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Lessons of Jazz Great Jimmy Heath Go Beyond Music
Thursday January 23, 2020 | K. Lloyd Billingsley

Saxophonist, composer, and arranger Jimmy Heath has passed away at 93, one of the last jazz artists going back to the 1940s. Heath played with many of the greats, including Miles Davis, James Moody, and John Coltrane, according to Heath a man capable of focusing on his musical difficulties. That was also true of Jimmy Heath and all jazz artists. Even the most naturally gifted must work hard to learn harmony and master an instrument. That done, in the midst of a performance, the artist must compose something that works rhythmically and harmonically, and is also hip and memorable. Only a few can do that consistently and make a career of it. Jimmy Heath was one of them, and the music he played has a political back story. (more…)

Cinematic Excellence Gives 1917 the Brutal Realism of War
Thursday January 23, 2020 | Samuel R. Staley

1917 has become a front runner in the race for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Indeed, the epic movie featuring the brutal trench warfare of World War I is grand in scope and should be experienced, not just watched. Few films are as clearly and convincingly made for the big screens of movie theaters as this one directed by Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition, Skyfall, Spectre). Roger Deakins (Skyfall, Sicario, Blade Runner 2049), director of cinematography, chose to shoot 1917 is one continuous take, as if one camera tracks the lead characters through the entire arc of the film. The technique effectively immerses viewers into gut-wrenching conditions of warfare on the front lines of the “Great War.” The trenches were a meat grinder, and the sweeping shifts in the camera capture all its carnage, fear, and shocking inhumanity of the one of the costliest, and least effective, wars in history. In the story, the Germans have pulled back, abandoning their trenches. Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange, The Imitation Game, Avengers) believes the Germans are in full retreat. He plans an attack the next morning to route the Germans. The British central command, however, has received aerial photos showing that the Germans are simply regrouping behind their main line, hoping to lure the British into an attack and then ambush them with overwhelming force. It’s up to British army corporals Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman, Game of Thrones, Into the Badlands) and Will Schofield (George MacKay, Captain Fantastic, Ophelia) to get a message to Mackenzie in time to call off the attack. As an incentive, Mackenzie tells Blake that his brother Joseph (Richard Madden, Game of Thrones, Rocketman), a lieutenant, is likely to be in the first wave and killed if the attack is launched. Blake becomes locked into the mission over the skepticism of the war-weary Schofield. The plot in 1917 doesn’t get much more complex than this, so it’s up to the skill of Mendes and Deakins to keep the forward momentum. The immersive effects of the single-shot technique, which never breaks from the motion and dialogue between Blake and Schofield, effectively keeps audiences engaged, never quite sure of what will happen next. The result is a striking display of cinematographic excellence, and worth seeing on the biggest screen possible (e.g., Dolby Cinema or IMAX). This artistry may well lift the movie, Mendes, and Deakins to the top spots during the Academy Awards. It also may make 1917 one of the most compelling antiwar films of the past decade. 1917 has already won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture—Drama and Best Director, and has ten nominations leading into this year’s Oscars.

Fox News Documentary Puts Brutality of the Militarized Central State on Full Display
Tuesday January 21, 2020 | K. Lloyd Billingsley

Back in 2012, Anthony Gregory wrote “Lessons From Ruby Ridge” on the infamous bloody siege from 1992. Gregory charted the federal efforts to entrap military veteran Randy Weaver, who had opted to live in a remote corner of Idaho. When the entrapment went awry, the FBI brought in massive military force against a single-family, resulting in the deaths of Weaver’s wife and son. As Gregory notes, the issue was not the left versus right but the militarized central state versus individual life and liberty. The lessons are painfully evident in a Fox News documentary aired on January 19. (more…)

California’s Hidden Checkbook
Tuesday January 21, 2020 | Craig Eyermann

California’s State Controller, Betty Yee, is responsible for paying each of the state’s bills. Unfortunately for Californians, she may have just bought the state a costly lawsuit because she has refused to account for any of the 49 million checks her office writes each year, covering $320 billion in payments. (more…)

Are More Vaping Bans Coming Soon? Let’s Hope Not!
Tuesday January 21, 2020 | Raymond J. March

Over the past year, the Food and Drug Administration has seemed determined to “wipe out the entire vaping industry.” As former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who spearheaded much of the current anti-vaping movement,” notes: “the FDA is so concerned about the dangerous effects of e-cigarettes on American youth that the products may have to be pulled from stores.” (more…)

How to Rescue the U.S. Postal Service
Monday January 20, 2020 | Craig Eyermann

The government-run U.S. Postal Service began in 2020 with a dubious track record. It has lost money in each of the past 13 years. In 2019, USPS made $514 million more in revenue than it did in its previous fiscal year, thanks to increases in postage rates and its package delivery business. But the agency also recorded a net loss of $8.8 billion, with 80 percent of that loss attributable to employees’ health-care benefits after retirement. (more…)

Robert Klein, Davy Crockett, and the Quest for Another $5.5 Billion for Stem Cells
Monday January 20, 2020 | K. Lloyd Billingsley

As this column has often noted, the 2004 ballot measure Proposition 71, the $3 billion California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act, promised life-saving cures for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other diseases, plus a steady stream of royalties for state coffers. In 2020, a ballpark estimate for the promised cures and therapies is zero, and the royalties fail to surpass the annual salary of Art Torres, the former state senator the government hired to help oversee the stem cell agency. Even so, Americans for Cures, a non-profit headed by original Proposition 71 backer Robert Klein, is floating the California Stem Cell Research, Treatments, and Cures Initiative of 2020 (more…)

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