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: Education (Page 1 of 3)

Dan Rather Appears at Texas Book Festival in Support of “What Unites Us:” Says “Civil Dissent Is As American As Apple Pie.”

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Veteran CBS newsman Dan Rather, a Houston native, came to the First Baptist Church in Austin at noon on Saturday (November 4, 2017) to talk about his new book “What Unites Us.”  His appearance was part of the Texas Book Festival, which is one of the largest and one of the most prestigious literary festivals in the country, featuring 250+ nationally and critically recognized adult and children’s authors, 20+ venues (including the State Capital), 80+ exhibitors and live music.

Later in the day (4:00 p.m.), Rather’s spot would be taken by Tom Hanks, talking about his new book of short stories, a compilation united by his love for collecting old typewriters.

But at noon on Saturday, November 4th, Rather sat down with an interviewer and answered questions:

The First Baptist Church in Austin hosted Dan Rather. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Q:  When did nationalism become essentially white nationalism?

A:  I think the sixties spawned this. It was a very difficult period.  I do think that, coming out of the sixties, as an “experienced skeptic,” the tragedy of President Nixon and his appealing to Southern state white racists was not a good thing. Remember: Nixon was successful. He was re-elected two times with overwhelming majorities.  He proved that you can win if you appeal to white supremacists.  We’re now paying the price of what started in the sixties.

We need to pause and take a deep breath.  Our national motto is “E Pluribus Unum”:  “Out of many, one.” We can make it work.

Q:  The slogan “make America great again.” It seems to be asking us to go back to the fifties. Is that true?

A:  There’s no going back to the 1950s and, by the way, the 1950s were not that great (laughter from crowd).  We can’t do it.  Those who try will not succeed.

Texas Book Festival.

Moderator:  “You’re literally whistling Dixie, Dan.” (laughter from audience).  There’s a perception that all this started on January 20th with President Trump’s Inauguration. Is that right?

A:  It started at least as far back as the 1970s or 1980s.  We’re realists. We recognize when we’re wrong. After 9/11 we pulled ourselves together.  Now we are at a decision point:  re-dedicate ourselves to belief in the institutions, values, drive and forward movement of the American Dream.

Q:  You have written your book in terms of 6 essays on such things as Freedom, Character, Responsibility, Science, Empathy and Exploration.  I’d like to ask you about science, in particular.

A:  We can’t move the country forward with post-truth.  There are no “alternative facts.”  I don’t care if you have a degree from Harvard or Stanford, it is ridiculous:  2 + 2 = 4. We know the difference between bullshit and brass tacks.  Water does not run uphill:  Gravity is a fact.

Q:  What makes this unique? All Presidents have sometimes dissembled?

A:  What makes this unique and not moral is these daily statements are not true. No President has ever told so many lies so brazenly and so perpetually. Also, his constant attacks on the free press are unprecedented.  It’s a post-truth where facts don’t matter, and it’s dangerous.

Moderator:  “In your empathy essay you say that we seem to have lost the power to be empathetic.

From the First Baptist Church in downtown Austin, Texas. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

A:  I don’t necessarily feel that way.  We see empathy in the American people all the time:  People are civil, wanting to help.  These are very strong values that Americans prize, and we saw it following the recent natural catastrophes.

What is unworthy of us, as Americans, is a week-long debate about the President of the United States’ words to a grieving widow. Any decent person would have called her back or sent her a note of apology. That is the real spirit of the American heart.

Q:  Let me ask you about your “Dissent” essay.

A:  Yes. Dissent is being discouraged. Civil dissent in America is as American as apple pie.

Q:  What makes our situation right now so perilous, in your view?

A:  I want to be careful about drawing a line between Watergate and the place our country finds itself in now.  Watergate was bad, but it was internal. Now, we have a foreign power intervening and interfering in our democratic process. That is an enormous difference.  Also, the media landscape is different.  It used to be that newspapers were important.  Iphones and social media did not exist.

Q:  Do you think it was better then, or better now?

Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

A:  Overall, I think it is better now to have the Internet. The Internet, when used properly, is a tremendous resource.  Today, the greatest opportunity of the Internet is to educate, but a greater burden is placed on the user.

