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I’m pretty late to be jumping on the Pacific Rim bandwagon, what with the movie having come out nearly a month ago, but I finally got around to seeing it and was surprised to find it on of the most enjoyable film-going experiences I’ve had this year.
I say I’m surprised because my initial reaction to the first trailer I saw for Pacific Rim was that it looked beyond stupid. I have memories of mostly enjoying the Transformers films, but in hindsight they seem a little soulless, so maybe on some subconscious level Michael Bay had poisoned me against giant robot movies.
However, the positive reviews and fact that I’ve generally enjoyed Guillermo del Toro’s films warmed me up to the film a bit.
Then, at a San Diego Comic Con panel titled “Science Fiction that will change your life” the moderator, io9‘s Annalee Newitz, said the film should be considered on the list of life changing SciFi. That was enough for me and I decided to see it.
Work, life and a thief stealing my car ended up distracting me from seeing the film as soon as I should have, but I finally got around to it last night.
And holy crap is it good. There is more heart in the first five minutes than in all three of Bay’s Transformers movies.
I was initially tempted to compare my viewing experience to the first time I saw Star Wars. The films both felt familiar and wonderfully new at the same time – a trick of creation that is almost magical.
But I think ultimatley that it’s not Star Wars that I want to compare Pacific Rim to – I think I most want to compare it to another of my favorite films The Fifth Element.
Both Pacific Rim and Fifth Element do an extrodinary amount of world building, and tell complete stories that ultimatley are about humans defeating a destructive force through love and working together.
Fifth Element stands alone as a complete story and needs no sequel, even though the world it built is interesting enough to merit one. I’ve heard a lot of talk about Pacific Rim 2, and while I would not hesistate a second to see that film just to get to see more of Earth as it has been shaped by kaiju attacks, I also don’t think a sequel is necessary.
The positive emphasis on shared humanity in both films came at a good time for me emotionally, as I’ve been dealing with the fallout and expense of repairing the damage to my car after it turned up five days after it was stolen. The fact that the expense is hitting me hard frustrates me too, since it shows how much more tenous my financial situation is than I’d like it to be at this point in my life.
Since fiction in all its forms has always been my favorite coping mechanism to life’s ills I’ve really thrown myself into media this week. In particular, I’ve been watching a lot of Breaking Bad and reading Mark Waid’s Irredeemable, a story of a Superman-like superhero falling and becoming the worst supervillain. Both stories are grim, and the cumulative effect had put me in a rather dark frame of mind.
However, I’ve been working through the car stuff and after a week where I’d had a rough schedule I indulged and saw Pacific Rim. The best way I can summarize it is that I felt a sense of child-like joy watching it, and in a way, it’s helped to renew my optimistic outlook. I wouldn’t call it life changing, but it is a tremendously fun movie.

I’ve heard criticism that the movie is simple-minded. It’s not the deepest film I’ve ever seen, but not everything needs to be deep. It’s fun through-and-through, and that’s all that matters.
The only thought I have now is that I need to find a theater that is still showing the movie in 3D so I can see it again.
A side note, BBC announced just before I saw Pacific Rim that Peter Capaldi will be the new Doctor on Doctor Who. I’m of course excited to see the new Doctor, but Idris Elba, who played Stringer Bell on the Wire and Heimdall in Thor, had been a favorite choice of mine for a new Doctor. Seeing his speech about “cancelling the apocalypse” in Pacific Rim makes me even more disappointed that we won’t be getting to see him in that role (yet).


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I think a lot of why I’m in journalism is because it’s a job where my goal is to take in a lot of information and turn it into a story. I gather information, break it down and try to explain it to other people in simple understandable ways. The process for me is about finding meaning. Often as I interview people or cover events I ask myself “what is the story here?” I’m trying to find my own narrative for events.

One of the reasons that doing this job appeals to me is because I’m a pretty sensitive person and I spend a lot of time trying to understand all the Bad Things in the world on my own. Getting a job where I am trying to tell stories and find meaning has an inherent appeal to me because it’s what I do every time I see Bad Things in the world.

