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: Of Local (Quad Cities’) Interest Page 1 of 30

The category is self-explanatory, but it would include new or old businesses, political elections, trends, restaurants in town, entertainment in town, etc.

Dominion Voting Machine Conspiracy Theories: Only Crackpots Need Apply

Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute warns that the crack-pot Dominion Voting Machine conspiracy theories are harming cyber-security:

BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

Last week, Julian Sanchez wrote about a crackpot conspiracy theory making the rounds: The allegation that voting machines or tabulation software produced by Dominion Voting Systems had somehow been “hacked” or “rigged” to alter the outcome of the presidential election. At the time, I worried I might be giving undue attention to an outlandish claim that—given how thin and easily debunked was the “evidence” for it—would surely fade away on its own. Apparently, I need not have worried. Since then, the Dominion Theory has not only led to the firing of Chris Krebs, the well‐​respected head of the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency, but featured in a press conference held by Trump attorney Sidney Powell, who made it the centerpiece of a wildly implausible case that Donald Trump had won the presidency by a “landslide” and been deprived of victory by massive and systematic vote fraud. According to Powell’s increasingly byzantine version of the theory:

“The Dominion Voting Systems, the Smartmatic technology software, and the software that goes in other computerized voting systems here as well, not just Dominion, were created in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chavez to make sure he never lost an election after one constitutional referendum came out the way he did not want it to come out.”

None of this is true. Dominion and Smartmatic are separate companies, and indeed competitors; the tenuous connection between them is that Dominion once purchased assets from a firm that had been owned and sold off by Smartmatic years earlier. Smartmatic is an American company, though its founders are Venezuelan, and its software was not used in any of the swing states currently under scrutiny. (It has provided software used in Venezuelan elections, but the company itself has called out electoral fraud there.) Powell’s claim appears to be little more than an effort to insinuate guilt by (very indirect) association with an authoritarian regime.

The other supposed “evidence” for chicanery linked to Dominion is equally shoddy. Election‐​night tabulation errors in Michigan—detected and corrected almost instantly—were speculatively attributed to Dominion software by online conspiracy theorists, but local election officials have since explained that they were the result of human errors, not computers misbehaving. Claims amplified by Trump that millions of votes had been “deleted” in Pennsylvania were unequivocally refuted by state officials. Trump appears to have picked up the notion from a report on the One America News Network, which got the idea from a blog post citing data from the polling firm Edison Research—though Edison itself had produced no such report.

Evidence against the theory is overwhelming, and has only become stronger in the week since my original post. Georgia recently completed a manual recount of paper ballots, supervised by the Republican secretary of state, and found no sign of any significant tabulation errors. (The states electronic voting machines generate voter‐​verifiable paper records, and in most battleground states the in‐​person votes that would have used such voting machines favored Trump, with Biden having the advantage in hand‐​marked mail ballots.) In an open letter, 59 of the country’s most prominent election security experts said they’d found no evidence of systemic fraud—cyber or otherwise.

None of this, alas, was enough to save Chris Krebs, until recently director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within the Department of Homeland Security. For the sin of issuing a statement that the agency had found no evidence of voting systems being compromised, Krebs was summarily terminated by tweet, with Trump declaring the agency’s expert analysis “highly inaccurate.”

“We have it totally under control.” (Jan. 2020)

Since the evidence‐​free Dominion theory is unlikely to persuade any court, Krebs’ dismissal may be its most damaging consequence, at least in the short term. This is not merely because Krebs was widely respected and viewed as highly competent, but because the firing sends a clear signal to all government employees: if your own analysis contradicts the president’s claims about vote fraud, you shouldn’t expect to remain employed for long. This undermines CISA’s core mission, which includes assisting and coordinating with states which may lack the federal government’s capabilities when it comes to monitoring and detecting sophisticated cyber‐​threats. Now the specter of political interference hangs over any warnings the agency may provide in the future. The agency may now hesitate to provide state officials—and the general public—with reassurances about the integrity of local elections, while warnings about actual threats may be viewed with suspicion given Trump’s clear desire to find evidence of fraud. Nor is the harm limited to CISA. The Intelligence Community at large is on notice: produce reporting at odds with the president’s public claims, and you place your career at risk.

This is particularly poisonous because it distorts what’s known as the “intelligence cycle”: the process by which agencies gather intelligence, analyze it, disseminate reporting, and then use that information to allocate resources and prioritize the next round of intelligence collection. Any distorting effect on what is reported—either because employees feel obliged to emphasize information that confirms what the president wants to hear or suppress information that contradicts his presuppositions—risks creating a feedback loop, infecting the next round of planning and intelligence collection, and diverting resources and energy away from genuine threats and toward spurious ones. We should hope the president‐​elect has the wisdom to avoid such potentially toxic interference.