Rather ended his remarks to a standing ovation from a  crowd of roughly 700 people and left the Church so that Tom Hanks could take his place at 4:00 p.m.

Vanessa Redgrave’s Directorial Debut, “Sea Sorrow,” Documents the Refugee Crisis in Europe

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In her directorial debut after a lengthy career as a much-lauded actress, Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave takes on a cause near and dear to her heart in “Sea Sorrow.” That cause is trying to alleviate the refugee crisis affecting Europe right now, with displaced persons—many of them unaccompanied children—streaming in, 70 new people a day at a camp called Jungle Camp in Calais.

Of those numbers, 800 are children with 387 of them eligible to join relatives in the country to which they fled, but bureaucratic indifference or actual opposition dooming progress.
Only Greece seems to be trying to set an example for the rest of the world, although Germany’s Angela Merkle also has done much to help and Canada’s Justin Trudeau was also singled out for praise. Donald J. Trump, of course, has proposed numerous travel bans and seems to have no core moral philosophy guiding his “executive decrees,” [other than to build a wall against Mexico and ban travelers from other lands.] Trump was not mentioned by name in the documentary, which, instead, interviewed the refugees, themselves, and those working hard against overwhelming odds to try to help them. The entire message of the 74-minute documentary could be summed up this way, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Early estimates of the numbers of unaccompanied children entering the country in countries like Greece, Italy, Calais (France), and Dunkirk were 26,000, but more accurate surveying revealed that the number was really closer to 95,000.
Redgrave urges, “Bring back the idea that we’re all humanity.” Jemma Redgrave (actress) is shown saying, “I find it unbearable that there are children living in camps who are denied any assistance. We have to stand up as parents and human beings and not accept the appalling status quo.”

Redgrave hopes the film will educate a generation and a half to the existing mandates, written and adopted after World War II, to stand up for human rights.
There is a film clip of Eleanor Roosevelt addressing the United Nations during the 1945 Declaration of Human Rights, issued after the defeat of Fascism. The film comments on the European Convention on Human Rights (UNHCR, 1951) and the 1989 Rights of the Child legislation, all of which, she said, are being ignored.

It is Redgrave’s feeling that the battle must be won through the courts, using these existing pieces of legislation to force nations that have become insular and unwilling to accept these displaced populations, to do the right thing and help unaccompanied orphans and children streaming into Europe, as well as the entire families who are fleeing for their lives. Precautions against the entry of terrorists are, of course, implicit and already in place in most countries, but the lives of innocent men, women and children are also on the line.

Not only Redgrave, but House of Lords member Lord Dubs, whose own history goes back to World War II when his parents escaped the Nazis, gave the shocked audience actual data on the crisis. It was originally thought there were 26,000 unaccompanied minor children, but the real number turned out to be closer to 96,000 and 10,000 of these poor souls have completely disappeared.

When you hear stories like that of 22-year-old Hamidi, who fled Afghanistan after witnessing the murder of both his mother and his father right in front of him (he was also shot as he fled), who walked 3 months on foot with $8,000 Euros gathered from friends and relatives to finance the trip and then was loaded onto a boat meant for 40 with 80 souls (Twelve fell overboard or died on the boat).

Another young boy spent 11 hours on a boat to Bari; it took him 2 months to flee from Tripoli. These people are desperate and are treated very poorly and inaccurately by mainstream media, according to Carlo Nero. Of the 86% of refugees who entered the UK, the United Kingdom provides support for less than 1%. The words on the base of the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.”) have gone out the window in the U.S., along with common human decency to our own citizens in many places under the Trump administration. Be careful in screening immigrants, yes, but push for the equality and dignity of defenseless refugees fleeing death and destruction in their native lands.

The opportunities for human trafficking and other such misdeeds at camp’s like Calais, France’s The Jungle are high
. “Bring back the idea that we’re all humanity,” pleads Redgrave, and one short clip gives a little bit of her own childhood remembrance of the burning of the Coventry Cathedral during the blitz. (November 14, 1940, when she was just 3). She still has nightmares about approaching fire.

The biggest injustice, it seemed, was that, of the 378 children in the Calais camp known as “The Jungle” (which was torn down in October of this year), 178 had relatives who would have taken them in, under the terms of the Dublin Treaty. Said Redgrave, “It is simply a matter of political will.”

