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: Science and Medicine Page 1 of 5

“Another Body” Traces Deep-Fake Porno in Timely Documentary

A timely issue for our time is the use of deep-fake video. It was one of the sticking points during the recent 148-day Hollywood entertainment strike. It is bound to rear its ugly head again during the 2024 presidential race. Porno videos with famous people’s faces super-imposed on the bodies of others are out there. In this documentary, it is a college student who makes the discovery that there is “Another Body,” represented as hers, circulating on the Internet. The supreme irony is that, in able to testify to the damage being done to victims like the fictional Taylor Klein, she had to “deep fake” her own testimony, (which made it all the way to the White House.)

In the timely documentary “Another Body,” directed by Sophie Compton and Reuben Hamlyn (co-written by Isabel Freeman), a college student discovers deep fakes represented as being Taylor, circulating online. Using video diaries, synthetic media, and 2D and 3D animation, the documentary takes you behind the scenes: who did this and why and how can it be stopped and rectified? :”I kept asking myself who would do this and why would they want to do this? I worry that they are going to do something more drastic? I believe that, in his mind, he is getting back at us for rejecting him.”


I marveled at the expertise that the filmmakers showed in presenting this complicated story to us, using dummy-like automatons to represent the fictional “Mike” (the perpetrator that Taylor and friends track down over time.) It was very impressive in regard to its technical achievements.Bravo!

I empathized with statements like, “I’ve had to deal with all the consequences that he should have had to deal with. I’ve had to leave the fun group, but he hasn’t.” 9,500 porno sites with 14 million hits a month sounds like the death throes of a decadent society. Are sites like PornHub that “normal” in this country’s incel culture that this sort of thing is doubling every six months, as the film says? Do those who use such sites routinely end up on a roof with a gun, shooting at spectators at a Fourth of July Parade in Illinois? What-the-heck is going on? Yes, Trump is the poster boy for such bad behavior, but…really?

I also recognized that the misogyny that today’s women of the MeToo movement are not willing to put up with has been going on for decades. DJT is a throwback to those decades when it truly was “a man’s world” and, as he bragged on video, if you were male you could get away with just about anything, because that is what women were told they had to put up with in order to be “good” female citizens. Women were not supposed to “take a man’s job” and we were supposed to stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, waiting on our man. R-i-i-i-g-h-t. So, I enjoyed seeing the new generation of women take on the male establishment. Maybe the good guys—err girls—will win, this time. I hope so. The request that she be respected for her professional achievements and viewed as “good” is not a pie-in-the-sky goal for the fictional Taylor of this tale; it is what women deserve, but have seldom achieved without a fight.


Like many other documentaries, this one could have been shorter. A half hour trim would not have taken away from the film, which became repetitive. Some of the interactions between Taylor and other victims could have been shortened.

Worst of all, the conclusion that Taylor draws near the end of the film is depressing:  Sometimes the bad guys win.


Republicans Died of Covid More Than Democrats, Say New Statistical Studies

Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis opposed Covid vaccinations, as a Conservative Republican and even, in one well-publicized bit of video, urged schoolchildren wearing masks to take them off.

Now, the statistics are out and they show that, in the wake of DeSantis reopening all bars and restaurants and schools, the Delta wave in July 2021 killed Florida residents at a much higher rate then it killed residents of other states. Florida has only 7% of the United States population, but accounted for 14% of the U.S. deaths.

Most of the 23,000 Floridians who died during those months were unvaccinated or did not complete a two-dose regimen. Nine thousand of those who died were younger than 65.

The facts above were reported in the August 4, 2023 “This Week” magazine.

On “Meet the Press” with Chuck Todd this past Sunday, July 30th,  the Data Download portion of the program was about whether more people died in states that supported Trump or in states that supported Biden. The facts for “Meet the Press” were gathered both before the Covid vaccination was available and after it was available. The statistics mainly focused on Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio.

The statistics were gathered by a national group that has set about toting up the truth about whether or not being vaccinated was a “good” idea or a “bad” idea. We’ve all heard of the rare cardiac inflammation of some young men; the GOP really played those anomalies up, when they occurred (as they are likely to occur with any new drug). I have one staunchly Republican friend who is convinced that increases in breast cancer cases can all be laid at the feet of Covid vaccinations. (This is a stretch, Folks. And I would have a keen interest in such data.) We could perhaps all vote for RFK, Jr., who is convinced of many such vaccine conspiracies.

This week the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, published a study that supported a theory many had suspected: The pandemic didn’t hit all Americans the same — and Republicans, who lagged behind in accepting the Covid vaccine, paid a steeper price.

I scribbled furiously while old Chuck Todd was putting the figures up, so I simply wish to refer you to the link, itself, and let doubting GOP stalwarts read the JAMA (Journal of American Medicine) for yourselves. (If you don’t want to be vaccinated, yourselves, at least GET YOUR KIDS vaccinated. TYVM).


Cubs Win Against Cardinals on July 21, 2023

We are in Chicago and journeyed to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs battle the St. Louis Cardinals today (July 21, 2023).

We took an Uber to the game ($40), which was probably in deference to the elder members of the group. (That would definitely be me and my spouse.) When we were going to return, the price was $60 so we took the ell, which turned out to be a free trip when the machine wouldn’t take my son’s credit card. The subway guru told all six of us to go on through.

The party included son Scott and wife Jessica and my twin granddaughters, Ava and Elise, age 14. Among other things, we’re celebrating my birthday on 7/23.

