Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries." (Julius Caesar; Act 4, Scene 3).

Category: News (Page 2 of 7)

“Obama’s Odyssey” (Vols. I & II) on Radio & Specially Priced

For all of you who, like me, are watching this year’s presidential race with mouth agog, I thought I would remind you that my book about Hillary Clinton’s last run for the presidency, [when she was soundly beaten by the upstart Barack Obama], is going to be on a national radio tour of 18 major markets, starting tomorrow, May 18th.

In honor of my dragging myself out of bed and speaking to morning drive talk show people from coast to coast (list to follow), I’ve lowered the price of Volume I of “Obama’s Odyssey” (e-book only) to 99 cents for the dates May 18, 19, 20, June 1 and 2 and we are giving Volume II away absolutely FREE during those same dates. (Normal price: $4.99 in e-book; $14.99 per book in paperback).

If you don’t know much about either book, you can see me explaining my light-hearted approach to political coverage in a YouTube video that was shown on Chicago television. Simply go to YouTube and type in Connie Corcoran Wilson. You’ll see a picture of Joe Biden, one of the many politicians I tracked through the snowy wastelands of Iowa (and elsewhere) for close to 24 months in 2008.

My 1,000 articles were “hit” over 3 million times by Yahoo readers, and I was named Yahoo Content Producer of the Year for Politics. The books came later—not until after July 14 of 2014, when the Content Contributor Network I served for 10 years was dissolved to employ Katie Couric, instead. ($10 million for Katie; $0 for us).

The company informed us they were not going to maintain the servers to keep the thousands of articles from those of us in the Content Contributors’ Network up on the Internet.

So began MY Odyssey of hiring public school teachers who were off work in the summer to assist me in getting my articles down off the Internet before they would be trashed. And, once down, it seemed as though there were too many pictures–especially unused ones still in my pictures file— for just one book, so I divided the campaign up into 2 parts: 1) The run-up to the conventions, when various candidates jockeyed for position to be their party’s nominee and,
2) The campaign itself, right up to and through the Inauguration.

Volume I has 67 blog posts from the field, with only 27 photos. Volume II has 60 (sixty) previously unpublished historic photographs taken all over the country and within the DNC and RNC, town hall meetings and the Ron Paul Rally for the Republic, with 27 accompanying articles.

My appearances on various radio stations began with a small station in Brownwood, Texas at 7:10 a.m. Tomorrow, 9 stations will speak with me, as follows:

1) Harrogate, TN, WCXZ-AM, Tom Amis in the Morning
2) Willmer, MN, KWLM-AM, Bill Dean’s the Morning Brew
3) Minneapolis, MN, KBEM-FM, Ed Jones
4) Charleston, SC, WTMA-AM, Charlie James
5) Charlotte, NC, WSAT-AM, Buddy Poole
6) Lexington, KY, WMST-AM, Dan Manley, “Mid Mornings on Main”
7) Hartford, CT, WJJF-FM, Lee Elci, “The Lee Elci Show”
8) Ocala, FL, WOCA-AM, Larry Whitler’s “The Source”
9) Festus, MO, KJFF-AM, Matt West’s “The Morning Magazine

On May 19th, Thursday, I’ll be chatting with:
10) Burlington, IA, KBUR-AM, the Steve Hexom Show
11) West Chester, PA, WCHE-AM, Geoff Harris
12) Seattle, WA, KORE-FM, Ken Johannessen
13) Minneapolis, MN, KLTF-AM, Ron Specker’s “Party Line”
14) Yuba City, CA, KUBA-AM, Moe Howard

Then, I’ll be silent (and sleeping in) until June 1st, when I’ll be heard on:
15) Centralia, IL, WILY-AM, Tootie Cooksey
16) Amherst, VA, WAMV-AM, Bob Langstaff’s “We, the People”
17) Albuquerque, NM, KPCL-FM, Annette Ayoub’s “Day Brightener”

If you’re anywhere within listening distance of these stations, tune in. If you’re not, I recommend the YouTube video, which I may post here momentarily.

And, regardless, please consider downloading (or is it uploading?) a FREE copy of Volume II of “Obama’s Odyssey” on the days it is free (May 18, 19, 20 and June 1, June 2) and a 99 cent copy of Volume I on those same days.

Anyone who knows my aversion to early mornings knows I won’t be doing THIS again any time soon, so get them while you can!

Blog Tour Ongoing for “Obama’s Odyssey” (Vol. I)

Right now, there is an ongoing blog tour for the first volume of “Obama’s Odyssey,” complete with some giveaways for a free copy on some blogs.

Originally, the tour was to kick off as I returned from Cancun (April 23), but apparently it started while I was out of the country, so I will attempt to find the dates and blog links to report to you, but, in the meantime, go out to Amazon, type in my name (Connie Corcoran Wilson) and check out the 6 new reviews for Volume I (which is the only one actually “on tour” currently).

I will be doing a radio interview with a Texas station this coming Thursday morning at 7:40 a.m. and the book is currently on the shelves of Book People, the largest independent bookstore in Texas, in Austin on Lamar Boulevard.

There is also a giveaway ongoing until May 28th on Goodreads for Volume I in paperback.

As soon as can, I will post the blog tour links for this timely book, but you can see many of the reviews posted behind the Amazon listing.

The Ruby Slippers: The True Story told in SXSW Documentary

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bb/Dorothy's_Ruby_Slippers,_Wizard_of_Oz_1938.jpg

 

A Little About the South By Southwest Film and Music Festival

I’m here in Austin, Texas, attending some of the festivities associated with the South by Southwest Film and Music Festival. Actually, there are third and fourth components to the festival, as there was an education portion held prior to the beginning of the film and music, which kicked off with an appearance by President Barack Obama. (Michelle Obama arrived for the music portion today).