I think this impulse to find meaning is a very human thing. When we see things that horrify us we either have to try to wrap our head around it or ignore it. I’ve never been able to ignore it, which is hard because I’m the kind of person who can break down into tears while reading news stories or looking at photos from whatever tragedy is breaking.

The moment that did it for me with the recent shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. was looking through photos from the Denver Post on Friday. In several of their aerial photos of the exterior of the theater you can see blood spattered all over the exit from the theater. Although the shooting was already a tragedy, this image is what brought it home for me.

Since being unsettled by this image I’ve been devouring news stories about the events. I keep hoping something will tell me why the accused shooter James Holmes would kill and injure these innocent people. I know there is no possible justification for this shooting, but I think it’s easier to sleep at night if you can put these actions in some kind of category. Is Holmes a political radical like Anders Breivik or Jared Lee Loughner? A bitter social outcast like so many of the school shooters since the era of mass killings began in 1999 at Columbine High School?

Maybe on some level I want to put this shooting into a category so I can feel like there is some way to remedy it (even if there isn’t). A part of what has really gotten to me in this shooting is the photo of Holmes that appears with so many photos, which looks to me like a school ID photo. He looks like a nice guy in the photo, the smiling face of a young man who would become a murderer. He looks like the kind of person I’d have been friends with, and he’s my age. The choice of the latest Batman movie indicates he may be a geek, like me.

Frustrated by the stories that I was reading and how little they told me I began to google Holmes to see if I could find some insight into this person. Eventually, I ended up googling the words “why james holmes” hoping that something would tell me more about why this man would choose to do this. I didn’t find any answers, I only found a Slate.com article discussing how little social media told us about Holmes.

After work I went home and watched both “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” as I’d planned to do before going to see the “Dark Knight Rises” on Saturday. Although I’d intended to watch the movies anyway, I think there was something else I was looking for as I watched them: I was hoping to understand why someone could watch these and be inspired to commit violence.

It wasn’t hard to find dark, violent themes in the movies. I’m a fan of the entire Batman franchise, and I must acknowledge that it does have many themes a sick mind could latch onto. From the comic books to video games and movies, Batman’s world is not a nice place. Still, it’s just entertainment and I in no way believe that media alone can make a person violent. For every James Holmes there are many, many decent people who enjoy these movies and are perfectly normal.

As I went into the “Dark Knight Rises” I still was looking for some insight, something that would help me explain why Holmes became a killer.

I didn’t, of course, find any. As I watched the movie I realized it was just that: a movie. No more, no less. In fact, despite it’s violence the movie has strong themes of redemption and hope, and people rising to defeat violence.

Sunday, as I was reading an editorial by James Fallows in the Atlantic, his opening paragraph really struck me. He writes, “Soon after the Aurora murders I argued that the worst part was the shared American knowledge that we’ll go through this cycle again. In some other city, with some other setting, and because of some other specific reason why the (probably male, white, in his 20s) killer went mad — and why no one could have seen this coming (“he kept to himself mainly”) but also why everyone should have seen it coming. We’ll have the “moments of terror” media recreations, the flowers and testimonials, the flags at half-staff — and then nothing. After a little while it will happen again.”

As I read this it occurred to me why I was looking so hard for understanding of this issue: if we understand what causes someone to lose their minds and do something like this, maybe we can prevent it. I’m sure that this impulse is foolish, but I guess looking for answers is my coping mechanism for horror like this.

As I reflect, I think my personal search for meaning is motivated by the knowledge that Fallows is right: we will go through this again. What is nearly as upsetting to me as this incident itself is the knowledge that Americans, as a culture, have accepted that mass killings. We no longer rage over them or even discuss seriously how to prevent them from happening again. I remember when Gabrielle Giffords was shot a conservative pundit complained about how people would try to use the tragedy as evidence for the need for gun control. Although I have very mixed feelings about gun control, I remember thinking that anyone trying to use shootings to argue for gun control would be making a valid argument.

However, in spite of the fears of the Fox News brigade gun control hasn’t taken any steps forward since then. Shootings like this don’t start real conversations about gun control anymore. Gun control is an idea that neither Republicans or Democrats will touch. After Columbine, Colorado enacted new gun laws. While this shooting seems to show that they haven’t stopped mass killings, at least then people were willing to try something.

