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: Of Local (Quad Cities’) Interest (Page 2 of 18)

“Blood on the Mountain” Documentary Recaps Plight of West Virginia Coal Miners

Genre: feature-length documentary
Length: 90 minutes
Director: Mari-Lynn Evans and Jordan Freeman
Producers: Deborah Wallace, Mari-Lynn Evans and Jordan Freeman
Release date: November 18, 2016 from Abramorama
Reviewed by: Connie Wilson

The opening scenes from the impressive documentary “Blood on the Mountain” show the beautiful forested hills of Appalachian coal country from the air. West Virginia, second in the nation in coal production (and second poorest state in the nation), looks beautiful from hundreds of feet overhead.

And then we go to ground and reality rears its ugly head.

A litany of mining disasters is listed: Hawks Nest, West Virginia: 764 African-Americans in unmarked graves with 10 to 14 dying in the mine(s) daily.

The conflict at Blair Mountain.
Buffalo Creek (125 killed, 4,000 homeless, engulfed 17 towns with coal slurry).
Brushy Fork Slurry: 9 billion gallons of coal slurry released to bury nearby towns.
52 dead under Donald Blankenship’s Massey Energy.
Sago Mine Explosion, Jan. 2, 2006.
Aracoma Mountain Fire, in 2000, 2 dead.
Upper Big Branch Explosion, April, 2005, in the #9 mine. Seventy-nine went in; 50 came out—“the worst explosion since 1984”—29 dead.

And yet Don Blankenship’s (Massey CEO) e-mail, read into the Congressional record during the post-disaster investigation, said: “You need to ignore them (federal rules and regulations) and run coal.”

Anyone who wants to know what a mine that is trying to evade regulatory efforts might resemble need only take in Antonio Banderas’ 2015 film “The 33” about gold and copper miners trapped underground in Chile for 69 days before rescue (Banderas played Mario Sepulveda, the group’s leader). The precious metal may be different, but the methods to avoid ensuring the health and safety of the mine workers comes very close to coal mining in 2016. Any time a federal regulator was on the way to make an inspection, the word was put out; efforts were made to avoid detection/correction of any infractions of rules put in place to safeguard the health and safety of the workers.

THE GOOD:

Blood on the Mountain starts with a brief history of the rise of coal at the end of the 19th centur
y. Because of the abuse of workers, unions began to form to fight for the rights of the working man. (Sylvester Stallone’s 1978 film “F.I.S.T.”, for which I attended the World Premiere, was about the fight to unionize in the face of brutal opposition from management). A voice onscreen says, “That’s how we got the New Deal.” FDR in a Fireside Chat is shown telling the nation that government should “seek the primary good of the greater number.” Between 1935 and 1938 Roosevelt championed the New Labor Act and the Fair Labor Act and progress was made.

But the demand for coal as a cheap energy source peaked in the 1920’s and there are only 500 mines left in the United States today.

Of that number, those in Wyoming are far and away the biggest producers of coal (4x more than West Virginia), but West Virginia, long associated with coal mining, is second. It is also the second poorest state in the Union.

Once the heady days of the passage of Fair Labor Acts were past, Homer Adam Holt, Governor of West Virginia in 1939, tried to amend educational literature in the schools to make it more to his liking. Changing history by writing it to the Governor’s liking was recommended by those in power this way, “It is better to have a mediocre book than to antagonize the Governor.” Corrupt governors abounded before and after Holt.

The comment, prescient and predictive today, is made that “industrialists have been able to get by with whatever they want” and, as the documentary attests, “there were a continuous stream of accidents and treatment of others as less important” by those in power.
(*Recent Reference: “Deep Horizon” Mark Wahlberg film about the BP catastrophe in the Gulf.)

Corruption of the officials in West Virginia was a given. Between 1984 and 1991, under Governor James Manchen, more than 75 state officials went to jail. While this does not seem unique to West Virginia (witness Illinois and Louisiana officials, for openers), Davitt McAteer, head of mine safety and featured as a talking head in this documentary, does lay out their repeated attempts to break up unions, beginning in 1984.

The miners, for their part, are quoted in Blood on the Mountain this way: “You have a kid to feed. Do your job.” McAteer says, “A proud heritage came to a crashing end in the 1980s,” referencing the UMWA (United Mine Workers Association) looking out for the health, pensions and safety of its members. As a former worker said, “Production was the name of the game at all costs…We had to produce to keep our jobs.”

Cecil Roberts (a mine worker) refers to “the power of intimidation” and talks about one mine administrator with a wife with cystic fibrosis whose medication cost $5,000 per month. Threaten that mine worker with loss of his position if he does not do your bidding. If someone tried to stand up to then-president of the UMWA, Tony Boyle, as Jock Yablonski did in 1969, that individual risked his life. Murder was used as a tool. Wikipedia entry: Joseph Albert “Jock” Yablonski (March 3, 1910 – December 31, 1969) was an American labor leader in the United Mine Workers in the 1950s and 1960s. He was murdered in 1969 by killers hired by a union political opponent, Mine Workers president Tony Boyle.”

Therefore, the number of mine workers steadily declined from a high of 500,000 to, currently, 80,000—and all but 14,000 of those members are retired. It is obvious that, like Social Security where those taking out money are outnumbering those paying in money, the funds to support miners in their retirement or ill health are drying up, while, simultaneously, the demand for coal (and coal miners) is declining.

