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Massachusetts COVID deaths hit five-month high

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Massachusetts COVID deaths hit five-month high

Massachusetts health officials on Tuesday reported 1,453 new coronavirus cases and 24 new COVID deaths, which was the highest single-day death count since early April.

Total COVID hospitalizations also eclipsed 700 patients for the first time since mid April.

Virus cases have been climbing for months amid the more highly contagious delta variant. Following the rise in cases, hospitalizations have been ticking up and now more deaths are being reported.

The 24 new COVID deaths was the highest daily death count since April 3’s tally of 30 deaths. The state’s total recorded death toll is now 18,393.

The seven-day average of deaths is now 8.4. The record-low daily death average was 1.3 in mid July.

After the new 1,453 virus cases, the seven-day average of cases is now 1,362. Two months ago, the daily average was 177 infections.

The positive test average has been coming down, however. The percent positivity is now 2.28%, down from 2.98% last month.

There are now 716 COVID patients in the state, a daily increase of 41 patients. The last time the state reported more than 700 total hospitalizations was on April 19.

The state reported that 172 patients are in intensive care units, and 88 patients are currently intubated.

Of the 716 total hospitalizations, 202 patients are fully vaccinated — or about 28%. Those who are unvaccinated are at a much higher risk for a severe case.

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Warren County mulls letting motorized bikes share the county bike path

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Warren County mulls letting motorized bikes share the county bike path

QUEENSBURY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The Warren County Bikeway is an artery through the woods, from the village of Lake George down through and past the city of Glens Falls, and connects riders to both the Adirondack Park and other parts of the North Country.

And now, county administrators are considering letting another sect of the visiting and local population make use of it.

On Thursday morning, the Warren County Board of Supervisors held a public meeting livestreamed on YouTube, to consider allowing electric bicycles on the bike path, and to gain a better understanding of the benefits and potential risks in doing so.

The meeting was kicked off with words from Connor Morgan, a recent Lake George resident and owner of the Whippoorwill Motel & Campsites in the village of Lake George.

Morgan came as something of an expert on the subject. The campground, which he runs alongside his father, has been renting out bikes for some time. And it came from a need he first saw at his own campground.

“At the campground, you’ll find that bicycles are the main form of transportation for the RV camping industry,” Morgan explained. “They’re compact. They’re small.”

Electric bicycles aren’t completely motorized. An e-bike has a small motor connected to a battery or other power source, usually located in the bike’s rear hub or mid-drive. The point isn’t for the motor to take over for the rider, but rather to lend a hand against steep inclines, or when crossing busy intersections.

Morgan pointed out the benefit of that motor to seniors, including those who have had to give up biking as they age.

Lake George Town Supervisor Dennis Dickinson vouched for that.

“I am at the stage where, without an e-bike, I would not be able to continue biking,” he commented during the meeting.

No, it’s not a motorcycle

Morgan ran down the basics of what types of electric bicycles are out there, and how fast they can go.

At the core of things, there are three types of e-bike. All three run off 750 watts of electricity, equivalent to 1 horsepower.

Type 1 can assist with pedaling, and get the bike going up to 20 miles per hour. After that, the bike is designed to cut off power until speed lowers.

Type 2 works essentially the same way, but with the added bonus of a throttle option, which Morgan suggested can be used for quickly crossing an intersection or making a tight turn.

Type 3 is built the same as type 2, but with the ability to get up to 28 mph in speed.

And before anyone gets too worried about speed demons owning the trail, Morgan was quick to add that Type 3 would most likely not be suitable for Warren County roads.

Supervisor Brad McGowan agreed, but said that in his experience, even getting to the 28-mph marker was a hurdle.

“It raised a breath out of me, because you have to push if you want it to go 28,” he said. “They are an assist.”

Queensbury Supervisor John Strough asked more information on what differentiated an e-bike from a motorcycle.

Morgan made him a list of differences, which included not only the different level of power, but also the lower amount of weight and momentum. Motorcycles are a lot harder to stop.

Besides that, just because the motor can get a bike up to 20 mph, that doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way.

“If you’re riding it for that fast for long, you’re not using it properly and would waste your battery in a short time,” Morgan said.

As for a point of comparison, Warren County DPW Supervisor Kevin Hajos said bikes going 20 miles per hour – and higher – are already not uncommon.

“It’s not e-bikes doing it,” he said, “it’s normal bikes doing it.”

Walkers and riders

Glens Falls Supervisor Peter McDevitt had concerns about what the presence of motorized bikes might do to his part of Glens Falls. His ward contains most of the county bike path’s diagonal slice through the city, across Ridge Street and Dix Avenue.

That includes a popular portion that cuts through local neighborhoods, passing by Cooper’s Cave Ale Company and near the Glens Falls Shirt Factory.

And, he said, a lot of people get to those places by walking along the bike path.

Morgan’s counterpoint to that was that bikers working hard to get to a similar speed level may actually pose more danger, keeping their heads down and potentially paying less attention than a rider getting some electronic assistance.

“I’m not saying electric bikes are free of that,” he said, “but I think that in higher density areas the potential for accidents is always going to be there.”

Dickinson had some thoughts on that as well.

“The bike path is for bikes. That’s its primary use,” he pointed out. “If you want to walk on it, you can, but you’re walking on a bike path.”