We were originally slated to have a seventh participant, but issues such as removal of a skin cancer and the delivery of plants derailed that idea.

Because we shopped for merchandise on the way into the park the bleachers were filling, but we successfully found a spot in the left field bleachers.

Mind you: I am not a big baseball fan.

When I returned from 3 months in Europe (People-to-People exchange student in 1967) my now husband—who had missed me, [as I had missed him], thought the first thing I would want to do upon my arrival in Chicago would be to attend a double header Cubs baseball game.

It was one of the longest days of my life.

The interesting thing, to me, was that everyone around me was speaking English. I had not experienced that in three months. I told my son not to get me a ticket for today’s game, but my daughter couldn’t join us; I hated to have him waste $80 x 2 for two unused tickets. We all suggested that he sell them, but they were on his phone, which seemed to be a hurdle. (How do you pass off a ticket that is on your phone to another person’s phone? Don’t ask me. I don’t know how to get them onto my phone in the first place.)

The weather was perfect—breezy, warm but not hot, just perfect. Plus, all of us had dressed for the occasion. The Cubs hit two home runs and took an early lead (4 to 1), but nearly blew it in the 8th and 9th innings. (And, yes, I made it through the entire 9 innings, and I want that on my record.)

The problem, for me, was that bleachers don’t have a “back” to lean against. I never had back problems until I took Anastrozole for 7 months, post cancer surgery. Or, at least, I didn’t know I had arthritis in my spine or whatever ailment it was that caused truly horrible back aches (and insomnia). The Anastrozole did a real number on my left knee and—out of the blue—my back would hurt so badly (right where you bend at the waist) that I searched through my left-over Oxycontin (root canal left-over) looking for some sort of pain reliever that worked. Unfortunately, you can’t take Oxycontin with a benzodiazepan, so no dice. Nothing ever did work. The other side effects included mood swings, dry skin, teariness, vision problems and vivid violent nightmares. So THAT was fun—(not).

Nothing helped. Ultimately, I had to discontinue taking Anastrozole or any other aromatase inhibitor. My left knee (injured in a biking accident in 1997 and in an Iowa City MOST knee study for 25 years) blew out on 9/15/2022. When I reported that to my Moline oncologist that the combination of old age and a previous knee injury, coupled with Anastrozole, had caused my left knee to quit working while I was simply walking along a Chicago street (“Cancer: the gift that keeps on taking.”) my Moline oncologist denied that there could be any connection between my back pain and/or my knee blowing out  and said, in writing through the patient portal, “The only side effect from taking Anastrozole is a little stiffness in your hands, and it goes away when you quit taking it.” And if you believe that, I have a bridge for sale.

All my communication with the oncologist between February 8th and August 8th were through the patient portal and what I have come to call his “minions.” He never saw me himself in that 6 months, which has always seemed derelict. Yes, I was scheduled for appointments, but he was never there. The minions—at least 3 different ones—were interchangeably assigned.

I’m not sure the oncologist would have seen me on August 8th if my surgeon had not called him up and said, “You need to see this patient.” . It is probably a good idea to see your cancer-stricken patient personally more than once every half year. And perhaps it would have been a good idea to have ordered an oncotype for me from the very beginning, since that determines the patient’s  treatment path but also will provide some peace-of-mind regarding the possibility of a recurrence in the future. Why wasn’t it ordered? A different doctor in the system suggested, “He doesn’t like to be dinged by Medicare.” Which, if you are the patient, is not very reassuring.

My surgeon on August 7th suggested a Ki67 test, which would have determined the aggressiveness of the tumor and might perhaps given me some peace of mind. I asked the oncologist about it repeatedly through the patient portal. No dice.

And the oncotype, which my Texas oncologist said would have meant three bouts of chemotherapy for me had I been his patient, took 17 months to secure. The “minions” (all female… nurses, Physicians’ Assistants, etc.) were the only individuals who ever met with me from February 8th until August 8th and nobody seemed willing to order either an oncotype (considered Standard of Care since 2013) or a Ki-67. In fact, my Illinois oncologist—who had dodged me successfully for half a year—[while I had been asking about the Ki-67 test recommended by my surgeon for, literally, months through the patient portal]— said, “I won’t order that for you; you’ll have to get somebody else.”

So, I did. And I’d recommend to other future Unity Point (Moline, Illinois) patients that they remember that today’s mantra for medical care seems to be YOYO (“You’re On Your Own”). I certainly felt that way as I asked, time and time again, about ordering a Ki-67 and, time and time again, I was told by the minions, “That is a question you should take up with the doctor at your next appointment.”

Except that it didn’t seem very likely that I’d ever see the oncologist, in person, again.

And the minions did not listen well to anything you might share with them, such as the fact that I would not be in the Midwest for the April 6th appointment they claimed I had made (when they called me in Texas to “remind” me of the non-appointment.) What about “I won’t be back in the Midwest until at least May is difficult to understand? And why did it take until May to do a bone scan, when I began taking Anastrozole in February? And why did Medicare deny the claim for that bone scan for literally months, when I had not had one since 2019? Someone  should have taken a look at my weakening bones (osteopaenia verging on osteoporosis) before my previously injured left knee quit on September 15, 2023.

