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: Local Page 1 of 33

Columns on local goings on could mean the Quad Cities of IA/IL (Moline, IL or Davenport, IA); Chicago; or Austin, Tx, since Connie spends parts of each year in those towns where she has homes. ‘Of local interest” could mean politics, opinion pieces, or business or entertainment-related subjects.

How DJT Was Groomed By Russia; The Tragic End of Alexei Navalny

“Porcelain War” Is Documentary Grand Jury Winner at Sundance, 2024

  • “Porcelain War” won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance 2024 and added to the ever-proliferating number of documentaries that are coming out of the horrific Russia/Ukraine War. The front-runner for an Oscar in the upcoming Academy Awards is “20 Days in Mariupol” from Ukrainian journalist Mstyslav Chernov. The “Porcelain War” is a joint project from Brendan Bellomo of the United States and Slava Leontyev, shooting inside Ukraine. Close friend Andrey Stefanov served as cameraman for the sequences within Ukraine and he and Slava deserve great admiration for their courage and resolve under pressure.

Having just seen “20 Days at Mariupol,” comparisons, for me, were inescapable. Plus, I am currently mid-way through a course at the University of Texas that traces Putin’s rise to power, leading to today’s invasion of Ukraine and the war that has dragged on since February 2022.

Both films show the “before” and “after” of a beautiful country now reduced to rubble. In the case of Mariupol (available on most major platforms and a “must see”) we see the city of Mariupol before it is totally ravaged by the Russians. The Writer/Director of “20 Days at Mariupol,” a Ukrainian AP reporter, chose to stay on with the troops and depict the true horrors of those left behind, including the young boy who was shooting baskets outdoors when a missile blew off his legs, ultimately killing him. The blood and grief mirror the scenes in Gaza that are horrifying in their brutality.

“Porcelain War” uses the metaphor of porcelain, which, as the film drives home relentlessly is this:

“Ukraine is like porcelain — easy to break, but impossible to destroy.” 

This is because the Ukrainian participants we become acquainted with are artists who work in porcelain.

The United States director, Brendan Bellomo, won a student Academy Award when he was a student at NYU and his expertise is quite evident here.

THE BAD

Cast of “Porcelain War,” including co-directors (front) and Frodo, the dog..

For me, it is the very slickness of the porcelain metaphor and the well-done visual effects in “Porcelain War” that detract when compared with the effect that the raw footage of “20 Days in Mariupol” evokes. There is somewhat a looking away from the horrors of war a bit more in “Porcelain War” than in the shorter “20 Days in Mariupol” film. In “Porcelain War” we see idyllic footage of  Ukrainian artists Slava, Anya, and Andrey coping with life in a war zone but also surrounded by great beauty. As “Variety” said in its review, “An accomplished visual effects supervisor whose credits include the 2012 Sundance smash ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild,’ Bellomo is attuned to the jolting sensations of combat both on the ground and above it.” It is precisely the excellence of Bellomo’s visual work in depicting the porcelain figures that takes away slightly from the less polished, but more visceral power of the shorter film (“20 Days in Mariupol.”) The porcelain work is beautiful and delicate. I, for one, wanted more of the brutal truth of war in Ukraine, to help me understand and process this latest aggression.

We do learn about the history of Russia’s land grab of Crimea in 2014. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for promises of non-aggression from Russia, but those promises were bogus. Russia has a long history of not living up to its word. Putin seized Crimea in 2014 and collaborating director Slava Leontyev lived in Crimea at the time. He moved to Ukraine and he and others began re-establishing the military that they had abandoned when they believed Russia’s promises. So, for the past 10 years there has been an attempt to re-establish some kind of defense system for Ukraine, and Slava—who was present at Sundance along with Frodo, the dog in the film— has been instrumental in that effort, as we see.

A recent “New York Times” article speculated on the outcome of the Ukraine/Russia conflict. It said the Russian defense of parts of Ukraine it now occupies currently seems impenetrable. The war, it said, is beginning to resemble the WWI stalemate during which neither side seemed able to advance and the human toll inexorably rose. The article stated that Ukraine has lost 20% of its area and wants ALL of its country back. The odds of that happening (on Russia’s part) don’t seem good. With the Republican support for Ukraine seemingly mired in political gamesmanship that might re-install a leader who seems to think emulating Putin is a good thing, can we assume that our technical support and weaponry, that allowed Ukraine early in the fight to score some impressive wins, will continue after the November election if Trump were to win?

United States financial aid and expertise is necessary for Ukraine to move forward; there was a mention in the article of the potential firing of the Ukrainian Minister of Defense by Zelenskyy. If he IS fired, he was said to be the chief rival who might run against Zelenskyy. If Russia is feeling the crunch and would agree to settlement talks, said the article, it would almost certainly be predicated on Ukraine not joining NATO or other such groups. Meanwhile, Russia recruits from prison and will march those men forward to certain death simply to find out where their adversaries are concealed. The brutality of the Russian troops is legendary. The firsthand accounts of what has occurred are absolutely sickening; that, too, is not likely to improve over time.

Nobody trusts Putin to honor agreements he makes. The general feeling that would come from such a “settlement” would be anger that so many Ukrainians have given so much only to potentially be given back only a portion of their native land with conditions on how they might best defend themselves against future Russian aggression. The odds for the West and for democracy and for Europe are very large if you accept the premise that Putin will never stop his characteristic aggressive behavior and his dream of re-establishing the USSR as a Super Power. And, although Putin is 71, is a successor likely to be a change for the better? (Unlikely).

