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: Health/Medicine Page 2 of 3

If someone discovers a new cure for cancer, this would be worth mentioning, and you can anticipate those kinds of stories.

“Shrill,” New Aidy Bryant Series on Hulu, Out March 15th

Aidy Bryant, Chicago’s Columbia College graduate and “Saturday Night Live” cast member, is the star of Hulu’s new series “Shrill,” released March 15th, produced by Elizabeth Banks. (SXSW Photo).

Aidy Bryant’s new Hulu series “Shrill” drops today (March 15th). To promote it, Chicago’s Columbia College alumnus Aidy Bryant, her producer Elizabeth Banks (“30 Rock,” “The Hunger Games”), author Lindy West (“Notes from a Loud Woman”), writer Ally Rushfield, and co-star Lolly Adefope were in Austin at a SXSW screening of the first two episodes of “Shrill.”

There are few comedy frontiers left for writers. Jokes about ethnic groups are out and, (other than President Trump), making fun of the handicapped is verboten. Midgets, once comic fodder, are now “Little People.”

But fat people and old people are still fair game.

With Ms. Bryant as the lead, this serio-comic series focuses on how overweight people cope with the constant barrage of negative remarks and actions they are subjected to in real life. But it’s not played solely for laughs.The “Shrill” material is both funny and touching.

It helps that the main character’s Annie’s mother is played by comic pro Julia Sweeney (after 18 years away from performing) and that her sickly father is played by Daniel Stern, who has been acting since the age of 17 (45 years). [Stern first earned kudos as Cyril in “Breaking Away” (1979) and in Barry Levinson’s“Diner” (1982)].

Elizabeth Banks (“30 Rock,” “The Hunger Games”) directs a remark to the author of the “Shrill” source material, Lindy West.(Photo by Connie Wilson).

Special praise should go to Annie’s (Aidy Bryant’s) best friend, played by Lolly Adefope, who was great in the two episodes we saw. Aidy, herself, brings a vulnerability and poignancy to the role that reminds of Melissa McCarthy in her Oscar-nominated turn this year in “Can You Ever Forgive Me.” Annie (Aidy) has the likeability to make you want to root for her; her visual reactions to indignities like her boyfriend asking her to sneak out of his apartment the back way to avoid meeting his roommate brothers: heartbreaking, but all too human.

The opening episode cuts right to the chase. Aidy becomes pregnant by her sometimes boyfriend. She has been using the Morning After pill, but the pharmacist failed to tell her that the pill would be ineffective if the woman weighed more than 175 pounds. (“Oh, yeah…that guy,” says a co-worker at the pharmacy. “He’s very bad at his job.”)

The write-up in the SXSW program says: “From Executive Producer Lorne Michaels and Elizabeth Banks comes Shrill, a comedy series starring Aidy Bryant (Saturday Night Live) as Annie, a fat young woman who wants to change her life—but not her body.  Annie is trying to start her career as a journalist while juggling bad boyfriends, a sick parent, and a perfectionist boss.”

(L to R) Janelle Riley, Editor of “Variety;” Aidy Bryant (“Saturday Night Live”); Writer Ally Brushfield; Producer Elizabeth Banks, and author Lindy West at the Q&A following “Shrill.”

Following the screening of Episodes #1 and #2 from “Shrill,” Janelle Riley, editor of “Variety,” moderated a panel consisting of the author of the source material, Lindy West, whose book of essays “Notes from a Loud Woman” served as the inspiration for the series;Elizabeth Banks, actress and producer, was onstage with writer Ally Rushfield and Aidy. The first question was, “What was your first job?”

The author responsible for the concept (Lindy West) admitted that she had not had much of a goal in life of becoming a writer. “I wasn’t one of those who wanted to be a writer. My first real writing job was for “Where” magazine in Seattle.” She described the task of trying to make the Space Needle fascinating in every issue as difficult.

Aidy Bryant, who married her boyfriend of ten years on April 28, 2018 (she met him when they both were part of Annoyance Theater in Chicago), described her first job as “musical improvisation in Indiana and Ohio, which nobody wanted to hear.”

The writer in the group, Alexandra (Allie) Rushfield said her first job was, “A video store, because I’m middle aged.” She also admitted to a stint with the Groundlings Comedy troupe.

Elizabeth Banks, known to audiences for her role as Effie Trinkett in “The Hunger Games” and for her continuing role as Alec Baldwin’s girlfriend on “Thirty Rock,” has a production company with her husband, Max Handelman. Her first-job answer was, “I was a latch-key kid and my first job was when I  played Pontius Pilate in ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar.’” She then regaled us with a few bars from her big musical number.

Elizabeth Banks (L) and Lindy West (“Notes from A Loud Woman”) during the Q&A after the new Hulu series “Shrill.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Moderator Janelle Riley, mentioning that “Notes from a Loud Woman” was “a great collection of essays,” wanted to know how or when they were envisioned as a series. Elizabeth Banks answered that it was “pretty quickly after the book came out and there were a lot of option meetings.” We were told  that Aidy was actually the first person considered for the role.

