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: News Page 2 of 12

The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville & Low Cut Connie, Redux

Earlier in the festivities I did a review of a wonderful new documentary called “The Bluebird,” which is a visit to the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee, which is (apparently) the subject of a television show starring Connie Britton. (I’ve never watched it).

I attended the Bluebird documentary, however, taking many pictures of the director and others on the stage of the Paramount in Austin, Texas, at SXSW on Thursday, March 14th at 6:30 p.m. (It showed again at the Lamar at 11:00 p.m. on Friday, March 15th).

Later on, I received a phone text message informing me that the daughter might be singing back-up for one of her singer/songwriter friends who was going to be appearing onstage at the Bluebird Cafe on their Monday songwriters’ night (featured heavily in the documentary). Lest you think this is unimportant, it launched the careers of both Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift and, although the daughter wasn’t certain she would have a role, I look forward to her ringside seat report of her friend’s performance.

I asked the daughter, who went to school in Nashville and lives there now, to send me a picture of the exterior, but when I went to press, somehow that picture (and a few others she sent) had disappeared, not to be found.

I’m still trying to figure out how to get a small bit of film sent me by the son of Low Cut Connie performing at Lucy’s Fried Chicken in Nashville on Saturday, March 16h, to post on my blog. The file sent me came through as IMG-5643.MOV (5.2 MB) but how does one get THAT to post? In place of it, I shall post the link of Adam Weiner (who is “Low Cut Connie”) appearing on Seth Meyer’s late night show and the 2 pictures of the Bluebird that I now have located.

I am posting the Low Cut Connie link because he and his band will be performing at The Rust Belt in East Moline (IL) on April 18th. I’ve been told that the Rust Belt is somewhere on 7th Street, but look it up and check  it out. (I’ll be in Mexico). I’m hoping that www.QuadCities.com will run a notification when it is closer.

I missed Low Cut Connie when he hit the Raccoon Motel in Davenport, but Craig wanted to be present here in Austin for his birthday celebration with son Scott and daughter Stacey at Lucy’s Fried Chicken. They got to hang with the band afterwards, as one of the guitarists was someone known to the Nashville daughter.

The van at Camp Sandy.

I was covering “Pet Semetary” with stars Jason Clarke, et. al., (that piece has also run previously), so I missed the hilarity (and the chicken) and the music, but I’m doing my best to drum up a record crowd for you, Low Cut Connie (i.e, Adam Weiner) if only because my name IS Connie. The picture to the left represents the van that Low Cut Connie was supposed to play in at Camp Sandy. INSIDE the van. You sit outside and watch the performances on the screens you see mounted on the exterior of the van.

I’m not thinking this would be optimal for an act that is Jerry Lee Lewis Redux times 100. However, I did drive out to catch him there (since I couldn’t be present at Lucy’s Fried Chicken on Saturday, March 16th). There were problems at Camp Sandy, but the Turtle Wax people have reached out and are sending me vats of Turtle Wax to East Moline. Thanks, Eden Zaslow of Zenogroup! That was not necessary. 

Low Cut Connie WAS present on the 16th and, if I can figure out how to post the 5.2MB piece of film sent me by my son, you will be able to see it here some time in the future.

“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.

“Lowland Kids” Attests to the Effects of Global Warming: World’s First Climate Change Refugees

Director Sandra Winther. (SXSW Photo).

“Lowland Kids,” a documentary short showing at SXSW directed by Sandra Winther and beautifully shot by Director of Photography Todd Martin tells the story of America’s first climate change refugees.

Brother and sister Juliette and Howard Brunet are being raised by their Uncle Chris Brunet, who is handicapped and confined to a wheelchair. The parents of the teen-agers apparently died from drug addiction, although Howard, when asked, says, “I don’t want to talk about that.”

The two siblings and their Uncle Chris live on Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana and, as Chris explains their predicament after 3 generations of living on the island, their island is losing one football field of earth every hour because of the oil and gas company building canals and due to natural disasters. The rising water is going to take over the island, the lowlands, and, as Uncle Chris says, “This is home. You really can’t get that again.”

The government has pledged to build houses to relocate the entire lowland island because, “The ground is sinking.  You’re looking at mass relocation.” When asked how they feel about moving in questions like, “What are you gonna’ miss about this place?” Chris answers “Everything, Man!” It is clear that the teen-agers feel the same way. Explains Chris, “That’s just it. It’s the simplicity.”

While the house they live in is not much, the scenery is gorgeous with beautiful sunsets and trips by boat to hunt alligators. The young people spend a lot of time driving all-terrain vehicles around the lush and isolated grounds and Howard says, “Moving off the island is gonna’ change a lot. Nobody really wants to lose their hometown.”

Howard shares that he is an aspiring football player and adds, “If you’re good at it, you shouldn’t just waste your time.” He hopes to get a college scholarship to help him go to a college or university in the future. He is shown watching a Saints/Vikings showdown on his cell phone and practicing his throwing.