Rallies were shown with touching scenes of young refugees thanking their rescuers while wearing shirts with the message “Choose Love.” Seventy new people a day join their ranks. Said Redgrave, “They are brave young people with real courage.” No one denies the need for security precautions, but common human decency is also necessary.

We learn some of the history of why Redgrave feels so passionately about this cause and why Lord Dubs has thrown in his efforts to assist her. An old copy of the newspaper the Manchester Guardian dated 1938 is read by film star Emma Thompson, in which average citizens write in saying they are ready, willing and able to help. Why won’t our government let us help? (Most notably E. Sylvia Pankhurst of Essex wrote, who willingly would have taken some of the refugees that were spirited out of Germany during the Holocaust in an operation known as Kindertransport.) Redgrave mused on “The Diary of Anne Frank.” The young Jewish teenaged girl who lived in hiding from the Nazis for two years in Amsterdam, wrote, “In spite of everything, I still believe people are basically good.”

Redgrave’s feeling: “You’ve got to litigate. The courts are ruling every single time that the government is wrong, but the government appeals. And that’s where we are…We people can change things, but we’ve got some very hard work to do. None of us should feel hopeless. You have to get groups of them and say, ‘This is wrong and we’re going to do everything we can to change it.’”
No stranger to controversy following her Oscar acceptance speech in 1978, her attempt(s) to do good here will, no doubt, incite further controversy, but her message, with 10 people dying a day, was, “The Greek people are showing the world how to help fellow human beings. Now, we have to tell our governments they have to step in.” She urged a common European policy be adopted.

There are some sad stories with happy endings, like that of 14-year-old David from Eritrea, whose parents both drowned on their way to Italy. He spent 9 months in Rome until the group Safe Passage found his Aunt in England and he was allowed to go live with her. “These are inspirational people and a lot of them are young people,” said Redgrave, of the volunteers. She, at 80, said she is willing to go with the film to colleges and elsewhere to help spread the word about the refugee crisis and to let a whole generation know about human rights law that is currently being ignored and violated.

The film’s title comes not only from the harrowing scenes of boatloads of refugees (and even the famous photo of a young two-year-old boy, drowned, dead on the beach in Greece that stunned the world) arriving and being helped ashore by the Greek officials, but from Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.”

At the end of the film, Ralph Fiennes reads the scene from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” where Prospero is speaking to Miranda about how they were “Hurried them upon a boat—a rotten carcass of a boat.”

“How came we ashore?” asks Miranda.

“By Providence Divine. Sit still and hear the rest of our sea sorrow.”

“Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press” @ SXSW

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Genre: Documentary Feature
Length: 95 minutes
Writer/Director: Brian Knappenberger
Principal Cast: Nick Denton, A.J. Daulario, John Cook, David Folkenflick, Floyd Abrams, Peter Sterne, David Houston, Margaret Sullivan, Jay Rosen, John L. Smith

The trial between wrestler Hulk Hogan and Gawker Media pitted privacy rights against freedom of the press, but ended up as a case study in how big money can silence media using legal means. This examination of the free press in an age of inequality echoes the “Vanity Fair” issue with an article by David Margolick entitled “V.C. for Vendetta.”

From that article, we learn that, outed as gay (“Peter Thiels Is Totally Gay”) by one of Gawker’s web sites in 2007, Silicon billionaire Peter Thiel ($2.7 billion as a co-founder of PayPal, and an early investor in Facebook) laid low until 2016, when he seized the opportunity to financially back Hulk Hogan’s invasion of privacy suit over a sex tape to bankrupt the entire organization.

In this documentary that interviews all the principals except Thiel (who is seen speaking at other venues), we learn that “what he’s done is to legitimize the idea that an uninvolved party can fund an effort by someone else in order to destroy a news organization. If billionaires and multi-millionaires can be behind the scenes doing this, that is conspiratorial and underhanded completely.” As Gawker founder Nick Denton, who was personally bankrupted, said, “We were outgunned here.”