There is an entire study of medicine (AIMSS, since the sixties) devoted to aromatase inhibitor drugs and their effect on bones and muscles (especially if the joint has been damaged previously.) My oncologist—-finally learning of all of my side effects over half a year in—  said, “Don’t take it then.” Then he walked out, leaving me to try to figure out what the next logical step should be for prevention of a recurrence of breast cancer (the purpose of Anastrozole.)

Since I was never ordered an oncotype when I began bringing it up (Dec.. 2021), and an oncotype  is normally a guide to treatment as well as a guide to the probability of a recurrence, I had no idea how likely I was to have to go through another surgery. I likened my feelings of being totally and completely at sea to a small child standing at the edge of a frozen lake, wondering if the ice is thick enough to  hold.  An oncotype of my tumor might have yielded that kind of information, but I was simply told, “You don’t need one” and I tried very hard to be a good compliant patient for a very long (too long) time.

Was my tumor that small and insignificant? It was 11 mm. Why did I “not need one” when I only found one other woman (out of 60,000 on WebMD), who didn’t get one? Beats the heck out of me, but I will say that it took until March of 2023 (from my initial query at the very first appointment in December of 2021) to finally get an oncotype from a different doctor in a different state, who was not overly impressed with what I wrote down and presented to both the Texas doctor and the Iowa City doctor. (The Iowa City oncologist said, “Why do you think most of the Quad City patients come here?” Why, indeed.)

I asked for referrals to “good Quad City oncologists who listen to you” in Iowa City —citing remarks made to me (and others) like, “Last time I saw you, if you had had a gun, I think you would have shot me” and “After talking to you three girls (former employees of mine whose mother was a patient), I need therapy.” If those strike you as unprofessional remarks, no kidding.

To hear how Diana (my employees’ mother) begged her oncologist (also my oncologist) to run a test to see if her cancer had spread and to hear how he would not do it was upsetting. Her breast cancer, which had recurred after many years, spread to her pancreas and killed her. But when her daughters attempted to take her to the Mayo Clinic her oncologist said, “I interned there. I know everything they know.” O……K……

After 17 months, a Texas oncologist finally secured the oncotype I inquired about in December of 2021, which my Moline oncologist simply dismissed, saying, “You don’t need one.” Not only that, the Texas oncologist spent 2 hours of his time meeting with me,  after hours, when everyone had gone home. (He was working late after hours because there had been an ice storm and all of his week’s appointments had to be canceled and then re-scheduled.)

The Texas doctor vowed to get me the test I asked about, which normally would have been done in January of 2022 after the 1/27/2022 surgery. It showed that my % of recurrence, according to the oncotype, would be 18% if I took Tamoxifen and 36% if I did not take this drug . The score of 29 was not a good one; 25 was the cut-off for chemotherapy/ I flunked an ultra sound test on 1/25/2023 at my one-year anniversary, and had to have a diagnostic mammogram on Valentine’s Day, during which I learned for the very first time that there was calcification on the left side as well as the (bad) right side. I had never been told that previously about the left breast and the thought that flashed through my mind was that it had taken 3 years for the calcification on the right to become a tumor and I’m coming up on 3 years of calcification on the left soon.

I suffered through a stereotactic biopsy in 2018 at Trinity (with no warning that needles were the order of the day, but a letter reaching me 3 days after the 2018 test telling me that I should “consult with your physician about your next step.”) A bit late for that. I cannot recall ever being given a “heads up” about the left-side calcification until the 2/14/2023 diagnostic mammogram.

Therefore, I have agreed with my Texas oncologist that taking one of the drugs that are considered adjuvant therapy (mentioned below) is in my best interests. However, the prevailing opinion is that I am one of the women who absolutely cannot tolerate aromatase inhibitors. (Clinical trials are underway in St. Louis at Washington University to determine who can benefit from them and who might become suicidal if taking them, which has happened.)

I am between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Iowa City seems to think that, “If it recurs, you just come back and we do it all over again.” (actual quote). My Texas oncologist said, “I’m not worried about it coming back on the contralateral side. I’m worried about it going some place else.”

My Moline oncologist never suggested taking any other medication after my 7 months on Anastrozole. He got up and left the room when I tried to share the symptoms I had experienced, saying, “Don’t take it then.” I thought we would discuss alternatives, but that didn’t happen.

I had to be wheeled in a wheelchair to my first post-surgical mammogram on October 3rd, because of my knee blowing out in Chicago on September 15th. I  spent 6 months hobbling with a cane or using a wheelchair before my knee recovered from the inflammation caused by Anastrozole. Injections at a knee joint pain clinic in Oak Park (32 ml of an anti-inflammatory; 6 ml of Durolane) helped (on 9/21/2022), and four sets of orthopaedic surgeons in 3 states have weighed in. Tramadol (50 mg) was prescribed for pain. The precise cause has never been pinned down because I didn’t have an MRI.  I would put hard cold cash that the Anastrozole was one of the reasons my knee gave up the ghost. My Moline oncologist—who is on record as saying the ONLY side effect is “a little stiffness in your hands”—would disagree. If he physically showed up in front of the 60,000 WebMD women, they would probably stone him.

My Texas oncologist said that, had I been his patient at the outset, I would have had three bouts of chemotherapy. That ship has sailed. It had been nine months of cold turkey no drugs at all before I flunked the ultra sound and was told “get thee to an oncologist ASAP.” I wrote all of this down in detail and gave a copy to both of my current doctors. I heard the Texas doctor discussing it with a female breast specialist in the hall. They were appalled. (They didn’t know I could overhear their remarks because the door was ajar.)