Juliette shares that, “The person I respect the most is Uncle Chris…in a wheelchair and raising two teenagers.” She seems to have made her peace with the deaths of her parents, saying she doesn’t need a female role model because, “They died for a reason. To me, it’s cool.” The only hint that the loss of their biological parents really isn’t so “cool” for them comes from a family friend, Mike, who talks about her brother Howard being “in a bad way” at one point, but all of them rallying to care for the orphaned children.

The place and its loss is front and center, with gorgeous cinematography and comments like,”They say there’s not too much here. That’s the thing—it’s just implicit.”

There are so many unanswered questions in the short (approximately half an hour) documentary: What happened that confined Uncle Chris to a wheelchair? Is Uncle Chris their true, biological uncle, or is that an honorary title? What do Chris (and, for that matter, Mike) do to earn money to live?  How do the Brunets get around the lowland island and, for that matter, off the island, when the comment is made that floods frequently shut off the ability to get to the mainland? How much is the relocation of 180 to 200 families going to cost the government or the families affected? Are the oil and gas companies that Chris says are responsible in large part for this erosion going to pay for some or all of the moves that are supposed to take place by 2022?

See this one for the beautiful shots of the Watery Island lowland paradise of which Uncle Chris says, “I would like to find a place like this with good friends and family…Home, you really can’t get that again.”

“The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story” Premiering on Wednesday, March 13th at SXSW

“The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story”: in the good old days. (Photo used by permission of YouTube, Pilgrim Productions & Lance Bass Productions)

The Boy Ban Con: The Lou Pearlman Story is a You Tube Original documentary, presented by Pilgrim Media in conjunction with Lance Bass Productions.  It premieres at SXSW on Wednesday, March 13th, 2019 at 3 p.m. at the Paramount Theater.

Lance Bass is onscreen discussing Pearlman’s defrauding of the boy bands he formed, as is Bass’ mother and Justin Timberlake’s mother and several members of the boy bands N’Sync and The Back Street Boys, including A.J. McLean, Ashley Parker Angel, Chris Kirkpatrick, J.C. Chasez, Johnny Wright, Lynn Harless (Timberlake’s Mom), Aaron Carter, Nikki DeLoach and Diane Bass (Lance Bass’ Mom). Justin Timberlake does not appear in the film, except in old footage. Director Aaron Kunkel paints a picture of a very bright, but very dishonest man.

Pearlman used falsified Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, AIG and Lloyd’s of London documents to win investors’ confidence in his “Employee Investment Savings Account” program. He used fake financial statements created by the fictitious accounting firm Cohen and Siegel to secure bank loans for his Airship Enterprises, Ltd. (Essentially, an airline without any planes). Trans Continental Records followed. The Backstreet Boys became the best-selling boy band of all time, with record sales of 130 million, hitting gold, platinum, and diamond in 45 different countries. Pearlman  then repeated this formula almost exactly with the band *NSYNC, which sold over 70 million records globally.

Lou Pearlman is presented as a consummate ponzi scheme artist, with little emphasis in this documentary on the pedophile claims that came to light later, revealed in a Vanity Fair article, “Mad About the Boys” by Bryan Burrough (August 21, 2016.)

Pearlman died in prison 3 days before the article appeared, but he had denied such accusations of sexual impropriety in a 2014 Hollywood Reporter interview from prison. Pearlman’s death was caused by surgery to replace a heart valve, which he had undergone a week before his death. He developed an infection of the lining of the heart valve.

Defrauding people of over half a billion dollars through various schemes is what sent Pearlman to jail for 25 years, where he died at 62 on August 19, 2016. His tentative release date from prison would have been 2029.

The judge offered Pearlman one month off each year of his 25-year sentence for every million dollars recovered, but only $38 million dollars was ever recovered, most of it from the sale of Church Street Station, a historic train station in the heart of Orlando which Pearlman had purchased in 2002. That sale, alone, recouped $34 million.

Here, with Lance Bass shepherding this 99 minute project as Executive Producer and one of the principal talking heads exploring the Lou Pearlman phenomenon, the documentary is focused almost exclusively on how an overweight, relatively friendless man started two boy bands between 1993 and 2006. Other less successful bands followed.  (Pearlman even asked the Judge, after his sentencing, to allow him Internet access from prison so that he could continue to manage. The judge declined).

After viewing “Finding Neverland” the idea of a rich, powerful and/or famous man in a position to advance the career(s) of young talent(s), causing naïve and gullible young people to be victimized, is not difficult to believe. It has occurred many, many times. Hollywood coined the term “the casting couch” for the promises made to innocent young actresses.

Lou Pearlman had been custom-fitting airplanes for famous bands to travel and became aware of the tremendous amounts of money these artists were making. He immediately set his sights on forming such a band and becoming a promoter.