I’d heard about the film festival here for years and, having covered the Chicago International Film Festival for a decade (and one in Vancouver years ago), I learned that a top-of-the-line ticket to everything would have cost me $1,745. A ticket just for the film portion is $695. In other words, this is a far pricier proposition than attending the film festival in Chicago, which is exclusively film and doesn’t attempt to involve Austin’s version of Silicone Valley (3D printers) nor music venues galore. However, if you are a resident, as we have been since January, locals can purchase wristbands for either $65 or $95, depending on the length of time the wristband covers.

 

The Slippers

The documentary “The Slippers” by Canadian filmmaker Morgan White was a 5-year labor of love based on Rhys Thomas’ book The Ruby Slippers of OzToronto native and director White co-scripted the film with Derek LaJeunesse. The film was, in a sense, a tribute to a man director White dubbed The Robin Hood of Hollywood, Kent Warner. “Once I read the book, I knew I had to do the movie,” said filmmaker White.

Warner, a Hollywood fixture who really knew his movies, was hired to help organize the sale of MGM’s large warehouse full of film artifacts and costumes when new owner Kirk Kerkorian, Las Vegas multi-millionaire who did not care about the Hollywood history that was going to be auctioned off became the studio owner back in 1970. It is estimated that Warner, who probably liberally “helped himself” to the important dresses and props of the era, discovered the shoes in February or March of 1970. Warner, himself, told an embellished story about retrieving the cache of what may have been as few as 5 pair of ruby slippers or as many as 10. Warner kept the best pair for himself, but often stole things “for Debbie,” meaning Debbie Reynolds, who, for years, was buying props and costumes of yesteryear for a Hollywood Museum that never materialized.

 

The Rising Cost Of Nostalgia

Debbie Reynolds’ son, Todd Fisher, is interviewed in the film and told stories of how his mother was cheated time and time again at auctions when she bid on bits of motion picture history, detailing one particular purchase of what was to have been the original blue-and-white Judy Garland dress from the 1939 film. When she went to pick up her purchase, she had been given a plain blue dress that was a “test” dress. Similarly, Debbie ended up only with a pair of ruby slippers that were rejected for the film but made initially to test the concept of a pointy-toed elf-like design, (which was ultimately rejected).

Director Morgan White described his regret at not being able to interview Debbie Reynolds in person but said he talked to her on the phone and said, “She sang to me and sort of trailed off. I think she may have been drunk.”

The rising cost of owning a pair of the ruby slippers was tracked. The shoes probably cost only $13 or $14 to make, originally, in 1939. A woman named Roberta Bauman who  won a pair of the ruby slippers in a contest kept them for years and then cashed in by having them auctioned by Chrstie’s. They brought $150,000 in 1988. In 2000, a pair sold for $666,000. Prices today, if a pair were to be put up for auction, are estimated as bringing as much as $2 million or more. The 2012 auction of Debbie Reynolds’ accumulated treasures brought in $27 million. The film is as much about the rising cost of nostalgia as it is about the iconic ruby slippers.

 

Different Pairs In Different Locations

One pair is on display at Disney, given them for display by the owner (Anthony Landini). One pair is on display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. One pair was bought for the Academy by investors including Leonardo DeCaprio. A woman in the Austin audience asked about a pair on display in Austin and the filmmaker sighed and said, “I’m going to be really sorry if there is an original pair on display here in town and I didn’t know about it when I was making this film.”

A large part of the film covers the loaning of a pair of the slippers to a Judy Garland (real name at birth: Frances Gumm) Museum in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. After successfully loaning the slippers to the Museum for years for an annual festival, they were stolen in August of 2005. The small town Museum supposedly had security, but the security alarm did not notify police and the security camera had been switched off. The thieves were inside the structure for just a few moments in a smash-and-grab robbery and the film shows scuba divers searching a nearby lake (created from an abandoned iron ore pit), on suspicion that the shoes may have been stolen by some local youths who then threw them away.

Filmmaker Morgan White said the most disappointing thing was the Academy of Motion Pictures’ refusal to allow him to film the slippers that were donated to them by the mystery donors (guesses beyond DeCaprio include Stephen Spielberg and possibly Oprah Winfrey). He described the film as a tribute to Kent Warner, the knowledgeable Hollywood insider who smuggled out so many iconic items. Warner died of AIDS in 1984 at the age of 41 and had to sell off most of his treasures to pay for his treatment. (Shots of Warner’s grave were poignant). White considers Warner an unsung hero of the Hollywood memorabilia movement, one who is not acknowledged or even known.

Dwight Bowers of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., who has a pair on display, explained:

 

“What makes the shoes so valuable is not necessarily what they are (i.e., size 5 to 6 shoes covered in 2,300 handsewn fish scale sequins dyed red—a change from the original plan to have silver shoes inspired by the advent of color to movies—) but what they represent.”

Christmas in Chicago: Happenings in and Around the City at the Holidays

I came in to Chicago to pick up the daughter (from Denver) to drive her back to the Quad Cities, but good friend Mary Gerace had some other festive ideas for things to do in and around the city, including the free Chicago Youth Symphony concert at Chicago’s Symphony Hall, the Tuba Christmas concert at the Palmer House, and a performance of The Assassination Theater, which purports to prove who really murdered JFK (ending soon at the Museum of Television and other such things.

TubaXmas 013The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra performance, which was free, was just as good as when I saw them perform with Ben Folds a month or so ago. No Ben, this time, but just as great a performance, with a tour de force performance from a young trumpeter who was voted the 2nd best in the U.S. in a competition.

TubaXmas 057Then came 266 tubas of all ages and sizes. Performers come from all over the state (the youngest was 10 years old) and outnumber those at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Tubas don’t often get to carry the melody, so it was fun to hear that many of them playing well-known Christmas carols. The audience was encouraged to sing along to the second verse. The house was packed. We had to arrive by 9 a.m. to get colored wrist bands or risk being in the “spill-over” room watching it on a TV feed. This was the 30th year for the event.

Then there were the lovely Christmas trees, including the one in Millennium Park barely a mile down Michigan from me, and the one in the Palmer House Lobby.

