Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Editorial (Page 2 of 12)

Teaching in America Today From the Prism of 37 Years in the Field

It is Tuesday and I have not posted since last Tuesday, May 22nd. In keeping with the title of this blog (WEEKLY Wilson), I will now share some of Fareed Zakaria’s Sunday morning show statistics, leavened with a few personal observations on teachers and teaching in America today.

Fahreed began his Sunday morning GPS show on May 27th with this quote from John Steinbeck’s (1902-1968) “East of Eden:”

“In the country, the teacher was not only an intellectual paragon and a social leader, but also the matrimonial catch of the countryside.  A family could, indeed, walk proudly if a son married the schoolteacher.” Fareed went on to say that Steinbeck’s quote, written in the early part of the 20th century, was “now unrecognizable” as far as the status of teachers in America today.

Nobody knows that better than I do, someone whose mother began teaching school in 1927 and who encouraged her two daughters (my sister Kay and me) to follow in her footsteps.

I went to Iowa on a Ferner/Hearst Journalism Scholarship and a Freshman Merit Scholarship awarded to the entering 5% of the freshman class, and I intended to be where the action was—reporting the news, living in the moment. Then I saw what beginning journalists were paid, and my mother began her refrain of “Get your teaching credential so you have something to fall back on.” (As Richard Dreyfuss said in “The Competition,” “The problem with having a career to ‘fall back on’ is that you tend to fall back.” (He played an aspiring pianist in that one, believe it or not.)

So, I continued as a Journalism major for 3 years and then was forced with the Sophie’s choice of either working all day at the Daily Iowan, helping turn out that student newspaper, or student teaching, which usually meant getting on a bus and being trucked 53 miles down the road to Davenport, Iowa. (*In my case, I lucked out and was given an assignment at the University Lab School which university professors children attended, now defunct, but only because I was a member of Old Gold Singers and needed to be present for practice at noon each day at the Union.)

After marriage and the birth of my first child, I first tried to go to work for our local newspaper, but the pay was  pathetic. Teaching wasn’t much better back in 1969, but it was actually better than being a reporter, and I began teaching for $5,280 a year. If this sounds incredibly low, you’re right.

Silvis (Illinois) was always the worst paid district in the Quad Cities and in those days, we still had the Rock Island Lines Railroad paying taxes AND the John Deere Foundary in Silvis, neither of which still pays taxes to the city and neither of which has really been replaced in the tax base of the Silvis Public Schools.

My pay rose if I went back to school and got additional hours, so I finished my Master’s degree in record time (under 2 years) and my pay eventually rose to the less-than-impressive amount of $25,000 my final year on the job (1984-1985). It was 1985 and I quit to write a book for a New Jersey firm (Performance Learning Systems, Inc.)  which promised they could match my pay level, which wasn’t difficult. The condition was that I had to quit my tenured full-time job as Department Chairperson. (I had asked if I could write it during my summers off.) I was supposed to travel for them, as well, and do interviews for their newsletter. In fact, I was scheduled to interview the “Teacher in Space”—until they blew Christa McAuliffe up.

When I asked what would happen to me AFTER the book came out, no one (including me) seemed to know, but, after 4 terms as Co Chair of the Silvis Education Association, during which I worked tirelessly to earn recognition for our teachers’ union (and succeeded, after 3 contentious years), I was ready to move on.

I had taught 5 years of 7th grade Language Arts, 5 years of 8th grade Language Arts (by request), taken a one-year leave of absence to try to find gainful employment at a higher level, and, unsuccessful, returned to teach a mixture of 7th AND 8th graders. Most of my friends from the struggle to achieve recognition, [which ended when the League of Women Voters was brought in and the district’s 50 or so employees voted to have them recognized as their bargaining agent] had left. Some left teaching all together. Some went to the high school level or to another district, where the pay was better.

It should be noted that our school board first had to be changed to allow us to even HAVE such a revolutionary vote. And it shouldn’t have BEEN a revolutionary vote, since the Silvis Education Association had been formed in 1962,  when I was still in high school! This was 1979-1980, so why wasn’t it “recognized” and why weren’t the teachers being asked for input on their teaching conditions, class size, materials, and pay? (Every other district had been meeting with their teachers’ bargaining representatives for years, but we got to read ours in the paper and it sometimes went down.) 

In order to be allowed to bring in the League of Women Voters we had to first elect 3 members of a 7 member board that would agree it was a good idea; that was the difficult part. The old board would not have allowed it.

We backed some concerned citizens in the community who agreed that Silvis was a bit behind the times ( about 20 years behind) in terms of  agreeing to bargain with its employees in a hopefully constructive manner, and we did not tumble to the IEA (Illinois Education Association’s) advice that we do “bullet voting” and try to elect one member at a time over a longer period. We took on getting 3 board members on at once and we succeeded, which the Powers-That-Be in Springfield said was one of the few times in Illinois history this had occurred. I was even asked to lead workshops around the state to explain exactly how we had pulled off this small miracle.

So, I left Silvis, Illinois as Chairman of the English Department making $25,000 a year, went to work for PLS (Perfomance Learning Systems, Inc.) making the same amount, wrote their book (“Training the Teacher As A Champion”) and handling their news letter, and, at the end of my time writing the book (which was published in 1989), no one had any idea what to do with me.

