Your Weekend Reader for Jan. 15-16

by | Jan 15, 2022 | Journalism, Miscellaneous, Weekend Reader | 0 comments

Even by the admittedly somewhat dubious standards of Your Weekend Reader, this week’s edition is all over the board. There’s no rhyme or reason or pattern to this weekend’s selections — just a collection of items that caught my attention this week, with a bit of accompanying commentary. Here we go, in no particular order:

You might be encouraged by some of the early signs that the omicron peak is nigh, and that the variant’s decline will be just as rapid as its onset. And … that’s possible, reports Katherine J. Wu in The Atlantic. But what’s more likely is a much slower (and sometimes confusing) decline after the peak. In the meantime, The Oregonian/OregonLive — which tracks new COVID cases each week by ZIP codes — has identified an upsurge in cases in three Corvallis ZIP codes, 97331 (which covers Oregon State University), 97330 and 97333, where yours truly resides. The good news, such as it is, is that much of the upsurge can be attributed to higher-than-average testing. So, really, get your booster shot.

OPB’s Bradley W. Parks had a distressing story this week based on research from Oregon State University. A study that’s stretched out for nearly a decade suggests that ecological communities in the intertidal zone are becoming less resilient to disturbances like marine heatwaves and disease. As these events become more frequent with climate change, the researchers said, some species might disappear entirely from the intertidal zone.

If you’re looking for happier scientific news this week, The Atlantic can oblige: You haven’t heard much recently about the James Webb Space Telescope. That’s because its insanely complicated launch and deployment is going better than anyone, even NASA, expected. (Pause here to knock, numerous times, on wood.) The $10 billion telescope is scheduled to start sending back images later this year from the far edges of the cosmos. It’s almost (almost!) guaranteed to show us something that truly earns that overused adjective, “awesome.”

In case you missed it, the Gazette-Times’ Joanna Mann had a good story last Sunday linking the recent apartment fire at 857 NW Tyler Ave. to a long history of neglect of the property by its landlords, Kip and Michelle Schoning. As longtime G-T readers will know, this is certainly not the first time that the Schonings have made the pages of the newspaper — Bennett Hall, now the editor of the Blue Mountain Eagle, spent years documenting their various failings as landlords. (Here’s a link to a 2008 story about the Schonings, then known for their practice of painting the doors of their rental homes red.) Bennett’s work was important and led to some changes in Oregon’s law regarding tenant-landlord relations. But now, more than a decade later, people in the mid-valley still are living in potentially life-threatening conditions in Schoning properties. Frankly, that’s a little bit disheartening — but it’s good that a new batch of reporters at the G-T has picked up Bennett’s torch.

Here’s a shocking story from Lizzy Acker of The Oregonian/OregonLive: A reader asked Acker to get to the bottom of why the University of Oregon’s license plates are so much better-looking than the ones boosting Oregon State University. (And, actually, this really isn’t a matter of opinion — a side-by-side comparison tells the story.) To make a long story short, it looks as if OSU dropped the ball and has failed to redesign its license plate. But you can bet this story got the emails flying at OSU. Who says journalism can’t have an impact?

Speaking of local journalism: A former colleague, Brad Fuqua, was laid off from the Gazette-Times after the paper shuttered the Philomath Express, the weekly newspaper that covered the Philomath area. Fuqua responded by launching Philomath News, a hyperlocal online site that covers the community — and the site’s performance is ahead of his expectations, as he told me recently. Last week, he and the cofounder of another local news site in Oregon, the Highway 58 Herald, were featured in a segment on OPB’s “Think Out Loud.” You can listen to the segment with Fuqua by clicking here. And you can read Fuqua’s reflections about being on the other side of the questions by clicking here.