And, of course, Water Tower Place beckoned with shopping galore. Last night, when I was there, they planned to be open until midnight! Christmas Eve, demonstrators plan to demonstrate on the Miracle Mile, which the shops along there have claimed has cost them at least 30% of their normal business.

Last, but not least, I received word a while ago that I was one of the Finalists for the title of Best Indie Thriller of 2015 and had been named one of the Top 100 from among 12,000+ entries. I was sworn to secrecy until the newest issue of “Shelf Unbound” online magazine was published, however, and the Dec./Jan. issue is up now. I think “KHAKI=KILLER” is on page 58 (or 60?). Here is the link:

You can see the issue here: http://issuu.com/shelfunbound/docs/shelf_unbound_december-january_2015

Khaki = Killer is shown on page 58 or 60.

Lastly, MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR to one and all, and if you are of a different religious persuasion, as our Christmas card said, “Merry Everything.”

Christmas Schedule for New Xmas Cats Appearances

“The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer,” 4th in “The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats” series, has been on a virtual tour for the past month and receiving generally five-star reviews from bloggers.

This year, there is a hard-cover book for the first time ever, but it is available only from me at the appearances listed below or from the book’s website (www.TheXmasCats.com) using PayPal. The paperback and e-book versions of the book are available on Amazon, but the hard cover is only available from me in person or on the Xmas Cats website.

Here is my Christmas Schedule, as far as I know it now. It starts this Friday (December 4th) with an appearance from 7 to 9 p.m. at Razzleberries in LeClaire, Iowa. Come join me and celebrate the season with the store cat on Friday night! (You never know when the Cat-in-the-Hat might show up to lend moral support.)

Christmas Stops for “The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer”

(Some of these are tentative. One of my former stops burned down in May, but re-opened today. I apparently asked too late for the Four Seasons, so I will be at a new restaurant in Geneseo that is just opening called “Genevino’s” from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

December 4, Friday: Razzleberries in LeClaire, Iowa from 7 to 9 p.m.
December 5, Saturday: Moline, Illinois, Public Library with other local authors. I am the first author of the day, at 10:30 a.m., who is to read or speak for 15 minutes. I will share the newest Christmas Cats book, which takes 3 minutes to read in its entirety. After that, I’ll mention my 4 other series and miscellaneous titles. This gathering of local authors ends at 2 p.m
December 5, Saturday: Village of East Davenport, (Iowa) Freddy Fritters’ Dog Bakery: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., hopefully with the Cat in the Hat stopping by. Freddy Fritters had a ribbon cutting ceremony on December 2nd to celebrate its re-opening after a disastrous fire near Mother’s Day. Come help us re-launch Freddy Fritters!
December 11, Friday: Gallery Hop in Rock Island, Illinois. Consult their map upon arrival. I am tentatively scheduled to be within a dining establishment. 6 to 10 p.m.
December 12, Saturday: Geneseo (Illinois) Christmas Walk. Although I’ve been at the Four Seasons in other years, this year I will be within Genevino’s, a new dining establishment at 217 South State Street in Geneseo, Illinois, near where the parade ends.
December 13, Sunday: There may be a Breakfast with Santa opportunity in Geneseo; stay tuned for further developments. I will know more about this after Monday, December 7th and will update on my blog.

       Other Series and Miscellaneous Books:
“Ghostly Tales of Route 66” (which recently reached #1 as a Kindle e-book with over 3,000 downloads). Volume I – Chicago to Oklahoma; Volume II – Oklahoma to Arizona; Volume III – Arizona to California’s Santa Monica. Quixote Press.
“The Color of Evil” novel series, with 3 entries – “The Color of Evil” (Book #1); “Red Is for Rage” (Book #2) and “Khaki=Killer” (Book #3). “Khaki = Killer” was named one of the Best Thrillers of 2015 in the December issue online of “Shelf Unbound” magazine from over 12,000 entries.
“Hellfire & Damnation” short story series, with Volumes I, II and II. Short stories that illustrate the crimes or sins at each of the 9 Circles of Hell in Dante’s “Inferno.”
“Obama’s Odyssey”, Volume I (Caucus to Convention) and Volume II (Convention to Inauguration). Nonfiction. From-the-field reporting on the 2008 presidential campaign from the 1,000 articles (3 million hits) that earned me the title of Yahoo’s Content Producer of the Year for Politics.
“The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats” series, with “The Christmas Cats Chase Christmas Rats,” “The Christmas Cats Encounter Bats,” and “The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer.”

Miscellaneous: “Laughing through Life” (humor columns gathered from 5 different newspapers.
“Training the Teacher as a Champion” (nonfiction, teaching, from PLS Bookstores)
“It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now” – movie reviews from the Quad City Times, with 76 photos and interactive trivia. The Merry Blacksmith Press.
“Out of Time” – science fiction novel from Lachesis Press
“Both Sides Now” – memoir
“Never Fear Phobias” – horror anthology. Fear of dreams and dreaming is one of 19 stories in this anthology.
“Never Fear Christmas Terrors” – anthology. One story: “Black Friday”.

First Week of 51st Chicago International Film Festival Brings Break-out Films


As Press, we are not allowed to write a full review of any of the films or documentaries until they are released. We can only write capsule reviews, so I shall write capsule reviews of the 10 films I’ve seen so far. I was unable to take part in viewing any films yesterday (Wednesday, Oct. 21) as I was on a panel in Highland Park regarding writing children’s books. My Toyota GPS took me right past the front of Wrigley Field both going and coming, just as the Cubs were being trounced by the Mets, so, as you can imagine, getting there and back was a lengthy ordeal.

Here are the films in the order in which I saw them, with a capsule review or comment (full reviews later and some Q&A material to follow):

“I Smile Back”

This small budget film features Sarah Silverman proving she has serious acting chops. She portrays Laney, an attractive, intelligent suburban wife and mother of two adorable children who suffers from depression and turns to destructive coping mechanisms. The film electrified this year’s Sundance Film Festival crowds with its unblinking plunge into the nature of addiction and the roots of self-loathing. The routinely excellent cast includes Josh Charles (“The Good Wife,” “Masters & Johnson”) portraying her long-suffering husband, veteran actor Christopher Sarandon as her father, and television’s Thomas Sadoski as Donnie (“Life in Pieces,” “The Newsroom”). Directed by Adam Salky, the film was shot for $100,000 in just 20 days.