Aidy (Bryant) said, “It was the first time I ever saw myself in a piece solo. They let me be involved in the writing and producing, which was huge for me.”

The big question many of us had was this: How much personal experience did you bring to the character?

The cast  noted that they were initially referring to the main character as “Lindy” (the author’s name) but changed the character’s name to Annie, since it is not a bio-pic. One noted that the series was “the child of many mothers.”

The cast members railed against Twitter (“Please all quit Twitter and put it out of business and make the world a better place.”) where random strangers gather to hurl insults. “What a joy to be called a fat disgusting pig constantly,” said Aidy Bryant. She shared that an incident in the first episode actually happened to her.  A thin, beautiful trainer grabs her wrist and comments on what a small frame she has, saying, “There’s a thin person inside of you trying to get out.”

In the episode, Aidy laughs and responds, “Well, let’s hope she’s okay in there.”

She also shared that, when she has played Sarah Huckabee Sanders in skits on “Saturday Night Live” half of the viewers who sent messages called her “a fat, disgusting pig” and half said, “Aidy shouldn’t be playing this strong, independent woman.”

All agreed: “People are not used to seeing fat people do anything on camera.” (One possible exception to this might be the character on “This Is Us,” Kate Pearson, played by Chrissy Metz). Elizabeth Banks said, “I think this is very revolutionary.  I think our entire cast and crew wanted to empower women and get rid of the people who are always telling you you aren’t good enough.”

Lindy West, the author, said, “You never see fat people doing anything except being fat.  The world intrudes on you and tells you constantly that you aren’t living up to its standards. Society reminds us all day, every day, that if you’re a fat woman, there’s something wrong with you.”

One aspect that the second episode touched on was the “very complicated relationship with your mother and her body. That represents a lot of love and pain for many women.” I can certainly attest to this.

I had a mother who harped about my weight gain after I gave birth to my son. She never missed an opportunity to insert a diet or recipe reminder in her letters. Then, after I fasted for two full months on liquid protein and lost 72 pounds, and showed up at home at exactly the same weight I had been when I graduated from high school, she never made a single positive comment. I have a good friend (and former college roommate, Pam) who has told me how uncomfortable it was for her to be around and hear her mother say things like, “Why can’t you be thin like Pam?” or, on other occasions, “Why can’t you be thin like your sister?” My mother, like Lindy West’s, is of Norwegian (and Dutch) heritage. Is that a clue?

Said writer Allie Rushfield, “The deal in the writing room is that we would find the universal themes…that period in one’s late teens and early twenties when it’s all about appearance.” Aidy, the series lead, said, “I remembered how much I hated my own guts then. I felt sad for myself—for all the time I wasted when I was sold the bill of goods about how I was worthless unless I was thin.”

Added the writers (Alexandra Rushfield, Lindy West, Aidy Bryant): “I feel like the entire world is shifting, too.”

Let’s hope so. In the meantime, I ordered up Hulu for my husband’s March 21st birthday, primarily because of this series—[although, let’s face it, I’ve not been able to see Elisabeth Moss’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” either, and obviously that is required viewing in the age of Trump].

So, how much did I like “Shrill”? At least $72 worth, minimum, and that’s probably on the low side (depending on whether you opt out of the commercials or not).

I also want to thank the publicist who got me in and let me sit in the Reserved seating area. Thank you very much. I never did gain admission to “NOS4A2,” despite writing repeatedly and once interviewing Joe Hill. That’s all I’m going to be writing about that other new series for a loooong time.

 

“Sunset Over Mulholland Drive” @ SXSW Proves You’re Never Too Old to Be Creative

“Sunset Over Mulholland Drive” is a behind-the-scenes look into the Motion Picture and Television Relief Fund’s Hollywood retirement home and grounds. The piece was a German entry into the documentary spotlight at SXSW, directed by Uli Gaulke with writing assistance from Marc Pitzke. It was produced by Helge Albers. When I failed to gain entrance to “Us” (Express passes at SXSW went in 9 seconds!) this 97-minute documentary having its North American Premiere here was Plan B.

A look at the retirement community that is home to many of Hollywood’s former leading men and women sounded like it would be right up my alley. Director Gaulke admitted, in the Q&A after the film, that he was thinking about himself when he decided to make the film after he read an article about the motion picture retirement community in California. And now the documentary has had its North American premiere at SXSW. He had hit a bad patch, endured a divorce, and he was hitting mid-life.

The odd thing about the entire project is that it was made by Germans. (What’s up with that?) Uli read the article, contacted the home and, roughly 4 years and 70 to 80 hours of material later, after shooting for a year with 6 people traveling between Berlin and Hollywood,  it premiered here at SXSW. The film inspired the director who said, “They were very open to telling me their stories.  Then I found Jerry (Selby Kaufman), my favorite…They were not only thinking of their own past, but the most important part was to follow them and to see that they can be creative when they are old.”

[Whew! THAT was a load off my mind!]

(L to R) Producer Helge Albers and Director Uli Gaulke of “Sunset Over Mulholland Drive” at the North American Premiere in Austin, Texas at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The Q&A after the film was delightful because, besides speaking excellent English, Uli would punctuate his remarks at key points with a “Ya?” that was reminiscent  of “Fargo.”

