Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Of Local (Quad Cities’) Interest Page 1 of 49

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

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

“Suncoast” Screens at Sundance 2024

 

“Suncoast’s” writer/director, Laura Chinn, had a brother, Max, who suffered from cancer. He ended up in the same hospice facility as Terri Schiavo, who died in 2005, and Ms. Chinn, in her directorial debut, dedicated the film to her late brother.

“Suncoast” was the first of the eight Sundance films I watched. It held particular significance for me, because I had also used the Terri Schiavo case as a plot background for the third novel in my series “The Color of Evil.” As such, I had to look up all the particulars of this “right to life” case that stretched from 1998 to 2005. Terri, who cardiac arrested at age 26, ended up in the hospice facility in Pinellas Park, Florida and the entire drama played out on the national scene with 14 different court cases and judgments involved, going all the way up to the President of the United States (George W. Bush).

THE GOOD

Woody Harrelson, Laura Linney, and Nico Parker in Suncoast (2024)

Suncoast

The best thing about the largely autobiographical story was the acting. Laura Linney portrays Kristine, the mother of Nico Parker. Woody Harrelson has a role as an activist who is protesting attempts to remove the feeding tube of the brain dead Schiavo. There were 14 different court actions and many protests in the streets outside the facility.

The acting by all concerned is excellent. Nico Parker, who portrayed Pedro Pascal’s daughter Sarah in “the Last of Us,” won the film  the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance. She was extraordinary amongst an outstanding cast.

In addition to the euthanasia/right to die theme, the film does a good job of portraying the difficulties that beset lead Nico Parker as Doris, when she attempt to live the life of a normal teenager. Her mother (Laura Linney) seems to expect more from the teenager  in terms of caring for her invalid brother.  Doris (Nico Parker) is simply trying hard to have a more balanced, normal teenage experience in the midst of terrible tragedy. The film is a real tear-jerker.

THE BAD

Laura Linney

Laura Linney.

The character portrayed by Laura Linney comes off as very authoritarian and somewhat manipulative, especially when she tells her daughter that her brother is dying that very night at a time when the young girl is at a party that resembles Prom. Of course this brings out the sister’s guilt and she rushes to the hospice, only to learn that her mother overstated the situation. Later, her mother apologizes, but it is a really insensitive and unloving thing for her mother (Kristine) to have done. Only a truly great actress could have made this character halfway human, as her behavior in regards to her healthy daughter seemed extremely destructive at times.

Woody Harrelson’s character of Paul Warren was similarly negative at times. His entire character seemed extraneous, to me, added simply to beef up a plot theme. Most of us who have daughters in this age range would warn our teenaged daughters about associating with a strange guy who shows up at a hospice as a  protester. It’s the old “danger/stranger” thing. It didn’t make much sense that, when Kristine (Laura Linney) learns about the random friendship that has sprung up between her underage daughter and this stranger from out of town, she doesn’t inquire further and warn Doris about being too trusting of the stranger. I  found the brief scene in the restaurant where Doris introduces her mother to Paul to be strange and unrealistic (and wanted the two to interact).

Other reviews have bemoaned the opportunity to put two such fine actors onscreen at the same time. Having met Laura Linney in Chicago the year (2007) she and Philip Seymour Hoffman co-starred in “The Savages” I agree that finding a way to have these two talents share the screen and exchange dialogue would have been a welcome addition to the plot (and probably would have improved the dialogue). On the bright side, there is a great scene where the police insist that Kristine must move along in her car. Linney was great during this exchange, but the writing elsewhere was not as good as the actors saying the lines. The cast really saved the film at many points.

The thing that detracts from the film, of course, is the entire downer theme. It’s  a solemn, serious topic, sensitively treated and could serve as a good lesson in what not to do for a parent who finds himself or herself in this extremely difficult situation (while raising one healthy teenaged child while caring for a terminally ill teenager.) It is precisely this horrible predicament that keeps us from totally turning on the Laura Linney character of Kristine. Without an outstanding actress like Laura Linney in the part, the characterization of the mother could have come off much more poorly.

CONCLUSION

It was an impressive Sundance debut directorial debut for the fledgling director and newcomer Nico Parker, daughter of Thandie Newton, did a fine job as the lead actress, with able support from Laura Linney and Woody Harrelson. There are several excellent supporting performances from the young actors/actresses portraying her school friends as well. “Suncoast” begins streaming on Hulu on February 9th, Friday. It’s a tear-jerker but a well-done one.

“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.

“Kneecap” Is Irish Docu-Drama at 2024 Sundance

The Audience Award Winner at Sundance was a docu-drama about an Irish band, “Kneecap,” that is working to preserve the Irish language (Gaelic) and enjoys sticking it to the British. The members of the real-life band “Kneecap” played themselves. To appreciate the film, it is best to know this history of the band (from Wikipedia);  “Kneecap are a BelfastNorthern Ireland-based hip hop trio with the stage-names Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap and DJ Próvaí.[1][2] They sing in Irish and English and often reference their support for republicanism. They first began releasing music in 2017 with their single “C.E.A.R.T.A.” (Irish for “RIGHTS” as in human rights). They released their first album, 3CAG, in 2018,[3] and continued to release various singles such as “Get Your Brits Out”.