Ukraine’s largest military aid partner since the start of the war, the United States, has committed a total of €71.4 billion in aid to Ukraine when also considering financial and humanitarian support. Martin Armstrong on “Statista” (Dec. 13,2023) had these figures of support for Ukraine:

“Thanks chiefly to the €77.1 billion in pledged financial aid, European Union institutions are the largest aid donors to Ukraine. This is based on data from the IfW Kiel Ukraine Support Tracker which currently covers the period January 24, 2022 to October 31, 2023.

But will U.S. aid continue if Donald J. Trump is elected? And if Biden remains president, can he successfully negotiate continued support with the current GOP House and with the Senate’s current iteration?

All of these considerations enter into election year 2024. The analogy of porcelain (“Easy to break, but impossible to destroy”) may weaken in its appropriateness with the conflagration dragging on.

THE GOOD

Slava Leonytev is shown holding Frodo, the dog, with the cast of "Porcelain War."

Entire cast of “Porcelain War,” many of them direct from Ukraine.

Slava Leontyev became a weapons expert and has been training other civilians in how to load and fire weapons, in preparation for the war that Ukraine feared was coming. As one of the characters says, alluding to Russia’s history of aggression against the nations that broke away, “After 400 years we’re going to finally take care of it.” From watching Slava at work as a Ukrainian defense officer we get a better understanding of the reality of the current war.

The action in “Porcelain War” is centered in Kharkiv, which is 25 miles from the Russian border. In “Porcelain War,” we get to see the nuts-and-bolts of fighting the war in Ukraine. The emphasis on drone use is shown. We see “ordinary people in extraordinary situations” learning to fire weapons. We don’t see as much of the blood and guts and heartbreaking grief as in “20 Days in Mariupol,” but the horror of war is ubiquitous, emphasizing the message.

One line in the film is “Because of the invasion, we lost the substance of our lives.” Another analogy is that refugees are like snails without their shells. As Anya and Sonya are sent to Lithuania for their safety, their parents describe what an ordeal it was to get the girls out of the country by way of Poland. It reminded me of London residents, during the Blitz, sending their children to the countryside to protect them.  As the family says, “What is absolutely predictable is death.” We see face-time chats between the family members. The Ukraine residents feel that, “We’re fighting against evil. This is a historic opportunity to destroy aggressors.” The script adds, “It will keep pushing until it reaches you.”

The music is particularly effective. It is a fevered, clattering score from DakhaBrakha, a self-described “ethnic chaos” band based in Kyiv. The musical refrain is “A time to laugh, a time to cry. A time to live. A time to die.”

This film gives us a focused look at how the local populace, with aid from the United States and the European Union, is responding to Russian aggression. As Slava says, “Crimea ended in the blink of an eye, and we retreated to Ukraine.” At another point, as the struggle drags on, the line is “Armageddon is happening in Bakhmut.”

The drone group, decorated by the local artists, is dubbed “Saigon.” The reference to that Vietnamese city seems to be a nod to the effective guerilla fighting that the local populace employed against a super power.

CONCLUSION:

This is a film that is well worth watching. I would suggest viewing “20 Days in Mariupol” at the same time. One will give a very polished look at the Ukraine/Russia war; the other is more visceral, but both are terrific.

 

The Eagles with Steely Dan in Austin at the Moody Center on Feb. 3, 2024

“Little Death” Screens at Sundance, 2024

“Little Death” won the NEXT innovator award at Sundance, 2024. I was attracted to this film by the fact that Protozoa Pictures was involved (Darren Aranofsky) and that it had David Schwimmer, Gaby Hoffman, Jenna Malone and Seth Green among the cast members. The director was Jack Begert, who co-wrote it with Dani Goffstein. Another executive producer was Andy Cohen.

The synopsis described the film this way: “A middle-aged filmmaker on the verge of a breakthrough. Two kids in search of a lost backpack. A small dog a long way from home.”

That description of the film’s plot didn’t pin down the story much,  and the actual unfolding of the plot was only minimally helpful. There is a young girl who has had her car hijacked and must seek help. There is David Schwimmer (the frustrated filmmaker) who is trying hard to get a green light for his film project. It’s not a particularly tight, well-written, or thoughtful script.

In a conference, the Powers-That-Be at the studio tell screenwriter Martin (David Schwimmer) that he should consider changing the gender of his lead character, [who, it should be noted, is largely autobiographical.] Martin is understandably reluctant to change the sex of his lead character from male to female, but, in a meeting with the studio Big Whigs, he becomes convinced that it will be easy to simply change “Dan” to “Danielle. It’s a deal-breaker. So, he complies.

This means that, halfway through the film, the audience loses David Schwimmer as the lead actor because he is replaced by Gaby Hoffman, who started her film career in 1989’s “Field of Dreams” as the young Karen Kinsella. There is no explanation of this sudden loss, other than Gaby’s appearance.

I found it interesting to see the male character morph into a female lead without so much as a word of explanation, and I was not put off by the visual effects that bothered one other critic, who said this: “The performances were messy and their characters are really unlikeable and aggravating in the worst way. Each character comes close to wanting to pull your hair out of your head levels.
Begert approach on the humor is poor, the editing and musical choices are annoying, and the dialogue is forced, unfunny, and poorly constructed. There are some really awful visual presentations and animations throughout. To top it off, the animations were AI-generated which honestly is a major slap on the face for independent filmmakers and artists. It’s insulting that Sundance allowed this movie to come into the festival.”