Now I am taking a different drug (Tamoxifen). It’s been around since the sixties and can give you blood clots that cause heart attacks and strokes and endometrial cancer. Not fun prospects. And yet the other survivors on WebMD describe many, many horrible side effects for every single one of the drugs (either blockers or drugs designed to stomp out estrogen in your body) we are told to take. It is difficult to understand why this wealth of 60,000 survivors is not being more fully utilized to let doctors who seem to be in denial into the information loop about what really happens to many female survivors on these drugs.

I’m not sure if Tamoxifen is implicated in the back pain at the ball game, or if it is simply old age and arthritis, but the over two hour baseball game, (which I went to in order to use my daughter’s ticket), will probably be the last time I  sit on bleachers at a Cubs game. I am so happy that my son and family came to Chicago to cheer me on on my birthday. I’m so I’m glad it was a Cubs win. I’m happy I made it through the day and I hope I was a good sport. (I tried).

Meanwhile, if you are a cancer patient in the Quad Cities, take note:: YOYO.

“It’s Quieter in the Twilight” is Voyager Documentary from SXSW

In the documentary “It’s Quieter in the Twilight” director Billy Miossi includes information on what was once called “Man’s Greatest Modern Adventure.” What was that adventure?

The  Voyager Mission, which meant the launching of not one, but two space craft to tour the outer planets, specifically Jupiter, Uranus, Saturn and Neptune—14 billion miles from Earth (farther than any other mission ever). In the late sixties, it was discovered that the gravity of a planet might enable a spacecraft to go forward in space to more distant planets. It was also noted that a line-up of the planets that would be beneficial for such an experiment was to occur in 1977; this configuration would not occur again for another 177 years.

Therefore, the Voyager project began in 1977 and was called “a fantastic exploratory achievement.” Initially, 1200 engineers worked on the project. It was Big News as the reliable Voyager spacecraft got great pictures of far-away planets in our solar system.Today, coming up on 50 years in orbit in 2027, only a dozen hardy souls remain on the Voyager project. This is a film about them, their dedication to the mission, and the end of what was once dubbed “Man’s Greatest Modern Adventure.”

This 90 minute film is just as much the story of the devoted rocket scientists who have remained at their posts through thick and thin. The space crafts have now gone out so far that they are beyond the solar system and, instead, sending back data that allows us to learn how solar winds affect other planets. As Ed Stone, Professor of Physics at California Technology Institute, an original member of the team, said, “It (Voyager) changed our view of the solar system.” Some members of the original team, speaking on camera, are 87. Others are 70. They are largely unsung heroes of our by-gone race to space.

In addition to phenomenal pictures of the rings of Saturn and other facets of the farthest planets, transmitted continuously for 42 years, we learn that active volcanoes were found on Jupiter.  The scientific expertise comprised of the engineers behind the project is invaluable. As current Project Leader Suzanne Dodd put it, “They have what you can’t get from paper.”

We learn that there are only 3 tracking stations for Voyager  (Madrid, Barstow, and Canberra) and only the one in Canberra, Australia, would be able to see Voyager, because it is only visible in the southern hemisphere. Complicating just normal operational issues is the fact that the Canberra observatory was due to shut down for nearly a year and the Voyager team had to plan ahead for the months that they would have no way to communicate with the spacecrafts. Also, decomposing hydrogen thrusters will make it impossible to control the spacecraft over time.

The spacecraft uses 4 watts of power a year and there are only 7.5 watts left. The only way to potentially keep the spacecraft flying and sending back data, say the engineers, is to turn off some of the heaters, throwing the heating task to those that use less power so that the salvaged power can help the aging spacecraft (perhaps) limp to a 50-year finish line. The temperature in space then becomes -76 Fahrenheit.

Another problem is the amount of time it takes to both send and receive messages or commands from the spacecraft. Voyager #1 takes 20 hours for the signal to reach Earth. Voyager #2 takes 17, so fixing anything quickly is not possible. There is even a momentary hiccup in the transmission of data during the documentary that requires 35 hours to fix.

Chris Jones, rocket scientist with the Voyager Project.

One by one the backgrounds of some of the engineers trying to reprogram the 42-year-old spacecaraft are sketched: Sun Kang Matsomato of South Korea; Jefferson Hall of Mississippi; Enrique Medina (age 70) from Mexico; Fernando Peralto from Bogota, Columbia; Suzanne Dodd, who left the project in 2010 but returned as manager; Lee Yang. We learn of the untimely death of Enrique’s wife from a brain aneurysm at the beginning of the pandemic.  We see Sun Kang’s young sons growing up, after making models of Voyager as small children.

The 70-year-old says, emotionally, that he enjoys continuing to work on the Voyager project, because he feels needed. “I always loved Voyager. It makes me feel that I am needed some place. I have the expertise to take Voyager through 2025—and maybe longer.”

Indeed, others, including South Korean native Sun Kang Matsomato, say, “When I see that Voyager does not need me, I will leave.”

Perhaps the most emotional bit of film is the statement from Chris Jones, who  worked on Voyager from 1973 to 1981 and then returned to the task. He retired in 2021, but breaks down and tears up, emotionally, talking about the project, saying, “There was a time when I was a kid, and I had the chance to do something for the very first time. As it gets to the end, it’s going to be special, because it’s the very last time.”

As another engineer says, “There are probably only 8 more commands to execute on Voyager. The end is coming.”

