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: travel Page 2 of 14

Week Two in Cancun, Mexico at the Royal Islander Commences

Cancun, Mexico.

Week Two in Cancun commences.

“Game of Thrones” premieres tonight, so the entire idea of dining out and about in Cancun will give way to a chicken dinner delivered to and eaten in the room. One of the nice features of the Royal Resorts is that we have two U.S.  television channels, one from Detroit and one from Jacksonville, Florida. Therefore, we aren’t missing out on favorite programs.

Ava & Elise in Cancun. Elise (r) won at euchre.

Week One ended with a family euchre tournament in which a 10-year-old (Elise) bested the field.

Week Two commenced with sending the son and his family back home to Austin, despite reports of tornado winds and bad rain. The daughter made it out and returned to Nashville. The niece and husband presumably are back in Boston. The Illinois contingent, as well.

Evening out in Cancun.

So, this year, during week two, we will try out two new restaurants: Fred’s (seafood) and L’Angostino’s (Italian, within the J.W. Mariott). The other restaurants will be staples: Captain’s Cove, The Conquistador (formely of the Royal Mayan, now located at the Royal Islander).

We learned some news about our penthouse unit at the Royal Islander while here, at a meeting. We bought it in 1994, although we had been coming to Cancun since 1991 and staying at the Fiesta Americana Condessa and rented one year at the Royal Mayan. In 1997 we bought a week at the Royal Sands (just over).

Our time share at the Royal Islander will return to the state in 5 years, when the 30 years is up. We are now at 25 years and counting. After this year, we will only have 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024 and then we will have to rent at the Sands or make other arrangements.

Over the years, the upkeep on our time share(s) has been quite good, although the replacement of art work at the Royal Islander in recent years took out tasteful pictures and replaced them with questionable paintings that resemble nothing so much as paintings on velvet.

Good times with the wacky daughter and her dad (Harry’s in Cancun).

Still, the unique view of the ocean from 9 floors up (the highest any Royal property goes) and the central location in the property makes 4492 like “home away from home.” We will miss it and it will mark a passage from young to middle-aged to old, in many ways, since the turning over will mark a span of 30 years of vacationing in the same spot at Easter, which moved from one week to two in 1997.

Cancun, Mexico on April 7, 2019

Cancun, Mexico on Day One:

Ava and Elise enjoy the beach at the Royal Sands in Cancun, Mexico. They left at 5 a.m. and were on the beach by 9 a.m.

We left at 9 a.m., changed planes in Houston, and arrived in Cancun around 3 p.m.

There are 12 of us, which is down from last year’s 15. We dined tonight at Captain’s Cove and there were very few customers on this Sunday night in Cancun.

Tomorrow night is the NCAA Championship, so that will be our viewing, courtesy of Detroit and Jacksonville (Florida) television stations.

Cancun, Mexico.

Cancun, Mexico.

Bits & Pieces of Random News for April 3, 2019

Some random thoughts of the day:

  1. One of the Decorah eaglets has died. Poor little thing had a name/number, like DN10, but he (or she) was one of 2 born in the Raptor Research nest and it appears—judging from the way Mr. North pushed the little bird body off to the side of the nest—

    The Day Shall Come at SXSW. (SXSW Press Photo)

    the chick died only a day or two after being born.

  2. The mysterious polio-like illness that doctors are calling AFM (acute flaccid myelitis) has struck at least 228 known victims in the U.S. in 2018. In an every-other-year cycle, has afflicted more than 550 Americans, including a 32-year-old. More than 90% are children around 4, 5, or 6 years old who come down with a cold that paralyzes them. Those of us who lived through polio epidemics are praying for another Dr. Jonas Salk.
  3. Biden on the caucus campaign trail in Iowa prior to the 2008 presidential race. Don’t worry: I’ll be back to politics by the end of the week.

    Conflicting reports on whether the GOP is going to address health care before or after the 2020 election. DJT has been quoted as saying they should come out with a plan before the election, but having a plan has not been the GOP’s strong suit under this president, no matter what the issue. There seems to be no desire to “fix” the things that would be fixable under Obama-care, because the current occupant of the White House is too obsessed with denouncing, denigrating and destroying the record of his predecessor to really do much beyond “framing” issues and using media to “pose” as having plans on issues, when it seems that little is being done.