The way in which he got the seed money to be able to underwrite expenses for the venture is pure Lou Pearlman: he defrauded an insurance company of $3 million by insuring a blimp he bought for $10,000. Pearlman painted the blimp gold to be used as advertising for Jordache. McDonald’s was another signed advertiser.

When the blimp crashed, Lou had his seed money; he used it to audition a $3 million-dollar talent search and form the boy bands that were then supplanting the Seattle grunge scene as those bands (think Kurt Cobain in “Nirvana”) fell victim to their own successes.

The members of the Back Street Boys and NSync fell victim to Lou Pearlman presenting himself as a paternal father figure, but also insisting that he was “the sixth member of the band”( much like Billy Preston was once dubbed “the Fifth Beatle.”) In Lou’s case, this meant a monetary cut equivalent to the young men who were practicing their dance moves 16 hours a day, but also cuts as the producer, marketer, etc. Lou Pearlman was triple-dipping. Pearlman presented the boys with a lavish party house for them to “bond” in and paid for the recording studios and, also, for lavish meals in eateries like Lawries.

The climax of the film seems to come when all of the boys are invited to such a dinner and told to bring their parents. It is far into the group’s success; they are pulling down millions. An envelope appears on each boy’s plate. They can only dream of the riches they now will receive for their hard work, since the per diem allowance to date has only been $35 a day, plus their comped food and living expenses.

When the checks were for only $10,000, Lance Bass says he went home and tore his up.

Lawsuits ensued, with the boy bands finding out that the contract(s) they had signed were very very good for Lou Pearlman but very very bad for them.

Then Lou went a step further and ultimately defrauded investors in Trans Continental Airways of half a billion dollars, of which only $38 million was ever recovered. Over two hundred investors lost all of their money. Some are interviewed in the film. Most are elderly couples who could not afford to lose their only inheritance.

Lou’s sole childhood friend, Alan Gross, had been a model plane assembler as a hobby. Pearlman took one such plane, painted a logo on the side of the model, and held it up with his hand against a backdrop of mountains to make it appear that he had an airline, Trans Continental. He didn’t.

Ultimately, Lou Pearlman died in disgrace at age 62 on August 19, 2016.

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.

North Korea Nuclear Summit Bulletin from Vietnam at 1:30 A.M. (CDT) on Feb. 28: No Nukes Is Good News?

    Kim Jong Un of North Korea
        (Wikipedia image)

The Nuclear Summit between North Korea and the United States ended abruptly 2 days into the process and was carried on NBC News at 1:30 a.m. CDT:

Trump:  “I want to thank all of the people of Vietnam for having treated us so well.”

We have relatively attractive news from Pakistan and India. They’ve been going at it and we‘ve been in the middle trying to help them both out.

Venezuela has been very much in the news and we’ve been sending supplies. We’re sending a lot of supplies down to Venezuela. You would think the man in charge currently would let the supplies get through.

On North Korea, we just left Chairman Kim. We had a very productive time but we felt it wasn’t a good time to be signing anything. We spent pretty much all day with Chairman Kim. He’s quite a guy and quite a character. At this time, we decided not to do any of the options. It was a very interesting 2 days.

Sometimes you have to walk and this was one of those times.

(Then he threw the discussion to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo)

Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo:

We had brought a team and tried to make real progress. Unfortunately, we didn’t get all the way. We didn’t get to something that ultimately made sense for the United States of America. I’m still optimistic. I am hoping that we’ll get back together and work something out. I think as we continue to work on this in the days and weeks ahead, I hope we can get to the goal of de-nuclearizing North Korea.

I’m very optimistic in the progress that we made. It put us in a position to make good progress. They couldn’t quite get to the point of making a deal. I hope we’ll do so in the days and weeks ahead.

Q:  Has this process been more difficult than you thought?

A:  It was about the sanctions. Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety. They were willing to de-nuke a large portion of the area that we wanted. We will continue to work, but we had to walk away.

Q:  All things are still in place?

A:  We haven’t given up anything, and frankly I think we’ll end up being very good friends with Chairman Kim and everybody. It was about sanctions. They wanted sanctions lifted, but they weren’t willing to give us the areas that we wanted.

Q:  (John Roberts of Fox News) Did you get any distance towards Kim’s vision of de-nuclearization?

A:  He has a certain vision and it is not exactly our vision, but it’s a lot closer than it was a year ago. For this particular visit we decided that we had to walk.

Q:  (Sean Hannity): If he wants the sanctions completely off and you wanted more, how do you bridge that gap?

A:  We have to get what we have to get.

Q: (Sean Hannity)_ Could you elaborate a little bit more?

A:  I want to keep the relationship going. As you know, we got our hostages back. Chairman Kim of North Korea promised me he isn’t going to do testing of nuclear. I trust him and I take him at his word. Mike (Pompeo) will be speaking with his people. It’s a process and it’s moving along. We could have signed an agreement today, but I just felt it wasn’t appropriate.