Well. That certainly is one point of view.

I do agree that the film seems, overall, poorly organized. The plot is random and doesn’t tie together well. The “visual effects” that this anonymous critic mentions (no name is attached on the IMDB.com page) were primitive when one considers that Protozoa was behind the film.

Cinematography was by Christopher Ripley.

Overall, I was sad to see Schwimmer go, as the lead, to be replaced by Gaby Hoffman. It wasn’t my favorite film of the eight I am reviewing, and it had problems, but I’m more accepting of it than Mr. Anonymous Reviewer.

Reflections on Barbra Streisand’s Autobiography “My Name Is Barbra”

James Brolin & Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand & Husband James Brolin.

  • Has unresolved issues about her mother.
  • Has issues regarding a “father figure.”
  • Somewhat downplays the gift her voice has been to her life path.
  • Seems to have OCD tendencies, even as to placement of flowers.
  • Naturally curious.
  • Seems to have built a “family” from those she found more supportive of her.
  • Takes a few swipes at good old “Marty” (her manager),and at Mandy Patimken and others. Seems to want to portray herself as someone who others were constantly seeking for intimacy, yet she doesn’t share much about her “lovers.” In fact, she seems to be rather coy about whether or not a certain famous individual was or was not someone with whom she shared physical intimacy.
  • James Newton Howard seems to re-surface as someone who had a crush on her.
  • The Jon Peters guy sounds like a real shyster and opportunist, and that seems to have been how he was viewed by the Hollywood community, as well.
  • Loyalty to Prince—now King—Charles and to Pierre Trudeau. Probably explains her views on Meghan Markle, recently articulated.
  • Doesn’t say much about Elliott Gould, with whom she shares her son, Jason. Kind of implies that they just drifted apart, he wasn’t good-looking enough, and he had a gambling problem and possibly a drug problem later in life. Discusses Jason’s homosexuality in passing and claims he has a phenomenal voice. Jason is now 58 years old and, while he did release an album some years ago and sang with his mother on one of her tours, he doesn’t seem to have done much creating, musically speaking.
  • Seems to have found a man in James Brolin who can take her independent attitude in stride.
  • Starred or appeared in 19 films, but sounds like she is done.
  • Music seems to be the thing that she might continue doing to the bitter end, a la Tony Bennett, especially if it doesn’t involve touring or appearing in person.
  • Very detail oriented, to the point that would drive many people insane. (Lighting, rewriting lyrics, etc.). She actually requested that famous songwriters like Stephen Sondheim rewrite song lyrics for various reasons and other “pushy” things.
  • Tells some interesting stories about her famous friends (Donna Karan is one, Prince Charles, Secretary of State Madeline Albright, the Clintons) but doesn’t really dish much new dirt. Before I read the book, the Big Story seemed to be her rejecting Mandy Patimkin as a potential fling, saying she did not find him attractive. The truth hurts, but good for you, Barbara. [Nobody finds Mandy Patimkin attractive.]

    Mandy Patimken.

*Barbra’s father, Emmanuel Streisand, died at 35 and she was told by her cold mother that she kept waiting for him to return for days, sitting by the window. In her own words, “In some ways, I’m still waiting.”

*Her book is dedicated this way:  “This book is dedicated to the father I never knew, and the mother I did…” She, basically, says she loved her mother but she didn’t “like” her. Her mother seems to have had serious jealousy issues about Barbra’s phenomenal success and hurt her many times, both intentionally and unintentionally. Fortunately, Babs bonded with many women who were older than she is and they served as “surrogate” mothers. One of the more famous was Bill Clinton’s mother.

*She talks about how she doesn’t really take care of her voice and doesn’t like to warm up, etc. She also has crippling stage fright, brought on by having forgotten the words to a song while performing at a free concert in Central Park.

*Outspoken – Recently, Babs came out swinging against Megan Markle. She criticized everything about the woman, from her acting prowess to her relationship with the Royal Family. It has made all the tabloids and seems to be a throwback to her great friendship with King Charles and loyalty to him. Barbara doesn’t say that she and Charles had “a fling,” but she tells a semi-racy story about his dog coming in to get in bed with her one morning when she is visiting England.

Barbra Streisand with her only child, Jason Gould (age 58).

Jason Gould and Mom Barbra Streisand.

*The Jon Peters romance (he was her hairdresser) was one of the chapters in her life that she attributes to her “hippy” phase. He sounds like a real piece of work! He is portrayed in the movie “Licorice Pizza” and it isn’t pretty. He did rise to become the head of a studio, but he sounds like a real insecure opportunist. One thing that attracted her to him was that they both had sons about the same age.

*Barbra seems to have a fairly ruthless way of dealing with disloyalty. In her own words, “When I’m done with something, I’m done!” She describes cutting Agent Sue Mengers out of her life when she suspected that the woman had leaked some things to the media.

*She reveals that she has heard weird noises in her head since childhood.

*Several times in the book Barbra repeats this line from George Bernard Shaw’s play “St. Joan:” “It is an old saying that he who tells too much truth is sure to be hanged.” She also says, “I’ve always believed in telling the truth, but it has gotten me in trouble over the years.” We saw Barbra in concert in Chicago right before a presidential election and her remarks to the audience supportive of the Democratic candidate caused the couple next to us to yell (loudly), “Just shut up and sing.” I happen to agree with most of her political opinions, so I’m not one of the MAGA crowd who would be this rude. It was an “okay” concert, but it was not the Experience of a Lifetime I had hoped it might be, as I had been a fan for years.