  4. Read a horrifying in-depth article (“New York Times”) about Michigan’s schools, which have largely been turned over to a topsy-turvy crazy quilt of Charter schools, which are not doing any better a job with the students than the public schools they replaced. Truly sounds like a nightmare scenario, but this is the scenario that Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, has always tried to foster. She is a native of Michigan and a huge proponent of charter schools, despite her own home state’s dismal record. She also has absolutely not one credential for occupying the position of Secretary of Education.
  5. With Vice President Joseph Biden (then Senator Biden) at the Jefferson Jackson dinner in Davenport, Iowa, caucus season, 2008.

    The Democrats continue to attack one another. I would say “eat their young,” but Joe Biden is not young. The latest attacks on the former Vice President come from a woman actively supporting Bernie Saunders and are largely undercut by photos of her with her hands on his shoulders at the same event that she claims so traumatized her. It is sad that campaigning in the year 2020 has come to this.

  6. The weather remains pleasant here in the Austin area, but it sounds like the Midwest is pretty well flooded. With Trump’s typical lack of concern for those in dire straits, whether Puerto Ricans on that hurricane-ravaged island or Midwestern farmers who seem to have pretty well taken it in the shorts with the Chinese tariffs and flooding, it is going to be no fun at all trying to navigate the construction zone for the proposed new I-74 bridge over the Mississippi River, joining Iowa with Illinois. (Construction was delayed by the brutal winter). Not looking forward to dealing with it.
  7. Image from Suzanne Weinert’s “A Good Son.” (SXSW Press)

    The Lagoon in Cancun, Mexico, at sunset.

    Posting a picture of one film I had to leave early in order to make it to “Shrill” and perhaps a photo from “A Good Son” (see interview with Director Suzanne Weinert, above). “The Day Shall Come” had not, to that point, “gelled.” It did have Anna Kendrick and I had an interesting encounter with Ms. Kendrick when I attempted to stop in the women’s rest room at the Paramount Theater on my way to the opening of “Shrill” right next door. A policeman told me I couldn’t enter the rest room. Cop: “I have someone in there.” Me: “A prisoner?” Cop: (Smiling) “No.” Me: “A female someone or a male someone.” Cop: “Female.” At that point, another woman, holding a Big Gulp cup and having just entered the theater from a side alley entrance tried to cut around the two of us out in the hall to gain access to the rest room. She was quickly dispossessed of the notion that either of us could enter. We continued standing awkwardly in the hall, while I tried guessing who or what was going on. Just then, the film’s star, Anna Kendrick, emerged, having been primping in the bathroom for at least 20 minutes.

  8. The Royal Islander, penthouse view (9th floor).

    I’ll be in Cancun in 3 days. I’ll try to post some photos.

Camp Sandy Shenanigans & Other Promotional Things at SXSW

I thought readers might enjoy seeing some photos from one of the promotional things that went on during SXSW in Austin, Texas.

This particular promotion was sent to me as Press and involved the sponsors (a local whiskey and Turtle Wax) being willing to send an Uber to pick me up in Austin and ferry me out to Camp Sandy, which, I can personally attest, is way-the-hell-and-gone out in the middle of Hill Country, but has a spectacular view.

Downtown Austin  (TX) mural.

A couple of the other shots were simply things that caught my eye as I was walking (for miles) around downtown Austin (it is, by actual mileage count, nearly 2 miles from the Conference Center to the Paramount theater).

But back to Camp Sandy. I RSVP-ed that I would come to hear “the band in the van.” The concept here is that the band is INSIDE a van and the listeners watch the band on screens mounted on the outside of the van. (Weird). Low Cut Connie was supposed to play, complete with a piano (“the first time a full-sized piano has been inside the van!” said the e-mail).

Note the small tan Prius on the right of this picture (mine) at Camp Sandy.

If you had a car, they would Turtle Wax your car for free, although this turned out to be incorrect.

I RSVP-ed and asked for specific parking and navigational directions and got nothing, but I had the address, so I set off in my trusty Prius (one of 5 in the family since 2002) and found this out-of-the-way place, high up in hill country with a spectacular view. I parked alongside the driveway in, which turned out to not be that smart a move, as someone driving a humongous tank-like vehicle pulled in and left their vehicle smack dab in the middle of the ONLY way in or out. (It took about 15 minutes to find out who had left the painted van blocking the only exit or entrance.) I only had one hour before I had to be standing on a Red Carpet somewhere, but Camp Sandy sounded interesting, if weird. And, of course, there was the matter of that promised free Turtle Wax.