Thus, I became the founder of a Sylvan Learning Center (2nd in the state of Iowa) and an adjunct faculty member at 6 colleges in my spare time, and performed my duties as CEO, chief marketing director, H&R, community representative, and sometime substitute teacher uninterruptedly until I sold that business and the Prometric Testing Center that I had also founded within our walls in 1995, in April of 2003.

I had noticed that the students coming to me from the elementary grades over the years were coming in with less and less basic knowledge and less and less parental support. The parents usually sided with the student and the teacher was at fault if little Johnny failed. Respect for the profession was sliding even then. As an example of how the students were losing ground I often cite a short story writing contest I ran at Halloween time to write a “scary” story.

When I started teaching, the students wrote fairly good stories of more than one paragraph. By the middle of my 15 years in Silvis, the students had difficulty knowing enough about good grammar and punctuation to even write 3 paragraphs. By the end of my time in Silvis, I was teaching them how to write 5-line paragraphs and we had scrapped the entire idea of writing fiction.

And United Township’s High School Creative Writing Class, which had blind judged the stories and picked the winners, had also been scrapped, so we no longer had judges for my junior high school students’ work. I persisted in teaching Literature, Grammar (yes, we diagrammed sentences), Spelling (a separate grade), and Writing/Composition.

I made sure that my students always were entering any writing competition that was being offered in the Quad City area. (They often won.) I was always correcting papers while waiting in a dentist’s office or a doctor’s office and once left a stack of them there and had to go back to retrieve them. ALL of my students wrote, but, because of the excessive amount of time it takes to truly critique and proof a paper, I had to schedule one class at a time to do their writing assignment, and I did.

I worked at Sylvan for 3 years taking no pay, since we were a new business, and I had an acrimonious break-up with the woman I had invited to join me over ‘creative differences’ in our vision for the business. Since I was the President, founder and CEO, I bought her out and started over again from the bottom of the ladder, right after the birth of my second child in 1987. (She opened one in Cedar Rapids, but it no longer exists, either.)

Here are some facts about teaching today, some of which I researched for the book for PLS entitled “Training the Teacher As A Champion” and some of which Fareed Zakaria highlighted on May 27, 2018:

  1.  The average pay for teachers has declined over the last 15 years, while health care costs have risen substantially.
  2. In 2003, the median household income was $63,777, but teachers made only $59,141.
  3. In 2009, the median household income was $64,803, but teachers made only $58,257.
  4. In 2016, the median household income was $61,768, but teachers made only $61,675.
  5. Teachers are 5 times as likely as the average full-time workers to have a second job; adjunct faculty even approach the poverty level and qualify for food stamps (especially in Chicago, it seems). Colleges are fond of what I term “the sponge mentality,” where they  hire teachers with advanced degrees, but only allow them to have just under the maximum number of hours that would make them full-time, squeeze out all the good, and then cast them aside; hence, no benefits need be paid, like health insurance or retirement pension moneys.
  6. Teachers make 60% less than a professional in another career with a comparable education (I had a Master’s + 30 hours,  the equivalent of a PhD)
  7. Because of low wages and teacher stress, teachers burn out at two  times the rate of other workers. (Linda Hammond of the Lang Policy Institute). the Boston Women’s Study I remember reading for the PLS book pegged the “burn out” time as ten years.
  8. Enrollment in teacher preparation courses is down 35%.
  9. We are facing a massive teacher shortage at at time when teachers are being asked to put their lives on the line for their students and a debate rages nationwide about arming teachers.
  10. The shortage of teachers from the U.S. is so bad that 100,000 teachers are being recruited from countries like the Philippines.
  11. There is a significant link between teacher pay and student achievement.
  12. Singapore/Finland and South Korea can recruit the top graduates because they pay well and there is respect for the profession in those countries, unlike in this country.
  13. “Over the last 30 years, being a teacher in America has become a thankless job. And that is the one profession that makes all the other professions possible.” (Fareed Zakaria)
  14. My own observation(s), from a family that has logged about 200 teacher years (Mother, sister, sister-in-law, brother-in-law): When I graduated from high school (1963), I was offered 3 possible job options: nurse, teacher or office worker.
  15. I graduated second in my class, but no one said I could become an engineer, a doctor, or a lawyer. In fact, when I took the LSAT (Law School Aptitude Test) 3 times as I was graduating from the University of Iowa in 1967, scoring in the top 1/2 of 1% on the English portions, I was told, by my old-fashioned parents that they would help finance a post graduate career in English, but that I shouldn’t aspire to go to law school. Several law students (all male, of course) seconded that assessment, noting how much the professors disliked having females in their classes. [up the spaceLest you think I am making this up, just look for Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s remarks about how her law professors told her that she and her 8 female classmate were “taking  for 9 male students.”] I took the LSAT in the chemistry auditorium, which holds roughly  500 students, and only one other woman was there taking the examination, and she was Forrest Evaschevski’s daughter-in-law.[ *If you don’t know who Forrest Evaschevski was, he would be the equivalent in that day and age of Hayden Fry or Iowa’s current long-time coach, Kirk Ferentz.]

Fareed went on to say, “Have you thanked a teacher for his or her service, like you thank the military?”

There have been 17 shootings in 2018 alone in classrooms, the highest number during any year since at least 1999 according to a Washington Post data base. The debate is raging here in Texas and across the nation about arming teachers in the schools. If I had been approached to carry a gun and be prepared to use it, I would have changed majors so fast it would make your head spin.