Q:  Did you learn anything new about Chairman Kim of North Korea? While this was going on Michael Cohen called you a liar, a con-man, a racist.

A:  It’s incorrect and it’s very interesting, but I think having a fake hearing like that and having it in the middle of this very important summit was really a terrible thing. They could have made it even a week later. Having it in front of this very important summit was a terrible thing. He lied about so many things but he didn’t say there was any collusion. I was a little impressed about that, to be honest. I call it the witch hunt. This should never happen to another president. I call it the witch hunt. I now add the word hoax. The most important question was the one about collusion and he said he saw no collusion. (Trump said that Cohen lied about 95% of the time rather than 100%).

Q; What was the atmosphere between you and North Korea’s Chairman Kim?

A:  Very good, very friendly. We shook hands. There’s a warmth that we have. I hope it stays, and I think it will. This should have been solved during many presidential runs before me. People talked about it but never did anything. .It was a very friendly walk.

(Secretary of State Mike Pompeo)

We are certainly closer today than we were 36 hours ago. Real progress was made. Everyone had hoped we could do just a little bit better, but both sides are resolved to achieve it.

Q: How do you find things in common between you and North Korea’s Chairman Kim when you are from such different economic systems and even from different generations (from a foreign correspondent)?

A: We just like one another.

Q:  Do you think this meeting was premature (BBC)?

A:  You always have to be prepared to walk. We could have signed something, but it just wasn’t appropriate. I’d much rather do it right than do it fast.

Q:  (South Korea reporter) Can you elaborate on the options?

A:  We discussed many ways. De-nuclearization is a very important word. To me, it’s pretty obvious. We have to get rid of the nukes. But North Korea is in an incredible location. ..There’s tremendous potential in North Korea. I think its going to be an absolute economic power.

Q:  David Sagner of the NY Times: Six months ago you said we should come back and ask you about it if nothing had been solved. In that time you have seen the number of missiles from North Korea increase. That’s been a pressure point on you.

A:  Some people are saying that and some people aren’t. We’re partners with a lot of countries on this including Russia, China and others. I don’t want to do something that is going to violate the trust that we’ve built up.

Q:  More detail?

A:  Chairman Kim of North Korea wants all the sanctions off. He was willing to do things, but we have to have more than that. We had to do more than just the one level.

POMPEO: There were timing issues. There were a lot of other issues that we needed to discuss.

Q:  (black reporter): Are you still wanting North Korea to give up everything?

A:  I don’t want to say that to you, because I don’t want to put myself in that position. I’m always prepared to walk. I’m never afraid to walk from a deal.

Q:  Are you afraid the testing will start again?

A:  He said the testing will not start. He said he won’t do testing of anything having to do with nuclear.

Q:  Jessica Stone of CVTN:  How would you describe China’s role in facilitating the engagement so far?

A:  China has been a big help. 93% of things come in through China to North Korea. China has an influence and China has been a big help and Russia has been a big help, too. About 28 miles of the border…things can happen there, too.

Q:  Did the topic of China come up?

A:  We did talk about China today a lot. He’s getting along with China and so are we. (Lots of talk about how great things are going in the U.S. that has nothing to do with the question). “We have the strongest economy possibly that we’ve ever had.” Cited Fiat Chrysler as building a new plant. “But China is having some difficulty, as you know.” He mentioned the tariff moneys which have decreased the U.S. bottom line. “I want them (China) to do great, but we’ve been losing anywhere from $300 to $500 billion a year. Many presidents should have done this before me, but nobody did.” (Later, he cited the Obama administration by name, but insisted that it went back further than that.)

Q:  Message from President Moon?

A:  I like President Moon. We have a great relationship. Believe it or not I have a great relationship with almost every leader. Some people would find this difficult to believe, but we do. We’ll be calling President Moon very soon. I’ll be calling the President of Japan.

Discussion following Trump’s 40 minute press conference: A lunch meeting did not happen and a scheduled signing ceremony did not happen.  Peter Alexander of NBC News said they wound up abruptly. Trump flew 800 miles for nothing, basically. The last time Trump walked (the wall) he ended up with a deal that was worse than he had before. It’s not entirely clear what he can do to go forward. Why is there any reason for optimism? Clearly something happened at some point. Trump flew halfway around the world and then flew home early empty-handed. “They didn’t get to the finish line at all.”

 

The Oscars and The Blizzard in Iowa on Feb. 25th, 2019

Snow Is the Name of this Weather Game

The morning after the Academy Awards. I’ve not done as much due diligence  about other people’s opinions of the Oscars this year as I will in the hours that loom sitting in airports between here (Des Moines, Iowa), where the temperature feels like zero, or 43 minutes away (by air) in St. Louis, Missouri, (or when we are back in Austin, Texas, our ultimate destination, where it is 65 degrees.) I am just feeling relieved to have made it here and hoping to make it back! As usual, I enjoyed Oscar night, and, as usual, there was an upset or two.