Knappenberger dubs it, “abusing the justice system to go after journalists.” All these efforts have taken back a lot of 1st Amendment rights. Many others are mentioned in the piece: the Chandler family, the Salzburger family of New York, Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the “Washington Post” and, in greater detail, Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of Nevada’s largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

John L. Smith, the editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal wrote a book about early investors in Las Vegas’ history entitled “Sharks in the Desert: The Founding Fathers and the Current Sharks.” There was one line mentioning Sheldon Adelson. Adelson sued Smith for the one line in the book, and lodged the $15 million dollar suit at a time when Smith was bedside in a local hospital with his young daughter Amelia, who was suffering from a brain tumor.

Smith was offered all sorts of financial inducements not to publish articles about Adelson, but resisted. He was blackmailed regarding the one line in his book, and, as he said: “Bullies always act the same.”

Then, unexpectedly, the entire staff of the Las Vegas Review-Journal was brought in to a meeting cold and told the newspaper had been sold. They were not allowed to know who had bought them.
Rather than take this without investigating, the entire staff, including one employee who had been with the paper for 39 and ½ years, dug in to find out if Adelson was behind the purchase in the face of overwhelming obfuscation.

Smith said, “”Everybody came in and everybody stayed. For us, it was preserving whatever integrity we had. We knew it was a career-ending move. Some stories are worth losing your job over.” As Smith asserted, “Journalism is a calling for a lot of us.”

As a Journalism Major (Ferner/Hearst Journalism Scholarship recipient at the University of Iowa), this documentary spoke to me. I characterize myself as “”Old School” because my stint with 5 “real” newspapers began at the age of 10 and continues today, 6 decades later. I am of the generation that grew up with only 3 television channels trusting the voice of Walter Cronkite to tell us the truth. There was no Internet. There was no cable television, and we believed in presenting both sides of the story so that readers could draw fair conclusions with all the facts at their disposal.

The idea of “hacking” Internet accounts (there was no Internet) and Wiki Leaks style dissemination of documents from the e-mail of others was decades away. I find it personally offensive that anyone in a position of authority can level wholesale charges of bias and dishonesty against the hardworking men and women of the press. One of the least honest politicians (or human beings) of all time has underscored just how important a free and independent press is from his podium in the White House. No less an authority than Thomas Jefferson talked about the importance of a free press to keep the checks and balances of this country working properly.

This documentary was depressing in that it showed the extent to which being rich means being able to destroy the very institutions we all thought were inviolate. As we watch money corrupting the very fabric of society, we are simultaneously experiencing the intentional undermining of the free press and I, for one, view it as one of the biggest tragedies our Republic has experienced since its inception.

A very informative, relevant and concerning documentary
. Reading the “Vanity Fair” article by David Margolick explained much of the Peter Thiel/Nick Denton Gawker sex tape dispute in far greater detail, which added to my understanding of the film’s rehash of the trial, (which was surreal in so many ways). The revelations about the Las Vegas Review-Journal were new to me, but explained a lot.

Worth watching, if you care about remaining free and being part of an informed populace in a working democracy.

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

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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.

25 Things You Might Not Know About Bernie Sanders

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

On the eve of the Iowa caucuses (4 days away), here are 20 little-known facts about Bernie Sanders, courtesy of Bloomberg Businessweek, which ran Bernie’s picture on its latest cover with the logo: “Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Want Your Vote” (going on to explain that many of its readers are hedge-fund managers).

  1. Sanders  became a national political figure by giving a speech on Dec. 20, 2010 that lasted 8 and 1/2 hours. The speech railed against extending Bush tax cuts and seemed like a filibuster, but it wasn’t. It was so popular that it was later made into a book.

2) Sanders does not enjoy selfies.”If I had my options, I’d prefer to shake hands,” says Bernie.

3)  Bernie grew up with an immigrant father in a tenement with 3 and 1/2 rooms.

4)  Bernie has attracted crowds larger than Trump’s: 28,000 in Portland, Oregon; 27,500 in Los Angeles; 20,000 in Boston; 15,000 in Seattle.

5)  Sanders has a son named Levi, who is a paralegal at Greater Boston Legal Services.

6)  When asked to describe the U.S. to a Martian he used the phrase “wealth and income inequality.”

7)  Sanders’ former Chief of Staff says he had 2 interests when Mayor of Burlington: basketball and wealth inequality.