Uli said, “I always learn something. For me, personally, in my mid forties and fifties, I was glad to learn that life becomes a little more interesting, but that it is a continuation and that stamina is the key.” He added, “The challenge was getting them (the residents) to be working together and that was where the UCLA scriptwriting class helped.”

This reference was to a creative writing class that asked the residents to think of Ilsa and Rick from “Casablanca” and what they might be like if they met again twenty years in the future. This brought out a veritable plethora of ideas from the creative community. We also see the residents shooting a short film directed by Jerry (a former director) that is called “Santa for All Seasons,” where Santa’s close friends and wife and co-workers talk about him frankly.

One of my very favorite anecdotes in the film was provided by Joe Rosen, who became an apprentice film editor in 1957. He had a meeting with then-studio head Jack Warner and, during the course of their conversation, the subject turned to which actor should play a serious part then up for casting. Although Jason Robards was available, Jack Warner wanted to cast Troy Donahue, instead, causing Joe to say, “You have to be incompetent to make a statement like that!”

Joe Rosen was subsequently banned from the studio grounds.

(R) Director Uli Gaulke of Berlin, Germany, at the North American Premiere of “Sunset Over Mulholland Drive” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

We hear Wright King, now 94, telling us that he had wanted to be an actor since the age of 6 and that he once looked at Vivian Leigh onscreen in “Gone with the Wind” and said, “Some day I’m gonna’ kiss her onscreen.” And he did, in “On the Waterfront,” which we see in a brief film clip.

There is the charming older couple (married 62 years), Joel and Deborah Rogosin. Deborah is legally blind and Joel is obviously devoted to her, but he talks non-stop and she largely ignores him. One of the most touching moments in the film is when Joel sings “Always” to his bride: “Days may not be fair always. But I’ll be loving you always. Not for just an hour. Not for just a day. Not for just a year, but always.”

Joel finishes up that lovely serenade by saying, “I forget.  Did you use the word ‘obey’ in our marriage ceremony?”  Deborah responds that she most certainly did not, and Joel says, “Well, that accounts for it!” A gifted writer, Joel and Deborah have been working on a book together for most of their 62 years of marriage, entitled “How to Stay Married Without Killing Each Other.” They bicker over the title and the contents of each chapter. At one point, as they remember a long-ago romantic dance in the rain when they were young, Joel writes: “I wish that special glistening rain would fall and make us young and beautiful again.”

The entire documentary was delightful and charming. In retrospect, I’m glad I saw it instead of “Us,” (which opens wide soon.)

I highly recommend this stroll down memory lane in “Sunset Over Mulholland Drive.”

“For Sama,” Named Best Feature Documentary at SXSW: Behind the Scenes of the Siege in Syria

 

 

https://images.sxsw.com/OmkWk_NPatsx2ymZWMOMnGzSbME=/878x0:4955x2912/images.sxsw.com/57/e1a26cc7-d574-4707-8f13-52848b9384e8/under-a-falling-sky-142452 Photo of Waad al-Kateab, documenting the violence in Aleppo, Syria (SXSW Press Still)

“For Sama,” Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts’ searing documentary about the Syrian crisis, was named Best Documentary Feature at SXSW on March 12th. Said the judges, “This extraordinary and harrowing documentary captures an epic personal story of a mother’s love for her daughter and a wife’s love for her husband through the lens of the bloody and brutal siege of Aleppo.”

Waad al-Kateab stayed in Aleppo, where she had been a student in the fourth year of an economics degree at the university. When the rebellion against Assad’s corrupt regime broke out—much of it initially fomented by university rebels—the protesters were hopeful. Waad al-Kateab, a photo-journalist who continued filming for the duration, said, “To try to live a normal life in this place is to stand against the regime.”

Waad al-Kateab’s husband, Dr. Hamza el-Koteab, was one of only 32 physicians who chose to stay in the besieged city to care for the remaining residents; it is clear Aleppo’s remaining residents feel abandoned by the world. “We’re crying out to the world: Help us! ..But no one does anything to stop the regime.”

During the time that Waad al-Kateab spent in Aleppo  across a 5-year span and during 6 months of constant bombing, she and Hamza fell in love, got married, and had their first child, Sama. The film is entitled “For Sama,” their daughter, because Waad wanted to let her daughter know what they were fighting for in staying behind long after others had fled. As Waad says, “Our new life with you felt so fragile…as fragile as our life in Aleppo.”

The family eventually ends up actually living in the hospital, but the hospital is constantly being bombed by the Assad regime with Russian air support. At one point,  8 of 9 hospitals in East Aleppo have been destroyed; Hamza’s is the only one left, seeing 300 patients a day. Waad al-Kateab and Hamza had one hospital bombed while they were out of the facility, which killed 53 people, including the doctor who delivered Waad’s daughter.