Trump Power Grab Is Going On Now: Pay Attention

“Bee Gone: A Political Parable”

Trump exhorted his far-right army to mobilize for a sustained conflict over the election results. He refused to say whether he’d accept a legitimate loss. And he confirmed he’s expecting the Supreme Court to help invalidate countless legally cast ballots.

Can Trump can pull off one of his most-discussed means for rigging the election: getting a GOP state legislature to appoint substitute pro-Trump electors to the electoral college, regardless of the popular vote in that state? That’s what is going on right now.

Trump is telegraphing his scheme.

At the debate, Trump said he “can’t go along” with a result tallied up from millions of mail-in ballots, which will mean “fraud like you’ve never seen.” He urged supporters to “watch” the voting “very carefully,” i.e., to engage in voter intimidation. When his own GOP appointed cyber-security official, Christopher Krebs, who had done a good and honest job, testified that it was the fairest election in history, DJT fired him.“We did it right. Defend Today, Secure Tomorrow,” wrote Krebs, a former policy director at Microsoft whom Trump appointed to his role in 2017 after Russia’s 2016 election Interference campaign.

It is unconscionable that the man in charge of keeping foreign countries from interfering in our elections, who has, by all accounts, done an admirable job, is being punished for doing his job well. Trump is also playing with fire in replacing the Secretary of Defense and other high ranking officials, just as is done in tin-pot dictator countries before a coup d’etat. The Republicans in the House and Senate, so far, are simply going along with these anti-democratic acts and making excuses for the man-child orchestrating them.

Asked what he expects of the high court and his most recently appointed Supreme Court Justice Amy Conan Barrett, Trump said: “I’m counting on them to look at the ballots.” He is dragging his feet as long as he can, demanding recount after recount, even though none has changed the results. He is seeking to sow dissension in the ranks of his loyal-to-the-bitter-end followers and to get their public outcry to the point where red state officials will feel confident in saying that they are sending in their own electors for the Dec. 14th Electoral College vote. So far, only a few GOP Senators have had the cojones to even congratulate the rightful winner and I know of only two who have spoken out at all about any portion of this travesty.

We are in deep water, here, folks, and there doesn’t appear to be anyone throwing us a life line. The Senate won’t, as they demonstrated during the impeachment opportunity. Bill Barr won’t, as he’s the guy who helped Reagan out during Iran/Contra and has already demonstrated how he will work to undercut the Mueller Report by releasing his own Cliff’s Notes version early and supporting Trump in many other unethical ways.

“We have it totally under control.” (Jan. 2020)

Trump did also say he might not “need” the court to settle “the election itself.” But that only inadvertently confirms that he believes the court is at his beck and call to hand him the presidency, despite the fact that he lost the election by over 5 million votes. His supporters in Michigan have already tried to refuse to certify that their state vote went to the Democrat.

As far-fetched as it seems that a state legislature might appoint pro-Trump electors, it’s important to note that some Republicans are already claiming that the fictional mass fraud in large-scale mail balloting could serve as the justification for doing just this.

As one Trump legal adviser said, they might say: “We don’t think the results of our own state are accurate, so here’s our slate of electors that we think properly reflect the results of our state.”

And so, when Trump casts doubt on the legitimacy of a prolonged count after Election Day — as he did at the debate — he’s opening the possibility of using exactly this justification for precisely this endgame.

 

Nero Fiddled While Rome Burned; Trump Sulks While A Quarter of a Million Die

The editorial below appeared in the Nov. 12th Quad City Times and was written by Michael Gerson (WaPo). When you’re right, you’re right and I’m sure Gerson has said this better than I could:

************************

BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

President Donald Trump will be remembered for many things.  For the audacity of his mendacity.  (* He just fired the head of the cyber security team).  For his ready recourse to prejudice.  For his savant’s ability to rile and ride social resentment.  For his welcoming of right-wing crackpots (QAnon?) into the Republican coalition.  For his elevation of self-love into a populist cause.

For his brutal but bumbling use of force against protesters.  For his routinization of self-dealing and political corruption.  For his utter lack of public spirit and graciousness even to the very end.

And, to be fair, for the remarkable achievement of winning more than 73 million votes with an appealing message, without significant achievements, without a discernible agenda for the future (and after 240,000 U.S. citizens lay dead because of his inattention to duty.)

But although Trump will be remembered for all these things, he will be judged for one thing above all: When the pandemic came and hundreds of thousands of Americans died, he didn’t give a damn.

How do we know this? It is not easy to read a man’s heart, but it is easy to detect that organ’s absence. Trump is not only refusing to provide leadership during a rapidly mounting health crisis, he is also sabotaging the ability of the incoming Biden administration to cooperate with leaders at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies.  By disrupting the presidential transition during an unfolding Covid-19 disaster, Trump is engaging in history’s most dangerous sulk.

