a pivotal role for Boston in that 1967 season.

HISTORY LESSON

This well-written, easy to read, 267-page effort from Crehan covers that season with a central theme in mind. Crehan opines that those 1967 Red Sox lit the fire for what has become known as “Red Sox Nation.” This is the term for the rabid multi-generational fan base of the team reaching well outside of the New England region.

Before even beginning the 1967 team story, Crehan sets the stage for the reader with an intro titled “A Brief History of the Boston Red Sox” presented as a prologue.

In these 13 pages covering 1871 through 1966, Crehan rolls through one of my favorite subjects, real baseball history. He takes you from the early Boston Beaneaters (now the Atlanta Braves) to the Boston Americans (now the Red Sox), discussing the Boston baseball evolution.
In the 1966 season, Boston finished in ninth place with a 72-90 record in the American League. It was the club’s second consecutive season finishing ninth out of the 10 AL teams playing at that time.

THE 1967 RED SOX: LITTLE HOPE

Crehan opens the story of the 1967 team by setting the scene. The opening of the baseball season provided a respite to the escalating war in Vietnam: “In most minds, the boys of summer promptly took precedence over the boys of battle.”
Crehan quickly explains that the positive feeling regarding the game was not necessarily translating to the Boston area.
“But in Boston, as on so many recent Opening Days, there was little joy, less to shout about and lots of lethargy. It is hard for fans under the age of 55 to appreciate the depth of cynicism surrounding the 1967 Red Sox. It had been 21 years since the team’s last appearance in a World Series and the Red Sox hadn’t finished in the first division since 1958.”
The previous seven-year stretch had been particularly horrendous for fans of the team. The Red Sox finished no higher than sixth place in any season between 1960-66. Fans stayed away in droves.
From that 1946 World Series winner through today, the Red Sox have drawn more than a million fans to Fenway Park in 44 of the 52 seasons. A half-dozen of those eight poorly drawing years came during the 1961-66 seasons.

BOSOX START SLOW

Bottom line, there was no talk in Boston or anywhere else in baseball of the 1967 Boston Red Sox emerging as contenders. In fact, the season started out much as most believed it would, with consistent losing.
On May 20, a loss at Fenway to the Cleveland Indians left the Red Sox with a 14-17 record and in seventh place. At that point, the Bosox were a full seven games behind the front-running Chicago White Sox in the American League standings.
In fact, as late as July 13, the Red Sox continued to struggle. The club split a doubleheader with the Baltimore Orioles that day. They had lost six of eight games. Despite a 42-40 mark they were in fifth place, still a half-dozen games out of first. And then it all suddenly began to turn around.

TURNAROUND TO SURPRISE CONTENTION

It began with a 10-game winning streak in mid-July. By the end of that month, the Red Sox were in second place, just two games behind the White Sox.
It would take three more weeks, but Boston would finally catch the Chisox by sweeping a doubleheader from the Washington Senators on August 22.
One key player, 22-year old right fielder Tony Conigliaro, was not around for all of the drama. A budding star, ‘Tony C’ was hit in the face by California Angels pitcher Jack Hamilton on August 18, and was lost for the season.
The finishing stretch to that 1967 regular season would test the cardiac conditioning of fans all across New England. Over the final six weeks, Boston was never more than a game off the pace, or a game in front.

FINAL DAY MADNESS

Heading into the final day of the season, the Red Sox were tied at the top of the American League with the Minnesota Twins at 91-70. Tthe Detroit Tigers were just a half-game behind.
Remember, this was still two years before the divisional era would begin. All 10 teams were lined up in the league. Whoever finished in first place was the Pennant winner, advancing immediately into the World Series.
On that final day, October 1, Boston skipper Dick Williams sent his ace Lonborg to the hill in a head-to-head showdown with Minnesota for the pennant. Crehan writes of the buildup to that game:
“Lonborg, a native of San Luis Obispo, California, and a pre-med graduate of Stanford University, was the undisputed ace of the Red Sox staff with twenty-one wins already to his credit. However, the big right-hander entered the game winless against the powerful Twins, a team that had always given him trouble. Lonborg couldn’t have known it as the sun came up over Boston Harbor that morning, but he was about to achieve the most important victory of a distinguished career that would span fifteen seasons in the major leagues.”
The Red Sox would thrill the Fenway faithful with a 5-3 victory over the Twins on that final Sunday. Lonborg went the distance, allowing seven hits and walking four batters.