One of my favorite former Montana colleagues, Kathleen McLaughlin, has turned up in High Country News with a provocative piece about the poisonous Berkeley Pit in Butte — an environmental disaster of mind-boggling proportions, caused by more than a century of mining and corporate greed. The pit has become something of a tourist attraction in Butte and, as McLaughlin writes, recently inspired an art exhibit — which actually opened first in another (wealthier) Montana city, Missoula. The show only recently made its way, in a smaller form, to Butte. If you live in Butte, you’re used to living in the shadow of resource extraction. What’s happened in this case, McLaughlin writes, amounts to “cultural extraction in action — taking away bits of history and community without providing any context for it.” Also, I suspect some of the overall trends McLaughlin writes about will sound familiar to those of us in the mid-valley.

What an interesting year 2022 is shaping up to be in Oregon politics. First, here’s more about a story I mentioned last weekend, would-be gubernatorial candidate Nick Kristof’s refusal to release the documents he says support his claim that he’s an Oregon resident. As you’ll recall, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan disagrees, and ruled that Kristof has not been an Oregon resident for the three years required to run for governor. Kristof has appealed the decision to the Oregon Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the case. This week, Oregon Capital Chronicle editor Les Zaitz — arguably Oregon’s best investigative journalist — outlined the efforts the news site took to persuade Kristof to release the documents. As I wrote last week, this is extremely disappointing behavior from Kristof, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist — and it may hasten an abrupt end to his nascent political career.

In other political news, Sami Al-Abdrabbuh, the chair of the Corvallis School Board, has launched what feels like a longshot campaign for the Democratic nomination for Oregon’s Fourth Congressional District. (You’ll recall U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio has announced plans to retire, in part because redistricting has made the district safer for Democrats than it had been in the past.) The question is whether Al-Abdrabbuh has enough cash to overcome his general lack of name recognition outside of Corvallis and enough time to get traction in what’s shaping up as a crowded Democratic field. (Val Hoyle, who’s currently serving as the state’s labor commissioner, appears to be the favorite and has won DeFazio’s endorsement.) But this already feels like a weird year in Oregon politics, and so Democratic foes would make a mistake to underestimate Al-Abdrabbuh.

State Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin has launched an online survey to collect accounts of Oregon students who have been denied equal time in the schools during the pandemic because of disability, a need for behavioral support or a need for English Language Learner services. Gelser Blouin says she intends to collect information about the scope of the problem statewide and is preparing legislation for the February legislative session. She also hopes her effort makes it easier for affected families to file formal complaints about this discrimination. Alex Baumhardt of the Capital Chronicle has the story.

That brings us to this week’s big bummer: Here’s New York Times columnist David Brooks with a downer of a piece. The headline says it all: “America is Falling Apart at the Seams.” And, in the event you only want to read it if you think Brooks is going to suggest some ways to fix this, here’s a quick spoiler alert: No.

No wonder you might be tempted to keep your (artificial) Christmas tree up for a few weeks longer (or a few months, if need be). That’s the plan at my house, for reasons that I can explain, if you’d like. But here’s a piece from Charlie Warzel in The Atlantic, defending the urge to keep that tree up and twinkling for as long as you need it. (Alas, this advice only works for artificial trees — it’s a fire hazard to keep a natural tree in the house for more than a month, even if you water it regularly.)

Our last entry this week is a tale of social media gone awry. The Portland Pickles wood-bat baseball team (the team occasionally takes the field against the Corvallis Knights) planned a Twitter takeover this week featuring photos of the team mascot, Dillon (get it? Pickles … Dill-on. Oh, you get it. Fine). An innocent stunt from a team with a bit of history of pushing the social-media envelope, right? What could go wrong? Well, this — according to an account from The Oregonian/OregonLive. Warning: The link eventually could lead you to a photo that may not be suitable for family viewing. Also, it’s green. The Oregonian, with a straight face, added this helpful advice at the end of the story: “Always double-check the photos you post on social media before you post them on social media.”

If you need to get out of the house this weekend, get your booster shot and stay masked — and be sure to check out my curated and frequently updated calendar of arts-and-entertainment events around town.

That’s it for this weekend. It’s time to plug in the Christmas lights. See you next weekend.

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