While President Obama’s regulations against coal are used to urge coal miners to vote for the opposition, the reality is that such EPA regulations began under Republican President George W. Bush. The reasons for the precipitous decline in jobs in West Virginia mining coal are many and varied and blaming “tree huggers” just won’t fly in the face of facts.

Mechanization and automation has idled thousands. “Appalachia is a shell of its former self…Parents are telling their children to go.” No less an authority than Jay Rockefeller is seen telling his audience, “It’s a disservice to coal miners and their families to pretend that things can be as they were.” Coal is a finite mineral and mining has been going on since the 1800s. Is it any wonder that now you have to go deeper and deeper into the ground to mine? Instead of even trying, mines have resorted to simply blowing off the tops of the mountains using explosives, which damages the environment and the topography of the state.

Despite the fighting words “Coal IS West Virginia,” coal mining is a dying industry. 80% of coal mines are owned by out-of-state corporations. Mines have destroyed 352,000 lush forested acres using explosives as of 2009. Wendell Berry is heard to say, “The global economy is built on the principle that one place can be destroyed for the benefit of another.” [What comes to mind is the Brazilian rain forest and attempts to save it, or the Arctic and attempts to ban drilling beneath the polar ice caps.]

In addition to silicosis (“black lung disease”) which has made the average miner’s life expectancy only 42 years of age, in Charleston, West Virginia, “They poisoned people’s water and commerce goes on.” The chemical MCHM used by Freedom Industries to process coal caused a Flint, Michigan, water situation (for different reasons) where water could not be consumed, used for washing, or considered safe in any way. Dr. Rahul Gupta, a medical director, is shown speaking to that issue, and Chris Hedges, an author, says, “They tried to make it appear to be an anomaly.” Nine counties were affected and a state of emergency was declared. Bottled water had to be delivered to anyone living in those nine counties.

Immediately thereafter, on January 17, 2014, Freedom Industries declared bankruptcy.

The declaring of bankruptcy is a common ploy used by unscrupulous coal companies to avoid having to pay reparations or retirement sums due or health care promised to workers when they began in the mines. It’s a bit like the plot of “The Producers” (i.e., Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel plan for a play to fail so they can use it as a tax write-off) where a mine is set up to fail and then bankruptcy can be declared, relieving the unscrupulous mining company of any obligations to the men who risked their lives underground mining the coal. Seven thousand coal mining jobs have been lost in West Virginia since 2011. In 2015, over 11,000 coal miners lost their jobs, according to “The Hill.”

“The Hill” goes on to attempt to blame the loss of coal mining jobs on federal regulations, but the truth is much more complicated.

To wit:

1) China is trying to clean up its pollution problem, so the Asian demand for coal from places like West Virginia did not measure up to expectations.
2) Clean, renewable energy sources are cutting into the concept of coal as king. Natural gas, for one, is cheaper and the head of Exxon is all for using natural gas rather than coal for power. In fact, the day the Paris Climate Control Pact took effect, the head of Exxon announced his support for the climate initiatives the Paris act endorsed, which included cutting back on coal to eliminate pollution and global warming.
3) Although Donald Trump hates wind turbines because they clutter his Scottish golf course view and kill birds, Obama supported wind and solar efforts, and, even in the coal state of Illinois where I live (Illinois is 5th in coal production), the nuclear power plant in Cordova (IL) recently received a death sentence reprieve from Republican Governor Bruce Rauner which is good for the next decade, despite consistently losing money operating it.
4) If the demand for coal were still high, eastern states have cleaner coal and it is easier to get Eastern coal to market.
5) Australia also is capable of producing coal for export.
6) Mechanization and automation, mentioned previously, have cut into the need for coal miners.
7) Changes in how coal is extracted from the ground also reduces the demand for coal miners.

THE BAD

Blood on the Mountain is a documentary with a point of view and those who do not accept climate change and global warming as fact will dispute its point-of-view. It also did not address the life-and-death struggle in the halls of Congress ongoing in December of 2016 to help save miners’ pensions and retirement benefits, gutted by unscrupulous companies who do not believe that promises should be honored. There is footage of a UMWA rally in September in Washington, D.C. regarding Senate Bill #1714, the Miners’ Protection Act.

After a huge coal miners’ strike in 1946, Harry Truman nationalized the mines and, in order to end the strike, hammered out a deal with UMWA President John Lewis and Interior Secretary Julius Krug that would guarantee coal miners certain benefits, like pensions and health care. That, to the miners and the UMWA, is the promise made that should be kept, but there are those who argue that the promise was not forever and not the government’s responsibility.

If you accept the premise that coal mining is a dinosaur industry that is dying a slow, tortuous death, quotes like this one from Jeremy Nichols, spokesman and director of climate and energy for Wild Earth Guardians are incendiary. When asked about the plight of coal miners in West Virginia (and elsewhere) Nichols said, “My initial response is tough shit…Keep it in the ground.” There is an obvious disconnect between the blue collar miners and the college-educated environmentalists who they see as a threat to their livelihood—even though the threats are far more wide-ranging.