RED SOX VS TWINS

The Twins had broken to an early 2-0 lead, and that scored carried into the bottom of the sixth. Then the Bosox erupted for all five of the runs that they would score on the day against Twins 26-year old ace Dean Chance.
Lonborg incredibly began the big inning with a bunt base hit. It was the first of four straight singles to start the frame. The last of those was a game-tying, two-run single off the bat of future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski to score Lonborg and Jerry Adair.
Ken Harrelson then hit into a fielder’s choice, with Dalton Jones racing home with the run that put Boston on top for the first time. After that, Chance and the Twins fell apart. A pair of wild pitches, a walk, and an error combined to push two more Red Sox runs across. Those runs would provide Boston’s ultimate margin of victory.
With two outs in the top of the 8th, the Twins tried to rally. Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva registered back to back singles. Then Bob Allison‘s base hit to left field scored Killebrew to cut the Boston lead down to a 5-3 margin.
However, Allison committed the final boner of the day for the Twins. Trying to put himself into scoring position, he went for second base on his clutch hit. Yaz came up firing, and gunned to second baseman Mike Andrews. Andrews’ tag nailed Allison for the final out of the inning and killed the Minnesota rally.

CAPTURING THE PENNANT

In the top of the 9th, the Twins had one final shot when Ted Uhlaender led off with a base hit. At that point in today’s game, had he somehow lasted that long, Lonborg would be lifted. The great lefty bat of Rod Carew was stepping to the plate.
But Williams stuck with his starter, and Lonborg rewarded his skipper. First he coaxed Carew into an easy 4-3 double play. Then he retired pinch-hitter Rich Rollins on a pop out to shortstop Rico Petrocelli to end the game.
The Red Sox and their fans exploded in a frenzied celebration. Yet there was still a potential fly in the ointment. Remember, Detroit had entered that final day just a half-game out. Should the Tigers sweep their doubleheader with the California Angels, they would finish tied with Boston. This would force a playoff for the AL Pennant.
The Boston locker room would eventually settle down, and the team would follow the Tigers-Angels action on a radio broadcast. Detroit had captured the opener 6-4, and moved to an early 3-1 lead in the second game.
But the Angels were no pushover, they roared back with three runs in both the third and fourth innings, coasting home with an 8-5 victory. The Tigers were eliminated, and the Red Sox were officially champions of the American League.

THE 1967 WORLD SERIES

In the World Series, the Red Sox would find the Saint Louis Cardinals waiting as representatives of the National League. Just as had happened 21 years earlier, the Cards would capture a seven-game victory.
The Red Sox beat one future Hall of Famer in that series. Lonborg edged his future Philadelphia Phillies rotation mate Steve Carlton by a 3-1 score in Game Five.
However, Boston simply could not solve the other Hall of Famer in the Cardinals rotation. Bob Gibson went 3-0, allowing just 14 hits over 27 innings with a 26/5 K:BB to earn the Most Valuable Player honors.
Crehan takes you through each game of that World Series, including Williams dice roll in Game Seven, where he started Lonborg on just two days rest.
“Lonborg managed to hold the Cardinals at bay during the first two innings of Game Seven. “I felt pretty good warming up,” Lonborg remembered. “I had pitched on two days rest several times that year…felt a little tired, but in a big game like that you are most interested in pitching command than power.””
Lonborg’s efforts that season were truly heroic. He would be rewarded for a 22-7 season by winning the AL Cy Young Award. But in Game Seven, he just didn’t have it. The Cardinals tagged him for six earned runs on 10 hits. Against the dominance of Gibson, that ineffectiveness proved the difference.

RED SOX NATION

Despite the Fall Classic defeat, the 1967 season was the beginning of major success for the Boston Red Sox. The club would reel off 16 consecutive winning seasons, returning to the World Series again just eight years later.
From that 1967 season through last year, a total of 50 seasons, the Red Sox and their fans have experienced just eight losing campaigns. They have been to the World Series five times, winning the last three.
Fenway Park has become a genuine “place to be” in Boston. The Red Sox have drawn more than three million fans on five occasions, and since 1986 have drawn over two million in every full season.
Just last month, Forbes estimated that the Boston Red Sox were worth $2.7 billion. That makes the club the third most valuable in all of Major League Baseball, behind only the arch-rival New York Yankees and the NL’s Los Angeles Dodgers, two teams playing in much larger home markets.
Crehan doesn’t simply take you chronologically through that 1967 season. The fourteen full chapters each highlight a specific player and their contributions to that Red Sox team. In addition to the players already mentioned here previously, those players include Reggie SmithRuss GibsonGeorge ScottJoe FoyGary Bell, and Jose Santiago.
When you examine the record of the team on the field, the response of the fan base, and the growth in value for the franchise in the last fifty years, it’s hard to argue with Crehan’s ultimate argument.
Those “Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox” truly did give birth to the “Red Sox Nation”, just as his book title proclaims. This is an outstanding read, particularly for Boston fans, but also for all baseball fans.