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COVID-19: The Trump Administration Continues To Flounder In Pandemic Response

“Hopes & Prayers” is even more insipid than the “Thoughts & Prayers” bromide that Republican politicians typically tweet out after the latest mass shooting, but five months into the pandemic that’s ravaging the U.S. that’s about all the Trump White House has to offer Americans.

As I noted in a June 21 post, after plateauing in the 150,000 range for several weeks, the U.S. case count increased sharply in the June 14-21 period to 181,010. That trend continued last week, with the case load jumping to 277,801 from June 21-28.

Daily case counts now exceed 50,000, and with infection rates soaring in heavily populated southern and western states such as Florida, Texas, California, Georgia and Arizona, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned on June 30 that if the U.S. doesn’t get its shit together they could soon see 100,000 cases a day.

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COVID-19: Denial Continues To Drive U.S. Response To Pandemic

As of noon today, the case total and death toll in the United States stood at 2,344,023 and 122,127. And where are the numbers going? Well, if statistical trends are any indication, they are set to grow dramatically.

Going back to May 24, the U.S. has had week-to-week increases in case totals of 153,150 (May 24-31), 155,420 (May 31-June 7), 155,564 (June 7-14) and 181,010 (June 14-21).

On a state-by-state basis, California (4363 new cases on Saturday), Texas (4250), Florida (4049), Arizona (3109), Georgia (1800), North Carolina (1773), Louisiana (1231) and South Carolina (1155) are the current hotspots.  But they are far from the only states where day-to-day case totals are climbing, with the largest increases being seen in the south and western parts of the country.

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VOD REVIEW: ‘You Should Have Left’ Is More Inviting than Expected

Airbnbs are like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. Last year, mine got burglarized. In You Should Have Left, Kevin Bacon lands in a creepy one that may be driving him mad. But I’m sure others are great (insert side-eye emoji).

I’m getting ahead of myself. A Blumhouse production that in any normal year would have hit theatres, You Should Have Left gets a lot of mileage from a classic horror troupe (nuclear family stranded in a haunted residence), one The Shining already perfected. Credit to writer/director David Koepp (Premium Rush) to keep things interesting by fleshing out the characters and writing sturdy dialogue.

The plot: May-December couple —Theo (Kevin Bacon) and Susanna (Amanda Seyfried)— takes the proverbial “break from it all” ahead of a busy time. They find an ultramodern home in the middle of nowhere in Wales (the newest horror cliché), seemingly ideal for them and their precocious daughter. Continue reading “VOD REVIEW: ‘You Should Have Left’ Is More Inviting than Expected”

COVID-19: Is The First Wave Set To Become A Tidal Wave In The U.S.?

Since the pandemic hit North America in mid-March, scientists have warned that even if physical distancing and other slow-down measures succeeded in curbing the virus’s first wave, as summer drew to a close and colder temperatures started to force people back indoors again, we would likely face a second wave.

Many countries around the world, including Canada, have weathered the first wave reasonably well, and are now taking steps to loosen restrictions on large gatherings and “re-open” their economies.

The United States is on that path too. The big difference there is that the first wave of the pandemic has never really been contained. Sure, some of the initial hotspots such as Seattle and New York have managed after a months-long struggle to rein in the virus. But as had been forecast, the virus is now beginning to spread to other areas of the country — many of which lack the capacity (and often the political will) to protect public health.

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COVID-19: Global Infection Total Approaching Seven Million

On April 2, I did a post to mark the impending milestone of one million COVID-19 infections worldwide.  Now, two months later, the global infection total is set to pass seven million.

If you click the first link, you’ll see that the top ten countries in terms of infections in early April were the United States, Italy, Spain, Germany, China, France, Iran, United Kingdom, Switzerland and Turkey.

As of today at 11 a.m. CST,  the top ten consists of the United States, Brazil, Russia, Spain, United Kingdom, India, Italy, Peru, Germany and Iran.

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REVIEW: ‘The High Note’ Falls Somewhere in the Middle

In days as convoluted as these, harmless movies about well-intentioned people overcoming difficulties and coming out empowered are a welcome respite. The High Note is one of those films. Clearly destined for the big screen (nice production values, a combination of up-and-comers and vets), The High Note is a nice movie that doesn’t break new ground or ruffles any feathers.