*The book goes down easy and is a good read, but she goes into detail after detail after detail about every outfit she ever wore in her life, which reminded me of my own dear mother, who resembled Barbra’s mom in that she was not one to praise or express warm, fuzzy things, but I have tried to understand her chilly treatment of me in light of her own career and its demands. Barbra has had years of therapy and she tries to be even-handed about her mother’s indifference or jealousy towards her.

There is no question that Barbra Streisand is a formidable talent. She is a lot. I love her singing; I like most of her movies, so I enjoyed reading the behind-the-scenes stuff but I felt she put entirely too much time describing every outfit she ever wore in her life and casting herself in the most positive light possible, with all kinds of effusive notes of praise and uber-flattering photos.

 

“The Iron Claw” Revisits Pro Wrestling’s Von Erich Family

Since  (Scott) Beck & (Bryan) Woods selected “The Iron Claw” to open their new Davenport (Iowa) theater, and it is doing well at the box office, while Jeremy Allen White is really gaining steam as a leading man, I went to see “The Iron Claw” here in Texas. Texas is definitely Von Erich territory, site of the Dallas Sportatorium where much of the wrestling matches of yesteryear took place. (“Please note: There will be spoilers.)

“The Iron Claw” recounts the mostly “true story of the inseparable Von Erich brothers, who made history in the intensely competitive world of professional wrestling in the early 1980s. Through tragedy and triumph, under the shadow of their domineering father and coach, the brothers seek larger-than-life immortality on the biggest stage in sports.” “The Iron Claw” is the mostly true story of a wrestling family whose real surname was Adkinsson. Their stage name in the wrestling world was Von Erich. Jack Barton Adkisson wrestled under the name Fritz Von Erich and then encouraged his sons, Kerry, Kevin, David and Michael, to follow him into the ring. (*Son Chris also wrestled, but less successfully than his brothers, and is not depicted in this film, for reasons that don’t seem to make sense.)

CAST

Written and directed by Sean Durkin (“Martha Marcy May Marlene” and TV’s “Dead Ringers”), “The Iron Claw” stars Zac Efron (“High School Musical 3:  Senior Year”); Jeremy Allen White, who first came to my attention as the character Lip (Philip) in the television series “Shameless;” and Maura Tierney of “The Affair.”  Holt McAllany (“Mindhunter,” “Fight Club”) was the standout for me, and when you check out his credits, that is not surprising. Lily James as Pam, Kevin’s wife, is also very good, and Bill Mercer as Michael J. Harney is also good in his part.

However, I came to see Jeremy Allen White, and for more than an hour, I thought I’d walked into the wrong movie.

Jeremy Allen White is hot, right now, as the star of the television series “The Bear.” He walked off with the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice awards in the past week. You really get the feeling that Jeremy is slated for great things dramatically. This film, unfortunately, doesn’t give him that much to do. He doesn’t have the physicality of Zac Efron, but, considering the lengths to which Zac Efron went, maybe that is a good thing. Jeremy admitted on the late night talk shows that he was a novice to the wrestling world. (He gave much credit to Chavo Guerrero, who both instructed the non-wrestlers in the cast and portrayed the character The Iron Sheikh.)

The two other brothers we see portrayed onscreen are David Von Erich (Harris Dickinson of “Beach Rats”) and Michael Von Erich (Stanley Simons, “Angelfish”).

FACTS NOT IN EVIDENCE

According to Wikipedia, Fritz and wife Doris had six sons: Jack Barton Jr. (September 21, 1952 – March 7, 1959), Kevin (born May 15, 1957), David (July 22, 1958 – February 10, 1984), Kerry (February 3, 1960 – February 18, 1993), Mike (March 2, 1964 – April 12, 1987) and Chris (September 30, 1969 – September 12, 1991). Of Adkisson’s six sons, Kevin was the only one still living by the time Adkisson died in 1997.

The couple later separated and Doris divorced her husband on July 21, 1992 after 42 years of marriage.” The movie didn’t make any mention of the exact manner in which the couple’s first child, Jack Jr., died, but Wikipedia says that it was an accidental electrocution and drowning when the child was just 7 years old. The movie also did not mention the youngest child, Chris, and the couple’s divorce after 42 years of marriage was also glossed over. (Adkisson died of lung and brain cancer just 5 years after the divorce.)

PLOT

Kevin Von Erich, the only surviving Von Erich brother.

The movie references the fact that the family is cursed.

As the plot unfolds, it seems to be more a case of the overbearing father’s parenting techniques than of a curse.  Kevin’s wife, Pamela says there is a belief in good or bad luck and then there is the belief that we make our own luck. It seems that the constant emphasis on being the best and being strong and winning drove three of his sons to kill themselves. The script repeatedly articulates this thought:“If we were the toughest,  the strongest, the most successful, nothing could ever hurt us.” That turns out to be bad advice, and the underlying message seems to be that men should be allowed to have a vulnerable, sensitive side.