There are many heart-rending scenes of adults and children being brought to the make-shift hospital only to die there or be declared DOA. There are dead bodies literally everywhere within the hospital;  one of the most ghastly scenes is of the victims of a mass execution, all of whom were civilians but showed signs of torture and had been shot in the head. Their bodies—at least 30 corpses— laid out in the street as a warning. The burial pit that forms their mass grave instantly summons memories of Nazi Germany. The scenes of the hospital being bombed evoke the “Sixty Minutes” segment that visited Aleppo hospitals  while they were under fire. One heart-warming but tragic moment is of the emergency C-section of a 9-months pregnant woman. Her child is saved, with difficulty; the mother is beyond help.

Ultimately, after 6 months under siege (December, 2016) the United Nations calls Dr. Hamza, who has become a voice for the Syrian people and whose face has become known to the world saying, “If you surrender, they will spare your lives.” The couple faces a harrowing decision regarding their small daughter. The  thought is this: She has a better chance of making it if they (the authorities) don’t know that you are her parents.

Waad al-Kateab cannot leave her daughter behind, however. The couple and their neighbors, who have three children, attempt the perilous journey out of Aleppo and into exile. As they drive, sharp shooters shoot at the ambulance. Waad says, “The silence makes you feel the city is dead.” Each check-point is dangerous. Will they all make it out alive?

The bombed ruins of a once-beautiful city confirm the diagnosis that the city, along with many of its inhabitants, is dead. Waad’s husband, Dr. Hamza says that in 20 days they saw 6,000 patients and performed 890 operations.

This is a must-see story of survival under siege from directors Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts which had its World Premiere (financing by the UK) at SXSW. Hopefully, it will air soon on PBS.

Has James P. Allison Found the Cure for Cancer? The Nobel Prize Committee Awards University of Texas Researcher the 2018 Prize for Medicine

James P. Allison

James P. Allison

     [Nobel Media Phot0]

James P. Allison of Alice, Texas, was inspired to try to develop a cure for cancer when he was eleven years old in 1959. That year, Jim’s mother died of lymphoma. As the years went by, one brother died of prostate cancer and one developed metastatic melanoma. Jim, himself, has faced down cancer three times, so far, in his seventy-one years.

BACKGROUND

Said Jim of his life’s work and ambition:  “If you’re gonna’ do these things, you oughta’ at least do things that help people.” He thought back to his own childhood and reminisced, “They thought I was a troublemaker. I just knew I was right…If you disagree with someone or something, you just have to stand your ground.” When he finally found a way to put his discovery into drug form, it took many years spent overcoming “all kinds of things that stood in the way.”

Young Jim’s father traveled frequently, so he often spent time with another family that had a son about his own age after his mother’s death and, always, he played the harmonica and relied on music to release some of the pain and the pressure in his life. His friendship with Willie Nelson is illustrated, with an appearance onstage at Austin City alongside his musical idol.

After graduating from high school at the tender age of 16 in 1965, Jim went on to become a researcher in the field of immunology—using the body’s own defense system to cure cancer tumors. It was for his discovery of a drug dubbed Ipilimumab or Ipi (known commercially as Yervoy) that he was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Stockholm for medicine or physiology.

BREAKTHROUGH, THE DOCUMENTARY

Director Bill Haney, winner of a Silver Hugo, the Gabriel Prize, short-listed for an Oscar, and winner of accolades from Marine Conservation, Genesis, Amnesty International and Earthwatch weaves an engrossing tale around Allison’s achievements, narrated by Hollywood’s Woody Harrelson. He inserts scenes of James Harrelson with his wife and son alongside the expert testimony of some of the other leading researchers in the field, including the University of Chicago’s Jeffrey Bluestone, whose own discovery challenged Ipi in the field at the time.

Another effective visual method for the audience was to find the dramatic patient—the one whose participation in the clinical trials for Ipi saved her life. That patient was Sharon Belvin, who was diagnosed with terminal melanoma at the age of 22. With metastatic melanoma, she was told she would not live more than 7 months. As we see in the film, Sharon has not only lived decades beyond her original diagnosis, she has been completely tumor-free since receiving Ipi, is married, and has two children.

We even get to have a happy ending of James Allison “getting the girl,” in this case, prominent fellow researcher Dr. Padmanee Sharma, whom he married after his marriage to wife Malinda fell victim to his work.

THE STORY

Jim struggles throughout to make it clear that Ipi is NOT an anti-cancer drug. It all started with the belief that the immune system played an important role in responding to cancer and that the T cells of the immune system needed to be studied. “I really wanted to understand T cells and the immune system,” James Allison says. Tyler Jacks, a fellow scientist, tells us: “Jim doesn’t care that he is not following convention. He’s an iconoclast. They are always thinking beyond the work. They’re creative people.” Jim felt that tumors caused T-cell receptors to turn off the immune system, but if you inserted an antibody, then the T-cells would be free to attack the tumor. His experiments with mice were amazing as the mice that had received the antibodies just before Christmas became tumor-free.

But now the real work began.

OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME

Jim spent ten years trying to get his discovery of the antibody that would turn the immune system into a fighting force against tumors made into a drug for cancer patients like Sharon Belvin. He had written his first paper (“Enhancement of Anti Tumor Immunology by CTLA-4”) in 1996, but things went South fast.

