Your Weekend Reader for Feb. 17-18

by | Feb 17, 2024 | Weekend Reader | 0 comments

Before we get going today, let’s take a moment to welcome Grover — the friendly blue Muppet from “Sesame Street” — to the league of ink-stained wretches who labor as journalists. As The New York Times reported recently, Grover is now a reporter. “As a news reporter, I always do my research before I break a story,” Grover posted Monday on X. “I am confident to report that you are so special and amazing!”

Many journalists who are not puppets (at least, not in theory) responded with the sort of gallows humor that makes them so lovable: “I regret to report a hedge fund has since purchased Grover’s paper and laid him off,” wrote S.P. Sullivan, a reporter with NJ.com. Added Scott Nover, a contributing writer for Slate: “Unfortunately, Grover was fired for not hitting his three story a day quota.”

Even if Grover finds himself handed a pink slip from his reporting job, he should be able to land a gig in today’s red-hot labor market: As the Times reports, his resume includes stints as an astronaut and a dentist.

It’s been nearly 25 years since the Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam wrote “Bowling Alone,” which noted a decades-long decline in the type of social intercourse which has helped to fuel American communities. Obviously enough, matters haven’t improved over the last quarter-century, as Derek Thompson notes in this new piece from The Atlantic. After taking a deep dive into statistical studies, Thompson concludes that “there is no statistical record of any other period in U.S. history when people have spent more time on their own.” Factors that Putnam couldn’t have foreseen in 2000, such as the rise of social media, have only heightened the problem — and, as Thompson notes, teenagers are particularly at risk.

In a somewhat related story, the Oregon School Activities Association says that there’s a desperate need this spring for additional umpires for high school baseball and softball games. The number of available umpires has shrunk by more than a third since 2010 — part of a nationwide trend in which sports officials have decided to hang it up. This OPB story has the details.

Aleksei Navalny, the 47-year-old Russian dissident who showed bravery (and humor) as he stood up to Vladimir Putin, is dead. Prison authorities said Navalny fell unconscious and died Friday afternoon after a walk in the penal colony to which he had been transferred — and probably only Tucker Carlson believes that. Nicholas Kristof of the Times hopes that Navalny’s death helps bolster America’s resolve to stand against Putin — and that means supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia.

Closer to home, Interfor, the Canadian company that operates what used to be the Georgia-Pacific sawmill in Philomath, announced Thursday that it planned to pause production at the mill immediately for an “indefinite period of time.” In all, as Brad Fuqua reports for his Philomath News website, some 57 workers were laid off Thursday. The company expects that the total number of layoffs will be about 100. The company said it would try to find jobs for its workers at its other properties. In theory, the company could reopen the mill at some point, but no one seems particularly optimistic about that. This marks the third sawmill closure in Oregon in the last six months or so, as Mike Rogoway reports for The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Rogoway has another story worthy of your time this weekend: He reports that the tiny Umatilla Electric Cooperative has become one of the state’s biggest polluters — thanks entirely to the growth of Amazon data centers in locations like Hermiston and Boardman. Amazon says it’s committed to the use of renewable energy. But the problem is that Eastern Oregon’s power grid has little access to sources of clean energy. The result, Rogoway writes, is “a profound setback for the state’s energy aspirations.” But there might be a bright side, as Rogoway notes: The data centers could become powerful forces in efforts to upgrade Oregon’s transmission grid to accommodate renewable energy.

Ben Botkin of the Oregon Capital Chronicle has an excellent new story: Last August, he reports, the Oregon Health Authority asked residential addiction treatment providers to identify “shovel ready” projects to increase the state’s ability to care for adults and youth — urgently needed projects to help deal with the state’s addiction crisis. Providers quickly submitted details on 16 virtually shovel-ready projects that the state could fund. Months later, even though the money has been approved by lawmakers, the Health Authority has failed to make even one funding decision.

It seems to me that the Oregon State women’s basketball team, now ranked No. 11, has an excellent chance to slide into the national top 10 when the weekly national rankings are announced next week, especially in the wake of the team’s stunning 79-77 win over No. 11 UCLA at Gill Coliseum on Friday. Nick Daschel of The Oregonian has a nice story about Talia von Oelhoffen, who hit the buzzer-beating three-pointer to defeat the Bruins. (The “gift” link to this story expires in seven days.) It’s particularly nice that fans are beginning to respond to the team’s somewhat unlikely rise — 8,525 showed up for Friday’s game.

Finally this week: Alert readers may recall a piece mentioned in the Weekly Reader a couple of weeks ago from the Times about George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” The writer, jazz pianist and composer Ethan Iverson, called the Gershwin work “the worst masterpiece,” a corny and Caucasian “cheesecake” that has “clogged the arteries of American music.” At least one Weekend Reader reader objected — and so did John McWhorter, who penned this spirited defense of the piece, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of its first performance this month. And, truthfully, cheesecake or not, I might pull out my recording of the rhapsody this weekend and give it a spin.

Here’s hoping that you have some cheesecake planned this weekend for yourself. After all, in the words of a well-known journalist, you are so special and amazing. Let’s meet back here next week.

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