Supervisor Doug Beaty chimed in with his own experience walking the downtown Glens Falls stretch of the path, which he estimated having walked as much as 8 to 9 hundred times.

In that time, there have been four incidents he could remember where he feared for his own safety. Only one of those involved a bike. The other three involved dogs.

He also said that, even if some people used the path for walking, he almost never saw it very busy. On his walk on Thursday, he counted eight people.

Looking at models

What all parties agreed on during Thursday morning’s meeting was the need for more education. That includes both educating the public on proper etiquette with bikes in general, and the county learning more about the safety of electric bikes on popular trails elsewhere.

On that latter front, Kevin Hajos had already done some digging.

Leading up to the meeting, he had already learned about PILOT programs introducing e-bikes into Boulder, Colorado; Park City, Utah; and Seattle, Washington. Data was collected for a year in each case, and all three ended up welcoming e-bikes onto their roads.

“These are not different from any normal bike,” Hajos commented. “They’re a bicycle.”

Hajos suggested a similar pilot program could be possible in Warren County. It would likely run for 6 months, due to the seasonal nature of biking in the region.

He and the rest of the board of supervisors agreed on one other front; Morgan was thanked for his insight, and invited to help the members of the board learn more on what to do next.

Morgan said he already helps with that education any time a visitor to Whippoorwill tries out a bike.

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As Broncos coach Vic Fangio prepares for Trevor Lawrence, “mad scientist” aims to make things confusing for rookie quarterback

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As Broncos coach Vic Fangio prepares for Trevor Lawrence, “mad scientist” aims to make things confusing for rookie quarterback

Since joining the Broncos in 2019, safety Kareem Jackson has regularly arrived at the team facility on a Wednesday morning and been greeted by a surprise.

A new coverage. A new pressure. A new disguise. All from coach/defensive play-caller Vic Fangio.

“He’ll put in something we haven’t done and I’m like, ‘Damn, where did that come from?’” Jackson said in an interview with The Denver Post. “That’s week in and week out. It’s going to be something new depending on who we play.”

Who the Broncos (1-0) play the next two Sundays are rookie quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, the top two picks in this year’s draft by Jacksonville and the New York Jets, respectively. Lawrence is up first this Sunday.

Fangio may still be in prove-it mode as a head coach (13-20 with the Broncos), but he is universally respected for how he makes it feel like he has 14 defenders on the field and how he can bait young quarterbacks into back-breaking mistakes.

Since Fangio started calling defensive plays in 1995, his teams have gone 18-9 against rookie quarterbacks.

A sampling: Carolina beat Peyton Manning. Indianapolis beat Donovan McNabb. San Francisco beat Andy Dalton, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill. Chicago beat Jameis Winston and Sam Darnold. And the Broncos have beaten Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa.

In those 27 games, the quarterbacks have combined for a 73.7 rating (32 touchdowns and 24 interceptions).

“That’s a testament to the groups of players he’s had, the scheme he’s put in place and the way guys are able to execute it,” said Jackson, who has 152 career starts at cornerback and safety. “He’s definitely a mad scientist in how he sees things and when it comes to implementing schemes.”

Disguising is critical

Fangio entered pro football with the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars in 1984 and often refers to Jim Mora, Sr., and Dom Capers as his primary early-career mentors. Decades later, the Fangio Tree has branched out to the Chargers (head coach Brandon Staley/defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill), Chicago (coordinator Sean Desai) and the New York Jets (head coach Robert Saleh).

Staley was the Broncos’ outside linebackers coach in 2019 after following Fangio from Chicago. Sitting in a coffee shop not far from his house in Parker two years ago, he detailed some of the key components to a Fangio defense.

“One of the reasons why it’s special is we don’t have to pressure (with extra rushers) to have effective pressure,” Staley said. “What that allows us to do is play with disguise and have the math in our favor (downfield).

“If you look at it from the offensive side, when they don’t 100% know whether we have players dropping or rushing, it gives us an incredible advantage and that’s why you’ve seen edge-rusher production wherever Vic has been. We want to have the illusion of disguise and alignment flexibility.”

What makes Fangio unique as a play-caller/game plan designer?

“He’s really special in mitigating risks and he has the ability to stay patient when others wouldn’t,” Staley said. “And I think he has the ability to anticipate problems and play that chess match where he’s working steps ahead of the offense the whole time. You can see that by how he’s done against great quarterbacks. The flexibility we play with, the disguise — everything is meant to be hard on the quarterback. And he’ll get aggressive when you’re not counting on it.”

Exhibit A (aggressive) was last year’s win at New England. Fangio called a “Zero Blitz” — a seven-man blitz with across-the-board man coverage and no over-the-top help — to stop the Patriots on fourth down.

Exhibit B (patience) was last week’s win over the New York Giants. Confident in the four-man rush against quarterback Daniel Jones, Fangio kept things simple — two six-man rushes in 42 drop-backs.

Exhibit C (disguise) could be against Jacksonville. Have inside linebackers Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson stationed at the line of scrimmage before retreating into coverage at the snap. Because the Jaguars won’t know if they are blitzing, their interior linemen have to stay put and not help on the Broncos’ edge rushers.