Interferon 2 was in the news then, but it took “two years and nobody would listen.” This is the period of time when Jim’s brother, Mike, was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in his fifties. Two of Jim’s uncles had also died of cancer. Jim’s urgency escalated. But clinical trials take deep pockets; no big pharma firms wanted to shell out for them. If a drug is deemed safe in Phase 1, it goes on to Phases 2 and 3. As one fellow researcher said on camera, “Mainstream medicine was ignoring the immunology crowd. And pharmaceutical companies don’t know if something is promising or deadly.”

James’ P. Allison’s drug, known commercially as Yervoy, became the first to extend the survival of patients with late-stage melanoma. Follow-up studies show 20 percent of those treated live for at least three years with many living beyond 10 years— unprecedented results. Additional research has extended this approach to new immune regulatory targets with drugs approved to treat certain types and stages of melanoma, lung, kidney, bladder, gastric, liver, cervical, colo-rectal cancer, and head and neck cancers as well as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The documentary premiered at SXSW on March 9th. If you have a close friend or loved one affected by cancer (and who doesn’t?) you should see this one.

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.”

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.

Super Bowl Sunday: Not Feeling So Super

I’m posting this before I begin to attempt to clean up and go off to a Super Bowl party.

Being a newcomer to Austin (TX) as a snowbird, I cannot afford to turn down any invitations, but I am in the throes of a head cold that has rendered sleep somewhat peripatetic and caused my nose to run.

Here in Austin, the biggest and closest grocery store is one with the name H.E.B. I have no idea what “H.E.B.” stands for, but “Help! Everything is Bolloxed!” comes to mind. On the bad side, you walk for miles trying to find anything. The store is roughly the size of a Sam’s Super Store in the Quad Cities. On the good side, the prices see far lower for most things (although the quality of the meat is suspect).

Let me be specific: all I wanted was a Coricidin type cold remedy that would staunch the runny nose I am experiencing, which, I think, I may have caught from my son, who also has a cold. I gave son Scott the last of my cold remedy medication from home and the Tylenol thing I bought yesterday does not mention stopping a runny nose. Nor has it done so.

On the bright side, I could breathe in the night, but I turned like a chicken on a spit, tossing and turning as I experienced all the fun drainage of a cold.

Two days ago, it was 83 degrees here, tying a record set in 1963. Then, it dropped about 40 degrees and spit rain. The problem (besides exposure to the virus somewhere) is that I had to go out in the spitting rain 2 days in a row, to secure the necessary vitals for a Saturday night dinner. I also wanted to purchase a painting to put on the wall of the guest bedroom, as the one I had originally seen at a store called “Tuesday Morning” had sold in one day. I like the painting and the son with the cold was going help the husband hang it on the wall of the guest bedroom IF I had it. So, 2 days in a row when I already felt sort of punk and the weather was not ideal I went out in the spitting rain and visited a minimum of 3 stores each time.

Now, I’m paying the price. Oh, well, last year there was no moisture at all in the entire month of February, so hopefully the predicted warm-up will take my cold with it.

On another front, gas here at some stations is $1.83.

As for the Super Bowl, I could care less who wins or who plays, but I would root for the underdog (Atlanta) in any contest and most certainly would do so when it is common knowledge that the Quarterback of the Patriots is a big buddy of the Trumpster. Go Falcons!

Aunt Neva Corcoran (Graves): How Did She Die?

The photo of the sunset was taken the day after Thanksgiving from the deck outside my home in East Moline (IL).

 

I always knew that my father, John Corcoran, Jr., had 3 brothers (Harold, Edgar and Ervin) and 4 sisters: Neva, Nora, Mabel and Dora.

I actually met all of his brothers, but only 2 of his sisters and only once, in my life, did I meet my paternal grandmother (the only one of my grandparents still alive when I was born). I was told that Nora and Neva “died young,” but I never knew HOW young or when or how or why.

I was looking through an old trunk of my mother’s, looking for Christmas sweaters, actually. This was just before Thanksgiving. I found this clipping in a very old, yellowed envelope, with a mailing date of Sept. 12, 1931. The return address was L.G. Meyer, County Superintendent, West Union, Iowa, and it bore my mother’s name (Sadie A. Monson), with an address of 202 2nd Street S.E. Oelwein, Iowa.

Inside was a VERY young picture of my father (looking very thin) and this obituary:

Mrs. Walter Graves, 29, 935 Third Street West, died at 6 p.m. Wednesday in a local hospital of complications following an operation for appendicitis, Monday.  She had been a resident here for approximately two years.

Neva M. Corcoran, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Corcoran, was born in Fairbank, IA, Jan. 27, 1902.  She was graduated from Immaculate Conception School at Fairbank and Gates Business College, Waterloo. On Nov. 4, 1930, she was married to Walter Graves at Fairbank, after which they made Waterloo their home.

Mrs. Graves (my deceased Aunt Neva Corcoran) is survived by her husband, parents, four brothers (Edgar, John, Irvin and Harold Corcoran, Fairbank and two sisters, Mrs. F. P. Schuck, West Point, Iowa (Mabel), and Mrs. Charles L. Duffy (Dora), 2027 Third Street West, Waterloo.

