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!

Tag: Rock Island

The War Business is Good in the Quad Cities

WarWhere Does the Money Go, When It Comes In?

The Quad Cities of Iowa/Illinois has an entire island devoted to munitions manufacturing, Arsenal Island. In fiscal year 2006, according to the Consolidated Funds Report for 2006, the most recent year for which reports are available, nearly $166 million in defense contracting dollars flowed into Scott and Rock Island counties, up from $95 million in 2002. Contracts made up 7.7 cents of every dollar coming into the area.

The report, released in April, tracked 3,000 counties across the United States and $2.45 trillion dollars in domestic spending.

Salaries for federal employees account for almost 13 cents of every dollar coming in to the Quad Cities. More than 9 cents of that total of $198 million went to Defense Department workers at the Rock Island Arsenal, mentioned above, which even has a cemetery in which Confederate prisoners of war from the Civil War are buried.

Our of every incoming dollar, 98 cents—almost one full buck—goes to Retired Military personnel. Another $1.16 goes to defense contracts for munitions and equipment such as those machines I snapped while touring on the island recently. Salaries for inactive military account for 67 cents of every dollar. Defense contracts pull in $7.76. Payments to disabled veterans or the families of soldiers killed in battle account for $22.5 million dollars, or 1% of the total. $133,199,438 thousand went to Defense Contracts in fiscal year 2006, after the Iraq War started by George W. Bush reached full flower, for Rock Island County, where Arsenal Island is located, and $33,148,093 went to Scott Country in Iowa (which has no comparable military base presence), for a total of $166,347,531 or 7.76%.

By far the biggest federal domestic payouts, though, …$20.56% amounting to $440,541,900 in the Quad Cities, …was paid out for Social Security. The next biggest % on the Quad City Times chart (taken from the Consolidated Funds Report for 2006)…and a drop of nearly half, was 9.27% for the salaries for Defense Department civilians: a whopping $198,612,000. I know that, in my years in business, the three biggest employers in the Quad Cities’ area were John Deere (Moline is their international headquarters), Alcoa Aluminum (Bettendorf/Pleasant Valley) and Arsenal Island. Naturally, during a time of war, the take is better for a high security facility that houses what was the second-largest official residence for a government official after the White House, Quarters One, for the Commandant of the Arsenal, which is now being mothballed because it is too expensive to maintain and too antiquated to bring up to code.

I went on a tour of Quarters One during a recent Ladies Auxiliary function, and was amazed at the size of the place and the outdatedness of all the military residences on the island. There was only one “house” that looked modern and livable by modern-day standards.

You first pass a series of what appear to be low-income housing…squat buildings that do not look the least bit inviting. After that, you get to the different houses that are home to the families of the brass. While they are definitely bigger, better does not seem to be the right term. Almost all seem to date from the late 1800’s and the screened-in porch just isn’t the draw it used to be before air conditioning. The problem is that the kitchens and bathrooms of nearly every facility I saw (save one) looked like they had not been updated since the seventies. When I asked why that was, it was explained to me by a resident officer that each family gets an ‘allowance” for repairs and modernization and updates to their temporary assigned residence. What happens, however, if the roof gives out during your tour of duty? Then you are on the pan to fix it, and your budgeted amount may not be sufficient. Therefore, knowing that their lives are always in transit, most residents do not see the wisdom in sinking much into the improvement(s) of their quarters, let alone into upgrading and updating them.

Here are pictured some weapons seen alongside the roads of Arsenal Island, and one of the cemeteries, honoring soldiers killed in battle. Sometimes, you can hear the Army “testing” large cannons or guns over the river…or at least you could back in the day. One never knows what is being manufactured “over there” and guards will check you as you drive on and off the island,. But one thing is for sure: business is good, right now, with a huge hawk in the White House, and, if the nominee of his party, John McCain, prevails in November, the war business could be good for another hundred years.

Actor Jeff Daniels Visits Rock Island, Illinois, to Raise Money for Michigan Theater

Jeff DanielsActor Jeff Daniels, the actor we know from films like “Dumb and Dumber” and “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” traveled from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Rock Island, Illinois’ Circa Dinner Theater to play acoustic guitar and sing his own songs for a small but enthusiastic audience on Thursday, May 1st. The performance was a fund-raiser for the small theater back home, dubbed the Purple Rose in honor of the Woody Allen film “The Purple Rose of Cairo” in which he starred.

Daniels is well-known from his roles in such films as “Dumb and Dumber,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo” and “The Squid and the Whale.” He’s made 45 films and will soon be heard as the voice of an animated character in “Space Chimps” (for which, he humorously remarked to the crowd, he had recently been offered…and turned down… a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.)

To be honest, I didn’t expect much in the way of musical excellence when I decided to take a chance and attend the concert on a Thursday night. I just knew that Daniels is a very fine actor and seems to be a very “centered” regular guy, in appearances such as one he recently made on “David Letterman.” As the former “Times” movie critic and a bona fide movie fan, I went to see Jeff Bridges, the actor, and the fact that he was just as talented, musically, as he is gifted, dramatically, was the frosting on the cake.

I was unable to convince either my husband (who refused, outright, to go) or my friend (who voted for the Rolling Stones documentary “Shine A Light,” instead) to accompany me, so I went alone, entering after the performance had begun.