An Indiana Middle School teacher (my teaching level), Jason Seaman, was just released from the hospital after being shot 4 times defending his class from a young student who entered with a hand gun and opened fire. Jason Seaman played for Southern Illinois University’s Salukis’ football team from 2007 to 2010 and is 29 years old. He was a defensive end, tallying 88 tackles and 8 sacks with 2 forced fumbles in 47 games. He was a three-sport athlete in Mahomet, Illinois. He ran at the shooter and pinned him to the wall and immobilized him, despite being shot in the abdomen, hip and forearm.

As a student witness, Ethan Stonebraker, described it:  “Immediately, Mr. Seaman was yelling and running right at him and tackled him to the ground. I was trying to stay crouched behind the back table, but also see what’s going on and that’s when Mr. Seaman was running right at him with his arms in front of him, and then he just tackled him against the wall. Then they were on the ground after Mr. Seamans swatted the gun from him an Mr. Seamans just laid on the shooter so he couldn’t do anything else.”

During my teaching years, I was aged 24 to 40. I had played intramural basketball as a point guard who was small and quick, and I had been a cheerleader for 2 years. I once ran out of my own non-air-conditioned classroom when a horde of ground bees invaded through our windows [which had no screens], in the heat of August, followed by most of my class. I was also told I was “too small” to be a lifeguard when in high school, despite having passed all of the coursework. I am 5′ 2″ and weighed about 130 pounds when I was a junior high school teacher. I know nothing about tackling young males who might assault me or my class, either with or without a weapon, and soon learned that, if I had contentious students who were going to throw punches at each other (which happened), I should quickly summon Mr. Pyevich or Mr. White, whose classrooms were on my left and on my right.

How effective do you think I would have been in a shoot-out? Why should my good friend Karen Schootman’s daughter now have to run drills for her classes to decide where they will hide and how they will barricade themselves against shooters when they come in armed to the teeth and start shooting innocent students and teachers? GET IT TOGETHER, PEOPLE. WE NEED GUN CONTROL LAWS LIKE EVERY OTHER CIVILIZED NATION!

And, yes, the cream of the crop does NOT seem to go into teaching any more. (Do you wonder why?) I even quit an Honorary Educators’ group (Delta Kappa Gamma) that was encouraging youngsters to go into teaching, because how could I, in good conscience, tell them this is a “good” job today?

Mr. Seamans, after his shooting, released this statement:  “I want to let everyone know that I was injured but I am doing great. To all students, you are all wonderful and I thank you for your support. You are the reason I teach.”

Ella Whistler, the 13-year-old girl shot in the head by the attacker, is still in critical but stable condition in the hospital.

A small footnote to the screed above: at least 10 states have laws allowing teachers to carry guns on K-12 campuses and 17 states have considered bills to arm school staff since the Parkland shooting. Mississippi, for one, has been interested in this “solution.” But here’s where it gets interesting:insurance firms balk at selling policies to schools if educators are armed. The Pro-Gun NRA (which has been infiltrated by Russians) says this is because the insurance providers are notorious liberals, trying to turn this into a political decision.

The Associate Executive Director for the Kansas Association of School Boards, Mark Tallman, said:  “I don’t think insurance companies are notorious anti-gun liberals. We think they’ve got good reasons for not doing it.” The 2007 Virginia Tech shooting where a student gunman killed 32 people and wounded 17 more cost at least $50 million in security upgrades and lawsuit settlement costs. And all this at a time when federal money is being directed away from education and into militaristic pursuits and Betsy DeVos—the most incompetent and unqualified Secretary of Education in history—is running the show.

In 2014, a sixth grade teacher in Utah mistakenly shot a school toilet. As I said in a previous post, I have known teachers who should not be allowed to operate a pencil sharpener in their classrooms, let alone come in packing a gun!

And so it goes. Comments welcome.

AP, CNN Reporters Barred from Scott Pruitt Public Meeting

Difficult as it is to believe, today journalists from CNN and the AP (Associated Press) were physically shoved out of a public meeting chaired by EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, with only those whose names were on a White House list being allowed to enter and report on this public meeting of the PFAS National Leadership Summit. The information being shared was not classified and it was a public meeting. Journalists being banned from a public meeting or mistreated when attempting to attend is why I no longer cover presidential races in the U.S., but focus on film.

The official excuse used by EPA spokesman Jehan Wilcox was that “there wasn’t sufficient room.” Photographs from journalists who were allowed inside showed plenty of room. 

Oliver Darcy, Senior Media Reporter for CNN, was nearly apoplectic as he was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer and Sally Buzbee, AP (Associated Press) Executive Editor also issued a statement denouncing this obvious attempt to stifle the press press.

Wake up, people. This is how dictatorships seize and hang on to power.

Teachers in Austin Can’t Afford to Live in District, Says Study

(Book above by Connie Corcoran Wilson & Joseph K. Hasenstab)

Yesterday, while sharing wisdom acquired at the nail shop, I mentioned  short articles to come (about soy beans and teachers.)

I could write a really LONG diatribe about teachers and how it’s about time that teachers, nationwide, rise up and demand to be treated like professionals, but that isn’t this article.   (Indications are that  the movement is already escalating nationwide.)