Freed from the 50 Shades burden, Dakota Johnson is delightful as Maggie, the assistant of an R&B diva. Maggie has designs beyond her less than fulfilling job: She wants to become a music producer, preferably for her boss. But there’s no clear path to go from her lowly job to behind the sound desk.

In turn, her employer, Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish), is struggling with a transition of her own. A decade after her last successful record, she’s been offered a residency in Vegas, the musical equivalent of a farm upstate. Davis believes she still has fresh material to offer, but for industry standards, she’s old news. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘The High Note’ Falls Somewhere in the Middle”

COVID-19: U.S. Decision To Defund World Health Organization Is Hypocritical

With the U.S. case load and death toll from the pandemic having exceeded 1.8 million and 105,000, president Donald Trump announced yesterday that the U.S. would be severing ties with the World Health Organization (WHO).

As you can see in this CBC report, the decision was criticized by the president of the American Medical Association, who said it served “no logical purpose”. No surprise there, as logic isn’t exactly a core value of the MAGA Republican movement led by Trump. Instead, the president is engaged in a desperate/craven effort to resurrect his political fortunes in light of his administration’s failed response to the pandemic.

While WHO might make for a convenient scapegoat (in the minds of Trump supporters, anyway) the organization, as it is currently constituted, is in pretty much a no-win situation.

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REVIEW: ‘Dreamland’ Expand the ‘Pontypool’ Universe… Sort of

Stephen McHattie and Lise Houle in Bruce McDonald’s Dreamland.

Twelve years ago, Pontypool pulled the rarest of feats. It was original for a zombie movie and intrinsically Canadian (the disease was transmitted via language). Something you may not have noticed is that there was a post-credit scene, featuring the leads as different characters: Johnny Deadeyes and Lisa the Killer, two shady types looking for adventure. I completely missed that until re-watching it for this review.

The promise of the little-seen sequence is fulfilled in Dreamland. Director Bruce McDonald reassembles the Pontypoolcrew (actors Stephen McHattie and Lisa Houle, scriptwriter Tony Burgess) plus a couple of ringers (Henry Rollins and Juliette Lewis) for a surrealistic noir. Not Twin Peaks-bonkers levels, but pleasantly weird. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Dreamland’ Expand the ‘Pontypool’ Universe… Sort of”

REVIEW: ‘Jeune Juliette’ Comes of Edge

With a batting average higher than most of her French-Canadian counterparts (including the likes of Dolan, Arcand and Falardeau), supporters of Canadian cinema would be well served by paying more attention to Anne Emond.

The writer/director has delivered three searing dives into the female psyche (Nuit # 1, Our Loved Ones, Nelly). Her newest film, Jeune Juliette, has a much lighter tone, but the lead is just as complex as the previous ones. OK, maybe not Nelly Arcan, but she’s on a league of her own.

The Juliette of the title (Alexane Jamieson) is a teenager enduring the worst high school has to offer: Loneliness, bullying and the petty behavior from others students who perceive her as overweight. Even though their casual nastiness leaves a mark, Juliette is also aware that she’s smarter than her classmates and it’s a matter of time until she leaves them behind. She also has a sturdy support net: Her doting dad, a sympathetic brother and her best mate, Leanne. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Jeune Juliette’ Comes of Edge”

COVID-19: U.S. Death Toll From Pandemic Hits Grim Milestone

Some time this Memorial Day weekend, the United States’s death toll from the pandemic will surpass 100,000. The infection total, meanwhile, is approaching 1.7 million. Both are stark figures that have attracted attention world-wide, and generated a ton of political controversy and economic turmoil domestically.

When I spoke with Simon Enoch, Saskatchewan head of Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in late March for an article on  neoliberalism and COVID-19 that ultimately ran in mid-May, one topic we discussed was the “perfect storm” of factors that were likely to see the pandemic blow up in the U.S.

“Even if it’s sort of rickety, Canada at least has single-payer socialized medicine where there’s a large degree of coordination across provinces and federally,” Enoch said during our interview. “The patchwork privatized system down there is just ill-equipped to deal with something of this magnitude. The fact you’re going to have people who think they’re infected but for financial reasons can’t seek care… it’s going to be an absolute disaster.”

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COVID-19: A Tale of Four Countries (Germany, Sweden, Russia, Brazil)

On April 17, I did a blog post looking at how four countries besides Canada and the United States were doing in their struggle against the pandemic.  Here’s an update on their situation. As with us and our southern neighbour, it’s a bit of a good news/bad news story. First, the good news.