8)  Sanders has the highest constituent approval rating and lowest disapproval rating among U.S. Senators.

9)  Sanders is a graduate of the University of Chicago and once was arrested during a civil rights demonstration (he was a member of SNCC, the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee, among others.)

10)  Sanders spent most of 1972-1976 running in Vermont as a third-party candidate for governor (2x), for senator (2x) and once got 4% of the vote.

11) Sanders won a weird race for Mayor of Burlington, Vermont (four-way race) by 10 votes, becoming their mayor for 8 years, a period during which the city boomed.

12)  Bernie ran for Congress twice becoming the first Independent elected to the House in 40 years.

13)  Bernie spent 16 years in the House before running for the Senate in 2006, with the backing of the Democratic Party, which he officially would not join.

14)  Bernie has 3 labor unions backing him, representing about a million workers. (*Clinton has about 18 unions representing 11 million workers supporting her.)

15)  In the 1960’s, he lived on a kibbutz in Israel for a few years before moving to Vermont. When he arrived in Vermont, he first lived in a maple sugar shack and cooked food over a coffee can filled with a roll of toilet paper soaked in lighter fluid, a poor man’s Sterno which his friends called a “Berno.”

16)  His brother, Larry, who first got him interested in liberal issues, is a Green Party politician in England. (*Donald Trump’s father-in-law and mother-in-law are both members of the Communist Party in their native land.)

17)  Until 2015, Bernie had 5 digits’ worth of credit card debt.

18)  When he ran for President of James Madison High School in Brooklyn in a 3-way race, he came in last. (*His elementary school basketball team won a city-wide championship, however.)

19)  There is a Bernie Sanders Drinking Game where, every time he mentions a free government program, you take a drink of someone else’s beer.

20)  Invited to speak to a United Way fundraiser once, he attacked the group in a short speech, telling them that they shouldn’t exist; that taking workers’ pay to do the government’s job was shameful.

21)  At Bernie’s rallies, Steve Earle’s “The Revolution Starts Now” and Bob Marley’s “Revolution” play, but not the Beatles’ famous song because it ends with the line: “Don’t you know it’s going to be all right.”

22)  Bernie ascribes to this FDR quote:  “We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.  Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today.  They are unanimous in their hatred of me—and I welcome their hatred.”

23)  Robert Reich (economist and Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton) says, “Essentially, America faces a choice between authoritarian populism, represented by Donald Trump, and reform populism, represented by Bernie Sanders.”

24)  In college, Bernie also belonged to the Young People’s Socialist League, CORE (the Congress for Racial Equality), SNCC and the Student Peace Union.

25)  Bernie’s message is that of Martin Luther King, which King termed “the urgency of now”: “If you see stuff that’s bad and you don’t respond with the urgency of the moment, you’re not alive.”

Here’s My Fall Schedule of Book Events, Past, Present & Future

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Connie’s Appearances This Fall:

August 30, 2015: Participated in the Indie Authors Book Fair in Chicago held at 1448 57th St. in Chicago, from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, doing a reading from her Christmas Cats children’s book series and a table.DSCN0752

September 3-5, 2015: Writers for New Orleans. Connie appeared on panels at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, Louisiana, in conjunction with Heather Graham’s annual conference that benefits the schools and libraries damaged during Hurricane Katrina. This was her third appearance as a panelist at the event, held over Labor Day this year.DSCN0736

October 3-5, 2015: Participated in the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature Book Fair (theme: politics), reading on Sunday, October 4th, at the Café on Market Street and tended to a table with 2 other authors on the pedestrian mall from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, was the featured keynote speaker for the event.

Chatting with a passer-by.

Chatting with a passer-by.

October 13, 2015: Connie was one of three authors with a table at 2723 North Halsted from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. with her books at a joint meeting of Illinois Women’s Press Association and the Independent Writers of Chicago.

October 21, 2015: Connie will be participating in the third event in the Highland Park, Illinois’ “Let’s Get Published” series, titled “The World of Children’s books.” The event will be held at 494 Laurel Avenue in Highland Park at the Highland Park Library and will feature a 5:30 p.m. dinner with hosts and panelists at 1908 Sheridan Road, a 6:30 p.m. event set-up at the Highland Park Library, a 7 p.m. panel discussion, an 8 p.m. Q&A and wrap-up followed by refreshments, concluding with a one-on-one chat and the opportunity for book sales.