As the author of “Training the Teacher As A Champion” (Performance Learning Systems, Inc. of Emerson, NJ) and a veteran teacher with approximately 200 teacher years in the immediate family (mother, sister, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, niece) it is a field about which I know a fair amount. I generally say I had a 37-year teaching career, since the Sylvan Learning Center I founded also involved teaching, and I also taught as adjunct faculty at all Quad City area colleges or universities at various times.

This is a short piece, basically lifted from page A7 of the Austin American Statesman, that notes:  “National Council on Teacher Quality data on teacher salary, qualifications, and home affordability reveals that even with 5 years of experience and a master’s degree, Austin ISD teachers cannot afford the median mortgage payments in the city.

Even more shocking, if a local teacher with those qualifications saved 10 % of his  or her income annually, it would take more than 10 years for the individual to generate enough for a 20% down payment on a home.” 

And, notes the Statesman, that is with today’s median home price, which is bound to go up, as it has steadily in Austin in recent years. The report was put together by Ku, Sikes and Edwards, all doctoral students in the College of Education at the University of Texas.

They also noted:  “For 2017-1028, Austin ISD lost 1,600 students in enrollment compared with the prior year—the 5th consecutive year of enrollment decline.  About half of the students are leaving the city to move to neighboring suburban districts because housing is more affordable. However, teachers get left out of the conversation with such gentrification taking over the affordable options.”

At a time when the President of the United States is seriously suggesting that teachers be issued guns to protect themselves and their charges, possibly even laying down their lives to protect the students in their charge, and wanna-be presidential candidates like Scott Walker (of Wisconsin) are destroying unions, in general, (especially those for public employees, including teachers) and Illinois is grappling with keeping promises made through the years, contractually, to retired teachers whose pensions are now coming due (when Illinois did not put in its fair share of that money in years past and is now trying to figure out where to come up with it), it is worth noting that teachers cannot even afford to live in the districts in which they teach, if those districts are popular destination cities like Austin, Nashville, etc.

I had a Master’s + 30 and never made more than $25,000 my best year  teaching in Illinois, with 17 and 1/2 years of experience in the field. I did try to help my SEA (Silvis Education Association) teachers’ organization unionize and gain recognition, in the hopes that our salaries and our working conditions could, at the very least, be negotiated, but whether that 3-year endeavor, which was ultimately successful,  has helped future generations of educators in that district is a question I cannot answer.

It is hard to tell your sons and daughters, your best and brightest, to go into teaching, if they are going to be a primary support of a family unit with sobering facts like those above. Lord knows that the students of today are not getting more respectful and better-behaved and some will argue that the teachers of today “don’t deserve as much respect,” but those are the very individuals I’d like to see do the job for just one semester in the trenches.

It gets even worse for college faculty, who, in Illinois, anyway, sometimes qualify for food stamps because they are squeezed like a sponge and given just enough hours to bring them up to full-time status where they would qualify for benefits like health care, but not enough to pass that threshold. I know this from teaching at 6 IA/IL colleges or universities.

And, since marriage as an institution seems to be on the ropes, too, many girls must face the fact that they may be supporting themselves without a second paycheck for their entire lives. Therefore,those individuals of either sex need to think long and hard about how much they need to live comfortably, and whether the field(s) they have chosen, no matter how rewarding personally, are going to meet their financial needs. It’s not a new question: it’s been one that is relevant to musicians, artists, filmmakers and any number of other occupations. It is now becoming a fact of life for teachers at a time when they are being asked to do much more with much less.

Things I Learned at the Nail Shop: Annette Bening as Super Hero

When you go to the nail shop in Austin, you are surrounded by technicians who mainly speak to one another in Vietnamese (at least, I think it’s Vietnamese). Otherwise, you have only the large flat-screen television to occupy you. I learned that Annette Bening is going to be a Super Hero in the Marvel franchise—or, at least, that’s what the talking heads said, and it set off a fair amount of discussion amongst the three women and two men onscreen at the time.

 Annette Bening is being touted as a Super Hero for a Marvel movie. This caused a phenomenal amount of interest on the program I was watching (don’t know the name of it; think it’s local). The African-American young man, who had been talking about tickets to go backstage at a Justin Timberlake concert by signing up somewhere, posed the rhetorical question, “Which would you rather see? Annette Bening in a Marvel movie or Justin Timberlake?” (Please… May I phone a friend?)

It could be a very funny “riff” for “SNL” to take on this rumor, as all the icons of yesteryear seem to be fading into oblivion, since “Vanity Fair’s” Editor for decades,Graydon Carter, recently retired and the rumors are also rampant that Anna Wintour (memorialized, fictionally, in the film featuring Emily Blunt,  “The Devil Wears Prada”) may have just attended her final Met Gala. (Oh, the humanity!)

When you couple the above news with Elton John announcing that he is not going to tour any more after his final tour and the many headline names (Tom Petty, to name one) who shuffled off this mortal coil, often very unexpectedly, you begin to see the future. It is filled with Kanye (West) moments. And Justin Timberlake, who gave up bringing sexy back to going all woodsy on us and giving us a perfectly forgettable Super Bowl Halftime Show. [If my choices are watching Annette Bening in anything and Justin’s Super Bowl show, I’m going for Bening. (Sorry, Justin.)]

I was recently offered a deal where I could stream old classic movies for a monthly fee. It was suggested to me, in particular, because I review film, and, of course, how could I be “up” on ALL the movies of the past. (How could ANYONE be “up” on all the movies of the past, is more like it; I think I’m pretty solid on anything from 1955 on, but I’ve been outsourcing the Marvel epics.)

