Your Weekend Reader for Dec. 24-25

by | Dec 24, 2022 | Weekend Reader | 0 comments

Here in Corvallis, the ice has finally relaxed its grip of the last couple of days, and we’re in the midst of a soggy Christmas weekend. You may be wishing for a white Christmas, but a quick look at conditions in Buffalo may have you rethinking that wish.

Speaking of the weather, the Associated Press has a solid story explaining what weather forecasters mean by the phrase “bomb cyclone.” As you read it, you may find yourself grateful that the Willamette Valley has what I once called “boring weather” — well, most of the time.

What has Nicholas Kristof been up to since his brief run for Oregon governor imploded? Well, for one thing, he’s continued a series of conversations about Christianity with religious leaders in The New York Times. The latest installment is a chat with the Rev. Russell Moore, a former senior official of the Southern Baptist Convention who now is editor of Christianity Today. It’s an interesting, provocative conversation. Here’s an excerpt from Moore, responding in part to Kristof’s assertion that Jesus’ teachings seem to be “center-left:”

Jesus sounds “left” in some cases and “right” in others. That’s why when we really pay attention to what he’s saying, all of us will be uncomfortable at some point or another. He just refuses to be a “useful” political mascot for anybody.

The Rev. Russell Moore

Kristof’s interview, like all the stories I cite from the Times, is available only to Times subscribers. But if you’re interested in it, I can send you a “gift” link to the story — and I still have all 10 “gifts” for December to give away, exclusively to readers of the Weekend Reader. Just drop me a note in the comments section below, and I’ll send you the link.

Elsewhere on the religion beat: Americans still love Christmas, as David A. Graham reports for The Atlantic, but there’s an important shift underway: As he notes in this story, the number of Americans who say their Christmas celebrations are “strongly religious” has dropped from 47% in 2005 to 35% in 2019. Some conservatives may blame a so-called “war on Christmas” as the reason for the trend. (Remember former President Donald Trump vowing to make it safe again to say “Merry Christmas?”) But the main reason for the decline isn’t because of some liberal conspiracy, nor is it particularly surprising to anyone who’s been following religion in the United States: The decline goes hand in hand with an increase in the number of Americans who identify as not religious. The story is available only to Atlantic subscribers.

Tuesday’s earthquake in California offered what officials called the first widespread test of that ShakeAlert system, which is designed to give West Coast residents a few seconds’ warning before a quake hits. Three million smartphone users on Tuesday got a text alert telling them to “drop, cover, hold on.” But some users said they didn’t get the alert in time to make much of a difference; in fact, the overall reviews of ShakeAlert were decidedly mixed. Here’s an Associated Press story with the details.

Many Oregon school districts are likely undercounting the number of homeless students in their classrooms, according to this story that was posted this week on the Oregon Capital Chronicle’s website. The issue is important because federal aid is available to help those students — but only if they get counted.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported this week that Oregon’s population took a surprising dip in 2022 for the first time in decades. Census officials said the state lost about 16,000 residents in the 12 months ending in June 2022, a drop of about 0.4%. The Oregonian’s Eliott Njus reports it’s the first decline in Oregon’s population since the early 1980s. The state’s population now is about 4.24 million people, the Census Bureau said. Njus’ story is available only to Oregonian subscribers, but it reminded me of a story I did earlier in the year about how the candidates for Oregon governor would work to improve the state’s economy. For the story, I talked to John Tapogna, senior policy adviser at the Portland-based independent economic consulting firm ECONorthwest, who noted that Oregon is experiencing more deaths than births — so, if the state’s population is to grow, he said, it needs to attract people from out of state. If the Census Bureau’s numbers are correct, that could be a sign it’s not happening — and that’s a challenge for Gov.-elect Tina Kotek.

As a Montana native, I noticed this story in The Atlantic from the award-winning writer Tiya Miles, about how the nation’s erosion of civility is playing out in national parks like Yellowstone and Glacier. It’s a natural sequel to a story I mentioned in a recent edition of the Reader, about how 2022 was the year we lost it as a nation and surrendered to rage. The same thing is happening in the parks that we, with justification, have termed the nation’s best idea.

Moving on to culinary matters: Don Christopher, the California farmer who played a critical role in elevating the garlic bulb from its lowly status as the “stinking rose” to an essential staple in everyone’s kitchen, died earlier this month. He was 88. The New York Times has the obituary.

Finally, if you’re looking for a blast from your past to enliven Christmas Eve, check out NORAD’s Santa tracker, which has gotten way more sophisticated than in the days when I was tracking it — via phone? Telegram? Updates written on a chalkboard set up in the town square as snow gently fell? I forget. In any event, as I write this, Santa is in Argentina delivering presents, as if Argentina needs any more presents after last week’s stirring World Cup final, which almost was compelling enough to allow us to overlook the nearly comical corruption of FIFA.

That’s all for this weekend. Merry Christmas. Or happy holidays. Or have a good one — or whatever greeting fills you with the least amount of rage. (For me, to be honest, that eliminates “have a good one.”) See you next weekend.

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