Germany On April 17, Germany’s case load and death toll stood at 143,685 and 4352. As of today at noon, the totals are 178,170 and 8213. As I noted in my previous post, while Germany hasn’t necessarily outperformed other European countries such as France, United Kingdom and Italy with infections, its death toll continues to be much lower, which has been attributed to a younger patient population and vigorous testing and contact tracing to limit the chance of an outbreak. Now, Germany is taking tentative steps to reopen its society/economy although the government remains alert to the possibility of future outbreaks.

Sweden On the good news/bad news scale, Sweden falls in the middle. Again, as I noted in the earlier post, Sweden has differed from most countries around the world in handling the pandemic in that it didn’t impose as stringent physical distancing and lockdown measures. Conservative pundits have held Sweden up as an example of how a country can balance public health and economic concerns.

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Cathedral Village (Virtual) Arts Festival Opens Monday

Photo Credit: Cathedral Village Arts Festival 2019

I did a blog post a few weeks ago talking about how summer was shaping up to quite different from previous years. The long daylight hours, warm temperatures, blooming flowers, leafing trees, fresh fruits and vegetables and other seasonal pleasures will all be there for us to enjoy.

What won’t be available, though, is the wide range of festivals and other community events that are traditionally held in the late spring and summer but have had to be cancelled or postponed because of the pandemic.

While some festivals truly have been cancelled, others have retooled a bit and plan to offer online events for people to enjoy.

The Cathedral Village Arts Festival is one such festival. This year, it was supposed to run May 18-23. Sadly, that won’t be the case. But a virtual festival has been set up offering a mix of live concerts; art workshops; spoken word, theatre and dance performances; film screenings; a digital street fair and more.

The festival kicks off, as it usually does, on the holiday Monday (a.k.a. Victoria Day) and you can get more information here.

Saskatchewan Environmental Society To Host Webinar Series On Climate Change

Hopping Through The Looking Glass Of Climate Change (photo credit: Wascana Centre in Regina March 8, 2016)

The COVID-19 pandemic may be dominating the news cycle these days, but it’s only a “symptom” of a much broader challenge we face in the coming decade related to the deteriorating state of our environment and climate change.

With everyone practicing physical distancing and society largely shutdown, our fossil fuel use has plummeted, with predictable results — predictable in the sense that there’s been a sharp reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of air and water pollution.

While a welcome reprieve from our head-long rush toward climate chaos, the effect is only likely to be temporary, as once the pandemic passes, pressure will ramp up for a return to “normal”.

In the midst of this nature enforced time-out, the Saskatchewan Environmental Society is taking the opportunity to host a series of 11 free webinars on Saskatchewan’s current reality with respect to climate change and potential opportunities for the future.

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COVID-19: Reality Continues To Trump Powerful Political & Economic Interests

When the pandemic first hit the U.S. in mid-March, the projected death toll with physical distancing measures in place was between 100,000 to 240,000. In early April, a more optimistic figure of 60,000 was put forward.

That was based on a University of Washington study.  Whether that figure was ever realistic is hard to know. But in the month since the study was released numerous parties in numerous ways have undermined the effectiveness of physical distancing guidelines. As a result, the U.S. has blown past the projections contained in the model with the infection/death totals standing at 1,333,540 and 79,252 as of noon today.

Since the pandemic started, the idea has been floated that, based on the usual pattern of a typical flu season, the virus might subside over the summer before perhaps returning in the fall. But a recent epidemiological report suggests that might not be the case. If that’s true, who knows how high the death toll might climb in the next few months.

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REVIEW: Neeson Acts Again in ‘Ordinary Love’

It’s hard to remember after three Takens and a bunch of Taken knockoffs, there was a time Liam Neeson was a thoughtful, understated performer. At 67, he’s trading grunts for acting again, at least this once.

Ordinary Love is as simple as a domestic drama can get. It relies heavily on the lead actors’ acting abilities, but doesn’t offer anything fresh in terms of story or ideas.

The film revolves around Neeson and the age-appropriate Leslie Manville (Phantom Thread’s MVP) as a mature, content couple. After spending decades together and enduring one unspeakable tragedy, Tom and Joan believe they’ve dealt with all the curveballs life had in store for them. Continue reading “REVIEW: Neeson Acts Again in ‘Ordinary Love’”

REVIEW: Blood Quantum Has a Hole in the Middle

As much regard as I have for zombie movies, the subgenre could use a moratorium. Maybe is The Walking Dead to blame, or the fact is the cheapest option for wannabe filmmakers to try to make their mark. Either way, the undead feel extra rotten these days.