“Embers” – Director Claire Carre’s film depicts a world where a neurological epidemic leaves survivors with no long-term memory. (Think a world where everyone has Alzheimer’s disease.) One young woman, quarantined by her father, craves freedom. Two lovers struggle to remember their connection. Described as being “like Memento en masse” this was one of the slowest-moving films of those I screened.

“James White” – Directed by Josh Mond, the best thing about “James White” is the acting by Christopher Abbott (“Girls”) and Cynthia Nixon (“Sex and the City) as a mother dying of cancer. A raw, affecting film that nearly everyone who has ever lost a loved one will be able to relate to, it is as depressing as it sounds. Abbott has the intensity of a young Pacino and Josh Mond has done a great job of translating to the screen some of the emotions he experienced with the passing of his own mother. (“The movie feels like I’m opening up my diary all the time to strangers.”) Q&A from the director and star of the film to follow.

“They Look Like People” – by Director Perry Blackshear. The write-up made the film sound like a modern take on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” which is not totally incorrect. However, the film turned out to be less a horror movie and more a disturbing look at a young man on the edge of paranoid schizophrenia. The Q&A following this film featuring Wyatt Goodwin as the lead proved that a talented filmmaker can work nearly alone and produce a film in one month on a shoestring budget. (I can honestly say that, having reviewed film since 1970—45 years, if you’re counting— this is the first time the lead in a movie I am about to attend came down the line of patrons beforehand handing out buttons promoting the film.)

“Howard Shore” – See previous article on the Tribute to Howard Shore and check for it on Saturday, up on ReadersEntertainment.com.

Director Eytan Rockaway of "The Abandoned."

Director Eytan Rockaway of “The Abandoned.”

“The Abandoned” – From Director Eytan Rockaway comes this psychological horror film starring Jason Patric. In a vacant luxury complex, a young woman takes a job as one of two security guards covering the night shift (the complex is actually several New York courthouses). As she patrols the vast hallways, increasingly sinister phenomena threaten her, seemingly born from the building’s catacombs. A claustrophobic, bone-chilling thriller that features sound from the soundman honored for “Gravity.” A confusing ending, but a great beginning and middle.FilmFestival2015 058

“Looking for Grace” – This Australian film from Director/Writer Sue Brooks featured an almost all female group behind making it and the acting of Richard Roxburgh, who cleaned up at the 1st Annual Australian Oscars a few years back. Roxburgh played the lead in the television series “Rake” (which was later made into a tepid, short-lived American version starring Greg Kinnear). The amazing thing about the film is its ability to mix humor with pathos in the story of a rebellious teenager who leaves home by bus without permission to attend a concert several days away. It’s a look at rural Australia (shot in western Australia) and contains not only the story of Grace, the runaway off to see the rock group “Death Dog” with her friend Sapphire (and a pocketed $13,000 from the family’s safe), but also a story of everyday life and how everything can change in an instant. Recommended.

“Brooklyn” – This Ireland/UK film from Director John Crowley tells the story of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan of “The Lovely Bones”), a young Irish immigrant in 1950s Brooklyn who must decide whether to stay in America with her Italian boyfriend or return home to her widowed mother and a romance that develops unexpectedly when she must attend her sister Rose’s funeral. Beautiful cinematography and a well-told tale, but IMHO, they either needed to tell Miss Ronan to take off her high heels or they needed to find a taller male lead. The scenes in Central Park where she is to lay her head on her date’s shoulder are about as awkward as can be, since she is taller than he is, and must practically become a pretzel to pull the scene off at all. Develops slowly, but was enjoyable.

The entire clan came to the World Premiere of "Motley's Law" at the Chicago Film Festival on Oct. 20th.

The entire clan came to the World Premiere of “Motley’s Law” at the Chicago Film Festival on Oct. 20th.

“Motley’s Law” – A documentary from Danish filmmaker Nicole Horanyi, this was the World Premiere of the film and both lead and director were present, so I will be getting some Q&A remarks posted later. A captivating documentary about a former Mrs. Wisconsin, Kimberley Motley, who is the only American allowed to practice law in Afghanistan. Motley defends US and European citizens detained in a corrupt system and finds herself targeted as a foreigner. (A grenade is thrown through her apartment window). Meanwhile, Claude, her husband, back home watching their 3 children, goes to Milwaukee for a class reunion and is shot in the face! More to come on this one.

Kimberley Motley and Danish director Nicole Horanyi at the World Premier of their film "Motley's Law."

Kimberley Motley and Danish director Nicole Horanyi at the World Premier of their film “Motley’s Law.”

“I Am Michael” – U.S. Director Justin Kelly takes on the true life story of a former gay advocate (Michael Glatze) who goes from outspoken champion of the gay community as a writer and magazine editor to become a conservative Christian pastor and “ex-gay” therapist. (Michelle Bachman’s husband might like this one). Zachary Quinto gives a great performance as James Franco’s gay lover. The film was executive produced by Gus Van Sant.

Kimberly Motley of "Motley's Law."

Kimberly Motley of “Motley’s Law.”

Iowa City Book Fair on Oct. 3 & 4 Attracts Robert Reich

On Saturday and Sunday, October 3rd and 4th, three of us journeyed to one of only eight Cities of Literature in the world (and the only one in the United States) to take part in the annual book fair.

David Dorris and I in Iowa City on Saturday, October 3rd at the Iowa City Book Fair.

David Dorris and I in Iowa City on Saturday, October 3rd at the Iowa City Book Fair.

David Dorris and I actually had participated in the Iowa City Book Fair when it was held the year I was named Midwest Writing Center Writer of the Year (2010). David had the idea for a Midwest Writing Center Book Fair that year, and we both worked hard on pulling that together and pulling that off (over some nearly insurmountable obstacles) on May 8, 2010. Since then, we’ve attended some bazaars and book fairs together and, this year, we were joined by Lesleigh Nahay of Chicago.