Frank Lawlor has provided an excellent soundtrack and the cinematography (Willie Leatherwood and Pete Mignin) and editing (Matt Reynolds) are top-notch in this SXSW offering.

The film opens in Los Angeles on Friday, May 19th at Laemmle Noho #7 and on demand everywhere that day, including ITunes and Apple TV.  A premiere screening and Q&A will be held at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California on Monday, May 15th at 7 p.m. For all you space geeks out there, this is one you’ll like.



“Caterpillar” Is Fascinating Documentary on Opening Night of 2023 SXSW Film Festival

Caterpillar” documentary at SXSW.

SXSW 2023 is back with a vengeance.

I have not received Red Carpet placement for  Opening Night since 2017, so I executed Plan B, planning to take myself over to the Alamo Drafthouse on Lamar Boulevard to see “Confessions of a Good Samaritan.” This was a film about a woman who donated a kidney to a stranger. When I arrived, the film had begun, so I took myself to “Caterpillar,” instead.

This was a fascinating documentary about a new YouTube fad, changing one’s eye color, which is done, surgically, in India. It sounded very dicey, and, as it turns out, it is.

The documentary, written and directed by Liza Mandelup of the Parts & Labor film enterprise, followed the journey of Raymond David Taylor of Miami as he set off for India to have his brown eyes turned into a color described as “frost.”

It seems that there is a thriving cosmetic industry in Cairo, Mexico, Panama, and India and, of course, the recent deaths of two American citizens in Matamoros, Mexico, (we now know), was a trip for cosmetic surgery. A friend of mine flew to Costa Rica for dental work, so I’m surprised I had not heard of this latest vision fad, but I don’t spend much time watching videos on YouTube.

David had a very rough childhood, even getting kicked out of the house while young, at one point, and he (and most of the other patients) seem to think that “Changing me will change my outlook on life.” As David says, “If I feel sad one more day, I don’t know if I’m going to make it.”

He doesn’t have the money for the surgery, but a well-written letter to BrightOcular explaining his desire for the implants brings an offer from them to come have the cosmetic procedure for free, if he will let the company use his story and his photos for advertising purposes.

We then meet others on this medically unregulated journey, including Izzy, a woman from New Delhi, a young man from Japan, a male underwear model and a beautiful girl from Jamaica, but the focus is on David, which filmmaker/writer  Mandelop explained was her attempt to initially start out with three main characters and trace their journeys, with one emerging as central to the story.

She described this engrossing film journey into eye surgery this way:  “I wanted to visually convey it. I wanted to do something that people wouldn’t think was cinematic, like eye surgery, but make it cinematic. It became an emotional journey. David allowed me to make the film that I was craving.”

In the course of the journey, we meet David’s mother, who also suffered a rough, abusive life, but tried her best as a young single mother to care for her children on wages of $2.35 an hour. David’s mother and David don’t agree on a lot of things. She is okay with David’s being gay, but she says, “I cannot deal with that if you start cutting parts of your body off and adding stuff.” She adds that she thought he was a great female impersonator. Mom’s point-of-view is, “You’re stubborn. You don’t listen.” She adds, “You’re never satisfied with the way you look.” Others in the film describe the cosmetic procedure as “a bandaid to the past.” Most of the others have selected jade green as the color their brown eyes will be after surgery.

Writer/Director Liza Mandelup, “Caterpillar.”

It is a big blow to David when they do three patients’ surgeries simultaneously and, in the process, he is given jade green eye color by mistake, rather than frost. This will mean another eye surgery to fix the error.

If you are thinking, “This can’t be safe,” you’re right. It is only about four months post-surgery after David undergoes the procedure that he describes it as “the worst mistake of my life” when headaches and visual problems begin. All of the prospective patients seem to want to transform to some ideal person they have created in their heads. When the subject of the film appeared before us in person, however, the audience got the feeling that the subject of “Caterpillar” has, in fact, bettered his life, moving back to Brooklyn and now working as an EMT. He explained his mother’s absence from the showing as his way of “avoiding drama.”

Director Liza Mandelup and Raymond David Taylor, subject of the SXSW documentary “Caterpillar”on Opening Night, March 10, 2023.

Some other patients, we learn, who did not heed the United States opthalmalogists’ warning about the damage the implants have done (or are doing)  to their eyes ended up blind or partially blind.  One former patient whom David tracks down after he begins encountering headaches and blurry vision said that he woke up after 5 years with blood on his cornea. “I had to remove them or go blind.”

The unfettered access to the surgery and the patients seems quite unusual. That is, until we learn that the leadership of BrightOcular is very circumspect. No one ever comes forward to represent BrightOcular or another entity called Spectra. These agencies exist and are offering this service and heavily advertising how it will “change your life” on social media, with beautiful pictures of patients like David. They are not as forthcoming about the negatives of the procedure. The Indian physician who says he, personally, would not undergo the procedure knows this is a very risky way to change one’s outlook on life and seems to convey that through his reticence to heartily endorse the procedure.

David bought into it with words like, “This is my new beginning. I’m changing,” or “Beauty matters. Beauty gets you through the door.

Musical selections like “Stand By Me” and “I Want to Dance With Somebody,” selected by Music Supervisor Melissa Chapman, merge with the early upbeat theme of positive change seamlessly and add much to the extremely well-done production.