Credit to Jeff Barnaby for keeping the living dead moderately interesting. The director, whose previous movie Rhymes for Young Ghouls found a fresh approach to the Residential School trauma, attempts to repeat the trick with Blood Quantum. Barnaby doesn’t fully succeed, but gets extra points for effort.

The setup is the most interesting part of the movie: The perfunctory zombie outbreak takes place, but only whites can turn. The Red Crow reservation survives relatively unscathed, relatively because while immune to the virus, they’re still edible. Continue reading “REVIEW: Blood Quantum Has a Hole in the Middle”

COVID-19: Recent Research Shows The Virus Can Rampage Through The Body

Since the pandemic first got going in early January, scientists around the world have been working flat-out to study the virus. And while progress is being made, COVID-19 is proving to be a tough (viral) nut to crack, so plenty of questions remain.

What is known so far is that while many people who become infected seem to sail through with little or no symptoms, many others become seriously ill. It’s also known that infected people who are asymptomatic can still transmit the virus, and the incubation period for those who do get sick is 14 days, so there’s plenty of time for them to contribute to community spread too.

Certain demographics such as the elderly and those with a compromised immune system or underlying medical condition such as chronic lung disease, diabetes and obesity are at special risk. But the virus can hammer healthy people in the prime of their life too.

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COVID-19: Saskatchewan Set To Announce First Stage Of Pandemic Exit Strategy

Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe is scheduled to address the province tonight at 6 p.m. to recap where Saskatchewan stands six weeks into the pandemic. Then on Thursday morning the government is supposed to unveil a plan to begin loosening restrictions on economic activity.

Discussions of this type are taking place around the world. In countries that have had success in limiting the spread of the virus, such as South Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand, there is cautious optimism that this can be done safely. In countries/jurisdictions where the pandemic is still spreading, though, suggestions that widespread economic activity could be resumed are generally seen as contrary to public health interests.

As a relatively remote province with a small, widely dispersed population, Saskatchewan was likely never going to be at risk for a major outbreak. And with the measures the province has put in place, we have been reasonably successful at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

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The 2020 Regina Folk Festival Is Cancelled

Bruce Cockburn performs at the 2018 RFF. I still swear I saw Neko Case in the audience. She’d played the night before, though I was told she was on a flight to Australia during Bruce’s set. Not buying it. | photo by Klaus Naples

It’s a beautiful day outside! It would be perfect for a picnic, but instead of a basket of delicious sandwiches Covid-19 has packed another of its turd burritos for us.

Like it says in the headline, the Regina Folk Fest is the latest casualty of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Regina Folk Festival released an artfully composed statement earlier today explaining the decision:

This kind of feels like a big storm, eh? Like, we can’t leave our houses and if we do, we have to get really bundled up for it. Then, when we get home, we have to change clothes. But, RFF Folks know how to deal with storms (2014, we will remember you always). We know that we’re going to get through it and that even if we have to call the show for lightning, we will come back together when it’s safe to do so.

That’s all to say that, unfortunately, we are canceling the 2020 Regina Folk Festival.

COVID-19 has really felt like a force of nature. We’ve prepared for it, we’re in the thick of it now, and ultimately, we will support each other when it’s over (even if there is some cleaning up to do).

It’s the right call, even though it sucks donkey butt. Oh well. What can you do?

(Here’s one suggestion.)

 

COVID-19: Hot Summer Bummer

Ordinarily around this time of year I’d be getting started on our Hot Summer Guide. It runs in our last June issue, and highlights a range of music/theatre festivals, fairs and other special events that are planned for Regina, Saskatoon and Saskatchewan’s “Hinterland” in the period from late June until Labour Day weekend.

Some years, spring may have already arrived. Other years, we might still be in the grip of winter. But regardless, the exercise always serves as a bit of a tonic as it allows me to look ahead to all the fun and fellowship that people across the province have planned over the summer months.

This year, though, it’s a much different situation.  Because of all the uncertainty around the pandemic, and the restrictions placed on large public gatherings, organizers of many popular events have made the difficult decision to cancel for 2020.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Hot Summer Bummer”