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September 28, 2009 02:44 PM

Here's a gory example of what can happen with texting while driving:

Wow. Who could be so irresponsible, so unsafe, such a danger to society?

Police, including Eugene police, have had full-sized in car computers conveniently tilted to driving officers for years. Catching cops who type while driving would be easy with GPS or other cheap technology, but then police would have to police police. Eugene police keep accidents involving officers secret.

Even more scary—given their huge, too often explosive loads and long stopping distances—are texting truckers . Texting truckers are 10 to 23 times more likely to crash studies have shown, but the powerful lobbying group is having success opposing proposed anti-texting rules that would apply to them.

September 24, 2009 03:37 PM

So I'm still recovering. STILL. Sleep schedule thrown off. Ears hearing things funny. And Friday? Friday is to blame for a lot of this.

(Thursday went like this.)

Friday was another late start; I feel like I just saw The Arctic Monkeys at the McDonald, so I skipped their Wonder Ballroom set, even though skipping all the Wonder Ballroom shows made me feel like I wasn't entirely really at MFNW; a lot of those sets were highlights of last year, particularly Les Savy Fav, a band I would really have liked to see again this year.

But at 9 pm we planted ourselves, not for the last time, at Berbati's Pan, where Say Hi were already playing when we arrived. "I don't know any of these songs!" my companion said. I recognized a few, kinda sorta — at least "Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh," for sure — but for the most part the live Say Hi experience is very different from the record; live, the band is a three-piece, playing stripped-down and adjusted versions of Eric Elbogen's one-man-band compositions. You might think more people wouldn't make for simpler versions of the songs, but in this case, they did.

Since this was a Barsuk showcase — something I didn't realize until a friend mentioned it in a text message; clearly my powers of observation were at full force — Say Hi was followed by another Seattle act, Rocky Votolato, who I describe as an "act" partly because while he was playing alone in Portland, I'm reasonably certain that last time I saw him, Votolato was playing with a full band. It was a homecoming show in Seattle in April 2007, and it was the reason I went back and gave a few more listens to Makers — which I'd liked, but not entirely fallen for; I sometimes think Votolato's singer-songwritery tunes are bare and gorgeous and catchy, and sometimes think they don't quite stretch as far or stand out as well as they could — and finally picked up a copy of Suicide Medicine. The show came at the end of tour; on "Suicide Medicine," Votolato sounded like his voice might go out at any moment. And that, according to this recording, that was only the seventh song of the night.

This show was a bit mellower, but no less charming, despite my inability to shake the feeling that, with his slicked-down, longish-in-back hair, Votolato looked like an untrustworthy drifter in a certain kind of dated road movie. But he played a good mix of songs, a cover or two, and both the songs I so wanted to hear.

And some jackass behind me talked the entire way though "Suicide Medicine." Hence, the title of this post: DUDE, SHUT UP. I know there are a lot of bands at MFNW, and that you won't care about every one. I know that I, too, talk to my friends during bands I'm not into. But when there's one dude on stage? And he's not playing very loudly? Get the hell away from the people who are clearly standing near the stage because they want to see this guy.

Thus ends your extremely cranky public service announcement for Friday.

Keep reading: Sunny Day Real Estate and The Thermals are up next!

Votolato didn't play a particularly long set, so I convinced my companion that we ought to trek up to the Crystal Ballroom to see if Sunny Day Real Estate was still playing. Which they were. The first person I noticed when I got to the main floor of the Crystal was a clean-cut teenager who looked a touch out of place; the next was a frantically flailing/dancing guy in a tie-dyed T-shirt who was clearly having the time of my life.

A confession: I've liked Sunny Day Real Estate since Diary came out in 1994 (good lord, really?), but I've not listened to them all that often. "Guitar and Video Games," from 1998's How It Feels to Be Something On (which came after the band broke up the first time) is on a mix CD I have, and I love that song, despite its not-too-distant relationship to prog rock; I love the builds and breaks and sense of muted desperation that soaks Jeremy Enigk's voice. I remember seeing the video for "Seven" on 120 Minutes way back when and, if this isn't selective memory rewriting things, being somewhat captivated. It didn't sound like anything else I was listening to, which was probably a lot of Blur and Juliana Hatfield and Weezer. It was far denser, musically; it stopped and started and had an angular quality that I hadn't yet learned to appreciate. (Jawbox and a certain admiration, if not adoration, for Fugazi came later.)