The Wild Earth Guardians brought a suit in 2013 that threatened to shut down Colowyo and Trapper mines in Colorado, saying that the environment was “inadequately protected under the National Environmental Policy Act.” The mines were sued by the United States Office of Surface Mining.

Headlines in primarily Republican organs (“The Hill” was one) read: “Happy Birthday Clean Power Plan, Thanks for the Job Losses and Billions in Costs.” Another read: “Clean Power Plan: All Pain, No Gain for West Virginia” (The Hill). The same source made the dire prediction of 24,000 coal mining jobs displaced by the year 2020 blaming it all on EPA regulations and cited rising cost for electricity if coal were cut out of the power equation.

But the truth is that MANY factors play into the fall of coal as a power player. It is NOT just EPA guidelines that have put coal miners in the position of losing their pensions and their health care by Dec. 31, 2016.

The UMWA pension system is irreparably broken. No union members to pay in; no union money to pay out. “The looming insolvency is due to the precipitous drop in demand for coal in recent years…” say the experts. Union busting mine owners helped destroy the organization that had fought for workers at the turn of the century, and that began in earnest in 1984.

TODAY:

December 5, 2016:
Senate Democrats staged a last-ditch attempt to pass a stop-gap measure for miners who face the loss of their pensions and health care NOW (i.e., Dec. 31, 2016). Senate Bill #1714, the Miners Protection Act, was co-sponsored by Virginia senator Tim Kaine and it passed out of committee 18 to 8, with 8 Republican Senators voting with the Democrats to take millions earmarked for the cleaning up of abandoned mines and put it into a fund for displaced and retiring mine workers. Republicans who crossed party lines to vote for the bill included Orrin Hatch (R, Utah), Mike Crapo (R, Idaho), Pat Roberts (R, Kansas), Richard Burr (R, NC), Rob Portman (R, Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R, PA). Saying “Congress, in my view, has an obligation to the Miners Protection Act” this group tried to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote. But House Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has no love for the UMWA or President Obama, refused to allow a vote. (*Note: McConnell’s wife was just named Secretary of Transportation.)

Meanwhile, a variety of mining companies (Peabody, Freedom, Alpha Natural Resources) continue to file for bankruptcy and the courts have relieved the bankrupt companies of their obligation to pay retiree benefits. All of this hits home here in the Rust Belt when I think of the waning days of International Harvester, which went under and took many pensions with it.

Let’s also not forget how we all suffered financially in 2008 when the economy nearly collapsed and was rescued only in the nick of time by the stewardship of the incoming administration. Pension funds—like all of ours—took a hit then, too.

He’s not in Blood on the Mountain, but Joe Stowers, age 72, from DuQuoin, Illinois, a retired miner who worked 28 years, is thinking of coming out of retirement to try to find a job because, as many who were interviewed for “Blood on the Mountain” said, “I thought my tomorrow was safe. Apparently, it’s an entirely different story.” As of October 5th in a letter sent to 12,500 union members, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Patriot Coal, have all told their union employees that their health care coverage will be lost on December 31, 2016 unless Congress acts. Following on the heels of those three companies are Walter Energy and Alpha National Resources, who have sent out letters announcing similar losses to miners in March and July of 2017.

In a December 9, 2016 article in Mother Jones, Katie Herzog wrote: “President elect Trump campaigned on bringing back those same coal miners’ jobs, through sorcery, perhaps. Someone is working to help miners, but it ain’t Trump—or many Republicans, for that matter.”

One coal miner quoted in this truly grim-but-important film says, “We’re like lepers. Put us in a colony and let us die off. We’re not losing it (the land); we’re sacrificing it for the good of mankind and we’re sick of it.”

About Connie Wilson

Connie (Corcoran) Wilson (www.ConnieCWilson.com ) was the Quad City Times film and book critic for 15 years and has continued reviewing film uninterruptedly since 1970. She also publishes books (31 at last count) in a variety of genres (www.quadcitieslearning.com), has taught writing or literature classes at 6 Iowa/Illinois colleges or universities as adjunct faculty, was Yahoo’s Content Producer of the Year 2008 for Politics, is the author of It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now, and writes on a variety of topics at her own blog, www.WeeklyWilson.com.

“It Came from the 70s” Named Top Indie Read

Just wanted to share that “It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now,” which came out earlier, was named one of this year’s Top Indie Reads by “Shelf Unbound” digital magazine in its December/January issue.

Also, I am supposed to be at the Gallery Hop on Friday night (Dec. 9) inside something known as “The Star Block.” From what little I can tell, this is a condo building still undergoing renovation, it has no tables for us to use, and I am one of four people (artists) there.

Good luck to us all.

New “Christmas Cats Book Care for the Bear” Is Available

As my previous post indicated, I’m booked for some appearances around the Quad Cities, but they are different from other appearance years.

1) Today (Saturday, Nov. 26th) I’ll be setting up within the former Country Manor store in downtown East Moline during the kick-off parade for the holidays. I’ll be there from 4 to 8 p.m. and will have not only the 5 Christmas Cats books, but a sampling of my 35 adult titles. So, come on down! There’s no charge and shop local!

2) On Saturday, November 30th, I’ll be within Building One at Black Hawk Junior College, as indicated in the previous post. This is a fund-raiser for international students and I’ll have both children and adult books at my 2 tables.