Even before his re-election loss, Trump had trouble expressing empathy for victims of the virus and their families. Even after his own bout with Covid-19, Trump did not seem capable of feeling or imagining the suffering of others. (*We saw this in Puerto Rico when his sole presidential act was to throw paper towels to the suffering populace.)

This may reflect some psychological incapacity. But it also indicates a certain view of pandemic politics.

From the start, Trump did not believe the disaster itself was a true enemy.   Rather, he viewed the public perception of widespread disease as the real threat—the threat to his political future. So, the fewer Americans who believed in the disease’s spread, the better. And the less attention the victims of the disease received, the better.

This helps explain Trump’s own explanation given to the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward at the start of the pandemic.  “I wanted to always play it down,” the president said.  “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.” A panic, after all, might spook the stock market, or make him appear responsible.

This is a distorted way to view both illness and politics.  Interpreted as an attack on him, Covid-19 should be minimized.  In reality, the disease was—and is—an attack on the American public, which can be fought only by elevating attention to the disease and warning against indifference.  It was Trump’s monomania that dictated the path of denial and inaction.

At one point early in the unfolding crisis, a senior official urged Trump to take leadership and “own the problem.”  But that is exactly what the president wanted most to avoid.  As the danger became undeniable, the president doggedly denied it.  “It’s going to disappear,” said Trump.

The goal was not to calm the public, but to anesthetize it.

In this cramped and selfish view of the world, every Covid-19 victim who is highlighted by the media is perceived by the president as an attack on himself. And the public expression of sympathy on his part would be self-sabotage, an admission of his failure.

So when Trump recovered from the disease, he did not say, as former Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie did, “I should have won a mask.”  Instead, Trump pronounced himself “immune,” held dangerous largely mask-free rallies, and used his own recovery to play down the seriousness of the disease.

Covid-19 Test Site.

Recovery from Covid-19 did not change Trump’s perspective, and neither has electoral loss. The president is apparently too busy moping, golfing, fuming and lying to assume leadership during a spiraling health crisis. (*Today, however, he took time to fire the head of cyber-security for the election and to make an attempt to disenfranchise all of Detroit.).

He has roused only enough interest to take personal credit for a prospective vaccine.  Once again, Trump does not seem to regard Covid-19 as a threat to the country requiring responsible action  He sees the pandemic as an attack on his person to be downplayed or denied.

This is egotism, turned cruel and deadly. (*The nation’s Top Psychiatrists say that Trump is, indeed, a malignant narcissist. This means narcissism, anti-social personality disorder, paranoia and sadistic tendencies rolled into one and created to describe Hitler.)

The country will not be delivered by appealing to Trump’s better angels, who fled in disgust long ago.  It might help if elected Republicans stopped ignoring and enabling Trump’s lethal tantrum.  But the hours until noon, January 20th, still move too slowly.

 

Thoughts, Post-Election, Regarding the Presidential Election of 2020

BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

I have purposely refrained from writing anything “post election,” hoping that I could post something very hopeful and positive.

Instead, although former Vice President Joe Biden prevailed and has won enough votes to be declared the winner of the presidential race by everyone except hard-core Trump supporters, the news from the front was not as rosy as Democrats might have hoped. Cheri Bustos, who was Chairperson of the DNC, has stepped down amidst the news that the “blue tsunami” that many thought was going to happen did not materialize.

I never felt that there was going to be a “blue tsunami.” I was still coping with the debilitating news that Trump was going to be our president, rather than Hillary Clinton. Mind you, I was not an avid Hillary supporter, but I did think she would be competent, which was not at all clear with the mercurial temperament of DJT.

I felt the way I did when Stephen Colbert had set aside his entire late night talk show to revel in Hillary Clinton’s victory and, instead, had to consume the champagne in a much-less festive fashion.

Since the polls closed on November 3rd I’ve waited for a sign that a smooth transition of power was taking place and our long national nightmare with DJT might be over. It will be two full weeks tomorrow and Biden’s popular vote continues to rise. However, the Trumpers are in the position that those of us who backed Al Gore in 2000 were placed in after the hanging chad election in Florida. Only worse.

There is far more evidence, this time, that the citizens of the United States wanted to be rid of Donald J. Trump. That enthusiasm for change did not, however, extend down the ballot, and the mere fact that 170 million people could still bring themselves to vote for Donald J. Trump is disconcerting.

After reading many “post election post scripts” in these 2 weeks, I have settled on tapping the thoughts articulated by Leonard Pitts of the Miami “Herald” and here are this Black American’s thoughts, published on November 9th:

Recognizing Who We Are: Faced with a clear choice between good and evil, America did the right thing, barely.  That is sobering and profoundly disappointing.

“Forgive me for being the ant at the picnic.

Certainly this is a glad moment, an ecstatic and delirious moment.  The election of 2020 has ended at last.  Joe Biden is finally the president-elect and Donald Trump is finally consigned to the dank well of ignominy he so richly deserves.