Afterwards, the writer/director (Liza Mandelup) and David, the chief subject, answered questions about the inspiration for the film and its aftermath. Liza said she had been doing research on the apps that can change one’s appearance when she learned of this eye surgery. She sent the BrightOcular company an e-mail asking if she could do a documentary about the process. They were very positive in their response and never really surfaced as an entity. Their leadership remains a mystery.

She cautions that David was one of the few patients who listened to the warnings from U.S. eye doctors, post-surgery,  and had his implants removed fairly quickly. Others have faced the need to have cornea transplants and some have gone blind because they refused to give up the implants over a period of years. One patient, asked what she would be content with in regards to improving her appearance, answered, “What am I content with? Just more.”

Among the best compliments of the terrific job the filmmaker did with this riveting documentary was a woman who stood up in the back during the Q&A and said, in heavily accented English, “You mean this was a documentary? I thought it was a movie!”

Documentaries at the 53rd Nashville Film Festival

Nuisance Bear

Nuisance Bear (2021)

I signed on to see the “New Yorker” documentary about a polar bear who was known as the “Nuisance Bear.” No dialogue, just the bear, rooting around in the garbage or running away from vehicles.

Thousands of people flock to Churchill, Manitoba, to watch bears wandering around at certain times of year.

The star of this film was a big white polar bear who could be seen banging on a metal fence, hanging around garbage pails, running from vehicles and, ultimately, being shot with tranquilizers so it could be airlifted via helicopter in a net to some far-flung more suitable location.

I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a male or female bear. Regardless of what gender the bear was, it was going to wake up wondering, “What happened?” (I’m sure many of you have been there.)

The Panola Project

This documentary from Rachel Decruz and Jeremy S. Levine made me think of my daughter’s temporary job during the pandemic, helping distribute the Covid-19 vaccine for the state of Tennessee. At the time, she was on hiatus from her normal job as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines and also helped conduct the census.

In this short documentary Dorothy Oliver of Panola, Alabama, is working hard to get 40 people from the Panola community of only 350 people to agree to come be vaccinated, so that the state team would come out. Apparently, the minimum number for which they would agree to bring the vaccine to the patients was 40.

Dorothy said, “It’s in my heart to do what I need to do to help people,” making me think of another Nashville Film Festival feature film, “Jacir,” where a Syrian refugee living in Memphis had the same sort of good heart (and suffered for it).

It was 39 miles to get the patients to the vaccine and, as Dorothy remarked, many of them did not have cars.

Original music and dancing by Jermaine “Mainframe” Fletcher.

Freedom Swimmer

Between 1950 and 1980 during the Cultural Revolution more than 2 million Chinese residents attempted to swim from China to Hong Kong.

The narrator of this animated film said, “Every young person in China wanted to leave.” He cited the greater freedom that was associated with Hong Kong in those days, which is now abating because of the prospect of mainland China cracking down on these freedoms.

The narrator said he had been trying to make it to Hong Kong for 15 years and started trying to emigrate at age 14. If a Chinese citizen was caught trying to escape he (or she) was branded a “capitalist” and would be jailed. He was unemployable in China thereafter and the narrator said he had been jailed 3 times.

He talked about the 3 routes that one might take: East had sharks. The central route was by train. The Southwest route was by water, but it was heavily guarded. Plus, our storyteller had to build a raft to allow him to take his small daughter with him.

They set off on Chinse New Year when the water was freezing, convinced that the authorities would not think any sane person would seek to travel at such a terrible time. They had a live chicken and gifts with them as their cover story (visiting relatives), no real food to eat except scraps, and it took 13 hours just to reach the beach. The journey, itself, took 8 hours.

When his small daughter, now grown, asked him if he was frightened at the prospect of the trip, he said, “There is no fear when there is no hope.”

The Australian documentary went on to say that, upon arriving in Hong Kong, the husband and his wife were given free clothing. He chose bell bottoms (then in style) and she took 3 free sweaters. The father worked 3 jobs, sometimes working 20 hours a day, trying to give his family a headstart in their new country.


This film by Maxim and Eugenia Arbugaeva followed marine biologist Maxim Chakelev in Chukotka in the Siberian Arctic as the walrus population gathered, as they do annually.  A lot of it was Chakelev sitting around in his hut and eating something that looked gross out of a can. Chakelev has done this for at least a decade and, this year, the news from the front was not encouraging.

Unfortunately, because of global warming, the ice floes that the walruses normally rest and feed on as they sweep into Chukotka, have largely melted and the walruses arrived exhausted and hungry. Then, they were overly crowded on the beach.  A scene that will linger in my mind for many moons, was an estimated 96,000 walruses crowded together on land, with another 6,000 in the water. There’s no dialogue, as the biologist, no doubt, speaks Russian, but there are a few informational subtitles.

Panics and stampedes happened several times a day and the biologist is seen counting the dead corpses of 600 walruses that did not make it and died on the beach, the most ever, in 2020.

The Sentence of Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson was, by all accounts, a pretty good guy living in Michigan with a relatively good job with General Motors and a family.

However, in May of 1996, he was caught trying to sell 3 lbs. of pot and, in a particularly rigid bit of sentencing, was given a sentence of 40 to 60 years for this non-violent crime. One of the mitigating factors was that he had access to a firearm, although the gun was not with him when he was dealing the pot, but was at home in a different location.

Still, Michael went to jail and spent 25 years behind bars for what is now legal in many states. In that respect, he represents 40,000 other prisoners in jail for pot offenses.