Disguising the pre-snap look is a Fangio hallmark and he can trust his veteran safeties (Jackson and Justin Simmons) to carry out the fake. It forces the offense to guess. Right before the snap, Jackson could drop closer to the line of scrimmage, turning a two-deep look into a single-high feature. The trap is set.

“When you can present the same pre-snap look as often as possible and then get to different spots in the field, you not only throw off quarterbacks, you throw off coordinators, too,” defensive backs coach Christian Parker said. “We can play the same defense and it can look five different ways on five different plays.”

Said outside linebackers coach John Pagano: “You have to disguise in this league. Fifty percent of the game is getting aligned and disguising and knowing your assignment and the other 50% is when the ball is snapped and being in position to make a play. Vic’s system is one where you can attack and go make plays.”

Big bag of tricks

An easy prediction for Sunday is Fangio will have some tricks ready for Lawrence, but not at the expense of confusing the Broncos’ players.

“There’s no sense in making our guys uncomfortable for the sake of (confusing Lawrence),” Fangio said. “Hopefully we do a good enough job of disguising our intentions. A lot of people think pressuring a rookie quarterback is the way to go. But sometimes that makes it easy for him because it identifies the coverage and he gets the ball out quickly.”

That was Houston defensive coordinator Lovie Smith’s plan last week. He rushed four on nearly every drop-back save for two late-game linebackers’ blitzes. Lawrence had to throw 51 times because the Jaguars trailed 37-7 after three quarters and lost 37-21.

“It was pretty simple,” said NFL on CBS analyst Adam Archuleta in a phone interview. “They played maybe three snaps of man coverage and they did a good job executing zone coverage and I have to say that Jacksonville never did anything to get them out of that. It was Trevor having to do a lot.”

Lawrence made several terrific passes, but also threw three interceptions. The final turnover appeared be thrown right to linebacker Christian Kirksey, who was sitting in his zone when the football found him.

“That was me just trying to do too much,” Lawrence told reporters after the game. “I lost the ‘Mike’ (linebacker) playing zone in my sight of vision and just kind of forced it there.”

Archuleta, who was CBS’ analyst for Jaguars-Texans, agreed with Lawrence on over-pressing things down the field instead of taking the short profit.

“I just think the game got fast for Trevor,” Archuleta said. “He tried to make too much happen downfield and that’s when those windows get super, super tight. He needs more patience. The other thing is I felt like when he got interior pressure, he was really quick to slide and back-pedal to his left and that’s when his accuracy got away from him.”

If Fangio remains confident his four-man rush can harass Lawrence, it will follow a similar script to the last two years. He rushed five or more players on 25.3% of the drop-backs in five games against rookie quarterbacks, about the same as his season totals (20.1% in ’19 and 23% in ’20 per The Denver Post’s game charting). In those five games (3-2 record), the Broncos have averaged four sacks and 12.4 “disruptions” (sacks/knockdowns/pressures) per game.

What is definite: Fangio’s plan for Lawrence will be different from the plan he will have for the Jets’ Wilson.

“Just when you think he doesn’t have anything else in his bag of tricks, he adds more things to the arsenal,” Jackson said. “If you have multiple calls to throw off the offense, now they’re guessing what we’re in because everything looks the same before the ball is snapped.

“It’s a luxury to have this type of scheme and this type of coach.”


Upper hand vs. rookie QBs

During his NFL defensive play-calling career as a coordinator and coach for Carolina, Indianapolis, Houston, San Francisco, Chicago and the Broncos, Vic Fangio has an 18-9 record against rookie quarterbacks. The Broncos face top overall pick Trevor Lawrence on Sunday. A look at the victories:

Carolina

Player, team Year Statistics
Tony Banks, St. Louis 1996 15 of 29, 163 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Tony Banks, St. Louis 1996 14 of 33, 160 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Danny Weurffel, New Orleans 1997 13 of 32, 132 yards, 2 INT
Tony Graziani, Atlanta 1997 4 of 18, 24 yards, 2 INT
Peyton Manning, Indianapolis 1998 17 of 34, 225 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT
Akili Smith, Cincinnati 1998 12 of 24, 122 yards

Houston

Player, team Year Statistics
Byron Leftwich, Jacksonville 2003 17 of 36, 231 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT

San Francisco

Player, team Year Statistics
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati 2011 17 of 32, 157 yards, 2 INT
Russell Wilson, Seattle 2011 9 of 23, 122 yards, 1 INT
Ryan Tannehill, Miami 2012 17 of 33, 150 yards, 1 TD
Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay 2013 18 of 34, 179 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT

Chicago

Player, team Year Statistics
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay 2015 15 of 29, 295 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
DeShone Kizer, Cleveland 2017 18 of 36, 182 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
Sam Darnold, N.Y. Jets 2018 14 of 29, 153 yards, 1 TD

Broncos

Player, team Year Statistics
David Blough, Detroit 2019 12 of 24, 117 yards, 1 TD
Justin Herbert, L.A. Chargers 2020 29 of 43, 278 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami 2020 11 of 20, 83 yards, 1 TD

Rookie quarterbacks to beat Fangio’s teams: Patrick Ramsey (Washington, 2002), Leftwich (Jacksonville, 2003), Alex Smith (San Francisco, 2005), Wilson (Seattle, 2012), Derek Carr (Oakland, 2014), Carson Wentz (Philadelphia, 2016), Dak Prescott (Dallas, 2016), Gardner Minshew (Jacksonville, 2019) and Herbert (L.A. Chargers, 2020).