The three members of the Irish rap group — Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh, Naoise Ó Cairealláin, and JJ Ó Dochartaigh — play themselves in this liberally fictionalized reimagining of their origin story set in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The plot goes back to “the Troubles” and the operating philosophy “Every word of Irish spoken is a bullet fired for Irish freedom.” Michael Fassbender plays the father of lead band member  Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh and drifts in and out of the narrative as an escaped Irish prisoner who may (or may not) be dead. Writer/Director Rich Peppiatt said he “endorsed his inner low-life scumbag” to make the film, shot in 7 weeks in 2023.

The Wikipedia entry about the band adds a lot of background  for viewers of the film, especially if you’ve never heard of them before. The romance with a Protestant girl is another sub-plot of the mosaic that is the band rapping in a language that most of the audience neither understands nor has ever heard before. (Sub-titles for the lyrics would be helpful) Kneecap, the band, has an infectious enthusiasm and youth on their side,. The members are supposedly the offspring of legendary Irish Republican Army fighters, with a distinct enthuiasm for anarchy, rebellion and fighting for the underdog—all those things that youth is associated with. The band has also weighed in on the Israeli/Gaza conflict with sympathy for the Palestine cause. Of course, the original impetus for the film (as portrayed in the docu/drama/comedy), occurred when a member of the band refused to speak English while being interrogated in connection with a crime and insisted on speaking Gaelic. That is faithfully rendered—although, as with all films, there is a fair amount of embellishment for the sake of the narrative.

This Wikipedia insight also comes in handy: “In 2021 Kneecap released their single “MAM” as a tribute to their mothers, the song was acknowledged as a shift away from their usual style saying that they wanted to do something more ‘real’. Mo Chara stated in an interview that they wanted to show that “we can ’roundhouse’ you off the stage but we can also give you a hug afterwards. We wanted to do something a bit sentimental, we don’t wanna just box ourselves in with masculinity all the time.”] The trio also revealed on Instagram that Móglaí Bap’s mother had died of suicide before it could be released and that all proceeds from the song would be going to the Samaritans.”  

In regards to sentimental, one review took a broad swipe at Kenneth Branagh’s film “Belfast,” based on his own childhood memory of living in Belfast during the Troubles, calling it “sentimental” and “overly saccharine.” Belfast was one of the nominees for Best Picture of the Year that year.

During the Q&A following the film one of the band members was dressed in a leather outfit that looked like it was straight out of the latest iteration of “American Horror Story,” complete with Baliclava mask, as worn by the older D.J. in the film. It is a weird look. One  band member came onstage swilling from a bottle of booze, which seemed appropriate for the rabble-rousing drug-dealing rebels.

The music is infectiously high-voltage and the docu-drama has already secured a distribution deal at Sundance with Sony Classics films.  Those involved in the film were:

  • . Crew:Director, writer: Rich Peppiatt. Camera: Ryan Kernaghan. Editors: Chris Gill, Julian Ulrichs. Music: Michael ‘Mikey’ J Asante.
  • With:Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh, Naoise Ó Cairealláin, JJ Ó Dochartaigh, Michael Fassbender, Josie Walker, Simone Kirby.

I’m Irish (maiden surname “Corcoran”) but I had no idea what any of the rapping lyrics meant, and would have appreciated knowing. They might as well have been singing in Vietnamese, given the lack of sub-titles to explain the message to those of us who are (a) out of our twenties and (b) not conversant in the Irish language. (And, if you think about it, that is a rather large number of the proposed audience.) On the bright side, as IMDB reported, domestic box office from all Sundance 2023 films was the best for any year since Covid. At around $100 million, it quadrupled the take from 2022 Festival titles, which was around $25 million. All told, about two thirds of the 2023 films have some sort of domestic distribution, including streaming outlets.

I enjoyed the convincing  acting by the band members. The stereotype of drunken Irish wife-beaters is alive and well in this one, personified by the band members, who did their best to perpetuate that old familiar stereotype. Perhaps Sony Classics will put a translation of the Gaelic lyrics onscreen before launching the film nationwide and worldwide, which would help add to our understanding of the mindset of the group

 

 

“Daughters:” Documentary at Sundance, 2024

A still from the documentary Daughters, directed by Angela Patton and Natalie Rae

David Ehrlich of “Indiewire” wrote of “Daughters,” that it was “An enormously moving documentary” and that it had “as much ugly-cry potential as anything in recent memory.” The film, directed by Angela Patton and Natalie Rae, gives us the background on a unique father-daughter dance for D.C.-area Black girls whose fathers are in jail. Ehrlich called it “A damning portrait of America’s prison-industrial complex.” The information that single mothers struggling to make it on their own while their significant others are incarcerated for years makes the point that the relatives are charged to visit their loved ones. This seems like adding insult to injury, although the inmates obviously committed crimes that led to their incarceration, which is downplayed in this documentary.

