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

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

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

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

Chatting with a passer-by.
Chatting with a passer-by.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Davis Guggenheim.
Davis Guggenheim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writers for New Orleans over Labor Day Is Energizing


The link above will take you to a Twitter picture of me, apparently in tears, on a panel MC-ed by New York Times best-selling author (Caitlin Strong series) Jon Land.DSCN0736

Jon has been a great friend to me. True story: I was at my first ITW (International Thriller Writers) conference in New York City. I didn’t know a soul. I was in the bar at the hotel where it is always held and a group had formed around a gregarious sort who was holding court. At the time, I had no idea who this energetic person was. (Nor did he know who I was).DSCN0729

Rather than simply ignore me,  (as most would have done), Jon asked me, “What are you working on?” At the time, I was working on the 2nd volume of my “Hellfire & Damnation” series, organized around Dante’s “Inferno.” Each level of Hell is represented by a story focused on the crime or sin punished at that level of Hell. Completely out of the blue, Jon asked, “Would you like me to write a blurb for that?” I had not asked because I didn’t know him (well or at all) and I didn’t think anyone famous would care about a retired English teacher who grew up (and went to school) in Iowa and had few credits. I stammered out that I’d be delighted if he would write a blurb for this slim volume of short stories and Jon wrote one of the best blurbs I have ever received, unbidden. What a guy!DSCN0733

I also ran into Jon in Chicago at “Love Is Murder” and again at the Spellbinders Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii when he was MC-ing panels again and I was on one. It was a great conference, but woefully under-attended.


Lance Taubold and Rich Devin of 13Thirty Books with the anthology “Fear Phobias,” which I have a story in about fear of dreams and dreaming.

This time out in New Orleans, all of the panels I saw Jon run or participate in, or the actual interview concerning his work that Molly Bolden of Bent Pages Bookstore conducted were well-attended, and he was in rare form.DSCN0726

Since I now knew Jon slightly better (and vice versa) he chose to give me some tough questions and, since I was on the end of the panel, I got the “speed round” question (in 5 words or less) and a few others that required some intense thought, and you’ll see, in that Twitter link (should you check it out) that I appear to be in tears…or distress.  DSCN0727

Jon went on to do an equally great job on his topic of “How to Write a Novel in 3 Easy Steps,” which featured him energetically pacing the room and taking suggestions from the assembled masses.DSCN0744

It was a very good presentation, and I enjoyed it very much. The entire conference was one of the best ever, and, since it took place the same weekend as Southern Decadence Weekend, there was plenty to see and do outside of the Hotel Monteleone in the heart of the French Quarter.DSCN0752

A great Labor Day

Happy 92nd Birthday, Nelson G. Peterson!

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

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

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

Nelson G. Peterson
Nelson G. Peterson

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

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

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

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

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

Craig, me and Nelson as the evening ended.
Craig, me and Nelson as the evening ended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bernie Sanders Speaks at Democratic Picnic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeb Bush Campaigns in Iowa on Aug.13, 2015

Jeb Bush came to the St. Ambrose University Student Union in Davenport, Iowa (“the Beehive”), to speak at something billed as APPS: Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security. Attending the campaign event was encouraged by the head of the Arsenal Island munitions command located in Rock Island, Illinois, in our local newspapers, and, therefore, it was assumed (by me, at least) that most of the discussion would be about national security and keeping America safe. [I could say something unkind about how much less safe Jeb’s brother made us with his decisions to invade a variety of countries that were not involved with 9/11 and were not buying yellow cake uranium from Niger, but I’ll leave that to history, for now, and soldier on summarizing Jeb Bush’s remarks—those I heard, anyway, after becoming hopelessly lost on campus trying to find “the Beehive” for the first 15 minutes or so of his remarks].[One student we asked for directions actually said: Turn left, then right, then left, then right, then go down an alley.” ]O…………..K…………

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Finding “the Beehive” on the campus of St. Ambrose University is akin to finding your way into or out of an Iowa corn maze. My assumption is that it is called “the Beehive” because the sports teams are the St. Ambrose Bees. I once taught Advanced Composition there, but it was a long time ago, and buildings have changed and been built since the Challenger blew up. Plus, I don’t think the exterior of the building actually says “The Beehive,” nor does it resemble a beehive, in case you wondered.