As Gerald Ford once said in the aftermath of a less dire threat, “Our long national nightmare is over.”  As the Munchkins of Oz once sang, “Ding dong! The wicked witch is dead.”

But if gladness is mandated, caveats are required.  America needed an emphatic rejection that left no doubt that the chaos, lies, lawlessness, bigotry and ignorance Trump represented were not, as some of us are overly fond of claiming ‘who we are as a people.’ We needed to deliver him a thundering, emphatic rejection.

And we did not.

To the contrary, a victory that should have been an overwhelming landslide had to be eked into existence.  Indeed, even in defeat, Trump actually improved on his 2016 popular vote count by, at this writing, roughly 7 million votes.

Think about that.  After he bungled a pandemic (240,000 Americans dead; 420,000 by March 1st), after he botched the economy (nearly 5 million jobs lost—more than any president since WWII), after he alienated our allies and emboldened our enemies, after he undermined every institution, down to and including the National Weather Service, after he extorted Ukraine, occupied Portland and declared war on Lafayette Square, and, after he embraced an agenda of brazen white supremacy, after, in other words, they lost the excuse of ignorance, because they knew exactly what Trump was, 7 million more people cast their ballots for Trump.

Joe Biden in Independence, Iowa, on the Fourth of July, 2019.

Yes, he lost.

Yes, Biden tallied more votes than any candidate in history (78,789,001, 50.9% for Biden to 73,167,876 votes, 47.3% for Trump) and, of course, won the Electoral College. But the caveat looms large.

Faced with a clear choice between good and evil, America did the right thing, barely.  That is sobering and profoundly disappointing.

And it strips bare all the glossy claims about who we are as a country, underscoring the fact that in a meaningful sense, we are not one country at all anymore, but two sharing the same borders.  The last time that happened, it took four years and 750,000 lives to force us back into some semblance of oneness.  Even then, the seams of the fracture were always visible.

Unlike that break, this one is not starkly geographic: South versus North. No, this one is city versus country, college educated versus high school educated, and, most significantly, future versus past.  Meaning that yesterday, this was a nation where white people were the majority, and tomorrow it will be one where they are not.

The fear and resentment that inspires in many white people cannot be overstated.  It has warped our politics for years, culminating in the disaster of Trump.

Now, Biden is elected on a promise to heal those breaks, but that will require more than a good man’s good intentions.  It will require white Americans to divest a system of white supremacy that, let’s face it, has been very, very good to them.

Unfortunately, it has been less good for the country.  So a moral reckoning is required here.  It is time more white Americans finally recognize that white supremacy is not something you compromise with or rationalize.  It must be a deal breaker, always.  And it isn’t, as evidenced by the fact that the man who called Mexicans rapists and Haiti, El Salvador and the nations of Africa “shithole countries,” who described neo-Nazis as “very fine people” and told four Congresswomen of color born in this country to “go back where they came from” just won 7 million more votes than he garnered in 2016.

That’s “who we are as a people.”  Let’s stop kidding ourselves about that. And start figuring out how to become what we said we were all along.”

 

 

“Stormchaser” Is Well-done Short Film by Gretl Claggett

Stormchaser”

Filmmaker Gretl Claggett both wrote and directed a short film/narrative pilot called “Stormchaser.”

I’m not sure which Midwestern state is portrayed in this 27 minute film, but the license plate said Missouri, so I’ll take a wild guess that it was, indeed, Missouri.

Gretl’s indie film, which might morph into a pilot if all goes well, won the AMC Networks’ Best Female Creator Award at the Stareable Fest 2020 and is traveling throughout the festival circuit now. She will be my guest on my podcast Weekly Wilson on November 19th at 7 p.m. (CDT) talking about this film and her burgeoning career. The film will be screening at Film Girl Film Festival in Milwaukee November 13th through November 20th.

So, what is the plot of “Stormchaser”?

I expected it to be up-close-and-personal information on tornadoes and their devastating effects on those trapped in them.

Not the case.

“Stormchaser” is about Bonnie Blue (Mary Birdsong of “The Descendants”), who grew up chasing tornadoes with her dad and now is making a statement for female empowerment. She’s trapped in a  demeaning job as a sales person for Flip Smith’s shingles and siding business, where “Flip the Switch” is the go-to phrase for the sales people.  (Nice acting on the part of Stephen Plunkett, who has been recognized at several film festivals.)

The film begins with a young Bonnie sliding into the cab of the truck next to her father as they seek to chase a tornado, described as “a gift from the infinite universe.” They encounter “a great river of air” and are off to the races.  Later, a radio preacher is heard burbling about “a visual manifestation of turmoil just beneath the surface.” By that point, the turmoil has pretty much broken through to the outside world.