Chatting with a passer-by.

Chatting with a passer-by.

The weather was cold and windy. Had it been sunny and warm, as it was during our first Iowa City Book Fair, I’m sure it would have a bit more enjoyable and less c-c-c-c-old. As it was, the impression that most of us had was that the passers-by were not there for the book fair. They were students on their way somewhere else. If the weather had been more favorable, I’m sure it would have brought out more enthusiastic book buyers, because there were quite a few at that long-ago event, which has since been moved from behind the main library to the pedestrian mall outside of the Sheraton.DSCN0904

On Saturday night, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, now a professor at Berkeley (and formerly on faculty at Harvard) spoke at the downtown Englert Theater for free. An enthusiastic crowd listened as he promoted his newest book “Saving Capitalism,” which posits the fact that the middle class is losing ground while the rich get richer. One surprising thing, for me, was that Reich is such a short man, probably under 5′ tall. His speech was thoughtful and enjoyable, but a woman in the back kept interrupting with inappropriate laughter and seemed to be extremely needy, desiring attention for her remarks. That was annoying and unnecessarily disruptive.

Book fairs are a lot of work to put on (I know; I did it) and this one was quite extensive, with readings all over town over the space of 2 days and tents set up and dismantled for those of us participating.

Gene Murphy and I at my reading from "Obama's Odyssey," Volume I.

Gene Murphy and I at my reading from “Obama’s Odyssey,” Volume I.

I hope it is warmer next year and that the powers-that-be let me know sooner about participating. My two new political books (politics was the theme of the book conference), Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House and Obama’s Odyssey: Volume 2 (Convention to Inauguration) were launched in style, at least.

“He Named Me Malala” Documentary Shows in Chicago on Sept. 21, 2015

Davis Guggenheim.

Davis Guggenheim.

Sept. 21, 2015 Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, who gave us “An Inconvenient Truth” about climate change and “Waiting for Superman” (about our public schools) appeared at the Chicago AMC Theater on Monday, September 21st, to speak about his latest documentary on Malala Yousafzai, the teen-aged winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.

Then fifteen years old, Malala was singled out by the Taliban in Pakistan, along with her father, for advocating for the education of girls in the country and the world. The Taliban shooter entered a bus on which Malala and her fellow classmates were riding on October 9th, 2012, called her out by name, and shot her in the left side of her forehead. The attack sparked an outcry from supporters around the world and she was air lifted to Birmingham, England, at the expense of the Pakistani government, where she underwent months in the hospital, recuperating from her injuries.

A crucial nerve that had been cut by the bullet’s trajectory was surgically restored by surgeons at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, re-establishing 90% function (surgeons had hoped for 80%) and a cochlear implant in her left ear attempted unsuccessfully to save Malala’s hearing in her left ear.

Since fleeing Pakistan, the entire Yousafzai family has been unable to return to Pakistan’s Swat Valley and has remained in Birmingham, England where her father Zia and her two brothers and her mother also struggle to assimilate to this new land. The Malala Fund, which has sprung up around her, invests in, advocates for and amplifies the voices of adolescent girls globally, urging education as a way to change the world. As Malala put it: “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

Although, originally, Malala was speaking to the world via the BBC, undercover, with a pseudonym (Gul Makal), she eventually stepped from the shadows to speak publicly, saying, “There’s a moment when you have to choose whether to be silent or to stand up.”

The film is part standard documentary, part animated movie, as filmmaker Guggenheim explains that the original Malala was a warrior female not unlike Joan of Arc who led her male troops to victory in a battle that took place in 1880. She was given her first name Malala (meaning “grief-stricken”) after Malalai of Maiwand, a famous Pashtun poetess and warrior woman from southern Afghanistan.

Malala 361Filmmake Guggenheim used the story of the original Malala as a launching point and a touchstone for his documentary that both traces Malala’s past, documents her present, and speculates on her future. It is quite clear from the film that Malala’s activist outspoken ways come from grooming by her father, Zia, also an outspoken activist for education who owned and ran a string of schools in his native land (and still wishes he did.)

Following the showing of the film, these questions were asked of filmmaker Guggenheim:

Q1) “What made you want to do this film?”

A1) “Maybe it’s because I have 2 daughters of my own, but I received a phone call asking me if I’d consider doing this documentary and it started there. Education is liberation, your ladder up. I hope that message resonates as much with the citizens of Chicago as it does with the citizens of Pakistan.”

Q2) “Does Malala have any anger towards those who shot her?”

A2) “Sometimes you meet people who have a public life and they are different privately. One of the things I find extraordinary is that Malala is the same. She expresses, in the film, that she is not angry about the shooting. She said, ‘It was not a person who shot me; it was an ideology. They were not about faith. They were about power.’ In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, she worried about the mothers of the boys who shot her. Malala’s family is so full of joy and they live their lives without bitterness.”

Malala 362Q3) “Tell us about the beginning of this remarkable film?”

A3) “Walter Parks and Laurie Mcdonald got the rights to Malala’s story. They called me. I spent 3 or 4 days reading about the story and realized it had many more dimensions. It was about her relationship with her father, which is special. She was actually named after a girl who spoke out (Malala) and was killed for speaking out.

Q4) “Have you spent much time touring with Malala for the film?”

A4) “She Skyped in. She doesn’t like missing school (unlike my children). When she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, she went back to her class to finish her Physics lesson.  At Telluride, her family told me that the act of making the movie was a form of therapy. I met them all when she was 5 or 6 months into recovery. She really feels she’s a spokesman for the 66 million girls who are being denied an education.”

Q5) “What sort of misinformation about her exists?”

A5) “Gossip. People in Pakistan refer to it as gossip. A very strong part of the population in Pakistan loves her and wants her to come back home. However, the Taliban has still vowed to kill her. Some of the hatred is backlash against the West.”