3) Saturday, December 3rd, in the morning, I will be at the entrance to the Breakfast with Santa event at Happy Joe’s in LeClaire, Iowa from 8 to ?

4) Saturday, December 3rd in the evening, I’ll be at the Herb Cellar in the Village of East Davenport. No details as to time, but that is the night of the fireworks. [Other years, I was at Freddy Frittters Dog Bakery, but their fire has caused space to be a premium, so come enjoy some herbs and carolers in the middle of the block, across from the Edward Jones office and down from Logomarcino’s.]

5) I am supposed to be at the Gallery Hop the following weekend, but, somehow, was left off the map. Still awaiting details of what store or business they may find for me.

And, last but not least, the book is up on Amazon for purchase, but the hardcover is not currently listed, but I will have them with me. Cost of the hardcover is $12.95 while the softcover is $6, with signatures if you come see m at any of the above locations.

Happy Post Thanksgiving and I hope to see you soon. Who knows? The Cat in the Hata might even be with me at one or more of these events.

Holiday Appearances Scheduled to Date

Some of you may know that I have a holiday series entitled The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats, which began many years ago when my daughter was in high school and dating a very talented young artist who drew the pictures for the first book while still a high school student. I sometimes travel with a costumed Cat in the Hat when selling these books, which now exist in both paperback and hardcover formats (as well as e-book formats) for sale on Amazon and wherever I happen to be hanging out over the holidays.

My plan was to publish the book way back then, in 2003 or so, but Author House lost most of Andy Weinert’s drawings, leaving me only with scans in my computer.

It was years later that I had the idea of resurrecting the children’s cat series for my then 2-year-old granddaughters, Ava and Elise, as a Christmas present, which would go on with their help and input until they turned 10. I asked my layout person in Rockford (Donnie Light) to see if he could bring the scans up to some sort of quality, and a first book emerged.

Time had passed and I needed more drawings to bring the Christmas concept forward. Andy was busy graduating from Northern Illinois University with a degree in graphic arts and the girls’ nanny from Venezuela, Emily Marquez Vilcek, stepped in to finish the book.

Each year since then, a book has emerged at the holidays, with “The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats” helping animals in distress and teaching life lessons to children aged 3 to 10. They are throw-back books in that regard, as they aren’t about flying pot roasts or other useless information (a real book, by the way).

Book One: The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats was about learning to get along and cooperate with others.
Book Two: The Christmas Cats Chase Christmas Cats was about not being prejudiced.
Book Three: The Christmas Cats Encounter Bats
was about having respect for all life, no matter how icky it seems, at first.
Book Four: The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer was about thinking out of the box to solve problems, which, in this case, was saving the deer who live in Scott County Park.
Book Five: The Christmas Cats Care for the Bear
has an anti-bullying message.

All of the books can be seen at www.TheXmasCats.com and all of them can be purchased through Amazon or from me, if you find me at one of the sites I plan to visit this Christmas-time.

My first appearance will be at what used to be called the Manor House in downtown East Moline on November 26th from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. I will have all of the Christmas books and others that you can see at my author site, www.ConnieCWilson.com. I have a Stephen King-like series “The Color of Evil” (3 novels); 2 short story series (“Ghostly Tales of Route 66” and “Hellfire & Damnation”) and various other books, such as a nonfiction books on movies of the seventies, 2 nonfiction books on the 2008 presidential race (“Obama’s Odyssey”), a book of humor (“Laughing through Life”) and others you can view at my author site.

The second place I know I will be is within Building One at Black Hawk Junior College on December 30th, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. I will have the Christmas Cats books, but I will also have the more adult fare. (I have 35 books, to date).

The third place I know I will be is outside Happy Joe’s in LeClaire, Iowa, before the Breakfast with Santa event on Saturday, December 3rd.
I am hopeful that I can make my annual stop at Razzleberries down the street, possibly on Friday night, and I am still trying to work out a place within the Village of East Davenport for the evening of December 3rd, Saturday, the night of the fireworks. The problem is that, in other years, I was inside Freddy Fritters, and it burned down and is much smaller now.

I also don’t know if I’ll have the traditional Cat in the Hat with me, posing for photographs, as in other years. [If you have a burning desire to wear an adult-sized Cat in the Hat suit (and get paid for it) contact me at Einnoc10@Aol.com.]

I did not ask to be present in Geneseo during their Victorian Christmas Walk at the Four Seasons this year because I was aced out by locals last year. I’m also still trying to find a spot within the Village of East Davenport, as Freddy Fritters burned down (taking one of my posters with it). Now, they don’t have room for me. So, if you’re in the Village and reading this and would like a local author and possibly a costumed Cat in the Hat on the night of the fireworks (Saturday, Dec. 3), contact me at 309-737-2225.

2016 Presidential Race Predictions on Nov. 8th, 2016

Donald Trump, Republican Presidential candidate..

Donald Trump, Republican Presidential candidate..