Oddly enough, I wrote this review in my basement (hoping I would not lose power and the internet while working) during a tornado warning for the Chicago area and  Illinois on 11/10/2020, which lasted until 3 p.m. It is a classic gesture of serendipity that I was actually hunkered down in my basement avoiding the possible consequences of a tornado while watching “Stormchaser.”

The film becomes a story about a woman of a certain age—only female in a male-dominated workplace—standing up for her rights. She’s disconnected, up against a recession, and facing down a boss (Stephen Plunkett of “The Mend”) who deserves everything that comes to him in the course of the film.

Mary Birdsong (“The Descendants”) portrays Bonnie Blue and does a fine job. Plunkett won Best Actor awards for his role as Flip Smith at the Grove Film Festival (New Jersey) and the cast won Best Ensemble Cast at the Richmond International Film Festival. Plunkett also was nominated as Best Actor at the Idyllwild Film Festival.

Filmmaker Gretl Claggett said, “I created ‘Stormchaser’ as a darkly funny allegory, in which the main characters represent different facets of our sociopolitical system, from the Old America and culture of entitlement to the changing face and values of a New America struggling to find its way.”

Tune in on November 19th at 7 p.m. (CDT) when Gretl and I talk about “Stormchaser” and her past and future film projects. 

 

“The Comeback Trail” Will Leave You Laughing—and That’s Just What We Need!

George Gallo and Josh Posner took an old idea (based on a 1982 film of the same name  by Harry Hurwitz) and tweaked the basic idea of “The Producers” to give us the comedy “The Comeback Trail.” The movie stars Robert DeNiro, Tommy Lee Jones, Zach Braff, Morgan Freeman, Emile Hirsch and there is an uncredited cameo from Jason Bateman.

Gallo was the creative force behind “Wise Guys,” “Midnight Run,” and “Bad Boys,” among other amusing films. This is a World Class Cast and the music by Aldo Schllaku and cinematography by Lukasz Bielan are top-notch. Budget was estimated to be $25 million.

Here’s the plot in a nutshell (as revealed in numerous trailers): Max Barber (DeNiro) and his nephew Walter Creason (Zach Braff) have just released “Killer Nuns” (“They’re nuns with a bad habit.”). It’s another bomb from Miracle Pictures. [In fact, the Miracle Pictures slogan is, “If it’s good, it’s a miracle.”]

Walter borrowed $350,000 from Reggie Fontaine (Morgan Freeman) to make the picture, and Reggie wants his money back. Since Reggie isn’t kidding about wanting repayment, Max goes to James Moore (Emile Hirsch), a wealthy investor, and James (call him Jamie) demands that the great script for a film called “Paradise” be signed over to Jamie, in exchange for helping bail Max out.

It is while at Jamie’s mansion, where filming is taking place on yet another picture, that Zach Braff, seeking an autograph, inadvertently causes Frank Pierce, the star of the picture (uncredited cameo by Jason Bateman) to fall off a building.  (I wondered if Frank Pierce was modeled on Tom Cruise?) Pierce is killed,— but he was insured for $5 million.

That is the germ of the idea for Max: Hire an over-the-hill movie star of yesteryear, insure him heavily, and kill him off while making a picture. Then, collect the insurance. This isn’t too far off the idea behind “The Producers” when another Max planned to make a terrible Broadway bomb and collect for its failure. That original film with Dick Shawn (“Springtime for Hitler,” anyone?) unfortunately goes on to be a roaring success, which ruins Zero Mostel’s (Max Bialystock’s) plans.

Tommy Lee Jones is the over-the-hill Western star, Duke Montana, who is reduced to doing commercials for Big Earl’s Used Cars, while living in a retired actors’ home, where he is suicidal over his long-lost love, Bess.

THE GOOD

The dialogue frequently references famous movies of yesteryear. At one point, for instance, Morgan Freeman tells Max’s character that, if he is not promptly paid within 72 hours, “I’ll hunt you down like Redford and Newman in ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.’” There is an amusing exchange when Morgan Freeman—a frequent investor in numerous film projects—-marvels to his sidekick, Devin, that they are on the movie set where “Gunga Din” was filmed.

“This is where they shot Gunga Din!” says Morgan’s character.

Devin responds, “Who is Gunga Din and why did they shoot him?”

It’s throw-away lines like this, plus the stunt horse Buttermilk (an homage to Dale Evans) that will tickle the fancy of true movie buffs.

The horse (Buttermilk) has various tricks that he’ll perform upon the uttering of a code word. Say “rocket” and he’s off running like one. Say “mattress” and he’ll lie down. Say “Rhubarb” and watch out! There is also a bull whose intentions towards the cast are deadly and a hanging footbridge over a canyon that makes Duke ‘fess up that he is afraid of heights.