Malala 363Q6) “How did you come up with the idea of the use of animation and illustrations for parts of the documentary?”

A6) “The animation came from problems portraying the Battle of Maiwand, which took place in 1880. Malala is a national folk hero of Afghanistan who rallied local Pashtun fighters against the British troops at the 1880 Battle of Maiwand. She fought alongside Ayub Khan and was responsible for the Afghan victory at the Battle of Maiwand on 27 July 1880, during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. She is also known as “The Afghan Jeanne D’Arc.” We called up Abu Dhabi (which helped finance the film) and asked for more money to animate the movie. The imagery is often scary, repetitive and dark. I wanted to capture that. It was hand-drawn in my office using computers and is like a storybook.”

Q7) “Were there any restrictions placed on you as the filmmaker as to how you could portray Malala?”

A7) “No, but I always show the films I make to people like Al Gore for ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ There were a few notes given us about how Islam is portrayed. They asked for some clarification in the subtitles. They wanted it to be presented better and their suggestions were improvements.”

Q8) “What is Malala’s favorite subject in school? And will she be going on to college?”

A8) “Physics, which they call Maths. She is going to college and has done very well on her exams. Originally, Malala wanted to be a doctor, but her father’s influence has convinced her that she should become a politician.”

Q9) “How did she keep from being scarred by the shooting?”

A9) “Malala has a big scar running along her neck. Her smile is not 100% returned to normal. Her mother refers to her birthdays as being born again and recently told her Happy Third Birthday. Malala feels a tremendous amount of responsibility for young adolescent girls everywhere and has visited Kenya, Nigeria and, on her 18th birthday, wanted to go to the refugee camps where the Syrian refugees are pouring across the borders into various European countries.”

Q10) “How has film managed to change the national and international conversation?”

A10) “Films that move people can move people to action. It is a very broad message. Malala is speaking at the United Nations next week about re-education for girls. African villages where girls are educated are different and do better in every way, including economically. It starts with theaters like this where people come together, hear an important story, and go home and talk about it. The film will open in 190 countries through Fox/Searchlight, ultimately.”

Malala 365Q11) (From a woman wearing a burkha): “Do you think any part of your identity caused a challenge to making the documentary?”

A11) “I understand what you are saying. Would she react differently to someone like you? Instead, she got me: a half Episcopalian, half Jewish filmmaker with long hair. This is a true anecdote: when we had been working a while, Malala’s father came to me, touched my hair, and asked if it was real or not. (laughter) I think they thought I was some sort of alien, with my shoulder-length locks. Malala’s situation is interesting because, in our society, everyone is telling their own story all the time on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. They needed help to tell this story. When I walked in, they wanted to tell their story. The first three hours alone with just Malala and a microphone she told her story. Part of my job is to pull people out. I asked her about her suffering, but she did not give a complete answer in the film.”

Q12) “Is there any one thing that occurred during filming that made you change your opinions?”

A12) “I sat around their kitchen table and it was just like mine, but there was so much joy. They are a tight-knit family. We give lip service in our culture to the concept that ‘girls are equal.’ We say it, but her father acted on it, even putting Malala on the chart of the family tree, as we saw in the film. It’s not just saying that people are equal; it’s believing it and acting on it.”

Q13) “How did a young schoolgirl who started blogging anonymously at eleven and was shot at fifteen find the strength to do what she has done?”

A13) “Malala is a tough and focused person. She gets her sense of mission and her passion from her father. She gets her strength from her mother. She sat with Goodluck Jonathan and told him he must do more to get back the girls kidnapped by Boko Harum. She sat with President Obama and quizzed him about drone strikes in her country. Malala will go to college (an earlier question) and her presence has sparked a nationwide and worldwide movement at Malala.org. The Malala Fund is advocating for girls around the world, a nonprofit devoted to working to empower adolescent girls globally through gaining for them a quality secondary education.”

Jeb Bush Campaigns in Iowa on Aug.13, 2015

Jeb Bush came to the St. Ambrose University Student Union in Davenport, Iowa (“the Beehive”), to speak at something billed as APPS: Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security. Attending the campaign event was encouraged by the head of the Arsenal Island munitions command located in Rock Island, Illinois, in our local newspapers, and, therefore, it was assumed (by me, at least) that most of the discussion would be about national security and keeping America safe. [I could say something unkind about how much less safe Jeb’s brother made us with his decisions to invade a variety of countries that were not involved with 9/11 and were not buying yellow cake uranium from Niger, but I’ll leave that to history, for now, and soldier on summarizing Jeb Bush’s remarks—those I heard, anyway, after becoming hopelessly lost on campus trying to find “the Beehive” for the first 15 minutes or so of his remarks].[One student we asked for directions actually said: Turn left, then right, then left, then right, then go down an alley.” ]O…………..K…………

CruisethruJeb 447

Finding “the Beehive” on the campus of St. Ambrose University is akin to finding your way into or out of an Iowa corn maze. My assumption is that it is called “the Beehive” because the sports teams are the St. Ambrose Bees. I once taught Advanced Composition there, but it was a long time ago, and buildings have changed and been built since the Challenger blew up. Plus, I don’t think the exterior of the building actually says “The Beehive,” nor does it resemble a beehive, in case you wondered.

I assumed Jeb’s remarks would be carried on the nightly news channels, but I did not see a single television tripod, [which is usually a bad sign]. However, it’s early in the campaign season, and I wanted to hear what GeorgeW. Bush’s brother (and George Herbert Bush’s son) had to say. He seemed like a nice guy, just as voters said they’d like to have a beer with his brother, George W, when he was running for president.

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First, let it be known that Jeb admitted publicly that his brother George’s disbanding of the Iraqi military was a mistake. (You think?)  That disclaimer led, quickly, to a mention of the 19 beheadings on the shores of Libya,as a lead-in to comments on the growing threat in the world of ISIS/ISIL, terrorist organizations.