But I had to look up the name of the song, at this late date. SDRE just doesn't have quite the power over me that they once did, despite all the associated memories. That said, there was something powerful about the few songs of their set that we caught. I didn't recognize most of them — clearly it's time to revisit Diary — but I was delighted that when we stuck around for the encore, we got "In Circles." I couldn't keep the smile off my face.

My companion was far less impressed. I spent the walk to our final destination trying, tiredly, to explain why SDRE mattered; why they seemed so different when they appeare; why it is actually indie rock and/or emo, but emo in the way I think of it (which is to say a musical genre born of hardcore and punk and indie, traced back to the likes of Rites of Spring and epitomized, whether they like it or not, by bands like Jimmy Eat World and The Get Up Kids — not just a fashion statement for glossy rock bands); why it wasn't their fault if certain other bands took that sound and made crap out of it. (Isn't that what always happens?) I didn't win him over, but I've got people working on it.

Our last stop of the night was a sort of official afterparty thing at which The Thermals were playing. This, I didn't know was happening until I picked up my MFNW passes; this kind of made my weekend.

I just had to wait until 1:30 in the morning for that to happen. The show was at BodyVox, a big, semi-industrial dance space painted all white, with largely concrete floors and with what I assume was the main dance floor carefully covered with some sort of tarp so we couldn't fuck it up. Doors for this event opened at midnight, and there was no indication as to when the band would go on. We ate sandwiches and partook of the various open-bar options that would help us stay awake: vodka and Red Bull at one bar, espresso shots at another. And we people-watched (at one point I became convinced there was some sort of Nike involvement in the event — maybe a room to which unsuspecting music fans were swept away to have their shoes stolen and replaced — because there's just no reason for that many people to be wearing ugly retro sneakers like that).

And finally, finally, the band went on. Tiredness was no longer an issue.

Once, I saw The Thermals at the WOW Hall, and while they didn't draw a large crowd, they drew a great crowd: We congregated close to the stage and bounced, giddily, with smiles on our face. This was like that — or at least it was up in the front. I didn't bother looking behind me, because the band was too good to allow for distractions. The Portland trio played everything I could possibly have wanted to hear — selections from every album, including "Test Pattern" and "No Culture Icons," two of my absolute favorites of their precision-crafted, buoyant, intense, smart, poetic rock songs — and they were, well, fantastic.

This had at least a little bit to do with the fact that I'm not sure anyone there was having more fun than the drummer.

The Thermals have had a few drummers. The current fellow is Westin Glass, who a) sounds like either a hotel chain or a really fascinating literary hero and b) looked downright giddy when he was playing, when he wasn't playing and when he took a drum-free intro as an excuse to run through the crowd, high-fiving people. It was charming. And he's a durn good drummer, too, which, y'know, helps.

So that was a highlight, if a highlight that knocked me out for much of Saturday. If you are not yet a Thermals fan, I cannot recommend them enough, live or otherwise.

Coming soon: Saturday! In which I fall in love with The Brunettes and indulge my nostalgic side with The Get Up Kids!

September 18, 2009 04:38 PM

You know what's hard to come by during Musicfest NW? Time. Time to do anything like, say, blog. There's plenty of time to stand around impatiently as the band before your favorite band seems to play forever and you're stuck sweating and trying to sip a beer slowly, but when Frightened Rabbit goes on at 12:30 in the morning (in theory) and you, as a result, sleep in so late you almost miss lunch, well, shit, my friends, you run out of time.

What isn't hard to come by in this town is a surprisingly high number of people who look vaguely familiar. I got a familiarity nod from at least two random dudes last night; I think I smiled at someone I didn't actually know at least once or twice. Everyone looks like someone else. Except this one really tall guy at the Frightened Rabbit show. He was his own man.

Thursday, in brief:

• I skipped The Helio Sequence in part because I was bitter that James Mercer was no longer the opening act; Dr. Dog was. I got enough Dr. Dog at Pickathon, thanks; that's just not my cup of tea. I do slightly regret this decision.