Except that, when I showed up, it sounded like several cars were ahead of me in a “scheduled” fashion and, therefore, there would be no Turtle Wax for the Silver Fish (as I call my Texas Prius). That was okay, but when I learned that Low Cut Connie had also bailed, I did a quick tour of the premises and left.  That turned out to be quite difficult with the blocking van and, after the van moved, I could get no signal on my GPS and would have been totally lost. The organizer who greeted me said, “If you drive to the top of the hill, you’ll probably be able to get a signal.” (Yikes! Let’s hope so!)

Still, here are some “local color” shots of the venue and of downtown Austin, Texas, during SXSW.

Camp Sandy.

Interior, Camp Sandy.

View from Camp Sandy.

Sponsor of Camp Sandy.

Patrons viewing “the van” at Camp Sandy.

Typical crowd around the block waiting for admission.

The van at Camp Sandy.

View from Camp Sandy, Austin, TX, SXSW.

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.

Arrived in Des Moines for Oscar Night Prediction Party

We have arrived in Des Moines (Iowa) from Austin (Texas) for our Annual Oscar Predicting Contest with our oldest and dearest friends.

The planes out of Austin to Des Moines were few and far between.  There were two and neither flight was direct.

We flew through St. Louis and I was able to put my winter coat in the overhead bin and remain comfortable on the way to St. Louis. It was on the way from St. Louis to Des Moines, when I also put my winter coat in the overhead bin, that I became cold. The last thirty minutes of the 43 minute-flight were cold.

When we arrived in Des Moines, a famous CNN talking head had just landed, also. (Don’t ask me which one; I was claiming my luggage.)

I was wearing a pair of boots purchased in Austin for wear in the frigid Midwestern winter. I wore them for roughly 20 minutes while walking from the Des Moines Airport Terminal to the car in the parking lot. They are now officially dirty, covered with mud and “christened” in the fashion of Iowa winters.

I was struck by the number of Good ‘Ol Boys draped about on airport chairs when we arrived at 10 p.m. They all were wearing baseball caps and were heavily bundled in winter coats, sometimes with “Iowa” insignia that proclaimed Number One Fan.

It is truly cold and miserable here in the capital city of the state of Iowa. After turning in at 2:30 a.m. I got up about 4-ish and noted that it was sleeting icily outdoors. Today (Saturday), the day before the Academy Awards, it is gray, grim, cold and unpleasant-looking outside. We checked the temperature in Austin: 75 degrees.

I am now watching “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and enjoying, once again, the choices of music used in the background to set the mood. Both Melissa McCarthy and her co-star, Richard E. Grant, are nominated in tomorrow night’s ceremony, and I truly loved this film. Do the two principals stand a chance. Sadly, I think not yet I enjoyed their performances a great deal. After sitting through “Boy Erased” (shut out) and “Ben Is Back” (shut out) and “Beautiful Boy” (shut out) I definitely needed something that wasn’t all gloom and doom and focused on the youth of America either succumbing to an addiction to drugs, alcohol, or sex.

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is a true gem. See if, if you can.

Beto O’Rourke Speaks Out (Con’t, #2)

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

Here’s why the illegal immigration population grew: as we made it harder for people to cross into the United States, we made it less likely that, once here, they would attempt to go back to their home country.  Fearing an increasingly militarized border, circular patterns of migration became linear, with immigrants choosing to remain in the U.S., many of them ultimately joined by family members from their home country.

This government-created condition continued to feed upon itself:

“The sustained accelerating accumulation of anti-immigrant legislation and enforcement operation produced a massive increase in border apprehensions after the late 1970s, when the underlying flow of migrants had actually leveled off.  For any given number of undocumented entry attempts, more restrictive legislation and more stringent enforcement operations generated more apprehensions, which politicians and bureaucrats could then use to inflame public opinion, which led to more conservatism and voter demands for even stricter laws and more enforcement operations, which generated more apprehensions, thus bringing the process full circle.

In short, the rise of illegal migration, its framing as a threat to the nation, and the resulting conservative reaction set off a self-feeding chain reaction of enforcement that generated more apprehensions, even though the flow of undocumented migrants had stabilized in the late 1970s and actually dropped during the late 1980s and early 1990s.”

This would only get worse.