I did see a photo of Rami Malek, still clutching his Oscar, climbing out of what looked like an orchestra pit, with the information that he had fallen offstage after winning. (This was not televised to us out here in the Heartland but I saw it before heading off to bed about 3 a.m.). He was looked at by medical people on the scene and was fine.

How was the ceremony without a host in charge?

It seemed about the same as ever, to me. It moved smoothly with fewer SNAFUS than the year  Jimmy Kimmel hosted and the wrong film was given the Oscar for Best Picture. In that classic case of Situation Normal: All F***** Up, “La La Land” had to give the trophy back to “Moonlight,” as the critics’ groups across America triumphed over the popular will.

I was a member of a critics’ group in Chicago at the time; I voted for “La La Land.” However, “Moonlight” (Barry Jenkins, 2016) carried the day, buoyed by a great performance from Mahershala Ali. Still, “La La Land” was far and away the crowd favorite that year and deserved to win. To me, a working critic, it felt like “the fix” was in. The theme (of “Moonlight”) was “timely” and that would carry the day, even if Damien Chazelle’s musical with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone was far and away more popular, seen by many more people, just as original and high in quality, and a more “uplifting” feeling film.

Viggo Mortensen at the 2008 Chicago Film Festival.

This year, it looked, to me, as though Big Money was at play trying to land a Best Picture Oscar for “Roma” over any of the more popular competitors and “A Star Is Born” also was over- hyped with that goal. It is normal to campaign, and the idea was that Alfonso Cuaron (already lauded for both “Gravity” and “Birdman”) would be able to snag a Best Picture Oscar for a streaming network(s) for the first time ever.

I had to make my picks early in the game, prior to beginning our multi-state pilgrimage to meet up with our old friends who celebrate the Oscars with us each year. Those picks are posted on WeeklyWilson.com. You can see for yourself that I missed only  the category of Best Actress (I was surprised, like everyone else, that Glenn Close lost. Again.) Selecting Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director (with a slight hedge there) and only missing the Best Actress category means 5 out of 6, for +83% accuracy. (Of course, on party night, we have to select all 24 categories and the accuracy percentages plummet.)

I went with my instincts, which served me well last year when I was delighted to see Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” win, but also thought “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” was a strong contender and insisted on taking my husband to see it after the Chicago International Film Festival. You will remember that, while “Three Billboards” did not win Best Film, it did garner both Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell (who showed up this year with a shaved head) Academy Awards for their performances in that Coen Brothers film.

So, I disregarded the “Roma” buzz, especially after seeing the film. Let them eat cake, I said. Let it be Best Foreign Film, but don’t try to foist it on those of us wanting a real Best Picture of the Year. “Roma” is black and white and subtitled in Spanish. A maid—(who, I am told, was a real maid and not an actress when the film was shot)—-is shown cleaning a house in Mexico in the seventies. A lot of the film involves the maid cleaning and interacting with other help. If you enjoy watching scenes of that sort for a large portion of your film-going experience, by all means hit it up. There are also several scenes of the car port floor being swept. It made me remember that I should be vacuuming the entire house. (Is that a good thing?)

Film buffs applauded Alfonso Cuaron’s ability to recreate the Mexico City of the seventies and the events of his youth, but to audiences who wanted a good story they could relate to, there were only a few themes to hold onto. The universal theme of being a vulnerable pregnant woman who is abandoned, or a mother who loses her child, or a woman with a family whose husband abandons her are there, but the thread is disjointed. [The reasons why the Mistress of the house is jettisoned are never fully explored.]

There were scenes of the woman of the house having trouble driving her large behemoth of a car into a very small parking space connected to her home, and, as a condo dweller in Chicago who has to park in an extremely small parking spot (and pay $52 a month in taxes on that spot), I could relate to that, but it was not riveting cinema.

I could empathize with the young girl abandoned by her somewhat weird martial arts fanatic boyfriend, a male chauvinist pig who completely rejects her in her hour of need, but the entire film seemed like a vanity project. It would be tantamount to me taking an audience on a rather boring and uneventful day from my youth  in Independence, Iowa. If I then shot it in black-and-white and subtitled it in a language you do not speak, would you really be sucked into this story?

The backdrop of riots was compelling for the few scenes that depicted the violence, and I salute the cinematographer (et. al.) who was able to recreate those historic events, but, overall, it was not a film I would want to see win the Best Picture of the Year award. I once almost drowned in Hawaii when I swam out too far, but, since I did NOT drown, the impact of that, on film, would be pretty “meh.” (I mention this life event because of a similar life event involving the maid/nanny and her young charges.) To be fair, I have to admit that I was not a huge fan of “Birdman,” which veered between reality and floating in the air. I did not like the backdrop of the guy pounding on drums in the side room. Of Cuaron’s films, I liked “Gravity” the best, so far, because of the difficulty of recreating Sandra Bullock’s journey into space, but we saw “First Man” (Damien Chazelle) this year do a similar “man-or-woman-in-space” recreation, with more on-the-ground psychological make-up of the astronaut provided. “First Man” came away with very few plaudits for a far more complete and realistic recreation of a foray into space. Maybe it’s all about timing, as with “Moonlight’s” burning themes?