THE BAD

I’ve never thought that Robert DeNiro played comedy as well as drama. He always seems to be over-the-top hammy in fare like “Meet the Fockers,” but the movies were still funny. His mugging for the camera (again) doesn’t keep the lines and situations from being laugh-out-loud humor at a time when we desperately need more laughter in our lives.

The movie was filmed in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico, and will be streaming by December 18th. Be sure to stay after the credits to see the hilarious phoney ads for “Killer Nuns” and films like “Cows from Beyond” by the mythical Miracle Films.

 

“Meat the Future” Explains How Meat Can Be Grown in Labs and Replace “Real” Meat

Now playing the 43rd Denver Film Festival, “Meat the Future” is a Liz Marshall documentary that explains the brainchild of cardiac surgeon Uma Valeti, who has formed Memphis Meats to bring meat grown in laboratories to market.

Dr. Valeti actually was a trained cardiac surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, but he had been haunted for years by the idea that, in order to eat meat, animals must be grown to adulthood and then slaughtered. Not only did the idea that “in the midst of life, we are in death” affect him as a child, he also became aware of the growing demand for meat that cannot be met by standard methods.

In the course of this film, we meet Ira Van Eelen, whose father in Amsterdam may have been the Godfather of Clean Meat, starting experiments with growing meat in a lab as far back as 2010. Dr. Valeti took the idea and has made it a reality—if an expensive reality—making it possible to cultivate meat that tastes like meat, from the cells of chickens and ducks and beef cattle, in a cultured lab setting over the course of 4 weeks, whereas it takes from 14 to 24 months to raise an animal from birth to slaughter.

SLAUGHTER

In order to feed humans, pigs and cows and other living mammals are slaughtered. It’s a reality that has driven many to become vegetarians. Even Dr. Valeti admits having tried vegetarianism for a while. The success of things like tofu burgers, however, has not been nearly as close to “the real thing” as the cultured meats that Valeti’s Memphis Meats has been able to produce.

Early news articles (April, 2016) showed a pound of what appeared to be ground beef with the label $18,000 – 1 lb. of ground beef from Memphis Meats. The three original investors put $3.1 million together but, since their successes, investors like Bill Gates and Richard Branson, along with David McLennan, the CEO of Cargill, have come onboard to underwrite the group’s efforts.  Draper Fisher Jurveston, an investment firm for those looking to underwrite promising technologies, reports that the group now has “more money coming at them than they want to take” and mentioned a figure of $4 billion.

What are the “good” and the “bad” things about “clean meat”? (“clean meat,” as a term,has tested more positively than “cultured meat” in P.R. studies).

THE GOOD:

  • Animals are a big part of the carbon footprint problem and, with this technology, the need to raise so many animals on feed lots, is bypassed, thereby decreasing the carbon footprint of the industries that are now producing our meat. The film mentions a timeline of 20 to 30 years by which time animals would not need to be raised for meat. This is, as the film put it, ‘a huge paradigm shift.”
  • Supply – The documentary posits the belief that, despite all the efforts that currently exist to feed the world’s people, we need to step up production. Comparing 4 weeks of preparation time (clean meat)  to 14 to 24 months (real meat) is educational.
  • No more slaughtering living creatures for our beef, pork, poultry or fish.

 

THE BAD:

  • As you can imagine, meat producers are not at all sure that this idea is a “good” thing for them, their industry, or the public They maintain that the government must learn how to regulate cell-based meats. Both Sonny Perdue (Secretary of Agriculture) and Dr. Scott Gottlieb of “Face the Nation” appearances talk about “clean meat.”
  • The Good Food Institute says we need the equivalent of a Manhattan Project to move the initiative forward. Why do I get the feeling that, just like the electric car, the “old way” meat people will kill the idea of cultured cells becoming edible meat, just as the fossil fuel industry killed the electric car?
  • Expense – currently, it is prohibitively expensive to create “clean meat” with figures of $1700 per pound mentioned. The use of markets and technology to solve problems cannot be supported enthusiastically enough, but I do wonder if this Bold Brave Idea might end up like the hydrogen car. (Remember that one?)

“A Perfect Enemy” Is a Film To Intrigue from Director Kike Maillo

The intriguing film “A Perfect Enemy” starring Tomasz Kot (Cold War), was directed by 45-year-old Spanish-born director Kike Maillo. Maillo helmed the 2012 film “Eva,” when 37, and it won him the Best New Director award from the Cinema Writers Circle Award in Spain and an award for Best Special Effects (2012). This time out, the basis for the complicated story is a novel by Amelie Nothomb, “Cosmetique de l’ennemi,” but the script was written by Maillo, aided by screenwriters Cristina Clemente and Fernando Navarro.

Architect Jeremiasz August has just concluded a lecture about architecture (“Perfection is when there is nothing left to take away.”) and is in a cab on his way to the airport.

Furthermore, it is an airport that Jeremiasz actually designed, with a beautiful model of his work in the center of a spacious waiting area.