The film was directed by Kylie Thrash and Haley Elizabeth Anderson and it drags quite a bit, despite being only 25 minutes long. You pretty much know where this is going from the outset and  it took way too long to get there.







Will the Texas Power Grid Prevail in These High Energy Times?

I’m sitting in the Illinois Quad Cities, where it is currently 95 degrees. And humid. Very, very humid. It’s 100 degrees in Des Moines and 91 degrees in my old hometown in northeast Iowa (Independence). Because of the humidity, it feels more like 107.

In Austin, Texas, our home away from home, it is 97 degrees. One wonders how the weird Texas power grid will hold up, given its spectacular failure in February of 2021. Texas wanted to have its very own power grid to escape and avoid federal oversight, but they are “on their own” in such power emergencies. And when it’s hot in the summer, AC is a power emergency. And when it snowed in Austin (a rare occurrence) it was a power emergency on the other side of the dial.

“Daily Kos” reported that “intensifying Texas heat is poised to test the power grid on Thursday with demand seen topping 80 gigawatts for the first time ever.”

Running turbines are expected to bolster electricity supplies, reducing the threat of outages as homeowners and businesses crank up air conditioners across the second-largest US state, according to data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas Inc. [ERCOT]

We lived through the power outage in February of 2021 in Austin, Texas, that killed hundreds and cost many homeless people the total loss of their toes and/or feet. It was truly NOT a good thing. We had to melt down our snowman to be able to flush our toilets! We had to use Saran wrap on dirty plates because there was no water with which to wash dishes (or anything else). Not fun. The catastrophe totally upended businesses like the HEB food store shelves, which were largely bare for at least a week after the storm hit.

Elsewhere today (8/6/2022), near the White House, lightning struck and killed 3 people, critically injuring 4 people. Donna and James Mueller, grandparents from Wisconsin, died. Kentucky has been hit by floods. Missouri also experienced torrential downpours. The U.S. hurricane system will produce an above-average series of storms, up 60%, says the National Weather Service. Death Valley National Park has 1,000 people stranded there amid flooding, and water is becoming a precious commodity in the western part of our nation, where fires have ravaged states like California

The drought is so intense that there is no absorption of any rainfall. Fires have been everywhere in the west, while states like Washington, and cities like Seattle, where only 40% have A/C, are suffering in this nationwide heat wave. Yellowstone shut down. Our national parks are proving to us that these are different days and we should have fought harder to install Al Gore, who probably really won in 2000 and championed global warming. (Just think how much better off we would have been with a president who championed curbing climate change for 8 years, rather than one who started 2 unwinnable wars simultaeously.)

Cities are hitting 110 temperatures in Scottsdale, AZ, and in  Phoenix, the current temperature is 106. Heat stress is real. It takes a toll on our GDP. Emergency room visits; Health care costs. All are affected. Cooling centers and city planning will be affected in our murky future.

I hope that Texas’ weird power grid system makes it through this hot period, before I arrive in the fall. Personally, I think it is very unfair to turn the Texas Power Grid into a “money-making” scheme, operating much like surge pricing by Uber and Lyft. More is charged during “peak periods” and the bills, currently, are staggering in cities like Dallas.

By NOT being part of the East or West power grids of this country, the state also misses out on the ability to borrow power from other states in an emergency and on the ability to sell excess power to other states. Only El Paso escaped the chaos in February, 2021, as they had joined one of the two national power grids, which was wise.

Amidst all this chaos, the $369 billion climate investment of the new bill passed by the Democrats and the Biden administration seems very, very sound, if, arguably, not large enough.  The goal is to decrease fossil fuel emissions by 40% by 2030. [The bill that is passing today will also provide health changes, including capping Medicare out-of-pocket costs at $2 k and giving Medicare the power to negotiate some drug prices, while also extending the Affordable Care Act for 3 more years].

One wonders how much longer the GOP  will continue to maintain that there is no global warming, Donald J. Trump won the election, and Covid will go away when the weaather gets warmer.


Radiation Ends on July 18, 2022

I had my final radiation session (of 33) today at Trinity Hospital (Unity Point). It is July 18, 2022, and my birthday is in 5 days.

The staff has you ring a bell (which I had never noticed before today) and I was given a small stone engraved with Courage, Love, Strength and a card with what looked to be about 30 names.

I have been driving down to Trinity at a quarter to 1 p.m. every week day since May, with a hiatus after session 19 when we went to Texas for our Family Fest (family reunion).

During the sessions, I have gotten to know Brie, Lora, Alysson, Susan and some of the other technicians and they have performed admirably. Alyssa will graduate this coming Thursday from her online university program in radiology.

I wanted to take something to the girls, and, of course, food was the first thing one thinks of, but I, for one, do NOT need another doughnut and I think perhaps some of the technicians don’t, either, o I tried to think of something tied to my recent Texas trip.

The bags that were given each of us who came to the reunion were so colorful and nice that I asked my daughter-in-law for 4 of them. Then I had to think of what to put IN the bags.

After some soul-searching (tee shirts? Key ring?) I realized that I had an entire basement full of books…books that I wrote over the years since 2003 and on many different topics. In addition, since I have at least 2 series with 3 books in them (novels and short story collections), they could mix and match and share with one another, selecting the ones they felt they would enjoy most. If none of them suits their fancy, they can donate them to a local library, but these are books that I painstakingly wrote, myself, so there is a personal element in giving them something I “made.”

