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St. Louis Zoo releases 800 endangered hellbenders to Ozark rivers

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St. Louis Zoo releases 800 endangered hellbenders to Ozark rivers

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Hellbenders are the largest aquatic salamanders in North America and Missouri’s official endangered species. Now, the St. Louis Zoo says 800 more of them have been released this summer to their native homes in Ozark rivers.

The zoo says that they are meeting their goals to return more of them to the state’s waterways. They are currently preparing to collect eggs from the wild and to continue a captive breeding program for future releases.

Since 2008 there have been 9,476 St. Louis Zoo raised hellbenders released to the wild. In 2020 and 2021, more than 1,800 hellbenders were successfully reintroduced.

Missouri is the only state to have both subspecies of hellbenders, the Ozark and Eastern. They are both listed as federally endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Hellbender populations have declined more than 70 percent over the past 40 years. There is a 96 percent chance of extinction over the next 75-years without help from programs like the one at the St. Louis Zoo.

Learn more about the hellbender’s journey home here.

Fun facts:

  • Other names for the hellbender include “snot otter” and “old lasagna sides.”
  • Their closest relatives are in China and Japan.
  • They can live over 25 years.
  • Their diet includes crayfish, fish, worms and snails.

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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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Moderna says vaccine’s effectiveness wanes over time

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Moderna says vaccine’s effectiveness wanes over time

(WXIN) — Moderna released information this week indicating protection from its COVID vaccine wanes over time as U.S. regulators try to determine the need for booster shots. The drugmaker shared information from a phase three study showing that breakthrough cases were less frequent in those who’ve been more recently vaccinated.

Researchers compared about 14,000 people in Moderna’s 2020 vaccine study who had gotten a first dose about a year ago with another 11,000 vaccinated last winter, roughly eight months ago. As delta surged in July and August, Moderna concluded that the more recently vaccinated group had a 36% lower rate of “breakthrough” infections than did those vaccinated longer ago.

According to Moderna data, there were 88 breakthrough cases out of 11,431 people vaccinated between December 2020 and March 2021. The company identified 162 breakthrough cases out of 14,746 people vaccinated from July 2020 through October 2020.

There were also fewer severe cases of COVID-19 in individuals who had been more recently vaccinated, Moderna said. The company believes the results show the need for booster shots, as the vaccine’s efficacy appears to wane over time. The analysis still needs to be peer-reviewed.

Pfizer-BioNTech is also seeking approval of an additional booster shot of its COVID-19 vaccine. A key Food and Drug Administration vaccine advisory panel will convene this week to examine the need for booster shots in the U.S.

Pfizer said protection against COVID-19 is holding in the U.S. However, the company gave an extra dose to 306 people six to eight months after they received their second dose; the booster shot resulted in a threefold increase in virus-fighting antibodies.

Support for the booster shot has been mixed. While the Biden administration hoped to begin distributing doses on Sept. 20, the FDA has taken a cautious tone thus far. The agency will have the final say on the booster campaign and doesn’t necessarily have to follow the recommendations of its advisory panel. Booster shots have been approved for individuals with compromised immune systems.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Madrid: Denounce your hate Valor Christian

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Madrid: Denounce your hate Valor Christian

Valor Christian High School has hit the headlines as of late for dominating in 5A sports, but also for waving a proverbial anti-LGBTQ banner for all current and potential students, teachers, and employees to see.

The school does not embrace, love, and respect all as its leaders have stated, especially not students, families, or coaches who misalign with their anti-gay beliefs.

Valor has pushed out two LGBTQ athletic coaches within a year. Inoke Tonga, a devout Christian and openly gay man in August. And Lauren Benner, 2019 school coach of the year and the girls’ lacrosse head coach who lost her job in spring 2020.

Both faced similar interrogations with intrusive questioning about their sexuality and intimate relationships. They were asked to denounce their sexuality to keep their jobs. In other words, turn straight for pay. Convert or leave.

“My jaw was on the floor in disbelief,” Brenner wrote in an Instagram post. “I felt like I had just gone through a time travel machine that shot me back 50 years.”

This regressive ideology leaves toxic stress in the student body. It reinforces that it’s not safe to be gay. Examples of stigma, discrimination, and bias like these are detrimental to LGBTQ youth. This has the potential to deteriorate the mental health of students.

A protective tool deployed by LGBTQ people is pride. There’s power in embracing your authentic self. It’s the strongest weapon to defeat bigotry’s hate and embrace divine joy.

Take it from Keely Antonio, a Valor class of 2018 alum, who is out and proud now but was not in high school.

“I gotta be honest when I was there, during that time, I don’t think I would have been comfortable doing that,” Antonio told The Denver Post.

Surviving high school has led her to a life of helping others. Now she helps to empower LGBTQ+ adults.  She partnered and co-created Coming Out Happy with her girlfriend, Dani Max. The coaching duo helps others reconnect with their authentic selves.

Antonio was happy to learn that Tonga and Brenner chose to live their truth over her alma mater.

“I’m so proud that they are standing up for what they feel is right,” she said. “It gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes.”

The former coaches had the power to walk away with pride. But what about the students who are stuck in an institution that torments them. Classmates, allies, parents and alumni came together to show support.