(Beto O’Rourke Speaks Out, Continued, Day 2)

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)

Trump’s First Hotel (Grand Hyatt NYC) Will Crash Like Builder

Grand Central Terminal, right next to the Hyatt where Thrillerfest was held.

Today’s good news is that the Hyatt (Manhattan) in New York City attached to Grand Central Station (Hyatt Grand Central) that Donald Trump bought when it was the Commodore and revamped is being bought and torn down. Yay!

This has to be one of the worst Hyatts, (if not one of the worst hotels in general), that I’ve ever had the misfortune to stay in, not once but at least three times at International Thriller Writers’ Conferences.

Let me elaborate:

The first time I stayed at this Hyatt I could not figure out how to turn the lights off in my room. The rooms don’t have normal light switches. They have strange little electrical plates that don’t work. The men sent up by the desk couldn’t get them to work, either. I ended up having to put a pillow over my head and trying to sleep with the lights on for three days.

David Morrell, an ITW staple.

Secondly, I like bath tubs. I was on a ridiculously high Hyatt floor and there was no water pressure AND no hot water when I tried to hop in the tub and wash my hair quickly. My flight from Chicago had been delayed an entire day; I was lucky to be able to make it in time to “pitch” my novel “The Color of Evil” to a variety of folk. The only person I chose to “pitch” it to was Tony Eldridge, because I knew Tony, personally (slightly). We compared horror stories of our travels. Tony had been stuck on a train, as I recall, traveling from Malibu to New York City, and that had not gone well, either.

The worst thing that happened to me while staying at the Grand Hyatt (aside from the sleeping with the pillow over my head thing) was when I wandered out to get some ice or a can of diet soda. I managed to get my hand (actually, my finger) stuck in a decorative wall plaque that I thought was the “door” to a recessed vending machine. (Hint: it wasn’t). I literally was to the point that images of James Franco amputating his own arm when stuck in a canyon in “24 Hours” were dancing in my brain, as I could not get the ring finger on my right hand back OUT of the crevice on the right after I stuck it IN the crevice, thinking that it would swing open somehow. IN reality, this was a gigantic recessed wall thing-ie meant to be decorative, set near the elevator doors where you would expect ice and soda machines to be located. It hurt like a SOB when I (finally) managed to force my finger back out of the tight spot, most of the skin cleverly removed by the incident.

The last time I stayed at the Grand Hyatt, while attending the workshop presented by the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco enforcement officers, I actually asked the woman in charge if there wasn’t ANY other hotel that we could have this conference at besides one that was famous as Trump’s first real estate venture in the eighties. The hotel had no cafeteria or cafe (you had to walk over to Grand Central Station’s food court through a tunnel) and the bar was the most ridiculously overpriced bar in Manhattan. I noticed on the third trip to this hotel that literally none of the “famous” authors who had frequented that bar my first year of attendance (Jon Land, Heather Graham, David Morrell, the “Game of Thrones” guy who was there the last two years, etc.) were hanging out in the bar any more. I’m sure they were able to find a much more reasonably priced bar in the area, and one with adequate seating.

Last, but not least, the day I was leaving I had to kill several hours until my plane departed. I checked out by 11 a.m., as required, and left my bags at the desk. Most hotels will happily store your bags for a few hours, but not the Grand Hyatt. There was an hourly charge, per bag, to store your bags in their storage room, despite the fact that you had just paid an outrageous amount to stay in their facility for several days.

Image result for Grand Hyatt Manhattan images

They can’t tear it down fast enough to suit me. From what I have read, the number of rooms available will decline from something like 1300 to 500, so, hopefully International Thriller Writers will find a different venue for the annual conference—hopefully one that has a coffee shop and a bar that is conducive to friends and fellow authors gathering in the hotel, rather than having to leave and go elsewhere to be seated and/or to be able to afford the ridiculously overpriced drinks.

Not my favorite Hyatt, and with the Trump history, truly a hotel worthy of tearing down. Did I mention that they charged you an outrageous amount to use the Internet in the room? If you wanted free Internet, you had to go to the lobby. While I realize that is not that uncommon with high-priced hotels, it did nothing to endear me to the place, since I had no hot water, couldn’t turn my lights off (yes, I called downstairs and the desk told me that they had problems of the sort in the hotel all the time before sending someone up who couldn’t fix it) all night, and found the entire place cold, sterile and uninviting.

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