• Tu Fawning: Portiscarnival. (Look, "Portishead" already seems like a really random line of syllables, and thus I think Portiscarnival is perfectly reasonable as a description.) This is not in any way meant as an insult. There are catchy slivers jabbed into the Tu Fawning sound, but mostly it's too arty for that, too disconcerting and strange and occasionally really pretty. And fascinating. The festival writeup desribed Tu Fawning as "Never boring, and at moments inspired," which sounds a bit like a backhanded compliment, but I don't think it is. The band's music isn't the sort of thing you get attached to, but a thing you experience; it elicits a response more intellectual than emotional, except when it suddenly pings a heartstring or two.

• We Were Promised Jetpacks: Young, slightly burly Scotsmen with energy to spare. Like seemingly every Scottish band, they have a song about keeping warm (this one's called "Keeping Warm," and there's a Frightened Rabbit song called "Keep Yourself Warm," and I swear there's also an Idlewild song on the topic). WWPJ's fairly conventional guitar-centric indie rock felt like the kind of thing you need to know before you see them, so that you're bringing your own memories and associations to the songs, of what they call to mind when you're listening to them at home alone in the dark or barreling down the freeway on the way home from a show. But even as a first listen, they were promising. And charming, too. Darn Scots.

(I did not see Girl Talk at the Roseland because I saw Girl Talk on Wednesday at the McDonald, and I do not think I've recovered yet. But it was a delightful sweaty, sticky mess of Bananarama! Metallica! Mary J. Blige! Journey! Cyndi Lauper! Kelly Clarkson! Eight thousand other songs you barely have time to recognize! Girls with glowsticks and dudes with headbands! Don't like this tune? Wait 30 seconds; it'll change. And then change again.)

• The Twilight Sad proved that not all Scottish bands are unbelievable charming. The band plays reasonable, dense, heavily Joy Division-influenced rock, light on dynamics and high on repetition, but as a live act they lacked stage presence. They also overran their time, and when you're waiting to see a band that goes on after midnight, you sometimes run out of patience. I was getting there.

• Frightened Rabbit: This is the third time I've seen Frightened Rabbit in Portland, and it made me a touch nostalgic for those earlier, less crowded Holocene shows. The trouble with seeing a favorite band in a festival setting is that you have to share them with people who don't really care, who are just there because they read an interesting description in the program or who came with a friend (of course, you also wind up being that person at another show or several). It changes the audience dynamic in peculiar ways. This crowd seemed to like the Rabbit well enough — and they were certainly just as good as they have been, even without singer Scott Hutchison's solo acoustic version of "Poke," which hushed everyone in Holocene last November — but the show lacked the charged atmosphere their shows have had before.

But to be fair, the band's been touring on Midnight Organ Fight for ages, and Hutchison mentioned from the stage that they've finished (I believe) their follow-up. If they seemed a tiny bit less invested in the old songs, the ones they've been playing for ages and ages now — if Hutchison was rarely sticking to the recorded vocal melodies, instead dancing around them, mixing things up — it's understandable. The show was sort of a tease, I think: Two new songs and a sense of impatience. More, now, please.

Tonight: A vicious lineup pits The Jealous Sound and Sunny Day Real Estate at the Crystal Ballroom against Say Hi and Rocky Votolato at Berbati's Pan. I think Rocky's gonna win this fight, at least where I'm concerned, but so long as I make it to the "official afterparty" with The Thermals, I'll be more than happy.

PS: The Portland Mercury's End Hits blog's Twitter feed (technology, you're making me use too many words) speaks truth about Frightened Rabbit: "The only thing that could make this Frightened Rabbit show better is if people danced on the Dante's catwalks. Like an emo sinferno."

September 17, 2009 04:05 PM

Is the state freedom of information law free?

No, the Oregon Attorney General's office charges $25 a pop for the public's document and has refused to put a free download online.

UO Economics Professor Bill Harbaugh—a longtime critic of UO athletic and administrative spending and affirmative action—didn't like that. So he scanned the whole AG manual on the law and put it on his blog.

Harbaugh says the AG office claimed it, not the public, owned the public document on how to get public documents.

So will the AG go after Harbaugh for alleged copyright infringement? The professor doubts it. And the records may be virtually out of the AG's barn. Harbaugh says hundreds have downloaded the document and several sites have now also posted it (here's one mirror.)

Harbaugh's action has called big attention to the failure of Oregon's public records law to actually deliver public records. The public record liberation drew hundreds of outraged comments on the widely read slashdot.org. The Oregonian also blogged the freedom of infromation action.