Total statistics: 18-9 record, 32 touchdowns, 24 interceptions, 55.3% completion, 4,783 yards and 73.7 rating.

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Elon Musk Lauds Chinese EV Makers as ‘Most Competitive’ in the World Amid Image Crisis

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Elon Musk Lauds Chinese EV Makers as ‘Most Competitive’ in the World Amid Image Crisis

Tesla CEO Elon Musk attends an opening ceremony for Tesla China-made Model Y program in Shanghai, east China, Jan. 7, 2020. Ding Ting/Xinhua via Getty

Tesla has suffered a series of setbacks in China this past year as geopolitical tensions rise and local electric vehicle startups threaten Tesla’s dominance. In an effort to win Chinese regulators and consumers back, Tesla CEO Elon Musk suited up and delivered praise for the Chinese automobile industry at a state-organized event on Friday.

Appearing in a pre-recorded presentation at the 2021 World New Energy Vehicle Congress, taking place on the southern Chinese island of Hainan, Musk said he has “a great deal of respect for the many Chinese automakers for driving [EV] technologies.” 

“China is the largest and most dynamic new energy vehicle market in the world,” he said. “My frank observation is that Chinese automobile companies are the most competitive in the world, especially because some are very good at software, and it’s software that almost shaped the future of the automobile industry, from design to manufacturing and especially autonomous driving.”

Musk was a well-liked figure among Chinese officials when Tesla first entered China. He not only convinced local regulators to allow Tesla to own 100 percent of its China operation as a foreign entity—a first in the country—but also scored generous tax credits when opening its Shanghai Gigafactory in 2018.

For a while, Tesla’s Model 3 was the most popular electric vehicle among Chinese consumers. That started to change in the past two years as homegrown startups, such as Nio, Xpeng and Li Auto, introduce more innovative and affordable EV options.

In China, Tesla is the only foreign automaker allowed to wholly own its local operations in addition to receiving generous tax credits from local governments.

Tesla also seems to be losing its charm in Beijing. In March, the Chinese government banned Tesla vehicles from entering military compounds and other state-run facilities due to concerns that the cameras on those vehicles could be used for spying purposes. Each Tesla car is equipped with eight cameras and a dozen ultrasonic sensors to enable its advanced driver-assistant capabilities.

Two months later, Tesla said it had set up a local data center to keep all data collected within Chinese borders.There’s a very strong incentive for us to be very confidential with any information,” Musk said in March at the 2021 China Development Forum. “If Tesla used cars to spy in China or anywhere, we will get shut down.” Reiterating this point, Musk said on Friday, “Tesla will work with national authorities in all countries to ensure data security of intelligence and connected vehicles.”

“With the rapid growth of autonomous driving technologies, data security of vehicles is drawing more public concern than ever before,” he added.

Elon Musk Lauds Chinese EV Makers as ‘Most Competitive’ in the World Amid Image Crisis

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‘Eyes of Tammy Faye’ quite the garish spectacle

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‘Eyes of Tammy Faye’ quite the garish spectacle

MOVIE REVIEW

“THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE”

Rated PG-13. At AMC Boston Common, Landmark Kendall Square and suburban theaters.

Grade: C+

I did not want to spend time with raccoon-eyed Tammy Faye Bakker and her criminal preacher husband Jim Bakker when they were alive, and that hasn’t changed since their deaths. But “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” a fictionalized version of the 2000 documentary directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato and narrated by RuPaul, is upon us, and here goes.

Directed by filmmaker-comedian-actor Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick”) and produced by Jessica Chastain, who also plays the title role, the new film opens with real footage telling us that Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were ”the Ken and Barbie of televangelism” in the era of Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Falwell. Tammy and Jim meet at bible school, where Jim (Andrew Garfield) butts heads with the teacher because Bakker believes God wants Christians to be rich. After a scandalous dance on school grounds while Tammy sings Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill,” they marry, much to the dismay of Tammy’s pious mother Rachel (Cherry Jones), who was known to be “a harlot” before she got married, but was allowed into her Minnesota town’s Pentecostal church because she played piano.

Tammy, who has the idea of making and performing with puppets for the children in the audience, and Jim land at Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, where the ambitious Jim has the idea for the 700 Club, which Robertson (Gabriel Olds) later steals from him. Tammy enrages Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio) when she insists on sitting at the men’s table at a party at the Robertsons.

What sets Jim and Tammy Bakker apart is that they are a team, and she is as important to their ministry as he. Chastain has Tammy’s shrill, Betty Boop-ish voice down all right as well as the clownish make-up and hair. There were times when I thought I was watching a spin-off of one of those Stephen King-based “It” films.

Tammy has a soft spot for fur coats and jewelry. She and her husband use the “pledges” they receive from their “prosperity gospel” TV show to build a lakefront mansion and live like royalty. Chastain, playing Tammy six months pregnant, eating in bed, drinking Diet Coke, surrounded by her dolls is a sight to see. Later, we will meet Disco Tammy.

Jessica Chastain stars as Tammy Faye Bakker in the film ‘THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE.’