October 30, 2015: Book signing in Las Vegas at Barnes & Noble for the anthology “Never Fear Phobias.” Connie’s story (fear of dreaming and dreams) is one of 19 stories from authors such as Heather Graham, F. Paul Wilson and Thomas Monteleone. The e-book has been consistently in the Top Ten Selling e-books in its category since its release on October 1st, 2015.

November 21, 2015: Connie will be selling books from 1 to 3 at Columbia College in Chicago at their author event.

Stay tuned for the details of the line-up for promotional stops for the Christmas Cats series, ramping up in November, including 4 stops in the Quad Cities and, potentially, the People Reads Bookstore in Austin, TX.

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

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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

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

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

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

Chatting with a passer-by.

Chatting with a passer-by.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading Time: 6 minutes
Davis Guggenheim.

Davis Guggenheim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 92nd Birthday, Nelson G. Peterson!

Reading Time: 6 minutes

I am posting this on the eve of one of my very best friend’s birthdays: Nelson G. (for Gene) Peterson of Moline, Illinois.  Nelson was born Aug. 20, 1923. He is 92 today. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, NELSON!

I first met Nelson when I began teaching at Silvis Junior High School in the 1969-1970 school year.I taught Language Arts to 7th and 8th graders. He taught History in the room across the hall from me. In fact, we taught across the hall from one another throughout our years on-staff (my years there ended in 1985; Nelson retired earlier).

But teaching was not Nelson’s only job. He is a World War II veteran (the Battle of the Bulge, I think) just as his own father before him served in World War I. He also worked at the Arsenal and came to teaching later in life. Nelson used to say his initials (N.G.P.) stood for “No Good Prick” but that’s not true.  He is one of the sweetest, kindest, nicest people I know. He has always been my friend and has never waivered or let me down or tried to hurt my feelings, intentionally or unintentionally. Nelson has never come to a funeral home and gone out of his way to snub me, as a different old friend has done on two  occasions. If the funeral is that of someone who was a mother to you for close to a half-century (my mother-in-law) it is particularly distressing and upsetting to be on the receiving end of mean-spiritedness at an already trying time. (Better not to come at all than to come just to be mean.)  But that’s the way some people roll— although not Nelson. He even came to one of my book signings at the (now-defunct) Book Rack in Moline and another one at the Hy-Vee Grocery store in Silvis— in the middle of winter— for a children’s book, despite having no children or anyone who needed books. He has truly gone out of his way to be the great friend he remains today. (Thanks, Nelson! I appreciate it!)

Nelson G. Peterson

Nelson G. Peterson

Since Nelson, at 92, is the Renaissance man who literally has everything, I stole the idea of 3 of his other friends  who took him out to dinner on his 91st birthday. That was a GREAT idea. Kudos! My husband and I decided it would be the best way to salute Nelson on (or near) his special day.

I purposely did not plan dinner for the REAL day, because Nelson, who speaks fluent Swedish, has many cousins in the area and many other friends from his Baptist Church who probably also want to fete him on his birthday today (the REAL day). For example, 3 friends who taught with him for a long time, (as did I), took him out to dinner last year. Perhaps they plan another such outing for this year on August 20th, or perhaps the cousins in town will be “on the case.” [Best not to muck that up and ruin 2 dinners out for the Birthday Boy—although Nelson did say, as we dropped him off at home, that he hadn’t been out after 8:00 p.m. in a long time !]  One of Nelson’s cousins, Rose Fuller of East Moline, has shuffled off this mortal coil, but also taught with us at George O. Barr Elementary School for years, so, sadly, she won’t be among the relatives there for him. (R.I.P., Rose). Nelson never married.

I love Nelson and appreciate his sense of humor and his loyalty as a friend, which mirrors my own. I try very hard to be the Best Friend Anyone Could Be, remembering special days, offering help if needed, and just generally trying to be a friend, for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.  I don’t need (or want) thousands of superficial friends. I only want the really good ones, like Nelson. I won’t befriend you simply because I think you are going to do some good for my social status or because you have a lot of money or any of those other bad reasons that can come into play. I have only ever befriended people I truly like, who (seemed to ) truly liked me.