I assumed Jeb’s remarks would be carried on the nightly news channels, but I did not see a single television tripod, [which is usually a bad sign]. However, it’s early in the campaign season, and I wanted to hear what GeorgeW. Bush’s brother (and George Herbert Bush’s son) had to say. He seemed like a nice guy, just as voters said they’d like to have a beer with his brother, George W, when he was running for president.

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First, let it be known that Jeb admitted publicly that his brother George’s disbanding of the Iraqi military was a mistake. (You think?)  That disclaimer led, quickly, to a mention of the 19 beheadings on the shores of Libya,as a lead-in to comments on the growing threat in the world of ISIS/ISIL, terrorist organizations.

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Jeb kept repeating that, “You’ve got to have a plan over the long haul.” I seriously doubt that this administration (and the last one, and the ones before that) didn’t have “a plan.” The probem has been whether the plan(s) were any good. [Obviously, the last Bush governor we elected (twice) had plans. They just happen to have been horrible plans, concocted by the likes of Rumsfeld and Cheney].

Jeb feels that we have sent a signal to Russia and the rest of the world that America is not serious (about maintaining our national security). He mentioned the damage that leaks of the Manning/Snowden variety have done to us and to our allies. He began talking about “rebuilding our defenses.” This is a direct quote:  “When an attack happens, we need a strategy with the private sector to defend and we need to fund it.” (*My mind interpreted that as “more defense spending,” while our nation’s infrastructure, schools and other institutions crumble and decay.)

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At that point, my attention wandered to a woman sitting in the 4th row, whom I recognized as former Iowa State Senator Maggie Tinsman. When I covered the 2008 campaign, Maggie Tinsman was often the person introducing the Big Names. She served as a State Senator in Iowa from 1989 until 2007 (18 years) and was a Scott County Supervisor for 10 years before that. The 79-year-old Tinsman has been an outstanding advocate for early childhood education, serves on many boards, has won many awards, and is a graduate of both the University of Colorado and the University of Iowa. She formed Maggie Tinsman, LLC, a group lobbying for early childhood education. Now, she was sitting quietly about 4 rows back from the front of the room. (Usually, Republicans of this stature are onstage behind the candidates). I was not surprised to see her at the rally; I was just surprised that she was merely a spectator there.

I was also very surprised that there wasn’t much security getting in to this speech. No metal detectors. Few men who looked like they were security. Nobody even took our tickets, (which we had gotten online). I was also surprised at the (small) size of the room, which was not much bigger than my kitchen and living room, combined, and did not hold more than 200 people, total. (*I’ve read that Bernie Saunders, whom I hope to hear on Sunday at a picnic, drew a crowd estimated at 28,000).

Did the organizers want a small room to make it look crowded (which it was)? Did someone screw up in booking “the Beehive” for the event? (They did as far as ease of finding it, as I practically needed bread crumbs to find my way back to my car.)

There were 4 rows of chairs with 22 chairs in each row, and, after that, rows of 4 chairs and many people standing in the entryway, which I have pictured (below). Still, the total number of people listening to the man who may well end up being the standard bearer for the Republican Party was small.

CruisethruJeb 449 Other topics:  Cyber-attacks from China. Jeb responded that he was more concerned that China is building a base in the middle of the South China Sea. He repeated that we need to “send a signal that we’re in it for the long haul” in talking about the pivot to Asia. While saying that, 20 years from now, the most significant relationship this country will have will be with China, he mentioned that we should “re-engage in Asia and pass the Trans-Pac Trade Agreement. It would send a signal that we are not abandoning the area.” Bush added, “This is a relationship that you could see get out of control very quickly.”

Jeb mentioned a visit to China made by the current occupant of the White House where Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle, did not accompany him, and commented: “That was a huge insult to China.” I wondered about Laura Bush’s travel itineraries while she was First Lady. Did she accompany George W. to every far-flung country on the planet? I wondered if throwing up in the lap of the Japanese head of state (George Herbert Bush) was a worse faux pas than simply staying home to take care of two school-age children in the United States?

When asked by an audience member: “What steps to deter China should we be taking?” Jeb answered, “I think we’re on the right track,” mentioning specifically how Obama has prosecuted cyber terrorists. Added Jeb:  “China watches everything that happens. We will not tolerate cyber espionage…They see us as weak and in decline. We need to send a message that that is not true.” I wondered if by “sending a message” about how strong we are, militarily, he meant rattling  more sabers, because it seems that the United State of America is pretty war-weary right about now. (I know I am). He also mentioned “devaluing their currency” (China’s), which totally confused those of us who didn’t know whether he meant that this action was going to happen here or there. (Not a Chinese scholar here; please leave your comments on the Chinese currency situation so we can bring everyone up to speed.)
CruisethruJeb 451Questioner (from the audience) Molly O’Toole wanted to know how Jeb’s policies would be different than Obama’s? That set off comments about counter-terrorism being part of Homeland Security (which, I thought, it already was).  Quote: “I believe it was a mistake to repeal the meta-data part of the Patriot Act.” (*This references the taking of your cell phone and e-mail records without warrants).

Asked to comment on Obama’s having made the statement, “We tortured some folks,” Jeb was extremely cautious, actually living up to Trump’s criticisms of Jeb’s tentativeness onstage and his lack of “energy” and “enthusiasm” [which, to Trump, seems to mean extreme self-confidence that you (and you alone) are right.]

Quote:  “I’m cautious about making statements when I’m running for president…I’m cautious about making blanket statements. Everything is digitalized.  My every word is dissected.” So, we have established that Jeb is cautious. That’s not a bad thing, after George W. It almost sounded like the candidate was paranoid, to a degree, about saying anything substantive, for fear he’d have to backtrack later (as with some comments about his brother’s Iraq War made right out of the box.)

To provoke polite applause, Jeb threw this out there:  “I’m proud of what he (“W”) did to secure a safe environment for this country after 9/11.” (Who isn’t going to approve of that comment? It’s like asking if you like kitties and puppies.)

Another safe quote:  “One of—-if not THE—most important duty of a President is to keep us safe.” Again: not a controversial statement. He then did make a slightly sarcastic statement about how “enhanced interrogation isn’t okay, but it’s okay to kill them (with drones)”, re terrorists, and added, in an incredulous tone, “Really?”

When asked where we should put all the terrorists that need to be locked up, Jeb responded (Q:  “Where do you put them?):  “You keep ’em there in Guantanamo.  There is no other option that I can see.  90% of those in Congress agree with my position.” He denied that bringing them back to maximum security prisons in the U.S. was a viable option.

Jeb was hugely critical of the Iranian Nuclear deal. He didn’t seem to give much credence to the fact that it was quite difficult to even get the Iranians to the table at all, and that that table contained representatives from many other allied nations and the participants negotiated for weeks, if not months, (even after Secretary of State John Kerry broke his leg)

Exact quote:  “This is a bad deal.  The verification part is too weak. This is really trouble. We’re not sending the right signal to the rest of the world. They’ve violated almost every agreement, so far…It is very naive to think that Mullahs go quietly into the night.” He added some comments about how the World’s Biggest Economy ($13 trillion), the U.S., should be able to do better, rather than “betting on the come.” He felt that: “We should not take those options off the table.”

I’ve heard it said that this Iran Deal is, indeed, NOT the Best Deal Ever, but, without it, the world has NO deal, whatsoever, and that could  mean war between Israel and Iran, a war into which we would be dragged. Again: not an expert on the Iran Deal, but a lot of time has been spent trying to hammer something out and our allies are onboard. Isn’t “something better than nothing?” Don’t know. Can’t tell you. Please ask the guy(s) denouncing it.

Overall, Jeb Bush was not hugely critical of Barack Obama, even saying, at one point, “I applaud President Obama for doing it” (i.e., mobilizing against terrorists.) His talk of “a plan” was all well and good, but we didn’t hear much about HIS plan (i.e., no specifics), and we certainly are not going to hear much about anybody’s plans during debates that feature Donald Trump.

Jeb came off as a gentleman, a tad cautious and timid, much more knowledgeable than he appeared onstage during the first Republican debate, and I’m betting that, when this is all over and the dust clears, it will be Jeb and somebody like John Kasich (Ohio) or Marco Rubio (Florida) who team up against the Democratic candidates in 2016. The evening news with Dan Rather, however, was headlined, “Is Jeb Bush in Trouble?”

Palma, Majorca, Spain: Last Mediterranean Stop

Our last day on the one-week birthday cruise to Spain, Italy and France was a stop at Palma, Majorca. (*Note: I’ve seen it spelled as Mallorca, as well.)


I had always heard the British talk about vacationing there. When I was a People-to-People student at homestays in England (Chislehurst in Kent, Weston-Super-Mare and Birmingham), the locals raved on about how lovely it was on the island of Majorca.

2005 train that traverses the island.
2005 train that traverses the island.

I knew that Michael Douglas and his wife had a place there and asked our guide about it. He said that the place was far away from the only large city on the island (Palma, population 400,000) and that Douglas’ first wife, Deandra, was the one who really liked the vacation home.  His current wife, the Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, does not like the place as well. According to our guide, the couple (Michael and Deandra) split usage of the home in half and, usually, Michael ends up in hotels, rather than the home he purchased with and for his first wife.

Heart of Palma, Majorca.
Heart of Palma, Majorca.

In order to tour Majorca we had to walk quite a ways to the center of town. It is not possible to drive the tour bus into the heart of the city because the streets are too narrow. In fact, the sidewalks were little more than a foot or two wide, yet cars zoomed down the narrow street putting all of us in peril as we walked to the heart of the city, where a small Cathedral greeted us. 2015-07-24 20.48.52

There is a train that was built in 2005 that you can take around the island. It is the most popular tourist attraction, we were told, and goes through several tunnels that have been built on the island, cutting through the mountains.  2015-07-24 22.39.46

We stopped at a cafe in the heart of the city, right in front of the Cathedral and where the train goes through, and had a Coca Cola and a beer.  The couple seated next to us began chatting with us. He was an I.T. guy from Sweden and she was an elementary school teacher. They used to vacation in Fort Lauderdale, but now have actually bought a place in Majorca, instead.

View from the train en route around the island.
View from the train en route around the island.

Craig said that Majorca was his favorite spot on the tour. That means he preferred it to Rome, Pisa, Naples, Florence, Cannes, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Barcelona, Munich and Pompeii. 2015-07-24 21.24.18

Majorca was not ungodly hot. There was a lovely breeze blowing and it was, indeed, a rustic vacation spot, although it seemed rather sleepy to me, in the same way that Hawaii seems sleepy after  you’ve thoroughly enjoyed the beaches and the beautiful vistas.2015-07-21 01.21.31

Thoughts on Aug. 6, 2015 Republican Debate

I watched Fox’s telecast of the top 10 Republican contenders tonight, and I’m still trying to make sense of it all. Venturing onto Twitter while it was ongoing probably didn’t help. The opinions expressed were not in line with what I was seeing and hearing. One fellow thought retired neuro-surgeon Ben Carson had done a great job because he came off as relatively normal and scored a few points for levity. I mainly heard a political novice spouting religion to the base.

The most cantankerous moments revolved around The Donald—and who was surprised by that? The front-running Republican candidate was miffed at Megyn Kelly, the moderator, and accused her of not treating him very nicely. He and Rand Paul scuffled verbally, but most of the scuffling made Paul seem like a small terrier with its teeth sunk into the pantleg of his owner. Perhaps it was Paul’s ploy to get a little bit of press coverage by “drafting” in the wake of Trump, but he just came off as petulant and out-of-sorts, to me. When Rand Paul went to the table at the conclusion of the debate to speak to the three Fox anchors (presumably to thank Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace and Brett Baier), he didn’t appear as gracious as he was attempting to look. He seemed like a grumpy young man throughout the evening.

Knowing what I know about Old Union-Busting Scott Walker of Wisconsin, I cannot enjoy any of his comments, whether about his state or his family of origin. He is anti-Union and all you have to know about Scott Walker was covered in the documentary “As Wisconsin Goes, So Goes the Nation,” which I highly recommend watching before jumping on his band wagon.

One thing that struck me was how young Marco Rubio looked. He literally looked like he could be a college kid. His speaking was far superior to many onstage. He put Jeb Bush to shame. (It has been said that Rubio was Jeb Bush’s protege).

For me, the Republican candidate who appeared the most normal and reasonable throughout was John Kasich of Ohio, and it didn’t hurt that his hometown crowd in Cleveland gave him a standing ovation. Kasich hit all the right notes about uniting the country, not dividing it.

Meanwhile, Trump ticked everybody off right away by raising his hand immediately to say that he would consider an independent bid—something that experts say would siphon just enough votes away from the Republican candidate to guarantee a Democratic victory.

When Megyn Kelly nailed The Donald with some of his insulting comments about women, he at first tried to laugh them off as being all about Rosie O’Donnell, but Kelly persisted in attaching some truly deplorable past statements to the front-running candidate. He did not seem to like it and said he didn’t have time to be politically correct.

Chris Christie got into a testy exchange with Rand Paul, which was entertaining. Rand Paul could be seen rolling his eyes at Christie’s retort when Paul chided him for hugging President Obama when the president visited New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. Most of the candidates did the “political spin” thing, where they answered whatever they felt like answering and avoided unpleasant terrain, and there was entirely too much waving of the religious flag for my tastes.

There didn’t seem to be any clear winners or losers amongst the Top Ten, but, from what moderator Megyn Kelly said, I would like to hear Carly Fiorino’s remarks from the earlier debate, which wasn’t carried live.

For me, Kasich seemed to be the adult in the room and I am beginning to think that George was “the smart one,” which is a sad commentary on the offspring of George Herbert Bush. Jeb was even booed when the failed Common Core educational program was mentioned. He also became very vociferous about being right-to-life. Anyone who remembers his Governorship of Florida (he’s been out of office 8 years) would remember how he became involved in one tragic family decision about pulling the plug on a brain-dead woman in Florida, even involving his brother, then President Bush (“W”). [I wrote about it in great detail in Book #3 of “The Color of Evil” series, “Khaki=Killer.”]

I can’t even imagine what sort of representation most of these men would give the United States of America abroad. I did think that Kasich seemed statesmanlike, and Rubio was much-improved from his water-guzzling rebuttal to the State of the Union message. Jeb was just ineffectual, Ben Carson was a lightweight, Huckabee was fatter (and with less hair) but seemed just as far out as he always was (don’t forget: he won the Iowa caucuses in 2008), and I’m offended even laying eyes on Scott Walker. I do enjoy it when Walker turns around and his bald spot is displayed for the world to see; I only wish his truly horrible policies were more baldly displayed for the world to judge. At least we didn’t have to suffer through Rick Perry’s glasses and another “Oops!” moment.

Apparently the next months will have us on the edge(s) of our seats wondering if The Donald IS going to run as an Independent.

Stay tuned for that and other developments.