Amidst a deluge outside the lecture hall, a young blonde traveler asks if she can share a cab with the architect. Tessel Textor (Athena Straites)—a petite blonde—does clamber inside the cab in the downpour and begins a pretty much non-stop barrage of information about herself. The Good Samaritan act of allowing her to share the cab causes both the architect and the young blonde to miss their flights, so their conversation continues—more or less—-in the VIP lounge of the airport.

August appears to be growing very tired of the non-stop chatter. There is some symbolism overtly explained. When Tessel first enters the cab,she explains that her name can mean “weaver of words,” although she is not a writer. (August tells her it’s not too late to start.)

There is a third character—a beautiful woman named Isabelle, who was married to August but disappeared  twenty years earlier. We see Isabelle (Marta Nieto) primarily strolling about a charming cemetery and, later, in her apartment. Her relationship with August is confirmed further along in the film by photos of the couple that adorn her apartment.

Things begin to become very surreal and fantastical at the airport. There are clear signs that Tessel is “not right in the head” (if she is even there) and her annoying monologue is beginning to irritate the reserved architect. There are several trips to view a model of the airport. Each time,  airport model has small changes occurring involving splotches of blood, etc. (Take note). The exchanges in the rest room(s) are even more central to the plot and even weirder.

Ultimately, August is on his flight. We anticipate that violence will occur at any moment, especially since Tessel followed August into the men’s lavatory and spends a fair amount of time playing with a knife throughout the film.

Now, August is on his flight. Tessel says to August, “Lower your voice.”

“Why?” asks August.

“Because you’re still on the plane,” responds Tessel. That was not where we thought August was when he raised his voice, so settings are shifting and mysterious things are occurring; the endless stories that Tessel tells are beginning to form a mosaic of sorts, coming together to form one tapestry.

The best comparison, for the viewer, to capture what may be going on in this film is to mention “Fight Club” and how it dealt with reality.

I enjoyed the film. First of all, it was well acted, (although Tessel would have been more convincing if she hadn’t been wearing 10 pounds of colored eye make-up in every scene plus what looked like camouflage pajamas).

Aside from that faux pas on the costuming, the principals carry out the somewhat confusing exchanges of dialogue proficiently, the music is good (Alex Baranowski), the sets are great, the cinematography is above average (Rita Noriega)  and the ultimate resolution of the plot is clear.

Another plus: the actors are all speaking English. I finally gave up on the subtitles of an Iranian film that was supposed to feature a burning theater. Did not make it through to the end of that one. Gave it my best shot; that’s 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back.

 Enjoyed this one all the way through to its thought-provoking conclusion.

How Trump Might Try to Cheat to Win

BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

This is a slightly truncated version of the original “Washington Post” article that explains one of the likely methods that DJT will/would try to use to steal the November 3rd presidential election.

Could Trump steal the election? Here’s one way to find out. (Sept. 30, 2020)

The disastrous debate that unfolded in Ohio should prompt us to take the possibility that President Trump will try to steal the election far more seriously — even as it also renders that outcome much less likely to succeed.

Trump exhorted his far-right army to mobilize for a sustained conflict over the election results. He refused to say whether he’d accept a legitimate loss. And he confirmed he’s expecting the Supreme Court to help invalidate countless legally cast ballots.

It’s this last point that presents a way to gauge Trump’s chances of executing some version of his corrupt designs.

The short version is this. At Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing, Democrats can press a line of questioning that might illuminate whether Trump can pull off one of his most-discussed means for rigging the election: getting a GOP state legislature to appoint substitute pro-Trump electors to the electoral college, regardless of the popular vote in that state. 

Trump is telegraphing his scheme

At the debate, Trump said he “can’t go along” with a result tallied up from millions of mail-in ballots, which will mean “fraud like you’ve never seen.” He urged supporters to “watch” the voting “very carefully,” i.e., to engage in voter intimidation.

And asked what he expects of the high court and Barrett, Trump said:I’m counting on them to look at the ballots.”

Trump did also say he might not “need” the court to settle “the election itself.” But that only inadvertently confirms that he believes the court is at his beck and call on this matter.

As far-fetched as it seems that a state legislature might appoint pro-Trump electors, it’s important to note that some Republicans are already claiming that the fictional mass fraud in large-scale mail balloting could serve as the justification for doing just this.

As one Trump legal adviser told the Atlantic, they might say: “We don’t think the results of our own state are accurate, so here’s our slate of electors that we think properly reflect the results of our state.”

And so, when Trump casts doubt on the legitimacy of a prolonged count after Election Day — as he did at the debate — he’s opening the possibility of using exactly this justification for precisely this endgame.

As Edward Foley outlined in a prescient 2019 article, if Trump were ahead in the Election Day count, he’d likely put this scheme in motion while claiming “machine politicians in Philadelphia” are trying to steal the election with fabricated mail votes.