On this night, I gave him a card that said, “Everyone is young once…(and, on the inside) Your time is up.” He laughed and seemed to enjoy that and the catfish dinner he selected from the menu at Short Hills Country Club. We were (literally) the only people dining on Tuesday night and out-numbered the staff. I asked the waitress if she could turn down the air conditioning, as it was  frigid. The waitress said, “Well, you’re the only people here, so why not?” The A/C was promptly reduced to something that did not threaten to turn me into a popsicle during dinner, for which I am grateful. (Thanks!)

I am also grateful for true-blue friends like Nelson. It is possibly my aversion to early mornings that makes me an unsuitable friend for invitations to join others as they take  (took) trips to Chicago or Wisconsin or Las Vegas or wherever over a 40-year span. (Anything before 10 A.M. is verboten.) I admit that early, early mornings are not my thing; I write late into the night (30 books, so far). I didn’t know that being a Night Owl made me a bad person, but apparently it is a fatal flaw. Speaking your mind is not appreciated, either, but I have always spoken out and been honest about things, both for myself and for others, and if that is a flaw, I plead guilty with a certain measure of pride. It is not always easy suffering the backlash of being outspoken, but, for instance, during 4 terms as President (or Co-Chairman) of the Silvis Education Association, it was necessary in order to unionize our district’s teachers. And there are many occasions in a classroom setting where a teacher has to intervene to insure fairness. When I have spoken my mind, it has sometimes been applauded and other times, [because the truth hurts if it is unflattering], I have been reviled and, later, treated very poorly. One should, instead, play their cards very close to the vest and pretend they like people that they (may) actually despise—maybe even send them an oh-so-proper little note of some kind to suck up to them. I never aspired to such dishonesty.

Craig, me and Nelson as the evening ended.

Craig, me and Nelson as the evening ended.

I try to be loyal, honest, and true-blue— not a phony or superficial or sometimes friend . But I don’t play golf, don’t like early mornings, and I never was a teacher at our local high school (UTHS), United Township High School. I’d say that was a criteria for inclusion in dining out with Nelson in a group, although one guest last year  [Judy LeMaster Patchin] was not a teacher at UTHS, either, but taught with him in Silvis, as did I.   Judy made the guest list; I did not. (She is better with early mornings, for sure, but I don’t think that is the entire story.)

I was judged and found wanting, probably because I tell the truth instead of currying favor with one and all by any means possible.  I am positive I am just as good a friend of Nelson’s from our mutual teaching days as any of the other attendees with whom I also taught, and the Amish “shunning” thing is both childish, hurtful and unnecessary. Is 10 years of that not enough for having noted that the invitations to the “fun” things went to others, but the invitations to help out or pitch in came in pretty regularly and routinely, and I did my best to comply.

Then, too,  I’m usually off on an adventure of one sort or another that others don’t find interesting or noteworthy (*Nicest compliment of the week from someone I did not know in a store I frequent: “Your life is an adventure.”)

Yes, my life IS an adventure. It is true, as Shakespeare wrote (roughly paraphrased), “If you cut me, do I not bleed?” It is hurtful to be shunned when you have done nothing to deserve it. If you must be punished for feeling left out (when you were left out) and saying so, is that a life sentence? It is also sad to realize that people you thought were your good friends don’t stand up for you in the face of  meanness directed at you for over a decade without good cause, don’t remember your special day (even if  you always remembered theirs), and disappear without a trace. But, c’est la vie—right gang?

I’m lucky, though. I have a wonderful husband, wonderful kids (my daughter drove me all the way to Indianapolis to see the Rolling Stones for my birthday in July!) and at least one truly wonderful, loyal, long-time Quad Cities friend: Nelson G. Peterson. (I’d name a couple of others, but I’m a believer in quality over quantity and I don’t want to jinx my good fortune or cause them to be ostracized.)  I’m pretty sure Nelson won’t leave town and move to a remote location without so much as a phone call to me, nor, intentionally or unintentionally, forget my birthday, (which he remembered this year, as he has every other year.) I’d recite a list of other loyal friends, beginning with my college roommate (who does not live in this area), but this post is for Nelson on his special day. [If you see him, wish him a “Happy Birthday!”]