Showalter combines real and fictional in montages. Tammy interviews someone about penis pumps on camera before her rapt studio audience. She also admirably shows more compassion to AIDS sufferers than any of the male figures in her Christian world. She comes to suspect that her husband may have homosexual longings. He will later become entangled in a payoff to a reported, unhappy lover, an unseen Jessica Hahn. “The secular press hates us,” is the constant Bakker refrain as they ask their “prayer warriors” to double their pledges. Chastain’s Tammy, a giggling gargoyle at the height of her addiction to pills, punctuates too many of her sentences with a mindless cackle, and she and most of the people around her cannot say the word God often enough, although their God would not approve of much of what they’re up to.

Inevitably, Jim and Tammy fall from grace. The trouble is they never had any.

(“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” contains sexually suggestive scenes and drug use.)

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Sequoia National Park fire: Crews wrapping world’s largest trees with fireproof blankets

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Sequoia National Park fire: Crews wrapping world’s largest trees with fireproof blankets

Fire crews prepared to make a stand Thursday to defend one of California’s natural wonders, the most prominent grove of giant sequoia trees at Sequoia National Park, in the latest potentially catastrophic chapter of the extreme fire summer gripping much of the American West.

At the park’s Giant Forest — a breathtaking expanse of more than 2,000 ancient sequoias in the southern Sierra Nevada including five of the largest trees in the world — firefighters positioned engines, hurried to thin flammable brush and raked away combustible material from around the huge trees.

Crews wrapped the bases of some of the massive trees with fire proof aluminum blankets, including the General Sherman Tree, which is 275 feet high and 102 feet around at the base and is considered the largest tree in the world.

“They are taking extraordinary measures to protect these trees,” said Christy Brigham, chief of resource management and science at Sequoia & Kings Canyon national parks.

Since the 1970s, parks crews have conducted thinning and prescribed burns in the famous grove to reduce brush and remove smaller trees such as firs and incense cedars, increasing the chances that wildfire would stay closer to the ground and not burn intensely enough to kill the big trees.

“Even though we have done all of this prescribed fire and feel like the fire behavior when it gets in there — if it gets in there — will be fairly moderate, we just really want to do everything we can to protect these 2,000- and 3,000-year-old trees,” Brigham said.

Two other prominent giant sequoia groves in Sequoia and the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park — Grant Grove and Redwood Mountain Grove — also have had extensive thinning, she said. But many of the 40 groves of giant sequoias elsewhere in the parks have not had such treatment and could be at risk if the fire continues to spread.

“The high tourist areas are in pretty good shape,” said Tim Borden, sequoia restoration and stewardship manager at Save the Redwoods League, a San Francisco environmental group. “But they aren’t completely out of the woods for being at risk because we can always have weather patterns that create extreme fire weather, like stronger winds.”

But in some of the other groves, “there is no recorded fire history in more than 100 years,” he said.

Fire-resistant wrap covers a historic welcome sign as the KNP Complex Fire burns in Sequoia National Park, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. The blaze is burning near the Giant Forest, home to more than 2,000 giant sequoias. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Thursday afternoon 356 firefighters were battling two fires that had been advancing toward the Giant Forest and had merged into one, a blaze known as the KNP Complex Fire. Both fires were about 1 mile away from Giant Forest grove, named by Sierra Club founder John Muir in 1875.

The fire to the west, known as the Colony Fire, was 1,683 acres. The other, advancing from the south, was the Paradise Fire, which was 7,257 acres. Both fires began on Sep. 10, ignited by lightning strikes, and were 0% contained Thursday afternoon, merging together near the Generals Highway.

Crews were fitting an emergency sprinkler system on the Giant Forest Museum, a wooden building listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The fires closed Sequoia National Park earlier this week and prompted the evacuation of rangers and other staff who live there, along with the town of Three Rivers to the west. A third fire, the Windy Fire, was burning about 30 miles south in Sequoia National Forest and the Tule River Indian Reservation. It was 3,924 acres with 0% containment Thursday afternoon.

Although Sequoia National Park doesn’t draw as many visitors as Yosemite, its neighbor to the north, it occupies a famed chapter in America’s natural heritage.

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Grant opportunities available for some nonprofits in Capital Region

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Grant opportunities available for some nonprofits in Capital Region

TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Arts Center of the Capital Region has announced two grant opportunities for the fall. Nonprofits, or artists with a nonprofit sponsor, located in Albany, Rensselaer, and Schenectady Counties are eligible to apply.

The two grant programs offered are Restart New York Regrants and Statewide Community Regrants.

The Restart New York Regrants are intended to support the return of live performances and in-person events. Eligible projects must occur between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022, and feature live performance or a public presentation. The application period is from September 15 through October 27. The grants are $2,600 per award.

Statewide Community Regrants allows nonprofit organizations and artists to grow professionally and to enhance the cultural climate in communities and neighborhoods where they live and operate. Funds are available for projects ranging from public art, theater, performance, arts education, and more. The application period is from October 1 through December 17.

There are three Statewide Community Regrants grant types available. These include Community Arts Grant (Up to $5000), Arts in Education Grant (Up to $2500), and Individual Artist Grant ($2,500 per award). Projects must take place between April 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023.

New applicants for the Statewide Community Regrants are required to attend a seminar prior to submitting an intent to apply. The seminar schedule can be found on the grant website.