I read (on WebMD) about other gifts from other patients, but almost all were food. I do admit that food is tempting, but that will be my next big hurdle: shaping up and not eating bad foods, so I went with books. I do wish I had been “dressed” in my street clothes when asked to “ring the bell” but I had just climbed down from a radiation table and, as you can see, had on a beautiful hospital gown of nondescript style.

I had a meeting with my radiologist, Dr. Stouffel, who felt I had done well. I will see him again on Aug. 11th.

It sounds like, from this point on, I merely take the Anastrozole pills I have been on since February and then I have a follow-up mammogram no less than 6 months after the end of radiation. That will be January and I will be in Texas. When I asked whether I should find a mammogram place there or wait until I returned to this area, the doctor said I needed to do it here so that the previous monograms taken could be compared. That will be more like 10 months before the next mammogram will take place.

I asked if this was in any way risky and he said it would not be.

So, from now on, while awaiting my August colonoscopy, my dental exam, and my vision screening, I am done (I hope).

I hope for a return to normalcy and an end to the 70 doctor visits I’ve experienced in 8 months’ time

Weird Wilsonisms for Today

Two-year-old Barrett Golden grabbed his mom’s phone and—-hungry for a cheeseburger—used DoorDash to order 31 McDonald’s cheeseburgers. DoorDash delivered and Barrett ate only half of one, so, for $91.70, Barrett’s mother, Kelsey Golden, offered the neighbors free lunch on social media.

In Texarkana, Texas, fish fell from the sky. A meteorologist at NWS in Shreveport said, “We’re kind of confused as to how it happened as well, to be honest.” First, the theory was that a waterspout had picked up the fish from a nearby water source, but the National Weather Service reported no such weather activity near Texarkana, according to the “Dallas Morning News” at the time of the January event. Flooding was mentioned, but the fish were on rooftops and truck beds.  Evidence ultimately pointed to birds, specifically cormorants, which must have regurgitated the fish or dropped them while flying over the town with the shad in their beaks. The entire episode made me think of Tom Cruise’s film “Magnolia.”


A California court has ruled that bees are fish. Bumblebees are “invertebrates,” that lack spines and Endangered Species Act environmental lawyers argued that, because the law defines “fish” as “invertebrate,” bees should be included. A state appeals court agreed, allowing the bumblebees to be protected by the Environmental Species Act.

Roe v. Wade: What Does the Rest of the World Think?


When I received the July 8/July 15th issue (p. 14) of “The Week” magazine, I was most struck by the article on page 14 that relayed how the recent Roe v. Wade reversal is viewed by the rest of the world.  There’s no question that a woman’s decision to have a child–whether intentional or unintentional—is probably the biggest economic decision that female will ever face.

It’s pretty powerful. Here it is:

How They See Us:  U.S. Rolls Back Women’s Human Rights

By reversing Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s radical conservative majority has delivered “a profound and ominous setback” for women’s rights”—and for democracy, said The Irish Times in an editorial.  Even though more than 60% of Americans believe abortion should be legal “in all or most circumstances,” the court’s life-tenure far-right justices have now cleared the way for abortion bans to take effect in about half of the 50 states.

The U.S. thus joins Catholic El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Poland as the only countries to roll back abortion rights in decades. Some European countries, it’s true, restrict abortion at 12 or 16 weeks, earlier than Roe, but we also have largely free health care, so in practice, European women have easy access to abortion.  Here in Ireland, the procedure was legalized by a referendum in 2018, spurred by the 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar, who was denied the abortion that would have saved her life as she miscarried an unviable, wanted pregnancy.  Halappanavar died in an Irish hospital as her husband begged doctors to help her.  The U.S. has doomed itself to a future of similar tragedies.

For any European who has ever been pregnant, said Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett in The Guardian (U.K.), the news from America “felt visceral, as vicious misogyny often does.” Pregnancy is a wholesale takeover of the body.  I wanted my child, but having been through it, I know that forced birth would “amount to torture.” American women and girls, henceforth, will suffer, and at the explicit direction of the state.  But not all of them, said Marius Oprea in Mediafax (Romania).  Most rich women will still get the care they need, even if they have to travel out of state.  But poor—especially Black, women—will either have unwanted children or try to self-abort.  The U.S. health care system “is utterly unprepared” for the wave of abandoned newborns and mothers in crisis.  Expect a health crisis of “apocalyptic proportions.”

The ruling is further evidence of America’s “democratic collapse,” said Le Monde (France).  The extremist Catholic majority on the court is the product of “the tyranny of a minority permitted by an electoral system outrageously favorable to the most conservative states.”  Donald Trump was defeated in the popular vote, yet became president anyway.  He then nominated 3 ultraconservative justices who were confirmed by a Senate whose makeup is permanently skewed to favor rural voters at the expense of the Democratic majority.

President Biden often talks of a world at war “between democracies and autocracies,” said Mariam Martinez-Bascuan in “El Pais” (Spain), “but we can no longer be sure the U.S. is in the former camp.”The repeal of Roe is just the latest example of Republican “obstinacy,” from the Jan. 6th assault on the Capitol to the “dying rage over firearms” and efforts to restrict the Black vote.  And like the other examples, the abortion ruling will surely hurt America’s standing in the world.  How can the U.S. pose as the beacon of freedom against the authoritarian darkness of Russia or China, when it denies its own female citizens their basic human rights?”

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