Journalists and other reformers have been trying to push new Oregon Attorney General John Kroger to follow up on campaign promises and address long delays, exorbitant charges and legal maneuvering that bureaucrats have for decades used to keep the public in the dark. So far Kroger hasn't acted.

Locally, the city of Eugene has a long history of blocking freedom of information with outrageous fees. In a digital age when video, audio, images and text are searchable in a blink and whisk over the internet in seconds, the city still charges $10 for a two page police report and $10 for a one minute recording of a 911 call. The city even wants the public to pay inflated wages for city employee or private attorney time spent trying to hide public records or make them harder to get. Of course, the city will ream citizens with all the PR spin they can bear for free.

The city of Eugene charges appear to violate state law requiring governments only charge their actual cost of providing records, but the attorney general doesn't enforce the law.

At the county level, the Lane Council of Governments shadow government used taxpayer money to create an extensive mapable database (RLID) of home values, sales, taxes, liens, deeds, demographic, zoning and other data. But if taxpayers want access to the public records, they have to pay $200 plus $1,080 a year for a subscription to the public information they ostensibly already own.

As founding father James Madison wrote:

"A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both."

As Harbaugh pointed out, Oregon's freedom of information law is a farce.

September 14, 2009 04:43 PM

Literary Arts has announced the finalists for the 2009 Oregon Book Awards, and five of them are particularly local: Miriam Gershow, Debra Gwartney, Bonnie Henderson, Barbara Pope and Leslie What are all among the finalists for this year's awards. (Perennial finalist Deborah Hopkinson of Corvallis has already won; her book is the only contender in the children's category.)

I've read three of the fiction finalists and ... well, that's a tough field the judge has to choose from. To see the complete list (with links to EW reviews of several titles), click here.

2009 Oregon Book Awards Finalists
Miriam Gershow of Eugene, The Local News
Gina Ochsner of Keizer, The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight
Barbara Pope of Eugene, Cezanne’s Quarry
Jon Raymond of Portland, Livability: Stories
Leslie What of Eugene, Crazy Love: Stories

Alicia Cohen of Portland, Debts and Obligations
Matthew Dickman of Portland, All-American Poem
Endi Bogue Hartigan of Portland, One Sun Storm
Andrew Michael Roberts of Portland, something has to happen next
Crystal Williams of Portland, Troubled Tongues

Tracy Daugherty of Corvallis, Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme
Bonnie Henderson of Eugene, Strand: An Odyssey of Pacific Ocean Debris
John Laursen of Portland, Wild Beauty
Donna Matrazzo of Portland, Wild Things: Adventures of a Grassroots Environmentalist
Jeffrey St. Clair of Oregon City, T Born Under a Bad Sky: Notes from the Dark Side of the Earth

Bibi Gaston of The Dalles, The Loveliest Woman in America: A Tragic Actress, Her Lost Diaries, and Her Granddaughter’s Search for Home
Debra Gwartney of Finn Rock, Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love
John Kroger of Salem, Convictions: A Prosecutor’s Battles Against Mafia Killers, Drug Kingpins, and Enron Thieves
Floyd Skloot of Portland, The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer’s Life

Deborah Hopkinson of Corvallis, Keep On! The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-discoverer of the North Pole

Carmen Bernier-Grand of Portland, Diego: Bigger Than Life
David Greenberg of Portland, A Tugging String
Graham Salisbury of Lake Oswego, Calvin Coconut, Trouble Magnet
Roland Smith of Wilsonville, I.Q. Book One: Independence Hall
Virginia Euwer Wolff of Oregon City, This Full House

Special Awards
Matt Love of Newport

The Dove Lewis Animal Assisted Therapy Program: Read to the Dogs Program of Portland

September 9, 2009 11:25 AM

Two UO students have won prizes in a short video contest for college students.

Rebecca Purice won a $3,000 first prize for a video about the First Place Family Center in Eugene and a homeless single dad. Here's the video:

Lorie Anne Acio of the UO won third for a video about a Special Olympics coach and also an honorable mention for another film about a ministry for homeless kids.

The Christophers is a non-profit that "uses the mass media to encourage individuals to use their God-given abilities to change the world for the better."