There were some things in the film that were murky. For instance, did Daddy Fritz embezzle money, either from his hard-working sons or from the promoters who underwrote his wrestling emporium? Why did writer/director Sean Durkin decide to leave the youngest son, Chris—who also committed suicide at 21—out of the movie? Yes, I read that he thought 3 sons who killed themselves was just one too many, but Chris, the baby, had the most cause, as he didn’t have the physical gifts of his older brothers and was struggling to fit in. That would seem to have been a good plot point, as the four brothers who were better known were generally gifted athletes. In fact, Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) is only shown joining the family business after Jimmy Carter took the U.S. out of the 1982 Olympics and, therefore, destroyed Kerry’s hopes of going to the Olympics as a discus competitor.

For that matter, why didn’t he give Doris, portrayed by seasoned veteran Maura Tierney (“The Affair”) more dramatic eulogy scenes at any of the funerals for her sons? Maura Tierney could have hit that ball out of the park. Instead, she has a very pedestrian part that could have been so much more. Opportunity lost.

Was son Kerry’s motorcycle accident no more than that? The way it is portrayed in the film, it looks like that might also have been a suicidal gesture. And brother David’s (Harris Dickinson) insistence that he is “okay” when he is vomiting blood also seemed self-destructive and suicidal. (He dies in Japan from a ruptured intestine.)

I was surprised that Jeremy Allen White didn’t appear in the film until roughly an hour into the 2 hour 12 minute movie. Jeremy Allen White is white-hot right now, coming off his Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Emmy wins for his lead role in “The Bear.”

The actor who impressed me the most was not any of those who got top billing, but Holt McCallany who played the boys’ father. He was awesome. While everyone was impressed by how ripped Zac Efron appeared as Kevin Von Erich, at only 5’ 8” he looked too animalistic for my tastes. The other actors portraying the Von Erich brothers appeared more “normal” in appearance.

I also thought the “meeting in heaven” was odd. It’s nice to have a happy ending, but the failure to portray one dead brother (Chris) at all just made it seem weird, to me.

I was never much of a pro wrestling fan, but I enjoyed the film. Also a small shout-out to Aaron Dean Eisenberg, who portrayed Ric Flair with—-well, flair. He was a hoot.

Iowa Caucuses (Jan. 15, 2024) Will Set Low Temperature Records

Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley

CNN Republican Presidential Debate (final one)

I am thinking back to the Iowa Caucus nights in 2004, 2008 and 2012that my college roommate and I went out to caucus at a local Des Moines high school when the temperature was 17 degrees (2004). It was, until now, the coldest caucus night in history. My hope was that Howard Dean was going to prevail, as he had been leading during the “sleepless summer,” as the press called it.

I dropped her off at the doorway and then had to drive blocks away to park my car. During that time, those in charge attempted to close the doors to late-comers, but she stood by the door to allow me to gain access. (They said they were running out of GOP ballots, for one thing.) Then we were thrown into the chaos of the classroom, with Democratic groups milling about trying to achieve the 15% viability that would allow them to continue. (The Republicans use paper ballots, but the Democrats, at that time, simply stand around in small clumps of people and it is sheer lunacy.)

The 2020 SNAFU in Iowa, when the results weren’t know for days, led to the resignation of the guy in charge, even though there still is debate as to whether an app called Shadow, Inc., developed by someone named Tara McGowan, was at fault. There were charges that both the Buttigieg campaign and the Hillary Clinton campaign had had dealings with the company that developed the app. The entire night was catastrophic for the Iowa caucuses and, this year, the Dems did not come. When you read that 8 precinct results went missing in 2012 and were never counted, you begin to get the idea that this entire throwback town hall meeting thing will soon cease. After all, the success rate of predicting who the standard bearer for each candidate will be is not great. The success rate for predicting the Democratic winner nationally is only 55% and for the GOP it is only 43%.

Is it any wonder that voices are being raised saying the caucuses in Iowa don’t “work” and should go the way of the Dodo bird? Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said, “I think the Democratic caucus in Iowa is a quirky, quaint tradition which should come to an end. As we try to make voting easier for people across America, the Iowa caucus is the most painful situation we currently face for voting.” Former presidential candidate Julian Castro said, “It’s a mess. What we saw out there and heard about are, consistently, errors in the way that this process was done, whether in the initial phase or the realignment.  Inconsistencies in how it was done across precinct sites. It is a total mess.” And let’s not forget that campaigning in Iowa is probably not real pleasant when the weather in the Midwest doesn’t cooperate. DeSantis and Trump are from Florida. Haley is from South Carolina. Talk about culture shock!

So, how did this “total mess” come to be at all?

Nikki Haley

Nikki Haley on the GOP debate stage

One book written on the topic (“The Iowa Caucuses and the Presidential Nominating Process” by Peverill Squire of the University of Missouri) says, “Iowa became first in the nation pretty much as an accident of the calendar.” One explanation even blames the entire thing on the slow duplicating machine that Iowa used at the time, which required Iowa to set their voting date up earlier and earlier to make sure that materials could be turned out in time. Supposedly, the party wasn’t really angling to be “first in the nation” but that’s what happened.

As for the GOP, they used to use an August “straw poll” thing, which turned out to be totally unreliable and was discontinued. It became a question of who could buy the straw poll. You could argue that that is also true of the caucuses as they now exist, with huge amounts of money being spent by the candidates running in the state. It is easy to see why a state like Iowa would want to continue being the center of attention and raking in advertising (and other) dollars. But will that happen, given the deep freeze that Iowa is going to be on the night of the caucuses this year? Thirty and Forty below zero is life-threatening. Iowans are hardy souls and take politics seriously, but the turnout is definitely going to be affected.