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Guest commentary: COVID precautions, needs of community college students must be balanced

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Guest commentary: COVID precautions, needs of community college students must be balanced

Over the past month, faculty, staff, and students across Colorado and the United States have returned to campuses for the start of another fall semester. We had hoped that this semester would be about new challenges, new opportunities, and new directions. Instead, we face another semester dealing with—and sometimes disagreeing about—vaccines, testing, face masks, and social distancing. There is no question—the precautions we take and requirements we put into place as campus leaders to make our campuses as safe as possible are an absolute priority. Lives are at stake. We should be clear—and the Colorado Community College System is very clear—that safety for our faculty, staff, and students is our top priority.

We should be equally clear about our mission, which the pandemic has not changed. It is “to provide an accessible… learning environment where our students can achieve their educational, professional and personal goals…”.  Education remains the surest and best pathway to a more fulfilling life, but that pathway must be accessible. For community colleges, that means it must be accessible to our unique student body, including single parents, first-generation college attendees, and low-income students. We can unintentionally limit access through the requirements we put in place to respond to the pandemic, just as we would limit access if we allowed tuition to become unaffordable or imposed unnecessary admission standards.  Our approach to all those things must be measured, thoughtful, and tailored to our student body.

Of course, “accessible” must also mean safe, and that is the moving target at which we are constantly aiming. If students do not feel safe, they will stay home and forego the opportunity to obtain the one thing that can best help them improve their circumstances—an education. For years, skeptics have suggested that a college education is not necessary for professional success, or worse, that higher education will saddle you with mountains of debt while failing to provide the skills needed to get a better job.  The pandemic has amplified those voices. As help wanted signs spring up and many frontline jobs go unfilled, it’s easy to think that the easy route is the correct route, that investing in an education is not necessary.

But history has taught us otherwise. COVID-19 is not the first pandemic, nor will it be the last. Similarly, the economic hardships brought on by COVID-19 are part of an ongoing cycle of recessions. Always, the least educated are hit the hardest.  Individuals who were most likely to stay employed and avoid the worst effects of the downturns were those with a postsecondary credential.

In fact, education is both the surest way to fight the pandemic itself and to mitigate the economic hardship on individuals. Many of our graduates are nurses, respiratory therapists, and other healthcare workers at the forefront of the fight against COVID. For others who may face unemployment or underemployment due to the pandemic, the community colleges are best positioned to help. Our colleges are open-enrollment (they do not “pick and choose” who gets to attend); our tuition costs are low (most students graduate without debt); and we offer a wide range of academic and skills-based programs. Whether taking a few key courses to build upon an existing skill, earning a degree, or transferring to a four-year university, our system is designed to serve those students with evening and weekend classes, flexible course delivery, and, most of all, our commitment to accessibility and affordability.

As I write this, we continue to evaluate our requirements around testing, masking, and vaccinating. Some colleges and universities have adopted more stringent requirements and some less. We can’t let arguments about the rightness of any single approach drown out the more important conversation. A postsecondary credential remains the best protection against job losses today and economic hardship in the future, and community colleges provide the most accessible pathways to better lives and healthier communities.

Joe Garcia is the chancellor of the Colorado Community College System. He was the lieutenant governor of Colorado and the executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education from 2011-2016. 

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Paramount May Retreat From Theatrical to Focus on Streaming—Why?

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Paramount May Retreat From Theatrical to Focus on Streaming—Why?
The future of Hollywood is being decided part and parcel. Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

When The Walt Disney Company gobbled up 20th Century Fox, it removed one of the six major movie studios from the Hollywood hierarchy. With Fox plucked from the pecking order, Netflix—the most prolific film studio in the world—stepped in to fill the void. But Netflix, as proud couch potatoes and cineastes both know, operates in a completely different ecosystem than its theatrical compatriots, and the ravenous streamer’s direct-to-consumer model has only grown more valuable during the pandemic. How much more? From March 15, 2020 to Sept. 15, 2021, Netflix’s stock price jumped from $298.84 to $577.76 — up 93 percent. Thus nearly every major studio is racing to become the next Netflix, rather than the other way around, and the status quo has been forever altered.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Paramount Pictures is now said to be “scaling back on its theatrical tentpole productions to focus on titles that will service Paramount+.” While Paramount parent company ViacomCBS has made no such official statement, it did recently depose Paramount chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos, one of the last remaining studio heads with actual film experience, for the more streaming friendly Brian Robbins. Even without confirmation of a new strategy, the mere idea of a storied 109-year-old studio responsible for some of the most influential cinema of the last century stepping back from the medium is a red flag for the industry. Couple that with the deluge of sell-offs and streaming/theatrical same-day hybrid releases the pandemic has brought on, and it’s clear that Hollywood finds itself in the midst of a metamorphosis.

What led Hollywood to this point, what does it mean for the major players involved, and how can the growing void be filled? Let’s explore.

Avengers: Endgame
Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame Marvel

Why movie theaters are going out of fashion

Paramount is reportedly retreating from the 12-month grind of building out a versatile theatrical release slate. This comes just a few short years after the Murdoch family surveyed the landscape and waved the white flag on Fox. Why? Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen the box office move into three separate tiers:

  1. Big-budget tentpole franchises: Marvel, Star Wars, DC and other IP-driven, $100 million-plus blockbusters
  2. Low-budget rolls of the dice: movies that are low risk but high reward when they connect, like the horror franchises (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Purge) that made Blumhouse Productions a player
  3. Mid-budget comedies and awards-seeking dramas and passion projects: typically in the $50 million to $100 million range, these sorts of films are gradually disappearing from the theatrical slate as they move to streaming.