CruisethruJeb 453

 

Jeb kept repeating that, “You’ve got to have a plan over the long haul.” I seriously doubt that this administration (and the last one, and the ones before that) didn’t have “a plan.” The probem has been whether the plan(s) were any good. [Obviously, the last Bush governor we elected (twice) had plans. They just happen to have been horrible plans, concocted by the likes of Rumsfeld and Cheney].

Jeb feels that we have sent a signal to Russia and the rest of the world that America is not serious (about maintaining our national security). He mentioned the damage that leaks of the Manning/Snowden variety have done to us and to our allies. He began talking about “rebuilding our defenses.” This is a direct quote:  “When an attack happens, we need a strategy with the private sector to defend and we need to fund it.” (*My mind interpreted that as “more defense spending,” while our nation’s infrastructure, schools and other institutions crumble and decay.)

CruisethruJeb 454

At that point, my attention wandered to a woman sitting in the 4th row, whom I recognized as former Iowa State Senator Maggie Tinsman. When I covered the 2008 campaign, Maggie Tinsman was often the person introducing the Big Names. She served as a State Senator in Iowa from 1989 until 2007 (18 years) and was a Scott County Supervisor for 10 years before that. The 79-year-old Tinsman has been an outstanding advocate for early childhood education, serves on many boards, has won many awards, and is a graduate of both the University of Colorado and the University of Iowa. She formed Maggie Tinsman, LLC, a group lobbying for early childhood education. Now, she was sitting quietly about 4 rows back from the front of the room. (Usually, Republicans of this stature are onstage behind the candidates). I was not surprised to see her at the rally; I was just surprised that she was merely a spectator there.

I was also very surprised that there wasn’t much security getting in to this speech. No metal detectors. Few men who looked like they were security. Nobody even took our tickets, (which we had gotten online). I was also surprised at the (small) size of the room, which was not much bigger than my kitchen and living room, combined, and did not hold more than 200 people, total. (*I’ve read that Bernie Saunders, whom I hope to hear on Sunday at a picnic, drew a crowd estimated at 28,000).

Did the organizers want a small room to make it look crowded (which it was)? Did someone screw up in booking “the Beehive” for the event? (They did as far as ease of finding it, as I practically needed bread crumbs to find my way back to my car.)

There were 4 rows of chairs with 22 chairs in each row, and, after that, rows of 4 chairs and many people standing in the entryway, which I have pictured (below). Still, the total number of people listening to the man who may well end up being the standard bearer for the Republican Party was small.

CruisethruJeb 449 Other topics:  Cyber-attacks from China. Jeb responded that he was more concerned that China is building a base in the middle of the South China Sea. He repeated that we need to “send a signal that we’re in it for the long haul” in talking about the pivot to Asia. While saying that, 20 years from now, the most significant relationship this country will have will be with China, he mentioned that we should “re-engage in Asia and pass the Trans-Pac Trade Agreement. It would send a signal that we are not abandoning the area.” Bush added, “This is a relationship that you could see get out of control very quickly.”

Jeb mentioned a visit to China made by the current occupant of the White House where Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle, did not accompany him, and commented: “That was a huge insult to China.” I wondered about Laura Bush’s travel itineraries while she was First Lady. Did she accompany George W. to every far-flung country on the planet? I wondered if throwing up in the lap of the Japanese head of state (George Herbert Bush) was a worse faux pas than simply staying home to take care of two school-age children in the United States?

When asked by an audience member: “What steps to deter China should we be taking?” Jeb answered, “I think we’re on the right track,” mentioning specifically how Obama has prosecuted cyber terrorists. Added Jeb:  “China watches everything that happens. We will not tolerate cyber espionage…They see us as weak and in decline. We need to send a message that that is not true.” I wondered if by “sending a message” about how strong we are, militarily, he meant rattling  more sabers, because it seems that the United State of America is pretty war-weary right about now. (I know I am). He also mentioned “devaluing their currency” (China’s), which totally confused those of us who didn’t know whether he meant that this action was going to happen here or there. (Not a Chinese scholar here; please leave your comments on the Chinese currency situation so we can bring everyone up to speed.)
CruisethruJeb 451Questioner (from the audience) Molly O’Toole wanted to know how Jeb’s policies would be different than Obama’s? That set off comments about counter-terrorism being part of Homeland Security (which, I thought, it already was).  Quote: “I believe it was a mistake to repeal the meta-data part of the Patriot Act.” (*This references the taking of your cell phone and e-mail records without warrants).

Asked to comment on Obama’s having made the statement, “We tortured some folks,” Jeb was extremely cautious, actually living up to Trump’s criticisms of Jeb’s tentativeness onstage and his lack of “energy” and “enthusiasm” [which, to Trump, seems to mean extreme self-confidence that you (and you alone) are right.]

Quote:  “I’m cautious about making statements when I’m running for president…I’m cautious about making blanket statements. Everything is digitalized.  My every word is dissected.” So, we have established that Jeb is cautious. That’s not a bad thing, after George W. It almost sounded like the candidate was paranoid, to a degree, about saying anything substantive, for fear he’d have to backtrack later (as with some comments about his brother’s Iraq War made right out of the box.)

To provoke polite applause, Jeb threw this out there:  “I’m proud of what he (“W”) did to secure a safe environment for this country after 9/11.” (Who isn’t going to approve of that comment? It’s like asking if you like kitties and puppies.)

Another safe quote:  “One of—-if not THE—most important duty of a President is to keep us safe.” Again: not a controversial statement. He then did make a slightly sarcastic statement about how “enhanced interrogation isn’t okay, but it’s okay to kill them (with drones)”, re terrorists, and added, in an incredulous tone, “Really?”

When asked where we should put all the terrorists that need to be locked up, Jeb responded (Q:  “Where do you put them?):  “You keep ’em there in Guantanamo.  There is no other option that I can see.  90% of those in Congress agree with my position.” He denied that bringing them back to maximum security prisons in the U.S. was a viable option.