Now, it seems as a society we’ve accepted that this kind of insane violence is a way of life.

I don’t have any ideas for how we solve this problem. I personally suspect that these shootings are a sign of some deeper problems in our culture: the digital disconnection from the world and the strains of surviving in a harsh economy. I honestly don’t think that we can fix anything with gun control, but at least I appreciate the sentiment of its advocates: that this is a problem that can be fixed. At least that attitude it is better than the apathy and acceptance of the rest of us.

Ultimately, I think trying to understand James Holmes isn’t what I want my narrative to be. The meaning that comes from this must be created by all of us. We, as a people, need to take a good hard look at ourselves and try to understand and then fix our society so that we don’t create any more James Holmes. While he is a symptom he is not the disease. Above all, we need to make sure that we don’t just accept this as a part of our lives.

In a lot of ways, this is what the plot of the Dark Knight Trilogy is: not accepting evil and doing what needs to be done for it to stop.

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Last March, when the River Avenue Line-X store in Eugene had a massive chemical fire trucks from the nearby Santa Clara Volunteer Fire Station were among the first responders.  The size of the blaze would eventually require response from both the Eugene and Springfield fire departments, and fire stations from Goshen to Junction City went to high alert to respond to any calls from the districts whose firefighters were occupied with battling the blaze.

The leaking regulator on this air tank will prevent it from being used in event of a fire.

Situations like this can be particularly hard on volunteer stations, which typically have only a small number of firefighters available at any time.  Aaron Gibbens, a volunteer at the Goshen Fire Station with more than 30 years of experience in the fire service, says that mutual aid calls have gone up recently.  “Last month a neighboring department didn’t have the people to put a rescue rig out for a medical call and we ended up responding two miles outside of our district, as the only response unit.  So that’s kind of scary because in that situation, there went two thirds of our available volunteers.”

Responding to calls outside of their home districts can stretch many volunteer stations thin, as many of them only have a small number of volunteers available at any given time.  Chris Anderson, the training officer for the Santa Clara Volunteer Fire District in North Eugene, says that the current economic climate can limit the ability of the station to find volunteers.  “With the economy people need to work more, so they have less time to volunteer.”

However, despite the budget cuts that many Oregon agencies face in the present economy, most volunteer fire stations in the state have so far managed to avoid drastic reductions in their budget.  However, recent increases in fuel prices and potential cuts to federal fire grants could stretch the stations’ budgets and limit the ability of stations in Oregon and across the country to replace worn-out equipment in the future.

Maintenence of a fire stations equipment is a large part of what keeps firefighters and EMTs effective.

“We don’t get a break because we drive firetrucks,” Gibbens says, “We pay the same price as everyone, so increases like the ones over the past year, it’s like there goes 30% of our budget.”

Fire stations across the country, including many Lane County volunteer stations, rely on federal grants to supplement their stagnant income, and these may be on the chopping blog as Washington scrambles to find ways to reduce the deficit. “A lot of volunteer departments depend on grants for equipment upgrades and personnel training, and as the federal reserves drop with the economy, so do the grants,” says Gibbens.

The Oregon Fire Chief’s Association currently has an open letter from its president Tay Robertson on their website, in which Robertson discusses proposals to cut the Department of Homeland Security’s FIRE and SAFER grant programs by more than half.  In the letter Robertson says “In past budget years, the fire service has managed to escape some of the deeper cuts; however, there is a sense this year may be a far tougher battle.”

Gibbens, who represents the greater Eugene-Springfield area in the Oregon Volunteer Firefighter’s Association, says that decreases in revenue would mean that stations must continue to use equipment that needs to be replaced.  “Typically, what winds up happening is deferred repairs and differed maintenance.  Equipment wears out. Eventually you reach a point where it’s not in the budget to affect the repairs.”

Without replacement and proper maintenance then the equipment that is necessary for firefighting and medical calls may be less effective and firefighters may be hindered in responding to emergency calls.  “Eventually,” Gibbens says, “you end up with equipment that doesn’t have the capability or the reliability to do the job.”