September 5, 2009 10:48 PM

Here's a slideshow of the Eugene Celebration parade:

September 4, 2009 09:49 AM

If you missed the Duck game, here's the highlight (or lowlight):

September 4, 2009 12:05 AM

Looks like former Mayor Jim Torrey did a commercial on KVAL:

Maybe progressives were right that he was deaf to their concerns. It could be worse. Here's a commercial by another has been Republican:

September 4, 2009 06:04 PM

While Portland and other cities are putting forward innovative bike and transit friendly transportation projects for a $1.5-billion pot of flexible, green-oriented federal stimulus funds, Eugene only wants yet more roads.

Portland's Metro planning agency selected $76 million in active, bike, walking and transit projects to apply for federal TIGER funding, according to the bikeportland.org blog.

One $38-million project would saturate the city with bike lanes and separated trails to serve as a national model of green transportation to fight global warming and increase livability. Here's a draft map:

Another $17 million grant application would build a bike trail from Portland to the foothills of Mt. Hood, allowing city-dwellers non-motorized access to the scenic area. The rest of the money would fund improved pedestrian and bike access to light rail stations.

Other cities have also put together innovative green transportation proposals for the rare pot of non-freeway centered federal transportation money. For example, Kansas City wants a trolley and Washington, D.C. a bike sharing program.

But in Eugene/Springfield the focus is on more road construction, according to a memo from the local LCOG planning agency. The city of Eugene wants to reconstruct Highway 99 with another turn lane at Roosevelt and added driveways and resurface 5th Avenue and add a roundabout to accommodate industrial truck traffic in west Eugene. Springfield wants to widen Franklin into a boulevard concept that will include EmX transit lanes but not lined bike lanes.

Portland Metro spent the summer soliciting ideas in a public process to come up with its green list. But LCOG's dirtier, non-innovative transportation stimulus ideas apparently came solely from secret meetings within the undemocratic agency's unelected bureaucracy.

Long dreamed local green transportation projects that didn't make LCOG's dirty list include:

  • A river bike path and bridge all the way to Mt. Pisgah.
  • A trolley down Willamette Street.
  • Bike lanes, wide sidewalks, trees and pedestrian crossings on south Willamette Street.
  • Extending the riverfront bike path through Glenwood.
  • A bike bridge over Beltline to Chad Drive.
  • A separated cycletrack (bike path) down High Street connecting the Amazon trail to the riverfront trail.
  • A dramatic expansion of Eugene's bike lane system.
  • Funding to accelerate the buildout of the EmX system into west and north Eugene.
September 4, 2009 01:19 AM

The city of Eugene is planning to spend $16 million to move its police to a new headquarters across the river from most crime.

Here's a map from a website the police department uses to map their crime data. The map shows violent crimes since March. The blue arrow depicts where the police headquarters is now (red dot) and where City Manager Jon Ruiz is planning to move it.

August 28, 2009 02:40 PM

Pete Kerns (left) Roger Magaña (right)

Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz named department veteran Pete Kerns as Eugene's police chief.

At a 1:30 pm press conference Ruiz called Kerns "a person of strong integrity."

But Kerns allegedly failed to act on a complaint that a fellow officer was sexually abusing women in the worst scandal in Eugene police history. Roger Magaña was sentenced to 94 years in prison in 2004 for using his police power to rape, sexually abuse, assault and/or harass a dozen women over six years as a Eugene police officer. At Magaña’s criminal trial, one of his victims alleged under oath that she told Kerns and two other EPD officers about the sex abuse, but Kerns and the other officers did nothing.

Asked about the testimony, Kerns stepped away from the microphone and stood behind Ruiz. Ruiz said that they would not answer the question. “We’re trying to move forward.”

After the press conference, Kerns said, “I’m not going to answer the question.”

The city of Eugene drew harsh criticism for failing to investigate or discipline fellow officers for failing to act to stop Magaña’s rape crime wave despite years of complaints. The city paid $5 million to settle victim’s lawsuits.

Kerns praised his fellow Eugene police officers as “some of the finest people I’ve known.”

August 27, 2009 05:02 PM

What's that saying? Oh, right: Better late than never. Listen, I've been thinking about this series' ending for a month. Solid. OK, not solid. But a lot. It's a triumph of bleakness, and that's kind of putting it lightly. Shall we talk about it, fellow BBC-watchers?

(Previously, on EW! A Blog: Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four)

Here there be spoilers. Almost nothing but spoilers, really.

