Your Weekend Reader for Jan. 20-21

by | Jan 20, 2024 | Weekend Reader | 1 comment

Hope you managed to break free of the ice storm without too much damage. Corvallis got socked hard, but at first glance didn’t endure anything like Multnomah County (or, for that matter, Lane County, where estimates are that half of the trees in the Cottage Grove area suffered significant damage and power could be out in some locations for another week or more.

My hat is off to all the first responders — city, county and state — who worked through the storm and did what they could in extremely challenging situations. These ice storms rank among the most dangerous of weather conditions — they can kill you in all sorts of different ways — and the fact is that Corvallis and Benton County do not have the resources to cope with an event of this magnitude. (Which is why many of us just decided to stock up last Friday night on supplies and just hunker down.)

You’re likely to hear in the future that it doesn’t make financial sense for our local governments to gear up to handle these extremely rare events — but I wonder, in the face of climate change, are they going to be that rare? I can recall the snowstorm of December 2013 that paralyzed Corvallis for a week. An ice storm in 2019 didn’t do much damage in Corvallis, but hammered other spots in the mid-valley. In the wake of the 2013 storm, the city absorbed widespread criticism from residents for its response — and, to its credit, took a hard look at what it could have done better. When a second blizzard hit in February 2014, the city’s response was much improved. The lesson here: City and county officials should examine their response to the ice storm of 2024 and look for ways to improve — because the next big weather challenge likely will come sooner than they think.

Speaking of the ice storm, you probably already have seen the story out of Portland in which a 19-year-old braved a downed power line to rescue a 9-month-old baby after the line had electrocuted three other people. “I just did what any sane person would,” said the teenager, Majiah Washington. Maybe. But it still took considerable bravery on Washington’s part — and her courage made national news.

Moving on this weekend to other potential disasters:

Rick Perlstein is an acclaimed historian (his book “Nixonland” is riveting) who argues in this piece published in The American Prospect that political journalism is ill-equipped to cover this moment in America ibecause its practitioners are still stubbornly relying on outmoded frames. I can’t say I agree with everything he writes here, but it’s worth a careful read. If you’re looking for another take on this theme, here’s a recent piece from The Atlantic by George Packer in which he concludes that a second Donald Trump term could well render the press irrelevant.

You might remember the now-defunct Spy magazine, which in its very first issue in the 1980s labeled Donald Trump as one of the 10 most embarrassing New Yorkers. Spy also managed to slap Trump with one particularly memorable epithet, calling him a “short-fingered vulgarian.” That was masterful work — and it got under Trump’s notoriously thin skin; he routinely fired off threatening letters to the magazine. Trump continues to be a punchline for late-night hosts, but in this new opinion piece in The New York Times, David Kamp, a former Spy staffer, explains why he’s though telling Trump jokes.

There was big news in print journalism this week: Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that’s made a practice of buying up newspapers and then stripping them for parts, actually sold one of its newspapers, The Baltimore Sun. The buyer was a wealthy Baltimore man, David D, Smith, and if you’re thinking this is a good-news story about a local newspaper escaping Alden’s clutches, not so fast. Smith is the executive chairman of the Sinclair Broadcast Group (the target of this uproarious segment on “Last Week Tonight”), and fears that Smith wants the Sun to be a mouthpiece solely for conservative views — like his TV stations — were not assuaged when he paid a visit to the Sun this week and disparaged its work, despite saying that he hadn’t read the paper in 40 years. Rick Edmonds of The Poynter Institute says the entire affair feels like a replay of other situations in which wealthy people have bought up newspapers; most have ended badly. (Jeff Bezos’ ownership of The Washington Post appears to be the exception — thus far.)

Meanwhile, a weekly newspaper in Colorado, the Ouray County Plaindealer, published a story this week about charges being filed over rapes alleged to have occurred at an underage drinking party at the police chief’s house while the chief was asleep. Then, some 200 copies of the paper featuring the story were stolen from its racks. (The racks weren’t damaged; the thief or thieves paid money — $1 in quarters — to get into 12 of the racks and then apparently thought it was an all-you-can-take offer.) The thief or thieves possibly failed to consider that the story also had been posted on the Plaindealer’s website — and the paper had moved its paywall around the story. By Thursday, someone had returned at least some of the papers (in a garbage bag) and supporters had contributed $2,000 to the Plaindealer.

If you’re a Netflix subscriber, you might have wondered about those descriptive labels the streamer uses to describe its multitude of offerings — you know, phrases like “suspenseful” or “deadpan” or “soapy” or “violent.” Netflix believes these labels are a key to its success. Fortunately for us, The New York Times recently sat in on a session with some of the 30 or so “taggers” as they decided which labels to use for new Netflix choices.

Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer is perhaps just one day away from becoming the most successful college-basketball coach — men’s or women’s — of all time: If her Stanford Cardinal beats Oregon State University on Sunday, it’ll be her 1,203rd win, one more than Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. (When that happens, she’ll have a higher winning percentage than Coach K. ) The Times did an insightful Q-and-A with VanDerveer, whose Cardinal basketball team next season will be playing as part of the Atlantic Coast Conference. True women’s basketball fans will miss Stanford and VanDerveer’s annual trips to Gill Coliseum, even if the Beavers usually came up on the short end of those games. (Since 1987, the Beavers are 6-88 against the Cardinal and have won just once at Stanford.)

That’s it for this weekend. We’ll gather back here next week for another edition of the Weekend Reader.

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