Funeral services will be held at the home of her parents at Fairbank on Saturday at 9:30 a.m.  Burial will be in Fairbank.

End of Obituary, with no actual date on the tiny slip of paper, but, given the statement of her age as 29 and her birth year as 1902, I’m guessing that the year was, indeed, 1931 (although the envelope seemed to have no bearing on the sad news of the clipping inside).  My father, John’s birthday, was October 28, 1902, which means he was born nearly 9 months, to the day, after this older sister—if I am correct. He would have been nearly the same age as Neva, much as my daughter, Stacey,  (born 07/09/87) is about the same age as her cousin, Matt Wilson, who was born in June of 1987.

I find this stuff fascinating, not because it is interesting to anyone else, but because there was so little ever told me about anyone on the Corcoran side of my family, and I also know very little about the Dutch/Norwegian side of my family (the Monsons).

Many people write entire memoirs about their families of origin. I doubt that this will ever occur with me, the writer, because I always feel that (a) my life is not that interesting to anyone else and (b) I barely know any of the facts or details of these phantom figures who peopled my parents’ lives, so it would be difficult for anyone else to re-construct my Irish or Norwegian/Dutch ancestors.

It is awful to think of an adult  nearly 30 years of age dying of appendicitis, but it sounds like that is what happened. What a way to go!
RIP, Aunt Neva.

The 2012 Presidential Campaign & How It’s Being Financed: Read It and Weep

As Yeats wrote

The closest I’ve come to meeting Barack Obama (DNC, 2008)

, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”

Let me immediately give credit where credit is due and say that this information comes from the newest issue of “Vanity Fair,” which did not hit newsstands until today. It is a capsule “Cliff Notes,” if you will, summarizing the article “Boss Rove” that runs in the newest issue (Craig Unger, pp. 228-234). If you have issues with the content, take it up with “Vanity Fair,” which has done the nation a service by tracking down the unfettered spending that is going on in the 2012 presidential election and ferreting out who is behind this massive spending spree. I thought I’d save all of you a bit of time and shorten the essential facts, so read on, if you dare.

In this unsettling issue, you will learn to what extent Pillsbury Doughboy Karl Rove—once known as “Bush’s Brain—-is involved in this year’s Republican presidential race. As former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently said on one of the late-night talk shows where she was a guest, “Democrats are the party of the many—not the party of the money.” (Ain’t it the truth?)

I’m going to excerpt just a few startling facts from “Boss Rove” so you will at least be aware of them, in regards to the astounding amounts of money being spent this election season (by both parties.) First the article (which begins on page 228 of the September issue) re

Rush Limbaugh & Sandra Fluke,
whom Limbaugh insulted during her Senate testimony.

Pillsbury Doughboy (aka Turd Blossom)

I saw Karl Rove in person once. He came out on a balcony in Denver in 2004 at the Coors Amphitheater with the woman from Texas named “Karen” who was “W’s” other big favorite.  Rove, DID, indeed, look like the Pillsbury Doughboy. In fact, George W. Bush, himself, who was a fan of giving everyone a demeaning nickname, called him ‘Turd Blossom.” Aptly named.

Rove left public view briefly in 2007 under a cloud and barely escaped indictment, as the article states ( page 229.) The president he served (George W. Bush) left office with the lowest rating in the history of the presidency (22%).  The Supreme Court, in December 2000, handed down the notorious decision placing George W. Bush in the White House (“Bush v. Gore). Then, the Supreme Court appointees of our least favorite president of all time (Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito) joined forces on “Citizens United” recently to allow the electoral process to be subverted forever by allowing corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money, much of it anonymous and untraceable. It overthrew the previous campaign finance bill, McCain-Feingold, which was actually known as the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

  In American elections now, anything goes. Money talks (and bullshit walks). And don’t let those complete commercial misstatements about how Obama doesn’t think people receiving welfare should work bother you, either; both the “New York Times” and the “Washington Post” completely debunked the ad that is running non-stop in swing states (and on TV Channel 6 in the Quad Cities of IA/IL).

So, Karl Rove (aka “Bush’s Brain”) immediately met with Ed Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee Chairperson (who had also served in the Bush administration) and they became a dynamic duo, with Gillespie eventually sent over to work with Romney’s people.  One wag said, “Ed’s got the better rap and Karl’s got the better Rolodex,” referencing Rove’s prodigious fund-raising ability.

Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, a longtime donor to Rove’s causes was recruited. Within three weeks of the Supreme Courts’ controversial decision in “Citizens United,” American Crossroads, a new 527 advocacy group, had a web-site up and running. Very shortly after its inception, the group had commitments of $30 million, which was 4 times what the RNC had on hand. Four OTHER groups were formed:  American Action Network, the American Action Forum, Resurgent Republican and the Republican State Leadership Committee. None of these groups had to disclose the identity of their contributors because they were nonprofits. American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS planned to spend $300 million to help GOP congressional candidates in battleground states like Florida, Colorado, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Iowa. Their anti-Democratic ads would run thousands of times and “Under the new laws, all of this could take place with virtually no oversight.” (p. 230).