Daniels, clad in jeans, a rumpled flannel shirt and a battered brown hat, asked the crowd at the outset, “How many of you have no idea what I’m about to do?” I had a vague idea: he was going to sing songs he had written in an attempt to raise money for his Michigan Purple Rose Theatre through the $25.50 ticket price. You could also purchase either of his two CD’s, one of which, “Jeff Daniels Live and Unplugged To Benefit the Purple Rose Theatre” I bought. It is very good and the material is extremely clever.

It turned out that Jeff can both play and sing with proficiency and that his material is entertaining in the best sense of that word. When asked by David Burke of the Quad City Times about the difference between his movie career and his sidelight, singing, Daniels responded, “The thing about the singing that I enjoy a lot is that, especially when you’re writing, you’re in complete control of everything. It’s the exact opposite of the movie actor…It’s just that it’s (a movie) out of your control creatively. (Here) I’m the writer, I’m the director, I’m the editor, I’m the entertainer, I’m the performer, and all those people who I’ve been and am are out there with me…Plus, the fact that, with me, they (audiences) expect the worst. ‘Oh, yeah, another actor/singer/songwriter who sucks.'” (with sarcasm).

As it turns out, Daniels does not suck. His songs are clever slices of life, such as his song about actors who think they can sing, simply because they are actors, entitled “If William Shatner Can, I Can Too,” which mentions actor/singers ranging from Shatner to Russell Crowe to Adam Sandler. (Bruce Willis and Johnny Depp are not mentioned, but the Olson Twins are.)

Daniels is loose onstage, singing songs about the time he “accidentally” lost his wife, Kathy, at a truck stop in Erie, Pennsylvania, entitled “Recreational Vehicle,” and musing on the many common rites of passage in life, such as teaching his daughter to drive, his love affair with the Detroit Tigers baseball team and his first car (a blue Valiant) and/or growing old.

While in the Quad Cities, Daniels stopped at a local analog recording studio to record his song(s) “Are You As Excited About Me As I Am?” that reminded of the theme of Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” and “The Dirty Harry Blues,” about playing the villain opposite Clint Eastwood’s good guy, in the film “Bloodwork.” Daniels said he was inspired to write the first song mentioned after walking the red carpet at an Awards night. Sample lyric(s): “I was everything to everyone, Just for a moment, I’m who I used to be. Shine like a diamond, bright as the sun, I used to be everything to everyone.”

His “Dirty Harry Blues” contained a killer impression of Eastwood calling him up on the phone and asking him to play the villain in “Bloodwork.” The denouement was his shooting death (in the film) at Eastwood’s hands, after his make-up girl told him, “It’s a good day to die.”

Daniels called to his “roadie” (his son) to help him involve audience members in performing what he dubbed “Doing the Big Bay Shuffle” and in playing a wooden train whistle on the song “I’m on a Detroit Train.” The audience gave Daniels several standing ovations and seemed to really enjoy his show, from start to finish.

Daniels mused about aging, saying, “You do have regrets when you’re 50. I’m 50 years old…I’m old. Not falling apart, just going downhill and every other week you’re updating your will.” He reminisced about hearing Mary Hart telling the world on Entertainment Weekly that he was fifty years old that day. Research into Ms. Hart’s birth date revealed that she was born November 8, 1950, making her a full 7 years older than Daniels…a fact he seemed to revel in discovering.

Daniels name-dropped a bit, but in a humble way. In addition to the Eastwood story, which never implied that he and Clint were good friends, Daniels told the story of working with stars like Eastwood and Jim Carrey with humility and mentioned the making of two Civil War films, “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals.” In describing Ted Turner, Daniels said, with affection, “If it’s on his mind, it’s out of his mouth,” and told the story of Turner coming up to him, onset, in full costume, saluting him (also in unform) and saying, “Colonel: hold at all costs.”

When the actor mentioned the offer of a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame (which Turner has been given), Daniels reminisced about seeing old-time movie stars Esther Williams and Margaret O’Brien that day, actresses who really represented their era of movie stars with class and glamour. They were there to meet and greet Turner (who was receiving his star) and told Daniels how grateful they were to Turner for his television movie channel. They said, “We get to see who we used to be.” Sad commentary on the fleeting nature of fame and “all that crap,” as Jeff Daniels referred to it. He seems very “grounded” about his Hollywood persona, unlike many others.

Jeff Daniels’ frequent references to his “twenty-eight foot Jayko” RV, his family, his home state of Michigan, his humble gratitude that his parents supported his acting aspirations, his interest in the great American pastime (i.e., baseball, specifically the Detroit Tigers) made him seem like the regular, ordinary guy next door.

Reviews in the next day’s paper locally were glowing, with Sean Leary of the (Moline, Illinois) Daily Dispatch suggesting that Daniels could be “the next Jimmy Buffett. Leary hailed Daniels’ performance as “loose and funny” and lauded the performer as “natural and humble.”

David Burke of the (Davenport, Iowa) Quad City Times told me that Jeff and his son (and his son’s two college-age friends) had driven all the way to Rock Island from Michigan in the aforementioned RV, and shared several heart-warming incidents from their interview, displaying as much awe at meeting Daniels as Daniels showed when he talked about the time he met George Harrison, (who signed his guitar.)

The suggestion was made that, if Daniels decides to make the trip this way again, the hall won’t be half empty as it was this night. Word travels fast in smaller towns, and the word on Jeff Daniels and his singing talent was all good.

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