Four Things About Day Five *

One. Gwen's videotaped speech.

Gwen opens the episode with a speech that gives me goosebumps. She's so heartbroken, so horrified, so hopeless — and, from where she's sitting, so right: This is the end. The scene is out of the timeline, and serves to heighten tension: Where is she? Who's she talking to? How bad is it, really? To find her hiding in a shed with a group of children, making Rhys cry as she talks, brings the grief right home.

Two. John Frobisher.

If Gwen sounded hopeless, poor Frobisher — played by the magnificent Peter Capaldi — really was. After all the careful walking of various lines he does, he's rewarded with the awful fate of being the token governmental sacrifice: His kids will be given to the 456. And he gives up completely. He doesn't have the luxury of knowing, like those of us watching do, that Torchwood will, somehow, come through in the end; he watched Jack turn out to be utterly useless against the alien in the box; he watched Ianto and all the other people in Thames House die. He was there (wasn't he?) when Jack told Gwen it was over. They lost. They could do nothing but make it worse. (Which wasn't exactly true; a forewarned populace would've had a chance to fight back. But Ianto's death cracked Jack too hard, and he couldn't see it, nor could he be convinced. Even Gwen had lost that fighting-for-humanity spirit she initially brought to the team. Things were just too bleak.)

Three. The triumph of the personal assistants.

From prison, Lois gives Bridget — Bridget who knows what she's doing for her boss when he asks her to requisition a gun, and does it anyway, loyal to the horrible end — the tools to, well, to clean up some of the mess when it's all over, for lack of a better way to put it. It's an interesting thing that happens: Does Lois offer Bridget the contacts? Does Bridget ask? Are they hoping that Torchwood will pull through, or planning for the bleak future in which the children have been taken, but the horrible people in power still need taking down? I think the answer is in Bridget's speech: She believed that Frobisher, regardless of his weaknesses, was at heart a good man, and she feels that those who would doom this good man to such a terrible fate need to be removed from power. And so she takes a certain power into her own hands. It's a fantastic shift for a character who, early on, seemed strict and rulebound, cautious and submissive.

Four. Oh, Jack.

If there's one thing Day Five does better than anything else — well, excepting for how it just gets bleaker and bleaker — it's the way it makes things all about Jack. Gwen gets sidelined; though it seems important for her to help Ianto's family, in the end, it didn't really matter. (I find this really frustrating, but I really like Gwen; much of the internet appears to disagree.) Everything in Day Five is horrible: Frobisher's final decision; the government's willingness to do what they opt to do with the "useless" children; the truth of what the 456 do with the kids (they're just drugs!); and the decision Jack has to make to save the world.

In at least one case, I've seen someone say that Jack's decision to sacrifice his grandson in order to defeat the alien threat makes him evil. And while it might sound a little callous, I couldn't agree less. I've also seen a lot of argument that the reasoning behind Ianto's death is that it breaks Jack's spirit to the point where he can make the choice to use Stephen as his only weapon against the 456. I don't think I can quite get behind that, either, though I do think it's a factor.

The thing about Jack is, he's immortal. He's a fixed point in time and space. And I suspect that a life that long would most likely involve learning some deeply uncomfortable truths about humanity, brevity and realism (though the Doctor on Doctor Who seems to have taken a different view of things). From his perspective, humans, ordinary ones, live tiny little lives — not in scale but in length, in duration. This is pretty clear in his conversation with Ianto earlier in Children of Earth, and it's something Ianto accepts when he goes to Thames House with Jack. But as much as Jack can be aware that he's going to outlive everyone he loves, the way it actually goes down can never be pleasant.

And so Jack is Jack, guarded, secretive, a little distant, a little cruel when he has to be, when the fate of the world is at stake. This is clear when he gives the child to the fairies in season one: Practically speaking, if one could disengage one's heart from the scenario entirely, it's the safer thing to do, the thing that makes the most sense for the most people.

Practically speaking, if one could get utter distance from it, sacrificing Stephen so that millions of other children can live is the thing that makes the most sense to save the most people.