Hillary is ahead roughly 44% to 40% on the eve of the 2016 election (Nov. 7, 2016). It also looks like Democrats have a very good chance of taking back the Senate, with only 2 votes in dispute and 50 that look like they’ll go Democratic (48 were in the Republican column with 2 in dispute as of this writing).
Congress is not as good a bet.
It seems now would be a good time to make a prediction about the presidential race. I’m not alone in thinking that Hillary Rodham Clinton will win. It was unfortunate in the extreme that FBI director James Comey, 9 days before the election, made some vague allusions to additional e-mails.
Then, just 2 days before the election, Comey tried to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Pulling a stunt like that is tantamount to your pregnant girlfriend announcing at the wedding reception, “Turns out I’m not pregnant after all.” Comey was also involved in the Whitewater Investigation, parts of Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings and has a long history of “investigating HRC.
So, we won’t know how much worse Trump’s defeat could and would have been without the assistance of Comey and Putin and the WikiLeaks hackers, but I still think she has a good shot at beating him silly, with over 300 electoral college votes, for sure.
Counties to watch, early on are:
1) Duval County in Florida, where Jacksonville is located. This county had 74,000 votes in ’08 and ’12.
2) Hillsborough County in Florida, where Tampa is located. There were 543,000 votes there in 2012 but there are more Hispanics registered this year than ever before.
3) Miami-Dade County. I got an urgent e-mail asking for money from Little Marco saying that the early voting by Hispanics was outpacing the Republicans. 541,000 Democratic votes were cast in 2012. Nevertheless, most analysts think Marco Rubio will hang on, which is unfortunate, since he doesn’t believe in global warming.
4) North Carolina: New Hanover County was lost by 92,000 votes in 2012. There are more Independent voters in Wilmington and New Henry Counties than there are registered Democrats or Republicans and this county will signal how Independents are breaking. Obama lost by 1.5% in 2008 and 4.5% in 2012.
Wade County is the state’s most populous county and Independents are up by 50,000 (24$) since 2012. Obama won by 56,000 (11 points) and, in Watauga, Obama won by 4% in 2008 and in 2012 he slipped 13% and lost by 3 percentage points.
5) Ohio: Belmont County is a county that Obama won in 2008, but lost in 2012. 90% of Belmont County is white, but NOT college educated, but working class whites. Hamilton County, where Cincinnati is located, has many black voters. Obama won by 225,000 and 220,000 in his 2 runs, a 6% win.
6) Pennsylvania: Chester County (Philadelphia) has white, college-educated voters that gave Obama a 6 to 1 victory. Pennsylvania (Scranton) is also current Vice President Joe Biden’s hometown.

Last time there was a national election it was all wrapped up by 11 p.m. when Ohio went for Obama. Will it be as decisive (and early) this time?

My favorite predicting group (Moody’s Analytics) did not use polls to predict at all, but used different statistical indexes including:
1) The standing of the incumbent President, which should be favorable to Hillary since Obama’s are the highest since Reagan.

2) Gas prices. In my area, a gallon of gas goes for $2.05 right now and when we were in Texas you could purchase a gallon of gas for $1.44. In Des Moines at Sam’s Club yesterday it was $1.89. This bodes well for HRC, just as high gas prices were bad news for Carter in his re-election run.

3) Housing starts: How is the housing market doing? It seems to be on the upswing in Chicago and Austin with cranes everywhere, something that has been missing from the Chicago skyline since 2007/2008. Advantage Clinton.

4) Household income: it’s up slightly. In Illinois, federal employees are going to be paid $13 an hour, minimum. My friend in Des Moines said it was $10 per hour for ordinary jobs like Starbucks barrista. In Illinois the plan is to raise the minimum wage for everyone to $13 soon.

5) Unemployment measures: unemployment is under 5% whereas it had been above 7% back in the day.

All of the above support my contention (and nearly everyone else’s) that Hillary Rodham Clinton will become the first female President of the United States, God willing and the river don’t rise.

Mel Gibson Tells the Story of Desmond Doss in “Hacksaw Ridge”

Mel Gibson’s first directorial effort in 10 years (since 2006’s “Apocalypto”) is “Hacksaw Ridge,” the true story of conscientious objector Desmond T. Doss, a 7th Day Adventist who served as a medic in WWII in Okinawa and elsewhere in the Pacific Theater. As Gibson said, “He was an ordinary man doing extraordinary things under the most difficult of circumstances.”

Gibson went on to explain that, in one 12-hour period, Doss saved 75 men and subsequently was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by then-President Harry S. Truman. Some say Oscar may come calling. I’m not one of them, but all things are possible in this era of Marvel Comic book movies and Andrew Garfield does the role justice.

I was reminded of Mel Gibson’s arrival on the scene starring in “Gallipoli” in 1981, when only 25 years old. Of that film, a war movie in which he starred as Irish-Australian soldier Frank Dunne, Mel said, “It’s not really a war movie. That’s just the backdrop. It’s really the story of two young men.” (*Note: Mel cast his 6th child, son Milo, age 26, as Lucky Ford in the soldiers-in-the-barracks scenes.) We could say the same thing of “Hacksaw Ridge” and call it a film about faith or a movie about true love, but the battle scenes are what you’ll remember. (I can’t think of another film where 9 people were listed as “flame and fire technicians;” there is also a credit for a “flame compositor.”)

In November of this year film critic Matt Zoller Seltz described Gibson, who won an Oscar as Best Director for “Braveheart” in 1995 (a film in which he also starred) as “the pre-eminent religious filmmaker in the U.S.”