In order to be allowed to participate in the daddy/daughter dance the prisoners must take a course in parenting. Some of the participants admit that, initially, they only signed up for the daddy/daughter instruction in order to get an extra in-person opportunity. Later, they say  that participating has been beneficial to them as people. Indeed, the recidivism of the men who take part seems to be much better than the average prisoner. The testimony of the prisoners is very interesting, but the leader of the class is pedantic and not very interesting, for the most part. It is far more engrossing to listen to the prisoners, the children and the women waiting on the outside. For me, the sequences that involved the instructor teaching the class were only interesting when the prisoners were allowed to talk and tell their stories. This film could have dispensed with the pedantic prison employee and simply cut from prisoner’s story to prisoner’s story with better results.

Little Aubrey at age 5 is enchanting. The film goes back 8 years later, and the bright little girl has become a jaded teenager who says she never wants to be a mother and expresses her broken spirit in so many other ways. Mark (a prisoner) who is the father of Santana reveals that Santana was born when her mother (Diamond) was only 14 and he was 16. The personal details are enlightening, but the segment goes on too long. The entire film needed a good editor.

Music supervisors Sunny Kapoor and Connie Edwards did a fine job, and the film provides enough food for thought to keep us pondering for weeks. It won a Festival Favorite Award at Sundance (2024) for the directors’ first feature documentary.

But, in terms of the story this film is telling,  the prison system beat goes on, and it is heart-wrenching.

Jesse Eisenberg’s “A Real Pain” Wins Screenwriting Award at 2024 Sundance

All of the introductory pictures on the Sundance page featured this Jesse Eisenberg film, which he wrote, directed and starred in. The film won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance (some choice lines from the script to follow.)

Jesse Eisenberg plays David Kaplan and Kieran Culkin is his cousin, Benjy. Following the death of their Grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, the two travel to Poland with money she left them for the trip, and ultimately end up joining a tour of concentration camps. Jennifer Grey portrays Marcia, a divorced woman who is on the tour with the cousins.

Benjy is in crisis. We learn this as the trip progresses. As cousin David (Jesse Eisenberg) says of Benjy, “You’re like an all-encompassing individual.” He also says of Benjy, “I love him and I hate him and I want to kill him and I want to BE him.” Benjy is well-played by Kieran Culkin who steals most of the scenes. The reasons for his depression are not totally explained to us. His fascination with airports, while interesting, is another oddity.

Here are some of the good lines from the honored script:

“There but for the grace of no God go I.”

“You have the most effed-up sense of proprieties.”

“You light up a room and then you shit on everything inside of it.”

Jesse Eisenberg’s first directorial effort was 2022’s “When You Finish Saving the World.” Both films were produced by Emma Stone’s production company, Fruit Tree.

This outing was much more professional. The ending left something to be desired, but it was a very enjoyable film.

 

“A New Kind of Wilderness” Is 2024 Sundance World Cinema Grand Prize Winner

Sundance Film Festival is ending its 40th run on January 28th. I’ve been streaming many of the award winners, including these, in  alphabetical order:

  • “A New Kind of Wilderness”
  • “A Real Pain”
  • “Daughters”
  • “In the Summers”
  • “Kneecap”
  • “Little Death”
  • “Porcelain War”
  • “Suncoast”

[I’ll be telling you about the above films in installments over the next few days, so tune in.]

Although “A New Kind of Wilderness” is first on the list because it is alphabetically first, I think it may be my favorite of the 8 listed, which are award winners. “A New Kind of Wilderness” won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize.

The beautiful part of “A New Kind of Wilderness” is that it is a documentary, but also contains a wonderful story of how a couple in Norway (he is British; she is Norwegian) chose to drop off the grid and raise their children on a farm in Norway. As Nik, the father of Freja, Falk, Ulv and step-father of Ronja tells us, “We want to be independent, free, and full of love.” He added, “We govern our own lives…When you choose a life that is so dependent on yourself, you have a certain authenticity.”

The children have no television, no electronic devices, are home schooled, and learn about growing their own food and hunting and butchering animals for food. The father, Nik, warns the children that traditional schooling teaches, “You can be yourself, but only if you fit in and follow the rules.”

But then the children’s mother, Maria Gros Daine, dies and the group is forced to sell the farm and move to the city. They also spend 4 months in England visiting Nik’s parents, but the kids obviously do not want to move to England, although he temporarily considers it, because, as he said, “It’s a lot harder being alone.”

George MacKay in Captain Fantastic (2016)

The entire story was basically the 2016 film “Captain Fantastic” starring Viggo Mortensen and written and directed by Matt Ross. The director was Silje Evensme Jacobsen and she got the idea of the film from Maria’s blog wildandfree.no and worked on developing the gorgeous images from it (Maria was a professional photographer) into this film. It was very well done and the plot mimicked Matt Ross’ plot line as the children are gradually introduced to the electronic world and school and they begin to enjoy learning and socializing, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing because living off the grid is also an isolating experience, but it is also bittersweet to hear Frija tell her father she would rather go to school than play hooky and go camping with him.

It was a beautiful film and all of the issues in the “Captain Fantastic” film were addressed using real-life participants in the adventure of dropping out of normal life to live an exceptional life, the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all.

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.

 

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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

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