But it's horrible. And that's why Children of Earth is so good: It doesn't shy away from the truly horrible, and from the idea that sometimes horrible things might be necessary. It even wraps in the fact that doing these horrible, necessary things will be utterly damaging to the people who do them. Jack, besides being guarded and pragmatic, is a lover and a fierce friend, a father and a certain kind of romantic. He's always at odds with himself, and he's the leader; he has to combine those aspects of his personality into one force to lead Torchwood. What he has to do to save the world at the end of Day Five is likely to push those pieces apart, to make him wrap the caring part of himself in wool and stuff it in the attic. When he can't look at Gwen — even before the horrible fate of Stephen — it's because she's been, since day one, the conscience, the part of Torchwood that remembers the individuals in each case, each strange phenomenon. He looks at her, and he sees those kids.

But back to the question of evil, and the end. What makes it so fascinating, to my mind, is that it's so contrary to what so many stories — possibly especially science fiction and fantasy stories, the ones in which the best and worst of humanity are extended to dramatic lengths — tell us. So often, the right end is brought about because someone makes the noble decision, the decision made out of immediate, personal love, out of faith in one's friends; the heroes make the "right" decision, the one that's incredibly difficult and puts the world in jeopardy! — except it always works out in the end. Buffy isn't willing to trade Willow for the box full of the Mayor's nasty spiders, but they defeat the giant snake anyway. Luke makes the personal choice, the obstinate choice to think of his friends first, but the Death Star still gets blown up.

Jack makes the awful choice. The one that hurts him, personally; the one that pushes him away from his only family. He makes the ugly choice, the brutal choice, the inevitable choice, and the only choice that would really save the world. Things don't always work out for the best. Ianto's death was proof of that. Choosing out of love isn't going to keep the universe out of danger every time. (Harry Potter this is not.) This is the truly bleak part of Children of Earth: The nasty, awful honesty of Jack's "choice": He didn't actually have one. And it's possible only Jack could have faced that situation and known he didn't really have any other option; this is where the horrible truths of being immortal come into play. If the lives of ordinary humans are so short, is it less terrible, in the mind of the immortal, when one dies? And is it more terrible when that one is your own flesh and blood, and you'll carry the memory of killing him forever? (Would it be less awful for anyone but Jack and Alice if they'd somehow found another child? Would it be "better," somehow? Less evil, to those who think it was evil?)

And as for the theory that Ianto had to die so that Jack would be capable of using Stephen as a tool rather than a child, honestly, I think the opposite might be true. It would've been worse were Ianto there to see Jack's decision. It would be worse for Jack, to have to kill his grandchild, lose his daughter and have Ianto look at him with horror. It wouldn't be worse for Ianto, obviously, to have his illusions about Jack's capabilities destroyed; one assumes that would be preferable to death. But it would make the final scenes even more heartbreaking. As it is, Jack saves the world and damns himself. There's no hero's ending for the man who's a hero to millions.

Bravo, Torchwood. Sure, the series is imperfect — the storytelling stammers a bit, dragging in Day Four and rushing in Day Five, among other problems — but Children of Earth is a grand achievement.

* I'm totally going to think of a fifth thing after I post this. It's practically inevitable.

August 27, 2009 03:57 PM

The 12-lane freeway bridge urban sprawl proponents are pushing in Portland isn't in Eugene, but the $4-billion project threatens to suck all the transportation funding out of the entire state and local Congressman Peter DeFazio could play a key role in killing it.

Columbia River Crossing (CRC) opponents have produced a series of clear, quick videos on the freeway project. Here's an overview:

Columbia River Crossing : Introduction from Nick Falbo on Vimeo.

Here's an explanation of how the $4-billion expenditure will just create more sprawl, traffic, unlivable neighborhoods and global warming pollution:

Columbia River Crossing : Induced Demand from Nick Falbo on Vimeo.

Here's a look at greener, cheaper alternatives:

Columbia River Crossing : Alternatives from Nick Falbo on Vimeo.

So how does DeFazio fit in to all this? DeFazio chairs a powerful House transportation subcommittee that may be key to funding the huge freeway bridge. A careful politician, DeFazio hasn't explicitly opposed a project that the state's powerful development and construction industries (and their unions) are backing. But DeFazio told Willamette Week this spring:

"I have said from Day One, they should think small. And they have been thinking really big and really expensive. And I am not sure how that project moves forward and how they will fund it. I have raised concerns throughout the process—keep the price down. You can't solve all your problems with one project."

The folks in Portland have less pull with DeFazio than his constituents here who can tell their representative what they think online.