This film certainly falls into the religious category, as Andrew Garfield re-enacts the heroism of Seventh Day Adventist Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss, who, as Gibson described Doss’ character “honed his spirituality while he was in hell. He never lost his equilibrium. He stayed true to himself.” Doss was the first Conscientious Objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Harry S Truman and one of the best things about the movie is the opportunity to see and hear the real Desmond T. Doss speaking to us at the end of the film. (He died at 87 in March of 2006.) We also hear from one of the men he saved, the real Captain Jack Glover, in archival footage. (Doss’ humility is a refreshing change in the closing days of Donald Trump’s presidential run).

I learned from Gibson’s Oscar-winning effort in directing “Braveheart” or his 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ” that you need a strong stomach to sit through Gibson’s cinematic vision(s). Often, his films involve non-stop violence. It would be good to remember that fact when selecting a movie for the weekend (the film opened wide on November 4th.)

From the first shot of soldiers on fire, there are numerous lengthy scenes of hand-to-hand bayoneting, one memorable scene of decapitation, lots and lots of fire (and rats….Mel likes fire and rats), grenades blowing people up and more gory mayhem.

The violence and depiction of bodies blown up or set on fire or decomposing/bleeding/blown apart are some of the lengthiest and goriest battle scenes this side of “Saving Private Ryan’s” D-Day invasion. Michael Phillips of the Chicago “Tribune” said something to the effect that it might be the goriest religious movie ever made. But, then again, we’ve got “The Passion of the Christ,” and it’s rumored Gibson may direct a sequel to that savage cinematic gem (the highest-grossing “R-rated” film made.)

Most critics compared “Hacksaw Ridge” to “Saving Private Ryan” with its D-Day Normandy Beach re-enactment. Some mention the more recent “American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood’s 2014 film with Bradley Cooper. No one brought up “The Hurt Locker” or the two I kept being reminded of, which were Clint Eastwood’s 2006 films “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima,” films shot from both points-of-view: Japanese and American.

Perhaps I felt that way because Okinawa seemed much more like the Iwo Jima of Eastwood’s 2006 films. There is a jarring shot, underground, of a Japanese soldier (Hoshi Kosuga) who, defeat imminent, has hanged himself. Desmond stumbles onto the corpse without warning. It’s like the scary moment in a horror movie in its unexpectedness: the hand reaching up from the grave in “Carrie;” the quick flashes of horrific visions in films like “The Conjuring” (or this coming December’s “The Autopsy of Jane Doe.”) Viewers are also treated to shots of two Japanese officers, deep underground in tunnels, committing Japanese ritual seppuku (suicide by disembowelment) as impending defeat looms.

So, don’t say I didn’t warn you, if you are faint of heart (or stomach).

The film intercuts the lengthy scenes of soldiers bayoneting one another (and setting fire to one another—don’t forget the fire) with family background of young Doss as he grows up (young Desmond is played by Darcy Bryce) with young brother Hal (Roman Guerriero) and an alcoholic, abusive father (Hugo Weaving of “The Matrix”) who has PTSD following his service in WWI at Belleau, France. Doss, Sr., occasionally physically goes after Desmond’s mother (played by Rachel Griffiths, the nymphomaniac from television’s “Six Feet Under”) in his alcoholic rages.

In an almost-too-chaste-to-be-true romance, Desmond meets and falls in love with Dorothy Schulte, the woman he will marry (played by Teresa Palmer) when he accompanies a young accident victim to the hospital where she is a nurse. Thanks to Desmond’s good instincts in applying a tourniquet to the severed artery in the boy’s leg, the young accident victim survives and Desmond’s lifelong interest in medicine is born. He decides he will volunteer to be a medic, but he will not bear arms. As Desmond says, “While everybody else is taking life, I’m going to be saving it.”

Only an actor as good as Andrew Garfield could make this part believable. In less certain hands, it could have been mawkish, overly sentimental or just plain bad. Corny is the word that comes to mind. But Andrew Garfield is a fine young actor and, as one of the film’s producers, Bill Mechanic, said, “Some people have said that this film does what films used to do—tells a story and lets people see it the way they see it.”

Some of the lead-up to the intensely violent battle scenes seems overly saccharine.
The romance with Dorothy Schulte (Teresa Palmer) falls into that category. It’s very old-fashioned. Also, the training scenes are not very fresh with tough-talking drill sergeant Vince Vaughn cast as Sergeant Howell. At one point, during rigorous training, Vaughn has to utter the line, “We’re not in Kansas any more, Dorothy.” Blame the screenwriters (Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight.)

The cast of disparate fellow soldiers took me back to “the old days” of war movies with character actors like Aldo Ray who played these parts, over and over, in war movie after war movie. There’s one of every ethnicity; someone for everybody. Now ninety-year-old comedian Don Rickles even received praise back in the day (starring alongside Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Carroll O’Connor and Donald Sutherland) for his 1970 screen appearance as a character named Crapgame in “Kelly’s Heroes,” another war movie peopled by old-fashioned stereotypical cardboard cutout soldiers. But screenwriters Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight get the blame (or credit) for the sometimes sappy dialogue, most of which is assigned to Vince Vaughn. (I kept remembering Vaughn as “Fred Claus,” Santa’s bitter older brother, in that 2007 movie, so I was prepared to laugh at almost any dialogue assigned Vaughn, without blaming him for the misfortune to be known as much for silly comedies as for serious roles.)