I need to make you aware of the soy bean crisis and the teacher crisis, so pardon me while I leave you with these images of the potential Super Hero at Sixty (birth year: 1958) and the interesting fact that her parents, staunch Episcopalians, were from Iowa. I wonder what they thought when they heard she was marrying Warren Beatty, then known as the World’s Biggest Womanizer?

Hearing Test Leads to Information on North Korea’s Plight

WARNING: Explicit Language Contained in the Above Trailer

 I decided to go have a hearing test, because my EYE doctor, way back in December in the Quad Cities, before we left town for Texas, clicked something 3 times on each side of my head. I did not hear the final click on the right ear side. He then said I could “go see our audiologist in Rock Island” if I wanted to know if I had any hearing loss.

I was not aware of any hearing loss, but every single teacher friend I have who taught as long as I did talks LOUDLY and, in Silvis, where I taught, the second-hand cheapie heater system they bought when they built the “new” junior high school (in 1969-1970) was horrible. It was LOUD and it threw crap into the air and it leaked gas. So,when I saw that a local business (NewSound Hearing Centers) would give me a complete hearing test with a video microscope and all the trimmings for FREE, I drove myself over there at 2 p.m. and had the whole schmear.

First, they showed me the inside of my ear canals magnified 150 times. (Ugh). One of the comments in the article was that you can have hearing loss simply from waxy build-up. Although the technician pronounced my waxy build-up to NOT be that severe, it looked gross, especially when he was fishing it out with a long instrument. (Double ugh).

Next, we moved to a small room where sounds were played and I was to push the button when I heard the various sounds. My tester was on the other side of the glass of the soundproof booth. I thought I was doing pretty well. Later, I learned I was doing “okay” but everybody has some hearing loss as they age. Mine seemed minimal, as my ear drums were not punctured, but, funny thing, my right ear was doing much better than my left ear, but it was the right ear that I could not hear the top “clicking” sound in December. I was not surprised that my right ear is doing most of the real work. My right eye is, too. My vision when I (finally) had lasik surgery some years ago was 20/70 in my right eye and only 20/200 (legally blind) in my left. After lasik, my vision in my “good” right eye was 20/15 and the vision in my “bad” left eye was 20/20.

At one point, as he set up to read my scores of words which I was to repeat back to him, I found myself  waiting for him and began reading the article next to the ad in the local “Austin American Statesman” newspaper, and I have to say, it turned out to be interesting. (*On the “repeat these words” tests, I scored 96% with each ear, missing only the word “dime”—I heard “dine”—-and “lock” when I heard “locked.”) These small miscues did not strike me as something to worry about, but I was glad to have a baseline hearing test for my impending deafness (!) and I left without any  hearing aids.

However, while I was waiting for the testing person to set up one test, I read the article NEXT to the free ad in the “Austin Statesman” and it was actually pretty interesting. Here are the salient facts in THAT article:

FOOD, FACTS TRICKLE INTO CUT-OFF NORTH KOREA

Image result for Jung Gwang il
                           Jung Gwan-il Image (from Wikipedia)

That was the heading and I learned that a former North Korean prisoner, Jung Gwang-il, has taken it upon himself to send bottles into North Korea from South Korea. He does this two times a month, when the tides are right. He and his helpers toss hundreds of bottles into the Han River to be carried downstream, hoping that the bottles will end up in the hands of some of the North Koreans, who are hungry for both food AND information.

So, what goes in these bottles? This is where it got interesting, for me.

A flash drive is put in the bottles , and on the USB sticks is a video of “The Wall,” a movie about a North Korean poet by an Irish director and, quite interestingly, the Seth Rogen film “The Interview,” a low-brow comedy in which Rogen and James Franco attempt to assassinate Kim Jong Un. To say that this movie was low humor is putting it mildly. “The Interview” was so hard on Kim Jung Un that it is thought the computer hack of Sony was caused by the dictator’s anger about the movie. (After all, he has cut the heads off relatives for far less, including a half brother’s!)

The Kim Jung Un family has been in power for over 7 decades and, in addition to the 2 films mentioned above, there is video of a North Korean musical group’s performance in Seoul in February. There were also micro-SD cards that can be put into phones.

When escapees from North Korea were interviewed in 2015, 81% reported having watched foreign media on USB drives while still in the country. The group doing all this is known as No Chain and they join others who have flown balloons over the border carrying information and goods and other illegal methods of smuggling information and food into the extremely poor country that spends all of its money on its military.

 Korean churches donate 3 pounds of rice per bottle, and the Human Rights Foundation in New York donates USBs as part of its “Flashdrives for Freedom” project.

Three pounds of rice is worth about TWO MONTHS’ SALARY for a state worker in North Korea. It’s no wonder that ships have reported seeing the bottles being fished out of the Han River. Let’s hope this and the soon-coming meetings between North and South Korean leaders gives the downtrodden people of North Korea a better life.

Said Thae Yong Ho, who was North Korea’s deputy ambassador in London until his dramatic escape in 2016:  “We should educate the North Korean people so that they can have their own Korean Spring.”

Amy Schumer’s “I Feel Pretty” Sets Off Controversy

OK…So, I went to see Amy Schumer’s new movie “I Feel Pretty” (and received a button that says “I Feel Pretty Awesome,” which I wore all day).I liked it—the button AND the movie.