In 1976 then-candidate Jimmy Carter used the Iowa caucuses to give himself the national recognition that he did not have prior to winning there. In 1972 George McGovern won the caucuses, but they had not yet turned into any kind of national launching pad. After Iowa, Carter received attention and invitations to speak and be interviewed that gave him the momentum he needed to go on to win the nomination and be elected as the party standard-bearer and win the presidency. Since then, candidates have been attempting to duplicate that feat, with Barack Obama actually achieving it in 2008, the year I followed the caucuses for 24 months and wrote 2 books on the experience. The Iowa caucuses actually predicted the eventual national nominee  and winner twice: Obama in 2008 and Bush in 2000. In 2004 the caucus winner in Des Moines (John Kerry) did go on to become the national nominee, but he did not win office. It is particularly interesting when you learn that Jimmy Carter only campaigned for 17 days in the state in 1976.

Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis.

I did not become involved in following the caucuses in person until 2004, which was the year that John Kerry won the Iowa caucuses, John Edwards came in second, and Howard Dean came in third. The Kerry forces double-miked Howard Dean’s impassioned plea to his followers at the post party (I was there) and made him look totally foolish by replaying it what seemed like millions of times on television.

2008:  January 3rd at 7 p.m. Temperature that year was 30 degrees above zero, warmer than in 2004 when it was only 16 degrees. In 2012, my last year of following, the temperature was 40, but it was a very quiet night for Democrats, who had an incumbent president in the White House. This year’s thirty below zero prediction is going to be the coldest on record, and one wonders how many will show up to caucus for their candidate.

2012:  January 3rd. Supposedly, Romney won by 8 points, but then a recount showed that Rick Santorum might have won by 34 votes and Ron Paul came in third. This was the year that 8 missing precinct reports caused problems and the “win” was also taken from Santorum and awarded to Paul at one point. Not reliable, in other words.

2016:  In the Democratic race, Hillary got 45% of the vote and Bernie Saunders came in second. Ted Cruz won the GOP contest, with votes going to Trump, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, as well.

Vivek Ramaswamy

Vivek Ramaswamy on the GOP debate stage.

2020:  Monday, February 3rd. This was the year of the Shadow, Inc. app that was, apparently, never reliably field-tested. Then, the phone number that was supposed to be used as a fall-back method for voting was totally jammed up with calls. Days went by where national talking heads could not report who had won, and the person in charge resigned.

Results over time:

1972 – McGovern

1976 – Jimmy Carter

1980 – Jimmy Carter (Ted Kennedy got votes)

1984 – Walter Mondale

1988 – Dick Gephardt (who withdrew from the race shortly thereafter)

1992 – Tom Harkin (a native son)

1996 – Bill Clinton

2000 – Al Gore

2004 – John Kerry (38%) John Edwards (32%). Howard Dean (18%). Dick Gephardt (11%). Dennis Kucinich (1%). GOP – George W. Bush

2008 – Barack Obama – 38%, John Edwards  – (30%), Hillary Clinton (29%)  Elliot Richardson got 2% and Joe Biden got 1%.

2012 – Obama – 98% (a very quiet night in Des Moines) Mike Huckabee on the Republican side, prompting my headline: “Huckaboom or Huckabust?”

2016 – Hillary (50%). Bernie Saunders (49%) Ted Cruz on the GOP side.

2020 – Trump

Random Thoughts on the Iowa Caucuses of January 15, 2024

With Monday’s Iowa caucuses scheduled to go forward despite wind chills that could be as low as -30 below zero, the last polls I saw put Trump ahead but DeSantis and Nikki Haley separated by only one percentage point.

The real test on Monday, January 15th, is going to be “Whose ground organization is strongest and can guarantee that the caucus-goers will actually trot out to caucus for their candidate?” Is Trump’s ground organization better (or at least equal to) DeSantis’? What about Haley’s?

I have actually attended the Iowa caucuses. It was winter and it was cold, but this time is going to be the coldest on record. The night I attended the caucuses in Des Moines in 2008 I was not an Iowa resident and, therefore, not there to actually line up behind a particular candidate. In fact, when they learned that I had been a teacher, they put me in charge of a random pack of children whose parents were actually voting. [That was fun for no one.]

When the Republicans caucus, they vote on paper ballots. The Democrats, however—who are not involved in this year’s caucus season in Iowa—did not use ballots. Instead, it was sheer un-orchestrated chaos with all kinds of voting and lobbying for viability and many other things that seem(ed) to belong in an elementary school election. Its refreshingly primitive. The cameramen from Sweden could not believe how basic the process was. Because the process is that basic, I would not be surprised if Iowa loses out on holding these things completely.  There have always been complaints that Iowa is too white-bread and not diverse enough. Then there was the complete SNAFU season. Then there is this year’s weather. I’m thinking that the caucuses in Iowa of either party may well go the way of the dodo bird in 2028.

I watched the Town Hall meetings that focused on DeSantis and Haley and the things covered there were much like the final debate that involved just those two candidates. Until the offhand remark from Haley about New Hampshire voters “correcting” Iowa’s missteps, she was surging. She seems sane and has a far less authoritarian demeanor than the two men with whom she is competing.