Nelson G. Peterson, my good and special friend, long may he live and be my friend and here’s to many, many more birthdays! (We’re aiming to have Nelson replace the lady who was the Oldest Living Veteran at age 110.)

Bernie Sanders Speaks at Democratic Picnic

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Democratic candidate for president Bernie Sanders, an acknowledged Socialist, visited Scott County Park for the Democratic Party’s picnic in the park on Sunday, August 16, 2015.

BernieSanders 013

A 47-year resident of the Quad Cities, I had trouble finding the Whispering Pines Shelter at 18850 270th Street in Eldridge, and Lord only knows what Bernie must have thought as he was being escorted to the venue in a black van (Bernie was at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines yesterday). It is quite literally out in the middle of nowhere. BernieSanders 005

I was told by the state trooper directing traffic into the park that there would be nowhere to park my car, so I parked 3 miles away (see photo below), the very first empty spot I saw, which turned out to be a very bad idea. There were parking spots right next to the Whispering Pines shelter. (Isn’t Whispering Pines the name of the town in that spooky TV series? No?) Therefore, I hiked 3 miles to the lodge (or whatever you call it) in 94-degree heat, and, along the way, was chastised by some young girl sitting on a chair in an orange vest under an umbrella, who told me to walk in the grass (easily 4 feet high) next to the blacktopped road “for safety”. [I cannot print here on a wholesome blog what I told her in response.] I did put my thumb out to try to snag a ride with a stranger and a guy with a dog stopped. (The dog was seated on the front seat, where I would have had to sit). I wish I could tell a fun and warm and fuzzy story about how he gave me a ride to the front, 3 miles away, but that didn’t happen. All the other cars that went by were full. (And so it goes.) On the “good news” front, I did get a ride BACK to my small Prius on a yellow school bus, and I was probably the last person to get such a ride as the last bus for Eldridge was leaving at 3:30 p.m. and I was on it. [Just me, one guy who was parked in the opposite direction, and the driver].BernieSanders 001

My main goal was to score a good picture of Bernie and to take the temperature of the crowd. I visited a Bush (Jeb) rally on Thursday (temperature: tepid), so now it was Bernie’s turn. Rumors from places out East (Bernie is a Senator for Vermont) are that 28,000 people have shown up for his rallies. I can quote Thom Harte, who was in charge of the arrangements for the picnic,  (and is often in charge of Democratic politics in the area), that Bernie had nearly 1,000 confirmed attendees. We both feel there were more people inside the shelter in the 94 degree heat who perhaps did not venture out of it to hear Bernie’s speech, which received many roars of approval that could be heard 3 miles away. (Poor Bernie: it was hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk; trust me on the 3 miles away comment. I know what I’m talking about there.)BernieSanders 008

As for me, I’ll read about Bernie’s talking points later. I was there to see if he was really drawing big crowds of enthusiastic supporters. I could hear the crowd roaring its approval from the 3 mile hike I was taking to get my picture of Bernie and considered (briefly) cutting through a very overgrown field that would have taken at least 2 miles off my trek, but also would have given me poison ivy.  I also met a candidate who wants to run against Republican Senator Charles “Chuck” Grassley, (hopefully to unseat the old poop.) I’ll write about him later.BernieSanders 002

I talked to Judith Schwartzbacker from Minnesota (South Powderhorn neighborhood) who held an event for Bernie on July 29th (one of 3,300) and so many people showed up that it had to be moved to a nearby church. (Walker Community Church)

BernieSanders 016I talked to Clari Lagerstam of Beloit, Wisconsin, who had come in on a bus with others and said, “We have to do something. We CANNOT have Scott Walker get in. He has ruined our state.”I spoke with Arlys Mills of Machesney Park, Illinois (near Rockford) who had also come a long way on a bus to hear Bernie.BernieSanders 009

Verdict for today: Bernie has some die-hard supporters who are more enthused about his candidacy than they are about Hillary Clinton’s. Temperature: hot. Very hot. Too damn hot for a 3-mile hike through overgrown weeds.

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