There, I’ve said it. I liked it.

I thought it was insightful and funny and I liked lines like, “I met this baby the other day that was wack as hell.” [You can see the meeting with said baby in the clip I just posted of the movie trailer]. The trailer contains the best parts of the film, and, no, it isn’t a laugh-out-loud funny movie, because Amy is trying to make the point that (to quote a line from the movie):  “This line/movie is for every girl who is ready to believe in herself.” Or, “I think a lot of people are all confused about themselves…You doubt yourself over and over. What if we didn’t care about how we looked?” 

The premise is that, when Amy hits her head, she suddenly sees herself as perfect. She no longer has the crippling insecurities that beset her prior to being hit in the head. It takes another blow to her skull to turn her back into insecure Amy. One of the lines spoken to her boyfriend in the film (Ethan, well played by Rory Scovel) is: “She is awesome. She is the complete package. Your girl can handle herself in a knife fight!” Or, as Ethan says to Renee, “You know who you are and you don’t care how the world sees you.”

The movie  makes a plea for “The strength and wisdom to say ‘I’m better than all that. We are real women.”

Why is she being pilloried on social media for making such undeniably positive statements? The answer seems to be that some think she is too pretty to be saying these things? Is that it?  Amy is too pretty to make a statement that benefits all women everywhere? (Sheesh) Get over your bad selves, nit-pickers. And, to the newly-wed Amy: YOU GO, GIRL!

I couldn’t help but empathize with what she must be thinking and feeling as people hurl brick-bats at her for articulating the undeniable truth that most of us are insecure in some way and that it can often become almost a debilitating disease, if it inhibits us too much or prevents us from becoming our true, authentic, best selves. The film also gets the point across that TOO MUCH confidence is, well, too much.

That is probably what the uproar is all about: mid-movie Amy briefly becomes a jerk to her friends (played by Aidy Bryant of SNL as Vivian and Busy Philipps as Jane) and we want to LIKE Amy and empathize with her. If she’s confident and thinks she’s great and is enjoying herself, well, we can’t have THAT now, can we? How dare she!?

If you watch the trailer (above), you’ll see the funniest parts of the movie, complete with Amy’s attempt to win a bikini contest (she doesn’t), but, mainly, you’ll see her becoming a jerk as she gives in to her uber confident inner self,  confidence which was triggered by a fall from a Soul Cycle bike that dumped her on her head.  I’m thinking that her in-your-face confidence was just too much for some females to stomach. Be reassured: she doesn’t STAY a jerk.

Girls always seem to accept other girls, or women other women, only if they are sweet and malleable and supportive and “nice,” as my husband euphemistically terms it. It still isn’t acceptable in society to be sassy and funny and irreverent, if you’re female. You still get labeled as “a bitch” if you display any of those characteristics, even though Amy Schumer rose to fame because of  the irreverent salacious humor of her stand-up act (and, yes, I HAVE seen her act, “live”). [It can’t be the men who are complaining and giving the film a thumbs down on YouTube, can it?]

I thought the opening sequence where she is participating in a Soul Cycle class with model-thin women and her bike seat gives away and she experiences a jarring blow to her vagina was note-perfect. She hobbles out with her pants torn and in pain. Have none of you (females) who are giving it a thumbs down on YouTube never experienced the crushing pain of falling onto the metal part of a boy’s bike? No? [Okay, then. It must be just me.]

I’ve also been involved in exercise classes where it was quite obvious I did not belong. My favorite story is the one where, somehow, I ended up LEADING the class and had NO idea where I was to “lead” them. It was a lot like the scene in “Animal House” where the marching band marches into a brick wall. I also remembered my husband once commenting  that I was only equipped to compete in the Olympics in the “400 yard roll” or some such joke. (He WAS kidding, but his humor was lost on me at the time.)

I actually wrote several humorous essays about exercise classes I have known and published them in “Laughing through Life, so if you want to hear all about the types of things that befall Amy in her class, but happened, IRL, to me, you can order a copy on Amazon.

But that’s not the point.

The point of the movie as written and directed by Abby Kohn (“2009’s “He’s Just Not That In To You”) and Marc Silverstein (husband of *BusyPhilipps,”How To Be Single”) to me, was that Amy wants each and every one of us who is female to feel comfortable in our own skins. So what if we have too much junk in the trunk? Forgetaboutit. So what if we are not rail-thin?  Move on. Get over it! Be confident.

BUT, and this is important, do NOT lose good friends because you become an insufferable ego-maniac.

Other good things about the movie:

Michael Andrews selected the music (“This Girl Is On Fire” for one) and it is great. Michelle Williams plays the daughter of a cosmetics icon who has a very soft voice like Jackie Kennedy’s (okay, you’re too young to remember how Jackie’s voice was very soft and not forceful at all, and Marilyn Monroe’s was the same way, so just work with me here) and, therefore, has a hard time being taken seriously. She also is involved in some serious sibling rivalry with her handsome brother, Grant LeClair (Tom Hopper), who comes on to Amy at one point (Amy remains true to Ethan, so why did the haters not note THAT?)

Many critics praised the appearance of Lauren Hutton as Gramma LeClaire (Lily LeClaire) in “I Feel Pretty,” who founded the cosmetics company, which is attempting to turn out an affordable cosmetics line suitable for sale in Target stores.

Lauren appears as a retired model, which she really is. She made her film debut in 1968 in “Paper Lion” and still works as a model, apparently because she is still reed-thin.

Lauren definitely has been out in the sun too much for too long and she has done nothing to diminish the age-related wrinkles caused by too much sun exposure. I actually looked up her age, after the film, since I was hoping she was older than me. She was…but not by that much.

For someone who is listed as 74 (birthday: Nov. 17, 1943) she is thin, but, aside from that, she might consider whether the path she wants to take is the one taken by Jane Fonda, or the one taken by others, which doesn’t have to mean plastic surgery, but does mean trying to diminish age-related deterioration. Yes, I know. This is in direct opposition to the message of the movie, but the message of the movie for a young woman is quite different than for a “mature” (don’t say “old”) woman: society has not moved forward enough to accept prune-like visages that could have remained recognizable if the owner of the face had taken the slightest precautions.

To me, since we are only given one face, it is irresponsible not to at least try to keep it looking halfway decent. While that also applies to our bodies, I agree with Amy that a woman in today’s society ought to NOT have to be reed-thin to be considered attractive. We women have to bear children and cook and clean and, usually, also work,and genetics will get you every time, so not all of us will remain emaciated in our golden years. Lauren is reed-thin, so she gets to keep modeling. She looks like hell, facially, but nevermind that, as long as she is thin.

That, to me, was the message for we “mature” types and, yes, that was a contradiction of the first magnitude, which I blame(d) on the age difference between the character Amy is playing (Renee Bennett) and the one that Lauren Hutton is playing (Lily LeClaire).

And probably something that the writers never considered, either, since the male writer (Marc Silverstein) is also the husband of Busy Philipps, [whois supposed to be getting a talk show this fall] and Abby Kohn might have tried  for Jane Fonda for the Lauren Hutton role—or any other mature actress who has not thrown caution to the winds and abandoned her face to extensive sun damage.

 

 

Fans Have Spoken: Mr. & Mrs. John Krasinski as Mr. & Mrs. Fantastic Four

Guest Editorial by Zayn Allen

Comic book movies are great and all but when they’re rebooted more than once, problems can occur.  Fantastic Four is that type of comic book movie.

Marvel’s First Family, should not be disrespected. Growing up seeing comic book heroes on the movie screen gives young viewers role models that stay with them for life. The cinematic portrayals of the Punisher, the Hulk, Spider-Man, and the X-Men all have one thing in common: reboots can be a “good” thing. The one thing that all the Fantastic Four films have in common is  mediocre casting, and the same dry guy villain.

Fans want more. Fans want realism. Fans want chemistry. And fans have been pushing for real life couple John Krasinski and Emily Blunt to portray Mr. and Mrs. Fantastic. (*What a waste THAT would be! CW)

Best known for his role in the American adaption of television’s “The Office” as Jim Halpert, John Krasinski can be goofy. After the release of A Quiet Place (which he also directed), he has proven that he can take on a serious role as well. He should fit nicely within the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and is honestly the best choice for Reed Richards at the moment.

As for Emily Blunt, she is (1) beautiful, (2)possesses a serious but yet delicate presence, and (3) she can be a force to be reckoned with, simultaneously.  Her role in Edge of Tomorrow as Rita Vrataski proves just that.  Sue Storm is both a powerful hero and a caring person.

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 09: Director/Executive Producer/Writer/Actor John Krasinski attends the ‘A Quiet Place’ Premiere 2018 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Paramount Theatre on March 9, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

Why not cast Emily blunt as Sue Storm and her real-life husband John Krasinski as Reed Richards?

While Emily Blunt has been quiet on the fans dream casting. John Krasinski has been quiet open with Screenrant:

Oh yeah, the Fantastic Four. I would love that! I mean listen, I’m still getting into the whole superhero thing. I didn’t read comics as a kid, not as many, I read some but not as much, but I’m a huge superhero fan so, yeah, I’d love to do something like that. If they’re are any left! A lot of these have been taken, but the ones that are left, yeah, I would love to do something like that. And listen, I’d love to work with her (Emily) again so any chance I got would be great.

At the moment everything is still up in the air, especially with the Disney/Fox situation. With the X-Men, Spiderman, and Hulk characters newly rebooted, the Fantastic Four should not be that hard to include in Phase 4 of the MCU.

MCU’s Phase 4 is starting after the release of Avengers: Infinity Wars, Part 2, set for a 2019 release. That would be a perfect time to reboot the Fantastic Four and bring John Krasinski and Emily Blunt to the screen in the roles.

Zayn Allen (A DC Comics Fan) Says: Get It Together, D.C.

     Guest post from Zayin Allen with some snarky Siskel/Ebert Treatment

(*With the usual snide remarks from the adult in the room who would like the never-ending barrage of these things to quietly go away and leave us with good films. C.W.)

Let’s talk about DC Comics films. After Man of Steel the world was in their hands. Then came the release of Batman V Superman. Although critics savaged the film and  it received little praise,  the film was honestly not that bad, (IMHO). Wonder Woman was a beautiful film, and  the gorgeous and talented Israeli actress Gal Gadot nailed the role effortlessly.

Everything was set up: Zack Snyder was the leading front runner to direct Justice League. After the unfortunate death of his daughter, DC was left in the dark. Justice League was taken over by Joss Wedon and that was the day DC films fell. The budget was too high for the film to look the way it did. The film seemed rushed, the lines came off  as forced, and the storyline was butchered (compared to what it could have been). (*Having just written a script based on THE COLOR OF EVIL, one never knows how many “experts” weighed in on the script and, as one screenwriter said, to me, “After they get done pissing all over your script, you won’t recognize it, anyway.” Perhaps that is what happened? Don’t know. Just guessing here.)

DC fans want real justice: the legendary Snyder Cut. Before the untimely death of Snyder’s daughter, he had completed half of the film, the rest being deemed “unwatchable” by Snyder himself.

Joss Wedon, with only this to work with, had to pick up the torch. A once beautiful DC film concept (which would tie up questions from Batman V. Superman), turned into a bubble gum Marvel movie of sorts. (*Connie says: nearly ALL of these things are bubble gum movies for serious film buffs, with a few notable exceptions, like “Logan”)

That’s is what I feared after the film’s late arrival. This is not the same as the mixed reactions to Man of Steel, which resulted in a full-on DC Comics cinematic universe. WB,  the home of movies like American SniperGravityInception, and It, wanted Justice League to fit a certain mold (*You mean, they wanted it to be good? Just asking. C.W.). Justice League, which was supposed to be a two-part movie, didn’t fit the mold in Snyder’s hands.

Basically I’m saying it’s a damn shame (*That those who like this kind of D.C. Comics or Marvel Comics stuff. For the rest of us it’s just a damn shame that they started making them to begin with, pushing out the good movies of yesteryear. C.W.) must witness the destruction of a universe because of just one movie.  At this point. to me it seems as though getting a new WB movie is like throwing spaghetti at the wall: they’re trying to see if anything sticks. 

The next film set to release in late December, 2018 is James Wan’s  Aquaman. Fans are still patiently waiting for a trailer to see if the same mistakes are going to be made. The release for Shazam! is to follow in April 2019 under the direction of David Sandberg. The other movies that were listed on the DC Film slate were: Wonder Woman 2, Suicide Squad 2Flashpoint, and The Batman, Green Lantern Corp, and Man of Steel 2. (*Yikes! Will these things NEVER end? C.W.)

The future of DC Films is up in the air. I have my doubts that James Wan’s Aquaman will be just fine and that Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 2 will triumph. My positive side thinks that focusing on stand-alone/single-hero movies for the moment is the best thing to do. (*Or, just for a change, maybe do something other than rip off comic books, like get a good, original concept. C.W.)

Man of Steel and Wonder Woman were beautifully done,  as well as Batman V. Superman, which featured the trinity (Batman, Wonder Woman, And Superman).

How I feel is beside the point. (*Yes. And how I feel is not even addressed.  Point? There’s a point? Is it that D.C. makes bad comic book movies? Just guessing here. C.W.)

DC fans feel micromanaging these movies to the point where the budget is too high and the audience walks out of the theater disgusted is a bad call.  Let the various directors execute their visions— except Joss Wedon. He already had his chance.

(*As for Connie, she will be eagerly awaiting “Haunt” by the writers of “A Quiet Place,” Scott Beck & Bryan Woods. It is in post-production now and they are also DIRECTING this one. I saw “Wonder Woman.” Meh. Pretty, but….Not much of a fan. C.W.)

Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee Experiencing Elder Abuse ?

(Guest Post from Zayin Allen)

Stan Lee by Gage Skidmore 3.jpg

Stan Lee of Marvel Comics in 2014
(Image from Wikipedia)

The sentiments across the internet have been nice and concern has been expressed, but everyone can chill. Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee doesn’t need a hero after reports surfaced last month that he had been a victim of elder abuse.

“Hi, this is Stan Lee, and I’m calling on behalf of myself and my friend Keya Morgan. Now you people have been publishing the most hateful, harmful material about me and about my friend Keya and some others,” the 95-year-old icon said in a video released by TMZ.

Lee continued, “Material which is totally incorrect, totally based on slander, totally the type of thing that I’m going to sue your ass off [for] when I get a chance.”

The Hollywood Reporter published a story saying that no one around Lee was really caring for him after his wife’s untimely death last year. The story was authenticated by ex-attorney Tom Lallas, exposing abusive behavior linked to Lee’s daughter, J.C. Lee, in detail, and accusing others within Lee’s circle of  “bad intentions.”

Following the article’s publication, celebrities have reached out in hopes of helping Lee out of what they believed to be an abusive situation. (*The comment I read said that the director of “Clerks,” Kevin Smith had told Stan Lee he could come live with him. – C.W.)

Having just seen “Black Panther,” old Stan (Dec. 28, 1922) looked okay in the scene that depicted him gambling in a casino, but that is hardly definitive proof that all is well on the home front for the 96-year-old comic book icon.

It is good to know that fans all over the world have Lee’s best interest at heart, but it’s a shame if information is being misrepresented or misconstrued.

Cancun Pictures While Snow Falls in Illinois

Cancun, Mexico, April 14, 2018

An emergency weather alert for Rock Island County (IL) reached me here in Cancun, Mexico, predicting SNOW and sleety rain on Wednesday (tomorrow) and a generally horrible-sounding bit of post-Easter weather. Ugh.

Everyone but Stacey in this one, on the bridge at the Royal Islander.

I am posting a couple of pictures from where I am hiding out till it truly IS spring (or summer, at this rate), which is Cancun, Mexico.

 

Enjoy. Or don’t. You have my sympathies.

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