The war chest the GOP amassed now approaches $1 billion.  John McCain spent only $370 million on his entire presidential campaign in 2008. American Crossroads was considered to be an alternative to the RNC, which more-or-less collapsed under the leadership of its token black leader, Michael Steele.

A telling quote:  “The center of energy will always be where the money is.  Karl is playing for control of the party.  That’s where the power and the money are.” WABC radio host John Batchelor (a Republican) is quoted this way: “American is a two-party state.  There are the Democrats. Then, there’s Karl Rove.”

All of us, by now, are aware that Rove turned up on Fox News and “The Wall Street Journal” also gave him a bully pulpit.

Mitt Romney on the campaign trail in Davenport, IA.

On April 5th, Ed Gillespie left American Crossroads and joined the Mitt Romney campaign as a senior adviser. This was well before Romney had locked up the nomination. Through Gillespie, Rove now had oversight of Romney’s campaign for the presidency of the United States. Rove became the gatekeeper over who would contribute how much to whom.  Quote from Wayne Slater, (reporter for the “Dallas Morning News”):  “When Karl put his imprimatur on you, it was clear that the money was going to go to you.”

Here’s a sobering paragraph from page 232:  “The only way Romney can get back into the race quickly will be through the expenditures of substantial Super PAC dollars,” said Doug Schoen in “Forbes” magazine.  “Specifically, the key actors in this process will be Karl Rove, whose Super PAC American Crossroads has raised $300 million, as well as the pro-Romney Super PAC, Restore Our Future. But make no mistake about it: the 2012 campaign now is not Obama versus Romney. It is Obama versus Karl Rove, American Crossroads, and Restore Our Future.”

And so, goes the article on page 232, “The great consolidation began between Rove’s super-PACS and Romney’s operation.” Beth Myers, who was so close to her boss that “The Washington Post” called her his “office wife” would be in charge of the selection of Paul Ryan as VP.

Rove then began bringing in those who had strayed from the cause, like Sheldon Adelson, the seventh-richest man in America ($24.9 billion) who had given $21.5 million to Newt Gingrich’s book tour-cum-campaign. After some hemming and hawing, Adelson gave $10 million to Restore Our Future” and said, “He (Rove ) is going to be the Republican Party’s 800-pound gorilla in defeating Barack Obama.” (this from an Adelson friend to CNN.)

Then there are the multi-billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, who recently threw so much money into keeping Wisconsin’s Scott Walker in office as Governor when he began dismantling all unions and faced a recall.  By early spring, Marc Short, a Koch operative, had begun attending the Weaver Terrace gatherings of Romney’s people.  They had initially planned to steer $200 million to conservative groups and causes in 2012, but they doubled that to $400 million. Former “W” consultants” put that figure in context:  “Think the $$ political system is screwed up?  Koch brothers alone are planning to spend more money than McCain’s entire presidential budget.”

So, we have Grover Norquist’s “Americans for Tax Reform;’’ the National Right to Life committee; Ralph Reed’s “Faith & Freedom Coalition,” the National Rifle Association and the “American Future Fund,” all allied to spend money on Tea Party candidates and against Obama.  Peter Stone (journalist) wrote:  “By spreading their wealth throughout the conservative ecosystem the Kochs can exploit trusted brands with passionate followings that reach beyond the Tea Party base,” while at the same time leaving no trace of their involvement.

Romney now has a total of $1.8 billion dollars, with the RNC commanding another $800 million.  In Virginia, Tim Kaine who was running for the Senate, was outspent 3 to 1.  On Kaine’s behalf, as of late March, 380 ads ran, while Crossroads GPS and the Chamber of Commerce aired 1,980 attack ads against him. And it was a well-known fact that the Wisconsin recall effort was funded by the Koch Brothers and outspent those who wanted a new Governor about 4 to 1. Fox News, always glad to air an attack ad against the president, aired an attack ad on no fewer than 7 separate news shows in one 24-hour period, which means, as RNC strategist Brad Blakeman said, “Karl has gotten more earned media than the amount he invested in the ad.”

With Wall Street deserting Obama over some presidential feeble attempts to rein in the circumstances that caused the near-collapse of the country (no banker has yet gone to jail), Brent Budowsky wrote in “The Hill:”

“The inability of the Democrats to play in the same league as Karl Rove financially is a humiliating debacle that might be unprecedented, (measured by comparing wealthy donors of one party to wealthy donors of the other), in the history of presidential politics. The president and Democrats seem befuddled by how to react to the Citizens United decision, while Karl Rove understands with crystal clarity.  Rove mobilizes his army, rallies his wealthy, organizes his ventures and puts his money in the bank.”

In 2008, more than 550,000 people gave more than $200 to Obama. In so doing they created the longest list of individual donors in American political history. According to BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith & Rebecca Elliott, at this point in 2012, nearly 90% of people had NOT come back to donate that amount again. Bush is gone and so are the donors Barack Obama needs to defeat the Mittster. Furthermore, the Democratic Super PACS are feeble. By mid-April, 4 of the biggest and 2 allied nonprofits had only $8.3 million on hand. Bill Maher and James H. Simons were responsible for a million each.  Meanwhile, Rove’s groups had spent more than $11 million on attack ads against Obama.