Could this work?

Democratic National Convention

To be clear, it shouldn’t.

The Constitution does assign to each state the authority to “appoint” its electors, in a “manner” that the legislature “may direct.”

But in a terrific piece, three legal scholars — Grace Brosofsky, Michael Dorf and Laurence Tribe — explain that precedent shows this means the legislature must “direct” how the state appoints its electors by making laws that create and define the process for doing so.

Virtually all states have made laws that provide for electors to be appointed in accordance with the popular vote outcome in them. (Maine and Nebraska do this by congressional district.) Thus, those scholars argue, legislatures can’t appoint pro-Trump electors without making a new law providing for appointment of electors based on legislators’ own will, not that of the voters.

Such a new law would require the governor’s signature. And in three states where this appears most likely to be tried — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — Democratic governors would veto any such effort by GOP-controlled legislatures.

The Supreme Court has upheld the principle that a governor can veto such an effort, those scholars note. In the 1932 case Smiley v. Holm, the court ruled that the Minnesota state legislature could not change election rules unilaterally in the face of such a veto.

This ruling confirmed that for the court, “state legislatures cannot alter” laws governing the selection of electors “except through their ordinary state lawmaking procedures,” which would require a gubernatorial signature and be subject to veto, the scholars argue.

So friendly legislatures can’t do this on Trump’s whim without a new law, no matter how loudly they scream that ongoing counting of mail ballots is fraudulent.

Such a case might again find its way to the Supreme Court. But how would it rule?

The question for Barrett

Democratic senators can press Trump’s nominee on this question — by asking whether she believes Smiley is settled law, and on whether she believes the Constitution does or does not allow state legislatures to appoint electors outside the lawmaking process.

Dorf, a professor at Cornell Law School, told me Barrett would likely evade this question, by merely promising to “respect precedent” while declining comment on a question that might soon be before the court.

Still, this might be worth trying. Given that Trump has explicitly said he expects the court — and Barrett — to help him pull off something like this, we’re in an extraordinary situation. By confirming that Smiley is settled law, Barrett could strongly suggest that such an effort will fail, sparing the country from it.

“She could certainly throw cold water on it,” Dorf told me. “She could make it clear that she’s not likely to be receptive to an argument” that legislators can appoint electors without a new law.

As for other justices — such as John G. Roberts Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch — they might also look askance at such an effort. In Bush v. Gore, the court described the process for appointing electors as a “legislative” scheme. Dorf says they might see this as invalidating any effort to appoint them outside the lawmaking process.

To be clear, Trump’s disastrous debate performance makes it more likely Biden will win the “blue wall” states by a comfortable enough margin that Trump won’t even try such a scheme.

But Trump also made it clear at the debate that he’s unhinged enough to try anything — and is perfectly happy to rile up millions of supporters behind an effort to overturn a legitimate loss. So if there’s any way to take this off the table now, we should try it.

Rachel Brosnahan Plays Jean in “I’m Your Woman,” an Amazon Original Film at the 56th Chicago International Film Festival

Rachel Brosnahan

Rachel Brosnahan, familiar to television audiences as Mrs. Maisel, has a different role as Jean in the feature length film, “I’m Your Woman,” an Amazon original movie now showing at the .56th Chicago International Film Festival and a nominee for the Golden Hugo award.

The film unfolds a bit like peeling back the layers of an onion. Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) is married to Eddie, who is a professional thief. It’s the seventies and they live in a very seventy-ish house, with Jean basically a bird in a gilded cage—a bird who can’t cook. Although she knows that Eddie (Bill Heck) is a thief—she knows almost nothing about his associates or the true nature of his job or, apparently, anything about the true nature of the man himself.

Much of the film concerns Jean’s “coming of age” as a woman. She is suddenly gifted with a small child, courtesy of Eddie, whom she names Harry. Later, we hear a story about how “Harry” (played by Jameson and Justin Charles) came to  Eddie and Jean’s house in the first place, but we never know if it is the truth or another example of the things we’ll never know for sure.

Enter Cal (Arinze Kene), an associate of Eddie’s who appears at Jean’s house in the dead of night and insists she and Harry must flee. Cal is Black and, later, we meet Terri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), who is his wife and the mother of his son Paul.

From there, things get interesting.

One of the strongest things about the Julia Hart directed film, (which Julie Hart and Jordan Horowitz wrote), is the fact that you don’t feel as though you’ve seen this film a million times before. It’s an original way to tell the story. It unfolds slowly at times, more quickly at others, with exciting chase scenes involving 70s autos and more and more revelations that will keep the viewer enthralled.

In addition to the theme of Rachael Brosnahan’s growth into full womanhood, there is plenty of action, mystery and suspense. Good performances, an interesting tale, and lessons to be learned all contribute to the appeal of “I’m Your Woman.”

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