Gibbens also says that the current economic climate has been hard on many volunteer stations, which can limit their ability to train new volunteers.  “If we can’t put the training dollars together to get you that 8-10 weeks training then you don’t go inside that structure, which means you are squirting from the outside, which is only half as effective,” Gibbens says.  Firefighters, even volunteers, need a lot of training to be effective first responders and this usually represents a large investment in time and resources by the station.

Cuts to federal grants could end up harming volunteers the most, who often serve as a way to gain professional experience that can lead to a career in fire service.  People seeking a career can benefit by volunteering to gain experience, training and, at some stations, even a free place to live while in paramedic school.  Volunteers like this benefit the communities they serve because they often have more training and availability to respond to calls than volunteers who have careers outside of the fire service.

This Mohawk Valley Fire Department volunteer is being timed as he suits up in his breathing apparatus.

Jimmy Loverro, a live-in volunteer at the Goshen Station is one such firefighter.  In addition to the shifts that Loverro works for the volunteer station in exchange for lodgings, he has paramedic classes at Lane Community College, an internship with Springfield’s Fire Department and clinical duties at Sacred Heart’s RiverBend Medical Center.  He says that his combined duties take up what feels like “every hour that I’m awake.”  If the Goshen Station didn’t have the resources to keep live-in volunteers then Loverro would have a much harder time completing his training, and he would not be able to respond to as many calls for the volunteer station.

Anderson, of the Santa Clara Fire District in North Eugene, says that volunteers like Loverro are necessary for volunteer stations.  If federal grants are cut and volunteer stations are less able to dedicate the resources to train aspiring professional firefighters, then it may lead to reductions in the numbers of the highly skilled and motivated volunteers for stations in Oregon.

For right now, volunteer fire stations in Oregon are still able to effectively serve their communities, but Gibbens says that if one station develops problems then it can often affect other stations, such as in situations with the Line-X fire, when stations are called in to cover areas outside their own district.  “If I only have twelve guys then I can only count on half being able to show up at any given time, and that’s not enough, which means I end up calling in help from Oak Ridge or South Lane County, to tap into their resources and then their departments are spending dollars and man power to cover our loss.  It cycles out that way.”

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This weekend my sister ran the Newport Marathon, and she ran an amazing race and set a new PR of just over 3:12, a time fast enough to place her in 3rd overall for women.  My family and I were very proud of her amazing performance, something made all the more special by the fact that it was my sister’s birthday.

We decided to pause our party celebrating both events that afternoon to visit the awards ceremony.  The organizers had made some computer error and a few hundred of the slower runners times had not been entered yet, so the organizers went into “killing time mode” for the next hour and a half, instead of just telling everyone to come back later.  They had long impromptu speeches about the history of the race, showed of old race t shirts and raffled off trinkets no one wanted.  Worse, when the results did come in they kept pausing to raffle  off more stuff.

Making people wait around for your organization to get it’s act together in a poorly air conditioned basement on an 80 degree day is not good PR.  What should have been a fun celebration for the runners quickly turned into a grueling punishment for everyone involved.  If any common sense had been used at all, then the organizers would have realized that keeping people happy was more important than keeping everyone in the room.

The ultimate diss of the flubbed awards ceremony came at the end as I was leaving, as I heard more than one runner say they wouldn’t be back next year.

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I love Bill Moyers.  He’s one of my personal heroes, and I regularly watch his show on PBS.  To me he ranks up there with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.  However, I disagreed with his optimistic comments at Whittier College’s graduation.  At one point he says “I’m not sure anyone from my generation has anything to say to your generation except, `We’re sorry.'”

He discusses a variety of problems that he blames on his generation.  Well, Mr. Moyers, from what I’ve seen of my generation we seem to be on course to be the most reckless consumers that the world has ever seen.  People who are not young often give platitudes like this to people who are young.  To me this is passing the ultimate form of passing the buck because when this generation stops being young they’ll look around at the same problems you identify, and they’ll look to the people who are young then to fix it.  This pattern will probably continue as long as human kind exists.

I admire the sentiment of things like these, but my feeling is that we, as a culture, need to stop procrastinating and get a move on our problems today.  But making the changes we need to make is not easy, so I’m going to put money on my generation not getting its act together.  Maybe the next generation will fix all the problems we created.