VERDICT

If you can take the nearly unremitting violence, Andrew Garfield’s performance is worth the price of admission. Shooting on a budget of only $40 million, (one-half of the budget for “Braveheart”) in Australia, and over only 59 days, Gibson has told the story of a real war hero. As Gibson described Doss’s exploits, apparently the director didn’t even use a scene that was true-to-life but judged to be just too much heroism for one real-life man.

Doss, who is being carried off on a stretcher with a wound, kept getting off the stretcher to rescue others nearby. Gibson did a good job of making war seem like Hell on Earth and, as he said, he had to do it on a budget because, “If you’re not wearing spandex today, you don’t get a big budget.”

Sadly, in the Marvel world, too true. (Who cares about a real war hero when we have Captain America?)

Adventures from the New Computer Age

Well, because of the idea that installing a Windows 10 would be an “improvement,” I’ve been without ANY Internet service in Chicago since October 28th. A technician came out on a Saturday, but he needed access to a closet that is kept locked and can only be accessed by the building manager. (We have a building manager, but only Monday through Friday).

I was able to get a board member of the building to let us in, but more bad news awaited us in that he needed to “put a ticket in” to AT&T to do some sort of “upgrade” and, long story longer, he is coming back on November 14th to (hopefully) put an end to my computer woes at the condo and exponentially increase the speed of my new computer while reducing my bill by half. (I’ll believe THAT when it happens.) When he left, he didn’t make it clear that he had left me high and dry with no Internet AT ALL, so I was pretty much up a creek without a paddle unless I wanted to find a Starbucks. Since I was waiting on Deborah Riley Draper (director of “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice”) to respond to my questions, I decided to wait until returning to East Moline, 3 and 1/2 hours away, to continue with movie reviews.

We were hanging around in Chicago during the World Series hysteria. (In fact, my son drove all the way to Cleveland from Pittsburgh and was present at the 7th game last night; ticket price $998; and my husband and son bought rooftop seats at Wrigley for Game #4 for $1008 apiece.) The priorities quickly shifted from movies to baseball and I’m not sure if we are driving back to Chicago now for the homecoming or what. (Keep in mind, Chicago has waited for over 100 years for this!)

I am now using my desktop (Windows 7) in the basement, since it is not involved in the upgrade (yet) or the slow speed I had always blamed on my Vista computer when it seems it may have been the fault of the building’s Internet provider not being as fast as possible. While I have a laptop, it was affected by the same issues in Chicago and it is a Windows 10, which I am still learning how to fully operate.

No, I do not currently like it, but that’s par for the course for me and new technology, which is ironic when you consider that I owned and operated a Prometric Testing Center (computers) from 1995 to 2003 (along with Sylvan Learning Center #3301 in Bettendorf, Iowa).

I just got home and working on “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice,” which is now up. It opens in December on HBO. I asked Deborah Riley Draper (its director) if it was “okay” to run with a review now and she was more than positive on that idea, but she also has not sent back her responses to my 10 questions and my last words to her were: “I’ll wait to hear from you to write up the film.”

I’ve now given up on “waiting” for her, so I can get on the review, and I’ll do “Heartstone: from the film festival, as well, and I may write something on “Hacksaw Ridge.”

So, it’s been All Baseball, All the Time here. The son and heir got roughly 3 hours of sleep after deciding on the spur of the moment to drive from Pittsburgh to Cleveland for the game, with no ticket to get in. He then flew back home to Austin today and just called us from St. Louis.

Meanwhile, we will be flying to Austin on Nov. 15 to close on a house there that started being built for us in July. (No, we’re not selling the other 2).

“War Dogs” Mentions Rock Island Arsenal

The preview (above) shows the gun runners in “War Dogs” meeting with officials (ostensibly) at the Rock Island, Illinois Arsenal. Does the Arsenal employ twins who meet with gun providers about purchasing artillery and ammunition? No idea. Is that really the interior of the offices of the Rock Island Arsenal? Based on actually having been inside some of them, I seriously doubt the resemblance, since the “real” Arsenal is all brick and old and pretty much ancient-looking.

For years, The Quarters on Arsenal Island was the second-largest government residence, after the White House, but its antiquated kitchens and bathrooms (the place still had a recessed roof with a lever so, in the days before running water, you could heat water and then lower it for use in the 1800s) made it unsuitable for constant habitation, despite its Abraham Lincoln-era splendor. I don’t believe that it is the Commander’s official residence any more.

But what about the film “War Dogs?” I was particularly interested in seeing the film adaptation of the “Rolling Stone” article by Guy Lawson entitled “Arms and the Dude” because, reading it, I became fixated on the Rock Island (IL) connection.

So did people like Bradley Cooper, apparently, become fixated with the nearly unbelievable true piece. He plays a bit part as a shadowy arms dealer to terrorists (a part I don’t remember from the source material) and is listed as executive producer. The film is directed by Todd Phillips.