George Soros.

At this point, George Soros, the famously liberal Democratic donor, tried to put together a strategy to combat Rove’s onslaught. He prepared to invest $100 million in Democratic super PACS and nonprofits, focusing on grassroots organizing, voter registration and turn out, rather than negative advertising. As Michael Vachon (a Soros adviser) told the “Huffington Post,” “Culturally, the left doesn’t do Swift Boat. It’s not what we do well.”

Rove’s strategy with all that cash is this:  All Romney has to do is take 3 states: Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia—states that McCain and Palin lost in 2008, and recapture 2 big battleground states that Bush won in 2004 (Ohio and Florida) and—beyond that—-win just ONE swing state. It could be Iowa, where both Obama (his 13th visit) and Romney are visiting repeatedly. Rove wrote it up this way:  “The self-portrait the president has painted is of a weak liberal, buffeted by events.  That will make this election more like 1980 when Ronald Reagan defeated an ineffectual Jimmy Carter than like 2004.”

Said Roger Stone:  “No one else can construct a power center like he (Rove) can.” Rove has been the brains behind one of—if not THE—-worst presidents in U.S. history, who started 2 horribly expensive wars and, having inherited a booming economy from Clinton, left the nation in near economic collapse. But now that the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson have fallen into line, Rove has consolidated the warring factions within the Republican Party and is in command, with complete control.

Running for the Republicans is a team (Romney/Ryan) with the thinnest foreign policy background since 1944 (Dewey/Bricker) and the man who wants to dismantle Medicare and deny all abortions, even for rape and incest, and deny women many basic health care needs,, (Paul Ryan), the VP candidate. Ryan spent 14 years in Congress and never ran anything other than his House office.  Ryan’s slashing of Medicaid (by $800 billion over 10 years) would reward the strong and abandon the needy, balancing the budget on the backs of the middle class while the rich are spared and protected. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, in “Time’s” August 27th issue, called Ryan’ budget “an uncompromising right-wing Tea Party manifesto that provides big tax breaks to wealthy Americans at the expense of everyone and everything else.” Said the “Time” article (“Ryan’s Hope”), “Ryan is to budget math what Carl Sagan was to the science of the cosmos.” Said Joe Klein in the same issue, “Mitt Romney has effectively outsourced his job as intellectual leader of the ticket to his occasionally specific junior partner” (which Romney once called “marvelous.”)

Even worse, many of Ryan’s most prized ideas have already been tried and have already failed. The drastic cutting of taxes was tried under Reagan and did not work. Even the stupidest American can understand that, when bills are mounting, it is necessary to get more money. Maybe the average American takes a second job, but he or she tries to get more money to pay the mounting bills, and the nation needs to get more money to pay both our horrendous debt (Thanks, “W”!) and to pay for social programs like Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and such things as infrastructure improvements.

In Ryan’s plan (quote from “Time”) “Average folks are taxed because they haven’t had the good sense to become wealthy.” Ryan’s budget is balanced on the backs of the poor and elderly. It would eviscerate medical help for the elderly poor and force those who are addled, decrepit and elderly to wade through the complicated market choices of private insurance, as their benefits would almost certainly not cover their medical needs under Ryan’s “voucher” plan.

What the Democrats have going for them, at this point, is a candidate who is genuinely likeable and not just a Gumby doll, some signs that economic unrest is at least under control for the moment in Europe (as well as somewhat stable in the Middle East, save for Syria), and a slowly improving economy.  Obama was in Ohio today, but Mitt will be hitting the Quad Cities again tomorrow, at 12:30 p.m., while Ryan is going to Pennsylvania.

(Gallup Poll of 8/21): Twenty-two% of registered voter s like Ryan; 23% say they don’t like Ryan. 54% say it doesn’t make any difference in their vote, if they are registered Republicans.

Now if Barack Obama only had an educated, informed electorate that read, he’d be home free! But I’m watching an attack ad right now, paid for by Americans for Prosperity and, during Obama’s recent visit, the ratio of Republican ads to Democratic ads was 4 to 1. There’s one running right now, as I write this, which claims, quite ridiculously, that the Romney/Ryan plan will “protect Medicare,” when the opposite is the truth,.

But do people read these articles  and know this?

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”

Prostate-Cancer Sniffing Dogs May Be Next Medical Advance

belgian-malinoisFrench researchers, using Belgian Malinois dogs, have discovered that that breed of dog can correctly pick out a man suffering from prostate cancer from sniffing the urine of the victims. The dogs, in 66 tests, sniffed out the sick individual’s urine from a field of 5 corectly 63 times out of 66. This accuracy is far higher than the standard PSA tests, which often given false positives.

Dogs can be trained to detect the characteristic odor of unique chemicals released into urine by prostate tumors according to Dr. Jean-Nicolas  Cornu.

This new discovery could very well signal a new way to detect prostate cancer, as there were only 3 false positives and no false negatives when using the trained canines, far lower than PSA tests.

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