With shifting audience behaviors putting pressure on profits for both movie theaters and studios, Wall Street has begun valuing the long-term upside of streaming. As a result, nearly every major entertainment media conglomerate has restructured in order to prioritize subscription business, which has the dual benefit of making income more predictable and lowering costs.

“For Paramount, or Disney, or any of the major studios, there are two big costs to consider with theatrical moviemaking: production and distribution,” David Offenberg, Associate Professor of Entertainment Finance in LMU’s College of Business Administration, told Observer. “You have to spend money to make a movie and you have to spend money to get it in front of consumers. Both are risky because if audiences don’t like the film, it’s incredibly difficult to recoup that money.”

Offenberg notes that navigating the film industry has become even more challenging at a time when streaming services are losing money. Netflix just reached the black this year and major players such as Disney+ and HBO Max aren’t expected to be profitable until at least 2024. Studios must make careful bets on what to produce and distribute as a result.

The easiest way to reduce distribution costs is to send a film straight to streaming, which sets up the entire dilemma for Paramount. Each major studio outside of Sony (which does not have a premium in-house SVOD service) has the choice of whether or not to put a film into theaters, or save between $50 million and $150 million in marketing by rerouting it to streaming. You can take a guess which route anxious executives who aren’t in love with the final product will choose. So it’s only natural that the theatrical market will contract further.

We’re still in the embryonic stages of SVOD cinema and it’s difficult to gauge how well a direct-to-streaming film performs in terms of matching the revenue generation of traditional release (the early returns are, uhh, not great). Without box office and all the subsequent windows a studio has to resell a film, streamers must measure a movie’s ability to acquire new customers and how significantly that movie helps to retain customers and reduce churn.

Box Office
Emily Blunt in Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II. Paramount

What is Hollywood’s new normal?

If THR‘s report is accurate, we can expect Paramount to leverage the IP it currently owns and develop films based on IP from its television library as well (which may explain the new Paw Patrol and SpongeBob movies). The advantage of a streaming service is that it provides parent companies with ample data about audience viewing habits, so it can tailor films to specific audiences and hyper-target those audiences with promotion. But that doesn’t mean Paramount, or any other major studio, is going to abandon movie theaters — especially not after keeping A Quiet Place II off Paramount+ for 45 days and seeing it earn $297 million at the box office worldwide, or more than seven times its $39 million budget.

“Studios can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Box Office Pro, told Observer. “While the streaming wars are raging, there are different financial realities depending on the type of content being distributed. Paramount obviously has a high interest in beefing up their at-home content model, but they also have made it clear that theatrical windows remain important following the success of A Quiet Place Part II and the delays of Top Gun Maverick and the Mission: Impossible sequels to more favorable global corridors next year.”

Robbins sees an industry still committed to traditional releases. Take Sony, for example. The studio has sold a small crop of films to streaming that either had minimum box office potential to begin with or weren’t going to be in a position to draw the necessary audience at this current juncture. At the same time, it has maintained theatrical exclusivity for upcoming blockbusters such as Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Spider-Man: No Way Home.

“In the wake of Disney also re-committing to exclusive windows for the remainder of its 2021 releases, plus the established 2022 re-commitment by Warner Bros., it looks to me more like the balancing act we’ve anticipated is beginning to emerge across the industry,” Robbins argues. “Studios are certainly still open to experiment and adjust on the fly if needed but aggressive pandemic models and strategies are slowly fading as a middle-ground approach begins to take root and these companies aim to ensure both their theatrical and at-home goals are met.”

Recent box office numbers support the idea of a gradual theatrical recovery and barring any unforeseen bombshells 2022 is poised to be a true bounce back stabilizing year for cinema. A mutually beneficial middle-ground is possible and, as Robbins notes, likely taking shape before our eyes. But that also doesn’t mean the overarching priorities of major studios have changed as long as Wall Street continues to value streaming.

“On one hand, we are seeing a theatrical push from the industry. On the other hand, it’s a half-hearted push, isn’t it?” Offenberg asks. “Hollywood isn’t doing what France does, where prior to the pandemic Netflix waited 36 months after a film came out in French theaters to receive a movie. I would consider it a real theatrical push if a studio showed a real commitment to prioritizing theatrical revenue over streaming revenue. None of them are going to do that right now.”

John Wick Lionsgate
Lionsgate’s John Wick Lionsgate

Ripple effects and filling the void

We’ve gone from six major theatrical studios to three consistent theatrical biggies (Disney, WB, Universal), one prolific streamer (Netflix), two bit players (Paramount, Sony), and two tech-backed streamers with a foot in both streaming and theatrical (Amazon, Apple). Reducing the number of buyers is never an ideal situation for talent, who are already fighting against a disparity in power with the studios. But even as some of the bigger studios disappear or shrink, there’s an increasing number of non-native Hollywood companies that want in on content, such as the yet-to-be-named company backed by Blackstone Group and overseen by former senior Disney executives Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs that acquired Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine.