The U.K. papers were unhappy that “Roma” didn’t win, as it would have marked a “first” in having a streaming film take the Best Picture Award. That sounds more like a political statement (rather than a quality-of-the-film-statement) than a good reason for naming this peek into Alfonso Cuaron’s childhood in Mexico Best Picture of the Year.

The other film that threw a lot of dough-re-mi at the Oscars and came up relatively short was “A Star Is Born.” It did win Best Song of the Year (for “Shallows”) and deservedly so, but the Best Actor, Actress, Director and Picture awards did not materialize.  Cynthia (my Chicago hairdresser) and I did not find the chemistry between the stars that dynamic in this one. We both agreed that it was a revelation that Bradley Cooper really can sing; he proved it once again onstage at this year’s Oscars. I saw “A Star Is Born” at the Icon Theater on Roosevelt Road. I admit my opinion of the film was negatively impacted by the volume. It was so loud I feared my ears would bleed. On the “story” front, however, “A Star Is Born” has been done about 5 times and the ending is telegraphed from a million miles away.

This year’s Annual Oscar Party went off without a hitch because we ditched plans to drive 3 and 1/2 hours from Chicago to the Quad Cities and then, a day or so later, to drive another 3 miles from I-80 to Des Moines from the Quad Cities. Here is why we flew directly from Austin to Des Moines: a weekend blizzard brought much of Iowa to a halt. Des Moines broke its record of snowiest February with 24.1 inches of snow. The old record was 22.7 inches set in February of 2008. Winds of up to 50 mph created drifts and white-outs across much of the state and I-35 saw some of the worst of it, with the road closing from Ames to Minnesota on Sunday morning. Between 9 pm. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. Sunday (Oscar day) more than 100 cars ended up in the ditch between Des Moines and Ames and Iowa State Patrol spokesman Nathan Ludwig said they had assisted 390 motorists and responded to 90 crashes between 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 6:30 p.m. on Sunday. A number of state patrol cars were hit by cars traveling too fast and a firetruck was struck on Sunday morning between Ames and Des Moines.

Keith Morgan, Storm County’s emergency management coordinator, said, “Visibility is so poor in open areas that our snow plow drivers can barely see the front of their plows, making plowing conditions very risky.” A State of Emergency was declared in Wright County on Sunday afternoon (Oscar day) due to blowing and drifting snow. More than 18 people stranded in their vehicles were rescued in the county before 11 a.m. on Sunday (Oscar day). The temperature outside right now, given the wind chill factor, is zero.

The Iowa Department of Transportation warned against traveling on roads north or west of Des Moines through Monday as “conditions can be life-threatening.” Near Fairbank, Iowa, my father’s hometown, a woman on her way to Oelwein and Des Moines to deliver her baby had to be rescued when her vehicle slammed into a snowbank.

Oscar Winners On Feb. 24th are “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Roma” and “Black Panther”

The Green Book with Viggo Mortensen and Mahershali Ali

This year, because we were going to be traveling, I was forced to make my Oscar predictions much further in advance than any other year. I tried going with my gut instinct and not playing the “odds.” I also did not want to do any “research” because the other 3 people in our long-time Oscar party already would cry foul about competing with a film critic in our small foursome of Oscar predicting.

The big upset tonight was that Glenn Close did not win the Oscar for Best Actress. This means that she has been nominated 8 times and is winless. She may have to go for 19 nominations like Susan Lucci.

Chadwick Boseman of “Black Panther”

I honestly thought that Glenn Close would garner the award, but Olivia Coleman from “The Favourite” gave an absolutely charming impromptu speech (see notes below).

From the informal tally I kept, “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the most, with 4-–although we all seem to have drifted off when Michael Keaton came out and announced the Best Editing award. I’m pretty sure it went to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which means it won for Best Actor (Rami Malek),Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Production Design.

The “Roma” film—[black-and-white, Spanish subtitles, about a pregnant Mexican maid who cleans houses]—won 3: Best Director, Best Foreign Film and Best Cinematography. Also winning multiple Oscars was Black Panther, which won for Costume Design and Production Design.

The Big Surprise of the night, as mentioned above, was Glenn Close NOT winning. She had on a gold dress designed with 4 million gold beads that weighed 42 pounds, but still she did not win. I can relate; I wore a gold-beaded dress to my son’s wedding and it was the heaviest dress ever.

Queen, with Adam Lambert performed at the Oscars tonight. This is from a Chicago appearance of Queen that I attended.