DeSantis

There is little I like about Ron DeSantis. The “Sixty Minutes” special that detailed how he screwed over immigrants in ferrying them to Martha’s Vineyard showed a despicable lack of human compassion and empathy. It’s one thing to give the northern states a little taste of what the border states like Texas are dealing with; it’s totally another to have glossy brochures made up that promise desperate immigrants jobs when they land in Martha’s Vineyard. Maybe this would be the point to say WWJD (What would Jesus do?) Certainly not that. The fight with Disney over their position on homosexuality. The “don’t wear masks” attitude during Covid that DeSantis displayed (with masked high school students in the background). The preening over how he “took on” the teachers’ unions (and George Soros), as though that were something to be proud of. The inability to smile like a normal human being, which has been commented on by every late-night host. Why do I dislike him? Let me count the ways. Or not. He’s easy to dislike on sight. (That’s a large part of his problem.)

Haley

Nikki Haley.

Nikki Haley comes off as more reasonable on the issue of abortion. She is a female, after all, and a mother.

Her position on supporting Ukraine is a good one. As the former Ambassador to the United Nations she understands and articulates well the basic fact that, right now, Ukraine is doing the fighting and dying in opposing Putin, who might well set his sights on other European nations. DeSantis (and other GOP leaders) want to tie support for Ukraine to better border control. That phrase about being against it before I was for it (or something close) applies more to DeSantis’ positions than those of Haley.

I was bothered by the fact that neither candidate would answer the question posed by Jake Tapper about whether Donald J. Trump has the moral character to be President. It was just about as bad as the Ivy League Presidents testifying before Congress who couldn’t answer easy questions about anti-Semitic behavior on their college campuses. (Both lost their jobs).We lost Chris Christie in the mix, and he seems to be the only one who had the guts to call out his former friend of 22 years. It  seems as though Christie—who helped prep Trump for the debates in 2020—is trying to make amends for his past misdeeds. I will miss Christie onstage calling out the obnoxious Vivek Ramaswamy as the most obnoxious blowhard in America. You don’t get truthful answers like that during political debates very often.

Border Control

Ron DeSantis.

The Big Issue that the Republicans will be trotting out in the months to come will be the border. The Democrats will be making just as much noise over the roll-back of Roe v. Wade. Nikki Haley offered a much more realistic and even-tempered attitude for the GOP to promulgate in a national election. Everyone agrees that the border is now (and has been for decades) a big problem that needs to be solved. But Congress needs to be involved in completely overhauling our immigration system. It looks, right now, as though the current  Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas is being set up to take the fall for what most Americans view as a failure at the border. Biden’s attempt to portray America as that shining beacon on the hill that both Reagan and Romney alluded to may (or may not) be the reason for the influx of illegal immigrants, but you can be sure that the GOP will portray him as practically the sole cause of our recent border crisis. It is true that the border situation needs to be solved. It may be true that Biden’s words made the influx worse.  (Trump’s separation of small children and infants from their parents and then losing them was not Great Policy, but that goes unremarked in Iowa.) However, totally blaming Biden for this unprecedented horde of immigrants ignores the many economic and political reasons that drive residents of Central and Latin America to risk death to come to this country. We need to be welcoming, but practical. Restructuring our immigrations policies and laws is necessary, just like we need to address gun control (which also hasn’t occurred) and we needed to overhaul health care (which hasn’t totally happened, but least the Affordable Care Act has survived, despite repeated GOP attempts to dismantle it) A physical wall, DJT’s solution, was never going to work without additional reforms of a more substantial sort. In regard to Mayorkas, it is fairly interesting that he has been notably absent from the Sunday morning talk shows and the Republicans now want to impeach him. Mayorkas seems to have missed out on the media training. He isn’t able to demonstrate progress on the border and he has the diplomatic skills of a basset hound. He neither looks nor acts the part he has been assigned to play.

Monday Predictions?

Until Nikki Haley’s misstep (verbally) in New Hampshire and the last debate, where she kept referring listeners to DeSantislies.com website (14 times by one talking head’s count), I thought she was going to top DeSantis on January 15th. She is currently focusing her efforts on suburban areas in the state of Iowa, while DeSantis did “the full Grassley,” visiting all 99 Iowa counties, and is counting on rural support. DeSantis also out-spent Ms. Haley and, until the final debate, was doing much less well during televised Q&A opportunities.

However, DeSantis has picked up his game on the occasion of the final debate (as well as the Town Hall that preceded it). I agree with David Axelrod who has said that the True Test of who Triumphs at the caucuses will be which team can actually mobilize its committed delegates to turn out in frigid sub-zero weather. Pollsters say it will be Trump’s MAGA hordes coming in first.

The second place finish in the last poll I saw was 11% for Haley and 12% for DeSantis. It could go either way. I’d like to see a woman President, so I’m pulling for Nikki Haley. There are things about her policies (she is very pro gun) that I disagree with, but she seems more reasonable about hot-button issues, and certainly has stood up well under pressure. Plus, she has a nice smile, which puts her head and shoulders above DeSantis. Haley has far more international experience. It seems unlikely that the GOP would nominate a woman for the top of the ticket; I am not happy that she has dodged the question of whether she would run with Trump. She and DeSantis have not exactly been straightforward in their responses to questions that are touchy. True of all politicians, it seems. Makes me think of the poem I wrote at the tender age of 16, which I shall print below these ramblings.