4th & 5th Days at Sea: Mediterranean Cruise

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At Cagney’s Steakhouse on board the “Epic” cruise ship on July 23, 2015, on my birthday.

Fourth day was my birthday. We opted to sleep in and miss Florence ( been there/done that.) Heard the crowds were horrible and it was hotter than hell from those who journeyed in, which meant a 4-hour round-trip bus ride.We stayed onboard and used the casino. I was given a $25 free chip to bet (on one hand) which I immediately lost. Nestor, the bartender, set us up with free champagne in honor of the day, which was very nice, but we had the UBP—Unlimited Beverage Package—part of Norwegian’s “perks” to lure us aboard, so the “free” drink would have been “free,” anyway. (Thanks, anyway, Nestor!)2015-07-23 15.11.23

After resting up from the onslaught, we took off on July 24 at 7:15 a.m. for an 8-hour tour of Cannes, Monte Carlo and Monaco.2015-07-23 15.12.34

The first part of that statement strikes fear and loathing into my heart; the latter part (Cannes, Monte Carlo, Monaco) has yielded the pictures you see here.2015-07-23 15.27.58

I think this was my favorite stop of all, with the possible exception of the Pompeii tour (which was only 4 hours long.) Craig holds out for Majorca as his favorite, but that’s still coming up in a post for another day.2015-07-23 15.20.41

So, without further ado, here are some pictures of both the area of Cannes (we had to take small boats in to the port…tinders), Monte Carlo and Monaco.2015-07-23 15.18.03

The lavish casino you see was used to film “Casino Royale.” It should be noted that we saw Prince Albert go by in a limousine and our tour guide, Lucy, (whom no one could understand) was in complete awe, as she had never seen Prince Albert.

A "Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner! slot machine in Monte Carlo.
A “Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner! slot machine in Monte Carlo.

We told her to invite him onto the bus and tell him to “leave the driving to us.” (Ha!)

Mel Reynolds: The Mighty Have Fallen

There was a time when Mel Reynolds was one of the most promising young politicians in Illinois.

That was before he was sent to jail for having sex with a 16-year-old underage campaign worker. That was before he became a registered sex offender in 1995, forbidden to live within 500 feet of a school. That was before he was charged with failing to file income tax returns from 2009 through 2012. (Each count carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison or a $250,000 fine on conviction.) That was before he was found to have child pornography, tried to sabotage the case against him, and was sentenced to 5 years in prison.

In 1997, Reynolds was convicted, while serving time in prison, of 15 counts of illegally raising campaign cash and defrauding banks out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. For that, he got 6 and 1/2 years in prison.

He served 2 and 1/2 years in state prison and was then transferred to a federal prison, but in 2001, Bill Clinton commuted his sentence hours before leaving office, at a time when Reynolds had 2 years left to serve.

In 2003, Reynolds made several attempts at a political comeback, running against another sterling example of rectitude, Jesse Jackson Jr. in the 2004 Democratic primary. That failed. Ten years later, Zimbabwe would deport him from that African country on charges that he had sexually explicit photos and videos on his mobile phone, in violation of a censorship law…in Africa! Although the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor visa violation, he was sent packing and came back to the U.S., where, on July 31st, while leaving the Dirksen US. Courthouse in Chicago, he was trying to find a place to spend the night.

Reynolds was able to secure a court-approved place to stay on an emergency basis and was ordered to appear in court at 2 p.m. on Friday with a more permanent address. Asked by reporters who he was talking to on his cell phone, Reynolds declined to answer fully, saying only, “This is a one-night deal,” and, of the charges of failing to pay taxes for four years, “The narrative has been that somehow I didn’t pay my taxes. I didn’t file.  By going to trial, this is going to set the record straight.” Mel Reynolds is 63 years old, claims to have a “very sick” daughter in Africa, and is a convicted felon.

Maybe he and Jesse Jackson and Anthony Weiner can start a club aimed at “Redemption” (the sign in the background of the old campaign photo.).Mel Reynolds