Some believe that boutique studios such as A24 and Neon could benefit from the winnowing of major players. But they make the types of films that aren’t doing well in theaters. Streamers would be more open to acquiring their content, most likely on a cost-plus model which means there’s very little upside for the film companies that are financing them. They’re somewhat capped by selling to streamers and slowly getting capped by box office performance.

“It’s bad news for A24 and Neon,” Offenberg said. “Fewer theaters to monetize their films and consumers now have the expectation that theaters are where you go to see superhero and horror films, not where you go to see thought-provoking cinema. I don’t think they’re going to fill in the gaps left by the majors, who have good economic reason for abandoning those spaces.”

The one company that stands a chance of benefiting is Lionsgate, home of the John Wick and Hunger Games franchises. They have a big enough distribution system in place and know-how in distribution. If they can find the right kind of films outside of horror and superhero-action (which requires a waterfall of luck) they could make those unique offerings shine with theatrical releases. But they’ll have to get creative. In this day and age, success goes beyond just content itself, especially for new IP. Mini-majors such as Lionsgate need to figure out how to monetize beyond just box office and licensing, whether that be through consumer products, creating digital environments for audiences similar to Fortnite, or something else entirely.


Movie Math is an armchair analysis of Hollywood’s strategies for big new releases.

Paramount May Retreat From Theatrical to Focus on Streaming—Why?

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Police action-thriller ‘Copshop’ comes out guns blazing

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Police action-thriller ‘Copshop’ comes out guns blazing

MOVIE REVIEW

“COPSHOP”

Rated R. At AMC Boston Common, AMC South Bay, Regal Fenway and suburban theaters.

Grade: B+

Scotsman Gerard Butler once again stands tall as an action-film star in “Copshop,” an off-the-hook police action-thriller with a serious “John Wick” vibe. Butler, who also produced, plays mystery man Bob Viddick, who gets himself locked up in a remote Nevada police precinct next to the cell holding Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo, TV’s “Billions”). Viddick describes himself as, not a psychopath, but a “professional.” Murretto is a criminal who got himself arrested by sucker punching Nevada police officer Valerie Young (Alexis Louder, “The Tomorrow War”). Young describes Murretto as “a day ahead of the devil.” Well, the devil’s day has come.

“Copshop,” which was scripted by newcomer Kurt McLeod and Joe Carnahan (“The A-Team,” “The Grey”), the film’s director, from a story by Mark Williams (TV’s “Ozark”), doesn’t strike you as very realistic or particularly original. Carnahan’s work has also been mostly over-the-top. But as a guns-a-blazing, body-count, blood fest, it’s pretty amusing.

The Nevada attorney general, a total prop, was killed a few days earlier, signaling to us that something deeply corrupt is going on. Murretto keeps asking about the welfare of his “ex and kid,” and we don’t hold out much hope. Viddick tries to win Young’s confidence after she is wounded in a shootout with a genuine psychopath named Anthony Lamb (a standout Toby Huss), and she locks herself in the cell area with Viddick and Murretto. A policeman at the station named Huber (Ryan O’Nan) is dirty and up to no good. Lamb arrives at the station in a van, carrying flowers and balloons and begins mowing down everyone in sight. Viddick does all he can to get to Murretto, including teaching him some good, old-fashioned “pirate code.”

Alexis Louder stars as Valerie Young in Joe Carnahan’s ‘COPSHOP,’ an Open Road Films and Briarcliff Entertainment release. Credit : Kyle Kaplan / Open Road Films / Briarcliff Entertainment

Carnahan brings back the revolving industrial fan, the biggest cliche of 1980s music videos, as a backdrop to much of the action, which is mostly limited to the remote desert station. But you don’t feel closed in because Carnahan otherwise makes good use of the space. In his early 50s, Butler still has the rugged good looks and physicality to play these roles and that King of Sparta screen presence and swagger. There is a shootout in the desert between good-guys-gone-bad that is very nicely staged.

Clinton Shorter’s retro score sets the Sam Peckinpah-esque mood, along with an homage to Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddy’s Dead” from Mayfield’s legendary, Grammy-nominated “Super Fly” score. The filmmakers also owe a debt to John Carpenter’s 1976 gem “Assault on Precinct 13.” Credit also goes to “Copshop” fight coordinator Cory DeMeyers (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”).

Another acting standout is female lead Louder, who was “Nigerian Woman #2” in “Black Panther” and turns her supporting role here into an audition for bigger and even better things.

(“Copshop” contains profanity and graphic violence.)

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3 babies recently born to Afghan refugees at Wisconsin’s Fort McCoy

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3 babies recently born to Afghan refugees at Wisconsin’s Fort McCoy

SPARTA, Wis. — There’s new life at the Fort McCoy military base in western Wisconsin where more than 12,000 Afghan refugees are staying.

Three babies have been born to Afghan evacuees in recent days, according to Fort McCoy spokeswoman Cheryl Phillips.

“From all indications, the babies and mothers are doing well,” Phillips said.

Phillips declined to provide more details on the births, including whether the babies were born on base or at a local hospital, the State Journal reported.

Roughly 12,500 Afghan refugees are temporarily staying at Fort McCoy as of this week.

Fort McCoy, 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of La Crosse and the Minnesota border, is one of eight military bases in the U.S. that is housing refugees who fled from Afghanistan after the Taliban toppled Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government on Aug. 15.

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