I would like to know if Vivek Ramaswamy is the “secret” VP pick that Trump has alluded to; he seems like a very “out there.” He has gone off on various conspiracy theories ad nauseum. Maybe Trump has promised the second spot on the GOP ticket to a female Governor who will probably be about as good a pick as Sarah Palin was (which means a very bad one).

My Poem “Words” (written in 1960, the year I campaigned for JFK):

If fewer words were spoken,

If fewer words were said.

If deeds, alone, were the mark of a man,

Not the “catch” of an eloquent pledge.

 

If fewer words were spoken,

If fewer words were said

If, for all the fake forensics,

There were simple words, instead.

 

And a man stated just what he started to state,

Without false fuss or further ado,

If you weren’t a politician

I’d probably listen to you

Dec. 19th: One Week Until Christmas, 2023

         Stacey & Scott Wilson.

These are my two children, Scott (now aged 55) and Stacey (now aged 36).

Yes, I understand that that is a long time between children, but there you have it: a son who was going off to college when he learned that his parents were having a second child.

I still remember Scott looking at the sonogram of the sister then residing in my 42-year-old womb. He was unsure of the sex and said, “Oh, great! I can throw a football at him!”

I said, “At HER.”

So, Stacey Kristin Corcoran Wilson joined our family in 1987 and  we would be poorer for it if she had not.

Scott (and his wife and twins Ava & Elise, now aged 14), reside in Austin, Texas, as of this writing, and we all—minus Stacey— had a family dinner last night.

(L to R) Scott, Stacey, Connie, Ava, Jessica, Elise, Craig.

Meanwhile we are eagerly awaiting Stacey’s arrival for the Christmas holiday, but her duties as a flight attendant for SW airlines will take precedence until she can break free and join us. During the pandemic we all hunkered down in Austin (Stacey normally resides in Nashville) and it was a wonderful treat to have my original nuclear family all together for an extended stay because, keep in mind, Scott was raised as an only child until he left for college and Stacey came along after that (and went off to college, herself, in 2005).December 19th Thoughts on the Passing

So, it is almost 20 years since my nuclear family expanded to one son and one daughter and I couldn’t be happier that I have one of each.

Gained a new grand niece today (Ruthie Kay Wilson) when nephew Michael Wilson and Rachel in St. Louis had a brand new baby girl, who will grow up alongside Winnie Wilson, age 2, the daughter of Megan and Aaron Eddy,

Welcome to the world, Ruthie Kay!

Looking for the Perfect Canine for Christmas? These Dogs May—or May Not—Be Your Choice

Thanksgiving, 2023, is officially in the books.

We spent it at the movies (“Napoleon”) but before I write that review for the film that opened wide on November 22nd, a little levity looking forward to the most commercial holiday of the season might be appropriate. And these dogs might be your choice for a forever friend. (Or not).

German Shepherd

German Shepherd dog

In scanning the November 21st issue of the “Austin American Statesman” for potential topics, I was first attracted to this headline:  “Husband Asks Spouse to Annoy His Parents to Motivate Them to Leave.”

That sounded promising, but, in my usual manner, I continued scanning the various articles and read this one, which had a much-less-amusing title:  “Shelter Places Dogs Cut From TSA Training.”

It sounded like an informative straight-ahead news story, and I like dogs as well as the next man—err, woman—so I read on.

Apparently, there is a special animal shelter  at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland that is used to house dogs rejected for government service, like the canines used to sniff out drugs by the TSA.

The purpose of the article seemed to be to find “forever homes” for these furry rejects for government service. The article even contained an e-mail address that applicants could use:  [email protected]. The article went on to say that multiple visits to San Antonio might be required to meet the animal and make sure the prospective new owners would be a good fit for the animal(s).  It was further advised that the prospective owners should arrive at the training center on adoption day with a leash, a collar, and appropriately-sized shipping crate. (Nothing like being prepared and explicit, I always say.)

So, what sorts of animals might we be competing to own?

Let’s just run through a few of the rejected animals awaiting our applications in San Antonio.

Black Labrador Retriever

Toby

First, there is Toby. Toby is a 10-year-old Labrador Retriever (the very dog I owned as a child). Toby was rejected for service because of situational anxiety causing him to suck in more air than necessary which made him become bloated. Like all the other animals on the list, Toby was described as highly active, untrained, and not housebroken, but, (said the article) “with proper training and care they can be a great addition to families.”

Second on the list was Lydka, a 3-year-old German Shepherd who actually made it into service as a bomb-sniffing dog. Unfortunately, Lydka was easily distracted by noise and people and didn’t do well under pressure. She was fired for her performance on the job  and requires a more stress-free environment.

Third on the list was Tommy, a 3-year-old English Springer Spaniel, who was dismissed because he developed an upper airway obstruction.

Jack, a 2-year-old German Shepherd, never even made it into training because of suspected kidney disease.

English Springer Spaniel

Tommy

Most of the dogs have not been exposed to any animals other than other dogs and are not comfortable around small children. To be considered for selection as the adoptive owner, the prospective owner must have a fenced-in yard and no plans to move within 6 months of the adoption. Any other pets already in the home must be up to date on vaccination and preventative care. Of course, the prospective owner must also promise to provide appropriate medical care, exercise, training and companionship.

So, if you are available to adopt a non-housebroken, highly active, possibly sick canine that flunked out of TSA (or other) school, feel free to contact the San Antonio-Lackland Joint Base. Sounds like the perfect Christmas pet, doesn’t it?

Page 1 of 33

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén