Your Weekend Reader for April 16-17

by | Apr 16, 2022 | Miscellaneous, Weekend Reader | 0 comments

Weather forecasters say to expect overcast skies through the weekend (actually, throughout most of next week), so I thought I could be helpful by offering an unusually packed edition of Your Weekend Reader. This edition covers topics ranging from the emergence of a former Oregon State player as Major League Baseball’s newest star to the continuing collapse of American democracy — but we take detours to examine a bit of good news about climate change, the state’s pending psilocybin-therapy program and an enduring (but, alas, untrue) myth about starlings. Read on:

The campaign for Oregon governor is arguably the most compelling state political race in decades, and this week brought new developments, with primary elections now about a month away. Here’s the rundown:

Seven of the 19 (!) GOP candidates appeared in March at a private Republican forum in Baker City. According to a video of the forum, all seven candidates defended the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol. One of the participants, Reed Christensen, was at the Capitol on that day — and now faces criminal charges in connection with the event. Christensen drew applause from attendees at the forum, the Oregon Capital Chronicle reports.

A pair of polls about the governor’s race were released last week. On the Democratic side, one of the polls showed Tina Kotek with a lead over Tobias Read — but with most Democratic voters still undecided. (Read’s campaign paid for the poll.) As for the Republican race, Former GOP gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce has the lead — but with just under 11% support, a sign of how divided that 19-candidate field is: The winning candidate presumably could claim the nomination with a quarter or so of the vote. Legislator Christine Drazan came in second, with about 8% support.

And, finally, here’s a story from New York magazine about a former candidate: Journalist Nicholas Kristof, whose candidacy got off to a splashy start and then sputtered to an end after Secretary of State Shemia Fagan ruled that Kristof, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, did not meet the state’s residency requirement for gubernatorial candidates. The state Supreme Court agreed, and Kristof’s campaign was over after 114 days.

Ever wondered why Starbucks and other big coffee places have yet to embrace reusable cups? I have, too. Starbucks, for the record, says it’s thinking about it — and this New York Times story, which focuses on the rise, COVID-related fall and resurgence of an Australian company that makes reusable cups, demonstrates some of the promise and the peril involved.

There actually is a bit of good news about climate change to report this week: An alliance of big tech companies announced plans to invest $925 million in carbon removal over the next eight years. Robinson Meyer, who covers climate change for The Atlantic, explained in his “Weekly Planet” newsletter why this is a big deal — but still is far less than needed in terms of removing carbon.

That’s enough from the optimism desk. Here, also from The Atlantic, is a long (long) piece by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who explains (at considerable length) about why the last 10 years of American life have been “uniquely stupid.” It’s a trend that suggests real risk for American democracy, Haidt argues, and the prospects for smarter times aren’t good. Still, he suggests some relatively simple reforms that might, at least, slow the downward spiral.

Remember the fuss we made back in September about the U.S. Supreme Court’s increasing use of the so-called “shadow docket” — cases decided by unsigned, unexplained opinions? That came in the wake of the court’s 5-4 (unsigned, unexplained) decision to allow that Texas abortion law to stand. The shadow docket rose up again in a recent ruling involving the Clean Waters Act. If you’re just tuning into why the court’s increasing use of the shadow docket is troubling, here’s a good piece from The New York Times by University of Texas law professor Stephen I. Vladeck. Vladeck also makes the case that the new power brokers on the court are Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Speaking of abortion, if you’re watching states like Idaho and Oklahoma enacting ever-more-stringent laws prohibiting abortion and thinking, well, those laws won’t affect Oregon, Mark Joseph Stern of Slate invites you to think again. Stern outlines how abortion foes in red states are hoping to stop blue states from facilitating abortion. Every day, it seems, we’re closer to understanding how “The Handmaid’s Tale” is not fiction, but a documentary from the (increasingly near) future.

Would you be interested in a professionally monitored therapy session involving psilocybin? I have to say, I’m curious, especially after reading Michael Pollan’s book “How to Change Your Mind.” Oregon, as you know, is the first state working to develop a psilocybin treatment program, and a recent study suggested that I’m not alone in my curiosity — thousands of Oregonians have expressed interest in a therapy session with the hallucinogen. Pollan’s book explored some of the groundbreaking research into hallucinogens that occurred in the 1950s and 1970s, but a new study led by Jessie Uehling, an Oregon State University assistant professor of fungal biology, digs a little deeper to document centuries of psilocybin use among shamans and guides who treated people for ailments ranging from anxiety and rheumatism to toothaches and stomach pain. Lynne Terry of the Oregon Capital Chronicle had the story. You may recall that a voter-approved initiative cleared the way for the psilocybin treatment program, and called for it to be in place by the end of the year; Uehling told Terry that the deadline is tight, but that the state Psilocybin Advisory Council is on track.

Meanwhile, another voter-approved measure involving drugs — Measure 110, which sought to transform the state’s approach to addiction — has devolved into what one observer calls “total chaos.” The new law reduced misdemeanor possession of drugs to a violation, on par with a traffic offense. The idea is to steer addicts into treatment rather than jails or the court system. But two years after voters OK’d the initiative, as Noelle Crombie of The Oregonian/OregonLive reports, not one new treatment bed has been funded by the state. Advocates for Measure 110 say the state — and, in particular, the Oregon Health Authority — has dropped the ball.

If you follow Major League Baseball, you know that former Oregon State Beaver Steven Kwan (now an outfielder for the Cleveland Guardians, no longer the Cleveland Indians) is having a terrific start to his big-league career, including a 5-for-5 game last weekend. Kwan’s torrid start at the plate eventually will cool off during the rigors of a 162-game season, but for now, he’s the talk of baseball — including this story by Fox Sports writer Jake Mintz about how a skinny kid from the Bay Area turned into a sudden star. Here’s a spoiler alert: It took years of dedication and hard work.

Finally, this week: If you’re a backyard birder in western Oregon, you’ve spent time cursing starlings as they descend in mighty mobs to your feeders, scattering seed to the ground (hey, hey, knock it off, that stuff is expensive) and shooing away other birds. (Although my heart goes out to parent starlings as they cope with their young ones — any parent, of any species, can empathize.) As a birder, you also might know the story about how starlings were first introduced into the United States by a New York man who thought the United States should have every bird species mentioned by Shakespeare. It’s a good yarn — but, alas, it’s not true, according to this story from The New York Times, which aims for a full and balanced account of the starling (which, by the way, is the bird species responsible for the deadliest bird-related aviation crash in history; one of the few survivors no longer blames the starlings, which demonstrates a generosity of spirit that Shakespeare would admire).

Looking for something to do in the mid-valley? Check out my curated calendar of arts-and-entertainment events.

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