I really had hoped that Spike Lee would be given the Best Director Oscar, but, otherwise, the Best Picture choice was fine by me. I had taken my husband to see it, saying that I thought it would do well. Last year, the film I went to with him prior to the awards was “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” so my hunches regarding movies that come on strong at the end have been spot on.

I was soundly drubbed by my spouse, as usual, however. We make him perform “the chicken dance” when he trounces us and I have posted one such dance.

16 of 24 is pretty good: 66 and 2/3 %!  (I was about 50% and most in our party of 5 got only 9 to 12 right.)

I am glad that “Green Book” won. It is too bad that Glenn Close didn’t “win” but, since Olivia Coleman is going to be in Austin at SXSW soon with a new film, that will be neat. I had predicted that Rami Malek would take home Best Actor and that Regina King would win Best Supporting Actress and Maharisha Ali would win for Best Supporting Actor.

I had voted my heart in hoping that “First Reformed’s” script might win for the 72-year-old screenwriter (Paul Schrader), who gave us both “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” and my vote for Spike Lee was “hedged” in print, as I knew Alfonso Cuaron was the favorite, but I hoped in my heart of hearts that Spike would prevail. (The Best Adapted Screenplay Award did go to “BlackKKlansman.”

So, it’s another one for the books as we head into the films of 2019.

Supporting Actress – Regina King in “If Beale Street Could Talk”

Documentary Feature – Free Solo

Make-Up and Hairstyling – Vice

Costume Design – Black Panther

Production Design – Black Panther

Best Sound Editing – Bohemian Rhapsody

Best Foreign Film – Roma

Best Supporting Actor – Mahershala Ali (“Green Book”)

Best Cinematography – “Roma”

Best Editing – Bohemian Rhapsody

Best Animated Short – Bao

Best Documentary Short Subject – Period. End of Sentence.

Best Short Action – Skin

Original Screenplay – Green Book

Best Adapted Screenplay – BlackKKlansman

Best Original Score – Black Panther

Best Song – The Shallows

Best Actor (Lead) – Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)

Best Actress (Lead) – Olivia Coleman (The Favourites) “This is quite stressful. This is hilarious. This is not gonna’ happen again. Any little girl who’s practicing her skills at home, don’t stop; you never know.” Olivia thanked her husband (shot of her husband) and said, “He’s gonna’ cry.”

Best Director – Alfonso Cuaron (for “Roma”)

Beto O’Rourke Speaks Out (Con’t., The End)

Image result for beto o'rourke images
Texas Legislature Image, Beto O’Rourke

(From Beto O’Rourke, on the border wall controversy)

But we still have a choice.  In this democracy, if, in fact, the people are the government and the government is the people, we still have a chance to prove it.

We can decide that we’ll get past the lies and fear, focus on the facts and human lives in our midst, and do the right thing.  The end goal is a stronger, safer, more successful country.  Critical to achieving that goal is having immigration, security and bilateral policies that match reality and our values.

  1.  Extend citizenship to the more than 1,000,000 Dreamers in this country.  Not only those who are in our classrooms, but those who are teaching in our classrooms, those who are keeping our country safe around the world tonight in the military; those who contribute more to our communities than they’ll ever take.
  2. Give permanent legal protection and a path to citizenship to their parents, the original Dreamers.
  3. Bring millions more out of the shadows and onto a path to citizenship by ensuring that they register with the government and gain status to legally work, pay taxes and contribute even more to our country’s success.
  4. Make us safer and more secure.  Significantly reduce illegal drug trafficking and stop human trafficking by investing in infrastructure, technology and personnel at our ports of entry.  The ports that connect us with Mexico are where the vast majority of everything and everyone that ever comes into our country crosses.
  5. Increase the visa caps so that we match our opportunities and needs (for work, for education, for investment, for innovation, for family reunification) to the number of people we allow into this country.  Ensure that those who want to work in jobs that we can’t fill can legally come here and legally return to their home country.
  6. Fully accept our opportunity and responsibility under our asylum laws to welcome those whose own governments can no longer protect them, including women fleeing abusive relationships.
  7. Address visa overstays (which account for the majority of undocumented immigration) through better tracking of and notification to visa holders (a first step could be text message reminders) and fully harmonizing our entry/exit systems with Mexico’s and Canada’s (when a visa holder exits the U.S. and enters Mexico, we will then know that they have left the U.S. Currently, if they leave through a land port of entry, we literally haveno clue if they are still here or have returned to their country of origin.
  8. Make Latin America and specifically Central America a top foreign policy priority. Stop relegating it to second-tier status. Invest the time, talent and resources to assist in the development of the domestic institutions that will allow these countries to thrive and offer their citizens protection and economic opportunity.  It is the long long-term solution to the number of asylum seekers and refugees coming to this country.
  9. End the global war on drugs.  An imprisonment adn interdiction-first approach has not worked, has accelerated the erosion of civil society in much of Latin American and has militarized a public health issue to the detriment of all concerned.
  10. Speak with respect and dignity when referring to our fellow human beings who happen to be immigrants and asylum seekers, who, in so many cases, are doing exactly what we would do if presented with the same threats and opportunities.  No more “invasions,” “animals,” “rapists and criminals,” “floods,” “crisis”—dehumanizing rhetoric leads to dehumanizing policies.  We cannot sacrifice our humanity in the name of security or we risk losing both.