The movie outlines the more-or-less true adventures of 2 young guys who got a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to provide arms to Afghanistan. The opening date onscreen for these shenanigans is January 1, 2008. We quickly learn that it costs the U.S. government $17,500 to outfit just one American soldier. With 2 million sold and an annual bill of $4.5 billion just to provide AC for those stationed in the very, very hot Afghanistan, one savvy small-time con saw an opportunity to make money after new regulations were passed in the wake of no-bid contracts for Cheney’s boys. That led to bidding on everything and AEY (don’t ask what it stands for; it doesn’t stand for anything, and asking could get you fired) was there to provide the materials of war.

Initially, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), the brains behind the outfit, was bankrolled by a Jewish dry cleaning magnate, Ralph Slitsky (Kevin Pollak), who thought Efraim was sending arms to defend Israel. It will be Ralph who will fold like a cheap accordion when the questions begin flying thick and fast. Efraim involves his childhood friend David Packouz (Miles Teller).

But, before all hell breaks loose, we get lines like, “I dropped out of high school before they covered international diplomacy” from Hill’s character, who plays the part with an insouciance and aplomb that would challenge many. An unusually insightful script theme appears from the “good guy” arms dealer, David Packouz (Miles Teller of “Whiplash”), who says of Efraim: “He would figure out who someone wanted him to be and he would become that person.”

Punctuated by little messages onscreen like, “When does telling the truth ever help anybody?”, the film explains how the duo gets a major contract to supply Italian barettas to U.S. troops and, ultimately, to provide 100 million rounds of AX47 ammo, The Afghan Deal.

Problems arise when the chutzpah that has carried Efraim and David this far wears thin while facing hurdles like 68,520 crates of ammunition stuck in Albania that turn out to be filled with Chinese goods, when the U.S. has an embargo on buying from China. The solution, albeit an illegal one, is to re-pack the embargoed bullets in cardboard boxes that don’t scream “China” and send them off to the front,anyway. But Efraim doesn’t pay “the box guy” in Albania and that leads to charges of 70 federal crimes and a 4-year sentence for the guiltier of the two and the mastermind, Efraim Diveroli (who could be back in business by 2020, because the government still hasn’t closed a few loopholes in their online outsourcing M.O., says the script at movie’s end.)

The friendship unravels as the deal does. “We were never best friends. You were just playing the role of my best friend,” says David to Efraim (Teller to Hill) and this, above all, struck me as a very insightful statement. It’s happened to me. Has it happened to you?

While “The New Yorker” gave the film a very sniffy review, most critics liked the film (giving Jonah Hill’s laugh high marks) and it has a high rating on IMDB from those who have actually seen it.

We liked it. How often do you get to see identical twins from the Arsenal negotiating an arms deal with a couple of doofuses from Miami who admit they are stoned at the time? (one of whom, David Packouz, is a massage therapist).

Try it. You’ll like it.

Happy 93rd Birthday, Nelson Peterson

Nelson G. Peterson

Nelson G. Peterson

My good friend and former teaching colleague Nelson Peterson is celebrating his 93rd birthday today. I took him to lunch at a restaurant of his choice and asked him about his service during World War II.

Nelson is a veteran of both the Battle of the Bulge and, among other locations, Normandy Beach, Nuremberg, Salzburg and Munich. Although he has WWII memorabilia on the walls of his house, I had never really heard him speak about what he actually did during the war, so I asked him.

He responded, “I was a radio operator for the forward observation for artillery. We radioed back to the guns. We were way up front and we were way back.” Asked about Normandy, memorialized in Stephen Spielberg’s film “Saving Private Ryan” he said, “D-Day was the sixth of June. I went in 10 days after D-Day.”

Asked how, exactly, he “went in” (“Did you parachute in?”) Nelson said he had gone in on an LST ship and also remembered that he crossed the Rhine at Worms.

Nelson joined the Army when he was just 18, so, out of his company of 150 men (there were 3 or 4 companies in a Battalion), “All of those men are gone.” His best friend was Jack Norris from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Since Jack is long gone, perhaps it won’t matter that Nelson described him as a bit of a kleptomaniac at times.

When asked to describe his experiences during World War II in a word or phrase, he said, “It was a great experience.” Asked about war, in general, he said, “It’s a necessary evil. And sometimes it’s an unnecessary evil.”

Happy 93rd Birthday, Nelson, and many, many more.

Radio Interviews on June 1st & June 2nd

“Obama’s Odyssey” continues its national radio tour with 3 stops tomorrow and some special pricing.

The stops will be: 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., CT in Centralia, Illinois on WILY-AM with Tootie Cooksey’s “Hotline.”

11 to 11:30 a.m. on WAMV-AM with Bob Langstaff’s “We the People” in Amherst, Virginia.

Noon to 12:16 on KPCL-FM in Albuquerque, New Mexico with Annette Ayoub’s “Day Brightener.”

In conjunction with the radio tour, Volume II of “Obama’s Odyssey” is FREE for June 1 and June 2. Volume I is only 99 cents in e-book format from Amazon. The easiest way to “click through” and get to the special offers (which will expire on June 2nd) is to go to ConnieCWilson.com and click through, although you can also opt to go directly to Amazon and type in the book’s titles (Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House) and/or my author name, Connie Corcoran Wilson).

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