Jeb was hugely critical of the Iranian Nuclear deal. He didn’t seem to give much credence to the fact that it was quite difficult to even get the Iranians to the table at all, and that that table contained representatives from many other allied nations and the participants negotiated for weeks, if not months, (even after Secretary of State John Kerry broke his leg)

Exact quote:  “This is a bad deal.  The verification part is too weak. This is really trouble. We’re not sending the right signal to the rest of the world. They’ve violated almost every agreement, so far…It is very naive to think that Mullahs go quietly into the night.” He added some comments about how the World’s Biggest Economy ($13 trillion), the U.S., should be able to do better, rather than “betting on the come.” He felt that: “We should not take those options off the table.”

I’ve heard it said that this Iran Deal is, indeed, NOT the Best Deal Ever, but, without it, the world has NO deal, whatsoever, and that could  mean war between Israel and Iran, a war into which we would be dragged. Again: not an expert on the Iran Deal, but a lot of time has been spent trying to hammer something out and our allies are onboard. Isn’t “something better than nothing?” Don’t know. Can’t tell you. Please ask the guy(s) denouncing it.

Overall, Jeb Bush was not hugely critical of Barack Obama, even saying, at one point, “I applaud President Obama for doing it” (i.e., mobilizing against terrorists.) His talk of “a plan” was all well and good, but we didn’t hear much about HIS plan (i.e., no specifics), and we certainly are not going to hear much about anybody’s plans during debates that feature Donald Trump.

Jeb came off as a gentleman, a tad cautious and timid, much more knowledgeable than he appeared onstage during the first Republican debate, and I’m betting that, when this is all over and the dust clears, it will be Jeb and somebody like John Kasich (Ohio) or Marco Rubio (Florida) who team up against the Democratic candidates in 2016. The evening news with Dan Rather, however, was headlined, “Is Jeb Bush in Trouble?”

Thoughts on Aug. 6, 2015 Republican Debate

I watched Fox’s telecast of the top 10 Republican contenders tonight, and I’m still trying to make sense of it all. Venturing onto Twitter while it was ongoing probably didn’t help. The opinions expressed were not in line with what I was seeing and hearing. One fellow thought retired neuro-surgeon Ben Carson had done a great job because he came off as relatively normal and scored a few points for levity. I mainly heard a political novice spouting religion to the base.

The most cantankerous moments revolved around The Donald—and who was surprised by that? The front-running Republican candidate was miffed at Megyn Kelly, the moderator, and accused her of not treating him very nicely. He and Rand Paul scuffled verbally, but most of the scuffling made Paul seem like a small terrier with its teeth sunk into the pantleg of his owner. Perhaps it was Paul’s ploy to get a little bit of press coverage by “drafting” in the wake of Trump, but he just came off as petulant and out-of-sorts, to me. When Rand Paul went to the table at the conclusion of the debate to speak to the three Fox anchors (presumably to thank Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace and Brett Baier), he didn’t appear as gracious as he was attempting to look. He seemed like a grumpy young man throughout the evening.

Knowing what I know about Old Union-Busting Scott Walker of Wisconsin, I cannot enjoy any of his comments, whether about his state or his family of origin. He is anti-Union and all you have to know about Scott Walker was covered in the documentary “As Wisconsin Goes, So Goes the Nation,” which I highly recommend watching before jumping on his band wagon.

One thing that struck me was how young Marco Rubio looked. He literally looked like he could be a college kid. His speaking was far superior to many onstage. He put Jeb Bush to shame. (It has been said that Rubio was Jeb Bush’s protege).

For me, the Republican candidate who appeared the most normal and reasonable throughout was John Kasich of Ohio, and it didn’t hurt that his hometown crowd in Cleveland gave him a standing ovation. Kasich hit all the right notes about uniting the country, not dividing it.

Meanwhile, Trump ticked everybody off right away by raising his hand immediately to say that he would consider an independent bid—something that experts say would siphon just enough votes away from the Republican candidate to guarantee a Democratic victory.

When Megyn Kelly nailed The Donald with some of his insulting comments about women, he at first tried to laugh them off as being all about Rosie O’Donnell, but Kelly persisted in attaching some truly deplorable past statements to the front-running candidate. He did not seem to like it and said he didn’t have time to be politically correct.

Chris Christie got into a testy exchange with Rand Paul, which was entertaining. Rand Paul could be seen rolling his eyes at Christie’s retort when Paul chided him for hugging President Obama when the president visited New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. Most of the candidates did the “political spin” thing, where they answered whatever they felt like answering and avoided unpleasant terrain, and there was entirely too much waving of the religious flag for my tastes.

There didn’t seem to be any clear winners or losers amongst the Top Ten, but, from what moderator Megyn Kelly said, I would like to hear Carly Fiorino’s remarks from the earlier debate, which wasn’t carried live.

For me, Kasich seemed to be the adult in the room and I am beginning to think that George was “the smart one,” which is a sad commentary on the offspring of George Herbert Bush. Jeb was even booed when the failed Common Core educational program was mentioned. He also became very vociferous about being right-to-life. Anyone who remembers his Governorship of Florida (he’s been out of office 8 years) would remember how he became involved in one tragic family decision about pulling the plug on a brain-dead woman in Florida, even involving his brother, then President Bush (“W”). [I wrote about it in great detail in Book #3 of “The Color of Evil” series, “Khaki=Killer.”]

I can’t even imagine what sort of representation most of these men would give the United States of America abroad. I did think that Kasich seemed statesmanlike, and Rubio was much-improved from his water-guzzling rebuttal to the State of the Union message. Jeb was just ineffectual, Ben Carson was a lightweight, Huckabee was fatter (and with less hair) but seemed just as far out as he always was (don’t forget: he won the Iowa caucuses in 2008), and I’m offended even laying eyes on Scott Walker. I do enjoy it when Walker turns around and his bald spot is displayed for the world to see; I only wish his truly horrible policies were more baldly displayed for the world to judge. At least we didn’t have to suffer through Rick Perry’s glasses and another “Oops!” moment.

Apparently the next months will have us on the edge(s) of our seats wondering if The Donald IS going to run as an Independent.

Stay tuned for that and other developments.

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