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In class and online, I’ve heard a lot about mobile media devices and how they can “save” printed media.  While I am as excited as anyone to see the development of the mobile media and it’s potential for profit generation, I am ultimately unconvinced that current business models for selling aps and content will lead anywhere.  Remember that time when the music industry was struggling with declining sales and piracy and that all ended when the iPod and iTunes came out and made it easy to and convenient to download music legally?  In reality, neat new forms for delivering content are not saving the music industry as sales of music in all forms (including digital) have been in a nosedive since 2005.

In my opinion, any content producer who expects for people to pay for content must make selling their product better, easier and, more importantly cheaper, than their alternatives.  In many cases this means that you need to give your product away for almost nothing.  The only company that I can see that is doing this right is Netflix.  People who want to can still download, or even stream, movies and TV shows illegally, but in almost all cases, consuming media legally is easier than stealing it.  Before Netflix, many more people were willing to work around DRM and other protections because the cost of buying and renting DVD’s was so high that going to the hassle of pirating movies was worth it.  Netflix’s offer of unlimited streaming content on a variety of devices in the home and on mobile devices for just $8 a month changed the equation.  At that price, many more consumers became willing to pay for content because the hassle of pirating was a bigger cost to them than a measly eight bucks a month.

Now, all of you content providers out there are starting to salivate.  Wipe the drool of your chin because here’s the hitch: your content (all  of it) is worth no where near $8 a month.  Netflix can charge $8 a month because they have hundreds of thousands of hours of entertainment for people.  If publishers today want to do the volume of business that has allowed Netflix to become profitable, then they need to drastically lower their expectations about what they can charge for their products.  I think the New York Times could probably make a profit by selling digital subscriptions at about $2 a month.  If iTunes dropped the price of an MP3 to 10 cents then the equation for consumers would change, just as it has in the movie industry.  Profits on each sale are significantly lower but they can make it up with volume.

People today consume a phenomenal amount of content online, but no one has yet figured out how to make much money at it.  The cause, in my opinion, is that publishers are too stuck in the pricing structure that made them a lot of money in the print era.  This is not fully unjustified, papers and magazines have managed to survive with their dwindling subscribers and they don’t want to cannibalize their traditional  profit areas.  If a major newspaper like the New York Times would charge just a penny for an article view, then their are probably a lot of people who wouldn’t mind paying.  The numbers would add up over time, without people even realizing what they were paying.  Those pennies would add up pretty fast.

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On Friday, the University of Oregon’s journalism school hosted an event in it’s 2011 Hulteng Conversations series on campus in Eugene.  The panelists were eloquent and passionate as they spoke about ethics in journalism and the changes that new media will bring about.  Stephen Colbert’s term “truthiness” served as a frame for the demise of “objective” journalism.  Overall, I agreed with the panelists’ well reasoned support for a move away from journalism’s failed attempt to be objective.

However, in my opinion, the panelists fell short of really hitting the essence of why people like Stephen Colbert and John Stewart have captured the attention of my generation.  I’m part of a generation that doesn’t really remember a time before Fox News.  For us, journalism has never looked objective.   We’ve watched “journalists” kill the truth and defecate on its corpse.  Colbert and Stewart are heroes to people my age because they fight back, and don’t make pretenses at objectivity.  Waging an ideological battle against the likes of Fox isn’t easy, and a lot of times it feels like journalists hide behind objectivity as an excuse to never take a stand that parts of their audience might disagree with.  Objectivity often seems like it’s a ideological backing to be so milquetoast that news outlets can appeal to the maximum number of listeners, and in reality, trying to please everyone has led to news outlets pleasing no one.

Colbert and Stewart didn’t get to their level of status by having panel discussions about changing ethical frameworks.  The objective model has seen it’s day and Colbert and Stewart recognized that, but they are using the voices they have to mix it up, instead of fighting fire with bland.  I’m as big a fan of academia as anyone,  and I enjoyed the speakers, but I feel like academia’s reasoned analyses often lag way behind reality.  A rational discussion of changes to media ethics is all well and good, but I think a lot of the younger people in the room had already accepted that times had changed, and wanted to hear more about how we can move forward from here.

But maybe that’s just my own biased and non-objective opinion.

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