Last week we welcomed the President of the United States to one of the safest cities in the United States.  Safe not because of walls and not in spite of the fact that we are a city of immigrants.  Safe because we are a city of immigrants and because we treat each other with dignity and respect.  A city that has the opportunity to lead on the most important issues before us, out of experience, out of compassion and out of a fierce determination to see this country live its ideals and rise to its full potential.

We can learn from the errors of our past, have the courage to do what’s right while we still have the chance, and ensure that the President doesn’t commit this country to making mistakes from which we may never recover.

It’s up to us.

Beto O’Rourke

(Received on 2/19/2019 via e-mail)

Beto O’Rourke Speaks Out

Beto O’Rourke photo from his Facebook page.

Beto O’Rourke reached out via an e-mail and, since I’ll be traveling for the Oscar weekend, I’m going to break it up into smaller sections and share it with those of you who have, perhaps, not received it. I probably received it because I contributed to his campaign against Ted Cruz; I am in Texas. We are likely to hear a lot more about Beto O’Rourke, I think, so hear him out, in smaller segments. Thanks!

Connie:

The President came to El Paso last week.  He promised a wall and repeated his lies about the dangers that immigrants pose.  With El Paso as the backdrop, he claimed that this city of immigrants was dangerous before a border fence was built here in 2008. (*Untrue, El Paso was named the nation’s 2nd safest city after San Jose, California in one poll).

El Paso was one of the safest communities in the United States before the fence was built here. The president said the wall saves lives. In fact, walls push desperate families to cross in ever more hostile terrain, insuring greater suffering and more deaths.  He spoke about immigrants and crime, when immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than Americans born here. It’s worth thinking about how we got to this place.

How did it come to be that 11 million undocumented immigrants call America home? How did we come to militarize our border?  How did we arrive at such a disconnect between our ideals, our values, the reality of our lives, and the policies and political rhetoric that govern immigration and border security?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the challenges we face are largely of our own design—a function of the unintended consequences of immigration policy and the rhetoric we’ve used to describe immigrants and the border.  At almost every step of modern immigration policy and immigration politics, we have exacerbated underlying problems and made things worse.  Sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes with the most cynical exploitation of nativism and fear.

Much of the history of immigration policy, and the source for the data that I’m using, is powerfully summarized in a report entitled “Unintended Consequences of U.S. Immigration Policy:  Explaining the Post-1965 Surge from Latin America,” by Douglas S. Massey and Karen A. Pren.

In 1965, the United States ended the bracero farm-worker program, in part because of the sub-standard wages and conditions in which these Mexican workers labored.  And yet, after decades of employing this labor, with our economy dependent on the laborers and the laborers dependent on access to the U.S. job market, the system of low-cost Mexican labor didn’t go away.  Many of the same Mexican nationals returned to the U.S., returned to the same back-breaking jobs, only now they were undocumented.  Ironically, despite the intent of the 1965 law ending the program, they enjoyed fewer protections and wage guarantees in the shadows as they continued to play a fundamental role in our economy.

As this same population converted from being documented to undocumented, a wave of scary metaphors was employed to gin up anxiety and paranoia and the political will to employ ever more repressive policies to deter their entry.  It was good for politicians and newspapers, but terrible for immigrants and immigration policy.  Thus began the “Latino threat” narrative.

As Massey and Pren wrote:

“The most common negative framing depicted immigration as a ‘crisis’ for the nation.  Initially, marine metaphors were used to dramatize the crisis, with Latino immigration being labeled a ‘rising tide’ or a ‘tidal wave’ that was poised to ‘inundate’ the United States and ‘drown’ its culture while ‘flooding’ American society with unwanted foreigners (Santa Ana 2002).  Over time, marine metaphors increasingly gave way to martial metaphors, with illegal immigration being depicted as an ‘invasion’ in which ‘outgunned’ Border Patrol agents sought to ‘hold the lin’ in a vain attempt to ‘defend’ the border against ‘attacks’ from ‘alien invaders’ who launched ‘banzai charges’ to overwhelm American defenses.” (Nevins 2001; Chavez 2008).

The fear stoked by politicians produced the intended paranoia and political constituency demanding ever tougher immigration measures.  The result of this was not to stop undocumented immigration.

Instead, it caused the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States to grow.
(Beto O’Rourke’s words continued tomorrow)

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