“My obligation as someone called to love others as the Lord does is to speak out against bigotry and stand up,” Lucy Sarkissian a current student said.

The coaches’ dismissals sparked others to break the silence. Cole Watson, a 2018 alumni, started collecting statements online from survivors of Valor’s anti-LGBTQ culture.

“This has to change, and I’m hoping that sharing these stories can help catalyze it,” he said.

The online document has grown to 15 pages long and captures over a decade of incidents. It’s filled with anonymous and attributed statements. Together they describe a hellscape for LGBTQ students at Valor. It reveals the school’s history of discriminatory culture and harmful conditions.

“This school pushed me to suicidal ideation, and it took me YEARS to recover,” Watson wrote about his own experience.

Maxwell Wolf, a bisexual and trans alum, shares about the abuse survived at home and school.

“I have deep and lasting trauma as a result of Valor’s treatment,” Wolf’s statement said. “I was deeply depressed and suicidal because I was hopeless.”

“They failed me as a school, as Christians, and as people,” Wolf continued.

Educational institutions whether public or private have no right to damage young people. LGBTQ youth deserve safer spaces in all schools, including religious ones.

Antonio believes LGBTQ people have the right to divine and beautiful purpose.

“This life is short and you deserve to create a life that feels good and aligned with who you are,” she said.

LGBTQ youth deserve to be all three if they want. Christian, gay and alive.

Tonga agreed in a recent social media post with a rainbow background. He asked for people to pray together, to fight for one another and console each other during the hard times.

“The best way to get our message across is to lead fervently with love,” he said.

LGBTQ+ students, family members and alumni have demonstrated fervent love and acceptance, the type Jesus Christ embodied.

Religious leaders take note. The sermon is in session, and this is how you live your value.

Mimi Madrid is a Denver-raised writer who has worked in non-profits serving youth, LGBTQ, and Latinx communities.

To send a letter to the editor about this article, submit online or check out our guidelines for how to submit by email or mail.

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Goldberg: Biden’s vax stance will feed pandemic culture war

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Goldberg: Biden’s vax stance will feed pandemic culture war

Maybe President Biden should handle COVID-19 the way he’s handled Afghanistan.

It’s a strange thought, given how badly he botched the U.S. withdrawal. But at least Afghanistan Joe had a clear idea about what we needed to do. COVID Joe has no such exit strategy. He’s making it up as he goes.

“I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit,” Biden proclaimed on Aug. 31 — and he meant it.

However, he has no problem with a forever exit from the pandemic.

In his address unveiling his COVID plan, Biden failed to offer anything like an exit strategy or even a description of what victory might look like.

In fairness, one reason he didn’t is because he can’t. As with terrorism, permanent and total victory is impossible. As Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, explains: “SARS-CoV-2 will become an endemic virus settling alongside the other four strains of coronaviruses that circulate widely among us.” In February, 9 out of 10 leading immunologists, virologists and other experts surveyed by the British scientific journal Nature said it’s here to stay.

Part of Biden’s problem is that he already had his “mission accomplished” moment in July. And while it’s not his fault that the delta variant wrecked his victory lap — and his poll numbers on his handling of the pandemic — his response is clearly improvised, probably counterproductive, and very, very political.

Last week, Biden issued a sweeping mandate that all private businesses with 100 or more employees require workers to get vaccinated or receive a weekly coronavirus test. The mere fact that the administration is using a nebulous and constitutionally problematic authority under the Occupational Safety and Health Act suggests that it essentially rummaged around to find a power it didn’t think it had or would need. Such workarounds are its stock in trade. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is trying to overturn state bans on mask mandates, and Biden’s now-voided extension of the eviction moratorium was pushed through by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Biden’s mandate on private businesses will probably involve no end of legal and bureaucratic headaches. The president’s defenders are already calling it a testing mandate, not a vaccination mandate — as Justice Department lawyers will surely argue in future lawsuits. Technically, employees of large businesses will have to be tested weekly but can opt out if they’re vaccinated. But Biden didn’t frame it as a testing mandate, he framed it as a vaccine mandate.

That raises constitutional concerns, as does his vow, “If these governors won’t help us beat the pandemic, I’ll use my power as president to get them out of the way.”

When Donald Trump declared he had “total” authority to fight COVID-19, Democrats rightly condemned his thumbless grasp of the Constitution. “We don’t have a king in this country. We didn’t want a king, so we have a Constitution and we elect a president. … All other powers remain to the states,” said Andrew Cuomo, then governor of New York and a liberal darling.

Now, because a Democrat is promising to ride roughshod over governors, Democrats celebrate.

This explains why Biden relishes this fight. He’s already achieved one of his goals — to change the subject from handing Afghanistan to the Taliban in time for the anniversary of 9/11. But the other political calculation is that he doesn’t need the support of people ideologically (and foolishly) opposed to getting vaccinated, but he does need the support of those who despise such people.

By pandering on vaccination, Biden isn’t dialing down the culture war dynamic of the pandemic, he’s intensifying it. Once he was on the side of constitutional and democratic norms, now he’s waving those aside.

Worse, he’s sending the signal to many of those most fed up with the pandemic that this will never end. That “never exit” message may seem smart politically, but it doesn’t encourage steadfastness or compliance. It fosters exhaustion and ever more polarization.


Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Dispatch.

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